Datu – OUTDATED, OBSOLETE VERSION: Click HERE for the rewrite (currently underway)

Toloko, inhabitant of a secluded village on a distant tropical island originally was a proud lazy person, using his mind mostly just to find ways to avoid work. But when a "black wave" attacks his home, he's tasked with saving his grandmother, only to end up in the midst of all the conflicts the island is plagued by. Otherworldly beasts, dubious NGOs, gangs, pet abductions and overly loud hip-hop beats alongside strange rhymes. – Written by Jute (@feurison on Twitter, @juteanworld on Tumblr, @jutean on Discord – feel free to reach out to me there)

Map of the islandMap of the village of Saavahai, Toloka’s home

Chapter 1 – Chapter 2Chapter 3

Chapter 1: Saavahai

The storm

The first birds could be heard again, now that the storm had finally passed, and the villagers could observe the damage for the first time.

“Are you alright?” Toloka asked as he was trying to pull his friend out of the shattered remains of his home.

But it was no use, the storm an hour ago had caused a palm tree to fall on the already damaged house. For some reason the leaves had been smoldering a bit when they had hit the home, but he paid no attention to it in that moment. He was certainly no weakling, working every day on his fields, but he still didn’t have the power to move tree trunks out of the way as if they were mere twigs, rendering Netumo stuck with no easy way out.

At least neither of them had gotten injured. Not gravely, anyway. A few cuts here and there were noticeable on the trapped young man, as well as some bruises, but he was otherwise fine. The one now standing outside scratching his head even managed to avoid injuries entirely.

Toloka took a few steps back, examining the situation with his hands rammed into his sides. Where once a small wooden bungalow had been standing, surrounded by coconut palms, only ruins, debris and broken branches with partially burnt leaves remained now. A small breeze was still noticeable, ruffling his dark hair from time to time, as well as the grass and leaves on the ground.

“Well, guess we’ll have to figure something out.” Netumo said, peaking out between some twigs and holes in the wall.

– “Yeah...”

“What kind of storm was that anyway? I was eating lunch inside, and just moments later I heard trees being knocked down some hundreds meters away, all kinds of things being flung through the air and people screaming something about a monster having appeared. Next thing I know, the ceiling collapses and a palm tree blocks my doorway”

Toloka stared into the distance, at all the destruction that was surrounding him. Many other houses had been destroyed as well, rubble was visible everywhere, the streets were full with it.

–“I don’t know either, to be honest. I was at the beach fishing and ran back when I noticed the wind getting stronger. But it was really weird, too, when I went out, the sky was perfectly blue, not a single cloud in sight. Nothing that should have been able to cause a storm. I didn’t manage to look up again when I was running back, though.”

“Be glad you were outside. At least you didn’t get trapped in your own home, and can now try to help me get out of here ... Once we know how to remove this trouble-maker here.” He pointed to the trunk before him.

– “Seems like we’ll really need some more help with this. Wait here, I’ll go and get some people. Not like they all can be in the same situation”

The young man grinned.

“Pff, not like I could leave even if I wanted to, right?”

Toloka couldn’t help but smirk at that.

– “Oh yeah, sorry. Should have paid more attention to what I was saying. Anyway, I’ll be back soon and free you. Then we’ll have some pancakes at my place... assuming it’s still standing”

He turned pale at the thought. His mother was still living there, and she wasn’t the quickest and most agile anymore. She could have been seriously hurt. Netumo looked worried at his friend.

“Hope everything’s alright there, pal. Better go and check there first and then come back with someone strong enough to help here. Family’s the most important, after all.”

– “But I can’t leave an old friend like you hanging either. We’ve known each other since we were little. Besides, it’s on the other side of the village. I’m bound to come across someone who can lift the trunk and push it aside together with me. Maybe even multiple people.”

“Alright, see you later, then.”

– “See you.”

With that, he turned away and left in the direction of the center of the small settlement he called home. It wasn’t big, really. A couple dozen homes, a community center, a school, and a small harbor building were all that could be found in his native village. Some hundred, maybe two hundred people lived here, worked here and in their free time often tended to communal gardens or met for storytelling nights around a campfire in the mihonafa called assembly hall.

That’s also where all local issues, construction plans and so on were usually discussed. The next settlement was several miles away, so a large degree of self-government has always been obvious.

This could now pose a problem, since it means any help will take a long time getting here. Going from here to the nearest bigger settlement would first require you to follow a dirt road for several kilometers through jungle land, then take a boat down a small river, Nosta, which eventually enters into the bigger Kelua. After fifteen kilometers downstream you would reach Miltan, a small town of maybe 1,000 inhabitants.

As Toloka walked down the street leading to center of the settlement, he took in the destruction around him. The street, more of a small dirt path, was running parallel to the beach and only separated by a thin line of palms from it. Many of those had been knocked down, laying on the ground with more strangely scorched leaves and branches. And on the other side, many houses had been damaged, some even destroyed entirely.

It was a depressing sight, but at least there were people helping each other repairing them already. Fixing roofs, replacing windows, cleaning up debris and so on. There was a lot of shouting, hammering and sawing going on, since a lot of new walls were needed as well. Not one person seemed to be loitering around.

