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“So, what kind of crimes have these people committed?” I asked. Flamedramon shook his head.
“…It is not for me to say what this crime is,” he said reluctantly.
“Don’t know it, do you,” Statuedramon said.
“Yes, I know it! I just don’t feel as though I have the right to tell you what that crime is…when someone else can do a much better job of explaining,” Flamedramon said. “All I will say is this; those who have this mark, even if they have not committed the crime, are still affected by the crime. The goddess sees these people as little more than refuse for having committed this crime and, as such, she has denied such people the right to exist. Those who follow her teachings to the letter…they act accordingly, and cruelly mistreat and occasionally murder these unfortunate people.”
“Damn it, Flamedramon, what did they do?!” Statuedramon asked. “Flamedramon? Hey, where did he go?!” I, however, ignored the Rookie as he looked around in vain for the missing Digimon.
“This symbol…what could it mean?” I asked.
“Well, if Flamedramon hadn’t run away, I could’ve forced an answer out of him!” Statch grunted.
“I don’t think that would have been a very good idea,” I said.
“Well, yeah, but I…Thomas, someone’s coming!”
“Where?” Soon, the sound of approaching footsteps filled the air, as did the sound of someone calling out our names.
“That voice…Zelda!” The two of us looked around eagerly for our friend, and within a matter of seconds, she emerged from behind a collapsed house. Noticing us, she immediately began running over to us.
“Zelda, are you okay?!” I asked as she threw herself into my arms. “Clive didn’t do anything to you, did he?! You’re not hurt, are you?!”
“No…no, he didn’t do anything to me,” Zelda said. “I was just…so frightened while I was with him. I couldn’t sleep at all last night…”
“I’m glad you’re alright,” Statuedramon said.
“Yes…and in the morning, the four of us can go back to Saias’s villa,” Zelda said.
“The four of us?” I asked.
“Yeah; you’re not going to believe it, but I finally find my sister, Hannah!” Zelda jumped up and down excitedly.
“You did?! That’s incredible; where is she?” I asked.
“She’s right over…” Zelda’s smile faded when she saw a woman, the same woman Statch and I encountered last night, standing behind her and glaring. “Hannah, what’s wrong?”
That woman…she’s Hannah?!
“You’re friends with these two?” Hannah asked.
“Yes; they’re my best friends,” Zelda said. “Is that…going to be a problem?”
“Have you forgotten the way Humans and Digimon have treated you in the past?” Hannah asked. “Or do you just not care?”
“No. I haven’t forgotten, but Thomas and Statuedramon would never do what the people of Adonis did!”
“…Perhaps not, but I…” Hannah turned away. “I’m sorry. I just can’t bring myself to trust these two. Come see me when you’re ready to leave.”
“Hannah, wait!” Zelda called after her sister. Hannah, however, did not turn back as she walked away.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Maybe it would be best if Statch and I left.”
“No, you don’t have to,” Zelda said. “I’m glad you’re here; it’s felt like it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the two of you…” Zelda began turning around to face us when she suddenly stopped. “…That…what is…that…?” She was looking pale-faced and wide-eyed at the wall Flamedramon had taken me to.
“Oh, that? Flamedramon led us here earlier,” Statuedramon said.
“That symbol…did he…did he tell you anything about it?”
“Yeah, he told us a few…interesting things about it,” I said.
“…No…no…Thomas…I…I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…” Zelda had begun slowly backing away from the two of us just as tears began falling down her face.
“Zelda, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m so…sorry…please, don’t…hit me…don’t…hurt…” In a panic, she raised her arms to cover her face.
“Zelda, I would never hurt you!” I said, completely shocked by what she had just said and confused by what was going on.
“You don’t need to be afraid of us,” Statuedramon said. “We’re not going to hurt you…and we won’t let anyone else do it, either.”
“Whatever’s wrong, you can tell us,” I said. “Please; we want you to feel better.” She continued breathing heavily for a few seconds, but soon, the look of fright disappeared from her face, though she still looked quite wary, and was still crying.
