Mystic Heart Odyssey
Part 5: The Cult of the Crimson Isles
Keeping the details of the plan a bit unspoken for now, so it can be more interesting as it unfolds. Hope you enjoy some more character interaction stuff for now in the meantime! Don’t worry, the action is coming back soon!
“So if these rituals use this ‘weave’ thing, which is like a layer below all the mystical energies from the spirit world, why do they involve spirit signs?” Lykou asked curiously, watching as Kuna and Hoku practiced painting symbols on the wall with the makeshift paint Kuna had been using earlier. Technically, only Kuna had to know them, but Hoku insisted that she wanted to come along and help, even if it just meant helping to draw them out when the time came.
Kani, similarly, refused to be left behind, but decided she’d help Kalei and Lykou with the other parts of their plan when the time came, after she quickly became frustrated and easily distracted in the process. Sunshine had returned to doze in one of the holes on the cave wall.
Kalei, for his part, was going through and sorting out some of the materials he and the girls had brought back from their little supply run. And Lykou was leaning against the wall, looking somewhat fatigued and slightly more subdued than usual, albeit still curiously watching the two paint symbols on the wall.
“Heh, that’s just some peoples’ name for them. They may be frequently used by spirits, but they come from quirks of the weave. Spirits came up with a lot of new ones, but they’re all based on an original set that are tied to various rituals, like these,” Zyn replied, standing behind the two and watching them carefully. “Oop, don’t forget the little hook on that one, Kuna.”
“R-right…” Kuna said, then took a breath, clearly a bit anxious. Memorizing a new sign was one thing, but memorizing eight, and the order they had to be drawn in a circle was a bit more daunting- especially considering their lives were ultimately going to depend on getting them right. “Fuck, I hope I don’t screw this up when the time comes…”
“You won’t,” Hoku assured him with a smile. “You’re a good artist. Besides, we’ll be able to check each other. Two minds are better than one, you know?”
“She’s got a point there,” Lykou agreed. “You’ve got this, Ku.”
“You really do have a remarkably steady hand, even with your nerves. Just relax. Only your fear can get in your way. Beat that, and your enemies are already defeated,” Zyn commented.
Kuna smirked and rolled his eyes slightly. “Zyn, you may be powerful as fuck, but the ‘wizened sage’ bit doesn’t suit you,” he snarked, but then smiled genuinely back at the jarzin. “But thanks, I appreciate it.” He glanced at Hoku, then Lykou. “And you two, too.”
Zyn chuckled, then patted the sereva’s shoulder lightly. “Fair enough. Not really my style anyway. How about ‘you got this, kid’ instead, then?”
“Ignoring the fact that we’re about the same age, that works,” Kuna replied. “So do these ones have any other particular uses?”
“Oh definitely, but that’s too complicated to get into right now. I wouldn’t want to confuse you with a whole lot more new information on top of this. Not that I think I could do a good job explaining it all anyway.”
“Oh really?” Kuna replied, arching a brow.
“Yeah, you guys are lucky spirit summoning is something most jarzin learn before being let out into the world. Beyond that, there are so many complex and niche rituals out there, and I only know a few myself. So I’d be half speculating about them, to be honest.”
Hoku furrowed her brow as something occurred to her. “Hey, speaking of these symbols, Kuna told me the ones on his and Lykou’s medallions were the only reason we could talk. How come we can understand you without one?”
“Wait what?” Kani asked curiously, before Zyn could reply. “What do those pretty necklaces have to do with talking??”
“They’re magical,” Lykou pointed out. “They let us talk to each other when normally we couldn’t because we use different words. Apparently that’s a thing.”
“Huh? Different words? What are you talking about?” Kalei chimed in.
Lykou smirked and took off his medallion for a moment. “Yeah, like this. Bet you can’t understand me now, can you?”
Kalei and Kani shot him a bewildered look. “What the fuck? Those are words??” Kalei blurted out- although Lykou’s expression and shrug made it clear the language barrier went both ways before he put the medallion back on.
“People from different places speak different languages,” Hoku confirmed. “Some of the old stories do mention that. We’re all just lucky you have those things or our meeting would have been a lot more awkward.”
“Yeah, like with the shakonu at first,” Lykou said, chuckling awkwardly. “Good thing they were willing to give us these things.”
“Still, back to my question,” Hoku continued, giving Zyn a quizzical look for a moment before getting back to her practice. “How come you don’t need one of those things?”
Zyn just grinned. “It’s like you keep forgetting what I am. Jarzin learn to do what those things do without thinking about it when we’re teenagers. Otherwise there wouldn’t be much point in venturing out into the world.”
“Yeah, I imagine that’d interfere with your meddling a bit,” Kuna snarked. “Wouldn’t want that.”
The jarzin just rolled his eyes. “Yeah yeah, less sassing more practicing.”
“I wonder why the Order didn’t take these things, now that I think about it,” Lykou pondered, examining the medallion around his neck thoughtfully.
