Long ago, when life was still new in the realm, elves had been nothing more than trees and flowers with a desire to travel. Over time, they evolved, picking up humanoid traits while keeping the more important traits of plants.
Some elves shed their foliage in the cold season; others simply slept more. When there was less sunlight, they could eat food to get energy.
Of course, they always needed a lot of water.
Adif Agilaz learned the hard way that not all water was the same.
“What are you doing?”
Adif flinched and looked up from the edge of the sea that she had been about to take a drink from. She was only eleven at the time, and it was the middle of the warm season—meaning the sun was constantly drying her out even though she got energy from its light.
She had been wandering on the beach, completely parched, when she had the brilliant idea to take a drink straight from the sea.
And now, out of nowhere, this merboy decided to interrupt.
“I’m thirsty,” Adif told him.
“You’re thirsty? Then why are you gonna drink sea water?” The merboy looked very confused. He spoke with a heavy accent, since his native language was probably a coastal Merrowish language like Seyoenese. He could only make the hard th sound, pronouncing “thirsty” with the same th as in “then”.
“It’s water,” Adif said, drinking from her cupped hands—and gagging as the salt hit her throat.
“I tried to warn you!” The merboy cackled.
And that was how Adif met her best friend, Jelro.
When they turned thirteen, he chose to become a hunter while Adif chose to study alchemy. She figured it was an obvious choice, since her foliage was poisonous and could actually be used as an ingredient in certain concoctions.
Neither her nor Jelro changed their class, and when they turned fifteen, Jelro made the startling discovery that when he pulled himself completely out of the water, his tail turned into legs. He met his human father, and Adif showed him all around the land portion of town.
And now they were seventeen, and things had changed drastically.
Adif had started routinely stopping by the market on the way home from The Academy, buying whatever food was selling for cheap and taking it with her as she went to the treehouse-and-shed fort that was behind her home.
With her hands full of bread, a bunch of grapes, and a jug of narberry juice, Adif had to lightly kick on the door of the shed to knock.
The shed was a fairly new addition that she and Jelro had spent a couple months building, since the treehouse had limitations to its uses. They also added stairs to make the treehouse more accessible, but for security reasons the stairs started inside the shed and traveled up a sort of tunnel, closed off from the outside.
The door opened after a few seconds, and Adif found herself looking at a swan.
“Thanks, Refi,” she distractedly said, squeezing into the shed while trying to keep from dropping anything.
The swan softly honked, nudging the door closed behind the elf girl.
Adif glanced around, frowning at the disorder within the shed.
A chameleon was hanging upside-down on one of the lanterns, swinging it around in a dangerous manner. A snake had managed to tangle itself on an upside-down chair, wrapped around one of the chair’s legs. A bat was flying in circles near the ceiling. A sea otter was lazily floating in the wash basin, its muzzle stained purple.
And a rabbit watched the whole thing from a crate on the far table.
“Where’s Jelro?” Adif asked the animals, still unsure whether or not any of them could really understand her.
Refi, the swan, squawked loudly as she hopped over towards the stairs.
Seconds later, Jelro came running down the steps, pushing his thick mop of dark hair from his forehead.
“Sorry, Adi—I didn’t hear you come in.” He spotted the chameleon hanging on for dear life and carefully plucked it from the lantern, setting it in its designated crate.
Adif couldn’t help but notice that the chaos had immediately stopped upon Jelro entering the shed from the treehouse.
“I brought you something,” she said, looking around the cluttered space for somewhere to set down her armload.
“Really, Adi, you don’t have to bring me food every day,” Jelro protested, but he was in the middle of pushing things aside to make room on one of the tables.
“And who’s going to feed you if I don’t?” Adif countered, easing everything she was carrying on to the table. “This is all for you, okay? I mean it!” She stomped her foot, stopping Jelro from handing a chunk of the bread to Refi.
Refi quietly crooned, waddling back to her makeshift nest under the far table.
