Mystic Heart Odyssey
Part 5: Cult of the Crimson Isles
Ooookay, forget everything I said about this being a shorter one. Five chapters in and we’re not even halfway through yet. Oh well, hope you enjoy it anyway! And as always, be sure to leave a comment letting me know your thoughts, suggestions, speculations, etc.!
“It was pretty scary, but luckily we encountered this one bee that wasn’t one of the fighters. And she was a lot more reasonable and willing to hear us out, so before the warriors could catch up to us, she offered to carry us away from the nest. It was a pretty shaky flight, definitely a little nerve-wracking, but the important thing is she got us out of there safely. And after we landed, we just kind of-”
“Thanked her and went on our way,” Kuna quickly interjected with a mildly flustered expression upon hearing the subject at hand as he and Hoku returned to the center of the village. He hurriedly rushed over to his friend’s side and shot him a look, prodding his shoulder lightly. Luckily, many of the raptuva had already turned in for the night anyway- some of the younger ones quite reluctantly so at the insistence of their parents- but he still didn’t want to end up embarrassed in front of the ones that remained. “Andabsolutelynothingelse.”
Lykou looked up and grinned. “Oh I seem to remember we chatted a bit and-”
“Nope! Ithinkyou’vehadtoomuchtodrink, timetosaygoodnightLykou,” the sereva said, playfully tugging at his friend’s arm as his face flushed and he avoided looking at anyone in particular.
“Ooo this sounds juicy!” Makani commented with a big grin. “Do tell!”
The konuul snickered. “Maybe in the morning,” he said as he eventually stood up and stretched. “I’m getting tired and I don’t want to wake up having been rolled into the ocean by an angry sereva.”
“Awww, come on! You can’t just leave it there! I don’t wanna wait until morning.”
“They need their sleep before they continue their long journey tomorrow, Kani,” Hoku pointed out, helping Mata and a few others clean up around the smoking embers of the firepit.
“Fiiiine… but you better not leave without telling me the rest of that story!”
Lykou grinned and shot a quick glance at Kuna, before responding, “Don’t worry, we won’t.”
Kuna groaned and clapped his hand to his face. “Must you?”
“He must, he must!”
“Would be rude to just leave the story unfinished, you know,” the konuul pointed out.
“Why must you insist on embarrassing me?” Kuna said, blushing and rubbing his forehead.
“Because you’re adorable when you’re flustered.”
“He has a point, you know,” Makani pointed out with a grin.
“Hey, where are you two sleeping tonight anyway? I wasn’t aware anyone had spare space,” Mata chimed in.
“Oh, uh… we-”
“Put together a quick, real basic lean-to out in the woods between Hoku’s place and here. Should be fine for just tonight,” Kuna quickly explained, gesturing off a bit further north than the spot they’d actually picked out, just to be on the safe side. “We’re kind of used to doing stuff like that by now.”
“I’m sorry none of us had any space to offer,” Hoku said. “Is there anything else you’ll need?”
“Nah. There’s no hostile critters around here that we have to worry about, right?”
“Not really, certainly not so close to a village.”
“Then we should be fine.”
“Alright, well, sleep well you two.”
“Yeah, and remember- join us for breakfast and don’t leave without telling us the rest of your story and saying bye!”
Lykou chuckled. “Will do, Kani.”
Kuna rolled his eyes and sighed, but then smiled over at Hoku. “G’night Hoku. Was nice walking and chatting with you.”
“Likewise, Kuna. Sleep well and sweet dreams.”
After telling the others goodnight, the boys left and started making their way towards their camping spot- taking a slightly indirect route in order to throw off any potential curious or suspicious watchers that might have had any ideas of tracking them down in the night. Everyone had seemed friendly enough, but they still felt like the extra precaution was a good idea. And in any case, it gave them a little extra chance to chat just between themselves before bed.
“So it seems like you really hit it off with Hoku,” Lykou chimed in after they were out of the village proper. Luckily, their eyes had adjusted to the dark enough that they could navigate reasonably well by moonlight- and with the sky being so clear and the forest being less dense near the beach, they had plenty of it to rely on. “You both seem to have warmed up to each other pretty quick.”
