"Elder Vrenik, tell me about Ludaru. Who are they?"
Treke trailed behind the old fuglan as they made their way through the bamboo thicket. She could tell Vrenik was already weary from the news, but she needed to know more.
"Let’s just say, we don't like to speak kindly about them...”
"Why? You've said as much, but you still won't explain."
Vrenik sighed and lowered his voice. "It's a sore subject… One I don't quite feel ready to talk about right now. Only the Nuek clan knows where the shrine is located and they were sealed a long time ago, so I don’t know why this is happening now." He clicked his beak, something clearly frustrating him.
"We’ll get to the bottom of this, don't worry Elder Vrenik."
"I have a theory of what might have happened, but I’d like to investigate the shrine first. It’s been half a lifetime since I last visited it, and the path would be long overgrown by now.”
Stopping for a moment, Treke closed her eyes and concentrated on the energies around her. She could feel something up ahead and to the right of the path, just a few minutes walk from where she stood. “I can sense a gathering of rranha nearby. We’re getting closer.”
“Good, good. You’re learning quickly.” He gestured to Treke to go ahead of him. “Why don’t you lead me to the shrine, young ruksala?”
It felt strange to be called a ruksala by her mentor, but Treke stepped up and let her new senses guide her. As she got closer to the source, she began to feel more nervous and agitated. She was unsure if this was the rranha itself, or just anticipation.
“It’s here,” she said, pointing to an area on the side of the path. There were remnants of cut bamboo from many years ago, evidence of a formerly maintained path, but enough bamboo had grown over to conceal anything recognizable at a first glance. The bamboo was thick and too close together to just walk through it.
“Hmm… Let’s get these out of the way first,” said Elder Vrenik, grabbing a green stalk of bamboo. He split and snapped it with a single powerful arm.
Treke followed and made quick work of the bamboo, snapping off pieces and pushing ahead to create a path large enough for both of them.
“Ahh, I wish I was still as lively as you are now,” Elder Vrenik chuckled, sidestepping his way past the fallen bamboo. “I suppose that’s why you’ll be taking my place soon enough, eh?”
“Elder Vrenik, don’t say such things.” Treke held the last of the bamboo out of the way for Vrenik to slip through. “You still have many years left to live.”
“I’m old, child, it’s a fact of life. I won’t be around forever... Ah, here we are!”
Just like Treke saw in her dream, a large ancient stone slab stood alone in the bamboo thicket, covered in moss and lichen. There was a strong aura of rranha emanating off of the shrine, making Treke feel so nervous that became nauseous.
“So this is Ludaru’s shrine…” Treke kept her distance, not wanting to get any closer to the tainted stone.
“Yes, but no Ludaru around.” Elder Vrenik circled around the shrine, looking for anything out of place. Aside from some moss wiped away from the surface on spot of stone, it appeared there was more pathway cleared behind the shrine. “Someone came through here, somewhat recently. The new growth of the bamboo around here looks only a few months ago.”
“And someone had to know where it was in the first place. I thought you said only the Nuek clan knows where this shrine is?”
There was a displeased grumble from Elder Vrenik. "I don't like this at all... I have a feeling it's him..."
"Who?" Treke's ears perked up.
"Do you remember my previous apprentice, Karrak?"
"I remember him, but we rarely talked. But did he not leave the island much longer ago?"
"Yes, but I'm still suspicious. Do you know why he left?"
Treke shook her head.
"He kept challenging me on how to use spiritual energy, but I repeatedly warned him he was misusing it. I refused to teach him any further, and then he got violent… He was banished from the village after that."
"I'm sorry, Elder Vrenik."
"No, it's alright. It was his ego that got in the way of his training. I never told him about Ludaru’s shrine, but I believe he may have found it on his own." Running a hand over the mossy surface, he took a closer inspection of the shrine to see if he could find more answers. "It appears the lingering rranha here is from a spell. I want you to cleanse the shrine, Treke."
"You should be able to purge the rranha here with the help of Klaiune. Remove the negative energy here until you no longer feel it."
