As promised, Citra got to work cleaning the mess Vaas made yesterday. She picked up shards of broken clay bowls and collected the scattered fruit, dumping them into straw baskets. She up-righted the knocked down chair and when she swooped down to pick up a stray apple Vaas staggered in, hissing and shielding his eyes from the morning sunlight streaming through the windows.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you." She placed the apple away and went to the boiling pot of water, pouring its contents into a ceramic cup. Vaas groaned rubbing his temple and plopped down in a chair. He squinted questionably at the cup of tea offered to him. "Drink. It's for the headache... I used to make some for Father." A painful hollow moment passed between them at the mention of their father.
Over and done with.
Citra blocked off this disturbing sadness creeping up on her and gently placed the tip of the cup on his bottom lip, tilting it upward for him to drink. Vaas did so, never taking his eyes off her. Citra smiled gently and meant to put the cup on the table but he snatched her wrist. She raised a brow and he licked his lips, his brow knitted in concentration.
"I'm sorry for the way I acted." He said plainly. Never one for long poetics. Always straight to the point. "You don't deserve this. I know you're strong, stronger than me but I'm your older brother. I'm supposed to protect you, more now than ever. It's just us now." He looked deeply into her eyes and said, "We're family. We stick together no matter what."
"Just us?" Citra asked, a gleam in her eyes. She set down the cup to sit on his lap and brushed her knuckles against his cheek lovingly.
Vaas took her hand and held it, "Just us."
Citra gazed at him, taking him in and wondering how she got so lucky. What did she do to deserve someone so perfect and amazing? What will happen when she loses that perfection...
In a spur of anxiety, Citra leaned in and kissed him. He tasted bitter but to her it was the sweetest taste in the jungle and nothing could compare.
She pulled away, licking her lips. Vaas looked at her in that way that made her heart skip a beat. Sudden, overwhelming guilt washed over her, making her get up and move away. She fingered her necklace, growing more anxious by the second. There were no secrets between them, only shared ones and Citra had a huge secret. One she didn't know how he will react. But he told her they were in it together and Niko was just his friend. She is his sister. The boy could not even compare to her. Right?
And when she explains why she did it, Vaas will understand. He always does.
"I have to tell you something." She had to turn around to even say that, unable to face him. It was easier this way. "Last night... I-"
Citra whipped around when she heard the door open. Tane entered, looking tired and worn out, busy from all the meetings he's attended in discussion of the recent attacks. The grave look painted on his face gave Citra a bad feeling. Vaas must have sensed something too since he stood up and met their Uncle halfway.
"Uncle, what's wrong?"
If it were possible, Tane's frown deepened. "It's your friend Niko. He has disappeared. Monatula assumes he was dragged off by komodos but no one knows for sure what happened. I need you to take Kalai and some others to find his body but do not venture too far from our territory. We don't know how safe it is on the island until we know who we are dealing with."
Citra did not miss the fact that Tane said body and not Niko himself. They were not expecting to find him alive. Good. It calmed down some of her frazzling nerves.
"I'll go right now." Vaas said, the sleepy daze he was in wiped gone replaced with alertness. He went to retrieve his blade and kissed Citra's forehead before leaving out the door.
"You too, Citra." Tane said, "Monatula needs your help moving the injured into the village."
She frowned, confused. "Why?"
"Monatula feels that it will be safer for them to be inside the village away from the animals and the foreigners."
"Foreigners?" She perked up, "Are those the people who attacked us? You know who they are?"
Tane made a sound of annoyance, "No, that is all we know for now. Go, do not make the priestess wait."
He left and she hurriedly gathered her things and left as well, her mind buzzing with the new information. Foreigners? Is that who were attacking them? People from the outside world? But why? What did they want? Will there be a great war like the ones in history past?
The prospect of war frightened yet excited her. It sounds just like the stories from old, but this time Vaas would be the Rakyat's hero. Citra thrilled at the thought. There was a reason this was happening and she held no doubt in her mind it was because of Vaas. She always knew he was destined for greater things and this right here, right now, was his calling.
All will perish before him.
"Careful with him." Monatula's voice drifted out from the hut as two men carrying an injured warrior on a bamboo stretcher passed Citra on her way in. Outside, most of their patients have already been relocated to the village. Some of the more critical ones stayed behind.
