Mystic Heart Odyssey
Part 6: In the Shadows of Kryckwood
How does one win a duel with a powerful undead warrior, anyway?
Lykou grunted as he fell to the ground, then immediately rolled over and picked himself back up just in time to narrowly avoid being stabbed in the shoulder. He frantically scrambled away as the revenant unleashed a chaotic flurry of attacks that he immediately had to try to block and parry as he anxiously backed away. He just barely managed to activate his bracers in time for one of the attacks to slip through and make a modest cut in his arm. Luckily, the wound quickly began healing once his fur had gone woody.
Still, before he had a chance to recover, he was being quickly backed towards a wall and had to bolt off to the side to avoid being pinned. He nearly tripped on an old club laying near the edge of the courtyard, but managed to catch himself in time to keep from falling. Still, he couldn’t even hope to counter-attack due to the revenant’s vicious, continuous assault. Ever since the fight began, he’d been struggling just to defend himself.
Most of the ghouls the previous day had been tough, resilient, and strong, but a bit clumsy and occasionally even sluggish at times. Elzhan did not have those drawbacks. He was fighting with all the ferocity of a highly trained warrior without any of the limitations of a living being. He didn’t need to breath, he easily recovered from each attack, he didn’t feel pain, and his strength relied on will and focus, rather than muscle power. He was a terrifyingly effective fighter- more than any other Lykou had faced by far.
But the konuul was determined not to give up. He quickly dashed away from the undead menace and hurried across the courtyard, then jumped across the box containing the axe. Elzhan was hot on his trail- just as he’d hoped. So when the animated corpse jumped after him, he quickly spun around with a sweeping kick to knock him aside. His foot landed with a satisfying crunch and sent the comparatively very light-weight body flying off course by several feet.
Unfortunately, the revenant recovered almost immediately, and managed to land a glancing hit on the konuul’s leg before his foot even came back down from the kick. Lykou yelped and winced as he backpedaled away from his opponent. Again, he found himself having to deflect and block a series of stabs and swings that came dangerously close to landing in various vital areas. His mind was racing as he tried to think of some way to disable him, but it was very difficult to do so while so much of his attention was on trying to defend himself.
Again, he pushed away as quickly as he could, barely keeping out of the revenant’s reach as he made his way over to one of the other stone caskets. He jumped over it and immediately spotted something he was glad to see- a net. He wasn’t about to question how it was in such good condition after all those years, and quickly grabbed it up. It probably had something to do with the strange magic that kept the rest of the ruins in decent shape anyway.
He knew better than to try and use it immediately. Instead, he quickly raised his sword to block and parry yet another series of attacks from his assailant, who’d just landed on top of the other casket, nearly pinning him into the alcove that contained it. Ducking and blocking as he went, he managed to squeeze past the revenant, though he ended up taking a few more cuts in his arm and shoulder along the way. When he’d made it back around to the other side of the casket, where he had the opportunity to bolt away again, he feinted to do so, only to immediately hurl the net at Elzhan when the undead warrior predictably lunged to chase after him. Knowing he’d quickly recover, Lykou focused on tangling up the revenant’s arm, then danced around the struggling corpse to pin it, and the sword it held, to his chest. They both struggled and strained against one another, slowly making their way back out into the courtyard. Despite Elzhan’s struggling, the konuul managed to keep him bound up tightly.
“Gotcha!” the canid declared with a grin. “I can hold you as long as I need to, so why don’t you just-”
“KOU, LOOK OUT!” Kuna cried out from the wall as he watched the fight anxiously.
Lykou turned just in time to see a second assailant lunge at him with a sword of its own. He quickly ducked out of the way, letting the blade hit his captive instead- not that it did any good. Under another avalanche of attacks, he began backing away and shoved the netted-up corpse at the new attacker. That gave him a brief moment to see what was going on. The casket they’d been previously battling around was open, and its occupant- now entirely skeletal in nature- had a pair of familiar soulfire flames dancing in its eyes, while the revenant’s own body had gone limp, its own eyes now dark, empty voids.
“Oh come on!” Lykou cried out as he continued backing away. The new skeletal attacker was quickly advancing on him after shoving the previous body aside. “That’s cheating!”
“I said we could both use whatever abilities or equipment we had,” Elzhan reminded him, before launching another series of attacks. “I warned you it wouldn’t be easy.”