Kuna smiled. “Yeah, I think we kind of have a fair bit in common honestly. I think, uh…” He paused to scratch his head. “I think the practice with my soul magic is starting to give me more insight into people, if that makes any sense.”
“Oh really? How so?”
“Well, it’s really surface level and uncommon, but I’ve kinda started to notice that with certain people, I get this… I don’t know, vague sort of impression about them that I can’t explain. Only a few so far- Moyra was the first, I think. And then Aelana- after that initial little freakout, I mean. And to some extent I think it was always a subconscious thing I used to get around most spirits, especially galdra.”
“That’s interesting… do you suppose it’s just something with them being other magic users?”
“Well no, because I got it with Hoku, too, just tonight, and I think I may have also kind of gotten it around Faergus shortly after we met… I think. Can’t quite remember, since a lot happened after that.”
“What kind of feeling is it, exactly?”
“Just kind of a… ‘the world is telling me this individual, if nothing else, is safe to be around’ kind of thing, I guess. Heh, you know how I usually am around new people, so I guess it’s just extra noticeable when I suddenly feel more at ease around someone.”
“Yeah, that’s for sure.” Lykou smiled and rubbed his friend’s back gently. “But hey, I’m glad you two got along so well. What’d you talk about while you were gone? Took you quite a while to just grab a basket of fish.”
“Various things. She was curious about my magic, of course. And we talked a lot about spirits, too. She’s really not fond of how those red cloaks have changed certain things around here, and I can’t say I entirely blame her. You know those stones we found?”
“The uh… ‘Tears of Tuimana’?”
“Yyyyeah, not so much. Apparently they sort of co-opted those to suit their narrative, but they used to be called Pelenock Teeth, after these little spirit things that sound like something you’d love.”
“Oh really?” the konuul asked, smirking. “How so?”
“Well, they sound like kind of a combination of fire and stone spirit, that supposedly smoothed out the islands and covered them in sand by chewing up a whole bunch of stone that used to cover them, making all kinds of sparks and regularly shedding teeth for new ones.”
“That… does sound pretty neat, I have to admit. I wonder if we’ll see any?”
“Dunno. I got the impression Tuimana and his… or its, whatever, followers spooked any lesser spirits into either leaving or keeping out of sight.”
“Aw, that’s a shame.”
“Yeah… apparently, these folks used to pray to, or at least acknowledge all sorts of spirits, until that group came along and basically said ‘Tuimana is in charge so no need to worry yourself with the rest’ or something.”
“Well that doesn’t seem right…”
“Tell me about it. Poor Hoku’s not happy about it. She’s… actually pretty spiritual herself. She still prays to a bunch of them, but not really asking for things- just kind of ‘hey, miss you guys, hope you’re good, here’s how my day went’ kind of thing. Which seems kind of sweet if you ask me.”
“Aww, yeah, it does!” Lykou frowned a bit. “I wish there was something we could do…”
“Don’t even think about stirring shit up with the red cloaks, Lykou,” Kuna warned, shooting him a quick look. “I share the sentiment, but just… no.”
“No, I know, I wouldn’t want to risk causing a bunch of drama on the island or anything. I was just thinking more like… I wish we could get some of those other spirits to come back and visit Hoku or something. Just something to cheer her up, you know?”
“Yeah… if only.” They walked in silence for a minute, then the sereva took a deep breath. “...supposedly Tuimana isn’t the only god around here though.”
“Oh?” Lykou asked, his eyes widening slightly. “I thought spirits that powerful were rare…”
“I mean, I’m pretty sure they still are. But, well… supposedly she met one in person when she was little.”
“...come again? She met one??”
“Mhmm.” The sereva proceeded to tell the canid Hoku’s story.
“Uh-huh…” Lykou was more than a bit dubious, as indicated by his faint smirk. “I mean, interesting story, but she was just a kid at the time, after all. Sounds like it might be something her mind would make up to make sense of-”
“I would think the same if I hadn’t seen it too.”
“Or at least… I think I did.”
Lykou stared sidelong at him silently for a moment as they continued walking. “...you going to explain that?”
