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MHO - The Cult of the Crimson Isles - Chapter 21 by Lloxie

MHO - The Cult of the Crimson Isles - Chapter 21

Mystic Heart Odyssey

Part 5: The Cult of the Crimson Isles

Chapter 21

Aaand the aftermath of the big showdown! Time for things to wind down a bit. It’s not quite the end of the episode yet, but it’s close!

Okay yeah, I slipped another cutesy scene at the end because I can’t help myself. Enjoy!

-Llox

___________________________________________________________________________________

With Kairangi dead at their feet, the group of heroes felt an enormous weight lifted from their shoulders. They all embraced in relief and celebration for a moment- though Lykou and Kalei deactivated their bracers first- before suddenly remembering they weren’t alone. There was an extremely tall sky god standing a short distance behind them, surrounded by a number of other raptuva that had previously been quite hostile to them. Fortunately, the latter were now either dazed and confused, trying to make sense of things, or bowing to or cowering from the new, massive spirit, or, to a lesser degree, the pelenock, which was busy curiously inspecting the stone walls of the damaged shrine building.

Immediately, Kalei, Kani, and Hoku went wide-eyed and fell to their knees in front of the imposing spirit. Lykou scrabbled a bit, then settled for bowing his head and giving a kind of salute, figuring gods were like chieftans but on a much grander scale. Kuna, meanwhile, just stood and gawked in amazement at the alien-looking, yet strangely beautiful being.

For his part, Whironui just stared at them awkwardly for a moment, then glanced at a nearby roof and lifted his hand. A moment later, Sunshine flew over and perched on it. The god stroked the bird’s head very gently with a finger. “GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN, MY FRIEND. WELL DONE LOOKING AFTER THESE MORTALS,” he cooed, which sounded a bit odd in such a booming voice. He then turned his attention back to the heroes and made a strange sound that almost sounded like someone clearing their throat. “I ASSURE YOU THAT IS NOT NECESSARY, FRIENDS. ESPECIALLY GIVEN YOUR GREAT SERVICE TO THE NATURAL WORLD, SPIRITKIND, AND THESE ISLANDS IN PARTICULAR. RISE, AND BE AT EASE.”

Somewhat shaky and surprised, the three raptuva slowly got back to their feet and Lykou smiled a bit sheepishly as he relaxed a little. Whironui then turned to face the Order members. After a moment he lifted his other hand and pointed a long, shimmering finger at the burning barracks. “...YOU ALL MAY WANT TO TEND TO THAT.”

As if noticing it for the first time, many of the raptuva quickly scrambled to start putting out the fire, rushing around and shouting instructions at one another. It was a bit chaotic at first, but soon they had formed a couple of bucket chains to the nearest source of water. Hoku snapped out of her reverie and thought for a moment, watching them, then sighed and looked up to Whironui. “I-It’s an honor to meet you, but they could probably use my help-”

“YES, BY ALL MEANS. WE WILL SPEAK AGAIN. MAKE GOOD USE OF YOUR TALENT.”

She smiled and after a brief hesitation, gave another quick bow before hurrying off to help put out the fire. Kalei and Kani shared a look and then did likewise, following after her.

The god turned back to Lykou and Kuna, stopping them with a hand before they ran off to join in as well. “IT IS GOOD TO SEE OUTSIDERS ON THESE ISLANDS AGAIN AFTER SO MANY YEARS. I ASSUME YOU CAME THROUGH ONE OF THE ANCIENT SYLTHEAN GATEWAYS?”

Lykou nodded, still staring up at the massive spirit wide-eyed. “Y-yeah. Um,” he replied, then cleared his throat and collected himself a bit. “It’s um. Quite a long story, honestly. Basically we were, uh… transported a long way from home by powerful magic and have been using those things to gradually make our way back for a while now,” he explained then looked sidelong as his still-awestruck friend. He glanced back and forth between him and the god for a moment, then gently nudged the sereva in the side with a slight smirk. “You… alright Ku?”

Kuna snapped out of it after a moment, then smiled sheepishly at the luminous deity. “Er… yeah. S-sorry, I uh, I’m n-not used to seeing such a big, powerful s-spirit,” he said, then took a deep breath before continuing. “I… only recently became aware of the concept of gods, and um. Praying, too for that matter.”

“HONESTLY, AT THE MOMENT, THAT IS STRANGELY REFRESHING, UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES,” Whironui responded, glancing over at Kairangi’s body. “AS YOU CAN SEE, IT SOMETIMES GOES… RATHER WRONG.”

