Nature of the Game
Disc 1: Wolf In Sheep's Clothing
-by Ajora Fravashi
*Disclaimer - I don't own Digimon. Toei/Bandai does. Bandai is also responsible for some really questionable lines from Millenniumon that spawned this fic. This is all their fault!
*Note: Takes place during the game Brave Tamer.
A vast network of silver threads stretched out below him, contrasting sharply against the infinite black void. He could not see an end to the network, or to the void. He could not see any differences between individual threads, nothing for his eyes to anchor to. No smells, no sound, no sensation of feeling or orientation. Nothing other than sight. It was starting to scare him.
He remembered how he got into this predicament, at least. That memory was more tangible than his own past. He had entered the ENIAC's transdimensional gate and was sent on his way through time. During a normal time-hop there was the sensation of everything coming to a grinding halt, then his senses blocked out completely. They would then all return in a dizzying rush just before he hit his destination. This time had been different. Everything stopped and his senses had been blocked, as was expected, but then something jerked him out of the endless nanosecond and his senses ripped open. He watched wide-eyed as billions of threads whirled around him at a sickeningly rapid pace, catching glimpses of what-if, what-was and what-may-be. So many threads branched out and then merged back together, then repeated the process so often that he could hardly keep track. Then he blinked, and found himself hovering above the infinite tapestry.
Frowning, he tried once again to find a divergence in the infinite sameness that he could use as an anchor. Nothing. Ryo smothered a rising sense of panic. How the hell was he supposed to get back? More to the point, how was he going to get anywhere anyway? And where was Monodramon? The little dragon would at least have an idea since he had spent most of his life in front of the ENIAC and likely might have known what to do in situations like this.
Time passed as Ryo mulled over his current situation. The sound of an old car coming to a halt interrupted his train of thought. Ryo blinked in surprise and the void collapsed. It left him standing on a sidewalk overlooking a cobblestone street lit by a single antique street lamp and littered with rubble that hinted at a war. With a noise that was half a sigh of relief and half a hum of curiosity, he glanced about for the car. It idled behind him, paused on an adjacent street: an old black car of a foreign design he couldn't identify. Yeah, like he could recollect anything from before meeting Monodramon anyway. Its occupant was a man taller than himself by at least a head, dark of hair and even darker of skin. The imagery of inky shadows made flesh was amplified by the fact that the man wore nothing but black and deep blues. Dark shades hid the man's eyes, but Ryo knew the man was staring at him and it felt kind of creepy.
A corner of the man's lips curled into an almost undetectable smirk as Ryo's eyes fell upon him. His voice was a deep, rich bass that sounded rather odd. It was almost as if there were two voices speaking, but the syntax was too perfect to be anything but one. What startled Ryo though were the words. "Hey pretty."
Blinking at that, Ryo looked around to see if there was someone he hadn't noticed there before. No one. Then the guy in the car must have been addressing him. Even more creepy. "Hi," he started tentatively, unsure of whether he should be talking to this disturbing individual at all. "Where are we?"
"It doesn't particularly matter. But if you must, we are in Berlin, Germany. It is 1946," the dark man stated. Ryo blinked blankly. Was that supposed to mean anything to him? 1946 was the date Monodramon gave him when they first met, but Monodramon said he was from several decades in the future, which confused him to no end. But maybe the guy might know how to get him back to the ENIAC.
Well, no harm in trying. "Ah. Hey, do you know how to get to one of the ENIAC's dimension gates?"
The dark man leaned back into his seat and pulled off his shades to reveal uncannily familiar crimson eyes. He gave Ryo an uncomfortably intense once-over and looked quite pleased with what he saw. The lips parted in a predatory smile, revealing canines sharp enough to be fangs and were just a few millimeters longer than a normal human's. "I could take you to one, for a price."
A chill crept up Ryo's spine at that. Something within him was screaming that he really should run as far away from this stranger as soon as possible, but he had no other way to get back to the ENIAC. "What's the price?"
