I have decided to explore Ilrydia for a while. Though modernized, the people have fiercely retained their traditions and practices. The people here were welcoming and hospitable, and they seemed enthusiastic to assist in my studies. With a bit of luck, I may even be able to witness one of their celebrations.
Matteus walked across the metal slat pier leading from the hangar. It was built to imitate wooden bridges, and its railings detailed with cables mimicking vines entangled in orderly knotwork. The land itself was a marvel, the earth sculpted into gentle hills, and trees burst from the ground at every direction. He could hear birds calling out and echoing in the air, joined by the whisper of leaves shaking in the mild breeze.
The customs office ahead was built in harmony with its environment, right on top of a river next to a rocky waterfall for structure. It had the the added advantage of modern engineering, a wooden hut reinforced by steel, and the roof thatched with vine netting under a weather resistant polymer coating. It was cozy looking, like a cabin in a mountain resort.
He parted a bell curtain and stepped into the doorway. The room looked similar to the wooden mimicking paths outside. Game trophies, mostly birds and fish, were displayed neatly in rows along the walls. The windows were vast, allowing visitors to have an excellent view of the lush greenery outside.
Despite the tinkle of bells, the officer inside remained sound asleep, combat-booted feet crossed on his desk and his wide brimmed brown leather hat over his face. Matteus looked around to see if anyone else occupied the office. Devoid of all other life, Matteus tried clearing his throat to gently coax the snoozer into reality. The officer only snored louder.
“Ehrm. Excuse me,” Matteus said in a soft tone.
“Nahh, I don’t like yer tea!” The man blurted as he jarred awake. He had a boisterous voice, with an unusual cloying nature.
He gave Matteus a shocked expression as he tried to comprehend the blue giant before him. He quickly bolted to his feet, composing himself as he cleared his throat.
“Scared the ha’veras out of me, lad!”
“I do apologize,” Matteus assured.
“’S me own fault. We don’t see travelers much. Especially ones from so far away. Welcome! What can I do for you?” The officer shook his hand vigorously and gestured for him to sit down.
“Well, I wondered if you would be willing to help me. My name is Matteus, and I am on a bit of an inspirational pilgrimage.”
“Yeah, I’ve hears of your like, artsy folk, something I can get behind, couldn’t make a living off of it though,” the officer commented. “What’s your specialty?”
“Well, I am a tattoo artist. I am studying techniques in my travels, and I was wondering if you had anything that you would be interested I sharing with me. I have provisions that I can trade for in exchange for information, as well as whatever resources that might be used at my expense.”
“Psssh, nahh, don’t worry about that!” The officer thought for a minute. “Actually, you would be about on time for the festival of the First Hunt.”
“Please, do tell me more,” Matteus smiled eagerly.
“Dunno how much you know of us, but we hunt. A lot.” The officer explained as Matteus glanced around the room full of game trophies once more. “Kid’s gotta learn how to hunt as well, but we ain’t about to make it easy for them. So we make ‘em do it like our ancestors, and thus the First Hunt Games was started.”
“What are the rules?” Matteus inquired.
“Well, we have one of the elders be a spotter, or act as ‘prey.’ The kids have got to sneak up on him to make the ‘kill.’ But if he spots you, you’re out. It’s kinda like an extreme version of tag. What our ancestors used to do was paint their entire bodies to mimic the leaves and shrubs of the forest. They will spend almost the entire year preparing for it. They sit in the wilderness, claiming territories for their hunt, study each individual leaf and scout out the best hiding places.”
“Fascinating.” Matteus smiled.
“Tell ya what, I’ll talk to one of the Elders and see what he can tell you about. You can even talk to the kids as well as the previous winners so you can learn of their strategies. Can even show you the paint we use too. The ancestors used to use permanent inks for their hunts, and they rarely shared hunting grounds with others. But nowadays, it’s all just fun and games.” He suddenly cleared his throat. “And it kinda made an awkward impression when it came to intergalactic trading. Though some of the elders still brandish their markings proudly, and some of the more gung-ho kids will have it tattooed after they have won a hunt.”
“I would love to see more,” Matteus nodded. “Thank you for having me.”
“Don’t mention it. We like to talk. It’s rare we get to talk to someone who’s interested, ya know?”
Though his skin color gave him a distinct disadvantage towards the First Hunt games, the Elders suggested he go out to the forest as a child would, just for the experience. Armed with the knowledge that he gathered from them as well as the children of past and current games, he ventured out into the woods for his trial.
The Elders told him that a ground would call out to him, and they were right. He had to travel a few miles from the village, but Matteus knew that here was where he was supposed to be.
Here rested a playground of rocks, covered by a blanket of fallen leaves. Shrubbery and young saplings grew in between the crevasses, and remained pointing upwards towards the sun despite the uneven grounds. Roots of the oldest trees twisted around the rocks, offering them a stable support. A small creek trickled across the shady glen, which would be an ideal place for quarry to take rest and drink. He sat himself on one of the larger stones, his feet dangling over the edge. As he was advised, he closed his eyes and listened to the environment, meditating on what it had to say to him.
He brought his sketchbook with him and he began to trace out a pattern, as influenced by the Elder’s own foliage markings. He collected a few of the most prevalent leaves and grasses found here, flattening them within the pages of the book. He then took out a small paint set, and began to mix colors that matched precisely to the leaves he gathered. He let the sounds of the forest guide him as he drew, and there he sat until he was finished, and daylight faded to eve. He looked at his drawing with a smile on his face, then began the journey back to the village.
And thus, his right wrist had been claimed.