(Author's Notes: Sorry for the longer than usual wait. The current couple of chapters I've been working on have been giving me some trouble. Mostly just bad work ethic on my part, but I'm going to try to work hard on them.
Anyways, here's Chapter 63. It's a fun one concerning Levi. Let me know what you think and enjoy!)
Chapter 63: The Devil You Know
The only sound that could be heard was the splashing of the waves against the white, crystalline sands.
The cobalt waves rolled up the shore before gently getting sucked back towards the water. Each time, they parted around the colossal, crimson crocodile who lay in the shallows of the coast. His massive body created a huge furrow in the sands and caused the breaking water to swirl behind his half-submerged back.
Leviamon smirked calmly as he settled onto the beach shore. Without lifting his head, he looked around him. His monocular eyes were able to see on both sides of his body with a nearly 360 degree field of vision. He could see that the five Royal Knights before him were cautiously surrounding him in a semicircle.
Directly in front of him was UlforceVeedramon, who was in the most dangerous position – right in front of his snout - but he was best suited to escape with his speed. To UlforceVeedramon's right and left respectively were, Alphamon and Gankoomon, both of whom were ready to launch their respective spirit dragons at him at the slightest provocation. On the far right and left were Duftmon: Leopard Mode and Dukemon, with the former stalking towards the water line of the beach face, and the latter circling around Leviamon's other side while on Grani's back.
The Royal Knights fanned out around the Demon Lord of Envy, keeping a safe distance from him while closing in as much as possible. They all knew how powerful he was – he could snap at them the moment that their guards were down.
For awhile, no words passed between them. None of the Royal Knights dared take their eyes off of the titanic reptile, not even for a moment. The rolling surf was the only sound that broke the uneasy silence.
Leviamon carefully looked around at the five Royal Knights, studying their cautious, encircling movements. He watched their tight grips around their weapons. He eyed the massive magical circle in front of Alphamon's body and the ignited form of Hinukamui, who was rearing to attack. A smirk formed on his face. He was no fool. He would defend himself if he had to, but that was not his purpose here. He, at least, took some comfort in knowing that he was backed up against the ocean. It would be easy for him to escape if he felt like he had to.
"Hey, now! What's with all those glowering faces?" Leviamon mockingly inquired. "You should be welcoming me with open arms! Alright, we have some rocky history between us, but I did say that I come in peace."
"Be careful, Dukemon. He is dangerous," Grani cautiously advised his passenger as they drifted past Leviamon's eye.
Leviamon cast swift leer in Grani's direction, but he remained passive, not wanting to show even the slightest sign of aggression.
Alphamon kept his hand hovering in front of the gleaming magical circle, ready to summon an otherworldly creature in an instant. However, he stayed his hand for the time being, instead, turning his head towards Duftmon. "He may be stalling for time. Duftmon?"
Duftmon glowered at Leviamon suspiciously. His swiftly-processing mind was already determining the best way to for the five of them to fight him in their current surroundings, should the need arise. "One moment… Slide Evolution," he said. His bestial, leopard-like body glimmered with a bright light that reflected off of the nearby waves. He shifted from his Leopard Mode into his more knightly form.
While eyeing Leviamon distrustfully, Duftmon gripped the Shoumetsu no Tsurugi with one hand and reached into the crimson sash around his waist with the other. He pulled out a rectangular electronic that contained a large, button-activated screen on the face of it. He activated the LRAVC prototype and pressed a few buttons on the screen. Then, Duftmon held the audio-video communicator up to his mouth and spoke into it. "Control. This is Brown-Nine, requesting linkage with Red-Ten."
"This is Control. Affirmative, Brown-Nine. Hotline established. Connection is good," MetallifeKuwagamon's voice spoke from the other end. "Red-Ten, please confirm. Control over and out."
"Fancy gizmo you've got there," Leviamon teased, eyeing the LRAVC device in the tactician's hand curiously.
Duftmon turned the device away from Leviamon's watchful gaze protectively, side-eyeing the Demon Lord. After a moment, he could hear wind rustling against the receiver on the other end of the line. "Red-Ten, do you hear me? Acknowledge," he inquired.
"Acknowledged," Sleipmon's voice responded from the other end, though it was choppily broken up by the beating wind.
"What is the situation where you are?" Duftmon queried. "Do you see any activity?"
"None at all, Brown-Nine," Sleipmon answered, his voice slightly distorted under the breeze and the sounds of his gallops. "The north is all clear. There is no sign of the Demon Lords or their armies anywhere. None of the scouts have seen anything to the west or south either."
"Have them keep searching. Tell the other Royal Knights to do the same," Duftmon instructed him. "How quickly can you arrive at the coastline?"
"I can be there in less than two minutes. How is everything where you are?" Sleipmon asked the tactician.
"We have Leviamon here, but he claims to have come for peaceful reasons," Duftmon explained, turning his head to level Leviamon a suspicious glare. "There is a good possibility that he is lying in order to buy sufficient time for the others to arrive, so we must remain vigilant. We have not engaged him yet, but I would like you here to be on the safe side."
"Six Royal Knights for little, ol' me," Leviamon remarked. "I'm flattered, but I promise that it's unnecessary."
"Leviamon, are you alone?" Alphamon asked him directly, his hand still hovering behind the glowing, magical circle.
"Think very carefully before answering," Gankoomon reminded him with a faint scowl on his face. He gestured up at the massive, swelling form of Hinukamui, whose growls harmonized with the blaze of his powerful aura. "We don't like being lied to."
Leviamon rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I'm alone," he insisted.
"You sincerely expect us to believe that you would be foolish enough to approach our headquarters on your own, without any support?" Duftmon sceptically grilled him. The leopard strategist aimed his rapier at the Devil Beast's eye. "Do not test my patience, Demon Lord. This is clearly a ruse. Where are your comrades?"
"Tch. They're no comrades of mine," Leviamon scoffed, tilting his snout upwards. "Lucemon and the others don't even know I'm here. They're all back in the Gloaming Fields."
Alphamon cocked his brow curiously, but he remained suspicious. He looked at the other Royal Knights to gauge their reactions to his claim.
"I don't buy it," UlforceVeedramon challenged him, raising his laser blade up in front of him.
"It's the truth, blue boy," Leviamon informed the cobalt dragon knight, eyeing him dryly. "You're just mad that I nearly bit your arm off."
"…Yeah, I am!" UlforceVeedramon was quick to agree, sounding quite testy about it.
"Why don't we call it even for when you sliced me up during the rebellion?" Leviamon answered with a rivalrous smirk. His grin evened out and he turned his attention back to Alphamon. "Seriously. Think about it. Do you think the Demon Lords would be able to come all the way down here with their army just to attack your puny castle? That's a hell of a long journey; they'd have to get past New Terminal again, all without getting seen. Or do you have that little faith in your own scouts?"
Duftmon frowned gently as he pensively eyed Leviamon. "As much as it aggrieves me to say so, he makes a valid argument. Even if the Demon Lords decided to leave their army behind, the odds of them coming here without being noticed are unlikely. It does not make any logical sense."
Grani turned his body and angled himself towards Leviamon. "Affirmative. His statement solves the contradiction regarding the scouting reports I have received. The Demon Lords' army remains in the Gloaming Fields. However, we cannot be certain that he is telling the truth about being the only Demon Lord who is present."
"I am!" Leviamon protested in a frustrated grunt. He shot a glowering look in Grani's direction, to which Grani didn't react. As he side-eyed the Zero ARMS, Leviamon noticed a figure approaching from the distance. It was approaching fast.
Alphamon turned his head upon hearing the sound of galloping amplifying from somewhere behind him. He could see Sleipmon dashing in their direction with his crossbow and shield at the ready. Sleipmon moved like a red blur across the ground, charging at speeds that rivalled UlforceVeedramon's.
Sleipmon leapt over the dunes and came to a skidding stop on the beach. As his hooves dug into the sand to slow his momentum, the white crystals flowed around him in a massive wave. He skidded halfway down the width of the beach before coming to a stop, the kicked-up sand spraying all the way up to Leviamon's snout.
Leviamon eyed the horse archer with dry annoyance and watched as the Royal Knight pointed his crossbow at him threateningly. "Oh, the horse…" he said with exasperation.
"Sorry I'm late," Sleipmon responded, eyeing Leviamon with his bowstring drawn. "Is everything okay here?"
"So far," Alphamon replied. "What's the situation with the others?"
"They've searched the entire province, but they can't find any trace of any other Demon Lords or Nightmare Soldiers," Sleipmon informed them. "It seems like he's alone."
"That's what I've been saying," Leviamon complained.
Alphamon frowned cautiously and looked at the massive leviathan. "If that's true, then what do you want, Leviamon?" he asked him.
"Like I said, I want to make a deal with you," the scarlet crocodile explained, sinking his claws into the sands.
"You are negotiating on behalf of the Demon Lords… without their knowledge?" Duftmon sarcastically wondered. "Even you must realise that that is completely pointless. Are you trying to waste our time, reptile?"
Leviamon grunted out a blast of multicoloured smoke from his nostrils, which reflexively made the Royal Knights bring up their guards. "I'm not negotiating for the Demon Lords, I'm negotiating for myself!" Leviamon argued with a resentful scowl. "The Demon Lords can rot back in the Dark Area for all I care!"
