Day Sixteen: 1,576 words (21,259 total.)
Many moons had past. The islands grew darker and life was fleeting. The once green leafy palms of the jungles were barren and shriveled. The soil became infertile, the water lifeless, and the villagers grew sick and hungry. But still, many people hung onto their homeland dearly. Villages were built along the coasts of the Mainland, but it was no use to convince everyone to travel. For every person who moved, another stayed. The village was divided and it was in a time they needed unity most.
Talau sat up on one of the hills on the Mainland above a settlement. She looked out west along the coast. They had to keep moving; the dark clouds were spreading and were reaching the Mainland already. Time was wasting. They couldn't keep inching their way north. Tomorrow, she'd lead her army further up the coast. As she sat, one of her warriors climbed up the hill. He wore thick moss-colored reptile leather reinforced with plates of deep red metal. The armor sort of resembled a drunk chameleon on her way to a party, but it was the best the village could produce.
"Chief Talau!" the armed man called out, "His condition is growing worse."
Talau lowered her head, "I will come visit."
She followed the man down into the settlement and into the doctor's hut. On a cot lay the old messenger. Chais was once plump and energetic; it hurt Talau to watch him so still, thin, and frail. His brown skin had gained a purple tint. The chieftess was not a stranger to this illness and it ripped at her heart that it showed its ugly head once again.
She turned to the doctor, "The plants that were gathered when we scouted the Mainland...none of them would help?"
He shook his head, "He may live just long enough to see his last full moon."
She slammed her fist on a nearby desk, "We've collected hundreds of samples! How can you still not have a medicine!?"
He was annoyed, "My team works day and night like laborers. There is no medicine because nothing you have found can heal this sickness. And our food shortage does not help. My patients are dying from starvation; they don't have the strength to fight their illness with such little food."
"I'll order more rations to the medical huts."
He laughed, "Good luck! A wolf pack made off with three fat pigs the night before. The islands were never like this. Even panthers didn't have the audacity to ransack right through the village."
She massaged her head, "They're getting more desperate. We've slaughtered their packs, but they keep coming."
"We are desperate too. There is talk back on the islands. They don't trust you, Chief. They wish to appoint a new chief to lead the people."
Talau gritted her teeth, "I dare them to accomplish half of what I've done."
She was finished with this conversation and left the hut. Looking around the village, it was clear things had changed. Huts had to be fitted with strong locks to detract from the robberies. Crime was rampant and death was common. If it wasn't desperate predators it was desperate villagers. Talau's army worked to keep peace within the village, but in their absence, she feared for what the land would become.
The chieftess crossed the bridge and entered the islands. Sunlight was scarce and only peeked in from the dark clouds overhead. Talau made her way to her old home on the plateau. She knocked. The door slid open slowly before Omoachel let her aunt inside.
"I didn't think you'd visit." She said humorlessly.
Talau laughed, "Am I not allowed?"
Omoachel remained serious, "You are Chief. You can do as you please."
The chieftess's smile faded, "There is something serious to discuss."
"Oh?" Omo sat down, poured herself some rum and began to eat a banana pie.
Talau lost her train of thought, "...is that a pie? And since when do you drink?"
Omo stared at her, but did not answer. She just remained eating.
"Our village has a food shortage and you're eating pie!? Where'd you even get one?"
"They barely have enough bread to feed everyone...why would they make you a pie?"
"For the right price, you can get someone to make you anything."
Talau felt sick. Over time she had watched her sweet and shy niece turn cold and selfish. She blamed herself. She had left Omoachel alone and to fill the void she befriended a questionable crowd. Talau regret not being their for her niece, but there was just so much on her plate.
She sighed, "Chais can not lead while I am gone."
"...then who will?"
"Our options are few. By blood, you are the only heir, but-"
"Then I will act as chieftess."
"Omo...I don't think you understand. It is a difficult job-"
"But it would only be until Chais gets better. And he'll advise me like he's suppose to."
Talau couldn't look her niece in the eyes, "He won't get better."
Omoachel stopped eating, "What!? You said he would! You promised you'd find a cure!"
She threw her pie at the Chief, "No! You lied to me!" her eyes welled up, "Just like you lied about my mom! I hate you, you worthless pig!"
Her niece ran into the yard leaving Talau inside. The words stung. She wanted to run outside and explain it to Omo, but there was no point. Even she agreed. She did lie. But she thought the cure would work. It never crossed her mind that her family would be torn apart in a matter of days. Talau left the hut. All she could do was push forward.
Night fell and the warriors sat on the beach around a fire pit and drank rum. Tomorrow was the day they'd travel farther down the coast than any of the Zehnai had traveled before. Their was fear in their eyes, but also excitement. No one knew what lived in the lands far away. Would they find the fire breathing lizards and men in metal like the books told...or would it be something complete different.
Beroel raised his cup high, "To new lives!"
The men cheered and gulped down their drinks. They were born laborers, but their fates had changed and they were able to become more. Still, it came at a price. As crime and wild animals overtook the village, it became the warriors job to establish order. Over the years, they lost some of their own and with this new mission, they feared loosing more.
Rekas finished his rum, "I wonder how long it'll be until we're back."
"It'll be too soon if ever." Beroel added.
Some of the men seemed uneasy. One of them chimed in, "We're only leaving to find a new home and a cure for our people."
Beroel laughed unamused, "Our people? These are the same people that treated us like slaves."
"You might not have a family but some of us do!" one called out.
Beroel tossed back his drink and left the beach for the bridge.
"Beroel!" Rekas called out.
But he needed his space and his friend knew not to follow. He walked to the barracks to sleep, but as he entered, he saw the chieftess's niece rushing off to the beach. Where was she going at this time of night? Why should he care? But as he unlocked the hut's door, he heard yelling. Cautiously, he sneaked his way onto the beach, hugging the palms. What he saw was Omoachel and Tuang arguing. This didn't interest him. He started to walk back to the barracks.
But as he turned to walk away he heard a slap. When he turned back around he saw Omo down on the sand and the banker's son walking off towards the plateau. This angered him, but part of him was glad. She turned out to be so different from the girl he thought she was on the beach that day back when they were young. But as he watched her lay in the sand sobbing, he couldn't help but remember the little girl she once was.
The crying stopped, but she wasn't moving. She remained in the sand and Beroel grew concerned. He didn't want to care, but part of him did. He walked out onto the beach to check on her. She was breathing, but her eyes were closed and she was still. How tired must she had been to fall asleep here? He sat down beside her and tried to shake her awake. It was no use. She stunk of alcohol and had passed out drunk. Beroel sighed out loud and dug his hands into the sand. He didn't want to leave her here, but where would he bring her? He couldn't risk traveling up the plateau.
He couldn't get that day out of his head. The day he first saw Omoachel he had so much hope. And when she told him her story about the tortoise he felt something. He couldn't explain it, but he missed that feeling. He dug his hands deeper in the sand and piled it together. He sculpted the pile and when he finished he was satisfied. He looked over at Omo, still passed out. He thought of that feeling. He removed his shirt and wrapped it around her before returning to the barracks.