The night sky in the island of Tanegashima was full of bright, white stars. Evermore shining over the land, while the lights in all the houses seemed to gradually shine less and less. The world was coming to a close, and people were going to sleep.
Today was on the eve of Christmas, after all, and no one wanted to miss their presents in the morning. No one, except two exceptionally playful children, who were standing by the deck at the beach, wrapped up in their jackets and holding their toys in their hands.
"Ha! Take that, you! You have been defeated in the name of God!" A young girl was holding a robot in her little hand, and she was making it pose on the wooden planks of the deck. "Look, I did it, Kai!"
"Yeah, whatever," the young boy said in response, playing on his handheld controller and trying to furiously mash buttons to defeat his enemy. "Oh? Oh! I won! I won!!" He shot his fist up into the air in victory. "Yeah!!"
"Kai!" The girl came over to look at Kai's video screen. "You barely won, you're still nowhere near the top of the leaderboard!"
"I'll make it there one day, Aki! I know I will!"
"Why aren't you playing with me?" Aki pouted. "Come on! My sister is staying at her friends' house, and you're the only one who I have to play with!"
Kai looked at Aki confusedly. "That's why I came outside with you," he responded.
"You're not playing with me though!"
"I don't want to play with robots," Kai grumbled, "I want to play video games. And you're not good at those games."
"Hey! I should've gone back to watch Gunvarrel if you were going to do that! See the robots fight each other, it's so cool! So cool!" Aki stared off into the distance, repeating the words to herself as if in a trance. "So cool..."
"If only it were snowing too," Kai grumbled. "People all over the world get to feel snow during Christmas."
"That would be a real Christmas miracle," Aki sighed. "But Dad says it's impossible, according to the weather reports."
The two were outside on the deck because they wanted to enjoy the stars, and they were used to playing outside in the night. Their parents were at Kai's house, and they were probably drunk or gossiping among each other, so they wouldn't notice Kai or Aki disappearing for a while at the very least. Besides, the island was fairly small, and everyone knew each other, so there was no real danger.
The red lights in the sky were still there. The two seemed to look up at those lights at the same time, and at that moment, it reminded the two of that confusing day on the ship, the day that...
No, it was Christmas Eve. Not thinking about those things.
And then, as if on cue, the two started hearing footsteps in the distance, walking in the grass and the sound growing closer. It was just the quiet wind in the distance, and the soft breeze of the ocean rolling in and out on the coast.
And then they heard someone start singing.
"Encircled by illusions, putting my hands on anything in sight..."
"I lose myself, as well as any doubt or delight..."
"Huh?" Kai looked at Aki, who stared back with equal confusion. What were those words supposed to mean? They sounded so mysterious. In fact, whoever was singing sounded mysterious as well. Their voice seemed to carry so much weight, and it was thick of something. But it wasn't clear what that something was.
They stood up, and looked over the railings to see who was there. "Who are you?" Aki shouted. "You have a really pretty voice!"
The stranger seemed to suddenly look up, and Kai was in awe. "Whoa." It was a young woman, with lavender hair and an elaborate costume, either from a cosplay or some goth band. "You're so pretty."
"Miss! Miss! Over here!" Aki started jumping up and down, waving to the woman. She wasn't sure who the mysterious woman was, but Aki suddenly had the urge to talk to her directly.
"Two ducklings in the midst of a paradise fated to be lost..." Without really knowing, the woman suddenly seemed a lot closer than Kai and Aki had previously perceived. "What are Adam and Eve doing on such an honoured night to order and harmony?"
"We're playing with robots! But miss, what are you doing out here?"
The woman looked up to the red lights, and she sighed, her outfit fluttering in the wind dramatically as she did so. "I'm looking for something here. The prophecy has to be here. That's what the scriptures told me, that the duality of redemption and rejuvenation was here and alive. But I have yet to find it in such a tainted paradise, stricken with a crime that won't find itself and yet beautiful despite it."
"What are you talking about, miss?" Kai looked back at his video game console. "Just play video games, you sound like you have too many problems on your hands."
"Maybe if you had a giant robot, your problems would go away!" Aki grinned and showed the woman her own toy robot. "My name's Aki! What's your name?"
"You may call me Ayase," the woman declared, taking her hood down and revealing beautiful red eyes. "And his name?"
"He's Kai! We're best friends!"
"Yeah," Kai grumbled, "we are. Aki, my hands are getting cold out here, do you want to go inside?"
Ayase seemed fixated on the robot that Aki had in her hands. "That vessel you're holding--what purpose does it serve to you?"
