In the ancient of days, there were three: God, Wanderer, and Orphan.
God lived in the earth, which was barren and had no ocean. Orphan lived in the sky, where his cloud kingdom bore no witnesses. One day, during Orphan’s daily gallivants across the earth, Orphan–who thought himself to be the sole living being in creation–saw God.
“Who are you?” asked Orphan.
“I am the Ruler of the Universe,” replied God.
Orphan, exceedingly displeased, said, “If you declare yourself as the ruler of all things, then I challenge you to combat.”
“Let us struggle, then.” And God fought Orphan until he won, and he killed Orphan, burying him beside his earthly palace.
In the future, the Wanderer arrived. God loved the Wanderer, and they lived in compassion for an eternity.
But after an eternity, the Wanderer grew sick. “Beloved,” he called out to God. “When I die, I wish for you to fulfill your dream. Go, and bury me where you buried Orphan, so that my wings may be the leaves of the coconut, and Orphan’s body might be the trunk. In this way, your struggle will not be in vain, and we will support your creations for eternities to come.”
And God did so. There, God created the first coconut tree, and then eventually, the people that would come to populate Ba-e. And so we were made, and so shall we be unmade: in love and violence.Scorched Leaf Sulat 111:333
The city of Put’wan was even more beautiful than in the stories, but Mito knew of its faded glory.
Let me regale how Mito, the Datu Slayer, arrived at Put’wan first.
A wandering merchant Datu who traveled on a food barge that housed three different chefs from Naksuwarga, Baik Hu, and Virbanwa, had been offering guardsmen work. They were to travel to Put’wan.
The Datu’s name was Labing Makaon, and she was a connoisseur. Despite loving food, her body was as solid as rock, and she never seemed to gain what she partook. She fought with a giant anchor, which she swung around like a smith’s hammer, and could swing around on its chain when needed.
Mito accepted. Labing Makaon found him at a low point, however. Ostracized from all places he could’ve gone, he was weak and hungry. He wouldn’t be able to attack and dethrone Makaon whether he wanted to.
“You know who I am, right?” asked Mito. He was skin and bones, gaunt, but still brought about his giant headhunting axe. “You’ve heard of me. The boy with the green tattoos.”
Makaon nodded. “Aye, and what better guardsman for me than one who could kill datu? What better guardsman for me than the Datu Slayer himself?”
“Once I have regained my strength, I will be able to kill you,” Mito admitted. The clouds overhead threatened a downpour, and the ground was already muddy from the rains that had happened the day before.
“I know. But I will nourish you, and you will not be able to say no. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Join me and work for me for a while, or perish here. I promise that you will get the chance to kill me after our work is done.”
Who could say no to that? Especially in the Sword Isles, where bad harvests can be caused by ill-tempered field gods?
He agreed, albeit sullenly. And so, there, with only his giant headhunting axe on his back, he rode upon the great food barge, which had been called the Floating Canteen. The barge was large enough to bring stoves, root crops, rice, and other cooking accoutrements. It was formed similar to a karakoa, with a raised mid-deck. While that was usually used as a fighting deck, this one Makaon called the cooking deck. And there her three chefs cooked.
The Virbanwan chef was a young girl named Samata, who applied Baikhan and Issohappan techniques to make a mean chicken adobo.
The Baikhan chef was an elderly man wearing a simple silk robe. He cooked the best fried dry noodles, and would often serve them as breakfast. “It lengthens life,” noted Makaon. The Baikhan chef was named Zashi.
And finally, the Naksuwargan was an elderly woman named Badiu. She made the best nasi goreng, and knew by name the 777 varieties of rice among the isles. Mito noted that Makaon must’ve been a different kind of rich to have had that much rice stocked within their cargo.
And so The Floating Canteen never grew hungry. It was considered a privilege to row for it, to be Makaon’s debtor; a paddler would be able to eat delicious food indefinitely. Datu Labing Makaon was teeming with wealth, mostly because of her ability to offer delicious food in exchange for bahandi heirloom wealth, which only greatened her material value.
As Mito traveled with them, traveling from the far south to the far north where Put’wan was, they stopped by a few settlements. The richer datu could afford The Floating Canteen as a sort of catering service for their feasts, and through that Datu Labing Makaon grew even richer. At the end of it, Mito could only revel at Makaon’s ingenuity.
“Why do you not start a banwa of your own?” asked Mito one time, after he singlehandedly fended off an enterprising band of raiders that unfortunately had not heard of the infamous Floating Cantina. He took a lantaka as spoils of war, and Labing Makaon allowed him.
“Too much trouble,” said Makaon, shrugging. “This little floating eatery is my banwa until the day I die. It is enough for me.”