Kuna frowned and glanced back at the corpse, then blanched at seeing the detached head again. At the time, as they were bringing justice down upon the evil bastard, he had originally been hopped up on the heat of the moment and thirst for vengeance. But having had a few minutes to calm down once it was all over, the sight made him queasy, to say the least. He quickly looked away and tried to shake off the mental image. But then another thought occurred to him. “Wait! Shit, what about Tuimana??”

“Yeah, he got away!” Lykou pointed out, glancing anxiously up at the mountain. “Shit…”

“FEAR NOT. HE IS NO LONGER A THREAT. A COUNCIL OF ELDER SPIRITS IS BEING CONVENED NOW AND HE WILL BE… COLLECTED SOON ENOUGH,” Whironui assured them. “I ASSUME YOU WILL BE LEAVING THROUGH ANOTHER GATE SOON?”

“Pretty soon, yeah,” Kuna said, then looked over at Lykou before wrapping an arm around him and leaning against him with a tired half-smile. “After we… rest and recover a bit...?”

Lykou smiled and embraced him back. “Definitely,” he agreed, then glanced around. “I… feel like we should try and explain what just happened to the folks here some more, too.” After a moment, a thought occurred to him and his expression turned a bit more anxious. “And then there’s the hike back down to consider…”

“DO NOT CONCERN YOURSELF. THEY WILL ALL KNOW THE TRUTH SOON. FOR THE MOMENT, HOWEVER…” Whironui turned to face the gathered raptuva, who were mostly now busy putting out the blaze. “ATTENTION, PLEASE, FOR JUST A MOMENT.”

Almost immediately, everyone froze in their tracks to stare up at the god, with most of the crowd wearing a mixture of fear, wonder, and uncertainty on their faces.

“I KNOW MOST OF YOU LIKELY REALIZE WHO AND WHAT I AM. BUT FOR THE SAKE OF CERTAINTY, ALLOW ME TO CLARIFY: I AM, IN FACT, WHIRONUI, A GREAT SPIRIT-” the divine being explained, then paused, glancing around for a moment. “...OR GOD, IF YOU PREFER, OF THE SKY. I AM SURE YOU ARE CONFUSED AND HAVE QUESTIONS. FOR NOW, FINISH PUTTING OUT THAT FIRE AND TEND TO YOUR WOUNDED. I MUST DEPART TEMPORARILY, BUT I WILL RETURN TO CLARIFY EVERYTHING REGARDING… TUIMANA.”

One of the Order members finally managed to dredge up the courage to speak. “W… w-was everything a… a lie? Was T… Tuimana a... a demon? A-and the Sp-… Kairangi, was he…?”

“...YES.”

A murmur went around the gathered masses as they tried to come to grips with the situation.

“AS I SAID, I WILL RETURN TO CLARIFY MORE LATER. IN THE MEANTIME, I TRUST YOU WILL TREAT THOSE THAT DEFEATED HIM AND HIS MORTAL CONSPIRATOR WITH RESPECT.”

Another rumbling of discussion went through the crowd, with various uncertain glances being thrown at the group they’d previously seen as enemies- especially Lykou and Kuna, who stood out more.

“Yes,” a voice suddenly spoke above the rest. Lykou, Kuna, and Kalei recognized it as Koa, one of the other members of the group that had originally brought them to their first fateful visit to the shrine. “Of course we will.”

The somewhat older raptuva shoved a collection of boxes and other junk together, then stood carefully atop them to be better seen as he addressed the crowd. “Hear me, my fellows. Be silent a moment!” he plead with the others. After a moment, the murmuring died down. “You have seen with your own eyes what I saw with mine. It cannot be denied. I saw that... fiery monstrosity that I worshiped all these years panic and flee like a coward in the middle of a fight, the moment another spirit showed up. And the way the... 'Speaker',” he said, practically spitting the word out. “Betrayed one of our own to restore his own vitality... disgusting! And now we have a god that was said to have been destroyed or forever driven away by demons, clearly standing right here before us!”

He took a deep breath to calm himself before continuing. “These heroes succeeded our sworn duty where we utterly failed. We call ourselves spiritual guides for the people of these islands, yet we allowed ourselves to be deceived by our very own leader. The demons we thought we were fighting were right in front of us, telling to look away- and we did! It is thanks to these brave individuals that we now have a chance to redeem ourselves.”

