18 Jan, 1820
Day 1 of travel
It was a long journey to find the man and little girl that roamed the open desert. But after months of searching I crossed their path. He is simply known as ‘The Traveler’. I am known as ‘The Inkling’, I go to the farthest reaches of the globe documenting the great martial artists. I, too, am a martial artist, but I focus on my studies. ‘The Traveler’ is the greatest fighter this world has ever seen. He is known for the little girl by his side, and a style of fighting he invented. Forma del mono.
It was a normal Sonoran winter day. A slight breeze whistled through the canyons, and the sun beat down the chilly late morning air. The path along the cliff-side was enclosed by the parallel Palo Verde trees. The Traveler and his follower were standing in front of me:
“I am the one they call ‘The Inkling’. I have come from the land of the colonizers to find you,- to learn from you. All I ask is to follow you for a short period of time and I will be on my way.”
“Do you not speak English?”
The traveler raised his fists and pretended to fight, then pointed to me, then back at himself. He turned to the girl and said something very fast in Spanish. I knew that they were talking about me, but I didn’t have any idea what was being said.
“Do you want to fight me? I will, so long as I can come with you. If I win that is.”
I began taking off all my bags, and training gear. It weighs far too much sometimes. I looked up in the middle of getting ready,- The Traveler was sitting next to his companion and both deep in either prayer or meditation. I looked to him,-
“I’m ready now.”
The Traveler stood up and gave his follower a hug. He stood to his side, right foot forward. His left heel was up and the ball was planted. Left hand near his face, right out (as if he were holding a fencing pose) he stood still. He was unbelievably calm. He must be in his prize form, but it’s not what I expected. I rushed to strike him, throwing everything I had in the first right cross. Before I knew what had happened he gently tossed my hand aside with the right and stomped on my foot. I backed up and tried again but with a left. He simply leaned forward—planted on his left leg, right hanging straight and elbow deep into my hip. It was impossible to walk, one foot nearly broken and the other hip in the same state. I stepped back and threw my hand up:
I felt there was no chance they would let me come now. I not only disrespected him, I made a fool of myself in the process. The two looked at each other and started speaking in Spanish, still not slow. The Traveler clearly asked the little girl a question, she paused and looked at me. “Eh. I like him.”
“Me too, he’s got a good spirit.”
I looked in disbelief, “I thought you couldn’t speak English!”
“I lied.” He was chuckling with the little girl. “My name is Paul, and this Oriana. I was going to leave you, but you attacked me twice. So I will grant your request, you may follow us.”
“Only because of that?”
“Yeah, you’re either stupid or brave. You had to know I’m called ‘the greatest martial artist’. So did you really ever have a chance?” He smiled, “let’s get off the road and I’ll tell you more.”
. . .
Once we found a shady spot behind a large rock formation we sat down, the Traveler looked at me. “What would you like to know?”
“Where are you from, why does she follow you, the basics for starters?”
“I’m not entirely sure of my heritage. I was found as a baby on a ship in the Far East, they brought me to a temple and I was raised by monks until I was ten. And Ori follows me because she is my friend, I found her the same as they found me. The Buddha does not discriminate, nor did Jesus, therefore it was my duty to help her.”
“What happened before you came here and after you were ten?”
“Do you know what an Abbott is?”
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Don’t be afraid, he is a teacher. He is the one that betters himself so that we may reach enlightenment. Or so it goes. He has great wisdom and is compassionate. When I was ten he took me on a private walk in the woods. He said ‘my son, you are destined to do great work.’ I told him that all Buddha’s children were. After that answer he made up his mind that I must go out into the world, spreading peace and love. I traveled to the west, made it to the Western countries, that’s where I learned English and Spanish. Around fifteen I sailed to this region of the world, shortly thereafter, I found Ori here and never left.”
“So where did you learn martial arts? The Far East?”
“Yes, in the beginning. But martial arts is more than what you are talking about now.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll learn in time, brother. Is there anything else you wanted to ask before we started on the road again?”
“When we fought, was that Forma del Mono?”
“No, that what’s known as Wing Chun. It’s what I learned as a boy.”
“Yes, it was invented by a woman actually. It’s about flow, and using your opponent’s moves against them. Come,- we can talk more on the road.”
. . .
We walked for about ten minutes on the trail, and Paul finally looked back, “what else would you like to know?”
“I was informed by my superiors that you’re a part of a group known as ‘The Order’. What is that?”
“Your information is rather old if I had to say. I have not been a real member since I found Ori.”
“You haven’t? Why not?”
“I wasn’t allowed to ‘keep her’, that was what they told me. I couldn’t leave her. I have been her guardian for the past eight years.” We kept walking and Oriana looked at Paul. She rapidly rattled rhythmic words,- Paul stopped and got down on one knee. Oriana climbed onto his shoulders and he stood up. He was strong, holding her up with ease. A practiced gesture to be sure. Paul continued “I was exiled for my actions. You have come at the most interesting time, The Order has made me a proposal. There is a man known as ‘The Kraken’, should I defeat him, I will be allowed back into The Order.”
