Chapter 1: Prologue
The screams echoed around the village, and A’umea raised her patu, the war club carved of greenstone, over her head, letting out an ululating cry to rally her people. Blood streaked the blade of the club, and gore speckled her body. Spotting the Kohona chief, A’umea screamed and charged across the ground to meet him.
Someone hurled a short spear at her but she bashed it aside with her club. Splinters gouged the flesh of her upper arm, the sting forgotten as A’umea flung herself sideways. The weight of her patu strengthened her downward stroke, and she heard a screech as she broke her opponent’s thigh. Ignoring him, she drove forward to reach the chief.
He was armed with a short spear and his own patu, his tongue stuck out in aggression, his face contorted and his legs spread wide. A’umea curled her lips back, showing her teeth and sticking out her tongue. “Surrender, and some of your people will live as my slaves.”
A small patch of quiet surrounded them, as if the other warriors refused to intervene. A’umea knew her warriors would follow her lead, would keep the Kohona back to the best of their ability, so they wouldn’t attempt a rescue, or try to kill her. Brandishing her patu, A’umea leaped forward, screaming her delight as the club crashed into her opponent’s collarbone. Blood splattered out of the wound as he dropped his patu from nerveless fingers. A’umea slammed her patu onto her opponent’s skull, cracking it open. She sidestepped his body as it crashed to the ground, turning slowly to the battle.
Her voice raised in triumph, A’umea grabbed the hair knot at the top of what was left of her opponent’s head. She hauled him up, high enough that others could see. “I have beaten your chief! Surrender!” she roared. “Surrender!” A smile curled her mouth. Soon, they would feast on his flesh. Soon, A’umea promised herself, she and the Mariori would control this entire island and the Kohona would be no more.
With a scream, she turned back to the battle, to those still fighting, leaving the body behind. It would wait for her return.
X X X
Chapter 2: Seasick
“We should’ve just crossed the Eastern Desert.”
At least, that’s what Winry thought Ed was saying. He was hanging half-way off the bunk he’d been assigned on the Wavewalker, the ship that was taking them to Xing. Plagued by nausea almost since they’d walked up the gangplank, Ed had visibly lost weight since they’d left Aeruego.
The bad thing was, it had been his idea to take the trip. He’d come home from his journey to the West, bringing with him photographs and gifts and stories that seemed almost fantastic to Winry. And then he’d found the letter from Al, begging him to come to Xing. How could Ed turn down that kind of offer? And she’d been willing to let him go – Ed really did seem at his happiest when he was packing to go somewhere. Granny said it was because Ed was selfish, Winry tried to take the opinion that Ed was easily distracted. Besides, better he get it out of his system now, before they really got married, right? It was only at the last few hours before his departure that Ed had realized he was leaving her alone again, and had suddenly decided they should go to Xing as part of their honeymoon.
“We’re not even married!”
“We can get married. It’s not that hard, just jump the fire in front of witnesses, sign our names in the registry and,” Ed had shrugged and spread his hands. Really, it was as simple as that.
Winry had tried again. “What about guests?”
“Do we really need anyone but the old hag and Den?”
“What about Al?”
Folding her arms, Winry’d fixed him with a glare. “What about Miss Gracia and Elicia? Paninya? Mr. Garfiel?” She couldn’t think of any of Ed’s friends, though at least they shared the first two. Ed was kind of prickly for friends, after all. Pitt, he’d come, she knew; what about that commander? What was his name? Mustang? And some of the men Ed had served with. She’d mentioned them.
Ed had given her a curious stare. “I’m not a part of the military any more. I’m sure what I do with my life isn’t anything they need to be aware of.”
“You’re a military hero!”
He’d held up a hand. “I didn’t want my name in anything, remember?”
Well, no, she hadn’t, but mostly because while Ed did talk about the things that had happened while he was trying to get Al’s body back, he didn’t talk about the military aspect much at all, except to sometimes shudder all over when someone mentioned Briggs and mutter about crazy brigadier generals with swords. “Fine!” Winry had thrown up her hands. “You get to explain when people ask why they weren’t invited to the ceremony.”
“Fine!” Ed had glowered back, teeth bared. “But by then, we’ll be halfway to Xing, because I’m not waiting for three or four months for a wedding ceremony to be put together!”
In the end, Pinako’s relatively cooler head prevailed. They could sign their names in the registry, and go to Xing, and wait until they returned before having the actual celebration. “Try not to get pregnant,” she’d told them, much to Ed’s gape-mouthed horror and Winry’s blushes, “traveling while you’re pregnant is awful, and traveling that far with a baby is pretty much worse.”
So, after Winry had informed her customers she’d be gone for about six months, and they should alternately see Granny or Mr. Garfiel, Ed and she had signed their names, and packed, and headed south.
“South? Why not East?” Winry had asked.
Ed had waved his hand. “It’ll be nicer on the ocean. Besides, I haven’t sailed before! It’ll be a new experience!”
Winry knew he’d regretted it as soon as they’d left the harbor. Even though the sailors had said the weather was fine, Ed and his stomach didn’t take well to the open water. Winry had been sick the first day, but after that, she’d learned to keep her eyes on the horizon, and how to walk without succumbing to the pitch and the roll of the ship. Ed, on the other hand, was still miserable ten days out. The sailors pretty much avoided him, though Winry had heard them laughing behind his back. If Ed was feeling better, she was sure he’d have beaten the sailors up, and gotten them tossed overboard as part of their honeymoon, but so far, heaving and dry heaving seemed to be the best he could do.
Their room was so close, Winry almost couldn’t stand being in it. The smell of vomit seemed to cling to what little furnishings were hammered into the walls and floors, and Ed suffered loudly when it came to his stomach. The captain took particular note of Ed’s discomfort, offering mint tea and sugared ginger to combat the nausea, which seemed to help for a little while before Ed began puking again.
He looked horrible. His skin had a greenish cast to it, and he was pale all the time. His hair was brittle and tangled, despite his return to braiding it – well, Winry braided it for him, since Ed could barely manage to sit upright at this point. Dark circles ringed his eyes. He trembled, his strength all but gone. All in all, Winry almost thought he looked worse than he had after he and Al had tried to bring Auntie Trisha back to life. “You have to get over this, Ed,” she told him, mopping his brow with a damp cloth.
He panted, staring up at her with feverish eyes. “When I die, don’t let them throw me overboard,” he pleaded.
“You’re not going to die!” Though it seemed like he might, Winry wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of agreeing with him. “You’ll get your sea legs soon, and you’ll laugh about this.” Ed sighed, obviously not believing her. Winry offered him a sip of mint tea, refusing to let Ed wither away. “The captain said we’d be sighting land soon.”
“Really?” Winry felt bad at the way Ed brightened as he asked, “How soon?”
“I guess it depends on the wind.” Putting the cup to his mouth again, Winry encouraged him to drink, despite the face Ed made. “You’re dehydrated!” She pinched the skin on his forearm. It took a few seconds to lie flat again. “See?”
“I’ll be okay once we get to land.”
Winry wanted for a few seconds to let him believe they’d be landing, but, “The Captain didn’t say we’d be stopping, Ed, just that we’d see it.”
His dull eyes flicked from her to the porthole, and back again. “How much longer?”
“Another two weeks.” She said it as gently as she could, prepared – hoping – for a flash of Ed’s temper. Instead, he sagged into the bunk with a groan. Winry leaned in, seeing his lips moving. “Ed?”
“…Al’ll give you a portion of my military retirement, he’s good that way,” Ed was muttering, “he wouldn’t even need to see the register…”
“You’re not going to die!” Wanting to smack him, Winry instead slapped the hard mattress.
“So you say.” She caught a glimpse of Ed’s dark humor when he spoke. “Don’t get married for at least a year after my funeral, okay?”
“Gah! You’re not dying. I know it feels like it.” Winry thought Ed smelled like he was dying, too, deciding to keep that to herself. “But you’re going to be fine. Your stomach will settle down, and you need to drink this tea!” She nearly sloshed out what was left in the cup when something went ‘boom’ and the ship rolled suddenly.
“The hell?” Somehow, Ed perked up, halfway out of the bed, still pale and green, but at least curious. “Did you hear that?”
The sound came again, a low boom, followed by a high-pitched hissing noise. Winry could just make out men yelling; excited, frightened shouts. Ed caught her hand as she started to rise. “Don’t,” he hissed. “You’ll just be in the way up there.”
“I have to see, Ed!”
They glared at each other, a stalemate, then Ed curtly nodded. “But you’re staying behind me.” Giving her hand a shake, he climbed out of the bunk, pulling on a pair of wrinkled trousers. “I hope,” the words trailed off, and Ed looked grimmer than he had in a very long time. “Stay behind me,” he warned again, waiting until Winry agreed before opening the door.
They crept along the corridor, hearing more of the booms. Ed mumbled something under his breath the entire time. Winry couldn’t understand what he was saying but didn’t want to ask for clarification, either. Her heart seemed to be trying to beat its way out of her chest and she let out a yelp when the ship shuddered, the engines that had been making a steady, low thrum the entire time she’d been onboard abruptly cutting off.
“Shit, shit. That’s not good.” Ed turned back to her, taking hold of her shoulders. “Winry, I think we’re under attack.” But the oceans, they were peaceful, weren’t they? She wanted to ask that, but Ed was still talking. “- go to the engine room. See how badly damaged they are. Then meet me at the top of the stairs that lead out onto the deck. I’m going to see if there’s anything we can do up there.” He dragged her close, giving her a brief kiss that fortunately tasted like mint tea, then pushed her off. “Hurry!” Without even checking to see if she’d obeyed, Ed charged off, heading for the stairs that would take him to the deck.
Taking a deep breath, Winry composed herself before she started moving. She’d been given a tour of the ship and knew how to get to the engine room. It lay below the water level, with no windows to peer out at the fish swimming alongside. The engineer had told her it was to keep the mermaids from getting ideas, winking broadly as he’d said it. Winry ran down the stairs, hearing dismayed yells coming from down below. She could smell something, the salty, cool tang of ocean water, as she reached the right deck. Pushing on ahead, she looked into the engine room.
