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Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
(Continued from the previous post)

-

Meanwhile, Dorbickmon and VictoryGreymon continued standing guard out in the hallway. Dorbickmon stood at the end of the hallway; he leaned against the corner of the wall that separated the set of stairs leading down and the hallway that connected to the main one at a right angle. All had been quiet since they arrived. Regardless, he kept a careful eye on the stairs that led up from the lower floors.

The minutes passed and he waited for Paildramon and GrandisKuwagamon to finish. He still didn’t fully trust the mercenary, but he felt a bit better about it given the fact that GrandisKuwagamon would cooperate with them since it would be in his own best interests. He was definitely being more cooperative than when they had first started, at least.

Suddenly, Dorbickmon’s muscles became rigid and he stood up straight. A tingle of anticipation jolted through his body. His senses became even more alert. His violet irises narrowed and wheeled towards the base of the stairs.

He heard the sounds of approaching Digimon. He could make out a set of footsteps pattering rhythmically from the hallway below. Serving as a counter-melody to the footsteps was the low reverberations of an engine. As the pair grew nearer, he could hear a pair of voices, one low and one higher.

Dorbickmon hid his body behind the corner and peered his snout around it to stare down the set of stairs. He raised his hand up and gestured to VictoryGreymon at the other end of the hall. Upon seeing Dorbickmon’s signal, VictoryGreymon frowned and nodded, getting ready to act in an instant.

The dragon mercenary saw a mass of blue metal emerge at the base of the stairs. His eyes widened when he saw Bolgmon stop in front of the stairway. Blitzmon walked up beside him and began to look up the stairs. Dorbickmon promptly hid behind the wall and took a step back, not yet retreating, but not letting himself be seen.

“I can’t believe these cheap bastards still haven’t put in a ramp for tank treads,” Bolgmon complained. He expelled high pressure steam from vents underneath his body to make himself hover. He lifted the front part of his body so that his mechanized treads lifted on top of the edges of the first few stairs to give him traction. Once he was sure of his footing, he began tentatively driving up the set of stairs. “Making me do this every time… That’s discrimination! It’s wheelism. This isn’t very damn accessible!”

Blitzmon sighed and followed after him. “Just slide evolve into your Blitzmon form…” he suggested.

“No, it’s a matter of principle!” Bolgmon complained, slowly making his way up the stairs to Dorbickmon’s level. “Besides, it takes up energy and I don’t want people confusing me with you.”

“Nobody will ever have that problem, Bolgmon,” Blitzmon dryly responded.

Dorbickmon swore under his breath. They must be headed to their office. That was bad for Paildramon and GrandisKuwagamon. Even worse, he wouldn’t be able to stall the mercenaries because if they saw him, they’d recognise him and then a big fight would break out. He still contemplated the benefits of just attacking the pair, beating them to a pulp, and questioning them afterwards, but they were strong opponents and this wasn’t a good location for a fight. They might end up levelling the whole floor.

The dragon mercenary took off down the hallway, hailing VictoryGreymon to hide as he ran.

-

Back inside the office, GrandisKuwagamon continued going through the file cabinet. His crimson eye studiously inspected the contents as he flipped through the folders swiftly.

After a few moments, he sighed and closed the drawer. It was clear to him that there wasn’t anything there. He looked over at Paildramon, who was behind him, examining the contents on top of the desk. “Damn it… Looks like we’re **** out of luck,” he explained. “I don’t think Blitzmon and Bolgmon have been here yet. There’s no records or invoices of any of our jobs over the past few months. Blitzmon always keeps them. I know our hideout got ransacked, but I’m pretty sure he kept extra copies with him…”

Paildramon frowned with disappointment. “I see… Then it looks like we’ll have to wait around until they do get here,” she supposed. “We’ll come back another time.”

Before GrandisKuwagamon could reply, there was a sharp and rapid knocking on the office door. “Paildramon! It’s Blitzmon and Bolgmon! They’re coming!” Dorbickmon’s voice announced urgently, trying to strike a balance between loud enough for them to hear his warning, but quiet enough not to alert Blitzmon and Bolgmon.

The red eyes of both Paildramon and GrandisKuwagamon both widened at this announcement. “What?” Paildramon demanded.

“You’ve got forty five seconds before they’re up! Hurry! Get outta there!” Dorbickmon warned them. Unable to wait around for fear of getting seen himself, Dorbickmon bolted down the hallway to the opposite end where VictoryGreymon was. He grabbed VictoryGreymon by the arm and hauled him around the corner.

“W-What about Paildramon and Grandis?” VictoryGreymon asked worriedly.

“Shh. Stay outta sight, Vic. They can probably escape. If they get seen, we’ll go and back them up,” Dorbickmon explained in a hushed whisper.

Back inside the office, GrandisKuwagamon and Paildramon were scrambling.

“****!”GrandisKuwagamon hissed. He quickly closed the file cabinet and tossed the jar of honey back into one of the desk drawers. He made sure to remove all evidence that they had been there.

Paildramon jogged over to the door of the office and looked over at GrandisKuwagamon. “Hurry! We don’t have much time,” she insisted.

“We can’t go out that way!” GrandisKuwagamon hurriedly retorted. “We don’t have the key to be able to lock the door from the outside. They’ll know someone’s been inside and then we’ll lose our chance.” He quickly but meticulously put everything back the way that he found it. “Hurry, lock the door and kill the lights.”

Paildramon grimaced and locked the door from the inside before flipping the switch to the room’s electricity. She heard the sound of Bolgmon’s engine and tank treads at the end of the hallway, gradually coming nearer. “The window,” she responded, spotting another method of escape. She jogged over and tried pulling up the window, but found that it wouldn’t budge and that the glass would break if she pushed any harder.

“Not that one!” GrandisKuwagamon said in a harsh whisper. “That one’s jammed!”

By now, they could both hear the mechanical purring of Bolgmon’s engine just outside the room. Paildramon narrowed her eyes and grabbed GrandisKuwagamon by the arm. “There’s no time,” she whispered. “Here.”

Without giving him a chance to protest, she pulled him over to the closet and bundled them both inside. She pressed her winged back up against the wall and pulled GrandisKuwagamon’s back against her chest, pulling his pincer-adorned face down to give her enough room to slide the door closed.

“Pail-mm!” GrandisKuwagamon’s objections were silenced by Paildramon’s hand, and she brought her other arm around his chest to hold him in place. There was barely enough room for their statuesque bodies in the meter-wide closet, especially with their wings and the other contents of the closet filling up the space. Nevertheless, they were able to fit in without attracting attention.

“Shh,” she quietly hushed him. GrandisKuwagamon exhaled and obeyed, beginning to concentrate on keeping as quiet and stealthy as possible.

The pair went silent as they heard the clicking caused by the unlocking of the door. The door swung open, signalled by the soft whine of old hinges. The darkness of the room disappeared as the lights flickered on once again. The sound of footsteps and tank treads filled the office as the pair of mercenaries entered.

“Well, it doesn’t look like we got broken into while we were gone,” Blitzmon observed as he stepped into the office. “It looks the same as ever. Lucky for us.”

“Sure does,” Bolgmon agreed, rolling inside and moving his cannon arm to close the door behind him. “Guess thieves are smart enough to know what’ll happen to them if they steal from us. Hahah…”

At the mere sound of his former friends’ voices, GrandisKuwagamon became irrationally angry. His chest churned with fury, his blood boiled, and his muscles tightened. The wound was still fresh and open, the blood still hemorrhaging. He couldn’t forget their betrayal of him so easily. Their very voices served as a reminder, like needles to his chest that caused wrath to course through his veins. His mind became hot and his pincers twitched aggressively. Despite this raw and intense anger, he was able to keep himself under control.

“It’s still a mess. I need to clean up,” Blitzmon said, walking across the office to the desk. Paildramon and GrandisKuwagamon both became rigid as he passed in front of the closet, his shadow visible through the cracks. Fortunately for them, he didn’t open it.

Blitzmon began sorting through the desk papers and started organizing them. He placed his bag on the desk and pulled out a few more documents that he set beside the pile.

Bolgmon rolled over to the center of the room, stopping at the other side of the desk. “Should I check the mailbox for new job offers?” he suggested.

“Don’t bother, Bolgmon,” Blitzmon stated decisively. “With our contract still ongoing, we won’t have time for any other jobs. He says he’ll be getting more than enough money soon, so when he does, we’ll be set.”

GrandisKuwagamon couldn’t help but narrow his compound eye at this. So they were still continuing with their client’s contract after all… He supposed he shouldn’t be surprised, since both Blitzmon and Bolgmon were all for continuing with the lucrative contract, while he was the one sceptical about continuing. He quietly wondered if that was one of the reasons why they decided to use him as bait against the Royal Knights. Was it to get him out of the way so they could do what they want? These thoughts of doubt only fueled his anger.

Paildramon narrowed her eyes. She could feel the warm air of GrandisKuwagamon’s breaths increase against her palm. Sensing his anger, she held him tighter to prevent him from doing anything reckless.

“Hah, and with Grandis gone, that means more money for us!” Bolgmon exclaimed with an unabashed chortle.

These words ignited a fire inside of GrandisKuwagamon. His anger surged and began to numb his mind and overtake his commonsense. He began fighting against Paildramon’s hold, breathing hard as he tried to burst out of the closet. He was desperate to wipe the smile off of Bolgmon’s face.

Paildramon glowered and pulled GrandisKuwagamon back, keeping one arm around GrandisKuwagamon’s waist while moving the other arm underneath GrandisKuwagamon’s shoulder to keep him from reaching to open the door. It was difficult, but she held him back with all of her might. She moved her face close to his ear and whispered as lowly as she possibly could.

“Stop. Control yourself,” she whispered in but a breath. “Focus, GrandisKuwagamon.”

This seemed to bring GrandisKuwagamon to his senses. He knew she was right. He couldn’t let his emotions control him. He couldn’t succumb to anger. He couldn’t lose control…

GrandisKuwagamon’s bitter gaze softened and his crimson glow in his eye dulled. His harsh, furious breaths became deep and tranquil. He stopped resisting Paildramon’s hold and his muscles became relaxed and serene. He entered a nearly meditative state inside of himself. It was something that he often did when he wanted to center himself and control his body, mind, and emotions.

Paildramon closed her eyes and remained vigilant. She slowly raised her hip cannons past either side of GrandisKuwagamon’s body and pointed them at the closet door in case she needed to use them.

“…Shut up, Bolgmon,” Blitzmon bitterly said to the large tank Digimon. He looked up from the papers and gave him a cool look with his green eyes. “I’m not happy about what happened. GrandisKuwagamon was a good teammate and has been our friend since childhood. We were together ever since what happened… I only went along with your plan because our lives were on the line at that point and I knew that he could handle himself.”

“Tch, some friend he was. He was only out for himself; he didn’t care about us!” Bolgmon fired back. “We’re better off without him, Blitz.”

“So you say… So, we’re better without him… Tell me, Bolgmon, do you have access to void space? Can you teleport us from one place to another? Can you conceal our approach in a veil of mist?” Blitzmon countered pointedly. He stared at Bolgmon for his response, his eyes like daggers.

The mechanised insect failed to give one. He frowned, looking away with a mixture of stubborn defiance and chastised sheepishness. “Uh…”

“No, you can’t, genius. And thanks to your ill-conceived plan for petty revenge – and don’t try to deny that that’s what it was – we‘re down a useful member who was vitally important to our operations. He was our primary means for infiltration and exfiltration. You have resented him for several months recently, and you let your emotions and your ego get the better of you,” Blitzmon responded, his words cold, harsh and direct. “I’m tempted to try and smooth things over with him next time I see him – if we ever see him again, that is. Maybe I can convince him to come back with us... And you’ll be as contrite as I tell you to be if I do decide to. Is that understood?”

“Like hell, I will…” Bolgmon muttered under his breath, defiant, but not enough to argue with Blitzmon.

Blitzmon gave him a sharp look before he turned away to start sorting the papers into the file cabinet. “Doesn’t matter now. Make yourself useful for a change and make some coffee…” he said, gesturing to the table at the far right corner of the office where a pot, a coffee grinder, and a filter was.

As Bolgmon grumbled and rolled in front of the closet to reach the table, Paildramon glanced at GrandisKuwagamon. She wasn’t sure how Blitzmon’s words were affecting him. He had a soft, thoughtful frown on his face.

GrandisKuwagamon mulled over what Blitzmon had said. He wasn’t expecting that kind of remorse and regret from him. He had expected him to be cold and cynical about it – unrepentant like Bolgmon was. It frustrated him. He had a sick, twisting feeling in his stomach. He was still furious at them. He was especially angry at Bolgmon for orchestrating the whole thing, but he was also angry at Blitzmon for opting to save his own hide. However, Blitzmon’s anger and regret caused clouds of doubt to form inside of Grandis’ mind.

Should he be mad at them? Could he overlook what they did? Should he try to reconnect with them? Should he keep going with his current course of action? What would be best for him and what emotions should he listen to? GrandisKuwagamon sneered as he thought.

“Coffee’s boiling,” Bolgmon spoke up a minute later, having heated up the water using his cannon arms. He began steeping the ground coffee into the water. “So, when do you want to head out to the Gloaming Fields? Did he say when he wanted to meet us there?”

Both Paildramon and GrandisKuwagamon perked up at the mention of not only a destination, but a ‘he’. They continued remaining silent and listening intently.

“He said whenever was convenient over the next week. He and the Demon Lords will be staying there at least for the short term,” Blitzmon explained. “Let’s leave the day after tomorrow.”

“Works for me,” Bolgmon responded. “Some place in the Desolate Moors, specifically, right?”

“Yeah. You can find it, right?” Blitzmon asked him.

Bolgmon put a cup of coffee on the desk for Blitzmon to take. “Obviously. I know all the maps by heart,” he responded. “…So, what do you think of working for the Demon Lords? Never thought we’d be working for some religious nutjobs who tried to drop a whole Sky Colony.”

“’With’ the Demon Lords,” Blitzmon corrected. “They aren’t the ones paying us. As long as Bagramon keeps bankrolling us, I don’t care who we have to work with. The Demon Lords haven’t done anything to us, so it doesn’t matter to me.”

“Yeah, I guess not. Might even be fun. I hear some of them are pretty wild,” Bolgmon said with a sharp cackle. “Guess we’ll see if it’s possible for former angels to be fun or not.”

“Try to stay focused,” Blitzmon told him before downing the hot coffee in a few, quick gulps. He exhaled and placed the cup down before turning around and sliding the cabinet drawer shut. “Come on. I want to go by the shops before they close for the night. We need to buy a safe for the office now that our hideout’s gone. I want a double-locked one.”

“And you expect me to carry that ****, don’t you?” Bolgmon said with a groan.

“Yes. And I don’t want to hear a single complaint. It shouldn’t be a problem unless you’ve gotten weak,” Blitzmon goaded him, grabbing his bag from the desk and swinging it over his shoulder.

Bolgmon sighed and pivoted around, slowly driving by the closet where GrandisKuwagamon and Paildramon were hiding. “You’ve been busting my bolts all day…” he complained exasperatedly.

“Stop *****ing,” Blitzmon told him, walking around the desk. As Bolgmon opened the office door, Blitzmon turned and gazed at the closet.

The cobalt insect man frowned and approached the sliding closet door, tentatively raising his hand towards the handle. GrandisKuwagamon and Paildramon both froze. GrandisKuwagamon clenched his fist while Paildramon aimed her hip cannons in anticipation. They held their breath as he reached for the door.

Blitzmon hesitated, his hand stopping a few centimeters away from the door handle. He looked over at Bolgmon. “Do you think it’ll be cold tonight? I’m debating bringing a jacket,” he stated.

“It’ll be fine. It’s Dark Point. The sun’ll warm things up once it sets,” Bolgmon responded. “Don’t be a wuss and come on.”

Blitzmon looked back at the closet door, staring at the exact point where Paildramon and GrandisKuwagamon were hiding. His eyes narrowed slightly. After a few moments of deliberation, he retracted his hand. “…Fine,” he said, turning away. “Let’s go.”

Blitzmon walked over to Bolgmon and turned the office lights off. The pair of mercenaries opened the door and proceeded to leave the office. Blitzmon locked the door behind him and they made their way back down the hallway to the descending stairs.

GrandisKuwagamon and Paildramon remained in tense silence for awhile longer. They listened carefully to make sure the two mercenaries had left. They could hear Bolgmon’s engine slowly fading as the two azure bugs headed down the hallway. As soon as the dulcet hum of the engine dissipated, the two Digimon finally breathed the sighs that they had kept trapped in their lungs for what seemed like ages.

“Finally…” Paildramon whispered.

“Yeah…” GrandisKuwagamon agreed. He looked over his shoulder at her. “…So, P… I know I have a nice body, but are you ever gonna stop hugging me? I’d like to get out now,” he asked with a soft, ****-eating grin. “Unless… you’ve got a thing for almost getting caught?”

Paildramon levelled a cool, flat gaze with him and wordlessly released him from her arms. “Make sure it’s all clear,” she told him firmly.

GrandisKuwagamon slowly and cautiously opened the closet door and peered out into the office. It was dark, but he could see that there was nobody there. He exhaled and stepped out, prompting Paildramon to do the same.

Suddenly, there was a knocking on the office door that caused them to spin around.

“Paildramon! Grandis! It’s me!” Dorbickmon called in from the other side of the door. “Are you guys in there? You okay?”

“Yes, we’re here. We’re fine,” Paildramon told him. “We’ll go out the window. We’ll meet you outside in five minutes, okay? Be careful of Blitzmon and Bolgmon on the way down.”

“Yeah, got it. We’ll see you two down there,” Dorbickmon responded before walking off to get VictoryGreymon.

Paildramon frowned and looked at GrandisKuwagamon. “That was a fortuitous encounter…” she said, looking at him.

“Yeah…” GrandisKuwagamon agreed, walking over to the file cabinet. He took out of the most recent file that Blitzmon had just put in. He looked the sheet over carefully. “They listed the client as nameless. They did say Bagramon though, right?”

“That’s what I heard. Do you know him?” Paildramon asked him.

“Never heard of him. I guess that’s who’s been hiring us,” GrandisKuwagamon responded, putting the file back and closing the cabinet. He walked over to the window to the right of the central window and opened it. “Here. Ready to go?”

Paildramon nodded and climbed over the window sill, ducking under the raised window as she got into position. She leapt out into the evening air, just as the golden light of the setting sun began to shine horizontally across Dark Point. She flapped her draconic wings and hovered in place, waiting for GrandisKuwagamon to follow her.

GrandisKuwagamon climbed out of the window just large enough to fit his body. He started beating his insect wings rapidly to keep him aloft. Once hovering outside the window, he closed it behind him with a solid pull.

With both of their bodies now basked in the amber sunlight of the setting sun, they turned to look at each other. “Let’s go down and meet with the others,” Paildramon said to him, angling her body forwards and beginning to fly down towards the still dark streets.

“Yeah,” GrandisKuwagamon agreed, pitching forwards and flying down at a diagonal angle as well. “So, what next?”

“We should have enough information. We’ll let the others know what we found and then we can go back to the inn. We should stay the night and leave tomorrow morning,” she explained.

GrandisKuwagamon nodded and quietly flew alongside the dragon as they descended. He scanned the area below for signs of Blitzmon and Bolgmon. He didn’t know how he felt about them at that moment, but he knew that now wasn’t the time to dwell on it.

He just focused on what was in front of him and what he was able to do. Right now, that was meeting up with the others and completing their mission.

-

Twenty minutes passed since the investigation team met up at their assigned meeting place. They managed to evade Blitzmon and Bolgmon, and they proceeded to wait for a short while before venturing out onto the streets. Once comfortable that it was safe to go out, the four began walking down commercial side streets that were less busy than the main streets. These streets often contained bars, food shops, and other retail stores. They continued following these streets back towards the inn that they were staying at.

The darkness of the night lingered in the sky immediately overhead, with a pair of crescent moons looming large in the starry sky. The sun continued to dip over the western horizon, shining a deep, pink and orange light across Dark Point’s harbour. Although night encroached from the east, the buildings around them were all graced with warm, golden highlights.

VictoryGreymon led the way down the dimly lit street, with only the soft, receding rays of light as a guide. In his left hand was the massive Dramon Breaker, which he let rest on his left shoulder. In his right hand was an extra large kebab of spiced meat on a skewer, with yoghurt and spicy chili sauces drizzled over the top of it. He ate his dinner hungrily and happily. “Mmm! Who would have thought you could get Mesozoic Kingdom cuisine up here!?” he exclaimed with a broad smile, his taste buds and stomach satisfied. “I love trying exotic foods!”

GrandisKuwagamon picked his teeth with a wooden skewer as he walked behind VictoryGreymon, at a casual pace with Paildramon and Dorbickmon. “We’re having an Adult-level conversation here, V,” he sarcastically said.

“Oh, sorry,” VictoryGreymon responded, innocently looking over his shoulder at them as he took another bite of meat and nommed on it.

“So… who the hell is Bagramon?” Dorbickmon asked between chews of a large shank of barbequed meat in his hand. “I never heard of him.”

“Neither have GrandisKuwagamon and I,” Paildramon replied. She took a bite of her own meat kebab and looked forward at VictoryGreymon. “Have you, VictoryGreymon?” she asked, swallowing before questioning him.

“Yeah, as if the team meathead is going to know,” GrandisKuwagamon sardonically proposed, grinning ahead at VictoryGreymon.

VictoryGreymon frowned and looked upwards, looking pensive. “Hmm… Actually…” he pondered aloud. “Bagramon… Oh, isn’t he one of the fallen angel Digimon who rebelled against the Three Great Angels during the Heavenly War? Yeah, I’m pretty sure he helped the Seven Great Demon Lords… He was the Archangel of Death, I think,” he offered up with innocent nonchalance. “…Right?”

The three Digimon behind him all stared at him with shock, a piece of meat even falling out of Dorbickmon’s incredulously-open mouth. GrandisKuwagamon tilted his head and stared at VictoryGreymon with a disbelieving stare. “…Are you serious?” he deadpanned. “How the hell do you know that…?”

“Huh?” VictoryGreymon responded, still looking over his shoulder as he walked down the sidewalk. “Oh, I read all about the Heavenly War! It was the first conflict where the Royal Knights and the Warrior Ten teamed up together! I definitely read about it; it was such an important war since it ended with the Night of Falling Stars,” he explained animatedly.

Paildramon smirked victoriously at GrandisKuwagamon and walked forwards. “Thank you, VictoryGreymon. You have a good head for Royal Knight-based history,” she responded appreciatively.

“Haha! Wow, I do? Thanks!” VictoryGreymon exclaimed, his cheeks blushing and rubbing his right palm against the back of his head, inadvertently getting some dripping yoghurt sauce in his red hair. “Nobody ever told me that I had a good head for anything before. Oh, except for ramming stuff.”

GrandisKuwagamon palmed his face. “I don’t believe this…” he muttered, stunned that he was proved wrong despite all reasonable logic.

“Actually, I remember hearing something else about Bagramon too,” VictoryGreymon mused, bringing his half-eaten kebab stick to his lip as if he was stroking his chin. “I heard that Bagramon is DarkKnightmon’s brother…” VictoryGreymon’s eyes suddenly widened and his face turned bright red. He looked at Dorbickmon with guilt and wondered if he made a huge faux-pas. “Oh, uh… Sorry, I…”

Dorbickmon grinned a bit at VictoryGreymon. “It’s fine, Vic… We worked together, yeah, but we weren’t exactly best buddies… In fact, we turned on each other in the end…” he remembered. His scaly brows dipped into a frown. “DarkKnightmon, huh? …Where did you hear that? He never mentioned a brother to me.”

“I don’t know for sure…” VictoryGreymon made sure to clarify, still looking over his shoulder as he walked down the sidewalk. He was approaching grotty bar where raucous yells and cheers could be heard all the way out on the street. “It was just a rumour I heard, so I don’t—“

“Look out, VictoryGreymon!” Paildramon called out to him.

Not looking where he was going in the slightest, VictoryGreymon spun his head around too late. He crashed into a tall, lanky body of crimson bone. “Gah!” VictoryGreymon sputtered, stumbling clumsily further into the SkullSatamon who was leading a group out of the noisy bar and onto the sidewalk.

“And then—HEY!” the undead Digimon shouted as he was greeted by a mass of dragon muscle. He ended up stumbling back into the tavern wall and spilling his beer all over his body, soaking his loincloth and his leather pants. To add insult to injury, VictoryGreymon’s half-finished kebab flew into the air and landed on the SkullSatamon’s black, skull-like face.

VictoryGreymon managed to catch himself and stepped back. He looked up and saw the furious, murderous gleam in the SkullSatamon’s hollow eyes, further accentuated by the yogurt and chili sauce dripping down his undead face.

“Oh, um… sorry!” VictoryGreymon nervously stammered, instinctively raising his hands up. “Really sorry! Here, I’ll see if my friends have a napkin—“ He turned abruptly to the left to face his three teammates, but as he did, he forgot that he was still holding his sword against his left shoulder. As he did a one eighty spin, the Dramon Breaker came wheeling around and the blunt end of the sword whammed into the side of the SkullSatamon’s head.

After receiving a painful clonk from the giant piece of metal, the SkullSatamon stumbled into his group of demon friends, who were crowded in the bar’s doorway upon trying to leave. The SkullSatamon made an unearthly hiss as he was caught by the NeoDevimon behind him. Wincing from the throbbing in his skull, the undead demon stood to his feet and glared bloody murder at VictoryGreymon.

“Oh, you are dead, lizard…” he promised him, his voice raspy and scathing. He rubbed his head and glanced behind him, into the bar. “Gang…?”

The SkullSatamon summoned his gnarled, wooden staff and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Following him outside were more than just the handful of Digimon that stood in the door. Twenty demon and undead Digimon came pouring out of bar, lining up imposingly on the whole street. They all glared daggers at not just VictoryGreymon, but Dorbickmon, Paildramon, and GrandisKuwagamon too, as if they were a rival gang who stepped onto their turf.

Among their ranks were numbers of Adult and Perfect level Demon and Undead Digimon. This included Devimon, Boogiemon, NeoDevimon, DeathMeramon, Mephismon, Phelesmon, Bakemon, Astamon, and LadyDevimon.

Upon hearing the countless footsteps behind him, VictoryGreymon tensed up and slowly looked over his shoulder with wide, green eyes. He started sweating profusely at the sight of all the demon and undead Digimon baying for his blood. The hapless Greymon offered the only reprieve that he could. “Uh… I’m really sorry…!” he offered, smiling sheepishly. Sensing their violent intent, he started creeping forwards, back towards his friends. “We’ll just… get out of your way… and you can go back to enjoying your night…”

GrandisKuwagamon glared at VictoryGreymon and the demons behind him. “Idiot! They’re the Dark Area demons… Nightmare Soldiers…” he hissed, taking a step backwards and clenching his fists.

“Heh… Looks like we’re in for a fight…” Dorbickmon mused, cracking his knuckles and smirking as his adrenaline began to pump.

“There’s too many of them…” Paildramon pointed out, narrowing her eyes and also retreating a step. She raised her guns towards the group. “We can’t fight that many, Dorbickmon.”

“Even if they’re lower levels, I can’t fight that many without my abilities,” GrandisKuwagamon agreed, sneering at the situation. “I told you this inhibitor virus was a bad idea. Damn it…”

VictoryGreymon made his way over to his three teammates and turned around nervously holding his sword in front of him and taking a defensive posture. “We really don’t want to fight…” he beseeched in a desperate attempt to mediate with the demons.

“What do you want us to do to them, Viscount?” a NeoDevimon asked the SkullSatamon.

“Make them suffer a bit…” the SkullSatamon ordered, glowering and raising his staff towards the four. “Attack! Nail Bone!” He slammed the head of his staff into the ground and sent out a streak of blood red light that cut across the road, cutting between GrandisKuwagamon and Dorbickmon.

Paildramon glared as she watched the twenty demons surge towards them. “Run!” Paildramon ordered as energy surged down the barrels of her hip cannons. “Hurry! Desperado Blaster!”

With those words, she began firing from the two machine guns attached to her hips. Rapid fire beam bullets slammed into the ground in front of the demons, suppressing them with the ricochet blasts.

“Damn it!” Dorbickmon snarled fierily, not wanting to turn tail without at least a bit of a fight. He raised his reptilian arm and summoned the Tyrant Collbrande in a devastating burst of sweltering flames. “Burning the Dragon!”

He stabbed his sword into the middle of the street and sent powerful tremors down the length of the street, causing several of the demon Digimon to lose balance and topple over. Suddenly, the flames of his sword ignited and a giant block of rock suddenly pierced through the ranks of the demons, sending three of them flying ten feet into the air.

“Okay, go! Dragon Breath Tonic Fire!” Dorbickmon yelled. The flame symbols on his pectoral muscles burned with fiery energy before exploding in two, powerful streams of scorching flames.

The dual jets of fire slammed into the middle of the road where the demons were. A small, concentrated explosion erupted between the demons that shook the windows of the pub and lit up the dark street like a flare.

“Run!” Dorbickmon yelled, turning around and bolting up the road.

“I don’t think so!” the SkullSatamon ordered, pointing with his staff. “Chase them down and break them! Nail Bone!” He fired another beam from his demonic staff towards the group.

VictoryGreymon grunted and stepped forwards. He raised the three-bladed Dramon Breaker horizontally in front of his body. Suddenly, the two outer blades snapped outwards at forty five degree angles, and the v-shaped crossguard bent backwards to ninety degree angles. He held the transformative sword in front of him with the blunt face of the blade outwards, towards the coming attack. “Victory Charge!” he shouted, suddenly creating a giant, three dimensional, hexagonal energy barrier from the three tips of the sword.

The fiery, crimson beam slammed into the barrier dead-center. VictoryGreymon dug his feet into the ground, bracing against the attack. The shield held firm, causing the attack to deflect off and end up shooting in front of the gathered demons, creating a powerful explosion that sent them staggering back.

“GrandisKuwagamon, VictoryGreymon, let’s go!” Paildramon shouted, firing off another burst from her guns. She spun around and dashed after Dorbickmon.

“G-Got it!” VictoryGreymon shouted, making the blades of the Dramon Breaker snap back to their original, parallel position. He began running after them as fast as his brawny body would allow.

GrandisKuwagamon sneered and turned around too, feeling useless in this situation without his weapons. As much as he was itching to fight, he supposed the only thing he could do was retreat. “Damn it…” he hissed, sprinting up the street after the others. He quickly outpaced VictoryGreymon and began to beat his wings in preparation for flight.

VictoryGreymon grimaced and ran as fast as he could to catch up with the others. He was the slowest of the group, even without the fact that he wore heavy plate armour and a carried a massive claymore. He looked over his shoulder and saw the demons burst through the dust and smoke, swarming after him. He felt fear tug at his heart when he saw all of demon Digimon closing in on him. He looked forwards and saw his three companions outpacing him, and they were getting further away. He began to get desperate.

“Deep Sorrow!” a NeoDevimon shouted, flying high into the night sky. He flapped his crimson wings and unleashed black gale winds down around VictoryGreymon, sending small cracks into the street around him.

“Gah!” VictoryGreymon hollered, the winds against his back causing him to stumble and trip over his own legs. His toe claws caught one of the cracks in the street and he came crashing down on the ground. He slammed into the pavement with a loud clamour and his arms, chest and cheek stung from the impact. He lay on the ground, his body shaken up by the sudden fall. “Ugh…!” He turned around and saw the demon Digimon rushing towards him.

GrandisKuwagamon, the one furthest behind Dorbickmon, heard VictoryGreymon’s shout and the clatter of armour. He turned around and saw VictoryGreymon lying flat on the ground, his sword lying a meter in front of him. The mercenary spotted the demon Digimon running towards him. They were closing in on him.

GrandisKuwagamon grimaced. He debated what he should do. He could go and help him, or he could leave VictoryGreymon there. He considered just leaving the hapless dragon. He was the idiot who got the demons angry in the first place, after all. He would just be getting what he deserved, and using VictoryGreymon as a scapegoat would get the demons off of the rest of their backs.

The insect thought about it. There was also the fact that if GrandisKuwagamon got too far away from Paildramon by trying to help VictoryGreymon, he would get electrocuted. His paralyzed body would be left at the demons’ mercy to do what they pleased with. If he stayed, he would just be putting himself in the same situation as VictoryGreymon. Why would he grab someone who was drowning only to be pulled down as well? There was no real logical reason for him to help VictoryGreymon.

So, GrandisKuwagamon turned around and prepared to continue running after Paildramon and Dorbickmon, who hadn’t noticed VictoryGreymon fall yet. They didn’t need to know that he saw VictoryGreymon fall. He beat his wings and bent his legs, preparing to push off the ground…

…But he stalled.

Something was niggling at his insides…

GrandisKuwagamon turned his head and looked over his shoulder. He saw VictoryGreymon trying desperately to get up, but finding himself unable to do it quickly enough. He could see the swath of cackling demons descending on VictoryGreymon, only several meters away from him now. He could see the fear and desperation in VictoryGreymon’s eyes…

What would he be if he left him to his torturous fate? He’d just be scapegoating VictoryGreymon to save himself. He’d be no better than what Blitzmon and Bolgmon, and what they did to him. And then there was that other thing…

He clenched his fists and kept staring at VictoryGreymon. VictoryGreymon spotted GrandisKuwagamon, his wide, vulnerable eyes wordlessly asking him for help. GrandisKuwagamon’s eye locked with his. He began to look away and pretend he hadn’t seen him.

But…

“…Damn it!” GrandisKuwagamon shouted, spinning around and charging back towards VictoryGreymon. “Paildramon! Cover me and VictoryGreymon! He’s down!”

At this, Paildramon came to sudden halt and spun around to see what he meant. To her horror, she saw that VictoryGreymon had fallen far behind, and was on his hands and knees, recovering from a fall. “VictoryGreymon!” she exclaimed. Thinking quickly, she looked at Dorbickmon. “Dorbickmon! Suppressing fire! Desperado Blaster!”

Dorbickmon stopped and pivoted, snarling as he realised the situation. “****! Dragon Breath Tonic Fire!” he roared, firing a pair of fiery torrents from his chest.

The beam bullets and swaths of flames tore down the dark street and slammed into the ground in between the VictoryGreymon and the charging demon gang. The pavement erupted with fire, beam bursts, and fragments of cement, providing GrandisKuwagamon with the sufficient cover that he needed to get in close.

GrandisKuwagamon sprinted over to VictoryGreymon and came to a sliding stop beside him. He felt the heat of the flames behind him, but he focused. He moved quickly, lugging VictoryGreymon’s hefty arm over his shoulders and helping him stand to his feet.

VictoryGreymon pulled the Dramon Breaker up and stood on shaky feet. He looked at GrandisKuwagamon with a nervous but grateful smile. “Th-Thank you, Grandis…” he murmured with heartfelt appreciation.

“Forget it. Come on, we’re flying,” GrandisKuwagamon hurriedly told him. He started beating his x-shaped insect wings and began flying into the air. After the initial lodestone of VictoryGreymon’s weight holding him down, he was relieved to feel VictoryGreymon fly on his own and carry his own weight.

The black mercenary began lugging VictoryGreymon through the air along with him to speed their escape. As he flew up the umbrous street, GrandisKuwagamon hazarded a glance over his shoulder. He saw Viscount SkullSatamon and the demons racing after them. A few attacks whizzed by them, just narrowly missing them and embedding themselves in the streets.

He grunted and looked ahead at Paildramon and Dorbickmon. “Hey, Dorbickmon! How about a wall or something! Just leave it to the Digmon to deal with!” he called out, flying as fast as he could.

“Coming right up!” Dorbickmon announced, swinging the infernal Tyrant Collbrande over his head before plunging it into the ground. “Burning the Dragon!”

A massive wall of rock suddenly burst out of the street and raised itself twenty feet into the air. The rock barrier came up behind GrandisKuwagamon and VictoryGreymon, but ahead of the pursuing demon Digimon. The stone wall took up the entire street from building to building. The only way past was over it or through it, slowing the demons down considerably.

GrandisKuwagamon took the reprieve to land beside Paildramon and Dorbickmon with VictoryGreymon at his side.

“We’re leaving Dark Point now,” Paildramon swiftly said, panting and watching the stone wall cautiously. “We’ve drawn too much attention to ourselves.”

“I’m sorry…” VictoryGreymon apologised shame-facedly, rubbing the side of his neck.

“It’s fine. We got what we came for anyways,” Paildramon assured him. “But we should leave quickly before the authorities show up.”

“Let’s go. I know the quickest way out from here,” Dorbickmon agreed, swiping his arm out and extinguishing the Tyrant Collbrande in a cascade of whimpering embers. “Come on!”

As Dorbickmon took off up the street, the other three ran after him. “Won’t argue with that…” GrandisKuwagamon muttered, bringing up the rear.

The sun set in the western horizon and shadows of the night overtook the city. The investigation team of four shook off their pursuers and escaped down the curving, intertwining roads of the city. Like shadows in the night, they evaded notice and slipped out of the city under the cover of darkness.

The covert team left Dark Point behind them and melded back into the night.

-

The team of four, exhausted, emerged out of the eastern side of Analog Forest. They stumbled upon the place that they used as a campsite the night before. They recognised the log that they used as a bench and the fire pit full of charred pieces of wood and ashes. The darkness of the campsite was dimly illuminated by a TV that was embedded inside a tree trunk.

The group stopped around the campsite to catch their breath. Paildramon sighed and looked at her three teammates. “Let’s take a quick break…” she suggested between heavy breaths. The other three obliged, leaning against the large trees around them. “What do you think? Should we stay here for the night?”

“They wouldn’t chase us this far, right…?” VictoryGreymon asked, looking back into the forest.

“Nah…” GrandisKuwagamon responded. “Let’s keep going. I don’t really feel like waiting around.”

“Yeah, let’s stick it out,” Dorbickmon agreed. “We can stay at an inn in Falconhead once we get there. It beats sleeping on the ground again.”

Paildramon nodded. “Alright…” she concurred, standing up straight and stretching her stiff muscles.

GrandisKuwagamon caught his breath and remained leaning against the tree. He gazed over at Paildramon contemplatively. He glanced away, a slight frown on his face.

Finally, the dark insect man grunted and stood up from the trunk. He strode over to Paildramon and stopped in front of her. “Uh… Hey. Have a minute?” he asked, folding his arms.

Paildramon’s ruby eyes shifted over to meet him. “Huh? Sure,” she obliged him, walking a few steps over to the side of the campsite.

GrandisKuwagamon walked with her and raised his hand to rub his black fingers through his orange hair. “So… Uh…” he began, his voice uncharacteristically apprehensive. He lowered his arm and grunted, looking away from the dragon Digimon. “Thanks…” he managed to choke out.

Paildramon blinked and cocked her eyebrow. “Pardon? For what?” she asked, both unsure what he was referring to and surprised to actually hear him thank anybody.

“You know… for stopping me,” he clarified sheepishly. “When I wanted to beat the **** out of Bolgmon and Blitzmon.”

“Oh, that… You’re welcome. It wouldn’t exactly have been smart for me to let you do that,” she responded.

GrandisKuwagamon grunted and folded his black arms across his carapace. “Still… I should’ve had more self-control,” he explained bitterly. “That doesn’t normally happen to me.”

“We all have moments like that…” Paildramon assured him. She gazed at him studiously. “GrandisKuwagamon… About what Blitzmon said…”

GrandisKuwagamon’s crimson, compound eye trailed down to the ground as he thought about it. “You mean about him wanting to reconcile?” he asked. He gazed into the dark of the forest. “…Part of me was tempted, I admit. It’d be easiest to go back to them after I’m free, even with Bolgmon there, hating my guts. We have a lot of history. We go way back and we know how each other works. …But… I don’t think I can go back to them again. I can’t trust them again. Dunno if I can even forgive them.” He looked up at Paildramon and grinned informally. “So, you can relax. You don’t have to worry about me trying anything shady…”

Paildramon stared at him and nodded. “Good…” she responded. “Although, on a personal level… I’m sorry that you can’t reconcile with your friends.”

GrandisKuwagamon exhaled before looking at her and putting on a smirk. “You have a ‘personal level’? That’s news to me,” he teased her. “I thought you were in professional mode non-stop.”

“Heh,” Paildramon managed a chuckle, grinning. Her gaze drifted away from GrandisKuwagamon and she stared past him, at something behind him.

GrandisKuwagamon turned to see VictoryGreymon walking over to him. Plastered onto VictoryGreymon’s snout was a big, gracious smile from ear to ear.

VictoryGreymon stopped in front of him. “Um, Grandis…” he began, his deep voice tender and a bit awkward. “I wanted to say… Thank you for rescuing me!” he exclaimed, rushing forwards and pulling GrandisKuwagamon into a big, warm, crushing hug.

GrandisKuwagamon’s body tensed and his legs and wings twitched as he was lifted off of his feet. He felt a few cracks in his body. “Ugh… V… Let me… go!” he wheezed, arching his back and squirming in his grip.

“Oh… sorry,” VictoryGreymon said, softening his hug before letting him go a few moments later.

GrandisKuwagamon dropped to the ground, brushing his carapace off. “You are so lucky I can’t use my pincers…” he warned him.

“Seriously, thanks though…” VictoryGreymon said to him, smiling sweetly. “You really went out of your way for me…”

Dorbickmon wandered over, gazing at GrandisKuwagamon with a broad, ****-eating grin. “Yeah, look at you. Mister Hero…” he teased. “Who would’ve thought that the bug was capable of helping somebody other than himself? I’m actually impressed.”

GrandisKuwagamon glared at them, his cheeks burning slightly. He folded his arms and turned his back to VictoryGreymon indignantly. “Tch… Don’t get used to it, lizard. I’m not bailing your *** out every time you do something stupid like piss off violent demons or trip over wind. You’re on your own next time,” he explained to him standoffishly.

“I know. I won’t,” VictoryGreymon assured him with a smile. “You’re definitely the hero of the day, though. Maybe you could even join the Order at this rate! Haha.”

Dorbickmon and Paildramon both chuckled. GrandisKuwagamon turned and shot them both a glare. “And you two are free to shut up…” he told them, although with a trace of a self-aware grin on his lips.

After a moment, GrandisKuwagamon sighed and scratched the back of his head. “So, can we get going already?” he asked them, trying to temper his smirk. “There’s no point hanging around.”

“Sure,” Paildramon agreed, starting to walk. “The sooner we get to Falconhead, the sooner we can rest. We deserve one, after all the hard work that we did.”

“I’m gonna need a huge breakfast tomorrow morning,” Dorbickmon mused as he began walking alongside Paildramon.

VictoryGreymon smiled at GrandisKuwagamon before shouldering the Dramon Breaker and following them as well.

GrandisKuwagamon didn’t immediately follow them. His grin faded and he looked over his shoulder, back towards Dark Point. He turned his gaze down to his bare, ebony hand, which he closed into a tight fist.

Rather than contemplating, the insect mercenary followed after his team. They weren’t Black Pincer Company, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that... His crimson eye frowned softly and he followed the three Digimon. He tried to put aside his feelings of uncertainty. There wasn’t much else he could do about it anyways.

With that, the four Digimon continued their long journey back to Castle Albion…
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
Chapter 34: Arrière-pensée​

The Gloaming Fields were an eerie place. The landscape was composed of vast plains of murky soil that was thick and loamy. Very few plants grew in the Gloaming Fields, and the ones that did exist were usually dead or decayed. The Desolate Moors within the Gloaming Fields took up much of the countryside. Ashen, lifeless trees with twisting, leafless branches speckled the landscape intermittently. The fields of grass were usually brown and dead, with verdant green grass only near the ominous marshes and the deep, rushing river.

However, the vast landscape wasn’t completely empty. Every so often, there were dismal cemeteries, usually next to ruined churches, monasteries or temples. These decayed structures were usually hollowed out, with only the exterior skeletons of the buildings remaining standing. They were usually abandoned places of worship for Yggdrasil or the Being of Goodness. In some cases the ruins were merely created as mock structures - follies existing purely to create a gothic aesthetic. Sometimes, the ruined, decayed structures had simply always been there since time immemorial.

The main cities of Vespers and Sepulcrum both had a similar feeling to them. They were both reasonably large for their rural locations, and were home to many undead Digimon, as well as demon Digimon. They had stark, austere, Gothic architecture of rigid, foreboding stone. Imposing spires and towers dominated the cities’ skylines. Great cathedrals and abbeys decorated the cities, although they weren’t used for the worship of God. Most of the population of the Gloaming Fields lived in these two cities. However, outside of the cities, the landscape was feudal in nature. The land was divided into duchies held by the wealthiest and most influential landowners. These Digimon typically lived in the dark, towering castles and mansions than were scattered across the landscape. The castles were giant and domineering, striking a powerful silhouette against the dark sky.

During the day, the Gloaming Fields felt stark, empty, barren, and inhospitable. The skies were usually grey, and fog often drifted across the landscape. Storms were common, causing the landscape to become mired with water and mud. During the night, the Gloaming Fields looked like a gothic nightmare. At certain points in the Gloaming Fields, massive, craggy mountains of jagged, contorted stone reached into the night sky. They seemed to bear down on whoever walked below. Tall, black castles with intricate, imposing architecture stood like looming titans against the glowing, waxen moons. Some were built in the center of empty plains, some at the tops of hills, some near spectral monastery ruins, and others at the plateaus of cliffs. The Gloaming Fields were both fearsome and sublime. It wasn’t hard for visiting Digimon to be stricken by a sense of awe and fright.

In one of these castles, a few kilometers to the east of Sepulcrum, an important meeting was being held. The castle was a giant mansion of stone that stood amid a field. The moonlight shone down on the complex, gothic exterior, causing the black, stone surface to flush with a cool, pearl glow. The interior was lit by the warm, ochre glow of flames, casting a dim light onto the windows.

Several Digimon were gathered inside the great, castle hall. A long, crimson rug was draped across the stone floor, adding much needed pigment to the flat, grey colours of the stone foundations. On the wall arches were torches resting in sconces, lighting up the expansive great hall for the inhabitants. The walls were adorned with beautiful, masterfully-crafted paintings. The striking, realistic, and emotive paintings mainly showcased the struggle of the Heavenly War between the angels and the demons. The angels were basked in light and the demons in darkness; both pairs clashed in chaotic violence. Other paintings consisted of heavenly clouds against a luminous, empyreal backdrop, the abyssal night shadowed by the darkest shades of pain, and a few portraits of aristocratic-looking demon Digimon.

The subject of many of the portraits stood at the far end of the hall, with a glass of deep, sanguine wine in his clawed hand. His violet body was slender, his waist and arms like long twigs. His dark, purple armour was embellished with countless rows of spikes along his hips, chest, and shoulders. His face consisted of pale, grey skin and a smirking mouth. The rest was covered by a violet, winged helmet that covered the top half of his head apart from his curled, blond hair, and his deep, red eyes.

The NeoVamdemon walked back and forth in front of Bagramon, Lucemon, Lilithmon, and Barbamon. Behind him were several other demon aristocrats who had gathered for this meeting. Among them was the emerald armoured, humanoid form of a Murmuxmon, the energy-based, reaper-like body of a MetalPhantomon, the vampiric, noble Vamdemon, and the black, leathery, dignified form of a LadyDevimon.

Standing opposite to this gathering of demon nobility were the four visiting Demon Lords. Lucemon Falldown Mode stood at the front of the group. He was standing upright with his arms folded across his chest, smiling softly as he looked at the NeoVamdemon. Standing behind him was Bagramon, who rested easy on his feet despite the heavy, skeletal arm that hung from his right side. In his left hand was a glass of water which he took a soft sip from. His red eyes never strayed from the host. Next to him was Lilithmon, who stood with one hand on her hip. In her other, was a glass half-filled with deep, violet wine. She swirled the glass around, causing the potent liquid to slosh around the edges of the glass in a tiny vortex. Although mainly keeping focused on the discussion, every so often, she glanced at the Murmuxmon. She would smile encouragingly, but she didn’t make any overt, suggestive actions – simply enough to get him thinking. Finally, Barbamon stood beside the others. As he listened to the NeoVamdemon speak, he looked around at all the expensive ornamentation that their host had in his castle, quietly estimating how much everything cost.

“-and I would be happy to offer my private army of two thousand demon Digimon to you for our renewed war against the Sky Colonies,” NeoVamdemon explained, pacing back and stopping in front of the four Demon Lords.

“And this is in addition to the large sum of money that you promised us earlier, correct?” Lucemon asked for clarity.

“Of course,” NeoVamdemon assured them. “Many of us have been waiting for this chance.” He turned and gazed at the large, wall painting that portrayed demon Digimon viciously driving themselves into the ranks of the angel Digimon. “The Heavenly War is not yet over…”

“Excellent,” Barbamon responded, leaning forwards on his tall staff. He furrowed his pronged eyebrows and tightened his scrutinizing, ruby eyes towards the demons. “However… You realise that we will be unable to bring the war to the Sky Colonies immediately, correct? We do not yet have the strategic foothold to be able to launch a successful attack on the Sky Colonies. We cannot yet face the Powers. It is most likely that we will have to start our campaign here on the surface of the Digital World.”

“Fear not, Barbamon,” NeoVamdemon insisted, smiling disarmingly as he raised his wine glass. “We are very patient… We have been waiting for this opportunity for a very long time. We are willing to do what it takes. Waiting a little longer is not a problem…”

“However… this is a big gamble that each of us are taking,” the Murmuxmon spoke up, stepping forwards. “We all believe in the cause, but by helping you, we are exposing our intentions. If you fail, it will all be a waste and the Heavenly Choir could very well decide to get rid of us once and for all. We were lucky enough to simply be exiled here and left in peace after the Heavenly War.”

Lilithmon closed her eyes and smiled. “You don’t doubt us, do you, Murmuxmon?” she asked him reassuringly. “I am sure that you have heard of our abilities after that first wave of demon Digimon escaped to here from the Dark Area all those years ago. We learned how to command armies and outmanoeuvre dangerous opponents. We didn’t have that experience during our rebellion, but we do now, after having survived countless years in the Dark Area.”

Barbamon nodded. “Lilithmon speaks the truth,” he agreed. “It is a gamble, yes, but there is never a reward worth achieving without risk. If we succeed, the riches will be greater than you could ever imagine…”

Murmuxmon released a breath and nodded. “…Very well. My will hasn’t faltered. You have my support as well. I have a thousand demon and undead Digimon at my disposal, along with twenty thousand bits.”

“I knew we could count on you, Count Murmuxmon,” Lilithmon said with a pleased grin, raising her goblet in a toasting motion.

LadyDevimon stepped forwards, her poise confident and dignified. “I have one hundred demon Digimon who I could pledge to your cause, along with one hundred thousand bits.”

Barbamon’s head suddenly turned towards the black, feminine demon, the eyebrows on his gold face rising with interest upon hearing this monetary amount. “One hundred thousand… is a useful amount…” he responded, trying not to sound too eager.

“I can manage two hundred soldiers and fifteen thousand bits,” the Vamdemon added.

Bagramon smiled and nodded. “We thank you all for your generous aid,” he diplomatically said to them. “We will not disappoint your expectations.”

“Just as long as we get a return on our investments,” Murmuxmon stated, putting his wine goblet down on the nearby table.

“Naturally,” Barbamon responded, leering over at the Murmuxmon in question. “Nothing is free, after all…”

“Although some of us truly believe in the cause enough for victory to be its own reward,” NeoVamdemon pointedly added, casting a dismissive glance to his fellow Count.

“About that… Are these four the only ones willing to support us?” a bemused Lucemon asked, turning to Bagramon for confirmation. He turned back to NeoVamdemon. “Are you unable to convince the other demon Digimon around here to join us?”

“We are doing our best,” NeoVamdemon responded. “There has been much clandestine diplomacy going on inside of our manors. We have to be discreet.”

Bagramon nodded with agreement, looking at Lucemon. “Some of the demons want no involvement whatsoever, and wish to distance themselves from us entirely. Others are undecided. Some want to wait and see if we have any success, to gauge if there is any chance of victory. Some are supportive, but do not want to publically meet with us, and will instead be giving us anonymous donations of wealth and materiel. Others are apprehensive, and are weighing the benefits and the disadvantages of helping us. We still have chances to get more support, with the right tactics,” he explained.

Lucemon: Falldown Mode nodded and looked towards their demon hosts with a confident smile. “Then we thank you for your courage and devotion. You will be rewarded for your services after our victory,” he assured them. “We know how to thank all who show us proper loyalty.”

“Then we are your humble subjects,” Murmuxmon explained, making a show of bowing politely.

LadyDevimon folded her long, stringy arms across her chest. “Where are the other Demon Lords? Shouldn’t they be here as well?” she wondered.

“Demon, Leviamon, and Beelzebumon are currently off picking up Belphemon,” Bagramon explained to her. “They will be arriving within a couple days.”

“I certainly hope they do it inconspicuously,” Murmuxmon mused. “As Leviamon’s body is incredibly conspicuous… It would be bad if they attracted attention here.”

“Leviamon is intelligent; he knows that he stands out. He will likely use a lower form,” Bagramon assured the demon nobles. “They know not to draw attention to themselves.”

“’Intelligent’ is generous for Leviamon,” Barbamon murmured under his gravelly breath.

“Very well. The offer for all of you to stay here remains the same,” NeoVamdemon explained. “Although fitting Belphemon may be a problem if he cannot take a lower form like Leviamon can.”

“Oh, just throw him in a barn or something,” Lilithmon suggested with a dismissive wave of her hand. “All he does is sleep anyways. He is very low-maintenance.”

“We appreciate your generous offer,” Bagramon responded graciously.

“Yes, of course,” Lucemon added with a slight nod. “We require a base to reside and strategise from if we have any hope for success, after all.”

“What is the strategy at the moment, if I may ask?” Murmuxmon questioned.

“Give us a chance; we only just escaped the Dark Area,” Lilithmon responded before taking a sip from her deep, mauve wine.

“We are waiting for the other four Demon Lords to arrive before we start constructing any concrete plans,” Bagramon responded. “However, that isn’t to say that we do not have any ideas.”

Barbamon nodded in agreement and shouldered his long staff. “It is just a matter of creating short-term tactical goals to best fit our long-term strategic goals,” the bearded demon explained. “Rest assured, we will have that in hand as soon as the others arrive. Our priority at the moment is to establish a foothold on the Digital World.”

“I see…” the Murmuxmon murmured.

“Well, with the important business now concluded, is there anything else?” NeoVamdemon asked the four Demon Lord Digimon.

“I think that is all,” Lucemon answered simply. “Show us to our rooms.”

“I will have my servants guide you,” NeoVamdemon explained, snapping his claws.

Three small, spherical Digimon with bat wings and clawed talons flew into the great hall from the doorway at the far end. The trio of PicoDevimon fluttered over and bowed in front of the Demon Lords and their master ceremoniously.

“Right this way, please,” one of the imps told them, flapping in place before turning around and leading the Demon Lords back down the hall.

Lucemon, Bagramon, Lilithmon, and Barbamon began to follow them, flanked by NeoVamdemon. As they walked down the hallway, Murmuxmon followed after them and closed in on Barbamon.

“Barbamon, a minute, if you don’t mind?” Murmuxmon inconspicuously got his attention, murmuring in a low, conspiratorial manner.

“Hm?” Barbamon turned and gazed over his shoulder at the demon noble. “What is it?” he curtly asked.

“You are the primary tactician for the Demon Lords, are you not?” Murmuxmon asked him, glancing past him at the departing Demon Lords, who hadn’t yet noticed that he had stopped Barbamon. “I wanted to suggest something to you… It might be something to your interest…”

“And to your interest as well, I take it…” Barbamon dryly mused, staring at Murmuxmon knowingly. “What is it…?”

“You mentioned establishing a foothold in the Digital World being a priority… To do that, you will need wealth. More wealth than us exiled demons can ever supply you…” Murmuxmon explained.

“Yes, that is true…” Barbamon suspiciously conceded, turning around to face him fully. With the movement, the jewellery around his neck jangled metallically.

“And you will also need a stronghold that is more defensible than this exposed castle...” Murmuxmon suggested.

Barbamon scowled at his pussyfooting around. “What are you suggesting, Murmuxmon? Out with it. I want to know what you’re angling for,” he bluntly told him.

“Very well, Lord Barbamon…” Murmuxmon subserviently agreed. “I’m speaking of New Terminal… It is one of the central hubs of Eniac. And most importantly, it is the home of Eniac’s central bank… If you were to capture New Terminal and take control of that bank, you would not only capture the vast reserves of wealth within its deep, protected vaults, but you would also control Eniac’s flow of commerce and establish a firm foothold on the continent.”

An ambitious smirk slowly crept onto the covetous Demon Lord’s sickly grey lips and he stared at Murmuxmon with a modicum of respect. “You know… I was thinking something similar, if I am completely honest… Intelligent minds think alike…” he mused, stroking his long, white beard. He let out a pensive hum. “New Terminal, you say… It is certainly a lofty goal… A high risk objective, even. The Republic’s military base is located at the south east edge of the city… We could be throwing ourselves into the fire once more.”

“I only ask that you consider my words,” Murmuxmon proposed, giving off the air of pliability. “As the strategist, you know better than I what is in the best interests of the campaign.”

Barbamon nodded. “The words you speak are true. There are many desirable elements to attacking New Terminal…” he conceded, although pausing afterwards. “…It is just a matter of deciding whether the reward is worth the risk, and whether the short and long term strategies make sense.” Barbamon smiled and looked at Murmuxmon. “Although, I have to say… I know you are suggesting this for your own interests… You are an opportunist… You want a healthy return on your investment…”

“I want the rebellion to succeed, Lord Barbamon…” Murmuxmon insisted.

“And when it does succeed, you want to be remembered as the supporter who was most crucial to our victory,” Barbamon answered with a knowing smirk that cut through the demon noble’s pretenses. “I know what you want. It doesn’t matter to me, Murmuxmon; I understand… Your suggestion was useful to me, and I will remember you in the future,” the Demon Lord of Greed assured him with a crooked smile.

Although stalling at first, Murmuxmon nodded. “…Thank you, Lord Barbamon…” he graciously answered.

Barbamon nodded, his long nose dipping with the movement. “On your way, Count…” he advised him as he turned around. He continued to walk after the Demon Lords, who were already disappearing down the dark of the mansion corridor.

He used his staff to increase his strides as he hastened his pace to catch up. As Barbamon walked, he thought quietly to himself about the idea that had already been floating around in his head. A devious grin curved the corners of his mouth.

Attacking New Terminal… Hm…

-

The next day passed into existence. A sweeping blanket of overcast clouds hung over Splendour’s Reach like a peppery haze. A few rogue raindrops escaped the compressed water vapour data and fell to the ground below. However, the grassy territory was spared an onslaught of showers for now.

With the spring season in full swing, the Free Area was prone to mild, comfortable temperatures and wet showers. Part of this was due to the relative proximity to the Thunderhead Rainforest to the Free Area’s southern most provinces, along with the eastern coast that bordered the Net Ocean. With about two weeks into the Month of Mihiramon, it was a temperate but humid day around Castle Albion. The grass was dewy and moist, and the sturdy stones of the fortress were damp. However, that didn’t stop the Order forces from training and drilling both within and outside of the walls of the castle.

Inside the headquarters, there was also work to be done.

Alphamon strode down the magnificent great hall, heading to the council room at the far end of the ostentatious gallery. His black and gold armour rattled softly with each step; his mantle flowed against his broad back as he walked with purpose.

“So, when did they get back?” a gruff voice asked him.

Gankoomon strode to the right of Alphamon, staring at the black paladin. He walked animatedly, his movements intense and dynamic. He held his white jacket over his right shoulder while the red geta that he wore for footwear created wooden clunking noises whenever they hit the beige, marble floor.

“At first light,” Alphamon responded. “They slept on the Locomon on the way back.”

“And? How did it go?” Gankoomon asked, his low, gruff voice itching with impatience to find out the result. “Did they take care of Belphemon?”

“I know as much as you do, Gankoomon,” Alphamon explained, shifting his golden eyes to meet Gankoomon’s visor. “At the very least, they’re all in one piece…”

“That’s definitely a relief,” Magnamon spoke up from behind Alphamon. The shorter, dragon knight followed the pair down the great hall, his body clad in his golden armour. He readjusted the digizoid bracer on his arm so that it fit comfortably around the blue appendage. “I was worried about them going up against a Demon Lord as wild as Belphemon.”

“Hopefully he didn’t wake up,” Alphamon mused, as the group passed one of the pairs of pillars that supported the ceiling of the expansive great hall.

Magnamon turned his head and looked up at Examon, who loomed over the three as he walked alongside them. Examon stood a couple feet taller than Alphamon and Gankoomon, but he had been so quiet that they had barely noticed him. The Dragon Emperor seemed lost in thought, and his placid emerald eyes were distant and thoughtful.

“…Is everything okay, Examon?” Magnamon asked him curiously. Although Examon was typically introspective and didn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve, Magnamon could tell that something was on his mind. “You seem bothered.”

Examon blinked, Magnamon’s light voice catching his attention. “Oh, uh… It’s nothing important, Magnamon,” he answered minimally. “Just something trivial…”

“It might help to share, if something is troubling you,” Alphamon suggested, looking over his caped shoulder.

“It’s miniscule compared to the problem of the Demon Lords,” Examon assured them, dismissively. “It’s just something about Dorbickmon…”

“Dorbickmon…?” Alphamon wondered. “Did you and he have an argument or something?”

“Nothing major…” Examon admitted. “I was annoyed by the way he was talking to GrandisKuwagamon. I… might have made some judgments about his character that offended him…”

“Really?” Magnamon asked him. “You don’t usually lose your cool, Examon; even back when Duftmon made snarky comments towards you at an hourly basis.”

“I know… It was a moment of weakness,” Examon said with a sigh. “I guess I assumed that since he joined our side, he would be moral and stop having the darker traits that he had when we were fighting against him. But he still has a savage, belligerent, and wrathful side. It was naïve of me to think that he would change overnight.”

“Change and self-improvement is a slow, gradual process,” Alphamon agreed. “Even if Digimon make progress in the right direction, they can always regress. Or they might diverge down a completely different route. That is the nature of evolution, is it not?” he proposed with a wry smile. “There is no clear path… It’s what makes us Digimon.”

Magnamon smiled up at the dark knight. “You’re always so wise and philosophical, Alphamon.”

Alphamon gave a single chuckle. “Heh… I do attempt to be…”

Gankoomon grunted and glanced over at the sizeable dragon. He raised his visor to his forehead and stared at Examon with his sharp, almost stern eyes – a rare moment that they were seen without the visor. His pointed, red eyebrows were furrowed low, emphasizing his seriousness. “Don’t look down your nose at Dorbickmon just because he’s not the way you expected him to be. Digimon won’t just change their ways because you want them to, Examon,” he bluntly explained. “There’s nothing wrong with having emotions - even anger. They can even be useful if they’re channelled the right way. Besides, every Digimon is flawed in their own way. You can’t just purify someone of their faults.”

After a few moments of thinking over Gankoomon’s words, Examon sighed. “…You’re right about Dorbickmon. Both of you are. I should have known that I couldn’t just erase countless years of his life or aspects of his personality. Dorbickmon is who Dorbickmon is…” he conceded. “I suppose that I should accept that…”

Gankoomon nodded and folded his arms. “Yeah. It’s better to just accept that rather than to try to change him and impose Royal Knight values on him. Stuff like that can’t be forced,” he affirmed.

“Well, you may have a point,” Alphamon conceded, rubbing his chin with a finger as he gazed at Gankoomon. “Trying to ‘impose Royal Knight values’ onto you has certainly been a difficult task…” he observed with a touch of sly levity to his words.