Dukemon narrowed his eyes, but curiously tilted his head at Leviamon's confounding words. "I don't get it… What happened with you and the Demon Lords?"
Leviamon scoffed and turned his right eye towards the crimson knight who was hovering beside him. "…I'm finished with them. Lucemon acts like he's in running everything - doesn't matter what any of us think. I can't work with that arrogant bastard anymore. They're all a bunch of brainless idiots!" Leviamon vented, a trunk-like vein throbbing behind his brow as he spoke.
"You turned your back on your friends?" Dukemon asked him, leering at the large reptile not without a bit of judgment in his words. "Why?"
"Don't judge me like I'm in the wrong here, Dukemon. They were never my friends," Leviamon snapped at him with a defensive glare. "They drove me to it. They treated me like garbage. They all blamed me for their failure in New Terminal."
Leviamon's reptilian eyes narrowed tightly, his resentment bubbling up to the surface. "But you were there, Dukemon. You saw. You said it yourself; they were using me as a decoy. Then, when things didn't go their way, Lucemon and the others used me as a scapegoat. They never treated me as an equal. They never trusted me."
"I wonder why," Duftmon dryly murmured.
"So, you say you've left the Demon Lords," Alphamon spoke. "However, you could be playing the false defector. What makes you think we can trust you?"
"Maybe giving you some information would help," Leviamon offered with a sly smirk.
At this suggestion, Duftmon eyed Leviamon with intrigue. "We are listening…" he told him.
"Almost all of their army is currently positioned along the southern border of the Gloaming Fields. One legion is on the northern border, and another legion is moving west," Leviamon informed them with a confident smile. He watched as the Royal Knights began to lower their guards. He could tell he had their interest.
Alphamon looked over at Grani, who nodded with confirmation. "…Affirmative. That corroborates with my scouting reports," he tentatively verified.
"And I'll give you more details if you agree to my demands," Leviamon added, his huge snout widening into a toothy smirk. "Despite what I said about them blaming me, as a Demon Lord, I was there for all their strategy meetings. I know exactly what their plans are…"
Alphamon lowered his arm and vanquished the magical circle that hovered in front of him, signifying that he was willing to talk. "And what exactly do you want out of this, Leviamon?" the knight pensively inquired.
"I want to work with you guys against the Demon Lords," Leviamon explained, leering steadily at Alphamon. "In exchange, I want safety, from you and the Choir. I want to be able to rule my kingdom in peace."
"What kingdom?" Gankoomon demanded.
Leviamon grinned at the red haired Royal Knight. "Didn't you hear? I conquered Dark Point," he boasted.
"Uh, that was Demon," UlforceVeedramon contended with a roll of his eyes. "Magnamon and Dynasmon didn't mention you at all. You'd be pretty hard to miss."
"Demon captured the city, sure, but as soon as he left, I took the city over," Leviamon proudly explained. "The Demon Lords think that they're in control, but in reality, the mayor and his soldiers are working for me."
Duftmon brought his hand up to his forehead and rubbed his temples in exasperation. "You are doing wonders for world stability," he sarcastically muttered.
"Why should we work with someone who would betray his own side so easily?" UlforceVeedramon asked him, his red eyes narrow with distrust.
"Because I'm strong and I know the Demon Lords better than you do," Leviamon argued. He cocked his huge head to the side with amusement. "Besides, you'll be very interested to know about the information that I have."
Alphamon frowned and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He balanced the potential gains against the risks. He had been sceptical to begin with, but he could see some value in considering Leviamon's proposal.
He looked over at Duftmon, unsure of what his thoughts would be on the matter. Rather than rejecting it outright, the strategist seemed to thinking carefully about the idea as well. It seemed as though he could see the potential benefits that Leviamon was offering as well.
Meanwhile, Dukemon's eyes furrowed and he stared at Leviamon uncertainly. It was his first instinct not to trust the wily Demon Lord. However, after hearing that the Demon Lords had treated him badly – it was true, after all, that he had seen that they had hung him out to dry in New Terminal – he wondered if Leviamon had honestly had enough of them. If the other Demon Lords had turned their backs on him, then maybe Leviamon was being sincere. Perhaps he came here because he felt he had nowhere else to go.
As he thought, Grani eyed Leviamon with detached and methodical eyes. The Zero ARMS didn't trust the Demon Lord, but the decision was up to the Royal Knights. He only had to fulfill his functions as the Captain of the Reconnaissance Forces. Therefore, he turned his blue eyes up to look at Dukemon.
"Dukemon, do you require my assistance here?" Zero ARMS: Grani wondered, glancing up at the knight standing on top of him. "I believe it would be best if I go and corral the Reconnaissance Forces. I would like to personally ensure that there is not anything suspicious going on."
"I'll be fine, Grani," Dukemon agreed, jumping off of his metallic back and hovering above him so that Grani could circle around.
"Be cautious of him, Dukemon," Grani advised him, eyeing Leviamon with his calm but suspicious, blue eyes. "My analysis is that he is not to be trusted."
"I'll keep that in mind, Grani. Thanks," Dukemon answered, nodding at his friend as Grani passed behind him. As the avian Zero ARMS began speeding away from the beach to reconnoitre with his scouts, Dukemon turned his attention back to Leviamon. He held his Aegis in front of him and his Gram lance was poised at his side guardedly.
"Nobody asked for your opinion," Leviamon whispered under his breath, eyeing Grani right back as the crimson bird flew away.
Alphamon watched as Duftmon walked up the beach towards him and the others. "Duftmon, what are your thoughts?" he questioned.
Duftmon eyed Leviamon suspiciously before turning back to the leader of the Royal Knights, stopping in front of the larger paladin. "I believe that it is something to be discussed – though, not in front of him," the strategist explained.
Alphamon nodded with agreement. "We should convene with the rest of the Royal Knights, then," he confirmed, looking around at the others. He turned his focus back to Leviamon. "We need to speak about this as a group before coming to a decision. I'll ask you to wait here without moving."
"I'll stay and keep an eye on him," Dukemon offered. "I'm willing to go along with whatever you guys decide."
Gankoomon folded his arms and nodded. "I'll stay too," he agreed. As Hinukamui loomed over him, he glared at Leviamon steadily, not turning away from the colossal demon beast. "I don't like him, but I believe him. My gut tells me that he's telling the truth."
"Alright. We will keep your opinions in mind," Alphamon agreed before turning to Duftmon, UlforceVeedramon, and Sleipmon.
"Before we leave, demon," Duftmon spoke up, eyeing Leviamon with a haughty look in his emerald eyes. "You must tell us what information you know about the Demon Lords' plans."
"Before you even agree to my proposal? I'm not an idiot," Leviamon incredulously countered. "Why the hell would I do that?"
"Because, for all we know, you could be intending to give us false intelligence," Duftmon declared, eyeing the massive crocodile cautiously. "You could be attempting to lead us astray, or walk us straight into a trap. We have to be able to discern whether or not the information you give us is rational."
Alphamon nodded with agreement. "We must parse whatever you tell us before we can make a commitment. We need to make sure that we can trust you, Leviamon," he explained to him. "Remember, you came to us. You want something from us. You need to earn our trust, which will not be easy after your chequered past. Think of this as a chance to earn some good will."
Leviamon's eyes constricted guardedly. "Once I tell you what you need to know, what's to stop you from turning around and trying to kill me?"
"What is to stop us from killing you right now?" Duftmon countered as he brought his rapier up in front of his body. "We are within our rights to exterminate a Demon Lord who has caused swaths of destruction, after all."
"But we won't because we're Digimon of honour," Gankoomon declared emphatically, shooting Duftmon a look. "When we say we're going to do something, we mean it."
Alphamon nodded. "Indeed… If we determine that you are telling us the truth, and if the other Royal Knights agree, then we will agree to your offer."
Sleipmon lowered his crossbow emphatically. "We reward honesty and cooperation, after all."
Leviamon sighed rainbow-coloured smoke out of his nostrils. He had a feeling it wouldn't be that easy. "Fine…" he reluctantly conceded, eyeing the six Royal Knights around him. "But don't try anything funny. Remember who has the advantage in the ocean."
"We won't," Alphamon responded, although not trusting him enough to dispel the Seiken Grad Alpha from his hand. "So long as you remember that it is in your best interest not to lie to us."
"Me, lie?" Leviamon asked in a needling cadence. "Message received, knights. Now, as for that information…"
Leviamon shuffled backwards in the water just a little, in case he found he needed to make a quick escape. His gaze shifted from one knight to another, before settling on Alphamon.
"I'll start with the legion heading west: the Third Legion. They're planning on expanding the Demon Lords' territory throughout the Desolate Moors until they reach the western coast. They want to capture the Port of Souls so they can link up with the port of Dark Point. Not that they know they're not in control of Dark Point anymore," Leviamon explained with a smirk. "Next is the main force of the Nightmare Soldiers. This is about thirteen Legions – fourteen once the Troopmon Brigade is done being created."
"The ones being amassed near the southern regions of the Gloaming Fields," Dukemon confirmed, walking over around the front of Leviamon's snout.
"That's right," Leviamon acknowledged as he slowly lifted his belly off of the sandy seabed. "Lucemon and Demon are planning to send the main force south to conquer all of the land up to the Champion River. They want to capture Shroud like how they captured Dark Point."