Water poured in through a hole in the wall of the ship. The men were trying desperately to cap it, but the force of the water pushed everything they tried to use out of the hole. Though the stream wasn’t that big, Winry could see what looked like a crack starting at that hole, moving up along the wall. The ship shook again, and made an almost human-sounding groan. “What can I do?” she asked one of the men, who stared at her for a few minutes, his expression blank.
“No, the engines! What’s wrong with them? Can we fix them?” Water rushed up over her shoes as the ship rolled. Winry grabbed the doorframe to keep from falling to the floor.
“If we could get the water under control.” His expression was grim. “Depends on who’s firing on us, miss. You’d better get somewhere safer. Passengers are usually kept for hostages.”
The word didn’t make any sense for a few seconds, then Winry stuttered, “H-hostages?” The engineer had already turned away, yelling at a couple of other men as they tried again to plug the leak. Realizing she’d get no more answers here, Winry started back up the stairs. The ship pitched again, nearly throwing her back down, but she grabbed the railing and held on. Regaining her balance, she ran up the stairs, hoping Ed was where he’d told her he’d be.
The sounds grew louder as she approached the upper deck. The shouts were clearer, as were the reports of gunfire. Wincing, Winry crept along the floor to the door that led out onto the deck, taking a quick peek through the window before actually making a decision to open the door. She could see another ship approaching fast. Bright flashes indicated gunfire, another loud boom followed by the Wavewalker rocking meant a cannon had been fired. Winry covered her ears, ducking back out of the way. Ed had to be out there in the middle of everything, she knew it, helping best he could. She bit her lip, remembering what the engineer had said. “I don’t want to be a hostage!” she whispered. Not again.
The ship rolled and Winry caught sight of some of the sailors sliding off the deck and into the ocean. Her knees went weak at the thought of Ed going overboard. He wouldn’t have a chance if he hit the water – his automail would drag him straight down. Pushing out the door, Winry scanned the deck for Ed. Heart stuttering when she didn’t see him, she let out a sigh of relief at finally spotting him running up the stairs to the wheel house. Chasing after him, Winry sidestepped sailors, ducking when she heard gunfire. Wood splintered in front of her face and she squeaked, dropping to her hands and knees. She crawled the rest of the way to the stairs, peering over the railing before climbing.
The pirate ship almost blotted out the sight of the sea, it was so close. The men onboard screamed at the Wavewalker, guns and knives held triumphantly over their heads. Winry swallowed hard and ran up the stairs, not looking back at the pirates.
The wheel house was small, and the first mate stood inside, Ed braced on the railing running around the interior wall. Winry darted into the tiny room, made even closer by her appearance. “Ed!”
He startled, grabbing for her and hauling her against his side. “What are you doing up here!”
“I couldn’t do anything in the engine room and you said to meet you at the stairs!” Now wasn’t the time to get into an argument. Shaking her head, Winry twined her fingers with Ed’s. “There’s a hole down below the waterline in the engine room.”
Eyes narrowing, Ed turned his attention to the first mate. The sailor raised his shoulders. “The pirates will be boarding. Don’t resist. They’ll take you as hostages.”
“Hostages?” Ed’s shout nearly blasted Winry’s eardrums. “The hell with that! Why don’t we fight?”
The door to the wheel house swung open again, Captain Delacourt appearing in the opening. “Because, Mr. Elric, we’re outgunned and outclassed.” He kept the door open. “I would appreciate it if you left my wheel house and returned to your cabin.”
Ed gritted his teeth. “I can help you, Captain.”
“Sorry, Mr. Elric. You may know how to fight on land, but it’s a whole other world out on the ocean. We’re taking on water. I’m surrendering so we don’t sink. Get in your cabin, now, and leave me to do my own job.” He looked ready to spit. “And put on a damned life preserver, both of you!” The captain opened a small cabinet and took out two vests, ignoring Ed’s protests to push them into his hands.
“Ed.” Winry tugged at his arm. He felt like stone, almost as stiff and heavy, and it was hard to get him out of the wheel house. “Ed! I don’t want to be a hostage, either!”
“So…we do something.” Ed stared at the pirate ship, so close to them Winry could make out individual faces. Handing her one of the vests, he shrugged his on, tying it and making sure Winry had fastened hers tight. He took her hand. “We have to - ”
Something slammed into the ship, making it shake and groan. Bullets rained over the ship. Winry saw a flash out of the corner of her eye, her cheek stinging. Ed turned to her, reaching up, his eyes opening wide. The Wavewalker shuddered again and Ed toppled to the wooden deck. Before Winry could grab him, the boat rolled, making Ed crash into the railing. “Ed! No!” she screamed as he pitched over the side, falling into the water below.
Chapter 3: Overboard
Total immersion is almost guaranteed to get someone’s attention. Edward’s eyes snapped open at the feeling of cool water slapping against his back, then surrounding him. Overhead, he could see debris, a flash like lightning, but it was all receding fast.
Automail was incredibly useful. Edward knew that from experience - if he hadn’t had automail, he’d never have been able to accomplish anything he’d started out to do once he and Al committed the sin of trying to bring their mother back to life. It gave him a leg and arm when he needed them, provided him support, and gave him a way to fight and protect those he loved.
Automail was also amazingly heavy.
Edward struggled against the weight of his leg, trying by sheer force of will to kick and scramble back to the surface of the water. While the life vest he wore tried to buoy him up, his leg kept pulling him down, down, into the darkness that lurked below the surface of the ocean. He remembered Winry’s scream, the sound cut short by him tipping overboard. I won’t make you cry! Twisting hard, Edward sought the release for his leg, knowing he had only a little bit of time before he sank too low to even swim back to the surface. Bubbles leaked from his mouth as he fought against the release, slick underwater, and hard to get his fingers up under it. Debris from the Wavewalker drifted around him, sinking so much more slowly than he was.
Edward gritted his teeth to keep from screaming out his frustration. His head pounded from lack of oxygen. Any second now, he’d open his mouth, try to breathe in, and that would be it. He tried again to pry the release up, desperate, scrabbling at his leg, when someone batted his hand aside. Edward stared at the sight of pale blond hair, knowing Winry had dove in after him. Her hands moved over his leg quickly, and the release popped, bubbles streaming suddenly upward as his leg sank even faster without his buoyancy to slow its descent. Winry grabbed his arm, pointing up, and Edward nodded grimly, crawling through the water against the pressure in his ears and in his chest. Beside him, Winry kicked steadily, though Edward knew she watched him. Even here, he could feel her concern, her worry, and he fought against the blackness threatening to envelope him and drag him to the depths.
He kept fighting the water, trying to reach the surface, but it seemed so far away. Air bubbles leaked out of his nose and mouth. Edward wanted to pant, wanted to sob. This wasn’t where he was going to die. Not beneath a stupid fucking ship, while pirates waged war above the surface. He kept crawling, kicking his legs, but everything was fading. He needed to breathe. A dark veil swept up out of the corners of his eyes, and Edward forced his body to turn to Winry, giving her a weary smile and saying, “I love you.”
And then he inhaled.
X X X
Winry broke the surface of the ocean with a loud gasp, hauling Ed out of the water by his hair. Turning him on his back, she opened his mouth and, pinching his nose closed, she sealed her mouth over his and blew. Turning her head, she pressed her ear against his open mouth, feeling the air rush back out of his body. “Come on, Ed!” Winry breathed into him twice more before he coughed, his hands waving weakly. Pressing her forehead against his shoulder, Winry closed her eyes, whispering, “Thank you, thank you.”
“Nng,” Ed groaned, and turned his head, vomiting up the rest of the ocean water.
“It’s okay, Ed.” Winry patted his back. “Just breathe.” She treaded water, pushing her hair out of her eyes. Turning in a slow circle, she gasped as a wave threw them higher, then dumped them down in a slough. “No,” she whispered.
The Wavewalker seemed like a dot, so far away. The pirate ship swam on the waves next to it.
Winry waved her arms over her head. “Hello!” she shouted. “Please, help us!” Rolling onto her back, she kicked and swung her arms, trying to attract someone’s attention with water spray. “Help!” she screamed. “We need help!”
The ships couldn’t see them, Winry knew it. Somehow, the water had carried them out here. She knew she wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to reach them, even if she left Ed behind. Wrapping her hand around his, she tugged him closer. “Ed,” she whispered. “Going by ocean was a really bad idea.”
He groaned softly. “Yeah…least ‘m not sick any more.”
“Ed,” Winry drew out his name, exasperated.
“Feel better?” Without waiting for her answer, Ed pressed his forehead against hers. “Don’t be scared. We’re together.”
Winry bit her lip to keep from screaming or sobbing, she wasn’t sure which. “Yeah,” she whispered as a wave carried them up its slope. “We’re together.” She was surprised he didn’t scold her for jumping off the ship, figuring it would come later, however long they had.
Ed pulled her closer. “I’m sorry, Winry. This isn’t how I thought our honeymoon would be.”
A soft laugh burst out of her at his apology. There was nothing she could say to that. The next wave slapped over them, nearly tearing them apart. Winry wasn’t going to let that happen. They were going to stay together. “Hold on, Ed.” She fought with the hem of her dress, finally managing to rip a strip free. Tying it on Ed’s wrist first, Winry had to use her teeth to finish off the knot on her wrist. “There. Now we won’t lose each other.”
Winry was glad Ed didn’t say anything about the irony of that statement.
X X X
The pirates had taken almost everything of value aboard the ship, leaving only enough food, water and fuel for the Wavewalker on to the nearest port. It would take almost a week to arrive there, in fair weather. Storms were less likely this time of year, but Captain Delacourt wanted to take no chances. His men had plugged the hole and patched it with tar as best they could. The engines could be nursed and coddled, and would take them to port. Anything not absolutely necessary for the function of the ship and its crew would be scuttled, so the Wavewalker would ride light on the water.
