Mystic Heart Odyssey – Chapter 11! Lykou and Kuna have a second encounter with a pair of strangers- but things go a bit differently this time.
The next day, Lykou and Kuna finished checking to make sure they had all their belongings together, then turned to the mat Kuna had made for them to sleep on. They didn’t want to leave it behind, but it would be awkward to carry. After some thought, they tried rolling it up to make matters easier. It was awkward and a bit difficult, but eventually they managed it, and tied it up with a thick vine Lykou found on a tree near the stream. With a little more work, they strapped it to Kuna’s back alongside his bag, though he grunted slightly under the weight. It wasn’t especially heavy, but he wasn’t exactly made of muscle, either. Still, he got used to it soon enough, and in any case he had his walking stick to lean on if he needed to.
With a mutual sigh, they looked back on the ideal spot they’d spent the last few nights, then turned and left, with slight reluctance.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll find another good one along the way,” Lykou assured his companion.
“I hope so. I still worry when we don’t have shelter. We’ve been lucky so far, but I don’t want to get stuck out in the rain,” Kuna said, eyeing the sky as they walked. There were some patchy white clouds here and there, but fortunately it seemed mostly clear.
“True,” Lykou said, rubbing his chin. “I don’t suppose you’d be able to make one of those… portable things your people use, would you?”
Kuna frowned and gave it some thought, then shook his head. “Maybe a really basic, kinda small one. But for one thing it’d be awkward to carry since I haven’t the slightest idea how they were made to collapse as neatly as they did. And probably too heavy, too. I never figured out how they made them as durable and light as they were,” He sighed. “And not like anyone was going to bother teaching me.”
Lykou scowled for a moment as he thought about it. But noticing the morose look on sereva’s face, he pushed down the returning anger at his tribe and instead focused on his friend, wrapping an arm around him gently. “Hey, they were just afraid you’d show them up,” he said with a smile. “Probably be better at it than any of them if they let you know that stuff. Cowards like that can’t stand competition.”
The sereva just rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help but smirk a bit. “Yeah, I’m sure that’s it,” he replied sarcastically. “You’re very sweet, Lykou.” He grunted slightly as the konuul helped him up a ledge where the ground separated a bit, then returned the side-hug. “Hey, you know that symbol we saw last night?”
“Yeah? Still thinking about it?” the konuul responded. “Like I said, probably some tribe emblem or something.”
“Yeah, about that,” Kuna continued. “What are those for, anyway? Seems like a lot of people have them.”
Lykou raised an eyebrow in mild surprise. “Well… yeah, they identify the tribe. Didn’t yours have a banner or something?”
The sereva gave him a sidelong flat look. “For who, exactly?” he asked. “We hide, remember?”
“Well… yeah I guess, but, what, you didn’t even meet up with other sereva tribes?”
Kuna thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Rarely. As far as I know, most tribes tend to keep to themselves. I think I remember it happening maybe once or twice. A bunch of the adults got together and talked, but of course I wasn’t exactly invited to those conversations.”
Lykou winced as he saw the bitter look briefly wash over his friend’s face. He gently rubbed the sereva’s back, searching for something to say, but couldn’t think of the right words before Kuna continued.
“I think some actually swapped, some of ours going with them while some of ours joined their tribe, or something. Not sure what that was about, but it’s not like it affected me anyway,” Kuna said, then shrugged and looked back up at Lykou. “So does your village actually get visitors then?”
“Well,” Lykou responded with a shrug and a slightly awkward smile. “Very rarely. Only other tribe nearby is that one ursaran tri-, er, clan, or whatever they call themselves. And they’re not exactly welcome guests. Other than that, though, every once in a long while some visitors from another konuul tribe come to trade stuff for sunstone- usually from one way up north. The Frost… er, something, I can’t quite remember.”
“Hmm… does their, er, banner-thing have three claw marks or something on it?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. Why, have you seen them?”
“We passed through the edge of their territory a couple times. They live up on the side of this big mountain, covered in snow half the year. Not sure why they settled there, doesn’t look very nice. But I think they do something in some caves there. Obviously never got a close look, though.”
“Huh, interesting,” Lykou responded, looking thoughtful. “I remember one time they came by when I was a kid. Brought some mysterious thing that was all wrapped up in cloth, in exchange for sunstone. The chief put it in his home and only he and the elders ever knew what it was. It became a common dare among us kids to try and sneak in to get a look at it, but we always got caught and chased out before even getting close. I still wonder what that thing was…”
“Wow. Sounds interesting,” Kuna replied with an intrigued expression. “I wonder if it was related to whatever they do up in those mountain caves.”
