“A refugee from the war huh?” The big, potbellied man asked.
“Something like that.” Replied Deo in a low voice. He sat in a booth in the corner of the building. He had ordered a meal and lodgings for the night. The quaint hotel could serve less than fifty people. The further from a metropolis one got, the less modern life became. This small town was a few days, in walking distance, south of Garghent.
“Heard a lot of the neighboring towns were destroyed or deserted when the Coalition attacked. I’m just thankful that ours was too far for them to notice.”
Deo agreed with the man out of politeness. He was the owner of the place and rarely seemed to get any visitors from a city.
“I got my business and too many kids to be starting life over.” He explained.
“I think the Coalition is more interested in Garghent.” Deo assured.
“Then why loot and raze the poor folk who live outside the cities?” He questioned passionate and angry.
“They targeted the closest towns and farms to make room for their camps and they wanted as many people to retreat into the city. More people means more food. I imagine they sneaked in spies as well.”
“You seem to know a lot about military talk. You sure you’re a refugee and not a deserter?”
Deo’s expression darkened.
The owner raised his hands. “Hey man, ain’t nothing to be ashamed of. And nobody is going to turn you in either! If you left war behind then you did the right thing in my mind. We need more people to do what you did then we could raise our kids without fear of seeing them rotting in a field.”
“You think no one would die without war?” Deo asked.
“I think no one would die from war.” The owner said without hesitation.
“I am going to my room, let me know if you find such a paradise.” Deo stood and thanked the owner for the meal.
The balding owner removed the dishes and decided to say something more before Deo finished climbing the stairs to the bedrooms.
“You’ve got something dark in you, young man. I’m not so naïve to miss that. Some advice to you from a former soldier, don’t stop fighting just because you no longer go to battles, if you take my meaning.”
Deo paused before the final stair. “Thank you for the room.”
Dawn shone through the window to sting Deo’s violet eyes. He dressed himself and looked at the full body mirror on the edge of the room. He didn’t spend long looking as accusing eyes judged him.
A knock on the door disturbed his loathing.
“Brought some breakfast,” declared the owner from the hallway. Deo opened the door for him.
He set the tray down and glanced around the room. “You haven’t unpacked.” He noted.
“I’m leaving now. Give the breakfast to someone else.”
“Where are you going?”
“That’s none of your business.” Snapped Deo.
“True. I merely meant that you should have a full belly if you are traveling. There’s not much civilization between here and the coast if you’re heading south.”
Deo sighed and checked his temper. “I’ll take it to go.”
“Of course.” He said with a smile. “You’ve been paying with card this whole time. The villages south don’t have electricity, you’ll need cash if you don’t have any.”
“Where can I draw out cash?”
“You can buy some at the register. I’ll meet you down there when you’re ready.” The man made to leave but Deo stopped him.
“You have been a kind host, I’m afraid as a guest my manners have been lacking.”
“Think nothing of it, stranger.”
“You see a lot, I didn’t expect it.” Deo said honestly.
“I’ve seen a lot. Besides, city life makes you tense and wary of people. Enclosed in walls and buildings and cars, people live guarded lives. Out here in the countryside everything is in the open. We learn how to see through the lies of the world.”
The owner left and Deo packaged the food and gathered his belongings, which amounted to the grey shirt on his torso and the pants around his legs, the boots on his feet and a pack filled mostly with water bottles. He had discarded his military uniform at the previous town and bought a single pair of clothes, a backpack and some food.
He walked down the stairs to the main lobby. There were a few people eating and the buzz of conversation filled the morning atmosphere.
“How much would it cost to make a round trip from the Palaot Islands and back?” Deo asked.
The owner didn’t look surprised upon hearing Deo’s destination. “A few hundred bucks would last a while. It’s summer so no need to worry about the nights and there’s plenty of fruit and game if you know what to scavenge or how to hunt.”
“I’ll do that then.” Deo handed the owner his card who swiped it and drew out the cash and started to count it out.
“The people who live in the Palaot Islands are tribal fishing communities. They generally don’t have any use for cash so I recommend buying an assortment of food, gear, tools and clothes to trade with the Palaot when you get to the last town here on the Sister continent.”