“I thought about that too, but I figure it was probably Kairangi’s insistence,” Kuna responded, frowning. “Tuimana probably told him what they do, and he wanted to be able to communicate with us so he could intimidate and manipulate us. His threats about what he could do to you if I didn’t cooperate wouldn’t have worked on me if I couldn’t understand him.”
“I guess in a way we’re lucky he’s such a manipulative bastard, then,” Kalei chimed in. “Freeing you guys probably would have been a lot trickier and more awkward if we couldn’t talk to each other.”
“...I hate to think of it that way, but yeah,” Lykou replied with a somewhat bitter look. “I guess you’re right.”
The group fell silent for a moment, with the only sounds coming from Hoku and Kuna continuing to practice the symbols on the wall. “So… Kuna has to use star magic to finish preparing the actual symbols when we’re ready, right?” Hoku eventually asked.
“That’s right. Which is why you’ll need to do it during the day, so that the glow doesn’t stand out as much and draw attention,” Zyn confirmed.
“...you think you could teach me how to do that stuff?” Hoku asked hopefully after a brief pause. “It’d probably be good to have two of us that can do it, just in case there are any problems.”
“Well, I could,” the jarzin replied, then grinned and glanced at Kuna. “But I wouldn’t want to take away an opportunity for Kuna to teach someone for a change.”
The sereva paused and shot him a quizzical look. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly happy to, but… I don’t know how good I’d do at that.”
“Hey, you taught Moyra, didn’t you?” Lykou pointed out.
“Well yeah, but this is a little different. Moyra and I had common ground with life magic. But Hoku and I are used to very different magical energies, and apparently started out in very different ways.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll still help out if you need it,” Zyn assured him. “But you should give it a try. Hey, who knows? Maybe she can teach you to sense water energy in return.”
“I’m certainly willing to try I suppose,” Hoku replied. “But Kuna has a point. It could be tricky.”
“Not to mention Ink said very few mortals learn more than two kinds of magic in their lives,” Kuna said, arching a brow. “So would that even be possible?”
“Most mortals don’t get these kinds of opportunities, either,” the jarzin pointed out. “And you’ve got kind of a knack for this stuff, as I understand it.”
Hoku smiled at the sereva. “Hey, it’s worth giving it a shot.”
“Alright, sure. Why not?” Kuna replied, smiling back.
“Well, I’d say you’ve both gotten the runes down fine, so you might as well start with that now,” Zyn said, then teleported back over to his stone chair.
Kuna looked around with a self-conscious look, then smiled a little awkwardly. “You know, the rest of you can… do other things,” he pointed out, rubbing his arm. “You know how I am with an audience.”
“Hey, the only way to overcome your shyness is with practice, you know,” Lykou pointed out. “And it’s just us, anyway.”
“He’s got a point,” Hoku agreed, grinning at the sereva. “So ‘star’ magic- where do we start?”
The sereva sighed, blushing a little, then turned to kneel down by the firepit. “Well, let’s at least get another fire started and get comfortable first-”
“I’ll take care of that,” Kalei said with a smirk and started gathering together some wood. “You two go ahead and get started.”
“Oh, uh... thanks…” Kuna said, then awkwardly sat down by the fire pit, fidgeting a little.
Hoku sat down next to him and smiled at him expectantly. “Ready when you are.”
“Um. So…” the sereva trailed off, trying to gather his thoughts. “Heh, this is… see, the thing is, I’d start off with trying to compare it to life energy since it flows through you, but you don’t sense that, right?”
“I’ve… never really thought about it, to be honest. Like I said, the water thing kind of just became sort of an instinct after meeting T’nari. It never really occurred to me to try and sense any others.”
“Well… hmm. When you had that encounter, you said you had some strange dreams afterwards that led to you discovering magic, right?” Kuna asked.
“Yeah… I don’t remember the specifics very well, but the feeling still stands out.”
“I guess, just… close your eyes and try to remember. The kind of energy you’re looking for is connected to the dream world, so that’s probably the best starting place.”
“Alright,” Hoku said, closing her eyes as she got comfortable. “I… remember at the end I felt this really liberating feeling.”
“Good! Try to focus on that, see if you can get back in touch with it… and tell me whatever else you can remember.”
While Kuna coached Hoku through things, Kalei finished setting up the wood, then went to grab a pelenock tooth. Before he could start working on getting the fire start, however, it seemingly combusted on its own. He looked up to see Zynshal’s hand glowing with a reddish aura for a moment, before he waved it off. “Er… thanks.”
“Sooo… all this ‘mystical energies’ stuff… can anyone learn to use them?” Kalei asked curiously.
Zyn arched a brow and thought for a moment. “In theory, maybe. Some people spend years meditating to learn to sense them. But that usually takes more discipline, time, and focus than most people are willing to commit to for so long. Other than that, some just have higher sensitivity to it than most to begin with. Even then, though, it usually takes some kind of unusual encounter or event to really awaken those senses in a quicker way.”
“Huh… I don’t suppose-”
“Nope, can’t help you there, sorry.”
“Hey if it were that easy, everyone would be able to do it.”
“What kind of encounters prompt that kind of, uh, ‘awakening’?” Lykou asked. “From what Kuna told me, Inkari just sort of sent him straight into some weird ‘astral journey’ thing.”
