Iku only spoke of the incident at the bridge to me once, but he told me that he played through those moments a thousand times in his mind. Could Jutek have leaped to Kumiz’s help? Could the elder have evoked some kind of spell to summon the winds to carry Kumiz over to the other side? Could either of them have done anything? I had no answers for him since I wasn’t there, but I tried to console him with the fact that he could not have predicted what Imuz would do. Iku looked at me then, and told me that if he had been there after all we’ve been through together since, he would have shot that arrow himself. Only then did I realize how much this once cowardly Ixaman was changed by what happened in Koura and after.
Iku could see a small glimmer of yellow on the other side of the great divide before them. Finto and Huli no doubt set up a small camp waiting for… something. The four of them – Iku, Jutek, Imuz and the elder – were now stuck on their side with but a short stone stump sticking out over the abyss before them, as a reminder of the narrow stone which spanned the canyon minutes before. Imuz had since sat down where he stood, but did not budge, nor did he speak. The elder walked up next to Iku, but also remained silent. Jutek was pacing around, presenting a worried facial expression. “As… distressing as what had happened is, we still need to get over.” – Tawhito finally said. Imuz slowly turned his head to look at him, with a somewhat frightening glint in his eye. He then calmly nodded, and got up. “We all thought this will be an easy if somewhat uncomfortable trip. We did not expect this. Kumiz… did not know this could be waiting for him. But we have a task before us nonetheless. We need to get over.” – He said slowly and quietly. Iku’s gaze shifted from Tawhito to Imuz and back again erratically. “How much rope do we have? Maybe we could tie it to an arrow and shoot it over, use it for climbing…” – The elder began to consider, only to be cut off by Iku. “Am I the only one here with any semblance of feeling and compassion?!” – He blurted out and collapsed in tears. Jutek was so surprised by this that he extended his claws and was looking around, searching for the source of the danger. Imuz and Tawhito just stared at Iku, startled. “Iku…” – Imuz reached toward the distressed Ixaman. “D-don’t touch me! You… you bastard! You killed him!” – He shouted, then turned to the elder. “And you! You didn’t even flinch! You didn’t bloody flinch! Kumiz is dead! Dead!” – His voice buckled. Imuz and the elder just looked at each other in silence while Iku sobbed. The captain slowly shook his head, and walked over to their gear to see how much rope they have. After a minute or two, he found a few bundles, and began to tie them together. The elder walked up to Iku, who had since fallen silent, and was sitting near the edge of the fall. “She would have fallen too. You know that.” – He said coldly. Iku was silent. “The captain may have killed Kumiz, but he saved Finto. There’s two sides to every coin” – He continued. For a long while Iku remained silent. “But if even one is rusted, the merchant won’t accept it.” – He quietly muttered just as the elder turned to walk away. Tawhito was surprised. “I know she would have fallen, Elder. But even knowing that I couldn’t have done what he did.” – Iku continued, then looked at Imuz to the side. “He frightens me.” – He muttered. “What? The captain?” – The elder asked. “Those who do not have what it takes to make these decisions often fear those who do. Strength inspires it.” – He said. “If that is what you call strength, I want none of it.” – Iku replied. Imuz stood up from his handiwork, which was a large sharpened stake, with the rope tied to one end. “Jutek!” – He called out to the large being. Jutek was happy that finally something was happening, and he could be of use. He trotted over to Imuz. The captain handed him the improvised harpoon, and pointed at the opposite side. Jutek looked over with the stake in one hand, then walked to the very edge of the abyss. He then took up a pose as if about to throw a javelin, and tossed the stake with all his might. Not only did it clear the canyon, but it slammed into the ground several feet inward from the other edge. Imuz and the elder looked at Jutek impressed. “We leave our gear behind. Let’s go.” – Imuz said. “And how will Jutek come over?” – Iku asked provocatively. Imuz looked up at the large being, and shrugged. Without another word or