“Working hard, I see.” Serena smiled and placed the basket of food next to Mira.
“Serena, you won’t believe how amazing these plains worms are,” Mira said excitedly. She gestured to the giant hole next to her. “They bring rare minerals to the surface when they dig, and their dung helps stabilize the entire ecosystem here. Even these splotches of their vomit have been highly informational.” She held up a vial of decaying purple goop, causing Serena to gag and stagger back.
“That’s wonderful!” the white-haired girl said, holding her nose. “How has your research been coming along so far, then?”
“I’m practically done, thanks to this plains worm,” Mira replied. “I’ve covered everything I wanted to find out about the Bannaanka Weyn.”
“That’s great! I guess there was a silver lining after all.” Serena let out a breath of relief.
“By the way, how are Kakane and Takeru doing?”
“Kakane is back to his usual self, and he’s taken to helping out some of the hunters. Takeru, on the other hand, is still confined to his bed. He’s complained a lot about it, but what can you do? Strangely, he doesn’t seem to remember the battle against the Doryokan soldiers.”
“Really? It might be a defense mechanism of his brain, although I’ve never seen someone go completely insane just by sustaining near-death injuries,” Mira said. “There’s also his magic. It seems to be basic lightning magic, but only activating while in that crazed state? That is really quite strange.”
“I talked to some of the women and elders of the Dagaalyahanno, and apparently, this has happened before,” Serena said. “Takeru has never remembered any of it. None of the Dagaalyahanno knows why it happens, only that it does when Takeru is on the verge of death. He’s never taken an interest in magic and barely showed any talent for it as a child.”
“What a strange link,” Mira pondered. “I’d love to research it, but that falls outside of my current boundaries. On a side note, I think we can leave the Bannaanka Weyn by tomorrow.”
“Yes. Tomorrow, we begin the journey to Poseidos!”
“Great! Once again, I cannot thank you enough for this. I’ll tell Kakane right away!”
Serena ran off, leaving Mira to finish up her examination of the plains worm’s entrance to the surface. The grass tickled at her legs and was long and green. It was hard to believe that the Bannaanka Weyn had run red with blood just a day ago.
Serena found Kakane helping several warriors skin a buffalo carcass. His horns were fully exposed, so he seemed a little grumpy, but he was actively participating. Serena took this as a good sign. They were just about finished with their work, so he was bidding the hunters farewell at this point.
“Kakane, Mira says we can leave for Poseidos tomorrow!” Kakane perked up immediately.
“Finally! I don’t want to see long, dry grass again for as long as I live,” he relished, stretching. “A king bores of things when he bears witness to them for too long.”
“I’m glad to see you’re back to your usual self.”
“What is that supposed to mean? A king only has one front.”
“Anyway, let’s go pack up our things and make some preparations. I don’t want to delay Mira when tomorrow comes.”
“Agreed. A king is always prepared.”
There wasn’t much to pack, as Serena and Kakane had both opted to travel lightly. The most they needed to do was make sure all of REAN010’s parts were snug and to be accounted for. Serena made sure its blueprints were also in a presentable condition. But finally, Serena took all of their clothes and headed down to the river to wash them all. Kakane’s garments were covered in blood, while Serena’s own clothing was looking a little worse for wear. The Dagaalyahanno had also gifted them some buffalo skin attire, so Serena wanted to make sure they were well taken care of before she and Kakane left.
As he watched her part reeds, Kakane felt a sense of gratitude towards his white-haired companion. She was very helpful, doing the laundry and whatnot. Kakane wasn’t exactly one for household chores, as he had always thrown his clothes in a river and called it a day. It was nice to wear actually clean garments for once. Not to mention that very few people would willingly go up against the Thunder Lion. She was very brave. Kakane believed he had an obligation to help her complete REAN; after all, Serena had already done a lot for him. A very king-like vow, no? Kakane thought so.
“What are you moping around for?”
“Shouldn’t you be resting?” Kakane retorted, turning to Takeru with his arms folded.
“Screw your friend and sucks to her crappy witch’s brew.” Kakane’s eye twitched.
“I don’t need it,” Takeru boasted. “I’m hella strong, strong enough to recover without the help of some stupid magic potion.” Looking at Takeru’s body, which was covered in bandages from head to toe, Kakane was not convinced.
“Just drink it. It’s not as foul-tasting as it looks.”
“You were forced to have some too?”
“Yeah. I sustained some pretty heavy drawbacks from my magic; figures, since I went completely overboard. I haven’t fully recovered either; I’m still pretty low on mana. My arms and back were covered in burns and I sprained my wrist. Serena healed me in a flash and then forced this strange green stuff down my throat. It tasted weirdly sweet. Killed all the pain and soreness too.” Takeru didn’t look persuaded, but he shrugged his shoulders anyway in a nonchalant fashion.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try it,” he said. “Anyway, that’s not what I came here for!”
“What is it, then? A king does not like to be kept waiting.” Takeru threw something at Kakane’s face. “What’s this?”
“A cowl made from buffalo hide. You seem super keen on hiding those stupid horns of yours, and I figured that if you’re going to wherever Mira’s from, this is better than a shredded piece of fabric from a girl’s dress. Consider it my parting gift.”
“This is… Awfully considerate of you.” Takeru rolled his eyes.
“Save it, Horn-Boy. Besides, that pink color looked absolutely horrendous on you.”
Takeru laughed as Kakane turned beet red and started yelling all sorts of foul insults at him. The dual-haired boy knew he was only joking; after all, he had been on the receiving end of Kakane’s right hook more times than he could count. But he wasn’t in the mood to argue, and he wasn’t about to get insulted by Kakane’s petty, furious jibes.
“Gosh, I just realized how quiet it’s going to be now without you here,” Takeru said. “But you got better places to be, I get that.”
“I could say the same for you,” Kakane sniffed, running a few fingers along his scar. “Shouldn’t you be tied down to a mattress or something?”
“As if! Nothing can keep me down! You ought to know that by now, Horn-Boy.”
“Hmph. You seem rather shaky on your feet, though, Ponytail.” They glared at each other before laughing and shaking hands.
“The next time I come here, I shall give you a fight befitting of a king!” Kakane declared. “You’ll be on a run for your money, Takeru!”
“I’m looking forward to it. Just don’t throw a whiny temper tantrum when I win, though, Kakane!” Takeru told him with equal bravado.
They shook on it and parted ways. Takeru went back to his hut to finally drink his medicine, and Kakane to find Serena. Takeru would always be somewhere in the Bannaanka Weyn, no matter how far Kakane traveled. It was an odd sort of comfort, but Kakane took it as a sign that he had made new allies and carved out a safe haven for himself. For himself and for Serena as well.
Kakane, Mira, and Serena were to leave early the next morning. Takeru saw them off, still bandaged from head to toe but not feeling sore at all as he argued with Kakane for the last time. As he watched his friends, the horned boy, the white-haired girl, and the blond researcher leave, Takeru couldn’t help but wonder when they’d be back.
For within the great plains known as the Bannaanka Weyn, where buffalo roamed and meerkats squawked, there was a tribe. A nomadic tribe of equestrians wielding bows and scimitars. They followed the herds of bison on their horses with their moccasins in hand and their portable teepees. The men hunted while the women made baskets from reeds and the children played with dolls that had painted faces. To the world beyond, they were a hidden people. But to three outsiders, it was a safe haven waiting for their return. And among the people awaiting them was a mysterious boy with white and light blue hair, a boy with a hidden dark side.