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Downtime - Ch. 12 (MHO) by Lloxie

Downtime - Ch. 12 (MHO)

Mystic Heart Odyssey

Part 7: Downtime

Chapter 12

Poor Gleam’s having a rough first day of sentience. Especially considering how her feral side clearly isn’t quite ready to settle down yet.

-Llox

___________________________________________________________________________________

While Lykou collected firewood and started setting up the firepit, Kuna and Gleam set out to find some more crafting materials. They had a number of delays due to Gleam getting spooked by random sounds and movements in the woods, particularly if a larger creature ran by. Even though she was nominally familiar with them all, her nerves were still on high alert, and she was clearly struggling with her instincts. Kuna tried conversing with her to keep her distracted, which helped somewhat. Fortunately, she proved to have a knack for finding useful materials.

“You’re pretty good at this,” Kuna said as he helped bundle up the strange moss that’d been tucked away under some bushes, after first using his magic to make it grow into a much larger patch. “I wouldn’t have thought to check under there.” In theory, he could have simply grown a soft bed for her, but he didn’t want to have to do that every night in addition to the shelters he often had to make. Plus, the stone interior of the building they were planning to sleep in didn’t have much to work with.

Gleam smiled a little and shrugged. “Nesting instincts and blurry memories.”

“Some instincts do come in handy sometimes, I suppose,” the sereva commented, smiling.

“I guess s-EEP!” she blurted out, practically leaping onto Kuna and knocking him into the bushes when one of the large, colorful birds went running past, having been spooked from behind another set of bushes by their approach.

Kuna grunted and pulled himself out of the shrubbery, then dusted himself off before bending down with a sigh to pick up the dropped materials they’d been gathering.

“Oh, just a-” Gleam started to say when she saw the bird running off, only to immediately feel guilty when she saw the sereva picking things up. “Oh fuckfuckFUCK, I’m sorry Kuna!” She groaned and tugged on her ears, then bent down to help him. “I’m such a fucking mess…”

The sereva shifted his collection into one arm, then laid the free hand on her shoulder gently. “Hey, don’t beat yourself up, it’s alright,” he assured her with a soft smile, then reached up and plucked a few leaves out of his hair. “It’s your first day like this. Be patient with yourself.”

The squirrel rubbed her arm and looked away with a sigh. “I still hate it. I wish I could just… I dunno, get rid of these impulses somehow.”

“Everyone has to overcome those kinds of things. You’ll get there eventually. It takes time, and we don’t expect it to happen overnight,” the sereva insisted. “Now c’mon, let’s get back to camp. I think this moss and the meshweed are enough to start on a decent mat, and you can always use the poncho and an old cloak we have for a blanket for tonight.”

“Okay…” Gleam wrapped her arms around her portion of the meshweed and kept her eyes somewhat downcast as they began making their way back. She only brightened up a little when Kuna gently wrapped an arm around her. At first, it made her jump a bit, but the friendly contact did ease her nerves a little. “S-so, um. We- er, by which I mean I, got distracted earlier, when you were talking about those ‘spirit’ things. What are-” she eventually said, pausing briefly as a smaller bird flew past a bit close by, startling her slightly. Fortunately, it wasn’t alarming enough to do more than briefly interrupt her train of thought. She furrowed her brow and clenched her eyes shut for a moment, then continued. “-sorry, what are they like?”

“Oh they vary a lot. Depends on what kind. You have galdra, which are these rock spirits- they mostly look like a normal pile of rocks at first, but they occasionally float up and move around. Elnu are mostly invisible-”

“Invi-wha?”

“Invisible. Means something can’t be seen, even in bright daylight,” Kuna explained. “Elnu are air spirits, and you can’t see them except as kind of a vague blur in the air when they move around. They like to hang around in trees and mimic bird sounds for some reason.”

“That’s strange,” Gleam remarked, then tensed up and shot him a nervous look. “They’re not predators, are they?”

Kuna chuckled and shook his head. “Nonono, spirits don’t eat things. Er. Well, not plants or animals anyway, let alone people,” he continued, then frowned. “...although then you have demons and hungry ghosts and such.” He quickly shook the thought off, realizing he didn’t need to give her more reason to be anxious. “But they’re rare enough that hopefully we won’t encounter any more on this journey.” He sighed with a somewhat fatigued, flat look. “At least I certainly hope not, after Kryckwood and the Isles…”

“...I’m just gonna stop asking,” Gleam murmured, somewhat defeated.

