By Kell Inkston
Copyright 2015 Kell Inkston
Luua of Toor is led into the elder’s musty tent by the strong hand of Amuu of Toor.
The elder turns to look at her with his wizened cold features and keen eyes. “Well, so today is your sixteenth birthday, is it not?”
Luua, beaming in joy, nods. “That’s right!” She says, brushing Amuu’s arm playfully.
The elder looks to Amuu. Their faces are stern. “You know what this means, don’t you?” the elder asks.
She nods again. “I am of age, I can be bound to a man!” she says, tears of joy descending across her face. “I know precisely who I want to be bound with!” She tightens her grip on Amuu’s arm, his grip tightening in turn.
The elder releases a longer sigh. “You do, do you?”
“Yes! Amuu here! Please, won’t you bind us?”
The elder and Amuu share one last glance, this one of such profound bitterness that Luua squints an eye in curiosity. She parts her long, wavy bangs and folds them behind her cinnamon-colored ears. “Is something wrong?”
Amuu looks away. “You should tell her, elder. It is unkind to leave her waiting.”
The elder nods. “Sit down, Luua.” He motions to the other side of the small fire pit. She obliges and the elder begins. “Now, as you know, once a youth reaches sixteen, they are seen as an adult in our village- and that they are to maintain their purity to this point. You have done as such, yes?”
Luua nods energetically as she places her hands on her knees like she’s seen the huntsmen do. “Of course!”
“And so once… two pure youths become bound, their bondage is all the more beautiful, yes, but that… that is not what is fated for you.”
Luua’s grin dies to a smile. “What are you talking of, elder? Am I not of the age for binding?”
“You are, but that is not what is fated for you,” the elder says, his piercing gaze striking into her.
Luua looks over to Amuu, who looks away; she immediately looks back to the elder. “Then what is this about?”
“ I did not want to kill your youthfulness so early, I wanted you to have good years growing up- but now you must take up your duty as… the tribute for our village.”
Luua freezes— the news does not quite get through to her; eyes wide with disbelief, she shakes her head. “No.”
“The mark on your cheek is of the shark, the tribute family. Every fifty years, we are to tribute one to The Great Face, lest all the fish swim away, and the hunt leaves us, and our children die early. Your father died in a fishing accident and your mother died as she was giving birth to you, so you are the only one that can take on this duty. I hope you understand, but you must die for us all.”
She’s silent as a starry night, and slowly the clouds blow over her face. A tear of grief streams down her face. “I knew it. I knew something would come between us right at the end… it really was too good to be true. Is there really no one else?”
The elder shakes his head. “No, it must be. I will give you tonight to grieve, but when the great light shines down to us tomorrow, you must be off with your wayfarers. I’ve chosen Amuu and Ruka for the task to make sure the sacrifice happens.”
Luua begins to tremble, as she has no one to grab onto. “You would make the man I love throw me to The Great Face?” She releases a sob. “There is nothing more painful.”
Amuu takes a deep breath and crosses his arms. “I-I’m sorry, but it must happen or everyone will die. You must make me happy and do your dut-”
“Of course it would make you happy! You don’t have to die!” She interrupts him quickly before she returns to her weeping. Amuu places his hand upon her shoulder for only a moment, and is shrugged off the second after.
“You are… truly inconsolable, then,” Amuu says, turning from her.
The elder stares at her misery and shakes his head. “It has been like this ever since The Great Face had made its decree at the dawn of time: ‘In fifty great rings, I shall have my teeth lined with the blood bound by love’. Those of your line must be made tribute every fifty years. It is simply the way it must be— forgive me for this. At least take refuge in the knowledge that you will be reunited with your father and mother soon. The next elder will decide which family shall be the next one of the tributes, as you are the last of your line. I’m sorry.”
Her body arched in agony and her hands wet with her sorrow, she utters her final words for the night. “I will accept this duty, but I will curse my mother and father once I meet them in spirit.” She was led back to her lonesome family tent, and was guarded the entire night by the man she, just this morning, loved more than anyone. She stares at the one thing she remembers from her father, a small, now broken fishing spear- hung up pathetically over the entrance of the tent. It's her last sight as she enters a restless sleep filled with cold, horrible dreams.
Hours later, the morning comes— and so does Amuu to fold up the opening to Luua’s tent. “Light’s up, it’s time to go,” he says in a blunt, emotionless tone. She scrunches into herself, raising a sigh from him. “Luua, I’m not happy about this either, but we both have jobs to do. I promise I’ll bind with you in the spirit, how’s that?”
“Could you really wait until you die?”
He smiles, “Yes.”
She turns to him and looks with eyes wide in hope. “Then, tribute yourself with me! Let’s go to the spirit together!”
Amuu flinches and takes a moment to respond. Her gaze bitters again. “I’m sorry. That’s… that’s a lot to ask,” he says.
“And I curse you too, Amuu,” she responds.
He clenches his fists and opens the entry wider for her. “Get up, it’s time.”
“I wish it was you being made tribute instead.”
“Out, now.” He waits for her to get up for a moment and then pulls her up and out of the tent himself. Immediately she’s dressed by the women of the village to be the tribute, some of them in tears, and others just glad it’s not their daughter in her place. The feathers are lined into her hair, the paint is smeared across the entirety of her body, and the raiment cape is placed upon her. She is bright in colors of red and green, the traditional visuals for both life and death. Luua’s then led to the boat that will take her to the island of The Great Face. She spots Ruka, who gives a half-hearted wave to her with a smile that would say something along the lines of ‘this is going to be the worst three days of my life.’
“Eh, hey, Luua,” Ruka says, partially trembling as Luua comes up to him.
“Shut up, Ru,” she says as she passes him by— he hates being called ‘Ru’.
He nods and takes up his long paddle. “Fine by me.” Amuu pushes Luua into the boat, ties her ankle to it, and they shove off with a goodbye that no one would perceive as tearful. Most of the villagers seem to be almost happy that her death’s going to ensure more food for them; they all look awkward— as if they all know they should be feeling bad, but don’t. She just curls up miserably in the boat as they shove off. Amuu looks to Ruka.
“ So we’re going west to the island; there’s enough food for us three on the way there and us two on the way back,” he starts as he leans back and watches Ruka row them through the wading waters, “so be good, Luua, and don’t try to run off- or I’ll bring you back every time.”
Luua scoffs. “Well I might as well just keep running away, maybe I’ll make you both starve.” She grins, and shoves her feet into Amuu’s side.
“As if I wanted to kill you, Luua,” he says, shoving her feet to the edge of the boat.
“Uh, same here.”
The two look at Ruka, and then back to each other. “I still can’t believe you’re going to go through with this- I can’t believe I loved you!” She crosses her arms and turns away as the island begins to fade into the gray.
“ I have a job, you know- they needed able-bodied men to escort the sacrifice, and I was chosen; I didn’t ask to do it!” He shoves her back.
“Then I’m sure you must know how I’m feeling, considering you won’t even die with the girl you said you’d marry!”
