Chapter 2

Despite having ended the conflict between Shmee and Rest, time still seemed to pass slowly. He was getting antsy; he wanted to get to the Ievai Hills now. Nobody else seemed to understand his urgent need to get there, and was told time and again to be patient.
"We've got to find the Spirit of the Hills before the Emperor tries attacking him, too," he told Momo one night. It was a dark night, with the moon only half-full, but it was a good night to practice necromancy. He put his hands on a flower, and murmured "Korie-lar lieérva." The flower wilted in his hands, and Aido felt energy rush into his body. He smiled at the sensation.
"I think you've mastered this spell," Momo remarked with amusement. "Try not to do it too much.You may feel too powerful when you do this often."
"I'll be careful," Aido replied, setting the wilted flower down. "I don't plan on doing this spell except in emergencies."
"Like?" Momo quizzed. Aido grinned.
"If it feels like I'm dying or too sick to act normally during our travels."
Momo nodded, pleased. "You're a better little necromancer than I could have ever dreamed."
Aido beamed with her praise. At one point in time, even he couldn't have dreamed that he'd be a good necromancer. He hadn't even believed he would be one at all. Now look at him; if he kept it up at this rate, he'd be the best necromancer in the world!
"What other kinds of spells are there to learn?" he asked eagerly.
"Oh, lots," Momo replied, flicking her hand in dismissal. "But we've done enough practicing tonight. You should sleep."
"I have enough energy to just start to learn something else!" he wheedled. Momo laughed.
"So eager! I remember when I first came to you, you hated going to school, and look at you now! A regular inaaran here, have we? An over-zealous inaaran who would rather learn than sleep?"
"Magic is better than the things I learned in school. So can you please teach me something new now?"
"Very well, very well," Momo told him with a laugh. "I'll teach you the basics of fighting with energy of the dead, in case a time comes when there are no weapons to be had. But, I warn you, it is capable of corrupting you if you use it too freely."
Aido nodded impatiently; yes, yes, like always, he'd be careful. With that, Momo began teaching him the theory of focusing the energy he drained from living things. It was a thrill to see energy form little wisps in the palm of his hand. This was what life was made of, he thought of in amazement. This… life energy. It was inside every one of them. This must be what lives on when bodies die. How much was inside a human body, he wondered.
They went on practicing until sunrise, when Momo had to depart for the inside of Aido's mind once more. Still, he remained until the sun had risen and the others had awoken. They were startled that he was not asleep in their makeshift camp, and it was Shmee who went to find him. She didn't have to look long; he was just behind the trees, furiously concentrating on something in his hand that looked like a cloudy crystal ball.
"Aido?" she asked with a frown, coming towards him. Startled, Aido lost focus on the life energy, and the ball faded away. A circle of wilted grass and flowers surrounded Aido. He looked up at Shmee in alarm.
"What is it?"
She looked him over; Aido looked as if he hadn't slept at all, with dark circles under his eyes and were only accentuated by the paleness of his face. In fact, his skin looked almost gray with exhaustion, but his blue eyes were bright, excited. "Did you sleep?"
"Of course I did," Aido replied with a laugh that didn't match his appearance. "I slept for a while, actually, until Momo woke me up. She's teaching me so much!"
"You should come and eat some breakfast, Aido," Shmee replied warily. "You'll lose your strength if you act like this." Aido shrugged, and stood up. He was surprised to feel slightly light-headed, and he stumbled. Shmee's eyebrows furrowed in concern. "You really should be more careful about doing that so much. Momo should give you a day off or something."
"No, no, I'm fine," Aido panted. Skeptically, Shmee offered him her arm, which he gratefully took.
"Maybe we shouldn't start traveling till this afternoon," she commented doubtfully. Aido shook his head, panicked.
"We can't do that!"
"But you're exhausted, Aido!"
"Please!"
Aido was sounding desperate now, and he felt self-conscious as he realized it. His grip on Shmee's arm tightened, and she looked down at him with a terribly sad look on her face. "Oh, Aido. What happened to you?"
"What do you mean?"
Nothing had happened to him— he just made a mistake, that was all. He stayed up too late trying to master a skill that Momo had been unsure of even teaching him in the first place.
"This isn't like you, staying up all night to learn spells. It's… a little much. You're going to make yourself sick."
"No, no, I'm fine!" Aido looked up at her, forcing a smile. "See? Same old Aido."
Shmee returned his smile with a faint one of her own and ruffled his curly blond hair. "Of course you're the same old Aido, my same old karorie. I'm just worried that this magic is taking over your life. Being obsessed with this magic leads to nowhere, you know."
"I'm not obsessed!"
"Just be careful, all right?" Shmee's face didn't seem to be angry or judgemental; she was just concerned. He took a deep breath, and nodded.
"All right."

