"Auntie, I brought you fresh goats milk from the farmer boy-" Citra announced when she entered the priestess' hut. Her words died in her throat when she realized Monatula wasn't alone. Kalai was knelt beside Niko's bedside. Citra blinked, "Kalai, I didn't know you were here... What are you doing here?"
"I just came to check up on Niko. See how he's doing." The older girl replied.
Citra internally cringed. Of course she would, they were friends. No need to sound suspicious.
"Oh, right... How is he doing?" Citra asked Monatula, handing her the goats milk.
The elder lady smiled gratefully and took a long gulp of the drink. "Thank you, child. The boy is still lost, but he is a fighter that one. He must overcome the jungle if he is to awaken again."
That's... very vague Citra thought, privately annoyed. She looked at Niko, observing how pallor he was. The boy looked like he was on the verge of death. She felt bad, but she hoped he did die. It would make things so much simpler.
"I am glad he is still alive. He is very strong." Citra said, placing a fake smile on her face. She pretended to be lost in thought at the sight of him, long enough to appear to anyone who looked that she cared. Biting her lip, she kissed Monatula's cheek farewell. "I will be back-"
"Tomorrow morning again?" Her mentor finished, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.
Citra pretended to blush at what Monatula was insinuating. Of course, why else would a young girl return to check on a boy unless she had feelings for him.
Kalai stood up and brushed herself off. "I guess I should be going too. Thank you, Auntie Mona, for taking care of this idiot."
Monatula laughed heartily and shooed them out. Together they began walking back to the village. Citra was lost in thought thinking of what to do with Niko when she noticed Kalai staring at her with a strange look.
Citra frowned, "What?"
"Oh nothing." Kalai said nonchalantly, shrugging her shoulders casually. "It's just... do you have feelings.. for Niko?"
Citra had to stop herself from bursting out a no! The very thought was preposterous and to be honest she was slightly offended by the mere suggestion of it. Niko was... down here at the bottom and Vaas was... beyond the stars; They don't even compare and to compare Niko to Vaas was insulting. Niko was a tiny insignificant bug and Vaas was the sky, earth and ocean.
Taking control over her breathing Citra said, "No, I don't. He is a friend to me. What makes you think that I feel for him more than that?"
Kalai hummed, "Well, Monatula tells me that you have been going to visit him for the past two days since he has been found. She told me you would stay by his side for hours waiting for him to wake up. Is that what "just a friend" do?"
Citra opened and closed her mouth, failing to come up with something to say to disregard Kalai's claims. "He is just.. a friend." She replied lamely.
"Mhm," Kalai hummed, completely unconvinced. "Well, I feel bad for Niko."
"Because he has feelings for you, too. And what those Komodo Dragons did to him won't even compare to what Vaas will do to him if he ever tries to make you his." Kalai snickered, "I feel bad for all the suckers who will try to make you their wife."
"Why, do you think I would be a terrible wife?" Citra asked.
Kalai glanced at her incredulously. "Have you met your brother? Vaas would destroy them."
It was Citra's turn to be unconvinced. "I don't think Vaas would do that. Sometimes I think he doesn't care at all."
The older girl laughed, "Are you serious? You remember that time before the party when we ate at your house. You and Niko were getting really close, and don't give me that look. I noticed, and so did everyone else. We aren't blind. Anyways, after we left Vaas got mad at Niko. He told him to back off his little sister. Citra, your brother got so mad he hit Niko and threatened to do worse if he continued to talk to you and to be honest, I've never seen him so angry before."
Citra didn't know what to say. She was shocked. "I... I didn't know that."
"Yes well, your brother can be scary protective sometimes. That's why I feel bad for your future husband. He makes one mistake and he is finished." Kalai sliced a finger across her throat to emphasize her point, prompting Citra to roll her eyes. The older girl bumped shoulders, "Don't get me wrong. Niko is a good guy, stupid at times well, most of the times but he's a good friend, reliable too. He'll treat you right if you decide to marry him."
Citra frowned. Niko called Vaas a coward. Is that what good friends do? "What if I don't want to marry him? What if I don't want to marry at all?" They passed by a women carrying a baby in a basket on her back and holding the hand of her older child. Citra sneered, "There must be more than becoming a wife and bearing children. I don't want that." To her, it felt like a trap. A possible inevitable bleak future.
