Chapter 14: Spectres of the Past

An eerie wind blew down across the crest of the hill. DarkKnightmon's dark cape shuddered in the breeze as he gazed down at Alphamon. Both bodies remained still, almost as if entranced by the other's presence. However, in Alphamon's case, he was stalled by the sense of dread. In DarkKnightmon's case, he was awaiting Alphamon's reaction.

OuRyuumon stood below Alphamon, further down the hill, gazing at the Digimon in shock. His face soon morphed into a savage, draconic glower, and he flapped his wings, ripping up the hill and getting beside Alphamon.

"You!" he demanded in agitation. "What the hell are you doing here, you bastard?!"

DarkKnightmon slowly turned his head towards OuRyuumon in recognition, unfazed by his aggressive, confrontational manner. "OuRyuumon... I suppose this is the second time that you didn't expect to see me again, isn't it?" he remarked to the dragon with a twinkle in his eye.

OuRyuumon clenched his teeth and glared deeply. A sharp hiss escaped his throat.

"You're... the fugitive..." Alphamon finally said, composing himself. "You escaped the Dark Area... How...?"

"I suppose it wasn't as impervious as Imperialdramon Paladin Mode intended," DarkKnightmon answered cryptically.

"You suppose a lot, skull face," OuRyuumon snarled scathingly.

"I suppose I do," the dark knight dryly said. He turned to Alphamon. "How is the Order doing? The other Royal Knights?" he asked.

"That is not any of your business, DarkKnightmon," Alphamon firmly told him, taking a step forwards.

"You wound me, Alphamon," the fugitive replied, although he didn't sound wounded at all.

"That's the plan!" OuRyuumon shouted. Suddenly, the dragon dashed forwards, summoning the twin Gairyu scimitars in his hands.

A shroud of darkness surrounded DarkKnightmon's right hand, and in a sharp burst of shadows, he summoned a huge, double-ended, blood red lance. He swung the mighty Twin Spear in front of him and blocked the descending swords, resulting in a flurry of sparks from the impact. His gold eyes narrowed and he drove his foot into OuRyuumon's long body, sending him careening back into Alphamon.

Alphamon let out a grunt of pressure as he caught OuRyuumon with one hand and stepped back to keep himself from losing balance on the hill. The Lord of the Empty Seat raised his hand in front of him, reaching past OuRyuumon. Emerald particles quickly gathered in the palm of his hand and glowed intensely. "Digitalize of Soul!" he shouted. A green beam blasted mightily from his palm towards DarkKnightmon, singing the tips of the grass below.

DarkKnightmon's eyes flashed and he swung his dual lance in front of him, slamming it into the blast. He just barely managed to deflect the beam, but it sent his spear jerking back in his hand. DarkKnightmon used the momentum to swing the Twin Spear up and he began to swing it around rapidly. Shade began to emanate from the spear and spiral around his body.

"No!" Alphamon cried out, pushing OuRyuumon to the side and dashing up the hill towards DarkKnightmon.

DarkKnightmon rotated the spear faster and faster. Darkness bled from the Twin Spear and revolved around him, the shadows of murk and gloom crackling and whirring violently. The shadowy tornado consumed DarkKnightmon and began to tear up the grass around him, preventing Alphamon from getting close to him.

"Treason Vortex!" DarkKnightmon exclaimed.

"DarkKnightmon!" Alphamon called out in frustration as he tried to make his way towards the powerful, gyrating darkness.

"We will meet again, Alphamon," DarkKnightmon said to him, staring at the black knight through the shadows. His eyes flashed red. "I promise." His face was then concealed by a tendril of shade.

"No!" the knight protested. He got ready to summon his Seiken Gradalpha to hack through the tornado, but the shadows suddenly expanded and amplified.

The black, deadly whirlwind consumed both Alphamon and OuRyuumon and threw them into the air. The two crashed into the ground and they rolled and tumbled violently down the hill until they hit the very bottom.

Alphamon winced but wasted no time in getting to his feet. He was about to dash back up the hill when he saw that the dark funnel of power had vanished.

OuRyuumon spat and scrambled to his feet. He flapped his bladed wings and raced to the top of the hill, Alphamon right behind him. "He's gone!"

"What?!" Alphamon demanded, reaching the crest of the hill in record time. He looked around. The only trace of DarkKnightmon was the spiral pattern of ripped up dirt in the grass below. "Where is he?!"

OuRyuumon flew up high into the air for a better vantage point, looking around in all directions. "Not a frigging trace!" he told Alphamon.

"No..." Alphamon clenched his fists and shut his eyes. "How could we let him escape...?"

OuRyuumon grimaced and flew back down, landing beside him. "We'll get him... Did you notice? He was weaker than usual. He still hasn't recovered all of his energy from when he escaped."

"Then we can't let him recover," Alphamon responded firmly, he looked around the landscape in agitation and concern. "We need to look for him."