“More like swallowed me up in darkness and I just kind of… ‘woke up’ there, although I guess that’s not quite the right way to put it…” Kuna chimed in while Hoku was meditating with her eyes closed.
“Really?” Zyn asked, then rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Well, that’s Inkari for you. Probably some weird trick I don’t know the slightest thing about. Even most other jarzin can’t force an awakening like that, just maybe guide someone to it.”
“Maybe it has something to do with the demon bite thingy??” Kani chimed in.
“Come again?” Zyn asked, somewhat surprised. “Demon bite?”
“Ink really left some important things out of what she told you, huh?” Lykou commented. “This isn’t Kuna’s first encounter with a demon, unfortunately. His parents were killed by a ravager. And its spiritual half apparently bit his soul and left a tooth there.”
“WHAT?!” Kalei blurted out. “It left a- huh?!”
“Woah,” Zyn agreed, giving the sereva a surprised, yet sympathetic look. “Damn. Life’s really been a nasty bitch to you, hasn’t it?”
“Shhh!” Kuna shushed them. “Hoku’s trying to focus here, you know.”
“Right, right,” Kalei said, lowering his voice. “Sorry. But do you really have a…?”
“Yeah. I told you about that, remember?”
“Yeah, but you left out that one important little detail...”
Oh. Well, yeah… under the circumstances, can you blame me? But yeah, damn thing bit my soul,” Kuna said, then furrowed his brow and shot Zyn a quizzical look. “Now that I think about it, I guess ravagers are a different kind of demon…?”
“Ah yeah, those miserable fucks,” Zyn said with a somewhat disgusted look. “They’re an example of what happens when an attempted pact goes wrong.”
“Wrong? How so?”
“Usually either the mortal involved tries to end up with all the power and control, and the spirit lashes out in the middle of the ritual in response- or else the spirit screws something up on their end, usually because they don’t fully know what they’re doing. Happens a lot with less powerful spirits that don’t have the patience for the whole ‘build up a big mortal following’ thing. The two end up fusing into a monstrosity with a weakened connection to the spirit world, so they try and get more essence from anywhere they can. Which, of course, leads to becoming insane, blood-thirsty monsters.”
“So, uh… about that tooth thing…” Kalei said, glancing at Kuna warily.
The sereva’s eye twitched. “Yeah, don’t remind me. Damn thing’s the reason I still can’t shake that damn nightmare.”
“So that’s why your soul has that nasty crack,” Zyn commented. Suddenly, his eyes glowed with soul magic, and were soon paired with the floating second set of eyes in front of them, which he used to examine the sereva.
Kani and Kalei both blanched at the sight and backed away slightly. “What he heck?!” Kani blurted out. “What’s with your eyes?!”
Again, Kuna shushed them. “Guys…”
Hoku couldn’t help but peek open her own eyes to see what the fuss was about. She gave Zyn a bewildered look for a moment, then quickly shook her head and shoved the distraction out of her mind as she tried to resume meditating.
“Sorrysorry!” Kani said with a sheepish look.
Zyn chuckled quietly. “Don’t mind me, just taking another look. Huh, guess I didn’t notice that thing before. At least it’s not very big.”
“...is… is that- are you actually looking at his soul right now??” Kalei asked incredulously.
Zyn glanced around at the rest of them- with a very brief, almost imperceptible pause on Lykou- then dismissed the magic and smirked. “Yeah, soul sight’s useful like that. I’ll be a good boy and not sit here reading your surface thoughts though.”
“Y-…” Kalei stared at him for a moment, then just sighed. “Right… thanks for that. Great to know that’s a thing, too.”
“Oh frick! What if Kairangi can do that?? He’ll see us thinking about our plan before we can lure him into the trap!” Kani pointed out worriedly.
“Unlikely. Tuimana probably gives him the ability when they’re fused, but I doubt they’ll think to use it without a good reason. Soul sight’s useful for certain things, but it can get really confusing trying to keep track of things in both worlds at once, especially for a mortal. Just don’t give him any reason to suspect something’s up, and you should be fine.”
“Good to know…” Kalei glanced back over at Kuna. “Er. Sorry, but I’m still hung up on the ‘demon tooth in the soul’ thing. That sounds… bad? Do we not need to be worried about that?”
Zyn frowned. “Potentially. It’s small enough that I don’t think it’s too much of a hazard, but if Tuimana gets close enough, he could… interact with it.”
Kuna shot a wide-eyed, worried look at the jarzin. “Inter… huh??”
“Don’t let it worry you too much- they’ll have enough else to focus on, and like I said, it’s a small target. But that thing does make you a little more susceptible to other demonic attacks. So I suggest you try and keep your distance if they fuse again.”
“R-right… good to know,” Kuna responded, nodding slowly. “Thanks f-for the warning…”
“Hey, like I said, don’t worry about it. Just stay alert and you’ll be fine.”
“I’ll keep that in mind…”
The group continued to chatter for a while, keeping their voice down, while Kuna continued to coach Hoku through remembering the dreams she’d had years ago. Eventually, their effort paid off, and Hoku opened her eyes with a start as her hands gained a pale silver-blue glow. Her smile quickly faded when, almost immediately, the glow faded. “Oh… shit… I just had it!”