"There is nothing wrong with being a wife and having children." Kalai defended, "It is an honorable life. Rakyat women are continuing the bloodline of our people. They are the ones who nurture our young and guide their sons with the wisdom of the past."
She had a good point, but the whole idea remained unappealing, even daunting. "Will you marry and have children someday? You are of age."
Kalai grimaced, "Perhaps... Someday, maybe. But not right now. I don't see myself.. settling down right now."
Citra bit her lip and kicked the ground lightly. "Does every women need a husband?" She expected Kalai to say yes, but was surprised when the older girl said the complete opposite.
"No, you don't. I have no Mother or Father and my Gramma is too old to take care of me and my sister. But I do not need a man to take care of me and my family."
"Who will?" Citra asked, perplexed.
"I will," Kalai stated confidently. "I do not need a husband to take care of my family. I can do it on my own. I've done it this far. I can do it a little longer."
Citra looked at Kalai in a new light, studying this new side of her. "That is very brave of you. I don't think I can do that myself."
"You can Citra. You know, you are a very strong girl, even if you can't see it yourself. I think so and so does Vaas."
Despite herself, Citra smiled shyly at the compliment, pride blooming in her chest. No one other than Tane and Vaas would say things like that about her. Even her father would remind her of her place and the duties she must obey all because she was born to do that. She hated to admit it, but what Kalai said meant a lot to her. It felt like someone finally believed that Citra could be something more than what her tribe and she herself expected to become. It felt good.
Maybe Kalai wasn't so bad after all.
Vaas was in a meeting with the council in the main hall, so Citra decided to wait outside for him. Kalai stayed and kept her company, she too eager to hear from Vaas what information the council were discussing. They watched the bustling people in the market place in silence as they wait.
"Hello ladies!" A familiar voice that could only be her brother greeted from behind. Vaas slung his arms around them both, squeezing them tight and plastering a sloppy kiss on his sister's forehead. She made a sound of disgust and wiped away the excess of saliva. Citra sent him an annoyed look which only made him chuckle in response. "What are you doing here?"
"We were waiting for you." Citra replied, unconsciously leaning into him.
He puckered his lips giving his best puppy dog look, something Citra found immensely adorable and annoying when he used it to get out of trouble, usually with her. "Sorry, were you waiting long?"
"No, we came back from visiting Niko not too long ago." Kalai answered.
Vaas appeared indifferent to the news but Citra felt him stiffen. "How is he?" He asked calmly, but the intensity in his eyes when he looked at her showed how he truly felt.
"Still asleep." Citra said. There were more that was unsaid in those words.
Safe for now. No need to panic. There is still time.
"What did the council talk about?" Citra inquired, changing the subject. "Do they have any news?"
Kalai leaned forward, interested in what Vaas was going to reveal. The tip of his lip curled down, "Not much. They want to send some men to see what's going at the Southern Island. I volunteered to lead the group but Tane thinks it's better if I stay here." He picked up a tiny rock and threw it without much force. "I swear, sometimes I feel like he and Dad always lectured me about becoming more responsible but when I do take responsibility for something Tane thinks I can't handle it. Like I'm a child or something."
"I'm sure your Uncle meant no harm." Kalai reassured him. "He's just concerned. We lost contact with our brothers living over there. No one knows what to expect."
"Yeah but... It's frustrating you know? All my life I'm told Vaas pay attention or Vaas be more responsible and now when I actually give a fuck nobody thinks I can handle it." He shook his head, "Makes me think why I even bother in the first place."
Kalai placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, "It's ok."
"They are fools." Citra stated bluntly, probably feeling more angry for Vaas than he did for himself. How dare they treat her brother like this. Are they blind bats not to see how great he is? What kind of wise men are they if they can't see how strong Vaas is. He is better than them. Better than them all. "They do not know what they speak of. They are wrong to think you cannot lead our men to victory."
"They are our elders." Kalai insisted, "They have lived long enough to know what is best for the tribe and they deserve our respect."
"They thought it best for you and Niko to stay behind but you still went to fight." Citra countered.
"Yes and Niko almost died because of our stupid decision to disobey our elder's order."
"Ok! Ok!" Vaas cut in, holding up his hands. "Can we just drop it? Please?"