further ado, Jutek walked back a few paces, and before any of the others could stop him, he jumped over the edge with a running start. Just as he said before, the large being couldn’t clear the divide and disappeared into the darkness. “What the- Why did he do that?!” – Iku shouted. His face was deformed by surprise, despair and anger. Imuz and the elder were simply stunned by this sudden leap of faith. Moments later they began to hear a rhythmic clanging. Imuz peered over to the other side, and could just make out the form of Huli raising his two arms to his sides in question. The clanging was growing louder and louder, until the trio glimpsed a black shape moving up on the cliff-face on the opposite side. Eventually they could make out Jutek climbing up, digging his sizeable claws into the solid rock. “Well that’s something…” – The elder muttered. “We should get going.” – Imuz said, and grabbed the rope. “One at a time.” – He said, hugged the rope, which was secured by a similar sharpened stake jabbed into the ground, swung under holding it with his legs and arms, and began crawling across. He was progressing pretty quickly. “Come now, Iku. Even if Kumiz’s death cannot leave you be, at least don’t let it be in vain.” – The elder said. Iku slowly nodded and got up. “You first, though.” – He said to the elder with a forced half-smile. The elder fiddled with the rope for a while before he got a grip, and began climbing. Iku was now alone on his side of the crevice, and looked down into the abyss. “I could just cut the rope, turn back and forget all of this.” He turned to look back towards the treacherous path behind him. “Getting home may be hard, but…” Iku’s thoughts raced through the events of the past few days. He remembered how much he wanted to be free of the accursed beach posting, how he witnessed the crashing of Jutek’s ship, their trip to and stay in Leowi, and their journey since. It was an adventure – everything he ever dreamed of. “Until Kumiz died…” Iku thought back once again to his days at the beach guard post. Though dull, his life there was easy and simple. No-one bothered him, he slept as much as he wanted to, the food, if bland, was sent to him making hunting a pastime instead of necessity. He was often bored, but also found ways to make his own fun just as often. He even began writing a book recently, the pages of which he carried with him even now. Guarding an abandoned beach wasn’t exactly what he aspired to, but it was comfortable and no one died. He peered back to the other side, and could faintly make out five small figures and one large one. He remembered his first encounter with Jutek, and their journey since. “Curses and bother…” He thought, shook his head and grabbed the rope in front of him. He wrapped his arms and legs around the rope, and began crawling along, hanging with his back towards the fall below. He progressed quickly, being light as he was, and was soon past the halfway mark. He then noticed an odd motion in the rope, and it was ever so slightly sagging and twisting. “Damnation…” And with that, a shrill snap tore through the air, and Iku began to fall. After what seemed like an eternity of weightlessness, he was jerked back from his plummet. The rope snapped on the far side, back from where he began to climb, but it was still holding on the side he wanted to reach. The only problem was that now he had to climb upward. He heard indistinct shouting from above, and soon began ascending even though he did not climb. Fearfully peering downward, his thoughts were with Kumiz. Snapping out of it, he began to help himself up by setting his feet on the cliff face. As he got closer to the edge, he started being able to make out words. However, upon hearing Huli say “Hurry up, the stake is cracking!”, Iku wished he was deaf. True enough, the characteristic sound of splintering wood could be now heard. Iku was but a few hoists from the edge, and was now climbing furiously. Just as the terrifying sound of wood giving way could be heard, a massive black arm reached down and grabbed Iku. As he was pulled up, the remaining rope and a piece of broken wood fell down into the abyss next to him. Finally the company was reunited on their desired side of the canyon, if one man short. After some moments of silent rest, Huli shot Imuz a dark look. “Never again will we trust your guidance, captain.” – He said, voice shaking with anger. Imuz remained silent, and didn’t meet Huli’s gaze. Finto began to sob.