Citra made her presence known by asking, "Shouldn't they stay here with you?"
Monatula glanced up from a patient as Citra knelt beside her, giving the parched man some water. "It'a be better but with what happen' to Niko and with them outsider beasts still out there it is not safe. It'a be better for them in the village." She followed the priestess to the table and helped her craft more syringes.
"What happened to Niko?" Citra chatted nonchalantly, crushing underwater mushrooms into a powdery paste. "My Uncle mentioned some things but..."
The priestess took a break from chopping leaves to wipe the sweat from her forehead. "He was taken by the jungle. Your Uncle thinks it be Komodo Dragons who done it but they do not seek out the living. Jus' the dead."
"You think he might have died during the night?"
Monatula waved her hand, "I don't know child. He had a bad fever from the infection but he was a strong one... Boy must'ave bad luck." She concluded, taking the bowl of crushed mushroom and mixing it in aloe water. Once the watery mixture absorbed the liquid and hardened, the old lady rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Fire usually keep them away."
"Bad luck then." Citra mused, watching her mentor waddle and bend to apply the healing mixture on a deep cut running across a man's leg.
Bad luck... Niko got what he deserved and for the sake of his parents, she did hope they find his body. Or what's left of him to be honorably buried. After all, his sacrifice made Vaas come back to her.
"Auntie Mona, can I ask you something?" The priestess nodded her head lazily. Citra bit her lip, "You grew up inside the temple. You know.. them. The tribals. I was wondering.. if you remember a boy named Zuraidah."
"Zuraidah," Monatula echoed, "I knew a boy of that name long ago... How do you know him?"
"I don't." She said quickly, "Not really. I met him a few days ago, the night before my father... It was strange. He knew my name, like he knew who I was and he called me by my Mother's last name. And the way he said it, Talugmai, like it was important to him. Like it meant something."
"It does." Monatula chuckled at the shock on Citra's face. "Talugmai is a powerful name to the Rakyat. Blood, even more so."
"Is it because of my Mother? She was some sort of, Warrior Goddess to them?"
"She was a Warrior Goddess to them. To all of us."
"But then she left." Citra finished.
"Ay' she left them."
Citra fingered her necklace, "Are they sad that she is dead?"
Monatula wiped her hands and gave Citra a curious look. "Maybe. Bring me the bandages."
She stayed until the last patient was taken to the village and lingered a bit longer to wait for Vaas to return but it seemed they were out still searching. Must be hard looking for pieces of a body.
Saying farewell to Monatula, Citra headed back home. She made a small detour to check on the injured warriors stationed at the main hall, then headed to the market place to get fish for lunch. When she arrived at the house she stuffed the fish in ice to preserve it for later. She went to her room next to change into something more comfortable when the door to Anaru's room caught her eye, making her pause.
Biting the inside of her cheek, she found herself entering her father's room quietly, as if not to disturb the silence. She gravitated towards the desk, running her fingers lightly over various books, parchments and other oddities. Her curiosity satisfied, she headed to the bed. It was built to be big enough for two but only one has occupied the bed for fifteen and a half years. Getting on her knees, she reached underneath and dragged out a wide box towards the center of the room. She sat down and traced a finger down the top, leaving a line of cleared dust.
When she opened it, she was greeted by a neatly folded up black outfit with a white square centered at the collar. She held it up and discovered it was some sort of long dress paired with equally dark pants. She laid it aside, making a mental note to fold it back properly when she was done.
Underneath the clothing was a black book with a golden cross imprinted in the middle, a wooden cross necklace laying on top. She raised the necklace to eye-level, intently watching the small wooden cross spin around slowly.
"It is wrong. Sick. Brothers and sisters should not engage in disgusting sexual relations. It is blasphemous. Vaas, you should know better. You will never do this again, you understand? "
She let the necklace slip from her fingers and picked up a rolled up piece of parchment.
"I was wondering where that went." A voice said, startling Citra. She looked over her shoulder and saw Vaas at the doorway. He came in and sat behind her, his body curled around hers in a way that allowed her to rest against his chest. She inspected the item an asked what it was. "Open it." Was his response, brushing her hair over her shoulder to rest his chin on it.
