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The Road Yet Traveled

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Keep on walking.

It rang through his head like a church bell. Loud commanding, in control. It was heard over and over again, never reduced to mere memory, always in the front of his mind. It gave him goosebumps, shivers, as he sat against the hard stone wall of the perpetually busy tailor's shop in which the incident had unfolded in front of. 

Never stop.

The mantra never stopped. It had rang in his head day in and day out, the words of his father echoing through his resolve and taking any resistance he once had away from him. the words were especially loud in the moment. Why were they so loud? Ringing through his head, overshadowing his breathing, his rational thoughts, everything. It almost hurt. He wondered if that was a bad thing. 

Keep on walking... never stop...

He wished it would stop. He wishes the words would cease and his mind would be left to its solitude, able to finally rest, able to finally process what had happened on the fatefully and chilling December day. All he wanted was silence. But he didn't get silence, as he sat there on the cobblestone road staring at the corpse of his recently deceased father. 

Why wasn't his father moving...? Allen knew they needed to get to the shop, his boots had too many holes in them, and his fathers coat needed repairs. Why wasn't his father moving then? They needed to go. It was reaching sundown. The shop would close...

Keep on walking... never stop... Allen...

He hated that name. It always sounded to foreign on his tongue, always so awkward. He knew his father gave it to him, that he should treasure it. But the name just brought him hate, and he couldn't explain why. All he knew is that he hated the name Allen. 

To be fair, once upon a time, he hated almost everything, even the man he called father. It was a dark time for him, but he didn't feel that way much anymore. But now, in this moment, with his father not moving, the cherry red liquid seeping out of his body almost looking like the rich rose wine he once saw visiting Nobles dine with, that name, that cursed, wretched, no-good, sentimental, kind, savior-given, name was the only thing he could truly say made him hate.

He didn't want to be Allen anymore. Being Allen right now hurt. 

Mana...

The name was given to him two years ago, when the young abandoned waif had fallen into the care of the madman laying a few feet in front of him. They had met in the traveling caravan, each working for meager scraps and little pay, commanded by that demon of a ringmaster. He hadn’t had that name when he had met his father, in fact he hadn't had a name at all. He wasn't a privileged child, and no one before Mana had saw fit to grant him the basic decency of a name. No, that name was given to him. Given to him by a madman lost in grief, having unintentionally adopted an eight year old after the purposefully malicious, and rather unfortunate, murder of his dog.

Allen the dog.

What a pitiful and chained creature.

It danced and twirled for scraps of food, melted at the attention given by its master, never ceasing to follow him around and wait for his very call. Always so excitable, always so happy and carefree. Relying on Mana for everything in its life, and only falling back on its own talents for food and attention. The mutt always danced around in joy when Mana walked into the room. 

Now that he thought about it, maybe the reason he hated that name so much wasn’t because it was a dogs name, gifted onto him as a hand-me-down. No, now that he thought about it, it was because he and that retched dog were too similar, too alike, for his taste. Maybe he was selfish, but it ate him up inside to see himself second fiddle to an animal that couldn't even talk nor fend for himself. But he wasn't much different. 

Mana... I..

He hated it. He refused to thing he was a chained animal, he wasn’t a mutt begging for affection, he wasn’t a tamed beast that latched on to its master for survival. He was a person, an individual, someone who could make his own thoughts and feel his own emotions. He didn't need to rely on anyone!

But he did. No matter how much he tried to deny it, or insist it wasn't so, the feeling in his chest and his head made him ache for Mana. He ached for that stability Mana supplied him with, he ached for their time together. He wanted his father back, he didn't care how, but that was what he wanted. Maybe, just maybe, he really was like the dog he was named after. 

Allen the human had been cursed at birth with a deformity which had only caused him pain and sorrow. It made his parents cast him out in the snow when the trouble he brought with him became too much, it caused him to be relentlessly abandoned by even the charities that preached to take in waif's like him. His earliest memories were of the cold and bitter winter nights alone in an alleyway, buried under what garbage and cloth he could scavenge for before the days end to keep himself warm. He remembered the biting frost nipping at his noes, and how his tears stung against his cheek when he let them fall softly as he laid alone. He didn't know his age around that time, but he was young. Younger than he was now for sure. His next earliest memory wasn't as pleasant, believe it or not. A group of young boys, teenagers maybe, surrounding him, casting shadows on his body, beating his starving frail body within an inch of life, laughing, calling him all sorts of evils under the sun.

Monster, devil child, abomination.

Those were a few monikers that threw his way in that memory. Other foul names surfaced in his thoughts, memories of many other times towns folk and holy men saw fit to take away his right to life, only missing their goal just barely. They chose to cast him out, ridicule and hurt him, rather than see the scared child that was there in place of the monster they thought he was. No charity would take him longer than a week at a time, seeing as they were all run through the church it really came to no surprise to him. No pries, preacher, or nun could stand to look in his direction for too long, let alone feed him and let him use their clean drinking water. There was little sympathy in this world for waifs such as him, born with deformities like his left arm. His left arm was a curse on his entire existence. The skin which felt of cobblestone despite its unusual warmth haunted his dreams, and looked as if he had molded the devils fire to his skin. Paired with the fact that it barely functioned right as a whole, and you could see why Allen considered it nothing but a burden to his continued survival. 

He had been picked up off the streets of London once, expectantly and rushed if he remembered correctly. It was a kind man, who had seen him in an alleyway, rummaging through the trash on a warm London night. He had barely any cloths in that time of his life, only wearing what large cloths he could pilfer off of a deceased homeless man. The man had been tall, whether that be because of his stature or because of Allen's malnourished height, he didn't see fit to recall. But the man had taken him off the streets, luring him in with food and cleaning him up. Despite the mans rough face, Allen remembered he had trusted the man for the weeks time he spent with him. But it didn't last for long, and for good reason.

He had been sold into the circus for a single shilling by that man. That was the worth of his life to him. A single shilling, and the boy whom even God’s servants called evil was shipped off as an indentured servant to the caravan. By someone he had placed his trust in no less. 

It had taught him a valuable lesson  though. Never trust anyone. 

He had forgotten that promise with Mana...

Mana... I... don’t go...