With silent agreement, the group decided not to proceed, and set up camp near the edge of the abyss – but not too near. Finto noticeably avoided Imuz in all ways, however she steeled herself like any good soldier would. The members of their party barely talked to one another. They set a fire, and ate humble meals, still in silence. After finishing, Imuz disappeared into the jungle. Huli started after him, but the elder stopped the Ithipaaksi with a shake of his feathered head. Finto walked up to the ledge, sat down, and dangled her legs down into the canyon. Huli paced up and down a few feet from the fire, while Jutek, Iku, and Tawhito remained around it. Jutek was trying to suppress his feelings of discomfort and awkwardness, which resulted in him sitting in one place, but constantly fidgeting. The elder and Iku were both staring into the flames. “From the moment I was banished to the southern beach, I wanted to get away. Finding Jutek and embarking on this journey was… liberating thus far. But now?” – He muttered, almost to himself. The elder turned his gaze to the young Ixaman. “But now that beach seems all the more inviting? Now, Iku, you know you don’t belong there.” – Tawhito replied. “Don’t I? You sent me there yourself. All I would need to do is watch the waves gently licking the sand. Even the talons seem less ominous now. I could spend the day under the sun, with nary a worry in the world. No responsibilities either. By fate was determined by others, so I needed not bother with it.” – He said, defeated. “And would you be satisfied? Would you be happy with the life others prescribed to you?” – Tawhito asked. “Well, it damn well was better than this!” – The small Ixaman blurted out. “Iku, you are the sole architect of your fate. Leave your future in the hands of others and you’ll find that you don’t have one. You would have ended up like that coast. Nameless.” – The elder said, sternly. “This is despair…” – Iku quietly said after a few moments of silence. “Oblivion is worse.” – Tawhito replied, placing one hand on Iku’s shoulder. Huli approached them. “Have you seen the captain? He ought to come back soon.” – The elder addressed the veteran Ithipaaksi. “I don’t know if he’ll come back. Some captain.” – Huli muttered. “And what would you, my dear guardsman, have done in his stead? Watch as both Kumiz and Finto fall into the abyss?” – Tawhito began. “But…” – Huli wanted to object but was cut off. “If he had not let loose that arrow, the death of two would lay heavy on all of us. Instead, he took the death of one upon himself. He did not kill Kumiz, for the young one was a victim of circumstance. And yet the captain bears guilt, even though he is a saviour. Consider this before you pass judgment with such haste.” – The voice of the old Ixaman accepted no rebuttal. Huli simply nodded, and scanned the treeline. “If not a lake, nor village, what then is the source of the glow?” – He changed the subject. “It’s the jungle.” – The voice of Imuz seemingly came from the shadows themselves. He appeared from the other direction, unnoticed by the others. Stealth was a common trait of the Miztoxi, and they often walked unseen even when they did not wish to sneak. “We’ve been trekking through jungle since Leowi, and never did it glow.” – Said Huli with disbelief. “You know, no doubt, that magic is borne from the blend of the forces of Fire and Life, yes?” – The elder asked. “Of course.” – Huli replied. “Well, those are not the only two forces which act in unison upon this world.” – The elder said with a smile. Huli was puzzled, but did not press the issue. “Huli, we ought to move on. We’ve made great progress thanks to Jutek, and the crossing is but days away. We’ve won a whole week so far.” – The captain said. “What’s the hurry, then?” – The veteran asked with thinly veiled contempt. “If we find no boats at the crossing as you say, the time will come in handy. We’ll need to find a way to bring Jutek with us safely downstream…” – The captain began to explain. Huli simply folded his arms across his chest. “Uh… very well. I did not make mention of it since our journey looked to be more than a month in duration but… if we arrive within two weeks, we’ll be there before Warmaster Hotui’s ships sail for Matua.” – Imuz said with excitement. “Warmaster Hotui? Your…?” – Huli raised an eyebrow, now curious. “Father.” – The captain said. So that’s how he became captain… – Huli thought to himself. “I haven’t seen him in many a year. He’ll surely be interested in Jutek too.” – The captain continued. “You kill one of your men not half a day hence, and already you wish to hurry just so you may see your father?” – Huli was growing angry. “Huli…” – The elder sneered. The veteran shifted his gaze to the elder, then the captain, then the elder again. “Yeah, sure, let’s go then.” – He said, throwing his arms in the air. “Put a city dweller in charge and the whole world turns upside down…” – He muttered as he walked away. Imuz glanced around, gaze fixing on Finto. “I’ll, uh…” – He began. Tawhito ushered him on without a word. Iku shook his head and got up to pack. As he was tending to his things, he looked back towards the canyon. Imuz has sat down beside Finto, and only their silhouettes could be seen. He could not make out their words, as they spoke hushed. Eventually the two got up and joined the group together, Finto looking much less distraught as before. As she went on to pack her own gear – or what was left of it – Iku caught Imuz. “What did you say to her?” – He asked the captain. “Two things. Firstly, that had I been in Kumiz’s place, not only would I have desired this outcome rather than drag her below, but I would have cut the rope myself.” – He said. “And the other?” – Iku pressed. Imuz looked past him at Finto. “That, my friend, is not for your ears.” – He said, sadness in his voice.