"He's not anywhere in sight, Alphamon," OuRyuumon told him. "These eyes don't miss much. He must have whisked himself away in that Treason Vortex." The dragon spat in disgust. "Tch. Fitting name, isn't it?"

"We can't leave him unchecked. He must be somewhere nearby," Alphamon stubbornly insisted.

"The best thing we can do is go home and tell the others about this," OuRyuumon explained. "I want to beat him senseless as much as you do, but... we should go back."

The Aloof Hermit grimaced. He reluctantly gave a nod. "Fine... You're right. We'll go back," he tersely announced. He turned and started speed walking down the hill, back to the path. "Let's go."

OuRyuumon watched Alphamon walk away with pensive, worried eyes. He sighed, spread his Gaiba Daimeijin wings, and glided down the hill after him. The two hastily made their way back towards the Royal Knight Headquarters to announce the bad news.

Examon sat in his seat in the council room. All of the Royal Knights had been summoned suddenly and asked to convene there. Nobody was really sure why Alphamon asked them to gather, but it was clear that he was very flustered about something.

The red dragon eyed Alphamon calculatingly from across the table, watching him as he sat and tried to maintain a calm facade. The rest of the Royal Knights looked at him as well, waiting for whatever he was going to say. An air of tension loomed heavily over the room.

"OuRyuumon and I saw the fugitive," Alphamon spoke up. Sounds of surprise filled the room. "On our way back here."

"What happened?" Dynasmon asked him fervently.

"He escaped," Alphamon replied, stifling a cringe. "Furthermore, the fugitive is DarkKnightmon..." He stopped and allowed some of the Royal Knights to absorb the information.

There was a tense pause that was quickly broken by Dukemon.

"What?!" Dukemon shouted, abruptly standing to his feet and accidentally bumping Grani in the process. "DarkKnightmon?!"

"Are you positive?!" Dynasmon also demanded.

Alphamon nodded grimly.

"Him of all Digimon..." Magnamon said bitterly.

Omegamon simply grimaced and looked over at Alphamon.

Examon frowned. He still wasn't sure who this DarkKnightmon was. The knights who knew who he was were all very vague when talking about him, and the logs on the computer weren't much better. They went into detail on all the other Dark Area prisoners, but not him. It left Examon and the other non-founder knights in the dark.

"Is this supposed to be a big deal?" Duftmon asked. "Many of us don't know what to expect from this 'DarkKnightmon' due to the sloppy, haphazard reports that are on him in the database."

"Is he the one who tried to kill you, Alphamon?" RhodoKnightmon asked, tapping his chin and thinking back.

"Haven't they all tried to kill him?" UlforceVeedramon pointed them out.

Alphamon rubbed his temples with his fingers. "I will brief you all on him tomorrow," he replied slowly, as if trying to suppress his exasperation.

Duftmon folded his arms. "And you let him escape?" he asked, looking at Alphamon.

OuRyuumon narrowed his eyes and stepped forwards to retort, but Alphamon raised a hand to stop him. The Lord of the Empty Seat took a deep breath and gazed at Duftmon. "...Unfortunately, yes, I did," the Royal Knight answered.

"Hmph. Then perhaps you should have finished him off to begin with instead of simply banishing him to the Dark Area," Duftmon told him.

"Duftmon?" Alphamon irately asked.


"Silence yourself, for once," he ordered the tactician. "This is one time that I don't need your snide comments and smug, hindsight opinions on matters that you know nothing about." Before Duftmon could begin to react to the chastisement, Alphamon turned to Dukemon and Grani. "Grani. Intensify your reconnaissance efforts. Increase the scout presence in Aurum, but don`t limit patrols to that province; he may have relocated after we spotted him. At the very least, we know who we're looking for now."

"Understood," the Zero ARMS answered obediently.

Duftmon crossed his arms and flicked his blonde hair back irritably. "And the rest of us, leader?" he asked, although he made no effort to hide resentment in his voice.

"Stand by until further notice," Alphamon said, ignoring the sarcasm this time. "Get your weapons and armour touched up and get some rest. I doubt he'll show his face again today. As I said earlier, you'll be briefed on DarkKnightmon tomorrow morning. Understood?"

"Very well," Duftmon answered. He stood up from his seat. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have things that I would rather do."

Alphamon watched as Duftmon exited the council room. The sound of his metal boots walking across the marble floor was the only sound that could he heard. It slowly grew softer as he went further away. The black knight turned back to the Royal Knights. "That was about all I had to say anyways," he told them. "I apologize that I had to ruin your day with this news."

"Don't worry about it, Alphamon," Magnamon assured him, standing up as well.

Alphamon nodded. He turned towards the open set of double doors leading into the great hall with a dour frown. "I have... some business that I must take care of too," he said to the other Royal Knights. "This meeting is adjourned."

He walked out of the council room, his blue and white mantle flowing behind him. He didn't wait for OuRyuumon or any of the other Royal Knights.

Dukemon and Grani exchanged looks. "I guess that's it," the crimson knight said, standing up.

