"Is it done? Have you found me a kingdom?" A rasping voice came out, echoing manifold throughout the searing hot cave.
"Yes, my lord." A male voice spoke back, shivering when he saw a manic grin stretch across the burned face of the first speaker; a tall, young man, with curiously pointed ears and a horrifically burnt face that was held together with pieces of metal.
He only nodded, glad for his mask. "Yes. A land far off to the west, a magnificent kingdom of ice. The people however, prefer to keep to themselves. No one's seen the kingdom, but it is grand and vast."
The young man chuckled. "It's coming together. Good."
The man tipped his hat, preparing to leave.
"Leave, jester. I need to see to it that this plan is absolutely foolproof."
The man bowed. "Of course, young sorcerer." He said politely, tipping his hat once more and preparing to leave.
Once he left the room, he shuddered, leaning against the wall.
Oh, gods above.
What did I get myself into?
It had been an ordinary day. Save for the snow.
Why the snow had arrived in the world of elves, where it had no business of appearing, Izuku Midoriya had no idea at the time.
But when he had gotten up, and ran out of his house with the intent to meet his best friend Shouto Todoroki, he hadn't been expecting anybody to forget that somebody named Shouto had existed.
Nor had he been expecting a haunting dream.
And yet, on that seemingly ordinary day, everything had changed.
It had been an ordinary day. Yesterday, that was. For eighteen-year old apprentice forager Izuku Midoriya.
He had gone to meet Shouto, who had been practicing his magic near the glade at Tenrei Forest, dispirited considering his magic hadn't been...well, functioning would be a kind word for it.
Shouto Todoroki had been Izuku's best friend since he had saved him from a neighbor's rather aggressive son. But the problem was that he, a descendant of a long lineage of powerful song mages, did not have the gift of song magic.
Or so it appeared.
Izuku knew Shouto had the gift- but the gift of song seemed to be rejecting Shouto for some reason, or so it would appear. He himself didn't know much about magic, but he did study up on it, aspiring to help Shouto as much as he could, though he did not have any magical abilities to speak of and was a simple forager.
Thus, Shouto was not the most cheerful of elves. But he had a good, beautiful heart, one Izuku cherished.
When Izuku traversed the river between the Elder Tree and the town of Shintorano that fateful day, he froze, seeing Shouto huddled over by the Elder Tree, shaking.
"Shouto?" Izuku asked softly, coming next to the mage-to-be, hesitantly kneeling down next to him.
Shouto sniffed, and Izuku muffled a gasp- realizing that the usually calm elven mage, had broken down crying in what Izuku knew had been a very long time.
It had broken Izuku beyond measure, knowing that his strong friend, who clearly had the gift of song magic, felt useless.
And so, Izuku gently wrapped his arms around Shouto, pulling him closer as they sat under the Elder Tree, its magical leaves fluttering down to them, despite the absence of a breeze. Izuku swallowed, feeling Shouto shake and sob underneath him, and pulled him even closer so that Shouto was wrapped snugly between his chest and arms.
Once he was sure the sniffles and tears had stopped, Izuku pulled back and faced Shouto, half wanting to cry himself.
"I failed." Shouto rasped out, voice shaky.
"I know you can do it. There's gotta be something wrong here, Shoucchan." Izuku only said gently, wiping away Shouto's rare and undeserved tears.
"How. How do you know I'll," He swallowed, wiping his tears. "How do you know I'll do it?" Shouto breathed out, sniffing.
"Because everything I read agrees with me. Your gift is rejecting you because you aren't ready to accept it completely, Shoucchan." Izuku murmurs, holding his friend's face in his hands.
Shouto puffed out a breath, not facing Izuku.
"I am willing to accept my gift, Izuku," Shouto says softly, turning away and looking at the creek nearby, watching as the water gently rushed by with a gurgling sound. "But, it isn't willing to accept me for some reason."
Izuku looks befuddled and he feels it too- the gift of song magic never rejected anyone, should it find itself a worthy wielder. He frowns; exactly what was Shouto so unworthy of that he couldn't be a song mage?
Shouto turns back to him, eyes red from crying. "Thank you, Izuku. But I...I need to be alone, right now." He says firmly, even though his voice is shaking.
