It had been a soggy 7 days in the rickety, moldy, leaky raft, and still, Luna and Vai were no closer to their goal of finding the fountain of Papatuanuku. In no direction was visible anything resembling dry land. No sign of the isle whereon the fountain was hidden, and no sign of their home, the island of Toa Taonga, The Champions Treasury.
Neither of the young adventurers possessed the strength to paddle. The ores that had left deep, seering blisters upon their tender palms. Both lay face down, stricken with thirst on the hull of their vessel. Each of their fingers were preoccupied with plugging up the various holes through which water kept seeping through. Their lips and eyes were caked and cracked from the drying salt water and the sun that scorched and seared their skin like a seasoned piece of meat.
Vai shakily lifted his head from the shallow puddle on the floor of the boat, his fingers still lodged in the holes to keep their dingy from sinking any further.
“I thought you said you knew where the Fountain of Papatapadingdong was?” He said.
Luna groaned and grunted like a wounded bear as she too lifted her head from off the murky floor of the battered boat.
“Maybe if I was with someone who actually knew and respected what they are doing we might not be lost right now. If Hector was here, he’d know exactly where to go.”
She paused, then spoke again loud enough for only her own ears.
“He knows these islands better than anyone.” Said Luna.
“Hector is the whole reason we’re out here looking for that Fountain.” Vai replied. “If we don’t take back the water from the Fountain of Papasasquatch...”
“Papatuanuku!” Luna snappily replied.
“Whatever! If we don’t find that water, and bring it back, Hectors gonna die from the venom of the black serpent.” Vai replied.
Luna, summoning a level of strength beyond what her malnourished body should’ve had, exploded like a high powered rifle.
“You think I don’t know that?” She shouted, rising up from off the floor of the boat, simultaneously and unwittingly uncorking the holes her fingers had vigilantly been plugging up.
Her eyes were red and glistening with tears. Given their current state, it was unclear if her eyes were red from the salty sea air or her concern for Hector. The red hot, volcanic rage was visible in her bulging veins on her forehead and neck that protruded with pulsating palpitations.
“If you cared half as much about your duty as a treasure hunter like Hector,” she continued, “if you actually studied and took this seriously, I wouldn’t have to feel like I’m out here all by myself, carrying your dead weight!”
Luna lept toward Vai like a rabid cheetah launching at its prey. Pulling Vai up from the floor of the boat by the ornate necklace he wore, Luna’s nostrils flared like a bull facing down a matador. She held Vai up as effortlessly as a piece of clothing she planned to hang up, his necklace forming a tight pull on his neck
“Luna, what are you doing?” Vai said with all the breath and lung capacity of an athsmatic chain smoker.
Underneath their feet, water was filling up the boat floor as quickly as a bathtub. Bursting upward like miniature Ol’ Faithful fountains, the boat was now rapidly taking on water from the uncovered holes.
With a simultaneous gasp, both Luna and Vai dropped to the deck, desperately rummaging their hands all around to plug up the free flowing and uninvited water. When one hole was plugged, the others gushed even more forcefully.
After the chaos of finding and plugging each hole, all seemed silent and the two adventurers remained still, each limb covering a hole as they sucked in air like they had just finished a 100 meter dash. The water in the boat was now up to their arms, practically past their shoulders. Both on their hands and knees cautiously keeping still so as not to let more water in. All was still for a moment, with no other sound besides their rapid, stressful, hyperventilation.
Vai took a big gulp, trying to push what felt like his heart down his throat and back into his chest. He drew a big breath, and exhaled slowly.
“Now what?” He asked.
Just at that moment, a creaking noise resounded and reverberated like the sound of an old, wooden barn floor being stepped on. Vai and Luna’s eyes grew wide, their pupils the size of pin needles.
Under the weight of the water the boat carrying the wayward adventurers split in half with a mighty crack. The head of the boat floated in one direction and the rear floating in the other, with smaller scattered pieces dispersing.
“Great! That's just great. Why don’t you just go home, Vai? I’d be much better off alone without you messing everything up!” Luna shouted as she and Vai floated, one latching onto the head and the other onto the rear.
Vai gripped what was left of their ship with all the strength he had, his fingers crushing the frame. Vai’s face went red as he began to breathe with all the intensity of a dragon preparing to breathe fire. He shut his eyes and gritted his teeth as tears began to swell up in his eyes. Luna glared at Vai and the fit she had seemingly caused him to be having.
When Vai opened his eyes, perched on the front bow of the boat was a scarlet macaw of exquisite vibrance and distinct color. It’s feathers were as regal and majestic as a lion's mane, its rich crimson coat shimmered as blindingly as fish scales. It’s eyes held in them a wise gaze, the kind a great grandfather has when sharing stories of lessons learned as a boy.
