Help me. Please, help me. Somebody. Anybody, please…
A young boy ran barefoot through the forest. He knew this forest —after all, it was his. Yet, pure desperation had caused him to stumble on the familiar roots and stones. His entire being was covered in shallow cuts and bruises. But that was alright. As soon as daylight broke, he would heal. As soon as daylight broke, he would be safe. As soon as daylight broke…
A young girl frowned as she picked herself up. She wrung out the excess water from her dress with her pale hands. Pushing her dripping golden hair away from her face, she removed herself from the lake into which she had apparently fallen.
Where was she?
The girl kicked off her shoes and sat on a moss-covered rock. Peeling off her stockings, she tried to piece together the events that led to her current predicament. She had been running away from the town boys. They were ever so mean and cruel. They pulled on her long curls and threw pebbles at her and pinched her arms. She quite disliked them.
Fed up from their constant teasing, she had finally run away, knowing that her mother would scold her afterwards and call her a tomboy while loading her with even more chores as punishment.
And then she had tripped. It was likely because she was thinking of the chores she would have to do as she ran. She had thrown her slender arms in front of her face on instinct, closing her eyes as the grassy field suddenly lurched closer.
But instead of the impact that she had been expecting… she had fallen. It had been a strange sensation, as if somebody had dragged her by the sternum down into and through the ground. It was like falling into an endless abyss, except, it was not necessarily unpleasant. In fact, she hadn’t disliked the sensation. By the time she had come to, she had already been sitting waist-deep in water.
Shrugging, the girl simply picked up her still-wet shoes and began to walk. Eventually, she figured, she would find a way out.
Out of nowhere, something green flew out of the forest and collided with the girl. Unprepared for the impact, she fell down with a small yelp.
“Oww. Hey, that hurt,” she complained. Tangled up on top of her was a little boy, probably younger than her. The first thing she saw as she glared at him was his short green hair. He looked as if he was wearing some of the flora of the forest on his head.
It looked quite fluffy.
“Hey, are you all right?” she asked the boy, ignoring the throbbing pain of her own bottom. Besides, the boy was in much worse shape than she was. He was clearly exhausted; his clothes were in tatters, and cuts and scrapes crisscrossed his flesh.
Slowly, the boy picked himself up and turned his gaze to the girl. She took note of his unusual features —he had pointed leafy ears and strange, yellow-green eyes. She thought his eyes were beautiful. The lights in his eyes danced, alluring her into their mysterious lull. It was as though they were the eyes of the forest itself, pulling her in. Yet, a certain air of sadness lingered around them. She wished this sadness would go away.
“Are you here to kill me too?”
It took her a few seconds to process what the boy had said. “What? No! Who would do something so terrible?” she cried out in alarm. The boy looked so sad and so fragile. Why would anyone want to kill him?
The green-haired boy opened his eyes in surprise. “If you aren’t here to kill me, then why are you here tonight?”
“I got lost. And why are people trying to kill you?”
The boy looked at her, puzzled. Finally, he dropped his gaze and reached out a hand to help her up. “Because I’m a dragon, and because tonight is the night of the Red Moon.”
The girl accepted his hand a hoisted herself up. Silently, she noticed that his skin was remarkably smooth. Curious, she stared at his hand until she realized that that his skin was composed of thousands upon thousands of barely-visible iridescent scales reflecting blue and green lights.
“But what does that have anything to do with people trying to kill you? You’re just a kid!”
The boy stared at her with his head tilted to the side, as if he was trying to fit together a difficult puzzle. “Miss, are you an Alice?”
“No, my name is Clarabel. It’s very nice to meet you.”
The boy looked on blankly for a while before sighing. He then promptly sat down and gestured for her to sit in front of him. Puzzled, Clarabel followed his stead and sat down.
“My name is Shin’ya. I am the Lord, the dragon who presides over this forest. And you, Clarabel, are likely a visitor from the other world. You probably fell through a hole in the veil that keeps our worlds separate. We call people like you Alices, because you are granted a portion of the power the first visitor held —the power to make a wish come true.”
“So I can wish for anything I want?”
“Yes,” Shin’ya smiled wryly. Humans were always the same. Greedy and selfish… was that not the very reason that he had to fear for his life right now? No matter how much he gave and gave, they only wanted more. “But only once.”
“Then can I wish for you to be my friend?”
Shin’ya blinked in surprise. Then he began to laugh. How many hundreds of years had it been since a human had amused him so? Despite himself, he was glad. “You don’t need to use your wish for that.”
Clarabel beamed. Her smile was so infectious that Shin’ya couldn’t help but smile along with her.
“So why are people trying to kill you?”
