Iku often spoke of what those moments were like when “the object” first washed ashore. He spoke of how much his feelings of the event have changed since that fateful day, how he’s gone through phases of anger, regret, and self-blame before once again coming to peace with it. Sometimes we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he wasn’t quite convinced this was a case of either. Whatever his feelings were in the end, he knew that it was a turning point in our history.
Some minutes later the strange object got caught in the shallow water a few lengths from the shore. Iku hopped into the water from his stone, cautiously approaching the object. It was significantly larger than he, and black all over. Odd shapes protruded from it, tubes slotted into other tubes, layered plates of metal, rough interlocking circles with teeth-like extensions and spikes. Lots of spikes. Ebbing closer, as the water had now reached Iku’s shoulders, he noticed various markings and symbols on the object, painted, presumably, with a deep purple color. After swimming around the object fully, Iku worked up the courage to get closer and touch the peculiar thing. Though smooth to the eye, it’s surface was rough to the touch, almost painful. Upon trying to move it, Iku made note of its immense weight. Based on this he quickly realised that his discovery was slowly sinking into the sand. “But how did it not sink in the water?” – he pondered. He hurried back ashore, a plan forming in his mind. The guard post had a small storage shed behind it, in which were supplies and a partially disassembled boat. He ran to it and fetched the sail, which, when unfolded, was just a tad larger than the mysterious object. He quickly swam back and saw that the black mass had since sunk many finger-lengths into the sand. Taking a deep breath, he dipped below the surface and started digging through the loose sand right next to the object. After he deemed the hole to be large enough, he unfolded the sail over it below the water, securing it with small rocks. Time is running short! – He swam around to the other side of the object and pushed with all his might. After a bit of struggling, the sand gave way, and the object slumped onto the sail anchored under water. Iku took the outer corners of the sail, folded it over the object, knotted all four corners together and wove the lines into a single rope. The result was the sail snugly bundled around the object, which has since stopped sinking as it compressed the sand below with the pressure of its weight.
Iku waddled ashore, rope in hand. Now, all that remained was to drag the mysterious object to the beach. He tried tugging on the rope, and while the sail slid better on the harder sand, it was still an impossible task. By the time Iku collected enough, relatively straight, strong and large bits of wood on which to roll the bundle, the sky had turned a uniform black with only the shine of the technicolor stars and the triplet moons to illuminate the beach. Iku only then did realize how utterly exhausted he was. He tugged the rope with all his might one last time. “Well, that’s not going anywhere.” – he thought to himself. Satisfied that his discovery will not turn tail by morn, Iku decided to retire for the night and headed to his tent. Though exhausted, Iku was ecstatic. “Finally, something interesting!” – He couldn’t begin to imagine what it could be that he happened upon, however he had the peculiar feeling that it was his ticket off the Nameless Coast into some more honorable position.
While his sleep was deep due to fatigue, it was wrought with unrest. He woke early – truly a rare occurrence in his case – anxious to continue his endeavor to free the object from the clutches of the sea. He emerged from the guard post, blinking in the early morning sun, which was just now crawling above the horizon right in front of him. Once his eyes adjusted, he took stock of last night’s labour. The rope was still secured to a nearby pole, the logs and branches he collected were still in the same place, and the object… the object! Looking to the place where he left the mysterious black mass bundled, all he saw were the tattered remains of the sail in which he rolled it up. He quickly noted that the sand had been disturbed greatly nearby, leaving tracks. Peering across the stretch of the shore, squinting as the pure white sand glowed with the reflected light of the sun, he saw that the tracks culminated in an all too familiar black hunk. How could it have moved? – Iku’s feathers quivered in his befuddlement. He grabbed his spear and hurriedly approached the object with renewed curiosity and caution. It looked slightly different than yesterday. Instead of a large clump of indistinguishable shapes and angles, it now looked vaguely like a “someone” instead of a “something”. Two immense arms were sprawled on each side. A pair of smaller legs, which possessed one more join each that Iku’s, protruded from what he assumed was the bottom of the creature. A short yet thick and spiky tail extended from between them. The lower torso and pelvis of the being was relatively small compared to the rest of it, and transitioned into a bulky upper torso with extremely broad shoulders. Iku was thoroughly confused by what he was seeing. While the metallurgy known to the people of the archipelago allowed for the creation of tools like his own metal-tipped spear, nothing besides small weapons, jewels, trinkets and instruments for navigation were made from copper, gold, iron and other such materials. This being was clearly made, at least partially, from metal. While there have been experiments with armor made entirely or partially of metal plates, all designs so far proved far too heavy for actual use, though Iku had recently heard of clothes made entirely of tiny, tiny metal rings have cropped up here and there. Iku prodded one of the “feet” with his spear. When there was no reaction, he edged closer. He began examining the odd extremities up close, making note of three large toes. He attempted to move one of them, but it was utterly rigid. But it could not be a statue. It did not sink, nor did it look like this yesterday… – He began to circle around the figure, finally discovering what could be its head. It was large, with two elliptical angled plates of metal forming its forehead and temples, while a large, exaggerated lower jaw composed the rest of the head. Two small, deep-set eyes were separated by a ridge, however if it was a nose of a kind, it possessed no apertures. Above the right eye, the metal plate suffered two large gashes along which the material was shredded and jagged. He noted more of the purple markings, though many were far too simple shapes to mean anything. Iku circled around the being a few more times, prodding it gently here and there. He was utterly confused by the object, not knowing what to do with it, or if he should even do anything at all. The nearest village was a week’s walk from his post, and the