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The Dragon in the Chasm

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The pitter-patter sounds of feet in the underbrush catch in Kaito’s ears. Deep in the forest, where the branches of the trees twist together into thick, choking ropes that create a canopy so thick that the sunlight can’t pierce through, Kaito sits among the evergreens. He’s nestled himself deep into the woods. Unfortunately, his white tunic makes him stand out like a sore thumb. He doesn’t normally hide, but today he doesn’t want to be seen.

It’s the first of the month.

Carefully, Kaito creeps around the side of the tree. His fingers catch in the thick, worn grooves of the bark.

Just past a thicket of bushes clinging to the rope-like roots of the trees is another figure. It’s a man, maybe a couple inches taller than Kaito himself. Like Kaito, this man stands out in the forest. His long, blond hair is pin-straight but still appears as light as a feather. In fact, in just the right amount of light – where even is the light coming from? – Kaito sees what appears to be a feather protruding from the man’s head. It must be hair … right?

Kaito doesn’t have a chance to stare long. The figure spins around, hair flying out like a cape around him. Kaito whirls back behind the tree, pressing his back into the bark. He stills his breathing by closing his mouth, so that all that catches is the slight inhales and exhales coming from his pointed nose. He feels himself go faint from waiting. However, this forest is impossible to be quiet in. Kaito hears the footsteps of the other man recede into the distance. Only when Kaito knows the figure is long-gone does he let go of the breath he’d been holding in.

Promptly, he chokes on his first breath of fresh air. His knees sink into the dirty ground below, muddying his white pants. He coughs into a closed fist; out of the corner of his eye, he checks to make sure he hasn’t been heard. He’d heard the man before he saw him.

That man … who was he?

Kaito lifts himself off the ground, having to use both his hands to steady his shaking body. When he’s upright, he braces himself against the tree for a moment and peers over his shoulder. There aren’t many people who travel this deep into the woods. Kaito is glad: he lives a private, reclused life away from the village. It means that, while he knows other people exist, he can’t pinpoint who that man is and what he’d be doing here.

Unfortunately, Kaito realises that he might just see this man when he goes to town today. While the forest provides him with game meat and offers protection, he still has to head into town weekly to purchase basic necessities like flour and eggs. This makes him less of a mysterious figure living in the mountains, and more of just an odd man who just lives by himself. No one in the village talks to him, but they all know of him.

Muttering to himself, Kaito brushes the dirt off of his knees and begins to make his way out of the thicket. Where he’s been hiding is closer to the peak of the mountain, where the trees have made it impossible for any light to escape through until you reach the clearing at the top. Kaito’s house is a bit south of that, in a little cove that gets three hours of sunlight per day. The further down the mountain Kaito travels, the more he can see through the canopy. The sky is a shimmering blue today, dabbed white with thin, wispy clouds. The more the sky opens up, the more greener and vibrant the wildlife becomes below. The trees are no longer so thick and menacing, allowing for a variety of brightly-coloured flowers to bloom at their roots. There are little bushes too, dotted with berries. Kaito knows which ones he can and cannot eat just by looking at the shape of the leaves.

With the sky providing him with more light, Kaito finds the beginning of a worn, dusty path. Somewhere halfway up the mountain this path drops off into the middle of the forest; however, it’s this path people use if they want to make their ways towards the peak. Kaito uses to it get down to the city.

However, just as he hops onto the path, sending little dust clouds out from under his feet, he hears the sound of someone else coming down. He spins around, expecting to be greeted like a long-lost friend by some fool of a villager, when he catches the eyes of the man he just saw higher up in the forest.

Kaito startles and jumps back. He can see the man’s face now – a young face, marked with two red lines along his high cheekbones. His eyes are a brilliant blue that would look dazzling under any light; at the moment, they’re narrowed into slits under thin eyebrows. Now that he’s facing Kaito, Kaito can see how one section of his hair does flick up into a sort of wing-shape, and how there appears to be a sort of earring attached into the feathered hair – a talon-shaped piece of jewellery curling down at a point.

Kaito doesn’t realise he’s staring until the man’s face twists into a deep scowl that cuts into his umblemished skin.

“What are you looking at?” he says.

