It wasn't supposed to be this way. None of it was, even now.
As Akame stared across at the figure before her with vapid eyes, inwardly, she kept remembering how it all went wrong on that fateful day. Black hearts, chains, curses, greed, and money that sealed the fate of two sisters that should have known their parents better. It was her fault as the eldest. She'd noticed, but had insisted that things would be okay. More specifically, her constant aversion to their reality sealed any chance of escape.
How long has it been?
"Kurome," Akame spoke stiffly, staring at her younger sister she'd just interrupted from striking at former Minister Chouri.
A sinking feeling pushed down on her gut, her thoughts differing from the indifference of her features. She could lie to herself and believe that she was still rattled and marveling at the changes Shirou wrought to the battlefield, but the truth was that she was just looking for excuses.
The minute trembling of her fingers, the goosebumps that ran up her skin ever since she realized who she was facing as an enemy, it all served to consolidate her own hesitation and doubt. The light over Kurome's head was a dark gray, conveying to Akame that Kurome was reaching a point where Akame would no longer be able to regard the woman before her as the doleful 'sister' in her memories.
"What do you get from this?" Akame demanded, focusing on anger as the primary emotion to spur through her hesitation at pointing a blade at Kurome.
If Kurome could be reasoned with, it presented the ideal scenario for Akame as she dreaded to dwell over the alternative.
Steadying herself, Akame narrowed her eyes and watched for any sudden movements. Kurome didn't disappoint in that the monotone droll of her features twisted in scorn.
"The first rule in assassination is never to waste your breath on the enemy." Kurome did not care for pleasantries or prolonged conversation. "You've changed…big sis."
Kurome said her piece, and that was it. Her lips shut closed, her features glossing over into an impeccable mask of indifference while Akame picked up on the shift of her footwork. Her knees bent, her weight leaning to the balls of her feet- she was going to charge.
No. It was Akame who was wrong in this case. The limitations and skillset of the Kurome she remembered, and the Kurome before her now, were no longer the same.
Kurome dashed forward far faster than Akame expected. The momentary pause Akame took to reassess Kurome prevented her from reacting immediately, and let Kurome close in.
Murasame rose in defense as Kurome cleaved downward with Yatsufusa.
Their swords clashed, sparks grating along their edges and illuminating their indifferent expressions hardened through assassination after assassination. Akame pressed, her sword sliding down the base of Kurome Teigu before clashing against the guard, and directing the sword harmlessly to the side.
She glanced up, only to blank as Kurome head-butted her and forced her to recoil back. Miraculously, she was not dazed and stabilized her footing. Gnashing her teeth, she jabbed the full length of her blade forward and was blasted back from a resulting heavy counter.
Clicking her tongue, Akame used the force of the counter strike to fling herself into a backflip. She twisted in the air, righted herself, and then dug her heels into the dirt as soon as she landed, gouging grooves beneath her soles.
Her pupils dilated, head leaning to the left.
She stared at Kurome who was already right in front of her, the stab intended to pierce through her eye, missing by mere inches.
In the distance between the two of them, Akame could see a mixture of rage, grief, and vindication swelling through Kurome's eyes.
Her little sister was really trying to kill her…
It was expected, but Akame had hoped, and hoped dearly that Kurome could be reasoned with. Their circumstances were mirror images of each other, the only difference was that Najenda had helped Akame find her calling while Kurome remained trapped and resentful.
"Kurome," Akame tried to get through another time, but the choice to speak cost her.
A kick landed squarely on her left knee, forcing her into a lower and unstable position. The blade aimed at her neck came next.
Dammit. She'd had enough of this!
Akame brandished her sword and hardened her resolve. If Kurome wouldn't listen, then all that was left was to force her!
Akame let herself drop down from her bent knee, using the motion to twist and splay her hands on the ground, seeking for purchase. She found it as her fingers dug in the dirt and leveraged her body up into a handstand that altered the position of her neck.
Kurome's attack was deflected by the metal components of the armguards she wore over her forearms. Murasame's strike came next even as Kurome struck again.
Sharp steel brushed up against Akame's skin, but Kurome could not take the same risk against Murasame and chose to adopt a defensive approach.
One cut. It was all Akame needed with Murasame's poison, and Kurome knew it.
