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Old February 13th, 2013, 12:27 PM
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Grovyle42(Griff8416)
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Join Date: Jun 2007
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The second half of Chapter 8 is here, now that I'm done my exams.


Chapter 8: Adversary (Part II)


With every passing minute, the two Royal Knights traveled deeper and deeper into Dusk Forest. Craniamon walked at the front, glancing down at the ground every five seconds. He gripped his double-bladed spear, Claiohm Solais, tightly in his hand as he traipsed through the soft mud and soil of the forest floor.

Examon followed behind him, his lance, Ambrosius, also placed firmly in his claws, at the ready in case they were attacked.

True to its name, Dusk Forest gave the illusion of nightfall. The thick canopies, the broad, clustered branches, and the densely-packed trees all served to block out the afternoon sunlight from reaching the forest floor. This darkness made Craniamon and Examon all the more guarded. They didn’t know what was in here or where it was.

Examon looked around them, past the trees, with his finely-honed eyes. The multiple pillars of thick tree trunks went farther than his eyes could see, which wasn’t far due to the dark of the forest. Branches and vines dangled from the higher parts of the trees, swaying gently in the wind as the breeze blew through the canopies. Aside from those things, Examon couldn’t detect anything out of the ordinary.

Dusk Forest had an earthy smell of dirt and bark, and all was silent except for the sound of their footsteps and soft breaths. Examon felt mud and twigs beneath his scaled feet and between his toe claws. He had to keep his wings folded poised back so that they pointed behind him. As much as he didn’t like to admit it, Duftmon may have been right about him not being the best choice to join Craniamon. With the closely aggregated trees, his manoevrability was severely restricted, and he definitely couldn’t fly. It was too late now, though, so he continued on after the violet knight.

Craniamon continued leading Examon in a specific direction. He looked down at the ground again, following two shallow, patterned furrows that were engraved in the mud and dirt. At the bottom of the crevices were flattened leaves, branches, and even logs, which had been split in three. The two grooves continued in a mostly straight line and were marked by the destruction of whatever got in their way.

“Is the trail still strong?” Examon asked, looking ahead at Craniamon. They had been following these tracks for about half an hour.

Craniamon nodded. “We’re lucky that Wizardmon’s hired muscle was a Tankdramon,” he replied. “Since he’s about as graceful as a drunken Armageddemon, his tracks are easy to follow, even in here.”

Examon stepped over a log that had been snapped in half by the Tankdramon. “I see what you mean.”

Another silence ensued. It was a regular occurrence now. Neither had much to say to the other unless one of them had a question.

Examon looked down at the Ambrosius and removed the magazine from the lance-rifle hybrid. He then lifted the Ambrosius up and rested it on the wing muscles protruding from his back so that he could free up his claws. He started taking rounds of ammunition out of the magazine before putting the shells back in in a different order, with a shell that was colour-coded white in the first slot.

Craniamon suddenly spoke up again. “He went off the trail,” the senior Royal Knight announced, stopping.

The dragon knight removed his lance from the resting place on his wings and locked the magazine back into the Ambrosius’ chamber. “He did?” he asked, walking up to Craniamon’s side while locking a round into place with a deep, satisfying, metallic clicking noise.

Craniamon pointed at the ground with one of the ends of his spear. The dirt path curved to the left, but Tankdramon’s tracks kept going forwards into the thick, cluttered underbrush. “It must have been too dark for him to notice that the path curved,” he added.

“So do we follow his tracks or the path?” Examon questioned, looking at Craniamon.

“Considering that the Tankdramon was the first one to disappear…” Craniamon trailed off and just followed the Tankdramon’s tracks deeper into the forest. Examon followed him.

The two continued walking through the foliage, following the trail of crushed plants and wood. Examon watched Craniamon as he walked. Ever since he joined the Royal Knights, Examon was never able to read Craniamon very easily. While he wasn’t particularly good at reading the other Royal Knights either, or even other digimon in general, there were a lot of things that he didn’t understand about Craniamon.

Superficially, the two of them seemed to have similar personalities. They were both calm and collected digimon, but that seemed to be where the similarities ended. Examon knew that they had different ways of doing things. What Examon didn’t know was why Craniamon didn’t seem to care for him. Was it because he was a dragon or was it something else?

“How did you know?” Craniamon suddenly said.

The draconic Royal Knight looked at him with surprise, and saw that Craniamon was still walking, not even looking over his shoulder at him. “…Know what?” he responded curiously.

“Know-“

Examon saw a flicker of white in his peripheral vision. “Hold it!” he interrupted sharply, jerking his head to the left. The bright flare vanished before Examon could even focus his eyes on it.

Craniamon immediately stopped and turned around. “What?” he asked, his weapon already poised for action.

“Over there,” Examon said, pointing with the Ambrosius into the dark of the forest. “I saw a flash of white.”

Frowning, Craniamon turned towards where Examon had indicated. His red eyes gazed long and hard, around the tree trunks, at the canopies overhead, everywhere in that direction. After several moments, his weapon lowered and his muscles slackened.

“It was nothing,” Craniamon said with finality, turning back towards Tankdramon’s tracks. “It was probably a foxfire or a wisp of data.”

