The banquet hall had a high ceiling like the foyer with golden banners draping from the walls constructed of hefty stone bricks. A mural of two Digimon in a ferocious struggle, an angel and a demon, looked over the rest of the room. Five long tables took up a majority of the space, although it was far from crowded. The tables were covered with burgundy tablecloths and lined with silver candlesticks. Some Digimon already took their seats on the benches alongside the tables in wait for their meal. There were spots left for several dozen more.
Lloyd found a place to sit in a quiet corner of the room. His Digimon took a place at his side. Their mouths salivated at the odors emanating from the covered trays that were placed before them. More and more of the residents filled the room. Soon enough, it became loud with the chatter of the burly leonine guards. Although Garret was nowhere to be seen yet, which somehow came as no surprise, Angewomon entered the hall and stood before everyone to address them. The hybrid humanoid bird-cat, Silphymon, was beside her.
"Attention, everyone," the angelic queen said in a sweet melodic voice. "I just want to congratulate you all on your efforts. Without your hard work, our precious home would not exist. The Digimon here are able to sleep at night knowing that they are watched over by you. It is unfortunate that we may never see lasting peace. We must always remain vigilant against the forces of the Demon Lords and the bandits that covet what we protect within our walls. My hope is that one day, you may lay down your blades for good. Until then, relax when you are able. Know that you are dear to all who live here. Please, enjoy this banquet in your honor."
The guards all cheered at the conclusion of the short speech. The rulers of Divine Castle joined their subjects at one of the long tables, without any special seating or arrangement for themselves. Everyone started to dig into the copious feast. The cuisine was simple, but appetizing. It was typical American fare, so it was more than palatable for the human visitor. Roasted poultry and beef, freshly baked bread, steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, stews, pies, wines, and ales were among what was offered.
Lloyd was halfway through his first plate when he felt a hard slap between his shoulders. After the brief scare of almost choking, he looked behind him to see his new ally snickering. The boy and his Digimon squeezed on the bench next to them. They wasted no time reaching across the table to cover their plates.
"The food here is great, isn't it?" Garret said.
"Yeah, I haven't had a meal like this since I lived at home," Lloyd replied. It brought to mind something he wanted to ask. He approached the subject in a casual manner and tried not to be too direct. "You look pretty young, are you in school still? Do you live at home with your parents?"
"I turned sixteen this past summer. I'm a sophomore. Why?" the boy sputtered with a mouthful of food.
"Just curious. Thought I'd learn more about the guy I'm going to be traveling with. Where are you from?"
"Rhode Island. It's a pretty small town, I guess. How about you?"
"I'm from Boston. I'm sure Rhode Island is nice, though. City life can be hectic and noisy."
"Really? That's cool! I've been there a couple times. What do you do there? Are you in college?"
"Not anymore. I work for a newspaper. Nothing exciting, really. Just editing. What do you want to do when you graduate? Have a major in mind?"
"I dunno. I haven't thought about it that much," the boy confessed. "I'm not sure if I'll end up getting a degree or what. I'm not that into school honestly."
"What are you into, then?"
"Gaming! I'm really good at it. I have just about every console going back since I was like five," Garret boasted.
"I don't know if I'll ever play professionally or anything, but that's what I'd like to do."
"Ah, okay. You game competitively. Do you have a lot of friends that you play with?"
The boy raised an eyebrow at the question. "Uh, I guess. I have a bunch of gaming buddies that I play with regularly. What, are you looking for a group or something?"
Lloyd shook his head. "No, nothing like that. I'm not much of a gamer anymore. I was just curious about something that girl said. It's not a big deal."
I guess there was no subtle way to approach the question. Perhaps she was doesn't know as much as she thinks she does, though. Then again, would he admit it to me?
"That girl? The one you met last night? What did she say?"
The room fell silent as the ominous roar of the alarm horn sounded continuously for a few seconds, and then repeated twice. The others in the room all looked grim. Forks and knives clanked as they were dropped on plates. Everyone got up to hurry out the door.
"Oh shit, something's coming," Garret declared. "We'd better go with them and help out. It could be serious."
The users followed the crowd that headed out towards the gate. Ward, his mouth stuffed with the roll he snagged before his departure, ducked between the mass of Digimon ready for battle. Garret was faster on initiative and scanned the savanna with his DAIS.
The gate barred any vision beyond the walls, but those on top of the guard towers were all flustered. Their gazes were fixed to something that approached on the horizon. An Angemon hovered above and implored to the town, "Stay inside your homes! There is an unidentified Digimon headed towards us! Await further notice! Guards, ready yourselves at the gate!"
One of the Leomon grumbled, "Another attack already... It never ends," as he unsheathed his sword.
"Lloyd, you really need to look at this. This is insane. These stats are so high," Garret stammered.
His fellow tamer became concerned by the apprehension in his tone. Lloyd pulled up the scan with his own DAIS. The Digimon called Duftmon had some familiar traits. He was a Data Digimon from the Nature Spirit family, just like Renamon. However, its stage of evolution was beyond even the Perfect stage that they sought after. Duftmon was designated as an "Ultimate." While the parameters of their own Digimon reached the hundreds, Duftmon's were in the thousands. The quantifiable rift in their power displayed just how untouchable he was.
"Duftmon. He's an Ultimate. None of the Digimon here can hope to compare to that. This could be a problem."
"Did you say Duftmon?" Angewomon said from behind. She peered at their devices to confirm what she overheard. Before the users could respond, she took flight to get a better look. The figure of a feline became more clear as Duftmon sprinted full speed towards them. Relieved, she turned back to her subjects. "Open the gate!"
The doors to the castle creaked open. The sepia armored leopard bound across the plains as fast as a high performance vehicle. Each landing kicked up dirt as he launched into the next leap. It was a spectacle that evoked fear in those tasked with defense.