Thankfully, thought Toloma. In this isolated corner of the world, with the wild jungle lurking just behind your garden, you really needed to be able to rely on other people for help. Otherwise you wouldn’t make it here for very long, as a single person alone could never properly take care of all the things you need to look after to survive.

Let alone fend off the dangerous creatures that sometimes crossed the netu, the border between village and wilderness. Due to how the settlement was spread out along the coast, and the limited resources, a wall was never erected and you needed to keep your wits and weapons sharp to be able to help fending off any beasts intruding during sentry duty at night.

His train of thought was interrupted when he overheard some elderly man talking loudly to a younger man he was handing ready-cut boards to hammer together to a new door.

“We’ve had dealt with a lot of things – beasts from the sea and beasts from the land. But a threat from the air? Now that’s something I never though I’d see.”

His curiosity piqued, he walked up to them hoping to hear some more in the exchange for some help.

When the two saw him, they just nodded and he didn’t even have to ask before the older man wordlessly gave him a board to pass on to what seemed to be his son. His vunam, as children call both of their parents here, motioned towards the pile with the remaining ones and left, probably to get some more for the broken walls as well.

As the two younger men started to build the door, Toloma finally asked if they had any suspicions about why a storm would suddenly appear on a day with seemingly almost perfect weather.

“We were rather puzzled at first, too, Vunam and me. It wasn’t just that the time seemed entirely unfitting. The storm also seemed to behave entirely different in comparison to all other ones we have experienced before. It seemed more like heavy wings creating wind than a typical whirlwind.”

He glanced at the sky, as if searching for something.

“I really wanted to know what was going on, so against all warnings and common sense I decided to go out. Vunam followed me, urging me to come back inside. Then he saw me standing there like paralyzed. Staring at the same spot above in the air-sea. He saw it, too, and for a moment didn’t move either. Then he grabbed me and pushed me back into the house...”

– “What was it that you saw?”

“I ... don’t know how to describe it, actually. It was like a large black wave in the otherwise clear sky, moving closer. Not like a cloud, more like some pitch-black water waving through the air. It had some very weird shape, though...”

– “Oh faven, was it some kind of monster you saw? Do you think it had anything to do with the storm?”

Toloka wasn’t sure what to believe. He didn’t think this neighbor of his friend was just making it up to gain attention or had been hallucinating. No, the young man seemed honest and of completely sound mind. Not the person to lie to get some minutes of local fame or delude themselves into thinking they saw something that wasn’t there at all.

“I’m sure” the neighbor continued, “that it did. I didn’t get a good sight at it before I was pushed inside by my vunam, but that was definitely a terrifying sight there above. An ethereal datu of the sky, apparently, generating large amounts of wind.” He paused, looking into the distance once more, the fear seeming to return to his eyes.

“And when I was inside again, I could see small flames through the window, right next to the spot I was standing at. Never in my life have I been so scared.” he said to Toloka.

This is the stuff that you would tell children who don’t want to go to bed in time or try to wander off alone, Toloka thought. Legends. Myths.

– “Sorry to hear that. Whatever it was, I hope it doesn’t come back.” He was trying to shake the worrisome picture of his mind, and remembered the actual reason he was there.

“I’d really like to stay and help you repair more, but there this problem I have to deal with first – my friend is stuck in his house behind a palm trunk that blocks his way out, do you know anyone who could be strong enough to lift it together with me?”

“Some people over there maybe?” the younger one said, gesturing towards a nearby tree where a couple men had gathered, leaning against it or sitting on the ground chatting and eating fruits, apparently taking a break from repairwork for a moment now.

Toloka walked over to them, almost tripping over a branch that the storm had brought down in the process. It was enough to get the attention of the small group, and the one sitting in front of everyone else was already getting up and asking silently where help was needed by pointing to one demolished bungalow nearby. Toloka responded by pointing down the dirtpath, and three people started following him, the other two went their own ways.

As the new group of five walked back to Netumo’s house, past the same houses currently being repaired, they noticed some black scales laying on the path to the beach and port on the left. Toloka picked them up, mustered them and their shiny black surface, and put them in his pockets. To maybe ask someone, at some point, what they were and how they came here.

Toloka and everyone else hadn’t spoken a single word on the way back, and that didn’t change now. Wordlessly, but with some groans, they managed to lift up the palm and cast it to the side, where it landed with a resounding thud on the ground, prompting them and the now freed Netumo to cheer loudly and give each other approving taps on the chest.

Toloka ran up to Netumo and interlocked his arm with Netumo’s in relief. They both looked briefly at each other and then the destroyed home.

“You can stay with me and my family as long as your house is still broken. Provided mine isn’t broken, too, of course...” Toloka said.

– “Oh, thanks. That would be great. I hope it’s not bothering your family.”

“Not at all. They like having friends over.”

They walked back, in silence at first, then Toloka pulled out the scales from his pockets.

“By the way, I found this just at the beginning of the beach path. Do you have any idea where they might have come from? I have never seen anything like this here before.”

