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MHO - Chapter 27 by Lloxie

MHO - Chapter 27

MHO – Chapter 27! After a harrowing day and an unexpected rescue, it’s time for a proper introduction to Kuna’s mysterious magic teacher, who is definitely not who they originally presented themselves to be.



In the morning, neither Lykou nor Kuna were in a hurry to get up once they were awake. Kuna in particular refused to pry his arms off his friend, let alone leave his side. Neither said a word for a while, just holding each other in a kind of haunted, thoughtful silence.

Eventually, the konuul gently reminded the sereva that they couldn’t stay there forever.

“Can damn well try,” Kuna replied quietly.

“We do still need to eat, you know. For the sake of energy,” the canid pointed out, slowly sitting up and wincing slightly. The magic may have healed him, but there was still lingering pain. “And… recovery, in general.”

After some hesitation, Kuna reluctantly agreed. They both grabbed some food and moved outside to get some sunlight as they slowly ate their breakfast by the edge of the shelter. Still, the sereva remained next to him, keeping at least one arm around him at all times. They ate slowly, in silence for the most part. And even after they’d finished eating, they just sat and stewed in their thoughts together quietly for a large chunk of the morning.

The sky was overcast and the air was cooler than it had been, though there was only the slightest occasional breeze. There was no sign of animal life nearby. Everything felt somewhat surreal.

“You’re extra cuddly today,” Lykou eventually said, half-heartedly trying to ease the tension, though he knew there was little hope in it after the previous day’s events.

“You nearly died. So yeah, forgive me if I’m clingier than usual,” Kuna replied, burying his head in the konuul’s neck.

“We both did, technically,” Lykou said, staring off into the distance. After a moment of silence, he gently squeezed the sereva back.

“I haven’t been that terrified since… you know what,” Kuna mumbled after another lengthy silence.

The konuul just held him silently, unable to come up with a good reply. Any words of assurance he could think of seemed hollow under the circumstances. “At least we’re both still here,” he finally said.

“Thank fuck for that,” Kuna replied, then took a slow, shivering breath. “How’s your side?”

“Tender. Sore. But in tact, thanks to you.”

“...and Mentor. I’m glad th-… she showed up.”

The comment hung in the air as they fell back into silent contemplation for several minutes. The near-death experience was a big chunk of the reason they were struggling to get a grip on things. But Mentor’s appearance was weighing on their mind, as well.

“...I thought she was supposed to be a fire spirit. Not a hounaka,” Lykou finally pointed out.

“I assume that’s what you call a smoke-whisperer?”

“Trickster spirit, right?”

Kuna took another slow, slightly unsteady breath as he thought for a moment. “Bit more complicated than that, but yeah. In any case I didn’t know until last night. Guess she was in disguise all this time.”

“Sounds about right. I know they’re not demons, but… the stories…” the konuul trailed off and shivered. “They’re the one kind of spirit I wanted to avoid. Most others can be dealt with, but...”

“Pretty telling that your people actually know more about them than most other spirits,” Kuna replied, laying his head on the konuul’s chest. “At least they say good fortune will come our way eventually… right?”

“Yeah. Key word ‘eventually’. Who knows what it will take to get there.”

Kuna just stared off into space quietly again for a moment. “Let’s just hope these little magic lessons aren’t going to cost us too much trouble…”

“Hey, I’ve got your back, whatever happens,” Lykou assured him, then sighed and gently rubbed his side. “For whatever good it’ll do, anyway.”

Kuna lifted his head up and looked the canid in the eye for a moment. “Lets make a deal not to try any more ‘sacrificing one life for another’ shit, alright? Pretty sure neither of us wants to end up traveling the rest of the way back alone. Nevermind the fact I’d be helpless without you-”

“Don’t sell yourself sh-”

“Shut it,” the sereva interrupted with a glare, but then softened his expression after a moment. “This isn’t me being all self-debasing. It’s just a fact, I’d be dead without you out here. Even if I had the survival instincts you do, I’d be alone and vulnerable at night, and so would you. Neither of us would survive this trip alone long. And all that is besides the point that… well…” He paused and took another deep breath, his eyes tearing up slightly. “I can’t go back to being alone. You’re important to me, Lykou. Frankly, if something happened to you, I wouldn’t want to survive anyway. So promise me you’ll try as hard to keep yourself alive as you do to protect me.”

