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Undertow by Arithmancy_Wiz
Chapter 3 : Chapter Three
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

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Chapter Three

Makaio Eloni was a beast of a man. Everything about him was oversized to almost comic proportions. His hands. His lips. His legs, which looked more like two enormous tree trunks than any appendages Rose had ever seen. Even his voice was big, a great, echoing boom loud enough to rattle teeth. If Rose hadn’t known better, she’d have sworn the man was part giant.

“Whoa, there,” Makaio said, putting up one enormous hands just in time to stop Rose from slamming straight into his massive chest -- a move that would no doubt have done far more damage to her than him. “Where’s the fire?”

Makaio looked like an islander: sleek black hair without a trace of grey, despite the fact that he had to be nearly as old as Krum. Tan skin, dark, deep-set eyes that shimmered in the bright sun like two bottomless pools of freshly poured ink. Looking at him, it was easy to think the man had spent every waking minute of his life on the island, though nothing could have been further from the truth.

Makaio had been born on the island, but after being abandoned as a child by first his father and then his mother, he’d been sent to live with a great aunt somewhere off the coast of New Guinea. Life there had been far from ideal, and on the day after his eighteenth birthday, he’d run off to join the French Foreign Legion.

Or at least this was the story Rose had been told. She’d never asked the man about any of it directly, though judging from his lack of accent and unusual affinity for idiomatic English, it was clear he’d spent at least part of his youth abroad. And it wasn’t like Rose had any real reason to doubt the tale. On an island this small, secrets were a luxury most residents couldn’t afford -- herself included.

Rose skidded to a halt, the treads of her shoes sliding over the tiny pebbles that had washed up with the tide. Makaio grabbed her by the elbows, lifting her up and setting her back on her feet as if she weighed nothing more than a sack of flour.

“Where’s the fire?” he asked again.

The man wasn’t just making polite conversation. More than three decades after being sent away, Makaio had returned to the place of his birth, taking up post as the unofficial deputy to the island. His duties, as far as Rose could tell, were limited mostly to settling small disputes between neighbors, playing the part of magistrate whenever a sale between a fisherman and a vendor went sour, stepping in when the local teenagers got a little too rowdy after an evening of drinking kava. It was his job to keep an eye on the residents, to look out for their wellbeing. Apparently this included stopping them from running through the streets like a mad woman being chased by a rabid hippogriff.

Rose had one eye on Makaio, the other still scanning the shoreline for any sign of her brother. She looked left and right, raking the coast for the slightest hint of where he’d gone. But there was nothing. The beach was empty. If Hugo had been there, he was long gone now.

Resigned, Rose turned her full attention to the man in front of her, who was now busy examining her with a mix of curiosity and concern that pulled at the corners of his lips and pinched the skin above his brow. He was waiting for her to say something, but Rose was coming up short. She couldn’t exactly tell him the truth -- that she’d been chasing after a man who, last she knew, was living comfortably half a world away, and who seemed to have quite literally just disappeared into thin air. Judging by the way he was already staring at her, Rose knew the truth was definitely not going to help her cause.

“Sorry,” she said, her voice sounding breathy thanks to her impromptu sprint down the beach. “I guess I didn’t see you there.”

The lines in his face relaxed a bit and he let out a small laugh. “Now there’s something I don’t hear everyday.” Makaio gave his ample stomach a small slap. “You might want to seriously consider getting your eyes checked, Rose.”

Rose. Even after all this time, it was still strange to hear her name spoken aloud. While on the run, she and Viktor had abandoned everything that might hint at who they were or where they’d come from -- including their names -- which they’d taken to changing as often as they’d changed cities. But all that pretending was exhausting, always having to watch what they said, trying to keep all the lies straight in their heads. There were days when Rose would go to bed as one person only to wake up the next day as someone else. It was too much.

As soon as they’d arrived on the island, Rose had insisted they go back to using their real names. Viktor had resisted at first but eventually given in.

“If they find us all the way out here,” he’d said, “I don’t suppose a few fake names vill be enough to save us.”

“Is Viktor with you?” Makaio asked, almost as if he’d been reading her thoughts. He was glancing over her shoulder, perhaps expecting to find her Krum hiding somewhere off in the distance.