Gankoomon smirked and chuckled slightly. “I’m a free spirit! Can’t tie me down with that stuff… I think Dorbickmon’s the same way; that’s why I understand where he’s coming from,” he informed them, casting Alphamon an adversarial grin.

Examon smiled. Despite Gankoomon’s rough nature, he did have an outlook that was different from many of the other Royal Knights. Examon often found himself surprised at the amount of times that he found wisdom in his words. Rather than books, Gankoomon’s knowledge came from his vast travels and experiences. It was both refreshing and enlightening to somebody like Examon, who had a limited experience with the world beyond the UDC and Free Area. “I’ll take your advice to heart,” he replied.

“Hah! If only more Digimon did,” Gankoomon exclaimed, targeting Alphamon with a smug, contesting grin.

“Gankoomon, for the last time, we are not turning the library into a martial arts arena,” Alphamon said with a dry smile. “Duftmon would threaten resignation.”

A sarcastic murmur escaped from Gankoomon’s mouth. “Wouldn’t that be too bad?”

Examon looked down at Magnamon with a grin. “Gankoomon and Duftmon still aren’t getting along?” he asked, though already knowing the answer.

“Like fire and ice,” Magnamon replied, smiling back.

Examon chuckled a bit. “It’s nice not to be the main target of Duftmon’s ire anymore,” he wryly mentioned.

Alphamon chuckled as they reached the end of the great hall, stopping in front of the closed double doors of the council room. “Heh… I did tell you that Duftmon would move on once he became acclimatised to you. He has his favoured targets of criticism - myself included. Now Gankoomon is thoroughly on the bottom of Duftmon’s tolerability ranking.”

“Ha ha…” Gankoomon gruffly responded, rolling his eyes before lowering his raised visor back over them.

“Duftmon has been a lot better lately though. Ever since the mistake he made, he has been putting in more of an effort,” Magnamon optimistically suggested, walking up beside Alphamon as the black knight reached for the doors.

With a gentle push, the doors swung open to reveal the rest of the eight Royal Knights sitting in their seats around the table of white stone. Their gazes all turned to the entrance as the remaining four Royal Knights entered the room.

Duftmon, who sat in his seat on the far right end of the circular table, checked the mechanical watch resting on his wrist. “You are now five minutes late. I expect this sort of tardiness from the likes of Gankoomon, but I expected better from you, Alphamon,” he chastised them. “What kind of example are you setting for others if you cannot be bothered to arrive on time? We have had to resort to making small talk.”

Alphamon smiled ironically and wordlessly turned his gaze back down to Magnamon. The Knight of Miracles chuckled abashedly. “Relatively speaking…” Magnamon amended.

Alphamon walked over to his seat on the opposite end of the table from the door – the Empty Seat. “I apologise, Duftmon. I was delayed since High Treasurer Digmon asked to speak with me about something. However, I told Digmon that I would speak with her later,” he explained.

As they entered the room and made their way to their seats, they noticed Omegamon, Dukemon, UlforceVeedramon, and Sleipmon all in their usual seats. Apart from looking tired and a bit scuffed up, they didn’t seem that much worse for wear. Alphamon walked around the table and took his seat on the opposite side. He sat down beside Omegamon and Magnamon. Gankoomon slumped down next to Examon and Craniamon.

As the remaining four Royal Knights settled in, a tense silence began to emerge over the council room. After the cluttering of armour and shuffling of bodies faded, the only sound that could be heard was the soft, intermittent pattering of raindrops on the stained glass window at the back of the room. The vibrant, coloured glass rippled aquatically as rivulets of water crawled down its opposite side.

“So…” Gankoomon was the first to speak up and shatter the silence. “How did it go?”

“…Regretfully, not as planned,” Omegamon tentatively spoke up, his cyan eyes frowning softly. “He escaped… I’m sorry… The blame is mine.”

Duftmon turned his head and stared at Omegamon. The gaze levelled by his emerald eyes pierced with incredulity and distaste. “Belphemon escaped…” he repeated, the words phrased as if he had just bitten into a lemon. “Do tell me, Omegamon, how you managed to allow a slumbering ball of wool to flee…? Did he sleepwalk?”

Omegamon didn’t reply. His only reaction was when he glanced aside shamefully, turning his eyes away from Alphamon’s gaze. He didn’t feel as if he had the right to defend himself. He felt as though the decision – and blame – ought to fall at his feet.

“It wasn’t that simple, Duftmon,” Dukemon ardently defended, leaning forwards on the table and leering across at the feline tactician. He felt that he had to speak up in Omegamon’s defence, since he knew that Omegamon was the type of Digimon to subserviently accept all responsibility and not make an effort to defend himself when things went wrong. “You don’t know the circumstances.”

Duftmon closed his eyes and took a long, meditative inhale. He held his breath for several calming moments before exhaling and opening his eyes. After finishing the calming exercise that he remembered reading about, he turned his icy but composed gaze to Dukemon. “Very well… Enlighten us,” he permitted.

“We had Belphemon. He was asleep and we were about to finish him off, but then the Demon Lords showed up,” Dukemon explained, leaning back in his chair.

“The Demon Lords?” Alphamon asked with a frown. “All of them?”

“No. Three of them: Demon, Leviamon, and Beelzebumon,” Dukemon informed him.

“They attacked us and kept us away from Belphemon,” UlforceVeedramon explained, folding his arms and frowning indignantly. “They came with the intention of retrieving Belphemon while he was in his Sleep Mode.”

Sleipmon nodded, rubbing his hands together on top of the smooth table. “Leviamon and Demon stalled us while Beelzebumon hooked Belphemon to the back of his bike and drove off with him. They ran off into the snowstorm, and the storm was too heavy for us to safely follow them,” he added. “We couldn’t be sure if they were luring us into an ambush, so we disengaged.”

“I see…” Duftmon mused, tapping his finger irritably on the table top. “Tactically, I suppose was not a terrible move… However, strategically, this is a major blow to us. We can suppose from this that the Seven Great Demon Lords have now all gathered. We had a chance to eliminate one of the seven before they could consolidate and gain a foothold.”

“It slipped through our fingers…” Omegamon said with a repentant sigh.

Alphamon smiled at him. “Don’t beat yourselves up over it. Nobody said that fighting the Demon Lords was going to be easy… ‘The easiest victories are often the most fleeting’ I like to say,” he reassured them.

“Even so, it was a good opportunity,” Omegamon contended, looking at Alphamon. “It troubles me that we missed it. We should have followed them.”

“And risked your safety? Us losing a Royal Knight would be a greater blow than them gaining a Demon Lord. There will be other opportunities, Omegamon,” Magnamon offered, smiling optimistically at him.

“I suppose there is no point on dwelling on it now,” Duftmon supposed, folding his arms. “However, I will want to read your after action reports.”

“We’ll get on it after we have our checkups with Duskmon,” Sleipmon explained to him. “Though none of us are hurt too badly outside of some light bruising.”

“What were the Demon Lords like?” Examon asked, looking across the table at Sleipmon curiously. “Did they say anything?”

“They were strong. They might be able to fight us one on one and have it be a tough fight,” Dukemon responded, remembering his skirmish with Beelzebumon. “They were stronger than they were during the Night of Falling Stars.”

“They must have improved their combat abilities in the chaotic realm of the Dark Area,” Alphamon mentioned, stroking his chin with a deeply serious and pensive expression. “Just like DarkKnightmon.”

“They are zealous. They are planning something,” Omegamon explained gravely. “Demon said that they needed Belphemon and that the Royal Knights were not to interfere with their plans. They made it clear that they would not hesitate to kill us if given the chance. It is also clear that they have unfinished business with the Heavenly Choir.”

“Is that why they were set free, I wonder?” RhodoKnightmon pondered. He sat with his arms folded and his head was raised attentively. This was a time where his demeanour was cold and serious. “Perhaps by a follower of theirs back from the rebellion?”

“Many of the exiled demons from the Heavenly War settled in the Gloaming Fields,” Dynasmon explained. “They’ve got wealth and landholdings there now…”

“Enough to fund a rebellion,” Alphamon supposed. “It is possible…”

“Not to mention they have an axe to grind,” Craniamon added.

Examon nodded as he thought about the suggestion. “Maybe they were just biding their time after being exiled.” The crimson dragon’s scaly brows furrowed. “Deep-rooted desires for revenge don’t go away that easily…”

Gankoomon grunted and folded his arms before leaning back in his chair. He emphatically raised his legs and placed his feet up on top of the table, crossing one over the other. This brazen disregard of etiquette caused Duftmon’s eye to twitch, but Gankoomon ignored the ensuing glare.

“Don’t be so quick to judge them just because they’re demon Digimon who live in the Gloaming Fields. I’ve been to Sepulcrum, Vespers, and the Gloaming Fields’ countryside. There’re some mischief-makers and thieves, sure, but most of the Digimon around there are alright,” Gankoomon insisted.

“We aren’t saying that they aren’t,” Alphamon answered diplomatically. “However, a demon Digimon exiled from the Sky Colonies would make the most sense as the Demon Lords’ backer. We have to at least consider the possibility.”

“At this point, you’re just guessing,” Gankoomon debated, looking over at the Knight of the Empty Seat. “Why don’t we wait to see what Paildramon’s team finds before we make any assumptions?”

“I suppose that’s fair, but we also need to be proactive. It might be pertinent to have some of Karatenmon’s spies in Vespers and Sepulcrum investigate and see what they might find,” Alphamon suggested.

Duftmon nodded and looked over at Dukemon. “Perhaps Grani could increase the number of patrols in the Gloaming Fields as well,” he put forward.

“We can talk to him about it later,” Dukemon responded.

The crimson glows of Craniamon’s eye sockets turned to Omegamon. “Where did the Demon Lords escape to?” he asked him.

“Northwards,” Omegamon responded. “Leviamon swam up the river to attack us. He must have come from the northern sea. I can’t say for sure where exactly they’re headed.”

“But it’s safe to assume that they’re operating in the north of the continent,” Dynasmon suggested.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t exactly narrow things down. Eniac’s a big continent,” UlforceVeedramon said with a shrug.

“It’s something to work with, at least,” Dukemon reasoned. “We should tell the Warrior Ten and warn them to keep an eye out.”

Alphamon nodded in agreement. “I will try contacting them later. In the meantime, we will have to rely on the spies and scouts for further information. I can only hope Paildramon’s team is able to find some useful information.”

Before anybody could say another word, there was a firm knocking on the closed doors of the council room. The wooden thump echoed across the stone walls of the meeting room, commanding the attention of all twelve of the Royal Knights.

“Enter,” Alphamon said, loud enough to be heard on the other side of the doors.

The door opened to reveal a short, armoured sphere standing behind it. The Gladimon, clad in plate and leather, swept his skinny arm in front of his chest and bowed politely. Behind the shadow of his visor, his blue eyes looked upon his superiors tentatively. “I apologise for interrupting, but there is a visitor. High Administrator Shutumon arranged the appointment.”

“Oh, of course,” Alphamon said, standing to his feet. “Please, send in the guest.”

The Gladimon turned and looked behind him. “You may enter,” he said to the Digimon behind him.

The tall, lanky body of a holy Digimon stepped inside. His form was stained a pure, ivory colour that stood out against the austere greys of the room. Covering his body were dozens of silver belts and metal bands that acted as power restraints. The Gargomon was an ascended demon Digimon, purified and reinstated by the Heavenly Choir. His holiness was evidenced by his fluffy wings, the golden symbols emblazoned on his long, thick forearms, and his disciplined demeanour.

“Salutations, Sir Alphamon, Lord of the Empty Seat, and the venerable Royal Knights,” the Gargomon formally greeted them. He dropped to one knee and bowed his draconic head with respect. “I am Gargomon, the Grand Herald of the Heavenly Choir. I have been sent here to speak with you on behalf of the holy trinity, the Three Great Angels.”

“Welcome, Gargomon,” Alphamon received him warmly. “Please, stand.”

Gargomon stood to his feet, his stringy body straightening up politely. “The Three Great Angels wish to discuss an imperative and troubling matter…”

“Would that be the Seven Great Demon Lords?” Dukemon questioned him.

“That would be correct,” the Gargomon confirmed. “I assume the Royal Knights know all about the situation?”

“We aren’t aware of every detail at the moment. We know that somebody manipulated the Metal Empire to degrade the Dark Area’s barrier to the point that they could release the Seven Great Demon Lords,” Alphamon specified. “We also know that all seven have escaped and are likely planning something.”

“We also confirmed that they’re hostile,” Dukemon added.

“My, that is a problem…” a deep voice softly hummed from the great hall.

The Royal Knights looked past Gargomon to see a large wall of milky pink fur appear in the doorway.

Cherubimon stood in the doorway, smiling warmly and ducking under the tall, arched doorframe. He entered the council room and smiled at the twelve Royal Knights around the table. He stepped up beside Gargomon and bowed politely with a fluid sweeping gesture, causing his long rabbit ears to dip forwards slightly.

Sleipmon’s face lit up upon seeing the large, archangel Digimon. “Cherubimon!” he exclaimed, nearly jumping out of his seat.

Cherubimon raised his body and gazed at Sleipmon, gifting a warm smile to his former apprentice. “Sleipmon… It is lovely to see you…” he kindly greeted him.

“It is nice to see you as well,” Sleipmon agreed, smiling over at the sizeable angel who was even taller than he was. “But what are you doing here?”

“Yes, we were not expecting you…” Alphamon spoke. “Not that the meeting isn’t pleasant. It is just rare for us to meet each other in person.”

“His Holiness, Cherubimon, insisted on joining me, given the severity of the situation,” Gargomon explained dutifully.

A soft, wry smile formed on Cherubimon’s expressive and pliable face. “Against the Grand Herald’s wishes, admittedly,” he conceded with controlled levity, glancing over at Gargomon good-humouredly. “I hope it is not a problem, esteemed Royal Knights.”

“Not at all, Cherubimon,” Alphamon assured him, receiving him with hospitality.

“Ophanimon and Seraphimon send their regards, but unfortunately they could not come with me. With all that is happening, we have much that we must see to. I hope you understand,” Cherubimon reasoned courteously.

“Of course…” RhodoKnightmon responded. “I am sure that the Heavenly Choir must be in a state of panic at this unexpected development…”

“A ‘state of panic’ would be putting it too strongly, I think… However, to say that the news of the Demon Lords’ release is deeply troubling is quite accurate,” Cherubimon conceded, his approachable smile fading and becoming replaced by an unsettled frown. “We do not seek war with them, but the mere fact that those who committed the atrocities of the Night of Falling Stars are free… We cannot help but be fearful of their intentions.”

“We can confirm with a sufficient amount of certainty that their intentions are indeed malevolent,” Duftmon methodically explained. “We set out to eliminate Belphemon… However, three of the Demon Lords intervened and attacked the team. They were able to retreat with Belphemon in tow.”

“I see… So they are not peaceful…” Cherubimon reflected, his beady eyes growing disappointed and ponderous. “That is unfortunate…”

“What are the Heavenly Choir’s plans regarding the Demon Lords?” Magnamon inquired.

“That is a sensitive topic…” Gargomon spoke with tentative guardedness.

Cherubimon smiled slightly. “Yes, but we are among allies…” he reassured the Grand Herald. He clasped his large hands together, curling his fingers around each other as he looked at the Royal Knights. “We are still debating the best course of action… Seraphimon wants to strike them pre-emptively. Ophanimon is more cautious, but she is swaying in his direction. I wish to wait and establish what their intentions are, but if what you are saying is true… I suppose conflict is looking quite likely, as much as it pains me to say. …We will mobilize the Powers. The only question that remains is whether we will take an offensive or defensive posture.”

“What would you like, Cherubimon?” Sleipmon asked his former mentor.

Cherubimon smiled wistfully at the equestrian knight. “I would prefer not to fight at all… The Rebellion claimed the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters. I would hate to repeat that…” he honestly replied. “But if we must fight in order to protect, I would prefer to minimise the casualties. The question is, would attacking the incipient Demon Lords bring about a swift and bloodless end or would it be a rash and foolhardy action that would be giving the Demon Lords what they want? Would it be better to fortify and hold the Sky Colonies, which are extremely difficult for them to attack? Or would that draw out the conflict?”

“A defensive posture would be a mistake,” Duftmon enlightened him with clear decisiveness in his voice. “The Sky Colonies will not be the Demon Lords’ first target; it will likely be their final one. What they will seek to do in these early stages is attack strategic locations on Eniac. They will seek to establish a foothold in the Digital World. Once they have secure holdings, they will expand to both eliminate their most pressing threats and expand their resource base. They will likely attempt to build up their forces and resources in preparation for a final assault on the Sky Colonies. That is their end goal.”

Cherubimon’s brows furrowed and his eyes tightened, creating creases at the corners of his eyes. “While that is certainly a possibility, we do not know that for certain, Duftmon…” he debated cautiously.

“Nor will we know for certain until it happens,” Duftmon reasoned methodically, brushing his blond hair back with a hand. “The whole idea behind war planning is attempting to decipher your enemy’s strategy based on what is in their best immediate and future interests. I anticipate this to be their grand strategy, given their disadvantageous situation upon escaping the Dark Area. Of course, it will require more information before we can hope to theorize their immediate objectives.” His sharp, leafy-green eyes remained fixed on Cherubimon. “By sitting around and fortifying the Sky Colonies, you will be giving the Demon Lords the time and reprieve that they require to build up their army and resources.”

The corner of Gankoomon’s mouth stretched into a sneer. He lowered his feet from the table top and leaned forwards, staring at Cherubimon judgmentally. “Holing up in the Sky Colonies… That isolationist attitude also means abandoning the Digimon of the Digital World to their fates at the hands of the Demon Lords. Is that okay with you, Cherubimon? As long as the Sky Colonies are safe?” he asked him bluntly. “That whole war started under your guys’ watch. You have a responsibility to the Digimon of the Digital World, not just the Heavenly Choir. Have you forgotten the Night of Falling Stars and the tears that that caused?! You may not have seen the destruction from way up in those clouds, but I have…”

Cherubimon winced at Gankoomon’s words, which pierced deep into his heart. “No, of course not…!” he retorted, his voice wavering between calm restraint and insistent passion. “I understand that better than anybody! The Heavenly War started because of us… Rebellions do not simply happen in a vacuum, so, of course, blame rests at our feet as well…”

“Most of the blame rests in the vice of the heretical Demon Lords!” Gargomon added encouragingly. “You mustn’t be hard on yourself, Lord Cherubimon.”

Alphamon shot Gankoomon a sharp look, urging him to be less confrontational. “We are not blaming the Three Great Angels for this, Cherubimon,” he assured the cherubim Digimon diplomatically. “However, as the Order of the Royal Knights, we have a duty to stop the fugitive Demon Lords and protect the Digimon of the Digital World from their wrath and cruelty. We hope that we can rely on the Heavenly Choir to aid us.”

Cherubimon closed his eyes meditatively. “…Yes. We will need to debate amongst ourselves further to decide our course of action, but I will assure you that we will not let you or the Digital World down,” Cherubimon promised. “I believe that it would be better if we worked together, but there is still time for us to decide in what capacity we shall cooperate.”

Alphamon smiled at him, his golden eyes shining like the sun. “I appreciate that, Cherubimon. We think it would be wise for us to work with the Heavenly Choir as well. Our gods may differ, but our goals are the same.”

“I am pleased to hear that, Alphamon. It is a great comfort to know that we can rely on the Royal Knights,” Cherubimon reciprocated pleasantly.

“On what matters do you think that cooperation is possible, Sir Royal Knights?” Gargomon tentatively asked.

“We would be willing to share intelligence and information,” Alphamon suggested. “I think it might be too early at this juncture to propose our militaries working together.”

Cherubimon smiled and nodded. “I agree. That sounds agreeable to us. This is still early stages yet,” he concurred. “As long as we understand one another.”

“I believe that we do,” Alphamon said, looking around at the other Royal Knights. He looked back Cherubimon and Gargomon. “Is there anything else that you would like to discuss?”

Gargomon looked up at Cherubimon. “I believe that was all that we wanted to bring up, correct?” he asked his superior.

“That is my understanding. We just wished to make our intentions clear,” Cherubimon agreed.

“Thank you for taking the effort to come see us in person,” Dukemon spoke up. “I know you must be really busy with everything that’s going on.”

Cherubimon nodded and smiled. “It was no trouble,” he insisted, his deep voice reverberating in the acoustic council chamber. He looked over at Sleipmon. “Would you mind if I loitered around for an hour or so? I would love to take this chance to speak with my former apprentice,” he said, shooting Sleipmon a playful, aslant grin.

“Please, feel free,” Alphamon allowed.

“Thank you for taking the time to see us,” Gargomon humbly spoke. He bowed his body deeply. “We shall allow you to continue your meeting.”

Cherubimon nodded softly and turned around with Gargomon. The angel Digimon walked alongside the ascended demon, and the pair exited the council area. The Gladimon awaited them at the near end of the great hall and escorted the pair away to a guest area.

As the doors closed behind them, UlforceVeedramon waited several moments before releasing a breath. “It must be bad if one of the Three Great Angels is visiting us in person,” he speculated.

“The Seven Demon Lords have escaped, are working together, and are plotting something,” Dynasmon stated, looking at UlforceVeedramon. “It’s bad.”

“If the Heavenly Choir is serious about working with us, it will be useful to have another set of eyes,” Magnamon mused.

“Speaking of eyes,” Dukemon said, standing to his feet. “Should I go inform Grani? The sooner we get scouts up there, the better.”

Omegamon nodded and rose as well. “That sounds like a good idea, Dukemon,” the white knight agreed. “I will work on the after action report.”

Alphamon placed his gauntleted hands on the table and pushed himself up. “Those of you who aren’t preoccupied with your duties or helping to train the recruits should work on your own training. Omegamon, Dukemon, Sleipmon, and UlforceVeedramon, have Duskmon check you all over when you can,” he advised. “We will all need to be in top form if we wish to take on the Demon Lords.”

The Royal Knights all ascended from the table as the meeting came to a close. They began to funnel out of the room of conference and went on to make steps, however small in the short term, towards dealing with the massive struggle before them.

-

(Continued in the next post)
 
Last edited:

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
(Continued from the previous post)

-

Cherubimon sat on a large, cushioned couch in the guests’ waiting room, his body taking up most of the seat.

The waiting lounge was adjacent to the foyer for easy access as well as making sure that guests don’t stray too far into the castle unattended. It was a pleasant and comfortable room filled with several amenities. There were several couches made of fine material and adorned with soft cushions arranged around three of the four sides of the room. In front of two of the couches was a pair of long, wooden coffee tables for drinks to be placed on. There were a couple landscape paintings hung on the walls to give the room a bit of flavour. At the back of the room was a door leading to a small washroom.

The herbal, gingery aroma of tea filled the room pleasantly, hanging over the area and drifting out into the castle hallway. Using the tips of his large, awkward fingers, Cherubimon daintily held a saucer in one hand, and a cup of tea in the other. He carefully brought the cup to his lips and sipped the herbal tea politely. He took in the fragrance and sighed contently as the taste and smell.

His long, rabbit ear twitched when he detected a familiar noise. It was the sound of six hooves clopping against the ground in a soft, continuous tempo. Cherubimon smiled and lowered his tea cup onto the saucer and placed it back on the coffee table. He looked over just as Sleipmon appeared in the doorway. “Sleipmon… Greetings,” he addressed him; the warmth in his eyes and smile was as warm and sweet as the tea that he drank.

A broad smile formed on Sleipmon’s face, and he immediately entered the room and made his way over to Cherubimon. “Cherubimon… It’s great to see you,” he welcomed him, his deep voice overflowing with affection.

As he approached the couch, Cherubimon stood to his feet and placed his large, furry arms around Sleipmon’s back, gently pulling him against his soft body. Sleipmon smiled and returned the hug.

“It is wonderful to see you, my young apprentice…” Cherubimon greeted, pulling away slowly. He smiled down at Sleipmon. “Though, perhaps not so young, nor my apprentice any longer… You are a strong and noble Royal Knight now.”

Sleipmon smiled warmly at his former mentor. “It is thanks to you, Cherubimon… I wouldn’t be half the Digimon I am today without everything that you taught me,” he explained.

“You don’t give yourself enough credit, Sleipmon,” Cherubimon encouraged him. “There was a reason that I chose you as my apprentice to become the guardian of the Arcane Ruins… I saw a determination, caring, and great strength in you. I saw great potential, and I take pride in the fact that I was correct,” he added with a joking wink.

Sleipmon chuckled softly. “How have you been? How is life in the Sky Colonies?” he asked him.

“Very busy, admittedly. I hardly have the time to sit down and read a good book any longer,” Cherubimon explained with a small but regretful smile. “And yourself?”

“It’s the same with me. There’s always something for me to do as a Royal Knight. If it isn’t going on missions, it’s inspections or training or paperwork or commanding others on the field,” Sleipmon explained.

Cherubimon chuckled, his laugh deep, yet soft and warm. “You love it, however… I can tell. You are truly happy here, being able to help Digimon on such a wide scale,” he deduced.

Sleipmon smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck, his fingers disappearing in his mane of pale violet hair. “Yes, I do…” he confessed. “I have to admit, it’s not all altruistic… Part of me loves the attention that comes with being a Royal Knight,” he explained with a guilty smile. “I like seeing the awed smiles of our fans when they recognise me.”

“I won’t judge you for that,” Cherubimon told him as he sat back down. “Nobody is completely absent of the seven sins that the Demon Lords exhibit. All we can do is strive to not let those vices control us and drag us into depravity.” Cherubimon smiled warmly at Sleipmon. “I have nothing to fear about your morals, Sleipmon. You are a good Digimon.”

Sleipmon turned his equine head and glanced away. “Mm… Thank you for saying so,” he responded noncommittally. His amethyst eyes narrowed into a soft frown. “…I am sorry that I don’t write as much as I used to. I just… became busier with my responsibilities. First with… guarding the ruins, and then later with joining the Royal Knights. It frequently slipped my mind…”

“I understand, Sleipmon…” Cherubimon responded, large mouth flattening. “I admit, at first I was worried. I thought something might have happened to you at the Arcane Ruins or, perhaps, you resented me for going on the Exodus... However, those fears were assuaged when I received your letter, telling me that everything was going fine.”

Sleipmon’s lips curled downwards at the memory and he was quiet. However, he didn’t tell Cherubimon the real reason why he had trouble writing to him. He was too ashamed to tell him what had happened. He couldn’t bear to see the look in Cherubimon’s eyes… “…I could never resent you, Cherubimon. We follow different gods, but that doesn’t matter to me. You are still very important to me.”

“It comforts my heart to hear that. I know there can be difficulties, due to me being one of the leaders of the Heavenly Choir and you being a Royal Knight. Politics and other things might get in the way,” Cherubimon spoke. He placed his large hand on Sleipmon’s armoured shoulder, squeezing. “As long as we can remain friends, that is all that I need.”

A small smile formed on Sleipmon. “Me too, Cherubimon. Thank you…”

The rabbit angel nodded gently. “How are the Arcane Ruins?” he inquired.

“They are safe… A trusted friend of mine is guarding them in my absence, but I still go and check on them whenever I can. I just checked up on them a few days ago while I was in Ocean Cove,” Sleipmon explained.

Cherubimon leaned forwards and placed his chin on his clasped hands as he looked at Sleipmon. “Good… I know that I handed the guardianship to you after I began the Religion of Light… However, just because I believe the Kernel holds the information data that explains the secrets of the Digital World, it doesn’t mean that I believe that the information held within the Arcane Ruins is not also important. It is, very much so. You know as well as I do… I know that you will look after it.”

Sleipmon smiled a bit. “Of course I will. That hasn’t changed, despite becoming a Royal Knight,” he assured Cherubimon.

Cherubimon closed his eyes and nodded gently, his chin still flat against his intertwined fingers. “I know. I trust you.”

“Thanks…” Sleipmon replied. His expression grew serious and he looked at Cherubimon directly. “Cherubimon, what do you think of the Seven Great Demon Lords?”

The muscles between Cherubimon’s beady eyes tightened softly, creating a rippling frown. “I…” he hesitated. “…I believe that they are Digimon whose souls have been corrupted by sin. They are malevolent, and they have caused immense suffering, both to the Sky Colonies and to the Digital World… I believe that they need to be stopped, with force if need be…”

Sleipmon nodded slowly. “I see…”

Cherubimon exhaled meditatively and reached forwards to pick up his cup of tea, “However…” he began before taking a gentle sip of the steaming liquid. “…There has been wrongdoing on the side of the Heavenly Choir as well. As the Three Great Angels, we bear at least some responsibility for what has happened, and not all of our actions have been just or even moral… It is a controversial opinion, but I believe it to be true…”

Cherubimon opened his eyes and stared seriously at Sleipmon. The kindness and warmth of his eyes was gone, and it was replaced by deep solemnity and seriousness. “The Religion of Light emphasises self-reflection… If all we do is shift the blame and demonize, how can we hope to reform ourselves and fix the problems that caused that which we still face? The Demon Lords are a threat, yes, but they are not the only threat.”

“I understand what you mean…’ Sleipmon said, listening to the Archangel of Wisdom carefully.

“Mm… Seraphimon seems to think that the demons are the only problem that we must face. He is consumed by the ghosts of the Heavenly War and exterminating the rot that caused the rebellion. Ophanimon constantly enables him and she is more inclined to listen to him than she is to me…” he admitted, his black eyes frowning with bitter frustration. “If she does, they can outvote me… even if I protest from the depths of my heart. I don’t know if I can stop the situation from spiralling out of control and into a bloody and self-destructive war again…”

Sleipmon stared at Cherubimon. He could see the fear and anger in his eyes. He always did wear his emotions clear on his face. It troubled the Royal Knight to see him in such turmoil. “I’m sorry, Cherubimon. Perhaps you should speak with them about how you feel. They are your friends, so they will surely listen,” he suggested.

Cherubimon blinked and caught himself. Sheepishly, the angel looked away from the beast knight. “No, I… I am sorry, Sleipmon. I should not be burdening you with my idle thoughts…” he apologised, bowing his head. “I am simply stressed because of the whole situation. My emotions are getting the better of me… I know that Seraphimon and Ophanimon are trying their best to come to a solution, just like I am. We all have our own opinions, and they do not always align.”

“I can understand that, Cherubimon. That happens all the time here between us Royal Knights,’ Sleipmon explained with a knowing smile. “What’s important is that we can talk about our differences, and try to understand each other… rather than digging our feet in.”

For a few moments, Cherubimon stared at Sleipmon before smiling. “Yes… Yes, you’re right,” he admitted, chuckling. “You have matured so much. Here you are, giving me sound advice… Thank you…”

Sleipmon smiled wider. “Anytime, Cherubimon…”

Cherubimon nodded and finished tea. He slowly stood to his feet and nodded at the Gladimon guard who stood at the doorway. “It was wonderful to see you, Sleipmon, but I need to be leaving now. It is a long journey back to the Sky Colonies,” he explained.

Although somewhat disappointed, Sleipmon nodded. “Alright… I will see you out of the castle myself, then…” he told him.

Cherubimon nodded and placed his hand on Sleipmon’s wing-adorned back. He walked out behind the large Royal Knight and followed him towards the foyer. “I hope that fortune and light shines down upon you and the Royal Knights, Sleipmon.”

Sleipmon smiled and looked over his shoulder at Cherubimon gratefully. “Thank you… I hope the same for you.”

Burdened, Cherubimon closed his eyes and meandered in a pensive gait. “Mm… I fear that we will all need it in the coming days…”

-

Night time passed over the Desolate Moors. The abyssal landscape glowed an eerie pearl hue as the twin moons radiated reflected light down from the empty night sky.

Outside of NeoVamdemon’s stone castle were several lesser buildings, dwarfed in size by the fortified mansion. At the center of these buildings was a stone courtyard that acted as a focal point connecting them. It attached to a small road that led away from the rural castle and further into the Gloaming Fields, down towards Sepulcrum. Further down the road were the hollowed-out vestiges of a small chapel, which gave the already intimidating castle a haunting atmosphere. Among the buildings surrounding the mansion was an empty coach house which lay in front of a basic, but oft-trodden dirt path. It was a large, spacious building was similar in shape to a barn, with a pair of thirty foot doors leading inside. Usually resting in the interior of the coach house was a black, ostentatious, bat-drawn carriage used by NeoVamdemon. However, the carriage was absent in order to make room for the much larger occupants.

A pair of long, crimson tails could be seen poking out of the opened barn doors. They belonged to the massive, reptilian body of Leviamon, who was stuffed ingloriously inside the spacious coach house. The interior of the large building was quite expansive in order to fit a pair of large stage coaches, but that space soon disappeared with the presence of both the titanic Leviamon and the massive form of Belphemon.

Belphemon: Sleep Mode snored contently as he rested on large bales of hay that were stacked at the back of the building. His large furry body expanded and deflated as he took in and released his soft, slumberous breaths. Leviamon, in order to fit inside the barn as well, had to be squished into the corner with the left side of his snout pressed right up against Belphemon. This garnered a deep, annoyed scowl on his lengthy, reptilian maw.

Meanwhile, the five remaining Demon Lords and Bagramon were gathered in a circle in the middle of the barn. The barn was illuminated by a several tall candles, ignited by the flames of Demon’s hellfire. On top of the large crate was a map of the continent, which the Demon Lords stared down at intently. Barbamon was closest to the map; he was hunched over and pointing with his bejeweled, gangling finger so that his violet claw prodded a point on the map.

Beelzebumon leaned back against one of the wooden beams that acted as a support of the expansive building’s roof. He folded his arms and leered at the gathered group from several meters away, right beside Belphemon’s left foot. “You want us to what?” he asked Barbamon flatly, staring at him quizzically.

“I wish us to attack New Terminal. Must I repeat everything?” Barbamon reiterated, tapping the riverside city on the map with his claw. “It is the power center for the Republic of Node and it is at the epicenter of the continent. It contains the central bank of Eniac along with vast reserves of bits, gold, and gems. If we can take control of this city, we will be sitting extremely comfortably… We would have a clear, defensible stronghold and a foothold on the continent.”

“Hmm…” Lucemon mused, twirling a strand of his long, blond hair around his index finger. “This is quite the bold strategy, Barbamon,” he remarked ambivalently.

“It is an incredibly risky proposal,” Bagramon contended, his red eyes resting on the gilded demon. “This is moving the timetable ahead quite a bit, Barbamon. New Terminal is one of the major centers of power, and the Republic’s military is no minor force.”

“Which is why they must be quelled early before they can mobilize against us, Bagramon,” Barbamon explained. “A surprise attack would be our best chance against them; if we strike at their heart, we will send them into disarray and they will lose their fighting spirit. We need this early momentum to carry us through.”

Lilithmon placed her hands on her hips and leered at Barbamon sceptically. “Apparently, we already have the Royal Knights on our backs and you want to make more enemies? Would it not be better to woo them?”

“The Republic of Node is unlikely to work with us,” Bagramon admitted. “Despite disagreements with the Royal Knights in the past, the two have become closer, even sharing military forces. There is also the fact that Angewomon, who is associated with the Heavenly Choir, is one of the Council of Seven. She would never work with us, and she would likely inform the Heavenly Choir of any of our overtures. …Besides, Digimon would not so easily forget the Night of Falling Stars. Diplomacy is simply not an option that we can easily take.”

“Then that is precisely why we should strike at New Terminal,” Demon growled softly behind his scarlet hood. His baleful eyes landed on Bagramon, piercing like icicles. “The Republic of Node was always against us, even back during our days in the Sky Colony. For that, they need to be punished for their transgressions…” he muttered in a low husk. “The fact that they are an ally of the Royal Knights gives us even more cause to attack them. If we take out their army, their capital – their Council even – then the Republic will crumble and the Royal Knights will lose an important ally. A victory there would show to the world our strength and cause them to fear us too much to band against us.”

“Precisely!” Barbamon insisted ardently. “Apart from the reasons already mentioned, it would be a crushing blow to the morale of our foes and be a prosperous boon to our momentum!”

“I understand the logic,” Lucemon mused, his glossy blue eyes gazing down aloofly. “Bagramon is not incorrect when he says that it is a risk, however.”

Barbamon looked up at Lucemon insistently. “A risk, but a calculated one.”

“The last time we took a risk like that was in our rebellion. Look how that ended up,” Leviamon murmured sarcastically.

“We were facing execution. We had no other choice but to take drastic actions,” Barbamon insisted. “This is a feasible strategy for our lasting success.”

“Assuming we can win,” Bagramon pensively debated. “I am not disagreeing, but do you think we can win against the Republic’s army? Their main military base is right at the edge of the city. Can we take them with the few thousand troops that our allies here have promised us?”

“With the right strategy, we can…” Barbamon assured him.

Lucemon hummed and trailed his finger down the strands of hair to their golden tips. He closed his eyes and folded his arms across his suit-clad chest. “I am willing to attempt this, Barbamon…” he agreed. “I doubt that our enemies will be able to stand coherently against our might and intellect.”

“Hah!” Beelzebumon chuckled at the idea. “I’m in. Sounds like a hell of a time!” he declared, grinning excitedly at the prospect of intense combat. “Hey, when we win, maybe we can become the new Council of Seven, heh!” He thumbed over his shoulder at Belphemon. “The snoreball can be our official mascot or somethin’.”

“I suppose it is not a terrible idea…” Lilithmon conceded. “If we must fight them eventually, it is best that we do so now.”

“It is our best course of action,” Demon decided, raising his hand and closing his fist tightly. “We will crush the Republic beneath our feet…” The robed arch-demon turned towards Bagramon with leering, lavender eyes. “What say you, Bagramon?”

Bagramon sighed. He wasn’t completely behind such a risky operation this early on, but he understood where they were coming from. “Barbamon, if you can create a good strategy of attack, I will be willing to go along with it,” he responded. “Not just for my sake, but to get our benefactors to agree to commit their armies to this as well.”

Barbamon stood up straight and tapped the butt of his staff on the floor of the coach house. “Very well, Bagramon. Leave it to me,” he assured him. “I will come up with a foolproof plan.”

“You will need to, Barbamon,” Lucemon spoke, glancing over at Leviamon pointedly.

Leviamon sneered at this veiled insult. His rows of dagger-like teeth became visible as his lips parted and receded. “Nobody asked me what I think about it…” he spoke with an indignant growl.

Lucemon glanced aside with distaste. “It doesn’t matter what you think. We have already decided,” Lucemon haughtily informed him.

Deciding it was a good idea to assuage the large demon Digimon, Bagramon turned to the leviathan. “What do you think, Leviamon? Do you disagree?” he asked him.

Leviamon closed his narrow, reptilian eyes and let out a humph. The breath sent out multicoloured steam in front of his snout, enveloping Belphemon and causing the goat demon’s nose to wiggle. “I want to know what their troop numbers are like first,” he decided. “In theory, it’s not a terrible idea.”

Lilithmon rolled her eyes. “Are you happy now?” she blandly asked him. The raven-haired demon turned around and gestured to Belphemon. “And what do we do about him? We can’t exactly bring him into a battle as he is… or take him anywhere, for that matter.”

“There are ways to dispel the power inhibitors placed on him,” Bagramon explained. “The real concern is keeping him under control once he is awake.”

Demon nodded in agreement at the bearded fallen angel’s words. “Yes… While Belphemon is in his Rage Mode, he still has his sentience, but his mind becomes clouded with unquenchable fury. It makes him an extremely powerful and savage fighter, which is good. However, he becomes wild and has trouble listening to orders until he tires himself out. Setting him loose is like unleashing a wild river of hatred. It must be done at the right time.”

“So, we should leave him out of this attack,” Lucemon decided. “There is a time and a place for chaos. This is not it.”

“Yes, well… I will factor that into my plans,” Barbamon responded, looking back down at the map. “I will require more reconnaissance in order to strategize. The planning process will likely take at least a week. There are many considerations that require attention.

“I understand, Barbamon,” Bagramon reaffirmed to him. “I will aid you in any way that I can.”

“Yeah, well, you do know what’s going on best,” Leviamon admitted.

His reptilian eye snapped over to the door upon seeing movement. He tentatively moved his pair of tails that hung out of the wide doorway. A PicoDevimon became visible against the glow of the candle. The familiar knocked his talons against the side of the opened door to announce himself.

“Excuse me for the interruption,” the PicoDevimon spoke, bowing his head deeply as he flew in place. “Lord Bagramon?”

Bagramon turned his crimson eye over to the small demon Digimon, arching the one eyebrow on his left side. “Yes?”

“There is a Mister Blitzmon and Mister Bolgmon of a Black Pincer Company who are here to see you. Shall I allow them in or have them wait in the guest lounge?” the PicoDevimon inquired.

“Ah…” Bagramon gazed around at the Seven Great Demon Lords. “Do any of you mind if I see to them? My mercenaries have arrived ahead of schedule.”

“Go ahead, Bagramon,” Lucemon permitted, smiling slightly. “It would be rude to keep them waiting…”

“Speaking of which, it might be pertinent to use some of our newly acquired funds to hire some more mercenaries,” Barbamon suggested. He looked at Bagramon, who waited for the PicoDevimon messenger to go and fetch the pair of insect mercenaries. “Have you any suggestions on that matter, Bagramon?”

Bagramon nodded gently and walked past them, stepping over Leviamon’s tails as he neared the door. “I would suggest the Cimmerian Adventurers. They aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and their species are generally closest in alignment to your Nightmare Soldiers,” he explained, turning his head as he heard the low hum of an engine approaching.

“Mercenaries for what?” Beelzebumon asked, placing the sole of his boot back against the beam that he leaned on. “To pour into that attack?”

“No, you idiot,” Barbamon answered. “It would be a mistake to put all of our forces into a single attack. You do not put all of your funds into a single bank. We must have reserves in case something should go wrong. It is simple common sense.”

“Well, excuse me…” Beelzebumon sardonically replied, grinning contentiously at Barbamon. He shrugged boredly and turned his attention away, gazing out into the night. He saw two forms emerge from the darkness and stop in the barn doorway.

Blitzmon and Bolgmon stepped out of the night and into the crowded building, coming to a stop right at the edge of the doors. The pair of mercenaries clad in Egyptian blue armour gazed around the barn at the Seven Great Demon Lords.

Bagramon approached them with a small smile. “Hello,” he greeted. “Blitzmon, Bolgmon, these are the Seven Great Demon Lords…” he introduced, gesturing his long, wooden hand out at the seven behind him. “Everyone, these are Blitzmon and Bolgmon. They were instrumental in setting the groundwork for your escape.”

The Demon Lords leered at the pair of mercenaries, receiving them coolly. Lucemon, Demon, Leviamon, Barbamon, and Lilithmon all observed Blitzmon and Bolgmon with aloof, scrutinizing eyes.

Lilithmon half-smirked. “Is that so?” she spoke up, breaking the chilly silence. “What a pleasure it is, then…”

Beelzebumon grinned and sized the pair up. “…Yo,” he greeted. He folded his long arms and leaned back against the wooden support. He wasn’t warm to them, but he could tell that the pair had combat skills just be looking at them. “So, you two were Bagramon’s right hand then?”

“Sort of,” Blitzmon responded with cool confidence despite the intimidating group before them. “We’re just skilled mercenaries doing our job. We’ll do whatever you guys want, just as long as we can expect a paycheck.”

“And as long as we can have a good fight while we’re at it!” Bolgmon said with his usual sharp laugh.

His steely blue eyes staring judgmentally at the pair of mercenaries, Lucemon internally regarded them with condescension. However, he allowed a smile on his supple lips and nodded congenially. “Very well… Your hard work in our service is appreciated.”

Beelzebumon chuckled at their responses. “I could get to like you two, if you’re any good,” he decided with a toothy smirk.

“Oh, we’re good,” Bolgmon declared, leering back at Beelzebumon competitively.

Barbamon smirked and stared at Blitzmon. “It is good to have you working with us. I like a Digimon who knows what he wants…” he observed, his crooked smile growing. “What are your talents?”

“We specialize in covert operations… Infiltration, reconnaissance, theft, kidnapping, neutralization, assassination… We have a vast skill set,” Blitzmon advertised. “We are also proficient in general combat, logistics, and bombardment.”

“Their record speaks for themselves. Their aptitude and diverse abilities was the reason why I selected them in the first place,” Bagramon explained methodically.

Blitzmon nodded and turned to Bagramon. “Can we speak in private?” he asked him.

Bagramon nodded and looked at the Demon Lords. “Excuse me. I’ll just be a few minutes…” he informed them. He turned and began walking outside with Blitzmon and Bolgmon following behind him.

Both Lilithmon and Beelzebumon took the opportunity to eye Blitzmon as he walked away.

The three Digimon strode out into the small courtyard in front of the mansion, which rested at the end of a road. After walking away from the couch house for a minute, they stopped at the center of the courtyard, underneath a stone statue of an amorphous demon, who reached up towards the clouds with wretched black, claws.

Bolgmon drove up beside the statue and leaned his cannon arm against it. Blitzmon stopped beside him and looked at Bagramon, who stood opposite to them.

“Thank you for coming,” Bagramon told them. “Do you have any news?”

“There are two hundred escaped Dark Area demons in Dark Point,” Blitzmon informed him pithily. “They’re generally trying to carve out their own turf there, but it’s getting heated. Thought you might want to know.”

“I see… I did expect some unintended spillover when the Dark Area’s barrier was at its weakest, but not so many in one place… That is useful to know. Thank you,” Bagramon replied.

Blitzmon nodded. “Do you have another job for us?” he inquired, his sharp, green eyes staring at Bagramon expectantly, like a hungry pet waiting for a meal.

“Yes, I do…” the fallen angel confirmed as he ran his fingers through his scruffy, obsidian beard. “I would like you both to contact the Cimmerian Adventurers and offer them a job on my behalf…”

Bolgmon narrowed his eyes at their mention. “Really? Them?” he questioned with distaste.

“Yes… They are a large mercenary group and we require their numbers,” Bagramon explained. “Don’t worry. I will continue using you two for my more important jobs. However, a team of two is good for some things, but not for others.”

Blitzmon nodded. “I understand what you mean. We are not suited to large operations like a full scale attack,” he agreed pragmatically. “We will get into contact with them for you and arrange a meeting.”

“Thank you. Now that I have recuperated my funds, I can pay you regularly again,” Bagramon informed them.

“That is good to know…” Blitzmon responded, eyeing Bagramon with interest. “We are still very much in need of money. Any more jobs would be good for us…”

Bagramon stalled for a moment, rubbing his chin with his left hand. “Actually… There is one thing that I would like for you to look into…” he admitted after considering it carefully.

“What is it?” Bolgmon asked.

“…Find Wizardmon. I want you to go to the Timeless Library and get the book called the Yggdrasil Codex,” Bagramon asked them, his crimson eye narrowing while the empty one glowed faintly. “Once you have it, escort Wizardmon to me.”

“Okay…’ Blitzmon agreed tentatively. “Why do you want that?” he couldn’t help but ask why they were getting paid to get a book.

Bagramon smiled. “…Just further research…” he furtively replied.

“Well, whatever,” Bolgmon answered, making his disinterest obvious. “We can do that.”

“Good… We will be making a move in the near future. I will be relying on you both,” Bagramon assured them.

Blitzmon smirked. “You can count on us…” he promised.

Blitzmon turned away from the demon lord Digimon and stared down the barren road, into the empty void of the night.

“Black Pincer Company is back in action…”
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
(Author's Note: Had to split this into two because it was too long. Will post Part 2 next week.)

Chapter 35: Phantom Sun (Part I)

The clouds broke and the sun emerged in the sky. The morning sun rose behind Castle Albion, its mild, spring rays piercing through the spreading clouds with the promise of a sunny day. The gentle wisps of cloud data drifted in from the Net Ocean, juxtaposing against the backdrop of the pure, azure firmament. It caused Castle Albion to strike quite the scenic pose in the warm, spring morning.

Four Digimon had the perfect vantage point to see the picturesque castle as they approached the fortress.

GrandisKuwagamon zipped through the sky, his glowing, amber wings beating swiftly as he soared. The sun rose directly in front of him, causing its bright rays to shine into his ruby-like eye. The morning sun beat down on his body, warming his obsidian exoskeleton with its heat. He felt the temperate air rush past his body as he flew, and the soft gusts of wind blew through his tangerine hair.

Flying beside him was the form of a massive, blue dragon, clad in heavy, black armour that was accented with gold trimmings. Paildramon had evolved to her Ultimate form, Imperialdramon Dragon Mode, so that she could carry the ground-bound Dorbickmon on her back. This was done so that they could return to the headquarters faster than if they were walking. Due to her large body in that form, the mercenary was able to fit inside of the glowing, dome-shaped barrier that surrounded her back. It completely covered the dorsal of her back, minus her broad wings which flapped majestically as she flew at a slow speed in order to keep pace with the others.

On GrandisKuwagamon’s other side was VictoryGreymon, who soared through the air with the aid of the two, detachable wings on the back of his armour. VictoryGreymon smiled over at GrandisKuwagamon amicably. His emerald eyes shimmered with a warm and friendly demeanour; they stood out as the sun shone against them, highlighting the brilliant green of his irises. His neck-length, fiery red hair swayed in the breeze like gentle embers as he flew alongside his teammates.

Ignoring VictoryGreymon’s perpetually friendly smile, GrandisKuwagamon stared ahead; his eye was fixed on Castle Albion, which only about a kilometer away from them.

It was a fortress, a stronghold, a projection of the Royal Knights’ power. To GrandisKuwagamon, it had always been the symbol of an enemy – of Digimon who wanted to arrest him, who looked down on him, who even wanted to kill him. The first time he was there, he had snuck into the castle and killed Order soldiers – a job that was for the money, but also a defiant stab against the hierarchy. The next time he was there, he was being led into the castle in chains, stared at by the cold, judgmental eyes of the passing guards. Both of those times, they were the enemy, and he was their enemy. It was hard for enemies to trust each other. It wasn’t easy to drop those pre-conceived notions and labels that form in one’s mind when meeting adversity.

Yet, here he was, working alongside the Royal Knights. He had helped Paildramon, Dorbickmon, and VictoryGreymon find out what they needed to know about the client who hired Black Pincer Company. He had put his trust in Alphamon, who had guaranteed him that if he helped them, they would diminish his sentence. He trusted Alphamon to be a man of honour and live up to his word. The Royal Knights weren’t the sort of Digimon to renege on their promises, unlike the Digimon that GrandisKuwagamon was used to dealing with. That was one reason why he had trouble lowering his guard.

As they approached Castle Albion, instead of adversity, GrandisKuwagamon tentatively saw a glimmer of hope. However, he stifled those feelings with a thick layer of realism. He had to find out whether the castle he was returning to was one of freedom, or one of imprisonment. Every Digimon was capable of lying after all. That was something he had learned time and again.

Imperialdramon flapped her broad wings and flew ahead of GrandisKuwagamon and VictoryGreymon. She turned her head and looked at them, her neck-length, white hair blowing in her face slightly as she flew. “We’ll land in the training grounds and proceed to the main square, where we’ll meet with our superiors,” she informed them, her voice deeper than usual in that form.

“Okay, Over sergeant,” VictoryGreymon affirmed with a nod.

“Fine with me,” Dorbickmon said, lying with his hands behind his head. He glanced out at the vista of the castle as he relaxed on Imperialdramon’s back. The protective barrier shielded him from the wind and g-forces as she flew forwards.

GrandisKuwagamon watched as Imperialdramon led the approach towards the castle. As she neared the ramparts of the gatehouse, she slowed, beating her broad wings ahead of her body to cease her momentum and come to a halt. GrandisKuwagamon and VictoryGreymon slowed down behind her. She hailed to a rabbit Digimon, one of the Castle Guards, who was standing watch on the ramparts near the castle gate.

“Over sergeant Paildramon of the Strike Forces, returning from a mission with my team,” she informed the guard on duty.

“Okay, you’re free to enter,” the Galgomon responded from his place on the ramparts. He gestured over to the expanse of the grassy training grounds within the walls of the castle. “Touch down over there.”

“Affirmative,” Imperialdramon responded, nodding to the other members of her team. Beating her crimson wings, she glided over the wall and took a left. She soared above the main road, the castle courtyards, and finally the barracks buildings at the end of the road. After making sure the aerial traffic was clear, she slowly descended and touched down on the level, grassy terrain in a place where there were no other Digimon. Once settled on the ground, she dropped the glowing, transparent barrier that enveloped her back, allowing Dorbickmon to jump down to the ground.

GrandisKuwagamon and VictoryGreymon landed behind Imperialdramon, just as she reverted back to her Paildramon form. The area they touched down in was vacant, but several hundred meters down the training grounds, they could see the Strike Forces preparing for their morning exercises and combat drills.

“Thanks for the ride, Paildramon,” Dorbickmon said to her with a friendly grin. “Sure beats walking.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Paildramon replied while she settled back into her Perfect-level form. She turned around and looked at GrandisKuwagamon and VictoryGreymon. “Now, we should report in with our superiors.”

“Looks like they’ve already found us,” Dorbickmon pointed out, nodding over to the main road.

Walking up the road, past one of the stone guard towers, were the black forms of Alphamon and Karatenmon. The knight and crow ninja stepped off the smooth pavement and onto the soft grass of the training grounds, walking straight towards the team.

“They sure don’t waste any time,” Dorbickmon muttered. He pivoted on his heel and folded his arms as the pair of dark figures strode up to them.

“Sir Alphamon, Karatenmon,” Paildramon greeted with a formal salute. Upon seeing the Royal Knight and Spymaster, VictoryGreymon raised his hand vertically to salute as well. The pair of mercenaries, not interested in any formalities, both opted to simply stare at Alphamon as he walked over.

“Paildramon, VictoryGreymon,” Alphamon greeted, saluting them back. He lowered his hand and nodded gently at GrandisKuwagamon and Dorbickmon. “Welcome back. How are all of you?”

“Okay, considering I had to spend four days with the bug,” Dorbickmon quipped in response.

“Tired. Annoyed by the company. Can we skip the small talk and get straight to business, Alphamon?” GrandisKuwagamon insisted, leering at Alphamon ardently. He was in no mood to beat around the bush; he wanted to collect on his reward.

Alphamon smiled at his bluntness. He nodded affirmatively and stood at ease. “Of course… How did the mission go?” he asked them.

Karatenmon placed one of his taloned hands on his hip and observed the group of four. “You’re back earlier than I expected… Does that mean you found something?” he wondered astutely.

“We found out who the client that hired Black Pincer Company is,” Paildramon explained. “We can confirm your suspicions that he is working with the Demon Lords. There is more too…”

Pleased and intrigued by the news, there was a flicker of a smile in Alphamon’s surprised, gold eyes. “Oh? Is that so? It sounds like this has been a fruitful investigation, indeed. I see that the vigor of youth has pulled through once again. …Good job, everyone,” he praised them. This was certainly more than he was expecting.

“You’re welcome, Sir. We’re just doing our jobs!” VictoryGreymon insisted, blushing and smiling proudly at Alphamon’s commendation.

“Shall I tell you the details, Sir?” Paildramon asked the obsidian-clad Royal Knight.

“Yes, but not here. Come to my office in half an hour and we can debrief there,” Alphamon told her. “First, take GrandisKuwagamon to the medical bay. You two can have the proximal restraint system removed now.”

GrandisKuwagamon’s scarlet eye flickered at his words. “…Hold on a second. So, what does that mean for me?” he demanded. “We found out my old client. I did what you want. You’re going to hold up your end of the bargain, right?”

“Of course, GrandisKuwagamon. I am a knight of honour. My word is true,” Alphamon assured him, staring at GrandisKuwagamon sincerely. “Your sentence will be reduced as promised.”

“So, what about the power inhibitor?” GrandisKuwagamon asked, noting Alphamon’s lack of mention of it before. “I can get that removed too and then I’m free to go once the viruses are out, right?”

Alphamon blinked at this. His expression morphed into a frown of grave confusion. “Pardon…? I think you misunderstand the situation, GrandisKuwagamon…”

These words struck GrandisKuwagamon like a brick wall. Alphamon’s confused expression was all that he needed to see. The insect’s shoulders tensed up and his black fingers curled into soft fists. “…What?” he asked in an incredulous hiss. His indignant voice was cold and controlled, but, underneath, he seethed like a fire.

“That wasn’t the deal, GrandisKuwagamon,” Karatenmon reminded him, looking at the mercenary seriously. “We said that we would reduce the sentence, not commute it.”

GrandisKuwagamon glowered bitterly. His eye was as sharp as the pair of honed forceps that flanked it. “What the hell? What the hell did you think that I thought you meant when you said ‘reduce’? I made a deal for freedom. I put my *** on the line, and you’re trying to renege on our deal on a technicality?! Yeah, real honourable. I always knew you were a hypocrite, Alphamon. You’re an empty suit of armour.”

VictoryGreymon grimaced and looked between Alphamon and GrandisKuwagamon. “Grandis…” he attempted to mediate. It made him uncomfortable to see GrandisKuwagamon getting mad at his hero. It seemed to VictoryGreymon that he was blaming Alphamon for something that sounded like a misunderstanding.

Alphamon fixed his steely gaze at the angry insect Digimon. “I am not reneging on anything, GrandisKuwagamon. From the start, I never once promised you absolute freedom. I said that we would reduce your sentence but that your crimes would not be completely overlooked,” he explained temperately. “I was going to suggest that you would only have two year’s imprisonment in Havelock Prison. That is more than fair given your extensive crimes.”

GrandisKuwagamon scoffed at this. “Two years…? Gee, how generous. Only twenty four months of my life rotting away in a cramped cell. Wonderful,” he exclaimed, his words smothered with his brand of acidic sarcasm. “Meanwhile, the Demon Lords might decide to drop another Sky Colony on the Digital World and then it’s lights out for me. Great.”

“You were looking at up to fifteen years. If we were more vindictive, it might have been even longer,” Alphamon reminded him. “Considering all of the crimes you committed as Black Pincer Company… theft, violent assault, grievous bodily harm, arson, kidnapping, extortion, breaking and entering, massive destruction of property, murder, assassination, killing Order soldiers, among other crimes… I would say that two years is quite generous. I would even be willing to drop it to one year if you could prove that you genuinely regretted your actions…”

“Not to mention being a Grade-A prick,” Dorbickmon muttered.

GrandisKuwagamon sneered and turned on his heel, animatedly sticking his finger in Dorbickmon’s face. “Yet this ******* gets to walk free after he straight-up attacked you guys repeatedly? Why?! Because his ****-buddy’s a Royal Knight? Talk about double standards… You’re all about upholding the law when it suits you, huh, Alphamon? But when it’s inconvenient, tough ****.”

Dorbickmon growled fierily and was about to grab GrandisKuwagamon by the throat, but Paildramon reached out and grabbed his arm. She shook her head and gave him a firm leer.

“Calm down, GrandisKuwagamon…” Paildramon calmly told him. “You knew what you were getting into when you agreed to the deal, didn’t you? I was under the impression that you were aware of the conditions.”

“I can understand how you might feel that this is unfair, but Dorbickmon doesn’t have quite as many crimes to his name as you do. The situation isn’t the same…” Alphamon insisted.

“Yeah, my ***. Doubt you’ve even bothered to look into his checkered past,” GrandisKuwagamon scathingly answered. “Didn’t he try kidnapping Royal Knights and stuff? Not to mention be a key player in that weirdo’s rebellion. Never mind the fact that it’s his damn fault that the Demon Lords are free now to begin with.”

Karatenmon frowned. “I’m sorry if you assumed that we would release you, but I thought we were pretty clear about our position. You know what they say about assuming.”

“Tch…” GrandisKuwagamon scoffed. Internally, he knew that the Royal Knights didn’t explicitly say that he would be released, and he just assumed that they would let him go, maybe with a week’s confinement at most in order to save face. However, that didn’t make the disappointment and frustration any less present. He was partially angry at himself for assuming and letting himself be hopeful, but he wanted to blame the Royal Knights. They were the reason why he was in this situation at all, he told himself. “I should have expected this…” he muttered bitterly.

Alphamon sighed. “We can talk later, GrandisKuwagamon. I’m sorry that you got your hopes up. …For what it’s worth, thank you for helping us,” he told him, his gold eyes staring at GrandisKuwagamon appreciatively.

“Wow, Alphamon! Now that I have your thanks, how could I ever ask for anything more?” he mockingly asked. GrandisKuwagamon wasn’t in the mood for his thanks or any other platitudes. He rolled his eye and shrugged. “Whatever. I get it. Can we at least go and get this damn shock collar outta me so I at least have some semblance of dignity? That’d be great,” he asked, his words swift and sharp with impatience.

Alphamon nodded at Paildramon and Karatenmon. “Do you two mind?” he asked them. “You can come to my office afterwards.”

Paildramon nodded and walked over to the obsidian scarab Digimon. “Come on, GrandisKuwagamon…” she gently said to him, putting her clawed hand on his shoulder to lead him off the training grounds and onto the road.

She felt sympathy for him. He did help them quite a lot during that mission, and despite his bravado, she had seen some genuine moments out of the otherwise unpleasant mercenary. However, this was the Royal Knights’ decision and the rules were the rules. Paildramon couldn’t let her opinion of him over a few days change the fact that he had to answer for his crimes.

GrandisKuwagamon complied and reluctantly allowed himself to be led. “Guess this is the thanks I get for all the help…” he sarcastically complained, walking away and heading down the road alongside Paildramon and Karatenmon.

Alphamon, Dorbickmon, and VictoryGreymon all watched GrandisKuwagamon as he walked away.

VictoryGreymon’s expression was deflated as he gazed after the angry bug Digimon. He winced subtly and rubbed the back of his neck. “Gee… I feel bad for him. He must be really disappointed if he thought he was going to be released,” he empathetically mused. “He did help us…”

“That’s on him if he didn’t listen to the terms,” Dorbickmon answered with disinterest. He folded his large, crimson arms across his brawny chest, smirking slightly. “Can’t say I envy his stay in Havelock, though.”

“It is hard to simply waive his offences with impunity when he doesn’t seem to regret them in the slightest,” Alphamon explained. “We can’t just excuse every criminal that helps us.” He looked at Dorbickmon pointedly. “…If it weren’t for Examon’s ardent insistence, you may not have been so lucky either. GrandisKuwagamon may have had a point about that.”

Dorbickmon grimaced and looked away sheepishly. “It’s not like I asked for him to do that…” he muttered indignantly. The dragon man sighed and turned his violet irises towards Alphamon, the sun beams shining on his face with the same tone as his yellow sclera. “Where is the big idiot anyway…? I want to talk to him.”

Alphamon smiled slightly. “Examon is currently away on an inspection of Gold Keep. He will be back in a few days,” he explained. “You are free to stick around, if you would like.”

The earth-manipulating dragon looked a bit annoyed and disappointed, but he nodded. “Fine. …Maybe. I guess I will,” he agreed noncommittally. Dorbickmon shrugged and began to wander over to the road. “Later, Alphamon. Gonna go to Knights’ Cross and get my usual room. If the idiot comes back, tell him he owes me for making me wait.”

Alphamon nodded at him and then looked at VictoryGreymon. “Why don’t you and go rejoin the Strike Forces over there, VictoryGreymon?” he suggested, gesturing over to the gathering group of soldiers further down the training grounds.

VictoryGreymon was busy glancing down the road at GrandisKuwagamon with a hint of sadness in his eyes. Upon hearing his name, he immediately straightened up and saluted. “Yes, sir!” he obeyed eagerly, his smile snapping back onto his snout. “I’ll go catch up on my training!”

