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The Road Yet Traveled

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“MANA!”

It happened in an instant. That lightning fro before, which had brought the vessel the Monster-man discussed to the present, happened once more, striking the dark skeleton right in front of Allen’s eyes. His mouth was wide in shock, his eyes blown out in awe and terror, feeling tremors go in and out of his poor exhausted body, which was running only on adrenaline. Was this normal? Was Mana supposed to be brought back like this, with a flash of God's power, and a feeling of unease?

He didn’t know, he didn't know anything of this process, only relying on the blind faith and hope that had caused him to shout his fathers name so loudly, so desperately. And that terrified him.

The lightning stopped after a single startling strike, and for a long moment there was nothing as silence laced itself along the hillside. Only the sound of Allen's labored breaths could be heard, as all eyes were on the skeletal vessel that was supposed to support Mana's soul. As if summoned by the tension filling the night air, unusual cursive letters appeared on the head of the skeleton spelling out the name of his deceased father, followed by a large five pointed star painted the color of shadows. The skeleton shudder and jerked, raising its head up in a crooked motion, making sounds of labored breathing and hard panting, and gasping out to the sky. It was alive... it had.. moved...? Then, it decided spoke.

“All... en?”

Mana... that, that was Mana's voice! It had worked, beyond all hope and reason, it had worked! Allen's eyes swelled with tears of happiness, his hope had paid off, he had saved Mana, he and Mana were together again, they were going to be together! They could move forward together, they could continue walking, never leaving each other, never leaving the other behind! He wasn’t alone anymore, he wouldn't have to go back to the looping mantra, to the pain in his chest, to the nights spent in shock by Mana's grave side, because Mana was here-

“HOW DARE YOU NICHOLAS, HOW DARE YOU TURN ME INTO AN AKUMA!” The skeleton, Mana, yelled out, furious with righteous anger and despair, beyond the point of return. Allen froze, his thoughts stilling with shock, staring at Mana with a bewildered and terrified expression... was it even Mana..? Why did it yell..?

What was an Akuma..?

“Mana-“

“DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’VE DONE?! YOU’VE TURNED ME INTO AN AKUMA, YOU’VE DOOMED ME ALLEN!” Allen unconsciously took a staggering step back. Why was Mana yelling, why was he so angry with him? Shouldn't he be happy? They were together again, they could continue forward, walking a path towards an unforeseen future, together.

His mind was in shambles, his breath quickening its pace and his head trying to process what was happening and failing miserably, trying to comprehend what Mana was talking about, trying to control his breathing while he’s on the brink of a heart attack, everything was uncontrolled and wild, nothing made sense, why wasn't Mana happy, why was he so scared, why wouldn't the feeling of terror and agony stop, his chest hurt so much, make it stop, there was no end, make it stop-

“Wonderful, absolutely wonderful! Now,” the monster-man’s eyes sharpened behind his glasses, as if he had prepared for this moment since the beginning. If Allen wasn't so troubled, he would have wagered a guess that the Monster-man had, “kill the boy and wear his skin as your own.” The tone was so cold, nothing like before. No more jovial attitude, no more kind strange man, this one... this monster wasn’t human... no human could sound so bone chillingly inhuman, like the devil taking on the disguise of a man, not even Cosimo. What had he done to Mana? Why was Allen shaking in his boots, not even having the willpower to move?

Mana retched back and threw his head to the sky, screaming in agony as he was forced to step toward Allen by something in his head. It compelled him to go, to listen to the one jovial mastermind of this entire situation. It rang through Mana's head, causing him pain as he resisted, until he no longer could. Mana’s whole body seemed to be in pain as Allen took another step back despite his shaking legs as panic set in and tears started swelling in his eyes. Why was this happening to him and Mana? Why them? The questions raced through his head just as Mana started wailing once more, agony lacing his every word.

“I CURSE YOU, ALLEN WALKER!” Mana cursed to the sky, pointing his smooth skeletal appendages at Allen, willing some sort of dark energy at Allen, unbeknownst to either of them, “I CURSE YOU!” The words were so loud and piercing as Mana was writhing, resisting, screeching, all at once. Allen felt the hope he had earlier disappear, replaced with absolute petrified panic and startling pain. He couldn't see the energy well up, targeting his eyes and launching itself at him, latching onto his face and digging itself into his skin. The pain came all at once, and he did the only thing he could do right then and there. 

Allen screamed. 

