“We’re going to be landing soon,” Mira announced. Kakane perked up and leaped off the bowsprit, sliding effortlessly onto the deck of the ship.
“Finally! I’m sick of all this water!” Kakane said. “It’s been a week and all I’ve seen is blue. Blue, blue, and more blue! It’s boring! A king does not like to be bored.”
“Wow, is that Poseidos?” Serena asked, pointing off into the distance.
“It’s a part of it. Poseidos consists of a group of five islands: Ali’i, the largest island where the capital is; ‘Āina, the farming island; Ka Ma’ukele, the forested island; Ka Mauna, the island of volcanoes and mountains; and Atlantis, the island lost to history. The landmass ahead is Ali’i, but we’ll be landing on ’Āina.”
“It’s easier to get to the capital if we travel by foot and even if we did go by boat, we’d have to pass by Atlantis. In its current state, it is not safe to go near.”
“Wait, is that a bridge? A bridge between two islands?” Kakane squinted into the distance.
“Yes. Those are the Ānuenue Bridges, built by the father of the current king of Poseidos. They connect all of the islands of Poseidos in a ring, with the exception of Atlantis. This makes trade and travel much easier. We’ll actually be taking one of those bridges right into the capital, the Ula’Ula Bridge, to be exact.”
“We’re getting closer!” Kakane said excitedly.
“It’s so green,” Serena murmured. “And the water is so clear. It’s beautiful.”
The squawk of seabirds and the playful clicks of porpoises greeted them as they neared Poseidos’s Ali’i Island. In the bright green waters, Serena could see a multitude of different sea life, including coral, colorful fish, adolescent leviathans, and scaled creatures with a bald patch on their heads. In the air, lesser harpies and other birds frolicked in the warm air current. Ali’i was covered in a huge forest, but beyond the expanse of trees, Serena could see buildings made of white stone and a castle covered in gold.
Finally, they reached the dock on the island of ’Āina. The plank was lowered and Kakane practically sprinted onto dry land, looking around wildly. Serena was next to him in a second, drinking in all the new sights. The port was cheerful, with friendly, smiling people everywhere. A fishmonger was hacking away at a giant winged fish to Serena’s right, while an array of seashells were being displayed to her left. The sudden influx of sensory input made her a bit dizzy but at the same time, after being on a boat for a week, it could just be that her sense of balance was off.
The air smelled like salt and the sea, and there was never a quiet moment. People were talking and yelling at each other, seabirds let out annoying shrieks, and wood clattered together as crates were stacked by the water. Kakane and Serena narrowly avoided a man carrying a huge leviathan fish as they ogled, blinking as the man yelled his apologies.
“Are you two done staring yet?” Mira giggled. “If you are, then I bet you’re hungry. It’s high time I introduced you to traditional Poseidon cuisine!”
Mira led them to a lively pub, which was brightly lit and full of people. Kakane seemed self-conscious of himself, tugging down his bison-skin hood until it was covering his eyes. Serena, on the other hand, was looking at all of the strange decorations around her. Huge flowers and ornately carved masks adorned the walls, while carvings of the ocean and of volcanoes were set into wooden pillars supporting the place.
Mira ordered for Serena and Kakane, winking at them while doing so.
“This place is amazing,” she told them. “I’ve been here many times before. You’ll love it.”
Their food was brought to them shortly after. Kakane and Serena peered at the strange dishes. Serena blinked rapidly and crinkled her nose a bit while Kakane merely stared at it with a hesitant expression.
“What is it?” Kakane asked.
“Have you guys ever eaten fish before?” Mira asked incredulously. Kakane and Serena shook their heads.
“No,” Kakane said.
“There weren’t any fish where I lived,” Serena explained. “Or at least, if there were, I never ate any of them.” Mira groaned, slouching in her seat and banging her head against the table.
“Okay, okay.” She sucked in a deep breath and recomposed herself. “You guys are seriously missing out, though. This is umeke i’a.” Mira held up a small bowl. “It’s rice topped with raw fish and various kinds of vegetables. This one is baby leviathan and soaring fin umeke i’a with seaweed salad, pickled spice root, and young steamed beans.”
