When The River Mayas Flee
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The Datu, Punong Landa, had been a chieftain of the tribe since he was a young spearman. He had witnessed a civil strife between his people and their embittered enemies, the Surayan tribe, since he was born from his dying mother’s womb.

He knew the jungle and the river as if his palms were burnt with their trails.

He had laid many a spear into the hearts of his fallen brethren to prevent the dark magics of the Surayan warlord from taking their spirit.

He had seen firsthand the unholy demons from the shamans eat away his youngest child’s soul and cause him to burn his village as tribute to the Surayan’s false god.

Ungodly monsters. The cruelest terrors stalking the night lights of the dense forest they had considered home for an eternity. He would give his life and his mantle to save his people and their home, to cleanse the Surayans of dark suffering, to bring ending to famine and make prosperous their tribe’s heritage.

He saw the salvation of his people, and the Surayans’, in a young girl. She was named Aliyim, or ‘Forest’s field’, her birthplace. As a young woman, she picked berries from her neighbors’ shrubs and clumsily, messily planted their seeds (diseased, broken or already dead) into her gardens. And yet they grew. The folk who ate the fruit grew strong and lived long lives. The folk who, in turn, planted Aliyim’s fruits found themselves blessed with luck, good food, like a gift from the goddess.

Her luck in farming made her admirable to her elders. In their eyes, she was a sign of their gods’ generosity to their children. A sign of hope.

But the Datu did not admire this daughter of the forest for planting shrubs. In his eyes, she was a sign of changing times. In the tribe’s history, there has only been one other ‘gifted’ child, and that was the Mother Chieftess; the matriarch who forged their tribe from a scattered folk.

Surely, he thought, if the arrival of a gifted child will form the beginning of our civilization, the arrival of another will signal the end.

With the white man staring snidely at him from the other side of his dining mat, watching the Datu make up his mind, Punong Landa only frowned.

“You cannot take what is blood of the tribe. I would sooner throw myself down the ravine.” The Datu spoke.

“I would think it as imprudent to say that, chieftain. After all, you have seen us throw some of your men down there hours ago. We will not give you special treatment.” The white man said. His imitation of the Datu’s language was faulted and acrid. An aberration, like the armoured soldiers surrounding them.

“Then you know that as long as my tribe survives, my death will be irrelevant. You may kill me, but let my child Aliyim go home. She is a farmer, only an exceptionally talented one, nothing more.”

Aliyim, seated on one side of the mat, then spoke. “Enough. My chieftain, though I am honoured by your kind words, I believe my destiny is with these foreign peoples. Strangers though they are, I sense that I could serve a greater cause for more of our kind if they train me. I must join them.”

The Datu replied. “Do you intend to desert your brethren to be among aliens we cannot even trust? Strangers that have murdered our guardians just to reach my hut and take us hostage?”

Aliyim sighed. She swept her long, dark hair back and loosened the sleeves of her dress. “Yes.”

The white man let out a wretched, breathless crack of laughter. “Don’t you understand your daughter is correct, old man? We have seen you mask her gifts. We know. Her powers are unwieldy! Cancerous! Why do you entrust your tribe’s nourishment to a girl that could bring starvation as easily as feeding her tribe?”

Aliyim blushed. She knew what that meant. She had grown spiteful, and spurned plenty of her suitors. When a simple ‘no’ could not suffice, she went to their gardens and withered all of their crops. Since they all lived outside the village, nobody had missed them when they succumbed to slow death.

“The only alternative for that is to subsist and fall into the inevitable death of our culture. We need her. We need her to remain and tend to the crops. This is her calling. Not… not any other that you intend to force upon her.”

“I am not being forced, Master. I choose this path for myself. Destiny will find me on the way I have made. Do you not care for me; a daughter of your tribe? Do you not want me to be happy?” Aliyim sighed, locking eyes with her elder.

The Datu replied authoritatively, “Do you want your brothers and sisters to cry begging for tree sap to chew while you are happy, Aliyim? Is success at the expense of your entire people what destiny intends, selfish and spoiled daughter?”

Though the Datu had been blind for some time, with only the spirits to guide him, he looked at Aliyim clearly. In his eyes, there was hurt, and sadness, and confusion – that one of his own would willingly abandon her poor and sick people.

And though Aliyim was taught to respect the elders, she met his gaze subtly but defiantly, pressing an icy cold grip of her will against the Datu’s strong, disapproving stare. “This is what I want. And while you may not see its results soon, you will understand that I am right.”

