First Leg - A World Without Gods
From Moana's Log - Concientiousness
Among all the temptations of the world, nothing possessed the same endless allure as the words ‘what if’. What if she left? What would she find? What would she do? What if she could make it past the reef? What would the world give her? Where would the ocean take her?
The wind swept past, pushing and pulling her in time with the waves of the ocean. The crest of a large wave bore down upon the reef far from shore. She surged forward to meet it, swooped down, bending at the knees, and leapt into the air. She was alive and free, wild and untamed.
The world fell back into peace, leaving her swaying along with the gentle rise and fall of the ocean.
“Moana!” came a faint echo from far below.
What if she left? What would she leave behind? What would that do to who she left behind? What if they tried to follow her? What would the world give them? What would the ocean take from them?
Broken from her trance, Moana turned away from the sea. Another day, she promised herself. Someday soon. A weak smile stretched across her face at the thought. It would be for the best. It truly would be. It may well be the only way we make it through this.
Moana’s eyes fell onto a tower of heavy stones rising up to become the very highest point on the island. Each of Motunui’s chiefs had carried one stone here in an unbroken chain spanning more generations than anyone could remember. There was the stone her first cousin five times removed had brought, and atop his, her great-great-great-aunt’s. Then came her great-great-uncle’s and her grandfather’s atop that. Next was her father’s, and atop them all resided her own.
“Which one of you was the last to sail the sea? Why did you stop?”
No answer came. Not that Moana had expected one. Even in this most sacred of places, a stone was just a stone.
“Well, I’m sure you had a good reason. I just wish I knew what it was. Then I could think I’m mad, too.”
From atop the pile of stones, Moana retrieved her lei. Not once had she ever thought she had been wrong to take her place as chief of Motunui, but neither could she deny that it tied her inescapably to her people.
Moana replaced her lei upon her brow with a sigh, her eyes lingering on her stone. What if? What a cruel question that was.
Right then, Moana thought, slapping her cheeks. That’s enough self-pity for today, I think. With that, she straightened her pa’u and set out down the mountain to face the rest of the world. One way or another, for better or for worse, this day was going to be the very first of the next part of both her life and her people’s.
At the base of the mountain, Moana found the source of the earlier call waiting for her. Hine was perhaps the only other person on Motunui who truly understood the meaning of wanderlust, but the young woman held no love for the ocean or its depths. No, of all things, it was the stars and the sky that fascinated her. Moana blamed that hopeless quirk’s existence on Hine’s parents for their choice of name.
“Hail, O Goddess of the Night!”
“Don’t make me drag you to the underworld, Chief,” Hine said, drawing a chuckle from Moana. That would never get old.
Moana took a deep breath to prepare herself. “So? Bad news?”
Lips pressed together, Hine nodded. “The disease is still spreading.”
Unsurprised, Moana asked, “What’s the damage?”
“Another coconut tree had to be uprooted, and we lost a half-dozen other fruit trees that were showing signs of trouble as well.”
Despite already knowing what the answer would be, Moana asked, “Any fish?”
“No more than usual.”
“No more than usual anymore,” Moana said. ‘Usual’ used to mean that there would be plenty for everyone. These days it meant they were lucky to avoid having to raid their storehouses to eat, and it was getting harder and harder to hide that fact. “How are the new groves growing in?”
“There haven’t been any problems so far. The first two are finished with the third well on its way. If your dad is to be believed, we should have the necessary space cleared on the other side of the island soon. He also said the soil isn’t any better–”
“I know,” Moana interrupted. She did not want to have that discussion again with her father, especially not by proxy through Hine. Tradition could go hang itself when her people were in need. “He acts like I wasn’t aware of the fact when I made the decision. It’s far from the initial outbreak of the disease and should serve well enough as a quarantine. That’s all I care about. He has seen to it that the entire area was scorched and the boundary both salted and paved with stone, correct?”
“Yes, yes, and almost. We’re running short on free hands to chisel stone with how busy you’re keeping everyone, but it’s nearly done.”
