By the time we had reached Etemon’s castle, based on the position of the moon, it was midnight, give or take a few minutes to an hour.
It’s hard for me to tell this far south. It’s not like it is in the West or the East. And, of course, in the North, neither sun nor moon can be seen through the consistent blizzard. I’m sure people living here have no trouble keeping track of what time it is…
“Is this the castle?” Statuedramon asked.
“Yes, this is it,” Volcamon said. “This is where our master, Etemon, lives.” Two large doors were swung and held open by the tall Ultimate, allowing Giromon and Tankmon to lead Statuedramon, Zelda, and me through a large hallway. The doors slammed shut behind us, and I could hear Volcamon’s footsteps as he followed us. It was a cloudless night and the moon was full; had the doors remained open, the hallway would have remained sufficiently illuminated. There were, however, lit candelabra securely fastened to the walls, providing enough light for the six of us to see clearly enough.
“This is a straightforward path, and at the end of it, we’ll find the room where our master waits,” Giromon said. The hallway by itself was large and spacious; the ceiling seemed to be about 30 feet high, and the walls were about 15 feet apart. The floor was made of neatly-paved stone tiles and adorned with a long, red carpet for us to walk on. The end of the hall soon came into sight, with two more large doors coming into sight through the darkness. As we approached them, Volcamon walked past me to join his Digimon allies.
“Our master awaits your arrival beyond these doors,” Volcamon said as he and Tankmon, with extreme difficulty, shoved the giant doors open, allowing us to walk in. The room looked similar to the hallway but was round and not quite as tall. To our left was a large, circular table surrounded by many empty chairs. Stacked high all across the table were various kinds of meats, cheeses, and pastries, more than I had ever seen in my life at one time, which was definitely saying something, as I’ve been traveling with Statuedramon for over five years. At the opposite end of the room was an average-sized throne, where a Digimon sat observing us.
“Master Etemon!” Giromon shouted, looking across the room and waving at the Digimon. “We’ve brought guests with us!”
“Yes…I can see that, Giromon,” Etemon said. His voice sounded dull and uninterested. “Why did you bring them here? Just put them—”
“They’re bandit hunters, sir,” Volcamon interrupted — rather hastily, I noted. “They’ve promised to lend us their aid in getting rid of that Meramon, sir!”
“Huh? Oh! Oh, right, Meramon! Yeah…I was…I was just thinking about him,” Etemon said nervously. He stepped down off his throne and walked up to the three of us. “Pleasure to meet you, all of you! The name’s Etemon, and I’m the, uh, protector of this small village!” Etemon took and energetically shook my hand, as well as Statuedramon’s and Zelda’s. His voice sounded much more enthusiastic than it did before. “So…bandit hunters…right?”
“…Yes, sir,” I said. “Although, to be perfectly clear, the two of us,” I pointed at Statuedramon and myself, “are assassins. Our friend is…not a killer. She is not an assassin. We were sent here to eliminate a bandit leader.”
“…Meramon…right?” Etemon asked.
“Well, I don’t know yet. Could be. Or maybe…it’s you.” Etemon’s jaw clenched. “Heh. Or maybe it’s me. Unless you are the killer, one can never know for sure until you’re staring death straight in the eye. And by then…it’s too late.” Etemon was staring at me, completely dumbfounded with his mouth slightly agape. Not quite the reaction I was looking for…Guess I’ll just have to keep trying. “Oh, but why am I boring you like this? The daily life of a professional killer is sure to be of no interest to a peaceful village guardian like you.”
“No…don’t worry about it,” Etemon said.
Hmm…Either he really is this village’s guardian…or he’s who I’m looking for…I might have to speak with Meramon before I make up my mind.
“It’s much too late for you to go out now and do your job,” Etemon continued. “Why don’t you all call it a night and have some dinner, and then you can go straight to bed? You can worry about Meramon in the morning.”
“But…it would be easier for us to do the job at night, when we won’t be easily spotted,” Statuedramon said.
“It might not look it, but Linnea Village is a very active village. Even in the middle of the night, the streets are crowded,” Tankmon said.
“We shall do what was asked of us, Statuedramon,” I said. “As with all of our clients.”
“…Fine. At least I’ll get to eat…For once!” Statuedramon sulked over to the table and began eating without even bothering to sit down first. Zelda and I joined him, as did the other Digimon, except for Etemon. The Ultimate-level Digimon sat back down on his throne and continued to stare at us.
“What was all of that about?” Zelda whispered once we sat down. “When you accused Etemon, and then yourself…What were you doing?”
“…Only a test,” I replied. “I wanted to see if Etemon was telling the truth.”
“I can’t tell yet…I’ll have to—”
“How is the food?” Etemon interrupted. “Is everything to your liking?” I looked carefully across the table. Volcamon, Tankmon, and Giromon were eating as well, so I guessed that the food was at least not poisoned. But Etemon seemed to notice that I wasn’t eating; he asked, “What’s the matter?”
“Oh, he can’t eat very often…or too much,” Statuedramon said through a mouthful of food.
“Why not?” Zelda looked up at me with a worried look on her face.
