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dancing to the song of light

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If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem. Please be warned: if you fidget, look away or forget anything I tell you, our hero will truly perish.

***

It all happens too fast. A flash of light, of magic, of more that reality, and they both fall: shattered, broken, gone.

Kubo finds himself waking without knowing he’d been asleep to find the grit of dirt in his mouth, an ache in his bones that had more to do with the emptiness in his heart than any other pain.

He was alone. Alone. All a—

There was a sound, a rustle of not quite wind and not quite breathing and Kubo was scrambling to his feet, running towards the empty not quite broken door tilted crazily on its hinge, digging through the rubble of dirt and splintered wood until almost, almost, there.

Clearly their little family had its own kind of magic, because he was now holding Beetle’s hand, his father’s hand, warm and living and holding on to him as tightly as he was clinging back.

“Father,” and whatever else Kubo would have said was cut short by another noise, a half groan shot through with gratitude.

“Beetle, while your outside probably saved my life, it is now crushing me. Please remove yourself.”

And there was Monkey, wedged into a space made by Beetle and the ground.

His parents. Alive.

He pulled Monkey towards him, tugging fingers through singed and battered fur.

This could have been the triumphant end, the place where Kubo’s stories never quite reached.

But his grandfather was still out there, beaten back but not yet defeated.

And whatever small victory was muted by Bettle’s wavering voice muttering, “ah, Kubo. You are also alive. Excellent news. Excuse me, I appear to need to pass out now,” and it was good he was still on the ground because only Kubo’s quick movement caught his father’s head before he crashed to the ground.

*

Beetle slept for a day, and a night and a day again, barely shifting when Monkey covered and recovered him with salves, forced sips of vile potions between his lax lips.

By the night of the second day, Kubo had recovered enough strength to have paced the boundaries of the (now ruined) fortress four times, grateful that whatever magic kept them all alive and whole seems to have protected them from the reach of Grandfather’s rage.

Monkey watched him pass and pass again as she sat by Beetle’s side. Though Kubo’s restless feet made him walk to keep walking, he folded himself into sitting beside his mother and sit for a long stretch of breathing.

He waited to see if she would speak but wasn’t surprised when she didn’t. It appeared that his mother, in whatever form, was the master of the expressive silence.

“What will we do?” he didn’t know he was going to ask until the words hung in the air.

Monkey gazed at him with a calm that he had never seen her possess back in the cave.

“We will wait until Hanzo wakes and then we will finish this.”

But what if he doesn’t wake, rises to Kubo’s lips, but the rustle of carapace against ground breaks his attention.

“Father,” and Kubo wants to rush towards him, but Monkey has a hand on his arm.

“He still needs his rest. Don’t overexcite him.”

Kubo kneels by the Beetle’s head, sees his eyes flutter openedclosedopened and a pained but true smile cross his face.

“Kubo. You are alive. I am alive. I do not understand.”

Kubo feels a wave of the grief he hadn’t let himself feel climb up his throat and threaten to spill out. Instead, he offered a small smile in return.

“Let me tell you a story, Father.”

The papers were gone, the shamisen propped against a low wall, waiting to be restrung with the help of magic and a lock of his mother’s hair. Yet even without tools, Kubo would forever be a storyteller.

“There once was a mighty warrior who gave his life to protect his family from the evil Moon King. He battled demons and dangers until finally, he stood before the King, sword in hand.

The king was as devious as he was evil. He used his magic to change the warrior until he had no memory of his true name, nor any idea of the great battles he had fought. When he next met the Moon King, the warrior was lost but unafraid, ready to pledge his life once again.”

Kubo felt his throat tighten for a moment. His father watched him, expectant. But the next words were in his mother’s clear voice.

“The warrior did not know that he was great, which indeed made him greater still. His courage to protect those in danger gave him the strength to withstand the magic of the Moon King, and so he was driven back.”

“The warrior defeated the Moon King?” Beetle said in an awed voice.

Monkey shook her head.

“The king was driven back, not forever, but for a time,” she corrected. “So that the warrior could regain his strength,” here a meaningful look at the pallet he lay on, “for the next battle.”

“And what of the princess?” Beetle asked.

“The princess?” stammered Monkey, thrown out of the story.

Kubo said quickly, “the warrior had long held the love of the princess who was the Moon King’s daughter, though a different sort of magic had driven her deep into herself so that she was lost in the world. The warrior protected her,”

“No, no,” interrupted the Beetle, and both stopped to stare at him. “The warrior’s love protected her.” He looked almost shy when he said it, but very certain.

Kubo shot his mother a glance. What would be the next part of the story?

“The warrior’s love protected the princess,” said Monkey, and her voice thoughtful but oh so kind. “The princess, in turn, had never stopped thinking of the warrior, not in all her days lost within herself, searching for a way back to those she loved,” and here she reached out to place a warm hand on Kubo’s cheek. “Hoping that one day the Moon King’s magic could be defeated and they could be together again.”

“Her love saved the warrior as well,” said Beetle quietly. “Though the warrior is still strange and not what he was.”

“No one who fights such dangers is truly who they were,” Kubo offers brightly. Monkey and Beetle—no, his parents--shoot him a look, the one mildly annoyed, the other patiently amused. “I’m just saying.”

“The past makes it mark,” said his mother with an air of agreement. “The future is certain to make an equally lasting impression.”

“But at least together?” Beetle said with an air of hopefulness.

Monkey looked at him, at Kubo and her smile was full and genuine.

“Together.”