(Author's Notes: Here's Part Two! Time to get back to writing in order! Next we'll be getting into the battles. Enjoy the chapter and let me know your thoughts!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone, from myself and all the Royal Knights! Stay safe and enjoy the festivities!)

Chapter 69: Solitude (Part II)

Several hours passed since Alphamon, Omegamon, and Jesmon returned home.

It was now late-afternoon and the sun was beginning to fall in the sky. A deep orange washed across the emerald landscape from the west. It cast across the walls of Castle Avalion like warm, golden flames, and it painted the clouds tropical pink.

Under the rustic, amber sun, Jesmon stood in the middle of the empty training grounds.

Alphamon had taken him to meet with High Administrator Shutumon, where he was officially registered as a Royal Knight. Issues such as his salary, his administrative responsibilities, and his lodgings were sorted out. Given how busy they were, they weren't yet ready for him to move into the castle, but he was fine with things as they were.

With that out of the way, he was now free to do what he pleased for the rest of the day. With several hours still left in the day and feeling the urge to be productive, Jesmon decided to train.

Jesmon stood at the center of the training grounds. His bladed legs balanced on a pair of magical circles, hovering centimeters from the grass. His legs were bent. His fists were clenched. He glared ahead with boundless passion and resolve. He was ready… ready to unleash his inner strength.

"Schwertgeist!" he shouted with a triumphant shout. He arched his back and swept his arms out, his cape rippling in the breeze.

Across from him, Sistermon Noir and Sistermon Blanc watched with varying degrees of boredom and confusion as Jesmon struck a dramatic pose and shouted… only for nothing to happen.

Sistermon Noir looked on with an over-emphasised yawn as Jesmon held the pose for several more, increasingly awkward seconds. "…Is that it? That's your cool move?" she sarcastically asked, snickering a little.

Jesmon blinked and looked around to see if anything had come out. "…Did anything happen?" he asked, glancing over his shoulder.

"Er… I don't think so?" Sistermon Blanc said with an awkward smile, trying to be as polite as possible. She walked over and tentatively poked the air in front of him with her trident. "You said that three, orange balls were supposed to appear, didn't you?"

"Yeah, similar to Hinukamui," Jesmon explained with a sigh. "I'll try again…"

He closed his eyes and concentrated, trying to summon the three beings of energy. He tried to remember what he did before, back when he was trying to save GrandisKuwagamon… but it was all a blur. The memory of his evolution was a dense storm of emotions – he couldn't remember what he actually did. It all just happened.

He focused, trying to force the energy out of him. He knew it had to be in there somewhere. "Schwertgeist!" he shouted, sweeping his arms outwards dramatically.

The Sistermons' black and pink apostolniks rippled slightly in the breeze that Jesmon caused, but that was the extent of his success.

"…How was that?" Jesmon asked, peeking an eye open.

Sistermon Blanc sheepishly twiddled her fingers. "Um… I can tell you're trying hard, Hack-chan," Blanc assured with an encouraging smile.

"Laaaame," Sistermon Noir chimed in, taking to inspecting the chamber of her gun to demonstrate her lack of interest. "I dunno, Hackie. Did you reeeaaaally summon some blazing fireballs to save your bug boy friend? I'm not convinced…" she teased.

"It really happened! I swear I can do this!" Jesmon frantically insisted, holding his hands to his chest for emphasis. "Wait… Was it 'Schwertgeist'? Maybe it was 'Weltgeist'… I don't remember. Let's try that!"

Jesmon snapped his eyes shut tightly and growled, straining his body as he tried again to summon the three, strange, aura familiars.

"Weltgeist!" he cried out.

Again, there was no trace of orange light. The only thing he succeeded in doing was providing entertainment for Sistermon Noir and second-hand embarrassment for Sistermon Blanc.

"…Alright, maybe it wasn't Weltgeist," Jesmon admitted with an embarrassed cringe. "Did you see anything that time?"

"Hmm, well, I didn't see any geists, but I can help with the welts!" Sistermon Noir declared, whipping up her guns with a mischievous grin and firing rubber, training bullets at Jesmon.

"Gah! Hey! Ow!" Jesmon stammered, bringing her arms and leg up defensively as his metal body was bombarded by the bullets, which did nothing more than bounce off him harmlessly. "Noir-chan, cut it out!"

"Nah. Maybe it'll work if you're under enough pressure! That's how it worked before, right?!" Sistermon Noir exclaimed over the gunshots as her impish smile widened. Despite her words, it sounded more like a convenient justification to shoot at him.

"N-Noir!" Sistermon Blanc nervously protested, going over and pulling Noir's arm down. "How is he supposed to concentrate like that?"

"I dunno, maybe he's supposed to not concentrate," the older of the pair offered, shrugging nonchalantly. The black-themed girl looked at Jesmon questioningly. "So, how'd ya do it before?"

"I… I'm not sure, to be honest," Jesmon admitted with a light frown. "Demon had me… I thought I was going to die. Then I evolved and got free… everything happened so fast. There was so much adrenaline flowing through me. All I knew was that I had to save Grandis or else he'd die too. I was desperate to get to him. That's when those things appeared around me…"

"Huh…" Sistermon Noir mused, sitting back down and resting her gun-wielding arms on her bent legs. "We could try and replicate it."

"…By putting GrandisKuwagamon in mortal danger?" Jesmon dryly asked. "That might be hard…"

"Not if we wind Gankoomon up and point him in the bug's direction," Noir lightheartedly suggested, sticking her tongue out as she aimed down the sight of her gun. "That'd be fun!"

"I don't think that's a good idea, Noir-chan," Jesmon said with a sigh. "Besides, I have to learn how to control my new abilities on my own. It's my responsibility as a Digimon and a Royal Knight."

"Boooring," Noir complained. "Welp! I guess we should get back to training!" She stood up and aimed her guns at Jesmon again.

"W-Wait!" Sistermon Blanc nervously interjected, getting ready to summon a barrier for Jesmon at any second, despite the fact that he really wasn't in any danger. She turned to Jesmon. "You said that they were similar to Hinukamui-kun, didn't you…?"

Jesmon nodded. "Yeah. They were made of some sort of aura or energy like Hinukamui is… They were almost the same colour too," the dragon knight explained.

Sistermon Blanc frowned with thought, her small but nimble fingers pressing against her trident. "Maybe…" she pensively mused. "Maybe you unconsciously manifested them as a result of all of your training with Hinukamui-kun and Gankoomon-sama."

"'Unconsciously manifested'?" Jesmon inquired.

"W-Well… You said yourself that they appeared while you weren't thinking," Sistermon Blanc suggested. "It's possible that you created them or that they were a part of something deep inside of you that unlocked when you evolved to Jesmon. Either way, it's likely that they developed from your training with them. Maybe, without thinking, you tried to manifest something like Hinukamui."

"Uh huh…" Noir apathetically mused. "And how does that help Hackie, exactly?"

Jesmon frowned. "If they formed as a result of training with Hinukamui, then I should have better control of them… but I can't even materialize them right now…"

"But they did what you wanted before… They protected GrandisKuwagamon-san, didn't they?" Blanc suggested. "Maybe you did control them."

