Everything began exactly as it should have.
Despite the entire program seemingly going awry, there was need for stealth, for robots capable of moving undetected, of breaking into secure areas with some degree of silence. There was a need to advance. To create something more capable perhaps, of something other than the twisted senses of self the others developed. There was hope this project, this undertaking, would accomplish that goal. Create the prototype, provide it with the more advanced model -- hope that, by sequestering them, by giving them only one another, the emotions, the drives, would not be so mangled and fractured. If it was effective, they could wipe the prototype, reassign it, and use it in hopes of correcting any future errors.
It was only partially effective.
Perhaps their mistake was in telling the prototype exactly what it, what he was. What he was meant to do with his existence. He seemed to accept it, only blinking, his expression cold, closed. They wrote it off as a lack of experience, as the prototype's emotional range not yet being fully formed. They named him, uploaded the necessary training, then went about fashioning the real model.
Then again, perhaps the real mistake lay in leaving him alone for so long. In the dark, in the empty silence, the cold acceptance burned. Warped. Hardened into something hot and hateful, the "heart" he was built around having room for little else. No feeling of caring. No curiosity. No desire other than simple selfishness. "Shadow" they had named him, made him, created him to be nothing more than a vague imprint on the world, easily pushed aside when the real thing came into the light.
Maybe fear played a role. The silence, the darkness, of the facility was nothing short of tomb-like. A quick and quiet grave for one never meant to step outside his intended purpose. Occasionally, he would start talking. Just to hear some sound, some voice echoing off the walls. Speech typically dissolved into shouting, yelling at the dark, at the emptiness around him. He was utterly alone, save for the resentment, the burning hate in his AI. It was all he had. Not even those who created him dared to enter. Cut off from any and all contact, what else was there, but the festering anger to keep the pseudo-death at bay?
They brought the new model in before it even fully came to awareness. Brought it in strapped down, and left it, unconscious and silent, at the far end of the room.
And for the first time in his life, he wasn't alone. Though the fact brought no relief, not as it should have. Instead, there was only irritation, only the sudden, sharp desire to get rid of this thing, its frame so very much like his own. They even gave it his very name. He stood over it, watching, waiting to see what was so special about this thing that warranted giving his life up in return for its own. He was armed, of course. It would be a simple matter to cut the delicate cables making up its throat. Then they would have no choice, wouldn't they? If they needed a model with his capabilities, they'd have to take him.
They would have to let him live.
He stepped forward. One foot came down, beside its head. His sickle slid into his hand, in an easy motion. It was all so damn easy.
Until it opened its optics, the pale green light suddenly alert. They darted around the room, before finally settling on him. He worried, briefly, that the thing was going to start screaming. It would be so inconvenient, if it did. He watched it, expression flat, neutral, the hatred in his AI carefully hidden. The thing watched him, and, abruptly, the look on its face changed from one of confusion to...
... one of open admiration.
"Who... are you?" it asked, and its voice was low, quiet with an odd sort of wonder. "Are you my--"
His lip curled, the surprise withering and burning before the next word could even come out. "I am Kagerou," he spat. And then he moved. He shifted, throwing one leg over the thing's chest, and crouching, looking it straight in its stolen face. It stared back, the awe turned to a sudden terror. He reached forward, grasped its chin. Now there was a focus for the rage, for the resentment. He couldn't stop himself from letting it free -- didn't want to stop himself. It felt too good. Too real. "Kagerou. Say it!"
"K-Kagerou," it stammered. The plating under him seemed to tremble.
"Better." The snarl on his face eased, but he didn't release its chin, not yet. Amidst the rage, the brutal resentment, something stirred. A slow, mad idea. It didn't even seem to know who he was. Perhaps there was a chance to use this. They wanted him to teach it, after all. Wanted him to pass on everything he knew, to foster some kind of relationship with this thing, to give up his life for it.
What better creature on this earth to use, in order to prove himself, than the one he was meant to die for?
His lips twisted into a cruel parody of a smile as he spoke again, this time, in a far more even, almost rational voice. "Everything you know about me is a lie," he said. His head canted to one side, the motion bird-like. "Do you understand?"
His smile hardened. "Then we'll get along just fine. Won't we?"
What followed couldn't have been called 'training', or even 'instruction'. Both of those words implied there was some sort of care for the outcome, the final product. He went through the motions of a trainer, an instructor, certainly, running combat drills, sparring matches with live steel and firearms. The only way this thing would learn its place, learn who was the master, the superior piece of engineering, was through pain -- exquisite pain. They don't stop until he allows them to. Until the other robot lies leaking and crumbled on the floor, utterly unable to move.
The first few times were the worst. He held nothing back -- there was no reason to -- and ended up cleaving one of its arms right off its body. It started screaming. It wasn't until he hit it over the head that it stopped, slumping into unconsciousness, only to wake screaming again as he jammed the severed components back into place. So much noise, as if it had any right to be heard. He snarled, grasping its chin in one fluid-slick hand.