“What does The Order do?”
“Depends, mostly to the public, it’s catching criminals. Collecting bounties, dead or alive.”
“Dead or alive? How savage.”
“Hardly, almost no one kills the bounty. We make more on the live ones. If you kill a bounty you make more then and there. But a bounty never stops if you’re alive, you can turn someone in over and over, as long as they’re alive.”
“Where is this ‘Kraken’?” I asked
“Just outside Sebana, to the north.”
We kept waking until night time crept. Oriana was on Paul’s shoulders the whole time, he didn’t seemed phased by it. Finally, after stopping, Paul prepared a meal for them, and set up a tent. How they were able to hide all of their stuff was incredible. Their bags seemed like bottomless pits. Curious, I asked: “how did you learn all this?”
“All of what?” Oriana responded.
“Loading your camping gear so that it’s like you have none, making food appear and such.”
Oriana looked at Paul confused, it was just something they did. They knew they could, so much to the point it became part of them. Paul started, “I’ve just always traveled this way. I guess, Ori just picked it up after me.” Then Paul ran over to Oriana, picked her up, smiled and told her it was time for bed.
19 Jan, 1820
When I woke up, Paul was nowhere to be found. Oriana was standing on a large rock, her knees were bent as if she were riding a horse. “Good morning, Oriana.” I tried with no response. “Good morning, Oriana.” I said again with no response. As I was inhaling to say it again Oriana stopped me.
“Cut it out. I know you’re there—can’t you see I’m doing something?”
“Do you talk to Paul like that?” I said surprised.
“I would if he was annoying me.”
“What are you doing?”
“Why on earth would a little girl like you need to know Kung Fu?”
“I don’t really think I’m going to use it. It’ll make me better at other stuff too.”
“I’m not going to be able to do this in quiet, am I? Well, what you see is fighting, what Paul sees is love. You hear ‘martial’ and Paul hears ‘art’.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“That until you see it as Paul does, or I do, you might not really learn it.”
Paul came around the corner with two long sticks. He walked over to Oriana and began speaking in Spanish. He handed her a stick and said something else in Spanish. Is he teaching her how to swordfight now? “I can’t let you fight her, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Paul looked at me after I said that:
“I wouldn’t worry about me, Ink.” He threw the other stick at me. “Be careful, she’s really good.”
Before I could even protest Oriana whipped me in the legs. I became enraged to the point that I started falling for their game, my right foot was back and the stick in my left hand. I raised the stick up and Oriana without hesitation jammed her stick into my armpit, stopping just in time for it to only scratch the skin. Paul looked at me, “told you she was good, now stop bothering her. Get your stuff we’re leaving now.”
We gathered our stuff and made way to the capital Grifo. It was a nippy noontime, another light breeze and long shades stretching across the landscape like tidal waves glossing the shore. Paul explained more of his situation and that he has raised Oriana this whole time, with some help of course. They spent the early years near Sebana, and then in Grifo for a few. Once Oriana was old enough to make a trip into the desert, he took her and taught her to survive as he did. That’s when they crossed my path. He wasn’t in The Order for very long, I peg a couple of years at best. While he was telling me all this I didn’t realize that we had wandered into the market. We made a sudden stop, there was a man standing, calm and confident,- his accent was nothing I had heard before: “I am the Hammer of St. Petersburg. I am here to claim my bounty.” Bounty on who? On The Traveler? It couldn’t be on Oriana.
“Dah.” Paul said blandly. Then held up one finger, as if he was telling the large foreign man to wait. Paul signaled us to walk back. Paul looked at Oriana and said the phrase, “Sierra to O-hoes.” Oriana put her hands on her eyes. Is she scared? I thought to myself.
The Traveler rolled up his sleeves; underneath, two metallic grieves. The foreigner unraveled a cloth behind his back to reveal a hammer. The Traveler squatted down and leaned on his outstretched arms. He reminded me of a frog, and he said the words ‘forma del mono’. This is it¸ it’s different. More different than I could imagine. The Foreigner swung his weapon from behind his head and over, and the Traveler blocked it—feet planted in the ground, arms crossed holding the hammer back. He exploded from his toad like stance, leaping head first into The Hammer’s chest. The Hammer regained his footing, but it was already too late. The Traveler spun from a handstand, and while still holding a crawl-like position, driving his right foot behind him—up into The Hammer’s chin. The Hammer fell to the floor, Paul walked over and helped him to his feet. He said something to The Hammer in a different language. Paul patted his fallen foe on the back, and he walked away never to be seen again.
Paul walked to Oriana, said something in Spanish. She gave him a hug and we were on the move.
. . .
