For as long as he could remember. Izuku had always been surrounded by dragons. They flew overhead and ran across the forest floor in hunting packs. He saw them nest and dance under the waves of the ocean. Their roars and clicks and other calls were a constant in his life. His first toy had been a poorly sewn Gronkle that he clung to until he was eight. And even though he saw the creatures so often he, like most children, had been raised on stories of dragons.
However, while he was told of the beauty these creatures held, most children grew up with horror stories of the winged beasts. Tales depicting the violence and misfortune they brought to humans. It served to frighten their children into behaving, “or the beast will come to get them.'' And while it was true that dragons had killed many humans, the same could be said for humans killing dragons. The world is not so black and white. Dragons need to eat just as humans do, so when humans keep their food locked up in pens all out in the open. Well, it’s an easy meal for a dragon. And when humans rush out to kill the beast, well a dragon has a very long memory and has not been known to be very forgiving creatures.
Izuku’s mother was a kind and gentle woman who saw the beauty in all living things. She hated the fighting that happened between the two species. So with a son foretold to be on the way she packed what she could carry and disappeared without a word.
The two of them lived deep in the forest, hidden within a cave found near a cove. The cave had many tunnels dug by dragons that led all throughout the island, but at the center of it all, they’d made their own crevice into the stone and dirt where their belongings and makeshift beds were kept. Strange blue rocks coated in glowing algae covered the ceilings and walls of the cavern to provide a soft light that seemed a bit unnecessary seeing as most dragons had some form of night vision. But for the two humans, it was greatly appreciated.
A village rested nearby, on the other side of the woods, but they rarely went to visit. The village had many ports, and ships would come in often to trade and make deals with them. And sometimes, his mother would pull cloak’s over their heads to hide their faces and hair, and she’d lead him into the town where’d they’d merge into the pack of travels and explore. He wasn’t allowed to talk with the other children or adults, she didn’t want them to be recognized. His mother was a kind and patient woman but after trying countless times to get her to reconsider that rule, he learned that she did have a limit.
Inko looked much different now than she had before. Her long hair had been chopped uneven and close to her head. Scars etched across her body from misunderstandings between dragons, food that fought back, or even the occasional fall on a rock that cut a bit too deep. Yet despite the changes, she was always afraid she would be recognized and they would be found. Although he couldn’t figure out why. No one had ever actually recognized them before, although an angry blond child had taken to calling him a Deku when he refused to introduce himself. But still, she held their heads down and only spoke when trading with other merchants or to call him back so they could leave.
Things were not easy while living in the forest. The cold and rain were a constant annoyance and hunting was extremely difficult with a toddler to care for. But Inko made the best of it all, and although she struggled, she was able to show him many things this way. Like how to make traps instead of physically hunting, how to hide his trail, how to tell which berries were not safe to eat, and how to climb a tree as if he were born a monkey and not a human boy. But most importantly, she taught him about the dragons.
She showed him why they stole from villages, how they built their nests and protect their young, and why they attacked when most humans grew near. And after many years of being around the beast, and seeing that he was not a threat, they began to see him as one of their own.
He’d run with the Wolf-fangs hatchlings, who would slow just so he could keep up with them. The older dragons would lift him up and place him on their backs so he could touch the clouds along with them. He had learned to swim with the Golphins. And helped build nests for pregnant mother dragons and watch over their eggs when they needed to go hunting. And when winter came and the cold seeped into their hidden cavern, he would hardly notice it over the warmth of the dragons curling around them and shielding then with their wings. And the more he stayed around them, the more he began to understand them.
While his mother taught him many things. So did the dragons. They taught him how to balance from strange places, whether it was in the air on the back of a Silver Phantoms, or jumping through the trees with a pack of Shortwing Squirrelserpents. They taught him about their nesting grounds and the defenses of their eggs (which turned out to be extremely important since some could excrete poisons or even explode!). They showed him how to fight with his hands, feet, and teeth as if he had claws and fangs. And they taught him how to read their body language and movements, and the proper ways he should respond to them. But one of the most important things they taught him. Was how to speak to them.
Izuku grew up learning anything human from his mother. How to dress, how to act, and especially how to talk, but unbeknownst to her, the dragons were teaching him a language of their own. Dragonese was a strange language. It contained clicks and growls and many other noises that a human throat struggled to make. But he managed.
His mother had never been taught since according to the older dragons, she’d only showed up around the time he’d been born. But he’d lived with them his whole life. He was practically another one of their hatchlings.