"Simply to hear me out, Ryo. That is all." With that, the man reached over to open the door on the passenger side of the car. When Ryo remained still, the man spoke again. "Don't you wanna take a ride with me?"
Ryo glanced around, his vision limited by night's darkness to whatever the street lamp would reveal. There were things skittering beyond the lamp's circle of light, large things that whispered and groaned in a language he didn't understand. Maybe it would be a good idea to go with the man after all.
Stepping into the car on the left side, Ryo noted the dark red of the leather seats and the ebony stain of the wooden paneling. It was a nice car, though different from the few he could faintly remember. For the life of him, he couldn't remember any that had a little woman with arms stretched behind her as a hood ornament.
"Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, 1946 model" the dark man offered, with just the sort of mild boredom one hears from the very wealthy when discussing their toys. "Had the colors specified to my tastes."
Ryo was puzzled at that. How had the man known what was on his mind? "Oh. How did...?"
The dark man tucked his shades into a pocket before revving up the engine. As the engine turned over, he deigned to answer Ryo. "I know you well. I have watched you for a good part of my life."
Logically he should have been more freaked out than he was by this stranger's statement, but then he remembered nothing of his own past. Maybe this was simply someone he knew once. With a mournful sigh at how much he had lost, he made himself comfortable in the seat and watched as the car drove down dark streets. Gravel and other things that Ryo refused to think about crunched under the car's wheels.
"So, what's your name?"
The dark man tore his eyes from the road to regard Ryo with an expression the boy couldn't quite read. "I am the Shadow to your Light. Surely that alone would be sufficient enough."
After a moment of fruitlessly raking his mind in an attempt to find a memory to associate to the dark man, Ryo simply shrugged. "Sorry, I don't remember."
"Well," the dark man began as a delighted smirk drew across his features. "Call me Azaziel then, dear boy. I consider the sobriquet more fitting than my original name."
"Oh." Ryo wasn't sure why, but he really didn't like that smirk any more than he liked the fact that "Azaziel" didn't give his real name. However, he did sort of get himself into this mess. He peered closely at the stranger's face and was taken aback by what he saw. Azaziel's skin was a very dark bluish-grey, with two solid black stripes per cheek drawing from the cheekbones to under the shirt's collar. Shaggy, dark blue hair framed the stranger's face. "You're not human, are you? I've never seen anyone with your markings..."
Those creepy crimson eyes drifted from the road for the moment to glance back at him before the smirk turned into a factitious grin. "Always the clever one. No, this body is only a temporary construct to house a spirit that no longer has a body of its own."
Something's wrong, a voice at the back of Ryo's mind whispered. If nothing else, he should know who this person was. Yet no memory came forward with an answer, nothing he could use to gain better understanding of what was really going on. He hated this.
Azaziel took the silence as an invitation and grasped the opportunity to proceed. "Tell me, why do you fight?"
"Huh?" Ryo tore his eyes from the road and blinked quizzically at the stranger, who had since returned his attention to the darkness beyond the car's headlights. "What do you mean?"
"Exactly what I said. Why do you fight?"
"Oh, well, because the ENIAC and Monodramon asked me to. They said I was the only one who could help save the Digital World and they sounded really desperate. They also offered to help me regain my memories, so I didn't see why I shouldn't help." Ryo finished with a half-smile, which faded when he saw a frown deepening on Azaziel's face. He didn't know what was wrong about his answer. Helping others was a good thing, right?
"No other reason, then?"
Sighing, Ryo glanced back at the darkened streets. "Not really. They tell me what to do, and I do it because it's the right thing to do. Unless it's wrong, but they never ask me to do something that goes against my morals."
"So you're just being a good little soldier and following orders," Azaziel responded with a subtly mocking tone in his voice. "A good little soldier fighting for truth, justice, and the Japanese way."
