"So you're a healer then?" asked Siku as secured her boat and helped Treke climb back onto the docks. They decided to go back to the village before tackling the fish problem.
"Yes, although I only became a ruksala today. I have some skills in making medicinal herbal teas and poultices." Treke stumbled and caught herself, landing on all fours as she pulled up onto the pier.
"Very nice. I'm sure your village appreciates having a healer around. We have a few elders that are good at medicine, but none of them speak with spirits. We're more of a moon revering kind of clan." Siku chuckled, as if it wasn't obvious from all the lunar motifs adorning the village.
Treke was beginning to like how cheerful and good-natured Siku appeared to be, hoping they could become friends eventually. Elder Vrenik did want her to branch out and get to know more fuglans.
"Speaking of spirits, I think there's something wrong with the giant fish in the lagoon. I believe it's possessed. It might be affecting the other fish as well."
"Huh… fishing has been kind of sparse these past few days. I'll ask my family about it; I'm sure they would love the opportunity to catch a big fish like that. If it's good eating, we could even cook it!"
Treke nodded, happy to help improve the sea fuglans' situation. She had no obligation to help them with their fishing woes, but helping others was something she enjoyed. Until the source of rranha was gone from the lagoon, it would be difficult to track Ludaru's trail. "Oh! I nearly forgot, I have something for you."
Treke opened her pack and handed Siku the two nangangu fruits she had collected earlier. "It's not much, but here's a gift. I hope we can be friends. And thank you for taking me out to the lagoon." She gave Siku a little bow.
"Aww, why thank you!" Siku returned the bow. "And yes, let's be friends! You're my first forest fuglan friend, to be honest."
"And you're my first sea fuglan friend. I don't have any other friends outside of my village."
"Well, I hope to change that soon. We can use these fruits to go along with some smoked fish. Come with me, I want to introduce you to my family."
Siku's house was not far from where her boat was docked. The building was only one story, built mostly from bamboo and thatch, but it was fairly wide with two entrances facing the dockside and another at the back, facing the water. They headed inside, where Siku placed the fruit into an empty basket which sat next to several others filled with various harvested goods.
There were only two fuglans currently in the house, two older females, one teal-blue and the other green, sitting on the floor and sorting seashells together. The teal-blue one, who wore a net-like shawl with colorful seashells woven into it, looked up at the two of them. "Good morning, Tsasiku. Who is this you've brought?"
"Hello, mother! This is Treke, a friend I made today, from Neukrin village. She's going to help us prepare food today. She bought us some nangangu fruit."
"A forest fuglan? How nice. I'm Ianuna, Siku's mother, and this is my sister Teigru. I don't see many of you here in Sivaterin, except for clan elders who come to visit. You're welcome to stay as long as you like." She and the other older fuglan gave Treke an acknowledging nod.
"There's a big fish deep in the lagoon we need to catch today! I haven't seen it myself, but Treke assures me it's down there and scaring off the other fish. I need to ask the others if they can help."
"A big fish? Hmm... Your brothers should be coming back shortly. I know they've been having trouble catching fish lately. Your sister and cousins are still out collecting kelp."
"It's been awhile since we've all fished together as a family," said Siku's aunt Teigru. "We used to go out together at sea and come back with a big enough catch that would last us days. Now we don't do that so much since we've settled down in the lagoon. Harvesting kelp and smaller fish tends to be less risky."
"Yeah! I want more adventures!" said Siku, spreading her arms excitedly. "Let’s go hunt a humongous fish!”
"I'm afraid I know nothing about fishing, but it sounds exciting." Treke was listening to their conversation, wondering what big fishing was like. "But this fish I've mentioned, I believe it's possessed by a spirit."
"A possessed fish? I've never heard of such a thing." Siku's mother gave them a skeptical look.
"Don't worry mother, she's going to take care of it."
"Yes, I just need the fish to be near the surface so I can properly banish the spirit."
"I'm a great swimmer, so I can help!"
"Well, if that's what you need to do, I won't stop you. Just stay safe when you go out with your siblings and cousins."
As they arrived, about an hour later, Treke came to realize just how big Siku's family really was. There were a dozen members, twice as big as her own, all living in one house together. Siku's family was fairly large for just one house, but it was common for sea fuglans to save space and building materials whenever possible. Hearing about the fishing opportunity, they were eager to go together right away. Only Siku's mother and her two aunts would stay behind, while everyone else hopped into their fishing boats.
There were four canoes in all, the biggest belonging to her uncle and his two daughters. Siku's boat was the second, accompanied by her sister Talele and Treke herself. The third boat was shared between Siku's two brothers, and the fourth occupied by two more of Siku's cousins. In total, there were ten of them that agreed to come out to the lagoon. Siku brought her fishing spear along, prepared for whatever she had to face down there.
The center of the large crater of deep blue water was so dark that nobody could see the bottom unless they swam down there themself. The Sivate clan called it Dlakali, which meant "deep below". Most of the clan avoided it, as there was little reason to swim down that deep.
"So, the fish is down there?" asked Siku's uncle, as Siku's family reached the center of the lagoon.
