Ka’harja’s Journey (DLH #1) – Chapter 5

Glif 11th, Yieda

Year 10,053 AE

(Above a Cave, Apparently; Okatako)

A week had passed since the horrific fire, and the world didn’t seem to notice it had happened at all. The clouds still hung in the sky, birds still chirped, flowers still bloomed, and the river still ran strong alongside the uneven road. Ka’harja hated it. He hated that the world was so happy when he was suffering so badly.

He wanted the world to be as miserable as he was. He wanted to feel like he could justify the burning anger and hatred that was bubbling in his chest; but with the insects singing out on a sunny day full of life and cool winds he felt like the awful feeling was out of place and wrong— Like if he showed anything but joy he’d ruin the day for everyone else. All he could do was lag behind the caravan and hope to be left alone to simmer in his quiet rage.

His mother was still sick. Getting worse and worse by the day. She hadn’t gotten out of bed in two days, and she’d fallen back to sleep almost immediately after taking her medicine that morning. She still hadn’t woken up; even for her that was too long to sleep.

Ka’harja didn’t understand why this was happening— She’d won the fight. She’d gotten out of the fire. She’d been resting and taking all the medication she was supposed to. Why wasn’t she getting better? She was supposed to be okay….

‘Ka’harja, pick up the pace! You’re going to be left behind!’

If only, Ka’harja let out a frustrated groan. ‘I know, Lif. I’m just… tired.’

Lif dropped his pace so he was walking beside Ka’harja. ‘I know you’ve been through a lot, and I don’t mean to be insensitive or anything… but you need to push yourself a bit harder.’

‘I know,’ Ka’harja sighed.

‘We’re already travelling at less than half our usual speed. We were supposed to be making an important sale in Kokako Boaka in a month, which we’re definitely not going to make it to. I don’t think Sken would be happy if we had to slow down even more—’

‘—I KNOW!’ Ka’harja snapped. He looked away when Lif flinched. ‘I know, alright? I know.’

‘Right then,’ Lif flicked an ear and hurried away. ‘I didn’t mean to offend.’

For a moment Ka’harja wanted to shout after Lif and tell him he was sorry, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak. Instead, he felt the horrible squeezing in his chest tighten even more as guilt washed over him. Lif was just trying to help; the entire caravan had been nothing but open and giving and kind to Ka’harja and his mother. Even though they definitely didn’t deserve it…. They’d stolen from them, Ka’harja had secretly mocked them, and now— Now he was acting ungrateful for the help they’d given him.

He buried his face in his hands and let out a loud, pained exclamation. Why couldn’t he just be alright? Why did he have to feel so horrible?

He didn’t notice the caravan ahead of him stop and walked directly into it with another loud shout. A tear rolled down his cheek and he swore at himself as he wiped it away, taking a moment to hide his pain before he continued to the middle of camp.

Trat was setting up a small fire with Coborn and Lif, though they seemed to be having trouble getting the damp wood lit.

‘What’s happening?’ Ka’harja asked. He sounded more aggressive than he meant to, so he forced himself to smile. ‘You making lunch?’

‘We’re hoping,’ Trat responded, clicking two small stones together. ‘If the damn fire will light! The flint’s sparking but the wood’s too damp.’

‘Light some paper or something,’ Lif suggested. ‘I have my hatchet! I’ll make some kindling—’

‘—I can do it!’ Trat grumbled, smacking the small axe out of his friend’s hand. ‘I’ve made fire before!’

Coborn rolled her eyes and gave Ka’harja a look, which he easily translated into “ugh.

He nodded back as the boys began arguing. He almost felt guilty— Was Lif in a bad mood because of him? Had he upset him with his outburst earlier and ruined the day for everyone-

‘Ka’harja, stop standing around like a goat on a flagpole and tell Trat he’s being an idiot for me!’ Lif’s scoff interrupted Ka’harja’s thoughts. ‘He might actually listen to you— And if he doesn’t you can pick him up and kick him across camp like a ball, you wolven-wannabe!’

Ka’harja actually laughed at that. ‘Lif’s right,’ he said as the tension in his chest loosened. ‘Kindling lights better.’

Me me meh ma,’ Trat mocked, ignoring Lif’s protests and smacking his flint and steel together like he was trying to dent a kitchen pot. ‘I know what I’m doing—’

As he said it, Baku and Koko stepped around Ka’harja. Koko dumped a heap of paper on the fire pit, and Baku held down a bright, red-hot torch and set the paper alight.

Trat stared at the fire for a long while in silence before screaming, flinging his flint and steel across the camp, and storming off in a huff.

‘Goddess in the High World thank you!’ Coborn exclaimed. ‘I thought that would never end!’

‘I’m hungry, and Trat’s an idiot,’ Koko said gruffly before turning and walking away.

Baku was less eager to leave. ‘How’s things, Lif? Coborn? Ka?’

Ka’harja shrugged as the others had a laugh. He wasn’t sure how he felt.

‘Coff wants to try and restock some herbs that are supposed to grow in this area, to help with your mum’s treatment,’ Baku mentioned, shouldering Ka’harja. ‘He wanted me to go with him but…. You’re an alchemist, right? You know all that plant stuff? I think it’d be better if you helped.’

Ka’harja gave a nod. Baku was right; he’d be a much bigger help collecting herbs than a guard would. And it was something he could actually get out and do to be helpful instead of standing around feeling sorry for himself.

‘He’ll be leaving in a bit, you might want to go offer to help now,’ said Baku. ‘Let him know I’ll stay here if you go.’

Again, Ka’harja nodded, and made his way to Coff’s caravan. He stood outside the door for a moment, unsure whether to knock or call out, but then he heard loud arguing and decided to just open the door.

‘You’re g-going to make yourself worse, drinking alco-alcohol while you have an in-in-infection! Where did you— Where did— Where did even you get that?’ Coff ranted. ‘I t-told you to st-stay in bed!’

‘I’m fine!’ Distro responded, taking a swig from a large bottle. ‘I don’t need you to babysit me! Alcohol is as good as any other medication—’

‘—Don’t you talk that crock!’ Ka’harja snapped, making Coff jump. ‘Coff’s not an idiot! He’s a trained doctor, and you’re not going to fool him with a lie like that!’ he stepped into the caravan and yanked the drink out of his mother’s grip.

It spilt, and Distro licked what she could off her scaly arm with a frown. ‘I’m a better doctor than he is.’

‘A more stubborn alchemist, you mean,’ Ka’harja grumbled as he passed the bottle to Coff, who hid it in a locked drawer. ‘We want you to get better, so stop being an arse and do as you’re told!’