Lykou stared back at him for a moment, then slowly nodded as his own eyes watered a bit. “Deal.”

They both embraced tightly, just enjoying each other’s closeness for a while, leaning back against one of the moss-covered boulders making up their shelter. Eventually, Lykou lifted his waterskin up to take a sip, then frowned as he shook it afterwards. “Going to need to refill this thing. Luckily I saw a small stream not far from here.”

Kuna gave him a wary look.

“We’ll go together, alright?” the canid suggested, smiling back at him. “And we’ll make it quick.”

“Alright… I guess we can still use our bracers if we have to. No trying to fight anything though.”

“If we see anything more dangerous than a snapping turtle, we’ll bolt right back here,” the canid promised.

They both slowly got up, with Kuna still trying to hang onto his friend. After getting a bemused look from the canid, he reluctantly settled for holding hands as they walked towards the treeline. They both watched the wilderness around them with heightened wariness as they hiked, keeping silent along the way.


When the two finally returned to their camp, they immediately noticed a change. Smoke was once again puffing out the hole in the top of their shelter, despite the fact that the fire had been out since shortly after they woke up. And there was a strange, but not entirely unpleasant smell coming from within the shelter. They both exchanged a look, wondering if they should turn and run. But they didn’t want to leave their belongings behind, having only taken Kuna’s bag and the waterskin with them to the stream.

“It’s probably her,” Kuna quietly said.

“Definitely,” Lykou agreed, then took a deep breath and gently squeezed the sereva’s hand. “Hey, she did save our lives. And she’s been teaching you magic, so…”

“Who knows what her motives for any of it are. But yeah, I guess it wouldn’t be right to just run off and try to avoid her. I doubt we could for long, anyway. She… seems pretty powerful.”

Lykou looked over the shelter, then nodded. “Yeah, she made this after all.”

“You should have seen what she did to the ravager,” the sereva replied, shivering at the memory.

“Oh yeah? I even want to know?”

“Probably not. I’ve been struggling to get it out of my head ever since.”

“What, was it… messy? I assume she killed it, right?”

“...worse,” Kuna replied, giving him a haunted look.

The konuul’s eyes widened. “H-how…”

“Sent it to Dalzai-Nar.”

The canid’s eyes furrowed for a moment as he tried to parse the phrase. “Dalz… what’s that?”

“The twisted hells?” Kuna said, giving him a look, then continued when his friend didn’t seem to be following along. “The place demons come from, and supposedly where corrupt spirits and the souls of the most evil mortals in the world are sent. Somehow.”

Once again, the canid blanched at him, then turned his horrified gaze back to the shelter. “Maybe running isn’t such a bad idea.”

“We’re not demons or corrupt spirits. And I’d like to think neither of us have ever done something nearly bad enough to be sent there,” Kuna replied, staring at the entrance with some trepidation. “Anyway technically she didn’t send it there directly. She had these two other spirits with her take it there. But they apparently worked for her, so…”

“...what in the world have we gotten ourselves into,” the canid said, then gulped.

“You mean what have I gotten us into,” Kuna said with a sigh. “I should never have accepted her offer…”

“Oh hush. You had no way of knowing who, or what, she really was, and who would pass up the opportunity to learn magic?” Lykou said, pulling him into a hug. “Besides, we’re in this together, all of it.”

Kuna smiled weakly at him, then took a steadying breath. “Well… let’s not keep her waiting, I guess.”


