MHO Chapter 30! Time for the journey to start anew! ...look, I know I said this is set in ancient, primitive times, and in the real world that’d predate Gaelic cultures, let alone these kinds of accents. But this is a fantasy setting and not strictly based on Earth, so if I want Gaelic-themed bunnies, I’m gonna give you Gaelic-themed bunnies, darn it! And no, I don’t plant to explain why the medallions translate in an accent. Just roll with it! :P
...that said, please let me know if I wrote the accent a bit too thick and need to clean it up a bit!
A torrent of color soared past Lykou and Kuna as they were whisked through the vortex. They felt like they were floating in the air, or perhaps falling sideways was a better description. As they pulled close to each other, they gradually realized the colors flashing past them were visions of other places, people, and things flying past quicker than their minds could really parse. Finally, everything went blindingly white before they suddenly stumbled out of another archway onto a grassy hilltop.
They heard the portal close up behind them, leaving them in comparatively peaceful silence to look around at the vast, hilly, somewhat rocky landscape that now surrounded them. There were clusters of trees scattered around, but they were relatively small. Short, green grass coated the land. The air was cooler than what they’d gotten used to the last couple weeks, but not unpleasantly so. In fact, it was a little bit closer to what they were accustomed to before they were magically whisked far away from their homelands. Small, puffy clouds intermittently dotted the otherwise clear, blue skies. Off in the distance, they could see the hills gradually giving way to large, rocky mountain ridges.
“Wow,” Kuna said, surveying the landscape.
“Yeah,” Lykou replied, rubbing his neck. “That was… intense.”
“And look at this place,” Kuna said. “It’s so… open.”
“And the grass is a lot shorter, too,” the canid pointed out, looking down briefly. “It’s honestly kind of pretty, in its own way.”
“I prefer the forest, but… yeah,” the sereva agreed. After a moment, he pulled up his hand and noted that the mark had changed. He thought for a minute and realized he could feel a faint tug pulling his attention to the northeast. “Well, we might as well keep going,” he said, gesturing in that direction. “Hopefully we’ll find a decent place to set up camp.”
“Don’t know we’ll find a cave or anything out here. At the very least let’s look for somewhere near water.”
“Yeah, I can always use my magic to make something,” Kuna pointed out as they began walking down the hill. “Nowhere near as impressive as what Inkari made, but still.”
“At least yours won’t come with the creepy shit and meddling-in-peoples’ lives,” Lykou replied with a slight shiver.
They walked for an hour or two before pausing at the top of another hill. Down near its base on the other side, they saw a clear beaten path lined with small, mostly white stones winding between the hills. “That… doesn’t look natural,” Kuna pointed out.
“Must be people around here. Maybe they travel between villages a lot?”
“Could be,” the sereva said, looking back and forth. “I… hope they’re not hostile. Not exactly a lot of good hiding places out here if they get up on top of the hills.”
“True,” Lykou said. Part of him was curious to see where the path led, but he knew the sereva wouldn’t go for it, and there was a fair chance it was a bad idea anyway. “Well, just keep alert, I guess.”
They crossed the path and continued onwards for a while longer. The lack of thick forests to obscure the horizon meant that they had a bit more daylight than usual, but even so, the sun eventually began setting. Fortunately, while it was still bright enough to see around, they came across a small stream winding its way through the hills. Another path crossed it, though, so they moved a bit further upstream until they were out of sight before they settled down. There was a small stand of trees not far away, so they quickly ran over to find whatever fallen branches they could, then began setting up a fire in a flat spot near the stream. There weren’t enough large rocks around to form a proper pit, so they settled for finding a clear, bare spot and tearing up what little grass was around it until there was minimal chance of the fire unintentionally spreading.
Finally, once they had a fire going, Kuna began using his magic to grow a shelter for them. He’d saved a couple of the other apple seeds, and used them to sprout a trio of small tree saplings, then reformed some of the nearby grass into a tent-like mesh of vines and lichen hanging from their tiny branches. It wasn’t big, but it was at least enough to protect them, should any rain show up. By the time he was done, though, he was fairly worn out and quickly dove into his food bag to help replenish his energy reserves.
“You’re getting pretty good at that stuff,” Lykou said after he swallowed a piece of salted meat. “Is it getting any easier?”
“A bit. Trees are still exhausting once they’re past a certain size, though,” Kuna replied, leaning back on the hillside as he ate.
“Well, progress is progress. I guess we should go back to taking turns keeping watch tonight, though.”
“Yeah,” Kuna reluctantly agreed. “I wish we could find a way around that. But I guess I can always practice while you’re sleeping.”
“True. And hey, maybe eventually we’ll figure out another way to keep safe.”
“If I can get good enough at this,” the sereva said, gesturing back to the small shelter. “I can make one we can seal up for the night, hopefully.”
