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Downtime - Ch. 3 (MHO) by Lloxie

Downtime - Ch. 3 (MHO)

Mystic Heart Odyssey

Part 7: Downtime

Chapter 3

Weee, fun with instincts! Hope you enjoy reading this chapter as much as I did writing it. So nice to get back to these two dorks just being adorable and silly together for a bit.

-Llox

___________________________________________________________________________________

A squirrel skittered along a distant tree branch. A bird landed in her nest further up, while three members of a different, smaller species species zipped past overhead. A small creature Kuna didn’t recognize wound its way along another and ducked into a knothole up high. He noticed all these things keenly because he couldn’t help himself- especially when they were closer. A second squirrel in particular was lingering much lower down, and he soon became hyper-fixated on the thing for some reason he couldn’t understand. Something about its movement demanded his attention, even though, as far as he could tell, it was an ordinary, uninteresting squirrel. Sure, maybe its tail had a few exotic stripes on it that the ones he was used to didn’t, but otherwise it was perfectly mundane, especially compared to the ones from the Kryck.

Suddenly, when they got close enough, the squirrel suddenly bolted up the tree. A handful of small birds burst out of a nearby bush at almost the exact same time. Lykou yelped and jumped, bumping into the nearby konuul. “Gah!”

Kuna stumbled a bit and used his walking stick to steady himself and keep them both from falling over. “H-hey! Careful!” he said, grabbing the sereva reassuringly. “You alright? You’ve been awful jumpy today.”

“Yeahhh, sorry about that,” Lykou said, rubbing his neck awkwardly. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me. Must be lingering nerves from Kryckwood.” He tilted his head curiously at the konuul. “Honestly surprised you’re over it already.”

Kuna scratched his head. “Yeah, me too. Then again, I’m having a hard time concentrating today.”

“Strange,” Lykou said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Well, let’s keep going. We can ponder it by the campfire tonight.”

“Sure,” Kuna replied as they resumed hiking. It wasn’t long before another critter caught his attention. Suddenly, he stumbled over a rock while he was watching it dart around up a tree. Luckily, Lykou caught him.

“You alright?” the sereva asked with a concerned expression. “That’s about the third time in the past hour.”

“Yeah, I just can’t seem to stay focused on the hike, for whatever reason,” Kuna said with a sheepish look.

“So I noticed. Wh-” Lykou started to reply, then yelped and jumped a bit as some unfamiliar looking lizard-like critter darted across the ground nearby and into a burrow near one of the trees. “Fuck! This is getting exhausting,” he said, rubbing his head. “And between the two of us, I have a feeling we’re not getting anywhere in a hurry like this…”

The konuul looked over his friend and secret crush thoughtfully, then something dawned on him and he smirked. “Wait… I think I know what’s happening, in your case at least.”

“Huh?” Lykou replied quizzically. “I told you, I’m still just a bit-”

“You weren’t this jumpy even in the Kryck- for the most part, anyway,” Kuna pointed out, then crossed his arms. “No, I think this has to do with our little, uh… situation,” he continued, gesturing to himself and the sereva.

Lykou arched a brow. “...how so?”

“Think about it. My people aren’t fighters or hunters. We run and hide from danger until we have no choice but to fight,” Kuna explained. “And… it’s not just a cultural thing.”

“It… isn’t?”

“Nope,” the konuul continued. “Well, it’s that too, I guess. But it’s also just kind of how we are to begin with.”

Lykou tilted his head. “What do you mean?”

“Instinct,” Kuna said. “When we’re young we have this strong urge to run and hide all the time, especially when there’s sudden movement or sound. You’re new to being a sereva, so in a way it’s like you’re a kid and never got the chance to grow out of it. Most sereva outgrow it or get a grip on those impulses by their mid-teens or so,” he explained, then paused and fidgeted awkwardly. “Well, unless…”

“Unless,” Lykou said, gently wrapping an arm around him with a sympathetic smile. “They’ve been through what you have.”

“Well… yeah,” Kuna said with a sheepish look. “I guess.”

“Well hey, you’ve gotten a lot better about that on this trip,” Lykou pointed out encouragingly.

“Yeah, almost like we’ve had to face down much scarier things than little critters running around,” Kuna snarked playfully. “I guess staring death in the face and coming out on top enough times has its perks. Not that I’d recommend it.”