Distro rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t you scold me! I’m supposed to scold you! I’m your mother—’

‘—THEN START ACTING LIKE IT!’ Ka’harja shouted. He didn’t mean to raise his voice, and instantly regretted it. He stepped back and bit his lip as his mother stared at him. ‘So-Sorry. I didn’t mean to…. To….’

‘Are you alright, Ka?’ Distro asked softly. She sighed when her son shook his head and thwacked the mattress with her palm. ‘Sit.’

Ka’harja sat, and put his face in his hands. His mother began to untangle the leaves from his tail and, for a second, he felt like he was twelve eclipses again, come home after falling out of a tree and spraining his wrist.

‘You’re alright,’ she reminded him. Her gravely voice was like a flash of magic light that chased away night-monsters, and Ka’harja felt all his anxieties melt away as she continued to comfort him. ‘The worst is done, now. If we get through this, we can get through anything.’

Ka’harja took a deep breath and nodded. She was right: the worst was over. It was going to be okay. All she had to do was get better.

‘Coff? Baku said you and him were going out to collect supplies,’ Ka’harja’s voice was the calmest it had been all day. ‘He said I should go with you instead, because I’m good with herbs.’

‘And fr-from the, uh, area,’ Coff nodded. ‘That’s a… a good idea. Yes. I— I’d love the help! Th-Thank you.’

‘I’ll help too,’ Distro rasped, propping herself up on her elbow. ‘I know herbs better than either of you!’

Ka’harja glared at his mother. ‘You will not! You’re going to stay here until we’re back. No drink. No getting out of bed at all!’

‘Not at all?’ she asked, looking smug. ‘What about for the toilet?’

Coff stuck his foot under the bed and slid out a metal pan. ‘That’s, um… th-that’s what this is… for.’

Distro’s triumphant expression turned frustrated and she threw herself face-down into her pillow. She mumbled something that neither boy understood before pushing herself over and sticking her foot in Ka’harja’s face.

Ka’harja batted her leg away and threw a blanket over her. ‘Promise me, Mum!’

‘Fine! I won’t get out of this bed or drink alcohol or pee on the floor until you get back. I promise!

‘You won’t pee on the floor at all!’ Ka’harja tried to sound serious, but ending up laughing instead. ‘Alright, we should get going. Right, Coff?’

Coff nodded and the pair made their way out of camp.

As they left, Coff waved Baku over. ‘C-Can you make sure Dis-Distro gets plen-plenty of water?’ he asked. ‘I-I won’t be gone, uh… t-too long but, um, she— She needs someone t-to keep an ey-eye on her. Oh, and uh, take the dr-drink out of my secon-second dra-drawer, would you? I’m scared she’ll b-break the l-lock to get it. You— You know where I keep the key?’

‘Sure! I’ll check on her in a minute,’ Baku winked at the healer before grabbing his ears and giving him a playful shake. ‘Anything else you need before you head out with tall-boy?’

‘No, uh… that’s a-all,’ Coff replied, pulling away from Baku. ‘Thanks.’

Ka’harja watched as hot red embarrassment flushed over Coff’s cheeks.

‘What about you, tall-boy? Need anything?’ Baku grinned at him. Something about the smile made Ka’harja feel… embarrassed. But he couldn’t tell why.

He shook his head and followed Coff, who was hurrying away from the caravan.

‘Odd man, isn’t he?’ Ka’harja laughed. ‘I mean, he seems nice enough, but he’s got that air about him. Like he knows something nobody else does.’

‘He…. He’s a good guy,’ Coff sighed, rubbing his hot cheeks and trying to hide the blush. ‘I w-wish he wou-wouldn’t tease me so much.’

Ka’harja shrugged. ‘At least it’s a good sort of teasing. It’s like what me and Mum do.’

‘R-Right. I don’t know how you, uh, handle her,’ Coff admitted. ‘She’s the m-most stubborn person I’ve ever— Ever met. And I— I work for Sken!

Ka’harja stopped and glared at the little man. ‘I don’t appreciate that.’

‘Wh-What?’ Coff’s blush came back in a panic and he took an anxious step away from Ka’harja.

‘Talking about my mum that way,’ Ka’harja growled. ‘Don’t do it.’

‘Oh, I— I um— I didn’t mean to— I offend— Uh— I— Sorry,’ Coff managed. ‘I just— Wanted to, uh… start a, um…. Talk. To you— I—’

‘—It’s fine,’ Ka’harja held up a hand to silence Coff and sighed, realising he’d be brash. ‘It’s just that she’s one of the only people who’s ever treated me… right. You know? I don’t know what I’d do without her. We’re so close, we even have the same dreams sometimes.’

‘The— The same dreams?’ Coff sounded awed.

‘Yeah, ever since I was a kid,’ Ka’harja admitted. ‘She dreams a lot more than me, but when I dream it’s always the same one she had.’

‘That’s, uh, odd?’ Coff bit his lip. Then he pointed. ‘Those trees m-might have… the plants we need….’

Ka’harja shrugged and followed Coff towards the cluster of young trees. ‘I wouldn’t know. About the dreams I mean. The plants are probably at the trees, yeah. What exactly are we looking for, anyway?’

‘Murdaro root, fal-falki leaves, hopefully s-some pulla flowers, and—’ Coff was only halfway through the sentence when he crouched down and started pulling up the long grass. He carefully bound it with a thin string before putting it his satchel bag. ‘And th-this.’

‘Chikiti grass?’ Ka’harja laughed. ‘That stuffs pretty weak. You can always use mora mora root instead.’

‘I— Haven’t heard of th-that,’ Coff admitted.

‘It’s from the Gallamor— I think,’ Ka’harja grinned. ‘Mum and I used to get it imported. Anything chikiti grass can go in, mora mora can go in, and it only costs half as much for the same dose. Even with importation fees.’

Coff quickly pulled out a notebook and scribbled down the name. ‘I’ll, uh, give it a tr-try sometime.’

After gathering the chikiti, they continued their search for the other plants. They chatted happily for a while, discussing different herbs and their uses in medicines and potions, before they split up to cover more ground. They only had to find a falki tree, now, and gather it’s leaves. Ka’harja hoped there was one nearby. They often grew around the area.

He ran the ingredients they’d gathered through his mind, and something seemed to click into his thoughts, though he didn’t fully understand what he was thinking.

‘Coff!’ he called as he hurried to his companion. He slipped on a root and nearly collided with the man, but was lucky to fall flat on his face instead. He picked himself up and brushed himself down, then turned back to Coff. ‘What do you need these for, anyway?’

