Mystic Heart Odyssey
Part 5: The Cult of the Crimson Isles
Yeahhhh you’re gonna have to do some serious suspense of disbelief for a few parts of this first section of this chapter, I think. But hey, it’s a fantasy adventure story after all! And hey, something’s up with Lykou~
“Ku, I need a long, tough vine. You got enough energy to make one?”
“On it,” Kuna said, manifesting his magic. He was worn out from the healing and particularly the essence transfer, but fortunately a single vine was more than doable.
“Kalei, still got that hatchet?”
“Er, y-yeah?” the raptuva said, nervously looking behind them as the flames from fireballs raining down the mountainside got closer and closer.
“Great, start chopping this thing down while I climb it,” Lykou said as he hopped onto a tall, skinny tree, then quickly started making his way up with surprising speed.
“W-what?!” Kalei balked, his eye twitching as he turned to watch the konuul climb up. “That makes n- we don’t have time for-”
“Kalei,” Kuna said, briefly shooting him a look as he worked on morphing a nearby stout palm into a suitable vine. “What’d I say? Just do it.”
Kalei groaned and clutched his head, then dug out the hatchet. “Sure. Alright. It’s been a crazy day already, why not give into the madness,” he muttered as he began chopping at the base of the tree with all his strength.
As soon as Lykou made it about halfway up the tree, he looked out to see the large, fiery mass that appeared to be a fusion of the Speaker and his demonic partner trudging down the mountainside, laughing as he hurled fireballs in their general direction. He whipped out his knife and cut off two huge, sturdy leaves from a neighboring tree, then called out to their pursuer as loud as he could, “Hey! For someone with two sets of eyes and all that power, your aim sure is shit!”
The demonic being arched a brow and took more careful aim before hurling a massive chunk of earth and fire at the tree.
“So predictable,” Lykou said with a chuckle as he hopped down from the tree just as the fireball made impact. Coupled with the damage Kalei had managed to do with the hatchet, the tree immediately snapped and began falling back- slowly at first, but picking up speed. The side that got hit was heavily charred, but the flames quickly burnt out. As soon as the konuul landed- surprisingly unphased by the drop- he took the vine Kuna had produced and handed the leaves to both him and Kalei. “Hold these.”
“For wh-” the raptuva began to ask, but before he could get the words out, the canid had jumped onto the falling tree and began running down its length as it fell over the cliff. As it fell, the tip came close to another tall tree. Right at the end, before the one whose trunk he’d run down slid off the cliffside completely, he jumped and caught caught onto the other tree. He immediately tied the vine around the top, then called over to the other two, “Slide on over!”
“...you’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Kalei said, his eye twitching.
Even Kuna looked a bit terrified. But he took a deep breath, then wrapped the broad leaf around the vine, grabbed hold of both sides, took a running jump, and slid down its length to the other tree, clenching his eyes shut the whole way. Lykou stood on one of the lower branches and helped catch him as soon as he reached the tree.
Kalei gawked for a moment, then yelped as a fireball exploded behind him and Tui-Rangi burst through the underbrush a dozen or so yards behind him. Figuring that falling to death was better than being munched on by a demon, he followed Kuna’s lead and slid down the vine. No sooner did he reach the other tree than the vine snapped behind them, with flames running partway down its length. Across the way, the place they’d been standing a few moments before was being showered with a fresh barrage of explosive fireballs.
Lykou looked down, then pointed at a tall palm a few feet away. “Jump!” he said, then leaped down onto the palm, which immediately bowed back a bit under his weight. On instinct, both Kuna and Kalei followed him right before another attack blasted the tree they’d just left. The palm dipped down hard under their weight before starting to spring back up. “Again!” Lykou said, grabbing hold of each of them before kicking off the palm’s side. All three jumped, using the momentum from its somewhat springier nature, and went soaring down over a slope near the stream.