Lykou chuckled. “Fair point. But hey, regardless of the reason, growth is growth, and I’m proud of you.”

Kuna blushed and nuzzled into the embrace a little. “Thanks, Kou,” he said as his tail rapidly swished around behind him. “Couldn’t have done it with… out… you… though…” The konuul’s words trailed off as he became fixated on yet another squirrel that had come down a nearby tree just far enough to investigate the two strange, tall things making so much noise.

Lykou gave him a look, then followed his gaze up to the tree. He looked back and forth for a moment, then grinned as he connected the dots. “Wellll… now I think I see what’s going on with you, too.”

The konuul quickly shook his head as he snapped out of his fascination, then instinctively wiped some saliva away from his muzzle. “Sorry, I don’t know what’s going on with me. I-”

“Have some new instincts of your own to grapple with,” Lykou finished for him, crossing his arms with an amused look. “Predatory ones.”

“W-what?!” Kuna blurted out, twitching. “N-nuh-uh!”

“Ya-huh. Now I see why you keep getting distracted,” Lykou teased. “It’s adorable.”

“W- there’s nothing adorable about th-” the konuul began to retort, then quickly shook his head. “I-I mean I was NOT thinking about… that!”

“No, but your body is,” the sereva pointed out. “You’re the one that brought this up, and it honestly explains how you’ve been today. Face it, Ku. You might be seeing cute fuzzy little critters, but your belly is seeing lunch.”

Kuna clutched his head, distressed. “N-no way, that’s… I’m not… gah!”

Lykou chuckled a bit. “C’mon. You literally just wiped away some drool.”

“Fuuuuck,” the konuul groaned, pulling his ears down in distress.

“Like sereva, konuul have their own instincts we have to get over as we grow up,” Lykou explained, pulling him back into a side-armed embrace. “You’re basically an adorable, oversized puppy.”

Kuna shot him a half-hearted side-eyed glare, then leaned into the hug with a heavy sigh. “This is so fucking weird,” he whined. He paused and furrowed his brow, then looked up at the sereva questioningly. “Wait, is that why you’re always so fascinated with the local wildlife?”

Lykou looked away with a playfully exaggerated innocent look. “I don’t know what you mean.”

The konuul gave him a light shove. “Are you really thinking about that all the time?? I thought you didn’t like the hunting part!”

The sereva chuckled. “I don’t. Like I said, it’s not a conscious thought thing. Just instinct. Can’t be helped. Trust me though, I’m a lot better about it than I was as a kid,” he said, then booped the konuul’s nose playfully. “After all, I’m still usually the first to notice potential danger, and I’m not tripping over random things all the time.”

Kuna folded his ears down stuck his tongue out at him, then sighed and smirked faintly. “Well this is great. I can’t stop getting distracted by the damn wildlife-” he started, then snickered when another passing critter made his companion jump a bit when it suddenly bolted through some bushes. “-and you can’t stop doing impressions of me when we first met.”

Lykou shot him a look, then smirked. “Maybe I should start being snarky and antisocial, too?”

“Nah. That transcends species,” Kuna retorted. “Can’t take that from me.”

They both shared a laugh, until a small broken branch was dislodged from some limbs up high by some animal and fell to the ground noisily, making Lykou nearly jump out of his skin. “Fuck! How do you put up with this?”

“Just takes prac-” Kuna replied, then spotted a strange little creature sitting on a low branch, nibbling on an acorn. “-tice…” Without even thinking about it, his tongue briefly poked out and licked his lips.

Lykou grinned and waved a hand in front of his face. “Stay with me here, Ku.”

Kuna quickly snapped out of it and groaned. “Dammit, I hate this!” he grumbled, then looked over at the creature again, as it suddenly skittered a bit further away, eyeing him warily. He shot it a flat look. “Sorry, I promise I don’t really want to eat you. Its just my dumb body.”

The sereva laughed and patted his back. “I’m sure it appreciates the sentiment. Come on, let’s keep going. I’ll help you stay focused if you’ll-” he started to say, then briefly stiffened up when another bird flitted past somewhat close by. He then rolled his eyes and sighed. “-help me keep from losing my damn mind. Seriously, how do you do anything like this?”

Kiuna snickered some more. “Like I said, you grow out of it eventually. More or less. Anyway,” he said, leaning against the sereva briefly before straightening up. “Let’s just try and find another decent place to camp. This is wearing me out, too. If we’re lucky, we’ll be back to our usual selves in the morning.”