He had never known his father, “sailed off the edge of the world” his mother had said, but when he turned six, he’d been gifted his father’s old journals. Sixteen of them to be exact. She had packed them when she moved into the woods, unable to part with one of her last gifts from him. When she handed him the first book, he’d gotten so excited he immediately ran off to show his Windwalker friends. Who had chirped and stumbled around him in excited hops, flapping their fragile wings. He loved all dragons of course, but Windwalkers were easily one of his favorites.
It hadn’t taken long for his mother to find him, although she didn’t look very pleased that he’d run out in the first place, her expression had softened when she saw the young dragons piling on top of him to get a better look at the journal. She shooed the hatchlings back to their mothers and quickly dragged him back to their home and ordered him to get ready for dinner. He wrapped all the books tightly in his blanket before carefully stuffing them into a hole they’d dug into the side of the cave before he rushed to do as she said.
With dinner finished he yanked the blanket until the journals came spilling out before he curled up in the nearest hidey-hole that was his size. They were dragon journals! Each page was filled with incredibly detailed pictures of a dragon, their color schemes, egg types and defenses, even their droppings (gross!). His father had left small notes and pictures on how to track certain footprints or tell which direction and where they’d migrate, or the food they’d hunt. Hours had passed before he finished reading the first book but he found he wasn’t hungry or tired. Only excited. His father had managed to fit so much information in one book! And there were still sixteen left!
His mother had come into the cavern not long after he’d finished reading the first journal and moved to her own bed, but not before ordering him to get to bed. He moved to comply and stashed his books into the slot on the wall. But no matter how he tossed and turned he couldn’t manage to relax enough to sleep. So with careful hands, he slid a random journal free and moved silently towards a tunnel opening. He’d spent his whole life in these caves and tunnels, which admittedly wasn’t a very long time, but he knew them well enough to not even need a light to know where he was going. After countless twists and turns, and stepping over or around the occasional sleeping dragon, he arrived at the tunnel exit. Trees and vines covered the mouth of the opening well, not even letting the moonlight through, but they shifted easily when he pushed them aside.
Keeping the journal tucked under one arm he used the other to wrap a vine around his arm before hoisting himself up with far too much ease for a six-year-old. Especially one carrying a book under their arm. With skilled movements he climbed above the cave mouth and grabbed onto the nearest trees branches, he let go of the vine once he felt steady on the branch. After a couple more minutes of climbing, he reached a branch that he deemed stable enough to hold him. Pushing aside some leaves to let in the moonlight, he settled against the tree trunk and opened the journal. It was the fifth journal his father had made.
His excitement grew as he moved to open the first page. But the faint sound of a snapping twig on the ground grabbed his attention instead. He slid the book into a nook in the tree and pressed himself closer to the trunk. He kept his heart rate calm, pushing against the fear that tried to grab ahold of him. If it was a Scarer dragon that caused the sound then the only thing he would have to fear, was quite literally fear itself. They feed off other's fear before biting them, and not all dragons were fond of Izuku or even knew he existed. Some simply enjoyed the kill, and while the sent of other dragons that seemed to cling to him kept him safe for the most part, it didn’t always work. The sound of hesitant footsteps approaching his locations was the only thing that assured him it was no dragon. Although he wasn’t sure that was much better. His mother had warned him of hunters that scoped the woods, but it seemed far too late for a hunter to be out now.
As the footsteps grew closer he recognized another sound. Crying.
Soft sobs faintly echoed off the trees as a child, around his age, came stumbling closer. Dark hair defying purple hair was the first thing he noticed. The child, a boy, was wearing tattered and torn wool clothes and worn out shoes that made even Izuku’s clothing of a wool shirt and pants that had been stained brown from the mud, and an oversized wolf fur hood seem nice.
They had their hands up to their face, wiping uselessly at their tear filled eyes with their head whipping around to try and get a sense of direction.
Izuku didn’t think. Completely forgetting about his father's journal, he climbed down the tree without making a sound and landed out of view of the other kid. Now on the same level, he could see that they were taller than him too, which totally didn’t make him pout. He took a deep breath and stepped on the closest tree branch near him. He only planned for the sound to draw attention to him so he wouldn’t scare the kid, however, the loud snap of the wood had the kid spinning around so quickly he fell right on his butt with a loud ‘oof’. The tears were coming out of the kids eyes faster now and he seemed close to hyperventilating. “S-S-Stay a-away!” he held his shaking arms in front of him as if they’d offer any protection.