Ruka sighs and Amuu clenches his fists. “You idiot!” Amuu yells, “There’s no damn purpose to killing two people! I can still live my life! I’m not going to let you keep me down!”
“Well good!” She snaps back, “I wouldn’t want you to inconvenience yourself!”
Amuu takes a deep breath. “I knew this is how you’d respond! Always yourself! Never the village! Don’t you care about anyone?!”
“Maybe if they cared about me, bastard!”
“Bitch!” Amuu spits.
“Non-committal coward!” Luua snaps.
“I’m committed to serving my village! Maybe you should try it sometime!”
She raises her hands. “ ‘Wow, please kill yourself! I love you but just die! It’s for the good of the village!’ Why don’t you bite me, Amuu! You piece of-” Luua stops and looks over with Amuu the second they hear the oar scrape violently against the boat’s rim. Ruka’s typical submissiveness has melted away to the mean, dark, brooding outcast- the only reason the elder picked him for the trip rather than a taller, more handsome lad. “You both should shut up. This trip’s gonna be a hell of a lot harder if you’re both crying the whole time.”
Amuu coughs and nods. Luua smiles crassly. “What’s the matter, Amuu. Aren’t you gonna smack him like you would in front of the other boys? Can you hit him now that your friends aren’t around to protect you?”
Ruka grins as Amuu scratches his chin. “We… don’t need to make any problems. The mission’s too impor-”
“Scared. Knew it.” She turns around to look to the waves, leaving a scowling Amuu, and a bemused Ruka, flexing his compact musculature under his shabby cloak.
“S-sure, just turn around,” Amuu says, turning away as well and leaving Ruka to his beloved silence. He rowed on through the shallows, to the depths of the water while eating his lunch. Neither Luua nor Amuu were in much of a mood for another fight, and Ruka did not enjoy talking in general, so the trip became silent. The three sailed on the whole day and set up camp on a small island with colorful yellow and orange-leafed trees. Luua’s rope was transferred to Amuu’s waist to keep her nearby; it is dehumanizing, but at the end of the night, looking up to the stars, she decides that there’s no changing her fate— the only thing she can change is how she looks at her approaching demise. She decides that in the morning, she’ll do her best to be the tribute the village would expect her to be, silent and joyous for what she’s doing for all of them.
Luua is shoved awake by Amuu. “Hey, we have a visitor. Time to go.” She opens dreary eyes and looks up. Both Amuu and Ruka are eyeing across a shoal to a neighboring island. A pitch black figure is facing them in the steadily waking sun.
“Who is it?”
Ruka hums. “No idea, I’ve never seen a clan dress like that before; he might be a clanless.”
The three exchange worried looks.
“Clanless, like the ones from the stories?” Luua asks, now to her feet with Amuu, who’s already transferring her rope to the boat.
“I’d hate to find out. Let’s go!” He says, tugging Luua into the vessel.
“Agreed,” Ruka says, taking up the oar and pushing off shore. With a feral movement, the clanless man takes up his large shoal board and throws himself into the waves.
“He’s following us,” Amuu says, reaching for his bow.
“Shoot that creep, that’ll turn him around,” Ruka says.
Amuu fires off a shot and directly hits the clanless man— but the man continues across, paddling to them with a crude oar.
“Did you miss?” Ruka asks.
“Of course not! He must have a shield or something!”
“Yeah, well keep shooting.”
Amuu doesn’t stop to think on it. He fires arrow after arrow at the clanless man, hitting him almost every time, but not slowing him in the slightest.
“ Shit- he’s a beast!” Amuu says, peering across to the far-off figure.
“Did you hurt him at all?” Ruka asks.
“I don’t think so.”
“Well shoot more!”
“I don’t have any more arrows.”
Ruka sighs. “In that case, help me paddle. We’ll tire him out!” Amuu joins Ruka by paddling with his hands.
“What do you think he wants?” Luua asks, watching the dark figure across the waves with some strange fascination.
“Probably wants to take our stuff,” Ruka says.
“No, he’ll definitely eat us and bind with you,” Amuu says to Luua as he paddles as quickly as he can.
“Really, you can’t believe all the stories. Clanless aren’t some monsters— they’re still people; he probably got separated or lost or something,” Ruka says.
“No way, I hit that thing twelve times— each time it just flinched.”
The two wayfarers paddle the boat along, and gradually the vision of the clanless man disappears into the mist. Luua gives a sigh of relief. “Well, nothing to worry about after all, I guess.”
Amuu looks to Ruka. “I’m tired… but we shouldn’t camp for the night. Let’s keep going.”
Ruka sighs. “Easy, coming from the guy that doesn’t row.”
“Come on, man, it’s creepy. It might find us when we’re sleepi-”
“He might find us when we’re sleeping- and that’s okay- if you really wanna sleep tonight, I’ll keep watch, and you’ll row tomorrow. Either that or you get to rowing now. Sound good?” Ruka asks this with a certain wryness about him.
Amuu sighs and contemplates it, causing Luua and Ruka to exchange amused looks.
“Too much for you, head hunter?” Luua asks, calling Amuu by his popular title in the village.
“N-no! I’ll row tomorrow!” Amuu says, scowling obviously and to the pleasure of his two companions.
Ruka grins. “Nice. Let’s go on until it gets dark so we’re sure we’ve lost him. He probably knows that we can’t go in another direction or we’ll risk getting lost. So we row till it’s dark, and I’ll keep watch, got it?”
Amuu nods. “Alright, it’s a deal.”
They row and paddle on through the misty waters for many hours, passing by way-points and island markers made of rocks and sticks— structures for the sole purpose of leading one toward The Great Face. Luua feels more and more on edge as the hours pass; she’s certain she can see their shrouded hunter, entering and exiting the very edge of her vision. It is a fear— but it’s a strange fear. She knows well she’s already bound to her death, and yet this figure could offer a different one—perhaps a better one, or a worse; she wonders what the figure is like, and what led it to hunt her and her two wayfarers. Hours pass of musing in the mist, and the dreary great light above them bends over the horizon and shrouds their world in darkness. They stop at the nearest island they can find and by the time it’s pitch black out, they’ve landed and Luua is settled into her bed.
Amuu is left restless and staring up at the stars. “What if he catches up with us?” he asks.
Ruka sighs as he climbs into a nearby tree. “I’ll kill him. It’s really that simple.”
“But what if he kills us? No one will know.”
“ Fishmen from our village get lost every year. Storms send them so far away that they couldn’t find their way back. People would just imagine we screwed up or something I bet.” He relaxes into the leaves, folding a fishing spear in between his legs. “That’d be bad though- would be on our family’s heads instead of ours.”
“Yeah…” Amuu turns to Luua. “Don’t worry… we’ll get you there.” His long, matured features curve into a smile as his bird tattoo waves on his cheek.
Luua sighs. “Yes, thank you. I’m so relived that I won’t be eaten alive by some clanless freak— instead I’ll just get eaten by The Great Face.”
Amuu scoffs. “Well your death will mean a lot for everyone- you’re a hero, you know.”
