If running into the forest following my best friend wasn't weird enough, her finding the spot where she had a car crash when she was barely a toddler definitely was.
And now this?
There's a tall and muscly maori guy standing in front of us, and Sam seems glued to the spot, her mouth hanging slightly open as she looks up at him.
"You called, and here I am," he says, and it seems like Sam snaps out of it then.
She closes the distance between them with quick steps, and wraps her arms around the guy's waist. His golden eyes open up wide, and he laughs a little, sounding slightly uncomfortable.
"Oh, Rongo, I never thought I'd be so glad to see you!" Sam pulls away, looking at him in the eyes. "Sorry, that was impulsive," she adds as she takes an extra step back, "I'm just so glad to verify that I haven't lost my mind. You all need to stop playing tricks on my brain, it's getting really annoying!"
"Sorry Sam, I actually tried to tell him this wasn’t a good idea," the guy says, and I wonder what the fuck they're talking about.
Most importantly, who the fuck is this guy?
"How come I remembered again?" Sam asks as she scratches the back of her neck. “Wait, wait,” she says exasperated all of a sudden. “You tried to tell… him? This wasn’t your brothers’ doing? Did Tane take my memories again?”
"I’m sorry Sam, I might have… Helped him do it," the guy says, and then smiles a really sad but cute smile for such a big and bulky guy.
I’m looking back and forth between them, and I almost feel like I’m watching a movie, completely detached from what’s going on. But the more I look at him, the more the guy looks almost familiar. Like when you see an actor you know but you can’t quite remember which movie you’ve seen him in.
"Why?" Sam asks, sounding utterly surprised.
The guy lifts his shoulders up, and I take his moment of silence as my queue to step in as I clear my throat loudly. Both of them look at me, as if finally remembering that I'm standing there as well.
"Oh, so sorry," Sam says to me, and then she turns back around, "Can you restore her memory?" She asks, like that's the kind of question you ask a random guy in the middle of the woods everyday. What the fuck?
"Will be my pleasure." Just like that, a wave of emotions and colour hits me so hard that I feel myself swirling inside a hurricane, and I have to brace my arms on my knees not to fall over.
"Holly fucking mother fucker," I spit as the world stops churning and I step towards Rongo. "Your insolent brotherhood of godly pricks needs to stop messing around with people!" I yell as I poke a finger on his chest at each word.
"Nice to have you back," Rongo ruffles my hair, and it infuriates me even more, so I punch him on the chest without thinking.
Fuck, that hurts!
He might see the pain in my eyes, because he stifles a laugh as I take a step back, rubbing my knuckles. I look at Sam then, who's looking at me with mildly worried eyes. I forget about my anger as I finally understand the conversation I just heard and some of the pieces fall back together.
"Where's Tane?" I ask as I look back at Rongo, stealing the question from Sam's lips.
He shifts uncomfortably on his feet, and runs a hand through his messy hair as he looks up at the sky.
"I'm not exactly sure," he says, and I think he sounds concerned.
I look back at Sam, waiting to see her worried eyes again, but instead, I find a sort of fire shining behind her pupils.
"I think... I might have a clue." She reaches over to the back pocket of her jeans, and pulls out a little piece of paper. As she unfolds it, we all shuffle closer together, forming a little circle as we look at the image that Sam is holding in front of us.
"Do you think this is another one of your brothers’ riddles?" Sam asks as she cranks her neck to look up at Rongo.
I look at the green spiral drawn on the paper, and I notice the small words written around it.
"It must be," Rongo replies quickly as I try to read the small words. "There’s so much you still don’t know Sam, and I’m not sure how much I can say. My brothers probably know by now that I’m trying to help you, so we need to be careful. They’ve taken Tane, because they want you to find him.”
“You mean like… It’s a trap?”
“Yes. I’m afraid it might be. Tu and Tane’s daughter have sided together and are intended on reuniting my parents again. Hine has wanted to do it for years, and she’s using Tu’s anger and hatred towards Tane to convince him to help her.”
“Woo, woo, woo, Tane has a daughter?” My brain has exploded, reformed and exploded again, and I think Sam might be feeling the same as her jaw is hanging open and she’s gasping like a fish out of water.
