Chapter 49: Kill the Origins
Seryu felt alone in her jubilation upon Nocturne reuniting. After sounding the horn, Tatsumi, Wave, Akame, and Kurome came running to Baratelous' hideout. The former soldier didn't falter as she hugged all four of them, weeping tears of satisfaction they survived and found Akame. But Seryu had issues with reading the room, and it wasn't until she paused did the unease of the others hit her.
Akame separated herself from the group immediately, not meeting anyone's eyes as she leaned against the wall in the corner—glancing at Tatsumi who wouldn't look at her. To Seryu's distraught, she noticed Wave's eyes looked beastly like Tatsumi's which only meant his will would succumb soon. Chelsea crossed her arms, silent since she still felt awkward about their falling out.
Seryu glanced down, afraid something more than Mine died back at that campsite. Rather, the bond that held this group together might've been irreparably severed.
"You all have arrived," said Baratelous, his ancient voice ringing through the hallway as he held his cane for support.
The foursome's eyes all widened as they studied the old man. In her excitement, Seryu forgot they hadn't been updated on why they're here. Chelsea still didn't speak, so Seryu said, "Our apologies; I was so happy to see you all, I forgot you're wondering why we're here. This man here is…well, this is who we've been looking for. Before you is none other than the legendary Baratelous."
They gasped, perfectly mirroring the reaction Chelsea and Seryu had when they found out the identity of their old savior. Baratelous gave a slight flick of his finger, almost like that was his way of saying hello.
"Is…is it you…?" murmured Kurome, her eyes narrowing a bit. "To be alive after all these years…are you sure this isn't a trick?"
"No, he's the real deal," said Chelsea, finding her voice. She still refused to look at them. "We checked out his knowledge on Teigu and even showed us some old documents showing prototypes and formulas on how to make them. This is without question, the very same Baratelous who served as the First Emperor's alchemist."
"Holy shit…" mumbled Tatsumi, staring at the old man as if to assure he wasn't some illusion. "Well, they probably asked this already, but…well, uh…how the hell are you alive?"
The old man grunted; Seryu couldn't tell if it was one of amusement or if the old man wanted to clear his throat. "Let's have this conversation in a more suitable place. Follow." With that, the old man turned around, not even waiting for signs of agreement from the group.
Kurome raised an eyebrow, "He's charming…"
Seryu shrugged, aware of the strange attitude of the old man. She didn't know if it was a byproduct of living so long, but the way Baratelous talked and stared at them seemed inhuman. His eyes always stayed rigid, lacking emotion like they were test subjects on a laboratory table meant for observation. Seryu knew the look well considering Dorothea had the same eyes. She was Baratelous' distant descendent so she figured that's just how alchemists of their intelligence act.
However, where Seryu felt malice and lack of empathy from Dorothea—Baratelous felt much more like an old soul, his spirit continuing to defy the inevitable power of death for a millennium.
On the slow walk through the candle-lit hallways made of wood, the six took turns explaining what befell them after their split. Seryu told them all about the hellscape of that abyss while Chelsea would chime in a few times to correct some details. She explained all the wealth of information Baratelous had, mentioning they hadn't gone into detail with the old man about their current predicament because they wanted to wait for them to arrive.
What they did find out is how Baratelous has been sustaining his life with a vitality elixir, the same kind Dorothea strived to perfect for eternal life. He also explained that he met Najenda once when she still served the Empire. The navy stumbled across the land before starting an expedition in search of valuable natural resources. Najenda joined along as backup against the island's diverse array of Danger Beasts.
Much like Seryu and Chelsea, he rescued Najenda from certain death before tending to her wounds. In return, Najenda agreed to keep secret about the old man's whereabouts and convince the Empire nothing of interest was here. And so, she kept quiet all those years.
That is until Esdeath's new power forced the desperate move to reveal the truth to Nocturne.
In turn, Wave told them about their clash at the mountain with the shadow Danger Beast after finding Akame. Seryu gasped when they mentioned meeting the dragon who fought Enti in that desert they met the Titans. Truly, even when separated, insane occurrences had no problem finding the agents anywhere they were.