Allen Walker wailed to the sky in agony, in anguish, as he held his eyes with such a tight grip hoping to quell the burning in his retina's, and when that no longer worked, his broken bleeding fingers began clawing his eyes as the searing pain that came from his left retina expanded and moved across the entire left side of his face, screeching as he fell backwards, convulsing on the floor as spasms of distress and nerve damage caused him to almost have a seizure. His whole body felt as if he was on fire, ever little thing burned through his skin, everything throbbed, everything ached, everything throbbed, everything hurt.

It hurt.

It hurt, it hurt, it hurt.

Allen's body convulsed against his will, his skin burned back around his left eye, showing the tissue underneath the first layer of flesh, stilling only for  short, brief moment before both of his burning eyes rolled into the back of his head as his body seized for one last time until it stilled. The boy had gone into shock and fainted, his small form not being able to handle the pain. 

The Earl of Millennium watched the scene with disguised fascination and immense amusement. It was a familiar scene, minus the dramatics with the newly made Akuma. Humans, even small ones like the boy, were all the same, always wanting to bring their dearly departed loved ones back to the land of the living. Yet they never thought to leave well enough alone, did they? Selfish, vile, jealous creatures, thinking only for themselves. The Earl almost pitied them, really.

Almost. 

They deserved nothing, but the pain and sorrow they begged him for, no matter how unknowingly. His deep seeded hatred for humans had always been a point of amusement for him. He couldn't even recall when this feeling had started, only that it burned bright in him, like a flame that raged and caused him to carry out the will of the true God.

Still, he thought that was enough fun for the freshly born Akuma. After all, he had places to be and other humans to deceive. He couldn't spend all his time on this small dirty hill. He spoke, his dark energy bending to his will from deep within his taken form, and forced it upon the Demon with his commanding words.

“My dear Akuma, finish off the boy!” The Millennium Earl laughed to himself, taking delight in the agony of the freshly made Akuma, his body taking off from the ground itself by the will of Lero, his faithful - albeit nervous - golem.

“Don’t you think this is a bit harsh—Lero”, Lero spoke in his usual manner, nervous and unsure, adding his name to the end of his sentences the more he fidgeted and worried. The Earl of Millennium turned his head sharply to the umbrella golem, you could almost hear the tension between them despite the Earls casual manner and bright tone.

“Why Lero, I didn’t know you sympathized with humans?” It was more of a statement than a question, said with a sort of edge that made the umbrella sweat, however impossible that was. Though the words themselves definitely made Lero stutter.

“Wh-what?! Of c-c-course not —Lero! I’m only trying to say that isn’t it a bit harsh for a little brat like that?” Lero was definitely trying to save himself the agony of being thrown to the Earls precious daughter as punishment, backtracking his statement to try and make it seem less audacious than it actually was. The Earl decided to not grace the golem with an answer, instead chuckling to himself as he watched the scene unfold, landing a small bit away, just barely closer to the “Mana” the poor child had been so desperate to revive.

Mana was struggling, it was clear. The child before him had still laid unconscious on the ground, tears of blood exiting his left eye and his horrid monstrous arm twitching and convulsing as if it was trapped and wished to break free. This was Allen, his Allen, the Allen whom walked with him, the Allen whom cared for him, the Allen whom he cared for, the Allen that listened to his ramblings despite thinking they were the ramblings of a man taken by insanity, the Allen who reminded him so much of Allen-

But his body wasn’t his own anymore, having been make up of a soul that was trapped within cogs and wires, in a body made like a machine, commanded by a master more cruel than the devil himself. And he couldn’t resist the call of the Millennium Earl.

Allen blearily opened his right eye, waking only after being thrown back into reality from something that was not himself, seeing Mana- no, the Akuma standing a few feet away from his, holding his head in anguish. Everything ached, his arm, his eye, his tired dehydrated body, which was pushed to the point of starvation, or breaking, now, it all ached and hurt.

“Mana...” Allen couldn’t help it, the words just escaped him, he couldn’t help but whisper out his foster father’s name, wishing beyond hope that it would somehow knock him out of his stupor and they would be able to walk and move on.

Allen’s words did indeed knock the dark structure holding Mana’s soul at bay out of its conflicted state. Just not in the way he had hoped.

Mana took a step forward.

Then another step.

His arms raised high above his head.

“Allen... I love you...”

The arms fell, striking down at the boy.

