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Mt. Kirishima

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 The clouds circle in the sky in a gloomy ashen spiral, lighting cracking with blinding white light and bellowing thunder, raindrops freezing mid-fall pelting the frozen tundra and soaking Katsuki to the bone as he pulls his cloak tight around his shoulders. As the thunderstorm rolls in, he becomes increasingly desperate for shelter.

 

Thankfully, after blindingly stumbling through the forest, he finds himself in a snow-coated clearing, evergreen trees dusted with snow ringed around the massive opening carved into the stone wall of the mountain. "Thank the gods," Katsuki chokes, his breath steaming in the biting winter wind.

 

He treks painfully slowly through the knee-high snow, his boots soaked through, his cloak dragging against the snow. He's thankful for the sturdy stone surface of the cave floor, his feet no longer sinking with every step.

 

He's freezing, famished, and fatigued to the bone, eager to get a fire started and chew through some of the salted meat in his pack, and in his haste, he doesn't notice the unnaturally smooth curve of the cave wall, or the enormous footprints impressed into the mud, or the thing that made those footprints resting quietly on a ledge high up in the cave, its tail curled around it like a cat.

 

There's a fire pit here already, a ring of stone around ashen twigs and logs—it's not too uncommon to find these in caves—simply means that someone has been in the cave before him. Katsuki ignites the logs with sparks from his hands, getting a meager crackling fire going soon enough. He discards his shoes and cloak, laying them out to dry by the fire. He retrieves his blanket from his pack, pulling it around his shoulders as he grinds through the most food he can manage at the moment.

 

The howling and groaning wind outside, punctuated by the pounding of freezing rain against the Earth is almost like a lullaby, filling the aching silence and masking the snoring sounds of the beast that rests above Katsuki. Katsuki closes his eyes, and eventually, falls asleep.

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It opens its eyes, greeted by not the gentle glow of morning light, but the dying flames of a fire it didn't start. Slowly, it gets up, rolling onto its feet, opening massive jaws lined with a plethora of razor-sharp, pointed teeth to yawn widely. Its tail unfurls, wagging back and forth as it nimbly jumps from its perch high up against the cave walls to the ground, landing with no more than a gentle thump.

 

There's a human resting against the cave wall, cloth wrapped around its body, its eyes closed and gentle snores drifting from his mouth. It blinks, carefully creeping towards the sleeping human, careful not to wake it.

 

The human has pale skin and even paler hair, and what looks like red, curled water droplets on its ears. It sniffs the human tentatively—it smells like blood and salt.

 

The human has left things by the dying fire—brown animal hide and pale fur sewn together and contorted into an odd shape, and a blood-red cloth bigger than the human is itself. It sniffs those things, too, and they smell of the human, and strongly of blood.

 

The human begins to stir, its head rolling, yawning, and shaking itself awake. Its eyes open, and two pairs of burning red eyes meet.

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Katsuki wakes up feeling warm, heat washing over him in waves. The fire, he initially assumes, somehow still going by morning—but he hears a low growl, and Katsuki wakes to see two massive red irises with black pupil slits blinking at him—the warmth he felt being the natural heat of a dragon's breath.

 

Katsuki jerks awake with an undignified yelp, stumbling back against the cave wall. The beast jumps, its head raising as it scuttles backward. Katsuki's eyes dart to his blade lying by the fire, and he dives for his scimitar.

 

The legends couldn't prepare him for this—massive red eyes, with slitted pupils; gleaming scales like a thousand rubies lining its body; long black talons that curl into the ground; powerful, leathery, crimson wings folded at its sides.

 

His hands are shaking as he holds the scimitar in front of him, holding that this weapon will be enough to face off against a dragon—maybe just enough to escape.

 

The beast has receded into the shadows of the cave, its form draped in darkness except for its two eyes glittering like bloodstones as the light of the dying fire reflects on it. Katsuki hears it give a low growl as he begins cursing himself under his breath.

 

He should've known—this kind of cave couldn't possibly be natural, with the smooth circular walls of the tunnel that leads the greater expanse of the cave. There aren't any stalactites or stalagmites, only an arching dome of a ceiling, a level floor and smooth, curving walls. A dragon had carved out this cave in the side of the mountain.

 

He can't fight a dragon, no. The dragon hasn't made a move, curled up in the darkness, growling lowly. Katsuki gingerly retrieves his pack and throws his cloak over his shoulders, the blade still brandished to fight. The dragon doesn't move, but it's too close to the tunnel.

