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Shadow of the Moon

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Shadow of the Moon
By Tenkku

'Feeling lonely, feeling sad she cried in the moonlight

Driven by a world gone mad, She took flight...'

-Blackmore's Night

Chapter 1: Dark Magic

The group of explorers sitting around the campfire douse the flames to prepare for sleep. Shoji offers to take the first watch, as he always does when the party lays to rest after a long day of mapping and surveying the mostly uncharted territory. Known only as the Dark Woods, the forest is a strange place, the complete opposite of the desert climate in which they live. The Golden Land never cared for the mysteries of the Dark Woods; that is until their rivals discovered a new ore in the earth beneath these trees. The unique purple ore can make unbreakable weapons and tools for advancement. Their sultan wants the ore, and the people will obey.

Shoji comes along with the explorers to protect and guard them against the winged creatures that come out only at night in the Dark Wood. Using his multiple arms to climb one of the trees, Shoji sits atop a thick branch to begin his watch. He looks up at the moon, a slim crescent. With limited lighting from the moon, Shoji’s eyes and ears have to work twice as hard. There’s not much they know about the inhabitants of the Dark Woods other than they prefer darkness, which is odd considering they are a bird hybrid race. They’re known to possess magic powers; nothing like the priests and mages of the Golden Kingdom, but a more spiritual type of dark magic. Thinking about the creatures, Shoji feels the old scars on his back from one of their talons as it attacked from above a few months ago. Due to the thick foliage of tree branches and dark purple leaves, shooting an arrow is near impossible. And they rarely use magic to attack. Shoji has seen one or two men carried off by the strong talons, lifted high only to drop them so their bones shatter when they hit the hard ground.

He cannot blame the Dark Woods people for wanting to defend their homeland. His empire, along with the enemy, wants to tear this dark earth apart to gain the precious purple ore. They don’t want their home destroyed. However, the Golden Empire cannot withstand an invasion from the enemy if they gain more advanced and shatterless weapons. Shoji would prefer that the two races meet to discuss an agreement; not just for the ore, but also to gain another alliance against the enemy. But Sultan Katsuki Bakugo is stubborn and would rather fight than discuss terms. Shoji has appealed to Izuku, the Demi-Sultan, who agrees with him, though Bakugo is not easily persuaded. Only Izuku can get through to Bakugo.

Shoji would like to find one of these creatures and bring them back to the empire, so they can learn more about each other. People have always feared him because of his large size and elongated mouth, which he now covers with a decorative veil. If it weren’t for Izuku accepting him as he is, Shoji would be just a commoner stuck in the traveling freak show.

The night passes on, and Shoji’s eyes started to grow heavy with the need to sleep. Climbing down to wake another, he sees movement in the woods to his right. Turning, he notices a light bouncing in the darkness; someone with a lantern. Shoji wonders if they are friend, foe, or creature. It may be someone who has lost their way, and Shoji couldn’t let them wander in this place alone and surrounded by darkness. The creatures only fly, so it shouldn’t be one of them. Shoji keeps his hand on the hilt of his scimitar as he carefully approaches the moving figure, following the trail of the light.

Shoji comes upon a small clearing, the ground littered with colorful spotted mushrooms and tiny orbs of floating lights. For a moment, Shoji is in awe of the array of colors in the darkness and asks himself if he is dreaming. Then, he sees the figure of whom the light belongs. It’s a cloaked person carrying a lantern, standing in the circle of the mushrooms and lights. Shoji watches silently, standing perfectly still. The person must be one of the forest creatures because they begin to conjure magic, their body encased in an aura of purple. Shoji knows his weapons are useless against magic, but he has no plans on attacking if the other doesn’t come at him.

‘Just what are they doing?’ Shoji asks himself.

And then, from the hands of the person, a chipmunk leaps and runs to a tree. The person’s purple mist fades, and Shoji assumes the magic is complete. If he had to guess, the creature saved or rather healed that chimpmunk. If this creature has the magic to heal, then perhaps they can help the Demi-Sultan. Though it’s been kept a secret from the empire, Izuku has been plagued by some type of illness that always makes him tired and gives terrible headaches. Shoji is one of the few who knows, and none of the doctors can figure out what is wrong. Sultan Bakugo may accept the help of a magic user simply because they have exhausted all options. Even though Bakugo and Izuku are a mated pair, the sultan doesn’t like to show any type of love or devotion while in public.

Perhaps this is the chance he’s been waiting for; to bring an understanding between the mystery folk of the Dark Woods. Without thinking, he steps forward and snaps a twig.


Tokoyami places his hand on the earth, thanking it for helping heal the chipmunks broken leg. Those from his cabal would mock him for using healing magic to save a tiny animal. They would mock him for anything, though. He is one of the very few in his cabal with the magic to heal. And, unlike the others, he can talk to the earth spirits they conjure. This power came to him as a child, and everyone suspects it’s due to the crime he accidentally committed all those years ago. He was born a twin, but due to some stroke of bad luck, his twin brother died; and the cabal, even his parents, blamed him for it. Tokoyami doesn’t remember anything of what happened. What he does remember is receiving his brother’s spirit into his own, binding them together once again. Only he can see and hear his brother, whom he calls Dark Shadow, since once a brother or sister of the cabal dies, their names are not to be spoken again. Tokoyami doesn’t even know his brother’s name, and when he talks to Dark Shadow, his brother doesn’t remember. To kill a fellow member of the cabal is a crime punishable by death, but since he was so young, Tokoyami escaped the noose.

‘You still have me, brother,’ Dark Shadow says to him.

‘Yes, I know.’

‘We don’t need friends,’

‘No one wants to be our friend anyway,’ he says to Dark Shadow. ‘And it’s all my fault.’

‘My death was an accident,’ Dark Shadow reminds him. ‘As for your lost wings...that wasn’t your fault either, and you have nothing to be ashamed about.’

Tokoyami lowers his eyes to the ground, his shoulders slumping while he wiggles the tiny nubs on his back where his wings once were. After having a run-in with enemies from the north, they barbarically cut off his wings as proof of his cabals’ existence. In the cabal, one should kill themselves before they let the enemy do anything to them that would shame the group. Tokoyami wanted to live his life and sacrificed his wings to get away. He assumed the cabal would force him to go rogue instead of kill him. But they still need his healing magic, and that is the only thing that has saved him. Now he’s the only member of his cabal with no wings. He cannot fly with the others, but still can morph his talons. He’s banned from joyful social gatherings, and forced to live outside the village circle. At least he has Dark Shadow to talk to, as well as the animals and earth spirits.

When Tokoyami hears a snapping sound behind him, he’s startled and drops his lantern. The flame inside goes out. He whips around to see the large hulking figure of a man. It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust completely to the dark, and the stranger belongs to the Golden Land. One of the warrior race. But the warrior has six arms with webbed skin between each one. He’s dressed as a warrior, with the high boots and large red puffy pants held up by a wide leather belt. Tokoyami notices the number of weapons on the mans’ person, a different one, it would seem, for each hand. A scimitar, a whip, a crossbow, a hatchet, a javelin, and a dagger. Any average person could not wield, no less carry, all those weapons. But the warrior's broad upper body bears the weapons as if they weigh nothing.

‘Back away slowly,’ Dark Shadow says. ‘That man looks like he can kill you with a flick of his finger!’

‘I don’t know what to do,’ Tokoyami fears turning to run because that crossbow or whip could catch him.

“Don’t be afraid,” says the stranger. “I’m not here to harm you,” he puts up all six hands. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m used to people being frightened of me,”

Tokoyami just stares at the man, not sure whether to believe him or not.

“My name is Shoji. Mezo Shoji. I’m a warrior and close friend of the Sultan and Demi-Sultan. I saw how you healed that chipmunk...and I wish to offer your services to my lord.”

“M-My services?” Tokoyami repeats, pulling his cloak tightly around himself. “I don’t know you, and you’re from the empire. Your people want to destroy my land...on my conscience, I cannot offer services to those who threaten my home.”

Shoji nods. “I understand. I believe that we can all come to an understanding if only we can talk like civilized beings,’

Tokoyami tilts his head to the side, wondering if this Shoji has the same thoughts as him, or if it’s just a trick. “Then tell me...why do your people want to tear up my land?”

Shoji takes a step closer to him. “Our enemies to the north have forged great weapons that are stronger than ours,” he says. “They will eventually attack with their superior weapons and overthrow my home. Like you, I wish to protect my home.”

‘I don’t think he’s lying,’ Dark Shadow says. ‘Hear him out.’ Dark Shadow can read people better than he can.

“I too wish to find a peaceful solution,” Tokoyami tells him. “If I were to come with you...what would you have me do? And how can I trust you? You’re my enemy, after all. How do I know you won’t imprison me?”

“You have every right to suspect me after all that my empire has done,” Shoji says. “But I don’t wish you any harm. If you were truly fearful of me, you’d have flown off by now. When I saw how you healed that animal, I thought you can heal the Demi-Sultan. He is plagued by some illness that lingers, but no doctor can help him. I wondered if you would be willing to come with me and maybe help my friend. The sultan, his mate, is heartbroken over the illness, but will not let anyone know. Should you heal the Demi-Sultan, you will gain the Sultan’s trust, and then we can find a way to make things work between us.”

He wants change, the same as we do,’ Dark Shadow says.

Tokoyami swallows the lump in his throat and says, “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t help your friend. I can’t trust your people not to harm me, and I would be betraying my cabal.”

“Cabal? Oh, you mean your people?” Shoji asks.

Tokoyami nods. “Yes.”

“Is that what your race is called?”

“No. That is what a group of us is called. We are Lunarians, children of the moon and the night. Revelry in the dark.” he naturally quotes his cabal’s ancient motto.

“Oh, I see. We never knew what to call your people. Thank you for telling me.”

Tokoyami shrugs his shoulders.

We don’t owe the cabal anything other than brotherly loyalty,’ Dark Shadow says. ‘I think we should take our chances in the Golden Land. We're accomplishing nothing living here,’

Tokoyami is uncertain of what to do. Dark Shadow is right in a way. But to betray your cabal is a high crime, even if it’s for their possible safety.

“You’ll be helping your people,” Shoji tells him. “I understand your hesitation, and with a request coming from someone as scary as me, anyone would be suspicious. If it will help, I used to belong to a traveling carnival as part of a freak show. My Demi-Sultan saved me from that life and I tried to become a warrior. I’m now part of their personal guard, and I trust them with my very life. Please, I would be forever grateful to you if you can heal my friend,”

Tokoyami takes a step back when Shoji drops all of his weapons and lowers to one knee. Still hesitant, Tokoyami seeks advice from the spirits around him. It is the earth that answers him, surprising both himself and Dark Shadow. The earth says he can trust Shoji, but the earth also trembles with the fear of uncertainty because of a possible war that may happen between the north and the south. The earth would not lie to him. Tokoyami takes a deep breath and lets it out in a long sigh. His cabal mocks him, but they are still a part of him. This will signify betrayal, but perhaps they will excuse his actions if it means the outsiders will cease digging up their land.

Ask for something in return,’ Dark Shadow says.

“If I accept your proposal, then I wish for something as well,”

Shoji lifts his head up. “Of course!”

“I will need protection from my cabal,” he starts. “They will see my helping as a betrayal, and won’t wait around for a solution to happen,”

Shoji nods. “Done.”

“I am to receive full immunity from your people; they will not attempt to harm or humiliate me in any way,”

“I will guard you for as long as you wish it of me,” Shoji adds.

“And finally, I am not to dress like you. Aside from the desert heat, the sun harms my skin and weakens me. If I stay out too long, my skin will even burn. I need to remain indoors while there and cloaked as I am. We do not bear our bodies or show skin; it is shameful. I do not want to abide by the Golden Land’s laws of dress and hedonism.”

Shoji smiles behind his veil. “All of that can be arranged. But surely you bear your bodies to bathe? Or when laying with a lover?”

Tokoyami’s cheeks flare hotly behind his feathers, causing Dark Shadow to laugh. “We wear a bathing dress- we never wash naked! And as for mating-” he grits his teeth and shrugs. “It’s no business of yours! I’ve already said too much about my cabal.”

“Then, you agree to come with me? Willingly? And help my friend get better?”

Tokoyami nods. “Yes. However, I cannot promise that I can heal whatever illness he has. I will do all that I can to help him, using the powers of the earth and its spirits. I’ll know more when I see him,”

Shoji stands up and bows to him. “Thank you for your help. And I am at your service. Ask of me what you wish without any hesitation,”

‘Make him carry you around!’ Dark Shadow offers.

‘I’m not a child!’

‘But you have your own bodyguard now! You shouldn’t have told him about the rules of the cabal when it comes to bearing skin. Natural curiosity will get the better of him eventually. Aren't the desert folk always enjoying se-’

‘Please stop talking about that! I’m a devout Lunarian, despite how I’m treated by the cabal! Revelry in the dark.’

Dark Shadow snickers but repeats, ‘Revelry in the dark. Come on, let’s start our adventure!’

“I am ready,” Tokoyami tells Shoji.

“Alright then. I am traveling with an exploring party. They won’t harm you; though they may shower you with a million questions of interest. We will all leave right away for the Golden Land.”

‘Dark Shadow, if something horrible happens to us, I’m blaming you,’

‘We’ve haven’t anything to lose. Big guy here will protect us from the cabal, and maybe, if you can heal this other guy, we can rise above our current rank of healer!’

Tokoyami was not entirely sure if he should do this, but with Dark Shadow’s coaching, the earth’s trust, and a promising change of pace, he follows silently behind Shoji. And Shoji was right about the explorers. At first, they were frightened of him, but once Shoji explained, they asked him questions the whole way back to the Golden Land. Tokoyami didn’t want to answer most of the questions and Shoji tells the others to leave him alone. Tokoyami finds that he is walking closely beside Shoji to avoid them.

By mid-afternoon, they arrived at the road leading out towards the desert city. Tokoyami had never traveled this far, even when he had his wings and had to shield his eyes from the brightness. He knew the land was mostly desert and sand dunes, but when he looked upon the city, he sees that it’s built around a giant oasis near a large river. Hundreds of square tiered houses circle around a large palace in the center, which has its own private, smaller oasis. The heat is more than Tokoyami thought it would be, and already he can feel his power weakening.

“Don’t worry, it gets cold at night,” Shoji tells him. “And inside the stone walls, it’s nice and cool.”

“Hm…”

“I can tell you’re still hesitant. If you’d like, I can carry you the rest of the way?” Shoji offers.

“That won’t be necessary,” Tokoyami says. “Walking has nothing to do with it. It’s the sun that worries me.”

“You’re fully cloaked, though,” Shoji says. “Your cloak will keep the sun off you, however, we of the Golden Land do not often, if ever, wear black.”

Tokoyami looks up at him. “Why not?”

“Black absorbs the heat,” Shoji answers. “You should change to a lighter color, like white.”

“We’ll see about that later. I would like to get out of the sun as soon as possible.”

“Then let’s get walking. We still have a ways to go before we reach the palace.”

~*~

Tokoyami’s unusual appearance did not go unnoticed by the city inhabitants. He kept his head down most of the time, but he could feel the eyes upon him. Tokoyami wasn’t worried, though. He had Shoji with him for protection. The few times he did look up, nearly everyone is half naked and wearing light colors. There are guards dressed differently than Shoji walking around in pairs. Some people, merchants, approached them with items for sale. Tokoyami moved closer to Shoji when a fast-talking merchant carrying a basket of apples pestered them to buy one, following along with them. Shoji shields Tokoyami with his right arms and webbing.

‘But you love apples,’ Dark Shadow says. ‘And we’re hungry!’

‘I can’t ask Shoji to buy me an apple. And I have no money, nor do I have their currency.’

“Young friend! Wouldn’t you like an apple?” Says the nearly toothless merchant, holding up a red and yellow colored apple. “Juicy and fresh!”

‘That does look juicy!’ Dark Shadow begs.

“I’m afraid I have no money for you, sir,” Tokoyami tells the man.

“I do,” Shoji says and takes out a silver coin from his belt pouch. “You should have told me you were hungry,” he gives the man the coin who then hands the apple to Tokoyami.

Tokoyami holds the firm fruit with both hands. The apples here are different compared to the ones in the woods. “I’m a little overwhelmed,” he looks up at Shoji once again. “But thank you for the apple. I will pay you back somehow,”

Shoji guides him towards the palace entrance. “All I ask is your help in healing my friend,”

Two palace guards cross their spears as Shoji approaches, asking who the ‘dark figure’ is and why they are here. The exploring party explains about Tokoyami for them, and Shoji adds that Tokoyami is here to help Izuku, and to let the Sultan know. The guards allow the exploring party to go on ahead and to let the sultan know before they can give permission for Tokoyami to enter. Shoji takes Tokoyami’s hand and brings him over to stand beneath a shade tarp.

“You might as well eat your apple while we wait,” he says.

Tokoyami brings the fruit to his beak and takes a bite.

“How is it?”

“Juicy. The man was not lying. Thank you for getting this for me,”

“It’s the very least I can do for your agreement to help my friend. But, I should warn you ahead of time. The Sultan is...short tempered. His second language is yelling, and sometimes he just talks that way. He can be overwhelming and intimidating, but once you get to know and understand him, it’s easy to look past his...loudness.”

“The Sultan is a naga, right?”

Shoji nods. “He’d much rather use his legs, so you won’t see him change his bottom half very often. The Demi-Sultan, Izuku, is a Lepus.”

Tokoyami looks at Shoji with mild surprise. “That’s a rather odd pairing?”

“Izuku is more of the hare side than the rabbit side. I know they were childhood friends. You’ll like Izuku a lot, I think. He’s very different from Bakugo, the Sultan.”

“I don’t mean to change the subject, but where will I be staying?” He asks Shoji. He hopes they'll go inside soon because he is getting hot.

