MHO Chapter 40. Woops, another long one this time! But hey, when you’re dealing with wolpertinger shenanigans and chatting with a half-fae sorceress, I guess that’s to be expected.
For the next hour or two, the garden was a flurry of activity and colorful flashes of light, as Lykou and Kuna chased the erratic wolpertinger around the garden, being thrown off by various magical shenanigans. Plants lashed out at them in a similar manner to those that they’d encountered in the ruins- albeit fortunately without the teeth or any real intent to harm them. The ground itself periodically changed its texture and shape- sometimes springy and bouncy, and other times like thick mud, without the moisture. Clouds of cool mist appeared in various places throughout the garden, and on more than one occasion, Lykou tried to tackle what looked like the tail-thief’s silhouette, only to end up tangled up in a sculpted hedge that hadn’t been there before.
Whatever had affected Kuna’s magic previously had subsided, so he conjured it up to try and help catch her. He didn’t encounter any resistance from the Sylthean, but occasionally when he lashed out with some vines or roots, another set would burst out and wrestle them back. And even when they were uninhibited, he was too slow to catch the surprisingly nimble feral beast. On one occasion, the sereva was tricked into getting temporarily tangled up in his own vines, and Lykou inadvertently ran into him, though fortunately neither was particularly hurt. The ‘tinger waited to make sure they were alright, though she couldn’t help giggling as the two disentangled themselves from the vines and each other.
On and on the antics went. Their clothing would suddenly come alive and try to flee their bodies. The ground would randomly spin around as the tried to traverse it, sending them back the way they came. Puffs of gas would emit from certain flowers that would either tickle them or make them dizzy when they passed through. And of course the bursts of light and random color-changes of both the landscape and even their fur only increased the occasional disorientation.
Finally, Lykou pulled Kuna aside and the two had a secret whispered conversation. Alter-Aelana eyed them with a curious look, watching them intently for any indication of what they were planning. When the two separated, Lykou again bolted for her. The moment she predictably leaped into the air again, though, a massive, flexible root burst out of the ground underneath him, lifting him in the air. He jumped up off its end, managing to intercept her in mid-air. When she landed with the konuul clinging to her side, she spun around and stumbled backwards dramatically. “Ach, ah’m deid! Struck wi’ a fuzzy arrow! Woe, woe ah say!” she cried out, then finally fell over on her back and rolled to her side, pinning the canid underneath her.
“Ghck- fuck!” Lykou cried out as he tried to scrambled out from under her. “Get off me!”
“Can’t, ah’m deid,” she playfully responded.
Kuna rushed up and knelt down to help, a mixture of concern and amusement on his face. “You uh, you alright ‘Kou?”
They both grunted as they gradually pulled the canid out from under the large ball of fluff and magic that was thankfully not quite as heavy as she looked. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he groaned as he stood up and stretched. He then turned to the wolpertinger and crossed his arms with a smirk. “We caught you fair and square, now give me my tail back.”
She rolled over and grinned at the two. “A’right, fine,” she replied, then waved a paw around, conjuring a cloud of sparkles around herself and the konuul. When it faded, the tail had been restored to its proper owner, much to his relief.
With that out of the way, Lykou and Kuna finally collapsed next to each other on the ground to rest for a moment. “Well did you get enough energy out?” Kuna asked the wolpertinger.
She snickered. “Nae hardly, lad. But ah kin gie ye a moment if ye need it.”
“That… would be appreciated,” Lykou said, then took a deep breath, fiddling with the end of his tail.
“I was just thinking,” Kuna said, scratching his head thoughtfully. “If you’re kind of, you know… two people in one,” he started, then quickly waved off the objection the Sylthean began to make. “Or the other way around, however you want to look at it- point is, there’s technically two of you, however you got that way- should one of you adopt a second name or something?”
The ‘tinger looked thoughtful for a moment before responding. “Tae be honest, she wis considerin’ th’ same thing, bit ah dinnae ken… ah mean, tis nah right we’re even sep’rate in th’ first place, bit ah dinnae think we kin go back together fully noo anyway.”
“Yeah admittedly I’m still not clear on how all that even works…” Lykou asked, scratching his head. “You were both a bit vague about it.”
“Ah’m jest Lana’s ‘tinger side. Body, mind, ‘n’ soul. Th’ bit she pushed away. Th’ bit tha’ wis too ‘inconvenient’ fer her rulin’ Clovaria, ah guess,” she explained, looking away with a resentful expression. “Bit cus we’re Sylthean wi’ powerful magic, ah split oof into a literal other bein’, instead o’ her jest bein’ plain ol’ mortal crazy.”
“Sounds… complicated,” Lykou hazarded.
“Ach, ‘noof haverin’. Save tha’ fer later, th’ night es still young,” the tinger said, standing back up. She looked at Kuna with a mischievous expression. “Mibbie ah should steal somethin’ o’ yers next?”
Kuna yelped and scrambled back a bit. “Noplease.”
“Maybe something besides just chasing each other around?” Lykou suggested.
The wolpertinger considered some ideas for a minute, then grinned broadly once again. “Ah ken ah have jest th’ idea,” she said, then suddenly hopped over by the two and used her surprisingly flexible wings in conjunction with her paws to scoop the boys up onto her back. “Hold on tight, ah’m gonnae show ye somethin’.”
“W-wait, what-” Kuna began to object, before suddenly all three were launched high up into the air.
Lykou hunkered down and pulled Kuna down as well, using his other hand to hold on tight to the wolpertinger’s fur. The sereva immediately began to panic, and the konuul was startled and anxious as well, but they both managed to cling tightly to their unexpected mount. For added stability, her fur magically animated itself and wrapped around their limbs to help them stay in place as they climbed higher into the sky.
When they reached the top of the arc of her absurdly high jump, she spun around and unfolded her wings, making the boys dizzy for a moment. Once they could see straight again, they could see that they were soaring high ovear the hills of Clovaria, overlooking not only Whitlan, but much of the surrounding landscape. Kuna shook with fear, but Lykou’s fear was quickly replaced with awe at the sight. The sprawling, hilly landscape was barely lit by the moon and stars, but that just made the torches and lanterns in Whitlan stand out even more. They looked like the fireflies from the garden from up in the sky. As they flew on, they could also see a few small campfires elsewhere across the dark landscape, most likely other trade caravans stopped off for the night, on the way to or from Whitlan.
