Toloko, inhabitant of a secluded village on a distant tropical island originally only wanted to save his grandmother, but ends up trying to save the island from its many threats. Terrifying monsters deemed long to have been nothing but legends, gangs abducting pets, overly loud hip-hop beats and strange rhymes. – Written by Jute

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

Chapter 1Chapter 2 – Chapter 3

Chapter 3: From Joonen to Sitti

On the train

The train journey was eventless for several hours, and so Toloka finally found time to engross himself in his books. Much he could not easily understand, because the world it described seemed very alien to him, with its strange rituals, celebrations and mythology.

There were too many foreign words there he had no clue about and things that he couldn’t grasp the meaning of. Once again, he found himself wishing he hadn’t skipped school so often to be on the beach alone. It was nice at the time, but now it had became increasingly obvious it was one reason why he never had accomplished much on his own and so had no achievements to speak of to his name.

He dreaded having to go to the library in Sitti to help him understand the pages, the thought of spending hours searching and only coming across more and more difficult books or books he had no use for giving him a shudder. He liked the simple storybooks he had read in the library when he was smaller, this was all beyond him.

Hopefully I’ll find someone to help me out here a bit, or at least to teach me a bit. Or will I have to do that on my own, too.

The train had already gotten to the first stop now. From the looks of it, a small village. There wasn’t much Toloka could see through the window, since everything around the station and behind it was mostly hidden under large trees, with only a few houses shining through the canopy of the forest.

After staying for about half a minute, the train slowly picked up speed again, and Toloka wondered if there was a plan indicating how many stops were left on the line. He got up, put on his backpack and started wandering around again.

At the end of the wagon one such plan was hanging on the wall, showing the nearby rainforest, coasts and other natural features as well as all the settlements in the region. The railway cut right through the rainforest, much to Toloka’s shock, rather than going along the coast as he had expected.

What happened to mohomo, or living in harmony with your surroundings, rather than cutting them into pieces like a mango?

He had to admit it was the shortest way to Sitti, but that didn’t seem like enough of a justification for him. Maybe people in cities who build these things just think differently. He found that a very sobering thought.

What also bothered him was that had he still had at least twenty stations to go, and nothing interesting to read or do on the time. He didn’t want to try reading the book on Samwati again and the book on plants, animals and in general lifeforms on Jute also didn’t seem enough of light reading for him after the somewhat eventful day. He would have wanted to sleep, but there was no place to lie down, and still not even a place to sit.

Maybe at the next station. Hopefully.

He paced around restlessly, looking through the windows to the sunset that was barely visible behind all the trees. After a couple minutes he noticed he was getting hungry, too, while running low on snacks. It was not shaping up to be a very pleasant night, in spite of the good weather outside. He tried to console himself with the fact that he was at least getting closer to the whiteberries he needed so much.

He sighed, but tried to retain posture. There was not much left he could do, although he hadn’t checked if the doors at the of the wagon could be opened. He had seen how large this train was, so maybe they led to other wagons with more space.

So he walked past rows of benches again, with people still sitting tightly next to each other on them and even more standing next to them, and tried to open the door at the end. After some fidgeting with its handle, he got it to open and slowly shoved it, heavy as it was, to the side.

Walking through it, he found himself in the open, standing on a not very wide metal bridge connecting two wagons with railing similarly made of metal on each side. The train and especially its signal were very loud and he had to resist the urge to cover his ears to not lose balance. The door of the next wagon he then managed to openwith slightly less effort.

This wagon was even more crowded than the last, and he had trouble squeezing past people to find even a place to stand. Luckily to him, the train was just arriving at the next station, and in the baggage area some passenger was just about to leave, so he decided to sit down there again on his backpack. In that moment someone else stepped in, carrying a large messenger bag and asked:

„Excuse me, is there still some place here?”

Toloka shuffled a bit to the side, not saying a word, and so got a new neighbor.

„Are you also going to Sitti?” he was asked.

The new passenger got nothing but a nod in return.

„Nice. Whatcha doing there?”

– „Uhhh, going to try to find a way to go down the river. To the Samwati.” Toloka replied with some hesitation.

„Oh, wow, that’s rather far away isn’t, it? I’m also going to Sitti, and then who knows where next. To get the answer to this one mystery I have been trying to solve.”

– „Really? Same here!” Toloka said. He was glad to now have something interesting to talk about, anything to not have to read that Samwati book. It beat staring boredly out of the window, too.

Vikiniv! That’s exciting. I’ll tell you what mine is all about. Our village used to have this huge, beautifully decorated temple stone. You’d put flowers on it for good luck and everything, but then one day, one day, we hear that huge noise.” He was throwing his hands around to illustrate while looking Toloka right into the eye.

„You know what happened then? We found out it was gone. The door smashed, the entire place trashed, and the stone gone, with the flowers lying on the ground.”

–„Oh, I’m sorry–” Toloka managed to get out inbetween.

„Yeah, and then we looked around for any clues on what just had happened, faven, but all we saw, all we could find were those weird white scales.”