Netumo took one and observed it, holding it up to the sun, but it remained pitch-black.

“No clue, dude. It seems really strange, too, what animal would lose such large and thick scales on land?”

He gave it back to Toloka, who looked down on it again, turning it around in his hand. The color, the place where I found it, it reminds me of something I heard earlier...

“I’m no animal sciencer... but maybe I’ll be a dragon-catcher soon...”

– “Dragon-catcher?”

“You know, what they call the opposite of a do-nothing. I don’t know how often I have been told that I’m definitely not one.”

– “Oh, like that. Wait, what are you planning?”

“Finding someone who can figure out what this thing is... and then slay the beast!”

Netumo was silent for a moment, but then broke out into laughter. He tapped Toloka on the chest. “Good one, man.”

Toloka was grinning, too, but still fixated on the scale, before he finally put it away again. His friend started talking again.

“Seriously though, what are we going to do if storms keep coming as suddenly from now on? It’d be terrible for our village. And it’s not like we can stop the weather...”

He got no reply to that. A slight breeze was still blowing, and with the construction work being paused you could hear the waves through the small patch of trees on the side of the street again.

Passing the square that would be used for a market the next day, the communal assembly hall and the home of a local simple, traditional medic they turned to a sidepath and finally arrived at Toloka’s home, at the outskirts of the village, near to where the netu marked the beginning of the jungle.

At home

Its somewhat hidden and secluded location seems to have shielded it from the storm, since it appeared entirely undamaged. As Netumo’s home, it was made of wood with a roof consisting of palm leaves. But this house also had had a second story added to it haphazardly. Housing code inspectors might have complained, but only if they ever were likely to end up so far away from the main towns to begin with.

Some flowers grew next to the wooden door, which creaked upon opening, alerting a woman wearing a green tunic standing at a sink washing dishes to the arrival of the two friends, who rushed to meet them.

“Thank goodness, you are alright! I was worried about you. I heard there was a terrible storm outside, and just when you were out fishing, too... what happened exactly?”

“It was weird, really weird. There was suddenly a strong wind that kept getting worse... and I hadn’t even noticed the sky getting darker. It was a huge storm in no time.”

– “In broad daylight? How strange”

“Apparently, vunam. I just tried to get back as fast as possible at that point, so I didn’t look up again. What’s more, the storm stopped as suddenly as it had started. I was going to go back to collect my things, but then I saw Netumo being trapped in his house, and getting him out of there took some time and help.”

– “And you took him here?” She turned to Toloka’s friend. “Do you need a place to sleep? We have some room on the second floor if you want. I just need to take out some stuff and tidy up a bit. And please, have a seat and some fruit tea.”

She only got a quiet and awkward “Thanks” in reply, and Netumo sat down at a table below a window showing some small vegetable fields, filling in a cup made of a coconut shell with some warm fruit tea. Opposite him on a chair with a blanked laid out on it was Toloka’s grandmother, who are called vunavunam here, as are grandfathers. She had a wet cloth on her head and looked to her grandson and slightly smiled.

“Ah, you are well. I was worried, too. But you know, Toloka, the storm actually was also somewhat of a miracle for us, and especially me. When it hit, I was just about to go outside, and so I stayed here. It was just some minutes later...” She momentarily paused, tensed up and looked out of the window with sad eyes.

“It was just some minutes later that I ... that I, I’m sorry I have to tell you this, I suddenly felt so very ill, to the point where I fell on the floor and almost passed out. Your vunam was thankfully here and could help me to bed and realized I had some fever, but I really wanted to have my tea at my usual place and... anyway, at least it happened here and not in the jungle, who knows what...”

Toloka felt as if the blood drained from his face, just staring in disbelief, and unable to listen properly. He had no idea what was happening or what had happened. What kind of illness does that? Would the local healer know about it? Is it curable? Please, let it be curable...

But she was right, if the illness had struck while she was outside, not only might she have tripped while falling and injured herself, no one would have been there to help her. He tried to banish the thought, he didn’t want to start crying in front of everyone.

Already about to reach out to his grandmother, he pulled his arm back, worrying any sudden movements or similar might harm her. He could only look her in the eyes, frowning and breathing heavily, unable to even bring out a word.

“Toloka, dear, you don’t need to worry so much. I’ll be fine, surely. I just need some more rest. But maybe the local healer can tell me what that was, and put your hearts at ease.”

– “A-absolutely! I will go right away. Netumo, are you coming?”

His mother spoke before his friend could answer.

“Sorry, but you should go alone for now. It’s not even far anyway. I was hoping Netumo could help around the house a bit now, since we really need any help we can get now.”

Toloka momentarily looked crestfallen, but regained posture quickly and replied:

“Alright... anything else I should do? Anything in particular I should tell her?”

“Just bring her here, it’ll be easier to explain everything to her here.”

“Good, I’ll do that, then.”

He wasn’t happy with this arrangement, but the last thing he wanted to do now was to argue. There was probably no point anyway. Sighing he opened the door again, which caused another creaking sound and left the house. His mother closed the door carefully after him and then flapped down the window shutter, presumably to let his grandmother sleep.