“Yeah, it’s easy to lose your grip the first time. Feels weird when you’re first getting used to it.”
“Yeah, it does. Dammit…”
“Hey, don’t worry! Now that you’ve got a feel for it, it should be easier,” Kuna reassured her with a smile.
“Exactly. Congrats on the big step, miss Hokulani. You’ve gotten your first taste of arguably the most important magic of all. In my opinion, anyway,” Zyn commented with a wink. “All that’s left now is to keep practicing.”
Hoku grinned and blushed a bit. “Thanks… I can’t wait to actually trying doing things with it,” she said, then suddenly yanked Kuna into a big hug. “I can’t thank you enough, Kuna!”
The sereva yelped in surprise and flushed a little himself, then smiled and returned the hug. “Hey, I’m just glad I could help. You did all the real work, though after all.”
Zyn hopped up out of his chair, then conjured up his magic again and returned the stone to its more natural state. “Well, I guess I should be going.”
“You sure you can’t stick around, just in case?” Kalei asked anxiously. “Would sure be nice to have someone as powerful as you, just as a back-up.”
“Sorry, rules are rules. And like I said, I’m already pushing my luck as it is,” Zyn reiterated, much to everyone’s dismay. “But hey, don’t worry- I have a good feeling about you guys. Don’t worry, you’ve got this. Stick to the plan, and those two won’t know what hit ‘em.”
Lykou fidgeted a little, then sighed and half-smiled at the jarzin. “Well hey, thanks for helping us figure things out anyway. We’d be pretty damn lost otherwise.”
“Yeah, appreciate you teaching us these things, Zyn,” Kuna agreed.
“Hey, no problem. Now go put them to good use,” the jarzin said. “You guys kick some demonic ass and I’ll see you on the other side of this whole thing.” With a grin, a little wave, and a wink, he vanished in a puff of cobalt blue smoke that gradually faded away.
“Well he sure is… interesting,” Kalei hazarded after he’d left.
“Yeah, that’s Zyn. Technically we’ve only met him once before, but he definitely… leaves an impression,” Kuna said.
“Was a bit more mixed last time,” Lykou said with a thoughtful expression.
“Good thing he decided to come tell us about demons and rituals and such,” Kani said, kicking her legs around idly. “It was interesting learning all that stuff.”
“Yeah…” Lykou said, trailing off for a moment. “I guess he’s... actually a pretty good guy, when it comes down to it.”
“When he’s not being an obnoxious show-off,” Kuna added with a smirk. “But yeah.”
“Aww, his showing off wasn’t so bad,” Kani insisted. “All those tricks were really cool!” She grinned after a moment, staring off into space thoughtfully. “He’s pretty damn hot, too, honestly.”
“Kani, really??” Hoku blurted out, then groaned and rolled her eyes while Kalei and Lykou snickered.
“What?! Come on, he is!” Kani continued, then turned to Kuna. “Come on, Kuna, back me up here! He’s totally hot!”
Kuna blushed and facepalmed, smirking faintly. “Oh for the love of…”
Lykou arched a brow, somewhat surprised at the reaction. Part of him was slightly jealous, but the rest of him couldn’t pass up a chance to fluster the sereva, especially since he was due a little revenge from that morning. “Oh? Did she strike a nerve, Ku?” he asked with a slight grin. “Does the big, dark, powerful jarzin get you going?”
“W-hey!” Kuna shot him a glare, then looked away with a slightly bashful look. “...okay yeah fine, he’s hot, but personality wise he’s definitely not my type and you know it.”
“Who said anything about romance? I’m just imagining what-”
“Aaaaand that’s quite enough of that,” Kalei interjected. “Damn, you’re a horny thing.”
“Hey, we’re in a fucking stressful situation okay?” Kani suddenly snapped with a flat look. “I have two reliable things to think about to get my mind off of stressful shit. Food, and fucking. And we’ve got to make our food last between the five of us as long as we can until we defeat that demonic duo,” she said bluntly, then glanced back and forth between Lykou and Kuna. “And we have these exotic outsiders showing up filling my head with all kinds of… thoughts.” She sighed. “Sorry if I genuinely make you two uncomfortable, but dammit I can’t help myself. Not like I’m used to seeing people with, y’know… fur.” She bit her lip for a moment, unashamedly eyeing Lykou as she pondered what that fur would feel like brushing against her during… certain activities.
Lykou chuckled a little, though it seemed slightly distracted. “Hey, doesn’t bother me. I’m flattered. Besides, you kind of remind me of how my friend Naira gets sometimes.”
Kani’s grin returned. “Really?” She shot Hoku a quick playful glare. “See? It’s fine!”
“You’re still incorrigible,” Hoku retorted.
“Guilty,” Kani replied with a smirk, then sighed and stretched a bit. “But I’ll ease off.” After a brief pause, she added, “Once this is all over, I’m gonna fuck someone though, dammit.”