Lykou gritted his teeth and scrambled backwards as he deflected several more swings. He nearly tripped on the spear the revenant had previously dropped before they started the fight. Out of desperation he quickly bent down and grabbed it with his other hand, then swung it around to try and trip the skeletal attacker. At first, Elzhan nimbly jumped over it. But after a couple more attempts and a few more cuts in the konuul’s arm and side, the spear finally managed to solidly connect with one of the skeleton’s legs and knock him off balance. The konuul quickly took advantage of the moment and dropped the spear, then pounced, pinning the armed hand down with one foot and repeatedly slamming the skull against the ground until it started to crack. The other skeletal hand frantically clawed at him even once the skull started to break apart under the repeated blows.
Eventually, the skeleton went limp and the ghostly flames left its fractured eye sockets. Lykou took a moment to catch his breath, but then quickly remembered he was far from safe. His instincts saved him as he narrowly ducked in time to avoid an arrow hitting the back of his head. Unsure what else to do, he fled back to the alcove that the first skeleton had come from, barely dodging another arrow aimed at him by the new skeletal attacker advancing from the far corner, armed with a bow. Momentarily shielded by the wall, he frantically searched around for something he could use as a shield. All he could come up with was the stone casket’s lid, but it was far too heavy and unwieldy to carry around as such. In fact, he struggled to even try to lift it, so he quickly discarded that idea.
Soon another arrow zipped past his face, making it clear that he was out of time. He decided to make a run for it to one of the other alcoves. A couple more shots barely missed him, and one managed to land in his back, making him yelp and wince in pain. At least the wood armor minimized the damage. He couldn’t remove the arrow just yet to let it heal, though. Finally, he ducked into another alcove and as luck had it, he found a shield. It was a small wooden one, but at least it’d let him close in on the revenant. He quickly pulled the arrow out of his back, then picked the shield up and turned to prepare himself to be exposed to the arrows again.
Still, he had to think tactically. He didn’t just charge out immediately. Instead, he waited for the undead archer to creep around and start firing on him again. Once he saw the skeleton come within his field of sight, he raised the shield just in time to catch an arrow aimed at his face, then charged as fast as he could, hoping to catch the skeletal archer while it was preparing another shot. Elzhan began to quickly back away, but the fast canid eventually slammed into him, scattered the bones of his current body all around.
Lykou quickly grabbed the skull and slammed it into the ground, then stomped on it repeatedly until it began breaking apart. A pair of disconnected hands clawed at his other leg as he did so, but he ignored them. Before he could finish shattering the skull, though, he instinctively jumped to the side just as a heavy club slammed into the ground next to him. He looked up in time to see another bony warrior body bringing the club around at his head again. He instinctively raised his shield, saving himself from being seriously injured by another strong blow. The impact still hurt, though, and the shield cracked on impact. He knew it wouldn’t be much more use, so he tossed it at the skeleton and sprinted away again.
Given the new body’s slower, heavier weapon, he decided to move back to one of the vacant alcoves in hopes of using the tight space to his advantage. Once he ducked around the corner, he hunkered down and gripped his sword tightly in his hand, waiting for the revenant to come around the corner and trying to come up with a plan. He wasn’t sure what he could do to stop him, but he was determined to figure it out. After some thought, he moved further back and examined the open casket. There wasn’t anything to speak of inside it, but it gave him an idea.
As soon as Elzhan’s latest body rounded the corner, it slammed the massive club into the wall Lykou had been hiding by just moments before. The konuul stood over the casket and braced himself, holding up his sword as if to prepare to block another heavy swing. When the skeleton brought the club around again, he jumped over the side-swipe. As he predicted, the revenant followed it with a heavy overhead swing. He jumped back out of the way, narrowly avoiding the swing, then quickly shoved the lid over to temporarily pin the skeletons club-arm inside the casket. He then stomped down on the upper arm, snapping it out of place and leaving it dangling out the side of the casket.
He then started viciously attacking the rest of the now disarmed skeleton, trying to get a hold of its skull. He figured that was the key to winning- he had to crush the skull of each body so those little soulfire eyes would have no sockets left to return to. After some wrestling around, he hacked off the other arm and managed to grab onto the skull, then yanked it down and jumped so as to bring the entire weight of his wooden body down on the skull, knee first. The bony structure immediately shattered when they landed. He was glad his bracers were activated- he could only imagine how it would’ve hurt his knee otherwise.