As their swords clashed a second time, Kurome retreated using the same method Akame had used by borrowing the force of the collision to distance herself. She repressed a whimper as Akame clocked her in the chest with her heavy boots. The spot was bruised, but in the end, the added momentum aided Kurome's retreat.
Kurome was treating this as a battle between assassins and assumed Akame was the same, but this wasn't the case.
What Kurome failed to realize was that Akame had been using the blunt end of her sword from the start. She didn't want to kill Kurome, but beat her with an older sibling's iron fist.
This time, Akame took the initiative and lunged towards Kurome.
"Why are you running?" Akame repeated, trying to draw the clash into another deadlock and force a conversation. "Isn't this what you wanted?!"
What she wanted?
Veins popped over Kurome's temples.
"Shut up!" She yelled, putting more power into her swing and overreaching, her head entering striking range.
Kurome broke her own rule, the words that involuntarily left her mouth as her emotions spiked had killed her. Mistakes would cost her more than it did Akame. She provided an opening, and an assassin as competent as Akame would not miss it.
A strike with a blade would be lethal.
Let it be said, but between sisters, they both knew that Akame was the better assassin. Errors on Akame's part would not be as detrimental as Kurome's as the elder was simply more skilled.
"Will you only listen when you're beaten and bleeding?!"
A squelching noise echoed as Akame landed a haymaker into her sister's cheek, staggering her back and into a tumble over the ground. She ate dirt, cursed, and was immediately back on her feet.
A second later, and Kurome blanked in a daze, touching her throbbing cheek.
S-She wasn't dead? Akame had punched her? Not slit her throat?
She was mocking her even now. She was weak, so that was why her sister hadn't hesitated to leave her behind?
"As if I have any words to say to you!" She forced out while spitting blood from a bruised lip.
Kurome back tracked, realizing she was letting her emotions get the best of her. To begin with, there was no need to personally get involved. That was playing directly into Akame's specialty while neglecting her own.
Channeling her focus into Yatsufusa, Kurome's eyes hollowed as she paused.
Akame mistakenly took this as a sign that she was finally getting through. If one punch didn't work, then she'd try two. If two didn't work, then three or more if she had to.
"Kurome, there's no need for this." Akame stressed while Kurome remained utterly silent while bending into a crouch of apparent submission. "Honest's rule is over! Shirou, he-"
Sand was thrown at Akame's face, irritating her eyes and causing her to subconsciously wipe at them. Her instincts were again her sole saving grace.
Kurome swiped at Akame's neck with her sword. She missed, Akame grunting as she dodged out of the way, and retaliated with a kick that smacked into Kurome's chin. It sent her flying into a tumble.
"Kurome!" Akame's patience was running thin, but Kurome's had a shorter fuse.
"You were the only one who ever escaped our program alive!" Kurome picked herself up from the ground, wiping blood off her face with eyes now devoid of any emotion. "Do you really think Honest can be killed?" Kurome spat, her teeth aching as she stubbornly held onto her sword.
Kurome was talking, and that was enough progress in Akame's eyes.
"The things I've seen, the things I've done, with everyone gathered now-"
"What a joke."
Kurome's fears were too deeply ingrained. She couldn't see what Akame could see. To her, there was no longer even hope of an alternative to cling onto. She directly cut Akame off and used Yatsufusa as a crutch to work herself back onto her feet.
"Why won't you just listen to me?!" Akame finally screamed in frustration. It was the most vocal she'd ever been, but this was the effect that hope and change had wrought. She was no longer disillusioned or bitter about the chances for change when the movement for change was right here!
Unlike Akame, Kurome just refused to consider it.
"Don't worry though." Kurome muttered, corpses pulling themselves out the ground around her before she craned her face up to stare at Akame. She was smiling, but it was almost unhinged and psychotic. "With Yatsufusa we can be together again like old times."
Yatsufusa was a Teigu that summoned the bodies of the victims it had slain to do the bidding of the wielder. It was taxing to use, as Kurome had already used it before, but she no longer cared. The undead would not fear Murasame's poison.
Soon enough, her friends and family would finally be together ag-
"Snap out of it!" Fury and concern laced Akame's expression as she directly pointed out what Kurome refused to acknowledge. "Those are just corpses! They're dead. Just dolls!"
"We're together forever!" Kurome's pupils dilated in rage and denial. "They'd never abandon me!"
