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The fall from grace

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They kept him chained down in his own dungeons. He supposed he should’ve laughed at the irony of it as hard as they did. The Deliverer of Darkness, the Shogun of Sorrow, the Master of All Masters - shackled and restrained in his own prison like a worthless animal. Because that was what he was now, a dangerous beast, tied down and hidden from sight like a bad dream.

Dark claws grasped desperately at the golden collar strapped tightly around a slender neck, tugging uselessly at the one thing restraining his powers, keeping him at the mercy of the pathetic humans. Heedless of the deep scratches he was inflicting upon himself (they would heal almost instantly anyway), Aku struggled against the magic infused chains, curved fangs clenched in overwhelming anger and indignation. He would NOT be seen like this! He would not be KEPT and TREATED like this! He was AKU, who did these pathetic flesh bags think they were! He was going to DESTROY them!! Rip them to shreds oh so slowly until they BEGGED him to end their miserable lives. And even then he wouldn’t kill them, oh no, he would watch them slowly bleed out in the Pit of Hate, screaming in agony as the flames lapped at their bodies. Not burning them alive, but making them feel so much pain that they would start wishing it would.

And he was going to enjoy every second of it too.

The door opened with an ear-splitting screech of rusty hinges and the cracking noise of rotting wood, making him grasp at the sides of his head in pain as the piercing noise reverberated through his entire skull, made it ache. Gone were the days when little brought him any form of discomfort. Through bleary eyes, he looked up at the unfortunate moron who had dared to imprison him, teeth bared in a snarl. He recognized him instantly, it was none other than the ringleader of the little band of fools, his large stature and muscular physique making him quite hard to forget. That and the smug grin plastered all over his ugly face that made Aku’s claws itch to scratch it off was unmistakable.

The human took a few steps inside, stopping a few feet away and simply looking at him while saying nothing. They stared at each other for several minutes like that, the captor and the captive silently sizing each other up, eyes narrowed. The demon quickly got tired of this pointless game of intimidation.

“You will regret this day, mortal.” He hissed venomously, the deadly ends of his claws glinting in the flickering light of the flaming torches lining the outside corridor. “If you think these pathetic chains will hold the great Aku forever, you are wrong. My wrath will not be swift.” The human still said nothing, in fact, he didn’t even blink at the growled threat, instead seeming far too busy pulling a long dagger with a gold-encrusted handle from his belt. Aku’s mouth stretched into a mocking grin. Did this fool really think a mortal made weapon would frighten him? Him? The Lord of all demons? The mere thought was laughable. “Have you humans really learnt nothing?! No mortal blade has the power to-AAAAGH”

The cold metal slashed through his essence with the same ease as the accursed sword, spreading liquid fire through his left side. He grasped at it with his shackled arms, clawed fingers gingerly covering the injured area. Aku waited for the intense ache to fade, fangs gritting in pain, only to realize to his great horror that it wasn’t lessening in the least, instead, the burn seemed to increase by the second, radiating hurt through his entire body. He drew his arms up and out of the way, neck craning to inspect the injury as much as he could with his shapeshifting abilities locked away. There was no injury... It healed almost instantly as he had expected it to at first, but the pain persisted. Snapping his attention back to the human, he narrowed his eyes, eyebrows burning with new intensity as he considered his captor with far more interest than he had before. “What is this?” Aku snapped, glaring at the now threatening blade in those mortal hands.

“You didn’t actually think that the sword was the only thing that could hurt you?” The human said, that same smugness seeming to increase tenfold. He twirled the dagger in his hands and the demon loathed how his attention instantly snapped towards it, watching it intently as the burn became so intense it actually managed to wring a low groan out of him. Newfound rage coursed through him and he lunged at the pathetic mortal who had DARED to raise a hand at him, DARED to wring such noises out of him- only to be held back by the collar suddenly clamping tightly around his throat. He collapsed in a graceless sprawl on his back, coughing and glaring up at his captor with so much malice that it could have burned an entire city into ashes. The human only quirked an eyebrow at the pitiful attempt to bring harm upon his person, long fingers continuing to almost flippantly play with the accursed blade. “It may be the only thing actually capable of killing you, but there are many ways to drown you in an ocean of agony.”

Raucous laughter burst from the demon’s chest, escaping the confines of the empty cell and echoing down the hallways. He grinned up at the arrogant mortal standing over him, pulling himself up from the cold floor with far more effort than he would have liked. “Do your worst, human. Nothing you do will be able to break the great Aku and once I free myself you will regret ever deciding to imprison me.” The ringleader’s eyes narrowed before suddenly widening in an insanity filled smile, making even the demon lurch back in surprise at the unexpected reaction.