‘Just… medicine,’ Coff didn’t meet Ka’harja’s eye, and Ka’harja felt his chest tighten.

‘Baku said they were for my mum’s treatment, but these aren’t plants you’d use for an infected wound,’ Ka’harja tried to brush it off, and let out a too-fake laugh. ‘They’re something you’d give a kitsune who’s used too much magic!’

Coff looked up at Ka’harja and shook his head. ‘Your m-mother has an— An infection,’ he said with far too hard a tone. ‘That’s a-all.’

‘Don’t lie!’ Ka’harja snapped. ‘I can tell you’re lying! What’s wrong with her?’

Coff started stammering too much to respond.

Ka’harja sighed and turned away. ‘It’s not an infection, is it?’

‘No it— It is!’ Coff exclaimed. ‘But it’s… not her w-wound.’

Ka’harja turned back. ‘What?’

‘My mentor— She called it alchemist’s wheeze,’ said Coff. ‘I thought you would— That you might have re-recognised it, b-being an alchemist your-yourself.’

‘I haven’t heard of it,’ Ka’harja frowned. ‘It doesn’t sound like an infection.’

‘It’s from— From inhaling t-too much magical resi-residue,’ Coff explained. ‘While working on p-potions. The— The powdered ingredients get in-into the lungs and cause in-infections and… worse. Magical sicknesses that— That are hard to treat. It’s— It’s common when alchemists don’t follow the, uh, b-basic safety precautions while w-working.’

‘Boring safety precautions aren’t my mum’s way,’ Ka’harja grunted. ‘And they’re not my way, either. It’s too much bother for not actually changing anything—’

‘—It’s— It’s a lazy hab-habit that’s made her s-sick! You’re luck-lucky you’re not si-sick, either!’ Coff snapped, pointing an accusing finger at Ka’harja. ‘If she’d just— Just bothered to put a cl-cloth over her mouth, she wou-wouldn’t be dying!

Ka’harja flinched at the last word, and Coff covered his mouth.

‘No— I mean— She’s not going to—’ Coff couldn’t find his words. ‘We can still… help her. We just need to m-make the treatment.’

Ka’harja barely heard him. He felt like he’d been struck in the gut. Hard. He had to sit down. But there were no seats…. He ended up dropping onto his side in the grass and curling up.

‘I— I’m sorry,’ Coff reached out a hand, but pulled it back at the last moment. ‘P-Please don’t— Don’t cry. Ka’harja? Don’t— Please don’t. I’m sorry.’

It was too late. Ka’harja couldn’t stop himself. The tears he’d been holding onto all week came spilling out of him all at once as he lay in the long grass.

He could hear himself, half-screaming like he was in physical pain— And he was. He cried so hard his chest ached and his stomach cramped, and then he threw up and all he could taste was a sickly, acidic bile, which just made him want to cry even more.

‘Ka’har— Ka’harja?’ Coff put his hand on Ka’harja’s shoulder. ‘Ka’harja, I’m— I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, uh— To snap. Your mother’s g-going to get b-better.’

Ka’harja pushed himself to his knees and tried desperately to steady his breathing. ‘She’s— She’s not though, is she?’

‘She w-will.’

‘She’s gotten worse!’

Coff shook his head. ‘She— She’s just b-been t-tired— But she’s been— Been getting b-better. Didn’t you h-hear her to-today? Her voice wasn’t s-so b-bad. And s-she wasn’t coughing at all.’

That was true, Ka’harja realised. His mother hadn’t sounded so bad when he’d taken the drink off her. She’d been more energetic than yesterday, and her voice was almost normal again…. But he was still worried. She still couldn’t get out of bed. What if she didn’t get better?

He swallowed the thought, and eventually calmed down enough to realise how much his head ached. He groaned and clutched it tightly.

‘H-Here,’ Coff held out a flask. ‘Water will…. Water will help.’

Ka’harja took it, and nearly drank the whole thing without thinking.

‘Are— Are you alright?’ Coff asked. ‘I’m… sorry.’

Ka’harja shook his head. ‘It’s not your fault,’ he admitted. ‘I’ve been feeling like shit all day.’

Coff rested his head on Ka’harja’s shoulder. It took Ka’harja a moment to realise he was getting a hug— He leant into it, and took a deep breath; surprised by how much it was helping.

The pair sat together for a moment, until Ka’harja sighed.

‘Thank you,’ he mumbled. He was feeling better. Not perfect, but better than he had before coming out. He tried to stand, but the ground under his foot split and his leg caught in the dirt. A horrible memory flashed in Ka’harja’s mind before the ground gave way and he felt himself falling.

He collided with hard stone, but he didn’t stop moving; instead he lurched sideways and down again, sliding down a steep passage until everything was dark, and then he slid even further, until the world lit up again and the ground flattened out and he slowed to a stop.

He was glad he’d thrown up earlier; if he hadn’t, he was sure he’d have done so on the way down.

He waited for his head to stop spinning before he tried to stand. Halfway to his feet, Coff smacked into him with a loud grunt and both boys slid further across the smooth cave floor.

‘Great Star,’ Ka’harja mumbled into Coff’s leg. ‘Where are we?’

Coff hiccuped in response and rolled over. ‘I… think… I’m… going to be s-sick.’

Ka’harja sat up and pet him on the back. ‘Go ahead, I won’t tell.’

Coff let out a groan and puked on the stone. He choked for a moment, then flopped down to the side and rolled away from his sick.

Ka’harja didn’t bother to move, and instead stared up the tunnel they’d fallen down; there was nothing but black. Not even a light at the end.

He let his head drop back onto the stone. ‘Fuck me.’

‘Alright,’ Coff moaned absentmindedly.

For a moment, Ka’harja was stunned, then he gave a little laugh. ‘Yeah, we are alright, aren’t we?’

Coff sighed and pushed himself up. ‘I— I th-think so.’

‘No broken bones?’ Ka’harja joked. ‘Damn, that was my plan all along. Invoke the planet’s wrath and kill us both!’

Coff chuckled as Ka’harja helped him to his feet. The boys stumbled for a moment before finally starting to get their bearings in the dark cave. It was huge; the roof stood tall enough that Ka’harja could stand on his own shoulders five or six times and still not reach it. Lining the roof were tiny crystals that shone like stars in the darkness…. It was almost like they were still outside, but had been tugged through time into night.

‘Soulstone,’ Ka’harja finally caught his breath and cursed the flesh-eating crystal. ‘It’s all over the floor, too! We’re fucked if we stay here!’

‘Never s-sleep near-ear so-soulstone,’ Coff stammered, wringing his hands anxiously as his voice broke. ‘H-How do we ge-get out?’