Ducking down, they both crawled into the shelter together and immediately huddled together off to one side as they eyed the other occupant. They could see a now-familiar looking dark figure on the other side of the fire. She was reclining on, of all things, a cloud of smoke, or dark mist, shaped into a vaguely chair-shaped form. Her appearance had changed again slightly- she was still sleeveless, and instead of a hood, she now had a wide-brimmed hat resting crooked on her head, the edge obscuring one eye. Upon closer inspection, the smoke she was sitting on melded into a cape she was wearing.

In one hand, she was holding some kind of pipe in her mouth, slowly puffing on something in it- no doubt the source of the strange yet pleasant smell they’d picked up on. One leg was crossed over the other casually. The dim light coming from the fire gave her dark fur a slightly golden edge, and reflected in her somewhat narrowed eyes, which were no longer glowing. The entire glowing facade her face previously had was gone, for the moment at least. She was smiling, but there was a very faintly predatory look to the expression- or at least, that’s the impression Kuna got.

“Good morning, boys,” she said after a moment, pulling the pipe out just long enough to speak. “I suppose proper introductions are in order, since it seems my previous mask is now pointless. I know both your names, so fair is fair. My name is Inkari, and as you can see, I am no vizhni.”

“You’re a hounaka, aren’t you? Or smoke-whisperer, or whatever,” Lykou accused.

Inkari chuckled. “My people have been called those and many other things.”

“People?” the konuul asked, arching a brow.

“We’re called jarzin. I was born as much flesh and blood as either of you, believe it or not,” Inkari revealed. “Although by adulthood, we tend to have one foot solidly planted in each world.”

“Wait, what??” the canid asked incredulously. “Are you seriously trying to tell us you’re not even a spirit?!”

“You’re… sitting on a cloud of smoke,” the sereva pointed out, his eye twitching slightly. “You’re just... messing with us, right?”

Inkari smirked and took another puff on her pipe. “Not at all. I suppose you could say I’m part spirit, at least. Technically, when you consider your soul, most people are, but jarzin especially so. Like I said, we’re about halfway there by the time we’re grown. But I’m still very much tied to the mortal world, when it comes right down to it. And as you can see, I still have a very fleshy mortal form, once the disguise comes off- although a lot more flexible and changeable than most.”

They both stared at her in a mixture of disbelief and awe. “But… you… all that stuff you did…”

“Powerful magic is a part of who we are. Everything I’ve taught you, Kuna, is something I learned around the same time I was learning to walk. It’s a part of our very nature.”

“How have we never heard of you?” the sereva asked, still unsure if he should believe her.

“Well, in a way you have,” the jarzin replied, with a mischievous grin. “Maybe not our true identity, but you have your stories.”

Lykou frowned slightly. “So they’re… true then?”

“To a point. From your peoples’ own biased perspectives, of course. And secrecy is also a bit of a thing for us, usually. In fact, ordinarily I’d never tell either of you any of this, but, well, things happen. Frankly, the ‘fire spirit’ shtick was getting a bit old anyway,” she said, a glint in her eye. “And blindly sticking to rules, even the few we have, was never a particular strength of mine.”

“You’re not worried about getting in trouble?” Kuna asked, arching a brow. “What if the others find out?”

“Kid,” Inkari said, then took another long draw on her pipe, before blowing it out in the shape of a skull, which had a reddish glow as it drifted up and out the vent-hole in the ceiling. “I AM trouble,” she finished with a toothy grin, her sharp teeth glistening with an unnatural, dim glow for a moment.

“W-what does that mean?” the sereva asked nervously, cuddling up to the konuul some more.

“That’s a complicated question that I’m not entirely inclined to fully answer. But let’s just say I’m well known among my people, and they’re more likely to worry about getting on my bad side than the other way around.”

“Alright let me just ask,” Lykou cut in. “Is messing with people what you’re all about?”

The jarzin eyed the konuul for an extended, increasingly uncomfortable silence. Finally, she chuckled lightly. “Hmm, depends on what you mean by those words, I suppose. Yes, we do tend to… meddle. With all the power we’re blessed with, it would be a waste not to try and guide the world to a better place,” she replied, then rolled her eyes slightly. “Or at least that’s the kind of flowery language most elders would use. But yes, I guess ‘messing with’ people isn’t too far off. They usually do end up better off in the end, though, even if I think some of my… ‘peers’ get a bit full of themselves in the process. At least I have the decency to admit it’s also fun.”

