Chapter 1:

The Staff of Time


The ferryman watched as a peculiar man climbed into his boat unannounced. The man wore loose-fitting robes along with an oversized straw hat that concealed most of his face. On his back was a rectangular wooden box which he promptly set down and began to rummage through. As he bent over, the ferryman noticed a gold necklace covered with foreign symbols around his neck. Before the ferryman could ask him anything, he got handed a rather heavy bag of coins.

"I'd like passage to Gsak Island."

"Are you sure? I'm sure there are plenty of other islands that you could travel to for this amount." the ferryman replied hesitantly.

"I'm certain that's the place I want to go. Though I am curious why you'd suggest a different destination."

"It's nothing really, just the locals. they've changed."

"Changed? How so?"

"I'm not sure what happened, but one time a few years back, I was taking a passenger there as usual. Once we arrived, I decided to get off along with them since I was acquainted with a few of the villagers. The village had changed considerably from when I last saw it a month or so ago. It had become derelict as if no one had lived there for years. Most of the villagers looked spaced out as if nothing was going on in their heads. When I spotted one of my acquaintances I asked him what was going on. Instead of responding, he quickly snatched my coin purse from me and ran off. Having a similar experience to mine, my passenger demanded that I take him back to the mainland. You're the first person that's wanted to go there since then. So after hearing that are you sure you don't want to go someplace else?"

"If having my money stolen is the biggest of my worries, then I'll happily go."

The ferryman sighed, "I guess if you still want to go, then I can take you, but I'm staying in the boat."

After a silent boat ride, the ferryman pulled into the humble dock at Gsak Island.

"Come back to pick me up at nightfall." The man said as he pulled the box up onto his back and made his way onto the island.

the ferryman, still sitting in the boat, called out to him. " I forgot to ask, but what business do you have on this island?"

The man tipped up his large hat revealing a sharp smile, "It involves a certain hobby of mine."

On Gsak Island a young boy foraged through the jungle. His body, covered with dirt and scratches from years in the wilderness. His clothes were nothing more than tattered rags. Most of his days were spent climbing trees for fruit and scavenging whatever plants he knew to be edible. All the while staying aware of his surroundings so he didn't become a beast's next meal. Usually, he'd end the day by returning to his makeshift home of sticks and leaves, falling asleep, then repeating the cycle. However, today was different. Today he would see his parents.

The boy had little trouble finding the village as it was the only one on the island. No one paid him any attention as he wandered down the dirt roads. He was a little disappointed to find his old home just as run-down as everything around it. The broken door at the entrance allowed him easy access inside. Everything was just as he remembered it, although it was falling apart. He searched the small home but found no one else there. Just as he turned to leave, he heard voices approaching, and he rushed to them.

Standing outside the doorway, the boy's parents took a few seconds to realize someone was in their house. Both of their eyes were bloodshot, and they stumbled into the house.

"Mother, Father, I'm home!" the boy exclaimed as he clung to them.

"Who were you again?" his father asked, in a stupor

"It's me Hio! Your son!"

"Oh Hio...right, I remember now. Didn't we send you off to live in the jungle or something?"

"yes, but now I'm back. I came to live with you again."

"Well, that might be a bit of a problem. You see, with our particular lifestyle, raising a kid is... is... what's the word?"

Hio's mother chimed in, "A burden. children are just a burden."

"There you have it Hio. You'll just be a burden for us, so I think it's best if you just went back to the jungle. Besides, I'm sure it's more fun there than this old village."

"Y-yeah." Hio whimpered, tears welling in his eyes. He walked out of the house and collapsed on the ground crying.

"What's wrong?"

Hio looked up and saw a strange man with a hat that hid his face. "It's nothing."

"I don't think someone would be crying about nothing. What's your name, kid?"

Hio calmed himself and replied, "My name is Hio."

"Nice to meet you. My name is Sojou, I'm a traveler of sorts. Care to tell me what you're actually crying about?"

"It's all the new chief's fault. He ruined this village."

"What sort of thing did they do that lead to all of this" Sojou said, gesturing to their surroundings.

"It's a long story."

Sojou took the box off his back and sat down, "I'm all ears."