It all happened in an instant. Mana’s last words, his ominous steps, the searing pain in his left arm, his screams before it happened, the tears that fell, it all happened at once. But with large flat dark metal arms coming down at Allen at a speed he was sure he couldn’t dodge in his state, Allen let out a plea, one which wasn’t spoken, but was heard nonetheless.

Please, I don’t want to die! 

Something deep inside Allen reacted to those words. Those six simple words which were meant as a last ditch attempt at begging something, anything, to save him, caused something buried deep within the boy to awaken from its long rest, having only been half conscious before this point. It seemed to stretch and take consideration of the situation it and Allen were in. And once awakened, it knew what to do to save the boy which was its host.

His arm reacted on its own, without Allen's will, moving up as if to block the attack in jerky movements that seemed unnatural. Even though Allen knew it was to no avail, the arm held steady up above him, just above his aching head. Allen closed his still burning right eye tight, seeing as his left one still refused to open, waiting for the blow that was sure to end his life.

But it never came.

After a few moments Allen cautiously opened his eye, trying to see what the scene was now that the strike that was meant to kill him hadn’t come. All he could see was white.

What was that..?

Why was it blocking his view of Mana..?

His eye trailed down trying to find the source of the enormous white thing that had stopped his imminent death. His eye fell down, but he couldn’t find its beginning. He went further, until he saw it. His single eye blew wide, realization washing over him in waves. It was his arm.

His arms was white.

His breath stopped fully, he panicked grabbing his now transformed arm with his only normal one, confused, still in pain, and now definitely hyperventilating in the mists of severe panic.

This wasn’t normal. This wasn’t normal. 

He didn’t know what to do.

The Earl of Millennium watched the scene unfold, a curious sound escaping him. The boy was an Exorcist? Why that was interesting, and not part of the plan. The boy himself didn’t even know how to work his own weapon by the looks of that adorable panic on his face. His wide abnormal smile dimmed just ever so slightly from  the unnerving development. Yes, this boy being an Exorcist was a complication. He wondered if he should leave now that it was certain that the recently made Akuma was not going to live much longer, but he decided against it. His curiosity and his intrigued outweighed the practicality of leaving now.

Meanwhile, Allen didn’t know what was going on, his labored breathing overshadowing any rational thoughts, as he held his arm which refused to obey his will. He didn’t know what his arm had turned into and he didn’t know why it was blocking Mana’s attack without will moving it to do so. Allen didn’t know anything, and it scared him, and it made him break out in a cold sweat.

He was mid panic once more when his arm, with seemingly a mind of its own, decided to move again, dragging him along for the ride. Allen tried to stop it, he really did, grabbing onto the ground as his arm, almost bigger than himself, dragged him across the ground of the hill toward Hana with such vicious movement.

“Mana!” He alerted the Akuma which held his father’s soul, wanting it to move out of the way, hoping he would be okay for the time being. He didn’t understand what was going on, but he didn’t want to lose Hana again. He didn't want to lose the man he viewed as a father, not now, not ever again, no matter what he has turned into. But it was too late. His arm had already grabbed Mana by his skeletal throat against his will.

“Allen...” Mana spoke through the skeleton he inhabited, voice strained and tired, as if speaking this way brought him pain, “keep walking... never stop... remember your promise... I love you, Allen...”

Allen didn’t want to say goodbye. He didn’t want Mana to go again. He didn’t want to be alone. But the words Mana spoke to him were true, and he couldn't stop himself, no matter how much he wished for his arm to drop Mana, he couldn't. Mana... He had made Allen promise again, he had made Allen promise to keep walking, as if after this he would have anywhere to walk to. But... a promise was a promise, and while Allen couldn't stop the inevitable death of his father once more, he could keep this promise... he now had a promise to keep, he had a mantra to follow. He needed to keep walking. He saw his arm tighten around Mana, and knew, whether he liked it or not... Mana was going to be gone soon. And so, he thought back on Mana's words. And said his final goodbye.

“Mana... I promise, I promise I’ll keep movin’ forward, no matta wha’... Mana, I love ya’.”

His arm tightened, and it felt as if Allen’s whole world was being shattered once more. Except this time, it wasn't taken by a runaway carriage... No, this time, Allen himself had taken it away. He didn’t want to say goodbye.

But it wasn’t his choice.

His left arm tightened, and Mana was gone. Shattered, particles of his temporary body scattering about, flying away into the clear night, his souls being released back to the heavens, where it belong.

