Warning: This chapter will be a little more OC-centric than normal. Apologies.
As the Jaegers followed behind Tsu, he couldn't help but become lost in the tangle of thoughts and emotions currently pressing against his mind. A very aggravating feeling considering he had just released 500 years' worth of pent-up emotions and stress a few days before.
I can't believe it. I've stamped out countless cults worshipping my Emperor, but this one managed to ignite my rage. How dare they act like that, using our history for their own purposes! Especially her. They have no right, none at all to use her name.
Even as Tsu realized that his train of thought was taking him into dangerous territory, it was too late to stop the memory from crossing his mind.
Imperial Palace, Reign of the First Emperor, Year 32…..
In the twenty years that Tsu had served his green-haired rescuer, he had never been asked to give his advice on a war council. Leading soldiers in hunts for Danger Beasts to be made into Teigu was the closest he had ever been to a real battlefield, but those had ended recently thanks to the completion of the 48 Imperial Armaments collection.
So when the Emperor had only Tsu by his side for a meeting with an opposing faction, he was not prepared. When escorted in, the first thing he noticed about the three messengers was their blue hair and warrior auras despite the spread of their sizes. The second thing he noticed was fact that two of them were female, a rarity even in the Empire. The final thing he noticed was their lack of awe at meeting the Emperor personally.
"What trickery is this, Emperor?" The only man declared, stepping forward with a flourish of his long hair and a fierce look in his grey eyes. "After you complied with our wish for an audience, we expected you to honor the other request." The middle-aged man was clearly trying to assume dominance in the room.
Tsu felt his indignation rise at the implied accusation before a swift hand from the Emperor silenced his retort. The leader of his nation raised an eyebrow before replying. "I have not tricked you in the slightest. You wished to meet myself and the commander in charge of the soldiers who made initial contact with your people. We are both here."
The taller of the two females stepped forward, grey eyes flashing with anger. "You mock us. A boy as young as him was likely not even born when this conflict began with your invasion of our lands." She pointed directly at Tsu. "I doubt that this child could be the Phantom Wall that started this war."
Tsu looked at his Emperor, who nodded, before looking the woman in the eyes. "How old are you?"
She stepped back, offended that he would ask such a thing at a time like this. "How dare…."
"Because you are most certainly younger than I, despite my youthful appearance." Tsu cut her off. "Besides the fact that we were not the aggressors. We were simply hunting the Seraphim angel-type Ultra Danger Beast when your people became so offended by our presence and weaponry that they assaulted my forces and we merely defended ourselves. There was no declaration of borders or trespassing, only blood and steel." Tsu watched the messengers as they digested his words.
"26." The woman decided to answer, staring defiantly into the advisor's eyes. "Not that it matters to me as our clan's chief."
The Emperor smiled in amusement, seemingly pleased by the confession. "And here I was expecting your father there to pretend that he was the one in charge of your people."
Her glare met the Emperor's smile, neither side giving an indication that they were going to back down. "We are honest and forthright both on and off the battlefield." Her glare moved to Tsu. "Unlike some people."
Tsu snorted at the implied insult, the unflattering noise making the third messenger giggle. Tsu directed his attention to her, covering his surprise at the realization of her size and implied age. "And yet you bring a child to negotiations?" He questioned the others, his eyes not leaving the warm gray gaze of the girl in front of him.
Her father was the one to answer his question. "As my daughter and sister to the clan chief, Lailah has every right to be at these negotiations."
The remark made a glimmer appear in the Emperor's eyes, one that Tsu recognized as the warning sign of an idea that would see fruition no matter what he did.
The green-haired leader rubbed his hands together in delight before speaking, "Perhaps a certain agreement can be achieved…"
A sudden neigh from his horse dragged Tsu back to reality, the village already in sight. One look at the trail revealed the small ravine Tsu's horse was accidently walking in, making it neigh in worry before he righted the indiscretion. He spared a quick glance to the Jaegers who following behind him like loyal dogs before setting his mask in place.
This village had awoken his rage and the only thing that could satisfy it was destruction.
Tatsumi looked around the village as they paraded towards it heart, trying to find some sign of Lubbock or any possible explanation for Tsu's erratic behavior. But all he could see was a charming village, one that was prospering and cheerful even under the Empire's weight. Unlike the one that he called home.
Just what was the Emperor and Tsu thinking calling them dangerous traitors? Tatsumi watched as a few villagers caught sight of them before scurrying off, their voices proclaiming the arrival of so many strangers. When the group had reached the town's central plaza, Tsu dismounted and walked towards a large statue sitting in the precise center of the area. The rest of their group followed suit, watching the advisor with curiosity. As Tsu turned and leaned against the masterwork, Tatsumi found his eyes drawn to the face of the statue. As the background noise of what sounded like the entire village arriving reached Tatsumi's ears, so did the realization that the statue was of an older version of Tsu.
He turned around and was surprised to see the men, women, children, and elders all kneeling in a circle around himself, Tsu, and the Jaegers. He and the Jaegers all took up defensive stances, ready to be ambushed as Tsu pushed himself upright. He clapped his hands, drawing everyone's attention. Once he confirmed that everyone was looking at him, he touched the statue of himself with a single finger. And in the space between breaths, Tatsumi watched it become nothing more than a fine powder with two large uncut diamonds sitting atop the piles.
"Loving Father sir," One of the middle-aged men spoke up, drawing their attention after Tsu's show of power. "We are surprised by your visit to our humble-" The words drowned in a fountain of blood from his mouth as Tsu's gaze found the man. The people closest to him shrieked at the sight before attempting to save his life.
The rest of the crowd and even the Jaegers found themselves transfixed on the advisor as he stepped forward, an undeniably malicious aura coming from him. He swept his gaze across the assembled crowds before settling on Tatsumi and Esdeath. Tatsumi couldn't stop himself from quivering in fear as he felt the weight of Tsu's gaze pass over him.
"This village has been found guilty of seditious and treasonous acts against the Empire and its agents. By the Emperor's authority, as granted to me, I order Esdeath and her special unit, the Jaegers, to eliminate this village." The flatness of Tsu's tone only made Tatsumi's fear ramp up, heightened by the execution order.
Esdeath gritted her teeth and clenched her fists, clearly reviling the order that she had been given even as the Jaegers withdrew their weapons. Tatsumi could feel his own revulsion kicking in, urging him to argue as a young brown-haired woman clad in gray work-clothes burst out of the crowd before falling at Tsu's feet.