“No, I mean it. All the villagers will-”
“Night, Moo,” she says, turning away into her side. Ruka snickers from above.
Amuu clenches his teeth. “Goodnight… Luuny!”
Neither Luua nor Ruka laugh at that one, as the funniest thing about Amuu’s utterance was his attempt to somehow repay the damage caused by being called ‘Moo’, which they both find completely impossible.
There were a couple of snickers back and forth from Luua below and Ruka above, much to the chagrin of Amuu; this lasts nearly five minutes before they truly settle down. Luua and Amuu enter deep dreams, and Ruka sprawls himself out into the branches, awaiting the arrival of the dark, clanless stalker. Though Amuu and Luua are in comfort, they both have that impending sense of being hunted— that something’s nearby and that it will find them.
Luua wakes with a start to a viciously loud, deep crack.
“-nuvabitch!” She hears from a voice sounding like Ruka’s. Her eyes open, and in the morning light, spy a great masked figure, staring down upon her as it holds an enormous branch over her body. In a flash, the clanless swings to the approaching Ruka, smacking him into the sand and heaving for another strike to Amuu, who was quick to get to his feet. Amuu and Ruka stand rigid and ready a few meters away as Luua, frozen in shock, just watches from her sleeping spot.
“Get out of here you damn creep!” Amuu yells, glinting out his hunting knife with trained speed. The clanless does not answer, and instead stands at a loose corpse-like slouch. “Did you hear me?!” Amuu says, glancing over to Ruka, who has recovered his spear and has it ready to throw. Again, the clanless is silent, and neither of Luua’s wayfarers want to make the first move. With that aroused terror in her, she looks over the clanless man.
A cloak of dark feathers, sticks, bark and cord spun together around a mystery of a physique- only its left hand is visible: muscular, scarred, aged both by years and by nature’s daily sting. Its strange mask is hewn from the saddened grey wood of a long-dead tree. Whatever the clanless is, it is formed like clay from the deepest heart of nature; an artist that only humors life in its cold, salted hands.
“This is your only warning! You’ll be a feast for the fish!” Amuu says, spitting at the shrouded ghost of a man.
The clanless reveals its right hand from its cloak, an arrow-filled armor of bark covers the entire arm.
Ruka scoffs. “Well, you definitely hit him. Problem is all that wood he’s got on.”
“Clanless scum,” Amuu says, readying for movement, “get out of here, this girl’s a tribute for The Great Face.”
“ Then I’ll be taking her. You two can go back to your village and tell them you finished your quest,” the clanless says, his voice shockingly light in comparison to his appearance- Luua halfway expected it would hiss to communicate.
“Bullshit!” Ruka throws his spear, aimed at one of the small, dark holes in the clanless man’s mask.
With a curt sway, the clanless dodges the spear as if were thrown by a playing child. “W-well hey now! We don’t need to throw pointy things in each other’s faces!” It says, waving its hands up for peace, “I don’t see why you guys can’t just, you know, turn around an-”
“We won’t let the village down!” Amuu interrupts, dashing forward with his knife ready to pierce. The young, athletic Amuu takes a decisive slash at the clanless man’s neck. In response the clanless ducks and slides between and through Amuu’s legs. Amuu, thought to be the most dexterous boy from the village, is stunned that he was evaded so effortlessly. He turns immediately to face the clanless, but before he’s able, a bark-armored leg shoots up between Amuu’s thighs and hits him directly in the family-making equipment. Amuu is stunned again, this time due to a very different reason, and he drops the knife just before he drops to the ground, curled up right next to Luua.
The clanless crosses its arms. “Well… Okay. So let me get this straight. You boys actually believe that throwing some poor person to the jaws of The Face every fifty years’ll make things better for everyone else?”
Ruka nods. “Of course. That’s how we get the blessing for the harvest and the hunt.”
The clanless shrugs with a sigh. “Well, how do you know that’s true?”
“Th-the elder told us!” A cringing Amuu says as he steadily forces himself back to his feet.
“Oh? But if you keep sacrificing people like this, how can you know that it’s a blessing at all? Maybe it’s more of a curse that you make yourselves kill one of your own each fifty years.”
Luua takes a breath. “The… The elder knows best. He’s older than everyone, he’s the wise-”
“ No! Bullshit! Even the elder doesn’t know- but even if he did- you’d still be coming with me!” The clanless replies, reaching down and picking up Luua as if she weighed nothing.
“Wh-What?! Put me down!” Luua shouts as the clanless starts a swift walk down the beach.
Ruka runs forward, Amuu close behind. “Don’t act like we’re not here!” Ruka yells, tearing off his cloak and revealing his trained and powerful set of muscles. They catch up to the clanless who, with his free arm, reaches into his cloak of feathers and pulls out a small wrapped ball. The two get in striking distance just as the clanless splits the ball with his hand— causing a small but incredibly irritating puff of debris that gets into the eyes and nostrils of the two wayfarers. Amuu slashes blindly at the air as Ruka continues to run in the direction he last saw the clanless at. The clanless simply steps aside and watches Ruka continue running until he trips and hits the sand.
“Huh, someone’s here? I don’t see anyone.” the clanless says with a goofy tone as he turns away with Luua over his shoulder.
“Guys! I’m over here!” She calls.
Amuu perks up in alert, his only orientation provided by Luua’s voice. He starts back toward the clanless, causing Luua’s kidnapper to shake his head.
“Do you want them to get hurt? You know, I have stuff under this cloak for killing, too.”
Luua flinches in a muffled gasp. “N-no.”
“Well good, then stay quiet,” it says as they round the corner through a grove of trees.
Amuu reaches the spot where he heard her, and he calls out, “Luua! Luua, where are you!?”
Luua’s quiet, watching her two blinded wayfarers wave about in confusion- the leaves wrap around her vision, and seconds later her view of them is gone. The clanless makes a few faking movements to shake the two from its path, and then takes her to its small board. He rows them across the water for about thirty minutes until they reach a small, forested island.
“Where’s this?” Luua asks.
The clanless chuckles. “My home.”
The clanless shores the board and hides it behind a tree. He gently waves along the leaves. “This way,” he says. Luua follows quietly, already formulating her plan for escape.
“You know, you shouldn’t have taken me,” she says, “this could kill the whole village.”
The clanless scoffs. “As if Door did anything for me.”
She squints an eye. “It’s Toor… and how do you know that?”
He leads her into a shaded glade— a large network of driftwood huts stand in the clearing with a multitude of strange devices crafted from found objects and nature. “How do I know they didn’t do anything for me?”
“No, how could you know that name? Toor is days away.”
“I’ve been around. Only one village gives their kids fish tattoos.”
Luua subconsciously strokes the top fin of the blue shark on her cheek. “Oh… well you care about them, don’t you?” She asks as he leads her into one of the tents.
“Not terribly… Now here! ” He presents the tent’s inside. A comfortable bed of grass, leaves and a multitude of animal skin blankets lay before her- the skins have been painstakingly dyed blue.
