Of the Spirit of the Forest

Part 1 of 2

Nikerym 'ksherea

The sunlight that filtered through the canopy of leaves was dim, and shadowed, meaning that evening was fast approaching and it was time for Kyesa to return to the village, much though he was loathe to. Smiling broadly, he turned on the branch he was balanced on and made his way through the trees quickly, without hesitation. He loved walking the trees, it was exhilarating and calming at the same time.

The bag slung around his chest was bursting with the fruit he'd collected on this outing, fruit that would ensure his village wouldn't starve. The forest spirits were strict in what they could take, though, and most of it involved the fruit-bearing trees that were a half-mile away from the village, and very little of the scarce animals.

Kyesa was in a fantastic mood though, mainly because of the little girl his sister had given birth to the day before. Births in the village only occurred once a year, and his sister had been chosen at last year's festival.

Kyesa dropped out of the trees ten feet away from the village – his sister would have a conniption if she saw him tree-walking, even though he'd never once fallen, a feat no one else in the village could claim. Most times though, she treated him like he was nine, not nineteen. He couldn't help it if he was the youngest.

There was something off about the village though, when Kyesa meandered in – a type of nervous energy that wasn't often seen as people bustled about. Kyesa raised an eyebrow, even as he was stopped by his mother's sister.

"Kyesa, there you are. Does your sister know you've been out in the forest again? Never mind, let me take that, you should go see the elders." Amana took the bag that was strapped around his chest with impatient fingers, but Kyesa merely smiled.

"Alright. What happened?" He asked, ducking beneath the strap of the bag easily.

"They found a forest spirit – it was hurt." Amana replied, frowning worriedly. With good reason. The forest spirits were the guiding force in the forest for a reason – they were notoriously sturdy and rarely were seen, except to the chosen few who they let know of their wishes upon occasion. "Your grandfather wants to see you, at his hut, though. Be a good boy and run along now."

Kyesa smiled again, distractedly, and waved a quick farewell to his aunt, before dashing off towards the center of the thick huts. There was a small crowd around one of them, milling about in the vain attempt to look like they were doing anything but loitering. Kyesa slipped through the crowd with ease, the grace that let him tree-walk lending him dexterity in the crowd.

He knocked, politely, and slipped inside, smiling and nodding a greeting to the older man sitting gruffly near the back of the room, before his attention was caught by the forest spirit, being tended by his cousin.

Pale green-grey hair framed the young man's head, spread across the pillow. It seemed to be shoulder-length and choppily cut. He looked rather fragile, with fine bones and a small bandage below his left eye. Nasser finished tucking the thick woven blanket around the spirit and bowed respectfully before leaving.

"Kyesa." The old man greeted.

"Grandfather." Kyesa favored a quick smile to the back of the room, but his attention was caught thoroughly by the sleeping spirit.

"I figured as much." Kyesa's grandfather coughed a few times, disguising his laughter badly.

Kyesa turned back. "What?"

"You're thrilled with anything to do with that forest." Hamarr muttered, scowling a bit, but his eyes were twinkling.

"Why is his hair so short?" Kyesa asked, changing the subject abruptly.

"You caught that. Good." Hamarr smiled a bit, his face wrinkling oddly.

"An attacking creature wouldn't bother with the hair." Kyesa's eyes narrowed.

"I don't believe he was attacked by a creature." Hamarr replied solemnly.

"Then by what?" Kyesa asked.

"I've seen this once before, really." Hamarr murmured. "Who has enough power to attack a spirit, to leave him whole, and would care about the length of his hair?"

"Surely you don't think –" Kyesa began, but stopped himself, turning back to the young boy sleeping less peacefully, as though he could sense the unease in the room. "But what would he have done? To have the other spirits cast him away like so? Won't they be angry if we're harboring him?"

"I don't know, Kyesa. That's what we must ask him when he wakes. The spirits will let us know if they're displeased." Hamarr settled back. "Nasser couldn't say when that would be, but I'd like you to stay with him until it does happen."

"Alright." Kyesa smiled again, briefly. "How're Kaori and Jenna?"

"They're doing fine. You can visit them later, after this is worked out." Hamarr smiled back.

"Oh, good. Send them my best wishes?" Kyesa asked, already distracted as the spirit hissed in his sleep.

Hamarr smiled indulgently at his grandson. "I'll leave you to your task. Reyna will be by with some food for him in a bit."

"Okay." Kyesa smiled a bit, but it disappeared quickly, even as Hamarr shuffled out. Kyesa stepped over to the bedside, studying the sleeping spirit intently. It wouldn't be long before he woke, Kyesa didn't think, but he couldn't be sure, as the spirit's face twisted with some nameless emotion.

Without thinking about it, Kyesa smoothed some of the fine, oddly colored hair away from the spirit's face. The skin beneath it was a bit warmer than it should be, but nothing too bad. The wrinkles soothed from the young man's face, and he stilled again, much to Kyesa's surprise. Blinking a few times, he smiled a bit and turned to drag a nearby chair close, snagging one of the few books the village owned as well, settling in next to the spirit's bedside, where he could keep an eye on him easily.

It was a few hours later that the spirit stirred, catching Kyesa's attention. Kyesa merely looked up from his book – the spirit slept restlessly, so there was no knowing if he would wake this time around. It wasn't until the smoky grey eyes slipped open that Kyesa labeled him awake.

The spirit looked confused for a moment, but that slipped away, even as those grey eyes – such a haunting color – fixed on him. And stayed there. The spirit seemed to be examining every inch of his person, something that was rather disconcerting. Kyesa offered a smile.

Which apparently spooked the spirit, as his eyes widened dramatically, exposing the depths of the grey color and he tried to push himself into a sitting position. Tried, but didn't manage it, as one of his arms was bandaged rather extensively and failed to hold his weight, letting him fall back to the soft bed with a bit of a shocked cry.

"Are you alright?" Kyesa set the book he'd been reading aside and stood up. Which only served to frighten the spirit again – leading him to do…something – Kyesa wasn't sure how to label it. The spirit's form wavered, and Kyesa knew it wasn't his eyes, since nothing else rippled. But in the next moment the spirit stilled again, curling on his side, and pressing his good hand against his forehead, as though to ward off an ache.