“This is awesome!” Lykou blurted out when he finally found his voice again.
“That’s certainly a word for it,” Kuna responded as he shivered and clung close to the Wolpertinger’s back.
Lykou shot him a sympathetic look. He would have grabbed him into a hug if his hands were free, but under the circumstances that wasn’t exactly an option. So instead he settled for leaning over and nuzzling him somewhat awkwardly. “Seriously, take a look out there. Don’t worry, we’re safe.”
“Aye, lad, trust meh. Ah willnae let ye fall,” their mount called back to him. “Ye’d sooner fall off the top o’ a mountain than meh drop ye.”
Kuna shut his eyes tightly and continued shivering. “We’re in the sky. We’re not birds but we’re in the fucking sky,” he said, burying his head in her fur.
“Tha’s th’ idea! Watch thaes,” she said, then swooped down towards the ground. Though the fall was jarring, she slowed their descent near the bottom with her wings, and as soon as she touched the ground, she immediately leaped back up into the sky. Only this time, streams of light trailed out behind her wings, gradually changing color as they went along. She soared around in a wide arc, then spun in a tight spiral for a short distance, making the boys dizzy again. Afterwards, they went through a much larger, broader turn, allowing them to recover.
When they finally looked up, they saw the lingering bands of light painting the sky. Shimmery, sparkling patches dripped down from the bands of light. Even Kuna was taken aback by the sight, his fear momentarily fading a bit as it stirred an old, forgotten memory from his childhood, before he lost his parents.
The wolpertinger turned around sharply, then suddenly landed on a puffy, low cloud as if it were solid ground. Her fur released her passengers for the moment. “Ye lads doin’ a’right back there?”
“More than alright,” Lykou said, grinning as he experimentally stepped off and found the cloud was just as solid to him. “This is amazing!”
“It’s gorgeous alright,” Kuna agreed, his shivering subsiding somewhat. Still, he refused to climb down himself, until Lykou came over and gently tugged on his arm.
“C’mon, it’s safe. It’s like soft ground,” the konuul encouraged him.
“Goan then, Kuna. Yer safe as lang as ah’m here. Jest mind th’ edge- though ah kin catch ye if anythin’ happens.”
The sereva hesitantly started to get down, then clung to Lykou, both for support and for warmth- even with his new robe, the windy air was chilly up so high. But that just all the more contributed to the memory creeping back into his mind. He found himself staring transfixed at the lights in the distance. His hand reached out towards it for a moment, before he snapped himself out of it and pulled it back with a slightly sheepish look.
Lykou and the ‘tinger shared a look, then the canid squeezed Kuna gently. “Whatcha doin’?”
“Just… those lights remind me of something is all,” Kuna said, folding his ears down.
“Aye, that so? Do tell!” their winged friend said, nudging him gently. “Noo ye got meh damn curious!”
Kuna looked back and forth at them, then took a deep breath before explaining. “W-when I was little… my tribe got stuck way up north one winter. We usually tried to move with the seasons, but an unexpected snowstorm came up and we got stuck at the opening to this one narrow valley, hunkering down for a while to wait it out. It was a rough time overall, but then one night my parents brought me out late at night. Everyone else was out, too- there were these lights, kind of like that, all across the horizon. Everyone was talking about them and nobody could agree exactly what they were, but the general idea was that it was something to do with spirits in the distance,” he said, shivering slightly. “I remember it so clearly... It was cold, very cold, which of course I was extra sensitive to at the time. But I was bundled up pretty good and had my parents there with me. I felt something strangely wonderful come over me… I didn’t know what it was at the time, but looking back, I think it was some kind of magical energy in the air. I just remember suddenly feeling strangely at peace and… happy. But also something else I still can’t begin to describe. I had the most wonderful dream that night, even though I can never remember what it was about.”
“Wow… do you think…?” Lykou wondered aloud, looking over at the wolpertinger.
“Ah dinnae ken fer sure, bit soonds lik’ ye ‘ad an experience wi’ a stray Sylthean’s magic even afore ye met us,” she commented, arching a brow. “Wis th’ light th’ same, er jest similar?”
“...similar, I guess. Colors were a bit more washed out and blurry, and it was bigger overall. Filled a big chunk of the sky.”
She slowly nodded. “Nae one o’ oor lost kin, then. Mibbie winter-folk…” she trailed off, shuddering slightly. “Some Syltheans are playul ‘n’ energetic like meh, bit then ye ‘av some that are jest… strange. Even ta us.”
“Oh?” Kuna asked curiously, turning to look at her. “Are… they dangerous?”
A few moments passed in silence as she stared into the distance thoughtfully. “...tha’s hard tae answer. Nae much tha’ anybody really ken aboot ‘em. They stay well away fra ether folk, ‘n’ vanish soon’s anyone gets claise- anyone tha’ come back, anyway. Sometimes folk go missin’ wi’ ‘em though. Usually troubled folk that’re… damaged, in some way, if ye ken whit ah mean,” she said, then tilted her head as she glanced sidelong at the sereva. “Thir some o’ the most mysterious Syltheans of a’. Soonds lik’ ye heard thir call, tho.”
The sereva shuddered, his eyes widening slightly. “You mean…”
“If ye’d gone ta look into them lights claiser, ye might hae gone somewhere naebody ye’ve met kin describe, ‘n’ ne’er come back. Whether tha’s guid or bad, es anyyin’s guess.”
“Well I for one am very glad he didn’t,” Lykou said, squeezing Kuna tightly.
“S-same here, heh,” Kuna replied, nuzzling him lightly. “As… curious as I might be, and as strangely nice as that felt, I think I’d rather have met you anyway.”
“And you’d call me sappy if I said that,” the konuul teased, then gently squeezed him. “Not that I mind, of course.”
Kuna poked his tongue out at him playfully.