“When we were on the boat, I was looking down into the water at one point, and… I could’ve sworn I saw these two massive glowing eyes peer up at me from the depths, for just a moment. At the time, when I pointed it out to her, she brushed it off as probably just either being a trick of the light on the waves or some big fish swimming around down there. But the more I think back on it… I dunno. Those definitely looked like eyes, and I… I think I felt something. Like when I feel mystical energies that I don’t have a grasp over- I know they’re there, vaguely, but just out of reach. Only it felt… big. Faint, but huge.”
“...shit. That’s… definitely something. Damn. Did she tell you what this supposed god’s name was?”
Kuna shook his head. “She doesn’t know. It didn’t tell her- or at least, not in a way she could understand. She’s been kind of awkwardly praying to it since it apparently saved her life, though.”
“Well yeah, that makes sense… still, though. Wow.” After a moment the canid smirked. “I wonder if Sulyr might know the thing. Since he’s a decently powerful water spirit too, after all.”
“Hey, he was pretty big for a rima, but I’m pretty sure he’s nowhere near god-level. Not to mention that was a totally different part of the world.”
“Heh, true. Wonder how he’s doing anyway?”
“Who knows. Kind of surprised you’re thinking about him, though.” It was Kuna’s turn to smirk and prod his friend. “What’s wrong, craving a waterjob again?”
Lykou stumbled slightly in surprise, then snickered and nudged the sereva playfully. “I’ll show you ‘waterjob’… the beach isn’t that far away you know. And you’re easy to carry.”
Kuna giggled and stuck his tongue out at the konuul. Eventually, they made it to their chosen camping spot, and he conjured up his magic, quickly setting up their shelter for the night. Afterwards, he and Lykou worked on making it look discrete before crawling inside together and sealing off the entrance. “Goodnight, Kou.”
“G’night, Ku,” Lykou replied, cuddling up with the sereva as they quickly began to doze off.
The magic had not gone unnoticed, however. A pair of eyes peered down at them from behind a patch of ferns at the top of a hill near them. The owner took one last wide-eyed look at where their shelter was before turning and scrambling off into the night, stumbling over several times in his excitement.
A short time later, he arrived, somewhat out of breath, at an encampment at the base of the mountain, tucked away from the various beaten paths between villages.
“Kalei, what are you doing back here this early? You’re a way from your post, you damn-”
“M… magic user!” the one called Kalei finally managed to say. “S… strangers. Not raptuva.”
Another individual walked over. “What’s going on here?”
“This idiot says there are strangers on the island. Non-raptuvan. And supposedly one used magic.”
“...is that true, recruit?”
Kalei quickly nodded. “Yes! I saw it with my own eyes! And not only that, it… it was like the Speaker’s!”
“BLASPHEMY!” the second figure snapped. “I should rip your tongue-”
“N-no, I swear it! On my life, with Tuimana as my witness! He made the plants grow and change!”
The other two shared a look. Finally one of them, presumably the highest ranking, turned to the other and said, “Send word up the mountain. He’ll definitely want to know.” He turned back to Kalei. “And if you’re lying, you can expect-… well, you know what you can expect,” he added with a dark chuckle. “Now go on, get out of here.”
“S-sir? What should I do?”
“What do you think?? Get back to your post and keep an eye on them until they leave the village.”
“Y-yes sir!” Kalei said, then quickly darted off into the night.
The next morning, Lykou sat near the empty firepit along with a number of villagers that were eagerly listening to him continue their story over breakfast. Much to Kuna’s chagrin and at Makani’s insistance, he didn’t skip the part about a certain giant harvester bee’s commentary. The sereva just sat off in the corner and hid his face as he tried to focus on finishing breakfast without meeting anyone’s gaze, blushing the whole time.
After thinking a minute, Hoku smirked and joined him. When he’d finished eating, she gave him a gentle nudge. “Hey. How would you like to show me those art skills you told me you practice?”
Kuna perked up slightly. “Oh, uh…. Sure?” He looked around a moment, then spotted a stick and started doodling in the sand. But he was taken aback when she grabbed his hand and chuckled. “Not like that. Kind of hard to make things out in the sand like that.”
“Er, okay,” the sereva said, looking around in confusion. “Then, uh… where, and how-?”
She stood up again and gently tugged his arm. “There’s an old tradition from our peoples’ traveling days that I want to revive. Follow m-”
“Hold that thought,” the chief interrupted, having overheard them, as he walked over to join them. “I think I know the tradition you mean.”