 

"Move," Katsuki hisses as he stuffs his feet into his boots. "Move!" He whips the point of the blade to the side, urging the beast to shift to the right as he approaches cautiously.

 

"Move!" He growls, flicking the blade and punctuating it with an explosion, sparks and smoke dancing to the right. The dragon reacts, growling and rearing, teeth bared as it scuttles to the side. It opens one wing wide, snarling, but the other stays folded awkwardly at its side. Katsuki darts for the tunnel, eager to escape, and then he skids to a stop.

 

The storm still rages outside, snow piled up to his chest at the mouth of the cave. If he goes out, he'll surely die of the cold. He slumps to his feet. He's trapped in a cave with a dragon.

 

He's trapped in a cave with a dragon.

 

His mother used to fight dragons, but he doesn't have her power, the power to swallow up flame and make it her own —techniques devised specifically for dealing with dragons. He's not his mother.

 

The dragon still hasn't attacked him, however, and it seems to be staying where it is deeper within the cave. Some beasts attack anything that moves—others only do so when provoked—does the same apply to dragons?

 

Katsuki's dead tired. He can't fight, especially not with his leg. All he can do is wait out the storm and hope that the dragon won't attack him if he doesn't attack it. He slumps against the cave wall, pulling the cloak and blanket tightly around him, and he waits, clutching his scimitar beneath the layers of cloth.

 

He can hear the dragon growling deeper in the cave, but it makes no move.

 

Katsuki waits, and waits, and waits, his eyes growing heavier, and heavier until his body no longer obeys his command and he slips in sleep.

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The human curls up against the entrance of the cave, fearfully scuttling away from it. The human pulls the cloth around itself, shivering. It's exhausted, its eyes falling as it drifts off, and then it snaps awake again. But nothing can stay awake forever. Eventually, the human falls asleep, not even waking as it creeps toward the entrance of the cave, footsteps light and quiet.

 

The human looks cold. It can sense heat, and it knows how living things die when they go cold. The human's heat is dying fast.

 

It doesn't want to human to die, it thinks, dimly, as it gingerly grasps the human's tiny foot and drags it back into the cave. It breathes flame over the bits of wood and stone the human had previously lit a fire, and it roars back to life, soon enough. The human begins to warm up, heat slowly returning to all parts of its body, and as much as it murmurs in its sleep and stirs, it doesn't wake.

 

It lays down next to the fire, and it watches the human.

 

It doesn't want the human to die, it thinks, dimly.

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Katsuki wakes up, feeling warm, with the light of a fire dancing in his eyes. The fire was dead, wasn't it?

 

He jerks awake, seeing that he's back in the heart of the cave, and across from him on the other side of the fire he didn't make, the dragon rests, curled like a cat with its tail around its body, red eyes blinking as it stares.

 

Katsuki tries to stand, and an arrow of pain rockets up his leg. His stance is wobbly, stumbling towards the cave wall for purchase—ah, he feels so warm, sweat collected on his brow. His leg's stinging and throbbing, his pulse pounding in his calf at his temple—he crashes back to the ground and pukes up the contents of his stomach.

 

The dragon rises onto its two front feet, a low noise in its throat, taking a step towards him.

 

Katsuki, remembering the beast he shares the cave with, scuttles back against the wall, his chest heaving. The dragon seems to notice his panic, and it withdraws, laying down again on the other side of the fire. It doesn't seem to be interested in attacking him—Katsuki has to assume that the dragon was the one to rekindle the fire and drag him back here.

 

Is—is the dragon trying to help him?

 

Katsuki stands weakly, only to gingerly take steps towards the fire to retrieve his possessions. The dragon doesn't move. Katsuki hastily pulls out a medkit from his pack and begins to tend his wounded left leg, rolling up his pant leg. The bandages are filthy at this point, and so, carefully, he unwraps them and tosses them aside, his flesh stinging with each touch and movement.

 

There was a bit of a run-in with the locals, who'd driven him out of their village with pitchforks and torches, throwing stones and sending arrows flying under the impression that he was the devil—he escaped, but not before they tore a gash in his left calf and he'd been driven well into the mountains and into a storm, which led him to this cave.

 

His leg is swelling to an ugly plum shade and the wound is red with inflammation, stinging with the new exposure to air.

 

"Fuck," Katsuki hisses. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

 

He fumbles for the cleansing tincture and soaks a bit of cloth in it, hissing as he pats down his wound, and he wraps it up again with clean bandages, resting against the cave wall when he's finished.

