There are words that put a chill through Ankh, making it feel like his Core has cracked all over again.
As they stare down the maw of a giant, shifting mass of Cell Medals, created by accident from the experiment that revived Ankh, Eiji thrusts the empty Medal case at him and says them:
"I'm going to try it."
"Don't be stupid!" he shouts back, grabbing his arm.
But he knows better. He knows Eiji, and Eiji can never leave a situation alone. So he fully expects the desperate expression as Eiji insists, "It's my fault this thing was even created! I have to fix it!"
"Idiot!" he yells. "There's no way you can control it—it'll kill you, just like it did the King!"
To his credit, Eiji pauses, just for a moment, and Ankh realizes that he has learned something in the five years since he last saw him—he values his life now, and he understands that if he dies, he leaves a lot of broken hearts and unfinished dreams behind him.
But it doesn't stop him from saying, "I'm sorry," and turning away, inserting the TaToBa Medals into the belt and transforming.
And Ankh can't help but think of his first transformation, when they first met. How bewildered Eiji had been, nothing like the King. No, the King's first transformation had been triumphant, him fully understanding and embracing the power that Eiji was indifferent to when Ankh offered it. He would have jumped at this chance...had jumped at that chance.
Eiji is more careful, though, despite Ankh's fears. The first thing he does is dodge the whipping tendril of Cells that comes his way, slicing through it and scattering the Medals. Enough get close to Ankh that he can absorb them, but as soon as he does, he sees Eiji hesitate, looking his way as if he's unsure whether he should charge or protect him.
The hesitation costs him, and another tendril swings at him and knocks him aside. It sharpens into a point while he's down, ready to run through him, but Ankh blasts fire at it, releasing more Cells.
Eiji looks over at him in shock, but Ankh shouts, "Don't lose your concentration! If you do, you'll never be able to control the Cores!"
It's a slight affirmation of faith, a vague admission that maybe, if anyone can pull it off, it's him. Eiji nods, grateful, and scans the next three Medals.
The King wasn't so deliberate, the first time this transformation happened. He was so certain he could control them, so confident in his power, that he scanned them all at once and became overwhelmed immediately.
Eiji could never be that certain, and he starts with Uva's Medals. He doesn't bother to change forms—just scans them as he is, trying to access GataKiriBa's powers. Green electricity shoots out of the Medals, and he shouts in pain as it enters his body, but Ankh covers him while he tries to get it under control.
The shout suddenly becomes louder, but Ankh recognizes Eiji's battle cries and steps aside so he can charge, his claws sparking with electricity as they rip more Cell Medals free. Ankh looks back at him uneasily, but he insists, "I got it. I can do this."
He still seems okay, but Ankh watches him warily, warning, "That energy's not going to be enough."
"I know," he answers, holding up the next three. "ShaUTa next."
He braces himself before the next scan, but same as before, it only takes a few minutes for him to bear through the pain and attack again. This time, the two powers combine, and he whips water at the tendrils, locking his around them while filling them with green lightning.
That's three combos he's supporting now, and he's ready for the fourth. Ankh isn't. This much power inside him can't be good, and even if he didn't have to cope with the memory of the King's transformation and betrayal, he knows how Eiji is when he loses control.
Eiji staggers a bit and fumbles with the SaGoZou Medals, and that's when Ankh tries to take them from his hand.
"That's enough," he insists. "You're going to lose control."
The Medal mass attacks again, and Eiji's too heady from the power rush to react quickly enough. Ankh has to tackle him to the floor and counter, still trying to wrest the Medals from his hand.
"You have no idea what's going to happen to you!" he shouts. "Even if you use them gradually, you're going to lose control with this many Medals! You're going to..."
Eiji puts his other hand over Ankh's, doesn't try to fight him, only comfort him.
"I won't," he promises, and Ankh can hear the stupid smile in his voice. "I'm not the King. I won't attack you."
Ankh freezes—it's one of the times when Eiji's too damn clever for his own good, and he's figured out what's really scaring Ankh.
With Ankh stopped, Eiji's able to take the Core Medals, warning, "If you're worried, then wait for help back with the Foundation. I'll finish this, and I'll be okay. I promise."
But Ankh stays, watching Eiji scream again in pain as he scans SaGoZou. It's worse than the others were—the powers over gravity threaten to crush him, and he's collapsing under his own weight. The Medal mass forms a club-like tendril, ready to finish the job, with Eiji completely unable to defend himself.
Ankh moves forward and shields him, catching the club. It's heavier than he anticipated, and he has to use his full Greeed form to withstand it. If this were the King, this would be the point where he'd stab Ankh in the back and let him fall.
Eiji's not the King. He pulls his heavy, leaden feet to stand beside Ankh and helps him throw off the club, nearly falling over with the effort.
Ankh catches him, suddenly disgusted with himself for hesitating.
Eiji breathes out a sound that sounds like a laugh, but it's in-between labored breathing. OOO's colors are fading, and there's bits of stone flaking off of from around the belt.
"You have to stop," Ankh insists. "Your body's going to petrify."
"One more," Eiji whispers.
"It's killing you," Ankh argues. "Once it starts, there's no way to reverse it."
"I can do it," Eiji promises.
"You can't!" Ankh shouts, and he pulls Eiji up. "You might still have control of your desire, but you can't control the Medals like this. It's too much for your body!"