next supply caravan would not come this way until three weeks from now. He pondered on using the pyre which is to be lit during emergencies, however doing so will simply cause the villages along the pyre-trail to ready their guards and close their gates. If no threat arrives within a month, a large contingent would march out to Iku’s guard post to see if either the enemy had made camp, or if the guard had lit the pyre erroneously – both cases would result in blood, the latter in his. Maybe they would understand when they saw the figure? – Iku thought to himself, but quickly abandoned the idea. He was a disgraced guard, and he couldn’t risk yet another blemish on his honor. Plus, it’s not like this solution was any swifter than the other. He hurried back to his post, collected some stones, kindling, firewood and a handful of flameseed, and returned to the object. He quickly set his little fireplace and tossed one of the seeds into it. When the seed cracked from the impact, the wood was immediately set ablaze. He undid his cloak – seeing as he was the only soul within three days walk, no one would chastise him for indecency – and began fanning hot air and smoke from the fire towards the being, which was still wet. Bafflingly, it was still leaking water steadily, as if the liquid was trapped within. After fanning himself to exhaustion, Iku trotted far enough from the fire as to not feel uncomfortably hot. He took a quick dip in the sea, cooling himself from the paired onslaught of the high-sun and the fire. He then robed himself, and returned to his vigil by the object. Even though he had a completely mysterious, unknowable and exciting object on his hands, which was really the only break from monotony he experienced in the past three months, not knowing what to do with the object which so stubbornly remained motionless had Iku at a loss as to the next step. What if the only thing that has changed is that I will now enjoy boredom and solitude in the company of a large black hunk of metal, alongside the crabs? – He thought with gloom. What if it’s dead?
He tended to the fire, occasionally fanning the hot air towards the creature, all day long and through the next morning. While initially he was afraid to leave the object alone lest it escape once more, after some time he was comfortable with taking naps at his tent instead of next to it. During the early hours of the afternoon, Iku was having his meal next to the object. “You know, it’s not too bad here actually. You get used to being alone, counting crabs.” – He said aloud to the object in between mouthfuls. “The food gets boring. Not much stays edible for the time it takes to be brought here from the villages, just hard bread and some dried meat. I’ve taken to hunting every now and then, though I’ve never been one for eating the creatures of the sea. Luckily there are a few fruit trees nearby.” – Unsurprisingly, the object did not react. “Hm. Many say solitude is the surest way of losing one’s sanity. They say that not interacting with others makes one lose their connection with the forces of Life and Emotion. How fortunate for me that you’re around! You do know of the forces, yes?” – Iku set down his bowl, stood up, and attempted a satirical imitation of the facial expression and old teacher of his possessed. “Fire. Water. Time. Life. Death. Emotion. Light. Wind. These eight forces of nature govern the world around us, and us ourselves.” – He said in an exaggerated voice, arms raised to the sky. After chuckling a bit, he looked at the unmoving black object, and furrowed his feathered brow. “Ah, here I am, talking to a strange, large mass of metal. I am going mad.” He plopped down next to the object and finished his humble meal in silence. Once finished, he was utterly lost, and felt a kind of empty despair that has never gripped him before. He was not sure what it was that he had on his hands – it might even be the greatest discovery in recorded history! It might restore his honor and name! And yet, in his isolation, he knew not how to proceed, and was growing infinitely frustrated by this. “Do something you infernal thing!” – He shouted suddenly and hurled his bowl at the object with all his might. The wooden bowl clanged on the metal surface. Just as suddenly as Iku’s frustration boiled over, a spout of water shot up from what he thought was the head of the being with a strange bellowing, gurgling sound. Iku was startled, and quickly grabbed his spear lying nearby. The object – now surely a being – began moving slightly in between rasped coughing. More water was suddenly leaking from it all over as it rose to one elbow, turned, and propped itself up with the other hand. For a few tantalizing seconds, it remained like that, coughing violently. The water coming from its mouth turned black, and more came out of it than Iku would have imagined. After a while, the water, or whatever the black liquid was, stopped flowing and the coughing ceased. The violent cacophony was replaced by quick, slow rasped metallic breaths. The whole time, Iku remained motionless – save for his shaking – spear pointed at the creature. It slowly rose to its feet, though it was visibly unsure of its footing. Slowly, the being started looking around, shielding its eyes from the sun with one gargantuan hand. It scanned the treeline, turned its back on Iku, quickly glanced along the shore, then looked out to the sea. Seeing the Talons of Lixam clearly affected it in someway, but Iku was unsure of how to interpret the limited range of expression the metal plates on its face allowed. Only after this did the being notice Iku. After a second of staring at the small avian-reptile creature in a way that Iku assumed was quizzical, suddenly the being took up a defensive posture. Its already long and mean-looking claws extended into massive talons, the spikes lining its massive back stood at attention and its knees were bent, prepared for a lunge. Iku was terrified, but instead of heeding his instincts to run, he took a tentative step forward and made two jabs in the air towards the creature with his spear while squawking. As a response, the being lurched forward, taloned hand in the air ready to strike. This was far too much for Iku, who dropped his spear and tripped over himself, falling backwards. The being maintained its fearsome stance for a time, but Iku noted a change in facial expression. It cocked its head, slowly retracted its talons and dropped to all fours, standing on its fists as well as legs. The various spikes across its body also seemingly ‘relaxed’, becoming slightly retracted and folded closer to its body. Iku was shaking uncontrollably and edged backwards. Again, the being cocked its head, expectantly. Both were clearly unsure of the intentions of the other, or what to do now. The being let out a breath, resulting in a plume of vapour being shot out of what was supposed to be its nose. This display startled Iku yet again, and his body could not handle it. He passed out.