The human leant down, his close proximity daunting and unpleasant, making even Aku’s equivalent of skin crawl. The mortal’s grin only seemed to widen at the demon’s discomfort. “I dis-agree.” Before Aku could properly process what had been said, gaping at the mortal standing above him, he felt the blade sink with vicious ferocity into his side, right into the same spot where he had been struck mere moments before. New agony flared anew alongside the already present burn and the demon couldn’t stop himself from crying out if he tried. He could feel the human’s hot, putrid breath against his essence and turned his head away, eyes involuntarily sliding shut as he shuddered from the overwhelming pain. The dagger twisted inside of him, sinking even deeper into Aku’s equivalent of a rib cage until he was struggling against the body suddenly pinning him to the floor, a meaty hand wrapping around his throat tight enough to cut off his air supply had he needed one. He writhed against the other’s hold, claws outstretched to sink themselves into human flesh, but before they could meet their mark a chain suddenly attached itself to the shackles around his wrists, pulling his hands to the ceiling and out of the way while leaving him exposed and entirely at the other’s mercy.

Gritting his curved fangs, Aku attempted to call upon his shapeshifting, his powers, anything that could help him get out of this humiliating situation- Only nothing worked. Even struggling using his limited knowledge of hand to hand combat yielded no results and seemed to only spur the human on as he yanked the knife out of the lithe body beneath him, pitch black essence covering the silver metal and dripping thickly off of it in a gruesome mimicry of blood. He stopped momentarily to admire it, glancing down at the panting demon collapsed against the cold and unforgiving wall. Aku swiftly discovered that he couldn’t focus, the pain encompassing him as he fervently gulped in the cool air, chest heaving. He had encountered the bite of the samurai’s blade multiple times before, but it had never hurt as much as this, had never wrought such torment upon him until he felt like he was slowly being torn apart and disintegrated bit by torturous bit. He went still when he felt the sharp tip track down his right cheek, slowly making its way to his horns. At that Aku began to thrash with new intensity. That was a sensitive area! No wonder really as they were fine instruments of hearing! How dare the pathetic flesh creature touch him like this!

The human leant down even more, a hand pushing against his chest and effectively keeping the demon immobilized with the added weight. The magic-infused dagger slowly traced the base of one of the middle horns, the movements filled with mock gentleness that made Aku shiver in revulsion. “You know, I had always wondered,” The mortal murmured, the look in his eyes distant, “if these were mere decorations and nothing more.” The demon opened his mouth to give a scathing retort only to yowl, eyes going wide as the blade suddenly dug into the horn in question. His essence was far more condensed in that area, meaning it was not as easy to cut through as the rest of his body.

Aku couldn’t hold back an agonized cry as the accursed human began to hack away at his sensitive appendage, claws clenching helplessly in their restraints. No amount of writhing could throw the mortal off of him and he cursed the magical chains weakening him loudly and vehemently, promising his assailant a slow and painful death even as a familiar wetness gathered in the corners of his eyes. His threats fell on deaf ears. For ten long minutes the room was filled with nothing except the pain filled cries and roars of the trapped demon, some escaping the closed off room and startling the minions walking down the halls, all of them making a hasty retreat upon hearing them. Nobody wanted to experience the same torture their former master was enduring at that very same moment.

At last, everything went silent, the air only filled with desperate and heavy panting. Aku sagged against the unforgiving wall, no longer having the strength to even hold himself upright and simply hanging from the chains keeping his arms elevated, eyes tightly shut. Golden flecks of disintegrating dark essence fell slowly from the grisly wound now marring the right side of his face. The ringleader sat back, obviously enjoying his handiwork as he twirled the cut off horn in his hand. Almost absentmindedly he lamented the fact that it would dissolve with time as well, but perhaps he could find the right spell to keep it intact as long as possible. It did make an attractive trophy after all. He glanced in a considering manner at the left over horns still crowning the demon’s head. Removing them could be left for another time, besides, it would be far more fun to wait for the current injury to heal and regenerate before cutting them all off in one go.

With that thought in mind, he rose to his feet, sliding the dagger back into his belt. The demon was still lying exhausted against the stone wall, faint shudders traveling the length of his body every few seconds. To his unbridled delight he caught the faint shimmer of tears dripping down the garish green face in tiny rivulets, almost unnoticeable, but present nonetheless. Aku must have felt him staring for he opened his eyes to glare balefully at him, face contorting in a murderous scowl. “I will destroy you, human.” He snarled, voice low and dangerous compared to his earlier loud declarations. The over dramatic facade was gone, replaced by the true, malicious and dark entity hiding beneath. The demon’s whole face seemed to darken, eyes glowing in the dim light like tiny little fires of pure, downright homicidal rage. It was even enough to cause a faint shiver to travel down the man’s spine and he had to stop himself from backing away, every instinct within him screaming for him to put as much distance between himself and the enraged demon as was physically possible.

Instead, he stood his ground, brows furrowing as he looked down upon his captive. “Still haven’t learned your lesson I see,” he said, tone cold and practically clinical. “No matter, I will break you eventually.” He turned on his heel and left, fully expecting the demon to laugh at his retreating back, but only silence met his words. Somehow, that quiet was far more unsettling than Aku’s usual maniacal laughter.

=.=.=.=.=.=.=.=

He couldn’t tell if it was daytime or night anymore. No light reached the dark cell he now resided in besides the flickering torchlight. The darkness had never bothered him. Aku was born from it after all. No, the irrational fear currently coursing through him came from something else.