Rose shook her head. “No, he’s back at the house.”

“Is that so?” There was something in the way he said it -- that not-so-subtle hint of surprise -- that told Rose he too had heard all about her “little episode.”

“I just stopped in to pick up these...”

But her words trailed off. She was looking down at her now-empty hands, her basket of goodies nowhere in sight. Rose glanced over one shoulder. There is was -- about twenty meters back, lying on its side, contents strewn out across the road.

Makaio followed her gaze, taking in the mess. “Now, about those eyes of yours...”

Spinning on her heels, Rose retraced her steps, Makaio following close behind. They said nothing as they gathered up the various items, brushing off the dirt and sand before tucking them one by one back into the basket. When they were done, Makaio turned to face her, his expression oddly blank. She’d seen that look before, that dreamy sort of disconnect that overtook her father whenever he was pondering a particularly difficult case.

“Well, I guess I better get these home,” Rose said, shifting the basket from one arm to the other. “Thanks for the help.”

Makaio gave her a dismissive wave. “Don’t mention it.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, “You in the mood for some company?”

Nice as it was, Rose was inclined to pass on the offer. She’d been so used to being on her own the past few years, spending time in the company of anyone other than Viktor somehow felt wrong. But the more she thought about it, the less she felt like making the hour-long journey back alone.

“Now that you mention it, company sounds great.”

They spent much of the trip in silence, Rose allowing her mind to wander, comfortable in the knowledge that she had a trained military escort at her side. She knew it was silly. The man was nearing retirement, unarmed -- at least as far as she could tell -- and more than a touch out of shape. But as much as she didn’t mind the inconvenience of living without magic, Rose still felt vulnerable without a wand for protection. Plus, there was just something about Makaio, the way he scanned his surroundings, always attuned to what was going on around him. Rose knew the type. She’d grown up around lawmen, her father and uncle for a start. There was always something about their constant attentiveness that put her own mind at ease.

Rose hadn’t realized just how at ease she’d become until she heard Makaio clear his throat.

“Well, how ‘bout it?” he was asking, looking over at her expectantly.

The bungalow had just come into view, the surrounding forest quiet and still. Rose listened for the sound of distant hammering, but all was silent.

“Sorry,” she said, shaking her head as if to clear away her thoughts. “What were you saying?”

“I was asking if you were planning to come tonight?” When she just continued to stare blankly at him, he added, “To the Rapa Mau?”

Rapa Mau. Rose repeated the words in her head, waiting for that familiar spark of recognition, but her brain was coming up empty.

“Don’t tell me no one’s told you about the Rapa Mau.”

Rose frowned. “I’m afraid not.”

“Well, that’s a shame.”

“Why? What is it?”

“Only the most important festival of the year.”

Rose’s eyes widened in surprised. “A festival? You mean like a party?”

Makaio nodded. “The only kind worth having. So I expect to be seeing you there. And Viktor too.” Rose immediately opened her mouth, ready to offer up any number of flimsy excuses. She couldn’t go to a party. Parties were unpredicatble. Too many things could go wrong. But Makaio was already anticipating her reply, adding, “And I’ll have you know, it’s terrible luck not to accept an invitation to the Rapa Mau.”

Rose raised an eyebrow at him. “Is that so?”

Makaio cracked a rare smile. “I guess there’s only one way to find out.”

They were only steps from the bungalow now. Makaio had stopped moving, already preparing to turn around and head back toward town. But Rose put up a hand to stop him.

“Wait,” she said. “I’d like to ask you something.” Makaio stopped but made no reply, shoving his hands in his pockets. Rose took a deep breath. “I was just wondering if you knew of any visitors arriving on the island this morning.”

If Makaio was surprised by her question, he gave no indication. “Like who?”

Rose shrugged, trying to keep her tone casual. “I don’t know. Anyone. A young man, maybe.”

But Makaio was already shaking his head. “No, ma’am. Not today. There’s no way.”

“And you’re sure about that?”

“Positive. No incoming or outgoing ships allowed on the day of the Rapa Mau. It’s tradition.”