“Thomas...Statuedramon…I'm so sorry. I know I should have told you this earlier, but...I was afraid. I didn’t want you…you to hate me...because of this secret…” Zelda sobbed, more and more tears running down her face as they glistened in the light of the newly risen moon. “You and Statuedramon were the first friends I had ever made that weren’t Spirits; I just didn't want to lose that friendship!”
“Zelda, you know I could never hate you, no matter what your secret is,” I said, trying not to look at her. For some reason, her tears made me feel...uneasy. It made my heart feel weird to see her so sad... Damn it…It makes my chest hurt to see her so sad…
“The same goes for me, Zelda,” Statuedramon said, reaching up to grab hold of her hand. “You’re a very important person to the both of us; no matter what, neither of us could ever hate you.”
“Please, tell us your secret, Zelda; I promise, neither of us will get mad at you, nor will we hate you or anything like that,” I said. “If you're just not ready to say it yet, I understand, but just know this; if you ever need someone to confide in, I’ll always be there for you. If it ever gets to be too much for you, and you need a shoulder to cry on, I shall provide.” Tears were pouring faster and faster down her face at my every word, and though I continued to feel this strange sadness in my heart, I could tell she was happy. After a few moments, she slowly lifted up her right arm, revealing the slight but noticeable gashes on her forearm.
“Who did this to you?” I asked, gently grabbing hold of her wrist.
“Oh...it was Flamedramon,” Zelda said. Anger flashed across my face, so she quickly added, “Oh, he didn't mean to do it; he was just kind of in a hurry…”
“That's no excuse for hurting you!” Statuedramon shouted. Zelda forced herself to smile through the tears, and slowly, she reached over with her left hand and pulled off the glove on her right hand, which she held up to show me. On the back of it was an odd symbol — the same one that was on the wall Flamedramon led Statch and me to.
“Thomas...Statuedramon...I'm one of the Marked.” Both Statuedramon and I gave her a blank look.
“What's that?” Statch asked.
“There is both Human and Digimon blood flowing through my veins; this mark is proof of that.”
So…that’s what the symbol Flamedramon showed us meant…Zelda had stopped crying — much to my relief — and, though she still looked quite upset, she didn't have the same look of fear in her eyes that she did when she first started crying. Was Flamedramon…trying to tear us apart because of something like that?! The bastard…
“What do you mean...Digimon blood?” Statuedramon asked, slightly in awe and slightly in confusion. “I didn't even know that Humans and Digimon could...you know...”
“…You were upset we would hate you because of something like that?” I asked. “Flamedramon…told us that Goddess Arcadia sees you as refuse, that you aren’t supposed to exist…Is that because you have Digimon blood in you?”
“It’s not just that I have Digimon blood in my veins. Cyprus is a harsh and barren province, comprised of sand as far as the eye can see. Considering the terrain, it’s no surprise to anyone that it would give birth to such a stringent religion, or that its people would be so earnest and resolute. The village where me and my sister lived, Adonis, was among those strictly religious settlements, and followed the teachings of the Goddess Arcadia to the letter...one of those laws — the one that was the most stressed — is that Humans and Digimon are completely forbidden from…from intermingling.” Zelda paused, and cast a nervous glance at me. “My parents both broke this law, and because of it, my father abandoned me and my sister, Hannah, in that village. He was so afraid of being found out, that he left us behind; he treated us like trash and left us with a cruel and abusive mother, and never came back…because he was so ashamed of the Mark that he had been emblazoned with. The people in the village...they were even worse. Since, by the standards of Goddess Arcadia, those who carry the mark aren’t supposed to exist, they were unbelievably cruel. Some ignored us, but most yelled at us, insulted us, spit at us, threw things; they’d even attack us...” Zelda moved aside the clump of golden hair that had long been covering her right eye, and underneath it, a thin, but rather long scar. “This scar is the result of my own mother doing just that.” Zelda let down her hair once more, and then looked back down at the ground. “That...is what I am. I am a violation of the sacred goddess’s number one rule. This is why, everywhere we go, Digimon insult me and try to attack me, like Meramon did in Linnea. I...I'll understand if the two of you—” Before Zelda could finish her sentence, I walked over to her and hugged her, clearly surprising her.