“You do not plan to sire children?”
“In a world like this?” asked Makaon. She shrugged and then shook her head. “That would weigh too much on my conscience.”
Mito pondered upon those words. He was a young teenager, not any more than 13 harvests old. Most of the children his age would be farming, or still learning to wield a sword. But for him? He was thrown into the deep end and killed his first datu at the ripe age of 18 harvests.
He tasseled the hairs of that vanquished datu to his headhunting axe.
When Makaon left him, he wondered whether he should add Makaon’s locks to his axe’s tassels.
Before long they arrived at Put’wan. When they did, Makaon gave Mito one last meal and then allowed him to leave. Mito agreed, not wishing to stay with Makaon for too long. Especially knowing that I’d have to kill you the next time I see you, he’d thought.
He slept at the edges of the village, underneath a flowing tree with crimson flowers. There he dreamt.
A cacophony of angels. A descending god, wrapped in glory and wreathed in majesty. The perfection of man, the image of man. Mito had heard about the Virbanwan God, and he had always wondered if he would ever be able to meet a God such as that.
The Virbanwan God, MAKAGAGAHUM, gave him a simple command. Journey into the river and seek out the maiden with moon hair. She is a soon-to-be datu. Kill her and Mito will receive the power to kill all datu in the islands. He will become the Datu Killing Saint.
Mito was easy to talk to, of course. He is a child, and his one-mindedness was both his boon and his curse. All he wished was to fulfill what he has been made for: killing Datu.
And so, he traveled.
Put’wan was much more majestic than the stories he had heard from his parents. When he used to have them.
Put’wan was a trading entrepot, which meant a great number of services and sundries were kept here where they could not be found anywhere else. As with the Floating Canteen, this one had an entire longhouse dedicated to storing foodstuffs and other traded material, just so he could trade it with other people among the isles.
“Those are the capitalists,” said his mother once, when talking about a random enterprising datu that had brought an entire cargo of weapons and food. “There are many of them nowadays, especially with burgeoning trade. It only makes sense, after all. More and more people arrive in these islands, wishing to take advantage of its natural resources.”
Mito walked into one of these longhouses. When he entered, he was greeted by a lady who was seemingly the peasant of the datu that worked here. He walked up to her and asked, “Bayi, do you have water?”
She nodded. “That’ll be 1 tael’s worth please.”
Mito blinked. “1 tael for water?” He didn’t even know what a tael was.
“Yes. This water is specially cleaned by balyan chosen by water diwata.”
Mito blinked again. “Uh. Very well.” He reached down and plucked out a single gold bead. “Would this be enough?”
“This is worth 5 taels, sir! Let me just cut it for you.” She brought out a large pair of scissors and chopped off a portion of the gold bead. Then she gave it back to Mito, who–very confusedly–took it back and placed it into his silk satchel once again. “Here’s a wooden cup for your use! Have a good day.”
Mito blinked, looking down at the cup. If he wanted to drink, he could just find a good stream or river. All rivers kept clean by their river diwata were good and cold and clean, after all. It was tawo that would destroy them in the first place.
He moved over to where the large clay jars filled with water were. He pulled the lid off and scooped some water up. He drank, and his hunch was right. It was the same as clean stream sources. Of course, these had a bit of a sweeter aftertaste. Did they mix honey in these?
Mito finished the cup and then reached down to get another one when the woman yelled out: “Sorry! You only have one cup. Please pay another tael to get more!”
Mito inhaled and then shrugged. He closed the lid and walked over to the woman. “Okay. I want another cup.”
“Then you will have to pay another tael, sir.”
“It only makes sense, sir! You see, we house these waters, made by our own balyan. If you want water that’s clean like that, then you must pay for the labor that went into doing it!”
“Are the balyan that performed it the ones that are paid?”
“Of course not. All the payment goes to the datu. That is how these islands work, after all.”
“So the datu does no labor. All he does is keep the stuff that’s being sold here?” He turns and then points at all the food within. Most of them were sorcerously preserved fruits, meats, fish, herbs, salt, and all. It was a total longhouse for convenience.
“Of course not. He pays for all the things that are here. And then he sells them at a greater value so that he can make a profit.”
“I would much rather just… pay those who make it directly.”
“But sir, you don’t understand. You pay for the convenience!”
“Why not do it like those in Ba-e? Trade their goods around and then give them the pay later down the line, while keeping some of it for yourself? In that way, those laborers would get all the money they would’ve gotten from selling all that stuff, and then you would still make a living.”
“Sir.” The woman’s smile became less pleasant, more rigid. “In this day and age, we have to look for ways to survive. In this rising tide of trade and violence, this sort of business is the only way that we can strive to live.”
