Episode 18: Kill the Boy
"And to think," Sten growled with bared teeth, "I was almost worried. Hauled our asses all this way, and what do we find?" The great mountain of a man turned his head and spat in a show of derision. "You're here lying on the ground, crying like a baby instead of killing the kid you came all this way to kill."
"He's a traitor," Ibara said gleefully, practically bouncing on his feet. "We have to kill him now, right?" The stitched-up freak stopped for a moment to think, then shook his head and smiled again. "Nah, I'm gonna kill him anyway. Can't be too careful."
"I had a feeling!" Mez winked down at the Jaeger. "You had that look in your eyes, that 'I'm actually a good guy!' thing. It was super obvious."
"I gave him the benefit of the doubt." Suzuka giggled. "After all, he's kind of cute."
"I don't know," Mez replied, poking her cheek as she looked to Lubbock. "I kinda like the green-haired one."
"Why, thank you!" Lubbock happily stuck out his thumb. "You're pretty hot, yourself!"
"It's just too bad!" Mez pouted, crossing her arms. "Killing hot guys like you is always a waste."
Lubbock sweatdropped and scratched the side of his head. "I know what you mean…"
"Anyway," Sten rumbled. The bearded mountain looked to Tatsumi with narrowed eyes. "Kid, you'd better get up and un-fuck yourself before I make a decision you're gonna regret. Do what we came here to do and that'll be the end of it."
Ibara's expression fell as he scrunched up his eyes and mouth.
"Heh, we're not afraid of you." Lubbock slowly got back up to his feet and dusted himself off, flashing Sten that trademark smirk of his. "Right, Tatsumi?"
"He's digging a nice hole for you," Suzuka teased. "I'd stay away from it if I were you."
Tatsumi gripped the Incursio's blade in a flash and Lubbock jumped with an embarrassing yelp, shooting Mez a quick glare as she stifled a laugh. The conflicted Jaeger rose to his knees, propped up by the blade he had inherited.
He slowly got up to his feet, the shortsword limp in his hand as he moved forward. One step towards the Demons, then two, then three. Not once did he turn to Lubbock or reply, igniting a twinge of worry in the other boy.
"I think I've had enough."
"Ehh...Tatsumi? We're good now, right? We're gonna settle this later, right?" Lubbock laughed nervously and pressed his back against the fountain. "You changed your mind like me, right?"
The assassin tensed up, preparing to run. "The odds really are against me this time," he whined internally. "Tatsumi," he said aloud, "didn't you have a reason for bawling your eyes out instead of killing me?"
Still, Tatsumi continued to walk away from him.
"Oh, you're leaving him. That's a relief~" Suzuka winked. "You had us worried, especially Ibara over there."
"Ahhn?! What's that?" Ibara whirled on her with arms flailing and eyes blazing. "That's it, I'm done." He cracked his knuckles. "You've been too annoying tonight. I'm after you next."
"Ara~" Suzuka chuckled, hand to her mouth with eyes shut in glee. "We shouldn't fight, you know. It's not good conduct."
Tatsumi stopped halfway between Lubbock and the Demons, bringing the Incursio up to stare into its eye. He stayed like that for a moment, as if searching the ruby orb for something. When he found what he was looking for, the Jaeger then closed his eyes and lowered the sword.
He cast his left arm out, the sheathe of the 47th shining brighter than the moon high above as he called forth the one thing he hated most. That violent reflection of himself, that stupid thing he never really wanted to have. This time, the light that marked the blade's arrival felt cold.
The Twins, the Two-In-One. The Balance. Muramasa and Masamune, precursor to the Emperor's magnum opus that Esdeath had mentioned before. Tatsumi opened his eyes, calmly drifting through memories. "I wonder what the 48th Teigu is like?"
"Lubbock." He turned to his friend and suddenly tossed the Incursio up, smiling fondly as Bulat's last gift spun high in the midnight air. Drawing the Muramasa slowly, fortifying his mind and chaining down his emotion, Tatsumi quickly impaled the sword into the ground and tossed his friend the slick and shiny Masamune. Lubba fumbled with it for a moment before getting a good grip, looking to Tatsumi in surprise.
"I owe you guys a lot for the good things you did for me," he said with his arm raised to the sky, reaching out to Bulat. He reached up for the man's hand, begging for his guidance. "And," he added, "I know you guys owe me a lot of payback for the bad things I've done to you. We'll both have to answer for our mistakes eventually."