Lykou quickly got back to his feet and looked around, expecting to see the fourth skeleton advancing on him. Much to his surprise, there was no sign of it. Instead, he saw the revenant’s original body finally clawing its way out of the net it’d been bound up in. He frowned and charged over to try and take advantage of its predicament before it got all the way free. Elzhan managed to grab his wrist with his free hand just as the canid was reaching for his head. They wrestled around for a moment before another cry from Kuna caught his attention.
He ducked to the side just in time for a spear to miss both him and the revenant’s body. Retreating from the now mostly-free corpse, he turned to see the fourth skeleton attacking with not one, but two bladed polearms, one in each hand. And somehow the original body was also still animate. His spirits sank when he realized both of them had spirit flames in their eyes. Apparently, the revenant could use multiple bodies at once. Has he been holding back this whole time?! he wondered.
The fourth skeleton charged at him with its twin halberds in hand, while Elzhan’s true body decided to stay back. Lykou grunted as he dodged away from the weapons and tried to close in on the newest attacker. With a normal warrior, the two polearms would have been a terrible, awkward way of fighting, but the undead fighter managed to use their extended reach to its advantage and rapidly adjust its grip after each swing, making it hard for the canid to close in. When he finally did, he slammed his fist into its skull, then hooked his arm around one of the skeleton’s and swept his leg under its legs to knock it to the ground.
A chaotic, confusing blur of limbs and weapons made it hard to see who was winning for a few moments, but eventually Lykou managed to knock the halberds away and begin shattering some bones with repeated heavy stomps and slams on the ground. When the skeleton went limp, he turned his attention back to the original body, panting heavily. Elzhan seemed unphased, watching him advance with his arms crossed. “You are a brave and resilient fighter, Lykou,” the revenant said. “But you are still mortal. You cannot win. Yield now and go, knowing you have my respect.”
“The only… way… I’m leaving… is through… that arch,” Lykou responded as he stalked towards him. “Why don’t... you yield? You’ve got… one head… left…”
“Is that what you think?” Elzhan replied ominously. “Your determination is impressive, but your hope has blinded you.”
Suddenly, just as Lykou lunged at him, he was stopped by two pairs of skeletal hands grabbing hold of him from behind. He turned to see two of the previously ‘defeated’ skeletons had returned and grabbed his arms. He tugged against them but found himself struggling to get free from their grasp. As he was doing so, their skulls re-assembled themselves right before his eyes. The third hurried up behind him as he thrashed around, grabbing him in a full-nelson. The one holding his left arm managed to get a grip on his wrist and deactivate his bracers, somehow. He tried kicking around, but the fourth crawled over and grabbed his legs as its own were tumbling over the ground to rejoin it.
Elzhan’s original body unfolded its arms and walked over to the only box that was still sealed… and opened it. Then it pulled out the axe. It was truly unique. It was made of a single solid material, though it was hard to tell from a distance if it was bone or some kind of stone. Either way, it was polished smooth and heavily decorated with runes. Several gemstones were embedded in the handle, and a black strap was connected to the hilt. The air around the edge of the blade had a faint blur to it as it was lifted up.
On the wall, Kuna gawked in horror, then started scrambling to get down off the wall. As soon as he did, though, some kind of invisible barrier blocked him. He cried out to Lykou, his eyes tearing up as he tried to push through it and reach his friend. Whatever he was saying didn’t register with the konuul’s mind, due to being so caught up in the heat of the moment and desperately trying to break free. He snarled and put all his strength into trying to pull out of the skeletal grasp holding him in place. Tears peeked out of the corners of his eyes as he thought of home, and his friends and family waiting for him there. He suddenly felt the hope of seeing them again slipping out of his grasp.
Try as he might, he couldn’t break out of the hold his enemy had on him. He saw Elzhan approaching with the axe in his undead hand in what seemed like slow motion. His desperation grew as the revenant lifted the axe and stalked closer. Elzhan drew his arm back and prepared to decapitate the konuul.
