Cycle five was bullshit.
The plane of magic? Nonexistent. Lup and Taako? Out of commission. Restless. Irritable. Void of magic, so harmless.
So when Magnus rushed into the common area of the Starblaster screaming about a wizard hut, Taako and Lup were interested.
Here's what they knew:
A wizard lived somewhere on this plane. In a cottage. No. A hut. The rumors of this wizard varied with each village they visited, but a few things were consistent. The wizard was old. The wizard had a blue hat with a yellow star pattern. The wizard could cast magic and perform miracles.
That was enough to peak the twins' interest.
Taako and Lup spent days, weeks, months trying to find the wizard hut. Maps of the plane littered their room. Meditation only--couldn't waste time sleeping when the wizard hut was waiting. They went into villages and interrogated all the townspeople. Asked, yelled, begged, at the top of their lungs, to whoever would listen: Where IS Wizard Hut??
No clear answers showed themselves. But, like any good mystery, Lup and Taako had to work for it. At least, that's what Lup said. Taako could give two shits about mystery, he just wanted to know the answer. At least Lup enjoyed the whole process. She knew when to follow leads and when to let a theory die out. She could intimidate answers out of people one minute and gently coax them out the next. If anyone deserved to know where the wizard hut was, it was Lup. Taako was just along for the ride.
Lup bumped her hip against his as she walked past, on her way back from making breakfast. She had a plate of pancakes stacked ten high. "Did you meditate at all last night?"
"Didn't feel like it," Taako answered as he reached for the plate. "Love this whole thing, though, how did you know I wanted pancakes?"
"They're not for you!" Lup snatched the plate away from his grabby hands. "I only brought enough cutlery for me."
Wordlessly, Taako produced a fork from his hair.
"...Is that clean?"
Taako grinned, passing the fork through his fingers. "If it's not, and I touch it to your pancakes, does that mean I can eat all of them?"
Lup grimaced and licked each pancake before Taako could get to it. "You want them now?"
"You act like I haven't drank water with your gross-ass stank backwash in it before." Taako's fork circled dangerously close to the stack. "You can't scare me away from pancakes, Lup."
She held the plate as close to her chest as she possibly could, pointing to the door. "Fine, fuck you, I left you a stack in the kitchen."
"Should'a told me earlier! Now there's a chance that Magnus ate them," Taako said as he ran out the room. Lup rolled her eyes and took a peek at his wizard hut notes. More of the same, but she noticed his notes were becoming less readable as they danced down the page. Hm. Time to hustle him into resting. He came back in the room, using the cursed hair fork to shove an entire pancake into his cheeks.
"You'll get sick if you eat that all at once," she said, before eating one all at once.
"Who are you, my mom?" Taako spat syrup onto her face on "accident."
"It would be a very interesting biological phenomenon if I was." Lup wiped her face and stabbed another pancake with her fork. "Merle told me that sometimes aphids are born pregnant, does that count?"
"You're talking to Merle about bugs now?"
"He summoned a huge swarm of locusts on a stealth mission last year and I had to ask." Lup only bit off a portion of the pancake this time--if she choked and died two months into this cycle, Taako would kill her the next cycle. "Ask him about onions, because he'll start to--"
"Okay, I'm done talking about weedman," Taako said, cutting her off. He tried to change the subject immediately, as if Lup didn't notice how hard he was dodging. "Whe-e-e-ere is wizard hut?"
"Well. Here's the thing." Lup folded her hands over, plotting. "I have a few ideas. But I'm not telling you any of them until you sleep or meditate. Either one's fine."
"I don't feel like it."
"I don't give a shit."
Taako shoved another whole pancake into his mouth, swallowing it semi-whole in protest. He coughed, slamming his hands on the table and rattling the plates. Lup knew not to do anything; as long as he was coughing, she shouldn't intervene. He ran into the kitchen and came back with a glass of water, slamming it back like he was in a drinking contest.
"Told you not to eat it all at once, moron."
"You--" He hiccuped, groaned, and drank the whole cup down. "That's--this has--nothing to do--" Taako kept hiccuping through his words, unable to form a single sentence.