Luua widens her eyes to see in the shaded tent, and they widen further seeing the color of the blankets. “Nice place— this your tent?”
The masked clanless nudges her. “All the tents here were made by me. But now I don’t have to be alone ever again. This here is your tent!” He exclaims with a light tone that she can only interpret as foolish.
Her features furrow and narrow in disgust. “O-oh… Amuu was right.”
The clanless nods his head to the side in wonder. “Right about what?”
“You want me to live here with you, don’t you?” She asks this with an awkward, sour expression on her face.
“Well of course I do!” it says animatedly.
“Have you been… watching me?”
The clanless chuckles sheepishly. “What gives you that idea?”
“My favorite color is blue.”
The clanless shrugs. “Well, could be.”
“And I bet you want to start your own clan… with me.”
The clanless pauses in confusion and then releases a long laugh. “Well… damn! Gotta say I wasn’t expecting that to come up. I think you’re a little young for that, and I’m a little old for you, don’t you think?”
Luua draws back. “Uh, yeah. You’re like what… three hundred?”
The clanless draws back as well. “Ouch! Look here, missy- I just need some company, but not that kind. I have that stuff all sorted out. Now, if you really want to I can go back and grab one of those boys we left behind and you can start a clan with him. I’m sure he’ll say yes- you’re the prettiest girl I’ve seen, after all,” the clanless says, patting her on the head and instilling her with fury.
“I’m the only girl you’ve ever seen, creep! I don’t want to live here with some weird dude… tree… thing! I need to get tributed to The Great Face!”
The clanless seems set aback by her words and after a pause, he motions her out of the tent. Reluctantly, she follows the man whose hair looks like feathers sprouting from the sides of his mask. Out from the small camp and through the woods, she follows for only a minute’s time. They reach a clearing, filled with strange springing plants; there’s many different kinds and colors, some are like grass, and others are like trees.
She draws back in disgust. “You’ve been eating poisonous things to survive?”
The clanless scoffs. “No, you wacky girl. This is food— I grew it.”
The two walk through the grains and fruits over to a peach tree. “But, people die when they eat colorful things off trees.”
“Depends on the tree, actually. In Toor, most of the trees will take more than they give if you eat from them— but these ones are good.” The clanless picks out a fruit from the tree and brushes it lightly before handing it to her.
She scowls. “This is some kind of crazy joke, right? There can’t be such thing as something that grows from the evil earth that you can eat.”
“And yet the deer you hunt eat grass from the earth, don’t they? Smell it, feel it.”
Luua squints suspiciously at the clanless and then looks down to the fruit in her hands. It feels strange, as if it were a small, soft animal, and yet it is obviously not alive. She glances over to the clanless once more, who only gestures for her to go ahead and smell it. With another look of suspicion, she brings the peach to her face and sniffs it.
He nods his head. “It’s?”
“It smells good, but that’s a trick.”
He scoffs. “Don’t trust me?”
“Of course not!”
He picks his own and raises his mask just high enough to show a thin, surprisingly-trim black beard. She sees him, definitely a man for certain rather than a beast, bite into his peach— a gush of juice flowing from the bite. He chews a moment and then swallows.
“See? Mmmm!” He pulls his mask back down.
Luua looks back to her peach, sighs, and bites into it. She flinches as the juices run over and drip down her chin. “Wh-what is this?!”
“I call the fruit brojangalos— catchy, right? I call the taste fruitish.”
She licks her lips and quickly devours the rest; she’s never tasted anything like it, certainly, because her village does not even have a word to describe things that are sweet— as they have nothing sweet on the island. “Brojangalos?” she repeats, “Good name, though I bet someone’s already discovered them… How did you find out about these?”
The masked man reaches into his flowing hood and scratches the side of his neck. “Well, one day I wasn’t feeling so hot. So I decided I’d just eat me a whole bunch of fruit until I felt better,” he says.
Her gaze intensifies. “Yeah?”
“Yeah! And so I went around eating fruit until I found brojangalos, morbolollies, and gobmobagobs,” he says, gesturing to some of the other trees with other peculiar fruits.
Luua looks away in thought a moment. “Why were you having a bad day? If people eat that much fruit, they’d usually die— you must’ve been really worried about something.”
The clanless looks up to the clouds. “I just had a lot on my mind is all. But that’s beside it. I brought you here to show you that you don’t need The Great Face’s blessing. You can grow these with some fertile earth and some time.” He takes up her hands. “Let me show you how this is done, and you’ll be the one tribute in the history of Toor that gave something back to the people!”
Luua’s face, almost sweetened, again becomes bitter. “Are you saying that all the other tributes have done nothing for them?”
The clanless spots the indignant spark in her eyes. “… I’m not going to lie to you. All they did was feed an old lizard.”
Luua takes a sharp breath. “And I’ll be the next! Give the people your fruitish poison if you like, I’ll do what’s right, and save my people!”
The clanless pauses and his stature suddenly deflates. “I… I see. So your mind’s made up?”
“Yes!” She tosses the peach aside.
“You… you don’t want to stay with me?”
“Of course not! As if I’d care about some old fart and his magical island! You’re washed up! If you knew what was good and right, you’d take me back to my wayfarers right now and have me…” she pulls in a labored breath as her eyes water, “… and have me sacrificed!”
The clanless stares at her dully through his mask. Slowly, he bring himself to shake his head. “Please, you don’t know what you’re missing! Look!” From his great cloak he pulls a brown carving with holes in it and he blows into it.
Luua flinches as a loud sound comes from the carving— and the birds, hidden just a moment earlier, reveal themselves and descend with all their feathers of many colors. A rainbow of avians surround the two and perch about on the peach, apple, and apricot trees.
“Control… of the birds?” She asks outwardly in disbelief.
The clanless reaches into his cloak. The sunlight shines through the hundreds of feathers in the clearing, filling all of Luua’s vision with light and beauty as far as she can perceive. From the clanless’ seemingly bottomless cloak, he takes out a carefully-woven bag of plant fibers and spills from it a river of glowing, golden grain. He scatters the grain outward, and the many birds gracefully float down from their trees in perfect trust. They perch onto the earth itself and peck up the grain as he continually scatters more around Luua.
“Here, take this!” He pours some of the edible, gleaming treasure into her hands.
“I-I don’t thi-”
“Now just stay still,” he says, interrupting her as he molds her hands into an open container with her arms outstretched.
A moment passes and a small bird perches upon her; it is green and yellow, with the tiniest, blackest eyes Luua’s seen in her whole life. It does not even flicker in caution, but instead sends its obsidian-colored beak into the pool of grain. Suddenly a tall, elegant, black and white bird perches on the other arm—and then a noisy, plump, blue and red bird.
All around her Luua could hear the celebration of the hundred birds, feel the small, twig-like talons of many sauntering across her outstretched limbs to achieve more of the grain gathered by their beloved caretaker.