Duftmon scoffed and shook his head with disregard. "I am tempted to say that they can keep those two cities. Those cesspools of crime and intrigue are blotches on the map of Eniac," he expressed haughtily. He narrowed his bright, emerald eyes with thought. "However, Shroud is in a strategic location, and losing it to the Demon Lords would put pressure on Saversburg. If Shroud were to fall, Saversburg would likely be their next target…"
"Not again," UlforceVeedramon complained, rubbing the back of his horned head. "We just saved them from Chaosdramon…"
"No rest for the weary," Dukemon told him with a smirk. "Did they say their goal was Saversburg, Leviamon?"
"Not in so many words, but that was the implication," Leviamon responded with a shrug. "Lucemon and Barbamon always keep the rest of us at arm's length from their grand plans. I'm sure they're thinking way beyond Shroud, or even Saversburg. Not that the bastards would tell me." The titanic demon crocodile scoffed bitterly as he thought about them. "Bagramon's got big plans too – that guy's decent, but I know he's wilier than he lets on. I can tell his mind's always working underneath that polite hermit façade."
At the mention of Bagramon, Alphamon frowned uneasily at the treacherous Demon Lord. "Do you know what those plans are?" he questioned.
Leviamon smirked with satisfaction. "Not everything, but I know just enough to make those bunny ears of yours perk up, black knight," he told Alphamon, sounding very pleased with himself. Then the crocodile's eyes shifted in Sleipmon's direction and landed on the equine Royal Knight. "You might be interested in this too, horsie…"
Sleipmon arched his eyebrow and beheld the Demon Lord with hesitation. "Why is that…?"
"You know that legion that I mentioned was in the north?" Leviamon asked.
"I was about to inquire about that, lizard," Duftmon confirmed. "They are all the way on the other side of the Lost Mountains, so they cannot be reserves. They must be advancing north somewhere, but where?"
Leviamon's lips curled back into a toothy smile. "They're headed for the Cathode Tundra. Bagramon plans to raid the Arcane Ruins."
A wave of silence washed over the group. Nobody reacted, fearing that Leviamon was digging for information, but everybody's eyes slowly drifted towards Sleipmon.
Sleipmon's body froze. As if glaciers of Odin's Breath had been summoned inside of him, his stomach constricted and his heart felt like it had skipped several beats. His violet eyes widened with horror, but he did his absolute best to remain calm.
"W…What?" Sleipmon stammered, although he attempted to keep his cards close to his armour. "They… want to attack the Arcane Ruins? But… that's impossible. Nobody knows the location of the Arcane Ruins. They could be anywhere!"
"Except we both know where they really are," Leviamon bluntly stated, cutting through the Royal Knights' pretenses. "The ruins are in the Cathode Tundra. Bagramon said that he pieced it together from obscure books, and then the Yggdrasil Codex that he stole confirmed it. They know exactly where those ruins are."
"No…" Sleipmon whispered, his face growing blank with dread. His mouth went dry. He took a step backwards on his hind hooves to steady himself.
The Arcane Ruins – the holiest of places that he had been charged to defend. He had made an oath to protect those ruins. Before, he had eventually come to be alright with leaving the Arcane Ruins to join the Royal Knights. After all, they were buried kilometers below a glacier and he had left his duties to his trusted friend and charge.
But now that he knew that Bagramon knew where their exact location was, and that the Demon Lords wanted to access its secrets…?
His heart raced with fear. He felt a surge of energy pump down his six legs as his instincts took over. They screamed at him to do something. He couldn't stand around while the Arcane Ruins were in danger.
"No!" Sleipmon suddenly shouted, circling around and taking off in a blast of sand.
"Sleipmon!" Alphamon called out, spinning around as the equine knight raced away from the group. "Where are you going?!
"Sorry, but I have to go!" Sleipmon yelled back. His hooves pounded the sand and he began dashing over the dunes and onto the nearby grasslands. He began picking up speed with each passing meter. "I have to do something…!"
"Don't you dare!" a voice shouted from behind him.
Before Sleipmon could get any further, a flash of brown intercepted him. He was forced to come to an abrupt stop so that he didn't crash into the figure.
Duftmon: Leopard Mode stood in front of him, having slide evolved in order to be able to have the speed to catch up with him. He had just barely been able to fly over before Sleipmon could reach a half-gallop, at which point he would have had no chance of catching up to him.
The armoured leopard hunched his body down and eyed Sleipmon like he was prey. He locked an oppressive leer onto Sleipmon's face and stared the Royal Knight down. "You are going nowhere, Sleipmon," he commanded him.
Sleipmon bit back his scowl and clenched his fists with frustration. "Move, Duftmon, please!" he protested.
"Not until you stand down," the tactician stubbornly replied, his feline eyes narrowing dangerously.
Sleipmon considered trying to race around him, but he hesitated. "You don't understand, Duftmon!" he argued impassionedly. "Vikemon and the Arcane Ruins are—"
"I understand perfectly, Sleipmon," Duftmon: Leopard Mode informed him. "I understand that you are about to run off on your own with no conceivable plan and no idea what you are up against. You cannot simply endanger yourself and others just because you are worried."
Back on the beach, Leviamon watched with raised eyebrows and an amused grin. "Wow, I guess even you guys have problems, huh?" the Demon Lord teased, looking at Dukemon.
Dukemon shot him a look but then looked back at Sleipmon with concern. He knew the feelings of worry and frustration that his friend must be feeling. He empathized with him and he wanted to help. He understood the urge to run off and do what he could to protect them before it was too late, but logically, he knew that that wasn't the answer.
Sleipmon grimaced. "But…" He wanted to argue with him – he wanted to run off – but rationally, he knew that Duftmon had a point.
"Duftmon is right, Sleipmon," Alphamon firmly agreed, extending his wings and flying over to them. "Running off recklessly isn't going to do you any good."
"Alphamon, you know how important the data inside the Arcane Ruins are," Sleipmon argued, looking at the black knight. "If Bagramon is able to access them…"
"I know, Sleipmon. I don't want that to happen as much as you do," Alphamon assured him, placing his hand on Sleipmon's shoulder and squeezing it steadily. "However, you can't let your fear control you. If you run off on your own, you could end up outnumbered."
"We cannot afford to lose any Royal Knights due to foolish behaviour," Duftmon agreed, staring up at the taller Royal Knight. "Please, consider your actions…"
"We will go back and figure out how best to counter the Demon Lords' movements," Alphamon assured him. "We're leaving tomorrow, remember."
UlforceVeedramon flew over to them and landed on Sleipmon's other side. "I know you're worried, Sleip-chan," he told him, placing his hand on Sleipmon's other shoulder. "I'm impatient too. but let's just wait until tomorrow. They're still a ways off from the ruins and the Cathode Tundra is hard to navigate. There's still time to do this right."
Sleipmon sighed and nodded. "Yes… I know you're all right. I'm just worried," he admitted, running his hand through his thick, violet mane. "Vikemon doesn't know they're coming."
"We'll be able to catch up to them by rail, Sleipmon," Alphamon promised him. "Let's go back and reconvene with the others."
"Yes, Alphamon," Sleipmon agreed, nodding at him before giving a nod of acknowledgement to Duftmon.
"So…" Leviamon spoke up from the beach, though his booming voice was enough to easily carry across the dunes. "Was that enough info for you? Does that all check out?"
"Yes, I believe so," Duftmon: Leopard Mode grudgingly concurred. "Your apparent honesty has been noted, demon."
"We shouldn't be longer than an hour," Alphamon told them, looking at Dukemon and Gankoomon. "Will you two manage?"
"We'll be fine," Dukemon assured him, glancing warily at the Demon Lord of Envy.
"Yeah, yeah," Gankoomon confirmed, cracking his neck and rolling his shoulders. "We'll keep him in line."
Leviamon rolled his eyes and sunk slightly in the coastal waters, allowing the waves to roll up against him repeatedly. As his face was half submerged, his yellow eyes lingered on Dukemon.
"Very well," Alphamon replied. He turned around and looked at Duftmon, UlforceVeedramon, and Sleipmon. "Let's contact the others and tell them to meet up outside of the castle. We will inform them of the situation."
"Consider it done," Duftmon replied, giving Sleipmon a sideways glance before shifting back into his humanoid form so that he could use the LRAVC.
Leviamon watched carefully as Alphamon, Duftmon, UlforceVeedramon and Sleipmon all started flying off over the coastal fields. He blew a few bubbles into the turbulent surf and glanced between his two Royal Knight guards.
"You guys better not keep me waiting…" he warily reminded them. "I'm putting my ass on the line for this."
"We won't," Dukemon tersely answered, giving him a sharp glance out of the corner of his eye. "You're lucky we're even considering this."
Leviamon scoffed and he sank back into the water so that only his head and snout were visible. He kept his eyes fixed on the two Royal Knights before him, particularly the caped one.
This was a huge gamble he was taking. He was determined to make it pay off.
Leviamon allowed the brackish water to pour into his gullet, his savage jaws sinking into the sandy, ocean surf. His reptilian eyes narrowed bitterly as they burrowed into Dukemon's back.
"You'd better be keep your end of the bargain… I'm starting to find this interesting."
"This is a terrible idea!"