It took him some time to place it, the thing that made his chest tighten, his breath to come in short gasps. It was the complete absence of his powers. Even during his time trapped in a tree, Aku still had access to his abilities, could feel the comforting flow of his dark magic through his veins. Now though.. there was nothing. A daunting, black emptiness within him that he could not fill. It was strange, unpleasant... and though he would never admit it - terrifying.

No matter how hard he pulled against the chains, he could not break them. His claws scraped uselessly against the gold collar, leaving it unmarred and unblemished. Never before had he felt so confined, so helpless, like the walls were closing in on him and about to collapse. He always had had his shapeshifting to fall back on. Now there was no escape. Shutting his eyes to not look at the stone surrounding him from all sides proved to be an even greater mistake. The feeling of being caged in increased a thousandfold. At some point he realized that he had begun to tremble, his binds rattling noisily against the stone floor. The discovery made his essence boil with rage. Aku did not quiver! He was the Master of Masters! The Shogun of Sorrow! He feared nothing and no one!

Aku knew he was lying to himself the moment those thoughts ran through his mind.

His wounds ached, the intense burn slowly being replaced by a dull throb. It would seem that much like the sword, the effects the dagger possessed were not permanent. They just lasted a lot longer. That was a small relief if any. Gritting his fangs, he tried to recall where the human could have possibly gotten it, he had done his best to destroy all temples that could prove to be a threat after all. So where, WHERE had he harvested it? What had Aku missed? His mind drew up a blank every time he tried to recall, his own memories slipping through his claws like water and making him feel even more frustrated and confused by the end of the wild goose chase through his own recollections.

His lost horn healed much slower than the stab wound in his side. Every now and then he would attempt to gingerly rub at it, perhaps to reassure himself that it was really regenerating, but even the faintest brushes against the injury brought back flashes of burning agony, of a cold and unforgiving metal cutting into him mercilessly and cruelly- His hands would jerk back as if scalded every time, wringing a distressed noise from his throat even as he tried to stifle it. Aku hated this weakness, this vulnerability the loathed human had forced upon him. It only made the flames of rage within him burn brighter, until thoughts and visions of the fools’ deaths consumed his every waking moment. For he would not spare the ringleader’s little partners in crime either. Their deaths (while quicker) would be just as gruesome and painful as the other human’s, he would make sure of it.

There was a low clanging noise somewhere far down the stone hallway and he went still, listening closely. Someone was coming towards his cell. Aku bared his fangs even as an unwanted feeling of trepidation bloomed within his chest. He would not cower to a being so far beneath him that it wasn’t even worth his notice. It merely got lucky when capturing him. That’s what the demon told himself anyway.

The door slid open with an ear splitting screech of rusted and rotting hinges, making him growl at the vicious assault on his sensitive hearing. He looked up, eyes already narrowed in anger and loathing, his eyebrows burning brighter compared to the faint simmers they had been mere seconds before. The whole group came this time, staring at him with sadistic glee as they surveyed their own work. Aku’s claws flexed as he imagined himself sinking them into their smug faces, filling the room with the beautiful sounds of screams and tearing flesh.

The pull of the chain attached to his collar broke him out of the brief daydream he had fallen into. He struggled as he was forcefully dragged to the center of the room, the humans readjusting the magical binds until he was kneeling on the floor, his hands shackled behind his back and his joints already starting to ache from the uncomfortable position. Normally, he wouldn’t have felt anything at all. At full power he would have barely perceived the strain. But now, in this weak, pitiful condition drained of any strength he had left after his capture, he could only hiss and groan in discomfort that he did not get used to feeling on a daily basis. Aku lurched away when he felt the brush of fingers against his waist, a new weight pulling him towards the dusty ground as another magic-infused chain was wrapped around his middle and attached to the metallic hooks rising from stone floor. His eyes narrowed in suspicion and growing apprehension. Why were they trying to get him as secure as possible?

Aku soon received the answer to that question.

The humans took a step back, now standing in a triangle with him at the center of it. A low hum filled the air as they began to mutter some form of incantation, their hands glowing a deceptively soft blue. The demon struggled against his binds with new fervor, his mind already guessing what they were trying to do and causing unbridled panic to course through him as he pulled at the golden chains keeping him helpless, but to no avail. The spell hit him head on and Aku doubled over as much as he could, liquid fire traveling through his veins to the tip of every limb, making relief impossible. It took him a while to realize that the deafening noises echoing down the dark corridors were those of his own screaming.

Eventually, the pain ceased and his body sagged forward, held up by the chains wrapped around him. A steady, irritating buzz filled his ears as he struggled to come to his senses. The humans were saying something now, but their voices seemed oddly distant and muddled, as if coming through a thick screen of glass. Aku tried to shift within his bonds, to regain some control over his limbs, but failed as agony flared anew. A wretched cry escaped his lips against his wishes, shame washing over him at how weak he was in that moment. The feeling only intensified when he realized that the peculiar rumbling sound filling the room was that of laughter.