"I beg that you have mercy, my lord. We beseech your nature as the son of the Mother Angel. Spare us your wrath." She pleaded, her face touching the ground in a desperate show of submission. Tatsumi looked to Tsu, hopeful that the woman's passion would stir the kindness that lurked behind Tsu's usual mask of indifference.
Tsu took a large breath through his nose before inelegantly sniffing the air, reminding Tatsumi of several times he had seen predators lose track of their prey. A shiver crawled down his back as Tsu's gaze shifted from the woman to Kurome.
"She's quite fearless, this one. To grovel at my feet despite still reeking of that Tracker." Tsu's words were clear in their intent, starting Kurome into motion before anyone could stop her. The woman didn't have the time to even look up before Yatsufusa was stabbed through her exposed back, the blow dropping her limp body at Tsu's feet in a rapidly growing pool of blood. Even though the brutal death of an unarmed civilian should have made Tatsumi sick, he felt a twist of just retribution. Tsu was a bastard, but even he would let them avenge Lubbock's death. The shocked crowd sat in fearful silence, some of the men looking ready to draw hidden weapons and fight.
"Begging won't save you." Tsu proclaimed, "If you know that my mother was Angel, surely you know of my father, Dragon? I'm not human and am not moved by your weak appeals for human mercy." His eyes met Esdeath's. "General, this village is to have no survivors. Not even the stones of their streets are to be spared. Rubicante will ensure this."
Tatsumi was shouting before he even considered the dangers of speaking. "Old man, what the hell? Aren't you supposed to protect the innocent?"
Tsu's gaze found Tatsumi, sending bolts of pure fear through his being with the seething hatred that lurked behind his softly-glowing white eyes. "Esdeath, make sure your… pet doesn't continue to misbehave. If it does, I will be forced to treat it as an interference. And I suggest you don't act out either, General." The words pulled any strength Tatsumi felt and crushed it faster than Esdeath's own spontaneous ice summoning. He might really kill us!
The blue-haired general turned to Tatsumi, slapping him before dragging him by his collar close enough to whisper to him. "If you want to live, stay quiet. We can talk about this demon's actions when it's safe. For the moment, focus on merely surviving the next few seconds." Tatsumi nodded while she turned to reply to the advisor. "He understands and apologizes. I will see him disciplined myself."
"See that you do." With his orders confirmed, Tsu deftly hopped onto his horse and began steering it towards the only road out of the village. "I will be waiting further back down the trail. Burning flesh is a scent that is notoriously hard to remove from silk." With that said, he left.
Tatsumi watched as Esdeath mulled over her orders and her personnel before issuing her orders. "Dr. Stylish, Run, and Seryu. You eliminate the populace. Wave and Kurome, remove any armed hostiles or resistant elements. Bols, perform your duties."
With total obedience, they leapt into action while the villagers beginning to scream and finally flee as blood and fire began to rain down.
Even as Tatsumi struggled to process the slaughter happening in front of him, a single thought crystallized. She is right, he really is an evil demon. He isn't even human.
Aria found the gates of the Imperial Capital a comforting sight after the long journey across the sea and the countryside to return. After paying the captain for his aid and buying a new blue dress in the same style as her formerly white bloodstained one, she had spent the entire trip back reading the black book and its horrible secrets. She shook a little as she began the long walk from the gate to the Imperial Palace, still trying to figure out how to tell Tsu what she had learned. Before she made it too far, a certain other blonde called out to her.
"Aria! Where have you been?" Leone shouted, running over to the former noble and quickly dragging her to a nearby bar to talk. Once they were seated, Leone pelted her with questions. What was she doing? Did Tsu know she was back? Was she part of the reason he had left the capital? Did she know where Lubbock was? Or the Jaegers?
Aria shook her head to indicate her lack of knowledge. "I'm sorry, I went on a trip to see what I could dig up on Tsu's past with the Empire. The Imperial Records department is so filled with his fake history I couldn't begin to understand him."
Leone blinked at the explanation before smirking. "So what, you falling in love with that guy? Looking to find out about his exes?"
"No." Aria's polite denial was met with a light chuckle. "I just wish to understand why someone so kind must act like he must in front of others. Especially when he is working with both sides for a better future." Aria looked out of the bar and took in the sight of the crowds moving through the area. "But how are the slums? I know Tsu was purging the police forces of corrupt elements, but has it been helping?"
Leone gave a sincere smile at the question. "It's been good, a little too good in fact. The police have started to really get it together. Crime is down, employment is up, coin and goods are flowing thanks to new policies put in place by Tsu." She leaned back in her seat to stare at the ceiling. "He's definitely mysterious and we don't really know where his loyalties truly lie, but he seems to enjoy charity cases."
Aria cast her eyes down, thinking of the black book currently in her pocket. I do have the answers to some of our questions, but it only makes it harder to answer others.
Aria looked at Leone and made a decision. "Hey Leone," she got the older girl's attention. "Here." She put the green book she had found on the table. "I found this book in a ruin associated with Tsu, but it's written in some strange language. Could you have Lubbock or someone else have a look at it?"
Leone looked at the small, thick book and casually flipped through the pages. "Damn, it barely looks like writing. I'll pass it on to Revolutionary Intelligence." She pocketed the gift. "But since you're all alone and we have the opportunity, can you check something out?"
"Okay?" Aria wasn't sure what she was agreeing to, but she wanted to help as much as she could even if she couldn't join them on missions now that she was their only source between the inside of the palace and the rest of Night Raid.
"There's a hidden section to the Imperial Records, according to Lubbock. It requires Emperor-level access, something only given to personal advisors and the Emperors themselves."
"And because Tsu is an advisor, you want me to use his authority." Aria nodded as her own plans became clear. "I'm on it."
And now I have a chance to prove this book isn't some fake and possibly help Master Tsu regain his humanity.
To be met with crowds after a successful mission wasn't unusual as far as Tsu was concerned. Which is why it wasn't a surprise for him when he, the Jaegers, and Tatsumi returned to the Capital days later. What surprised him was groups that made up the cheering masses. The poor from the slums. Merchants that had once failed to do business under crippling organized crime. Ordinary citizens, not the aristocracy that normally rejoiced to know that the status quo was upheld by its enforcers.