Kaito promptly closes his mouth and turns around. He doesn’t have a response and he shouldn't need to give one. Every traitorous part of his body and mind tells him to turn around and ask who this man is. He’s too well-dressed to come from the village – everyone there looks the same. And then why was he atop the mountain, wandering in one of the deepest, darkest parts of the forest so close to the Numeron.

However, the man doesn’t let him get away. No sooner has Kaito turned his back does he feel someone clear their throat very loudly and very close to his ear. Kaito whirls around one more, and this time that man is inches from his face. Kaito can now see the thick, black eyeliner along the man’s eyes, and the way the red lines are painted on his pristine skin.

Kaito feels his cheeks grow hotter than a dragon’s breath.

“Who are you?” the man says.

Kaito stumbles back to give himself a bit of space, affronted that the strange man dare step into his personal bubble. He tugs at his white tunic and self-consciously dusts off his pants, and then, still bent over a bit, he looks up at glares at the strange. “Kaito,” he says, “and shouldn’t I be asking you that question?”

“Mizael,” the man says. He shrugs his shoulders, bouncing his blond hair. He tosses his head to the side, flicking his eyes back towards the peak of the mountain. “You live up there or something?”

“Yeah,” Kaito says. He gives himself a moment, and then lets out a small chuckle. “Thought that was common knowledge. Everyone down there seems to know of me.”

Mizael’s eyes narrow. “Are you someone special?”

“Sure, whatever,” Kaito says before he can wheel the words back.

Mizael’s eyes grow to the size of the moon, and he snaps his mouth open and shut like a broken door. Then he glowers and saunters forward down the path. His tall, brown boots kick up plumes of dust that only manage to dirty his own feet. Behind him, Kaito feels a laugh bubbling in his throat. Rather than indulge himself though, he smirks and follows Mizael down the path. Mizael keeps up a steady pace, never looking over his shoulder. When he stands tall Kaito can see how slim he is – tall and lanky, like his body grew upwards like a tree without having time to fill out.

Whoever Mizael is though, Kaito has never seen him in the village before. He would know, especially since Mizael stands out as much as Kaito does. When they head into the village, both of them shine brighter than everyone else. The village isn’t much to look at though: wood houses stacked together and lined down the roads. People mill down the streets dressed in simple rags and handmade outfits. Among the mundane villagers, Kaito and Mizael look like princes.

Mizael brushes by the shops lined along the main path. Kaito’s gaze lingers there for a moment – he really ought to buy some groceries while he’s here – but curiosity keeps him following Mizael through the village. They pass by the two side-streets and then out to the other side of the settlement, where suddenly Mizael spins around.

“Following me?” he mutters.

Kaito shrugs, not bothering to hide his smirk. “I thought you were leading me somewhere.”

“I’m going home,” Mizael says.

Kaito lets the next words roll off his tongue: “What were you doing up in the mountains today?”

Mizael’s eyes widen, as if he must’ve known he was being watched up there. However, his expression of surprise then turns to anger, lips curling, eyes becoming narrow slits like a feral beast. “Nothing,” he says. “None of your business.”

“I live up there,” Kaito reminds him, “so if you’re up there again … maybe I’ll see you.” Awkwardly, he raises a hand. “See you, Mizael.”

Mizael just stares at him, mouth open, anger dissipated with a snap. So many emotions can flicker over Mizael’s face that Kaito’s surprised he can catch all of them. He doesn't turn around though as he heads back into the village. Wherever Mizael is going is none of Kaito’s business. If Mizael won’t tell him why he was up in the mountains, so close to the peak, then so be it. It’s none of Kaito’s business who comes and goes so long as they don’t come rapping on his door asking for directions back to the village. He and the villagers have obtained peace through living away from each other, and Kaito hopes to keep it that way.

On his way back into the village he stops off at the little wooden stalls lined along the path. Today the villagers are selling small bags of flour and an assortment of root vegetables that Kaito thinks would taste good in a stew. Across from him, the nameless villagers smile at him. They know who he is – Kaito in his holy-white jacket and with his pointed, blond hair makes an impression on all of them.

Kaito plucks out a handful of turnips and potatoes, and holds them out to the woman. “These, please.”

Mirai sits across from him, her long, auburn hair hanging limply in front of her face. She smiles up at him and takes the vegetables. With gentle movements she begins wrapping them in paper for the trip home.

“Kaito, isn’t it?” she says.

Kaito nods.