“Is that safe to eat?” Kakane eyed the bowl warily.
“Of course it’s safe,” Mira said, rolling her eyes. “If you’re that unsure, then try this.” She pointed to a rectangular-shaped plate. “This is a traditional dish we call pūpū kani oe mū he’e. It’s a pan-fried great green turban with butter.”
“A kind of sea snail.”
“Wait, you can eat snails?”
“Yes.” Mira sighed, exasperated. “Okay, okay, I promise this one isn’t as crazy. There’s even a folktale to go along with it. It’s called ahi. This is a specialty of pubs here in Poseidos and there are variants of it all over the place. It’s a deep-fried deep-sea stingray. It tastes like any ordinary sort of fried poultry.”
“So, like a bird?” Kakane frowned. “It looks… Edible.”
“I guess it couldn’t hurt to try it,” Serena said, picking up her chopsticks.
“No, you eat this with your hands.” Mira took a piece and demonstrated for them.
Serena felt awfully callous and rude eating food with her hands, but with one final glance at Kakane, she took a bite.
A small length of cartilage was wedged in between the two pieces of meat, which fell right off as Serena bit into it. Kakane tried separating the meat from the cartilage and they split quite easily without much effort. Serena wasn’t used to eating meat, as she had a mostly vegetarian diet before departing from her village. She had a bit of bison in the Bannaanka Weyn, but she never knew cooking the flesh of animals could result in such a light, fluffy texture. It was delicious, and it went along quite well with the juice from citrus fruits.
“Wait, can I eat this too?” Kakane broke off a few strands of cartilage. “Oh, this is pretty good! It tastes like any poultry cartilage.”
“We call deep-sea stingray ‘the fowl bird of the sea’ here,” Mira said. “Remember how I said there was a folktale associated with this dish? Well, the story goes that a young chef was given a deep-sea stingray by a friend to cook. So he prepared it and cut off the fins, placing them in his cold room, but forgot about them for a year. After spilling a bag of finely powdered grain, which he hated, he resolved to cook something with it and chose the dehydrated stingray as his main ingredient. The result was this.”
“What kind of grain was it?” Serena asked.
“I don’t know. Most chefs today just use maize starch.”
After trying the ahi, Kakane and Serena became a bit more open to trying the other eccentric foods at their table. Serena thought the day would never come where she would be eating snails, and she certainly didn’t expect them to taste good either. She thought the vegetables on the umeke i’a made it palatable, but the idea of eating raw fish still made her skin crawl. Kakane, albeit his initial hesitation, ate everything without complaint. Serena couldn’t tell if he was enjoying himself or not.
After they finished their meal, Mira showed them the way to the first of the Ānuenue Bridges. The bridge connecting Ali’i to ‘Āina was the Ula’ula Bridge, located towards the northern end of ’Āina.
It was made of cobblestone and wood, with flowering ivy climbing up the pillars of the entrance. Exotic red flowers heralded covered the overpass, big, bright, and beautiful. Merchants bearing large wagons traveled up and down the length of the bridge while people casually talked to each other on the go. Children ran across the planks with flowers in their hair and fake wooden swords grasped in their tiny fingers.
The islands of Poseidos were only several miles away from each other, allowing anyone to see all five of them if they stood in the correct position alongside the coast. As such, the walk was not long, but Mira allowed Kakane and Serena to do some sight-seeing. They stopped to look over the bridge at the midway point. Below them, the sea spread down and down into an unfathomable abyss. In front of them was the looming dark mass of Atlantis and the jungle-covered island of Ka Ma’ukele. Looking down before her, Serena could see faintly pink porpoises splashing in the ocean in a pod, only to be joined by a breaching cetea. The giant white whale spouted water out of its blowhole so high both Serena and Kakane were soaked to a good degree. On the whale’s back was a small mountain blowing steam, which Serena awed in fascination as it once again returned to the deep blue water.
What a beautiful country this was, full of natural life and friendly people. Yet it was also a center of great knowledge. In the distance, a mysterious black mass similar to fog was constantly moving and changing shape. Atlantis, the lost cursed island of Poseidos, the home of ancient puppets.
It was also the genesis of Serena’s dreams.