Izuku's heart wrenches, and his eyes are painfully dry. "At least come back and have some coconut biscuits." He says, knowing how much Shouto adored them.
A corner of Shouto's lip quirks up. "Is your mother making them?"
Izuku nods, smiling. "Yeah! She wanted to give me some, but there were way too many."
Shouto huffs out an amused breath, as he now follows Izuku. "Too many for you?" He teases, making Izuku blush and protest with embarrassment.
But, Izuku thinks with a growing warmth of fondness, if it makes Shouto smile, he'll embarrass himself how many number of times it takes.
That night wasn't supposed to be strange as well.
The last Izuku had seen of Shouto that day was just before moonrise, Shouto leaving him with a hug and a halfhearted smile, with reassurances that he would visit Izuku next day as they walked back to the latter's cottage.
Izuku had gone about his business as usual, eating dinner, cleaning the cottage once or twice, taking a jog from the cottage to the glade and back, before snugly tucking himself in his bed for a good night's sleep.
Only, Izuku hadn't got any sleep at all, and instead received a strange dream.
Izuku blinked, opening his eyes, only to find himself staring out a starry night sky on a cliff with a wind so cold that it caused him to shiver. He was in the same clothes he had gone to sleep in, and he wondered, why was it so cold?
Izuku's teeth chattered, and he looked around, blinking, as white powdery stuff fell down from the sky, causing him to shiver even more.
"Huh?" He asked drowsily, blinking as the stars twinkled in and out of focus.
"Izuku, can you hear me?"
"Shou..to?" Izuku whispered out, suddenly feeling more alert.
"Izuku! You can hear me then?" Shouto's voice shouted in his head, sounding terribly panicked.
Izuku widened his eyes and straightened up, looking around in alarm. What on earth?
What to do? Go ahead and say he could? Perhaps that would make Shouto sound less panicked...
"Yeah. Shoucchan, I can hear you!" Izuku hollered out, inhaling as he realized that this definitely didn't feel like a dream.
"Izuku, you have to help me!" Shouto screamed, and oh no, Izuku thought in horror, Shouto definitely did not sound less panicked.
"Shoucchan!" Izuku screamed, staring up at the sky above him, hoping for something, anything that could let him see Shouto, know that he was all right but only stars winked back at him annoyingly.
"Izuku, I'm-I'm losing my mind! You have to save me!" Shouto yelled, sounding desperate.
"Shoucchan, I-" Izuku breathed in, realizing he had to sound calm if he had to reassure Shouto, even if his blood was boiling. He inhaled again, gasping out before looking back up at the sky again. "Shouto! What's going on?"
"Izuku, this isn't a dream! This is real! I managed to use my magic only for a few minutes- someone's taken me away to the land of man!" Shouto shouted out, and Izuku widened his eyes, but just then everything disappeared out of focus.
And then he woke up, sweat drenching him as he gasped out loudly, heart thumping quickly. He placed a hand on his heart to steady it, and gasped again.
What- what had just happened?
The Shouto in his dreams had told him this was not a dream- and Izuku could not disagree. It didn't feel like a dream. It had felt so vividly real...
Izuku licked his lips, trembling. What now?
Should he- should he go check for Shouto in his cottage? Shouto lived alone, so it wouldn't be as if he was going to disturb somebody apart from Shouto...if the dream had been just a mere dream.
And Shouto never liked being woken up.
Izuku frowned, head throbbing as he contemplated his options.
Maybe it was just a nightmare, after all.
However, Izuku did not feel very certain, if the tremors wrecking his hands were any indication.
The next day was strange. And not in a good way at all.
It started with the snow.
The snow that was now suddenly abundant, the snow that Izuku had only heard tales of as a child, and the snow that Izuku certainly didn't recall seeing in his life.
Izuku rubbed his eyes, shivering from the cold and suddenly feeling nauseous.
Groaning, he got up, teeth chattering as he tried to make his way to wash himself.
He only got to the shower by tripping seven times.
By the fifth time he tripped, he despised the snow.
Izuku hadn't forgotten his nightmare. Fear still gripping him, he walked out, completely unprepared for how freezing it was.
He clenched his jaw and instinctively hugged himself, cursing himself for not having bought warmer clothing.