"I'm going to wash up and then see how dinner is coming along," RhodoKnightmon mentioned, standing as well.

The Royal Knights left their seats and exited the council room. When they entered the great hall, they began to break off in different directions with different people.

Craniamon disappeared out the nearest door, followed by Dynasmon and OuRyuumon. Omegamon, RhodoKnightmon, and Magnamon went through the opposite door, into a corridor. Examon walked with Dukemon, Grani, Sleipmon, and UlforceVeedramon down the great hall towards the foyer.

"I'm guessing this isn't good news," UlforceVeedramon said with a serious look in his eyes.

"You guessed right," Dukemon answered him. His tone was also dire.

UlforceVeedramon sighed. "Well, I'm going to have a shower. I'll talk to you guys later," he told them, walking ahead of the group with the speed that he was known for. He looked over his shoulder with a small grin. "If we're going to end up bloodied and beaten, I at least want to smell nice."

Dukemon managed a fleeting smirk as UlforceVeedramon disappeared within the foyer. Grani looked over at his friend. "How are you, Dukemon?" he asked, speaking specifically with regards to what Alphamon revealed.

"I'm a Royal Knight, Grani; I'll manage," Dukemon assured him. He grinned at the dragon. "Don't you have some work to do other than worrying over me?"

"I was trying to procrastinate just now," Grani joked in a deadpan voice, turning his azure eyes back forwards. "Fine, if you want me out of your hair, I have plenty that I need to do."

Dukemon playfully pushed him. "Better get going then," he advised the Zero ARMS.

"Very well," Grani said, although giving Dukemon a lingering glance.

"Go. Stop fretting," the red and white knight told him, compounding his words with a reassuring smile.

Grani muttered something about stubbornness and began flying ahead of the three, into the foyer.

Examon couldn't help but frown. He didn't understand the situation at all, and he was consternated by everybody's sudden change of mood caused by this mystery Digimon. "Is this 'DarkKnightmon' really that... fearsome?" he asked Dukemon.

"It's not really that..." Dukemon admitted, looking back at him. "Don't get me wrong, the guy's really strong. It's just... there's a lot of history surrounding that guy. You'll find out tomorrow, Examon. You too, Sleipmon."

Examon nodded. "This is kind of disconcerting, seeing you all so distraught."

"He has a point, Dukemon," Sleipmon agreed, as the three walked into the marble foyer.

"It's probably just the shock of old scars," Dukemon told them. "None of us expected to see DarkKnightmon again."

"I'm guessing you guys wished you had reformatted him when you had the chance," Examon remarked.

Sleipmon slowed down his gait and stopped in the middle of the octagonal room. Dukemon halted by one of the pillars and turned around to see why Sleipmon had stopped.

Soon after, Examon came to a halt, wondering why he was the only one still walking. He turned around and was surprised to see Sleipmon glaring at him.

"Is that your answer to everything, Examon?" Sleipmon asked, his voice controlled yet radiating anger and disappointment.

"Sleipmon?" the dragon asked in confusion. He wasn't sure what the horse Digimon was talking about or what set off this sudden change in mood.

Dukemon frowned and stood between the two. He doubted anything drastic would develop, but he felt compelled to anyways. "I don't think he knows what you're talking about, Sleipmon," Dukemon said, looking from Examon to Sleipmon.

Sleipmon's brows furrowed. "That's the problem. You don't seem to grasp the idea that killing Digimon is wrong."

"Of course I do," Examon replied coolly. "How can you think that I don't know that killing innocent Digimon is wrong?"

"Innocent?" the large horse man asked. "What makes a Digimon 'innocent'? Who decides that? Do you?"

"What are you talking about, Sleipmon?" Examon replied calmly, although he was feeling confused and somewhat annoyed by Sleipmon's accusatory tone. "Does this have to do with what I said about DarkKnightmon?"

"This isn't just about that," Sleipmon insisted, his gaze level with Examon's. "You also said that about Imperialdramon..."

Examon's gaze suddenly narrowed. "He was wreaking havoc on that town, wasn't he?" he debated sharply..

"He's just a kid," Sleipmon argued. "People like you, Rhodo and Duftmon... You seem to think that 'reformatting' is an acceptable solution because it's easy or practical."

"Isn't it?" Examon retorted. "They typically aren't permanently deleted. They're reborn as Digi-eggs, you know."

Sleipmon grimaced and tore his gaze away from him. "You just don't understand..."

Examon frowned deeper at the six-legged Digimon. "No. I don't... Are you saying they should have kept DarkKnightmon alive? You know as much as I do about that situation, don't you? It's obvious that he is highly dangerous."

"I'm saying that killing should only be used as an absolute last resort," Sleipmon passionately contended.

"Even if that endangered innocent Digimon?" Examon countered.

"I'm not getting into that argument again," Sleipmon answered irritably.

"You were the one that started this debate," Examon calmly reminded him, folding his winged arms.