“S’e said that’s all right, s’e has already eaten,” Jelro translated, popping the chunk of bread into his own mouth. His hazel eyes lit up. “Is this honey wheat? Adi, stop, you’re spoiling me.” He fumbled through his pockets. “Let me at least tip you--”
“Don’t you dare,” Adif warned him. “You know I don’t need it. Save your jag for when you really need it.”
Jelro reluctantly stuck the wood bits back into his pocket.
Ever since he had discovered his ability to talk to animals—thanks to him being what was called a silvertongue—things had gotten a bit complicated for both him and Adif.
Especially when Jelro dropped out of The Academy.
The rabbit in the crate was named Oireug, and he was the reason behind pretty much everything that Jelro had done.
During a hunting task in class, Jelro had nearly shot Oireug before he did the exact opposite, saving the rabbit from a wolf and bringing him to the treehouse to try and fix his broken leg.
Unfortunately, Oireug’s leg never healed all the way, leaving him with a bad limp. Jelro decided it was too dangerous for Oireug to be in the wild with such an injury, offering to let the rabbit stay with him—although Jelro often took Oireug to visit his family in the forest, keeping them safe.
After that incident, Jelro decided that he no longer wanted to be a hunter. He couldn’t bring himself to kill animals after discovering he could talk to them and become friends with them.
So now he carried around his bow to defend all the animals he had befriended.
Since The Academy didn’t allow students to change their class after they were fifteen, Jelro dropped out.
The good news was that plenty of townsfolk had pets that got sick or injured, and Jelro had started studying on his own to become a healer for animals.
Adif had been worried about him for the longest time. She was sure that he was making the biggest mistake of his life.
And yet, every time she visited him, he was smiling and enjoying himself more than she had ever seen before.
The only problem was that he now spent the majority of his time in her treehouse, caring for various animals—including the ones that had basically moved in.
After Oireug had come Refi—the swan born with one wing. Adif had seen her floundering in the water and Jelro dove in to retrieve the bird.
She was Adif’s favorite resident at the shed.
Her least favorite was Eiss the snake, even though he was harmless. The poor snake was entirely blind—and he tended to get underfoot at the worst possible times. And Adif really didn’t like seeing him with lumps in his body after he ate his meals.
Breek was the bat, and she was deaf in one ear. According to Jelro, that was a problem since bats needed to hear in order to see.
That didn’t make any sense to Adif, but she didn’t want to get stuck listening about bats for hours on end.
The chameleon’s name was Cove, and his tail had gotten bit off by some creature that no one could seem to remember. Despite Jelro’s best attempts, the chameleon couldn’t keep his balance while climbing and was always at risk of falling off of things.
Last but not least was the sea otter, who was a recent patient and was in fact still healing. His name was Lop, and Jelro had rescued him after a storm had battered him against the rocks near the shore and left him with some deep wounds.
But now he was patched up and his fur was almost fully grown back. Jelro said he would be able to return to the sea within a month.
“Any new patients today?” Adif asked Jelro, gingerly helping Eiss get untangled from the chair so she could set it upright and let Jelro sit on it while he ate the food.
“No one new,” Jelro answered.
Eiss hissed and flicked out his tongue as Adif carried him to his crate that was next to windows; it was the sunniest spot in the shed.
“He says thank you,” Jelro called out through a mouthful of bread.
“You’re welcome,” Adif told the snake, trying not to shudder as he slithered around her hands and on to his warm rocks in the crate.
She made her rounds as usual, greeting all the animals and making sure their crates were clean. Adif knew Jelro did his best, but sometimes the clutter and mess overwhelmed him beyond being able to clean.
Oireug nuzzled Adif’s hand as she scratched him between his floppy ears, letting her know that it was nice to see her.
Adif lightly stroked Cove over his scaly backside, and his eyes rolled to focus on her. He tried to climb up her arm, but he lost his balance halfway and toppled onto the cushions in his crate.