 

The dragon rises again, and Katsuki tenses, grabbing the wall for purchase to stand as it stalks towards him, and then poises to pounce. It opens up its right wing, flapping it once, and it leaps.

 

Nimble as a cat, the dragon leaps into the rock ledge above Katsuki, and as Katsuki stumbles to the far wall to see, it circles around a few times and lays down, curled up like a massive cat, eyes closing as it huffs out smoke from its flaring nostrils, and soon enough, the dragon is snoring monstrously.

 

Katsuki collapses to the ground again, scooting towards the fire. It could still eat him—but what can he do? His leg isn't going to get him anywhere. The dragon hasn't eaten him yet, and perhaps in the delirium caused by his rising fever, he pulls the blanket over his shoulders and curls up but the fire, too tired to ponder anything more, and he falls into a sleep like death.

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It wakes to daylight, the fire dead and the storm outside silent. It's hungry—it's been many days since it hunted. It hasn't seen the human eat in a while—the human must be hungry, too, it thinks as it trudges past the sleeping human and out of the cave.

 

Its feet sink into the snow with every step, and it squints in the daylight, the snow reflecting light till it's blinding. It stretches out its right wing, its good wing, and it rolls over, burying its bad wing in the snow. The chill of ice soothes the soreness there and numbs the stinging. It rumbles, satisfied and shimmies into the snow.

 

It laps up some of the snow with its tongue, and it melts on its tongue and quenches its thirst. It curls its wing back in, and it treks through the snow into the tall pines, silent and nimble.

 

It finds its favorite spot again, nestled between two boulders, and it watches the forest through the hanging branches of a willow tree. Nothing sees it, if it doesn't move, but it sees all.

 

A moose wanders by. It curls its hind legs, coiled like a spring, and as the moose nibbles at the berries of the bush, it pounces, wide jaws snapping shut.

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Katsuki wakes with the sounds of scraping footsteps, the crimson beast dragging a deer across the cave floor by its teeth and setting it by the fire. It then resumes its spot high up on its perch. There are bits of something stuck in the dragon's teeth. The dragon ate something, and it wasn't Katsuki.

 

It's getting harder to think beyond the simplest of impulses. Food, he thinks, greedily stumbling towards it. He needs to cool it. Does he have a stick? Eh, he can just use his spear.

 

He cuts away the good bits of the meat with his scimitar, goring it on his spear and holding it on the fire, levering it on a rock and keeping it in place with the weight of his pack so that he can roast it without having to hold it himself.

 

He devours part of it greedily, as much as he thinks his stomach can manage—he hasn't eaten in days since his salted meat ran out. He sets some aside for later days and realizes his canteen is empty. He can eat the snow, he thinks, and stands to go to the mouth of the cave. A mistake, he realizes, and he's quickly met with a flaming pain in his leg.

 

Goddamn it!

 

He inhales sharply as he stands, leaning against the cave wall and limping towards the tunnel. It's painfully slow progress, and in what feels like hours he's made barely any progress at all. His leg's getting worse.

 

He hears a low rumbling sound, and the dragon leaps from its perch to the ground and Katsuki startles, falling to the floor with a thump—pain rockets up his leg again.

 

"Fuck!" He hisses. Does he have to crawl?

 

The dragon approaches with slow, cautious steps. Katsuki holds his breath—maybe he was wrong. Maybe the dragon's going to eat him. The dragon's snout is mere feet away from him, hot air huffing from its nostrils, and it opens its mouth, revealing hundreds of razor-sharp, gleaming white daggers.

 

He was wrong—this dragon's definitely going to eat him!

 

He panics, backing up against the wall as much as possible—he can't run, he can't hide as the dragon's jaws open wide, and he closes his eyes, waiting for death...

 

...which... doesn't come?

 

The dragon's teeth close around the collar of his tunic, and as the dragon's head raises, he's lifted into the air.

 

Keep calm, keep calm, keep calm—it's only a fucking dragon carrying him like he's its baby.

 

The dragon then stalks down the tunnel and out into the winter landscape—the storm has cleared, and the snow is blindingly white.

 

The dragon growls and drops him.

 

Katsuki sinks into the snow to his chest, and he's freezing all over, in shock from both the sudden rush of cold and realizing that—the dragon helped him. It saw him struggling to walk and it helped him.