“Hey, nothing wrong with asking questions. I really don’t mind,” Kuna reminded her, smirking. “Just be patient with me, too, when I forget to explain things. Tell you what though, I’ll try to explain as much as I can about magic and spirits and stuff tonight, starting with the basics.”

“O-only if you want to,” Gleam said sheepishly. “I don’t mind staying du-, er, ignorant, if it’s not really important for me to know.”

“Well it’ll probably be useful to know at least the basics on this trip. I’m sure they’ll continue to come up a fair bit, one way or another,” Kuna said. “For one th-” He stopped in mid-sentence as he spotted something in the distance that immediately stole all his attention and left him with an odd expression.

Gleam looked over at him with confusion and concern, then turned to see what he’d spotted and jerked backwards. Fortunately, she managed to restrain herself enough to keep from bumping into him again, though she had to pick up the material she’d been carrying after dropping it in surprise. Up ahead was a pack of the feral pseudo-sereva creatures. It was a small group and most of them were ignoring them, though one stag with a large rack that was a bit closer to them was watching them intently. “Oh...”

“Well this is fucking weird,” Kuna commented, his eye twitching a bit. “Kou wasn’t kidding. They do look… way too familiar.”

“Heh. Imagine how I feel,” Gleam commented flatly as she glanced up at a feral squirrel staring down at them from a nearby tree limb. “At least you’ve met other people-sereva.”

Kuna frowned a bit. “...yyyeaah.” He sighed and continued eyeing the creatures. “I’ll… take these over most of them, to be honest. At least they’re dumb in a harmless way.”

Gleam shot him a surprised look. “Huh?? Really?”

The sereva’s gaze drifted over to his squirrely companion. “I’ll… explain later. Just… the only ones I can say anything nice about have been dead a long time now,” he said, then took a deep breath and started leading the way around the heard, trying to leave them plenty of space. “Well, come on, I doubt they’re interested in conversation.”

“Oh… I’m sorry, Kuna,” the squirrel said uncomfortably. “I… uh…”

“Like I said, later,” Kuna reiterated. “Anyway, spirits…”

*****

Back at the campsite, Lykou had just finished getting the fire going when Kuna and Gleam returned from their gathering mission. Gleam immediately ducked behind Kuna and stared at the fire with wide, wary eyes. It wasn’t very big yet, but the konuul was working on getting it to spread out to more of the wood. “Ah, welcome back. Things go okay?”

“Yeah, should have enough for a decent sleeping mat and a pillow at least. I figure between Kalei’s old cloak and that poncho, she should be warm enough for tonight,” Kuna replied. “We did spot some of those uh… not-sereva though. Weird fucking feeling, let me tell you.”

“I bet,” Lykou said with an amused half-smile. “Glad it went alright otherwise though.”

“Well, other than me fucking things up constantly,” Gleam said with a guilty look, though she kept her eyes glued on the fire as she followed Kuna around it towards the building they were camping out in. “We’re lucky we got anything to show for it.”

“How many times do I have to tell you to not be so hard on yourself?” Kuna lightly chided, then looked over at Lykou with a mildly frustrated, yet slightly amused smile after he set the materials down. “Was I this bad?”

Lykou snickered. “For a while yeah. But hey, you got better,” he said, then addressed Gleam, “Just like you will too. Nobody is upset with you but you, Gleam. Relax.”

“You heard him,” Kuna playfully quipped, rubbing Gleam’s back softly as she set her collection down as well.

The squirrel hugged herself and smiled sheepishly. “If you say so…”

Kuna hugged her briefly, then sat down and started organizing things to make their sewing project easier. “Make yourself comfy, Gleam. If you’re hungry, I’ve got plenty for the two of us in my food bag.”

“Including those nuts you apparently like so much,” Lykou said, winking at her. “Though it’ll take a lot more to fill you up now, so I suggest mixing it with other things.”

Gleam’s belly rumbled a bit at the thought and she grinned sheepishly. “A snack sounds good…”

Kuna leaned over and grabbed his food bag, then pulled it over and dug around inside before pulling out the bag full of nuts, as well as a couple teal-colored carrots he’d collected. He’d already tested one previously and found it to be slightly sweeter than the ones he was used to, but otherwise familiar. “Here ya go.”

The squirrel sat down across from him and took the food somewhat uncertainly. She glanced back and forth between the bag and the carrots, then settled on the more familiar food to start with. Still, she looked the carrot over curiously while she munched on a couple nuts. “What are these things?”

“Some kind of carrot,” Kuna said. “Never tried one, I take it?”