“Good.” If that can’t protect our crops, then I don’t know what will. Moana deflected the niggling certainty that it would not be enough. The only other thing I can think of would be to enclose the grove, but figuring out how to build such a structure would take time we don’t have.
“The only real complaint so far besides what a slave driver you are–”
Moana rolled her eyes. While the approaching famine could be hidden, everyone was well aware that they were combating a threat to their food supply and was willing to put in the work.
“–is that it’ll be a bit of a slog to walk from the grove to the village weighed down with a harvest.”
“Our people can suffer sore feet and a little extra walking each day. Worst case scenario, we let the grove grow wild for our children to spoil their appetite in ten years from now and laugh about what a waste of time it all was. If nothing else, I’ve always felt uneasy with so many of our crops growing in one place. This is the perfect excuse for me to fix that, and we’ll have more room to build once this is all over.”
Of course, that was presuming anyone was still alive at that point. Not that Moana would speak a word of her fears to anyone if she could help it, and even then, even should the worst come to pass, even if she failed, she would still be wary about broaching the subject. No one wanted to hear their chief predicting the slow starvation of her people. The least she could do, then, was to let her people die with peace of mind.
Unable to help herself, Moana glanced outward toward the ocean. Near sea level as she was, it lay hidden from her sight behind a thick wall of flora, but she knew it was there. It was always there. It was a constant presence in her mind these days. The worst problem of all this, what she feared most, was that Motunui’s troubles were not domestic in origin.
On that, Moana had kept her peace, telling no one – not her dad, not her mom, not Hine, no one. With her grandmother no longer among them, the self-proclaimed position of village crazy lady lay vacant. As much as she loved the woman, she would rather not take up that esteemed role.
Even so, if life on Motunui grew any more endangered, if none of Moana’s plans worked, if escape proved to be their only recourse, it might be time to break her silence. At that point, it could hardly make the future any less bleak.
“Argh!” Moana jumped away from Hine. She brought up a hand to massage her poor, abused ear.
“About time you responded. You’ve been staring at nothing for forever now.”
Moana grumbled a very half-hearted apology while shaking off her darkening thoughts. “Look, Hine, just keep everyone calm and on task for now. We’ll make it through this so long as we all work together.”
“Alright. Where should I send people if they need you?”
“Urgh, nowhere. I need to have a frank conversation with my dad.”
With an amused snort, Hine placed a hand on Moana’s shoulder. “Good luck with that.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine. Heh. If nothing else, I’ll pull rank on him.”
Hine traded smirks with Moana as she shook her head. “I’ll plan to be on the far side of Motunui when you do that.”
“Thanks for the support, friend,” said Moana sarcastically. “Spread the word that there will be a council meeting tomorrow night, will you?”
“Sure thing, Chief.”
With that, Moana departed Hine’s company to seek her father’s. The trip across the island was peaceful enough, although every other person she met along the path stopped her to ask one question or another. It was well past midday when she finally found her target. He was busy directing work within the nursery adjacent to the new grove still under construction.
There Moana paused a moment to watch her father. He called for someone to run to the village to find out what was delaying the delivery of the next tree before picking up a shovel himself to join in the work. A small smile sneaked its way onto Moana’s face. He may have thought this was completely overkill and a waste of time and effort, not to mention untraditional, but there was no question that he put his all into the task in full support of her in public once a course of action was decided upon.
“Hey, Dad,” Moana said. It was mere moments before she found herself swept up into a tight hug.
“Moana!” her father, Tui, said, bursting with far too much energy for his age. “You missed lunch with Sina and me.”
“I know,” Moana grunted, her lungs protesting their rough treatment.
“So what brings you here? Change of plans? Or has something happened in the village?”
Moana shook her head, only to stop halfway. “Yes to both, in a sense. We need to talk.”
Those four little words sapped Tui of his exuberance, sadly. He excused himself for a moment to find Sina among the crowd and exchange a few words. Once they were done, they kissed, and he returned to Moana. Then together, the two set out down the path toward the village. On the way out, Moana filched a torch from the nursery’s supply and lit it, drawing a raised eyebrow from Tui. She waved off the unasked question of why.
“So, Moana, is this a chief and councilman sort of discussion?”
