Disclaimer: This is a work based on both the mangas of Claymore and Evangelion. Should the lawyers contact me with legal jargon, I'd be so dizzy that I'd take down this work. But they'd better darn well be legit. I swear I'll do my research before taking this down!
The heat pounded the shrouded form as he plodded his way across the Rakul Wastelands. He appeared uncaring, but if one looked closely they would see the bags under his eyes, the result of a month's worth of restless sleep.
The feather-light bag on his back was little comfort to the wanderer, for it reminded him that all the provisions he had were long gone. Hours passed as he crossed the deserted land step by step, his energy fueled solely by determination and a persistent memory.
But even that couldn't last forever.
Eventually, fatigue dragged him to his knees and shortly thereafter his face hit the cracked dry ground. He craned his head forward, to look at the gaping expanse ahead of him. Shunting the last of his strength into his arm, he reached out and clawed at the ground ahead of him, trying to drag himself forward and failing dismally.
Before he passed out his last thought was, I just wanted to see her… one last time…
And so he was completely unaware when a shadow of a figure covered him moments later.
He had a vague sensation of being carried as the words drifted to him in the darkness.
"You are not afraid of me?"
And again, as he felt like he was lying down:
"You don't need to know my name. You will forget it soon enough."
And that was when Shinji awoke to an unfamiliar ceiling.
He sat up quickly, taking stock of his surroundings. His tunic and pack sat on a dresser, his cloak hung on a wall beside an open window. All looked freshly washed, even the undershirt he was wearing, and blessedly free of dust.
The door creaked open, allowing in a chestnut-haired man with a mustache, who sighed with relief when he saw Shinji alert. "Oh good, you're up. I almost called the doctor when I saw you. Trying to cross the wastelands, in broad daylight, without any food? What were you thinking?"
Despite his parched throat, Shinji managed to croak out, "Um… I guess I wasn't?"
"Damn straight you weren't. Hopefully you won't try that twice." The man then stepped out, and Shinji wondered whether any of this would make any sense any time soon when the man came back with a pile of food, and three full canteens of water. He set it on the bedside table beside Shinji, and the boy's stomach growled in frustration.
"There ya go," the man said, "well, what're you waiting for? Dig in."
"But I can't even pay for the room, and you've already let me stay here for a day!" Shinji protested.
The man dismissed the argument with a wave of his hand. "Eh, don't worry about it. It was taken care of, by a Claymore."
Every muscle seized in Shinji's body. His hunger evaporated as he leaned forward attentively. "A Claymore? Is she still here? Did she say her name?"
The man shook his head. "Didn't ask, didn't tell. All she did was set you down in here, paid for the room and food, and took off. And since we haven't been having any yoma troubles, she's probably off on her next assignment or something. Heh – a Claymore carrying a human boy into town… that'd make quite a romance story, wouldn't it?"
Before the man knew it, Shinji threw the sheets off, put his tunic and cloak on, and snagged his backpack saying, "I gotta go! Thanks for everything!"
"Wait a second, fella," the man protested, "aren't'cha gonna eat?"
Shinji screeched to a halt in front of the door, and looked over to the juicy ham shanks and ripe apples. His stomach growled again, and Shinji gulped. Well, if it's free…
Without a second thought, Shinji leapt at the food, heedless of the hotel owner's warnings about choking.
Only when Shinji was out of the room did he dare check his backpack. The manager was nice enough, and promised Shinji the room for as long as he stayed in town, but the boy still wanted to be alone for this.
When he took the pack off the dresser, he heard the jingle and felt the weight difference from before. Now he opened the pack, to verify with his eyes what his other senses had told him.
In the sack there were two items aside from a canteen of water that he had in his possession, both books; a basic cookbook and The Traveler's Guide to Natural Herbs.
But now, there was an addition: a leather-lined pouch, wider than Shinji's open palm. Shinji reached in and slowly undid the leather string that held the opening closed.
He gasped when a pile of beras, the gold sticks that made up the continent's currency, spilled out.
Shinji glossed over it. There must be at least 250 beras in here! It was enough to feed him for half a year at restaurants…
Or at least a month's rent until I can settle down and find a stable job, Shinji thought, realizing the intent behind the money. Shinji clenched his hand to stop it from trembling with some unknown emotion. Rei… I can't rest until I see you again. Can't you see?
He retied the pouch and latched his backpack again, and looked around the street. The town was bustling with people: merchants, travelers, and soldiers alike.
None of them had blue hair or red eyes.
