Chapter 7: The Duke of Hazard
The Royal Knights headed down the path towards their castle as they headed back from their mission in the United Dramonic Coalition. Some walked by foot while others flew by wing; whichever was easier for them at the time.
They had taken the subdued mercenaries to the dungeons in the UDC’s capital city. Examon assured them that the prison was strong enough to hold them. The nine had received many thanks from the city’s civilians upon doing so.
Examon looked around at the other knights as he walked. There had been a quiet, sombre atmosphere on the part of some of the knights on the trip back. Dukemon and Sleipmon had been particularly quiet.
“That wasn’t so hard,” UlforceVeedramon finally spoke up, wanting to break the silence as they approached the lowered drawbridge that connected the outside fields to the castle gate.
“What did you expect?” Duftmon responded coolly. “The only time things don’t go smoothly is when somebody screws up.” The leopard knight made it a point to gaze at Examon with the last few words.
Examon chose to ignore him. “Hopefully this will deter anybody else from attacking there for awhile,” he added. He looked up at his friend, who was sitting on Grani’s back, resting with his arm on a knee and his other leg hanging over the Zero ARMS’ side. “Hmm, Dukemon?”
Dukemon didn’t reply. It looked as if he hadn’t heard Examon; he continued staring forwards like he was lost in his thoughts. Grani glanced up at Dukemon, noticing his state.
“Dukemon,” Grani spoke, glancing up.
“What? Huh?” Dukemon asked, blinking. He looked at Grani and then down at Examon. “Oh, yeah...”
Before Examon could do anything else, Craniamon spoke up, folding his arms as he passed under the castle gate. “Those mercenaries were a joke. I didn’t even break a sweat from that fight...”
“Really?” Dynasmon asked with a grin. “Because I can smell your BO from here,” he joked, prompting a laugh from Ulforce.
“Yeah. Maybe you should ask Rhodo to help make you smell nice and pretty with that expensive deodorant he gets shipped here,” Ulforce added with a laugh.
RhodoKnightmon beamed with excitement and turned to Craniamon. “Ooh, can I, Craniamon? We can have a spa day!”
“...I’ll pass,” Craniamon deadpanned.
“Let’s just all hit the showers and then go see Doctor Duskmon, guys,” Dukemon told them, still sitting on Grani as they headed through the courtyard towards the main entrance to the castle.
Duftmon raised an eyebrow. “Why do you need to shower? You were on Grani the whole time,” he pointed out, apathetic as to how that may have come across.
“Grani or not, I was still fighting against a crazed Anubismon,” Dukemon answered with a small grin, trying not to let Duftmon get under his scales.
“I wouldn’t be happy if Examon stole my victory blow,” Craniamon added, remembering that it was Examon who fatally wounded Anubismon even though Dukemon was fighting him.
Magnamon couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “We know, Craniamon...”
Sleipmon, on the other hand, just frowned deeper, trotting quietly at the back of the group. Examon slowed his pace slightly so that he could walk beside the horse-man knight. The crimson dragon looked over at Sleipmon with a puzzled expression. “Sleipmon?”
Sleipmon glanced over at him. “...Hm?”
“Is everything okay?” Examon questioned.
The cavalier shook his head quietly. “...I was just thinking about those digimon who were deleted, I guess...”
“...Why?” Examon asked him curiously, not meaning to sound as callous as he did.
Sleipmon slowed to a stop, looking down a bit. Examon took a few steps before noticing that Sleipmon wasn’t beside him anymore, prompting him to turn around to look at the centaur knight.
“...When we first met, you told me that you hated the idea of digimon killing digimon too, Examon,” Sleipmon spoke, glancing up at the dragon. “Did you mean that?”
Examon raised an eyebrow. “Yes... I do hate the idea of innocent digimon being killed, Sleipmon,” he responded, unsure as to what Sleipmon was getting at.
“Only ‘innocent’ digimon?” Sleipmon asked, disheartened. “So you don’t feel guilty at all for killing that BlackMetalGarurumon or Anubismon?”
Examon frowned at the question. “They were attacking my home... They hired digimon who hurt Dramon and destroyed villages. I’m sorry, but I don’t feel guilty about reformatting them.”
“Duftmon uses that word...” Sleipmon said, frowning. “’Reformatting’ is more impersonal than ‘killing’...”
Examon rubbed the back of his neck, feeling like he was upsetting Sleipmon without even knowing how he was doing it. “...Are you angry at me, Sleipmon?” he asked unsurely.
After a few moments, Sleipmon sighed. “No...” he spoke, his voice heavy. “I guess I’m just a little disappointed. I know I can’t push my values on you, but I was hoping that I had found another knight who felt the same way I did. You see, I make sure to only neutralize my enemies; I don’t kill them.”