The white man scoffed in agreement, grinning at the Datu. The poor old man was stuck in a wilting wonderland.

Punong Landa gave a condescending laugh. Aliyim frowned. “My daughter, I have been the mentor and master of generations of youth before you. You are no different from them in desire. They too wanted freedom and their own life. Instead of looking to strange people from other lands for their success, they focused inwardly, to their community. And through it, they found contentment.”

He folded his arms and leaned back. “You know I am correct, Aliyim. Ours has never been a race of thieves nor savages. While others failed, we succeeded. Through each other’s commitment, we became strong. You will not help the village by helping only yourself. What do you know of these men that endear them to you?”

“They have succeeded where you have failed, Datu. They have taught me more than you ever could. Where you gave me fear, and panic of my powers, they gave me hope. And most of all, Datu, they gave me peace. They have made me happy.”

Those words sent a pang of sadness into the Datu’s heart. Inside, a part of him, one part that fell disused since the death of his own daughter, finally caved in and crumbled. He trembled.

“Aliyim, my daughter…” Datu could only say softly.

“No.” Aliyim spoke. “Why do you insist that I remain with you, Datu? I have seen the signs. I have meditated with the goddesses in the falls. I know exactly what you think of me. ‘The end of our tribe?’ That’s what I am to you? How could you tell me I could be the saviour of our race if you yourself had already branded me as death’s harbinger? You only fool yourself.”

“If this is the end, so be it. It does not matter where I go: ‘as long as I stay alive, our tribe will begin its returning descent to the soil’ – those are your own words. Our tribe is dying, old man. There is no way you or I can stop it. If there is a hope for me in these people, I will go.”

“I do not want to be at the funeral of a civilization when it happens. I want to be very, very far away.”

Datu Landa did not respond. There was simply no other way.

He stared blankly at the other end for a while. His hands had long quit a steady grip on his wooden cup, and his tea shivered as he did. Perhaps of old age, for the Datu was already very old. And in his mind, there was a fleeting idea of Aliyim leading the tribe as the new chieftess.

The white man simply sat, cross-legged like the other two. He would give them time to finish this.

Finally, Punong Landa spoke. “Is there no way to convince you?” His warm and wise voice cracked with the frailty of age.

“No. My path is set.” She said, arms folded.

Aliyim rose, as did the white man. “We are finished. Let us go.” She commanded, and took a step towards the door.

“You will survive, Aliyim. Of that, I have no doubt. Go in peace.”

“Goodbye, Master.”

She left the door open as she entered the chopper. She closed her eyes and gave herself a moment of peace.

“Alright, Item’s in exfil. Get the worm out of her head before it owns the whole thing.” The white man bellowed at some man in a grey uniform.

Aliyim’s eyes opened wide as swelling, crawling pain felt like it was entangling her mind. What was this? She found herself frozen as two scary men held her down while another took out a very sharp tool and drove it straight into her nose.

“Get this thing out! What is this?! Help me!” She screamed.

The tool felt like a vacuum, sucking out the insides of her head. She felt a squelch, and a pop, and the sensation of being drowned, before she lost consciousness.

She came to a second later, heaving greatly.

She lunged at the white man and held him by his collar. “What did you make me say to the Datu?! How could you make me say so many cruel things to him?! He did nothing wrong! Let me go back! Let me apologize before we leave! Where is he?!”

She turned her head towards the hut, realizing they were still in the village. That was good, at least she could sti-

“No! Don’t hurt him! He deserves a kind death!” She screamed out loud.

Inside, as the Datu remained in the same stance when Aliyim left, she could see the soldiers point their weapons at him. She wanted to scream again before a large hand covered her mouth and dragged her back into the chopper.

She saw one soldier come up behind the Datu.

She saw the soldier tap him with the barrel of the gun, telling him to stand up. The Datu only sat down. The soldier pulled the trigger.

Her eyes were fixed at the frail old man as he gently shut his eyes.

Aliyim heard the sound of the shot cracking happen the same time she heard the cracking of her jaw, followed by a sting on the right side of her face, and then the sound of her collapsing on the floor, and a large fire, and finally, the sound of the chopper lifting off.

Within seconds of falling unconscious again, she could hear the white man talk. In the same acrid, harsh accent in which he spoke in the hut, he said:

“Item Echo-G-Three-Nine-Four retrieved from L-o-I. Subject is unconscious. Belay any medical attention; damage to her abilities is negligible. We will have her in experimentati—-

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