Examon frowned. His eyes remained on where he thought he saw the flash. “…I’m not so sure. Remember, Grani said that there were flashes within the forest. Maybe it was the abnormal data that MetallifeKuwagamon detected.”

“Forget about that…” Craniamon said.

He turned to Craniamon and saw that he had stopped and was staring down at the ground. “What?” he asked curiously, walking over to him. He went up beside him and looked down to see what he was looking at.

The two broad furrows in the ground suddenly came to an end, as did the trail of crushed foliage.

“The Tankdramon’s tracks stop here,” Craniamon explained, crouching and digging his spear into the ground for balance.

“And that’s not all,” Examon said, bending down. He took something between his claws and showed it to Craniamon.

Craniamon looked at Examon’s claws and saw a hollow golden cylinder. “Bullet casings,” he said, looking around the immediate area and seeing countless more.

“He was shooting at something,” Examon spoke, flicking the casing away. “But what?”

A deafening silence followed, lasting for several seconds.

“…Do you feel that?” Craniamon asked, looking at Examon.

Examon nodded, frowning weakly. “I feel… strange. Lightheaded, almost…” he said, feeling mild, energetic sensations in his head and body that caused him unease.

“As do I,” Craniamon said, standing up again. He took a few steps backwards, away from where the tank tracks stopped. “And now it’s gone…”

The crimson knight backed up to where Craniamon was as well. Sure enough, the discomforting feelings dissipated. “This was what Wizardmon was talking about,” he muttered.

Craniamon nodded in agreement. “But what’s causing...?” Craniamon trailed off and walked over to the end of the tracks. He knelt down, keeping himself steady with his shield, and raised an eyebrow with interest. “What do we have here?”

Examon tilted his head and walked over to Craniamon, peering over his shoulder. He looked down and saw a short but deep fissure in the ground, at the bottom of Tankdramon’s tread furrow. For a crack so skinny, Examon was surprised that it could go so deep. He also noticed that there seemed to be a faint black aura emanating from inside it.

Looking at it curiously, Craniamon extended his hand and placed it within the dark aura. He felt a strong tingling sensation in his hand. After several moments, he noticed the dark data start to condense and form physical tendrils that tried to grab his hand. Craniamon quickly but calmly pulled his limb away.

“This is the data abnormality that Metallife’s scan detected,” Craniamon observed.

“But that’s not typical data,” Examon added, noticing how strange and sinister the aura looked.

Craniamon shook his head. “It’s not…” he responded coolly. “That fissure is producing dark data.”

“Dark data?” Examon asked. “But how does that connect to the Tankdramon who disappeared here? He was firing at something.”

Craniamon slowly stood to his feet and turned. “Yes, but-“

As Craniamon turned around, he saw the bright, white radiance of four flares standing out against the dark backdrop of the forest. A terrible crackling sound ripped through the air and the glowing aura was blocked from view as something black surged towards them.

“Get back!” Craniamon shouted, dashing ahead of Examon and raising his shield. “God Breath!”

Energy pulsed from the Avalon and a transparent, omnidirectional barrier surrounded the two Royal Knights. They watched as a blast of dark energy slammed against the defensive field before splitting off in several directions. The strands of the dark matter tore up the ground in gusts of dirt and leaves, and ripped through trees effortlessly.

As the barrier was showered with bark, it dissipated after three seconds. By then, Examon had already aimed the Ambrosius. “Avalon’s Gate!”

He fired a shell from his lance down a path that was unobstructed by trees. The round sailed to the left of where the attack came from and it exploded in a blast of light, illuminating and revealing the assailant completely.

The dark blue digimon gave a roar of protest as the bright flare irritated his eyes, which were so used to the shade of the forest. He was forced to squint and intensified his radiant wings, flying away from the light and into the darkness.

“What was that?” Craniamon asked, shielding his eyes with his shield. When the flare died down, he lowered the Avalon slightly and readied his spear.

“A Darkdramon,” Examon answered knowingly, his lance also poised. “I’ve seen a few in the United Dramonic Coalition.”

“Great. Can you tell me anything useful about them?” Craniamon asked, his eyes darting around the area rapidly, trying to see where the Darkdramon went.

“…Darkdramon is the evolved form of Tankdramon,” Examon explained with a certain weight in his voice.

Craniamon’s eyes widened with realization. “It’s all starting to make sense…” he spoke. “Dukemon was right.”

“Something’s wrong, though…” Examon murmured.

“What?” Craniamon started to ask but he was interrupted by a snarl behind them.

“Dark Roar!”

Craniamon spun around and saw another blast of dark matter heading straight for them. He didn’t have time to bring up another barrier with God Breath, so he made do with the Avalon itself. He held the shield sturdily in front of him and felt the attack slam against the durable metal. Craniamon held steady while the blast struggled against the Avalon, although it managed to push Craniamon back a few centimeters.

“Craniamon!” Examon called out, pointing the Ambrosius towards Darkdramon and aiming steadily.

“Don’t you dare, dragon!” Craniamon called back at Examon, having to speak loudly over the sound of the energy roaring against the shield. He looked over his shoulder, fixing a meaningful glare, as tendrils of dark energy separated around the shield. “He’s my opponent!”