“You’re more than welcome to say with me,” Shoji offers, smiling at the look of horror on Tokoyami’s face. “As bunkmates, of course.”

“I’m used to living alone, and would like to remain that way while I’m here.”

“Oh. Then we’ll make arrangements for you. There are rooms just above the dungeon floor. They’re mainly servants’ quarters.”

Tokoyami’s eye twitches. “I’m not sure I’m very comfortable residing above the dungeons…”

“Then I suggest bunking with me,” Shoji says. “My room is large enough for two and we’ll be closer to the Sultan’s room. Some company might do you good.”

‘He’s got a point,’ Dark Shadow says.

“I will...consider this. Thank you.”

Shoji smiles under the veil. “I’m glad.”

The guards then summon them inside.

~*~

Shoji was not exaggerating when he mentioned the Sultan’s hot temper and loud voice. When he entered with Shoji, the Sultan was shouting at some servants about his empty cup of mead. Tokoyami can tell that Sultan Bakugo is a powerful naga male just from the black and orange scales alone. The more scales a naga has, the stronger they are. Sultan Bakugo’s front is free of scales; only the backside and legs show the scales. As he’s shouting, the red eyes switch from snake slits to regular pupils. He dressed plainly for a man of high power, but his body adorns gold jewelry and rubies. Tokoyami liked gems and jewelry, but in the cabal, only the High Priest and Priestess can wear anything of the like.

When their presence is known, the massive red dog lounging next to Sultan Bakugo gets up and barks, rushing towards Tokoyami. While he wasn’t afraid of animals, the dog looked more like a giant wolf and came so fast that he didn't have time to react. Tokoyami almost climbed up Shoji without knowing it.

“Kiri, down,” Shoji says calmly, shielding Tokoyami with his arms. The large dog circles once and sits, his tail wagging on the stone floor.

“Hey! You dumb mutt! Get back here!” Bakugo shouts, giving Kirishima a tap on the nose as the dog settles beside him once again. “So, this is the guy who has some sort of healing power?” He looks directly at Tokoyami.

“He is,” Shoji answers, placing Tokoyami back on his feet. “Everything is a bit overwhelming for him at the moment.”

“Then he’ll have to get over it,” Bakugo says. “Can he heal Deku?”

Shoji whispers to Tokoyami, “They use nicknames for each other, but he means Izuku.”

“I will try my best, Sultan,” Tokoyami says. “I cannot make any promises, but from what Shoji told me, your people have exhausted any and all solutions.”

“Basically,” Bakugo stands up and descends the dais. “Follow me,”

Tokoyami walks between Shoji and the large dog, Kirishima, as they follow Bakugo. To Tokoyami, the palace is oversized with more open space than necessary. It was like a maze and Tokoyami can see himself easily getting lost. He tries to keep track of which directions and turns they are taking. Everything starts to look the same. He’ll have to depend on Shoji for more than just protection.

The Sultan has his own living area within the palace where only a select few are allowed. Shoji is one of them, and now so is Tokoyami. Tokoyami notices all the shelves lined with books and rolled up parchments. Padded furniture and pillow beds, along with artifacts, paintings, sculptures, and tapestries decorate the living space. Bakugo throws open purple curtains to reveal the bedroom. In the center of the room stands a large bed with sheer curtains encircling it. Tokoyami sees the Demi-Sultan lying upon it, propped up slightly with pillows. Another very large dog hears them enter, and it slowly steps down from the bed. Unlike Kirishima, this dog is old, skinny, with lanky yellow fur and a large scar on its side. Its eyes appear dark and sunken in.

“Deku, wake up,” Bakugo says and goes over to the bed. “Toshi, lay down,” he commands of the large yellow dog.

“I’m awake,” Izuku mumbles. “Is anything wrong?”

“Shoji brought one of those flying people from the Dark Woods to hopefully heal you,” Bakugo tells him. “Our medicines aren’t working, so let’s see what the magic users can do,”

Izuku lifts himself into a seated position and smiles at the small dark cloaked figure standing close to Shoji. “Hello, I’m Izuku, the Demi-Sultan. Welcome to our home and empire,”

Tokoyami instantly likes the Demi-Sultan much more than Bakugo. Where Bakugo is yellow and red, Izuku’s features are green; even the hare ears, though they are drooping right now. He lowers his hood as he approaches the bed and bows his head to Izuku. “Thank you. I promise to do whatever I can to heal what ailment you have. I am Fumikage Tokoyami of the Lunarians, the healer of my cabal.”

Izuku attempts to speak, but Bakugo does it for him. “We just want a damn answer! I know he’s sick! He knows he’s sick, but the damn doctors can’t find anything linking the symptoms. He’s exhausted all the time. He has headaches and seizures, and now he’s been complaining of nausea.”

Izuku only smiles weakly and his green hare ears twitch. “If Shoji trusts you, and I see that Kirishima and Toshi aren’t reacting, I don’t have anything to fear from you. Tell me what you want me to do, if anything.”

“I will need to touch around your body, but that should be all I have to do. We use the power of the earth and its spirits to help us in ways that modern medicine can’t,”

Izuku nods and lays back down, allowing Tokoyami to rub, touch, or press against certain spots on his body.

“This seems stupid to me,” Bakugo says, but remains close to the bed.

Shoji comes over to stand on the other side of the bed. “We should let him concentrate.”

Tokoyami’s hand pauses when he reaches Izuku’s stomach, and his eyes slowly grow wide. “It’s not an illness- it’s magic.” Everyone is equally surprised. “That’s why he can’t get better.” Tokoyami uses two hands now. He can sense the dark magic inside Izuku’s belly; then, he recognizes it as the magic of his cabal. There’s no time for questions now. He has to remove the magic.

“What do you mean magic?” Bakugo almost shouts.

“Please, I will need to concentrate,” Tokoyami tells him. “I need to extract the magic from his stomach; that’s where the familiar is,”

“Familiar? What do you mean?” Shoji asks.

“Not now. I need to get it out. Please, no one panic…” he looks at Izuku. “You may feel a bit of pain, but I promise you will feel better once it’s out.”

Izuku, trembling, seeks out Bakugo’s hand and clasps it.

Tokoyami closes his eyes and starts to chant an extraction spell with Dark Shadow's help. Izuku’s stomach glows white, and the dogs bark at the foot of the bed.

Shoji watches Tokoyami work, intrigued by the sorcery before him, and relieved that they found an answer to Izuku’s illness. He lets out a gasp when Tokoyami pulls a black scorpion from Izuku’s stomach without any cutting. The scorpion squirms violently and slips from Tokoyami’s grasp, making it’s escape along the floor.

“Don’t let it get away!” Tokoyami shouts. The dogs chase after it, barking, but it’s Bakugo who catches up to it. He squishes it under his sandal, but the body disappears into a puff of red smoke.

Izuku sits up in the bed, all color coming back to his face while his hare ears stick straight up. “I feel fine now!”

“What the hell is going on?” Bakugo growls. “I want answers, birdbrain! Now!”

‘That’s the cabal’s magic,’ Dark Shadow says. ‘But... what are they doing here? Wouldn't we have sensed them?’

‘I don’t know...but I fear now you and I are in greater danger, and so are the three with us. If they are here somewhere...then they'll see that I left the cabal and report back before the sultans and I can come up with an agreement. I didn't expect this to happen so fast...!’

TBC

Chapter Text

In the shadow of the moon,
She danced in the starlight
Whispering a haunting tune
To the night...

-Shadow of the Moon- Blackmore's Night


 

Chapter 2: Gentle Hands

Shoji couldn’t get the image of the scorpion coming out of Izuku’s stomach. It was magic making Izuku sick, but Shoji didn’t know magic could work like that. He wondered if the scorpion actively lived in izuku’s stomach, or if it manifests into that form after release. Bakugo isn’t happy about what they saw, or how Tokoyami had used magic to extract the creature. He’s curious to hear Tokoyami’s explanation, so he stands behind the smaller man in an effort to make Tokoyami more comfortable while in Bakugo’s presence.

“It is the magic of the Lunarians,” Tokoyami tells them.

“That’s fucking obvious,” Bakugo says. “I mean how did they DO it? Are they here?”

Tokoyami looks up at Shoji, then over to Izuku. “I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that. Yet. But, this particular spell is a high-level one and not just any Lunarian can cast it. Such a spell needs heavy concentration, usually a couple of hours to a day.”

“How did I get put under that spell?” Izuku asks, scratching behind Toshi’s ears.

“There are three ways,” Tokoyami starts. “From afar, from ingesting, and from touch. For this type of spell...it couldn’t be cast from far away. At least, I don’t think it can,”

Shoji suddenly remembers something and turns to Izuku. “Wait, didn’t you eat that strange-looking sweet treat from a guest? You were starting to feel ill the next day!”

Izuku gasps. “Shoji, you’re right! It was a small loaf of what looked like bread,” he tells Tokoyami. “It tasted so good I couldn’t stop eating it!”

Bakugo interrupts. “Hold it. That can’t be it because the taster checked it, and they’re not sick?”

“The spell only works for who it’s intended for,” Tokoyami says. “So, if you had eaten it as well, you would not get sick. Whomever in the cabal made this spell, their target was the Demi-Sultan.”

“Why Deku and not me?” Bakugo asks. “I’m the sultan. Your ‘cabal’ has more reason to kill me than Izuku.”

Tokoyami says, “Because he is your bonded mate. My guess is they rather target the Demi-Sultan because it will weaken you, and then they can attack. This is all due to your people and the north invading our land and digging it up,”

Bakugo thinks for a moment, then looks at Shoji. “Have our messengers send a raven to the Lord of the North and ask if anyone close to them are sick like Deku was,”

“Why would they tell us?” Shoji asks.

“I just want to know if they are being attacked as well, or if it’s just us,” He turns his gaze to Tokoyami. “You are one of the Lunarians, and though you helped Deku, how do I know we can trust you?”

Shoji puts his hands on Tokoyami’s shoulders. “Because I trust him. I would never let evil under this roof,”

Izuku nods. “Yes, I believe Shoji, too. And Tokoyami, thank you so much for your help! I hope you will stay here with us? We can use a healer like you.”

“And to give us insight on the cabal,” Bakugo adds.

Tokoyami shakes his head at Bakugo. “I cannot betray my cabal; they are my brothers and sisters, in name only. Revelry in the dark.”

Bakugo hisses, showing his snake eyes. “Then why are you here?”

“To help my cabal,” Tokoyami says. “By being here, I am betraying them, in a sense. But, I want to find a way to coexist with the Golden Land and the North. That way, I will help my people. I can’t say that I approve of you invading our land.”

“We will-” Bakugo starts but Izuku cuts him off.

“Kacchan, leave it be,” he says. “Tokoyami has a noble and commendable reason to be here,” he smiles at Tokoyami. “I think it’s a good idea that we can learn from each other, Tokoyami. If we can understand your people and how they live, it will make bargaining and peace talks easier!”

Tokoyami blushes under his feathers at Izuku’s compassionate words. “T-Thank you.”

“We should just go in and force them to surrender,” Bakugo says. “Not everyone wants to ‘talk it out,’ Deku! Besides, they tried to kill you! I won’t let that go unpunished!”

Izuku only sighs. “Kacchan, you’re too over-the-top sometimes.”

“Even though the spell is gone, you should take the day to rest,” Tokoyami tells him.

“But I feel fine; better than ever, actually!” Izuku says.

“Stay in bed and quit whining,” Bakugo scolds, making Izuku laugh and cuddle both dogs on the bed.

While Bakugo yelled at Izuku for having the dogs on the bed, Shoji lowers his head to offer to show Tokoyami to his room, reminding him they are sharing. Shoji guides him through the halls, thanking Tokoyami again for helping Izuku. Tokoyami mentions to Shoji that the palace is so big that it’s confusing, and he’s bound to get lost. Shoji assures him that yes, he will get lost, but soon will learn his way around. Then, Shoji got another idea; he offered to give Tokoyami a tour of the palace, mainly areas he thinks the Lunarian will enjoy. Tokoyami agrees.

The first spot Shoji brings him to is the bathhouse. Tokoyami’s eyes widen at the large raised rectangle of stone filled with clear water and mosaic design on the bottom. Potted plants and small trees give the illusion of being outside, though the bath must be larger than his cabal’s nearest pond. He has to avert his eyes when he notices the people in the bath walking in and out naked without care. Tokoyami can only assume the women’s side is identical.

“This room is not for actual bathing,” Shoji tells him. “It’s a place to come and relax. The water is always the right temperature, and there are scented oils and herbs to help calm the senses.”

Tokoyami looks at a few floating herbal leaves on the water’s surface. He can smell the aroma of lavender and something else he’s unfamiliar with. “Is it always the same herbal mixture?” he asks.

“Not always,” Shoji says. “It’s lavender mainly. And spider lily.”

“Spider lily?” Tokoyami repeats. “I’ve never heard of it. Is it a flower?”

Shoji nods. “Yes. They grow here. Oftentimes, Izuku smells like them. He’s quite fond of the oil.”

“I would like to come here,” Tokoyami tells him. “But I will need something to wear.”

Shoji chuckles softly. “You’re adorable,”

Tokoyami thought his feathers were going to pop out from his skin one by one.

‘Ha! I knew it!’ Teases Dark Shadow. ‘What did I tell you? Curiosity has already gotten to him! You saved his friend and now are playing ‘hard to get’!’

‘I am doing no such thing!’ Tokoyami growls inwardly at Dark Shadow.

“I’ve seen enough,” Tokoyami says. “Take me somewhere else, please.”

“Alright.”

Shoji takes him to the gardens next, showing off the flowers and fruit trees. Tokoyami asks him why Bakugo has such things as a garden because it doesn’t seem in his ‘nature’. Shoji explains to him that the palace has always been like this, and these attractions are for company and visitors rather than the castle inhabitants, though all can use them. Then, he takes Tokoyami to the library.

“I can assume you’ll want to spend most of your time here?” Shoji teases.

“I like quiet places where I can expand my mind and be at peace for a bit,”

Shoji watches him as Tokoyami browses the books. “Oh, Bakugo will probably want to talk to you about your cabal tonight or tomorrow. We can have the meeting in the bathhouse if you’d like? Come to think of it, that’s probably better. Bakugo tends to be calmer when he’s soaking in the tub. We'll have to wait and see what he decides.”

“Will it be only us?” Tokoyami asks.

“You and I, with Bakugo and Izuku. No one else will be there,”

Tokoyami only nods. ‘I hope I’m not making a mistake,’

‘We’re not in the cabal right now,’ Dark Shadow reminds him. ‘We should do what these folk do! Get naked!’

‘I refuse! And if the sultan demands it of me, then I won’t give him any information.’

‘You don’t have to save yourself for that ‘special someone,’ you know. I think we already found him!’

‘Who do you mean?’

‘What? You know damn well of whom I speak!’

Tokoyami doesn’t know if it were him or Dark Shadow turning his head to face Shoji. The large warrior male was looking at some books with two pairs of arms crossed at the other pair on his hips. Tokoyami can understand why people find Shoji frightening upon first glance. He hasn’t seen what’s under the veil, but judging by the shape of Shoji’s jawline, Tokoyami can assume the mouth is elongated. Shoji also doesn’t appear to have any animal features or qualities, other than his arms, which could be related to the inhabitants of the ocean world. If he asks, Shoji will answer, but Tokoyami will feel as if he’s prying.

If not for magic, his cabal would fear him if he came back with a bodyguard such as Shoji. Shoji would be a giant amongst them, and Tokoyami would proudly sit perched upon the man’s shoulder. Dark Shadow teases him again, but Tokoyami reasons with himself, stating that he is only feeling this way towards Shoji because of the other’s kindness to him. Shoji is showing him attention while remaining considerate and understanding of his culture. He tried not to panic when Shoji told him they should go to the room. Shoji mentioned that they will have dinner in the room so he can rest until nightfall.

Shoji’s room is near the sultan’s quarters, and it is big enough for two, as Shoji previously mentioned. Unlike Bakugo, however, Shoji doesn’t have much in the room- only what he needs. A bed, a trunk, a desk, and a wardrobe. Lush carpets on the floor and open windows. Shoji closes the windows by lowering the wooden shutters. Tokoyami can’t help but look at the bed; big enough for two.

“I’ll sleep on the floor,” Shoji says, knowing what Tokoyami is worried about.

“But-”

“The servants will bring in something for me. I don’t want you to have to sleep on the floor,”

“Shoji, this is your room.”

“And you’re my guest. I don’t mind.”

“I can’t let you do that,”

“Then we can share the bed?”

“No!”

“I was joking,” Shoji tells him. “Oh, I almost forgot. I need to get you a white cloak to wear. And I want to ask, how do you contain your wings in that cloak?”

Tokoyami swallows hard, wiggling the little nubs. There’s no point in hiding it. “I don’t have any wings. When the Northmen happened upon me, they took my wings as a trophy, and I got to escape with my life.”

“That’s...terrible. I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

Tokoyami’s shoulder’s slump. “It’s alright You couldn’t have known. They are just nubs now.”

“Do they hurt?”

“Only when it rains,”

“Well, we don’t have much rain here. It’s not the rainy season.”

“I prefer the rain and clouds. Revelry in the dark.” Tokoyami says.

Shoji replies, “I’m sorry to hear about your wings,”

“There’s nothing to be done about it now,” Tokoyami says. “But thank you.”

“I don’t tolerate such violence as that,”

Tokoyami tilts his head. “But you wield so many weapons, and you’re a warrior. Don’t you kill others?”

Shoji sits on his bed to take off his shoes. “Enemy soldiers only. Sometimes executions, if Bakugo doesn’t carry it out himself. And yes, I do wield many weapons. I’m skilled with all of them. I figure, since I have six arms, I should learn to use all of them. When it comes time for battle, I look as fierce as I fight. But I’m really not an evil person,”

“Oh, I know you aren’t. You’re surprisingly gentle and soft-spoken, unlike the sultan,”

Shoji laughs. “That is quite a compliment!”