"As you say..." Treke took a deep breath, pressed her hands together and focused. The rranha energy was powerful, making her feel uneasy and sapping her own energy, but she pushed back against it. It was a battle of willpower, enduring the sickly energy, but as she continued to focus, she could feel it began to dissipate. She stopped for a moment to catch her breath, then tried again, channeling Klaiune's energy to neutralize the rranha.
"Good," said Elder Vrenik. "You're doing well! Keep going!"
Pressing harder, Treke strained to remove the last of the rranha in the area. She closed her eyes, lashed her tail, and with a wave of her hand, banished the remaining negative energy.
"Did I... did I do it?" she asked, opening her eyes and looking around.
"Hmm, yes. I believe that's all of it. I can feel a difference already.”
Treke sighed with relief and relaxed. Her mind finally felt clear and refreshed in the rranha’s absence. "That’s… rather exhausting."
"It will be at first, but you'll get the hang of it. It will be worse with tukran around, so I recommend you build up some endurance. Rranha will weaken you if you're around it for too long."
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind, Elder Vrenik."
"Now, let me pry into this further." Vrenik hummed thoughtfully to himself, brushing some moss off of the shrine's surface. There were various engravings in the stone, warnings to others in the clan to stay away from the spirit that was once inside. "Yes... I definitely think it was him. There's no other reason for anyone to disturb this shrine. The other clan elders are aware of it and forbid anyone from interacting with the spirit, but Karrak was never one to listen to elders.”
"What action should we take then?"
"Hmm... the rranha trail is faint, but you may be able to follow it to find Ludaru.”
"Klaiune said Ludaru isn't on the island."
"Then you will have to leave the island if you wish to find them."
Treke clasped her hands together in concern. Leaving the island would be a first for her, as she had barely ventured outside of the village and surrounding forest. "Will you come with me, at least?"
"I can't, child, my duties lie here in the village. But this would be a good opportunity for you to expand your horizons. Get to know more of the world, eh?"
"I suppose... I've never left the island before. Other than visiting the shrines, I barely leave the village."
"You'll be all right. Visit Sivaterin on the north side of the island. The sea fuglan clan can help you get across the water."
Treke nodded. "All right. I admit I haven't met any of them yet..."
"They're actually quite a friendly bunch. Bring a gift along and make a friend or two! I don't expect you to do this all by yourself, after all."
She was still unsure of what she would encounter, but if Elder Vrenik wasn't afraid, then she had no reason to be either. Before visiting the sea fuglan village, she decided to head home to say goodbye to her family and pack supplies for the trip. Her mother and father seemed concerned about seeing her go, but her uncle and two sisters were excited.
"Are you really going to travel beyond the sea?" asked her younger sister Tirine, as Treke rolled up one of her robes to pack away.
"Yes. Hopefully not too far. I'm not sure where I’ll be going yet, but I’ll only go as far as I need to."
"But that still could be very far away."
"It's all right. I don't plan to go alone."
"Can I come with you?"
Treke sighed and shook her head. "No. It may be dangerous. Elder Vrenik told me there might be tukran, and I've never encountered one of those before. Even if I don't know how to deal with one yet, I don't think I could live with myself if something happened to you."
Tirine sank in disappointment, but was still eager to learn more. "You'd better come back safely then! I want to hear stories about the outside world."
"Don't worry, sister. I'll come back as soon as I can."
Her other sister and her uncle were very encouraging, giving her a blanket and a small bag of tea leaves to take along. It took a little convincing for her parents, but they too soon turned around. They knew she needed to take care of responsibilities.
All packed and ready to go, Treke headed back into the forest to look for a gift for the Sivate clan. Nangangu fruit was currently in season and was considered a favorite treat for most fuglans. A bit of traveling past the bamboo forest, she spotted a large tree with plenty of fruit, ripe for the picking.
Setting her pack down, Treke quickly shimmied up the trunk of the tree. Her large arms were perfect for grasping around the trunk, and her smaller clawed feet dug into the bark, making climbing an easy task for the forest fuglan. Using her tail to wrap around a branch for stability, she picked a few fruit within reach and dropped them down to the forest floor below.