"Oh, what was that?"
"Fu--fuck," Taako said, bending his fork in frustration as he struggled to speak. "You--you're going to--my fucking lungs are gonna get punctured and--it'll be--your fault--"
Lup grinned and hummed, a smug look settling on her face. And then she shoved a pillow over his face until he agreed to sleep.
Here were Lup's hypotheses:
The wizard hut was an abandoned Fantasy Pizza Hut. Back on their home planet, all Fantasy Pizza Huts were legally required to be sold to a wizard after they were shut down (Made sense--all Fantasy Pizza Huts were built on the opening to other dimensions. That's where the flavor comes from). But if there weren't any wizards on this plane, that law probably didn't apply to the Fantasy Pizza Huts. Taako and Lup specifically went out to find an abandoned one, and there weren't any wizards inside. There were, however, some leftover pizzas--hell yeah.
The wizard hut was just a rumor and that was that. This was the most disappointing outcome. But this was the hypothesis that Davenport kept pushing, because please, Lup, Taako, it's been months, we really need to find the Light--but Taako and Lup didn't believe this one. Too convenient. Why, Davenport, would there be so many accounts of a wizard hut if a wizard hut didn't exist? Fucking amateur.
The wizard hut (and this was the most plausible theory) was where the plane's only wizard lived, right in the middle of Black Sand Gulch.
So, time to go camping.
The twins had Davenport drop them off right at the entrance to the canyons. They insisted on going alone, so Barry and Lucretia outfitted them with all manner of camping supplies before letting them off. Most of it was unnecessary junk. Poor suckers didn't know how to camp. Lup carried a bedroll on her back and Taako wore a stew pot on his head like a hat. It's fashion, Lup, look it up.
An endless expanse of rocks laid out before them. Bright red rocks covered in iridescent black sand. And the sand--the sand only covered one side of the rocks. The formations of the rocks weren't natural. Hundreds of spires, ranging from gnome height to elf height. They all jutted out from the ground at an angle. But here was the kicker: the farther in the canyon they walked, the steeper the angle was. Almost as if a shockwave came to bend all the rocks, and instead of falling over they molded like putty. Whatever this was must have been powerful to move rocks like this. This was the most magic thing they had seen this cycle. So, naturally, Taako and Lup decided to follow the path.
They did things as they remembered from their childhood, before either knew magic. Taako found tinder. Lup started the fire without magic. Taako set up camp. Lup hunted little beasts that looked like rabbits. Taako figured out how to cook it. Lup heckled him over the recipe. Taako took first watch. Lup whined until he meditated with her.
When the Hunger came, it ate their world like Taako ate pancakes. Lup and Taako were thrust into this...adventure with five other people. Five other people that weren't them. And Lup took to it best, because she was so excited to hang out with people that weren't trying to kill them. They were cool, she thought. But then she'd look in the corner of her eye and see her brother leave the room in the middle of Fantasy Scrabble. He didn't talk to the rest of the crew like she did. Taako talked to them, sure, interacted with them. Did the bare minimum. But he wasn't adjusting. And, fine, fair, it's difficult to adjust when it feels like the world's going to end at every moment. Maybe he just needed time.
So if her brother wanted to find the wizard hut? Lup was going to fucking find that wizard hut. Even if it killed her.
Three days into their trip, a sandstorm kicked up.
A black, iridescent sand storm.
Lup, covering the sand from her eyes, dragged Taako into a small ravine in the ground. Only five or six feet deep; more of a trench, really. Or a ditch? Did it matter what it was as long as it kept the sand out of their lungs? Not even mentioning the most concerning part of this ravine/trench/ditch: the rotting skeletons. Covered in black glitter sand. Lup would have been terrified if she wasn't otherwise occupied. All she could pay attention to was Taako and how much black glitter sand he was coughing up.
"That's goth as hell, bro," Lup said, laughing even though her ears were down as low as they could go.
"What can I say?" Another coughing fit. Some blood came out of this one. "I'm a walking icon."