Akame flinched at the implication and the deteriorating mental health of her sister, but quickly gritted her teeth. More corpses rose from the ground, totalling into eight figures that surrounded Akame on all sides.
She frowned, and raised Murasame into a defensive stance, her center of gravity lowered, and the blade leveled with her shoulders. A quick glance caused her to focus on the undead carrying a bow and arrows, but it was guarded behind the others. The best alternative was to subdue Kurome immediately, but even that would be difficult on her own.
Ultimately, the decision was left out of her hands.
Ranged bullets of energy bombarded Kurome's dolls, piercing through flesh and bone before a hail of dirt and debris created a smokescreen.
"Dammit, what now?!" Kurome's eyes darted, searching for figures in the poor visibility, not daring to withdraw her undead.
Akame was already weaving through the smoke, having caught a splotch of pink in the distance before the hail of bullets had landed.
"Mine," Akame murmured.
Moreover, Akame felt others moving in through the cover of the smoke to offer their aid. She recognized all of them who were stationed close to Chouri like herself. On the left and moving to engage five of Kurome's summons were Chelsea and Susanoo, while on the right-
"For the village!" Iyasu cried before he flinched from a hit to the head.
"Idiot, you gave our position away! It's a smokescreen. A smokescreen, we're supposed to be stealthy!"
"Sayo you're the one yelling louder…?"
"Shut up Tatsumi! We're already found."
Tatsumi, Iyasu, and Sayo occupied the remaining three undead.
Objectively, the protective detail around Chouri was strong. It could have been stronger, but Leone, Sheele, and the others had to defend Elaine who oversaw Calla's forces. Regardless, Akame was thankful for the help. They probably hadn't appeared till now due to the prior disturbance in the camp, but this was more than enough.
Akame focused her attention back on Kurome who would have no way to constantly direct her summons and fend Akame off herself. Yatsufusa was a strong Teigu, but its cost to wield were demanding.
As the smoke cleared, Akame was pressuring Kurome in an instant, Kurome's features further deteriorating into hysteria.
There would be nothing getting between them, and compared to Akame, Kurome's swordsmanship was inferior. She found herself getting pushed further and further back through the constant clanging of steel.
Something inside Kurome snapped. Her mouth twisted before she screamed hysterically and suddenly burst with untapped power. No. It was more accurate to say that she simply gave up on defending entirely.
"Go away! Go away! Go AWAY!"
Like a mad beast she just kept attacking. Each swing had her full weight behind it, each blow causing Akame's hands to grow numb as she defended. For all the power, it was clear that Kurome was just going to tire herself out, and even before that…she was full of openings.
If Akame landed a single cut this reckless charge would be over, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Instead, she continued to rain in blows. Another one to the chin, a punt to the stomach, and elbow into the upper arm.
Kurome was bruised all over, patches of her skin swelling from abrasion, but she still didn't concede until finally, Akame's fist turned into an open slap.
Kurome's head snapped to the side, her body following the momentum and falling onto its side. She froze, supporting herself up on her elbows as she stiffly touched her slapped cheek.
"Stop Kurome. Just stop," Akame looked down on her little sister who had turned over and sprawled on the dirt.
Kurome's shoulders were shaking as she realized she was losing. Briefly, her left hand hastily released its grip on Yatsufusa to awkwardly fumble through a pouch she kept around her waist. Soon, she pulled out a bottle of uncapped pills which she emptied entirely into her mouth.
Akame narrowed her eyes in shock, watching the way Kurome's features forcibly stabilized as the light above her head shifted closer and closer to black.
"Y-You're deluding yourself…" Akame realized.
Kurome wiped her mouth, and kept her silence as she picked herself up from the ground.
In the Empire's covert assassination programs, death was everywhere, and those that couldn't cope were disposed. Drug therapy after she'd lost Akame's support had been Kurome's only means to survive by dulling her thoughts and focusing only on the kill.
She was fatally dependent on them to function.
In the short term, it had helped Kurome survive that hellish program, but in the long term, her mental state was no longer sound, buried beneath suppressants.
Akame cursed at the dull light smothering Kurome's eyes. She was no longer shaking or screaming in hysterics. What replaced it was a chilling silence.
All that was visible on Kurome's face was her intent to kill.
Did Kurome hate her this much? Did she really have no choice but to put her down?
