Neikan stared ahead with its one intact eye and reached up, brushing its hand against the other one as it hung limply against its cheek. The tulpa wrapped its long, skeletal fingers around the reddened orb and pulled down, tearing the organ away. It looked at the bloody mass in its hand and threw it at the turtle.
Leo contorted his face into a look of disgust, deflecting the object. Its not real, he said to himself. No blood... no flesh...
It pushed the back of its hand to the hollow that had once held its eye, hissing as if in pain. Neikan turned away and hung its head, stepping closer to the shadows that it preferred.
"Did that hurt?" Leo asked, unsure why.
The creature stopped and swung around, pondering Leonardo's words. He had its attention now - it almost seemed to understand. He took a deep breath and continued.
"Why did you do it?" he asked, gathering courage and stepping closer. "Why did you take Donny and keep him alive? Why did you kill Raph?"
Neikan took a step forward and glared at the ninja.
"Why didn't you kill everyone when you had the chance?" Leo went on, anger in his voice. "You could have gone into the den and killed them all when the door was open... but you let them live. You let me live. Why?"
It slid towards him and held out a bloody hand. Leonardo stumbled back and stared at the tulpa, preparing to deflect any threatening move. It kept the hand out, held unsteadily a mere twelve inches from his face. It grunted and turned, walking to a dryer area and lowering itself to the floor. The ninja kneeled and looked it in the face.
"What the hell are you doing?" he asked.
"...Animal people..." it said, sounding almost regretful. "...People..."
Michaelangelo limped slowly around the infirmary, his arms folded tightly across his plastron. Don still sat on the edge of one of the sickbeds, watching his brother's circuitous journey about the room. He had gone around five times, each trip slower than the last - and each ending with him standing by the beds, staring angrily towards the door.
"I really wish you'd sit down," Don said, letting out a long breath. "Before you fall down."
Mike stopped before his brother and looked him in the eye, then turned and put a hand on Raphael's wrist.
"It's still out there," he said. "And I ain't going to rest until Leo and Mark and..."
Before he could finish there was a sudden, insistent knock at the door. Don slid to his feet and Michaelangelo ran on ahead. He waited next to the door for his brother to join him, then pushed aside the locks and opened the hatch. Splinter slid into the infirmary and looked into his children's concerned faces.
"Did you find him, master?" Mike asked hopefully.
"Not yet," the rat said. "I needed to return to tell you that there may soon be humans in the area."
"Shit," Mike whispered, shaking his head.
"They're looking for Mark and his friend, aren't they?" Don asked, straightening up as best he could.
"Yes," Splinter said. "I must leave now. Lock the doors and be doubly cautious."
"Yes, Master," the turtles said in unison.
The rat readjusted his belt and sword and backed out of the room, then turned and leaped through the living room and out the front door. Donatello and Mike stepped out of the infirmary and to the front door, which still hung open. They peered outside, but the spry older ninja was already gone far out of sight.
"Now what do we do?" Mike asked.
"We do exactly what Master Splinter told us to do," Don replied.
"But he just said to be cautious - he didn't say we couldn't..."
"You are not going out there."
Mike raised his voice. "Look at me... I'm standing, I'm active, I haven't passed out... Donny, I can go out there and help them."
Donatello grabbed him by the shoulders. "Mike, you have never gone against Splinter's wishes before... don't start now!"
"He didn't say anything about not going out there to help," he said, shaking off Don's grip.
"It doesn't matter what he said, we both know what he wants us to do."
"No!" Donatello yelled, slamming the door.
Michaelangelo glared at him and pushed him aside, reaching for the doorknob. Don grabbed hold of his wrist, swinging him back around as Mike let out with a punch that contacted his brother's injured arm. Don winced and let go. Mike's mouth fell open.
"I... I'm sorry..." he mumbled. "Donny, man... I forgot..."
The other ninja scowled. "You want to go out there so bad? Fine. Go out... do what you damn well want to!"
"I just... I feel like I need to be out there. Like I can help somehow."
Don turned his shell and started walking towards the infirmary. He stopped halfway and spoke without looking back to face Mike.
"Maybe it hasn't occurred to you," he said, cradling his arm, "but if you leave, then me and Raph are by ourselves."
Mike looked at his brother's back and then down at his own hand where it rested on the doorknob.