Shin’ya pointed upwards. Clarabel looked up to see that an ominous red moon was floating in the sky. It looked… wrong. The moon emitted an eerie presence that dyed the sky a reddish hue. It was as if the sky itself was bleeding.
“Tonight is the night of the Red Moon. The three moons converge into one and blanket the world in crimson. We Lords lose our powers during such nights; it’s the only time we dragons can truly be killed. It’s the first time I’ve experienced one myself. I had no idea how terrifying it was to feel so vulnerable.” Shin’ya grimaced, momentarily losing himself. “The humans think that a dragon’s corpse will grant them miracles. They think that drinking my blood will cure any sickness, and that eating my flesh will grant them power and immortality. Though I can’t say for sure if it’s true or not…”
“That’s terrible!” Clarabel stood up in an outrage. “They want to kill a kid just for that?”
Shin’ya laughed and stood too. “I’m way older than you, you know. I just look like a kid because I lost my powers.”
“Shin’ya, let’s get you somewhere safe.”
“That might be difficult. As its Lord, I can’t leave this forest, and people are hunting for me all over the place. There isn’t much that I can do but wait it out.”
“But that’s terrible!”
“I’ll manage somehow,” Shin’ya shrugged. Seeing how upset his companion was, he reached up to pat down the tangled locks of her golden hair, forgetting that he was shorter than her in his current condition.
“I wish there was something I could do to help you,” Clarabel whispered.
Without warning, a bright white light flashed around the two, illuminating the forest for several long seconds before it faded away. Clarabel blinked and rubbed her eyes.
“Clarabel, did you just…?”
“There it is!” A voice interrupted him. He hadn’t noticed how close the hunters had gotten while he and Clarabel had been talking. “This way!” the hunters yelled.
Realizing that the light had given their position away Shin’ya grabbed Clarabel’s hand and bolted. Before long, the air whizzed in short buzzes as arrows flew past them.
“Shin’ya, where are we going?” Clarabel asked, haphazardly moving her feet to keep up with him. From somewhere behind her, she heard a man curse as he tripped and fell. The roots of the trees behind them moved to claw at the hunters’ feet.
“Curse the gods, it’s a witch! A witch is helping the dragon!”
“I received some of my powers back when you made your wish,” Shin’ya explained as he pulled Clarabel through the forest’s maze. Most of his wounds had disappeared. “We’re going to the core, the heart, of this forest. I might be able to set up shelter there!”
Unable to answer, Clarabel placed her upmost trust in her newfound friend and concentrated on running. Stray arrows grazed at her. Some of the branches of the trees, while many moved out of their way, whipped her as she ran past. She could hear unfriendly barking in the distance.
“We’re almost there now. Just a little further,” Shin’ya muttered, more to himself than to the girl trailing behind him. He was aware that she was exhausted. She was only a human child, after all. His stamina was incomparable to hers. He knew she was only able to keep running because he was pulling her along. Silently, he begged the forest to clear out a path for him. Such a task should have been simple for him, easier and simpler than running on his own two legs, yet the Red Moon prevented him from reaching into the depths of the forest.
He gazed up at the sky. It was a greenish hue now. Dawn was coming. In only a few more minutes, the spell would break and this nightmare would finally be over. He would regain his strength and drive out the humans. Then maybe he could show Clarabel the charms of the forest that he was so proud of. First, he would ask the naiads and dryads to dance for her. If they were in a good mood, he could ask the dryads to make their trees blossom and bear fruit. The fruit of his forest tasted good; he had tended to the soil for decades to get it just right.
A well-aimed arrow lodged into his shoulder, breaking Shin’ya out of his reverie. The humans had also noticed the color of the sky and were desperate to complete their hunt.
“We’re close now, I promise,” Shin’ya hissed. His shoulder hurt, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. His body had already begun to heal itself, and the arrow was slowly pushed out of his flesh. His strength was returning.
Finally, they had reached their destination —a cozy clearing in the middle of the forest. As soon as Shin’ya and Clarabel tumbled in, the forest moved to form a barrier around the core and protect its master. Even still, several arrows managed to slip through the forest’s weakened defenses.
“We’ll be safe for now, Clarabel,” Shin’ya breathed out in relief. Now, all they needed to do was wait.
There was no answer. Worried, he turned around.
He had been careless.
She was crumpled on the ground, shuddering pitifully, with multiple arrows protruding from her frail body. Immediately, he moved to kneel beside her. Her breathing was too shallow; her heart was beating too fast.
“Hey, stay with me, alright?” He didn’t know if he was trying to reassure her or himself. “I’ll patch you up as soon as I get my powers back.”