“What’s… going to happen to us?” Kuna anxiously asked.

“Yeah, what are we in for?” Lykou added.

Inkari took her pipe out and blew some smoke out of her nose as she looked at them thoughtfully for a moment. “That’s up to you, ultimately. As long as you’re still willing, I sincerely do want to give Kuna his last- for the moment, anyway- magic lesson this evening,” she said, her gaze landing on the sereva. “It would be a shame for your potential to go to waste.”

Kuna shared a look with the konuul. “What’s… what’s it going to cost us?”

“Cost you? What do I look like, a trade caravan?” she replied with a light laugh. “It doesn’t work that way, Kuna. I’m not teaching you for some petty selfish reason. I really would hate for your talents to go unrealized. And frankly, that goes for the both of you. You came to that mountain looking for enlightenment, so I’m glad to help you achieve it, even if it’s not all entirely what you expected.”

“Given the reputation you have… forgive us if we find it hard to take you at your word,” Lykou replied, holding Kuna protectively.

Far from offended, Inkari smirked. “Fair enough. Look, I won’t deny having… schemes involving you two, but frankly you’ve already accomplished quite a bit. You did magnificently in those ruins.”

“A rima pointed us there, was he working for you?” Kuna asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Ah yes, Sulyr. Not explicitly, no. But he did only point you there after he realized I was involved with you two, knowing that’s where I was going to try and lead you to myself,” the jarzin said, once again leaning back and taking a puff on her pipe. “Try not to hold it against him though. If anything, he did you a favor carrying you down into the canyon like he did. Traveling the long way down would have been a lot more tedious. And he truly didn’t know what was in there.”

“But you did?”

“Yes, and I knew you two were more than capable of dealing with it. Maybe with some scrapes and a few scares, but, well, here you are. You survived and brought back the Arbassla. Just as I knew you would.”

“So… what, you wanted us to do your dirty work?” Lykou asked suspiciously.

“In a manner of speaking, yes. For reasons I won’t go into, it’s not something I’d be inclined to do myself,” Inkari said. “But in any case the experience was good for the both of you as well. You got those nice little trinkets that should help you on your journey. And it forced you,” she added, pointing to Kuna with her pipe. “To give up your little secret, even with the fear that I’d somehow seek retribution against you. And in the end, even with that little rough spot you had that evening, you two ended up strengthening your bond together through the experience, wouldn’t you say?”

Lykou started to try and find a reason to object, but then he and Kuna looked at each other and he couldn’t help but grin a little. “I guess that’s true.”

Kuna smiled back and cuddled up to him some more. “I think we were already pretty well ‘bonded’ to begin with, though.”

“Indeed. But there’s always room for growth, after all.”

“So what else was part of your scheme?” Lykou asked, narrowing his eyes as looked back at her. “Did you know about the giant?”

“Sure. Anyone who’s spent enough time around that mountain knows about that idiot,” she replied with a smirk. “But I also knew you could handle it. Now he’s dealt with and the mountain should be a somewhat safer place for a while. And in fact, just as I’d hoped, that helped you both realize your own hidden talents, Lykou.”

“Oh yeah, we wanted to ask you more about that,” Kuna said, perking up a bit. “Can you explain what that was?”

“No more than I already told you, Kuna,” the jarzin replied, then shifted her gaze back to the konuul. “Your people have different means of harnessing mystical energies, that are often more subtle. Unfortunately, and I very rarely say this, the way you did it up there is regrettably one of the few areas of magic I know little about. You’ll have to seek guidance elsewhere if you want to work on that.”

“And… the ravager?” Lykou finally asked, glaring at her. “Was that another little... ‘test’ for us?”