The wolpertinger grinned at them and rolled her eyes slightly. “Oy, yer both sappy. Now c’mon, quit bein’ adorable fer a minute ‘n’ lets git off thaes cloud. Ah see yer baith getting’ chilly.”
“Yeah, even for me it’s getting a bit much up here,” Lykou admitted with a small shiver. He and Kuna climbed back onto the wolpertinger, who then took off and glided slowly down into the hills. They flicked past a camped-out caravan. The few individuals sitting by the campfire didn’t seem to even notice them as they whisked by overhead. Eventually, they set down on the top of a high hill with a good view of the surrounding area.
“So uh, what do you want to do now?” Kuna asked their mount. “Seems like you’ve calmed down some.”
“Yeah I expected more, well, mischief by now,” the konuul added, helping the sereva down. “Not that I’m complaining, mind you.”
She shrugged. “Honestly right noo ah’m jest glad tae be oot, ye ken?” she said, then frowned. “Jest tryin’ ta enjoy some freedom afore ah have tae spend another few decades cooped up in ‘er heid.”
Kuna and Lykou exchanged a look, frowning. “We’ll talk to her for you,” Lykou said. “Because that’s just not right.”
“Yeah, and honestly, now that we’re not running scared from you, you’re pretty easy to warm up to,” Kuna admitted. “Which is a lot coming from me, trust me,” he added with a slight smirk.
“Yeah, really,” the canid agreed. “As rambunctious as you were earlier, I can’t see you being some big danger to everyone.”
A guilty expression briefly crossed the Sylthean’s face. “Weeeelllll,” she said sheepishly. “There wis… incidents, in the past.”
“...oh?” Kuna asked, arching a brow. “Like… what?”
“Ah dinnae want ta go intae it tae much, bit… ah mayyyy ‘av nearly caused a clan feud or four, helped some wee bairn trick folk inta thinkin’ he wis a new druna fer a while, turned fields o’ tatties intae dandelions, turned a village’s water intae booze fer a day withoot warnin’ anyyin, turned a few dozen farm tools intae wool, turned a few folk intae sheep ‘n’ sheep intae folk, created a disease tha’ made people giggle instead o’ sneeze, flipped some folk’s houses upside doon while they slept, turned an entire clan purple...” she listed off, with a mixture of guilt and amusement. When she saw the looks she was getting from the boys, she bristled a little. “Ach, ah ken better noo! ‘n’ everyin’ turned oot okay in th’ end! Honestly some folk liked th’ dandelions better anyway. Ye kin mak’ tea wi’ ‘em! ...plus they’re jest fun.”
“Uh-huh…” Kuna said dubiously, his eye twitching slightly.
“Errr. I mean, there’s no excuse for keeping you always locked away or anything,” Lykou hazarded, trying to be diplomatic. “But, um…”
The ‘tinger sighed and rolled her eyes up. “Ah ken, ya dinnae need ta say it. Ah’m a hoppin’ harbinger o’ mayhem,” she said, then flopped down on the ground. “Bit ah’m nae tha’ bad ennymore, ah’ve learned mah lesson! Doesnae help goin’ tae th’ opposite extreme o’ doin’ nothin’, tho, either. Ah still need tae be free- ‘n’ be me!” She sighed and grumbled a bit. “Mah ether half jest dinnae want tae risk gettin’ claise enoof ta ennyone tha’ she kin let ‘em ken aboot me.”
“Well like I said, we can talk to her for you,” the konuul reiterated, gently resting a hand on her side.
After a moment, Kuna came over and rubbed her head softly. “Yeah, chaotic mess or not, it’s obvious this isn’t good for either of you.”
She smiled a bit and nuzzled into Kuna’s hand. “Thanks ye two. Yer baith sweet lads,” she said, sitting back up. “Hope ah didnae wear ye oot too much, hehe.”
“Eh, I’m getting used to being kind of worn out lately,” the sereva replied with a shrug and a faint smirk. “After all the magic and fighting for survival, it’s nice to be worn out from something more light-hearted for once.”
“I’ll second that!” the canid chimed in. “And that stuff up in the sky was pretty awesome, too! I never imagined I’d ever be up in the air like a bird!”
Kuna shivered. “Y-yeah, but some warning might’ve been nice, and I think I’ll pass on revisiting that experience. Although the lights were… really nice.”
“Weel, ye’ll ‘av tae put up wi’ it at least once mair, unless ye want tae walk all the way back inta Whitlan fra here,” the ‘tinger pointed out with an arched brow and a smirk. “Ah’ll be gentler this time tho.”
“Er, r-right,” the sereva replied uneasily. “F-fair point I guess.”
Lykou grinned. “I have an idea. Go ahead and climb on,” he said.
The wolpertinger gave him a curious, but intrigued look and moved her wing down to make it easier for the boys to climb on. Kuna looked at him nervously, then hesitantly climbed onto her back and shifted over to one side like before, so Lykou had room.
But the canid shook his head. “Nah, towards the middle.”
Kuna arched a brow but shifted over towards the middle accordingly. Lykou then climbed on behind him and wrapped his arms around the sereva, hunkering down behind him as he grabbed hold of the wolpertinger’s fur, which in turn wound its way around both of their hands. The sereva blushed intensely and folded his ears down as the konuul poked his head around his neck and rested it on his shoulder, grinning.
Kuna nodded a little with a flustered smile. “S-sure…”
Their mount giggled in amusement, then hopped up into the air and spread her wings, flying them back to Whitlan’s core in a much calmer flight than their exit had been. “Careful na tae git too frisky back there in tha’ position, lads,” she suddenly teased. “Ah dinnae need Kuna pokin’ me, if ya ken whit ah mean.”
Kuna’s blush intensified tenfold as he sputtered and tried to come up with a snarky response, only to end up burying his head in her fur in embarrassment and letting out a slightly high-pitched, muffled whine. Even Lykou was flustered by the comment and blushed hotly. “Wh-what’s that supposed to mean?” he asked defensively, though he couldn’t help smirking as he looked away. “I s-swear, what’s with people today…”
The wolpertinger just snickered as they descended towards the gardens.
