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Dark Waters

August 7, 2014

Another one set in Matahouroa. Occurs right before The Prince’s Arm.

***

”You called me, Master?” asked Pakaru, hesitantly. Last time she foolishly misunderstood the siphon’s call, she paid dearly, as the scars in her plated abdomen showed.

“Indeed I have, elver” said Kaingārā, pleased in an almost absent minded way.

A small, cornetfish-like fish swam in circles around her, like some attention starved dog. If it cared at all about Pakaru’s presence, it showed not, rising with its master as her dorsal fin ascended her form through the water, her muscular seahorse tail untangling from the coral throne. Old sea-witch Kaingārā motioned for her apprentice to follow, and Pakaru did so.

“This is your final test. You are to travel to Hinawahine, to the swamp bay of Wairepomango, and seek he who calls himself Tiwhakekeno. He shall further instruct you on your mission. If you succeed, freedom will be the least of all rewards you will acquire. If you fall in failure instead, be sure to die before I am aware of it.”

Pakaru nodded. Like most of her kin, curiosity got the best of her, and an opportunity to travel to somewhere not only outside of Kaingārā’s territories, but beyond the sea, was very appealing to her.

“I will earn my rewards, Master.”

“I suppose you will, as you always have so far” Kaingārā mused dryly, “You are to leave now. I trust in your resourcefulness, so I provide you only with this.”

She was, of course, talking about the cornetfish. A fast predator as it was, it was indeed a very generous gift for the young Manaia. Wasting no time, she focused the mana of the surrounding ocean and of the dark, inhospitable brine lakes just a few miles away, encircling her target with numerous charged currents, moving in correspondence to her slow, deliberate arm motions. The fish swam frantically, already feeling the unnaturalness and pain from the spell, but it was too late: its flesh began to mutate, to bubble and to release copious amounts of pus and necrotic fluids into the sea water. The water grew dark like a shadow, occulting somewhat the fish’s terrible transformation, something that mattered little to the Manaia, feeling and manipulating every cell on its body. The dark water increased like massive cloud, until it was about the size of a particularly large orca – still small in comparison to the palace’s massive throne room-library -, trapping within it a passing ratfish, jellyfish and several squids. The biomass of these trapped creatures melted off into a bloody jelly, being added to the shadowed cornet fish, which rapidly grew in size. After a few minutes, the cloud dissipated, and the results were clearly exposed to the diffuse underwater sunlight: the cornet fish had grown to around ten meters in length, its jaws were now filled with flat, broad teeth akin to human incisors, and its skin was largely black and filled with necrotic abscesses, its pupils horizontal like those of an octopus. It now had massive, wing-like pectoral fins, and its body was now covered by small, cilia like tentacles.

The creature swam beneath Pakaru, an obedient steed feeling nothing but utter, perpetual agony in its unnatural and hastily made body. The Manaia was particularly proud of herself, as this magnificent design had been done on the fly, and she could tell Kaingārā felt at least some degree of appreciation, if only due to the creature’s torment. Pakaru grabbed the beast’s larger cilia in the neck, sending a bolt of pain that quickly rose it to action, swimming away and out of the building through the massive skylight. It swam very fast indeed, the massive pectoral fins making it fly underwater like a penguin, each beat propelling it at several hundred miles per hour.

Soon, Kaingārā’s dark kingdom dwarfed as the beast approached the surface, and luminosity increased rapidly. A school of sardines, swimming in perfect organisation, quickly disbanded in frantic panic as Pakaru and her abomination swam through it, while a passing spinner dolphin pod bolted away, only to be rapidly pursued and have one of them killed by the monster’s teeth, suffering a slow, agonising mastication of the fluke and lower torso. Pakaru revelled in its pained echolocation and spastic movements, but she quickly grew bored with it, leaving the lethally wounded but still alive cetacean to sink into the depths, while she and her mutant fish ascended.