"How do I figure out how to do that?" Jesmon asked.

Blanc looked down at her feet with thought. "…Well… You acquired them from your training with Gankoomon-sama and Hinukamui-kun. Maybe if you ask them to help, they'll be able to help show you how to summon and control them…"

Jesmon folded his arms, his brows furrowing as he mulled over Blanc's suggestions. What she was saying made sense, however… "I don't know… Maybe," Jesmon hesitantly debated. "Sensei is so busy though…"

"What?" Noir incredulously asked. She snickered. "Pfft. No, he's not! The most productive thing he's done since everyone left was run laps around the castle with bags of sand!"

Noir's words caused Jesmon to stare at her with surprise and puzzlement. "What…?" he asked, taken off guard by the information that contradicted what Gankoomon had told him. If what Noir was saying wasn't an exaggeration, then that meant… his sensei lied to him?

Jesmon's shoulders slackened. The uneven confusion he felt was cut through by the sharp jab of disappointment. He felt confused and a little hurt. Why didn't Gankoomon want to talk to him before? Why wouldn't he just tell him? It wasn't like him.

Sistermon Noir turned her head and looked past Jesmon. "Well, hey, here he comes now!" Noir announced, gesturing with her gun to behind Jesmon. "Maybe you can ask him now, Hackie."

Jesmon turned around. He saw Gankoomon walking from the road and across the training grounds towards them. He felt conflicting feelings stirring within him at the sight of his sensei. On one hand, he felt hopeful that Gankoomon might have decided that he had time for him after all. On the other, he still felt a bit hurt and he wanted to confront Gankoomon about it.

He watched as Gankoomon strode over to them. His long, white coat rippled with each, purposeful step. His heavy, wooden sandals thudded against the dirt.

"Hey, Gankoomon," Sistermon Noir exclaimed, waving her gun haphazardly.

"Noir-chan. How many times? Don't point that at anything you don't intend to shoot," Gankoomon chastised her.

"But I intend to shoot everything, eventually," Noir jokingly pouted, stuffing her machine pistol in her ankle holster.

"Um, hello, Gankoomon-sama," Sistermon Blanc meekly greeted before glancing at Jesmon. "I… I think Hackmon-chan has something he wants to ask you."

Jesmon opened his mouth to speak, but a deep voice swept in and interrupted him before a sound could form in his throat.

"No time," he firmly and succinctly asserted. Gankoomon angled his body away from Jesmon and turned to face the two Sistermons. "Girls, I need you both to help me with something."

"O-Oh, um… sure," Sistermon Blanc meekly agreed, although looking over at Jesmon. "But—"

"Help with what?" Sistermon Noir interrupted, folding her arms and shooting Gankoomon an impertinent smirk. "I thought you didn't have anything going on today."

Gankoomon's mouth tightened into a faint scowl. "…Well, I do now. And I need you both to help. Now," he implacably maintained. "It's Royal Knight stuff."

"We're already helping a Royal Knight though," Sistermon Noir remarked with an emphatic shrug, causing Gankoomon's cheek muscles to firm up behind his visor.

"U-Um, the thing is, Gankoomon-sama," Blanc quickly intervened before her older sister could rile the hot-tempered knight up too much. "We were helping Hack-chan train… but we haven't been able to make much progress. We were wondering if maybe you could—"

Gankoomon's shoulder's tightened and he clenched his fists. He quickly turned towards them.

"I don't believe this. Stop babying him, you two. He's an Ultimate level now for Yggdrasil's sake!" Gankoomon sharply rebuked them. He swept his arm out and pointed right at Jesmon. This was the first time he directly addressed him since he returned. "And you. Jesmon. If you have something to say to me, have the guts to say it to me directly! Don't hide behind the Sistermons like you did when you were a Hackmon. What the hell kind of behaviour is this? You're a Royal Knight now, not a damn child!"

Jesmon's eyes widened and the reflexive pang of insult returned. Despite that, he immediately rose to Gankoomon's challenge. Jesmon's surprised gaze hardened into a defensive glower and he stood up straight, walking over so that he was standing in front of the Sistermons. "I… I know that!" he contended, trying to demonstrate the resolve in his words. "And it's not their fault; I asked for their help! I wasn't hiding either."

Gankoomon stood firm and folded his arms, staring imperiously at his student. "Well? Get on with it," he impatiently urged him.

Jesmon's frown softened. "Well…" he momentarily hesitated. After a moment, Jesmon clenched his fists, knowing that he couldn't show any weakness in front of his sensei. He looked up and stared him right in his visor. "Sensei! I request your and Hinukamui's help!" Jesmon firmly announced, leaning forwards and bowing.

The yellow aura dragon in question suddenly emerged from Gankoomon's shoulders upon hearing his name. Hinukamui rose up in a swell of incorporeal, golden energy and leaned down, smiling at Jesmon with his draconic snout.

Gankoomon remained silent and stone-faced, merely arching an eyebrow, but not giving anything away with his rigid posture.

Jesmon glanced up with beseeching eyes. "Please, Gankoomon-sensei. I need your help controlling my new abilities. I am unable to create those orange spirits like I did when I first evolved. I think they might be some sort of aura beings, created by my own spirit, like how Hinukamui-kun was created by you. So, if anybody could help me, I think it would be you, Sensei… Will you teach me?"

Gankoomon stared down at his student, watching as he bowed before him, humbly requesting his help. He could still see his youthful innocence in his bright, gold eyes, looking up at him, waiting to be shown what to do. Even though he looked so different, it wasn't that hard for him to picture him how he used to be when he took him in all those years ago. Gankoomon could still see that young, orphaned Hackmon looking up to him…

"Please, Shishou…?"

For a moment, Gankoomon's stiff demeanour softened. His arms unfolded and fell to his sides. The tension in his hand waned, and his tight, curved fingers began to open up receptively, as if to reach out.

But then, he stopped himself. Gankoomon's opened hand closed and tightened into a soft fist.

Hinukamui began to bend towards Jesmon amiably, but – suddenly - he was stopped. He saw the back of Gankoomon's sharply raised hand in front of him, wordlessly telling him not to go closer. The energy dragon looked down at his master in confusion.

"…No," was Gankoomon's reply.

Jesmon blinked and looked up with utter confusion. "…Pardon?" he asked, unsure if he had heard him right.

"…I'm sorry, Jesmon. I won't help you," he answered, his voice resolute. Gankoomon stared down at him with unwavering eyes

Jesmon gazed up at his teacher with shock. Was this one of his lessons? He didn't understand. "…What? But… Why not?" he asked, his tenor voice fluctuating with confusion.

"Because!" Gankoomon sharply retorted. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to swallow his outpouring of frustration. "…Because… You're a Royal Knight now..." he explained, calmly this time.

Jesmon frowned and stood back up, his confusion coming hand-in-hand with irritation. "What does that have to do with anything?" he inquired.

"You're a grown Digimon, Jesmon. You're an Ultimate level now," Gankoomon gruffly explained to him. He folded his arms and held himself aloofly. "You should be able to figure it out for yourself without my help. You don't need somebody to hold your hand anymore…"

Jesmon's shocked eyes softened sadly. "What…?"