The dark Royal Knight smiled, saluted him, and watched VictoryGreymon run off down the field. As the orange dragon man jogged away, Alphamon turned and looked down the main road of the castle courtyard. He could see Paildramon and Karatenmon leading GrandisKuwagamon towards the distant castle entrance.

The paladin couldn’t help but feel somewhat guilty, but he wouldn’t allow his emotions to overrule his logic and his sense of duty. He couldn’t allow a criminal mercenary to go completely unpunished. They were the law, after all.

-

Over on the training grounds, the new recruits of the Strike Forces were preparing for their morning exercises. After two hours of physical training, they would later go on to perform combat drills, and then go through a combat simulation throughout the rest of the afternoon. Come supper time, they could have the rest of the evening off.

For now, however, they were beginning with stretches. These stretches loosened up their stiff, sleep-wracked muscles and cleared their drowsy minds, preparing them for the taxing day ahead.

TigerVespamon bent his lithe, flexible body forwards to touch his feet with ease. His body was limber enough that he could easily bow forwards without any resistance; it seemed as though he might even be able to contort into various complex positions with his flexibility.

As he reached the nadir of his stretch and pressed his fingers against the toes of his boots, he glanced upwards. His compound eyes shimmered like flawless rubies in the sunlight. He angled his head ever so slightly so that he could glance down the main road of the castle courtyard.

He had seen GrandisKuwagamon, Paildramon, VictoryGreymon, and Dorbickmon return from their mission. Although not once faltering in his methodical stretches, TigerVespamon had been slightly distracted by seeing GrandisKuwagamon return. He had watched as the group departed and as GrandisKuwagamon was led back to the castle.

VictoryGreymon had since made his way over to them and was currently talking with Captain OuRyuumon. The muscular, orange, dragon man spoke animatedly with the tall, serpentine drake about the mission and his intention to return to his training.

“…I wonder how the mission went,” SaviorHackmon mused from his place beside TigerVespamon. His bladed feet were pressed firmly against the ground as he bent forwards to touch his sword-like toes with his claws. As he bent down, his ever-present crimson cape clung to his back and he used the movement to glance behind him at VictoryGreymon. SaviorHackmon couldn’t help but think about how GrandisKuwagamon was and what happened on their mission.

“They all appear to be safe and sound, which is reassuring,” TigerVespamon responded with his reverberating, harmonious voice that didn’t give anything away.

“That’s our VictoryGreymon!” ShineGreymon hailed. There was a broad, confident smile on his white face and a charming gaze in the bright, blue eyes that lay behind his yellow helmet. “He always gets the job done in the end, even if he does fall flat on his face some of the time,” he added with a chuckle. “We don’t call him the Brick Wall for nothing.”

“Must have been nice for him, getting to miss all these days of hard training,” WarGreymon griped from the other side of SaviorHackmon. The brawny, orange-scaled, dragon warrior finished his set of toe touches and began reaching one arm over his head and leaning to the side. “Must have been a vacation compared to this…”

KaiserGreymon was nearby with BlackWarGreymon standing quietly at his side. The leader of the Greymon Five looked over at WarGreymon with a critical eye. “Don’t complain, WarGreymon,” he lightly admonished. “All of this training is important. We need to be cohesive with the Royal Knights’ forces. As the Greymon Five, we need to be out in front, not holding them back.”

WarGreymon rolled his green eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Thanks for the pep-talk,” he muttered. “Shouldn’t VictoryGreymon be going through this too then?”

BlackWarGreymon looked at KaiserGreymon. “It’s in one ear and out the other, you know…” he pointed out to the sergeant of the Greymon Five. “It’s WarGreymon; he’ll complain until he physically can’t anymore.”

“Shut up, Black,” WarGreymon grumbled at his friend.

“Okay, everyone,” HippoGriffomon spoke up, addressing all of the recruits with his sharp voice. “Take a minute and then start your dynamic stretches. Do that for ten minutes and then we’ll start.”

A chorus of ‘Yes, Sir,’ resounded from the recruits, who stopped their stationary stretches and took a few moments to shake out their muscles.

ShineGreymon casually placed his hands behind his horned head and leaned back. He looked over at TigerVespamon with a grin. Ever since the pair ended up in the same training group together, the extroverted, easygoing ShineGreymon took a liking to the polite and reserved TigerVespamon. He made it his mission to help him loosen up.

“So, Vespa!” ShineGreymon said, striding up to him. “You’re a kind of monk, right?”

TigerVespamon nodded softly. “I suppose that would not be an inaccurate way to put it. I am an acolyte – a monk in training, specifically.”

“So, how’d you end up here?” ShineGreymon asked him, cocking his head to the side and sporting his usual winning smile. “Aren’t you monks usually pacifists or something?”

TigerVespamon hesitated before shaking his head. “Not necessarily… While we do emphasize peace and harmony, it is important to be trained in the martial arts for both self-defence and the defence of those who are important to us. We learn many of our techniques from retired officers who were once in the Powers,” he explained. “With that said, we believe that the peaceful way is the best one… It is simply a sad fact that there are times when we must fight in order to preserve that peace.”

“Woah, that’s pretty deep, dude,” ShineGreymon declared, placing a hand on his hip. “I guess that’s to be expected from you, huh? Monks are always saying profound stuff.” He chuckled. “So, how’d you end up here?”

“I cannot join the Powers, so I decided that joining the Order of the Royal Knights would be the best course of action to defend against the Demon Lords…” TigerVespamon informed him. “Why did you join the Order? Or did you have a choice in the matter?”

“Well, when the whole exchange program with the Order came about after the Metal Empire battle, Commander BlitzGreymon said he wanted the Greymon Five to represent the Republic’s military in the Order. We all had a choice, but we jumped at the chance,” ShineGreymon explained enthusiastically. “Having the chance to work with the Royal Knights…? It’s been a lifelong dream for all of us. Being here is like our awesomest dreams come true!” ShineGreymon’s grin gently faded. “Besides, we want to stop those demons too…”

SaviorHackmon smiled at TigerVespamon. “…It’s the same with me. I’ve always looked up to the Royal Knights, so getting the opportunity to be a recruit in the Strike Forces…? It’s amazing,” the metal dragon man agreed.

TigerVespamon nodded understandingly. “I see… It must be wonderful to be able to work with the Digimon who you look up to,” he posited.

“It is,” KaiserGreymon spoke up calmly. He stepped forwards and bent his knees, beginning to do forward lunges as a part of their dynamic stretching. “It… really makes you want to perform your best.”

SaviorHackmon nodded and began to do the same lunging exercise as KaiserGreymon. “Yeah… Being Gankoomon’s student for all those years really made me want to do my best too. I felt that, if I performed my best for him, I could become a Royal Knight one day.”

“That’s the spirit. Reach for the stars!” ShineGreymon declared, perking up again and grinning at TigerVespamon. “Right, Vespa?”

TigerVespamon smiled slightly. “I suppose there is nothing wrong with measured ambition…” he agreed.

“Hey, guys!” VictoryGreymon’s voice called out. The group looked over to see the large dragon wandering over to them, a happy smile plastered on his reptilian face. “I’m back!”

“Welcome back,” KaiserGreymon greeted him. “Just in time for our morning workout.”

“Yo, V!” ShineGreymon hailed. He raised his hand and gave his friend a fist bump when the dragon stopped beside him. “Still in one piece?”

“Uh huh,” VictoryGreymon responded, grinning widely. “I’m ready to get back to training!”

SaviorHackmon looked at him curiously. “Hey, VictoryGreymon-kun. How did it go?” he asked him, hoping to find out what exactly they did during the mission.

VictoryGreymon went and placed his Dramon Breaker over to the side of the training area before walking back to the group. “Well, uh… The details are kinda secret, so I can’t say too much, but… we found what we were looking for,” he explained as furtively as he could.

“Come on, Victory, not even a little hint?” ShineGreymon asked him with a coaxing grin. “You can do that much for your best friends, right?”

“Don’t put him in an awkward position, ShineGreymon,” KaiserGreymon chastised him.

VictoryGreymon rubbed the back of his head, wearing a sheepish grin on his face. He did feel a bit guilty about keeping them in the dark… “Well… I guess I can say that it had to do with the Demon Lords…” he tentatively explained.

“Why did GrandisKuwagamon go with you?” SaviorHackmon inquired as he continued doing his stretches.

TigerVespamon glanced over at them for a moment, but he quietly resumed his exercises. He wouldn’t allow himself to become distracted by the mention of the mercenary.

VictoryGreymon ran his clawed fingers through his fire-hued hair. He supposed that was a fair question that he could answer. “Well… We were trying to find out who Black Pincer Company’s client was since the Royal Knights thought that he was involved with releasing the Demon Lords,” he explained, not realising that he was maybe saying more than he should. “That’s why we needed Grandis.”

“Seems pretty risky to let a merciless criminal go along with you guys, but I guess Paildramon would have it under control,” WarGreymon mused.

“Yeah, he had this restraint system in him that kept him from escaping. But, even so… GrandisKuwagamon… he actually isn’t all that bad,” VictoryGreymon suggested, starting his own stretches by performing light, forward kicks.

Surprised, TigerVespamon stared over at VictoryGreymon. He didn’t speak up against him nor did he begrudge him for his statement. He merely looked away from the dragon and pensively tugged at the hem of the crimson scarf wreathed around his neck.

SaviorHackmon looked over at VictoryGreymon with interest. VictoryGreymon’s words matched his own opinion of the mercenary. GrandisKuwagamon certainly had a rough streak, and he was incredibly cynical, but some of the things that he did made SaviorHackmon feel like there was some good inside of him. Underlying GrandisKuwagamon’s harsh words were actually advice. It made SaviorHackmon feel like the mercenary cared in his own, cynical way. He felt like there was a reason for why he was like he was, and that there was still hope for him. This made SaviorHackmon want to know what VictoryGreymon meant.

“What makes you say that, VictoryGreymon-kun?” SaviorHackmon asked him curiously.

“After we got the information we needed, I… accidentally bumped into this demon Digimon on the street. He got kinda mad, so he and his gang attacked us,” VictoryGreymon said with an embarrassed, awkward smile on his snout.

WarGreymon rolled his eyes, also kicking aggressively in front of himself as a part of their pre-exercise routine. “I knew you’d screw up somehow. You’re lucky you made it out in one piece… So, what happened?” he said between grunts.

VictoryGreymon smiled uneasily. “Actually… I tripped and fell behind when we were running away. The demon Digimon were about to beat the stuffing outta me, but… GrandisKuwagamon came back to help me,” he informed them, a genuinely warm smile on his face. “He helped me up and flew me out of there.”

SaviorHackmon nearly balked at his words. “He… He did…?” he asked for confirmation, his maturing, yellow eyes widening with disbelief. “GrandisKuwagamon saved you?”

“Yeah! I almost couldn’t believe it myself, but I guess this proves that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” VictoryGreymon exclaimed optimistically. “If it weren’t for him, my bacon would be toast right now. Haha!”

“Yeah… I guess so…” SaviorHackmon said to himself. He frowned softly and reflected on VictoryGreymon’s words. If GrandisKuwagamon went out of his way to save VictoryGreymon, then maybe SaviorHackmon was right about him after all. Maybe he was a good guy, deep inside. A smile crawled onto SaviorHackmon’s lips.

“Perhaps he was worried about the restraint system activating if he left you behind,” TigerVespamon coolly suggested. “I would prefer not to believe that it was such a cynical gesture, but we cannot deny that it is a possibility.”

“Maybe…” VictoryGreymon conceded, debating TigerVespamon’s words. “But the system was only tied to Paildramon. Even if he didn’t know that, I like to think that he did it because he cares.”

TigerVespamon bowed his head slightly. “I would as well… However, there is plenty of evidence that refutes that claim…” he thoughtfully responded.

SaviorHackmon frowned. “I don’t know, TigerVespamon… I’ve seen him be kind in his own way…” he contended in the mercenary’s defence. “Besides, there’s only one way to find out for sure.”

“Are you planning on talking to him?” ShineGreymon questioned.

“I’d like to…” SaviorHackmon responded uncertainly.

VictoryGreymon smiled over at him. “Hey, I volunteered to go on dungeon guard duty tonight to make up for my absence,” he told SaviorHackmon. “You’ve spoken to him before, so I don’t see why you can’t again. I’ll talk to my superior to make sure it’s alright.”

SaviorHackmon’s face lit up and he grinned over at VictoryGreymon. “Thanks, VictoryGreymon…” he responded gratefully. “I appreciate it. I’d like to know what he’s thinking right now.”

“No problem, SaviorHackmon. I go on duty after dinner. We all have free time this evening right?” VictoryGreymon asked for confirmation.

“Yes,” KaiserGreymon confirmed. “Since we’ll be working all day, we’ll be able to relax tonight.”

“Great. You can swing by the dungeons then,” VictoryGreymon said to SaviorHackmon encouragingly.

ShineGreymon shrugged. “I guess if you’re gonna be busy, Victory, we’ll just go to the tavern,” he mused. He flashed a grin at TigerVespamon. “Hey, why don’t you come with us, Vespa!?”

“Er… I apologise, but I do not consume alcohol…” TigerVespamon responded simply. “It is rather unhealthy and it lowers one’s inhibitions.”

“It’s fine; Vic doesn’t drink either, really. Which is weird since his dad’s a famous brewer, but hey! Just come and enjoy our company!” ShineGreymon enthusiastically suggested, standing up and slinging an arm over TigerVespamon’s shoulders.

“I… suppose I could do that…” TigerVespamon conceded, although still a bit uncomfortable with ShineGreymon’s close contact. “…Sharing everyone’s company may be quite pleasant.”

“Great!” ShineGreymon exclaimed. He leaned in towards the insect Digimon a bit. “Hey, have you noticed some of the sexy female Digimon in our class of recruits? Those toned muscles look amazing,” he asked in a hushed voice. “I bet they’re really strong…”

“I… have not,” TigerVespamon politely responded.

“You’re a handsome guy. I bet you could have a chance with them under my tutelage,” ShineGreymon encouraged him with a conspiratorial, man-to-man grin. “Just have to work on your chat-up lines.”

“Respectfully, I am not interested in that sort of interaction… They are my fellow recruits, not objects of carnal desire,” TigerVespamon calmly explained.

ShineGreymon frowned curiously and cocked his head to the side as if TigerVespamon was speaking a foreign language. “Jeez… I mean, yeah, duh, but… nothing at all, Vespa? Not even a spark? The Heavenly Choir must have really done a number on you.” He looked down between TigerVespamon’s legs. “I get you must be repressed as a monk, but is everything still working down there? Does it stop functioning if you don’t use it?”

TigerVespamon’s cheeks turned bright red. “I… I… Th-Th-That is not even remotely how anatomy works…!” he stammered.

“Leave the poor guy alone, Shine… You’re making him uncomfortable” BlackWarGreymon murmured, shooting him a cool glare.

ShineGreymon knew that look. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Haha.”

“Just ignore the pervert,” WarGreymon grumbled.

“Look who’s talking!”

As the other Digimon spoke amicably and the recruits began to transition from stretches to physical exercises, SaviorHackmon thought quietly to himself.

So you really saved VictoryGreymon…? What happened to altruism being for naïve idiots?” SaviorHackmon quietly thought as he finished off his stretches.

He was going to speak to GrandisKuwagamon after he was finished for the day. SaviorHackmon wanted to hear from GrandisKuwagamon what happened on the mission, and if he would admit to saving VictoryGreymon. He felt like he was beginning to understand GrandisKuwagamon more. He wanted to put his theory to the test…

-

About half an hour passed since the team of four arrived back at Castle Albion. Paildramon and GrandisKuwagamon both underwent the procedure to remove the proximal restraint system from their bodies. However, GrandisKuwagamon still retained the inhibiting virus that prevented him from using his abilities or switching forms. After they finished at the medical bay, Paildramon and Karatenmon led him back to his cell in the castle’s dungeons.

With that done, Paildramon walked up the stairs to the third level of the castle, where the administrative wing of the headquarters was. She rubbed the cobalt scales on the back of her neck, which was still a bit sore from the procedure. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, the humanoid dragon headed down the corridor to Alphamon’s office. She came to a halt in front of the room opposite that of High Administrator Shutumon’s office. After waiting a moment, Paildramon knocked on Alphamon’s office door.

“Enter,” Alphamon’s voice beckoned from the other side of the door.

Paildramon opened the door and entered the room. It was spacious and formal, but also austere. This office was strictly for official business, meetings, and debriefings. There were no trimmings or decorations – simply a stone floor and bare walls. Alphamon sat behind his large desk, which stood at the opposite end of the room and facing the entrance. On top of the desk was a clutter of books, papers and folders. They were messily strewn across the surface yet there seemed to be an internal logic to the clutter. Nevertheless, it would have earned a berating from Duftmon.

Directly in front of the desk were three chairs. Positioned between those chairs and the office door were two couches that faced one another, separated by a small coffee table. Over in the corner of the room, was a coffee machine sitting ominously atop a table. She had heard the stories about it. Lingering in the office room was the faint but smoky and pungent aroma of coffee beans.

The over sergeant stepped inside and saluted in a formal manner. As she did, she noticed Karatenmon casually leaning against the right wall. He smiled at her and nodded. She wondered how he got here so quickly when he was only with her a few minutes ago.

“Paildramon,” Alphamon greeted, standing to his feet behind the desk. “Thank you for coming. Stand at ease.”

Paildramon lowered her gauntlet-covered hand and relaxed slightly, though she still stood upright with impeccable posture. “Yes, Sir Alphamon.”

“What do you have to report?” Karatenmon asked her.

“Dorbickmon, VictoryGreymon, GrandisKuwagamon and I travelled to Dark Point in order to infiltrate Black Pincer Company’s office. While there, one of your spies, Triceramon, informed us of the situation in the city. Blitzmon and Bolgmon were present in the city, as were about a hundred escaped Dark Area demons who have been setting up in other gangs’ territory in the city,” Paildramon started out by informing them.

“A hundred? Hmm… Not quite a legion, but that’s about a battalion’s worth… They must have all escaped together. Perhaps it was not under the Demon Lords’ direction, like one might assume. If one is confined to captivity and the cage door suddenly snaps open, one’s natural instinct would be to make a break for freedom, wouldn’t it?” Alphamon mused. He looked at Paildramon steadily. “Hm… I apologise. Please, continue.”

Paildramon nodded. “During the night, we carefully infiltrated the office. Unfortunately – or, I suppose, ‘fortunately’, as it turns out – Blitzmon and Bolgmon came back while GrandisKuwagamon and I were inside,” she explained. “We were able to hide without them noticing us, and we overheard them talking.”

“Oh…?” Karatenmon asked, standing up from the wall and staring at Paildramon with interest.

“I can confirm the species of their client, although the exact individual is unclear. I can also confirm that they are indeed working with the Demon Lords, as well as the Demon Lords’ present location,” Paildramon explained.

Karatenmon grinned. “Nice going, Paildramon,” he commended her. “I knew I made the right choice.”

Alphamon nodded. “Excellent work, indeed… Where are they right now?” he asked her.

“The mercenaries mentioned that they are in the Desolate Moors,” Paildramon explained, referring to the region within the Gloaming Fields. “Blitzmon and Bolgmon are travelling there to meet with their client. Unfortunately, that’s all I know for sure. They didn’t exactly go into details.”

“The Desolate Moors…” Alphamon mused, bringing his fingers to his chin pensively. “So they are in the Gloaming Fields, after all… I suppose it would feel like something of a safe harbour to them. Not unlike water to a beached fish... They have both allies and hospitable terrain there…”

Karatenmon nodded. “The mayors in charge of Vespers and Sepulcrum, as well as the lords of the various fiefs and duchies, would be neutral to their presence at worst and active supporters at best. The Demon Lords must know that there are a lot of ex-Choir fallen angels there. Not to mention ambitious barons and nihilistic undead Digimon who would love to upset the status quo,” the Spymaster deliberated.

“Yes, you are correct, Karatenmon. The Gloaming Fields are a haven for the Demon Lords.” The Aloof Hermit gazed at Paildramon curiously. “And what of Black Pincer Company’s client…?”

“As I said, I don’t know the exact individual, but I know the name and species,” Paildramon clarified.

“That is as good as we could have hoped for,” Alphamon assured her. “Please, go on…”

Paildramon nodded calmly and looked Alphamon in the eyes. “Alright… Blitzmon said that the client who had been paying them was named Bagramon… Bagramon is the one who they are going to meet.”

The name ‘Bagramon’ cut through Alphamon like a sword. His golden eyes widened with absolute shock. The word had struck him like a sledgehammer to the gut, shattering his armour and impacting the tender flesh beneath. Although not making any sudden movements or reactions, he suddenly grew quiet. Alphamon became absorbed in the name and Paildramon’s revelation. He fell deep into his own thoughts as his keen mind raced to take in the information.

Could it be…? Could it be that Bagramon? The one who he spoke to only six months ago? The fallen angel Digimon who he had fought during the Heavenly War? The brother of his once-friend: DarkKnightmon…? The one who Alphamon sought out to tell about the death of his brother, slain at Alphamon’s own hands? The demon lord who he had sought forgiveness from?

“Bagramon…” Alphamon whispered, the word dancing on his gutted breath. His exhale was empty and his eyes were incredulous.

It seemed so unfeasible to him. Bagramon had seemed so at peace with his life. He seemed at peace with the Heavenly War. It appeared to Alphamon that he only wished to leave a peaceful and secluded life, removed from the past – from the world. Not unlike what Alphamon had done himself, that time… Was it all a lie? Was Bagramon lying to his face and plotting in secret that entire time?

Alphamon felt an unsettled tightness in his chest as he soaked in the bitter news. Bagramon had given advice… reassurance to Alphamon. He had told him not to blame himself for DarkKnightmon’s betrayal and death. He had told him that DarkKnightmon thought of him as his brother… He shared that personal, vulnerable moment with Bagramon. He almost came to view Bagramon as a friend, and, if not that, then someone who also understood DarkKnightmon.

Alphamon’s eyes narrowed tightly and his citrine eyes burned a tumultuous, blood red glow, his irises shifting into their piercing ruby hues as his emotions swelled with intensity. He clenched his fists and took a deep, calming breath as he stared at Paildramon. “Paildramon… Are you sure about this…?” he asked, his voice now deadly serious. Empty was it of its usual warmth, restrained levity, and meandering philosophy. It was now cold and professional.

Paildramon noticed his abrupt change in demeanour, but she didn’t outwardly react to it, even if it did send a mild chill down her spine. “Yes, Sir Alphamon,” she confirmed. “Both GrandisKuwagamon and I heard him say that it was Bagramon.”

Before Alphamon could relinquish a wince, he shut his eyes. “It can be only one…” he murmured. He opened his eyes again, restraining his emotions and revealing his usual golden irises. “…Thank you, Paildramon… The work of you and your team has been invaluable.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Paildramon responded with a slight smile. “It has been my honour, Sir Alphamon.”

“Unless there is anything else, you are free to go,” Alphamon told her.

Paildramon shook her head. “Those are the only things that we found,” she responded.

“You can give me a rundown on the details of what happened,” Karatenmon informed her, walking over to Paildramon. “You don’t need to bother with an official report. I like to keep my spies’ missions off the record, even if you aren’t officially part of the Stealth Forces.”

“Alright…” Paildramon looked over at Alphamon one more time. “…About GrandisKuwagamon, Sir. I feel that I should mention that he saved VictoryGreymon… We accidentally bumped into some of the Dark Area demons and angered them. As we were escaping, VictoryGreymon tripped. GrandisKuwagamon went back for him and probably saved him from at least a terrible beating, if not worse. It wasn’t out of self-interest either; he put the pieces together and realised that I was the one who the proximal restraint system was linked to.” Paildramon scratched her cheek with one of her claws. “I just felt that I should mention that piece of information as well. I am not expecting anything, of course. I think his punishment is fair, but I wanted you to have all the information.”

“…I see. Thank you for telling me that, Paildramon,” Alphamon responded, although his voice sounded distracted and his disposition burdened by the other information he received. “You are dismissed.”

Paildramon saluted. “Over sergeant Paildramon, returning to duty.”

As Paildramon turned and walked out of the office, Karatenmon gave Alphamon a stealthy glance. “…Are you okay, Alphamon?” the ninja asked him, noticing the subtle change in his voice and actions.

The Royal Knight closed his eyes meditatively, trying to keep himself centered. “…There is some coffee that is too bitter to swallow, Karatenmon, even for me,” he responded.

Karatenmon nodded gently. “Genki dashite ne, Alphamon,” he told Alphamon in his native Eastern Digimoji. He gave the knight a small smile and bowed slightly before excusing himself as well.

Alphamon was left on his own to digest the information that he had received. He released a weighty sigh and placed his hands on his desk. He leaned forwards, bowed his head, and closed his eyes.

Bagramon…

He felt a fool for not have guessing… In retrospect, it all seemed so obvious. Bagramon had lost half of his body to the Heavenly Choir. He had been forced into exile, while the Three Great Angels remained in power. Of course he wouldn’t let that go so easily…

Alphamon felt naïve. He had wanted to think the best of Bagramon. He wanted to believe that Digimon could change for the better, despite their pasts. He always needed to believe in that…

The Lord of the Empty Seat sat down in his chair and leaned forwards onto his desk. He propped an elbow on the surface and placed his fingers on his forehead, the fingertips tensely rubbing the outline of the ruby-like Digicore Interface.

I just can’t seem to escape you, can I…?

DarkKnightmon…
 

Solsabre

The Reforged Soul
Wow, that ending. Very heavy. Probably the best part in the chapter at least to me. I love the interactions with the Greymon Five. I think I first fell in love with them big time, when that King-of-all-Food Fights occurred in Unholy Crusade.

I'm really feeling for Alphamon right now, he's turned into a favorite of mine. He's definitely had the some of the most development I think of the knights aside from Examon. Man, events are starting to build up against after this lull with the Metal Empire. Can't wait.
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
Thank you! It was definitely a wham moment for Alphamon.

Haha, me too. They're a fun group to write. Ahhh, yeah, good times. I wish I could recreate that in the Royal Knights' cafeteria. I ought to bring that hapless Guardomon back too. :p

Yeah, he's definitely been through a lot over the course of these two stories. I enjoy writing him as well. Definitely! Needed a bit of a breather after the Metal Empire climax, but things are definitely on the rise again.

Thanks for the review! It's really appreciated, Solsabre. I'll post the next half soon.
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
Chapter 35: A Disillusioned Heart (Part II)

When the evening finally arrived, the Strike Force recruits were released from their training and allowed to relax for the remainder of the night. It came as a relief to them; their muscles ached and their minds were taxed from all the difficult training that the leftenants had in store for them. Many of the recruits returned to the barracks for rest, while others decided to make the most of their free time while they could.

SaviorHackmon took the opportunity to follow through on his plan.

The steel dragon made his way down a long, torch-lit hallway towards the castle dungeons. The corridor opened up into a wider room as he reached the secured entrance. Standing outside the thick, chrome digizoid, dungeon door was a Mystimon. The Mystimon stood on guard, sitting on a wooden chair and reading a book that he borrowed from the castle library.

The Mystimon looked up as SaviorHackmon emerged from the corridor and approached him. “Ah, you’re the one who VictoryGreymon said wanted to visit the prisoner,” he greeted, standing up and lowering the book in his hand. “SaviorHackmon, right? I guess you’re a glutton for punishment.”

SaviorHackmon stopped in front of him and nodded. “Yeah… Can I go in? I have Sir Gankoomon’s permission,” he added.

“Yeah. Ten minutes maximum. It’s almost time for my dinner break,” Mystimon explained, placing his book down and turning around to face the door.

He unlocked the magnetic locks on the door’s exterior with a sharp cacophony of moving metal. The castle guard opened up the barricade, having to put his muscles into it to open the heavy door. Once it swung open, he walked into the empty space between the dungeon’s exterior and interior doors. Once there, the Mystimon knocked on the inner door loudly. “Door one is open. Door two?” he called to VictoryGreymon, who was on guard inside of the dungeons.

The deep, metallic clamoring of several bolts and locks being unlocked resounded from the other side of the door. The inner door swung inwards to reveal VictoryGreymon on the other side, his hand on the handle of the door. “Hey, is he here?” he asked, looking around.

“Yeah. Just don’t take too long, okay? My stomach’s growling almost as much as the bug is,” Mystimon mentioned. The wizard guard looked over his shoulder to SaviorHackmon, who waited patiently. “Go on in. Just don’t expect to be greeted with a smile.”

“Thank you,” SaviorHackmon responded, walking inside the dungeon. He was faced with a long corridor with several empty, barred cells along each side. He assumed that GrandisKuwagamon was in the same one as before. He smiled a bit as he looked at VictoryGreymon. “Hey, VictoryGreymon-kun. Thanks for setting this up.”

VictoryGreymon offered a friendly smile of his own. “No problem. I hope it goes well,” he encouraged him. “I’ll just be near the door, so let me know when you need me.” VictoryGreymon turned, but paused mid-action and glanced back at SaviorHackmon uneasily. “Uh, by the way… GrandisKuwagamon is pretty upset about his sentence, so don’t be too offended if he’s a bit… you know… grumpy. He doesn’t mean it.”

SaviorHackmon nodded in response and walked past VictoryGreymon, heading down the dungeon corridor. As he began traversing the hallway, he heard Mystimon walk out and close the exterior door, locking it behind him. He saw the one occupied cell ahead of him, on the left-side of the corridor, positioned opposite to a stone wall with a torch fixed to it.

The dragon man calmly approached the cell. This time, he wasn’t afraid or nervous. His determination overrode his uneasiness. This time, he wasn’t facing his captor – a daunting mercenary who was this figure of fear and adversity. He felt like he was facing just another Digimon this time. He wanted to understand GrandisKuwagamon.

He stepped up to the cell and halted before it. He gazed through the digizoid bars, past the transparent barrier. Inside the cell, GrandisKuwagamon sat on the edge of the bed. He was hunched forward, his body drooping, and his arms resting on his bent knees. His crimson eye stared pensively at the floor in front of his feet – it was almost wistful. He looked beaten down and defeated.

It shocked SaviorHackmon to see him like that. SaviorHackmon was used to GrandisKuwagamon being cocky, self-assured, and constantly in control, even when he wasn’t. Seeing GrandisKuwagamon in such a deflated state was so different from how SaviorHackmon usually saw him. It was almost shocking to the dragon.

GrandisKuwagamon turned his head slightly, noticing him out of the corner of his eye. “…Yo,” he greeted, although the spunkiness that was usual for his voice was absent. His voice was listless and conquered.

SaviorHackmon walked up until he was centimeters away from the force field. He stared through the bars with a soft frown. “Hey… I heard you were back,” he said, observing the charcoal-hued beetle.

“You heard right,” GrandisKuwagamon responded plainly. “And here I thought you were one of the guards delivering my food.”

“Sorry. It’s just me again,” SaviorHackmon apologised with a small grin.

The scarab mercenary stood to his feet and turned towards the caped dragon man. “…What do you want, SaviorHackmon?” he asked him directly.

“Just to talk…” SaviorHackmon calmly replied. “If you don’t mind.”

GrandisKuwagamon shrugged tepidly. “You’re free to do what you want,” he told him. He turned his winged back to the dragon. “Must be nice…” he muttered.

SaviorHackmon frowned at his words and demeanour. He definitely wasn’t the usual GrandisKuwagamon... He wondered if something happened on the mission. “Uh… Are you okay, GrandisKuwagamon?” he asked him with concern.

“Just peachy,” GrandisKuwagamon sarcastically responded.

“What’s wrong?” he wondered.

GrandisKuwagamon turned his head and looked over his shoulder, leering at SaviorHackmon. “I thought I made a deal with the Royal Knights. If I helped them out, they’d release me. But after working my *** off, I just found out that even though I helped them find out some important information, I still have to spend two years in Havelock Prison. So excuse me if I’m in a shitty mood,” he bluntly responded.

A slight wince formed on SaviorHackmon’s draconic face as he realised the reason for GrandisKuwagamon’s solemn attitude. “Oh… I’m sorry,” he responded sheepishly, unsure what else to say.

“I’m not looking for sympathy…” GrandisKuwagamon informed him with a bit of an edge to his voice. “…What are you looking for?” he questioned his visitor, turning around.

“What happened on the mission?” SaviorHackmon asked.

“The Royal Knights needed me to find out some information for them that only I had access to,” GrandisKuwagamon explained. “We went to Dark Point and found out the identity of the client that was hiring me, Blitzmon, and Bolgmon.”

SaviorHackmon nodded gently, his lemon-hued eyes still staring at the imprisoned mercenary. “…Is it true that you saved VictoryGreymon?” he inquired, his gaze not leaving GrandisKuwagamon’s face. “He told me you helped him when he was getting attacked by demon Digimon.”

GrandisKuwagamon wordlessly stared at SaviorHackmon. The look in his eye was intense. “So?”

“…Why?”

GrandisKuwagamon scoffed. “You think that I saved him out of the goodness of my heart, huh? …Maybe I only saved him because I thought I’d be electrocuted if I left him behind,” he contended.

SaviorHackmon frowned knowingly. “…But you didn’t, did you?” he deduced. “You helped him because you wanted to…”

“…Look, I don’t know what you think you know about me, kid, but I’m not who you like to think I am,” he informed him candidly. “I’m not some sort of hero. Never was, never will be.”

“You saved VictoryGreymon; you wouldn’t have bothered to do that if you were all bad,” SaviorHackmon insisted.

GrandisKuwagamon walked up to the bars. “Then why am I stuck in here?” he bluntly put forward.

SaviorHackmon squinted his eyes as he attempted to come up with an answer. He wasn’t able to.

“…You don’t understand. You’ve got this black and white view of the world. Either I’m a villain or I’m actually a good guy,” he accused.

“No…” SaviorHackmon argued. “I realise that it’s not that simple, GrandisKuwagamon. I know you’ve committed crimes. I know you’re a jerk. I probably don’t know the extent of some of the awful things that you’ve done… But you’re the one who’s been painting yourself as a pure, unrepentant criminal. I think you try to be worse than you really are. I think that there’s good in you.”

“Really…” GrandisKuwagamon smirked slightly as he looked at the idealistic dragon man. “Guess there’s no changing your mind.” He raised his hand and scratched the back of his neck with his black fingers, idly fingering at the itchy hole from the removed restraint system. “…You know… I give you **** for being a Royal Knight fanboy, but… you were lucky to have ended up with Gankoomon,” he informed him matter-of-factly. “Me, Blitzmon, Bolgmon? …We weren’t so lucky.”

SaviorHackmon couldn’t help but blink with surprise at this turn in the conversation. He didn’t quite know what he meant, but he was curious. “Huh…?”

GrandisKuwagamon sighed and took a couple steps back from the bars. He folded his black arms and kept his gaze fixed on SaviorHackmon. “…You know how you told me that you lost your village? It was in the Night of Falling Stars, right? …Well, about a few dozen years earlier, we lost our village too,” he informed him, his eye darkening into a deep crimson shade.

SaviorHackmon’s stared at GrandisKuwagamon, shocked by the admission. He vaguely remembered GrandisKuwagamon offhandedly mentioning something about losing things, but he didn’t exactly know what he meant. “I… I’m sorry…” he responded, wincing empathetically.

SaviorHackmon knew the pain of losing his home, losing everything that he cared about. He was young at the time, but he was old enough for it to strike him hard. He could vividly remember the feeling of crying into Gankoomon’s chest on the first day after he had recovered from his exhaustion and dehydration. That pain would always remain in his heart, as would the comfort that Gankoomon provided for him.

“…What happened?” SaviorHackmon couldn’t help but ask him.

GrandisKuwagamon shrugged. “…Doesn’t matter,” he curtly dodged the question. “That’s how us three ended up on our own. That’s how we ended up on the streets…”

The dragon warrior raised his claws and fidgeted with the collar of his red cape. “It must have been tough…” he contemplated empathetically.

“You have no idea…” GrandisKuwagamon answered bleakly. For a moment, there was a look of empty nostalgia in his eye.

The mercenary backed up and sat back down on the edge of his bed. “We had no home… We slept in the forest at first, but then we had to move to New Terminal, just so that we didn’t starve to death. …We lived rough; we slept on the ground, in alleys, in abandoned buildings, under bridges… We had to steal food to survive. Then we had to steal other stuff and fence it just for a few measly bits – however much money we could get. Of course, doin’ that, we brushed up against some rough Digimon – got beaten senseless a few times, threatened at knifepoint, kicked around, robbed… I think you get the picture. It wasn’t easy living. We even had to work with organised crime gangs a few times. They used kids like us because we were small and we could get into places easy. Plus the law enforcement wouldn’t suspect us so much. We got chump change, but it was enough to get by. We scrounged to survive…”

The dragon man was quiet. He tried to picture what that was like for him, but found that he probably couldn’t even remotely grasp the struggle that GrandisKuwagamon went through. It sounded terrible. If Gankoomon hadn’t found him… “I… can’t imagine what that must have been like…” SaviorHackmon admitted, staring at GrandisKuwagamon with a grimace.

“Nope… You can’t imagine what it’s like to be treated the way we were treated, either…” GrandisKuwagamon explained, looking over at SaviorHackmon. “The way people looked at us… we were less than Digimon to them. Grimy, little, orphaned, bug thieves… To them, we weren’t even good enough to live in the sewers with the Numemon.” He looked into SaviorHackmon’s saddened eyes. “I have the triple whammy of being a bug, a virus type, and an X-antibody, so I’ve been called a lot of things. Not just in New Terminal, but wherever we went… Things like ‘street rat’, ‘software bug’, ‘pest’, ‘virus scum’, ‘mutant’, ‘glitch core’, ‘dung beetle’, ‘gutter trash’, ‘junk data’, ‘X rot’, ‘side jaw’. I can keep going if you want - teach you all the fun ones.” He put on a grin and shrugged. “Some guy even told me that he’d rip my shell off piece by piece, roast my exposed flesh and throw me in the river for the fish to tear apart… when he was done with me, that is. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. We were nobodies. Digimon like us could disappear in the night and nobody would notice or give a damn... Not the law, not the politicians, not the Royal Knights...”

“That’s horrible…” whispered the younger Digimon.

GrandisKuwagamon grunted and looked away from his sad, pitying eyes. “I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m just trying to make you understand,” he told him. “Growing up like that… I had to harden my heart in order to survive. I had to learn to shut things off. When you do the things that I’ve done and been through the things that I’ve been through, it starts to become permanent…” GrandisKuwagamon sighed. “And the more that Digimon treat you like you’re ****, the more you start to prove them right. If that’s what it takes to survive, then that’s what I had to do. That’s what I always told myself, at least.” He stared at SaviorHackmon. “That’s why you’re lucky to have ended up with Gankoomon.”

“But you’re not like that… You got stuck in a bad situation, just like I did. You just didn’t have a way out,” SaviorHackmon insisted.

GrandisKuwagamon chuckled emptily. “I sure don’t have a way out now…” He nodded towards the cell’s bars. “Now I’m just a prisoner with a leash…”

SaviorHackmon grimaced, the guilt plain on his face. “I’m sorry… I wish there was something I could do…”

“I don’t expect you to do anything,” GrandisKuwagamon responded with cynical resignation. He leaned forwards so that his arms rested on his knees. He ventured a glance over to SaviorHackmon. “There’s nothing you can do about the situation I’m in. I know I got myself in this position and I accept that… But…” As he hesitated, his crimson eye met SaviorHackmon’s. “Could I ask you a favour, kid? It’s a big one…”

SaviorHackmon lifted his bowed head and frowned. “Sure. What is it, GrandisKuwagamon?” he asked him.

GrandisKuwagamon raised his hand and pointed to his neck. “This virus… They removed the restraint system, but they kept this damn inhibitor virus inside me. I can’t change forms, I can’t use my abilities, I can’t even move my pincers. I can still feel it containing me…” he explained bleakly. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but… can you get this thing removed?”

The dragon man winced and hesitated. That definitely was a big favour. It was Order protocol that all prisoners be outfitted with an inhibitor virus for safety reasons. Removing one would be against protocol. “I… I don’t know if I can do that,” SaviorHackmon apologetically stated. “I’m sorry, but it’s protocol.”

GrandisKuwagamon stood up from the bed so that he was at the same level as SaviorHackmon. He looked at him with a beseeching gaze. “I know, but… Damn it…” GrandisKuwagamon looked away dourly. “This damn thing… it’s like a slave collar. Having it installed in me, messing with my body’s natural systems…”

“But…”

He stared at SaviorHackmon with a look that was almost begging. “Look… I’m headed for Havelock Prison no matter what. Nothing’s gonna change that. I accept that… I’m too tired to kick up a fuss anymore. But… the virus… It makes me feel like I’m a slave on a leash. …It’s just like how I used to feel when I was growing up… I feel like less than a Digimon. I feel worthless…” He gazed at the dragon man intensely. “…Please, SaviorHackmon… You told me that you saw some good in me. If you really meant that… give me a chance to prove it. Trust me…”

A guilty grimace formed on SaviorHackmon’s draconic face, his golden eyes tightening as he stared at GrandisKuwagamon. He did have a point. Having a virus like that implanted in him must have been psychologically damaging. The feeling of the loss of control must have been terrible, especially for somebody like GrandisKuwagamon.

A soft growl formed in SaviorHackmon’s throat. As he stared at GrandisKuwagamon, he could see a glimmer of vulnerability in his eye. A flash of something that GrandisKuwagamon never allowed himself to show. “I…” He stalled. He knew that he shouldn’t but… He couldn’t ignore GrandisKuwagamon’s plight.

“I can’t promise anything… But I’ll see what I can do…” he murmured uncertainly. “How would I even do that…?”

“The physician keeps the anti-viruses and vaccines in the medicine cabinet in the medical bay,” GrandisKuwagamon informed him, remembering from earlier. “There should be a blue, pneumatic injector. That’s what they used before. Doctor Eyeball seems pretty strict, so I doubt he’d just let you have it...”

“I got it…” SaviorHackmon responded, ruminating on his request. “It won’t be easy, but I can try.”

GrandisKuwagamon nodded gently. He gazed at SaviorHackmon with a rare look of gratitude. “…Thank you…” he said appreciatively. “I know it’s asking a lot. You won’t get in trouble; I won’t let anybody know it’s even gone.”

“Alright…” SaviorHackmon replied, frowning as he thought about how he was going to do this. Getting the anti-virus was one thing, but actually injecting it into GrandisKuwagamon was another. There was no way he would be able to do that with the dungeon guards on duty. However…

His eyes trailed over to VictoryGreymon who stood beside the door, watching SaviorHackmon curiously. The friendly VictoryGreymon smiled and waved at him.

SaviorHackmon considered his options carefully. He would need VictoryGreymon’s help. That would be the only way he’d be able to administer the anti-virus and get into GrandisKuwagamon’s cell. He thought it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. VictoryGreymon was a kind Digimon who seemed to like GrandisKuwagamon, and he said that GrandisKuwagamon had just saved him. He had to try.

“Hey, VictoryGreymon-kun?” SaviorHackmon asked, walking away from the cell and back down the corridor, towards him.

“Yeah, SaviorHackmon? Are you done now?” VictoryGreymon counter-questioned with a smile.

“Well, sort of…” SaviorHackmon sheepishly replied, uneasily fidgeting with his cape collar. “The thing is… I could really use your help… I don’t know if you’ll say yes, but I hope you’ll at least consider it.”

“Of course I’ll help! What is it?” VictoryGreymon asked him encouragingly.

SaviorHackmon frowned and glanced away uncomfortably. “Uh… Well… GrandisKuwagamon asked if we could remove the inhibiting virus from his body…” he admitted.

VictoryGreymon blinked with shock. His friendly grin faded on his snout and it was replaced by a hesitant, lop-sided frown. “…Oh… but…” he hesitantly said.

“I know it’s against protocol, VictoryGreymon, but… he’s not being sneaky. He told me about all the terrible things that he had to go through when he was growing up on the streets. He said that Digimon treated him like dirt because he was a street orphan and a bug Digimon. He said that this virus makes him feel like he did back then… powerless and sub-Digimon, like a caged slave,” SaviorHackmon implored his friend. “He’s not a bad Digimon.”

VictoryGreymon grimaced. His heart stung with sympathy, but his mind told him not to consider it. He felt torn between his emotions and his duty to the Royal Knights. “I know he’s not, but… We… we can’t…” he replied, his words soaked with guilt. “It’s against protocol. We’d be letting the Royal Knights down.”

“The Royal Knights are kind and just though. I know they’d agree with us deep down, but they can’t appear to be soft, so they wouldn’t allow it,” SaviorHackmon insisted. “I know they’d want to. Gankoomon-sensei would.”

“Y-Yeah, but… I don’t know…” VictoryGreymon meekly debated. His opinion kept oscillating. He knew that there were very real reasons to keep the system in place, but he also felt that the Royal Knights would be sympathetic to GrandisKuwagamon’s plight.

“Please, Victory?” SaviorHackmon beseeched him. “You just spent all those days with GrandisKuwagamon, and you said that he saved you. What do you think of him?”

VictoryGreymon frowned and twiddled his large, orange fingers. “Well… I think he’s a good guy deep down, even if he is kinda mean on the outside. I think he really does care about people, but he’s afraid to let others get close to him. I’m guessing he uses his prickly exterior as a defence mechanism…” he admitted optimistically. “He did go out of his way to save me, after all…”

SaviorHackmon smiled supportively. “Yeah…” he agreed. “So…?”

VictoryGreymon gave SaviorHackmon a small, insecure smile. “Well… Grandis is my friend… and the Royal Knights’ code does say that you should help friends in need…” he suggested, still a bit uncertain but slowly convincing himself of his decision. “I… guess it couldn’t hurt…”

A broad, gracious smile grew on SaviorHackmon’s face. “Thank you, VictoryGreymon-kun. This means a lot to both of us…” he softly told him.

VictoryGreymon chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re welcome. Just don’t tell anybody, okay?” he asked him. After a few moments, however, VictoryGreymon lowered his hand and frowned. “But… How exactly do you want to do this?”

A knocking on the exterior dungeon door startled them both. “Hey, VictoryGreymon!” Mystimon’s voice called out. “Can you get him to finish up in there? It’s been ten minutes and I’m taking my break now. Can you go and get Guardromon?”

“Okay! Just give me ten seconds!” VictoryGreymon called back nervously.

SaviorHackmon leaned in to VictoryGreymon’s face and whispered conspiratorially. “I’ll go to the medical ward and get the anti-virus. Can you make sure that the guard taking over Mystimon’s shift doesn’t come on duty immediately so that I have a chance to come back in? It’ll be easier if it’s just us here,” he suggested.

“Yeah, okay…’ VictoryGreymon agreed, scratching his cheek. “You better go now so that we can get this over with fast.”

“Okay, thanks again, Victory,” SaviorHackmon responded to him with a thankful smile.

He turned and walked alongside VictoryGreymon down the hallway. As they reached the door, VictoryGreymon reached down to a pouch that hung from his armoured waist and pulled out a key card. He swiped it through an electronic lock beside the door and caused the magnetised locks to unbolt from the wall. He then unlatched the manual locks, opening the door to the already-opened exterior door.

Mystimon waited in the entrance. “Got what you wanted from the bug?” he asked SaviorHackmon as the dragon man stepped out.

“I think so…” SaviorHackmon responded sheepishly, walking up beside him. “Thanks.”

“That’s a first, then,” Mystimon answered. He turned to VictoryGreymon and handed him his key card. “Here. Lock door one when you go to find Guardromon.”

“A-Alright,” VictoryGreymon agreed, smiling nervously as he took the key card.

SaviorHackmon nodded at VictoryGreymon and began walking off down the hall alongside Mystimon. Although he felt a bit guilty for sneaking around and breaking protocol, he knew, in his heart, that this was the right thing to do.

As they reached the stairs leading up to the first level of the castle, SaviorHackmon walked down an adjacent corridor rather than following Mystimon up the stairs. He made his way towards the medical ward.

-

After a few minutes, SaviorHackmon emerged at the entrance of the medical ward. The large area was fairly empty in terms of Digimon. All but one of the beds was empty. The one bed that wasn’t empty contained a Flaremon who was nursing a twisted ankle. The only other Digimon who were present in the medical bay were a few members of the medical staff. This included High Physician Duskmon, who stood in the center of the room, speaking to one of his assistants, a Pidmon. There were two others in the sizeable ward, but they were mainly making the beds or mopping the floor.

He spotted the sizeable medicine cabinet on the opposite side of the room, on the other side of Duskmon and Pidmon.

As SaviorHackmon walked inside, the large eye on Duskmon’s right shoulder caught notice of him and turned to stare at the dragon. SaviorHackmon felt beads of sweat beginning to form underneath the red fabric around his neck. This wouldn’t be easy with Duskmon’s many eyes staring almost omni-directionally throughout the medical bay.

“SaviorHackmon,” Duskmon greeted, turning away from his assistant so that he could look at SaviorHackmon directly. “What can I do for you?”

“Uh…” SaviorHackmon paused, quickly conjuring up a reason to be there. He walked over and rubbed the back of his head. “I have a headache.”

“I see…” Duskmon responded, stepping up to SaviorHackmon and staring at him carefully. “When did it start?”

“About an hour ago,” SaviorHackmon lied. “I don’t know how I got it.”

“Hmm… You have been training all day correct? It could be brought on by mild dehydration. Have you been drinking water regularly today?” Duskmon inquired.

“Not really… I guess I do feel pretty thirsty,” SaviorHackmon agreed. “My mouth is a bit parched.”

Duskmon nodded. “Take a seat on one of the beds and close your eyes. I will get you some water to help you rehydrate,” he informed him. He turned back to his assistant. “Pidmon, go and see if Flaremon needs anything.”

SaviorHackmon tentatively walked over to one of the beds that was near the medicine cabinet. As he made his way across the room, he kept his eyes on the other Digimon in the room. The Pidmon had his winged back to SaviorHackmon as he walked over and began talking with the Flaremon patient. Meanwhile, Duskmon walked to the far end of the room and entered another room to get a glass, some water, and a warm towel for SaviorHackmon.

The dragon man Digimon watched as Duskmon disappeared inside the room. He sighed with relief at the sudden absence of numerous, watchful eyes. This was his chance. SaviorHackmon glanced over at the nearby medicine cabinet and stood to his feet. The cabinet began to instill fear in him as he considered opening it. He wondered if he would be able to find the right anti-virus. He worried that he would be seen or wouldn’t be able to find it in time. Would he get kicked out of the Order if he got caught? The sense of apprehension grew inside him, and his adrenaline began pumping through his body.

However, SaviorHackmon knew he didn’t have much time. He steeled his heart and walked from the bed, moving over to the cabinet. As he approached the storage unit, his senses became alert and heightened as the adrenaline swelled inside of him. He looked all around him to make sure that nobody was watching.

Once there, SaviorHackmon quietly opened the large drawers of the cabinet to reveal shelves of medical items and supplies. There were jars of herbs, powders, potions, vials of medicines, creams, and various small piece of equipment like tweezers, scalpels, and pneumatic syringes.

At first, SaviorHackmon was daunted by all the different items inside, and he momentarily panicked. He stared blankly and felt his heart beating in his chest. However, he focused on looking through all of the items and began to realise that they were well-organized. Over on the right hand drawer was a shelf containing several vials that contained vaccines and viruses. He inwardly sighed with relief when he saw the blue, pneumatic injector that GrandisKuwagamon mentioned. He took the device and looked at the vial that was loaded inside of it. The vial itself glowed with a pure, white gleam that came from the gaseous vaccine inside of it. The label on the vial read ‘Inhibition Vaccine 4’. He sighed with relief.

Acting quickly, SaviorHackmon tucked the injector and the vaccine vial under his red cape and quickly but carefully closed the cabinet, leaving it just how he found out. After casting a tertiary glance around to make sure that nobody saw him, SaviorHackmon began walking to the exit of the medical bay.

Making sure that the injector was concealed behind his cape, SaviorHackmon looked over his shoulder towards the room that Duskmon had stepped inside. “Never mind, Duskmon-sensei; I’m feeling much better!” he called over as he swiftly strode to the door. “Thank you anyways.”

As Duskmon stepped out of the room in response to the voice, the only thing that he saw was SaviorHackmon’s crimson cape, fluttering as it disappeared out the door. Duskmon frowned, his eyes all glancing down at the glass of water in his hands before turning back towards the door. “Hm…”

-

(Continued in the next post)
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
(Continued from the previous post)

-

SaviorHackmon made his swift escape. He tried to move as quickly as he could without looking too suspicious or making too much noise. He turned a corner and made his way down one of the dark, cool, basement halls. The dragon was conscious of the metal clanging that his bladed feet made upon striking the ground with every step. He felt that he could be caught at any minute. He told himself that he shouldn’t feel guilty for doing the right thing, but he knew that he was breaking the rules by trying to help GrandisKuwagamon.

After two minutes of walking, SaviorHackmon arrived back at the dungeon entrance. There was no guard outside, and the exterior door was left open. On the handle was a sign which, in Digimoji, read ‘Do not close without authorized permission.’ SaviorHackmon took this to mean that VictoryGreymon had prepared everything.

He walked up to the interior door and knocked firmly, his claws resounding against the thick chrome digizoid. “VictoryGreymon? It’s SaviorHackmon!” he called out.

“Okay!” VictoryGreymon hollered back, unlocking the door from the inside. As the manual and electronic locks opened, VictoryGreymon pulled the door open and looked around nervously. “Did you…?”

“Yeah, I have it,” SaviorHackmon responded, walking inside the dungeons. As he walked in, VictoryGreymon closed the inner door behind him, leaving the outer one open. “You’re not closing the outer door? Won’t it look suspicious?” he asked the Ultimate level dragon Digimon.

“No. Door one can only be locked from the outside and I didn’t go to get Guardromon yet. If somebody happened to close it and walked away, we’d be locked in,” VictoryGreymon explained. “Come on, let’s hurry.”

SaviorHackmon nodded and walked alongside VictoryGreymon, proceeding down the dark, torch-lit corridor past the several vacant cells. With only the sounds of the licking flames and their heavy footsteps accompanying them, the pair approached the sixth cell on the left.

When they walked up to the bars, they could see GrandisKuwagamon on the other side. He was sitting on his bed and staring over at them with an expectant eye. He looked first at VictoryGreymon and then back at SaviorHackmon. “Have you changed your mind?” he asked him.

“No… He agreed to help,” SaviorHackmon replied. He raised the jet injector with the attached vaccine vial. “This is it, right?”

“That’s the one,” GrandisKuwagamon replied, standing to his feet and walking over to the bars to get a good look. He definitely remembered seeing it when the inhibitor virus was first installed into his body. “Thanks, kid.” He glanced at VictoryGreymon. “And you too, I guess.”

“SaviorHackmon told me what you said. This is the least I can do for you saving me,” VictoryGreymon smiled at the mercenary.

SaviorHackmon frowned as a realisation dawned on him. “So… How do we do this?” the dragon man asked, glancing at the cell bars emphatically. They couldn’t just pass the injector through the bars due to the barrier.

VictoryGreymon tilted his head. “Oh, uh… I didn’t think about that.”

GrandisKuwagamon folded his arms and gazed at SaviorHackmon flatly. “How do you think?” he sarcastically responded.

SaviorHackmon blinked. “We’re going to need to open the cell to administer the anti-virus…” he realised, turning to look at VictoryGreymon.

VictoryGreymon grimaced. “Open the cell…? That’s definitely against protocol…” he murmured hesitatingly. “I… I don’t know, SaviorHackmon…”

“How else were you planning on using that injector?” GrandisKuwagamon asked them rhetorically. “It kinda needs contact with my body to, you know, work. I assumed you realised that already.”

SaviorHackmon looked at VictoryGreymon with imploring eyes. “Please, VictoryGreymon? What’s the point of us getting the vaccine if we can’t use it on him?” he beseeched.

“Yeah, I know, but…” VictoryGreymon sighed.

“I won’t try anything,” GrandisKuwagamon assured him. “I’m not stupid enough to try and fight my way outta this fortress like without any weapons.” His crimson eye landed on VictoryGreymon. “…You can trust me, you know. Please, V. I helped you because you’re my friend…”

VictoryGreymon winced. He was still uneasy about it, and it was against his better judgment, but they did already set out to do this. He believed in GrandisKuwagamon. “I know I can… Okay…” He looked at GrandisKuwagamon with begging eyes. “I’m trusting you…”

GrandisKuwagamon nodded compliantly.

VictoryGreymon nervously glanced down the dungeon corridor towards the locked door. He drew a key card from the pouch on his waist and slid it through the electronic lock system right beside the barred door. The magnetized, chrome digizoid locks opened with a metallic clunk. VictoryGreymon then pressed a few numbers on the lock’s keypad, putting in the password to drop the cell’s impenetrable barrier. The barrier flickered for a moment before disappearing, allowing matter to pass through the bars. He then took out a physical key and unlocked the manual lock. He looked at GrandisKuwagamon through the bars. “Can you stand back, please?”

GrandisKuwagamon took a few steps back as the cell door slid open with a metallic ‘shink’.

“Okay, can you come over here and put your hands against the wall?” VictoryGreymon asked him, gesturing over to the corridor wall where there was more light from torch so that they could see what they were doing.

“Yeah, fine,” GrandisKuwagamon complied, slowly walking towards the pair of dragon Digimon. He walked past them and did what he was told, approaching the stone wall that was opposite to his cell. He slowly raised his black hands and placed them against the wall.

“Okay, good,” VictoryGreymon said, standing beside GrandisKuwagamon. He looked over at SaviorHackmon. “Can you apply the vaccine?” he asked SaviorHackmon. VictoryGreymon was clumsy so he worried about doing it wrong.

SaviorHackmon walked up behind GrandisKuwagamon, holding the pneumatic injector in his claws. “Sure. So, how do I do this?” he asked GrandisKuwagamon.

GrandisKuwagamon rolled his eye. “That’s exactly what I want to hear before a medical procedure,” he sarcastically muttered. “You see that bandage on the back of my neck? Take that off.”

SaviorHackmon moved GrandisKuwagamon’s rusty orange hair aside to locate a white bandage that was stuck to his black neck. A wall-mounted torch to the right of GrandisKuwagamon provided ample light for SaviorHackmon to be able to see clearly in the dim dungeon. He slowly peeled off the small, adhesive bandage from GrandisKuwagamon’s carapace, revealing a small hole in the hard, black surface with a bit of dried blood encrusted around it. “Alright.”

“You see that hole?” GrandisKuwagamon asked as he talked him through it. “That’s where they inserted the two viruses. That’s also where they removed the restraint virus. Put the center of the injector’s muzzle against it. The needle needs to be against the hole.”

Nodding, SaviorHackmon slowly raised the pistol-shaped injector up to the back of the mercenary’s neck. He carefully placed the circular muzzle around the hole so that the needle in the center lightly pressed against the entry point. He readjusted the injector’s position by a few millimeters, wanting to make sure that it was in precisely the right place. “Okay.”

“When you’re ready, pull the trigger,” GrandisKuwagamon told him, not moving an inch.

SaviorHackmon nodded and squeezed the trigger gently. There was a sharp hissing sound and a powerful propulsion of air from the injector’s needle. The glowing, white vaccine discharged from the pneumatic needle and pierced through the hole in GrandisKuwagamon’s neck. The shimmer from the vial waned slightly as half of the vaccine propelled itself into GrandisKuwagamon’s body.

GrandisKuwagamon hissed in response to the sharp pain. His back arched and his body tensed up in response to the foreign body entering his system. “****…!” he growled, wincing.

The vaccine began to take effect immediately. A flood of uncomfortable warmth surged though GrandisKuwagamon’s form. The tingling heat consumed the digicore in the center of his chest before shooting outwards to his extremities. Pins and needles - like the sensation of a nerve regaining its function after one’s foot had fallen asleep - was the feeling that swept through him. It crept down his legs and arms, to his hands and feet. The prickling warmth also crawled up his face and down his pincers. The numb sensation swelled in his form.

It was as if a great pressure had been released from his body. He could feel the inhibiting virus inside of him disappearing as the vaccine started to destroy it. The virus had caused an oppressive feeling inside of him. It stopped him from doing the things that he was normally able to do. Now, with the vaccine setting it, it was like he had been restrained for weeks and was finally having the bindings removed from his body. The painful, uncomfortable prickling sensations continued to send jolts through his form, but they were beginning to fade.

GrandisKuwagamon’s fingers dragged against the wall and he gasped as he began to regain control of himself. His legs and arms trembled as his power was released from its cage and proceeded to course back into his form.

SaviorHackmon retracted the injector and narrowed his eyes with concern. “GrandisKuwagamon, are you okay?” he asked with worry, wondering if he used too much.

“I’m fine…!” GrandisKuwagamon insisted, breathing heavily. As the feeling returned to his mandibles, he spread his pincers out tentatively. He was able to successfully move the pincers on his face. He could feel his body returning to its normal functions. He grinned. “It’s… working…”

“Good,” SaviorHackmon sighed with relief, lowering the injector. “Everything feels right?”

“Y-Yeah…” GrandisKuwagamon answered with long, centering breaths. “I feel like myself again…”

VictoryGreymon smiled at him warmly. “I’m glad to hear that…” he responded. He began to walk over to him, approaching from GrandisKuwagamon’s right while SaviorHackmon stood at the mercenary’s left.

GrandisKuwagamon raised his head slowly, a ghost of a smirk on his black lips. He watched VictoryGreymon approach out of the corner of his eye. His pincers twitched and he slowly curled his fingers against the wall.

VictoryGreymon stepped up to him, reaching his hand over. “Let’s get you back in your cell…” he said, nearing the abyssal insect.

While VictoryGreymon’s hand neared him, GrandisKuwagamon’s face darkened. He slowly angled his head towards VictoryGreymon, enough so that the torchlight glimmered in his blood red, honeycomb eye. As he leered out of the corner of his eye at VictoryGreymon, the torch’s flames could be seen reflected in his crimson lens.

As soon as VictoryGreymon’s fingers touched GrandisKuwagamon’s armoured shoulder, the previously docile bug suddenly exploded into action. He lashed out with astonishing vigour and speed, like a spring, compressed to its limits, finally being released in a breakneck surge of kinetic energy.

GrandisKuwagamon pivoted on a pinpoint, swinging towards VictoryGreymon and bashing the dinosaur man’s extended arm outwards. Taking advantage of his initiative, GrandisKuwagamon wrenched his arm forwards and drove his black fist into the shocked VictoryGreymon’s snout.

Stunned and still processing what was going on, VictoryGreymon let out a cry of pain as his nose went numb. He stumbled backwards and flailed his arms and tail out to try and keep himself from falling.

Too astonished to react, SaviorHackmon’s golden eyes widened with shock and horror as he took in GrandisKuwagamon’s violent change in demeanour. “What—“

Before he could even finish his kneejerk response, GrandisKuwagamon turned to him and attacked the bewildered Perfect level to stop him from reacting. GrandisKuwagamon drilled his fist into SaviorHackmon’s gut, taking the wind out of his words.

As SaviorHackmon lurched forwards onto the fist that pressed against his pliable, metal body, GrandisKuwagamon reached behind his head and grabbed the hem of the dragon’s cape-hood. The mercenary pulled the hood up and over SaviorHackmon’s head before yanking it downwards over the dragon’s horned face, obscuring his eyes. With SaviorHackmon unable to see what was happening, GrandisKuwagamon drove his fist into the end of SaviorHackmon’s hood-covered snout. He punched SaviorHackmon three times in short succession before spinning around clockwise and delivering an agile back kick that sent SaviorHackmon crashing into the stone wall. Upon meeting the painful surface, he crumpled to the floor.