*****

The afternoon crawled by slowly as the two continued hiking through the woods at a slower pace than normal. All the distractions and sensations that differed from what they were used to were overwhelming at times. Each was glad to have the other there, at least, to help them through it all. Chatting idly helped keep them both grounded and focused- for the most part.

Eventually, they spotted a cave at the base of a cliffside in the distance and made their way towards it. The nearest stream wasn’t as close as they would have liked, but otherwise it seemed like a secure, somewhat secluded area to set up camp, with the cave entrance having several large boulders on either side and an open area around it that was well suited to a firepit. Kuna quickly began setting up the latter while Lykou once again fetched the wood.

When the sereva returned, he found the pit mostly finished, but Kuna was bent down inside the cave, smacking something with a rock. He walked over to see what his companion was doing. The konuul suddenly got up and spun around with a big grin, startling Lykou into bumping his antlers against the ceiling.

Kuna winced. “Right, sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” he said, then grinned again, clutching something in one hand while he held the rock in the other. “Guess what I fooound?”

Lykou shot the ceiling a brief, resentful look, then tilted his head at his friend. “Hmm? What is it?”

“There’s salt in here!” the konuul announced, opening his hand to reveal a small handful of the stuff, including a couple slightly larger clumps. “Not a lot, but hey, we might as well gather some up while we’re here.”

“Alright! About time we had some better luck,” Lykou said with a smile. “Let me get the bag.”

“Suresure,” Kuna said, then licked his hand clean. He blinked a few times and arched his brow, then tried licking it again.

When the sereva returned, he noticed the canid an odd look on his face. “What’s wrong? Is it… not salt?”

“No, I’m… pretty sure it is,” Kuna confirmed, then handed the stone to Lykou, trading for the bag. “Just… I dunno. Try it for yourself.”

Lykou looked around, spotted a dense patch of salt, then hammered at it, showering the ground with little crystals. He caught some in his hand, then licked it off experimentally. His pupils dilated slightly. “...what the fu…” he said quietly, then suddenly gathered some more up and began licking it up with enthusiasm.

Kuna watched him with confused amusement. “Uh… Kou?”

“This is fucking delicious!” Lykou said, then spotted a particularly large crystal and popped it into his mouth. “This must be some kind of magic, special salt or something…”

“...wait,” Kuna replied, glancing between his friend and the crystals on the wall. “...oh. Right. Different tastes.” He sighed and facepalmed. “Dammit. Guess you’ll just have to enjoy it for me.”

“Mhmm, noproblem,” Lykou quickly replied with a blissful grin as he licked his fingers. “Damn, Ku, I had no idea…”

The konuul smirked. “Remember what you told me. Careful not to overdo it.”

“You’renotmymom,” Lykou retorted playfully as he broke off another crystal and plopped it into his mouth.

“...seriously though, try to save some for the bag,” Kuna said as he started harvesting as much salt as he could gather.

“Make me!” Lykou replied with a mischievous grin.

The konuul shot him a dubious look, growing a bit concerned. “Okay, are you literally twelve now? What’s gotten into you?”

Lykou snickered, then licked his fingers and finally relented on the salt. “Hey, as long as we’re apparently feeling like kids, I may as well have a little fun with it.”

Kuna rolled his eyes and smirked. “Brat.”

“I know you are but what am I?” the sereva quipped, then poked his tongue out at his companion playfully.

“About to get dragged out of here by your antlers if you keep it up,” Kuna replied. “And remember to drink plenty of water after all that.”

“I know, I know,” Lykou responded with a small eye-roll. “You know, I never would have guessed the salt thing was a sereva thing. Figured it was just a you-thing.”

Kuna shrugged. “Don’t get me wrong, I think I had it worse than average. Probably something to do with how weak and sick I was as a kid, or something. But yeah, I can’t remember anyone that didn’t like to at least lick the stuff by itself now and then.”

“Wonder why?” the sereva mused. “Maybe related to the meatless diet, somehow.”

“Who knows?” the konuul responded. He then paused and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I wonder if any of the people we’ve met on this journey had weird instincts they had to get over as kids?”

“That’s a good question,” Lykou replied. “We should ask Aelana and Daisy sometime. At the least, they’d know about the lepne.”