Again, he paused, trembling somewhat as he shook his head and rubbed his temples. “Some of you haven't been with this Order a very long time. So maybe the weight of these revelations have not fully settled on your minds. We... have much to reflect upon. And,” he said, then paused and shuddered slightly. “...implications to consider.” After a moment, he rallied a little. “But we owe these people for giving us the opportunity to do so, rather than merrily going along for the rest of our lives serving the very evil we thought we were opposing.”

Finally, he turned back to Whironui, then bowed his head to him. “I do remember you, lord Whironui. I remember well the stories of my youth, which this Order buried under lies and dogma for all these years. I am truly sorry for believing them. You have my word that I, at least, will do my best to see these heroes protected while they remain here.”

Whironui glanced around at the others, who all seemed a bit more contrite or at least thoughtful after Koa’s speech. He nodded slightly. “VERY GOOD. I WILL RETURN SHORTLY.” In a brilliant flash of light, the god vanished with a burst of pale mist.

With the god gone, the raptuva returned to work putting out the last remnants of the fire, as well as cleaning and fixing up what they could around the encampment in general. By that point, all of the individuals that’d once been bound up had since been freed. A few were injured from the fight, but their injuries were relatively manageable under the circumstances.

Lykou and Kuna glanced back at Kairangi’s body again, and the latter shuddered as he averted his gaze. “What do you think we should do with it?” Lykou asked. “Probably shouldn’t just, er… leave it here.”

“I’mnottouchingit,” Kuna insisted, his eye twitching. “His soul’s probably been dragged off to the hells by now so I don’t think we have to worry about a ghost.”

“True, but I don’t think anyone should have to, uh… look at it.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Koa said as he approached behind them. He glared down at the corpse for a moment, then sighed. “I’ll see to it that that… garbage is disposed off.” He glanced back and forth between them for a moment. “Are you two alright?”

“Yeah. We’re… relieved, more than anything, now that this has all been dealt with,” Lykou said, giving Kuna a gentle side-armed squeeze.

“Mmm… and tired,” Kuna said, sighing softly. “It has been… a very long few days.”

“I imagine so,” Koa replied. “I… cannot apologize enough for-”

Lykou waved him off. “Don’t worry about it. Important thing is the bastards are defeated.”

“Perhaps,” Koa said, frowning. “But I and the others led you here under false pretenses, knowing that bastard was going to... 'assess’ you for ‘demonic taint', ironically,” he explained, then shook his head. “If there is anything I can do to make it up to you…”

“Right now you should probably worry about how you've got a whole island full of people whose beliefs have been twisted by those two for… however many many years it’s been, that now need real guidance,” Lykou pointed out. “I appreciate the sentiment, but we’re hardly the only ones that’ve been hurt by that asshole’s lies.”

Koa winced and nodded. “That… will be quite an undertaking, I’m sure. But one we owe to everyone, and it will be done.”

“Honestly, all I want right now is just a chance to relax and not worry about anything for a while,” Kuna said with a heavy sigh, leaning his head on the konuul’s shoulder.

Lykou smiled and rubbed the sereva’s side a bit. “Yeah, that sounds good. Why don’t we go check on the others?”

“Sure.”

“Please let them know they can relax now as well, and I’ll see about getting you all some food and a place to rest for the night,” Koa said, then looked around and rubbed his neck with a slightly awkward expression. “Not… that we may have any especially fancy accommodations available at the moment, but I’m sure we can spare a large tent and some extra bedrolls, at least.”

“Sounds good… no rush on the food just yet though. We, uh… borrowed some earlier,” Lykou said with a slightly sheepish smirk.

“Oh?” Koa smirked back briefly, then chuckled. “Well I’d say you earned it. We’ll still make sure you have a good dinner when you’re ready, at least.”

“Alright, well, thanks,” Lykou said as he and Kuna started walking off to meet the others.

When they arrived at the barracks, the fires were pretty much put out. Between the blaze and the remaining damage from the rock slide, the barracks was clearly not going to be usable for a while, but at least the building was still standing. Kani and Kalei were helping to clean up some debris, and Hoku had just finished returning some extra water to the nearest container with her magic. She smiled when she saw the two approaching.

“This is so exciting, being able to use my magic out in the open like this and not worry about people seeing it!” she said, almost giddily. “And actually being able to help people with it, at that!”