“Well, you appear to have conquered much of your life, given you were dealt a bad hand,”

“I owe that to Izuku,” Shoji reminds him. “He gave me the opportunity to be better and get stronger. And that’s what I want for you,” he stands up to walk over to Tokoyami, looking down as the other looks up. “You’re like me in some ways...and I would like to get to know you more,”

Tokoyami becomes tense when Shoji’s fingers stroke through his feathers. He should pull away but can’t bring himself to do it. Shoji’s gentle fingertips reach the base of his scalp, stroking and rubbing. It sends shivers down Tokoyami’s spine. Dark Shadow becomes excited as well, and Tokoyami finds that the spirit inside him forces his form forward and against Shoji’s chest. He doesn’t know what to do when Shoji’s arms wrap around him. One of the hands is resting against the nub of his lost wing.

“I’m sure they were beautiful,” Shoji whispers.

Tokoyami rests his cheek against Shoji’s bare chest. “They weren’t anything special. Just black...and soft.”

“Like these?” Shoji says while running his fingers through the top of Tokoyami’s feathers.

“...yes.”

‘Don’t leave his arms,’ Dark Shadow begs. ‘We need this, Yami. You know it!’

Dark Shadow’s words broke Tokoyami from his haze and he starts to push against Shoji to move away. Shoji let’s him go. Tokoyami pulls his hood over his head, turning away from Shoji. ‘Dark Shadow, don’t play on our insecurities-’

No, those are YOUR insecurities!’

‘My body belongs to the night...to the moon...to the cabal…’

...it’s our body,’ Dark Shadows says sadly.

“Tokoyami? Is everything alright?” Shoji asks, wondering why Tokoyami was talking to himself. The beak was moving, but he couldn’t hear what he was saying. Was he chanting a spell? “Tokoyami?” He tries again.

“Separate beds,” Tokoyami finally says. “Please, I’ll sleep on the floor.”

“Separate beds,” Shoji agrees. “But you will sleep in mine. Care to fight me over it? I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You get my bed...until I’m welcomed into it,”

Tokoyami whips his head around, his eyes wide and his beak drops open. “You...you think that...that I would…? I am not that kind of person, Shoji! I don’t give out free love. How dare you assume such a thing of me!”

Shoji removes his veil to reveal his long jaw with a grinning mouth. “I didn’t. I said ‘welcome’ as when you feel comfortable around me. It was you who has dirty thoughts.”

Tokoyami was at a lost for words. “But...but you...just now...you were...you did…”

“I’ll have dinner brought up for us,” Shoji says with a chuckle, putting his veil back on. “I’ll bring some better clothing items for you. I shouldn’t be long. Feel free to use whatever you want in the room.”

Tokoyami swears he can feel his black feathers turning white from how much of a fool he’s just made of himself.

‘You’ve got it bad,’ Dark Shadow teases.

~*~

The next morning, Tokoyami changes into the new all-white cloak Shoji brought for him. Last night, they ate dinner with a few words exchanged, but nothing about the scene that happened prior. Shoji kept his promise and slept on a bed of blankets and pillows on the floor. Tokoyami, despite having doubts about Shoji slipping into bed, had the best night sleep of his life. Even Dark Shadow slumbered peacefully. They would have stayed up late, but Tokoyami had been too exhausted from the day’s events.

When he awoke, there was a letter from Shoji, telling him to meet them in the bathhouse. Judging by the height of the sun in the sky, he had slept into early afternoon, which wasn’t uncommon for his kind. With the white cloak on, he has to admit it keeps him cool in the heat. He didn’t want to keep the sultans or Shoji waiting for long, fearing he has already done so and didn’t want to delay further. A servant helps him to the feasting hall, and before entering, Tokoyami peeks in. There’s a table with Shoji and the sultans seated, talking casually and eating.

‘Maybe I should go back,’ Tokoyami says to Dark Shadow.

‘They’re waiting for you!’

‘But the sultans will ask me about the cabal. I’m afraid I might say too much, and I don't know if I'm ready to talk about it.’

You heard the Demi-Sultan yesterday! He said he wants to learn about us, so, how can he learn if we don’t tell him anything?’

‘That is a valid point,’

‘We’re just not used to people wanting to actively talk to us,’

‘That too is true,’

“Tokoyami! There you are!” Izuku smiles and waves him over. “Don’t be shy. Come on in! We’re just having an afternoon treat.”

‘Damn. I’ve been spotted!’ Tokoyami finds he can’t look at Shoji without getting embarrassed, so he focuses on Izuku’s welcoming face. “Good day to you all,” on the table there are baked goods and fruit.

“Black suits you better,” Bakugo says, looking him up and down.

“I agree, sultan,” Tokoyami sits next to Izuku. “But the white will keep the heat from cooking me alive,”

“Oh, Shoji mentioned that,” Izuku says while offering Tokoyami a tart. “You can’t go out in the sun?”

Tokoyami accepts the tart. “It’s not that I can’t go out in the sun. I can, but it weakens me. And if I stay out too long without something to cover me, I can burn.” Something hits the table from underneath and there is a loud gagging sound. “What’s that?”

Bakugo looks under the table and shouts, “KIRI! GET OUT FROM THERE! He got a bone again,” Bakugo glares at Izuku. “Have you been giving him bones? You know he eats the damn things too fast!”

“I didn’t give him one,” Izuku replies. “He must have found it elsewhere.”

Tokoyami glances under the table when he feels something warm in his lap. It’s the large, long snout of the Demi-Sultan’s yellow dog, the old one with sunken eyes and a wound on his side. The other dog, Kirishima, hacked again.

“Hello pup,” Tokoyami says to the yellow dog.

“Toshi, don’t beg,” Izuku softly scolds the dog, who moves away from him.

Tokoyami’s eyes meet Shoji’s, and he turns his lips up into a little smile when Shoji winks at him. ‘This place is much more lively than the cabal,’ Again, something else is under the table, this one patting his knee. The red dog hacked up the bone and was now chasing his tail while Bakugo yelled something. Tokoyami assumes it's another dog. Instead, he sees a cat; with two different colored eyes. One brown, one teal. It has a scar on its left side. He’d never seen a cat with red and white fur. “Hello.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Izuku says with a sigh. “That’s Shoto,” He reaches under the table to lift and hold the cat. “I like animals,”

“If I didn’t sleep next to him, he’d have all three in bed with him,” Bakugo says with annoyance. “Get that flea-bag away from the table! I hate cats!”

Izuku made Shoto’s paw wave at Bakugo. Bakugo hisses, and the cat hisses back.

“Did you sleep well?” Shoji asks Tokoyami while Bakugo and Shoto hiss at each other.

“I did. Thank you.” Tokoyami opens his beak to eat the tart, then Bakugo says,

“So, how do we annihilate your cabal?”

The tart slips from his fingers.

TBC

 

Chapter Text

Somewhere just beyond the mist
Spirits were seen flying

-Shadow of the Moon (Blackmore's Night)


 

Chapter 3: Darkness Lurks

“Kacchan! That’s completely inappropriate!” Izuku scolds him then turns to Tokoyami. “Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t mean it,”

“Of course, I mean it!” Bakugo says. “They tried to kill you, and they attack our men, so they clearly have declared war.”

Izuku shakes his head. “No, they did not officially declare war on us. If they do, then that’s a different story,”

“We’re defending our home in the best way we can,” Tokoyami says seriously, staring hard at Bakugo.

Bakugo scoffs while tossing Kirishima a table scrap. “You mean in a cowardly way. Attacking from afar, hiding in the dark, refusing to meet your enemies head-on. Cowardly.”

“And yet, you have not conquered us,” Tokoyami adds.

Bakugo spits out his mead at Tokoyami’s insubordinate comeback. He hisses at Tokoyami and bears his long fangs, only to close his mouth when Deku rushes to his side.

“Kacchan! Please, calm down!”

Shoji gets up to stand behind Tokoyami after he saw Bakugo expose his fangs. Bakugo’s naga venom could kill Tokoyami in a few minutes. The smaller the prey, the faster they die. At least Izuku was able to calm the sultan. He did not expect the conversation to go in this direction, and he whispers ‘sorry’ to Tokoyami.

“Forgive my husband,” Izuku says sheepishly to Tokoyami. “His way of doing things isn’t always...the best way. And even if he says something, that doesn’t mean he’ll do it. I apologize again. We do not want to annihilate your people,”

“Why would he say something like that, then?” Tokoyami asks.

“I’m a male of action!” Bakugo replies. “Your people attacked Deku,”

Tokoyami counters, “So, that’s a reason to want to kill an entire race of beings?! The acts of a few do not speak for the community as a whole!”

“It does in my book,” Bakugo says.

Shoji, sensing the tension in the room growing and seeing that Izuku too is panicking, he decides to jump in with a question for Tokoyami.

“Tokoyami, do you have any idea who, in your cabal, would cast a spell on Izuku?”

“Yes! Great thought, Shoji!” Izuku says. Bakugo who rolls his eyes and returns to his meal.

Tokoyami takes a moment to gather his thoughts, trying to find the best way to explain his cabal to outsiders. While they all work together, there are different ranks.

“Our cabal consists of the High Priest and Priestess. They are either a mated pair, a brother and sister, or appointed. Currently, ours is a mated pair.”

“So, they’re the ones who tried to poison Deku?”

Tokoyami holds up his hand to stop Bakugo. “Please, I am not finished.” He ignores Bakugo’s snake slits and tongue hissing in his direction. “If one of them cast the spell on the Demi-Sultan, he would be dead by now. It’s a power from the Seconds, or the Seers. They are often the ones who carry out spell casting, such as the one plaguing the Demi-Sultan. They voluntarily blind themselves to open up their senses to the feel of the earth and moon.”

“Why don’t the High Priest and Priestess cast spells?” Izuku asks. “Are they really that powerful?”

“They are very strong, yes. However, contrary to popular suspicion, we Lunarians do not cast spells that cause harm to others because the spell can have dark consequences. If the spirits of the earth and moon deem the spell cruel, the caster will suffer three times more than the one they originally inflicted. But, if you cannot SEE the harm or danger you have caused to your target, the spell can’t bounce back.”

Izuku claps his hands together and the tips of his hare ears twitch. “Oh, I get it! That’s why the Seers blind themselves and cast the spells!”

Tokoyami nods. “That’s correct. It’s the Seers with whom you should be concerned about. But should the entire cabal come together to offer their spiritual energy to cast one spell, we as a whole will not be affected,” He looks to Bakugo. “This is why you should NOT attack my cabal, Sultan Bakugo. Your weapons and armies are no match for the combined power of a cabal.” Tokoyami would not let Bakugo know that such a spell takes seven days to complete. Three of fasting, three of praying, and the last is a sacrifice.

“Is that so?” Bakugo mocks.

“Yes. First, you couldn’t find our village. The area has a spell cast upon it to make outsiders wander in circles.”

Bakugo frowns.

Izuku’s hare ears twitch as he ponders what Tokoyami is telling them. “So, that’s why we haven’t found your base. It makes sense now.”

“But the north only wants the ore,” Shoji adds. “As do we,”

“Yes,” Izuku agrees.

“And bird-boy’s people are making that difficult for us,” Bakugo says. “If you cowards won’t fight head-on, then let us dig for ore. That’s what we really want. Leave us the fuck alone. We’re not hurting anything,”

Tokoyami shoots up from his chair, enraged with the sultan's lack of knowledge about the world outside his own. “It hurts the earth! The earth is a living spirit, the same as any of us! You’re digging into Her body and taking what you are not given!”

Bakugo, amused by Tokoyami’s reaction, smirks and replies, “So, make HER give us permission, then. What does She want? A nice request written on paper? Bury some nuts or berries? Plant a tree?”

“I am done here,” Tokoyami spins on his heel and storms from the room. Izuku calls after him, but he doesn’t turn back. He hears someone behind him as he exits down a hall. Glancing over his shoulder, he finds not only Shoji but the big yellow dog, Toshi, as well. “I will not break bread at the table with THAT man!”

“The sultan is a difficult man, but Izuku has the ability to calm him. I’m sorry for what he said, and how he said it. And where are you headed?”

Tokoyami pauses, realizing that he doesn’t have a destination because he doesn’t know where he’s going. He doesn’t know his way around the palace. “I cannot deal with the sultan right now,” Tokoyami turns and tells Shoji while letting Toshi’s snout bump his hand. “And cannot understand how a person like Izuku can fall for that man,”

“Well, it’s said that opposites attract,”

Tokoyami rubs Toshi’s head.

“Why don’t I just have Izuku come and speak with us?” Shoji offers. “That way, anything you say, Izuku can relay it to Bakugo.”

Tokoyami looks at the dog and nods. “Yes. I suppose that will be best.”

“I’ll take you to the bathhouse, then retrieve Izuku,”

Tokoyami tilts his head at Shoji. “Why the bathhouse?”

“It’s relaxing,” Shoji says. “And I think it will help to ease you,”

“...alright.”

~*~

The bathwater was a perfect temperature, not too hot and not too cold. Shoji had given him a dressing gown from the women’s side to wear in the water. He’s alone in the bathhouse waiting for Shoji to return with Izuku. This water feels different than the pond and brook. While it’s not as natural, it was no less enjoyable. The smell of the spider lily oil was pleasing; so much so that he dips his head under the water to wet his feathers.

‘Why would you want to ever go back to the village?’ Dark Shadow asks, appearing in the water as Tokoyami’s reflection.

'We don’t belong here,” Tokoyami reminds him. ‘We need darkness. This place is too bright. Our powers are at risk here.’

Bah! Healing powers are different than spell casting! You know this,’

‘I do. But still…’

Yami, you can’t say that this isn’t a comfortable life,’

Tokoyami sinks a little further into the water, his eyes closed. ‘It’s better to be humble than extravagant.’

‘Yeah, but what has ‘being humble’ in the cabal ever done for us? For you?’

‘I’m a Lunarian,’

So? You can be that here, and enjoy all this great stuff!’

‘Do not make things harder for me while I’m here,’ Tokoyami says. ‘We’re on a mission to end the conflict and possible future bloodshed. We can’t lose focus because of good food and nice baths,’

Tokoyami hears the doors open and turns to see Shoji and Izuku coming in, with the cat Shoto and the dog Toshi. They were talking to each other as they stripped off their clothing. Tokoyami quickly turns away and keeps his eyes trained on his hands under the water. Izuku greets him as the hare steps into the bathwater. Shoji follows, and Tokoyami has the urge to peek up at the large man but doesn’t.

“Tokoyami, why are you in clothes?” Izuku asks.

“We’re never naked unless it’s with our chosen one.” Tokoyami answers. "Alone."

“Why is that?” Izuku follows up.

“Honestly, it’s just the way it’s always been in my cabal. The clothing we wear represents the earth, moon, and cabal as a whole. We all dress the same, except for the leaders and the Seconds. Nakedness is bearing your weakness,”

Izuku scratches behind Shoto’s ears and pats Toshi’s head at the same time. Both pets are on the edge of the tub. “Huh. Don’t take this the wrong way, Tokoyami, but for people of the earth, I would think you’d want to be as natural as possible. We’re born naked, and that’s a very natural thing. We dress in fewer clothes here because it’s so hot. But, in my honest opinion, that rule sounds as if its used more for the control aspect.”

Tokoyami frowns, sinking further into the water.

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it if it’s something you want to do,” Izuku adds quickly. “But here, in the Golden Land, we’re all about personal choice. You don’t have to abide by your cabal’s rules if you stay here,” he says with a friendly smile. “But do whatever makes you happy.”

‘He’s so sweet...I want to eat him!’ Dark Shadow says.

‘Silence!’ “Thank you for your consideration. We should discuss options for dealing with the matter at hand,” Tokoyami looks at Shoji, who starts to speak, but he’s not really listening. He keeps staring at Shoji’s body while trying to ignore Dark Shadow's snickering.

“Izuku, I think we should try to make peace with the Lunarians and come to an understanding where we can share the land, and in return, help them defend against the Northmen. We’ll gain an ally, and hopefully, prevent a war,”

“That’s a great idea, Shoji! I was thinking the same thing! Now, we just have to convince Kacchan to go along with our plan.” he turns to Tokoyami. “Is that alright with you?”

“I’m sorry...I wasn’t listening,”

Shoji asks, “Are you feeling well?”

He has to think of an excuse. “Yes. Just a bit overwhelmed…”

Izuku furrows his brows. “I’m sure Kacchan saying that and acting the way he did at the table did not help you feel welcomed. Shoji told me that you don’t want to be in the same room as Kacchan, and I understand that. I’ll handle my husband, the sultan, from here on out, okay? And I’m glad Shoji has a friend like you! He's been lonely, though he won't admit it.”

‘Ha! Friend!’ Dark Shadow mocks. ‘Let’s take Izuku up on that offer to not follow the cabal rules!’

‘We shall do no such thing!’

“Might I request something?” Shoji asks of Tokoyami. “Is there any chance you have the power to put a protection spell on Izuku and Bakugo?”

“A protection spell?” Tokoyami repeats. “Yes, I can do that. Although, I am still learning the arcane ways, so I will probably have to re-create the spell every day to make it work. And it must be done at night when the moon is in the sky.”

“That would be wonderful, Tokoyami!” Izuku says. “Please, I want you to help yourself to anything you want! For all you’re doing for me and my people, I want to reward you with something! Is there anything you want? Anything your cabal will not let you have that you would like to own?”

Tokoyami remembers the jewels shimmering on Bakugo and Izuku. He does like shiny things. He would have shaken his head ‘no,’ but somehow, Dark Shadow talked him into it, “I feel...selfish asking for anything,”

“Ah! Don’t feel that way!” Izuku laughs. “I’m offering, Tokoyami! Come on, let me give you a gift! What would you like?”