And then, Wave's metamorphosis had begun. He put on a brave face, but the man of the sea had to feel dread—especially since Tatsumi stood before him as an example of what he'd become. Seryu gave a sympathetic smile to Kurome, assuring the Necromancer it'd be alright. Her ability to hide her grief wasn't as good as Wave's though.
Baratelous led them into the same study Seryu and Chelsea met the old man. The room still smelled of ink, paper, and ash from the torches adorned on the walls. It reminded Seryu of school when Baratelous sat behind his ivory desk and the rest of the agents sat in the wooden chairs in front of it. Akame still kept her distance, resting against a bookshelf. Chelsea didn't stay as far away, but stood behind the group, arms crossed with a tight jaw.
The mismatched group sat in uncomfortable silence for minutes that felt like hours. Here the bickering group of vigilantes sat with the creator of the infamous Teigu staring them down with his apathetic eyes. Many points needed addressing right now, but none of them knew where to begin.
Then, Chelsea settled with asking, "How many more times can you wear Grand Chariot before…you know?"
Wave fiddled with his thumbs, mulling it over. "I don't feel any mental strain like Tatsumi's going through, but…less than a dozen times? I couldn't tell you until I use Grand Chariot again."
Seryu clapped her metal hands when an idea occurred to her. "Why, of course! Baratelous, being the creator of the Teigu, I'm sure you've encountered this phenomenon before. If so, could you explain what you observed and what was done about it?"
The others stared in anticipation towards the stoic old man, aware of what Seryu caught on to. If there was anyone that could fix Tatsumi and Wave, he sat across from them. Baratelous shifted in his chair, closing his eyes while tightening the grip on his cane.
"I've seen this only once," he said. "Much like you two boys, there was a young man that adorned the first-ever iteration of demon armor I created. He had bravado and spirit, always willing to protect those who needed protecting. Before long, the armor overtook his body until he finally lost his sanity."
"Wait," said Wave, "I learned Incursio was the prototype to Grand Chariot. There was another armor? And… what happened to this guy?"
It lasted an instant, but Seryu spotted the faintest hint in emotion from the old man at last. Whomever this man was, the two knew each other better than just acquaintances. Perhaps the two were friends, though imaging Baratelous joking around over a few drinks was difficult.
"… Yes, before Incursio and Grand Chariot, there was another. Exod, the shield of the Empire—the first Teigu ever to be made. We tried everything we could to save him, but…Geralt met his end once he became a Danger Beast; we had to kill him. We tried to stop him from using the armor, but his loyalty to the emperor was too great."
"That name…" murmured Seryu before it came to her. "That's right! Geralt, the first knight of the Empire. He's the legendary hero whose sacrifice signaled the birth of the Empire."
The realization dawned on all their faces as everyone recalled the name. Seryu remembered learning all about Geralt in her studies. As far as she knew, stories of his valiant sacrifice were mandatory teaching in every part of the Empire. The former soldier recalled being inspired when her father told her tales of the brave Geralt who's sword carved the very foundation of the Empire.
"Hell," said Tatsumi, "we even learned about in him my small village. But…I don't remember learning he wielded a Teigu."
"Because that was never taught," said Chelsea, her eyes narrowing. "You kept it secret, didn't you?"
Baratelous glanced at the shapeshifter without a rebuttal. Seryu raised her eyebrow, failing to understand what Chelsea meant.
Kurome sat back in her chair, sighing. "So that's how it is. You couldn't let anyone know that the marvelous Teigu you made could have that kind of disastrous effect. If the Empire knew these weapons had the possibility of transforming the host into a monster, history might not have looked too kindly on you. I bet there are other times this happened in the last thousand years the Empire covered up."
"The verdict to hide the truth of his death was a mutual decision we made," said Baratelous. "We needed the public to believe Teigu would be the tools to secure and expand the Empire, so we ordered all the records to show Geralt died in battle as a man."
Chelsea pinched the bridge of her nose. "Shit, even the first day of the Empire was built on another lie. I'm starting to miss being the ignorant girl that lived in a mansion more and more every day."
"You keep saying 'we' when you describe the past," chimed in Akame. Seryu nearly forgot the silent assassin leaned against the wall away from the group. "Do you mean the First Emperor himself?"
