Spirits of Alaruk

Chapter 6: Hulerin

"Treke, wake up! We're almost there!"

Treke groaned and rubbed her eyes, the sound of the roaring waves and flapping of the sail muffling Siku's voice. It was still dark out, but the stars and largest moon had shifted to the other side of the sky. Lifting her head above the rim of the boat, she could spot the dark shape of mountains rising from the seascape in the distance, speckled with dots of light.

"Siku? Have you been awake and steering the boat the entire time while I was asleep?”

Like all forest fuglans, Treke was used to splitting up her sleep during midday and midnight. She wasn't aware of what the sleeping habits of sea fuglans were like.

"Of course! Don't worry about me," said Siku with a carefree look, the light of her tail illuminating her face. "I do this all the time when sailing to Hulerin." She yawned a little, the boat still going at a brisk pace towards land. “I can sleep when we get there. Besides, I like watching the moons.”

"As long as you get some sleep later."

Treke noticed the air felt more arid now, likely due to the fact that they were closer to the desert. Her silk robes were dry now, if a bit salt crusted, so she folded them up and stuffed them into her bag. As the boat sailed closer to the mainland, she could make out two towers on the coast with fires burning atop. Beyond them, she could make out several more lights higher up on the peninsula.

"How strange. What are those fires for? It looks like it would be difficult to climb those towers every time someone wants to cook food."

"Those aren't for cooking!" Siku laughed. "Those are for the desert fuglans so they can see better at night. The two towers help them locate the docks. They don't have tail lights, you see.”

“No tail lights?” Treke had a hard time imagining having no light to help see in the dark. A fire was hot and potentially dangerous, especially if they had to burn all night. Treke's clan only used fires for cooking and warmth.

"You should see this place at dusk–there would be even more torch lights. Most of them have burnt out by this time."

Treke indeed wanted to see what that looked like, but perhaps another time when she was not busy chasing down an evil spirit. Reaching the pier, Siku found a suitable place to dock amongst the many other boats that filled the area. As Treke stepped off of the boat, she noted Hulerin's port was wildly different from Sivaterin's. While many sea fuglans worked and fished on the docks, there were no hut dwellings in sight. Instead, they appeared to either live in their boats or in tents pitched near the docks. Scanning the area, between the two light towers, she spotted one area concentrated with colorful tents and stalls. Just beyond that stretched a road that led further into Hulerin.

"What is this for? It's blocking the road."

"This is the marketplace," said Siku. "It's where we trade stuff, so we want to make sure nobody misses it when they arrive in Hulerin. Lasranu should be around here."

A place to trade things wasn't a bad idea, Treke thought to herself. But what kinds of things did they trade? Peering into one stall, Treke discovered several large pots filled with seawater. Looking further into the pots, she found plump bugs, live and squirming in the water.

"Oh... How interesting."

"Hello there, stranger!" said an unfamiliar voice behind her.

Treke turned around to see an eager yellow sea fuglan smiling back at her. Dozens of little seashells dangled from his ears, clinking together as his head bobbed about.

"Are you interested in trading for some of my freshly caught kikrin?"

"Ah... no, thank you." Treke looked at the bugs a bit closer, realizing they were actually crustaceans with wings. "Is that what these are?"

"Why yes. Have you not seen a kikri before?"

"Well, not exactly... No. I don't believe these live around where I'm from.”

"Ah, a shame you've not experienced such a delectable treat! Would you care to try one?" The sea fuglan fished out one of the crustaceans and offered it to Treke. "I ask nothing in return other than to see your face light up with delight!"

Timidly eyeing the gift, Treke was unsure if she wanted a taste. She had already eaten so many fish on the way over, but she didn't want to be rude and turn down a gift. "Well... maybe I'll save it for later?" she said, accepting the small creature. Its large orange compound eyes stared back at her from the palm of her hand. She began to feel sorry to see its fate was only meant to be eaten. "How long do they last out of the water?"

"Several days! It's best to keep them alive and fresh in seawater. But if you plan on eating it later, you should consider removing its wings so that your treat doesn't fly away.”

"Ah, no no! It's alright. I would like to keep it alive and in one piece, if you don't mind."

The sea fuglan laughed, amused by Treke's behavior. "Or you can keep it as a pet, too! It doesn't matter to me. You don't seem like you're from around here, so think of it as a welcoming gift.”

"Thank you. I actually just arrived here from Sridez Island with a friend."

"I see! Well, come back any time if you'd like to trade. Even if I'm not here, the marketplace is always open. As for your new pet, feed it smaller bugs to keep it nice and plump, and be sure to keep a pot of water handy. It will surely dry out in the desert heat.”

Treke bowed and rejoined Siku, who was still searching the marketplace. There were so many interesting smells and things to trade for, but sadly there was no time to browse. Clutching a wrapped package of kelp seaweed to her chest, Siku kept an eye out for a familiar fuglan, while Treke tentatively followed behind her.

"Siku! Siku, over here!" A cyan tail light and a silky smooth voice with a hint of masculine undertone caught Siku's attention. A pale blue sea fuglan with a cream colored crest and dark blue ringed limbs sat alone at a fish stall.

"Lasranu!" Siku rushed over to her girlfriend to give her a hug, nearly dropping her package. “I've missed you so much! How have you been?”