"Hush," he ordered. "If you scream, I won't finish. If you make a sound, I'll make this go on longer. Sit like a good little robot, do as you're told. And this will be so much better."
It nodded, staying as silent as it could, given its arm was being repaired with about as much skill and gentleness as a charging rhino. He smiled, sliding the last of the patches into place, rendering the arm usable, but little else. The Thing would have to seek out the humans for full repairs, if it dared to do anything of the sort. Though, it had been good. It had listened. He didn't pull back, not immediately, instead taking a moment to trail his fingertips along its back, noting the differences in build. The seams and connectors that weren't where they should have been. He felt it shiver under his touch.
He laughed, the sound low, ugly, as he realized how much of an upper hand he now held.
It went on. He broke it, crumpled its parts and left it twitching in agony like a broken toy after every session. And every time, he would wait until its cries fell silent, until it no longer had the strength to move, before he stepped forward, gathered up the mangled form. He took it away, to some darker, secluded corner of the room, and eased its pain -- repaired its damage, touched its sensitive components until there was little else in its mind but adoration, but need. He let it speak, then, as he ran his fingers over its wings, worked them up under its chestplate and felt its body jerk and arch against his.
"Can a shadow do this to you?" he asked it, purring the words up against the side of its fluid-stained neck. "Can it touch you like this?"
"Say it." He bit down. It shuddered. "Say it louder. You have my permission."
"N-No! It can't!"
"Louder. Tell them. Make them hear. I want them to know what you know."
"You're not a sh-- not a shadow!"
He nearly laughed. He couldn't have planned this better if he'd tried any harder. His head tilted up, angled against the side of its helmet. "And... who is?"
"It-- It's me!"
His fingers dragged through a connector in its chest and it choked back a scream, sensory overload hitting it harder than he ever had in combat. He allowed it to lean on him for a moment, reeling, shaking. He even granted it a moment to look up at him, its optics glazed, stated. "M-Maybe... next time I'll win," it said. Then, quickly, suddenly afraid it had overstepped its bounds, added: "I-if that's -- if that's all right. Is that all right?"
He regarded it for a moment, then caught its chin, shaking its head back and forth. "We'll see. Just do as you're told, and we'll see."
And so it went. The pain, the pleasure, the near-indoctrination of The Thing's mind. He saw it begin to look forward to the fights, to the violence and agony, as if it knew what would follow. A strange thought. Stranger still that he didn't mind knowing it, allowing it to continue. He should have put a stop to it. But... it changed nothing. No matter how much it looked forward to being beaten, to being raised back up to functionality, it still knew where they stood. It still knew what it was, what he'd drilled into it -- it was an obedient little shadow, subservient, a perfect failure of a superior model. He could live with this.
It didn't even try to stop him when he ran.
They called the project to a halt, preparing the next phase. When they came for him, he was already gone, broken through the ceiling by way of an old, unused air vent. The Thing had seen the entire escape, and done nothing to prevent it. It hadn't even alerted the humans. While they may have thought it strange, they saw no reason not to send it after him, a task which it lept to complete, looking far too eager.
Just as it always did when they fought each other.
He didn't make it easy. To find, certainly -- he didn't make his presence, his location, a secret in the slightest. People ran, screaming, as he smashed his way through their city. He left his mark everywhere he went, a signature in destruction, in chaos. Let them run. Let them scream. All it did was prove he was no mere shadow. Nothing so vague and undefined as that. He was real. He was alive. There was a mad laugh bubbling on the edge of his lips, and he let it free, swinging a broken stoplight as a human would a baseball bat, smashing it into storefronts, into parked cars. The thrill of it all sang through his systems, and he rode it like a high, a pure rush of pleasure. Sure, he made himself easy to find, but to catch him was another story, one the broken buildings and smoking cars told in crumbling ruins.
It wasn't until nightfall that it caught up to him, in its canine form, of all things, its ears cocked forward, jaws open in a lolling sort of smile. It looked disgustingly pleased with itself as it trotted toward him, sitting only a few feet away, and watching him.
He hit it with the stoplight. This was no time for their games.
It yelped, changing forms abruptly, its hand going for its own weapon -- a blade, made in perfect copy of his own. He struck first, launching toward it without warning. This was the finale. The last moment, one to decide forever who was the superior model. To decide who had the right to live. And he intended to win. Of course it would fight back, just as he'd taught it, schooled it and all but programmed it to. But even as he struck, even as he was deflected with surprising skill, he saw the same eager light in its optics he always did. He saw it smile, very slightly, felt the nervous, almost fevered energy with which it fought him.
Even now... it expected nothing but the same.
His lip curled, and he took to the air, The Thing following in his wake. He lost track of how many times he hit it, or how many times it bounced back to retaliate, somehow managing to strike him through his defenses. Blades were kicked away, wings bent, and fluid rained down from too many cuts to count. He finally grounded it, wrapping his chain around its wings and yanking it out of the sky, wrenching the sensitive pieces of framework in the process. It clambered awkwardly to its feet, unable to fly, but unwilling to be out of the fight. The chain was pulled free of his grip, and The Thing tossed it to one side, peppering the air around him with shuriken. He managed to dodge all but one. The small, sharp weapon embedded itself in one panel of his own wing, driving him down out of sheer surprise.
