Chapter 24: The Reversal

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“You!” Ahio could hardly speak. He glared at Maui, his voice shaking with rage. “This is all your doing, isn’t it? Give me back my body!”

Maui tried to swim away, but was held firm by Tangaroa’s bond. “Set me free!” he begged. Resort (114)

“Not until we settle a few things,” said Tangaroa. He lifted his hands, and the sea around them began to stir. Ahio felt as though the sea were pressing in tightly on all sides. Next thing he knew, he was standing with his feet planted on the hot sand. A few feet away, Tangaroa and Maui were engaged in a heated argument.

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“Those people deserved their punishment,” Maui was saying. “You should have seen the waste of fish. Great, rotting mounds tossed back into the sea.”

“Those people,” said Tangaroa, “were wrong. But they did not disturb the mana, and do not deserve this lasting punishment. I command you to lift the curse. Now!”

Pouting like a child, Maui waved one hand through the air. “There,” he said through gritted teeth. “The curse is no more. Satisfied?”

Maui held up a finger. “Not until you have returned the man and the merman to their rightful bodies.”

Maui shrugged. “Can’t help you there.”

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“What do you mean you can’t help us?” Ahio’s eyes widened in horror. He couldn’t be stuck in Ahohako’s body for the rest of his life!

“Well for starters, I can switch you back, but there will be consequences,” said Maui.

“What kind of consequences?”

Maui ignored Ahio. “Secondly, the other dude’s got to be here, too, or the switch can’t happen.”

“I can help with that,” said Tangaroa. He produced a large conch shell, which he lifted to his mouth and blew.

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Moments later, the air on the beach began to shimmer. Then Puaura appeared, along with a man whom Ahio had not seen since he had escaped with Puaura in a tiny rowboat years before.

Puaura’s face was shocked as she looked from face to face, landing at last on the man. “Ahohako?” Her voice was hesitant.

“Yes, it’s me,” said Ahohako. “But I don’t understand how I got here.”

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Tangaroa spoke. “Are you both ready to be returned to your true selves?” Everyone fell silent, looking with expectation at Maui.

Maui rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine,” he said. “But don’t forget what I said…there may be consequences to switching back.” He waved his arm through the air. Ahio felt his vision dissolve into blackness. Then, he opened his eyes.

“I’m me!” he cried. He touched his arms, his chest, and his hair, which had grown long and unkempt. “I’m myself again!”

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“Well, almost,” said Maui, his eyes glinting with mischief. He turned and raced for the sea, diving into the waves before Tangaroa could stop him.

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Chapter 23: The Trickster

Rebuilding the old resort was taking every bit of Puaura’s time and energy. There was trash to be hauled back to the mainland. Old, rusty fixtures to be replaced. And cockroaches everywhere. Luckily, Tane was now old enough to pitch in and help, even though his autism made it challenging to communicate.

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Still, after months of labor, the resort was nearly ready to open. Puaura was both happy and sad – happy that they had managed to transform a wreck into a shining gem, but sad that her mother was no longer alive to see it. She was also sad that, although they had created a wonderful place on one of the most beautiful islands in the world, thanks to Tangaroa’s curse, few visitors would be able to enjoy it.

But one day, when Puaura and Tane arrived home, exhausted after a long day of working on the resort, Ahio returned from the sea, his eyes shining with excitement. “I’ve found it!” he cried. He grabbed Puaura’s hands and danced her around the room.

“What on earth have you found?” asked Puaura, who could help but laugh. “Did you lose your wallet again?”

Ahio pulled her close and kissed her. “I have found the great Treasure of Rongo,” he said.

Puaura’s mouth dropped open in disbelief. “You did?”

He nodded. “And get this – the treasure was the key to unlock Tangaroa’s prison. The real Tangaroa. Come on – hurry! He wants to meet you.” He tugged at her hands.

“Okay, just wait,” she said. “I’m not a mermaid, remember?” As quickly as she could, she pulled on her scuba gear. Then she followed Ahio into the sea, to the grotto where he’d last seen Tangaroa.

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When Puaura and Ahio appeared, Tangaroa broke into a huge grin. “My dear friends,” he said. “To show my gratitude in your releasing me from my prison, I am releasing these islands from the long curse. No longer will visitors be kept from these shores.”

“Oh thank you!” Puaura cried with happiness, her salty tears mixing with the salty sea. She returned to shore to spread the good news throughout the island.

“But I don’t understand. If you are the real Tangaroa,” said Ahio, “then who was responsible for switching me with the merman Ahohako?”

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Tangaroa’s face turned grim. “An imposter,” he said. “But my loyal sea servants have already informed me of his whereabouts. Come.” He motioned for Ahio to follow. They swam past colorful coral reefs and dark, mysterious caverns, following schools of tiny fish who led the pursuit. At last, they came across him – an oddly pale merman with a glittery green tail and eyes lit by mischief.

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“At last we found you,” said Tangaroa, confronting his imposter. “Don’t bother escaping – I have bound you to my side.” He turned to Ahio. “Ahio, I would like to introduce you to my cousin. Meet the great trickster himself, Maui.