With a few more “wing beats”, the sea monster and its master erupted from the oceanic surface, jumping into the air in a glorious but short lived actual flight. During this, Pakaru held on with her flexible tail instead, and raised her arms, screaming in pure delight at the sheer power and majesty of her own self, before the ocean reclaimed her again. As she was submerged, white bubbles surrounded her, and the turbulence in the water couldn’t be grander.

And for a moment, she forgot about her servitude.

***

Tiwhakekeno stood in the edge of his floating house, his foot dipped in the black, oily waters. Although he had done this before, he was still very nervous, as the one he sought after wasn’t an omnipresent figure, and the Wairepomango was still full of monsters. Just yesterday, the fabled village hero Horitama lost his legs to a monstrous bullshark as he fought off the Kawau, and was now reduced to a beggar on a canoe, now mocked and ridiculed by the very people that used to look up to him. Tiwhakekeno didn’t have a reputation to ruin, but losing a limb in the infectious swamp would be disastrous for the young mage, to say the least.

Suddenly, he felt a viscous, wormy thing on his sole, which then wrapped around his ankle. Tiwhakekeno panicked, trying to get his foot off the water, before the two cold white eyes revealed themselves in the water, three meters or more away from him.

“So we meet for the fifth time, Tiwhakekeno” Pango said, his voice a raspy sensation that echoed from his hidden bulk like a deranged whale song, “To what do I own this honour?”

The forked lizard tongue unwrapped itself from the young man’s foot, instead opting so lick the upper side into the leg, slowly emerging from the thick black water. Tiwhakekeno smiled, Pango brought him the closest semblance of comfort he has had in a while.

“I’m glad to see you too, but I’m afraid I need a favour.”

“We’ve made a contract, and I trust that you haven’t forgotten the terms. Ask regardless, for the price is always the same.”

“I’ve made a deal with the sea-witch, as you advised me to do. Her envoy should be here soon, so I ask you to not kill them.”

Tiwhakekeno couldn’t see Pango’s face in detail as it was submerged, but he felt as if the taniwha smiled, pleased with his deed. The forked tongue opened, now encircling his ankle again like a flesh anklet.

“Kaingārā’s messengers travel fast. I could have devoured a thousand of them before I came here.”

“Fortunately for me, the birds keep an eye on you.”

“Talking to the birds, are we? It seems you’ve taken my lessons to heart.”

“Obviously. But do I have your word?”

“Yes, you have, though you’ll regret not having me kill the emissary. I can feel her approaching, and I can tell she is eager to sew destruction.”

“Leave her to me. I’ll make sure she stays under control.”

And so, licking Tiwhakekeno’s leg one more time, Pango sank in the murky depths once more, only small ripples betraying his massive bulk. Taking his foot out the water, the young mage went into his house. Amidst his trinkets and fetishes, he found a black and grey pelt. He dressed it as a coat and jumped into the swamp waters, swimming rapidly underwater, towards the Wairepomango mouth.

He surfaced again to take breath six feet away from his house, as a fur seal.

***

Pakaru first noticed Wairepomango around four miles off the shore of Hinawahine. Here, the clear sea waters had a slightly blacker tone, as if much diffused oil permeated them. A faint sense of power coursed through her gills, and she was instantly drawn. So was her steed, which quickly swam fast towards the source of that dark water.

As they approached the massive swamp, the sea water gradually began to darken, until it was of an utter pitch black, completely infused with sediments and oil. Pakaru pulled the steed’s cilia, commanding it to remain close to the surface. She peeked above the surface, and to her astonishment they were still a good mile and a half away from shore. In the waters around her, there were quite a few fish and squids, while in the distance she could see a Hōkūleʻa. She commanded her beast to go towards the ship, feeling the black mana course through her veins.

