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E Puhi Lākou


     “Please listen to reason.”

     “We only need one more,” She hissed under her breath. “I didn’t spend a century of my life only to run away at the end like a coward.”

     “Someone's coming,” he hushed.

     “Kahuna!” The uninvited stranger cried. She collapsed to her knees clutching a bundle to her chest. Against her tan skin were layers of elegantly draped fabrics, their bright colors dirtied by the mountain climb.

     The girl trembled beneath the rotting posts of the sagging boar skin tent. Her strength had left her body and legs, she was too weak to take in her surroundings. Perhaps it's better to ignore the bones and feathers of sacrificed animals.

     When the Kahuna appeared, she was dressed in ragged robes. Her belly was on display, tattooed black symbols sharp against her Hawaiian skin. Beads of herbs and stone wrapped loosely against her neck, streaming down to her breasts.

     She examined the girl, who lacked the strength to lift her head. The Kahuna could smell death on the stranger, a scent that only a shaman can sense before death. She used a finger to lift the girl’s head.

     “You’re young to be a mother…” The Kahuna observed.

     Shocked, the struggling woman unbundled the child from one of her many wraps. Drawing strength, the mother lifted her head.  “How did you -”

     “I have herbs and wisdom…” the Kahuna said, carefully using each word. She used her spidery fingers to lift the cloth from the child's head. It already looked dead, its body frail and sunken. “...but neither can save your child’s life.”

     She turned to leave the mother and carry on with the day’s events. It wasn’t until the desperate girl whispered, did the Kahuna stop walking. “But you could summon something.”

     The words triggered a grin across her face like blood dripping from the cheeks of a fresh corpse. Turning back around, she leaned in, close to the mother’s face. The Kahuna had youthful skin, but without the innocent glow. Her eyes were ash grey, nearly as dark as the tattoo covering her right eye.

     Three distinct jagged black lines, carved from the top of her eyebrow to the top of her prominent cheekbone. It was as if she had been attacked by a wild animal and her wounds had scarred black.

     “Choose your words carefully child,” the Kahuna said. “What is it you want me to do?”

     The mother’s lips trembled as she stared down at the dying creature in her arms. Forcing back the tears, she begged in a raspy voice, “Save my child’s life.” The words were built on faith, and faith summoned a power few can weave into this reality. With the veins of a dormant God beneath her feet, the Kahuna drew her power.

     “Where's the father?” She asked, not taking her eyes off the mother’s.

     “He was taken by the tide. The gods found him unworthy of life.”

     The bones in the Kahuna’s neck crackled and popped as she slowly twisted her head to the side. The mother’s eyes widened as she watched her exchange a knowing look with a stuffed doll mounted on the shelf. The doll was green and resembled a frog, though the buttons on its eyes made it seem a little less than stuffed, but very alive. “Most men are weak,” she muttered under her heated breath. Snapping her head back to the mother, her beads clattered together around her neck.

     “I will save your child’s life,” the Kahuna swore, beginning an ancient ritual.

     Collecting the herbs from her walls and stones beneath her feet, she prepared. The storm above the tropical island began to roll and tumble as she weaved faith. Though only hours old, the child sensed the change. He shrieked in his mother's arms, wiggling and flailing his rosy limbs. Could the child fear the lightning cracking above their heads, or the sinister forces the Kahuna was about to call?

     Taking a clay dish, the Kahuna dripped pig’s blood into a sacred symbol. This symbol helped her to channel the mountain's power. By the last few drips of ruby liquid, her hands were coated in blood - matching the excited shine within her eyes.

     The menehune dolls smirked in their leaf skirts, and the skulls of slaughtered mammals whistled with the wind acting as their tongues. When the storm had reached its peak, she took a male menehune doll, placing it at the center of the tent. Taking the crying child from his mother, she placed the infant parallel to the doll on the volcanic floor.

     The young mother shrunk into herself as fear replaced the blood in her face, staining it white. The pattern that bound the child and doll together began to glow red as if it had been lava instead of pig’s blood. Chanting words in another language, the rain and the thunder became one with her voice.

     The Kahuna commanded the Gods, and the child would indeed live. It wasn’t until the child stopped its dying cries, that the Kahuna ceased her chanting. Her spidery hands plucked the bundle from the filth of the ground, finding confidence in it’s silence. Upon handing the child back to it’s mother, the torches inside the tent sizzled out with the storm’s dying breeze.

     Showering the sleeping child with kisses, the mother asked with joy streaming down her cheeks, ”What is your price?”