The two finished eating and cuddled by the fire for a bit, before Lykou yawned and decided to go to bed. Kuna followed him, confusing him at first, but the sereva just grinned and patted his lap after reclining back. “Fair is fair,” he said. “About time I repay the favor, you know.”
Lykou grinned back at him, then laid down and cuddled up with his head in the sereva’s lap. “Works for me. G’night, Ku.”
“G’night Kou,” Kuna replied with a small giggle, then stroked the canid’s head softly until he dozed off.
Over the following several hours, Kuna alternated between sky-gazing and using his magic to tweak the grass on the nearby hill at range, though he was careful not to over-fatigue himself with it. He ended up creating a small design made of flowers, resembling a star. Once he’d finished, he pondered what to do next. Suddenly, after looking down at the konuul for a moment, he realized that the light in their medallions had completely faded. He quickly conjured up the soul energy and reignited them before returning to his life magic practice.
After that, he thought for a few minutes, then tried transforming some nearby grass inside the shelter into a few carrots. He had a feeling that, at his current level, he was probably using more energy to fully form and grow them than he’d get from eating them, but at least it would let him practice while tiring himself out more slowly.
Once he’d finished growing them, he dug one out and took a bite. He immediately spat it out and cringed. He’d been so busy getting the appearance right, he never put any thought into making sure everything else about them was right. Somehow, despite its shape and texture, it still had the flavor of grass. Tossing the failed not-quite-carrot aside, he manipulated the others some more, focusing on thinking about the taste of carrots as he did so. Once he was done, he tried another, and bit into it. Satisfied that it tasted more like what he expected, albeit still imperfect, he happily snacked on the rest of it.
Once he’d gone through the rest of the bunch, he decided to grow another. Midway through doing so, however, he heard something that made him freeze on the spot.
“Oi, wis tha’ magic??” a slightly hushed, masculine voice called out from up on the edge of the hill separating them from the path they’d seen.
Kuna quickly looked up, wide-eyed at the source of the strange voice. There, partly lit up by the firelight, was a figure staring back at him with a similarly shocked expression. He wasn’t any species Kuna recognized- he was a little on the short side, from what he could tell, but had unusually long and odd-looking ears, which bent slightly at the midpoint.
Naturally, the sereva was alarmed, but as he started nervously trying to nudge his friend awake, he realized the stranger appeared just as bewildered by him as he was and paused. There was a particularly long knife in one hand, but he didn’t seem intent on using it, for the moment at least.
“Here now, whit even are ye?” the stranger said a slightly less hushed tone, with a thick accent. “Ye dinnae look like any spirit I seen, and ye certainly arnae lepne. Ye no here to cause trouble, are ye?”
Kuna slowly shook his head. “N-no… are you?”
The individual eyed him for a moment, before sliding his knife into a sheath on his hip. “Only trouble I hae is for ‘em clatty bandits, but I don’ ken yer one o’ ‘em, judgin’ from yer lack o’ armor and weap-,” he said, slowly descending the hill, then paused when he got a slightly better look at the konuul dozing in the sereva’s lap. “...then ag’in… that a sharp-toother?” he nervously asked, his hand drifting back to the sheath.
“Er… yeah, but he’s not dangerous. Please, we’re n-not looking for trouble,” Kuna nervously replied, wrapping his arms around the sleeping canid protectively.
The stranger eyed them both for a minute, then finally took his hand away from his knife and resumed down the hill. Once he was better lit up, Kuna got a better look at him. He was wearing some kind of simple skirt-like thing, but nothing across his chest, save for the thin strap of some kind of bag hanging by his side. And he had a belt around the middle, with a sheath on one side. And while it seemed his fur was naturally brown and white, it looked like bits of it had been clearly dyed blue somehow, including part of his face.
“I seen plenny a’ strange shite, but this be the strangest by far,” he said. “What’s yer name, stranger?”
“K.. Kuna. And this is Lykou. Y-you?”
“Faergus,” the stranger replied after a short pause. “Where ye from, Kuna? Ne’er seen either ae yer kin ‘round these lands, and I’m pre’y well traveled.”
“Um. That’s… kind of a long story,” Kuna said anxiously.
Finally, Lykou started to stir. He rubbed his eye as he started to sit up. “Is it time for my wat-” he started to ask, then froze when he saw the strange individual standing a few yards away.
“We, um. We have company,” Kuna said sheepishly. “I tried waking you, but you’re a heavy sleeper sometimes, ‘Kou.”
The konuul finished sitting up and blinked the sleep from his eyes, sizing up the stranger.
“Aye, A’m Faergus, an’ yer fren vouched fer ye, but dinnae think I be trustin’ a leg-biter jest yet, even one tha’ ken talk,” Faergus warned, his hand yet again descending to his knife. “Nae funny bi’ness, a’right?”
Lykou’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Leg… biter…?”
“I think he’s worried about you being a, well… predator. I guess he’s never met one that was a person.”
