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Matahouroa: A Different Taika

May 22, 2014

A story set on my MTG fanset of Matahouroa. Read the Guide before proceeding.

***

The Sun was just rising in the horizon, yet the mountain valleys where the Hāura Taika made their home were bathed by orange light, from the flames of their torches. In normal circumstances, Koruhana loved their glow, their warmth and beauty, as delicate as flowers in spite of their power. But this dawn was anything but “normal circumstances”, as her tribe’s growls and just barely secured hatred reminded her. Momentarily lost in her thoughts, she was startled, and whoever was not simply angry or disappointed wasted no time mocking her, sneering with wicked fangs.

“My Karaka brethren of the Hāura Taika” began her father, raising his arms as he addressed the whole tribe, “This dawn we judge Koruhana, she who has ashamed our kin, she who has tainted my flesh and blood with darkness. A day and a half ago, she has commited a grave crime, she aided our enemies in the mountain slopes, as our party stroke a righteous blow against the Angitukāinga humans. She has not just forsaken her race, she has actively attacked it, murdering her own suitor Kōtorepoti, as well as two other youths, Whakaipopua and Tiorapa, and gravely wounding the elder hunter Moakoikoi, who has perished from his wounds last sunset.”

“She has ended four lives, four lives, to save those of the most despicable pests to have ever walked the Earth, those who work against our kin and slaughter it at every turn! She has commited the most grave offense imaginable four times, and for such she is here, before our tribe, to be judged and sentenced, to pay for her deeds of treachery and malice against her clan!”

The Taika roared and howled, reveling in the feelings of outrage and despise towards Koruhana. Some already attempted to attack her, but were stopped by Chief Tikapiriniha’s growl, enforcing the Tapu against violating trial procedures. They stopped in their tracks, lowering their heads and whimpering in shame, before retreacting to the wilderness, never to witness the end of the trial. Koruhana looked at her father, but she saw only the expected: an austere disgust, spiced by a mocking stare. She instantly knew what he would love to say right then and now, but could not yet: you’re not my daughter, and I will find a way for your punishment to be the worst one possible. She simply breathed in deeply, and remained stoic. She had disowned Tikapiriniha as her father long ago, though in secret.

“So how do you explain your wicked deeds, Koruhana?” Karaka elder Whāwhīti spoke, subdued and calm, the only voice of neutrality in the trial.

Koruhana inhaled, and spoke. This was a Kangaroo Court, to be sure, but she hoped to at the very least to inspire her tribe to follow better ways.

“I explain my actions by our very code, by our very nature as Taika. The hunting party that I was part of a day and half ago did not strike against mighty warriors, against cruel tyrants, but against children. I, Kōtorepoti and the twins arrived to Angitukāinga after Moakoikoi had already laid waste to the village, already had burned every single house, already had slaughtered anyone with an ounce of actual strength. We came to see him devouring a man, and with Angitukāinga’s children sorrounding him, their hands and feet bound by ropes as if they were just game. He simply wanted us to kill or do worse to defenseless targets for his own sick pleasure, and so did the others. I did nothing more than to follow our way, to honour the Karaka and destroy the heartless, the cowards, the ones who murder those who cannot fight back.”

Uncertainty fell upon the Taika, and so did silence, aside from murmurs. The elders nodded solemnly, knowing the truth, which only made the tribe’s confusion and shock more aggravated. Chief Tikapiriniha did not like this one bit, and roared wildly at his own daughter.

“How dare you lie, you, you WHORE!?”

“You know I am not lying, chief. I cannot speak anything but the truth, by the grace of your own power, by the grace of the Rāhui you put upon this place. Besides, you know best than anyone how far Moakoikoi has gone, how madness has consumed him, and how he has done far worse against our own kin than what I have done, and yet has never been punished for his misdeeds against our own youths. But I suppose you couldn’t find it within your heart to punish an actual sinner, what with him being the only one you’ve ever loved besides yourself, what with him being the one who every night has spear-”

“ENOUGH! I declare your punishment, Koruhana, that which will be DEATH!”

