And just like that, my loves, we've come to the end of And The Forest Whispers. Thank you so much to everyone who's been supportive of me throughout the duration of this fic! Your comments, kudos, and thoughts have meant a lot to me getting through this, and I promise to keep delivering the best content I can to you all here on Archive and my other writing platforms!

Sine, your concept made this into an amazing story! I really hope that you've enjoyed it, and I hope that this fic exceeded your expectations!

And now it's time for some much deserved Nezushi content! Now that Shion's officially immune to belladonna and has begun his journey toward learning a different set of magic, he's starting to develop a life within the Mao tribe where he can be himself without consequences.


"Are you certain you want to do this?" Nezumi asked. He crouched beside Shion on the ground. The sun had long since set, a blur of pink splashing across the sky and breaking apart the dark indigo. Diamond stars peppered the expanse, the moon nowhere in sight.

A perfect night for magic, the Elder had said as he positioned himself on a strange wooden board to be carted down to the bonfire. He'd gone down well before Nezumi brought Shion to the ritual to prepare for the ritual.

"Yes," Shion said, nodding once. A heavy green cloak hung around his shoulders. During the afternoon, the blond witch, Tana, that Nezumi had assisted delivered it to Nezumi's cabin.

For your ritual, she'd said, giving Shion a welcoming smile that made his heart melt. Even though he hadn't begun his rituals, the witches in the Mao village were eager to welcome him. He'd received plenty of smiles and nods as Nezumi guided him down to the bonfire, a large heap of split logs that loomed as Shion approached.

Shion tried hard to ignore the anxiety that gnawed at the edge of his stomach. He hadn't slept well last night. After Nezumi arrived to bring him back to their shared cabin—Nezumi had moved Shion into his cabin without asking, but Shion wasn't complaining—they'd walked together in silence. Shion's fingers trembled.

And then, halfway to the cabin, Nezumi's hand crept out and took hold of Shion's. You look cold, he'd said, and when Shion glanced over at him, it was too dark to see the splash of color on his face.

Thank you, Shion had replied, squeezing Nezumi's hand back.

Nezumi hadn't left him throughout the evening. He'd lingered at Shion's side, fussing about like a mother hen. Shion found it endearing.

But sitting in front of the unlit bonfire now, Shion felt nothing but anxiety twisting through him. His gaze flickered over to the Elder, sitting on the ground on the opposite side of the bonfire. Surrounding him, several men and women dressed in dark, fur-lined cloaks hovered in a semi-circle around the circle, chatting amongst themselves. A woman with short hair laughed at something a man looming beside her whispered.

A tall man with long, glossy black hair scowled at the Elder's side. The Elder, for his part, looked calm, a mug of something hot and herbal in his hand. Shion could smell it from the place where he sat, the cloak protecting him from the cold snow spread out beneath him.

Nezumi sat beside Shion, his shoulder brushing against Shion's. The Elder had informed Shion that he would participate in the ritual alone, but he hadn't mentioned anything about Nezumi not being allowed to stay at his side. Shion was grateful for his presence. Though he would endure whatever the ritual entailed on his own, knowing that Nezumi was sitting beside him and would continue to do so throughout the process quelled some of the nerves.

"Whatever happens," Nezumi murmured, and Shion's skin prickled at the feeling of his warm breath against his cheek. "Just remember that I'm here. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."

Shion nodded. Sweat dripped down his temples despite the winter chill. His eyes flickered to the Elder as he handed his mug to the man looming at his side. He cracked his fingers, and as he lifted his palms into the air, the assembly of men and women surrounding the site of the bonfire went silent.

"Welcome, my friends," he announced, the cool winter wind carrying his voice high above them. "We gather today to observe the arrival of a new witch." He tipped his head toward Shion, whose shoulders shot to his ears. "There have always been those who are born with natural ties to magic. Beyond the walls of our village, those who internalize this magic are scorned, feared, and, oftentimes, slaughtered for embracing their truth."

A low murmur rose from the crowd.