“Thanks fer spendin’ time wi’ me, ye two,” the wolpertinger said as she landed back in the garden.
Lykou and Kuna quickly hopped off and avoided one anothers’ gaze, blushing still but smiling regardless. “M-mhmm, sure, n’problem,” Kuna mumbled.
“Yeah, it was fun,” Lykou replied, looking around for a minute, then realized they were near a reflecting pool and decided it was time to confront something- partly out of revenge and partly because it was needed anyway. He cleared his throat and nudged the wolpertinger. “C’mere for a moment, will ya?”
She sighed. “Aye, ah git it,” she grumbled and stalked over and looked down into the water. “A’right, you, ye kin come back oot. Ah’ve-”
“I dinnae hate ye,” the reflection mumbled, looking away sadly.
The reflection sighed. “Ah said, I dinnae hate ye. Far fra it. Ah ken yer were thinkin’ it. Ah miss bein’ you sometimes. Ah feel… really bad fer pushin ye away, to tae point ye ‘ad ta become yer own separate bein’, only ta then nae give ye yer fair chance oot,” she explained, then finally looked up with a guilty expression at her other half. “Ah fergot how much fun all that could be, ‘n’ got too wrapped up in… well, whit am ah sayin’, ye ken whit ah mean.”
The wolpertinger looked surprised for a moment, then looked away with a mixed expression. “Wull… ah ken ah kin be… a lot tae deal wi’,” she said, then perked up slightly. “Bit ah hope tonight proves ah kin ‘av fun withoot messin’ tae much up, aye?”
“Aye, ah already ken that, ta be honest. Ah jest…”
“You don’t know who to trust with knowing about the two of you,” Kuna suggested as he walked over with his hands in his robe’s pockets, grateful to have the attention pulled away from him and Lykou for the moment. “Believe me, I know about trust issues.”
“Yeah, and I don’t pretend to know what it’s like in your exact situation, but it’s obvious you two need more real friends, however tricky it may be,” Lykou said, gently petting the wolpertinger.
“Aye, we do,” the ‘tinger agreed, looking back down at the reflection. “’n’ much as ah wish ah could help wi’ tha’, ye gotta be th’ one ta… y’ken, ease folk intae... us.”
“Aye, ah ken…”
“Okay, time out, we should get one thing sorted out first,” Lykou said, rubbing his head a bit. “So, just to clarify, you were one person but then because… I don’t know, magic meets a bit of crazy, mixed in with the fact that you’re half-Sylthean, and poof! You’re technically two people in one, now, right? Or one person in two or whatever you want to insist on calling it.”
“Aye, thas aboot th’ size o’ it.”
“Technically, aye. We still share th’ same experiences ‘n’ memories ‘n’ shite, bit etherwise we’re sep’rate, ‘n’ we jest trade oot who’s oot there in th’ physical world runnin’ things.”
“Mostly you,” the ‘tinger snarked.
“...ah ken. Ah wis cruel tae ye,” the reflection agreed softly, looking away sadly.
“...nae, nah cruel, ah ken ye didnae mean it tha’ way,” the tinger replied with a heavy sigh.
“Right, well, before we continue this conversation… I think one of you needs to come up with another name,” the konuul suggested. “I know you’re connected, but it sounds like you’re technically two individuals, or at least one and a half, or… something. So for the sake of clarity for me, Kuna, and any other friends you make, it’d probably help to give one of you a new name- a nickname, at least.”
“Ach, ah dinnae ken, she ‘as every right ta mah name as ah dae-” the reflection began, but the wolpertinger cut her off.
“Nah, tha’ soonds fair,” the wolpertinger agreed, then looked back down at the water. “Ah appreciate yer sentiment, bit ah’m fine wi’ it. ‘Aelana’ wis alwis more a typical mortal name ennyway.”
“Any ideas?” Kuna asked.
There was silence for a moment as the ‘tinger contemplated the notion. “...ah jest realized somethin’.”
“….much as ah represent yer Sylthean side… ah dinnae remember a single pure, proper Sylthean name,” she said with a slightly dumbfounded look.
Lykou and Kuna both face-palmed. Aelana- the one in the water, that is- looked thoughtful for a moment, then arched a brow. “Aye, me either, now tha’ ye say it. Ah guess most o’ th’ others took mortal names while they were here, too. Nabody ever tellt us thir Sylthean ones, mibbie even Da’.”
“Ah s’pose ah could jest tak’ a name efter somethin’ nice fra th’ garden,” the wolpertinger said, looking around the somewhat ransacked garden. “Some flower er somethin’. Ah ken a few o’ th’ others did sim’lar fer thir mortal names.”
“Yeah, how about Buttercup?” Lykou suggested.
She stuck her tongue out. “Bleh… ah dinnae ken, somethin’ feel off aboot that.”
“Whit aboot Daisy?”
“How about... Myrtle?” Kuna suggested, then shrugged when they all gave him a look. “I dunno, I always thought it was an under-appreciated flower, I guess.”
“Nae bad, actually,” the tinger said, mulling it over. She then smirked. “Mibbie ah should go wi’ Thistle, seein’ howfer ah’m such a prickly nuisance.”
“...ah’d rather call ye somethin’ nicer,” Aelana said with a frown.
The wolpertinger looked at her with mild surprise. “Ah gave yer a free pass tae call me a pain in th’ arse, ‘n’ ye pass it up? Aye, ye really dae feel bad, don’t ye?” she remarked with a faint smirk. “...ach, Daisy es fine fer now, ah suppose.”
“Soonds guid,” Aelana replied with a small smile. “Daisy, ah realleh am sorreh fer th’ neglect. If we could be in the same side a’ th’ same time, ah’d hug ye, ye ken. Ah never meant ta make ye think ah disliked, much less hated ye. Ah jest… ah worry aboot things goin’ wrong when yer oot. ‘n’ nah jest cus o’ yer antics, bit ‘cus folk dinnae ken how ta deal wi’ ye. You remember whit some o’ them kin be like…”
Daisy sighed. “Aye, ah remember,” she said, then huffed. “Bit we cannae keep hidin’ oot o’ fear. Tis nah jest unfair ta me, bit you, too.”