“Could be,” Lykou agreed, then grinned. “Hey, you know, there’s a chance we could pass by there on our way back, depending on what direction home is from here. We could always stop by an-”
“No thanks, I’d rather not,” Kuna said, suddenly looking a bit more anxious.
“Huh? Why not? I’m sure they’d-”
“I just… don’t think it’s a good idea,” the sereva interrupted, anxiously fiddling with his poncho with the hand that wasn’t holding his stick.
Lykou stared at him for a moment, then gently rubbed his shoulder. “I know you’re nervous, but I’ve seen these people. They’re friendly enough,” he assured the sereva. “I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if we stop by and say hello. Again, assuming we even pass by there of course.”
Kuna’s ears folded down. “Just because they’re nice when they visit you doesn’t mean they’re always that way,” he said, glancing over at the konuul. “And they’ve never seen something like me before. What if they’re less, well, welcoming to strangers than you? Not everyone’s as nice as you, Lykou.”
“Why wouldn’t they be? I’ll just introduce us as Ashers, we can tell them our story, and I’m sure they’ll be alright. Hey, they might even decide to accompany us back to Lakefire if we can convince them to do another trade trip,” Lykou replied, then sighed a bit. “By that point, I might even let them have my knife in exchange for guiding us home.”
“You have a very optimistic view of people,” Kuna pointed out, smirking faintly. “Even if they seemed nice in the past, they could take one look at me and-”
Suddenly the two were interrupted as a bunch of commotion behind them announced the arrival of unwelcome company. Lykou quickly readied his spear and turned to meet whoever or whatever they’d heard charging towards them, but before he could raise it to meet the attacker, he and Kuna found themselves pinned down underneath a pair of spears on either side.
“-do that,” was all Kuna could say, his eyes wide with both surprise and fear. Pinning the both of them together was a familiar pair of shakonu- the two they’d originally met several days prior, enjoying a musical, peaceful moment together. Only now they looked different- their limbs were covered in bandages- and one had one on her head- and their fur was dirtier. To put it simply, it looked like they’d had a rough couple days, and were determined to make someone pay for it.
Lykou tried to put on a brave face, but he knew he was no match for the two, with their larger size and better spears- not to mention he knew Kuna wasn’t a fighter, so realistically it was basically two on one.
The one pinning Kuna started saying something, waving her spear menacingly in his face. He shivered and pressed back against Lykou, trying to keep away from the sharp tip. For a moment, his assailant’s angry expression softened slightly, seemingly a little perplexed. She glanced up at her partner and said something else. The other one kept her eyes fixed on Lykou as she held the tip of her spear dangerously close to his throat. She replied to the other, but of course, neither of the boys could understand what was being said.
Thinking quickly, Lykou took a deep breath and slowly dropped his spear and raised his hands. “Drop your stick, Kuna,” he quietly said to his companion, careful not to make any sudden movements.
Kuna gladly complied, trembling in fear, tears forming in the corner of his eyes. Seeming somewhat uncertain, even faintly sympathetic, but still wary, the one watching him slowly backed her spear up a bit- pulling it out of his face but keeping it trained on him nonetheless.
The other asked her something, and the two seemed to argue back and forth for a moment as Lykou continued to nervously wait and avoid any unnecessary movement. The tip of the spear on his side was still way too close for comfort. His assailant snarled, and seemed ready to stab him, but suddenly something strange happened.
Out of nowhere, Kuna and Lykou suddenly felt the faint sensation of someone’s hand touching their shoulders. Both of their assailants’ eyes shot wide open and they backed off almost immediately. When Lykou could safely do so, he glanced down at his shoulder and was similarly surprised to see the mark that the echo had placed on him had reappeared, and was glowing.
“Woah, Kuna, look,” the canid said.
Kuna had been too terrified to pay much mind to the momentary sensation on his shoulder, but finally managed to glance down at Lykou’s urging. His eyes had already been wide with fear, but now it was mixed with pleasant surprise, as the shakonu in front of him completely lowered her weapon.
Both of the attackers seemed notably less hostile, albeit confused. The one on Lykou’s side still looked suspicious, but her partner walked around to her and seemed to urge her to lower her spear, which she did with some reluctance.
The less hostile one then turned to face the two. Kuna had cautiously turned around to follow her with his eyes, still staying mostly behind his friend, and still scared. With all his willpower, he managed to fight the urge to bolt, if only to stay by Lykou’s side. But fear was still plastered over his entire demeanor.