“What about the Elrics, sir?” his first mate ventured to ask.
Captain Delacourt shook his head. The pirates hadn’t found them on board. No one had seen them since he’d ordered them below. While hiding places were abundant on a ship, they were not so plentiful two adults could have hidden out for eight hours while the ship was searched, port to aft, first by pirates and then by his own crew.
Men had gone overboard in the fight. Captain Delacourt had two missing crew members. Close questioning, after the Wavewalker had been made shipshape again, revealed one of his men saw the girl vaulting over the railing.
“Vaulting?” Captain Delacourt frowned at that, rubbing his chin. “Are you sure? She leaped the railing to go into the water?”
“That’s what it looked like, sir.” But the man scowled, as if maybe he remembered it differently. “I didn’t see the man.” A slight pause. “Haven’t seen him since he came up the plank.”
“She must have fallen overboard, and her husband gone in after her.” As soon as he said it, Captain Delacourt wondered if he wasn’t doing Mrs. Elric a disservice. She had been a pleasant, albeit curious, passenger. It wasn’t her fault her husband had no sea legs. “If they were wearing their life preservers, we should be able to spot them in the water.”
But there wasn’t sign of either of them; no bodies, no flotation devices. Nothing to show they’d even been on board except for the luggage in their cabin. Gunfire had been exchanged, and there was blood on the deck of the Wavewalker. The waves had been rough and he’d turned the ship into them to face off against the pirates. If Mrs. Elric had taken a bullet, it was possible her husband jumped in after her, and they both were swept away from the ship in the rough water.
“We’ll follow the current,” Delacort said, “and, with luck, we’ll find the Elrics.” Making his decision, he waved at the first mate. “Mr. Jamison, plot the course.”
Delacort didn’t hold out much hope, but he had to try. The Elrics might still be alive, and if they were, he’d do his best to find them.
X X X
Time on the ocean passed strangely. There were no sounds except those made by the water and a faint whistling of the wind. At dawn, the sky lightened to the east; a strange, sheer wash of color where there had only been stars before. Winry remembered watching the dawn from the prow of the Wavewalker. It was different from the surface of the water, the sun suddenly appearing, like a child peeking above the counter ledge, then seeming to leap abruptly into the sky. Clouds sometimes skittered overhead; thin mists like batting, drifting by. The sky remained a clear blue for the most part, with the sun tracking its way through it, and disappearing off into the west with almost as much fanfare as when it appeared in the east.
The night sky was amazing, and Winry stared up at it wistfully. How many stars she saw, she’d never know, but it seemed like billions of them sprinkled across the blackness of space. It was both easier and harder at night. The heat of the sun wasn’t there to burn their skin, but Winry feared falling asleep and losing Ed, despite the strip of fabric binding them together. Her throat ached for water, though her stomach seemed resigned after roaring through part of the second day that no food was coming.
Ed fell into unconsciousness some time during the first day, his head sagging forward, and mouth dangling open. If not for the soft wheeze of his breath, Winry might’ve thought he’d slipped away. A part of her wondered if that wouldn’t be better. She’d found a crease along his temple, like a burn mark, and had realized he hadn’t just lost his balance on board the ship, but that a bullet had nearly taken him from her. Would it be easier, she wondered, if he’d gone down on the deck of the boat?
As the current dragged them along, Winry talked to herself, to Ed, saying things she’d never told him, going over things they’d done as children, telling him how happy he’d made her, even though they had spent so little time together, comparatively. She talked until she was hoarse, and then carried on the conversation inside her head, pressing her cheek against Ed’s forehead as if her thoughts could seep between their skin.
On the third day, Ed jerked, and the sensation of it woke her from a strange drowse. Winry realized she’d let go of him sometime during the night, and pulled him close again. “Ed?” she croaked.
His eyes were open, though feverish, and his lips cracked as they moved. Blood trickled in a tiny rivulet down his chin from his mouth. Winry smoothed back his bangs. “Ed, it’s all right, we’re together.” Her eyes burned but were dry when she blinked.
“Mom?” The word came out, low and pitiful. “…don’ feel good.”
Swallowing at the lump in her throat, Winry leaned her forehead against his. “I know, Ed. I’m sorry.” Her own voice sounded creaky and strange to her ears.
“…so thirsty,” he moaned.
“I know. We don’t have any water to drink.” Winry realized she’d bit her lip when she tasted blood. “Shh, it’s okay. I know you don’t feel good. But it’ll be over, soon.” Speaking those words aloud made her want to scream, but what was the use? “Just go back to sleep, Ed. I love you. I’ll take care of you.”
Some of the fever seemed to clear at that and his glazed eyes met hers. Ed held her gaze, and his trembling hand rose out of the water to cup her cheek. “Winry.”
She smiled, her heart aching, nestling into that caress. “It’ll be okay, Ed.”
Shaking his head, Ed tugged her close, cupping the back of her neck. He kissed her, and Winry tasted salt and copper, licking her lips afterward with her dry tongue. “I’m so sorry, Winry,” he murmured, and hugged her as tight as he could with the life preservers between them. When his arms slackened, falling back into the water, Winry choked back a sob. She couldn’t waste the water crying.
“I love you, Ed.”
X X X
Chapter 4: Currents
The sun leaped into the sky, and Ihe raised his paddle out of the water, resting it crosswise over the canoe. Talileila knelt in the prow of the canoe, and, though her back was to him, Ihe knew her eyes were closed. Her paddle also lay across the canoe, water dripping off the blade. She raised her hands into the air, fingers and thumb pressed tight together. Reaching into the small basket nestled in front of her, she withdrew flower pollen, sprinkling it on the waves. Her voice raised in the chant to greet the dawn. Ihe joined in on the repetitive vocalizations, then dropped out again as Talileila continued the chant. They both shouted, “Ho!” at the end of the chant, and clapped their hands to release the energy, the namiani, back into the sky.
“It is going to be a good day,” Talileila said, looking over her shoulder at Ihe. Her slightly crooked teeth flashed a smile at him.
His return smile was tentative. “Talileila, can you tell me how long it will be before we find whatever Ahonihoni sent you out to find?” The Kohona were wanderers, taking their canoes out onto the ocean and traveling for days. Ihe wasn’t afraid of being out on the open water. He’d traveled farther than this before with the tribe’s fishermen, but he’d always had an astronomer who knew where they were going. Talileila was not an astronomer, but a waihini, a wise woman. She knew the ways of the gods, and could foretell events. That didn’t mean she’d be able to guide them back home. Ihe had trusted her enough to let her talk him into bringing her out here, but Talileila was very good about getting her way. It might have something to do with her personal namiani, or the gods had bestowed on her an inordinate amount of luck, or a tongue of honey.
“I cannot predict time, Ihe.” Talileila had a raspy voice when she wasn’t chanting. It was almost as if she didn’t put effort into speaking when she wasn’t talking to the gods. Ihe knew that wasn’t quite true. Obviously, Talileila could talk nearly anyone into anything, since they were three days’ travel from home. “I do not know what we were sent to find.”
Ihe hoped it was something that would make up for him traveling out here. The canoes belonged to all the Kohona, except the war canoes. Women weren’t allowed any contact with even the wood used to create the war canoes, couldn’t bring food to the master carvers, but Ihe wouldn’t have even considered taking a war canoe. This one, with its stabilizing bar riding on the waves to his left, was equally good for long-distance travel on the ocean, and lightweight enough two people were enough propel it through the water. It had been tested and tried against the ocean, and the prow, carved with the images of the birth of the First Kohona, Tua and Leilei, carried the namiani necessary to keep them safe. Neither he nor Talileila would be scolded for taking the canoe, but they needed to return with something worthwhile to have made the journey, especially when the waihini was needed to offer her prayers to the tribal elders daily.
Talileila took a deep breath, and Ihe imagined her closing her eyes, letting their ancestors speak through her. “I think today we will see what we were sent to find.” She turned to give him a smile over her shoulder. “And I think we should try to fish. Our stores are getting low.”
His smile was one of relief, and he reached for the fishing line wrapped in a coil and tied to the crosspiece yoke in front of him. Taking the greenstone hook pendant from around his neck, Ihe burnished it against his calloused thumbs. The carving represented one of his personal ancestors, his great-grandfather, and his father had given him the hook when he had become a man. The carving showed Abuabu’s profile, his extended tongue forming the barbed hook used to capture the fish. He knew Talileila’s hook represented one of her ancestors. It was a way of preserving the namiana of those who had walked the rainbow, by carving their likenesses in objects like fishhooks, or canoe prows, or the struts of the houses and temples.
Tying the hook to the end of the line, Ihe tested the weight. The bait would be bits of hair and feathers, tied back on their home island, Ialili. Ihe tugged on the line before wrapping the bait on the hook and tying it into place. In the front of the canoe, Talileila rose to her feet, shifting her weight to catch her balance. She threw her own line out. Ihe licked his lips, glancing down. His right foot, the way it twisted in with the toes pointing at his other ankle, made it difficult to stand, not just in the canoe, but on land, as well. He frowned just a bit, then shook his head. One of them needed to remain sitting while the other stood, to help balance the canoe. The outrigger float couldn’t do all of it.
Turning his attention back to his line, Ihe jerked on it, trying to imitate the swimming motion of a disabled creature, something that would attract the attention of a fish. The thought he might hook something too big for two people to bring into the canoe crossed his mind, but Ihe dismissed it.
Talileila caught the first fish, pulling it onto the boat. Grasping the tail of the fish, she slapped its head against the side of the canoe, killing the fish before dropping it into the boat. They wouldn’t skin or gut the fish until they were ready to move again. Ihe didn’t think a shark would be able to swamp the canoe, but he didn’t want to take any chances. He hooked the next fish, dragging it on board, pleased at the length of it, nearly as long as his arm. The fish flopped and flailed before Ihe killed it, and he dumped it into the bottom of the canoe. “That’s enough,” Talileila said, and her smile warmed him. Ihe knew he couldn’t run, but on the water, he was equal to other men. “Help me clean these, and then we’ll move on.”