Eiji draws in a jagged breath as the stone starts to spread. He groans, and Ankh knows it's not just flaking—it's transformed. He reaches down to deactivate the belt—if he makes it in time, then they can operate to remove the petrified portions of his stomach. He can still survive.
Eiji stops his hand.
"I told you," he insisted. "I can control it."
"Eiji, no," Ankh warns, but he already has LaToraTah in his hand.
He pushes Ankh away and scans them, and the power bursts right off of him, throwing Ankh clear across the room. For a moment, he thinks it's all over, sees the stone cover Eiji entirely, just as it had the King.
All at once, the mass descends on him, him and his lifeless, stone body. Ankh is too horrified to move for a moment, but the shock settles and he charges, screaming in rage—rage at the King, at the Medals, at Eiji, for being so heartless to bring him back just to watch him die.
The mass throws him again before deciding that it can use one more meal, and Ankh is the only remaining source of desire. By this point, he no longer cares, and he waits for the mass to swallow him up too.
And that's when a brilliant light emerges from it, ripping a hole in its form.
Ankh stares in disbelief as Eiji steps free, the last of the stone flaking off of him, the energy he's absorbed burning it off of him.
"Eiji?" he asks, and he hears a laugh in response. He sighs in frustration. "Idiot."
"You said that already," he teases. "It doesn't mean as much if you keep saying it."
Ankh swats him in the head, but he has to draw back his hand as it sizzles against the energy.
"Sorry," Eiji apologizes. "I don't know how to turn that off just yet."
"Forget it," Ankh says. "Let's just finish it already."
This time, Eiji nods, and as the mass renews its attacks, they fight together to absorb the Cells. Eiji fights like he's not fighting to control the power of nearly all of his combos, moving with a speed and finesse that's almost beautiful, easily keeping pace with Ankh.
OOO's armor cracks and splinters as light bursts through it, like water threatening to burst a dam, but in truth, there is nothing like it that has ever existed. Ankh has no frame of reference when the armor burns away, leaving Eiji, his body glowing. It is something the King and his alchemists could never have even dreamed of—a vessel for both the Core and Cell Medals, a living, breathing god of desire so fathomless that it cannot overflow. It only has constant room to grow.
Because the one thing Eiji's wanted most for the past few years, he's finally gotten. Ankh is there, watching him. And the only other thing he could want, the power to reach out to everyone in the world, he is.
No one ever considered the power of a fulfilled desire, and that's what fills Eiji's body now and breaks the mass of Cell Medals down into mere coins, a thousand careless wishes.
Between the two of them, it takes only a few minutes to finish off the Medals, and they stand alone in the lab, Eiji's body still shining.
Ankh reverts to his humanoid form and watches as Eiji looks at his hands, clearly realizing that he's managed the impossible. Ankh can barely make him out—his body is blurred from the light, the only real distinct feature being the belt around him.
For a minute, Ankh waits for Eiji to deactivate it, return to normal, and smugly tell him that he was right the whole time and he could control it.
When the minute passes, Eiji looks at him, and Ankh realizes that the belt is deactivated and there's fear in his eyes.
He can't change back. He's burned through the stone, and he's burned through the armor. The next thing he will burn through is his own body.
There's a reason there's never been a successful transformation of a human into a god—the human body cannot withstand it. The only way to survive the power is to become it and forsake humanity altogether.
Eiji reaches out toward Ankh like a lifeline. He knows what he's becoming and he's afraid of it. He doesn't want it.
The King would have given everything to have even a fraction of what Eiji has right now.
No, Ankh reminds himself. He didn't give anything, and so the power took everything from him.
Eiji only wants Ankh to take his hand and help make his last minutes of humanity bearable, before his body breaks down completely and he falls to godhood. But Ankh won't stand for that. Not here, not the first time, not ever.
Because the first time Eiji nearly lost his humanity, Ankh gave him the means to take it back.
He takes Eiji's hand and reaches for the scanner. He can see the voiceless terror as Eiji recognizes what he's about to do, but before he can stop him, Ankh has scanned his own Medals, added TaJaDor to the mix, to try to even out the scales.
The first time, it had been enough to stop Eiji from delving too deep into his power and convince him to reject the purple Medals. He fought by his side and protected him until the very end.
This time, his wings spread out of Eiji's back with flames, and the power is too much for the belt to handle. Cracks form from the heat, and finally it shatters with explosive force, and the Medals Eiji absorbed burst out of him along with it.
The last combo was more than OOO could handle, even if Eiji could.
Ankh reconstitutes himself from his Medals and the Cells surrounding Eiji, and as he holds him, he realizes that something has changed. He can keenly feel the weight of Eiji's body and the feverish warmth. Something about the Medals having been inside Eiji has leeched some of his humanity into them.
Of course. Eiji had one last wish left—to give Ankh his own body that could experience everything a human could.
Eiji is shaking, all of his body held up by Ankh, but he still has the strength to look him in the eye with confidence.
"I'm not him," he promises. "I'm not going to..."
And his strength gives out before he can finish, so Ankh has to adjust his grip to keep from dropping him altogether. Unconscious or not, his meaning is obvious: he's not going to become anything that the King had.
But as far as Ankh is concerned, this is the first and last time Eiji uses that transformation.