Kalei let out a high pitched scream, while Kuna just stared in wide-eyed horror as they plummeted towards an especially rocky section of the water. But then there was a faint, brief charge in the air, seemingly coming from Lykou. He suddenly pulled them both tightly under his arms, taking the impact as they landed heavily on broad, flat rock in the middle of the rushing water. But instead of shattering every bone in his legs into a thousand pieces like it should, something strange happened- a burst of white light briefly flashed through the canid’s body and down through his legs, into the stone. Immediately, the rock all around them cracked and started breaking apart. The broad, flat section they’d landed on remained mostly in tact, but dislodged itself as an enormous rockslide began cascading down along the stream’s path, with them right in the middle of it.
Kalei and Kuna both exchanged a bewildered look. The latter turned to look at his friend and noticed that the faint aura around his features was stronger than he’d ever seen it before. His fur was standing on end slightly, crackling with some kind of energy, and his eyes had a bright glow that made it hard to see his pupils darting around, rapidly taking in their surroundings.
The group hunkered down on the sliding rock as their momentum picked up. More fireballs rained down and pelted the ground around them. Kuna looked back and could see that their demonic pursuer had their legs transformed into a molten mass as they were cascading down the mountainside behind them, sending steam hissing up into the air where it came into contact with the stream.
As they went careening down the mountainside, Lykou continued constantly scanning the landscape ahead of them as it sped towards them. In a shimmering flash of movement, he whipped out his knife and severed another set of large, broad leaves from a nearby bush as it was collapsing under the rock slide. They were even larger than the previous ones, as well as waxy and sturdy. Another cliff with a waterfall was approaching, and not much past it, the roof of the shrine was visible. “Hold onto me and get ready to jump again!”
This time, neither Kalei nor Kuna questioned it. When they reached the falls, Lykou kicked off the stone and the other two followed suit, holding onto his torso tightly as he gripped the leaves firmly with both hands and held them up. It caught just enough air to slow their descent as they hurtled towards the shrine’s roof. Another fireball flew just underneath them and slammed into the back of the roof just as the rockslide hit the back wall of the structure. It wasn’t enough to destroy the large building, but it definitely did a lot of damage, and the fireball ensured that part of it caught fire. A curved segment of the roof also broke off and tumbled down in front of the structure, then started sliding down the steep hill that led up to it. At that point, Lykou released the leaves and they fell directly on top of the roof fragment. The impact hastened its wild descent down the slope, shuddering and shaking as it ran across the well-worn and partly grassy land that’d been cleared for the trail.
At the end of the slope, where the trail curved off to the side, there was yet another cliff. It wasn’t as high as some of the others, but it was high enough that when the large chunk of carved wood soared over it, it went sliding out over the treetops with enough momentum that it didn’t immediately sink below the canopy from their combined weight. To ensure that their momentum continued, Lykou got their help to lean back and forth, steering the fragment down the steepest sections of the mountain in order to maintain their speed, effectively ‘surfing’ the treetops on the way down as they whipped past more and more rapidly. Fortunately, the forest was getting denser the further down they went, so it got easier to avoid empty patches, even at such high speed.
Kalei hazarded a glance behind them and noticed with some relief that the fiery menace that’d been chasing them was far out of sight. From the look of it, the Order was going to have a huge mess on their hands- the entire top potion of the mountain looked to be covered in numerous fires, including around the shrine. He couldn’t help but smirk briefly at the thought of Tane and the others having to help clean that mess up.
Meanwhile, Kuna continued watching the world zip past them. The sun was beginning to set on the horizon, and they had a better view of it than ever before, up there on the tops of the trees. But his attention was soon drawn back to the path ahead of him as Lykou again started to hunker down.
“Hope you’re ready for a swim!”
Kalei turned back around then immediately tensed up as he saw the edge of the forest rapidly approaching- somehow, they’d made it all the way down to the coast- or at least a moderately high cliff that jutted out past it. “Ffffuuuuuuuuck-!” he blurted out right before they all went flying out over the ocean. Moments later, they landed with an enormous splash. The battered chunk of roof they’d been riding shuddered, cracked, and finally started falling apart as they skidded to a gradual halt, dumping them in the water a moderate distance from the shore.