He caught the Incursio with a flourish and a sudden burst of air exploded outward as he did so. "For now, let me at least try to make up for my stupid back-and-forth attitude. Being called a kid earlier has been eating at me, so I'll act a little more mature now."
Tatsumi lifted the blade to his forehead, eyes closed once again as he called out to Bulat's spirit. "Big bro," he pleaded within his mind, "I know I've disappointed you, I can feel it. I won't ask you to hold back your punches when we meet again, but for now, please give me strength!"
Tatsumi remained motionless as the hilt shifted and the ruby eye gleamed, the apparition of the still-living Tyrant returning to help him again after so long. The shortsword quaked in his hands and slowly vanished as the legendary spirit within bent forward to confer its power upon him.
"And Tyrant, if you can hear me…"
The ghost of Incursio suddenly began to crack, chunks of incorporeal metal falling away to reveal great patches of fur and thickened muscle. The left side of the great helm also fell apart, three of its eyes gleaming. Rather than surround Tatsumi's body with its hands, this time the manifestation of the Incursio drove them into the earth and leaned forward with its gaping maw.
"Then this time, don't hold back!" Tatsumi cried out in fury. "Give me everything my body can handle!"
The terrible apparition fell upon the Jaeger and consumed him in an instant. A pillar of scalding energy rocketed into the sky, and Tatsumi screamed in agony.
Still midleap and now unable to focus, an armored Wave fell upon the next rooftop and rolled onto his stomach.
"Wave!" Seryu nearly fell herself as the nameless wolf beneath her performed an immediate 180 and kicked back into the air, flying back to her friend in an instant. Seryu was already on the freezing stone before her Teigu had come to a complete stop, nearly tripping on her own feet as she ran to Wave's side. His cries turned to groans, and Wave rolled over onto his back.
"Wave, what's wrong?!" The abrasive surface of the rooftop cut into her knees as she knelt beside him, unable to control the fear in her heart and the trembling in her hands. Those very hands covered her mouth in an instant as the formidable Grand Chariot began to fall apart, the writhing flesh beneath glowing in the moonlight. The stench alone was enough to make her gag and turn away.
"Off," Wave gasped, desperately clawing at the possessed steel that would soon become his tomb. "I have to get it off!"
"Wave!" Seryu turned back around and took his hands into her own, her pale skin shining in the moonlight. "I don't—!"
"Son of a bitch, this burns!" Wave grimaced as the flesh pulsed more and more, patches of hair slowly growing. "I can't get it off! It just keeps burning me!"
The great wolf calmly approached the two Jaegers, icy eyes locked on the howling boy and quivering girl. Without warning it slammed one paw onto Wave's chest and growled, sending a gentle pulse of green light into the air.
"Look at me, and be calmed," it said. Wave fell still as he complied, his mind growing dull and his body soft as the eyes pulled him in. Cracks scattered along the surface of his armor, yielding to the wolf's strength. With a satisfied grumble the great wolf removed its paw, watching with Seryu as the armor immediately shattered. With strained pleasure the boy cried out, relief washing over him as the pain subsided. A dormant blade once more, the Grand Chariot reappeared in a burst of light and fell into his waiting hands.
Seryu was on him before he could even stand, crying into his neck. Wave leapt to his feet and gently pried her away, his face now burning for an entirely different reason. "It's alright, I'm okay," he laughed. "Sort of okay, I guess. Maybe not totally okay, but kind of good…" He trailed off with an awkward grin, returning the Grand Chariot to his side where it belonged.
"What happened?" Seryu wiped her eyes clean. "We were moving so fast, and then you just...fell."
Wave shook his head and gazed into his quaking palms, looking quite troubled. "Something just felt off. Before I knew it I was falling and burning up, like there was lava sloshing around in my bones. And the Grand Chariot, it felt…"
He turned to stare at Seryu's evolved Teigu, and it calmly stared right back at him.
"As if it were alive?"
"Yeah," Wave nodded. "Like it was suddenly growing around me, like it was trying to be me. Like it was trying to eat me." A chill washed over him as he trembled in fear. "It felt so angry, or maybe excited? I don't know."
"It was the same," the wolf added, looking equally troubled as it walked toward them. "I felt a change in your aura when you fell, and in that instant I felt another."