Part of Ryo wanted to react indignantly against the dark man's words, but as much as he wanted to deny it, the man was probably right. Instead, he simply gave a noncommittal grunt in hopes that he would just be left alone.
However, the dark man was not to allow him reprieve. "But who defines justice, dear boy? Those more powerful than yourself? Who is it that defines right and wrong?"
Ryo blinked blankly at that. He didn't know how to respond, for he had never truly thought about it before. "Uhm, well, society I guess."
"In your own culture, school children are reprimanded for trying to be different. A child who dyes his hair a color he wasn't born with is slapped by his teacher for trying to stand out against the mundane. Is this fair?"
"But your society does not do anything against this. Turn the other cheek and maybe the problem will go away. It is not right but your people do it anyway. Shall I tell you a story of those values you hold so highly, dear boy?"
"If there's time," Ryo said as he glanced back at the road. There wasn't much revealed beyond the car's headlights, it was as if they were driving through some great black void with only a cobbled street as its occupant. He briefly wondered if this story would make him more uncomfortable than he was already, but he did say he'd listen.
Azaziel smirked. "Time is always on my side. But, to continue...
"Once upon a time there was a young boy who was alone. His parents moved around quite a bit, you see, and he rarely had time to form long-lasting friendships. But despite his loneliness he was friendly to all, regardless of what others may have done in the past. He was a good little boy to his parents and did as they asked of him. He liked it when things made sense and, despite his love of games, was firmly grounded in reality.
"Then one day he was dragged to another world. This place was so surreal that he had a hard time trying to accept it. But it was just as real as his own. He was then led to a hierophant who easily won his trust and set him on a quest to stop an opposing force from gaining what it was searching for."
"That doesn't sound so bad," Ryo offered, then froze as the dark man glared sharply at him for interrupting. When he shut his mouth, Azaziel proceeded.
"There's always three sides to everything, dear boy. Your side, their side, and the truth of the matter. For as long as that boy was on his quest, he had only been told one side of the matter and never considered the other aspects of what was going on. Think of this, Ryo. Entire wars have been staged throughout history because one side thought they were the only ones that were right. Crusades, jihads, inquisitions and genocides... all because all sides thought they were the only ones who could pass judgment on others. People have died from that belief of self-righteousness. This boy too had been led to believe that his masters were the only ones who could judge others, and great mistakes have been made because of this.
"He was beautiful before they laid their hands on him, so very trusting and wouldn't hurt a fly. But they turned him into a ruthless soldier that obeyed only them. He had been taught that sacrifices for the greater good was quite acceptable, never mind the fact that such sacrifices could take the lives of others. Extreme situations call for extreme measures, he was told."
Something nagged at the back of Ryo's mind. Whether it was a sense of guilt or something else, he couldn't guess. Azaziel was looking at him now, probably expecting a response or something. He shrugged as he attempted to bury that nagging sensation. "Yeah, that's not very fair to his opponents."
Azaziel closed his eyes briefly before continuing. "In that world, people had guardian spirits. Watchers. This boy too had a Watcher, but that fact was hidden from him by his masters. They feared that once he joined with his Watcher, he would realize his true power and break away from them. Instead they allowed him the company of other spirits that would never stay around for long. Each time he had gotten close to those spirits, they would go back to their own humans and leave him alone. He was always alone, through no fault of his own."
"What happened to his Watcher," Ryo asked softly. Azaziel's face was tense, as if he was firmly trying to hold in a strong emotion.
"His Watcher," the dark man replied in a tone heavy with bitterness, "was the very being his masters had set him out to destroy."
There was silence for a while as the car drove down the strangely straight cobbled street. Ryo didn't know how to respond. From what he could gather, this was a personal account of Azaziel's, but he failed to see what the point was in telling a total stranger like him.