Citra pressed her lips into a thin line. There was much more she wanted to say but for Vaas' sake she kept quiet. She still thought Kalai was wrong, though, and a hypocrite. If somebody thought Vaas was lesser than what he is, then those people are wrong and should be.. punished? Chastised? Made to see how wrong they are and beg for forgiveness at Vaas' and her's feet? All three sounded acceptable.
Kalai tsked and motioned to two outsiders from the plane crash walking around the market place, stopping to show Rakyat children their odd looking devices. "I still think it is a mistake to let them stay. I don't trust them."
Now that was something Citra can get behind. "I agree, they should not be here."
"They won't for long." Vaas said darkly, "They have three days left and then they're gone. For good."
Kalai fidgeted where she sat, as if wanting to get up and throw them out herself. "Still, I hope that white lady comes back early. The sooner we get rid of them the better." She said.
That "white lady" Kalai was referring to must be Alexandria. Where is she now, Citra wondered. Was she still alive, or was she killed by those foreign devils? "Who is she, exactly?" Citra was curious. She's seen the lady around, albeit sparingly but they've never interacted one on one before.
"Dad said she was some kind of nature explorer. She arrived to the island months ago, I think." Vaas pulled out his knife and ran his fingers along its smooth flat plane when one of the foreign outsiders happened to glance their way.
It is expected when someone gives you a death glare it's a clear sign that person doesn't like you. For some reason lost to her, the diplomat foreigner took Vaas' glare as an acceptance to approach them. The diplomat smiled at each of them briefly.
"Hello, would you like to see too?" He held up his communication device. There was a brief moment where Citra thought he expected them to be in awe of it, like it was some magical device from the heavens itself.
"We know what a fucking phone is." Vaas spat in disbelief.
A low sounding long horn filled the air, so loud it could be heard no matter where you were in the village. The trio jumped to their feet, looking at each other in confusion. They knew what the horn meant: enemies.
"Get inside!" Vaas growled, grabbing the diplomat's shirt collar and shoving the man towards the main hall. They spotted a group of warriors running in the direction of the entrance. They followed right behind.
"Citra, go back to the house and keep out of sight until I come for you!" Her brother ordered.
She scoffed, "I'm staying with you."
"I'm not joking!" He hissed.
"Neither am I!" She hissed right back. He groaned in frustration but let her have her way. Once Citra was determined to do something, there was no stopping her. It was pointless to fight.
"Don't worry. I got her back." Kalai said, reassuring her distraught brother.
They slowed down when they reached the entrance.
POP! POP! POP!
They all ducked when loud shots rang through the air. Before she knew it, Vaas pulled her behind him, using his body as a shield.
Kalai's eyes were blown wide open, "What the hell? Was that gunfire?"
Citra couldn't move or think for the matter. Her heart was racing too fast it was the only thing she could hear.
What was going on? Were they being attacked? Are they safe here?
"Stop firing! STOP firing! Please, stop firing!" A man's voice yelled over the chaos. After that, nothing happened. Everything grew quiet and very, very still. When Citra remembered she can move, she took the chance to peek around Vaas. She saw first two dead Rakyat warriors sprawled out on the ground, bleeding from bullet holes in their chests. Then, she saw three black vehicles. Two of them had a large looking gun attached to the rear. Finally, she examined their attackers.
At least ten to fifteen men all dressed in protective gear head to toe were pointing guns at them. Some were in the vehicles while others were standing. She wondered why so little had come to face them, a mighty tribe more than triple their small group. It wouldn't be a fair fight, but something told her even though they were small in numbers, these strange men were deadly.
One man in particular was standing up were he sat in the front passenger seat of the car. She took notice of him because he was the one yelling and he was the only one not wearing a helmet or a face cover.
"Thank you!" The man sighed, shaking his head in exasperation. "Come on guys, we are supposed to be their first contact with the outside world! First impressions are important." He then waved at them, giving a wide smile showing off his pearly white teeth. "Hello! We come in peace. Do you speak English?"
Tane came forward and addressed their attackers. "Yes," He barked, giving them his best ugly scowl.
Her uncle's answer seemed to take the man by surprise. "Oh! Great! Hey look, sorry about the mess. My guys didn't mean to shoot your guys. They sort of just ran at us and you know how it is, right?"
If Citra was being honest, the man did not sound sorry at all.