"I don't like admitting that I'm helpless, Mike," Don interjected. "But you know damn well that I wouldn't be able to defend the both of us if humans or Neikan came by."
Michaelangelo let his hand slip to his side and walked up behind the other turtle, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I just... I'm scared."
Don turned. "So am I... and that's why we need to stay together."
Mike breathed deeply and looked at Don's bandaged arm. The blood had begun to seep through the gauze again, where the turtle's fist had met with it.
"Let's change the dressing on this," he said, then looked back towards the door. "But first, let's lock this place down."
Mark took one hesitant step after the other, walking through the shadows without truly knowing where he was bound. Leonardo's sword was still held tightly in the teen's grip, though he had long since grown tired of holding the weapon defensively before him. His arm hung by his side, the tip of the katana occasionally dropping down far enough to scrape against the sewer floor and cause an eerie grinding noise to echo up and down the tunnel.
He heard a sound from ahead and paused in his steps, holding his breath as he listened. He heard it again - an angry, familiar voice. It was Leonardo - yelling. The teen began to tremble and closed his eyes. He was thankful that Leonardo was alive - but the one he must have been yelling at was Neikan. But why was he only yelling? Why wasn't he fighting it?
Mark opened his eyes again and raised the sword. He pressed the blade flat against his chest and crouched down low, slowly making his way forward.
Leonardo doubled his fists and looked down at Neikan.
"Why don't you fight me?" the turtle yelled. "Are you afraid you'll lose? Get on your damn feet!"
The tulpa growled and put its palm on the dirt, brushing it to the side absentmindedly.
Leo gritted his teeth and reached down, grabbing the thing by the neck and hauling it to its feet. He squeezed his fingers tighter, but the thing simply stared at him, making no effort to resist. The ninja made a sound of disgust and let go, pushing Neikan into a wall.
"I've been fighting you for as long as I can remember," Leo said, breathing heavily. "From the very day I was mutated I've been pushing you back and back and I finally thought that you were gone..."
He back-handed the creature across the face. It blinked and continued staring noiselessly.
"...And now you show up in flesh and blood - the living, breathing embodiment of everything in myself that I ever hated..."
He threw a punch that landed against the open wound on the creature's throat.
"...You son of a bitch... you think I'm going to let you live?"
Leonardo grabbed Neikan by the arm and spun, throwing it into the opposite wall. The tulpa turned, swaying, and grunted.
"Fight me!" Leo screamed at the creature.
Neikan looked to its left and sniffed the air. Leonardo was stalking forward for another attack, but stopped and glanced to where the creature was staring. He heard the shuffle of fabric and, for an instant, saw the familiar flash of light against steel. Leonardo and Neikan looked into one another's faces. The tulpa smiled wickedly.
"Shit!" Leo yelled as the creature pushed him aside and bounded towards the shadows.
In the darkness, Mark could see Neikan coming at him. He tried to breathe, but couldn't. The cords on the sword's handle cut into his skin as his hand gripped it even tighter. He was shaking, uncertain - but somehow managed to hold it out before him. Neikan was only a meter away now - one more step and it would be upon him.
Mark didn't close his eyes, but aimed the end of the sword at the creature's head. A heartbeat later, Neikan was pulled away from its intended prey. The human watched as Leonardo spun it around and slammed his fist into its gullet.
"Leave him alone!" the ninja hollered as he kicked Neikan in the plastron.
The creature flew backwards and landed on its shell several meters away. It was back on its feet in seconds.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Leo yelled at the teen.
Mark stood and pushed his back to the wall. "I brought your sword," he said, tears in his voice.
"If I needed it, I'd have brought it myself!" he bellowed. "Now get the hell out of here!"
Neikan jumped ahead, clearing the distance to Leonardo and Mark in two bounds. It reached past the turtle, its claws coming to within inches of the teen's face. Leo jammed his finger into the creature's empty eye socket and wrapped his other hand around the back of its head, twisting. It spun with the action and sunk its teeth into Leo's shoulder. The turtle let out a yell of pain, but did not release his grip.
The tulpa ran sideways, smashing Leonardo's already injured shoulder into the concrete wall. He let go and grabbed the front of its plastron, bringing its head down against his knee. It fell back and flipped to all fours, scrambling again towards Mark, who still stood trembling in the shadows. Leonardo followed, but was unable to get to him before the creature.