Shoji smiles under his veil. “The look on your face says you have something in mind already,”

Tokoyami frowns at Shoji. “How do you know what my face reads?”

Shoji shrugs his shoulders. “Just an observation.”

Tokoyami clears his throat, then says, “I do like...shiny things,” he says softly. “I’ve always wanted jewelry to wear. We only have beads...and I’m not permitted to wear them,”

Izuku claps his hands and leaps out of the water, “I have just the thing!” he gets both Shoto and Toshi wet as he wraps himself in a bath blanket. “I’ll have it sent to you and Shoji’s room! And next time I see you, I want you wearing them! That's an order!” He says with a grin.

Before Tokoyami can say anything, Izuku’s hare-like speed has him nearly hopping out of the bathhouse with Shoto running after him. Toshi remains, keeping his snout on the edge of the tub and closing his eyes. Now, he’s alone with Shoji, who’s completely naked, just a few feet away. Shoji’s arms could easily reach out and pull him over. Tokoyami stares at Shoji as the other stares back, two pairs of arms crossed, and the other beneath the water.

‘Say something!’ Dark Shadow pressures him. ‘He’s waiting for you to say something!’

‘I have nothing to say!’

“You never got to eat,” Shoji says, breaking the silence. “Should I have something brought in for you?”

“Here?”

“Yes. You’ll find that food and drink tastes better when you’re relaxing. It doesn’t hurt to indulge a bit,”

Tokoyami looks away and says, “But...to indulge like this...to have all this wealth and power...it’s what drives people like the sultan and the Northmen to want more and more. It makes one greedy...gives them a sense of entitlement. My people haven’t done anything other than mind our own business, and since we live humbly, content with what we have to live, we learned that is all that matters,” he returns his gaze to Shoji. “I may not be treated well by my cabal as an individual, but in the village, I always had what I needed. A home, a bed, food and water, and whatever the earth offers.”

“You know, I’ve never looked at it that way before,” Shoji says. “However, our childhoods and backgrounds are different, which has given me a different outlook. I grew up always looking as I am now. I had nothing. I struggled to survive on the city streets. All I could find was the freak show, and though I made them money, none of it came my way. I’ve always struggled. But when Izuku found me, things changed. I was given a second chance, and now I have a better life. Your people look out for one another...it’s not the same here in the Golden Land. But, we’re also three times your size in number and territory. We can't save everyone."

“I’m sorry you had to struggle…” Hearing Shoji’s full story of his life, Tokoyami feels it’s only fair to share his as well. “While I did not have to struggle alone... I was always an outcast among my people. No matter what I did; nothing was ever enough to gain respect in their eyes,”

Shoji moves in the water to sit beside Tokoyami. Toshi trots around the bath to the other side to join them.

“Is it all right if I ask why?”

“...I don’t know how it happened. I don’t remember it, nor will anyone tell me. When I was a child...very, very young, I had a twin brother,” Tokoyami sees Dark Shadow in the water’s reflection, but Shoji doesn’t. “Something happened, and he lost his life; somehow at my own hands. To kill one of your own is punishable by death, but I was only a child, so I was forgiven. I don’t know how, or why, my twin died. Still, everyone blames me for his death. And then, I lost my wings. Wings are what define the Lunarians because you can fly in the night sky to be with the moon. When the Northmen found me, I should have killed myself rather than let them take my wings, but I chose life instead. Again, I was spared, but only for my healing powers.” He gasps when Shoji’s hand touches the nubs through the clothing. Against the large palm, they feel so small. The nubs even twitch at Shoji’s touch.

“The Northmen are barbaric,” Shoji says. “From what you just told me...the cabal doesn’t deserve you.”

Tokoyami feels Dark Shadow push him closer to Shoji. “They’re my people,”

“You can live here and still keep your beliefs,” Shoji says. “Our sultan doesn’t care about little matters like that,”

Tokoyami looks up at Shoji. “It’s not a little matter to me,”

“I understand that,” Shoji moves his hand away from the nubs. “It’s something to think about,”

“My cabal will never allow it,” Tokoyami says. “I belong to them,”

“No. You are your own person,”

“It’s not as simple as that. If you knew the world of the Lunarians, you would understand,”

‘I want us to stay here,’ Dark Shadow says. ‘Tell him you’ll stay here,’

“I will remain here until we come to an agreement between the Golden Land and the Lunarians. After that...I will return to my village.”

‘We’ll just see about that!’

‘And you stay out of this!’

“Oh. Well, I suppose you know what’s best,” Shoji says, a hint of disappointment in his voice.

“I’m ready to get out,” Tokoyami says, looking at his wrinkled fingertips and wanting to escape the sudden awkward situation.

Heading back to the room, Tokoyami notices that Toshi is following behind them. He asks Shoji if the dog was really his, but Shoji explains that Toshi is just ‘keeping an eye’ on him because he’s new, and hanging around with Izuku. Tokoyami accepts and understands, but surprised by how human-like the old dog is. When they arrive at the room, Shoji sends Toshi away. On the bed, Tokoyami sees a small black wooden box that wasn’t there before. Shoji tells him to open it, as it’s probably Izuku’s gift for him.

Tokoyami approaches the bed, reaching out for the box.

‘Stop!’ Dark Shadow shouts. ‘That’s not from the Demi-Sultan!’

Tokoyami pulls away, taking a step back. “It’s not a gift!”

Shoji comes to stand beside him. “What do you mean?”

“Shoji, it’s dark magic! From the cabal! I need to get rid of it!” He starts to tremble, looking at the box. “They know I’m here…”

Shoji furrows his brows and grabs the box. “We’ll throw it in the fire!”

“SHOJI! DON’T TOUCH-!

The moment Shoji’s hand makes contact with the wood, the box bursts open in a mist of dark purple and silver. From the mist springs two ominous shadows, projecting themselves on the wall. At first, Tokoyami thinks only he can see them, but Shoji does as well. The large man jumps in front to shield him. There’s no way Shoji’s strength, size, or weapons will be a match for the power of the shadows. There’s only one way to fight them; use Dark Shadow to hold them off while he chants a banishment spell.

“GO! DARK SHADOW!”

TBC

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: The Oasis

Shoji has seen horrible sights in the past, yet none of them equal to the shadow creatures on the wall. His first reaction is to protect Tokoyami, though he has never faced a shadow before. The shadows are not identical. One has the traits of a wild boar, while the other resembles a wolf. They crawl and float along the surface of the palace walls with great speed. Shoji is able to follow their movements, his mind racing with any possible solution to fight them. Then, a third shadow joins the two. This shadow looks like Tokoyami, only its dark purple rather than pitch black.

“Shoji, stand down,” Tokoyami says. “I will summon a banishment spell...Dark Shadow will hold them off!”

“I can’t just stand here,” he replies, watching Dark Shadow battle with the silently along the walls.

“Keep anyone else from coming in!”

Tokoyami closes his eyes to begin chanting the mantra to banish the shadows. He must clear his mind and block out all sounds. Pulling the energy from his body and borrowing some from the earth, Tokoyami conjures the spell. Opening his eyes, he turns his hands towards the wall with the shadow battle. The power from the spell creeps into Dark Shadow, making the other growl larger than the others. With Dark Shadow’s silent cry of battle and the assured promise of victory, he swirls around the other two and consumes them. The dark energy in the room finally fades, and Dark Shadow lingers on the wall.

“Return to me, Dark Shadow,” Tokoyami commands, panting softly in exhaustion.

“What is that?” Shoji asks while staring at ‘Dark Shadow’ on the wall. He is still stunned by what he had just witnessed.

There’s no reason to hide it now. Tokoyami turns to Shoji and says, “This is Dark Shadow. He is or rather was, my identical twin. Dark Shadow, return to me! Now!” Tokoyami commands harshly, and Dark Shadow gives Shoji a wave before obeying.

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” Shoji asks, returning to Tokoyami’s side.

“I didn’t think it was necessary,” he replies. “There is much stigma against my kind…”

Shoji places one set of hands on Tokoyami’s shoulder. “Are you hurt in any way?”

“A little exhausted from using magic,” Tokoyami replies. “But otherwise fine,” his eyes widen when Shoji suddenly scoops him up in one arm to bring him to the bed.

“Then you should rest,” Shoji says. “And I need you to explain what just happened. Not just to me, but Bakugo and Izuku as well. They need to be aware of this,”

“Can you relay it to them instead?” Tokoyami asks. “When I use powers other than healing, I become weak and must wait for the moon to bring back my full strength.”

Shoji nods and sits on the bed with Tokoyami. “Was there anything I could have done to help?”

“No. Your strength and weapons are no match for the spirits and shadows. Dark Shadow is different; he is a soul, not a spirit. He lives inside of me, as a second life. He’s always been my closest, only friend.”

“I see. Do others in your cabal have something similar?”

“They don’t. Dark Shadow makes me unique among the cabal, but he’s also a reason why I’m an outcast. Others in my cabal can summon shadows like the ones you saw to do their dark bidding without ever having to leave the village. Those shadows were not particularly strong, which means that the Seers are not the ones who sent them. The box, you see, is now gone,”

Shoji looks around for the box and confirms Tokoyami’s words. “How did it get here,”

Tokoyami looks towards the window. “Someone from the cabal is here at the palace,”

“But we have no one like you here,” Shoji says. “Could they be in disguise?”

‘They’ve taken the form of something,’ Dark Shadow says. ‘They aren’t a person,’

“Dark Shadow tells me they’ve taken a form, most likely an animal, something that would not attract attention or cause suspicion. You said that the Demi-Sultan ate something that was a ‘gift.’ Has he received anything else since then? Any other ‘gifts’?”

Shoji takes a moment to think. “Not that I’m aware of, or anything that may be deemed ‘suspicious.’ People give gifts and offerings to the sultans every day. It could be anything. Do you have a way to track them?”

“Hm,” Tokoyami crosses his arms, closing his eyes to ponder a solution to the question. ‘Dark Shadow? What do you think?’

We haven’t sensed it at all, and we’ve been through the palace. It’s likely an animal or a familiar. I can’t sense familiars. It could even be something like a mouse or a bug! I think we need an animal to find another animal. What about those dogs?’

‘Brilliant!’ Tokoyami opens his eyes and asks, “Which of the dogs are better at tracking?”

“The dogs? Well, Kirishima accompanies Bakugo into battle and goes on hunts with him, so he’d be the best choice. Though Toshi used to be like Kirishima when he was a younger dog, and without a debilitating wound. This is a serious issue, so we should have both dogs to track.”

“Please tell the Sultan and Demi-Sultan about this first. Bring the dogs to me; I have magical items they can sniff to pick up the scent.”

“But, if we catch this one, what’s to say they won’t send more of the same?”

“That’s why we need to discuss peace plans,” Tokoyami reminds him. “Your kingdom cannot fight magic. After we handle this current issue, we can discuss ideas. The Sultan needs to understand that he can’t use force.”

Shoji sighs. “Bakugo won’t be that easy to convince,”

“Then I will appeal to his savage, prideful nature,” Tokoyami says. “If he leaves my people alone and we come to an agreement, then he can invade the northlands and take over. He will then rule over two mighty kingdoms. Tell him that. I’m sure that will work. I wish I thought of that sooner, but that man is infuriating!”

“Fair enough. Are you sure you’ll be alright here alone? You said you’re weak. What if they come back?”

Tokoyami lays back on the bed and says, “I’ll be fine on my own. You couldn’t help me if they do attack. I have Dark Shadow to defend me if needed.”

There’s a knock on the door, and Shoji gets up to answer it rather than allowing whomever it is to walk in. After the strange happenings of earlier, he can’t be too careful, even if Tokoyami claims not to need his protection. Shoji gives an inward sigh of relief when he sees Izuku. The Demi-Sultan’s ear twitch when he smiles and says, “I brought Tokoyami his gift!”

“You are just the person I was leaving to see,” Shoji says.

Izuku looks at Tokoyami on the bed and waves. “Hey there! Sorry, I took so long! I got caught up in something,” his ears twitch again when he steps into the room. “Something feels…eerie,” Shoji tells Izuku what happened, about Dark Shadow, and why they will need one of the dogs. Izuku offers to help in any way he can and promises to talk to Bakugo for them. “Thank you for protecting the palace; you and Dark Shadow,” Izuku says to Tokoyami. “I promise we’ll figure something out. Guess this is a bad time to give you your present?”

Tokoyami takes the box offered to him. There is no dark force coming from it.

“Go ahead and open it!”

Tokoyami looks at Shoji, then at Izuku, still hesitating. He’s never received a true gift from anyone. Dark Shadow insists he stop lingering and open the box. Tokoyami lifts the lid and lets out a soft gasp. Nestled upon a pillow of red is a necklace of amethysts on a silver chain. The pendant in the middle is the largest. Tokoyami touches the large gem, marveling at the smoothness.

“Do you like it?” Izuku asks.

“I…I do, but…but I can’t accept this,”

“I refuse to take it back!” Izuku playfully scolds him. “Shoji put the necklace on for him!”

Tokoyami attempts to protest once again, but the two overpower him. The necklace lays on the white of his clothing, its purple color bright and shimmering. Tokoyami thanks Izuku again, telling the Demi-Sultan that he will treasure the gift.

Shoji watches Tokoyami interact with Izuku, noting how happy the man is after receiving the gift of a jewel. Shoji has a few himself; rings, and wristlets, mostly that he wears for feasts and special occasions. His particular gemstone of choice is opal. Amethyst is a perfect gem for Tokoyami to wear. Shoji can’t help but imagine what Tokoyami would look like wearing only that necklace. He doesn’t hear Izuku or Tokoyami calling his name until one taps him on the shoulder.

“Welcome back,” Izuku says with a laugh. “It’s not often you’re the one who zones out.”

“I apologize,” Shoji says. “So, should we move along with the dogs?”

~*~

“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Bakugo says, following behind the others and Kirishima. “And I can’t believe we’re doing it!”

“Kacchan! Tokoyami says the person is somewhere in the castle disguised as something else! What other way can we find something that might be the size of a mouse?”

Bakugo’s snake tongue flicks through his lips in annoyance. “Shut up, Deku. And why the hell is that rotten cat here? He can’t smell anything!”

Tokoyami sits cradled in Shoji’s arm as he glances back at the bickering couple, mildly amused by their antics, and floored by Izuku’s extreme tolerance of the Sultan. He turns back to Kirishima, watching the dog’s red tail swish back and forth while his nose trails the ground. The cat, Shoto, prances alongside Kirishima, and Toshi walks beside Izuku. Kirishima leads them through all of the palace until they reach the steps to one of the highest towers. He sniffs under the door and whines, pawing at the wood.

“That’s the west tower,” Bakugo says. “No one’s been up there in years! That’s where I stored all the previous sultan’s shit.”

Shoji puts Tokoyami down to draw his scimitar. They don’t have a key, so Bakugo kicks it open. Both Kirishima and Shoto race up the stairs.

“We’ll go first,” Shoji says to Izuku and Tokoyami. Bakugo goes up first without waiting for the others. Izuku brings up the rear.

Both Tokoyami and Dark Shadow can sense the presence of the cabal. Kirishima sniffs around through all the junk covered with sheets and cloth. Bakugo curses about how much stuff is in the room while Izuku reminds him that he is the one who put everything here.

“Do you sense anything?” Izuku then asks Tokoyami.

“There is…a presence here that’s related to the cabal. However, it is not powerful or particularly dangerous. This leads me to believe that it is a familiar, a spy, you could say. This familiar is reporting back to the cabal, and they’re attacking from afar. It must be an animal of some-“

Kirishima’s sudden growling snarl startles all of them. The large dog’s hackles are raised, his ears back and tail straight. He’s spotted something under one of the sheets. Toshi and Shoto see it as well. Bakugo goes over to pull the cloth away, and Shoji readies his scimitar.

“Kacchan! Be careful!” Izuku whispers to his husband.

‘Dark Shadow…be ready,’

‘Got it!’

Bakugo pulls the sheet off, revealing a table with stacked chairs. A giant rat races out from under the table and through Bakugo’s legs. Tokoyami shouts, ‘that’s it,’ and both dogs race after it. There is a mass of chaos as the dogs knock into everything, trying to catch the rat. The rodent outruns the dogs and squeezes under a chest of drawers. Toshi and Kirishima both paw and sniff under the drawers, only able to fit their snouts underneath.

“I’ll finish it off,” Shoji says, calling off the dogs and shoves the massive piece of furniture away. He raises his blade, ready to strike, but there’s nothing there. “Where’d it go?”

Both Kirishima and Toshi’s ears lift in confusion.

“Is there a hole?” Tokoyami asks.

“Damn it all!” Bakugo hisses. “You stupid dog!” he hollers at Kirishima, who whimpers and lays down in submission.

“Wait! Look!” Izuku points to Shoto, who proudly trots towards them with the large dead rat in his mouth. The cat drops it before Tokoyami’s feet, then licks his paw.

“Hm. Never send a dog to a cat’s job,” Tokoyami says as he picks up the dead rat to study it. Izuku showers Shoto with praise but also does the same to Kirishima and Toshi.

Shoji comes over to look at the rat with him. “It appears to be an ordinary rat,” he notes.

“Familiars usually are,” Tokoyami says. “Shoji, can you carefully cut the belly open? I need to look at the stomach,”

Shoji takes the rat, placing it on the nearest surface and guiding the tip of his blade to make an incision. Tokoyami finds the stomach and feels something hard inside. He doesn’t have to take it out to know what it is.

“Is this for dinner?” Bakugo mocks.

“No. This is the familiar sent here to spy on us, mainly you, Sultan. Now that we’ve killed it, the person will know, and most likely send another.”

“Then, what do we do?” Izuku asks.

“First, I need to place that protection spell upon both of you. And I would like for you to keep the animals close to your sides at all times since they now have the scent of the cabal and can spot more familiars like this one. Then, we need to discuss terms of peace...and hope to become allies.”