Hoku looked a bit surprised, not to mention a bit anxious and disheartened. “Is… is there a problem with it?”
A smile slowly came across the old chief’s face. “Only that you thought to be so selfish as to keep it on your shack out where only you and occasionally Makani would see it. He should use the longhouse.”
“...really?” Hoku asked, perking up. “I didn’t think-”
“Hokulani, those days may be past, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the stories as much as you do. Or artistic talent.”
“Uh, n-not to interrupt, but… what are you two getting at?” Kuna asked somewhat anxiously.
They both grinned, then the chief gently set a hand on the sereva’s shoulder. “Come with me, I’ll show you. Fetch the paints, Hoku.”
Without even saying a word, Hoku rushed off in an unusual display of excitement. As she did, Kawelo guided Kuna to the other end of the village, to a large building whose roof appeared to be made from the hull of a canoe- only it was far, far bigger than any canoe he’d previously seen. Not that he’d seen many, of course, but it easily dwarfed the boat Hoku and Kani used. The sides of the structure were flatter and smoother than most of the other structures, apparently made of some kind of white clay, with thick wooden beams serving as reinforcement at regular intervals. A few slatted wooden window frames were built into the sides, which the chief opened before pulling back the thick, heavy curtain blocking the entrance, then led him inside.
Kuna was immediately captivated by the sight inside the structure- several of the walls were covered by various paintings of people, boats, creatures, and plants. And the fact that they were all in different styles suggested that they were definitely made by a number of different people. They all looked quite old, however- worn down from ages and occasionally missing bits where whatever they had used for paint had either faded or flaked off.
“As I’m sure Hokulani has told you, our people used to sail around the ocean quite a bit, and we used to get visitors more as well. An old raptuvan tradition was for visitors to leave some sort of art or crafstmanship behind wherever they visited. We used to store such things here, but one of my predecessors was particularly fond of paintings, and the way they can tell a story. So, for this village in particular, it became a tradition to invite visitors in to leave their mark on the wall.”
Kuna carefully looked over the various paintings with fascination. Most of them were clearly raptuva in various styles, some wearing unique clothing, while others bravely faced off against monsters bursting from the water; there were also various depictions of nature, including a small but beautiful mural showing the sun dawning over a valley with a river winding down the middle. And intriguingly, there were a few non-raptuvan people visible as well, though they weren’t familiar looking to Kuna at all either- mostly. Suddenly, he stopped and gawked at one in particular, tucked away in the corner. The people depicted looked almost certainly to be some kind of konuul. Some of the details were different- slightly different fur patterns and there was slightly less natural curl to their tails, but otherwise it looked startlingly similar to his canid friend’s people.
“These… these look like-”
“Oh, that’s interesting,” the chief said as he walked over and rubbed his chin. “They do resemble your… friend, don’t they?”
“Who were they? How old is this one?”
“Oh, I’m afraid I couldn’t say. Their names are long forgotten. The most recent of any of these paintings go back to when I myself was a young one. And without context, I suppose they’re largely a mystery now.”
The image depicted a trio of individuals. The two on the side lacked much distinction, though they clearly looked canine in nature. They were standing to either side of a central figure, which was somewhat more defined. The middle figure had what looked like a dark blue cloak- whose exact color notably wasn’t visible in any of the paints in any of the other paintings- and was casually holding what looked like a cup in one hand in front of itself, the other hand perched in their hip. And whereas most other paintings at that scale tended to lack much in the way of facial details, this central figure was at least granted two dots for eyes- and Kuna thought he could just barely make out a tiny, faint smirk on its face, faded over time.
Oddly, despite the minor detail- many other larger paintings had a lot more- the central figure almost felt alive. Kuna couldn’t shake the feeling he was actually being looked at.
He managed to snap out of his fascination and pull himself away when the curtain opened up again as Hoku slipped inside with a tray filled with small wooden cups and bowls filled with various substances in different colors- mostly paste-like, but a few were runnier. She set the collection down next to Kuna as Kawelo patted the sereva’s shoulder. “Lykou has his way of telling your story. I’m curious to see your own. Just have some fun with it,” he said before turning to leave. “And use as much space as you want- not like we get visitors very often these days anyway.”