“About one year ago, while on a job, I was stabbed in the gut by a Stingmon. It messed up all of my organs pretty bad.” Zelda gasped. “You needn’t worry; the wound’s completely closed up and healed—”
“Which is what you say about the wound you’ve had on your leg for nine years,” Statch interrupted.
“…But the damage is permanent, so says our groups’ witch,” I finished.
“That’d be my guess; if even Luna can’t heal it, nobody can,” Statch said.
“…Indeed.” I looked down, and found Zelda’s hand resting atop my own. She was gazing at me with a sorrowful expression on her face, though when she noticed me, she quickly pulled away and began eating. After watching her eat an amount of food that should have been impossible for a girl of her small stature to consume — roughly the same amount as Statuedramon, which was already more than the average Human could eat — the three of us were led away from the table by Volcamon and up a set of curved stairs to a large room that had several beds spread out in it. On the opposite side of the room’s door was a large circular balcony, with a pair of closed glass doors being the only thing that separated us from it.
“This castle might look big, but in reality, this is the only other bedroom there is,” Volcamon said. “Is this going to be a problem for the lady? If you’d like, I can see if I can find another room…”
“No, this isn’t going to be a problem,” Zelda said. “I don’t mind sharing a room with them.”
“As you wish,” Volcamon said, bowing slightly before leaving the room. Zelda and Statuedramon instantly climbed into a bed; I, however, walked over to the glass doors and looked outside. After a few minutes of standing and waiting, Statuedramon’s loud snoring began to fill the air.
I guess now’s a good a time as any. I turned and looked back at my friends. I gazed the longest at Zelda. She was on her back, with a small smile across her face, and her hands folded neatly and resting atop her belly. She looks so…peaceful…when she’s asleep…I’d better go. As quietly as I could, I opened the glass doors and stepped onto the balcony. I gave them both one final look before I climbed off the balcony and leapt down onto the ground below. The middle of the night, but it’s almost as bright as day with the full moon…I swear, I’ll never understand the desert province.
Ten Minutes Elapsed
That damn Etemon, always sticking his nose into my business; who does he think he is, claiming to be Linnea’s guardian?! How could anyone fall for it?! Though, I guess those three are from out of town…I sat in a chair in my diner, looking out a window at the night sky. By now, he’s probably tricked those three into thinking I’M the bad guy… I sighed. It was no use; no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl. Why do I feel so uneasy whenever I’m around her? The same unease, once five or six years ago, when she came here for the first time, and again last night…and not just me; ALL the Digimon around here seem to feel it as well. What’s wrong with us? She’s never done anything to make us think she’d be different, and yet…Maybe it’s our natural instincts?
“Big brother, are you ok?” The sudden voice startled me, and I turned around to see my twin little brothers, both of them Candlemon, looking up at me. I smiled and stood up.
“No, little brothers, I am fine; I was just thinking,” I said.
“Big brother, there’s someone here that says he wants to see you,” the other Candlemon said. At least, I think it was the other one; I had trouble telling the two apart. “He might be a customer.”
“A customer, this late at night? I hardly ever get anyone after midnight…” Nervously, I walked to the entrance of the diner. It better not be that damn Volcamon again! I opened the doors and was surprised to see saw one of the Humans I had nearly attacked about an hour ago. “…You...were with that...girl, weren’t you? Thomas, isn’t it? What do you want?”
“I’ve come here to do my job,” Thomas said. “I’ve been ordered to eliminate you, Meramon.”
“Eliminate me,” I said, looking at him sadly. “…I see…”
“No! We won’t let anyone hurt our big brother!” Both Candlemon jumped in front of me and glared up at Thomas. “Big brother, what does eliminate mean?”
“You didn’t let me finish,” Thomas said. “I’ve been ordered to eliminate Meramon…by Etemon. However, my only mission was to come here so I could find and assassinate a leader of a bandit group.”
“And you…think that’s me, don’t you?” I asked.
“If I did, we wouldn’t be talking like this. You’d already be dead,” Thomas said coldly. “Although…based on the way you behaved earlier… I’d say you’re a likely candidate. But if it isn’t you…it’s Etemon.”
“Yeah! It’s Etemon! It’s definitely Etemon!” the Candlemon said in a jumbled unison.
“Not so fast, you two,” I said. I picked them both up and walked back into the restaurant, placing them on a table. Thomas followed me inside. “I’m definitely no bandit; but then, what right do you have to believe me? We’ve never met, and…after the way I treated your friend…I almost attacked her…for no reason…”
“I cannot forgive anyone who insults or hurts my friends like that, and if it were up to me, you wouldn’t be standing right now,” Thomas said. “You can consider yourself lucky; my only target of assassination is a bandit leader.”
“And you think that may be Etemon?” I asked, walking back outside, with Thomas still following me.
“…I’d say it’s more than likely,” he replied. “I’ll be honest; this is the first job I’ve been on where I didn’t know my target. Boss’s choice, apparently. Anyway, Etemon’s reactions to a few of the things I said to him weren’t exactly what I was expecting, so I decided to drop by and speak with you.” Thomas turned to face me. “When I told you I was here to kill you…the look on your face…it was almost as if you accepted your fate, that you were ready to die.”