Sleipmon grimaced. The anger on his face vanished and he looked at Examon with a beseeching gaze. "Examon... I know that when fighting Digimon, it's easy to forget... but they're just like you and I. It's not alright to just delete them, even if they are fighting against us. They have families and memories... Even if they're reborn, people will still have memories of them, and they'll still be heartbroken when they die. You use the term reformatting, and I suppose it's accurate; they become a completely new Digimon. They lose all their memories. The Digimon that they used to be is essentially dead."

The dragon's gaze softened a bit. "Sleipmon..." he said. "I see what you're saying, but those Digimon are willfully-"

"Nevermind, Examon..." Sleipmon interrupted, shaking his head and bringing a hand up to his face to rub the top of his muzzle. "Forget it. I'm sorry for preaching my beliefs to you. I think I'm just stressed out..."

"Sleipmon, you don't have to..." Examon trailed off and sighed a bit.

The cavalier Digimon smiled at him a bit. "I'm going to go rest. We'll speak later, Examon," he told him diplomatically, trying to show him that he had no ill-will. He then looked at Dukemon. "You too, Dukemon."

"Yeah... See ya, Sleipmon," Dukemon said to him, nodding.

Sleipmon nodded and headed to the left staircase to head up to the wing on the second floor where their quarters were. Examon watched as the horse Digimon's equine body disappeared up the stairs. He fidgeted with the wing on his right arm and turned to Dukemon. "What do you think, Dukemon...?"

"I think Sleipmon feels very strongly about that particular issue," Dukemon told him, smiling a bit. "I do happen to agree with him, though..."

"So... you disapprove?"

Dukemon folded his arms and leaned back against the pillar behind him. "One of the great things about the Royal Knights is that we all have different opinions from each other, even though we all have the same desires in the end. It lets us see things from different perspectives. That said, it's also the reason why we argue from time to time. Each Knight as their own different code of ethics; I doubt I could change yours any more than you could change mine, not that I would try to," he explained.

Examon nodded. "However..."

"However, I do agree with Sleipmon that killing should be used only as an absolute last resort." Dukemon smiled a bit sadly and scratched the Digital Hazard symbol emblazoned on his t-shirt. "That said, I do see your point about Digimon going on a rampage... If I ever..." He trailed off and winced. He left the words unsaid, not wanting to get into that topic, even though he was sure that Examon knew what he was talking about.

"Dukemon..." Examon said sympathetically. The dragon knight closed his eyes for a moment, quietly thinking to himself. After several pensive seconds, he opened his green eyes and looked at Dukemon. "Dukemon, you confided in me about the Digital Hazard... There's something I want to confide in you about."

Dukemon looked at him in surprise. "Oh, uh... Sure, Examon... Should we go somewhere more private?" he asked.

Upon seeing the red dragon confirm, Dukemon started heading to the set of stairs that Sleipmon had travelled up. He walked into the enclosed staircase and headed up to the second floor of the building. Examon tucked his large wings back and followed him up. By now, he was used to keeping his wings and tail in check in the sometimes narrow corridors of the castle.

Dukemon reached the top of the stairs and turned into the hallway where their living quarters were. He headed over to his bedroom. Examon followed him and entered the room after Dukemon. He closed the door behind him.

Dukemon walked over to a chair and spun it around so that it faced the double bed. He said down and gestured with his arm to sit on the crimson blanket on his bed. Examon obliged and did so. He felt sheepish all of a sudden. Talking to somebody about himself ā€“ especially very personal things - was a new experience to Examon, and he wasn't sure what to say. He began to question why he was even doing it at all.

However, he remembered that, awhile ago, he was in this exact same situation, except Dukemon was the one opening up to him. Dukemon trusted him enough to unload a secret that he was obviously ashamed of, so Examon felt that he should return the action, even if it was uncomfortable to do so. He did trust Dukemon, after all...

He could see that Dukemon was looking at him expectantly. The dragon supposed he should start, somehow. "Uh... You can probably guess that I'm from the United Dramonic Coalition... though, as you know, it was just a collection of Dramon-inhabited provinces when I first hatched...

Examon contemplated what he was going to say next and then continued. "I come from a town in the north west of the United Dramonic Coalition. It was called Wyrm's Edge. It was just east of the top most part of the Dragon Mountains. It was a calm, quiet place."

Dukemon nodded. "Sounds nice. Scenic."

"It was," Examon replied. He smiled a bit. "As you can guess, I'm from the Dracomon evolution route. I was a blue Coredramon Do you know about the species? They're somewhat rarer than other dragon Digimon."

"I know a bit about them."

"Do you know about the gekirin?" Examon asked him.

Dukemon looked confused all of a sudden. "Gekirin?" he asked.

"More commonly known as the 'reverse scale'," he explained. "Anyways... it wasn't a bad childhood or anything. My parents were good, although my father was in the military and my mother was an adventurer, so I spent a lot of time on my own. Because of that, I'm self-taught in a lot of things. However, I had a friend... My best friend, I guess."