“O...kay…” the canid said, clearly still groggy.
Kuna wrapped his arms around his friend again and pulled him back into a hug, eyeing the stranger. “W-what do you want from us?”
“S’what I was ginnae ask ye,” Faergus replied. “Campin’ close tae the road like this, thought ye might be bandits. But I see ya doin’ tha’ glowy-hands shite, an’ I dinnae any bandit wi’ them tricks. So agin, where ye from and what ye doin’ ‘ere?”
“Like I said, it’s… kind of a complicated story. Basically, we’re trying to find our way home after a, er…”
“Trickster spirit,” Lykou chimed in, rubbing his other eye, then yawned again.
“...or just a really powerful magic user, we’re not sure which one, sent us a long way away.”
“Och, really? Ne’er heard o’ magic like tha’. An’ ye could’nae magic yerself back?”
“Pff, I wish,” Kuna said, rolling his eyes a bit. “No, I’m actually kind of new to the whole magic thing. That’s why I was practicing just now.”
“Aye, really?” the lepne said, glancing over at the flowers for a moment, then back to the shelter the two were sitting in. “Nae bad fer a newbie,” he commented, nodding appreciatively and placing a hand on his hip. “I’m sure the druna back in Kerney w’like to meet ya.”
“Kerney bein’ the nearest village. And druna… well, magic user. Guessin’ ye call it somethin’ differ’nt?”
“Everyone seems to have a different word for people that use magic,” Kuna replied with a shrug.
“Och, I wouldnae ken aboot that. Ah think there’s some other folk o’er the mountains, but we rarely see ‘em here. Just lepne in these hills. What ye call yer kin, anyway?”
“I’m a sereva, and he’s a konuul.”
“So, what are you doing out here in the middle of the night? Do all, er, lepne sleep during the day?” the canid asked.
Faergus smirked and shook his head. “Nae, just bandits, and us night-watchers lookin’ fer ‘em.”
“Bandits?” Lykou asked.
It was the lepne’s turn to look confused. “Aye? Them scabby bastards tha’ batter traders n’ travelers tae nick their stoof?”
The konuul stared at him in confusion for a minute, then checked his medallion to make sure it was glowing before finally turning to Kuna. “Did… you understand any of that?”
“People that attack other people to take their things while traveling between villages,” Kuna explained, then looked back to Faergus. “Right?”
“Aye, s’what I said. Ye dinnae havnae where ye come from?”
“Lakefire- that’s our home- is… kind of isolated. We don’t really have a reason to wander far from there. Only other tribe nearby are some ursarans, and they used to try and raid us sometimes,” the canid said, then grinned, unable to resist a little minor bragging on behalf of his people. “Key words, ‘used to’. They know better now.”
“Aye?” the lepne replied with a big grin. “Bash ‘em right, did ye? Good on ye.”
“So are, er, ‘bandits’ a common problem here?” Kuna asked somewhat anxiously.
“Sometimes. They come an’ go,” Faergus said with a shrug. “Bin quiet lately, which is how aym scoutin’ aroon fer ‘em, in case they’re plannin’ somethin’.”
Kuna shot Lykou a worried look, then turned back to the lepne. “Do you think they’re likely to attack us? We’re not exactly carrying much worth taking.”
“Oh they’ll nick anythin’ they kin carry. An’ you two… well, I dinnae ken. I see ye got one spear, thas not much to deter ‘em. Depen’s on if ya see ‘em comin’ I s’pose. Yer magic might give ‘em a scare, unless they sneak up on ye.”
“Well, I do have this, too,” Lykou replied, pulling out his knife to show him, careful to hold it in a clearly non-hostile way. “And I’m pretty decent with it.”
“Crivvens, whit a bonny blade,” Faergus said, his eyes widening slightly. “Whit’s it made o’?”
“Sunstone! It’s extra tough and sharp, and you rarely have to re-sharpen it. Also supposedly maybe a little magical, though we haven’t proven it yet.”
“That’s ferr impressive,” the lepne said, then tilted his head a bit. “Unfortunately, it wilnae hulp much in an ambush, or if they hae a bow. Which way ye headin’, anyway?”
Kuna briefly summoned up the symbol on his hand to double-check, which, since the night sky was clear, also briefly shot a light darting up to the stars, startling the lepne. “Er, that way,” the sereva said, gesturing to the path the star-light took, with a slightly sheepish grin.
“In the name a’… ye swear yer a newbie, but most druna I ken cannae dae that, s’far as ah ken,” Faergus said, wide-eyed. “Tell ye what, let me tak ye tae Kerney. It’ll be safer there n’ ye kin travel wi’ a caravan when they set fer Whitlan, up tha’ way.”
Kuna shifted nervously. “I don’t know…”
“Ah insist. Ye seem like decent boys, n’ a’d hate tae see ye fall prey tae some mawkit bandits.”
