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Once, there’s a kingdom that lies in the middle of a barren land, dry desert on one side and inhospitable mountains to another. Arid summers that grind the roads to dust with each run carriage that passes by. Biting winters that make the citizens’ teeth rattle inside their mouths.
Once, a king rises amidst the rot and ruin, using logic as a net to capture the resources of neighboring kingdoms. The kingdom expands until it blankets the entire continent. A kingdom of humans that aims to make it so that humans will rule everything, stepping on the feet of fairies, of demons, of everything out there. The king starts to hone his successor, so that the kingdom continues to grow even when he’s out of power.
But this successor—a talent that exists once in a thousand years—only longs for the seas, wishes for the water to drown him in a loving embrace. It’s a deal that they strike—the successor will help the king with his goals, but only until the kingdom’s territory includes the seas. Afterwards, they will part ways: Mori to remain in the castle’s walls, and Dazai to drown himself in the most beautiful death he can imagine.
Perhaps fitting that it involves a pair of geniuses who wield their minds like swords—but things do not go according to plan.
— — —
Contrary to what anyone might think, even geniuses need to get proper information so they can implement their plans. Dazai trusts nobody, so he prefers to do the scouting himself, prefers to see the situation using his own eyes. Well, a single eye, given that he keeps the other one bandaged, unwilling to look at this boring world more than absolutely necessary.
One of the last set of territories they must conquer to complete his deal with Mori. Not exactly excitement, but he is looking forward to this, a little bit. A set of interlinked villages that run from the plains to dot the coastline—once these have been captured into their fold, then Dazai can waltz into the ocean and finally try the suicide method that he’s been longing for.
Initial scouting reports proclaim these areas to be devoid of a shred of military might, relying on farmers and fishermen as their source of living. Still, he makes enough preparations to stealthily slip into these territories alone. His usual monochromatic outfit—none of the medals and embroidery that showcases his rank—making it easy for him to camouflage his movements in the night.
He treks through gentle slopes, passes by the vast fields. Rivers are wound around the paddies for irrigation, and he follows the stream of water until he reaches the seaside villages. Full moon at its zenith, white sand made even whiter, dark waters glimmering. For a moment, all he can see is the ocean, beckoning for him to take one step closer, closer, closer.
The promise of death, of freedom from all the boredom that gnaws at his insides, is the headiest temptation.
His feet sways him forward, sea-salt in his tongue, siren-call of death in his ears.
Ah, he really wants to die.
And so, he pushes past the fence lining that separates the docks of fishing boats away from the rest of the beach, and he steps into the waters, feeling its comforting coldness embrace him.
Perhaps fitting for a genius hailed to be a talent that comes every thousands of years—things do not go according to plan.
— — —
Four years later, Dazai succeeds Mori as the king.
A result that comes to fruition after many a combination of factors. Dazai’s failed suicide attempt at the seaside village, the inexplicable phenomenon of barren lands suddenly flourishing. Almost as if he’s being punished for trying to renege on his deal with Mori, he becomes worked to the bone in order to quell the uprising brought upon the sudden boon of resources on the lands they have already suppressed.
Insanity is doing the same thing while expecting different results. He doesn’t try to drown in the oceans anymore. He lives day by day, longing for death. Looking for a spark in his life, something that could make him want to exist for a day more.
What he finds instead is a rumor that grows into an urban legend.
A demon that has slipped into the kingdom of humans. A demon that has a voice that could be hailed as the most intoxicating.
— — —
It’s nothing but a whim.
The way they’ve conquered the entire continent is thorough and meticulous. It’s almost unthinkable for a demon to slip past their defenses. A strange power too, being able to intoxicate people by the sound of one’s voice. A demon’s power rests behind contracts and exchanges, so what is it that this demon takes in exchange for listening to his song?
It’s nothing but a curious puzzle that he wants to solve.
A prison fashioned like a birdcage, gleaming silver columns that bridge the ceiling to the floor. All of the furniture and implements inside the cage are small, non-intrusive things. Nothing that one can use to hide behind. No privacy whatsoever. There is nothing his captive can hide from his eyes, and yet—
He hides his voice.
Like most demons, this one looks breathtaking. Unlike most demons that show off dark, netherworldly grace, this one radiates a vibrant aura like he’s a burning star. Brilliance not quelled by the fact that he’s caged in the deepest underground cellar, where there’s no natural light to speak of.