Soon the group – now down to six members – was once again en route. As they moved ahead, the glow became stronger and stronger, and soon instead of merely being in front of them, it seemingly surrounded them. Then, Iku saw the first small flower with fluorescent petals. “We’re here.” – The elder said with a smile. “And where is here?” – Huli asked. The elder didn’t answer until the cleared the small hill ahead. Looking down, spreading before them was a vast jungle wherein all the plants glowed of their own volition. While teals, turquoises, and greens were most prevalent, the odd reds, yellows, purples, pinks and oranges were also seen, distinguishing different flowers, trees and shrubs. “The forest of Letaka, where the forces of Light and Life exist in harmonious unity.” – The elder said with a dramatic tone. Jutek’s reaction was not unlike the one he displayed when first seeing the night sky on the Nameless Coast. However, Huli and Finto were equally impressed. “We need not fear so long as we travel through here, for none of the creatures that inhabit Letaka mean us harm.” – Tawhito said. “We eat well then!” – Huli cheered. Both Imuz and Tawhito stopped dead in their tracks and looked at Huli as if he had just gravely insulted their ancestors. “Let me make myself clear, guardsman. You are not to harm neither animal nor plant so long as we walk through Letaka. You do not eat of fruit which I tell you not to, and never let your weapons loose. Am I understood?” – Tawhito switched back to his strict elder persona, which had its desired effect on Huli. “Y-yes! Of course, Revered Elder, understood, understood.” – The Ithipaaksi quickly said. Though he walked straight forward, Jutek’s gaze wandered all over while they trekked through Letaka. Most plants were identical to those seen in the jungles already, with their glow being the only difference. However, every now and then they came across trees and flowers that seemed otherworldly, shining in colors they have never before imagined, and could hardly describe. “This place is beautiful! How could it be that no village was ever built here?” – Finto wondered aloud. “Light-forests were once plentiful in Ixamil, almost as common as regular jungles. Letaka, however, is the only one that exists today. While it is not strictly speaking a secret, it is seldom mentioned and omitted from maps to preserve its untouched nature. The Tnipatlan elders and chieftains have all sworn to protect its serenity. No village or guard post may be built within fifty leagues of its borders.” – The elder explained. “What happened to the others?” – Finto questioned, curiosity in her voice. “War, settlement, greed. Some burned, while others were cut down either for use in woodwork or to rob opponents of hiding places.” – The elder said, sadness in his voice. “By the time of the War of the Broken Spear, only a handful remained. All but Letaka fell during that conflict. I saw many in their final days.” – He gazed around the forest, mind wander in another time. “You ought to know this. Their loss was what caused distress among the priests of Life and Light, realizing that the war would upset the balance of the forces. In a way, the sacrifice of the light-forests was what saved us all.” – The others around him peered around in wonder. Jutek was the most awed of them all. The party walked on, the beauty of the forest banishing all melancholy and thoughts of Kumiz from their minds. Each time they thought they thought they’ve seen all the miracles it had to offer, an all new plant unlike any other popped up some paces later. Eventually, they reached a small clearing covered in a mane of gently glowing grass where they set up camp. Once they were settled, they began to hear enthralling chimes, chirps of great beauty. It was then that they saw the first animals of Letaka. Two tufted songbirds, with their plumes and the feathers on their wings glowing, flew in unison. As they danced through the air, it became clear that one, a male, was wooing the other. The color of their glow softly pulsated through the spectrum of warm colors as they drew pictures into the air with their motions. They did not interrupt their passionate choreography because of Iku’s party. If anything, they flew faster and in more elaborate patters in order to impress their audience. The group made camp on the edge of the clearing, at the foot of the largest tree around. The two lovebirds eventually moved on, and the travelers set a fire. Lacking any firewood of their own, they collected twigs and branches that they already found broken off, as Tawhito was adamant about leaving the forest unharmed. “We’ll sooner go without a fire than to harm this sacred place.” – He’d tell the others. Even though the broken twigs, branches and various dried shrubs were dead, they still twinkled slightly, and when lit with Flameseed, the fire itself burned in a swathe of many colors. They lost most of their food at the gorge, however, luckily