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Chapter 22: The Treasure of Rongo

It took some time before Puaura’s legs were strong enough to walk more than just a few steps. But in time, she was able to shuffle around with a cane. What’s more, she was even able to swim again, and each day after they finished working on fixing up the old resort, she joined Ahio in the clear blue waters. Resort (93)Resort (92)

Now that Puaura knew the truth, Ahio felt more relaxed around her. The three of them were almost like a family now. Almost. Although Puaura made it clear that she still loved him, he simply couldn’t bring himself to be romantic with her, like they once were long ago. Not while he was in another man’s body.

“But how will you ever get your body back?” asked Puaura, dismayed. “Tangaroa’s curse was binding for a lifetime.”

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Ahio pressed his lips together. “Then there is only one thing to do,” he said after a moment. “I will have to find Tangaroa and beg him to switch us back. After all – this was not my wish.”

And so, he made it his mission. Whenever he was not needed on land, Ahio swam around the the ocean, scouring the depths, hunting for the god of the sea. As the months sped by, he began to grow discouraged. Maybe Tangaroa was nothing more than a myth passed down by the elders. But then…how had he ended up in this body? Some powerful supernatural force had to be responsible.

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Then one day, while following a shark, he came across a small cavern he’d never seen before. As he swam closer, he noticed something that made him gasp. There, hidden in the algae, was a small, ancient wooden box. How it hadn’t rotted by now, Ahio did not know. The box seemed to be vibrating, like a living creature. As Ahio swam toward it, the water around it began to feel heavy, as though he were swimming through a thick sludge. Something – or someone, did not want Ahio to open the box. Which only made him want to open it more.

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The moment his fingers touched the wood, he felt it. A ticking sensation – not from within the box, but deep inside him, like a second heartbeat. He had found the treasure of Rongo! Grasping the lid with both hands, he tugged it open. A mighty current pushed him up and away from the box as the lid sprang open. A small golden orb rose from within. When it was directly across from Ahio, it stopped, and burst open. And in its place swam a strange, tailless merman, with skin as pale as a fish’s belly.

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“Thank you for freeing me from my prison,” said the merman. “I have been in there for many, many years.”

Ahio gaped. “Your prison? But who…who are you?”

The merman’s eyes shone black like obsidian. “Don’t you know?” he asked in an amused tone. “My name is Tangaroa.”

Chapter 21: Ahio’s Secret Project

Resort (13)Ahio felt uneasy. Lately, whenever he and Puaura were together, he would catch her sneaking curious glances at him.

“What is it?” he would ask, checking to make sure he hadn’t spilled coffee down his shirt or something.

“Nothing. It’s nothing.” She quickly shifted her gaze whenever this happened, or began to prattle on in a false, bright voice about local gossip or how big Tane was growing. Ahio tried his best to relax and match her casual tone, though he was wary of the change in her. Was she growing suspicious of him?

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Their living arrangement had been working well, for the most part. Caring for Puaura, driving her to her medical appointments, keeping their home in order – those things had been easy for Ahio to do. Raising Tane was not without its challenges, due to his special needs, but now that he spent half the day at school, Ahio had more time to focus on his own needs. He spent much of that time swimming in the sea, as was his fate. But the few precious moments he had on land, he devoted to his secret project.

One day, he decided that the time had come to tell Puaura. He invited her to go for a boating trip with Tane and him. “There’s something I would like for you to see. And Tane, too,” he added, though Tane probably would not understand. The three of them piled onto Ahio’s boat, and he drove them to a small island.

“What is this place?” asked Puaura, after Ahio had lifted her from the boat and sat her in her wheelchair. The empty beach sloped uphill toward a small, run-down building with broken windowpanes. Here and there, scraps of litter and charred remains of campfires suggested that the spot had occasional visitors – perhaps partying teens or drifters.

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“It doesn’t have a name yet,” said Ahio.

“Yet?” Puaura looked at him.

Ahio shrugged. “I was thinking that I’d name it later, after the remodel.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you own this place?” Puaura’s eyes were wide with shock.

He nodded. “I’ve been saving to buy it for years.” Without looking at her, he continued, “A long time ago, I was in love with a woman whose dream it was to build a resort, and to welcome visitors to these islands. Although that woman had to go away, I saved her dream for her, and made it mine.”

For a long moment, the only sounds were the ocean lapping at the shore, and Tane babbling to himself as he paddled around in the water. Then at last, Puaura spoke. “I know,” she said. She stared right at Ahio, who felt a sudden panicked, hopeful wave streak through him.

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“What do you know?” his voice came out husky, uncertain.

Puaura gripped the handles of her chair. “I know your secret,” she said. “I know what Tangaroa has done.” And to Ahio’s astonishment, Puaura push against her chair and lifted herself to a standing position. Like a toddler with hands outstretched, she took a few shuffling steps toward him. She could walk! Puaura was walking again! When she was a few feet away, she wavered, but Ahio reached out and pulled her toward him.

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She was out-of-breath from the effort. “Now,” she said, “your turn. Show me what I already know, Ahio.”

In a daze, Ahio helped her back to her chair. Then he walked toward the water, where Tane was still splashing around, paying no notice to the miracle that was happening. Ahio took one glance back to where Puaura was seated, watching expectantly. Then he dove into the sea and let his body transform for her.

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