Kuna, still a bit flushed, just shook his head in amusement, then turned back to Hoku. “Well, want to keep practicing? I can show you what little I know to do with soul energy after you get the hang of grasping it.”
“Sure,” Hoku said, smiling back at him.
Lykou glanced around, then sighed and got up, wrapping Kuna’s poncho around his waist and holding it in place with one hand. “I’m going to go get some fresh water.”
“Oh shit, yeah, let me get back to work on your-” Kuna started, suddenly remembering the konuul’s shorts still needed repairs.
“Let me,” Kani said, grabbing the shorts. “You focus on helping Hoku.”
“You just want a chance to mess with Lykou’s shorts,” Kalei accused with an amused expression.
Kuna glanced up at the konuul. “You alright, Kou?”
“Yeah, don’t worry. Just going to go soak my head for a minute and unwind,” the konuul assured him with a tired smile. “I’ll be back in a few.”
Lykou finished sipping from the falls and hesitated. The poncho laid discarded by the entrance to the chamber, and he was naked by the smallish cascade. Ordinarily, he would have at least given a few playful snaps at the water, but instead he just shoved his head under it for a moment. He was tempted to just step completely under it, to take his mind off things. But he instead pulled back after a few moments and sighed, not wanting to have to spend ages drying off again.
“Feel better?” a familiar voice said from behind him in the dimly-lit room.
The konuul jumped and whirled around in surprise. “Wh- oh, fuck, don’t scare me like that!” he said, then glared slightly at the surprise visitor. “Just when I was starting to like you. I thought you left?”
Zyn grinned. “Nah. I may not be technically allowed to get any more directly involved, but I want to try and keep an eye on you all as long as I can,” he said, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. “Anyway, I had a feeling you and I should have a private chat.”
Lykou sighed and rolled his eyes slightly, slumping back against the adjacent wall, just past the edge of the water pooled in the middle of the chamber. “What about?”
“Well… you tell me,” Zyn said, his expression fading to a more neutral one. “Everyone’s understandably anxious, but they’re pretty up front about it. I know you’re having a harder time than you let on.”
The konuul stared at him for a moment, then shrugged and looked away. “...I guess.”
“Hey, I know you’re still iffy about me and probably don’t want to believe it, but I have a heart, too,” the jarzin said. “Kuna’s had it damn rough, but you’ve got a lot more to miss. Taken from your home for so long, thinking your friends and family back there have maybe given up hope... I see you putting on a brave face out there, but-”
“But I’m fucking terrified,” Lykou finished for him, rubbing his face before looking back up at the jarzin with slightly reddened eyes. “Yeah. There’s no knowing how long it’ll be before I see home again, and everyone back there probably thinks I’m dead. I’m terrified they’ll be proven right and I’ll never see them again at all. We’re up against a fucking demon that’s way more powerful and dangerous than anything we’ve fought, who’s already proven he can beat us once, and… and I almost fucking lost Kuna last time! And on top of having to fight for our lives again, we’ve got Kalei, Hoku, and Kani to worry about, and the future of a whole damn island is hanging over us now, too!” he vented, straining to hold back tears and mask it with frustration and anger as he glared down at the ground with balled fists. “I know they’re scared, too- why shouldn’t they be? Someone’s got to hold things together and I’m trying my best b-”
The canid was interrupted by a sudden embrace. Somewhere in the middle of his rant, Zyn had teleported over next to him. Instinctively, some part of him wanted to be annoyed and shove him away. But this wasn’t theatrics- it was a genuine, sincere gesture.
“Holding everyone together isn’t your responsibility,” Zyn assured him, then pulled back with a sympathetic expression. “Seriously. It’s a team effort. You’re only hurting yourself trying to hold it all in.”
Lykou stared back at him in mild surprise for a moment. “W-”
Zyn smirked again slightly. “I… might have fibbed and taken a quick peek at you with soulsight while I had it up.”
“Ah,” the konuul replied and eyed him for a moment, then sighed again and hung his head. “I’m exhausted, Zyn. Not just physically, but…”
“Yeah. I bet. You have every reason to be,” Zyn replied, rubbing his back a bit. “For what it’s worth, I’ve never doubted anything Inkari’s done- until I met you two. I still want to think she’s got reasons for everything, but this is just plain fucked up. There are limits to what I can really do, but I want you to know I intend to help you both any way I can conceivably get away with. You’re going to get home, Lykou. I fucking promise you that. With Kuna by your side.”
Lykou sniffed, then weakly wrapped an arm around the jarzin in return and rested his head on his shoulder. It was a bit embarrassing and awkward, but the feeling faded as some tears started to finally flow freely. The jarzin was one of the last people he expected to lend a shoulder to cry on, but he was grateful regardless. After taking a few minutes to let it out, he took a deep breath and lifted his head, rubbing his eyes. “...thanks, Zyn,” he said quietly, sniffling a bit. “Heh… never figured you for the sensitive type,” he playfully commented, trying to lighten the mood a little.
“Hey, I can have my moments,” the jarzin said with a faint smirk. “Jarzin families might be a little different, but I can still imagine how hard it’d be to lose contact with them without warning for a long time.”