The crimson knight nodded. He allowed Examon to continue and tell his story at his own pace.

"He was a Strikedramon. We spent a lot of our time together," Examon explained. He didn't realize it, but he was nearly wincing as this memories. "One day... We were fighting. Not 'fighting', but play-wrestling, as young Digimon do. He had me in a headlock... that's when it happened. He accidentally touched my reverse scale. It was small, so I usually didn't have a problem with it, but it was located in the groove under my lower jaw." Examon used his claw to point to the left side of his neck, showing Dukemon where the scale would be if he was in his Coredramon or Dracomon form.

"This gekerin..." Dukemon said broodingly, wondering what exactly a small scale could do.

"Up until that point, I didn't even realize I had one. That was the first time it had ever been touched," Examon explained, his draconic features tightening into a grimace. "When the gekerin is touched, it makes the dragon go wild. I don't remember anything of the attack, only a sharp, sensitive pain, and a sudden, overwhelming flood of rage." Examon looked away from Dukemon in shame. "I... went berserk. I fired off my G-Shurunen II attack mindlessly. I couldn't... control myself at all. It was this sickening, primal feeling inside me... This massive flood of draconic power and rage poured out. The next thing I remember is being completely exhausted and seeing Strikedramon lying in front of me. He was burned and bleeding all over his chest and arms. He wasn't moving."

Examon had to go quiet. It pained him to recount the burden of guilt he had been shouldering. Dukemon looked at him sympathetically. "Did he...?" he asked uncertainly.

"I don't know," Examon answered, composing himself once again. Upon seeing Dukemon's confused look, he elaborated. "The ground around me was torn up, a few huts and houses were damaged, and Strikedramon was badly wounded. My first instinct was to call for help. I tried but my throat was raw and dry, so no words came out. In hindsight, I think it must have been from roaring too much during the frenzy..." The dragon knight paused. "Then it dawned on me... It was me who caused all of that damage, who hurt Strikedramon... I panicked. I was horrified at what I had done, and I was worried that I would be blamed for what happened. I didn't know what they'd do to me. Most of all... I couldn't bear watching Strikedramon die. The guilt was so intense, so I... I ran."

Dukemon was silent. He waited for Examon to continue.

Examon sighed. "I'm not proud of it at all... but I flew away to the Dragon Mountains... It seemed like the only option at the time. I flew up, made a home for myself there, and lived off of the land. I remember I found a low peak above a forest with fresh water and cliffs that were filled with a beautiful collection of blue diamante and green malachite. So, I stayed there and trained."

"Trained?" Dukemon asked him.

Examon nodded. "Both physically and mentally. Most of all, I would agitate my reverse scale over and over. Because it was such a remote place, it was safe for me to go wild."

"But why do that?" the crimson knight questioned.

"Because I was trying to train myself to resist it," he explained, narrowing his eyes as he looked down at his claws. "I wore myself out and scratched myself up repeatedly, fighting to control the primal, draconic rage and instincts that took control whenever that scale was touched. I wanted to make sure that I would never lose myself in those destructive emotions ever again. I already hurt one Digimon that I cared about... and that was one too many."

Dukemon grimaced and nodded. "I can understand..."

"It took almost a year, but I finally managed to curb my impulses... Around the same time, I digivolved to Wingdramon," he told Dukemon. "I figured that it was time I rejoined the world, but I still couldn't bring myself to go back to Wyrm's Edge."

"What did you do?"

"I flew to another province. On the way to the capital, I came across a riverside village under attack by bandits, so I intervened. I defeated the attackers, and I guess the ruler of the area was impressed with my fighting skills. He said that they would support me if I continued to defend their territory from attackers. I didn't have any other way to support myself, so I agreed. After several years of doing that, I evolved to Slayerdramon. It was said that I was the best fighter in all of the Dramon provinces, but I'm not sure how true that was."

"Is that around the time that the provinces formed the United Dramonic Coalition and you became its protector?" Dukemon asked.

"No. That wasn't until after I became Examon. That happened a few years later, during a particularly devastating attack on the capital. I guess I evolved in part due to the high exposure to the blue diamante and green malachite in the Dragon Mountains. There was a lot of discussion about me and the UDC afterwards, and I decided to accept their offer and move to the capital of Dragon's Peak," he explained. Examon sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck when he realized that he'd been babbling on. "Sorry. I got carried away telling my life story, I think. The point was the part about the Gekerin."

Dukemon grinned. "I don't mind..." he reassured him. "So... I guess that explains why you're always so calm..."

Examon raised an eyebrow. "Does it?"

"I'd say so... You hate losing control of your emotions," Dukemon observed. He then chuckled a bit. "Unlike me, apparently. That's something that I always noticed about you."

"I suppose so..." Examon admitted. "If there's one thing that I learned from that experience, it's that I didn't want to be a destroyer. There are too many of those in the Digital World already... What I want is to be able to create something. I want to create a lasting peace in the world, like I helped to do in the United Dramonic Coalition." He looked over at Dukemon and smiled. "That's ultimately why I accepted the offer to join the Royal Knights when you came to me that day."