As the chief left, Hoku grinned at Kuna. “Isn’t it great? So many people, so many stories…”
“Yeah… too bad everyone seems to have forgotten the details.” The sereva went back to staring at the unknown konuul. “Lykou should see this before we leave.”
She moved over to look where he was looking, then her eyes widened. “Oh… oh wow. How have I never noticed that one before?”
“Well, it’s just one image and it’s tucked away in a corner, so it’d be easy to miss…”
“I guess,” she said, looking the image over. “So strange, though. Doesn’t seem to connect to any of the other paintings…”
Kuna bent down and picked up one of the bowls, examining the pasty substance inside. “What’s this made of?”
She leaned over and looked at the bowl. “Hmm, I think that one’s some kind of berries and clay, maybe some other things.” She smirked. “Wouldn’t recommend tasting it, just in case. Its for painting, after all.”
The sereva smirked and dipped a finger into the paste and drew a line on an empty patch of wall. “I know.”
“You know, I might be able to find some kind of brush you can use, if you want.”
“Yeah, you know… like a stick, but with hair or something attached to the end? That way you don’t get as messy.”
He arched a brow, then shrugged. “I’m used to using my fingers, ever since I was little.”
“I bet you were adorably messy,” she teased, then chuckled, making him blush a bit. “What’d you use for paint?”
“Whatever I could. After a certain point I mostly just doodled in the dirt, though, since it wasn’t like I had anything else to work with.”
She frowned. “Really? Nothing?”
“Given the circumstances… nope,” he said as he continued carefully shaping out a figure on the wall, then let out a sardonic laugh. “Ironically, I think being abandoned gave me more chances to do this kind of thing. After I found a cave to hide out in, anyway. Didn’t have to worry about pissing anyone off. Only had mud and maybe sometimes some extra berries I stumbled across to paint with though, usually.”
“Damn, Kuna… I’m so sorry.”
He shrugged again and flashed her a faint apologetic smile. “Sorry, don’t mean to sound all gloomy all of the sudden. Thanks for bringing me these. This is… nice.”
“Hey, no problem. I’m glad you agreed to it.” She moved over next to him and watched him paint. “There’s a cup of water down there if you need it. Starting with Lykou, huh?”
“Mhmm. He’s the first one I met on our journey, after all,” he explained with a smile.
She grinned back and playfully, but carefully nudged his side. “Just don’t forget to add yourself there, too.”
“I will, I will.”
After he’d been painting a while, Lykou walked in and looked around, with Makani following along behind him. “Oh wow…”
Kuna looked up from his painting and smiled. “Hey Kou. I’ll try to finish up soo-”
“Nah, you take your time, I’ll just work on my instrument until you’re done. It’s nice to see you enjoying yourself,” the konuul said, smiling over at his friend. “Looks really good, by the way.”
The sereva blushed. “Thanks… really nice to have so many colors to work with. I could get used to doing this…”
“Hey, we’ll make sure you get plenty of chances back at Lakefire,” the canid assured him.
“Oooo, is that what the shakonu look like??” Makani commented, looking over the sereva’s shoulder. “So cool and weird!”
“Hey, careful not to get in his way, Kani,” Hoku reminded her, gently tugging the other raptuva’s arm.
Makani grinned sheepishly and backed up slightly. “Right, sorry!”
Kuna chuckled. “You’re fine. And yep, that’s a shakonu. They’re big people, but really nice once they know you’re not a threat.”
“Hey, if you’re up for it, you should try drawing the echo one we saw. What was his name again?”
Kuna thought for a moment, rubbing his chin and inadvertently smearing some yellow-ish paint on it. “...Tareq, I think. And sure, I can give that a shot. Should be fun drawing him, heh.”
“Is that a lepne?” Hoku asked, pointing to a long-eared figure.
“Mhmm. Specifically, Faergus, since he was the first one we met.”
“Wow. Did they all have those blue markings?”
“Nah, just the more… warrior-like ones. And it was dyed into their fur, not natural.”
“Oh, that makes sense…” Hoku said, looking around at some of the older paintings. “Seems like a common theme for some people to paint their bodies for certain roles.”
“Yeah, a while back I was showing him how some of our hunters do something like that for luck on their hunts,” Lykou chimed in. “We even ended up painting each other. It was a rainy day so we were stuck in the cave we slept in anyway. It was fun.”
