The Haast (Part One)

Soon after her experiences meeting the strangers in the forest, the enquisitive young Lusa is inspired to find answers. But in her world of strict cultural code, it doesn’t do to ask questions. She must find out herself.

                                                                             The Haast — Part One

 

Several weeks after Lusa’s encounter with Taal and despite having numerous questions of the strange multi-coloured society, she had not yet mentioned their meeting to an Amba, as he had requested.  One day, on her way to teach a group of small children how to colour themselves, she stumbled across some Amba guards unsuccessfully chasing after an unpainted dog through the streets, in an attempt to slaughter it for it’s blasphemous actions.  As an animal lover, who had turned a blind eye to such actions in the past, she felt guilty, and for the first time wondered if actions such as these where not for the greater good.  Why would killing a poor dog who knew nothing of the culture it had inadvertently offended be part of God’s will?  It was then that she decided to go back to the forest and try to find out more about the Haast.

 

 

 

 

The Azool diplomat had just served himself a large spoonful of blueberries to go with his steamed fish, and was about to take the first mouthful of his supper, when there was a knock at the door.  He squinted at the tall white clock in the corner.  It read: Hour eighty-five.  Unusually late for visitors.

Lusa stood in front of the heavy, blue and white door for what seemed to her like a very long time but didn’t like to knock again in case of disturbing the resident.  She turned and had just begun to walk away when the door creaked open.  Sands stood dressed in his light blue informal robes.  He wore a sea blue mask to cover his unpainted face.

‘Apologies.  I wasn’t prepared for visitors.  I had to find my face.  How may I help?’.

Lusa took a step closer.

‘I’m sorry to come by this close to the end of day, but may I come inside to talk?’

‘Of course.  I am Envoy Sands, and I am at your service, always on duty when here.’  He stepped aside and waved Lusa in.

Inside the small but cluttered abode, Lusa took the opportunity to drink in the blue, grey and white items that could never fill an Amba house.  She inwardly marveled at the unfamiliar designs of the Azoo furniture.  Most, if not everything, carried marine imagery of some kind or another, all of which were prohibited outside of a designated Azoo house.

‘Do you mind if I remove the face?  It’s a bit late in the day for painting.  Of course, if you are offended…’

‘No, it’s fine, thank you for asking.  I have seen unpainted faces before.’

‘Oh?’  Sands removed the mask revealing his natural light brown skin colour.  ‘Well, that wouldn’t have been in Ambras.  You’re quite young to have traveled far from…’

‘In the forest.  I saw some people there.’

‘Please,’ Sands paused, directing Lusa to take one of the spare chairs, ‘You need not fear.  We Azoo are tolerant of all belief systems.  Perhaps that is why you are here?’  He looked longingly at his plate. ‘Do you mind if I eat while we talk?  I arrived home not long ago and I’ve had an extremely long day discussing matters with the Amba Council.  If you’re not offended by my face, then I assume me eating won’t be a problem?  It’s Azoo fare.  Are you able to tolerate the smell of amberless cooking?’

 

‘It’s fine by me.  This is your house after all.”  Lusa sat down at the table as Sands tucked in.  She ran her finger tips along the ridges of the cerulean table.  Not much different from a yellow or gold one.

“I’ve never seen Azoo furniture before.’

“Naturally.  We can’t paint it until it’s inside the house.  The law dictates that no blue items can be taken out in public apart from small personal affects I need for work.  Did you know that our food must be covered up while it’s being transported?  Fish is brought to the city in sealed crates.  Only specifically trained guards are tasked to check the contents, and as soon as they have, they go straight to a priest for absolvement.  It was the same when some of the more personal pieces, like that clock,’ he nodded to the corner, ‘…were brought from my home on the island.  Most of the other furniture I had to buy from local craftsmen, and paint myself.  But it’s not such a hardship, Ambras has the best carpenters in the whole of Kroma.’

‘I hadn’t thought about that.  I’ve never seen a fish before… it doesn’t seem that bad.’

Sands laughed.

‘No, it really isn’t.  But the law is the law.  Some wealthy and progressive Amba are starting to taste it for themselves.  Once it’s been marinated and coloured according to their faith that is.  You wouldn’t see then eating it like this.’  Sands paused for another mouthful.