He frowned at the sight. The boy shouldn’t even be able to see him yet, he hadn’t moved from behind the tree. Realization dawned on him. The boy probably thought he was something coming to eat him, his mother had explained that was a common fear among children in the village. The boy seemed close to blacking out now, and Izuku wasn’t about to let that happen, it hadn’t even occurred to him he would be breaking his mother's first rule.
Slipping away from the tree, he kept his arms in front of him like one would when approaching a skittish animal. “H-Hey, calm down. It’s ok” his voice was rough and it clearly startled the boy when he spoke. But it sounded a lot more pleasant than it would have if he didn’t talk to his mother so frequently and only spoke to dragons. The boy jumps and his eyes widened somewhat. But his body clearly relaxed when he saw it was just another boy his age. “My name is Izuku.” He carefully moved closer. The boys arms dropped although he seemed no less guarded. “Who are you?”
They stared at one another, neither saying anything for awhile. And just as he was about to open his mouth to ask if the boy even knew his name, did the other respond.
Hitoshi didn’t know what to expect when he wandered into the woods. Honestly, he expected to die within the first hour. He was six for crying out loud. And here he was out looking for a dragon he could steal a claw from to prove his worth. But that’s just what life was like for the runts. When he had washed up on shore. The other Vikings had begrudgingly taken him in. It was Vikingly law that if a runt was born in the tribe, it must be sent off to seat in a basket woven by the mother, with a note wrapped into the bundle with the child’s name and nothing else. And if they washed up on your shore in the basket, then it was the will of the Gods for them to live, and the tribe they came to had to take them in.
That didn’t mean anyone liked the law.
Runts were weaker then the rest. They couldn’t do things as well as the healthier children. They needed to take things slower and got sick far too often. Just a waste of space and food most would say. Hitoshi has to fight with everything in his being to prove he deserved to be there. That he deserved to be alive! But it was never enough. The only way to win respect around the tribe. Was to kill a dragon.
Dragons were the fiercest and most bloodthirsty creatures there were. Only the bravest and strongest could take one down. And at six years old with the skinniest body and the most unnatural pale skin you’ve ever seen, Hitoshi was not that. What he was however, was quick to try and prove himself.
It had been another day of tournament from the other kids, and outright neglect from the adults. He had just been in the middle of saying his usual come back of “I can be a warrior even if I am a runt!” In response to their taunts. When one of the children decided to stray from their usual lines. “Oh yeah? Well warriors have to be brave and strong. So if you're going to be one. Then you’ve got to be brave and strong too” cruel smirks spread across each of their faces as they all seemingly caught onto the idea.
“Yeah Shinsou,” another spoke up “if you want to be a warrior. Then prove that you have what it takes.” Hitoshi’s eyes narrowed but even thought this had been the treatment he received his whole life. He still hadn’t learned when to just ignore others. So he answered, “and how do I do that?” If there was one thing he wanted more than the opportunity to be a warrior. It was to be excepted by the others in the village. He couldn’t understand why he was so hated. And despite himself, he couldn’t deny the part of him that just wanted someone to not look at him with disgust or hatred for once.
The children were all silent a moment. None had really planned this far out. But one girls smile in the back seemed to get wider before she shouted out, “Go into the forest and bring back the claw of a Sidewinder.” There was absolute silence for a moment. Before shouts of “yeah” “that should be easy enough for a runt like you” and “or are you too scared” came from the crowd of children.
And was Hitoshi scared? Of fucking course he was. He was six and had just been told to go get a CLAW of a dragon unknown to him, just to prove he could amount to something.
Not much was actually known about dragons to begin with. Sure they had names and basic descriptions they gave to the fighters, but no one actually documented anything on them. Vikings didn’t really think things through first. Most just responded by fighting. So he didn’t even have anyway to find out what a Sidewinder even looked like!
So yeah. This was a terrible idea. However his brain and mouth were not on the same page. “Okay, I will!” He yelled back despite his brain screaming ‘What do you mean you will??? We’re going to die you idiot!!!’
So there he was. Trekking through the forest as the sun sank lower and lower in the sky. He’d gotten lost about twenty minutes in and had been too stubborn to admit it and now it was far to late! He let out silent curses at past him as he continued to stomp around. And then, he near a growl. It was low and sounded far off. But it was a growl nonetheless and he was alone and defenseless.