“Oh yeah, that was a nice day,” Kuna said, smiling as he thought back to their little mutual makeup fun, and subsequent goofing around.
“It sure was.” The konuul let him paint in silence for a bit, minus occasional interrupting questions from Makani, while he walked around, looking at the other, older paintings decorating sections of wall.
Kuna eventually glanced over at him and gestured to the one corner. “Oh hey, Lykou… go look over there. There’s uh… one small one in particular that I think you’ll find very… interesting.
“Oh really?” Lykou walked over to search the corner. When he eventually spotted the image in question, his eyes grew wide and he stared at it for a moment, transfixed. “Hey… are those…?”
“Sure looks like it, doesn’t it?”
Makani rushed over to see for herself. “Wait, we were visited by other konuul in the past??”
“Apparently. Or people that look a lot like them, anyway,” Hoku said, tilting her head at the image. “Must have been a really long time ago though.”
“No tribe emblem though, that’s strange,” Lykou mentioned, scratching his head. “I wonder who they were… especially the one in the middle.”
“Or where they came from, exactly,” Hoku added. “No offense, but I can’t imagine people as fluffy as you settling anywhere even close to these islands, so they must have come from a pretty long way away.”
Another hour or two passed as Kuna continued painting. Lykou took a good chunk of time just looking over and appreciating the other images on the wall before eventually sitting down to work on his instrument. Meanwhile their raptuva companions chatted idly with them, both contemplating the background of the other images and asking questions about Kuna’s depictions. On a few occasions, one of them left to fetch a clean cup of water for the sereva. In the end, he and his poncho were thoroughly covered in little smears of paint, but he seemed quite happy regardless.
“That looks amazing, Ku,” Lykou said, wrapping an arm around the sereva and admiring the fresh paintings. “Heh, I’m surprised you even added Ink down there.”
“Hey, whatever I think of her, she is the reason we’re on this journey in the first place. And, well,” he paused, glancing around to make sure no other raptuva had entered or were listening in, then continued in a lower voice. “She did teach me to use magic, anyway.”
“So that’s the creepy powerful lady you mentioned, huh?” Makani said, leaning in to examine the figure. “Spooooky~”
“Wow… so many fascinating people out there,” Hoku mused, a hint of jealousy creeping into her voice. “Wish I could meet them.”
Kuna and Lykou shared a look, then the former gently rubbed her shoulder. “Hey, maybe you’ll get more visitors soon. Or your people will get another navigator sometime and you can go exploring with them.”
Hoku smiled faintly. “Kind of doubt it at this rate, but maybe.”
Kuna sighed and looked down at the mess on his fingers and poncho- not even aware of the bits he’d managed to get on his face. “Well… I better go get cleaned up so we can get going.”
“Hey, that old thing looks good with some extra colors on it,” Lykou pointed out.
“Yeah, better than just the old bloodstains anyway,” Kuna retorted with a smirk.
“Hey Kani, go let the chief know Kuna’s done, I’m sure he’ll want to see the end result. I’ll put the paints away.”
Lykou packed away his instrument while Kuna went to wash his hands and face off in the sea, setting his poncho aside temporarily while he did so. He figured the little bit of salt wouldn’t be too big a deal, and he’d probably try and clean up again later in some fresh water wherever they camped for the night anyway. Once he was cleaned up and reunited with his friend, the chief approached, along with a group of other villagers.
“Your painting is very beautiful, Kuna,” Kawelo said, with a few others that’d seen it voicing their agreement.
Kuna blushed and rubbed his shoulder. “Thank you for letting me paint it. It was… well, I really, really enjoyed getting the chance to do that. More than you probably know.”
“We will cherish its addition to the longhouse for years to come,” the chief assured him. He then adopted a more serious, somewhat curious expression. “But now I must ask- where are you two headed now? Especially without a boat. And I may not personally know every inch of the island, but I’m sure we’d all know if there was one of these… ‘magic portal arches’ you mentioned around here somewhere.”
“To pay their respects to Tuimana, of course,” Makani quickly answered with a subtle wink to the boys. “It’d be rude to visit his islands without going to say hi, right? They mentioned they were heading that way yesterday on the boat ride over.”