“She’s right, you know. You two really just need to make more friends,” Lykou chimed in, then smirked at Kuna, pulling him in for a hug. “Like I’ve been telling Kuna, not everyone’s an asshole. You’ve just got to accept that you might have to risk finding the ones that are, to find the ones that aren’t. And most people usually aren’t, most of the time.”
Kuna smirked back and returned the hug. “You’re bit of a sap, but I guess you’re not wrong,” he replied, then turns back to the reflection in the water. “You know, come to think of it, you should give Moyra and Faergus a chance. They’re already used to, er, being secretive about things.”
“And pretty used to bucking normalcy, too,” Lykou agreed, though Kuna quickly shushed him with mild panic.
“I was talking about the bandit investigations,” he quickly pointed out under his breath.
“Whit’s this then?” Daisy asked, intrigued.
“Oh come on, it’s sort of public anyway. And even if it wasn’t, you know they won’t be able to keep it secret from these two.”
“Well…” Kuna began to argue, then sighed. “Yeah, fair point I guess.”
“Moyra and Faergus from Kerney are, well… officially together now. As in, you know, mates,” Lykou explained to the two. “They were already seeing each other secretly for who-knows how long, but they just recently made it official.”
Aelana arched a brow. “Kerney’s druna ‘n’ tha’ night watcher?” she mused aloud. “Ah alwyis ken tha’ lass wis different...”
Daisy grinned and shot a look to her counterpart. “Ah tellt ye them two wis sweet on each ether.”
“Still… a druna gettin’ involved wi’ someone-”
“Ah shu-… hush,” Daisy chided, softening her reaction part-way through. “Ye ken ye only made them rules- na even official, mind ye- aboot druna bein’ aloof ‘n’ detached ‘cus ye were jealous.”
“Oy, tha’s nae true!” Aelana bristled. “Ah jest didnae want druna-dom tae become some lineage shite bein’ passed doon tae thir descendants ‘n’ whatnae. Nepotism ‘n’ corruption ‘n’ a’ tha’ mess,” she insisted.
Daisy gave her a look. “Riiiight.”
After a minute, Aelana looked away with a sheepish pout. “...a’right, mibbie ah wis a wee bit jealous. Bit mah point still stands.”
“Er, it’s not going to be a problem, right?” Lykou warily asked, worried he’d made a big mistake.
“Nae, lad, dinnae worry,” Aelana assured him. “Might need ta ‘av a chat wi’ ‘em aboot a few things, bit ah willnae interfere wi’ love. Far be it fer me ta tak’ someone’s happiness.”
“That’s good,” Kuna said with a relieved sigh. “They’re good people and definitely deserve each other.”
“Ach, she ken ah’d never let ‘er ‘av another night’s peaceful sleep if she tried ta interfere wi’ tha’,” Daisy assured them, arching a brow at her alter ego.
Aelana rolled her eyes and smirked. “Nae, ah really wouldnae ennyway. Ah’m nae monster,” she said. “Bit aye, we should talk tae them, ah suppose. Jest let ‘em ken tae be careful.”
“And mak’ friends, dammit,” Daisy reminded her.
“...aye, ‘n’ try tha’ too ah suppose.”
“...mibbie even halp ‘em suss oot enny lingerin’ bandit problems in th’ hills,” the wolpertinger suggested with a narrow-eyed grin. “Ah’m sure there’s still a few oot there.”
“You jest want an excuse tae mess wi’ someone withoot holdin’ back,” Aelana said with a smirk.
“...aye,” The feral form’s borderline predatory expression sent a shiver down Kuna’s spine.
Lykou couldn’t help but snicker, though. “I can only imagine they’ll be eager to re-think their life choices afterward,” he said, then scratched his chin thoughtfully for a minute. “You know, maybe you should befriend the Dunnyhill folks, too. They seem pretty open-minded and nice.”
“Ooo, aye! Caravan folk usually are!”
“Weel, mibbie,” Aelana said. “Bit let’s just tak’ it one step a’ a time fer noo.”
“I wish Lakefire was closer, because I’d definitely visit you regularly, too,” he said, then gently rubbed Kuna’s back. “Both of us would, I’m sure.” The sereva smiled and nodded.
“We’d love tae see ye anytime ye kin mak’ it.”
“...distance dinnae need tae be a problem, ye ken,” Daisy pointed out, grinning down at Aelana.
Aelana arched a brow, then looked thoughtful for a moment. Suddenly she smacked her forhead. “Oh fer… ah cannae believe ah forgot tha’!”
“Ye still ‘av at least a dozen o’ ‘em sittin’ in th’ sanctum unused.”
“What are you two talking about?” Lykou asked curiously.
“Ye’ll see!” Daisy said as she prepared to bolt off.
“Wait!” Aelana called out to her alter ego. “Ye willnae fit through the sanctum halls, ye daft twit!”
“...ach, right,” Daisy said, her wings and ears drooping a bit. “Damn, guess we’ll ‘av ta switch back noo…”
“Aye,” Aelana said, then smiled sympathetically. “Bit ah promise ah willnae keep ye stuck on t’ether side fer years thaes time.”
Daisy stared at her for a minute. “...ye better keep that promise.”
“Ah’d swear a geas to it if we could do that tae one another, ye ken.”
“...we kin alwis meet in th’ astral realm. Tis awkward jest ridin’ in yer heid in silence ‘till we happen across a reflection, ye ken.”
Aelana looked thoughtful for a minute. “...aye, we should try sometime. Especially if we’re gonnae start usin’ tha’ place more often ennyway.”
“So wait, if you two are still connected and experience the same things, why can’t you… I dunno, talk to each other mentally or something?” Lykou asked curiously.
The wolpertinger and lepne shared a look. “Weel… tis a bit awkward.”
“Hard tae explain in enny way tha’ makes sense,” Aelana said. “Jest suffice ta say it helps ta see th’ person yer talkin’ ta.”
Daisy took a breath and straightened up a bit. “A’right, back ah go, ah s’pose.”
A cloud of sparkling, glittery light and dust appeared and swirled around the wolpertinger until it fully engulfed her. After a minute, it dissipated, leaving a slightly dizzy lepne stumbling about for a moment.