"Alastair Makoto, but yes… he's the man you know as the First Emperor. Him, Geralt, and I grew up in the same village when his land was a mixture of tribes in a constant state of war."
Before the Empire that existed today, the continent consisted of multiple territories inhabited by savage tribes seeking to conquer the other, such as the Partas Clan that Esdeath hailed from. As the teachings in Seryu's academy told, the First Emperor's tribe conquered and united several tribes under their own before a great battle took place. The First Emperor winning the battle is recognized as what ushered forth the start of the Empire.
Seryu groaned internally as Baratelous informed them of all these redacted facts of the past—more lies she'd been fed since birth. "Why keep these matters a secret? You and Geralt deserved more glory if what you say is true."
Baratelous shifted his eyes to the right, staring into space with his ancient eyes. "We all agreed to keep many things secret about the origins of the Empire for the greater good. It's easier to unite under a banner if one man is the force behind it all. History remembers individuals rather than collectives."
Kurome crossed her legs. "Geralt was the brawn, you were the brains, and the First Emperor was the pretty, charismatic face… You two were used by him. He used your genius to make the weapons of mass destruction for his Empire, and he convinced Geralt to act as a test subject for the first one.
Baratelous didn't respond, a stoic face that continued to stare off into nothing.
"… That's the real reason you left," said Chelsea, piecing it together. "You realized something Geralt didn't before he sacrificed himself—the First Emperor saw you as pawns for his glorious empire. Geralt gets to be remembered as a hero, you get to be remembered as the creator, and the First Emperor's legacy becomes the architect that brought it all together."
Baratelous reached out his hand, gesturing to Koro who leaped out of Seryu's lap, wagging his tail as he jumped into his creator's. Seryu smiled, still not used to Koro so happy around someone other than her. Considering Koro would eat those who tried to master him, he only ever stayed comfortable around those Seryu deemed as allies—and even then Seryu always had to keep an eye on him.
"Back then, we were all ambitious boys, wanting nothing more than to see change. Alastair always knew what to say, just how to get someone to do what he needed and draw out all their potential."
Again, Baratelous showed a slight sign of emotion—melancholy, Seryu guessed.
"The blood of my lineage couldn't be prouder I created the most powerful weapons mankind has ever known…but I also wished I hadn't. The suffering these weapons have caused the wicked and virtuous is worse than anything that happened before the Empire was made. Human beings and Danger Beasts should've stayed separate entities. The day I realized that…is that day I knew the Empire wasn't a home for me anymore."
Chelsea crossed her arms. "I never thought my Teigu was a reward. They say only a gifted few can use them… In truth, it's only a cursed few that can. Where Tiegu appear, death follows. Shit, just look at us as an example."
The shapeshifter hit her hand against the wall. "Tatsumi and waving are gonna fucking die because of these damn things!"
"Chelsea…" murmured Tatsumi.
The awkwardness of their argument before Mine's death disappeared. Tatsumi approached her before putting a hand on her shoulder reassuring her with a smile as Wave did from a distance. The trend of Chelsea showing more of her true emotions continued as her eyes looked teary.
And then Baratelous spoke again.
"They will meet their ends soon at this rate…and the rest of you won't be far behind."
Every person except for Baratelous gasped, those sitting bursting from their chairs with dumbfounded looks. Seryu couldn't even get her words out. Just so suddenly, the old man forecasted not just Wave and Tatsumi…but all their deaths.
"What the hell are you talking about!" yelled Wave.
Baratelous rose from his seat, turning his back on the shell-shocked group to gaze at a painting behind him. The painting depicted three young men with arms around each other like best friends. What this painting meant interested Seryu upon observing it the first time, but of course—this picture must've been depicting Baratelous, the First Emperor, and Geralt.
All three young men looked handsome, even the ancient alchemist himself. Of course, being a thousand years old must not be the best for the skin.
Baratelous coughed before he said, "A common lie we made is to master a Teigu means subduing it. In truth…one can never truly subdue a Teigu. Mastering a Teigu means becoming one with the beast used to give birth to it. That…is the true nature of these accursed weapons."
