21 Slay the Apprehension

Year: 1025

            It's been a sum of 6 months since the upheaval in the Capital.  Many lives were lost on that fateful day from innocent civilians to the most prominent figures that were present on both sides of the war.  Since that major encounter, the grip that the Empire had over its lands had been greatly stirred causing a ruckus that many of the corrupt politicians were not prepared to handle.  Using this point to their advantage, the Revolutionary Army swiftly began to advance from the south toward the north to begin striking at the root of all evil in order to end this war once and for all; however, things did not go according to plan.

            During the time in which the rebels had fully mobilized their forces and began their march, they received word from various spies that the Capital had called for all troops stationed in the field to return to the city itself and be stationed at different outposts scattered within 50 to 100 miles of the Capital itself.  In addition, Martial Law was declared within the walls of the Imperial fortress causing near mass hysteria. If this wasn't this didn't sound bad, it only got worse with the rumors that citizens were not allowed to leave the land and that the people were borderline enslaved.  The Prime Minister was cunning; he knew that so long as it appeared that the people were hostages, the rebels would not make a move that would put the lives of the innocent in danger.

            As a result, the war had become a stalemate.  Both sides were ready to make a move on each other at any point in time but they couldn't.  The rebels couldn't strike for the sake of the people and the imperials couldn't strike until their forces were organized and rebuilt completely.  Night Raid was another option for the rebels to use; however, the Jaegers were still a factor for their enemies so they couldn't risk life-or-death battles between teigu users.  As a result, the band of assassins also had their hands tied and could not act until given instruction to do so.  Though, some did not like to adhere to this rule at all.

            It was the fall season.  The temperatures across the land had been growing milder and the occasional groups of trees were changing color but being in the south had its perks which happened to include almost a never-ending summerlike climate.  The only time this had changed of course was at night. As the sun faded away from the daylight skies giving way to darkness, the warm air dipped down to chilly temperatures.  It wasn't cold enough to warrant winter attire but if the breeze blew just right, one may catch a breeze.

            It was just around this time as well. The light of the waxing crescent moon was coming over the horizon and barely peeking above the tops of trees. Clear, dark blue skies blanketed the atmosphere with the glistening of the stars above dotting the space like someone had prodded holes in the atmosphere.  As the sound of crickets began to stir as well as the cooing of owls in the trees, one individual had been trekking his way back home after a long day of 'hunting'.

            "Shit, I was hoping to be back before dusk fell. I guess my body still hasn't fully adjusted to that form yet," spoke a tired Raizo yawning while he walked along a secret trail leading back to Night Raid's base.  His muscles were rather tense and his body felt fatigued from taking out an entire legion of soldiers by himself.  Though it was taxing on his body, he felt that it was training so that he could better perfect and understand his abilities while utilizing the might of his teigu—Indra's Judgment.

            "Damn, I reek of blood too. I better sneak off to take a bath before I'm noticed. I'm pretty sure the rest of the gang is wondering where the hell I've been all day. I'll just have to say I was off fighting some danger beasts for kicks…that should work," nodded the male whilst he continued to hike along the trail, a massive stone fortress embedded into the mountainside now coming into his sight.  Raizo had been coming into his power more and more after his fight with Budou. It was like his trump card had changed everything he ever knew about his abilities.  He couldn't help but notice that his movements were becoming faster, his body held more vigor and whenever he was injured now, he was healing even faster than before.  The latter always got to him though because he wondered why his body had healed so fast.  In fact, to his recollection, the longest that he ever had to stay in bed to rest due to an injury since he acquired his power was around a fortnight.  Clenching his fist, he could not help but ponder, Am I even human anymore?

            Taking a look around as he marched along, he took note of the trees that had been shedding their leaves. He knew the fall season was upon him and that it was almost that time of year again, "Damn…I almost forgot my birthday was coming up soon.  I guess I should take a moment to myself on that day since it's been…peaceful of late. Wait, Najenda knows about my birthday because it's in my file. She wouldn't tell the rest of the team, right?  I don't even want to know how they would plan one of those surprise party things…and knowing Leone…" trailed the voice of the male. Such thoughts were going through his mind about what the female that was officially his lover would do. Shaking his head, he continued walking.