As he led the group down the major streets, he caught sight of Tatsumi's traumatized scowl and Kurome's depressed toying with Lubbock's goggles hanging from her neck. Was I too harsh? He considered before stopping his own doubts. Nope, they needed these lessons. The world is too empty to hide behind naïve hopes and dreams. Even if they are why we fight.
At the gate to the Imperial Palace, several footmen waited until the entire group stood before them before addressing them all.
"In light of the overwhelming victory of the Jaegers over the bandits located at Gyogan Lake, our illustrious Emperor has declared a royal celebration in order to celebrate both the accomplishment and the establishment of the elite unit on this night. All members of the Jaegers and the Imperial Court are expected to attend." The lead footman declared, reading the announcement off of a scroll. He looked up at each of them before sniffing in mild disdain at their current outfits. "You will all be escorted to private dressing and fittings for tonight as formal attire is required."
For a moment, Tsu considered punching the footman for the impunity but quickly decided that didn't fit his image in the Capital. "Of course." He flatly replied before gesturing the footmen to attend to each member of the security force behind him. "Has my attendant returned?" He questioned a nearby guard, and smiled internally at the curt nod he received. Turning and bowing with a practiced flourish, he left the group behind. He had to get ready for his own battlefield.
Kurome was still too numb from Lubbock's death to put up a fight about being forced to wear her current dress. The knee-length, strapless black dress made her pale skin appear ethereal alongside her own black hair tied up in an elegant bun. Her socks and small shoes had been replaced by black stockings and flats, a sensible choice since she hated heels and their impracticality. But even with the forced formal clothing, she kept her snack pouch on her belt and Lubbock's goggles around her neck. Any attempts to remove them had been met with harsh glares and threatening motions of her sword.
Even as she walked towards the ball, she found herself questioning everything about her mission. Is it really worth it for me to stay here? Aria and everyone convinced me it would help, but all it's done is get that green-haired pervert killed. How stupid do you have to be to get killed by someone as pathetic as that woman?
"Kurome, are you okay?" Wave's voice snapped her out of her dark thoughts. She noticed how he was wearing a white naval dress uniform, much like how Seryu wore her Imperial Police uniform and Esdeath wore her normal fatigues. Something about it made him seem less awkward, like he was pretending whenever he wasn't wearing it.
"I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?" She stopped staring at him long enough to answer.
"You looked like you were about to cry." He stepped closer, his voice full of concern. "Is something worrying you?"
"No. I just zoned out a little and forgot to blink so my eyes started watering." The lie came easy to her after years of lying to everyone that wasn't her sister about her feelings. He seemed to buy it, but she noticed he kept shooting glances at her. While she didn't mind it, it was unnecessary for him to worry about nothing that he could understand.
When Run arrived in a more expensive version of his robe, Dr. Stylish in his lab coat over a collared shirt with khakis, and Bols arrived in a full tux and his mask, all of the Jaegers went into the ball ahead of Esdeath. She looked past them, clearly waiting for Tatsumi.
Kurome did her best to avoid people and stuck near Wave as his presence deterred any male nobles from getting ideas. The boy was clueless about high society but very useful at keeping the flies at bay.
A trumpet sounded and the crowd turned to look at the page who had blown the offending instrument. "Announcing the arrival of General Esdeath and her escort, Tatsumi the spice merchant." Kurome watched as Esdeath and Tatsumi in a suit walked in with smiles and held hands, appearing like a happy couple. The assassin didn't even notice that she snapped the neck of her drink until Wave swiped the broken glass from her hand.
He smiled as he handed his glass of non-alcoholic champagne. "Must've been given one of the weaker glasses." He explained before going off to fetch himself a drink. A definite idiot, but not a hint of bad in him. She thought as she sipped from the replacement glass.
The trumpet sounded again, this time with the page declaring, "Arriving are his Majesty, the Emperor and his advisors. Announcing Will of the Empire, Minister of Spiritual Affairs and Law Enforcement. His daughter, Lady Schere, and his escort, Aria of House Amholt." Tsu appeared like a cloud wearing an all-white suit and tie, flanked by the little Schere in a frilly purple dress that matched her hair and Aria wearing a radiant blue version of the very dress Kurome was wearing, her hair loose and dangling to her mid-back. Unlike Kurome, she wore no stockings and had 3" heels on her feet. Her Shingu, Emparthos, hung from her neck as a necklace instead of the collar it had been made for an excellent accessory.
"Prime Minister Honest." The page continued, allowing the corrupt official to step in with an armful of well-dressed women surrounding him. If that pervert was here, he would be complaining about how unfair it was that he didn't have a harem of women in his arms.
"And finally, His Excellency, the Emperor." The man finished as the child-leader strode into the ball to a thundering chorus of clapping. Kurome rolled her eyes as Wave returned to her side, watching as Tatsumi, Esdeath, and Tsu conversed with fake smiles while Aria kept Schere planted in a seat far from the dance floor and the aristocratic posturing. Something that Kurome figured would only be made worse by the reveal of Aria's identity, a well-guarded secret by the undercover members of Night Raid. Until tonight apparently.
After listening to nobles discuss their various "hobbies" for far too long, Kurome noticed a small group of relatively adult-looking males make their way towards Aria. Sensing something was about to happen, she signaled to Wave that they should move close just in case.
"Hello Miss Amholt." One of the men said, smiling. He was relatively handsome, his black hair parted and styled in the current fashions, which left his hazel-brown eyes clear to stare at Aria. "I and my friends are quite shocked to be meeting you. After you went missing all those months ago, we all feared the worst when Night Raid was suspected. But it seems we must owe the advisor our thanks for returning such a rare flower to us." His hand reached out to run his fingers through her hair, an action that she denied with a casual flip of the loose tresses.
"I will pass your thanks onto my Master, as he is often too busy to entertain guests of any type." She replied curtly, managing to keep her tone civil. Better than what Kurome would have done in her position.
"So he's your Master?" Another man questioned with eyebrows raised. "Don't tell me that the Amholt heir has been struck as low as to be employed by a mere court official." He quickly cast his eyes over to where Tsu stood, bragging about Tatsumi and his future with Esdeath. "Unless you are perhaps little more than a noble-born slave he bought."
Aria's eyes flew wide open, her tone disdainful. "You dare?"