Someone grabbed him by the injured horn, pulling him upwards, heedless of the overwhelming hurt the action radiated through the demon’s body. “It is disappointing that we couldn’t make him change forms, but I have to admit, it’s entertaining to watch the bastard writhe in agony, isn’t it boys?” Loud, enthusiastic jeering greeted his words. With his powers and hands restrained and with his mouth the only weapon at his disposal, Aku snapped at the meaty appendage holding him in its painful hold, pouring all of his anger and humiliation into the small action. His fangs met thin air as the human jerked away just in time, eyes wide in shock. The demon didn’t get to relish in his tiny victory as the same hand suddenly grabbed him by the back of his head, slamming him forcefully into the stone floor. A loud pop of dislocating shoulders rang through the entirety of the tiny cell, soon followed by another cry that was wrung from the dark entity’s throat.

“And here I thought you were smarter than this,” a low voice hissed into his ear, the grip on his body becoming nothing short of brutal. Louder he added, “I think he’s asking for more, let’s not disappoint him, shall we?”

When they finally left, Aku was a shaking, broken form on the dusty stone floor.

=.=.=.=.=.=.=.=

He had long since lost track of time. Relief was but a distant memory. Pain engulfed his world, his only purpose becoming to endure it. On a good day, only one would come to torment him, on a bad - all three. At first he had struggled, pulling at the magical bonds until the stone cracked, hissing insults and goading them on as they cast their pathetic spells. But as time went on and he failed to free himself, his sense of hope and spirit began to wane.

Determined not to allow the demon even a few minutes of rest, the humans began to take shifts, at least one of them constantly in the room with him, muttering incantations that wracked his already sore body with new torment. It wasn’t long before exhaustion set in, what was left of his own magic stretched thin and fading. His wounds stopped healing soon after that, glowing golden against his usually pitch black essence. His captors refused to tend to them and he didn’t ask, what was left of his dignity keeping him from doing so. Unfortunately for Aku however, with his newfound almost human state of weakness, an infection was able to set in. He couldn’t die from it, he was still a demon after all, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t feel it eating away at him, his wounds burning painfully alongside the new spell marks marring his form. The humans found this rather amusing, the fact that a being as powerful as him could experience such a ‘human’ disease, their ringleader in particular seeming to take great pleasure from seeing Aku suffer. Every once in a while he would stride into the tiny cell, trusty dagger in hand, and add another stab wound to the multitude already present and that was only if he was feeling merciful at that moment. The demon dreaded the days when he would decide to reopen some of the old injuries instead.

With nothing else to distract him from his hopeless situation, Aku retreated into his own mind, hoping that there, at least, he would get some peace. Unfortunately for him, even that last sanctuary soon began to go.

His first hallucination, or what he assumed to be one anyway, was that of the old emperor, because surely that old man couldn’t actually be there and be present since he was long dead, watching Aku from the dark shadows of the cell, gaze unreadable. He did not respond to the demon’s pathetic and desperate attempts to start a conversation, the goading that would have worked on him during normal circumstances having no effect on his stoic countenance.

The silent judgement turned out to be even more unbearable than the wracking pain coursing through his system.

His second hallucination was that of the samurai, pacing up and down the stone room while brandishing his sword in a frustrated manner. At some point Aku found himself wishing that it would just end this and pierce his chest instead.

He had a lot more visions after that, but they all included Jack in one form or another. If asked, the demon wouldn’t be able to tell why that was. Why his nemesis chose to torment him even when the demon’s mind was slowly shattering just like his body. Sometimes the samurai spoke to him and he clung to those instances, desperate to hear something, anything other than the humiliating jeering of his cruel captors. Most of the time he blamed the demon for his suffering, telling him that he deserved the current treatment he was getting, but there were also times when he would talk about other things as well, unrelated to the horrors that Aku unleashed. Jack would talk of the world and its endlessly astonishing beauty, of his people and his culture, of the friends he had made during his quest to end the demon’s reign.

Aku soon found that he liked to hear those previously ‘boring’ tales. Found comfort in listening to the other’s soothing voice as another tortured shriek was torn out of him. He didn’t regret what he had done to the human all those years ago, not yet anyway, but he now understood the other’s anger and determination to bring him down. Perhaps those feelings were currently fueling his captors as well though he could not remember where he could have seen their faces during his hostile takeover.

Jack’s presence, even imagined, was a welcomed one when the humans finally realized that his wounds had stopped healing completely.

Aku no longer had any strength in him left to fight as he was dragged to the center of the room once again, a strong arm pinning him down while another grasped him by the throat, forcing his spine to bend uncomfortably as the ringleader came to kneel before him, already retrieving his trusty blade. The demon couldn’t hold back a revolted shudder as thick fingers trailed up his face, a mockery of a lover’s caress, but even though he had expected the pain that the unwanted touch promised, nothing could prepare him for the sheer suffering he felt when the sharp tip of the dagger finally dug into his lower horn.

Jack’s gentle voice rang in his ears as the humans held him still throughout the agonizing process, laughing at the demon’s misery even when Aku fell silent, his voice giving out at last and acute shock setting in completely. He didn’t even notice when he was finally released, his captors’ touch leaving his body as he collapsed on the ground, shuddering. His shaking hand hovered over the spots where his horns once were, the stabbing pain making his whole head hurt and his vision to swim. Movements uncoordinated and sloppy. Aku didn’t even realize he was crying until he felt something trickle down his cheek, more and more dark spots appearing on the dark stone as large tears dripped from his face.