He pulled one out of his pocket. Toloka took it into his hand and turned it around slowly, staring at it. It was huge for a scale, very thick, and remarkably shiny.

„So anyway, I was gonna do some research in libraries, and...” the new passenger continued.

– „Hey, I think I found a very similar scale! Only mine is black!” Toloka suddenly exclaimed, still fixated at the white scale. He took out his black scale and showed it.

„Dude, you’re right! They are like from the same animal if it had been black. We should really work together to figure this one out, it’ll be much easier.”

–„Sure, we should! But it’ll be such a long time until we reach the city...”

„Want to spend some of that time playing cards before we try to sleep on our backpacks?”

„... Sure.”

A dozen too many card games they were starting to drift asleep. Some hours of uneasy rest later, huddled up to another, they awoke when the train abruptly held. Outside of a station, as they quickly noticed with a look out of the window.

„What happened?” Toloka’s travel companion who hadn’t introduced himself the entire night asked.

–„I’m not sure, but for some reason we can’t go on” Toloka replied.

„I’m hoping we won’t have to tramp through the rest of the jungle ourselves” his companion replied with a laugh. – „Looks like we are actually already past the jungle, in the fields before Sitti, if I remember that map I saw correctly. Anyway, I’ll try to see what’s going on” Toloka added.

An obstacle

He opened the door leading outside and saw some people already standing outside. Looking around, the first thing he realized was that a huge number of them had been traveling on top of the train, holding onto various rails and parts of the roof. It looked rather dangerous.

And I thought the inside was cramped. Faven, how many people use this vehicle?

Then he looked towards what had apparently caused the train to stop. A lot of people were standing in front of it, but he could still see what it was. A huge tree trunk, in the middle of open fields. It didn’t make any sense. Where had it even come from? Why was it there?

He scratched his head and approached the site. The tree had been uprooted in whole, roots with some earth on them still seeming intact and the branches still full of leaves. Train engineers and everyone else strong enough were trying to push it aside, but to no avail. Even a dozen people could not get it to move an inch.

With their eyes all still on the tree, no one noticed the sudden shade they found themselves in. Something was covering the morning sun, something huge, and it didn’t seem visible to anyone, leading to general confusion in the crowd.

Toloka and his newest friend were standing a few steps removed from it and tried to look up, but what they were experiencing seemed similar to a solar eclipse, and so it was very difficult not to hurt your eyes trying to understand what it was that was blocking the sunlight. All they could tell was that it was coming nearer. And nearer. A few moments later, what had been a shadowy blob now seemed to have grown wings, a head and a tail.

The sun was still behind it, so Toloka still couldn’t make out many details, but it seemed to have feathers, ruffled feathers, as well as some scales. And it was still getting closer.

Instinctively he was laying his arms around his friend, and noticed that the same had laid his arms around him, with both now being enclosed in a tight hug, shaking a little. The people at the log were starting to notice now, too, and some let out screams or shouts in surprise.

„Is this one of those mythical terror birds? Are end times upon us?”

„Faven, it’s going to eat us all! I knew I shouldn’t have skipped my classes on defense against wild creatures...”

Toloka looked at it with horror, until he felt something build up in his stomach.

No, I’m not going to be the coward here again.

He tore himself away from his companion, ran towards the log that had now been abandoned and stepped on it.

„Come here, datu! Get me if you can, and leave the other people be!” he shouted as he liftIed his arms up high. He wasn’t sure what he was doing, but he just tried to do what Duke might have told him. Have some self-confidence. Now this was another situation entirely, but he didn’t want to let the opportunity pass.

The datu didn’t seem to respond at first. In fact, if it had a face, it couldn’t be seen at all. It continued to float above the head of the people, who could only stare up at the beast that was now only maybe two or three meters above them.

Then Toloka tore off a small branch of the log, sharpened it a bit with a pocket knife and fastened it at the hook of this fishing rod. He leaned in to build up momentum and then cast it with the sharpened branch at the end in the direction of the beast. It wasn’t long enough to reach it, but it made a considerable sound that got him the attention of it.

It seemed to have taken an interest in him now and approached Toloka, slowly. He was shaking, but remained stiff on the log, fighting every impulse to run away like before.

I’m going to catch this one, this dragon. Watch, all of you.

His friend was standing a few steps to the side, barely being able to watch the scene. Just as the beast was getting into the reach of the fishing rod, Toloka pulled it away, creating another snap and then jumped down the log on the other end, running towards the empty fields. There, he whipped the rod with the branch attached another time.

„Come here, if you dare! Maybe even throw that huge tree at me, see if you can!”

Sweat was going down his forehead and his heart was pumping furiously.

Maybe... maybe I’m going too far now. I guess I can only try to finish what I started.

The huge vaguely avian looking creature seemed in fact to listen to him. Not only was it still getting closer, it actually aimed for the log and used large appendages that resembled weird stone-like claws to pick it up. But before it could do much else, it was irritated by a sudden outburst of noise coming from the other side of the tracks. Some men and women had gathered on a small hill of the ground a few steps away from the train, whistling, drumming on their luggage, while hiding behind some larger stones.