Inkari frowned and took a long breath, puffing out a larger cloud of smoke. “No. That was absolutely not part of the plan. Had I not been caught up in dealing with some… spirit-world nonsense, I would have seen it ahead of time and dealt with it before you arrived. For that I truly do apologize,” she said, then smirked again as her gaze shifted back to the sereva. “But at least you did get a practical lesson out of it in the end.”

“I guess. What I can remember of it anyway,” the sereva replied, shivering a bit in Lykou’s arms. “So even though you’re not a spirit… you really did get caught up with them, somehow?”

“Happens all the time. Magic comes from the spirit world, and my people spend a lot of time there anyway. I won’t bore you with the details, but let just say I underestimated some of the fallout that tree caused. Not everyone is thrilled with its return.”

“Oh?” Kuna asked warily.

“It was sealed away for a long time for a reason,” Inkari said looking away thoughtfully. “It’s one of the last remaining links to something that can cause a fair bit of chaos, but it can also help keep the balance in the world. Nature is sorely missing some old friends.” She grinned. “I don’t suppose either of you have ever heard of Sylthea, have you?”

The two shook their heads.

“Possibly some of its residents are in some of your oldest stories, although they might have gotten confused for spirits at this point. The mortal world and the spirit world aren’t the only two worlds that exist, though you’d hardly know it these days,” she explained, then paused to take another large puff. When she exhaled, the smoke formed the shape of a tree, and numerous little lights lit up around it as its roots dipped down, then suddenly transformed into a mirror image of the tree on the other side. “Arbassla is one of the few links between the mortal world and Sylthea.”

“Another world? What are its people like?” Lykou asked with wide-eyed fascination. It felt like he was a kid listening to stories on Spark Night all over again. For his part, Kuna was also intrigued, albeit a little more anxious about it. “Er, or whatever they’re called.”

“They have many names, but they’ve been cut off from this world and sealed away in their own for a long time. The fae, the weird ones, the odd folk, the forbidden thyngs, and various others besides. They’re as varied as mortals and spirits are. Many have potent magic of their own, too.”

“Why were they sealed off?” Lykou asked.

“And why would you want them back?” Kuna added.

“They’re a bit of a chaotic lot. Too many of them around can cause issues. But the world can also get too stagnant without them,” she explained, grinning again. “Spirits obsessed with order and stability of course aren’t big fans of them. But the rest of us know that a stagnant world is a dying world. Not that you have to worry about them causing you any trouble any time soon, mind you. It’ll take quite a while for the tree’s link to finish forming. You’ll be well away from here long before the first fairies cross over.”


Inkari held up a hand, indicating something small with her fingers. “One of the tiny folk. Small enough to fit in your hand, with enough magical power to make an elder spirit blush.”

“Sounds… interesting…” Kuna said uncertainly. “As long as we don’t have to deal with them, I guess.”

“Aw, I’d love to meet them,” Lykou playfully whined. “Think about it, Kuna, a whole other world! Neither mortal or spirit!”

“You would,” the sereva replied with an eye roll and a slight smirk. “I’ll pass on meeting ‘playful’ things with insane magic for now, though. We’ve already have to d-… er,” he started to say, then folded his ears back as he caught himself, shooting the jarzin a nervous, somewhat sheepish look.

“Ha! Well said,” Inkari retorted to his unfinished comment, highly amused. “I suppose there’s a reason for my fondness of them. Maybe I’m a bit biased for kindred souls.”

The sereva smiled slightly, relieved she didn’t take offense. “Sooo, uh… this is all really interesting and stuff. But, er… now what?”

“Well, are there any other burning questions you want to ask before I begin your next magic lesson?”

“Yeah, why did you insist on him keeping it secret from me?” Lykou asked, glaring and frowning at her.

“Well, for one thing, I know how excitable you can get about these things and didn’t want you to be a distraction.”

“Oh come on, I’m not that bad! I would have let him focus!” the konuul replied defensively, pouting a bit.