“See? What did I tell you? There's nothing you could tell us that would make us hate you,” I whispered.
“The fact that you have Digimon blood running in your veins has nothing to do with how much we care about you,” Statch said, giving Zelda's hand a little squeeze. I released her and looked her straight in the eye.
“You’re our friend, Zelda; nothing will ever change that.” Zelda slumped down to her knees, tears once again welling up in her eyes.
“But...according to the goddess who created this world, I don't exist! I—I…”
“If that’s really what a so-called loving and benevolent goddess thinks, then I don't want anything to do with her,” I said as I also bent down onto my knees. “I care about you too much to just abandon you just because some faceless goddess claims you don't exist.” Unable to control herself anymore, Zelda burst into tears and threw herself into my arms, sobbing uncontrollably into my chest. As she continued to cry, I noticed the strange feeling in my chest welling up once more.
What is this strange feeling? I thought. Am I...could I possibly be...falling in love with her? As I looked down at her, I smiled slightly at the thought, and hugged her small, trembling body tighter and closer as she continued to cry.
“I’m sorry…I’m sorry I didn’t…trust…you,” Zelda said after a few minutes.
“Hey, don’t worry about it; you’ve obviously been through a lot because of that mark,” I said. “But just know this; the mark may have made you experience things a girl as kind and as gentle as you should never have to experience…but I will never let those things happen to you ever again.”
“Thomas…thank you…so much,” Zelda said. After a few moments, she eventually stopped crying, much to the relief of the odd feeling in my chest and dizzying knot in my stomach. “Thank you…for not hating me.”
“I could never hate you,” I said as I wiped away a lone tear that was resting on her cheek.
“The members of Lachesis…what about them? If they find out about what I am—”
“They could never hate you. Especially Chrysania; it seems she’s come to think of you as a big sister.”
“…Chrysania…I can’t wait to see her again,” Zelda said.
“I know what you mean; her cheery smile is quite contagious, isn’t it?” Statch asked. Zelda nodded. “I’ve got a question, though; do you remember a little while ago, when Saias brought us to his villa, and you ate more food than a Human of your size should have been able to?”
“Yeah, when we were in Linnea in Etemon’s castle, I remember seeing you eat as much as Statch,” I said. “How did you do that?”
“Oh, that…that was because of the Digimon blood in me,” she replied. “It seems that every Human Marked inherits a Digimon’s appetite, in addition to increased longevity of varying lifespans. Because of that…I just always feel like I’m hungry when I’m not eating. I’ve gotten used to it, and I’ve grown accustomed to the hunger pains from when I tried eating less so as not to arouse suspicion of what I really am, but even so, it still hurts a lot when I eat less than I normally do…”
“Zelda…” I gently placed my hand on top of her shoulder. “I wish you would’ve told me you were hurting so much…”
“I’m sorry…I just didn’t want anyone to find out about what I am…”
“Well, we can go back to Saias’s villa tomorrow morning, and when we do, I can make you the largest meal you’ve ever seen,” I said. “The next time you’re hurting…I want you to tell me, so I can help you feel better.”
“Thomas, you can cook?!” Statch asked. “Why did you never tell me?!”
“Because I knew you would bother me during a job until I gave you something to eat,” I said.
“You’re mean!” Statch pouted. “Even if you are probably right…Actually, make that most definitely correct…”
“Okay, okay; I’ll make something for you, too…”
“Thank you, Thomas. I really appreciate it,” Zelda said. “In the morning…can we start heading back to the villa in the morning?”
“Of course we can. Oh, but first, we’re going to need to find Lector,” I said. “I think he wanted to tell us something…”
“Ah, who cares about that knight?” Statch asked.
“Thomas…is it okay if I spend the night with my sister?” Zelda asked.
“Of course it is. You don’t need to ask for my permission for anything.”
“Thank you, Thomas. For everything.”