With SaviorHackmon stunned and in pain, the black mercenary turned his attention back to VictoryGreymon. The dragon man managed to remain standing, but he was clutching his snout. Blood leaked out of his nostrils and trickled down between the gaps of his large fingers. Despite his large, hurt eyes, which watered from his numb, stinging nose, VictoryGreymon was getting his bearings and realising what the situation was. “Guh…!” he grunted, desperately scrambling over towards his Dramon Breaker, which he left propped up against the nearby wall.

Seeing that VictoryGreymon was going for his massive broadsword, GrandisKuwagamon steamed forwards. He used his superior speed to close the distance with VictoryGreymon before he could make it to the giant blade. As VictoryGreymon reached for the sword, GrandisKuwagamon closed the distance and grabbed his wrist roughly.

VictoryGreymon stared at GrandisKuwagamon, his gaze wide and bewildered. “GrandisKuwagamon, sto-OOOOOOP!” Before he could finish his plea, his deep voice suddenly raised an octave and into a pained holler. GrandisKuwagamon had driven his foot up along the thigh of VictoryGreymon’s back leg, bringing it right up behind the dragon’s loin guard and into the black fabric that protected the tender region that was underneath. With considerable pain shooting through his groin, VictoryGreymon’s legs nearly buckled. He wasn’t able to mount a counterattack as GrandisKuwagamon brought his open palm up into VictoryGreymon’s chin, causing his snout to jerk upwards.

As VictoryGreymon was stunned, GrandisKuwagamon took the opportunity to swipe the pouch that hung from the side of VictoryGreymon’s hip.

“GrandisKuwagamon! Stop!” SaviorHackmon shouted haggardly, his claws dragging against the stone wall as he scrambled to his feet.

With adrenaline pumping through his body and his combat senses in complete control, GrandisKuwagamon didn’t respond. He left VictoryGreymon staggering in place and dashed back towards SaviorHackmon, a crimson glow in his eye as he closed in on his prey.

SaviorHackmon snarled and raised his hood back up above his eyes so that he could see. He prepared to raise his bladed wrists to defend himself, but his previous actions used up enough time to allow the speedy GrandisKuwagamon to close in on him. As he raised his right arm and began to stab his crimson wrist blade forwards, GrandisKuwagamon was already past the blade and in the dragon’s face.

GrandisKuwagamon leaned his head back and then brought it forwards, slamming his hard, black, forehead ridge into SaviorHackmon’s mouth in a painful head butt. As SaviorHackmon stumbled backwards, GrandisKuwagamon followed up with a sharp crack across SaviorHackmon’s face, causing him to stagger. The mercenary continued his brutal assault by giving the dragon a one-two punch that sent SaviorHackmon crashing to the ground.

“Stop it!” VictoryGreymon shouted from behind the mercenary.

GrandisKuwagamon spun around to see VictoryGreymon, charging towards him. The dragon knight grimaced with physical and emotional pain, but he coiled his mighty arm back and prepared to punch GrandisKuwagamon.

As VictoryGreymon closed in on him and prepared to drive his fist forwards, GrandisKuwagamon was ready to counter him. VictoryGreymon threw his mighty punch, but the agile insect man crouched his legs and ducked under his arm. As soon as GrandisKuwagamon was at waist-length, he bent his body forward and closed his pincers tightly around VictoryGreymon’s armoured hips. GrandisKuwagamon pivoted and used VictoryGreymon’s own strength and momentum against him; he pulled back, using VictoryGreymon’s forward force and used his tight grip around VictoryGreymon to lift him off of his feet. GrandisKuwagamon then arched his back and leaned in reverse as far as he could go. When he was at his limit and the transfer of force went from his pincers and into his attacker, he released VictoryGreymon from his clutches.

VictoryGreymon’s eyes widened and he went soaring over GrandisKuwagamon. He crashed onto the stone floor across the hallway and tumbled unceremoniously into GrandisKuwagamon’s vacant cell. VictoryGreymon rolled to a stop inside the cell and groaned with pain. His muscles ached and he was dazed from the painful throw. He opened his wincing eyes but there were flickers of white stars that obscured his vision.

GrandisKuwagamon stood up and took the chance to walk up to the cell. He grabbed hold of the cell’s barred door and slid it shut with a strong, metallic clash. As soon as that was done, he reached into the pouch that he had swiped off of VictoryGreymon and pulled out the keys. He stuck the key into the chrome digizoid door and secured the cell’s manual locks from the outside. GrandisKuwagamon then took out the dungeon’s key card and swiped it through the electronic lock system, magnetizing the locks to make sure that VictoryGreymon was trapped inside.

VictoryGreymon regained his bearings and got to his hands and knees as he heard the resounding clank of the locks closing. He looked up to see that GrandisKuwagamon had locked him in. “H-Hey! Grandis! What are you doing?!” he asked him desperately.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” GrandisKuwagamon coldly answered, not even looking at him as he removed the key card from the lock.

“Don’t do this!” VictoryGreymon pleaded, standing up and going over to hold the bars.

The aloof mercenary ignored him and walked over to SaviorHackmon. The duped dragon was on his knees, his nose and lip dripping blood, but he was attempting to stand to his feet. GrandisKuwagamon methodically walked around behind the kneeling dragon to get to him before he could. Although he couldn’t stand up in time, SaviorHackmon glowered with rage and lashed out at GrandisKuwagamon with his bladed tail.

Before it could hit his face, GrandisKuwagamon nonchalantly caught SaviorHackmon’s tail just below the long, crimson blade. He squeezed the end of the tail and bent it sideways, not breaking any bones but neutralizing it and twisting it enough to cause SaviorHackmon to hiss with pain.

The night-black insect stalked up to the kneeling dragon and grabbed the nape of his cape with his free hand. He roughly jerked him upwards by the collar, the choking SaviorHackmon momentarily as the gravity forced him forwards onto the muffler’s belt and buttons that fastened the cape completely around his neck. GrandisKuwagamon hoisted SaviorHackmon to his bladed feet and then slammed him up against the stone wall. SaviorHackmon’s cheek and body crashed against the rocky surface hard enough to create a spark against his chest.

GrandisKuwagamon pressed against SaviorHackmon’s back, shoving him hard up against the wall. He proceeded to close his pincers tightly around SaviorHackmon’s neck, firm enough to hold him in place. With one hand, GrandisKuwagamon roughly pulled SaviorHackmon’s arms behind his back, and with his other hand, he lifted SaviorHackmon’s tail up; as he did this, he used his pincers and shoulder to make sure that he couldn’t wiggle free.

“You naïve idiot,” GrandisKuwagamon told him, pushing his chest forward to pin SaviorHackmon’s arms and tail to his back in order to free up his left hand. With his free hand, he grabbed hold of SaviorHackmon’s long, red cape and proceeded to wrap its length around SaviorHackmon’s wrists and tail like a makeshift rope, bundling them together behind his back with a tight knot. This freed up both of GrandisKuwagamon’s hands so that he didn’t have to worry as much about SaviorHackmon’s blades.

“Let me go…!” SaviorHackmon snarled bitterly, his lips curling back to reveal his jagged teeth. He grimaced over his shoulder at GrandisKuwagamon with a mixture of rage and hurt.

“No can do, kid,” GrandisKuwagamon matter-of-factly told him. “I need you to be my hostage again.”

“What…? I’ll never let you use me against the Royal Knights,” SaviorHackmon growled.

“You don’t have a choice.” GrandisKuwagamon’s pincers tightly held SaviorHackmon’s neck in their vice-like grip. As he stepped away from the wall, he used them to move SaviorHackmon where he wanted. He used his hands to keep hold of SaviorHackmon’s arms and pulled the dragon man away from the wall. He started pushing him down the dungeon corridor towards the exit.

“GrandisKuwagamon, stop this! Please!” VictoryGreymon begged him, sticking his snout as far as he could through the bars to watch GrandisKuwagamon lead SaviorHackmon away.

SaviorHackmon grunted and struggled against his captor, but the tightening of the scarab’s forceps around his neck helped to cease his resistance. “Grgh… GrandisKuwagamon…!” he choked out, grimacing tightly. “Why?!”

“Did you really think I’d be happy to rot away in Havelock Prison?” GrandisKuwagamon growled harshly. “’Only two years’, my ***. Yeah, until they found another excuse to keep me locked up. The Royal Knights just used me while they could; they were planning to lock me away permanently from the beginning. They just lied to get something outta me. That’s just how this world works.”

“That’s not true…!” SaviorHackmon insisted, gasping as the pincer squeezed his neck tighter for a moment. “The Royal Knights are good to their word! You don’t have to do this, GrandisKuwagamon!”

“You idealistic moron…” GrandisKuwagamon whispered in his ear as he pushed him down the corridor. “You really believe that, don’t you?”

“Ye—es!” the dragon choked out.

GrandisKuwagamon glared at the back of his horned head. “…I can’t believe how stupid you are, you naïve *******. You and VictoryGreymon…” As he reached the end of the corridor, he pushed SaviorHackmon up against the cold, chrome digizoid door that sealed them in. He spoke in a low, intense voice, still dripping with adrenaline. “You two idiots didn’t see it coming… All it took was a little sob story and I had you right where I wanted you… I wrapped you around my little finger, just like I said I would!”

Each word was like a stab through SaviorHackmon’s heart. He grimaced tightly – more than the physical pain, it was because of the betrayal, the shame, and the guilt… He wanted to believe the best in GrandisKuwagamon, so much that he recklessly did this act of kindness for him. GrandisKuwagamon manipulated his feelings, his idealism, and used it against him. He felt as though he had been kicked in the stomach. “I…”

“Grandis! Stop!” VictoryGreymon desperately shouted down the hallway at him, futilely pulling at the digizoid bars. The wounded sorrow in VictoryGreymon’s raised voice was clear. “We trusted you! You said--… I… I thought we were friends!”

GrandisKuwagamon’s face darkened as he bowed his head. “Tch…” he grunted, not looking at either of the Digimon. “Shows what you know…” He raised the key card in his hand and swiped it through the electronic lock of door two.

The interior door’s lock snapped open and the door gave way slightly. GrandisKuwagamon wrenched SaviorHackmon aside and pulled the handle of the door, causing it to swing open. To his relief, the outer door had been left open. That made things easier for him. The stealthy mercenary inched towards the doorframe and cautiously glanced out to survey the area.

The corner that the dungeon was located at was empty. There was no guard outside that he could see. Using his pincers as a lever, he pulled SaviorHackmon out in front of him and forced the dragon to walk out of the dungeon first. His senses were on high alert. He couldn’t see any Digimon down either of the long hallways. He supposed it was late and many of them were having dinner. He knew he had to be careful.

SaviorHackmon growled and glanced over his shoulder. “Grandis, don’t—“

“Shut up before I make you,” GrandisKuwagamon coolly threatened, pushing SaviorHackmon forwards. “Call for help and I’ll kill whoever comes over.”

SaviorHackmon grimaced and clenched his teeth bitterly. There was so much he wanted to say - so much he needed to know. He wanted to stop GrandisKuwagamon from doing this before it got out of control. However, the reality of his mistake was clear to him. He didn’t want anybody getting hurt because of his naivety. For that reason, he obeyed GrandisKuwagamon’s threat. “Ngh…”

GrandisKuwagamon began retracing his steps. He had been brought to and from the dungeon a couple of times, so he at least knew how to get up to the ground level. He ushered SaviorHackmon down the length of the corridor and used the broad axis of vision that his compound eye provided to his advantage. He listened for any sound apart from the scuffling of their feet and bodies. He was vigilant.

They reached the end of the hallway without incident, which ended in a ‘T’ corner. The right-hand corridor led down towards the treasury vault and a branching hallway, while the left-hand corridor led further into the castle basement. However, GrandisKuwagamon spotted a set of stairs down the left path. He led SaviorHackmon down the corridor towards the ascending stairs. Once they reached the stone staircase that was built into the wall, GrandisKuwagamon stopped at its based and lightly ushered SaviorHackmon forwards. “Start climbing,” GrandisKuwagamon told SaviorHackmon, his pincers keeping a tight grip on his hostage’s neck.

SaviorHackmon winced but complied, starting to walk up the stairs in tandem with the ebony mercenary behind him. It was hard to walk with his wrists tied and a pair of pincers around his neck, but he successfully mounted the stairs. They reached the top of the staircase and SaviorHackmon was pushed out into the hallway.

GrandisKuwagamon found themselves at a corner, with a hallway ahead of them and a hallway to the left. He looked down both corridors to check for Order soldiers and Royal Knights. The path looked clear, and he remembered that the route that he needed to take was the one ahead of him. The mercenary forced the dragon forwards and they cautiously traversed down the long, stone hall.

The insect mercenary stopped at every corner, glancing down the perpendicular halls before proceeding. He placed his hand over SaviorHackmon’s draconic muzzle to shut him up as they passed by the communications room where MetallifeKuwagamon was busily working away. They managed to go unnoticed and the pair soon found themselves at the opposite end of the castle. The corner they were at had a spiral staircase that led up to one of the three towers which triangulated the castle.

GrandisKuwagamon knew that if they went down the left hallway, they would reach the foyer and, thus, the exit. He figured that would be the best route to take. To that end, he started pushing SaviorHackmon down the length of the corridor.

SaviorHackmon couldn’t do anything but be pushed along by his captor. He didn’t want to endanger anybody by calling out for help, and even if he tried to escape on his own and fight back, he knew that he probably couldn’t match GrandisKuwagamon in a one-on-one fight. Frustration, guilt, and remorse swelled through his heart. He cursed himself for being so naïve as to believe GrandisKuwagamon. The dragon squire could only watch as he was ushered down the long, torch-lit corridor.

After a minute, the pair neared the small archway that led inside the marble foyer. Just before the ornamental stone arch, was a long, perpendicular hallway that ran parallel to the left-hand side of the great hall. It led down towards the castle cafeteria.

GrandisKuwagamon looked down the left hallway and scowled; he could see a large group of Order soldiers walking up the hallway towards them, coming right from their dinner break. They hadn’t yet seen him and SaviorHackmon, but GrandisKuwagamon knew they would soon. He had to hurry.

He roughly pushed SaviorHackmon through the archway and into the octagonal foyer. It appeared empty at first, but as soon as GrandisKuwagamon passed by the first of the marble pillars, the insect froze.

Craniamon walked right out of the entrance hall leading outside, and into the foyer. He strode into the middle of the spacious room and stopped when he noticed the two Digimon emerge simultaneously. He turned his head and his glowing, crimson eyes landed on SaviorHackmon and GrandisKuwagamon. They slowly widened upon seeing GrandisKuwagamon free and the situation that SaviorHackmon was in.

“What the…” he murmured in a low, incredulous voice.

GrandisKuwagamon scowled. He could hear the numerous footsteps of the several Order soldiers walking down the branching hallway behind him. He knew that if he didn’t do anything, he’d be surrounded.

SaviorHackmon’s golden eyes enlarged when he saw Craniamon before them. “Crania-Grah!” SaviorHackmon grunted out in pain.

GrandisKuwagamon released SaviorHackmon from the hold of his pincers and drove his black foot into SaviorHackmon’s back. The kick was hard enough to send SaviorHackmon staggering forwards and with his arms and tail bound, he couldn’t stop himself from falling. SaviorHackmon was sent crashing into Craniamon, though Craniamon was sturdy enough to catch him and still remain standing.

The cunning mercenary used the distraction to make a run for it. He bolted off, back the way he came.

“Damn it… SaviorHackmon!” Craniamon exclaimed to the dragon man in his hands. He made sure that SaviorHackmon was standing on his own two feet before letting him go and freeing his wrists and tail from his knotted cape. “What the hell is going on?!”

SaviorHackmon grimaced with unadulterated shame. “I’m… I’m sorry, Craniamon-shishou…” he answered in a near-whimper.

Craniamon grunted and placed his hand on his dark violet breastplate. He accessed the compressed data of his black digizoid armour and pulled out the Claiohm Solais. Without another word, he took off through the left archway, chasing after GrandisKuwagamon. As soon as he was through, he noticed the group of Order soldiers approaching the cross section of the hallway. They stopped and stared in confusion when they had seen GrandisKuwagamon dashing down the perpendicular hallway in front of them.

“The prisoner has escaped! With me! Hurry!” Craniamon commanded the group, already continuing his dash after the fleeing mercenary. The group of six soldiers all immediately obeyed and started running after Craniamon, turning the corner to the right and running after the fugitive insect.

GrandisKuwagamon sprinted as fast as he could back down the long hallway. He briefly glanced over his shoulder and saw the group of Order soldiers chasing him, with Craniamon at the fore of the pursuing group. He scowled and looked forwards, focusing on the path ahead of him.

“I don’t think so…” he whispered.

His crimson eye glowed and he began beating his four, glowing, x-shaped wings. Suddenly, a greyish-black mist started to form around his body, wreathing his black carapace in the vapour. The dim grey mist began to spread outwards around GrandisKuwagamon, wafting across the floor before swelling upwards. The gaseous gloom began to fill up the castle corridor and breeze in from one of the adjacent hallways. GrandisKuwagamon’s body became completely obscured by the dark miasma. He had summoned the haze to obscure his body from his pursuers.

“Where did that mist come from?!” one of the soldiers, a Maildramon, questioned as he galloped after GrandisKuwagamon.

“He must have created it. Be on your guard!” Craniamon told them, running forwards, straight into the thick, grey brume.

GrandisKuwagamon continued summoning the dark fog data around him. He was used to travelling through mist with ease. It was a major element of his stealth. The confined area of the castle corridors helped to trap the mist, allowing it to waft upwards and fill the hallways. This caused the tenebrous vapour to thicken, completely obscuring GrandisKuwagamon from his pursuers.

He sprinted forwards, using his beating wings to increase his running speed. He tore down the length of the hallway towards the spiral staircase at the corner. The tower was his only other escape route unless he wanted to try fighting his way through Craniamon. He couldn’t afford to take a risk.

The Royal Knight in question glowered as he and the soldiers were enveloped by the veil of dark grey mist. “Stop and get behind me!” he ordered the others, dashing forwards before coming to a stop. Upon hearing the soldiers stop behind him, Craniamon held the Claiohm Solais out horizontally in front of him. He began spinning the double-ended spear over and over in his hands with his dextrous fingers. The pole-arm began rotating around like a propeller, whipping up a strong gale that blew the dark mist away.

Just as the umbrageous vapour dispersed, GrandisKuwagamon ducked into the tower staircase, disappearing from view. Craniamon glowered and ran down the corridor. “After him! Split up into two teams! Maildramon, sound an alert!”

GrandisKuwagamon heard his pursuers nearing the corner of the hallway. He began climbing the staircase as fast as possible. As he ascended to the second landing, he could still feel the lingering effects of the virus; he knew that his abilities weren’t at their maximum efficiency, so he had to be smart.

As he reached the second landing, he found himself at a doorway. Behind him was an opening that led to the hallway of the second floor of the castle, and to his left was a continuation of the spiral staircase, leading up to the third floor. There was another door opposite to the interior one. It seemed as though it would lead outside. He quickly opened the closed door in front of him and found that it opened up to a stone balcony outside of the castle. The spacious balcony was clear of any guards, and on the opposite side of the protruding platform was a stone bridge that reached across to a free-standing guard tower.

GrandisKuwagamon released a breath of relief upon feeling the fresh air against his carapace, but he couldn’t get complacent. He took the opportunity to quickly look around and observe his surroundings. The sun had set across the horizon, and it was a dark, starry night. The sky was black and the moons were obscured by small, intermittent clouds. This caused the landscape to be quite dark. The castle courtyard was illuminated by the lights of buildings and a couple lamps. It was darkest over at the training grounds and shooting range. He internally noted that that would be his safest escape route.

However, there was still one thing that he had to do before he escaped: grab his Gran Killers from the armoury. He quickly glanced over at the several, tall barracks buildings over at the end of the main road and in front of the training grounds. Directly to the left of the foremost dormitory was a smaller stone building that was just one storey tall. That was the armoury, and he knew that that was where they were storing his Gran Killers after they had been confiscated.

Unable to afford any more time, GrandisKuwagamon beat his wings rapidly, creating a deep droning sound. Not waiting around, his feet left the ground and he took off. He swiftly flew off the balcony and zipped towards the guard tower, needing to get by it in order to reach the armoury. As he flew, he concentrated. Once again, umbrous mist began to gather in the night and form across the street below.

As he made his way across the gap, Craniamon emerged out of the castle and onto the second floor balcony. “The prisoner escaped! Stop him!” he yelled to anybody within earshot.

GrandisKuwagamon scoffed and briefly leered over his shoulder. He watched as Craniamon jumped off the balcony and landed gracefully on the stone street below. He just focused on making his escape. He kept flying towards the guard tower, though he knew that Craniamon’s warning alerted the guards manning it.

As soon as he rounded the tower, he had the armoury in his sight. As the mist spread across the street, GrandisKuwagamon had a clear path to the building.

Until…

A figure suddenly shot up from the mist, strands of the dark vapour clinging to its form as it ascended into the night air. The draconic humanoid flapped her wings and stopped adroitly, directly in GrandisKuwagamon’s path.

It was Paildramon.

She stopped into the air, leering at him calmly. Her hip cannons were trained on his body, and she aimed her claws at him in a fighting stance.

GrandisKuwagamon stopped several meters in front of her and sneered. “…Paildramon…”

“GrandisKuwagamon… Surrender,” Paildramon told him with a steely, contralto voice. “Before this gets out of hand.”

“I don’t think so, P…” GrandisKuwagamon answered, flying towards her defiantly.

“Freeze!” she ordered, raising her hip guns to aim at his body. She narrowed her scarlet eyes threateningly. “I’ll shoot if I have to.”

“Tch…” GrandisKuwagamon scoffed and reluctantly stopped in his place, three meters away from her. He couldn’t afford to wait around. He knew that her stalling him would be just as bad as her fighting him. As soon as the word spread that he was escaping, the whole Order would be after him. “So shoot me! It’s better than being locked away in a prison.”

Paildramon glared at him. “You don’t mean that,” she said. “It’s only two years – one if you’re repentant - but if you do this, it will be even longer. Think about it, GrandisKuwagamon. Do the logical thing.”

“You don’t understand, Paildramon… You couldn’t…” GrandisKuwagamon hissed, leering at her bitterly. He continued to beat his wings, slowly hovering towards her. “To not be in control…”

Paildramon grit her teeth and hardened her fighting stance. “Don’t move. I’m not bluffing,” she warned him icily. Her hip cannons started to brim with glowing, yellow energy. She glanced around the area. She could see soldiers beginning to run up the road towards them. “…Why are you doing this, GrandisKuwagamon?”

GrandisKuwagamon was aware of his limited time. Despite that, he stared at Paildramon. Rather than anger or contempt, his gaze appeared to soften. “…You have a brother, right, Paildramon?” he asked her.

“Yes… I do…” Paildramon responded, playing along as she wanted to stall him further. “ExVeemon…”

GrandisKuwagamon nodded softly. As he stared at her, his eye was dark. “I had a brother…” he informed her. His voice was melancholy yet matter-of-fact. The gaze he gave her was sincere and a small crack in his features allowed her to see beneath his hard surface.

“…He died right in front of me,” GrandisKuwagamon explained to her.

The confession struck her like a knife to her stomach. Paildramon’s eyes widened slightly and she stared at him with bewilderment. Losing a sibling… Given how much she cared about her brother, the prospect of GrandisKuwagamon losing his brother sent the sharp pain of sympathy through her heart. She couldn’t think of anything worse.

“I…” was all she could manage to say. She stared at him with shock. The guns on her hips drifted slightly, and she unconsciously lowered her claws. She started to lower her guard. “GrandisKuwagamon, I’m—“

The mercenary’s eye hardened. He took the opportunity and closed the distance between them. Paildramon tensed up and refocused; she began to fire, but GrandisKuwagamon was already too close. As the muzzles flashed, he closed in and drove his black fist into her exposed abdomen.

Paildramon’s eyes widened and she doubled over with pain as his knuckles embedded in her scales. She began to reach towards him with her claws, preparing to fire her cables, but GrandisKuwagamon pulled away and spun around too quickly. He delivered a spinning kick to the side of Paildramon’s face, sending her slamming into the stone side of the tower.

GrandisKuwagamon didn’t waste any more time. He zoomed past the over sergeant as she was stunned and swooped down into the gathering mist. He landed in front of the armoury and raced over to the door, forcing it open.

“He’s over there!” one of the castle guards shouted through the mist.

GrandisKuwagamon hissed and ran inside the vacant armoury, closing the door behind him.

The interior of the building was loaded with rows of weapon and armour racks. The walls and shelves were filled with an assortment of different weapons, all organised in a logical and tidy way. There were racks loaded with swords, axes, pole arms, bows and arrows… Further back, there were even guns and heavier weapons. There were also rows of specialized Digimon armour and shields. Most were custom gear belonging to particular Order Digimon, but there were a few non-Digimon-specific items as well.

The fugitive mercenary didn’t care about those, however. He jogged down the aisles of the armoury, looking around fervently for his Gran Killers. He searched for the impounded weapons that the Royal Knights took off of him when he had been captured. Since they had his data signature, if he didn’t find them, it would take awhile for him to be able to form new ones.

To his relief, he located his Gran Killers on the opposite side of the armoury, behind a locked, metal fence where the confiscated weapons were placed. He stopped in front of the door and spread his pincers wide. “Grandis Scissors!” he spoke, snapping his crushing forces shut. They closed with such force that they tore through both the lock and the metal fence itself, hacking through the metal with ease. He withdrew his pincers and tore the metal door off with his hand, discarding it before stepping inside.

He grabbed his pair of Gran Killers from the rack and placed the long, jagged, claw gauntlets over his forearms. “Much better…” he muttered, readjusting his favourite weapons on his arms. He stepped out of the fenced section a few moments before the armoury door swung open.

Craniamon, Paildramon, and a few other soldiers ran into the armoury with their weapons drawn. They emerged just in time to see GrandisKuwagamon hovering in the air in the center of the armoury, his form glowing white.

“Slide evolution… GranKuwagamon!” he called out, his form growing in size to the much larger, bulkier, beast-like beetle Digimon that could barely fit in the single story building. As he grew in size, he knocked down a pair of shelves around him, causing the weapons to come crashing down in a cacophony of metal.

“GrandisKuwagamon!” Paildramon called out to him. “Stop!”

“Not a chance,” he answered, opening up his long, black forceps. “Zone Black Hole!”

He snapped them shut, the dimension-cutting scissors tearing into the spatial fabric before him. A large, black gash appeared in front of him, widening to his entire, insect form.

“Stop him!” Craniamon ordered, dashing towards him.

“Wire Punch!” Paildramon shouted, ejecting five of her wire-guided claws towards him, hoping to ensnare him before he could escape.

However, she was too late. GranKuwagamon zoomed forwards and penetrated the spatial rift, right as the cords were about to hit him. He disappeared within the abyss and the rend sealed itself up and disappeared as if it had never been there. Paildramon’s claws passed through the empty space, right where GranKuwagamon had been.

She winced and retracted her corded claws back to her gauntlet. They were too late.

He was gone.

-

GranKuwagamon emerged from the tear in space only half a kilometer north from Castle Albion.

“What…?” he whispered, looking over his shoulder. He could still see the castle in the starry night sky, the moonlight illuminating the imposing fortress. This wasn’t as far away as he planned when he used Zone Black Hole to escape. He was sure that the eagle-eyed castle guards would still be able to see him from this distance, unless he was too well-camouflaged against the darkness of the night. “Is this as far as I can go?”

He supposed that he couldn’t teleport as far because his abilities were still weak. He noticed that his mist concealment had been weaker than usual too. It must have been because of the inhibition virus’ lingering effects. He would have to regain his strength before he could use his abilities at full capacity again.

His crimson eyes grimaced and he looked over his shoulder at the Royal Knights’ castle. The pang in his heart was tempered as he reminded himself of the cold reality of the situation.

“No sense hanging around…” the giant scarab mercenary murmured. “Zone Black Hole…”

He sliced through the fabric of space again and travelled through it, emerging another half a kilometer northwards. He continued this process of short-burst teleportations; each one got exponentially shorter in distance, until he was forced to travel by wing alone.

Exhausted, GranKuwagamon continued flying north, hoping to get out of Splendor’s Reach and further into the Free Area.

At the very least, he told himself, he had a head start on them…

All the other feelings he pushed to the back of his mind. The only thing he cared about right now was one simple thing: being in control of his fate.
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
(Author's Note: Does this mean I can combine all of my "Continued" sections into the main chapters now? ...Also, the Chapter List links seem to be broken.)


Chapter 36: The Shadow of His Mind

A long night passed since GrandisKuwagamon’s escape and the next morning came about.

The medical bay was sparse, but it had a few more occupants than before.

VictoryGreymon lay on one of the soft, white beds. He was fast asleep after the painful, emotional night. His injuries weren’t very bad, but he sported a cut lip and a couple of bruises on his arms and legs. He was sprawled on the bed with a melted pack of ice pressed against his tender cheek, as well as another one between his legs.

The other patient was SaviorHackmon. However, unlike VictoryGreymon, he was wide awake. He hadn’t been able to get much sleep through the night; his mind was plagued by the events of the previous evening.

He sat on the edge of his bed, his body hunched forwards and his bladed head bowed. His arms rested on his bent knees and he was curled slightly in on himself. He sat abashedly with his goggle-clad hood pulled over his head, the hem reaching up to his nose horn. The crimson hood concealed a swollen lip and scuffed metal. More than that, it hid his mortified eyes.

He stared down at the floor, deep in thought. His golden eyes were narrowed in a soft wince as they stared blankly at the place between his bladed feet. The dull pain in his face was nothing compared the sharp aching of his heart.

He trusted GrandisKuwagamon. He trusted him so much that he had been willing to break Order protocol just to do something nice for him. SaviorHackmon felt like a complete fool. He felt used and betrayed, but he also knew it was his own fault. He was too gullible, too trusting, too reckless…

How could I have been so naïve…?” he thought to himself sullenly. “I can’t believe how stupid I’ve been… GrandisKuwagamon was right all along… I am a naïve idiot. I fell for his story and he manipulated me into freeing him. I might as well have walked him out of the castle myself… I can’t believe how much I let the Royal Knights down…

The pain in SaviorHackmon’s heart swelled and his stomach felt uneven. “How could he have used me so easily? Was he working me from the start? Was there a drop of truth in anything that he said? Was everything he told me a lie? Everything he said sounded so genuine… Or was that just my own wishful thinking? He made it sound like he had such a tough life… I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe that there was a good reason for the way that he was. I thought that maybe I could change him... How arrogant could I get…? Thinking that I’d be able to change a ruthless mercenary… I thought we were becoming friends, but none of it was true… It was all just my own naïve stupidity… I’ve been so blind…

His eyes narrowed and his throat tightened up the more that he thought about it.

Maybe there was truth in one of the things that he said… My heart’s too big. Maybe that’s true… Maybe I’m too naïve… too idealistic… Maybe I need to harden my heart like he has… That way, I’ll never be taken advantage of like that again…” SaviorHackmon considered, bowing his head more so that his hood drooped further over his snout. “Can I even do that…? Maybe… Maybe I’m just not cut out for this… Maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a Royal Knight… Maybe it’s all just empty dreams…

He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn’t even notice the nearby footsteps and the figure approaching him.

The lean, golden form of TigerVespamon stopped in front of him. The tall, humanoid wasp was wearing surgical gloves and a white overcoat. TigerVespamon was there in the medical bay volunteering his medical expertise. When he wasn’t training as a recruit, he worked as one of Duskmon’s assistants.

“SaviorHackmon?” he spoke calmly.

SaviorHackmon didn’t reply.

“SaviorHackmon?” TigerVespamon repeated, with a subtle change in inflection as he attempted to catch his attention.

SaviorHackmon blinked and looked up from the shroud of his hood. “…TigerVespamon?” he asked.

TigerVespamon raised his hand, which contained a small bag of ice. “Could you tilt your head back please? I need to apply an ice pack to your snout to contain the swelling,” he informed him.

The dragon nodded slightly and quietly leaned back on the bed. He gripped the sheets with his claws and angled his snout into the air. His horned nose protruded upwards as the fabric of his hood receded up his forehead.

The hornet Digimon silently leaned forwards and pressed the bag of ice gently against SaviorHackmon’s bruised and swollen snout. As the frigid ice touched his metal scales, the numb pain elicited a wince in SaviorHackmon’s features.

“Hold that, if you would be so kind,” TigerVespamon said to him. “I must make sure that your premaxilla isn’t broken.”

SaviorHackmon raised his claws and pressed the ice bag against his lip without asking any questions. He couldn’t look TigerVespamon in the eyes, even as the assistant physician leaned towards his face.

TigerVespamon raised a glowform with his left hand. He held the small, glowing, ball of light between his thumb and index finger, positioning it right in front of SaviorHackmon’s nostrils so that he could see inside. With his other hand, he raised a swab and gently began pressing SaviorHackmon’s snout and inside of his nostrils, applying pressure from different angles.

As TigerVespamon worked, there was a quiet air between them. SaviorHackmon was half-lost in his thoughts. TigerVespamon calmly applied the routine medical procedure without saying a word.

The quiet was getting to SaviorHackmon. He wished that TigerVespamon would just say something. He knew that he didn’t like GrandisKuwagamon. He could only imagine how TigerVespamon must feel, knowing that SaviorHackmon was responsible for releasing the mercenary. Was he being passive-aggressive? It was agitating him. Spending most of his life with Gankoomon and Sistermon Noir, he was used to people being direct and aggressive when they were mad at him. He couldn’t stand the quiet and the not knowing. He wanted TigerVespamon to be angry at him.

“You can say ‘I told you so’, you know,” SaviorHackmon spoke up. For the first time since he arrived, SaviorHackmon braved a glance into the wasp Digimon’s compound eyes. “Or you can tell me how stupid, naïve, and insubordinate I am.”

TigerVespamon continued to carefully move the swab around the interior of SaviorHackmon’s blood-encrusted nasal cavity, while also touching the surface of SaviorHackmon’s snout with his fingers. “…Is that how you feel?” he serenely asked, his voice not fluctuating even slightly.

SaviorHackmon grimaced and he gripped the ice bag somewhat more tightly. “…What is this, TigerVespamon?” he asked him directly. “What are you doing? You can’t make me feel any guiltier than I already feel…”

TigerVespamon paused for a moment and stared into his hurting citrine eyes. “…I promise you, SaviorHackmon, that is not my intention…” he gently responded. “I do not plan on judging you… It is not my place… I am merely here to provide you with medical treatment. I am High Physician Duskmon’s assistant.”

“I’m sure you must have an opinion on what happened…” SaviorHackmon pressed. “You’ve never been shy about your dislike of Grandis… I guess you were right all along.” He pulled his gaze away and looked off to the side as much as he could without moving his snout.

TigerVespamon sighed. “I… simply want to know why you did what you did,” he explained. “What possessed you to go to such lengths?”

SaviorHackmon gritted his teeth slightly. “…I wanted to believe in him. He… told me about how rotten his life was while growing up. The things he experienced. How it made him into who he is now… I thought that nobody deserved to be put through what he experienced. I just wanted to do something kind for him… I thought that maybe I could change him…” he admitted bitterly. “I don’t even know what’s true and what’s not anymore.”

TigerVespamon was silent for a few, thoughtful seconds. “…I see,” he finally said. “…Whatever may have happened to him in the past, I do not believe that it necessarily excuses his actions in the present. Although there are some who disagree with me…” TigerVespamon angled his head away slightly.

“I don’t know anymore…” SaviorHackmon whispered. He tentatively glanced up at TigerVespamon. “…Why do you hate him, TigerVespamon?”

“He… has done some things that I cannot forgive…” TigerVespamon pensively replied. He retracted the swab and placed it in the tray. His actions were a bit swift and uncomfortable, a slight change in his usual fluid motions. “I would rather not speak about it. I apologise.”

“I guess I’m not the first person that he’s hurt…” SaviorHackmon mused, frowning.

TigerVespamon carefully pressed the bridge of SaviorHackmon’s snout, right beneath his horn. “Does this hurt?”

“Not much…” SaviorHackmon replied.

“I see… It doesn’t appear to be broken, fortunately,” TigerVespamon explained.

“That’s good to hear,” Duskmon said, walking over and standing nearby. “Looks like we won’t have to do any surgery. The swelling should subside in a few days.”

“That is hopeful news,” TigerVespamon said with a gentle smile.

SaviorHackmon nodded quietly. He stared down at his lap and began to fall back into his thoughts. He began to think about TigerVespamon’s words. He didn’t know how he could be so tranquil about it…

Duskmon’s eyes suddenly turned and looked past SaviorHackmon, spotting something behind him. “…Ah.”

SaviorHackmon was so withdrawn into his own negative thoughts that he didn’t notice the shadow looming behind him.

A sharp crack on the cranium of his head pulled him painfully out of his thoughts. SaviorHackmon winced and clutched his head, pulling his hood back and then looking up.

Gankoomon withdrew his knuckles from the surface of SaviorHackmon’s head and folded his arms, looking down at SaviorHackmon coolly. “I hope that knocked some sense into you…” he firmly chastised.

“Gankoomon, please refrain from assaulting my patients,” Duskmon dryly spoke, giving him a sideways leer as he passed behind him. “I will have to ask you to leave if you do it again.”

SaviorHackmon looked up at his mentor with shock. “Gankoomon-sensei…?” he questioned, a bit bewildered.

“You’ve reaaally done it this time, Hackie,” Sistermon Noir spoke, casually strolling up beside Gankoomon and putting her hands on her hips. She smirked at SaviorHackmon. “Jeez, you must have it bad.”

“D-Don’t tease him, Noir…” Sistermon Blanc spoke up, tentatively stepping out from behind Gankoomon’s back. She walked over to SaviorHackmon and took his hand, gazing at him sympathetically. “Are you okay, SaviorHackmon-kun?”

“I’m fine, Blanc-chan…” SaviorHackmon answered with a grimace. He stared back down at his lap, unable to look Gankoomon in the eyes. “I’m sorry, Sensei…”

“Only apologise if you mean it, SaviorHackmon,” Gankoomon told him bluntly, staring down at the humbled dragon.

“I do mean it…” SaviorHackmon murmured bitterly. “I was such an idiot… I can’t believe I trusted him.”

“What’d he tell you?” Gankoomon asked, raising an eyebrow.

“He told me what a terrible time he had growing up… How he was just barely surviving and how he was treated like dirt,” SaviorHackmon explained remorsefully. “He asked if I could remove his inhibitor, since it made him feel more like a bondservant than a Digimon… Turns out it was a ruse.” SaviorHackmon closed his eyes and scowled, gritting his teeth. “I trusted him… I thought I understood him. I thought that, deep down, he was a good Digimon. …I wanted to believe him, Sensei…”

Gankoomon looked down at him coolly. He raised his hand and placed it on SaviorHackmon’s head where he had whacked him. “I know you did,” he said, his words more gentle than their usual harshness.

SaviorHackmon grimaced tightly. “That’s my problem, isn’t it?” he murmured. “Despite all the things I’ve been through… losing my hometown – everybody I cared about… I always tried to remain positive because I had hope.” He looked up at Gankoomon with sad, doubting eyes. “I had hoped that I could join the Royal Knights… I wanted to join them so that I could become a hero who could help end the suffering in the Digital World. The Royal Knights were there to save the world from the Demon Lords during the Night of Falling Stars… They couldn’t save my village, but they tried their best… I listened to your advice from back then, Sensei; I wanted to turn that tragedy into something good. That’s why… That’s why I wanted to become a Royal Knight. I believed that I could… I always hoped for the best – for myself and in other Digimon… Maybe I’m just fooling myself.”

TigerVespamon quietly turned away as he listened to SaviorHackmon’s dejected words. There was a thoughtful and distant look in his ruby eyes. Without a word, he took his gloves off and went to check on VictoryGreymon to give them some privacy.

“What?” Gankoomon shortly asked, leering at SaviorHackmon. “What’s this ‘wanted to’ stuff?”

SaviorHackmon looked down and shook his head. “…I don’t think I’m cut out to be a Royal Knight, Sensei…” he murmured despondently. “I’m not strong like they are – in body or spirit. I’m weak… I’m too trusting and impulsive. I’m immature and stupid. I’ll never have what it takes to be a Royal Knight. Hell, I’ll probably be kicked out of the Strike Forces after all this… I was just deluding myself this whole time…”

“SaviorHackmon…” Sistermon Blanc sadly spoke, placing her hand on his.

“Tch… Is that really what you think?” Gankoomon asked with frustration. He spoke as if there was something distasteful in his mouth. “I’m disappointed, Hackmon.”

SaviorHackmon grimaced and looked away. “Yeah… I’m sure you aren’t the only one, Sensei,” he responded. “It’d probably be better for everyone if I just left the Order.”

“SaviorHackmon!” Gankoomon boomed firmly, folding his arms and glaring down at SaviorHackmon with an intensity that only Gankoomon was capable of. “A man doesn’t wallow in self-pity! When you make a mistake, you acknowledge it, pick yourself up, and try to make things right again!”

“How can I possibly make this right…?” SaviorHackmon asked, staring up at Gankoomon with eyes that begged for an answer from his sensei. “I messed up so much…”

The Royal Knight sighed. “I don’t know… I can’t fix this problem for you, SaviorHackmon. You can’t always depend on me to give you all the answers. You don’t have to explain yourself to me, but this is also something that you have to solve for yourself,” Gankoomon informed him. He placed his hands on SaviorHackmon’s shoulders. “But you’re stronger than you think. Disabling GrandisKuwagamon’s virus was a mistake, but it took a lot of guts and conviction to do what you did. You did what you thought was right and you saw it through. That’s not nothing.”

“And I was wrong,” SaviorHackmon retorted bitterly. “Just because I believe in something, it doesn’t make it true. I’m realising that now… Not everybody can be how I want them to be… not even myself.” He sighed and stood to his feet. “But, you’re right, Sensei. I can’t just sit around feeling sorry for myself… I have to take responsibility for my actions. I don’t want you stepping in on my behalf to reduce my punishment.”

“What do you take me for?” Gankoomon replied with a smirk. “Have you ever known me to clean up your messes for you?”

SaviorHackmon shook his head. “Just a few times… Thank you, Gankoomon-sensei.”

Duskmon walked back over to SaviorHackmon with a glass of water in his hand. “Here, SaviorHackmon. Drink up,” the physician of darkness told him.

“Thank you… And I’m sorry,” SaviorHackmon apologetically told him.

“I hope this is a learning experience for you. Please never take medical items without permission again,” Duskmon said calmly. His multiple eyes all shifted towards SaviorHackmon and stared at the dragon man coolly, sending a chill down the patient’s spine. “I will be upset if you do…”

“I-I won’t, Duskmon-sensei!” SaviorHackmon nervously promised, standing up and bowing deeply. “I promise.”

“I believe you,” Duskmon spoke, placing the glass of water in the dragon’s claws. He turned around and walked over to VictoryGreymon’s bed. “Shouldn’t you be getting up, VictoryGreymon?”

VictoryGreymon murmured and wiggled in his bed. He slowly opened his green eyes and looked up at Duskmon sleepily. “Mmm… Huh? BlackWarGreymon?” he asked in slumberous daze as he stared with blurry vision at the black, blond-haired Digimon.

“It is Duskmon. You should get up; you are wanted,” Duskmon informed him.

TigerVespamon stood over the other side of the dragon man’s bed. “How do you feel this morning, VictoryGreymon?” he asked him.

“Not too bad…” VictoryGreymon diminutively responded, sitting up with a light wince. “I’m feeling a lot better than I did last night… My face isn’t as numb…”

“Better freshen yourselves up. I came down here to get you guys. Alphamon wants to see you both immediately,” Gankoomon explained, his aloof voice not giving anything away.

VictoryGreymon’s eyes widened and his face contorted into a grimace for a split second. He caught himself and forced a sheepish smile on his face. “Y-Yeah… Okay, Sir Gankoomon…” he responded positively, although he was unable to hide the fear, remorse, and guilt in his deep voice.

Shamefully, SaviorHackmon looked across at VictoryGreymon. “VictoryGreymon… I need to apologise,” he guiltily offered, his voice low and humbled. “I’m sorry for getting you involved in this. It was my fault, so I’ll take responsibility. I don’t want you getting in trouble because of me…”

VictoryGreymon offered SaviorHackmon an encouraging smile. “It’s okay, SaviorHackmon. I’m as much at fault. I knew it was against protocol, so I can’t blame anybody but myself. We both thought we were doing the right thing…” he tried to reassure him. His smile wavered for but a moment. “I didn’t expect GrandisKuwagamon to betray us like that… Maybe I’m as dumb and naïve as people say… Haha…” He tried not to let his smile fade and he rubbed the back of his head. “I just hate that I let the Royal Knights down…” He looked at Gankoomon submissively. “I’m so sorry, Sir Gankoomon.”

“Save the apologies for Alphamon, you two,” Gankoomon told them. “You should both get going.”

Breathing out through his nostrils, which were half-clogged with dry blood from the beating, VictoryGreymon stood to his feet. “Yeah, I guess we should,” VictoryGreymon agreed with trepidation looking over at SaviorHackmon.

“Don’t worry, VictoryGreymon. I’ll make sure that Alphamon-shishou knows that it was my fault,” the white dragon assured him.

“I can’t let you do that…” VictoryGreymon sadly told him.

“You two can sort out who gets the most blame on the way there,” Sistermon Noir informed them, sticking her tongue out. “Just get your butts moving before you get in any more trouble.”

Sistermon Blanc nodded. “Good luck,” she bid them nervously.

“Just explain to Alphamon what happened and why you did what you did,” Gankoomon advised them. “Don’t fall on your swords just because you feel guilty. You won’t do anybody any favours.”

“Yes, Sensei…” SaviorHackmon agreed pensively.

VictoryGreymon nodded and smiled at them as he began to walk towards the exit. “Thank you, Sir Gankoomon…”

SaviorHackmon sighed and walked alongside VictoryGreymon. They both felt as guilty as the other. They felt like they deserved to be punished. Neither wanted to be kicked out of the Order, but they were both prepared for that possibility, as well as a severe chewing out. They tried not to let it show, but they were both nervous as they made their way out of the medical bay and up to Alphamon’s office.

All they could do now was explain what happened and await Alphamon’s judgment, whatever that might be.

-

“How could you both be so irresponsible?!” Alphamon’s deep voice boomed.

His words cut through his office like a sword. SaviorHackmon and VictoryGreymon both visibly flinched at the anger and disappointment of the usually calm Royal Knight. They felt like students being scolded by the normally friendly head principal.

The pair stood in Alphamon’s office, standing opposite to the leader of the Order. They were positioned side-by-side, their heads bowed, as they waited in front of Alphamon’s desk.

Alphamon stood behind his desk, his eyes fixed on the two dragons with a stern stare. His hands rested on the surface of the desk.

Standing to his right, beside the desk, was a slender, humanoid Digimon who wore a formal, light blue, business suit over her body. The sand-hued skin of her face was covered by a pale, pink fabric that came up from under her suit and clung tightly to her neck, mouth, and nose. She had sky blue hair that seemed to branch outwards in the form of wings. Matching this was a pair of long, brown wings that extended from her back. She observed the pair of Digimon with calm, studious, grey eyes.

This Digimon was Shutumon, the High Administrator of Order Affairs, which was the highest non-military rank within the Order. She was responsible for managing the daily affairs of the Order, both external and internal. This involved dealing with issues regarding the client states in the Free Area, arranging meetings with important Digimon or other states, the daily running of the Order, and dealing with the Order’s internal affairs. Internal affairs involved things like complaints, personal requests, jurisprudence, and arranging trials. As a result, she often worked closely with Alphamon.

Standing on Alphamon’s left side was OuRyuumon, who folded his arms and scowled irately at his two subordinates. The Captain of the Strike Forces was not pleased to hear about what happened last night.

Also in the room was Paildramon, who stood behind SaviorHackmon and VictoryGreymon. Her posture was impeccable as she stood at attention. She was especially formal because she realised the gravity of the situation.

Alphamon’s shoulders relaxed and he released a subtle sigh as he stared at the two soldiers that he was chewing out. “Such flagrant flouting of Order protocol, especially with regards to such important security issues like high priority prisoners, is not an easy thing to overlook.”

“If I thought you two were smart enough, I might have thought that you guys were colluding with GrandisKuwagamon to help him escape,” OuRyuumon pointed out with a soft snarl, his violet eyes sharp and cutting as they glared at the pair. “That’d be grounds for a trial. Treason.”

VictoryGreymon’s eyes widened with mortification. “I-It wasn’t anything like that!” VictoryGreymon stammered desperately, putting his hands up in front of him and staring back at his superiors with large, fearful, green eyes. “Honest, Sir! I swear! Please, believe me! I’d never do that - never ever!”

SaviorHackmon grimaced and bowed his head deeper. “We didn’t mean for that to happen…”

“You knew that you were breaking the rules. You released a prisoner from his cell and gave him the vaccine to his inhibitor virus without authorization,” Shutumon pointed out. “What you did was premeditated.”

Alphamon sighed and sat back down in his chair, sitting at his desk. “…I believe you that you didn’t mean for him to escape, but, even putting that aside, what possessed you to remove his restraint?” he asked, his sternness subsiding and being replaced with his usual even-handedness. “There was a good reason why he was outfitted with that virus.”

“I’m- I’m so s-sorry, Sir Alphamon,” VictoryGreymon shakily and emotively responded, his lip quivering as he bowed deeply.

“It’s all my fault… I convinced VictoryGreymon to help me. Please don’t blame him,” SaviorHackmon pleaded. His golden eyes narrowed into a repentant grimace. “I did it because… I wanted to help GrandisKuwagamon. I was talking to him before. He… he told me about what a rough life he had. How Digimon treated him like dirt growing up… He said he felt like that now, and that I could make him feel like a regular Digimon again by removing that virus…” He bowed his head deeper, his cheeks burning red with emotion and embarrassment. “He manipulated me… I thought I was doing the right thing by helping him… I’m really sorry, Alphamon-shishou…”

VictoryGreymon shut his eyes tightly and tried to bow deeper, but he nearly toppled over. “Rm… I wanted to do something kind for him too. He saved me during our mission to Dark Point, so we thought… I thought that maybe he wasn’t that bad of a guy…” he admitted. “I thought he was my friend. I guess I was just being stupid like usual…”

Alphamon sighed and rubbed his forehead. “That was incredibly foolish and naïve of both of you,” he reprimanded them. “For whatever tragedy GrandisKuwagamon might have had in his life, he is incredibly cunning, and he is canny enough to turn any situation to his advantage. Emotions are an essential part of a Digimon’s heart, but blind emotion without a flicker of second-thought will lead to hasty decisions and tragic outcomes. You are both extremely lucky that nobody was killed. You would have had to live with that guilt.”

“Permission to speak, Sir?” Paildramon tentatively asked, looking at Alphamon.

“Yes. You don’t need my permission to voice your thoughts, over-sergeant,” Alphamon explained, looking over at the female dragon.

“I am partially to blame for GrandisKuwagamon’s escape. I had the opportunity to stop him, but he manipulated me as well. I let my guard down and he took the chance to get the better of me,” Paildramon explained. “I can attest to his manipulative skills. He knows how to use Digimons’ feelings against them. He may look like a street thug, but he is very good at playing mind games."

Alphamon’s gaze shifted from Paildramon to the two dragon men in front of him. “That may be so… but I cannot allow these transgressions to go unnoticed,” he said, staring at SaviorHackmon and VictoryGreymon. “As new members of the Strike Forces, we expect better than this. We expect our rules to be followed, even if your heart tells you otherwise. Rules exist for a reason; there is a reason why we place inhibitor viruses in dangerous criminals. You cannot just pick and choose which rules you want to follow at your leisure. It is arrogant to believe otherwise. You both should have known better.”

“I know, Alphamon-shishou…” SaviorHackmon shamefully murmured, forcing himself to look up at the black-armoured Royal Knight.

“M-Me too!” VictoryGreymon exclaimed, standing up straight and twiddling his fingers in front of his chest. “I’ll never break another rule ever again! I promise on my life!”

Alphamon closed his eyes. “At the very least, I believe that you both made impulsive decisions based on your hearts and GrandisKuwagamon’s manipulations. I can understand how this unfortunate sequence of events happened, but I am not pleased about it. We’re just fortunate that we got what information we needed out of GrandisKuwagamon already…”

Shutumon turned and gazed at Alphamon. “What would you like to do about their punishments, Alphamon?” she asked him, placing one hand on the hip of her blue suit.

Alphamon opened a gold eye and stared at SaviorHackmon and VictoryGreymon from across his desk. “…I am seriously reconsidering the suitability of the pair of you as recruits in the Strike Forces…” he explained forebodingly.

VictoryGreymon’s eyes widened with terror at the thought of getting kicked out of the Strike Forces. This was his biggest goal in life – being able to work with his heroes. The thought of it being taken away was too much to bear. His chest tightened up and he looked about ready to break into tears. “S-Sir Alphamon… I… I…” he stammered to beg with his hero, although his voice began to get choked up.

The words deeply stung SaviorHackmon as well. He could feel his dreams crashing down around him. He grimaced and shut his eyes tightly, trying to resign himself to the inevitable rather than break down in front of Alphamon. He realised that it was all his own doing. He knew that he had to accept his fate. At the very least, he didn’t want to drag VictoryGreymon down with him. “Alphamon-shishou…” he spoke, his trembling voice begging despite his resignation. “Please don’t punish VictoryGreymon. I pressured him into helping me. It was all my idea. He was reluctant from the start… All he did was let me use the dungeon; I did everything else.”

“S-SaviorHackmon! Don’t say that!” VictoryGreymon insisted despite his fear of getting kicked out of the Order and failing his lifelong dream. “I can’t let you take all the blame for me. I’m as much to blame as you are. I shouldn’t have let us break protocol. I deserve the same p-punishment,” he stubbornly said, grimacing despite his words.

OuRyuumon turned and glanced at Alphamon meaningfully. Alphamon caught his glance but remained quiet.

“Th-That’s why…” VictoryGreymon continued. His deep voice raised an octave as it trembled with emotion. “That’s why I have another confession to make!” he announced, his green eyes wide with fear and remorse. “I-I’m a criminal! I’m… I’m a money launderer!” he cried out in despair.

Everybody else in the room blinked and looked at VictoryGreymon in shock. “…Pardon…?” Alphamon asked him, obviously stunned at the declaration.

“I accidentally laundered money!” VictoryGreymon explained, tears welling in his eyes. “A week ago, I accidentally left a few bits in the back pocket of my jeans when I put my laundry through the barracks’ washing machine! The coins came loose during the wash and they rattled all over the place! I didn’t think the machine broke or anything, so I didn’t tell anybody… I’m sorry I didn’t say anything until now! I’m so sorry!”

An incredulous silence took over the office in response to VictoryGreymon’s admission. VictoryGreymon stared at Alphamon with shame and regret, nervously holding his tail in front of his body and sniffling piteously as he awaited Alphamon’s wrath.

Alphamon merely lowered his gaze and stared at VictoryGreymon with dry exasperation. “That… isn’t what money laundering is, VictoryGreymon…” he flatly informed him.

VictoryGreymon blinked with shock. “…It’s not?”

Alphamon sighed. “I have decided what your punishments will be,” he explained. His eyes were stern and aloof as he gazed between the two of them.

VictoryGreymon and SaviorHackmon both swallowed nervously. Their mouths were dry and their muscles were tense as they timorously anticipated Alphamon’s decision.

“…What you both did was extremely naïve, arrogant, and insubordinate,” Alphamon stated firmly. “You not only put your own lives in jeopardy, but those of your fellow soldiers as well. You broke security protocol, which resulted in an important prisoner escaping…”

The two dragon men’s bodies became even more rigid and they braced themselves for the Knight of the Empty Seat’s fateful words.

“…However… I realise that your actions came from a place from kindness. Naïve kindness, but kindness nonetheless. I can also appreciate that GrandisKuwagamon took advantage of your compassion for his own ends,” Alphamon explained, the hardness in his voice softening. “Furthermore, I believe that both of you regret your actions and that this will never happen again… Am I right to believe that?” he questioned, staring carefully at the pair of them.

“Yes!” VictoryGreymon was quick to speak up. “I’ll never step a foot out of line again! I promise, Sir!” he insisted sincerely. “I’m really, really, really sorry!”

“M-Me too, Alphamon-shishou…” SaviorHackmon agreed, although his voice was more reserved and humbled. “I won’t disobey Order protocol again, even if my heart is conflicted. I’m ashamed that GrandisKuwagamon escaped because of me…”

Alphamon nodded and exhaled thoughtfully. He looked over at Shutumon and nodded. “Very well…” He looked back at the two. “SaviorHackmon, VictoryGreymon, I will allow you both to remain in the Strike Forces as recruits, but if you ever do something like this again, I will not hesitate to expel you both on the spot,” he firmly explained. “In addition, for the next two months, you will devote all of your leisure time to helping the castle’s maintenance staff.”

Shutumon stepped forwards. “One of the maintenance staff will be keeping track of you as you work and logging your hours. You are to report to High Curator Phantomon for your detail,” she explained calmly and methodically. “For that two month period, your pay will be halved and you will not be allowed to participate in Order activities outside of your standard training regimen. Furthermore, neither of you will be allowed to volunteer for guard duty again,” she added. “Any time that you miss due to Order operations or extended training exercises will be made up beyond that two month period.”

Alphamon turned and looked up at OuRyuumon. “Is there anything that you would like to add to that, Captain?” he asked the Strike Force’s captain.

“Oh, yeah. You’re both gonna be cleaning the barracks’ washrooms top to bottom. Got it?” OuRyuumon commanded with a devilish smirk, folding his arms as he leered at them.

“Yes! Thank you, Captain! I’ll do anything! I’ll make those toilets sparkle as much as ShineGreymon’s wings!” VictoryGreymon exclaimed, nearly sobbing tears of joy. “Thank you so much! I’ll never do anything like this again!”

SaviorHackmon bowed deeply. “Thank you so much, Alphamon-shishou!” he graciously replied. As he reached the nadir of his bow, he blinked back the tears of relief that formed in his eyes. “…Thank you… for giving us a second chance. I’m so grateful. I mean it…”

“Don’t make me regret it,” Alphamon told them sternly. “I have high hopes for you both, so don’t disappoint me again.”

VictoryGreymon stood up straight, puffed his muscular chest up and saluted. “I won’t, Sir! I promise!” he vowed, a massive smile on his snout.

SaviorHackmon straightened his body out and saluted as well. “The same goes for me, Sir.”

Alphamon nodded and smiled slightly. “Good…” He turned his eyes to Paildramon. “Now, about GrandisKuwagamon… Paildramon, are you up to going after him?”

Paildramon nodded and stepped up beside VictoryGreymon and SaviorHackmon. “Yes, Sir. I was about to offer. I would like to make up for my failure last night,” she explained. “What are your orders?”

“Form a small capture team and catch up to him. He has had the night to get a head start on us, but with the speed that your Imperialdramon form possesses, you should be able to catch up to him with a small team in tow,” Alphamon informed her. “I want you to try to capture him, if possible.”

“That is, if I can find him…” Paildramon mentioned. “It might be difficult; do we know which direction he is going?”

“Actually, yes,” the obsidian-hued paladin replied. “One of our scouts on patrol in the northern Free Area spotted GranKuwagamon flying through Lupolford at the break of dawn. He was heading north towards the Republic of Node – likely New Terminal. Since he’s flying and in a hurry, he is probably taking the most direct route by air.”

Paildramon nodded. “I will take that route, then,” she confirmed. “Who would you like to accompany me?”

OuRyuumon turned and looked at the two male dragons beside her. “I want VictoryGreymon and SaviorHackmon to go with you,” he said, staring at the pair. “Think of it as extra-curricular training.”

Alphamon gazed at OuRyuumon before turning his head to see SaviorHackmon and VictoryGreymon’s responses. “Do you think that you two are up for that?” he asked them, not wanting to force them into it if they didn’t feel ready.

“Yes, Sir…” SaviorHackmon responded soberly. His golden eyes stared back at Alphamon with the fire of determination coruscating within them. He wanted to correct his mistake, both for his own sake and so that the Royal Knights would trust him again. He also wanted to confront GrandisKuwagamon about what he did; he needed closure. “I won’t fall for his lies again. I’ll be able to fight him.”

VictoryGreymon frowned deeply. It pained him to have to fight GrandisKuwagamon, but the mercenary had betrayed them. He supposed they weren’t friends after all. VictoryGreymon looked at Alphamon and nodded gently. “I can do it… I can fight him,” VictoryGreymon responded, although his voice was soft and resigned. “I want to make it up to the Order. He’s an escaped criminal, so…”

“I need you to be positive. Your lives will be on the line should you agree. You cannot afford even a moment of hesitation because GrandisKuwagamon will surely capitalize on it,” Alphamon pressed. “Somebody as desperate as GrandisKuwagamon will not hesitate to strike the killing stroke.

SaviorHackmon’s eyes hardened. “I’m sure, Alphamon-shishou,” he promised.

VictoryGreymon frowned and stood up straight. “Me too… He’s the enemy now, so I’ll treat him like one,” he agreed although not without sadness in his words.

Alphamon nodded gently. “…Very well. If you’re both sure. Just don’t let your emotions get the best of you. He is an Ultimate-level Digimon, and a powerful one, at that; be vigilant and refrain from recklessness,” he advised them.

“Will it just be us?” Paildramon questioned, looking at Alphamon. “Didn’t it take five Royal Knights to take him down previously?”

“That amount was a bit excessive. It didn’t require all of us to capture him in Saversburg; that was just how many of us arrived at the scene,” Alphamon explained. “His abilities might still be somewhat weakened due to the virus, but as the virus fades completely, he will be restored to full strength. That said, do not underestimate him. He is more than capable. As somebody who has fought him personally, I know that he is not an easy enemy to defeat. You will still need to fight him to your fullest.”

“Understood. We’ll be careful,” Paildramon confirmed.

“And it won’t just be you,” Alphamon added. “You will be Team A. Team A will follow GrandisKuwagamon from behind and close the distance on him. Team B – headed by UlforceVeedramon – will fly ahead of his path to intercept him in the case that he eludes you. Ideally, you will be able to engage him and keep him distracted long enough for Team B to arrive. You don’t have to defeat him – just stall him.”

“Understood, Sir Alphamon,” VictoryGreymon said seriously. He saluted the Royal Knight and stared at him with determination. “We will retrieve the escaped prisoner.”

“Don’t push yourself beyond your limits just because you feel that you have to redeem yourselves. Guilt and the desire to redeem oneself can be a powerful motivator, but it can also skew one’s priorities and better judgment,” Alphamon advised them perceptively. “Just do what you can. Nothing more.”

“Yes, Sir,” SaviorHackmon acknowledged.

Paildramon nodded. “I will keep us focused,” she assured the Royal Knight.

Alphamon stood to his feet. “Very well. You are dismissed,” he told the three Strike Force members.

OuRyuumon nodded and stepped towards them. “You have an hour before you leave, so make it count. I’ll tell Leftenant HippoGriffomon what’s happening. When you’re ready, meet UlforceVeedramon and his team on the staging grounds.”

“Sir,” the three dragon Digimon said in near-unison. The team saluted Alphamon, OuRyuumon, and Shutumon before turning and walking out of Alphamon’s office.

After Paildramon, VictoryGreymon, and SaviorHackmon left, Shutumon glanced over at Alphamon. “Considering how angry you seemed earlier, I am surprised that you were not harsher,” she mused.