‘So, tell me.  What brings you to visit me?’

‘I was wondering if you could tell me something about the forest people?  They’ve not been mentioned at school or in temple.’

‘Oh, the Haast!  Yes of course.  The unpainted peoples.  You’d find it difficult to find mention of them anywhere in Ambras.  They are considered to be heathens both here and by the Arga.  We Azoo are more accepting.  The Haast have never attacked anyone as the other factions once did.  But, they’re not really a faction either.   It’s more that they lack a belief system.  Well… as far as I know they do.  Whatever they believe, it rejects the Kromatic system.  I’ve not had much dealing with them myself, and they prefer to keep away from all of us.  They’re a hermit society of sorts.  Although, occasionally, they have traded materials and other items for fish.  And they will eat anything they want, according to what I’ve been told.  Any colour, blessed or un-blessed, they have no fear of committing sin against a shade.’

‘So they’re not dangerous then?  The one I met said that Ambras had killed Haast people before now.’

Sands rested his spoon on the table.

‘I have no knowledge of such things, my child.  The Amba church does have strict rules, and they must be followed.  As you will understand.’

‘So the Amba haven’t really ever killed a Haast then?’

Sands stared at Lusa as he considered her question.

‘I cannot speak on matters of the Amba church, but as you know, each church has it’s own beliefs and ways of doing things.  In the past, the red faction, the Arga  hunted and killed anyone and anything not considered faithful or sacred.  The Amba probably do still regard the Haast as dangerous, and they have reported aggressive actions from the forest dwellers, although I’m afraid cannot verify.  I did hear that the Haast have killed Amba monks who strayed too far into the forest, but I can say that the Azool have never had a problem.  We only carry out trade missions with them, no colour cleansing or other activities.  And we ourselves, have never attacked anyone because of their faith.  Our army exists solely for defence reasons.  And it always has been that way.  Even when the three tribes were engaged in full on war, we only held defensive lines.’

Lusa waited for a moment before replying.

‘The Haast man I saw told me that it was the Amba doing the killing.  I don’t know why they would though.  Is it because we paint the trees?  He didn’t seem dangerous.  I am interested in seeing their multi-coloured cities.  Do you think I can?’

Sands laughed.

‘Oh, they don’t have cities.  They live wild and free in the forests.  No-one is sure where they are and they keep themselves well hidden with camouflage.  You were lucky to see any at all.  I’ve never heard of them coming to the nearest part of the forest before.  I wonder why they were there.’

Lusa stood up.

‘Thank you for help.’

Sands also stood.

‘You’re most welcome… what’s your name?’

‘I must go.’  She replied.

“I understand.  You know I am the Ambassador for Azool here in your city, I presume?  Everything we discuss is entirely confidential.  That means I will never discuss private meetings with any of my Amba counterparts, so you need not worry about difficult questions from your church.  It’s my hope that you will feel free to come and see me again.’

As she approached the front door Lusa noticed, for the first time, the boy sitting on the stairs at the far end of the room.  He shyly watched her with large silent eyes, and nervously touched his bright blue Afro.

‘Oh! That’s Phog, my ward.’  Sands turned to address the boy.

‘Why aren’t you in bed Phog?’

‘Goodbye.’ called Lusa as she turned to leave, but stopped in her tracks when she spotted a blue vase holding a bunch of white flowers, reminding her of the many hundreds, perhaps thousands she had collected and burnt for her church.  She ignored a knot in her stomach and stepped out onto the yellow cobbles, checking up and down the street to see if anyone was watching, before walking quickly away.

 

 

 

The next morning, at dawn, Lusa packed a small bag of supplies, and avoiding any guads, slipped out of the city and headed for the forest.  She found her way to the meadow where she and her cousin had gone to pick non-Amba flowers the previous Cleansing Day.  She noticed that a number of red, white and blue flowers had already began to crop up in among the yellow and orange ones that the Amba favoured.  She crouched down and took a blue flower head in her palm, and with fingers clasping the stem, began to tug slightly.  But instead of picking, this time she released it.  The flower sprung back to its original position as if nothing was more natural.