Red hair that cradle his cheeks and his jawline, managing to remain aesthetically pleasing even there’s no such thing as a comb in the vicinity. High cheekbones that make it seem like his face is an apple that’s begging to be plucked. Rosy lips that look full even when they’re mostly pursed in his unwillingness to make a sound. Blue eyes that remind him of the allure of drowning at sea. Petite and short enough that his head is on the same level as Dazai’s chest, a rather convenient elbow-rest, should they ever occupy the same space without bars separating them.
A demon that had been captured when they’d laid out bait in the form of a crying child. Said child is now under custody of the kingdom’s top medical team, each one of her movements monitored to see what kind of long-term effects does the demon’s voice possess.
“Aren’t you tired of this?” Dazai asks as he lets his fingertips linger as he touches the silver columns. He’s bored of the affairs above-ground, and so even if this demon doesn’t even speak, he’s still somehow a more interesting company. Especially since he’s obviously gritting his teeth each time. “Is it true that demons drink the blood of virgins and eat babies?” He drags his nails against the column nearest to where the chibi redhead is seated on his cot, cross-legged and looking very cross indeed. “Is that why you don’t want to open your mouth? Afraid that you’ll reveal your stinky breath?”
Ah, there it is.
He can just see a soundless snarl lurking in the tendons of the other’s throat, can feel the other’s desire to bite his head off. An incredulous, just what the fuck are you talking about?!, obvious in the furrow of his brows, in the clench of his jaw.
But he remains quiet.
Insanity is doing the same thing while expecting different results. But he hasn’t exhausted all methods yet in getting this bluebird to sing for him. At this point, he just wants to see this crack this stubbornness open, never mind getting the other to let him listen to a song.
So he needles at the other.
“Not talking for long periods of time stunts your growth, you know?”
“There’s a Very True Story about humans turning into mushrooms when they stay silent for too long…”
“Ah, I see how it is. You don’t want to sing because in reality, your voice is super ugly, right?”
He reads the other’s response on his very expressive face. Reads each and every curse, every snarl. Watches every ‘shut the fuck up’ stitched into his eyebrows. Savors every ‘I can’t wait to strangle you’ that licks into the curl of his soundlessly sneering lips.
He can almost hear the other’s voice inside his head, illogical it may be. Emboldened, he pokes his hand into the cage and gets a snap of teeth over his fingertips for his efforts.
“Ah, did you know? I’m the king of the entire continent.” He doesn’t find any enjoyment out of this status, out of the gold bars that fill his treasury, out of the people that kneel in front of him and call him reverently while fear cloak their eyes. But he does find enjoyment in seeing the unimpressed glare that the shortstack shoots him with.. He raises his bitten hand up high. “It’s so much bigger than you, you might find it hard to fathom.”
Bristling at the dig on his height. For a moment, Dazai almost thinks that the other will finally, finally let him listen to his angered yelling. He presses close, his entire body slamming against the bars, as though to squeeze himself inside. His anticipation is for naught, however, because the chibi catches himself, clicking his tongue instead.
…Not completely fruitless.
The chibi briskly goes forward, one hand shooting up to grab him by the collar, banging his body harshly against the bars. Pulling him in, without caring for his status in any way, shape or form. It’s kind of refreshing. The bruising ache blooming over his torso is rather interesting, even for someone like him who despises pain.
The height difference between them is almost non-existent now, with the chibi dragging his neck downwards.
“Ah, do you feel like singing for me now?” He snickers when the redhead gives out a disgusted shudder. “If you strangle me so passionately like this, I might think you’d want to kiss me, you know?”
There is no shortage of beautiful people in the world. He has an entire continent in his palm, and it’s easy to command someone to bring him the most beautiful person in the entirety of his territories.
That said, he doesn’t think anyone can defeat this creature’s looks. Feral like a beast, graceful like a nymph. Expressiveness showing his heart in his sleeve, but there’s an ageless mystery in his eyes that he cannot fully read.
He finds him even more beautiful when he lets out another wordless snarl, before leaning in close and biting him in the throat.
— — —
He still despises existing in the world outside. He still thinks of possible ways of ending his life. He still is the king.
He spends more and more time in the underground cellars.