Why? Why would they do something like this to him? If they hated him so much, loathed him so much, then why didn’t they just kill him? Why keep Aku locked in his own tower, why torture and torment him until he was writhing violently in agony? They could easily end his tyranny once and for all. All it would take was for that dagger to sink in deep enough into his chest, into his very core. So why didn’t they?!

“Because that would be too easy.” The demon looked up, the loathed facade of the human ringleader swimming into view as he came to kneel before the wounded creature, all humor suddenly gone from his face. No matter how hard he tried, Aku couldn’t tear his attention away from the cold gaze directed at him. It contained no previously displayed enjoyment or mirth, no pleasure at the sight of his bound form. There was only pain and grief in those eyes... and hatred. A rare, burning and dark malice that shook the demon to his very core.

Such an expression did not belong on a human face.

“I want you to suffer just as much as my townspeople did when your minions invaded our village, I want you to feel just like I did when I was forced to watch my family being torn apart alive,” his voice shook, one hand curling into a trembling fist so tightly that his knuckles went white. “You don’t even realize what you have done, do you? You probably don’t even know what guilt really is. You don’t care about the lives you destroy as long as your own selfish desires are met and you believe yourself to be superior to everyone in the entire universe.” Aku was startled to see tears build up in the corners of those eyes, the human’s whole form beginning to shake. The ringleader’s companions became grim, one of them reaching out to grab his friend by the shoulder and offering silent comfort as the other struggled to bring himself under control. When he finally gathered enough strength to speak, his voice was barely more than a whisper. “We’ll teach you to regret the things you’ve done. I can promise you that.”

=.=.=.=.=.=.=.=

The visits stopped. Aku was left alone in the darkness of his cell for days on end without anyone to keep him company but his own demons. The change in routine should have brought him joy, should have made him experience relief, but it only brought forth a strong sense of dread. The humans were preparing something, he was sure of that, just as he was confident that he could no longer take any more of this.

A violent shiver wracked the demon’s broken form and he couldn’t hold back a whimper, curling tighter in the farthest corner of the cell. With nothing to bring light and warmth, Aku began to shake uncontrollably which only brought him even more pain as it jarred his infected injuries. Briefly, he considered moving towards the door in hopes of getting some comforting heat from the torches outside, but instantly decided against it, his every instinct screaming at him to stay as far away as possible should his captors make their return. As they would do so eventually. Even with a shattered psyche he knew they would be back and they would not be bringing the sweet embrace of death with them.

“Is that really what you wish for?” The demon’s head snapped upwards, heavy lidded eyes void of any spark of life looking up at the man leaning against the wall opposite of him. Those painfully familiar onyx eyes narrowed. “Do you wish to die?” Aku was forced to look away, unable to hold the samurai’s gaze. No, he did not, not entirely anyway. But it was a preferable fate compared to being trapped and tortured for the rest of his existence. For if they managed to capture an entity like him, the demon was sure that achieving immortality would not be a difficult feat, and if they did somehow fail, however unlikely that was, there were always descendants to pick up the mantle.

He would never see the light of day again.

“You don’t believe that.” Aku’s claws clenched in their restraints. “You have to believe that you will free yourself.” Tears prickling at the corner of his eyes, Aku looked up. To his surprise there was no mocking in that youthful face, no satisfaction or joy at his bleak predicament. Instead there was only incredulousness... and was that concern? For some reason he could not fathom, that emotion on his enemy’s face infuriated the demon. When silence prevailed between them long enough, the halluci- Jack stepped forth, his arm outstretched as if to place itself on his shoulder. He stopped when the demon flinched violently away from him, the black body curling as much as it physically could within the restraints. Dark brows furrowed. Never before had the wizard looked so... small. “Aku?”

“What do you care?” Aku grit out, curved fangs clenched so hard he swore he felt them crack. “Why is it of any concern of yours what they do to me? Why do you care whether I live or die if all you have ever done is try to destroy me? Unless... that is the reason you haunt me. You want to kill me yourself, do you not, samurai?” His eyebrows flickered, but he was too weak to make them ignite, even with the anger coursing through him. He glared bitterly at the white clad figure standing above him, but Jack did not look away from his slumped over form.

“No”, the apparition said at last, coming to kneel before him, the handsome face taking on a somber expression as the human surveyed his long-time nemesis. “I am angry about the atrocities you have committed, that much is true, but had you shown me a will to change your ways, to understand us, the mortal creatures of this world, and become a better person, I would have shown you mercy.” Aku’s eyes widened, Jack only smiled. The simple action made the samurai look younger, like he was once again a young man, eager to explore the world’s many secrets, not at all plagued by his duty to slay the demon that had destroyed his home. “I am not like them, Aku. I would have never succumbed to my fury, even if you proved yourself to be irredeemable. I would never have imprisoned you, tortured you, I would have simply killed you.” The brutal honesty made the shackled creature wince.