"I'm not going to hurt you." Kyesa murmured, but didn't go any closer, not wanting to frighten the spirit anymore. The spirit mumbled something into his hand, shaking his head.

"I'm sorry?" Kyesa asked, staying still and feeling much like he was trying to tame a wild animal. But there was an idea. "You're safe here." Kyesa soothed, approaching the bed slowly, ready to stop if the spirit showed any more signs of distress.

"Would you like some water? Or food? You've been asleep for quite a while." Kyesa kept his tone quiet and gentle, watching carefully as the tone or the words calmed the young man a bit. "Or are you still hurting? Nasser left some potions, if you'd like?"

The spirit sat up quickly, quickly enough to startle Kyesa. He caught sight of wide, frightened silver eyes even as the spirit thrust back the covers and attempted to stand. The attempt promptly failed when one of his legs crumpled beneath his weight, sending the spirit to the ground with a small thump and what sounded like a snarled curse.

Kyesa's eyes widened in alarm, even as he forgot to be cautious and darted close. The spirit bared his teeth and hissed, but it was obviously half-hearted. "Are you alright?" Kyesa asked, but he didn't hope for a reply, seeing as how he'd yet to get one. "You shouldn't be up and about yet." He scolded gently, with a soft smile. The spirit flinched in any case, and wouldn't look at him, staring at the white wrapping his left arm.

"Can you make it back up?" Kyesa asked quietly, squatting down from where he stood, only a foot or two away. The spirit flexed his fingers, still studying the bandages and not looking at Kyesa, who merely waited patiently. The spirit traced the bandages with his good, whole arm, raggedly cut green hair falling into this face.

Thin fingers snagged one of the errant locks, and the grey eyes focused on the jagged edges. Kyesa's eyes widened as the spirit's eyes filled with tears. "Hey now. It'll be okay." Kyesa soothed, trying to draw his attention away. "Come on, you need to get back up on the bed, my grandfather will kill me if he sees you sitting on the floor like that."

That drew the spirit's attention. Well, either that or the step Kyesa shuffled towards him. Kyesa smiled encouragingly at him and offered a hand. The spirit stared at his hand for a moment, and Kyesa stifled the thought that he was inspecting it for disease.

After a moment though, the spirit set his uninjured hand against Kyesa's, glancing hesitantly at him. Kyesa kept his smile, gently wrapping his fingers around the spirit's. The bright eyes stared at him for a moment before the spirit ducked his head rather charmingly, his hair falling into his face again.

Kyesa tugged a bit on the hand in his. "Can you stand?"

The spirit shrugged and shifted so that he was kneeling on one knee, then used Kyesa's hand to pull himself up and onto the bed. Kyesa smiled, amused when the spirit didn't let go of his hand.

"My name is Kyesa." Kyesa introduced himself, hoping to get the spirit to say something. The spirit just stared at him for a moment. Kyesa let his smile grow a bit. "What should I call you?" He prompted.

"Caeli." The whisper was so quiet that Kyesa, close as he was, almost missed it.

"Caeli?" He repeated. "That's a nice name. Would you like some food, Caeli?"

Caeli shook his head, the solemn stare breaking off when the strands of hair fell into his face again. Kyesa smiled, and fished out an elastic band. "Here." He handed it to the spirit, who took it with curiosity. "Now is that an 'I'm not hungry' or an 'I don't want to eat,' no?"

Caeli tugged experimentally at the band, ignoring the question. Kyesa grinned when the band went flying across the room, Caeli's wide eyes following it. Kyesa fetched it quickly. "It's to pull your hair back. So it doesn't fall in your face." Kyesa explained. "It's stretchy, so it's easy to manipulate."

Caeli took it without a word again, resting it in his bandaged hand. Kyesa watched as the other hand went up to stroke the shortened locks.

"Here." Kyesa kneeled on the bed next to Caeli, snagging the tie from his limp hand before Caeli could focus on his shorn hair. He collected Caeli's hair quickly, as neatly as he could without a brush and tied it back with a few quick loops, before slipping off the bed again.

"How about some food, now." Kyesa smiled. "I know you're not hungry, but you've been hurt, you should eat."

Caeli frowned. "No, thank you." He murmured.

"Well, are you thirsty at least? And you'll have to eat something later, so don't think you're getting out of it." Kyesa threatened with a smile.

"Yes, please." Caeli murmured, not looking at him as he grabbed the pitcher of cool water Reyna had left with the food earlier and pouring some of it into one of the smooth, hand-carved cups next to it.

"Here." Kyesa handed the cup to Caeli, who took it without hesitation, the expression on his face rather distracted.

"Thank you." Caeli murmured, an automatic reaction it seemed. Kyesa smiled again, pleased the spirit wasn't being stubborn anymore. The next moment he regretted the thought, as Caeli sat up straight and stared wide-eyed at the door. Kyesa frowned, but followed his gaze. The door didn't look any different – but it was opening now, and Kyesa blinked, even as his grandfather slipped in and Caeli ducked his head, a few loose tendrils of hair drifting forward as he did his best to curl around his knees, hiding his face.

Kyesa smiled cheerfully, and expression his grandfather echoed back at him, though not quite as enthusiastic, distracted by the figure on the bed. "So he's awake." Hamarr frowned a bit, and Kyesa felt a flare of something like anxiety, but not quite.

"What news?" Kyesa asked, frowning. Hamarr shook his head, though whether that meant later, or no news, Kyesa wasn't sure.

"What is your name, spirit?" Hamarr questioned, his tone neutral but authoritative. The spirit didn't reply, just curled his one arm tighter around his knees and actually trembled. Kyesa watched with wide eyes.

"Caeli. His name is Caeli." Kyesa frowned. Hamarr glanced at him, but didn't comment.

"I won't throw you out, Caeli." Hamarr frowned. "At least, not yet. The spirits don't like you being here, and they won't tolerate it long, I know." Caeli didn't make a move on the bed. "Why did they kick you out?"

Kyesa frowned at his grandfather, but Hamarr ignored him, focused on the figure on the bed. "If you tell me, I'll be able to let you stay, otherwise you'll have to leave tomorrow."