At the last moment, Lykou again saw the horrified look on Kuna’s face and reality dawned on him, he clenched his eyes shut, causing some tears to leak down his face. “I yield,” he said weakly at the last moment, as the axe swung at him. The world seemed to stand still for a moment. When he opened his eyes again, he realized the axe was hovering just an inch from his exposed neck. He could feel a strange, tingling sensation from the blurry area along its edge.
Elzhan slowly withdrew the axe. The other bodies released the canid and returned to their caskets. The sudden release, paired with his exhaustion, caused Lykou to stumble and fall to the ground. When the barrier dissipated, Kuna suddenly rushed to his side, cradling him in his arms and letting tears rain down on him, ignoring the pain in his shoulder. “Lykou! Speak to me!”
“I’m… fine…” Lykou lied quietly, hanging his head. He may not have been seriously injured, but his pride was another story. Not to mention his hope had been shattered, now that he realized they wouldn’t be able to reach the arch.
“Oh thank fuck!” Kuna continued to hold him in his arms, not wanting to let go. “I was s-so afraid I was gonna lose you!”
After they both took a moment to collect themselves, a gnarled hand, wrapped in thin fabric, reached down towards them. Lykou looked up and realized Elzhan, in his original body, was offering to help him up. With some reluctance, he took the offer and slowly got back to his feet, with Kuna still hovering next to him and looking him over for lingering injuries, between shooting hateful glares at the revenant.
“You fought exceptionally well, all considered. And you had the wisdom to yield before it was too late, albeit barely,” Elzhan commented. “I commend you for both. But it is time for you to leave.” He glanced at Kuna. “Unless of course you wish to make an attempt as well.”
Kuna’s glare shifted to a startled, mildly fearful look as he quickly shook his head. “I-I’m no warrior,” he said, then turned back to Lykou. “Come on, Kou, we’ll f-figure something else out.”
The konuul just faintly nodded and turned to leave, his eyes cast downward. Kuna helped gather up their things again, having set them aside outside the courtyard before the start of the fight. Finally, when they had everything gathered again, they set out, with Kuna shooting one last glare back at the revenant before they rounded the corner and left.
Behind them, Elzhan stood silently and watched them go. Once they were out of sight, the corpse walked back to its casket and laid back down inside. A magical force sealed the lid back over it, and everything was quiet and still once more.
Kuna made multiple attempts to talk to Lykou once they’d left the ruins, but he didn’t seem inclined to chat. In fact, all the way through the bog and back into the Kryck, the canid remained somber and seemed completely lost in his own thoughts. That left it up to the sereva to remain vigilant against potential threats.
Fortunately, it was still early in the day, so at least they had plenty of daylight, or at least however much came through the grey cloud cover. While initially relieved by his friend’s safety and lack of serious injuries, Kuna was growing increasingly worried about the konuul’s disposition. After a while, the draught of the dead seemed to wear off, but even if their appearances returned to normal, Lykou still acted like he was half dead. His eyes were distant and he nearly tripped on several occasions, due to not watching where he was going. Kuna had to guide him around several obstacles.
Eventually they reached the tree with the gourd lantern hanging from it. The flame was out at the moment. They decided to stop and rest. Lykou dropped his things onto the ground, then walked over and slumped down against the tree, with Kuna following suit next to him. After sitting in awkward silence for a bit, Lykou started halfheartedly trying to talk through various possibilities for how to continue.
“We should… try an’ find the other villages Algrytha mentioned,” he mumbled, idly fiddling with a twig in one hand.
“Which- oh, where the others fled to after the...? Yeah, that… that’s an idea,” Kuna agreed, eyeing his friend with concern. “At least it’d get us out of this damn place, anyway...”
“Mm. Could… see if they still have some kind of sage or… somethin’,” the canid continued. Kuna caught a look at his eyes and noticed the tears he was straining to hold back. “Could… maybe a-ask about where… if they know where a-another arch is or… something.”
Kuna nodded slightly. “Maybe…”
“Or… or just get far... far enough away that... maybe Zyn’ll show back up and-” he stopped when Kuna set a hand on his shoulder.
“Hmm?” Lykou replied absently as he avoided looking at the sereva. “Just trying t-”
“I know. Stop,” Kuna said firmly. Then, with what little strength he could muster, he grabbed the canid and pulled him over into his arms, wincing at the pain in his shoulder. “Just let it out.”