Lup hit his back trying to get more sand out. This probably made it worse, but Lup wasn't a fucking doctor and it made her feel like she was doing something to help. "We should go back after this. No use trying to go any farther if it's this dangerous."
"I'm supposed to be the quitter, you asshole," he said, wiping the sand from his eyes and face. "You already stole my face, you can't steal my brand, too."
"What, you think we can go any farther with you being dead weight like this?"
"I can deal."
"Your constitution sucks."
"The price I have to pay for being the prettier twin." He coughed again, laying his entire weight over his sister. "Carry me."
"I swear, if you make me carry you to the wizard hut, I'm going to call you baby brother for an entire cycle." From her tone, Taako couldn't tell if she was joking.
"Ew, no." Taako dug his face into her shirt. "Nevermind, just, give me a while and I can hoof it the rest of the way."
"Fine. We gotta wait until the sandstorm stops, anyway."
It took a full day for the sandstorm to stop. Taako's coughing had subsided, but the inside of his lungs burned with every breath. He'd probably suffer from this until the cycle was over. Still, he asked that they press on. The angle of the spires told them they were close, and Taako wasn't about to ruin their wizard hut quest with a little bit of chronic lung bleeding. Lup walked with Taako's arm over her shoulder. They walked until the rock spires were almost flat against the ground, the sand thick enough to cover their ankles. And, in the middle of the black sand, with rock spires radiating out from all angles, sat a cottage. No. A hut.
"The wizard hut," Lup said, breathless.
Taako tugged at Lup's shirt. "Take me over there."
She did. They didn't bother knocking on the door. Taako used what little strength he had to kick it open, breaking the latch. Inside, the hut was decorated with a humble rustic flair. Very Magnus in style. Not super wizardly, but that was forgiveable--this plane didn't know jack shit about wizards. A skeleton with a wizard hat sat in the middle of the room, right underneath a tear through the roof.
Sitting underneath the tear, glowing and filled with knowledge, was the Light of Creation.
Lup blew a raspberry. "Oh, boo."
Taako rolled his eyes. "I thought it was a real wizard. Kind of a ripoff."
"Like, good that we found it, but I feel like it wasn't--"
"Worth the trouble?" He grinned, and then coughed.
"Exactly." Lup grabbed the Light and held it in between her and Taako. "Guess Capp'nport can get off our backs now."
"Can't say we haven't contributed, right?" Taako touched the Light, comforted after seeing something resembling magic, at least. "Let's get back. I'm pretty sure I'm about to beef it."
Lup laughed. She wondered if she should feel guilty about laughing. Even if he'd come back soon, she wasn't stoked about him dying. When had death started to feel less permanent, anyway? She'd still be inconsolable until the year reset if Taako died, but...he'd come back. That always helped, to know he was coming back. Lup knocked her forehead against Taako's. "If you beef it, what should I do with the body?"
Taako thought for a long time, until Lup wondered if he even heard her. As they walked out of the hut, though, he answered. "I'd want you to build an even better wizard hut. And put my body in there. And then...create wild rumors about the better wizard hut, until people start going on pilgrimages to pray to my dead body."
"Deal," Lup said, immediately and with no hesitation.
Taako's wizard hut became more of a mansion than anything else.
All Lup had to do was build the first section, and it took off from there. Once the plane's residents heard of a real wizard, they flocked to it like vultures on a dead squirrel. They brought baubles and jewels and trinkets, laid them wherever they could. Laid pastries and good food around the body. Rooms were added when necessary. People prayed to the skeleton that laid up on the dais. From the stories they heard, they prayed for specific things. Wealth and prosperity. Knowledge and quick wit. Health of their siblings. Lup had Lucretia document the whole thing.
As the Hunger chased the Starblaster out of the plane, Lup sat herself down next to her brother's skeleton, dressed in wizard's robes, and held his skeletal hand in hers. She knocked her head against the skull, and the last thought that came into her mind as she dropped out of consciousness was,
This is a lot more disgusting and weird than I thought it was going to be.