“It wasn’t just them that I was angry at,” Alphamon murmured. He sighed and placed his black hands on the table. “They’re idealistic... I can’t fault them for wanting to do the right thing. It is far better to use this as a teaching moment so that they know not to ignore the rules again, rather than punish them so severely that I break their spirits. They know that they made a mistake.” Alphamon closed his eyes meditatively. “We all make mistakes, now and again…”

OuRyuumon stared at Alphamon studiously. “Yeah, I guess so…”

Shutumon turned to the Royal Knight. “I will make arrangements with High Curator Phantomon about their maintenance work,” the High Administrator of Order Affairs informed him.

“Thank you, Shutumon,” Alphamon replied, nodding at her as she left as well. “I appreciate it.”

As the sylph Digimon stepped out of the office, just Alphamon and OuRyuumon remained. The copper-gold dragon stepped around Alphamon’s desk and stared at him from the other side. “…What’s going on, Alphamon?” he asked him with the directness that OuRyuumon was known for.

“What?” Alphamon questioned, looking up at the taller Digimon.

“Something’s bothering you. Don’t try to deny it,” OuRyuumon bluntly said. “I know you too well.”

Alphamon smiled slightly. “I suppose I can’t hide much from you…” he decided. “I am partially to blame for GrandisKuwagamon’s escape. I didn’t handle him very well… I should have communicated the situation to him more clearly. Maybe two years was still too harsh after he stuck his neck out to help us. Perhaps I didn’t want to show weakness to him. …If only GrandisKuwagamon didn’t feel the need to escape.”

OuRyuumon’s brows furrowed. “What the hell is this, Alphamon? He’s just an opportunistic mercenary. Why are you putting all this on you? He saw an opportunity and he would have taken it regardless,” the dragon Captain debated. He stared inquisitively into Alphamon’s eyes. “You always think long and hard about your decisions, but you don’t usually doubt them once you make them. …What else is going on?”

Alphamon closed his eyes. “There is… something that I haven’t told you or any of the other Royal Knights about yet…” he informed OuRyuumon. “Yesterday, Paildramon informed me of the identity of Black Pincer Company’s benefactor. I am still… processing it…”

“What…? You know who’s behind all this?” OuRyuumon questioned, leaning forwards on Alphamon’s desk. “Who?!”

Alphamon stared up at him with heavy, golden eyes. “…It’s Bagramon…” he informed him, with words that seemed burdened by the weight of the information.

“Bagramon…?” OuRyuumon repeated, his violet eyes widening with revelation. “You don’t mean… Him?! That Bagramon?!”

A drawn out breath escaped from Alphamon’s mouth. “Yes… Most likely it is that Bagramon. None other than the angel of death… and DarkKnightmon’s brother…” he murmured.

“Tch… I should have known…” OuRyuumon growled bitterly. He clenched his clawed fists tightly. “I should have known it would be him! If one brother is rotten then the other one obviously is too! Not to mention Bagramon was already one of the rebels in the Heavenly War… Damn it! It’s so obvious! That whole damn family is seriously screwed up!”

“OuRyuumon…” Alphamon said, trying to calm him down.

He sighed; he knew that OuRyuumon’s acrimony towards DarkKnightmon still remained despite the latter’s passing. They had always been rivals back when DarkKnightmon was with the Order, but their rivalry had only deepened during DarkKnightmon’s rebellions.

Alphamon was reluctant to take the same wrathful stance towards DarkKnightmon that OuRyuumon took. Rather than a source of anger, DarkKnightmon marked a source of regret and personal failure for Alphamon. Though DarkKnightmon was dead, he didn’t want OuRyuumon dwelling on his bad feelings over their enemy.

“It’s true,” OuRyuumon reiterated with ire. “First, DarkKnightmon tries to destroy the Order, and now his brother unleashes the Demon Lords onto the Digital World?! Even in death, that bastard is causing big problems for us…”

Alphamon sighed. “I should have guessed…” he explained. “But all we can do is move forward. Once all of the Royal Knights are back from their inspections and travels, I’m going to inform them as well.”

“Yeah, okay… I’ll try to act surprised,” OuRyuumon responded, running his clawed hand through his lavender hair. He looked at Alphamon carefully. He knew that this must be affecting him. He was sure that he was blaming himself – he usually did when it came to DarkKnightmon. “…You okay, Alphamon?”

“I’m fine…” Alphamon assured him, although his mind was still burdened by the news. He felt like he should change the subject. There wasn’t any point on dwelling on Bagramon right now. “Are you sure about sending SaviorHackmon and VictoryGreymon with Paildramon?”

“Yeah, I am. I think they need to face him… They need to get it out of their systems, otherwise they’ll just dwell on it and become distracted from their training,” OuRyuumon explained. “Apart from their own peace of mind, they’re both capable. SaviorHackmon’s inexperienced, but he’s passionate, got a lot of potential, and Gankoomon taught him pretty good fighting skills. VictoryGreymon’s clumsy, idealistic and dense, but he’s strong, he’s got experience, and apparently he’s a really good swordsman when he focuses. He’s more than enough to face a fellow Ultimate.”

“GrandisKuwagamon is strong and ruthless,” Alphamon pointed out.

“I have faith in them,” OuRyuumon contended. “And I think you do too, otherwise you wouldn’t have agreed to let them go.”

Alphamon conceded a smile. “I suppose you have a point… I expect great things from the pair of them,” he mused. “…I may have a blind spot when it comes to certain Digimon, but I like to think that I have a good read on most Digimons’ capabilities.”

OuRyuumon grinned. “They’ll be fine; I’m training them, after all!” he boasted.

Alphamon chuckled. “As long as they only develop your skills and not your attitude,” he jokingly replied.

OuRyuumon folded his arms and stuck his long tongue out at Alphamon. “With Gankoomon as a teacher, I’m pretty sure SaviorHackmon’s already doomed from the start.”

“True…” The winged knight reclined in his seat, smiling with restraint. The smile waned and Alphamon closed his eyes while meditatively stroking his chin. “…I do hope that his recklessness doesn’t get the better of him again.”

Alphamon could only wait for the prisoner retrieval operation to commence. As much as he lamented the turn of events, he was concerned about how the operation would go. If GrandisKuwagamon was desperate enough to launch an escape attempt from their heavily guarded castle, then Alphamon wondered what lengths he would go to in order to escape.

The Knight of the Empty Seat could only wonder why he felt the need in the first place…

-

A few hours passed and the morning shifted into mid-day.

In the northern reaches of the Free Area, rain clouds began to form in the sky. A sheet of pale grey clouds blanketed the firmament, stretching for kilometers. The dim veil cast a thick gloom across the verdant hills and level grasslands that marked the region. The greys of the sky accentuated the brilliant greens of the landscape. This oppressive overcast threatened rain but ceased from releasing a downpour of water that was typical of spring showers. Only a couple rain drops escaped and intermittently fell upon the blades of grass.

A black figure cut through the grey sky.

GrandisKuwagamon soared fifty feet off of the ground. His shadowy body cast a striking form against the wispy greys above him. His orange wings beat swiftly against the air, causing a deep, fluttering buzz to resonate from their rapid strokes. The fugitive insect flew at a medium speed so as not to exhaust himself. His crimson eye gazed around the landscape alertly. He was vigilant in staying observant, always watchful for Order patrols and even passersby.

He had only stopped once since his escape last night. He had landed in a forest and slept in a dense tree canopy. However, he only allowed himself a few hours as he wanted to leave the Free Area as soon as possible, and his instincts were too nervous to sleep anyways. He was sure that the Order would be after him. GrandisKuwagamon continued his escape towards New Terminal. From there, he planned to travel either west to Dark Point or north to Shroud in order to lay low.

That was about the extent of his plans. Upon his return to Castle Albion, he had been so fixated on his predicament that when he saw an opportunity to get out of it, he took it. He hadn’t thought about what would come next if his escape attempt worked. As he began to feel assured of his escape, the realization was beginning to catch up with his exhausted, nervous mind.

After checking around him, he sighed and continued flying forwards. He was about two hours away from New Terminal. He had pretty much exhausted his capability to use Zone Black Hole for now, but his brief rest allowed him to recover much of his stamina. He felt that the virus had mostly faded by now as well.

“Damn it…” he whispered to himself, slowly clenching his black fists beneath the fearsome claws of the Gran Killers. His blood ruby eye was fixed coldly ahead of him as he reflected on his actions and his situation. The muscles around his compound eye tensed.

Was I too reckless? Was this really my best move to make?” he wondered to himself. “Now the Royal Knights will be after me for sure… Maybe they were being true to their word when they said I’d just be locked up for a year or two. Maybe I could have stuck it out that long… I’ve got nowhere to go. I’ve got no Black Pincer Company to go back to. I can’t trust them. Now I’m going to be looking over my shoulder for the tin cans for who knows how long? Maybe this was a…”

“Tch,” GrandisKuwagamon scoffed, shaking his head with a frustrated glower on his face. “What the hell am I doing, doubting myself now? Don’t be stupid, Grandis. There’s no way the Royal Knights would just let a mercenary like me go free. Escaping was the only way I’d ever have freedom again. It’s the only way I’d ever be in control of my life. There’s no point in questioning the decision. It’s done now. I made it. Who cares if I used SaviorHackmon and VictoryGreymon to escape? It’s their fault if they were dumb enough to help me. All I can do now is decide what to do with the future…

He released a breath and continued making a bee-line for New Terminal. The mercenary didn’t want to lose any more time, so he took the most direct route. He knew he couldn’t afford to spend much time in New Terminal, as the Royal Knights would likely be looking for him there. From there, he considered his future…

There was no way he could ever go back to Blitzmon and Bolgmon. They had wanted to get rid of him. Even if Blitzmon showed doubts, he knew that Bolgmon was out to get him, and he didn’t trust either of them. Blitzmon would cut him again if it was too much of a hassle.

GrandisKuwagamon considered freelance mercenary work… He could compete with Blitzmon and Bolgmon for their old Black Pincer Company clients and undercut them, but he wasn’t sure it would work out for him. A single mercenary, however skilled he was, was a different thing from a three-mon mercenary team. He didn’t have the same capabilities on his own, so the jobs that he would be able to take would have to be different – more specialized. He supposed he could start a new team, and while he had friends and contacts, he didn’t trust anybody else to have his back. He also considered joining a large, rival, grey-claw mercenary team such as Kowloon Company, but he had enemies there and he didn’t want to just be low-ranking member in the vast organization of such a large mercenary company. He felt like he didn’t have many options – at least, none that provided both opportunities and security.

GrandisKuwagamon dismissed these thoughts. He figured there was no point in thinking about it until he felt completely in the clear. He could decide how to make a living once he was in Dark Point.

He continued zipping through the sky, passing over a small hill that jutted up from the lush meadows. The plains beyond were covered with grass, soil, and the occasional bed of flowers.

I did the right thing for me. If those two idiots were collateral damage, then so be it… I’ll never allow myself to be put in that position again,” the mercenary told himself.

GrandisKuwagamon relaxed his fingers and slackened his shoulders slightly. As he soared, he tried to center himself. He breathed meditatively and relaxed his body, letting his wings carry him. He dispelled the thoughts from his mind, controlled his body, and allowed his mind to become one with nature around him.

He felt wind blow around his body, sensed the intermittent breeze ahead, and watched as it blew a gentle wave along the fickle blades of grass. He became more attuned to what was around him. This was a practice that GrandisKuwagamon performed regularly.

The scarab fugitive continued jetting northwards. Ten minutes passed. GrandisKuwagamon’s mind remained tranquil and intensely focused. As he flew, he passed over an expansive plain of grass. The field of green was sporadically dotted with flowers of yellow, red, white, and black. Over to the left, the grass faded and formed a large tract of dirt, from which there were a few large boulders fixed in place. Apart from those features, the land was pretty level.

GrandisKuwagamon’s eye was fixed ahead of him. His wings, although beginning to tire, moved almost automatically. His mind was empty of thoughts and he focused on an instinctive level.

Suddenly, a shiver snapped up GrandisKuwagamon’s spine and his muscles clenched. He felt a disturbance in the wind and he heard a distant noise that was nearly inaudible. It came from behind him. It sounded like a soft whooshing sound, like something tearing through the wind. The noise grew progressively louder. It wasn’t simply the sound of the wind – it was something else. The aggressive whirring sound increased in volume.

He realised it was heading towards him.

GrandisKuwagamon stopped in the air, angled his head to the side, and gazed over his shoulder out of the corner of his compound eye. There was a large blur of black, white, red, blue, and gold speeding towards him at high velocity. It was moving so fast that he couldn’t even focus on it. It was travelling at several kilometers per second, almost fast enough to leave afterimages in its wake.

The mercenary spun around, but by the time he did even that simple action, the figure was already closing in on him. The massive figure stretched out its broad, vermillion wings, catching the wind and decelerating sharply. The draconic figure’s form was obscured when its glowing back suddenly erupted with blazing energy.

“Positron Laser!” a booming, contralto, female voice echoed with resonance.

GrandisKuwagamon, for a split second, caught a glimpse of the form. It was Paildramon in her Imperialdramon form. Her sudden appearance caused his eye to widen with shock.

“What…?!” he whispered, his crimson eye staring with alarm as the cannon on Imperialdramon’s back discharged a torrent of blazing light. The condensed positrons flooded out in a brilliant, spiralling beam of crackling energy that coursed forth. They ripped through the sky towards their target. GrandisKuwagamon watched as the swell of positrons closed in on him.

GrandisKuwagamon’s combat instincts took control. As the onslaught of light approached, he angled his body and kicked his wings into full gear. He veered hard to the left to evade the incoming blast. The spiralling beam closed in and GrandisKuwagamon basically threw himself through the air. Thanks to his agility and timing, he managed to narrowly avoid getting caught up in the blast. He swerved sideways and the beam passed by him, narrowly missing by a couple meters. The light illuminated his form and reflected off his black armour brightly. GrandisKuwagamon could feel the heat and pressure of the beam against his right side, pushing his arm and shoulder back.

The mercenary clenched his teeth and kept flying sideways, getting clear of the blast. As the beam thinned out and faded, GrandisKuwagamon stopped in the air and raised his Gran Killers up in front of his body. He took on a defensive stance and glared at Imperialdramon. Imperialdramon came to a stop and hovered in place, flapping her large wings to keep herself aloft.

Imperialdramon stared back at GrandisKuwagamon, not shying away from his gaze. She angled her smoking cannon towards him, locking him in her sights. “GrandisKuwagamon, hold it right there!” she commanded.

His blood-hued eye tightened as he beheld his attacker. He tightened his fists and lowered his arms to his sides. The Cimmerian blades of his Gran Killers elongated and shimmered in the pale light. As the beam exploded in the distance behind him, he cricked his neck and accepted her challenge.

“Paildramon… Yo!”
 
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Solsabre

The Reforged Soul
Somebody is in trouble.
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
Somebody is in biiig trouble. Though, there's worse things than having VictoryGreymon as an opponent. He'd probably be really nice after the actual beating up phase.
 

Solsabre

The Reforged Soul
So an up-graded Paildramon isn't going to get a few (ouch) hits in?
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
(Author's Note: Here's Part 2. At some point, I'll try to go back and fix the Chapter list since I think the links broke during the server switch. I thought the new Serebii layout would be cooler about character limits, but unfortunately...)

Chapter 36: The Shadow of His Mind (Part II)

GrandisKuwagamon hovered in the ashen sky that hung over the barren plain. A mat of thick, tenebrous clouds drifted overhead, clotting the light. The sky was a tempestuous smattering of light and dark greys. The contrasting hues seemed to contend with one another.

There was nothing around but a vast field of mud, dirt, and patches of grass. Apart from a few boulders, there were scant few obstacles around the flat grassland. The damp, earthy landscape made for an open battlefield. It stretched on for kilometers, with only a few small inclines here and there.

Smoke drifted up from GrandisKuwagamon’s right shoulder. The obsidian armour was still hot from the beam that grazed him. Despite the heat against his shoulder, he didn’t even flinch.

Flying opposite to him, a few hundred meters away, was the one that fired that beam: Imperialdramon.

The Ultimate level dragon was able to use her speed to catch up with the fugitive. Now that she had arrived, it was clear that she fully intended to take him down and haul him back. This was not something that GrandisKuwagamon would allow.

The pair faced off. The only noises that existed in the grassy field were the rhythmic beats of their respective wings. Imperialdramon’s were slow and methodical, while GrandisKuwagamon’s were rapid and agitated, yet every movement was finely controlled. These sounds only served to heighten the tense silence that existed between them.

As they hovered in the sky, there was a gulf – a chasm of hostility – between them. It was an abyss of duty, self-interest, and mutual distrust. Whether it could be bridged given the present circumstances remained to be seen.

Their glaring eyes were locked with one another’s. Without needing to speak, they dauntlessly made their intentions clear. They could read what each other was thinking just with a glance.

GrandisKuwagamon grunted and confidently straightened his body. Preparing himself for another attack, he crossed the Gran Killers across his chest. “So, Paildramon! You followed me all the way here! You miss me that much, huh?” he taunted her, although the vicious look in his eye was anything but playful. “Really, P, I’m flattered…”

Imperialdramon’s ruby eyes narrowed and she raised her clawed forelegs in a battle stance. She wasn’t in the mood for his jokes. “…Surrender, GrandisKuwagamon,” she said to him. It was clear from the steel in her voice that she was telling him, not asking him.

GrandisKuwagamon scowled and glared back at her. He readjusted his arms so that his left Gran Killer covered his body while his right pointed towards her in a more aggressive stance. “Oh, so that’s how it is…” he mused, his eye glowing crimson. “You really think that you can take me down all on your own? You may be an Order officer, but I’m not about to get my ass kicked by some rich politician’s daughter… I’ve killed bigger and stronger Digimon than you, Paildramon.”

“Underestimate me at your own peril,” Imperialdramon warned him, brushing off his taunt. Her own crimson eyes shined with intensity as she glared at him. “Before you get too cocky, I’m not alone…”

Suddenly, the glowing barrier on her armoured back dissipated. Two Digimon leapt off of her dorsal and hovered on each side of the large, intimidating dragon.

VictoryGreymon floated in the air to the left of her. His green eyes were initially wide upon seeing GrandisKuwagamon before him. However, they began to morph into a bitter wince. He shut his eyes entirely and his muscular arms trembled. However, he straightened up and his eyes snapped open, removing any doubt of his willpower.

He swung his right arm forwards and brandished his massive broadsword, the Dramon Breaker, in front of him. After retracting it, he rested the thick, three-pronged weapon against his shoulder and clenched his fist tightly. His usual, pleasant, goofy smile, and kind, happy-go-lucky demeanour had been replaced by a dangerous scowl and uncharacteristic anger and determination. The fury that VictoryGreymon was seldom capable of shone clearly in his hard and bitter eyes.

SaviorHackmon dashed out and hovered to Imperialdramon’s right. He narrowed his eyes and bowed his head, glaring at GrandisKuwagamon with stubborn resolve. Seeing GrandisKuwagamon again brought the pain he had been feeling flooding back. However, he tried to put his feelings of hurt aside and transform them into an anger that he could use. The sight of GrandisKuwagamon caused his rage and emotions to swell inside of him. He raised the crimson blades on his wrists and tail in an aggressive fighting stance.

“…I’m going to ask you again, GrandisKuwagamon,” Imperialdramon explained to him, her eyes shooting daggers. “Surrender now, before we have to make you submit with force. We can do this the easy way or the difficult way.”

“Oh, okay. In that case, I like to do things the hard way!” GrandisKuwagamon called back to her. “It’s usually more fun that way. The more kicking and screaming, the better!”

“GrandisKuwagamon!” SaviorHackmon shouted, flying forwards several meters. “Why are you doing this?! Why did you betray us?! Why are you making yourself a fugitive?!”

“Oh, great, you brought along the kid. As if you guys weren’t laughable enough already,” GrandisKuwagamon taunted. He tilted his head and a mocking half-smirk traced his mouth as he stared at the Perfect-level dragon man. “What are you gonna do, SaviorHackmon? Try and drown me with your tears? Or maybe you guys want to hug me into submission. Or is it the puppy eyes of doom? Don’t make me laugh...”

SaviorHackmon ignored the barbs. Nothing GrandisKuwagamon said could hurt him more than what he did to him already. “Why, GrandisKuwagamon?!” he demanded. “Why would you try to escape?! You’re only making everything worse for yourself!”

VictoryGreymon scowled and flew forwards a couple of paces, removing the hulking blade from against his shoulder. He held it by one of the V-shaped handles and pointed it towards GrandisKuwagamon accusingly. “We trusted you, Grandis!” he shouted, his strong emotion clear in his trembling voice. “I trusted you! SaviorHackmon trusted you! I don’t understand why you would do something so mean and nasty and senseless! All we wanted was to help you!”

GrandisKuwagamon merely smirked, although not dropping his guard for a moment. “That’s a scary face for you, VictoryGreymon. It’s nice to know that you have emotions other than being a sickeningly happy, optimistic, naïve dumbass. It makes a refreshing change from you embarrassing yourself on a regular basis. Careful, you might pull a muscle though.”

VictoryGreymon’s angry eyes fractured into sad ones for a moment. “Of course I have feelings!” he shouted back. “I may be dumb and useless and embarrassing and naïve, but… but you hurt us, Grandis! I’m in pain right now because of what you’re doing! We thought of you as our friend and you used that against us!”

The dark insect looked aside and clenched his fists, his smile disappearing. He turned his crimson eye back to VictoryGreymon and stared at him with a cold foreboding. “You want to talk about pain? I’ll make sure you’ll be in real pain if you don’t turn around and go back the way you came,” he warned him.

“That won’t be happening,” Imperialdramon calmly explained to him. Energy began to gather in the chamber of her dorsal cannon. “This is your last chance, GrandisKuwagamon. Surrender while you still can. Otherwise we will have to apprehend you. Think about it very carefully.”

SaviorHackmon snarled and glared at the ebony mercenary. “If you don’t cooperate, you’re just going to be imprisoned for longer! You only had a year’s sentence! Two at most! You probably would have even been let out sooner!” he told him fierily. “But now you’re ruining it for yourself!”

“Yeah, sure. And I’m screwing all that up by escaping, right? If they’re gonna throw the book at me, then that’s all the more reason for me not to surrender,” GrandisKuwagamon sceptically replied.

“That’s not true. If you surrender now, they will be lenient,” Imperialdramon insisted.

“Oh, yeah, of course. Just like how they’d be lenient if I helped them find out who my client was. And don’t tell me that it’s ‘only two years.’ They would have found some excuse to keep me locked up. What kind of message would it send to criminals if the Royal Knights let a notorious mercenary free just because I helped them? You think they’d let somebody with my record walk free? Somebody who killed Order soldiers? They want my head…” GrandisKuwagamon contended.

“Not everybody is as cynical as you, GrandisKuwagamon,” SaviorHackmon bitterly explained. “Some of us have principles. You don’t have to stab everyone in the back just in case they stab you first!”

“Look how that worked out for you. Anyway, my answer’s the same,” GrandisKuwagamon informed them. He adjusted the positions of his arms and hastened his wing beats, preparing for a fight. “Now, you can either pretend you never found me… or I’ll make you wish you didn’t.”

VictoryGreymon glowered softly and gripped the Dramon Breaker tighter in his strong, orange hand. “Don’t make me fight you, Grandis…” he asked him. “Please! I don’t want to fight you!”

GrandisKuwagamon grinned. He knew that VictoryGreymon and SaviorHackmon would hold back while they were fighting him. He doubted Imperialdramon would. However, he still felt that he had an advantage. He was going to pull out all the stops to defeat them, and he was confident that his abilities were good enough to defeat the three of them if he fought smart. SaviorHackmon was an inexperienced Perfect level who he could easily read, VictoryGreymon was a big, clumsy warrior with slow movements, and Imperialdramon was too large and cumbersome to keep up with his agility, unless she reverted to her Paildramon form in which she would sacrifice power for speed. He liked his chances.

“There’s an easy answer to that, Vic: let me go,” he told him.

“We can’t do that,” Imperialdramon explained to him. She nodded at SaviorHackmon and VictoryGreymon and gestured at them to spread out.

VictoryGreymon frowned deeply and flew a few meters to the left. “Even if you escape us, there are more Royal Knight-led teams ahead waiting for you. Just surrender now, Grandis!” he said in an attempt to convince him to give up.

GrandisKuwagamon’s eye darkened at this revelation. So, if he escaped from them, there was a net further up ahead awaiting for him. His desperation began to return and his sense of comfort dissipated. He knew he couldn’t fight a Royal Knight in his current condition. This meant that this would be his only chance. He wasn’t sure if VictoryGreymon was bluffing, but the dragon wasn’t the type to lie. Even if he did, Grandis couldn’t afford to take that chance.

“…Yeah…? Then I guess I’m just gonna have to defeat you three,” he explained coldly.

As he stared off with the team of Order pursuers, a light mist began to gently roll in. It was a thin, gossamer haze that wasn’t hard to see through. It was the best that GrandisKuwagamon could manage at the moment, due to his weakened state.

SaviorHackmon tightened his jaws and looked around briefly before staring back at the stag beetle. “GrandisKuwagamon, you—“

Without another word, GrandisKuwagamon took off in a shadowy blur. He shot straight towards the group of three, his Gran Killers poised to strike. His eye was hard and focused, the crimson hue seeming to bleed as he tore through the air at high speeds.

Imperialdramon clenched her teeth and tilted her body forwards slightly. “Be ready! SaviorHackmon, support us with mid-range fire. Check your aim! VictoryGreymon, take a defensive stance. I’ll create an opening for you,” she told the other two. Light swelled within her cannon and the deadly brilliance began to brim. “Positron Laser!”

The contents of the cannon spilled out and a torrent of bright, positronic energy came careening towards GrandisKuwagamon. The midnight insect watched as the pillar of crushing power surged towards him quickly. He had anticipated this.

Knowing he had little time to spare before it closed in, he pulled upwards sharply. The savage beam passed underneath him. He could feel an auxiliary wave of energy wash over him and it buffeted him back a meter or two. Regardless, he continued speeding forwards, along the length of the beam. He flew several meters above it, using the luminous beam’s size and brightness to cover his approach, which was right in Imperialdramon’s blind spot.

Upon sensing that she had missed GrandisKuwagamon, Imperialdramon attempted to correct by angling the staggering beam upwards. However, the mercenary flew too high above it for it to hit him. The beam was too large and powerful to change the direction too drastically.

GrandisKuwagamon closed in on her as the beam began to thin out. When the stream of positrons faded, the scarab brawler suddenly angled his body and he declined towards Imperialdramon. He quickly swooped down and approached the cannon on her back, which frothed with gaseous energy from the Positron Laser.

“Paildramon, above you!” SaviorHackmon warned her, spotting GrandisKuwagamon’s black form against the grey clouds and the dissipating light.

Imperialdramon looked over her shoulder and saw GrandisKuwagamon above her armoured back, but she was too slow to respond. GrandisKuwagamon dragged his Gran Killers across her right wing. The three claws tore at the leathery hide and drew small dots of blood that were camouflaged by the red surface.

Imperialdramon hissed and swatted her large, powerful tail backwards to hit GrandisKuwagamon away from her. The black insect man saw the incoming appendage sweeping towards him. He performed a graceful, mid-air back flip, allowing the tail to pass seamlessly over him.

At the nadir of his flip, he suddenly dove downwards, swooping down underneath Imperialdramon. He flew between her right legs and positioned himself beneath her, accessing her exposed abdomen. GrandisKuwagamon tucked his body forwards into a somersault and when his knees came over his head, he kicked his legs outwards and drove his boots hard into Imperialdramon’s stomach.

Imperialdramon grunted with pain and she began to double over in response to the sharp kick to her gut. However, she recovered quickly. She dropped after GrandisKuwagamon and drove her massive fore claw down towards GrandisKuwagamon. The long, sickle-shaped blade on her gauntlet flashed with light as it fell. “Splendor Blade!” she said, swiping her scintillating claws down on the dark insect.

GrandisKuwagamon sneered when he saw the descending blade. He quickly flipped upwards and crossed his Gran Killers over his head, just in time for the luminous sickle to make contact. He blocked the gleaming blade between the crossed Gran Killers, inches away from his head. However, the trio of claws below it cut against GrandisKuwagamon’s armoured chest. The power behind Imperialdramon’s swing was immense, and his guard nearly broke. The attack was strong enough to push him down with immense force, more than his wings could handle.

As Imperialdramon pushed GrandisKuwagamon away from her, sending him falling towards the ground, she spun around. She watched the bug Digimon below her begin to right himself. “Get clear!” she told her two comrades as dark matter began to form in her throat. The black, crackling energy filled her draconic maw and seeped out between her jagged teeth in electric tendrils. “Mega Death!”

She coiled her head back and then jerked it forwards, using the momentum to release the concentrated ball of dark matter down towards the fugitive. GrandisKuwagamon beat his wings rapidly and he managed to stop himself from falling. He looked up and scowled, seeing the abyssal sphere of destruction speeding towards him like a meteor.

“****,” he whispered, suddenly flying in reverse as fast as he possibly could. The orb of negative energy and electrons plummeted to the grassy field below. As soon as the ball impacted the ground, the condensed dark matter suddenly decompressed and exploded. The detonation was devastating. A massive, supersonic shockwave erupted at the point of impact, tearing through the ground and sending dark energy exploding outwards.

Although GrandisKuwagamon had avoided the initial blast the resulting shockwave hit him like a stone wall. The swell of energy blossomed outwards and the pressure indented a massive crater about half a kilometer long in the grassy field.

VictoryGreymon flew over to SaviorHackmon’s side and detached the metal wings from his back, forming a golden, rounded shield that fit over his right arm. He held the shield out in front of him and protected the pair from the intense blast of wind and pressure. “Victory Shield!” he called out, allowing the blast to part around the protruding shield. Despite standing firm, he was pushed back a few centimeters by the sheer force of the blast, even though he and SaviorHackmon were at a safe distance from the explosion. He grunted and his arm strained slightly as he held against the shockwave. “G-Gosh…!”

As the blast faded, the cloud of dirt mixed in with the gentle haze. Imperialdramon gritted her teeth and she scanned the ground and the air for signs of GrandisKuwagamon. She couldn’t see him at all. In the wake of the explosion, he had completely disappeared from sight. “Damn it,” she thought, looking around agitatedly. Her heartbeat increased as she failed to spot GrandisKuwagamon. She flapped her wings to blow the dust and mist away. “That was too powerful. I can’t do that again… Where is he? Please don’t tell me that I…

Her train of thought was interrupted when she noticed a sparkle out of the corner of her eye.

“Dimension Scissor!”

She turned her head to the left and was stunned to see an arc of white light shooting towards her. She tried to ascend but it was too late. The sickle of spatial energy slammed into her armoured side, warping through her thick armour and tearing at her scales. Imperialdramon released a roar of pain as the blast exploded against her and sent her plummeting towards the ground.

“****, you aren’t messing around, P!” GranKuwagamon exclaimed, having slide-evolved from his GrandisKuwagamon form in order to escape from the explosion. He had circled around and was speeding towards Imperialdramon, who crashed to the grass in a thunderous tremor. He grinned a bit as adrenaline pumped through his body, fuelling his actions. “I guess I won’t either!” he announced as he descended on her.

GranKuwagamon landed on top of Imperialdramon with his four legs on top of her shoulders and ankles, pushing her into the ground. When she raised her leg to swipe at him with her golden claw, he drove his clawed fist into her gut. “You shouldn’t have come after me, Paildramon,” he hissed, raising his foot and pressing it down on her helmet-clad face, pushing her head painfully against the ground.

“Leave her alone!” VictoryGreymon shouted, racing over to them, swiftly skimming along the ground with his sword in hand. GranKuwagamon turned his scissor-clad head to the left to see the charging Greymon.

Imperialdramon used this distraction to her advantage. She lashed out with her left foreleg, sending a powerful swipe across the opposite side of his face. The claws scratched against his plated cheek and sent the six-legged insect staggering off of her.

GranKuwagamon stumbled to the side, his face numb with sharp pain. He released an abrupt shout as Imperialdramon drove her foot into his side. She scrambled to her feet and lashed her tail out, but GranKuwagamon was able to block it with the side of his arm. When Imperialdramon flew into the air to reorient herself, GranKuwagamon turned his attention towards the more immediate threat on his other side: VictoryGreymon.

He turned towards the dragon man and saw that he was closing in on him with his sword. GranKuwagamon scowled and met his charge with one of his own, planning on closing the gap first and catching VictoryGreymon in his pincers before he could swing his claymore.

GranKuwagamon flapped his wings and skimmed across the grass towards VictoryGreymon. He opened his pincers wide, but to his surprise, VictoryGreymon didn’t swing the Dramon Breaker. More than that, he dropped the massive sword beside him. Although confused, GranKuwagamon didn’t question his fortune, and as he closed in on VictoryGreymon, he began to snap his pincers shut around him.

VictoryGreymon anticipated this. He raised his arms and caught the enveloping pincers in his hands before they could tighten around his body. GranKuwagamon’s eyes widened and he closed the mighty forceps harder, causing the space between them and VictoryGreymon’s body to significantly decrease. VictoryGreymon, however, resisted. Before his knuckles could hit his shoulders, he pushed back with all the strength his arms could muster.

The dragon man growled with effort, sweat dripping down his face and blood beginning to ooze out of his palms. Not only did he manage to stop GranKuwagamon from tightening his scissors any longer, but he was actually spreading them apart. It stunned GranKuwagamon that this dragon was actually strong enough to overpower the sheer strength of his indomitable pincers. GranKuwagamon’s charge had been stopped so he landed on the ground and attempted to reverse, but he found that VictoryGreymon was holding him in place.

“What?!” GranKuwagamon demanded, realising what VictoryGreymon was doing. “Let go of me, you idiot!”

“You’re not leaving me any choice…!” VictoryGreymon growled as he poured all of his strength into his arms. He bent his knees and kept a tight hold on GranKuwagamon’s pincers. He let out a strained groan as he managed to lift the massive insect off of his feet, using the bug’s forceps as a focal point to hold him in place. VictoryGreymon winced when he began to feel GranKuwagamon’s pincers heat up in preparation for another Dimension Scissor attack. He knew he had to act now.

With a mighty shout, VictoryGreymon lifted GranKuwagamon over his head and fell backwards, causing GranKuwagamon to crash onto his back in a painful suplex. As the ground trembled beneath them, VictoryGreymon released GranKuwagamon from his grip and quickly sat up to grab the nearby Dramon Breaker. As he scrambled over to the weapon, GranKuwagamon quickly acted; he hooked VictoryGreymon’s armoured ankle with his pincers and caused the dragon man to trip, sending him crashing unceremoniously to the ground.

GranKuwagamon took the opportunity to scramble to his feet. The large insect ran over to VictoryGreymon, pressing down on his back and using him as a springboard as he jumped into the air. He beat his wings rapidly and ascended towards the cloudy sky. He flew towards Imperialdramon, who was beginning to circle around in the air.

“Rage Streit!” a voice shouted out.

Out of the corner of his eye, GranKuwagamon saw a flash of red. SaviorHackmon flew through the air towards him, descending on GranKuwagamon from the left. His bladed foot was extended and his fell towards the mercenary like a comet.

Before GranKuwagamon could react, SaviorHackmon embedded his bladed sole in GranKuwagamon’s flank, just deep enough to embed itself in his exoskeleton. GranKuwagamon hissed with pain and bashed SaviorHackmon away with a backhand from his massive forearm.

SaviorHackmon grunted but used the momentum to fly backwards in the air. He opened up his draconic mouth and embers began to flicker from inside his throat. “Meteor Flame!” he shouted passionately, unleashing spitfire shots of swelling flames from his maw.

GranKuwagamon’s eyes widened slightly as he watched the multitude of flames approach him, threatening to burn into him if he didn’t move. The dark insect acted quickly, steaming forwards into the sky. SaviorHackmon’s machine gun embers continued after him as the dragon moved his head. The flames licked at his heels. SaviorHackmon angled his body sideway and aimed his blasts in front of GranKuwagamon, causing the flames to catch up with the insect and slam into the side of his body.

“Damn it!” GranKuwagamon shouted as the blasts continued pounding into his side, igniting his arm. Panicking slightly as the flames crawled up his arm, GranKuwagamon’s form became engulfed with light. “Slide Evolution! GrandisKuwagamon!” he announced.

His bulky, insect body suddenly began to shrink and retake his usual, humanoid GrandisKuwagamon form. With the sudden decrease in mass, there was less surface area for SaviorHackmon’s flames to hit. In addition, GrandisKuwagamon was far faster and his power was stronger and more concentrated in this form, but he was less versatile. He mainly had to opt for melee combat, with only one medium ranged alternative.

GrandisKuwagamon lashed out with the Gran Killers, bashing away every subsequent flame that rained down upon him. The embers impacted his gauntlets and they licked at his hands, but he moved quickly enough to avoid taking any damage. Beads of sweat dripped down the back of his neck.

“You really want to take me on, you little ****?!” GrandisKuwagamon demanded, scowling as he tore through the air towards SaviorHackmon. “You think you can?! You’re no match for me!”

SaviorHackmon gritted his teeth and raised the crimson blades on his wrists and tail. He knew that he was at a full level disadvantage and that GrandisKuwagamon was way more experienced than he was, but he wasn’t about to back down. He had Gankoomon’s training and his own determination; he came here for a reason.

“I can’t defeat you on my own…” SaviorHackmon admitted, getting into a defensive stance as he hovered in the air. GrandisKuwagamon closed the distance between them and plunged his Gran Killers towards SaviorHackmon’s neck. However, SaviorHackmon was prepared. He raised his left arm and blocked the incoming clawed gauntlet with the blade that extended from his wrist. The blade went between two of the claws and stopped the Gran Killer from reaching his neck. GranKuwagamon followed up with a low stab towards SaviorHackmon’s hip, but SaviorHackmon whipped his bladed tail around and swiped outwards, parrying GrandisKuwagamon’s stab.

SaviorHackmon took the opportunity to stab towards GrandisKuwagamon with his right blade. The obsidian beetle man caught the sword between the claws of his Gran Killers and he rotated his arm sharply, twisting SaviorHackmon’s arm painfully. He continued by swiping his right Gran Killer across SaviorHackmon’s face, drawing sparks along his snout, and then followed up with a solid kick to SaviorHackmon’s stomach.

As the dragon knight staggered back through the air, he winced with pain but didn’t falter. He stared back resolutely at GrandisKuwagamon. “…I can’t defeat you on my own, but I’m not afraid of you!” he informed him in a determined tenor. His yellow eyes tightened bitterly. One of the cuts inside his mouth reopened and bled onto his tongue, but he ignored the pain and focused on GrandisKuwagamon. “You’re just a lying, cynical bastard who only cares about himself!”

“Finally, it’s getting through that thick head of yours!” GrandisKuwagamon exclaimed with a dangerous smirk. “But… you should be afraid of me, because I’m not going to show you any mercy. Sorry, kid. It’s nothing personal. You just get in the way.”

With that, he surged forwards, assaulting SaviorHackmon violently. He drove his Gran Killers into SaviorHackmon’s steel breastplate, scraping against it with a terrible, metal screech. He lunged forwards with his other gauntlet, the long, jagged claws poised to skewer. SaviorHackmon was ready for this one and he raised his spiked vambrace in front of his body to block the attack.

“Trident Saber!” SaviorHackmon counterattacked, his scarlet blades burning brightly as he responded aggressively. He plunged his left spike forwards, but GrandisKuwagamon deftly parried the blow. He slashed the right blade down, but GrandisKuwagamon blocked the falling weapon over his head and coiled his arm back to stab. As he was distracted, SaviorHackmon whipped his tail up and slashed across GrandisKuwagamon’s winged back. The glimmering, crimson blade tore against his carapace, prompting GrandisKuwagamon to turn and bash the appendage away.

SaviorHackmon saw an opening and plunged his wrist spike towards GrandisKuwagamon’s chest. To his shock, GrandisKuwagamon easily leaned to the side, causing the blade to penetrate the air beside him. GrandisKuwagamon grabbed hold of his arm and chopped down onto his elbow with the blunt end of his Gran Killer. A jolt of numb agony shot up the length of SaviorHackmon’s arm and he struggled not to growl out in pain.

GrandisKuwagamon proceeded to grab SaviorHackmon by the collar and punch him in the face viciously. SaviorHackmon winced in pain as the claws tore against his metal forehead, but he managed to stab his wrist blade into the gap beneath GrandisKuwagamon’s shoulder armour, eliciting an annoyed hiss from the scarab Digimon.

Acting swiftly, GrandisKuwagamon snapped his powerful pincers shut around SaviorHackmon’s body, pinning his arms to his sides with crushing force. Once his prey was in his grasp he threw his body upwards with force, releasing SaviorHackmon from his grasp and sending him flying up into the air. As the steel dragon reeled upwards, GrandisKuwagamon flew after him and drove his Gran Killers into SaviorHackmon’s gut. SaviorHackmon’s eyes widened and breath, saliva, and flames forcibly wheezed out of his mouth as he doubled over on GrandisKuwagamon’s hand. He was then launched further upwards into the sky as GrandisKuwagamon followed through on the hit.

The obsidian fighter leered up at SaviorHackmon as the dragon continued careering into the sky. His eye narrowed and he clenched his fist. “Sorry,” he whispered under his breath. “But I’ve gotta do this…”

He began rising up, speeding after SaviorHackmon. He coiled his arms back and prepared to strike in a vicious assault.

There was a gust of wind and a flash of black, blue, and red cut across him. A golden blade sliced along GrandisKuwagamon’s chest, drawing blood from a newly formed gash across his carapace. He growled as the stinging pain enflamed his upper body. He gripped his chest with one of his black hands and turned towards the speeding Digimon that passed by him.

Imperialdramon stopped in the air as she finished her pass and spun around to face him. “SaviorHackmon, get clear!” she warned him, angling the cannon that was mounted on her back towards GrandisKuwagamon. “Positron Laser!”

As SaviorHackmon caught himself and sped out of the way, the cannon erupted with a flash of white-blue energy. The blazing beam spewed forth from Imperialdramon’s cannon and gushed towards GrandisKuwagamon. He swore under his breath and tried to fly up from the beam’s path, but SaviorHackmon rained down a salvo of fireballs that blocked his escape.

GrandisKuwagamon scowled and swerved to the right to attempt a different escape route, but by this time, he was too slow. The beam closed in on him and all he could do was bring his Gran Killers up in front of his body to defend himself. The column of energy slammed into his body and parted around his gauntlets. Tendrils of power branched out around him and it was few seconds before his guard broke and GrandisKuwagamon was enveloped by surge of energy.

The mercenary growled in pain as he was swept up in the folds of the crushing laser. He was sent careening through the air as the energy burned at his form and crushed him.

The beam subsided from Imperialdramon’s cannon and dissipated. GrandisKuwagamon hovered in the air, his posture slack. He just barely managed to keep himself aloft using his singed wings. Smoke drifted up from his body and a few small chunks of his black armour crumbled off his body. Through his pain, GrandisKuwagamon slowly lifted his head and glared at Imperialdramon with a blood red gleam. “You’re gonna regret that, Paildramon…” he promised in a scathing whisper.

Before he could move, a hulking figure leapt up from behind the insect. VictoryGreymon lunged through the air, his hands on the hilt of the Dramon Breaker, which was raised proudly over his head. Poised to strike, VictoryGreymon descended, his eyes passionate and severe as he closed in. He brought the Dramon Breaker with the full weight of his sword, aiming to crush GrandisKuwagamon into the ground.

GrandisKuwagamon didn’t need to turn around to sense the hostile presence behind him. As VictoryGreymon cleaved the Dramon Breaker downwards, the mercenary seamlessly floated to the side in a smooth motion. The massive three-pronged broadsword descended beside him with an audible hum.

VictoryGreymon lurched forwards from the momentum of the swing as he missed his target, but he was a master of the Dramon Breaker. He shifted the momentum of his swing and began redirecting the angle of the hefty blade in a smooth, fluid motion. The Dramon Breaker shifted sideways and VictoryGreymon spun around, transferring the sword from a vertical swing into a horizontal one. He twirled three hundred sixty degrees in the air and dragged the Dramon Breaker with him in a sweeping horizontal slash.

GrandisKuwagamon glanced to his right and saw the blade sailing towards the lower half of his body. He quickly brought his legs up and tucked them against his chest, allowing the blade to pass below him. He spun around to see VictoryGreymon further using the momentum of his heavy broadsword, spinning around a second time and lifting the Dramon Breaker up to ready himself for a diagonal slash. GrandisKuwagamon used this opportunity to his advantage.

Just as VictoryGreymon turned back around and began to swing the mighty broadsword, GrandisKuwagamon slammed the sole of his boot into VictoryGreymon’s armoured but flexible abdomen. He kicked hard into VictoryGreymon’s stomach, causing the dragon soldier to double over and cause his swing to falter. He was pushed away and GrandisKuwagamon used the kick to propel himself away from VictoryGreymon’s sword range. Once clear, GrandisKuwagamon performed a backwards somersault and then flapped his wings hard, sending himself shooting back towards VictoryGreymon with impressive agility and aerobatics. He closed in and grabbed hold of VictoryGreymon’s head, slamming his snout down into GrandisKuwagamon’s rising knee. He released him, and cracked his spiked elbow across VictoryGreymon’s cheek, causing him to totter to the side. GrandisKuwagamon proceeded to spin around and level a painful butterfly kick to VictoryGreymon’s face and collar.

As VictoryGreymon staggered back from the brutal assault, GrandisKuwagamon steamed forwards. He soared swiftly towards Imperialdramon, making a bee-line for her before she could attack him again.

Imperialdramon quickly swerved to the side in response. She aimed her cannon and ducked her head, sending another beam of spiralling energy surging towards him. GrandisKuwagamon was too focused to get caught in the blast this time. With savage intensity, he predicted the trajectory of the beam and swerved to evade it. Even as Imperialdramon corrected her angle, he was too fast to get hit by it. It wasn’t long until the beam faded and he closed the distance with her.

GrandisKuwagamon stabbed his Gran Killers forwards, plunging them towards Imperialdramon’s collar. The massive dragon acted quickly, bringing her left foreleg up and blocking the strike with her obsidian gauntlet. The three, jagged blades screeched against the black armour and a few stray sparks cascaded out upon impact.

Imperialdramon retaliated by raising her right leg. Her claws and ankle blade shone with brilliant, golden light right before they dropped. GrandisKuwagamon dashed to the right as the resplendent blade fell. He was fast enough to avoid the attack, but the Splendor Blade was able to chip a small piece off of GrandisKuwagamon’s shoulder guard.

With the heavy paw missing him, the ebony assassin quickly flew underneath Imperialdramon. He slashed his Gran Killer across her white breastplate and continued until he found the scales of her ivory underbelly. He dragged his Gran Killer across her scales, tracing three shallow but painful cuts across her gut. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t push deeper due to the denseness of her data and the thick muscles underneath, but it still caused immense pain.

Imperialdramon snarled with torment as blood formed along the long slashes. As GrandisKuwagamon emerged at her right flank, she was able to kick him away with her back foot. She tried flapping her wings and bashing her leg towards him, but his superior speed allowed him to avoid her slashes. GrandisKuwagamon flew up and drove his knee into Imperialdramon’s angular chin, causing her head to jerk upwards. She growled and clapped her front feet together crushing him between them painfully.

“D-Damn it…” GrandisKuwagamon snarled, squirming within her crushing hold. “Slide Evolution! GranKuwagamon!”

He suddenly expanded in size, causing Imperialdramon’s claws to be pushed away from him, giving him room to manoeuvre. He grew to the same size as Imperialdramon and glared at the dragon inches away from him. Without wasting any time, he started pouring energy into his hooked pincers. “Dimension Scissors!” he shouted haggardly, releasing a cutting beam from his forceps and sending it crashing into Imperialdramon at point blank range.

The arc of energy exploded against her and Imperialdramon reeled backwards. He reached in through the cloud of smoke and distorted space and bashed his clawed fist across her face. He pummeled her jaw and delivered an uppercut to her chin. Imperialdramon was able to stab her blade into his shoulder, but he had the momentum. Imperialdramon was pushed back under the merciless assault. As blood leaked from the corners of her mouth, she felt her control over her Imperialdramon slipping from her grasp.

“Catastrophe!” GranKuwagamon shouted, unleashing a surge of dark energy onto the dragon’s form. Imperialdramon roared with pain as she was engulfed in the abyssal blast. The nullifying power tore at her form. Her body became engulfed in light and she was forced to revert back to her Paildramon form to conserve energy.

Although some of her wounds healed from the reversion, a few trails of blood trickled down Paildramon’s neck from underneath her helmet. She flapped her four wings and flew into reverse, putting distance between herself and the large insect Digimon. “Damn it… I devolved… He got the upper hand against me…” she bitterly thought to herself, ignoring the pain.

“GrandisKuwagamon!” a passionate voice called out from the side. VictoryGreymon came rushing over to distract GranKuwagamon from Paildramon. He flew through the air and closed in on GranKuwagamon and raised the Dramon Breaker over his head with one hand.

“You think that’ll work? You’re so predictable,” GranKuwagamon taunted, his voice raspy and cold. He turned towards the dragon, awaiting his attack.

“Rage Streit!” SaviorHackmon suddenly called out from behind him, taking the opportunity to distract GranKuwagamon while his back was turned. He descended through the air in a flying kick and drove his bladed foot into GranKuwagamon’s armoured backside. He followed up by releasing a rapid-fire burst of flames onto GranKuwagamon’s back while he was in spitting distance of the fugitive.

“Desperado Blaster!” Paildramon shouted, releasing her own machine gun burst into GranKuwagamon’s side in order to distract him.

“Damn it! You pieces of…!” GranKuwagamon raised his right forearm to block Paildramon’s barrage, while also pivoting and swiping his left arm behind him to knock SaviorHackmon away. It was in that exposed moment that VictoryGreymon closed in on him.

GranKuwagamon turned his head back and his crimson eyes widened. With his arms occupied, he couldn’t react fast enough to defend himself. VictoryGreymon closed in on him and held the Dramon Breaker over his shoulder, preparing to cleave. GranKuwagamon knew that he couldn’t avoid it. His body was tired and his muscles ached. He knew that he was pushing himself beyond his limit. There wasn’t much he could do.

However… He wasn’t about to give up. He wouldn’t let himself get dragged back to imprisonment once again. He knew that if he did, we would be trapped in a cell for a very long time. He wasn’t going to give in. He wasn’t going to lose control. He wasn’t going to be at their mercy…

“Dramon Breaker!” VictoryGreymon shouted, bringing the broadsword down on the large insect.

GranKuwagamon’s eyes hardened. “Slide Evolution!”

Despite the strain it put on his body, his silhouette shone and shifted back into his smaller GrandisKuwagamon form once again. As the blade fell on him, GrandisKuwagamon used his decrease in mass to deftly swerve to the side and evade the mighty swing.

VictoryGreymon blinked, stunned that he had missed his target. “Uh…?”

GrandisKuwagamon suddenly acted. With his left hand, he grabbed hold of VictoryGreymon’s left arm and fluidly circled around the behind the dragon man. He wrenched VictoryGreymon’s arm backwards and pulled it up painfully against the small of the dragon’s back, rendering it stressed and immobile. GrandisKuwagamon then brought his right arm up and brought it under VictoryGreymon’s right armpit, locking his arm in a shoulder lock that rendered him unable to effectively use his sword against him. For good measure, GrandisKuwagamon closed his pincers and tightened them like a vice around the sides of VictoryGreymon’s neck.

He had VictoryGreymon completely pinned and at his mercy.

“Guh…!” VictoryGreymon cried out, squirming and trying to free himself, but found that doing so only caused him severe pain.

“Okay, that’s about enough outta you!” GrandisKuwagamon exclaimed, holding VictoryGreymon tightly against his will and not letting him move a muscle, even as the Greymon tried to resist. “Everybody hold up before he gets hurt.”

“VictoryGreymon!” SaviorHackmon shouted with worry.

Paildramon’s gaze hardened and she aimed her guns at GrandisKuwagamon, but she couldn’t get a clear bead on him since VictoryGreymon was being used as a meat shield. “Damn it…” she internally swore. She clenched her fist before releasing it from its tight ball. Knowing she may have to use her cables in this situation, she kept her hands at the ready. “Release him, GrandisKuwagamon!” she demanded.

GrandisKuwagamon breathed heavily from exhaustion. Sweat matted his orange hair and dripped down the back of his neck. He felt the heat and sweat of VictoryGreymon’s body against him. He used this reprieve to catch his breath. He knew he couldn’t afford to let the dragon go at this point. The pincers that tightly clutched VictoryGreymon’s neck didn’t move a millimeter.

“Not unless you both turn around and head right back to the castle. Tell them I escaped,” GrandisKuwagamon bargained, keeping a tight lock on VictoryGreymon’s arms.

SaviorHackmon glowered and clenched his fists. “Coward!” he shouted, beginning to fly forwards.

“Ah ah!” GrandisKuwagamon chimed out, tightening his pincers like a vice around VictoryGreymon’s armoured neck, increasing the pressure enough that VictoryGreymon let out a cry of pain. “Don’t move a muscle or else your friend here will be a head shorter!”

SaviorHackmon snarled, reluctantly stopping in his place. “He was your friend too, wasn’t he?!” he bitterly asked, levelling a pained glare at the obsidian mercenary. “I thought we all were! We all trusted you!”

GrandisKuwagamon scoffed and glanced away. “I was just using you,” he insisted.

“Then… Then why did you save me?!” VictoryGreymon exclaimed, wiggling against GrandisKuwagamon’s hold and trying to glance over his shoulder.

“I thought that if you got too far away from me, the restraint system would activate,” GrandisKuwagamon coldly responded. “I just didn’t want to get electrocuted.”

At this falsehood, Paildramon narrowed her eyes. “That’s not true, GrandisKuwagamon…” she informed them. “The previous night, you told me that you knew that the restraint system was connected to me alone.”

GrandisKuwagamon gnashed his teeth together and matched her glare. “I was bluffing,” he maintained.

Paildramon swept her arm out emphatically. “You’re lying,” she contended, staring into his eyes. “Even if that were true, I confirmed it to you before you helped him.”

“I only helped him to gain your trust so that I could manipulate you all into freeing me,” GrandisKuwagamon reiterated angrily.

“Another lie,” Paildramon bluntly accused. “Until we returned and you spoke with Alphamon, you thought that you would be released regardless. I saw your face when you realised that you weren’t going to be released.”

“So did I!” VictoryGreymon exclaimed. Despite the fact that he felt like his scales would rip with the wrong movement, VictoryGreymon wasn’t about to give up. “You can’t fake that kind of pain!”

Paildramon frowned at GrandisKuwagamon. “I don’t understand, GrandisKuwagamon. Why are you doing this?”

A soft growl escaped from GrandisKuwagamon’s throat, but he didn’t relent. He refused to reply or answer their questions. He merely maintained his fiery glare and made sure that VictoryGreymon didn’t have a centimeter to move.

“Why did you betray us, Grandis? Why are you fighting us?!” SaviorHackmon demanded. “You’re not a bad Digimon, so why are you acting like one?”

GrandisKuwagamon scowled at SaviorHackmon and tightened his hold on VictoryGreymon’s limbs. He still kept himself from responding even as his emotions swelled.

“After having been betrayed by Blitzmon and Bolgmon, why would you turn around and do the same to the first people to offer kindness to you?” Paildramon questioned. “Is it to make you feel better about yourself? Why would you turn down Alphamon’s lenient offer? Is immediate freedom so important – even if it means risking a lifetime of imprisonment? Why are you so desperate?”

Paildramon’s words struck a nerve inside the scarab mercenary, but he didn’t react. He kept his feelings in line, even if he was finding it harder and harder to do so. He took a deep breath and tried to center himself, all while concentrating on restraining his hostage.

“Please, stop it, Grandis!” VictoryGreymon beseeched him desperately, looking over his shoulder with his big, pleading, green eyes. “You don’t have to do this!”

-

(Continued in the next post)
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
(Continued from the previous post)

-

His frustration at a breaking point, GrandisKuwagamon finally let loose. The adrenaline that had been pumping through his body from the fight was taking over. He began to release everything that he had been holding in. “You’re right for once, VictoryGreymon!” he exclaimed, his crimson eye locking with VictoryGreymon’s greens. “I don’t have to do anything! I’m choosing to do this!”

Paildramon leered at him steadily. “Why…?” she asked, her voice cool and composed despite the heated, dangerous situation. “Why do this? Why would you do something so stupid when you were promised leniency? You were facing a year or two in prison, yes, but you were facing a much longer tenure with all of the crimes to your name. Why would you risk all that just to avoid a year?”

The black insect growled and met her gaze. “It’s so easy to say that from where you’re standing…” he muttered lowly. “You’ve never stepped a foot wrong in your life.”

“Did you really think that the Royal Knights wouldn’t live up to their word? For as much as you demean the Royal Knights for being honorable, did you think that the deal would be reneged upon as soon as you stopped being useful? Would a group as blindly principled as you say we are do that? We’re either naively idealistic or we’re hypocrites; you can’t have it both ways, GrandisKuwagamon” Paildramon pointed out. She stared into his eye, her gaze penetrating. “Or did you merely see a chance to escape and you were opportunistic enough to grab it with both hands?”

GrandisKuwagamon pressed his teeth together tightly. He hated to admit to himself that she was right. He had acted on his emotions and impulses when he was sent back to the dungeon. As soon as the opportunity presented himself, he took it. He felt he had to. He glanced away, internally embarrassed at his rashness, but he tried not to let it show.

However, Paildramon noticed his subtle movements and his lack of a response. “…That’s it, isn’t it? You acted without thinking and you’re trying to rationalize it. You don’t have a plan right now, do you?” she determined confidently. “You’re merely focusing on the present. That’s why you have to use VictoryGreymon as a hostage. …Do you really think that this will work out for you when you don’t even have a plan?”

“What the hell do you know, you smug *****?!” GrandisKuwagamon shouted, losing control of his emotions. Just like in the dungeons, he felt the walls closing in on him. The spectre of the distant Royal Knights continued to loom over him, portending his potential capture. He felt his desperation growing. “What the hell do any of you know?!”

“So, explain,” Paildramon replied, taking his anger in her stride. “Why escape? You owe us that much.”

“I don’t owe you anything…” GrandisKuwagamon murmured bitterly. He scoffed and conceded. “Tch… What were my options? Worst case scenario, I rot away in Havelock Prison for years. Best case scenario, I get two years and then I’m forced to become the Royal Knights’ lackey like Dorbickmon. Look what happened to him. Yeah, maybe I acted rashly and maybe it was a huge risk, but at least this way, I’m in control…”

“Control?” SaviorHackmon questioned. “How is being on the run from the Royal Knights being ‘in control’? How can you be in control when you have to constantly look over your shoulder?”

“You’ve got no idea…” GrandisKuwagamon sourly replied. “None of you do.”

“Ngh… A-About what?” VictoryGreymon sputtered, still struggling against his captor. He was tempted to release the Dramon Breaker to the ground and try to use his hand to pry the pincers away from his neck, but he didn’t want to risk it.

“About what it’s like…” the mercenary answered enigmatically, his scissors still locked around VictoryGreymon’s neck. “You guys don’t know how good you have it.”

“What do you mean, GrandisKuwagamon?” SaviorHackmon implored him. “You keep saying that, but you don’t make any sense.”

“You’re all living comfy lives,” GrandisKuwagamon responded bitterly. He stared over at Paildramon. “Paildramon… You complain about having an overbearing father, but you should be happy that you’ve got two rich parents, a rich house, a little brother, a rich life…” He then glanced at his hostage. “VictoryGreymon, you got a dad who owns one of the best ****ing beer companies in the Digital World, and you’ve got friends you can trust unconditionally.” He turned his eye towards the SaviorHackmon finally. “SaviorHackmon, you’ve got a Royal Knight for a mentor – somebody who’d give up his own life to make sure that you’re safe and cared for. I wasn’t lying when I told you how lucky you were…”

“I didn’t ask for the life that I have,” Paildramon defended.

“Neither did I,” GrandisKuwagamon darkly responded. “Not blaming you, Paildramon; I’m just saying that you don’t know what it’s like for somebody who’s been on life’s losing end. You’ve lived pretty good lives. You’ve never had to struggle. You’ve never had to fight just to survive. I had to claw my way through the dregs of the Digital World to get to where I am today.”

“What is this? More lies? Are you trying to trick us again?” SaviorHackmon sceptically retorted, his sharp teeth clashing together as twinges of anger throbbed in his aching heart. “Another sob story to manipulate me?”

“Tch…” GrandisKuwagamon gazed at SaviorHackmon soberly. “I may have manipulated you… but I didn’t lie. Everything I told you about my life was the truth…” He clenched his right fist, the arm it was connected to still holding VictoryGreymon’s right shoulder in place. “I only had my skills and my desire to survive. I wanted to pick myself up from the gutter that we lived in.”

Paildramon narrowed her eyes at him. “So, you had a rough life… I’m sorry to hear that. But what does that have to do with this?” she evenly asked, although not without simmering anger. “Are you just using that as an excuse? Or is this some sort of reverse-elitism? Are you saying that having a tough upbringing gives you the right to be an ass?”

GrandisKuwagamon managed a ghost of a smirk as he stared at her. “You’ve got guts, P…” he said, half-impressed. However, the smirk faded as swiftly as it appeared. “But you still don’t get it.” He scoffed breathily. “You – none of you – have any damn idea.”

His eye burned a dark crimson as the clouds drifted in the sky overhead. “You don’t know what it feels like to have your life be outside of your hands. To not be in control…” he explained intensely. “When I was with you, with the Royal Knights, I was being led along by a leash. I had no control over my life or my future. I was at their mercy… completely dependent on their goodwill. If they wanted, they could end my life.”

VictoryGreymon grimaced and tried to look over his shoulder at the ebony scarab. “They wouldn’t though… Was it so bad that you had to betray us? That you had to risk everything?”

“I guess so… I hate being in that situation,” he explained, his voice introspective yet passionate. “I don’t expect you to know where I’m coming from; you’re both soldiers… You’re used to having your lives in others’ hands. You’re bound by duty and discipline. All you have to do is follow orders. I’ve always been making my own decisions for myself.”

“You’re right. I don’t understand,” Paildramon spoke. “How could it be that bad that you would risk everything just to escape? Help us understand, GrandisKuwagamon…”

At her request, GrandisKuwagamon released an empty laugh. “…You really want to know, Paildramon?” he asked bleakly. “I guess I’ll tell you… but only because, as far as soldiers with sticks up their asses go… you’re alright…” He flashed her a faint smirk before it faded from his face.

As the dark clouds overhead began to leak intermittent droplets of rain, GrandisKuwagamon’s expression grew dark and intense. His crimson eye seemed to shadow as a cloud thickened and darkened the grassy landscape.

“None of you know how I ended up on the streets,” he explained, his voice was heavy, but also blunt and matter-of-fact.

SaviorHackmon’s yellow eyes narrowed inquisitively. “You said you lost your village, right?” he couldn’t help but ask.

“Yeah… But I didn’t say how…” was the mercenary’s simple reply.

GrandisKuwagamon paused for a few moments, steeling himself. He glanced at the northern horizon; the cloudy skies appeared safe. He released the breath that he was holding. Despite the tumult within him, he remained focused on his situation, and he didn’t let VictoryGreymon move a muscle.