The two adventurers gazed upon its beauty as it soared upward then descended downward between them like a fierce shooting star. Amid its swoop between them, the wings of the bird lightly grazed the surface of the water, creating gentle ripples before it soared upward into the air once again. As it reached a point above Vai and Luna, it hovered, flapping its wings and looking down at the two with its great grandfather eyes.
“We can’t be far from land if he made it out here.” Vai said, paddling his way toward the magnificent bird.
“We need to go back the way we came, there's no hope of finding the fountain without a boat or compass. We should never have come alone out here anyway” Luna replied.
The macaw propelled itself away from the adventurers as Vai swam his way slowly behind it.
“We’ve been traveling 7 days, and half of that was drifting without direction. You think you can figure out the way back from where we came, go ahead and go. I’m headed to land with my new bird friend.”
Luna splashed water at Vai as he swam past her, following the bird above.
“I am the senior officer here, the only responsible one between the two of us. What makes you think you get to decide where we go?”
“I don’t see the Chieftain around. No teachers. It's just you and me and miles and miles of nothing but water. Guess I’ll take my punishment when we get back, huh?”
Luna sighed with frustration the way an older sister does when a younger sibling uses their hairbrush without asking.
As the sun of mid day beat down on the adventurers amid their trek toward land led by the macaw, all seemed quiet. The macaw unwaveringly flapped its wings, cutting across the sky like an angelic spirit sent to deliver the children from their overzealousness and bravado.
Vai looked upward at the macaw but as he did so the sun scorched his eyes causing him to squint and groan in discomfort. No sooner had he let out a moan at the bright sun above when his whole mouth filled with grainy golden sand.
As he coughed up what felt like a small sandcastle, Vai’s knees brushed against a solid surface beneath him. Planting his feet, Vai stood up straight. Still spitting the sand from his mouth, Vai gazed around in awe.
Lush foliage and coconut trees flourished just beyond the golden-white sand of the sea shore. A labyrinthine green mountain range stretched beyond the trees as far as the eye could see.
“This is it, the isle where the fountain of Papatuanuku lies.” Luna said, not far behind Vai.
“Let’s find that fountain then, and get the water back to Hector.”
Attempting to move his way up and out of the waist deep water, Vai felt something latch onto his ankle with all the grip strength of a gorilla and pull him under the water. The tremendous force pulling at his ankle yanked him under, then up out of the water, sending water through Vai’s nose and into his brain.
Coughing and hacking up the seawater, Vai could see through his salt burned vision the large creature that held him upside down. It stared back at him with beedy, demonic, black eyes. Vai struggled and yanked with all of his might like a wild animal caught in a trap, but the beast’s grip was too strong. In his struggle Vai shifted to see a crowd of similarly sized creatures clustered around himself and Luna.
“We was wondering where you two was headed.” The creature holding Vai said with breath that carried the scent of a bloody fish hatchery.
The creatures were enormous, muscular, half shark, half man monsters. Their grayish, sandpaper skin was adorned with what looked to be tribal tattoos. The one holding Vai was by far the largest of the group with arms the size of tree trunks, and a smile full of razor sharp teeth that looked like an industrial strength meat grinder.
Outnumbered 5 to 2, another of the shark-men creatures grabbed Luna, restraining both of her arms. She flailed and shouted slamming her head into the creature's face multiple times, but it hardly seemed to notice the young girl's attempts to free herself.
“No one is permitted to be in these waters but the guardians of Toa Taonga!” She shouted. “Especially the likes of pirates!”
“Eh, girly, I’m hurt. You figured us wrong. The name’s Thrash, and we’s the Butchers of Blood Water, at your service.”
The pack of predators cackled and howled as a pale look of shock washed over the usually stoic and stone cold face of Luna. Vai continued to kick and dig his free heel into Thrasher’s hand.
“At’s right. And we been watchin’ yas for some time now. We were thinking it might be nice to just eat ya on the spot, but then we decided to see where you was headed. Its not every day a Toa Taonga guardian roams into these waters, ya see. We thought you might lead us to the champions treasury if we kept an eye on ya. But it seems you led us to the next best place. And now you're gonna lead us the rest of the way to the Fountain of Papatuanuku.”
“Am I the only one who can’t pronounce that?” Vai said under his breath.
“Although,” Thrasher said, “we probably only need one a ya for the job, heh, heh.”