A black doublet and thin breeches were definitely not a good choice. But it wasn't like Izuku had ever thought he needed warmer clothing- and this was the warmest he had. At least he had bought wyvern-hide boots; his feet were warmer and more snug than they had been in years.
He sighed, before rolling his shoulders and making his move.
He was interrupted by his mother waving at him from the town square. Startled, he waved back, smiling uneasily.
"Izuku! Isn't the snow beautiful?" His mother called, smiling as her cheeks were flushed with joy.
Izuku moved closer, smiling but still worried for Shouto. "Yes it is, Mom. Have you seen Shouto?"
Izuku's stomach dropped and he stared at his mother, eyes wide as his jaw unhinged. "Mom?"
Inko tilted her head to the side. "Izuku?" She asked, worried as she felt his forehead and throat. Izuku squirmed, shaking his head as white panic spread through his body.
Izuku laughed nervously. "Mom, you know Shouto." He said, trying to fight away the bout of nausea, swallowing repeatedly.
Inko looked even more worried. "Izuku? Is he a new friend?"
Izuku gaped. "Mom, you know Shoucchan! He's been my friend since I could walk!" He said, worried for his mother's memory- she was only 103...that wasn't too old for her memory to have decayed like this!
Inko looked really worried as she stared at him in abject confusion. "Izuku, you haven't had any childhood friends. And please stop shouting," she added softly, looking around nervously. "You only know the forager apprentices- remember how you used to cry about how lonely you were?"
Izuku gawked. What in the name of the world?
"Mom, I-" Izuku bit on his lip, suddenly realizing something.
His mom wasn't lying.
She genuinely did not have an idea who Shouto was.
Her eyes were clear as the grass in a meadow on a summer's day, with only utter bewilderment lightening them and Izuku felt his heart drop.
This wasn't real.
Izuku swallowed. "I- sorry, Mom, the snow got into my head. Y-yeah, Shouto's um, he's a new friend. You'll like him!" He said, laughing humorlessly even though his hands were shaking.
Inko sighed in relief. "I hope this snow clears away then! I'd like to meet him sometime soon, okay?"
Izuku smiled, even though it hurt so much. It was a miracle he still was standing, considering how his knees bucked and wailed for relief.
In the span of half an hour, Izuku wanted to cry somewhere.
Shouto's cottage was missing firstly.
Secondly, not a single elf in the vale of Shimokuwahara knew who Shouto Todoroki was. Even though everybody knew everybody in Shimokuwahara. And just yesterday, a few elves were talking about Shouto's prowess in song magic.
All Izuku had of Shouto right now was the ribbon he had gifted to his friend, the very same ribbon that was lying innocently in his pocket.
It hadn't been easy- but Izuku had figured if no one seemed to remember Shouto for some strange reason, he would have to get proof from Shouto's old room. Lo and behold, the room that had once been Shouto's was now a storehouse, and Izuku's eyes had stung as no portraits of Shouto was visible. Yet, he had spotted the ribbon that Shouto had tucked away in his box of gifts- the one Izuku had given for his seventeenth birthday.
"Your hair is getting longer- it'll need something to hold it together, yeah?"
Shouto laughed as Izuku, grinning, sat behind him to tie up his hair.
Izuku's head spun, as he wearily sat down on a rock, eyes smarting. He held his head in his hands, squeezing his eyes shut before shaking and taking out that silver ribbon from his pocket, staring at it.
What was going on?
Was...Was Shouto's warning real?
Was Shouto in danger right now? Was Izuku too late?
What was Izuku going to do? He couldn't do anything! He was just an apprentice forager- and what would he do with an ax anyway?! And if Shouto's warning really was real- then what would Izuku even do with an ax in the land of men?
The land of men...
Izuku whimpered- thoughts going out of control.
The land of men was the land of those who did not possess awareness of magic- of those creatures whose ears had not been blessed by The First Elf, the progenitor of all magic. Nobody knew who they were. Legend had it, that The First Elf found their desire frightening, and considered them a threat without magic itself. Men had no hearts- they had only overwhelming, insatiable desires that could destroy. Men could not create. They destroyed all of The First Elf's lands- and only Shimokuwahara was left, as far as they knew.
The oceans were created from The First Elf's tears, such was their grief at man's unyielding will.
If Shouto really was there...
Then I have to save him. No matter what.