"Years ago, we had a different village chief. His name was Irai. he was old, but he led the village well, and everyone got along back then. I would visit him often and help him with whatever he needed. One day he told me that he would show me a surprise for all the hard work I'd done. He led me down a secret path deep in the jungle until we came upon a temple. I was amazed because it was bigger than all the homes in the village put together. He told me it was built by people long before our ancestors arrived on the island. We went to the center of the temple where a golden staff stuck out of the ground.

Irai said that the staff was sacred, and it was the duty of the village chief to protect it. The staff could reverse time itself, but it was never to be used. The consequences of using such power were too great, so he resolved to keep it secret from the rest of the village."

"Yet he took you to see it?"

"He trusted that I wouldn't use the staff, and he said it was lonely keeping a secret to himself for so long."

"I see, but how does all of this relate to the new chief?"

"Well, not long after that, Irai suddenly became ill, and though he tried to fight it off, he passed on days later. The adults all decided that the new chief should be his son Godu. He never had a good relationship with his father, always going against his wishes. However, many of the villagers wanted him as chief to bring a new perspective to the village. Once he became chief, he learned of staff and its power. Knowing that we were close, he found me and made me show him the way to the temple. He grabbed the staff, and I tried to pull it away from him, but its power was activated while we held onto it. Time was reversed, and we were back outside the temple, still holding the staff.

After that day, Godu formed a plan to make the village better than its ever been. He figured that if everyone gave into their desires doing whatever they want that they would eventually be satisfied. Then once everyone had indulged enough, they would use the staff to turn back time before they gave in to their desires. That way everyone would have their fill of pleasure without any of the consequences. Then everyone could work on improving the village without their desires getting in the way. After he shared his plan with everyone, they doubted the staff's powers. However, after Godu started to share his drugs with everyone, they came around to the idea."

"That explains the sorry state of this village. Though it still doesn't explain why you were bawling your eyes out earlier."

"My parents became hooked on Godu's drugs and ran out of time and energy to care for me. They decided that whatever happened to me would just be reversed anyway, so I got kicked out of the house. Everyone else in the village was just as indifferent so, I had to live on my own in the jungle. Today I came back to the village hoping that my parents would've come to their senses, but they're just the same as before. If only that staff never existed, then we could go back to how things used to be."

Sojou took off his hat to look Hio in the eye. Hio was shocked by his appearance. His hair was scarlet red, and he had piercing grey eyes. "I may not be able to erase it from existence, but I'd be happy to take the staff off the village's hands. It's why I came here anyway.""But what if Godu's right and they can just undo everything?"

"I've heard of this staff before, and if I'm right about its power, then chief Godu has made a terrible mistake." Sojou pulled his necklace out of his robes, "Do you remember seeing any symbols like this on that staff?"

"Yeah, and they were all over the walls but, not even Irai could read them."

"If I can get inside the temple and read the staff, it should give me a better idea of what it's capable of. If it really can turn back several years, then I'll leave it for Godu. Otherwise, I'm taking it with me. So what do you say Hio? will you show me the way to the temple?"

"Even if I showed you the way, Godu has men guarding it so, you'd never get inside."

"That won't be a problem," Sojou said as he opened the large box. He put his hat into the box although, it should've been too big to fit. Then he pulled out a gold ring the size of his hand. Once he put his other hand on the ring he vanished. Hio jumped away out of surprise.

"Don't worry I'm still here," Sojou said as he let go of the ring with one of his hands, reappearing. "Whoever touches this ring with both hands vanishes from sight for a short time. It should allow us to get past the guards unnoticed. Although I can only use it about once a month so, we'll have to be careful."

"Okay, I'll take you there."

Sojou followed Hio through the secret path in the jungle. Once they got close to the temple, they could see a few guards wielding spears outside.

Worried Hio, looked at the guards, then back to Sojou. "Even if we sneak in, how are we going to get back out?"

"Don't worry about it I'll tell you later. For now, let's focus on sneaking in."

They both grabbed onto the ring and disappeared. The effects of the ring wore off soon after they entered the temple. A guard at the entrance saw them in the corner of his eye and turned around. They both quickly ducked into the central chamber of the temple.