His work with the circus was labor, errands, and flyer passing mostly, almost always with no breaks. It hadn't been as bad as he was expecting. Truth be told, his work was the least of his worries, and that wasn't always a good thing. Though he had tried to stay positive with each passing day. While the weather was unbearable at times, his shoes had holes on the soles, and his hunger never seemed to disappeared, but he had a roof over his head most of the time, and at least a meal a day if he was well-behaved enough. Who cared if he had to fight for his right to use the lake water the caravan's stashed, or had to suck up to the cook no matter how much of a wanker he was. That was far more than what he had before. He was grateful for that. Despite the constant threats of food poisoning, hypothermia, and dehydration, it would not have been all bad had he been saddled with a better master.

Yes, Cosimo was a cruel man, if he could even be called a man anymore. A drunkard who cared only for the wealth in his pocket, a womanizer of the highest degree who wouldn't take no for an answer, and a harsh taskmaster with no regard for human decency. Should you incomplete his tasks in a way that he did not seem sufficient, you would get a rather good beating. Or if Cosimo was feeling rather generous, you'd get thrown into the lion ring for his dinner entertainment. Allen had too many encounters with a whip or an animal claw to know that following orders was better than holding onto his pride. Though, that rarely ever actually mattered. Allen had learned early on is that his work was never sufficient in the eyes of Cosimo, and no matter how much he held his tongue, it ever would be. 

Don’t go... I need you...

It wasn’t surprising to him that his mental state had taken a toll in this new environment. As a child, not even ten years of age yet, his survival instincts reacted on their own to the place that was now constantly putting him in danger. While on the streets he could at least hide out for a day or two and have some form of relaxation, but here? No such thing existed. He had never been shown love or affection, not in his entire pitiful existence, and here was no different. When your bed consisted of a hay bail, and you had to sleep with one eye open at all times, it wasn't surprising he had closed himself off to most human interaction. His eyes no longer lit up when someone showed his some kindness, or supplied him with an extra ration. He no longer let himself smile much either. He chose to be bitter and closed off, rather than to open his heart again to someone who would be like Cosimo, or the trader who sold him into this blasted circus. There was no need to be hospitable and honest when your meals rarely came and your body was always aching from scabs and scars that never quite healed right. There was no honor in survival, and you didn't need people to survive. You did what you had to do to increase your chances, and that was it. No and's, if's, or but's.

Yet, he had forgotten that, for however brief a moment. When that old insane clown and his beat up mutt had joined the circus, and that blasted dog had taken a liking to him, he couldn’t stay away. No matter how many times Allen shouted, or insulted, or even lied to Mana, it never really mattered. His insane ramblings and easy going demeanor, his constant smile and words that never made sense, they all drew him in more and more, and no matter how many times Allen had stormed off in a huff, the madman would always laugh and say Welcome Back whenever he inevitably came back, usually with some sort of peace offering in the form of food. He had reasoned he had stayed because he was entertained, curious, or even cautious of the man and wanted to keep a closer eye on him. 

But that was a lie.

Don’t go... I need you... Mana...

He really was like that dog, wasn’t he? Mana had shown him, an uncaring child who was cursed forever in the eyes of god, who carried the hate of all who even so much as greeted him, something he had never known before. Mana had given him, the waif who needed no one, who only viewed other humans as the byproduct of sin and heresy, something no one had ever thought to give him before. Mana had granted him, the boy consumed with rage and loneliness, with too many scars inflicted upon him by uncaring individuals, and who had only ever received meager scraps of mistrust and disgust, something he wasn't even sure he deserved. And like the mutt called Allen, the nameless orphan danced for the meager scraps that Mana offered him, and followed Mana to the ends of the Earth for something he couldn't even really understand.

For affection, for love, for someone he could call him own.

For a family. 

Never stop Allen... promise me...

He hated that name. That name that had sealed his fate the moment the clown himself had walked out of the circus following the death of his pup, and he, the lonely child who didn't want his only friend to leave without him, ran after him.

He hated it... yet, he feels as if that name was meant for him. It held meaning to him that he couldn't explain. Meaning he wasn't sure he could understand fully. Perhaps in a different life, he could have been someone else, someone with a mother and a father who hadn't cast him into the streets, someone who had grown up in a normal home, with regular meals, and maybe  sibling to protect. Maybe even someone who Mana felt the need to name personally, with an original name not taken from an animal that he resembled in personality too much for his liking. But that wasn’t now. This was his name. And he must learn to live with it, despite the pain that came with hearing it echoed through his memories. 

Maybe he didn't hate the name so much. Maybe it just hurt to hear it in memories that will never again come to pass. 

He gazed at the corpse of his father, just feet away, as authorities began to arrive at the scene of the incident. It was too late though, Mana was already dead. He had died a while before, run over by a runaway carriage, using his last act of madness - his last act of unbridled pure, innocent, good, madness - to push him out of the way when he wasn’t even in the path of the out of control steeds pulling the wooden death trap. 

His father was an insane man, a clown, a rambling madman who named him after his deceased dog, a crazy joker who rambled to himself at night and woke with screams and cries of terror, calling for people who aren’t there, who Allen wasn't even sure existed, for a Allen which definitely wasn’t him, but whom his father had cried to long and hard for. His father was a madman, and his death didn't need to happen. It was a pointless death, a death that would have been remembered more as a mistake than anything else. 

He had left Allen too soon.

Allen... promise me...

His fathers body was covered, his eyes were closed, and his body was being taken to the undertaker. He was alone...He was truly and utterly alone... He had been alone before, left alone in towns and areas while Mana had gone to shop, or left alone when Mana needed to do something that he never told Allen about when he returned. Allen had been alone before.

But not like this, not since he had been running around the streets, hoping to find his next meal and avoid certain death by the hands of gang members and bitter young men. But this time, it hurt more. Allen didn't understand why it hurt so much. He had been fine when he was so much younger, alone, never crying in order to preserve what water he had in his small and frail body. He had never felt anything other than contempt and a slight sense of loneliness. 

This feeling though... this hurt. Why did Mana chose to leave him, why did Mana leave without him?

Why did he feel such guilt and responsibility, such hurt, at the thought of continuing on without Mana?

Allen stared as the police carriage pulled away and the authorities ignored his presence as if he didn’t exist. It didn't surprise him, he wouldn't have paid much attention to a street rat like him either. Instead, in the dark of the alleyway, the mantra which Mana had always said to him, even on his death bed, was repeating in his head once more. He couldn’t stop, he had to keep walking.

After all, he had promised Mana.

I promise...