It was later in the day and the sun was setting, the city was in a vast valley. The mountains surrounded the landscape, blocking out the rays of resting radiance. We came to a hotel, they knew the Traveler well. They knew his companion well too. They were speaking Spanish, once and a while making a gesture to me. After many moments of mistaking the motions and remarks, they turned to me and handed me a key. “Ink, this is yours. We got you a room on the house.”
“How did you do that?”
“Long story, short: there were some robbers and Ori beat them up to a pulp.” He said full of laughter. He picked up Oriana, put her on his back and walked up a flight of stairs. He tucked her in, and came back downstairs. “How about a pint?”
The bartender served us two mugs of the finest ale, complimentary of course. “You said that most people think the Order is a police force, but is there something more to it? The way you said it has stuck with me.”
“You wouldn’t believe me in two hundred lifetimes.”
“What part of the continent do you hail from in the land of Colonizers?”
“The northwestern island. The capital to the south.”
“Your king and his church would call them demons, my friends of the desert call them spirits. They simply are what they are. Foul beasts that manifest from the sins of man. The Order hunts these monsters.”
“So then demonic possession, is that—“
“Real? Quite. Non-believers call it mental illness. Keepers of the faith call it possession, but they are one and the same.”
“How do you mean?”
“Do you believe in God?”
“Of course I do.”
“I just do.”
“Is that because you were told to and never looked further, or because you know it in your heart.”
“I’m not sure.”
“I have my answer, people all believe in the same thing, but we have different words and a few different ideas about the areas we don’t know. We get caught up in that and lose the issue at hand.” The Traveler chugged his pint. Looked at me and continued, “just because you don’t understand or even know about something, doesn’t mean it’s any less likely to occur.”
“I certainly don’t understand.”
“That’s okay, I’m sure you will in time. I’m heading off to bed. Goodnight, Ink.”
20 Jan 1820
I woke up to Paul sitting on my bed. He was crouched onto his knees, feet on the post. Ori and he had already packed. Paul told me that we must leave now if we were to make the next town before dark. He helped me get my things together. I’m not sure I’ve met someone that is such a great fighter and yet so kind. Paul seemed to love everything and had a very positive outlook on life. I looked at him and asked: “What is the next town from here?”
“It’s a small Zuni settlement to the east, most people don’t know that it’s there.”
“Why are we heading there? Won’t we be going out of our way? Or is that the only town that we can make it to before sundown?”
“It’s really a matter of getting there quicker. I have many friends there, good friends. They will take us the rest of the way to Sebana.”
Before long we were off on the trail again, after only about three miles Oriana returned to her standard position on the Traveler’s shoulders. They had a kinship I haven’t even seen among relatives. They were more family than most. The more time I spent with them, the more I had to remind myself that she wasn’t the Traveler’s little sister. They understood each other,- they loved each other. Before long Ori asked Paul something in Spanish, Paul patted her knee above his shoulder and laughed. Paul looked to me and asked about my childhood. “I don’t have an exciting one like you.” I responded.
“Who said it had to be?” He said laughing.
“Well there’s not much to it, I was set to boarding school as a boy. One of the priests there showed me a book taking about the legends of ninjas and samurais. I would study those kinds of books for hours—even days. The priest asked me start documenting all the great warriors of the world. I have been doing that ever since.”
Oriana started making loud snoring sounds from above Paul’s head. Paul looked at me and said “and you were worried about it being boring.” They both broke into laughter.
“I know it’s not as exciting as living in the desert, but it is mine.”
“We’re just having fun, Ink.” Oriana said to me in my depression. “Anyone can learn from your life, they just need to look in the right place.”
She’s very smart for her age, I thought to myself. “Thanks for the kind words. I’m just not use to your brand of comedy, I guess.”
“We’ll take it easy on you from here on out, if that’ll make it better for you?” Oriana replied snickering. She had an odd adult-like sense to her. It almost seemed as though she was an adult trapped in a little girl’s body. She was more independent than most children, and The Traveler fostered that part of her. I could imagine Paul even admitting that Oriana was better than him in some areas. Paul was smart, but Ori was smarter. I’m not sure that she is aware of that yet.
. . .
Several hours had passed. The shadows stroked the sand stretching into awaiting darkness. We approached a mountain and The Traveler explained that the settlement was just on the other side. We made our way around the mountain and there was a small establishment of tents and straw like houses. Many people back in my homeland would describe these residents as poor. As we passed every home, I noticed the faces of the people that watched The Traveler. He wasn’t just a man to these people, he was a messiah. The largest house was constructed by long thin pieces of green wood. We entered and was greeted with warmth and love. This was clearly the chief of the settlement, and he embraced the Traveler as his own. The Chief squeezed Ori in his hug so tight, that I could hear her say “too tight!” He looked to me and said “any friend of Paul’s is a friend of mine!”
Paul looked to him “This is the one they call the Inkling, he is a Colonizer. He is not like the others. I have found him to be cunning and trustworthy.”
Cunning and trustworthy? What an honor to hear from the greatest martial artist.