Mark swung the sword at Neikan and missed it widely. It tore the weapon from the teen's grip, throwing it aside as the clawed fingers closed around his neck. Neikan squeezed and the human tried to pry loose the cold, lifeless fingers with his own. The grip tightened - and Mark's sight began to dim. His arms fell weakly to his sides.
Leonardo jumped on Neikan's shell and dug his fingers into its remaining eye, trying to force it loose as he had done the first. It swung its head back, impacting with Leonardo's brow. The ninja fell to the ground, dazed by the blow. He looked up at the boy that hung helplessly in the creature's grip, then glanced to the dirt and saw the sword where it had been discarded.
The turtle crawled towards the weapon and picked it up - then stood and launched himself at Neikan once again. He reached over the top of the creature's head and grabbed hold of the empty socket, pulling back and extending its neck. He put the katana blade to the already lacerated flesh and pulled it across. The tulpa let out a scream of pain and released Mark, who crumpled to the floor, coughing.
Leonardo did not expect the attack to stop Neikan - and it hadn't. The creature turned and jumped at him, its sharpened fingertips poised to strike the ninja. Leo stepped back and thrust the sword forward - the blade punched through Neikan's plastron, into the soft flesh underneath. Leonardo pulled the katana out and looked at the blood on his blade. A shiver of satisfaction worked its way up his body.
Leo felt the heat of adrenaline as it coursed through his veins - the rush of ferocity that defending his human friend had produced. He couldn't breathe anymore, he didn't need to. All thoughts left him as he pulled far back into himself - the pain in his arm and back were gone. All he felt any more was anger - and strength... incredible strength. He looked at Neikan - for the first time on its own terms.
The tulpa stumbled forward and slashed Leonardo's face with its claws, breaking through the skin and digging into the muscle. The ninja smiled - all he could feel was the heat. He dropped the sword and jumped on top of the creature, slamming his fist into its throat. It fell back onto its shell and threw him off, flipping to its knees again and charging at him on all fours.
Leo sprung to his feet and kicked Neikan in the head, sending it spinning onto its back. He leaped onto its plastron and grabbed the flesh where he had slit its throat. He pulled back hard, slamming his other fist into the open wound. He pushed down on the exposed trachea until it collapsed. The tulpa reached its hands up, gripping its throat and fighting to breathe.
The turtle wrapped his hands around Neikan's head and twisted. The sound of the creature's neck snapping echoed off the sewer walls.
Michaelangelo drew in a sharp breath and his knees buckled beneath him. He threw his hand out, grabbing hold of the edge of the sickbed to keep himself from tumbling to the floor. His heart pounded against the inside of his plastron, aching with each beat. He put a hand to his chest and looked up to where Donatello sat on the bed.
Don held his head tightly in his palms, his body quivering with each breath. He raised his eyes and looked into Mike's face, opening his mouth to speak. He could make no words as his breath caught in his throat. Michaelangelo stood up straight and grabbed his brother's arm.
"What... what the hell was that..?" he asked, his voice rough.
Don coughed and shook his head, trying to clear his mind. "Adrenaline," he said between forced breaths. "An adrenaline rush..."
"How..?" Mike stuttered.
Don slid of the bed and started pacing around the room. He stopped and looked back at Mike.
"Leo... he must have... Jesus Christ, Leo must have done it..."
"Done what?" Mike was having trouble focusing his thoughts.
"He killed Neikan... he did it..."
Michaelangelo looked at Raphael, who was still unmoving. "It doesn't feel right, Donny... I don't... I..."
"I know," Don said, walking to his brother's side. "I feel it, too..."
"Why the hell do we feel like this?"
Don sat down on the floor, rocking back and forth. "I think... oh my god... it got what it wanted... that's what it was trying to do all along..."
"What do you mean?"
"It didn't want to kill us... it never wanted to kill us..."
"What do you mean it got what it wanted?" Mike demanded, kneeling beside his brother.
"It wanted us to reclaim it. It wanted to become part of us again... that's why it didn't kill us when it had the chance... that's why... that's why it kept me alive," he started to shake again. "I did what it wanted me to do. I fought it... it was just waiting for me to fight back..."
"What are you saying?" Mike grabbed his brother by the shoulders and forced him to look into his face. "That it won...? that Neikan won?"
"...I didn't finish it... I didn't do what it wanted me to do..." Don continued.