Examon nodded a little, remembering seeing a knocked out ChaosWarGreymon with the signs of Sleipmon’s handiwork. “...Isn’t that a bit impractical?” he asked.
Sleipmon smiled slightly as if it wasn’t the first time he had been asked that. “A bit... but it’s worth it to me. Besides, I have good aim.”
“...If you don’t mind me asking, why?” Examon inquired, curious as to why Sleipmon went to all the trouble.
Sleipmon gave Examon a sad smile and started walking past him. “Because life’s too precious...” he replied, trotting after the other knights.
Examon frowned a bit and watched as Sleipmon went. “But they’re reformatted into digi-eggs after they’re deleted...” he thought to himself, going to follow Sleipmon inside.
The Royal Knights approached the headquarters’ main entrance, stopping in front of the broad, wooden doors.
Grani looked up at Dukemon, who was still sitting on his back. “Could you get off now, Dukemon?”
“I, Dukemon, request that you, Grani, carry me in,” Dukemon replied with a playful smirk.
Grani gave him a blank, incredulous frown. “...I will help you off, acting leader of the Royal Knights,” he dryly said. Grani tilted his body so that Dukemon began to slide off his metal back.
Dukemon chuckled and jumped down, landing gracefully. “Okay, okay. Sheesh.”
Duftmon folded his arms and looked at Dukemon with an unamused stare. Dukemon ignored the look and opened the doors before the Knightmon guards could get to them. Grani and the other knights followed him into the long, stone hallway.
Examon quickly made his way to one of the two sides of Dukemon that wasn’t taken by Grani. The last thing he wanted was his tail getting jammed in the closing doors again. He turned to look at Dukemon. “So, Dukemon--“
“Okay, Knights,” Dukemon suddenly started, cutting Examon off despite hearing the dragon speak. “With that Anubismon and BlackMetalGarurumon gone, we need to decide what to do with their stuff, namely their position, castle and their riches. They don’t have any family, and even if they did, those two were criminals, so... We should appoint a new mayor that we trust, give them the castle, and redistribute whatever riches the two had.”
Duftmon suddenly increased his stride and walked up beside Dukemon, getting in between him and Examon. “Are you sure that you’re qualified to make that decision, Dukemon?” the leopard knight asked, frowning.
Grani’s eyes narrowed and he cast an annoyed glare at Duftmon.
“...I’m in charge when Alphamon and Omegamon aren’t available,” Dukemon replied guardedly, glancing sideways at Duftmon.
“That, I know,” Duftmon said, folding his arms.
Grani’s gaze hardened. “Then you should also know that there’s a reason why he’s third-in-command,” he explained in Dukemon’s defence.
“Grani...” Dukemon said, trying to dissuade him. He didn’t want a fight between the two.
Duftmon muttered something under his breath and slowed down, going back to walking behind them. Magnamon elbowed the brown knight’s arm. “Sometimes I wonder if you’re trying to be a jerk...” Magnamon said to him with a frown.
“What...?” Duftmon answered in question, raising his eyebrow.
Dynasmon shook his head as the group entered the foyer. “So, showers,” he said, turning and left and heading down a hallway.
“Mm. See you all in a bit,” RhodoKnightmon replied, heading down a different hallway.
“Where’s he headed?” Examon asked, following the Royal Knights towards the shower room.
“Rhodo showers in the spa room,” Dukemon replied, glancing at Examon.
“...He doesn’t strike me as the shy type,” the dragon knight commented.
Dukemon grinned. “It’s quite the opposite.”
UlforceVeedramon laughed as well. “We make Rhodo shower separately from us because he kept checking us out and making comments. It made some of the Knights uncomfortable and embarrassed,” he said, glancing at Duftmon, Craniamon, Magnamon, and Dynasmon.
“I’ve seen you turn pretty red too, Ulforce,” Dynasmon countered.
“It’s not like Duftmon showers with us anyways,” Craniamon said, glancing at the leopard knight.
“Hmph...” Duftmon mumbled, folding his arms and glancing away. “Forgive me if I’d rather not shower while surrounded by naked men. And dragons.”
Dynasmon smirked. “Would you if we were women?” he questioned, teasing.
“No,” Duftmon answered bluntly, walking past them and continuing down the hall when they reached the entrance to the showers.
“He’s so uptight...” Craniamon mused, walking into the stone room that was filled with several wooden racks and a series of metal lockers. He started by taking off his gauntlets and placing them on an armour rack. After that, he took off his chest armour, leggings, and then his bodysuit before walking into a larger room branching off from the locker room where the showers and drains were located. Examon, Magnamon, UlforceVeedramon, Sleipmon, and Dynasmon all undressed as well. They hung their armour up, walked into the other room and turned on the showers. Steam already began to fill up the tiled room.
Dukemon was in the process of taking off his cape when Grani hovered up to him. Dukemon hung his cape up and turned to him. “Grani?” he asked curiously.