Gingerly, she pulled at the string, releasing the parchment. She rolled it open and stared at a map of the world. The paper was thin and flimsy, tears here and there at the corners and the colors of the map had faded over time but she could still see the lines of far away lands and the vast blue of ocean that dominated the map.
"I remember this," She said, tracing the lines contouring around a white area, "A-laska.. You wanted to go there. You wanted to see the snow."
Vaas looked surprised, "I can't believe you remember that."
It was so long ago they played around with this very same map but she remembers little things like that.
"We'll sail around the world. We will find all the treasures and become rich! Like pirates!"
She moved her finger from Alaska down to a bigger country: Africa.
"I still wanna ride the elephants." He mumbled, chewing on a strand of her hair. Citra found it impossible to imagine animals bigger than houses. She continued tracing her finger over many places, Vaas commenting on some. He nudged her and asked, "Where do you wanna go?"
She cocked her head, "I don't want to go anywhere. I like it here."
"Not for real. Just for fun." He sighed.
Citra thought of it and found she still had no desire to travel. She was content here. This was their home; their island. Why would she leave?
"I will go wherever you go." She said finally. It was the truth and possibly the only reason she could see herself leaving the island. Without Vaas, it wouldn't feel like home. She will be happy wherever she is as long as she's with her brother.
"Hey! It's your bird!" Vaas exclaimed, pointing at something inside the box. Citra set the map aside and grabbed a small wooden bird. The craftsmanship was crudely made but it was obvious that it was supposed to be in the shape of the birds of paradise. "Doesn't it whistle?"
"Yes," She answered, rotating the little toy. The feather tails was where you put your lips on to blow air in, and there was a small hole on top of its head where the sound comes out. "It needs water to sound like a bird."
Vaas unclipped his waterskin and popped the cap open. He plucked the toy bird from her fingers and poured water into the opening in its head. "There," He shoved the toy back at her and she shook her head. "C'mon," He encouraged and continued to pressure her until she reluctantly took it. Giving him an annoyed look, she placed the tip of the tail in between her lips and blew.
The exact sound of a bird singing filled the room and if she had no knowledge of any toy bird she would have thought it were real. Vaas laughed in pure delight, something that made her heart bloom. She stopped and handed it to him to try. He did so without any hesitation, and even tried to make a sort of tune.
"I'm keeping this," He declared, moving the bird through the air like it was flying. The toy bird swooped down and started pecking her cheek.
"I made it for you anyways." She grumbled, swatting the bird away.
Vaas observed the wooden sculpture, holding it up into the sunlight streaming through the blinds, rotating it this way and that. "It's really good, you know? You can sell this stuff to the towns people. Make some money. You were really good. I remember you used to make all kinds of animals. Why'd you stop?"
"I don't know.." She stared blankly at the wooden sculpture. Why did she stop? It was nice... soothing in a way; the process of creating something. It required patience, something she lacked back when she was younger. But the most important part of sculpting was the control it gave her. Every slice and cut was done intentionally. Every grain smoothed out was done on purpose. She can move the blade of the knife in any direction she wanted and it would do so. She can mold nothing into something into her own vision and to her it was perfect. Whenever she sculpted, it felt like she was in control of something, even if it wasn't her own life.
She remembered when she was young she would lay on the floor in absolute happiness knowing her little wooden sculptures would never leave her. They loved her.
"It was just a childish hobby."
Tane came around for a late lunch. The poor man looked more haggard than usual and he gratefully ate the food she gave him. While she cleaned up the kitchen, scraping fish guts into a bucket to dump into the pig pen later, she eavesdropped on the conversation between him and Vaas. They were discussing about any news traveling around the island. Something about the towns people's presidential election at Thurston Town in the Southern Island being disrupted by the same foreigners who attacked not too long ago. According to rumors the nominees running to become the first president of the Rook Islands (only to the towns people that is; not the Rakyat) were executed, along with any government Rook officials in the area.
"Why should we care." Vaas said, leaning back in his chair. "It's their problem, not ours."
"We should care." Citra cut in and glanced at Tane uncertainly, feeling a tad foolish for speaking up. "Whoever they are, they want the towns people leaderless. Weak. They don't want them to fight back. Which means... the foreigners didn't come to kill them. They want to rule them... but why?"
