Chapter 5

The Spirit of the Hills was tall, taller even than the enormous werewolf that Sarita was picking a fight with. This massive wolf had shaggy fur that was the purest white Aido had ever seen, though his tail and face had gray on them that could almost be mistaken for a shade of purple. His eyes were bright and alert and were an eerie violet. He looked at Aido as another human would look at another, with intelligence and empathy.
"Kitsu, you are in the wrong. I had asked Lekk to jump on your friend for me. If not, your friend would surely have killed my daughter Elda." The Spirit approached the still-fallen werewolf and nuzzled her. "My daughter, are you able to stand?"
"Yes, Father," Elda groaned, rising to her feet shakily. "It feels as though I've had the wind knocked out of me."
Aido felt himself turn scarlet. Did he do that?
The Spirit of the Hills grunted in satisfaction before turning back to face Aido. "Child, do you realize what you have done?"
"No," Aido squeaked. "I… I didn't mean to. I was just worried she was going to eat my friends."
"So you used necromancy," the Spirit finished flatly. He made a rumbling sound that could have been a sigh. "Child, necromancy is to be used as a last resort. Never to be used to gain an unfair advantage. Necromancy can easily corrupt a young soul like yours."
"Yes," Aido replied miserably. He knew this danger. In fact, soon after he met Rest, they had a discussion about it. "I just thought that I wouldn't be strong enough to fight the werewolf by myself…"
"Elda does not attack unprovoked," the Spirit of the Hills told him. "I work hard to keep my children in line and their appetites in check. Elda, what were you doing here?"
"Father," Elda replied, "I was trying to see what they were doing so far out here. Most humans know it is dangerous to roam Ievai alone, so I was trying to figure out if they enemies or friends. Their souls were pure, even the soul of that wretched kitsu. That is, however, until that boy attacked me. His soul changed when he used that magic."
Aido was more embarrassed than ever. He didn't realize the magic would actually make him do things without knowing it!
"I'm so sorry," he whispered. Shmee took a deep breath and hugged Aido closer.
"Just don't do it again," she murmured.
"Take her advice well, child," the Spirit told them. "Next time, I may not be there to help you regain control of your senses."
"He was trying to defend us!" Sarita protested.
"Not all the stories you hear about us are true," the Spirit told her, his eyes flashing. "We do not eat every single human we see, and we never eat unprovoked. You have been blinded by your Mother."
"My Mother taught us well!"
"Your Mother bears a grudge against us," the Spirit replied in a harsh tone. "That grudge has passed on to you." He paused.
"Enough of the grudges," Aido said feebly, pleasing with the Spirit. "Forget them, just this once. It's about the shadows."
The arguing between the werewolves and Sarita stopped abruptly and all eyes turned to Aido. The Spirit of the Hills regarded Aido carefully.
"The Emperor has been attacking all of the children of the Spirits to try and bring them out of hiding," Aido explained, shrugging out of Shmee's grasp and standing to his feet. "Almost all the mermaids died when the Spirit of the Lake was captured and the Spirit of the Wing is trapped, too."
"He crippled and killed my people," Rest added, his voice quietly furious. The Spirit gazed at him thoughtfully.
"I had a feeling you were not a human," he remarked. "You have the markings of a grace. Where, child, are your wings?"
"The Emperor's soldiers cut them off."
Aido was acutely aware that more werewolves had joined them and were murmuring amongst themselves. It seemed very similar to how the kitsus acted when he went to see the Spirit of the Volcano. They were the most similar out of all the creatures. Why didn't they get along?
Gently, the Spirit of the Hills leaned forward and nudged Rest's chin with his large snout. "My dear child… How could they have performed this miserable fate on such a beautiful people?"
"We need to stop the Emperor," Aido continued. "I have a shadow. You've noticed that shadows have disappeared, right?"
"How could I miss it?" The Spirit seemed almost offended. "It makes me regret that I did not listen to the words of the shadow who visited me. She told me that the Emperor was plotting something like this. I was foolish to ignore her."
"Well, here's your chance to redeem yourself," Aido said, feverish with excitement. "That same shadow is with me now and we all know how you can help us!"
Those intense purple eyes looked intrigued. "Explain."
"I've been looking for all the Spirits. The Emperor has been trying to catch you all so that no one will stand in his way of making the day last forever," he told him. "That's why he's been attacking Spirit-children. He draws them out and then catches the Spirit. We saved the Spirit of the Lake, and him, the Spirit of the Grave, Volcano, and Forest are up in the Circle of Heaven. I'm trying to find all the Spirits to bring down the One True God and smite the Emperor."
"So now you need me," the Spirit remarked thoughtfully. "Who initiated this?"
"The Spirit of the Grave was the one who asked Aido's shadow to start everything," Rest told them.
"Good," the Spirit commented, sounding relieved. "If it was that sister of mine, I would have taken this with a grain of salt."
"Why? Just because you don't like her?" Sarita snapped. The Spirit let out rumbling chuckle.
"She is too hot-headed, and always overreacts. That is why I did not listen to your shadow at first; I could smell the scent of my sister on her."