The demon’s voice was hoarse from all the screaming, but he forced himself to speak nonetheless, even if it hurt him to do so. “Why should I believe you?” He hung his head, his wounded and broken body sagging in their restraints, the heavy smell of infection making his nose wrinkle even as his teeth clenched in pain. When silence met his words, he closed his eyes, willing himself to succumb to his exhaustion even though he knew he would not be able to fall asleep. Not with the biting cold, not with his entire being aching and in agony.

“Because I have a cause that I believe in and memories that keep me on the righteous path,” the samurai said, his voice faint, but still clearly audible in the empty stillness of the dark cell. “I do not listen to the voices that speak to me from the shadows and I continue to fight not only for myself, but for the people around me. The human that has captured you lets himself be lost to his rage. He hears his mother’s screams and he allows them to lead him down the wrong path. By making you suffer, he assumes that his pain will go away. But he is only fooling himself as he slowly descends into madness.” Jack looked up, his face now set in that familiar grim expression. “It is only a matter of time before he becomes the monster that you yourself once were.”

“Jack-“ Aku started, looking up at where the human had been kneeling mere moments ago, but the hallucination was already gone. Sighing, the demon looked down at his shackled wrists, the golden bands keeping them together glowing almost eerily in the shadows of the stone room. Eyes lighting up with new strength, the demon set his jaw in determination, dredging up every spell he knew that could possibly work with his low, almost nonexistent, supply of dark magic. Even if his chances of breaking them were practically zero, he had to try.

He had to.

=.=.=.=.=.=.=.=

The effects from the lack of food and water soon made themselves known. Aku didn’t need them to survive, but with his powers at such low reserves due to the chains literally sucking them out of his body, he needed something to provide him with energy.

Unfortunately, the humans seemed to realize that as well.

After avoiding visiting his cell for several days (weeks? Aku could no longer tell which), they made a point of making sure they were periodically seen eating or drinking something. It would seem that physical torture was not enough, they wanted to break his mind as well. As if they hadn’t done so already.

Though their blatant inexperience at the art of psychological torture did bring him a sliver of dark amusement that was there and gone in a moment.

Even with the hallucination’s encouragement despite his best efforts, he could never break the binds keeping him captive. All he succeeded in doing was to drain what was left of his strength and make him even more vulnerable than he already was. That, coupled with exhaustion and the raging infection soon made him succumb to deliriousness, the sounds and images around him melding together until he could not even tell up from down. That was when his captors were forced to intervene. After all, what was the point of torture if the victim was not even fully conscious?

One day Aku awoke to the heavy smell of antiseptic and the tight, borderline painful feeling of bandages wrapped around his chest and midsection. His injuries hurt less, though a slight sting persisted. It was vastly different from the agonizing burn that had plagued him for so long. The only conclusion possible was that the medicine was doing its work.

They would come at least twice a day after that, changing the wrappings and rubbing magic infused remedy into his wounds, none too gently either. He did his best to remain silent, if only out of pride, but he could not stop the pained hisses and groans that escaped his lips. Only the two lackeys tended to him however, their ringleader seemed to be gone. That development worried him. First they neglected him for a period of time and now the head human was gone? Something wasn’t right here, they had a plan, a sinister one. But with the medicine and the lack of torment, Aku could not bring himself to care. He was finally able to get some rest, sleep overtaking him much easier now even with his constantly alert state. The hallucinations became nothing but a memory.

He should’ve known that his good fortune would not last.

The moment they took the chain attached to his collar into their hands, he knew what they were about to do. The demon thrashed desperately as he was dragged away from his usual spot, eyes wide in barely contained panic and claws digging into the stone floor, raking deep grooves in the already rough surface. He was only delaying the inevitable and they all knew it. A rough jerk on the chains sent him sprawling and the demon collapsed in the center of the room where he was swiftly chained down once again.

The pain he was expecting hit him far sooner than it had before, the already familiar agonizing burn quickly making its way through his entire body, but there was also something else, some sensation that was alien, unfamiliar and one that he couldn’t place at all. His eyes widened in horror when he saw his own essence ripple and begin to change against his will. Aku’s body bent in half, his usual demonic facade falling away and being swiftly replaced by something he did not immediately recognize, but soon realized that it resembled an Earthen avian. There was a snapping sound and his form changed again even though he tried to stop it from doing so. Through bleary eyes he saw the humans exchange triumphant looks and for the first time in his entire existence did he feel true despair. Because the demon knew that they would not stop with just his shapeshifting abilities. This was merely the beginning.

His body changed for the third and possibly last time and he recognized this body as that of a human. Or vaguely human, it looked and felt humanoid anyway. There were quiet murmurs around him, but he could feel himself already losing his grip on consciousness and he did not fight it. Aku allowed the darkness to consume him willingly, welcoming the temporary release sleep offered him from this personal Hell.

He awoke to the agonizing feeling of water entering his lungs.

Eyes going wide, the demon struggled against the strong hold keeping him submerged, but that only caused the grip on his body to tighten, pushing him even deeper underwater. Panicked thoughts raced through his mind at almost lightning speed as he writhed against the human’s hand, struggling not to breathe in the burning substance. Whatever it was, it definitely was not simple water. But that was the least of his worries at that moment. The main one being why he suddenly needed to breathe. He never had to before. Unless... They had used that accursed spell again.