“Yes,” Rongo sounds annoyed as he waves his hand in the air. “It’s not the same as you humans, and it’s actually a pretty complicated story we don’t have to get into. You… probably don’t want to know anyways. Now, the important matter here is finding Tane.”
"Find him again…" Sam says. "But where?" She whispers almost to herself as she looks at the piece of paper in her hands.
“I think I know where we need to go.” Rongo shifts uncomfortably as me and Sam focus on him.
I'm glad that they allowed me to keep driving, as it's the only thing helping me keep my thoughts in check. I would've expected myself to be freaking out by now, but somehow, having a purpose and knowing what I'm meant to do helps me stay calm… Just enough.
Even if we still haven't figured out exactly where Tane is, we have a pretty decent guess about it. Rongo said his brother was being held with the help of Uru, God of celestial bodies and constellations. He believes they might be holding him in between words, or up in the Sky, so we’re heading to the city that is closest to the Sky in a sense.
Lake Tekapo is a little town only a couple of hours away from Christchurch, heading inland. It is the least polluted city in the country, and the place where you can see the stars at their best. There’s also an observatory there, where Rongo believes we might find a door to some other dimension, or realm, or whatever he called it. It was actually on our plans to head that way in the next few days, but itinerary be damned, we're already heading there.
"Do you think he's in danger?" I ask Rongo after driving in silence for a while.
We'll probably arrive in Christchurch in a matter of minutes, and there's a few more answers I want before we do our pit stop there.
"This is… Complicated. Tane is not the only one in danger. Sam, there’s something I think you haven’t fully comprehended yet.”
"What are you talking about?" I ask as I glance at him quickly over the rear view mirror.
“What Tu and Hine are trying to do… They need Tane to have his full powers again, so that way he can use them to reunite our parents. You know where his power resides?”
I take a hand to my chest without thinking, and hold the pounamu in a fist. “Yes,” I look at him through the mirror again, understanding the pain in Rongo’s expression. They want me to find Tane, because they need my pounamu, the power and magic that Tane left in it when he saved my life. I wonder what this means for me, for my life that was a gift. Will I die if I give it back? “Why haven’t they just taken it?” I ask instead.
“Because they can’t. Some things, even for us, are sacred. The pounamu was a gift, and as such, it can’t be taken, it can only be given willingly.”
We fall back into silence as I keep on driving, and my mind is spinning with all this information and ideas. They want me to give back the pounamu, but if I do, they will reunite their parents, and then the world will probably cease to exist as we know it. Will it be apocalyptic if the Sun and the Earth reunite again? Can I stop it? Is there anything I can do to stop all this? Will they stop if I just let it be and leave the country? But I can’t just sit here and wait, leave Tane alone. He saved my life twice already, the least I can do, is try to help him back. I need to. I’ve had people saving me my whole life, looking after me, it is time I give a little back.
I can feel the clock ticking inside my head. It’s already the 21st, and we’ll be flying out the afternoon on the 25th. That means there’s only three full days left before we fly back. How long can it take for me to find him? And what happens if I don’t? I haven’t been brave enough to ask Rongo. What happens if I do? Which alternative is worse?
Tonight. I tell myself, I’m finding him tonight. Tane will know what to do, all I need to do is find him.
We stop over in Christchurch only for an hour so we can buy some food, and I can go online to book us a cabin for tonight. As soon as I look at my phone, I see that I have multiple messages from my mum that I haven’t replied to yet. I know I should call her, but I don’t think I can face her right now, she’ll know that I’m lying as soon as I tell her anything. After looking at the time difference, I decide it’s probably too late to call and mum will be already sleeping. So I send a quick message instead, letting her know that we just made it to Christchurch. No lying involved there.
Me and Emma walk into a mall, leaving Rongo waiting in the car, and we head over to the supermarket for some supplies. As we’re heading back to the car, Em stops me by grabbing me by the arm. She’s been awfully quiet since we left the woods, which is unlike her. “Sam, stop for a moment, we need to talk.”
“What about? We need to hurry and go find Tane.”
“Sam, what are we even doing? We have no clue what we’re getting ourselves into.” Emma is whisper-yelling as she shifts around nervously, tugging at one of her curls as she speaks.