In the wind, just before exhaustion took him, Allen could have sworn he had heard Mana’s voice.

Thank you... Allen.

And with that, the boy with the cursed left arm, the burning eyes which still felt as if they were on fire, and a deceased father, fell prey to sleep. Passing out as his arm was still in its large white form, actively searching for any threat that the boy might face now that the Akuma was gone. Even as he was left to the world of the unconscious, Allen still looked pained...

The Millennium Earl watch in fascination, the boy had so much potential for Akuma killing. Such potential shouldn’t be allowed to flourish, potentially supplying the enemy with a child like this could definitely put a stall to his plans...

But before the Earl could think on what he just surmised, the arm of the unconscious boy came to life once more, turning to the Earl of Millennium, and charged, using its fingers to dig its claws into the ground, making it move rather fast, dragging its host along the rough ground in its mission to strike the Earl down rather carelessly. It made its way to the rotund man, striking up and hurling its mighty white claw down to tear the Earl of Millennium apart.

But it didn’t even get close.

The Earl brought up Lero despite his panicked scream, blocking the rudimentary arm with ease, stopping the strike in its tracks. What an audacious boy, attacking him after he had only given the child what he had wished for. His eyes sharpened, holding the boys claw away from him with no struggle, chuckling to himself in his signature laugh, and speaking to the boy who had the tenacity to attack him.

“Why dear child, are you upset about your poor dead father?” The Earls smile was sharp and vicious, and his eyes bore into the child who carried the innocence within his body. But the Millennium Earl receives no reply. Was the boy ignoring him? No, the Earl took a closer look. The child wasn’t even conscious!

“So, the innocence fragment within the boy acted of its own accord, how interesting.” The Earl spoke to himself, Lero nervously sweating and twitching as he held the arm back from his master.

“This is really uncomfortable Lord Millennium! —Lero” the Earl gave a chuckle at his golem's anxious complains, thinking of what he should do. First things first though. He had to take care of the little problem he was currently holding back.

Taking his unoccupied hand, the Earl gathered his dark matter within it, and struck the infernal arm which dared to attack him. He willed his power to suppress the powerful innocence energy within the boy, forcing it back within its state of dormancy, but not before his dark power felt something within the boy almost throw him out, rather viciously if he was being honest.

Now that, was interesting...

The Earl smiled a wide smile, and retracted his arm, content to watch the small child collapse to the floor with a painful thud, his arm reverted back to its ugly red state. Had the child always had white hair and those strange decorative burn marks surrounding his eyes?

The Earl of Amser paid it no mind.

“We should kill the boy now! —Lero” Lero honestly just wanted to go home, whether play time with his masters daughter was waiting or not. The Earl gave Lero a dark look, his smile still in place. The Millennium Earl wondered if he should just get it over with and kill the boy himself as well. It seemed more trouble than it was worth to stick around.

A thought occurred to him though. With an innocence fragment as powerful as this, would it be wise to kill the boy now, or use his powers for his plan, to aid him in his pursuits? The Earl thought to that thing which almost banished him from the child’s mind entirely on its own, and his need to know what it was ached inside him. Plans on how to use the boy began to form, there were so many possibilities, so many risks, and so much potential.

The Earl let his gaze land on the boys infernal arm, the innocence within it glowing in his hand in the shape of a square cross.

Hm...

“Lord Millennium? —Lero” the words knocked the Earl out of his thought, before laughing and addressing Lero.

“Ah but why kill the boy now, my little servant. He could be so much use to me! An asset like this cannot be disposed of so easily.” The Earl gave a grand gesture, his umbrella golem almost screeching and rambling about how this was such a bad idea, but the Earl completely ignored him.

“L-L-Lord Millennium, th-this isn’t a good I-idea! No, no, no —Lero

The Earl snatched the boy up unceremoniously, draping his unconscious body over his free arm and carefully positioning the boys innocence away from him. He didn’t want to be contaminated after all, with God’s precious weapon. He snickered quietly at his own joke.

“Are you l-listening to me! —Lero,” Lero screeched out, finally annoyed enough to yell at the Millennium Earl without any pretenses. The Earl turned his stare to the golem and felt his smile widen as the flying umbrella began to once more sweat nervously.

“Why don’t you take us home Lero,” The Earl of Amser spoke graciously to the golem. His smile was impossibly wide, and his laugh eerie in its manner.

“After all, we need to get our new residents situated.”