“...and wolpertingers,” Kuna added, then shivered with a mixture of amusement and mild apprehension at the thought. “As rambunctious as some kids get, I can only imagine what Syltheans are like when they’re young.”

“No kidding,” Lykou said, pausing to imagine the chaos. “...eesh. I hope their magic isn’t as strong when they’re that age.”

“I don’t know that Clovaria would look the same if they did,” Kuna pointed out, chuckling a bit.

The sereva laughed. “Good point.”

Kuna sighed and tied up the bag after it was filled with as much salt as he felt like collecting. “Well, lets get the fire started,” he said, then leaned over and poked the konuul when he didn’t stop licking at the wall. “Before your tongue turns to dust, you goofball.”

“Fiiine,” Lykou retorted, licking his lips as he got up and followed the konuul out. “Guess I should actually have dinner now, anyway. I’ll start the fire while you set up a barrier.”

“Works for me,” Kuna said as he set the salt bag in Lykou’s pack, then began concentrating. After a moment, he furrowed his brow and frowned. Eventually, the green glow appeared around his hands, although it was a bit weak. Slowly, he weaved some nearby plants into a somewhat thin, but sturdy wall around their little camp area. Fortunately, with the nearby boulders already forming a partial barrier themselves, it didn’t have to be a particularly long one. He released his magic and took a deep breath, then flopped down next to Lykou and took a big drink of water from his jug.

Lykou eyed him for a moment before returning his attention to the nascent fire. “You alright? Looked like that took more out of you than usual.”

“Yeah… definitely harder than it normally is,” Kuna replied, rubbing his head. “Must be this weird species swap thing. Ink did say different kinds of people have easier or harder times with this kind of magic.” Suddenly, his belly rumbled a bit and he blushed.

“That or your body needs a certain something and it’s starting to really insist on it,” Lykou said pointedly, giving him a look.

“I knowww,’ Kuna whined weakly, fiddling with his tail absent-mindedly. He then reached into his food bag and dug out a mango to start eating.

After ensuring that the fire was stable enough to leave alone for the moment, Lykou shifted his attention to the konuul. “So how are you feeling?”

“Hungry. Bit tired,” Kuna replied, then hesitated a moment before continuing, “...maybe slightly off, but it’s manageable.”

“Ku,” the sereva said, gently resting a hand on his shoulder. “You know if we both stick to the fruit and stuff, we’ll run out that much quicker. Not to mention your body’s just going to complain more and more as time goes by.”

Kuna hung his head a bit. “I know, Kou, I know…”

“I can uh… prep the fish a bit more for you. Or even try to hunt something else for you tomorrow and prepare it so you don’t recognize it,” Lykou offered.

“I… appreciate it, Kou,” the canid replied, rubbing his arm anxiously. “Just… give me until morning at least.”

Lykou wrapped an arm around him and gave him a gentle squeeze. “Just don’t let yourself get seriously sick, alright?”

“I won’t,” Kuna said, leaning into the embrace as his cheeks subtly flushed again as he started munching the fruit in his hands.

Lykou dug out one for himself and dug in. “You know,” he said after a few minutes. “I wonder what happened to Zyn? I thought he said he was going to see us this morning, but he never showed.”

“Well, let’s just hope he got caught up scouting ahead,” Kuna said. “Then again, from what he told us last night, Ink’s little shadow-buddies are keeping a closer eye on him, so maybe he’s having to lay low.”

“Well that was part of it at first,” a familiar voice said as Zyn stepped out of the shadows at the base of one of the boulders, causing Lykou to jump and jerk back a few feet. It didn’t help that he had the second set of glowing eyes up over his face, and was giving them both a bewildered look. “...but mostly I just had an extra hard time scrying you two. What, and let me try and put this delicately… the fuck?” He dismissed the glowing eyes while Kuna helped calm the sereva. “I had to use soulsight just to make sure it was really you two, and even then I kept wondering if I was losing my mind.”

“Hello Zyn,” Kuna replied nonchalantly, dusting the frazzled sereva next to him off. “If you think you’re weirded out, imagine how we feel.”

“Yeah, it’s… been an interesting day,” Lykou said, rubbing his head and picking the mango back up. “We woke up like this. By the way, more than ever, no… ‘teleporting’ around, alright? These damn new instincts are a pain in the ass…”

“You just woke up as each others’ species?” Zyn asked incredulously. “That’s… not something you just do. Powerful magic like that isn’t like a cold you catch. Did you encounter anything weird last night after I left?”