“I’ve done things in my past, things I’m not proud of at all,” I said, shaking my head slowly as I looked up at the starry sky. “It was only for a moment that I, to use your words, accepted my fate, and yet…when those little ones protested, I knew I couldn’t die and leave them all alone.”
“Is that so…” was all I heard Thomas mutter before he began walking away.
“Where are you going?” I called after him. He turned around and faced me, a small smile on his face.
“Someone like you could never be a bandit; you care too much about your little brothers,” Thomas said. He turned around once again and continued walking, his long black coat billowing behind him, but suddenly, he stopped and looked around cautiously.
“Get down!” Without warning, Thomas ran back over to me and shoved me to the ground just as what appeared to be a missile struck the ground where I was just standing.
“Thomas…you…you saved my life!” I gasped. “Even though I…didn’t deserve it, least of all from you…you did it anyway…”
“Big brother, what happened?” the Candlemon asked.
“You two, get back inside!” I ordered. The two Candlemon hopped quickly back into the restaurant as Thomas and I got back up. “What happened? Who attacked us?!”
“The attack came from far away,” Thomas said. “It was probably Tankmon…”
“You sure? How can you tell?” I asked.
“Didn’t you hear it coming? It came from the direction of that castle Volcamon took me and my friends to!” Thomas said, looking in the direction of Etemon’s castle. “Another one is coming!”
Thomas and I dove to the ground, but the attack wasn’t aimed at either of us. I turned around and screamed in horror as the attack struck my restaurant, exploding on impact, with my two little brothers in it.
“No! Candlemon! CANDLEMON!” I helplessly called their names as I ran over to the now burning building, digging through the debris to find them.
“Meramon…” one of the Candlemon weakly hopped up to me.
“Candlemon! Candlemon, you’re okay!” I reached down and picked up my younger brother, hugging him tightly. “Where’s your brother?! Is he okay?!”
“Big brother…our home fell down on him…the other Candlemon got trapped and he couldn’t get out before he…he got…”
“Candlemon…No…he’s…” I looked down at my younger brother, who was tightly holding onto my arm. “… Don’t worry…I’ll keep you safe, little brother,” I said, hugging my brother’s sobbing body tighter. “Thomas!” I yelled out to the boy, who hadn’t moved since the previous attack. “I expect that bastard to be dead before the sun sets tomorrow, do you hear me?!”
“I understand,” Thomas said. “Don’t worry; I promise his death will be a slow and painful one.” Thomas turned around and started running back to Etemon’s castle.
“Direct hit!” Tankmon exclaimed from atop one of the castle’s numerous balconies. The Champion Digimon was so large, there wasn’t enough room for anyone else, other than the hovering Giromon, to stand on the balcony next to him.
“Nice work,” I said. “Did you get him?”
“Well…I didn’t get Meramon, but I did get his restaurant!”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll be able to get him next time,” Giromon said.
“That’s not all,” Tankmon said. “I saw something…interesting while I was open-firing at Meramon.”
“Well? What did you see?” I asked. Tankmon turned around to face us, a mild look of amusement on his face.
“I saw…that Human, Thomas, saving Meramon’s life.”
“What?! No way!” Giromon protested.
“It is possible,” Volcamon said. “After all, he may not think Meramon is the bandit he’s after.”
“And that’s not all!” Tankmon chimed in. “They were talking about how they suspected you, Etemon! What’s more, he’s on his way back here at this moment!”
“What?! How can you know that? They’re almost a mile away!” Giromon said.
“I can read lips, Giromon!” Tankmon said defensively.
“Never doubt the eyesight of a sniper like Tankmon,” Volcamon said in a calm voice.
“So…he suspects me, does he?” I pondered. “Volcamon…the girl and that old lizard. Put them in the dungeon.”
“Yes, sir,” Volcamon bowed as he left the room.
That’s what I like about that boy; he never questions me! Not like those other two.
“Forgive my ignorance, sir, but what good will locking those two up do?” Tankmon asked.
“Well, when Thomas gets back to his room, and discovers his friends are missing…” I began laughing at the cleverness of my plot. “That is when Volcamon will get him from behind!”
“Oh, you’re a genius, sir!” Giromon exclaimed.
“I know!” I said.
After about five minutes, Volcamon returned. “Mission accomplished, sir,” he said.
“That was certainly fast,” Giromon said, a small hint of awe in his voice.
“They didn’t even wake up; made it easier to lock them away and chain them,” Volcamon said. “I also made sure to remove any weapons they may have had.”
“Excellent…Now, Giromon and Tankmon!” The two Digimon turned to face me. “Go to the dungeon and guard our newest prisoners. Understood?”
“Yes, sir!” Tankmon and Giromon left the room, leaving me alone with Volcamon.
“You know your job, right?” I asked.
“I will succeed, sir.” Volcamon quietly left the room.
“Idiots,” I said to myself, looking out from the balcony to the small village of Linnea. “Meramon’s not going to burn you to the ground…that’s my job.”