“Welcome back, I guess,” Kuna said, helping her steady herself. “So what was this thing you wanted from the sanctum?”
She grinned. “Right, wait here, ah’ll be right back,” she said, then bolted off.
“Er… alright,” Kuna replied. He and Lykou sat down on a nearby root-bench and awkwardly awaited her return. The konuul glanced down at the reflecting pool again, half expecting to see the wolpertinger on its surface, but she wasn’t there.
“Sure has been an odd experience,” he finally said as the silence dragged on.
“You can say that again,” Kuna said, then yawned a bit. “We’ll definitely be starting late tomorrow, though.”
“Heh, yeah,” Lykou agreed, then starting looking over one of his bracers idly. “Wonder what she- er, they, have in mind. Do you think we should tell them about… you know?”
Kuna fidgeted a bit in uncertainty. “I… don’t know. Maybe only if it happens to come up?”
“They deserve to know. And I wouldn’t want them to resent us for keeping it secret from them, especially when they’ve entrusted us with their own huge secrets.”
The sereva sighed. “Yeah, that’s a good point. I guess we should, then. I… just hope it goes well.”
“Why wouldn’t it? They might be able to see some old Sylthean friends again. The ones that got ‘stuck on the other side’ or whatever.”
“True. I just don’t know how she’ll feel about us wrecking an old Sylthean village and messing with their stuff.”
“I mean, for one thing, like she said, it belonged to some ‘elnyrs’, whatever they are, not wolpertingers. And they’d abandoned it anyway,” the konuul said. “And she didn’t seem bothered by us having these bracers.”
After a short while, Aelana came hurrying back. “A’right, sorry tha’ took a minute,” she said after catching her breath for a moment.
“Heh, it’s understandable. I remember how big and complicated that place is,” Kuna replied.
“Aye. Ah try ta keep mah own room near th’ bottom, bit th’ place ah keep these ‘n’ ether special things is near th’ top,” she pointed out, pulling something out of her pocket. “Hauld oot yer hands, lads.”
Lykou and Kuna did as instructed, and she placed something like a large marble in each of their hands, then grabbed them gently with her own so that they didn’t pull back right away. “A’right, gimme a moment, havnae used enny o’ these in a lang while noo.”
“Ye remember th’ incantation, right?” Daisy chimed in from the water nearby.
“Aye, jest gimme a moment,” Aelana replied, then turned up her eyes as she ran through the words in her mind.
“Incantation?” Lykou asked, then glanced over at Kuna. “Isn’t that one of those things Inkari mentioned in your last lesson with her?”
Kuna nodded. “You uh… definitely have my attention,” the sereva said to the lepne.
“Tha’ loon mentioned incantation?” Daisy asked. “Interestin’…”
“Wh-” Lykou began to ask, but Aelana shushed the three.
“Shh, ah need tae concentrate, you three.”
“Right, sorry,” the konuul said with a sheepish grin.
She took a breath, then several strands of sparkling white light began to swirl around their hands as she began to speak in a slightly rhythmic cadence.
“’neath th’ moon’s soft glow, when dreams tak’ flight,
Within thaes orbs, a sparklin’ bridge o’ light,
Linkin’ thought ‘n’ mind, fra one soul t’another,
Distance ban us not, fra seein’ each other!”
Her hair and every bit of her fur began to raise as strange energies flowed through her and surrounding the trio. A wind whipped up around them, buffeting their clothing from multiple directions. The glow in her eyes gradually grew brighter with each passing phrase, eventually masking them entirely in shimmering light. Her voice resonated with an ethereal echo as she continued,
“By th’ gift o’ Sylthea’s arcane might,
Upon which ah now call wi’ this sacred rite,
Grant us a shared magic link unbreakable,
Tae be forged by great powers unshakeable!”
After she uttered the last word, a bright flash temporarily blinded the boys, and they felt some part of themselves being pulled into the small marble-like crystal objects in their hands for a moment. Kuna recognized it as the flow of soul energy flowing from the spirit world into and through them, though he could feel something else coursing through and mingling with it as well- from somewhere that was definitely not the spirit world. A mixture of powerful feelings washed over them one after another- awe, horror, giddiness, excitement, sorrow, pining, and various others, including some they couldn’t even put a name to.
Afterwards, they were briefly hit with a strong wave of dizziness, though the magic somehow kept them from falling over or pulling away. Finally, their vision gradually returned, and the wind and energies subsided.
“Woah,” Lykou said, clutching his head with his other hand. “That was… intense.”
“I’ll say,” Kuna agreed, doing similar.
Aelana pulled her hands away, revealing what looked like two marble-like crystalline spheres in their hands, swirling with colors and faintly shimmering lights. “There ye go then, lads,” she said with a grin. “Thaes astral charms are bonded ta ye now.”
“Thank you!” Lykou said, looking it over. “Er, what does it do?”
“It lets us kip ‘n’ touch, in a way. Jest whisper mah name tae it- or Daisy’s, or even each other’s, fer tha’ matter- then hold it in yer hand when ye go tae sleep. Th’ other person wull become aware o’ yer call, ‘n’ as lang as they agree, they’ll meet ye in yer corner o’ th’ astral realm when they git tae sleep er etherwise enter th’ astral realm themselves.”
“Also has th’ bonny effect o’ lettin’ ye astral project withoot bein’ familiar wi’ soul magic in th’ first place,” Daisy added.
“Woah,” the konuul said, eyeing the small object with awe. “I… can visit the astral realm now, too?”
“I mean… technically in a way you always have, since that’s where dreams come from, right?”
“Weel, mair er less,” Aelana answered with a shrug. “But aye, now ye kin visit while bein’ aware o’ it. Jest dinnae git addicted,” she warned with a smirk. “Remember, when yer projectin’, ye willnae git as much rest as when ye sleep normally.”
“’n’ ye’ll be limited in whit ye kin dae there by yer familiarity wi’ soul magic,” Daisy added.
“Aw. Still awesome, though,” the canid said. “And hey, it means we can talk regardless of distance!”