"Seems like ages ago, doesn't it?" Dukemon said to him, smirking.

"Yeah..." Examon said reminiscently.

"Well, what happened between you and your friend was ages ago too. You shouldn't worry about it," he told the dragon.

"I still can't help but wonder what happened to him..." Examon replied with sad introspection. "I hope he recovered."

The handle of Dukemon's door rotated with an audible click, prompting the two Royal Knights to look over, surprised. The door opened and the large form of Sleipmon stood in the doorway.

"Sleipmon?" Examon asked uncertainly. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry for having listened in," Sleipmon said, bowing his head slightly. "I was walking past in the hall and..."

Examon became uncomfortable at the fact that Sleipmon had overheard his secrets. However, he supposed there were worse Digimon who could have overheard. "...It's alright. You're a trustworthy Digimon..." he said to Sleipmon, giving him a small smile.

Sleipmon nodded in thanks. Nevertheless, his expression remained serious. "Examon... Do you wish you had been killed? For what happened to your friend?" he asked him.

The dragon was taken aback by the question. He frowned and stalled, looking at Sleipmon steely. "I..." Examon broke his gaze with Sleipmon. "I did wish that. Back when I was a Coredramon," he told him calmly, although his green eyes showed hidden sadness behind them. "But now... No, I don't. While I'm still here, I can defend Digimon and the Digital World."

Sleipmon offered him a smile. "I'm glad you don't feel that way anymore. But, you know... Imperialdramon likely feels shades of what you felt," he told him. "The guilt of having... well, lost control."

"I know..." Examon admitted. "I realize that I'm likely biased. I'm not sure that I really meant that you should have killed him when he went out of control."

"Still, I was a bit harsh."

Dukemon rolled his eyes but grinned. "Oh, yeah. You used words that would make Ulforce blush," he said sarcastically, winking at the horse man.

Examon smiled at Sleipmon. "It's forgotten," he assured him. "I'll try to take what you said into account in the future."

Sleipmon returned the smile. "Well, I'll get out of your ways. I need to take a shower," he told them.

"We're done here anyways," Examon told him, standing up from Dukemon's bed. "I could use a shower too."

"Yeah, ditto," Dukemon agreed, getting to his feet as well. "I think I got cotton candy in my hair."

Sleipmon chuckled. "Let's go down, then."

Examon looked at Dukemon and began following Sleipmon out of the room.

Dukemon watched the two cross the corridor and head down the staircase. "Losing control, huh?" he mumbled to himself. He scratched the emblem on his t-shirt and made his way after them.

Hours later, night loomed over the castle and the surrounding landscape. The round moon was partially shrouded by a thin veil of clouds. Its bright silhouette still managed to shine through a little bit, creating an eerie panorama of the dark landscape.

The crisp, spring breeze blew across Alphamon's skin as he walked across one of the stone bridges that connected the main building to the castle wall. A Mystimon night-watchman, who was crossing the bridge in the opposite direction, respectfully greeted Alphamon as they passed by one another. Alphamon returned it and walked over to the ramparts.

He sighed and placed his hands on the coarse, stone parapet. The rough, gritty bumps felt cool beneath his fingers as he leaned forwards on his arms. Alphamon looked out across the tranquil night landscape. Nothing moved but the spectres of clouds overhead. However, given the present circumstances, the peacefulness was replaced with uneasiness. He half expected to see DarkKnightmon lurking in the dusk's shadows.

Alphamon's eyelids closed over his red irises and he took to his thoughts.

"I thought you might be out here," a voice said.

The Lord of the Empty Seat opened his eyes and turned around. Omegamon was making his way across the same stone bridge that he had come from. The white knight walked up to Alphamon's side and turned to look at him.

"Omegamon..." Alphamon said with a trace of apprehension. He turned back to the landscape.

"You often come out to the wall at night when you want to think," Omegamon told him, turning and leaning forwards onto the parapet as well.

Alphamon paused. "It's peaceful out here," he answered. "Usually."

"You're thinking about DarkKnightmon," Omegamon assumed.

"You don't have to be a fortune-teller to guess that," Alphamon quipped.

Omegamon was silent.

Alphamon glanced over to see the white knight grimacing somewhat. He suddenly felt a twinge of guilt. "I'm sorry, Omegamon," he told him earnestly. "I have no right to take that mordant tone with you."

Omegamon shook his head. "No, it's... You were right about the seer in Auguria," he said regretfully. "OuRyuumon and I should have listened."

Alphamon stood up straight and turned fully to Omegamon, frowning at him with surprise and compassion. "Don't be ridiculous. There was no way that we would have been able to prevent his escape even if we did go on that Baronmon's hunch. Even I doubted myself," he reassured him.

"I suppose..." Omegamon conceded.

