A Starfilled Night
I’m pacing back and forth as I try to figure out what to say to Sam when she finally shows up. She was so rude to me, I have never heard Sam speak like that to anybody, least me. The anger is bubbling inside of me making me clench my fists by my sides. No one talks to me like that, not even my damned best friend. She has no idea what she was talking about. Yes, I might not be the lovebird she is, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try, I just have this terrible bad luck and alway pick dumbasses as guys to be interested in.
“You,” I say, my voice a little louder than I intend.
Sam’s eyes shoot up, and I see the tears running freely down her cheeks. All the words get stuck in my throat as I run towards her and grab her by the shoulders. “What’s wrong? What happened?”
My best friend’s arms wrap around my neck so hard that I feel I might break. “I’m so sorry Em, I was so stupid, I never meant a single words of what I said.” Sam’s shoulders are shaking as she sobs loudly, and I see Rongo slowly get out of the car and stand against the open door. “I’m so sorry, I’m the worst friend in the world and I get it if you never want to talk to me again, I am so, so sorry.”
“Okay, okay, everything’s okay,” I pat my friend in the shoulder and wait for her sobs to calm down a little. “I have already forgiven you anyways, everything’s good.”
Sam lets go of me and takes a step back, wiping the tears of her face with the back of her sleeve. “Do you really forgive me?”
“Please, you need to do more than yelling a few rude words my way for me to be mad at you.”
“You looked pretty mad a minute ago.”
“Well, yeah, I was about to say a whole lot of untrue and rude words I would have probably regretted as soon as they were out. But seeing you all moppy, I just couldn’t let them out.” I shrug profusely, and I hear Rongo chuckle behind my back.
Sam squares her shoulders and lifts her chin up. “I can take it,” she points to her own chest with a finger, her chin going higher. “Come on, give it to me, I deserve it.”
I cross my arms over my chest, looking at her through furrowed brows for a second before I crack up laughing. “You are adorable. Now, come on, we have to go and try to save the world.”
Sam looks at me with her mouth slightly opened, and then hugs me again, her head resting against my shoulder for a moment. “I don’t deserve you.” Her words are such a tiny whisper, I barely hear them, and I pretend I don’t, because I know that's what she’d want me to do.
“Come on,” I hug her back as tight as I can before letting go all of a sudden. “We should hit the road before it gets too dark.”
“You’re right,” Sam smiles a little timid smile as she looks at Rongo, who’s holding the door open for us. “There’s so much I need to tell you both.”
“I’ve told you, she won’t come.”
Hine glares at me, her dark eyes sucking up all the light from the stars shining around us. “She’s already on her way, daddy.” She spits the last words as a curse, and I feel the world crumbling.
Oh, no, Sam. I really hope Rongo is keeping his word and staying by her side, looking after her. If I knew giving her that pounamu would put her in this kind of danger, I would have never done it in the first place. I would have found another way to keep this world running the way it has for so many years. I know the key to saving her, is in saving her world, I just wish I knew how to. If Sam comes here, and I have my powers back, I will have to reunite my parents. I can’t go against the council on my own, can I?
“How far?” I ask, trying not to show how much I care about the answer.
“She’ll be here by the next Sundown.”
I have a day, a day to come up with a plan, a day to figure out how to save everything I care about. My forests, my lands… Sam. I can’t allow her to give me the pounamu back.
I watch the colours around us change as the stars leave and the light around us gets brighter. Uru’s realm unsettles me, the weightlessness of it making me feel dizzy and lost. I concentrate all my power, making it travel through my limbs until it is all contained back into my mind, and closing myself off to what surrounds me, I think.
I know I should have gone to sleep, but I couldn’t. I tried.
We arrived in Lake Tekapo close to nine, settled into the cabin I booked, and then we headed out for a quick dinner. I’m not even sure where we ate, my mind was going a million miles per hour.
There’s so much I don’t know, so much I don’t know if I’ll ever know. I look back up to the sky, to the millions of stars shining as bright as I’ve ever seen them. Hearing about this place, looking at the pictures, it was one thing… but being here right now, this is more than I ever fathomed. I look at them as if the stars had the answers I’m seeking, as if I would know what to do just by staring at them. I look at them, because I know, somewhere up there, Tane is waiting for me.
“Hey!” A soft voice calls behind me.
I turn around, and find Emma wrapped up in a thick blanket like a huge walking burrito, another blanket on her hands.
“Hey,” I say back.
She walks over to me and wraps the heavy fabric around my shoulders, then sits by my side. We stay like that, in silence for a while, just contemplating the stars. We’re sitting in the backyard of the cabin I hired, and it’s probably around two in the morning. I don’t ask Em what woke her up, or why she came looking for me. I don’t need any of those answers, her presence by my side is more than enough comfort right now. I don’t know what I did to deserve such a caring and unconditional friend, but right now, I want to thank whatever God got her on my way that day ten years ago.
After a few minutes or maybe a whole hour goes by, our eyes are still fixed on the sky. On the million stars we can see in the most clear night I’ve ever experienced. I can see the milky way like a splattered line of paint crossing the sky from one side to the other. It’s almost magical... It’s there if you look at it, but if you focus on just one star, it’s as if the milky way disappears, and you forget it’s even there. Was that what I was like during my time with Brad? Did I focus on the one star, and forgot about the whole sky stretching in front of me? Am I doing the same again? Am I forgetting about the vast immensity that the world holds? Am I blindly chasing Tane, when the whole world depends on whether I return this necklace or not? I hold it tight between my fingers, the green stone feeling warm to the touch.