"Yes, this is it," said Treke. "Someone will have to lure the fish near the surface so I can banish the spirit."
"I wanna do it!” Siku turned to Treke, who was sitting behind her in the boat. "You'll be okay up here in the boat, right?"
"I'd rather not go into the water, so yes. I'm not a very good swimmer."
"But I am," Siku laughed. "My sister Talele can steer the boat so that won't be alone."
"That sounds like a good plan."
Siku jumped into the water with a big splash, getting Treke a little wet. Sea fuglans had no qualms with getting splashed it seemed, but it was not something Treke would get used to any time soon. She grumbled a little and tried to shake off the water.
"Tsasiku, it might be dangerous down there, so I'm coming with you," insisted Siku's uncle, climbing into the water holding a bamboo spear.
"Okay, uncle. We'll be back as soon as we can, everyone! Have your spears and nets ready."
Siku dived into the water with her uncle trailing behind her. As they disappeared into the dark blue void underneath them, the lights on the end of their ears and tails faded in brightness the deeper they got, until nothing but a very faint green glow could be seen from the surface.
"Umm, how long can sea fuglans stay underwater?" Treke asked Talele, waiting anxiously for Siku to return. “Should I be worried?”
"Don't worry," said Talele, "we sea fuglans can dive for a pretty long time without needing to come up for air."
"How long exactly?"
"About half an hour, if we train for it."
"Wow..." Treke couldn't fathom how deep the lagoon was, or having to hold her breath for that long. She was certainly not suited for the sea herself and imagined she'd drown before she ever reached the bottom.
Another ten minutes passed and neither Siku nor her uncle had returned yet. Treke began to worry that the fish may have eaten them, or something worse. "Klaiune, are things all right?" she whispered to her ancestor.
"Child, be ready," the spirit replied. "The spirit is getting closer. Once it's within reach, you must brace your mind so that it doesn't take hold of it."
Treke's anxiety grew rapidly, as she feared she wouldn't be able to handle a tukra on her own. The rranha was much stronger now, adding to the negative emotions she was experiencing. Down below, she could spot the glow of the sea fuglans' bioluminescence growing brighter. They were approaching the surface.
"Get ready, everyone!" Talele shouted. "The fish is here!"
There was a loud splash as Siku breached the surface and leapt out of the water, with an even bigger splash as she hit the water and dived back in. Everyone but Treke cheered. A massive fish, as big as Siku's uncle's canoe, tore out of the water and smashed the surface, sending the boats backwards with a powerful wave. Treke was too terrified to react to the sight of the huge blue, scaly beast.
"Treke, pay attention! The spirit is within reach! Purge the rranha!"
The sea fuglans wasted no time and jumped into the water with spears and nets. Siku struck with a bamboo spear, plunging it straight into the fish's side. Her uncle soon breached the surface as well, and shouted at the rest of the sea fuglans to help block it off. The great beast flailed and splashed about so wildly that Treke could barely make out what was fish and what was water. Trying to ignore the frenzy in the water, she squeezed her eyes shut and shifted her focus to the spirit. She could see it clearly in her mind's eye, a dark shadowy entity that emanated agony. "Don't worry, spirit, you'll get to rest soon enough," she whispered.
As Siku and the others kept the fish occupied, Treke continued to concentrate on the spirit. She could feel it pushing against her, struggling desperately not unlike the beast it possessed. The tukra snapped at her mentally, turning her anxiety into panic. "You will not get away!" she shouted.
Siku's family cheered again, misinterpreting her cry towards the fish, but it was all the same. The water churned red as spears, ropes, and nets went flying.
With a final burst of determination, Treke locked onto the spirit and trapped it, pulling it out of the fish. The tukra wriggled and writhed like an eel, still trying to resist Treke’s magic before it finally disintegrated and vanished from the living world.
With an exasperated sigh, Treke fell back in the boat and waited for the sea fuglans to finish off the fish. She could hear them splashing and squawking for only a little while before the frenzy finally died down.
"Iatak! We did it!" She shouted triumphantly. Treke sat up to check the aftermath, but sure enough the creature was finally still and wrapped in a large net. The fish was so large that they needed two canoes to haul it back to the village.
"So that's it then?" asked Siku, climbing back into the boat and flopping onto her back in exhaustion. "Is the spirit taken care of?"
Treke nodded solemnly. "Yes, it's gone now. And with the big fish dealt with, I'm sure the smaller fish will return to the lagoon soon."
"Yeah! That big greedy beast must have eaten most of the other little fish. No wonder we were having trouble catching anything these past few days."
Returning to Siku's home, the sea fuglans celebrated by all taking turns gutting and descaling the fish to prepare it for cooking. Treke decided to help by preparing a sauce made from the nangangu fruit she brought along. There was so much meat on the fish that they were happy to share it with anyone in the village who had been struggling with fishing that day. A couple dozen sea fuglans came, all cutting fillets for themselves to take back home to cook.
As the day went on, the village began to fill with the delicious smell of grilled and smoked fish. While Treke's diet normally consisted of vegetables, fruits and tubers, she still enjoyed the occasional savory flavor of grilled fish. The nangangu sauce she helped prepare turned out sweet and tangy, with some wild garlic and lirre citrus juice added to the mix.
