A curious reef shark circled Tawhiri, twisting occasionally to get a good look. After a moment, it lost interest in favor of a fish that had ventured out of hiding. A grouper rested further out, its massive body rocked occasionally by a passing wave. Tawhiri took a deep gasp and ducked down, swimming several feet before he came close enough.
The giant regarded him with large, flat eyes, its mouth gaping open. Even in the moonlight, the dappled design on its back was easy to see. It was at least as big as him, if not bigger.
He ran his fingers over the creatures marvelously intricate designs and touched his chest in a sign of respect. A fish this big could feed the whole village. But tonight it rested in peace in the reef.
Tawhiri kicked off the sand beside it, veering around an outcropping of coral, and by Kai’ali as she passed. She was slow.
“How did you ever make it through the tunnel?” Tawhiri gasped as soon as his head broke surface.
Kai’ali shoved him. “The same way I will win our race. Determination. And not stopping to tease the locals.”
“I was just letting him know that I’ve come to visit. He is a big old man with a grumpy face, and I wouldn’t want him to think me disrespectful.”
Kai’ali shook her head and began swimming again for the sand bar. She couldn’t possibly think she could win. But she was stubborn if nothing else.
Laughing like he hadn’t for years, Tawhiri dived under a wave and sped forward.
Most of the sandbar was well beneath the waves with the tide. The moonlight reflected off the sand, making the ocean alive with its light. Tawhiri paused for a second to look down on it. There was no way to say where on these barriers Ooma had found him. It was a long time ago, and the waves shifted and churned the sand every day. The ocean was dynamic and always changing and yet timeless.
Like he was himself. No one cared that he was what he was. Demigod or human, he was part of the tribe. But while his body changed and grew, and took on the appearance and the abilities of a man, he would never be that in the eyes of his people.
A few silver-sided fish drifted along the sand in blissful peace. Kai’ali wanted peace for Tawhiri. But how could anyone find peace on the land when the ocean lay so close, beckoning.
“Hey rooster!” Kai’ali’s voice pulled his face from the water. She sat on the short grass on the barrier island, one hand lifted in a wave. “All your crowing, but there you are. And here I am.”
She’d won. He was never going to hear the end of that. But that didn’t matter right now. He couldn’t leave the ocean. He’d rather put his foot in an open flame then sink it into the dry sand.
He swam as close as he was willing to get, letting his hands drift on the surface of the water as he stood just out of the shore’s reach.
“So…” Kai’ali sat on the thin grass struggling to maintain coverage on the barrier island. “Are you ready to never touch the ocean again?”
Tawhiri clenched his fists and took a few steps back.
Never feel the waves. Never touch the silky sand in the deepest parts. Never see the colors of the reef, or the fish that dashed about it. It was a severe punishment if ever there was one. But what was the alternative?
If he were to choose the ocean over his people, he would be proving all the things they believed about him to be true.
“I’m not.” He lowered his body until the swells of the wave pressed against his chest. “But I’d rather lose this, than my home and my people.”
Kai’ali sat silently for a long while. The waves filled the night with their gentle lull, but all else was still. Tawhiri focused on the push and pull of the water, and the calm of the night.
She seemed sad. Was it for his sake, or was she really so upset by Ihaka’s proposal. But as hard as she was taking it, how much worse would it be for Ooma if he were forced to leave Mona Lao.
“You are never going to disobey them are you?” Kai’ali asked.
Tawhiri motioned at the water. “Where am I standing now?”
She smiled, placing her wrists on either knee. “At least I know you’ll always be causing trouble.”
“What are you saying?” Tawhiri stepped back into an oncoming wave. “I’m more grown up than you already. Look at you, dragging me out here in the middle of the night. What kind of woman will you be, eh?”
Without waiting for a reply, Tawhiri twisted and dived back under the surface.