"If it didn't want to kill us then why the hell is Raph lying over there half dead?" Mike yelled, the adrenaline continuing to course through his body. "Why the hell did it fight him so hard? If it wanted us to kill it, why didn't it just let us do it? Why didn't it just lay down and let us kill it?!"
"It couldn't," Don said.. "It needed us to pull part of it away... it needed to be weakened first... like Splinter told us."
Mike looked away. "And we sent Raph in for the slaughter... cause there wasn't enough of him. It just didn't give a damn if he fought back..."
"But Leo... Leo had more part in Neikan than any of us..." Don hung his head. "It was just waiting for him..."
They slid into silence. Mike stood and walked to Raphael's bedside, placing a touch on his unconscious brother's throat. The turtle's pulse was slow, steady - there was no sign in the sleeping ninja's body to indicate that any adrenaline was coursing through his veins. Conversely, the rush to Leonardo's system must have been more intense than either of the remaining turtles had experienced. Michaelangelo looked over at Donatello once again.
"And now what happens to Leo?" Mike asked.
He shook his head, understanding what was being asked. "I wish to hell I knew... I just hope he can control it..."
Mark blinked and rolled. His head was pounding and his throat was rough from where the creature had been holding him in the air. The human took a deep breath and looked over at Leo, who was on his knees, his head held tightly in his hands. He was shaking, fighting for air. Neikan's unreal blood covered him, dripping from his body onto the sewer floor.
Mark looked to where the tulpa lay on the dirty concrete. It's neck was twisted at an odd angle, the vertebrae thrusting out from the hole in its throat. The human felt his stomach churn at the sight and looked away, back at the ninja, who had not moved at all.
"Leo..?" Mark said, barely above a whisper.
The turtle jumped with surprise, but did not look up.
Mark stood, his legs unstable beneath him, and took a shaky step toward Leo. A strong grip on the human's arm pulled him back and he made a noise of alarm, spinning to face whoever was holding him back. He looked down into the concerned face of the turtles' sensei.
"Splinter!" Mark yelled after the initial shock had worn off. "He did it! Leo did it!"
The rat looked at the teen sternly, an expression of concern on his aged face. "Do not approach him," he warned.
"But..." Mark looked at Leo, then back at Splinter again. "Why..? It's over... he killed it. Didn't he?"
Splinter looked him in the eye. "Return to the den at once," he commanded.
Mark opened his mouth to protest, but a monitory glare from the ninja convinced him to do otherwise.
"I... I don't know if I remember the way..." he said, instead.
Splinter released his arm. "Follow your instincts."
Mark nodded and gave Leo a final glance before side-stepping past Splinter. He turned and ran down the tunnel, into the shadows and out of the rat's sight.
Splinter tilted his furry chin up and drew his sword. He looked at it for a few seconds, then threw it as far down the tunnel as he was able. At his feet lay the other sword, still coated with Neikan's blood. He bent over and picked it up, hurling it after the first. The steel blade rang as it glanced off a distant pipe - Leonardo's face shot up.
The turtle's eyes darted back and forth - focusing on nothing, but searching nonetheless. He stumbled to his feet and took a wobbly step forward, his breaths fast and deep. Splinter walked ahead, never once looking away from his son. A chill went up the rat's spine when he saw the wild, uncontrolled look in Leonardo's eyes.
"M... master..." Leo mumbled, his fists held tight. "What... what's happening... to me..?"
Splinter did not answer. He could sense the furor that was building up within his son - and that Leonardo could not remember how to hold back the instincts. Fifteen years of humanity had been suddenly torn away from his son, and it hurt Splinter to see Leonardo feeling so out of control. Leo had always been so much in control...
The older ninja crouched and glared at the turtle.
"Attack me..." Splinter commanded.
Leo stopped and stumbled back. "Wh... what..?"
"Now! That is an order!"
Leo lowered his head, holding it tightly with his shaking hands. "N...no! Please..."
Splinter leaped ahead, landing just before Leonardo. The aged rat bared his teeth and hissed.
Leo looked up and reached for his master, his hands brushing against the rat's fur. Splinter grabbed his son by the arm and flipped him onto his shell. The turtle sprung to his feet and glared at him.
"W... why are you doing this..?! I don't... want to hurt you..!"
Splinter hated doing this - but he knew it was the only way for Leonardo to overcome the rage that was growing within him. The younger one needed to remember how to control his rages... Splinter took a deep breath and looked his student in the eye.