The two Jaegers remained silent as it moved to pick them up, gently lifting them onto its back and turning to face west once more. "What do you mean?" Seryu murmured, practically melting into her Teigu's beautiful fur.
"There was another," it repeated, making a mockery of lightning as it sped towards their destination with renewed vigor.
"Another burst of fury," came the ominous growl, fading into the wind. "To the west, towards our destination, there lives another mass of Tyrant flesh."
Wave's eyes went wide and met with her own as Seryu turned her head. A single whisper danced upon her lips, lost in the wind as they moved forward.
Cracks scattered along the dusty earth as it violently quaked, suffering from the terrible violence of the ever-changing Incursio. Lubbock struggled to his feet, eyes wide open and sparkling with a blend of fear and excitement.
Something was in there, something in the mist. Chunks of clay from the homes and splinters of wood from the various stalls continued to shatter and were tossed into the sky.
"Ehe," Lubbock laughed nervously, "M-maybe I should use this for a little while." The assassin lifted the Masamune in his hands and quietly begged for it to work. Without warning a burst of light assaulted his eyes, eventually dying out to reveal the translucent orb around him.
"Alright!" Lubbock pumped his fist in silent victory, watching with newfound confidence as the mist cleared and Tatsumi's transformation finally died out. Taking a moment to examine his friend's new form, Lubbock let out a little whistle to accompany his shit-eating grin.
Spikes and scales, with a crimson cloak traded for a curling tail. Though not quite thick enough, the little spikes did indeed seem like fur as they scattered along his arms and legs, and his scales certainly did shine upon his neck and torso. Tatsumi's stoney gaze was visible for but an instant before the helm's mouth slammed shut, metal teeth interlocking as it sealed him away once and for all. His form was feral and his stance was strong, but it was the eyes that gave the Demons pause.
Six eyes, now. No gentle amber remained, only six wretched red orbs that screamed for murder.
Lubbock shook his head with a smile. "That's a good look for you. It enhances the whole 'I just pissed myself' feeling. Really digging the tail, too!"
Tatsumi willed the tail to move a bit and turned to give his friend a thumbs-up. Lubbock responded in kind, minus the tail wiggle. "Got any plans, Tats?"
"Punch them really, really hard."
Not far from where they stood, Mez wiped the egregious amount of sweat from her brow. With a voice like crackling flame, it was as if every trace of the Jaeger in front of them had disappeared. Something new was there, something angry. That boyish whine one would call his voice had vanished entirely.
Lubbock laughed and tightened his outstretched hand into a solid fist. "How about this time we try my plan instead?"
"I don't think so!" Sten roared as he dashed forward, flying towards the armored Jaeger with inhuman speed.
Tatsumi turned around and caught the giant hand before it reached his skull, firing up a great cloud of dust and dirt around them. Sten landed on his feet and fired off another punch with his free hand, this one caught in Tatsumi's vice-like grip as well.
"Let's punch each other really hard then, kid!" Sten let out a belly-laugh and pushed even harder against the Jaeger's armored hands, shattering the ground beneath them. Tatsumi growled in response as he slid backwards, inch by inch.
"Looks like this shiny new suit saved your ass." Sten's grin widened as he continued to push the boy back. "Didn't give you bigger arms, though. I'm still gonna rip you apart."
"I don't know about that!" Tatsumi roared and slammed one foot forward, stopping the giant dead in his tracks. The sudden change in momentum carried Sten's face eagerly into Tatsumi's armored headbutt and the man saw stars. Left utterly helpless as the Jaeger pulled his hands away and doubled them back into fists, Sten could only accept their ruthless blow to his chest as Tatsumi drove them forward. One mouthful of blood was the boy's reward and Sten coughed it up for him, rolling against the dirt back towards his fellow Demons.
"I guess I shouldn't waste time stress-testing this new form," Tatsumi groaned, desperately trying to regulate his breathing.
"This isn't a gift from the Tyrant," he thought. "It's just a loan, and I'll probably have to pay in full pretty soon."
"Tats?" Lubbock ran to the other boy's side, concern etched on his face as the Incursio's bloody eyes stared back at him.
"I'm fine, Lubba," Tatsumi called out. "It's just…"
"No more theatrics?"
"No more theatrics."
Lubbock nodded and quickly scanned the area, assessing the situation. In the meantime Sten had risen to his feet, and was fast approaching.
"Hey," Tatsumi said in a suppressed voice, "do you remember what you said about the traps?"