“R-right!” Lykou quickly agreed with a slightly nervous smile of his own. He’d told them about the portals, but skipped over the fact that they’d been having to use Kuna’s magic to activate them. “The, um… re-”
“Y-yeah, I’m sure the Order of the Enlightened will certainly be able to help you find one somewhere,” Hoku interjected quickly, rubbing her arm with a fairly forced grin.
The chief slowly nodded. “Ah, yes… that… that would make sense. In that case, I suggest you follow the marked trail behind our village- there are a number of them connected the villages on this island, and the ones leading up the mountain are marked with red stripes on the trees near it. It’s a bit indirect, but trust me, it’s easier and safer that way.”
“Thanks for the tip, we’ll definitely do that,” Lykou quickly replied.
“Safe, safe is good,” Kuna agree with a wooden grin of his own.
“I’ll take them to it and see them off,” Hoku quickly volunteered, then hurried over to start subtly urging the boys in that direction.
“Well then, farewell you two. It has been an honor meeting you both.”
“Yeah, we’ll miss you guys!” Kani agreed.
“Thank you all for your hospitality, it’s been wonderful!” Lykou said with a more sincere smile. “It’s been great meeting you all.”
“Thanks for the stories, Lykou,” Mata chimed in, followed by a slew of other similar sentiments from the others present as people surrounded them to offer them well wishes, pats on the back, and so on as they passed through towards the trail the chief mentioned. “Hope you both visit again some day.”
Once they were finally outside the village, the boys turned to bid Hoku a proper farewell. “Definitely don’t go up that way if you can avoid it,” she quickly told them once she was sure nobody had followed them. “The red cloaks mostly hang out on the mountain, especially further up. That shrine is their headquarters.”
“Are they really that dangerous?” Lykou asked, glancing warily up the trail. “Even if we keep Kuna’s magic secret?”
“It’s… I can’t prove anything obviously, but let’s just say I have a bad feeling about what might happen if you stumbled across them. Just call it intuition. They don’t really like not being in control of things, and you two arriving is definitely something that might throw that control into question.”
“Fair enough, we’ll steer clear of them if we can.”
“You definitely don’t have to tell me twice,” Kuna said with a slight twitch. After a moment, he grinned a bit, then suddenly stepped forward and hugged Hoku, taking her by surprise. “Thanks, Hoku. It was great meeting you.”
Lykou chuckled. “Told you he was a hugger, deep down.”
Hoku grinned as well after a moment and returned the embrace. “So I see.” After they parted, she turned and hugged Lykou as well. “Well, fair is fair then.”
The konuul returned the embrace. “Give one to Kani for me too when you see her again.”
“Will do. Be safe you two. Hope your journey home isn’t too much longer.” She smirked before turning to leave. “But I hope whatever’s left of it continues to be good and interesting.”
“...as long as it’s good-interesting,” Kuna added.
“Of course. But I’m sure you two can handle it either way.” She winked, then sprinted off.
The sereva took a deep breath after she left, then turned to his companion, his smile fading. “Well… let’s re-do that spell real quick.”
“Oh? Why, did you do something that interfered with it last night or something?”
“No, I uh…” Kuna fidgeted and adjusted his poncho. “I’m hoping it’s wrong.”
Lykou gave him a dubious look. “Huh? Why is that?”
“...it feels like its pointing us either up the mountain or to the other side of it.”
“Shit. Alright, let’s hope it’s a fluke.”
After a quick re-cast confirmed what Kuna had sensed before, he deflated a bit. “Dammit. Maybe we should try going around the mountain…”
“Kuna. You saw how big this island was from the other one. That’d take forever. And then what if it’s actually on the mountain?”
The sereva sighed. “Yeah, I know. But you heard what Hoku said.”
“Hey, look, we’ll just… be extra careful, alright? We’ll avoid getting too close to any other villages and stay off the trails. Even if we do come across those… ‘red cloaks’, maybe they’re not as bad as we think. Hoku’s nice, but maybe she’s just a little paranoid, you know?”
“I guess… but let’s still do our best to avoid them.”
As they turned to begin their trek up the enormous mountain, a certain colorful bird sat on a high tree branch, silently watching them go.
Aaaand yet again I had to split it because it was getting too long. XD At least this time it's a bit more of an even split. Enjoy!