After taking a few moments to collect himself, Lykou slowly pulled back and rubbed his eyes. “Huh… you know, I never really thought about that. For some reason I just didn’t really consider you guys, um…”
“What, having a home and family? Yep, we’re still mortal, as hard as it might be to believe,” Zyn said with a smile. “Heck, I’d love to show you if I could.”
“So… how are jarzin families different?” the konuul asked curiously.
“Wellll… raising kids is kind of a cooperative thing. None of us have a single set of parents past infancy. More like different groups take care of a bunch of us together, raising us and teaching us and such.”
“Really? You don’t get to know your parents?” Lykou asked, furrowing his brow. “That’s… kind of sad…”
“Nah, not at all. If anything, it’s like I have a whole bunch of siblings and multiple sets of parents,” Zyn cheerfully pointed out. “We may spend a lot of time in adulthood off doing our, uh, thing,” he continued, with a slightly awkward grin near the end. “But we always meet up between… things. And check in on each other. There’s not very many of us at any given time, so it’s kind of like we’re all genuinely one big extended family. Kind of helps with the whole, y’know, short mortal-world lifespan and all.”
“Right… guess I never thought about that,” Lykou admitted. After a moment, he frowned a bit. “That… must bother you, huh? The short time you get?”
“I’m lucky as fuck and I know it,” Zyn said cheerfully. “Lykou, I get to wield power beyond most mortals’ imagination and use it to shape the world in ways that I hope will make it better for everyone,” he said, then his grin turned a bit sheepish. “...maaaybe in ways that people won’t always appreciate right away, but I can only hope, ehehe…”
“Hey, as long as you don’t go ripping people from their homes like Ink, I think you’re at least on the right track,” Lykou said with some mildly sardonic humor.
“Right,” the jarzin said, chuckling a bit. “Point is, I’m happy to have what I have, for however many, or few, years I have it.”
“Well… I guess that’s a pretty healthy way to look at it.”
“I’d like to think so, heh,” Zyn continued, then sighed and gave the konuul a gentle squeeze before conjuring up his magic and shaping a couple seats for them to sit down in. The stone wasn’t any softer in that shape than normal, but at least it allowed them to sit in a more comfortable position. “Right. So. Talk to me, Lykou. I can’t promise I can give a whole bunch of answers, but I’ll try my damnedest to ease your mind.”
Lykou blinked in surprise, then sat back and relaxed after a moment. He looked over the jarzin. “...be honest. Is there really nothing else you can tell me about the journey ahead of us? You know, assuming we survive this demon shit.”
“You will, trust me. I’m not just saying that- between the five of you, this island couldn’t be in better hands. I mean that,” Zyn assured him, then held a hand up, stopping the canid’s objection before he could make it. “Remember, I’ve taken glimpses of your souls. So don’t argue,” he added with a smirk. “Anyway, not… a whole lot, admittedly. I know kind of general locations, but the details otherwise are spotty. Once I know you and Kuna will have some downtime, I’ll go look into them more.”
“Well can you at least give me something?” Lykou asked, arching a brow. “Just so we’re not completely blind.”
Zyn looked away and scratched his chin. “Well… I’ll hold back on some of it because I don’t want to distract you from what you’ve got to deal with now. But at least I can tell you that, for the most part, you won’t have to deal with as much heat. Almost all the other places I know of will be at least a bit cooler than here.”
“Well that’s a relief. Don’t get me wrong, these islands are kind of a nice change of pace and have a lot going for them, but I’ll be happy to get back to some place cooler.”
“Yeah. So you’ve got that to look forward to. And as far as I know, no more demons or anything like that. Most of what you should encounter are just… people and animals, as far as I’m aware. More than that I can’t really say right now, at least until I look into them more,” Zyn continued, then scratched his chin. He seemed to hesitate for a moment before continuing. “...I have to confess I was trying to look into you and Kuna’s history a bit more, too. Try and track down Lakefire, maybe check in on the place, that kind of thing.”
Lykou brightened up. “That’d be great!” he said, then folded his ears down a little. “I… don’t suppose you could te-”
“Can’t go revealing myself to a whole village, Lykou. Bending the rules is one thing, but I can only go so far.”
“Right,” the konuul replied, deflating a bit.
“Hey, I can at least let you know how they’re doing after I snoop around a bit.”
“I’d appreciate it.”
“Sure,” Zyn said, then thought for a moment before grinning a little. “Hey, I’m curious. You said your village had some… off ideas about spirits. Mind telling me a bit about that?”
Lykou chuckled slightly and rolled his eyes a little. “I guess. Believe it or not, I was the closest we have to an expert on the subject, but it was mostly just a bunch of old stories. Nobody’s seen an actual spirit around Lakefire in generations, so I’ve been more of a glorified scout, if anything.”
The jarzin tilted his head curiously. “No spirits at all? Odd… that might warrant looking into in itself,” he mused, half to himself.
“Yeah, I just figured maybe they’re not interested in the area for some reason. Still kept my charms handy just in case, though.”