Akame tightened her grip around Murasame, but in the same instance, all fighting paused.
Blue magic energy pulsed in the air, rippling throughout the entire landscape.
Akame hastily raised an arm to shield her face from buffeting winds and biting sand. Kurome did the same, and it wasn't any different for the others. It was as if a storm had descended in the world.
A creaking noise echoed, numerous gazes craning their necks towards the horizon.
In the skies, the monolithic cogs of a war machine began to spin, trails of dust and debris falling from riveted edges that composed the rotating gears.
And on the earth, the metals of the forge stoked the flames.
The ores to be melted and molded by hammer and anvil would form.
Akame could see them for as far as the eye could see spanning the entirety of the battlefield.
Thousands of them appeared again hovering in the air at virtually no cost. This was his world.
A miracle would be spoken of in history on this day.
The likely birthplace of all Teigu or Imperial Arms, and the war machine was now leaning towards full throttle.
Akame understood Shirou's personality too well. Even now while he faced Esdeath, he still cared for the safety of others.
All gave pause.
All staring at the vastness of the steel that represented the stars of this world boring down from up high.
"T-That's not possible."
Akame's attention was broken, and she suddenly shifted it towards Kurome. Her voice was too muted to be normal.
Slowly, Akame turned her head.
What sort of reaction was that?
Kurome looked horrified. The blood drained from her face, the effects of the drugs she was taking being suppressed by her growing terror. Unlike Akame and the rebels who could view the swords in the air as the strongest reassurance, Kurome and the capital troops could only see despair.
"He can't see me." Kurome cradled her head while backing away. "There's no way. T-That monster. He can't see me. It won't hit."
Simultaneously, Kurome kept shoving more and more drugs down her throat, not even chewing as her fear grew and destabilized her mental state, but Akame could see that the more Kurome inhibited her own ability to 'feel,' the darker the light over her head became.
"Stop dammit!" Akame suddenly panicked in realization.
The targets of the swords were evident by no conscious effort on her part.
The black lights shining in on the battlefield- There was a sword per each!
A rather simple and crude method of targeting, but considering Shirou's opponent, he likely didn't have the leisure to consciously do anything else. This time, without Esdeath to defend them, an untold number of enemy lives were going to be lost when those swords descended…and one of them was right in front of Akame's eyes.
"Kurome!" Akame called in growing concern, even going as far as to charge at Kurome to knock the drugs out of her hands, but Kurome was adamant. She retreated and kept eating them to compose herself.
Akame was being driven up a wall in her dread. "For once after all this time Kurome, just listen to me! Stop taking those, you're going to get yourself killed!"
For a second, Kurome froze, her eyes glancing towards the floating swords, then to Akame and back, but trust wasn't something so easily rebuilt after being broken. Her faith in her pills was stronger than her broken trust in Akame.
She made her decision and continued to consume the drugs that would turn her into a monster whose only purpose was to kill.
Finally, the colour of the light over Kurome's head settled on the darkest gray, practically black in all but name.
It was enough to be designated a target.
Time seemed to slow as a hovering blade swiveled its tip in Kurome's direction. Akame watched as horror then bled into Kurome's monotone features.
She watched as Kurome began to cower.
And she watched when Kurome's gaze subconsciously looked to her as death stared her in the face.
"It's alright. Everything will be fine. I'm here."
Akame was here just as she was before.
The swords descended, creating a cacophony of screams and clanging steel throughout the battlefield. One sword in particular however, was taking longer to hit its mark than the rest.
Akame's body had moved on its own, putting itself between Kurome and the attacking blade, directly intercepting it.
The webbing of Akame's thumb and index fingers split open instantly on impact, spurting red all over her sword's hilt while she desperately tried to redirect the attack. Her muscles screamed, her head throbbing from the deafening screech of metal grating against metal. None of the swords in Shirou's world were ordinary, and this directly worked against Akame's favour.
Veins popped over her skin, blood seeping into her mouth from gritting her teeth so hard.
"AArgh," she groaned as sparks flew until finally, the sword passed over her, missing Kurome's position by no more than a few inches.
Akame panted for breath, her arms falling stiffly to her sides, utterly exhausted. If there was one thing she'd verified from her brief actions, it was that Shirou would be terrifying as an enemy.