The massive jaws of Thrasher opened wide. Skin, scales, and torn flesh of all kinds of sea life littered the spaces between the horrifyingly sharp teeth of the Butcher's leader. Raising Vai high above his gaping chasm of a mouth, Luna screamed in the distance, helpless to stop the monster from devouring her young ward.
Suddenly, a loud screech pierced the air as everyone’s heads turned upward to the sky. The scarlet macaw soared high above, casting a shadow over the group before swiftly swooping down, dive bombing toward Thrasher. Before he could realize what was going on, the massive shark bellowed out a howl of pain as the macaw's pointed claws dug deep into his left eye. Thrasher's grip loosened around Vai’s ankle, dropping him into the water.
Darting toward Luna like a water snake, Vai threw a tightly clenched fist at the nose of the shark holding her by the arms. The monstrous man-shark was reduced to nothing but a small child pleading for mommy as it grabbed its nose and began to cry out in agony.
“You broke my nose!” The shark squealed, sniffling like a little brother being picked on.
“Come on!” Shouted Vai as the two of them ran past the Butchers.
The sharks dove like football players, each trying to tackle the treasury guardians to no avail as the two moved slyly and shiftily as field mice.
“Follow them!” Shouted Thrasher as the two children fled as fast as they had strength into the untamed jungle.
Fueled by nothing but adrenaline, Vai and Luna breathlessly sprinted deeper and deeper into the lush yet claustrophobic jungle. It was hard to know how close the sharks followed behind as both of their hearts pounded as fierce as war drums. The branches and leaves of the shrubbery were razor sharp, scraping and scratching their arms as they flew through the wild landscape. The hunt was on, and they were the meat.
A goosebump inciting rush of wind came up from behind Luna and Vai. The macaw flew past them before swooping down to the ground and disappearing.
“Where did it--” Vai began to say.
But before he could finish his thought both he and Luna had lost their footing upon the ground as they fell down into a dark and cold pit. The rumble of the Butcher's charge thundered above as they hurried past, unaware of where their prey had disappeared.
Moments after the fall, Vai awoke, still dazed from the landing, and saw the macaw perched on his chest. It dismounted and began to hop down a long tunnel with a dim streak of light shining at one end. Every few hops the bird would look back, as if to signal the children to follow.
With every step closer the light at the end of the cave grew brighter and brighter. The macaw then flew into the light and disappeared, fading into the light like a shadow.
“Hey, come on, we need to keep up with it.” Vai said.
“Why are we following this bird anyway, Vai?” She asked, struggling to keep up.
As they hurried to catch their feathered friend, they entered an enormous alcove, a room filled with ornate crystals of exquisite brightness. The light had been emanating from this room of indescribable beauty. Both Vai and Luna took a moment to breath and absorb the moment they had arrived at.
“We found it. The fountain. This has to be it!” Vai said.
Luna reached into the small burlap satchel she had been carrying and pulled out a small, empty vial. Approaching the fountain, she plunged the vial into the water. Filling the vial to the brim, Luna then placed a simple seal upon the opening before carefully situating it back into her satchel.
Vai and Luna both let out a simultaneous sigh of relief. But before either could take another breath of respite a commotion that shook the entire island began.
No sooner was the vial safe, when beneath their feet Vai and Luna could feel the entire island shifting. Heavy rocks and stalactites fell and shattered as they struck the ground. The cave was crumbling around them as the shaking intensified. Unable to maintain balance on his feet, Vai fell to the ground, trying to catch himself with his hands.
“What’s going on?” He asked
“It's the island rearranging itself. Didn’t you study up on this place like we were supposed to before coming here?” Luna asked.
“All I read was some passages that talked about the island like it was a living thing. It was all a bunch of cryptic, symbolic gobbledy goo.”
Luna groaned in frustration before replying:
“The sages that discovered the island wanted to make sure that no one could use the fountain's healing powers more than once, so they bestowed the entire island with a spell that would cause it to shift and change once someone dipped into the fountain. That way the fountain would never be in the same place twice and no one person could have all of its power.”
A massive stalactite fell between the two, knocking both backward. Vai sat up, rubbing his head.
“That's a great explanation, but can we get the heck out of here?”
Making their way from back to the bottom of the pit, Vai and Luna looked upward at the daunting, steep walls. The long vines and various brush that lined the walls were just the right length and strength to help them as both climbed up and out.
“What do we do now, we have no boat to get off this rock?” Asked Vai.
Just then a loud voice echoed in the distance.
“There they are!”
