From Beyond the Ring
The sun was setting on the horizon, casting a brilliant golden light over the small island. The rays bounced off the vibrant tarps shading the marketplace, which had closed to begin the night's festivities. Even if the stalls were empty, shouts rang out from the market square. Not the usual shouts of the vendors, calling out to potential customers. No, these were cries of confusion, of outrage.
“What’s she saying? That came from beyond the Ring?”
“She’s saying it heals the sick! I don’t see how that orange ball does anything!”
“Sailing outside the Ring?! That’s suicide!”
Standing on a barrel, stirring up the crowd was Liwliwa, a young Osyaba. She held aloft a strange orange orb, cut neatly in half to reveal the juicy insides. “All I say is true! I was bringing boxes of fish from the returning boats when I found this... this miracle on the shore! It’s unlike anything that’s ever been seen on our island. I was with my sister last night, investigating this thing. We tested its look, smell, texture. We then decided to eat some-“
She was drowned out by the crowd.
“Eat it?! What if it was poisonous?!”
“Why would you even come to that conclusion-“
“It looks so gross how could you ever-“
“LET ME TALK!!!!” Liwliwa’s piercing shriek cut through the cacophony. The audience piped down and stared at her expectantly. “Uh... anyways. We ate some of it, and it tastes like nothing we’d ever had! It was sweet, but it had a… sting. A good sting! It was refreshing, rejuvenating! Then… we fed it to our mother.”
Murmurs rippled through the crowd. On an island as small as this one, everyone knows everyone. And everyone knew Liwliwa’s mother, Mayumi. Like most mothers, time had taken its toll. The fatigue, bleeding mouth, falling scales, all a normal part of aging. It was the mother’s sacrifice to bear children in trade of her own life. All mothers were treated carefully, but no medicines and prayers could prevent their premature deaths.
“We fed her a piece as a part of her afternoon meal, to change things up for her. This morning, she sat up for the first time in months.”
The crowd erupted again, this time in excitement.
“No, she sat! But that’s still incredible!”
“Where can we get more?”
Liwliwa’s eyes lit up. “Yes, this is what I mean!! I found it on our shore, it can only mean that this is from beyond our island, maybe even beyond the Ring! We need to gather our best sailors and explore further to find more, bring them back and heal all of us for good! So who’s with me?!”
Cheers filled the air, which were quickly shouted down by boos. The crowd began arguing amongst each other, getting louder and louder by the second. It took the ringing of a gong to silence the rabble. Though it wasn’t any ordinary gong. The crowd parted in fear to reveal the Hepe, Riza, an old Osyaba, adorned in an assortment of colorful cloth and beads, accompanied by two of her guards. She held her staff aloft, pointing directly at where Liwliwa stood. “What is the meaning of this?”
Liwliwa’s scales grew pale. She scrambled down from the barrel and quickly dropped to a bow. “Hepe, I can explain-”
“What’s this talk of sailing out of the Ring?”
“I thought- I found this thing-”
The Hepe approached the younger Osyaba, and inspected the half-orb in her hand. “Is this what all the ruckus is about?”
“It healed my mother! It could help all of us if we just find more-”
A raise of the staff and she was instantly silenced. “Liwliwa, what you are suggesting… sending our finest fishers out into the gauntlet of monsters, it is suicide! I will not allow it.”
“Then… what if it’s the mediocre fishers-”
The Hepe banged her staff against the ground. “Enough! I will not send my people to their deaths for some wild fantasy of yours!”
Liwliwa’s face burned in shame. She could feel the people in the marketplace staring at her, their scrutinizing murmurs shredding any confidence she had in her plans. As they began to disperse, the Hepe knelt before her, speaking softly.
“I know you mean well, girl, but what you ask for… it cannot be done. It is for our own good. If the gods wanted otherwise, they would allow it.” Then she, too, returned to the village to join in the revelries of the night.
That night, Liwliwa sat by the shore, skipping rocks and staring out at the frothing water that was the Ring. A mass of unimaginably bloodthirsty beasts, reaching out the furthest that they could from their lairs in an attempt to feast on Osyatao flesh. At least, that’s what they told the young ones. Any who ventured close enough to see them would not live to tell the tale.
She threw another rock into the water and watched it sink beneath the waves. Defeated, she sank her knees into the sand. Her eyes looked up into the heavens, at the stars. A silent prayer to her goddess, Ituin, princess of the stars. Following the twinkling lights into the distance, something new caught her eye. A section of the impenetrable raging water had died down, the foam dying down to a few bubbles. Mouth agape, she stared dumbfounded at the gap. It wasn’t long before the gap reconnected, as if nothing had occurred. Liwliwa blinked once, twice, three times, trying to figure out if what she saw was some sort of grief-induced hallucination.
But it happened again. Same section, same amount of time. And again. And again. Liwliwa noted the seconds between each gap, committing it to memory. She sprung to her feet, dancing and cheering to the sky. The stars seemed to shine brighter, celebrating with her.
The gods had willed it. She would travel at dawn.
Eat your fruits and vegetables, kids.