Chapter Text

It was cold on the hilltop, which shouldn't have disturbed him as much as it did. It was late October now and it was only by sheer luck that Allen wasn't covered with a thin layer of snow considering the season and location. His thin arms were barely covered by a roughly torn brown pea coat, and his hands were numbed by the cold as his gloves, having been ripped in there use, no longer covered his fingers. His walking shoes had seen better days, and since they had never been repaired after their first rip and tears, Allen held out very little hope in getting any warmer. 

Allen couldn't bring himself to care all that much. He knew that he looked worse for wear, his long dark brown hair mangled and tangled with dirt and grease, and his face covered in grime. He had been on this hill for hours now, at first only watching and waiting for the undertakers to be done with their job, for his father to be buried, and once they had finished the shallow grave and laid his father in the ground, all Allen could do was stare and sleep atop the newly dug grave of his father.

Allen was sure that he was slowly starving, or at least dying of dehydration, as the hours slowly turned into days, but he had no will power to move on, to keep walking. He has promised Mana. He had promised that he would keep walking, yet here he was, sitting still on the cold wet dirt, wallowing in his own self-hatred. 

Mana had never said that moving on, that continuing forward, would be so miserable, so painful. Allen only wanted to cry himself to sleep at the feet of his deceased father, praying to a god that he wasn't even sure existed, to bring his back...

It was hard, watching his father figure get dug a shallow resting place on a hill, a few miles away from the small town in which they had traveled to for repairs to their clothing before the incident happened, with little to no regard for his life before his death. The grave stone the Undertaker had put up for Mana had been blank, only a large slab of unearthed concrete rather than a proper headstone. After all, they hadn’t identified his foster father when they had taken him away, Allen knew this much. Instead, Mana had been another on the long list of John Doe's which had passed, and unfortunately passed away, in the small town. Because of this, he watched from a distance, like he did when they originally hauled Mana away, and just like he did when they put his body in a wooden casket and tossed it in the back of the undertakers carriage, all those nights ago.

It was only when the undertakers had left, that Allen had retreated from his hiding spot and cautiously knelt by the grave. At first, he had only knelt at the grave, taking it in and trying to come to terms with what had happened. The shock had worn off after a few days though, and come the third day, it had finally hit him.

Mana was gone

He hadn’t meant for the tears to start falling, nor had he meant his labored breaths that ailed him. He hadn't meant for any kind of emotional reaction really, having pent up all of the negativity he had felt until Mana was good and buried in the ground. Yet, tears began to streak and run down his face, the first show of emotion since the carriage incident a day ago much to Allen's chagrin. Misery and agony swept his features and pain twisted his eyebrows as ugly drops of water fell, casting his face into a mess of red flushed skin and snot. Hana had always told him he had been an ugly crier. Mana had once said it was cute, no matter how many times Allen had insisted it wasn't. 

Mana wouldn't be able to comfort him and his tears now...

“Mana...”

Allen didn’t know what to do. He was lost without Mana, lost without his guidance and his aimless wandering that always brought them exactly where they needed to go. He was nothing without his father, nothing without Mana. His father had built him up into something that mattered, into something that actually held faith and hope in the goodness of people, and now, Allen's only rock was gone from this world and he was so very lost. He had been following Mana for so long now, Allen couldn’t remember how to move forward without him, without someone, anyone, by his side. 

It was too much for a child to handle, no matter how mature he claimed to be. 

“I promised,” it came out as barely a whisper. He felt as if he was drowning, unable to reach the top, his hand on the grave stone for support, as his mind reeled in the chaos of the situation.

“I promised Mana!” The tears did not stop, and they wouldn’t for sometime, “but ya didn’ tell me it wa’ gonna be this ‘ard...” Allen's cockney accent bleeding through more than usual in his distress, sobbing at the grave of his father, praying to anyone to come and bring him back to Allen, no matter the cost, no matter the fee. He wanted his father back, he wanted his support back. He felt do lost, so out of control, so out of his depth, unable to focus on anything except the ache in his chest and the overwhelming feeling of being alone. Why... why was he hyperventilating, why was he missing Mana so much, why wouldn't his tears dry, why did it hurt to not have that smiling man by his side, patting his head and telling him everything would be alright, even when they both new it wouldn't be. The broken sobs never stopped, each question pounding in his head louder than the last, repeating like a broken record, over and over again, until he couldn't cry anymore. Until the sobs became dry chokes, and his eyes stung, red and puffy, from the emotional turmoil inside him. 

For hours after this, he stayed like that, with dry sobs with no tears and soft wails that spoke of his agony. His body rested, leaning against the grave of his fallen father, soaked and cold to the bone because of the mid fall weather, and slowly starving from no food or water in more than three days now. Even now, Allen wasn't sure if he could make it back to the village, miles off from his location, He felt so weak, so feeble in the face of physical exertion right now, the thought of food almost made him sick. He expertly ignored the grumbling of his small stomach. He didn't want to leave Mana again, no matter if he did starve. He wouldn't leave Mana. Not like Mana had left him, promise be damned.

He shifted from his position and chose to instead kneel before the blank grave. It felt so wrong, so terrible. Allen couldn't describe it in his limited vocabulary, but he hated the feeling of being up here, while Mana was buried underneath him... He looked to the headstone, so blank, so raw. It hurt more to see the grave of his father not even carrying his name. It was like his father, his fathers life, and its impact and meaning to Allen himself, meant nothing. He knew who was buried underneath the still freshly dug ground, but it seemed so incomplete, so... wrong. It caused a feeling of unease within him, he wanted to fix this mistake. Even if the Undertakers had no idea who he was, even if no one in the town a few miles off knew who he was, Allen wanted to see Mana remembered on his gravestone. Allen’s tears had long since dried, leaving him with water stained cheeks and puffy eyes that never ceased nor went away do to his constant state of exhaustion. But that didn't stop Allen. No, in fact, those tears which dried against his fair colored cheeks only served to drive him forward in resolution that he hadn't felt since before Mana's passing. With Allen's new resolve, he got to work, using his nails to slowly but surely etch the name that truly belongs there onto the stone. It hurt at first, his nails not used to the rough treatment, and his hands shaking from the bitter cold, but any pain he would have felt as he spent hours scratching away at concrete was numbed by the wind. The gravestone needed a name... and Allen would give it one. 

Hear lies Mana Walker.

The madman who never stopped.