"We've all heard the rumors." The first man explained, his voice becoming more agressive. "'The advisor sees a blonde courtesan for companionship, daring to even bring his affairs into the public areas near the palace.' Sound familiar?" The man smiled without a hint of good. "Tell me, how much did he pay? I'll double it for you to marry me right now and grant me control over the Amholt estate. It would be a more fitting place for you than serving some common beast like him or his bastard child."
Kurome grabbed Wave to stop him from attacking the man for speaking in such a way to Aria. Another white knight in shining armor. Just like Tatsu-nii. But they were both surprised when Aria stomped the man's foot before pinning him to the table using a single hand. He struggled fruitlessly against the pin, a clear show of strength from Aria.
"I call him Master by choice. He saved me and cares enough to ensure I am already well taken care of. Continue to insult him or Schere and you may suffer for your words. Especially about bastard children and human trafficking practices." Her threat delivered, she let the flailing man recover and sat back down, reaching to hold Schere protectively as the men stepped closer.
"Ungrateful bitch!" The other man hissed, his arm coiling back to slap Aria. Before Kurome could let Wave go to punish the man, a white-garbed figure appeared and lazily caught the descending arm.
The four at the table and the two Jaegers stared in amazement at Tsu's dramatic appearance and his less than friendly smile.
His white eyes locked on to the captured man's, a very clear threat in them. "Raise your hand to strike at what is mine again and I will remove your title, wealth, influence, and limbs from you. Not necessarily in that order either." He let the man go with a light shove before stepping behind Aria and Schere to reinforce the two. "Let me say this plainly. Aria and Schere are mine." A savage glint edged into his smile and voice. "Try to hurt them and you'll suffer for it."
The first man flinched before feeling courageous enough to throw out a single taunt. "Common trash. You believe that because you once held an Emperor's ear you are still relevant?"
Kurome and Wave shivered as Tsu's eyes narrowed, flashbacks of the village and its brutal annihilation coming to them. They both looked around, surprised that no one else had noticed the commotion. Or they were pretending to not notice for their own safety.
"Common trash, eh? Three decades and the younger generation forgets its place." Tsu gave a dark chuckle. "Well, considering the Good Sense party just put all of their influence and connections under my control, I would guess that would make me the champion of the mass of 'common trash' that live throughout your domains, wouldn't it? Especially with my position as head of the judicial system and its subsidiaries."
The two nobles paled and started to edge away, clearly understanding they picked the wrong fight politically too. Aria had a mischievous look as she called out some parting words to them. "Don't worry, your mistresses will be more than happy to keep us informed now." The fleeing men cut a path through the crowds that was quickly closed up. At some unspoken command, Aria stood up and took Schere's hand. The noble girl led the child out of the ball as Tsu hovered behind them, his aura preventing any questions or stares from finding their departing forms. All except for Tatsumi's. Before Kurome could say anything, her foolish older brother left Esdeath's side to pursue them.
She started to follow, knowing the impending confrontation would likely hurt Tatsu-nii and there was no chance of Onee-chan being there to rescue him. But when Wave didn't follow, she turned to give him a questioning look.
Wave immediately looked guilty, but stood his ground. "No way. I'm perfectly fine staying on the advisor's good side. But if you want to try saving Tatsumi from him, you might be better cutting him off entirely." She nodded at the advice, before sprinting in the direction of the doors.
If no one else could save Tatsumi from himself, she would do it.
Tsu pretended to not notice a certain idiot's approach as he finished escorting Aria and Schere back to his suite of rooms. Once inside, he quickly kissed Schere's forehead and sent her off to bed with Aria to ensure she did so properly. A few seconds later, his front door slammed open, a very angry Tatsumi stomping towards him.
"You and I need to talk." He visibly seethed at Tsu, his opinion of recent events clear.
"About what?" Tsu decided to play innocent, his own plan of verbal attack forming.
"That village." Tatsumi paused for emphasis. "You ordered them to kill all those innocent people and yet you wouldn't even look at your own handiwork."
Tsu looked at Tatsumi with disinterest. "That's the real world. People die unfairly whether you want them to or not. And I've said this before, but our interests are only aligned about Honest, it doesn't make us allies or even partners. Even if you're my son."
"Says a freaking Danger Beast!" Tatsumi cried was met with a sharp gasp from behind the pair. They both noticed Aria had returned, but refocused on their own heated argument. "A freaking dragon-angel hybrid thing in human skin!"
Tsu shrugged his shoulders, the words not news to him. "I was told that the moment I met Luna, and I've denied it enough times in my life to earn some scorn," Tsu pointed right at Tatsumi, "But you have nothing to say, considering you owe your life to me."
"I'd rather be indebted to the Prime Minister! At least he's not as much of a coward as you are!" Tatsumi shouted, his anger reaching for the most cutting words he could hurl.
Playing dirty? Sorry, but this is going to hurt you a lot more than me. "Better a living coward than a cast-off weakling." Tatsumi doubled over as the words punched his gut. "Maybe that's why your parents sold you off? Because they knew you would turn out this weak."
Tatsumi struggled to stand as the words tore into his very soul. "You don't…" He started reply before another verbal lashing started.
"Tell me which hurts worse: That your well-to-do parents sold you to slavers or that you had so many other siblings they could have chosen?" The words brought Tatsumi to his knees. "And then when you knew the Imperial soldiers were closing in on the four of us, you fled down that rocky ravine that prevented the girls from following quickly enough. Unscrupulous weakling." Tatsumi couldn't meet Tsu's eyes anymore, pitching forward to hold himself up with his hands. "And even worse, you lie about that 'precious love' of yours. You've got nearly everyone else convinced, Akame included. Maybe even the Queen Ice Bitch believes you, but I know you don't trust her enough to truly love her. You can't trust anyone. Lying about something like love? Pathetic weakling."
Tsu took a break from his lecture to step forward and rest a foot on Tatsumi's back. "If you ever want to shed that weakness, you'll need to become like a dragon of ages past. Give in to your desires and let your old self die." Tsu used his leverage to force Tatsumi to the floor. "Now get out of my sight before I reconsider your debt." He lifted his foot off and Tatsumi scrambled out the door, tears already running down his face.
Tsu looked at Aria, and quickly realized something from her shocked expression.
He had gone too far.