“I bet. Why don’t you take a break now though? We all should, after the crazy couple of days we’ve had,” Lykou suggested. “Koa said he’d make sure we had a good dinner and a big tent to sleep in tonight.”

“Sounds good to me,” Kani said, walking over with Kalei to join them.

Suddenly, the group glanced over at a commotion at the far side of the shrine building. A number of raptuva were gathered around fussing and shouting about something, looking upset but also afraid to do anything about it. They shared a wary look, then walked over to investigate. When they arrived, they found that the pelenock had taken to munching on an already damaged part of the structure.

“Oh damn, almost forgot about this guy in all the chaos,” Lykou commented.

“Yeeeahhh… you did say they like to chew up stone,” Kuna pointed out. “Maybe we should intervene?”

Kani stared at the thing warily, then took a step back. “...don’t look at me, I’m not gonna try to boss that thing around.”

Hoku eyed it for a moment, then suddenly narrowed her eyes and grinned. “I know what to do. It just needs something else to chew on.” She boldly strode forward, past the distressed Order members, and tapped the creature on the first relatively safe, cool obsidian spot she could find that didn’t have little cracks spurting little hot blasts of air when it moved.

The pelenock paused in its munching then turned to face her. Initially, it looked a bit wary and annoyed, but when it saw who had approached, its smile returned. “Ffffriiiiend. Hiiii,” it said in a very distinct voice that made her think of air rushing out of a roaring inferno- which was appropriate, given the flaming interior she could see in its throat when it spoke.

“Hey there! I know you’re eager to make up for lost time munching on things, but these people kind of really need this stone to stay un-munched.” The spirit frowned again, but she pushed on before it could object. “Buuuut, don’t worry! I actually know another nice big collection of stone you can gobble up, without any wood bits in it to get in the way!”

At that, the spirit perked up a bit. A few of the Order members pondered for a moment, then realized what she meant. “Wait, are you talking about th-”

“The place you all kept Kairangi’s victims, yes,” Hoku responded, shooting them a glare. She conjured up her magic and drew some water over from the nearest container and held it in an orb in the air threateningly. “And anyone that objects will get their noses and ears cleaned in the most uncomfortable way imaginable. ‘Kay?”

“R-right, no objections here!”

“Nope, none at all!”

“Never liked that place anyway!”

“Good,” she said, grinning as she returned the water and dismissed the magic. “Come on big guy, let me show you the way.”

“Oh, this I gotta watch!” Kani said, beaming.

“You know, it does sound like it should be entertaining,” Lykou agreed with a smirk.

“And cathartic,” Kuna added with a faint grin of his own.

Kalei glanced around at them all. “...yeah sure, why not. Nothing better to do. Lets go watch another building get wrecked. On purpose this time,” he said with an amused shrug.

*****

Despite the structure’s sturdiness, it stood no chance against the eager pelenock. The group sat around and watched it gradually chew it up, bit by bit, over the next hour or two. It started by ramming the door down with its head, to get it out of the way, then started right in on the demolition by chomping out a chunk of the doorframe. The crunching and grinding in its mouth was fairly noisy, and accompanied by periodic bursts of white-hot flame that could be felt from half a dozen yards away. As it progressed, the ceiling began to collapse on top of it- but the massive, heavy stone roof snapped on its head, and the pelenock carried on merrily, as if nothing happened, gradually crunching and devouring its way out of the debris.

Lykou, Kani, and Kalei were excited to watch the spirit work, cheering it on from the distance. Hoku just watched with a fascinated expression. Kuna stayed near the back, with Sunshine perched and dozing idly on his shoulder. The sereva was slightly intimidated by the pelenock, even knowing it was friendly. Something about its decidedly sharp and menacing claws and teeth, no doubt. And the fire-belching certainly could be a potential hazard. Still, he did enjoy seeing the building demolished and gradually getting turned into a fine, powdery sand.

Later in the day, Whironui returned as promised and explained the truth. By that point, enough of their former enemies had listened to what the group of heroes had to say about the matter, so they already knew much of what the god told them. Still, it was good to have the word of a divine being to back them up.

“WITH ALL OF THAT SAID, TUIMANA SHOULD NO LONGER BE A THREAT, AND WILL BE DEALT WITH SOON. JUST TO BE SAFE, HOWEVER, I ADVISE AGAINST VISITING THE MOUNTAIN’S PEAK FOR THE TIME BEING.”