Tane nodded his head appreciatively and motioned for her to take a seat with them. "Good, Citra. We do not know yet why but we do know they want something. To rule or something else, we will stop them." He sipped from his cup and addressed Vaas. "Any news of your friend?"
Her brother straightened up, "Yeah, we found him in a cave. He's missing a few fingers and he was bleeding all over the place but he was still breathing. We took him back to Mona and she said he will wake up when he conquers the venom of the dragons... He must have dragged himself out of that hell. I mean, if you had seen what he looked like when we found him..." Vaas trailed off and she realized he was staring right at her.
Citra must look pale as a ghost since she felt all the blood rush from her face. She blinked and looked down, collecting herself. One of her hands began shaking with small tremors. She gripped it hard with her other hand to stop it.
"That's good to hear." Tane said, "Niko is a fine warrior and we need every man available to fight in case those demon foreigners attack us next."
She chanced a glance up and cringed when Vaas was still staring at her. It was a relief when a man burst into their house, drawing his attention away.
"Chief!" The man said to their uncle, "Alexandria is at the entrance. She has brought outsiders with her!"
"I am not your chief-" Tane grumbled but paused when he heard the rest of the news. He got up immediately and pointed a finger at the two siblings. "You two, stay put." He warned menacingly and headed out the door with the man.
Vaas and Citra looked at each other and simultaneously scrambled out the door. They made sure to put distance between them and Tane in case he spots them following him. Halfway to the entrance Vaas grabbed Citra's arm and pulled her aside.
"What are you doing?" She hissed. They might miss something important!
"What's wrong?" He demanded more than questioned. "And don't say nothing because I saw your face and you looked scared. I've never seen you that scared before."
Citra felt her stomach drop and she ripped her arm from his grasp. "It's nothing," She managed to say and continued the path to the entrance, walking briskly, her heart hammering underneath her chest.
Vaas caught up to her. "Don't hide this. We don't hide things from each other. Citra, tell me."
She stopped abruptly and dragged her hands over her face, tears springing to her eyes. "I thought it was the only way! He was turning you against me! I couldn't let him... I had to get you back!"
"Stop, stop. Slow down, I don't understand." Vaas said, grabbing her wrists to keep her still.
Citra wanted nothing more than to run away, but she looked into his eyes and with a shaky whisper she said, "I- I did it. I dragged Niko out into the jungle and I fed him to the Komodos. I had to. You have to understand.. I had to. It was the only way."
Vaas' jaw clenched and he bowed his head. A moment of silence passed before he asked, "Did he see you?"
"Yes. I think so. I don't know!" She bit her lip harshly, wracking her brain of memories of that night but everything seemed so fuzzy. Vaas let go of her and held his head, walking a little ways away. His back faced her and she could see how tense he was. She jumped when he punched the side of a house.
"Fuck!" He yelled and returned to her, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her lightly. "Why did you do it, Citra? Why? why would you do something like this?"
She wanted to tell him. She truly did. Explain to him that when Niko called him a coward it made Vaas feel bad and that's why they argued that night and Vaas turned into this monster; a distorted impostor of her brother and the only way to get Vaas back was for Niko to stop existing. And it worked! It worked! Vaas did come back to her.
She wanted to say all that but her mind drew blank. Somehow, looking back on her reasoning, it didn't make sense at all.
But it must! It had to.
"I... I don't know."
"This is not a game, Citra!" Vaas roared quietly, "This is serious!"
"I know that!" She snapped, the anger erupting inside her giving her some kind of semblance of control. She wiped her eyes and marched off.
Why is it every time she opens up to him, he always has a way of bringing her down. Making her feel stupid.
She doesn't need him.
She'll handle this on her own. She doesn't need anyone. Especially not him. Ungrateful, blind brother.
Citra immediately felt guilty. She shouldn't think such vile thoughts about her brother.
She lost him in the crowd formed around the entrance. Having a small lithe body came with its advantages when needed upon. It took her no time to reach the front.
"What is this, Alexandria?" Tane boomed, "Why have you brought these people to our homes?" Her uncle didn't even look surprised to see Citra standing next to him, Vaas appearing at his other side. He looked exasperated but in part ignored the two.
Alexandria, the white lady from her father's funeral, stood before them with a group of five to ten outsiders. All of them except for Alexandria were bloody and bruised, their clothes torn and burned in some places. They carried with them strange luggage and bags.