About a half hour later, he started coming to. Memories of the being flooded back to his mind before he even opened his eyes, halting him from springing up. He slowly opened his eyes and lifted his head. Surprised, he noted that he was back at his guard post, the large black being standing on the slab of rock he himself used earlier. It was staring at the Talons. Suddenly, it let out a howl towards the Talons. Iku’s sharp intake of breath alerted it to him having awakened, causing the being to stop the howling and turn around. It approached him slowly and cautiously, and sat down at a polite distance. Iku also rose to a sitting position. The creature began speaking, startling the small Ixaman yet again. It was clearly making an effort to be quiet, but even so its voice boomed. “Htuzmak athial jutek.” – It said, pausing slightly between syllables. “I- I don’t understand what you’re saying.” – Iku replied. The being cocked its head. Iku pointed at his mouth and shook his head. The creature seemingly understood, but offered no further conversation. Iku placed his palm on his chest “Iku.” – he said. The being nodded, raised its massive hand to its chest. “Htuzmak athial jutek.” – It repeated. “Uh, Ktuzma…” – Iku attempted to repeat what was apparently the being’s name, failing miserably. The creature let out a series of odd bellows that Iku could only imagine was laughing. “Jutek.” – It said in a slightly higher pitched voice. “Jutek. Okay, I can say that. Jutek.” – Iku rolled the odd-sounding name on his tongue. Once again the creature cocked its head, confused. Iku realized his elaboration was disruptive, and quickly shook his head with a smile. “Jutek.” – He said quickly. “Iku.” – The being boomed. “Good” – Iku thought to himself. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
For the next few hours, the odd pair got along with hand signals and gestures. When Iku offered Jutek with some of his food, the other immediately understood and accepted. Jutek clearly did not find the dried meat, cooked crab and assortment of fruits particularly savory, but hunger was the stronger force. While they ate, both regarded the other. Iku’s observations of Jutek were accurate. The being towered over him, with extremely broad shoulders, massive arms, a gargantuan chest and great, arching back. His lower torso and legs were smaller than the rest of his body, but still large compared to Iku. His body was almost entirely covered by black metal plates, adorned with spikes and decorated with purple accents. Jutek, on the other hand, examined Iku in depth for the first time. The short, lithe humanoid wore the traits of both avian and reptile. He was an Ixaman, one of the eight sentient races that inhabited the archipelago. Above his browline, all the way down his back and arms was thick feathering of blue and green color. His face, however, instead of being tufted and beaked, featured a toothy snout, slitted eyes and was covered in light brown, soft scales. His throat featured the same scales, though his shoulders and chest were also feathered, though lighter than on his head, arms and back. His small hands had three bony fingers and a thumb each, ending in small but sharp retractable claws. He had a feathered, tufted tail and scaly digitigrade legs ending in long feet, with one upward facing toe on each. He wore a simple reddish robe thrown over his shoulder and tied around his waist with a rough strip of leather, tied in a knot. One of his most notable characteristics was a small plume of upward-facing bright red feathers on the top of his head, acting as a natural crown of sorts. Jutek noted that while small, Iku was clearly agile, however he was unsure if the bird-like creature was capable of flight.