By the time he was finished carving the name of his father, his finger tips were sore, covered in dried and fresh blood, the nails of his right hand beaten down to the very tip of his fingers. It had taken him extra time to carve the entire message, but Allen felt no regret. He felt almost relieved, that the place his father would permanently rest had a proper label now. His eyes were sore from his recent bouts of insomnia that had taken him in the past days and his stomach was growling painfully, but he had done it. Proudly it stood, in large capital letters, so carefully scratched and placed just right. It looked poor compared to any kind of proper burial a priest or preacher could have ordered, but to him, it was enough to bring him some sort of comfort. 

Now it wasn’t just any blank grave of some John Doe... it was Mana Walker’s final resting place.

The tears he had thought he had dried began to fall once more. It brought the ten-year-old peace, to know that Mana has a place that was his. A place where he could rest, and know that anyone passing would be able to read his name and know that the man who laid under the stone was Mana Walker, the man who kept walking. But in the small moment of peace and relief, the reality of the situation was also back, and with no task to distract himself from his current situation, the weight of his life as it is now came back full force while his mind repeated the mantra, the promise, that Allen had made.

“Mana... I don’ wanna move on...” his voice sounded so broken, he almost didn’t recognize it himself. What was he going to do? What was he without Mana? Without Mana... without Mana he couldn’t move forward, he was nothing. Thoughts from hours before reached his head, conflicting and confusing him with their words and feelings. All he wanted was Mana, but that was too much to ask. He couldn't so anything without Mana, without his father. He needed Mana, no matter how idiotic it was, he wanted, he needed, Mana back with him. To keep him promise, to move on, to be something more than he is now. He needed Mana. 

He needed his father.

“Well well well, look like yet another tragedy has befallen!” A jovial laugh announces a presence behind him, jolting Allen out of his miserable stupor, stopping his endless cycle of repeated ramblings taking place in his mind. “A little boy crying for his poor sweet dead papa,” a chuckle escaped the stranger who had appeared suddenly and unexpected, “how sad.”

Allen turned around as quickly as his small body could in his tired and pained state, making himself dizzy and lightheaded in the process. His head turned so fast he wouldn't be surprised if he gave himself whiplash, seeing a tall rotund man with an abnormally large grin laughing to himself as he observed Allen’s pain. His eyes were blown wide, his body beginning to shake not only from the cold, but from fear too. How had this man appeared, how had he sneaked up on Allen so carefully and quietly? What did he want, and why did Allen feel so much unsettling terror in his presence? He didn’t know who this man was, he didn’t know what the man would do. 

That scared him.

Now, Allen prided himself in his forward thinking, his intelligence. He liked to think he was rather good at it for a kid his age, with his years in the circus teaching him how to act calm and be direct, without being disrespectful lest he get the whip again, and his years before that on the streets teaching him to be quick thinking, and light on his feet. So despite the prickles of deep seated fear he felt go through his spine in a shiver as he stared at the strange man with nothing short of concealed terror, he prepared himself to ask questions, knowing that any knowledge about this man was better than none.

“Who are ya’, sir...?” Allen was cautious and scared, it was written all over his face in his desperate attempts to hide the feelings that plagued him. Even for a child his age, he knew when people were dangerous. This man... this thing was dangerous.

The large man or monster, Allen hadn't decided which fit him more yet, chuckled once more, bringing his hands out in a dramatic fashion, his large umbrella, topped with an unusual jack o' lantern head, casting out in front of him in one swooping motion.

“My name is not important young one, it’s what I can do that is better!” The monster-man wasted no time deriving what that was, his abnormally large smile widening with each passing second, “I can bring back your dear old father from beyond the grave, out of the reaches of your detestable God”, Allen didn’t know the word God could be said with such intense hatred, “all I ask is that you do one thing for me, one thing only!”

It seemed too good to be true, too coincidental to be currently happening. Allen felt his mouth go agape, wide in disbelief, unsure how to respond other than to silently whimper, lips quivering in distress, while his hands wrought around his thin ragged jacket. With a bow of his head, his dark brown hair fell into his face, covering his ghostly pale eyes in tangled fringe. It was too good to be true. The monster-man had to be lying. There could be no other explanation. Yet, the Monster-man had appeared out of no where, so confident and suave, scaring Allen to death which his entrance and speech. What if he wasn't lying? What if he was telling the truth, and by rejecting the words of the Monster-man, he would destroy any opportunity to see Mana again...?

Could Allen even take that chance?

“An' ya’... ‘an ya’ really brin’ back Mana..?” His voice so small and quiet it fell deaf on human ears. So insecure and quiet, filled with dread and heedful of the possible lie the terrifying Monster-man may be feeding him. Yet, the Monster-man heard him loud and clear from across the small hill where he resided. He smirked with delight, his large teeth widening as a glint shined off his round spectacles. Now that Allen had thought about it, the Monster-man looked like a clown in a way. If you squinted hard enough. 

“Why yes my dear child! I can take your father and put him back with the land of the living, no extra charge,” the monster-man chuckled his strange laugh, high pitched and alien, “all you have to do it agree.”

Allen stared at the monster-man, having not even gotten his name yet despite offering something that seemed to go against the very foundation of God's will, an escape from death itself. His eyes were filled with something that had not been there in a long while now, not since the death of Mana. 

Hope.

His eyes were filled with hope.

“Please.. please I’ll do anythin’ to brin’ back Mana!” Allen didn’t care. Allen didn’t care about his promise, or the words of his dead father that echoed in his head painfully. The mantra of keep walking no matter what wouldn't stop, but Allen couldn't bring himself to care anymore. He needed Mana... he needed Mana to move forward, no matter what he would say when he was back, Allen needed him. To Allen’s luck, or misfortune perhaps, the monster-man’s grin got impossibly wide, turning on his sharply dressed and shined shoes, almost swaggering up the hill to stand just by Allen and the grave his father rest.

“Very well,” with a flourished snap of his fingers and a strike of lightning that came from a clear night sky, a form, almost looking like a human skeleton yet not, made of dark material was presented on stilts before the grave, “this vessel will be for your dear papa, sweet child! Now all I need you to do it say his name, and he shall come forth from beyond the grave.” The way the Monster-man had said his sentence oozed of trouble and consequences that hadn't yet been explained. Yet, Allen did not care.

He had hope, and that was all he needed to make up his mind. 

“All I got ta do is ‘all for ‘im?” It seemed so simple, so easy. Too easy, by the looks of it. But Allen didn’t give it any second thought, consumed with a desire to see Mana once more. Despite being smart for his age, Allen was still a ten-year-old boy, a child who wanted his father, and the Monster-man knew that. 