“That’s awfully nice of you,” Lykou spoke up, rubbing the sereva’s back softly. “But no offense, how do we know we can trust you?”
“Ah, fair ‘nuff,” the lepne said with a chuckle. “See this though- there’s two o’ ye, and one o’ me. ‘n one o’ ye has magic. A’m a decent fighter, but tha’ wouldnae end well fer either o’ us, ya ken?”
“Sounds reasonable,” Lykou said, then turned to Kuna. “Right, Ku?”
“Great!” the konuul said, then crawled out of the shelter and got up to start gathering their things. “Thank you, Faergus.”
The lepne took a step back, eyeing the canid. “Crivvens, yer taller than ah thought,” he commented, then smirked. “Yer kin pick fights wi’ trees er somethin’?”
Lykou smirked back and rolled his eyes. Kuna grabbed his things together as well, although he kept shooting nervous glances at the lepne. Once they were both packed up and ready to go, the canid began to douse the fire with his waterskin, but then paused. “Wait, do you have a torch, by any chance?”
“Nae need fer me. Guess yer a bit nervous gawin’ unner the stars?”
Kuna held his hand up and temporarily manifested a familiar green glow. “I can always use this if we need to see a bit better, at least nearby,” he suggested, then looked up at the sky and let the energy go. “Although I guess it is clearer out here, without a bunch of trees to block the sky. And the moon’s nearing full.”
“Aye? Lotta woods where yer from?”
“Yeah, and most other places, as far as we know,” Lykou replied as he finished dousing the fire. “This is actually the clearest land we’ve seen so far. Well, other than where the shakonu live. But their grass is a lot taller and a little more yellow-y.”
“Shakonu eh? They look like you?” the lepne asked, leading them up the hill.
“Nope, totally different,” Lykou said, then began describing their encounter with the tauric people as they began walking up the ridge. Before long, they reached the stony path and began following through the hills.
“Soons like ye’ve had quite a trip already!”
“That’s barely scratching the surface of what we’ve seen,” Lykou replied.
“Oh, aye? Do tell!”
“Shouldn’t we be w-watching for, er… bandits?” Kuna asked nervously, sticking close to the canid.
“Already checked this piece a’ road on the way oot, n’ they’re less likely tae hang aroon nearer tae th’ villages anyway,” the lepne assured him.
“That’s good to know,” Lykou said, then wrapped an arm around Kuna to try and help him relax a bit when he continued eyeing the nearby hills nervously. “Hey, it’s alright. We’ll be fine.”
“Aye, yer a flighty one, aren’tcha?”
Kuna’s ears folded down and he leaned into his friend’s embrace. “Just tired, I guess.”
“To be fair, he has pretty good reasons, too,” the canid informed the lepne. “We’ve seen a lot of danger, and… well, we both almost died the other day.”
“Och, really?? Howfer?”
“Well,” Lykou started, then looked over at Kuna and thought better of it. “...actually, now might not be the best time or place for that story,” he said, giving their guide an apologetic look. “Still pretty fresh, you know?”
“Say n’more, tha’s fair,” Faergus said, then smiled at them a bit. “Ye both seem… claise.”
Lykou chuckled and gave the sereva a gentle squeeze, managing to get a small smile out of his friend in the process. “Yeah. Can you believe we didn’t even know each other before this trip?”
“Haud on,” the lepne responded, giving the canid an incredulous look. “Ye wis total strangers afore?”
“Yep,” the konuul said, then went on to describe their first encounter together. The retelling made Kuna blush, and if he hadn’t already been looking away to keep an eye on the nearby hills, he’d have done so to avoid eye-contact with either of them. Lykou went on to describe their adventures together since that night, as they all continued walking. Noting the sereva’s embarrassment, he decided to gloss over some bits and avoid talking about his background in the process.
Eventually, Faergus held up a hand and they all stopped. His ears twitched a bit and he peered off towards one of the hills in the distance. When Lykou started to ask, he shushed him, then dug a small object out of his bag, brought it to his mouth, and blew on it. It let out a high-pitched whistle. A figure appeared in the distance and, after a moment, there was a similar sound in response. Faergus played three more shorter bursts, then put the whistle back in his bag and continued leading the way.
“Another night-watcher?” Lykou asked.
Faergus nodded. “Likely Tavish, if ah wis guessin’. He’ll let th’ village guards noo we’re comin’. We’re getting claise noo.”
Kuna yawned and shivered slightly. “That’s good…”
“Pure doon-in, are ye?” the lepne asked with a chuckle. “Nae tae worry, ye’ll be comfy-cozy in nae time.”
“You sure it’s alright for us to just… show up? We don’t want to impose on anyone.”
“Na kinch at a’. There’s always a few spare beds in th’ travel lodge. Nothin’ fancy, but a heap better’n sleepin’ on the cauld, hard groun’,” Faergus replied, then chuckled. “N’ a’m sure clan master Griogair will be delighted t’shaw aff Kerney tae ye t’morra. Bin a lang time since he's gotten th' chance tae host someone freish.”