He chose not to bring up anything else relating to that trip to Auguria. Neither did Alphamon. A painful silence ensued... Uncomfortably, Alphamon turned away again to look out over the wall. It frustrated him that he had trouble just being around Omegamon now. The two of them used to be able to comfortably share these silences with one another, but now, the unspoken words became unbearable.

"I-" they both begun, cutting the other off. They stopped sheepishly. Omegamon rubbed the back of his head and looked out at the sky. "Go ahead," he told Alphamon.

"Please," Alphamon insisted for him to speak, as he didn't really have anything to say anyways.

Omegamon nodded quietly. He slowly turned his blue eyes in Alphamon's direction. "...The rest of us are troubled too. About DarkKnightmon, I mean... Magnamon, Dukemon, Dynasmon and I have the same worries that you do. And the others are tense because they don't know what's going on," he explained.

"Is this your way of telling me that I should stop feeling sorry for myself?" Alphamon asked, glancing over at his comrade.

"I wouldn't say that, exactly..." Omegamon told him, smiling slightly. "Is that what you're doing...?"

Alphamon managed a smirk. "A little bit, I suppose..." he admitted. The smirk vanished and he sighed. "I know that I have to be strong for the rest of the order. Everything has just been... getting on top of me lately."

"That's because you always take it upon yourself to shoulder the burden, even when you have others who are willing to help lift the weight from your shoulders," Omegamon said heedfully.

Alphamon leaned forwards on the wall and looked up at the sky. After a few seconds, he turned his gaze back to Omegamon. "Isn't that what it means to be the Lord of the Empty Seat?" he asked him rhetorically, his voice slow and heavy.

Omegamon looked at him. "No... The Royal Knights are equal, Alphamon. That means we're here to support you. You aren't so high above us that you're isolated. You always speak about how you're on the same level as us ā€“ that your position is no more than being a first among equals - which means that you should be able to unburden yourself on us. We want to help, you know..." he explained to him

The black armoured knight looked away from his friend, cringing with guilt. It pained him that, even after the pain that he had inflicted on Omegamon, that the knight was still this supportive of him. He answered only with a nod, although he didn't directly look at Omegamon as he moved his head.

"Alphamon..." Omegamon started ominously.

Alphamon looked over, sensing the hesitation in his voice.

Omegamon's face was tinted pink and he had an uncomfortable look in his eyes. "I..." he began with the staggered, uncertain tone that Alphamon recognized from whenever Omegamon was put in a distressing situation such as public speaking.

The knight winced and looked down at the face of the stone block that his hand rested on. "I... don't want what happened in Auguria to make you feel that you have to be scared of me," he said to him.

Alphamon's eyes widened with surprise and, suddenly, he felt completely unsure of what to say.

Omegamon finally turned his blue eyes up to look at Alphamon. "I promised that I wouldn't tell anybody. And I support you no matter what happens," he reassured him.

"Omegamon, Iā€”" Alphamon moved his hand from the wall, closing his fist, and looking at Omegamon with eyes of protest and passion. He opened his mouth to say what he wished he was able to say back at Auguria, but he grimaced and turned to face the castle, closing his mouth. "...I know... Thank you..."

Omegamon nodded, seeming satisfied with the answer. "We should get some rest. It's getting late..." he said, looking up at the night sky.

"Y...Yes. You're right," Alphamon concurred. He looked at his friend and allowed him to lead the way as they headed back over the bridge to the main building.

Alphamon's hand brushed along the coping of the bridge's stone railing. He winced and inwardly cursed at himself. He followed Omegamon and looked at the knight's back as he followed him over the arch.

"Damn it... Why is it so hard for me to explain to him? Am I too afraid that I'll make it worse?"

Alphamon sighed to himself and walked inside. He said goodnight to Omegamon and walked into his room. He decided that he needed a good rest desperately.

Meanwhile, in the town of Lupolford, a dark figure passed down the main street. Phantom-like clouds passed over the buildings around him, and the shadow made his way through a light mist that rolled across the paved cobbles. He was the only one out walking at that time of night; the street was deserted apart from him.

DarkKnightmon stopped in front of the most pronounced building in the large town. The town hall stood at the end of the main street, its stony architecture ornate and important. Just outside the entrance was a detailed sculpture of the mechanical MetalGarurumon X, one of the former mayors of the town. As he passed the ostentatious piece of art, DarkKnightmon offhandedly noted how hard it must have been to sculpt.

The dark knight made his way to the foot of the steps but stopped abruptly when the doors of the town hall slowly opened. He looked forwards and saw only a two-legged silhouette standing in the door, the side of its form vaguely highlighted by the orange glow of a torch inside.

"What are you waiting for?" a voice said to him. "Come in."

"Very well," DarkKnightmon spoke, making his way up the steps with soft, metal footsteps. A gust of wind blew against him and caused his cape to flap in the wind. The knight passed the threshold and disappeared into the dimly lit foyer of the town hall.

"Continue on through," the voice said in a harsh, growling tone. "If you don't mind."