Gankoomon stared straight into Jesmon, refusing to break his gaze. "…How are you ever going to figure anything out for yourself if you depend on me to teach you all the time? You're strong enough to train yourself now."

Jesmon looked down a little, trying not to grimace in front of his sensei. "I… I guess so," he half-heartedly agreed.

Despite the faint ache of loss and disappointment that stung his heart, a part of Jesmon rationally knew that his mentor had a point. If he was going to be a Royal Knight, junior or not, then he was expected to be on equal terms with the others. He supposed he couldn't just be in Gankoomon's shadow all the time. He had to figure things out for himself… on his own.

Gankoomon's lips tensed and he sharply turned to the side, breaking his gaze and looking away from his student.

"You're strong now… You don't need me anymore."

Jesmon grimaced and bowed his head sadly. He gazed down at the long blades that extended from his body and the brilliant, blue crystal on his chest. As much as the idea caused his heart to break, Jesmon didn't want to appear weak or unworthy.

"Yeah… I guess I don't, Sensei," Jesmon answered, his words subdued under the weight of hidden disappointment and sadness.

"…Good," Gankoomon decisively spoke.

As a bitter scowl began to form on his face, Gankoomon swiftly spun away, turning his cloaked back to Jesmon. With a mighty squeeze, he tightened his hands into fists. He was silent for a few moments, bowing his head and gazing down at the blades of fresh, spring grass beneath his feet.

Gankoomon shifted his head to the side just slightly, not turning to face him at all. "And… don't call me that anymore," he told him, his words strong but subdued as he spoke. He looked ahead again.

"As of this moment… I am no longer your Sensei…"

Jesmon's hurt eyes widened for a moment but he quickly shut them tightly. Feeling his words catch in his throat, the junior Royal Knight could only force himself to nod in agreement.

Gankoomon's eyes creased behind his visor and his tightened knuckles strained. He quickly raised his bowed head and began walking away from his former student.

"Come on, girls," Gankoomon told them, refusing to turn around as he walked away.

Sistermon Blanc stood there with disbelief. Her hands were cupped over her mouth to cover her astounded gasp. Her eyes were wide and a little misty. She couldn't believe what she just witnessed.

Even Sistermon Noir was at a loss for words. She felt the carefree grin disappear from her stunned face. She didn't know what else to do but to stand up, scratch her head with disbelief, and look at her sister.

Hinukamui frowned as he looked down at Gankoomon, getting pulled away the more the Royal Knight walked. He turned around and looked back at Jesmon sympathetically, shrugging at him.

Sistermon Noir frowned for a moment before realising that Gankoomon was leaving without them. "Uh… Wait! Gankoomon!" she called out, running after him. After a few steps, Noir stopped and glanced over her shoulder at Jesmon, hesitating for a moment. "Uh… Come on, sis. He'll leave us behind."

Sistermon Blanc looked at Jesmon sadly. Seeing the expression on his face, she immediately went over and hugged him.

"Um… D-Don't worry, Hackmon-chan. I don't think that Gankoomon-sama meant it," Blanc assured him. "I don't know what's gotten into him…"

"I-It's fine, Blanc-chan," Jesmon unevenly maintained, his emotions showing through despite his words. "He's right. I shouldn't rely on him anymore."

"Well… Okay… but me and Noir will always be here to help regardless," Blanc insisted, looking up at him with a sad but reassuring smile.

"Thanks…" Jesmon answered distractedly, although offering a ghost of a smile.

Sistermon Blanc nodded and let go. "I have to get going," she said, glancing over at Gankoomon, Hinukamui and Noir. "I'll see you later, okay?"

"Yeah, I'll see you…" Jesmon responded with a nod.

Sistermon Blanc turned and ran off after her sister and Gankoomon.

Jesmon stood alone on the vast training grounds. He felt a great sense of something lost… Not just that… He felt lost.

He watched as Gankoomon, his teacher, walked away from him. Gankoomon was the person he thought he could always look to… He took for granted that he'd always be able to ask him for advice – that he'd be there to help him. Now… it dawned on him that he was on his own.

Ever since he became a Royal Knight, Jesmon felt as though he was becoming further separated from the people he cared about. First, it felt like there was distance between him and Peri, and now, there was an undeniable gap between him and Gankoomon. He felt… lonely.

As he watched his sensei disappear from view, Jesmon's eyes stung, but he kept himself calm and composed. After all, he felt he had to be mature now. He was a Royal Knight now. That meant having to act like one. Maybe that meant that he had to do things on his own…

After all, the more responsibility he had, the stronger he had to be.

Jesmon closed his eyes and bowed his head, trying to force himself to let go of the student-teacher bond that he so cherished.

"…Goodbye, Sensei," he whispered bitterly.

Jesmon clenched his fists and blinked back the liquid emotions in his eyes. He raised his head and glared forwards with determination.

"I'll do it," he inwardly promised. "I'll do it on my own…"

The water of the moat splashed lazily, shimmering in the orange light of the sunset. The castle's shadow grew longer as the day went on, eventually stretching out far across the fields.

In this shadow of the castle, Leviamon lurked in the murky water.

He boredly waded in the moat, his massive snout resting on the warm, grassy bank. He let out a large yawn and wiggled uncomfortably, annoyed that he could no longer bask as the sun was no longer on him. Now that night was approaching, he was beginning to feel impatient and skittish.

Leviamon was beginning to consider leaving, not feeling comfortable enough with the Royal Knights to sleep near the castle. He figured it might be best to call it a day, hunt some fish, and sleep in the ocean. If they weren't going to give him any attention, he was just wasting his time.

He grumbled and began to stir. Right when he was considering getting up, he heard something.

Leviamon's yellow, reptilian eyes slowly opened when a clanking noise began to grow near. It was the sound of metal boots on stone. At first, he thought it might just be one of the guards, but the accompanying flapping of a cape suggested otherwise. It was a sound that prompted him to postpone his plans.

The Demon Lord of Envy lazily glanced up to the ramparts of the wall. Appearing in his sight was a red and white silhouette, highlighted by the amber glow of the sunset. Leviamon recognised that figure and he smiled with humour.

Dukemon stepped out of the corner tower and onto the stone battlements. The crimson knight climbed up onto the parapets and looked over the edge, peering down at Leviamon.

"Hey. Leviamon," Dukemon greeted him. Although he addressed him as an equal, his voice was still short and guarded. "Are you waiting for something in particular? I'm surprised you're still here."

"Oh, I was just enjoying the rays…" Leviamon casually explained, pulling himself mostly out of the moat, allowing what remained of the water to flood back down into the rivet. He angled his body so that he could better look at Dukemon out of his right eye. "I was getting bored though. Here I thought you said we'd hang out."

"Er, right. Sorry," Dukemon responded, rubbing his neck. He placed his other hand on the stone merlon beside him, and then sat down on one of the gaps in the crenellated parapet. "I was a bit busy. Some of the other Royal Knights came back," he explained, partially to serve as a warning that there were more Royal Knights around now.

Leviamon arched an eyebrow with interest. "They're back already?" he asked. "That was fast. They didn't let Lucemon beat them back already, did they?"