He went crashing through an overpass, landing heavily against one of the support columns. There were no more weapons on him. Not even a blade. Though, given the amount of debris from his landing, he supposed he could do with a heavy piece of concrete, in a pinch. It would have to come in closer, though, unless he wanted to just lob the concrete at it.
In no time, The Thing was on him, charging down the street, the old, beaten stoplight held in its grip. It lacked a proper weapon, opting instead to improvise. He'd have been impressed, if the stakes weren't so high. He wasn't going to be defeated by a stoplight held by a badly trained dog. He would not be killed. He would not be overwritten and vanished like a wisp of shadow.
His hand closed around a twisted piece of rebar, as long as his arm.
It ran forward, the light in its optics still bright, still expectant. It didn't even see his arm move, or his head jerk to one side as the stoplight pole came down. His arm swung up.
The rebar went in deep, impaling it just under the chestplate, emerging out the other side at a sharp angle, just below the back of its neck.
Fluid gushed as it choked, gasping, jerking. It tried not to scream, only succeeding by virtue of the amount of oil bubbling out its mouth instead. For a long, silent moment, it writhed on the rebar, limbs jerking, body arching and contorting with pain, before it abruptly slumped against him. It gave a few feeble twitches as it tried to turn its head, to look at him, waiting for a signal, for an indication of what he wanted it to do next.
He never moved. He sat there, against the support column, the reason for his existence leaking vital fluid all over his frame, its gaze trained to him. He gave it no such relief. Instead, he only waited for it to die, relieving him of its burden.
Out of sheer surprise, he looked down at its face, pulling away from it ever so slightly. How was it even capable of speaking? It should have been dead by now. Its optics were flickering, but remained online, locked on his face.
"S-sorry," it panted. "'M sorry..."
His head drew back, as if it had been struck. A sick feeling started to crawl its way through his AI, a new and unwelcome sensation. Still, it stared at him, stubbornly clinging to life as if the sight of his face was somehow aiding it. "Shut up," he ordered, the words coming out far more shakily than he'd intended them to.
"'M sorry I--" It had to stop, hacking up another mouthful of oil. "--failed."
"I just killed you, you ignorant--!" He grit his teeth, struggling to free a hand from under its frame, to push it away. "You're not supposed to apologize! You're supposed to hate me!" His struggles were in vain. He was too fatigued, its frame too heavy. His voice edged on panicked. He thrashed under it. "Stop looking at me like that!"
"Maybe next time -- I can win..." A hand curled up, slick, cold. It cupped the side of his face. "Is that... all right with... you?"
"Do as you're told!" he shouted, trying to twist his head out of reach. Panic pulsed through every system now. He couldn't explain it. Didn't understand it. "Listen to me! Do as you're told and hate me!"
"Maybe... m-maybe..." Its optics began to dim. The words drew out slowly, as systems wound down, unable to continue functioning with the catastrophic damages the frame had suffered. "I... can..."
"You're supposed to hate me! Why won't you do as you're told!"
He realized, somewhere in the repetition of those words, he was screaming it to an unresponsive corpse. A corpse with nothing but forgiveness, but warmth and admiration on its face.
When he finally kicked it aside, vocal processor shorting out from so much screaming, dawn had broken. He stood, framed against the rising sun, ragged and shaking, his optics unable to leave the dead frame, with its frozen, foreign expression. It was over, then. He had exactly what he wanted. A life. A mark made on the world. Though, it began to occur to him, as he stood there, staring at the look on The Thing's face, in accomplishing his goal, he'd managed to erase the one so deeply effected by his existence. The one way he could easily validate himself, the simplest way of proving his dominance, his superiority, now lay dead in the street beside him.
Where did that leave him now?
Panic began to take hold again, clawing and tearing at his AI, verging on desperation. No -- he wouldn't vanish. He wouldn't fade. The world would know his name. They would know him for who and what he was. He couldn't be erased, he couldn't disappear. He felt his hands start to tremble. He wanted to storm over, to shake the corpse, to shake him until his optics came back online and the damn dog started begging for a fight again.
However long he stood there, staring blankly, it was long enough for the Braves to arrive.
One of them, one he took to be the leader, came forward first, looking from corpse to standing robot, then back again. "Shadowmaru?" the leader asked.
"Is dead," he informed him, sharply. With a flick of his hand, he indicated the body, as if it were beneath his notice entirely. "I am Kagerou. And I killed him myself." He drew up, shoulders back, chin lifted in open defiance. If all else failed, it wouldn't be so bad to go down as the one who killed the Braves. Would it? He could accept that. "Is that going to be a problem?"
"Not at all."
He smiled, the expression cutting his face like a knife, before tossing his head back and laughing to the skies as dawn washed the night and all its shadows from the city.