(I’ve narrated this story and published it on YouTube! Go check it out if you would rather listen!)
If there was one thing Yo’isiro loved about his home, it was the sound of the waves caressing the wooden posts of his house. He liked the fishing, of course, but it didn’t call to him the way it had his father. It was the bones, probably. That had always been the most unsettling part of his life in the Shita’ilo village.
With some reluctance, he put his waist-wraps on and left his little hut. The walkway from his hut to the docks was longer than others, but he didn’t mind. He kept his head down as he walked and watched as the clear blue passed beneath the boards he trod upon. It brought a smile to his lips, but it immediately retraced as he looked back out into the bay.
Enormous bones jutted out from the lazy water all around the village, as they always had. Spines trailed out onto the surf, huge ribs that dwarfed the size of his peoples’ homes made pathetic attempts to trap the water beneath, and beneath the waves Yo’isiro envisioned the vast skulls of gargantuan beasts long dead. Ku’alana, his people called them. Gods of the Sea. He had never understood why they should worship something very clearly dead, but knew better than to question these things. Answers to such questions were probably just as unsettling as the reasons for those questions.
“Welcome dawning, Isi,” a woman greeted him on his stroll, clothed in similar wraps around her waist. A pleasing sight that did wonders to shake his mood.
“As welcome as you, Atak’ae,” Yo’isiro said with a smile.
“Do you have your offering for tonight’s bonfire?” she asked.
He frowned, shoulders slumping. “That is tonight? I thought the moon wouldn’t rise for a few more days.”
The woman rolled her eyes, but her grin was playful. “The Elders said yesterday it will be early again, Ku’alana only know why.”
“These are bad omens,” Yo’isiro grumbled.
She took a few steps closer, her voice quiet but enticing as she looked up at him.”Well, you had best go out and catch something good today. I’ve already decided to pick your offering tonight. You’re my favorite bed-mate, you know,” she continued, grabbing his waist-wraps and starting to untie them. Yo’isiro gulped, heart pounding. Then, her tone grew harder, more demanding. “Don’t embarrass me by bringing a poor gift. Again.” She tightened his clothing back up with one swift tug, jerking at his hips so hard he winced at the pain.
Now that was a request he could not ignore. The last time Atak’ae had chosen him as her bed-mate had been months ago, and his pathetic offering on this last moon’s passing hadn’t been accepted by any of the girls in the village. It was a disgrace he had no wish to repeat. He nodded dumbly.
She trailed a soft hand down his chest and winked. “I’ll see you at the bonfire.” And with that, she continued on her way.
Yo’isiro sighed. But then shook himself out of it. He liked fishing. All men did. And he was good at it. There was nothing to be upset over. He would offer the best fish the village had ever seen, and Atak’ae would choose him with no shame. But the best fish all lived in…
He looked back out past the shore again. Six Ku’alana skulls rested along these coasts, and inside them, the Ku’kataiyo, Heart of the God. He would win more than Atak’ae’s affection with one of those. A fisherman that caught one would be fed for an entire moon’s passing. He wouldn’t need to fish for days.
Yo’isiro clenched his fists a few times and took a deep breath. Then, he marched onwards towards his boat.
The waters were as pristine as always. Despite the gentle waves making their endless trek to the shores, the ocean floor was still clearly visible here, where the kelp was not bountiful. Most of the village was built over waters just over ten feet deep, but it looked deceptively close. Children had to be taught at a very young age that it was much deeper than it seemed, but the Shita’ilo were natural swimmers, so there was little to be concerned about.
He gazed at the rising sun as his boat bobbed up and down with the waves, and a smile pierced his lips. Simple, and gentle. Yes, this was what life was all about. He passed other boats of men fishing. Most with spears, others with traps. Some further from the coast used nets. They waved to each other as they passed, but he avoided getting close enough to any to exchange words. There were several boats, but not as much as he might have expected on the night of a bonfire. They must all have their offerings, Yo’isiro thought. Only he could be foolish enough not to know about it.