Ka’harja looked around. There were hundreds, if not thousands of tunnels out of the main room. Some were too high to reach— Some were hidden in the floor, only visible because of their dim glow. Some lead down; others lead up. Some went straight…. None looked like they lead out.

‘It’s anyone’s guess,’ Ka’harja shrugged. The tunnel they’d come in through was far too steep to climb. ‘But I don’t want to stay here and become a statue, we should go.’

Coff nodded and followed Ka’harja through the caves.

‘At least we can see,’ Ka’harja sighed. ‘Though I don’t like the idea of slowly being turned into a magical rock— Ew. Perfect example of what I don’t want to be!’

The cave was a dead-end, and at the end lay a large crystal elk. The lower half looked like it belonged to a sleeping deer, but the face— The face was contorted into a terrified scream. Ka’harja scrunched his nose into a grimace as he thought about the poor creature’s slow death. It wouldn’t have known what was happening until it couldn’t move it’s lower half; waking up and realising it was turning into soulstone…. It was no wonder Har’pies cursed the underground caves. Star-shining rocks and soul-eating goblins….

‘Let’s get out of here,’ Ka’harja pushed his memories of Har’py tales to the back of his mind and nudged Coff away from the elk statue. Goblins aren’t monsters, he reminded himself. They’re intelligent. Sapient. And they don’t eat people’s souls! He shook his head to try and clear it.

‘Are— Are you al-alright?’ Coff asked, breaking into Ka’harja’s thoughts.

‘Are you?’ Ka’harja chided. He groaned when Coff jumped. ‘Sorry. I’m… really not okay. I can’t stop thinking of… bad things. I’m freaking out a little…. Can we try talking?’

Coff nodded, pausing to think for a moment. ‘So… y-you said you, uh, h-have the same dreams as your m-mother?’

Ka’harja nodded. ‘Always the same ones. Otherwise I just don’t dream. I don’t know what’s up with it—’

‘—It’s dream walking!’ Coff exclaimed. ‘It’s— That’s what dr-dream walking is. You don’t— Don’t d-dream unless it’s someone else’s dream. You… had an Eigh-Eight Star t-tapestry in your house… how did you n-not… realise….’

Ka’harja stopped and stared at Coff for a long while. Then he laughed and continued walking. ‘I’m not a dream walker! I’m not that special!’

B-By the M-Moons, he’s as st-stubborn as his m-mother,’ Coff whispered under his breath.

Ka’harja didn’t bother to respond, and let him think he’d gone unheard. But the thought of his mother made him anxious. ‘So, what’s alchemist’s wheeze like? How long has she had it for?’

‘Years,’ said Coff. ‘But I— I think the tr-trauma from the sm-smoke triggered the severe stages. H-How d-did you not n-notice how bad her breathing was getting? The changes in her v-voice alone would have—’

‘—I noticed that she sounded different!’ Ka’harja snapped. He softened his voice when Coff flinched. ‘I told her, but she said she was alright. I didn’t know that it was because she was sick— How could I have known? All I know is what she’s told me.’

The sound of Coff’s sigh said more than he could have managed with words. It pierced Ka’harja painfully, and he decided that it was best to end their conversation there.

They continued wandering the caves for what they could only assume was hours. Ka’harja ached, and Coff didn’t sound much better as he panted and staggered along. They needed to rest but… they couldn’t. Not with so much soulstone around.

Ka’harja looked into a smaller cave as they passed, only to realise it was completely black inside. His heart skipped a beat. A dark cave meant no soulstone! They could sit down and rest!

He grabbed Coff’s shoulder and turned him into the cave. Only three or four steps in, the healer collapsed on the floor and curled up. Ka’harja dragged him a little further before lying down nearby.

‘It’s c-cold,’ Coff mumbled.

Ka’harja agreed, and shifted until they were back-to-back. He could feel Coff shivering, and after a moment turned around and put an arm around him, trying to keep him warm.

‘Th-Thank you,’ Coff managed. ‘I’m so t-tired. And hun-hungry.’

‘Me too,’ agreed Ka’harja, curling into his companion. He’d been looking forward to lunch, but now he lay here, hours later, exhausted and cold and tired and feeling like shit. ‘Let’s get some sleep.’


Ka’harja couldn’t tell how much time passed before Coff’s breathing evened out; it felt like an entire day had gone by just lying in the dark. Had it been a day yet? He was so tired… yet he couldn’t sleep. All he could do was listen to the drip-drip-drip of far-off water, and the scrabbling of… rats, maybe? Something small and light and fast. Too far away to matter.

He shuffled closer to Coff and tried to steal what little warmth he could from him.

He was finally drifting off when he realised the strange cave ambience was growing stranger. The rat’s scrabbling was getting closer, and more frantic. Behind it, a heavier, shuffling noise resounded— Like feet being dragged along the floor on their way to bed. A hiss, and then a high-pitch squeal of pain sounded through the cave. It was cut off abruptly by a crunch, falling pebbles and loud, vicious laughter.

Coff sat bolt upright and let out a shriek of his own. Ka’harja quickly covered his mouth with a hand to muffle him, but it was too late. The cave had gone completely silent, except for the dripping water.

A feeling of dread washed over Ka’harja as the quiet shuffling came back. He leant over Coff and held his breath; perhaps whatever it was wouldn’t see them in the darkness? He wasn’t sure how long he could cope— His heart was beating so hard it was impossible to hear anything else.

Then a shadow appeared at the cave entrance and both boys tensed. It was grotesque. Humanoid, but its silhouette was twisted; hunched over like an ugly, malnutritioned monkey with a bobblehead that was fitted wrong.

The only consolation for Ka’harja was that it was tiny. It was barely the size of a foxen man; only half the height of Coff and twice as thin, in its crouched form. He could kick it away easily and bolt—

A second shadow appeared and Coff’s grip on Ka’harja tightened. Ka’harja didn’t dare to breathe, no matter how much his chest hurt.

As he watched, the second silhouette slowly raised a limp form to its mouth, and a sickening crunch filled the cave.

The first creature turned abruptly and smacked its companion. ‘THAT’S MINE AS MUCH AS YOURS!’ it shouted.

Ka’harja took this chance to let out his breath and take another.

‘I caught it!’ the second creature complained. ‘You were too busy drinking to see it!’

‘We agreed to share all our food!’

‘I haven’t eaten the whole thing, Kerkek, you dying antelope!’ the second creature hit its companion. ‘I took one bite!’

‘A big one, too, I bet! You never share, Duk! You never share with me! Magagni would be ashamed!’