The less aggressive of the pair gave him a slightly apologetic look, then took a breath and gestured to herself. “Shiko,” she said simply, then gestured to her companion. “Tashira.” Finally, she gestured to the boys, with a questioning look.
Lykou took a moment to calm himself before speaking. “Lykou,” he said, pointing to himself. He then turned and gently pulled Kuna around, embracing the sereva to try and help calm him. “Kuna.”
Kuna initially resisted being pulled around, but then gave in to the konuul’s urging. Still, he clung closely to his friend, still staring at the two shakonu individuals with a significant amount of fear.
Shiko nodded, then gestured to Lykou’s shoulder with another questioning look.
“Oh, uh,” the canid started, trying to figure out how to explain without using actual words. He wasn’t as good with the gestures as Kuna was, and the poor sereva wasn’t exactly in the best frame of mind for such things. After thinking a moment, he cleared off a patch of dirt on the ground, picked up a stick, and started trying to draw a very simplistic scene of two stick figures walking between some trees. Luckily, the ground was pretty light there, almost sandy in spots, so the images showed up reasonably well. He pointed to the figures, then to himself and Kuna. He then drew a rough doodle of a bunch of rubble with smoke coming out of it, with the two figures standing with as close to a disturbed look as he could illustrate in such simple drawings.
Both shakonu frowned and a sad looked crossed their eyes. Tashira muttered something and looked away, clearly trying to hide a faint hint of tears behind an angry look. Shiko, on the other hand, just nodded sadly and gestured for him to continue.
Lykou swept away the old sketches and started a new one. This time he did his best to draw a ghostly figure, along with himself and Kuna looking frightened. After Shiko shot him a dubious look, he continued, with a second image showing one of the two figures reaching out to the ghost. Then in a third image, the ghost pointed to some rubble.
After making sure Shiko was following along- and eventually she nudged Tashira so that she was looking again as well- Lykou continued. Again, he swept away the images and started a new one. He struggled a bit with trying to depict the dead body- but then suddenly Kuna gently touched his hand. He looked over and saw that his companion had calmed down enough to participate, though he was still huddled next to the konuul and shooting nervous glances up at the two shakonu.
“Let m-me give it a t-try,” he said quietly.
Lykou handed him the stick, and Kuna did a surprisingly good sketch, especially considering it was just lines in the dirt. After making sure the two strangers were following along, he started another sketch showing the two figures kneeling next to a fire with their heads bowed, and the vague outline of the body within the fire.
Understanding dawned on the shakonu and Shiko nodded sadly. Even Tashira’s rough expression softened somewhat.
Kuna wiped away the drawings, then made a new one showing the figures walking out of the ruins, followed by one of them looking very surprised in front of a very imposing and clear shakonu figure outlined in a kind of halo effect, with a faint outline of a circlet on its head. Both Shiko’s and Tashira’s eyes widened, and Shiko’s jaw dropped slightly, though Tashira looked slightly dubious about it.
“I had no idea you were such an artist,” Lykou commented with a raised eyebrow and faint smile as he glanced over at the sereva.
“D-didn’t have m-much else to do besides f-finding food on my own,” Kuna quietly said, shrugging.
The konuul’s smile faded and he gently squeezed the sereva in a side hug.
Kuna shot him a brief and small appreciative smile before continuing. He drew the large shakonu figure leaning down and touching the two figures’ shoulders, then finally an image of the shakonu echo and the two figures making the thank-you gesture to each other. Having finished the story, Kuna nervously looked up at the two warriors in front of him.
Tashira looked uncertain, but Shiko slowly approached, then knelt down and placed a hand on Kuna’s shoulder and said something quietly, a mixture of sadness and appreciation on her face. Kuna tensed up at the touch, and Lykou gave her an apologetic smile when she looked over at him questioningly. She seemed to understand and stood up again.
The two shakonu discussed something in their language for a minute, then they gestured for Lykou and Kuna to stand up. Lykou helped his friend up and was surprised when Tashira approached and handed him his discarded spear. He made the thank-you gesture before taking it. Shiko did similarly with Kuna’s walking stick, which he nervously took and vaguely made the same gesture.
Shiko gestured off to the east, then pointed to everyone present as she said something.
“Er… you want us to follow you?” he asked, shrugging and glancing at Kuna, who didn’t seem to thrilled with the idea.