Shmee had moved from Aido to Sarita and began to reign her in. "You're holding just as big a grudge!" she snapped at the Spirit. "You're just a nasty, lying, hypocritical—"
"Spirit, can you go to the Circle of Heaven and wait till we've found the other two Spirits?" Aido asked, talking over Sarita's enraged rambling.
"I will do so gladly," the Spirit of the Hills told him."It is the least I can do to make up for my pettiness."
Aido's shoulders sagged with relief. He would have let it go there, had Rest not spoken.
"We also have a couple more questions," he added. "Do you know anything about the whereabouts of the Spirit of Time?"
"Not precisely," he replied. "I am not particularly close with the Spirit of Time; I do know, however, that the Spirit of the Wing would know how to get there, much like my irritating sister knows the whereabouts of the Spirit of the Grave."
"So you don't know," Aido said, disappointed. "We're just worried because the dragon riders are starting to be killed, so the Spirit of Time might be at risk."
"Then you will need to get to the Spirit of the Wing and free him as quickly as you can," the Spirit told them gravely. "There can be no delay. Would you like me to escort you out of Ievai?"
"What?!" This certainly caught Aido off guard. The Spirit of the Hills huffed.
"I am strong. I can fit all of you on my back."
"Never," Sarita snapped. "Like I could ever do that!"
The Spirit's hard stare turned to Sarita. "Child of the Volcano, the world depends upon us. Let us put our grudges aside for this one day. Allow me to take you to the far borders of Ievai. This will save you weeks of travel."
"I think we should," Rest said firmly. "We'll be able to get to the Grace Mountains much more quickly."
"Yes." Aido nodded. "Thank you, Spirit."
The Spirit of the Hills lay down, his white paws stretched forward. Sarita, with a flick of her tails, fetched her clothes with her mouth.
"If I get any rudeness from you, I'm going to have to send my brothers and sisters over to kill every last one of your precious werewolves," Sarita warned, but the Spirit only laughed.
"I'll keep that in mind."
Shmee held up a blanket so Sarita could turn back into a human and get her dress back on, and while they did so, Aido and Rest quickly engaged the Spirit of the Hills in conversation once more.
"Do you have any suggestions on how to get the Spirit of the Wing out of his chains?" Rest asked eagerly.
"I'm afraid I do not," the Spirit replied gravely. "If they truly are just chains, then there must be more magic at work. Chains alone could not hold my brother."
"Could magic work?" Aido asked.
"It could, if you know how to either reverse that spell or use something to conquer it. Without looking, however, I am unable to help."
"I also wanted to ask… do you know if the Spirit of the Wing can give me wings again?" Aido could tell Rest had been itching to ask this question. For the first time, a look of satisfaction came over the older man's face, even though he hadn't heard an answer.
"It is possible," the Spirit told him, "but it isn't easy. In fact, going about it the wrong way could get you killed. It was a risk your ancestors took— and succeeded."
"How?!" His usually composed attitude had sunk into something excitable and unfamiliar. Aido listened curiously.
"You must cut your arms open," the Spirit instructed, wasting no time on false comfort. "Right into your bone, all the way through where your wings should be."
Rest visibly paled. "Into my bone?"
"If you truly want to regain your wings, you must go through the trials you had been through in losing them. You must relive that torture to gain what it is you seek."
"So if I do that… I'll have wings?" Rest's voice sounded weak.
"Not just that," the Spirit added. "You must then insert the feathers of the Spirit of the Wing into your bone. It will not feel good. But if you survive, you will fly once more."
Rest looked slightly sick when the girls joined them. Worriedly, they looked at him, having heard the whole thing.
"That's crazy," Shmee murmured, shaking her head. "How could that even be worth it?!"
"It's a part of myself that I've lost," Rest replied, his voice quiet. "I must get it back."
"You'll kill yourself!"
"Better that than live like a shadow of myself the rest of my life!" Rest snapped. Aido felt Momo chuckling a little in his mind.
"Being a shadow isn't that bad," she commented. Aido ignored her.
"I agree with Rest," Sarita piped in. "I'd rather risk my life to live happily than be safe and depressed for the rest of my life." Rest smiled weakly.
"Are you ready to go?" the Spirit asked. "When I drop you off at the edge of Ievai, I can leave for the Circle of Heaven."
"You're being pushy," Sarita grumbled, but the other three nodded.
"Let's get going," Aido said. He paused, and looked at Lekk and Elda. "I'm sorry… about what I did," he told them, stumbling over his words. The two large wolves looked at each other, then back to Aido.
"We forgive you," Elda said. "Be careful next time. It is dangerous when you cannot control your own body."
Aido nodded. "I'll remember. I'll be sure to." Elda huffed, pleased.
"If you can make sure to keep yourself in check, we would welcome you back to Ievai with open arms," Lekk added. "You're a strong pup. We would never eat a strong pup, so long as he is a good pup."