Lusa stood and scrutinised her surroundings, searching for the tree where she had first seen the boy.  Once located, she set off instinctively tracing the route along which she had chased him, and soon managed to locate the clearing where she had encountered Taal.  She paused here for a while, taking in the atmosphere of the space.  It felt empty, but she called out anyway.  When satisfied no one would answer, she set off in the general direction in which the mysterious forest people had fled.  The yellow-painted tree trunks accompanied her for some distance into the forest, becoming increasingly patchy the further she got from Ambras, until she could see no further trace of her people’s handy work.

Lusa called out several more times at this point, but for the breeze, saw no movement and received no reply.

This distance from the city, carpets of wild flowers grew in a multitude of different shades, with red, white, blue and mauve ones growing happily in in amongst yellow and orange.  She stopped, intrigued at the mix of colour, and so captivated was she, that all thoughts of navigation was forgotten.  With the sun and dual moons concealed by the dense canopy, Lusa was lost.

She sat down by a collection of rocks that had gathered at the foot of an earthy rise about half the height of the trees, and took out a leather gourd from her bag.  Her drink was interrupted by a shuffling noise coming from above.  She stood, trying not to breathe, staring up towards the source.  Following a second scraping sound, Lusa quietly placed the water away and shouldered her bag.

‘Hello?  Is someone there?’  She called.

The creature stuck it’s head up to see who or what had disturbed it’s foraging.  It examined Lusa with huge unblinking yellow eyes.  Sized between a cat and a wolf, if resembled neither.  The orange fur with black stripes meant it could be considered holy to the Amba, but this creature was new to her, and it didn’t look friendly, let alone holy.  To Lusa’s mind, it’s elongated body gave it an unworldly appearance.  In that moment, it occurred to her, how little he knew about the world she inhabited, and wondered what else had gone untold in Ambras.  She stared into the eyes of the animal and it let out a deep guttural snarl.  Lusa began to back away.

The creature scurried downward, snaking in between and over the top of the earthy tufts that formed the edge of the ridge.  It stopped suddenly, halfway down to stare at her once again, showing rows of small, pointed teeth.  Lusa turned and walked swiftly away, checking over her shoulder as she set off.  The animal scuttled down to the ground and began to give chase.  When Lusa broke into a run, it galloped after her.

 

More short stories at:- https://scriggler.com/Profile/james_dee_lusa_dee

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Kroma: Flower Picking

Lusa bent down and cupped the flower in her palm. She examined it closely. The purple blue petals felt soft and smooth and she marvelled over it.

‘You’re meant to pick them not play with them,’ her cousin bossed.

‘I know. I know. But I’ve never seen one like this. It’s beautiful.’

‘It would be if it were orange.’ He waved the bag containing the other flowers in front of her face. ‘Stick it in. We better burn them and head back.’

Lusa plucked the flower out, paused to wonder at it a moment longer, then placed it in the bag. ‘Here.’

‘I’m going to take these to the fire. See you later.’ He tied the top of the bag shut and ran off along the path.

‘Okay. See you.’ Lusa turned and looked across the meadow, now entirely covered with nothing but the bright yellow flowers they did not pick. The flowers matched the surrounding trees, their trunks and lower branches having been painted a faded pastel yellow.

‘Same as all the others.’ She said out loud to herself.

A movement amongst the trees off to her left caught Lusa’s eye and she whipped round just in time to see a young face pull back out of sight. Lusa blinked. The face was unpainted, unlike hers, which she touched lightly.

She started to walk slowly towards the tree where she had seen the boy. ‘Hello? Who’s that?’

Suddenly the boy made a break for it, running off among the trees. Lusa followed without thinking. He was young, maybe lost. And the paint had come off. She thought she would help him.

He was fast for a boy his age, but no match for the naturally athletic Lusa. She caught up with him in a clearing. He stood facing her, panting and scared.

‘Are you lost?’ Lusa asked? ‘What happened to your face? I can see your skin. Have you been away long?’

‘He doesn’t need to paint his face.’ A voice answered.