"No. Alphamon, Omegamon, and Jesmon didn't go with the main force," Dukemon half-explained, though he kept himself from revealing too much. "That's all I can say about that. It's top secret."

Leviamon scoffed, putting on a show of being aghast. "What? Alphamon and Omegamon? So you guys only sent the B-team to deal with the Demon Lords?!" he exclaimed incredulously.

A small but sharp scowl formed on Dukemon's face. "Those are my friends you're talking about," he warned him, his instinctive defensiveness of his friends cutting in. "They're more than capable. I seem to remember that UlforceVeedramon and Dynasmon helped take you down during the war."

The flash of a glare appeared on Leviamon's own face. "Tch," he hissed, turning his snout up with annoyance. "Maybe… But a week of fighting would make anybody tired. They just happened to ride in at the right time."

"Especially when you used up all of your energy dropping a Sky Colony on innocent Digimon, right, Leviamon?" Dukemon reminded him, his voice cold and cutting. He gazed down at Leviamon with a deeply passionate glare. Despite the fact that he had agreed to give Leviamon a chance, he was unable to so easily forget what the Demon Lord had done.

Leviamon glowered defensively, staring up at the principled knight who looked down on him from above. He could see Dukemon's penetrating eyes piercing back at him. After a moment, Leviamon's glare crumbled into an uncomfortable grimace. He broke his gaze with Dukemon and looked away sheepishly.

"…Yeah," he murmured with subdued moderation.

Dukemon eyed the giant crocodile with equal parts curiosity and suspicion. "So… Why are you really here, Leviamon?" he bluntly questioned. "I don't believe that you're only here because you're bored."

"Is that so hard to believe?" Leviamon muttered, his voice a defensive rumble.

"You just conquered Dark Point. I'm sure you have better things to do than to sunbathe outside of our castle," Dukemon plainly stated with folded arms.

"Tch…" Leviamon scoffed. Despite his indignation, Leviamon glanced away sheepishly. "…Okay, fine… If you must know, I came here to see you."

The admission came as a surprise to Dukemon, whose standoffish bearing lowered as a result. "…Me?" he confusedly questioned. "Why me?"

Leviamon grumbled embarrassedly. "…No reason. It's none of your business…" he muttered.

"It kind of is my business, actually," Dukemon wryly insisted. He sighed and uncrossed his arms, placing his hands on his hips. "Come on. You've already told me this much, Leviamon. You'd might as well finish."

Leviamon's large, scaly lips pursed and he looked back up at Dukemon. "…It's nothing. I just thought you'd get it, is all…" he mumbled cryptically.

Dukemon's gaze flattened with mild annoyance. He was never one to have much patience for indirectness. "Get what?"

Leviamon's brow softened. His eyes darted off to the side with a faraway expression.

"…What it's like to be an outcast."

Leviamon's honest words struck Dukemon hard – far harder than he expected. In an instant, a rush of complicated emotions came flooding through Dukemon's heart, washing away his aloof demeanour. However, the sudden flash of confusion came to the fore, causing a kneejerk reaction in the Royal Knight that automatically made him feel defensive.

"Why would you think that? What makes you think that I know what it's like to be an outcast?" Dukemon reactively snapped back.

Leviamon turned and ventured a look back at him. "I heard things… Are you saying I had it wrong?" he innocently asked.

Dukemon closed his fist tightly. He felt a stinging pain inside of him. He reflexively wanted to deny it and chew Leviamon out for making false assumptions about him.

However, the pain he felt was only there because Leviamon had hit right on the mark and too close to home. A cross between a glower and a grimace formed on his face. Dukemon couldn't bring himself to lie. He couldn't bring himself to deny the memories that came rushing back to him.

Instead, Dukemon merely chose to bite his tongue and stay quiet. He wasn't sure if Leviamon was trying to get a rise out of him. He didn't want to give him the satisfaction.

Leviamon watched Dukemon with a neutral expression. He offered neither a mocking smile nor a witty riposte. He waited in silence to see if Dukemon would answer him, and, upon seeing that he had touched a nerve, merely continued with his side of the conversation.

"I know what it's like to be an outcast…" Leviamon slowly explained. "I was an outcast on the Digital World, back before the Exodus… I came to believe in the Religion of Light once. Nobody back down here liked that… They all thought we were dangerous, heretical upstarts. They pushed us out of wherever we lived. Nobody ever accepted me… I thought that the Exodus would change all that."

Leviamon chuckled with dark irony. "Funny, everything was rosy at first; everybody thought we made a utopia! Great, right? But… then the shine wore off, and it became clear to me that nothing really changed, even in the Sky Colonies. Even in God's Paradise, not everyone was equal… Soon, the victims became the oppressors, and then everything became like how it was back down on the Digital World. We got told what to do and what not to do… what to think, what not to think… A lot of the angels were fine with this – they liked their place in society. They'd even die to uphold it… But me? I hated it. I was as much of an outcast there as I was here… I'd get ordered around… passed over for promotions… insulted behind my back and to my face… nobody ever respected me."

Dukemon frowned as he listened to Leviamon speak. He didn't say anything, but he listened…

The empty smirk on Leviamon's face faded and his brows furrowed with dark resentment. "When me and the other six Demon Lords agreed that things needed to change, I thought, 'This is it. This is my chance to be heard. I'll make them respect me.' …Then, when the rebellion started… everything got out of control. I thought things would change when I was with the Demon Lords… but when we were destroyed and our data was sent to the Dark Area… I found out that they treated me no better than the Three Angels did. They treated me like Numemon shit – Lucemon especially… We fought for decades over that damn hellscape… Then, finally…"

"Bagramon broke you out," Dukemon finished.

Leviamon nodded. "…We were finally free. We could finally bring the battle to the angels again. Bagramon said we were supposed to unite together as one… Hah. Fat chance," the Demon Lord of Envy spat sourly. "All those years of in-fighting and resentment never went away. They still treated me like shit… It built and built until finally they blamed me and me alone for the failure to capture New Terminal. That was when I had enough. I couldn't work with a bunch of arrogant assholes who didn't respect me. I didn't even want to be a part of their stupid rebellion. I just didn't have any other options. And frankly, right now, I hate Lucemon more than I hate you guys…"

Dukemon uncrossed his arms as he gazed down at Leviamon. It took him off guard to hear Leviamon speak so openly and honestly about himself.

He never really thought about Leviamon in those terms. He only knew him as one of the Demon Lords who suddenly rebelled in a far off place, committed atrocities and dropped a Sky Colony on the Digital World. He had never cared to know who he was before that or what drove him. He had only ever been an enemy. Although he could never fully forgive him, this was the first time that Dukemon could see that there was a Digimon inside of this monster.

Dukemon began to feel guilty. He wondered how many Digimon judged him in the same way that he had judged Leviamon.

"I… had no idea…" Dukemon said softly, sounding a bit ashamed. "It was always strange to me that you could betray your friends so easily."

"What? Did you think I just rebelled for fun? Or that it's because I'm inherently evil or something?" Leviamon accused him. "And let me make it clear. Lucemon, Lilithmon, Demon and the others – they aren't my friends. That was just a marriage of convenience. So, before you judge me some more about how I turned my back on them, they turned their backs on me first. They were never my friends."