It was enough to turn the beast’s attention away from Toloka and with a loud thudding noise the log ended up on top of the rocks before rolling down the hill. People standing in its way quickly dispersed, and the log hit the train at full speed just as the last remaining passengers inside and on it had gotten off, with the impact leading to an even louder bang, windows shattering loudly and all nearby waggons shaking dangerously.

However, the train did not tip over, much to the relief of the passengers and the crew. The obstacle was now gone and the train would make it at least to the next station, however the beast was still figuratively and literally lingering over everyone’s head, and it showed no signs of leaving.

The train driver got on the hill next to the train and cupped her hands next to her mouth to make an announcement.

„Honored passengers, crew members, everyone! We are needing someone to stay here and distract this otherworldly creature so the train can proceed. Thousands of apologies, but there seems to be no other way to continue. We can not wait any longer or afford to just ignore the beast and continue normally.”

As more and more people gathered at the foot of the hill in front of the waggons, murmuring erupted and got progressively louder. Toloka just arrived back at the train when it seemed about to erupt into anger and shouting.

He found his friend in the crowd and asked him what was going on now.

„They need someone to distract the beast. So the train can continue and not have to worry about being shredded by whatever it actually is.” said one answered.

–„Well, that sounds like another job for me and my trusty fishing-rod, then, doesn’t it?” Toloka said with a grin.

„Yeah, I guess you could say that” his friend tapped him cheerfully on the chest. „Although you shoulda been more careful. You coulda easily been swinging that thing there for the last time if you had been less lucky...”

– „Yeah, I wasn’t really thinking... but I still think I can do this. Someone has to. I’ll just be more careful.”

„I’ll better come with you, someone has to watch out for you. My name is Hosoma, by the way”

–„I’m Toloka, nice to meet you... oh wait” He sheepishly folded his arms in front of him.

The two of them shared another laugh, and then Toloka made his way through the crowds to make his own announcement.

„I’d like to be the one to distract that creature, please”

The crowd went silent, and the train driver replied:

„Alright, it’s up to you then. The next train would probably come in ten hours from now, or alternatively you can find a number of farms scattered around the countryside here. The next farm is probably about an hour away from here. We are counting on you!”

Some people now erupted into cheers, other ones were starting to clap. Toloka felt his heart racing and palms getting sweaty and so quickly made his away from the crowd back to Hosoma.

He gnashed his teeth and his heart sank as he realized what he had just done.

This isn’t going to work out, is it... Why did I have to be so rash and ...

He clenched his fists in his pockets.

„Something wrong?” Hosoma asked as Toloka slowly scuffed his way back to him.

„Eh, you were right, that I probably just had a lot of luck earlier and I’m kinda worried about what I got myself into just now...” The words seemed more directed at the ground than anyone else.

–„Ah, come on, now it’s you who’s gonna be all worried?” He looked his friend in the eyes, quizzically. „You could do this already. And I’ll be at your side to help.”

Toloka remained silent for a moment before speaking.

„I mean, it’s not like I have a choice anymore. I did this to myself, I always wanted responsibility, and now I finally have it and should be happy.” he said and attempted a weak smile, but still wasn’t returning Hosoma’s gaze. Instead, he now looked up to the sky, where the beast was still hovering, menacingly.

„It’s a good thing it’s apparently not attacking anyone as long as we stay still. At least... it looks like it. Maybe it’s trapping us and waiting for us to get exhausted.” Hosoma said.

– „We better not get exhausted then!” Toloka replied. „But we will need something else to create noise. The train is much louder than my rod can be. No idea what we could use instead, though...”

As they were trying to think of a better way to be loud, they heard a small metal bang from the inside of the train, right near the engine.

When they approached it, they saw the driver sweeping her cab, who then looked up and asked:

„So you are probably looking for some noisy items, huh? Give me a moment, I might just have the right thing...”

She turned around to take the rubbish bin she had used a minute ago into her hands. It was made of metal, including the lid, and so seemed like the best option. While handing it over, she said:

„Here, take this. I’ll just use a bag for now. Good luck, show the beast your best drumming solos. Maybe you can still make it to Sitti safely that way.”

With nervous smiles the two friends took the metal can and gave their thanks, before starting to climb the hill next to the railway again.

Facing the beast

„So, what is the plan?” asked Hosoma.

–„What plan?” Toloka replied, looking at him quizzically.

„Uhh, you know. The plan that should prevent us from being caught by that beast.”

Toloka didn’t reply immediately. They were now on some kind of field, with the train slowly getting smaller in the distance and starting to disappear behind the hill.

–„Oh, that. Um, well, we’ll make a lot of noise and then try to hide somewhere?”

„There’s nothing but flat land with a few tiny hills and some farms in the distance, though...” Hosoma exclaimed, somewhat irritated. „Where would we even go to?”

– „To the farm, I guess? Sure, it’s not close, but I think we’ll be fine.”

I don’t even want to imagine anything else, Toloka thought. He looked around. „We are probably far enough now. Should we start?”