Caeli shook, the slim frame wracking with whatever tension held him in place. Kyesa scowled at his grandfather, moving quickly to Caeli's side, and collecting Caeli's hand from where it gripped his knees close to him and squeezing it gently.

"We're not going to hurt you." Kyesa whispered, trying to ignore his grandfather's eyes on them. Caeli shook his head, peering at Kyesa from behind the shield of his knees. His eyes were wet, and still streaming tears down his cheeks. Kyesa smiled encouragingly, and the haunted grey eyes closed for a moment.

Hamarr just stood and watched, hiding the smile as his grandson soothed the upset spirit, coaxing him into sitting up, though he still wouldn't meet either of their eyes. "Caeli?" Kyesa prompted. "Why did they kick you out?" Kyesa let his fingers brush across the shortened hair. "Why did they cut your hair?"

Caeli stared straight at Kyesa for a moment, and Hamarr frowned. This spirit wasn't acting anything like the other spirits he'd met over the years.

"I-" Caeli began, but stopped. Kyesa smiled again, encouraging, giving Caeli's hand another gentle squeeze. "They-"

"The other spirits?" Kyesa prompted, keeping his voice gentle. Hamarr didn't interrupt, curious as to how the spirit would react.

"The hair, it is a symbol of standing." Caeli murmured, quietly enough that Hamarr had to stretch his hears to hear it. "They cut it, because they did not wish for me to have that status anymore."

"Why?" Kyesa questioned, sounding curious, and nothing more. Hamarr had to hide his smile again – Kyesa was so guileless most of the time, it was hard to believe he'd ever do harm to anyone. Perhaps the spirit was calmed by that. He certainly seemed high-strung.

"I did a terrible thing." Caeli breathed, and Hamarr paid more attention. Kyesa just smiled.

"I can't believe that." Kyesa refuted, his voice cheerful. "You don't seem the type."

"It's true." Caeli tore his hand away like it had been burned, tucking it close, between his knees and chest. "Terrible." He echoed himself, fingers curling into the front of his shirt.

"What did you do?" Kyesa asked, solemn.

Caeli stared at him again, not answering for a moment, before ducking his head again and gazing back at his lap. "I fell in love."

Hamarr nodded. It made sense now.

Kyesa froze. "What?" Caeli didn't reply, ducking his head again as the tears slipped free. "But why would they kick you out for that?"

"Because he's in love with a human." Hamarr answered for the spirit, with a sigh. "Am I right?"

Caeli nodded once, miserably. Kyesa didn't look appeased, which, knowing the boy, was probably true. "The spirits find it taboo for one of their kind to love one of us humans." Hamarr explained further, to Kyesa.

"That's horrible!" Kyesa exclaimed. "Why?"

"Because they think that you are all lesser." Caeli answered quietly. "Which isn't true!" Caeli hissed vehemently, his eyes reddened from tears.

"Then why do they even bother trying to keep us alive?" Kyesa asked, frowning. Caeli blinked at him.

"Because, as much as we think we're better than you, we need you." Caeli answered, bitterly. "Our magics only work if we have energy – in the form of non-magical creatures." Kyesa frowned, even more confused. Hamarr just frowned thoughtfully, not interrupting.

Caeli looked up again, eyes fixing on Kyesa. "Every human has energy. Either you can manipulate energy or you store it. The spirits manipulate it, you humans store it. But we wouldn't be able to survive if we didn't have the energy to fend off the creatures that prowl the forest, or the energy that makes the fruit trees bloom almost all year round."

"Oh." Kyesa narrowed his eyes, contemplative. Hamarr nodded. "Is that what you were trying to do earlier? Your magic?"

Caeli lowered his eyes, upset again. "Yes. They've put a block on it."

"Why?" Kyesa scowled.

"It's punishment. As soon as I'm far enough away though, the block will disintegrate. Their influence can only stretch so far." Caeli murmured.

"You're welcome to stay for as long as you need to heal." Hamarr announced.

Caeli's head shot up again, and grey eyes fixed on Hamarr. "What?"

Hamarr smiled kindly. "You're welcome to stay. I don't believe you're a threat, and I see no reason not to let you stay."

"But the other spirits-" Caeli protested.

Hamarr cut him off. "Don't worry about that. I'll deal with it." Hamarr turned to Kyesa. "I think you should stay here for the time being, however. Some in the village won't be happy about this." Kyesa frowned but nodded, even as his grandfather left the little building.

"I need to go." Caeli murmured, though he didn't make a move, perhaps remembering the first time he'd tried to leave.

"No you don't." Kyesa smiled. "You do need to rest though." Kyesa slipped from the bed. "Unless you're hungry, because we could still do the food thing."

"No, thank you." Caeli murmured, and Kyesa smiled.

"Then it's back to sleep with you. The sooner you get better, the sooner you can get going?" Kyesa offered when Caeli stared at him skeptically. Caeli's face crumpled for a second, but smoothed quickly as uncurled slowly. Kyesa smiled cheerfully and reclaimed his seat. "If you need anything I'll just be here." He announced with another smile. Caeli nodded, laying down and curling on his side, tucking his good arm and leg close.

Kyesa grabbed the book from nearby and flipped it open, pretending to engross himself in it, even as he surreptitiously watched the spirit settle in. It wasn't until Caeli's eyes were closed and he was breathing evenly again that Kyesa set the pretense of reading the book aside and stood up, quietly making his way over to the door.

As he'd expected, there were a few children milling about, with a few of the older teens too. Kyesa smiled at one, Manna. "Manna, can you do me a favor?" The little girl nodded solemnly, sticking a few fingers in her mouth as she stared at him. Kyesa smiled. "Thank you. Can you go find Kaori and tell her I won't be back until later? Maybe tomorrow?" Manna nodded again, smiling a gap-toothed grin.

Kyesa slipped back into the hut, ignoring the curious stares of the other teens. He settled back into the large chair, setting the book on his lap, but he didn't read, his mind focused on what Caeli had told them about the forest spirits.

It really wasn't fair, if what Caeli said was true. To disown him, to cut off his hair and hurt him, just because he happened to love one of the villagers? Kyesa wondered for a moment who, but it slipped his mind quickly as Caeli started to twitch in his sleep again. Kyesa frowned. Honestly, poor Caeli. Anger wasn't something Kyesa did, really. But for once, he was upset, for Caeli against the faithless entities who wanted to play god.