As night came, Iku excitedly directed the attention of his strange guest to the sky. The light-show clearly impressed Jutek to the point of wonder. Even once the sun had fully set, leaving but three moons and countless colorful dots and swaths of bright splashes reminiscent of brush-strokes on a canvas of black, Jutek was still sitting motionless, staring at it. He seemingly felt the eyes of Iku upon him, who had an inquisitive look. Iku himself did enjoy the lights of the night sky, but the measure of wonder that Jutek was enslaved by puzzled him. Recognizing the question in Iku’s eyes, Jutek pointed above their fire. Not understanding at first, Iku scanned the distance. Jutek snorted to regain his attention, stood up, and waves his hands about above the pyre. This motion caused the smoke to swirl. He again pointed at the fire, and Iku now understood he was indicating the smoke. Jutek then looked up, and pointed at the sky. While Iku did not understand how such a thing was possible, but he realized that the whole sky was obscured by smoke wherever it is that Jutek calls home. Later, Iku retrieved some fabric from the shed and laid it down for his guest, though granted, it was significantly smaller than the being. Jutek raised an eyebrow – causing an entire plate of armor to shift on his head – and peered at Iku expectantly. “Does he not sleep?” – Iku thought. He lay on the fabric, made a pillow with his hands, closed his eyes and breathed exaggeratedly for a second or so. He opened his eyes, noting Jutek’s odd facial expression conveying that he understood the purpose, but was still confused by the custom. After some time by the fire, both retired for the night.
The next morn, Iku awoke to Jutek once again standing on the slab of stone, staring at the Talons. Iku walked up next to him, and squawked at him expectantly. Jutek pointed first at the Talons, then punched with one fist into his other palm. Iku was unsure what to make of this gesture. “Maybe he isn’t immune to the foreboding feeling those accursed stones instill.” – He concluded. Jutek’s gaze wandered, and often he glanced at the tattered remains of the sail in which Iku dragged him close to the shore. He shot Iku and inquisitive glance, while pointing at it. Iku quickly pointed at Jutek, then to the sea. He then pointed at himself, then the sail, then to Jutek again, made a quick bundling motion with his hands, and then imitated pulling a rope. The large being once again cocked his head the same way as he has so often already. Iku simply repeated the sequence of gestures, and finally Jutek seemingly understood. He placed a balled fist on his chest, closed his eyes and nodded his head towards Iku, likely as a sign of gratitude. He glanced out to the sea, pointed towards the Talons, and looked back at Iku. “Azuttlai amah jutek?” – He asked. The new use of what Iku assumed was the being’s name confused him. Jutek, or whatever the being’s name was, looked around frantically, and reached for Iku’s spear. Before Iku had a chance to object, Jutek began using it to draw into the sand, calming Iku who suddenly thought the being will attack. Into the sand, Jutek drew a very rough version of himself. He then turned to Iku, holding up one finger while pointing to the drawing. “Zhi.” – He said. “Wait, so you’re Zhi, then?” – Iku asked back. Meanwhile, Jutek drew another picture of himself in the sand, and this time held two fingers out. “Huto.” – He said. Instead of asking back, Iku waited for him to continue. Jutek then drew a third into the sand, this time holding up three fingers. “Kol.” – He said. “Zhi, Huto, Kol….” – Iku repeated. “He’s teaching me to count!” – Iku realized. He quickly pointed at the first, holding up one finger and said “One”, then repeated the process. Jutek quickly began nodding, and suddenly started frantically drawing many, many versions of himself in the sand. When there were about a dozen or so, he put down the spear, made an encircling motion with his hands around the crowd of rough Juteks in the sand. “Amah.” – He said. Iku understood now that Amah means something along the lines of many, or more. Jutek then pointed two fingers at his eyes, then out to sea. “Azuttlai.” – And repeated the motion. “Azuttlai amah jutek?” – He asked once more. “You’re asking if I found more of you…” – Iku said quietly, mostly to himself. He looked at Jutek apologetically, and shook his head. Jutek simply looked down at the many drawings, and swept the picture away angrily. He turned and walked back to the slab, contemplating something. After some moments, he took the spear again, and drew yet another image into the sand. This time it was some kind of ship, though not like one Iku has ever seen. It possessed many, many sails, it’s bow was pointed, but not in an upward curve, rather jutting forward on the water. It was long, the rear elevated – but a ship nonetheless. Iku quickly nodded twice and popped up, running to his shed, beckoning Jutek. He opened the shed and dragged out parts of the disassembled boat. He was bringing out the third part of the body when two realizations dawned on him. His little boat would not be able to support the weight of Jutek, let alone both of them. The second… The sail… – He thought. He dropped the part mid-way, and turned to his companion who was observing him with curiosity. He pulled him back to the drawing of the ship, tugging on a single massive finger. Iku quickly altered it to more resemble his little fishing dinghy, for it really was not more than that, and pointed at the sail. Jutek cocked his head yet again. Iku then jabbed towards the now scattered shreds of the sail in the sea. Jutek shifted his eyes from the sail, to the drawing, and back again. He then looked at Iku in a way that the small Ixaman recognized as apologetic.