“That’s right, just say his name dear child, and he shall be rescued from the grasps of your cruel God.” The word was once again hissed, but Allen didn’t pay it much mind, gaze locked on the dark skeletal structure.

He wanted Mana back, he needed Mana back. And this was his way. His only way to bring Hana back to him, from the hands of God himself. Despite the dread inside him, Allen never felt happier. They would be together again!

With a single step forward, and a shine in his eyes filled with so much hope and anticipation, Allen yelled out at the top of his lungs a word he would regret saying on the fateful fall night for years to come. 

“MANA!”

Chapter Text

“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.”

Chapter Text

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

The following chuckle left Lero both annoyed and anxious. He was anxious a lot when it came to his lord and master. He wished he knew what the Lord Millennium was thinking so things like this didn’t happen as often, where Lero was left to his confusion and nervous tension. Tension which always made him uncomfortable and sweaty, despite his lack of anatomy for such action.

Lero opened his umbrella, ignoring the growing anxiety from his masters words, and like his Lord Millennium commanded - yes, commanded, because any request given by the Lord Millennium was indeed a command despite its appearance - he began to head in the direction of the already open Noah's Ark.

The Ark was a weird machine, Lero recalled. It did what it wanted, a lot like him, but it wasn’t a golem, nor an Akuma. No, it was something a whole lot older, and a whole lot more confusing, almost like a living machine, yet not. And it only followed the instructions of the Noah Clan, his master’s family. It had a mind of its own, but it didn’t really have a voice like him. No words of wisdom ever exited the Noah's Ark, which further confused him on how it could "speak", as his master once eloquently put it. Instead it spoke with how it felt, or at least that’s what his mistress Road had said once before. The Lord Millennium’s daughter, Mistress Road, was a lot more forthcoming with information, but even she was tight-lipped on matters of the Noah's Ark. It was almost as if there was a big secret the golem wasn't entrusted with.

Oh well. I don’t need to know.

Lero's thoughts were haunted by yet another one of his masters chuckles as they quickly approached the Ark. Lero really didn’t like it when his master laughed like that, it put him on edge, made him nervous, or at least more than usual. The laugh was enough to scare an evolved Level Four Akuma into submission, and Lero himself didn’t want to be on the receiving end of it either. Lero could only imagine what his master was thinking, and imagine he did.

It could only be one thing right? It had to be that little boy that his master decided to pick up. Lero was still vehemently against it, knowing how much of a complete and utter mistake it was bringing an Innocence Accommodator into the mansion filled with dark matter. The kid could very well explode all over the nice sofa's! Or even convulse and break the fine china! But his Master has disregarded his concerns, had shut him down, telling Lero that they needed to make way for their new resident. And that could only mean one thing.

His lord and master had a plan, one that Lero wasn’t privilege to, and it involved that boy. That itself made him even more nervous.

Or he had forgotten about the mixing of innocence and dark matter? The thought made him shake his head vehemently to himself. No, his lord wouldn’t forget, of course not!

...Would he?

Lero shook himself from his thoughts once more, insisting in his head that it was a plan, not absentmindedness that they were bringing the boy along. He took a quick moment as the Ark came into view to sneak a peak at the small boy in his masters arm. White hair, a bleeding and intricate burn scars around the boys eyes, predominantly around his left eye, torn clothing and a ripped, roughly worn brown coat. What a mess the boy was. His master couldn’t have chosen a smaller or dirtier child to drag along with him into their home. His gaze shifted to the arm that the kid had used against the freshly born Akuma, remembering what it had almost done to him and his master. It had moved on its own, and that was enough for Lero to think it was too dangerous to keep. What if it attacked them all while the boy was asleep? What if it woke up and caused havoc as Lero was trying to get his master to the safe space of the Noah's Ark? 

But his opinion didn’t matter to his Master, nor did his worries. So he continued to fly until they were right beside the Ark, knowing that his master always preferred to enter the Ark before him, as if he needed to make sure of something before the golem passed through. It was at times annoying, but Lero wouldn't dare voice his thoughts. Just attempting to do that would be blasphemy!

The Earl of Millennium gave Lero a look as he stopped a few feet away from the Ark, waiting patiently for the golem to stop completely so he could safely let go of the umbrellas handle with the child. Lero didn’t disappoint, slowing deliberately and carefully to the ground, being sure not to jostle his lord or the boy his lord saw fit to carry. The Earl gave a small laugh at Lero's obviously unnerved state. It was quite telling that the golem created to follow every one of his orders was so perturbed by a mere boy, by the fact that this mere child was even with them, not seeing the benefits the child posed for his plans for the future.

Or maybe he was worried about that light power in the boys left arm, and how volatile it was. Lero may have thought the Earl had forgotten about innocence energy and dark matter and how well they mix, but the Millennium Earl did indeed remember. How could be ever forget such a crucial detail? After all, the effects of a dark matter curse was shown on the boys face itself with its intricate scars. The Earl of Millennium idly wondered if it would in any way effect the boy when he woke up. He supposed only time could tell. 

Though, just as Lero thought, he did have a plan concerning the child's small problem with Dark matter. An innocence accommodator has never had the privilege of accessing the Noah's Ark, so unfortunately, the Earl of Millennium had no references to check his plan with, but if the child died it was of no consequence to him. Sure, it put a wrench in the brewing plans and ideas flourishing within his mind, but plans could always be rewritten, and he didn't care so much for one boy's life that he would exert anything more than the minimal effort to keep him alive, at least until he became an asset worth protecting. He would just continue on as if the encounter with the young boy had never happened, should he fall danger to the mixing of opposite forces.

The Earl let Lero set him down, his shined dress shoes touching the cool cobblestone of the abandoned Victorian manor, made in the late fifteen-hundreds as a gift for a late lords wife. There was quite a story to the mansion, the Earl recalled. It had been a night like any other, and the poor lords wife had, unfortunately, fell ill with small pox, and soon died. The grieving lord, rife with desperation and righteous anger at his once beloved God, had begged the Millennium Earl to bring back his love with such fever. It brought a chuckle to the Earls forever smiling face to remember the lords anguish when his kind and mild tempered wife had killed him in cold blood, becoming a newborn Akuma as she took his skin and wore it like a meat suit. Now, of course, the manor was used as an outpost for the Noah's Ark and passing Akuma's heading to the London area. It was rather convenient, despite the fact that the Akuma who was made out of the entire interaction had eventually been destroyed by a chosen one with visions of grandeur, just as it was nearing the transformation into level three Akuma. Rather unfortunate, but the outpost itself was always useful. Always so convenient in its location. 