“My Grace—Oriana, The Inkling and myself all require assistance. We need a crossing to Sebana. I come to you in dire circumstance, and I am humbled by your will.”
“It shall be granted, my dear friend. My daughter Hannah will lead the caravan.”
A sudden look of confused emotion crawled over Paul’s face. He looked as if he had been told bitter sweet news of the most profound nature. Then the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on entered the room, she was of average height, strong bodied, long elegant black, thick hair streaming down her back. A smile that was so flawless that I would be willing to believe it could make the blind see again. She wasn’t just beautiful, she was beauty.
I looked to Paul who was blushing, so much so that even Ori noticed it. “Why is your face red, Paul?”
Paul put his hand over Ori’s mouth faster than sight could allow. It was quite clear to me what was going on, Oriana pulled his hand off giggling. Paul’s face was pure red now. The woman smiled, walked over and kneeled down in front of Paul’s teasing, seemingly sibling.
“Oriana, you have grown so much. You were maybe three years old the last time I saw you! You’re growing into a beautiful woman.” Her attention turned to me now, “I am happy to meet you as well.”
My heart melted; she was divine. I could not understand, it’s clear that Paul and Hannah once were together in some fashion. What could’ve happened?
“We shall leave in the morning.” Hannah stated.
. . .
We were given a private hut. Paul tucked Ori into bed as was custom. I sat outside and stared at the full moon. The light splashed onto the desert, periodically punctuated by the mountains in the distance. This was a remarkable place. Later, the Traveler was off in the distance, he stood on the ball of his left foot his right was hovering above, knees cocked and completely separated. Arms held out, his elbows were slightly crooked, right hand in front of the left. He was statuesque, a human sculpture. In the moonlight, his shadow did not budge. He was a monument, his body was a temple of god; his Kung Fu,- the gospel.
21 Jan 1820
“But why?” Oriana pressed.
“They want their freedom.” Paul replied.
“I mean, I understand. What I don’t get is what’s bad about this country?”
“We live in a different place, we don’t know what their hardships are.”
“No, but the grass is always greener. Isn’t it, Paul?”
She is smart for her age. I thought to myself.
“That’s true, Ori.” Paul said smiling as he was putting her on his shoulders.
Hannah looked to Paul. She chuckled and went back to her conversation. She was quite striking, and I could sense she loved him very much. I imagine that she must have been the help that Paul spoke of in regards to raising Oriana. I can’t help but be intrigued by this.
In the midst of my pondering I noticed Hannah fall back to where Paul and Oriana were walking. Hannah looked at Oriana, “do you remember me at all?”
“Can’t say that I do.” Oriana replied plainly.
“Don’t be rude, Ori!” Paul inserted swiftly.
“It’s okay Paul.” Hannah said, “I helped Paul raise you until you were old enough to journey into the desert, as did my tribe.”
“I don’t remember any of that, sorry.”
“Paul, you never tell her about me?”
“You never came up.” Paul said as plainly as Oriana did.
“Don’t be rude, Paul!” Oriana teased.
Paul looked at her annoyed. She giggled and Paul smiled wide. Hannah had a look of disappointment. It struck me as the look of a mother reunited with her family, but couldn’t recognize them any longer. What would it feel like to miss out on so much? Paul seemed oblivious, however. We continued the rest of the way on horseback and in a wagon. Before I knew the day had passed us, we were at Sebana. A two or three day journey reduced to a day. It was a miracle, undoubtedly. Paul picked the right way, as he seemed to do often. He had a knack for it.
We had another hotel, all free. Oriana was tucked in as usual. The Traveler and I were sitting at the pub, free ale of course. We began talking and I decided to ask: “May I ask something personal?”
“What happened with Hannah and me?”
“How did you know?” I replied.
“You have been staring at her constantly. It couldn’t be more obvious than when you saw her expression during her conversation with Ori and me. Ori’s giggling when we met her didn’t help.”
“You noticed all that? I thought it went over your head.”
“No. What do you want to know?”
“Were you two together?”
“Yes, almost all of Ori’s early years. Until we went into the desert.”
“Is Oriana like a daughter to her?”
“Yes; but, Ori is Ori, I am me. Hannah will always be Hannah. That’s what she didn’t understand. I took Ori into the desert not to make her a hardened warrior, but to teach her everything I know. When she is old enough, I will let her do anything she wants. I just want her to know strong principles.”
“Why didn’t she understand that?”
“Who’s to say? I learned not to wonder those things long ago.”
“Do you ever miss her?”
“No. I am grateful the time we had, but that is the past. It means as little as the future to me.”
I found it amazing that he had such a profound outlook on the situation. I would have never let someone go of that caliber. If I did, I would pine over it for the rest of my days. “How does Oriana deal with it?”
“She doesn’t remember that part of her life. I never talk about it either. It doesn’t serve her any good to wonder about things she may never see. Did I answer all of your questions?”
“Yes you did.”