Shiko seemed to think for a moment, then handed her spear over to Tashira. Then she smiled a bit as she approached Kuna with her hands raised to try and appear as harmless as possible. She looked over to Lykou and made an embracing gesture, then pointed to the sereva.
“Oh… um. Kuna, I think she-”
“Y-yeah, I get it,” Kuna said, staring at the stranger warily. He shrank back a little, but then relented and shrugged weakly as the konuul urged him forward.
Shiko wrapped her arms around the sereva for a moment. Then, suddenly, she lifted him up, turned to Tashira, and placed him on her back. It startled him, but she quickly rubbed his back and made a couple gestures that he eventually understood as ‘hold on’. Tashira glanced back at him and smirked, pulling his hand gently, but firmly around the middle of her upper torso to reinforce the point.
Lykou had immediately started getting wary when Kuna was picked up, but relaxed when he realized what was going on. He couldn’t help but smirk and blush slightly. He’d never thought of such a thing, but then, he’d never seen people shaped quite like these two. “Er… I guess they want us to… ride… them?”
Before he could fully process it, Shiko turned back to him and gestured to her back. Somewhat nervously, Lykou approached her. She held up a hand for a moment and the spoke to Tashira. Tashira handed her the spears, then helped the konuul climb onto her partner’s back. She repeated the ‘hold on’ gesture to him, and he did, looking over at Kuna with a bemused look.
Kuna just looked incredibly anxious and his eyes suggested he wished he could be by Lykou.
“Hey, relax. It’ll be alright,” he said gently to his friend while the two shakonu briefly discussed something among themselves. “I get a feeling they’re good people after all. We just caught them at a bad time last time.”
The sereva didn’t look entirely convinced, but just took a deep breath and leaned down, anxiously clinging to Tashira’s torso as he tried not to think about the situation too much.
Shiko again turned back to them and made one last ‘hold on’ gesture before she and Tashira turned and strapped their spears to their sides via a small pair of belts attached to their lower torsos, keeping them out of the way. Suddenly, they took off.
Both Lykou and Kuna clung to their respective ride as their eyes shot wide open. Once they really got going, the shakonu were incredibly fast- no way could he and Kuna have outrun them if they’d tried, even with their own notable speed. Must be the extra legs or something, Lykou thought as he held on tight, marveling not only at their speed but the agility with which they avoided obstacles.
The world flashed by in a blur, and Kuna trembled as he held on for all his life. Eventually, he clenched his eyes shut so he wouldn’t have to see the trees flying past, sometimes uncomfortably close, at speeds he had never seen before.
Neither knew how much time had passed by the time the two finally started slowing down, because it was all such a mad dash. But finally, they exited the forest, entering another large, open grassland. There was no village in sight, but there was a small camp with two or three structures coming into view.
As they approached, another pair of shakonu walked out, spears in hand. A third one walked out behind them, visibly unarmed, but with a series of intricate beaded necklaces on his neck and a small circlet on his head- though nowhere near as extravagant as the echo’s had been.
When the four arrived, Shiko spoke to the decorated one at length. He then turned and went back into one of the structures for a few minutes while the rest of the shakonu spoke among themselves. Kuna just looked over at Lykou and stretched a shaky hand out towards him. With a reassuring smile, Lykou reached out and grabbed it, holding onto it tightly. “We’re going to be fine. Just breath, Kuna.”
Kuna took a slow, shaky breath as he nervously looked back over to see what was going on. After a moment, they were beckoned down off Shiko and Tashira’s backs, and the larger shakonu came out of the hut with two necklaces in his hands. Each one had a medallion on it with a symbol consisting of a series of interconnecting rings on it- stacked with the smallest at the bottom to the largest on top.
He approached them and handed the medallions to the two. From the narrow-eyed, wary look he was giving them, it was clear that it was less a gift and more of an instruction. Lykou and Kuna shared a glance, then the konuul took a necklace and put it on. Kuna did so as well, but with more nervous hesitation.
The stranger looked at them for a moment, one eyebrow raised, as if he was expecting something. When nothing happened, he lifted a hand, which, in a great surprise to both Lykou and Kuna, began to glow with an ethereal blue light.
Lykou stared at him with wide eyes. “Fuck, is that magic??” he blurted out in sudden excitement.
Kuna just slowly nodded, his eyes wide as well. “N-not just that, th-that’s… s-star magic, I think.”
The large shakonu reached forward and touched each medallion with a glowing hand. As he did so, a strange pulse of energy washed over both boys, and they briefly felt a bit dizzy and disoriented. When the feeling passed, the medallions were glowing with the same color as the magical aura.