"If you will not attack," the Master said, "then prepare to defend yourself!"
The rat sprung forward, his fist aimed for Leonardo's already bruised face. The turtle was unable to deflect the blow and took the full force of it to his jaw. He shook his head and his eye ridges drew together. His hands flexed and he stepped forward, drawing in a long, deep breath.
"No!" the turtle yelled. "I will not fight you!"
"Why do you not defend yourself?" Splinter said, pulling into a kick.
The mammal's foot hit Leo's plastron dead-center and the young one flew back. His shell hit the wall and he landed on his feet.
"B... because I choose not to..!" He bowed deeply and lowered himself to his knees, placing his forehead on the sewer floor. "Because I am in control..."
Splinter took a deep breath and stepped ahead, lowering himself to his son's side. He placed a touch on Leo's arm and the turtle looked up. Tears streamed down the young one's face and he wrapped his arms around his master, his body quivering as the adrenaline left him.
"Very good, my child..." Splinter whispered, putting his hand on Leo's head and guiding it onto his furry shoulder.
The ninja master glanced over to where Neikan's illusory body lay. Slowly, the creature faded into the darkness, disappearing from view like a shadow in the night. The blood surrounding them rose into a mist and vanished into the air.
"Shifu..." Leo whispered. "Is... is it over..?"
Splinter held his son closer.
Many minutes had passed since Mark had found his way back to the den, and now he paced around the infirmary, biting his lip as his mind raced. He stopped and looked towards the turtles, who were watching him in his aimless course. He folded his arms across his chest and sat down on the floor.
"Where the hell are they..?" he asked.
Donatello shrugged, wincing as pain seared through his arm. "They'll be along," he said.
Every wound on the turtle's body hurt worse now that the adrenaline rush had ebbed. He sighed and accepted a pair of Tylenol that Michaelangelo held out to him.
"So... Leo still doesn't know about Raph?" Mike asked the human teen.
He shook his head. "No... I didn't get a chance to tell him."
"I'm just..." Mike paused. "I'm just glad that Neikan is gone."
"Neikan remains," Splinter's voice announced.
The turtles and Mark all turned to see the rat and Leonardo as they stood in the doorway - it had been left unlocked and unguarded after Mark's return to the den. Splinter held the swords in his hand and supported his son with the other arm. Leo looked ragged and weak, but he wore the unmistakable expression that he held reserved for the mourning of a passing enemy. The turtle looked to where Raphael lay on the bed and slid away from the rat's reach, walking to his brother's side and resting a hand on his brow.
"I thought we lost you..." he whispered.
Raphael breathed deeper and his eyelids fluttered. Mark stood and joined the others as they moved to his side and watched anxiously. Raph opened his eyes and looked at each face, then smiled weakly at Leonardo.
"...Did you..?" he asked.
Leo fought back a tear. "Yeah... I did..."
Raph shut his eyes again. "...I knew you would..." he said, drifting back to sleep.
Leonardo turned away, looking into each face that surrounded him. He tightened his jaw and doubled his fists, walking to the center of the room and lowering himself down. He straightened his posture and closed his eyes, breathing deeply as he began to meditate.
Don and Mike looked at their master.
"What... what did you mean when you said that Neikan was still around?" Mark asked. "I saw it with my own eyes... there's no way it could have..."
Mike put a hand on the teen's shoulder.
Donatello looked at Splinter and then down at the floor. "It'll always be around... won't it?"
The ninja master nodded. "Neikan will always be a part of you," he said softly.
Mark looked away, understanding at last what was being said.
"Do you think people are gonna' come this way looking for me?" he asked, trying to shift the subject.
"Maybe," Mike said. "But these sewers are like a maze... they may miss our tunnel entirely."
"We'll bring you back to the surface in a little while," Don said. "But we still need your word not to tell anyone about us."
"You have it... I promise nobody will know about what happened here... or about you guys," he sighed shakily. "Thank you... for everything."
Mark looked over at Raphael and then back towards the others. He didn't know what he was going to tell anyone about how Ron died - but the thought came to him that he should offer up the truth as he understood it: something wicked had been there, but now it was gone.
He looked at Leonardo once again.
No, the human thought, it isn't gone... it's locked away...
Please check out my Author's Info page to find links that will lead you to Stealthy Stories. You can find out where this story came from, as well as some songs that I associate with it. Thanks for reading!