"You come to our home carrying guns. Did you expect us not to think you were invaders?" Tane said, a few of the warriors grunting in agreement.
The man scratched his head, "You are absolutely right. Sorry, our fault. That was a mistake on our part." He clapped his hands, "How about this. You can retrieve your buddies bodies here safely and I promise none of my men will open fire. Not even the trigger happy ones! I promise." He held three fingers up, "Scout's honor."
Everyone looked at Tane waiting to see what he would do. Citra could tell her uncle was thinking hard on what course of action to take with the situation at hand. If the white man kept his promise then there will be no trickery. On the other hand, if he lying then that could result in more deaths. But they couldn't just leave their brothers to bleed out like animals. Not in front of these outsiders. They can't be seen as weak.
Tane pressed his lips together in a thin line and motioned for four warriors to get their fallen brothers. It was a tense moment, watching them run out there and collect the injured. At any moment the outsiders could shoot them and there won't be enough time to do stop them. It was a relief when they came back safely. "Take them to Monatula," Tane ordered when they came back.
Citra stared at their fallen brothers as they passed by. There was so much blood. Privately, she knew there was a slim chance of them making it. There was just too many bullets.
"Again, sorry for that fuck up. Can we start all over again? Hi, I'm Jack. Nice to meet you." Jack grinned, waving at them.
"Who are you people? What do you want?" Tane said gruffly, skipping the pleasantries.
Jack spread his arms, "We are called privateers. Or that's what our employer named the faction. Could've picked another name to be honest but what can you do, right? Guy's payin us anyways. And what do we want? We want nothing. We are here as a.. courtesy call. See, we work for a very successful business. So successful in fact that the business is expanding and our employer decided to relocate here on your beautiful islands." Outrage spread through the tribe, riling up the warriors. Tane barked at them to quiet. Jack smiled, "Thank you. As I was saying, since we will be moving here officially, our employer understands it will be hard for the locals to... get used to the idea of having to share space. That is why our employer sent us out here to meet with you in person. Unfortunately, he cannot make it but he does send his warmest regards. Now, greetings are over let's move on to business, shall we? Our employer and maybe your new future boss is a generous man. He is willing to offer jobs to anyone looking for work. Anyone, no discrimination at all. It's a contract, really. Sign right up and the rest is taking care of. You'll be working the land, like farmers. And if some of you know how to use a weapon and is pretty good at it, you can get the opportunity to become a privateer yourself!"
"In exchange for what, money?" Tane said.
Jack let out a hearty laugh that died down into a chuckle. "No. You will be working for free. Let me make this clear." He raised his voice so everyone can hear him. "Hoyt Volker, our employer and the new ruler of the Rook Islands, is willing to offer you jobs to work for free. In exchange, we won't kill every last one of you."
This time, the warriors readied their weapons, whooping and hollering in anger. It took Tane and Vaas along with Kalai to calm them down.
"No deal! Get off our land and if you come back we will kill you!" Tane yelled, beating a fist against his chest.
"Understood. I thought you were going to be wise about this and accept our gracious offering but that's ok." Jack said, "But, if you so happen to change your minds there is one way you can make it up. I think, now correct me if I'm wrong, you are hiding some very special people in your village. It will be very appreciated if you can return them to us. Not only will we consider going through with the deal but it will also make the boss very, very happy. How about it, huh? Give them to us and there won't be a need for violence."
"We do not know what you are talking about." Tane replied. "We carry none of who you speak of."
Jack tsked, wagging his finger. "Yes you do. We know it, you know it, and we know you know it. So please stop with the lies and just hand them over."
"Alexandria ratted us out!" One of the warriors hissed.
"She told them!" Another said.
Tane was not quick enough to silence their foolish mouths. Whatever cover they had was blown.
Jack looked entertained. "Uh.. I don't know about any Alexandria but... How about this. We'll give you, let's say, until sundown to hand the diplomats and whoever else over to us. If you fail to do that, we will attack with more men and a heck of a lot more guns. Seriously, you do not want that to happen. Whelp, that should give you folks enough time to decide whether or not you want to live or die. Have a nice rest of your day. We'll be seein' you soon." He plopped back in his seat while the rest of the soldiers climbed back into their respective vehicles.
As they drove off, Tane and Vaas looked at each other.