Examon lowered the Ambrosius a bit and looked at him incredulously. “What?! Don’t be ridiculous!”

“Just back off,” Craniamon spoke, bashing the rest of the energy away with his shield when the attack ended. The dark matter crackled and wafted in front of Craniamon for a few seconds before it dissipated. The violet knight glared coldly at the Darkdramon in front of him. “Is that all?” he taunted, rotating the Claiohm Solais in his hand a single time.

Darkdramon snarled deeply, staring back at Craniamon. He bent his head down, took a low stance, and charged at the Royal Knight. Darkdramon dashed forwards, poising the Gigastick Lance that was affixed to his right arm. Midway through his run, Darkdramon dug his foot into the ground and lunged at Craniamon at an arc. He thrust the lance with determined vigor.

The long, pointed, metal spear was met with the blunt face of Craniamon’s shield. Sparks cascaded as the tip screeched across the sturdy, black metal of the Avalon. Craniamon swung his left arm out, pushing the shield to force Darkdramon’s lance away from him while also creating an opening. The knight brought the Claiohm Solais over his head and swung the blade down towards Darkdramon just as quickly. To his surprise, Darkdramon darted in the direction Craniamon pushed his arm, quick enough to avoid even his wings getting grazed.

As Darkdramon dodged the vertical slice, he jumped backwards to put space between him and Craniamon. He saw that Craniamon still hadn’t recovered from the previous block, so he started pumping dark energy into the Gigastick Lance. The dark matter crackled as it built up at the tip of the spear.

“Dark Roar!” he shouted, firing a blast of shadowy power at Craniamon.

Craniamon grunted as he twisted his body, swiftly spinning around and slamming the attack with the Avalon. He winced in pain as his arm was wracked from the pressure of the blow, but he managed to protect himself and block the attack. The orb split into several pieces and slammed into the ground, tearing a tree down in the process.

Steam hissed as it was expelled from vents on the lance. Darkdramon growled in frustration. His wings intensified and he started flying at Craniamon.

The Royal Knight narrowed his eyes and started spinning his spear in his right hand with deft fingerwork. “Time to take him down,” he muttered, twirling his Claiohm Solais at a rapid speed. “End Waltz!”

Electricity coursed from the blades and engulfed Darkdramon, stopping him in his tracks. Darkdramon roared with protest and dropped to the ground, landing on his knees when his legs buckled on impact.

Craniamon dashed towards him, holding the spear behind him as he ran, and then swung the weapon around, leveling the blade with the dark dragon. Darkdramon suddenly sprang to his feet and spun so that his back faced Craniamon. He raised his arm and blocked the Claiohm Solais with his lance. With Craniamon’s attack halted, Darkdramon used the opportunity to slam his tail into Craniamon’s gut. Craniamon staggered back from the blow and the serrated blade on the tip of Darkdramon’s tail tore the sash that hung from his waist.

With anger, Craniamon bashed Darkdramon with the side of his shield, knocking him to the side violently. He then swung his right arm and nailed the dragon in the face with his massive gauntlet. Next he pulled his fist back and slammed the side of the Claiohm Solais’ metal hilt into Darkdramon’s green visor, causing him to stumble backwards several steps.

Craniamon lowered his arms and observed Darkdramon to see how he fared after the beating he received. Darkdramon was still standing upright but his arms and head were slumped forwards and he appeared to barely be able to keep on his feet. The dragon released a weak growl of pain as blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.

After a few moments, Craniamon stabbed the Claiohm Solais into the ground before dropping his shield as well. “This next blow will knock him out,” he muttered to himself. The Royal Knight charged at Darkdramon. As he ran, he pulled his clenched fist back for a powerful knockout punch.

“Craniamon, wait!” Examon called out. “What are you doing?!”

Craniamon ignored him and reared his arm back completely as he closed in on the Darkdramon. As he swung his fist forwards, a sinister glint flickered in Darkdramon’s eye behind the visor. The dark dragon suddenly became more alert and he raised the Gigastick Lance, aiming at Craniamon’s chest.

“Pendragon’s Glory!” Examon’s voice called out.

A short beam ripped from the Ambrosius and cut across Craniamon’s path, searing Darkdramon’s right arm. In pain, Darkdramon roared and recoiled, pulling his lance-bearing arm back and away from Craniamon. Distracted by the beam, Craniamon stopped his punch and skidded to a stop, immediately becoming defensive when Darkdramon became so lively.

Darkdramon snarled and jumped up, slamming his foot into Craniamon’s chest armour and using him like a spring board to propel himself backwards into the air. The wounded dragon’s wings flared up intensely and he started to fly away quickly.

“No,” Examon whispered, firing a shell at Darkdramon only for it to hit one of the many trees. Darkdramon dipped and dived around the trees with impressive flight skills, using the thick tree trunks as cover. It wasn’t long until he was completely gone from sight into the shade of Dusk Forest.

Craniamon growled and swung around to face Examon. “What were you thinking?!” he demanded.

“Me?” Examon responded, sounding a little defensive.

“No, that tree behind you. Yes, you!” Craniamon spat, storming over to Examon. He got up to him and stared at him coldly. “I told you to stay out of my duel, lizard.”