The next few hours passed in silence, Jutek was either mourning or brooding, while Iku was contemplating. “This large being has clearly been through much. He lost his ship, his crew, and has no way home. I could bring him to the nearby village, ask leave of the elder to take him to Koura… but I would be abandoning my post.” – Abandoning one’s guard post without leaving another to take one’s place is a great crime unless it can be justified. The elder under whom the guard serves must decide in such a case. If Iku appears in the village, it is clear he abandoned the shore, and if the elder deems Jutek’s arrival as poor justification, it will be Iku’s last journey. The merchant, who ensured Iku’s exile also ensured that the village elder would regard him with poor prejudice. As evening came, the sky once again lit up in a thousand colors. Jutek, who was sitting on the slab motionless and silent for the remainder of the day, looked up and was once again captivated by the display. As the massive, fearsome being regarded the night sky with genuine awe, Iku for the first time wasn’t afraid of him at all. In fact, now Jutek seemed more lost than intimidating. “Curses and damnation… I’ll take him to the village and make my case. I hope Jutek being by my side will discourage the elder from any rash decision.” – He thought. “Jutek!” – Iku called out to his guest. As the being looked at him inquisitively, the small Ixaman grabbed his spear, pointed at the picture of the ship which was still faintly visible in the sand, and then jabbed towards the jungle behind them. Jutek was clearly confused. Iku quickly pointed at his hut. “Amah.” – He said. Jutek still did not seem to understand, but was growing restless, unsure as to why Iku was waving his spear around. Iku quickly drew a few huts into the sand, and many small versions of himself. Again he pointed at the hut, then himself. “Amah. Amah Iku.” – He way trying to tell Jutek about the village. Finally the large being understood, and nodded enthusiastically. Jutek moved towards his – now ruffled and somewhat torn – bed cloth as indication that the pair should rest prior to the journey.
They woke up early. Jutek observed intently as Iku packed a small pack of provisions for himself. Once he was done, he glanced up a Jutek, and at his shed. About half an hour later, the pair – both with large packs, relative to their respective sizes – began their journey. Iku used his spear as a walking stick. When he offered one of the large logs he found back when Jutek was still wrapped in the sail to his larger companion, he declined. The island of Tnipatla was known for its extremely wide beaches, and Iku estimated that they’ll reach the treeline just sometime in the afternoon. They trudged through the warm, soft sand of the great beach, headed to the inland jungle. Iku was light on his feet, and used to the movement of the loose sand. Jutek, on the other hand, often sank ankle deep before his weight compressed the sand below enough to offer solid footing. After a short while, the being lowered to all fours, better distributing his immense weight. While Jutek often stood or sat with all four limbs on the ground much like a quadruped, it was clear he was not accustomed to traveling on all fours. While the beach stretched on ahead, after they put some distance between themselves and the sea, the sand grew more solid, allowing Jutek to walk with more comfort. Iku was greatly impressed by the stamina of the being. Even in the searing midday sun, which undoubtedly heated the metal plates that covered Jutek like a furnace, he showed no sign of fatigue or discomfort. Iku was sweating profusely, and rebound his robe so that only his pelvis was covered. “I wish I was born a Xotopaaksi…” – He thought to himself. The Xotopaaksi were another of the eight Ixamil races, and resembled humanoid lizards ranging from all kinds of yellows and browns through greys and oranges. Some had frills around their necks, while others had spiked scales. The Xotopaaksi made their homes in the deserted regions of the archipelago, though they could be found in smaller numbers all over. They and their close cousins, the Ithipaaski, who were more accustomed to tropical climates, which was reflected in their vibrant greens and blues as well as their soft scales, were incidentally closely related to the Ixaman, like Iku. Because of a few delays, attributed to Iku’s need to take a few rests in the shadow cast by his large companion, the pair only reached the treeline by dusk. The great beach, which was mostly sand with the odd shrub here and there abruptly transferred into an extremely dense jungle with very little by way of a middle ground. It was instantly clear that when in the jungle, the pair would see only the crowns of the trees above them. Jutek looked up, seeing stars only for the third time in his entire, long life. “We’ll camp here for tonight.” – Thought Iku. He set down his pack and unrolled a multicolored rug. Though rough, the rug was thick enough to serve as more or less comfortable bedding on uneven soil. Jutek was clearly glad that his companion chose to stay here, under the stars, and sat down on a nearby stone to observe the stars and the warm hues of the dusk. Once the sun had fully set, Iku decided to set a fire. Jutek helped with the collection of firewood. “At least his people set fires like we do.” – Iku thought, relieved by the common ground. Once the fire was set, Jutek continued scouring the nearby wooden debris. He returned with a very thin but straight twig, a relatively flat piece of bark and some dried moss. He set the moss upon the bark, poked the twig into it, and started rotating the twig between his palms quickly. Iku, assuming this was some sort of ritual, politely allowed him to proceed. A few moments later, a trail of smoke started rising from the moss, after which it began glowing red with heat. Jutek tossed the moss onto the fire, and started blowing it. Slowly the kindling caught fire, but it required Jutek to blow at it constantly. Understanding finally that the being was trying to light the fire, Iku could not help but laugh. Jutek looked at him confused and almost hurt. Iku produced a flameseed from his pack, tossed it into the small pyre. The wood and kindling burst into a bright flame instantly with a quiet pop as the seed broke open. Jutek was startled by this for a moment, and impressed afterwards. Clearly Jutek was unfamiliar with the flameseed. The flameseed was harvested on the islands of Matua to the north-east and on Itemoya to the southeast. The Muxi plant, otherwise entirely unremarkable, is tended to by acolytes of the force of Fire, enriching the soil from which the plants grow with sacred herbs. The treated plants produce a version of the Muxi seed with a much thinner and more fragile crust, which, when broken, causes the substance inside – a sweet-smelling oil – to combust. Iku handed a flameseed to Jutek gently, making sure it is not damaged. While the large being was inspecting the small object, Iku settled on the other side of their pyre. Suddenly he head the characteristic pop of the seed and looked up quickly. “No!” – He cried, as he saw Jutek’s palm was on fire. The large being, however, instead of being distressed, simply shook his hand until the fire went out and seemed annoyed rather than being in pain. He then looked at Iku apologetically, clearly sorry for wasting the seed. Iku tapped his own palm, then pointed at Jutek. As a response, the being simply showed his own palm to Iku. The small, interlocking plates of metal on the outstretched palm, which allowed for a wide range of motion but provided protection nonetheless, were charred but unharmed. Iku was surprised and impressed by the durability of his companion.