Aido giggled a little, but Sarita was already tugging his arm. He looked up, and Shmee and Rest were getting themselves situated on the Spirit's back. Aido and Sarita joined them, clinging to the Spirit's soft white fur. It wasn't as wiry as Aido expected; it felt almost like a cat's fur. It was warm, too, and Aido found himself burying his fingers in the fur.
"You may want to cover yourselves with a blanket. I travel so fast that it will feel cold," the Spirit told him as he stood. To Aido's pleasure, the Spirit was smooth in his movements. It wasn't jerky at all and he felt safe.
"Everyone, hold on to each other," Aido told them. He felt Sarita slide her hands around his waist and he dug into his pouch for the Blessing of Warmth. The familiar warmth filled his body and into Sarita, Shmee, and Rest. "We're good."
"The Blessing of Warmth," the Spirit remarked. "It actually does have a use, doesn't it?" His sarcasm was blatant. Sarita was probably going to say something. She always did, didn't she? But she never got to say a word this time, for the Spirit of the Hills took off quickly and it knocked their breath away.
Aido didn't know it was possible to travel this quickly! He had to suppress a yelp as the Spirit gained speed and the world became a blur around them. He had never before experienced such confusion; he couldn't tell where the were, how long they were traveling for, and if the scenery changed at all. Were there ever any trees? He couldn't tell— the blurs around him all looked the same.
The wind was blowing his hair furiously and Aido was relieved that the Spirit of the Hills had told them to use something to keep them warm. At this time of night, Aido was sure that they would have frozen to death.
The sun was only just beginning to rise when the Spirit of the Hills slowed to a stop. Aido blinked sleepily. His eyes were watering, and he wasn't sure if it was from the cold or if he was finally feeling exhausted.
"Here is where I must leave you," the Spirit told them. "This is the end of Ievai. Continue southeast to the area of the Grace Mountains where the Spirit of the Wing has his nest. Your grace-friend should know where it is."
"His name is Rest," Aido told the Spirit with a smile. "And I'm Aido. The kitsu is Sarita and the other girl is Shmee."
He heard Shmee snort. "Other girl, eh?"
The Spirit of the Hills rumbled with amusement as he lowered down, allowing the four of them to climb off. "I will remember your names," he replied. "I am very good at remembering names."
"Even the name of a lowly kitsu?" Sarita spat.
"Of course," he replied, sounding offended. "I am not as forgetful as that dear mother of yours." He paused. "Though, for now, we must try to remain civil. We can resume our feuds after the world is at peace again. Do we have a deal?"
Sarita looked at him suspiciously. Everyone else looked at her, silently pleading her to just say yes and move on. She sighed. "If I have to."
"And you, Aido," the Spirit added, "remember the words of my children. Don't let the magic and power of necromancy take over your soul. If that happens, the world will be in even more trouble than it already is."
"I'll be very careful," he promised. He paused as Momo briefly spoke to him. "And Momo— my shadow— says she forgives you for not listening to her."
"She sounds like she is—was— a strong woman," he replied. "I am honored to be in her presence."
The Spirit of the Hills made a long, ghastly howl that echoed across the Ievai Hills behind them, and the howls of hundreds of unseen werewolves responded. Aido shivered, but he wasn't scared. The werewolves weren't something to be scared of anymore.
"So I will take my leave. Good luck to you, Aido. I have faith that you will find my brothers and that we will all meet in the Circle of Heaven."
With that, the Spirit of the Hills vanished in a rush of wind. Aido lifted his arm to shield his face from the gust, but when he brought his arm down, the mighty Spirit had gone.
"So, we're out of Ievai?" Rest asked with a frown. Shmee nodded.
"You can see where the hills are getting smaller."
"I think he should've just taken us to the Grace Mountains," Sarita grumbled.
"He's probably just not as comfortable outside of Ievai," Rest replied. "Be grateful he took us this far. He could have let us walk."
"Any idea where we are on the map?" Aido asked. Shmee quickly took her map out of her pack and glanced over it.
"I'm assuming he probably carried us as far southeast in Ievai as he could," she replied thoughtfully. "So we're probably in this area." She pointed to a spot on the map that seemed a great deal away from Bordertown. Sarita scowled.
Shmee grinned. "Yes, probably. Fortunately, if we're where I think we are, we should be just a few miles away from this town here." She pointed to another town, labeled "Arid Point".
"So we're going to go to a cheerful place called 'Arid Point'," Sarita said, her voice not convinced. "If we're even in this spot."
Sarita made a world-weary groan and flopped onto the grass. "I should've just stayed in my volcano. Then I wouldn't have gotten mixed up with werewolves of lost."
"We're not lost." Shmee was beginning to sound annoyed.
"Sarita, try to chin up," Rest said patiently. "We'll figure out where we are as soon as we find a town. In the meantime, let's go along with Shmee's idea."
Shmee smirked. "Why, thank you, Rest!" She stuck her tongue out at Sarita, who merely grumbled. Aido grinned. Everyone seemed to be acting normally again. For the time being, at least.
Then darkness clouded his thoughts; what was it that had made him act so weird back in Ievai? Was the magic really beginning to have a life of its own?

The End

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