„Fine. But let’s split up, so that we can lure the beast away if it gets too close to either of us.” Hosoma bent down to pick up two stones that were apparently marking the end of a field, and threw one to Toloka.

„Use this to bang your drum, and give me the lid.”

After Toloka did as asked, the two separated and went a couple dozen steps into opposite directions. Sweatpearls were forming on the forehead of both of them, and the aspiring dragon-catcher was shaking terribly all over his body. He nonetheless tried to grip the stone firmly, and hit the empty can, repeatedly. The metallic sound was loud and clear and could probably be heard just as clearly at the railway track and beyond.

Toloka starred anxiously at the sky, waiting for the beast to react. His cardinal friend in turn, currently alternating between flying around and sitting on his shoulder, was starring at him, almost as if worried.

Behind him, the sun was shining brightly, and it illuminated what appeared to be scales of the hostile creature in an eerie sense of beauty, light reflecting off them as it slowly began flying towards Toloka. He continued to hit the empty bin with the stone, every strike almost seeming to be in synchronization with the strokes of the wings of the beast. It was hypnotizing, and it was only upon seeing the claws slowly descending on him that he finally snapped out and ceased, leaving just enough time for Hosoma to distract the otherwordly being.

He stood still for another moment after that, looking after it with eyes wide open and arms numb, caught between a sense of awe and horror.

It took his friend to shout „Run!” for Toloka to remember to run further away from the train, and closer to the farm. When the beast had gotten too close to Hosoma for comfort, he didn’t hesitate and started banging his drum immediately again.

This went on for five minutes, and despite their best efforts the creature was getting increasingly closer to both of them. The entire time it hadn’t made a sound, not a single hiss, the strokes of its wing oddly silent. It made it seem less and less natural, and Toloka shuddered at the thought of what exactly he was facing.

Soon he could only let the stone hit the metal a few times before having to stop, all the while the train could no longer be heard, only seen moving in the distance. And they still didn’t seem to have gotten much closer to the farm. His cardinal friend chirped alarmed.

One moment later, Toloka dropped the bin, realizing he couldn’t continue like this anymore. The huge creature was now almost hovering over them both, and despite him being several trees’ lengths away from Hosoma, it seemed like it would now be able to snatch both of them in a manner of seconds.

When the beast was already lowering what seemed to be a neck of sorts towards Toloka, who, now trying to move backwards, stumbled and fell on his backpack he was still carrying, almost piercing himself with the fishing rod he had put in the side pocket. The stone he used fell next to him on the grass. He quickly put it into a pocket, just in case.
His bird companion was still flying, and now soared high to meet the alien being at what might be eye level, if it had eyes. The sun was now coming from behind it and he couldn’t properly tell if there was a face at all.

The cardinal started to peck it at various parts, but at first was met by nothing but tough, black scales. The beast didn’t even seem to notice. The bird continued flying higher and higher, and few moments later it was hovering above the creature and landed on it, on a part where scales and feathers where conspicuously absent. It started pecking again and now the beast twitched involuntarily, more and more, stopped in its tracks.

Toloka seized the opportunity to get up and run away, towards the farm, meeting up with Hosoma after a couple steps. Trying to be as silent as possible they tried to suppress screams, even as the pain of sprinting for too long got to them. The farm no longer seemed as far away now.

It was going to be very close regardless, because just a few moments later they heard a painful chirp and noticed a shadow looming over them again, creeping closer every second. Toloka tried to not think about it.
A few more rows of yams later they were at the edge of the field and about to enter the yard of a farm. The main buildings were still maybe a minute of running away, but there was a detached cellar storeroom much closer, with a number of large buckets and jars lying next to it in the grass.

Hosoma let out a silent scream as he accidentally hit a stone with his foot, but kept going. Sweat was running down their face, back and entire body now.

However, the beast was already readying its claws again. They were now hanging in the air just an arm’s length away from Toloka. He tried to go for a final sprint, but was already barely hanging on as it was. Then he heard a familiar, even if slightly quieter and slower chirping.

The cardinal flew past him, with some ruffled feathers, and made a beeline towards the jars and buckets, starting to peck at them and chirping loudly inbetween, as if trying to alert the two friends.

Oh, here’s an idea. Gonna throw that stone I used at these buckets over there, and maybe some more if I can find to create some sound to distract it at least for a moment.

He took aim, and managed to hit some of the older buckets, kicking them over in the process. Hosoma followed his example, and they succeeded in creating a lot of noise.

Neither of them dared to look up, but not being pierced by pitch-black claws in the next moment seemed to prove that it had worked. An agonizing chirp further away did, too. Toloka cringed on the inside.

With the door to apparent safety just the length of a fallen sapling away, Hosoma managed to mobilize some of his last remaining energy for a final sprint and had his hands at the doorknob within a second or two. The beast was now right next to him again, but currently occupied with tearing through the buckets and cans, which it sliced like a knife sliced butter.