"Hey," a voice called behind him, "You were the one staying at the inn after wandering through the wastelands, right?"
Shinji turned to see a woman with brown neck-length hair look at him.
"Oh, yeah, it's you," she confirmed. "A Claymore wanted to talk to you as soon as you were up."
Shinji's heart leapt. "Do you know where she is?"
"She said she'd be in the forest, hunting for her next target."
Shinji dashed off, yelling his thanks over his shoulder.
Shinji plunged through bush and thistle heedlessly, not caring that the distance between him and civilization grew with each passing step. He'd gotten this far alone – he could stand to do it again in the forest, especially one with abundant shade, food, and water.
Her was deep in the forest when he saw it: the flicker of a cloak, the flash of armor. He rushed ahead and burst into a forest clearing.
The Claymore stood near the edge of a precipice, which dropped off into some lowlands behind her. Long blonde hair flowed down to her waist, blowing in the wind while sapphire eyes gazed at him unerringly. She had a small button nose and plush lips that were perfect for pouting.
She was stunning, but all Shinji could think of was, it's not Rei…
The Claymore's melodious voice drifted to him as she took a step forward. "Are you alone?"
Shinji found himself looking up from his wary gaze at her feet. "Huh? Oh, yes. Is there a reason why you wanted to meet out here?"
The Claymore nodded, her eyes becoming soft and limpid. "Yes, I wanted to talk away from people. It is hard, being in a civilization that does not accept my kind. Which is why I saved you."
Shinji couldn't help but feel astonished. "Wait… you saved me?" Something feels… off about this. He couldn't quite place his suspicions, but he found himself scrutinizing everything that the Claymore said.
She approached him. "Is it so hard to believe? I saw you helpless and unconscious, and I knew that you were a kindred spirit. I helped you so that you could join me. After all, the Claymore life is such a lonely one…" She was now close enough to reach out and stroke his cheek…
Close enough for Shinji to smell her fetid breath.
Shinji shoved her away with all his strength, stumbling back in the process. "Claymores never call themselves that! And if you're a Claymore, then where's your sword!?"
The Claymore stared blankly at Shinji, and for a second he thought he had made a horrible misjudgment. But then the Claymore chuckled. "You are perceptive, I will concede. I did not know Claymores did not label themselves as such. And as for the sword… I will have to obtain one on my next kill."
And with that, the Claymore changed – mottled green skin replaced pink overtones, the body frame grew bulkier… and a bony birdlike mask grew out of the face.
Then the monster disappeared.
Shinji felt a fist grab his hair from behind and something scalding hot was shoved near his cheek. A voice, smooth as a snake on velvet, said behind him. "Now, reveal yourself… 'sister.'"
As if summoned – or perhaps waiting – she stepped out, and Shinji's eyes widened.
Warrior and monster assessed each other from afar, each trying to gage the strength of the other. "So, this is the 'daughter' that Mother is so frightened of. I expected you to have more girth."
Registering a flicker of surprise in Rei's expression, the yoma continued, "Oh, She won't say it aloud, but I can hear it in Her voice whenever She speaks to me. She believes that you have the power to change what will come, which is odd because all I see in front of me is weakness. Perhaps my distain has caused Her infinite wrath; She did remove me as head of my clan and relocated me out here." The monster chuckled long and low, more to itself than to any of the others present.
Rei finally spoke. "Who are you?"
The yoma laughed, a sound as sweet as decaying flesh. "You have pursued all of us far and wide, and yet you do not recognize us when you see us." The yoma inclined its head in deference to Rei. Shinji tried not to squirm. "I am Sachiel, the first of the angel-born. Perhaps you recognize me now?"
It was then that Rei noticed the birdlike mask with the blue drop on its forehead, the rosy core – blocked from view by Shinji's body – embedded in the abdomen, and most lethally, the energy spike emitted from its palm poised near Shinji's eye. The core allows it to manifest yoma energy into solid forms… and with Shinji involved the situation becomes more complicated.
Rei reached for her sword. "You are sought as a high-priority target by the organization," she said, "how do you come to the conclusion that a hostage will stop me from killing you?"
"It does not matter whether I die this day, little sister. What matters is that at least one of you does not live to see the end of it. I saw you carry the boy into town with such care… and then I remembered what was foretold about human and Claymore. Only if you two are together do you have the power to shape what is to come. You move forward, and I slay the boy, ending the prophecy. It is the same if you slay the boy along with me. And if you throw the your sword into the ravine… well, your death will be enough, and I will not have to take the boy's life."