“Are… are there beds big enough for two people?” Kuna quietly asked. Lykou gave him a gentle squeeze.
“Oh?” Faergus asked, glancing between the two for a moment, then smirked. “A’m sure somethin’ can be arranged.”
Eventually, the village came within sight. Of course, it was largely dark so late at night. But there were several guards patrolling the outside wall with torches, and two braziers made of a material neither of the boys recognized sat lit on either side of the main entrance in the modest-sized wall that surrounded the village. Though the details were hard to see in the moonlight, they could make out rows of several kind of plants clearly being farmed in large patches outside the walls, surrounded by simpler fences and accompanied by a handful of wooden structures.
Once they reached the entrance, Faergus exchanged some words with the head guard. Afterwards, he led them into the village proper. As they passed, Lykou and Kuna could feel the eyes of the other guards on them. Lykou glanced at one of them and waved with a small smile. The guard didn’t respond, instead just eyeing him with a mixture of wariness and mild fascination.
Soon they arrived at a particularly long structure. The base of its walls were made of stone blocks, but most of the rest of its length was made up of wood, with a few slatted windows on the side. It had a thatch roof, like most of the other buildings, from what they could tell- aside from wide chimney in the middle on one side.
They were brought inside, where they could see by the dim light of a large fire in the central fireplace. Near it were a dozen or so small beds, with roughly two thirds of them filled by sleeping lepne. On the far end, stacks of boxes and bags were set up against the side walls. On the closer side, there were a couple tables with some stools sitting around them. There was another door on the far end of the building, which Faergus led them to. The ceiling was a bit lower than Lykou was used to, but not so low he had to bend down.
“Th’ straw room is thro' there. It'll be a bit colder 'n' less cozy than in 'ere, bit ye'll hae plenty o' space fur th' two o' ye. Someone wull come fetch ye in th’ mornin' fer breakfast 'n' tak' ye tae see th' chief afterwards,” he explained, quietly, to avoid waking the other lepne. “Need anythin’ else?”
“No, this is already fantastic. Thank you, Faergus. Will we see you tomorrow?”
“Possibly afore ah heid to kip masel’, bit otherwise nae ‘till evenin’. Hopefully we'll git tae blether mair then, bit otherwise, 'twas buzz meetin ye!” the lepne said, clapping both on the back lightly- and a bit extra gently in Kuna’s case. “Sleep will, ye two.”
As the lepne turned to leave, Lykou and Kuna walked through the door and found themselves in a storage area filled with straw and some other similar materials. There roof was made of wood like the sides, rather than thatched, and there were some gaps near the top, presumably for ventilation purposes. It did indeed make it cooler, but once they both set their stuff down and laid down on their mat in a spot nestled among the piles of straw, they hardly noticed the breeze. And once they had their blanket out and cuddled up under it together, they were more than content.
“You don’t always need to tell everyone that story,” Kuna suddenly pointed out, sleepily shooting a playfully annoyed look at the konuul. “Not exactly flattering for me, you know.”
“Well… I mean, it’s kind of important,” Lykou replied with a somewhat apologetic smile. “And it’s not like I don’t come across a bit silly, too. Chasing someone because I thought they were a spirit.”
“Yeah, well, in the future you don’t have to point out I was naked,” the sereva replied with a flustered smirk. “And maybe downplay how much of a scared little moody bitch I was.”
Lykou chuckled a bit. “Alright, alright, I’ll keep that in mind,” he said, then booped the sereva’s nose with a finger. “It was super cute how you melted when I held you, though.”
Kuna blushed a bit more and rolled his eyes. “You call everything I do cute, I swear.”
The konuul grinned. “Well, I mean…”
The sereva folded his ears down and groaned, but grinned despite himself as he buried his face the konuul’s neck fur. “Good night, Lykou.”
The konuul chuckled some more, then pulled the sereva into his arms and gave him a gentle squeeze. “Goodnight, Kuna.”
Lykou and Kuna slept well into the morning. On several occasions, different lepne individuals came to check in on them, mostly out of curiosity. The village was abuzz with rumors about the strange visitors staying in the travel lodge. Eventually, breakfast was served to the other travelers in the lodge- a caravan group- and that temporarily took their attention away. After serving up food to the rest, one of the ones that had been assisting the cooks snuck into the straw room. She eyed the two, hesitant to wake them, not so much out of fear, but because she had to admit they looked so cozy cuddled up together.
Still, she knew they’d be hungry as well, and in any case she was as curious to get to know them as anyone else, so she stepped over and shifted some slats on the wall to allow in a bit more fresh air and sunlight. She then walked over and bent down, and gently nudged Lykou’s shoulder until he started to stir. Kuna soon followed suit, and they groggily sat up, yawning and stretching.