“And such will not be carried out” said Whāwhīti, plainly.

Everyone’s heads snaped.

“Koruhana has spoken the truth, and as she described she has done nothing but obeyed our ways, and truthfully in fact. Moakoikoi, Kōtorepoti, Whakaipopua and Tiorapa were in fact nothing more than petty cowards who struck against the weak and defenseless to pleasure themselves. They were far worse murderers than Koruhana was, and she in fact deserves nothing but our praise for her bravery and righteousness.”

“You lie Whāwhīti!” cried a middle aged male Taika, Ngaumata, in anguish as tears run down his face, “My boys were never cruel or petty! As anyone in Karaka can attest, they were normal and decent, Whakaipopua was kind and shy and Tiorapa always knew right from wrong! They could have never done what Koruhana said they did!”

“Yet they did so” Koruhana said, “albeit less enthusiastically than Kōtorepoti.”

“Regardless, she cannot be lying unless the gods themselves wanted so” Whāwhīti responded calmly, stroking his snout, “So she cannot be put to death for following our laws.”

“She still turned against youths and a favoured hunter” hissed Chief Tikapiriniha, “and death is the sentence for doing such.”

“Indeed, but killing in defense of our ideals is allowed by our laws, and indeed praised. But let us settle this with the will of the gods, for great Ao wants to speak.”

And indeed, at that moment, the rays of the Sun began to flood the valley, a golden, powerful flash that began to eclipse the light of the torches. Whāwhīti rose from his seat, and walked to Tikapiriniha, handing the chief three godsticks: a straight one, one with two crescent-like curves, and a zig-zagging one. Whāwhīti then rose his hands to the heavens, greeting the rising Sun.

“Oh great Ao, who is the brighteness that engulfs reality, who alone amidst the deathless gods knows the true meaning of existing, shows us the fate of Koruhana, she who has done your will yet shed blood. May the chief you have appointed in your name place your decision on this hallowed ground, and may it be your will, your wisdom made manifest. May any who lie be cursed with your rays, be burned and exiled from your world, oh lord of the real world.”

And with those words, the valley was covered by a dome of chartreuse light, a field of energy ripling about, ready to lash deadly light beams at the false and unjust. All Taika were in deathly silence, well aware of the grisly fate of any who lied. Sweat drenched Tikapiriniha’s fur, who trembled in panic at the prospect of doing the wrong move. Worse of all, he didn’t knew what any of the godsticks stood for, which only made the situation all the more unpredictable for him. He panicked, desperately passing the godsticks from hand to hand to try to understand which one of them felt the most right, and accidently let the one with two curves fall.

Everyone was deathly still, awaiting for Ao’s answer. Tikapiriniha inhaled deeply, and closed his eyes, awaiting for his end. Much to his relief, the dome dissipated, and the Sun simply shone more brightly.

“Banishment it is” concluded Whāwhīti, in a seemingly disappointed manner, though whereas it was at Koruhana’s fate or the fact that Tikapiriniha hadn’t been smiten was never to be known.

Tikapiriniha sighed, and resumed his austere demeanour. Koruhana knew he was gravely unsatisfied with this decision, and could see in his eyes a malevolent sheen, that he had when he would plan something dark in secret.

“Koruhana, you are thereby sentenced to banishment from Karaka and it’s territories. Though they are not bound by our decree, may no Hāura Taika tribe take you in, and indeed news of your deeds shall spread through the mountains like flames. You are not to return to us, or to any Taika clan you are banned from henceforth, or else you will die.”

Koruhana’s hands were untied, and as per Hāura Taika tradition all averted their eyes from her. With her banishment in place, the young Taika simply turned away, and left.