 

The dragon is watching him, sitting comfortably atop the snow, and when its eyes meet Katsuki's, it cocks its head, thumping its tail, as if it's expecting something.

 

Oh right—water, Katsuki thinks as he grabs a handful of snow and stuffs it into his mouth, ignoring how his teeth freeze. His throat is parched, and he stuffs more and more snow into his mouth until his thirst is sated.

 

The dragon seems happy, its tail wagging, right wing flapping giddily, and it rolls around in the snow. It buries its left wing in the snow, and it lies there, staring at Katsuki on its side.

 

He wants to laugh—a dragon acting like a giddy house cat.

 

The snow is freezing, and he struggles to get out, sunken up to his chest. The dragon notices this, rolling back onto his feet and pulling him out of the several feet of snow. The dragon carries him back into the cave, lowering him gently towards the ground rather than dropping him like before, and then it leaps back up to its perch.

 

Katsuki's breathless. The dragon is aiding him, for whatever reason, bringing him food and taking him outside to eat snow. A benevolent dragon? He's never heard of such a thing.

 

Whatever the reason, he's getting out of here as soon as his leg is better.

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It's routine. The human wakes it up when it's out of food or wants to go out to quench its thirst, either pointing to its dry tongue or stomach. Why the human can't go out and get them itself, it doesn't know, but it obliges, because it doesn't want the human to die, it thinks, dimly.

 

The human isn't as scared of it now, even as it carefully creeps toward it, sniffing at it and smelling blood and sweat and the stench of sickness that keeps strengthening. The human sleeps fitfully, tossing and turning, and sometimes it doesn't sleep at all. In the days that follow, the stench of sickness grows overpowering, and soon, the human stops eating or drinking or moving at all, even when it drags another deer into the cave.

 

He's not exactly sure about what humans do and do not do, but he's fairly sure that's not a good sign, as it lays there, eyes half-closed, breathing erratically. It nuzzles the human with its snout, and the human groans, but doesn't move. Surely, the human is awake, at least. The human rolls a bit, and it can see why it can no longer walk.

 

The stench of blood and sickness reek from where something slashed its leg wide open and the blood drains from it, the human's skin paling. It rumbles softly—this isn't good, and if it doesn't do something about it, the human will die.

 

It doesn't want the human to die, it thinks, dimly, nuzzling the human's body with its nose again. Wake up, it urges the human, but the human doesn't rise. The human makes sounds, soft and short and faster with intermittent pauses.

 

"Fuck," it makes a short, sharp sound, and then a series of them. "I'm going to die here."

 

What can it do for the human? Take it to the other humans? Maybe. There's a human who lives near the bottom of the mountain. It's seen the human before, with dark green hair atop its head, taking out the animals of the forest with big thorns that flew through the air and were quite painful when struck with. Could it take it to that human? It doesn't know, but it has to try.

 

It doesn't want the human to die, it thinks dimly as it lifts the human onto its back and leaves its cave. A storm rages outside, and it doesn't want to go out, but it can't let the human die. It slides the human under its good wing, curling the wing underneath it to shield the dying creature, and it braves the storm.

 

It can't fly, not with its bad wing, and it treks through the forest by foot, snaking down the mountain, the pelting snow batters his bad wing, which aches and throbs. He can smell the human at the base of the mountain, smell the meat it's roasting, and he follows that smell, fading in the storm.

 

It finally gets to the base of the mountain, and it's careful, quietly creeping up on the small wooden box the human lives in, and it gingerly leaves its human laying there in the snow. Then, after retreating not too far away in the woods, far enough that the humans shouldn't see it, but it can still see the humans, it opens its jaws and lets out a thunderous roar.

 

The human races out of the house immediately, the one it recognizes, with forest-hair hair, and with two others it doesn't recognize. They see its human immediately, rushing towards it, and eventually, they bring its human with them inside the wooden box.

 

It growls to itself in quiet satisfaction, and it turns, and it treks back up the mountain.

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Katsuki wakes to sunlight drifting through a glass pane, a blanket draped over his body and a towel on his forehead. He blinks groggily, staring at the sunlight cast through the window, half expecting to see a dragon on the other side.

 

A dragon.

 

Katsuki jolts awake, sitting up, his mind racing with a million thoughts as he scans the homely bedroom he's in.

 

Where’s the dragon?

 

He's in a home that is definitely not his own, his leg throbbing gently, both his leg and midsection wrapped tightly in clean bandages. Someone treated him while he was asleep, and now the pain from standing seems... bearable. He clings to the wall, taking slow steps towards the door.