Lusa was startled and turned to see a man climbing down from a tree. She stared. He was dressed completely in green with leaves and bits of shrubbery decorating his clothing. He had spirals of green ink running up his bare arms, but his face was completely bare, his pale pink skin shining out.

‘Who are you?’ Lusa looked back to the boy, then the man. The boy ran to his father. ‘What are you doing out here? Why is your skin bare?’

The boy clasps his father’s legs and is comforted with an arm, ‘I told you to stay near me. There’s nothing to worry about, I’ve got you.’ He looks up at Lusa and examines her closely.

‘It’s probably best if you don’t mention seeing us. Will you do that for me?’

‘No! Who are you? Where do you come from?’

‘I come from the same place as you. Some people leave. Did you not know that some people leave?’

‘Leave? Leave where?’

‘My name is Taal. And this is my son. What’s your name?’

‘Lusa.’

‘Listen Lusa…’

‘Can we go home now Daddy?’

‘Wait one moment, we’ll go in a minute after I’ve spoken to this girl.’

Taal directed his attention back to Lusa. ‘Listen… Lusa… I left the Amba a long time ago. You know what that means?’

‘Why would you…?’

‘When someone left the church back then, they couldn’t stay in Ambras. I had to leave in order to stay safe.’

‘But it’s nice being part of Amba. I don’t understand.’

‘It’s not nice for everybody. Besides, I left because I don’t believe that one set of colours are more holy than the others.’

‘So why do you wear green?’

‘We wear Green because it makes us harder to see. You probably don’t know it, but not all Amba followers are nice to people who think differently.’

‘That’s putting it lightly.’ Ket said, stepping out from her hiding place. She also wore green, but had multi coloured inkings; red, blue, mauve and green, on her face and arms. Lusa glanced at her, then scanned the trees.

How many more are there?

Taal continued. ‘That’s why I don’t want you to tell anyone about seeing us. There are crazy people who will come looking for us… and hurt, even kill non-Amba like us.’

‘But the Azoo and the Arga live in Ambras as well.’

‘Yes some, but that wasn’t the case for a long time. Things are still fragile between the tribes’

‘Tell her about the murders.’ Ket added.

Taal gave his wife a look that suggested she was not helping, then turned to address Lusa again.

‘It was difficult to leave my Amba family, but I had to stand up for what I know is right. I had to endure tough times to be true to myself. The fact is… no one colour is holier than the others. That’s just the opinion of those that fear losing power… and their wealth… and so many other things… if they let the other factions in.’

‘You don’t have any colour? Not even blue?’ Asked Lusa.

‘That’s right. We don’t need a colour. We live naturally with every colour. Eat what we want. Wear what we want. Most importantly, think what we want.’

Lusa stood silently, considering Taal’s words.

‘But how do you…?’ She stops. Losing her train of thought for a moment. ‘ How do you know the difference between right and wrong?’

‘Lusa. There’s right and wrong in everything. Nature is… I mean, right and wrong can be found in the heart of most people.’ Taal curled his fingers on the middle of his chest. ‘If you respect others… and most importantly, do not hurt… live your life respecting people… there’s no real need for religion. If you think about it… people going around colouring themselves because of religion… it’s pretty daft.’

‘It’s not daft. I like it.’ Lusa complained.

The boy looked up at his father then accusingly at Lusa, “They were picking all the flowers that aren’t yellow.’

‘I know son, they’re silly aren’t they?’

‘I like the blue ones.’ Lusa said.

“So do I Lusa. Where I live, we allow all the flowers to grow. Black, blue, red… and yellow.’

‘Wow.’ She paused. ‘Where do you live?’

Taal suddenly became more serious. ‘We need to go.’ He took his son by the hand and they turned to leave.

‘Bear it in mind Lusa. You don’t have to believe everything you’re told. Discover life for yourself. If it’s not too late.’

And with that, they set off into the forest. Ket watched Lusa for a moment then, she too, slipped away.

‘Wait!’ Lusa cried.

‘Goodbye Lusa!’ Taal called.

‘Goodbye Lusa.’ His son mimicked.

She stood and watched as they disappeared from sight and wondered whether she should follow them. She wanted to. But it was easy to get lost. Many had.