As they approached, the cornetfish beast gained speed, and then it jumped into the air, gliding above the ship and ripping out its masts with its teeth. Pakaru jumped off her steed, landing on the deck. Just as the sailors grabbed their weapons, she released her spell, making their flesh melt off into a bloody paste, leaving behind cleansed bones. Sliding like a serpent with her tail, she grabbed an unaffected sailor by the throat, making it decay and wither before ripping out his eyes and throwing them into the sea, promptly devoured by the giant cornetfish mutant. Throwing the rest of the body after, she then moved on to a final victim, a cowering girl near the stumps that were masts just seconds before.

“Such a waste, don’t you think? Judging by your cuffs, you probably agree with my actions, don’t you?”

For a few moments, the girl relaxed, lowering her defences as she thought she came across someone that wanted to save her from her captors. The Manaia then grabbed her neck, however, and bashed her head against the broken mast, shards of wood puncturing her skull. The corpse then joined the others in the sea, and was devoured by Pakaru’s steed. Satisfied with herself, the merfolk slid off to the ship’s cargo. She found mostly vegetables and salted fish, which she carelessly tossed into the sea, as well as a pen full of chickens, which she used to practise her magic, decaying some of them, bloating others with tumours, and horribly mutating the rest, mixing and mashing their flesh until it was an eldritch amalgamation of bloody, pulsating meat, bird legs and deformed heads. Noticing the improvement of her quality work, she nonetheless tossed the pained abominations into the sea as well.

Finding nothing to her liking in the ship, Pakaru gracefully slid into the black water, where her steed was faithfully waiting for her. They left the Hōkūleʻa wreckage, hasting their pace towards the Wairepomango mouth. As they approached, Pakaru could figure out the edges of the swamp bay: massive cypresses, mangroves and similar trees grew right out of the deep waters, their trunks and roots forming a near perfect line between the calm waters of the Wairepomango and the turbulence of the sea. Every once in a while the line of trees was broken by an island, adding pockets of other plants, but overall land was just as scarce in the swamps as in the ocean. This line was every once in a while interrupted by vast canals, pouring forth surprisingly strong currents, most of which occupied by docks and seaports. The merfolk knew she had to steer clear of these.

Pakaru pulled on the cilia again, ordering the steed to swim parallel to the swamp mouth, patrolling in search of Tiwhakekeno. Suddenly, she registered movement in the water, and saw a fur seal emerging for breath, some 20 meters away from her. Swimming next to the tree trunks, it lifted a flipper, as if motioning her to follow. Pakaru found this odd, but she figured it would be Tiwhakekeno, or at least related to him. Nobody could present himself with such a name and not live up to it, she supposed. She raised her hand in acknowledgement, and the fur seal lead the way, motioning with its head for her to follow it into the swamp. Disappearing among the tree trunks, Pakaru’s steed followed, the cornetfish’s serpentine body perfect to move in the maze-like environment of the Wairepomango.

The first thing Pakaru noticed about the swamp was its darkness, the tree canopy blocking all but a few silvery rays. Her eyes were perfectly adjusted to see in the depths of the sea, so the darkness in itself was not a problem for her, but unlike the ocean depths the Wairepomango was dominated by tree trunks, severely limiting her range of sight. Out of curiosity, she commanded her steed to dive, to test the depth of the Wairepomango waters, and much to her surprise they were quite deep: two minutes of full-speed diving, and she still couldn’t see the bottom, the trunks extending as far as her eyes could see. She commanded her steed to return to the surface, and when they surfaced she saw a young man, perched on a mangrove root.

“Are you Tiwhakekeno?”

“Yes. Are you Kaingārā’s envoy?”

Pakaru nodded, and Tiwhakekeno searched his bag, made from whale skin. He took out, a broken amulet made of blackened bone. It seemed to depict a stylised shark, but the head and most of the torso was missing, leaving only the tail.

