"So." A voice jolted Essairyn back. She whipped her head in the direction of the voice. It was the fox.
"You know magic. I suppose that was how you defeated that beast demon," the small animal conjectured, revealing herself from behind a bush. Although it seemed like she had run away, curiosity had gotten the better of her senses. She trailed after the two when she saw the demon struggle against the girl.
Essairyn looked at the fox, deadpan. "Yeah. And I suppose you left me again to your pursuers."
The fox smiled tersely, "Well you were stronger than them anyway."
A corner of Essairyn's mouth twitched up fleetingly on her impassive face. "I don't suppose you also left me for dead too; although, I suppose you came back this time." She couldn't help teasing the fox in a mocking manner in order to figure out its intentions.
"Ouch, touché," the fox winced, "It's not like I know you or anything..."
"Huh, but if you knew me, would you still leave me like one of your 'friends'?" Essairyn snapped sarcastically.
The fox's eyes widened momentarily before she turned her head away. "I don't have friends... anymore." The last word came as a whisper as the fox's face turned dark. There was a hint of sadness in her voice and on her face. At this response, Essairyn wondered just what was the story behind the man's words from earlier. She must have been strong enough at one point to offend them so greatly as to make them pursue her upon reincarnation. That also made her question why she was so weak. Did reincarnation make one weaker than before?
"Besides, what are you even doing in this forest?" the fox queried, evading Essairyn's questioning look.
The girl gazed at the fox cautiously. "You haven't told me why both of those demons were after you. And how do I know you're not a demon too? Seeing as I saved you twice, I think I ought to know."
The little creature sighed, her white-tipped ears bending downwards in exasperation. "Look, I'm not a demon; I'm a spirit. I know that demon's words didn't give you the best impression of me...or that I had left my problems with you twice..but I assure you, I'm not going to hurt you or leave you again."
"Right..." Essairyn breathed dismissively with a sidelong glance. This fox was already talking about not leaving her. So did that mean she planned to tag along? This as well as the fox's following and approaching her was suspicious. "So.. the Spirit and Demon Forest." At the very least, she had someone to talk to about this world.
The small fox perked her ears up and got up on all fours. She scampered over to Essairyn and started circling and sniffing her.
"Wha..." Essairyn started questioningly, picking up her foot to move away from the fox's nose.
The fox lifted her snout towards the girl. Her hazel eyes were bright as she exclaimed, "You're not from around here, are you? Are you a traveler, perhaps?"
"A traveler..?" Essairyn repeated.
"Yeah! Travelers are people who come from another world! That would explain why you're wearing such unsuitable clothes for a forest," the fox resolved, sitting down on it haunches with pricked ears.
Essairyn had to admit, the fox was rather cute, especially with its big eyes, large ears, and small body. And the way it looked triumphantly up at her was adorable. But still, she couldn't be sure how safe this little animal was until she learned more about spirits. She was glad, however, to learn about travelers. If the fox wasn't dangerous after all, perhaps she could help Essairyn learn more about this world since it seemed her sudden arrival wasn't unordinary.
The girl turned her eyes toward the expectant fox. "Look, despite our doubtful start, I need to learn more about this world. I'm probably one of those travelers you described. So, if you can teach me about how this world works and the sort of creatures or whatever that exists here, I can possibly help you with your pursuers," Essairyn bargained.
The fox's eyes lit up. "Well," she began thoughtfully, "I suppose until I regain most of my former power back, I could use some protection..." The fox huffed in annoyance at her predicament before continuing, "But what are you planning to do now? Stay in the forest or..?"
"Travel," Essairyn immediately answered. "I want to explore this world," she grinned brightly. Traveling the globe on Earth was something she had always aspired to do. So hitchhiking in this world was an appealing replacement.
"So you're an adventurer too, huh?" The fox's eyes twinkled.
"Yes, would you like to travel with me?" the girl asked. She could already guess the fox's answer. As long as the fox was going to take advantage of her, she might as well too.
"Of course! I love adventures," the fox beamed. "By the way, my name is Akari, the greatest spirit god in Sol'h'meyr!" she touted proudly, puffing her chest.
