“Oh—they came!” Elna cried. Kennick looked up from his nest by the hearth as the girl hurried over to the door and stood up on her toes to look through the window.

Tiny dots of light undulated past the glass.

“Fireflies?” Kennick said.

“Come here—“ Elna waved him over.

Kennick picked himself up and crept to the door to look.

“Däkhama,” Elna said. A group of the glowing orbs sat around the edge of the bowl Elna had stationed on the end of the porch. The milk inside rippled gently, like small tongues disturbed the surface.

“Momma says they’re the heartbeat of the world. The observers. They come and watch all creatures, and they give off certain vibes that help things stay in balance, especially between humans and mythical creatures. Da says they can predict earthquakes and stuff too.”

Kennick squinted, trying to see the creatures through their light, but he couldn’t. “How?”

“Don’t know,” Elna said. “But they come to visit if you put out milk and sugar just when it’s starting to get dark.” She smiled at him. “We’ve been doing this a long time, so they all know this is a good place to come for snacks.”

Kennick watched some flit away from the bowl while others crammed into their spot along the rim. Some were sniffing around the grass off the porch like glowing bumblebees.

“If you’re mean to them, the forest becomes a very sinister place,” Elna’s mother said, from by the fire.

“Do they let you near them?” Kennick said, raising a little higher to see better.

Elna grinned and reached for the doorknob. Kennick backed up as she carefully unlatched and opened the door. She peeked her face out, listening, waiting.

Kennick glanced back. The family was watching the ordeal.

Elna’s father got up and went to the kitchen. He opened a drawer and scooped some loose, granulated sugar into a small bowl. He handed it to Kennick.

Elna pulled her head back into the house. “All right,” she said. “They seem to be in a social mood.”

“How can you tell?” Kennick said, quietly.

“You can just feel it.” She stepped out onto the porch, gesturing for Kennick to follow.

He carefully slithered out onto the wooden boards. The air outside felt industrious, but the feel of it filled more and more with curiosity, directed at him. He gently closed the door behind him.

A few däkhama drifted up to Elna’s face.

“Hello,” she said, smiling.

The dots of light began to gravitate toward Kennick.

“Stay still,” Elna said. “Let them sniff you.”KEln_Dakhama_2

Kennick complied. He tried to hold his breath as they hung around his face, landing on his arms, his hair, his long, serpentine lower body. They were warm creatures.

One alighted on his nose, and he felt very tiny grippers, like caterpillar feet. He tried to see it through the light. It was vaguely star-shaped, full-bodied, but he couldn’t see much more than the blurred outline.

“Do they sting?” he whispered. The däkhama on his nose took to the air again, skimming back to the milk bowl.

“No,” Elna took some of the sugar from him and a handful of the creatures left their investigation of Kennick to eat it from her hands. “Don’t worry.”

Gradually, the rest of the däkhama began to lose interest in the human shapeshifter, and filtered away to continue their meal, or to take sugar from Elna or the bowl in Kennick’s hands.

“So—if you’re nice to them, they tell their friends, and the supernatural doesn’t really target you?”

“More or less.”

Kennick raised his gaze to the hundreds of soft lights floating around the yard. He sat back. “Wow.”


A/N: Where Kennick is from, to be a mage commands a measure of volatility–which can be difficult to control. In the vast, notoriously dangerous forests of Dilikí, such sensitivity carries a very different meaning.

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