Aria slapped Tsu, both of them knowing he deserved it. "If you don't want people to think of you like some beast, don't act like one." She chastised him, considering chasing after Tatsumi to make sure he would be all right.
Tsu avoided her eyes and looked sincerely sad for a moment before settling into his mask of unreadable indifference. "Considering what he said was true, I'm not too sure about that myself." He's retreating into himself to hide from everything. Again.
Aria rushed to the door, but paused for a moment at the threshold. "Whether you really are part-angel and part-dragon doesn't make you any less human." With her final thoughts said, she chased after Tatsumi, finding him down a branching hallway, kneeling while weeping into a hug from Kurome. The two turned at her approach, signaled by the click of her heels.
"Do you know how this happened?" Kurome harshly questioned, "What did that old bastard do to Tatsu-nii?" She stroked his head as the poor boy recomposed himself.
Instead of answering Kurome's question, Aria replied with one of her own. "Why do you have Lubbock's goggles?"
The two semi-siblings shifted awkwardly, rapidly avoiding her eyes. "You haven't heard?" When Aria shook her head, Tatsumi took the responsibility of answering her. "He died on our mission. In a little village that Tsu ordered snuffed out at the Emeperor's command."
Aria felt her knees growing weak, but she remained upright through sheer willpower. "So then he's…? I'll let Leone know at our next meeting." She managed to sound professional, but an unbidden tear still managed to escape.
Did you weep? Were you hurt to lose a friend? Or have you become too numb to remember pain?
For the first time in days, Lubbock was relieved. He had stumbled blindly through the southern lands of the Empire, stealing food and fresh horses on his way back to the Revolutionary Army Headquarters. But he had finally reached it. After collapsing at the edge of the camp and being taken to the infirmary to recover, he managed to ask an attendant if Najenda could be found. While he waited for the only woman he would ever love in his life, the fatigue of his journey caught up and put him to sleep.
"Of all the things I could have expected today, you were not amongst them." Green eyes opened to a bountiful and familiar chest before a more familiar fist landed between them. He bolted upright from the strike, ready to look her in the eye.
"Tsu is going to destroy a village over some inane misunderstanding about his wife!" He proclaimed, watching the confusion cross Najenda's face as the words registered.
She took a second to light a fresh cigarette before replying. "Our spies reported that the Jaegers successfully suppressed the Gyogan Lake bandits before razing a rebellious village. Are you telling me otherwise?" She looked at her information gatherer, making sure he understood as she took a drag.
"Partially. Tsu had me scout a village, then when I asked a few questions he threatened to kill me. After he nearly broke my ribs, I managed to escape." He pulled himself up straighter. "We can't treat him as anything other than a threat anymore. We need to start working towards a solution to bring him down."
"I guess our lives just got harder."
In the days after the ball, Aria noticed how Tatsumi would avoid Tsu while the elder acted as though he had done nothing wrong. Men and their pride, Kurome and Wave stuck close to Tatsumi, often acting like physical walls protecting him from Tsu's awareness. It weighed on her heart to know the two were fighting despite their unusual relationship.
When it was time to meet with Leone, they sat at the same café that Tsu had designated as a safe meeting point. A place that had seen more secrets discussed than any place outside the Imperial Palace.
"Lubbock's dead." Aria opened the conversation with Leone, determined to get the bad news out immediately.
The other blonde seemed stunned before shaking her head. "Damn. That pervert was annoying, but we'll miss him." Leone settled back into business mode. "So anything else?"
Aria handed off several thick reports, full of high-level orders and military secrets from the hidden Records room. "All this. And Tsu might actually be a humanoid Danger Beast."
Leone blinked, surprised by the news. "Well that might explain a lot."
"Esdeath is planning some excursion to train the Jaegers. I'm going to try and dig up more, but it's hard with my identity revealed."
Leone nodded, agreeing. "Good luck, cutie. You're going to need it."
Aria wasn't entirely sure what luck would do at this point.
When Tatsumi returned to Esdeath's bedchambers, she felt a slight change in the air around him. Since the ball and her rebuking of his actions, he had acted quite lost and depressed. A worrisome thing for her considering their agreement. While gathering his bedding and pillow to sleep on a couch in her room, Esdeath was surprised when he decided to speak up for the first time in days.
"Esdeath, I need to see my girlfriend." He declared, an ominous level of determination in his eyes.
The general considered the request for a moment before reaching her decision. "I'm planning an excursion to properly determine Kurome and Wave's abilities at Mt. Fake. If you come along and are able to slip away safely, I will permit it. But this is contingent on your return to aid me in my mission."
Tatsumi's smiled, his face full of genuine happiness. "Of course." Something in his smile told Esdeath he wasn't just returning to his lover, but that he had finally solved his problem that had brought them together in the first place.
"Then I have no issues."
Aria spent the next several days delving further into the First Emperor's journal, finding herself more sickened and filled with pity for Tsu. The physical and mental testing of his Teigu's capabilities and its requirement of total obedience to the First Emperor had culminated into an unspeakable level of abuse and torture that would leave most humans utterly hollow.
As she finished the first half of the detailed confession, the starting lines of the next page caught her eye.
"After confirming that his body and mind were little more than extensions of my will to fulfill their purpose, I decided to test the only bastion he could have left: his heart and soul. At my orders, he fell in love with and married a woman that he hadn't met before that day. After several months, I released him from the command with the ability to speak his mind. The level of eloquence to his swearing managed to even boggle my mind as he cursed me for such horrible torture. To be trapped inside your own mind and body while it seduced someone and spoke empty words seemed too much for him. But with another command, the trial was erased from his memory."
Aria managed to suppress her growl of disgust at the callous acts of the young leader. She no longer doubted that the key to everything lay in breaking Tsu free from the shackles placed upon him at the dawn of the Empire. But she still needed to know what led to this. She knew how he and the First Emperor met and the aftereffects of being given his Teigu, but she lacked the information about everything in between. And there was only one place to find it.
She waited patiently for Schere to alert her adopted father to lunchtime, and once she confirmed they had left the suites, slipped out herself. She drew her cloak's hood up, hoping that none of the annoying suitors that didn't fear the advisor's reprisals would find her wandering the halls alone. Because she really didn't want to be chastised for using excessive force.