            The grounds of the castle-like structure that represented Night Raid's headquarters had been quiet, almost too quiet. As Raizo advanced upon the grounds, he did so in a manner befitting a person who lived there so that his fellows wouldn't spring from the windows trying to kill him or anything like that.  It wasn't anything special; he just had to calm his nerves and his heartbeat to a point that did not radiate any sort of killing intent but an air of serenity for one who was coming home. Though, since he didn't want even that signal to be sent out, he had masked his presence altogether.

            Raizo did not want to be that guy but he often felt that his skills as an assassin far surpassed those of his colleagues. After all, he's been living this lifestyle from the moment he was born training since he was around 4 or 5.  The only one he felt that could rival him in raw skill was Akame since he often felt like they were somehow in a small fashion, very similar but those thoughts were only making him lose focus. 

The smell of blood and sweat seeped through his clothes so he wanted to be quick about getting to the baths.  He dashed up the side of the structure and into his room where he preemptively left the window unlocked for him to get inside after his little escapade.  Grasping a spare change of clothes and towels, he maneuvered swiftly through the complex without arousing any noise.  Echoing in the halls, he heard the voices of his comrades sitting down for dinner; some of the words being spoken were questions about his location.

"Alright, so I got back early enough to where everyone is eating dinner so that means I can go bathe and then casually join them without having too much suspicion," he thought.

During the time Raizo was infiltrating the grounds of the fortress, the voices of his comrades carried about as they were finishing up their meals and cleaning up the kitchen and dining area.  Three of them were casually chatting like nothing was going wrong in their lives.

"Man, it sure is getting late. I hope Raizo is okay," spoke the male out of the bunch with chestnut hair and green eyes.  Sporting a casual t-shirt with black pants, Tatsumi looked outside the kitchen window watching as the moon casually ascended higher in altitude.

"I'm sure he is okay. Raizo is strong so he shouldn't get himself into too much trouble. I just feel bad for whoever tries to mess with him," spoke a female with auburn hair and pink eyes.  Chelsea was already nomming on a lollipop even though she had just finished eating her meal.

"Exactly, despite these times, we have to trust one another to take care of ourselves when we're alone but also depend on each other when we're together," added the calm black-haired female with red eyes carrying a large stack of plates to be washed up.  Akame spoke almost in a philosophical yet wise tone despite being around the same age as the other two.

"I know that it's weird to say this but…I'm kind of happy," Tatsumi said while he continued scrubbing the dishes in the soapy water one plate at a time.

"Why is that?" asked Chelsea.

"I figured that with Lubbock , Mein, and Susanoo gone, Night Raid would get awkward since Raizo never really cared to show his team player side.  However, it seems like he's become closer to us all over the many months and it's like that feeling of being a team hasn't weakened or disappeared but…"

"Our bonds have strengthened," Akame stated finishing Tatsumi's sentence, "and it is true.  Sure we have lost many along the way but it's like we've been gaining something too and it makes me happy to know that with everything going on, we are still like…"

"A family," Tatsumi and Chelsea said at the same time.  Looking each other in the eye, their gazes locked for a brief instant before they both blushed then the trio laughed together in unison while finishing their chore of cleaning up.

After minutes of careful stealth, he managed to get to the large indoor/outdoor hot springs that Susanoo had built himself before his passing.  Stripping away his filthy clothing and tossing them into a bucket of warm water with aloe to soak, the tanned male quickly took hold of his towel, sat his clean clothes in a basket, and stepped into the waters to soak.  As he sat, he dove under the water for a quick second before sitting back to relax while every bit of tension quickly faded away from his body.

"For some reason, this is perfect right now," he sighed in relief while his crimson irises gazed up at the stars above, his white and black bangs sticking to his forehead dripping water down the sides of his cheeks as a result. As he sat alone, he took a moment to recall the deed that could only be described as tactical genocide.