It was dark when Kyesa woke up, a crick in his side and his arm asleep, past the tingling feeling and on to the numb. He'd fallen asleep in the chair, though he had set the book aside first, so it wasn't hurt. A quick glance found Caeli sitting on the bed, playing with a white ribbon.

"Caeli?" Kyesa questioned, still partly asleep. Caeli started guiltily, not quite meeting his eyes.

"It came off." Caeli murmured, looking like a scolded child.

"What came off?" Kyesa sat up, rubbing at one eye blearily.

"The cloth, it came off." Caeli's fingers twitched around the white cloth, and Kyesa finally realized it was the bandage from his left arm.

"Oh." Kyesa yawned and shook his sleeping arm. "Okay."

Caeli blinked, but didn't reply. He was sitting against the wall behind him, blankets pooled in his lap and legs curled beside him. The hair tie had been lost somewhere when they were sleeping, and green-grey hair fell haphazardly everywhere.

Kyesa stood up, and brushed his own short-cropped curls out of his face. "I can put it back on for you." Kyesa offered, taking the trailing end of the cloth strip from the bed. Caeli nodded solemnly as he let his end of the bandage slip from his fingers. "Let me see your arm."

Caeli held out his arm, a large, dark bruise discoloring his forearm. Kyesa carefully wrapped the bandage up to the wrist, not sure how much actually needed the support. He wasn't a healer. He'd have to get Nasser to look at it again in a bit. Kyesa smiled as he finished, tucking the end back into the simple weave he'd done around the arm.

"There. Good as new." Kyesa grinned. "How are you feeling?"

"Better." Caeli murmured, a small ghost of a smile answering Kyesa's grin. Kyesa was thrilled.

"So you're up for some food?" Kyesa asked, shifting off the bed and over to the plate from earlier. Yesterday. Whichever.

Caeli looked at him like he was crazy, and Kyesa smiled again. "That's a yes look, right?"

Caeli sighed, but finally nodded, accepting the plate from Kyesa, who settled himself next to Caeli and snagged some fruit. Caeli's lips twitched in amusement, and he picked at a stuffed bread roll.

"So what are you going to do once you're better?" Kyesa asked, munching contentedly.

"Head south, probably." Caeli nibbled at a bit of bread. "There are cities down there, where they don't care if we mix."

Kyesa nodded, that made sense. "But how will you get through the forest?" The reason most were content to stay in the village – the forest predators would prey on any stupid enough to leave without the protection of the spirits.

Caeli slumped, setting the mutilated bread roll back on the plate. "I don't know." He murmured, sounding upset again, the curtain of hair that fell as he ducked his head hiding his expression. Kyesa let the subject drop, but was clueless as what else to talk about.

"Well, you'll need to eat." He stressed, nudging the plate closer to Caeli, who didn't move for a minute, but then picked up the bread roll again, and Kyesa caught sight of that little smile again.

"So how does this magic stuff work? I get the battery part, but why are we only batteries? Could someone access their own power?" Kyesa changed the subject, hoping it wasn't one that would upset the spirit.

Caeli blinked at him, brushing his hair out of the way with a graceful move. "Um, I'm not sure." Kyesa frowned, disappointed. Caeli frowned too, an echo of his expression. "Um, you have to be born with the ability to manipulate the magic, you can't learn it. You have to have someone in your bloodline have that ability, too. The less potent the relation, the more trouble you'll have with magic. Like, if your mother was a spirit, you'd have more ability than if your great grandmother was."

Kyesa nodded, hanging on Caeli's every word. "So you can't access as much energy if you're not as 'pure'?"

"Not exactly." Caeli set down the half finished bread roll. "You access the same amount of energy, it just takes more of it to get over the block your human blood puts on it. And you can't pull from your own energy, but others can. To be part spirit would be dangerous, and you'd have to be very aware of your energy levels, because you'd use your energy to manipulate the energy of others, but other spirits could use your energy too. And if someone's feeding off your energy, it's really easy to run out quickly."

"Is that why they're upset that you like a human?" Kyesa asked, without thinking.

"Partly." Caeli answered, his voice quieter. Kyesa didn't press it. "Why are you here?" Caeli asked, not looking at him.

"What?" Kyesa asked, confused by the sudden change in topic.

"Why aren't – why are you here? Didn't your sister have a little girl a few days ago?" Caeli asked, staring at Kyesa again.

"Kaori can handle herself, and Grandfather said she was fine. She knows where I am." Kyesa answered. "How much do you know?" Kyesa asked with curiosity. "How do you keep track of us all?"
Caeli blinked. "A lot. The spirits like to know everything that's going on. Like the fact that your healer – Nasser?" Kyesa nodded. "That he likes one of the cooks."

"Really?" Kyesa asked, delighted. "But how do they know this?"

"There's a spell." Caeli deflated a bit. "It lets us go invisible, intangible. Like ghosts."

"Wow." Kyesa smiled, but it disappeared quickly. "Wait, does that mean there could be one in here? Now?"

Caeli's head shot up, and he scanned the room, before relaxing with a sigh. "No, there's none in here."

Kyesa blinked. "Could you see them? If they were?" Caeli nodded. "Even with the magic block?"

"That wouldn't inhibit my sight." Caeli murmured, tucking his hair behind his ears.

"Is it something to do with the manipulating energy part of the deal then? You can see them because they're like you?" Kyesa asked, letting his curiosity have free reign.

"Yes." Caeli nodded, then tensed. A moment later, someone knocked and the door swung open. Nasser's head poked in and Kyesa smiled, even as Caeli stayed tense next to him. Nasser smiled distractedly back, slipping inside.

"Hamarr sent me, he wanted me to check on your injuries." Nasser addressed Caeli directly, setting the basket of medical supplies on the bed between the spirit and Kyesa. Caeli just nodded stiffly, shifting a bit so that the wrapped leg was free and out from underneath the blankets. Kyesa frowned as he studied Nasser. The healer was a bit pale, with circles under his eyes, which generally meant he'd been up for far too long, tending to someone.