Gleam shook her head. “Not that I can remember much, but food’s pretty hard to forget. Don’t think I’ve even seen them before,” she said as she was munching on her mouthful. She swallowed, then sniffed the carrot. Before Kuna could respond, she bit off the top, leafy bits and all, and started munching it up.

“...you know, I usually start at the other end,” Kuna commented in mild amusement as she chewed with an uncertain expression. “But hey, you do you.”

“Where’d you find ‘em?” Gleam asked after swallowing again.

“Oh, they’re buried in the ground. Gotta look for the leafy bits and pick the ones that look big enough, then kinda dig ‘em out,” Kuna said. “Dirty and a little annoying, but worth it, in my opinion at least.”

“Oh. Explains why I never saw them before,” Gleam commented. “Never would have thought of that.” She paused for a moment, then smirked sardonically. “Not that I ever really thought of anything, until today.”

“Well, maybe nothing complicated anyway,” Kuna said with a sympathetic smile. “I’m sure you had some simple-”

“That’s very nice of you to say, Kuna,” Gleam said, then pointed up into the trees a way off, where a couple squirrels were playing in some of the upper branches. “But you don’t need to do that. If anything, anytime I feel bad about how much I still don’t know, I can at least look at one of those guys and think ‘hey, at least I’m smarter than I was’. So that’s something.”

“Oh. Well, whatever makes you feel better,” Kuna said somewhat awkwardly.

“Good to see you looking at the silver linings, Gleam,” Lykou chimed in, smiling over at her briefly before returning his attention back to what he was working on. At some point, he’d gotten out his instrument and continued working on it.

“I have no idea what that means, but thanks, I think,” the squirrel replied, eyeing the strange object in his lap. “What’s that thing?”

“Oh, it’s an instrument I’m working on,” the konuul said happily, then plucked one of the strings to demonstrate. It produced a somewhat pleasant, if slightly off sound as it resonated within the body of the instrument. “Still trying to work out how to tune it, but otherwise it’s finally almost finished.”

“Instr-?”

“People make instruments to make music,” Kuna cheerfully explained. “Which is this thing where you make sounds in a particular way that sounds nice. It’s kind of hard to explain, so you’re better off waiting until it’s done so he can show you.”

Lykou grinned. “You know, you could always just sing for-”

“Kou!” Kuna snapped lightly, his eye twitching as he shot him a playful glare and blushed. “Shush!”

“Huh?” Gleam asked in confusion. “Sing?”

“He’sjustmessingwithmedon’tworryaboutit,” Kuna said quickly, averting his gaze with a flustered expression.

“O...kay…?” she replied. “Are you alright? I thought only I had that problem, and it’s mostly gone now. You said you guys didn’t get, uh… people-ified by the magic, so your heads are alright, right?”

Lykou snickered. “He’s just frazzled that I brought it up. Don’t worry, I’ll get him to show you eventually.”

Kuna shot him another glare. “Shut.

“I honestly don’t understand why you’re so self-conscious about it,” Lykou said. “You-”

“Right, sewingnow,” Kuna grumbled as he narrowed his eyes and threw himself into starting work on the new sleeping mat. “Notlistening.”

Gleam glanced back and forth between them for a moment, then just sighed and took another bite out of the carrot. “I hope I get used to being confused soon. Looks like it’s going to be a non-stop thing for me.”

“Sorry, Gleam,” Lykou apologized with a sheepish smile. “We like to tease and mess with each other a little sometimes, but I guess that’s not very helpful right now.”

“Ya think?” Kuna retorted, shooting him another look. The faint smirk showed he wasn’t really too upset, though.

Lykou stuck his tongue out at him, then turned back to their new companion. “Anyway, singing is just that music thing, but using your own voice. Words, usually, but… well, like Kuna said, it’s kind of tricky to explain. I found out recently that he’s really good at it, but also shy about it for some reason.”

“Why’s that?” Gleam asked, directing the question at Kuna. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

Kuna let his glare linger on the konuul for another moment, before sighing and turning back to his work with a shrug and a faint, bashful grin.

“He’s not a big fan of being the center of attention, so that’s probably part of it,” Lykou commented, eyeing the sereva with a playful glint in his eye. “Or at least he pretends to not like it, anyway. Don’t worry, give him enough time and I’m sure we can convince him to sing for you.”

Gleam looked at the sereva hopefully. “Only if he wants to, but uh. I am really curious.”

Kuna sighed and set things down for a moment, then shot the canid another look, blushing still. “No fair tricking her into the ‘fluster Kuna’ game,” he quipped with a faint smirk, then turned back to Gleam. “Maybe later, but let’s change the subject.” He caught on to her nervous look and quickly added, “And don’t worry, I’m not really mad or anything.” He glanced over at the canid again. “Even if Kou’s being a brat.”

