Amut: Background

Amut was raised in circumstances he would only come to understand some years after he left home. His only family was his father, once a prosperous merchant, but trade had been slow from before he was born. All the same, his devotion to Amut was unimpeachable. He ensured that the boy had sound schooling and never neglected to spend time with him, frequently bringing him along on lengthy sailing trips on their skiff, the Inaba, teaching him to camp at sea and sharing old songs and stories. From soon after his son was born, though, his business had been in decline. He found himself in increasingly bad financial straits, and made numerous risky deals to make ends meet, unwilling to neglect the upbringing of his only son. As a result, he gradually ensnared himself with loan sharks of worse and worse kinds, and when Amut was barely entering his teens, the boy learned, all at once, what had been done to insulate him from the world.

The well-dressed but unnervingly grizzled trio he found waiting for him at home let him know exactly how serious his father's debts had been, and just what the contract they held had entitled them to do with him. Their genial explanation of the processes by which a living human could be transmuted into liquid assets was, he reflected later, an unnecessary piece of sadism.

Much later, Amut could remember the days that followed as little more than a tear-smudged, despondent blur. He percolated naturally into the worst parts of town, where, alternately curled up out of the way wracked with sobs, howling in impotent fury, or shambling dead-eyed from one meaningless location to another, he fit right in with those discarded by the city.

As the days passed, though, pain gave way to emptiness and he began to pay attention to his surroundings. Never had the brutal predatory instincts and heartfelt compassion of humanity been shown to him as it was presented here, among people who had nothing but each other, but would sell their fellows by the pound if it would bring them any gain.

He couldn't stand to share a world with it.

It was a rare moment of clarity that reminded Amut of the one thing he might have left, something that was neither part of the household nor his father's business holdings. He hurried to see, and was not disappointed.

He stepped onto the bow of the Inaba and cast off. It would take him months to understand, in retrospect, the magnitude of the blunders he made during his first few weeks at sea, and how many times he should, by rights, have been killed, but it was still better than having to watch what people did to each other and themselves every waking moment.

Pre-Exaltation

Almost twenty years later, Amut is a sea-going scavenger - his way of life involves sailing around the coasts in a small open sailboat, free-diving and picking through the sediment looking for anything of worth. He's never been in danger of living comfortably, but the locker full of fragmentary trinkets he hasn't been able to bring himself to sell stowed in the bow of the Inaba hints that he is drawn to this lifestyle by certain subconscious urges beyond his own reckoning.

Always within reach on the boat is his gaff pole, a quarterstaff with a harpoon-like hinged hook at one end and an eye suitable to pass a rope through on the other. He generally carries it with him when ashore, for the sense of security it gives him, and to defend the meagre goods he trades in. However, he does this only when forced - whether to collect provisions, when fishing has been slow for a few days running, to unload the junk he trawls up, or to effect repairs to the Inaba which can't be done at sea. Towns and crowds disquiet him, as they have done since the time he first set sail.

Exaltation

Amut's Exaltation occurred very recently. It began with the return of a recurring dream he had not seen since his childhood - a journey to a tiny island surmounted by a bare rocky plateau, a contorted entryway to a concealed cave, and a flight of stone steps beyond which his mind's eye saw only an unknowable, yet welcoming, blank.

He was able to put it to the back of his mind, the rational processes assuring him that there was no reason to believe this place really existed, until the day when he stretched the oilskin tent across the gunwales and went to sleep without dropping anchor. He awoke just before dawn to the sickening sound and feeling of his keel grinding against rock, but discovered to his surprise that he had not run aground as such - rather, he had drifted over an underwater outcrop in the open ocean. The sea was placid and crystal-clear that day, and he only had to look once at the crag he had struck to identify it as the “island” he had dreamed of.

Though the tide was at its lowest extreme, to dive down to that hidden cave was still a dicey proposition. The way in was dark and twisting, and far from being fearless in the water, he had been diving long enough to feel a wrench in his gut at the thought of becoming disoriented and trapped.

His worries were subsumed, however, by the certainty that he would never find this place again if he left it now. The shore was out of sight, and he was unfamiliar with the waters, leaving him with nothing to reckon his position against. The welcoming something that always marked the end of his dream was just around the corner of that tunnel. He stripped down, knotted a line to the Inaba's mast, and dove in.

He certainly got inside. He clearly remembered his surprise at swimming up over the steps only to find not only a pocket of air, but a warm, bone-dry atmosphere as he broke the surface, and inside, matters became more hazy, but there was certainly something which had the… flavour of the compulsion he felt when looking at certain ruined artifacts in his salvage, but… clearer, or purer, or maybe

This memory did not, however, cast the light of understanding on how it came to be that he was lying on his back across the bow of his boat, feeling the night chill giving way to the warmth of dawn. One leg dangled over the water, the lifeline hung loosely in his hand, and the Inaba drifted gradually towards a small forested island. Whatever it was, it meant he'd drifted for miles already.

Amut stared into the starkly shaded sky, listening to the gentle slop of the sea against the prow, and reflected on the unique cruelty of this development. The headache and the exposure were bad enough, but to have this blank in his mind over what happened in the cave was what really made it. He let his head flop back again, hanging over the edge and looking at the upside-down island on the horizon. He hoped his surface clothes hadn't gone overboard again. The last time he'd had to go ashore in his diving duds (or dud singular) hadn't been so pretty.