By the time she had snuck into the hidden rooms of the Records Hall, Schere's usual lunchtime was nearly half over. Aria hurried to a secluded corner that contained the oldest records and texts. Pulling out the books, scrolls, and letters to scour their written contents, she searched for any mention of Tsu or his Teigu. But what shocked her was a thick book detailing the creation process and capabilities of all the Teigu. As she opened it to find her desired target, a presence appeared behind her.
"What are you doing here?" Tsu's voice made Aria jump, quickly turning to face him. The advisor stood in halfway in the shadow of a nearby shelf, making his legs appear non-existent.
"Master Tsu, why are you here?" She couldn't keep a waver out of her voice as the subject of her research stared at her with his trademarked impassive mask.
"Looking for you." His eyes shifted and Aria caught a glimpse of emotion flickering across his face. "I don't mean to sound broody, but since I screwed up with Tatsumi I haven't felt right. And since I fail to understand people, I was hoping that you might be able to help, but I'm a little too proud to come begging. But you weren't back at the suites so I became concerned that you might have abandoned me over that slight."
Aria paused for what felt like too long as the admission processed. "You need help? Understanding people?"
His eyes met hers, a light smirk crossing his face. "I understand motives, intent, morals, emotions, dreams, even hope. But that does not reveal the secret of humans to me. They are as mysterious to me as I am to them."
"You're referring to yourself as something other than human again."
"I haven't felt like a human since the day the First Emperor died. I outlived my beloved savior and now guard his dream with everything I have." His sincerity leaked into his normally flat tone.
"Savior, huh?" Aria couldn't meet his eyes, instead chose to stuff her hidden materials into pockets in her dress before withdrawing the journal that had led her here. "I found this on the island, and I've been meaning to ask about it."
She took a deep breath, uncertain of how her next words would be taken. "The Emperor wrote this. And in it, he confesses to harming and enslaving you with your Teigu. He even goes so far as-"
"Leave." The command was full of cold malice and anguish, a tone that Aria never expected to hear.
"I said leave, you traitorous bitch." Tsu snarled, anger lighting up his face and eyes. "You have one minute before I inform the Imperial Guard of your treachery."
Aria was stunned, to say the least. She was emotionally reeling from his words, but some part of her brain stayed rational, filling her hands with more texts and scrolls before sprinting from the room, his heated gaze tracing her footsteps. By the time she began to see the entryway to the palace, the alarm bells were sounding everywhere. Even as she escaped into the crowds of the late afternoon markets, his words chased her.
An unfair tear slipped past her rational side, staining the journal with a single smudge.
Diligence was the key to stakeout operations, in Akame's personal opinion. Especially after Leone's return with the saddening news of Lubbock's death and the abrupt lockdown of the Capital preventing anyone from entering the city.
The three Night Raid girls could only speculate as to the reason for the sudden stop of traffic, but were more than happy to use it as a means of filtering their stakeouts. Early in the morning as Akame watched the north gate, she became surprised by the slow exit of a group of people. When they left the shadow of the gate, she couldn't hold back a gasp at the sight. Esdeath led Tatsumi, Kurome, and another Jaeger named Wave out of the capital with camping supplies scattered amongst them. Her hand reached for Murasame on instinct, knowing that this could be an opportunity to take down the general. They had numbers and the element of surprise. It wouldn't be too troublesome. I've killed her before.
"You keep radiating killing intent like that and the birds will notice and signal Esdeath." A certain presence behind her spoke out, making her turn and draw her sword. The blade hovered an inch from Tsu's neck, though the advisor didn't seem to care about that.
A leering smile that never reached his eyes grew before he batted the sword away by its flat side. "Just like when we first met. Always threatening things because you're afraid."
Akame's eyes narrowed and she kept her grip tight on her weapon. "What are you here for?"
"Personal reasons. Mostly to talk. Maybe pass down some wisdom." Tsu sat and quickly motioned to Akame to follow suit, to which she glared at him for his casual attitude.
"I'll repeat myself once more before striking you down. Why are you here?" Akame readied her sword, a meaningless threat considering her possible opponent.
Tsu sighed and she watched his eyes grow distant. "Do you really love my son Tatsumi?"
Akame's reply was automatic. "Of course I do!"
"Or just the memory of the one from the previous timeline?" Akame's follow-up was cut off by the sudden turn of phrase.
"I-I….I…." She fumbled, unsure of herself for the first time since she had confessed to Tatsumi.
Tsu's eyes clouded with anger, regret, and some unknown emotion as he stood up to pierce Akame with his gaze. "I didn't bring you back to let you live out a fantasy. I brought you back so you could move on. I did you a kindness and you return it with spite."
His words made Akame's anger rise, taking hold of her. "I'm not returning anything to you! You brought me back in time and yet you also changed things. You changed me, you changed the world. You. Changed. Him."
"Because they are two entirely different existences!" Tsu's hands clapped onto her shoulders, an iron grip preventing her escape. "Each one of those changes was brought about for my goals and a happy future. Ones that conveniently allow for you and Tatsumi to have something more. But you waste it. You know nothing of his past or struggles, only that he is close enough to your original to be a substitute despite being a completely different individual." Her eyes fell away, unable to handle the intensity of his gaze.
Akame tried to come up with a comeback, anything to rail against his damning words and their ability to strike at the very core of her being. "So?" It was all she managed to say, a meager defense to stymie a tide of guilt at her own actions from washing over her.
"Let him go." Akame's eyes flew wide at Tsu's suggestion, her eyes returning to his. And there she saw serenity and kindness, something she remembered him radiating with at their first meeting. Something she couldn't handle in the face of his previous emotional attack.
"Why?" She felt tears starting to well up at the thought of leaving Tatsumi. I can't undo what I've done, but at least let me try again. Her mind pleaded.
"Because that Tatsumi died. He died years ago. This Tatsumi didn't. My son is alive and he's a bit different, but he's still here and in love with you. If you really want to make the most out of what I gave you, love the current Tatsumi. Not the one you can never have, but the one who would hold you right now." Tsu's eyes were full of compassion, a strange look for someone she preferred to think of as a dangerous third-party.
A few seconds passed before Akame could regain her composure, her heart lightening at the emotional cleansing that had torn her apart moments earlier. "Thank you for that, but don't ever do it again." She told him, returning her attention to the city's gate and trail. But when she failed to find a sign of Tatsumi or his traveling group she turned back to Tsu with rage filling her again.