“I don’t s-suppose you could... help clear this up with the rest of the island... could you?” one of the order members anxiously asked, after being nudged forward by several of her fellows.

“UNFORTUNATELY, NO. I MUST RETURN TO ASSIST IN MATTERS RELATED TO TUIMANA IN THE SPIRIT WORLD,” the god responded, then turned to face the group that had defeated the demon in question. “BEFORE I LEAVE, HOWEVER, I WOULD LIKE TO OFFER A TOKEN OF GRATITUDE TO EACH OF YOU.” He knelt down, causing a number of raptuva to scatter a bit to make room, then held out his hand. A tiny point of light appeared, then grew larger and brighter for a moment, before splitting into five separate tiny orbs of shimmering color and light. He lowered his hand and each of the shimmering objects floated over in front of each of them.

Kani, immediately drawn to the bright, shiny colors, was the first to reach out and grab the one in front of her. It flashed and turned into a small crystal. She gasped as the air suddenly fluttered around her, as if she was in the middle of a private, gentle breeze only she was subjected to. After the god nodded to them, the others took theirs and eyed them with wonder.

Kalei just stared at the object in his palm with a faraway expression. A smile slowly crept across his face. His experience with the Order severely tested his faith in spirituality, but the small, pretty crystal in his hand brought back the wonderful stories he remembered his grandfather telling him as a child, which the Order had buried under dogma and harshness for so long. He was too distracted by his thoughts to thank the god directly, but he didn’t need to. His reaction said it all anyway.

Lykou held the crystal up to the late afternoon sun and marveled at the way it caught the light, while relishing the magical breeze that seemed to surround him as he did so. “Wow...”

“It’s so… beautiful,” Kuna remarked, turning the crystal back and forth in his hand to examine it from all sides.

“They are,” Hoku agreed, marveling at the object. “Thank y-” she said after a moment, starting to drop to her knees to prostrate herself before the god again. But this time, he caught her with a finger quickly yet gently stuck under her chin, throwing her off. She looked up to see him giving her what she thought might be a mildly amused look- though it was hard to tell from a face that was literally all eyes.

“AS I SAID. NOT NECESSARY, HOKULANI. THIS IS MY WAY OF THANKING YOU, AFTER ALL,” he explained, then withdrew his hand. “WHEN YOU NEED LIGHT, HOLD IT ALOFT AND THINK OF THE DAWN. WHEN LIFE SEEMS DULL, THINK OF THE SUNSET. AND WHEN YOU NEED SOLACE FROM THE HEAT, THINK OF THE BREEZE. MAY IT BRING YOU PEACE AND HOPE WHENEVER YOU FIND THEM LACKING.”

Hoku looked at the crystal again for a moment, then held it close to her chest. “I know it will… I know you said it isn’t necessary, but thank you anyway. For this, and… for the chance to see you in person,” she said. Then, after a brief hesitation, she surprised everyone by stepping forward and gently taking the god’s hand- or finger, at least- in her own hand and smiled up at him with slightly teary eyes.

Whironui gently stroked her head with a finger from the other hand. “IT IS MY PLEASURE, HOKU. REST ASSURED, WE HEARD YOUR PRAYERS. ALL OF US. EVEN IF WE WEREN’T ABLE TO RESPOND. KNOW THAT YOU ARE WELL BELOVED AMONG THE SPIRITS OF THESE ISLANDS.” The large spirit gently withdrew his hands, then stood back up. “I MUST LEAVE AGAIN NOW, BUT REST ASSURED, I AND ALL THE OTHER SPIRITS WILL BE ACTIVE HERE ONCE AGAIN. FAREWELL FOR NOW.”

Again, he vanished in a puff of white mist and shimmering light. Hoku rubbed some tears out of her eyes and blushed a bit when the others stepped forward to join up with her. The Order members chattered among one another as the resumed their work around the encampent. A few stopped by to offer congratulations and praise- sometimes somewhat awkwardly- as they did so. Hoku in particular caught a lot of attention after the god’s second visit, and her name was mentioned with interest on a few occasions. Fortunately they sounded generally very positive.

“I guess everyone likes to know they’re appreciated,” Kuna said, smiling at her. “I have a feeling you have a lot more friends that’ll be paying you a visit now and then.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Hoku said, eyeing the crystal again for a moment. Suddenly, she pulled both Kuna and Lykou into a big three-way hug. “You two are the best thing to come to these islands in a long time, you know that?”