“Yeah, I’m sure he’d have been fine,” Kuna agreed. “Was that really the only reason?”

“Well, that was one.”

“Oh? What else was there?”

Inkari glanced back and forth at them both for a minute, then another toothy grin spread across her face. “Drama. Fun. Shits and giggles, basically.”

“...what,” they both said in unison with similar perturbed looks.

“What can I say? I like to have a little fun,” the witch said, chuckling to herself.

“Y-.. you-… all that-… it just-… we didn’t-” Kuna sputtered as he tried to make sense of it, his eye twitching again as he clawed at the ground with one hand in frustration.

“Wow. You’re the absolute worst,” Lykou said flatly.

“Thanks, I try,” Inkari replied, looking quite pleased with herself as she resumed puffing on her pipe.

Kuna buried his face in his poncho and let out a muffled scream of frustration for a moment. Then he dropped it, glaring at her with a sour look. Lykou just held the sereva, glaring daggers at the witch, who laughed in response.

“So glad my misery entertained you,” Kuna muttered in annoyance.

“Come now, Kuna. ‘Misery’ is a bit of a strong word, especially considering what else you’ve been through, don’t you think?” Inkari replied with a raised eyebrow. “It was only a few days. And by the time you dropped the secrecy, you did have more to show him than a glowing hand, after all.”

“I guess,” the sereva replied, still looking nonplussed. “Just don’t expect me to keep any more secrets from him.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it. Besides, now he can hear anything we talk about, since he’ll be sitting on this lesson.”

“Right. On that note, how about we just start before we ask any more questions with infuriating answers?” Kuna suggested.

“Of course, by all means, if you’re ready,” Inkari replied. “And if you’re not too grumpy to focus.”

“I’ll be fine,” the sereva insisted, glaring again slightly. He took a deep breath as he calmed himself, then looked over at Lykou and gently stroked the konuul’s still slightly-bruised side before turning back to her. “Actually, I was wondering if you could clarify something from… well, the healing thing last night.”

“Of course. It’s a very important skill, so by all means ask away.”

“You said plants are different from people and animals, and… I did kind of felt that, a little bit. You said it would have been harder if he wasn’t so weak at the time, right? What’s that about?”

“Ah yes. The more complex the mind and soul of the living thing you’re trying to effect with your magic, the more challenging it can be to make changes to them. They resist, albeit largely subconsciously. It helps if they know what you’re doing first and accept it. The more experienced you become, the easier it can be to work around such things.”

“Seems like healing wouldn’t be something you’d want to resist,” Lykou chimed in. “I certainly wouldn’t have objected at any point.”

“Perhaps not consciously, and healing is easier than other… changes. But your soul has a certain idea for how life energy should flow through your body, and anything that alters that will come across as unnatural, at least at first.”

“Wait… wait does that mean,” Kuna started to ask, suddenly perking up. “I never thought about it, but I guess with life energy… I could probably…” Suddenly, his hand lit up with the green glow and he reached up to one of the nubs on his head. He tried pushing life energy into it, but suddenly drew his hand back and shuddered as a bizarre sensation coursed through his body.

Inkari smirked. “Transforming someone’s body in a way that is different from its normal form is more difficult than healing. And that goes doubly for doing it to yourself.”

Kuna frowned, lowering his hand and dismissing the life energy. “Damn.”

“Hey, you look cute the way you are. And if you had big horns-” Lykou began.

“Antlers,” Kuna corrected him.

“-right, those, I couldn’t do,” the canid continued, then pulled Kuna into his lap rested his head on top of the sereva’s. “This!”

Kuna smiled up at him, but blushed as well, shooting an awkward glance at the jarzin. “Er, I don’t know if-”

“Oh by all means, whatever makes you comfortable,” Inkari interjected with an amused grin. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with your ability to focus.”

“So healing is okay, other changes… kind of out of the question for people, including myself. And I guess animals, too?”