"These will do," she said to herself, climbing back down and examining her newly acquired prizes. She decided she would keep one for herself to eat.
The fruit's color gradually went from a bright yellow at the stem to a pinkish red to the base. A red color was a good indication that the fruit was ripe and sweet. The shape of the fruit was elongated and split into three sections, like fingers, and the rind was a little tough, but not difficult for a fuglan to tear apart. The pale-yellow flesh inside gave off a sweet flowery aroma, filled with rows of dozens of little black seeds in the center. Tearing into the juicy flesh with her beak, seeds and all, she ripped off small chunks and swallowed them whole. The flavor was sweet and a bit tangy, and lingered in her mouth. Having her fill, she gathered the two remaining fruits and stuffed them into her pack.
The village of Sivaterin was not far down the forest path. She followed it along, trying to keep in mind which way was north. Within a few minutes of walking, she reached the edge of the forest, where it opened up to an expanse of dune grass that stretched out a ways until it exposed a sandy beach, followed by a large lagoon that drained into the sea. The island itself was crescent shaped and the lagoon was at its center, giving its name Crescent Island.
She felt nervous entering a biome she was not familiar with, having lived in the forest for her entire life. She had no reason to visit the sea fuglans' village until now. The village of Sivaterin was entirely built on pilings, connected to a system of docks that curved along the edge of the lagoon. Several additional rows of piers extended from the inner curve of the main branch of docks, each lined with more huts and boats. Walking along the long stretch of dock that extended from the beach, the first thing that she noticed was that all the fuglans that lived there were various shades of blue, green, and yellow. It was unlike the forest fuglans in her own village, who were purple, pink, and blue. Instead of spines, they had crested fins along the back of their heads and dorsal side of their tails. They also wore different clothes, woven from hemp, with no sleeves or flowing robes, but lots of jewelry made from seashells and pieces of coral.
Most of the villagers looked busy, hustling about and heaving nets of fish about, weaving nets, or patching up their homes and boats. Treke spotted one sea fuglan, green and teal in color, sitting on the edge of a pier, fishing pole in her hands. She looked bored and half focused on the water, but not particularly busy.
"Umm... excuse me? Can you help me?"
"Hmm?" The sea fuglan's long frilled ears flicked in response before she looked up at Treke. "Oh, hello! You’re… not from around here, are you? What do you need?"
Treke wrung her tail between her hefty hands, reluctant to ask at first. "Well... I was wondering if you could help me find someone who could ferry me off of the island? I need to go somewhere."
"Well, fortunately for you, I happen to be a ferrier! When I'm not out fishing, that is."
"Oh!" Treke's ears perked up. "Would you mind? I would greatly appreciate it. I'm Treke, by the way. I’m from Nuekrin.”
"Nice to meet you! I'm Siku." She pulled up her fishing line and examined it with disappointment. "Kalagala, these fish aren't biting today for some reason... So, where do you need to go?"
"I'm not actually sure where exactly, but I just know that I need to go somewhere across the water."
"Hmm... I wouldn't mind ferrying you, but not knowing where you need to go might make my job a little difficult. If you at least knew which direction you needed to go..."
"Oh, right. Yes, of course..." She closed her eyes and concentrated, feeling where the nearest pool of rranha was. Oddly enough, it appeared to be coming from below the lagoon. "Wait, I... Something doesn't seem right."
Siku cocked her head to the side. "Hmm? What's wrong?"
At first Treke thought her detection was wrong at first, but the rranha definitely felt like it was coming from a spot in the lagoon. "Could you take your boat out into the lagoon first? I need to check something."
"In the middle of the lagoon?"
"Yes, I know it sounds strange, considering I'm not a sea fuglan, but I feel something is down there..."
Siku gave Treke a concerned but compliant look. "All right, I'll get my boat ready. I need to take a break from fishing anyway. I haven't caught anything all day."