“You wanted to know about my past… Well, I come from a small town called Manu Village. It was in Restart Forest, out in the Western Reaches. Just south of the Forest of Equilibrium, in case you didn’t know…” GrandisKuwagamon began. “It was way out in the sticks: pretty deep in the forest and not far from the Manu Mountains. It used to take two or three hours just to get to the next village over.” He shrugged dismissively. “It wasn’t much… a pretty forgettable village, by all accounts… but it was a decent enough place to live. The population was mostly insect Digimon, but there were some plant, bird, and machine Digimon too.”

Despite his aloof disposition, the memories began to rush back to him and reawaken dormant wounds. GrandisKuwagamon’s gaze dipped downwards for a moment, but his eye narrowed and he focused. “I had parents – my dad was an Okuwamon and mom was an AtlurKabuterimon. Dad was a real hard ass. He was a woodworker by trade. Carpentry, furniture, stuff like that. He’d kick my ass if I did something stupid but only to teach me to be careful and not pull any more idiotic stunts. Tough but fair, I guess… Mom was a lot warmer. She focused on the financial side of the business. She’d cheer us up with sweets – you know, that kind of mom.” Without meaning to, he became nostalgic and he was immersed in the memories. “…I had a brother too: Kokuwamon. We were fraternal twins… We were born at the same time but had different eggs. He was always the reckless one: exploring further than we were allowed and getting me into trouble all the time…”

Paildramon’s eyes narrowed as she listened to his mention of his brother. She wondered if what he said to her had been the truth after all…

GrandisKuwagamon caught himself. He hated that he was becoming nostalgic and sentimental. His blood red eye hardened and he shook his head slightly, inadvertently causing VictoryGreymon discomfort as the pincers moved. “Anyways… None of that’s important,” he said with a mixture of bitterness and embarrassment. “When I was ten, my life changed.”

The mercenary’s hand tightened around VictoryGreymon’s wrist. “I was a Tentomon at the time… It was sundown… Me and Kokuwamon had been at school for the day. We played outside until the sun began to set… kicked one of those fruits with the really hard shell around with the other kids. Blitz and Bolg were there in their Child forms. Then Kokuwa and I got called inside for dinner… We were eating… I can’t remember what. Mom’s usual, I guess…” He grunted dismissively. “All I can remember about that night was that the tree tops were orange and the sky was pitch black. I remember it got really dark outside… Then…”

“Then the ground started shaking…” GrandisKuwagamon explained, his eye distant, as if he was reliving the moment. “The plates were rumbling - the wood of the house, the trees shaking… At first, we thought it was an earthquake…” The ruby eye darkened to a deep, bloody hue. ““It wasn’t an earthquake… It was footsteps – lots of them. Then the shooting started…”

“W-What?” VictoryGreymon whispered, his eyes widening.

“I remember looking out the window and I saw this white beam tear through the town, vaporizing whatever it touched. Everything started falling off the shelves and there I felt the vibrations in the ground. I heard yelling and screaming outside. Then the missiles started raining down. There was a huge explosion and then, suddenly, there was fire all over the trees. I got another good look out the window and I saw one of the missiles blow my neighbour’s house to smithereens.”

SaviorHackmon’s stared at GrandisKuwagamon with heartfelt shock and mortification. “No way…” he whispered.

Paildramon winced at the revelation of his quickly darkening tale. “…Your village was attacked.”

GrandisKuwagamon nodded. “My dad pulled me and Kokuwa down and forced us under the dinner table. He and Mom told us to stay where we were and not to move, no matter what. Dad went to the front door and looked outside. I could see another missile come down across the street. There were beams and missiles flying all over the place at that point. The night lit up with white and red every two seconds. The ground wouldn’t stop shaking…” GrandisKuwagamon’s eye stared intensely into the distance. “I could hear the yells of the village’s volunteer defence force outside. They were trying to scramble a defence, but I could tell it wasn’t doing much good. It was ****ing chaos. But Dad and Mom were members since they were both Perfect level and had some combat experience, so they said goodbye and went out to protect the village…”

“GrandisKuwagamon…” VictoryGreymon spoke, his voice stunned and trembling with emotion despite the situation he was in.

“Me and Kokuwamon could hear fighting outside,” GrandisKuwagamon explained. “He wanted to look, but I tried to stop him. To be honest, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to look too – I was scared shitless at the time. But when he went over to the window, I followed him. We looked outside and saw the living hell that was Manu Village. The buildings were on fire, the trees were collapsing. Beams and missiles were landing everywhere. There were screams of pain…” His eye hardened with bitter rage and darkness. “But… more than that… I heard laughing.”

“Laughing…?” SaviorHackmon asked, staring at GrandisKuwagamon with horror.

“It was the bastards who were doing this…” GrandisKuwagamon responded. “We saw them… It was a group of MetalTyrannomons, all with X-Antibodies. I could tell because those weird gems they had glowed in the dark… There were about a dozen of those cyborg freaks attacking our village.”

Paildramon grimaced. “Bandits…” she spoke, clenching her fists.

“I guess if you want to call them that… Anyway… the MetalTyrannomons came out of the forest and kept shooting. They were more powerful because of the X-Antibody, but they were more experienced too. I could see the volunteer defence getting chewed to pieces...” GrandisKuwagamon glanced to the side. As he spoke, a dark tempest swirled within his reflective, ruby eye. “Luckily, we didn’t see what happened to our parents…”

Nobody responded. The air was tense and heavy. They simply let GrandisKuwagamon continue at his own pace.

“Before we could see anymore, a missile landed right outside the house. The windowpane shattered and we got the hell away from the window. I dove back under the table and pulled Ko with me. The attacks were getting closer to our house…” GrandisKuwagamon stalled. “…Kokuwamon…” He continued. “He pulled away from me and ran to the front door. He said he needed to help Mom and Dad. I told him not to… I begged him not to… but… he was always reckless…”

His crimson eye narrowed bitterly. “I tried to stop him, but he was already at the door… He didn’t listen. He opened the door, ran outside, and then… boom. A missile landed right beside the front door. He got swept up in the blast and the front of our house collapsed,” he explained. An uneven breath escaped his nostrils. “I was frozen in place under the table by this point. I was crying my eyes out. I could hear the explosions and the laughing getting closer…” He smiled sadly. “…Know what I thought? I thought, ‘Why doesn’t anybody save us?’ ‘Why don’t some Ultimate-level heroes swoop in and save the town?’ ‘Why doesn’t Yggdrasil save everybody…?’ I basically prayed for anybody to come and rescue us from these… monsters. But… there was nothing. No Royal Knights showed up. No heroes. There was no divine intervention... No beacon of light from our so-called god. We were left to die at the hands of those psychos.”

SaviorHackmon shut his eyes tightly. Tears were forming in the corners of his eyes. Everything about GrandisKuwagamon was suddenly so clear to him now. His heart ached with empathy.

“I’m… so sorry…” VictoryGreymon whispered, not moving an inch.

“That night… I learned what it meant to have absolutely no control. I was helpless… scared… crying… useless. My life was out of my hands. All I could do was wait, cowering under that wooden table, and hope that none of the missiles land on me and blow me to bits. My life was in the hands of a group of sadistic freaks who laughed as they murdered my friends and family. …I nearly did die that night,” GrandisKuwagamon explained matter-of-factly. “As I was sitting there, waiting for a hero, a missile landed at the back of the house. Fire and wood came flooding in. The concussion knocked me out and the house collapsed.”

GrandisKuwagamon relaxed his body gently, his grip on VictoryGreymon softening. “I woke up the next morning, buried under the rubble of my house. I barely managed to crawl my way out… When I did, I was sick at what I saw… The village was completely levelled. The trees were burnt and there was a there was smoke everywhere like a choking mist. I could barely breathe without coughing. Not a single building was left standing… The MetalTyrannomon X raiders were long gone, and they left jack **** in their wake. There were ripped branches, collapsed houses and craters everywhere. It looked more like a warzone than a village… There were puddles of blood… I looked around for my parents and my brother, but… I couldn’t find them. Couldn’t find a trace of anyone. The only survivors I found were Blitzmon and Bolgmon – Wormmon and Kokabuterimon at the time. Bolgmon was trapped under a pile of rubble and he was running out of air, but we dug him out. After we did, we looked around for others. We looked everywhere, but… it was just us. We were the only ones left.”

GrandisKuwagamon gazed intensely at the back of VictoryGreymon’s head. “We were devastated, crying uncontrollably, broken… Stayed that way for what seemed like most of the day. We were never the same after that. But we knew we couldn’t stay around. We took what salvageable food there was and left Manu. We tried to travelling to the next closest village, but we got lost and eventually just kept travelling out of Restart Forest until we found a road. We kept following that road until we ended up in New Terminal. When we got there, we began to realise how little people cared about mangy insect brats like us. We didn’t get any help, so we had to steal what food and money we could to survive. We got involved with some criminals and worked for them for a commission. It was a living and that was all we could hope for.”

The mercenary’s crimson eye seemed to blaze. “…But we never forgot that night… or the Digimon who ruined our lives. Even as we worked and stole and fought to survive, we prepared. We’d wake up early and train. We’d work out, we’d spar, we’d practice our skills… we even convinced a couple mentors that we knew to show us the basics of combat. We spent our teenage years getting stronger. We used our hatred, our anger, and our pain to push ourselves to become powerful. I was an Adult-level before I was thirteen, and I was a Perfect-level just two years later. We wanted revenge on those monsters… and we wanted to take back some of what we lost that night. Once I was a GranKuwagamon, and both Blitzmon and Bolgmon could access their RhinoKabuterimon forms, we felt we were ready.”

“Ready for what…?” Paildramon asked him with a soft wince.

“To take our revenge…” GrandisKuwagamon explained, smiling darkly. “We used our underworld connections to find out who exactly those MetalTyrannomon X-Antibody raiders were, and where we could find them… So, we went to find them.”

“…Did you?” Paildramon questioned, although she was confident that she knew the answer.

“Yup… We waited… and then we attacked their camp in the night. We gave them a chance to feel what they put us through…” GrandisKuwagamon darkly explained. “The fear and confusion…” He stared at his opponents with a cold-blooded crimson eye. “The pain.”

SaviorHackmon opened his reddened, grimacing eyes and stared at GrandisKuwagamon. “So… You took revenge…”

“Hell yeah, we did…” GrandisKuwagamon apathetically confirmed. “We were strong enough to beat them, and we had them at our mercy… We kicked the survivors around - we made sure that it hurt. I grabbed the leader’s neck in my pincers and squeezed until he was gasping for air. I asked him if he remembered the village he destroyed all those years ago. He said ‘yeah’. Then I asked him why he destroyed the village. …Know what he said?”

“…What?” Paildramon asked.

“He said ‘It was fun. I love killing.’ …No reason. Not even money. He just wanted to cause pain and blow things up. Just mindless destruction…” GrandisKuwagamon explained bitterly. “The other raiders went along with the plan and took what they wanted from the wreckage.” GrandisKuwagamon closed his eye. “So… That tipped us over the edge… We repaid them tenfold… We didn’t just kill them, we wanted them to suffer first… We tore their metal bits off from their fleshy bits… We punched, stabbed, electrocuted, you name it… The things we did to them…” GrandisKuwagamon opened his eye into a narrow slit. “I threw up after. The first time we killed anyone, and to kill them in the way we did…”

SaviorHackmon and VictoryGreymon both grimaced and looked away at the mental image, trying not to imagine it.

“I don’t know if I felt any better after that… It felt sorta good at first, but, after it was done, I just felt kinda lost. Empty. I don’t regret it, but I guess I expected it to feel better. I was naïve.” He drew a haggard breath. “Anyway… Once they were dead and their data was floating around, we did one last thing,” GrandisKuwagamon explained, looking bitterly at the group.

“We absorbed their data,” he finished.

The dragons’ eyes widened with shock. “You… You what…?” SaviorHackmon stammered, gaping with sad incredulity at GrandisKuwagamon. “You mean… it’s true…? The rumours?”

“Yup… We’re data absorbers…” GrandisKuwagamon confirmed with a sad smile. “But… that was the only time… We were so angry and sickened that we decided that we couldn’t let those monsters be reborn in the Village of Beginnings. They didn’t deserve it. We couldn’t risk them coming back and causing more havoc. You can think of me what you want, but we did what we did…”

“I… I see…” Paildramon answered in a near murmur.

“Except, at the time, we didn’t know what data absorbing entailed… We didn’t know that bodies usually didn’t react well to foreign data. Our bodies sure didn’t. We were pretty much sent into convulsions… I would have thrown up if there was anything left in my stomach,” GrandisKuwagamon explained. “We also didn’t know that, by absorbing their data, we’d be absorbing their X-Antibody too. I don’t know if that made the process worse, but it was hellish. I watched as Blitzmon and Bolgmon absorbed the X-Antibodies into them…”

GrandisKuwagamon frowned thoughtfully. “I felt its power inside me. I could feel the antibody taking over my digicore, but I tried not to let it. It felt like it was going to consume my body and I didn’t want it to. Because of it, I changed into my GrandisKuwagamon form, but I didn’t let it take over completely. I hated the idea of letting that monster be a part of me. It was hard – my digicore felt like it was breaking down – but I finally got it under my thumb… That’s why I meditate… to keep the X-antibody under control…”

GrandisKuwagamon grunted and released a long, heavy sigh. As strange as he felt about opening up so much, he felt relieved, like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. He turned his dull, crimson gaze to Paildramon.

“…So, Paildramon… You wonder why I’m doing this? …I chose to escape because I never want to be in that situation again. I never want to be helpless again. I never want my life to be out of my control. I never want to be at somebody else’s mercy,” he explained emphatically, his crimson eye flashing. “…That night, I learned that I can’t rely on others if I want to survive. The only thing I can rely on is my own strength and my own abilities. That’s the only thing I can trust.”

Paildramon grimaced. Despite her calm demeanour, her heart ached for GrandisKuwagamon. She felt sympathy for him, but she couldn’t let that take over the reality of the situation. “I’m… I’m so sorry, GrandisKuwagamon…” she said to him, her voice sincere and sad. “However… nothing has changed. Do you think that your tragedy gives you the right to do the things that you’ve done?”

“No, I don’t…” GrandisKuwagamon responded emptily. “I’ve got no illusions about the life I’ve lived. I’ve never once asked for pity or made excuses for my actions. What happened to me… it’s not an excuse… it’s an explanation. I’m just explaining how I’ve become the Digimon that I am… Am I a bad Digimon? Yeah, probably. One thing that I’m not is a victim…” He grunted and bore into Paildramon’s eyes. “I’ve just been trying to make the best of a shitty situation in the only way I know how, even if it means walking on people that I care about to do it…”

GrandisKuwagamon twitched his pincers as he hardened his gaze at the two dragons beyond his hostage. “And that, Paildramon, is why I’m doing thi—“

Before he could finish, VictoryGreymon took advantage of GrandisKuwagamon’s loosened, distracted state. He wrenched his left arm out of GrandisKuwagamon’s grip and slammed his elbow behind him, right into GrandisKuwagamon’s cheek.

GrandisKuwagamon shouted out with pain and recoiled, the shock from the impact causing him to release VictoryGreymon from his grasp. VictoryGreymon ducked under GrandisKuwagamon’s pincers and spun around in the air as the black insect staggered back.

As VictoryGreymon raised the Dramon Breaker and stared at GrandisKuwagamon, his green eyes were revealed to be red and puffy. Tears of sympathy and sorrow stained his cheeks from GrandisKuwagamon’s story. However, beyond the sadness was a gaze of determination.

VictoryGreymon tearfully raised the Dramon Breaker and pointed it at GrandisKuwagamon. “I’m sorry, Grandis… But I have to fight you…” he told him apologetically, although his willpower didn’t falter for a moment. “Please surrender…”

GrandisKuwagamon scowled and rubbed his cheek with the corner of his Gran Killer. He stared back at VictoryGreymon with equal determination. “No… I’m not gonna show you any mercy, Victory… I’ll do whatever it takes to escape,” he promised, crossing the Gran Killers in front of his body. “And now you know why.”

“I’m… I’m gonna stop you, Grandis…” VictoryGreymon told him, his grip tightening on the Dramon Breaker.

“You’re gonna have to,” GrandisKuwagamon responded, speeding forward.

The dark shadow cut through the sky with unparalleled speed and intensity. GrandisKuwagamon closed in on VictoryGreymon, preparing to slash with the dual Gran Killers. He saw VictoryGreymon raise the Dramon Breaker and begin to swing it downwards with his right hand. As the massive broadsword started to cleave the air, GrandisKuwagamon suddenly ducked to the side, having feinted VictoryGreymon out.

“Grandis Scissors!” he shouted, taking the opportunity that was presented. The stygian pincers glowed with light and shot out a cutting blade of energy from several meters away. The sickle-shaped arc tore through the air towards VictoryGreymon.

However, VictoryGreymon reacted stunningly quickly, especially for a Digimon who was usually clumsy. With deft timing, he cut his swing short and raised his left arm in front of his body. “Victory Shield!” he called out. The pair of triangular, metal wings jutting from his back suddenly detached and combined into one. They formed a protrusive, tetragonal shield that fit over his left forearm.

The blade of energy slammed against the shield and broke against its might, splitting off and passing harmlessly around VictoryGreymon’s body.

SaviorHackmon watched as GrandisKuwagamon flew in for another aggressive strike. He wanted to help, but he was conflicted. He looked at Paildramon for orders. “What should we do, over-sergeant?” he asked her.

“We should hang back for now,” Paildramon explained to him. “If we try to interfere in a one-on-one melee fight, we’ll only get in VictoryGreymon’s way. He’ll worry about hitting us with the Dramon Breaker and he’ll hold back; that would put him at a disadvantage. Right now, he has the sheer power capable of defeating GrandisKuwagamon. We should focus on watching his back from a distance and attack GrandisKuwagamon from a range whenever he disengages. If VictoryGreymon ends up in a bad position, then we’ll step in.”

SaviorHackmon nodded. His golden eyes softened. “Should we really be trying to defeat GrandisKuwagamon after everything that he said…?” he asked, his voice clouded with doubt and uncertainty.

“Yes,” Paildramon said plainly. “By defeating him here, we’re doing GrandisKuwagamon a favour in the long run, even if he doesn’t see it that way. If he escapes and becomes our enemy again, it will only cause problems for himself… as well as the rest of us. The further GrandisKuwagamon gets from us, the greater the chance we’ll lose him for good.” She nodded at VictoryGreymon. “That’s why VictoryGreymon is so determined to defeat him right now…”

SaviorHackmon frowned as he took in her words. “I see…” he murmured, looking back at the duelling pair.

Paildramon looked at SaviorHackmon. “Flank him from the left. If GrandisKuwagamon breaks away, open fire,” she ordered him, readying the cannons attached to her hips as well as her extendable claws.

Meanwhile, GrandisKuwagamon closed in on VictoryGreymon with lightning speed. He thrust his right arm. The Gran Killers clashed with the Victory Shield, which VictoryGreymon raised in time to block the slash. GrandisKuwagamon swerved to the left and followed up with a left hook.

The trio of claws slammed into VictoryGreymon’s armoured face and sent a throbbing ache through his jaw. His head jerked to the side and his guard momentarily fell. GrandisKuwagamon grabbed the ends of the V-shaped crest on VictoryGreymon’s helmet and used it to force VictoryGreymon’s face down into his rising knee. The insect Digimon drove his knee into VictoryGreymon’s snout one more time before the dragon man threw his left arm forwards and bashed GrandisKuwagamon in the face with his angular shield.

GrandisKuwagamon grunted and staggered backwards, a bloody crack forming on his lower lip. He scowled at VictoryGreymon, who glared back at him with intense, glistening eyes. VictoryGreymon swept the Dramon Breaker down on GrandisKuwagamon in a sharp, diagonal angle. The obsidian beetle raised his Gran Killers as the weighty slab of bladed metal crashed into him. He managed to block the attack by raising his gauntlets in front of his body, but the sheer shock and strength of the blow send pain shooting up his forearms and bashed him downwards several meters.

VictoryGreymon narrowed his eyes and used the added distance between them to his advantage. He lowered his sword into a middle guard stance, holding the claymore perpendicular to his waist. He held the hilt in both hands and visible particles of energy began to gather towards the trifurcated blades. The metal of the sword soaked in this energy and became radiant as the power was drawn from the air around him. The concentrated, atmospheric energy brimmed and began to swell along the length of the sword. The Dramon Breaker soon became engulfed in a pillar of power.

“Trident Gaia!” VictoryGreymon yelled out with a passionate growl. Suddenly, a massive pillar of blazing, white energy surged from the three tips of the Dramon Breaker. The giant column of destruction surged forwards like a river. The beam tore through the air and threatened to engulf GrandisKuwagamon.

GrandisKuwagamon’s eye widened as he watched the stream of energy barrelled towards him. He flew to the right to avoid the beam, which seemed to be attached to VictoryGreymon’s sword as it elongated. However, when he thought he was in the clear, VictoryGreymon suddenly swung the Dramon Breaker after GrandisKuwagamon, dragging the beam along with it. GrandisKuwagamon looked over his shoulder and swore when he saw the pillar of energy tailing him.

The insect swordsman suddenly dove downwards and flew towards VictoryGreymon by flying underneath the beam. The dragon man pushed the hundred meter-long beam blade downwards. The massive tip slammed into the ground with a massive tremor as the ground around it was annihilated under the pressure.

GrandisKuwagamon used his speed to his advantage, racing underneath the length of the beam. He used it as cover, flying in VictoryGreymon’s blind spot as he approached. He closed in on VictoryGreymon as the beam began to weaken and thin out. He closed his pincers around VictoryGreymon’s armoured angle and yanked him down, dragging VictoryGreymon downwards.

GrandisKuwagamon released him and flew up behind VictoryGreymon, dragging his Gran Killers across his back. He slammed his foot into the small of the dragon’s spine and proceeded to slash his Gran Killers across VictoryGreymon’s left arm. The claws hit the upper part of VictoryGreymon’s forearm, just above the shield and the protective belts, cutting through his orange scales and causing blood to leak out onto the leather.

VictoryGreymon cried out with pain and swung around with a broad but accurate sweep of the Dramon Breaker. The mighty sword cleaved through GrandisKuwagamon’s shoulder guard and cut into his black carapace, bruising the flesh underneath and drawing blood. The heavy piece of metal bashed GrandisKuwagamon away and caused him to hiss with pain, but he was able to recover swiftly.

He flew up and circled around above VictoryGreymon before suddenly descending on him. He drove his foot into VictoryGreymon’s stomach and snapped his pincers shut around his shoulders, using his momentum to push VictoryGreymon down towards the ground.

As he felt himself plummeting under GrandisKuwagamon’s force and weight, VictoryGreymon struggled in vain. He wasn’t able to stop himself from falling. Acting quickly, he detached the Victory Shield back into its component parts and caused the pieces of metal to attach to his back once again. With his wings back in place, he regained his aerial mobility and he was able to slow his fall towards the ground.

Sensing this, GrandisKuwagamon scowled and released VictoryGreymon, pushing off his abs and driving his foot into VictoryGreymon’s face in a painful bicycle kick. As GrandisKuwagamon flipped upwards acrobatically, as soon as he was upside down, he aimed his glowing pincers at the enemy below him. “Grandis Scissors!” he shouted, unleashing an arc of energy from his forceps that slammed into VictoryGreymon at point blank range and sent him crashing into the ground meters below him.

VictoryGreymon felt his back impact the grass below and he let out a winded gasp as a strand of bloody saliva escaped his opened maw. GrandisKuwagamon looked down at the prone dragon beneath him and didn’t waste the opportunity of having his opponent lying on the ground. The merciless bug suddenly descended feet-first, aiming to stomp the soldier into the ground.

As GrandisKuwagamon fell onto VictoryGreymon like a meteor, the dragon man acted at the last moment. VictoryGreymon sprang to life and grabbed GrandisKuwagamon’s ankles, the bug’s feet inches away from his face. GrandisKuwagamon’s eye widened and he tried to resist, but it was too late. VictoryGreymon kept a tight hold on the insect above him as he sat up, and suddenly slammed GrandisKuwagamon hard into the ground.

As the humanoid bug landed painfully on his back, VictoryGreymon stood to his feet on shaky legs, one of his hands still holding the bug’s ankles. With a sharp roar or effort, VictoryGreymon pulled GrandisKuwagamon’s ankle up and dragged the insect’s body over his head with his immense strength. With one smooth motion, he sent GrandisKuwagamon slamming into the ground once again.

The mercenary’s back slammed against the patch of hard dirt and grass, and he cough violently as the shock of impact swept through his body. VictoryGreymon raised the Dramon Breaker and stepped over GrandisKuwagamon, looking down at the injured bug with a frown. He placed his clawed foot on GrandisKuwagamon’s chest and pointed the tips of the Dramon Breaker down towards GrandisKuwagamon’s collar. “Surrender, Grandis. It’s over…” he told him.

GrandisKuwagamon grimaced, but he glared defiantly up at the dragon standing over him. “Not a chance…” he answered, his voice rough and scathing. “You’re gonna have to kill me… So, do it, V. Kill me.”

“No… I’ll never kill anybody! Life is too precious!” VictoryGreymon protested. “Surrender, Grandis!”

“Idiot,” GrandisKuwagamon muttered. He grabbed a handful of mud and dirt and suddenly threw it into VictoryGreymon’s face.

“Gah!” VictoryGreymon choked out, clutching his face with a hand and staggering backwards as his eyes stung and watered. “That was dirty!” he shouted, using his fingers to try to wipe the dust and grime out of his red, irritated eyes.

“So is this!” GrandisKuwagamon exclaimed, rushing forwards and cracking his knuckles across VictoryGreymon’s jaw. He followed up by tackling VictoryGreymon down and clamping his pincers around VictoryGreymon's arms. The powerful mandibles crushed his arms against his sides, cutting at the flesh as they did so. A pained snarl escaped VictoryGreymon's mouth and he knew he had to get out of this before the sheer pressure broke his bones.

VictoryGreymon still held the Dramon Breaker in his right hand, but he couldn’t use it at this close of a range. However, he remembered that he had another tactic that he could use…

“I’m sorry, Grandis. I’ve got no choice…” VictoryGreymon spoke, his eyes hardening. “Assault Mode!”

The Dramon Breaker suddenly detached into two component parts. The massive, three-pronged blade of the broadsword ejected from the V-shaped crossguard and the hilt of the sword. The blade slid in horizontally to a socket inside of the armoured bracelet over VictoryGreymon’s right forearm. As the Dramon Breaker’s blade locked into place over VictoryGreymon’s wrist, the crossguard also moved and the hilt it attached to slotted into the socket on VictoryGreymon’s left vambrace. The V-shaped crossguard closed up, the two sides combining to form a dagger, but it could also be opened and closed to use like a vice.

As the pressure on VictoryGreymon’s biceps increased, he stabbed the tip of the golden hilt on his left wrist into GrandisKuwagamon’s leg. The beetle cried out with pain and released the crushing hold he had around VictoryGreymon. The dragon man swung his arm and bashed GrandisKuwagamon off of him.

Clutching his leg, GrandisKuwagamon stood unevenly to his feet. He glared at VictoryGreymon, who rose to his feet as well. “Damn it…” he growled, staring at VictoryGreymon in a rage. He beat his wings and leapt into the air to take the pressure off of his wounded leg. “Don’t **** with me, V. I will beat your ass into the ground.”

“I have to do this!” VictoryGreymon shouted out, jumping up and flying after him. He swept the blade of his right hand down, but GrandisKuwagamon was able to block it with his ebony gauntlet. He corrected by stabbing the short dagger on his left wrist forwards. Although GrandisKuwagamon was able to evade the stab, it still grazed his bicep. VictoryGreymon continued his onslaught by driving his foot into GrandisKuwagamon’s chest. He beamed GrandisKuwagamon across his head using the blunt side of the Dramon Breaker’s blade, and then he spun around and whipped his tail into the insect’s side.

When VictoryGreymon was in his Assault Mode, he had greater mobility since his heavy sword was broken into components that were fixed on his arm. However this had the drawback of not having as much power as when he wielded his mighty sword. But in the situation of fighting a fast, agile enemy like GrandisKuwagamon, his Assault Mode was preferable.

The bruised and bloodied mercenary staggered backwards with a scowl. GrandisKuwagamon was at his limit. His muscles were numb with pain and his body felt weak and broken. However, he refused to give in. He was sure that VictoryGreymon was hurting just as much as he was. He glared at his opponent with disdain.

Without another word, GrandisKuwagamon blitzed towards VictoryGreymon. He started by driving his Gran Killers into VictoryGreymon’s abdomen, which formed spider cracks in the thick plate metal. He then followed up with his right, sending his three claws speeding towards VictoryGreymon’s face.

VictoryGreymon raised his left hand and opened up the dagger into a vice. He closed the metal ends around GrandisKuwagamon’s wrist and stopped the long trio of blades inches away from his face. With the mercenary in his grasp, he raced forwards, drove his knee into beetle’s gut, and grabbed hold of his left wrist with his other hand. He then splayed GrandisKuwagamon’s arms out and moved in so that his face was centimeters away from GrandisKuwagamon’s.

“Surrender, Grandis! I’m not messing around! Please, just do it!” he pleaded him fierily.

GrandisKuwagamon’s eye narrowed and he stared balefully at the dragon who was an inch away from his face. “You’re… not taking me seriously, are you?” he asked him with pure disdain. “You aren’t going for any kill shots… You actually think that you can beat me using non fatal blows…”

“I’m not going to kill you, so it’s the only way to beat you…” VictoryGreymon insisted, sweat dripping down his face and falling off of his bloodied snout as he stared at GrandisKuwagamon.

“You think I’m going to let myself be defeated by a naïve, blundering moron like you…? VictoryGreymon… I’m gonna show you what happens when you underestimate me… I’m gonna make you take me seriously…” Suddenly, GrandisKuwagamon’s body became engulfed in light once more, growing within VictoryGreymon’s grasp and preventing him from restraining him. “Slide Evolution! GranKuwagamon!”

Before the light even faded, GranKuwagamon locked his pincers around VictoryGreymon and took a nose dive towards the ground. He stabbed the ends of his pincers into the earth and began dragging VictoryGreymon along the grass.

“VictoryGreymon!” Paildramon shouted, seeing that VictoryGreymon needed their help now. “Desperado Blaster!”

SaviorHackmon winced but was determined to help his friend as well. “Meteor Flame!”

The two aerial dragons began unleashing a double-pronged salvo of rapid-fire blasts onto GranKuwagamon’s back. The energy bullets and the fireballs both slammed into GranKuwagamon’s ample back and riddled his dorsal carapace with pressure and flames. GranKuwagamon growled out and released VictoryGreymon, faltering in his flight and skidding along the ground.

VictoryGreymon rolled away once he was freed and he picked himself up once again, his body shaking with strain and agony. A feral look appeared in his VictoryGreymon’s green eyes, and he released a draconic snarl as his adrenaline got the better of him. “Grandis!” he shouted in a roar, his sweaty, battered body heaving as he took in heavy breaths. He raised his brawny arms and ejected the two parts of the Dramon Breaker from his golden-yellow vambraces. The blade returned back to its placed within the V-shaped crossguard and the Dramon Breaker reformed.

Before the process could finish, GranKuwagamon was already speeding over to attack VictoryGreymon. He raised his giant forearm and prepared to stab his claws down on VictoryGreymon.

“Wire Punch!” Paildramon shouted out, extending her right hand firing all five cables from her claws. The cable-guided wires shot down from the air and coiled around GranKuwagamon’s forearm like a lasso, holding his arm back before he could hit her comrade.

“Damn it…!” GranKuwagamon growled desperately, trying to drag Paildramon towards him. He turned back to VictoryGreymon, who began running towards him. If he couldn’t get close to him…

GranKuwagamon tilted his head back and started building up dark energy within his maw, the seeping shadows gathering between his large forceps. “Catastrophe!” he shouted, unleashing a torrent of shadows onto VictoryGreymon.

VictoryGreymon swiped the Dramon Breaker down with crushing force, cleaving the swath of shadows down the middle, rending them asunder. However, as the shadows splayed outwards from the slash, they burned at VictoryGreymon’s sides painfully.

Once the abyssal blast subsided, VictoryGreymon rushed forwards and brought the blade down on GranKuwagamon. He attempted to fly to the side to evade, but the sword cut through his leg, crushing the protective carapace and nicking his flesh.

GranKuwagamon roared with pain and staggered into reverse, his leg limping as blood dripped out onto the grass. “You ****ing hero-wannabe…” he scathed, his mind clouded with pain and desperation. He hated to admit it, but he knew he couldn’t keep this up. He just needed one good strike and he was certain that VictoryGreymon would crumble. The dragon was getting as desperate as he was. He glared at VictoryGreymon, his blood red eyes glowing with defiance. “I won’t be defeated… by the likes of you…”

GranKuwagamon shook his arm free from Paildramon’s cables and then wrenched his head forwards. His pincers glowed with spatial energy and the air in front of him began to warp and fracture. “Zone Black Hole!” he shouted, clamping his pincer shut and tearing a hole through the fabric of space. He beat his wings and dove into the rift.

“Damn it…” Paildramon growled, watching as the large, black Digimon disappeared from sight and the portal closed behind him. “Be careful, VictoryGreymon!”

VictoryGreymon panted and looked around his grassy surroundings carefully. He listened for movements and his eyes darted back and forth alertly.

He didn’t notice the rift slowly opening about thirty meters behind him. GranKuwagamon slowly emerged from the black void, his crimson eyes gleaming with predatory intensity. His pincers slowly began to glow as they built up dimension-cutting energy. The deadly forceps brimmed with power as they became charged to their limits.

GranKuwagamon stalked forwards a few paces before stopping. With spatial power emanating from his mandibles, GranKuwagamon acted. Not shouting out his attack name in order to maintain his stealth, he fired a massive arc of energy from his pincers. The bladed sickle sliced through the air, distorting the space around it as it soared. The blade cut towards VictoryGreymon from behind poised to slice through him.

Paildramon looked and saw the attack closing in on him. Her eyes widened. “Victory—“

Before she could finish, VictoryGreymon spun around on his heel to face the incoming arc. Glaring at it with determination, the dragon man raised the Dramon Breaker horizontally in front of him. The two outer blades of the Dramon Breaker suddenly branched outwards forty five degrees. The three blades fanned out and the sword began to emanate a transparent veil.

“Victory Charge!” he shouted, pouring his energy into the Dramon Breaker. Right as the blast was a meter away from him, a hexagon barrier formed from the Dramon Breaker’s tips. VictoryGreymon dug his toe claws into the grass and held firm as the blade slammed into his barrier.

The sickle strained for a few moments before it suddenly was pushed back the way it came. The arc of spatial power sliced through the air, right back towards GranKuwagamon.

“What…?” GranKuwagamon could only respond as his own attack came shooting back at him. The moment he began to respond, it was already too late. The arc slammed into his shoulder, slicing through his carapace and cutting down the length of his back.

GranKuwagamon howled in pain and his legs gave way. He crumbled to the grass, his pincer-clad head hitting the ground hard. Blood oozed out of his wound and soaked the grass beneath him.

VictoryGreymon panted and lowered the barrier, the blades reforming into three parallel ones. He took a few steps forward beginning to relax. As he observed GranKuwagamon’s crippled form, he cautiously approached.

However, GranKuwagamon refused to give in. Despite his jellified muscles and the gaping, seeping wound in his shoulder, he raised his body and aimed his head. “Dimension Scissors…!”

He fired off another weak blast from his mandibles. The crescent arc flew through the air, cutting through the grass beneath it to form a long trench. However, the blast missed its target, passing by VictoryGreymon harmlessly.

VictoryGreymon grimaced and raised his sword a final time, staring across at GranKuwagamon.

“Don’t you look at me like that…” GranKuwagamon spat, blood dripping from his insect mouth. “Don’t look at me… with those sad, pitying, puppy dog eyes… I don’t want your damn pity…” He snarled, his legs trembling as he struggled even to remain standing. He heaved and coughed haggardly, feeling his energy all but drained.

Despite it all, he forced himself to stand defiant. His eyes burned crimson and he levelled an intense, rebellious glare. “I won’t be defeated… by the wide-eyed… naïve… pathetic… joke that you are… VictoryGreymon… You can’t beat me… I won’t let you… Not you…” he wheezed, shadows frothing from his mouth. “You think… you can save me…? Who’s gonna… save you?! VictoryGreymon! You’re… You’re finished! Catastrophe!

Using almost all of his remaining energy, GranKuwagamon released a massive wave of shadows towards VictoryGreymon.

VictoryGreymon winced and aimed the Dramon Breaker in front of him, the trident tips pointing directly at GrandisKuwagamon. The blade began to glow with a radiant, white splendor. The atmospheric energy around him began to form into condensed energy particles that the blades sucked into its form. As the wave of darkness rolled towards him, the Dramon Breaker shone brightly, defiant in the face of the darkness around it.

“Grandis…” VictoryGreymon whispered with a tearful wince. He closed his eyes and took a breath. He slowly opened his eyes and stared at the surge of abyssal shadows with determination. “…Trident Gaia!” he shouted passionately.

On cue, the sword erupted with a column of coruscating energy. The beam surged forwards and slammed into the shadows. The beam of light and the dark energy held against each other, battling for supremacy. Although GranKuwagamon’s attack was powerful and desperate, VictoryGreymon’s was focused and resolute. The beacon began to overpower GranKuwagamon’s attack, and the shadows began splaying off all around the beam. The tendrils of darkness branched outwards wildly, ripping through the ground and flailing wildly as the light began to overpower them.

VictoryGreymon continued pouring energy into his beam, which thickened and elongated as it began to overpower GranKuwagamon. VictoryGreymon’s ray of light finally broke through, penetrating the darkness around it. The dark energy began to crumble under its strength and the torrent of darkness became enveloped with intense brilliance.

“It… How…?” GranKuwagamon whispered, watching as his darkness was nullified. He could only stand there and watch as the massive beam came flooding towards him. He knew he was too weak to move. The only thing he could do was wait and for the inevitable.

As the beam closed in on him, the blazing column of energy illuminated GrandisKuwagamon's face. A sparkle of fear could be seen in his crimson eyes as the pillar descended on him. As the light devoured the land in front of him, he instinctively wrenched his head back and squirmed helplessly. It was all he could do before the beam slammed into his face and enveloped him in its folds.

The beam tore around his body, fracturing his exoskeleton, burning his body, and causing his legs to buckle. A howl of agony was ripped from GranKuwagamon’s throat. He was crushed under the might of the energy and he was swept off his feet, engulfed by the tearing power.

After a few moments of holding the beam, it finally faded. VictoryGreymon collapsed to his hands and knees, the power sapped from his body.

He kneeled at the end of a massive, smoking trench that had been created by the strength of his attack. VictoryGreymon slowly raised his head, beads of sweat dripping off of his moist, red hair. He looked down the length of the trench. He had to know that GranKuwagamon was alright.

He saw GranKuwagamon lying in a smoking heap at the other end of the trench. He was smouldering and his shell was cracked in multiple places. GranKuwagamon was unmoving, but to VictoryGreymon’s relief, his data remained intact. He wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if he had killed him.

“VictoryGreymon!” SaviorHackmon shouted, shooting down through the air and landing beside him.

Paildramon landed beside him as well, a deeply concerned look in her red eyes as she stared at VictoryGreymon. “Are you alright? Are you hurt badly?” she asked, kneeling down beside him and placing a hand on his shoulder.

“I’ll be… fine…” VictoryGreymon insisted, his deep voice wispy and haggard. “Check on… Gran…dis…”

SaviorHackmon nodded and looked at Paildramon. “Want me to check on him?” he offered.

“Please,” she responded, glancing up at the caped dragon before looking back at VictoryGreymon. “You need to lie down, VictoryGreymon.”

“Okay…” VictoryGreymon complied submissively, pretty much collapsing to his side in exhaustion.

SaviorHackmon jogged along the length of the smoking trench, over to GranKuwagamon. The fugitive’s body was in rough shape and he wasn’t moving. He seemed unconscious.

“GranKuwagamon! Are you alright?” SaviorHackmon asked, frowning deeply as he looked at the large bug. He didn’t get a reply, telling him that GranKuwagamon had been knocked out. “Damn it…” he whispered bitterly. “Why did you have to go this far, you stubborn idiot…?”

“Paildramon! SaviorHackmon!” a voice called out to them from overhead.

Both SaviorHackmon and Paildramon looked up to see a cobalt blur moving against the dark grey sky. The striking blue afterimage suddenly stopped moving and revealed itself to be UlforceVeedramon, who hovered in the air with his beam blades at the ready.

“UlforceVeedramon, Sir,” Paildramon greeted, looking up at him. She offered a small, playful smile. “You’re a bit late.”

“Don’t call me ‘Sir’, over sergeant,” UlforceVeedramon insisted with a smirk. He looked around at the destruction around him. “I got worried when GrandisKuwagamon didn’t show up at our ambush after the prescribed time span, so I came here to see if you came into contact with him. …Looks like you did.”

“We just managed to defeat him, though it was mostly VictoryGreymon’s doing,” Paildramon noted, gesturing down to VictoryGreymon. When she looked down at him, she saw that VictoryGreymon was fast asleep.

SaviorHackmon began to walk back over to Paildramon, away from GranKuwagamon. “What are we going to do with GranKuwagamon now, UlforceVeedramon-shishou?” he asked, looking up at the azure Royal Knight.

UlforceVeedramon looked down at SaviorHackmon. “Well, we’re going to have to bring him back to the headquarters, and then from there…” UlforceVeedramon blinked, spotting something out of the corner of his eye. “W-Wait a second!”

It turned out that GranKuwagamon wasn’t unconscious. He was just barely stirring, unable to even stand. But he slowly closed his pincers across the ground beneath him, causing the dimensional data to open up.

“Zone… Black… Hole…” GranKuwagamon murmured half-consciously, dragging himself inside the tiny hole with the last bit of energy that he could muster.

“GranKuwagamon, don’t!” SaviorHackmon yelled.

“Stop him!” UlforceVeedramon shouted, beginning to speed over.

Paildramon’s eyes widened. “No!” she exclaimed, shooting wires from her hands to try and grab him with her Wire Punch.

However, by the time they started moving, they were already too late. GranKuwagamon allowed gravity to pull him inside the rift and the dimensional scar snapped shut behind him, right as UlforceVeedramon emerged beside it.

UlforceVeedramon stumbled back as Paildramon’s wires nearly grabbed him in lieu of GrandisKuwagamon. “Woah!” he uttered. He clenched his teeth and the Royal Knight stared down at the grass where GranKuwagamon was. “Damn it… He could have teleported anywhere… Fan out, everyone!” he ordered. “He can’t have gone far! I’ll go and tell the advance team!”

“U-understood,” Paildramon acknowledged, although internally cursing the turn of events.

“Y-Yes, Sir,” SaviorHackmon obeyed with a grimace.

UlforceVeedramon nodded at them and speeded off now that the search for the fugitive was on, although he wondered if they would be able to find him now.

Paildramon took to the air and began flying to the west while SaviorHackmon looked eastward. As she surveyed the empty landscape, she winced and thought to herself about everything GrandisKuwagamon had told them.

Damn it… Are you really that stubborn, GrandisKuwagamon…? What are you thinking…?”

-

(Continued in the next post)
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
(Continued from the previous post)

-

About two kilometers away, the dimensional rift opened up ten meters above a rushing river. The portal spewed out GranKuwagamon’s limp body.

The massive beetle crashed into the dynamic river with a massive splash. He struggled against the current but his muscles were too weak and he began to get sucked under. That final Zone Black Hole was too much for his body to handle. His energy was completely spent.

His body flashed with light underneath the gushing water and the red body of a beetle emerged, flailing his four arms out to try and remain afloat. His hold over his GranKuwagamon body had broken and he had been forced to revert to his Kuwagamon form. Kuwagamon gasped for breath and struggled not to sink. Even with his two-level reversion, he still didn’t have enough energy to swim on his own.

“S-****…! Power… Guillotine!” he shouted, unleashing a blast of cutting energy from his pincers that ripped into a nearby patch of trees over on the left bank of the river. One of the trees was rend in two, and the trunk of the tree toppled over into the river water ahead of him.

As the tree fell into the river with a splash and began to float, Kuwagamon swam over and grabbed hold of the thick trunk, using it to float in the river. “Ngh… Guh…” Kuwagamon groaned, lurching over tree trunk and suddenly puking out the contents of his stomach into the water.

He had used too much power. His body was injured and in pain, and he had pushed himself far beyond his limits. All Kuwagamon could do was cling onto the tree and allow the river to carry him down stream. He used the tree as both a raft and as cover if he needed it. He continued to float down the river for the remainder of the day, doing his best not to slip underwater or catch any unwanted attention.

It was an undignified escape. But to him… it was freedom.
About two kilometers away, the dimensional rift opened up ten meters above a rushing river. The portal spewed out GranKuwagamon’s limp body.

The massive beetle crashed into the dynamic river with a massive splash. He struggled against the current but his muscles were too weak and he began to get sucked under. That final Zone Black Hole was too much for his body to handle. His energy was completely spent.

His body flashed with light underneath the gushing water and the red body of a beetle emerged, flailing his four arms out to try and remain afloat. His hold over his GranKuwagamon body had broken and he had been forced to revert to his Kuwagamon form. Kuwagamon gasped for breath and struggled not to sink. Even with his two-level reversion, he still didn’t have enough energy to swim on his own.

“S-****…! Power… Guillotine!” he shouted, unleashing a blast of cutting energy from his pincers that ripped into a nearby patch of trees over on the left bank of the river. One of the trees was rend in two, and the trunk of the tree toppled over into the river water ahead of him.

As the tree fell into the river with a splash and began to float, Kuwagamon swam over and grabbed hold of the thick trunk, using it to float in the river. “Ngh… Guh…” Kuwagamon groaned, lurching over tree trunk and suddenly puking out the contents of his stomach into the water.

He had used too much power. His body was injured and in pain, and he had pushed himself far beyond his limits. All Kuwagamon could do was cling onto the tree and allow the river to carry him down stream. He used the tree as both a raft and as cover if he needed it. He continued to float down the river for the remainder of the day, doing his best not to slip underwater or catch any unwanted attention.

It was an undignified escape. But to him… it was freedom.
About two kilometers away, the dimensional rift opened up ten meters above a rushing river. The portal spewed out GranKuwagamon’s limp body.

The massive beetle crashed into the dynamic river with a massive splash. He struggled against the current but his muscles were too weak and he began to get sucked under. That final Zone Black Hole was too much for his body to handle. His energy was completely spent.

His body flashed with light underneath the gushing water and the red body of a beetle emerged, flailing his four arms out to try and remain afloat. His hold over his GranKuwagamon body had broken and he had been forced to revert to his Kuwagamon form. Kuwagamon gasped for breath and struggled not to sink. Even with his two-level reversion, he still didn’t have enough energy to swim on his own.

“S-****…! Power… Guillotine!” he shouted, unleashing a blast of cutting energy from his pincers that ripped into a nearby patch of trees over on the left bank of the river. One of the trees was rend in two, and the trunk of the tree toppled over into the river water ahead of him.

As the tree fell into the river with a splash and began to float, Kuwagamon swam over and grabbed hold of the thick trunk, using it to float in the river. “Ngh… Guh…” Kuwagamon groaned, lurching over tree trunk and suddenly puking out the contents of his stomach into the water.

He had used too much power. His body was injured and in pain, and he had pushed himself far beyond his limits. All Kuwagamon could do was cling onto the tree and allow the river to carry him down stream. He used the tree as both a raft and as cover if he needed it. He continued to float down the river for the remainder of the day, doing his best not to slip underwater or catch any unwanted attention.

It was an undignified escape. But to him… it was freedom.
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
Chapter 37: Solace (Part I)



It had been a day since GrandisKuwagamon eluded his pursuers.


Although UlforceVeedramon, Paildramon, and SaviorHackmon had searched vigilantly for hours, the mercenary managed to escape by slipping into the river and drifting downstream within the swift currents. The river had carried him northwest into the Republic of Node. Eventually, the river circled around and drained into the Fountain River that flowed from the Argent Mountains to the west of New Terminal.


The tree trunk that Kuwagamon had been using to float eventually snagged the riverbank and he washed up on the shores of the Fountain River, several kilometers downstream from New Terminal. Too weak to do much else, Kuwagamon could only drag himself ashore and collapse from exhaustion.


Fortunately for him, a Zudomon fisherman came across his body and hauled him back to New Terminal for medical aid. Due to his extensive injuries, Kuwagamon was treated by physicians with a full body healing technique and made to rest in one of the hospital beds.


As soon as he regained consciousness, Kuwagamon had slipped out of the hospital in the middle of the night. Despite not being fully recovered and needing rest, he knew he couldn’t stay around New Terminal for long. It was only a matter of time until the Royal Knights or their spies would find him there.


He left the city and made his way west to Dark Point. He knew that it was a risk going there, since he wasn’t sure if Blitzmon and Bolgmon were still in the city. However, it was the closest safe haven that he could think of. He needed to disappear under the radar and figure out what his next move was going to be. Luckily, he had a few contacts in the city that he could rely on.


The crimson beetle flew through the murky night sky that lingered over Dark Point. The moonlight played off his smooth, red carapace, causing it to shimmer dully as he flew out of the forest. He skimmed along the landscape, his wings a steady flutter as he approached the outskirts of the city.


He could see the dim lights of the city ahead of him. Since it was night time in Dark Point, despite it being almost constantly dark, there were fewer lights illuminating the city than there were in the daytime. This was better for him. At the moment, he just wanted to disappear for the rest of the night.


Upon nearing the city, Kuwagamon decided that he had enough energy to once again retake his GrandisKuwagamon form. It was a strain on his tired and weary body, but he evolved into GrandisKuwagamon. As the light of evolution disappeared, his sable body melded into the night sky, camouflaging him from view.


“Damn it… Almost there…” he whispered, his voice dry and wispy from pure exhaustion. He pushed onwards, his stubbornness counteracting his tiredness. He brought his hand up to his shoulder, which was wounded when VictoryGreymon reflected his own attack back at him. The gash in his carapace was healing over from the restorative treatment, but it still ached sharply.


GrandisKuwagamon crossed over the threshold of the city and descended down, onto one of the lamp-lit streets. As GrandisKuwagamon’s feet touched down on the cement, his wings flickered and relaxed as he shifted his body weight from his wings to his legs. The dusky beetle man relaxed his muscles for only a moment. He brought his hand up between his pincers and rubbed his face. “Okay… Just focus on getting to the bar…” he told himself, releasing a tired sigh.


Not wasting another moment, GrandisKuwagamon walked out of the soft glow of the nearby street lantern. In the blink of an eye, he stepped into the black and melted into the darkness of an alley.


He stealthily made his way through the city, using the familiar shadows as cover. He travelled for twenty minutes or so, traipsing from street-to-street, avoiding the busy thoroughfares and the usual nightlife spots. He knew Dark Point like the back of his hand, so traversing the city was simple.


GrandisKuwagamon travelled deeper into the city, into one of the shadier districts. He walked down a dimly lit street towards a small, hole-in-the-wall tavern that was hidden between two buildings on each side. It was a small building with four levels; the main floor was where the bar was located, and the two levels above it were guest rooms, while the top floor was the proprietor’s residence. A weathered, partially-rusted metal sign hung above the entrance, which presented a picture of a Seadramon holding a pint of beer with its tail and a fishhook beside its head. The Digimoji below it read, ‘The Hook and Eel Pub’.


GrandisKuwagamon cautiously crossed the street and stopped outside the tavern. He could see the faint glow of candles within the clouded, glass windows. The grime on the outer window sill was building up and it looked like they hadn’t been washed for awhile, not that anybody could immediately tell in the dark. He stepped up to the door and listened in before entering. He could hear a few voices inside. There was soft, casual and intimate chatter. It wasn’t the raucous yells and boisterous laughter that was common for other Dark Point bars. The Hook and Eel was comparatively low-key. That had been why Black Pincer Company had chosen it as their local.


“It’s gotta be around midnight now…” GrandisKuwagamon mused. “Must be last call soon.”


The fugitive mercenary stepped up to the entrance and extended his hand to the brass door handle. As GrandisKuwagamon’s stiff, black fingers brushed against the smooth metal, he hesitated.


Uncertainty gripped him as he considered entering the bar. What if he saw Blitzmon and Bolgmon inside? What if they saw him? He wasn’t sure how he would react, but he was positive that it would be badly. He wasn’t sure that he could face them right now. Despite his aloof exterior, his insides were a mess. After bearing all to Paildramon, VictoryGreymon, and SaviorHackmon, he felt fragile, although he would never admit it to himself. Regardless, it manifested in hesitation as he brooded over whether to enter.


If he saw them inside, he didn’t trust himself not to lash out and attack them. And he didn’t trust them not to try and finish what they started. He knew Blitzmon had doubts about what happened, but he also knew Blitzmon well enough to know that when he committed to something, he saw it through to the end. GrandisKuwagamon was in no physical state for a fight and he knew it. If he tried to fight the pair of them, he would probably lose, and he didn’t know what would happen next.


Despite these misgivings, GrandisKuwagamon felt like he didn’t have many alternatives. This was the only place that he felt safe right now. The owner was one of the few Digimon that he felt he could trust at the moment.


So, GrandisKuwagamon stifled his weakness. He summoned his courage and determination, and his grip on the handle tightened. GrandisKuwagamon twisted his wrist, turned the handle, and pulled the door open. With a steady breath, he walked inside the bar with an air of confidence.


After immediately scanning the tavern’s interior, he was relieved to see that Blitzmon and Bolgmon were not present. Instead, there were only five patrons – three sitting together at the booth adjacent to the entrance, and a pair sitting at another along the left hand wall.


The bar was rectangular in shape, with rows of booths along three of the walls. On the opposite side of the bar was the wooden counter, where there was several different beer taps protruding proudly along the wooden surface. At the far right corner, opposite to the entrance, was a pair of washroom doors. Beside it was a staircase leading up to the second floor where the guest room was. Standing behind the bar was a tall, slender, ebony dragon – a Devidramon.


The Devidramon’s four crimson eyes landed on GrandisKuwagamon and widened upon recognising him. The Devidramon bartender suddenly walked over to a bell that was hanging on the side of the bar counter and rang it. As the metallic tolling loudly rang out throughout the bar, the five regular customers all looked over at the noir dragon.


“Grandis…?” he whispered with shock. After a moment, the Devidramon suddenly called out. “Okay, guys! Last call! Finish up your drinks and settle up! Don’t make me have to paralyze you and drag your asses out to the curb!” he said with a touch of humour in his voice.


The handful of shady-looking customers finished the rest of their drinks and walked over to the bar counter to pay for their drinks. GrandisKuwagamon walked up alongside the counter and watched as money exchanged hands. He stayed out of the way, standing at the place where the counter met the back wall. He watched as the five patrons said their goodbyes to Devidramon and shuffled out of the tavern to the street.


As soon as the door closed behind them, Devidramon walked out from the bar counter and locked the front entrance, making sure to flip the sign around to say that they were closed for the night. Once that was done, the slender dragon stalked back to the counter and stared at GrandisKuwagamon with disbelief. “Grandis…? It’s been awhile,” he mused, folding his long, lanky arms.


“Yo, Dev,” GrandisKuwagamon nonchalantly replied, putting up a front to conceal his true physical and emotional state. “It sure has. A lot of ****’s come up.”


“I’ll say! What the hell? Blitz and Bolg told me that the Royal Knights captured your ass!” Devidramon exclaimed.


GrandisKuwagamon fought back a bitter scowl, which ended up turning into an annoyed grunt. “I’ll bet they did…” he sarcastically noted, taking a seat on one of the bar stools. “I was wondering what those bastards have been saying to explain it…”


Devidramon’s four eyes frowned and he stepped around behind the bar counter to stand opposite to him. “Oh. So that’s how it is, huh…?” he wondered, picking up the acrimony in Grandis’ face. “What happened? A lovers’ tiff?”


GrandisKuwagamon managed a ghost of a smirk at the bartender. “A bit more than that… The assholes sold me out to the Royal Knights,” he explained. “They’re probably acting like it was an accident.”


“Hell… Really?” He squinted his multiple eyes at GrandisKuwagamon to see if he was joking. “…You’re serious…” Devidramon sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “So… Black Pincer Company…?”


“We’re finished,” GrandisKuwagamon answered decisively, making sure that the strength in his voice underlined the point.


“****… You three were some of my best customers…” the bar owner groaned wistfully.


GrandisKuwagamon shrugged. “Hey, this is my local in Dark Point. I’m still coming here,” he explained.


“Yeah, I know you are, Grandis,” Devidramon deduced with a wry smile. “I’ve got all your favourite beers here, and nobody pours them like I pour ‘em! A connoisseur like you would never settle for anything but the best, right?”


“You can save the sales pitch,” GrandisKuwagamon explained with a grin. “I’m already sold.”


Devidramon chuckled a bit. “Yeah… but the problem is, so are Blitz and Bolg. I doubt any of you will go somewhere else. I don’t want you and those two fighting it out in my tavern next time you’re all here. Got it? No aggravation.”


“I’ll try,” GrandisKuwagamon responded half-heartedly. “While we’re on the subject, I could really use a beer right now.”


“I’m not supposed to serve after I close, but hey, you’re a pal so I’ll make an exception,” the dark dragon said. “Which of your usual? Maybe WarGreymon’s Finest?” Devidramon offered, grabbing a clean, glass mug from the shelf.


GrandisKuwagamon winced for a split moment. “…Nah,” he responded, shuffling slightly on the bar stool. He raised his hand and rubbed his neck with discomfort. “Uh… Let’s go with the Amber Honey E.S.B.”


“Coming right up,” Devidramon responded, walking over to a beer tap to begin pulling the pint with masterful ease. The caramel hued liquid poured out of the tap and began rolling down the side of the glass, pooling into it perfectly with absolutely zero head. As the liquid continued to fill the mug, Devidramon looked over at GrandisKuwagamon studiously. “…You look like you’ve been through hell.”


“I’ve had a rough couple months,” GrandisKuwagamon explained dryly. “Think I could get a room here? I really need a place to stay for a few days while I get things sorted out.”


“Of course, but…” Devidramon stalled. “Do I have to worry about the Royal Knights turning up on my front door?”


“Not if you don’t tell anybody I’m here,” GrandisKuwagamon responded with a mischievously enigmatic smirk. He leaned forward on the bar counter and eyed the mug of sparkling, amber beer that Devidramon placed in front of him. “Seriously, if anybody shows up asking questions about me, that means they already know where I am, so I’ll be getting the hell out anyways. Besides, the Royal Knights aren’t like some of the groups around Dark Point, so they won’t just barge in and start turning your bar upside down, I think.”


“You think… ****, I guess that’s the best guarantee I’m gonna get, isn’t it, Grandis?” Devidramon said with a lopsided grin.


“You won’t notice I’m here,” GrandisKuwagamon promised him. “By the way, I’m a bit short on cash at the moment… Between our hideout getting ransacked and me getting sold out to the Royal Knobs, I don’t have two bits to put together.”


“It’s on the house,” Devidramon assured the scarab man. He grinned. “Just as long as you don’t end up mooching off me for weeks.”


GrandisKuwagamon shot him a flat stare. “I don’t freeload off people, Devi,” he emphatically told him. “I’ll reimburse you once the heat dies and I can start taking jobs again.”


“No worries…” Devidramon responded, taking a damp cloth and starting to polish off the smooth, wooden counter. He glanced up at GrandisKuwagamon, watching with his four eyes as he took long, steady swig of the beer. “How is it?”


GrandisKuwagamon’s eye softened as the carbonated bubbles popped against his parched tongue and the hardy, bittersweet flavour of caramel and honey washed across his taste buds. A true connoisseur, he savoured the smooth taste for a few moments before releasing a long sigh. “…Holy ****. You have no idea how much I needed that…” he responded, sighing with quenched satisfaction.


Devidramon chuckled. “I’ll bet. I’m sure you’ve been as dry as a SkullGreymon in a desert…” the ebony dragon mused as he continued to wipe down the bar. “So… What’s the plan?”


“Dunno… My client pool is kinda compromised now that I split from Blitzmon and Bolgmon… Gonna have to hit up some of my contacts to see if they’ve got anything for a solo freelancer. I’m gonna have to do a bit of rebranding…” GrandisKuwagamon replied, frowning as he placed the mug down. “I don’t know if I’ve got many options for work right now. It’ll be tough, trying to elbow into a new market.” He sighed and took another drink. “Not to mention the Royal Knights will be breathing down my neck…”


Devidramon frowned, seeing that the mercenary was having a tough time at the moment. “…No rush. You’ll figure it out.”


“Don’t have much choice, do I?” GrandisKuwagamon said with a sigh, fogging up the beer mug as he brought the rim to his lips and took another swig.


He placed the mug of beer down and watched as the deep, golden liquid rippled back and forth and bubbles fizzed to the top. His ruby eye stared with wistful contemplation into the glass. He squeezed the handle of the mug and the crimson of his eye dulled softly.


“If it’s me against the world, then I’ll do whatever it takes to survive.” His gaze hardened and his eye muscles narrowed. “Even if that means… working for him.”


-


The night passed into the morning. The clouds of the previous day thickened and rain showered across the Free Area. The precipitation drizzled down over Castle Albion, soaking the training grounds and the castle gardens. Rivulets of water streamed down the stone surfaces of the castle and pooled into the gutters along the stone courtyard and castle street. The emerald grass absorbed the water verdantly. A musty aroma of rain and wet stone lingered throughout the castle.


Within the main building of the castle, the events of the previous two days were still being processed. Paildramon and UlforceVeedramon’s search teams had lost their quarry. GrandisKuwagamon had managed to escape, and after a few hours, UlforceVeedramon made the call that they needed to call off the search and return to the headquarters empty-handed.


Paildramon stood alone in Alphamon’s office. Her waist, arm, and one of her wings were wrapped in cloth bandages, which helped the wounds she sustained in battle to heal. Reverting to her Paildramon form had minimized the wounds, but not entirely. Despite the injuries, she stood completely straight, at full attention.


Alphamon sat behind his desk, looking up at the tall, dragon woman. “Please, sit, Over-sergeant,” Alphamon offered, gesturing to the chair on the other side of his desk.


“Yes, sir,” she tentatively replied, taking the seat that was beside her and slowly sitting down on the cushioned chair. The softness of the seating was a relief to her sore muscles, but she felt uneasy speaking with Alphamon in such an informal way.


The raven-hued Royal Knight gazed across at Paildramon pensively. He raised a curved finger and gently stroked his chin. “…What happened?” he asked her simply.


Paildramon bowed her head and closed her eyes. “I’m sorry, sir. GrandisKuwagamon escaped. I accept full responsibility for the failure. It was my blunder…”


Alphamon smiled a bit. “This isn’t a disciplinary meeting, Paildramon…” he assured her. “I just want to hear from you what happened.”


Paildramon sighed and nodded. “My team and I were able to catch up with GrandisKuwagamon. I told him to surrender peacefully, but he refused. With negotiations broken down, we engaged in combat. GrandisKuwagamon is an extremely capable fighter, so VictoryGreymon, SaviorHackmon and I had trouble gaining the upper hand. We were at a stalemate until GrandisKuwagamon gained the advantage in the fight. He was able to grab Lance Corporal VictoryGreymon and use him as a hostage. We tried to negotiate with him. It was an emotionally charged situation. That was when…” Paildramon’s ruby eyes narrowed and softened as she recounted the memory of GrandisKuwagamon’s story. “…He revealed some personal things about himself. I don’t think it’s my place to go into details, but it helped to explain why he felt he needed to take such drastic actions.”