“ They believe you’re just like me, you know,” the clanless says, “something about your smell, I bet— they can smell a good person.” She’s silent, and he goes on. “Luua, stay with me- live here and rest with me. I’ll keep you fed forever, I promise, and I’ll show you all the wondrous things I’ve learned. I know how to catch a fish without touching it, or spearing it; I know how to make friends with all sorts of beasts, and I’ve made things that you’ll never see in the village. Life would be easier here than in the village— and you and I, we can show them these secrets together! They’ll never have to make another tribute again! You’ll have saved them! So please, Luua, stay here, don’t go and throw yourself away. Stay here.”
The birds finish the grain and flutter away, releasing Luua to place her arms to her sides. “No.”
The clanless freezes again. “No?”
“ That’s right,” Luua says, “If you care so much about the people, show them the fruit and the birds and all that yourself. As for me, I have a duty- do you know what that is?”
The clanless turns away, his piercing gaze now tossed to the dirt. “I’d like to think I do.”
“Well I have one. I can’t not be tribute to The Great Face. If I lived on, and missed the time for the tribute… I don’t know what would happen to the people. They’d… they could die.”
“No, Luua! Y-”
“And how do you know my name, anyway? You knew my favorite color too. You know where Toor is, don’t you? You’ve been,” she draws back. “You really have been watching me!”
The clanless holds up his hands as if to stop her. “P-please, it’s not li-”
“You’re so weird. This is downright disgusting. You think you can charm me into staying here with your birds and shit, then move on me when it’s convenient for you?” She clenches her fists in fury, ready to send them at this man at the slightest notice.
“No! I already told yo-”
“And I don’t believe you!”
“But you could guarantee their safety with these fruits!”
She kicks him. “No! They’re just poison! Take me back to my wayfarers!” The birds fluff their feathers in their cozy nests.
“Pl-please, don’t ma-”
“Take me back to my wayfarers!” She stands against him in full opposition.
He is motionless as he looks down at her narrow, angry features, but he sees in her eyes there is determination- that one human element that topples so many others. He takes a deep breath.
“Okay,” he says, his tone defeated, “I’ll take you to The Great Face.”
She squints an eye. “Why would I want that?”
“Do you seriously think those two knuckleheads could win a real fight?”
Luua grits her teeth. “Yeah, okay, you’re right. But why would you want escort me?”
He chuckles grimly. “Oh, I guess to spend some last moments with the one I love most.”
Her expression is a glued, skeptical scowl. “Yeah, fine. Not like I have a choice.”
He brightens up. “B-but you do have a choice! You can stay h-”
“I choose my duty. It is what my parents would want.”
“I bet all your parents would want would be to keep their little girl safe.”
“Then you didn’t know my parents.”
“… Yeah, I guess I didn’t. Fine.”
She smirks. “Good. Now, wayfarer, let’s be on our way immediately.” Her posture is almost condescending over the feathered sentinel.
He nods amiably. “Okay- just let me pack up a bit.”
At that, the two ready themselves to take the final leg of the trip ahead of schedule. As he takes up his supplies and shoves off his other vessel, a small, mossed fishing boat, he takes a look back to the island, and releases a single, confidant guffaw.
Luua, watching him do this, frowns lightly and shakes her head- unsure just how to categorize this man. He opens up a small, woven piece of cloth that suddenly catches wind and begins to propel them forward through the aqua-marine shoals. She takes a bemused, relaxed position against the stern as the clanless operates a strange wooden mechanism at the back of the ship that, over time, she gathers is capable of steering the vessel somewhat.
“You’re full of surprises, you know,” she says, adjusting her headdress to make herself look more ‘sacrificy’.
He nods. “And I have many more to show you, if you’d just st-”
He sighs and the two sail on to the island of The Great Face.
The sun bends along the great blue sky, and the island is in sight. A great, jagged gray outline appears in front of the two.
“Looks like teeth,” Luua says, peering out with a look of focus, rather than fear.
The clanless looks up to the outline. “Really? Looks more like… some mountains to m-” She nudges him with her foot.
“Can you at least try to make me feel like my death will be dramatic?”
He laughs. “Oh! The death! The doom! The Great Face calls you! Breathe deep and cry in dread, for the hour of your undoing is nigh!”
She sighs and her posture drops. “Never mind.”
“Oh, the dark, evil, crimson blackness! The sadness and sorrow! Th- Oh!” The clanless stops his dramatic monologue, spotting something across the waves. “Your wayfarers are some committed boys.”
Luua peers to where the clanless is looking, and spots a wooden speck in her vision. “No way…”
“They must really like you. You know, in Toor, they’d only let you bind with one guy, but if you’d change your mind and live with me, I’d let you have as many boyfriends as you’d like!”
Luua conveniently ignores the clanless’ comment as she looks upon the beached boat- the very same she was in just yesterday. Amuu and Ruka are nowhere to be found. “They’re probably ready for us,” Luua says.
“ Well they’re going to be disappointed- I’ll get you there first.”
Luua squints an eye. “That’s a change, just why are you helping me?”
The clanless shrugs. “I’ve never seen The Great Face. As sad as I am that you’re going to throw yourself away, the only thing I can do now is help you do as you please and watch.”
Luua draws back to a straight, official-looking position. “You’re crazy… but thanks- I hope you have a good life.”
Hidden under his guise and mask, he smiles. “The rest of my life will be a blast no matter what. I assure you…. Want a brojangalo?” he asks, presenting her with another of the fruits.
She takes it eagerly, “Thank you. Poison would be a fitting last meal for a tribute, I guess.”
“Uh, sure. So I’m guessing The Face is somewhere in the middle of those mountains— cuz you know, such a great face.” He waves his hand about uncertainly.
Luua looks over to him as she takes a bite of her brojangalo. “What makes you think that?”
“You know… just sorta looks like a spot for an important god to hang out.”
“Yeah? Well if I was a god maybe I’d like to see the ocean.”
“ I don’t know- if you have those tall mountains you’d have shelter to make all sorts of crazy plans- besides, I’d get sick of that sea breeze eventually.” The clanless interjects as they near their destination.
“I’m sure The Great Face doesn’t care all that much.”
The boat shores only meters away from the wayfarer’s boat.
“Alright, well I’m cool with anything. You lead.” The clanless gestures for her to go ahead.
“Good. I’m sure the trip will take us a bit to get to the center.”
He chuckles. “So you suddenly think The Face’s in the mountains?”
She shrugs awkwardly. “W-well no, I didn’t actually say I thought it would be around the coast. I just thought I would do that if I were a god.”
“Whatever, you cheated,” he says.
She waves dismissively. “Okay, stop, I’m about to die please.” The two start into the woods,
“You don’t seem to care quite as much, do you?” He follows along, eying about the woods.
“Of course I do… I’m just… nervous, I guess.”
“ I’d be nervous too- but you’ll be a great sacrifice.”
Luua nods. “Thanks, I guess.”
He nods back. “Weird, I’d imagine they would have come for us by now.”
She hops over a log. “I’d imagine they want to be sure where The Face is- and that’s where they’ll go for you.”
“Spooky,” the clanless says mockingly.