"I guess I assumed that the Demon Lords were closer," Dukemon explained. "All of the Royal Knights are among my closest friends. I trust all of them with my life…"

"Do you now…?" Leviamon sarcastically muttered under his breath. "Must be nice to have that kind of faith in them…"

Leviamon turned his eyes up towards Dukemon's place on the ramparts. "I was an outcast before the Exodus, I was an outcast in the Sky Colonies, and I was an outcast with the Demon Lords… Right now, I just want to find somewhere where I can belong…"

Dukemon grimaced faintly. "Somewhere where I can belong…" he quietly thought. The phrase struck a chord with him. It was not unlike a thought that he once had…

"Can you understand why now, Dukemon?" Leviamon asked him. "Do you understand that?" His eyes narrowed sharply as he gazed at the Royal Knight.

"Do you know what it's like to be an outcast…?"

Dukemon's gaze softened with memory. His shoulders weakened and his posture subtly opened up. His eyes darted to the side, away from Leviamon's penetrating stare.

He knew. He knew more than he wanted to admit…

"…How did you find out about me?" Dukemon asked candidly.

Leviamon shrugged. "You mean the Digital Hazard? Back in the day, there was some stir in the higher echelons of the Choir about you being one of the Royal Knights – mentioned something about the Digital Hazard and catastrophe or something. Even in the Sky Colonies, gossip spread. At least until the Virtues cracked down on 'idle tongues'," he explained with a dismissive scoff

Dukemon sighed and rubbed the back of his head. "Gossip, huh…? That seems to follow me around wherever I go…" he murmured.

"Mud sticks," Leviamon pointed out with a shrug of his front shoulders. "I know that better than anybody…"

The Demon Lord looked up at the castle wall, eyeing the caped knight curiously. "…So… It's true? You've got the Digital Hazard? And what is that exactly?"

"I don't know what it is," Dukemon shortly replied, the exasperation in his voice clear. "I know as much as you do, really… I've had these symbols on me since I was a child – they were on my roaming digi-egg too apparently. When I was taken to some famous oracle as a Guilmon, they said I was marked with the sign of the Digital Hazard. Apparently it's some ancient program of apocalyptic destruction that's embedded in a few special Digimon. As far as I know, only two Digimon have it: Megidramon and me. I don't know why I have it, only that I do. They didn't tell me much else…"

"They didn't tell you much else?" Leviamon asked quizzically. "So, for all you know, it's not real…?"

"It's real… That's for sure," Dukemon answered with a grim, distant look in his eyes.

The setting sunlight at his back cast a shadow over Dukemon's as he looked down at Leviamon.

He remembered back to his childhood as a Guilmon, when the village mystic said that he was marked with the sign of the Digital Hazard. He remembered the stigma of the Digital Hazard after everybody in the village learned about what the oracle said. He remembered the way the other children and their parents acted… He remembered the loneliness that he felt… and the anger and sadness that came from being treated like a pariah. …But despite his reputation and the way he acted out, the village elder adopted him and taught him to get on with his life. Despite the sideways glances and the whispers, he carried on with his life, determined to prove them wrong…

And, then, everything changed… Many years later, bandits razed his village. He had fought desperately as a MegaloGrowmon to protect them, but he was too weak. Everybody he knew was slain around him, leaving him the sole survivor. He was filled with rage and sorrow, but he was desperate to protect his home. That's when he evolved to Dukemon… Once he had the power, he killed the rest of the bandits… That's when the Digital Hazard activated.

He couldn't control it. The Digital Hazard activated within him, confirming to him the fears that he was desperate to prove wrong. He hadn't been able to stop it – had it not been for Grani's timely intervention… he wasn't sure he'd have been able to stop it on his own.

After that traumatic incident, he and Grani travelled, but none of the nearby towns on the trade road would allow him to stay. The neighbouring towns had heard that his home town had been destroyed. They also knew about him from gossip. They had seen the raging, chaotic storm that he had created that night, and they assumed that he had been the one who had destroyed the village. The townspeople refused him entry. The story was the same for the next few towns that he came across. If it hadn't been for Grani, he would have been completely on his own.

Deciding there was nothing left for him there, he travelled the world, determined to he become a Digimon who could protect the Digital World. He wanted to prove the world wrong – he wanted to prove that he could be more than just a destroyer. Over the years, he helped more and more Digimon. He eventually became known as a hero.

Then, one day, he met a Digimon who seemed as committed to helping Digimon as he was. He met his first friend other than Grani.

He met Omegamon. And, through meeting him, he met Yggdrasil… And, eventually, he met the others who would become his cherished friends… Alphamon, Magnamon, Dynasmon… Through his work, he met the rest of who would eventually become his fellow Royal Knights.

"…You asked me if I knew what it felt like to be an outcast… Yeah, I do, Leviamon," he told him, his voice weighty. "I have for most of my life, because of being a virus type… and because of the Digital Hazard. I know the whispers… the sideways looks…"

Dukemon's fists relaxed. "Rather… I did," he replied with sober clarity. "I felt that way for a long time… That is, until I met Grani. …Until I met the rest of the Royal Knights. My friends."

At his honest reply, Leviamon's brows furrowed and his tongue clung to the roof of his mouth. He released a single breath from his nostrils as he peered up at Dukemon. "…Friends, huh?" he asked, a bitter wisp lacing his words.

Dukemon sat down on the stone parapet, allowing his legs to dangle over the sides. He rested his arms on his legs and leaned forwards. "Now it's my turn to ask you some questions…" Dukemon asserted, gazing down at the Demon Lords. He didn't like that it felt like he was the one doing all the answering. While he still didn't trust him enough to tell him his life story, he felt as though Leviamon was being genuine. He wanted to be sure.

Leviamon scoffed, but levelled a devilish smirk up at the knight. "Fine… Do your worst," he challenged him. "I'll show you I'm not the crooked tongued snake everybody makes me out to be."

"Okay, then…" Dukemon agreed, cocking his head to the side as he eyed the Demon Lord of Envy. "Why do you keep talking to me specifically?"

Leviamon stared up at him, not backing away from the question. "I thought I said already… It's because I thought you'd understand," he responded, although not without some awkwardness in his manner.

"There's lots of other Digimon who are outcasts. Why me specifically…?" Dukemon challenged him.

"You're a virus type, I'm a virus type…" Leviamon suggested, gesturing emphatically with his snout.

"That doesn't mean anything," Dukemon bluntly replied. "Attributes don't necessarily tell you anything about a Digimon. You and I are nothing alike; I'm a Royal Knight, you're a Demon Lord."

Leviamon rolled his eyes. "Oh, right. I'm sorry. I forgot that you're so much better than me because you're a Royal Knight."

Dukemon palmed his forehead. "That's not what I meant… And you're dodging my question."

Leviamon pawed the soft silt at the bottom of the moat as he eyed Dukemon. "Okay, fine… It's not just because we're outcasts…" He turned to face him as directly as his snout would allow. "It's because I thought you knew what it was like to be treated like a monster…"

Dukemon's hand closed and tightened around the red fabric of his cape. He narrowed his eyes and tried to fight off the instinctive defensiveness that he felt bubble back up to the surface. "A monster," he bitterly repeated.