 

The hallway is quiet, a few other doors shut along the hall, and he can hear voices down the hall into what must be a kitchen.

 

Katsuki wanders into a kitchen brightly lit by a plethora of windows, a man flipping pancakes and setting them on the counter, and two women chatting with a man on couches in a living room.

 

"Oh, you're awake," the man flipping pancakes says, setting down his spatula.

 

Katsuki's eyes narrow, wary. The last time he'd seeked hospitality he'd gotten chased out of a village with an arrow in his calf.

 

"Who are you?" Katsuki hisses through gritted teeth. "And what the fuck am I doing here?"

 

"I could ask you the same," the man says, chuckling lightly. Freckles dust his cheeks, his green eyes bright like summer and hair as dark as the forest. "We found you half-naked, unconscious in the snow during a snowstorm with an infected wound on your leg and a gash in your stomach."

 

“What?” He chokes. The last few bits of his consciousness, he was in a dragon's lair, and they found him unconscious during a snowstorm?

 

"What about the dragon?" He chokes.

 

"Dragon?" A woman in the living room ambles over to the kitchen, her hair black tinged green, with wide eyes and a monotonous voice. "Dragons went extinct years ago."

 

"But—but there was a dragon," he stammers.

 

"You were unconscious with fever for three days. Perhaps you dreamt of a dragon."

 

Why does Katsuki's chest feel like it's collapsing? Why can't he breathe? Did he really dream up everything? A dragon? A benevolent dragon? Of course, it was a dream. No such dragons exist. Dragons went extinct along time ago, anyways. 

 

The man with green hair has gone silent, his lips pursed in thought.

 

"Please, get him a chair, he looks like he's about to collapse," a woman with chestnut hair murmurs, practically skipping over.

 

They make him sit down (though he doesn't want to) and manage a small bit of broth (though he doesn't want to) and begin to ask questions he can't answer (and doesn't want to).

 

So the dragon wasn't real then.

 

The dragon wasn't real.

 

The woman with the round face is a witch, apparently, who helped tend to his wounds—Ura or something. The tall man with jet-black hair and glasses is a knight—Iida, he thinks.. The woman with wide eyes and hunched thighs is a shapeshifter, the frog girl—Tsu. The one with green curls is Something-ku. He's still not sure, and he just calls him Deku.

 

They stare at his incredulously as he speaks of the fever dream with the lair of a kind dragon, a dragon who fed him and kept him alive, for the most part. The one with green hair, Deku, doesn't say much, listening intently, biting his lip.

 

When he's finished Deku grabs a knapsack and heads out.

 

"Where're you going?" Round Face asks Deku.

 

"Just foraging," the green-eyed man replies. "I need to check the wards, also."

 

Deku's green eyes flick to him momentarily. "Did you say... red eyes?" He asks.

 

Katsuki nods.

 

Deku makes a hmph sound and leaves promptly. What's the hurry? Katsuki thinks.

 

Round Face sends him back to bed and chides him for standing on his wound so quickly, and Frog-Girl coaxes him into downing a bitter medicine tea. He lays in bed for the rest of the day, the others occasionally bringing him something to eat (that he barely eats at all).

 

Eventually, he falls asleep, half expecting to see a dragon in his dreams.

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It was a jagged rock hidden by many feet of snow, as it had crept up the mountain in a worsening thunderstorm. It was the howling wind and swirling snow, dulling his senses, reducing visibility, soaking out the scent trails, and drowning out all sound. It could smell, see, and hear nothing.

 

It stepped on the rock, hidden in the snow, and it tore a gash in its foot. It had stumbled wildly, crashing into the rock, shaking the Earth and the ground—and high, high above it, it had disturbed the snow piled atop the steep mountain face. The snow had fallen, coming in waves that cascaded down the mountainside, and it turned and ran, its foot stinging and burning, dying the snow pink as it stumbled, trying to escape the current of snow that came tumbling down. It couldn't.

 

It was swept away in the snow, along with the bushes that were upturned, the branches ripped from their trees, and the pines that were bent from the force of the avalanche. Any attempt at flame was snuffed out by the wind and the cold. It had flailed wildly in the avalanche, trying to keep its head above the flow, its good wing flapping desperately—but it couldn't fly, it couldn't run, and it couldn't escape.

 

It was swept away by the avalanche, buried underneath the snow.

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Thank you so much for reading!