Bakugo scoffs. “When are you losers going to learn that talking doesn’t fucking work?”

Tokoyami narrows his eyes at Bakugo, then remembers how he plans to play into the Sultan’s pride and thirst for power. He clears his throat. “You’re looking at this the wrong way, Sultan. Your men cannot fight against magic. However, having my people on your side will give you that power to rage war on the north. You only want the ore in our land to make the weapons that the Northmen have, correct? Well, if you don’t have to worry about the weapons, then you don’t have to tear up my land. We can face the north together, defeat them, and in return, you leave us alone and gain two kingdoms. Doesn’t that sound better than trying to destroy us?”

Bakugo strokes his chin. “Two kingdoms? Hm.”

“Kacchan, let’s go discuss this; just you and me,” Izuku offers. “Tokoyami can handle the rest with Shoji. We need to get this situation with the cabal figured out. If not, we’ll have more scenes like this one.”

“Fine. We’ll go talk. Come on, mutts and furball.”

Tokoyami and Shoji watch the others leave. They notice the rat is gone, and for a second, they panic. Then, they heard Bakugo shouting for Kirishima to drop the ‘damn dirty rat.’ They both share a chuckle, then fall silent, suddenly feeling awkward in the other’s presence.

Shoji speaks first. “It’s almost sunset,”

“Yes.”

“The moon will be out soon. You said the moon would help get your strength back, right?”

“It will. All I need to do is sit outside. The moon not only strengthens me but purifies me as well.”

Shoji looks at the necklace around Tokoyami’s neck. “May I take you to the city’s oasis this evening?”

Tokoyami tilts his head slightly. “Why?”

“It’s a nice spot to see the moon,” Shoji says. “The city is always lit with street torches and candles in windows. The oasis is free of city light.”

“Oh. That sounds better than the gardens. But it’s the only large oasis around, so I should be able to find it on my own.”

“No. I will take you. It’s better if you’re not alone right now. I’ve seen too much today to feel comfortable leaving you by yourself.”

Tokoyami can’t say no, and Dark Shadow won’t let him. He nods and accepts Shoji’s invitation.

Shoji’s thrilled that Tokoyami agreed to go together. The one thing he did not mention to Tokoyami about the large oasis is it’s ‘magic powers for lovers.’ It’s rhetorical, of course, but the oasis carries the legend of any couple that goes or meets there at the right time will fall in love. Ever since meeting the Lunarian, Shoji has had a curious attraction to him. And his feelings for the man have grown over such a short period of time. It could be that their childhoods and personalities are similar. Or, it’s a combination of those things along with Tokoyami’s shy and humble nature of majestic purity. Picturing the man naked with only the amethyst, knowing that for Tokoyami’s people, it’s a taboo, made him feel dirty. But not ‘dirty’ in a cruel way. He would never force Tokoyami to do anything against his morals and values. Shoji wants Tokoyami to come to him first. He can’t dismiss or ignore his sudden growing wanton desire for the unique Lunarian standing before him.

“Shoji? You don’t find it...odd that I need the moonlight to get stronger?”

“No, not at all. I find it...well, unique, I should say. Everything about you is unique,”

Tokoyami quickly turns from Shoji, trying to hide his face. “Um...I should go change into my...my darker clothes.”

“Sure. We leave at sunset.”

~*~

Tokoyami has never seen or ridden a camel before. The size of the animal is more significant than the llamas he saw in the mountains as a little boy, back when he could fly. The camel looked a bit odd, almost humorous. When Shoji told him that they ride these camels into battle, Tokoyami recanted the comment and became reluctant to ride one. However, Shoji stayed with him on the camel, leading it through the city streets and outside the walls to the oasis.

The sky became a dark hue of purple, orange, and blue. The sun had just set entirely over the sand dunes as they approached the oasis. Shoji lifted Tokoyami from the camel and tied the reins to a palm tree. Tokoyami lowers his black hood and looks over the water. The night air is cool with a gentle breeze flowing through his feathers. He rolls the pendant between his fingers as Shoji approaches from behind. Tokoyami sneaks a glance to see that Shoji has a rolled-up carpet over one shoulder and a small basket in his hand.

“I thought we’d have some wine and fruit while we watch the moon rise,”

Tokoyami’s heart flutters in his chest. “Oh. That’s thoughtful of you. Thank you.”

Shoji rolls out the paisley tasseled carpet and takes out the contents of the basket. A bottle of wine, some grapes, and sliced apples. Tokoyami sits on the rug while Shoji uncorks the bottle to pour two cups of wine. Tokoyami takes an apple slice before the cup. He was pretty hungry. No one has treated him with such kindness or consideration. It was strange to see such a soft side of a large man who was practically born to wield weapons and scare the enemy. But Shoji is nothing like his exterior. Tokoyami sips the wine, trying to find words to say.

“Aren’t you cold?” He refers to Shoji’s open chest after he watches the man remove the shawl.

“I’m hardly ever cold,” Shoji replies.

Tokoyami munches on a grape and notices that Shoji is wearing jewelry as well. All six wrists and biceps have a band with white gems encrusted inside gold. Some were long, others were small, but all are shaped like ovals. They remind Tokoyami of the moon.

“They’re opals,” Shoji tells him. “Izuku gave these to me as gifts, just like yours.”

Tokoyami reaches a finger out to trace the length of one of the opals. “Why opals? I’ve noticed that the Sultan wears rubies, and Izuku wears emeralds. I have never seen opals or amethysts before.”

“Well, I think Izuku gives these to us because they resemble a part of us. Like the opal is the color of my hair. You are associated with the night, so he gave you purple.”

“Oh. I understand. The opals look like the moon,”

Shoji points to the sky with one of his fingers. “Just like that?”

Tokoyami looks up to see the moon, large and yellow, as it begins to rise into the night sky. “Almost.”

Shoji chuckles. “At this stage, the moon reminds me of a wheel of cheese.”

It’s Tokoyami’s turn to laugh. “Yes, I can see that! I’m feeling better already, Shoji. Thank you for this night. After everything that’s happened today, I feel like I can finally relax.”

“You’re doing so much to help us. It’s the least I can do. And I wanted to tell you earlier, that necklace looks stunning on you.”

Tokoyami’s cheeks heat under his feathers. “That’s because I wear all black and no color.” He takes a nervous gulp of wine.

“If that is what you want to think,”

Tokoyami gulps the rest of the cup and allows Shoji to pour him more. “You make me sound as if I’m jesting myself.”

“Well, my culture is a little different from yours,” Shoji says. “And I don’t think you do yourself justice by hiding yourself from the world.”

“What do you mean?”

‘He wants to see you half-naked, you dope!’ Dark Shadow mocks.

‘Shut up!’ “Speak plainly, Shoji.”

Shoji sips his wine. “You really want me to? I don’t want to offend or upset you,”

“Speak plainly,” Tokoyami commands again.

“I want to see you lying naked on a bed of purple silk with only that amethyst necklace after I’ve torn away all that dark, shielding clothing.”

TBC

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: To the Woods

‘What did he just say to us?’ Tokoyami asks Dark Shadow.

‘You heard him! And you liked it!’

‘I do not!’

“Did I offend you?” Shoji asks when Tokoyami doesn’t respond. “I’m sorry if I did, but you asked me to speak plainly.”

Tokoyami pulls his hood back up to shield his face. “We’ve only just met a few days ago…”

“That doesn’t change how I feel,”

“Your people are a lustful bunch,” Tokoyami nervously drinks more of the wine, trying not to show Shoji how uncomfortable and fidgety he was at the image of himself as Shoji described. “We are not,”

Shoji nods. “That’s right, I forgot you are of a humble people,” he stands up and removes his veil. “Do you swim?”

“No, I don’t. I never learned how. We don’t have a need for swimming.”

“I’ll teach you,” Shoji holds out a hand to him. “I think you’ll like it, and I’ll hold you the entire time.”

Tokoyami glances up at Shoji’s face and elongated, smiling mouth. Dark Shadow urges him to do it, but Tokoyami replies with, “I have nothing to swim in. And the water is bound to be cold!”

Shoji grins. “I brought a blanket. We’ll get warm beneath it.”

“What are you trying to accomplish with me, Shoji?”

“I want you to experience new things with a person you can trust,” he answers. “You’ve always done what you’re told, and you’re expected to follow through with the Lunarian rules and morals. I believe you should experience something first-hand before making a decision or taking something a face value. Your cabal has not been kind to you, but we have. Just a quick swim. Take off your clothes; I promise I won’t look.”

Tokoyami swallows hard, taking a moment to think about it. Aside from Dark Shadow constantly urging, a part of him wants to take Shoji up on the offer. He can admit that he likes Shoji as much as the other likes him, but he’s afraid of showing any vulnerability.

‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Dark Shadow reasons with him.

‘We catch a chill from the cold water,’ Tokoyami says.

‘Just stop thinking and go already!’

Tokoyami’s eye twitches and he says to Shoji, “Turn around and go the water. I’ll tell you when you can look.”

Shoji, feeling triumphant, does as requested. Stripping the rest of the way, he goes into the water waist-deep, his back to Tokoyami.

‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’ Tokoyami says to Dark Shadow as he undresses. ‘This goes against everything I believe in…’

‘You’re not really breaking any rules, you know. You like Shoji a lot, and he likes you, and being naked with your lover is not a sin.’

‘He’s not my lover,’

‘He can be.’

‘We don’t belong here, Dark Shadow! And why do you keep taking Shoji’s side?’

‘Because he’s right, and you’re as dense as the Sultan is!’

‘Vile words, Dark Shadow. But if I don’t do this, you’ll continue to badger me about it,’

Ensuring that Shoji is not looking, Tokoyami fully strips and slowly descends into the water. He shivers at the chill but continues, walking up to Shoji. He tells Shoji it’s okay to look, and Tokoyami keeps his head down when Shoji does so. He regrets being naked and wants to leave the oasis immediately but finds he’s wrapped in strong arms. Shoji pulls him deeper into the water until it’s up to their chests. Tokoyami clings to Shoji, knowing the man won’t let him go, though he still feels uneasy.

“Don’t be worried,” Shoji says. “No one can see us but the moon.”

Tokoyami looks up then back at Shoji, his arms wrapped around the other’s neck. “This is taboo for me,”

“I know. But nothing has happened. We’re just having a bit of fun. Relaxing. Spending time together.” Shoji pulls Tokoyami through the water in lazy circles. “Check the water’s surface,”

Tokoyami sees the reflection of the stars on the surface of the water, as well as the moon. He marvels at the sight as he lets Shoji continue to carry him through the water as if he were flying amongst the stars and moon once again. He shimmied the nubs of his wings, forgetting for a moment that they weren’t there. The memory of his wings gives him a flash of phantom pain, remembering the vicious removal.

“Thinking about your wings?” Shoji asks him. “I can feel the nubs moving.”

“I am,”

“And they outcast you for something you had no control over,”

Tokoyami lets himself go weightless in Shoji’s arms, resting his beak on the large shoulder. “I did have control…I did have a choice…I made the wrong one. But I didn’t want to die,”

Shoji starts to swim to the bank. “It’s getting a little chilly…we should get under the blanket and dry off.”

Tokoyami nods, refusing to let go of Shoji as they leave the water. He keeps his eyes closed as Shoji works to get them warm. Tokoyami sits in Shoji’s lap on the rug with the large wool blanket wrapped around them. He’s gotten used to his nakedness around Shoji, though he still won’t look at the other’s lower body. Nothing ‘bad’ has happened so far. He does like being with Shoji. The man understands him better than anyone else (other than Dark Shadow.) They finish off the wine and the fruits.

“I would like to do this again with you,” Shoji tells him.

“Yes…I would like to experience more new things like tonight,” he replies. “But not all at once.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Shoji holds Tokoyami tighter, completely wrapping the smaller man in his embrace.

“We should go back. It’s getting late,” Tokoyami says.

“Mm. Just a bit longer like this,”

Tokoyami doesn’t protest and leans his head against Shoji’s chest, feeling relaxed and sleepy. The wine helped to warm him, as did Shoji’s body temperature. He dozes off into a light sleep, feeling Shoji move him but doesn’t wake up. Tokoyami can feel the carpet on his skin and knows they’re laying down. He’s still in Shoji’s arms and pressed against him. But Tokoyami opens his eyes when he feels the ground vibrating beneath them. It’s not the earth speaking to him; it’s movement of something else. He knows Shoji feels it too because the man tenses up.

“Tokoyami, don’t move,” Shoji whispers.

“What is it?”

“Bandits. I’ll handle them,”

Shoji moves out from under the blanket, keeping Tokoyami covered with it as the bandits approach the oasis on horseback. He doesn’t bother going for his clothes because the bandits might think he is attempting to confront them. Remaining bare and standing still as they come will give the illusion that he is unarmed and less likely to want to cause trouble. Shoji doesn’t plan on doing anything to the bandits, so long as they leave him and Tokoyami alone. Many stop by this oasis, citizens and bandits alike. Shoji can tell by their veiled faces and the colors of the fabric that they’re outlaws.

“Out for a swim?” One of the men asked him.

“I was,” Shoji replies. “Just drying off now.”

“Got anything good on you?” Asks another. “That rug is awfully fancy lookin’!”

“There’s someone else there,” Another bandit points out.

Shoji calmly holds up two of his hands and replies, “Just two lovers enjoying a quiet night. Please be on your way,” Shoji frowns when the five bandits dismount. “Tokoyami,” he whispers again. “Don’t worry about anything. Cover yourself completely, don’t make a sound, and don’t look.”

Tokoyami does as he’s told, covering himself but leaving a small spot open to watch what happens. He can only see Shoji’s legs and two bandits. The bandits take out their weapons, one curved blade and a dagger.

“We’ll be takin’ that carpet, and the one on it,” mocks one of the bandits.

“I don’t want any trouble,” Shoji tells them. “But if you come looking for it from me, I won’t hold back.”

‘I should do something to help him!’ Tokoyami says to Dark Shadow.

‘The best thing you can do is stay out of his way!’ Dark Shadow replies. ‘Remember, this guy can wield six weapons and he’s really strong! We don’t have to worry about him! Don’t get in his way!’

“As I said before, I don’t want any trouble, and I have nothing of value,” Shoji reiterates.

“Wait, hold up!” Shouts one of the bandits. “Isn’t that the Demi-Sultan’s special warrior?”

Tokoyami watches as the bandits lower their weapons and start to back away slowly.

“He’s a monster! That’s the one who crushes skulls!” Shouts another and they all mount their horses to ride away, kicking up clouds of dust.

Tokoyami uncovers himself while Shoji quietly gathers their clothes. He waits for Shoji to say something in response to the bandit calling him a monster. There was also that part about the ‘skull-crushing.’ Tokoyami wouldn’t doubt that Shoji’s strength is capable of doing that, but is that what average people see when they look at him? He’s never seen Shoji fight, nor does he ever want to. The large man couldn’t be more gentle and friendly, but it would seem the vast majority of the public doesn’t know that. Those bandits wanted to rob them, and probably would have if Shoji wasn’t recognized.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Shoji finally says while handing Tokoyami his clothes. “They ruined a good night.” he puts his veil back on.

“I’m just relieved that no one had to resort to violence,” Tokoyami says.

“Even if it did, they wouldn’t have been an issue,” Shoji assures him. “As I’ve said before, I’m used to people being afraid of me. It’s necessary to have that type of reputation during wartime. That bandit did not lie,”

Tokoyami finishes dressing. “...I know.”

“Are you bothered by it?” Shoji rolls up the carpet while Tokoyami packs the basket.

“You can’t change how you were born, Shoji. I’m not bothered by...the strength you possess. I’m bothered by the fact that people view you as a ‘monster’.”

Shoji chuckles at that. “I’ve heard worse. The word ‘monster’ is tame to some others I’m called.” He has the camel strapped and ready to go. “Ready to head back?”

Tokoyami nods then protests when Shoji lifts him up onto the camel. “I’m capable of mounting a camel on my own.”

Shoji lifts him off the camel and says, “I’m sorry. Go ahead.” He was thankful for his veil because watching Tokoyami try to mount the camel on his own was cute.

‘I’ve made a fool of myself my just now,’ Tokoyami says to Dark Shadow as he finally pulls himself (or rather flops) onto the saddle. The camel makes a few irritating sounds and Tokoyami can’t blame it.

‘You certainly did!’ Dark Shadow mocks.

‘If only I had my wings,’

“Are you comfortable?” Shoji asks.

“I am. Thank you.”

“When we have a chance, I’ll teach you how to properly mount the camel,”

“I did quite well on my own!” Tokoyami calmly protests when he hears Shoji soft chuckling. “It’s quite a large animal.”

Shoji wants to say it, and can’t help himself, so he does. “Don’t worry. I’m easier to mount.” Something strikes the top of his head. “Ow. Did you just peck me?”

“Be grateful I didn’t morph my talons,”

‘You’d have to ride him,’ Dark Shadow laughs. ‘Otherwise, he’d flatten you!’

‘I’m done with both of you!’

~*~

Izuku is pawed awake by Kirishima trying to get his attention. He yawns and rings the bell for a servant to come and let Kirishima out. But that wasn’t what Kirishima was whimpering about. There’s a tapping coming from one of the windows. Izuku looks to the sound and sees that it’s a carrier raven with a message. He tries to wake up Bakugo, but the other gives an angry snore in response. Izuku sighs and gets up to retrieve the message from the bird. It’s a response message from the north. Izuku frowns as he reads it.

“Kacchan! Kacchan, wake up!” he rushes over to shake the naga male awake.

Bakugo hisses at him. “What?! I’m sleeping!”

“A note came from the north!” Izuku shows it to him. “They’re blaming us for the sudden number of poison deaths in their land!”

Bakugo snatches the paper and reads it with a growl. “Those bastards…” he gets up and almost steps on Shoto. He yells at the cat while putting on his pants. “This can be considered a declaration of war! We don’t have any of those weapons to fight back well enough.”