"Well, yeah… That's how you said people treated you, isn't it?" Leviamon asked him. "I know what that's like…"

"It's not the same thing," Dukemon adamantly corrected him.

"Yeah, it's not. I don't get to hide behind the image of a valiant Virus Buster like you do," Leviamon flatly retorted. "I'm stuck in this big, ugly body that I got when I fell. Wherever I go, people assume I'm a monster. Whereas you - you get the benefit of the doubt most of the time."

Dukemon winced faintly. As much as he hated to concede that Leviamon had a point, he couldn't deny it. He supposed it must have been harder for him, in certain ways. He didn't have to deal with those same prejudices.

"I suppose…" he admitted. Dukemon raised his head and looked Leviamon in the eyes. "But a lot of that is brought on by your own actions."

Leviamon chuckled cynically. "You really think so, huh? If only I weren't a big, bad Demon Lord, other Digimon wouldn't judge me?" he sarcastically asked. "Must be nice to live in a world that black and white."

Dukemon frowned. "I wouldn't go that far… but you don't exactly do yourself any favours either," he explained, folding his arms. "Which brings me to my other question…"

Leviamon arched his brow. "Yeah? Shoot…"

The crimson knight stared directly at the scarlet Demon Lord, refusing to break his gaze.

"…Why did you drop the Sky Colony?"

The grin vanished from Leviamon's snout and his eye ridges receded. He grew silent for several moments, a sharp or pithy reply absent from his lips. His pupils sunk and he gazed down at the dark water beneath him. He was taken off guard by the cutting question.

Leviamon was quiet with thought for several moments. He frowned a little with traces of emotion. "…It was war," he furtively answered. "I… Things escalated so fast in those final days of the rebellion. When you knights and the Ten showed up, we started to lose. Things were getting chaotic and our side got desperate…"

"Any angels who were left on Empyrea were massacred when the Demon Lords conquered it, civilian as well as soldiers," Dukemon sharply reminded him. "You all planned for it to be used as a weapon. There was nothing spontaneous about it."

"It was a civil war. There were no civilians. Not in the Choir," Leviamon stubbornly insisted, scowling defensively. "The angels massacred demons too! Don't conveniently forget that!"

"They didn't plan to drop a Sky Colony on the Digital World," Dukemon coldly answered. "Don't play the victim, Leviamon. And don't make excuses."

"I'm not!" Leviamon snapped, losing his temper for the first time since arriving. "It wasn't my idea! It was Barbamon's plan! It was supposed to be a last resort! I didn't even want to drop the stupid thing! They made me!"

"More excuses!" Dukemon shouted, glaring at him passionately. "Take responsibility for your actions! You were the one who destroyed those supports!"

"I didn't want to!" Leviamon argued back with a deepening scowl. "If it wasn't me, it would have been someone else… I only did it because I was ordered to!"

"Orders or not, it's you who made the decision to carry it out. You can't hide behind that flimsy excuse, even in a war," Dukemon challenged him, the distaste in his voice growing. "I lost control of the Digital Hazard once and nearly destroyed the world; you don't see me blaming somebody else."

"That doesn't mean—" Leviamon grimaced and caught himself, biting his tongue. He realised he was losing sight of himself. He had gotten emotional and defensive. He knew that this wasn't what Dukemon wanted to hear.

The Demon Lord looked away with a shameful wince. "I… I know I'm the one that caused Empyrea to fall. You're… You're right… It might have been Barbamon's plan, but it was my fault," he reluctantly acquiesced. "Why did I do it…? I dunno… I guess I was scared… I was scared what'd happen if I didn't do what they wanted…"

Dukemon continued to eye Leviamon with a deep frown, though the tightness of his brows softened slightly. "…Tens of thousands of Digimon died, Leviamon," he soberly explained.

"I… I know. I… wish I didn't. If I knew what would happen… If I could go back and do things over, I would…" Leviamon explained, shutting his eyes. "I just got so caught up in the madness… I hate myself for it…"

After a few seconds of staring at Leviamon with a penetrating gaze, Dukemon sighed and looked away, his posture softening. "…Unfortunately, it's impossible to go back and change things…" he told the Demon Lord. "…If you're truly sorry, the only thing you can do now is to be a better Digimon. Never let something like that happen again… That's all any of us can do."

Leviamon opened his eyes and glanced tentatively up at Dukemon. "…Yeah, I guess you're right," he carefully responded.

Dukemon nodded and stood up, getting back on his feet. The sunset cast a deep, amber glow across his caped back and dusk had nearly taken hold across the east of the castle.

"Dukemon?" a deep and calm, but confused voice spoke from behind him.

Frowning, Leviamon looked up in response to hearing another voice addressing Dukemon.

Dukemon turned towards the rays of light, seeing a familiar form backed against the backdrop of pink and fuchsia clouds. When he turned, he saw Grani hovering behind him, eyeing him with a mildly confused expression.

"Oh, Grani, you're back," Dukemon greeted with a wave.

Grani glanced down, seeing Leviamon lurking beneath Dukemon. "…What are you doing?" he questioned uneasily.

"Oh, I was just talking with Leviamon," Dukemon explained, glancing back down at the Demon Lord.

The crocodile's eyes narrowed into a faint glare as he watched Grani emerge over the ramparts and next to Dukemon. He remained quiet, but his teeth began to dig into his inner lip at the unwanted arrival.

Grani looked down at Leviamon with silent suspicion, his cold, blue eyes locked onto the Demon Lord. "…I think you have entertained our guest for long enough," he coolly said, turning his attention back to Dukemon. "It is getting late. I have given my scout's report to Alphamon, and he has mentioned that he is looking for you."

"He is?" Dukemon said, turning his back to the Demon Lord.

"Affirmative," Grani confirmed. He glanced back down at Leviamon. "He mentioned in addendum that Leviamon would be required to leave the castle premises come sunset. He cited security as a reason."

"Ah…" Dukemon awkwardly agreed. He turned and looked down at the Demon Lord in question. "Hey, Leviamon, did you hear that?"

"Yeah, yeah…" Leviamon grumbled, turning and crawling out of the moat with an air of huffiness. "I hate sleeping on dry land anyways. I'm going back to the ocean…"

After a few steps, Leviamon stopped in his tracks and turned his head, glancing over his shoulder at Dukemon and Grani. "…But I'll be back tomorrow," he promised, his focus landing on the Zero ARMS.

Grani was silent in response. He quietly turned back to Dukemon.

"Well… alright. If you're sure," Dukemon agreed, watching as Leviamon resumed his crawl back towards the coastline and the Net Ocean.

Grani watched quietly as Leviamon stalked away from Castle Avalion. He waited until the Demon Lord was at least a kilometer away before deciding to speak.

"…Is that wise, Dukemon?" Grani questioned.

Dukemon arched his brow. "Is what wise?" he wondered.

"Becoming familiar with him…" Grani uneasily replied. "Would it not be better to keep him at a distance?"

"What am I supposed to do? Ignore him? He's still a Digimon like us," Dukemon reasoned.