Alphamon arched a brow behind his all-encompassing black helmet. “Is that so…?” he wondered, the brief spike in pitch in his voice revealing his piqued interest at Paildramon’s words. “I don’t want to pry into his privacy, but I’m intrigued…”


The draconic over-sergeant looked up at Alphamon. “I’ll just say that he is a complicated Digimon who received a bad lot…” she judiciously replied. She frowned. “With that said, I’m not making excuses for his behaviour. I don’t believe that he was either. I just feel that I understand him better…”


“I see…” Alphamon understood, nodding gently. “What happened next?”


“VictoryGreymon broke free and the two of them engaged in single combat. I ordered SaviorHackmon not to intervene unless it was necessary because too many of us fighting GrandisKuwagamon at once would have been chaotic and dangerous. We backed VictoryGreymon up from a range and he was able to bring down GrandisKuwagamon himself. It was a bitter struggle. We thought that GrandisKuwagamon was rendered unconscious by VictoryGreymon’s Trident Gaia attack,” Paildramon continued recounting the events. She sighed. “VictoryGreymon fell unconscious from the struggle and Sir UlforceVeedramon showed up when he realised we had engaged the fugitive. As I was talking to him, GranKuwagamon used the remainder of his strength to escape using his Zone Black Hole ability. We searched the surrounding area for hours, but, regretfully, we couldn’t find him…”


Alphamon placed his elbows on his desk and leaned forwards so that his chin rested on his clasped hands. “I see…” he murmured.


“It was my fault. I should have checked to make sure that he was unconscious and properly restrained him,” Paildramon apologetically said, bowing her head humbly. “As the team leader, I take responsibility for his escape.”


Alphamon sighed. “It’s regrettable that he escaped… It doesn’t look good for us that we allowed him to escape our grasp,” the leader of the Royal Knights informed her soberly.


“Yes, sir,” Paildramon agreed contritely. “I apologise… If I had been more capable, this wouldn’t have happened.”


The heavily armoured Royal Knight closed his eyes thoughtfully. “However… It isn’t a major loss to us in terms of practical worth,” he explained. “GrandisKuwagamon has already told us all of the information that he knows, and he was able to help us figure out who Black Pincer Company’s client was.” Alphamon smiled at Paildramon with coyness and warmth. “I’m going to be optimistic and say that capturing GrandisKuwagamon at all and then losing him was a greater boon to us than if we didn’t take a gamble on him and simply shipped him off to Havelock Prison the moment that he caught him.”


Paildramon blinked at Alphamon’s unexpected spin on the situation. “Sir…?” she asked, a bit shocked that he was taking it so lightly. “I suppose that’s one way to look at it.”


Alphamon’s smile faded for a moment. “…I don’t know what GrandisKuwagamon’s intentions are,” he admitted. “I don’t know if we would have anything to gain by keeping him locked in jail. I don’t believe that imprisonment is necessarily always the right option… However, it is possible that GrandisKuwagamon could end up being our enemy in the future again. I really can’t say right now. Even though I have the Alpha inForce, I cannot truly predict the future… All that I do know is that we can’t afford to beat ourselves up over his escape, Paildramon. What’s done is done. Dwelling on one’s mistakes can be a dangerous and consuming path…” Alphamon smiled softly. “Trust me on that.”


“Yes, Sir Alphamon…” Paildramon agreed, considering his words.


“So, I would rather focus on the positive. Did we let a prisoner escape? Or did we gain valuable strategic information as part of a deal to let him go? I prefer to think of it as the latter,” Alphamon explained with a calm and charming optimism.


Paildramon nodded slightly. “Thank you, sir… So, you don’t want for us to search for him?” she inquired.


“I don’t see the purpose… Would I like to capture a fugitive prisoner out of principle? Yes, of course. However, I don’t think the benefits are worth the costs… We have much more pressing things to deal with at the moment, like Bagramon and the Demon Lords. I’m not sure that expending the resources to hunt him down would be wise. If we cross paths with GrandisKuwagamon again, we will deal with him if it comes to that. If not, I believe it is more important to focus on the high priority issues,” Alphamon explained.


“Yes, I agree, sir,” Paildramon concurred, nodding with understanding at his words. “Is there anything else you need to know?”


“No, that should be all, Paildramon. Thank you for your diligence…” he responded. “You are free to leave. Due to the weather, the Strike Forces’ training is on stand-by, so you should get some rest and allow those wounds to heal.”


Paildramon nodded gently. “Thank you, Sir Alphamon,” she replied, slowly standing to her feet and repressing a wince as the movements sent aches of pain through her bruised limbs.


“That reminds me… Tea can be quite medicinal,” Alphamon noted, standing up and taking a kettle of tea and a small cup from the sideboard. “I have to hold a meeting with the Royal Knights soon, but, before we go our different ways, please, try some.”


Paildramon watched as Alphamon began to pour the orange liquid into the tea cup. “I would be honoured to. Thank you very much,” she calmly said to him. She thought she noticed some solid bits as the liquid poured into the cup, but she politely didn’t mention anything. “It smells quite delicious.”


“Why, thank you, Paildramon,” Alphamon replied, smiling. “I added some flavours which should create a smooth interplay with the herbal notes of the tea, as well as improve the texture. Let me know what you think.”


When Alphamon finished trickling the steeped tea into the cup, he carefully passed it across his desk to Paildramon. Paildramon took the cup in her claws, holding it in her hands the proper way. She stared down at the steaming drink and was disturbed to see bits of something floating below the surface. She glanced back up at Alphamon to see if it was a mistake, but he seemed pleased with the drink, looking at her with an expectant smile.


It certainly didn’t look like a traditional cup of tea, but perhaps Alphamon was onto something that she didn’t know about. She did trust his judgment… Paildramon smiled at him uncertainly. “It looks like a very unique blend,” she said diplomatically.


“I hope it is. I have spent the last few evenings formulating it,” Alphamon proudly explained. “Please, give me your honest opinion though.”


Paildramon nodded and looked down at the drink, staring at it with hidden scepticism. Being a brave Digimon, she removed her helmet and raised the cup to her lips, taking a gentle sip.


At first, it was pleasant, fragrant taste rolled across her tongue, and she thought she might like this blend after all. However, then the herbal notes began to sour as an overpowering, acrid flavour hit her like a brick wall. The sourness washed over her mouth, causing her tongue to tense up and recede, and it began to overpower her senses. She began to choke down the liquid, and for some reason she began to feel a burning sensation in her nasal passages and sinuses. It took every ounce of her willpower not to let her face contort and she tried to force the powerful drink down without gagging.


Alphamon looked at Paildramon with an innocent smile, not noticing that her eyes were beginning to water in response to the sharp stinging in her nose. “What do you think, over-sergeant?” he asked blithely.


Paildramon winced and swallowed, forcing herself to look up at Alphamon with a thinly veiled grimace. “W-Well, s-sir…” she wheezed.


-


Half an hour passed and Alphamon held a meeting with all twelve of the Royal Knights and the four Captains of the Order’s military. In the meeting, he revealed the details of the covert operation that had seen Paildramon lead a team to Dark Point to find out the identity of the Digimon who was hiring Black Pincer Company. He explained the deal that he had made with GrandisKuwagamon, eventually leading to the situation in which GrandisKuwagamon escaped from their dungeons. With a heavy heart, Alphamon ended the explanation by telling them the clandestine conductor of Black Pincer Company’s actions, which had precipitated a war between the Order and the Metal Empire, as well as the subsequent release of the Demon Lords. He told them that it was Bagramon.


Alphamon sighed and looked around the circular, white table. He could see the mixed reactions of the Royal Knights’ faces. For some, it was shock, and for others, anger and annoyance. As he finished his long speech, his words were followed by a tense silence. Nobody wanted to speak first, and they waited for the others to say something.


“…Alphamon,” Duftmon spoke, his voice stern and cold, forgoing any attempt at politeness. “How in Yggdrasil’s name could you have thought that it was a good idea to keep this from us? What were you thinking?”


Alphamon sighed, expecting such a response from Duftmon. He knew that he hated to be kept out of the loop. “I didn’t keep GrandisKuwagamon’s mission a secret, and I only just found out about the results of their information-gathering yesterday. I wasn’t keeping this a secret from any of you; GrandisKuwagamon’s escape merely prevented me from telling all of you sooner than I’d have liked,” he explained.


“I am aware of the mission to Dark Point, but he never would have escaped if you hadn’t made a bargain with a prisoner behind our backs,” Duftmon firmly chastised him, his emerald eyes tightening like the slender blades of daggers. “Dealing with mercenary miscreants such as him is a guaranteed way for the Order to end up looking foolish. Not only does it sacrifice our integrity by making us appear hypocritical for working with the very criminals that we are sworn to bring to justice, but it also emboldens other criminals who will think that they can get away with more heinous deeds when they see we aren’t punishing crime accordingly.”


“Sometimes compromise is necessary, Duftmon,” Alphamon reasoned. “GrandisKuwagamon helped us discover Bagramon.”


Duftmon scoffed and shook his head distastefully. “We did not need his help. We would have discovered Bagramon eventually.”


“The deal I made with him was a pragmatic one. We needed to find Bagramon quickly, since the Demon Lords are already on the move. I realise that I may have compromised some of our tenets, but I believed that needs took priority over our image.” Alphamon frowned gently. “Besides… I believe in giving Digimon a second chance.”


“Your trust was misplaced,” Duftmon spoke cuttingly.


Magnamon sighed. “I’m sorry, Alphamon, but I agree with Duftmon…” the golden knight apologetically said. “I’m glad we found out about Bagramon, but this outcome could have been expected. He only played along with us for as long as it suited him. GrandisKuwagamon has killed members of our Order in the past; we’re just lucky he didn’t do so again…”


Omegamon looked at Alphamon with a telling gaze, his light blue eyes steady and serious. “I am also displeased with the result…” he admitted, although, in his voice there were faint notes of regret at saying so. “I can understand the reasons why we made the deal, but the Order of the Royal Knights is supposed to be the vanguard of Yggdrasil’s will. We are supposed to be above politics and back-room dealings. We should hold unyielding morals. This incident with GrandisKuwagamon doesn’t make us look good…”


Alphamon’s golden eyes drifted down to his balled-up, ebony hands, which rested on the smooth, ivory surface of the table. “Yes… I understand your points of view. However, I believe that the mistake I made was mishandling GrandisKuwagamon afterwards, not the decision to work with him in the first place. With that said… I take responsibility for his escape. I apologise for the trouble that this has caused the Order…” he conceded humbly.


Duftmon sighed and tapped his index finger on the surface of the table. “I suppose it is a bit unfair of me; the fault is not entirely yours…” Duftmon glanced over at Gankoomon. “Your apprentice was the orchestrator of this debacle. SaviorHackmon has caused us yet another problem… He takes after his master, I suppose.”


At the accusation, Gankoomon growled a bit and sat up straight in his seat, glaring over at Duftmon. “Yeah, the kid screwed up. Nobody knows that better than he does,” he defensively said. “He’s beating himself up about it… SaviorHackmon’s learning from his mistakes.”


Duftmon closed his eyes calmly and reflected on Gankoomon’s words pensively. “…Just so long as he is,” he spoke. “If another reckless and naïve mistake like that is made, I will be formally petitioning the Royal Knights with regards to his suitability as a member of the Strike Forces.”


Gankoomon clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. “…He won’t make another mistake,” he promised Duftmon through gnashing teeth. “You can write whatever the hell you want, neko-chan, but I know SaviorHackmon better than anybody. Trust me when I trust him!”


“I believe you, Gankoomon…” Alphamon responded, hoping to temper the interplay between fire and ice. “Just make sure that he knows what is at stake.”


Gankoomon scoffed and reclined back in his seat huffily. “Tch. I will…” he grumbled, his voice low with reluctant compliance.


“…Anyway,” UlforceVeedramon spoke up, attempting to cut through the tension of their disagreements. Rather than get sidetracked by the negative, he tried to refocus the discussion. “Let’s concentrate on what’s important here: Bagramon?”


Alphamon nodded. “Yes… I am confident that it is the very same Bagramon who took part in the Heavenly War,” he soberly hypothesized. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner.”


“None of us did…” Dukemon responded, sending Alphamon a meaningful look that told him not to be too hard on himself. “How could we have? He went into complete obscurity after he was exiled. For good reason too…”


“Looking back on it, it is fairly obvious,” Duftmon matter-of-factly pointed out. “Bagramon was a high-ranking rebel who was punished and exiled. Of course he aspires to conclude what he and the Demon Lords initiated. Furthermore, he was one of the few consequential demons who were not banished to the Dark Area. It should not have been difficult to link the pieces of the puzzle together and assume a connection.”


OuRyuumon leered over at Duftmon distastefully, a toothy sneer crawling onto his golden snout. “Hey, you didn’t figure it out either and you’re our official cat-tician,” he made sure to remind him with a teasing smirk.


Tactician,” Duftmon responded, his sharp, feline eyes cutting across the table to the Strike Forces Captain. “And, I admit… no, I did not determine the culprit who had hired Black Pincer Company to counteract our efforts. However, it was not until recently that we were able to ascertain the client’s motivations. Our failure to determine his intentions subsequently obscured his identity to us. Had we known that he planned to liberate the Demon Lords, I surely would have been able to decipher his identity.”


“I agree, but there is no point in looking back at what might have been done had we known what we know now,” Alphamon insisted. “Now that we do know the facts, we must plan our next course of action.”


“Alphamon’s right,” Dukemon declared, putting his support behind the Knight of the Empty Seat. “We can question ourselves and pass around blame all we like, but it won’t get us anywhere, will it? The only thing that will get us somewhere is action. That’s what we do best.” Dukemon looked first at Alphamon and then turned his gaze around the table. “So, what should we do about it?”


Alphamon smiled thankfully at Dukemon. He appreciated Dukemon’s decisiveness and action-oriented words. For as much as Alphamon liked to consider and balance every option before making a decision, Dukemon was the opposite. He decided on what he wanted to do and did it. Dynasmon and Gankoomon were the same way. Alphamon knew that he needed this sort of personality around him in order to tell him to do what he already knew that he needed to do.


Alphamon nodded. “You’re right, Dukemon. And I know what I would like to do, personally…” he explained. “I am going to go to New Terminal and confront Bagramon.”


“What?” Omegamon asked him, blinking with surprise. “Alone?”


“Yes, I think that would be best,” Alphamon responded, the brows behind his black helmet sinking as he reflected on his decision. “This is something that I need to do alone.”


Omegamon frowned disapprovingly at his close friend. “Alphamon… You can’t go alone. It’s dangerous,” he protested bluntly.


The black knight smiled back at his white counterpart. “I’ll be careful. I should be able to handle it by myself. Besides, we can’t spare any other Royal Knights while the Seven Demon Lords are on the loose,” he insisted.


“Isn’t he most likely to be with the Demon Lords right now?” Omegamon countered.


“Maybe, but even if that’s so, it would give me a chance to explore his hut for information,” Alphamon insisted.


OuRyuumon rolled his eyes and leaned on the back of Alphamon’s chair. “You’re gonna be stubborn about this, aren’t you, Alphamon?” he asked, flicking one of Alphamon’s horn-like ‘ears’ protruding from the top of his helmet.


“I’m afraid so,” Alphamon answered with a slight smile.


“Just don’t take on more than you can handle, okay, Alphamon?” Dynasmon advised him, looking over from across the table.


As the Royal Knights spoke, Examon quietly looked around at some of the more senior members.


Since he had been away at an inspection for the past few days, he had missed the return of Paildramon’s team and GrandisKuwagamon’s subsequent escape. Furthermore, Examon didn’t know who Bagramon was. He had tried to do his best to read up on the Royal Knights’ history and operations during his free time, but he didn’t really know who Bagramon was apart from one of the fallen angels of the Heavenly War. The sizeable dragon decided it would be better to get some clarity rather than continue to sit in the dark.


“Er, sorry to interrupt, but… who exactly is this Bagramon?” Examon tentatively asked, his voice a bit sheepish for not knowing.


“That’s right… I’m sorry, Examon. A lot of the newer members wouldn’t know who he is, since he has been living in reclusion since the Heavenly War,” Alphamon apologised for presuming. “Bagramon was the Archangel of Death back in the Heavenly Choir; he saw to the deletion of Digimon and the passage of their data into the Dark Area. Due to his position, he was quite high-ranking. That is why it was so shocking when he suddenly turned on the Three Great Angels and sided with the rebellious Demon Lords. He was the one who released them from their prison, it seems.”


“If I remember right, Alphamon ended up defeating him on the Night of Falling Stars,” Dukemon recollected. “In the aftermath of that war, he was spared from deletion to the Dark Area, but he was severely punished and banished to the Digital World.”


Omegamon nodded softly. “As far as we knew, he devoted his new life to becoming a travelling monk before settling in the Argent Mountains as a hermit.” The white knight sighed bitterly. “Was he playing us for fools this whole time?”


“Also…” Alphamon spoke up, his eyes tightening gently. “I should also mention… Bagramon is DarkKnightmon’s brother…” As much as it pained him to, he felt obliged to add that fact for the sake of transparency. He knew the negative effect that keeping secrets could have on unity, and he knew he couldn’t avoid his past.


“What? That DarkKnightmon?” Craniamon demanded, the crimson beads in his shadowy sockets darting over to look at Alphamon with incredulity.


“That’s… I didn’t even know that he had a brother…” Sleipmon mused, frowning at the revelation. “Did he have anything to do with DarkKnightmon’s rebellion?”


Examon nodded and stared at Alphamon intently. “Both DarkKnightmon’s rebellion and the Demon Lords’ escape involved the damaging of the Dark Area’s barrier to release a prisoner,” he observed.


“Could he be trying to get revenge for DarkKnightmon’s death?” UlforceVeedramon questioned.


Alphamon shook his head softly. “For whatever malevolent intentions Bagramon might have… he and DarkKnightmon were not close. I know for a fact that DarkKnightmon wouldn’t have wanted to go to him for aid…” he responded. “Despite the sibling relationship, these two events are separate, I’m fairly certain…”


“Dorbickmon was the mastermind behind DarkKnightmon’s escape,” OuRyuumon reminded Examon. “He would have known if Bagramon was involved in that.”


“I guess you’re right…” Examon conceded, wincing uncomfortably at the reminder of Dorbickmon’s involvement. It also made him remember the disagreement that he and Dorbickmon had back before he left for Dark Point. Examon remembered being high-handed in the way he rebuked Dorbickmon for his treatment of GrandisKuwagamon. The guilt churned in his stomach and he hoped that he would be able to talk to Dorbickmon about it so that he could apologise. However, he remained focused on the discussion at hand.


Dynasmon sighed and rested his pointed chin on his large, opened palm. “So, you didn’t suspect anything when you talked to Bagramon in New Terminal those months ago?” Dynasmon asked, looking at Alphamon.


“Not at all…” Alphamon said honestly. “Nothing he said seemed odd to me at all. In fact, he encouraged me… He told me to stand up against injustice…” Alphamon winced. “Was he manipulating me?”


“Possibly,” RhodoKnightmon plainly spoke. “However, at the very least, we know exactly who we are dealing with now. We can punish him accordingly.”


“We’ll stop him from doing whatever he’s planning,” Dukemon promised, turning his marigold eyes towards Alphamon supportively. “Do what you need to do in New Terminal. If you find him and think you can bring him in, do it.”


Alphamon responded with a nod. “Thank you. I will…” He looked around the table at all of the Royal Knights. “I still have a few things to deal with here, so I won’t leave right away. All of us should continue what we’re doing. Keep training and preparing yourselves, but we are also going to need to start planning our campaign. It’s very likely that we’re going to have to attack the Demon Lords’ hideout in the Gloaming Fields.”


“Leave it to me, Alphamon,” Duftmon responded. “I shall work tirelessly to form a campaign strategy.”


“I know you will,” Alphamon replied, smiling a bit. “Work with your fellow Royal Knights and the Captains as you do.”


Although he stalled for a moment, Duftmon nodded. “…Very well. I shall request their input where necessary,” he agreed.


Dynasmon grinned at the feline-themed knight beside him and slung his hefty arm over Duftmon’s winged shoulders. “We’ll make sure he plays with the other kids, Alphamon,” he joked, levelling a toothy grin at the slender tactician.


Duftmon rigidly shrugged Dynasmon’s arm off. “I assume that is all, Alphamon?” Duftmon inquired.


“Yes, that is all that I wished to tell you,” Alphamon replied.


The blond-haired knight nodded and gracefully rose from his seat. “Very well. If you will excuse me, I have many responsibilities that I must see to,” he informed them.


“Yeah, me too,” Dynasmon agreed, standing to his feet. The bulky dragon man turned and looked over at the tall ryu that stood near Alphamon. “Hey, OuRyuumon. Are we still on for that special Strike Forces training or not?”


The slender dragon shook his head. “Nah, I had to revamp the training schedule because of all that rain. Everybody’d be slipping and sliding all over the place in the mud. They’re on stand-by until mid-afternoon, when we’re gonna do outdoors training whether there’s rain or not. You can come and join us then,” OuRyuumon told the wyvern knight.


The Royal Knights began to make their way out of the room, Alphamon rose and gazed after the departing knights. His eyes landed on two Digimon who he had been meaning to speak to. “Magnamon, Omegamon, could we speak for a moment please?” he asked them, walking around the table.


Magnamon turned around, his head ducked slightly and his expression appeared sheepish. “Sure, Alphamon…” he responded as he raised his blue hand to rub the nape of his neck.


“Of course,” Omegamon agreed, walking over.


“About what you said…” Alphamon began.


Magnamon winced. “I’m sorry for speaking out against you, Alphamon,” he apologised. “I felt I had to be honest, though…”


Omegamon sighed and bowed his head slightly. “Me as well. I didn’t wish to undermine you. I just… needed to make my opinions clear,” he guiltily explained.


Alphamon blinked and raised his hand. “No, please don’t apologise. On the contrary, I wanted to thank you both for being frank. I know that I’m viewed as the leader of the Royal Knights, but my opinions are still no greater than any of yours. I don’t expect either of you to agree with me all of the time. Honestly, simply going along with what I wanted even if you secretly disagreed would be detrimental more than anything…” Alphamon explained to them with a half-smile. “For all of Duftmon’s faults, I can always rely on him to be honest with me when he thinks that I’m doing something wrong. I sincerely hope that the rest of you can feel free to do so as well…”


Magnamon smiled a bit more brightly. “Of course, Alphamon,” he answered, relieved that his worries had been quelled. “I’m glad you feel that way.”


“I will always speak honestly with you, Alphamon,” Omegamon promised him.


“Thank you… Then could you be honest with me now?” Alphamon asked the pair of close friends. “Do you think I’m acting too unilaterally? Am I not listening to others enough? I didn’t consult with any of you over the deal with GrandisKuwagamon, and I made the decision to confront Bagramon on my own.” He looked at Omegamon emphatically.


Omegamon frowned a bit and glanced to the side. “Well…” he spoke softly, a soft echo in his murmur. “In this particular case, I would have liked for you to speak with us about it,” he admitted. Omegamon sighed. “However… I understand why. There are times where a decision must be made; you can’t always have the luxury of going to each of us and asking what we think when a choice must be made in an instant. There are times when you can’t afford to take feelings and considerations into account. That’s why you are our leader – the first among equals.”


Magnamon nodded. “I don’t think you’re acting unilaterally, Alphamon. You always listen to what everybody has to say before making a decision on behalf of the Order. You’re always balanced and you don’t kick up a fuss when somebody disagrees with you,” he explained to the black knight. He placed his hands on his hips and looked up at him. “You’re worrying too much.”


“I probably am…” Alphamon admitted sheepishly. “I just don’t want to alienate any of you and make the same mistake that I did with DarkKnightmon and...” Alphamon hesitantly glanced at Omegamon.


The look didn’t go unnoticed. Omegamon stepped up to Alphamon and stared into his eyes. It was a serious but emphatic and reassuring gaze. Omegamon’s blue eyes left no question about the certainty of his feelings. “…You won’t make the same mistake again, Alphamon,” he assured him, placing one of his hands on Alphamon’s broad shoulder. “We won’t make the same mistakes...”


Alphamon smiled appreciatively at his friend. “…Thank you. To the both of you…”


“Where did this come from, Alphamon?” Magnamon asked him. “You don’t usually doubt yourself.”


Alphamon sheepishly scratched his cheek with his index finger. “…Bagramon is DarkKnightmon’s brother. DarkKnightmon is one of my biggest failures… DarkKnightmon always has a way of making me doubt myself,” Alphamon explained, slightly ashamed at his weakness.


“He always was good at that, wasn’t he…?” Magnamon mused, folding his arms. “Still, you said it yourself, Bagramon isn’t involved with DarkKnightmon. DarkKnightmon’s gone. Bagramon’s just another rebel looking to cause havoc in the Digital World. That’s the way we have to look at it.”


The black knight smiled and closed his eyes, taking their words to heart. “You’re absolutely right… I feel a bit foolish now. Thank you for putting things into perspective for me,” he said to Magnamon.


“If not us, one of the others would have,” Magnamon responded, grinning up at him. “It’s our job to support each other at times like this. That’s what the Order is for, after all.”


Omegamon nodded. “Indeed…” He turned and extended his arm towards the open doors of the council room. “Shall we?”


Alphamon walked alongside the pair at a comfortable pace. “I’ll be careful when I go to New Terminal. I don’t really expect to find Bagramon there. He probably is with the Demon Lords right now…”


“I can’t imagine he would be much of a fighter with half of a body…” Magnamon mused.


“I don’t know about that, Magnamon,” Omegamon replied. “He could even be more powerful.”


Alphamon strode forwards into the great hall, marching with a fresh determination. “I suppose we will find out for ourselves…” he murmured, well aware that the day would come where he would have to put their theories to the test.


-


(Continued in the next post)
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
(Continued from the previous post)

-

A couple kilometers away from Castle Albion was the small town of Knights’ Cross. It was a town of modest size that was built on both sides of the Dawn River, the same river that passed by the Royal Knights’ headquarters before emptying in the Net Ocean. The town consisted mostly of stone buildings that were in a medieval style; the walls were made of sturdy, washed stones and the roofs were made of wood and shingles. In the center of the town was a wide, sturdy, arch bridge that was made of solid rock. It was a pivotal crossing point for not just the Order, but also many travellers passing through this region of the Free Area.


As a result, Knights’ Cross had many different merchants and shops located on its main roads, making it a very commercial town. Whenever the Royal Knights or Order members needed something that they couldn’t buy from the merchants in Castle Albion, they would travel to Knights’ Cross to shop from the many merchants there. There were also a few taverns located in the town, which made it a popular destination for Order soldiers who found themselves with free time.


One of these taverns was known as the Radiant Shield. It was a well-kept bar with a generous selection of different beers and alcoholic drinks. It was clean and fairly up-market, but cheap enough that soldiers of the Order could frequent it comfortably.


It was a large tavern with plenty of space to allow for easy access and privacy. There were many different tables and some booths along the walls. The grainy aroma of ale filled the lantern-lit bar and intermingled with the hearty, savory scent of food. There was chatter among the tavern’s patrons – amiable, but restrained and disciplined. It wasn’t a raucous atmosphere in the Knights’ Cross, as the Order’s soldiers were expected to behave themselves whenever they went into town, and they were usually disciplined enough to do so.


Through the showering rain, Examon walked up the stone road towards the Radiant Shield. He didn’t typically go inside bars apart from when Dukemon or Dynasmon dragged him along with them. However, he was looking for somebody, and he had a pretty good idea of where to find him.


The sizeable dragon knight stepped up to the tavern and opened the doors with a gentle push. Rainwater dripped down his scales and the armoured backs of his wings. He tucked his wings back and stepped through the doorway, ducking his head and looking around the tavern. The nostrils on the end of his horned snout twitched as they were assaulted by the pungent aroma of beer upon opening the doors.


As Examon walked inside, he surveyed the bar, wondering if he chose the right bar. He saw several off-duty soldiers sitting around a table, including a Knightmon, Sparrowmon, and Ankylomon. There were less Order soldiers today because not everyone wanted to travel that distance in the rain. The three soldiers spotted Examon and saluted him respectfully. Examon saluted them back and smiled slightly before passing by their table and letting them return to their socializing. Upon looking at the other end of the tavern, he spotted the Digimon he was looking for.


Dorbickmon sat alone at the bar counter. There was a bubbling, half-drunk mug of beer in front of him. The dragon man clutched the mug’s handle and brought it up to his snout to take a drink.


Examon made his way over to the lone mercenary. Although he was calm on the outside, he was inwardly uncertain about how Dorbickmon would react to him. They hadn’t had a massive argument, but Examon knew he had offended Dorbickmon. He also knew that Dorbickmon could hold a grudge. He stopped a few paces behind Dorbickmon and stalled for a few moments before speaking.


“…I thought I might find you here,” Examon greeted, his eyes fixed on the spiked rear of Dorbickmon’s head.


Dorbickmon pivoted his head ever so slightly to glance over his shoulder. Upon seeing Examon, he looked forwards again and took another drink of beer. “So I’m that predictable to you, huh? I guess you really do have me figured out,” Dorbickmon replied with equal parts sarcasm and standoffishness.


“That’s not what I meant.” Examon sighed and walked up beside him, gesturing to the seat beside him. “Mind if I sit here?”


“You’re the Royal Knight; do what you want,” Dorbickmon brusquely responded, shrugging apathetically.


Examon took a seat beside the brawny mercenary. He readjusted his large wings and long tail, and sat up straight. The dragon looked across the bar counter and saw the stocky, copper bartender amble over to him. The Guardromon barkeep stopped in front of the Royal Knight and waved amiably.


“Greetings, good Royal Knight! What may I get for you today, Sir?” the Guardromon asked him. His voice was posh and peppy, a bit like an overzealous butler. “May I suggest the famous Vermillion Summer Ale that we have on special – a favourite of Lord Zhuqiaomon himself? Or perhaps you would like to have a look at our wine menu?”


The dragon knight shuffled sheepishly in his seat and folded his clawed hands on his lap. “Err… I’m sorry, but I don’t drink. I’d just like some ancientberry juice, please,” he requested. He felt a bit embarrassed not ordering any alcohol at the bar, but he didn’t like to drink. He only barely allowed it when the other Royal Knights goaded him into doing so, and even then, he’d only have a sip.


“Why, of course!” the Guardromon replied, all too happy to oblige. “Coming right up~!”


Dorbickmon angled his snout towards Examon and raised an incredulous brow. “…Juice?” he asked him disparagingly.


“It’s healthy,” Examon insisted, shrugging his spiked shoulders. “Ancientberries are full of vitamins and fibre. Alcohol negatively affects the mind and body. As a soldier, I can’t afford to have my reflexes and perception hindered in any way.”


“…Uh huh. Alcohol bad, ancientberries good. Nice to know you’ve still got your lance firmly lodged up your ass,” Dorbickmon jeered, taking another drink from his mug of beer.


Examon gave Dorbickmon a sideways glance. “I prefer to think of it as having self-discipline…” he calmly contended. “One has to be responsible, especially when faced with combat scenarios on a regular basis.”


“Yeah, that sounds like you. Whereas I can’t control myself and everybody who pisses me off ends up on my vendetta list,” Dorbickmon sarcastically responded, his sharp rows of teeth appearing behind his lips as he spoke.


The barbed tone of Dorbickmon’s voice wasn’t lost on Examon. He could tell that Dorbickmon was still annoyed at him. Examon sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Dorbickmon… Look, I’m sorry about before,” he contritely offered.


“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dorbickmon huffily dismissed, closing his eyes, folding his arms and leaning back in his seat. He half-opened the eye that was facing Examon and shot him a sassy leer. “Not everything’s about you, you know.”


Examon’s stare flattened. “You’re not fooling anybody. You’re obviously angry with me,” he bluntly stated. “I’m sorry that I was so judgmental.”


Dorbickmon released a smoky snort out of his nostrils. “I guess it shouldn’t be surprising for the ‘Dragon Emperor’ to look down on common thugs like me from his castle tower,” he combatively responded, tilting his snout upwards in an indignant huff.


Examon folded his winged arms to the best of his ability. “Now you’re being dramatic…” he said to him plainly. “I’m trying to apologise, Dorbickmon. I shouldn’t have called you petty and immature… even if that’s kind of what you’re being right now.”


A mixture between a snarl and a smirk formed at the corner of Dorbickmon’s lips. “Some apology this is…” he muttered.


A sigh escaped Examon’s draconic mouth and he thanked the bartender when a tall glass of blackish-violet juice appeared in front of him. As he curled his red fingers around the glass, he looked back at Dorbickmon. “Sorry, you’re right. I should apologise without qualifying it...”


Dorbickmon finished off what was left in his glass mug and looked back at Examon. “Look, Examon, it’s not about the ‘petty and immature’ cracks,” he told him straight. He grunted and turned forwards again, towards the bar counter. “It’s about you. You still think that I’m hung up on you and what you did to me. You think I’m full of hatred for every Digimon that wrongs me. I don’t just go around holding grudges for fun, y’know.”


“I didn’t say that…” Examon insisted. “I just didn’t want you to lower yourself to his level.”


Dorbickmon shot him a look. “That’s what I’m saying about you! …Okay, yeah, maybe you were right. Maybe I was pissed at Grandis and maybe I wanted to get a little bit of payback. I think I’ve got a right to be a little petty, after what he did to me. It pisses me off when you get all holier-than-thou when I don’t live up to your high standards. I get that you’re a Royal Knight and you try to be whiter than white, but I’m not like that and I’m not ever gonna be like that, okay? …And I managed to be on a team with GrandisKuwagamon without even throwing a punch his way, so that should tell you something about my self-control.”


Examon sighed and took a sip from his glass of juice. “I didn’t mean to be sanctimonious… I’m sorry if I seemed that way, Dorbickmon. I’ll try not to be in the future,” he said, looking over at the dragon man emphatically. “I was annoyed, but I didn’t want to offend you.”


Dorbickmon shifted uncomfortably on the bar stool, leaning forwards on the counter and glancing in the opposite direction from Examon. It was easier for him to be mad at Examon when the dragon wasn’t being conciliatory. He hated that now he was beginning to feel guilty.


“…Forget it,” Dorbickmon muttered, looking away. “…Maybe I was a bit over-the-top with the bug. …But only a bit! So… Yeah.” He braved a look back at Examon, feeling sheepish. “So, in the spirit of not holding grudges, we’ll call it even, got it?”


Examon grinned a bit. “Was that your version of an apology?” he asked him, his voice lightly teasing.


“Like hell it was! I’m just accepting your apology, genius!” Dorbickmon was quick to clarify, turning to Examon fully to show him his intensity. “You’re so dense, you damn military nut.”


Examon chuckled. “Whatever you say…” he conceded, allowing Dorbickmon to have that victory, although he suspected otherwise.


Sensing Examon’s scepticism, Dorbickmon grunted insolently. “Oh, shut up and drink your fibre juice, Examon,” he huffily responded.


Smiling, Examon drank the rest of the juice. “So… What are your plans?” he inquired.


“I’m sure as hell not staying around here… especially when you guys are probably starting your Demon Lord operation soon. I don’t want that kind of attention,” Dorbickmon responded. “I’m gonna try to take a few neutral jobs - maybe lay low for a bit. I managed to convince a few mercenaries in Dark Point that I’m not with you guys, but I’m gonna have to reinforce that by not hanging around the Order all the time.”


“I see… That’s probably a smart move,” Examon agreed. He was secretly a bit disappointed that this probably meant that he wouldn’t see Dorbickmon for some time, but he knew that this would be the best course of action for him. As the Royal Knights’ operation started, they would be focused on and that would be dangerous for Dorbickmon to be around them. “Just don’t get into any trouble.”


Dorbickmon smirked and rolled his eyes. “I won’t…” he insisted. “Same goes for you. You wouldn’t be much of a Dragon Emperor if you went and got yourself killed. All your loyal fans in the UDC would be heartbroken.”


Examon grinned at him. “If that happens, I’ll just nominate you to take my place,” he teased. “It might be a good career change for you…”


“Look at you, actually developing a sense of humour,” Dorbickmon chuckled. “Never thought I’d say this, but maybe the Royal Knights are rubbing off on you.”


“Maybe that’s not a bad thing…” Examon reflected, smiling a bit. “The Royal Knights are some of the best Digimon that I’ve known.”


Dorbickmon looked at him carefully. “…So, you don’t regret giving up your role as defender of the UDC?” he asked him.


Examon’s green eyes drifted down to his empty glass. “I don’t feel as though I’ve given up that role… I know I technically have by becoming a Royal Knight since I don’t live there anymore, but I haven’t forgotten about it. It’s my home,” he explained. He glanced over at Dorbickmon, a bit of nervousness hidden behind his eyes. “…You go to the United Dramonic Coalition a lot. Do the Digimon there think I’ve abandoned them?”


The mercenary looked Examon in the eye. “I’ll be honest with you… There’s some Digimon there who think you abandoned them when you got a better deal with the Royal Knights,” he admitted bluntly. “…But, most of them are happy for you and think that having a Dramon from the UDC in the Royal Knights is better for them.” He leaned on the bar counter and gave Examon a dismissive look. “Don’t worry about it. You can’t please everyone, so don’t bother.”


Examon stared at his friend seriously. “You don’t think I betrayed my species by becoming a Royal Knight?” he asked him. “You pretty much said as much as we were fighting. Maybe not in so many words, but I knew what you meant… and it wouldn’t have been the first time somebody accused me of it…”


Dorbickmon sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “Whatever I said, I was furious at the time. I hated that you could be so calm and smug and self-righteous. When I was with DarkKnightmon, every word you said got under my scales and sent me into a rage,” he explained. “You’re a different kind of Dramon from the kind of Dramon that I am… I’ve got a temper and I can be stubborn and emotional. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a Dramon because you’re calm, frigid, and impersonal. You being a Royal Knight is actually probably good for the UDC…” He shrugged, a bit sheepish at the words of assurance he was giving. “Don’t feel too guilty.”


Examon smiled appreciatively and nodded. “Thanks, Dorbickmon. That means a lot coming from you…”


The terrestrial red dragon shrugged nonchalantly. “Whatever…” he said offhandedly, wanting to appear apathetic. “Anyway, if you want your loyal subjects to still like you, you should go and visit the UDC more often. Isn’t that right, Dragon Emperor?” he said with a teasing smirk.


“That’s not a bad idea…” Examon agreed. He frowned pensively as he considered the possibility. “We’re probably going to be pretty busy for awhile though. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to find the time… The Demon Lords have to take priority, after all…”


“Just as long as you don’t keep finding excuses not to,” Dorbickmon told him. “If you want the Dragon Digimon to know you haven’t abandoned them, you’re gonna have to put in the effort. You can’t just sulk about it and hope they’ll change your minds without you having to get off your ass.”


Examon managed a small grin. He could count on Dorbickmon to be painfully blunt. He appreciated his honesty though. “Yeah, you’re right…”


“Anyway, I’ll probably head there by the end of the week,” Dorbickmon informed him. “Gonna see if there’s any jobs for me in Dragon’s Peak. I don’t want to set my foot back in Shroud or Dark Point just yet. Gonna wait for the word to spread around for a couple weeks first. In the mean time, I’ll ask around here to see if there’s any jobs or contacts I can use.”


“That sounds like a good plan. Good luck,” Examon told him.


Dorbickmon grinned at him cockily. “Don’t need luck. I’ve got skill,” he declared. “And good looks.”


“You have one of those,” Examon playfully responded, although his voice sounding as calm and deadpan as usual.


“And you’ve got neither,” Dorbickmon fired back as he stood up from the bar stool.


Examon smiled and stood up as well, taking out a few bits to pay the bartender with. “We can test that sometime… I’d better head back to the castle. Thanks for the talk.”


“Not like I had much of a choice, with you hunting me down,” Dorbickmon contended. He lightly slapped Examon’s shoulder. “Anyway, give those Demon Lords hell for me. And don’t trust them, you naïve idiot. Demon Digimon are notorious liars.”


“I’ll be careful,” Examon assured him.


“Yeah… So, see ya around,” Dorbickmon said to the Royal Knight. He shrugged and turned, not wanting to drag out the goodbye.


Examon nodded calmly. “Goodbye. If I don’t see you first, I might be back in a few weeks. We can meet up then, if you can,” he offered.


“Yeah, we’ll see,” Dorbickmon replied, rubbing his neck. “Anyway, later. Don’t screw up too badly.”


Examon smiled. “I won’t…” With a soft nod, Examon turned and walked towards the exit of the tavern.


Upon reaching the door, he glanced over his shoulder at Dorbickmon. Dorbickmon was glancing at him out of the corners of his eyes, but he turned away and began heading to the bar washroom. Examon smiled a bit and stepped out of the bar, into the rain.


At the very least, he felt relieved that he was able to remove the tension between them. There had been unspoken uncertainties between the pair, but after their chat, he felt a lot better.


With this problem put aside, Examon flapped the broad Caledfwlch wings and took off into the sky. He could return to his professional responsibilities without any distractions now.
 

Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
Chapter 37: Solace (Part II)

It had been about an hour since the Royal Knights’ meeting. Alphamon’s news had given them a lot to think about. One Royal Knight was thinking about what the future might entail, but he wasn’t letting it get him down.

Inside Castle Albion, Sleipmon trotted his way down one of the first floor, castle corridors. His six feet hitting the stone floor provided the rhythmic tempo of hoof claps with every step. He walked down the long, side hallway at a casual pace, passing by the various rooms that were along the outer edge of the castle. There was a soft smile on his face as he enjoyed the sound of raindrops pattering against the glass windows.

He walked down a corridor that had several alcoves along the outer side of the hallway, each one with its own small window looking out into the castle gardens. He watched as the rivulets of water trickled down the glass and onto the stone window sill. Sleipmon enjoyed watching the drops of rain falling down onto the lush garden. The vibrant colours stood out against the drab greys, and the plants and flowers soaked in the nourishment of the rainwater.

As Sleipmon walked down the hallway at a leisurely pace, he noticed a Digimon sitting in the furthest alcove at the end of the corridor. It wasn’t hard for him to recognise the Digimon by his white body and red cape standing out against the blue fabric of the alcove seats. It was SaviorHackmon, sitting with his clawed hands folded on his lap. His shoulders and head were depressed and his golden eyes were wistful. He looked lost in his own thoughts. His crimson, goggle-strapped hood was pulled over his head so that it enveloped his metallic snout. It didn’t take a genius to guess that there was something bothering him.

Noticing his distress, Sleipmon’s smile evaporated and he walked over to the young dragon man, frowning with concern. “SaviorHackmon?” he asked, stopping at the mouth of the alcove and gazing down at him.

SaviorHackmon jumped a bit, startled at the sudden words and presence beside him. He had been so consumed by his thoughts that he hadn’t noticed Sleipmon approach at all. His hood had also been blocking his peripheral vision. “S-Sleipmon-shishou,” he stammered with embarrassment at not immediately showing him the proper respect. He swiftly saluted his superior to rectify that. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t notice you.”

Sleipmon offered a good-humoured smile. “You must have something on your mind if you didn’t notice a Digimon as large and striking as me…” he observed. He gestured to the bench-like seat across from the one that SaviorHackmon was planted on. “May I?”

“Of course, Sir…” SaviorHackmon replied.

Sleipmon approached the cushioned bench and climbed on top of it sideways. He pulled his six legs up to his flanks and settled into the cushion, resting comfortably on his underbelly. Sleipmon turned and smiled at SaviorHackmon amiably. “You don’t have any training?” he asked him.

“No, not until the afternoon…” SaviorHackmon responded, his tenor voice noticeably less animated than usual.

The horse knight arched an eyebrow. “Is everything okay, SaviorHackmon? You seem… distracted,” he asked inquisitively.

“Oh… It’s nothing, really…” SaviorHackmon insisted, feeling sheepish that his emotions were showing that easily. He must have looked very unprofessional in front of the Royal Knight.

Sleipmon smiled warmly at him. “…Want to talk about it? I’m a good listener…” he offered.

“Thank you, but I couldn’t burden you with unimportant stuff like that, Sleipmon-shishou…” SaviorHackmon demurred.

“Why not?” Sleipmon responded, smiling encouragingly. “We all have problems sometimes, even the Royal Knights… I find it helps to have somebody to talk to about it. You can talk to me; don’t worry about rank or anything like that. I’m just a friendly ear right now…”

SaviorHackmon brightened up a little at his reassuring words. “Thank you, Sleipmon-shishou,” he responded. He looked down at his claws folded on his lap. He wasn’t entirely sure where to start.

“Is it about GrandisKuwagamon, by any chance?” Sleipmon questioned softly. He didn’t want to presume, but he was pretty confident that GrandisKuwagamon’s escape had something to do with it.

The silver dragon went quiet. Ever-so-slightly, the firmness of his eyes melted and his head sunk.

“I think I hit the mark…” Sleipmon said with a slight smile. “What’s troubling you, exactly?”

SaviorHackmon sighed and curled his bladed tail around so that it rested on his lap. “I don’t know where to start, Sleipmon-shishou…” he admitted.

“I know it can be hard opening up sometimes… Why don’t you start with what you’re comfortable with?” the bulky cavalier suggested.

The steel knight-in-training nodded gently. “I suppose you know how badly I failed again… It’s because of me that GrandisKuwagamon escaped,” he began. His words were deep and heavy, weighed down by the shame in his voice.

“That incident did come up in our meeting…” Sleipmon admitted, idly reaching behind his head and running his fingers through his thick mane of lavender hair. He angled his equine head to look at SaviorHackmon directly. “We all make mistakes, SaviorHackmon. Even the Royal Knights do… I certainly do.”

“The trouble is that I keep making them…” SaviorHackmon murmured glumly. “And the mistakes I keep making are immense and they cause major problems for the Order… Alphamon would have been right to dismiss me on the spot. It’s only because of Gankoomon that he didn’t.”

Sleipmon shook his head. “I’m surprised, SaviorHackmon. You should give both Alphamon and Gankoomon more credit than that…” he said to him. “Alphamon’s a fair Digimon. He believes in giving Digimon second chances when he’s sure that they regret their actions. And I’m sure you know Gankoomon well enough to know that he wouldn’t make exceptions for you.”

“Yeah… You’re right. I’m sorry, Sir. I just don’t know what to think anymore…” SaviorHackmon said with a sigh. “GrandisKuwagamon was right about me. I am too naïve… I believe the best in others when I really shouldn’t, and then they take advantage of it. That was how GrandisKuwagamon escaped… He used my belief in him against me.”

Sleipmon frowned softly. “That must have hurt you a lot…” he murmured with gentle empathy.

SaviorHackmon nodded softly. “It… sounds so stupid now, but… I thought of him as a friend. How ridiculous is that? Willingly trying to befriend an immoral mercenary who took me hostage… I feel like such an idiot,” he admitted, grimacing. “I set myself up for his manipulations perfectly.”

“Don’t blame yourself, SaviorHackmon,” the cavalier encouraged him. “You believed in him because you’re a good Digimon.”

“Then isn’t that a weakness…? GrandisKuwagamon would never be tricked in the way that he tricked me. He would say that good Digimon finish last… If you don’t trust anybody, you’ll never be betrayed,” SaviorHackmon debated. “Isn’t idealism just delusions?”

Sleipmon’s violet eyes narrowed and hardened just slightly. His gaze wasn’t one of anger, but of determination. “…No. I don’t believe that,” he answered decisively, his voice as clear and steady as ice. “And I don’t think that you believe that either… Wanting to see the good in Digimon and trusting others… is that really a weakness? Isolating yourself on an island, doubting everything that anybody tells you, discarding your dreams as naïve and foolish… is that strength, SaviorHackmon? Is cynicism really a good thing?”

SaviorHackmon winced and leaned forwards, propping his forearms on his angular knees. “I don’t know, Sleipmon-shishou,” he whispered. “Maybe it is. Maybe I just need to grow up.”

Sleipmon offered him a small smile. “I don’t know if you noticed, but Alphamon often throws out proverbs when he’s giving advice. Dukemon jokes that he likes to sound philosophical…” He chuckled a little. “Alphamon has said many proverbs since I first met him, but there was one that always stood out to me. He said, ‘cynicism makes for poor armour.’ I really think that this is true…”

The equestrian knight looked at SaviorHackmon meditatively. “Cynics often look down on people like us. They say that we live in a dream world and that we need to grow up. But in my experience, those kinds of cynics are afraid, deep down. They hide behind ‘realism’ to make themselves feel safe and superior, but really, they just don’t want to risk getting hurt. Rather than taking a chance and believing in something with the chance of it all going wrong, they would rather play it safe, keep everything at arm’s length, and protect themselves…”

Sleipmon sighed and rubbed his neck sheepishly. “I’m not trying to sound judgmental in any way. I know that a lot of my friends find themselves on the cynical side, and I’m sure they would have a lot of choice words to say about my idealism too. I’m not going to say that there’s anything wrong with acting that way, but I strongly disagree with the notion that a cynic is an idealist who grew up. Both sides are valid, and both sides have their own undeniable problems…”

SaviorHackmon grimaced softly. “You’re right, Sleipmon-shishou,” he admitted. “I don’t want to get hurt like this again… I don’t want other Digimon to get hurt because of me.”

“I don’t want that either. However, there’s no guarantee that things will always work out, no matter how you view the world. That’s just life… I choose to think that the world is worth believing in – that Digimon are worth believing in…”

The dragon man looked up at Sleipmon with soft, vulnerable eyes. “How do you do it, Sleipmon-shishou…? How do you stay so positive and idealistic? You must have experienced a lot more than I have, yet…”

Sleipmon’s gentle grin disappeared and he closed his eyes. He briefly reflected on the sorrow in his life. His failures… The Digimon that he couldn’t save… The things that he lost…

He reopened his eyes, the glassy, violet orbs rotating back towards SaviorHackmon. “…It’s not always easy, SaviorHackmon,” Sleipmon admitted gently. “There is a lot of pain and darkness in this world. I can’t deny that… The actions of fiendish Digimon and the grievous losses that I’ve seen have been painfully imprinted in my heart… However, I choose not to let that define my actions and my opinions.” The warmest, most hopeful smile Sleipmon could muster appeared on his muzzle. “Believing in other Digimon… striving to help them, even when it’s so hard… it really is worth it. No matter how much pain I experience, both to my flesh and to my heart… being able to make just one Digimon smile at the end of the day is worth it…”

The tenderness and sincerity of Sleipmon’s words brought a tiny smile to SaviorHackmon’s face. “That’s why I want to become a Royal Knight… To help the Digimon who need it… I don’t think I want to give up on them…” he gently replied as he thought about Sleipmon’s words.

Sleipmon reached over and placed his hand on the shoulder of SaviorHackmon’s hunched form, gently rubbing the crimson cape draped over it. “Then you have a good foundation for becoming a Royal Knight. If we didn’t want to help Digimon and if we didn’t think that it was possible, then none of us would be Royal Knights. This Order wouldn’t exist. That’s why I don’t want to give up hope because of what GrandisKuwagamon did to you, SaviorHackmon.”

SaviorHackmon smiled graciously and sat up straighter in his seat. He pulled the crimson hood down from his head and let it rest against the nape of his neck. “Yeah… I’ll try. It won’t be easy, but I want to try to believe that… My heart still hurts and my mind is all over the place, but… I think you helped a lot, Sleipmon-shishou. Thank you…”

The Royal Knight in question smiled brightly. “I’m glad… You’re quite welcome,” he responded.

“You were right. This is all because of GrandisKuwagamon,” the draconic squire granted. “It’s not just because he tricked me, though…”

Sleipmon cocked his head to the side curiously. “Oh?”

“I fooled myself into thinking that he was really a good guy, but when he tricked me, I wrote him off as an evil criminal. …I wanted to hate him… But when I confronted him, I learned it wasn’t that simple…” SaviorHackmon responded, sighing. “He told us some personal things that made me question whether he was evil or not. I don’t know how to feel about him now… I can’t forgive him, but I can’t hate him either…”

Sleipmon smiled. “There are many shades of grey, SaviorHackmon… This is something that Royal Knights have to deal with all the time. It isn’t always evil, rampaging monsters that we fight,” he pointed out. “And none of us are perfect, even though we strive to be. That’s why this job is so hard.”

“Yeah… I still have a lot to learn, don’t I?” SaviorHackmon mused.

“What’s important is that you are learning,” Sleipmon explained, carefully standing up from the cushioned seat. “You’re doing fine, SaviorHackmon. Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

“Yes, Sir,” SaviorHackmon responded, standing to his feet as well. “Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I know you have a lot of important things you need to do, so I’ll go prepare for training.”

Sleipmon smiled at the caped dragon Digimon and nodded. “If you ever want to talk, I’m always available,” the Royal Knight offered kindly.

Hearing this, SaviorHackmon bowed. He smiled with appreciation at the nadir of the gesture. “Thank you, Sleipmon-shishou. That means a lot to me…”

As Sleipmon nodded, SaviorHackmon stood up straight and saluted him. The draconic soldier then turned and walked out of the alcove. Feeling a bit more at ease with himself, he strode down the corridor and disappeared around the corner leading to the foyer.

The red digizoid-adorned centaur smiled after SaviorHackmon. He liked the mature teenager. He sensed a kind heart within him. Sleipmon knew that he just needed a bit more life experience and confidence. He hoped that he might be able to help him in the future.

“Haha! They grow up so fast…” a voice exclaimed from behind him.

Sleipmon turned and saw Dynasmon stride into the corridor from a door leading to the adjacent great hall. The strapping Royal Knight marched over with a broad grin plastered across his face.

“Dynasmon?” Sleipmon asked, raising an eyebrow. He smiled a bit. “I guess they do. He’s matured a lot.”

Dynasmon marched up to him and slapped Sleipmon’s back, resting his large hand between the two golden, wing analogues that protruded from it. “I mean you, Sleipmon! You’ve gone from being the new guy in the Order to being a mentor for new members in over a year! I’m so proud of you,” Dynasmon exclaimed with a teasing grin.

Sleipmon’s equine cheeks flushed slightly. “I don’t know about being a mentor… That’s really more Gankoomon’s job,” he insisted, chuckling a bit. “I just wanted to reassure him…”

Dynasmon smiled at him, more genuinely this time. “It looks like it worked. I think you did a pretty good job… Maybe all that leadership training paid off.”

The horseman ventured a soft smile towards back at Dynasmon. “He was upset, feeling guilty, and doubting himself… I’ve been there before,” he admitted. “I wanted to tell him that there’s a way through it.”

“Yeah… I know that feeling too,” Dynasmon said, remembering some of the darker parts of his own past with bitter acceptance. His bowed his head and leaned back against the corner of the alcove. His mouth curving upwards gently, Dynasmon glanced at Sleipmon. “You know, I wasn’t kidding when I said you’ve grown a lot.”

“Huh? Do you think so? I don’t really feel like I have,” Sleipmon responded, tilting his head with gentle perplexity.

“You definitely have,” Dynasmon declared. “When you first joined the Order, you were really insecure. I get why: you looked a lot different from the rest of us, you had principles that you didn’t want to waver on, and Duftmon was constantly getting on your case.”

“…Yeah, I guess you have a point about that…” Sleipmon responded, twiddling his fingers as he remembered his first several days at the Order. “I felt really out of place. I didn’t have the same adventuring background that a lot of you had, and I was really worried about leaving the Arcane Ruins in my subordinate’s charge… Plus, well… I look how I look. I was the first non-humanoid Royal Knight, and my combat style and ideals clashed with a lot of the Royal Knights…” Sleipmon sheepishly recalled. “They still do.”

Sleipmon frowned slightly. “To be honest, Dynasmon, after the first month, I almost quit the Order,” he admitted. “It was after that mission that I went on with Duftmon and Craniamon. We went to take down that Zanbamon bandit leader that was terrorizing the border region between the Free Area and the Republic of Node. We defeated them pretty soundly, but as the Zanbamon was fleeing, they told me to kill him. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I panicked and tried to shoot his legs, but I missed and he ended up escaping. Duftmon and Craniamon really chewed me out for that afterwards… I was pretty frustrated at myself, so I drew up my resignation and spoke to Alphamon to formally resign… but he convinced me to stay.” Sleipmon smiled a bit. “I’m glad I did, even if it was tough for awhile.”

“You’re principled. I may not always agree with your no-killing policy, but I respect you for sticking to your morals,” Dynasmon explained. “We all have our own personal codes and principles that are important to us. I believe in loyalty above all else… You believe in not reformatting. That’s pretty commendable. You’re a good Digimon, Sleipmon.”

Sleipmon glanced aside. “I don’t know about that… I try to be, but…” He sighed. “You know, when Examon joined the Order… I was glad. I was glad because he looked different too. Part of me hoped that Duftmon and the others would focus on him instead of me since he was new and obviously out of place… How selfish is that?” Sleipmon admitted with a soft grimace. “I felt comfortable and in charge, being his senior and being somebody who could help him through his tough times. It was a way of boosting my own ego. Maybe that’s what I did with SaviorHackmon too.”

“You’re too hard on yourself, Sleipmon,” Dynasmon told him, giving him a serious frown. “None of us Royal Knights are perfect, but we try our best.” He reached over and put his hand on Sleipmon’s shoulder. “You always try your best, even when it’s hard and even when you doubt yourself. You’re a lot more confident and mature than you used to be, but you’re also one of the nicest guys that I know. That’s why I say you’ve grown a lot from when you first joined. You’re willing to step up and help others who need it - and don’t say that it’s at the expense of others, because it’s all down to your own strength.”

Sleipmon smiled. “Yet here I am, getting a pep talk after just giving one,” he joked, looking jovially at Dynasmon. “Thanks, Dynasmon.”

Dynasmon grinned and nodded. “Just… don’t let yourself get dragged down by guilt.” His smile faded and he stood up from the wall. He turned away from Sleipmon, as if preparing to walk away. “I’ve been there. I’ve let guilt shape me.” Dynasmon looked over his winged shoulder and offered Sleipmon a small smile. “I don’t think you will – you’re too strong for that now - just… a few wise words from some big, dumb idiot who’s already walked down that long and lonely path.”

Sleipmon returned the meaningful smile, the corners of his muzzle gently curving upwards. “…I appreciate it, Dynasmon. I won’t… All the guilt I felt remains the past too.”

Dynasmon nodded and looked forwards. “Good…” After a moment, he chuckled heartily. “See? You’re more confident. Don’t try to be all humble and deny it.”

Sleipmon chuckled lightly. “Fine, you’ve got me…” he conceded. “So… Do you have any plans for this rainy day apart from eavesdropping on people?”

“Thought I might work out in the gym. Want to join me?” Dynasmon offered.

“Sure,” Sleipmon agreed. “I’ve got an hour free before I have to get back to my duties. I’m giving a lecture to the Strike Force recruits on high manoeuvrability warfare and hit-and-run tactics. Then I have to study the maps of the Gloaming Fields.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty busy too. I think it’ll be this way for awhile in the lead up to this campaign,” Dynasmon explained, starting to walk down the stony hallway. He shrugged. “At least we won’t be bored.”

Sleipmon nodded and trotted alongside Dynasmon. He thought about the prospect of going to war against the Seven Great Demon Lords. It felt like they only just finished fighting the Metal Empire, but he supposed that their enemies weren’t just going to stop and wait for them to be ready. Even so, he was concerned. He knew that the Demon Lords would be extremely powerful foes… as strong as or stronger than Chaosdramon was, multiplied by seven. He worried about the dangers they posed to his friends and innocent Digimon.

He knew he couldn’t falter. He had to make sure that he didn’t. But he wondered if he could face them down without having to sacrifice his principles…

-

Meanwhile, the castle cafeteria was bustling. There was a large amount of soldiers that were on stand-by due to the weather. This resulted in many of them deciding to hang out in the cafeteria until their training started in the mid-afternoon.

It was lunch time, so the cafeteria was teeming with Digimon. Although the cafeteria was expansive with about a hundred tables, there were enough Digimon present to make it busy and congested. There were long lines to the serving counter, where the regular chefs were pumping out food to the hungry soldiers as fast as they could. Soldiers squeezed by each other as they tried to fit down the busy aisles between the rows of tables. Although the soldiers were disciplined enough not to be tripping over each other, the large Digimon had the right of way and the smaller ones usually had to avoid them to keep from getting bowled over. A chorus of discordant chatter filled the area as they tried to talk over one another in order to be heard.

A single, skinny, humanoid hornet gracefully weaved between large, muscular bodies of passing soldiers, deftly balancing a tray of food in his hands as he evaded them. With every breath, TigerVespamon excused himself and apologised as he tried to get around his fellow recruits and seniors.

“Excuse me. I apologise. Pardon me, please. Very sorry. May I…?” he rapid-fire apologised, ducking under a Tyrannomon’s arm and sliding past his tail with grace and precision. He asked for pardon as he passed a Knightmon and a Digmon. With a gentle sigh of relief, he stepped out of the crowd and into a more open part of the cafeteria.

He took the reprieve to get his bearings and look around the cafeteria for a table. To his concern, all of the tables that he saw were packed with soldiers. There were a few vacant seats, but they were flanked by large, chummy soldiers who he wasn’t acquainted with. He didn’t want to presume to sit down with them – they might be reserved for others still in line.

He stood quietly as he looked around, trying to detect a free table with his compound eyes. It was to no avail. He wondered where he should sit.

“Hey, Vespa! Over here!” a charming, relaxed, high tenor voice called out from behind him, drawing TigerVespamon from his thoughts. He turned around and saw ShineGreymon at a table over at the far end of the cafeteria. The humanoid dragon man was sitting at a table with VictoryGreymon, KaiserGreymon, and BlackWarGreymon. There were a couple vacant seats at the table. Though he was far away, TigerVespamon could tell that his usual confident grin was plastered on his face as he waved him over.

TigerVespamon tentatively headed over, politely passing Digimon as he navigated his way through the crowd. Four ‘pardon me’s later, he approached the table where most of the Greymon Five were sitting.

“ShineGreymon?” he questioned, looking at his fellow Strike Forces recruit.

“Hey, buddy. If you’re looking for a spot, go ahead and grab this one,” ShineGreymon offered, gesturing to the empty seat beside him. He sat down and flashed a charming smile at the insect man for encouragement.

“Oh… Thank you. If you are positive you do not mind,” TigerVespamon responded uncertainly. “I wouldn’t wish to impose upon you.”

“Haha, don’t be so formal, dude!” ShineGreymon exclaimed, reaching up to put his hand on TigerVespamon’s shoulder, gently ushering him into sitting in the chair next to him. “We’re training buds, so of course we don’t mind if you sit with us. Right, guys?”

“Not at all! Go ahead, Vespa,” VictoryGreymon encouraged, putting a broad, friendly smile on his face.

“It’s fine with us. You’re more than welcome,” KaiserGreymon concurred.

BlackWarGreymon nodded quietly at him. “Nobody’s sitting there.”

TigerVespamon settled into the chair uneasily at first, but he came to feel more relaxed at their assurances. “Thank you. I would be honored to join you,” he politely replied.

As he placed his tray down, the fifth member of the Greymon Five, WarGreymon, returned to the table carrying a tray with a mound of food piled on it. It seemed to TigerVespamon that it was more food than any Digimon could or should eat. WarGreymon looked over to the chair that TigerVespamon had taken. “Hey, my chair! I told you guys to save that while I got food!” he complained irately.

“O-Oh, my apologies…” TigerVespamon spoke, beginning to stand up. “I was told that it was vacant. Please, you are welcome to—“

“Oh, relax,” ShineGreymon interrupted with a nonchalant grin and a wave of the hand. “Just take the seat next to VictoryGreymon, you big baby.”