But how? How was Izuku to do that? Without a plan or anything of the sort?
Izuku exhaled harshly, head spinning as he stared beyond at the setting sun, snow falling in front of him, a cruel reminder of what he had just lost.
"Young Izuku? Why the dull face?"
Izuku, startled, jumped with a yelp, only to be faced with the skeletal visage of Elder Toshinori Yagi. He widened his eyes, shocked out of his miserable reverie, and stared at the chuckling elder.
"Oh. Elder Toshinori." Izuku said tonelessly, swallowing as Shouto's smile assaulted his memories.
"Young Izuku?" Toshinori asked worriedly, sitting next to him.
Izuku swallowed. He hadn't asked Toshinori about Shouto yet, but he was losing hope at this point. For some mysterious reason, Izuku contemplated, Shouto had been kidnapped by somebody and taken away to the land of men. The snow had something to do with Shouto's disappearance. Izuku was the only one who remembered Shouto, because of the latter's desperate attempt to reach out to him using his magic.
Izuku clenched his jaw.
He looked at Toshinori, biting on his lip as he contemplated how to ask his question.
"Elder Toshinori, I'm sorry. I was lost in my thoughts." Izuku apologized, smiling wanly.
A worried crease appeared on the older elf's forehead. "I could see that. Something troubling you, my boy?"
Not any longer, if I have any say in it.
Izuku took a deep breath. "Elder Toshinori...if you knew something was deeply wrong but you couldn't do anything about it, what would you do?" He asked, hands on his lap.
Toshinori blinked, blue eyes concerned. "Izuku, my boy-"
"Please answer the question. And the question only." Izuku cut in firmly, but not rudely.
Toshinroi blinked again, before nodding. "Very well. If that were to be the case, I would ask the Elder Tree for assistance. If they sense your need is great, then they shall answer you."
Izuku pursed his lips. His need wasn't just great, it was the only thing driving him on not to panic, not to tremble in fear, and not to lose himself. He needed to find Shouto. Shouto, whose mismatched eyes always shone when amused, Shouto, whose sense of right and wrong was so strong and unreliable in a way Izuku admired and couldn't envy...
Shouto, who loved fiercely...
He would find Shouto. No matter what.
And if the Elder Tree couldn't accept that, fine. Izuku will jump off the cliff of Urata himself, the only way you could reach the land of men, provided you didn't die on the way.
"Thank you, Elder Toshinori." Izuku said, smiling and bowing apologetically.
"My boy?" The poor elder squawked, confused.
Izuku laughed, finally a bit more at ease at the elder's confusion. "Don't worry, Elder Toshinori...I might be away. I need to go somewhere. To find something important. And..." he swallowed, knowing he was asking a great deal of the elder. "I want you to take care of my mother."
"My boy, what in the name of The First Elf is going on?" Toshinori asked, bewildered but firm.
Izuku heaved a sigh, amused. "If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."
Toshinori raised an eyebrow. "Try me, young man."
Izuku exhaled. "If I told you I was trying to find a friend who nobody remembered, would you believe me?"
Toshinori stared at him, blinking blue eyes as he contemplated Izuku's answer, jaw unhinged. He then blinked again, eyes wide before they narrowed and he held his chin contemplatively. "Hm. I would not put it past you, Young Izuku."
It was Izuku's turn to gawk- the confidence and belief he had now gave way to embarrassment. "Eh?"
Toshinori smiled, but it was humorless. "This snow...it reeks of a malicious presence. The other elders do not agree, save for Elder Enji. The presence hurts him. If what you say is true, and as I have utter faith in you, then darker forces are at play, even as we speak. Be wise, Young Izuku."
Izuku widened his eyes. "The world is in danger?"
Toshinori nodded gravely. "It would appear to be so. If what you say is true, which I have no doubt of, then stormier times await us, my boy."
Izuku swallowed. All he had ever wanted to do, was live his life the best he could. And now- if what Elder Toshinori was saying was true...
"You believe me then? Something is wrong?" Izuku asks, timid.
Toshinori chuckled, now amused. "Of course. You're the most honest elf I've ever met. I will believe you. But," his eyes narrowed. "Do be careful. The legends of the land of men are mostly exaggerated, but they are not without truth. I will take care of your mother. You must promise me that you will return, Young Izuku."