The unfamiliar and terrifying feeling of being smothered consuming him, he gasped for breath even though he knew he was not going to get any. His chest felt like it was being constricted by an unseen force, his own essence pulsing in his ears in what almost seemed to be a panicked rhythm. He didn’t even notice as he was pulled backwards, water dripping down his shaking form. Aku couldn’t focus, couldn’t breathe, violent coughing wracking his body as the water left his newly formed lungs, the sounds melding together and the shapes of the humans becoming blurred and terrifying. All he was aware of was that he had to get away. Away. But as he attempted to do so, he collapsed in a tangled heap, the chains hindering his movements. A hand reached for him and he shrieked, scrambling away until he felt something rough, cold and damp against his back. The appendage followed him however, grasping at his throat and a strangled sob left his lips as he felt the unwanted touch upon his body. He thought he could hear the faint murmurs of a conversation, someone mentioning a panic attack and soon being drowned out by raucous laughter. But all he cared about was the feeling of being released from his captor’s hold, huddling against the wall and the meager stability it offered.

Not that it helped him much.

The screech of an opening door made him flinch, the light flooding in through the small crack and briefly illuminating his hunched form, before it was cut off, bathing the room in pitch black darkness once again. Aku was left alone, drenched, cold and frightened, magic infused drops of water sizzling softly as they burned away small portions of his essence, masking the barely audible whimpers and gasps for breath.

It was a long time before he managed to calm down.

=.=.=.=.=.=.=.=

There was somebody there with him when he awoke, his body still drenched and shivering from the latest water session, his usually pitch black essence now seeming discolored with the dark shade of gray it had become. The by now familiar burly figure of the human ringleader sat illuminated by the dim torchlight from the hallway outside the confines of the tiny cell, the trusty blade glinting ominously in his hands. Unwilling to experience its effects again, Aku quickly closed his eyes, feigning unconsciousness and hoping against hope that the mortal wouldn’t notice that he was awake. The faint tremors traveling the length of his body must have betrayed him, as the human looked up, his face set in a grim expression.

“I know that you are awake, demon,” the man said, his deep voice shattering the silence that had fallen over the tiny cell. Realizing that it was pointless to keep up the fake pretenses, Aku opened his eyes again, forcing himself to glare at the monster sitting across from him with as much malevolence as he could muster in that moment. He tried to ignore the bitter feeling of fear blooming in his battered chest. The human didn’t seem to be at all bothered much by the baleful look thrown his way, meeting the broken demon’s gaze head on, his own face becoming expressionless even though there was a silent warning in those dark brown eyes.

“What do you want from me?” Aku tried to growl, but the words came out sounding choked and desperate, his abused throat aching in protest. “You have already rendered me helpless and you have stolen my shapeshifting abilities, it is only a matter of time before you learn to control the rest. So, what more could you possibly want from me?”

“An apology,” the reply was spoken so quietly that he had to strain his hearing to catch it. The demon drew back as much as he could in his bound state, incredulousness alongside anger and a sliver of dark amusement bleeding into his expression. After all he had suffered at the hands of this wretched human, he was the one who had to apologize?! And for what? For being what he had always been?

The human barely flinched as bitter laughter burst from Aku’s heaving chest, though he did seem somewhat alarmed when his captive lent forward, the dim torchlight dancing in those pitch black eyes like the fires of hell themselves. “You are a fool, mortal. I am a demon, a being born out of darkness and loathing. My only instinct is to conquer and destroy and it brings me great pleasure to follow it. I feel no regret or remorse for the things I have done and I would have done it again if I had the chance. I pillaged your village all those years ago and I do not even remember it for it was but a small and insignificant speck in my long list of annihilations. And now after the things you have dared to put me through, what makes you think I will be generous enough to bestow an apology upon you?!”

“You will be if I promise that you will meet your death tonight.” Aku went very still, eyes wide as he gaped at the man sitting across from him, immediately glancing down at the blade still grasped tightly in those long fingers. The human’s face became grim once more, the silver metal of the magical dagger suddenly disappearing in the folds of his clothes as it was stashed away and out of sight. Aku grit his curved fangs, forcing himself to look up at the mortal’s loathed features once more.

“And what makes you think that that will convince me?” He hissed, the chains rattling as he shifted on his spot by the damp wall. The man shrugged, feigning nonchalance and causing the demon’s hands to clench in irritation.

“Because you know that it will only get worse for you.” Aku fell silent at the other’s words, his eyes narrowing into tiny slits. The human let out a heavy sigh, settling more comfortably on the cold stone floor, fixing the injured demon with an unwavering gaze. “Now that we have your shapeshifting under control we can move you to the new location we’ve set up. Can’t have you killed on the way, can we? You will never be able to escape and you will suffer great pain for the rest of your existence for the sins you have committed. If you had any chance of freeing yourself here, you would’ve done so by now and at the new place your chances will be even slimmer. I am offering you a way out.” He paused as if he were waiting for the demon to say something. When silence prevailed between them, the man continued. “Being trapped is the worst fate a demon can get. You are free spirits, being in a cage destroys you. Ah, I can see that I’m right,” a nasty smile spread across that hated face as Aku looked away, the pitiful remains of his horns lowering. “Your only escape is to die and we both know it. So... What will it be, Aku?”