“What should we do?”

Bakugo hisses at him and says, “First, don’t droop your stupid ears!” Izuku yelps and makes them stick up. “Next, get bird-boy in here! He needs to figure this out. We sure as hell didn’t poison their damn water source!”

Izuku takes the small piece of paper and reads it again. “Should we respond? I mean...the majority of those killed from the poison were women and children…”

“They do all the gathering,” Bakugo points out. “Of course it would be them. No women mean sexually-frustrated men on top of general anger charging into battle. I fucking hate the world,”

Izuku tells the servant who arrives to call Tokoyami into their room as well as put the dogs out. He tries to calm Bakugo down while waiting for Tokoyami and Shoji to arrive. Kirishima and Toshi return first, and a few minutes later, Tokoyami arrives with Shoji behind.

Bakugo leaps up from his chair and holds out the paper. “You need to look at this, birdbrain.”

Tokoyami ignores the insult, taking the letter from Bakugo to read its contents.

“What does it say?” Shoji asks.

“The Golden Land is accused of poisoning the water source in the north...killing many,” Tokoyami replies calmly. “I’m assuming you believe it’s my cabal,”

“It sure as hell isn’t us,” Bakugo hisses. “Poison is a coward’s way of getting a job done! These fangs hold tons of venom, but you don’t see me biting my enemies!”

Tokoyami hands the paper the Shoji. “My cabal is not one to use such things as poison. I’m not saying it can’t be my cabal, but there are other cabals besides my own. Mine just happens to be the largest.”

“Our biggest fear is the north officially declaring war on us with the magic weapons we don’t have,” Izuku says while taking Bakugo’s hand in his. “We need that ore, or we’ll lose the battle.”

“Demi-Sultan,” Tokoyami starts. “Even if you are to get the ore, you need to mine it, and then forge it into weapons. That will take a very long time to accomplish. The north would gain control of the Golden Land before then.”

Izuku thinks about a possible solution while Bakugo rants and curses with frustration.

Shoji puts a pair of hands on Tokoyami’s shoulders. “I think it’s time we approach your cabal and discuss terms.”

“They may not allow me to come back if I go,” Tokoyami tells him. “I’m already a traitor.”

“Then we’ll have a plan for you to deliver to them,” Izuku says. “One that will benefit them and keep you from harm.” He turns to Bakugo and says, “Kacchan, we can’t fight them as we are now. You know this.”

Bakugo kicks his chair. “Then what are we to do? What are we going to ‘say’ to them that isn’t a form of surrender?”

“Your people offer to protect our woods,” Tokoyami says. “Protect us from the outside, and we in turn can keep the Northmen from advancing into our land. If they can’t get to our land, then they can’t mine the ore. It will hold things off until we can find a long-term solution.”

“Tokoyami, that’s a great plan!” Izuku says happily. “I’ll write up an official document for you to present to the High Priest and Priestess of your cabal. We should offer some perks other than protection, though!”

Bakugo yanks one of Izuku’s ears. “We’re not paying those assholes ANYTHING!”

“I mean in gifts,” Izuku corrects him. “Not money. Tokoyami, what would your cabal like? What can we offer them as a sign of peace and that we’ll keep our promise?”

“Well...herbs and oils are always needed. We’re not familiar with the plants here in the Golden Land and would like to study them,”

Izuku nods. “Perfect! We’ll send them our herbs and oils! And we’ll send coffee beans and chocolate! I’m sure they’ll enjoy it!”

Bakugo tugs Izuku’s ears again. “Touch my wine cellar and I’ll have you for dinner!”

“Wahh! Okay, okay!”

“I will accompany Tokoyami back to the cabal,” Shoji offers.

Tokoyami looks up at Shoji. “You don’t have to,”

“I’m not letting you go alone.”

“Fine. It’s settled then,” Bakugo keeps tugging on Izuku’s ears to relieve his frustration. “Get ready to leave as soon as possible! I’ll reach out to the northern assholes. I want things moving quickly! No time to waste! No excuses!" 

~*~

Tokoyami’s given the document safely tucked away in a carrier. He slings it over his shoulder and awaits for Shoji to join him. Tokoyami doesn’t say anything about Shoji’s six weapons or his manner of dress. He is dressed like a Golden Land warrior. Tokoyami wants to ask Shoji to change, but there is a chance that the cabal may not act kindly to Shoji and he doesn’t want the other to get hurt. When his cabal sees all the weapons, along with Shoji’s build and height, most will be intimated.

‘He wants to protect you most of all,’ Dark Shadow says.

‘I’m well aware of that too.’

‘You should show the cabal that you’re lovers,’

‘But we’re not lovers,’

‘Yet. You’re not lovers yet.’

‘I don’t want-’

‘Yes you do. I live inside you, Yami. I know what you’re thinking even if you try to hide it from yourself!’

‘Sometimes I really don’t like you,’

Tokoyami keeps his face covered with the hood when he feels Shoji mount the horse behind him. Two pairs of hands wrap around his waist while the other pair holds the reins. Shoji asks if he is ready, and Tokoyami nods. He doesn’t want to look at Shoji until the heat in his face from Dark Shadow’s words fade away. As they start to ride towards the woods, Tokoyami notices that the dog Toshi is trotting along beside them.

“Should he be coming with us?” Tokoyami asks.

“Toshi does whatever he wants,” Shoji replies. “Izuku’s dogs are very smart animals, and I’m sure you’ve noticed, they’re fairly human-like in nature as well. They’ve always been that way, and Izuku says that Toshi has been with him for as long as he can remember.”

Tokoyami looks surprised and swears he saw the old dog grin. “We’re certainly going to make an entrance…”

“I can feel you trembling. Are you cold? Or just scared?”

“Concerned, that’s all. This is not going to be easy. I’m entering the village with the enemy,”

“That’s why I am armed. No one is going to harm you,”

“I only wish there was another way,”

“As I said, no one is going to harm you.”

“But you’ll be on my people’s ground…it’s not like the Golden Land.”

“I promise not to speak a word and I will not do anything to disrespect your people.”

‘I only wish I could trust them,’ Tokoyami says to himself. ‘But this is the only way.’

Shoji keeps the horse steady as they finally enter the dark woods. The extreme difference between the two climates is amazing. He follows Tokoyami’s directions towards the village of the cabal. Shoji wouldn’t tell this to Tokoyami, but he hopes to have a few words with the High Priest and Priestess about their treatment of Tokoyami; assuming all goes well with the exchange of terms. Beside them, Toshi continues to growl, though it is low and his hackles aren’t up. Shoji assumes they are nearing the village if Toshi’s demeanor is changing.

“We’re here,” Tokoyami says.

Shoji pulls the horse to a stop. “I don’t see anything. Only mist.”

“That’s because of the magic barrier. We go straight through, and don’t stop until I tell you.”

Shoji leads them into the mist, keeping straight while also trying to keep the horse steady. The mist goes from white to purple, and finally black, until it clears completely. Shoji’s eyes grow wide when the hidden village reveals itself. It’s a huge open area with purple trees as a wall. Small huts and houses lay littered on the ground while most are sitting up in the trees connected with rope bridges. Pathways are lined with lit torches while above shine with strings of lanterns. Shoji is particularly alarmed by the number of structures made from bones. Strange décor hang from the sides of houses as well as from the trees. The horse suddenly rears in alarm and Toshi barks loudly as the air becomes filled with flying creatures. Before Shoji can pull a weapon, Tokoyami leaps from the horse.

“My people, do not be alarmed!” Tokoyami calls to the sky. “I come with a letter from the Sultans in the Golden Land! I need to speak with the High Priest and Priestess!”

“Traitor!” Someone shouts. “You brought an outsider here!”

“No! He is a friend and he’s here to help!”

Shoji gets off the horse to stand beside Tokoyami, ready to draw his weapons if necessary.

“Please, listen to me! We can end this issue with the kingdoms!”

“The outsider must die!” Shouts another.

“Sacrifice!” Another calls out and others begin to repeat the same word along with ‘traitor.’

Tokoyami turns to Shoji quickly and says, “Leave! You must leave! Now!”

Shoji ignores him, pulling out all six weapons and pushes Tokoyami behind him. He ignores Tokoyami trying to stop him when one of the cabal members comes swooping down with their large talons spread wide. Shoji knocks it away with a swing of his club. The sight of the strike has a few others flying away, choosing not to attack. One or two come at Shoji again, but when he aims the crossbow, the cabal member flies out of range, as does the other.

“Shoji! Stop this!”

Tokoyami calls Dark Shadow who emerges and starts to bat away some of the members from Shoji. But one of the members sinks their talons into Tokoyami’s shoulders, forcing him to cry out in pain as he’s lifted from the ground. He doesn’t shout out Shoji's name because he doesn’t want to break the man’s concentration and leave him open for an attack. However, the member does not get too far with him, for a giant golden ball of fur grabs and forces them back to the ground. Tokoyami is released, though his shoulders are screaming in pain.

‘What just happened?’ Tokoyami sees a huge yellow dog of solid muscle and shining fur. His eyes widen in disbelief. That CAN’T be Toshi, the old sunken-eyed dog.

“Tokoyami!” Shoji is suddenly next to him, weapons put away, and picks him up. “You’re hurt,”

The commotion of the attack died down with the cabal members retreating to higher spots; rooftops and branches.

“Shoji…is…is that…?” Tokoyami tries to speak through the pain.

“Yes. That’s Toshi. And his barks worked better than my weapons…”

“Fumikage Tokoyami, the healer, call down your beast!” Someone shouts from the crowd.

Tokoyami doesn’t have to because Toshi already did it himself. With a puff of smoke, the large muscled dog returns to the shaggy, skinny form while hacking up blood.

TBC

Chapter Text

"Feel no sorrow, feel no pain,
Feel no hurt, there's nothing gained...
Only love will then remain, "
She would say.

-Shadow of the Moon-Blackmore's Night


Chapter 5: The Cabal

Tokoyami continued to stare at Toshi, dumbfounded, as the old dog licked its shaggy lips of blood. There is something magical about Toshi for he made everyone cease their attack. The cabals are kind and respectful to animals as they are one with them. Animals are a part of the earth. Toshi coming with them may have been the best thing. Shoji stands behind him, weapons lowered. 

“Healer Fumikage, why have you brought the enemy here?” Asks one of the High Priest and Priestess’ messengers. 

“I’ve come with a message from the Sultan of the Golden Land. It is a message of peace as well as terms that I need to discuss with the High Priest and Priestess.”

“You’ve left the cabal with the enemy,” he says. “That makes you a traitor!”

Tokoyami shows the carrying container. “I only left because I wanted to find a way to help all of us,” he says. “This man with me is not an enemy, but a friend,” he motions to Shoji. “Please, allow us to speak to the High Priest and Priestess!”

The messenger things for a moment, then says, “Only you may see the High Priest and Priestess. Your...friend...needs to wait outside.” 

Shoji puts all his weapons away. “That won’t be necessary. I’d rather stay with him,”

“The dog may come, but you must stay,” the messenger says to Shoji. “I will not repeat myself!”

Tokoyami turns to Shoji and says, “I’ll be fine. Once the message is delivered, I’m sure you’ll be allowed in.” He then whispers. “Dark Shadow will alert you should something happen.”

Shoji is silent for a moment, looking from Tokoyami to the messenger, then glancing all around at the hundreds of cabal members watching him. “I will be RIGHT outside,” Shoji tells him. 

The messenger brings them to a large hut on the ground with three ladders leading up to treehouses. Three cabal members stop Shoji before he can enter. Shoji looks at Tokoyami, watching him and Toshi enter the hut. The bird folk all have heads like Tokoyami but with human bodies and wings. Many dress in dark hooded robes with rope belts or shashes. NOt one of them looks at him with any shred of friendliness. 

When Tokoyami enters the hut, he lowers his hood and keeps his head bowed when brought in front of the Priest and Priestess. They both sit in high back chairs made from ancient wood and stone. Neither takes their hoods off. Tokoyami holds out the message carrier. 

“Your Highnesses, I come with a peace agreement from the Golden Land.”

The High Priest speaks first. “You left our land to go to that of the enemy. Why?” 

“To seek change. I know it is forbidden, but I care about my people, my cabal, and do not want to see any bloodshed.”

“They seek to destroy our land,” says the High Priestess. “They do not want change.”

“That is not true,” Tokoyami takes the paper out and gives it to a member to pass on to the High Priest. “In that document, written and signed by the Sultan and Demi-Sultan, offer terms of peace. They will help defend our forest against the Northmen.”

The High Priest hands it to his mate. “So? It will only remove one problem and create another for us. The Golden Land will not be opposed if they take out the Northmen. That will make them turn their swords and shovels on us.”

Tokoyami shakes his head. “No, my highness, that is not their desire. The Sultan and his people only began digging in our woods because the Northmen did it first. The Northmen discovered the ore, and they plan to, and have, attack the Golden Land. The Sultan needed ores so they can fight against the Northmen. But, if the Northmen no longer have a steady supply of ore, then the Golden Land has no reason to worry about an invasion.”

“It appears legit,” the High Priestess says to her mate. 

“And to show good faith, the Sultan and Demi-Sultan have brought us herbs and oils, along with chocolate and more. They do not want to be our enemies.” 

Toshi lets out a few barks, showing that he agrees with Tokoyami. The High Priest and Priestess look to the old dog.

“You’re lucky to have that dog with you,” says the High Priest. “He is born of very old and powerful magic. However, it seems age has taken its toll on the poor thing.”

Tokoyami pats the top of Toshi’s head. “He is the Demi-Sultan’s dog.”

“From reading this document, it would appear you are good friends with the Demi-Sultan,” mentions the High Priestess. 

Tokoyami nods. “I am,”

“And, that man out there?”

“The Demi-Sultan’s loyal warrior, Mezo Shoji. He too is my friend,”

“Are you certain about that?” It’s one of the Seers who comes out from the shadows. “Your heart and mind glow differently.”

Tokoyami is silent while the priest and priestess look upon him with disgusted surprise. A Seer would not lie. Tokoyami swallows hard, trying not to show his rising panic. He moves closer to Toshi for support.

“Not only do you disobey our rules and leave the forest, but you wan to belong to a partner outside of the cabal?” The High Priest is almost enraged.

Tokoyami quickly humbles himself, going to his knees. “I have done nothing with him! My only goal is to help our people! I’m doing this to help the cabal!”

“You always were a troublesome one, Fumikage Tokoyami,” says the High Priestess. “You killed your twin brother and lost your wings. We only kept you here, and alive, for your healing power,” she turns to her husband and adds, “Which we still need.”

The High Priest strokes the underside of his black beak. “You are right. Very well, Fumikage Tokoyami. We will agree to the Sultan’s terms, but under one condition,”

Tokoyami nods.

“Offer up your would-be lover, Mezo Shoji, as a sacrifice to us.”

Tokoyami’s eyes grow wide at the demand, and even Dark Shadow appears, appalled by the suggestion. No one pays Dark Shadow any mind.

“Surely there is a better way?” Tokoyami tries to reason with him.

“If you want to show your loyalty to this cabal after all your failures, then this is the only way,” the High Priest says. “Show us that your heart and soul belong to this cabal. Denounce your friendship with the sultans and your desire for the warrior. Offer the warrior for sacrifice, and we will grant this request.” 

Dark Shadow disappears but creeps along the floor, making his way to the door to warn Shoji. But the Seer knows Dark Shadow is there and instantly puts up a light barrier. Dark Shadow shrieks, shying away from the bright light and retreating back into Tokoyami. Toshi starts to growl, his tail straight and ears flat against his head. 

“Make your choice, Fumikage Tokoyami!” demands the High Priestess. 

Tokoyami cannot bear the thought of Shoji’s death much less by the hands of the cabal. Perhaps he always felt this way but was blinded by the need to be accepted among his fellow Lunarians. Dark Shadow and Shoji are right; he doesn’t owe the cabal anything. They treated him as an outcast when he needed the support of the cabal the most in his life. None of them ever showed him any type of kindness or mercy; only ridicule. They turned their backs on him. The rage was building up so fast inside of him that Tokoyami felt all his feathers fluff out in a sign of defense. He stands up and says,

“I will NOT offer up my friend for sacrifice! I have done more than enough for this cabal, and just like all my life, you spit on my wants to help! You say I should be a good and loyal Lunarian, but none of you ever showed me any respect! Shoji accepts me as I am, and he did that at first glance! I didn’t have to explain myself to him! I will not give him up!”

The High Priest stands from his chair. “Then you have doomed your cabal and your sultan friends. Such a traitorous crime needs to be punished,” he starts to conjure a magic sphere. The Seer and his wife join him. “You will never leave this cabal again!”

Before Tokoyami can react, he feels tiny vines creeping up his legs. He has to warn Shoji to get out. “SHOJI!” He cries out the man’s name.


Shoji hears Tokoyami’s cry and before he can rush in, there is a bright flash of light. A powerful force blows him away, sending his body spiraling through the air. In a mere matter of seconds, both he and Toshi are in the woods. The village is nowhere to be found. 

“TOKOYAMI!” Shoji shouts, looking all around. “TOKOYAMI! WHERE ARE YOU? DARK SHADOW?” There’s no answer, only silence. “Damn it!” ‘How can I find him now?’ Toshi barks at him then tugged on his pants. He looks to the dog. “What?” Toshi starts to sniff the ground and Shoji’s eyes widen. “Good boy, Toshi! Find Tokoyami!” 

Shoji anxiously follows behind Toshi as the old dog sniffs all around. He starts to panic when Toshi doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. The longer he waits, the more danger Tokoyami may be in. But even if Toshi smells out Tokoyami, there’s no way for him to get through the magic barrier. Shoji grips the hilt of his scimitar, trying to keep his rage from rising. If, no, WHEN he gets through and meets the cabal again, he will not hesitate to strike them down. He’d rather have Tokoyami’s disapproval for a short while then allow the cabal members to live. Especially those who may be hurting Tokoyami. He suddenly realizes that Toshi is gone.