“Dukemon...” Granis said, his voice low enough for the other knights not to hear without trying.
“Uh oh. I know that tone of voice,” Dukemon said, grinning a little as he started unbuckling the belts around his waist. “What is it, Grani?”
Grani frowned at Dukemon as the Royal Knight removed his chest armour. “You make it sound like I’m your nagging advisor or something,” he commented in response.
“I prefer to call you my ‘emotionally-invested best friend who has many opinions’,” Dukemon replied, smiling. “...So what do you want to say, Grani?”
Grani looked away as Dukemon removed his armoured boots and leggings. “I think you should tell Examon...”
Dukemon’s smile faded. “Ah...”
“It’s better he hears it from you, Dukemon,” Grani explained. “Do you really think that Duftmon will paint the issue in such a positive light?”
“No, but...” Dukemon sighed. “How do I even tell him something like this?”
“You’ve done it before,” Grani pointed out.
“With mixed reactions...” he reminded him.
“Still...” Grani sighed. “You trust him, don’t you?”
Dukemon nodded. “Yeah...”
“I’m sure he trusts you too. So, it shouldn’t be an issue if you tell him. If anything, it will deepen your trust with each other,” the Zero ARMS said.
Dukemon frowned but nodded. “...I’ll tell him when I can,” he replied. Dukemon’s easygoing smile returned. “Now get out of here and let me shower in peace. You pervert.”
Grani rolled his eyes but smiled and flew out. “Good luck, Dukemon,” he said to himself as he left.
Dukemon walked into the tiled, steam-filled room, feeling the wet floor beneath his feet. He walked over to the other knights and stood beneath a faucet, between Examon and Craniamon. The warm water hit his red scales and trickled down, the heat soothing his sore and tired muscles. A relaxed sigh escaped his mouth and he put his head under the water.
“Hey, what took you, Dukemon?” Magnamon asked, looking over as he washed himself.
“Oh, I was just talking with Grani,” Dukemon answered.
“Speaking of Grani, looks like he had trouble with Anubismon’s pyramid barrier attack too,” UlforceVeedramon said with a chuckle. He looked over at Examon and winked. “Must be a red dragon thing, hmm, Ex-sama?”
Examon tinted slightly but gave a slight grin. “I’m just happy I wasn’t the only one...” he replied, prompting a few chuckles. To his surprise, Dukemon wasn’t one of the ones who cracked a grin.
Examon frowned and looked at him carefully. Dukemon was usually one of the first ones to give a laugh to a joke, but Examon noticed that he seemed different ever since the end of the mission. He wondered if Dukemon was upset for the same reason Sleipmon had been. Examon hoped not; Dukemon was his closest friend here, and he didn’t want to have disappointed him too.
“Dukemon?” Examon asked him, lowly enough so only Dukemon could hear.
Dukemon blinked, snapped out of his thoughts, and quickly turned to him. “Uh, what is it, Examon?” he asked quickly, taken off guard by the dragon.
“Is something bothering you? It looks like you have something on your mind,” he asked, curiously.
The question caused Dukemon’s muscles to tense up. He wondered if Examon knew he was hiding something. Maybe he knew the details already. Dukemon wasn’t prepared to tell Examon yet. He was planning to lead up to it, but now that Examon asked him so suddenly...
“What? No. Nothing, Examon,” Dukemon replied sheepishly, too taken by surprise to tell him the truth. “Why do you ask?”
“You seemed uncharacteristically quiet today,” Examon said to him.
Dukemon gave him a slight smile. “I’m just tired. Plus, I have to seem more like a leader while the others are away.”
Examon nodded with a faint smile of his own and put his claw on Dukemon’s shoulder. “You’re doing a good job at being our leader, in my opinion...” he told him, his voice reassuring.
The smile on Dukemon’s face grew wider and more sincere. “...Thank you,” Dukemon replied. The crimson knight looked down and frowned. “You know... Examon--“
“Hey, Dukemon! Ex-sama! Are you two done?” UlforceVeedramon’s voice called out.
Dukemon turned, looking over his shoulder, to see UlforceVeedramon walking into the locker room and wrapping a towel around his waist. The other knights had finished their showers and were drying off as well.
“Err, yeah! Coming!” Dukemon said, turning around and quickly walking over to them. “Come on, Examon. There are things to do.”
Examon frowned and watched Dukemon as he walked away. “Hmm...” he hummed to himself before going to join them. “Is that really it...?”
Hours later, Dukemon stood in the computer room of the castle, overseeing one of MetallifeKuwagamon’s scans. It was one of the many duties that he held as the Royal Knights’ acting leader. Dukemon’s golden-yellow eyes squinted as a bright light emitted from the giant screen in front of him.
MetallifeKuwagamon typed on the keyboard rapidly, inputting digicode letters into the computer as his eyes scanned the giant-screened monitor carefully.