“It is,” Moana replied. She looked to Tui as they walked and waited until she had eye contact to continue. This was going to be unpleasant for both of them, but it had to be done. To make sure there would be no misunderstanding, she said, “I expect you to behave like a reasonable adult as we discuss this.”
That combined with the path Moana had steered them down caused Tui to stop dead in his tracks as recognition flashed in his eyes. He opened his mouth, only to be cut off before he could say a word.
“Tui, as a member of the council, you and your chief will have a civil conversation.” That was a fact, not a request, and Moana phrased it as such. It was her next words, however, that left him white-faced and without an argument. More gently, she said, “I’m aware of what happened to you.”
Moana ignored the nearly inaudible gasp of, “Who?” Her father would surely have his suspicions, but she would not sell out her mother on this. Sina had given reason and clarity to Tui’s almost obsessive desire to keep her on dry land, something she had desperately needed. Without that information, Moana suspected she might have grown frustrated enough to sail off on her own without a second thought, which would certainly have ended in disaster.
With her free hand, Moana reached out and patted Tui’s arm in what she hoped he would find a supportive manner. Outside her role as his daughter, without crossing back over that line, it was all she could think to do for him. “You have my condolences for your loss and your trauma. I can only imagine how devastated I would be to lose Hine to my own eagerness and stubbornness. But our people require no less than the best of us right now. You are perfectly capable of at least entertaining ideas you do not agree with.”
The two stared at one another for what felt like an eternity to Moana. She broke eye contact first, resuming her pace forward. When her father fell into step beside her, she had to suppress the urge to cry her victory to the heavens. As much as she wanted to run off and dance herself silly in glee, she was the chief right now and had to act like it. To do otherwise would just reduce this to yet another infamous father–daughter row to gossip about over dinner.
Moana stepped through the foliage hiding Motunui’s one and only natural cave. Ever since her grandmother, Tala, had guided her here years ago, she had kept the entrance free of obstructions and cleared the tunnel of the stray rocks and slippery pebbles that had once made for treacherous terrain.
“This place should be sealed off, Moana.”
Moana glanced over her shoulder back at Tui and observed his frown, trying to decide what exactly his tone had meant. Getting nothing, she gave him a dry laugh. “I’ve held my tongue about our heritage out of respect for your wishes, but I would not deny anyone the knowledge held within should they find it. Of all people, I’m sure you would agree that it’s better to learn how to sail and never need it than to find yourself wanting when the time comes.” It was a low blow, but it was the truth.
Without waiting for a response, Moana handed off her torch to Tui as they emerged into the main cavern within which resided dozens of boats ranging all over in size and encircling a central cove. Nearest to the water sat a great, beautiful ship capable of holding dozens of people and standing taller, wider, and longer than any tree. She made her way straight to it, bypassing several smaller vessels no more than thrice her own height.
A quick glance over Moana’s shoulder revealed that Tui had stuck to the entrance with torch in hand, almost as if he believed the reduced vision would stop her. But then that might be ascribing too much ill-intent to him. Still, what he ultimately did with that torch, she was sure, would set the tone of their personal and political relationship for the rest of their lives.
Of course, if Tui did try to set fire to the canoes in a fit of childish pique or whatnot, he would be in for disappointment. Each and every boat in this cavern was far too well preserved for how long they must have been left unattended. Entering into the cove through the waterfall to the open sea with all the materials to maintain these ships and doing so unnoticed was unnecessarily dangerous, and before Moana had knocked them down, the stones sealing off the overland entrance had been fully and completely covered in moss, suggesting they themselves had also been undisturbed for a long time.
At the time and with her grandmother’s cryptic nonsense guiding her, Moana could only conclude that some magic had preserved and reinforced these boats. And she had verified that, much to her surprise. Indeed, her ancestors had either had the favour of the gods or had possessed amazing skills of their own. The wood, the ropes, the sails, everything here was both fireproof and otherwise very difficult to damage, although not impossible.
There was also the drum, if one wanted to do things the easy way. Moana climbed aboard the largest of the ships arrayed before her. Once atop it, she casually delivered a rap-a-tap to the drum anchored to the deck, causing every torch in the room to burst into flame at once, bathing the entire room in light.