“Yeah, real spooky,” she says as they ascend the incline. A minute later, she looks back to him. “So, you’ve been around, have you really never met The Great Face?”
He chuckles. “Maybe.”
She sighs. “Okay, I should have guessed. Nevermi-”
“She is not so bad once you get to know her. Has some interesting views on the value of people— a bit artsy. She taught me a lot of that stuff about making friends with birds and growing grass to eat and making more friends— pretty cool overall. Big shame with the tribute required and all that. You know, you could just be friends. I’m sure she’d,” he pauses to make quotes with his fingers, “forgive not being given a tribute. I’m pretty sure people have just been coming here over and over with no idea what the decree was supposed to mean.”
Luua gives an exaggerated nod. “Yeah, I’m sure we’re all wrong, and you’re totally right.”
“We’ll find out for sure soon enough. I’ll let you know in the spirit— I’ll bring you some brojangalos in your dreams,” he says, flawlessly climbing an outcropping of rocks and offering his hand to pull her up.
She rises quickly. “Uh, thanks.”
They continue on through groves and glades, the angle abruptly rising some places and dropping others. For a bit of the way the clanless offered Luua his back to be carried, but the further they went along, the less she used his offered help. She would kill herself at the jaws of the beast without the aid of others and be a rightfully noble tribute.
She wonders, on the last few minutes before reaching the center of the island, just how it will feel— to be crushed between those long, jagged teeth she’s heard of in all the stories, the great heat one feels when one’s own blood spills across one’s skin, and how the ears ring with the sound of the body being divided in an instant. She takes a breath, clears her throat. “Hey.”
“Yes?” he says, fiddling with some twigs and grass to make something.
“Do you know what dying feels like?”
“Scared, are we?”
He scoffs lightly. “That’s fair. I almost died a few times. Everything gets blurry, and dark.”
“Don’t you see a light?”
“If someone’s shining a light in your face, sure. Otherwise, it’s dark— then you sort of fade and everything suddenly hurts less, though you know it’s still supposed to hurt.”
She stops in her tracks a moment, her brows raised and her gaze to her feet. “How much will it hurt?”
“Well, considering you’ll be eaten in like, one bite, it shouldn’t be too bad. I’d say maybe… ten seconds at the worst. Well unless The Face swallows you whole that is— then you’ll have a much more exciting death.”
She curtly starts back through the trees. “Yeah, thanks.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that, though. I think she’s pretty merciful. A matter of fact I bet you’ll be split right down the middle. Do you want me to let the boys watch?”
Luua sighs. “I don’t care. I’ll be dead.”
“B-but you might die in some super-awkward position, or you might make some weird sound, like ughwbelllllh! Or wagouuuguuhhhh!”
“Thank you for the detail,” she says, glancing back long enough to see the clanless waving his hands about in dramatic agony and confusion.
“… I can’t say I really care about that either- it’ll all be over.”
The clanless nods his head about in thought as he puts the finishing touches on his little craft. “Yeah? Did you not enjoy life?”
Luua’s gaze is pointed squarely to the ground. “I’m not sure. I just really wish I could have met my mom— she died giving birth to me; and I wish my dad wouldn’t have drowned or whatever.”
“You don’t know what happened to him?” He asks this as he twists a twig daintily.
“ No- they said it was a fishing accident. I asked about it when I was older and they said his whole ship got lost at sea. Everyone died, including him.”
The clanless sighs. “Well I’m terribly sorry to hear that. Maybe your dad’s still alive, somewhere.”
“Why would he do that? Wouldn’t he know how to get back?”
He shrugs. “Maybe he got lost. How would I know?”
She shrugs back. “You wouldn’t, never mind. If he was alive, and did find his way back, I’d smack his shit up.”
The clanless man hums. “Really?”
“So I guess you blame him for something?”
“If he could’ve come back, he should’ve. He could go in my place.”
“Yeah, what a shame.”
“And I guess… I guess I just wanted to know him. I don’t have much to remember him by, but I hear he was a good man from everyone— and to believe that he’d still be alive would be… I don’t think I could handle that.”
The clanless nods. “It would probably create more problems than it’d solve, don’t you think?”
“I guess, except that I still have to die and all. But I think I’m…” She takes a breath. “I think I’m ready, actually. I actually think I’m ready to do this. It’s not so bad. It’ll be quick, and I’ll see my parents again. Life has been short, but I’m happy. I think the elder was right by keeping it from me. The kids would’ve treated me differently… Yeah,” she tightens her fists in determination. “I’ll honor my ancestors and be the next tribute in the line. I’m honored to save them all.”
The clanless shakes his head. “Well I’m glad you believe in something… but I would have wished you’d have gotten interested in something other than killing yourself. There are much better hobbies, you know.”
For the first time, the clanless sees her turn and smile. “Please, clanle… Huh.”
“What is it?” The sun dances between the leaves gracefully upon her headdress.
“You came all this way for me, and you didn’t even give me your name, weirdo.”
He leans back as their path gradually clears of foliage. “Yeah, you know, me giving you my name is sorta not mysterious at all.”
“Yeah,” her features spread in disappointment, “I should have guessed.”
“Oh, but hey! I made something for you!” He says, presenting the tiny thing to her.
She takes it up, and looks it over only a moment— some kind of arrow or something. “Uh, nice, thanks!” She says as she tucks it into her headdress.
The clanless man nods and Luua turns back to the path in time to find a great clearing—Amuu waiting with a knife drawn. She approaches him without so much as flinching, with the clanless close behind.
The opening leads to a sheer, mossy cliff, dropping off into a luminescent pool that hums in the shaded clearing.
“I’m surprised you’re here… this is great,” Amuu says, raising his foot from the edge of the cliff.
“L-Luua!” A voice cries from the side of the drop.
Luua shifts her eyes about the cliff. “Ruka? Is that you?”
“This bastard tried to sacrifice me!” Ruka yells from the other side of the cliff.
Amuu scoffs. “Sorry about that.” he reaches down, grabs a hold of Ruka, and after a moment of difficulty, pulls him back to his feet. “I just thought, well, since we lost you we might as well do the next best thing.”
“You…” Ruka pants for breath, “You bastard! You told me… we were going to wait for them!”
“Don’t be a dumbass, man. How could we have expected that the clanless would actually bring her here?”
Ruka lays himself down as he recovers. “And so you just lied to me and kicked me off to tribute me… You’re a real ass, Amuu.”
“I did what I had to. Someone from our village has to die- but it looks like the clanless is on our side.” Amuu turns back to the clanless and Luua. “So what’s the matter, man? Didn’t get it through that thick head of yours that she was the tribute until after you kidnapped her? Thought you’d turn around and beg for forgiveness?”
The clanless shakes his head wildly, his dark feathers bristling along his cloak. “No. Honestly I think this is all a waste of time, so I thought I’d come and put an end to it.”
Ruka gets to his feet and chuckles alongside Amuu, who readies his fishing spear.
“You got peppy quick,” Luua says.