Ihe twisted his hook free, untying it from the line and back to the fiber necklace. He rinsed it clean and buffed it again before draping it around his neck, murmuring a soft thank you to his great-grandfather for helping him catch the fish. It didn’t take long for them to clean and gut the fish, tossing the offal back into the water, keeping the heart and liver for eating later. After rinsing the bodies of the fish in the water. Talileila cut strips free from the ribs, laying them over the yoke to dry. The heads and skins were discarded into the water, and Ihe wondered what might wind up eating them. After rinsing his hands and knife, Ihe picked up his paddle. The shaft was worn, but the carvings were still evident, and helped Ihe keep his grip, even when the paddle was wet. “Where should we go?”
Talileila raised her head, studying the sky. “That way.” She pointed, and Ihe stuck the blade of the paddle into the water, pushing it out and away from the stern, turning the bow of the canoe in the direction Talileila indicated. Digging the blade into the water, he began guiding the canoe across the rolling waves.
As Talileila stroked her paddle through the water, she sang. Ihe fell into paddling in time to the rhythm of her words, finding her chorus and singing along with her. Talileila often improvised songs, and she did so now, a four beat chant about how beautiful the day was, and how thankful she was their ancestors helped them catch the fish.
“Look!” Talileila interrupted her song and Ihe stretched his neck to see what she was pointing at. It took a few seconds for him to see the blow of a dolphin. A smile stretched his mouth and Ihe took a deep breath, the muscles across his chest and shoulders loosening. He hadn’t even realized they were stiff until he saw the dolphins. The ancestors must have sent them, he thought, to let them know they were going in the right direction. Ihe turned the canoe toward the dolphins, paddling them closer to the big fish. Not fish; they didn’t have gills, they breathed the air, like the Kohona did. They were ancestors of some of the hanu, the extended family of his people.
“Ihe, they’re circling something.” Shading her eyes, Talileila took hold of the prow head, leaning out in an attempt to see what the dolphins were guarding. The outrigger float kept the canoe steady but Ihe leaned in the other direction anyway to balance it.
He couldn’t see anything, not sitting in the stern of the canoe and leaning the wrong direction. Ihe bit back his impatience but it didn’t stop his good foot from bouncing.
Turning back to him, a confused frown making her tattooed lips twist, Talileila gestured for Ihe to keep paddling. “I see them,” she said. “They’re mohaki.”
Ihe twisted, trying to catch a glimpse without tipping the canoe. “Mohaki?” He’d never seen one before, and Talileila meant there had to be more than one. He’d heard of them from the warriors and traders, but the mohaki had never come to their island. It was too small, too far off the trade routes for their ships.
“Paddle, Ihe!” Talileila reminded him, and he dipped his oar in the water again. The dolphins whistled and clacked, the whooshing sound of their breathing surrounding them, the first noise that wasn’t their voices and the slap of waves against their canoe for the past two days. The canoe skimmed over the waves, and Ihe finally saw what Talileila had spied – a flash of gold, like the sun – and then they were almost on top of the heads, floating in water like breadfruit. Talileila bent over the side of the canoe, grabbing hold of the arm of one of the mohaki and pulling. Ihe helped her, taking a leg, and they both hauled first one, then the other of the strangers to safety.
They lay in the bottom of the canoe. Their faces and arms were dark red, the rest of them pale and sodden. Their clothes clung to their bodies, bleached by sun and salt. Ihe stared at how strange they were, slowly dragging his eyes from them up to Talileila. “Are they alive?”
She nodded, pulling the stopper out of a water cask. Cautiously, she lifted the head of the woman, and Ihe marveled at her face. She looked old enough to be married, to be considered a woman, but she didn’t have any tattoos. Her tangled hair reached nearly to her backside, and the color was the shade of the sun in the early morning. Talileila poured a little water in her open mouth, and the woman flinched and coughed, her wrinkled hand rising and clutching at the cask. Her throat moved as she swallowed, and she gasped, “Ed.”
X X X
Grey clouds marched in thick lines across the sky, as if guarding the Imperial Palace from the light of the sun. Alphonse shot a glare at the window, wishing it was brighter outside. It made looking at some of the old scrolls in the imperial library easier to read. Getting up, he folded his arms, peering through the window. A cool breeze trickled around the panes, and he shivered, thinking he needed to let the librarian know. Moisture could damage the scrolls just as badly as fire, if not as quickly.
Taking a deep breath, Alphonse turned toward the scroll he’d unrolled earlier. Weighed at the corners with tiny bronzes, the scroll was an amazing piece of art, and an incredible description of alkahestry, too. Gilt and silver glittered on the vellum, and colored inks swirled and spun around the page. Five-toed dragons carried luminescent pearls, their whiskers blowing behind them; a phoenix bloomed in the midst of a golden fire. Calligraphy danced in delicate arcs and whorls and Alphonse was now able to pick out certain words from those brush strokes. “‘The Golden Scholar,’” he read aloud, his finger skimming just above the line of symbols, “‘from the West’…”
The sound of his name brought him out of his translations, though Alphonse had to blink a couple of times to actually realize someone was talking to him. “Yes?” Straightening, he heard his neck crackle and pop, and made a mental note that he needed to do some exercises later today, or he’d be stiff tomorrow. “What is it, Ran Fan?”
Her mask hid all expression on her face, but the way she held herself let Alphonse know something was going on. There was a tension in her stance, one he hadn’t seen in a while. “The Emperor has asked me to bring you to him.”
“All right, just let me roll up this scroll.” Alphonse reached for it, but Ran Fan voiced a wordless protest. “Is it that urgent?”
“Someone will take care of the scroll, Alphonse,” Ran Fan said. She shifted her weight from one foot to another. In someone else, that would be nothing, a normal movement of the body, but to see Ran Fan do it let Alphonse know something was up.
Blowing out a gust of air, Alphonse left the scroll and followed the emperor’s chosen guard. She led him through the corridors of dark wood, warmed by silk tapestries, woven in amazingly intricate designs, almost like paintings. Statues of dragons were caught mid-sweep, carved of jade, cast or covered in precious metals, their eyes painted with brilliant enamels so they seemed to stare at the people passing them by. Various holy men and women were represented on tapestries and as sculptures as well, wearing stately robes and crowned sometimes with scholar’s hats, or crests that resembled the sun resting in their elaborately dressed hair. One sculpture in particular always creeped Alphonse out a little; an image that bore his father’s face, his hand raised in some beatific gesture. “Ed can’t see that one,” he muttered to himself, thinking his brother would probably push it over out of sheer bitchiness.
Ran Fan glanced over her shoulder and Alphonse caught a liquid glint from her eyes behind the mask, though he couldn’t read the glance. He swallowed, folding his arms around himself at a sudden chill, and wondered where Ling might be hiding out. It was too late in the day for him to be holding court. Opening a door, Ran Fan led him through a walkway next to the garden. A fine mist fell, creating a haze over the plants. Alphonse shrugged his long jacket up over his shoulders, thinking a ponytail would help protect the back of his neck, but he hated the feel of hair on his shoulders, no matter that long hair was considered part of the style of the Emperor’s court. Ran Fan opened another door, and gestured Alphonse through it.
The comparative warmth in the narrow hall felt good even though they hadn’t been outside very long. Alphonse found himself contemplating hot tea and a fire rather than whatever Ling wanted, and nearly ran over Ran Fan when she stopped outside a screen door. “Sorry,” he mumbled, chafing his hands together as goose pimples rose on his arms. Maybe it wasn’t so warm inside the palace, after all.
Ran Fan cleared her throat and cocked her head slightly. Alphonse caught the soft, “Come,” and Ran Fan slid the screen aside. She stood next to the opening, waving Alphonse through. He stepped through the doorway, blinking a couple of times.
The warmth in the room was almost like a caress, and the tension drained out of Alphonse’s shoulders at that touch. He sighed, half-closing his eyes, letting the warm air swirl around him. The sweet scent of sandalwood perfumed the air, and a fire crackled in a small, circular fireplace in the center of the room. Cushions and rugs littered the floor, providing a squishy surface to walk on. Alphonse removed his sandals at the doorway, hearing Ran Fan close the screen behind him. It took a couple of blinks before Alphonse saw Ling, cross-legged on one of the cushions, his hands tucked into the sleeves of his cloak.
His friend’s face was drawn and furrowed, and his skin seemed rough. His narrowed eyes focused on Alphonse. “Come sit with me,” he said. Reaching to the rim around the fireplace, Ling took down a small teapot, pouring two cups of the brew. The steam billowed up from the cups, adding another spicy scent to the already perfumed air.
Alphonse knelt next to Ling, taking a cushion of his own. The silk squeaked softly as he arranged himself in a comfortable position. “Ling, what is it?”
He picked up one of the tiny cups, and Alphonse accepted it, missing the mugs back home. There was barely a swallow in this cup. Sipping tea was an art, one he wasn’t sure he’d ever manage to achieve. He might not be the glutton Edward was, but food and drink still fascinated him, and Alphonse had to work hard to keep the weight off his body.
“Al,” Ling sighed through his nose, picking up his own cup, “a message came to me today. It took some time to get to me; I should have been notified earlier. But the message concerns Ed.”
“Brother?” Alphonse heard the strange lilt in his own voice, and tension thrummed through his spine. “What’s happened, Ling?”
“Ed and Winry took a ship to come to Xing,” Ling said softly. “It seems they went overboard at some point during a pirate attack.”
The scent of sandalwood curled through his brain, and Alphonse wondered at the sudden flash of heat on his leg. “What?”
“I do not know any more than that, Al.” Ling clasped Alphonse’s shoulder. “I have asked my messengers to contact the ship for more information.” He licked his lips. “Al, they’ve been missing for a few days.” His larynx bobbed. “There…we have to…be prepared. For the worst.”