Lykou shot an uncertain look up at him for a moment, then clenched his eyes shut in an effort to fight back the tears. “I… I just…”
“You don’t have to think right now. Just stop fighting it and let it out,” Kuna insisted, giving him a gentle squeeze. “All of it. Trust me, you’ll feel better.”
Finally, Lykou gave in and let the tears flow as he clung to the sereva and buried his face in his chest. Kuna held him close and stroked his head softly. It was mostly quiet, other than the occasional sob and the breeze periodically making the trees creak a little above them.
A few tears leaked from Kuna’s eyes as well. He hated seeing his friend so distraught, and badly wanted to help him feel better. But he knew all too well that this was exactly what he needed in that moment.
“I just want to be home, dammit,” Lykou eventually said after turning his head and sniffling a bit. “I want to see Naira, and mom and dad, and Nezha, and Oren, and everyone else. I want to hear chief Ryvis telling everyone good morning at breakfast, I want to bicker with Leis, I want to help the gatherers collect firewood. I want to go swimming and play pranks with Naira and Oren, and listen to Derrish and Kitza rave and ramble about things I can’t even understand. I want to see the sun come up and shine off the ridge and make the lake shimmer. I want to be home already!” He paused and rubbed his eyes, then sighed. “I’m… so tired, Ku. I’m exhausted. In every way. I’m so fed up with the constant death, and danger, and fear. Of never knowing where we’ll be next or what we’ll encounter.”
“I know, Kou. I know,” Kuna replied, stroking his head some more as a few more of his own tears trickled down. “Me too.”
Lykou sniffed again. “...we’re never going to get there, are we?”
Kuna blinked a few times, then stared down at him. “Wh-?”
“We’re just going to keep doing this. Wandering around forever, never getting any closer to home,” Lykou muttered bitterly, fresh tears pouring from his eyes. “It’s all some… fucking sick game. Inkari’s never letting us go home. We’re just going t-”
Lykou folded his ears down and looked away again. “...sorry…”
“Don’t be,” Kuna said, squeezing him again tightly. “But don’t talk like that, either.” He gently grabbed the konuu’s muzzle and lifted it to look him in the eye. “Listen to me. We’re getting back to Lakefire one way or another. And you’ll be reunited with all of them. This is a set-back, but we’re going to push through it. Absolutely nothing is going to stop us. We WILL get there, whatever it takes.”
Lykou averted his eyes and sighed. “How?”
“I don’t know, but we’re going to. That’s all there is to it,” Kuna insisted, then pulled the canid into another tight embrace. “I’m not letting you give up. You taught me to hold onto hope, so now I’m going to make sure you do, too.”
Lykou just took a deep breath and remained quiet for a few minutes, closing his eyes stubbornly. They both sat in silence for a bit, with the sereva cradling the konuul in his arms and gently stroking his head and back.
Then, suddenly, Lykou felt something prodding and poking his side. It was annoying at first, then it started to really tickle him. More of the sensations joined at his feet, making him squirm. He started to giggle and grin a little in spite of himself. When he opened his eyes, he saw a faint green glow around the sereva’s hand, then looked down to see a few vines prodding at and tickling him in various spots. The sereva had managed to conjur them up from what little plant life he could find nearby. But when he saw the canid had opened his eyes, he quickly dismissed the magic.
“Hey, if you can fight my demons, I can fight yours too,” Kuna said, grinning at the canid as he withdrew the vines.
Lykou smiled faintly up at him, then buried his face in the sereva’s chest again and gave him a small squeeze. “Thanks, Ku,” he said, then sniffled again. “If it wasn’t for you-”
“Shh. ‘nuff said,” Kuna said, laying his head on the canid’s and hugging him close.
Lykou smiled some more and leaned into the embrace. As much as he missed home, at least he knew he wasn’t alone. After taking a moment to compose himself, he slowly sat up and rubbed his face. “I… guess we should head out to find one of those other villages. Maybe if we’re lucky we can get out of the Kryck before we have to make camp for the night.”
“Mmm, not just yet,” Kuna said, scratching his chin thoughtfully.
“Huh? Why not?”
“Algrytha did invite us to stop back by. I say we give her another visit.”
“...yeah, I guess it wouldn’t hurt. She probably has a better idea where those villages are anyway.”