“Then I am off to bed. We leave in the morning.”
22 Jan 1820
We woke as the sun rose, packed our bags and we were off again. The Kraken lived on a mountain north of Sebana. I’m not sure Paul knew what to expect, but he looked poised and ready. Oriana had a look of dread, but she held Paul as he held her from his hip. There were stories about this Kraken, he lived in a pit of slime, where he dragged his competitors. Fighting his fight, on his turf. Eight feet tall, and fed on the remains of his fallen foes. A true monster.
We scaled the mountain, a path was craved by the feet of explorers and warriors alike. Every step grew far more tiring. The air was thin, I found myself gasping for every breath. The Traveler seemed unphased, he was confident or a fool.
We finally reached the summit, Paul looked at Oriana, and said the phrase, “sierra to O-hoes” once more. She closed her eyes, and buried her head into his shoulder. There was a small pond with a tree next to it. Moments of silence were followed by a voice of thunder: “Who dares enter my home?”
“I am the one called The Traveler, I seek the Kraken.”
Paul put Oriana down, muttered something in Spanish. Oriana seemed abnormally scared. He walked towards the pond.
“What purpose do you have for disturbing him?” The voice roared.
“I have come to bring your downfall.”
In the blink of an eye, the Kraken broke through the surface of the water pulling the Traveler. The Traveler swam to where he could stand, but the water still covered his shoulders. He threw his arm out of water, as the Kraken moved closer, the Traveler arched his fist downward striking the Kraken in the head. He staggered through the water, the Traveler swam to him, wrapping his legs around his chest hoisting himself up and striking the Kraken’s head repeatedly. The Kraken finally threw him off, jumped on top holding Paul underwater. He grabbed the Kraken’s wrists and shot both his legs through the Kraken’s arms kicking him square in the mouth. The Kraken fell into the water. The Traveler swam to shore, jumped to the tree’s branches. The Kraken grabbed the base, shaking it violently. The Traveler held on until he leapt down landing on the Kraken’s hands. He screamed in pain and anger. The Traveler kicked himself off the tree propelling into the Kraken; digging his elbow deep into his skull. The Kraken fell face first, completely submerged. Paul dragged him out and hog tied him.
“We’ll send word to the Order, but you are no longer free, Kraken.” Paul said sharply. He walked over to Oriana, she laid her weeping eyes into Paul’s shoulder once more. “Everything is okay, Ori.” He said holding her tightly. “It’s all over, Ori. We never have to deal with this again.”
We scaled down the mountain with the sunset behind us.
23 Jan 1820
We made it back to Sebana late in the night, slept at the same hotel. Slumber was our first and only priority. I woke to birds chirping, the wind briskly breezing by my bedroom window. I changed into more suitable attire; made my way downstairs to find Oriana and Paul sitting at the bar. They had a feast in front of them, they asked me to join them and help myself. Right about the time I realized I was full,- I noticed that Paul wasn’t really eating. Oriana looked at me, “he hasn’t been feeling well.”
“When did this start?”
“About the time we came down from the Kraken’s mountain.” Paul replied.
“Are you going to be okay?”
“In due time.” Paul smiled.
After a few moments a group of bandit looking men entered the restaurant portion. They were well armed and crowded the corner. Their server walked off and a couple of the men started harassing her. Paul looked up into the mirror at the bar, whispered something to Oriana. She nodded and went on about her meal. One of the men, noticed us at the bar. He made a comment: “Hey over there! Are you going to pay for us?” The gang of men burst into laughter.
Paul looked at Oriana, “wait outside. I don’t feel right about this.” She nodded, and got off her stool. Paul then looked to me, “the man in the trench coat, he is known as ‘The Gunslinger’.” The same man from before walked over to the Traveler and me. “Hello gents, we just came in from Grifo. We’re a little short on funds. Can you help us?” He laughed maliciously.
“Sorry, fresh out.” The Traveler replied plainly.
“Look, I like you. That’s why I’m giving you the easy way. But you’re going to help me out one way or another.”
“Sounds horrific. What if I refuse still?”
“Then I’ll have to hurt you . . . hurt you bad.”
The Traveler chuckled “well let’s skip the formalities.” He kicked out his stool from under him turned and struck the man with an almost sarcastic slap. The man fell without any big show, he was almost racing to the floor.
A couple men stood up but the Gunslinger called them off before they could leave. The Gunslinger rose to his feet and walked to us. “Sorry about this idiot, thugs never do learn manners. They call me the Gunslinger. Who are you gents?”
Paul looked up, “just wanders in a little village.”
“Where did you learn to fight?”
“Fight . . . ? I got lucky, nothing to it.”
Why is Paul lying? It might be best for me to keep my mouth shut.
“I don’t believe you. How long were you in the Order?”
“I never was.”
“Why do you lie? Who was the little girl?”
“What’s it to you?”
I’ve never seen him like this.