Huli carried with him some of their emergency provisions, which mostly entailed nuts, dried fruit, and some cured meat. They all ate lacking meals, though Jutek refused what he was offered in order to allow the others larger rations. They mostly ate in silence, as no-one wanted to disturb the serenity of Letaka. Iku once looked up at the branches above and recognized the two birds they saw earlier. They were huddled together on a branch, chests puffed out and necks pulled in. Instead of outright glowing, they now slightly glittered red and pink, and if he focused, he could just catch the sound of soft cooing and huffing. It was still nighttime, though morn was approaching. “We’ll sleep some hours, and proceed in the morning. Rest, all of you, no watch is needed here.” – Imuz said to the group. Everyone was relieved that they could relax a bit in such a serene place after their ordeal. The very air in the forest was calming, the lights soothing and the quiet night noises of the unseen animals spelled safety. They needed no bedding, for the soft grass was more comfortable than any sheet or cot. In spite of what came before, all was well.
Iku was woken from his pleasant dream by a sudden and painful impact on his head. He sat up and looked around, squinting. Once his vision cleared, he made note that the plants around him visibly glowed even in the bright morning sunlight. Then, sitting not two paces from him was the source of his rude awakening. A small acorn – glowing blue, of course – was lying in the soft grass. He rubbed his head, annoyed, while looking at the small thing. I glimmered with a soft, friendly hue, and in spite of the pain it had caused him, Iku felt comforted by its sight. He was almost hypnotized by it, the small nut, and crawled closer. Right at that moment, he heard the rasping breath of Tawhito, which stayed his outstretched hand. He glanced back, and noted that everyone was asleep. For a moment, he pondered – and then with a swift but stealthy motion, he grabbed the acorn and hid it in the folds of his belt. He shuffled back to where he slept, indicated by flattened grass, and lay back down. For a moment, he fiddled with his belt, ensuring that the little acorn was secure and wouldn’t decide to hop out in an uncomfortable moment. Once he was convinced his little loot wouldn’t turn tail, he drifted back to sleep.
Little did he know that Jutek observed his every move.
Some time later, the group was roused by Imuz. Everyone woke well rested and merry, as if they weren’t one man short. They quickly packed up their hastily built camp with renewed strength, and were on the road not long after. Iku’s hand often traveled to his belt, checking whether the little acorn was still there, and true enough, it was securely bundled. The sun’s warmth was soothing, the song of the birds pleasant and the grass soft under the feet of the company. “A shame, really, that such a forest does not cover the entire country from here to Koura.” – Huli said. “Just remember that the next time you are called to war.” – Tawhito replied, which seemingly piqued the guard’s interest. “Do you not think the peace will last, elder?” – He inquired. “Ixamil is vast, its people many, and for each person there are two opinions in the least. Millennia of war color our history, do you think putting all of our leaders into a single city will change that? It merely offers a more tempting target if you ask me.” – The old Ixaman replied. “Kāinga must be too well protected to be attacked! It’s the new capital, surely no one could take it?” – Finto jutted in. “Ah, young one, you’ll once learn that no city is unconquerable, no army undefeatable. This peace is fragile, and if old rivalries are reignited, Kāinga will tear itself apart from the inside.” – Tawhito said. For as long as recorded history remembers, Ixamil was wrought with war. Between races, between tribes, between ideologies, between families – there was no period when peace ruled over the entire archipelago, other than the past 45 years. After the bloodiest war known to scholars, the War of the Broken Spear, dragged every island, every tribe into conflict, the force of Life became so unbalanced that the priests feared a calamity. Eventually, priests of all eight forces began noting imbalances, and magic seemingly weakened due to the immense loss of life. With the various armies of the island group weary and famine spreading, all belligerents jumped on this excuse to initiate negotiations without suffering the dishonor of being the ones to surrender. Council was held on an uninhabited islet of the Moloni Pebbles, where it was determined that lasting peace was only possible if the individual tribes agreed to give up their independence, and for the first time in recorded history, all of Ixamil were to unite under a single banner. For the past 45 years, the peace held, and the islands prospered, however fears of old grudges reigniting the war were ever present.