Magnamon stood to his feet and placed his claws on the surface of the round table. Incredulously, he stared across the table at Alphamon and Duftmon.
All of the Royal Knights but Dukemon, Gankoomon, and the yet-to-be inducted Jesmon were gathered in the council room. They had gathered outside of the castle, where Alphamon explained to them that Leviamon had arrived alone, that he had seemingly left the Demon Lords, and that he wanted to negotiate.
They had gone inside to the council chamber, where they had explained to the others what Leviamon wanted, and what he had told them in response. Alphamon also explained that he thought that it was a deal worth considering.
"Alphamon, Duftmon, you can't seriously think this is a good idea," Magnamon protested, frowning as he leered at both Alphamon and Duftmon, almost disbelieving that they were even considering the idea.
"I strongly concur with Magnamon," RhodoKnightmon agreed, his voice stern, serious and without all of its usual vibrant bounce. "To even let our guards down enough to converse with the Demon Lord is very unwise."
"At first, I would have agreed," Alphamon contended with an acknowledging nod. "However, I think it would be hasty to dismiss such an opportunity."
"We can't trust him, Alphamon," Magnamon argued impassionedly. "He's a Demon Lord. Whatever he said, he's probably lying. The information he told us is probably intended to split us up and lead us into a trap."
"Yeah, I'm not so sure about this either, Alphamon…" Dynasmon sheepishly replied, scratching his head with uncertainty. "It's a big risk."
Duftmon folded his arms and eyed Magnamon confidently. "Everything that he has told us has matched up with Grani's reconnaissance reports. Make no mistake; I have considered the possibility that he is setting us up for a trap. I find it very unlikely, but if that is the case, then it is not something that I will be unprepared for," the tactician stated.
"I'm surprised at you, Duftmon," Craniamon told him. "Given your strong beliefs, I'd have thought you'd be against working with somebody like Leviamon."
"Although my belief in our cause is unwavering, I am a pragmatist, Craniamon. I always have been," Duftmon asserted unequivocally. "This is a defecting Demon Lord. We are speaking of an immeasurable shift in power in our favour. Not only does losing Leviamon weaken Lucemon, but with him comes valuable intelligence, not to mention his strength, which is not to be understated."
"Sure, but is it worth it if it stains our honour?" Dynasmon asked. "This was the guy who dropped Empyrea. It wasn't his idea, sure, but he's the one who actually destroyed the supports."
"Dynasmon's right," Magnamon agreed. "How does it look for the Royal Knights to be working with one of the Demon Lords?"
At this, Omegamon frowned and looked over at Alphamon, wondering if he had anything to say to refute the point. "This is true…" he conceded uncertainly. "I am uncomfortable with compromising our values."
"We wouldn't be working with him," Alphamon assured them. "We are merely using Leviamon for his information. I know that none of you can overlook the atrocities that he committed during the Heavenly War, nor can I. However, it would be a mistake to close the door on an opportunity that could help us defeat the Demon Lords."
"I agree with Alphamon and Duftmon," Examon spoke up. "We need every edge we can get. Besides, if we turned him away, he might try to go back to the Demon Lords."
"…I still think it's naïve to trust him," Magnamon contended. The golden armoured knight sat back down in his seat and looked down at his lap with a doubtful grimace.
"Who here said a thing about trusting him?" Duftmon deliberated. "We merely have to use him as a pawn against the Demon Lords for the time being. Then we can get rid of him at a later juncture."
"That also sounds dishonorable…" Craniamon muttered distastefully.
"I don't like the guy, but if this helps us beat the other six…" UlforceVeedramon added with a shrug.
Omegamon looked at Alphamon carefully. "If you think that this is the best path… I trust you," he assured him.
Alphamon smiled appreciatively at the white knight. "I promise all of you that this isn't something we are taking lightly. If we even suspect that Leviamon is plotting something, we won't hesitate to take action," he told the others.
"Well… Alright," Dynasmon agreed, folding his arms across his barrel-chested body. "I don't love the idea of making nice with the crocodile, but if you think it's best, I'm with you."
"Dukemon and Gankoomon seem to agree as well," Duftmon made sure add, to inform everyone of which way the wind was blowing.
"Well, I am against this," RhodoKnightmon reiterated. "However, I can see that Craniamon, Magnamon and I are outvoted. I do hope that you all know what you are doing…"
Magnamon narrowed his eyes and folded his arms, trying not to wince as his injuries still throbbed with pain. He sighed reluctantly with defeat. This was another battle he was unable to win. "…Alright," he conceded. "I don't like it, but I trust all of your opinions…"
Craniamon grunted and folded his arms. "This better not come back to bite us…" he reluctantly added. He turned his gleaming, red eyes towards Sleipmon. "What do you think, Sleipmon? You've been quiet."
Sleipmon winced faintly and raised his head, pulling himself away from his thoughts. "Sorry, what did you say?" he wondered.
"Sleipmon's worried about the Arcane Ruins and his buddy who's guarding them," UlforceVeedramon explained, placing his hand on Sleipmon's back.
Examon eyed Sleipmon with concern. He was able to see the unease in Sleipmon's eyes. It was a familiar feeling to him… He knew that restless feeling of being stuck here, far away, while something he cared about was being threatened.
"I just want us to leave as soon as possible," Sleipmon spoke up, looking around the table at all of the Royal Knights. "So, please, can we work as hard as possible to be ready to leave tomorrow?"
"We will, Sleipmon," Alphamon assured him empathetically before looking over at Duftmon for confirmation.
Duftmon nodded. "Given what Leviamon has said, we should leave tomorrow," he agreed.
Before anybody else could speak, the sounds of echoing footsteps could be heard coming from the other side of the council room doors. The heavy, reverberating clash of metal striking metal grew louder as somebody approached the Royal Knights' official meeting chamber.
Alphamon raised his head and looked across the table from the Empty Seat, towards the large, closed, double doors. He heard a familiar voice speak from the other side, and watched as the doors opened before them.
The opening slabs of wood revealed a tall, majestic figure standing within the arching doorframe. A sky blue dragon man clad in shimmering, alabaster armour entered the room and looked around at the table of Royal Knights.
Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode smiled charmingly and gave them a casual wave. "Hello, everyone," he greeted.
Omegamon blinked with surprise and stood to his feet. "Imperialdramon?" he greeted, surprised to see his friend appear unannounced.
Alphamon smiled back at him and rose as well. "Hello, Imperialdramon. I'm glad you're here. You received my message, then," he greeted the Founder of the Royal Knights cordially.
Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode grinned and walked over to the table. He gave Omegamon a friendly nod before walking around the table to beside him and Alphamon. "Now… I don't want to alarm anybody, but on my way here, I saw a giant, demon crocodile on the coast…" he lightly informed them.
Omegamon's face flattened at the casual way that he announced what might have been shocking news. "Yes, Imperialdramon, we know," he dryly assured him.
"It is all dealt with now," Alphamon explained, looking up at the winged knight. "Would you like to be filled in?"
Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode smiled and shook his head. "No, it's fine. I know that you guys know what you're doing," he responded. The white armoured dragon man placed his hands on his hips and looked around the table. "So, I take it you've all decided on a thirteenth Royal Knight, Alphamon? Where are they?"
"Jesmon isn't present right now; he's with the Strike Forces. They're still on high alert," Alphamon explained. He gestured his arm outwards, around at the other Royal Knights. "We're about finished here anyways. I can introduce you to him, if you'd like."
"If you're sure I'm not interrupting," Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode said as he looked at the others.
"No, we must finish our preparations after that other unwelcome interruption," Duftmon stated as he rose to his feet and turned away.
Imperialdramon sheepishly pointed at himself. "…So, I'm an unwelcome interruption too?" he wondered with a slightly hurt smile.
"You do know how to pick your moments," Omegamon told him with a touch of levity to his resonant voice.
"So, is Jesmon going to go through the same thing that I went through?" Examon wondered. "Aren't we due to leave tomorrow?"
Imperialdramon raised an eyebrow and looked at Alphamon. "Well, I'm here to formally knight Jesmon and preside over his induction ceremony. Typically, he would be brought before Yggdrasil as well. What's your time table for that, Alphamon?"
"Well, due to current circumstances, we're rather shackled by time constraints," Alphamon explained. "I was hoping that we could fast-track things a little. I was thinking we could have his ceremony early tomorrow. We should have enough time before we leave before noon."
"What about meeting Yggdrasil? That takes more than just a few hours. That'll take a day or two," Imperialdramon reminded him. "Or does Yggdrasil know already?"
"Yggdrasil does not know…" Alphamon admitted, scratching the chin of his helmet pensively. "We have not heard from It in over a year…"
The white-armoured Imperialdramon made a confused face and folded his arms. "Really? I'd have thought that Yggdrasil would have sent you a commandment by now."
"So have I. Though, I am sure there must be a good reason for the delay," Alphamon reasoned, although pondering to himself. "…As for Jesmon, I am still considering the best time for when to bring him to meet with Yggdrasil. I would like to know what Yggdrasil's decrees are myself, but we do not have much spare time and I would not want to impose if It is still deliberating."
"I guess we are in a bit of a unique situation when it comes to initiating a new Royal Knight," Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode considered, running his blue fingers through his blond hair as he scratched his head.