Suddenly, the youth's relaxation was interrupted.  A sound of bare footsteps slapping against the hard limestone flooring approached the male's location while he bathed. Raizo felt the presence but dismissed it thinking it was just someone casually checking on him. As a result, he had his eyes closed enjoying his time in the waters.

"Ah, sorry I didn't join in for dinner. I just had to get cleaned up first but tell everyone else I'm back," he spoke frankly but the other presence did not respond. In fact, the waters in which he soaked began to ripple a bit as small waves crashed against him.  This signified that someone was joining him and to make matters worse, they were getting close. Carefully, Raizo lifted his right eyelid to see who the person was when out of nowhere a soft, elastic feeling pressed against his chest. This sensation was unique and mostly unknown to Raizo though only one person would dare do this to him. Whimpering slightly, he eased open both eyes to see the grin of his lover cheesing up at him. Her topaz-colored eyes filled with temptation and desire glanced up at him while her short, dark blond locks cascaded downward as a result of getting wet.  Raizo's face instantly heated up and it wasn't from the warmth of the springs either.  Good ol' Leone and her shenanigans of taking advantage when the youth least expected it was at it again.

            "I knew you were back. You know you can't trick my nose no matter how badly you stink Raizo dear~" winked the voluptuous vixen while leaning her body even more into his rubbing her twins against his body as a result. She would raise up a bit to meet the male face to face leaning toward his ear before licking the side of his face gently basically doing that thing again though she meant it more out of affection this time around.

            "L…Leone?! Come on now, why don't you let me have some privacy?" spoke a flustered Raizo. Although they had…'quality' time together a long time ago and the fact that she often expressed her affection for him publicly, Raizo still couldn't get used to her actions. Why? She had a knack to be unpredictable.  Over the past few months, there were days where she would leave Raizo alone while passing a couple of words for conversation; then there were days where she would smack his rear end as he walked past her, or she would pin him against a wall and steal a deep and passionate kiss.  There were even times when he would be in bed sleeping and he would wake to find her lying beside him; and yes, this included times when she would be naked in his bed as well.  So it definitely kept him on his toes though he never really expressed for her to stop.  In all honesty, it excited him and made him feel unique warmth inside his heart knowing that someone had cared for him though a part of him still kept his guard up in fear of being hurt.

            "Now why would I leave my lover alone when I haven't seen him all day long? Literally! I didn't even get a chance to take advantage of you this morning either," snickered the playful female.  She would skillfully caress the side of his face gently with the tips of her fingers as she 'interrogated' him.

            "Oh…heh, sorry about that I think; I just decided to get up and go out for some training is all. You know, get used to my teigu as it evolves and all that," he spoke in earnest even though he had not directly stated what exactly his training regimen was for the day.  He hoped that she wouldn't pry too much but given the fact that he did stink of blood, she was going to inquire sooner or later.

            "Is that so? And what kind of training did you do that warranted you coming home reeking of blood?"

            "I was out hunting danger beasts in large numbers. Seemed like a viable option to just vacate the area and do so hence why it took me so long to get back here."

            "Danger beasts eh?" Leone asked, raising an eyebrow as she pressed herself harder against him. Her eyes looked into his deeply as though she was searching for something in the sea of crimson. She had quite the keen senses about her given the fact that she shared some animalistic qualities thanks to her teigu, Lionelle.  In addition, she has been training herself to further fine-tune her senses as much as she could so that she could pick up on anything.  She had come a long way too in a short period of time because she was easily able to pick up the emotions of people within her vicinity and seemingly read their thoughts by the perception of a hidden 'aura' of sorts.

            Raizo tried his best not to waiver. Luckily, his experience allowed him to freely turn off his emotions almost like a switch instantaneously.  This not only nullified his feelings but almost his sense of humanity for some time.  It wasn't some skill that could be acquired via teigu, it was something instilled in him for years since he was a small child. The only people he knew that could do the same were Aquilo, Yuki, and Akame.  Hoping Leone didn't catch onto that fact, he momentarily activated this 'switch' while she stared intently back into her eyes. It was a good thing he did because he felt his heart shudder to abhor the fact that he had to lie but the fact of the matter was, killing those soldiers wasn't an order at all. Technically, he committed mass genocide and even though it was against the enemy, it was unsanctioned.  Given this period in the 'cold war', he could face some form of court martial at some point.