Izuku swallowed, inhaling as he stood up, hardly unable to believe his good fortune. He bowed, and when he met Toshinori's intense, timeless eyes, he did not falter as he did for so long, before.
"I will." Izuku whispered, certainty filling his heart.
Toshinori smiled. "See that you do. I will inform the elders, and make sure nothing hinders your quest. Good luck, Young Izuku."
Izuku's eyes watered, but he did not want to cry right now, and since his eyes never listened to him, they watered over anyway, making Toshinori laugh heartily.
"Always free with your emotions, evergreen, yes, Midoriya?" Toshinori asked, amused.
Evergreen. Izuku nodded, throat choking up as his face broke out into a grin.
"Yeah. T-Thank you, Elder Toshinori, I can't tell you how much this means to me-"
Toshinori smiled. "Thank me by finding your path, my boy." He said, standing up and approaching Izuku.
Izuku choked out, tears freely slipping out of his eyes as Toshinori hugged him, and oh god, never did he think of this man as his father more than he did at this point- Izuku could hardly believe that this wonderful man was believing him, trusting him so much, and-
He coughed impatiently, hugging back Toshinori quickly.
Toshinori pulled away and clapped Izuku's shoulder with a firm grip, eyes blazing. "Go, now, Young Izuku."
Izuku nodded, as Toshinori retracted his hand and watched him run away with a grin on his face.
Izuku ran swiftly to the Elder Tree, ignoring the mutters that arose from the town square as he sprinted, Shouto's ribbon in his pocket.
You better acknowledge my need, Elder Tree, because even if you don't, I'll do it anyway. Best if you acknowledge it now.
Shouto would laugh himself to death if he heard what Izuku was thinking- but too bad, no one was here to stop him right now.
He glanced at his cottage, skidding to a stop as he pondered his options.
He was going to ask the Elder Tree to send him to the land of men, wasn't he? Then wouldn't he have to gather supplies? Something to save himself?
Izuku paused, before nodding and running into his cottage, leaving the door open as he spotted a brown rucksack, hurriedly shoving every eatable on the table into the smallest sachet before glancing at the ax hanging innocently on his wall.
Who knew what sort of contraptions the land of men possessed? Better to be safe, anyway, Izuku thought as he hefted the ax off the wall and slid it inside. He then looked around, then setting the rucksack down on the table before pulling out his clothes and stuffing them inside the rucksack's largest sachet. Licking his lips, he looked around, before grabbing every usable he possessed in his cabinet and placing them inside the sachets in an orderly fashion.
Izuku stared at his shaking hands, inhaling and exhaling.
He really was doing this.
He really was going to the land of men to save his best friend.
I wouldn't dare not to.
Izuku swallowed, clenching his jaw as he continued packing, Shouto's ribbon a warm reminder against the pocket. Once when he was done, he bit on his lip again, and then nodded.
This was it.
He was doing this.
Slinging his rucksack over his shoulder, Izuku walked out of his cottage, sparing it one last look before etching it into his memory.
He would come back. Safely. With Shouto.
He'd see Shouto smiling up at him again.
I'm sorry, Mom. But I have to do this.
Resolving thus, he went on.
Izuku ran off to the Elder Tree, heart thumping loudly in his ears as he felt the blood pound against his skin, roaring with life.
He ran, and ran, and ran- the wind whistling past his ears ominously, as if warning him to stop, but Izuku had never once stopped just because somebody else told him to.
"It's what's amazing about you."
Izuku ran on, memory pushing him to take turns and dives where the trees and ground were treacherous, propelled on by adrenaline as the blood roared against his ears along with the wind, creating a headache-inducing cacophony that should have stopped him from running, but he ran on, even as his head throbbed and his legs cried for relief.
Finally, panting and red-faced, Izuku stood in front of the Elder Tree.
On first glance, it seemed like any other tree, really. But when you stepped in front of it, the hugest tree in the entirety of Shimokuwahara, only then could you see its majesty. Large as time and larger than life, veins a deep blue against the stolid brown of the heartwood. Parts of the tree glowed a soft green, and the canopy stretched on evermore, its dark green leaves long and chilling.
Izuku heaved a huge breath, knees shaking.