The Earl ignored the overgrown courtyard, adjusting the sleeping unconscious child within his grasp as he began to take strides forward, just where the Noah's Ark was positioned. It stood tall and proud, a swirl of the darkest matter known to the Earl, and oozing with dark energy. It was a masterpiece in all senses of the word. A true gift in the eyes of the Earl of Millennium, fit for a lord of his status, and of course his beloved family. 

The dark portal, which led to his beautiful white city which contrasted the shadowed which made up the portal, was waiting for him, standing in all its glory, awaiting his arrival as usual. He wished nothing more to be back within the Ark's confined elegance, surrounded by the comforts of his home. Of course though, all good things come with time and patience. 

As always, Lero floated to his side, just behind him like the good servant the Millennium Earl had made him into. The Earl inspected the Noah's Ark, but did not immediately enter as per usual. Instead he looked to the boy in his arms and gave a small, chaotic laugh. It was now or never to see if his plan would work, and the Millennium Earl had always been one for experimentation. 

After all, it was not as if he was at risk. The child's arm was asleep, no attacks would be had, and he was only endangering the child’s life, not his own. He gave a much sharper smile, preparing himself for the actions he would next take, settling a short gaze on his loyal servant Lero. 

“Lero, watch and learn, the poor boy is going to be in a mighty bit of pain now, and I want you to make sure that he doesn’t die on me in this process”, a laugh escaped the Earl. He knew if the boy was going to die from what he was planning on doing, there was nothing Lero could do about it, seeing as it was entirely experimental and uncertain that the boy would live through this, but he had to get a small punishment in for the umbrella golem for that unsightly backtalk he had given him before. It wouldn't do for Lero to get cheeky with him now, would it? Only a good master would punish Lero with such a light sentence, so in actuality, The Millennium Earl was being quite kind. He gave a slight giggle to himself, as his mind validated his thoughts as he watched Lero to gauge his reaction. The Earl saw Lero get increasingly nervous and begin to mumble to himself to a great extent, which could only meant his little order had done just the trick, giving the golem the distress he desired. What absolute fun!

The Earl of Millennium set the boy down on the cold, cobbled ground, looking at the arm and wondering just what his experiment would do. It was extremely uncertain, and could very well lead to the boy's inner body fluids being splattered all across the overgrown courtyard, and all over his clothing to boot. The imagery in the Earl's head gave him slight sadistic pleasure, almost hoping for such an entertaining display, if only for the look that would dawn upon Lero's face when he realized he would have failed his given task. The Earl supposed there was only one way to find out.

The air seemed to thicken around them, his excitable golem forgoing his nervous ramblings for a loud terrified scream, as the shadows of the abandoned manor twisting around the Earl of Millennium as the powerful dark matter inside the Millennium Earl willed it to contaminate the boy. It was much like the concept of a modern medication, or an anti-venom used to purify a snake bite. The Dark matter would enter the body of the boy, and the boy's body would have to react fast. The boys body had already been exposed to some of the Earls dark energy, even some of a freshly born Akuma's dark energy, and by unceremoniously shoving more into the unconscious boys mass, his body would either quickly adapt to the onslaught of unnatural magic, or be completely and utterly destroyed. 

The Earl had a feeling it would be the former. That audacious something which had forced him out after he had forced the child's light weapon to sleep when he had entered the boys mind and gazed at his soul, was much to... dark to be the child’s innocence fragment manifested. It felt as if it was similar to himself, however unlikely that was. And it had played such a troublesome role in the nights events just a small bit ago, having commanded the boys white weapon to attack him. No, that wasn't right. It was almost like that darkness inside the child had woken the innocence accommodators weapon, urging it to follow its nature, willing it to protect the boy at all costs, before sitting back to watch the show. All too familiar... he couldn't shake the feeling that the darkness inside the boy was familiar. But that small familiarity was not enough for the Earl to become anything more than curious, and certain that the boy would survive his little experiment. 

The Dark matter which seeped from the walls and the air around the Earl of Millennium swirled around the kid, entering his body from seemingly no points of entry, almost absorbing itself into the boys skin, into his pores. The Earl didn’t know what to expect, and watched the child with fascination and unbridled curiosity, hoping that something entertaining would happen. This was all so new to him, and rarely did he get to experience this feeling of giddy at the thought of learning something new about the nature of the gift he wielded. The boy did not disappoint him. 

The child’s body began to seize, his mouth opening in a silent scream despite the fact that he was still unconscious, his eyes moving rapidly underneath his eyelids which were still sealed shut. The dark energy seemed to move underneath the boys skin, in such a way that its path was visible to the Earl and Lero. It moved, like cockroaches underneath a cover, like a snake slithering underneath dense foliage. The Earl could see where the matter moved and shoved its way into every crevice of the boy, fascinated by every movement and twitch the boy and dark matter made. It was no doubt extremely painful, and extremely unnerving for a normal individual to watch, but the Earl held a steady gaze, his fascination outweighing any sort of disgust he felt at the way the matter was interacting with the Innocence fragment's host.

What felt like hours had only been minutes when the dark matter settled, coming to a rest underneath the boys skin. The boy was unconsciously tearing at his own body, clawing at his flesh, leaving bright red marks across his own exposed skin, in an unknowing attempt to get rid of the matter within. It was to no surprise really, anyone, unconscious or not, would have done the same to try and rid themselves of the foreign substance within them. It was most fortunate that the child wasn’t awake. His screams would have been painful to to the Earls ears.

The boy laid still on the marble, his soft and shallow breaths were ragged and the Earl could swear he could hear his heartbeat from where he stood. Such a taxing process on the poor boys body, and yet he had survives against all odds once more. Lero had opted to hide behind his master while the boy convulsed and writhed, which was fine with the Millennium Earl. He didn’t need his golem to look at the boy, possibly becoming sick in the process. 

But it seemed his plan, his experiment, was a success. To test the theory, the Earl held a hand over the boy, letting his own dark matter, which he had held back in their previous interaction on the flight over to the Noah's Ark, surround him, touching the child's skin, yet not letting the dark matter enter the boy like before.

No response besides ragged shallow breaths.

It had indeed worked.

The Millennium Earl could not help the excited laugh that escaped him. Now, he could work with this young exorcist. He had to admit, it would have been mighty disappointing had the child died, but with his body somewhat adapted to the dark matter it would be encountering, the possibility of the boy dying within a few seconds of entering the mansion home to the Clan of Noah was now slim, as well as the boy's chances of dying within the Noah's Ark. Not impossible, but at least slim in chance.