The computer room was aesthetically very similar to the communications room. It had a very large monitor mounted on the stone wall so that many people could see the screen. However, the computer that sat in the corner of the room was much larger than the one in the communications room, and definitely larger than any of the Knights’ personal computers. It was the Royal Knights’ master computer and it looked like a giant, intricate machine with countless wires running into the wall. Aside from that, there wasn’t much else in the room aside from a few chairs; there weren’t even any windows, as the room was located in the middle of the castle.
Magnamon stood behind them, watching as well. Instead of his usual gold digizoid armour, which he wore on the mission in the morning, Magnamon wore more leisurely clothes. He was garbed in black shorts which had a hole in the back for his tail to stick through. Along with that was a yellow t-shirt with a darker gold symbol on the front. The symbol was that of an ‘M’ shape, with the ends branching inwards sharply. Beneath each of the two branches was a triangle with the vertex pointing away from the branch. Both above and below the ‘M’ was a diamond shape. The symbol was the Crest of Miracles.
Finally, a message on the screen popped up and MetallifeKuwagamon’s typing stopped. The gold, humanoid insect sighed softly and looked over his shoulder up at Dukemon.
“I’ve finished scanning the data map of our region of the Digital World, Dukemon, sir,” he explained. “There have been no digital abnormalities or disturbances, according to our central DADAR system.”
Dukemon nodded and placed his hands on his hips. “I know that detects uncharacteristic changes in data, like unnatural evolutions and massive increases or decreases in power and what have you, but what does that stand for again?”
Magnamon stepped forwards, walking up to MetallifeKuwagamon’s other side. “Data Detection and Ranging,” he explained. “I’m still impressed that MetallifeKuwagamon invented the system.”
Dukemon smiled and looked down at the insect digimon. “Yeah. You’re the unsung hero of the Royal Knights, with all the stuff you do for us.”
Looking away, MetallifeKuwagamon blushed. “Not really... And I only co-invented the DADAR system. Shurimon of the Warrior Ten did a lot of the work too,” he insisted.
“You don’t give yourself enough credit, Metallife,” Magnamon said to him, smiling. He looked at both him and Dukemon. “Well, I guess that’s it for now. Shall we, Dukemon?”
With a nod, Dukemon said his goodbye to MetallifeKuwagamon and walked out of the computer room into the stone corridor. Magnamon followed him out and walked beside him. They noticed that the torches on the wall sconces were now lit.
“What time is it, Magnamon?” Dukemon asked, looking at his shorter companion.
“It must be around sunset now...” Magnamon replied, frowning. “Later than I expected. Why don’t we go and get something to eat? Rhodo is probably in the kitchen by now.”
Dukemon was silent for a moment. He frowned weakly and maintained his swift, purposeful stride. “...You go ahead. I still have things I need to do,” he answered.
Out of the corner of his eye, Dukemon could see Magnamon arch an eyebrow and fold his arms. “You’ve been working ever since we got out of the showers. You can take a break to get something to eat, you know,” Magnamon told him.
“Really, I’m okay,” Dukemon said, glancing over more directly. “I’m not hungry.”
Magnamon sighed and looked at him, disbelievingly. “We’ve all had a tiring day with that mission in the morning, before we could even eat breakfast or lunch. Don’t try and tell me that your stomach hasn’t been growling all day, because I’ve heard it,” he said with a small smile.
“I’m fine...” Dukemon insisted stubbornly. His voice grew a bit sharper, him hoping that Magnamon would get the message. His eyes narrowed slightly as his irritation grew.
“Come on, Dukemon,” Magnamon said, looking up at him. “You’ve been acting weird and I think you should take a break. Even Alphamon and Omegamon take breaks for meals when they’re in charge. Or are you afraid that Duftmon will take jibes at you for not being vigilant?”
Dukemon growled and quickly turned to Magnamon in aggravation. “Damn it, Magna, I told you I’m fine!” he snapped.
Magnamon initially blinked in surprise, but soon he shrunk back and looked forwards, hurt. “...Alright. Sorry...” he murmured softly, beginning to speed up his walking pace.
Within a matter of seconds, Dukemon calmed down and guilt immediately overcame him. He grimaced and walked faster, getting in front of Magnamon and turning to face him. “Magnamon, stop...” he spoke, his voice gentle and humble. Dukemon placed his hands softly on the shorter knight’s shoulders and looked down into his eyes.
“I’m sorry...” Dukemon told him, wincing in shame. “I’m... on edge today. There’s a lot on my mind. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you...”
Magnamon looked up at him expressionlessly. After a few moments, he gave Dukemon a small, reassuring smile, and raised his hand onto Dukemon’s. “It’s okay... but I want you to tell me what’s wrong.”