“I’ve made a deal with your master two days ago. She would give me materials for my spells, in exchange for an amulet, that will grant her power over the Tipua. I carved it myself, quite a beautiful piece I dare say, though not my magnum opus. Fate would have it, the Kawau took me by surprise and broke it. I’ve considered making another one, but I learned that Hinuhou keeps it, foolishly using it for necromancy. I said this to Kaingārā, and she agreed to save time and resources by sending you here, to help me get it back.”

“Figured the witch would send me to get killed.”

“Probably not. Hinuhou is completely mad, taking it from him wouldn’t take that much effort. I just need someone to keep him busy.”

Pakaru nodded. The idea of being a distraction seemed unglorified, but she at least would be able to test her magical prowess. The idea of stealing the amulet for herself seemed appealing, but she figured that Kaingārā and Tiwhakekeno took precautions against that, so for the moment she rejected those thoughts.

“How far do we travel?

“Probably two hours. It’d be faster if we could travel through the canals, but we must leave that to our exit. You steed better have a good sense of smell.”

With that said, Tiwhakekeno placed the amulet back into the bag, and wore his pelt again, jumping into the water and becoming a fur seal. Pakaru touched her steed’s snout, and once again mutated its flesh, creating a series of nares and pressure sensors. The cornetfish thrashed its tail in agony, but quickly subdued submissively, and followed Tiwhakekeno in the maze of tree trunks.

***

Hinuhou’s hideout was a massive tree house, spanning a buddle of three trees in a “clearing, an expanse of water where other trees didn’t grow. Built from the cannibalised remains of a Hōkūleʻa and several floating houses, it looked above all things like a broken ship with three trees growing through it and supporting it in the air. Sinews tied the wood pieces together, and the use of tree branches and twigs to form external perching platforms gave it as decidedly “nest-like” appearance. Actual nests existed in the tree branches; of the many Kawau that resided in the area, only Hinuhou inhabited the tree house.

It didn’t take Pakaru much effort to attract the attention of the aven. As soon as she and her steed came from the “forest” into the open water, an alarm conch was sound, and the Kawau took flight. Several wore armours, either as simple metal, bone or wood plates woven into the clothes or as ridiculously intricate ornaments made from precious materials, and these were the first to strike, bearing lances on their wing claws. Most of the first wave of these went down with Pakaru’s first spell, a killing wave that decayed the birds’ flesh and severed their feathers from their bodies, the bone and armour sinking with loud thumps while the black plumes filled the air, falling gracefully.

Many others didn’t wear armour, however, and these, alongside some of the savvier armoured ones, kept their distance. Some attempted killing spells, which Pakaru managed to bounce off, while others spoke strange utterances and raised their arm-wings. Suddenly, a very strong stench of rot and decay filled the air, and from the waters emerged zombies, floating like corpses towards the Manaia. Most of them were humans, but corpses of sharks, crocodiles and turtles rose from the depths in large numbers, swimming more slowly than the live animals. Skeletons also rose from the murky waters, climbing up the tree trunks and crouching themselves like cats ready to pounce. Most belonged to humans, though several were from Kawau, including the ones just slaughtered. Pakaru summoned a taniwha to deal with the zombies, focusing on trying to target the necromancers.

As the battle began, Tiwhakekeno took a deep breath, and dove deeply, crossing the open waters as fast as possible. A few times he was almost noticed by the zombies, but he swam past them, quickly reaching the tree trunks. Slowly approaching the surface, he let only his nostrils rise, and devised a way to climb without being noticed. He slowly circumvented the growth, before finding the space between the trees. Fitting through the crack, he changed into human form, and climbed upwards, until he was at the base of the tree house. Sticking his head outside the gap, he saw no way of climbing into the tree house from the outside, so he instead tried to search for a way to crack his way inside inconspicuously. He found a small gap in the wood tiles, so he took out a knife and cut the ligaments holding them, letting several tiles fall, alongside what was on top of them: several piles of human arms.