Alphonse heard the words, though they didn’t make any sense. Overboard. Over. Board. They went overboard during a pirate attack. A moan reverberated through the room, and Alphonse fell into the cushions, unable to purge his mind of the idea of Edward getting pulled down by his automail leg.
X X X
Chapter 5: Adrift
The first thing that came to Edward was warmth, no, actually, heat. Sweat pooled above his upper lip and slid down his face, making his hair stick to his skin. A puddle formed under his back; he could feel the prickly damp of it against his flesh. He shivered, a few drops flying off his face. Edward groaned, stretching his legs. Something twinged in his left leg, making him wince. Pain stabbed repeatedly into his joints, and when he exhaled, his lungs rattled. “Nnn…fuck.” How’d he gotten sick? Winry was gonna kill him.
Edward tasted salt. His lips were chapped and cracked, and he got a hint of blood when he licked them. “Hnnng…” He’d swear that Winry’d stuck a metal burr down inside his throat and set the grinder on high. When he tried to swallow, his tonsils seemed to scrape against one another. “Shit.” Rolling to his side, Edward blinked a few times. Shaking his head was a bad idea; the floor rolled under him. A bead of sweat rolled down a strand of his hair, hanging there, finally dripping onto the floor. Edward groaned as he tried to push himself up into a sitting position. Everything in him ached, like he’d gone ten rounds with both Alphonse and Izumi, then followed it up a battle with Envy and Armstrong. His hand trembled as he wiped his face, and he shook the sweat off of it.
He was naked. Edward blinked at the sight of his own flesh, staring blankly at the space where automail usually completed the stump of his left leg. His port looked darker than normal, and Edward realized there were rust pits in the metal. “Winry’s gonna be so pissed.”
His attention expanded beyond his body as Edward realized he’d been resting on a woven mat, with a bedding of moss beneath it. The blanket that had slid off him was made of some fabric Edward didn’t recognize immediately. Raising his head, he wiped his eyes again. A fire burned in a pit nearby, the pit made of carved stone, smoke trickling out of a hole in what looked like a woven reed roof overhead. Edward blinked a couple of times, focusing on a pole, elaborately carved into the shape of a naked man, his eyes made of some sort of shiny material, his tongue stuck out, his penis dangling between his bowed legs. The end of the building had a wall, and Edward could just make out additional carving on it, and the frame of the doorway. The distance to the doorway seemed to change the longer he looked at it, and Edward closed his eyes. “Hello?” he called, remembering to not shake his head to try to clear it.
There was a faint rustle, and Edward thought a little goblin poked its head through the doorway. He caught a flash of movement, then some sort of liquidy vocalizations beyond the wall. A whiny groan escaped him as gravity began exerting its influence, dragging him back to the floor. Edward shuddered, finding the blanket and pulling it back over his body. His eyelids too heavy to stay open, he let them close again.
Her voice sounded blurry, but Edward would’ve known it anywhere. He opened his eyes, wondering how long it had been since he’d last opened them. “Winry?” She appeared before him, rippling like she was underwater. He shivered, blinking hard to clear his vision, not wanting to think about water deep enough to cover Winry.
“I’m glad you’re awake.” Her icy hand touched his cheek, and she frowned. “You’re burning up, Ed.”
“Mm.” Edward licked his lips. “Thirsty.”
“I know.” Winry helped him sit up, supporting him. Edward wished he could curl against her. She felt so nice and cool. “Here.” She offered him a cup of something, and Edward sniffed it. Milk would make him hurl, and Winry sometimes did try to trick him. It smelled like water, though, and something bitter. “It’s for the fever,” Winry said, as if she could read his mind. “It’ll help you feel better.”
Edward accepted the drink, slurping it down. It tasted better than it smelled, and slid down his throat past the pain. “Ohh,” he moaned when he drained the cup, letting his head rest against Winry’s shoulder. “That was good.”
“Shh…I can see your throat’s swollen. You don’t have to talk.” She stroked his hair, and Edward leaned into the petting. “I don’t know where we are, Ed. I woke up in this building with you, a day ago. The people seem to be nice, but I don’t understand their language, and they don’t seem to understand me.”
“Boat?” Edward sighed into her neck. She smelled so good, like…he wasn’t sure what. But her hand in his hair, and the way she smelled, and the sound of her voice, they combined to make all the weird knots he hadn’t even realized he’d tangled himself in loosen.
Winry sighed, leaning her cheek against the top of his head. “I don’t know, Ed. When we went over, we were swept away from the Wavewalker pretty quickly. And then we were in the water for a few days. I don’t remember who found us, or them bringing us here.”
Her voice was getting blurry again, but Edward didn’t want her to stop talking. “We’re alive.”
“Mm! And we’ll figure out a way to get home.” Edward could hear the smile in Winry’s voice. “Al and Granny will make sure everyone’s looking for us. Ling, too.” Her hand moved down to his shoulder, giving him a hug. “He’s got the money to look for us, right?”
“Mmhm.” Edward closed his eyes, drifting away on the waves of her words.
X X X
She turned at the sound of her name, pushing her hair back behind her ear. Talileila smiled at the boy as he ran up to her. “What is it, Pogoso?”
He waved at her for a few seconds, bending over, whooping as he caught his breath. “The stranger woke up!”
Talileila blinked a couple of times, straightening. She looked back toward the village, then off toward the hills she’d been making her way to, before making up her mind. “Did someone tell the woman?”
“Yes! She went in with bitterroot water.” Pogoso was in training with Keke, the Kohona’s healer, and would know what had been offered to the strangers.
“Thank you for letting me know, Pogoso.” Talileila ruffled his hair, grinning back at him. He was missing one of his teeth in the front, but it didn’t affect his ability to provide for the tribe. Not like Ihe, with his foot that bent wrong, turning in toward the other ankle, making it impossible for him to walk normally, let alone hunt, or fight.
“What is it, Talileila?”
And Pogoso studied people, another reason he’d be a good healer. His eyes were sometimes too sharp, like now. Talileila petted his hair again. “I was thinking about the strangers.”
Puffing out his chest, Pogoso said, “Maike’a said they were a sign. The ancestors sent you to them, because Maike’a made his offering.”
Maike’a would say that, she knew. The Kohona’s leader would do anything to keep his people thinking that he could keep them safe. His strength was a source of pride, and a leader who couldn’t protect his people would be a detriment to the Kohona. “Thank you for letting me know, Pogoso.” Turning on the path, she started back toward the village at a jog. If the mohaki man was awake, maybe he spoke a language they knew.
“Hey, wait for me!” Pogoso shouted, and raced after her.
They ran together to the village. Pogoso was blowing hard by the time they’d reached the first dike protecting the village. The bridge was a tree trunk, and they both trotted across it as easily as if it was a path in the woods. The next dike was deeper, with spikes at the bottom of it to catch and hold any invader who might try to climb down into it. Catching his breath, Pogoso ran over the wooden bridge, his feet drumming a tattoo on the planks. Talileila followed a little more slowly, pausing to thank their ancestors for digging the dikes that protected the Kohona. Her thanks finished, she continued on to the healing house, built on the outskirts of the village to keep infection from spreading.
The pale-haired mohaki woman sat outside the healing house, frowning at the herbs Keke set out in front of her. Keke had a small fire going, with a little pot on top of it. Steam trailed up out of the mouth of the pot, and Talileila caught a whiff of bitterroot. Pogoso dropped cross-legged on the mat next to Keke, looking up at the mohaki woman with wide eyes. She didn’t seem to notice his attentive gaze, her own focused on Keke as she pounded the root into a paste and dumping it into the pot. Keke cut off a little more of the root, pushing it and the mortar and pestle at the woman, who accepted it, beginning to grind the root.
Talileila squatted next to Keke. “The mohaki man is awake?”
“He woke up for a little bit, and drank some bitterroot water. He is still feverish and sweating.” Keke watched the woman. “She takes care of him.”
“They were tied together,” Talileila said.
Keke pushed lightly at Pogoso’s shoulder. “Go get some mulberries for her to eat.”
He scrambled to his feet and jogged off. The mohaki woman glanced at him, then looked back down at the mass of root. She showed it to Keke, who gestured, and the woman scraped it into the pot. She picked up a spoon and stirred the steaming liquid, though she kept her eyes on Keke and Talileila. “I’m Winry,” she said. “The man inside there, he’s my husband, Ed. Thank you for rescuing us.”
“I think some of those words are her name,” Keke said.
Talileila put her hand on her chest. “Talileila.” She touched Keke’s shoulder. “Keke.”
The pale woman smiled, though the expression didn’t warm her face. “Winry!” She pointed at the building. “Ed.”
“Do you think she means him or the healing house?” Keke leaned closer to ask asked.
Talileila took in Winry’s intent expression. “Him.”
X X X
Ling sat crosslegged on a cushion, his hands tucked into the sleeves of his robes. Impassive, he stared at his counselors, all of whom were arguing about what he should do.
“He is not an ambassador to Xing!” Liu Wen argued, sweeping her pale hand across her chest. “The Emperor should not be involved in his return.”
“He is brother to Alphonse Elric,” Mei said, pounding her fist on the table.
“Alphonse Elric is no ambassador, either,” Liu Wen said with a sniff. “He is a friend of his Imperial Excellence, and yours.”
“As is his brother!” Mei glared at the woman, her cheeks turning rosy in her anger.
Liu Wen smoothed the front of her robes, her rice-powdered face turning to Mei. Her own expression was unreadable, the rouges and paints decorating her cheeks, eyes and mouth making her face almost as much of a mask as the lacquered face shield Ran Fan wore. “Your affection for the Amestrian has not gone unnoticed, Princess Mei. Whether that makes it feasible for Xing to become involved in any rescue attempt of another Amestrian is another matter.”
Ling leaned his elbow on the low table, cupping his chin in his hand. “If I may interject, Madame?” Liu Wen inclined her head, the sweep of her hand more graceful than any gesture Ling might have offered. He smiled at her anyway. For some reason, she seemed to find this to be disconcerting, and Ling thought it an excellent idea to keep her off-balance. “While what you have said is true, there is another thing which you may not have considered: Edward Elric once saved my life.” He frowned, thinking. “Actually, it may have been more than once. I do not remember exactly how many times he saved my life! Once, twice, maybe three times!”