“Only because you’re so adorable when you’re flustered,” Lykou retorted, prompting the sereva to stick his tongue out back at him. “And I know you love it deep down.”

Gleam couldn’t help but giggle a bit once she saw that it wasn’t that serious. She wasn’t quite sure why, but she was starting to enjoy watching the two banter with each other. “Hey, I meant to ask- why do you guys only say part of each other’s names sometimes?”

“Oh, that’s just nicknames,” Lykou explained. “If someone has a longer name or something, people who are close to them may start using a short version. Or sometimes just a completely new, funny name based on some aspect of their personality or something.”

Kuna looked at him curiously. “You never told me about that second part. That’s a thing?”

“Oh, I didn’t did I? It’s less common, but it happens,” Lykou said, grinning. “My cousin Kanati goes by Lightpaw sometimes because of how fast and light on her feet she is.”

“Huh… that’s different,” Kuna commented, then shrugged and turned back to Gleam. “But yeah, I didn’t know about the idea until Kou told me about it, either. That’s when we realized we basically have the same nickname, since he’s always been called ‘Kou’ by his friends back home, and ‘Na’ doesn’t really sound right.”

“That’s… probably gonna get confusing at some point,” Gleam commented with a slightly amused look. “Isn’t it?”

“Yeah, we realized that too,” Kuna said with a smirk, glancing back at the konuul briefly. “Which he probably loves, the goofball.”

“C’mon, life’s no fun without a little chaos,” Lykou retorted with a grin.

“I’m sure Daisy’s very proud of you for saying so,” Kuna quipped.

“Dais- oh yeah, the other person you said you helped. What’s the story there?” Gleam asked. “Since I assume it wasn’t the same kind of situation as me.”

“Hoo boy, that’s a complicated story,” Kuna said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.” He looked over at Lykou again. “Hey, for that matter, why don’t you just start storytime while I’m working on this? She should know all of it, if she’s gonna be traveling with us. Might be a good way to introduce her to a bunch of concepts, too.”

“Sure, that’s a great idea,” Lykou said, then looked over at Gleam thoughtfully for a moment. He then sighed, smirking slightly. “Normally I’d insist you come join me by the fire, but I take it you’re still a little nervous about it, aren’t you?”

Gleam looked at the flames and nodded a little. “Yeahhh… I feel better over here, sorry.”

Lykou shrugged. “Alright, but we’re gonna work on that. Trust me, you’ll grow to enjoy a good campfire in time,” he said, then set his instrument aside and moved to sit with the two of them. “So, a couple months ago-”

“Wait, shit. Before you continue,” Kuna interrupted as something occurred to him. “We should probably warn her about Zyn. You know, since he likes to randomly drop in unannounced.”

Gleam tilted her head a bit. “Zyn?”

“Ah shit, you’re right,” Lykou said, then turned his attention to the squirrel. “It’s kind of complicated, but just as a quick warning, there’s this one other friend of ours that may show up here at some point. And he’s got a knack for startling us, since we can never see or hear him coming, usually.”

“He’s a really powerful magic user. Technically half-spirit or something like that,” Kuna said. “So he’ll literally just appear out of nowhere.”

“...r-really?” Gleam asked nervously. “Uh… what’s he look like?”

“Black fur, toned muscles… he’s actually built kind of like Lykou, but his muzzle’s a bit different, his ears are smaller and more rounded, and his tail’s a lot thinner and moves a bit differently,” Kuna described. “And the way he dresses is… pretty unique, too.”

“He’s also built like a predator, sharp teeth and all,” Lykou said. “But apparently his people, the jarzin, don’t eat meat at all. In fact, they don’t technically have to eat anything.”

Gleam stared at him in wide-eyed disbelief. “What, nothing?? At all?? How the fuck…?”

“Just part of them being really powerful magic users,” Kuna explained. “Particularly because of the life magic. Supposedly I could do the same thing eventually, but I doubt I’ll ever be nearly powerful enough for that.”

“Damn… they’re lucky. Must be nice never being hungry,” Gleam commented. “But he’s… nice, right?”

“Yeah, once you get used to him,” Kuna said with a smirk. “He likes to show off, and he can be a bit obnoxious from time to time, but he means well.”

“And again, he likes to just kind of show up without warning,” Lykou said. “So be ready for that, just in case.”