Crap, Tiwhakekeno thought to himself. He peeked inside, and saw no Kawau in sight. Cautiously, he climbed in, and run for cover behind a pile of corpses. With other three piles in that chamber, he figured himself to be in the storage area, and tried to calculate his position within the tree house. Said calculations were cut short when he heard footsteps, however.

“Overconfident, aren’t we?” said a guttural, yet somewhat high pitched voice, “Breaking into my house like this? Quite a clichéd trick, and I’m willing to chance that you’re a weakling too. They never send the stronger ones inside, for some reason.”

Tiwhakekeno pressed himself against the corpses. The footsteps came from the direction where his back was oriented, so he at least wouldn’t be noticed so quickly. He considered the possibility of letting the corpse pile fall on the Kawau once he positioned himself in front of him, but he decided against it, not having the right angle for that to be a functional solution. Instead, he laid on the ground, changing back into a fur seal, hoping that the dark pelt would camouflage him against the corpses. If it didn’t, at least he’d had strong forelimbs, granting him a sprinting boost.

Hinuhou came into view. He briefly looked in Tiwhakekeno’s direction; if he noticed him, he didn’t show it. Dressed in a flowing purple muumuu with red patterns, the aven had tattered and broken flight feathers, as if he himself made a conscious effort to keep them as ill maintained as humanely possible, while a patch of his neck was completely plucked. He moved in an elegant, deliberate manner, however, and most of the remaining plumage was reasonably well kept. He crouched near the opening, sticking his head and neck into it.

“Yet another reminder that sinews from babies don’t work” Hinuhou sighed, before raising his head and neck, and his voice, “I know why you’re here, pest, and you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. I don’t even have any idea why you’re looking for it, there’s plenty of bladder-“

Tiwhakekeno reverted back to human form, and kicked Hinuhou in the legs, making him fall down the hole. Flightless as he was, it’d take some time before he’d climb back, but he most definitely wouldn’t drown, innate swimmers as Kawau were, and he could already hear his furious screams. The boy run towards the direction where Hinuhou came from, finding him treasure chamber. It was full of corpse-made paraphernalia, such as chairs, tables, plant jars, coat hangers and a cage (holding a dead, bloating dog corpse inside). Meticulously created human and animal taxidermy adorned most of the room, while a pile of gold and gems filled most of the left corner. At the centre of the room was Hinuhou’s nest, made primarily from human arms and twigs. In a corner of said nest, Tiwhakekeno found the missing head and torso of the amulet.

Wasting no time, Tiwhakekeno grabbed the piece and placed it inside his bag. With a massive window nearby, he simply changed into a fur seal and jumped into the water, swimming fast past the zombies to Pakaru’s side. She had kept the Kawau at bay, but the battle took its toll: the zombies and skeletons left her with a large necrotic wound on her tail, oozing fourth pus, while her steed was on the verge of death, bleeding profoundly and having its entrails flailing in the water.

“Did you get the amulet?”

Tiwhakekeno nodded, and Pakaru pulled him into her steed, ordering the dying cornetfish to make one last display of its speed. The water expanse where Hinuhou’s hideout resided was connected to one of Wairepomango’s massive canals, so their escape was indeed easy, simply sprinting fourth at maximum speed through the open waters, aided fourth by the strong currents. Within a few minutes, the hideout was far behind them, only a few Kawau chasing after, and promptly gliding back. The cornetfish, losing most of its internal organs, died shortly after, but the way back to the sea wasn’t far. But suddenly, the air began to fill with a rotten, methane scent, and a shadow was cast above them.

“THIEVES! YOU SHALL PAY FOR YOUR SINS AGAINST HINUHOU, THE PAR EXCELLENCY OF ALL NECROMANCERS!”