“That’s useful to know. Thank you again.” Deo took the stack of cash from the owner’s outstretched hand.
“Good luck, stranger. You’re welcome to stay here again if you find yourself back in this area.”
Deo nodded and walked out to leave the shanty town. His journey was slow going. He kept his humble pace as he traversed the countryside, spending nights sleeping without a fire or a blanket and days observing all the plants and animals in sight.
He had too many bug bites to count but remained healthy on a diet of local fruits, seeds and nuts. The occasional farming family always accepted cash for a real meal and a wash. He never stayed the night and eventually found the port town at the bottom of the continent.
It was much larger than he expected, he estimated a population of several thousand. Most of the boats were small fishing vessels but a few were larger whaling and deep sea ships. He purchased a variety of supplies as the hotel owner suggested and spent a couple days exploring the town and making light conversation with the locals. Their way of life drastically differed from Garghent’s city business attitude. These people were relaxed and smiled more often and the kids played outside as the adults drunk their afternoon’s off. Mostly conversation revolved around the day’s work with fishing, construction or some other labor intensive job. They were hard workers and once every couple months a large feast was prepared when a whaling ship returned with a catch and the townspeople gathered to celebrate and listen to the regaling of the perilous expeditions.
Deo only heard about that tradition and never saw it in his two day stay. Deciding he’d seen enough of the town he sought out a ferry that could deliver him to the Palaot Islands. He paid the fee and the captain of the ship raised anchor shortly after.
“Don’t get too many passengers this time of the year. So when I heard you were seeking a ferry I thought to bring Old Guppsy to the docks and let her go for a swim.” The captain was a jovial and eccentric man with a few missing teeth and a sandy beard.
“Old Guppsy?” Deo asked with a raised eyebrow.
“My five year old daughter named it. She’s thirty now.”
The trip was made without incident. The captain made sure to entertain Deo the whole time with tall tales either completely made up or else reality just worked far differently than Deo ever knew. He spoke of meeting mermaids and sirens, of ghosts and faeries and even one time he fell into a whirlpool and discovered lost treasure.
“Still got it around my necklace as proof.” The captain pulled out a pendant of a stylized sea monster with large tentacles and wings. It looked like it was made from cheap plastic but Deo kept that comment to himself.
Deo warmed to the ecstatic storyteller by the time the trip ended but said farewell after their three days at sea. It was the first time Deo had ever seen the ocean in person and the magnificence of the endless waters thrilled him beyond comprehension. Inspiring and daunting, the primordial blanket known as the ocean played to Deo’s poetic mind and he thought such things as the creation of the world and life, the death of nations and the unknown entities that no mortal has ever dared to tell about.
On dry land again he found himself missing the bobbing of the waves and the rolling of the ship and the spray of salt water but he was grateful to be walking on dry land again, away from the ever present fear of dying in a shipwreck or drowning in the abyss.
He was greeted by some of the Palaot locals. There were six, three men and three women. Their bodies were adorned by tattoos and piercings but they were friendly despite their intimidating appearances.
“Is this him?” One of the women asked first. Their dialect was rougher than what Deo was used to in the city.
A man with blue tattoos nodded after eyeing Deo up and down. “Eyes the color of hate.” The tribesman quoted.
“Shaman Sumedi is expecting you.” Explained another women.
Deo hesitated slightly. “Where is this shaman?”
“On the island of Turtle. He is busy so you must wait here for a week.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer to accommodate for my stay.” Deo answered.
“That is fine. You are our welcome guest.”
“Come, we will show you around.” Added another tribesman. “And you can work for your stay. There is always work to do.”
“Very well.” Deo followed behind the group and took note of the simple clay homes and animal skin tents. Children, as they always did across every land, were playing as the men and women were busying themselves with chores. Weaving clothes or repairing damages or preparing for a fishing trip. Day to day life that more industrialized places had figured out how to do in bulk with machines and cheap labor. Everything was homemade and Deo got the impression of a people close-knit and generally more conscientious of the land and each other.