A breath of silence, then Sachiel concluded, "One life must be lost today… the choice is yours as to which one."
"Do you swear that the boy will come to no harm?"
"By the breast of the Mother that nursed me, I will not touch a hair on his head."
Rei drew her sword – and tossed it tumbling down into the ravine.
The energy spike inched away from Shinji's now singed face. "It is truly regrettable that I have to kill you," Sachiel said honestly, "you would have made a fine addition to the family."
Instantly, Sachiel ran her through the chest with an energy spike. Rei could barely hear Shinji yell her name over the searing pain that flooded her.
"And thus it ends," the angel said.
But it didn't.
With all of her might, Rei gripped the angel's arm with both hands and fell backwards, flipping Sachiel around so that the angel landed on the slope first.
Despite the ground tearing at his back, Sachiel seemed impressed. "A final effort? Commendable, but a fall cannot hurt a yoma, much less an angel."
But then they slid to a stop right in front of Rei's upturned sword, just as she planned. She hewed through Sachiel's arm in a downward chop, freeing the arm from the main body. Another slice lopped off Sachiel's skullcap.
And yet the angel still rose, flesh sprouting from the open head wound. "A valiant attempt, but that won't kill me either."
It must be the core!
She flipped the sword into a reverse grip and stabbed downward at the spherical organ, twisting the blade to shatter the ruby sphere. Sachiel had one heartbeat to look surprised before he vanished in an explosion of white flame.
The angel gone, Rei tore out the arm protruding from her chest, gasping in pain as she threw the limb away. She hiked her yoma power level, trying to visualize the wound closing, regenerating, healing…
except it wouldn't.
Rei looked down. Veins protruded outward from the wound, throbbing in frustration, but the hole was still there.
Rei looked up. The scenery of forest trees swam before her eyes. She felt light, even as her legs crumpled beneath her and she fell forward into the dirt.
Her last conscious thought before darkness overtook her was, why won't it…regenerate?
Shinji stumbled down the lope, trying not to trip while choosing the fastest way possible to reach Rei. He couldn't see what happened from where he was – all he could see was a flash of light. Still, their trail was easy enough to track – broken branches and drag marks pointed the way.
His heart seized in his chest when he saw the crater and Rei's prone form lying facedown in the ground. He made a dead run to her position, arriving in seconds flat, and flipped her over.
He stared disbelievingly at the hole in her chest. No human could survive that, he thought. "Rei… you can't be dead… you can't be!" he sobbed.
"Wah, wah, wah. What a crybaby. Sheesh, it's no wonder that the state of military affairs is so bad these days. You could be a poster boy for weaklings."
Shinji whipped his head around to see a blonde in a black trenchcoat scowling down at him. Outrage collided with grief, causing him to tear up with rage. "Who the hell are you!?"
"None of your business, boy," she said, striding toward the both of them.
Fearing another yoma attack, Shinji scrambled for the claymore sword. "Stay back! Or Ill – Ill –" He lifted the sword with two hands and swung at the woman.
She caught the blade and brushed it aside, eying the boy critically. "You really are a weakling, aren't you?"
And then she slapped Rei.
Shinji charged at the woman, yelling, "What do you think you're – " he was promptly cut off when the woman lashed at him with a backhand slap, sending him sprawling backwards.
She slapped Rei again, and this time Rei's eyes fluttered open. "R-ritsuko?" she managed to say.
The woman nodded. "The one and only."
"If you are present, then that means – "
"No, you're not dead… though by the time I'm finished with you, perhaps you'd wish you were." Ritsuko's eyes scanned for injuries, but she found only the most noticeable one – the hole in the chest. "Wow, that would give anyone a bad day."
She turned to Shinji. "Leave, boy."
Shinji stood firm. "I'm not going anywhere – "
"When I say leave, I mean it for your own good." From the folds of her trenchcoat, Ritsuko produced a vicious-looking sickle, "What I am about to do…isn't meant for human eyes."
Shinji took the hint and went behind a tree, but did not leave.
"So, you fought the angel on your own, did you?" Ritsuko said, bemused. "Your orders stated strictly reconnaissance. What made you so brash, Rei? It couldn't be the boy, could it?"
"Warriors…cannot let humans… come to harm."
"And if you were killed? What then? We would lose all that valuable data that you had on the angel. How irresponsible." A pause, then, "Well, looks like the wound was cauterized. I guess these manifestations of yoma energy cause intense heat. In other words," the woman chirped, "we'll have to reopen the wound."