“Someone who looks a bit like you came to the village today.” At Kaito’s raised eyebrows, she chuckles behind her hand. “Not just like you, silly, but like … stunning. He stood out from everyone else, kind of like you do when you come to town.”

Kaito thinks he knows just who has appeared. He smiles and hands over a dozen or so bronze coins to Mirai, who tucks them into the folds of her apron cinched around her waist.

Mirai taps her chin in thought, still holding onto his produce. “Yeah,” she murmurs, as if she’s talking to herself, “he reminded me a lot of you. He was asking about … about the dragon.”

Those words send shivers down Kaito’s spine. “Really now?” he says, though his voice leaks out as a hollow, squeaky whisper.

Mirai nods. “I’ve never seen him before, but he came today asking what was up in that great mountain and if anyone lived up there or did anything. I didn’t tell him about you, so don’t worry. I just told him that at the peak of the mountain lives a great, golden dragon. The dragon only appears on the first of the month, and that every month someone goes to live on with the dragon.”

“And …” Kaito’s mouth goes dry, and he coughs behind his hand. “What did Mizael do?”

Mirai shrugs. The corners of her mouth curl and she tucks a smirk right at the edge of her glossy, pink lips. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” she teases. She passes him back the vegetables; in all his stupor, Kaito nearly drops the produce before he can slip them into the messenger bag he carries with him for trips around the mountain or into town. “He didn’t say much though, but I bet he was really interested in seeing the dragon.”

Kaito knows that feeling, though it’s a dark one that infests his gut. The dragon at the top of the mountain only appears during the Numeron – the first day of each month, when the moon is at its brightest – and demands a sacrifice of one human. Truthfully, Kaito isn’t sure where the human goes once the Numeron Dragon comes to collect them. Maybe the dragon doesn’t eat the human and instead the dragon and human rise up in the galaxies and live together. Kaito hopes so, considering that two years ago Haruto was taken by the dragon.

Swallowing, Kaito glances up at the peak of the mountain. In two days the Numeron Dragon will make its appearance and claim another life. No one travels up that far into the mountains unless they are chasing after someone who’s going to be sacrificed or they themselves are the sacrifice. In two years, Kaito has watched twenty-three sacrifices travel up the dusty path and then through the forest. They travel to the top of the mountain where the trees break away to a clearing, and there they give themselves up to the golden Numeron Dragon.

Every.

Month.

Kaito sighs before he can wrangle it back.

Mirai doesn’t miss it. “Chin up, Kaito,” she says. “The dragon wouldn’t ever pick you. Aren’t you like the guardian or something up there?”

Kaito shoves the last potato into his satchel and hikes the strap up on his shoulder. “No,” he mutters. “I just don’t like to live down here.” And without another word he turns heel and stomps out of the city. It’s his own boots that create dust clouds this time, and the dust follows him for as long as he walks down the dirty path. He walks all the way to the end of the trail, where he then slips through a patch of ferns. No one else takes this path, none of them even knowing how to survive out here. Kaito knows the way through the forest though. He can feel the earth’s heartbeat under his feet. He tastes dew on his lips.

He hears … the dragon..

Tonight, Kaito will sit at the top of the trees, nestled in the foliage, and watch the human sacrifice carry themselves to the top of the mountain. Then he’ll watch them hover at the precipice to a great chasm leading into the maws of the Numeron Dragon. The human will jump; Kaito will watch. It is how it always happens, how it has happened time and time again. Ever since Haruto jumped into the golden dragon’s maw, Kaito has watched countless others do the same.

While his mind wanders through such lonely thoughts, his feet carry him to where the light can’t touch the forest floor. His eyes have evolved to allow him to see in the darkness; Kaito spots the outlines of trees and grasses that he weaves through. He walks like he’s caught in a trance.

He stops at the edge of his doorway, toes pressed into the concrete there. His house is a single-floor cottage, the kind he used to see in the picture books he’d read to Haruto. The house has one window that lets him gaze into the forest; one door for entering and exiting; and one room, where his kitchen is crammed in one corner and his bedroom in the opposite corner. Where there is room Kaito has added shelves and dressers which are groaning and toppling over with shit that he’s never bothered to shelve – books, clothes, gadgets and doo-dads that he uses for building robots.

Speaking of robots …

Kaito claps his hands once, twice. “Orbital,” he says. “Come out.”