            Moments passed then a loud sigh was let out by the feline woman. Taking a deep breath, she was prepared to move on from the subject knowing that her lover was the adamant type so even if her guts or instincts suggested he was lying—which for now, she wasn't sure how to feel—he would not say anything other than his initial statement.

            "Alright, well I guess I can let you off the hook for now. But, that doesn't mean you're getting out of my bout of fun," she smirked, licking her lips carefully. Her hands now traced up and down her body ensuring she would feel every inch of her partner, even the bits that were currently submerged underneath the water.

            "Leone! What the hell?! Not here!" exclaimed Raizo as his 'switch' was turned back on so he didn't arouse any further suspicion. Though to be honest, he wondered if he should have left it off because reacting the way he was sounded completely out of his character. Regardless of his pleas though, Leone continued assaulting him while splashing noises ensued. Leone was sure to claim herself a prize tonight.

            Standing outside the baths was a lone, mature female figure. She had a metal arm and wore an eyepatch over her right eye. Taking a puff of a cigarette, she heard just about everything that was said inside the bathing chambers.  Najenda pondered for a moment over Raizo's words. Though she trusted Leone with her seemingly innate ability to draw from the lone wolf what others in Night Raid still couldn't, she felt like there was more to the story.

            "Something just isn't right about this. I have a feeling this is going to affect us somehow in the future," she said then hearing the noises that ensued in the baths, a light shade of pink crossed her cheeks momentarily before she quietly walked away.

            The light of the crescent moon and the clearing of the wide-open speckled skies blanketed the large city of the Capital.  Being under martial law, everyone was ordered off the streets the minute the skies had grown dark and the street lights began to come on.  No one was permitted to leave their homes at all unless they were working for select establishments such as restaurants and taverns to provide nourishment for the soldiers. Other than that, anyone caught in the streets without authorization was immediately detained and imprisoned for suspicion of being affiliated with the Revolutionary Army.

            It was an unfortunate fate for the innocent civilians but this was all to alleviate the paranoia of the politicians and corrupt bureaucrats along with all the greedy nobles riled up by the invasion of Night Raid 6 months ago.  Incidents occurred from here and there in which civilians were caught. Though they incessantly pleaded their innocence, the soldiers could only say 'it's just orders' before taking them away.  For the most part, it seemed like the system would work though some soldiers relished in the thought of cruelty and took their frustrations out by beating some people almost to death in the streets; however, this wasn't the worst travesty.  That was easy compared to a violator who was a woman and caught.

            Luckily, a lot of these soldiers had a sense of morality so they of course would not hesitate to report on soldiers who violated their boundaries; although, they had little choice because of the way the new hierarchy with the brass was reorganized after Budou's demise.

            Walking along a path that led into the palace grounds, a man with long, silver hair and green eyes was seen.  On his back was an elongated instrument that was cloaked in a unique cloth that could be identified as his weapon.  Sporting a white and black uniform decorated with a variety of medals, he was the man known as 'The Silver Fox'—General Aquilo.

            As part of the restructuring of the Capital's military, Aquilo's promotion from Major General to General was immediate.  In addition, he had responsibilities regarding the organization and mobilization of forces within the city as well as outside the walls when he wasn't in the field.  Such was the price of rank advancement unfortunately which made for a perfect birthday present that passed within the last 6 months. Sadly, he was unable to celebrate it much either. Sighing indiscriminately, he was accompanied by a female with pale, blue hair and silver-like eyes.  She was sporting a similar white and black uniform though hers was more stimulating to the eye. She wore a combat skirt which was accompanied by tight leggings as well as a small vest that exposed her mid-section and accentuated her ample bust while carrying a bladed bow on her back with a large quiver of arrows.  As he cast his eyes down toward hers, the woman—named Yuki--had smiled softly leaning her head against his shoulder.  Their level of familiarity extended past a number of years since being a part of the Order of the Blood Wolves was complemented by the fact that she was his adjutant and his lover.