“And they’re real pretty, too,” Kuna said with a smile. “We’ll have to be careful not to lose them, though. I wonder if we can somehow make a second pair of necklaces to hold them…”
“Ye kin dae tha’ so lang as it doesnae involve tryin’ ta pierce it er somethin’. Bit thir’s no need, strictly speakin’,” Daisy pointed out. “Tis bound ta ye in a way tha’ it’ll alwis show up agin’ by th’ next time ye sleep, even if ye lose it.”
“Still a guid idea ta keep it secure, tho,” Aelana added. “Tis potentially another strong sympathetic connection, tho its magic limits whit someone else kin dae wi’ it. Still, alwyis smart tae be careful.”
“Thank you both so much,” Kuna said, holding the charm tightly in his hand.
“Tis nae problem. Jest think o’ it as thanks fer helpin’ Clovaria… ‘n’ us pers’nally, o’course,” Aelana said, shooting a smile over to Daisy. “Enny time ye ‘av a question aboot somethin’ mystical, feel free ta ask us, ‘n’ wi’ll halp if we ken th’ answer.”
“I really appreciate it,” Kuna replied. After a brief pause, he stuck the charm in his pocket and smiled up at her. “I, uh… I know we just met, but I’m glad we’ll be able to talk more in the future, and not just for questions like that.”
“Yeah, I hope some day we can introduce you to some other folks, too. I can’t promise I know how everyone in my tribe would react, but I think at the very least Naira would be excited to get to know you, too.”
“We’ll see, lad, we’ll see,” Aelana replied with a faint smile. “One step at a time.”
“Aye, efter ye leave Clovaria, wi’ll be payin’ Moyra ‘n’ her love a visit, right?”
“Right,” Aelana said with a slightly uncertain expression.
“Hey, you’ll see, they’ll be good friends, too,” Lykou assured her. He thought for a moment, then pulled out his knife and cut off a small chunk of his hair and offered it to her. “Just let them know we sent you,” he added with a smirk. “Doubt they’d mistake who that came from.” Kuna arched a brow in mild amusement but chose not to comment.
Aelana looked at him with surprise and hesitantly took the offered lock of hair. “...thank ye?”
“Ach, tha’s sweet o’ ye lad, and smart!” Daisy said.
Eventually the half-lepne smirked back. “Jest so ye ken, thi-”
“Let me guess, ‘sympathetic link’?” Lykou remarked.
“...aye. Lucky guess,” Aelana responded with a grin.
“Well it was just part of me a minute ago, so it makes sense if I’m understanding how that stuff works,” Lykou said, then shrugged. “Don’t care. We’re all trading signs of trust tonight and honestly I really like you two, so I trust you not to let it fall into the wrong hands.”
“Aw, lad,” Aelana replied, then immediately pulled him into a brief hug, which he happily returned.
Kuna leaned over towards the reflecting pool. “See, he’s the sappier one. Big ball of sweet fluff,” he commented with a smirk.
Daisy giggled. “Dinnae sell yerself short, lad. Yer a softy as weel, ‘n’ don’t ye try ‘n’ deny it.”
The sereva rolled his eyes slightly. “Only ‘cus he’s rubbing off on me.”
“Nah, you were always a softy, even when we first met. Just covered up with a hard, cold disguise,” the konuul said, pulling the sereva into another embrace after separating from Aelana. “I’ll never forget how you melted the first time I held you.”
Kuna blushed and folded his ears down. “Lykouuuu,” he whined, rolling his eyes a bit.
“Ach, tha’ soonds lik’ a story we definitely need tae hear sometime,” Daisy remarked with a grin.
“Aye, bit we’ve kept thaes two up long enoof,” Aelana said. “Time ta get ye lads back ta th’ lodge so ye kin get some sleep.”
“Er, yeah, but,” Kuna replied, looking around at the garden, which was still thoroughly wrecked from their shenanigans with the wolpertinger earlier. “...will you need help cleaning all this up?”
The lepne glanced around with an amused expression. “Ach, ye really did a right number on thaes place this time, eh Daisy?”
“Price o’ havin’ fun, ‘Lana,” the wolpertinger said, crossing her forelegs with a smug grin.
Aelana chuckled. “Fair enoof. Ah’m glad ye got tae run amuck withoot causin’ issues,” she said, then snapped her fingers. All of the sudden, in a whirlwind of activity and motion, the garden began rapidly cleaning itself up and restoring itself to its former state. After a minute or so, there was no sign that there had been any significant activity within its walls that night. “Need ah remind ye th’ garden tis th’ core o’ my-” she started, then glanced at the water again. “...rather, our domain. Cleanup tis nothin’.”
Kuna and Lykou looked around with startled and impressed expressions. “Right… should have known.”
“I take it ‘domain’ means something more specific for you?” Lykou asked curiously.
“Aye, fer a Sylthean- including most o’ us halfies- when we settle doon in a particular place ta claim as oor own, everythin’ within it gradually becomes an extension o’ ourselves, in a way,” Aelana explained. “Anyway, let’s get ye both tae th’ lodge.”
“Sounds good,” Kuna replied, yawning again.
“Y- wait!” Lykou said, suddenly remembering what he and Kuna had discussed. He looked over to the sereva and gestured to one of his bracers. “We were gonna tell them, remember?”
“Tell us aboot whit now?” Aelana asked curiously.
“Riiight,” Kuna said with a slightly anxious smile. “Um. You know how we said we got these in some old ruins?”
“Aye?” she asked, then suddenly narrowed her eyes and turned to Lykou with an inscrutable look. “...whit kind of ruins?”
“Ehhh, wellll,” the canid began with some uncertainty. “...some kind of Sylthean ones, apparently. There were all these moving plants, with teeth and poison needles and so on that kept trying to attack us…”
“Aye, soonds lik’ typical Elnyr nonsense,” Daisy said with a mildly bemused smirk. “Love fer gardens are common tae a lot o’ Syltheans, bit they lik’ thirs tae be challengin’ fer some reason.”
“No kidding,” Kuna said with a small shiver at the memory. “I don’t like my vegetables trying to bite me back, thanks.”