Alphamon nodded. "Well, I'll bring you to meet Jesmon now," he told the Order's founder. "Duftmon, can you go inform Leviamon, Dukemon, and Gankoomon of our decision?"
"But of course," Duftmon agreed, standing to his feet with perfect posture.
"We will lower the threat level by one stage," Alphamon added. "The Strike Forces can stand down, but the Defence Forces will remain on alert around the castle."
"I'll let Ouryumon and Knightmon know," Dynasmon said, beginning to walk away from the table.
Imperialdramon smiled at the Royal Knights. "I'll catch up with you guys later tonight if you finish your preparations," he assured them amiably.
"Now there is an incentive to finish early," RhodoKnightmon replied with a playful tilt of his head.
"It sure is," Imperialdramon answered with a playful smile of his own. "I know how you much love my company, Rhodo."
"I can hardly help it if you are both a dashing warrior and a charming gentleman to boot, Imperialdramon," RhodoKnightmon added, making his way towards the cyan and ivory paladin. He produced a white rose which he then handed to Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode as he passed by him. "An elegant rose for a knight who is just as sweet."
Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode raised the flower to his face and took a gentle sniff of its aroma. "Why, that's very sweet of you to say," he said to the pink-armoured knight with a charming wink.
Omegamon sighed with exasperation. "You shouldn't encourage with him with flirtations, RhodoKnightmon; you will only expand his ego even further," he advised the rose knight. He placed his Garuru Arm on Imperialdramon's winged back, ushering the dragon man along. "Come on, Imperialdramon."
Imperialdramon chuckled a little and walked along. As he opened the doors and stepped out into the great hall, Alphamon and Omegamon strode at his sides. They began making their way down the marble corridor while the rest of the Royal Knights funnelled out behind them. All of the Royal Knights went off to see to their duties in the wake of a Demon Lord's sudden and alarming arrival at their doorstep. Nobody felt entirely at ease with the situation, but they adapted as well as they could to the shifting circumstances.
"I sense a bit of unease among everyone," Imperialdramon spoke up, looking between the contrasting knights. "I'm guessing Leviamon has something to do with that."
"Everyone is understandably uneasy about working with him, however limited the capacity," Alphamon explained. "I have my reservations as well, but from a pragmatic view, it benefits us to have the Demon Lords disunified."
"Ah. My enemy's enemy is my friend," Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode spoke.
"I definitely wouldn't say that he is our 'friend'," Alphamon answered with a small smile. "But, yes, that is the basic premise for the moment."
"I hope Yggdrasil does not disapprove," Omegamon murmured with a gentle frown.
"Yggdrasil tends to trust your independent actions," Imperialdramon assured them. "I am sure It will inform you if It disagrees."
"Imperialdramon is right," Alphamon agreed. "I don't dare to speak for Yggdrasil, but I hope it would understand that it benefits us to do this to uphold Network Stability."
"Yes, I suppose so. That has always been Yggdrasil's primary priority," Omegamon reasoned.
Imperialdramon nodded as he walked out into the foyer. "Anyways… What's this Jesmon guy like? I've never heard of him," he wondered.
"Actually, you have… He's Hackmon; Gankoomon's apprentice," Alphamon explained with a knowing smile.
"Really…? That little guy with the goggles who wouldn't stop gushing over me when we first met?" Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode asked, blinking with surprise. "Aww, they grow up fast, don't they? …Why him?"
"He's young, but he's eager to grow," Alphamon explained. "He has lived a lot and matured a lot."
Imperialdramon grinned at Alphamon. "In that case, I'm excited to see for myself. I trust your judge of character," he responded positively.
Alphamon smiled awkwardly and scratched his cheek. "Well… I've had a few misses," he admitted with a touch of wistfulness to his voice.
"Which we're not going to dwell on," Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode announced, slapping his hand on Alphamon's back right between the plated wings.
Alphamon stumbled a little bit before straightening himself up, chuckling. "Yes, agreed."
"It makes you wonder, though," Omegamon mused. "If Leviamon has broken ranks with the Demon Lords, I wonder if any of the others will as well."
"That would make things easy, but we can't depend on that," Alphamon responded. "Nor can we depend on Leviamon entirely either."
Alphamon frowned thoughtfully as he walked towards the exit of the castle.
"It's the traitor's dilemma. After all, if he can defect from his original group so easily, what will stop him from defecting from us in the future?"
About twenty minutes passed.
The Strike Forces were told to stand down from their positions and the alert level was dropped so that only the Defense Forces had to remain on sentinel. The patrols scouting the province remained active, but the amount of patrols on duty was reduced by a third. With tensions eased, more of the soldiers were allowed to relax ahead of embarking on their next campaign the following day.
After being dismissed, Jesmon began walking away from the assembly grounds on the far side of the castle where the Strike Forces had mustered. As much as he had wanted to follow Gankoomon, he remembered he wasn't a junior Royal Knight yet; he still had a duty to the Strike Forces and he had to obey his superiors' commands.
He had been worried for his Sensei when he had heard that a Demon Lord had shown up on the coast, but now that the threat level had been reduced and there hadn't been any word of combat, it seemed as though the Royal Knights had dealt with Leviamon diplomatically. Honestly, that was a relief to him, especially after witnessing the carnage that Demon had wrought.
Jesmon walked down the road the surrounded the castle, the bladed tips of his legs touching the magical circles that appeared centimeters from the ground with each step. He was getting used to walking that way now, and he hoped that with enough practice, he would quickly master it.
"Hey, Jesmon!" a deep but friendly voice called from behind him.
Jesmon looked over his shoulder to see VictoryGreymon jogging to catch up with him. "Oh, hey, VictoryGreymon," he greeted his friend with a smile.
"Gee, that was scary, huh?" VictoryGreymon said as he slowed down beside him. "I was worried we were gonna have to fight Leviamon. That would have been bad, especially here of all places. He's so huge!"
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Jesmon agreed with a gentle frown. He had to admit that he felt nervous about Leviamon's intentions. It was strange to him that he would show up there only to not attack them. "…What do you think he wants?"
"I wish I knew…" VictoryGreymon mused with a shrug. "Maybe he came to surrender?"
"I somehow doubt that…" Jesmon responded, tugging the collar of his cape uneasily.
The deep, whooshing sound of nearby wing beats caught his attention. A strong blast of wind hit him from behind, blowing his cape outwards wildly. Jesmon and VictoryGreymon both turned towards the source of the gust. They saw the large body of an Imperialdramon: Dragon Mode flapping its wings to slow itself as it touched down behind them. Jesmon took a moment to determine which Imperialdramon it was, as he knew a couple. The Imperialdramon's hair was a bit shorter than Paildramon's, its face more triangular, and its body was smaller as well. This caused Jesmon to recognise him as Peri.
"Hey, Peri," Jesmon greeted his similarly-aged friend with a smile.
"Hey, Hackmon," Imperialdramon responded. "Oops. Sorry. I guess it's Jesmon now, huh?" Peri corrected himself. He smiled sheepishly and tilted his head. "You're evolving so quickly. I only just got used to calling you SaviorHackmon…"
Jesmon chuckled and humbly scratched his metal cheek with a finger. "Well, I think that's come to an end now…" he explained.
VictoryGreymon smiled and looked between the two dragons. "I guess you guys are both early bloomers, huh? I didn't become an Ultimate until a few years after your guys' age, and I've been in the army since I was a teenager."
"I guess so," Jesmon admitted, although kind of embarrassed. "I was under pretty extreme circumstances though… Getting myself kidnapped by Black Pincer Company and almost getting killed by Demon…"
"Did it look awesome when you evolved though?" VictoryGreymon wondered excitedly.
"I don't know since I wasn't looking at myself, but…" Jesmon smirked. "…Maybe a little."
Peri smiled a little at Jesmon. "I'm a little jealous."
VictoryGreymon looked back at the large, sapphire dragon curiously. "Why? Wasn't it cool when you evolved too?" he asked him.
Wincing at the memories, Peri glanced away sheepishly. "…If you call losing control of your power, nearly levelling your own town, and attacking your heroes 'cool'…" he murmured in response.
"That wasn't your fault, Peri…" Jesmon assured him.
"Still, it's something I wish I could forget…" Peri explained, his red eyes soft and reticent. "I wish I could have had an Ultimate evolution I could be proud of."
"You never know," Jesmon responded. "We all know that Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode was able to evolve to a Fighter Mode form. Maybe you can too."
Peri smiled a bit wistfully. "Thanks, but we also all know that that's unlikely. There have only ever been two recorded Fighter Modes in history, as far as anybody knows," he responded. "If anybody's more likely to get another mode, it's probably you, Hackmon."
"I don't know about that…" Jesmon replied.
VictoryGreymon chuckled and clapped his hand on Jesmon's caped back, causing the dragon man to stumble a little. "Oh, I dunno! At the rate you're going, they might even start looking at you as Royal Knight material! You already look the part with that amazing cape…"
Jesmon's eyes widened and he looked away from VictoryGreymon's gaze sheepishly. He brought his hand up to fiddle with his goggles and hood that hung from his back. The Greymon's words were a little too close to the truth.