“Emma, there's no time for this, I know Tane is in danger, and we need to go help him,” I start walking towards the car again, but Em stops me as soon as I’m out of the mall.
“Sam! None of this makes any sense! What the fuck are we meant to do? Are you just going to show up into the observatory, find a portal to another dimension and, what? Go looking for a God and save him from some other Gods?”
“Listen to yourself, Sam!” Emma is yelling now, and I know I’m yelling too, and I don’t even care if there’s people around watching us or not.
“No, you listen to me, Em! I need to do this! My whole life, people have been helping me and saving me all the time, it’s my only chance to do something that matters!”
“And what are you going to do exactly, get there, give him his powers back so he can destroy our world?”
“No! He won’t, he wouldn’t. Even if they wanted to force him, he’ll never allow that to happen.”
I don’t know where all this anger is coming from, but I feel myself ready to punch someone as Em keeps digging at me. Why can’t she understand it?
“Sam, you can’t know that, we’re better off just letting it be, we’ll fly back home in a few days, and all will go back to normal.”
“I’m not running away like you always do!”
Em staggers back, as if I’d slapped her, and looks at me with her mouth half open. “Sam,” she says, softening her tone. “You can’t help him.”
“Em, you would never understand, I love him, I need to help him!”
“Ag!” Em yells, exasperated, and runs a hand through her hair. “You’ve always been such a hopeless romantic Sam, you barely know the guy, and let me remind you, he is a God!”
“Do you think I don't know that? Yes, maybe I am a hopeless romantic, but that's better than the alternative. You’ve always been a player, and I don’t scold you for it!”
“Wow, Sam, I’m not scolding you,” Em’s hands are up in surrender, but I drop the bags and cross my arms over my chest. “I’m trying to help you! You’ve always seen the best in people, you fall for it, and… then you end up hurt like you did last time, look where that got you-”
“I know where it got me!” I yell, cutting her off. “It got me to believing I was madly in love with someone that cheated on me with every girl that crossed his path. Do you think I don’t know that? Do you think I’m not scared of falling like that again? Do you think I don’t realise loving Tane will shatter me again and break me? Do you think I’m that stupid? But you know what? I rather be like that, that let everyone slip away because I’m too scared to care!”
“You… you don’t mean that. And I… I don't do that!"
“How many guys have you been with? How many of them have stuck around for more than a couple of months before you let them go with some pathetic excuse because you’re too scared? Are you still talking with that bar guy? Or did you get bored of him already?”
“That's enough! The fact that I'm not a stupidly blind romantic like you doesn't make me a player!” I think I can see tears pooling in Em’s eyes, and the fire burning inside my chest dims a little. “I can’t do this, I can’t follow you into this blind goose chase that will get us nowhere!”
Em turns around, dropping the grocery bag on the floor as she runs towards the street.
I head the opposite way, drop the bags on the car, and wave a dismissive hand at Rongo as he asks me where Em is. I tell him I’ll be back, or I think I do. And I walk away, my mind racing and tugging in several different directions.
I walk mindlessly across the road, and then another one. And blocks fuse one with the other as I follow an invisible path in my mind. I have never had a fight with Em before, not over anything bigger than what flavour ice cream to order. What have I done?
After a few minutes, I get to a big wall on the side of the river, and I walk towards it, looking at the many names carved on the stone. I know where I am, this is one of the places I planned on visiting on our second day in the city. A little knot makes me clear my throat as I look at the amount of names on it, and my mind wanders away from what just happened. The names are from all the victims from the Earthquake that shook the city a few years ago, and I have to hug myself as I look through them. So many names. So much loss. Loss I can relate with right now.
“So many,” a small voice says beside me, and I almost jump as I look at the boy standing next to me.
He’s a chubby maori kid, and he looks about 7 or 8 years old at most. He’s got dark curly hair, and his eyes are looking intently at me. I look around, trying to locate his mother or father, but we’re alone.
“Where are your parents?” I ask as I crouch down a little.
“Everywhere,” he replies with a shrug. “You’re the one looking for my brother, aren’t you?”
I can’t believe my ears, another one of Tane’s brothers?
Just what I needed right now.