She stabbed Murasame's tip into the ground and used it as a crutch to catch her breath. Unfortunately, she hadn't acted as true assassin in so long that she'd grown complacent.
She was careless.
A sword punctured through her stomach from her back, before squelching when it was hastily pulled out. A gasp escaped Akame's lips, her body feeling utterly weak and spent.
She staggered, blood seeping from her wound even as she turned her head and watched Kurome's expression contort in disbelief that she got the hit in. No, more than that, as Akame watched the drugs Kurome so readily clung to as a coping mechanism accidently clatter to the ground from shaking hands and trembling fingers, an image of their younger selves overlapped in Akame's mind.
As the effects of the drugs alleviated, the persona of the killer Kurome had become would soon return to who she truly was, and that was enough for Akame.
In comparison, Kurome was still in shock, her body having acted through muscle memory, and not registering that she'd stabbed Akame until Akame's blood spurted over her face.
Even now while staring the evidence in the face, Kurome was unwilling to believe Akame had stepped in to save her. Akame couldn't have. It wasn't possible.
Kurome could feel herself warring with her own thoughts.
But she did.
No she didn't.
No. No. It wasn't possible.
The sister who'd abandoned her like their parents wouldn't do such a thing!
She won. This was her victory! Akame would die, and in memory of her actual older sister, she'd live on as one of her corpse dolls!
"I did it. I did it. I won…" Kurome's knees wobbled as she muttered and laughed incoherently, letting her guard down like some amateur.
As if Akame was one to speak in this instance, but it didn't matter.
Staring at the storm of emotions flickering across Kurome's eyes, reassurance was all Akame felt while coughing out her guts.
The light over her baby sister's head.
It was no longer leaning towards black.
…There was still a chance.
Before more swords formed, she had to utterly deprive Kurome of those drugs.
Sucking in a breath, Akame tightened her abdominal muscles as best as she could to steeple the bleeding, but her complexion was gradually paling, and her breaths still came out short. Her sword was raised anyway, causing the relief that was washing over Kurome's features to freeze as she realized her strike still wasn't enough. Hastily, Kurome went to grab at the pills that had spilled over the ground, but Akame mercilessly kicked her away from them.
By now, the tension and added fear of Shirou's capabilities had eaten away at Kurome's rationality. She needed more drugs to stabilize her mind, but Akame refused to let her.
Kurome crawled backwards, features twisting into a feeble cry.
Her mental state was breaking.
She was going to capture her, Akame resolved with unwavering determination. "You've lost, Kurome," she stated with finality, watching Kurome's breath hitch.
Akame grimaced before shielding her face from the winds produced at the impact.
A figure could be seen picking Kurome up in a princess carry. Armour covered his body from head-to-toe, and the light shining on his head was a radiant white. Through the dust it was impossible to make out distinct details, but what Akame had already observed pointed her towards an assumption.
"Bulat?" She coughed out, only to realize that it was different.
The size and build was different.
The figure didn't waste a second and fled in the same motion with Kurome in hand.
"Wait!" Akame called out to no avail. She shuddered, nearly falling to her knees.
Akame felt her energy wane as she turned her attention to her wounds. They weren't fatal, but blood loss would be. She tore the hem of her skirt and tried to make a tourniquet out of it, but had no time to make sure it actually worked.
She couldn't fall, she couldn't stop.
There was little for Akame to imagine that Kurome would gravitate back towards her suppressant drugs at her quickest convenience. If her light completely blackened, then only death would await her here.
Honestly, Akame had no reason to keep pressing the issue. If not for Kurome backstabbing her after saving her life, would Akame even be this injured?
Akame felt like she was dying, but even still, she couldn't bring herself to hate the younger sibling who'd always hidden behind her leg, terrified of shadows and monsters beneath the bed.
Why? The more she thought about it, the more apparent the answer became.
If that was so, then why did she feel conflicted when she compared Kurome and Shirou? Just as Teigu were taxing to use, the magic that birthed this world should be more so.
Even now, Shirou was still fighting, and this spurred Akame further to action just as much, if not more than, her own motivation to save her little sister.
The realization was damning.
Ah? So that's what it was all along.
Akame swallowed the lump in her throat.
It came back towards that word.
This driving force that insisted she go on?
She couldn't rest here. Not now.
She loved her sister.
But she also loved…?
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