As Lusa approached the city she sensed that something was happening. To one side of the main gate, an excited crowd had formed a large arc against the wall. They were reacting at intervals, letting out unified gasps. She pushed her way through the mass of yellow and gold, desperate to see what was going on.

As she approached the front, she heard someone speaking loudly and confidently.

‘Another one?’ He asked.

The crowd responded excitedly in the positive. Some were cheering, others more serious, but all were excited. Near the front, a small group of Arga holy men looked at each other with concern.

The man at the centre of the commotion, a senior soldier, held a device, which Lusa had not seen before. It resembled a long stick with a handle attached, although made from metal rather than wood. It was painted the customary yellow of Amba weapons. The soldier held it by the handle, pointed to the sky.

‘They call it a… gun. And there are more like this, as well as other similar devices. I’ll show you something else we have obtained, in a minute.’

He turned towards the city wall where a straw target had been propped up, and aimed the rifle. It made a short sharp surging noise just before a bolt of fire like energy shot out of the end and into the target. Lusa’s eyes widened as a small area of the straw was scorched and begun to burn as a flame took hold. She noticed several other scorch marks from previous shots.

The soldier smiled, ‘Far better than arrows. And they say we’ll be getting more of these. Thank the rays!’

The crowd murmured in agreement.

He slung the rifle carefully around his person and opened a pocket of his tunic.

‘And then there’s this little thing.’ He pulled out a thin finger length cylinder.

‘They won’t be cheap. But it will save a lot of time… watch this! Erm… I need something to paint. Okay, I’ll use my hat.’ He took his hat off and held the cylinder against it. Where he touched the hat with the device, it began to turn a golden yellow. Some of the crowd gasped. Others strained to see. The soldier walked along the line so they could see the demonstration.

‘How does it work?’ Someone shouted. The soldier stopped and laughed.

‘I’ve no idea!’ Almost everybody laughed.

One of the Arga priests stepped forward. ‘Will it paint red?’

‘No. Only Amba colours, my Safra friends. I’m sorry.’ He replied as he packed the light-pen carefully away.

‘I promised something special, and there you have it. We’ll see more of these soon. Hopefully. The sun and the light are shining bright for Ambras.’

As he readied to leave, he added.

‘I will see you all at Temple!’ The crowd parted to allow him through. Several intrigued citizens followed him, asking questions, which he deflected.

Lusa went over to the straw target. She touched the scorch marks, some of which were still warm.

KROMA Issue #1 is COMPLETED and RELEASED!

KROMA_16

Finally, after around ten months of planning, learning, writing, producing and directing, Issue #1 of Kroma has been finished and released to the world.

http://www.kromaworld.com/Buy.html

I only hope all this work will prove worthwhile one day.

The number of 7 days weeks and double shift days I’ve put in are remarkable.  It’s been non-stop 24 hours a day for a while, and looks set to continue as I promote the book.

Deciding how to go about that is the next thing I have to work out.

As for the content of Kroma, a dystopian, secular view of a brand new culture/ world that evolved in isolation should be something that both sci-fi and sociology students will find interesting.

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Something about the creative process

The process involved in creating a 30-page comic like one one I’m currently producing, might be easier the second time around.

If I could draw the images myself, it might even be relatively cheap to make. But only if sci-fi/ fantasy comic readers are satisfied with stickmen characters,  that ain’t never gonna happen!  Decent illustrators are expensive.

I wish I would have had someone who understands comic scripts to read through mine, critique the sequences and content of the panels. Sadly I did not.

Now I’m worried it may not flow properly.  It’s too late to change or add things.  And adding panels costs more money and I’m already over my budget. As it is, I have to learn how to do the lettering myself as I can’t afford to pay for one.  I’m hoping that it’ll be relatively straight forward.

I now fully understand why professionally made comics have a lot of credits on them.  It’s not really a job for one person.  Not if you want to make the best possible use of working hours, as I do.

The experience, has been interesting, tiring… no, exhausting.  I’m going to be ecstatic when it’s done.

Hopefully issue #2 will be better funded and supported. And I might even get paid.  It’s very unlikely I’ll be doing the next issue at a financial loss.