The door was very heavy and slightly broken, so Hosoma struggled with for another moment before Toloka arrived and started pulling at it as well. With the power of both combined, the door finally fell open with a resounding thud, revealing narrow stairs leading down a dark, unlightened pit containing yams in large bags closer to the door as well as shelves with an seemingly endless row of preserves.

They quickly entered the underground pantry, one after another, and before they had any chance to turn around and pick up the door to close the it, the sunlight was blocked once more and they already felt the wind the beast created every time it moved its monstrous wings on their backs. Toloka, who had been the second to enter, involuntarily jumped at the chilling sensation and accidentally knocked down Hosoma in front of him, sending both tumbling down the last two stairs.

They watched in horror at the beast sticking in its claws, trying to break in. Toloka still also felt something like awe just from the sheer size of the beast. It just seemed magnificent in its own otherworldly way. After a few moments, they both realized the opening was much too small for it and that the walls were not going to collapse, having the soil to support most of it.

Even then, they continued to hold their breaths, until it had finally given up and left. Just after that they visibly relaxed and leaned against each other, now breathing normally, but their hearts still beating furiously. When they had calmed down for the most part, they slowly got up and took a look around their surroundings. The sun was shining through the entrance, but otherwise there was no source of light, or other exit. It was like a small hall functioning as a pantry.

„Guess we will have to leave the way we came in.” Toloka said.

– „Be careful, maybe the beast is still outside lurking, just waiting for you to come out!”

Toloka took out his fishing rod from his backpack and after stepping on the lowest stair, cast it, so that the end would land on the ground outside. He swung it around, trying to use the rod like an antenna, and when he encountered nothing, he got on the next step, carefully, trying to make as little noise as possible, and repeated the procedure.

On the third try, the rod seemed to touch something, and even got stuck in it. Toloka tried moving it with more force, and the end of the rod started moving again. A small but audible clang followed.

Oh, was that just one of the remaining jars?

He thought for a moment. Maybe if we try to create some more noise outside with the preserves here... If I tie them to to the hook of the rod and swing it towards outside, towards the buckets and jars it should attract the beast if it is still here.

He stepped down a few steps and grabbed a pineapple preserve. Hosoma looked up and asked:

„What are you doing there?”

His eyes were wide open and his brow furrowed.

– „Just trying something, just in case” Toloka replied.

He attached the jar with pineapple to the hook and cast the rod outside after he had stepped on the stairs again.

To his surprise, before he could hit any bucket, something seemed to grab the rod, and a voice was coming from outside:

„What in the world is going on here?” Toloka was stunned. It definitely sounded human, and he wasn’t expecting that.

„What are you doing with my pineapple jar there?”

Slowly, Toloka got a grip on himself and emerged from the underground pantry. He was met by a stern gaze of a middle-aged man, wearing a straw hat and a white shirt, leaning with one hand at the broken door, and holding a crossbow in the other one.

–„Uhh, uhh, uhh... fighting off that beast that almost tore us apart” Toloka stammered in reply.

„What beast? I didn’t hear anyone but you here.”

– „Yeah, that’s because the beast doesn’t make noise. But it was really here!”

The man remained silent and gave a mocking look at Toloka. He glanced towards his side, towards all the dropped vessels.

„And I suppose all that chaos here is also because of it?”

He went over them to start putting them in order again when he noticed a bird, a red cardinal laying between two jars. It was clearly injured and had lost a lot of feathers, but was still breathing laboriously.

Laughing, he pointed to it and asked „Is that your monster?”

He frowned when he got no answer. „Whatever. Just get out of there. Both of you, and get that bird away from here, too.”

Toloka picked the little bird up and wrapped it in a handkerchief he had with him. Hosoma gathered all their belongings, and then left the cellar, too. The man mustered them carefully and then unhooked the jar that was still hanging at Toloka’s fishing rod.

„And this will stay here. If you want some, consider asking next time.”

–„Sorry...” Toloka said quietly, hanging his head low.

„Be glad I’m not going to report you. This community is otherwise very strict when it comes to dishonorableness. Now leave before I change my mind.”

He was still looking sharply at the two of them, one of his hands resting on a crossbow now.

Toloka clenched his teeth and put the cardinal carefully into a sidepocket of his backpack and then he and Hosoma hurried away over the yard, jumped over a small ditch and ran towards a small path that was running next to it. There, they finally allowed themselves to breathe.

On the road to Sitti

Faven, what was that?” Hosoma asked, still panting.

– „No clue. But hey, at least we made it. We managed to get the beast away from the train and them away from ourselves, too!” Toloka replied excitedly, between breaths.

„Yeah, we did. You were great.”

A single, tired peep came from the outer pocket of his backpack. He turned to it and frowned.

– „At the expense of my bird friend here, sadly. First we’ll fix you up, then we will catch the dragon!”

„What are you talking about?” Hosoma asked, furrowing his brow again.

–„Nothing, nothing” Toloka laughed in return. „Just kidding”

„Uh, alright. Anyway, do you have a map or something that would tell us how far it still is to Sitti? Might be still a while, and the sun is already past its highest point”

–„I don’t, but...” Toloka pointed to a sign some steps away. „That thing says SITTI 5, doesn’t it?”