***

The Sun began to set in the horizon, beyond the mountains, and Akakura needed shelter to spend the night. The Kākāriki was definitely far from her post in Parāone, to deliver a precious cargo to Prince Whēuriuri himself. Passing unnoticed through Pirita Kahuna wards, hungry Tama-nui-te-Whiro and Kākākea hordes was hard as it was, and now with the threat of Pouakai in the horizon it was seriously considered to temporarily evacuate her from Hinawahine and send her to the relative safety of Inanga. The Aven did not like the idea one bit, but Hinawahine’s skies were becoming a dangerous minefield, and a mysterious new agent had recently contacted her, a powerful new ally of Whēuriuri whose power base was in the offshore island.

Akakura began to descend, aiming for a sparsely forested slope just outside of Rinomaunga, too close to Tahepuia Kahuna territory for the Pirita Kahuna to be a threat and stable enough to not risk being burned alive in her sleep. Her chief concern now was whereas any Tama-nui-te-Whiro was nearby, and chances are that in the chilly montane twilight none were energetic enough to pose a threat. She hoovered above a large podocarp, landing on the dense foliage where she hid herself. The tree was in season too, so she took a bite out of the succulent red fruits.

“Think you could spare me one?” said a pained, yet somewhat cheerful voice from beneath her.

Startled, Akakura prepared to take flight, but in the still visible light she simply saw a wounded, bleeding Taika laid on a large branch, seemingly having recently gotten out of a violent fight.

“Sure” the Aven said, handing Koruhana the fruit “, but I thought you Taika only ate meat?”

“We do, but one or two podocarp fruits are most helpful for healing.”

Akakura descended from her perch, took out from herbs from her bag, and placed them on Koruhana’s wounds, which were infused with vital energy, slowly healing them.

“Thanks.”

“How did you get these? I can use stronger cures if they’re not magically inflicted.”

“They’re just normal wounds. Got them in a fight with other Taika, barehanded.”

“I see. In that can I can use a tonic that was brewn for this kind of thing. I must warn that it has never been used on Taika, though it works on Kākāriki and humans just fine.”

“Do it anyways, I don’t have much to lose.”

“Don’t ever say that. Every life is precious, so even in despair you should fight for yours, no matter what. Rewards always come to those that do.”

“Sure, whatever.”

“I mean it. I don’t really know what’ve you been through, but-”

“Got exiled from basically every Hāura Taika tribe because I tried to do the right thing and save some children, because my own f- the chief hates me for reasons I just can’t understand, and now if I even try to speak to another of my kin I will end up dead. Humans won’t take me in, and chances are that I will have to spend the rest of my days running away from them, Patupairehe or Pouakai. I’m not suicidal per se, but I don’t really see the point of living like this.”

“Well, in that case you could come to Parāone.”

“Really? The Pīngao Taika can just take me in like that?”

“Sure. I’ve met some that once lived in the mountains but were exiled and came to Parāone to get a fresh start. And I seriously doubt your father’s rumours would affect them at all, as even if they came that far they really don’t trust the Hāura Taika to be spreading accurate information. So why not keep on going and come with me?”

Koruhana looked down, her face in an expression of unbelief and joy. The prospect of getting a fresh start, let alone in a whole new place where she didn’t have to fight all the time and there was peace with the humans, sounded very exciting for her. If nothing else, it was definitely worth a shot.

“Do you know the way to Parāone?”

“Sure, I live there.”

“Then we leave first thing in the morning. You can keep the tonic, I’ll let myself heal.”

Akakura gave a pleasant chirp, and both went to sleep.

***

The Sun was right in the middle of the sky, and the heat was unbearable. Even in the proffound shadow of the trees the air was hot and stagnant, and the Taika and Kākāriki had stopped by a pool in the forest, appearently the visible tip of an underground reservoir. Akakura bathed, water passing through her red and green feathers, while Koruhana simply drank from a water bag. They were taking turns to be vigilant, because the forests were the territory of Pirita Kahuna and their servants.

“So, you’re going to live in Inanga?” Koruhana asked, deciding to continue their last conversation.

“Yes, I can serve the Empire better from there, and I don’t risk the Pirita Kahuna from attacking Parāone.”

“Then isn’t it a bit risky for me to go there?”