Essairyn raised a doubtful brow at Akari's declaration. "The greatest spirit god..? But you can barely defend yourself; not to mention, you're covered in injuries right now," she pointed out.
Akari huffed, "Even the strongest gods are weak right after reincarnation. And I'll heal up after some rest."
"Ah I see," Essairyn mused. It seemed her earlier assumptions about reincarnation had been right. That made her wonder whether if she died here, she would also reincarnate. But considering Akari said gods were weak after reincarnation, that suggested that not everyone was able to be reborn. "And this world..is called Soul..heh-mir?"
"Yes, Sol'h'meyr. The literal translation is the soul-heart mirror," Akari explained, receiving a huh look from Essairyn before she continued, "It means the soul-heart world."
"Soul-heart world..?" Essairyn reiterated blankly.
Akari hummed in quick contemplation. "I guess you haven't been here for that long if you don't even know what the name of the world means," she stated.
"No, I just arrived today," Essairyn confirmed and then added, "But I did make a treehouse after that beast demon."
"A treehouse? In that short span of time?" Akari replied, impressed, "You move quickly, settling into this world. I guess you're going back there now? "
Essairyn shook her head. Again, Akari's friendly nosiness bothered her slightly, but she decided to play it casually. "I was actually looking for some food and water. Do you know a spring or stream nearby?"
The fox mentally pored through her mind map of the forest before confirming, "Yes, there's an underground spring a short distance from here."
"Great, could you lead me to it?" Essairyn figured that she could carve out a wooden bottle of some sort to contain the water.
Akari nodded and trotted off in the direction of the ancient tree. Surprised, Essairyn followed. If the water source was closer to the tree, then it was definitely more convenient. On the way there, she shared a little about herself as per the fox's inquiries. She was an only child, a college sophomore, and a part-time intern. Her past life had been ordinary. The fox shared that she was reincarnating after three thousand years. Once she regained her former powers, she planned to punish those who killed her. But, she didn't elaborate on the details of her death or current pursuers. Essairyn figured she'd eventually find out considering how quickly Akari ran into trouble.
Moving onto the topic of Sol'h'meyr, Akari explained the basics as per the girl's insistence.
"A world is like a mirror, hence the meaning of 'meyr.' A world only exists the way we perceive it, and in a sense, it is superficial. There are many other worlds out there as you can now attest, so a world is a transient reflection of space and time. Soul-heart refers to the way in which this specific world works or is built upon—magic. Magic exists in every creature; every creature is made of magic; it's their life-force. When something is devoid of magic, it is dead.
"While everything is made of magic, not everything has magical ability. In other words, the ability to use magic. The strength of one's innate magical ability lies in their soul. Magical ability can be further strengthened through physical training, in other words, physically practicing their magic, or physical exercise and training of their body to increase magic capacity and strength. We call it strengthening one's soul-heart, the heart which refers to the physical body, and the soul which refers to the magical or spiritual. Even if one doesn't have magical ability, their soul-heart can still be strengthened.
"Then, you get the name of spirits and demons. Spirits were born from the positive or righteous feelings, thoughts, values, and beliefs of humans. Demons are the opposite, but that doesn't necessarily mean spirits are good and demons are bad. They are like light and dark. While the light is seen more positively, the dark doesn't mean it's bad. They're just opposites that balance out the world."
Akari wrinkled her nose in concentration. "I think in some culture of yours, spirits and demons would be akin to yen and yeng..? Or something like that," she added just before they arrived at the ancient tree.
Essairyn nodded, understanding Akari meant the principles of yin and yang. It seemed that her world was very well known in Sol'h'meyr, making it peculiar that the knowledge was only known in one direction. This further reinforced her speculation that she wouldn't be able to return. Just as this thought crossed her mind, she realized that she was at the edge of the grass which circled the ancient tree.
"Where exactly is this spring?" She asked with startled eyes.
"Oh, underneath that huge tree in the center of this grass here," the fox informed a matter of factly.
"That tree?" Essairyn repeated in astonishment. She hadn't even thought to explore the labyrinth of roots below it.
"Yup, it's a pretty cool place. I'd hide out in there if I could, but it's well known among those in the Spirit-Demon Forest."