"This is my robot! It destroys its enemies with the fist of iron!"
"I see. How did it come about?"
"It was flying in the air! Then it dropped from the sky!"
"There was a flying machine carrying the box," Kai supplied nonchalantly, now focusing on his video game console again. "That was about a few months ago, I think. It had a note and everything."
"This seems so familiar...May I see it?"
"Sure!" Aki handed the robot over to Ayase, who simply held it in her black silk gloves, examining and inspecting its parts. "Well? Is it cool?"
"It's not a vessel of destruction," Ayase finally said after a long moment of hard stares. "I recognise this particular toy. It's from a comrade I know well, and this radiates of romance and love."
"What are you talking about? This robot destroys all its enemies in a single blow!"
Ayase closed her eyes and returned it to Aki's hand. "In order to fight, you need to have something worth protecting. We don't fight for simple carnage or joy, we fight because we have no choice, and these feelings of love and romance are what propels those choices. Only when we lose our paradise do we learn to cherish it."
"Romance...?" This was the first time Aki had ever heard such a word. Nothing else that this woman had said made sense, but this was the word that caught her attention.
"Romance. The feeling of running towards the sunset, the feeling of winning a long and hard-fought battle, and the feeling of being able to kiss your loved ones in the morning. It's a story of sacrifice and of love." Ayase raised her arm toward the stars and reached towards them as if grabbing for something. "A handshake between unity and happiness, to pick up the stardust that we may have scattered through our lives."
"That sounds so cool..." Aki seemed mesmerised now, and she dropped her robot in the process. "Kai, did you hear that? Sunsets..."
"Yeah..." Kai didn't show it, but he had also heard the conversation, and he was admittedly feeling attracted by the idea as well, even if he was mainly occupied by his video game.
"Perhaps I won't be able to find the fated duality tonight. It's unlikely that I'd find such truth in this place, especially in a realm so fixated to order and harmony." Ayase stood up. "Kai. What is your purpose?"
"Huh?" Kai looked up from his console, confused.
"What are your ideals? What do you think is the fundamental anchor for your life?"
"I...I want to become an astronaut!"
"A bold choice indeed," Ayase murmured. "To walk beyond this Earth, and travel in other celestial and heavenly bodies, weave oneself through the vastly unexplored emptiness and fill the voids with truthful matters. Why do you think so?"
"Space is cool. It's so spacious, and it's really far out," Kai admitted.
"The fish knows not of the oceans outside his pond, yet he so desperately wishes to soar through the sky. Admirable or pitiable?" Ayase slipped her silk gloves off, putting them away in a pocket. "Say what you will, but I doubt my own journey to this paradise will be a fruitful harvest. May I see your palms, the both of you?"
The two children seemed confused, but they offered their hands, both reaching out with both of their left hands.
"Your right hand if you would, Aki."
"Oh, okay! Hehe, sorry!" Aki scratched her head in embarrassment, reaching out with her other hand. "Is that better?"
"Indeed." Ayase closed her eyes, and with her now naked hands, she held the two children's hands gingerly. She started murmuring strange incantations to herself. "May your violet prayers come true and fall into destiny's ears; come unto me, your fluid and quantum spirit, and seek that which is the bounds of duality, to reverse the direction of decay against all probabilities..."
And suddenly, Aki and Kai felt everything go to darkness before them.
When the two came to, they were in a white void. There was nothing around them, and when the two looked down, they couldn't see their own bodies either. It was as if they were spectators: unable to speak, unable to move, and simply watching the pictures unfold in front of them.
Then out of nowhere, a blue ocean seemed to wash over the invisible floor the two stood upon, and a blue sky slowly faded into view. A blue sky with white clouds all about, and it felt so vast, so open, so majestic.
The two's voices were in unison. They didn't notice how weird it was for the two having synchronised in such a way, and they were instead amazed by how endless the sky seemed to go.
It felt as if there were tears, there were wings, and there was hope scattered here, a remnant of the past. A sky of relief, and a sky of believing once again.
In their minds, this was the sky that seemed so beautiful. Even if their minds were bending, and the blue colours seemed to always fluctuate, causing the two children to doubt their eyes, it was still unmistakably blue.
"This was the sky that two people before you had found. The ideal of human thoughts, culminating in such a landscape."
The sky changed in an instant before their eyes, and now the two were seeing a vast black sky much like the one they had been used to in Tanegashima, only this time, there were no red lights in the sky; in fact, there was no floor. It was the feeling of being in the void of space, as the stars around them seemed to spin and cycle, shining bright and dim as they moved.