"They trained the boy into believing that this Watcher was evil and that evil must be vanquished at all costs. But what defines evil? Evil, and history, is defined by those who win the wars. What I admire about your kind is the hypocrisy, the ability to blame others for their own mistakes. Let's say there's a powerful, rich child called Karimea. This child sticks her nose into the business of others without being invited to do so, she swaggers onto the playground and bestows gifts to the less fortunate."
Ryo was confused now. He didn't know where Azaziel was going with this, but mentally shrugged. Just humor the weirdo, he told himself, and hope that Azaziel didn't expect much in the way of response.
"Karimea's gifts are weapons and things that can be used as weapons. One child pushes down another and, thrilled by its newfound power, bullies another. The other children ally themselves to each other and wage war on him and his friends. When the war is over, the bully is forced to make reparations. He is demonized and shunned by the other children in the playground, but who is it that was truly responsible? Not Karimea, they all said, though she was the one who gave the gift of weapons and she was ultimately responsible for them."
Sighing, Ryo finally responded. "So what's the point of this?"
"The point is that the nature of good and evil is subjective. Those who win the wars are the ones who point the fingers at the losers and say that they are the evil ones, that it was their fault that the wars were waged. Rarely do people realize that the situation is always a lot more complex than just who's right and who's wrong, or who's good and who's evil."
"And how does this apply to the previous story?"
"Simple," Azaziel stated as if it really was, though with all the loops and leaps in the dark man's tale, it was anything but simple to Ryo. "The boy's masters had told him that the Watcher was evil, and the boy was never taught to think beyond his orders. He had never been taught to question 'right' and 'wrong', to view things in an objective manner. He had never been taught that there is no true judge, that justice is only what one makes of it. When he learns this, then his Watcher will claim him."
Ryo was somewhat uncomfortable with that prospect, but he didn't know exactly why. A sense that something was off nagged at the back of his mind and warned him that he shouldn't be too sympathetic. And there was something else more elusive drifting under the conscious thoughts. It was a memory that evaded him, and he felt it was important somehow. Unfortunately, he could not grasp the full importance or the details quite yet. Was it connected to Azaziel somehow? And that thing about Azaziel "claiming" someone, he couldn't help but wonder what it was supposed to mean to him.
Glancing over at the dark man, Ryo noticed something changed in Azaziel's features. It was as if some weight lifted from the dark man's shoulders, and the reason for the story told was to still some inner torment Ryo couldn't guess at.
"What do you plan to do once you confront Millenniumon again," Azaziel asked after a few moments of silence. Ryo blinked in surprise at the question that seemed to come out of nowhere and noticed that the dark man's crimson eyes were fixed on him.
"Um, well, I'm not sure yet..." Ryo's voice trailed off and he blinked curiously at the dark man. That nagging sensation was growing, but the reason behind it was still eluding him. "Guess I'll know when I get there."
Much to Ryo's surprise, Azaziel's fingers trailed the line of his jaw in an almost tender gesture. Part of Ryo wanted to jerk away, and deep inside there was another part that was fixed in place with curiosity at what was going to happen next.
"Remember what I said then, lonely soldier boy."
Before Ryo could respond, the dark man yanked him close and planted a rough kiss on his lips. Ryo's eyes widened in shock at what was going on. He wasn't given the opportunity to struggle, and it was over before he could pull himself away. He was too dazed to notice immediately when Azaziel grinned and pointed at the circle of bluish white light that marked one of ENIAC's dimensional gates.
"I give you a choice now, dear boy. We can continue this or you can leave and we will not cross paths again for a while. If you choose the latter, all I have left to say is that no one is exactly as they appear."
Monodramon was frantic. Well, more so than usual. He paced the metallic floor before the ENIAC's dais and wrung his little steel-plated fingers in distress. He had lost Ryo on their latest time jump, and the ENIAC had yet to pinpoint Ryo's location. Ryo could quite literally be in any time, anywhere, and Monodramon did not want to think about how much processing power the ENIAC was dedicating to the search for Ryo. He should have been more perceptive, should have noticed when Ryo wasn't behind him anymore. This wasn't the most distressing thing either. The ENIAC was silent and unresponsive to his queries. Monodramon didn't like that at all, especially since the ENIAC had always catered to his curiosity before and he hated when he couldn't find out what was going on to make the ENIAC so quiet.