‘Don’t bring mother into this!’ Duk responded. ‘She’d tell you to stop throwing a tantrum and go hunt for yourself!’

Ka’harja nearly laughed at the outburst; the arguing was childish, if not absolutely pathetic, and his fear ebbed away. He gave a small cough and the cave fell silent.

‘Hello?’ Kerkek questioned the darkness. ‘Gilip? Is that you? I’ll rip your nose off if you’re hiding in shadows again!’

‘I’m not Gilip,’ Ka’harja chuckled. ‘My name’s Ka’harja.’

‘Kar-har-sa?’ Duk snickered. ‘That’s not goblin! What are you? An orc? A kobold? Some sort of weird soft-flier who’s learned how to speak?’

Sha, with a shh,’ Ka’harja clarified. ‘And I’m foxen.’

‘Ooh, I love foxens!’ Kerkek exclaimed. ‘You’re all so easy to make eye contact with! Is it only you in there?’

Coff tugged on Ka’harja’s arm, desperately trying to keep him from saying anything else; but Ka’harja figured honesty would be safest.

‘I’m with a friend,’ he said. ‘We’re lost.’

‘Well come out of the shadows, come out of the shadows!’ Kerkek’s exaggerated motions made him look even more chimp-like as he scrambled to stand upright. ‘Let’s get a look at you and see if we can make a deal!’

‘A deal?’ Ka’harja asked, tugging the resisting Coff out of the cave with him. ‘What do you mean “a deal”?’

‘Well, directions don’t come free!’ Duk cackled. ‘You pay for what you get!’

‘Pl-Please don’t h-hurt us,’ stammered Coff.

Duk and Kerkek stared at the boys as they came into the soulstone-lit passageway… and the boys stared back at the goblins. They weren’t so bad, up close. They had skin as green as a seces, dotted with warts and out of place hairs— But their smiles were wide and their eyes surprisingly sweet as they looked the boys over.

‘Wow,’ Kerkek exclaimed. ‘You’re a tall one!’

‘Attractive, too,’ Duk gave a wistful sigh and started to fan herself with her hand. ‘It’s a shame you’re a couple, or I might have made the payment marriage!’

‘We’re not—’ Ka’harja didn’t finish the sentence before Coff stamped on his foot. His voice broke, but he barely missed a beat when he realised the second half of Duk’s sentence. ‘Very rich! We don’t have too much money.’

‘Come again?’ Kerkek cocked his head and scratched a few large pimples on his chin.

‘W-We d-don’t have any m-money,’ Coff managed. He dug through his pockets. ‘I only h-have, uh, th-three gold—’

‘—Why would we want gold?’ Duk frowned. ‘There’s a nugget the size of a bear a few hundred meters down.’

‘Useless lump of metal!’ Kerkek agreed.

‘Then what do you want?’ Ka’harja bit his lip. There wasn’t really too much they could give them.

‘I’m glad you ask!’ Kerkek started down the cave, motioning for the others to follow. ‘We —my sister and I— are artists!’

‘And not just your mediocre rock-carvers, either!’ Duk screeched happily. ‘We’re soulstone carvers!’

Ka’harja laughed, trying to keep the two in a good mood with conversation. The goblins were their only chance out of the caves; they couldn’t risk being abandoned. ‘I thought that was a felinic art!’

‘It is, it is!’ Kerkek chuckled. ‘We learnt it in the great Gallamor!’

‘You’ve been to the Gallamor?’ Ka’harja hoped his interest didn’t sound too fake. He couldn’t care less about foreign countries, at the moment. All he cared about was getting out of the cave.

‘We’ve been all over the planet!’ Duk exclaimed. She met Ka’harja’s eye and gave an exaggerated flutter of her lashes that turned his stomach. ‘We’re cultured, you know. We sell our art to all kinds of people all over the world!’

‘Yes! And not just art! Items too!’ Kerkek motioned to a small cave with a flick of his wrist. ‘That’s our studio, go in. We’ll join you in a second.’

Duk looked confused. ‘We’re not going in? Why?’

‘I’m hungry!’ Kerkek complained. ‘I’m going to go hunt something!’

Duk threw the headless rat at him. ‘Eat that, I want to start carving!’

Grumbling like a child through a mouthful of rodent, Kerkek pushed past his sister and into the crevice, where he disappeared into the cave beyond.

Coff was next, following nervously. He gave Ka’harja a look as he entered; a mix of terror and frustration. Ka’harja could almost hear the man’s thoughts.

If we die, I’m going to kill you!

‘Go on, handsome!’ Duk exclaimed, planting her hand on Ka’harja’s butt. ‘Wish I was carvin’ this!’

Ka’harja felt like his internal organs were going to fail on him just to save him from the embarrassment of the situation. He’d barely managed to enter the cave when Kerkek was upon him, shoving animal skulls in his face.

‘This is from a rabbit we killed in Tcku! And this one is a dragon skull from under Yjula!’ Kerkek flashed the skulls so quickly Ka’harja barely had time to see them.

Duk started jumping up and down in excitement. ‘NO! NO! I KNOW ONE HE’LL LIKE!’

Before Ka’harja could refuse, a skull was thrust into his arms. He didn’t want to look at it, and at first looked over to Coff, who looked faint with worry, staring at what the goblins had pressed into his arms. Slowly, Ka’harja forced himself to look. He was expecting something like a dog skull, or maybe the skull of another goblin, with the way Coff was staring…. He screamed when he saw it and instinctively dropped it.

Kerkek caught it with a laugh ‘Got this about nine years ago from under the Heck’ne!’ he exclaimed. ‘Ripped it right out of a foxen’s head, we did!’

‘He was dying, anyway,’ Duk shrugged, and waved a hand to dismiss Ka’harja’s sputtering. ‘We just… finished him quickly. He barely knew it was happening!’

There was a thump as Coff fell to the floor, unconscious.

Ka’harja quickly dropped to his knees and tried to revive him; unsure how the goblins would react. He heard them whispering and twitched an ear to listen.

If he’s dead, I have dibs on his brain,’ Kerkek whispered to his sister.

If he’s dead, I have dibs on his boyfriend,’ Duk whispered back.

It took a second, but Coff’s eyes fluttered open and he groaned. Ka’harja helped him sit, supporting his weight with the back of his hand.

Kerkek flashed the skull in Coff’s face with an impish grin. ‘You want to buy it?’

‘No, thank you,’ replied Ka’harja. ‘We’re not into bones.’

‘Suit yourself,’ Kerkek replied. He rolled the skull away like a ball and turned to his sister. ‘Which do you want?’

‘I want the tall one!’ Duk exclaimed. ‘I want to memorise every nook and cranny on that handsome face of his.’