“Toshi?” He calls the dog’s name. Only Toshi's head appears out of thin air. Shoji gasps. “Is that a break in the barrier?!” Toshi trots out into full view, then trots back in, completely disappearing. “It is!” 

Shoji steps through the opening and finds that he is on the outskirts of the cabal’s village. No one is around. Toshi is sniffing at a small hut that seemed abandoned. Shoji looks around, noting it’s the only one in sight. He assumes it’s Tokoyami’s home by the way Toshi is vigorously sniffing the base. Shoji whispers Toshi’s name, calling the dog to his side. He scratches behind Toshi’s ear, thanking him for finding the break in the magic. Now, to find Tokoyami.

With his scimitar in one hand and the ax in another, Shoji makes his way towards the center of the village. Some of the members, mainly mothers and children, gasp and cower from him. Shoji pays them no mind, hoping that they will raise an alarm that he is here. A loud ‘squawk’ comes from above. Shoji looks up to see a cloaked figure swooping towards him, talons open. With one swing of the scimitar, he cuts off the feet. The figure screams in pain and crashes to the ground. Shoji steps over the body and continues to the center. More figures fly at him, and he cuts them down. He uses his other hands to knock them away as well. As he reaches the center, splattered in blood, those who seem him back away. Some hide beneath their wings; wings that Tokoyami used to have, and none of these people showed him any sympathy. 

“STOP!” Someone yells.

Shoji looks at the cloaked figure who has their wings raised high. “Where’s Tokoyami?” 

“You cannot see him,” Says the person. “He is with the High Priest and Priestess!” 

“That’s not an acceptable answer,” Shoji takes a few steps towards the man who stumbles backward and trips. “I’ll ask this only once more. Where is Tokoyami?” He hears Toshi growling beside him, further adding to the man’s fear. 

“...you...you cannot have him! We will kill and sacrifice your blood and bones to the earth!” 

“That’s a soft threat for someone like me,” Shoji manages a chuckle. Three more cloaked figures come to stand by the other man. One says,

“You are no match for our magic!” This man is a Seer, Shoji notices.

“I’ll still take you on,” Shoji says, twirling his scimitar casually. “Of course, all of this doesn’t have to be an issue. I want Tokoyami. Give him back, and my dog and I will leave. Simple.”

“Your many arms and weapons will be no match for our great power,” says the Seer. “You will make a fine sacrifice!” 

Shoji feels the earth tremble and shake beneath his feet. Toshi growls and paws at the dirt. Like a flock of birds startled, the cabal members take off into the trees all at once. Shoji pulls out his whip as well as his crossbow. Three spots in the earth open up in front of him. From the holes come large rock-like monsters covered in green vines and leaves. They crawl out and stand to full height, a foot or two taller than Shoji and twice as broad. 

‘I’ve never seen such things before,’ Shoji thinks to himself. ‘But they are made from the earth...so they must have elemental properties,’ To test the monsters, Shoji fires the crossbow at the one lumbering heavily towards him. As he thought, the arrow went straight through the monster, leaving no damage. Vines covered the ‘wound’ and the monsters continue towards him. Shoji hears the cheering and bird calls from above. ‘I’m back at the freak show again,’ 

~*~

“Your highnesses, the Seers summoned the golems!”

The High Priest and Priestess look at the messenger and ask why. He explains how the warrior somehow found a way past the barrier. Tokoyami responds to the mention of Shoji’s name and finds the strength to open his eyes. They had him entangled in purple vines that slowly drain his healing magic into a sacred jar. This is his punishment for disobeying the cabal. But he has to help Shoji escape. If he is fighting golems, then Shoji needs to know the specific way to beat them. With what remaining magic he has, he is able to speak to Dark Shadow.

‘Go to Shoji, Dark Shadow. Tell him how to defeat the golems,’

‘But what about you? I’m afraid to leave you!’

‘Please...go tell him...hurry.’

Dark Shadow nods and manages to slip away and out of sight of the others. Tokoyami closes his eyes when he sees the High Priest approaching him. 

“Your lover is awfully desperate to have you back,” he starts. “No wonder you wish for peace between our lands; it is the warrior who has won your heart, but you know that outsiders are not permitted in the cabal. He is not, and never will be, a Lunarian. Denounce yourself as a Lunarian of this cabal, and I will make your death swift and painless.”

Tokoyami weakly shakes his head. “I have...faith in my devotion to the Moon and the Earth...I may have...broken some rules but...but they shouldn’t be punishable…”

The High Priestess joins her husband. “Foolish little bird. You give yourself such a noble sacrifice, even after you murdered your own brother,”

Tokoyami replies, “I was a child...I don’t know what happened...but I would never hurt anyone…”

“You did. You killed him, and then you ate his heart,”

Tokoyami’s eyes shoot open when he has a flashback of looking down at his blood-covered little hands. He remembers wiping the blood off from his beak. But there was a feeling he can remember; the painful, aching feeling of being hungry. Not just hungry, but starving. “I...I couldn’t have…”

The High Priest adds, “Fumikage, you were only spared death not because you were a child, but for the sins of your parents. They were horrible to you, rebels in their own twisted way. Perhaps if they hadn’t had ignored you and your brother, such an act would have never happened. THAT is why you were kept alive.”

“...why do you...tell me this now?”

“Because you will die soon,” answers the High Priestess. “Denounce your vows as a Lunarian, and this will all be over.”

“...will Shoji be spared?”

“No,” 

Tokoyami closes his eyes and, in one last show of defiance and strength, reaches his beak out to peck at the High Priest’s hand as it attempts to stroke his feathers. 

“Stupid child!” The High Priest hisses. “You’ve chosen your fate!”

‘I’m sorry, Shoji,’

~*~

Shoji is almost exhausted, but not from the rocks and stones thrown at him. Nor the two arrows that currently stick out from his back. It’s fighting the earth monsters that is taking all his strength. Even Toshi had to run to the sidelines after having worn himself out. Shoji pants heavily, his veil gone, and down to only three weapons. Another rock hits his temple just as he manages to dodge an arrow. The monsters come at him, and his slashes do nothing. He can’t find a weakness in the monsters. 

‘It must be the Seer that I need to kill...it’s the magic-user that is controlling these things!’ He rolls out of the way from a massive hand.

‘Shoji!’

‘That voice? Dark Shadow?’ 

‘Shoji! I know how to kill the golems!’ Dark Shadow appears on the ground before Shoji, his form small and weak, dancing in and out of sight.

Shoji dodges the golem. “How?” 

Each one has a magic charm...like a heart! Rip the heart from the golem and you will kill it! And hurry! We’re in danger!’ 

Shoji growls and rolls out of the way again and whistles for Toshi. He tells the dog what Dark Shadow just told him. “Find the weak spot!” With a new wave of energy, Shoji grips his weapons and follows after Toshi, meeting the golems head-on. Now as he slashes through them, his eyes search for anything that looks suspicious. 

In one, he sees a tiny sparkle of purple. With another dodge, a roll, and dash, his hand reaches through and grabs the talisman. Once it’s in his grasp, he crushes it. Instantly, the golem crumbles apart, returning to the earth. Toshi had transformed into his strong form and, just like Shoji did, found the weak spot. When the dog crunches it in his jaws, the golem disappears. Finally, with the last one, Shoji has to slice it while avoiding rocks and arrows. He finds the heart and destroys it. Now, all the golems were defeated. 

‘Shoji! You did it!’ Dark Shadow calls out. 

“Take me to Tokoyami!” He tells the shadow. Shoji ignores everything around him, focusing on just Dark Shadow’s retreating form. It leads to the High Priest and Priestess’ house. “TOKOYAMI!” He calls out to his lover just before breaking through the front entrance. 

His arrival did not go unnoticed. Shoji comes face-to-face with the High Priest and Priestess again, but that’s not where his vision lands. In a tangle of purple vines is the limp and trapped form of Tokoyami. 

“Release him,” Shoji demands, his voice deep and heavy. 

The High Priestess smirks with her beak and says, “Come and get him,”

Before Shoji could race forward, something grabs his ankles. He looks down and sees the same purple vines climbing up his legs. They grow with such great speed that Shoji can’t rip them off fast enough. His weapons become tangled, and soon so does his hands. As much as he struggles to pull free of the vines, he cannot break away. Still exhausted from the golem fight, Shoji’s strength begins to trickle out of him as the vines suck the energy from his body. This magic was stronger than that used in the golems. Shoji feels his limbs fall limp. There is movement in front of him. He musters enough strength to open his eyes. He sees the High Priest holding a long blade and the Priestess clutching a white ceramic urn. 

“You will make a fine sacrifice!” 

Shoji’s eyes drift to Tokoyami, lingering there even as he feels something pierce his flesh. His vision starts to fade.

TBC

Chapter Text

In the shadow of the moon,
She danced in the starlight
Whispering a haunting tune
To the night...

-Shadow of the Moon- Blackmore's Night


Chapter 7: Shadow On the Moon

 

‘Yami! Yami! You have to wake up!’ Dark Shadow frantically tries to awaken Tokoyami’s senses in their minds. ‘Shoji is in trouble! You have to wake up!’

‘Shoji?’ Tokoyami only heard Shoji’s name, though his body was too weak to move. He couldn’t even open his eyes. 

‘They’re going to sacrifice him!’ Dark Shadow shouts. 

Tokoyami can’t seem to gather enough strength to escape the vines. It almost felt like he didn’t want to anyway. Knowing the truth about what he did to cause the death of his twin brother shocked him to his very core. He still can’t remember anything, though he doesn’t doubt the truth either. It makes perfect sense. How can he live with himself knowing that he consumed his very own brother?

YAMI!’ Dark Shadow continues to try and stir him awake, but to no avail.


Shoji feels the cut on his shoulder split the skin apart and blood trickles out. Completely exhausted and weakened, he manages to open his eyes a crack to see the Priest and Priestess blocking his view of Tokoyami. Moving his head slightly, he sees past the two and keeps his eyes locked on Tokoyami’s small form covered with the same vines. The vines look to be swallowing Tokoyami up, encasing the other’s body like a cocoon. 

“You should worry more about yourself than your lover,” says the High Priest. “Your blood and bones will make the spirits of the earth happy and content for many moons to come!”

Shoji doesn’t flinch as the blade cuts through the skin of his other shoulder. 

“Young Tokoyami’s death was sure to come even if you weren’t involved,” adds the High Priestess. “His healing powers could only last for so long, and no one in the cabal would want to have him as a husband or lover anyway, so he would prove useless in time. We always knew he would somehow, someway, betray us; the cabal of the Lunarians who did not abandon him when he should have been put to death long ago,”

Shoji starts to twitch, but not from the cuts; rather, from the way they are speaking about Tokoyami.

“He lost his wings when he should have killed himself,” Says the High Priest. “Disgraceful Lunarian. He’s not worthy of the cabal or the title of Lunarian,” 

By that point, Shoji had heard enough disgraceful remarks towards Tokoyami. Tokoyami was no traitor, only a devoted member of the only family he knew and tried to help them. Now they wanted to kill Tokoyami.  A white-hot rage boiled up inside of him, giving him the strength he needed to break from the vines. To the surprise of the High Priest and Priestess, Shoji roars as he pulls against the vines with all his strength. He hears them snap and sizzle as he breaks free. All sense of justice escapes Shoji at that moment and, with two hands, he grasps the High Priest’s head in his palms. With a wild gaze of a new pent up anger, Shoji crushes the male’s skull into a pile of blood and bone. The High Priestess screams in terror, calling for help. Shoji has never harmed a woman in his life, but this time was an exception, though he kept her death swift and painless. One hand easily crushed her windpipe and spine. There was no other way, and Shoji will repent for his brutality after. 

He runs to Tokoyami, starting to pull the vines off of him. ‘Hang on! I’ll get you free!’ But the more he pulls the vines away, the more that appear. Growling with frustration, Shoji uses all of his arms in hopes of beating the vines before they grow back. There’s sudden pain in his shoulder, followed by another. He stops and looks behind to see a pair of Lunarians with arrows, preparing to shoot him again. But when they see their leaders dead on the floor, the pair panic and drop their bows, running out of the hut. Shoji can’t be bothered with the arrows now; he still has to free Tokoyami. 

The vines won’t stop growing. Shoji feared he was going to lose Tokoyami when Dark Shadow called out to him, saying to grab the dagger from the High Priest. Shoji does so and finds that, when he slices through a vine, nothing grows back. He thanks Dark Shadow as he continues to remove the vines, revealing more of Tokoyami’s body. Finally, Shoji pulls Tokoyami free and cradles the small form to his chest, panting heavily while trying to remain standing. Now that he has Tokoyami safe, his body is giving out on him. Soon he will submit to pure exhaustion, and they still have not left the village. The pair of archers most likely alerted the Seers that their leaders are dead. 

Shoji takes a moment to stroke Tokoyami’s feathers. “You’re safe now,” he says. 

Tokoyami leans his head into Shoji’s chest but doesn’t wake up. Dark Shadow appears and says, ‘We need to leave this place now,’

“I don’t know how much more I can fight…” Shoji replies.

You need to show them the bodies of the High Priest and Priestess,’

Shoji looks at the bodies and gets an idea. It’s a dark thought, but it will make a statement to the cabal. Using a hand to drag through the High Priest’s blood, Shoji smears it along his mouth and neck. He will give the illusion that he consumed the High Priest, and looking at the splattered remains on the floor, the cabal will believe him. He was never a monster like the Freak Show portrayed him, but he will act the part to save himself and Tokoyami from this place. To add to his act, he takes the High Priest’s medallion necklace to drape it over his neck.

‘Good choice!’ Dark Shadow says.

Cradling Tokoyami, Shoji walks out of the hut, covered in blood and dirt with arrows protruding from his back. The villagers cower when he emerges. He stands still for a moment, looking around for any signs of a possible attack or ambush. Toshi comes over to him and stands close, growling and showing his teeth, which only adds to Shoji’s frightening look. 

“Your leaders are dead,” Shoji says as loud as he can. “Get out of my way, and plague Tokoyami no more,” 

As he begins to walk, the cabal members do not move. They watch him with wide eyes and open beaks. Just before Shoji reaches the edge of the village circle, a Seer stands in his path. Shoji narrows his eyes and says, “Move.”

“If Tokoyami leaves with you now, he can never come back,”

“Good. He’s not coming back,” Shoji replies. “And you better think very long and very hard about my sultan’s terms....or else. Now get. Out. Of. My. WAY!” The Seer moves and Shoji passes him. “Remember. Think long and hard,” he and Toshi leave the village without further issue. They exit into the forest, the village completely vanished from view. “Let’s go home, Toshi.”

The old dog ‘woofs’ in response.

~*~

‘Dark Shadow? Where are you?’ 

‘I’m here,  Yami! You’re gaining strength back! That’s great! Shoji saved us! You can wake up now!’

‘He saved us? But...the High Priest and Priestess-’

Are dead,’ Dark Shadow tells him. ‘Shoji killed them. He had no choice; they were going to sacrifice him. All he wanted to do was save you, and he did,’

‘I will have to thank him for saving me...but what they said about you...and what I did to you…’

‘Nah. Don’t care. It’s in the past! We’re living in the Golden Land from now on, so we’re going to leave all that behind us. We can’t change the past, Yami...so, wake up and give Shoji the thanks he deserves!’ 

Tokoyami wakes up once his strength returns. He feels Shoji’s strong arms around him. They’re walking; now they’re wobbling. “Shoji?” The moment he glances up at Shoji, he sees the man’s long jaw smeared with blood. “Shoji!?” Shoji suddenly collapses to the ground, pinning Tokoyami under him. He calls out Shoji’s name again but the other doesn’t respond. Toshi begins to whimper, frantically sniffing around their faces. Tokoyami care barely breathe under Shoji’s weight and has to dig his fingers in the earth to pull himself out from under him. He can see Shoji is badly injured, and not just the arrows.

“Dark Shadow...help me call the powers of the earth and spirits to heal him. I don’t have the full strength to do it myself,”

‘You got it!’

Tokoyami chants his healing spell, focusing on the arrows first. He can’t seal the wounds completely but stops the bleeding. He heals the worst of the wounds because he doesn’t have the strength to fix them all right now. How is he going to get Shoji back to the palace? Where is the horse they rode on? Though Tokoyami can navigate these woods, he didn’t want to leave Shoji alone. He turns to Toshi instead and tells the dog to go find the horse. With Toshi’s strange powers, the old dog should be able to bring the horse to them.

Tokoyami watches Toshi runs off. He looks down at Shoji’s limp body, rubbing his hand along the strong back muscles. Tokoyami noticed that all the weapons are gone, and some of Shoji’s webbing is torn. ‘He did all of this to save me,’ Tokoyami says to himself.

‘He fought really hard,’ Dark Shadow adds. ‘We’re banned from the cabal now.’

‘I don’t care,’ Tokoyami replies. ‘After learning the truth and seeing how Shoji fought for me...I can still be a devout Lunarian while living in the Golden Land,’

Dark Shadow emerges and grins at him. ‘But you don’t have to abide by the cabal’s laws! You need to give yourself to Shoji now, after all he’s done for you!

Tokoyami runs his fingers through Shoji’s hair. ‘I never thought I would be with anyone…’

Shoji stirs, letting out a few little moans.

Tokoyami pulls his hand away quickly.

“...-yami?” Shoji whispers his name.

“I’m here, Shoji,” Tokoyami assures him by returning to stroking the white hair. “We escaped the cabal...and...and I thank you for saving me. I healed you as best I could at the moment...once we get back to the palace and rest-”

“You’re staying with me, right?” Shoji lifts and turns his head to look up at Tokoyami. “When we get back, you’re going to marry me. I won’t allow you to say ‘no’.”