Examon narrowed his green eyes, locking them with Craniamon’s red ones. “We’re here to complete a mission, not win duels,” he responded calmly. “You can do that at the training grounds at home.”

“Our mission would be complete right now if you hadn’t stuck your big snout in and screwed up my attack,” Craniamon told him icily. “And now the Darkdramon escaped.”

“He was getting ready to stab you while feigning defeat. If you hadn’t recklessly rushed him without your equipment, I wouldn’t have needed to,” Examon countered. “Knowing your impossible pride, I don’t expect any gratitude.”

“There’s nothing to be grateful for. Do you honestly think that he could have taken down a Royal Knight?” Craniamon asked him.

Examon looked in the direction the Darkdramon escaped to. “…You’re underestimating him.”

You’re underestimating me,” Craniamon said tersely, turning around. He glanced over his shoulder. “And when I say ‘stay out my duel’ I mean in it.” The knight started to walk towards his spear and shield.

“That seems to be all you care about... Being a perfect warrior,” Examon spoke after him. “Our missions are just secondary to that, aren’t they?”

Craniamon stopped in his tracks. “...The fact that I’m even working with you proves how much I care about this mission,” he said, not looking behind him to make eye contact with Examon. “But I do not need your help. You’re only getting in the way, like I suspected you would.”

Examon merely grunted. “...Let’s get moving. He already has a large lead on us,” he said, walking in the direction Darkdramon fled.

“Fine,” Craniamon complied, picking up his equipment and walking as well.

So then the two Royal Knights walked further into the forest in silence.

-

Half an hour passed and the duo still hadn’t seen either scale or hair of Darkdramon. It was too easy for him to blend in with the surroundings as long as he didn’t activate his wings.

Examon and Craniamon trudged through a patch of muck before getting back to solid dirt. Craniamon looked down at his muddy, black digizoid boots with annoyance. He then went back to looking around.

“See anything?” he asked Examon, though sounding like he’d rather be anywhere else at that moment.

“Nothing,” Examon responded, looking around warily. “You?”

“No,” Craniamon replied. After a few more moments of silence, he sighed. Things were tense enough as they were without this rivalry, and they said they would act professionally with one another, so Craniamon attempted to make an effort. “...So this Tankdramon guy stumbled across that dark data-producing fissure and digivolved to Darkdramon.”

“It looks that way,” the crimson dragon answered. “Except he’s not a crazed, rampant digimon like we thought... He seems... smarter. Like he still has his wits about him. He’s tactical when he fights.”

“He did seem savvier than a rampant evolution,” Craniamon admitted. “But he’s still attacking us for no reason, and it sounds like that Tankdramon wouldn’t have done that.”

“We’ll have to report this to someone more knowledgable,” Examon said.

“...We can assume that Darkdramon was probably responsible for the other digimon disappearing,” the violet knight added.

“So how do we deal with him?” Examon asked the more senior Royal Knight.

Craniamon glanced at Examon. “Protocol for dealing with rampant digimon is to incapacitate them only unless absolutely necessary. We don’t want to kill them for something that’s not their fault, but we can’t have them killing other digimon while on a rampage either. We need to knock him down to his regular Tankdramon form where he’ll be more stable.”

Examon nodded. He slowly looked at Craniamon. “...What did you mean before? Before Darkdramon attacked us, when you asked ‘how did you know?’”

“It’s nothing...” Craniamon replied. After a few moments of silence, he could tell that Examon was still looking at him. He sighed. “In our training battle this morning, how did you know to stop that lance thrust before I used God Breath? Is my technique that predictable?” he couldn’t help but ask him.

Examon thought about his answer for several seconds. It would be gratifying to tell him that it was predictable, with the way Craniamon had been acting for much of the trip.

“...No,” Examon finally said, opting to be honest instead. He was never one to ruffle somebody’s feathers for the sake of it anyways. “I knew to stop because... it made the most sense, in that moment, for you to bring up your barrier as I stabbed.”

“I see...” Craniamon answered thoughtfully.

“Dark Roar!” a voice roared out from behind them. Examon jerked his head to the side and looked over his shoulder. He saw the familiar glow of Darkdramon’s wings along with the strong flicker of dark matter coursing towards them.

“Craniamon!” Examon called to him, running over to the knight as his sentient Caledfwlch wings went into action. The blast of black energy slammed into Examon’s back as his right wing stretched out to shield Craniamon.

Despite the fact that his wings where protected by chrome digizoid, the orb split on impact with Examon’s wing and a strand of dark matter ripped across the upper part of Examon’s right leg, cutting into the scales. He let out a snarl of pain and forced himself to keep his leg from buckling under the searing wound.

Though initially shocked, Craniamon soon sneered and moved around Examon’s large form, spinning his spear rapidly. “End Waltz!” he shouted, slashing the blade diagonally. A shockwave ripped through the air and collided with Darkdramon, blasting him backwards with such intensity that he was forced to retreat to the shadows.

The Royal Knight eyed the darkness for a few moments before turning back to Examon, inspecting him. There was a large but relatively shallow gash at the back of Examon’s leg. Blood trickled down, mixing with the red of Examon’s scales.