Mito thought for a moment, and then he said, “You’re the datu, aren’t you?”
The woman blinked. Then, she nodded and said: “Yes. I am Datu Alagit-it, at your service–”
Mito’s headhunting axe flashed like lightning. In the next moment, Datu Alagit-it’s head fell onto the table.
The kawal that was patrolling the aisles of the longhouse did not see. Mito turned and walked out.
He should finish his job. That thing that God told him to do. He turned and began making his way towards the sound of the river Inagos. Off in the distance, he could see the shadow of the ten-roofed houses that once stood in Put’wan, when it was the center of trade in the islands. Ten-roofed longhouses and pagodas filigreed with glinting gold. Well, used to: moss and vine grew into these engravings after those in New Put’wan took the old gold off.
Old Put’wan, cut off from New Put’wan. A pale shadow of its former glory.
He walked over there first, curious. Deeper into Put’wan, eventually arriving at an area where the dirt streets turned into cracked square tiles. He could see houses whereupon shallow depressions were, no doubt the places where one would insert decorative gold pieces. He saw decaying spirit houses, no longer being taken care of. Off in the distance, there was a short pagoda, no taller than 2 roofs.
Mito passed by the entrance of the pagoda. There a lone man, elderly, was sweeping the steps. He wore a lighter version of the robes those Annuvaran bhikkhus would wear, this one made of native silks and textiles.
As Mito walked by, the man stopped sweeping. He rubbed at his shaved head and turned around. “Greetings, Datu Murderer.”
Mito paused. He turned and kept a hand ready to pull at his headhunting axe. “Greetings, bhikkhu.”
“Ah, you know what I am?”
“A sage, a monk,” replied Mito. He had met a bhikkhu before, in his travels.
“Of the Annuvaran faith, aye. But worry not, I am not hostile to you. I am of these isles, just like you.”
“I have learned of you on my travels.”
“No doubt you have, Datu Slayer.”
“Am I so known?” asked Mito, looking down at his hands.
“Perhaps not overly so, but you are known. Is this to your disadvantage?”
Mito nodded. “It would. However, it is my goal. I suppose I cannot be too worried about it.”
“Indeed. If doing this will find you peace, child, then rejoice in the glory of combat.”
“I already do,” replied Mito. “This is the only peace I know. Only in the act of hunting down those who rule can I find peace.”
“Then you will continue to do so in your next lifetimes. Is this what you want? Don’t you wish for true peace in the future?”
Mito did not reply. He was quiet, for a moment.
The bhikkhu continued: “Ah, but you are but a child. If your exploits don’t kill you, you will have plenty of time to ponder upon these things. Farewell, then. Strive to Achieve Hiyang through struggle, hypocrite.”
Then the bhikkhu turned and walked into the pagoda, closing the doors behind him.
Mito relaxed his shoulders. The bhikkhu was right, of course, but it was still up to him. He knew this. It would still be up to him.
He turned and continued on the path towards the river Inagos. Off in the distance, he could see the giant spear that cut through the clouds and pierced down into the river.
Finding them was not a problem, of course. The balete tree was easy to find. He simply followed it, its spiritual resonance only growing as he approached closer and closer. Eventually, he reached the small hill, a good few walks from Put’wan itself. He hid by the balete tree for a moment, until he saw a tall and well-endowed woman with an eyepatch over her one eye step out.
They spoke for a bit. Mito could not hear what exactly she was saying. Then, the woman walked back into the longhouse.
Mito took this opportunity. He walked over to just in front of the front ladder that led to the front porch and knelt. He breathed, and as he did, he discerned the living breathing souls of the people within. Two of them, both of them of great potential, no doubt kedatuan, royalty.
Nothing his axe couldn’t take care of.
He pulled out his headhunting axe and placed it in front of him.
Eventually, his patience was rewarded. A wretched presence walked behind him, suddenly.
He was like the wind. His hand lashed out, snatching the headhunting axe from the ground, and then he leapt up and forward, toward that wretched presence.
A small, imp-like creature with droplets of flame for eyes summoned a shield of flame, which did nothing against Mito’s tenacity. He surged through it and cut at the yawa. The yawa’s wounds festered, tendrils reaching out as its liquid flesh was torn and frayed.
The yawa summoned a demon wind to fluster Mito, and then another demon wind to launch itself into the air, landing on the porch behind Mito. It reached out, snapped its fingers desperately, and then flung a bead of smokeless fire, which expanded into a giant fireball.
Mito had leapt out of the way just in time.
The yawa opened the door, and Mito saw the tall woman and the moon-haired girl within.