Lubbock tilted his head to one side. "Yeah, traps everywhere."
"Alright, where are they?"
"Scattered around in the street leading east from the courtyard, off to the right. I planned to pull you through there, then slice you to pieces with wire traps and burn what was left with more of my explosives. The big web overhead was also supposed to make sure you couldn't escape, but I let the strings slacken earlier while we were talking. Bit of a mistake, actually, if you consider our current situation."
Tatsumi nodded, tensing up again as Sten broke into a dead sprint. "Sweet. I'm gonna go check it out."
Lubbock nodded himself. "I'll chill here and wait for some kind of opportunity."
Tatsumi quickly dashed forward and once again collided with the furious Demon, taking care to accept the running blow into his left shoulder. The force behind Sten's punch was enough to send Tatsumi spinning on his feet, giving the boy a chance to pivot—now facing the right side of the courtyard as he intended, the Jaeger burst forward with incredible speed. Sten cursed up a storm and turned to follow.
"Looks like he played you," Suzuka chuckled to herself.
The chase was on. Hot on the boy's heels, the burly Demon ran with all the might his monstrous legs could grant him, almost within arm's reach of Tatsumi's armored tail before a sudden click caught his attention.
Fire kissed the sky as yet another one of Lubbock's infernos engulfed the area; Sten hardly had time to blink before being assaulted by the unforgiving flames. Refusing to give into complacency, Tatsumi continued to run as Sten continued to follow.
"What's this guy made of?!" Tatsumi cursed within his mind and faced forward once again, his enhanced Tyrant eyes quickly taking note of each and every trap waiting up ahead.
The next fruit stall was yet another test of the pursuing Demon's vitality; incapable of learning from his previous mistake, the charred and furious man snapped the next wire with reckless abandon and was immediately assaulted by a lightning-fast web of sapphire wires. A web of death cast itself outward in an instant, flaying Sten's flesh for only a moment before being torn apart by the man's momentum.
And yet Tatsumi continued without hesitation, effortlessly spotting and subsequently avoiding each and every wire trap set by his friend. Every few moments he spared a glance back towards his former ally, growing increasingly worried as time went on. Boom, hiss, woosh—the fire traps burned the man's skin and the wire traps lacerated his flesh, yet still he refused to falter!
"This is good enough!" Tatsumi yelled, slamming his feet firmly into the ground and grinding to a violent halt. Once again he pivoted, spinning on his heels to face his sprinting foe. With a single devastating swing of his right arm, Tatsumi closelined the Rakshasa Demon and broke the man's neck, killing him instantly.
Or he would have, had the man not been made of literal steel. A big meaty hand grabbed his ankle the instant Sten hit the ground, and then he hit the ground as the man rose to his feet and grabbed the other leg.
"For crying out loud!" Tatsumi cried, externally and internally, helpless against the Demon's constant spinning. Eventually Sten let him go, sending the young warrior flying down the street and into another courtyard. The Demon tossed his head left and right, cracking it a little himself.
"That felt good," he growled. "Are you going to do my spine next, kid? I might be getting a little old."
Tatsumi rose to his feet, hands on his head to try and stop the nausea from building any further. In spite of it all, he had to laugh. It was funny. Why was it funny? Sten appeared to be thinking the same thing as he approached, still rubbing his neck a little.
"You're just acting tough," Tatsumi countered. "That had to hurt a bit, if this agonizing new suit is anything to go by. I've never felt so strong in it before. Actually…"
Sten stopped walking, and Tatsumi willed the monstrous helm to snap open, revealing his smiling face.
"I'm a little scared of it. It feels too good. This thing is getting tighter and tighter as we fight. I might even get paralyzed if this goes on for too much longer."
With his neck satisfied, Sten turned to cracking his knuckles instead. "Then I guess you should bring your A-game now, kid."
"Stop calling me that."
The helm instantly snapped shut again, as if the Tyrant itself was sinking its teeth into a fresh kill. For just an instant, Sten was afraid. Fearful. He took a single step back and cursed again and again within his mind, feeling shame for the first time in ages.
"Afraid?" He grit his teeth and scrunched up his face. It was a grimace filled with contempt, and Tatsumi made the mistake of believing it was aimed at him. "I'm not afraid." Sten reassured himself. "He is just a kid. Right?"
"Did I hurt your feelings?" Sten forced a smile. He couldn't afford to let that pathetic feeling reveal itself to the boy.