Seryu's mouth felt dry, putting both hands over her mouth as she fell back into her chairs, her legs losing their strength.
"No," said Tatsumi with a tone of defiance, shaking his head. He spoke calmly, but with complete denial. "No, no, no… See, Incursio and Grand Chariot I can accept because we're wearing the skin of the Danger Beast, but no way using a sword, an organic Teigu, or a damn make-up kit can do something like what's happening to me."
Tatsumi admirably tried to relax the group, but unless this stoic man was a secret jokester—how could they believe what anyone other than what the literal creator of Teigu said.
"Even if the Teigu you have is inanimate or organic," said Baratelous, "the results won't differ—it'll be slower, the result will be the same. Every time you use a Teigu's power, you're giving up part of yourself in exchange. Chelsea, you said those chosen to use Teigu are cursed, yes?"
Chelsea didn't respond, still in grief.
"Well then, you six are the most cursed individuals I've seen in a long time. The affinity you all have with your Teigu is perfect. The rest of you haven't noticed, but you've already begun to change. It won't be long until those changes become more evident."
That was the final straw.
Since becoming Nocturne, Seryu got used to hearing lies. No matter how deep they went, whether they be about the Empire or the foundations used to form her moral code, she always used it as motivation. Her comrades did the same once they found out just how many lies they'd been fed by the Empire. But this broke everyone's spirits.
They all were doomed. If all their comrades hadn't died on this hellish journey to reform the Empire, they would've lived just long enough to suffer an even worse fate of losing themselves. That was the truth of those strong enough to use a Teigu, or rather the truth of those strong enough to let a Teigu use them. In exchange for having fantastical power, your life becomes a race against the clock.
And this along with everything else finally sent true despair through Nocturne.
"What was it all for…?" Kurome fell from her chairs, collapsing to her knees. "I wanted this power to protect people, and to honor my fallen comrades' memories. I worked as hard as I could to master Yatsufusa. And now you're saying…all I did was make sure I turn into a monster that'll kill everyone…!"
Seryu sobbed, causing Koro to nuzzle up to her form comfort like he always did.
Without meaning to, Seryu backed away.
The former soldier loved Koro, but at that moment…she didn't see her fluffy little companion. She saw a mirror reflecting the future of what she'd become if their partnership continued. All those times she made him turn into a raging beast who'd eat those she deemed evil—that'd be her before long. In that short moment…Seryu felt afraid of Koro, causing her dog to whimper since he could sense her emotions.
"Damn…" murmured Wave, his knuckles white over the chair's wooden armrest before he broke it. "So much for changing the world. After all that, even standing up to Budo with my new resolve…it doesn't mean a damn thing now…"
Seryu recalled various times the group had their backs against the wall; however, even at their lowest, the feeling spread amongst them now was unprecedented. She couldn't speak for the others, but she felt defeated. It wasn't like the bottomless sorrow she felt after realizing the faults of her life's creed, not the furious anger after discovering all the lies she'd been fed, nor was it the depression of her imminent death after the desert fiasco.
Knowing her life was over after being "lucky" enough to tame Koro… It felt like a higher power damning her from the start no matter what she did.
But what choice did any of them have?
If none of them had Teigu, reaching this point would've been impossible. They'd be just another face among the millions of people lost in the shuffle because of their lack of power. A sad reality is there's a definitive ceiling without having a Teigu. There're exceptions like the Rakshasa demons, but even then—Teigu are the mightiest weapons one can wield. Would've been better if they never had Teigu? Seryu, along with the others she presumed, struggled with that question.
Baratelous kept his back to them, no doubt anticipating this reaction. Discounting the old alchemist as a madman like an older version of Dorothea seemed inaccurate. His eyes were cold, but he did seem compassionate. Maybe his attempt to skirt around the truth of Teigu was his way of sparring their feelings.
Regardless, Seryu couldn't help but feel resentment towards the creator of the cursed weapons that doomed so many fates.
None of the others spoke up, dealing with heartache in their ways. Seryu wished one of them would say something positive now. Maybe Tatsumi or Wave could use their gusto to life their spirits. Chelsea could impart some knowledge to give an alternative. Even a simple cheeky remark from Kurome would lighten her up.