“Well your buddy’s expression tells me you’re lying. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re the Traveler. If that’s the case, I want to cash in.”
Paul looked to him, then looked at me. I was so emerged into the conversation that I didn’t realize that the rest of the group had crowded around us. Paul turned to face the Gunslinger. “If you wish.” The horde tried to tackle him, but these thugs were little help. Paul was striking them in between their misses with such ease. It were as though he was the air amongst them fighting as a group. The men fell back and to the ground, as Paul defeated all of them there was something I never would have dreamed of seeing; Paul was wheezing.
The Gunslinger approached Paul, now wielding his weapon, it was a long sword and its handle was that of a revolver. He took a stab at Paul that was blocked. The two masters were engaged—they whisked through the wind with their stances and attacks. Finally, the Gunslinger swung his sword above and pulled it down; Paul crossed his arms holding off for as long as he could. He began wheezing again, the Gunslinger looked down at the now kneeling warrior. “You’re ill, aren’t you?” He said in disappointment. “This is not how I want to kill a master like you.” He kicked Paul to the ground and rounded up his posse. I heard him say something about ‘the girl’, I helped Paul to his feet. We scurried outside to hear Oriana screaming, Paul looked up to see them taking her into their wagon. He screamed her name; the Gunslinger’s thugs ambushed us. We lied on the dirt road, I saw the Gunslinger walk to the fallen Traveler, “you’ll go down to the Yuma Desert and take their most prized jewel.”
“Then will you let her go?”
“Yes, but you will not leave alive. Your bounty is mine and no one else’s. Rest up, you have two weeks.”
24 Jan 1820
The morning reeked with a certain foulness. Air was bitter to constantly drying mouths. It was an unpleasant feeling circulating in the town. Paul was in his room packing, the hotel gave him food for his journey across the desert. It was as though he was walking into an abyss; never to return. Once Paul was done, he walked to me in the pub, “I don’t expect you to come with me.”
“What is so dangerous about where you are going?”
“Do you remember the first night you and I drank at a hotel?”
“When I ask you what the Order does?”
“Yes. These people are exiled members of the Order too. We all know what’s ahead. It’s the belly of the beast.”
“I am coming with you.”
The Traveler nodded, we walked outside and there were two horses waiting. We mounted our gear and settled in for a long road. We spent the rest of the day riding until many hours after the sunset.
25 Jan 2016
At the end of the morning we reached the edge of the Yuma desert. It were as though someone drew a line across two deserts and they became separate; one side to house peace and tranquility, the other—death and desperation. The Traveler looked to me and told me that we must leave the horses because they would run away. We began walking, even the sand felt vastly different than the dirt. It was both difficult to walk and to breathe. The air was dense, musty. It held a sour smell just below our noses. Our breaths were short—soft. We kept walking until the Traveler stopped me, “don’t say a word.” What on earth is he preparing me to do? I simply nodded.
We came up to a forest of cacti, surrounding a small mountain barely taller than an average man, off in the distance. Once we entered, the forest grew thinner and thinner. In reaching the gentle mountain, there was a man that looked like a monkey. He sat on the summit; the sun shined slightly through the dark-shaded clouds. He down looked at the Traveler and giggled, “I know what it is you seek.”
“I seek to move past your throne, nothing more.”
“My throne . . . ?” The monkey man said amused. He sat up straight in wonder. “You are too kind. That’s why I’m going to make you this one time offer.”
“I’m not interested, spirit.”
“You haven’t even heard it yet!”
“I’m not interested, spirit.”
“It’s a very good offer, my friend.”
“I’m not interested, spirit.” We began walking past the hill.
“I will save Oriana!”
Paul stopped for a moment. “I’m not interested, spirit.” He said sadly.
The monkey man became enraged and jumped around on his hill banging his fists on the stone. Screaming and moaning as if he were battling his emotions. “Keep walking.” The Traveler snapped.
A few hours had passed, the air was normal again, the sand was replaced by clustered, cracking, dry dirt. Walking up a pathway along a mountain, we saw the sun. There was a man in a hooded robe sitting along the ridge, he was wearing a mask with tribal paint. It looked like a hardened cactus. His eyes were black and mouth was sewn shut. We could clearly see it through the mouth slot. Magically, he began to speak in a drawn out voice. “Why-y-y-y have y-o-o-u come here . . . ?”
“I will move through this land a few times, but I do not mean you harm. I seek people who live beyond your domain. People of my ilk.”
“Y-o-o-u, s-e-e-e-e-k . . . the jewel. O-u-u-r jewel?”
“I will return it, but I need it in my quest.”
“Very we-l-l-l . . . but. What if I could give you more?”
“I’m not interested, spirit.”
“Y-o-o-u could rule these deserts . . . save your family . . . b-e-e-e rich.”
“I’m not interested, spirit.”
“But . . . wh-a-a-a-t about Ori?”
Paul hesitated again as he was walking past the spirit. “I’m not interested, spirit.”