“No, and we have a guess about what caused this,” Kuna explained. “Remember that essence potion? Algrytha said there’d be ‘side effects’ after the third dose.”

“Which we never ended up taking, by the way,” Lykou added. “But it looks like they happened anyway. She said it’d involve ‘perspective’ when it happened.”

“Yeah, that sounds like Sylthean shenanigans alright,” Zyn said, scratching his head. He then crossed his arms and grinned. “So… how are you enjoying the new ‘perspectives’ anyway? Pretty interesting seeing you two like this.”

“Takes a lot of getting used to, to put it mildly,” the sereva said, poking at his antlers a bit. “These damn things keep getting in the way, and I’m constantly feeling jumpy about every little thing.”

“New instincts. Lot to get used to,” Kuna grumbled. “I kept getting distracted all day by squirrels and shit.”

“And Ku’s being stubborn about the diet thing,” Lykou commented, playfully nudging the konuul.

“Careful, as long as you’re in that form you have its needs,” Zyn warned the konuul.

“I know,” Kuna groaned, rubbing his face in exasperation. “Believe me, Kou’s been poking me about it all day.”

“Just looking out for you, y’know,” Lykou reminded him.

Kuna sighed. “Yeah, I get it. And I appreciate it. Just wish it wasn’t a concern.”

“In his defense, he did try to eat a fish this morning,” Lykou said, turning his attention back to the jarzin. “Unfortunately I didn’t think to cut the head off first.”

“I don’t like the idea of eating something with eyes,” Kuna commented, his eye twitching a bit. “Believe me, I tried, I really did.”

“Well, maybe you should try something different, then,” Zyn suggested. “All kinds of meat out there.”

“Kou offered to hunt something else for me,” Kuna pointed out, then shrugged. “I’m hoping it’ll wear off and we’ll be back to normal tomorrow so it’s not an issue.”

“Well good luck with that,” the jarzin replied, addressing the sereva. “Considering how you’re still struggling with those new instincts, though, I imagine hunting will be considerably more difficult than usual.”

“Ah, fuck,” Lykou said, bringing his palm to his face. “I didn’t even think about that.”

“I don’t suppose you have any ideas for how to fix this?” Kuna asked the jarzin hopefully.

“Not really. In theory, I could turn you back to normal, but even as adept as I am, it’d take forever and all my energy just for one of you. And to be honest, I can’t promise I wouldn’t make mistakes,” Zyn replied. “Not like I have every last detail of your original bodies memorized.”

“Shit,” Kuna said, folding his ears down. “There’s got to be some way…”

“We may just have to wait it out,” Lykou said, shrugging. “Hopefully it’ll wear off within a day or two.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Zyn said. “Syltheans are known for their trickery, even the nice ones.”

“Wait, you mean we could be stuck like this?!” Kuna blurted out in a panic, making the sereva next to him jerk slightly.

“Well, not necessarily,” the jarzin explained. “I actually have an idea. You said she told you to take that potion in a certain order, right?”

“Yeah. Me first, then him,” Lykou answered. “Why?”

“And you didn’t drink the last dose last night?”

Kuna shook his head. “I’ve still got it in my bag.”

“You might’ve lucked out, then,” Zyn said. “Now this is just a guess, because, again, potions aren’t something I’ve looked into much. But you should try drinking it in reverse, and see if the effect reverses itself.”

Kuna blinked a few times, then smacked his forehead. “Why didn’t we think of that?”

“To be fair, we had a lot else on our mind,” Lykou pointed out. “That won’t cause me to pull back the essence we were sharing though, will it?”

“It might, I honestly have no idea,” Zyn replied with a shrug. “But by this point, Kuna’s recovered enough that he should be fine if it does.”

“I’m willing to risk it either way,” Kuna said, quickly digging the potion out of his bag.

“Gee, why such a rush to end a rare and unique experience?” the jarzin teased.

“If we weren’t in an unfamiliar place far from home,” Lykou said while Kuna sipped his part of the potion. “And if he didn’t have such strong hangups about the meat-eating thing, I’d agree. But it was hard traveling like this and I don’t want to sit around in one spot any longer than we have to.”

“Understandable,” Zyn replied. “Not wild about being in each other’s fur, huh?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say there aren’t fun bits,” Lykou said as Kuna passed him the container. “Found out Ku’s salt obsession wasn’t just him. I had no idea something so simple could taste so damn good.”