The fish was served on earthenware platters, placed on the floor for everyone to sit around and help themselves. A side of sesame kelp salad was served alongside the main dish. Siku’s family laughed and talked together as they sat around and ate, recalling several fishing stories to each other.
"So, now that you've taken care of that spirit, do you still need to be ferried?" asked Siku, remembering Treke asked about it earlier.
"Oh... actually yes. Although, I'm still not quite sure where I need to go. Let me see..." She checked for any trail of nearby rranha. There was no longer any coming from the direction of the lagoon, but she could feel the faintest hint of something coming from one particular direction. "What is there to the northwest?"
"That's where port Hulerin is! It's the closest mainland from the island. I can take you there this evening if you need to leave as soon as possible."
"I'm not sure if Hulerin is where I need to go, but if that's in the same direction from where I'm sensing rranha, then that's where I'll go."
"Then we'll leave tonight. How does that sound?"
Siku's mother, who was listening to their conversation, spoke up. "Tsasiku, I know you like to travel, but I'm worried when you leave the village. Your father--"
"Mother, I know. I know... I'll be careful, okay? Hulerin is not that far. It's less than a night's travel away."
Treke felt it was rude to ask, but she couldn't help her curiosity. "What about your father?"
"He, uh... he went out fishing by himself, out at sea. It was about a year ago... He never came back."
"Oh... I'm sorry."
"There was a storm that night," said Siku's mother. "We think he might have..." Her voice trailed off, not wanting to finish.
"It must be terrible losing a family member." Treke bowed her head, hoping her question didn't upset them too much.
"The sea is harsh," Siku's uncle added, grabbing a bit of fish from the large dinner platter that sat on the floor in front of them. "Siku, you best be careful going out there. I wish you good luck, but don't die."
"Yes, uncle Grahralauk. But umm, you know, mother..." Siku fiddled nervously with her hands. "I think I may consider living in Hulerin one day. There's someone I met there, and she's very nice."
"Oh? This is the first I'm hearing about this. What's her name?"
"Lasranu. I've been trading fish with her whenever I travel to port Hulerin, but I want to live there with her one day! Hopefully soon..."
Siku's mother sighed. "I see. I was wondering when this day would come, starting your own family..."
"You're old enough to live your own life now, Tsasiku."
"And this house isn't getting any bigger," Grahranauk chuckled.
"Oh stop!" Siku's mother gave him a light smack on the arm before turning back to her daughter. "I love you very much, Tsasiku, remember. And I'd like to meet this Lasranu soon. I hope she considers visiting Sivaterin."
"I hope so too." Siku gave her mother a hug, even if she was a little embarrassed, and smiled at Treke. "Considering you're a friend of the family now, I want you to meet Lasranu when we reach port Hulerin!"
"Yes, I'd like that. I'd like to meet many new fuglans. To be honest, I don't have any friends outside of my village, besides you."
"You've got a lot of catching up to do for your social life then, friend!"
Treke ate her fill that afternoon and took a two hour nap at Siku's house before she returned to her village to speak with her own family. They were happy to know that she wasn't just disappearing to some unknown location as she told them she would be visiting port Hulerin.
She also couldn't wait to tell Elder Vrenik about the lagoon and the tukra. The old fuglan lived alone in a small hut of his own, just on the edge of the village. It seemed he was just waking up for a midday nap as Treke arrived, knocking on his door. As the door opened, a periwinkle beak poked out to greet her.
"Ah, Treke, back already?"
"Well, sort of. I think I've found which direction Ludaru has gone."
"Good, good. Come inside, I'm preparing some sahuan tea." He opened the door further and invited her in.
"I went to Sivaterin, just like you said. I even made a friend."
"I also found a tukra in the lagoon. It was inside a giant fish..." She continued with her story as Elder Vrenik poured her some tea, smiling proudly at her. Treke accepted the cup with both hands and allowed it to cool for a moment.
"Very good, Treke. I'm impressed you were able to handle your first tukra with no problem. How does it feel?"
"I feel... I feel like it isn't real. I've done so much today that I've never done before in my whole life."
"You're learning new things from experience! I don't know if there's much else I can teach you at this point."
"Are you certain, Elder Vrenik? I feel like there's still so much I need to learn."
Taking a drink from her earthenware cup by tilting the spout into her beak, Treke enjoyed a soothing minty aftertaste of sahuan tea. "I'm not sure, but thank you. I'll continue to do my best."
"You'll soon get more accustomed to it with more practice. I've dealt with many tukran in my life, but my old age makes it much more challenging these days."
Taking another sip of her tea, Treke was unsure of what else to say. She had done everything well so far, but she still had a long journey ahead of her. "Is there anything else I should know before leaving the island?"
"Make friends in the places you travel to, Treke. They'll know about the local areas more than anyone else."
It was wise advice, as she had already met Siku and her family, and soon she would meet Lasranu as well. Finishing her cup, she thanked Elder Vrenik for the tea and prepared to leave her village once again.