WarGreymon scowled and grumbled, but sat down in the chair across from TigerVespamon.

“I really do not mind…” the insect acolyte insisted.

“You really have to work on the way you speak, Vespa,” ShineGreymon said, slinging an arm over the hornet’s shoulders. “It’s way too formal and polite. Only the upper-crust officers spoke like that in the Republic’s military.”

“I could not speak impolitely in front of superior officers…” TigerVespamon awkwardly responded. “Father Angemon taught me that language should not only convey meaning, but also respect.”

“Lucky for you, the highest rank at this table is KaiserGreymon, and it’s not like we have to show him any special respect,” ShineGreymon replied with cheery humour.

“As the leader of the team, I would prefer if you did…” KaiserGreymon muttered exasperatedly, although he knew it would go unnoticed.

“It would be insubordinate of me not to show Sergeant KaiserGreymon the proper respect,” TigerVespamon insisted.

“Wow. Are all members of the Heavenly Choir such goody-two-shoes?” WarGreymon asked, looking across the table at TigerVespamon with a toothy smirk.

“In actuality, I am not a member of the Heavenly Choir… As I am an insect Digimon living on the Digital World, I am not legally bound by their laws to follow their codes of conduct,” TigerVespamon admitted calmly. He didn’t let on any of the uneasiness that he might have felt about that. “I simply choose to follow their religion as well as many of their tenets as it is proper etiquette.”

KaiserGreymon nodded. “TigerVespamon’s right. No matter what military we’re in, there’s a chain of command that we have to follow.” The broad shouldered dragon sergeant turned his head and looked between WarGreymon and ShineGreymon. “You two should learn from his example. Not everyone is as insubordinate as the pair of you are… You should try to make a good impression on the Royal Knights.”

ShineGreymon leaned back in his seat casually and rubbed the back of his head. “Hey, I am. It’s WarGreymon who mutters under his breath whenever he gets chewed out by Captain OuRyuumon,” he maintained lackadaisically.

WarGreymon grumbled under his breath and started tucking into his food.

TigerVespamon began preparing to eat as well, not wanting his food to get cold. The emptiness in his stomach was nagging at him. He gazed down at the food that he had assembled on his plate. On his plate was a succulent, white priest fish, drizzled with a light honey-lemon sauce. Next to it was a generous helping of salad, consisting of a variety of leaves. The green, red, and blue salad was fresh and garnished with a lemon-caper vinaigrette. Also accompanying the meal was a handful of mixed vegetables that he requested, making for a balanced and healthy meal.

TigerVespamon bowed his head and inwardly made a prayer of thanks for the food.

VictoryGreymon noticed this as he was mid-bite, and he immediately began to feel sheepish and guilty. “Oh, um…” He quickly put his fork down, clasped his large hands together, and closed his eyes to pray too, not wanting to offend TigerVespamon.

ShineGreymon looked across at VictoryGreymon and laughed. “What are you doing, Vic?”

WarGreymon smirked. “Since when have you ever prayed before stuffing your face?” he teased.

TigerVespamon looked up and smiled. “You really do not need to pray as well, VictoryGreymon,” he assured him. “I will not take any offence.”

VictoryGreymon opened one eye and rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh, um, you sure?”

The wasp Digimon nodded. “We were taught at the monastery that faith can be a private and introspective practice. That is how I choose to practice the Religion of Light. I respect the beliefs and non-belief of others; I would never expect you to pray or do anything that you were uncomfortable with simply because I was doing so,” TigerVespamon explained.

The large dragon man smiled. “Oh… ‘kay. Thanks, Vespa.”

“Thank you for considering me, nonetheless,” he added appreciatively.

TigerVespamon took his knife and fork and began to cut into his fish with surgical precision. He deftly plucked out the thin bones and carved off a safely bite-sized piece of fish. As he did this, the insect looked around at what the Greymon Five were eating. He couldn’t help but be stunned at what he saw.

Compared to his modest servings, the five Greymon basically had mounds of food piled on their plates. Their dishes were dominated by red meats, white meats, pieces of fish here and there, and vegetables. The helpings were big for a dinner, let alone a lunch. TigerVespamon stared over at VictoryGreymon’s plate; he wasn’t sure he could eat even half of what was on it. He glanced around at the different meals. The one’s whose meal was most similar to his own was ShineGreymon’s. The leaner dragon man’s food was generally healthy apart from one indulgent piece of steak, but there was still plenty of food on the plate. Was it true what they said about Greymon appetites?

“I can’t believe we get to eat this food every day!” VictoryGreymon moaned happily as he chewed on a piece of steak. “It tastes so good!”

“Yeah, even when Sir RhodoKnightmon’s not the one cooking, his team of chefs still cook amazingly,” ShineGreymon agreed.

“It’s way better than the slop we got in the mess hall back at the New Terminal base,” BlackWarGreymon added.

“Just don’t overeat, guys,” KaiserGreymon advised them. “I don’t want you losing it when we do physical training this afternoon.”

“Okay, Kaiz,” VictoryGreymon responded before taking a big bite of meat.

“We need the energy,” WarGreymon murmured, also digging into his food.

“So, what’s the plan? We train for the rest of the afternoon and then we have the evening off?” ShineGreymon asked, looking at KaiserGreymon for confirmation.

“That’s right,” KaiserGreymon confirmed.

“In that case, why don’t we all go to Knights’ Cross tonight and have a few at one of the bars?” ShineGreymon offered with a grin. “Maybe those hotties will be there again.” The light dragon looked at TigerVespamon. “Hey, Vespa, you should come with us.”

“Oh… That is very kind of you to offer, but did I not mention that I do not drink alcohol?” TigerVespamon responded.

“You don’t have to drink. Just have some juice and enjoy our company!” ShineGreymon insisted with his usual outgoing confidence.

“I suppose I could do that…” TigerVespamon responded.

“I can’t…” VictoryGreymon murmured sheepishly, poking his mashed potatoes with his fork. He looked up at his friends with a small smile. “SaviorHackmon and I’ve gotta meet with High Curator Phantomon about starting our punishment. Looks like we’ll be mopping the halls tonight, haha…”

“That’s tough, buddy,” ShineGreymon said, patting VictoryGreymon’s shoulder. “But, hey, it won’t be so bad. Maybe you’ll see some of the Royal Knights walking by. Maybe they’ll let you clean inside their rooms! How awesome would that be?”

“It’s supposed to be a punishment for doing something reckless and ill-advised, not a reward,” KaiserGreymon spoke up, looking firmly at ShineGreymon and VictoryGreymon.

“Y-Yeah, I know, Kaiz… I’m taking it really seriously,” VictoryGreymon penitently promised him, swirling his fork around the folds of the fluffy potatoes on his plate. He offered a smile. “I doubt we’ll be let inside their rooms anyways, since they probably keep confidential stuff inside, and us recruits don’t have that level of clearance yet…”

“I don’t know what the hell you were thinking in the first place,” WarGreymon gruffly chastised, plopping a forkful of vegetables in his mouth as he turned to stare at VictoryGreymon. “Really? Releasing a wanted criminal from the Royal Knights’ dungeons? That’s stupid, even for you.”

As he spoke, VictoryGreymon’s smiled faded slightly. “I didn’t release him on purpose…” VictoryGreymon half-heartedly defended, although the soft words and raised pitch of his voice revealed the guilt and remorse in his voice. “I didn’t expect that to happen.”

“You opened up his cell,” WarGreymon deadpanned. “What did you expect? For him to just play nice and not take the opportunity to run? Jeez, Victory, you’re lucky you have friends like us to keep you grounded.”

“I’m sure he feels really lucky having a friend who rubs his snout in it,” BlackWarGreymon sarcastically said to his orange counterpart.

VictoryGreymon’s smile faded and he ducked his head. He stared down at his plate and continued to sheepishly push his potatoes around. Up until WarGreymon mentioned it, he hadn’t been thinking about GrandisKuwagamon. When he woke up in the medical bay after falling unconscious, he had been told that GrandisKuwagamon managed to escape despite VictoryGreymon’s best efforts. He felt like a failure. But VictoryGreymon hated to let things drag him down. So he put what happened aside and focused on his duties. However, his regret and pain over GrandisKuwagamon always lingered at the back of his mind. Now, it was coming back out again.

“Yeah, I guess…” VictoryGreymon mumbled, putting on a tiny smile. “It was pretty naïve of me, huh?”

TigerVespamon quietly gazed down at his food as the dragon men spoke back and forth. As the topic of GrandisKuwagamon emerged, his appetite began to disappear and morph into a tight weight in bottom of his stomach. He placed his fork down beside his plate with gentle precision. He lifted his head and stared across the table at VictoryGreymon. “…VictoryGreymon, may I ask you something?” he asked him.

“Huh? Of course, Vespa,” accepted the dragon man.

“I am not trying to be judgmental when I ask this, but… why did you help GrandisKuwagamon?” TigerVespamon questioned. Although his words were delivered coolly, his voice was calm and did not reveal any malice.

“…I know it sounds stupid, but… I wanted to,” VictoryGreymon admitted sheepishly. “I believed that he wasn’t a bad guy. He helped me when I was about to get beaten up by those demons. I don’t think that was just a trick…”

“However, he manipulated you and attacked you so that he might escape…” TigerVespamon softly countered.

VictoryGreymon’s green eyes drifted down to his lap. “I know he did…” he murmured with a wince. “I shouldn’t have let that happen.”

“Hey, you made up for it by volunteering to go after him, even if you didn’t catch him,” ShineGreymon encouraged him.

“I just wish I could have stopped him…” VictoryGreymon murmured, staring at his food before placing a piece of meat in his mouth.

“I cannot believe that he would try to escape… He should have accepted his punishment,” TigerVespamon murmured, slowly piercing a vegetable with his fork and bringing it to his mouth to bite.

“GrandisKuwagamon?” WarGreymon asked. “Why would he do that? If I were a criminal and I had a chance to escape, I would.”

The humanoid hornet sighed. “I suppose it is merely wishful thinking,” he admitted. “His actions are exhaustingly cynical…”

KaiserGreymon looked over at VictoryGreymon. “You didn’t really mention what happened when you fought him,” he mentioned curiously.

“It looked pretty rough with the amount of cuts and bruises you had,” WarGreymon pointed out, poking one of the healing bruises on VictoryGreymon’s arm.

“Ow!” VictoryGreymon retracted his thick arm protectively, his muscles still tender from the fight. “Well…” He was a bit uncertain about telling them the details, but they were his friends.

“Come on, V,” ShineGreymon encouraged. The solar dragon grinned positively. “Tell us how much of that beetle’s ass you kicked.”

VictoryGreymon smiled with embarrassment and scratched the rear of his red-haired head. “It was actually a pretty close fight… Grandis is a really good fighter. He probably would have beaten me if Paildramon and SaviorHackmon weren’t there,” he humbly admitted.

TigerVespamon stared over at VictoryGreymon. “Could you please recount what happened? I am somewhat curious as well. That is, if you do not mind…”

“Yeah, uh, sure… We caught up to GrandisKuwagamon as he was escaping north. We tried to convince him to come back with us, but he wouldn’t listen and he attacked us. We ended up having to fight him,” VictoryGreymon explained, still rubbing the smooth, orange scales on the nape of his neck as he spoke. “It was really tough… He put up a good fight against all three of us. It took a lot of work, but we finally got him on the back foot. That was when he got desperate and came up behind me and grabbed me.”

“What? Like, your ass?” ShineGreymon blithely questioned.

“W-What? No!” VictoryGreymon swiftly clarified, his cheeks tinting pink with embarrassment. “I mean, he grabbed my neck with his pincers and used me as a hostage.”

“That’s terrible,” KaiserGreymon spoke, turning to his right to look at VictoryGreymon. “You’re not too hurt from that?”

VictoryGreymon offered a reassuring smile to show that he was fine. “Yeah, it wasn’t too bad, but…” VictoryGreymon trailed off a bit, wondering how much he should say. “Emotions were running high. He… opened up about a lot.”

TigerVespamon looked up from his food and stared at VictoryGreymon with interest. “Oh…? What about, if I may ask?”

VictoryGreymon grimaced and ducked his head. “Sorry… I’m not sure I can say… He told us a lot of really private things about his past…” the dragon man apologetically explained.

“…I see,” TigerVespamon answered, looking forwards and continuing to eat his food, stone-faced.

“You really care about protecting the secrets of some guy who kicked the **** outta you?” WarGreymon incredulously asked.

“It was really personal, War,” VictoryGreymon explained. “He talked about a lot of terrible things that happened to him. It really helped me to understand why he acts the way he does. It must have been terrible for him… I can’t imagine the pain that he had to suffer through.”

“…So, he was attempting to justify his deplorable behaviour simply by recounting some tragic events in his life?” TigerVespamon clarified, his words cold and placid, like the surface of a frozen lake. “Many Digimon have suffered terrible tragedies in their lives, and yet we do not feel the need to turn to crime, brutality and deceit. He chose to live his life in such a way. You should not feel too sorry for him, VictoryGreymon… However sorry one might feel for him, it does not excuse his present actions…”

VictoryGreymon was surprised and confused at how unsympathetic TigerVespamon was towards GrandisKuwagamon, especially since he usually seemed so nice. “Yeah, but… something really bad happened to him when he was just a kid…” he tentatively murmured. “It was horrible, Vespa…”

TigerVespamon paused and his grip tightened on his fork for only a moment. “Yes… and that is terrible… However, does that excuse the fact that he is causing others pain in the present?”

“Well, no, but… He just needs to see that what he’s doing is wrong,” VictoryGreymon contended. “I know that, despite everything, he’s a good Digimon deep down.”

“I wonder…” TigerVespamon sceptically whispered to himself. He stared down at the glass of water on his tray. There was not a single ripple in the still, clear liquid. As VictoryGreymon placed a hand on the table, a single quiver arrested the surface of the water.

VictoryGreymon gazed at TigerVespamon. He wasn’t aggressive or defensive, but attempting to understand him. “TigerVespamon… I don’t really get it. You don’t seem to want to give GrandisKuwagamon a chance at all,” he tentatively spoke up.

TigerVespamon stiffened slightly.

“You do kinda talk like you know GrandisKuwagamon,” ShineGreymon explained.

VictoryGreymon stared at TigerVespamon softly. “Why don’t you like him? Is it just because he’s a criminal? …Or has he done anything to hurt you personally?”

TigerVespamon looked away from his gaze for a few moments. He took a calming breath and raised his head to meet VictoryGreymon’s questioning gaze again. “…He has hurt me in ways that you cannot comprehend.”

“Oh… I’m sorry…” VictoryGreymon apologised, guilt starting to emerge inside of him for questioning TigerVespamon’s reasons. The dragon man’s eyes drifted down to his half-eaten plate of food. He was conflicted. He felt sorry for GrandisKuwagamon and he understood how he ended up like he did. However, he knew that TigerVespamon had a point and that GrandisKuwagamon was hurting people. He just wanted to show GrandisKuwagamon that he didn’t have to be that way. Digimon could change. At least, that’s what VictoryGreymon wanted to believe…

ShineGreymon’s usual smile was absent. Instead, he stared at TigerVespamon with a concerned frown reflected in his blue eyes. “What’d he do? …You said ‘we’ when you were talking about Digimon who suffered tragedies in their lives… What happened?” ShineGreymon’s eyes darkened bitterly. “You mentioned growing up in a monastery. Did you lose your parents?”

“…I would prefer not to discuss it, if that is alright. It happened long ago.” He softly shook his head, cleansing himself of any sentiment. “It was in another life… I am a different Digimon now. I do not see the point in dwelling on it,” TigerVespamon explained with matter-of-fact resilience. “I would prefer to move forward, as a new Digimon with a new life.”

“Yeah, but…” ShineGreymon uncertainly began. He stalled. He seemed as though he wanted to say more, but he decided better of it. “…Hey, I guess if that’s what works for you, that’s totally cool, dude.” ShineGreymon shrugged and returned the carefree grin to his face. “So… this is getting pretty heavy. Should we talk about something less likely to put us off our food?”

“Yes, my apologies,” TigerVespamon responded, nodded and continuing to eat his food.

VictoryGreymon gazed at TigerVespamon for a few more seconds before returning to his own meal as well. He didn’t know what went on between TigerVespamon and GrandisKuwagamon, but he knew that it would be rude to ask. It sounded like he had been deeply hurt by him. He respected that TigerVespamon had his reasons, but he wasn’t sure that TigerVespamon knew what he knew about GrandisKuwagamon. Maybe he just only ever saw the bad side of GrandisKuwagamon, where VictoryGreymon also saw the good side. However, now wasn’t the time to convince him.

“Yeah, okay…” VictoryGreymon agreed.

TigerVespamon removed the fork from his insect mouth and placed it down. “I hope I have not offended you in any way, VictoryGreymon,” he contritely posited. “If so, I sincerely apologise.”

VictoryGreymon smiled at him reassuringly. “No, you haven’t… I understand, I think. Don’t worry about it, Vespa.”

“VictoryGreymon just has a problem with always seeing the best in people,” WarGreymon teased. “He’s sickeningly sweet and idealistic all the time.”

“It’s not a bad thing to be optimistic,” KaiserGreymon countered. “I find it comforting, having VictoryGreymon around to always look on the bright side.”

“Indeed. That is an admirable quality to have,” TigerVespamon insisted. “It is important to be able to see the light within the darkness.”

VictoryGreymon couldn’t help but look at TigerVespamon. “Even when it comes to GrandisKuwagamon?” he suggested.

TigerVespamon went quiet. He suddenly became absorbed in his own thoughts, and his compound eyes tightened ever so softly. “…That is…” he hesitated.

VictoryGreymon grimaced as guilt overtook him. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” he apologised sincerely. “I don’t know what you went through, so… Sorry…”

“No, it is a fair question… I am just unable to forgive him right now. Perhaps that is my own moral failing…” TigerVespamon conceded, frowning pensively.

“No. I shouldn’t interfere. Sorry, Vespa,” VictoryGreymon insisted, smiling reassuringly. “I won’t mention him to you again.”

TigerVespamon nodded softly and continued to modestly peck away at his food. Around him, the other Greymons ate at a much faster pace. They shoveled down their food with more bulk and more mess as well. TigerVespamon couldn’t help but feel a bit out of place in their company – they were much different from the well-mannered monks that he was used to spending time with. However, he was grateful to them for letting him accompany them and treating him as a friend, all the same.

As time went on, the six continued chatting and the food on their plates furthered disappeared.

“--so then I swept my tail out and knocked him flat on his ass right in front of Captain OuRyuumon!” ShineGreymon bragged, recounting their last sparring session. “It was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.”

“Cool! I wish I could have seen it,” VictoryGreymon enthusiastically stated before plopping another bite of meat into his mouth.

WarGreymon rolled his eyes. “The only one who thought that was impressive was ShineGreymon,” he jeered. Having eaten quite a large amount of food, the orange dragon man stretched, patted his stomach, and pushed his plate of food away. “Well, I’m stuffed.”

TigerVespamon looked across the table at WarGreymon’s plate. There was still half a slice of steak, a few pieces of fish, and some stray vegetables. It was enough for an ordinary Digimon’s meal. TigerVespamon was surprised and a little dismayed. “You do not plan on finishing that?” he wondered.

WarGreymon shrugged. “Nah, I’m pretty full.”

“The Four Holy Beasts require only one grain of rice between them,” TigerVespamon proverbially mentioned.

WarGreymon stared at TigerVespamon as though he was speaking gibberish. “…What the hell does that mean?” he plainly asked.

Paildramon stopped as she was passing by their table with her own tray of food. She looked at WarGreymon with a slight, playful smile. “It means that the gods need only a small amount of food for sustenance, so you shouldn’t waste food either,” she explained.

“Paildramon! Grab a seat,” ShineGreymon offered, gesturing to the last vacant seat at the table.

“Hello, over-sergeant,” TigerVespamon greeted. “You are correct. It seems a shame to waste food.” He frowned and hoped that he wasn’t being too preachy. “However, it is also bad to overindulge, especially when we have to exercise later. You shouldn’t force yourself, WarGreymon.”

“I’ll eat it if you’re not gonna finish it, WarGreymon,” VictoryGreymon offered, looking hungrily at his partially chewed food.

WarGreymon rolled his eyes and slid VictoryGreymon his plate. “Go nuts.” As his friend began transferring his food to his own plate, WarGreymon turned to Paildramon. “Hey, Paildramon. How’s it going?”

Paildramon settled in and placed her plate down in front of her. It contained a modest slice of meat, vegetables, and a salad. “Not bad. I was just speaking with Leftenant HippoGriffomon about today’s training exercises.”

“Can you give us any hints?” ShineGreymon probed.

Paildramon smiled. “Tactical manoeuvres in adverse weather,” she mentioned.

TigerVespamon noticed the bandages on Paildramon’s arm and wing as she began to eat her meal. Like VictoryGreymon’s injuries, they must have been from their encounter with GrandisKuwagamon. “Are you very hurt?” he asked.

Paildramon looked up at him. “Oh… Not really. I’m more than well enough to train,” she insisted minimally. “VictoryGreymon was worse off than I am.”

VictoryGreymon smiled sheepishly. “I’m okay now though. Doctor Duskmon was great…”

“I apologise,” TigerVespamon spoke, frowning softly.

“Huh? You don’t have anything to apologise for, TigerVespamon. We’re fine,” VictoryGreymon assured him with a warm smile. “You can’t help that you weren’t on-duty at the time.”

TigerVespamon quietly nodded. As he whittled down the food on his plate and felt his stomach filling up, he quietly thought to himself. He thought about GrandisKuwagamon and the anger that he evoked within him. It bothered him.

Soon enough, all that was left on his plate was a green pod with two peas within it. He idly forked one of the peas, causing it to split. He daintily lifted the pea on his fork and transferred it into the void of his mouth.

TigerVespamon sighed and finished off the final scrap of food despite his full stomach, not wanting to waste anything. The topic of GrandisKuwagamon had also contributed to his loss of appetite. He couldn’t help but think about him, despite not wishing to. He didn’t want to dwell on it.

Despite that, a tiny part of him wondered what exactly the dark mercenary was doing now…

-

GrandisKuwagamon walked down a dark, beat up street in Dark Point. His feet clicked gently as they impacted the cracked road with every step.

It was the late afternoon. There was a faint orange glow in the distance, signalling that it was nearing Evening Light. The city was still mostly dark apart from the urban glow.

The street that GrandisKuwagamon walked down had a slight decline. This was because it led downhill towards the port and harbour. He was in the loading district of Dark Point, the area where cargo was loaded on and off ships and marine Digimon for transport. This was now the demons’ turf.

After having rested up and been given a complimentary meal from Devidramon, GrandisKuwagamon was feeling in better shape than he was yesterday. He was ready to start reorganizing his life and getting back to work.

He walked down the shady street. His Gran Killers rested protectively over his forearms, warning off any Digimon who might have funny ideas about crossing him. Although his crimson eye stared straight ahead, he was alert and extremely aware of his surroundings. He had got filled in on the situation in Dark Point by Devidramon. He was aware of the details of the turf war going on between the demons and the Talons. He knew he had to be on his toes when travelling through the loading district. There was a chance he could be attacked or get caught up in something that he didn’t want to involve himself with.

Despite these dangers, he had an objective in mind. His client pool was dry and money was tight, so he was backed into a corner professionally. However, there was one person who he knew needed mercenaries…

GrandisKuwagamon looked down the dark street. In the distance, the murky harbour water sloshed lazily. Although he couldn’t see it well from his current position a few blocks up from the docks, he could smell it. The pungent aroma of salty ocean water, mixed with faint aroma of wet wood and distant sewage, was ever present near the harbour of Dark Point.

He walked past a storage warehouse that was guarded by a fence topped with spikes and razor wire. Beyond it was an apothecary crammed between two large single-floor apartments built for large Digimon. Upon reaching the nearest corner, he turned right - down a side street.

As the mercenary made his way up it, he noticed a few Digimon walking in the opposite direction – a black Garurumon hauling several large boxes on a cart, followed by a Gabumon that was keeping them steady as they were pulled. He paid them no attention and walked past them, down towards the next corner. At that corner was a large bar made of black, mossy stone. An old, weathered sign hung above the door, creaking in the wind. It revealed the bar’s name: The Watery Grave. He could already hear a few raucous voices cackling inside of it.

GrandisKuwagamon stepped up to the scratched up door, which had no less than one fist indent embedded in the wood. He could hear the drunken laughter and malevolent snarls of the ne’er-do-well patrons inside. It didn’t bother him at all. He was used to dealing with these types of Digimon – the dregs of society. He was one of them, after all.

He pushed the door open and strode inside with unerring confidence. To do anything else would be seen as a sign of weakness. In places such as Dark Point, weakness was pounced upon and devoured. The ebony mercenary walked inside and looked around.

The bar was full of demon Digimon. There were about a dozen of them – a couple Ultimate levels and the rest were Perfect or Adult level. Eight of the demons sat around a large table. They were gorging themselves on bar snacks while pouring over a map of the city of Dark Point. There were small knives stabbed into the map at key points in the city. The smaller group of demon Digimon waited at the bar counter for the bartender to serve them drinks.

As soon as GrandisKuwagamon walked in, the bar went dead quiet. The group of demon Digimon all turned to stare at GrandisKuwagamon with kneejerk suspicion. GrandisKuwagamon turned his head and met their gaze, unafraid of the sudden atmosphere of hostility.

A Murmuxmon sitting at the table suddenly stood up and placed his clawed hands on the surface. He glared at GrandisKuwagamon with a threatening scowl. “Who the hell are you?” he demanded. “In case you’re an idiot or something, this is our bar.”

“Funny, this used to be the Talons’ bar,” GrandisKuwagamon nonchalantly mused.

“It’s not anymore,” the Murmuxmon fired back, his hand hovering near one of the standing daggers. “Are you with the Talons?”

“Me? Not a chance in hell I’d be seen with those losers. I’m just a lone, freelance mercenary,” GrandisKuwagamon explained with a grin. “And I know this bar’s on your turf now. That’s why I’m here.”

“What’s a pest like you want with us?” the Murmuxmon suspiciously inquired, scowling. “A fight?”

GrandisKuwagamon walked over to the table, unwavering in his stride. He only stopped when the group of demon suddenly rose to their feet and got into a defensive stance. “Easy,” he said, noticing their suspicion. “Not here for a fight. I’m here for a proposition…”

“We don’t need freelance mercenaries, so buzz off,” the Murmuxmon acerbically dismissed.

“You might not, but your bosses do,” GrandisKuwagamon confidently restated. When the Murmuxmon cocked an eyebrow at him, GrandisKuwagamon clarified. “I know you guys escaped from the Dark Area. You work for the Demon Lords… I’m guessing you know they escaped too, huh?”

“…Of course we know. We got in touch with them and we were ordered to stay on standby here,” the Murmuxmon confirmed, eyeing him to gauge his intent. “What’s it to you?”

“I need you to tell me where they are,” the dark insect responded.

“As if we’re dumb enough to tell you information like that,” the ranking demon bluntly denied him. “You’ve probably been hired to find out where they are.”

GrandisKuwagamon rolled his eye. “Would I be standing here if I was? Gimme some credit. I’m here for work,” he dryly explained. He stared at the Murmuxmon frankly. “I worked for Bagramon - the guy who wanted to free the Demon Lords. I was instrumental in setting all that up. So a bit of repayment might be nice.”

“…What are you after, bug?” the demon asked him.

“I want you to arrange for me to meet them. Doesn’t matter how or where. Bagramon will want my services…” GrandisKuwagamon proposed, a glint in his eye. “Just tell me where I can meet them or somebody on Bagramon’s behalf.”

GrandisKuwagamon grinned faintly. “For whatever they’re planning, they’re going to need soldiers and operatives… I can’t think of a better person to work for Bagramon than myself.”

His smile turned dark and there was a glimmer of determination in his eye. “I’ve got a contract to finish, after all…”
 
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Griff4815

No. 1 Grovyle Fan
Trying to catch up here. Here's the relationship drama chapter.

Chapter 38: Contrast


The full moon drifted sluggishly in the astral sky. Lying across from it was its smaller twin: a crescent moon that still rested in the east. The pair of moons cast a pale, blue glow across the landscape of Splendor’s Reach.


The night sky was clear and serene that evening. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky to obstruct the subdued lightshow of star data. Absent were the cold, winter temperatures of the Sign of Xuanwumon. The vernal evening was comfortably mild and balmy. One could take an extended stroll without any discomfort whatsoever. Spring was several weeks in, and the temperatures were seasonal. Despite the large amounts of rain that typically fell over the Free Area during the Sign of Qinglongmon, tonight was clear and dry.


This suited one Digimon quite well. Standing on the wall surrounding Castle Albion was a figure clad in black armour.


Alphamon stood on the ramparts, with his arms resting comfortably on the stone parapets. The moon beams shone down on the castle, causing Alphamon’s armour to blush with a gentle, white shimmer. With thoughtful eyes, Alphamon stared out over the peaceful vista.


The leader of the Royal Knights stood in his usual spot. He liked it there – particularly that one spot, on the far end of the bridge leading from the castle building to the ramparts. It always retained a special place in his heart. He was able to soak in the tranquility and the solitude of the nascent dusk.


As it was the early evening, most of the Order Digimon finished their shifts and training for the day. After they had finished eating, most returned to their barracks, either to socialise, to see to some personal things, or to have an early night.


A Digimon as busy as Alphamon rarely had the time to do any of those things. This was especially true under the current circumstances.


He had been working tirelessly with the Royal Knights to plan their campaign against the Demon Lords. They had to work out a solid strategy, organise the logistics of the campaign, and step up preliminary reconnaissance. On top of that, Alphamon personally had to prepare for his trip to New Terminal. He planned to leave soon, but he couldn’t leave the Royal Knights in the lurch just as they were strategising. As a result, he barely had a minute to himself until now.


The quiet of the night, the picturesque view, and the dark peace of his surroundings helped him to think. He was always thinking about something. That’s just the way he was. Reflecting on his thoughts in such a serene setting helped him to relax.


There were a few things on his mind. The most obvious was Bagramon. He had come to terms with the revelation that Bagramon was, in fact, their enemy, but it didn’t make it any easier for him to swallow. The personal betrayal was only magnified by the fact that Bagramon was working with the Seven Great Demon Lords. Each of the Seven was immensely dangerous in their own right, but working together in tandem was an incredible threat to the Digital World. Sure, the Royal Knights had the advantage at the moment, but the tide of war could change with the slightest misstep. He didn’t know what other machinations Bagramon had to help them, or what their ultimate goals were. Did they simply want revenge on the Heavenly Choir? Did they want to destroy it? Conquer it? Conquer the Digital World? And how should the Royal Knights respond?


These questions spun around in his head. His mind worked quickly, following each branching train of thought to their potential conclusions. From the outside looking in, Alphamon simply looked as though he was enjoying the night sky. Really, his mind was functioning like a computer.


For the briefest of seconds, Alphamon wondered how DarkKnightmon would have responded to the news that his brother was working with the Demon Lords. Would he take up his spear against Bagramon, no matter how much it may have pained his heart? Would he put the safety of the Digital World over his own personal relations? Alphamon didn’t need to think very hard to find his answer. Of course he would. That’s the way DarkKnightmon was. DarkKnightmon did as much against the Royal Knights, after all.


Alphamon closed his eyes. He wondered why he was even thinking about DarkKnightmon, here and now…


Inwardly, he knew the reason.


The soft clamour of metal entered Alphamon’s ears. The rhythmic tempo of steel on stone resounded from behind him. He heard a pair of footsteps crossing the bridge from the castle. It was a familiar gait that was approaching him. The pace was calm, unassuming, and soft-pedalled. Alphamon smiled gently. It could only be…


“Alphamon?” a familiar voice spoke up from behind him. “I apologise for interrupting…”


Alphamon opened his eyes and looked over his broad shoulder. A few meters behind him was a white figure, who stepped off the arching bridge and onto the ramparts of the castle wall. The Digimon was none other than Omegamon. He politely stopped at the base of the bridge, not wanting to intrude.


“Omegamon… It’s no trouble at all,” Alphamon answered in a deep, welcoming voice. “Come. Feel free.”


Omegamon nodded and approached Alphamon’s right side. He took a similar relaxed stance to Alphamon, placing his white forearms and hands on one of the parapets and leaning forwards on the barrier. Omegamon looked out into the distance, as if trying to see what Alphamon was looking at.


“It has been awhile since I’ve last seen you out here…” Omegamon mentioned, turning to look at Alphamon.


“Yes, I suppose it has… We have all been so busy since our first battle against the Metal Empire, that barely any of us have had any time for ourselves,” Alphamon responded. “It’s unlikely that we will have time in the near future, so I am starting to believe that it is best to take what reprieve we can, whenever we can.”


“You may be right about that,” Omegamon agreed. “However, I was referring to even before the Metal Empire War… It has just felt like a long time since we were both out here, together…”


“Hmm… Has it?” Alphamon wondered, readjusting his arms slightly so that he rested comfortably on his elbows. “…I suppose it has, come to think of it.” He turned his head, and his eyes met Omegamon’s. “In fact, it has been a long time since you and I have had a good chat in general. I can’t remember the last time that we had a talk like we used to…”


Omegamon glanced down, breaking their gaze. “Yes, I suppose so. As you said, we have been very busy with one thing or another…” he reasoned furtively.


Alphamon smiled gently and turned forwards, fixing his attention back onto the dark expanse. “Yes…”


As Alphamon left his response lingering, a silence overtook the pair. The tranquility of the night bridged the gap between their words, and they both felt at a loss for what to say. Whether it was a peaceful silence or an uncomfortable one, neither could decide. All that they knew was that the silence between them represented a gap of words unsaid.


Finally, Alphamon decided that he should be the one to speak up. He knew Omegamon well enough to know that he probably wouldn’t, even if he wanted to.


“…Omegamon, may I ask you something?” Alphamon wondered.


“…Of course, Alphamon,” was his reply.


“Have you been avoiding me?” the black knight asked. He turned back to gaze at Omegamon, not with accusatory eyes, but curious ones.


Omegamon paused. He was taken off guard by the direct question, and a sense of inner awkwardness gathered inside of him. “No, I…” he uneasily began to retort. “I haven’t.”


Alphamon smiled slightly and winked teasingly at the slender knight beside him. “I’m just joking, Omegamon…” he lightly reassured him. “Although… if you were, I wouldn’t be angry. And I certainly wouldn’t blame you,” Alphamon admitted.


He ventured a glance up at the distant moon. “I have broken your trust, so I do not expect our relationship to go back to the way it was so swiftly. There is still distance between us, and I can only hope that I can repair that bridge with time…”


Omegamon winced softly with guilt. “Alphamon… Please, don’t. Don’t blame yourself,” he quietly pleaded. “If there is still discomfort between us, it isn’t because of you. The reason I have been uneasy is…” He sighed. “The fault is mine.”


“Why do you say that, Omegamon?” Alphamon wondered, frowning just slightly.


“I…” Omegamon steeled his nerves and drew a centering breath. “I have been too ashamed…”


The frown deepened behind Alphamon’s dark helmet. “Ashamed? What for?”


“For everything that I have done. During DarkKnightmon’s rebellion,” Omegamon explained, a gentle wince in his cyan blue eyes. “I would like to apologise to you, Alphamon…”


“Omegamon, there is no need,” Alphamon insisted, shaking his head. With one hand still resting on the waist-high parapet, he faced his alabaster counterpart. “I seem to remember that you apologised quite profusely already. You really don’t have apologise to me. It was my fault that you were placed in that terrible situation to begin with. If anything, it should be me—“


“Alphamon, please, enough,” Omegamon abruptly interrupted with a rare display of interpersonal force. He stared into Alphamon’s surprised eyes. There was a determination and strength of heart in Omegamon’s gaze, but the flicker of guilt soon emerged. “…Please, just once, don’t place the blame on your own shoulders… This is about me, not you. This is my apology, not yours…”


Although surprised, Alphamon realised the seriousness in Omegamon’s echoing voice. He slowly and quietly nodded at the white knight, allowing him to speak.


Omegamon sighed. “…What I want to apologise for… It has nothing to do with the things I did when I was Zwart. Of course I feel guilty, for hurting my friends, and for being a slave to DarkKnightmon and my own darker emotions. However, that isn’t what I want to say…” He glanced down for a few moments before forcing himself to look back up at Alphamon. There was a soft shade of embarrassment in Omegamon’s cheeks. “I’m sorry… for the way that I acted when I found out that you were bisexual and in a relationship with OuRyuumon.”


The black knight raised a brow in confusion. This was certainly not what he had been expecting. “Pardon…?”


Omegamon looked down submissively. “I realised recently that I never apologised properly for that. I apologised for my actions as Zwart, but I don’t think I ever explicitly apologised for what came before.”


The Royal Knight raised his white hand and gripped the pointed corner of one of the nearby bricks. “…I acted shamefully. When I overheard your conversation with OuRyuumon back in Auguria, I was hurt,” he admitted. “At that point, you hadn’t told anybody about your sexuality or your relationship. …I made it all about me. I didn’t even stop to think about how you must have felt. That was one of the deepest secrets of your life and all I could think about was how it affected me.”


Alphamon grimaced softly as the memories came back to him. He remembered the day well. It had etched a painful place in his heart. “…You had every right, Omegamon,” he explained.


“No, I didn’t, Alphamon,” Omegamon resolutely responded. “What arrogance did I have to think that you owed me an explanation? Your sexuality was your secret to keep, Alphamon. I shouldn’t have acted with such self-righteous entitlement. It is your decision when to reveal your sexuality, and to whom. If you were not ready, then that was your decision.”


“I was ready… but I was too insecure. That was my failing,” Alphamon admitted. “If I had only told you sooner… The thing that I wanted to avoid was the very thing that ended up happening…”


“Alphamon, please. You have already apologised to me for that. I have accepted it. …Allow me do this. If you apologise again, I will only feel more guilty…” Omegamon pleaded bitterly.


Alphamon closed his eyes and nodded. “I’m sorry.” He smiled wryly. “I have a problem with guilt, it seems… I won’t say another word about it.”


“Thank you,” Omegamon answered, frowning. “…When I found out that you were keeping that secret from me, I was hurt and I reacted childishly. I was up all night thinking about what I had discovered… The next morning, I could have kept it a secret and allowed you to tell me when you were ready. Instead, I told you that I knew. I didn’t admit it to myself at the time, but I think it was because I wanted you to feel guilty… I was hurting, so I wanted you to know that you hurt me…” Omegamon turned to face Alphamon fully. “What I did was petty and passive-aggressive. I caused you undue pain and pressure. My actions forced you to reveal your secret before you were ready, and I helped to cause the terrible rift that emerged between us. It played right into DarkKnightmon’s hands.”


“Thank you, Omegamon. However, we both played a part…” Alphamon reasoned diplomatically. “Don’t be too self-critical.”


“…I think there was a part of me was jealous…” Omegamon suddenly admitted, his eyes narrowed and dark.


Alphamon blinked. “Jealous…?”


The gentle crimson in Omegamon’s cheeks intensified, but it was concealed by the night. “Yes… Jealous of you and OuRyuumon. That your bond with him was deeper than your bond with me… I had realised that you and OuRyuumon had secrets… and you had a connection that I wasn’t privy too. I think that may have factored into my reaction as well. It’s childish and myopic, isn’t it?”


“Omegamon…” Alphamon guiltily spoke.


“N-Nevertheless… That is all that I wanted to say…” he softly finished.


Omegamon looked up, locked his gaze with Alphamon, and stared with his sad, blue eyes. He then bent forwards and bowed deeply, causing his cape to flutter before draping over his back.


“I’m truly sorry, Alphamon… It would mean everything if you could accept my apology…” Omegamon gently requested.


Alphamon turned and placed his hands on Omegamon’s shoulders. He raised him up so that they were standing face-to-face once again, on equal levels. He gave him a warm smile. “Your apology has been accepted… All is forgiven, Omegamon…” he reassured his friend.


Omegamon smiled gratefully. “Thank you…” He turned away and returned to leaning on the castle wall’s parapets. “I am sorry about all that. I typically try not to be too heavy or dramatic. I just… really want our friendship to be how it used to be, without the guilt and tension.”


“I want nothing more, Omegamon,” Alphamon agreed, going and leaning on the parapet beside Omegamon, standing close to him. “So, apart from the wars, that’s the reason why you have been a bit distant these past few months?”


“Partially… After everything with DarkKnightmon, I had trouble coming to terms with what I did and that dark side of me… Omegamon Zwart,” the white paladin admitted. “Part of me wanted to reject Zwart as just some exterior influence that was forced on me by DarkKnightmon and the Dark Area. However, another part of me knew that Zwart was no different from me – that we were inextricably connected. I was consumed by guilt, concern, and disgust. I had trouble reconciling the two feelings.”


Alphamon leered at Omegamon with faint concern. “…Why didn’t you tell me? I could have helped. I know what it’s like to be consumed with that sort of self-doubt.”


“I know you do… But you had your own problems. I know you feel guilty over killing DarkKnightmon… I don’t think either of us were in the right place to be comforting each other in that moment. I didn’t feel that I had any right to burden you like that either,” Omegamon explained.


“I see. And now…?” Alphamon wondered.


Omegamon smiled a little. “Now? I feel… unburdened. At ease, I suppose…” he answered.


“I’m very glad to hear that, Omegamon...” The Knight of the Empty Seat glanced over at Omegamon. “Do you still feel uneasy about Omegamon Zwart?”


“… Not as much anymore,” Omegamon explained after hesitating for a moment. “Dukemon really helped me with that recently.”


Alphamon smiled gently. “I see. I am sure that he did… Dukemon really is a good friend, isn’t he?” he said, looking at Omegamon carefully.


“Yes… He is never afraid to help one of his friends with their problems. He can be quite forthright about it too,” the white paladin said with a soft smile.


“Indeed… I can speak to that from experience,” Alphamon agreed with a chuckle. “…I know you are sick of me apologizing, so I promise that this will be the last time…” he added with a wry grin. The cheeky look in his eyes became sincere as he stared at his second in command. “…I really am sorry.”


“I know you are, Alphamon. You don’t need to say so,” Omegamon answered, smiling.


Alphamon chuckled. “Very well… Then we will leave it at that.” He continued gazing at Omegamon, his body more comfortable than before. “Let’s be honest with each other from now on, alright, Omegamon?”


Omegamon nodded gently. “Those are my thoughts exactly… I won’t keep anything bottled in around you if I can help it.”


“That goes for me as well,” Alphamon agreed, smiling warmly.


Nodding, Omegamon smiled and placed his hands comfortably on top of the stone surface before him.


“Omegamon…” Alphamon spoke, gazing out onto the moonlit landscape. “You are more important to me than you will ever know…”


The white knight’s eyes widened softly. At these heartfelt words, Omegamon’s face lightly heated up. “Alphamon… I…” He stalled, his face burning quietly underneath the moonlight. Omegamon didn’t speak. Instead, he simply acted. He was always better at that.


He looked at the black knight and tentatively reached over. Without a word, he gently placed his white hand on top of Alphamon’s black one, which rested on the stone surface of the parapet. He felt the palm of his hand settle on top of Alphamon’s knuckles, and he softly curled his fingers.


Alphamon looked down at Omegamon’s hand with surprise, but he didn’t pull away. He looked over at Omegamon’s face, which wasn’t looking at him, but up at the moon. There was a shy look in his blue eyes, and a blush in his cheeks that was hidden from view by the shadows.


After a moment’s contemplation, Alphamon smiled warmly and flipped his hand over. He closed his fingers around Omegamon’s hand and squeezed it reciprocally.


Neither the white nor black knight spoke. This time, the silence between them was comfortable. Once again, they were like the closest of friends, who could enjoy the beautiful view in tranquil silence. They simply enjoyed the quiet of the night and each other’s company.


Behind them, on the balcony on the opposite side of the bridge, a pink figure watched the pair, his hands clasped together. If RhodoKnightmon’s mouth had been visible, he would have been smiling from ear-to-ear.


The rose Royal Knight stood in the shadow of the tower doorway, having watched the latter part of the conversation unfold. As much as he was internally romanticizing, RhodoKnightmon decided to leave the pair in peace. Unbeknownst to the two Royal Knights, he simply turned around and sashayed back into the castle with a spring in his step.


Meanwhile, the moonlight shone down softly on Alphamon and Omegamon. Even in a time of war, they enjoyed this little flash of peace. For once in a long time, they felt like they could enjoy it together.


-


About fifteen minutes passed.


Inside Castle Albion, OuRyuumon walked up the stairs from the basement, making his way to the second floor of the castle.


He had spent the last hour in the library with Captain Knightmon. The pair had been going over hypothetical strategies for confronting the Demon Lords using the Strike and Defence Forces. Before that, he had been speaking with his direct subordinates, Leftenents Grademon and HippoGriffomon, about adjusting the Strike Force’s training regime. Before that, he had been overseeing training exercises, going over scouting reports with Grani, talking strategy with the Royal Knights, making sure the Strike Force’s equipment was all in quality shape, among other things. He had been working hard since the break of dawn. He was relieved to finally have finished his Captain’s responsibilities for the day.


OuRyuumon sighed as he reached the second floor landing of the wide, spiral staircase. It was about two hours before midnight, so he had a couple hours to himself before he would get some sleep.


OuRyuumon knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to do what he used to do after a hard day. He wanted to slip into Alphamon’s room and cuddle up to him. He wanted to rest against his chest while Alphamon held him in his arms. The warmth and affection of the Royal Knight was something that he sorely missed.


For a moment, OuRyuumon stopped in the staircase doorway and acknowledged the yearning. He wanted to be with Alphamon, but he knew that things weren’t that simple. Things kept getting in the way. He had thought that once they won the conflict with the Metal Empire, they could finally start thinking about each other again, but now…


The large, gold dragon shook his head and dismissed his sentimental thoughts. There was no point feeling sorry for himself. There would be chances later, he hoped.


He bent his serpentine body forwards and ducked his head underneath the door frame. He walked out into the hallway on the second floor of the main building. The dim corridor was lit with torches and glow forms to illuminate the area against the night’s darkness. He turned left, heading towards the rooms on the western side of the castle. OuRyuumon figured that he might try to relax. Maybe some of the others were playing games in the leisure room. If not, he supposed he might just shower and go to bed.


However, his opinion soon changed. As he rounded the corner, he was just in time to see Alphamon walking in from the outer balcony that connected to the castle wall. Upon seeing the Digimon garbed in full, ebony armour clamour indoors, OuRyuumon was hardly able to keep himself from smiling.


“Hey, Alphamon!” he chipperly greeted, striding over to the black knight.


Alphamon stopped as he entered the castle corridor from the keep’s turret. Hearing the familiar voice, Alphamon turned and noticed the serpentine dragon captain walking towards him. “Oh, OuRyuumon,” he said with a gentle smile tracing his lips. “Hello. Are you finished for the day?”


“Yeah. Finally,” OuRyuumon confirmed, grinning as he walked up to Alphamon. “You?”


“Yes, about half an hour ago. I was just enjoying the beautiful night,” he responded.


“Always the romantic, huh?” OuRyuumon ribbed him with a playful smirk.


“Oh, I don’t know. You don’t need to be a romantic to enjoy something beautiful,” Alphamon answered with a smile.


“Tell that to Duftmon. When was the last time he enjoyed something for its aesthetics? …Or enjoyed something in general, for that matter?” the golden wyrm joked.


“Point taken,” Alphamon supposed. He turned and began walking down the corridor alongside OuRyuumon. They walked away from the wing where the Royal Knights’ living quarters were located, and began heading towards the area where the recreational rooms were. As he readjusted the long, white and blue mantle hanging from his back, he cast his eyes upon OuRyuumon curiously. “What do you plan on doing now?”


OuRyuumon shrugged. “I dunno. Was hoping to relax. Thought maybe I’d check out the leisure room. Want to come?”


“Sure. It might be nice to unwind with a game before bed,” the dark knight supposed. He sneaked a playful grin in OuRyuumon’s direction. “Perhaps chess?”


“Yeeeeah… I was thinking something more like pool or darts. I don’t know if you know this, Alphamon, but I’m not a brainiac like you or Duftmon,” he replied, sticking out his tongue. “You always beat me at those strategy games.”


“It’s never too late to start,” Alphamon answered, raising his finger. “Chess is all about thinking several moves ahead and deducing your opponent’s actions. It’s a stimulating challenge. You just need to slow down and think.”


“Easy for you to say. You’re the only one of the Royal Knights who’s beaten Duftmon in a game of chess. Yeah, I think I’ll stick to games of skill. Or checkers,” OuRyuumon decided.


Alphamon chuckled and continued walking beside the tall dragon down the hallway. They turned the corner and began walking towards the leisure room, which was the second room down.


“Sooo… Apart from enjoying the view, what were you doing out there?” the dragon captain asked. “…Thinking about Bagramon?” Upon seeing Alphamon’s soft frown, he had his answer. “I hope you’re not still beating yourself up.”


Alphamon softly shook his head. “No… I’ve learned that that doesn’t help anybody - least of all, me,” he mused gently. “I admit, when I first found out that Bagramon was using me, I was angry at myself for not realising it. It brought all of the feelings about my failings with DarkKnightmon back. I hadn’t seen the signs when DarkKnightmon was drifting away, and I couldn’t spot Bagramon’s deceptions. The fact that they are brothers only underlined those feelings.”


“Yeah… I got the feeling it was bothering you more than you were letting on…” OuRyuumon said, his amethyst eyes tightening as he stared down at his best friend.


Alphamon smiled slightly. “Hm… However, I am the leader of the Royal Knights and we are on the verge of another war. It is my duty to be responsible and focused on the task at hand. It is not the time for me to feel sorry for myself. It is time to move forward and grasp the future that we desire, not dwell on the failings of the past.”


OuRyuumon smiled brightly at Alphamon’s words of resolve. “Yeah! You’re damn right it is!” he agreed whole-heartedly. “It’s good that you decided that, Alphamon. You sound like your regular self again.”


“Yes, I agree. A good friend helped me remember that…” Alphamon said with a gentle look of appreciation in his eyes.


“Yeah? Who?” OuRyuumon wondered, tilting his head to the side as the pair approached the closed doorway to the room.


“Hm…” Alphamon simply wore a mysterious smile on his face and playfully evaded OuRyuumon’s question. “Perhaps I will tell you over some coffee…”


The c-word send a sharp chill down OuRyuumon’s spine and he felt a Pavlovian sense of conditioned dread and nausea in his stomach. “Uh, on second thought… it’s a bit late for coffee. Never mind,” OuRyuumon quickly responded, looking away nervously.


Alphamon smiled and stopped in front of a large door of wood held in place by metal reinforcements. “That’s a shame. I was inspired for a new blend just tonight.”


OuRyuumon was quick to change the subject. He stopped beside Alphamon and stared at the leisure room in front of them. “The leisure room… You know, it feels like it’s been years since we last used this place,” he mused aloud.


“I suppose you’re right. We’ve been so busy… I suppose we should make the most of it,” Alphamon agreed. As he reached for the handle of the door, he suddenly stopped and listened.


He could hear voices coming from inside. Due to the door being closed, it was muffled, but he could hear chatter and intermittent laughter inside. He thought he recognised a few of the voices. “I can hear a few of the others in there,” Alphamon noted.


Alphamon slowly opened the door. As he did, he and OuRyuumon looked within the leisure room.


Standing inside were four Royal Knights, who were in the middle of chatting during their game of pool. Dynasmon stood on the near side of the table, holding a pool stick in his large claws while letting it rest over the length of his shoulders. On the other side of the table, Magnamon was in the process of lining up a shot with his own cue stick. Examon watched nearby with his back to the entrance, his broad wings obfuscating the door from view. Lastly, was RhodoKnightmon, who stood in the center of the group and was addressing them animatedly. His hands were raised to his chest and his body practically bounced with excitement.


“Take a deep breath, slow down, and tell us what you’re babbling on about, Rhodo,” Dynasmon told him with a laugh.


“You mentioned something about Alphamon and Omegamon?” Examon reconfirmed, folding his ruby-scaled arms across his muscular chest.


RhodoKnightmon took a breath and slowed the haste of his words. “Yes! I saw them out on the castle wall together just ten minutes ago!” he explained with unbridled enthusiasm.


Alphamon frowned gently. He wondered what RhodoKnightmon was talking about and why he was telling the others this. He didn’t interrupt, wondering where RhodoKnightmon was going with this. Had he heard their conversation?


OuRyuumon also raised an eyebrow at this. He didn’t know what this was referring to. The tall serpent glanced down at Alphamon. He hadn’t mentioned being with Omegamon when they spoke about it.


“So what?” Dynasmon asked, grinning resignedly at RhodoKnightmon’s usual peculiar, flamboyant sense of conversation and excitement.


Magnamon thrust his pool stick against the white, cue ball, sending it careening into the 3-ball to pocket it. Satisfied with his shot, Magnamon stood up straight (although he didn’t have to stand up very far) and grinned. “Yeah. Seeing Alphamon and Omegamon outside together is hardly anything noteworthy.”


“Oh, but it is!” RhodoKnightmon explained, clasping his hands together. “They were having quite a deep and emotional conversation from what I could tell. It was an intense and personal bonding session beneath the beautiful moonlight…”


Magnamon’s smile disappeared and he stared at RhodoKnightmon critically. “Were you eavesdropping on them?” he chastised.


“Why, no. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I was merely watching from afar!” RhodoKnightmon defended.


Dynasmon rolled his eyes. “So, you’re reading too much into it without knowing for sure what they were talking about…” he casually dismissed.


“Not at all! I am a master at picking up social cues. The body language spoke for itself!” the slender, rose knight debated confidently. “Whatever they were talking about was quite interpersonally intense… Omegamon’s head was lowered in embarrassment and his shoulders were tight. Alphamon seemed troubled and he was listening very intently, but his posture eventually became open and welcoming. Eventually, the tension eased between them and they began standing very close and comfortably.”


Dynasmon released a mix between a sigh and a groan. “Here we go…”


RhodoKnightmon folded his arms and sat on the edge of the pool table. “Hmph. Mock if you want, but what happened next was as clear as if the moons were the sun. …Alphamon and Omegamon began holding hands. They remained doing so for at least a good few minutes.”


“What?” Magnamon asked, blinking with surprise.


Alphamon’s golden eyes widened for a moment. He internally grimaced with discomfort and embarrassment. He felt his cheeks heating up upon the realization that RhodoKnightmon witnessed that intimate moment between them. So this was why RhodoKnightmon was so excited and mentioning this to the others. He knew that RhodoKnightmon always suspected that there was something between Omegamon and him.


The black knight’s heart suddenly froze when he remembered who was standing next to him.


“What are you talking about, Rhodo?” Dynasmon asked, his interest suddenly piqued.


“I am speaking about what I spied upon, my dear Dynasmon!” RhodoKnightmon fawned airily. “The cozy, moonlight chat, the holding of hands, the long, drawn out gazes into one another’s eyes… It is patently obvious what has happened!” RhodoKnightmon suddenly grabbed Dynasmon’s collar, inciting a surprised cry as he was pulled close to RhodoKnightmon’s face. RhodoKnightmon stared into Dynasmon’s frightened eyes with zealous enthusiasm. “They finally confessed their feelings for each other!”


As the news washed over him, OuRyuumon looked over at Alphamon with stunned, disbelieving eyes. He looked to him to see if what RhodoKnightmon was saying was true. He hoped for an outraged and confused denial. OuRyuumon didn’t get what he wanted.


Alphamon noticed OuRyuumon’s eyes staring at him. He instinctively grimaced and sheepishly looked away from what he knew would be a wounded gaze. However, he forced himself to look back up and stare OuRyuumon in the eyes. As he expected, there was a formative look of pain brewing in OuRyuumon’s eyes.


“OuRyuumon… It isn’t how it sounds,” Alphamon explained, although not without enough guilt to put doubt into his words. “We didn’t—“


OuRyuumon looked away sharply, wordlessly interrupting him with his obvious upset. He glared across the room at the Royal Knights.


“Alphamon and Omegamon…?” Examon asked, staring at RhodoKnightmon with shock.


“You’re kidding…” Dynasmon spoke, his jaw dropping in shock. “No way. You’ve gotta have it wrong, Rhodo. I’ve known them forever and I never got that sense.”


“Respectfully, Dynasmon, but you are rather dense when it comes to these things,” RhodoKnightmon teased him. “Though to be fair, Alphamon hasn’t been honest about his sexuality until just recently, so one may not have noticed the clues if they were not looking.” He placed his hands on his hips. “Well, I am glad that it is out in the open now. They have always had a spark, right from the very beginning! Alphamon should really get together with Omegamon now. It is simply meant to be!”


Examon frowned. “What about OuRyuumon?” he wondered, rubbing the scales on the nape of his neck. “Weren’t he and Alphamon secretly dating up until the DarkKnightmon incident?”


“Yeah… They went on a break, but they never really said why,” Magnamon said, frowning as he thought about it. “It might just be what happened between OuRyuumon and DarkKnightmon, but I remember thinking that things were different between Alphamon, OuRyuumon, and Omegamon ever since they came back from that trip to Auguria. Something must have happened between them there.”


“I could posit a few guesses…” RhodoKnightmon surreptitiously suggested. He folded his arms. “As for OuRyuumon, he had his chance with Alphamon and he screwed it up. I am sorry, but he shouldn’t have broken Alphamon’s trust when he defenestrated DarkKnightmon and then lied about it!”


The sound of clawed footsteps, as well as a low growling, caught Examon’s attention from behind him. Examon shifted his body and turned his head to see who it was. The crimson scales of his cheeks suddenly blanched into a pale rose at who he saw.


A seething OuRyuumon was stomping towards them. He bore his jagged, gnashing teeth, and his claws were tight, trembling fists. The look of hurt and fury in his draconic eyes were sharper and more dangerous than even his scimitars. Frustrated and grimacing, Alphamon was following behind him to prevent him from doing anything rash.


However, due to Examon’s massive, expansive wings, nobody else saw them yet.


“That’s a bit harsh, Rhodo,” Magnamon countered with a frown. “Even if they’re on a break, they obviously still care a lot about each other.”


“I know that Alphamon and OuRyuumon are childhood friends, but I really don’t think that they are all that suited for each other. What do they have in common?”


“Hey, opposites attract?” Dynasmon suggested with a shrug.


Sweating profusely, Examon turned around and looked at RhodoKnightmon with an urgent look in his eyes. “Uh… Rhodo…” he uncomfortably choked out. He raised his claws and made a cutting motion across his neck to try to signal him to stop.


However, Alphamon’s voice rang out. “OuRyuumon, wait!”


As the three Royal Knights spun around with horror, OuRyuumon stormed over and roughly pushed Examon out of his way to get past his wing. OuRyuumon made a direct path for RhodoKnightmon, stomping up to him and grabbing the nonplussed Royal Knight by the collar.


“What the hell do you know, you pink, sissy, ASSHOLE!?” OuRyuumon shouted in his face.


RhodoKnightmon was stunned that the topic of his discussion was standing right before him, having heard the whole thing.


Despite the helmet that covered the whole of his face, RhodoKnightmon could clearly see the furious glare being levelled at him from centimeters away. More than the glare, RhodoKnightmon could see OuRyuumon’s lip quivering. The dragon’s glower fractured intermittently as the pain stormed within his violet eyes. It dawned on RhodoKnightmon how much pain he had inadvertently caused.


“O-OuRyuumon, I…” RhodoKnightmon shamefully murmured, unsure of what he could say.


A deep, tight snarl rolled within OuRyuumon’s choked throat. As angry as he was, his anguish was greater. He refrained from hitting him, but he wasn’t sure what to do now.


“OuRyuumon, stop. Please…” Alphamon urged from behind him. A black hand appeared on OuRyuumon’s shoulder, squeezing lightly and pulling him back a few centimeters to get him to rethink his actions.


OuRyuumon snarled and shrugged Alphamon’s hand off. He released RhodoKnightmon from his grip and allowed the Royal Knight to place his hands on the surface of the pool table to steady himself.


The enraged dragon spun around 180 degrees and saw Alphamon standing behind him. Alphamon looked at him with a mixture of gratitude, concern, and guilt. Before he could speak, OuRyuumon grunted and brushed by Alphamon’s shoulder roughly.


“Go ahead! Keep laughing at me behind my back! Don’t let me stop you!” he shouted, averting his eyes from Alphamon as he passed by him.


OuRyuumon snarled and stormed towards the exit of the leisure room. His gait was hurried and rough. He just wanted to get out of there.


OuRyuumon breezed past the door and disappeared into the hallway. He made a bee-line for his room and didn’t look back.


Behind in the room, a thick silence began to take the place of OuRyuumon’s savage growl. RhodoKnightmon bowed his head and slowly slid off of the pool table, standing to his feet before Alphamon. Magnamon nervously twisted the cue stick around in his hands, while Dynasmon rubbed the back of his neck, both of them equally sheepish and guilty.


Examon frowned and began to jog after OuRyuumon. “OuRyuumon, wait!” he called out, but an obsidian arm reached out and pressed a hand against his chest, obstructing his path. Examon turned to see Alphamon glancing at him.


“Leave him, Examon,” Alphamon urged him. “I know OuRyuumon well enough to know that going after him when he’s in this state is a bad idea… Give him time to cool down. He’s a bundle of emotions right now…”


RhodoKnightmon winced behind his helmet. “Alphamon…” he spoke lowly. Gone were his usual, peppy flamboyancy and his wild inflections. His voice was cold, restrained, and demure. “…I didn’t intend for him to hear any of that…”


Alphamon’s guilt and regret were completely absent from his face. Instead, his eyes were stern and aloof as they fixated on RhodoKnightmon. “By nature, gossip has a habit of spreading around and causing unintended harm, RhodoKnightmon,” Alphamon bluntly told him.


“I’m sorry, Alphamon,” a wincing Magnamon apologised shame-facedly.


“Yeah…” Dynasmon agreed, sighing as he placed the billiard stick on top of the table. “We shouldn’t have been talking about that.”


Alphamon’s eyes remained firm. “Allow me to dispel any uncertainty before anybody else gets hurt by that baseless rumour… Omegamon and I are not in a relationship. What you saw was something else.”


RhodoKnightmon nodded slightly. “Of course, Alphamon…” he agreed without argument. While he didn’t cower in the face of Alphamon, he accepted that Alphamon had a right to be angry at him. He stood with cold dignity, prepared to accept whatever words or actions that Alphamon had for him. As such, he stared into Alphamon’s eyes emotionlessly.


Alphamon returned his stare, his eyes quietly fixed on RhodoKnightmon’s face. The silent exchange lingered between the pair, causing further discomfort for the other three in the room. It was Alphamon who soon broke it.


“…May I have a word in private, RhodoKnightmon?” he asked the rose knight.


“…Very well, Alphamon,” RhodoKnightmon agreed, his voice still low and austere. It had the same aloof and no-nonsense edge as it did whenever he was on a serious mission. It was rare that something was so serious to RhodoKnightmon that he would drop his carefree and jovial demeanour.


Alphamon turned to the other three Royal Knights and nodded brusquely. He spun around and began marching out of the room, his cape flapping in the draft of his brisk stride.


RhodoKnightmon cast a glance at the others, but wasted no time in following Alphamon out of the room. He walked swiftly but calmly, moving without his usual flouncy gait.


As the ribbon-clad Royal Knight disappeared into the hallway, Examon, Dynasmon, and Magnamon were left behind. They exchanged sheepish glances and began clearing up the pool table. They didn’t envy whatever Alphamon had in store for RhodoKnightmon.


-


(Continued in the next post)
 
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