            "Whatcha thinkin' about Aquilo?" she spoke without honorifics given the fact that she was only half a year younger than him and the fact that they were alone at the moment.  The male took another deep breath as they continued walking along.

            "Nothing just trying to figure out how we're gonna win this damn war and what to do about…" he trailed off as his mind flashed back to that day in which the Jaegers and Night Raid fought in an all-out brawl.  He recalled how two members of the rebel group took on his superior officer, how he faced one, and how his former rival fought against Budou.  It angered him recalling how he was thoroughly embarrassed by being rendered useless by the blonde bitch that dared to cosplay like a lion on the battlefield but he returned his frustration in kind by killing their sniper; however, that victory was soon short-lived when that man got a power-up that one may consider otherworldly.

            "Hey, don't try to figure out everything on your own," Yuki advised, squeezing the arm of her lover a bit and pulling herself closer to him.  She could also feel the frustration regarding that day because she was taken out basically before the action even began.  She hated feeling weak and her pride would not stand for it.

            "We will have our payback on them…all of them.  And I will settle my score with Raizo once and for all," Aquilo bellowed with a bit of hostile intent.  As the pair approached the main gate into the palace, he could see three individuals waiting for them.  Two of them were males, one in a denim uniform like he was from the country and the other dressed in white vestments with a feature in his platinum, blonde hair.  The other appeared like a gothic schoolgirl with a dead expression in her eyes but held a welcoming smile on her face. They were the other surviving members of the Jaegers named Wave, Ran, and Kurome.  The latter had finally recovered over the past few months due to a previous injury but here and there she had a few episodes where she would have to rest for some time.

            "Hey, you're right on time," spoke Wave, "The higher-ups are calling for a meeting to discuss the mobilization of the forces as well as review recent intelligence that was brought in from the field."

            "That so? I see you're quite informed with your new position Captain of the Guard," smirked Aquilo, nitpicking with the male in a friendly fashion. He and his adjutant weren't the only ones to receive promotions. When the forces were reorganized, the task force they were all a part of was essentially disbanded to assist with proper staffing. While Aquilo became a higher-ranked officer supported by Yuki, Wave was now in charge of the palace security with Kurome serving as his Vice-Captain; Ran was given the job of intelligence gathering as well as having to occasionally work with Wave to head up the military police. As for Esdeath, well, she became something she wasn't expecting.

            "We should all get inside then but I'll be a little late. There's still some information that I have to receive from a few more of my men before I join in on the meeting so go ahead without me," explained Ran displaying his genuine smile like always. Nodding in agreement, the others went ahead without him to the chamber in which the meeting was held.

            After walking briskly for about five minutes, the quartet reached a large meeting hall that was set up almost like the throne room yet the space was more occupied so that way there wasn't as much echoing.  Aside from the large rectangular table in the middle set upon a red carpet, the walls of the area had shelves of books as well as murals of fine art from famous artists admired by the Empire.  It was basically the typical rich noble bullshit that most stuck-ups had to show off status—this was to be expected while being in the royal palace.

            At the table sat about 3 officials that Aquilo didn't recognize nor cared to ask along with the large, bulbous individual—Prime Minister Onest—along with the newly appointed Supreme Commander of the Imperial Army, Esdeath.  Her long, frost blue hair complimented by her dangerous oceanic blue eyes suggested she was already sick of her position but she had to deal with it since she was the most capable and most experienced individual with the art of war.  There were many other officers they could have brought in but most were in the field at this point in time.  With the former Jaegers present and taking a seat, the meeting officially began.

            "Well, let's not take all night and just get to the thick of things. Let's hear a report," Onest sighed as he tapped his large hands on the edge of the table.  Feeling like he should give the report since he was responsible for keeping the system of things in order, the newly anointed general spoke.