As he started walking, he could see his mother leave the building together with Netumo from the side door, carrying a basket, but they soon left his field of vision. He was really worried how they were going to get through the days now if a cure for his grandmother couldn’t be found. All that work that needed to be done, and then nursing her on top of that. Even with his friend helping out, for which he has was truly grateful, it would be difficult.

In the distance, he could hear construction work again, but next to him on a casuarina tree with its needle-like leaves a Cardinal was sitting. The red-colored bird seemed to be curious about him and looked him in the eye. Toloka found this a bit puzzling.

“Sorry birdie, I have no food for you with me. Maybe some other time”

The bird flew from the tree to a nearby landing spot for carrier pigeons that were widely used for communication in this remote corner of the island and kept watching him.

“I mean, if you want, you can follow me. Not sure why you would want to, though. I’m not going to collect berries or anything.”

He was starting to wonder why he was talking to a bird that probably didn’t understand him, but it was kind of fun and a welcome distraction so he kept going.

“Well, see you later, ... bird.” His knowledge of bird species was very limited, and he regretted it in that moment. He hadn’t paid attention in school on that day.

The healer

The healer lived right around the corner, a few houses down the main street which this sidepath led to. To the left of it was still the small patch of palms, partially destroyed from the storm, through which he could see the coast and now also some fishing boats that had already left for the sea again. To the right were houses, most larger than the one of his family, but also made from wood, some with ornamental elements made of stone or dried flowers.

None of the houses had fences or gates, but some had porches or balconies. The healer’s house had one such porch, and a large one at that. And the healer herself was currently sitting outside behind a table, wearing a facemask and mixing various powders, liquids as well as leaves and berries, all sitting in their own small pot. Smoke was coming up from a larger one in the middle that had a small fire below it.

Toloka walked up to her, but she didn’t even notice him.

“Excuse me”

– “one jellyberry and...”

After the berry was added, the mixture began to splutter loudly and quickly rose to the top, but halfway there popped in a small explosion and before either of them could step away from the table their faces were both covered in grey mush and the surroundings lightly smelling like burned coal and different kinds of berries.

The smoke was biting and caused Toloka to cough a lot. The medic was protected by her facemask, so she just kept saying “sorry, sorry... my mistake” with wide eyes as she tried to fan it all away with her hands.

After a minute or so, everything around them had calmed down again and the healer asked:

“So, what brings you to me today? What’s your name? Sorry about that incident, that should have been nellyberry, not jellyberry.”

– “Honored Elae, I’m Toloka and here because – Well, my vunavunam is sick. She had collapsed on the floor and while she could get up with help she seems to still not have recovered fully. And – And I’m just worried about what happened to her, and what will happen to her...”

“Do you think you could give me more details about what happened?”

– “Actually, I wanted to ask if it were possible for you to visit her. I wasn’t there when she fell, so I unfortunately can’t say much”

“Oh, of course. Please just let me tidy up here a bit and bring my ... stuff inside, and I’ll come right with you.”

She turned off the flame, took the still softly bubbling pot inside and then returned to clear the remainder of the table and wipe it clean. Then she picked up a red backpack resting next to the door and walked down the stairs of the porch.

“Let’s go then” she said, motioning towards Toloka.

He hesitated for a moment before following.

“Something wrong?”

–“No, nothing”

“Sorry if I’m being rude or anything. I haven’t been here long yet and I think things are a bit different where I grew up.” She smiled. “It was a big change, coming from this much bigger town to this small community. But I like it here a lot.”

–“You’re good, really.”

“Hey, good to know.”

As they walked down the path again, Toloka noticed the same red cardinal on another post for carrier pigeons again.

How weird, thought he. I didn’t expect to actually see it later again. Guess it really wants to be my friend? He grinned at the thought, and threw some yellow katuberry at it that was growing at a nearby bush. The bird flew after it and swallowed it whole.

“Alright, so where is your house?” the healer asked, as they had come to the end of the street, before it became a jungle path.

Toloka pointed towards the end of the sidepath to their left, and they continued down it. A small breeze was rustling the coconut palm next to the house, and a coconut crashed down a step away from him.

“Be careful, I don’t want to have to treat you, too, after your coconut was hit by a falling one!” she joked. He ignored it and opened the door, stepping inside first.

Vunavunam, we are back! The healer is here.”

Elae was now pointed towards the bed, not far from the door it was located in the main room opposite the table they had drunk tea at earlier.

Before she approached it, she asked Toloka another question.

“So who was there when she fell?”

– “It was my vunam, she also helped her to bed after it.”

“Can you go and ask her to come? In the meantime I’ll try to make a general first diagnosis.”

–“Of course, she’s probably still in the garden.”

As no one in the village had a garden all to themselves, gardens tended to be used by people from several homes. The garden was therefore stretching from next to their house to the houses on the other side of the path, with the path itself ending right before it. With the village on that side, and the jungle on the other, it was a bit like a transitional zone between civilization and wilderness.

He walked past rows of yams and found her still weeding the field.

Vunam, the healer is here. And he wanted to talk to you”

She didn’t respond and just got up.

“Where’s Netumo?”