Kuna smirked, then looked back and pulled his tail around to play with a bit. “I guess I do kind of like this thing, for some reason. Other than when it betrays me, that is.”

Zyn snickered. “Oh really? Shame I missed that.”

“It was extremely adorable,” Lykou said after finishing his half of the potion. “And so were his tracking instincts. Like I told him, he’s basically a big puppy.”

“I bet,” the jarzin replied.

“Shut uuuup,” Kuna said, rolling his eyes. His tail jerked a bit in his grasp and he blushed.

“I saw that,” Lykou commented.

“Me too,” Zyn added. “You were right, Lykou.”

The sereva grinned and ruffled his companion’s hair. “Right? He oozes ‘cute’ in both forms!”

Kuna groaned and gave him a playful shove. Doing so released his tail, however, allowing it to swish freely. “I swear…”

“You clearly enjoy having it pointed out,” Lykou teased. “Why not just admit it?”

The konuul stuck his tongue out at the sereva, then picked the empty potion container up and looked it over. “Well, I guess we’ll have to wait until morning to see if this worked.”

“Yep. In the meantime, let’s get back to dinner,” Lykou said, taking a big bite out of his mango.

“Sounds good to me,” Kuna agreed, picking his own back up after tossing the small gourd-container aside.

“Might not hurt to give that fish another try,” Zyn pointed out. “Just in case it doesn’t work, or takes a day or so to reverse.”

“I’ll be fine,” Kuna retorted flatly. He was almost immediately betrayed by a rumble from his belly. “...ignore that.”

“Well, don’t complain to me if you get weak and sick in the morning,” Zyn said with a shrug.

“Hopefully we’ll be back to normal then,” Kuna replied. “And anyway, that’s assuming you can visit us again in the morning. You sure those shadow spirits won’t find you here?”

“Like I said, they backed off, more or less,” the jarzin said. “Most of the delay came from trouble tracking you two due to your situation. Whatever magic’s in that potion is pretty tricky. But I guess that’s Sylthean nonsense for you.”

“Well did you at least manage to find out if there’s anything we should know about coming up?” Lykou asked. “Or how much further the next arch is?”

“Pretty close, actually. You should get there by mid-afternoon tomorrow, even if you’re still slowed down by your… predicament. And faster if not,” Zyn assured them. He grinned. “And I think you’ll like the next area. One of the more scenic valleys on your journey, and as far as I can tell, nothing dangerous.”

“Well that sounds good,” Kuna said. “Once we get this whole species-swap thing fixed, we need to take a day to recover and resupply.”

“Yeah, you should be able to do that there. Saw some apples and other fruit on the trees there,” Zyn confirmed. “And while they’re not turkeys, there’s some good sized birds that might be worth hunting. Or a little river full of fish, if you prefer.”

“Sounds good,” Lykou said. “I could use a break from fish, though. More than today, I mean.”

“Any, uh… people in that valley?” Kuna asked apprehensively.

“Nope. None that I saw anyway,” Zyn said. “Buuuut there used to be, a long time ago. And that’s what’s really interesting.”

“Oh great, more ruins,” the konuul grumbled.

“Oh I wouldn’t call them ruins. Not the way you’ve gotten used to, anyway,” the jarzin assured him. “You’ll find it fascinating. No zombies or ghouls, or anything like that, I assure you. I checked.”

“Who li-, er, used to live there?” Lykou asked curiously. “And where’d they go?”

“Ah, that’s the fascinating part. It’s a big mystery. But what they left behind… well, I won’t spoil it,” Zyn said, rubbing his chin with a smirk. “You’ll just have to see for yourself.”

“Really, more secrecy?” Kuna griped.

Zyn chuckled a little. “Trust me. Describing it wouldn’t do it justice.”

“Well, at least it sounds like a good surprise,” Lykou said, rubbing Kuna’s back comfortingly.

“True, true,” the konuul conceded, then sighed and smiled somewhat tiredly at the jarzin. “Thanks for checking for us, Zyn.”

“Of course,” the jarzin replied. “Well, you two sleep well. I’m going to slip off again just in case Baniv or Chaiko come looking again. Assuming it’s clear, I’ll check back with you in the morning. Otherwise, I’ll come find you later on.”