Kalei crossed his arms and grinned. “I’ll second that one.”

“Heck yeah!” Kani agreed, awkwardly joining in on the group hug, and dragging Kalei in at the same time.

Lykou and Kuna blushed, but happily embraced the group in return, for the second time that afternoon. As the group parted, one of the red cloaks approached and cleared his throat. “I just wanted to let you all know, we, um. Set up a large tent for you all over by the meal hall. And just let us know when you’re ready for dinner!” he smiled a little uneasily at Kuna. “We’ve got a fresh batch of fruit that was just delivered.”

“Sounds good to me,” Kuna said, stretching a bit. The jostling stirred Sunshine awake, but the bird didn’t seem to mind much. Somehow, he’d managed to doze all the way through Whironui’s second visit. Then again, he was probably used to the god, being one of his chosen messengers in the mortal world.

“Ooo, yeah, food does sound good right now,” Kani agreed, hopping up. “Let’s eat!”

*****

Later in the evening, with the stars shining down on them, the group of friends sat around a campfire outside their tent. It was far from the only one, with various others scattered around the encampment. There was still some awkwardness around the red cloaks- some more than others- so they were pretty much left to themselves for the night, which suited them fine. Many of them, having endured a long and hard day, had already turned in for the night, leaving the heroes a relatively peaceful, quiet night as they relaxed under the moonlit sky.

Hoku had decided to practice her soul magic again, and Kuna taught her the basics of using it to find things, or at least what little he knew. She tried using it with the thought of her shack in mind, then marveled as the light darted up to the sky and flitted between a couple of stars to mark the way. Kalei and Kanei were also suitably impressed.

“So that’s how you two are finding your way home, huh?” Kalei remarked. “Uh… where did it say the next one of those gate things was again?”

Kuna frowned and glanced up at the mountain. “Haven’t checked in a while, but last time I did, it seemed to be pointing to the top of the mountain. So I’m guessing we’ll have to wait until Tuimana is dealt with.”

“Might want to double check. We did that from further down before, it could’ve been pointing to the other side of the mountain,” Lykou suggested.

“Good point,” Kuna said, then looked at the back of his hand as he summoned up his own magic. Suddenly he furrowed his brow. “Hang on… Lykou, help me recast it real quick.”

“...okay?”

Together they performed the little ritual and recast the spell. The light jumped up into the sky and danced along a long line of stars- but not in the direction they’d expected. It didn’t point to peak, nor did it travel to the opposite side from Hoku and Kani’s village. Instead, it went off down the side of the mountain, almost perpendicular to the path they’d been on before.

“It… changed location?” Lykou pondered in confusion.

Kuna frowned as a disheartening thought occurred to him. “Or… Tuimana destroyed it and now the spell’s pointing us to the next best path.”

“Nah,” said a strange raptuva with a suspiciously familiar voice, startling them as he approached out of the darkness. He walked over and sat down among them nonchalantly by the fire, with a cup of haze nectar in hand. “It was being skewed by the pact magic before. Weave nonsense, you know? Probably to lure any magic users that knew about those things into a trap.”

“Z… Zyn??” Kuna said, staring at him. “Is that you??”

“As… a raptuva?” Lykou added, mildly amused.

“Shh,” he shushed them and glanced around for a moment, then continued in a quieter tone, with a faint smirk. “Can’t exactly blend in around here in jarzin form, you know.”

“You’re, uh… eyes still kind of stand out,” Hoku commented, finding them oddly a bit captivating. “Don’t know any raptuva around with such a deep shade of blue.”

“It is pretty striking,” Kalei agreed, eyeing him up.

“Hey, can’t play it too safe, can I?” the jarzin-in-disguise remarked, grinning. “What’d be the fun in that?”

“Well I suppose at least you can’t go showing off like usual out here,” Kuna said, crossing his arms and smirking back at him. “So that’s a plus.”

“Wanna bet?” a suspiciously tall flower with a mouth suddenly said over the sereva’s shoulder, startling him.

“Fuck!” Kuna blurted out, falling over into Lykou’s lap in surprise. “Dammit, Zyn!”

Lykou barely stifled a snicker as he pulled the sereva up into cuddling position to calm him.

“Hey, your hands didn’t glow that time,” Hoku pointed out. “How-?”