“There. Now we can understand each other. So start talking,” the stranger said, suddenly understandable to them.
Lykou for once was at a loss for words, only able to mouth the word ‘wow’ as he stared at the stranger in awe, then down at the medallion hanging from his neck.
Realizing he’d have to chime in this time, Kuna nervously cleared his throat. “U-um. H-hi. I guess. A-and… thanks?”
“Who and what are you?”
Lykou finally snapped out of his reverie, having started fiddling with the glowing medallion in fascination. “Oh, right! Sorry. I’m Lykou and this is Kuna,” he quickly explained. “As for what, well, I’m a konuul, and he’s a sereva. We’re not from around here, and I’m guessing you haven’t seen any of our kind before, huh?”
The stranger shook his head. “I’m Nauja. And no, we haven’t,” he said. He briefly glanced up at Shiko and Tashira before turning back to Lykou and continuing, his arms crossed. “How did you get the soul-marks?”
Lykou took a deep breath and launched into the full story of the ruined village from the beginning. He didn’t leave out any details this time- including, when prompted, a description of the body they’d found. And if anything, he seemed particularly eager to talk up Kuna’s actions with a certain degree of pride, causing the sereva to blush a bit and look away while fiddling with his walking stick a bit.
At several points, the other shakonu murmured among themselves in fascination in response to certain parts of the story.
“I see,” Nauja said after the end of the tale. “If you didn’t have the marks to prove it, I’d kill a pair of outsiders for such lies. But very few ancestors could do something like that. And it sounds like you were fortunate to have been graced by a visit from Tareq himself.”
He took a deep breath, then continued, turning to Kuna with a slight grin. “So. You touched a spirit directly, did you?”
Kuna looked up with wide eyes, then nervously glanced around as he took a step back. “Uh, I… y-yeah… S-sorry if-”
“That’s very impressive. Very few have that kind of touch,” Nauja continued. He moved forward and gently rubbed the sereva’s head. “It’s an honor to meet you, Kuna of the sereva people.”
Kuna blushed a bit and looked over to Lykou, who just grinned and winked at him.
“Come, it’s time for lunch. You can tell us more about yourselves over a meal,” he said, turning towards the largest structure.
“Er, that could be-” Lykou tried to explain, but Nauja was already inside before he could finish. He turned and smiled a bit concernedly at Kuna, who just shrugged weakly.
“I’ve got m-my bag, it’s fine,” he said quietly.
The other shakonu followed Nauja, with the two unnamed guards right behind him. Tashira paused by Kuna, giving him a long thoughtful stare. She then made a familiar gesture and nodded to him. “Thank you,” she said simply, before continuing inside. Shiko lingered behind, waiting for the boys to head in.
“That was most likely her sister’s spirit you helped, from the description Lykou gave” she explained to Kuna with a small, slightly sad smile. “Her loss is tragic, but you did a wonderful thing.”
Kuna again blushed slightly and fiddled with his walking stick. Lykou sighed and walked over to him, pulling him into a warm embrace. “You’ll have to forgive him. He’s a bit shy and anxious around people.”
Shiko nodded with a sympathetic smile. “I definitely got that impression,” she said, then walked over and knelt down by Kuna, gently laying a hand on his arm. “Hey, sorry we scared you back there. You’re safe with us now. Alright?”
Kuna looked at her for a moment, then nodded his head slightly. “Th-thanks for, you know… c-carrying us here,” he mumbled weakly.
“Of course,” Shiko responded with a slight chuckle. “Come on, lets go eat. Best not to keep a spirit-speaker waiting.”
“Um, about that,” Lykou said, holding up a hand. “Kuna here is… well, he-”
Shiko raised an eyebrow, glancing between them, then interrupted. “Let me guess, he doesn’t eat meat?”
“Er, yeah, that,” the canid said, somewhat surprised. “How’d you know?”
“Just kind of got that impression. No natural claws, and not built for hunting, from what I can tell,” she said with a shrug. “No offense.”
Kuna shifted uncomfortably. “Uh. N-none taken…?”
“Well we do tend to keep certain fruits around. And plenty of cosha nectar,” she suggested with a grin. “Think that’ll work?”
“Uh, s-sounds good,” Kuna answered uncertainly. “I do eat berries and s-such.”
“Great! Alright, let’s head in.”
With Lykou’s encouragement, Kuna walked in with him, with Shiko following right behind them.
Cross-posting catchup for Mystic Heart Odyssey.