"Hundreds of years ago," the Elder went on, "the Lady of the Forest guided our ancestors to this place. Our magic permeated the trees and the soil, ensuring that future generations would continue these ties to magic. Through this, we have continued to preserve our culture and our spiritual ties to the Lady of the Forest. We thank Her for Her blessing, and with Her will, we welcome a new witch into our order."

The Elder made a sweeping gesture toward Shion. Another murmur of excitement crept from them, and Shion felt Nezumi's shoulder bump against his own. He lowered his head and mumbled a gentle, "Thank you," though he wasn't certain if he was meant to speak. If he wasn't, no one admonished him.

"You were born with impressive magic," the Elder said, addressing Shion this time. "We have taken your plants and crops from the cabin you owned in the small village nearby, the village that has desperately tried to locate ours to no avail. Your magic is impressive. Your skills are advanced for someone who has taught themself, and though you have not made your pacts with plant life, you have survived an attempt on your life through belladonna poisoning."

Shion remembered the burn of the plant's toxins through his body. He remembered how it felt to collapse to the ground and feel his breath rushing out of him. He remembered how it felt to almost die—and he also remembered how good it felt to realize he was alive.

The Elder glanced over at the assortment of villagers. "It is time to light the fire." He turned to regard the man towering at his side. "Sasori, if you would?"

The man picked something off from the ground at the Elder's side. He carried it around the unlit logs and held it out for Shion to take. The dark purple bulbs made Shion's stomach clench. His fingers trembled as he plucked the sprig out of the man's hand.

"Belladonna almost took you from this world," the Elder explained. "Therefore, it makes sense that the first plant you should make a pact with is the one that almost destroyed you."

Shion twisted the sprig of belladonna in his hand. The purple bulbs were unmistakable. He felt Nezumi shift at his side, edging closer. Instead of feeling clustered or self-conscious, Shion felt empowered by Nezumi's presence. He reached out with his free hand and gave Nezumi's hand a squeeze, assuring him without words that he was unharmed, that he was ready to do this ritual and endure whatever it demanded of him.

Half a moment later, Sasori lit the bonfire. Shion watched as the flames licked at the logs, consuming them and spreading rapidly. Shion didn't see when it caught; it happened so quickly, he wondered if Sasori was a witch, too.

The flames consumed the logs, the heat blowing outward and crackling into the evening sky. Shion peered through the haze and saw the Elder chanting low under his breath. All at once, the sounds rose from the semi-circle of villagers.

Shion squeezed the belladonna in his hand. Clutching Nezumi's in his own, Shion closed his eyes and reached down into the plant resting in the palm of his hand. The ritual was simple, in its own right. Shion's goal was to yank the energy from the plant and blend it into his own body. He'd never considered doing such a thing before. He'd pulled strength from plants before, but he'd never tried to combine the toxins with his body for the purpose of making himself immune to its negative side effects.

The light from the bonfire bled through his closed lids, turning the whole world a dark shade of crimson. He exhaled slowly, focusing on the sensation of the belladonna's dark green leaves in his hand, The tips of his fingers brushed over the edges of the leaves, brushing the purple bulbs and remembering how it felt for the poison to twist its way through his veins.

The sounds of the chanting blurred together into a strange buzzing that resonated around him. He could hear Nezumi's voice droning at his side, the words slipping away into the winter wind. Shion didn't focus on the words; instead, he focused on the feeling of the belladonna in his hand, the energy radiating through its little body and the deathly poison that dwelled within.

Pulling the plant's energy into his own body was second nature to Shion at this point. Wind tickled his cheeks, his eyelashes brushing against his cheeks as his eyelids flickered. He urged them to stay closed. If he opened them now, he'd lose his focus, and he'd have to begin the ritual all over again.

It shouldn't have taken long. Shion knew that. Pulling energy from flowers had always been something Shion was good at, a skill he'd mastered over the years. It shouldn't have been different with the belladonna.