DarkKnightmon complied and headed through the foyer to a set of double doors. With a light shove, he pushed them open and walked into a great hall. The hall was large and empty, and two-thirds of the way down the hall was a small set of steps leading up a couple of feet. On this raised area was an ornate chair. Behind it, on the far wall, were two doors leading elsewhere in the town hall. The floor of the great hall was coated in black marble, which made the sound of his boots hitting the hard surface echo around the expansive hall with every step.

DarkKnightmon walked forwards in the darkness. "Extravagant for a town hall, isn't it?" he mused aloud.

"The former mayor had an inflated perception of himself," his host told him, taking the single torch in the foyer and walking into the hall himself. "It got him killed, apparently."

"And the current mayor?" DarkKnightmon asked turning around.

The dancing flames of the torch illuminated the body of the other Digimon. A dark red dragon man stepped forwards. The crimson armour that he wore all over his body shimmered as it reflected the flames. His arms and legs were covered with hard bumps and spikes. The most noticeable of the bony spikes were the ones protruding from his shoulders, the collar of his breastplate, his waist, and his wrists. On his back he wore an immobile, metal mantle, from which three giant, black horns protruded, looming over his shoulders and head. The flames revealed his face to be equally jagged. He had sharp facial features and horns all over his jaw and forehead, not to mention one large, black nose horn. The only part of his crimson scales that were exposed were the heels of his feet, his biceps, and his waist.

The Dorbickmon grinned at DarkKnightmon, revealing rows of sharp, savage teeth. "The current mayor isn't a problem. He agreed to do anything I tell him, including handing this building over to me."

"Can you trust him?" DarkKnightmon asked, his yellow eyes carefully inspecting Dorbickmon's violet ones.

"I trust him to put the safety of the town above all else. He won't go running to the Royal Knights. He can probably guess what the consequences of that would be," Dorbickmon explained. "I made myself pretty clear."

DarkKnightmon nodded. "So, Lupolford...?"

"It's right under the Royal Knights' nose. They'll never guess that you're hiding in plain sight. The town hall of one of their territories..." Dorbickmon explained.

"Won't they?"

The dragon shook his head. "They did an inspection shortly after installing the new mayor. I doubt they'll be back for awhile, especially when they know that you're on the loose."

"Perhaps..." DarkKnightmon mused.

The dark knight turned around and walked further down the great hall. He walked up the five steps, but suddenly stopped when something caught his eye. At the back of the hall, there was a crack in the marble floor. The tiny fissure seeped dark data into the air. He turned around to Dorbickmon. "Is that a rift connected to the Dark Area?" he asked him.

"It is," Dorbickmon explained, walking up beside him. "Don't worry; nobody else will be escaping aside from you. It's just a tiny one that I'm having trouble closing."

"Good," DarkKnightmon replied. "I don't need those bastards down there getting out and causing havoc. To think that I had to spend the past how many years down there with them... It sickens me."

DarkKnightmon's eerie, yellow eyes narrowed and he turned to Dorbickmon. "By the way... I suppose I owe you my thanks," he said to him. "For helping to free me." He extended his hand to him.

Dorbickmon grinned and reached forwards to clasp DarkKnightmon's hand and shake it powerfully. "You're making me blush."

"I can't help but wonder your motivations for doing so, however," DarkKnightmon explained. "It was a huge risk."

"High risk, high reward," Dorbickmon answered, pulling his hand away. "I have to admit, it took a lot of effort altering the Digital World's dragon's veins to corrupt the integrity of the Dark Area like that. It wasn't easy keeping the whole thing stable. Like you said, there are a lot of destructive Digimon in there that we don't want getting out. That said, I only weakened the barriers for you. You used your Choujigen Axe technique to make the rift just wide enough for you."

"Thanks to your advice. Which leads us back to the question..." the shadowy knight said, his words lingering. "Why help me escape?"

"We have common enemies," Dorbickmon replied. His eyes narrowed bitterly.

"How do you know that?" DarkKnightmon questioned.

"I've read up on you," the dragon man said, turning to him. "Your past. Except I'm wondering what your intentions are now."

"I suppose they're no different from what they were before I was locked away," DarkKnightmon responded. "I'm going to dismantle the Royal Knights... and, on a pettier note, get a bit of retribution to ease the betrayal that I still feel." The knight calmly turned to Dorbickmon. "And yourself? How do I fit into your plans?"

Dorbickmon's gaze hardened. "Like I said, we have common goals..." he responded gruffly. "You were betrayed." He paused and clenched his teeth. "I was betrayed... You want vengeance on the Royal Knights... I want vengeance on one particular Royal Knight..."

"I see... Then I think you and I can work together, Dorbickmon," DarkKnightmon told him.

"Good," Dorbickmon quickly answered.

"Purely out of curiosity, which Royal Knight is it that you despise so much?" the knight asked.

The dragon narrowed his eyes with dark anger, the flames of the torch reflecting in his yellow sclera, but he managed a small smile. "Oh, an old friend of mine," he told him. "The newest member of the Royal Knights...