From underneath one of Kaito’s jackets comes a humming noise, and then a metal head peeks underneath the garment. Orbital 7 is the robot he built, a little secret he’s kept that no one in the village knows about. It took him forever to gather all the materials because he didn’t want to draw any suspicion towards him, only buying metals and tools every third visit to the village and blaming it on house repairs. However, he is rather proud of his robot. Orbital 7, when he stands normally, comes up to Kaito’s elbow in height. He’s triangle-shaped, with tractor-like wheels along his bottom that help him move around in the tiny cottage. His hands are claws, and his arms extend.

Flop!

Orbital’s wings pop out of his back, knocking over the coffee mugs on Kaito’s bedside table and a couple books he propped precariously on the edge of his bed.

“Orbital 7!” Kaito says, this time sharly and in a way that gets his robot’s head snapping towards him. “Put your wings away.”

“Roger that!” Orbital 7 says. His wings fold away.

Kaito’s hand meets his forehead. Orbital 7 is a wonderful robot and a good work companion, but ever since Kaito build Orbital 7 wings, he’s been opening them up indoors and wanting to fly around. Kaito is too afraid to send his robot outdoors in case an animal tries to attack him, but that has lead to Orbital 7 being increasingly impatient at wanting to fly. Thus, his wings open up all the time.

Reaching into his satchel, Kaito pulls out the potatoes and turnips, still nicely wrapped up in paper, and sets them down on the counter. He slips his legs out of his boots and winces when his stockinged feet touch the cold floor. He’ll need to start a fire soon, but first he needs some information.

“Orbital,” he says. “You know more about the Numeron than I do. How are people chosen?”

There’s a whirring sound as Orbital 7 processes the answer, and then he responds in a tinny voice: “They receive a dream from the dragon itself. The dragon calls out to its saviour, and on the night before the Numeron the human walks off the edge of the cliff and into the dragon’s maw.”

Tonight.

Kaito swallows. There’s a strange sort of acceptance among the people that the dragon will take whoever it chooses and that humans have no right to interfere with the work of a god. Kaito doesn’t believe in gods, even dragon gods. The dragon will bring back Haruto one day, Kaito is certain of that. However, that doesn’t ease his mind any. If Mizael has come here, and was climbing around the mountain today …

Has he been summoned by the dragon? Or did he lose someone to the dragon too?

Nimbly, Kaito begins peeling the potatoes with a dull knife. He stands over a bowl at the counter, peering out the grimy window to where the forest is all black leaves and treacherous vines. No normal villager would travel to the mountain. No normal villager would be wandering around even if they were summoned by the Numeron Dragon.

A catch of candlelight appears in the corner of the window, startling Kaito. The blade of the knife runs right along his finger, slicing through the tender skin.

“Fuck!” Kaito swears, dropping both the potato and the knife and once. He shoves his bleeding hand away from the potato even though by this point he’s already infected it, and he shoves his hand into the metal basin that acts as his sink. He doesn’t have running water in the house, so he carefully dumps out a pitcher of water onto his hand. With the cut cleared away, he can see that he’s cleanly sliced through at least a couple layers of skin, enough so that when he puts the water away red beads appear along the cut.

“Shit.”

In the corner of the window the light is still there. Kaito glances at it again, growling about how that’s what broke his concentration. Whoever is out there, Kaito doesn’t care. They’ll get swallowed up by the mountain anyways –

Knock. Knock.

“Fucking hell,” Kaito says, keeping his voice low but not squashing any of his disgust. No one should be coming to his house this evening. Hell, no one should know where he lives. The only person he ever talks to are the handful of villagers whose produce and dairy he buys – and none of them are the type to meander up the mountainside. Even Mirai’s son, the ever-energetic Yuuma, won’t follow Kaito past the edge of the village property.

Whoever has come here has some nerve.

Kaito ignores the door for the time being though. His finger is still bleeding and the contact with the cool air makes him hiss. He reaches across the counter for something to still the bleeding, and his hand bonks into the cold, metal claw of Orbital 7. Clutched between the robot’s pincher is a bandana-like strip of fabric, appearing freshly ripped from some garment of Kaito’s that he leaves hanging around. He’ll worry about that later. For now, he needs to tend to his hand and –

Knock, knock.