Early morning, as the first rays of the sun fell on their humble camp, the pair were already packing. The dawn painted the sky in colors different than dusk. The purples and pinks were replaced by yellows and oranges, gently transferring to bright turquoise. Jutek was often distracted from collecting his equipment – Iku had him carry most of their food, as well as some tools – by the sight. The bottom of the sun could be seen by the time they entered the thicket. Only three steps they took before Iku encountered the first vine which had grown across the faint and barely visible trail through the jungle to the village of Leowi, where they were headed. Progress was slow, as soon Iku had to cut through numerous vines with his blunt spear every few steps. After a while, Jutek tapped him on the shoulder. Though the large being likely tried to be gentle, Iku felt as if a small tree had fallen on him. As Iku turned around, the large being leaped over him, extended his claws, and with one swipe cleared the way ahead of them at a distance that would have taken Iku several minutes. As they proceeded, Jutek carved a way through the jungle at a quick pace, leaving a trail wider than the original ever was. While the speed was welcome, as Iku glanced back once, he was somewhat startled by just how much carnage his large friend left behind. Around midday, they had a quick meal at the foot of a large Kudi tree. The trail they followed for the next few days ran through the jungle in a relatively straight line before turning to the east after a small ruin. The ruin was once a temple dedicated to the force of Emotion, the guiding force of the Miztoxi. Another Ixamil race, the Miztoxi were native to Tnipatla, and resembled humanoid felines with soft fur of varying length, coming in many colors such as black, grey, reddish, brown and any mixture of said colors. The Miztoxi had fought many wars with the neighboring Mahangan islands and their inhabitants, the Aomagxi and Oomagtl. The former were amphibians, preferring the water, their bodies covered with sleek, blue scales and a fin on their back, while the latter, also amphibians, preferred the land, and came in many shades of green. Some of the most notable features of the Oomagtl were their large eyes and long, extendable tongues, whereas the Aomagxi could be recognized by their gills and scales. One such war was likely what lead to the abandonment of the temple.
Night had arrived when they reached the old temple, the name of which was lost to time. The stone structure was large enough for even Jutek to fit on one of the terraces upright. The whole structure was open to the air, with no walls, only a series of decorated pillars holding up a large stone roof with various platforms beneath dedicated to a number of roles. Iku set up camp on the very edge of the temple. Temples were often built in places strong with the energies of the given force, and the force of Emotion was a dangerous one indeed. Of the eight, at times it seemed to be the only one with some semblance of sentience. Places strong in Emotion would flourish when tended to. All who would come to this temple when it was functioning would be enriched, their positive emotions strengthened, their souls quenched with joy. Now that it has fallen to disrepair and abandonment, the temple was sad and angry. Iku could feel his heart sink with a weight he never knew was there. More often than ever, memories of his failure, and feelings of despair clawed their way to the front of his mind. He saw the effect on Jutek as well. His companion was uneasy, jumping at the rustle of leaves. He even regarded Iku with a look colder than even at their first meeting. Their negative emotions were fed by the temple. Iku was eager to continue, however he was tired, and while his companion showed no sign of it, Iku suspected Jutek could use some rest as well. In spite of his exhaustion, relaxation was hard. Iku felt a slight headache, and constantly thought he could hear faint sinister whispers coming from behind him, though whenever he’d look around, he’d see nothing. After some time, a deep, constant but quiet hum tickled at the back of his neck. The stones of the temple were warm, as if heated from the inside. However instead of being a calming, welcoming warmth, it was uncomfortable. While nowhere near hot enough to burn, Iku always felt the urge to pull away. The pair were silent, quietly eating their daily rations. Both often jumped at the night noises of the busy jungle. Though they could not see it, the forest around them was teeming with life, however no animal would wander close to the temple. Eventually, fatigue got the better of him, and Iku dozed off. His sleep was uneasy, and when he woke, he realized he was hugging his spear even though it was not by his side when he fell asleep. His companion, however, was seemingly unable to sleep at all. After tossing, turning and sitting up occasionally for about an hour, Jutek started pacing around the temple instead. Occasionally when the crack of a branch or a nearby rustle of leaves could be heard, he’d spin around, claws extended. Iku felt extremely annoyed by the agitation of his companion, but endeavored to ignore it. Dozing off yet again, his dreams were violent and disconcerting, with the image of Jutek snapping his spine appearing often. As he woke suddenly from one of his nightmares, he initially doubted whether or not he had