Hosoma sat down at the edge of the path, filled with gravel, his breathing finally calming down a bit.

„Oh faven, don’tcha know? That number shows how many hours you still have to walk at least. We might not even make it before the dark.”

–„Don’t worry, I got a tent.” Toloka replied, almost grinning again.

„How can you be so cheerful after all this?”

–„I guess I feel like I’m finally getting closer to my goal.” He was positively beaming now.

Hosoma decided to wait with any more questions until later, and instead got up and started walking.

„Anyway, let’s get going, unless you actually want to have to use that tent and spend the night on a field.”

After an hour of walking, Toloka’s grin had disappeared. The countryside was remarkably flat and barren aside from fields and small ditches, they had only passed a few farmhouses in the distance and a single bicycle bus stop. The city didn’t seem to have gotten any nearer.

„We really still have to go four more hours?” Toloka asked, huffing and puffing already.

–„At least... maybe more”

„Faven, I wish it wasn’t that hot at least. Why are there no trees here? At least they would provide some shade.” He was wiping sweat from his forehead with his arm. „I wasn’t even noticing it earlier, but now it’s like it’s twice as bad”.

Hosoma pointed at the sky.

–„Those clouds look more like rain to me. So you’ll probably get your cool down soon”

A few minutes later, the sun had disappeared behind clouds, and another quarter hour later both noticed the first drops.

„Ugh, I really shouldn’t have said anything” Toloka exclaimed, clenching his fists. „This is almost worse.”

– „Let’s see... if you want to take another risk in this kinda sketchy community, over there is a shed that could provide us shelter for a while.” His friend was pointing to a small toolshed across the ditch on the right side of the road. It was a tiny wooden structure, little higher than Toloka’s fishing rod and probably just large enough to fit in both of them.

Since it was already starting to drizzle more and more, they decided to take the risk and check it out. The door to it wasn’t locked, but some larger tools inside were blocking the entrance. After these had been pushed to the back, the two friends sat on the ground and listened to the increasingly louder rain hitting the roof and the occasional thunder.

At times a drop would get through some gaps in it, but overall the inside remained dry. Some time later Toloka went to see if it was getting any less, but it was still raining enough that the field currently resembled marsh more than anything. It seemed they were going to be trapped in the shed for some time before they could leave again.

Hosoma watched the rain in silence for some time before asking:

„What do you think, will I be able to get back the temple stone of my village? And you – what were you gonna do? You were gonna go down the huge river to the Samwati, weren’t you?”

– „Yeah, I was just gonna get some medicine in the nearest bigger town. Whiteberries and whiteberry leaves. But it wasn’t there. It wasn’t anywhere. It was robbed from absolutely everywhere, and now I have to try to get it from the source.”

He pulled out the book from his backpack and flipped it open, showing it to Hosoma.

„This is what it looks like. It says here it’s only growing in that part of the island where the Samwati live. And the herbalists told me to join a company leaving from Sitti to join me.”

Toloka looked into the distance for a moment, at the raindrops falling less than a step away from them, while Hosoma took the book.

Another minute of silence later, he felt a tap on his back. He turned around and saw it was coming from his friend.

„We’ll find it together.” Hosoma said.

–„Really? You’re still coming with me?

„Yeah, of course. Whatcha thinking, that I wasn’t meaning it and gonna abandon you once we reach Sitti?”

Toloka just stared at him.

„Neither of us could have escaped from that beast alone.” Hosoma continued.

He maintained eye contact, and put a hand on his breast, the rain still softly falling in the background.

„Only together could we beat the odds. And there might be more on the way.” For a moment, he paused before continuing.

„These strange occurrences, beasts, thefts, what else, it’s just too much for one person. Also, remember, we both came across those weird scales. Isn’t that evidence enough for some sort of connection?”

Hosoma’s eyes seemed almost shining as he was speaking, and his mouth was clearly smiling, if not grinning. Toloka frowned, unable to share the apparent excitement of his friend, but still was leaning in, listening closely.

–„Yeah, that’s probably really not a coincidence. It would probably be stupid faven to pretend differently.” he finally spoke, his eyes however not meeting Hosoma’s.

„Exactly!” his friend replied, much too loud for someone sitting right next to him. He gave the book back to Toloka and took out a map of Sitti of his messenger bag, trying to unfold it between them both.

„Here’s where we should go first... Ah, wait, it’s too dark here.” He took a look outside, but the rain was still falling.

„If this is a tool shed, maybe there’s some sort of lamp around here?” he said to no one in particular.

Toloka got up and started looking around. With how little light there was in the room, it was proving difficult, but behind a spade he found a gas lantern hanging from a nail at the wall.

He took it down and tried turning it on. To his delight, it did start burning and now provided enough light for them to look at the map of Sitti. Hosoma had laid out on his lap and the lamp was set down next to it.

„So” Hosoma began again. „we will be arriving from the south, probably somwhere here.” He pointed to the lower part of the map where fields met outskirts of the city, and his finger drew an imaginary line from the outer districts towards the central ones.