Mei needed to learn to hide her emotions better. Ling thought it would be an excellent thing if someone taught her poker. The Amestrian game of chance could be a fine manner of instructing Mei, and Alphonse ought to be able to teach her. However, that would need to wait for the time being, until more information could be had regarding Ed and Winry. “I believe, as Alphonse Elric’s brother has gone missing, Alphonse Elric should be the one to search for them. And, as Edward Elric saved my life numerous times when I was in his country of Amestris, I will fund Alphonse Elric’s trip. Also,” he said, before any voices could be raised, “I will also be sending someone with him.” Yes, Mei’s emotions were all too visible. Even for a young maiden princess, her intents were all too obvious. “This meeting is concluded.” Ling rose to his feet, Ran Fan taking her place behind him as he left the room.
“Are you sending Mei with Alphonse?” Ran Fan didn’t waste any time asking the question.
Ling didn’t answer her as he opened the door to his personal study. “Fetch Al, please,” he said. “And,” he pouted a bit. “I would like some tea! Bring Al to the kitchen, Ran Fan.”
Her eyes narrowed sharply, but Ran Fan said, “Yes, my lord.” She disappeared, her sash flowing behind her.
Ling tore his eyes off her backside and headed off to the kitchen. The chefs and cooks had grown accustomed to him popping into their domain and cadging foods from them, both for himself and whomever he might have in tow. A table had been set aside just off the kitchen for the emperor, which he insisted be used by anyone needing a break, and that no one had to leave the table when he came to visit. He slithered past Xeung, ducked a steaming pan being carried by Shichen, and made it to the stove to start a pot of water boiling. “I am making tea!” he called. “Who would like some?” A chorus of cries answered him and Ling grinned. He grabbed the largest teapot off the shelf, and his favorite tea, sprinkling leaves into the bowl while he waited for the pearl-like bubbles to rise from the bottom of the pan, an indication the water was hot enough for this particular tea. Pouring the water into the teapot, Ling capped it off and set it on the table. “My friend, Al, will be joining me,” he said. “And Ran Fan.”
“Would you like something to eat while you’re meeting with them, your eminence?” Xeung asked, his booming voice reminding Ling of the large Amestrian man who had fought and died alongside Fuu.
“I would never turn down something from your capable and creative hands, Xeung!” Ling said, as he set the teapot on the table, and fetched cups – mismatched, and all the more fun for it, as far as he was concerned – for everyone. Finally, he sat on the floor at the table, crossing his legs in the lotus fashion, and waited for Al’s arrival.
The sweet scent of the tea, as well as the scents wafting from the kitchen, perfumed the air in the small room. Ling inhaled deeply, clearing his mind for the meeting to come. There were words that needed to be said, to Al, to send him on his way to the ocean. Al had gone along with him on a trip to the Southern Provinces, which included a voyage to the island of Chi-shua. Mei had gotten terribly seasick, Ling remembered, unable to use even her Purification Arts to calm her nausea. After she’d vomited herself nearly unconscious, Ling thought she would never be able to travel by sea again.
Which would make this decision both easier and more difficult. “Ah, Alphonse!” Ling smiled at him as he entered the little room. “Please, sit down. I made tea, would you like a cup?” He poured without waiting for an answer, pushing the cup to Al. He then poured two more cups, one for Ran Fan and one for himself.
“Ling, I understand you’re sending me to look for Ed and Winry,” Al said. Even in a day, the stress of the knowledge of their disappearance made him haggard, lines furrowing his forehead and bracketing his mouth. “I don’t have time for tea. I need to get going.”
Ling took a sip of his tea, deliberately, quietly. Ran Fan stood behind him, waiting for Al to sit before she would seat herself. With an exaggerated sigh, Al threw himself to the ground, though he refused to fold his legs. Ran Fan settled on her knees, though she didn’t take her cup until Ling passed it to her. Still, her attention remained focused on Al, until he, too, accepted the cup and took a sip. “It is an excellent tea, is it not, Al?”
He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes and obviously working at calming himself. When he finally opened his eyes again, Al met Ling’s gaze and nodded. “Yes, it is. Thank you for sharing it.”
Smiling, Ling set down his cup. As if that was his cue, Xeung appeared in the doorway, bringing them a platter of steaming dumplings and shaved, pickled vegetables in nests on little platters, with sauces ringing the dumplings. He set it down with a flourish, nodded, and waited off to the side to make sure Ling didn’t want anything else.
Ling took the time to pour Xeung a cup of tea. “Thank you for this, Xeung! It looks lovely.” Saluting the chef with the cup, he passed it over. Xeung accepted, bowing his response to his emperor, and left them to their discussion. Ling plucked his chopsticks from inside the sleeve of his robe, rubbing the ends together, and caught up some of the pickled vegetables to pop in his mouth. “Delicious!”
“You should let me taste it first, Master,” Ran Fan scolded gently.
“Xeung would never poison me.” Ling waved his sticks at Al. “Please, eat. And we will talk about your search.”
Alphonse carried his own chopsticks, as did Ran Fan, and each of them pulled their sticks out for use. Scooping up some of the lo bak – a sweet horseradish – on his sticks, Al lipped it off the sticks and crunched on it to clear his palate. He then plucked up a dumpling, biting half of it off and chewing on the doughy mass. While his mouth was occupied, Ling spoke. “I have made the arrangements for you to travel to the docks by horseback. The Imperial City is heavily trafficked, as you know, and I believe it is the fastest way. I have also hired the swiftest ship in the harbor, captained by Alihe Puihe. She is waiting for you to cast off.”
“Then I should be going,” Al started to stand but Ling frowned and he sat back down, though his mouth twisted at the unvoiced request to wait.
“I have a purse for you,” Ling said, and reached into the sleeve of his robe, removing a leather bag. He laid it on the table, pushing it across to Al. “This should be more than adequate for your journey. Captain Puihe is provisioning her ship herself, and has been paid for that. You do not need to add to her purchases, unless there is something specific you require.” Ling plucked another dumpling from the pot. “Your clothing should be packed,” he said, contemplating the dumpling before popping it into his mouth. He bit through the flour coating, and the flavor exploded within his mouth, spicy with onions, crunchy with water chestnuts, the flavor of duck enhanced by the peppery herbs, humming his delight as he chewed. After swallowing, he took a small bite of lo bak and cleansed his mouth with the mildly spicy radish. “Ran Fan will accompany you.”
“What? No!” Al yelped, looking between them. Ran Fan showed no reaction – Ling had already voiced his thought to her. “You need her! She’s your own personal guard!”
She interjected. “My family has ties back to the island tribes,” she said, “though it has been some time since my gao wai po came from the islands with her husband. I know the family lineage; all the children in my family were taught to recite it, though my family no longer speaks the island tongue.”
“Another reason to send Captain Puihe, she does speak the island dialects.” Ling smiled.
“But,” Al’s brow beetled, and he stared at the table without seeing it.
“The island tribes will be more accepting with Ran Fan and Captain Puihe to guide you. You will need the assistance of those tribes to find your brother and Winry. They are the best ocean trackers in my kingdom.”
“Should I take any rewards?” Raising his head, Al looked across the table at Ling.
Ling pursed his lips, glancing at Ran Fan. She blinked in response, her hands spreading almost infinitesimally, an indication that she wasn’t aware of an answer, either. “Captain Puihe will be able to advise you on that matter,” Ling said in apology. “I…do not know enough about the islanders, Al. I am sorry for that.”
“Your kingdom is huge,” Al said. “I’m surprised you know as much about it as you do.” His smile, though tinged with melancholy, let Ling know his friend had regained his footing, despite such a tragic hit. “Is there anything else, your majesty?”
He waved his hand. “Go,” he said, “and be as safe as you can.” Rising, Ling offered his hand across the table, and Alphonse grasped his wrist. They squeezed each other’s forearm while Ran Fan watched, then Al stepped aside to let Ling and Ran Fan make their farewells.
“Be careful, my lord,” Ran Fan mouthed.
Smiling at her, Ling lay his hands on her slim shoulders. The metal felt cool and hard under his palms. He gave her a squeeze, tilting his head so his forehead touched hers briefly. “You will stay safe, and keep Al safe.” It was no request.
“As you command,” Ran Fan whispered back, her breath touching his lips – the only caress she had time for at this point. Ling closed his eyes, inhaling her scent – spicy, like cinnamon, and sweet, reminding him of the moon flower, which only bloomed at night, in the royal gardens. “And you, my lord,” despite the warmth in her dark eyes, her voice remained sharp, “will listen to the guards I have assigned in my place.”
With a pout, Ling nodded. “Yes, yes, of course.” Pulling away, he let his hands fall away from her shoulders, and forced himself to take a step backward. He needed to let Al and Ran Fan go, so they could meet Captain Puihe. “Zai jian.”
“Thank you, Ling.” Al bowed to him, a proper gesture, and one completely unrehearsed, Ling could tell. His impatience practically drove him from the room, though he hesitated, waiting for Ran Fan.
“Farewell, my lord.” Ran Fan picked up her mask, sliding it into place over her face. Her dark eyes glowed from the openings, and Ling swallowed at the sight of them. She bowed to him, and turned almost in the same movement, disappearing out of the door of the small room, her scarf trailing behind her, and then gone as well.
Sitting back down, Ling picked up his teacup, seeing there was still a greenish liquid inside of it. The tea had grown cold, but it was still drinkable. Hoisting his cup, he saluted his friends. “Hurry home,” he said, “and bring Ed and Winry with you.”