     Turning her back to the mother, she replied, “It is not me you must repay, it is the Gods who decide the price. Now go back to your village.”

     The storm had passed as did the child the woman carried. Once the woman was gone, the Kahuna snapped her spidery fingers. The torches relit and the doll that resembled an amphibian was given life.

     “How long until the woman realizes she left the mountain with a corpse?” The voice of a male asked from the stuffed frog. The deceiving shaman merely dismissed the question with a wave of her blood-crusted hand.

     Picking up the menehune doll from the volcanic floor, she said boldly, “I gave the woman what she wished.” Smirking after the pause, she laughed: “I saved her son’s life.”

     “You said the same about me centuries ago. You tormented me, tortured me and called it love! You couldn’t just let me die, you needed to ensure I’d never leave.” The man inside the doll accused, black button eyes reflecting a fierce shine.

     The Kahuna sneered, “You are trapped in there for eternity because your love made me weak. This child grants me power, while you only grant me amusement.”

     This time the frog man snorted, “You're an Immortal Kahuna, how much more power could you possibly obtain?”

     “I want a different kind of immortality, Taavetti.” The stuffed doll watched as she peeled back the flap of her tent. The rain had died, but the thunder continued to roll.  “After all, only life can pay for death.”

     The Kahuna admired the sleeping mountain for all its glory, the thought of what it could release made her mouth water. The soul referred to as Taavetti, saw the way red and blue ribbon streamed down with her raven hair, cutting short at the same level of her heart, the same heart he tried to steal all those centuries ago. “You awaken that volcano, it will kill you -  burn your flesh, your organs, your soul. Not even bones will be left,” Taavetti emphasized from his stuffed vessel.

     Her eyes reflected obsidian glass while she stared through the vessel and to the Thief. “What could be more beautiful than strength? What is immortality worth when no one cowers at your feet or runs from your shadow?”

          The woman roughly slapped the tent flap closed, pacing across the volcanic ground. In her anger, the torches hissed and flicked their tongues. The shadows jumped around the tent walls leaving a trail of chaos wherever they lept. Potions, beads, and crisp leaves became a haunted storm inside the boar skin walls.

     “After a millennia of healing and sacrifice, I’m still seen as nothing but a weak female. I can weave their beliefs into this reality, but the belief in a woman of strength - that can only be created through fear!”

     Taavetti watched in horror as the Kahuna’s wrath unfolded. The shadows around him, mocked his helplessness, teasing him, and yanked his poorly sewn webbed feet closer to the edge of his shelf. He was being pulled closer and closer to the edge, into the center of her vortex.

     “Kahuna, stop!” He cried out over the snickering shadows and force of wind.

     At the sound of her previous lover’s cry, the Kahuna capped her wrath. Leaves, like tears of frustration, filtered back down to the ground.

     Tightly clutching the male menehune doll in her hands, unknowingly, her fingers dug holes into the weak fabric. “No one remembers the Kahuna who loved her people,” Her voice quivered. “They wouldn’t because they take her for granted.” There was an edge to her voice; like the sickening crack that echoes when fire bursts through a mountain cap. Taavetti watched from the side of his shelf, his head drooping down and his button eyes meeting his captor’s.

     He barely could remember a time when her eyes were blue. Over the years, using the dark forces for good had stained her eyes with the same color as her decaying soul. “You must know that you will never be as powerful as the goddess Pele. Sacrificing that child’s life will only bring destruction. You were the girl who wanted to heal the world once, don’t throw that dream away by setting it on fire.”

     “Yes,” the Kahuna recalled, her hands still crusted in pigs blood. “Yes, I did love the world.” She turned, the amphibian doll slipping through her fingers and falling to the ground. Meeting Taavetti’s hopeful button gaze, she confessed, “I did love you once. Maybe more than the world.”

     The Kahuna picked up the stuffed frog from the shelf, the faint beating of his heart distinct under her delicate fingers. “But the strongest gods don’t fall prey to mortal love, that destructive emotion.”

     He could only watch as she took his trapped soul and raised it over the top of a burning torch. The fire didn’t dance in her eyes, no, they were too black for that now. Dropping her greatest love into the flames she cursed, ”E puhi lākou.” They shall burn.

     Outside the tent, from the darkness pooling over the island there was a single lightning strike. The God beneath their feet was awakened with the ignition of a thousand stolen souls. A rain of gold and shattering black glass lit up the island like an erupting star.

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