"You tricked me." She hissed, Murasame prepared to strike.
A sad smile crossed the advisor's face before he countered. "Maybe. But you needed that and now you need to know where they're going."
"What do you want?"
"Simple. Quit interfering with my plans. I've already lost enough due to your changing influence over people and events, but if you stop now we both get what we want. My goals fulfilled, and you get Tatsumi and a nice, happy future with him. So try and stick to the script of what you remember happening." Confidence replaced the sadness on his face, showing his arrogance.
"I make no promises."
"Ironic considering if you used it, you would know where they are going." Tsu strongly hinted with a dose of sarcasm.
"Mt. Fake. That's where they're going and Tatsumi will escape and…." Akame rattled off the events before a hand waved in her face.
"Hush you, I'm in the middle of an intricate plan to change what you remember as recent history so don't go spouting it off like it's confirmed. But you are right about that first part. The second, not so much. Seems he made a clingy friend out of that one navy brat. One who's smart enough to not let that boy out of his sight this time around." Again Tsu hinted, refusing to speak honestly to her about what might happen.
"I have to go." Akame sheathed her sword before turning her back to the white-haired man looking bored with the world. "And consider trying to act more normal with people, it might do you some good."
With a final remark said, she jetted away, already forming possible plans to aid in Tatsumi's escape.
This time, I won't fail. I will learn from my mistakes and change this time for the better.
Tsu confirmed that Akame was gone before letting out a particularly large sigh. "Maybe this will get their heads on straight. If I can't understand them, might as well make sure they understand their own love." He looked out in the direction Akame had run. "Emperor knows how that went."
Imperial Palace, Reign of the First Emperor, Year 36…..
A certain white-haired advisor sat at a conference table with the ministers of public works and economics as they discussed future projects to expand the Capital's walls. Just as they began to settle on a policy, the room's door was thrown open, revealing a well-endowed, blue-haired teen girl in a scarlet tunic with black knee-high boots. She was clearly angry as her grey gaze settled on Tsu.
Sighing and standing up quickly, Tsu skirted the table to meet her. "Lailah, I'm in a meeting…" He started to explain before she slapped him with enough force to toss him back to the table. The other two ministers pushed their chairs away in shock.
"I'm sick and tired of you acting like I don't matter!" She declared, throwing her long hair with a flick of her wrist. "We're married, so act like it."
Tsu gave a grunt before leveraging himself up from the table. "A political marriage to ensure peace. And I'm not interested in children." He deliberately looked away from her, which only seemed to infuriate her more.
Stalking up to him with a malevolent and predatory air, Lailah grabbed him by the chin to force him to look at her. "I'm 16 now, no longer a child by any nation's laws. Now I demand that you love me!" She pushed him back onto the table, crawling on top of him.
The two ministers went from shocked to horrified as the married couple began to fervently make out on the table, sensual groans slipping from the both of them between pressed lips. The two officials hurried out of the room, declaring a need to reschedule the meeting. Whether it was heard was something they didn't wish to think about after the shameless display already put on.
When Tsu and Lailah stopped for air, the advisor couldn't help but smile. "If today was your birthday, you should have just told me. I wouldn't have wasted either of our times then." Lailah smiled at him, happy to hear those words from the man she had come to admire since their first meeting. He returned the smile, his own feelings finally safe to return after growing over the years. She was surprised when Tsu initiated their next kiss, casually flipping them over so he was on top. "Now I think that there is another part of our duty that needs doing."
Tsu paced outside the Emperor's audience chamber, waiting to give his report about Aria's "treason" and hear the child leader's response.
"Enter." The voice of Prime Minister Honest grated across his ears, forcing the advisor to bite back a growl of annoyance. Was everything devised to stomp on his plans and hopes? If the Minister was there, he would have to be more aware of his own schemes and conflicts than necessary.
Striding into the audience chamber before bowing at the foot of the Emperor's steps, Tsu exuded an air of humility and loyalty that couldn't be matched by any other in the room.
"Your Majesty, I come bearing news of the investigation into the Aria Amholt incident." He spoke, his words lacking any energy.
The Emperor looked to Honest before replying. "Please, give us the report." Tsu managed to not roll his eyes at the thought of the Prime Minister smiling above his bowed head.
"It seems that she has escaped using similar means to the assassin group Night Raid. Further investigations have begun into what records she has managed to steal from the private section of the Imperial Archives. We've even reopened the case about the murders at the Amholt house with the possibility of it being an inside job." Tsu explained, raising his head to look at the Emperor. "In order to recompense for this, we've tightened security both inside and outside of the Capital and I've seized the Amholt estate under the suspicion of terrorist activities."
The Prime Minister seemed annoyed at his thoroughness, though Tsu suspected it was more about his successful prevention of Honest taking more lands and wealth for himself. The Emperor nodded, before frowning in concern. "And what of yourself and your daughter? How are you handling this?"
Tsu blinked, utterly stunned at the compassionate question from the Prime Minister's puppet. A sentiment shared by the Prime Minister if his facial expression was anything to go by. "I confess, I'm still reeling." The advisor slowly admitted, "Schere is saddened that her caretaker is gone, but I'm certain that Aria has had no dangerous influence on her or her education." His head fell. "I feel ashamed to have been the one who brought such a dangerous radical into the Palace. I will do whatever Your Majesty determines is a fitting punishment."
The Emperor appeared thoughtful for a second before declaring his verdict. "In light of your long service with my family, I ask only two things of you. One is that you join the Jaegers on their mission to defeat the rebels and other dangers to this Empire, in lieu of your current duties." The Prime Minister seemed excited about the declaration, something that didn't escape Tsu's notice.
"Of course. It would give me time to check on my other holdings beyond the Capital to ensure their safety as well."
"And second, I've been told you have a name given to you by the First Emperor. One that, if used, guarantees that you will perform to your absolute best." A deep pit settled in Tsu's stomach. The very name that the boy spoke was one that he didn't want to hear. Only two people had ever spoken it, and they were long dead.
Despite his personal feelings on the issue, Tsu pushed them aside to abide by his rule of obedience. "The name you speak of is Mizutsumi. Often shortened to Tsu."
Isle of the Moon's Beast, Reign of the First Emperor, Year 11….