“We were looking at the same sky together,” I say quietly as I quote my favorite book. “Which is maybe more intimate than eye contact anyways.”
Emma doesn’t stir, or move, but I hear her almost whispered voice floating in the air as she replies.
“Anybody can look at you.”
“But it’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see,” I finish.
I know she’s read the book, but I’m still mildly surprised that she remembers that quote; even if it’s both highlighted and underlined in the copy of the book she borrowed from me.
“Thank you,” I whisper so quietly that I’m not sure if she hears me.
But what I really mean is: thank you for being the only one that believed in me during all these years. Thank you for sticking by my side, even if I’m weird, unconventional, and a little freaky sometimes. Thank you for sticking around even after I lashed out and was utterly rude. Thank you for convincing me to come on this trip, even if it got me almost killed. Thank you for showing me the world outside of my bubble, for being right here and now this very moment. Thank you for waiting with me, and for always being the calm that keeps my anxiety at bay. Thank you for being, for living, for breathing. Thank you for poking my cheek ten years ago, and for bringing the colour back into my life.
I feel the tears pool in my eyes, and I blink them back. Even if they’re happy tears, I don’t want them ruining this moment. This moment that may be the last night in our lives if I don’t figure out how to fix the mess we’re in. We spent hours talking on the way here, I told Emma and Rongo everything I talked about with Ru, but I’m still so uncertain about what I need to do. Rongo told me the votes were five to three, and a part of me keeps going back to that… What if I convinced one of them to turn their vote? What if it was four against four? Rongo told me they need that majority, if one God would have voted differently, then we wouldn't be in this mess.
Ruaumoko was the first to vote against it, together with Tangaroa, the God of the sea and marine life, and Rehua, the oldest of the brothers, and God of healing. He was the one who allowed Tane to cure me after the dreaded incident at the Redwoods, and Rongo explained that him and Tane have always been very close.
Not surprisingly, Tu and Hine -who was replacing Tane in the council- were the first to cast a vote in favour of reuniting Rangi and Papa. Uru sided with them, claiming his skies wouldn’t be affected by the union as they’d persist over in their own realm, and Whiro, God of darkness and death, sided with Tu, as he always does. The decisive vote was Tawhiri’s one, which Rongo was mildly surprised about. Even if he didn’t want to hurt humans, Tawhiri was the only one that voted against separating their parents in the first place, so it was easy for Tu to convince him to reunite them.
I let those thoughts fill my mind as I think about all the Gods, trying to picture them in my mind as I forget about the word around me and think.
22ND OF JULY
I’m not sure at what point we fell asleep, but just before the light starts to slowly seep into the world, I’m suddenly wide awake. I look around and find Em by my side, still asleep, and with an extra blanket on top of her. I notice the extra blanket on myself too, and when I look back, I find Rongo sitting on a wooden picnic table, wearing a thick jacket and resting his head on one hand.
“Morning,” I whisper. “Thanks?” I add, pointing at the blankets.
He nods a little, and comes over to crouch next to me on the frigid and half frozen grass.
“Can we have a chat in private?” I ask him as soon as he’s close.
“Yes, maybe…” He looks at Emma, still asleep, and then back at me. “Let me just carry her inside,” he finishes as he gives me a cute little smile.
I watch him walk over to Emma, and carefully lift her up, still wrapped in a thousand blankets. Em’s head lols to one side, and Rongo accommodates her so her head is resting against his chest. I’m once more surprised by the gentleness of the giant, and how deeply my friend sleeps, even in the worst situations.
Rongo is back out with two big mugs of coffee a few minutes later, and we sit together on the wooden picnic table. I hold my mug tightly between my hands as I think how to say what’s been troubling me while Rongo waits patiently, his eyes never leaving mine.
“Okay.” I take a deep breath, and let it all out. “There’s one thing I haven’t mentioned in front of Emma, because I don’t want to upset her, but… I think I might have a plan.”
“First, I need to ask you something.” I’ve been turning this idea in my head over and over, and no matter how I look at it, I always end up with the same conclusion. “If I give Tane the Koru back, which holds the power he gave away to save my life… Does that mean I will… Die?” I barely manage to get the word out as I feel my chest constrict with fear.
Rongo’s eyes are so intently holding mine, and I know the answer before he speaks.
“If you return the pounamu, you will be giving what he sacrificed back, which means that… Yes, your life force will drain and leave you as it returns to my brother.”
“Will it hurt?” The words are out before I can even think about them.
“I don’t know, Sam, this has never happened before, not that I know of.” Rongo’s whispered voice is soft and caring, and I feel a little wave of calmness surrounding me just after I feel my anxiety making my heart race.
“Thank you,” I look up at him, knowing that he’s the reason I can manage to feel calm in this moment. “Will you be there till the end?”
“I can go to the observatory with you, but after that, you’ll be on your own. I will not be able to cross the portal without Uru’s permission, and I doubt he would let me in.”
“That’s okay, thank you again. I’m thinking… If Tane had his full powers, and it was just him against Tu and Hine… Will he be strong enough to do something before they could stop him?”
Rongo’s brows shoot up and he leans forward on the table. “What are you thinking about?”
“I’m thinking about locking your brothers away, so they have no way to access this realm, so they have no way of making Tane reunite your parents. If he managed to split your parents up... He could possibly split other realms apart… right?”
Rongo’s lips curve slowly up in a smile. “Mediating be damned, you just gave me an idea, Sam. Let’s save your world and everything precious in it.”