There was a sudden brightening in the ball of swirling light that the ENIAC manifested itself as in the Digital World. Monodramon looked up in surprise as steam curled from the seams of the doorway to other times and dimensions slowly. The doors parted and Ryo stepped out of the portal. Ryo looked as if nothing happened, but there was a subtle scent that hung on was a scent that Monodramon had come to recognize only on those who had spent a significant amount of time around that digimon...
Ryo cocked his head curiously as he watched Monodramon's jaw clench and unclench soundlessly. It looked like the little dragon wanted to say something to him, but couldn't. Maybe if Ryo pressed on the matter a bit Monodramon might say what was on his mind.
"Monodramon, is there something you want to ask?"
A faint darkening under the scales were the only indication Ryo had that he had touched on something the little dragon wasn't comfortable with. Monodramon simply shook his head and looked desperately at the ENIAC as if making a silent plea that the Creator would intervene.
"Ryo," the disembodied voice of the ENIAC began. Ryo unconsciously straightened as the Digital World's founder addressed him. Lonely soldier boy, Azaziel had called him. It fit. "I need to discuss something with Monodramon. Please stay with Jijimon until I call you again."
With a nod, Ryo turned on his heels and proceeded to the door that led out of the ENIAC's chamber. He didn't know what was going on, but he had his orders and he could always ask Monodramon about it later. Before he crossed the threshold, the ENIAC reminded him not to let personal matters interfere with his duties. He waved off the comment and trotted to the primitive world outside.
A small, nearly inaudible whimper escaped Monodramon's snout. "I should have stayed closer to him. He knows, doesn't he?"
The ENIAC was silent, as if deep in thought. Then, after a minute, responded with a question of its own. "Your senses are acute, child. What was different about him?"
"Mi- Millenniumon's scent. Subtle but there, and I know he wasn't fighting without me. Do you think he'll abandon us?"
"Millenniumon would not tell him outright. This is but a game to him, and to reveal such a thing so soon would give Ryo an unfair advantage. No, Ryo will continue to fight. What Ryo does with the hints given to him is up to him alone." There was the silence again as the light swirled in an almost mesmerizing manner. "However, I suspect that with Millenniumon's direct interference, we have a new weapon on our hands."
"H'how do you figure that? Wouldn't this make it easier to lose Ryo to that ba- bastard?" Monodramon paused and mentally swore to himself as his small stuttering problem reared its ugly head. It always did this when he was nervous. "We c- c- can't lose him."
"How much would you be willing to sacrifice for the cause?"
Monodramon blinked in surprise at that question. "Anything necessary. Why?"
"If Millenniumon went so far as to talk to Ryo in person, we have the perfect ace. But you must be willing to make sacrifices to force a Jogress sequence. Without it, there is no way we can ever truly seal Millenniumon's power"
Time is subjective, Monodramon learned, and a few seconds never felt so long before. A Jogress could mean he would sacrifice his own personality and everything he was would be snuffed by Millenniumon's greater power. He could cease to exist and it would be futile. Or he could still exist, but imprisoned in the back of Millenniumon's mind. Or he could refuse and the eternal war game between the evil god and his human partner would never end. It was a horrible decision he didn't want to make, but...
"I understand, Father. When the time comes, I'll do my best."
There was the silence again, and Monodramon wondered faintly if he went too far calling his Creator something used only by humans for their parents. The ENIAC did create him, and he was not ungrateful. Then, finally... "That is all anyone could ask for."
Note: Yes, Monodramon does have a very slight stuttering problem that isn't very apparent unless he's distressed or surprised. I hardly noticed it myself until I paid very close attention to his lines in the game.