Except that it was. As soon as Shion began to pull the plant's strength into his body, he could feel the bite of its toxin in his blood. Pain formed in a prickly ball in the pit of his stomach, steadily growing the longer Shion held the sprig in the palm of his hand.

Sweat trickled down the back of his neck. Shion cradled the plant in his hand, his fingers trembling around it. The warmth of Nezumi's hand in his own kept him grounded as the pain spread through his veins like fire. A dull burning ember cracked through his skin, embedding itself in each inch of his being, wedging itself into his bones and his muscles and his organs.

Yoming couldn't hurt him anymore. The belladonna he'd slipped in Shion's drink couldn't hurt him—hadn't hurt him since the moment he set foot inside the Mao village.

Shion offered a prayer to the Lady of the Forest. He thanked Her for guiding Nezumi to him. He thanked Her for helping him escape Yoming and survive his brush with death. He thanked Her for welcoming him into the Mao village and ensuring that he had a chance to survive in a world that clearly feared magic.

He must have made a sound, because he felt Nezumi's fingers tighten around his own. "You're all right," Nezumi whispered. He'd leaned closer, his lips brushing against Shion's cheek as he spoke. "I'm here. You're all right."

His muscles ached. Shion exhaled and felt the energy from the belladonna spring swirling inside him. His stomach felt painfully tight, the muscles in his arms and legs tightening the longer he sat in front of the bonfire. The heat brushed against his skin, the heavy green cloak sitting around his shoulders and shifting in the gently blowing wind. His spine ached as he sat, painfully still, focusing on the energy from the tiny plant in his hand.

Shion exhaled, the pains prickling through his body beginning to subside. The energy from the belladonna sprig was beginning to sway.

Nezumi brushed his thumb over Shion's knuckles. Shion's skin was slick and cold, but Nezumi's hand warmed him. He leaned into Nezumi's touch, focusing on the feeling of the poison blending into his body, settling into his blood.

And then, as quickly as it had begun, it ended. The light radiating from the sprig of belladonna dissipated as the last droplets of its essence transferred from its broken stalk and into Shion's muscles.

He exhaled and opened his eyes. The bonfire crackling in front of him sent prickles of pain through his retinas. Shion winced, but he focused on opening them again and shoving through the dull ache throbbing in his skull.

It felt similar enough to how he'd felt waking up from the poisoning. But unlike that time, Shion could feel the dull aches vanishing the longer he sat in front of the fire. He dropped the empty sprig of belladonna to the snow in front of him.

The chanting from the assortment of villagers continued, but it was happier this time. Louder. Shion peered through the flames and saw the Elder smiling at him. He continued to chant, but Shion suspected it had shifted into something akin to celebration.

Nezumi squeezed his hand again, and Shion glanced over at him. Nezumi smiled, and it looked beautiful on his face. The flames danced on his cheekbones, sharpening them and heightening his features. His luminous silver eyes sparkled; in them, Shion saw an infinite amount of love. Unconditional and perfect and something Shion never imagined he deserved.

Shion knew that this was just the beginning. There would be more rituals. More chances for him tp heighten his magic and make his pacts. And once those concluded, Shion's education into the magical arts would continue.

But for now, Shion reveled in the warmth radiating from the bonfire. He leaned forward, squeezing Nezumi's hand, reveling in the strength radiating from the other boy. He felt Nezumi's lips brush against his cheek; Shion smiled.

Beneath the dark sky, peppered with stars, Shion listened to the sounds of the Mao villagers chanting, welcoming him into his new home. The forests whispered, the ancient forces embedded within them acknowledging the new witch who'd stepped into their midst and carved a comfortable niche for himself in their midst. Shion exhaled, his breath billowing out in front of him, and reveled in the promise of his new life. The village that'd welcomed him with open arms, and the boy who's love had allowed him to escape the darkness of his old home.

Shion squeezed Nezumi's hand and laughed as the chanting swelled around him, the wind swallowing his happiness and casting it about like a snowstorm, so that the whole world could feel it, too.

The End