"Trading lots of fish, as usual,” said Lasranu with a smirk. “I've been well. It's been windy tonight. I hope the sea wasn't too rough on the way over.”

“The sea was rough, but nothing I couldn’t handle.” Siku handed over her package with a big grin on her face. "Here, I've brought you some dried kelp from Sivaterin!"

Lasranu gave a warm smile as she accepted the package. "Aww, Siku. You didn't have to do that."

"You need more variety in your shop than just fish, and Sivaterin grows the best kelp in the area." Siku laughed with delight before she realized she nearly forgot Treke. "Oh, and this is Treke from Nuekrin. We live on the same island."

Treke bowed her head, keeping the kikri hidden in the sleeves of her hempen robes. Upon closer inspection, Lasranu appeared to be a male fuglan taking on the role of a female. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Lasranu. I would love to know more about you, as well as Hulerin. This is my first time visiting.”

Lasranu returned Treke's bow. "A forest fuglan, I see. It’s also nice to meet you. Hulerin is actually quite large, but I'm happy to show you around. It's a bit more lively in the morning when the Naku clan is awake. Speaking of which, have you slept recently, Siku?"

Siku gave a knowing look. It seemed Lasranu was quite familiar with Siku's sleeping habits. "No, I haven't. I just got here, after all.”

"You're welcome to sleep in my tent, the both of you.” Lasranu gave Siku a nuzzle with her beak. "I was thinking about closing up shop for the night anyway. It's been rather slow lately."

"Is that so?" Treke's ears perked up. Perhaps the concentration of rranha in the area had something to do with it.

"Yes, it's usually slow late at night when all the desert fuglans are asleep, but they haven't been visiting much during the day recently, either. I'm not sure why. I usually get so many traders eager for fish.”

"I wonder… Have you noticed anything else unusual lately?"

"Now that you mention it, I've heard there have been some issues at the temple, but I'm not familiar with their spiritual customs."

"Where is this temple? I'm a ruksala, so I could look into it.”

"It's just up on that hill. You can’t miss it." Lasranu pointed to a large building standing proudly on a hilltop up the road. "I can take you there if you'd like. I'm about to close shop and I like to donate my leftover fish to the temple."

"Thank you, Lasranu. Siku, do you mind if we go there before you get some rest?"

"I've still got some energy left in me, don't worry. I've never been to the temple before, so I wouldn't mind seeing it for myself."

With the help of Siku, Lasranu gathered up her things and brought them back to her tent on the west side of the docks. She had a whole basket full of fresh fish that needed to be delivered to the temple. As Treke attempted to pick up a basket filled with traded fruit and spices, the kikri that had been hiding in her robes escaped and zipped around her head.

“Whoa, a kikri! Hold on, let me catch it,” said Siku, readying a pouncing stance.

“Wait, Siku!”

Siku stopped in confusion as Treke clasped her hands protectively around the kikri. “A trader just gave me this little one as a gift and… I want to keep it.”

“Keep it? For what?”

“As a companion,” said Treke sheepishly. “I don’t want it to get eaten.” She gently let it go, where it dove towards a nearby moth that had been circulating the market and caught it in midair. “Oh… I guess it was hungry.”

“Bugs are gonna get eaten regardless,” said Siku with a shrug, “but I guess… why not?”

“I think that’s sweet,” said Lasranu. “You have a kind heart, Treke.”

Bringing its meal along, the kikri landed on Treke’s outstretched arm, where it proceeded to happily munch away on the moth. It was already taking a liking to Treke. “I just love creatures, especially the little ones.” She picked up a basket and tucked it under her other arm. “Come on, let’s get these fish over to the temple.”

“Yes. It’s a shame trading hasn’t gone so well lately,” Lasranu sighed as she prepared her carrying basket, “but the Temple of Nakuka will appreciate these fish. The temple custodians don’t usually leave the temple, so they rely on anything we give them.”

With Lasranu’s things returned to her tent, they headed up the road to the temple. It was eerily quiet along the streets of Hulerin. Only the sound of crackling torches and the wind sweeping through the trees filled the air, as there was not a single other fuglan to be seen. The temple ahead stood behind a bridge, where a stream of fresh water flowed underneath and gathered in an oasis pool to the east. Dozens of palms, acacia trees, and cacti surround the temple and the oasis, forming a comforting garden in the heat of the desert.

The temple itself was massive; the entrance flanked by two burning braziers. Approaching the building, Treke could sense a strong whiff of rranha emanating from inside. She stopped her friends before they could go in. “Hold on, I'm not certain it's safe to enter the temple right now.”

“What do you mean?” asked Lasranu, craning her neck towards the temple's entrance.

“Something isn't right. I can sense it.”

“Treke can see spirits,” Siku offered as an explanation. “Maybe she should check inside just to make sure?”

Treke nodded. “I should be able to protect myself from any negative energy, but I'm still quite new at this. I, um… I only became a ruksala yesterday.”

“Oh, I see,” said Lasranu. “I don't mind waiting out here for a while, if that's what you must do. Although, could you take the fish with you, at least?”

“Ah… yes, of course.” Treke awkwardly accepted the basket of fish, startling the kikri that had decidedly perched on her head. “I'll return shortly after I check for any tukran.”

Siku and Lasranu waited outside as Treke entered the temple, with only the kikri flitting behind her. The rranha was thick and dreadful from the inside. She had no idea what to expect.

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