"Who's sick?" Kyesa asked, frowning.

"What?" Nasser's head shot up and he stared at Kyesa, the discolored areas under his eyes more prominent.

"Who's sick?" Kyesa repeated. "You haven't slept, which means someone is sick."

Caeli's eyes widened, but he didn't move as Nasser unwrapped the bandage around his ankle.

"No one is sick." Nasser frowned. "You heal quickly, don't you?" Kyesa blinked at the odd question, before he realized that it was meant for Caeli, who nodded a bit, the hair curtain back in place and hiding his face.

"I don't believe you, Nasser." Kyesa continued, peering at Caeli's leg as Nasser rewrapped it, with much less bandage than before.

"A few more days and it will be fine. You shouldn't be walking before tomorrow, though." Nasser instructed, ignoring Kyesa, and accepting the arm Caeli held out. Nasser quickly unwrapped the bandage, rolling his eyes at Kyesa, who scowled, but resolved to get it out of him. Though he would wait until Nasser was done with Caeli, and they were out of earshot. He didn't want to upset the spirit.

"That's healing nicely too. Don't put too much stress on it." Nasser rewrapped the bandage, neater than anything Kyesa could've managed, and packed his basket again.

"Thank you." Caeli murmured, stroking the soft bandages again. Nasser smiled, but it was strained and Kyesa scowled, hopping off the bed.

"I'll be right back." Kyesa promised, tailing Nasser out the door. It shut behind him with a click and Nasser turned to him.

"Hamarr told me not to tell you." Nasser announced.

"What? Why?" Kyesa scowled again. "Oh, gods, it's not Kaori or Jenna, is it?" Kyesa's eyes widened. Nasser didn't answer, though that was answer enough, really.

"The spirits aren't happy we're keeping him here. There's nothing I can do." Nasser sighed. "But no one wants to kick him out, not after Hamarr spread it about why he was hurt and injured."

Kyesa bit his lip. "Thank you Nasser." He muttered, sagging against the door behind him. Nasser sighed, and walked away, towards Kaori's hut.

Composing himself quickly, he slipped back inside, attempting a smile at Caeli – except Caeli wasn't sitting on the bed anymore. Kyesa's smile dropped and he searched the room quickly. It was empty – the back door was open though, and Kyesa darted out it. Caeli wasn't far away, limping heavily as he headed towards the forest.

"Caeli." Kyesa scowled, quickly overtaking the spirit. "That's not even funny, you shouldn't be up."

Kyesa hooked his arm in Caeli's, pulling him to a stop. Caeli didn't move for a moment, only little jerky movements, and Kyesa realized he was crying, behind the curtain of hair. "Caeli." Kyesa scowled frowning at their surroundings as though the spirits could see him – which might well be the case.

"I won't stay here." Caeli ripped his arm away, stumbling as he moved away. "I can't – that poor girl." Caeli's hand went to his mouth, trying to stifle his sobs.

"Oh, Caeli." Kyesa soothed, stepping towards him again. "It's alright-"

"No, it's not!" Caeli answered, vehement and decisive. "I have to go."

"This isn't fair." Kyesa sighed. "You shouldn't be forced to leave just because they say so."

Caeli just shook his head. "Go back, Kyesa."

Kyesa scowled, and didn't move. "I get it, you have to go." Caeli blinked at him, waiting. "But you don't have to go without anything. Just wait a bit, I'll get provisions. Can you wait?" Kyesa entreated. "It won't take long."

"I-" Caeli frowned. "Alright." Caeli accepted, deflating. Kyesa smiled, relieved.

"Okay, good, wait here." Kyesa called as he darted off towards the village, hoping Caeli would wait, and at the same time resolving to go after him if he didn't.

He didn't pause until he reached his sister's cabin, slipping in quickly. Kaori was sitting up in bed, tired-looking and pale. But Nasser was firmly settled next to the small crib, and Kyesa scowled again, mentally calling the spirits every nasty name he could think of.

"Kyesa!" Kaori smiled, a bit of energy snaking into her face as she greeted him.

"Kaori." Kyesa dropped down next to the bed. "Can I ask a favor? And please don't kill me?"

"What?" Kaori frowned warily, which was only to be expected, after she had practically raised him, and that question never came lightly.

"Caeli's leaving. He won't stay, but if he goes through the forest alone, injured, he'll die. They took away his magic." Kyesa explained.

"The spirit?" Kaori looked torn, but mostly relieved, but Kyesa couldn't fault her that. Then she smiled. "You want to go with him."

Kyesa nodded. "But I don't want to leave you and Jenna, either."

"You can visit." Kaori suggested, smiling. "We're not going anywhere."

"I – wait, that's a yes." Kyesa beamed. "Thank you, Kaori!" Kyesa jumped up and gave his sister a hug and a quick peck on the cheek. "I'll miss you, I promise to visit at some point."

Kaori smiled indulgently. "I'll miss you, too. Get going then, and make sure you stock up with Reyna."

"I will!" Kyesa grabbed a bag and stuffed a few pieces of clothes into it, a few things that might be useful – that extra knife he never carried, some of Kaori's hair things for Caeli, and snagged a blanket, before darting out.

Reyna was more than happy to give him some foodstuffs, though he didn't tell her why, just flashed a thankful smile and darted off once more, making sure the things were tucked away safely as he ran back to the little clearing behind his grandfather's hut.

Caeli had retreated to the edge of the forest, leaning against one of the trees. His head shot up before Kyesa could take more than three steps past the little hut. Kyesa merely smiled when the silver eyes met his.

"I got a bunch of food, and some clothing too." Kyesa gestured to the bag. Caeli nodded, frowning and looking about ready to cry as he pushed away from the tree, favoring his bandaged foot. Kyesa frowned – they wouldn't get far with him limping like that. Brightening, he set down the bag. "Hold on!" He called as he darted back to his grandfather's hut, collecting the staff Hamarr had had to use when he'd sprained an ankle a few months back.

He returned and brandished the stick at Caeli. "This'll help you walk." Caeli accepted the stick and looked ready to say something until Kyesa scooped up the pack and settled it over his shoulder, giving Caeli a bright smile.

"What are you doing?" Caeli frowned, confused.