“I never said it was impossible. Just more challenging,” the jarzin pointed out, with another subtly mischievous look. As if to demonstrate, she removed her hat, and a green aura appeared around her body. She briefly changed into a konuul, then a sereva, then several other species neither recognized- sometimes masculine, sometimes feminine, and some very hard to tell. Then finally back to her default form. “It’s just a bit… advanced for your current level of experience. By all means feel free to try and experiment when you’re more confident. Just remember any changes will be just as difficult to undo if you mess something up.”

“Woah, that was…” Lykou said, staring at her somewhat wide-eyed. “...interesting.”

Kuna rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I’ll… keep that in mind.”

“It’s a fun trick once you learn to do it effectively,” Inkari said, then suddenly shifted to a more masculine version of their normal form, his voice changing to match. “Especially if you ever had… certain curiosities,” he added with a wink, then shifted back to female form.

Lykou raised an eyebrow, somewhat amused. “Seems like that’d be kind of… awkward, at the very least.”

Kuna blushed and looked away for a moment. “Y-yeah…”

The jarzin shrugged. “Less than you might think. Then again, I’ve been doing it so long I sometimes forget which way I was originally,” she said in an amused tone. “Once you start getting really good at manipulating your own form, it can get addictive. Although I regret to inform you it’ll be quite a while before you can even think about trying out such dramatic changes, Kuna.”

“I-I’m good, thanks,” the sereva insisted, clearly a bit flustered. “A-anyway… uh, what were you specifically planning to teach me today?”

“I’m glad you asked. There are actually two things I want to teach you. And seeing as how it’s nearing the middle of the day, I suspect you two will be staying here another night before you head out. So you should have ample time to practice.”

“Er, right,” Kuna said, looking away with a somewhat awkward expression. “S-sorry Lykou…”

The konuul shrugged, then gave him a gentle squeeze. “Worth it. Besides, I wasn’t sure I’d be up to hiking again just yet, anyway.”

Kuna smiled up at him, then turned back to Inkari. “So what first?”

The jarzin grinned, then gestured to a large blade of grass a few feet away from him. “Manipulate that into a flower.”

Kuna arched a brow, confused as to why he’d be retreading old ground. Nonetheless, he manifested the glow in his hand and started to sit up and lean forward.

“Uh-uh, no,” Inkari interjected, her own hand glowing green again as a pair of roots sprouted up from the ground and gently pushed him back. “Without touching it with your hand.”

The sereva’s eyes widened a bit, and he glanced back and forth between the jarzin and the grass. “Er… how?”

“Think about it. When you grab onto the flow of life energy, are you literally grabbing it with your hand?”

Kuna furrowed his brow and looked down at his hand thoughtfully for a moment. “I… guess not.”

“Exactly. You’ve been taking the whole ‘grab’ idea a bit too literally. Perfectly understandable and useful for newbies, but it’s time you started thinking like a real magic weaver. Your mental grasp is more limited by your perception and focus than your physical body. Try grabbing it without thinking about using your hand.”

The sereva took a deep breath and tried focusing on directing the flow of energy without his hand. After a few frustrating moments, he sighed and rubbed his head.

“You can still move your hand if it helps to direct the energy, for now, as long as you do it without getting closer.”

Kuna nodded and tried again, this time lifting his hand and gesturing to the grass blade. After several minutes, the blade suddenly began to grow, slowly. After a moment, its shape started changing as well, forming a small flower. Finally, he relinquished his mental grasp and grinned.

“Hey, good job, Ku!” Lykou congratulated him, rubbing the sereva’s shoulder lightly.

“Well done. You’ll need to practice it more, and do know that it gets more challenging the farther away you are from your target. But it’s a useful skill to master,” Inkari said, then stood up, stretching a bit after putting her hat back on. “In fact, lets step outside and get some fresh air. You can practice on some things out there. A bit of sunlight might help you focus. You might want to grab a snack while you’re at it, to replenish your energy.”

Reluctantly, Kuna got up out of Lykou’s lap. Both he and the konuul grabbed some food from their bags, then exited the structure. Inkari startled them by simply popping out in a burst of smoke, rather than crawling out the exit as they had.