Eventually, the troop reached the border of the forest, where the flora abruptly returned to its non-glowing, normal form. The group would soon reach the river crossing, a small guard station typically approached by boat instead of foot which is why their current route was unknown to many. It is here that they hope to embark on boats to take them down to Lake Haki, close to Koura. “So, do we have a plan in case we find no boats at the crossing?” – Asked Huli. “Like I said, we’ll build some. Every route other than the river would have us run late, even with the days we’ve spared so far. I’d rather spend time at the crossing than waste it on a detour.” – Imuz replied. Though the loss of Kumiz was recent, Letaka had pushed it to the back of everyone’s mind and Imuz’s role as leader was unchallenged – for now. The journey to the crossing was long, or at least it felt to be so due to the utter lack of anything interesting happening along the way. Everyone save Jutek let out an audible sigh of relief once the Elder said the crossing was near after days of trekking through uninterrupted jungle. Everyone yearned for the soft grass and welcoming sounds of the light-forest, as no campsite felt comfortable in comparison. A few hours after the Elder’s reassuring remark, water could be heard hurrying along a shallow river-bed just beyond the trees. Imuz led them to one of a pair of rocky outcrops which faced one another on each bank, with a massive, hollowed-out tree trunk laid between them acting as a bridge. On their side, a trio of huts stood aside the trunk, as well a small pier jutting into the water. Two boats – not enough – were tied up. “Well, it’s better than nothing…” – Imuz sighed. They trotted over to the huts. “Ho, Jali!” – Huli called out. A crash and thud were heard from one of the huts. Several moments later, an unkempt, misty-eyed Xotlil emerged, fur ruffled. He dropped his spear on as he hurried towards the group and almost tripped over himself trying to pick it up. “Pre-present, Captain!” – He said to Huli as he was wiping the dreams from his eyes still. “What a fine example of your race you are…” – Imuz mumbled before continuing with an authoritative tone. “I am the captain, and I…” – His lecture was interrupted by Jali’s terrified scream. Undoubtedly he just noticed Jutek, and before anyone could say anything, he darted back into the hut. Iku was chuckling, Imuz buried his face in one palm and Huli started after the cowardly guard with a grunt. “Jali you bloody disgrace, out you come or I’ll send you downstream without a boat!” – The veteran guard shouted and continued with a colourful string of expletives. Jutek was gazing at Iku intently, unsure if he did anything wrong. The small Ixaman reassured him with a shake of the head and a smile. “Huli might need some reinforcements, let’s go” – Imuz sighed and signaled the others to come with. Just outside the three huts was a small fireplace encircled with logs for seating. The group settled while Imuz followed Huli’s shouting into the hut. Moments later Jali rightfully flew out and landed face first in the mud. “That’s enough now.” – Imuz chided his companion. He and Huli came out of the hut as well, and now Jali found himself surrounded. Wiping the mud from his fur, he glanced around fear in his eyes, which finally settled on Jutek. “What in damnation is that?” – He asked. “Quite possibly the single greatest discovery in Ixamil history, guardsman. And of absolutely no threat to you.” – The voice of the elder rang with and odd mix of annoyance and levity. “Uh, okay, if you say so old man…” – Just as he said it Huli slapped him across the face. “Huli…” – Imuz started, but the guard cared not. “You address the Elder of Leowi, guardsman. Teach your tongue respect if you want to keep it.” – He threatened. Upon hearing the rank of Tawhito, Jali quickly clambered to his feet and sunk to one knee. “My deepest apologies, revered Elder, I did not recognize you.” – He said. “Nor I, you. Are you not of Leowi? These are still our lands.” – The Elder asked. “He came in from Koura with me, back in the day. Huli knows him too, from his time at the crossing, but I believe Jali never actually came to our village.” – Imuz said. “You’ve been at the crossing for years?” – The Elder said with genuine surprise. “Y-yes, revered Elder.” – Jali answered quietly. “Well, that explains the mane…” – Tawhito muttered, as if unaware that he said it out loud. Jali looked utterly dazed by the company that arrived at his