Examon’s leg started to give way, but Craniamon hurried over and caught him, slinging Examon’s winged arm over his shoulders to help him stand. “It’s not safe for us here,” Craniamon told him calmly, supporting him and holding him up. “We need to get somewhere where we have an advantage.”

He started to walk quickly, helping Examon along at the same pace as him. “You can keep up?” he asked Examon, not looking at him.

Although wincing, Examon nodded and kept pace with him, dragging the Ambrosius in his free hand. He would have felt better if Craniamon didn’t have to keep his spear against him as they walked, but he knew it couldn’t be helped.

They walked for several minutes in silence. Examon did his best to ignore the sharp pain that came withe every second step. Hearing Examon’s pained breaths, Craniamon glanced over at him. “I don’t have any way to bandage the wound,” he explained. “You should go back to the town for medical treatment.”

Examon shook his head slowly. “I’m fine... It’s not that bad,” he responded.

Craniamon looked ahead of them, making sure that he was alert in case they were ambushed again. “Suit yourself...” he answered.

The dragon knight looked around at the surroundings as well, though he couldn’t help but look over at Craniamon for a moment. “...I thought you said that you wouldn’t carry my dead weight,” he spoke, a bit of levity in his growly voice.

Craniamon looked away from Examon sheepishly. “...Rule three of the Royal Knights’ Code. A Royal Knight never leaves another Royal Knight in his time of need,” he explained, though still not making eye contact with Examon.

“I see...” Examon replied.

“There’s light ahead,” Craniamon said, thankful for the change of subject. Ahead of them they could see light emanating from behind several trees, like a torch in the night. A few rays of light managed to find their way through a small opening in the forest’s thick canopy.

Craniamon headed in that direction, ushering Examon with him. He manoeuvred them around trees and over thick roots and underbrush. As they grew nearer, Craniamon saw that it was a small clearing offering them much needed space and light. Countless leaves and coniferous needles cluttered the ground. The breach in the trees was only three times the length of Examon’s wingspan from tip-to-tip, but it offered a welcome break to the claustrophobic clutter of the countless trees in the forest. Since Darkdramon used the forest to his advantage so well, it offered a pleasant alternative to the two Royal Knights.

“Good,” Craniamon spoke, walking them into the clearing and squinting at the light that shone down from overhead. “Just as I suspected. We can get our bearings here. This is the best defensive area for us.”

Examon nodded in agreement. “We have room to manoeuvre finally.”

Craniamon dropped his Claiohm Solais and Avalon to the ground near the edge of the clearing. “You’re still bleeding. Let’s see if I can at least staunch that,” Craniamon told him.

The dragon gently lowered the Ambrosius to the ground before dropping it and nodding. Craniamon walked Examon over to the center of the clearing, where there was more light. They got to the middle and stepped on a particularly dense assortment of leaves and needles covering the ground. Suddenly, there was a loud crashing sound from nearby.

The two Royal Knights immediately looked in that direction and were about to run back and grab their weapons, thinking that it was Darkdramon. But before they could even make a move, they felt something come up beneath them and their feet fly out from under them. A net of thick vines attached to a falling boulder surrounded them and pulled them off the ground. They Royal Knights gave a yell of surprise as the net hoisted them towards the trees.

Craniamon came crashing down on top of Examon who fell with his back against the bottom of the net. His large wings and tail bent with the folding vines and sent the two into a mess of struggling limbs. Examon growled in pain, both from the agonizing twisting of his wounded leg due to the sudden movement and from the pressure of the heavy Craniamon on top of him.

“What in Yggdrasil’s name is this?!” Craniamon demanded angrily, pushing against Examon to try and get upright in the net, but finding it exceedingly difficult due to gravity and the fact that Examon’s limbs were splayed everywhere.

“A trap,” Examon responded with a grimace.

“I know that, fool!” Craniamon shot back furiously. The violet knight struggled and tried to pull himself out, attempting to pull the top of the net open, but found that he couldn’t.

Examon gave a pained snarl as Craniamon put his full weight on his body while trying to free them. “Move off of me,” Examon told him, pushing against the knight.

“I can’t,” Craniamon answered, trying his best to move in a way that he wasn’t on Examon. He ended up leaning against the inside of one of Examon’s wings while trying to put distance between himself and the dragon.

Examon turned his head and looked through one of the gaps in the net, seeing their weapons lying over by the grass where they left them. “Our weapons...” he murmured.

Craniamon followed his gaze and stared hopelessly out at the Claiohm Solais, the only thing he had that could cut through the vines. “D...Damn it...” he hissed, seething.

Wincing, the dragon knight looked up at the Royal Knight on top of him. “This must be Darkdramon’s doing...” he told him.

“But that can’t be!” Craniamon protested, squeezing one of the vines. “That wasn’t a natural digivolution!”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s mindless and out of control. He digivolved using that source of dark data but he’s retained at least some sentience. He’s smart enough to use guerilla tactics on us,” Examon answered, starting to notice that the normally calm and collected Craniamon was anything but that.

Craniamon sneered and looked away from Examon. Even though the dragon knight was in the same situation as him, he wished that Examon couldn’t see him. “No... No, no, NO!” he shouted. Craniamon slammed his arms against the sides of the net in frustration. “Damn it!”