Perfectly in sync, Vai and Luna gasped
They began another laborious sprint, desperately looking for higher ground. This time the Butchers were much closer, much faster, and nipping at their tails and ready to eat. Coming upon an opening in the trees the two of them climbed higher and higher up a gradually upward sloping incline. Vai looked down and noticed the heights they were at before catching himself and Luna from falling to a rocky, watery demise. They had reached the edge of a treacherous cliff, that seemed all too much like a scene out of a movie.
“At’s just far enough, kiddies.” Thrasher said.
Vai and Luna turned around, their backs now turned toward the cliff. The Butchers had indeed caught up with them, but at least they hadn’t found the fountain. The blood around his eye had blackened and coagulated, as had the blood around the nose of the shark Vai had socked.
“Now that wasn’t very good of you to go runnin off like that, when I asked yas a favor.” Thrasher muttered in a gravelly tone.
“This whole island is coming down, we’ll all die if you don’t let us go!” Luna said.
“You’re gonna take us to that fountain little girly or I’ll be eatin’ you first and save your little boyfriend for dessert.”
“Even if the island wasn’t falling apart, I wouldn’t know where to look for the fountain now. The location changes once someone has taken from it.” Luna said.
“Well now, what say you hand over what you’ve taken from the fountain and we’ll call it even, eh?”
Luna took a step back as she clutched her satchel more tightly, the plummet to her death only steps away. She looked behind her at the rocks below, then back at the crew of savage sharks.
“Looks like there's no other choice, Vai. We have to stand and fight.”
The Butchers cackled with laughter at the remark made by Luna.
“You certainly can ave a crack at us, girly.” Howled Thrasher.
Vai looked around through squinted eyes, his hands raised above his head like the sharks had guns pointed at them. They did not. Regardless, Vai gazed beyond the band of brutes. Something had caught his eye.
Perched on a branch a few yards behind the Butchers, was the beautiful macaw that had led them on their journey. It stared back at Vai with a stern gleam in its eye. A gleam that almost felt like a wink, as if the macaw was giving a signal to Vai. It then soared off out of sight as swiftly as it had before. Vai smirked and sighed, as he inched closer to Luna.
“We may not need to fight this time, Luna.”
“What?” She said.
“Do you trust me?” Vai said, looking at his commanding officer with an unaccustomed confidence.
The sharks began to move in closer as both Vai and Luna inched closer and closer to the cliffs edge. Vai gingerly weaved his arm with Luna’s and fastened a tight hold on her as both now stood on the very brink of falling to the rocks beneath.
“Bah! Come here ya little rats!” Cried Thrasher as he lunged for the two young guardians.
All time slowed to a crawl as, in a split second, Vai shoved Luna off the cliff side. With a forceful leap Vai then propelled himself high enough to cement a hellacious flying side kick to the protruding nose of the leader of the band of Butchers. With Thrasher's nose serving as a springboard, Vai thrust himself off the cliffside. Plummitting downward at a terrifying rate, Vai clenched his eyes shut.
He felt a thump of his whole body planting upon a soft and pillowy surface. Upon opening his eyes, Vai could feel a soft, feathery bed beneath him. Upon the back of the wings of the macaw, which was now ten times as large, he and Luna had safely landed. Luna had her arms wrapped like a vice grip around the neck of the macaw as its massive wings flapped in the dawning skyline. Her eyes were as white and as large as snowballs as she breathed heavily.
“What just happened, Vai?” She asked in a broken and staggered voice.
Vai smiled as he sat up criss-cross and nestled down into the comforting, soft feathers of the macaw.
“I figured we weren’t quite dealing with a normal bird. Macaws don’t usually divebomb like this one did the Butcher's leader, and they certainly wouldn’t be out as far as we were at sea. I started to think that maybe we were dealing with one of the island spirits. You know, like we study in the guardian texts.”
“You mean, you remembered that from our studies?” Luna asked.
“Yeah, the island spirits have always interested me.” Said Vai.
“But how did you know it would take a larger form and catch us?”
“I could feel something, a connection with it, almost like we were speaking with each other without talking. I could feel it was protecting us, that it had chosen to take the form of the macaw, but I knew it could take whatever form it wanted. After that it was just a leap of faith.”
“You mean, we jumped without you knowing it would be there for sure?”
“I admit it was a bit of a gamble, but I trusted my training and preparation and then went for it. Just like you and Hector taught me. I still can’t quite pronounce the fountain of Papasquatch or whatever it is, but I’m working on it.”
Luna looked back at Vai, still fastened like glue to the neck of the bird. She smiled and let out a nervous laugh. Vai couldn’t contain himself and burst out laughing as well. They laughed with wetted eyes for a long while as the sun sank on the beautiful green isles near Toa Taonga.