Siku's boat was docked at the pier next to them, a small outrigger canoe with a crab claw sail. It was big enough to fit either three fuglans, or two with a load of fish. The sail itself, woven from canvas, was decorated with a crest of the three moons which represented the Sivate clan. The smallest moon, in full phase, sat in the center, encircled by a slightly larger crescent moon, followed by the third largest crescent moon encircling those two, creating a triple lunar eclipse.
"Hop on in, my forest-dwelling friend! I'm not sure what you're looking for in the lagoon, but I can at least take you out there. You can leave your bag here on the docks so that you don't get anything wet."
Treke left her bag and climbed into the boat, her legs wobbling underneath her. She had no experience with boats and found it strange how easily it glided in the water. Sitting down and grabbing onto both sides of the canoe, it took her a moment to find her balance. Siku untied the rope connecting to the pier and effortlessly stepped into the boat, using her weight to push it away from the docks. A large paddle, carved with more images of moons, was all Siku needed to guide the sea vessel further into the water, gently alternating a stroke on each side to paddle forward.
"Do you ferry forest fuglans off the island often?" asked Treke, nervously peering into the water.
"Not really. The last time we had to ferry someone was several big moon cycles ago. I usually transport fish and other stuff to and from port Hulerin." "Hulerin?"
"Yes, it's a desert town about a day's travel from here by boat. I like to travel back and forth every chance I get! I just happen to ferry fuglans across too if I'm going." Siku smiled proudly about her profession.
"I see... Could you head towards the center of the lagoon? That's where I think I'll find something."
"Whatever you say. Did you know that's where a volcano used to be? It just sank into the sea one day, long ago, and that's why we have a crescent shaped island."
"Yes, I've heard about that story from the clan elders. I'm not looking for a volcano though." Treke checked the water again, noticing no fish were present. "At least I don't think so."
Whatever it was, Treke could now pinpoint the location to the center of the crater below the lagoon. She had no intention of going down there herself, only getting as close as she could from the surface. Just like at the shrine, she could feel a nervous, sickly energy emanating from the area.
"Well, here we are. I'm guessing what you're looking for is down there?" Siku gestured towards the crater.
"Yes, I can feel an unusual amount of rranha coming from below. I'm not sure why, but I'm going to try to cleanse the lagoon."
"I'm not sure what rranha is, but do what you need to do, then."
"I can explain it afterwards. Wait... I think it's moving."
"A bad fish perhaps?" chuckled Siku.
"Actually... Klaiune, is it possible for you to go down there and observe?"
"Oh, my apologies. They're my ancestral spirit. They help me with things I can't do on my own."
Siku was unable to see Klaiune, or any kind of spirit. To anyone not a ruksala, it appeared as though Treke was speaking to someone who wasn't there. Siku shrugged, confused by Treke, and decided to wait quietly.
"Yes, but my distance is limited, you see," Klaiune responded, emerging from Treke's third eye like a billow of smoke. "Now that I'm bonded to you, there is only so far I can reach from where you are. I am tethered to your physical form."
"I understand. Only go as far as you can then, and tell me if you see anything unusual."
"I will try my best."
Klaiune floated away and descended into the water, its form passing through the liquid as if it was never there. It reached about eight meters before it resurfaced again. "There appears to be a large fish near the bottom of the crater, much deeper than I can go."
"There's also a tukra possessing it."
Treke went silent for a moment. She dreaded the day she had to encounter a tukra on her own, but this appeared to be that day. "Can we... get rid of it?"
"We should be able to banish it. However..."
"We need to be closer to the fish."
Treke sighed in frustration. There was no way she was going into the water to get closer. "Siku? You're good at fishing, right?"
"Yeah? My whole clan is skilled at fishing. We’re sea fuglans, after all."
"That includes larger fish too?"
Siku gave Treke a questioning look. "It's not every day we hunt large fish, but yes. What are you getting at?"
She wasn't quite sure how to tell Siku that there was a giant possessed fish at the bottom of the lagoon, and that it needed to be taken care of. "I suppose I should explain what a ruksala does first..."