Picking up the boy once more, feeling his heart beat abnormally fast in his chest as he laid him in his arms, the Earl turned to Lero.

“Let us proceed to the mansion, yes?” Even if it was phrased as a question, Lero, the nervous golem, and himself knew it was not. Lero floated up behind him, knowing that his master would be displeased if he was left behind, nodding anxiously.

It was time to travel through the Noah's Ark. After all, they had a boy to take home.

They entered the dark portal, coming out along the streets of an ever white city. It was breathtakingly eerie. White roads, white buildings, white doors, white roofs, white accessories. So bright in color, so light in contour, yet the feeling of the Noah's Ark, once inside, oozed of Dark Energy unlike anything the outside world could produce. It was dazzling and bright, such a contrast to the dark matter which made up the vibrant city. Such a contrast to the Earl of Millennium's mansion, of which they were heading to. The Earl shouldn't be surprised by the Ark's contrasting colors anymore, though. 

The Noah's Ark even contrasted the darkened, ashen grey skin tone of the Clan of Noah, which piloted through the Noah's Ark as well.

The Earl gave a brisk pace through the bright roads, instinctively knowing which doors led to his beautiful home, leaving Lero to catch up on his own. Navigating the Ark had always been second nature for the Earl, as it is with every member of his family. It was instinctual, always so natural for them to experience. No other creature could understand the feeling of home and comfort the Clan of Noah felt upon entering the Noah's Ark, not even the Earl of Millennium himself.

Being in the Ark was always so nostalgic feeling as well. Paired with the feeling of instinctual comfort, came the feeling of bitter misery as well for the Earl. Not one of his other brethren remembered such feelings, none other then him and his childish daughter Road. The Ark has never been the same since the day He had died, taking a part of the Ark with him in his passing. The Ark had always felt so incomplete without Him at the helm, as if to further mock the first Noah clansman from beyond the grips of death. It left such a bitter taste in his mouth.

Still, it was hard to walk through these halls without feeling bittersweet, regret tasting sour in his mouth much like his thoughts had left a bitter one. Despite what He had done, he had been family, and walking through the glaringly white halls left him wishing for a time that all of his clan would have gathered within the Noah's Ark as a family. The Noah Clan was always close, they were family and the Earl treated them much differently than he treated playthings, like humans. None of their clan would have expected what had come to pass would have in the fashion it did. 

But it served a cautionary tale for the Earl. Bonds can fail, and family can be torn apart.

The Earl pushed past his dark thoughts, ignoring that pain of quilt in his chest. He was not the one that was in the wrong. No, the one who was, was Him.

That’s what he told himself, such as he did each and every time he walked through the white town which held so many memories, good and bad alike.

Almost too soon, they had reached a large building, white like everything else in the Ark, seemingly resembling a town hall. The Millennium Earl gave a small push on the door, feeling the Noah's Ark give way to a dark passage, knowing it would lead home.

Home. Such a strange phrase. The Ark was the Earls true home. But he supposed the mansion was alright for a temporary one. The child in his arms shifted, his breathing and heartbeat long since calmed down, despite his left arms needless twitching. He would have to fix that soon.

Oh well. The Earl of Millennium could be concerned with that later. He entered the dark doorway, content to hear Lero's not so quiet mumbling from behind him, a chuckle escaping him in its usual fashion.

He wondered what would be for dinner.

Chapter Text

It hurt.

That’s all Allen could think as he lay, curled into a fetal position on the cold ground. He didn’t know why he was here. He couldn’t recall what had happened to him, outside, before all this. It was like he had shut it out, like he couldn’t make himself remember no matter how long he tried. The only consistency here was the pain he felt throughout his being, in his eyes, his chest, his head, everywhere.

Why did it hurt so much?

The small ten-year-old boy wasn’t aware of what was going on outside, in the world of the living. He wasn't aware of what the Earl of Millennium was doing with his body, nor was he away are the plan that were being formed around his existence. Instead, he was stuck in a prison of his own making, clutching his body in on itself, on the ground in a place he didn’t know, in a place which terrified him and he didn’t know why.

All he knew, was that it hurt.

The red moon from above shine down on the boy, illuminating him in the darkness, casting a crimson tint on the boys now white hair. He didn’t know it was white just yet, but he would soon. He would soon come to realize that there were many chances within him that he wasn't quite aware of yet. But the change in hair color wasn’t what was dominating his thoughts, nor his mind.

It hurt too much.

Allen  had caught glimpses of his surroundings from his position, not thinking much of them in his state of single minded misery. Stone grey buildings where in shambles, destroyed beyond prepare, crumbling to the ground around an almost blue tinted grassy area. Trees of black with no leaves littered the area he was curled up in, surrounding him from his small cobbled area in which he laid. A lake, filled with water so pitch black it reflected the world as if it was a mirror, was cast out in from of him. He didn’t think about any of it though. His mind was elsewhere.

It hurt.

What did hurt though? Why did he feel such pain is all of these areas? He didn’t know. It was like his body was in pain, yet it wasn’t. Like he was about to be torn apart, yet he was still whole. The sensation of being in pain, so much pain, was paired with the fact that he knew he shouldn't be in any pain at all. He couldn’t name it. He was just in pain, but it was different. There was no other way to describe it.

From the distance, a dark figure watched the boy writhe, watching him curl deeper into himself, unable to do much in the state it was in. It was a shadow of its former self. It knew that, it knew it was powerless to help the boy which held it together as its host. It would have hurt the being, made the shadow feel regret and misery for the boy, had it had the feelings that normal humans did.

But the thing wasn’t human. Not right now at least.

So it watched, and waited, silent in its gaze. 

It had been able to help the boy just a bit when the boy had pleaded. The kids will was strong, it knew that. It thought it was admirable that the boy had taken his transformation as well as he did. An arm turning into something you could not control would have made a lesser child die in fright, it knew that. Still, while it knew the child had taken it well, it also knew that the child wasn’t prepared for what he would find when he woke up. The boy was only experiencing the small bit of pain that his body was experiencing as he slept. The turmoil the boy felt could be explained by his head subconsciously trying to block out any of the pain the boys body was feeling, while the boy consciously fought with the knowledge that he was indeed in pain. It was a confusing and slippery slop to fall into, and it felt the boy was not fully prepared for it. The dark matter which felt like home to the shadow, had almost torn apart the boy when it had entered the child’s body. Thankfully, the shadow had been able to curb most of it, both helping the boy in which he resided in experience much less agony than he would have and making sure the energy assimilated within the boy so he wouldn’t die immediately when he would inevitably be woken.