And strangely enough, it felt that their view of the world was constantly changing, as stars were suddenly teleporting around. It felt that the two were frozen in time, and yet they were seeing multiple visions of the same thing at the same time. Diverging perspectives, and yet identical perspectives.
The sound of an hourglass seemed to play in the background, speeding up and slowing down, and the two started to feel headaches. It was so eerie seeing everything so vast and yet so small, an almost epileptic sight to them. It was fascinating, yet it was terrifying.
"This was the sky that another two people before you had found. The fluidity of time, and its linear yet parallel flow."
And then, the sky changed once more, to be the sight of a sunset, beautiful sun on the horizon and painting the sky its golden colours so elegantly. The greenery around them wasn't particularly dramatic, and yet it felt like home. The familiar sounds of the sea breeze, and the familiar sounds of children playing in the distance. The chiming of bells, as it signalled the victory and celebrations of another time that had arrived upon this world.
"So that's it." Wherever her voice was coming from, Ayase was speaking again, this time in a quiet whisper. "You were the ones all along."
"You may not be able to find those two previous skies, but you are equally the protector of those skies, just as those before you."
It was such a familiar sight to Kai and Aki, and it felt warm. Cuddly, comfortable, and it made them want to run down into the ocean.
"This is the sky you'll find one day."
When the two came to, Ayase was still there, holding their palms. For some reason, Kai and Aki both felt as if they had seen the glimpse of a sword behind her for a split second. They didn't think much about it, but it was really bright and colourful for some reason.
Ayase opened her eyes. "So I've been looking for you two all along. The Adam to her Eve. The duel of youth." For the first time with the two, Ayase smiled. "Would the two of you close your eyes?"
"Don't do anything weird," Kai muttered, obediently closing his eyes.
"Yeah, what Kai said," Aki agreed, closing her eyes as well.
The two weren't sure what happened next, but they felt the pressure of something warm on their foreheads. When they were told to open their eyes, Ayase simply kept smiling.
"You two have been blessed with an angel's kiss. May it guide you through your toughest troubles in seven years. After all, the only way to embrace and dispel corruption is through one's heart, and to master it, you must maintain a kind soul throughout."
"Okay?" Aki was confused but still smiling.
"Wait a minute, did you just kiss us?!" Kai started freaking out.
"I have my farewells to bid. May the two of you have a wonderful Christmas, and accept my parting gift as a means of holiday spirit." Ayase stood up and grabbed something invisible in the air.
"Happy holidays," she said, and before the two children could say anything else, her body disappeared into a wind of purple butterflies, scattering throughout the wind and flying to all their destinations.
"Huh...?" Aki was so confused. She stared at her own robot again, but it seemed so foreign to her now. It was no longer a killing machine to her--it seemed to have so much love in it. And what Ayase had said about sunsets...that really made her feel warm inside. "Romance...?"
Kai looked back at the sky, which suddenly seemed so much emptier and vaster than he had thought before. Those skies that he had seen in whatever that was, they were so vast. When would he be able to explore such skies in his life?
And then, he realised that something was falling from the sky.
"Why is it snowing?"
"Huh?!" Aki looked up at the sky and gasped. "Oh my god Kai, look! It's snowing!"
"It's never snowed here for so long..." he murmured.
"Snow! Oh my god!" Aki's eyes seemed to suddenly burn brighter, and she looked Kai directly in the eye. "That's it! That Ayase girl was Miss Santa!"
"She wasn't Miss Santa!"
"She made it snow for us! That was her Christmas gift! Didn't you see her outfit too? It was so bizarre, only Santa would wear something like that!"
"Miss Santa is really cute then..." Kai started mumbling, using his hand to feel where she had kissed him on the forehead. "It's still warm..."
"She said that we're the protectors of something something right?"
Aki jumped into the air triumphantly. "Then we'll protect it! For all robots and humankind! For romant!"
"Romance! We'll save the world no matter what!"
As two children excitedly talked about their sudden encounter with what they thought to be Miss Santa, the clouds above Tanegashima were snowing, raining their beautiful jewels of prayers onto the land, even if it was out of nowhere. A sight that would only last a few hours, and a sight that strangely enough, was documented to have occurred at exactly midnight.
No one knows where the snow came from.
But perhaps that was the Christmas miracle. The prayers of someone for a wonderful Christmas to be bestowed upon them all. And most of all, the prayers of someone who wanted to continue protecting those skies they lived under.
To desire that forever expanding sky...that was the dream of many.
The blue sky. The spacious sky. And the romantic sunset.