He knew that Alphamon had asked him to keep it a secret, but it didn't feel right not telling his friends about it. He didn't want to brag about it, but he didn't want them to be offended that he hadn't told them ahead of time. After all, he wasn't sure when his induction ceremony would be. He didn't feel comfortable lying to his friends. Maybe if he only told them and asked them not to tell anybody, it would be alright. After all, they were going to find out eventually. Though, he didn't want to betray Alphamon's trust and end up convincing Alphamon that he was too impulsive to be trusted as a Royal Knight…
"…Jesmon?" Peri asked, noticing that the caped dragon suddenly seems quiet and lost in his thoughts.
"Oh, uh, sorry," Jesmon responded, looking back at the draconic Imperialdramon.
'Did something happen?" Imperialdramon wondered perceptively.
Jesmon awkwardly fidgeted with his scarlet collar some more. Now that he had been called out, he couldn't lie. He wasn't very good at lying to begin with. "Uh… Actually…" he hesitantly began.
Peri and VictoryGreymon both looked at the slender, metal, dragon knight with interest. "Yeah?"
"Can you both keep a secret? I shouldn't really be saying anything about it…" Jesmon requested. "I don't want to get in trouble, but I don't want to lie."
"Yeah, of course I can, Jesmon," VictoryGreymon promised him with a broad smile.
"Sure, but I don't want to get you in trouble…" Peri responded, although inwardly his curiosity was very piqued.
Jesmon looked around a little to make sure that there was nobody else near enough to hear him. When he was comfortable that nobody was listening in, he leaned in towards his two friends. "To be honest…" Jesmon took a deep breath. "Alphamon has asked me to become a Royal Knight."
Silence washed over the pair as they took in the shocking news. Jesmon watched as their eyes slowly enlarged and they momentarily waited to see if he was joking or not. When they saw that he was being completely serious, their shock intensified, albeit in different ways.
"Holy canolli!" VictoryGreymon exclaimed, his emerald eyes like full moons. "THAT'S AMAZING! This is so cool! You're actually going to become- Mmm!" VictoryGreymon suddenly cupped his large hands over his own snout to keep himself from spilling the exciting news. "Sorry, I'm just really excited!" he said, partially muffled behind his hands.
Meanwhile, Peri stared at Jesmon with absolute shock. "Th… That's…" he whispered. "Are… you serious, Hackmon?"
Jesmon blushed with embarrassment, but smiled with a tiny bit of pride and accomplishment. "Yeah… I couldn't believe it either. I guess it was because of the last two missions… I'm really grateful to Alphamon for giving me this chance," he explained.
Peri frowned a little bit as he looked at his friend. "But… you only just evolved," he pointed out. "Aren't you still a recruit?"
Jesmon bashfully rubbed the back of his neck and fiddled with the hem of his hood. "That's true…" he admitted. "I guess I should mention that I'm not going to be a full Royal Knight right away. I'm going to be a junior Royal Knight, so I'll still be training with the Strike Forces."
"That's really awesome, Jesmon," VictoryGreymon encouraged him with a smile. "That's your dream come true! You must be so happy."
Jesmon smiled sincerely. "Yeah… I really am," he replied thoughtfully.
Imperialdramon turned his large head away to conceal a soft, burgeoning wince. "It must be…" he gently spoke, his breath hitching on his words.
However, after a moment, Peri frowned at himself. He turned his snout back towards Jesmon and offered him a small smile. "I'm… really happy for you, Jesmon," he tentatively assured him.
Jesmon nodded appreciatively. "Thanks, guys…" he responded. "I'm glad you're okay with it… I know you guys are as big of fans as the Royal Knights as I am, so I was a little worried about how you'd respond. I was worried that… I don't know."
VictoryGreymon grinned broadly and placed his hand on Jesmon's shoulder. "Not at all! I'm really glad that you're going to be a Royal Knight, Jesmon!" he assured him positively. "I've always wanted to be a Royal Knight too, but just being part of the Order at all is my dream come true!" VictoryGreymon smiled and sheepishly ruffled the back of his messy, red hair. "To be honest, I don't really think I have what it takes to be a Royal Knight… Seeing what they do up close makes it seem so much more complicated and intense than I thought... Just supporting my heroes is enough for me, I think… Heck, just having one of my friends being a Royal Knight is already amazing!"
Imperialdramon's red eyes drifted off towards the side of the road. "Yeah… I'm sure you deserve it, Jesmon," he encouraged him. "I'm glad you get to live your dream."
Jesmon smiled. "Thank you… That means a lot," he replied to the both of them, his eyes settling on Peri.
"I guess that means you'll out rank me now, huh?" Peri added with a half-smile.
Upon hearing the comment, Jesmon frowned at the idea. "Maybe technically, but nothing will change between us, Peri," he assured him.
"Mm," Peri responded mutedly. Although he nodded, he didn't sound entirely convinced.
Before Jesmon could think twice about it, he looked ahead and noticed Alphamon, Omegamon, and Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode walking towards them. He suddenly began to feel nervous and he wondered if, somehow, they had already heard that he told his friends.
"Er… Can you guys please not mention that I told you?" Jesmon asked them in a hushed voice, eyeing the two Royal Knights and their Founder as they walked closer.
"I won't say anything," Peri replied simply. He turned his large body, tucked his wings back, and began to break away from the two dragon men in front of him. "I'd better link up with my patrol anyways. I'll see you later."
"Yeah, I'll keep my snout closed," VictoryGreymon promised with a smile. "Though… I might crack under the pressure in front of them, so I'd better go meet up with Shine and the others."
"Okay. Bye, guys," Jesmon told them, nodding. He looked over and saw that Imperialdramon: Dragon Mode was already walking away from him. He turned his head and noticed VictoryGreymon give him an amiable wave before the barrel-chested dragon man jogged off too. This left just him in the middle of the road as his three superiors approached him.
"Hello, Jesmon," Alphamon greeted him with an affable smile. "We were looking for you."
Jesmon bowed his head respectfully. "Sir Alphamon, Sir Omegamon, Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode-dono," he responded with the utmost formality. "Greetings."
Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode immediately chuckled. "You didn't tell me he was so formal!" he laughed, placing his hands on his hips. "Are you sure he's Gankoomon's student? He's nothing like him!"
Jesmon's cheeks immediately went red and he raised his head, not expecting such a casual response from the Founder of the Royal Knights. "Err… I'm… I'm a big fan, Sir," Jesmon explained, feeling a bead of nervous sweat rolling down the back of his neck. "Of all of you."
"Oh, I see. I guess you must be a little intimidated," the white armoured dragon man told him with a grin. "Don't be. I don't bite. You'll get accustomed to things soon, I'm sure."
Alphamon turned his head and looked at Imperialdramon with amused eyes. "Jesmon, this is the elusive and enigmatic founder of our Order, as I'm sure you already know," he explained, his words dancing with understated levity.
Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode gave Jesmon a smile and a wink before offering him his blue scaled hand. "Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode, but just call me Imperialdramon," he introduced himself. "It's nice to meet you, Jesmon."
Jesmon smiled and found enough courage to readily take Imperialdramon's wrist to shake it. "It's an honour, Sir," he stated excitedly, although keeping enough of a rein on his emotions not to go overboard. "I've heard and read all about you."
Imperialdramon chuckled and clasped Jesmon's arm back, shaking it firmly. "I'm flattered. Am I as impressive in person?"
"The stories only capture his good parts," Omegamon said, looking at Imperialdramon with faintly teasing blue eyes.
"My favourite story is the one where you gained your Paladin Mode form," Jesmon explained, his eyes shimmering with excitement. "Where Omegamon donated his power to you in order to defeat those Armagemon."
Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode cast a smile in Omegamon's direction. "That's a favourite one of mine too," he said with equal jest.
Omegamon glanced down for a moment with embarrassment, before refocusing his attention on Jesmon. "By the way, Jesmon, allow me to congratulate you. I know it's not official yet, but I look forward to working with you as a fellow Royal Knight," the white knight told him.
"Th-Thank you, Sir," Jesmon responded, doing his best to keep on top of his excitement. Although he felt more mature now, he still couldn't help but be overjoyed at the prospect of working with his heroes. "I look forward to it too."
"With regards to that…" Alphamon spoke up, walking up to the younger knight's side. "There's been a change of plans, Jesmon."
Upon hearing Alphamon's words, Jesmon felt his stomach drop deep into the gulfs of his insides. Did Alphamon change his mind? Had he heard that he had told his friends about it? Fear began to wash over him at the thought of the rug being pulled out from under him. He wasn't sure he could handle being within arm's reach of his dream, only for it to be cruelly snatched away.
"It's concerning your induction ceremony…" Alphamon casually explained. "I will be addressing the Order in a few hours in response to the Leviamon situation. After I inform everyone of what is happening, I will end it by announcing that you will be made a junior Royal Knight. Does that sound alright?"
Jesmon felt a wave of relief wash over him. Upon hearing what Alphamon really wanted, he felt foolish. He had been so excited and nervous since Alphamon had invited him to join them that he was overly sensitive. He really wanted to make a good first impression and he didn't want to screw things up for himself.
"Yes, Sir. That sounds good," the initiate knight replied.
"The initial plan was for Alphamon address everyone tomorrow morning, but today's circumstances have forced us to speed up our timetable," Omegamon explained.