It made him ill. The nature of the human species transcended time and location, creed and doctrine. All were the same. Jealousy lay at the root of pride and violence. Lust being the driving force of behavior.
Deo worked for hours splitting logs for firewood and sawing trees for boat parts. His work done for the day, he sat back and tried his best to not be acknowledged. A feat he couldn’t accomplish with the constant stares and jeers from mostly the kids who had little better to do than harass the newcomer.
“Why do you look stupid?” One girl asked after a group of kids drew sticks to determine who had to approach the strange traveler.
“Careful, I’ll put a curse on you that makes you look more stupid than me!” Deo warned, almost seriously.
The girl squealed and ran away, laughing the whole time and rejoining her squad with the information. They all laughed and pretended the girl had a curse that was contagious and so she chased after them to transfer it. They turned it into a game and Deo’s thoughts turned somber.
All these new experiences and places and nothing changed. Life offered so little in the way of entertainment. Fleeting moments of intangible emotions of joy, fun and love. Deo was too cynical to believe in such a ridiculous notion as happiness or fulfillment.
His journey only momentarily lapsed the boredom and meaninglessness of the existence that he felt. Life in the city and life in the tribes was no different. Eat, sleep, die. Such inanity was incomprehensible to the pensive mind Deo nursed on a daily basis. It’s not that there had to be, it’s just that there shouldn’t have ever been.
Till death do the human race apart. In between is life, short and bitter, wailing all the while with teeth gnashing and hands trembling.
“Unoriginal.” Deo said suddenly. Breaking his maudlin thoughts and escaping the void of his inner consciousness.
Deo considered leaving on multiple occasions. No man would ever dictate Deo’s fate, not king or shaman.
If he tries anything I’ll kill him, thought Deo.
He contented himself with fantasies like that until the final day arrived at last. The six tribesmen and tribeswomen he met on the first day beckoned him to a large ornate tent. Inside was their elder, sitting on a stool made of bone. He was younger than Deo would have expected based on his title. He couldn’t have been older than forty and was in remarkable shape.
“You are the one called Deo, the mauve eyes of waxy amethyst.” His voice was almost musical.
“I am afraid to say that you have put me in the humbling position of knowing who I am when I do not have the honor of knowing you.” Deo replied, never glancing away from the sage green eyes of the elder.
“I am Kiasmus. You have stayed a week already in my lands, but welcome.” He smiled a smile of pure devilry.
Deo felt a chill of pleasure run up his spine. The man was insane!
Finally something interesting.
“I suppose the proper courtesy is to request your blessing on the journey to the shaman Sumedi.”
Deo had the sudden flashing thought of stabbing out the those green eyes.
“Yes, that is the formality. You have my blessing, Deo of the flower.”
Deo hesitated, caught off guard. How is it they know so much?
Kiasmus continued before Deo could recover. “Should you survive the journey to and back from Turtle island, when you have decided on your path, speak to me Deo. We will have something to discuss, I think you will find.”
Deo bowed but made no such promise in his mind.
“I have waited my whole lifetime for you Deo. I journeyed to Sumedi when I was a boy. The Palaot have interests that I believe will intrigue you. But go now, I have been waiting for so long it is almost painful waiting longer when it is within reach.”
Deo turned and left with the six tribesmen. Looking at their expressions he found they all revered the elder. Deo found himself second guessing his stay at this strange island.
“Come, we must prepare for the odyssey.”
“Why do you call it an odyssey, are we not simply crossing over to the next island?” Deo asked.
“There are many rites we must perform. The island of Turtle is many days away across many islands.” One tribeswoman replied.
“It will take a month of great danger and courage. Everything from here to the Turtle can kill you. The six of us are the guides, we will escort you and each island we cross one of us will stay for the return trip until only you remain to see Sumedi.”
“There are six islands then?” Deo asked.
“Six big islands but hundreds of small ones. Are you ready?”
Deo shrugged. He had nothing to lose in making this trip, though the Palaot islands were far more expansive than he ever knew.
He followed after the tribesmen into the wild jungle but couldn’t get those imprinted green eyes out of his vision. Kiasmus had looked at him like a long lost brother, not of blood but of power…