Now, if he had been any older he might’ve been able to stay quiet. However, he was still a child. And a frightened child at that. So instead of remaining calm and trying to avoid the noise. He started to cry. It started off as small sniffles before large tears began to slide down his cheeks. Another growl and the sound of crunching branches sounded not long after his waterworks had begun.
So he did what any scared toddler would do. He ran in the opposite direction. Tripping over his own feet and trying to keep the tears out of his eyes.
He wasn’t sure how long he ran. Only that when he stopped, he was gasping for air and the sky had completely darkened. His tears had slowed but not stopped but he was able to see much clearer now. Not that it helped much when he was surrounded by seemingly endless trees.
Without any other options, he continued to walk forward. No one would search for him, he knew that much. So this was all he could do.
Minutes lasted he arrived at a small opening in the tree canopy. The moonlight shine through the leaves in pale beams. In any other situation he might’ve stopped to admire how cool it looked. But he was lost and hungry and still very very afraid.
A branch snapped behind him. And he spun so quickly he landed on his butt with a painful thud. He pushed himself back, unable to get his legs to cooperate enough for him to stand. “S-S-Stay a-away!” He could feel the tears coming back at full force. Breathing became more difficult as he tried to see what creature planned to come and eat him. He held his shaking arms in front of him in a futile hope to offer him at least a little bit of protection.
A rough voice called out. “H-Hey, calm down. It’s ok” He jumped. His eyes widened as a boy around his age stepped away from the tree lines. His relaxed somewhat, but children his age had been no kinder to him then the beast they told of in stories. Sure, they have eaten or tried to kill him. But they seemed to be just as cruel. “My name is Izuku.” The boy, apparently named Izuku, continued. He moved closer with his arms out as if approaching a wild animal. “Who are you?”
And how did he respond to that? He’d never seen this kid before so did that mean he was safe? But then again, nothing out here seemed very safe. So this kid seemed like his best bet. Still, he couldn’t seem to get his mouth to cooperate. Silence continued until his jaw seemed to finally unlock itself.
“Nice to meet you Hitoshi!” The green haired boy smiled cheerfully before glancing behind him into the darkness of the trees. Hitoshi stiffened but the boy either didn’t notice or paid it no mind. “So whatcha doing out here? It’s really late and you seem a bit young to be a hunter.“
“Well you’re out here” he countered and immediately regretted it. It was instinct for him to last out when questioned at this point. But the boy hasn’t deserved that, yet. Izuku, for the most part, didn’t seem bothered by his tone. “Well yeah. But I live out here with my momma. And I know for a fact that the only other humans that live on the island are in the village. And you’re a long way from there”
“Wait you live out here? Alone?” The boy gave him a look that he was pretty sure meant ‘are you crazy?’ “Of course not. I told you. I live with my momma. And the dragons of course” the words came so easily from the smaller boy, but they made Hitoshi tense immediately. He hadn’t even realized he’d been relaxed until this point.
“D-Dragons?!? You live near dragons?!” The boy gave him another ‘are you crazy?’ looks. But he hardly cared. “Well yeah. You do too, they just don’t like to get very close to your village because you always try and kill them. '' Now it was his turn to give the boy a look. Them? Kill dragons? Yeah maybe a few but that had to! Dragons were evil and only ever hurt people. And here this boy was making it seem like they were in the wrong!
He felt a frown forming but before he could snap and start yelling at the boy for, Izuku spoke again. “So what are you doing out here?” He hesitated. But the boy did say he lived out here, so he probably knew the way back. He might be returning empty handed but it was better then being stuck out in the forest all alone. “Some of the other kids told me to come get the claw of a Sidewinder to prove I was brave” his voice didn’t come out as strong as he would’ve liked. But at least he hadn’t stuttered. “But I don’t even know what they look like! And now I just need help getting home”
The boy frowned, his head tilting to the side questioningly. “Is getting the claw important to you?” He nodded. His body acting before his mouth could this time. In truth. It wasn’t that important to him. He wanted to live more than he wanted a useless claw. But at the same time. If he got a claw...maybe he’d start getting treated better. Even just a little bit.
The boy nodded once in apparent understanding and started to stand. Hitoshi was quick to try and follow but the shorter boy just gestured for him to stay. “Don't worry. I’ll be right back. Just stay here for a moment” Izuku gave a reassuring smile before walking over to the tree he’d come behind. Climbing faster then Hitoshi had ever seen anyone climb, the boy disappeared up the trunk. The leaves had hardly shifted as he zoomed past them.