“Which I imagine is a lot easier said than done, given those instincts you’ve been dealing with,” Kuna said with a concerned look. He thought for a moment, then grinned and looked over at Lykou. “In fact… why don’t you make sure he can’t sneak up on her directly, if you know what I mean.” Part of him was jealous, but he was too busy with the sewing to take his usual position with the konuul himself anyway. And in any case, he did feel concerned for Gleam and knew how soothing the canid’s arms could be.

Lykou grinned and looked over at Gleam, making room for her, then patted his lap. “Whatcha say, up for more cuddles?” He also would have preferred having the sereva there, but he had to admit he also felt a bit protective of their new companion. They were largely responsible for her being there, after all, so he figured it was the least he could do.

Gleam grinned bashfully and set down the food she’d been idly munching on throughout the conversation. “You know… that was pretty nice. Sure!” She slid over to the canid’s lap and settled in, somewhat awkwardly at first, until they both got comfortable. “Thanks…”

“Of course. Comfy?” Lykou asked.

“Mhmm,” Gleam said, hugging her tail as the konuul gently held her in his arms. “Feels… strangely safe.”

“I know, right?” Kuna quipped, grinning at the two of them. After a beat, he moved over to sit beside them while he worked.

Lykou wrapped one arm around the sereva in response. “Alright, so… Kuna and I met a couple months ago in… somewhat unusual circumstances. Long story short, we-”

Kuna sighed and blushed, smirking a bit as he focused on the material in his lap. “Go ahead and give her all the details, Kou. Even the unflattering bits.” He shot the canid a brief bashful look. “No sense downplaying or hiding things from her.”

“Er… you sure?” Lykou asked, somewhat surprised, while the squirrel quietly glanced between them with patient curiosity and confusion.

“Yeah, she may as well know what a mess I was at first,” Kuna said, then smiled awkwardly at Gleam. “Let’s just say I was pretty hard to get along with when we first met.”

“You had every reason to be the way you were, Ku,” Lykou reminded him, giving him a gentle squeeze with his one arm.

“Is it related to the being alone thing you mentioned?” Gleam asked.

“Yeah… yeah,” Kuna said, his smile fading for a moment, then sighed. “But we’ll get to that bit. Go ahead, Kou. Feel free to tell her about Lakefire first.” He grinned again. “And your whole ‘spirit chaser’ thing.”

“Right… guess that’s kind of important if we’re not skipping things,” Lykou said with a slightly embarrassed smile. “Alright, so…”

*****

The conversation carried on well into the evening. The sky was still cloudy, but no rain had fallen yet. Even taking into account the extra time for not glossing over certain bits of the story, it was still slow going due to numerous interruptions. Though she clearly felt bad about it at first, Gleam was encouraged to keep asking questions any time she needed something clarified or explained. Lykou and Kuna were more than happy to answer as well as they could, even if it was occasionally tricky or awkward to do so.

When they got to Kuna’s sad backstory, though, Gleam was quick to grow teary-eyed, and ended up rolling into his lap to hug him tightly. Even if it messed up his work a bit and threw him off, the sereva didn’t mind. He appreciated the gesture and gladly reciprocated. Recounting the painful memories had already distracted him anyway. After a brief pause in the story-telling so that the three could share in some tears and comforting affection, Lykou carried on with the tale. The shakonu fascinated Gleam, and Kuna commented on how strange it was that they hadn’t seen anything like them depicted in any of the carvings, statues, or other depictions around the ruins.

“Come to think of it, I wonder if there are any other people out there with extra legs or whatnot?” Lykou mused aloud. “Animals and stuff come in all kinds of odd shapes. I wonder if there are any bird-like people out there?”

“Who knows?” Kuna replied. “If there are, I guess we’ll be more likely than most to encounter them, what with our journey and all.”

“Bird people?” Gleam said with a mildly disturbed expression. “What, would the ends of their wings be hands? That’s hard to even imagine.”

Kuna made a face. “It is, now that you mention it.”

“Maybe they’d have regular arms and hands in addition to their wings instead,” Lykou suggested. “Or… I don’t know, maybe they just won’t have hands. Though I imagine that’d be very awkward and inconvenient.”

“Oh shit, yeah,” the sereva agreed. “That’d be a pain.”

Gleam shifted around a bit, glancing around the camp anxiously. “Hey, um… neither of you happened to notice if there was a stream near here, did you? I’m getting pretty thirsty after that food earlier.”

“Oh, uh… no, but that’s a good point,” Kuna said, reaching over to grab his water jug. He shook it a bit and frowned. “Shit, I should have refilled this earlier.”

“Mine should still be half full at least,” Lykou said, gesturing with his head back to his things sitting near the firepit.