"I'm sorry for coming unannounced Tane." The lady said politely, flickering her eyes at the bows and spears trained on the group of outsiders. "Forgive me, but I had no idea where or who else to turn to. These people, their plane crashed down further inland. I rounded up all the survivors but I am afraid if they stay out in the open something bad may happen to them. I told them it would be safe here."
"You bring nothing but trouble!" Someone said from the crowd, prompting a few murmured agreements.
"Why should we take them in? They are outsiders. They could be our enemies in disguise!" Another voice yelled, drawing a louder approval from the villagers.
"No, they are not." Alexandria stated firmly, taking a step forward only to freeze and raise her hands cautiously as a bunch of arrows drew back. She gave Tane a look that said really? Tane sighed and raised his hand and waved it down. Reluctantly, the warriors lowered their bows, although some have not released the tension in the arrows. In response, Alexandria slowly lowered her hands.
"Talk," Tane ordered.
"I have reason to believe their plane crashing was no accident. It was done deliberately. Maybe by the same enemies you accuse these people of being." She spoke quickly, maybe realizing she had limited time to convince the natives to hear her out.
"Do you have any proof?" Her uncle asked. Citra was surprised by his patience. If it were her, she would have already sent the outsiders away. It is what their people seem to want too.
"Yes, she does!" An old man dressed in a black torn up suit spoke up, waving his hand in the air. He went to stand beside Alexandria and glanced wearily at the warriors. "I am an official diplomat sent by the Republic of Indonesia. There was another man who represented the country of Papua New Guinea but has died during the crash. We were both invited to witness your President's first inauguration."
"Not our president. We don't have one." Vaas interrupted, crossing his arms.
"Yes, yes, sorry." The man stumbled over his words, clearly intimidate by her brother. He adjusted his glasses and continued. "We were supposed to land at the airport but our pilots stopped receiving word from the tower. All of a sudden, we are being shot at by helicopters! I am sure, you know the rest."
"Please," Alexandria said, "I understand you do not trust these people but right now, they need medical attention and a place to stay for a little while until I can contact someone to help them." She gave Tane a pleading look, "Please."
"We will discuss more in the main hall." Tane said, sending sharp looks at anyone who wanted to protest. "Citra will care for the wounded. Come."
"Why are you allowing them inside our home?" Vaas asked harshly as they walked alongside Tane, the outsiders following behind. It was the exact same thing she was wondering about too.
"Because they have done nothing to us. We are not like are brothers in the temple. We help those in need." Tane gave a sideways glance at Vaas, "That is what your Father preached and he was right."
That shut Vaas up. Her brother looked away in shame and Citra can't help but feel a tinge of annoyance. After all, their father preached a lot of things. Not all of them were "right".
They entered the main hall; Tane and his men along with Vaas, Kalai, Alexandria, the diplomat and a few outsiders converged around the big oval table. The injured ones were ushered into a separate room where all their healing warriors resided. Citra did her best in checking their wounds, injecting them with healing syringes to heal and stave off the pain. Luckily, most of them had minor injuries except for one man with a broken leg. After she was done, she sneaked into the main room and kept to the walls to observe the meeting.
"Are you sure you cannot think of any reason why they wanted you dead." Tane questioned to the diplomat.
"No, no reason at all. I'm as clueless as you are."
"They might come looking for them." Kalai said, obviously not happy like Vaas about Tane letting in outsiders. "And if they find out we are sheltering them, we are next on their target."
"That's impossible." Alexandria countered, "No one knows they are here. When I arrived at the crash site I did not encounter anyone other than the survivors."
Kalai glowered and turned to Tane, "It is a risk letting them stay here. They are putting our tribe in danger."
"I agree." Vaas said, interrupting whatever his uncle was going to say. "You heard what he said. They have helicopters. They took down a plane."
The village warriors began speaking up too, one even starting to get into an argument with Alexandria until Tane slammed his fist on the table. "Silence!" He bellowed, and with a tone like that no one dared disobey. Secretly, Citra was impressed and a little jealous. She wished she could have that kind of commanding authority. "Alexandria, they may stay. But for only a few days and no longer."
"I understand." She replied, "First thing morning I'll head to the docks and see if I can pay any fisherman to take me inland."