Moana smirked as she caught the expression on her father’s face. Obviously, he had never bothered to bang the drum, and that was under the assumption he had ever even come here before.
Without a thought, having done the same at least a hundred times already, Moana leapt from the deck and fell a little more than twice her height to land in front of Tui. One of these days, she knew her mother would say, she would slip and land on her head, but today was once more not that day.
Still grinning, Moana walked past her father with her hands held behind her back. As she did so and with a small skip to her step, she said, “Don’t worry. I shrieked too the first time. I won’t tell.”
That broke Tui out of his shock. He twisted in place to follow Moana with his eyes for a few moments before glancing around at the numerous new light sources.
“I think the torches are tied to the drum,” Moana casually commented, slowing to a swaying gait behind him. “I once removed one from the cave without extinguishing them. It went out halfway down the tunnel.” Shrugging, she added, “We’ve never had a shortage of torches anyway, so I never bothered to find out.”
Tui closed his eyes and took a deep breath, slowly in and even slower out. Once done, he extinguished the non-magical torch in his hand and found a nice rock to collapse on both nearby and as far away from the boats as could be reasonably expected. He gestured for her to take another somewhat nearby.
“Here we are,” Tui said, stating the obvious and apparently still processing that Tala, his own mother, was very definitely not crazy – not completely, anyway. While there was never any doubt that he believed her stories had some truth to them, their setting had always been long ago and far away, not here and now.
“Yep. Here we are. And I’m sure you’re expecting me to propose something radical like voyaging to a new island.”
“The thought had crossed my mind.”
In all honesty, Moana had a hard time deciding whether she should be offended or not. The idea was exciting to contemplate, certainly, and it did hold a place in her mind as her plan of last resort, but no more. That her primary goals also served to prepare her people for an extended voyage was merely a side benefit, if perhaps one that she would embrace and encourage.
“I’m not a child anymore,” Moana said, careful not to sound like a petulant child as she did so. “I realise how impractical that would be. Disregarding that we would have to rebuild our entire way of life from nothing and assuming that we could find an uninhabited island capable of supporting the entirety of our people, the truth is we would never make it in time to matter.” Not unless we’re desperate. “No one on Motunui has true sailing experience, and although Hine understands a bit about wayfinding, I’m the only one who knows as little as how to sail the ocean. Our problems will not wait two years for us to develop all the skills we would need to embark upon such a large undertaking.”
“That’s surprisingly well-reasoned for you.”
Moana rolled her eyes. “Being given responsibility does that to a girl.”
For the first time since Moana had led him from the nursery, Tui smiled, and warmly, even, at that. “What does our chief have planned, then?”
“I’m not sure yet. I was hoping one of my councilmen would provide me with council.” Moana waited until she got a nod from Tui. “I hope we can both agree that we are in a crisis.”
Tui hesitated for a moment before asking, “Are things truly that bad?”
“We have children who have never tasted fish.” Even the village’s stock of salted and preserved fish had been all but exhausted. What little was left Moana had saved for anyone who fell ill.
After a few grumbled curses, Tui asked, “Who knows?”
“Hine, myself, and now you. She and I haven’t been able to hide everything completely, of course. Everyone knows something is happening. But we’ve managed to quell any serious worries so far.”
“And how much longer will that last?”
At the rate they were losing crops and burning through their stores, Moana knew that without a significant change, they would be in serious trouble before the end of the year. Rationing what they had, they might last until the end of the next year. Moana worried a hand along her forehead and through her hair as she settled on a few rough estimates. “We have perhaps half a year before we would have to take drastic measures. In half that time, we must have at least a short-term solution planned if we want to continue living even half as well as we have.”
Unfortunately, Tui was Moana’s father and both knew her tells and could read her expression frustratingly often. “How long has this been going on?”