Lykou smirked and rubbed his neck with a sheepish expression. “Yeah, my friend Naira and I made these things based on some bits from the old stories… we thought they’d help ward off hostile ones and maybe attract friendly ones. Doubt they actually do anything, knowing what I know now, though.”
“Maybe. Such things do exist though, you know,” Zyn said with a grin. “Even if the ones you made may or may not work, spirit charms are a thing. They usually involve runes and such, though.”
“Well that’s good to know, I guess. Even if I can’t exactly do anything with that myself.”
“Don’t be so sure. You might not wield magic like Kuna does, but it sounds like you’ve got your own tricks to work out.”
“Hey yeah, you mentioned one of the places we’ll be going might help me figure that out, right?”
Zyn nodded. “I… can’t really say too much about it, except that it’ll be probably your longest hike. And I do mean a hike- it involves a huge mountain.”
“Oh goody, more mountain climbing,” Lykou grumbled with a flat look.
“Yeahhh, a lot of it. It’s called Devashan, and it’s much bigger than any you’ve encountered so far,” the jarzin continued. “But despite that, I think you’ll appreciate it. It’s much, much cooler there- might even be a bit too much so, higher up. I have a feeling you’re going to like it. Lot of natural beauty, it’s seen as a very spiritual place. It’s really something else. Draws all kinds of people to it, too, from far-flung places even.”
“Sounds interesting… what draws people there though?”
“Same thing that’ll hopefully help you figure out your little… thing you do. Supposedly there’s something at the top of the mountain that can help people unlock a kind of magic that very few people know about.”
“Wow… something to do with the weave?”
Zyn shrugged. “Maybe? Us jarzin can’t visit, for whatever reason, so I can only go off of rumors and stories.”
“Wait, really? Another place you’re banned from?” Lykou asked, arching a brow. “Wonder if it’s another Sylthean thing…”
“Could be, but I have no idea. Unlike Clovaria, which we just avoid due to an old, mostly unspoken agreement and threats about what the Queen will do to us if we break it, we physically can’t even cross a certain point in Devashan, somehow. I guess it’s just kind of like the world decided we’re powerful enough already,” the jarzin replied, then smirked. “You’ll just have to find out for yourself. I hope you’ll tell me all about it afterwards.”
“What, you want to be the first jarzin to learn the forbidden secret magic?” Lykou snarked with a slight grin.
“Nah. I mean sure, that’d be nice too, but I’d honestly just love to hear what the place is really like.”
The konuul was mildly surprised by the response, but pleasantly so. “Well… guess I have that to look forward to, anyway. Hmm… you said it’s cold though, right?”
“Yeah, especially higher up. Which means food will be harder to come by along the way. You should probably try and supply up whenever you can, by the way. Including before each gate you pass through, in fact, because there’ll be a few other places where you probably won’t get much chance.”
“Good to know, thanks. So how many gates away is this, uh… ‘Devashan’ mountain?”
“Oh, several. I don’t remember right off hand, so I’ll have to check, but it’s not one of the next few, I know that. But hey, it’s something to look forward to, you know?”
Lykou sighed and slumped back a bit. “Yeah… just that much longer till home though.”
“Yeah,” Zyn said, frowning. “But hey, like I said, you’ll get there. And I’ll be checking in on things for you, so you’re not totally in the dark about it.”
The konuul stared off into the middle distance for a moment, then nodded with a faint smile. “I appreciate it, Zyn. Really.”
“Hey, I’m just glad I can ease your mind, however little.”
Lykou took a deep breath, then slowly got up. “I should probably get back in there before they start worrying about me though.”
“Good point,” Zyn said, hopping up and restoring the stone floor to its normal shape. “And remember what I said. Don’t try and bury things, alright? Especially not with Kuna around. You two are in this together for the long haul, after all. He wants to help you as much as you want to help him.”
Lykou folded his ears down and smiled a bit more. “Yeah… yeah I know. I just-”
“You just want to keep him from worrying, probably just like he tries to do for you, right?” the jarzin accused, crossing his arms with a smirk.
“….right,” the konuul replied with a sheepish expression. “Fair enough, heh.”
Zyn chuckled. “Go on then. And Lykou?”
“When you guys spring your trap, kick that bastard’s ass a little extra for me, alright?” Zyn said with a wink, then vanished in a puff of blue smoke.
Lykou grinned and cracked his knuckles. “Absolutely.”
The moment the konuul re-entered the main chamber, he was surprised with a sudden enthusiastic sereva hug that nearly made him drop the poncho he was holding wrapped around his waist. The embrace immediately made him feel a bit better and he returned it happily with his free arm.
“I was starting to worry about you,” Kuna said, giving him a concerned look as he pulled back a bit. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah I-” Lykou started to assure him, but then he paused. He glanced around at the others and thought over Zyn’s words, then sighed heavily. “...okay maybe alright’s a strong word. But I’m… managing.”
Kuna frowned a bit, then squeezed him again. “You need to talk?”
The konuul glanced over at Hoku, who was watching them intently. “Er. Aren’t you two bus-”
“No,” Hoku quickly interjected, smiling back at him. “We were practicing, but at this point there’s not much Kuna can help me with until I get better at it on my own. So you two sit down and relax. If you need to vent a bit, we’re all here for you, Lykou.”