Damn it, the stranger hasn’t left! Kaito growls low in his throat. He secures the strip of fabric around his finger, tightening it with his teeth to ensure that it puts just enough pressure to stem the bleeding. His eyes glance down at the bloody flecks along his white outfit, still dusty and dirty from his trip through the forest and village. Kaito heaves a sigh – it doesn’t matter at this point.

It takes two steps to get from the kitchen to the front door, and Kaito regrets both of the steps. His hand stills on the doorknob – then he yanks it open.

Standing in the doorway is Mizael, looking thoroughly exhausted like he’s run from the opposite edge of the village all the way up to Kaito’s doorstep. He keeps trying to look astute, but his shoulders slump with his bated breath. There are leaves in his hair and dirt flecked along his cheeks. He sticks out his lips and narrows his eyes, an expression that only makes Kaito do the same.

“Can I help you?” Kaito says. The step up to his house gives him just enough of a height difference so that Kaito can stare straight into Mizael’s eyes. He feels intimidated – shouldn’t Mizael look a bit … scared? Or even confused? But despite the exhaustion on Mizael’s face he looks equally determined.

“I need a place to stay for the night.”

Now Kaito’s confused. “E-excuse me?” he says. “The village –”

“Away from them,” Mizael says.

Kaito crosses his arms. “And what makes you think that that’s here? And how … how did you even find here?”

“The girl with the potatoes,” Mizael says. “She said you lived up by the mountain, all by yourself.” Mizael crosses his arms over his chest. He’s wearing white too, Kaito notices, and it’s equally stained. He has on a sort of grey vest, inlaid with a golden key that hangs across his chest and appearing to be made of the same metal that dangled from his hair. He wears white tights like Kaito that hugs his thighs and calves. And boots – Mizael’s boots that are thoroughly covered in dust and mud.

Kaito wants to slap himself on the forehead. Mirai tolds Mizael. Mizael found his way here … whoever he is … and now he’s at Kaito’s doorstep demanding to come in. Kaito could slam the door in Mizael’s face, but then he’d be stuck dealing with the aftermath of Mizael trying to break into the house. Kaito has a few weapons he could use to chase Mizael away, but nothing that could render him unconscious like steal his soul. He has a kitchen knife …

Speaking of knife – Kaito raises his hand to his cheek, brushing his jaw against the bandage on his finger. It stings in the frigid, cold night air.

“Just for tonight,” Mizael says. “I’ll be gone tomorrow morning.”

Sighing, Kaito opens the door and lets Mizael step through. If it’s just for tonight, he can suffice. He’d rather suffer with Mizael in the house and perhaps silent than Mizael outside of the house and perhaps violent.

Mizael steps inside with a slight nod. He doesn’t make it more than two steps in though since the house is so small, and Kaito has to skirt around him to close the door. The bed makes it difficult for either of them to move around, so once they’re both inside Kaito points to it and says, “Sit there. I can’t have you standing around.”

Mizael sits, legs crossed. He looks too stiff and uncomfortable, but Kaito just shrugs at him. It’s Mizael’s fault for getting himself stuck here and without anywhere else to go. It’s Mizael’s fault for getting himself in this mess. Meanwhile, that gives time for Kaito to salvage the remains of his dinner and wipe off his knife, careful to not show Mizael the little bit of blood around the blade or on the rim of the bowl.

While Kaito peels the rest of the potatoes and chops them into small cubes, Mizael remains seated on the bed. He doesn’t say anything while Kaito busies himself in the kitchen. Kaito thinks of offering Mizael some of his dinner, but he waits to see what his guest will say first. Will Mizael speak up? He certainly knows how to speak, and if he came to the house he apparently isn’t shy at demanding what he wants. Yet Mizael doesn’t say anything when Kaito lights a fire and hangs a pot over the flame. He boils the potatoes in water, and then drains some of the water out and begins to add curry powder.

Still Mizael doesn’t say anything.

Carefully so that he does not draw attention to himself, Kaito peeks over his shoulder. He isn’t normally so shy, but … whatever Mizael is doing here is downright weird.

Mizael sits primly on the bed, staring down at his folded hands. He glows in the dim lighting of the cottage.

“... want dinner?” Kaito says at last.

Mizael nods, a simple jerk of the head.

“You’re here for the dragon, aren’t you?” Kaito says. His voice ends with a whisper that he wishes didn’t sound so pathetic.