“Yeah, and they had all these weird puzzles, too, and secret passages,” Lykou continued.
“Not uncommon fer some Sylthean places, bit usually thas tae hide somethin’ important,” Aelana commented, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. “Seems a wee bit much fer them bracer, tho…”
“Wellll….” Lykou said with a big sheepish grin, averting his gaze. “There was, uh… d-definitely something else…”
“Y-yeah… we fell down s-some secret hatch on the floor i-into some weird dark room with glyphs all over the place, and uh….” Kuna trailed off, unable to bring himself to say it.
Aelana glanced back and forth between the two warily, then adopted a flat look. “Th’ damn tree’s back, innit,” she said with the faintest sardonic smirk.
“...isn’t that a good thing?” Lykou asked hopefully. “You’ll finally see more Syltheans around again! Maybe even some of your old friends that, uh, got stuck on the… ‘other side’?”
In the reflection nearby, Daisy was emitting a faint, high-pitched squeal and practically vibrating with excitement and an enormous, wide-eyed grin. Aelana, on the other hand, seemed to be taking it a bit differently. She conjured up a large root to lean back on and rolled her eyes up thoughtfully. “...tis a mixed blessin’, ah s’pose.”
“Oh?” Kuna asked nervously. “...did we massively fuck up?”
The lepne turned to him with an arched brow and thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I wouldnae put it tha’ way, prolly no way ye could’ve ken whit ye wis doin’ at th’ time anyway,” she said, then sighed. “’n’ ah suspect Inkari prolly aimed ye there with tha’ specifically in mind anyway, even if ye didnae realize it at th’ time.”
“So… is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?”
“Definitely NO!” Daisy finally cried out, then started hopping around in the reflection with such fervor that the water actually began to ripple a bit as she began rambling on and on to herself, somewhat incoherently, about various ideas for old friends to look up and shenanigans to get up to with them.
Aelana rolled her eyes but couldn’t help but smile a bit. “Lik’ ah said, tis a mixed blessin’. It’ll be nice in some ways fer us, bit over time ye kin expect th’ world tae git… weel, mighty interestin’, ta say th’ least. Ye ken how playful this radge twit is?” she said, gesturing to the wolpertinger that was too preoccupied with her own excited musings to notice. “...or how fookt in th’ heid ah am tae be lik’ this in th’ first place, fer that matter,” she added with a more self aware sheepish grin. “Remember th’ two o’ us are only half-Sylthean. Imagine how rambunctious some o’ oor full-blooded cousin are.”
Kuna’s eyes widened a bit and he twitched. “...oh.”
“That… sounds… interesting, alright,” Lykou said with a somewhat uncertain grin. “I uh. I hope the world can handle all that…”
Aelana chuckled and shook her head. “Ach, it’ll be fine. It survived us afore th’ disjunction, it’ll survive Sylthea’s return. It’ll be a while afore many kin start crossin’ over again anyway,” she said, crossing her arms. “Remember, Syltheans on the whole kin be chaotic, bit that don’t mean they’re all evil. Ye jest… have tae be on yer toes aroond a lot o’ ‘em. Bit thir’s no more sleekit ‘n’ cunnin’ bastard aroond than fae folk tryin’ ta pull yin over on ye. Word o’ advise- pay very, very close attention tae words when yer aroond full Syltheans. Always assume thir always talkin’ lit’rally, even- nae, especially when they use common turns o’ phrase.”
“Good to know,” Kuna replied with a wary look. “Any examples?”
“Weel, ye ken when ah said ta gimme yer hands fer tha’ geas?”
“Let’s jest say some o’ th’ more dreich fae might’a kept ‘em,” Aelana said with a dark smirk. “If yer lucky it might be temporary, fer a goof, like Daisy did wi’ yer tail. Th’ truly wicked ones though… ye ken where ah’m goin wi’ this.”
Kuna blanched and Lykou shuddered. “Duly noted…”
“Aye, jest keep tha’ in mind. Demons might be infamous for tricky deals wi’ unsuspectin’ mortals, bit th’ smart ones learn thir dirtiest tricks frae Sylthea’s finest.”
Kuna gave her a wary look. “You uh… you wouldn’t-”
The lepne snickered. “Nae, ah’m only a halfie, ‘n’ anyway ‘tingers are mair er less lik’ Daisy ‘ere, jest zany goofballs wi’ tae much energy,” she assured him. “’n’ fer the record, elnyr kin be sly sometimes, bit usually onleh if thir genuinely efter somethin’ they want. Etherwise, thir a wee bit stuck up thir oon arses. Ah’m jest givin’ ye a general warnin’ cus tis safer tae assume a Sylthean’s upty somethin’ till ye get ta ken ‘em better.”
“We appreciate the warning, heh,” Lykou said, then yawned. “We probably should get back to the lodge, though. We just thought it was only right to let you two know about the tree.”
“Thank ye thank ye thank ye!” Daisy repeated, bouncing in place. “Yer mah heroes, lads!”
“Aye, th’ tree’s a mixed surprise, bit ah generalleh still agree. Yer pure decent ‘n’ a hawp ye dae return tae these hills some day,” Aelana said, walking over to embrace the two. “Lets git ye tae bed, so ye kin get ready fer tomorrae, however late ye start oof.”
Lykou and Kuna both returned the hug, then followed her out of the garden as she led them to the lodge again. “Um… hey Aelana,” Kuna spoke up as they passed through the gate.
“Please, call me ‘Lana if ye want.”
“Right, Lana… um, do you think you could, uh…”
“...want me tae sing again?” the lepne asked with a grin. “That it?”
Kuna nodded with a sheepish smile. “It’d be… nice…”
Lykou smiled and pulled the sereva into a side-embrace. “You’re too adorable sometimes, you know that?”
“Hush, you,” Kuna replied, blushing.
Aelana chuckled. “Ah’d be happy tae, lad.”
The three strolled through the streets back to the lodge as she began singing again. A few patrolling night guard, oblivious to the trio thanks to her magic, nonetheless found themselves oddly at peace on their rounds that night, with the faint echoes of a strange tune popping into their mind on occasion.