station. “…A-and what, what is it that I could do for you?” – He asked, fearful. “We’re traveling to Koura, and will take boats downstream.” – Imuz said. “I only have the two…” – The ruffled guard began. “We noticed.” – Huli interjected sternly. “They can only hold two each, and I’m not sure even both could hold… that.” – Jali indicated at Jutek. “Can it swim?” – Huli turned to Iku. “You did say it was washed ashore, so it didn’t sink in spite of all that armor.” – He continued. “I have no idea, he was unconscious when I found him. Him.” – Iku put emphasis on the word while shooting an angry stare at the veteran. “It would take days to build a proper boat that could hold him without sinking, can we afford such a delay?” – Finto asked. “Wait, let me try and ask him, if nothing else, he’ll make chopping wood easier for us.” – Iku interrupted before anyone else could respond. He turned to the large metallic being and beckoned him to follow. He led Jutek down to the pier while the others continued unpacking and started preparing some food. The wooden walkway of the pier itself already was too fragile for Jutek to step on, let alone the two old and shoddy boats tied to it. The water flowed gently, but rapidly, and downstream in the distance vapor tossed up by the rapids could be seen. Iku pointed at the water first, then did a swimming stroke with his hands. Jutek immediately shook his head and took a step back with worry. Clearly the events that lead to his stranding have instilled a sense of fear regarding water, if his species didn’t possess one anyway. Remembering their conversation on the beach, he pointed at the boats, no more than dinghies. “Huto.” – He said, which was the word for two in Jutek’s tongue. He then pointed at himself, then Jutek, then back up at the station where the others were, and finally extended four fingers. Jutek was somewhat confused by this as evidenced by the tilting of his head. Iku looked around, grabbed a suitable stick, and began scribbling into the grainy sand of the riverbank. He drew quick outlines of their company, and boats below. He drew two lines from Huli and Finto into one, from the Elder and Imuz into another, Himself into a third and finally jutek into the last, bigger one. Jutek finally seemingly understood and turned around. He scanned the nearby trees until finding one he settled with and pointed at it. “Kazla nuy!” – He said, enthusiastically. “Sure, whatever that means, great.” – Iku said with a smile, hoping that he didn’t just encourage Jutek to cut out the entire forest. They went back to the campsite where Jali had procured some supplies from one of the huts to feed his “guests”. “He’s going to help us build boats, at least, but he’s afraid of the water. Or swimming. I think.” – He explained. “That’s mighty reassuring…” – Huli muttered. “Hey, you try and communicate with something entirely and utterly foreign to you, Spearman.” – Iku shot back, hurt. He sat and beckoned Jutek to join him, who did so diligently.
By the time the troop had finished eating, the sun began the latter stretches of its descent in the sky. “We’ll hardly be cutting and building in dusk. We’ll begin work on the additional boats at first light, get some rest, all of you.” – Imuz said. Jali gave off a loud yawn and started towards his hut. “Jali!” – Imuz shouted at him. The Xotlil turned, drowsily. “You have first watch.” – The captain said with a smile. “Watch? Whatcha’ mean, watch? Watch what?” – Jali asked, bothered. “The forest, the river, the boats, everything. You’re a guard, aren’t you? You mean to tell me you’ve never been on watch?” – Imuz asked back, acting strict but laughing inside. “I’m the only one here! No one needs’ watching!” – The Xotlil replied, now clearly worried that he might actually have to fulfill his duty. “Well it’s about time we made a proper guard of you, so first lesson: when you’re on watch, the safety of your companions depends on you.” – Imuz said. “And if I fall asleep?” – Jali asked. “You really don’t want to know.” – This time it was Huli who replied, in on the joke. The Xotlil was clearly intimidated, and scrambled back to the smoldering remains of the campfire. The others retreated to the other huts in the station for rest. Before closing the wicker door, Imuz turned back one last time. “Oh, and Jali? I hope you’re good at building boats, ’cause you’re going to help us tomorrow. Good night!” – With that, he closed the door.
“And who’s got second watch? Guys?” – His voice was timid and weak.