Again, Mizael nods.

Using a deep spoon, Kaito begins scooping out the soup into two ceramic bowls. The heat burns the tips of his fingers, but he holds onto the first bowl until he has to pass it off to Mizael. When he has his own bowl, he breathes in the steam and lets the soup warm him, starting from his hands all the way to his heart. He looks through the steam and spots Mizael staring into the thick, yellow broth. It’s like the Numeron Dragon’s scales dark and murky, impenetrable to see through.

“Why?”

“Why what?” Mizael repeats, not raising his eyes.

“Why the dragon?”

Mizael shrugs and returns to staring into his soul. After a moment he lifts his spoon to his lips and slurps the thin broth. Kaito doesn’t have many skills in cooking or caring for himself, so he’s not even sure this recipe will taste even good. He probably under-boiled the potatoes or added too little curry powder and make the broth watery. Mizael doesn’t say anything though.

Kaito sips at his soup, relishing in the warmth. Over the rim of the bowl, he catches Mizael looking at him.

“How come you live up here?” Mizael asks.

“Because of the dragon,” Kaito says.

Their conversation lack both depth and breadth, falling within seconds of starting. Kaito doesn’t know how to keep the conversation, and frankly he doesn’t care. Mizael will only be here one night. He’ll be gone in the morning. Normally, Kaito would stay up all night tinkering with Orbital 7; however, if he sleeps time will skip ahead and Mizael will leave. Kaito glances down at his dirty clothes, considers hopping outside to strip and change into some clean pyjamas …

And forgoes it a second later.

“Off the bed,” Kaito says, voice clipped. “I’m going to sleep.”

Wordlessly, Mizael slips off the end of the bed; Kaito skirts around him and climbs up to the top of the bed, tucking his legs under the covers but not quite settling down to rest. Mizael remains at the foot of the bed, standing there as if he’s unsure where he’s meant to put his body. Kaito doesn’t have much space. He certainly won’t be sharing his bed with Mizael.

Fortunately, Mizael doesn’t ask for a place to sleep. He shuffles across the room and settles down on the floor, back to the under counter cupboards. With a heavy sigh, he lays his head back against the boards and lets his eyes slip closed. Kaito watches with rapt interest as Mizael’s body seems to power down. Within seconds, he’s asleep … he must be. His head is tipped back just enough to expose the pale column of his throat. Instead of slumping, he manages to keep him body primly upright.

Kaito flops back on his bed with a heavy sigh. He closes his eyes tight, but every nerve in his body tells him to keep his eyes open and watch Mizael. What if the stranger tries to jump him? What is Mizael even doing so far up the mountain?

The thoughts plague his mind and refuse him sleep. Kaito tosses and turns, kicking the blankets on and off his legs. It doesn’t matter if he makes a racket for Mizael – Kaito can’t rest with someone else in the cottage. At the foot of the bed Orbital 7 has entered sleep mode. If Kaito were in danger, he could call on Orbital 7 to assist him. His robot could take care of him. He could –

There’s a shuffle across the room. Mizael isn’t far away, and the sound of his rousing and clambering to his feet sounds like a cacophonous thunderstorm. His thumping footsteps make Kaito go rigid in the bed; however, Kaito does not open his eyes or dare to move. He listens for Mizael’s movements. He hears him cross the room and open the front door. Then, light as a feather, Mizael’s footsteps disappear out the door. The next sound Kaito hears is the click of the latch on the door.

Kaito throws the blankets off himself and once, stumbling off the bed to get his dirty boots back on. He grabs a single shoe and chucks it at Orbital 7 to rouse him. The robot beeps and groans for a second, and then in a groggy voice, says, “Master Kaito?”

“Get up,” Kaito says. “Come on.”

It’s tonight.

It’s the Numeron.

Kaito dashes out of the house and through the dark woods. After living in the woods for years, he’s apt at moving silently. His footfalls are silent, his breaths coming as gentle pants between his cracked, quivering lips. For a moment, Kaito doesn’t see Mizael anywhere in the forest – and then he appears like a ghostly, white spectre travelling through the dark woods. He’s not nearly as quiet as Kaito.

Behind him, Orbital 7 buzzes with worry.