escaped the clutches of his sleep – Jutek was standing some feet away, claws extended, looking right at him. Knees bent much like at their first encounter on the beach, it was clear that the large being was not alerted to some noise from the jungle. Iku quickly raised his spear, hands shaking. “How could I have trusted him? He’s a savage, he’ll tear me up like the path through the jungle… “- He thought, terrified. Jutek lowered a bit, metallic muscles tensed. “J-jutek, calm down. It’s me, it’s okay…” – Iku’s voice faltered. He saw an odd aggression in Jutek’s gaze, one which felt like it was always there, Iku just did not realize it until now. “Khthala az’lmhala atuxne!” – The being boomed. “I don’t understand! Please!” – Iku desperately tried to calm his companion to no avail. “Zhugihte ahxulva! Meterean atuxne!” – Again, Jutek shouted the words at Iku. He was not sure whether the words were warnings or threats, but the being had murder in his voice. A tree branch snapped nearby, closer than before. This caused Jutek to lunge forward, with the intention of shredding small Iku with his outstretched claws. The small Ixaman leaped out of his path, tumbling down the side of the elevated stone terrace. Jutek slammed with full force into the pillar, breaking through the old stone, knocking much of the pillar’s middle section out. The being was dazed, and was not aware of the ceiling above him giving way. “No! Jutek!” – Iku tried to draw the attention of his companion with his voice. Seeing his effort were in vain, he quickly picked up a small stone and threw it in an arc so that it would drop on Jutek from above. The stone clanged on the metal plate covering the being’s back, causing him to turn on it quickly. Seeing the cracks in the ceiling, hearing the popping of the weak rock and feeling the dust falling from the ever growing gaps, he rolled over, off the edge, and fell next to Iku. A moment later, three massive chunks of the solid-stone ceiling broke off and crashed with fearsome force into the terrace where Jutek lay previously. Dust and pebbles rained on the pair, and Jutek swiftly rose over Iku to shield him from the rocks. When the dust settled, both scurried far from the terrace and collapsed to the ground, Iku doing so a distance from Jutek. The being was staring intently at the temple as if it were a foe he could not harm. He looked at Iku, worry in his eye. “Ruzet.” – He said with an apologetic tone, and pointed at the temple. Iku understood that he was not sorry for the damage caused in the building, but rather for attacking Iku, and was indicating that somehow the temple compelled him to. Iku nodded and shot Jutek a quick smile, before looking into the jungle with concern. Though he had ample protection in the form of his hulking companion, all of their equipment, including his spear, was buried under the rubble. As such, the prospect of wading through the jungle during the dark hours of the night was not inviting. Leowi was but two day’s journey, and Jutek could probably hunt something for food, but they had no flameseed and no water. Looking back at the rubble, it seemed hopeless to salvage any of their gear. The seeds probably popped, though lacking air under the stones prevented immolation. Their waterskin was likely flattened and it was doubtful that anything else was undamaged. “No way we’re staying here…” – He thought. Iku got up and beckoned Jutek to follow. The large being got to his feet and began following Iku. He shot one last mistrustful look at the stone structure behind them, and wondered what other unpleasant surprises this new, strange land had in store.
As they travelled through the jungle, Iku stayed close behind Jutek. He could feel, and sometimes even glimpse, a few predators stalking them, hungering for flesh but afraid of the large metallic being. At one point a Mizuti, a large, feral panther-like animal even jumped down from the branches onto the path ahead of them, claws bared. It took Jutek extending his own talons to scare the beast away. The Mizuti are a very distant, non-sentient cousin of the Miztoxi, though the latter deny any relation vehemently in spite of the obvious markers. By dawn, the pair had made good distance – without his pack slowing Iku, he could better match his pace to that of Jutek, and without any supplies to sweeten rest, simply sitting around wasn’t as attractive anymore. Though hungry, without food there was no point in stopping only to drive home the fact that they have no provisions. Moving forward lessened the distance between them and Leowi – meaning food – and also offered more possibilities for hunting. The remainder of the journey was tedious and uncomfortable. While the causes of discomfort were likely there beforehand, their predicament made the pair more receptive to the inconveniences that beset them. Iku struggled against a particularly impolite group of mosquitos, while Jutek repeatedly stumbled in roots and stones. The path followed a thin gap in the tree-cover above them and the humid heat coupled with the relentless assault of the sun was unbearable. The air was thick and dank, the jungle around them uninviting and foreboding. “Hunger is all it takes for the world to be less bright a place…” – Iku thought to himself. Having met no animals during their trek, Iku began to think that the rumbling of his own stomach scared off all creatures rather than his hulking metallic companion.