It turns out, someone did speak up—just not who she excepted given the context of what's happened.
"Baratelous," said the toneless voice of Akame, appearing from her secluded spot to stand at the front of the ailing group. Everyone paused, surprised the solemn master of the demon sword spoke up.
Her crimson eyes stared forward, unmoving. "If you have the solution to this, I'll be the test subject."
"What…!" shouted Kurome, in disbelief at the request she heard. "Sis, what are you—"
"Alchemists are brilliant," said Akame, not paying her sister any attention. "However, as Dorothea showed, you're trapped by that brilliance. I can't accept that after all this time, you didn't look for some solution for what happened to Geralt. The question must've eaten away at you for all these years, meaning you've researched the phenomenon… You have an answer, don't you?"
At last, Baratelous turned his head to Akame, his ancient eyes staring directly into hers. The two faced each other like they were in the middle of an invisible battle.
"Have you gone mad, woman?" he said. "If you continue this path, your time will be short enough as it is. Now you offer yourself as a test subject?"
Baratelous's tone was blunt, like Akame's offer angered him. She didn't so much as blink, however.
"I don't fear becoming a monster," she said, "because…I already consider myself one. Whether I become a true demon tomorrow or years from now doesn't matter. All I want is to give my friends a fighting chance to survive and defeat the Empire. The same empire that hunted your tribe and exterminated them."
Seryu stood back, helpless to interject her desire for Akame not to become a guinea pig. This was her resolve. Strangely, Akame's growing doubts about herself has given her the strength to stand up to the creator of Teigu and offer her life. She even cited the Empire's extermination of alchemists like Dorothea informed them about to rile Baratelous up.
Still, Baratelous studied Akame like one would a mechanical contraption.
"You certainly have the presence of someone I'd expect to use Murasame. Even with your hapless situation, amid your comrade's despondency—you continue to think of ways to continue your bloody path… That sword couldn't have found a better partner."
Kurome opened her mouth, wanting to defend her sister. Akame held out her arm, revealing her palm to Kurome, signaling for her not to interrupt.
"Aeternia has been activated," she said, Baratelous shifting his eyes at the mention of the ancient Teigu. "It's only a matter of time before the First Emperor breaths life again. You… I know you don't want that. With your regrets, you must've made a contingency against Aeternia. Think of me as a bloodthirst monster if you want, but—"
Akame got on her knees, bending her head.
"Let me atone for my mistake and help save the others so no one else has to die!"
Seryu and her teammates exchanged looks with one another. Even when Seryu worked for the Empire, the notorious Akame was known for her composure and prowess. Her desperate plies to Baratelous sent a pang through Seryu's heart. Even with all the lives she's taken, killing Mine is one death she couldn't ignore. But in true Akame fashion, she even used her anguish as strength to give herself the resolve to plead for Baratelous to save them.
Even at her lowest, her beliefs stayed true.
And this selfless act of the crimson-eyed assassin known for proficient killing breathed life into this dark situation.
"If Aeternia has been activated," said Baratelous, Akame's pleading not affecting his manner, "then you alone can do nothing. Once Aeternia has found a host, nothing can stop it unless the host is killed. If you want a solution for me—abandon those weapons and live as long a life as you can."
"True, alone she probably couldn't do much against Aeternia," said Tatsumi. He stood by Akame, making her eyebrows raise in wonder. "Running back to my village and hiding would be smart, but it ain't happening. Whether it was Doomsday-Class Danger Beast, Budo, or both sides of a war that didn't welcome us…we never gave up."
Tatsumi knelt by Akame, flashing his sharp teeth. "Do your worst, old man. Not like there's much more you can do anyway, hehe."
Finally, Baratelous's expression shifted his mouth slightly agape, perplexed by where this resolve came from. "You're both fools…"
Kurome made a dry laugh, hand on her hip. "Yeah, that describes us all pretty well actually." She knelt beside her sister and Tatsumi next; her demeanor was more serious.
"I fought my sister to death because I thought leaving meant betraying everyone who died helping me. And now…I'll put my life on the line to honor all those we lost. If I can take being drugged as a little girl by the Empire, this'll be nothing, old man."