“Shin…ya.” A frail hand slowly and painfully reached up to pat his hair.
Shin’ya did his best to smile as he frantically tried to access the true extent of his power. It should have been easy. But it wasn’t.
“You keep treating me like a kid,” he began ruefully, without really thinking about what he was saying. He was simply running his mouth. “But I’m actually a lot older than you. I’m probably older than everyone you know combined. You’ll be surprised when you see my actual form.”
Clarabel said nothing.
“I’ll save you, I promise. Just hold on,” Shin’ya muttered. “You’ll be fine.” Why hadn’t the sun come up yet? Surely it was almost dawn.
The entire forest shivered as the first rays of dawn kissed it and the crimson hue of the Red Moon shattered and faded away. Slowly and surely, Shin’ya felt his strength return. The night of the Red Moon had ended. The spell had broken at last.
Even as his body restored itself to its original form, Shin’ya poured the forest’s energy into the young girl before him.
But the energy only dissipated before him. After all, a corpse could not retain energy. It was just a broken shell.
Shin’ya laughed bitterly as tears rolled down his scaly cheeks. They were salty, so salty. As if in response, the forest writhed, chasing out any unwanted visitors that still remained within. To run from the prey they had cornered at the first sign of danger; it was a disgustingly human response.
Carefully, Shin’ya picked up the body before him and carried it in his arms. Bluish leaves sprang up from where her blood had spilt, soaking back the remnants of energy that still lingered in the air.
A sour smile adorned the dragon’s lips. He had had enough. He was tired, so tired, of giving; tired of having things taken away. How much more would he have to give before they were satisfied?
But he would keep his promise. Even if it cost him his pride, he would keep his promise.
The forest screamed. A heavy black wind roared, bringing only death as it swept through the trees. The woods rotted, and the waters soiled. The spirits that had lived within them perished without a trace. From the back of his weary mind, a single thought voiced protest against Shin’ya’s action: The knowledge that even the humans in the settlements close to his forest would get caught up in this mess and suffer for it. But he brushed the thought away without a single care. The humans constantly took from his forest; more than they should have needed to survive. He was simply collecting his dues.
And so, for the first time, the dragon stole. He took away life from everything that was around him, and sealed it in the body in his arms. He would use the energy to tie the soul back to the body. The body, he reasoned, should move if the anima returned to it.
The earth trembled, as if it was asking, what have you done?, as it opened up to swallow the tragedy whole.
A giant rift opened across the floor of the enormous chamber. At one end of the hall stood a tall woman with thread-like black hair. She gazed coldly as ethereal chains emerged from the dark rift, dragging the bounded figure of a fully grown man up from the abyss.
“What’s this now?” The bounded figure shook his head to clear away his greenish-black hair from his yellow-green eyes.
“I wish to seek your aid, Fallen One. By covenant, you have not the right to refuse.” The woman spoke as she fearlessly walked up to the Fallen dragon.
“You want my help, knowing that I already failed once?” the dragon mocked.
“I think that this proposition is beneficial for you as well. Aid me, and redeem yourself. Are you not of one of the proudest and noblest of races?”
“The Empress’ will is the will of the world,” the dragon jeered. “Is that what you want to say, Majesty? You humans never change.”
“Do you not tire of your age-old punishment?”
“My sins have nothing to do with you.”
The woman closed her eyes, deep in thought. The silver-gold circlet resting on her head twinkled with her slightest movement. “What is your name, Fallen One?”
“I don’t have one. It was taken from me long ago. You know that.”
“Indeed. You Fell. You destroyed what you were obliged to protect, and you dismissed the very values that you were sworn to uphold. Sin tainted your hands, sullied your name, and altered your nature.” The woman extended a slender finger and pointed at the chains that protruded from the ground. “Dragon, this is your punishment. Your name and your status as a Lord were taken from you. Your scales were stained by darkness as a sign of penitence for your bloody crimes. Henceforth, your fate was sealed, just as mine.”
“So be it.”
“As a kindred spirit, I ask this of you: will you not fight for me?”
“Heh,” the nameless dragon snorted. “Do whatever you like.”
“Then I shall name you, and you shall be mine. From now on your name is Cain. You will be as my right arm and do my bidding. And when your work is done, with my authority I shall return your true name to you.”
At her words, the chains surrounding the dragon Cain vanished as the rift to the abyss disappeared. In its place, a gear-like symbol burned itself into Cain’s chest. He dropped down lightly and stretched. How many millennia had it been since he was imprisoned for committing taboo?
“A fitting symbol for a machine doll,” Cain muttered as he examined the newly formed seal. “Well then, my Majesty. What is it that you wish for?”