Citra understood too.
They were seriously kacau.
"It was Alexandria! She betrayed us!" A warrior said loudly over the arguing council members. They were in the main hall discussing what to do. Fighting, more like it. They had ushered the foreigners into a separate room to prevent them from listening in. No need to let them know they were deciding whether to hand them over or not.
"It was not Alexandria. The man said he didn't know who that was." Tane stated.
"He could be lying. She made a deal with them and he is covering for her."
The other council members murmured in agreement. Citra silently agreed with them. Who knows what happened but she was sure somehow, someway, Alexandria ratted them out.
"It is not her." Vaas piped up, surprising everyone including Citra. He awkwardly cleared his throat and glanced at Tane. "It's not her."
Tane was silent for a bit before nodding.
"But if not her then..." Kalai trailed off, her brows knitting.
Everyone knew what she was implying. If not Alexandria, then it had to be one of them. No one outside of their village knew of the strange foreigners. But the thought was simply impossible. No Rakyat would willingly betray their own tribe. It was inconceivable.
"We will figure it out later." Tane said, sensing the growing tension in the room. "Right now, we have to deal with the Privateers."
"I say we give them to the Privateers." A warrior said. The rest voiced their agreements, including Kalai and Vaas. Tane did not look happy about the decision.
"Uncle, we can't protect them." Vaas said. "They have brought this on us. I'm not willing to die or for any of my brothers to die for a bunch of outsiders. We owe them nothing."
"We owe them our word." Tane straightened to his full height, staring his fellow council members down. "We said we will keep them safe for five days. We gave our word. Does that mean nothing?" Where ever he looked, his brothers bowed their heads in shame, unable to look him in the eyes. "Are we Rakyat men or are we snakes with no honor? Have you all turned into a bunch of simpering deer? We are Rakyat! We do not back down from a fight."
"Even if that means a lot of our brothers dying for- for what? For honor?" Vaas bravely spoke up.
"Honor is everything to a man. Without it, he is nothing."
Vaas chuckled dryly, "This is pointless. We should just hand them over."
"My word is final." Tane said sternly.
"I said enough!" Tane slammed a fist on the table, silencing her brother. Vaas' face twisted in anger and he squared up, hands balled into fists, body tense. Their uncle didn't back down either. The two stood so close together their chests were almost touching.
"Vaas..." Kalai whispered but it held no effect.
After a few seconds that felt like hours, Vaas chuckled, wiped his nose and headed to the door.
"Don't walk away from me!" Their uncle barked.
He paused, possibly considering doing as he was told but eventually ignoring the command and continued out the door. Curiously, Tane did not look angry, just disappointed. And maybe that was far worse. Citra hated when Tane was disappointed in her.
Citra slipped out of the room when they continued their meeting; making battle plans for tonight. A part of her wanted to stay and hear what they were planning but Vaas was obviously distraught and he came first before her own personal wants and needs.
By the time she exited the main hall, he was already gone. She searched for him in the most likeliest places he might be: their house or the training grounds. When he wasn't at either two she looked around the village but he was nowhere in sight.
He couldn't have gone beyond their territory. It was dangerous out there. Maybe... maybe he went to the only place she hadn't checked yet.
Monatula was alone except for the two fallen warriors from earlier. One had, sadly, passed on. The priestess was chanting a funeral song for him while cleaning his body when she arrived. She was disappointed to not find him here that she almost didn't realize Niko was gone.
She froze, feeling as if an ice cold bucket of water had been dumped over her. "Where is he? Has he awaken?"
"No child. I asked him to be moved to the main hall with the others. Be safer there than here.
The relief she felt was immense so much so she had to sit down. She could cry right then and there.
This had to stop.
She couldn't keep it up forever. The constant terror and worry was draining and now they had to deal with a possible attack. It was too much for her to handle. She couldn't possibly imagine what Vaas must be going through too.
And that too! He was missing and who knows where he went. It was driving her crazy with worry.
She just needed everything to slow down for a moment. Let her catch up and process all this quietly and peacefully in her own time. But that's not how it works. Life waits for nobody.
She had to be strong. Citra can't break down, not right now.
It was her fault she's gotten herself into this mess and she has pulled Vaas along down with her. Like she always does.
No. Not anymore. It was time for her to do something.
It was time for her to finish what she started.