The two of them follow Mizael through the woods, between shadowy shrubs and through tall timbers. At times, the forest seems to swallow up Mizael – but then he’ll appear again and again, right at the edge of Kaito’s vision. Kaito never loses track of Mizael.

When the forest begins to thin away, Kaito moves closer. He’s followed the sacrifices of the Numeron before. These people are often possessed by some otherworldly spirit, moving through the world as soulless bodies. However, Mizael seems much more alert. His head his upright and his steps uneven; he looks too alive to be walking to what could very well be his death.

At the top of the cliff, Mizael stops. He’s no more than ten steps away from a perilous drop into the cave. There are no trees to shadow them, and so Mizael glows as brightly as the stars and moon decorating the sky. He lifts his head up higher, letting the wind caress his cheeks and sweep away his long, blond hair.

One step.

Kaito swallows. This man … why does he matter? Because he’s awake? Because he’s throwing away his life? Kaito has never cared about the sacrifices to the Numeron Dragon because they were all blinded fools throwing away their lives for the sake of society. They accepted their fate all too readily. But this man, Mizael …

Because of the dragon.

Mizael is throwing away a life he still has.

Another step.

Kaito dashes forward. He meant to pull Mizael back from the cliff, but through his sheer panic he simply tumbles into Mizael and sends them both to the ground. Kaito’s hand wrangle to grab Mizael’s arm should he try to tumble away, but instead Mizael flips himself over and over, rolling precariously close to the edge of the cliff and into the great chasm. Beneath them, steam bursts from the hole. Kaito can see the great, golden dragon swimming clockwise about halfway down the chasm, waiting expectantly for its meal.

Mizael tries to flip them once more, and this time Kaito feels himself begin to tumble. He tries to throw out his arms and legs, anything to balance himself before he falls over the edge. His hips buck against Mizael’s, trying to right them back up and roll them backwards, only Mizael is both taller and heavier and all of his will seems to be intent on pushing him and Kaito over the edge.

“Orbital!” Kaito screams out then.

“Coming, Master Kaito!” Orbital says.

He tumbles over the edge, Mizael’s face pressed into his back.

Orbital 7’s claws catch on Kaito’s leg. He holds tight and Kaito swings wildly downwards. Now it’s Kaito’s turn to hold onto Mizael as he attempts to tumble forward. Mizael hangs by his arm – just one arm, and Kaito squeezes tight to Mizael’s hand. The dragon’s head has lifted up to stare at them, two men hanging at the top of the chasm and awaiting their deaths. Kaito has never been closer to the dragon. When Haruto fell, Kaito was still clinging to the top of the chasm, arms too short to stretch down and scoop his brother up.

“What are you doing?” Kaito screams to Mizael.

Mizael has the audacity to look up, face set in surprise. The red marks on his otherwise unblemished face are glowing in the light streaming from the chasm. Mizael’s hair is fluttering around them, with the wing-like piece seeming to try and lift them from their fall. And young – Mizael looks far too young, like he’s aged backwards by just hanging here. Tears begin to drip down Mizael’s sharp cheeks and onto his vest.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Kaito says since Mizael won’t say anything. “You don’t … you don’t throw away your life! You can still keep living!”

Mizael’s kaleidoscopic eyes look up at him.

Kaito shakes him harder. “You keep living!”

Beneath them, the dragon roars.

Above them, the moon glows.

Mizael’s hand begins to slip from Kaito’s. With Kaito’s other hand, he yanks down and grabs at Mizael’s shoulder pads. The material is slippery between his fingers, but Kaito tries to hold tight. He can’t let go. He never let go of Haruto, he never let go of hope, he never –

“You value my life?” Mizael says. “You value defying fate … Kaito?” He shakes his head, eyes falling down to his feet that dangle just feet below where the Numeron Dragon waits for them. A sad smile tugs at his lips. “I have no reason to live, no one to live for. I’m like you, alone ... “

Kaito grabs Mizael’s hair and yanks as hard as he can. “Enough! If you’re me, you’ll value your life more! Now –” he throws his head up to where Orbital 7 hangs from the top of the chasm. His feet have dug deep grooves into the dirt; his arms are strained tight holding onto Kaito’s ankles. Orbital 7 does know how to fly, but Kaito has never tested that mechanism before. However, Orbital 7 isn’t strong enough to pull them up, especially not if Mizael still seems intent on sacrificing himself to the dragon.