„If we are lucky, we can catch a train to the center, otherwise we will take a bicycle bus. The biggest libraries are there, and the temples with I think the wisest priests. And probably also the animal clinics! That should be a good starting point.”

His finger now went to the river separating the city in a northern and southern part.

„After that, we will go look for someone to take us up the Tahoon a haad. One of my cousins is working as a courier between Sitti and the town of Taxonea further upstream and has his own boat, he can probably help us.”

Toloka listened attentively. He was now very glad he wasn’t going alone anymore. It’d been extremely difficult for him to find his way around a place that was many times larger than Joonen, and he had already struggled there.

He asked Hosoma more about the city and life there, and they spent the next hour just talking to each other, until they noticed that the rain had finally stopped. After the map had been put away again and the lamp turned off, they stepped out on the still very wet field and went back to the road.

The next two hours also proved to be largely eventless. Still exhausted, even if less so after the little rest, they were walking at a leisurely pace with deep breaths and their shoulders relaxed, barely coming across another human, save for two or three regular bikes. Toloka mostly busied himself with observing the landscape and making the occasional comment about animals or structures striking him as weird. Or the landscape in general.

„These fields look so barren! Like we are in the middle of nowhere! It’s wild” he said when they were sitting down at a picnic table for another rest.

„How long do we still have to go?” he asked.

– „We should be about halfway there now, I think. There’ll probably be another sign soon.” Hosoma replied. „If I remember correctly, the maps says there’s also a guesthouse coming up, so we can maybe finally have something to eat today.”

A chirp was coming from the side of Toloka’s backpack.

„I guess your small feathered friend here is anxious to finally be able to rest in a more comfortable spot, too, huh?” he added.

The guesthouse

Just some ten minutes later they did come across a two-storied, thatched house alongside a smaller creek that had reef growing next to it. It had some benches and tables outside, but most people were sitting inside, in something that looked like a barroom. Upon entering it, Toloka and Hosoma heard a man sitting at the bar talking to the bartender and boasting to her about what seemed his recent successes in fishing. A fishing rod was resting next to him.

„So anyway, I was on this spot here again last week. The year before I caught nothing at all, but today, today I saw that huge fish swimming there, and I thought to myself, faven, I really need to get that one. It’ll be enough for lunch and dinner!” He indicated the size with his arms. The bartender wasn’t looking him in the eye and seemed to only be pretending to listen.

Toloka turned to his friend:

„How about I try to get our lunch and dinner from that creek, too? Maybe they’ll let me fry it here, too.”

–„Uh, if you want?” Hosoma replied.

They went past the bar and through a second door on the other side that led to a small porch with more chairs on it, and then down a couple stairs to a river bank.

Toloka took out his fishing rod and cast it into the water. A couple minutes passed and nothing seemed to catch. It wasn’t that there was nothing in the creek, all the fish just seemed to swim past his rod today.

After a while, he gave up and they both went back in again to maybe ask the man who had boasted about his fishing luck earlier. But as they were entering, it was as if he could hear a familiar rhythm in the background. Beats that he had heard before and associated with nothing but trouble. He was almost desperate to be proven wrong, still being utterly exhausted from running and hiding all day, but in that moment the front door towards the road was swung open with force and three young men and a young woman with familiar black and white clothes with skull motives and bandanas walked in with a rolling gait and a boombox playing way too loud.

Oh no, not them again, Toloka thought, mentally slapping his forehead.

„Who are these people?” Hosoma asked, squinting his eyes.

– „Angry dancers with weird rhymes” Toloka replied, gritting his teeth.


One of the four thugs took a slow step forward to the bar. He had cyan hair and was wearing a black skullcap, whereas the other three were wearing black baseball caps.

The apparent leader of the squad stood in front of the bartender and crossed his arms before ramming them into his sides in the familiar fluid movement, looking her right into the eyes, while the music continued to play in the background.

„Yo, yo, there are four hungry mouths here fill them up or you’ll learn real fear!”

The woman gave him a stern, disdainful look and then turned away from him wordlessly, a silver-colored medaillon swinging around her neck in the process. The cyan-haired thug opened his eyes wide, then narrowed his eyes to slits and repeated his demand:

„Yo, did you not hear us loud and clear? Empty stomachs are too much to bear!”

She turned to him again, but before she could say a thing, the squad leader had grabbed at her collar with one hand and yanked her medaillon from her neck with another one, causing several audible gasps from the people behind them. A moment later, he had thrown it to another thug who ran with it to the porch outside and threw it into the creek, before joining his fellow gang members again.

All of them smirked, and the cyan-haired thief stepped back a step, while the purple haired one carrying the boombox fast forwarded the tape to another, faster beat. He began his dance again and rhymed:

„Yo, we do what we have to do! And you still haven’t got a clue Who is now pulling all the strings who is controlling all the things In this nice community, ya, It’s Team Vutamatova!”

„Vut-Vut-Vutama-tova” the other three in the background chanted.

They stared at the bartender’s eyes, who was returning a bored look and a frown, and only replied:

„Is that everything you got? I have a lot of things to do, so please excuse me for now.”