“Part of the disguise. When you really know what you’re doing, you can hide the glow, or even move it to other parts,” Zyn explained, then curled his tail around, showing a faint green glow around its tip. He winked, then restored the flower to normal and dismissed the magic. “But yeah, other than that, I’ll lay off that stuff,” he assured them. “Anyway, congrats on kicking Kairangi’s ass, guys. Nicely done.”

Kani immediately perked up. “You shoulda seen it! I had a shield and a club, and Lykou and Kalei were all woody, and we kept knocking his minions down all BAM, POW!, and Kuna tied them up with his magic and Hoku was using hers in this really badass way too and-”

“Shhhh… not so loud,” Hoku reminded her.

Kuna winced and glanced around anxiously. “And maaaybe don’t focus on the bit about fighting these people so much. They were just misled, you know, and they’ve been pretty nice since they learned the truth.”

“Ohhh… good point, good point, sorry,” Kani said, then turned back to Zyn and continued in a quieter tone. “Anyway, it got all scary and tense and we got backed into the shrine after the first circle didn't work and it looked like they were winning, but then Kuna got the symbols all glowy and said the words and tricked Kairangi and there was all this light and then BOOM!”

Zyn chuckled. “Yeah, things get exciting when a pact breaks. The mortal half doesn’t even survive it half the time. Don’t do demon pacts, kids,” he said, then took another sip from his cup. “Not good for ya.”

Kalei arched a brow at him. “I thought you didn't have to eat or drink? And I doubt that stuff has any effect on you... right?”

The jarzin-in-disguise shrugged. “No, but I still like tasting things sometimes.”

“Yeah, I imagine life would get kinda boring if you just skipped out on enjoying things like that entirely,” Lykou admitted. “Inkari had her… uh, whatever it’s called, that she smoked.”

Zyn noticeably shivered and got a brief, far-away look in his eyes. “Yeah… that stuff…” His expression was uncertain for a moment as an odd mix of emotions crossed his face all at once.

“Huh? Smoking stuff?” Kalei asked curiously.

“Yeah, I’m kind of at a loss there, too,” Hoku agreed. “Even moreso wondering what could make you react like that.”

Zyn quickly shook himself out of his thoughts. “Uh. Yeah. Nevermind that.”

“Some people apparently do this thing where they burn certain plants and breath in the smoke,” Kuna said, shrugging. “Supposedly gives you some kind of pleasant feelings afterwards, though I can’t imagine it’s good for you.”

“And the jarzin have something in particular that, well-”

Zyn cleared his throat, glancing around warily. “Maybe don’t tell the world one of our biggest secrets, please.”

Lykou smirked. “It’s Ink’s fault for telling us in the first place, but alright,” he said, then continued explaining to the others without going into certain details. “Let’s just say there’s apparently one thing out there that even affects jarzin in the extreme. Some kind of deadly poison to most, but some consume it in small amounts- except Ink, who just puffs it all the time like it’s nothing. Apparently if you survive it, it’s suppose to lead to some kind of world-shattering euphoria.”

“That’s… a mild way of putting it,” Zyn said, starting to loose himself in his thoughts again. His almost desperate craving expression mildly disturbed Kuna, who picked up on it a bit more than the others. Luckily, he soon shook it off again. “Aaanyway, enough of that. Like I said, well done, all of you.”

“Thanks. I was wondering though- what’s with the delay dealing with Tuimana? I thought you said the demon-half of the pact was usually tossed off to Dalzai-Nar almost immediately after it’s broken?” Kuna asked.

“Well, ordinarily, yes. But Tuimana apparently knew a few other weave tricks that he used to subtly prepare things a bit even before they made the pact. Not too surprising- he actually started out a little older and more powerful than the typical spirit that goes down the demon path,” Zyn explained. “Don’t worry about it though, they’re working on it. He won’t dare leave his little hidey-hole now, because it’s all that’s keeping him from being snatched up by a bunch of guardians keeping guard around the peak.”

“Well that’s a relief,” Hoku said. “I was worried when he was able to just… run off like that.”

“Yeah no, he’s probably up there frantically trying to think up a way out that doesn’t exist,” Zyn assured her, then smirked. “In fact, he’s probably terrified out of his wits and driving himself crazy with worry now. Which sounds pretty fitting to me, considering the grief he and his buddy caused for so many over the years.”

“Thinking about it does give me a warm fuzzy feeling,” Kuna said with a small grin.

“Guess all we have to worry about now is finding that gate,” Lykou said, staring at the fire thoughtfully. “Hopefully it’s still on the island.”