We walked for a few more hours before reaching the end of the desert.
26 Jan 1820
We woke on the border of the demonic desert. Paul assured me that we were safe, although I saw the difference and I did not feel he was being truthful. After we packed the gear I asked about where we were the day before. He explained that there are regions of the world, often remote and unlivable, where dark beings make their abode. Many words have been created to explain their existence; but, they all mean the same thing. These things. Demons, residing for the sole purpose of evil in its truest form. The jewel that we needed for Oriana’s return was their design, the Yuma people worshiped it. In that, they honored the gods of the dead,- and the dark desert.
“Paul, what is your plan?”
Paul continued walking.
“Paul, don’t you hear me?”
Paul continued walking.
“Paul! Tell me what is happening!”
“I don’t know!” he snapped in anxiety. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Are you going to take the jewel?”
“I’m taking it one step at a time. I’ll deal with it if and when I have to.”
We continued walking,- the sun beating down with our feet swishing in the sand. It was hot, and our skin armored by our perspiration. I had not experienced such dry heat, it clawed out the moisture in my deepest pours. We sat down to take a break, I was struck with the urge to ask, “Paul, what do you say to Oriana before you fight?”
“Sierra to O-hoes?”
“Do you mean ‘cierra tus ojos’? It mean close your eyes.”
“Why?” I said stunned.
“I wouldn’t want her to see me if I got hurt.”
“Has that ever happened?” I said in disbelief.
“Then why worry?”
“Because any day, at any time, a man can be beaten. No matter who.”
I paused and tried to digest this thought. If he believed that than it must be true. After all, he did lose at the inn, he was too ill to fight.
“Does that also mean that the bounties are on you?”
Before I could continue thinking about this concept, I felt a sudden searing pain in my foot. I looked down to see an arrow pinning it in place. I looked to Paul, “help me!” I screamed in agony. I looked up again to see us surrounded by a group of Natives. Paul simply got on his knees and shook his head. They took us to their camp, I could barely walk. Paul was holding me up for support. Every step was excruciating. My foot pulsed in pain with the slightest hint of pressure. We entered a large stone structure carved in the side of a mountain. It may as well have been a wonder of the world. Its shadow blocked out every ray the sun threw at it—eclipsing for the ground beneath it. We then entered a sort of throne room inside the mountain. It was filled with guards scaling every wall. An older, heavyset man sat in a massive stone chair with a young beautiful woman next to him. Just in front and a little off to the side another man stood, he was muscular, bigger than even the Hammer of St. Petersburg. However, he was much more toned, his muscles screamed out of his skin. Veins slithered up and down his arms. Finally their leader spoke in a language I had not heard yet. Paul replied but it was followed by laughter. He looked at me and said, “don’t do a single thing.” Out of nowhere Paul looked up again, began speaking in the strange language—there was frustration in his voice. I had not heard it before from him. He then pointed to the muscular man, said something else. The room was struck with laughter another time. He pointed again and said the same thing with a rage I never saw expressed. The veins in his neck pulsated, his face grew angry. The leader clearly acknowledge his request. From what I could gather was Paul would gain what he wanted through force. If that’s what it took to save Oriana, he would gladly do it.
The muscular man stepped forward, as did Paul. Paul bowed and took a fighting stance I had never seen before from anyone. His right foot was cocked up, while his left knee was mounted on the right heel, his left foot was cocked behind. His left arm extended out as far as it could, an open palm reached to the heavens. The right arm was behind, almost mimicking a scorpion’s tail. Moments after he took his stance the room erupted in laughter once more. The muscular man ran to the Traveler both fists held high behind his head,- fingers locked together. As he swung down, the Traveler merely lifted his left hand holding both of the man’s fists with ease. The Traveler twisted his torso, striking with his right. You could hear the bones cracking and breaking as the Traveler’s fist dug into the large man. The man paused, regained his cool. By then, however, the Traveler had spun on his right foot, left leg out, tripping the man. He fled to the ground. He began getting to his feet when he saw the Traveler standing above him. Paul simply shook his head. Clearly asking the man to yield. The man rose up enraged, then he punched at the Traveler, as quickly as the man attempted his strike, the Traveler parried by wrapping his right arm around the man’s arm and countered with his body spinning the left, meeting his mouth. The man’s jaw popped and crackled as Paul’s fist dug even deeper than before. The man did not breathe. He did not move, he may as well had been a statue or not even existed at all. After much delay, the man collapsed. The room was struck with a silence.
Paul looked to the leader, nothing was said. A different soldier walked to Paul, handing him a large piece of white stone. It glimmered in the torches of the room with a beauty I had not seen before. Paul ripped off part of his shirt and wrapped the jewel. He then walked to me and picked me up, “I think it’s safe to say we overstayed our welcome, Ink.” Paul said cheerfully. We were led out and given horses. We rode straight to Sebana, without a moment’s hesitation.