“Yes, yes it is, but it’s defenitely less riskier to go there by foot than to go to the closest Taika to Inanga, the Ware Taika. Besides, if I keep myself to the coast I can still go to Parāone regularly. I’ll just have to worry about this excursion, but I think the Pirita Kahuna are too busy to deal with Parāone, so we’re definitely marching on a good schedule. We just have to worry about a few of them.”

“If you say so. I’d hate to cause trouble just to get a new life.”

“Nonsense, don’t worry about that.”

Koruhana sighed, staring at the canopy. Akakura was definitely a good person, no doubts about it, but she worried if her enthusiasthic optimism was naivety. Regardless, if the Pirita Kahuna came to her looking for a fight, they’d get it. Suddenly, the distinct smell of burnt filled her nostrils.

“Akakura, I think there’s a forest fire.”

“I’ll check it.”

The Aven took to the air, water dropping spread everywhere as her wings launched her from the pool, reflecting the beams of Ao in many small rainbows. In a matter of seconds, she was well above the canopy, seeing fully the smoke rising from the forest. She descended quickly, gliding her way next to Koruhana.

“You’re right, there’s a forest fire to the northeast. The wind is blowing towards here, so we should hasten our pace.”

And with little warning, she grabbed Koruhana by the shoulders and took off with a lot of effort.

“You could carry me by air all this time!?”

“Just for a short while, not the whole way!”

And indeed, Koruhana was very heavy for the Kākāriki, which was flying rapidly towards the west without even rising above the canopy, though she took measures to do so because dodging the trees was even more tiresome. For the first time in her life, Koruhana was in the air, and although she has seen the heights from mountaintops they simply couldn’t compare to the vast moving spectacle of flight, let alone the wind passing through her skin. In any other time, she would have been ecstactic, but right now she was worried, for her friend and for a scent all too familiar to her.

“Akakura, I think we have to land.”

“But I just got into the air!”

“There’s people burning alive.”

And so the Kākāriki descended rapidly, gliding downwards towards the forest floor, before hoovering as she gently laid Koruhana on the ground. Too tired to fly, she simply just hang on to the Taika’s back, as she run across the forest in the direction of people screaming. They came across a clearing, where villagers were franticly trying to stop the spreading flames, or running away. Caught beneath a crumbled house was a teenage boy, with his leg trapped.

“I know a ward that can dispell fire for a few minutes” said Akakura, tired, “But only a few minutes.”

“Should be enough.”

Koruhana run towards the house, the flames already burning the wood. Keeping herself hang to the Taika with her feet and right hand, Akakura used the right one to probe her bag and take out a golden fern leaf. She ate it, and chirped strange and eldritch calls, that infused the air with a golden myst. The race was now on, and Koruhana reached down next to the boy, figuring out a way to remove his leg from the house.

“Are you going to eat me, Taika?” he said defiantly, trying to get away from Koruhana.

“Be still.”

Koruhana reached out for a large plate of wood, and with great effort she began to lift the debris.

“The ward is starting to fade” Akakura warned, grabbing a water bag and emptying it on the flames.

Koruhana managed to lift the fallen wood, only to find that the boy’s leg was broken beyond repair, the lower section just hanging loosely. With some effort, she grabbed the panicked child and run away from the flames, towards the remaining villagers.

“Thank you, Taika” said a middle aged woman, her eyes reddened and her voice raspy from crying.

Koruhana nodded, and she and Akakura parted ways from the villagers, running towards the dense forest once again.

“Just go a little to the northeast” Akakura said, ” and we’ll be on the right track.”

***

The Sun began to rise once again, and Koruhana stirred from her sleep. From her resting place in the branches of an aged kauri, she could see the plains of Parāone in the horizon. She was so close, so close to start a new life of peace and serenity.

“Awake?” she asked Akakura.

“Waiting for a while. You Taika sure do sleep like stones.”

Koruhana smiled, and climbed her way down the tree. The Kākāriki took flight, moving in circles above the Taika in a rather gleeful manner. It was a shame that she wasn’t going to be around to see her getting a new start, but Koruhana knew it was for the best.

