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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