This was the source of all magic. The First Elf had stood here and received its blessings. This was older than The First Elf. This was older than knowledge.
"Elder Tree?" He asked, feeling foolish. But what was he to do? He couldn't very well, telepathically, ask for help, now could he?
That was when the tree glowed.
It glowed, Izuku kidded you not.
Izuku widened his eyes, breath stolen as the leaves curled and lifted up, glowing a soft green. The tree somehow breathed, and Izuku felt his throat dry little spheres of golden light floated around the leaves, pulsating. Izuku held out a hand in wonder, and one of the spheres floated on his finger. Even if he was incapable of using magic- he could feel the rush of magic, the presence it held and it was overwhelming.
"Breathe, Izuku Midoriya."
The voice was distinctly feminine, and gentle and reassuring.
Izuku gasped, and fell to his knees, staring up at the glowing leaves.
A hole in the tree, right at the very center of the trunk, glows and Izuku takes the time to wonder- what is it with all the fucking glowing, why couldn't this tree spare his poor eyes?
The voice that spoke to him earlier, now chuckles.
"I'm sorry for your eyes, Izuku. But magic often is radiated as light. It'll clear up in a second, don't worry."
Izuku stares, utterly spooked.
True to the mysterious tree's voice, the light glows, and the hole just pulsates with a soft light. Izuku bites his lips and gets up, wheezing, staring at the tree with wide eyes.
The air shifts, and the voice starts to speak.
"Izuku Midoriya, my name is Nana Shimura. Centuries ago, the First Elf blessed my spirit, and thereby, this tree is my host. I'm here because I felt your need to save your friend, Shouto Todoroki."
Izuku widens his eyes, and adrenaline pumps through him. "Do you know him then?" He breathes out, infinitely relieved.
"Indeed. A powerful song mage to be- his potential has been suppressed by circumstances beyond his control. But Izuku," Nana's voice becomes serious. "Vengeance has corrupted the most innocent of all, ambition can ruin the best of intentions. Anything in excess will only ruin, Izuku. This is why elves fear the land of men. But you have a chance," Nana's voice becomes more hopeful as Izuku struggles to make sense of what she's said. "You have a chance to save your beloved-"
Izuku sputters. "My w-what?!"
Nana continues as if she hasn't said anything particularly scandalous, which to Izuku, feels completely wrong. "And you have powers beyond the wildest of imaginations-"
Huh? Izuku was just a simple forager. What sort of powers could he have?
"But they have been latent. Which is why, take one of the leaves of this tree and ingest it."
Izuku's completely lost. Huh?
But wordlessly, he reaches up for the leaf- (thank the First Elf- somehow he had grown taller than Shouto) and stares at the glowing little thing.
"Eat it, Izuku." Nana says, patiently.
Izuku stares at it further before throwing it inside his mouth and chewing it, swallowing it in bewilderment at the sweet taste.
"Good. Now, listen to me carefully." Nana's voice hardens again. "There is a kingdom, just to the north of this realm in the land of men. It is called Shiroseki. But now, it has been taken over by the very same man who took away Shouto."
Izuku clenches his jaw.
"You must pass through the Ikyu Mountains to get to Shiroseki. Tread carefully, Izuku. The truth always pains, but I trust you will be strong enough to bear it."
Izuku tries not to let confusion overwhelm him now. He knows his way is clear- get through a bunch of mountains, and get into Shiroseki to get to Shouto.
He nods, and Nana now sounds pleased.
"Good. Now when you're ready- step into the hole and jump. You'll find yourself in the land of men. Remember everything I've said, Izuku. It should serve you well." Nana says, gently.
Izuku nods again. He was waiting for this- there's no more backing out now.
The hole glows again, and Izuku runs into it, finding himself in a field of vast, blue light- little white bursts of light float around him and he feels weightless, just floating around somewhere. Eyes wide, he tries to scan his surroundings, but then he falls.
Izuku doesn't scream- not after the first godforsaken fifteen seconds anyway, but then he finds himself gently lowered to the ground, and then the blue light fades, revealing a forest. Rain suddenly pours down on him, and the smell is already enough to soothe him.
Yet, Izuku can't shake the feeling of wrongness in the land.
But that's fine by him- he's here to save Shouto, and he'd go through anything.