“Mornin’ strangers,” the girl greeted them, causing Kuna to jump and press up against Lykou in surprise. She had to stifle a giggle before continuing. “Name’s Clara. Sorry tae wake ye, bit ah figured ye wid want some breakfast while tis guid 'n' warm.”
The konuul smirked and hugged the sereva, then turned to face Clara. “Mm, morning, and thanks. We’ll be out in a minute.”
“O' coorse. 'n' welcome tae Kerney, by th' way,” she said before stepping back into the main part of the lodge.
Kuna yawned again and leaned against the konuul’s chest and sighed.
“You alright, Ku?” the canid asked, giving him a gentle squeeze.
“Mmm… did we really walk into and sleep in a village full of strangers?” the sereva grumbled softly.
“Well, yeah, they seem pretty nice. And if there’s ‘bandits’ out there, we’re safer here. Come on, let’s go get some breakfast.” As he tried to get up, Kuna blocked him, refusing to budge at first. “...Ku? What’s wrong?”
The sereva folded his ears down and looked away anxiously. “There’s… people out there. A bunch of them.”
“Well… yeah? This is a village after all,” Lykou said, then rubbed the sereva’s back. “You were alright with the shakonu. And these folks are nowhere near as big and intimidating, heh.”
“Mmm,” Kuna mumbled. “Eventually. But there were also fewer of them.”
“Aww, Ku… you gettin’ shy again?” Lykou playfully teased, then squeezed the sereva again. “Hey, I’ll be right there with you. Come on, you’ll see. It’ll be nice. And some food will do you good.”
After another minute’s hesitation, the sereva reluctantly got up and followed Lykou out into the main lodge. Once inside, they saw that the tables were mostly full of lepne eating and chattering away. However, with the newcomers entering, they all stopped and turned to look at them. Clara was standing by one of the tables and waved them over. “Come hae a seat, ye two!”
Lykou led the way over and happily sat down at one of the stools. One of the lepne hopped over to another one to give Kuna a spot next to him. The reactions of the group were a mixture of excitement and curiosity. Kuna nervously clung close to his friend, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone. The lepne were definitely less intimidating than the shakonu had been, but he still wasn’t thrilled being around so many strangers.
“Mornin' strangers! Where ya from?” one greeted them.
“N’ whit are yer names?” another asked. “A’m Ealar.”
“Ah, right, a’m Effie by tae way,” the first added.
“N’ a’m Gavin. What brings ye to Kerney?” a third asked.
“Whit even are ye? Clearly nae lepne,” a somewhat less tactful fourth chimed in. “Ye from o’er the mountains?”
“Awright, all o' ye settle doon 'n' gie them a moment, wull ye? They’re barely oot o’ bed,” Clara lightly chided the curious bunnies as she brought two steaming cups of something over for the two.
Lykou chuckled a bit. “It’s fine. I’m Lykou and this is Kuna. It’s nice to meet you all,” he said, then sniffed the offered drink. “Smells nice. What is this?”
“Jist some mint tea. Ne’er had it afore?”
The konuul shook his head. “Don’t think we have anything like it back home. Smells really nice though.”
“You said its mint?” Kuna asked quietly, sniffing at his own cup. “Actually it does grow in some areas back home, but… I never had it like this before.”
“Really? Wull, yer in fer a treat then,” Ealar said.
“Aye, whit kind o’ tea d’ye usually drink?”
Kuna folded his ears down and looked away awkwardly as he took a careful sip.
“He’s not used to the idea of ‘tea’ as a whole, actually. It’s a long story,” Lykou explained, to Kuna’s mild relief.
“No tea? Thas odd,” the as-yet unnamed tactless lepne responded. “Whit kinna folk dinnae ken tea?”
“Ach, dinnae be such a tadger, Dougal,” Clara chided as she set a coiuple plates of food in front of the two newcomers.
“Weel tis pure weird, isnae it?”
“Shut yer puss afore someone hae tae skelp ye,” Gavin said, shooting Dougal a withering glare.
“Alright, alright, fine.”
After taking several appreciative sips of the tea, Kuna looked at the plates of food in front of them, then looked at Lykou with some concern. Much to his surprise, though, the konuul had happily dug into the roasted potatoes and carrots he’d been given.
After catching the sereva’s expression, Lykou smirked and shrugged. “Told you, there’s some plant stuff I eat. Might not be charnops, but whatever these white and brown things are, they’re pretty good.”
The sereva smiled a bit and started eating as well, enjoying the warm and filling breakfast.
“Ne’er had taters afore? Whit d’ye normally eat?” Ealar asked.
“Er, you know, um...” Lykou glanced around awkwardly and took a sip of tea to avoid the subject.
“Oy, guessin’ yer a predator, from them teeth,” Dougal chimed in again, causing several others to shoot him a glare.