The world was a chaotic, spinning mess for each of them, initially, as they fought their way back to the surface and gasped for air. Or at least two of them did. As Kuna and Kalei clung to pieces of the roof, the former started to panic when he didn’t see Lykou. He looked around until he spotted the konuul floating nearby, then quickly swam over to him.
“Fuck! Kou, are you okay?!” he cried out as he awkwardly tried to help the canid up onto the fragment he was floating on. “Kalei -ngh- help me! I think he fainted…”
“W-wha-? Oh! Fuck!” The thoroughly bewildered raptuva snapped out of his dazed state and hurried over to help him.
Meanwhile, a little way away, Makani and Hokulani were gawking at them from a distance, having just been returning on their boat from another fishing trip when they saw the trio come flying out into the water, seemingly from out of nowhere. They exchanged a look, and, after confirming that they’d both seen the same thing, they adjusted their course to head for the waterlogged group.
Kuna continued trying to rouse his friend after he and the raptuva managed to, with some difficulty, get him up onto the wood fragment. At least he knew his friend was breathing and wouldn’t drown. After a few more attempts to rouse him, he gently placed a hand on the canid’s face. “Come on, Lykou… please be alright…”
Though still somewhat out of his mind at the whole situation, Kalei managed to get a grip on himself and shot a sympathetic look to the sereva. “Hey… let’s get him to shore.”
“R-right,” Kuna said, then looked over towards the beach as they started awkwardly trying to swim with the konuul in tow.
After a few minutes, the sereva noticed the approaching boat out of the corner of his eyes. “...hey, is… is that boat headed our way?”
Kalei turned to look, then grimaced slightly. “Fuck. This is going to be hard to explain, but at least they probably haven’t heard anything about us down here yet.”
Kuna squinted, then perked up a bit. “Hey, actually… is that Hoku and Kani’s boat...??”
“I think it is… thank fuck!” the sereva said with a sigh of relief. “Those are the two that brought us over from the other island. We can trust them.”
“Are… you sure about that? I mean sure, maybe they’re nice, but if they find out what we just escaped, they might be more-”
“Actually,” Kuna continued with a smirk. “Hoku was suspicious of the Order already. So if anything, that’s even more reason to trust her.”
“Yeah. She warned us to try and avoid the Order if we could help it. Guess it turns out her wariness was well founded.”
“I... guess so.” Kalei eyed the approaching vessel thoughtfully. Pretty rare, too, he added mentally.
As soon as the boat reached them, Hoku and Kani helped pull the three onboard, starting with the unconscious konuul, at Kuna’s insistence. Makani wasted no time before pelting them with questions, while Kuna was checking over the canid- she didn’t leave any chance for answers, though. Meanwhile, Hoku noted Kalei’s cloak with no small amount of obvious wariness.
Kalei noticed the stare, then smiled sheepishly. “I guess you’re Hoku. Don’t worry, I’m uh… kind of an ex-member. This isn’t even my cloak, I stole a higher ranking one.”
“Sto-… okay seriously,” Hoku finally said then turned to Makani. “Kani, shush a minute. Give them a chance to actually talk.” She glanced down at Kuna, then looked up to Kalei again. “Looks like I’ll have to address them to you, so first of all, who are you?”
“Kalei. I… was a recruit for the Order until today. After what I’ve seen though, I want nothing to do with them. And I’ll be glad to answer questions, but let me just...” He took a deep breath, then sat down, holding his head. He briefly pulled up his cloak, bunched it up in front of his face, and let out a muffled scream into gathered fabric. With that out of his system, he dropped it again and sighed. “Today has been… a lot. And that may be the biggest understatement ever uttered.”
Kuna glanced up at Hoku with a frown. “Your suspicions were more right than you can imagine. The Speaker himself is the one actually working with a demon. He made the Order to hunt down potential competition and feed them to his demonic ally.”