– “He told me he knows mushrooms and berries, too, so I let him go to the jungle to get some, like vunanvunam would have done today.”

“Oh faven, I hope he’s not being overconfident in his abilities. Does he even know the wilderness around here? If only I don’t have to go looking for him there”

He stared into the small, barely visible path that led from the garden into the jungle for a moment before walking back to the house with his mother, kicking up some dirt.

“Argh, why can’t this illness just go back to the life-ender, where it came from and it belongs. Wretched sucker of lifeforce.”

As they both stepped into the house again and entered the main room, Elae frowned at them, the grandmother sleeping next to them. They sat down at the table opposite the her bed, where Netumo had drunk tea earlier.

“Bad news, Toloka. I’m really not sure what happened to her. Only have some suspicions that I can’t really confirm, as I have never had this with a patient before. My only hope is that the community center has a book that I don’t have myself that could help me out here.”

– “I’ll go there right away, then. But what should I be looking for?”

“Ask for books about medicine, and especially healing herbs. If that doesn’t work, we will have to get her to a hospital over in Joonen, but it would mean a long trip and I don’t think her current state would allow it. While she’s not in danger of dying right now, she does need rest badly, and could not bear much more stress.”

– “That’s at least half a day away! If we’re lucky! We don’t have any motorboats here and the supply ship won’t come until next month”

“Exactly. It would be a great relief if we could help her here.”

– “I’ll bring the books then, I have enough room for them in my backpack.”

The library

On his way Toloka noticed that darker clouds were gathering in the sky. Thankfully, these seemed likely to only bring the daily rain rather than another huge storm. With the sun hidden, the land was cast the land into shadows and a stiffer breeze could be felt. He started to hurry up a bit.

The community center was located right next to the marketplace, which could be found in the center of the village, halfway between Netumo’s and Toloka’s place. It, too, was made of wood, but easily the largest building, and the only one to have three floors. It hosted village assemblies on the lowest floor, the community archive with paperwork on the second and had a small public library on the third one.

Adjacent to the building were public bathrooms with simple showers, since not every house in the village had its own. On the other side, a bakery was usually selling banana flour pancakes with various toppings, but it had closed down due to the storm.

The door had two large wings, decorated with various wood carvings showing different leaves and flowers, but as Toloka quickly found out, it was closed. He tried to rattle at the door, but to no avail. Next, he tried knocking on the door, and then a second and a third time. Finally, he could hear steps inside, and the rope binding the two wings of the door together was loosened.

A man with greying hair, maybe about 50 years old, opened the door slightly.

“What do you want? The library is closed today and the next few days for repairing. The storm broke windows, caused damage to the walls and almost all the books are now laying scattered on the ground. You probably wouldn’t even find what you are looking for.”

– “But I really need to find some books on medicine, my vunavunam is sick and Elae said the library is our last hope at finding a way to treat her here, and she wouldn’t be able to bear a transport...”

The man sighed, went to fetch a lamp and opened the door entirely.

“As said, chaos reigns above. I can only tell you where the books on medical herbs and treatments should be normally, but I can’t really help you find them, apologies. I’m busy fixing the assembly hall so the meeting of the community can take place in two days usually.”

– “Alright, thanks”

“Take this lamp, I have another one down here for me. Be careful with the fire.”

He handed him a burning gas lamp. Even if electricity existed in this remote corner of the world, the storm would have knocked it out.

“Medicine books were usually in the backroom, at the wall opposite the door. You can get to it by walking through the main library room.”

A thunder could be heard now outside, a sign of the rainclouds having arrived.

“Oh, kummatomo, the rain is going to ruin all those books with the windows broken. Please help me board up them, I’ll just get the planks. Wait a moment.”

He disappeared and re-emerged a minute later with a couple of thin boards, a hammer and nails.

“My name is Ilal, by the way. And yours?”

– “Toloka.”

The wooden stairway was barely visible now and creaked terribly as they both stepped on it. As they reached the next floor, he saw a mess of paper, glass shards, drawers and boxes on the floor, half-emptied shelves on three sides, a door leading to another, bigger room on the right and a broken window on the side opposite the stairs. Rain was already getting in through it.

The librarian took a brush that had been leaning against the wall, and swept some of it to the side to create a small path to walk through, to protect the records of the archive and their feet. No one here was wearing shoes, and in the relative darkness it was easy to miss something sharp laying on the ground.

Then they both took two boards, went to the broken window, and Ilal hammered the boards onto the wall while Toloka was holding them up. After that, they went through the door to the bigger room and repeated the procedure there. The floor in front of the windows, was equally covered in papers, shards and boxes, already getting wet from the rain. Thunder could now be heard more commonly in the distance, too.

Ilal shook his head looking at the scene in the light of the gas lamp in Toloka’s hand. “I can only hope we can save all these files here. Record-keeping is of vital importance to any community.”

On their way to the next floor, the librarian remarked that he needed more boards and would be back shortly, so Toloka decided to take a look at the library alone.