"Lay down your arms, my friends," Angewomon continued. "There is no need to fret. That Digimon you see is Duftmon, a Royal Knight. It is not our destruction that he has come for. False alarm, everyone! It is safe to go about your business."
As Duftmon walked inside of the walls, he was met by the growing masses of Digimon. There was a mix of confusion and reverence among them. They knew of the Royal Knights and their role in Digital Arcadia, but so few had ever laid eyes on one. Their appearance was often a harbinger of great upheaval. They allowed a generous amount of space for Duftmon while Angewomon came to greet him.
Duftmon's Gothic armor was angular and had spikes protruding from the shoulders and neck. It appeared as though his body was all metal save for the flowing mane of blonde hair and the angelic wings that sprouted from his flank. His cable of a tail ended in a glowing golden sphere. His stern eyes shifted around the crowd.
"Duftmon, I am Angewomon. It is our honor to welcome you to Divine Castle. Please, how may I serve you?"
"I apologize for the abrupt intrusion. My intention was not to cause trepidation. However, I come here on an urgent mission. It's my understanding that there are users among you this evening. If you happen to know where I may find them, I can be on my way," Duftmon explained.
I never would have expected this opportunity to fall into our lap so soon. I was sure we would have to search tirelessly to find the Royal Knights and yet one came looking for us instead. Has he come to interrogate us about Chartreuse?
"Hey, over here!" Garret called.
The horde parted to make way for the Royal Knight to step up to the humans. "You... You're both human. So you were the ones who came from Digizoid Quarry, are you not?"
"Yeah, that's right. Is this about Chartreuse?"
Duftmon nodded. "Indeed. There are some questions I have to ask you all in private. Please accompany me outside. This shouldn't take long." He motioned towards the gate by swaying his head and began to head out. The tamers and their Digimon followed without protest. After all, the result could be mutually beneficial.
They walked just far enough away from the castle to be alone, although the guards on watch nosed at them from their vantage point. The sensitive subject matter was only half of the issue. Duftmon was bound to his chivalrous oath above anything. The Royal Knights were loners by nature to ensure the adherence to their duty. Duftmon was one of them that found the proximity of so many Digimon to be a discomfort. He stared off into the distance while he spoke.
"I'm sure you know why I am here. Drimogemon informed me of what occurred. Can you tell me any details about the incident that would help with tracking the offender? Anything at all?"
"They teleported away after they defeated us. We don't know anything about where they were headed. All we know is that they have the same power as us, the DAIS, and they used it to get past the barrier protecting that chip," Lloyd testified. "But we don't know why his DAIS is different than ours, or why a Digimon has one. I was hoping you might be able to tell us."
"My order has been made aware of the existence of users. That is, you two and the six others that are visitors in our world. You were the chosen by the gods and gifted with the DAIS so you could live here. We know that the users are no threat to Digital Arcadia. The gods would not have brought you here if you were. The one called Chartreuse defied their will by stealing that power unlawfully. And now, all of Digital Arcadia faces great peril."
"Gods? There are gods here?" Garret inquired.
"There are. The voice that guides the Royal Knights comes from them. They are not like Digimon. They do not possess physical form or personality in the way we do. Rather, they are higher, subtle forces in the world that permeate the world. Everything is according to their will. However, if Chartreuse succeeds, they will no longer be in control."
"What do you mean? What was that thing he went to such lengths to get?" Lloyd asked.
There was a moment of hesitation before the leopard divulged the otherwise confidential information. "I suppose I can tell you. Understand that I say this only because I trust you will use this knowledge for the benefit of us all. What we buried deep in the caves so long ago was one of the Admin Keys. We originally kept them all inside of the Tower of Arcadia before we decided it would be safer to disperse the four Keys across the land. With all them combined, a user transcends to the power a god. Their intention becomes reality. Even we will be powerless against them."
"I get it now. Chartreuse has the limited power of a user, but he wants the absolute control of an administrator," Lloyd pointed out. "But to what end?"
"It sounds like spreading them out wasn't the best choice. Where are they? Why don't you just go get them before he does?" Garret chided.
"I must not disclose such things!" Duftmon grunted. "We can not risk the location of the remaining keys to be leaked under any circumstance. I have probably disclosed too much already. The only advantage we have on our side is that Chartreuse has to spend time looking. If you value your own lives, do everything you can to stop him before it's too late."
"Then what are we supposed to do? Just wander around hoping we find them?" the annoyed teen retorted.
"We hid each in a separate quadrant of Digital Arcadia. The remaining two are in the north and east. That is all I can say. If you encounter him, or find out any information at all, I urge you to contact us immediately. I will permit you both access to our secure channel. You will find it on your DAIS. I am the tactician of the Royal Knights, so all coordination goes through me. Until such a time where we can corner our foe, I do not have the luxury of being idle. I must resume the hunt."
"We'll let you know if we find anything, Duftmon. Thank you," Lloyd said.
The knight nodded and took a few steps away. He looked back at them and said, "It is said that you users are our hope. I refuse to slack in my responsibility on such a claim, but I wish you luck nonetheless. Goodbye."
Duftmon sped out of sight as expedient as he arrived. The users stood there silent and motionless. Their journey had been given a clear direction and purpose, and with it a sense of austerity and urgency. What was a matter of curiosity was now a concern of their well being.
Something tells me that the DAIS is necessary to combat the DAIS, and that it will ultimately fall on us to confront him. We have to handle this, one way or another. Still, I don't see this as black and white. The motive is still a huge blank. I want to talk to him again. I don't know why, but I get a nagging feeling that it isn't what it seems. Once we get stronger, we'll make him answer to us.