Alphamon nodded. "We are leaving on our campaign tomorrow. That means we will also have to have your induction ceremony in a bit of a hurry," he explained with a smooth gesticulation of his hand. "We were hoping for tomorrow morning if that's alright with you. I know it isn't much time to prepare, but there really isn't much preparation required."
Jesmon's eyes widened and his fear returned, although it was a different kind of fear this time. His induction ceremony was so soon? He wasn't ready! He wasn't mentally or emotionally prepared at all.
Imperialdramon grinned as he watched Jesmon's expression. "Don't worry. It's not all that big of a deal. All you really need is me, my sword, and then we'll go through the Oath," the white armoured knight explained.
"It is a bit of a big deal," Omegamon corrected, giving Imperialdramon a chastising look. "What he means is that it is not an extravagant or complicated event. You won't be expected to do anything particularly worrisome, such as speaking in front of the Order. It will just be you, Imperialdramon, and the Royal Knights, who have all been through the exact same thing."
"O-Of course, Sir," Jesmon responded, straightening his back rigidly. "If that's what we need to do, it's f-fine with me."
"Unfortunately, it will also mean that your proving duel will be delayed indefinitely. I am also deliberating when the best time to bring you to Yggdrasil will be," Alphamon explained. "I apologise for these less than ideal changes. I'm sure that you had an image in your head of what this would be like. However, these are the pressing circumstances that we find ourselves in."
"Really, it's okay," Jesmon insisted, shaking his head. "I understand. To be honest, until today, I wasn't even sure if I would ever get this far. Just knowing that I'll be able to become a Royal Knight… It's more than enough. I can't repay you for this."
"As long as you do your best alongside us, that will be enough, Jesmon," Alphamon assured him with a smile. "Your ceremony will be tomorrow, an hour after dawn. Make sure you wake up in time. You wouldn't want to be late for your own induction ceremony, now would you?" he asked with a playful wag of his finger.
"I wouldn't be miss it for the world, Sir," Jesmon promised. He then smiled a little bit. "Well… maybe if the world depended on me."
Alphamon chuckled. "That's the right attitude to have," he said to the junior knight. "You'll fit right in."
Jesmon's muscles eased with relief. While he was still nervous around the Digimon who he had always considered his heroes, he began to feel a little more comfortable around them. He was just happy that he wasn't in trouble.
"Alphamon, Sir," Jesmon spoke up. "Can I ask, is Sensei – I mean, Gankoomon-shishou - alright?"
The black knight looked at Jesmon contemplatively. "I believe so. He is keeping an eye on Leviamon, but Duftmon is on his way there."
Jesmon nodded thoughtfully. He hoped his Sensei was okay. He wouldn't put it past Gankoomon to try to punch Leviamon square in the snout… especially in the mood he was in that day.
"Well, was there anything else, Alphamon?" Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode wondered, turning his head towards the winged knight.
The black knight shook his head. "Nothing at this moment, Imperialdramon," he replied. Alphamon turned his armoured body, his cape rippling softly with the smooth movement. As he turned, the sun reflected off of the ruby, digicore interface on his forehead. It looked as though it was flashing a brilliant red. "I think that—"
Alphamon suddenly winced and brought a hand to his forehead. His mind was overwhelmed by a soft but arresting pulse. It stopped him in his tracks and he felt a sudden burst of warmth inside of him.
At the exact same moment, Omegamon flinched as well, and Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode brought his hand up to his forehead. They were both overcome by that same, startling sensation.
Jesmon watched with confusion and worry; it was like the three of them had hit an invisible brick wall. He wasn't sure if they were sick or if it was some sort of attack. "Sirs? What's wrong?" he asked with concern, taking a step towards them.
Alphamon narrowed his eyes and turned towards Omegamon and Imperialdramon. "Did you both feel that too?" he asked them, his voice growing serious.
Omegamon nodded, his bright, cyan eyes staring right back at Alphamon. "Yes…" he confirmed as he regained his composure.
"For the first time in a long time now," Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode agreed, his casual demeanour vanishing as his crimson eyes furrowed into a frown.
"What happened?" Jesmon asked them. However, as soon as he asked the question, he could see a figure running in their direction.
It was a large, broad-set Digimon with a metallic, bronze-hued body. The machine Digimon was running towards them as fast as his legs could carry him. Jesmon recognized the Guardromon as one of MetallifeKuwagamon's assistants. He helped the High Technician operate the communications room.
Jesmon watched as the Guardromon ran up the road towards them. As Alphamon, Omegamon, and Imperialdramon all turned around in response to the loud, clanging footsteps, the Guardromon ambled to a stop in front of them.
The Guardromon looked up at the Royal Knights with urgent, green eyes and he swiftly saluted them. "Sirs!" he greeted them formally. "Excuse me. It is of the utmost importance."
Alphamon frowned and looked down at the robot Digimon. "Guardromon? What is it?"
"Sir, High Technician MetallifeKuwagamon has asked me to come get you. He requests your presence in the Communications Room at once," the Guardromon explained. "Something has happened."
Alphamon, Omegamon, and Imperialdramon all exchanged looks, though each knew what it meant. "What?"
"'It' has sent you a message."
Alphamon frowned and turned to Omegamon and Imperialdramon, giving them an unsaid look of confirmation. He turned his golden eyes back to the Guardromon, his digicore interface glinting in the light.
"…We're on our way."
Meanwhile, the surf continued to roll across the pristine sands of the coast.
Dukemon stood on the beach, his metal boots shifting in the soft, fine grains of quartz below. His crimson cape and his long, flowing, white ponytail blew in the salty, ocean breeze. The Royal Knight stared out across the rolling, azure waves of the Net Ocean.
His hands loosely held the grips inside the Gram and the Aegis, but he didn't lower his guard completely. He kept his golden eyes closely trained on the massive, red body of Leviamon.
Meanwhile, Gankoomon boredly marched up and down the beach. His wooden geta sandals sunk into the sand with every step and the jacket that rested on his shoulders rippled with agitation. He glanced over at Leviamon every so often, but he didn't really believe that Leviamon was dumb enough to try anything now.
Gankoomon moved restlessly, and his brows were furrowed behind his visor as he thought to himself. There was a lot on his mind, but he tried not to dwell on it. Instead, he focused his attention on keeping active, while also keeping an eye on the nearby Demon Lord. It took all of his willpower not to take his agitation out on the oversized crocodile.
Leviamon floated in the shallows of the ocean, wading in place. He allowed his hefty body to become mostly submerged as he rested his underbelly against the sandy, offshore bar beneath the waves. His snout remained above the waves and he stared at Dukemon with a tiny smile of amusement.
As Dukemon looked the Demon Lord of Envy, he could see the leviathan staring at him. Feeling a little uneasy, he decided to address it. "What?" he asked him.
"Nothing," Leviamon responded. "You're just not how I expected…"
Dukemon eyed the Demon Lord standoffishly. "How, exactly?" he inquired.
"Oh, it's nothing," Leviamon answered with a smirk. "You just seem less uptight than the other Royal Knights. They all seem like they've got their swords up their asses."
Dukemon glared at him calmly. "Those are my friends you're talking about," he reminded him.
"Sorry, sorry," Leviamon insincerely apologised. "Though, I gotta say, Beelzebumon talked about how attractive you were and how much he loves fighting you."
The caped Royal Knight looked at Leviamon with a dry, exasperated expression. "…Did he now?" he flatly asked, not sounding at all flattered by the comment.
"Yeah." Leviamon angled his snout towards him and smirked at the Royal Knight teasingly. "I don't see it myself. No offence."
"I'll get over it somehow," Dukemon sarcastically replied.
Leviamon chuckled a little bit and shuffled a little closer to the shore, the movement causing larger waves to sweep up onto the beach. "I know you're Beelzebumon's dance partner, but you and I tussled as well," Leviamon pointed out with an amused smile. "No hard feelings, I hope."
Dukemon narrowed his eyes a little bit as he beheld the giant Demon Lord. "There are hard feelings, actually…" he bluntly informed him, facing the crocodile standoffishly. "The Night of Falling Stars?"
At this, Gankoomon stopped and turned around, leering over his shoulder at Leviamon.
"Hey, that was all Barbamon's idea and Lucemon's orders," Leviamon insisted, his smile fading as his instinctive defensiveness took over. "All I did was destroy the cloud data. I was just doing what I was told to do."
"I've got no respect for somebody who doesn't think for themselves, and even less for someone who doesn't own up to their actions," Gankoomon gruffly replied, spitting in the sand. "Whether you have the guts to take responsibility or not, tens of thousands of Digimon down here on the surface died because of you." Gankoomon's fist slowly tightened and he turned around to face Leviamon completely. "I may be okay with accepting that you've turned against the other Demon Lords, but that I'll never forgive. …Got it?"
Leviamon's eyes narrowed combatively as he stared back at Gankoomon's fiery gaze. After a few moments, Leviamon glanced away and scoffed, effectively backing down. "Tch… Yeah, well… I'm thinking for myself now," he asserted. "Nobody tells me what to do anymore."
"Better than nothing, I guess," Dukemon whispered. He planted the tip of the Gram in the sand and gazed up at the partially submerged reptile. "What exactly was it that made you turn against the other Demon Lords?" he wondered curiously. "Was it just what happened in New Terminal?"
Leviamon grunted resentfully. "It was constantly being treated like crap despite the fact that we're supposed to be equals," he explained, leering at Dukemon specifically. "I'm sure you know how it is."