Grani eyed Dukemon with concern. "I do not trust him, Dukemon."

"Yeah, well…" Dukemon jumped off the parapet and onto the wall. "I doubt he'll be sticking around too long anyways. I think he just wanted somebody to vent to."

"…Very well. Just be wary of him," Grani advised his friend.

"I will. Relax…" Dukemon assured him with his usual grin flashing onto his face. "So… Where is Alphamon?"

"He said to meet them in the great hall," the crimson bird informed him.

Dukemon nodded and began walking along the battlements, making his way towards one of the bridges that led back to the castle.

"I'd better not keep them waiting then… Thanks, Grani," Dukemon told his friend, glancing back at him over his shoulder.

As Dukemon turned his head forward, he glanced at Leviamon out of the corner of his eye, watching as the lone Demon Lord trudged back towards the vast ocean.

He eyed the Demon Lord for a few moments, looking at him with a mixture of empathy and pity.

"It must be hard being so lonely…"

Dukemon turned his attention away from Leviamon and kept walking ahead.

He was eager to hear from his friends.

Alphamon and Omegamon stood in the great hall, awaiting Dukemon's arrival.

Alphamon stood beneath one of the large columns, facing towards the front entrance. He had a fairly relaxed demeanour as he waited. This was in contrast to Omegamon, who stood with a rigid posture. The white knight had his arms folded, and he tapped his foot against the marble floor.

Watching the white Royal Knight's nervous energy, Alphamon walked over to him and placed his hand on Omegamon's shoulder. "You need to relax, Omegamon. You will make him feel like something is amiss if you keep this up," he advised him. "Besides, there is really no point in worrying yourself over something that may not happen."

Omegamon sighed and attempted to relax, unfolding his arms and standing a little bit easier. "I'm sorry. I just cannot but help but worry that he might confirm our fears," he sheepishly explained. "I know that you are right, though. I have to stay calm as well as positive."

Alphamon nodded, gazing into his eyes as if to impart some of his own reassurance onto him. "Just leave the questions to me. I'm sure that everything will be fine and we'll see that we are worrying over nothing."

"I hope you're right, Alphamon," Omegamon answered, attempting to quell the unease in his heart.

The black and white knights turned towards the entrance when they heard the sounds of voices on the other side of the double doors. The familiar, casual cadence of Dukemon's deep tenor voice could be heard conversing with the two guards on duty. Alphamon gave Omegamon a reassuring nod and waited for their friend to enter.

They watched as the two doors were pushed open and their crimson-accented comrade strode into the great hall. Dukemon saw the pair of contrasting knights and gave them a friendly wave. As the arching doors closed behind him, Dukemon made his way over to them.

"Hey, guys," Dukemon greeted them. "Grani found me. He said you wanted to speak to me?"

"Yes, we did," Alphamon confirmed, offering him a disarming smile. "I just thought that now would be a good time for us to catch up. Things have been moving so fast lately, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I guess they have," Dukemon agreed, coming to a stop beside them. "Grani told me that he spoke to one of the messengers. Duftmon and the others are planning to attack the Demon Lords tonight."

"Yes, he informed us, as well," Alphamon mentioned. "It is too soon for any of us back here to do anything to help, but I am not too concerned. Duftmon is a capable strategist."

"Yeah, he is," Dukemon agreed, placing his hands on his hips. "If anybody can dominate the battlefield with only their mind, it's Duftmon. They'll be just fine."

"I hope so. The fact that the Demon Lords are separated into two is promising as well," Omegamon said with a nod.

Dukemon nodded, looking back at Alphamon. "So, was there something specific that you wanted to know?"

"Not especially. I was speaking more generally for over the past couple weeks," Alphamon casually explained. "How have you been feeling lately?"

"Oh, uh, I've been fine," Dukemon answered, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck. "Well, as much as any of us can under the circumstances. Obviously I'm thinking about the war, but I try to stay positive. Bringing Jesmon into our ranks has been a breath of fresh air."

"Yes, of course," Alphamon concurred amiably. "I agree. It has been nice having his youthful energy around to bring our spirits up."

"To be that young and carefree again, huh?" Dukemon mused with a smile.

"Indeed… Though, usually you don't have any difficulties being carefree," Alphamon lightly pointed out. Despite his relaxed and sociable demeanour, Alphamon began to slowly study Dukemon's face as he spoke. "Is there anything on your mind?"

Dukemon paused for a second, feeling an instinctual twisting in his stomach. As it happened, there was something on his mind. Something that he didn't want to talk about.

It was the creeping fear that he felt since he had the first dream. That grasping unease only grew like shadows at sunset when he met with Megidramon. He had tried to put his doubts and worries out of his mind, but events kept bringing them back to the fore front.

Frowning a little, Dukemon couldn't help but avert his gaze from Alphamon's probing eyes, although only for a moment. "Uh, no, not really…" he answered, attempting to keep up his relaxed demeanour and not appear defensive.

Alphamon noticed the slight moment of unease in Dukemon's response. It gave him pause, but he decided it best not to press him too hard. "I see. That's good then," Alphamon diplomatically responded.

"What about you guys?" Dukemon quickly deflected. "You seemed a bit stressed when you got back from meeting Yggdrasil."

Omegamon shuffled a little and looked at Alphamon with unease, his own guilt resurfacing.

Alphamon sheepishly rubbed his cheek with his finger. "Well, it certainly was a long journey. I admit that it was somewhat exacerbated by the weight of burden of Yggdrasil's directives… I apologise if we have seemed a bit off," he delicately explained.

"I'm guessing that it has to do with the Demon Lords? …And Leviamon?" Dukemon questioned. Seeing their pause, he decided to clarify. "He's gone now, at least until tomorrow."

"He will return tomorrow?" Omegamon asked with a frown.

This information made Alphamon reconsider his next course of action. He didn't want to keep an additional secret from Dukemon on top of the other, more important one, but if Leviamon was returning tomorrow, he didn't want to risk Dukemon accidentally tipping Leviamon off. Since Dukemon was Leviamon's main point of contact, he wanted him to be able to act natural around him. He knew that lying wasn't Dukemon's strong suit. If the dynamic suddenly shifted, Leviamon might pick up on it, he reasoned.

"In that case… I hope you don't mind, Dukemon, but I think it is best if you don't know the details if you are going to be interacting with him. Do you mind waiting until the others return? It just happens to be a sensitive matter," Alphamon gingerly requested.

"Well, if there's something wrong, I'd rather know…" Dukemon answered, his hesitation clear as he scratched the back of his head.

"And you will," Alphamon promised. "I just don't want to put you in a compromised position if you are going to be the one dealing with him."

"…Alright, I can wait, if you think it's best," Dukemon conceded. "I trust you to know what's best; you've always been much better at diplomacy than I have," he added with a light chuckle.

"Thank you…" the obsidian-hued knight answered appreciatively. "Ah, by the way, how was your journey to Dragon's Peak with Examon and Craniamon?" he quickly diverted. "I neglected to ask, outside of the formal matters of the alliance."