“WHAT?!” Makani blurted out, making the boat rock slightly. “MISTER DIVINE MAGIC PANTS WAS THE REAL DEMON GUY ALL ALONG?! Who could’ve seen that coming??!” The question would have come across as sarcastic from anyone else, but she uttered it with complete sincerity.
Ordinarily, Hoku would have chastised her for rocking the boat and told her to calm down, but at the moment, she was too busy gawking at them in disbelief. “...holy fuck. I had a feeling they were crooked somehow, but… really???”
“Yeah, and…” Kalei took a deep breath, then flopped back, staring up at the sky as thing sank in. “Fucking Tuimana is the demon… everything I thought I knew is a fucking lie.” He let out a sardonic laugh. “Just what I needed in my life, an existential crisis.”
“Everything is a lie! Gods are demons, fire is water, cold is hot, th-!!” Makani rambled, pacing back and forth while gesticulating wildly.
Hoku furrowed her brow and shot her a look. “KANI! Chill!”
Makani froze in mid-stride, then sat down with a sheepish grin. “Sorry.”
Hoku sighed, then glanced up at the island and caught a glimpse of the fires dotting the upper portion of the mountain. “What… happened up there?”
“That is a… long story,” Kuna said, gently stroking the dozing konuul’s chest.
“Is he going to be okay?”
“I think so… that trip down really took a lot out of him. On top of all the other shit that’s happened over the past day.”
“Uh yeah, about that,” Kalei said, suddenly sitting back up and shooting a wide-eyed look at the sereva. “You mind explaining what the fuck that was, anyway? I knew you had magical powers, but that… that was something else entirely.”
Kuna took a deep breath. “Yeah it’s… kind of this thing he does every now and then. It’s kind of rare and he can’t really control it, but under the right circumstances he just… kind of enters this weird state that lets him do all kinds of crazy insane shit. It’s saved our asses several times now,” he explained, then scratched his head and furrowed his brow. “Usually running away from things, interestingly enough. Or… at least getting people out of danger, I guess.” He folded his ears down sheepishly. “Usually me...”
“Don’t even try to tell me it’s not magical,” Kalei said. “That shit was… I’ve never heard of anything like it, but no way that was just, like… a rush or something. I saw that light flash.”
“Yeah no, it is, but it’s kind of a mystery, too. Even Inkari doesn’t fully understand it.” He sighed and gently pulled the konuul further into his lap, then stroked his head softly. “It has a tendency to leave him worn out, but this time… It was somehow way more, I dunno, potent this time than I’ve ever seen it before. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me he fainted at the end. That… thing with the light flash and cracking the stones, he’s never done anything like that before.”
Hoku looked back and forth between them with a perplexed expression. “Sorry to interrupt, but I’m still confused how you went from hiking up the mountain the other day to suddenly flying through the air and landing out here.”
“Yeah, seriously!!” Makani chimed in. “All this crazy mystery magic is awesome and all, but now I’m just even more confused than before!”
Kalei and Kuna shared a look, then the latter sighed again. “Yeah, I guess it’s only fair we fill you in.”
“Fuck it, I’ll help explain where I can,” Kalei chimed in. “Still trying to come to grips with things myself though.”
Between the two of them, they began catching the coastal raptuva up on the last couple of days’ events as the boat drifted towards the shore.
“Where is that damned bird?” Zynshall muttered to himself as he paced back and forth along the shore of the other major island. He was starting to consider going over to look into things himself, but he was still wary of getting on Inkari’s bad side for getting directly involved. As he was weighing his conscience against his desire to remain capable of entering the mortal realm, a golden blur zipped down from the sky, then slowed down and landed on a tree branch nearby. “Finally, there you are! Where have you been??”
“Lykou, Kuna, danger! Squaaawk! Captured!”
“What?? Fuck! Dammit, I-”
“Free now!” the bird continued. “New friend! Kalei! Rescue.”
“...oh. I see. So... they’re safe now?”
Sunshine fidgeted a bit. “No. Tuimana and Kairangi. Still alive.”
“Well then what’s their status??”
“On mountain top. Kuna free. Lykou hurt. But free. Kalei helping.”