Dukemon cocked an eyebrow behind his helmet and he gazed back at Leviamon with confused and incisive eyes. "Actually, I don't," he coolly responded as he readjusted the Aegis. "Why would I?"
Leviamon's eyes narrowed with a bit of offence, but he remained calm and composed. He shifted his head to the side and carefully studied Dukemon, thinking to himself.
"Right… Of course you don't…" the Demon Lord cagily answered.
Dukemon frowned but decided not to press Leviamon any further. He wasn't sure what the Demon Lord was trying to say. He didn't really want to engage with him too much, still uncertain of his motives.
Meanwhile, Gankoomon turned around and stopped upon seeing a familiar figure crest the nearby alabaster dunes. A leopard clad in brown armour stopped on top of the sandy slope before shifting back into his humanoid, knightly form.
"Look who's back," Gankoomon said as Duftmon took his preferred form. "What took you so long, neko-chan?"
Duftmon cast the red-haired Royal Knight a sideways glare. "…Hmph," he huffily responded, not giving Gankoomon the satisfaction of a response. He spread his white, feathery wings and glided down to the middle of the beach. "Dukemon, has there been any trouble?"
"No, he's been behaving," Dukemon explained, gesturing towards Leviamon.
"Good," Duftmon replied, striding down towards the water. He stopped just outside of the wrack line so as not to touch any of the wet sand with his boots. Holding his rapier in his hand, Duftmon fixed a domineering and scrutinizing gaze onto Leviamon. "You, Demon Lord," he brusquely addressed him.
"What?" Leviamon retorted. "Did you knights come to a decision?"
Duftmon tapped the side of the Shoumetsu no Tsurugi against his ankle rhythmically. "…Indeed," he aloofly confirmed. "We have saw fit to honour our side of the bargain. In exchange for your information and cooperation, we shall accede to your demands, and nothing more."
Leviamon's snout morphed into a toothy grin. "Glad to hear it…" he said with a pleased growl.
"However, if we find that your information is misleading and we are being led into a trap, I can personally guarantee that it will be the end of you. Any betrayal of the Royal Knights, the foremost Network Guardians, will be met with the full wrath of Yggdrasil," Duftmon frigidly guaranteed him, his green eyes narrowing to emphasize his threat. "Now, is that understood?"
"Crystal clear, cat," Leviamon responded with a goading grin. "If that's all, I want to return to Dark Point for now to make sure everything's going as it should be."
"You are free to do so," Duftmon cagily replied. "However, you are not to expand your territory beyond the area around Dark Point," he made sure to add.
"Fine…" Leviamon tentatively replied. "But you'll need my help retaking the Port of Souls eventually."
Duftmon folded his arms. "We shall see," he noncommittally replied.
"Guess we will…" Leviamon answered, beginning to amble his large body sideways. "Don't worry. I'll be back."
Duftmon frowned at the idea and he began to think to himself. He watched the Demon Lord begin to make his way deep enough into the ocean so that his feet were longer able to touch the sandy bottom.
As Leviamon swam further and started paddling with his clawed feet, he turned his head and stared back at Dukemon with a grin. "Later, Dukemon," he told him, his yellow eye lingering on him before submerging below the watery surface.
Dukemon watched as Leviamon disappeared beneath the waves and began swimming out into the depths of the Net Ocean. As his red body disappeared into the abyss, the only remaining sign of him was the swell of water that followed him as his incredible mass pushed through the water.
The crimson knight was left with a confused feeling of unease. Dukemon turned around to look at Duftmon and Gankoomon. "Are you sure about this, Duftmon?" he wondered.
"While I have no illusions about him, yes, I am," Duftmon confirmed. "It is only a temporary relationship, however. We cannot trust a savage beast like him for long, after all."
The tactician's words prompted a frown to form on Dukemon's face. He glanced out into the Net Ocean uneasily.
Before his train of thought could continue, Dukemon's mind was suddenly assaulted by an intense pulse.
At the same time, Gankoomon clutched his head and Duftmon winced and turned around, back towards the castle.
"Gah! What the hell?" Gankoomon complained, pulling his visor off and glowering his with stern, human-like eyes at the unusual feeling.
Dukemon spun around, his cape rippling with the motion. "You guys felt that too?" he asked them.
"What was that?!" Gankoomon asked, rubbing his fingers through his red hair with confusion.
Duftmon frowned seriously and looked at Dukemon with an acknowledging nod. "It could mean only one thing…" he spoke with unwavering clarity.
Dukemon nodded with agreement, turning his steady gaze away from Duftmon and back towards their castle. It was a feeling that he had experienced many times before - an instinct that was calling out to him.
Alphamon strode briskly down a corridor in the first level of the castle. Omegamon walked swiftly behind him, his cape flowing smoothly behind him. A few meters behind them walked Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode, whose pale wings tucked in against his back as he followed the two Royal Knights down the castle hallway.
"Why now, I wonder…?" Alphamon pondered as he turned down a corner.
"Perhaps it is about Jesmon," Omegamon suggested. "It must surely know that we have arranged to induct a thirteenth Royal Knight into our ranks. It can't be a coincidence that we are being contacted now…"
"I suppose you are probably right, Omegamon," Alphamon agreed as the three walked towards a room that was on the far corner of the corridor.
The white knight turned his horned head towards Alphamon. "Should we still go ahead with Jesmon's induction ceremony?" he wondered.
"I don't see why not," Imperialdramon replied with a shrug. "Yggdrasil has never objected so far. It trusts us to make these decisions. If It does for some strange reason, It will say so when you bring Jesmon to receive Yggdrasil's blessing."
Alphamon nodded his horned helmet in agreement. "Imperialdramon's right. Besides, the arrangements are already in place," he considered, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "However, this does pose the question of when Jesmon should be brought to see Yggdrasil…"
"Let's see what MetallifeKuwagamon has to say before we get ahead of ourselves," Omegamon suggested as the three neared the end of the corridor.
Alphamon nodded and approached the door of the communications room at the corner of the corridor. The door was open, and the inside of the usually dark room was illuminated by an unearthly, white glow. The stone bricks that made up the walls sparkled with an intense gleam that shone more powerfully than twenty glow forms. The light poured out of the door and onto their bodies as they stepped up to the room's entrance.
Alphamon looked inside and saw MetallifeKuwagamon kneeling on the floor with his head bowed. He faced a large, panel screen that was fixed onto the far wall of the room.
The three knights stepped inside the room and turned to face the flat screened monitor. The huge screen was brimming with pure, white light. There was nothing else on the screen – just a monochrome layer of intense and pristine white. The white screen remained still and constant as it radiated light into the room.
Alphamon turned his head and looked down at the metallic, humanoid insect who was kneeling respectfully on the ground. "MetallifeKuwagamon?" he questioned. "How long has it been like this?"
MetallifeKuwagamon lifted his head and looked up at the black armoured Royal Knight. He hesitantly rose to his feet and turned towards the group as they entered from the hallway. "For approximately three minutes now," MetallifeKuwagamon explained. He turned his horn-crested head back towards the screen. "There has been no message yet, just a blank, white screen."
Alphamon nodded and walked inside the communications room. He approached the expansive, luminescent screen that towered over the intricate electronics below. Omegamon walked up beside Alphamon and stopped beside the black knight, gazing at the screen as well.
As soon as the two knights approached the pure, white screen, tiny ones and zeroes began to faintly speckle onto the backdrop of light. The binary code began to consolidate, and symbols began to appear before the two Royal Knights. Soft, grey Digimoji started forming one-by-one on the monitor, until there were enough to form words.
['SUMMON: ALPHAMON. OMEGAMON. JESMON. REQUESTING PRESENCE AT THE SOURCE. PROCEED TO THE ROOT NODE.']
"Lord Yggdrasil…" Omegamon spoke, bowing his head with respect. "Your instructions shall be carried out."
"Of course…" Alphamon agreed, bowing his head as well after reading the message displayed on the screen.
Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode lowered his head and watched as the Digimoji faded into binary.
As soon as the letters were gone, the monitor immediately flashed to black. The holy light that emanated from the screen vanished and the communications room was returned to darkness.
When Yggdrasil's presence in the room was gone, Omegamon let out a sigh. "So, Yggdrasil wishes for our presence…" he spoke, turning and looking at Alphamon and Imperialdramon. "That is a relief. I was beginning to grow concerned about the lack of communication."
"It looks like It wants to evaluate Jesmon after all," Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode noted.
"I suppose so…" Alphamon agreed, stroking his chin as he looked at the blank screen. "I would like to learn Yggdrasil's thoughts on the Demon Lords while we are there, as well."
Omegamon nodded. "It would be nice to receive a directive on how we should proceed, although I doubt we will be told to do anything differently," he agreed.
Imperialdramon: Paladin Mode smiled. "Well, it looks like you guys have quite the trip, but isn't the Order leaving tomorrow?"
Alphamon nodded pensively and looked back at the large screen. "Indeed…" he mused, thinking to himself. "It seems some alterations will need to be made…"
Alphamon's eyes softened into a deep and serious frown as the monitor booted back up. As the light from the screen flickered across his ruby-like, Digicore Interface, he turned back and gazed at his two companions.
"Well… Let us prepare meet with our god…"