Dukemon nodded gratefully and removed his hands, going back to walking beside Magnamon, who started heading in the direction of the cafeteria. “Duftmon is partially to do with it... but only partially.”
“Then what’s the main reason?” Magnamon asked curiously. Dukemon frowned to himself and didn’t answer, thinking to himself carefully. “You know you can trust me.”
The crimson knight sighed and nodded, reluctantly conceding that he would tell Magnamon. “It’s... Grani thinks I should tell Examon...” he told him.
Magnamon looked curious. “Tell Examon what?” he asked for clarification.
Dukemon frowned. “You know what...” he replied, a bitter tone leaving his tongue. “The thing about me that you know, and Duftmon knows, and all the rest of the Knights know...”
The Royal Knight of Miracles looked forwards and rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. “Oh... That...”
Dukemon looked at Magnamon out of the corners of his eyes while continuing to walk with him. “Yeah... Do you think that Duftmon or one of the others has told him yet?”
“I doubt it... Duftmon is too averted to Examon to gossip to him,” Magnamon said, chuckling slightly.
With a small grin, Dukemon nodded. “Duftmon’s comments haven’t exactly been helping either...“
“You know how he is, Dukemon,” Magnamon replied. “He’s critical of everything, not just your leadership; it’s sort of his job as a tactician. ...However, that doesn’t exactly excuse his horrible social skills. Just ignore him.”
“It’s easy to say, but it’s not so easy to do when he’s constantly undermining you with those self-satisfied comments,” Dukemon muttered.
“Just try your best. Don’t give him the satisfaction of letting him get under your scales.” Magnamon raised an eyebrow. “Is that why you’re still in your armour? You don’t want anybody thinking that you’re not taking your job seriously?”
Dukemon half-shrugged. “Maybe...” Ahead of them, he saw the entrance to the cafeteria. “...About the first problem, what do you think I should do?” he asked, though not thrilled about outwardly showing uncertainty when he was supposed to be their current leader.
“I think you should tell him,” Magnamon replied, walking inside the cafeteria and looking around. “And here’s your chance to do it,” he said, looking over at something in particular.
Dukemon looked over to see what Magnamon was looking at, and he saw Examon sitting at a table with UlforceVeedramon and Craniamon.
“You go talk to him and I’ll get us both something to eat from Rhodo,” Magnamon told him, walking over to the line of digimon.
With an unsure nod, Dukemon looked over to the three’s table.
“...Well... you have to tell him about yourself at some point, Dukemon...” he thought to himself. He steeled himself and tried to build his confidence, starting to walk over to him. “Grani’s right. It will come out eventually. It might as well be from your own mouth.”
Dukemon sighed a bit, his feet dragging slightly as he neared Examon’s table. It seemed to take forever to get there. He was dreading the coming conversation; he always did.
He almost winced when he saw UlforceVeedramon look up and notice him.
“Hey, Dukemon. There you are,” UlforceVeedramon said, smiling from his place beside Craniamon.
Dukemon felt his heart sink a bit.
Examon, who was sitting across from UlforceVeedramon, turned and looked over his shoulder at Dukemon. “Would you like to join u--“
The dragon cut himself short. Dukemon walked right past their table, his nerves getting the better of him, and walked over and sat down at Duftmon, Dynasmon, and Sleipmon’s table, which was beside theirs. Dukemon sat beside the large body of Sleipmon, shielding himself from the other table, and mentally cursed himself.
“Damn it, Dukemon. You’re supposed to be the acting leader of the Royal Knights, but you can’t even face Examon?” he thought to himself in frustration.
“Hello, Dukemon,” Sleipmon greeted. “You sure have been busy today.”
“Though free enough that he can sit down and have a meal, apparently...” Duftmon quipped, superiorly.
Dukemon stifled a growl, trying to maintain his cool. “...Would you rather I was starving?” he countered, glancing across the table at Duftmon. “Digimon can’t think straight when they’re hungry, isn’t that right?”
Duftmon gave a ‘hmph’. “I was merely saying. There’s no need to be so defensive.”
Dynasmon smiled and elbowed Duftmon. “People wouldn’t need to get so defensive if you weren’t so ‘offensive’,” he said half-jokingly.
“Dynasmon has a point,” Sleipmon agreed before eating a forkful of carrots.
“Oh, please,” Duftmon scoffed dismissively.
As the three Royal Knights at the table bantered and argued, Dukemon stared quietly at the empty spot on the table in front of him. Without knowing it, his hand raised and gripped the center of his armoured chest.
Before he knew it, a tray of food slid into view and rested in front of him. Dukemon blinked, feeling a tap on his shoulder, and he turned to see a blue claw poking him. His gaze followed the arm to its owner: Magnamon.
Magnamon looked at him with an arched eyebrow. He leaned down towards him (which wasn’t very far, given his short stature), speaking in a low voice. “Uh, Dukemon? What are you doing?” he asked quietly. “I thought you were going to tell him.”