Kuna glanced between him and Gleam for a moment, then smiled awkwardly. “Uh, yeahhh… your water… container.”

Lykou stared at him for a moment, then smirked. “Waterskin, yeah.”

Gleam blinked a few times. “Water… whatnow?”

“...well, this got awkward,” Kuna commented flatly. “I was trying to avoid-”

“Like you said, no sense hiding things. Just like you, she’ll have to get used to certain things,” Lykou pointed out.

“Uhhh… what are you two talking about…?” Gleam asked somewhat uncomfortably.

Kuna sighed and rolled his eyes up for a moment, then looked back down at the squirrel with an awkward expression. “Sooo… you know how Lykou’s people are predators, right?’

Gleam fidgeted. “Uh-huh…”

“Wellll… they don’t just eat certain animals, they also, um. U-use the parts of them they don’t eat. For things,” Kuna tried to explain. “And there’s this thing they do, I’m not exactly sure how, that uh…”

“We use certain parts of boars for a lot of different things,” Lykou quickly interjected. “I know it’s an uncomfortable subject, but if we’re going to hunt them any way, it’s better to try not to waste stuff, right?”

Gleam’s eye twitched. “Y… you use… bits of dead animals… f-for something besides food?”

“Yep,” Lykou said, looking away awkwardly even as he continued to cuddle the squirrel in his lap. “Not like it’s usually recognizable anyway. Like with leather.”

“...I know I’m gonna regret this,” Gleam said, clearly struggling to grapple with the revelation. “What’s leather?”

“Something made out of boar skin. It’s tough and used in a lot of things, like parts of my chaser pack over there, and my old clothing,” Lykou continued explaining. “I don’t know the details of how it’s made because I never learned the craft myself.”

“Believe me, it took me a while to get used to the idea, too. Heck, it’s still a bit awkward to think about,” Kuna told Gleam with a sympathetic, awkward grin. “But he does have a good point about not letting things go to waste. And using his waterskin is better than going thirsty.”

Lykou snickered a little. “You were so adorably stubborn about it at first though.”

“Yeah yeah,” Kuna said, rolling his eyes and blushing. “Honestly, you could at least have called it something else to make it sound less morbid.”

“He’s got a good point,” Gleam commented, then sighed. “Still, I’m thirsty and uh…” She glanced out into the woods, which were starting to get fairly dark. “...I don’t want to go looking for a stream right now. So, uh…”

Kuna looked a bit surprised, then smiled. “Right, I’ll go grab it,” he said, getting up.

“Hang on,” Gleam said, sliding out of Lykou’s lap. “I feel like I need to move around a little anyway.” She eyed the fire nervously and gulped. “And... I know you said I need to get used to being near… that. So I might as well… practice…?”

Lykou beamed and got up with her. “Sure. In fact, why don’t we all just move over there? A bit of cuddling and more story time might help you get comfortable with it.”

Gleam glanced back and forth between him and the fire nervously, then rubbed her arm. “...y-yeah, okay. Just… not too close yet, alright?”

“Sure,” Lykou agreed. “And hey, proud of you for taking the initiative.”

“I’ll second that,” Kuna said with a smile as he gathered up his little crafting project.

“No idea what ini-whatever means, but that sounded nice, so thanks,” Gleam said with an awkward grin. It faded quickly as they approached the firepit, though.

Lykou leaned down and picked up his waterskin, then handed it to her. “Here, have a sip while I stack some things up to lounge against.”

“Nah, allow me,” Kuna said with a grin as he set things back down, then summoned up his magic. He looked around a bit, then manipulated and grew a cluster of grass and flowers into something reasonably comfortable for them to lean back on.

“Careful, Ku,” Lykou playfully warned with a grin. “Keep showing off and I’ll assume Zyn’s rubbing off on you.”

Gleam just gawked at the plants, then at Kuna, holding the waterskin absent-mindedly. “Th… tha-that w-was…”

Kuna giggled and dismissed the green glow. “Hey come on, I’m just being practical here,” he replied to the konuul, then turned back to the squirrel. “What can I say? Magic’s handy.”

Gleam just stared at him in wide-eyed wonder for a moment and made a faint, indiscernible sound.

“Uhh… didn’t spook you did I?” Kuna asked worriedly.

“N-no, just… wow,” Gleam said quietly, then slowly grinned. “Can you do it again?”

Kuna chuckled. “Maybe later. Let’s go ahead and get comfortable for now,” he said, then gestured to the waterskin. “And don’t forget why we even moved in the first place.”

