The cool night breeze kissed his face as he immersed himself in his habitual, almost meditative hobby of star-gazing. This was one of the few personal pleasures he truly had to himself, away from the constant silent overbearing of his father, the pitiful gazes of the townspeople and the smug boasting of his cousin who apparently holds unending gratitude for his automatic election as chief after his ‘unsuitability’ as heir. Not that he wasn’t grateful for being relieved of a position he never really cared for; but his cousin as chieftain wasn’t exactly inspiring confidence. A frown crinkled his face at the thought, but he quickly banished it in favour of the calm time he now had to enjoy.

Beside him, the bandit leader sipped peacefully at a flask of moonshine. He too was enjoying the quiet time away from his community; a break from his tough, rowdy, smart-ass act. He almost couldn’t care less about his friend’s habit of raiding his own village; after all, his cousin needed some adversity in proving himself a capable leader. The bandit himself was even a member resident of that very place, once upon a time.

The sandy dune they perched on gave them a nice view of both the rocky outcrop the bandit community took refuge in and the village they both spent a dismal childhood in.

“Why do you look at the stars so much?” the bandit king murmured.

He smiled. “I want to walk among them.”

“And see that girl again?”

His smile faded. “I don’t know. Can akuma cross the lifestream?” his tone descended into sarcasm and hostility. An instant reaction at the stirring of the recollection of her. The fire-demon bastard child, the monster. The only one he possibly loved.

“You know I don’t think of her that way anymore. Thanks to you,” the bandit returned to his flask, pacifying his friend.

“I’m sorry,” he covered his forehead with an arm, pressing the memory of her away from his eyes.

The bandit king sighed fondly and a little sadly at his old friend’s surprisingly unyielding passion, but commended him silently for still having strong feelings about something, be it the ghost of a little beast-girl. Stars knowing, the passion he had for his own life had long been dimmed.

He held up his wooden mask, studying the sky through its hollow eyes. He looked at is as if it were a face of its own, looking down back at him. The red swirls of fire he carved into its face with beryl dust glimmered lightly, like her hair did on windy nights. The corners of his mouth twitched as flashes of broken memory glinted in his consciousness like the crushed jewels. The orange flash of her fiery hair in the wind. The emerald flash of her beastly eyes growing wider. Her amber-furred wolf-like ears perking up as he drew closer. The feeling of his own grey ones flattening. A phantom pain seared across his face so suddenly, he dropped the mask right onto his nose.

“OW” he groaned, and flipped himself over, burying a part of his fire-scarred face into the cool sand.

The bandit king scoffed and tossed some sand into his face with a flick of his coppery-red tail. Spluttering, he pushed himself upwards, only to find the bandit king’s cold flask thrust against his cheek.

“Drink! I didn’t come here to feel the weight of your depressing life,” the bandit king chuckled.

His tail twitched, annoyed, but he took the flask and drank a hearty gulp of the self-distilled alcohol. He pulled away, a grimace freezing his face while the liquid burned his insides

“YAAAK! WHAT IS THAT?” he stuck his tongue out and choked.

“Mirana’s newest batch. Kicks the gems in you dunnit,” the bandit king guffawed proudly.

“That girl could squeeze water out of rock,” he returned the smile. Chuckling with his dear friend, the two resumed their practical meditating in the calm surroundings of their desert land.

He felt the rim of the wooden mask in his fingers, contemplating yet again. Her face, or what he could remember of her face etched by himself onto a wooden husk he wore in the presence of people who had despised her. He enjoyed that look his father gave him. After all, he was the one to condemn him to hide his face in public with that mask. He wondered if the old man knew what the markings stood for; how he made the chieftain look at the face of the girl he condemned to death every time he looked at his own son.

The bandit king collapsed onto the sand next to him, sighing loudly. “We should have left this place a long time ago.”

“You did,” he smiled again.

“Yeah. Far away enough to piss everyone off with the smoke of my cooking.”

The two looked at each other before bursting out in ridiculous laughter like children again.

A bright light soaring in the far left of their view cut them off, and they scrambled up to witness two fireballs streaking heavy black smoke behind them. The smaller meteor broke away from its trajectory of the larger, and crashed into the salt pillars to the south of the village. The larger one flew further, plummeting to the west behind the town, out of their sight if not for the plume of black that formed a pillar, obscuring the nebula-light sky.

The impact of the meteors landing pulsated the earth, tipping the bandit king’s flask over in the rose-coloured sand. They wrinkled their noses at the smell of burn permeating the air.

“What the hell was that?” the bandit king’s ears perked up, and his tail wagged excitedly.

His companion got up more wearily. That burning smell was tinged with molten metal, not rock. And the glimmers as it whizzed past signaled the presence of some kind of reflective material. And he probably imagined it, but he thought he heard screaming from the larger meteor. But then again that could just be the metal shredding in the turbulence. He was familiar with the sound, as it was similar to dune bikes crashing in the middle of pod races.

“Let’s check it out!” the bandit king scrambled to his bike. But he was already keen to his friend’s actions and grabbed him by his collar.

“Let’s wait till it cools down. That can take anywhere from the whole night to a day,” he dropped his friend by his feet.

“Wait. Wait. You’re not, still scared of fire, are you?” the bandit king twitched his ears.

He looked down at his friend with such a scowl on his face the bandit king withdrew slightly on instinct.

“What? Don’t think I don’t notice how you clam up every time something bigger than a fat candle comes around,” the bandit king crossed his arms.

He collapsed to a sitting position, staring out to the lesser fire in the salt field. His mate was right. He was afraid, petrified of fire.

How ironic considering he was in love with a fire demon.