"Why don't they go with you?" Citra spoke up for the first time since she entered. She kept her face neutral when everyone looked at her, although inside she wanted to shrink and hide. She didn't mean to say anything, it just came out.
The diplomat looked at Alexandria as if wondering the same thing. The blonde lady smiled, not at all perturbed by the interruption. "Believe me, I would like to take them if I can but I fear the enemy might have the same idea. Surely they will be searching any boat leaving the island, if they don't blow it up first."
"If that is true, then you are putting yourself in danger." Tane said.
Alexandria shrugged, "What can I say? My Father always said without risk, there is no reward."
"It is settled then." Tane concluded, "Alexandria will go inland and the outsiders will stay here for five days. After that, we will guide them to the nearest town. Does anyone have anything else to say?" Complete silence. Either everyone was happy with the outcome or none dared disagree with Tane. Citra, in her part, was content with the plan although she wished for it to be three days and not five. "Good. Come, diplomat. You and your people can stay here. Some of my men will bring in mats for you to sleep on." Tane stood up, signalling the meeting was officially over.
Outside, she passed Vaas and Kalai.
"Citra," Her brother took a hold of her arm but she shrugged him off.
"Trouble in paradise?" She heard Kalai say.
Vaas followed her, calling her name but she ignored him each time. When they got back home, Vaas called her name one last time and this time she did stop. She squeezed her eyes shut, pressing the palm of her hand against her temple.
"I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought... I thought..." Her voice wavered. "I don't know anymore. I did it for you, I did it for you. I did it for us."
She could see her father now. His cold dead body. What was the last thing she said to him? She couldn't remember. Why couldn't she remember? Why did he leave her? Why did he have to die? Why can't he be here with her?
Look at that little girl. Citra never knows when to stop. Always messing up. Always making mistakes. Well now it's too late. You made the biggest of mistakes and no one can save you. You can't take it back! Your brother's not going to make everything better this time!
"No, no, no." She grit her teeth and started hitting her head.
Over and done with. MOVE ON. He's dead. He's gone, he's gone, he is gone. She never cared for him, remember? He doesn't mean anything to her. He's gone but Vaas is still here and he's the only thing she wants.
Vaas enveloped her in a hug, crushing her against him and tucking her head under his chin. She thought she was hallucinating at first, but it was real, it was really happening. "Please stop, Citra. Don't do that. Please don't hurt yourself." He said hoarsely, hugging her tighter as if she would turn to dust if he let go.
She felt a hole in her chest grow wider, sucking her energy. "I'm sorry Vaas. I'm so, so sorry."
"No, no it's ok. It's ok." He hushed her, cupping her cheek and wiping away a stray tear with his thumb. "It's gunna be ok. I'm not going to let anything happen to you. I promise. I promise."
"I don't know what to do." She whimpered. "They're going to find out. He's going to talk and say it was me!"
"No, no, no, no I'm not gunna let that happen. Citra, Citra look at me." He forced her to look him in the eye, "That's not going to happen. Niko is still asleep. Monatula said she doesn't know when he'll wake up or if he will wake up but if he does I'll make sure he won't ever say your name."
Citra didn't like what he meant by that. She didn't want him to do anything drastic. "How are you going to do that?"
Vaas shook his head, "I don't know, I don't know. I'll think of something, alright?" He pressed his forehead against hers, "I promise. I will protect you. Remember? It's just us now. You and Me. I won't let anything happen to you." He kissed her forehead and held her tightly again. "I promise."
There was a grave, its cross on fire. Then, Komodo Dragons appeared, dragging her father's body to the surface and feasting on his corpse.
Behind her, the bloody yellow eye of a sun glowered down at her in all its hatred possessiveness.
A bright flash blinded her-
Vaas' necklace falling into a puddle of blood.
She's trying to search for it but there is nothing but her bloody, bloody hands...
Citra awoke to the sound of someone entering the room. She reached for Vaas but he wasn't there.
A body dipped into the spot where he fell asleep beside her. Through drowsy eyes, she saw it was her brother. He must have gotten up during the night to pee or something. Making a tired noise, she snuggled up to him, resting her cheek over his heart. She breathed him in and oddly enough he smelled of alcohol and... was that smoke?
Where did you go? She wondered before sleep took a hold of her again.