“Oh, r-right,” Gleam said with an embarrassed look, then stared down at the object in her hands. “...so uh… this is…?”

“Just a water container,” Lykou said, patting her back softly. “Don’t think about it too much.”

“...right,” she said, still hesitating for a moment. Eventually, driven by thirst, she just shrugged. “Well, here goes.” She tipped the container up to her face and somewhat clumsily splashed some water into her mouth. A fair bit also got all over her face, neck, and shoulder, dampening the poncho slightly in the process. She sputtered and lowered the waterskin. “Gah!”

Lykou winced and held it for her as she wiped her face off. “Uhh, sorry, I didn’t think to tell you how.”

Gleam’s eye twitched. “I didn’t think even just getting a drink could be tricky...”

“Here, like this,” Lykou said, then demonstrated how to drink from it while Kuna settled down by the fire and resumed work on the sleeping mat. “Lift it slow and hold it to your mouth. Here, you try again.”

Gleam took the waterskin and fiddled with it a bit before carefully lifting it up again and slowly taking a big gulp with some coaxing and guidance from the konuul. She felt embarrassed about it, but at least she wasn’t so thirsty afterwards, when she handed it back to him. “Th-thanks…”

“No problem,” Lykou said, setting it back down with his things before turning add some more wood to the fire. He then started to stoke the flames a bit with a nearby branch he’d set aside for just such purposes. “Go ahead and make yourself comfortable, I’ll join you in a moment.”

The squirrel eyed the fire nervously, jumping a little when some of the movement caused a log to break in half and spit some embers up into the air. When she sat down, she sighed and scooted back until she was pressed up against the floral back support Kuna had conjured, then curled up and held her legs. Her anxious brooding was interrupted when the sereva quietly sat down next to her, then took her hand and smiled over at her.

“Relax, Gleam. Just enjoy the warmth,” Kuna said soothingly. “It’s perfectly safe.”

She took a deep breath and smiled shyly back. “Thanks…” She sighed and turned to say something to Lykou, but almost immediately her eyes widened in terror and her breath caught in her throat. A short way past the konuul, apparently not yet noticed by either of her new friends, she spotted a pair of large, glowing, unnatural-looking eyes floating in the shadows. They were looking right at her.

Rational thought had no chance against her instincts. The terror was immediate and overwhelming. She let out a loud shriek and impulsively bolted as all complex thought became buried under blind panic. She bowled over Kuna without thinking and scaled the building in an adrenaline-filled feat of animalistic agility and speed, then peeked out from behind one of the raised ridges on the roof with wide-fearful eyes.

Lykou reacted almost immediately, whipping around to see what’d scared her while holding the branch ready to be used as a temporary weapon if need be. But then he relaxed his grip and sighed. “Oh. Hi Zyn.”

Even Kuna nearly jumped out of his skin once he caught sight of the floating eyes. Luckily, his mind quickly caught up with him as he noticed the figure blending in with the shadows behind them. “Oh for- dammit, Zyn!” he blurted out as he sat back up and rubbed his head. “Really, with the eye thing?!”

“Er, sorry,” the jarzin replied as he stepped out of the shadows, though he was only half paying attention to them. His gaze was locked on Gleam with a perplexed, fascinated expression. “But um…” He paused, then pointed at the squirrel. “What.”

“Yeah, new friend of ours,” Lykou said, then sighed and turned to look up at Gleam. “It’s alright Gleam, it’s just-”

Before the canid could finish his sentence, Zyn teleported up to her side, looking her over curiously. “Not to be rude, but w-”

Again, Gleam panicked and screamed, immediately scrambling off the roof. She landed somewhat heavily on the ground but quickly got up and started sprinting further away.

“Shit, Gleam, look out!” Lykou called out, running to try and intercept her, though she was surprisingly fast.

Gleam was so busy looking over her shoulder in fear of the jarzin, that she didn’t notice that she was headed right for the fire. Luckily, she turned around just in time to stop herself, though it brought her frighteningly close to the flames. That just compounded her panic and she again bolted off to the side before anyone could stop her. Again, overwhelmed by her instincts, she ended up running into a thicker tree and slumping over, a bit dazed. As she looked up, she imagined the dark branches looming down over were the limbs of a terrifying monster reaching out for her, and she started hyperventilating.

Lykou and Kuna hurried over towards her. Even Zyn finally had the sense to dismiss his soul sight and hop down, rather than teleporting again. But when the konuul and sereva started getting close, they had to stop when Gleam recoiled, making a somewhat feral sound and thrashing at the air in an animalistic panic. She was clearly completely out of her wits, maybe even hallucinating.