“It isn’t,” Zyn replied nonchalantly.

“Shit, it isn’t?”

“Nope.”

“Must be on one of the others,” Kuna said, frowning slightly, then turned to Hoku. “Would you mind-”

“Kuna. Do you really even think you need to ask?” Hoku interrupted, smiling. “Of course we’ll give you two a lift. Whatever island you have to get to, we’ll get you there.”

“That’s sweet and all, but it’s not on another island, either,” Zyn interjected.

“Huh?? What are you talking about?” Lykou asked, perplexed. Then his eyes widened. “Wait, you don’t mean…”

“Mhmm. Hope you like fish.”

“It’s underwater?!” Kalei asked incredulously. “How?? Why?!”

“It was probably on a piece of the island that fell into the ocean during some earthquake or something in the past. Possibly something Tuimana did,” Zyn explained, then reclined back and took another sip of his drink. “Don’t worry though. Just make your way down to the coast, and there’ll be a way to reach it when the time comes.” He winked. “Trust me.”

Lykou stared at him for a moment. Kuna considered saying something snarky, but Lykou spoke first. “You know…” the konuul said, a smile creeping across his face. “For once, I do. We wouldn’t have known what to do here if it wasn’t for you, Zyn. So… alright. I’ll take your word for it.”

“Yeah, and thanks again for that, by the way,” Hoku added.

“Hey, you guys did all the hard stuff. Now you should all take some time to relax and unwind, especially when you get back down to the coast,” Zyn pointed out, then gestured to Lykou and Kuna. “And that especially goes for you two. I know you’re eager to continue making your way back to Lakefire, but it’ll do you some good to have a little bit of fun and unwind.”

“Heck yeah!” Kani chimed in eagerly. “We just saved this island from a demon, everyone can just stay off our backs about chores ‘n’ shit for a while!”

“Emphasis on the ‘unwind’ part,” Kalei agreed, lounging back himself and staring up at the stars contently. “I feel better than I have in a long time and I just want to bask in it.”

“That does sound pretty good,” Hoku agreed, then smiled at Lykou and Kuna hopefully. “It’s up to you guys, of course, but I’ve really enjoyed your company the past few days, despite the circumstances. It’d be nice to spend an extra day with you, just hanging out, once we got down to the coast.”

Kuna glanced up at Lykou, letting him make the call. The konuul smiled and gave him a gentle squeeze. “Yeah alright. One extra day won’t hurt.”

*****

After a while, they all started to get a bit tired. None of them were in a hurry to call an end to the relaxed evening under the stars together, but sleep was calling to them. Zyn bid them goodnight and slipped off into the shadows, then the group all made their way into the large tent that’d been set up for them, after making sure the fire was put out. Of course, despite there being five separate bedrolls set up for them, Kuna naturally dragged his over by Lykou and immediately settled in next to him.

Kani eyed them with an impish smirk after sitting down on her own bedroll. “Still sleeping together even though you have separate beds, huh? Interesting~”

“She’s got a point. You know you don’t have to conserve resources this time,” Kalei agreed with a grin, as he settled into his own. “So what’s the deal, huh?”

Kuna blushed and folded his ears down as he tried to scramble for an excuse. “I-uh, it, just. Um-”

Lykou chuckled and grinned, then pulled him into his arms. “He’s been like that the whole journey. I figure it’s in case he has another one of those damned nightmares. That way he’s got someone close when he wakes up,” he explained, then rubbed the sereva’s head softly. “Which is just fine by me.”

“...yeahokaythat,” Kuna mumbled quickly as he leaned into the konuul’s embrace, grinning bashfully. “’n I guess… y’makmefeelsafe.”

“AWWWW!” Kani gushed.

“Okay yeah, I hope you realize that was almost painfully adorable, Kuna,” Hoku had to concede, grinning. “I can only stop them teasing you so much, but you’re clearly milking it, you cute little dork.”

“You can’t argue with that,” Lykou teased playfully. “But by all means continue.”

Kuna let out a little half-squeak, half-groan sound and rolled his eyes, then buried his face in Lykou’s chest, still grinning in spite of himself. “’mgointasleepnow,’night.”

MHO - The Cult of the Crimson Isles - Chapter 21

Lloxie

Well, we're past the climactic battle and things are settling down again. But the episode isn't quite over yet!


Please remember to leave a comment to share any thoughts you have about this chapter! I can only grow with feedback!


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