The squad squinted at her, and all four of it reached into the huge pockets of their very baggy shorts, taking out boxes at least the size of their hands. As they lowered them to the ground and opened them, four large spiders with furry legs crawled out. They quickly stepped back a couple more steps and then rhymed:

„Don’t underestimate our power get out now, or prepare to cower!”

The spiders were now crawling across the room, and Toloka recognized them as belonging to a poisonous species his teacher in school had the class warned about once. He was supposed to avoid them as much as possible, as antidotes were hard to come by. He could leave, but he really didn’t want to abandon everyone just like that.

No, that would mean becoming the opposite of who I want to be. I want people to be able to rely on me, and that I can be more than a do-nothing even if my life doesn’t depend on it.

Toloka and Hosoma were still standing in front of the door leading to the creek outside, but as Toloka saw watching one of the spiders come right at him, he backed off, sliding alongside the wall, whereas Hosoma hid behind the bar. Several other people were also walking backwards trying to get away from them, stumbling over chairs and tables in the process. Soon, Toloka alongside several other people had been driven into a corner and now tried to fight off the spiders with chairs, brooms and whatever else they could find. But it proved to be difficult as the small beasts were moving fast enough to be difficult to hit, didn’t even show a reaction most of the time.

The room had otherwise gone quiet, no one speaking a word anymore. The thugs seemed to grin behind their bandanas, though, their eyes showing they were clearly observing the situation with visible glee. That is, until they noticed the man who had earlier boasted over his luck catching fish wave around his fishing rod wildly, almost hitting the skullcap of one the squad members with the hook in the process.

After a few seconds, it became clear to them as well as to Toloka and Hosoma that he was trying to apply his fishing skills to the situation and get the spiders hooked on the rod. Unsuccessfully, as the hook didn’t seem to be able to pierce the spiders. However, nudging the box which had contained the spider with the pole of the rod proved to work better, and before anyone of the squad could react, the man had picked it up and could catch one of the smaller beasts crawling across the floor and on the bar.

This got the attention of some of the other people in the room, and they were now trying to stop the spiders one way or another. The bartender picked up a basket with logs of wood and turned it upside down over the eight-legged creature and then quickly trapped the stunned spider with the basket.

Toloka waited a moment for the small beast that had been approaching him to come out under a table and then quickly flipped it to crush the spider, and then jumped on it for good measure. This left the room with one spider still crawling.

Hosoma, still behind the bar, now looked for something similar that could work as weapon. An overly large pan with pancakes frying in it was resting on top of a small tower made of bricks, with a fire burning inside. Skewers and long metal tools to maintain the fire were next to it, and Hosoma picked up one of them. Then he quickly went back to the seating area, looked for the last box and picked it up with the skewer before anyone from the team of rhyming gangsters could realize it and so was able to catch the fourth spider, finally allowing him to take a deep breath and relax for a moment.

Team Vutamatova could only stare and quickly bolt, giving one last rhyme on their haphazard exit, although their voice had lost all confidence and was clearly trembling with anxiety:

„You haven’t seen the last of us here soon we will be back, with better gear!”

And with them, their music also slowly disappeared.

Exhausted, Toloka looked around at the chaotic scene, the flipped chairs and tables, the dead spiders, came towards the bar and said „Uhh, I’m sorry I contributed to this chaos. I’ll help with tidying up later, promised. But can we have something to eat? I haven’t had anything all day.”

– „Of course you can!” the bartender answered. And don’t worry about the chaos, I appreciate you trying to help me in dealing with those annoying Vutamatovas. The meal for you and your friend here will be on the house.” She smiled and started filling up a plate with pancakes from the giant pan and added mango, shredded fresh coconut and fried fish on top of it, and filled two cups with coconut water.

„Don’t worry about the fisher here, he already had gotten his meal before you two arrived here” she added, as she handed over the food and drinks. „And feel free to ask for more to drink if you want.”

Toloka gave a thanks and took the plates, and Hosoma took the cups. They sat down outside at the porch, enjoying some quiet and the evening sun. Birds were moving past them in the sky, in the direction of Sitti.

When they were about to get up, something shiny in the creek caught their eye. As they walked up to the water to see what it was that they had seen, they realized it was the stolen medallion. It had gotten stuck between two stones and a bit of reef. Toloka took it and brought it to the bar, much to the delight of the bartender.

They were allowed to stay the night upstairs in a room with two nice, comfortable beds, so Toloka had no opportunity to show how large and beautiful his tent was. But he figured he would have enough time later on for that, for now he was thankful to catch up on the sleep he had missed last night.

The night passed, and after a quick breakfast and trip to the washing room to freshen up they were given a small bag of seeds for the cardinal as a parting gift. After filling up a water bottle and packing some food for the day, they exchanged goodbyes and left the house. Back on the road, they noticed how more and more travelers and cyclists started to appear, as well as the first houses that weren’t farms, and after an hour and the half they finally reached a sign announcing that they had arrived in the biggest and busiest city of the island.
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