Kyesa's smile didn't falter. "I'm going with you. It's not safe to go by yourself, you're hurt."

"What? You can't!" Caeli refused him. "You need to stay here, take care of your sister's baby."

"Kaori already told me I should visit." Kyesa smiled. "Besides, I don't think I could stay here, with what you've told me about the spirits." Kyesa's smile dropped. "Hurting you, just because you like one of the villagers? That's horrid."

"But-" Caeli attempted, distraught. "They won't like it."

"Would they rather I stayed? I'd make quite the ruckus, believe me." Kyesa announced, rather sure by the tingling of the back of his neck that there was a spirit nearby to hear him. "What they did was wrong, and I'm not putting up with it." Kyesa asserted, smiling at Caeli, who just looked more miserable.

"Ah, but the little abomination didn't tell you the worst of it, did he?" The sneering voice came from over Kyesa's shoulder, and Caeli's eyes dropped from his, even as he whirled around.

The forest spirit had cold grey eyes, and the same color hair as Caeli, maybe a shade darker, long, reaching past his waist in a braid. He had pale skin and a sneering face and Kyesa didn't like him at all.

Kyesa scowled. "What's worse than falling in love with a human?" He sneered, hearing Caeli gasp behind him. The spirit in front of him narrowed his eyes.

"Learn your place." The spirit snapped, then calmed, turning spiteful eyes on Caeli again, who had his arms wrapped around himself and his hair shielding his face. "What's worse than loving a human?" The spirit mocked at Caeli. Caeli flinched and Kyesa scowled. "Why, didn't he tell you, Kyesa? He's in love with a male villager."

Kyesa blinked, let it absorb for a moment. His curiosity surfaced for a moment, but he pushed it away quickly for the anger. "And?"

The word seemed to reverberate between them, and Kyesa smiled sarcastically. The spirit was rather obviously taken aback at Kyesa's easy acceptance. "Does there need to be anything else? A human, and one of his gender?" The spirit scowled at Caeli, but Caeli was staring at Kyesa, who glowered at the spirit, who smirked smugly again.

"Would it interest you to know who?" The spirit asked, laughing as Caeli started and looked close to tears again.

One glance at Caeli gave him all the answer he needed. "No." Kyesa frowned, settling the pack on his shoulders better. "This is over, now."

Kyesa, for the first time in his life, turned his back on a spirit, picking up the staff that had fallen from Caeli's limp fingers and handing it to him. Caeli accepted it with a nervous glance over Kyesa's shoulders, but Kyesa didn't look back, taking Caeli's elbow and turning him away too, heading into the forest. The spirit didn't follow, and when Kyesa dared a glance back, a few lines of trees between them, he was nowhere to be seen.

"You shouldn't have done that." Caeli murmured, some time later. The spirit was limping along with the help of the staff, Kyesa walking a bit ahead of him.

"Why not?" Kyesa asked, tossing a cheerful smile back at Caeli. Caeli didn't return it, just frowned miserably.

"They hate it when people don't do what they want. They won't let you go back." Caeli didn't meet his eyes, picking his way tenderly over the uneven ground. It had barely been half an hour, and the spirit was already having problems with his ankle. Kyesa frowned, he wanted to get out of the area that the other spirits controlled as quickly as possible, even if it meant dealing with more of the forest's menaces. Though who was to say that the spirits weren't menaces themselves, at this point?

"It'll work out, Caeli. Don't worry about it, it's my problem." Kyesa reassured. Caeli didn't seem convinced. Kyesa glanced at the trees, his fingers twitching to have bark beneath them again. The sun was just past the high point, meaning it was around one or two in the afternoon. "How far until the block'll die?" Kyesa asked.

"I'm not sure. A few days walk, at least." Caeli murmured. "Though it could be longer, since I can't walk properly." Caeli ducked his head, the hair falling to curtain his face again.

"They won't try and stop us, will they?" Kyesa frowned.

"No, probably not. They'll think they're well rid of us. They won't try and stop anything coming this way though." Caeli tucked his hair back again.

"Well, there's that at least." Kyesa smiled brightly. Caeli stared at him in disbelief. "And I know you're thinking pessimistic thoughts, so just stop it." He scolded lightly, laughing a bit.

Caeli frowned. "How can you be so light-hearted?"

"I have no idea." Kyesa chirped, smiling at the trees. "But, think about it this way. You'll be free to do as you wish now. No constraints or rules for a bit… um, though, where are we going?"

Caeli stopped. "You just packed up and left your home for a complete stranger with no idea where?" Caeli asked, disbelieving and Kyesa had to laugh.

"Well, when you put it that way…" Kyesa began, still smiling. "No, I prefer to think of it as upholding my ideals, and helping a person in need. You needed help. I could give it, and it's rather boring there, anyway."

"Oh." Caeli sighed, then started walking again. "Well, you've heard the stories, right? Of the cities to the south?"

"Oh, right, you mentioned that before." Kyesa answered, smiling encouragingly.

"Well, that's where we're headed." Caeli told him.

"So they're real then?" Kyesa asked, catching Caeli's elbow automatically when he stumbled a bit over a tree root. Caeli smiled a bit at him.

"Yes." Caeli sighed. "Of course, we didn't want you to know that."

"Because then some of us might want to go there." Kyesa guessed.

"There are four villages out here, too." Caeli murmured, then smiled a bit. Kyesa smiled back. "I'm not supposed to be telling you this."

"You're a terrible, horrible spirit. Bad." Kyesa scolded playfully. "But – four villages? How come we've never seen anyone from them? Or stumbled onto them when we're out hunting?"

Caeli smiled a bit more. "The spirits keep you carefully segregated, though I'm not sure the point of it."

"Perhaps to quash the urge to wander?" Kyesa suggested, taking Caeli's arm again to help him down a bit of a slope.

"Maybe." Caeli answered distractedly, focusing on his footing.

"So, the cities? To do what?" Kyesa wondered as they reached even footing again. The first fall leaves crunched underfoot and Kyesa briefly worried about the weather.

"I don't know. It's the only thing I can think of though. Perhaps I can sell charms or something, though I don't know how they feel about magic." Caeli looked a bit upset again, and Kyesa sought to distract him.