“Alright, over there,” the jarzin said, gesturing to a cluster of sunflowers a few yards away. “Practice changing the color and size of those flowers. From here.”

Kuna nodded and began practicing. As he did so, Lykou glanced sidelong at the jarzin for a minute. Then, somewhat hesitantly, he offered her a chunk of salted meat. “Want some? I can only imagine how much energy you’ve gone through. You, uh… do eat meat, right? Sharp teeth and all...”

Inkari smirked. “I don’t eat at all, actually. Unless I feel like enjoying the flavor for its own sake.”

The konuul gave her an incredulous look. “Huh?? How is that possible?”

“Advantage of being so well ‘enlightened’. One of the first things a jarzin learns is to fuel ourselves with the energies of the spirit world so that food is no longer necessary.”

“Wow… can you teach him that?”

“Afraid not. It involves a… certain ritual. One performed right after being born, so he’d be far too old anyway,” Inkari replied, staring off into the distance with an unreadable expression. “And generally only jarzin can survive it, anyway.”

“Survive it…?” the canid asked warily.

“Mhmm. Nothing like a brush with death right out of the womb to trick the body and soul into not knowing whether its coming or going,” she said with a faint chuckle.

“...brush with…?” Lykou almost whispered. “What in the world…?”

“Your first meal was probably your mother’s milk. As a jarzin, mine was a deadly poison that brought me right to the brink of death,” she said simply, then took another puff on her pipe.

The konuul gawked at her for a minute. “That’s… that’s horrible!”

Inkari raised a brow and glanced sidelong at him, smirking. “Not at all. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be standing here now.”

Kuna shook his head slightly and gave her an equally disturbed look, having paused in his practice upon overhearing the conversation. “That still sounds terrible… poisoning a baby, really??”

“It’s not painful. Cold and frightening, perhaps, but not painful. In fact it numbs practically everything,” the witch explained. “Just enough to bring you to the edge of death, close enough that you can practically touch the other side. Keep in mind one’s parents are always present and using their own magic to keep you from slipping over. Once the body begins to give up, something strange and beautiful happens. The soul’s instincts take over and you begin weaving magic without even fully knowing what you’re doing.”

She took a deep breath, shooting some smoke out of her nose. “It’s a feeling you never forget. A lot of us spend a good chunk of our lives trying to recreate it, in various ways,” she explained, then pulled the pipe away and wiggled it around pointedly. “Like smoking one of the poison’s main ingredients, for example.”

Kuna blanched and backed up, with Lykou doing similar. “You’ve been… are we gonna-?!”

Inkari laughed. “Relax. It’s just one component of the full poison, and you have to inhale it directly, while its still hot, for it to do anything. In this form it’s more or less harmless. Although,” she said, quirking a brow as she brought the pipe back to her mouth. “It’d be fun seeing either of you take a taste of it. You’d probably be having some very interesting hallucinations and acting quite… entertaining.”

“Yeah no, I’ll pass,” Kuna replied with a shudder.

Lykou glanced over at him with a slight smirk. “I don’t know, you enjoyed the gourd juice.”

“I said pass,” the sereva said, shooting him a small, playful glare before turning back to his magic practice.

“I wouldn’t let you anyway. I’ve built up a tolerance for a very, very long time, and I’m a jarzin. Either of you would be losing your mind for a good day or two, most likely.”

Lykou eyed her with an uncertain expression. “Are your kind just that tough, or does a lot of it have to do with the magic stuff?”

“Yes,” Inkari replied simply, smirking again as she watched Kuna practice. He’d already managed to grow several of them, and one was developing multi-colored petals.

MHO - Chapter 27


Cross-posting catchup for Mystic Heart Odyssey.

For clarification:
Konuul = kind of a wolf + husky hybrid
Sereva = deer (with a little bit of Thompson's gazelle, primarily in terms of markings)
Ursaran = massive tiger + bear hybrid

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Literary / Story