            "All forces that were deployed thousands of miles away from the Capital have now been successfully recalled back within the borders of the city.  Most units were given orders to set up defense centers ranging from 10 to 25 miles outside the walls of the city while particular regiments were given orders to begin training exercises about 100 miles away.  In addition, the martial law currently in effect has allowed us to surveil the entirety of the city with great detail and so far, aside from very minor scuffles, there haven't been any reports of rebel activity within the walls.  Although sources tell me that they are increasing patrols during the day in case of suspicious movements," Aquilo finished before taking a moment to breathe before anyone began to speak.

            "With all due respect General but how current is your intel?" spoke one of the unfamiliar men sitting down by the Prime Minister.

            "At most, 6 hours.  Though I'm overdue for another report which should be delivered while we are meeting right now; in fact, Secretary Ran should be getting ready to…"

            "I'm sorry to cut you off," spoke another individual, "But it seems like not everything is as well as it seems. I heard that there has been a growing wave of violence and chaos occurring far north in the territory that Lady Esdeath fought so hard to tame before and it's been spreading to the west."

            "Yes, it seems like we are once again losing ground," added the last unfamiliar man.

            Aquilo sighed under his breath, becoming annoyed by the men. He hated politics and dealing with nobles or bureaucrats. At the end of the day, all they cared about was themselves and how much profit they could gain off the horrors of war. Really, they were just asking to see if their own personal investments were in danger but despite his feelings, he had to maintain a certain degree of respect.  It was then that Esdeath began to speak.

            "I also received word that my personal army of 10,000 soldiers that have served me loyally over the years has been thoroughly eradicated leaving behind nothing but scorched corpses and blood," she said gritting her teeth as she was forced to endure the thought of all those who served under her loyally to be slaughtered like dogs. Her eyes throwing daggers at anyone who dared to look her way suggested that she did not take this well at all.

            "When did you receive news of this?" asked Wave curiously.

            "This afternoon actually…" she sighed heavily.

            "Was there any clue as to the perpetrator?" Aquilo inquired. Esdeath tapped her knuckles carefully knowing what she was about to say would probably come off as a surprise to everyone present.

            "One man."

            A silence quickly covered the room as her words settled in their minds. It was downright preposterous. How could one man kill 10,000 trained elite soldiers? There was no possible way, unless that person was a teigu user. The ice queen took out a photo that was taken at the scene and slid it on the table. The picture had a flag pole with a head mounted atop it with a strange makeshift flag with words written in blood: Blood is the price you pay for your sins in this world of corruption.

            Aquilo and Yuki immediately recognized the words as it was a line that was stated by all assassins raised in the Order of the Blood Wolves when one has been assassinated and a message needed to be left behind. There was only one person who could do this and get away with it and only one person with the power to easily do it.

            "Raizo…" he uttered.

            "I thought the Revolutionary Army wasn't even moving at this point in time! How is a member of Night Raid even active?!" yelled a shocked Wave.

            "Raizo follows his own rules, plus…it was that very same battalion that did bring an end to the Blood Wolves 6 years ago," Yuki added.

            "That son of a bitch…I swear he will pay for this," muttered an infuriated Aquilo. Suddenly Ran had opened the door carrying a file folder with the newest report in regards to the Northern Territory.

            "Pardon my intrusion but it appears I found the answer to that issue in the North that is slowly spreading west.  It appears that…" Ran's words were immediately cut off, his eyes opened widely. Everyone in the room could only stare in horror as the most unexpected event happened right before their eyes.

            A dark, blue portal appeared behind him and out from it came a hand that reached through and punctured his chest from behind instantly tearing out his heart. Out from the confines, a maniacal laughter could be heard as the figure of an unfamiliar person in a navy jumpsuit with black hair with blue highlights and indigo eyes materialized with a sadistic grin on his face.

            "The heart lies right in the center of mass

            As blood moves all around-o

            But once it's ripped right out of your chest

            Plop! Goes that muscle…"

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