He had been there a number of times before, and always enjoyed it there, but it would be different this time. As the door opened, his heart sunk at the sorry sight. Like on the previous floor, the storm had emptied the contents of the shelves and almost all the books were now lying on the floor inding heaps across the room, often opened with pages creased or spines damaged from falling. And closer to the wall with the windows rain was falling on them, too. It would be long before he or anyone else could enjoy quality time here, but more importantly, it would make finding the right book for the healer that much harder.

He wanted to try and start tidying it up, but didn’t even know where to start, and didn’t want to step on the books out of fear of damaging them more. In that moment the librarian appeared with new boards, put them aside, leaning at the wall and started picking up books and throwing them on other piles to create a path to the broken windows, and after hesitating for a moment, Toloka finally joined in.

After a minute, they had reached the opposite wall, where curtains where blowing in the wind and a ray of lightning could be seen, brightening the room for a split second. After the curtains were pushed aside, the windows were boarded up again, and the same happened in the backroom.

“So” Ilal began “now you are on your own.” He touched a now-empty shelf at a wall. “This is where the medical books used to be. But now they are spread over the room. Good luck searching. Again, be careful with the lamp, and tell me later if you found something.”

– “Alright.”

Toloka looked at the piles in front of him. This seemed like it would take forever, when he couldn’t afford to waste any time. And the poor lighting definitely did not help. He started picking up some from the nearest heap to check them.

The first one was called “Ilehiohi sie nesaniavan a saaval” or “A comparative biology of the island”. A recent bestseller that had grown to be very popular all over the island, and even the smaller neighboring ones. Not a medical book in any case, so he put it on a shelf.

The other one in his hand was “Kama a van u toni nuhe edoja” or “Wild fruits and where to find them”. He wondered whether this book included medical uses of fruits, so he put it to the other end of the shelf for now.

The next books were an “Almanac for Fishmen”, “New in farming. Year 32310” and “Stargazing: old and new ways”. No, no, no. None of these even came close. Ugh, what am I going to do? Toloka tried to think of a better way. But he couldn’t come up with anything.

An hour later, the pile in front of him had gone, but he still had found no book on herbs, and all the books on medicine were either general overviews or about fields that that no doubt would be of no use for the healer. The fruit book had turned out to be not helpful either. Exhausted, he sat down on the floor laying against a now again book-packed shelf.

There were still at least three times as many books in the room, but he really didn’t feel like going through them all. It also felt a bit senseless since he really didn’t have a good idea of what he was supposed to be looking for, and leafing through all books would take even longer. He had to change his approach, somehow. He picked up the first book he had disregarded at first. It wasn’t strictly speaking about medicine, but it certainly was going to be about plants, going by the title. So maybe it would have something about healing plants, too.

Let’s see... plants, plants, healing plants... The plants section was huge, covering all kinds of plants sorted by order, family and region of the island, but sadly it had no dedicated healing plants section. However, some more searching provided him with a “Uses of plants” table, spanning several pages. Plants providing food, plants providing fiber, plants providing intoxication... Aha! Plants providing ingredients for medicine.

He was regaining some hope, but also mentally beating himself up for not looking into this book right away.

Green maka ... leaves... used for fever and headaches.

Red bark tree... bark and teethleaves ... good against colds and blocked noses

The list went on and on, but nothing seemed to be about what his grandmother went through. Of course, if even the healer didn’t know about it, why would a general knowledge book have it? Maybe if he searched for a more general term like “weakness” or something else that could cause a collapse, so like a paralysis. Still not finding anything, he was about to give up again. He really wished the healer had come with him to help him out, but then he came across an entry almost at the end of the list:

Whiteberry ... leaves and roots... against fever, pain, inflammation, said to stop fainting

His eyes shot open. This was definitely it, this was something that might help. He didn’t really know about berries or herbs at all, that was more Netumo’s field of knowledge as a forager. At the end of the row a page number was indicated. On that pagfind some, the plant of the whiteberry was described in more detail, as an evergreen shrub that can grow more than six feet tall, and an illustration showed it having unremarkable mid-sized green leaves and white-pinkish berries hanging in rows. The order and family it belonged to were also mentioned, but it only gave a very general description of where it can be found, in the northeast of the island.

In the northeast, but that’s were the Samwati live... A very old and secretive tribe that has lived longer than anyone else on the island, on very much the opposite side of it, with mysterious temples and still more mysterious traditions. Getting to them would be very difficult, too, and likely take at least a week, so he was really hoping there was an easier way to get those plants and their leaves and roots.

And that he could just find a book that goes into a bit more detail on that healing plant. Earlier he saw a book titled “Samwati Secrets”, and he had put it aside into the shelf, not thinking much of it, but it could be useful now. He checked the spines and was almost surprised to find it quickly. Inside it talked much about history, culture and religion of the tribe, but it also had chapters devoted to local plantlife and animals. He checked for “whiteberry” in the index and actually found a somewhat longer description. Like the other reference book, it provided a general description of the shrub and an illustration, but it went into more details regarding its use.

“The berries can be eaten, raw or turned into a soup or preserve, although they are lacking in flavor. The leaves can be fermented to be used for a herbal tea. Most famously, though, oil can be derived from the leaves and the flowers, giving foods and beverages a distinctive, fresh sweet mint-like flavor.