“Orbital 7, transform!”

Two steel wings burst from Orbital 7’s back, shooting straight outwards like spikes. Orbital 7 leaps from the edge of the cliff after them. He drops Kaito’s hand, momentarily allowing them to fall; Kaito feels the wind graze his ears and he squeezes his eyes closed. Then the next second he’s flying, suspended in the air once more by Orbital 7 who managed to grab hold of Mizael’s wrist. The robot arcs back up to the top of the chasm, dragging both Mizael and Kaito after him. He deposits them both on the ground, where Kaito leaps back onto Mizael at once in case he jumps over the edge once more.

“Don’t!” Kaito says, grabbing the front of Mizael’s vest and tugging him forward. “Don’t leap.”

“But … the dragon …” Mizael says. “The Numeron dragon –”

“ – has taken enough lives,” Kaito finishes. “Our lives are too valuable to lose. Our lives ... “ He chuckles. “I’m not pitying you, but your life is worth living, Mizael.”

He feels Mizael’s throat constrict against the corners of his knuckles. He’s captured Mizael’s attention now though; his gold eyes are made of an impenetrable, unreadable ore. Then Mizael relaxes in his grip. He falls back a bit, allowing Kaito to carefully release his grip on Mizael’s vest and lower him to the ground. Kaito remains atop Mizael though – he doesn’t trust him to not throw himself over the edge again.

“Why are you helping me?”

“Right place and right time, I suppose.” Kaito settles back on Mizael’s legs, keeping him pinned to the ground but allowing Mizael the courtesy to sit up.

He doesn't. Mizae remains on the ground, facing up towards the speckled galaxies and the great, glorious moon. Mizael’s attention is enraptured by the skyscape, so vast and eye-catching. When they were in the chasm, hanging for their lives, Kaito remembers looking up and seeing a different view of the stars. He imagined those lights as his last glimmers of hope, mere spots in a darkened sky. However, now the moon and the stars are blinding rays of hope and promise.

Kaito falls back next to Mizael. He lets his body crumble into the ground, not caring if the dirt or mud seeps into his white clothing. Briefly, he shuts his eyes. When he opens them, Mizael is still lying next to him.

“There’s a legend that the Numeron Dragon created the universe,” Mizael says. “I … came to learn the truth.”

Turning his head, Kaito raises a slender eyebrow. “And that’s why you followed me up the cliff? Why you jumped off the cliff?”

Mizael nods. “There … might have been answers down there – who we are, why we’re here, why –”

Kaito chuckles, effectively cutting off Mizael’s mumblings. “Yeah, the answers in the world could be at the bottom of the cliff. They could be locked away so that no one ever finds them out. Then again though, what’s the use of throwing your life away for the truth? Don’t you have so much – and so many people – to live for?” Kaito cups his cheek in his hand, peeking at Mizael through the corner of his eye. “I bet you didn’t see him there, but there’s a little boy in that village who will tell you all about hope –”

“Hope?”

“Like the make-believe sentiment,” Kaito says. “Pretty silly, huh? But that kid’s pretty wise. You … should have hope for yourself.”

Mizael turns away from him. For a second, Kaito’s heart thuds in his chest. Would Mizael throw himself off the edge again? Would Mizael try to toss away his life once more? And what would Kaito do? Would he keep clinging to reality, keep Mizael clinging to a life that he sees no value in living? All the people who threw themselves over the edge – sacrifice. They saw their lives as lesser than the group. But Kaito believes otherwise. Kaito believes in the hope of all lives.

“You got a story?” Mizael asks.

The question knocks him off-guard. Kaito splutters for a moment before he says, “N-no. I was just here at the right place at the right time.”

“Sure you were,” Mizael says. He turns back around, away from the edge of the cliff. In the remaining glow of the chasm a halo encircles Mizael’s hair like a golden crown. The gold flecks of his eyes glimmer like embers. He taps his fingers along the dirt. Plumes of dust rise up along his digits from their movements. Softly then, Mizael says, “Tell me your story another time.”

If Kaito stretches his finger enough, he could touch Mizael. He walks his fingers along the dust, creating a path between their bodies melding into the cold, dirty ground. Kaito lifts his head just enough so that he doesn’t inhale dirt, and then chuckles under his breath.

“Tell me your story too, Mizael.”