‘Can we just get this over with?’ Ka’harja sighed.

Pshht, fine,’ Kerkek rolled his eyes. ‘Sit still.’


Ka’harja had to admit, the goblins were skilled artists. The statues were impressively made. Accurate, smooth, and detailed; they almost looked like actual people who’d been absorbed by the rock.

And the goblins hadn’t been rude while carving. They’d held quite pleasant, if not odd, conversation…. In fact, the worst part of the whole experience for Ka’harja was watching Duk try to impress him by bending backwards so far she’d folded herself in half and stuck her head between her legs.

‘And that’s the exit,’ Kerkek pointed. ‘Leads you right to the river. Don’t trip on your way out!’

‘Or do, and fall into my arms,’ Duk gave a wistful sigh, her chest heaving with the breath.

‘You’d be crushed,’ Kerkek grumbled.

‘Only physically!’ she snapped back. Then she turned to Ka’harja and gave what looked like it was supposed to be a seductive wink. ‘If he leaves, the emotional burden may be too much.’

Ka’harja took a deep breath and gave an awkward wave. ‘See you… later.’

‘Ka’harja!’ Coff called from down the cave. ‘Ka’harja, it’s the m-middle of the n-night!’

‘What?’ Ka’harja exclaimed, hurrying to his companion’s side. He stared out the cave’s opening into the dark, cloudy night and cursed viciously.

‘Is something the matter?’ Duk asked, stalking up to the boys in a strange, chimp-like stance.

Ka’harja nodded. ‘We’ve wasted the whole day in this cave! We were supposed to be collecting herbs!’

‘For your sickly mother?’ she clicked her tongue sadly. ‘Oh dear. Maybe we can help?’

‘It won’t be free,’ Kerkek hissed, shoving his sister. ‘We already gave them cheap directions!’

Cheap? Ka’harja almost laughed. They’d spent hours posing for the artists and only gotten twenty minutes of guidance in turn. That certainly wasn’t—

‘I KNOW IT WON’T BE FREE!’ Duk snapped. Then she coughed and shook herself down, returning to her sweet tone as she turned to the boys. ‘I’m so sorry about my brother, he’s insensitive.’

‘Ay, I’m a goblin, what do you want from me?’ rolling his eyes, Kerkek pushed himself up straight, almost doubling his height. ‘What herbs do you want?’

‘Just falki lea-leaves,’ Coff mumbled. ‘Half a jar should do.’

‘Half a jar?’ Duk frowned. ‘What size jar are we talking about?’

‘W-Wolven medical standard—’ he cut off when the goblins shrugged and pulled faces. ‘Um, I mean, a l-litre jar.’

‘Oh, we can fill that easy!’ Duk exclaimed. ‘Falki leaves are great for making tattoo ink with, and Nappo always keeps them around.’

‘But that means you definitely have to pay us upfront,’ Kerkek explained. ‘Something he’d trade for…. Duk? What’s he like?’

‘Meat. Bugs. Fingers. Hair—’

‘—My ponytail!’ Coff exclaimed, tugging a knife out of his pocket. ‘Pl-Please, take it, and g-get us the h-herbs from— From Nappo!’

Ka’harja almost gagged as the blade sliced through Coff’s long, golden half-braid. His hair was as long than he was tall! And now he’d cut it off above the tie, leaving him with a messy almost-nothing style. He held it out to the goblins, who considered it seriously.

‘That’s a bit… much for a jar of herbs, don’t you think?’ Kerkek frowned. ‘We don’t want to overcharge. We have a reputation to keep.’

‘Then give us something else with it!’ Coff snapped, the remnants of his anxious self disappearing in his frustration. He was almost like an entirely different person. ‘A statue or s-something!’

‘A statue of what?’ Duk asked.

‘I don’t care! Surprise me!

She looked to her brother, who nodded, and then hurried down the cave with Coff’s ponytail.

She returned quickly, though the wait felt like forever to Ka’harja. He wanted to get back to his mother. And eat something; he was starving.

‘Here is your jar,’ Duk held out the herbs to Coff, who examined them closely. ‘And a statue. It’s a falcon. Though it’s old. A few chips and not the best made; it looks a bit like a pigeon.’

Ka’harja took the statue from her. He tried not to cringe as she ran her hand over his own, and forced himself to smile. ‘We should go.’

‘I’ll see you again, won’t I?’ Duk asked. ‘You’re too cute to vanish into the night!’

Ka’harja bit his lip. He hoped he never saw her again, but he wasn’t going to tell her that. ‘Maybe. I mean, you’re travellers! So who knows what’ll happen.’

Duk seemed satisfied with this answer; her brother did not. He grabbed her arm and pulled her down the tunnel, mumbling in their native tongue as she protested.

‘Don’t be a scrumble-butt!’ he snapped as they turned down a side cave.

‘I’M NOT A SCRUMBLE-BUTT!’ Duk shrieked, and the pair’s heavy footsteps slapped down the tunnel as they chased each other and argued.

‘L-Let’s go,’ Coff’s sigh made Ka’harja jump. He sounded exhausted.

Ka’harja nodded and stumbled into the long grass ahead of his friend.

‘Whoa!’ Ka’harja exclaimed, his foot sending a flurry of rocks rolling into the river. ‘Careful! It’s steep, and the river’s closer than I thought!’

Coff carefully made his way to Ka’harja and the two looked around for a moment, getting their bearings. It was almost pitch black; the clouds covered all but the smallest shimmer of the pink moon and the water reflected nothing in the night.

Ka’harja felt a surge of panic; they were lost! They were—

‘Th-There’s a l-light over there,’ Coff exclaimed, and Ka’harja strained to see which direction he was facing. ‘I think i-it’s th-the camp…. If not, um… at least we’ll find s-someone, right?’

‘Yeah,’ Ka’harja agreed, brushing his tail against Coff; as much for the healer’s comfort as for his own. ‘It’s our best guess.’

Before he could start across the field, he felt Coff’s hand enclose around his— Or, he hoped it was Coff’s and that Duk hadn’t come back. He felt an anxious squeeze as Coff pressed against him and let out a long breath.

‘You alright?’

‘Yeah, I j-just don’t w-want to g-get separated,’ Coff stuttered, sounding more like himself.

Ka’harja nodded, and the two made their way towards the small light in the distance.

They were halfway when they heard Koko give a shout:


Ka’harja finally felt like he could breathe again. He didn’t even realise he had broken into a run until Coff let go of his hand and trailed behind at a distance.

He nearly slammed into a caravan in his haste to get back to his mother. He veered to the side to avoid it— And collided with Sken.