Rose felt her shoulders slump, deflating inward like a balloon that’s sprung a leak. She’d been wrong. It couldn’t possibly have been her brother she’d seen outside the shop window. Even he, talented as he is, couldn’t apparate this far out, and to a place he’d never been, no less.

But then who had she seen? Was it possible she’d imagined the whole thing?

“You alright there, Rose?” He was studying her again, as if her face might hold the clue to solving some long-forgotten mystery.

Rose nodded. “Of course.”

Makaio paused for a long moment, perhaps considering whether to press the issue. “Well, until tonight then, Rose. And don’t forget, the Rapa Mau starts at sundown. And make sure to come prepared.”

“Prepared for what?”

“For a night to remember.”

Rose returned home to find Viktor in the bath. She made quick work of putting away the few items she’d bought in town, most of them no worse for wear after their tumble down the street. She was just finishing up when Viktor emerged, his hair still wet, a towel tied around his waist.

He stepped up beside her, planting a soft kiss on her cheek. His lips lingered for a long moment, and Rose took the time to drink in the smell of his soap, which wafted from his damp skin like perfume.

“How was your trip?” he asked.

Rose hesitated, debating whether or not to tell him what she’d seen -- or thought she’d seen. She felt torn. Rose didn’t like keeping secrets from Viktor. They’d been through too much for that. On the other hand, in light of what Makaio had said about the ports being closed, it was seeming more and more like Rose had imagined the whole thing. In that case, what purpose would it serve to tell him? The news would only upset him, and though he never said as much to her, Rose knew he had to be questioning her sanity after everything that had happened.

In the end, she decided to keep quiet, glossing over the incident in the store and skipping straight to her conversation with Makaio, including his invitation to the night’s festivities.

“And you’re thinking about going?” he asked.

Rose shrugged. “Why not?”

It was a poor choice of words. There were at least a thousand reasons “why not,” but Viktor was kind enough not to stand there and list them all. He simply said, “There will be people there, you know.”

Rose smiled. “It’s a party, Viktor. I think that’s kind of the point.”

They departed just as the sky was starting to darken, blanketing the forest in shadows, the setting sun painting the clouds a fiery shade of pink. They were heading in the opposite direction of town, toward a part of the island where the beach was at its deepest, a square-kilometer of sand uninterrupted by ocean or trees. They were walking hand-in-hand, their pace unhurried, managing to stay just clear of the waves sliding up along the sand as the high tide rolled in.

“Remind me again vhy I agreed to this?”

Rose looked over at Viktor, reminded momentarily of when they’d first met. He’d been prone to bouts of sullenness back then, withdrawing into himself, disappearing behind a mask of stubborn defiance. He was better at suppressing that side of himself these days, for Rose’s sake, but old habits were hard to break.

“Because it might be fun,” she said. “Besides, the human contact will do us both some good.”

Viktor let out a low grumble of disapproval. “We don’t need other people for human contact.” He gave her arm a gentle tug, pulling her closer to him and capturing her lips in his.

“Nice try,” she said when he finally released her. “But it will take more than that to change my mind.”

They arrived to find the beach already flooded with people. Judging by the size of the crowd, the whole island had turned out for the festivities. Someone had lit a bonfire, a fifteen-foot high pile of driftwood and grass, which crackled and popped as it burned, waves of heat and smoking rising into the air around it.

There was a smaller fire off to the left -- a makeshift oven with standing metal racks, all piled high with plates of food. Rows of long tables had been set up in either side of the small fire, and they too were covered in food -- only about half of which Rose could identify. A large ring of chairs encircled the bonfire, the seats slowly filling up with new arrivals.

“Come on,” Viktor said, squeezing her hand. “If we’re going to do this, we’d better find someplace to sit.”

There were a lot of familiar faces – many of the same ones Rose had seen on her way into town. But they hardly gave her a second glance now, too engrossed in what was about to happen to give her more than a passing glance.

The two had barely managed to sit down before a large hand gripped their shoulders.

“You came!” said a familiar voice.

Rose looked up to find the face of Keoni Maile grinning down at her.

Keoni was a small man, at least by island standards. He was in late thirties, a local fisherman who, in his spare time, used his boat to cart in the occasional tourist looking for an “authentic” island experience. Like Makaio, he spoke perfect English, making him one of the few residents Rose could understand without resorting to sign language. That alone was enough to make her like the man.