He approached the giant rib cage in the center of the bay. The largest skeleton of the Ku’alana. The bones pierced the vast green of the kelp forests below, towering high over him. A chill went down his spine as he watched the current pass through the kelp and reveal a shadowy mound under the water some distance away. Small schools of fish swam around the god’s skull, twisting around long strands of green. He rowed his boat above the mound and tossed the anchor aside, careful not to hit the skull. Enormous and sturdy as it might have been, it would be disrespectful to damage the remains of his gods.
He took stock of his tools, scratching his head as to what might help him catch one of the Ku’kataiyo. No trap was large enough to snare one of the Hearts of the Gods, and a spear would only anger it. Spears wouldn’t work well underwater, anyway.
He grabbed a net and, taking a few deep breaths to prepare his lungs for a long dive, leaped from the craft into the water.
The water was much deeper here than it was at the village, but it wasn’t so deep as to warrant danger.
Fish swam ahead of him as he plunged downwards, and soon he came up to the immense skull. The majority of the right side of it was buried in sand, but it still stared at him with two black holes where its eyes would be. Its jaw was thrust out like the muzzle of some beast, and the teeth that were exposed were long and sharp. It was like nothing his people had ever seen before, but then, that was what made them gods. “You dare to challenge me and take my heart?” it seemed to say. “So be it. Come forth and be tested.”
He clenched his own jaw and swam into the closer eye socket.
Immediately the world darkened. Light filtered through the kelp forest well enough, but very little managed to find its way inside the skull.
Before long, he saw what he was looking for. A fish somewhat longer than he was laid passive, almost completely flat, at the base of the sand below. Some fins shot upwards along its back, but the real danger was its tail fin, which had several thorns on it. While not poisonous, it could still strike with enough force to kill a man. Yo’isiro would have to be careful, because once he grabbed it, the Ku’kataiyo would thrash its tail around in defense, and a net would not protect him from the thorns.
He uncurled the net and tried to extend it out over the fish, hoping it would float down and ensnare the fish without incident.
The instant the net made contact with the fish, it lumbered forward, clearing the net and resting back on the floor without any sort of agitation. He cursed internally and swam down to scoop the net back up.
He folded it and crept up to the fish’s tail, then swiftly began to wrap the net around the tail to pacify it. The God’s Heart tried to swim forward but was caught. It jerked its tail back and forth, and the thorns pierced through the netting and it was free once more.
The fish kept swimming, but it reached the side of the skull and turned around.
Yo’isiro gulped, resolving to try one more time. He discarded the ruined net and swam towards the giant fish. Once he was over it, he lowered himself and mounted the fish, grabbing it by its fins. Its dorsal fin prevented him from sliding off (though this wasn’t exactly comfortable) once it started swimming forward again. It was still difficult, as the fish thrashed wildly in an effort to swing him off. He held on tight, and once the fish tried to curve around the edge of the skull, he gave it a sudden jerk to the side and it slammed against the thick bone.
With that, the fish grew still. Stunned, probably. Yo’isiro let out a breath of relief that he had not been killed, and then instantly realized his mistake. He desperately needed that breath.
In a panic, he grabbed the fish and pushed as hard as he could off the ocean floor, swimming out of the skull and back up to his boat. Without any breath to help him stay buoyant, it took longer than he was comfortable with, and he considered leaving the fish so that he could more quickly breach the surface.
But no, he had won, it would do no good to leave his offering here. He just had to hope he would not drown.
He gasped the air as he found the surface, thanking the gods that he had not died risking his life just to please a woman.
He tossed the Ku’kataiyo with both arms, and heaved himself up after it. The fish took up most of the space on the boat, but with its tail on the other side, he had nothing to fear. With a nod of respect to the Heart of the Gods, he used his spear to give it peace as it lay stunned on his craft. Then, he pulled up the anchor and started to row back to the Shita’ilo village.
As he passed, he noticed a few men stop what they were doing to murmur “Ku’kataiyo” under their breaths. He tried to to be both humble and proud of his trophy as he made his way back from the skeleton of the Ku’alana, glad that the second thing he would be mounting tonight would not try to kill him or throw him off.