29 Jan 1820
After two solid days of riding, we made our way to the camp. The Gunslinger gave Paul two weeks, he only needed a matter of days. The horses the Yuma Natives gave us did not fear the demons as our domestic ones did.
The gang resided in an abandoned warehouse. It was not under any real supervision, or so it appeared. The building was crumbling, the stone was dusty from the rubble. It cascaded down from the doorway, and disintegrated into sand. Walls behind were held up by air and miracles. It were as though magic froze this decimated structure. There was a rocky path leading to the dual-doored entrance. Paul looked to me and explained that he had no real plan. He wanted me to stay behind him, at least far enough to stay safe. With my foot, Paul didn’t want me to risk it.
He found a long pipe like tree branch. It was thick and straight. It were as though a guardian angel left it for Paul to defend himself. He picked it up, and we burst through the front door. Men turned around shocked to see the Traveler. The Traveler swung the branch with such ease, it spun around him, behind him, nearly through him (or it would seem) the Traveler was a moving piece of art. Unlike any time before, as these thoughts struck me—the Traveler had already taken care of the soldiers.
We entered the main room next, there was a herd of gangsters and on a platform in an equally crumbling throne up the staircase of stone, the Gunslinger was seated. Next to him sat Oriana, her face lit up the very second we entered the room. The Traveler simply mouthed “ceirras tus ojos” and Oriana closed her eyes. Without a moment’s hesitation he dashed and swung the branch around and upward, cracking it in two over a man’s head. He quickly grabbed the new smaller one and held both pieces in his hands. The Traveler painted the air with his extended limbs. Gracefully twisting and thrusting the timber. In mere moments these seemingly dangerous thugs were disarmed and defeated.
The Gunslinger, now the only remaining soldier, rose to his feet. There was a small crack in the ceiling; light illuminated between the carved top. Reflecting off the buckle on his hat. His arm was lifted to reach for his gun-blade. He scaled down the stairs, collected and ready for the next—whether battle or a step. “You are most impressive, Traveler. This will be my greatest prize to date.”
“I can give you this jewel, and then we can part. You live your life, I live mine. I wish for all this to end.”
“Have you grown weary of battle?”
“Battle? No. Every man and woman has a battle. It is growth, it is inescapable. I grow weary of violence.”
“Violence will always be.” The Gunslinger continued walking down the long stairway, “it will always exist,- just as up cannot be without down, peace cannot be without war.”
“That may be, but I have learned how to wage war so that I may prevent it. Please, let me have her back. I will never pursue you hereafter.”
Paul had such wisdom in his voice, such compassion, it were as though he went to Hell and back. Paul was a new person, awaken in his loss of Oriana—even wiser than before. Now that there was resolution, there was no fight to be had.
“Your tactics will not shake me, Traveler.” The Gunslinger had made it the bottom of the staircase. Now standing not more than ten feet from the Traveler. “If you do not engage me in three seconds, I will show no mercy.”
“I will not strike first.”
“I will not strike first.”
“I will not strike first.”
The Gunslinger sprinted to the Traveler, swinging his blade overhead, only to clap and clash the Traveler’s gauntlets. They were locked in place by their combative focus and unweathering strength. After moments of this struggle they broke apart, skipping back a few feet. Then they pounced toward the same spot. Their movements were so fast that they merely danced within the wind. To say that either of them held an advantage was completely out of my grasp. The Traveler blocked another overhead blow by the Gunslinger’s blade, only with his right forearm. His left fist shot into the Gunslingers stomach sending him back. The Traveler took advantage, a right cross followed. Then a blow from his left, another from his right, and again with the left. One powerful punch after the next, until the Gunslinger fell. The Traveler jumped on him, poised in his mythical stance. Forma del mono. Paul struck him again, and yelled “yield!”
Paul struck again.
The Gunslinger inched back.
Paul struck again.
The Gunslinger slid back once more.
Paul struck again.
The Gunslinger slid back once more.
Paul struck again.
Nothing was said.
“Yield!” Paul cried.
The Gunslinger tried to raise his hand; he touched Paul’s face—grazing it as the hand fell.
Paul stood up, walked to Oriana. He held her tighter than any embrace I have ever seen. Oriana buried her eyes in his shoulder. Paul picked her up and we walked out.
. . .
After we walked a ways, Paul and Oriana stopped me. “This is where we part, my friend.” Paul said. “You have been good to us and I hope you have enough for your studies.” He smiled. Oriana walked up to me and hugged me.
“What will you do now, Paul?”
“We have a jewel to return.”
[_ And so they walked into the sunset,- walked into the desert. Paul was a man—The Traveler a myth. Both could not exist if it weren’t for a true companion. But neither of them will tread a land where their footprints will remain in the sand. _]
The Inkling is from the land of Colonizers to research a man know known as the Traveler. Little is know about him or the little girl that is his companion. As they travel through the cities and sands of the desert they are met and greeted by all sorts of people . . . and creatures.