“Gleam, it’s okay it’s just-” Kuna started, but then ducked back when she clawed at the air and seemingly tried to push herself through the wood behind her with wide, fearful eyes. After hazarding a quick glance to the side, she bolted off and ducked into a crevice between a large boulder, some shrubs, and the side of the building.

“Shit… this isn’t good,” Lykou said with a sad expression as they walked over and stood a yard or two away from the crevasse. “It’s like she suddenly doesn’t recognize us.”

“The bump on her head probably didn’t help,” Zyn commented from behind them. “Maybe I could-”

“I think you’ve done quite enough, Zyn,” Kuna said, shooting a glare back at him. “Just stay back for now.”

“Right… sorry,” the jarzin apologized, with a genuinely guilty expression.

“What do we do?” Lykou asked. “I’d hate to just leave her there…”

Kuna thought for a moment, then sighed and blushed a bit. He looked back at the konuul and jarzin with a faint smirk. “I’ve got an idea to calm her down. But… not a word from you two, alright?”

“Oh?” Lykou asked, then grinned faintly after a moment. “Oh… I think I know. Sure.”

“...okay?” Zyn said uncertainly.

Kuna rolled his eyes up, then took a deep breath and turned back to Gleam. He carefully moved a bit closer to her, as close as he dared. She let out a feral-sounding noise and tried pushing herself further back into her hiding spot in response. He looked at her with a sad smile as he knelt down a few feet away. He couldn’t help but be reminded of his own hiding spot during a particularly horrific point in his past. He wanted to reach out, take her hand, and tell her it was okay, like he’d desperately wished someone had done for him at the time. But he could also tell she was in no mental state for that at the moment. So, he started to sing a soft, soothing song instead.

“Hush now, precious little one,

I promise you that it will be alright,

The monsters are all gone now,

I promise you that you’ll be safe tonight,

There’s nothing left to be feared,

The night is calm, the stars are shining bright,

Come with me and I’ll keep you warm,

Hold my hand now, and forget all your fright.”

The wild, terrified look started to fade from Gleam’s eyes, being replaced instead with confusion. After a moment, her gaze started flicking around as she took in her surroundings. When Kuna slowly extended a hand towards her, she hesitated, shying away again for a moment. The sereva simply waited and continued singing.

“Follow me now to the land of dreams,

Through the softly falling snow,

Below shelt’ring arms of oak,

In a great forest of wonder,

Following a trail of magic moonbeams.”

Gleam seemed to finally recognize him and slowly reached out to take his hand as she came to her senses. She was still confused and a bit disoriented, but the soft contact helped to ground her a bit. Tears started building up in her eyes as her racing impulses finally gave way to exhaustion, both physical and emotional.

“Hush now, precious little one,

Come with me now and I’ll hold you tight,

No more tears now, you’ll be safe,

No more nightmares will you have tonight.”

As Kuna continued singing, Gleam started coming out of her hiding spot, guided by a gentle, coaxing tug from his hand. Suddenly, she fell into his arms and buried her face in his neck, sniffling, crying, and shivering. All of the day’s stress, confusion, and chaos had been too much. He wrapped his arms around her and held her as he finished the song, tearing up a bit himself. The comparison to his own moment of terror all those years ago still lingered in his mind, and it felt a bit overwhelming, in a good way, to give her the comfort he’d been denied back then. “Shhh, it’s alright Gleam. I’ve… I’ve got you,” he said, sniffing a bit as well. “Everything’s gonna be okay.”

Meanwhile, behind them, Lykou watched on as warm fuzzies filled him to the brim. He didn’t need Zyn’s fancy soul-seeing magic to have a pretty good idea what was going through the sereva’s mind and heart. And it was making him feel emotional just watching and listening.

“Damn, he’s good,” Zyn half-whispered over to him. “He’s full of his surprises, isn’t he?” When Lykou didn’t respond, he glanced over, then smirked a bit at the canid’s somewhat lovestruck expression. He nudged him briefly to get his attention.

Lykou snapped out of his reverie for a moment and shot the jarzin a slightly confused and annoyed look. “W-huh?”

Zyn rolled his eyes, smirking. “Go on, get over there already,” he said quietly, then his smirk faded into a sheepish smile. “I’ll be waiting over here in time-out when you’re ready to yell at me.”

Lykou arched a brow, then smirked faintly and shook his head. After collecting himself a bit, he slowly, quietly, walked over to join Kuna and Gleam.

Downtime - Ch. 12 (MHO)

Lloxie

Poor Gleam. Fighting instincts is hard when you're new to peopleing!


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