Suddenly, a strange chant filled the sorrounding forest, and out of nowhere the branches of the trees darted into the sky, punching Akakura out of the air, making her land violently a few meters in front of Koruhana.

“AKAKURA!” the Taika screamed, running towards her friend.

The Aven was badly injured, her jaw was unhinged from her skull, only loosely hanging on, and her chest was fractured beyond repair. She was still alive, in great pain, moaning meekly as her bones cracked. Koruhana searched frantically in her friend’s bag, bring out the tonic from before and gently pouring it down into her jaw and whatever open wounds there were. Understanding what was going on, the Kākāriki used all her tolerance to pain to move into a “comfortable position”, where her regenerating bones would reform to a non-deformed state. Indeed, the tonic’s mana charged power began to take effect, fixing Akakura’s jaw rapidly, and slowly repairing her own fractures. However, the pain was too unberable for her, and the Aven fell into a coma. Koruhana took her wounded friend into her arms, crying and cooing her friend, her tears glistening on the bird’s impermeable feathers. She heard footsteps, she she didn’t move, trying to shield Akakura with her body.

“Such a shame, that the one you could have used the tonic on has ratted you out” said an austere, yet amused voice.

Koruhana dared look, and it was who she feared. Dressed in an esmerald feather cloak with yellow apotropaic patterns, the bald, middle-aged Pirita Kahuna stood proud before her, his lips slightly curved in a sadistic smile. He was carrying a large wooden staff, more similar to a living branch than anything made by man, ending in living, broad leaves and red berries. Before she could react, he kicked her in the snout, forcing her to release Akakura, and kept her firmly in the ground with his foot on her throat. Vines sprang forth from the ground, and tied her limbs, preventing her from fighting back.

“Your father has promised well for your heart, pelt and womb. We do preffer to not act as mercenaries, to not lower ourselves to petty thugs, but the alliance with the Hāura Taika is too… valuable, to waste. We’re so close to eradicating the curse that is sapience, and all we need is your death. And frankly, my dear, there are few things in this world that bring the collective any more pleasure than to kill the heretics.”

The Pirita Kahuna then rised his staff, the non-leafed end converting itself into a thick, hammerhead-like club, his smiled blooming like a wicked flower, revealing his marble-like teeth. Koruhana closed her eyes, sobbing for herself, her friend and the peace she never had.

Just then, a thick, cold myst enveloped the air, and the Pirita Kahuna’s limbs were frozen. The man growled hatefully, spouting curses into the air, vines wrapping around himself, trying to breaking the ice, only to crack his own limbs. Clad in the thick, almost spectral mysts, Maramawhā emerged from the dense forest, Ao’s light reflected in all directions in her frosty figure.

“You have overstepped your bounds, Kahuna. It is rather… disturbing, that you want to mutilate this one’s corpse, but you’ve made a mistake when you’ve striked against my courier.”

“H-how did you g-get here?” said the Pirita Kahuna, trembling in fear and cold.

“Pure accident, actually. I had come to Parāone up it’s river system, and was patroling the forests in case your ilk decided to meddle in my affairs. As Tāne would have it, I come upon such a despicable pest such as yourself.”

“Y-you d-did wonders, then! I’ve n-not come alone!”

And indeed, Maramawhā could see younger Pirita Kahuna, hiding in the shadows of the forest, readying their arrows as soon as visibility was fine. The Hoiho shrugged, she really wanted to give these murderous Kahuna the taste of their own medicine, but she was barely in the state to even save both of their victims. She carried Akakura in her arms, and cast a spell to make Koruhana fall into a deep coma, from which she would never wake up. With a final spell to prolong and expand her mysts, she left the forest with her courier, leaving the accursed wilds as she walked towards Parāone.

Only an hour later did the myst dissipate, and the Pirita Kahuna fred himself. In anger, he stroke against the unconscious Koruhana, smashing her skull with the staff-club, and began cutting up her corpse as per his mission.

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