Hinuhou, as all knew, was flightless, his wing feathers in no state to carry him on the air. Few had incited him to leave his hideout, however, and most thus would be surprised to know that he had his own means of compensating for his winglessness: a massive glider made from dolphin bladders, completely full of methane that, thanks to the Kawau’s superb necromancy, ejected it’s gaseous load in a controlled manner, propelling him through the air. This had the side effect of freeing his hands, a luxury few other aven in Matahouroa had.

Pakaru enrolled her tail around Tiwhakekeno’s body, leaving her free to do magic while he carried them both away, as fast as he could. Hinuhou was outside the reach of her brand of flesh manipulating magic, so she simply did counter spells, preventing him from casting deadly flesh-rotting curses on them.

“How dare you! First you invade my house, then you steal from me, then you don’t let me have my revenge!?”

“Oh, just get over it!” Pakaru responded, “The amulet you stole belongs to my master. If anything, we’ve done you a favour from sparing you from her wrath.”

“Amulet!? I don’t care for any amulet! You stole my necromantic masterpiece!”

“What?”

“Don’t you think I don’t know it? All necromancers are envious of my most sublime work, so they always try to steal my works of art! They’re always so sneaky that I don’t even know what they stole, but I know you’ve taken something from me, magnum opus!”

“And what would that be?”

“MY GLIDER! My masterpiece, the greatest of all achievements ever conceived! All envy it, so you MUST have stolen it!”

“But you’re using it right now!”

“Oh, that’s right, I forgot about that.”

“So, since you don’t care about the amulet, does that mean you’ll leave us alone?”

“Oh sure, I have no need for it, you can keep it… except NOT, because it’s MINE!”

He then send a powerful blast of darkness, and Pakaru couldn’t deflect it, hitting her arm and causing severe necrosis. Thankfully for her, right before her emerged Pango, his massive bulk breaching highly above the canal, the ensuing wave propelling her and Tiwhakekeno further closer to the sea. Hinuhou was frightened by the taniwha, so he ceased the chase, flying away to his hideout.

As they arrived to the sea, both Pakaru and Tiwhakekeno came to rest near mangrove roots. Tiwhakekeno changed into his human form, climbing carefully up the tree. In the canopy, he took out both pieces of the amulet, and held them together, carving a line across both of them. A simple incantation, and the two pieces were united as one again. Holding it in his mouth, he jumped, turned into a fur seal, landed on the water and swam towards Pakaru, handing her the amulet and disappearing among the tree trunks. The Manaia paid no heed to Tiwhakekeno’s hasty exit, and instead focused on her rotten arm. It was beginning to regenerate, as if the black swamp waters had healing properties. Tying the amulet around her wrist, she sensed a surge of power radiating from it, and briefly considered again if she should take it for herself. Once again, she reminded herself of the possibility that Tiwhakekeno rigged it somehow, and decided against it.

She then noticed a strange object in the water. One of the chicken abominations she had created earlier that day hadn’t been eaten by her pet, instead floating as a bloated, decaying buoy of flesh before her. She felt movement in the water beneath her, and a bullshark emerged, devouring the mutant chicken with powerful bites. Without any time to waste, Pakaru focused her magic on the bullshark, and twisted its flesh with her magic, creating a more streamlined animal, similar to a makko or great white.

She grabbed its fins, and it darted into the depths, back into Kaingārā’s dark kingdom.

***

“This is bad, quite bad indeed” Maramawhā said.

The wreckage of the Hōkūleʻa reached a nearby small island, where the planeswalker decided to host her base of operations in Matahouroa. She could feel the dark Manaia magic still lingering in the ship, deforming the ship-worms and barnacles into grotesque creatures. Breathing deeply, she charged the water, and cleansed the ship wreckage from its corruption.

“Kaingārā seems to grow bolder” Panahihou mused, “What do you suggest we do?”

“Go to Hinawahine, and solve the crap there. I’ll handle the sea-witch. Send your shades, and I’ll send my spirits.”

“As you say.”

Panahihou took flight, and Maramawhā swam, diving into the depths of Matahouroa.

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