As they finally neared the village, indicated by a carved ceremonial post on the side of the trail, Iku tugged Jutek’s arm in order to stop him. He took the lead, indicating to his friend to proceed slowly and quietly. He knew the guards in Leowi to be cautious and rash, traits necessary for survival if you’re protecting a frontier settlement. Leowi was not only the southwesternmost village in all of Ixamil, it was also the closest to the Talons of Lixam. Though there was no precedent for such an event, superstition held that it would be the first to fall should any “dark beings” emerge from the Talons. Iku was contemplating how he would explain his companion without causing the villagers to harm him – if they could. When they passed the second carved post, Iku stopped and brought his hands to his mouth. He let out three cries which were like that of the Huto owl, a nocturnal bird living in the region. This was selected as a sign to the nearby scouts not to attack, since the bird would not be heard during daylight hours. Iku repeated the three cries just in case, turned to Jutek, and lifted his finger to his lips. The large being gave one nod. They proceeded along the trail, which was steadily widening, until they came across a clearing. Ahead of them lay the small village of Leowi. A wall of strong, thick leaves woven over frames supported by large, pointed wooden pillars surrounded the settlement, with but a few huts and tents outside. The village had one gate, large and made from sturdy branches. A few faint trails of smoke rose from within, and the roofs of huts could be seen rising over the wall. They also saw movement, small figures tending to crops, conversing or hurrying on one errand or other. Some carried buckets of water on both ends of a pole, while others balanced baskets of fruit or fabric on their heads. Two figures remained unmoving by each side of the gate. As the pair approached the village, the sound of a horn tore through the air. “Curse their names!” – Iku thought. He quickly turned to Jutek, who was alert and agitated by the sound, and tried calming him. “Jutek, look at me, it’s okay, don’t worry. Amah Iku, Amah Iku. They won’t hurt you, just calm down.” – He said, slowly and quietly as to impart calm to his companion. His tone seemingly conveyed his meaning, and Jutek understood that more beings like his small feathered friend were approaching. Several guards approached them from the village, with more approaching from all other directions. In mere moments, they were surrounded by lightly armored Ixaman, Xotopaaksi and Miztoxi, pointing spears or cocked arrows at them. Iku threw his hands up, palms outward, while Jutek was sitting on all fours, though clearly agitated. “I come to the elder of Leowi. Please, my companion means no harm, lower your weapons lest you agitate him further!” – He said to the guards. One of them, a tawny Miztoxi Iku knew as Imuz, shifted his attention from Jutek to Iku. “You? The honourless? You abandon your post and bring upon us this… what is it?” – He asked. “He’s called Jutek. I think. He washed ashore not ten days ago. He speaks a different language, but I’ve gathered that he is shipwrecked and the sole survivor. Please, do not mistake his appearance for a threat. If you anger him he will attack, but he means no harm otherwise.” – Iku replied. “This being will come no closer to our home!” – A different guard shouted. As if by a silent command, all of the protectors stepped closer, and lifted their weapons higher. “Do you honestly think you could stop him? His skin is metal and his claws sharp. Anger him now and you will not be able to protect Leowi. Stand down and live.” – Iku tried to reason with the guards. Seconds passed in tense silence before Imuz shot Iku a hardy look. “Your words… ring wise, honourless. Stand at ease!” – He shouted to his men. Slowly amid many grumbles, the guards lowered their weapons and stepped back a pace. For the first time since they arrived to the clearing, Jutek spoke. “Jutek.” – He stated simply, lifting a palm to his chest. Imuz regarded the large being with a suspicious squint before replying. “Ihomxi Imuz Hotui.” – He said, palm on his heart. “Captain of Leowi’s guard.” – Jutek did not understand, but noted the weight of the words. Imuz looked back at Iku. “You came to the elder, to show him this being, yes? I suppose his arrival is your reason for leaving your post. For your sake, hope that the elder deems it worthy. “ – Imuz said. “And why would he not? Never before have any come to our shores from beyond.” – Iku replied. Imuz looked at Jutek with suspicion. “His origins are to be determined. He could have come from below.” – Imuz said. Iku opted against mentioning that Jutek washed ashore from the Talons of Lixam, lest the guard kill them both to prevent ill fortune to descend upon the village. “Very well. Follow me.” – Imuz waved a hand, and the troop began their approach to the village. Iku was relieved, and already anticipated the full meal and rest he would indulge in.
Not for a moment did a hint of his future rear its head in his mind.