X X X
Chapter 6: Water, Water Everywhere
The dawning of the third day after the arrival of the mohaki man and woman woke with Maike’a standing with Talileila, speaking ritual words of thanks to the ancestors. Talileila took a clay cup, adding a handful of pollen to it, then pouring a stream of golden honey into the cup. Stirring the mixture, Talileila scooped out some of it, spreading it on the tongue of a stone carved to represent one of Maike’a’s, and the Kohona’s, ancestors. The sweet scent made his mouth water, and Maike’a swallowed, hoping his stomach didn’t embarrass him. He had fasted yesterday, offering his food to the ancestors in hopes of a favorable dream, or a sign from them. Talileila had said nothing of her own dreams, and he had hoped she might. He would ask after the end of the morning ceremony.
“Thank you, a’Kohona,
For bringing our people here,
For finding this island,
For settling here,
For digging the moats
To protect our family
For guarding our days
And guarding our nights,
For sending us the fish we eat,
For planting the trees we harvest.
Thank you, Tua and Leilei,
For finding Ialili,
For finding our home,
For settling here,
And raising your family.
For keeping us safe here,
For keeping us safe here,
For keeping us safe here.”
She stepped back, a faint smile on her face. “Your stomach is growling.”
Maike’a glared but didn’t react beyond that. “Did you have any dreams last night?”
Walking away from the statue, Talileila looped a strand of hair behind her ear. “The dreams I had have nothing to do with your questions, Maike’a.”
He followed her. “How do you know?”
She turned back to him, her mouth quirking. “Because I dreamed about hala fruit.” Talileila’s eyes went distant, off to the land of the spirits. “They were gold, like the hair of the mohaki. One was particularly spikey, and I knew it would be hard to cut into.”
“Does that mean anything about the mohaki?” Maike’a’s face twisted.
Talileila raised her hands. “Perhaps. Or maybe I dreamed about hala fruit.” She laughed at him. “I know it’s not what you want to know, Maike’a. I don’t know why I dreamed about hala fruit. The a’Kohona don’t always give replies we want and you know they’re sometimes silent when we need to hear from them most.”
“This is one of those times.” Maike’a sighed. “Talileila, what should we do with the mohaki? The Counsel will be meeting tomorrow. They will want to know about these strangers you found.”
“Ihe and I found,” Talileila corrected him, gentle but firm.
Maike’a sighed through his nose. “The man is missing a leg,” he said, slowly, tentatively. “They will think him weak.”
“The woman isn’t weak.” Talileila tested the strange name on her tongue. “Winree. She’s been sitting with the man, taking care of him.”
“Still.” Maike’a pursed his lips. The appearance of the mohaki couple out of the ocean had to be a sign of some sort. The Kohona had heard the faint rumble of thunder drifting over the waters, as if the a’Kohona were warning of war drums, and an approaching conflict. “The Counsel will want to meet them.”
Talileila folded up the bag of pollen, gathering the pot of honey. “They don’t speak our language.”
He had to wave that off, grunting. “There has to be a way to communicate with them. The man, he’s awake?”
She sucked her lower lip. “His fever broke, and he’s been sleeping. He’s not unconscious any more, but I’m not sure how much he realizes is happening around him.”
They both paused as a cloud of birds flew by, crying out as they streamed down to the fruit trees, to collect their food. Maike’a admired the vibrant colors, the rich scarlets and yellows, as the birds streamed past. When he was a boy, he’d had one for a pet, the macac having a broken wing that never healed enough that it could fly again. It had sat on his head or shoulder, and groomed his eyebrows with its sharp bill. When the macac died, Maike’a had cried, and his father had carved him a box in the shape of the macac, and put the body inside. Maike’a kept a few of the bright feathers, tying them into his hair, and wore them there until they fell apart. Once the body had decayed, leaving behind only the macac’s bones, Maike’a carefully stained them with ochre, and placed them with the family bones, with his parents’ permission. They remained there to this day, fragile compared to the rest of the bones, but instilled with the same honor he gave to his family. It was the first death he really remembered.
Now, he’d seen so many, Maike’a couldn’t think to count them all. Wars took lives of friends and family. A portion of the Kohona, those on the far western side of the island, had been attacked just six months ago, by the Mariori. Those people had been destroyed, their war chief killed with great ceremony, his heart roasted and eaten, and the women and children kept for slaves, while the men were sacrificed. In war, he’d killed to protect his people, the a’Kohona filling him with a bloodlust that took death, more than time, to slake. Maike’a could remember those battles, the surge of blood within his own body, the way the a’Kohona seemed to take control of him, give him their abilities, protect him and keep him safe. It almost seemed the patu, the war club his father and grandfather had carried, was filled with their spirits, and, when he took it in hand, his soul merged with theirs. Their battle fury carried him forward, like a rushing wave, overpowering him and controlling them, turning him into a true warrior, one who could protect the Kohona.
Maike’a wondered if the mohaki man had been a warrior, and he lost his leg that way. Had he experienced war, and faced a people like the Mariori, one determined to take control over all the different tribes? Had he and his woman been thrown off of one of those sailing canoes, left to perish for the ancestors to find, or as a sacrifice to the gods?
He sighed. If they couldn’t find a way to communicate with the mohaki, it would make it even more difficult. If the mohaki were a sign, the Counsel would want to know, but Talileila wasn’t able to tell him if they were or not. He had thought by now the a’Kohona would’ve spoken up in regard to the mohaki, but they continued to remain silent over the past three days.
Rubbing his cheek, Maike’a could feel the scars of the whorls tattooed into his skin. The familiarity soothed him somewhat, though inside, his stomach twitched. He knew it wasn’t all from fasting. A’umea, chieftess of the Mariori, had made threats against the Kohona. Her warriors were primed to fight, circling the edges of the Kohona oceans like sharks trailing a wounded dolphin.
When Talileila and Ihe had returned to the island in the early morning, the lookouts spotted their canoe from the high cliffs and towers guarding the southern part of Ialili, their home island. At first sight, they’d been suspected of being A’umea’s scouts, but their steady approach, and Talileila’s voice, raised to carry over the rush and crash of the waves, gave them a safe landing. Maike’a had helped haul the canoe up onto the bank and carry it to the storage area. The babble at the sight of the mohaki strangers in the belly of the canoe rose louder than the waves. “Quiet!” Maike’a called out, and silence fell over the ever-growing crowd. “Talileila and Ihe will explain,” he gave them both a look. Ihe, at least, dropped his eyes in chagrin, leaning heavily on his crutches.
“Ahonihoni told me to take a canoe and a companion out on the ocean.” Talileila smiled showed her crooked teeth. “Ihe agreed to go with me. We paddled out past the Kohona territories, into the deep ocean. Ahonihoni led us,” she said, throwing her arms out.
Keke, who had knelt next to the canoe, ignoring the chatter going on around her, stood up abruptly. “These people need help,” she interrupted Talileila, who pursed her mouth in a pout. “We need to carry them to the healing house. They’re both feverish and dehydrated.” She clapped her hands. “Pogoso! Go start a fire in the house. I’ll need feeding tubes to give them water, and fresh blankets. Someone needs to carry them carefully – the sun poisoned them, and they have blisters.” Her sharp voice scattered the crowd as easily as a stick waved at a flock of birds. “You!” She pointed at two of the stronger men, “carry the man.”
Maike’a didn’t wait for his orders, knowing Keke had no qualms with bossing anyone around, even the chief of the Kohona, and scooped the woman out of the bottom of the canoe. She weighed next to nothing, and, under the sunburn, he could see dark circles under her eyes. Blistered, swollen skin hid the shape of her face, and her lips were chapped. Maike’a cradled her against his chest, carrying her to the healing building. Fever heat radiated off her body, and if not for her strange clothing, stiff with salt water, her perspiration would’ve slicked across his chest.
He settled her into a sleeping pit, on a mat cushioned by fresh moss. The man was placed into the pit next to hers. Keke shooed him and the other men out of the building, though Pogoso and Talileila remained behind to help undress the pair and care for them.
Maike’a considered the mohaki favored by their ancestors and gods, that Ahonihoni had sent Talileila a vision, that he’d led Ihe and her to the pair of strangers floating in the ocean. That the dolphins had protected the two of them from the sharks. Their fevers had broken, and now they were both awake. If they were only able to communicate, he thought in despair, so he could talk with the Counsel about them. What little mohaki tongue he knew might not be enough. The pair weren’t part of the Mariori people, that much Maike’a thought to be true. Whether they could provide anything to help the Kohona remained to be seen. “A’Kohona, we need help,” he said softly.
Talileila clapped her hands at the end of his prayer. Maike’a met her eyes, surprised she managed to muster a smile. “Come,” she said, “let’s meet with the mohaki.” She linked her arm with his, a gesture that could have gotten her killed if they were of another tribe, and chiefs were aoe - touching them was taboo to any except their chosen wives – and they walked together to the healing building, in hopes their visitors were awake.
X X X
Standing with his hands clenching the rail at the prow, Alphonse peered out over the ocean. The morning sun lay behind him, casting long shadows on the water, and, beneath him, porpoises rode the waves, leaping and cavorting alongside and just ahead of Captain Puihe’s ship. He blinked at the reflected brilliance, the sunlight sparkling on the waves ahead, a few wispy clouds, stained pale gold, reminding him of Winry’s hair color. Biting his lip, Alphonse couldn’t help the groan that escaped him, the sheer terror that left him colder than the Briggs Mountains, then hotter than the Eastern Desert in turns.
Captain Puihe had been in radio contact with the captain of the Wavewalker, the ship Edward and Winry had boarded in Aerugo. Puihe allowed Alphonse and Ran Fan to listen in to their conversation, though now, he almost wished he hadn’t. The Wavewalker’s captain explained about the pirates, and one of his crew seeing “Mrs. Elric” going over the side of the ship during the scuffle. He’d said the currents were strong and untrustworthy in that area, but his crewman had caught sight of Winry’s life jacket – he remembered that clearly. Alphonse had started wondering if a life jacket’s buoyancy would combat the weight of an automail leg when Puihe thanked the other captain for his time, asked for the coordinates of the attack and wrote them down, then signed off.
“Why?” Alphonse had asked. “There had to be more!”