“Fer the last time, Dougal-”
“Well, he’s not... wrong,” Lykou finally said with a sheepish smile. “Uh… hope that’s not, er…”
“Really?” Gavin asked, somewhat fascinated. “Didnae want to assume, but ah was wonderin’ aboot tha’.”
“Aye, me too,” Ealar said. “Never seen yer like aroon here.”
“Nae that we’re judgin’ or anythin’,” Clara quickly chimed in. “Ye are whit ye are, nae shame in that.”
“Aye, as lang as tis beasts an’ nae people ya hunt,” Dougal predictably said with a wary look, then yelped as Effie, who had largely remained more quiet than the others, finally hauled around and smacked him upside the head with her empty plate. “Ach! T’was a reasonable-”
“Away n’ bile yer heid,” she practically spat at him, to the general rumblings of approval from the others. “Tis nae way tae treat guests.”
Grumbling, Dougal got up and stalked off.
“Sorry aboot ‘im. He’s nae all bad, but ‘e can be a real eejit sometimes,” Clara said.
“Er, yeah… no worries, heh,” Lykou awkwardly said. “But just to be clear, yeah, obviously not people.”
“Aye, ah ken most o’ us assumed that, but tis kind o’ ye to confirm,” Gavin replied.
“So tell us aboot yerselves,” Ealar said, trying to lighten the subject.
Lykou started telling them about his village, its people, the ridge, the lake, and so on. And of course, upon talking about the sunstone, he showed off his knife, much to the lepne’s fascination. Finally, after some time having made Lykou the focus of their attention, Gavin glanced at Kuna. “Sae, are ye both from tae same village?”
“Maybe not from, but going to,” Lykou replied.
“Oh? How’s that?”
“That’s a complicated and, well, not very pleasant story,” he said, hugging the sereva gently. “I’ll leave it to him if he wants to tell it, but-”
“Pass,” Kuna said quietly, looking down at his tea, then sipped some.
“Fair ‘nuff,” Ealar replied. “Nae need to pry up bad memories. If’n ya got any pleasant ones tae share, we’d love tae hear ‘em tho. Ye’ve been pretty quiet.”
Kuna folded his ears down and shifted a little, trying to stay focused on his food and drink. “Er…”
Lykou chuckled and gave him a gentle squeeze. “He’s kind of shy, just give him some time to warm up to you. Or some booze,” he said with a wink.
The group got a good chuckle out of that, much to the blushing sereva’s chagrin.
“Aye, that kin be arranged at dinner if he wants,” Clara said with a grin.
Kuna blushed and grumbled faintly. He wanted to object, but he knew it probably would help his nerves a bit.
“So whit brought ye tae Kerney anyway?” Ealar asked, looking back to Lykou.
“Faergus brought ‘em in lest night, apparently. Found ‘em oon his patrol,” Clara said.
“We were camping not far from the, er, path you have between villages,” Lykou said. “He warned us about the ‘bandits’ you guys have to deal with, and offered to bring us here to see if we can travel with some caravan going to… er, what was it…”
“Whitlan?” Gavin suggested.
“Yeah, Whitlan! That was it. Apparently it’s up the general direction we were heading anyway, and we’d be happy to help keep watch along the way. I may not have a fancy weapon, but I’m good in a fight, and Kuna’s got magic.”
“Magic, ye say??” Effie chimed in, eyes going wide as she turned to the sereva. “Show us!”
The others murmured in agreement, including some lepne from the other table that had largely kept to themselves up to that point, content to just listen in and let the others ask the questions. The attention flustered the sereva as he sipped his tea nervously. Lykou rubbed his shoulder softly. “Go on, show off a little.”
Kuna groaned slightly, then sighed and took one hand away from the cup and summoned up his life magic, to the delight and astonishment of the onlookers. He glanced around for a moment, then looked out a slatted window in the wall and spotted a small bush growing just outside. Focusing for a moment, he made it sprout a few dozen tiny, white flowers. The lepne were impressed and applauded as he dismissed the magic and went back to sipping his tea bashfully.
“Wull how aboot thet, it wid be pure dead brilliant tae hae a druna wi' us oan th' road. And ye look quite capable yersel’, Lykou,” Gavin said. “Ye’ll hae tae clear it wi’ Bhaltair, tae trade leader, bit a'm sure he'll be chuffed tae hae ye alang.”
“He’s wi' th' clan chieftan right noo, bit you’ll likelie catch up wi` him oan th' way there yersel', sin ah suspect he’ll send a guard t’fetch ye soon as weel,” Clara said.
“I take it Faergus is asleep now?” Lykou asked.
“Aye, he’s a night-watcher after all. Shame, really. He’s a guid lad, wid be nice to catch up wi’ him more often,” Gavin lamented. “Still, ‘least we’ll seem ‘em at dinner t’night, hopefully.”
“Yeah, I’d like to thank him again for bringing us here.”