“Later...” Dukemon replied, glancing away. “I could do without the other Knights’ commentary while I’m talking to him.”
Magnamon looked unconvinced but he stood up straight and decided not to push the issue. “Okay...” The blue dragon man held his own tray of food and turned towards Examon, Craniamon, and UlforceVeedramon’s table, hoping to take the empty seat beside Examon. Instead, he noticed RhodoKnightmon sitting down in his place. “Rhodo! You took my seat!” he complained.
RhodoKnightmon crossed a leg over the other and turned towards Magnamon, grinning behind his helmet. “I didn’t see your name on it, cutie,” he teased in a sing song voice.
Magnamon growled, his eye twitching with annoyance at being called that. “I am not cute, Rhodo! For the last time!” he barked, clutching his tray of food tightly.
“Oh, but you are when you’re all flustered like that,” RhodoKnightmon told him. “Both you and OuRyuumon have the cutest tantrums, Magna.”
The Royal Knight of Miracles blushed further. “No I... rrrgh,” he cut himself off, knowing that if he rose to the teasing, he might just prove RhodoKnightmon’s point. Magnamon collected himself and took on a dignified manner, turning and walking over to sit at the empty table next to Dukemon’s.
RhodoKnightmon looked over at him. “You don’t have to sit all the way over there, Magna. There’s plenty of room on my lap,” he said, using his playful tone again.
Magnamon ignored him and looked away, though blushing at the teasing. “I would rather sit here, Rhodo...”
Dukemon grinned a bit, thankful for the temporary distraction from his thoughts. He raised the visor of his helmet so that he could begin eating.
“Shouldn’t you be in the kitchen, RhodoKnightmon?” Craniamon asked, looking over to him.
“Hm? Oh, no,” RhodoKnightmon answered, eating with one hand and absent-mindedly twirling the end of Examon’s long tail with the other hand. Apparently, he didn’t know or care about the obvious discomfort on Examon’s face. “I finished my cooking, but there’s still enough food stocked up for the kitchen helpers to continue serving. I finally get to relax now.”
“Well, at least you’re not the only one relaxing,” Duftmon spoke in response, giving a passing glance to Dukemon.
Dukemon stopped moving his fork mid-bite, pausing to give a Duftmon a fiery stare. After a moment, he closed his mouth around the food and swallowed it.
“So, Dukemon,” UlforceVeedramon said, looking over at him from his table. “Do you know where Alphamon, Omegamon, and OuRyuumon went? I mean, they must have told you when they put you in command while they were gone, right?”
“Yeah, they did,” Dukemon said succinctly.
“Sorry. I can’t disclose that,” he answered.
“Oh, come on,” Duftmon complained. “How are you privy to such information and the rest of us are not?”
Dukemon closed his eyes and placed his fork down on the tray, getting progressively more irritated by Duftmon and his condescending tone. “Because I am...”
Duftmon frowned and folded his arms. “Is that so? So much for that ‘all Royal Knights are equal’ rule you go around preaching all the time.”
The rumbling of an emerging growl could be felt in the center of Dukemon’s throat. “...What of it?”
“You’re so quick to stand up and say that to me whenever you can, but now, because you think that you’re in charge, you get to withhold information and give all the orders, even though you were just like us yesterday? This is a temporary promotion, mind you,” Duftmon spoke, leering at Dukemon coldly and calculatingly.
Dukemon’s eyes snapped open and his pupils shrunk within his gold irises. He glowered at Duftmon with a more fearsome appearance instead of his usual warm, inviting one. “We are all equal,” Dukemon said harshly. “There’s no such thing as a promotion within the Royal Knights. I’m no better than anybody here, and neither are you, despite what you might think. The only reason I’m not telling you is because Alphamon asked me not to.”
Duftmon frowned. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
The crimson knight took a calming breath, trying not to let himself get worked up. “It means that you obviously think that you can do a better job than I can. You probably think you can do a better job than Alphamon, even.”
“Hmph. I never said that, but now that you mention it, you did make some basic errors.”
Dukemon stood up. “Yeah. I’m sure you think so. Just because you can make some skillful tactics, you suddenly think you’re better than everybody else and you can run the entire Royal Knight order! I’ve been a Royal Knight longer than you have and have twice the experience you do, you know,” he told Duftmon, his tone calm, but some obvious anger hidden behind his words.
Duftmon’s eyes narrowed piercingly at Dukemon. “Yes, and twice the temper. And not to mention the Digital--“
Dukemon snarled with rage and abruptly reached across the table. He grabbed Duftmon by the collar and dragged him over the table, causing the four trays of food to come crashing to the ground and spilling on digimons’ laps. Dukemon glared into Duftmon’s eyes, whose body was half on the table and half held in the air by Dukemon’s clenched fist.