He alternates between annoying the chibi and enraging him to the point of strangling him through the bars. Petty tricks, blatant manipulations, stealthy probes. He places black leather over the other’s neck. He tries putting a leash and dressing the other in confining clothes, just to see him flare up. He attempts to elicit reactions by dragging fingertips all over his face and neck. He sings to the other: a double suicide song of his own composition; a yowling-cat rendition of a popular folk song; a low-timber seduction using one of the songs used in marriage ceremonies.
He spends so much time in the underground cellars, but he doesn’t actually order for his room to be transferred down. Lately, he’s starting to enjoy waking up and being filled with thoughts of looking forward to what kind of trickery he can play towards the other.
His life—once barren and inhospitable—has started to bloom, bit by bit, crawling towards a blue that beckons for him to drown in.
— — —
Perhaps it is fitting then, for someone like him who’s longed for a painless death, for someone like him who’s found being king something burdensome, for someone like him who’s starting to look forward to everyday life—for someone like him to be stabbed in the back by a pair of foreign leaders that has visited under a guise of a peaceful trade.
An uprising against his rule, both from foreign lands who want a bite out of this continent, and from the people that he never wanted to rule over.
It is so very painful, the wound in his back. A fruit knife laced with poison, truly an irksome way to die. He drags his feet against the floor, down the steps, until he reaches the cellars. His chibi’s frown grows deeper the closer he gets.
Insanity is doing the same thing while expecting different results.
And yet, he clutches the bars, vision spinning so much that he can almost swear that he sees the other’s blue eyes widen out of concern and distress. Blood fills his mouth as he struggles to unlock the cage, because he cannot bear to have this treasure fall into the hands of anyone else. This blood trickles past his lips when he wheezes for breath, finally managing to remove the lock.
He sways forward, and the chibi catches him. He can’t see him anymore, but he knows it’s him. He’s warm, unlike the cold metal bars. He sinks down. Just as he drowns from the blood in his lungs, he asks, “Say, chibi. Would you sing for me?”
He doesn’t expect a positive response. He expects to be thrown aside, for the chibi to shove him to the ground, maybe even lock him in his previous cage, out of payback.
Instead what happens is this—
A pair of warm hands cradle his cooling face. Something even warmer flutters over his bloody lips, slightly hesitant, before growing bolder.
His eyes snap open.
This feels too familiar.
He finds himself face-to-face with a man of red and blue—of red hair and redder blush, of blue, blue eyes. Back then, during his failed suicide attempt by drowning, he—
A memory cracks inside of him, like something being freed from a seal.
Back then, at the height of the full moon, he was dragged out of the waters, and there was the rush of waves in his ears, and the noise of someone yelling at him to not die over his fishing spot because that would make the fishes eat unpalatable trash.
And then, he remembers fading away from existence, and he hears the most beautiful sound—
A total stranger—a beautiful one, but a stranger nevertheless—being so overtly distressed for the possibility of his passing. A frantic cry for him to not just die. A fervent wish for a miracle.
He, a person filled with so much hollow nothingness that he doesn’t even consider himself fully human. He, who’s considered as a genius prodigy and nothing else. He, who is behind the kingdom’s strategies of annexing the entire continent.
He has never felt that much care towards his wellbeing, and it even came from someone who doesn’t even have an idea of who he really is.
A fervent wish for a miracle.
There are supernatural creatures in this world, but there’s no room for miracles. Instead, it has room for demons who operate in terms of contracts. And in that moment, just-before he breathes his last, he hears this total stranger make a deal with a demon.
“You goddamn piece of shit,” are the first words that he hears from the other. “I didn’t want to open my mouth because that bastard demon gave me this stupid power of having a voice that can compel anyone and anything to live.” Clawing at his face, shaking him. “I don’t want to hear any complaints about this, got it?”
The reason for that failed suicide attempt. The reason for the sudden outgrowth of crops and resources in certain territories back then. The reason why he continued to live then, and why he’ll continue to live now.
“Ah.” When he blinks up, he sees the blood on his lips now smudged against the other’s mouth. “As I expected, your voice sounds like a dog’s.”
Sputtering in indignation, “…HA?!”
“I can be persuaded to change my opinion,” he says as he clutches the other’s face in return, dragging him back to his mouth. “You’ll just have to make me listen to your voice even more.”
Above them, the world is ever-changing. But this certain song rings clear inside his mind, and he feels invincible.
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