Unsure of what to do, he did as the boy asked and stayed put. The forest seemed darker without the other boy and Hitoshi pushed himself further back onto the trunk of a different tree. Every sound put him on high alert. His body grew tensor and tensor. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. Minutes. Hours. All he knew was that when Izuku swung from the lowest branch with practiced ease, and directly in front of him, he nearly threw himself at the boy.
He refrained, barely, but he did scramble to his feet to rush towards the boy. A cheerful smile was sent his way and the boy extended his hand to show a small claw. It was only about the side of a ring finger but it was still clearly a claw. “What’s that?” He asked anyways.
Izuku continued to smile, pushing the claw into the other boys hands. “It’s a Sidewinder’s claw. They grow back quickly so it was easy to get one.” All he could do was stare opened mouth, and blink at the strange boy in front of him. “B-But it’s so small?”
The greenette giggled. GIGGLED . At him before nodding his head “yup! Sidewinders aren’t very big you know. Only about,” he held his hands out in front of him, keeping them a little bit further apart then his small waist, trying to show how big they were with his hands alone “this big! And they hunt in packs and have a bunch of eyes. And they fly sideways! That’s why they’re called Sidewinders!...” the boy trailed off in a stream of mumbled words that Hitoshi could no longer follow.
It was...endearing in a way. But Hitoshi was tired and cranky and still quite a bit scared so he wasn’t nearly as impressed or interested as he might’ve been to see someone his age rambling extensive details about a dragon. “Can you show me the way home?” He asked, snapping the other big out of his muttering storm. “O-Oh! Of course. Sorry about that, momma says I mumble when I get excited...” the boy blushed in embarrassment and gestured for the purple haired child to follow him.
After that, they walked in silence for the most part. Hitoshi stayed close to Izuku, nearly pressed against the other boy with the claw wrapped tightly in his grasp. But nothing came to confront them.
After countless twists and turns they arrived at the end of the first line. He could see smoke from the dying fires of the villages floating up into the air, and relief filled him all at one. He was back! He hadn’t been eaten, and he had gotten the dragon's claw! He was about to run towards the village, eager to get back to his shitty hut, when his elbow was grabbed. Effectively pulling him back. He turned back to see Izuku holding onto his elbow in a tight grip, worry etched into the other child’s expression. “I-Izuku?” He felt a bit of fear seeing the previously happy expression look so worried all of a sudden.
And despite the height difference, Izuku was surprisingly strong for a six year old. His elbow was released and the greenette seemed ashamed of his actions but spoke anyways “S-Sorry about that. Um, d-don’t tell anyone about me. Please?” The look Hitoshi must’ve gave him had him rushing to explain “no one was supposed to know me and my mom live out there. And I’m not supposed to talk to anyone, but you seem so scared so I thought I could help. But my momma would be so mad if she knew, so please,” he gave the talker bit a pleading look “don’t tell anyone.”?
And well...Hitoshi just couldn’t say no to puppy eyes! Even if they were from a complete stranger.
Not that he would’ve told in the first place. It wasn’t his decision and clearly the two wanted to remain hidden. He instead he gave the boy as best a smile he could and nodded “don’t worry. I won’t. Um, thank you for helping me back.”
Izuku gave a relieved sigh and smiled brightly at Hitoshi with a nod “no problem! Good luck with your friends!” Hitoshi winced a bit at the word friends but didn’t correct him. Instead he started walking back towards the town. Eager to get back to bed and show the kids the claw tomorrow.
As he reached the edge of the town he turned back to the forest. The trees were quite far at this point but he could make out a figure sitting on the top branches of a tree. Something glowing seemed to be wrapped around the figures neck but he figured it was just his exhausted mind.
He raised a hand into the air and offered a wave to the figure that he assumed was Izuku. The figure bobbed in response which he assumed was the wave being returned, before they seemingly turned around and hopped off the branch onto the next one. It only took three jumps for them to disappear completely from sight but Hitoshi stayed until they were completely gone.
He gripped the claw, still clasped firmly in his palm, before turning in his heels and walking towards his hunt with semi-confident steps. Even if he hadn’t been the one to retrieve it. Maybe they’d all see his worth now. Hopefully, with this claw, things would get better.