There was a ting as a blade was unsheathed, a shick as cloth was ripped. "Remember," the woman said gleefully, "you brought this on yourself."
Air whispered as the blade descended, and a sound like someone scything grain filled the world around Shinji.
Her scream pierced the air. For ten leagues, birds fled, the air stilled. When it died away, the world held its breath. The boy did his best to remain stalwart, his stomach heaved and wrenched as bile churned. A sound like a bucket pouring out flooded the air.
The smell followed after. Shinji held his gut and clamped his jaw shut.
Ritsuko spoke from somewhere beyond the tree, "Keep it in, will you please? Dammit...too much bile..." Her voice tinged with disgust. "Bite down on this."
A thin, coppery scent mixed with the pungent odor of vomit and other...less pleasant smells.
He purged himself on the gnarled roots of the old tree.
After what seemed to be hours later, the ripping stopped, and there was no sound save for Rei's raspy breathing. "What a mess..."
Time passed, and the shadows on the ground were longer when Shinji felt confident enough to even stand up with that smell lingering. He saw Ritsuko walk off into the thicket of trees. She returned with a full waterskin, disappearing out of his blurred view.
Splashing, weak gurgling.
"There," Ritsuko said in a coy tone, "that wasn't so bad now, was it? Well, I hope you learned your lesson. But if you want to go on another suicidal mission, all you need to do is ask."
The fading crunch of leaves indicated that Ritsuko was leaving. Shinji peered out from behind the tree trunk to see Rei lying face-up on the ground with a new tunic, her skin so pale it was translucent… Her body had been moved from a foul spot of earth where she had once lain.
Shinji purged himself again until he was curled over from dry heaving. The sight was horrific. Blood, bile, and other fluids mixed into what was now mud. The stench...oh God, the stench...
She can't see me like this, Shinji thought, I won't let her see me like this. Damnit, why do I have to be so weak? Weak against yoma, against the desert, weak against everything!
And so he sat there on his haunches, back to the tree trunk, trying to recover himself. Eventually, he looked over at the still prone form of the warrior. Look at her. And you think you have problems. You just heard it, smelled it. She had to live through it. And while you're here feeling sorry for yourself, she's down there alone. Just fucking go to her and see what you can do.
He rose and staggered back down to the site again, breathing through his mouth so that he could at least pretend that he was blocking out the smell. He didn't even look at the pit by her body.
Then he was there, beside her. The only thing that prevented her from looking like a corpse was the slow rise and fall of her chest. "Rei?"
Her eyes crept open. "You are still here?"
"Of course I am! You didn't think I'd leave after all that happened, did you?"
"Why do you persist?"
The question jolted Shinji into the past after he first met Rei, when the others started avoiding him saying that the Ikari family was cursed with yoma dogging their every step, that the monsters ate Daichi and Shinji's aunt and uncle and probably ate his parents too – "I have nothing left, Rei," Shinji answered simply, "and so I needed to find you."
A pause, then Shinji again: "I'm sorry. You got hurt because of me, because I was taken hostage."
"If it was not you, then it would be someone else… and perhaps you were the best pick, because of your prior experience with yoma."
"Is that a nod to divine intervention?"
"An acknowledgment to circumstance, nothing more."
A pause, the Shinji looked at Rei again. "Rei… I know this might sound like a burden to you… but, do you think I could follow you for a while? I really have no where to go." (The end of this was a bit melodramatic, so I changed it just a wee bit)
Rei eyed Shinji thoughtfully. "You said you can cook?"
Shinji nodded, remembering their conversation from some time ago.
"Very well. Follow me… until we find a place for you to belong."
Shinji smiled, ready to follow her. He'd get to be near her and that was all he wanted. Today had opened his eyes to more of the world's horrors. And that smell...that horrid, horrid smell. He'd never forget it. But for now, all he could do was put it out of mind and move on. In time, he felt he'd be exposed to it again, but now was not the time nor the place to think of it. Tomorrow, the path would be the same… but the difference was that neither of them no longer had to walk alone.
To be continued...
Authors Note: Where to go from here? It's hard to say. One thing's for certain; this story won't die, not anytime soon.
Preread by SpikeyKun, Sideris, DarckRedd and AndrewJTalon, critical eyes all. And Da-Guru put in his two cents - a claymore sword weighs ten pounds; light enough for a boy, probably, but too heavy for any human boy to wield with one hand.