“I’ve had enough of you, Duftmon! You’re an arrogant, smug, condescending, intolerant, petulant brat!” Dukemon barked, glowering face to face with the shocked leopard knight. “You’ve been taking shots at me and undermining my leadership all day! If you honestly think that you can do a better job, I’d like to see it! Because to be a good leader, you need to be able to trust people, and that’s something that you will never know how to do!”
Though shocked, Duftmon held Dukemon’s wrists on reflex and gripped them firmly, staring into Dukemon’s narrow eyes with his wide, green ones.”Y-You...” he stammered.
Dukemon’s grip on Duftmon’s collar tightened and he held him closer to his face, glaring deeper.
“Dukemon!” Magnamon protested, jumping up and running over and holding Dukemon’s right hand.
“Stop it!” Sleipmon agreed, grabbing Dukemon’s left arm and pulling.
Sleipmon and Magnamon pulled Dukemon back while Dynasmon pulled Duftmon back across the table before a fight could break out.
Dukemon let go of Duftmon and growled, stepping back. Breathing hard, he looked around at the faces of the shocked and worried Royal Knights.
“E...Excuse me,” Dukemon quickly said, grimacing with shame and pulling away from Magnamon and Sleipmon. He turned and quickly walked past the Royal Knights and whoever else might have been watching, his cape waving behind him as he left the cafeteria as quickly as he could.
Several of the knights relaxed slightly and looked around uncomfortably after the tense scene. Duftmon was visibly flustered as he stood up and tried to wipe the food and sauce from his chest, arms, and hair.
Examon frowned thoughtfully, watching as Dukemon disappeared into the corridor.
The sun had set and the stars and moons appeared in the sky once again, acting as the sole providers of light for the night. In his room, Dukemon sat on the edge of his bed. Instead of his armour, he wore the white t-shirt and black pants he had worn early that morning. He was hunched over the leggings of his armour, which were on his lap. Using the glow of his computer and a torch on the wall as light, he cleaned the metal leggings with a damp cloth, trying to remove the food that spilled on them several minutes ago during his outburst at Duftmon.
Dukemon scrubbed the metal earnestly, trying his best to remove all traces of muck and filth. He winced and washed harder, stubbornly when he saw another blemish. There was a scrap of food between his upper leg armour and his knee-guard that he couldn’t quite reach, no matter how hard he tried. It was stuck right behind the familiar symbol engraved in the red metal...
Suddenly there was a slow, calm knocking at the door. Dukemon looked up from his work and looked over.
“...Who is it?” Dukemon asked, grimacing. He knew that somebody would come to talk to him. He guessed that it was Magnamon.
The door open and inside the room walked a large dragon, who closed the door behind him carefully.
Dukemon was a little surprised at the sight. “Examon...”
“Am I interrupting...?” Examon asked, his voice cautious.
Dukemon turned his head away from Examon and looked forward. “...If I said yes, would you leave me be?”
“Is that what you want?” Examon questioned, prepared to do just that if Dukemon wished.
“...I don’t know,” Dukemon said with a reluctant sigh.
Examon walked over to him. “...So I guess what I saw was that temper of yours I kept hearing about.”
Silence followed. Dukemon stood up and walked to a window, leaning forwards against the stone sill and looking out into the night sky. “...Is that all you’ve heard about me?” he finally asked, his voice grave.
Raising an eyebrow curiously, Examon took a step closer. “What do you mean?”
“I’m sure the others must have been talking after I snapped at Duftmon,” Dukemon said lowly, narrowing his eyes. “Or maybe you already know...”
“Know what, Dukemon?” Examon asked.
Dukemon turned around and looked at him. In Examon’s eyes, he could see that the dragon was being sincere. “I guess you really don’t know, do you...?”
Shaking his head, Examon sat down on Dukemon’s bed and moved his wing to make room for Dukemon to sit as well. “What’s going on with you, Dukemon? You’ve been acting weird all day. Especially ten minutes ago.”
Sighing, Dukemon reluctantly took the spot beside Examon, though he looked away. “It’s complicated...”
Examon’s gaze softened. “Dukemon, if there’s something bothering you...” he began. He exhaled through his nostrils and stalled. “Well... you’ve helped me with my problems before. I like to think that you trust me enough to let me help you with yours...”
He looked at Examon. ”I...” he began uncertainly, frowning. “There’s... something wrong with me.”
“Something wrong? ...Like what? Are you sick?” Examon asked with slight concern in his tone.
“Not exactly.” He reached over and took the leg armour he had been washing. With his other hand, he pointed to the symbol on the poleyn - the knee guard. “Do you know what this symbol is, Examon?”
Examon thought for a few moments but shook his head. “I have seen it around, but no...”