"Come out! I know you're in here!" the guard yelled.
Sojou whispered, "Go distract him Hio. I just need enough time to read some of the inscriptions." He then pushed him out into the guard's view.

"Hio! I thought we told you to stop coming here."

"I'm sorry I seem to have gotten lost in the jungle and just ended up here."

"This place is off-limits by order of the chief. You know that." The guard began to move closer.

"I just desired to come here so, I did. Isn't that what everyone else is doing? indulging in their desires?"

"You can do whatever you want the only exception is that you can't mess with the staff. The chief's plan would be ruined if anything happened to it."

Just then, a loud clang came from the central chamber. Pushing Hio aside, the guard ran into the chamber.

"What's going on here?" The guard pointed his spear at Sojou now with the staff in his hands.

"Well, I was going to pick it up, but it was much lighter than I expected, so I ended up dropping it."

"I don't care about that. Who are you, and what are you doing here?" the guard roared.

"I'm afraid I don't have the time to explain it to you." Sojou then pounded the staff on the ground and, there was a flash of light as he activated it.

"Even if we sneak in, how are we going to get back out?"Hio asked

"Don't worry about it," Sojou said as he touched Hio's head with the staff.
"How did you-"

"I'll tell you later, but for now, I need to have a chat with chief Godu."

Sojou put the staff into his box then Hio led Sojou to the chief's house. It was hard to miss since it was the only building in the village not falling apart. There were guards at the front door but, they were much more relaxed than the ones by the temple. They let them inside without issue. The inside was hazy, filled with smoke that wafted throughout the halls. They found the chief lying on his bed with two women from the village.

"Can't you see I'm busy here? come back later."

Sojou spoke with a firm voice, "I need to speak to you about the staff."

"What about it? it's still in the temple for whenever we need to use it."

Sojou opened his box and pulled out the staff, "You mean this?"

Godu's eyes widened "Leave me, girls. I need to deal with this." the two women begrudgingly left the room. "I would call the guards in here to retrieve the staff, but no thief would show off stolen goods to their owner. So what do you want?"

"I can read the inscriptions here on this staff. Not only do they explain its power, but also how to use it."

"So what I used it before without needing to read anything."

"What you failed to realize when you used it is that the inscription says that it can only reverse brief periods of time."

Hio interjected, "You don't mean-"

"Yes, whenever you used the staff before, that was the longest amount of time it was able to reverse. Because you just assumed it could do more, you've led your entire village to ruin." "How do I know you're not lying?"

Sojou took off his necklace and handed it to Godu. Then he gave him the staff. Godu began to look over the staff again and again. After the realization set in, Sojou took the necklace and staff back.

"This necklace allows its wearer to read and speak any language as you've just seen for yourself."

Godu began to sob, "What will I tell the villagers? We've all already done Irredeemable things. Leave me for now I need to collect myself."

As Sojou and Hio left the building, the two women went back inside. Not long after, they heard the women scream.

"Hio, stay here. I'll go check it out." Sojou said as he rushed inside. What he found was Godu's body lying on his bed with a knife in his throat. Sojou covered the body with a blanket and left the house.

"What happened in there? Why were they screaming?"

Sojou looked down with a pained expression, "Godu couldn't handle the burden of his mistake and has passed on."

"Passed on? what do you mean-" Sojou caught Hio by the arm as he tried to run inside.

"It's best if you don't go in there." They both stood in silence as they watched the sunset on the horizon. "It looks like it's my time to go. You could come back with me if you want. I could find a better village for you to live in."

"No, this is my home I'd rather continue to live in the jungle than go to another village."

"I had a feeling you'd say that. I'll be taking the staff with me so, tell everyone in the village that it never even existed. Without the staff, the villagers have no reason to continue with their lifestyle. It might take a while for them to face reality and accept their mistakes, but you're the only one who can wake them up."

"I'll do it no matter what."

"I'm glad I met you, Hio. Remember that even if you can't reverse the past, you can always change the future." Sojou grabbed his things and headed to the dock where the ferryman was waiting.

"I'm surprised you survived an entire day on that island. Did you find what you were looking for?"

Sojou showed him the staff, "Now I finally have a good walking stick."