“That’s not important,” Moana said, waving the question away because she did not want to answer that. Any honest answer would call forth several questions she refused to provide answers for. “What I want to do in the short-term is to organize fishing trips beyond the reef.” She held up a hand to forestall the response that was already on Tui’s lips. “Before I analyze the risks and benefits, I need you to put aside your usual opinions and answer me honestly. Do you think it’s possible – not necessarily worthwhile, but possible – for this to provide for our people, or are my own desires blinding me?”
For once in Moana’s life, her father actually stopped to seriously consider venturing beyond the reef. The struggle inside his mind to be objective on the matter revealed itself through the varying of his expression, which flashed through no small number of grimaces. Finally, he said, “I believe that if there are fish left in the ocean, they are not near Motunui’s shores. Nor would we fall ill if our diet turned exclusively to whatever we might find in the water.”
That was not a proper answer. Tui had dodged the question, and they both knew it. Still, Moana would take an implied yes; that was more than she had expected.
“Thank you for trying,” Moana said. As much as she wanted to hug Tui for it, however, they were not here as family. There yet remained much to discuss. “Now as I mentioned before, I don’t intend to simply throw our people on this beauty” – she gestured up at the largest boat in the cavern, and what a beauty it was – “and tell them good luck. Before I make any final public commitment, I intend to see if it can be done myself.”
“I’m the only one who knows how to sail properly, I refuse to place anyone less experienced in danger to test my plan, and time is a factor.”
“Moana, your people need you here. You cannot risk your own life on this. We can’t have you vanishing for days at a time. My time as chief is over.” To be fair, in any other circumstances, that would have been a good argument. It was cold and heartless, but it was better to risk a farmer, or a weaver, or a fisher than a chief, whose time and life were much more valuable. But there was an obvious response here and now.
“The greater danger comes from delay. This cannot wait.” Moana paused a moment to let her frustrations settle before they could take root. They were brushing along their old, well-trodden arguments on the merits of sailing – and of her sailing in particular. Now was not the time to dredge up that history. Now was the time for cold, hard logic. And besides, she herself was the one who had insisted that this would be a civil conversation.
“I don’t intend on being reckless about this,” Moana said. “I’m not going to jump straight into a full voyage on my very first trip. My plan is to take out one of the smaller seaworthy canoes here and sail about Motunui to practice. Then once I’m ready, I’ll make a few short journeys beyond the reef and later into the open ocean, leaving instructions with Hine in my absence. I trust her to handle any emergencies that might come up. If all goes well, I’ll see if I can catch us a feast after that.
“I will, of course, have a more concrete plan when I present this to the council proper, including what routes I’ll take, what resources I’ll take, and why. Those are minor details to quibble about, though. I’m asking you now not as your daughter, or as a woman of Motunui, but as your chief. Would you be willing to support this attempt to save our people? To see them well-provided-for? To save our home?”
Tui clamped his jaw shut, his face at war with itself as too many expressions fought for dominance. It was cruel of her to do so, but Moana had chosen her words carefully to echo the very same sentiments her father had always given for not venturing out into the ocean. Trapped between his concern for his family and his duty to his people as he was, any decision would cost him something.
“You’re putting me in an impossible position, Moana.” That was the closest she had ever heard Tui come to begging, but it was no good. There was too much at risk to cave to such sentiments, a fact she had begrudgingly come to accept since becoming chief.
“I know. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
Collapsing in on himself, Tui brought his hands together and rested his forehead atop them, looking the perfect image of a broken man. Moana unconsciously stepped forward before catching herself and freezing there in indecision. Cursing her own pride, she kept herself from saying a word and left her councilman to his own thoughts the way a proper chief would. She knew perfectly well which decision she would reach on the matter. With her argument given, she had to step back and leave him unbiased to provide his own council, rather than hers.
Silently, or as near as she could be, Moana stole away from the cavern and down the unlit tunnel back outside. She doubted that her presence would in any way help Tui reach a decision, so she chose instead to simply remove herself from the equation. There was someone who belonged there right now far more anyway.
Once more in the nursery after walking over the greater part of the island, Moana picked up another torch to avoid forgetting it later. She then tracked down her new target within moments, approaching from behind.
“Good afternoon, Moana.”