“It would seem that times do change,” the demon said at last, glaring at his captor from the corner of his eyes. “I thought humans valued honesty, I did not know that their preferences now lie in getting a false apology through blackmail, rather than a genuine one.”

He paid dearly for those words.

In the blink of an eye, the man was upon him, a large hand closing around his throat even as he struggled, dulled claws grasping and clawing desperately at the pale flesh. The mortal’s face was pushed into his until they were literally nose to nose and Aku was shocked to see so much anger, so much murderous fury in those dark eyes. The knife trailed up his front, leaving a long but shallow scratch and stopping in the middle of his chest. He waited for it to sink in, to lose himself in the sweet release of death, but it didn’t. The human’s teeth bared in a forced grin. “You will regret this decision for the rest of your existence.”

Aku’s face remained contorted in a mocking snarl despite the fear and despair blooming inside him.

=.=.=.=.=.=.=.=

He almost didn’t recognize the hallways as he was escorted past them, his form already concealed beneath the human disguise his captors had crafted. His lair had changed so drastically, the humans obviously hadn’t wasted any time in changing it to their tastes. At this point Aku was only surprised that it even remained standing and had not been torn down the moment he had been defeated.

His demon minions still hurried up and down the halls, similar golden bands wrapped around their throats and wrists, obviously keeping them in the humans’ control. They didn’t even look at him as they walked past the group of four, didn’t notice him or care enough to do so. Aku couldn’t say he was surprised even as indignation and something akin to disappointment washed over him. They only noticed beings greater in power than themselves or one of their own. He was neither of those things now.

They emerged into what once used to be his throne room and the demon nearly teared up in dismay at the sight of it. His throne had been nothing short of demolished, lying in shambles on the normally polished floor. Like a grotesque symbol of how far he had fallen, or perhaps a warning against all demons of the universe. Not that they were going to get many threats, Aku was the most powerful out of all of them... or used to be one anyway. The golden bonds strapped around him pulsed like bitter reminders of his new role. Three human sized chair replaced his and he had the urge to sneer at them, but dared not to when the ringleader glowered at him over his shoulder. The last thing he needed was to experience even more humiliation in full view of his minions... that and he couldn’t handle more pain, he was barely standing upright as it were and walking was agonizing enough with his multiple injuries.

With a flick of a wrist, a portal opened before them with far more ease than it should have for a mortal being, the humans shoving him through it roughly. Aku stumbled, nearly losing his balance, but managed to catch himself before he could fall face first onto the cold ground. Snow crunched beneath their feet, glowing an eerie white in the moonlight filtering through the bare branches of surrounding trees. More susceptible to weather conditions than he had been before, Aku shivered, the cold seeping into his very being and causing violent tremors to wrack his body. None of his human escorts seemed to care.

The forest was silent and dead around them as they walked along a narrow and winding path. With each heavy step that he took, Aku knew he was bringing himself closer to the place that would soon become a permanent prison, a grave that he would always be aware of and would not be able to escape from, doomed to suffer at the hands of those he had wronged so many years ago. When one of them voiced that they were nearing their destination, he stopped, pulling at his bonds with new desperation, but to no avail. In his severely weakened state, they dragged him along easily, their ugly, cruel laughter echoing in the dark depths of the winter forest around them.

Despair washing over him like a giant wave, the captured demon struggled wildly against the monsters set on tormenting him, pouring all of his remaining strength into the fight that would decide his fate. If he did not free himself now, then he never would. The thought of being chained down again, drowned, cut up, beaten was simply unbearable. He couldn’t go back to that again, he couldn’t!

In his overwhelming fright, he instinctively reached for his powers, not realizing that his wild struggles had made his captors lose their focus on keeping him sufficiently powerless, a small trickle of magic returning to him like water through a cracked dam. That tiny trickle for Aku was more than enough. His human disguise falling away, he wrenched the chains out of the human hands, emitting a small blast of magic that was just strong enough to blow the mortals a few meters away from him. Just enough to allow him to run.

The trees blurred together as he ran past them, desperate to put as much distance between himself and his captors as he possibly could even though he knew it was only a matter of time before they caught up to him. Already he could feel himself slowing down, his injuries catching up with him and his chest heaving as he panted. The demon pushed himself onward anyway, curved fangs clenching tightly as agony coursed through him, his black essence dripping heavily off of his running form, leaving a trail. In his panic he did not see the small cliff ahead of him.

Aku rolled down the steep hill, claws scrabbling to find purchase and slow his descent, crying out as he collided heavily against a giant boulder sticking out of the snow laden ground. His injuries screaming at him to remain still and his vision blurring from the overwhelming agony coursing through his system, he lost consciousness, his claws relaxing from where they had sunk deep into the soft soil.

Moments before blackness overtook him, Aku thought he saw a pair of sandals approaching him from the shadowy depths of the unfamiliar woods.