“You think we’re going to let you taint the tribute?” Ruka asks. “Though Amuu just tried to kill me, you’re here now— that really does change it. So just how are you going to ‘put an end to it’?” Ruka lightly brushes the sailfish tattoo across his cheek and enters a fighting stance.
The clanless, usually of a slouched, feral composure, straightens to his full height. “I’ll ruin the tribute- I’ll take the girl’s place!”
The three youths freeze in shock. Of all the things to come out of this maniac’s mouth, this was the least expected. Amuu bristles. “Y-you… no! You’re not from our clan, idiot!” The two wayfarers block the way to the cliff.
Luua takes a sharp breath. “No! Dumbass! You don’t need to protect me!” She reaches to grasp his cloak, but he bolts forward toward the two wayfarers.
“In my last day, I’ll complete my duty!” The clanless exclaims as he runs for the cliff.
Amuu and Ruka rush at the clanless, and the clanless responds. The three enter a fury of swipes and dodges, the trained youth and fitness of the two wayfarers proving to be useless against the sly wisdom of the clanless man. He twists, spins, slides and glides around, over, under and between the two. With a final move, he leaps and spins his legs into the two, knocking them to the sides. Amuu’s completely stunned, but Ruka is back on his feet in only a second. Ruka draws his second knife and strikes with both weapons at the clanless. The clanless holds Ruka at bay as the two knives poise to strike into the clanless’ neck.
“You… can’t… do this!” Ruka exclaims as he struggles to pierce the clanless. “Toor would be doomed! Don’t you care?!”
It’s obvious to Luua that Ruka won’t be able to stop the clanless- it’s up to her. She looks over to Amuu, now only a meter from her, and then more specifically to the long, sharp fishing spear he brought along. She sees the path.
The clanless laughs under his gray mask. “I’m doing this because I care, boy— take care of Luua for me. She smells good!” With a thrust of the skull, the clanless shoves his mask into Ruka’s face, knocking the wayfarer to the ground and breaking his nose. The clanless tosses aside the boy’s weapons and steps toward the cliff. “Face, can you hear me?” He yells at the great pool below. He takes a deep breath. “I am your tribute!”
From the pool a shadow appears—darker and darker, the light is blocked out by the enormous presence under the surface. The clanless scoffs as a great, reptilian head, colored in white and red and green, peers out from the depths with the greatest, blackest eyes he’s seen. The jaws of The Great Face open and words leave them. “I tire of your foolishness, man. Will you be the one to line my teeth with the blood bound by love?” The Face asks in a deep, immortal voice.
The clanless man waves to the aiming Luua, takes in a deep breath and runs for the cliff.
“For her, of course!”
He flies through the air just as the spear from Luua strikes him. It skews his cloak and hits the side of his mask mid-air, tossing it off. She sees the back of his head: a smiling, vibrant man with a shark tattoo on his left cheek. He turns to look at her, and makes the motion of him gripping a bow and firing an arrow at her as he descends to the open jaws of The Great Face.
Suddenly, memories flash to Luua’s mind. She remembers an annoying man that would always shoot an invisible arrow at her every time he would leave, and every time he would see her at a distance. He’d always bring her the biggest fish from his trips, pat her on the head, and say: “I’ll help you fish for boys one day, too!”. This annoying man would always sneak up on her, tickle her and be an annoyance, but she loved him more than anyone.
A speechless Luua can only see her father wink as The Great Face closes on him. The Great Face swallows, and he’s gone. Luua will never see him again.
Ruka trembles in horror, awaiting The Face’s wrath to emerge in outrage that the wrong human was sacrificed… but nothing happens. The Face simply stares up at Luua with those galactic black eyes. Slowly, Ruka picks himself up, wiping the blood from his face.
“Nothing,” he says, “…just like we were told a proper sacrifice would be like… Is… Is The Face appeased?” His breathing is shocked, confused, heavy and abrupt, but Luua is calm.
“I’m coming too… father.” Luua steps forward to the edge of the cliff.
“St-stop! Luua! You don’t have to do it!” Ruka rises to grab her, but his ankle is caught. Amuu has grasped him.
“I’m making my choice,” she says. Luua dives toward the glowing pool, The Great Face watching her soar through the air. The Face opens her jaws…
Amidst Ruka’s screaming for her, Luua closes her eyes and takes a breath. She waits, expecting to die in just the same way as the clanless— her father. She feels the deep, liquid warmth of The Great Face’s mouth, feels the beast’s tongue run over her body for only a moment. She can almost feel her father’s body—and then, in the next second, she’s spat out, hurled back into the clean air with just enough height for her to land back onto the harsh cliff. She opens her eyes and looks down to The Great Face.
“Why?! I’m the real tribute!”
The Great Face lifts its lips to reveal something a person could pass for a smile. “No, girl. I am full for a lifetime. This is the first proper tribute I’ve been given, and as such, the last I will need.”
Luua is at her knees as she looks down with disbelief. “Wh-what?!”
The Face takes a breath, sounding like a gust of wind that rustles the many trees around them. “I asked one thing: for one to line my teeth with the blood bound by love. Yet your village has sent one after another without that. I tasted fear, duty, even peace in their blood, but not this. For the first time, you did okay, Toor. Very tasty. As agreed from the beginning, I shall now honor my decree.”
Luua is motionless. “What… what will you do?”
“ I will give your village prosperity beyond their wildest dreams. You should be happy. Your father died in love because of you- of all the humans I met, he was the least stupid.”
Luua reaches to her headdress and takes it off. The small craft that the clanless gave her falls aside- it’s not an arrow, but a spear, just like the one he gave her to place in the family tent. She looks up to the clouds, a blank, open look in her eyes. She looks for an answer and then looks back to the pool. “Why didn’t he tell me?”
The Face blinks, a duo of slick films glazing over her eyes. “The man spoke often of this when we talked,” she replies, “he was lost for a long time- and wanted to kill himself. He became determined, however and made the most of it. He found me, and we talked often. Years passed, and he told me he found his village again, but that he wouldn’t return. I asked him why, and he said that he had lost faith in me and my demand for blood. I had no answer to that, so he decided he would wait until you came of age and then he would whisk you away to a home of his making. He mentioned often that he would find you the best man in the world for you to marry, but you had other plans. You are honorable, Luua of Toor. You have caused the agreement to be honored. You knew that he would sacrifice himself, didn’t you? By using his only flaw, you caused him to die with a taste rarer than all others. Thank you, Luua of Toor. I will ensure that your people will be fed for centuries to come.”
Luua stares down at The Face a moment more and then she takes a stand. At the worst time, she lost what is most important to her, and it was not her life. She has trouble gaining her footing as The Great Face calls for her. Tears in her eyes, Luua looks to Ruka and nods over to Amuu. Ruka takes up Amuu, and the three start down the mountain. The great light above them shines over the horizon, ready to fall and drench the world in stars. Luua looks over to Ruka, carrying the thin Amuu with minimal difficulty.
“So… Back to the village?” She asks, wiping her eyes.
Ruka shakes his head. “I… I guess so.”