It also is said to have many medical benefits, particularly for the heart, joints, muscles and tendons. It is also used as a remedy for headaches, bruises or inflammation, although many healers prefer to use a liquid gained by boiling roots in water for most of these things instead, except for headaches and other general pain, particularly in the chest, where a leaf paste is used. This paste can also reduce fever and coughing, and both preparations are used to treat fainting and paralysis.”

I think I can go now. I won’t be able to find something better applicable. Maybe there’s hope my grandmother will be healthy soon after all...

He took the two books and made his way downstairs. The rain had stopped by now, so he wouldn’t even have to worry about them getting wet if he hadn’t brought his backpack. Hopefully the ones in the library that had already gotten wet could still be saved.

Once he was again in the entrance hall on the ground floor, he poked his head into the assembly hall, where the librarian was still repairing benches and tidying up debris.

“I found something” Toloka exclaimed, holding up the two books, almost as if in triumph.

– “Oh really? Nice. Almost can’t believe someone would still be able to find anything in that chaos, heh.”

“Yeah, it took me some time, haha.” He grinned, packing away the books in his backpack. “Well, I’ll see you again soon!”

And with some effort he managed to get the front door to swing open and step onto the market square again.A few birds were singing. Or actually, it was just one, and it was sitting right above him, in a tree branch hanging over the community center.

Toloka looked up, and was almost startled. It was the same red cardinal he had seen earlier, which had apparently followed him here.

“You’re a persistant one, aren’t you? Sorry, I have nothing to feed you with.”

The bird continued to sing and then looked at him. He looked back at the cardinal.

“Really want to come with me, huh?” Toloka looked around and hesitated for a moment. “If you want that so much, you can sit on my shoulder or travel in outside pocket of my backpack!” He pointed with his finger to both places.

As the bird actually followed the suggestion and sat down on his shoulder, his mouth almost fell open before becoming a big smile.

“I’ll get you some more berries as soon as I find some.”

The decision

He walked home, and as he heard other birds singing in trees again, his newfound bird friend began singing again, too. The dirt paths were somewhat muddy from the rain, but Toloka didn’t mind. He was used to this, and would just rinse them off before stepping inside. There was a bucket of water at the back of his house for that purpose.

And as he arrived on the sidepath leading to his house he noticed the healer coming out.

Her eyes immediately went to Toloka’s shoulder and she smiled again.

“You got someone to watch over you there, huh? Nice.” she said.

– “Yeah, he kind of found me. Followed me around. I invited him to stay.” he replied through a grin.

“Ah. So did you find some books? It’s fine if you didn’t, I really should have given you more detailed descriptions or have come with you ...”

– “Actually, I did!” He took off his backpack, which made the cardinal briefly fly into the air before settling down on the other shoulder, and opened it, taking out the two books.

“Wait, A Comparative Biology of the Island had a section on herbal plants? Why didn’t I think of that? Shouldn’t have dismissed it as casual, non-academic reading just because it got so popular, I guess”

She took the book out of his hand. “Oh, dear, I definitely should not have. This is an amazing treasure trove of information. What’s the other book you have?”

– “A book about the Samwati, since the biology book mentioned the medical herb growing in the northeast only, where the Samwati live. I checked it and it contains additional information on it.”

She closed the first book and took the other one from Toloka, flipping through the pages some until finding the right passage. “Oh, it even specifically mentions paralysis! This is perfect.” She was almost beaming right now.

She looked at the illustration. “And it’s not even a completely obscure plant like I had feared. In fact, this one is widely used already to treat pain, inflammation and headaches, it’s one of the first we learn about in medical school. Great.”

After handing the two books back, she started walking again. “I was actually just going back to my house to fetch some to help her with pain. You can come with me”

So all three of them, Toloka, Elae, and the cardinal returned to the home that doubled as the village’s medical office.

Elae opened the door and gestured for Toloka to sit down while she started to look through cans and jars she had in cupboards and at her collection of potted plants. Her facial expression got increasingly tense until she stopped searching and put both hands into her sides.

“I’m sorry, Toloka. Really sorry. I don’t think I have any whiteberries left. And I know for a fact they don’t grow around here. We get them from the nearest city, Joonen.”

– “Oof, so you actually have to go there to get it? With how unpredictable it might take an entire day at sea at least...” Toloko turned to look at her.

She frowned and shrugged. “Usually the service boat would bring it every month, but it didn’t bring any last time. No idea what happened. I’d call Joonen using the public satellite phone we have here but I heard the storm had broken it, too. And all our city-bound carrier pigeons were already sent after the last storm.”

– “If it can’t be avoided, I will ask someone tomorrow to sail me there. I would do it myself, but I have never been on the open sea. Really wish we had some motorboats here right now.”

“I do, too. Sadly, they are rather expensive, and no one here is wealthy. I think a lot of people here also just prefer the old ways in general, and to make most things locally. Aside from things like, books or so.”

Toloka turned away again, covering his face with his hands.

– “I never really thought there was a problem with it either. Faven, I guess there is a good side to living in huge places after all ...”