“Craniamon?” Examon asked, looking at him with a confused frown.

“This can’t be! How did we end up like this?!” he growled, his eyes filled with loathing and frustration. “We’re supposed to be the Royal Knights! Not some two-bit, rookie adventurers!”

Examon raised an eyebrow. “Because we fell into this trap? It was well hidden. I’m not happy either, but everybody makes mistakes. Just relax and think about this and we’ll be able to free ourselves in no time.”

“We’re above this,” Craniamon growled, turning and staring at Examon with a hard gaze. “You don’t understand.”

Examon returned the look with a calm, silent one. “...You’re right. I don’t understand,” he replied. “I don’t understand why you made such a big deal this morning when I beat you in that sparring match, and I don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal now. If it’s perfection... well, perfection is impossible, Craniamon. Nobody is perfect.”

Craniamon was silent. All he did was observe the dragon below him quietly, leaving the only audible sound that of the stretched vines creaking in the wind. Finally, he spoke.

“Why did you join the Royal Knights, Examon?” Craniamon asked, looking at him earnestly.

The dragon digimon blinked in surprise, the seemingly obscure question taking him off guard. “I... joined because...” He stalled for a moment, reflecting on his answer. “I joined because I wanted to be able to to protect the Digital World and all of the good digimon in it.”

After a few moments, Examon looked at him meaningfully. “When I was a Coredramon, I lived alone in the Dragon Mountains. Ever since then, I trained myself in body, mind, and skill. By the time I was a Slayerdramon, I rejoined society and lived in the capital of the United Dramonic Coalition. I decided to use my abilities to protect the area from attackers,” the draconic Royal Knight elaborated. “When I received the invitation from Alphamon, I decided that I wanted to use my abilities to do the same for the whole world.”

“I see...” Craniamon spoke, looking at him thoughtfully. “I joined the Royal Knights because... the Royal Knights were the finest digimon around. I wanted to be one of the finest.”

“One of the finest?” Examon asked.

“The Royal Knights are composed of some of the strongest digimon in the world. They’re the most powerful, the most magnanimous, and the most respected. I wanted to be just like them... no, I wanted to be one of them,” Craniamon explained. “I jumped at the chance when given the invitation.”

“You joned around the same time Ulforce did, correct?” the other knight questioned, his hand fiddling with something behind him as he did.

Craniamon nodded.

“So you joined because you wanted to be the best... Isn’t that a little egotistical when the order has a higher purpose?” Examon asked him.

“Just because I have personal goals, that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the core principles of the Royal Knights,” Craniamon retorted. “I care about helping other digimon. That’s part of the reason why I respect them so much.”

“And why are you mentioning all this now?”

Craniamon frowned and looked away. “It’s... complex, dragon,” he muttered. “In my eyes, the Royal Knights are the finest digimon around. Now that I’m one of them, I expect... a lot of myself. To do anything less than my best would be a disservice to the others.”

“I see...” Examon frowned. He could understand Craniamon’s thoughts. He wanted to give nothing but his best to the Royal Knights as well. “And is that why you’re against me being one of the Royal Knights?”

The more senior Royal Knight sighed. “I admit being uneasy about you joining because of your species... I was the same way with Sleipmon, but he’s since proved himself to me.”

“I haven’t proved myself yet?” Examon asked, raising an eyebrow.

Craniamon looked away silently, not giving him an answer. “...At any rate... it wasn’t you I was angry at this morning when I lost. It was nothing personal.”

“Then who were you angry at?” he asked.

The violet Royal Knight grunted. “You’re a smart guy. You can figure it out,” Craniamon replied dismissively, not wanting to continue the issue any longer.

Suddenly, the net burst and Examon and Craniamon fell through the bottom. Examon landed on his back and Craniamon landed on top of Examon, making the dragon groan with pain again.

Craniamon quickly pulled himself to his feet and looked up. “What in the...?” he asked in confusion.

Examon grinned softly and held up his hand, sticking one of his long, jagged claws up for Craniamon to see. “Perhaps you’re glad I’m a dragon digimon now...” he told him with some lightness.

Craniamon looked at him and swiftly realized that Examon must have been cutting the vines with his claws while they were talking. Slowly, a warm smirk grew on Craniamon’s face, behind his helmet. “Perhaps...” he replied. He outstretched his hand to Examon.

Examon reached up and grasped his hand. Craniamon then pulled him up with a strong heave. “Let’s not mention this incident when we return home from the mission. Ulforce would have a field day,” Craniamon said, glancing away sheepishly.

“Agreed...”

“Dark Roar!” a familiar voice shouted from the darkness of the surrounding forest. Examon turned abruptly and saw a crackling orb of power shooting towards them. He raised his chrome digizoid-plated wing and blocked the blast of dark matter before it could hit either Craniamon or himself. The attack pounded against his wing, but the armour held up and it was repelled.

Craniamon lunged over to their weapons, which lay in the grass. He landed on a knee and picked up the Ambrosius. “Examon!” Examon turned towards Craniamon’s voice just as the knight picked up and tossed the lance to him. Examon caught it in his claws and looked at the Royal Knight. “Let’s take this guy down,” Craniamon told him.