The shadow was mostly powerless, but it could do that much.

It set its gaze onto the horizon, just past the boy. A large white mass had spread itself next to one of the dark trees, watching, waiting, trying to assess the boy. The white innocence had a mind of its own most days, wandering about without access, much like the shadow. The shadow and the light did not get along. The innocence fragment was volatile, harsh in its task and treatment of its host, and in turn, the shadows host. It had caused the boy so much pain before, thought the shadow knew he wasn’t guiltless in this either. The blinding light from across the way was trying to protect the boy with each action, yet it always fell short. It had a single track mind, it only thought about destruction of dark energy, not thinking about how the boy may feel about the matter at all. It made the White energy a rather vile parasite at times.

In its simple state, the shadow didn’t blame it though. Its lack of intelligence was mostly because of its lack of refining. It would grow, just like the boy would. The shadow had to protect the boy in the mean time though, because while the white matter was reliable enough for lesser Akuma's, it would not be able to handle the environment the boy was being thrown into.

So he watched, and waited, hoping the boy would be alright, because if he wasn’t, they were all doomed...

Allen  was still on the floor of course, not even noticing the shadow whose thoughts were dominated by him. He still clutched his head, not knowing why he was in pain. Not knowing where it originated from. Not knowing anything really.

The ten-year-old child was so young, so foolish, so naive, so desperate, so easy to hurt.  Allen  was an easy target. No matter how much he liked to protest that, the fact was that he was an easy target for a lot of things.

Humiliation.

Manipulation.

Pain.

Like the pain he was feeling now. Why didn’t it ever stop? Why was it happening to him? Silent screams, confusion, aching, exhaustion, the feeling of losing yourself, yet not.  Allen   felt it all. He didn’t understand any of it. he was so confused, so lost, he had been for a while now.

All he knew, was that it hurt.

Allen  didn't know what he was supposed to do about the pain, other than to curl up within himself, hoping that with every passing moment, he got closer and closer to hit being over and done with. But  Allen  didn't hold out much hope for that. While he couldn't remember anything in this moment, he felt as if hope had gotten him nowhere good lately. So he stayed like that, and resolved himself to stay however long it took, ignorant to anything around him in his own created universe. 

A sharp spike of anguish hit  Allen , and he seized, screaming for a short started moment before he felt sweet and utter bliss. 

The pain stopped it stopped, being replaced with only relief. 

The pain was... gone? How... why... why was it just, gone?  Allen  didn’t understand. The more time past,  Allen  was beginning to think he would never understand anything at all. It was like his body was on fire, and suddenly someone had dumped him in snow. It was instant relief, instant gratification, like the pain which he wasn’t even sure he felt, had magically disappeared, even though he knew that wasn't the case. How...?

He felt a chill go down his spine. He didn’t like this. Pain didn’t just go away. It didn't just appear either. Both those seemed to be happening to him though, and that left him will a deep sense of unease. What was happening to him...?

Suddenly, it dawned on him. Where was he?

Allen  looked around, feeling the cool touch of cobblestone beneath him as he let go of his fetal position and pushed himself into a seated pose, his legs crossed in a comfortable fashion. This place... what... what was it. He recalled vague details before the pain had come and gone. A Red moon, black water like mirrors, dark bare trees.

He was scared.

His eyes darted around, his mind jumping from the aches in his body which were gone, to the dark and dangerous environment he found himself in. He was terrified, he didn’t know where he was. Everything was so dark, so... unnatural.

And he didn’t feel alone.

He felt like he needed to find a way out. This place wasn’t supposed to be here. Why was he here? Why did he end up here? His mind was reeling, how could he get out? He tried to remember the last thing he did, even if it hurt his head. He needed to remember where he was and what he was doing. What was it?

The last thing he remembered clearly was... Mana...

A choked cry escaped  Allen , his body once more folding up into itself, as tears he hadn’t realized he still had began to shed. It seemed only like mere days ago Mana and him were traveling the countryside, performing street shows for small coin, and making ends meet where they could. It had been good. A rough life for sure, but good nonetheless.

A good life he could never get back.

It was hard to believe that so much could change in so little time.

No longer would he wake up cuddled into his father’s coat, sitting by the campfire they had made for the night, listening to Mana’s ramblings and stories of his time in the circus and before. He would be able to look up at the stars with Mana anymore... he wouldn’t be able to count the clouds on a mildly sunny day, nor pass the time playing small games together while Mana dotted on him like a son. The tears wouldn’t stop flowing as he remembered his foster father, grieving for his loss, and feeling so much regret and guilt the longer he thought...

Mana had given him everything  Allen  had lacked at his tender young age. He had given him love, acceptance, peace, stability.

He had given him a family.

“Mana...”

Mana... he had killed Mana...  Allen  felt so lost and broken, the aches in his body which were no longer there were replaced by aches of the heart, stuck in a place that made him terrified, surrounded by abnormal things, sitting on the cold ground, without his father, without his family, without his stability, or his peace, or his happiness, all alone-

No... he wasn’t alone though, was he...? It was in the corner of his eyes. Black and white. Darkness and light. What... what was it...

He was scared, and he wanted Mana.

Tears still flowed out of his eyes, although his hysterics had died down. Fear was a good motivator, and motivate it did.  Allen  looked up from his spot, turning to the figured he had only seen just barely out of the corner of his eyes, scooting himself away from them ever so slightly, as if the small distance made him safer.

A light, and a shadow...

They seemed to stare at  Allen Allen  was terrified. He didn’t know why they were here with him. He almost preferred being alone, with no one, to being with these two... things. They scared him so badly, his body shook. The tears never stopped streaming his face.

“Wh-who ‘re ya...”

No reply was given.

Just staring. How that was possible with no eyes was not something  Allen  wanted to dwell on right now. He had to get out.

He had to get out of this place. He had to get out of the place with the red moon, the shadow, the light, the dark trees which didn’t belong.

He needed to leave.

And as if by magic, fog rolled over the area, covering everything it could until there was nothing left but  Allen  and the cold floor. It blocked his vision, it didn’t let him see anything. What was it? What was it doing? It scared him. Everything in this place scared him. He just wanted to go. The fog thickened further, until there was only white... then gray...

And then, only darkness...