Dukemon sighed. “It’s... the Digital Hazard symbol.” He turned to look at Examon with a look of insecurity that he had never shown Examon before. “I have... the Digital Hazard.”
“Digital Hazard...? What is that?”
“Basically... I’m dangerous,” Dukemon explained, smiling sadly. “The safety of those around me depends on my stability. It’s a curse, really.”
Examon started to grow concerned, worried even. “I don’t understand...”
“To have the Digital Hazard is to have the capability of extremely destructive and deadly power...” Dukemon told him, looking down. “If my balance and stability ever were to collapse... I don’t know.”
Dukemon looked over, out the window, into the dark night sky. “Maybe I would go on a rampage or turn into a terrible monster bent on destroying the Digital World. I would never want that in my life, but it could happen even just by accident. I constantly feel like I’m walking on eggshells...”
“D-...Dukemon...” Examon said, looking at him with shock.
“To know that my existence itself has a chance to be dangerous to others... I hate it.” Dukemon grimaced. “I’m a Royal Knight. It’s my job to protect the Digital World. I’m devoted to defending the world, the innocent digimon in it, and my fellow Royal Knights. I took an oath to protect, yet I have this potential for destruction... Is my hotheadedness and temper because of the Digital Hazard? Or is it just my natural personality? I don’t know. ...And all that isn’t even the worst thing about it, if you can believe it...”
Examon was silent.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I... I wanted you to trust me first. I didn’t want you getting this preconceived idea of me in your head before getting to know the real me.”
“Dukemon,” Examon said sharply, grabbing Dukemon’s attention and prompting him to look over. Dukemon blinked when he saw Examon’s firm stare.
The dragon spoke, softer this time. “You’re the first friend that I’ve had in a very long time... From the first time we met, when you gave me the invitation to join the Royal Knights, you never questioned me, be it my personality or my appearance. You always stood up for me to those who doubted and disliked me,” he explained.
Examon placed his clawed hand on Dukemon’s shoulder, gripping it reassuringly. “Digital Hazard or not, you’re the same Dukemon. If you think that I’d judge you because of this, you’re wrong,” he told him. He thought to himself. “Besides... I can sort of relate to you, in a way.”
Dukemon stared at him disbelievingly. “Are you serious?”
Examon smiled lightly at him. “When am I not...?” he replied. “And... you’re far too kind and good to ever have to worry about succumbing to the Digital Hazard. I trust you, Dukemon. It shouldn’t even be an issue in your mind. Besides, all digimon have the potential to be destructive or evil. You said yourself that you want to protect the world, so that should be the end of any doubt.”
Dukemon’s surprise turned into a big, warm and gracious smile. “I... Thank you, Examon... I mean it.” He placed his hand on Examon’s which was resting on his shoulder. “You don’t know how much that means to me.”
Examon smiled and removed his hand, shaking his head dismissively. ”It’s nothing you wouldn’t do if the situations were reversed...” he assured him.
The crimson knight looked down and then back up at Examon. “Are you just saying this to make me feel better?”
“I meant every word, Dukemon,” Examon told him honestly.
Dukemon nodded slowly. He grinned, feeling like a small weight had been lifted. “Then, thank you...”
After a few moments of silence, Dukemon stood up and gave a groan of protest. “I guess I should go apologize to Duftmon... even if he did deserve it,” he grumbled.
“That should be fun...” Examon sarcastically muttered.
Dukemon chuckled. “You’re telling me...”
Later that night, Dukemon stood out on the balcony where he had watched the sun, leaning forwards on the parapet as he looked out into the distance. A large silhouette flew past one of the large moons, getting Dukemon’s attention. The crimson knight smiled lightly when Grani swooped down and landed beside him.
“Hey, Grani,” he greeted.
“Hello, Dukemon,” Grani replied.
“Checking up on me?” Dukemon asked, looking over with a warm grin at the red dragon.
“I hear you throttled a certain leopard in a tray full of mashed potatoes,” Grani said with a chuckle.
“He was asking for it,” Dukemon said, chuckling too. “And, yes, I tried apologizing, but you know how he gets all pouty and huffy when he’s mad.”
Grani smiled. “Let me guess, he’s in his room or the library.”
“Library. Nose buried in a book. That was after about an hour of washing his hair,” Dukemon said, smiling.
Grani laughed and turned to face Dukemon. “So, you’re in a better mood. Did you talk to Examon about the Digital Hazard?”
Dukemon nodded. “Yeah... He was actually really supportive about it. And I trust him that he was being genuine.”
“I’m glad...” Grani told him. “You know, I’m sure most of the others feel the same way that Examon does.”
Grani smiled softly. “Well, I told you that you can trust him.”
A soft silence followed. The large, draconic Zero ARMS looked forwards. “So... What’s the plan for tomorrow, acting leader?”
Dukemon grinned and looked off into the distance as well.
“I guess we’ll see, won’t we?”