‘Where in the everlasting expanse of the darkest corners of the sky have you been!’ she snapped. ‘We thought— HEY! Come back here! I’m not done with you, Ka’harja! Coff? COFF! Get back here! Don’t ignore me you— Coff!’

Ka’harja nearly leapt up the stairs to see his mother; she jolted upright when he burst through the door and collapsed in a heap on the floor.

‘Ka’harja!’ Distro exclaimed, rolling out of the bed and grabbing her son in a hug. ‘I was so worried! Where have you been? Are you okay? You’re not hurt are you? Have you eaten? You’re covered in dirt! You look like you fell into a cave!’

‘Spot on,’ Ka’harja mumbled, rolling onto his back as Coff stepped over him and dropped his satchel on his workbench. ‘I fucking…. I hate goblins. I hate them!’

Distro leant over him and kissed his cheek. ‘Tell me everything.’

‘Yes! Tell us everything!’ Sken panted from the doorway. ‘Explain why we had to miss an entire day of travel because a “twenty-minute” scavenger hunt took over eight hours!

‘Eight hours?’ Ka’harja swallowed. ‘That’s how long we were gone?’

‘At least!’ Sken growled. ‘We stopped counting when the clouds got too thick to see the time!’

Ka’harja gave a pathetic whine. ‘I’m hungry.’

Sken’s entire body seemed to shrink as she sighed, her gills squealing, and she sat on Distro’s abandoned bed. She rubbed between her eyes for a moment before flicking the barb on her tail and jumping up. ‘I’ll get Coborn to make you boys some dinner, and then you can tell us everything,’ she paused at the door. ‘I’m glad you’re both okay. Don’t you dare worry us like that again.’


The next morning was painful. Both physically and emotionally.

Ka’harja didn’t want to get out of bed, but his mother didn’t give him a choice. She was awake before him, a rare occurrence, and thwopped him with her pillow until he got the hint and moved his leg off her tail. She climbed over him like she was scaling a large rock and landed heavily on the floor.

‘Where a-are you g-going?’ Coff yawned into his book. ‘You shouldn’t b-be getting out of b-bed.’

‘Well I’m gonna; unless you want me to shit on the floor!’ Distro snapped back, cocking her head and pursing her lips as she met the healer’s eye.

Coff flicked an ear and clicked his tongue. ‘Ah. Um, alright. D-Don’t wander off again though.’

Distro opened the door, and the chill air hit Ka’harja like the horrible realities of the previous week flooding back to him. He tried to shake the thoughts out of his head as he sat up and wrapped his blanket around himself tightly in an attempt to conserve heat. He wished he’d worn more than his shorts to bed.

He glanced at Coff, sitting in his chair in nothing but his underwear and sleeveless undershirt, and shook his head. Something seemed off about the healer, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Something about the way he was sitting, maybe? With his feet in the table and his book in his lap?

Ka’harja sighed, trying to ignore whatever his head was telling him he missed, and licked his lips anxiously. ‘Aren’t you cold?’

‘Mm? O-Oh no, I, uh, don’t feel the c-cold too much,’ Coff stammered. ‘Actually I’m, um, a b-bit too hot. I’m— My pa’ was wolven, so….’

‘Oh, that explains your skin, then,’ Ka’harja blurted. ‘I was wondering why you were so pale. I mean, you’re not as pale as my mum, of course. Her dad was wolven, too.’

‘Yeah, sh-she said,’ an awkward quiet followed Coff’s shrug, only broken by the boys outside whooping in excitement and shouting something at Distro. Coff bit his pencil as he turned around and leant his elbows on the back of his chair. ‘Are you part wolven? Your mother —your biological one— sh-she looked foxen, but you’re a lot taller than her.’

‘My parents were twins,’ Ka’harja sucked the air through his teeth and grinned anxiously. ‘I come from a long line of Har’pies.’

Coff looked away. ‘I-I’m sorry, I d-didn’t th-think about— Forgot— I’m s-s-sor—’

‘—It’s fine,’ Ka’harja told him, waving a hand dismissively. ‘Forgetting is a good thing. I’m glad people don’t look at me and think “Har’py” you know?’

Coff took a deep breath. ‘It must b-be h-hard to have your her-heritage.’

‘I like to think of myself as a Nigelle,’ Ka’harja admitted. ‘Kay’oten may be my biological mother, but Distro’s my real mum. Besides, what’s better than seven generations of travelling prostitutes for grandmothers?’

Coff choked, covering his mouth so he didn’t laugh. ‘Seven g-generations?’

‘At least seven; we have no idea how many more because the family history got lost in a raid when my great-great-great grandmother was travelling through Dohl.’

‘Distro’s family is from the Yali conti-tinent?’ Coff gave an excited half-laugh. ‘So’s mine— The, uh, wolven side. My grandfather moved to Canis from, um, T-Turent!’

‘We can trace our history back to Kutu,’ Ka’harja grinned. ‘If you follow mother-to-mother, that is. She also has some Gorut blood in her on one of her grandfather’s sides, though it’s… pretty far back.’

‘W-Wow, they really did tr-travel,’ Coff chuckled.

Ka’harja couldn’t help grinning at him; without his anxieties, Coff held himself quite well. And it was nice to see his smile. It was an unusual one, with a gold tooth and another missing, but it was friendly— And it looked better on him than his wide-eyed anxiety. Seeing Coff relax made Ka’harja feel better about his own nervous thoughts. Like he could be like Coff, and calm himself down enough to enjoy himself.

‘What abou-about your grandpa’s s-side? Distro’s father,’ Coff asked. ‘What…. What’s he l-like?’

‘Well, I’ve never actually met my granddad, but Mum said he raised her since she was six or seven,’ he explained. Coff snickered as Ka’harja’s tail began to wag and he slammed a hand down on it to try and stop it moving, feeling himself blush; he usually had good control over himself but talking about his grandfather always got him excited. ‘Apparently he’s rich— And buys her literally everything she could ever want, even when she tells him not to. He sends me gifts, too. Though he doesn’t seem to know much about me— But it’s great that he loves me enough to send me things! It’s usually fancy clothes and jewellery —which you can probably tell I’m not into— but I keep it all anyway. I have an entire box of….’

Coff’s smile disappeared as Ka’harja trailed off.

The break in his voice was enough to make the room feel colder and smaller than it had ever felt before. ‘I mean…. I… had… an entire box of silken socks with floral patterns and dragons sewn into them….’

They sat in silence. Ka’harja felt the tightness in his chest returning as his lower jaw began to tremble. A gurgled sob escaped him and he felt himself burst into tears.

Distro kicked the door open.