Examon grinned and nodded. “We have to think on our feet in times like this, right?” he asked him, turning towards the direction the attack came from. He could see only darkness in the forest surrounding the clearing. This would be an obstacle they would have to overcome “Avalon’s Gate!”

A shell ripped from the muzzle of the Ambrosius, towards the forest. The shell soon burst apart and released a multitude of ball bearings that ripped into the forest, shredding the bark on trees and suppressing Darkdramon.

“End Waltz!” Craniamon shouted, spinning his spear rapidly in front of him. A cyclone of sonic power and electricity coursed from the weapon and surged into the forest, lighting up the shadows and tearing down the obstructive trees with its power.

Darkdramon flew out into the open clearing in order to avoid the attack, not even stopping for a breath before commencing his attack. The dark dragon swooped down, his glowing, incorporeal wings stretching wide. Both he and Examon raised their lances, ready to clash with one another.

Craniamon jumped over and landed beside Examon. He wasted no time in raising the Avalon shield in front of them. “God Breath!”

Examon watched with mild surprise as the clear, spherical force field engulfed the both of them, just in time for Darkdramon to stab the Gigastick Lance.

The piked tip of Darkdramon’s lance slammed against the barrier, causing a tiny ripple in it, before Darkdramon was forced back powerfully and sent staggering in reverse.

Seeing a chance for himself, Examon dashed forwards and plunged his spear at his foe. The two tips of the Ambrosius pounded against Darkdramon’s armour, tearing against the blue chest plate and making a terrible screeching noise.

Darkdramon stumbled back further, but took a wild swing with his arm, like a right hook punch but using his lance. The Gigastick swiped towards Examon’s head, but Examon’s left wing went into action on instinct and blocked the blow for him.

As that happened, Examon leveled his lance at Darkdramon’s body. “Pendragon’s Glory!” The tip of the Ambrosius flashed and fired a smaller-than-usual beam into Darkdramon’s chest, blowing him off of his feet.

Although in obvious pain, Darkdramon’s wings burned brightly and he was able to right himself in the air. The digimon performed a backwards aerial loop and used the momentum to charge at them. “Dark Roar!” he shouted, firing an ebony blast right in front of the Royal Knights. The power exploded into the ground, kicking up dirt and leaves all around them, blocking their vision.

“Craniamon!” Examon called out, seeing Darkdramon’s lance stab towards them. Examon dodged to the left and blindly returned the thrust. On the other side of the thick veil of debris, Darkdramon avoided the stab and plunged his lance towards Craniamon.

Craniamon blocked the thrust with his shield and slashed the Claiohm Solais, meeting Darkdramon’s own slash after the savage dragon retracted his weapon.

“Dark Roar!” The Gigastick Lance unleashed another thick blast. It slammed into the two knights as they braced themselves, sending them skidding backwards along the dirt.

“Stubborn bastard,” Craniamon muttered. “Let’s end this, Examon; I have a plan.”

“What is it?” Examon asked, moving closer to Craniamon so that he can hear it.

“Just make sure that you have the right shell loaded in that lance of yours,” the knight replied, moving away from him.

Examon raised an eyebrow and watched as Craniamon stored the Avalon in his armour in a flash of black data. He then started spinning the Claiohm Solais over his head with both of his hands. With both hands at work, the double-ended spear revolved faster, building up more electricity at a quicker rate. It was then that Examon understood what Craniamon wanted.

The red dragon turned towards Darkdramon, who started charging at them. “Avalon’s Gate!” Examon fired a shell from his lance, more to expel unwanted ammo than anything. Darkdramon used his lance to swat away the incoming shell, causing it to explode in a ball of flame. Undeterred, Darkdramon dodged around it and continued dashing at them.

Examon raised the Ambrosius and took finer aim with it. He knew this was the shell they needed. He always knew the order of the ammunition that was stored in the Ambrosius’ magazine. He looked over at Craniamon, who looked back at him.

“Now!” Craniamon called to him. “End Waltz!”

Craniamon lowered the angle of his spinning spear and started unleashing electricity from the blades. The electricity surged and surrounded Darkdramon, slamming into him and stopping him dead in his tracks. The dark dragon let out a roar as the electricity coursed through his muscles and circuits, holding him in place.

“Avalon’s Gate!” Examon chimed in, firing the shell from his weapon. The ammunition sailed through the air before slamming into Darkdramon’s chest, releasing a powerful electrical current.

Darkdramon roared in pain as the dual electrical attacks surged into him. He fired a last ditch Dark Roar attack into the ground in front of him, creating a small and ineffectual explosion. It wasn’t until after the dirt and leaves that were kicked up from the blast settled could Darkdramon be seen lying on his back, unconscious.

Craniamon grabbed his spear tightly, immediately stopping it from spinning. He and Examon walked over to the downed Darkdramon to inspect him. The data of Darkdramon’s outer armour and scales began to blur. They broke apart into dispersed data and his whole body glowed. Darkdramon reverted back to his unconscious Tankdramon form.

Examon sighed with relief. “Finally.”

“Agreed,” Craniamon spoke, observing the large, unconscious tank-bound dragon in front of them.

“Now how do we get him back to town like this?”