Everything began falling into place after that, the group's confidence building. Now that Seryu pondered the idea, what did she have to be afraid of? She let Dr. Stylish do insane things to her before in the name of justice. This would be no different, only this time her cause would be just.
"It wouldn't be the first time I've been experimented on," said Seryu, picking up Koro before kneeling as well. "My desire to protect was more important than myself then. Now, with my eyes wide open to the truth, I shall do the same!"
Baratelous gapped at the fearless Nocturne agents kneeling before him, incredulous. One would expect an alchemist like him to salivate at the chance to experiment with the odd bunch. Dorothea would be in heaven if they allowed her to fiddle with their bodies.
Perhaps, looking back, Baratelous saw the wickedness in the things he created. To him, his vast intellect created weapons of mass destruction that have caused untold suffering. Seryu felt a bit of remorse, realizing the awkwardness of what they asked of this hermit wanting to live a quiet life.
"You have our answer," said Wave. "No offense, Baratelous, but we've stood across from scarier things in the past." The man of the sea knelt next to his allies, beaming confidence. "If this is the final time, so be it. It's the end of the line either way."
The old man rubbed his forehead, before turning to the silent Chelsea.
"And what of you?" he asked. "You arrive at your answers with prudence. Can you honestly follow your teammates in this asinine decision?"
Chelsea stared off to the side, before closing her eyes. The shapeshifter remained like this for a few seconds, leaving Seryu in the others in suspense. Seryu wasn't going to change her mind, and her teammates weren't either. Still, they began this all together—so they wanted to finish it together, and that included the zesty shapeshifter. Given what she'd been through the past few days, she'd understand if Chelsea didn't want any part of this any longer.
"In a situation this hopeless," she said, her eyes still closed, "I'd chose to cut my losses and turn the other way. If Aeternia can't be stopped and we're all on borrowed time, why continue? Self-preservation is the best option."
Seryu hung her head along with the other members of Nocturne, upset but not surprised by the answer. After witnessing her emotional breakdown a few days prior, she couldn't fault her choice.
"However," Chelsea said, opened her eyes, "that would be if it was hopeless." The shapeshifter approached Baratelous.
At last, Chelsea flashed her iconic cheeky grin.
"Akame's on the money—you not only know how to stop Aeternia, but you also know how to stop our Teigu from taking control. Since that's the case, I say let's do this damn thing already."
"Unbelievable," said Baratelous, his brow furrowed. "What you're all doing… it's an exercise in vanity. How could you possibly rally behind such shaky and false premises of victory? I haven't seen such reckless amounts of bravado since…"
The ancient alchemist stopped, his grey eyes staring off into space as he lost himself in a memory.
"Geralt and the First Emperor did what they must," said Akame. "We're doing the same. If you view the Empire as your biggest failure, then let us correct it. So, I ask again…is it possible to stop Aeternia and stop the Teigu metamorphosis?"
Nocturne was united at this moment, but even so—Baratelous didn't seem to budge from his position. Instead, he seemed to lose himself in thought. Who knew what a being that lived this long could even think about? With his great intellect, it's a mystery how his brain hadn't fizzled out from overuse yet.
"Once the process of Aeternia has stopped, it's impossible to halt. The same applies to Teigu metamorphosis."
Seryu feared that answer. Even with their mettle and the most brilliant man to ever live, perhaps the tragic finale had finally come to its closing.
That is until he said, "However… While both of those statements are true, there might be a way to circumvent and solve both problems at the same time. It's taken me over nine hundred years—but I've hypothesized a way to solve the very situation you all find yourselves in. You all must become one with your Teigu."
The old man took a breath.
"Mutual Subjugation," he announced.
"What is…? Seryu exchanged confused glances with her comrades. Whatever Mutual Subjugation meant; she couldn't even guess.
However, almost scaring her, Baratelous lips curved upward—it reminded her of Dorothea's grin. The grin of an alchemist that knew whether good or bad, they'd be able to satiate their bottomless desire for experimentation.
"You claimed that becoming monsters and losing your humanity didn't deter you Nocturne," said Baratelous. "Now, it's time to put that to the ultimate test."