‘WHO WANTS SOME FUCKING SOUP?!’ she exclaimed, her voice as rough as the door’s squeaky hinges. ‘I HAVE SEVEN BOWLS— Ka’harja? Sweetheart? Are you alright?’

He wasn’t. He wasn’t alright; nothing was alright. And nothing was going to be alright ever again!

I want to go home,’ he sobbed at the floor.

His mother hurriedly deposited her armful of bowls on Coff’s desk and pulled her son into a hug. ‘I know, Sweetheart. I do, too. But it’s going to be okay.’

Ka’harja shook his head. ‘How? We’ve lost everything!’

‘We haven’t lost each other,’ Distro rasped, her already crackly voice breaking. ‘We’ve lost a lot, but not everything.

It didn’t feel true. It felt like a lie, even though he knew it wasn’t. They had no home anymore. What were they supposed to do? How could anything ever be okay again?

His mother’s hand rubbed down his back and he felt himself let out a shudder. His brain knew she was right, but he couldn’t convince himself to listen. He closed his eyes and tried to will away the sadness. He still had his mother. He hadn’t lost her. Was he even allowed to be sad when he’d been lucky enough for her to survive? Or was he just trying to be upset?

‘Once we get to Kokako Boaka, I’ll write to my dad, okay?’ Distro lifted her son’s face so she could look him in the eye, and tenderly wiped away his tears. ‘He’ll send us some money so we can get settled in another house. And we can start over again. It won’t be the same living in town, I know, but who knows; it might be fun. We’ll make new friends and go to bars and get drunk— And we can graffiti on people’s letterboxes if we don’t like them.’

Ka’harja felt a laugh escape him as his mother leant in close.

And imagine all the houses we can break into,’ she whispered so quietly he nearly missed it. ‘All the new things we can steal.

Another laugh found it’s way through Ka’harja’s sobs and he pulled away from his mother and wiped his nose on his arm.

She grabbed the crooked bridge between two fingers and shook his head side-to-side. ‘Now, are you going to stop being a sook and eat breakfast, or do I have to give you another hug?’

Ka’harja couldn’t help but giggle. He inhaled, deep and calming, and opened his arms for his mother. She squeezed him tightly and he felt his grief escape his body alongside his breath.

When they pulled away, Distro turned and grabbed a bowl of soup off Coff’s workbench. She passed it to Ka’harja, who dipped a finger in. It had gotten cold while they’d talked, but it still smelt alright. He downed the bowl easily, and Distro passed him another.

‘Coff? Aren’t you going to eat?’ Distro asked.

Coff shook his head. ‘I ate b-before you got up.’

‘More for me, then,’ Ka’harja sniffed, downing his third bowl. ‘What about you, Mum?’

‘I had breakfast before coming back,’ she grinned. ‘That’s why I took so long.’

‘So you g-got him s-seven bowls to eat on his own?’ Coff frowned. ‘That’s, um… a l-lot.

‘To be fair, one was for you,’ Distro scoffed. ‘And besides, if my boy’s hungry he eats. I won’t have it any other way!’

Coff shrugged and turned back to his work. ‘D-Do you think you…. I mean, uh….’

‘Do I think I what?’ Distro asked, stretching. ‘Do I think I’m hot? Yeah. I know that’s true.’

Ka’harja chuckled.

‘I-I mean, do you think you’ll need any, um, special changes in your m-medication?’ Coff bit his lip. ‘Being, uh, h-half dragon?’

‘Hopefully not,’ Distro’s smile disappeared and she sat next to her son. ‘I might need a higher dose, maybe, but that seems about it.’

Coff mumbled something as he continued his work. Then he swore. ‘C-Can one of you help me?’ he asked. ‘I’m not, uh, used to fresh h-herbs. I-I usually get them dr-dried.’

‘Ka’harja and I use fresh herbs all the time,’ said Distro. ‘Let me see them.’

Ka’harja watched his mother stand over the healer and point. ‘The moon’s leaf is fine, but the cortcor berries are a little underripe, see the orange colouration? Put them in some sugar-water until they’re a brighter red.’

‘W-Will that w-work?’ amazed, Coff put the berries aside and wrote a quick note.

‘For cortcor berries it does,’ Ka’harja chimed in, leaning over the two and brushing some pale green berries away from the rest. ‘Not for the julijun, though, the sugar makes them lose their potency. You need to pick them ripe or they’re useless for anything but replanting.’

Coff nodded and scribbled down another note. ‘Wh-What about the a-acorns? I’m not s-sure if they’re o-okay or— Or if they’re going bad.’

Ka’harja picked one up and bit into it. ‘Tastes fine to me.’

The healer looked at him, horrified. ‘You’re n-not even go-going to….’

Ka’harja swallowed. ‘Not going to what?’

‘Shell them?’

Ka’harja frowned. ‘You only shell them if you’re using them for potions, I thought?’

Coff put his face in his hands and let out a long, pained sigh as Ka’harja ate the rest of the acorn, cap and all.

‘He’s like a squirrel,’ Distro snickered.

‘Squirrels do-don’t eat the sh-shells,’ Coff corrected. ‘He’s like a…. A….’

‘Compost bin?’

‘Hey, I’m right here, you know!’ Ka’harja snapped playfully, finishing the last bowl of soup. ‘Dammit.’

‘Still hungry, bin-boy?’ Distro asked. She grinned when Ka’harja nodded. ‘There was a lot more leftover. I don’t think anyone will mind if you have another bowl.’

‘You— You just had s-seven bowls of soup!’ Coff exclaimed. ‘How are you st-still wanting m-more?’

Ka’harja shrugged. ‘I always eat this much.’

Coff looked like he’d been struck. Then he shook his head. ‘You must exercise a l-lot, th-then.’

‘Nope,’ Distro cackled. ‘He’s a lazy little shit.’

Another look of confusion and horror passed over Coff. ‘Then how are you so… w-well, you’re not exactly thin, but… how are you not…. How?’

Ka’harja shrugged. ‘Probably the same reason I’m so tall.’

‘And what reason’s th-that?’ asked Coff.

‘Drank too many fucked up potions,’ Ka’harja grinned. ‘You know I burp pink mist sometimes!’

‘You… burp pink mist?’ Coff stared, open-mouthed, for what felt like a solid minute before he pulled open a drawer and took out a notebook. ‘Ka’harja, you have to let me study you! Pl-Please! This is insane! I’ve never met anyone so weird— I-I mean, not w-weird, uh… I mean… y-you’re… v-very—’

‘—It’s fine, I know I’m fucked up,’ Ka’harja chuckled. ‘Study away!’

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