“It’s got its ups and downs, living in such a remote village. It’s very peaceful and the air is great, only when you need to go get something from a bigger place it feels like you’ll have to travel across half the world.”

– “Maybe I’ll at least learn something about the illness, too” He took his hands away from his eyes and looked at all the books in the shelf on the opposite wall.

“That would be great. Anything you get to know, please write down for me. Or please, if you find a good book on the topic, please bring it here.”

– “I can barely write, and I’m not sure how I could get books there, but I’ll try, I guess”

“Thanks! I hope to see you soon again, well, and the medicine with you. Oh, take my pigeon so you can send me a message once you found it all. It’s sitting over there, in its hut. I’ll stay to watch over your vunavunam.”

– “Thank you, for everything.” He walked over to the small birdhouse that had been fastened to the wall a few steps away from the door, close to the bookshelf, and let the pigeon on his arm. Then he picked up a relatively small box with large holes in it that was used to transport carrier pigeons.

The first trip

Early the next morning he stood ready at the small pier at the beach, with his things packed for the journey, close to where he had been fishing the day before. His fishing rod had still been there and he was carrying it in his backpack.

He was going to travel in a small sailing boat, that was currently still being backed with some goods for the city and provisions for the journey. The crew had als taken up additional precautions in case of an additional unexpected storm today by putting on life vests and carrying signal rockets and two carrier pigeons to use in case of an accident. The sky might be a bright and clear blue, with not a single cloud in sight, but that had also been the weather when the storm hit the previous day.

Toloka was very worried. Not just about his grandmother. He had never gone so far from home and had no idea what to expect. His mother never really talked about cities, and his grandmother barely mentioned it aside from sometimes in anecdotes and old family tales that always struck him as rather weird, and made the city out to be a horrible, restless and cold place that you couldn’t thrive in, and how much of that would prove to be true, he had no idea. He could only see for himself. Maybe then this trip would have a good side, too.

His feathery red friend on his shoulder again, and the pigeon in the box-cage he was holding in his hand he stepped on the boat. It rocked noticeably, but he was used to it. The crew now cast off the rope berthing the small ship, and Toloka and the crew exchanged final greetings with the middle-aged man remaining on the pier who had been helping them load the vessel.

He sat down on a piled-up rope and watched as the pier and trees of Saavahai gradually became smaller. After that, he busied himself with his fishing rod, but had no luck catching anything. So he tried to support the crew, but with the water being calm at the moment and him not knowing anything about sailing he could only be of limited help.

This went on for some hours, in which he tried to read more about herbal medicine and the other tribes of the island, but he found it hard to focus, his mind always getting distracted by fantasies and anxieties.

He was just about to try to get engrossed in the book for the fourth time, when the sky suddenly seemed to darken. Or actually, only a part of it. Most of it remained blue, but something large was starting to block the sun, casting a large shadow on the ship, but little else. He squinted in the general direction of it in surprise.

What the heck is this?

The crew onboard seemed to pause whatever they were doing, too, trying to see what was going on over their heads, but the sunshine engulfing whatever was up there made it impossible to tell. Just in that moment, an oddly-shaped cloud seemed to rapidly approach the black dot partially eclipsing the sun.

After a few moments, both had met, and the two seemed to merge at first, but then it looked more like a struggle. With bursts of fire and water being visible against the still blue sky, and a lot of angry-sounding hissing, snorting and puffing, it was causing everyone on the small ship to hold tight enough to railing that their knuckles turned pale.

“It’s the black wave!” a crewmember shouted out. “It’ll cause another storm! With fire!”

– “But what is that other white... stuff in the sky? It’s like light and shadow are fighting each other!” another one said.

– “Everyone, we must be careful and make sure we are prepared. Be ready to strike the sails if necessary!” a third one exclaimed.

The celestial confrontation continued, with the “black wave” and white cloud tearing and turning at each other, with ever increasing ferocity and progressively louder and more threatening noises, creating a strong wind that could now also be felt on the boat. Fire and water was now also raining down around it, and some of it even hit the sails.

“Water, water, quick, some water!” exclaimed the sailor responsible for them.

Buckets had to be filled with seawater in seconds and thrown at them to not let the flames consume the sails whole and render everyone stuck halfway to the city, in the middle of nowhere.

The fighting still continued to intensify, with both moving and attacking faster, letting in occasional rays of sunshine through, until eventually, as the boat moved away from the fight, it became difficult to tell the two apart and they seemed to become more and more of a single grey blob.

Toloka and almost everyone else on board, aside from the one steering, was still fixated on it until it was entirely out of sight, only then allowing himself to relax. His heart was still pounding from the impression, and he felt his hair stand on end. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. It wasn’t like everything he had ever seen.

Then he realized, he had probably heard about it. That other younger man he had met while looking for people to help free Netumo from his collapsed house had also talked about a “black wave”. He remembered he still had that scale he found close to the beach, too. In his pocket he could still feel it. But he didn’t want to cause any more commotion, so he didn’t take it out.

I’m going to catch this datu, end these storms and be the hero of the village!

Chapter 2

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