The First Emperor stood on the beach of the island, ready to leave with the spoils of his night visit. He turned to face the only person he could not see clearly, hiding from the moonlight in the shadows of the ships grounded on the beach.
"I really wish you would tell me your name. It's feels wrong to call you boy when you're clearly more than that." He told the figure, who shrugged their shoulders.
"I was never given one. Not by my nonexistent parents, the freshly-slain god Luna, or any of those monks in your chains." Came the reply.
The First Emperor smiled at the insinuation. "Well then, I guess I will have to give you one." He looked around for a moment before coming to his decision. "We met on this beach on the last day my crew would journey across the sea before turning back. So I think Mizutsumi, the moonlit beach beyond the sea, is a good name."
The shadow's head tilted slightly, as if determining the name's fit. "Me Tsu, Tsu me? Me Tsu, Tsu me." A snap of his fingers signaled his understanding. "My name is Tsu!"
The First Emperor couldn't stop himself from laughing at the boy's bizarre conclusion.
Present Day, Mt. Fake….
Tatsumi was glad that he'd talked to Esdeath about his escape plans. She had already gone further around the mountain with Kurome, leaving him with only one hurdle. A very clingy Wave.
"Not to sound ungrateful for the companionship, but why?" Tatsumi asked as they made their way up the mountain's trail. The navy-haired boy stood a mere foot away, seeming to not understand the idea of personal space.
Wave gave the back of his head a quick scratch before replying, "Well, after what happened, I figured you could use a good friend close by." His head dipped with a faint queasiness. "Plus, something tells me that you and I have had some of the same kinds of problems." Tatsumi easily guessed what he meant, flashes of the Jaegers and Night Raid passing through his mind. Ain't that the truth.
Recollecting himself, Tatsumi decided now seemed like the best time to separate since there were no Danger Beasts around. "I've got to take a leak, so you go on ahead." He tried to shoo Wave off, only to watch the sailor's face set in stone. "No way. Esdeath would torture me if you got hurt. Plus you barely know how to use that foreign sword." He pointed to Incursio. Tatsumi mentally scolded himself. This is my own damn fault for saying I'm just a merchant.
"Well, I… uh…" Tatsumi struggled to find an excuse when a rumbling sounded above them. He started to look up as Wave tackled him. A section of cliff above them had given way, raining stones of various sizes ranging from child-sized pebbles to crushing boulders. Once the cacophony of scraping rock stopped, the two looked at the now-blocked path behind them.
"Looks like we're not heading back that way." Wave remarked, starting to turn away. But Tatsumi felt a tingling sensation in the back of his skull, one that he was intimately familiar with. Prey sense? Then that means… His thoughts were confirmed as several of the larger rocks grew limbs and slashed at Wave's back, tearing his coat while he tried to dodge the ambush. "Get running! I'll take care of these things." He ordered Tatsumi while he drew his sword.
Realizing the opportunity he had been given, Tatsumi followed the order and promptly abandoned Wave. It felt a little heartless to leave him alone against an unknown number of rock mimics, but Tatsumi had his own escape to worry about. I just hope Esdeath doesn't punish him too severely. It's not going to be his fault and she knows it.
Once he was certain he was far enough away, Tatsumi activated Incursio and began hurry down the side of the mountain. The armor Teigu protected him from the harsh slope before empowering his legs to jump a small canyon. He landed with a smirk, thinking that he had gotten far enough away from Wave to escape. He spotted a small waterfall and stream in a nearby clearing and stopped to take a drink.
No way that Wave can find me now. I just feel bad that he's going to be-
His thoughts were interrupted by an explosive impact in a cliff near his head. Jumping away as the dust settled, Tatsumi caught sight of an armored figure striding towards him. Shit! He's got an armor type Teigu too!
"I recognize Incursio." Wave's voice proclaimed, pointing a finger at Tatsumi. "It's a prototype of my Grand Chariot. Which means you have to be part of Night Raid!"
Tatsumi settled into his stance, waiting to see what Wave would do. He timed his escape attempt to Wave's blinks, measured by the dimming of his glowing eyelets. Tatsumi didn't make it far before a shadow passed him, landing on a rock formation ahead of him.
"You're not going to escape that easily. Accept your fate and fight me!" Wave declared. Why did he of all people have to show up? If it had been Esdeath or even Kurome, I would be long gone.
Wave charged at Tatsumi, throwing punches that the Night Raid member managed to partially block. A gap in the assault gave Tatsumi the opening he needed to jump high and escape the barrage. But before he could take advantage of the altitude, Wave reappeared, using a kick to slam Tatsumi into the stream. The surge of cold forced Tatsumi to refocus, activating Incursio's invisibility to trick Wave into running downstream after a 'swimming escapee'.
After waiting until he was certain that Wave was gone, Tatsumi resurfaced, grateful to Sheele for teaching him how to swim in armor. Your lessons really saved me there. He felt Incursio disengage as his knees gave out on the gravel shore. He held himself up with his arms, a few coughs rattling his chest.
Damn, that kick was powerful. I think he broke some of my ribs. That could have killed me. Tatsumi started to crawl towards the forest's edge. But now I can go back home. Make everything -
His arms gave out, the backlash of Incursio finally reaching his muscles. He let out a groan as his ribs met the ground. The sound of rustling leaves drew his eyes upward, meeting a clawed yellow foot that was attached to a horned tigeresque Danger Beast. Oh come on! Fuck you fate and your bad timing! He thought, the growls of the predator in front of him stopping words from forming.
He watched the creature lunge forward, its intent clear. Forgive me Akame. I can't keep our promise. The thoughts drifted through his mind as he closed his eyes in acceptance.
The sound of steel cutting through flesh made his eyes open to a wondrous sight. Akame herself had appeared, Murasame cutting through the Danger Beast's head with ease.
When she landed elegantly nearby, Tatsumi couldn't believe it. "A-Akame?" He wanted to hope this wasn't some cruel taunt from the gods before his death.
"Tatsumi." She looked at him with the same loving gaze she always had. "You're okay." She knelt down next to him, inspecting him for any wounds that she could find.
"Why? How…?" Tatsumi couldn't form the questions he wanted answers to.
She smiled and shook her head. "Don't worry about it. All that matters is that you're back." Tears were in both of their eyes, their happiness overflowing at their reunion.
She helped him to his feet, before planting a light kiss on his cheek. He blushed and returned the gesture. "I'm home."