"Oh, uh…" Dukemon paused. He could feel that uneasy discomfort returning as the conversation circled back around to the source of his anxieties. "It was… fine. It was interesting," he evasively responded, hoping that a lame response would be enough.

"How so?" Omegamon soon followed up, disabusing Dukemon of such notions.

"Well… the UDC feels like a very different place from the way it was the last time I visited there," he explained with a shrug. "It feels a lot more militaristic and the Dramon have a lot more pride in themselves. …I guess it makes sense, considering they've developed their own standing army. I think it upset Examon though."

"I suppose I can understand why," Omegamon answered with a thoughtful frown.

"Yes, after having been their guardian for so long," Alphamon agreed, pensively stroking his chin. "He has been rather reserved since coming back. Maybe I should talk with him, when he returns…" As he trailed off, the Aloof Hermit looked at Dukemon carefully. He decided that this was his best opportunity to direct the conversation in the way that he wanted.

"…Did the Four Great Dragons say anything about it?" Alphamon ventured.

"Well, uh… They claimed it was because they had to. Since Examon became a Royal Knight, they said they needed a way to defend themselves," Dukemon explained.

"I see…" Alphamon mused with a nod. "And what did Megidramon say about it?"

"Megidramon?" Dukemon questioned, frowning and cocking his head. "He seemed pretty proud of the fact that they have the army. If I were to guess, I'd say he was the one in charge of the whole idea…" The crimson knight glanced away. "It sounds a lot like him, to be honest…"

"I am sure the sedentary life doesn't sit well with him…" Alphamon agreed. "I suppose that that will be something we will need to keep an eye on."

Dukemon nodded, his golden eyes taking on a distant, brooding expression as he thought about the fiery dragon and the fellow holder of the Digital Hazard. "Yeah…" he spoke, though leaving a few words unsaid.

Alphamon watched Dukemon's features change subtly. Through his own social intuition and Dukemon's honest face, he was able to deduce that there might be something there that Dukemon wasn't letting on about. He decided that now was the time to gently press…

"…Did Megidramon say anything else, Dukemon?" Alphamon carefully inquired.

The probing question caused the knight's stomach to tighten and sink. Dukemon unconsciously shifted onto his back foot, evident only by the soft creak of metal. The topic of conversation was getting dangerously close to the source of his simmering agitation.

"Say anything? About what?" Dukemon asked, trying his best to play it off and cover his unease and defensiveness.

"I don't know… Anything. Out of the four, Megidramon has always been the one to be the most forthright about whatever is on his mind," Alphamon offered.

Omegamon frowned a little, sensing the growing unease permeating the hall. He looked at Dukemon, seeing the faint apprehension in his eyes. He wanted to give him a chance to explain away the incongruity and assuage his own misgivings. He wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"You just seem a bit on edge, Dukemon. Did Megidramon say something to offend you?" Omegamon inquired a little more forthrightly. "I know the two of you have history."

Dukemon forced himself not to grimace. He couldn't tell them. He wanted to, but he couldn't tell them about what Megidramon said to him. He couldn't tell them about the recurring dream. He couldn't tell them about the doubts he was beginning to have. Their questions were only making him feel more insecure. He wasn't sure why they had to be asking these questions at all. Was he giving too much away with his body language?

"Look, guys," Dukemon sharply reacted, his feelings of frustration bubbling to the surface. Then, after a second, his forceful response mellowed and smoothly shifted into a reassuring smile. "…It's nothing, really. Megidramon just likes to tease me. He knows how to annoy me and he takes pleasure in it. That's all. There's nothing else to it."

Alphamon paused. He could feel the slight bit of annoyance in Dukemon's reactions beneath his casual front. It felt to him as though they might have struck too close a sensitive topic. It concerned him.

"…Alright," he answered with a warm smile of his own. "But if you did want to talk about something – the war or anything else – don't hesitate to speak to us about whatever is on your mind."

"Yes…" Omegamon agreed with a steadfast nod. "I'm sorry for prying."

Dukemon sheepishly smiled, attempting to cover up the burgeoning feelings of guilt that he felt for not being open with them. "It's fine, Omegamon," he gently answered. "And, yeah, I know… Thanks, guys."

"You need only ask," Omegamon assured him.

Dukemon nodded appreciatively. He felt tired, and he felt a mix of guilt, worry, and tiredness. He really just wanted to leave.

"Anyways… Was there anything else you guys wanted to talk about?" Dukemon asked them. "If not, I think I'm going to have an early night. I had a rough sleep last night, so I'm pretty tired…"

"No, that should be enough. We'll let you go, Dukemon," Alphamon calmly told him.

"Rest well, Dukemon," Omegamon said to him with a soft nod.

Dukemon smiled and nodded at his two friends before beginning to walk down the great hall. As soon as his back was facing them, his smile faded and the charming sparkle in his eyes disappeared along with it. He strode away from them, his cape rippling tumultuously.

He reached the pair of doors and pushed them open with a heave, unable to get out of there fast enough. As Dukemon walked through the threshold, he turned in order to head towards the nearby stairs.

As he pivoted, Dukemon ventured an uneasy glance back at his friends, leering at them questioningly as they turned to each other.

He shook his head dismissively, forcing himself to dispel those thoughts. He couldn't wonder why. He wouldn't let himself go down that path. They were his friends, and they were just making conversation. It was likely his own actions that made them wonder. He didn't have to second-guess everything…

"Don't be an idiot, Dukemon… Don't let those insecurities back in after you conquered them."

Dukemon raised his head and smiled. He strode across the foyer and walked up the stairs confidently, as the guards closed the doors behind him.

The pair of double doors closed and the flowing crimson of Dukemon's cape disappeared from sight.

Alphamon and Omegamon were left alone in the great hall together.

Although Dukemon was gone, the atmosphere of tension did not leave with him. A breathless silence hung over the great hall oppressively.

The two knights waited for several seconds, wanting to be sure that Dukemon was not about to re-enter. After they felt enough time had passed, Alphamon and Omegamon slowly turned towards one another.

"…What was that?" Omegamon nervously asked.

"I… don't know," Alphamon replied, his eyes softening with worry.

"…Did you feel as though he was keeping something from us?" Omegamon asked, turning to Alphamon with an uneasy look.

"I… cannot say with certainty," Alphamon apprehensively answered. "But, it certainly seems as though he might not be telling us everything…"

"We cannot exactly judge him," Omegamon answered with a grimace. "We aren't telling him everything either…"

"No, I suppose not…" Alphamon agreed, glancing down. "What do you think we should do?"

"I was rather hoping that you would tell me, Alphamon…" Omegamon admitted, gazing at the black knight with imploring eyes.

Alphamon sighed and rubbed his face. "I… suppose all that we can really do is monitor him like we planned. Hopefully whatever he might or might not be dealing with… he will tell us when he feels ready. We cannot force him. We do not even know if there is anything to worry about… Not for certain."

"Yes… I suppose so," Omegamon agreed. "We cannot think the worst…"

Alphamon nodded and placed his hand on Omegamon's shoulder. "Come… There is no use brooding about it," he said, beginning to walk ahead.

Omegamon followed after Alphamon, his gaze softening as he thought about Dukemon and what he might be going through.

"We just have to trust him…"