Adif giggled as the chameleon turned bright orange before fading to black.
“You look beautiful today.”
Adif jumped in startlement and whirled on Jelro.
He waved a hand towards Cove, unable to speak after stuffing a large chunk of bread into his mouth.
Embarrassed, Adif had to hope she wasn’t blushing. She hated how Jelro never specified when he was translating for an animal—especially when Cove and Refi were constantly complimenting her.
“Thanks, Cove,” she mumbled, plucking a few dry leaves out of his crate.
Adif greeted Breek by letting the bat hang upside-down from her arm for a minute or two, giving the bat time to stretch and scratch herself.
Because Lop was so new, Adif still wasn’t sure what was the best way to greet him. She settled for a gentle pat on the head, which the sea otter accepted and returned with a friendly nudge to her hand.
Adif sat on the floor and let Refi come to her, carefully preening the swan as she settled down on her lap.
“Her backside is a little it’sty,” Jelro told Adif, finishing the bread and starting on the grapes. His accent made it impossible to say the ch sound, but Adif still understood him. It was the same with his inability to produce the sh sound.
Adif combed through the swan’s feathers, making sure to scratch all the itchy spots before finishing by stroking her head and neck.
Refi nuzzled against Adif, and she didn’t even need Jelro’s translation to know how much she appreciated being preened.
“You’re a lifesaver, Adi,” Jelro declared, chugging the rest of the narberry juice. “I didn’t realize I was so hungry.”
“Did you forget to eat this morning? Again?”
“Maybe.” Jelro sheepishly grinned as he got to his feet. “All right, speaking of whit’st—who still needs to eat?” He followed the question with something that Adif couldn’t understand, but she was used to that.
Lop made a sort of hissing sound.
Jelro rolled his eyes and replied to Lop, again not being understood by Adif.
The boy and sea otter argued for a full minute before Lop finally grunted and Jelro turned away.
“What was that all about?” Adif wondered.
“He was saying that he hasn’t eaten yet, when the evidence is right on his face!” Jelro scoffed.
Adif eyed the sea otter, realizing that was probably what the funny purple stain on his face was.
As she watched Jelro go around to do his quick check-ups of the animals, Adif suddenly felt nervous. She had come with the intent of talking about something really important, but now she wasn’t sure if she wanted to bring it up.
“Hm?” He glanced over his shoulder from where he was crouched next to Refi.
“You’d tell me if I’d gone completely bonkers, right?”
Jelro stood up and turned to face her. Adif wished he would sit down or something, since he towered over her. She barely was even in height with his chest.
“What’s going on?” he gently asked.
Adif glanced away, clenching her jaw.
“Well, uh, today I saw the swordbearers’ class out practicing again…”
“Uh-huh?” Jelro sat down in his chair, nodding for her to go on.
“I just… I don’t know. It looks so fun, I guess, and now that things have gotten so boring in alchemy class…”
“You want to swit’st,” Jelro guessed.
“But I can’t switch!” Adif cried. “And I can’t do what you did—my parents would disown me if I tried to drop!”
“Why don’t you ask one of the swordbearers to take you on as an apprentice?” Jelro suggested.
“Because they won’t.”
“How do you know?”
“Because they’re all titans that aren’t going to train a half-pint like me!” Adif blurted out, feeling her face flush.
Jelro’s eyebrows jumped up in surprise.
“You know what, never mind. Forget I said anything.” Adif rushed for the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Ro.”
The elf girl didn’t get any farther than the door.
She had flung it open and nearly ran right into the tall boy standing just outside, his fist raised to knock on the door and a sword sheathed on his hip.
He regarded Adif with surprise.
“Er, hullo. Are you by chance the elf that’s studying alchemy around here?”
But Adif couldn’t find her voice to answer his question; her gaze was glued to the ground beneath the stranger’s feet.
He had no shadow.
~ ~ ~