"So the spirits don't know much about the cities either?" Kyesa asked, realizing his arm was still hooked with Caeli's, but deciding it was easier to leave it there.

"No, they hate the cities. The wording in one of the text says something about a 'cesspool of wasteful humans,' so you can imagine how much they would enjoy that." Caeli smiled briefly.

"How is it you don't share their views?" Kyesa asked, not missing the way Caeli tensed. "I mean, you grew up hearing that humans were… cesspools? Inferior?"

"Right." Caeli murmured, his hand gripping Kyesa's arm a bit tighter. "Um, I'm not sure. It's just, whenever I got placed on watching duty, it never seemed to be that way, right? And it just didn't seem right that we treated you so bad, when we need you too." Caeli frowned unhappily.

"Caeli?" Kyesa questioned cautiously. "Can I ask you a very personal and you can ignore it if you like question?"

Caeli eyed him oddly. "What?"

"How do you love a guy?" Kyesa asked, then bit his lip, embarrassed a bit. That wasn't how he'd meant to phrase it.

"Say again?" Caeli asked, stopping. Kyesa glanced around, and then dragged Caeli over to a fallen tree, testing the log for a minute before having Caeli sit down, taking a seat next to him and pulling out a water skin.

"I thought that only guys and girls could, you know." Kyesa's cheeks flushed. "I mean, not that I care that you do, or anything, but how?"

Caeli blinked, rather flabbergasted, but not upset, so there was that at least. "I'm not sure what you mean?" Caeli asked.

"Neither do I." Kyesa admitted. "Um. Well, how did you know you liked this person? And who, because I'm kind of curious?" Kyesa asked, and Caeli flushed this time.

"I'm not sure. I just sort of gravitated towards him, you know?" Caeli offered shyly. "I would see him a lot, when I was watching the village, or I'd get assigned to him when he'd go out in the forest. I admire him a lot – he has grace and he's nice and he's… cute." Caeli ducked his head again, and Kyesa knew he was probably blushing. "And no, I'm not telling you who he is."

Kyesa pouted, but took it in stride. "But how does that work?"

"How does what work?" Caeli asked, tucking his hair away again, though it was looking more and more snarled.

"The erm… love." Kyesa emphasized, his cheeks heating a bit. Caeli's eyes widened as Kyesa's euphemism caught up to him.

"Oh! Um, well, I have no idea." Caeli murmured, even as Kyesa rooted through the pack again, pulling out one of Kaori's hair ties.

"Really?" Kyesa asked, handing the thing to him. Caeli took it, flashing a thankful smile.

"You heard what Tham said. It's considered an abomination." Caeli was frowning unhappily again.

"You're not." Kyesa asserted defiantly. "No matter what anyone says."

Caeli smiled weakly at him. "Thank you."

Kyesa smiled widely, tucking away the water skin. "Come on, we want to get going."

Caeli made a face, but let Kyesa help him up and hand him his staff. Only a few minutes later, they were gone again, Kyesa helping Caeli over the rough patches and Caeli slowly filling Kyesa in on what he knew about the cities. It was slow going, but they managed to cover quite a bit of ground, before night started to fall.

The first of the forest creatures came out then too, something they both knew but hadn't realized until the first one attacked.

It was an ugly thing, small, about the size of a large pig, with spines and scales and sharp fangs that oozed a rather foul-smelling pale orange liquid. Kyesa and Caeli startled it, stumbling into the clearing where it was digging at a small foxhole or something.

Kyesa stared. It wasn't the first time he'd seen a creature, but it was usually from the safety of the tree-tops and they weren't even aware of him. It turned, and fixed pale yellow eyes on them. Caeli was stiff beside him and he wasn't much better. The sudden thought, however, of that bastard spirit laughing at him, for thinking past his place, and dying so soon out of the village, spurred him into action.

"Caeli, hand me the staff." Kyesa whispered, not taking his eyes off the thing. Caeli did as he was bid, and Kyesa could feel him trembling. "When I say, turn and climb the tree behind us as quickly as you can, okay?"

Kyesa stared at the creature for a moment, feeling the solid wood staff in his hands. He was going to get hurt. But he'd promised Caeli he'd protect him, and he would too. "Now!" He hissed, and Caeli immediately let go and turned, the motion attracting the creature, who let out a low growl and bounded for them. Kyesa stood his ground, wishing he wasn't so foolhardy, and gave the staff a heavy swing.

To his surprise, it hit the creature square on the head, knocking it away and dazing it a bit. Caeli was still struggling to climb the tree behind him, which had plenty of low-hanging branches, but tree climbing was hard with a sprained ankle and injured arm. So Kyesa whacked the thing again. It snarled and backed away a bit.

Kyesa advanced, fear shrieking through his veins. The creature watched him warily, then lunged. Kyesa dodged, or tried to, sticking the staff in the creature's path. It worked, a bit, as most of him got out of the way. The creature's teeth grazed the hand holding the staff though, and Caeli was up the tree, so Kyesa abandoned the staff and lunged for a nearby tree branch, pulling himself up as the fangs snapped below his feet.

Sighing, he relaxed, staring down at the creature as it prowled beneath the tree, snarling and snapping at the feet and head dangling a good ways out of it's reach. Caeli was perched in a tree a bit across the clearing, and Kyesa waved cheerfully, though he was much more rattled than he'd like to let on.

"Are you okay?" Kyesa called, flipping himself over so that he sat on the tree branch. Now here was where he felt at home. The trees had always been a comfort, climbing them, and walking between them.

"Am I okay?" Caeli shrieked, the loudest Kyesa had ever heard him, and the creature turned to snap around the base of his tree. "You almost got eaten!"

Kyesa grinned, but Caeli was staring at the thing circling his tree. It clawed at the bark, but couldn't find the purchase to climb, thankfully. Kyesa stood carefully, ignoring the fact that a fall would mean he'd die – the creature wouldn't give him enough time to get up, after all, and set about walking over to Caeli.

Kyesa scanned the trees, searching for a sturdy branch. He didn't know about Caeli, but he wasn't sleeping on the ground, and since Caeli couldn't tree-walk, they might as well crash up here for the night.

"Kyesa?" Caeli asked, blinking up at him, even as the creature slunk off, still growling.