“Alright,” Lykou said. “Goodnight, Zyn. Thanks again.”

Zyn waved, then disappeared in his usual puff of mist.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I think I want to let my stomach settle a bit before bed,” Lykou commented, then started going through his bag. “And I haven’t touched that instrument I was working on for a while now, so I think I’ll get back to it.”

“Hey yeah, that’s a good idea,” Kuna said, perking up a bit. “I’d practically forgotten about that.” He thought for a moment, then dug around in his own bag. “I guess while you’re doing that, I can stitch up our sleeping mat and some of our clothes. Pretty sure I still have some thread to work with in here…”

Each of them sat working on their respective projects late into the evening. The moon slowly crept up into the sky, as the fire crackled beside them. After fixing their bad mat up, Kuna only managed to fix one or two holes in his robe before deciding to quit for the night. He was getting low on thread, and in any case he was growing tired. Still, he insisted on staying up to keep the sereva company.

The wind picked up a bit, causing some trees to creak nearby. The way it passed through the forest and some rock formations nearby gave it a faint howling sound. Kuna shivered. “Fuck. I’d hoped we’d left creepy sounds like that behind in the Kryck,” he commented.

Lykou shrugged. “S’just the wind. Always does that if it picks up enough.”

“Yeah, but after what we went through, well…”

The sereva chuckled some. “Yeah, fair enough,” he said. After a moment, he set the instrument-in-progress aside and slid over next to the konuul, wrapping an arm around him. “But hey. This isn’t Kryckwood. So don’t worry.”

Kuna smiled at him as his tail flicked back and forth behind him. “Yeah, I know,” he replied, reciprocating the embrace. “And this definitely helps.”

“I can tell,” Lykou said, winking.

The konuul glanced behind him, then sighed, blushing a bit. “I can’t decide if I love or hate this thing.”

“You admitted you liked it,” the sereva pointed out. “And if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you like getting flustered.”

Kuna rolled his eyes and leaned against his friend with a faint grin as he looked back up at the stars, trying to think of a way to quickly change the subject. But when he spotted the not-quite-full moon in the sky, he found himself oddly fixated on it. It was similar to when he saw the small critters in the forest, but different at the same time.

Lykou watched him for a moment, noticing the familiar look on his face. He followed the konuul’s gaze to the sky. When he realized what was going on, he tensed up a bit. “Wait, Ku don-”

Suddenly, Kuna tilted his head back and let out a long howl, causing Lykou to jerk slightly despite having seen it coming. He then quickly covered his mouth and folded his ears down, wide-eyed. “What the fuck, why did I do that?!” he asked with an embarrassed look. “I don’t know what got into me!”

Lykou snickered and rubbed the konuul’s head softly. “Like I said. Pure puppy-headed,” he teased. “Just another little instinct you gotta learn to control.”

“But why??” Kuna insisted, carefully keeping his gaze averted from the sky with a bashful little smile. “It makes no sense!”

“Just another way of showing you’re happy, I think,” Lykou said, then gave him a gentle squeeze. “Or that’s what I tend to assume with that kind of thing, anyway. That or too much energy, though I don’t think that applies in this case.”

Kuna yawned a bit, then shook his head. “Definitely not.”

“Just happy then,” Lykou said, then grinned and pulled the sereva into his lap before assaulting him with tickles.

“Gah, K-hahaha-STOPPIT!” Kuna protesting, squirming around and giggling like mad.

The two wrestled around playully for a minute, before sprawling out next to one another, staring up at the night sky with big, tired grins on their faces. “...you know, even with the weird adjustments and inconveniences of dealing with unfamiliar instincts,” Lykou commented. “I think today turned out to be kind of… well, fun, in a way.”

“You know, oddly enough I think you’re right,” Kuna agreed. “Minus the whole… food thing, it’s neat experiencing the world so differently for once. Of course, it probably helps that we finally have a bit of peace from all the constant life-and-death shit.”

Lykou chuckled. “Definitely.” He glanced over at the konuul and realized he was staring at the moon again. “Er, careful K-” Before the sereva could finish his sentence, Kuna let out another howl, making him tense up again. “Oof… tried to warn you.”

Kuna smirked sidelong at the sereva and took his hand in his own as his tailtip flicked around happily. “S’alright. It was intentional this time.”

Downtime - Ch. 3 (MHO)

Lloxie

Adorkable instinct shenanigans tiem.


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