He was looking over at a small group of children standing nervously off to one side. They were dressed in elaborate costumes, complete with headgear and face paint, which masked their tiny features.

“See that little one over there,” he said, pointing to a boy of about five or six standing near the back of the group, two fingers pulling at the corners of his mouth, his pink tongue protruding, much to the delight of his other children standing beside him. “That’s Noa, my sister’s son. And that one there.” This time he pointed to a girl standing near the front, arms folded tightly across her chest. “That’s Nani, my niece. She’s nine going on twenty-five.”

Rose looked at the girl’s bemused expression and knew exactly what he meant. She’d seen that same look on her cousin Lily’s face when the two had been about that age.

“They’ve both been chosen to lead the Nā Kamali,” Keoni added, the note of pride evident in his voice.

Rose just nodded, having no clue at all what he was talking about. But it was clear that whatever it was, Keoni thought it was a great honor for the children, and Rose didn’t want to say something stupid.

“Well, I hope we picked good seats,” she said.

Keoni gave Viktor a knowing look. “Best seats in the house, I think.”

He was grinning in a way that told Rose she wasn’t getting the whole story. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked looking over at Krum. But before he could give an answer, music began to play -- a loud banging of drums that echoed through the night, drowning out the noise around them and making further conversation impossible.

Keoni mouthed something Rose couldn’t hear before disappearing into the crowd.

The rest of the evening passed by in a blur. After all those months living in such isolation, it was an assault to the senses to be suddenly surrounded by so much light and sound. The ceremony itself was fascinating -- a nearly endless parade of song and dance, music and fire filling the air until it seemed to pulse with an electricity Rose usually associated with magic. And it was magical, in its own way. Even without knowing what it all meant, Rose knew she’d been witness to something very special.

By the time it was all over and the guests had moved on to the feasting portion of the evening, night had descended, the sky overhead dotted with stars that twinkled like fairy lights. It was late, well past supper time, but Rose wasn’t hungry. She’d enjoyed the festivities, but as the night wore on, she felt herself growing weary of the crowd, longing for some peace and quit.

As if reading her mind, Viktor leaned over and whispered in her ear. “Vhat do you say we get out of here?”

Rose nodded, allowing Viktor to take her by the hand and lead her away from the fire.

“Did you have fun?” he asked once they were alone, the noise of the crowd behind them barely audible over the crashing of the waves. They were walking arm-in-arm, her head resting against his shoulder.

Rose considered the question for a long moment. “I think so.”

“But you’re not sure?”

“Well, I’m glad we went. Isn’t that the same thing?”

“Not really, but I’ll take it.”

“What about you?” she asked. “Did you have a good time?”

“With you? Always.”

Rose gave his arm a playful slap. “I was being serious.”

“So was I.”

Rose said nothing, allowing the moment to pass without further comment. She’d never been good at sharing her feelings -- not even with Viktor. For Rose, some things just felt better left unsaid.

“So,” she said after a time. “Care to explain what all that business with Keoni was about?”

“What business?”

“That look he gave you. What was he on about?”

“It’s nothing,” Viktor said.

“It didn’t look like nothing.”

Viktor signed. “I made him a few chairs, as a favor. He knows I like to carve.”

“And?” Rose pressed. She knew there was more to the story, she just couldn’t figure out what.

“And he liked them. A lot. He saw something else he liked too, and he offered me a lot of money for it, but I told him it wasn’t for sale.”

“Why? What was it?”

Viktor sighed again, seeming to sense that the gig was up. Whatever he was hiding, it was clear Rose wasn’t going to stop until he coughed up the truth.

“I made a desk. For you.”

Rose stared at him for a long moment. “A desk? But why?”

The look he gave her then was one of pure exasperation. “Desks are for writing, Rose, and I think it’s high time you started writing again.”


Author’s Note: The island in this story is fictional, as are all the words and ceremonies associated with the culture. I thought it was safer to make something up than showing my ignorance of and/or offending an entire culture. And all my thanks to Jchrissy for very literally holding my hand though this whole chapter <3


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