“I’ll cook us some dinner,” Kalei volunteered, pulling out a couple skewers and some fish.
Lykou took a deep breath, then nodded. “Sounds good. I… guess things are just really getting to me, and I didn’t want to worry anyone. But I’m feeling a little better now. I just… needed a few minutes, I guess.”
“Come here, you,” Kuna said, tugging him over to the wall, where they sat down together. As they sat down, he made the konuul lay back and recline back into his lap, in the inversion of their usual cuddle position. “Talk to me, fluffbutt.”
Lykou happily snuggled up into the sereva’s arms, already feeling a lot better- and eliciting a barely-suppressed squeal and some minor gushing from Kani. “Eh, just… on top of the stress and shit about what we’re up against, I guess the homesickness was eating at me again, too. I really am feeling a bit better now though. Just… have to worry about one thing at a time, and those assholes need defeating.”
“Hey, from what I’ve already seen from you two, I think we’ve got this thing handled,” Kalei assured them, grinning. “It’s scary, sure, but I feel a lot better about our chances now that we have a plan. I can’t wait to be part of the first group to actually defeat a demon on this island.”
“Fuck yeah!” Kani agreed. “Oh, hey! We should totally come up with our own demon-hunting cloaks! Maybe green or… or blue!”
Hoku chuckled a bit. “Dying a whole cloak blue would take a lot, let alone five of them.”
“You mean six- don’t forget Sunny! His should be smaller and easier.”
The bird perked up at being mentioned, then glanced down and whistled in response.
“I have a feeling a cloak would interfere with his ability to fly,” Kalei pointed out, amused at the thought.
“Well, let’s hold that thought until afterward anyway. Tonight we just need to make sure we’re well rested and prepared for the trip up the mountain,” Kuna chimed in.
“Yeah, we learned the hard way just how challenging it can be if you’re trying to avoid the trails and villages,” Lykou added. “Turns out streams of fresh water are tricky to find up there without getting too close to them.”
“You didn’t have a water magic expert last time,” Hoku pointed out with a grin, wiggling her fingers with a blue glow around her hand briefly. “Just let me handle that.”
“Hey yeah, that’s a good point,” Kuna said, grinning back.
“Still can’t believe you kept that a secret all this time,” Kani said, crossing her arms as she shot the other female raptuva a playful glare. After a moment, something occurred to her. “Hey, is that why you were always such a good swimmer?”
Hoku shrugged. “I mean, it can definitely help sometimes, but I’ve also been big on swimming my whole life, too. It does make it so I can stay under a lot longer if I have to, though.”
“Oh really?” Kuna asked curiously.
“Mhmm. One of the first things I learned to do besides moving water around was to learn to breath underwater with it. It’s… hard to explain, because I kind of discovered it by accident, and it’s kind of, well…”
“Yeah, exactly,” Hoku confirmed. “Hey, that reminds me though, do you want me to try and teach you water magic now?”
“Mm, tempting, but let’s hold off for the moment. I need to stay focused on the ritual to deal with Kairangi and Tuimana right now,” Kuna said, then smiled again. “But hey, I look forward to it afterwards.”
“Sure thing. Maybe I can try my hand at the life stuff, too.”
“Hey, speaking of magic,” Kalei chimed in. “Are you still going to try talking to your other powerful friends with that dream-thing?”
Kuna grinned down at the konuul. “You definitely should. I’m sure they’d love to hear from you.”
“And I’d love to talk to them again, too, but I’ll have to hold off. It keeps you from getting fully rested, remember? Going to need all the rest I can get for tomorrow, plus I’m still just a little bit worn out from before.”
The sereva frowned a bit. “Oh. Right, good point.” He sighed a little. “Damn, I was really hoping you’d get a chance to experience that tonight.”
“More like hoping to see me get embarrassed,” the konuul playfully accused.
Kuna smirked down at him. “Maybe. Not like I can’t fluster you just fine on my own though.”
“Oh, are we playing this game again?”
“Remind me who won last time? And who’s holding who at the moment?”
“That can easily change, you know. I’m still stronger than you.”
“And I know your weaknesses.”
Kani grinned mischievously at the two. “Oh will you two just hurry up and-” she started to say before receiving a wadded-up clump of bed mat-making materials to the face.
“There, work on Kalei’s bed mat while I practice this ‘star’ magic some more,” Hoku said with a smirk, shooting her a warning look.
Kani pulled the material away and shot a grumpy look back at her. “Sure. Be happy to,” she retorted in annoyance.
“What was that you were gonna say?” Lykou asked her in confusion.
Hoku narrowed her eyes and shook her head at her friend subtly, her hand already reaching for anything else nearby that was handy for tossing.
“Nothing, nevermind,” Kani said somewhat grumpily.
One more dialogue-heavy chapter before we get back to some more action-focused stuff! Hope you enjoy these bits of character interaction and lore.
Also double-lol at me ever saying this would be the shortest episode yet. I really jynxed myself there, didn't I?