-

Over an hour later, Examon and Craniamon had returned to the village with Tankdramon in tow. After much inspection, Examon had figured out how to switch Tankdramon’s gears to neutral so that Craniamon could pull him more easily. As Craniamon did that, Examon flew out of the clearing and gave Craniamon directions back to the village from overhead.

It took about another thirty minutes for Tankdramon to be treated by the village healer and be woken up. Finally, he was awake, albeit very confused. The two Royal Knights, along with the Wizardmon and many other villagers stood around him.

“What...?” the Tankdramon asked groggily, rubbing his face with his claws. “I did what?!”

“You had an unnatural evolution that consumed you with darkness,” Examon explained.

“And likely reformatted the digimon who entered the forest after you,” Craniamon added, staring at him coldly.

The Tankdramon’s eyes widened with horror and he quickly put his claws out in front of himself disarmingly. “Wh-What?! But the last thing I remember was getting grabbed by this dark stuff that came out of the ground! I didn’t mean to do anything! I was just trying to do the job that he gave me!” he insisted desperately, pointing at the Wizardmon. The Wizardmon gulped and backed up.

After a few moments of staring at Tankdramon, Craniamon nodded. “We know. It was beyond your control, so you won’t be held accountable.”

Tankdramon sighed with relief. He scratched the bridge of his snout with the claws. “Egh. I can’t believe this. I knew the bits I’d get paid would be more trouble than they’re worth...” Tankdramon grumbled. He then turned to Wizardmon. “I still get paid, right?”

“...Sure,” the Wizardmon replied, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. He felt sort of bad for the Tankdramon, even though it was the Royal Knights, not him, who told him all about the fissure in the ground. Plus, he was a little scared of him.

Examon idly prodded the bandage on his leg wound as he waited. He turned to Craniamon. “Is there anything else before we head back?” he asked.

Craniamon nodded and turned to the townspeople. “Nobody is permitted inside the forest for safety purposes,” he told them. “We’re going to report back to the others and then launch an official investigation into our discovery. Is that understood?”

There were nods all around.

“Then we’ll keep in touch.” Craniamon said. He turned to Examon and nodded. “Let’s head back.”

Examon nodded and the two knights started walking away from the village. Without another glance back, they passed under the arch at the edge of the edge of the town and headed onto the dirt path. They walked back in the direction of their headquarters, this time with much less tension between them than when they came.

-

It was night by the time the two Royal Knights arrived back at the castle. Dukemon summoned them, as well as the other Royal Knights, MetallifeKuwagamon, and Grani, to the council room, which resided at the end of the great hall.

The nine knights sat around the white, round table in the pristine council room, the area illuminated by torches. Although Dukemon was currently acting in Alphamon’s place, he didn’t dare presume to sit in Alphamon’s seat – the Siege Perilous. Grani floated behind Dukemon, and MetallifeKuwagamon stood nearby.

Examon sat in his seat at the Royal Knights’ official council table. It still took some getting used to sitting there. It was still a surreal feeling to him; he wondered how long it would take until it felt natural. Craniamon sat next to him, as they would be at the center of the discussion.

Dukemon looked over at the two of them. “So, Craniamon, Examon. What did you two find?” he asked.

“MetallifeKuwagamon was right about there being a small area of abnormal data in Dusk Forest,” Examon replied.

Craniamon nodded curtly. “It was releasing traces of dark data,” he added. “A Wizardmon in the village north of the forest said that digimon were feeling strange sensations as they passed through the forest. We can confirm that it was because they were in the proximity of the fissure.”

“It was also the dark data that caused a Tankdramon to unnaturally digivolve into Darkdramon, so your predictions were mostly right,” Examon said, looking at Dukemon.

“’Mostly’?” Dukemon asked.

“We discovered that, while he did digivolve unnaturally, he didn’t turn into a mindless, out of control digimon from the instability of his new form. He was very aggressive and attacked good digimon, but he was intelligent and cunning,” Examon said. “We wondered if that had something to do with the way he evolved.”

“I see...” Dukemon said, contemplative. “We’ll have to look into that forest. And the Darkdramon?”

“We took him down,” Craniamon replied firmly.

“The both of you did?” Dukemon asked, a small grin forming on his face.

“Well, I did most of the work,” Craniamon spoke, glancing over at Examon.

Examon gave a small smirk.

Dukemon smiled and stood up. “Okay, well, that should do it for tonight. Go see Duskmon and type up your mission reports when you can. Then get some rest. Sound good?”

The two knights nodded and stood up from their seats. The other knights followed suit.

Dynasmon, Duftmon, and Magnamon approached Dukemon. “Have you heard from Alphamon and the others?” Duftmon asked him.

“I haven’t,” Dukemon replied. “But it’s only been a few days and they’ve gone to one of the farther provinces in the Free Area. You don’t need to worry.”

“That’s good,” Magnamon said.

Dynasmon nodded and looked over his shoulder at Examon and Craniamon as they walked out into the great hall together. “So, those two didn’t kill each other, it seems like.”

“I wonder what happened,” Magnamon mused, looking over as well.

Dukemon grinned, satisfied that his hope was realized. “I don’t know... but you can’t argue with results.”
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