Just then, another lepne walked in. She clearly stood out from the rest, wearing armor on her torso and a helmet on her head, with a wooden shield on one arm and a long blade strapped to her side, made from whatever material they’d seen the braziers made from the previous night. She looked very physically fit, as well. And she had blue dyed markings on certain spots, like Faergus had. “Lykou n’ Kuna, ah presume?” she asked, looking at the two.
“That’s us,” Lykou said, smiling and waving to her. Kuna shrank down a little, slightly intimidated by the newcomer.
“Ah’m Raghnaid, and ah’m here tae take ya to the chieftan, as soon as yer thro' wi' breakfast. ,” she said, nodding at them, then removed her helmet and tucked it under her arm. “Nae rush, though.”
Clara walked over to the guard and embraced her briefly. “Can ah get ye anything, Ragh?”
“Nae, ah’m fine. Ye might take some tea tae mum when ya get the chance, though.”
“Sure thing,” Clara replied, then turned to wave to Lykou and Kuna. “Ah’ll see ye lads later, bin a pleasure meetin’ ye!” she said before heading out the door.
They both waved back. “Likewise!” Lykou called after her. He then hurried to finish the last of his food, while Kuna took the last sip of his tea.
“Should we bring our things?” Kuna asked, a little timidly.
“If ye like, but there’s nae need,” Raghnaid replied.
“Dinna fash yersel’, it'll be safe 'ere wi’ us,” Gavin assured him.
“Appreciate it,” Lykou said after finishing his own tea. “Well, I think I’m ready if you are, Ku.”
The sereva took a deep breath, then nodded and got up, anxiously taking Lykou’s hand as they walked over to meet Raghnaid at the door.
“See you all later, was nice meeting and talking to all of you!” Lykou said to the lepne on the way, who all replied with various similar sentiments. Kuna smiled shyly back at them and gave a little wave as they walked out the door behind the guard.
As they walked through the village, the sereva continued to stick close to the konuul. The number of lepne milling about brought his anxiousness back in full force. Lykou wrapped his arm around him to help calm him somewhat, even as he struck up a conversation with Raghnaid.
“So is Clara your sister?”
“Aye, she took o’er the traveler’s lodge aroon three years ago. Now ma and da spend mos’ o’ their time weavin’ or tending a small garden,” Raghnaid replied.
“That’s nice. You always been a, er, guard?”
“Since ah was ol’ enough to swing a blade,” the guard replied with a chuckle. “Though 'twas bound tae happen eventually. Ah wis always gettin’ in scraps when ah wis a lassie. Especially wi' some wee jimmies that thought thay cuid git awa' wi' bullyin’ Clara.”
“Hah! Good for you,” Lykou said. “You know, you kind of remind me of my own sister.”
“Aye? She a guard too?”
“Something like that. She’s a hunter. Hunters double as warriors when they’re needed in my village,” the konuul explained, then raised a brow as he noticed something hanging around the guard’s neck. “Speaking of which… I thought lepne didn’t eat meat, but… is that a leather bag you’re carrying? And are those teeth on your necklace?”
“Aye!” Raghnaid said proudly. “We dinnae eat ‘em, but those o’ us that protect our kin from nasty beasties are more n’ happy to take whit they no longer need, once they’re done with it, if ye know whit ah mean.”
The phrasing made Lykou grin and laugh a bit. “Great way of putting it.”
Kuna cringed a bit, trying to distract himself from the conversation.
“I actually saved a couple tusks from something that attacked Kuna and I a few days ago, come to think of it. Haven’t decided what to do with them yet, though.”
“Ah'd be glad tae tak' ye tae th' jimmy that made mah necklace, if ye like.”
“Nice as that’d be, I’d kind of like to make something practical with them,” Lykou said, then playfully rubbed Kuna’s head. “And this guy gets a bit uncomfortable around that kind of decorative thing anyway. Which would make some things a bit awkward”
Kuna blushed and rubbed his arm a bit. “Sorry, I’d rather bones stay inside living things than hanging off friends,” he snarked, then folded his ears down and shot a slightly nervous, apologetic look to the guard. “Uh, n-no offense.”
Raghnaid laughed. “None taken, lad. Nae everybody wis made fer violence.”
“That’s what I keep telling him. Though he’s getting better at standing his own, when it comes down to it,” Lykou said, smiling at the sereva.
Kuna smiled back a bit, folding his ears down.
“Oy, way ah see it, world needs baith soft folk 'n' solid folk. Yi'll need us tae protect ye, 'n' we need ye tae remind us whit’s worth fightin’ fer, 'n' nae let us lose oor heids.”
“That’s a great way of putting it!” Lykou said, giving the sereva a gentle squeeze.
“And yet somehow you’re both, fluffbutt,” Kuna playfully responded with a small grin, earning a hearty laugh from their escort.
Cross-posting catchup for Mystic Heart Odyssey.