“Sure. But we can also tell her more about the revenant now,” Kuna suggested. “Maybe she’ll be able to help us figure out a way we can beat him once she knows a bit more.”
Lykou furrowed his brow. “How? I don’t think being stronger or faster or anything would help in this case. As bad as things were back there, I still get the impression he was kind of holding back. And I don’t know what we could tell her that’d be particularly helpful,” he said, then sighed and rubbed his head. “That guy’s just… too powerful. Nothing seems to stop him or even slow him down.”
“Well, we know what rules he’s apparently subject to now. He has to protect all the magical stuff in there, including the arch. And we know the rules of his challenge thing,” Kuna explained. “And… if Algrytha is Sylthean, she might know how to work around that kind of thing.”
Lykou perked up a little. “...that’s true. Hey, maybe tonight I could talk to Aelana and Daisy, too. Maybe they could offer some advice.”
“Not a bad idea,” Kuna agreed, then booped the canid’s nose softly. “C’mon, let’s head back to that crazy garden.”
The konuul squeezed him around the middle again. “Sure… in a minute. Hey Ku?”
“Thanks for... not letting me give up.”
Kuna smiled and squeezed him back. “Of course. I learned from the best, after all.”
The two of them made their way back to the witch’s garden. It was still a somber, subdued hike, but at least Lykou was paying more attention than when they’d left the ruins. Kuna made sure to stay close, and ended up holding his hand in an effort to reassure him and keep his spirits up, which the konuul greatly appreciated.
Once they finally reached the garden, they relaxed a little and took things a bit more casually. They figured they’d have to wait for her to sneak up on them again anyway, so they just took the time to appreciate the odd plants in the garden- though of course they kept a wary distance from the flowers with teeth. When they came across a particularly large cluster of the bitey flora, they hugged the far wall. But then Kuna paused, causing Lykou to stop as well.
“What is it?” the canid asked.
“You know… I never thought about it much, but they are plants, technically,” he said, eyeing the violent flora with narrowed eyes. “Or at least they seem to be. I wonder…” he trailed off, then summoned up his magic and focused.
“Oh… oh hey, yeah,” Lykou said, smirking faintly. “This should be interesting.”
Kuna furrowed his brow as he tried to manipulate the energy in the nearest hostile flower. In as far as any kind of ‘expression’ could be read on the plant’s ‘face’, it suddenly seemed confused and slightly bewildered. Then it began squirming and nipping at the air around it as its leaves and stem started to slowly distort and change shape.
After a few minutes of noticeable effort, Kuna released the magic and took a few deep breaths. “Huh… well, it’s actually not as easy as I thought,” he commented. “Still easier than people or most animals, but definitely more resistance there… although it probably doesn’t help that I’m still weak, too, heh.”
“Interesting,” Lykou responded. “So they’re kind of… what, neither? Both?”
“Something like that,” Kuna said with a small nod. “Damn. Must have some kind of… mind, or something in there after all.”
“It’s all orneriness, really,” a familiar voice said behind them. It startled them, but this time they managed to avoid jumping in surprise, and instead just turned to face the approaching witch. “They’re nippy little shits, but useful fer keepin’ pests outta the garden.” She chuckled as she walked up to them. “Seein’ as yer back, I take it things didn’t go as planned in the ol’ village?”
Lykou frowned and hung his head. “Er, yeah…”
Kuna gently placed a hand on his shoulder, then turned back to Algrytha and shook his head. “We tried talking to the revenant, but there was no reasoning with him.”
“Well, to be fair he didn’t exactly have a choice,” Lykou pointed out. “Apparently, the magic binding him there requires that he guard everything magical there, not just the axe. The arch got caught up in that by mistake.”
“That’s a shame. I’m glad ya got out with yer all yer bits still together, though,” Algrytha said, taking his hand and patting it softly. “Come have some tea and tell me about it. Nobody’s seen ‘im directly in a long, long time, so I’m interested ta hear about it.”
“Thanks, Algrytha,” Kuna said, then gently pulled Lykou along. He smiled faintly at the canid and pulled him into a side-arm embrace as they walked. “Tea sounds fantastic right now.”
“Yeah… yeah it does,” Lykou conceded with a sigh.
Fighting a powerful undead warrior is tough, I tell ya.