"It did. It does, and I'm tired of it."
"I have to admit, that takes stones," Sten replied. Ignoring his instincts for just a moment, Sten grew complacent. He crossed his massive arms and glowered at Tatsumi. "Spouting your feelings like that to the enemy."
Tatsumi lowered his guard as well. A distinct feeling of Déjà vu hung in the air, and he did his best to ignore the burning that was seeping into his very bones.
By the time Tatsumi's eyes had finished widening, Sten had already closed the distance between them and grabbed his throat.
"Ack!" Tatsumi struggled in vain as the great Demon lifted him into the air.
"However," Sten growled again, "it's still childish! You're still talking like a kid! A stupid kid who doesn't understand reality!"
The furious red eyes of the Incursio's helm flashed, and Sten felt the fear again.
"I don't have to understand it."
This time, it was Sten who widened his eyes.
"I'll learn what I can," Tatsumi continued, gripping the man's arm with all his strength. "I'll learn everything that I can, and I don't have to learn it all. I don't have to. I DON'T HAVE TO!"
And he raised both legs, driving them into Sten's face and separating the two of them once again. The Demon was thrown onto his back as Tatsumi landed on his own two feet, stable and unshaken.
"I WILL CHANGE IT ALL THE SAME!" Tatsumi roared, shattering the ground as the furious red aura of the Tyrant engulfed the Incursio.
Sten got to his feet and prepared to cross his arms in anticipation for the next attack. The next attack, however, was already upon him.
He felt the fear again.
"Tatsumi seems pretty strong," Mez said. Having descended from her previous position, the lascivious Demon now stood beside Lubbock, staring down at the boy as he sat cross-legged upon the ground. Against his better judgment, the assassin had permitted her to do so—he was confident enough in his ability to repel her if necessary. Even with a drastically empty Cross-Tail, he still had enough wires left to slice at least one of the Demons into a million pieces.
"Yep," Lubbock replied, cautiously rubbing the surface of the Masamune. "The Incursio is a crazy-powerful Teigu. You could argue that it's the Teigu doing most of the work, and you'd be right. Still…" Lubbock fell silent for a moment, the image of Bulat appearing in his mind.
Thankfully it wasn't the ghost this time. Too much comedic relief would kill the mood.
"Still?" Mez scratched her head, acting cautious herself as she sat beside him. Not too close, of course—she could feel the barrier more than she could see it, and her instincts told her quite plainly that the barrier would repel her. Just a fleeting feeling, but strong enough to deter her from killing the Night Raid assassin.
"Still," Lubbock continued, "the Incursio is really picky, even for a Teigu. It had to have chosen Tatsumi for a good reason. Not only that, but he has this other weapon…"
Lubbock turned his attention to the lacquered sheath in his hand, once again stroking its smooth surface. He raised his head and nodded in the direction of the Muramasa, still firmly embedded in the ground.
"Those are Teigu too, right?" Mez pointed to the blade and then back to the sheath. Lubbock simply nodded.
"They're both both part of the same Teigu. The half that I'm holding acts as some kind of magical barrier, and that nasty thing over there really has no gimmick from what I can tell. It's just plain evil."
Sudden movement to the right caught everyone's attention. A distant shape appeared off in the horizon, slowly approaching the flaming battleground in which their conflict had been born. It was a rather cool and collected Tatsumi, walking slowly towards them with a motionless Demon slung over his right shoulder. After unceremoniously throwing the man into the dirt at his feet, a weary Tatsumi glared up at the two Demons still resting upon their respective rooftops: Ibara and Suzuka.
"Not bad!" Suzuka let out a derisive laugh as she leapt from the rooftop, suddenly landing within arm's reach of the conflicted Jaeger before her. "But killing Sten was just your warm-up. The real fight starts now." The mysterious Demon brought one hand to her mouth and licked her fingers, doing her very best to unnerve the boy.
From within his armor, Tatsumi didn't even spare her a single wink. "He's unconscious."
Suzuka blinked. "You couldn't kill him?"
"I could have."
Silence engulfed the area, and Tatsumi clenched his fists. "I've been running on empty since the start, so let's finish this. I'll take all three of you on at once."
Ibara couldn't have been any happier to hear those words. Jumping down from his building, the stitched-up freak of nature cracked his knuckles, cracked his neck, cracked his spine, and cracked his jaw. There was work to be done, and he finally had the chance to do it.
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