Moana jumped in surprise before quickly schooling her features. “Hi, Mom,” she said, wrapping herself over the woman in question’s shoulders in a hug. “When are you going to tell me how you do that?”
“When you have a daughter who jumps at every opportunity to cause trouble, you won’t need me to.”
Blushing, Moana detached herself from Sina. “I was never that bad.”
“You still are, dear,” Sina said, turning about with a smug grin on her face. “So how have you gotten on with your father today?”
Moana gestured for Sina to follow her, and they slowly made their way away from everyone else. Quietly, she said, “I’m sure when you see him that he’ll tell you Motunui is ruled over by a cruel witch with a heart of stone.”
“He could use a friendly ear and a cool head right now.”
Sina sighed in resignation and forced a smile back onto her face. “Where is he?”
“I’ll show you to him.” As it was a rather unlikely prospect that Tui had ever taken his wife to see their ancestors’ boats, nor did Moana think he would have even mentioned them, it would be easier for everyone if she just led Sina there herself. “And I’ll take over here after I do, so you two take as long as you need, alright?”
After Sina agreed, Moana lit the torch in her hand, and they were off. Along the way, she fended off her mother’s questions about what had happened, citing that it would be more appropriate for Tui to answer them himself instead. The last thing she wanted was for him to think she had recruited her mother to team up against him.
“Here we are,” Moana said, handing off the torch. At her mother’s sceptical look, she pulled back the foliage obscuring the cave entrance.
Surprised, Sina asked, “When did this get here?”
“It’s always been here, Mom. I unsealed it is all.” Continuing before Sina could ask any questions, Moana said, “I expect Dad will still be at the end of the tunnel. Don’t worry. You can’t get lost.”
After a pause, Sina accepted the dismissal for what it was and stepped inside. Once she was gone and out of hearing range, Moana collapsed onto the ground and leaned back against the mountain face.
“Well,” Moana mumbled to herself, “here’s hoping for the best.” If all went well, and that was a big if, the loudest voice against her plans would be turned to a supporter. If not, well, Tui was but one voice among many, even if his was one she cared about more than the others.
Even if this turns into a protracted debate, we’ll be okay. If it comes to it, if we all must set sail, I’ve acted early enough to give us plenty of time to at least have a chance. I’ve already done everything I can on Motunui. They’ll see that.
Moana held up her right hand so that the back of it faced her. The tattooed sign of Te Fiti stared back at her, embellished to swirl past her wrist and down her arm in elaborate waves reminiscent of the ocean breaking upon the reef.
“Gramma, I could really use your advice.”
Letting her hand fall, Moana turned her gaze out toward the ocean. No one else could see it. No one else had noticed it creeping toward them. It was terrifying, maddening, and agonisingly slow all at once. Beneath the water, no longer far from shore, the ground was pure pitch-black. Nothing grew there. No animal would go near it. And every time Moana swam out to observe it up close, the darkness had grown slightly closer than before.
All that had saved Moana from outright panic was that the island itself had been and had remained untouched, if not unaffected. The reef surrounding the island had been overrun, including the parts of it above sea level, but not the island, not Motunui. For reasons unknown, the encroaching death had yet to assault the island itself.
Moana was under no delusion that the current state of affairs would last forever, not unless she herself was simply delusional and hallucinating. That was always possible. Gramma had taken the title of village crazy woman for herself for a reason, after all.
Or maybe someone somewhere else on their own voyage in their own story would save the world. Tala had always insisted that someday, someone would discover the Heart of Te Fiti, sail off to find the demigod Maui, and ensure the heart was returned to its proper place.
But a chief was not allowed to indulge in such wishful thinking. Moana had to protect her people, and that meant preparing for and assuming the worst. If nothing else, if they were stubborn enough to refuse to leave Motunui behind when the worst came and they found a new chief, they could survive by bringing food back from beyond the island’s coast. Moana would ensure they had all the necessary skills by then.
The longer Moana gazed out into the blackness slowly engulfing the ocean, the more she worried about what other skills her people might need if they stayed, skills they did not have.
“Motunui is dying. We don’t have time to wait for a destined hero, Gramma. What am I supposed to do?”