“I don’t know. I just never expected it’d be like this. I thought you’d be dead…”
“ Yeah, but it turns out my dad was alive- this whole time.”
“I guess he did it all for you,” Ruka says, hopping over a log easily.
“Yeah. It’s like a ghost came down and saved me, sorta. Maybe it’s best I didn’t get too attached.”
Ruka nods. “What do we tell the village?”
Luua squints as they exit out to the beach. “I leapt to The Great Face, but she wouldn’t take me.”
Ruka hums. “I’m not sure they’ll take that one.”
“Then I’ll go to my dad’s island and live there.”
Ruka nods. “I’d like to go with you… We can dump Amuu near home and we can sail back just the two of us.” He says this, averting his eyes as a slight reddening works into his cheeks.
Luua pauses a moment and then looks to him. “What?”
“I mean… if that’s alright with you. He seemed like an amazing man.”
Luua smirks as they get to their boat with their supplies. “He was. I’ll tell you what he told and showed me… And yes, I’d like some company.”
They almost smile as they feel the clanless smiling in the spirit. The three sail off into the sunset, the colored birds soaring overhead toward the island they left.
At this same moment, The Great Face spits forth a man named Cuuo. He lands to the side of the pool and catches to his feet immediately.
“They’re gone,” she says plainly. He’s silent, staring at his feet. The breeze blows overhead, rustling the leaves from the trees. The slits of The Face’s eyes close only slightly. “Is something wrong?”
“Why didn’t you eat me?”
The Face draws back her enormous frame just an inch through the water, causing a pool-wide rippling and small waves at Cuuo’s feet. “You wanted to die, did you?”
“…I was ready.” He finds his mask floating about on the water and hops in.
“But now it’s like you died to them. You can keep living your life.”
“I’m not sure if I was ready to live on, seeing my dau-”
“With me,” The Face adds.
Another silence, and then the birds come. Hundreds of birds land in and paint the trees with broad, wild strokes of fluttering color, a chirping orchestra swirling overhead.
Cuuo looks up at them, smiles ever so slightly and looks back to The Face. “You didn’t answer my question: Why didn’t you eat me?”
The Great Face, for the first time, looks aside in something resembling embarrassment. “I was fascinated with humans when I met the first one, but I wanted to see if there was one who could love me amidst any challenge or difference. You see, human, eating the others was easy—they cared about themselves, or their precious duties, but were required to leap all the same. You were the only one to do otherwise, to take someone else’s place. I cannot eat what I love, human.”
Cuuo draws back this time, but only for a second before he continues his approach to his mask. “So you didn’t want to kill me, but you wanted to kill the others?”
“ No, their death was necessary so that I’d find one good human- you put too high a price on your kind, but perhaps that’s what makes you special. After all, it wasn’t me that made the decree from your stupid village. A few hundred years ago they just came up and started tossing people in, thought I’d play along— such is befitting of a goddess, don’t you think? A goddess that would spare the finest of humans?”
Cuuo grabs his mask and starts back for the shore. “Well, thank you… but now I don’t know what to do. I thought I’d throw myself in and take Luua’s place, and that’d be it, but you’ve gone and complicated everything.”
Water spouts out from The Great Face’s nostrils in the form of a scoff. “Me, complicating things? Please, I’m just a lonesome old lizard napping in a puddle.”
Cuuo reaches the shore with his mask and takes a seat on the beach. “Yeah, well I’m just a washed up old man.”
“You saved generations of them, you know. You were the last sacrifice of them all.”
“Yeah, but I’ll live the rest of my life not seeing Luua again.”
“Just as you did for over a decade. She thinks you died honorably for her. Isn’t that enough?”
Cuuo looks to the sky in thought as he scratches his chin, and slowly brings himself to a nod. “Maybe you’re right.”
“I am right. I tried talking people out of sacrificing others to me several times before, but the wayfarers all thought it was some test and dumped the sacrifice back in each time I spat him out until they just killed him themselves. Quite the shame… This time it will be different, I hope.”
Cuuo nods. “Yeah… but if they come back they’ll need a stern talking to… and an even sterner kicking about.” he says. An uproar of twittering overcomes the pond as the birds sing in commotion.
“They certainly will. Humans can be pretty dense. Perhaps they don’t believe the three youths and they send more the next time. I wonder who will be there to stop them from just killing someone and tossing them in the pool.”
Cuuo sits in the sand and looks down to his mask— that strange, grey face that strikes both awe and fear into the unlearned eye. Slowly, a smile crosses his face. “Yeah, I’m not sure if I did the job right. I can’t stop at just being the perfect sacrifice, can I?”
The Great Face releases a deep, pleasured coo. “No, you certainly can’t!”
“No, I certainly can’t . I need to show them all the things I’ve learned! It was selfish of me to just share it with Luua- I’m going to make sure that no one dies like this again.” Cuuo stares deep into the mask’s eyes and then puts it on. The birds cheer and The Face Grins as The Clanless man stands up, taller than ever before.
Across the waves, Luua looks back to the island. “Damn, those birds are loud,” she says.
Ruka shrugs as he watches the waves. “Must be something really exciting going on.”
(A short note from Kell is below, so read on!)
Thanks so much for reading Sacrifice. I very much hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I wasn’t sure how to end this one, so it sat on my hard drive for several months before I finally decided on an ending and made it available- would it have been better if Cuuo had or had not died? Would it still hold the same meaning one way or another? I struggled this for a while, but after lots of deliberation I made my decision- it’s a weird feeling, sacrificing one ending, and thus one theme for another, but I think it was a good compromise.
Are you happy with the way it ended? Unhappy? Tell me via email at or do me a favor and leave an honest review so the world can see your thoughts.
Until next time,
About the Author
The mysterious Kell Inkston has been writing with vigor since 2009 and has probably visited at least a couple of different dimensions. Kell believes in writing things so good, that those who don’t read, will, and those that do read, shall do so ever-more.
Kell is uncompromising in the pursuit of things like world peace, but as a realist, thinks that writing stories to inspire and empower are good first priorities.
Kell loves cooking for his spouse, also named Kell, going on nature walks, the beach, and definitely video games.
If you’d like more of Kell, send an email over to , or check out the website, .
Luua of Toor is expecting a spectacular marriage with her one and only now that she's of age, until the Elder busts the news that she's actually the village's sacrifice. She's put on a boat with her two wayfarers, comprising of the village outcast and none other than her now ex-boyfriend, and the three sail off to the island of The Great Face, bearing the place of her sacrifice and the deity that demands it. It's not long on their trip that they're interrupted by a powerful obstacle. A mysterious clanless man pursues them, who has some very different words for Luua about how she should live her life. As her keepers attempt to fend off the clanless, Luua asks herself if dying for the people she loves, but doesn't love her back is really worth it. When it comes to blows and deadly force, will she have the persistence to make a choice that's her own, or will she be rolled by the tide of fate? A short story of thrills, thought, and destiny- join Luua on her journey in learning the value of duty as her life hangs on by a thread. For more free adventures visit kellinkston.com. Enjoy!