"Yes?" Kyesa asked, slipping from one tree to another carefully.

"Thank you." Caeli murmured. Kyesa smiled.

"You're welcome. Do you think you can get over there?" Kyesa gestured to a thick tree, the tree the creature had been digging at when they'd stumbled across it.

"Maybe." Caeli eyed him doubtfully. "It depends."

"On?" Kyesa asked, stopping on a tree branch that set him at eye level with Caeli.

"On whether it's safe to get down and walk over there." Caeli murmured dryly.

Kyesa smiled. "Um, I don't think that's a good idea. What if it just left the clearing and is waiting for us to be lured out?"

Caeli paled. "Why do we need to go over there?" He asked.

"Because the branches are thicker, and we can stay there all night. If I helped, would you be able to?" Kyesa asked, serious as he heard a small branch snap from the ground. Caeli's breath hitched as he stared over Kyesa's shoulder. Kyesa glanced down and found a good handful of the creatures slinking around, glaring hungrily up the tree trunk.

"We can go really slowly." Kyesa promised, making sure he was steady and offering Caeli his hand. Caeli accepted it and stood, balancing carefully on one foot.

It was hard, made harder by the prowling creatures growling at the foot of each tree before they even made it to the next one. It took far too long to get to the tree, and they were both exhausted when they did. But they were higher up now, and there was less of a chance they'd fall.

"We can sleep here." Kyesa informed Caeli, who stared at him in disbelief.

"How?" Caeli asked, sitting sideways on a thick branch. Kyesa smiled, he'd done this before at least.

"You've never napped in the trees?" Kyesa teased, tying the pack to a nearby branch and pulling out some of the food inside.

"No, not really." Caeli murmured, taking the fruit Kyesa handed him without protest.

"Well, you sit against the trunk, on a sturdy branch. Like here –" Kyesa pointed behind him. "This is a good spot, because the branch is really thick, and you've got that one to lean on-" Kyesa pointed to a smaller branch that sprouted a few feet above the larger thick one. "But you don't sleep quietly do you." Kyesa munched thoughtfully. "You wouldn't happen to have a rope on you?"

Caeli stared at him like he was crazy and shook his head. Kyesa just smiled. "Well, we have to make sure you don't fall, so you'll have to sleep with me." Caeli stared, his cheeks heating.

"What?" Caeli's voice was disbelieving again.

"Tree, then me then you, so you don't fall." Kyesa explained, taking a large bite out of his apple.

"Oh." Caeli stared down at the creatures still circling and growling below them. "You didn't get scratched did you?" Caeli asked, changing the subject abruptly.

"Scratched?" Kyesa asked, confused.

"When you were fighting the creature?" Caeli asked, frowning again.

"I don't think so, why?" Kyesa asked, stuffing the water pouch back in the bag and making sure it was secure before grabbing the blanket and tossing his apple core carelessly below.

"The fangs – they're dripping poison." Caeli looked rather pale, and Kyesa scowled, angry again at the forest spirits who were making this so hard.

"Oh. Come here." Kyesa settled against the tree trunk, making sure he was comfortable and balanced. Falling from the tree was bad, but falling when he was asleep would be worse, most especially because he'd take Caeli with him. Caeli shifted uncomfortably on his own branch before painfully making his way over to where Kyesa sat. Kyesa smiled reassuringly at him, though it didn't seem to have much effect.

"Now the key to this, is to relax." Kyesa murmured, as Caeli ungracefully sat down, a good five feet away. "If you're tense, you'll fall."

Caeli nodded and took a deep breath, scooting back against Kyesa. He was still tense though, and so Kyesa resorted to his normal tactic – he asked questions. "Do you have any siblings?" His thoughts drifted back to Kaori and Jenna and he hoped they were both alright.

"No." Caeli murmured. "I was an only child."

"What about your parents?" Kyesa asked, smiling a bit when Caeli relaxed the tiniest bit against his chest. Caeli was a bit shorter, so he could easily lay his head down on Kyesa's shoulder.

"They died, when I was really little." Caeli sounded sad, but not horribly so. "I can't remember them, really."

"Yeah, my parents did too." Kyesa smiled, though Caeli couldn't see it.

"But you had your sister?" Caeli offered, half asking, encouraging him to continue.

"Yeah." Kyesa smiled, slipping his arms around Caeli's middle and locking his fingers together. Caeli shivered a bit. "Do you want the blanket?" Kyesa asked, removing his hands and grabbing the fabric from the nearby branch. Caeli flinched as a particularly loud howl reverberated through the trees. Kyesa settled the blanket around them. "Don't worry, Caeli. If you worry we'll never get out of here." Kyesa murmured.

"But it's –" Caeli started but stopped. "I can't help it." He whispered, sounding miserable again.

"Just think of happier things. Think of doing something you like, of something you've always wanted to do, and will be able to when we get to the cities." Kyesa encouraged, reclaiming his hold around Caeli's stomach.

"I've always wanted to-" Caeli stopped, tensing again.

"You've always wanted to what?" Kyesa encouraged, smiling.

"Did I tell you about the libraries?" Caeli asked.

"No." Kyesa let him change the subject, resting his head against the tree bark behind him.

"They're great big buildings, filled with books." Caeli had relaxed. "There's supposed to be one, in the largest city, with almost every book ever written." Kyesa smiled at Caeli's reverent tone. "I've always wanted to just, go there, and get lost and never come out." Caeli murmured quietly.

"Well, I'm sure you can. We'll find your library, and you can spend a while in there. Though I'll have to insist you come out at some point." Kyesa laughed a bit. "I'd hate to be all alone in the city."

"You could come with me." Caeli offered. Kyesa smiled again.

"I would, but I'm afraid it would overwhelm me." Kyesa smiled wider as Caeli relaxed completely in his arms, resting his head on Kyesa's shoulder.

"It wouldn't be that bad." Caeli murmured, sounding sleepy, but happier than he had all day.

"Mmm." Kyesa hummed noncommittally, letting his own eyelids droop, the sounds of snarling and growling below them much removed. A few moments later they were both asleep, nestled in the tree branches.

Part 1 of 2.

The second part will be out in a day or so when I finish editing it.