“And you just left them there???”
The bird fidgeted some more in agitation. “Sunshine report! Squaaawk!”
Zyn sighed and rubbed his head. “Right, right, I did want you to report, fine,” the jarzin said, then looked over at the bush he’d previously grown and manifested some more fruit on his branches. “There, n-”
Sunshine did eye the fruit hungrily for a moment, but then turned back to Zyn and flapped his wings a bit. “Friends in danger! You help!”
Zyn crossed his arms and drummed his fingers on one of them thoughtfully as he stared at the other island. From that distance, the fires were still visible, but harder to distinguish from the usual glow of the peak at certain times. “...where’s that demon-bitch? Is he with them?”
“No. Peak. Talking to Tuimana.”
“Then they at least have a little time. At the very least, I know they can handle any regular people that get in the way.”
“Lykou good fighter. But weak.”
“Hmm…” The jarzin continued to stare into the distance for a minute, then sighed. “...fuck it. They’re in over their heads and I somehow get the feeling Ink never told them anything about fighting demons. And I haven’t even heard anything from her in a while anyway,” he finally said, then looked back at Sunshine. “You know these islands better than I do. I take it you’ve been keeping an eye on things since well before those boys showed up here. What’s Whironui up to, why hasn’t he intervened in the situation? Or anyone else for that matter?”
“Clever pact. Keeping others out. Tuimana not demon before,” Sunshine explained, then clicked and whistled.
“Oh. Damn. One of those cases huh? Great,” Zyn said, rubbing his face. “Bad enough they’re thrown into a situation with a demon, it’s gotta be one of the complicated ones. I know they don’t know how to deal with that.” He straightened up and cracked his knuckles, then his neck. “Right. I’ve got to at least check on them myself. See if I can’t help them figure out how to fuck with that pact. You go ahead and eat a bit, I’m sure you need it. Catch up when you can, assuming you’re still interested in being a part of this.”
Before the bird could even respond, the jarzin transformed into a boiling cloud of smoke, which then, with something that sounded like a brief thunderclap, shot out over the cliff fast enough to kick up the dirt nearby and leave a faint divot in the ground. Sunshine quickly swooped over and gobbled up a few berries. Then he grabbed a whole cluster and took to the air to follow the rapidly-fading blur that was flying low over the water, kicking up a wake in its path.
About halfway between the major islands, Zyn suddenly stopped and re-manifested on the water, standing as if on solid ground as the waves lapped at his sides. He furrowed his brow and searched around. When Sunshine caught up to him, his gaze had turned downward. After a moment, a second, glowing set of eyes opened up far, far down beneath him, staring back up at him through the depths. A grin slowly spread across his face, then he glanced up at the bird. “Go on ahead, I’ll catch up,” he said, then looked back down. “I think I know just who to talk to about all this.”
The bird gave him a confused look as he soared past, then continued on towards the other island. Zyn jumped up and flipped upside down before plunging down into the water. He sank deeper and deeper, far into the darkness, beyond where the sun’s light could reach, into the crushing depths. And when all light had gone and the world around him was an alien darkness with no sense of up or down, he manifested the second set of glowing eyes in front of his face, illuminating a world hidden to mundane mortal vision, filled with alien looking entities straight out of most peoples’ nightmares. It was even enough to make Zyn’s flesh crawl a bit, just looking at them. After a few minutes of peering out into the inky depths, that were so dark that it even felt oppressive to his altered vision, an enormous, eldritch-looking being with numerous tendrils and several rows of eyes drifted into sight right in the middle of the masses of bizarre entities. A pocket of air concentrated around the jarzin’s body, and he crossed his arms and smiled. “Hey big guy,” he said. His voice was warped and slightly muted by the circumstances. But it didn’t matter. Vocalization was a formality- an old habit. He knew they’d primarily be communicating in a manner far beyond such mundane means. “You must be T’nari.”
Ended up having to cut another chapter in half, hehe. At least it was fairly close to an even split! The other half/next chapter should be up fairly soon as well.