The four of them set off to their travels as normal. Even though Aido was tired, he couldn't let his weakness overcome him. They couldn't lose any time in getting to the Spirit of the Hills. The sooner they got to Ievai, the sooner they could figure out where the Spirit of Time lives and warn him before he came down and brought ruin to himself. Aido was unsure of how quickly the Emperor's plans were moving. He just knew that the sooner, the better.
It was clear, however, that staying up all night had been a mistake. At least Shmee was kind enough to not say I-told-you-so, but Momo wasn't as pleasant.
"What were you thinking, staying up after I left?! If I wasn't resting my own mind, I would have slapped some sense into you!"
"With your hard old hands?" Aido replied sarcastically. Momo became so furious after that remark that she refused talk to him for the rest of the day, which Aido did regret. He hated making Momo angry, but he was just having a hard time today. It felt like he was the walking dead.
"That was really stupid, Aido."
"Shut up, Sarita."
"You knew we had a long day ahead of us. You're the one who keeps telling us to go faster, and now you're the one slowing us down."
"I said shut up, Sarita."
"What? All I'm saying is that you pulled a stupid move and that you shouldn't do it again."
If Aido's reflexes hadn't been so slow today, he would have succeeded in crunching Sarita's toes under his boot, but she sidestepped and evaded him.
"See? You're too out of it. Hope this will teach you to not be stupid again." With that, the kitsu tottered off to lead the way.
So much for avoiding conflict, he thought irritably. Now he had created it. The rest of the day, he cleared his thoughts and meditated as he walked. It wasn't as though he could have a pleasant conversation with anyone else! By meditating, he would be able to regain some of his magic and hopefully some energy. It was also fairly easy to do; his mind was too exhausted to think of anything and he was grateful for the reprieve.
After a good night's sleep, he found himself apologizing profusely to Momo, who slowly forgave him. Still, they didn't practice necromancy for a while. He knew he was treading dangerous waters by thinking about it so much, so a break was a good idea. Shmee seemed to approve, as well, so she was acting more like her old self: giddy and talkative. While Sarita seemed pleased to be able to talk about how annoying Shmee was, Rest seemed to take no notice and buried himself in his book on  the history of graces. He had demonstrated long before that he was quite capable of reading while walking, so the long miles rarely elicited a sound from him.
"Are you rereading that book?!" Sarita demanded, staring at Rest. Rest didn't look up from the pages.
"Yes."
"Are you crazy?"
"No."
"Yeah, Rest, this is getting a little odd," Shmee commented, giving him an odd look. "Why have you been so interested in that book?"
Rest sighed and closed it. "Before we got to Blossom City, I remembered an old wives' tale about how the graces got their wings," he explained finally. "You see, the Spirit of the Wing was the last to create children; the graces were born long after kitsus, mermaids, nymphs, and the others. But there were humans who lived close to and revered the Spirit of the Wing. Somehow, he turned them into graces. I don't know how they got their wings, so I've been trying to figure that out."
"Why?" Aido asked, frowning.
"If the Spirit of the Wing did give the graces their wings… maybe I can get a new pair."
Everyone gaped at him. "I've never heard a tale like that, and I know most folklore," Shmee told him slowly. He smiled weakly.
"I know. If anyone would know it, it would be the Elders or librarians. But so many of them have died… but if I can find any when we get to the Grace Mountains, I might be able to get my wings back. I was hoping this book would tell me something, but it only alludes to the idea that it was the Spirit of the Wing who helped us fly. It doesn't even say if it's fact."
"So you might have read that whole book several times for nothing," Sarita said flatly. Rest frowned.
"Always helping us see the bright side of things, hm?"
"Nope. I'm just realistic."
"I've never heard of that sort of lore before," Shmee commented, surprised. "Where did you hear that?"
"It's one of those legends my people have passed down. Most of us think that sort of thing is a myth, but I can't give up hope can I?"
"Never." Shmee was smiling at him. Rest's cheeks tinged pink, giving his purple tattoos a less harsh background of paleness. His tattoos were perhaps the most noticeable part of the grace, and the one remaining thing about him that might hint to people that he wasn't quite human. They were three upside down triangles under each eye, with the color purple to represent that he was of the Serenity Tribe.
"Maybe the Spirit of the Hills knows," Aido suggested, rocking on the balls of his feet. "He's old enough to remember just how the graces got wings."
An odd look of relief crossed of Rest's face. "Very true," he murmured to himself. "We could ask him and see what he remembers..."
"And while you're all doing that, I'll be killing his werewolf-brats," Sarita added with a sassy flick of her tails. Aido scowled at her.
"That's a bad idea. You're already the reason he won't like us to begin with."
"Not just me!" Sarita threw up her hands in innocence. "You smell like Old Mama Kitsu, so he won't like you because of that, either."
"He'll probably not like you more, though."
"Kids, kids," Shmee said hurriedly, rushing between the two. "Are you really arguing about who the Spirit will hate more?"
Aido, realizing how hypocritical this argument was to what he told Shmee and Rest the other day, shut up. Sarita, gregarious as always, simply smirked.
"It's not an argument when you're right."
Despite himself, Aido laughed. He couldn't tell if she was being obnoxious on purpose, but it was lightening the mood. An amused smile escaped Shmee and even Rest seemed to brighten. Sarita made a purring sound, having made her point.
"So, Shmee," she said as she stretched out her small arms. "Have you been anywhere near Ievai?"
"As a matter of fact, there is a small border village by the hills," she replied. "I've been there a couple times, but I honestly don't travel east that much. It's not safe for Aido— they're too sympathetic to the Emperor. But I can scope it out, to see what they know about werewolves."
"Good idea," Rest commented, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "We shouldn't take any chances with them. They do have a tendency to be mean."
"Right again!" Sarita chirped, sounding positively delighted. "It's so hard to be right all the time. You all just never listen!"

The End

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