Tokoyami blushes under his feathers. “M-Marry you?” 

“Yes. No is...not an answer,”

Tokoyami manages a smile and lowers his head to nuzzle Shoji’s “Of course I will,”

Toshi trots over with the horse’s reins in his mouth. Tokoyami asks Shoji if he is able to get up on the horse. With a bit of difficulty, Shoji musters up the strength to sit atop the horse. He wants Tokoyami to ride with him, but Tokoyami said he’d rather hold the reins and walk the horseback. As they begin their journey back to the Golden Land, Tokoyami asks Shoji what he thinks will happen now that the cabal has denied their offer of peace.

“Izuku will give them one more chance,” Shoji says weakly. “If they still say ‘no’ then we’re taking over.”

Tokoyami is silent, keeping his eyes forward. If that is how it is to be, then so be it. Although, he hopes the cabal will accept the terms of peace now that the High Priest and Priestess are gone. He offered to help them at the risk of his own already tattered reputation, and that offer was denied. He and Shoji escaped death. The earth, moon, and spirits must want him to live. There is no way Shoji could have fought that sacrifice attempt if the spirits of the earth did not step in. He glances up at the moon and mouth’s a ‘thank you.’

~*~

The journey back quick and easy. The moment they arrived at the palace, Shoji was taken for medical care while Tokoyami has the honor of telling the sultans that their plans for peace were ignored. He requested only to speak with Izuku, but that didn’t go over very well and Tokoyami had to face both of them. In the throne room, Bakugo’s brow was twitching while Izuku sat calmly with Shoto the cat in his lap. Toshi had returned to Izuku’s side and both he and Kirishima were present. 

“I’m glad you’re back safe,” Izuku says. “But what happened to poor Shoji?”

“I regret to inform you that our discussions for peace did not go as we had hoped. The cabal has denied all peace terms. Shoji and I were attacked. However, Shoji killed the High Priest and Priestess, which leaves the cabal without leaders, so their opinion may change. A cabal can descend into chaos if there are no leaders.”

Bakugo grinds his teeth and Izuku attempts to soothe him. “Is there any chance you can become the leader of the cabal, Tokoyami?” Izuku asks.

Tokoyami shakes his head. “I’m not worthy in the eyes of the cabal to hold and honor such a high title. Besides...I have decided to live here with Shoji and continue to be a Lunarian outside of my cabal,” he bows quickly. “With your permission, of course?”

“Certainly!” Izuku says happily. “That’s great news, Tokoyami! We’re glad to have you! Kacchan, what do you think we should do about the Northmen and the cabal?”

“...with what Tokoyami just told us,” Bakugo starts. “We’ll give them one more chance to accept our terms and allow us to dig for the ore. If they still refuse, then we go in and take over. We’ve given the cabal more than enough chances,” he looks at Tokoyami. “You’ll have to accept the destruction of your cabal if they say ‘no’ again. Do you understand?”

Tokoyami wishes the outcome was different. In his heart, he knows the cabal will not give in and innocents will be forced to suffer. If not at the hands of the Golden Land, then by the Northmen. “I understand,”

“But Kacchan, we have the Northmen threatening war upon us because of their poisoned water source.” 

“I already told their king it wasn’t us,”

“Might I offer a suggestion?” Tokoyami asks.

“What?” Bakugo snorts.

“You’ve said before that, if the cabal agreed, your armies would protect them from the Northmen. Why not just do that instead? Post your armies around the woods and attack the Northmen as they come to mine the land. Perhaps by overwhelming them with greater numbers, that will be enough to protect us from the weapons.”

Izuku strokes the top of Bakugo’s hand. “That’s not a bad idea, Kacchan,” 

“...I’ll consider it,” Bakugo says. 

Izuku chuckles and says, “That’s about the closest to a ‘yes’ we can hope to get,” he says to Tokoyami. “If that’s all, you may go to the medical ward and stay with Shoji.”

Tokoyami thanks them and goes to see Shoji. Shoji is already sitting up in the medical bed wrapped with bandages. His eyes are closed, either sleeping or simply resting them. Tokoyami fidgets a bit.

‘Go over and nudge him!’ Dark Shadow says. ‘That’s your husband right there!’

‘But I don’t want to wake him up if he’s sleep-ING!’ Tokoyami wasn’t prepared for Dark Shadow to appear and viciously slap his ass, shoving Tokoyami forward. He topples onto Shoji who makes a soft ‘oof’ noise. One black eye peeks open and looks at Tokoyami, who blushes under his feathers. “I didn’t mean to wake you up,”

“You didn’t,” Shoji replies. “I heard you come in. I’m just a bit tired,”

Tokoyami moves to sit on the bed beside him. “Your body has been through a lot. It’s good we returned when we did. All you have to do is rest,” he places his hand gently on top of one of Shoji’s bandaged hands. “I’m sorry for all this,”

“Nothing to be sorry about. I’ll be back on my feet very soon, and then we’ll be married.”

“We don’t need to be married to be together,” Tokoyami tells him. “It’s not that I don’t want to...it’s all just a bit...sudden.” 

Shoji pulls Tokoyami into his lap and fully embraces him. “But you have very high morals and values that scream proper etiquette. I want to do everything right by you, Yami. Not just woo and ravish you,” he teases. “Ow!” He wasn’t expecting the little peck his chin received, though it didn’t hold back his chuckle. And Tokoyami wasn’t actually mad at him because the soft black feathers nuzzle under his chin. Tokoyami makes soft, cooing bird sounds as he continues to cuddle into Shoji.

“I never wanted to kill the High Priest and Priestess,” Shoji tells him. “I had no other choice. I don’t like having to resort to violence...I’m not like that at all,”

“I know that, Shoji. It was...a troublesome situation.”

“The things they said about you just...angered me so much that I couldn’t control myself. Hopefully, something like that will not have to happen again.”

“I’m just relieved that you’re alright,” Tokoyami nuzzles him more. 

“And I’m relieved that you will live here with us and no longer have to endure the bullying of the cabal. You will have the opportunity to grow here. Nothing will hold you back.”

“Hmm...I wish to remain as I am; a healer.”

Shoji strokes his back. “Then that’s what you’ll be.”

“Thank you, Shoji.” 

‘Oh boy, did WE get a lucky break!’ Dark Shadow chirps merrily for only him and Tokoyami to hear. 

~*~

Once Shoji was out of bed, he didn’t waste any time in properly asking Tokoyami to marry him in front of Bakugo and Izuku. Tokoyami was embarrassed but Izuku was ecstatic and insisted on planning the wedding ceremony. Both Tokoyami and Shoji agreed that they wanted a private ceremony, just by themselves. All Bakugo has to do is sign the certificate to make it legal. Izuku pouted at that but agreed to let the pair do what they want and how they want. 

Tokoyami requested purple fabric to make his wedding attire and Izuku gave him purple silk instead. He wanted to make it himself for the ceremony. But to make things harder for Shoji, Tokoyami told him that they cannot see each other until the wedding, which he wants on the next full moon. Shoji had to agree, though the wait was killing him. He passed the time with training and helping Bakugo to plan out their strategy for the armies.

On the day of the ceremony, Bakugo received word from the cabal that they will not surrender or accept a truce. And, at the same time, there was a message from the North stating that they plan to rage war against both the cabal and the Golden Land. Bakugo tosses the papers into the fire, watching them curl and burn before turning to Shoji. 

“No one would blame you if you called off the wedding,” He says. “We’re going to war,”

Shoji lowers the veil from his face. “I can’t cancel it, sultan. I might not come back...and that wouldn’t be fair to Tokoyami to have never experienced love in a relationship.”

“It’s your call,” Bakugo says. “You’re not planning to bring him along, right? If Izuku can’t come, then Tokoyami can’t either.”

“No. Tokoyami will stay here with Izuku. It’s going to be hard for him to  hear...and he may even be angry with me...but he needs this ceremony and relationship. And so do I.”

“Again, it’s your call,” Bakugo walks over to his desk and gives Shoji a friendly smirk. “Enjoy yourself tonight. Make sure to go slow. Very slow, for him.” 

“Thank you for the advice I did not need.”

~*~

When Shoji first saw Tokoyami exiting the room, he kept his comment to himself about Tokoyami’s wedding attire. Shoji was imagining something unique- it’s the same as the other robes, only in purple. Well, it didn’t matter what Tokoyami is wearing because Shoji finally gets to see his lover after three days of being kept away. They decided to have the ceremony at the oasis and took a camel there. Shoji brought more than just a blanket this time. He packed a large bedroll, a tent, and some food. Tokoyami mentioned about the bandits the last time and worried that maybe they shouldn’t spend the night. Shoji assured him that there were guards in the area, watching the oasis, but far enough away where sounds can’t be heard. The wording made Tokoyami blush. 

Shoji let Tokoyami lead the ceremony, which was a hand-binding ritual with a braided rope the colors of the earth. They exchanged unplanned vows,  promising to love and honor and stay loyal to the other. Shoji then follows what Tokoyami does to ‘consummate’ their marriage to the earth, moon, and spirits. It wasn’t what Shoji had been thinking. With their  hands still bound, they scoop up some sand to let it sprinkle through their fingers. They do the same with the water of the oasis, and then touch the bark of a palm tree. These three steps represents not only Tokoyami’s promise to the earth and spirits

but Shoji’s promise as well. The last bit was to stand together directly under the moon...and stand some more...while thinking of only positive thoughts and what they want their lives to be like once married. Shoji, though respectful, had thought of everything and stands bored waiting for Tokoyami to finish.

“Shoji, we are one with the earth, moon, and spirits,” Tokoyami smiles at him and unties the rope. 

“There’s still one more step, though,” Shoji points to the tent.

Tokoyami flips his hood up to cover his head. “I know...and I’m ready,”

‘Do I have to disappear for this?’ Dark Shadow asks Tokoyami.

‘Yes! Two is company but three’s a crowd!’

‘Bahhh! Not fair!’

Shoji scoops Tokoyami into his arms, carrying his new husband to the tent. Two candles light up the area and he places Tokoyami on the bedroll. In just a few moments, he will finally see Tokoyami’s body in full, and it will be for his eyes only. Part of him wants to rip the robe clean off but that would startle his husband, who has lived his whole life mostly and completely clothed. With Tokoyami out of the cabal, the act that will ensue does have a taboo type of feel to it, which excites Shoji. It’s Shoji who undresses first, letting Tokoyami get used to his nakedness first. Shoji asks Tokoyami if he wants him to remove the robe. Bashfully, Tokoyami nods his head.

With gentle movements, Shoji lifts the robe up and over Tokoyami’s head, exposing the smaller man’s lean body and pale skin. Tokoyami keeps his eyes closed and his head turned away until Shoji delicately commands Tokoyami to look at him. Tokoyami does so, and when their eyes meet, Tokoyami’s tense body relaxes. He lets Shoji tenderly embrace him and gives the word for his husband to continue.

Their mating took a long time to complete, but Shoji wanted to make sure that Tokoyami was completely comfortable and able to enjoy it. Tokoyami did find his pleasure as Shoji claimed him. Some of the things Shoji did to him Tokoyami didn’t think anyone actually does or wants to do them. His embarrassment and shame eventually faded away with him finally becoming one with Shoji. Afterward, Tokoyami lays on Shoji’s chest, completely spent in afterglow. The lights from the candles flickered out and only a strip of moonlight peeked through the tent flap. 

“You okay?” Shoji asks, stroking Tokoyami’s back under the blankets.

“Mmm...yes,”

Shoji strokes the nubs where Tokoyami’s wings used to be. “Do these still hurt you?”

“Now that I’m with you, they mean very little to me. They’re in the past. I have no need for them in our future.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Shoji debates on whether or not to tell Tokoyami about the war. Looking at his husband’s content face and closed eyes, Shoji decides against it. There will be time to tell him. For now, he just wants to hold Tokoyami to him and keep him there forever. Pulling his mate close, Shoji finally joins him in peaceful slumber.

One Week Later

Shoji pulls himself up onto the saddle of his warhorse. Today they ride to the northlands. He thinks back to last night when Tokoyami finally got over his anger for being kept in the dark about the war. Tokoyami wasn’t pleased when Shoji told him about going off to war after just getting married. Tokoyami, it seems, can hold a pretty hard grudge when he wants to. But last night, Tokoyami’s feelings changed and they spent the night making love. Tokoyami had been very passionate during it, too. Shoji will carry that memory with him all through the war. 

He looks for Tokoyami among the families and friends saying ‘goodbye’ to their loved ones and wishing them luck and a safe return. Izuku is clinging to Bakugo who is yelling viciously at him to get off. Izuku always cries, and his hare ears will be flat against his head for days whenever Bakugo goes away. It’s Izuku’s job to rule the kingdom while Bakugo is away. Shoji looks for Tokoyami, hoping his husband didn’t get mad again. Then, he sees a small black form moving through the crowd. Shoji smiles under his veil as Tokoyami approaches him. Tokoyami lowers his hood and looks up at Shoji. 

“I thought you weren’t coming to see me off.”

“Of course I would see you,” Tokoyami tells him. “I was just gathering a few things for you. Something to keep you safe,”

Shoji strokes the black feathers. “You gave me the protection spell. I’ve been through worse than this.”

“I don’t care if you have,” Tokoyami scolds him. He takes out a small pouch and puts it in Shoji’s hand. “This is rosemary; it will help protect you on your journey and into battle. And this…,” he takes out a black ribbon. “Is for you to always keep me in your thoughts and not do anything crazy or rash,”

Shoji holds the ribbon up to his face. “It smells like you,” he then reaches down and pulls Tokoyami up by the back of his cloak. He easily holds his husband in an embrace for all to see. “I promise to come back to you, Yami. Even if I have to crawl, I’ll return to you. Don’t cry, Yami.”

“I’m not crying...there’s something in my eye,”

Shoji uses another hand to wipe away the tear and they share a kiss. “Take care of Izuku for Bakugo. He can get very depressed when apart from 'his Kacchan'.”

“Are you sure I can’t come with you?” Tokoyami asks once again.

“No. The kingdom needs you here to help protect the civilians,” Shoji says, kissing him again and placing Tokoyami back on the ground. “We’re moving out now.”

“Be careful,” Tokoyami tells him. 

“I’ll write when I can,” Shoji has to pull his hand away when Bakugo shouts for them to move out. He looks back at Tokoyami for as long as he can before trotting his horse up to ride a few strides behind Bakugo. ‘I will make the cabal pay in more ways than one. I’ll get revenge for you, Yami.’ 

Izuku comes to stand beside Tokoyami, his ears flat against his head and still weeping. Kirishima was whimpering, as was Toshi. Tokoyami places his hand on Toshi’s head, stroking the gold fur as he watches the army grow smaller and smaller. 

“I know it’s hard, Yami, but they will be back,” Izuku smiles through his tears. “Nothing defeats my Kacchan! And Shoji is just as tough!” 

Tokoyami lowers his head. “I wish I could go with him....” 

“I know. But we’re better off here. There are many people who need us, and we’re just as important to the kingdom as Kacchan is!” 

“...will they be long?”

“War is unpredictable,” Izuku says. 

“Then I will pray for their safe return every morning and night.” Izuku puts his arm around Tokoyami’s shoulders and so does Dark Shadow. “I don’t want to lose him after I just found him,” he says, thinking only of Shoji. 

“Just think, when they win and come back, there will be nothing more to worry about!” Izuku tells him. “All our problems will be gone, and then we can all live happily. This is just a stone in the road.”

Tokoyami nods and slowly follows the others back into the palace.

 

That night, gazing out the window at the desert and the road Shoji took, Tokoyami glances up at the moon. It’s still full, which is good because that gives Shoji and Bakugo the extra light to see in the dark. He glances at the bed, now his and Shoji’s bed, which is empty. Only he will be sleeping in it for who knows how many nights. He folds his hands on the windowsill and rests his head, letting out a sigh and thinking about Shoji. Dark Shadow appears beside him in the same position. Tokoyami leans his head towards the spirit of his brother, seeking comfort. Dark Shadow chirps and purrs.

‘Shoji will come back. Don’t worry.’

‘How can you be certain?’

‘The moon told me,’

‘Did it?’ Tokoyami looks up at the moon and gasps softly when a gray shadow passes along the surface. ‘Dark Shadow...that’s a sign!’

‘I know!’

He smiles at Dark Shadow. “The moon has heard me...even though I left the cabal...it will keep Shoji and the others safe!”

‘As I said, there’s nothing to be worried about!’

Tokoyami looks back at the moon, remembering a time when one of the Seers told him that he will never see the ‘Shadow of the Moon’ because of the horrible things he did and let happen to him. All his life, Tokoyami truly believed that. The Shadow of the Moon, or Shadow On the Moon, is the promise the moon makes once it has deemed one a true and devout Lunarian.

Shoji was right. The cabal had been holding him back, and now he is free to do as he wishes, and follow the path of the Lunarians as he sees fit. The Shadow of the Moon agrees and accepts this from him. He has so much to thank Shoji for. He turns to Dark Shadow and says,

“I want to surprise Shoji with something special when he comes back,”

‘Like what?’

“Do you think I could learn to dance like him and the other tribal palace dancers?” 

‘Oops. I didn’t see the gray shadow this time!’ Dark Shadow teases. ‘Guess that means ‘no’!’

“This is my decision. I shouldn’t have asked for your opinion in the first place. Foolish brother,”

Oh! That reminds me! I want to surprise Shoji with something when he comes back too!’

Tokoyami crosses his arms, frowning slightly. “And, that is…?”

Dark Shadow clutches his claws together and says, ‘I’m going to ask him to marry me! We're twins, after all! No reason for you to have all the fun!’

Tokoyami throws his hood over his head, pulling it down hard. “You’re unbearable!”

The End

***I ended the story like this in case I may want to do a sequel! Thank you, everyone, who read and followed and commented on this story! You're the best! ^_^***