She’d given him a level look, the rough, weathered skin of her face showing a life of seafaring, her dark, piercing eyes reminding Alphonse of Teacher’s. “Two people go overboard in a battle – we’re lucky someone saw them go over. The pirates don’t have them, or they would’ve made contact for ransoms by now. We have to pray to our ancestors that they washed up on one of the islands, and my folk found them.”
Captain Puihe went on to explain about the islands, and the people who inhabited them. There were islands in the Southern Ocean, hundreds of thousands of them, ranging from tiny atolls, some barely large enough to support a migratory bird colony, others hosting entire civilizations that rose up, flourished and collapsed long before Xerxes fell in its emperor’s bid for immortality. Some islands were so far flung out away from the others, no one had bothered exploring them, others maintained a flourishing trade route. For some of the island inhabitants, those so far south they’d never traveled to the north and the continents, the idea of travel over land seemed a fairy tale, something to an elder might tell to the children to make them wonder. Horses weren’t a part of the islands, nor were automobiles or trains – all stories, as far as those islanders were concerned. They did have some domesticated animals: cats and dogs, often used as food as well as for protecting granaries, gardens or even homes from predation of other animals; goats, small and sturdy, and able to survive on whatever providence the island offered; birds to provide eggs, meat, feathers and song. The ocean itself provided the most for the islanders, who fished and hunted its waters, harvested its seaweed, rode out its storms and sometimes, were lost to the giant waves, earthquakes and other disasters that occasionally plagued the islands.
Natural disasters weren’t the only thing that might wipe out an entire tribe of islanders. War was not uncommon between the islands, and those from the larger, more prosperous islands might prey on the weaker islands. Or rumors might lead one tribe to attack another, or even an auspicious sighting of movement of stars in the night sky might show it was time to go to war. “Our ancestors guide us in all things,” Puihe said, “including when to make war. But some of our island customs are not those of the mainland.”
“My great-grandmother told stories of the chief of her people eating the flesh of those he vanquished in war,” Ran Fan said, her mouth tight. “If they conquered an entire island, some of the peoples would be chosen for slaves, others would be saved for eating. Great-Grandmother never understood,” she glanced sideways, her eyes narrowing, “why the family found it abhorrent.”
Alphonse swallowed hard at the memory of that discussion. “Don’t get involved in a war, Ed,” he whispered to the wind, hoping his words would blow to his brother.
X X X
A’umea climbed out of the hot spring, the scent of sulfur heavy in her nostrils. Stretching her arms over her head, she twisted her body, reveling in the sensation of the light breeze caressing her wet body. Her nipples hardened at the cool wind, and she smoothed her hands up her stomach to cup her breasts, the globes of flesh heavy in her hands. A’umea studied the tattoos lacing over her skin, spilling down over her breasts and reaching across her stomach, the whorls ending at her hipbones. Sliding her hands up her neck, A’umea combed her fingernails through her hair, giving it a tousle before shaking her head, sending drops of water flying.
Her sturdy legs carried her away from the spring to a flat rock, and A’umea pressed her hands onto it, using that leverage to vault onto it. She sighed as she stretched out onto the surface, the heat of the rock warming her cooled skin. Water ran from her skin to drip onto the stone, the radiant warmth drying the puddles quickly. A’umea rolled from her stomach to her back, letting the sun bathe her in its light. She could lounge on the rock all day, warm and content, but there were things she needed to do. Turning once more, she stretched again before rolling off the rock.
There was a bowl waiting for her, a rich, red substance inside of it. A’umea scooped some of it out, rubbing it between her fingers and thumb. The texture was prefect. She began spreading it over her skin, rubbing it in thoroughly, coating her body with a gleam of red. The rich, earthy scent of it warred with the sulfur stink still remaining on her body, though it began overpowering the sulfur the longer she worked it into her skin.
Even twisting, A’umea couldn’t completely cover her back, and clicked her tongue. A rustle of the scrub trees came from her right, and one of her slaves stepped out, eyes downcast. “Paint my back,” A’umea ordered, turning away from the slave. The sensation of a hand, stroking the salve over her back made her purr. When the slave moved his hands lower, she opened her legs. “Make sure you get every spot. My flesh shouldn’t be seen.
The slave made a guttural sound of agreement or understanding. As long as he obeyed, she didn’t care what sounds he made. A’umea shifted her weight from one leg to the other as the slave’s hand moved between her thighs, painting her skin. Reaching down, she caught his hand, tugging it farther, pressing his fingers against her most sensitive bead of flesh. She rolled her hips, letting out a low moan, riding his fingers, pressing them harder against herself. “Ah, yes.” Back arching, she groaned as her orgasm overtook her. Her body trembled, and A’umea reached behind her, grabbing the hair of her slave to keep her balance. She released his hand, turning slowly as she regained control over her body. As she turned, she twisted the slave’s hair in her hand, forcing a cry from him.
“Shh,” A’umea said, running her fingers over his throat. “Stay quiet.” His heart beat strong and steady, she could feel it pulsing beneath her fingertips. “I’m surprised,” she said, leaning close to his face, the fear in his eyes making her heart race and her breath catch. “Surely you know I am aoe. You touched me.” Smiling, A’umea reached for the other thing she always required after a bath, picking up the obsidian dagger. Before the slave could react, she jerked his head back, pressing the blade against his throat, thrusting the point into his jugular. “You know the punishment for touching a chief is death.”
Blood erupted from the hole like lava spilling from a volcano. Three women came out of the bushes, one with a large bowl, the other two to hold the slave as he gasped and jerked, his hands clutching at A’umea’s wrist. One of the women caught the blood in the bowl, her face impassive as the man died in front of her.
“Butcher him,” A’umea said, jerking her hand free of the slave’s failing grasp. “I want his brain cooked for my meal tonight.” Not waiting for a response, she walked away from the women, heading back to the village. There were still many things to do, like figure out what she wanted to do with the remaining prisoners from the attack on Ialili. Those who still had tongues might be convinced to talk about the fortifications on the eastern side of the island, where she wanted to land next. If she took the eastern village, the northern village would fall, she was sure of it.
All she had to do was acquire the information she needed, and there were prisoners who could help with that. A’umea smiled at the thought, trotting up the beach. The cages were full of people waiting for her attention.
X X X
Chapter 7: Northeast Currents
“Are you sure you’re ready?” Winry fisted her hands, shoving them on her hips, all the better to give Ed an imposing look. “You still look sick.”
“Don’t know how you can tell, with the skin peeling off of me.” Ed curled his mouth, obviously disgusted as he pulled a strip of skin, dropping it on the mat next to him. “This is so gross!”
“Get used to it.” The tattered skin on her face and upper shoulders itched, though Winry managed to keep from scratching at it. “It’s getting better.”
“It is not!” Ed didn’t have the same self-control, scratching at his chest and grunting as the dead skin peeled away. “Gah! It’s so itchy!”
Winry sighed. “Can you stop that long enough for me to help you outside, or do you want to stay here and play with your dead skin?”
Showing a lot of teeth at her, Ed’s face wrinkled. The tatters made him look weirder than normal when he screwed up his face like that. “It fucking itches!”
“Geeze, Ed, don’t think about it!” Winry slapped her forehead. “Come on, let’s get you outside. That’ll distract you.” She knelt down next to him, and Ed slung his hand over her shoulder.
He grabbed her arm with his free hand before she could rise. “Are you strong enough?”
A giggle burst out of her mouth. “Are you kidding me, Ed? Of course I am.” Setting her feet, Winry pushed up, dragging him up along with her. They stood still for a few seconds, Ed blowing softly at the change in his position.
“Little…dizzy,” he mumbled, his body heavy against her.
“Let me know when you’re ready.” Winry rubbed his back, catching hold of his hand on her shoulder and giving it a squeeze.
It took a few seconds, but Ed finally straightened, taking a deep breath. “Okay.” He gave her a cocky grin, though the sweat on his face let her know how much it cost him. “I’m ready. Show me where we washed up.”
“I don’t think we washed up, Ed.” It took a couple of steps for them to find a comfortable rhythm, but they’d done this before, even though they’d been kids back then. “I remember little bits of someone pulling us into a boat, and us being carried out of it.” They had to turn sideways to get out the doorway. “Ed, it’s different here.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ed nodded, but then he stiffened as they exited the building. “Whoa.”
Winry held him tight, letting him get a good look. She turned her head, her breath still catching at the sight of it. There were mountains to the north and east, tall and black. Underneath their green mantle, they were sharp and jagged, instead of the rolling foothills Winry knew from back home. To the west, hills marched down in a green swatch to a black sand beach. The building behind them hid a series of ditches, dug deep into the ground, with bridges spanning them.
“It’s so green,” Ed whispered, awestruck.
“Don’t look too hard, Ed. I swear the vines grow as soon as you turn your head.” Winry helped him to a mat on the ground near a small fire. A woman squatted across the fire, watching them. “Ed, this is Keke. She’s their doctor. Keke, this is Ed.”
Keke stared at him, and Winry, glancing sideways, wasn’t surprised to see Ed staring back. She’d been startled the first time she’d actually seen the people who’d rescued them, or at least two of the women, with their lips tattooed black, and swirls of ink along their chins and trailing down to their bare breasts. Keke and Talileila wore their black hair shoulder-length, though Talileila dressed her hair with thin braids decorated with beads or feathers. The only male Winry had seen so far was a boy who seemed to work with Keke as an apprentice or assistant, named Pogoso. When she’d needed it, he’d helped Winry clean up Ed, and brought her food and drink, but Winry didn’t see him around now.
Winry hid a grin at the flush spreading over Ed’s face, the way he jerked his eyes up from the sight of Keke’s breasts. He looked past the woman’s shoulder, the stiffness of his body making it hard for Winry to help him settle onto the mat. “Uh, hi,” he mumbled, as he rearranged himself comfortably. Winry sat on her knees next to him. Keke nodded at him, giving him a long, appraising look. She didn’t get up, using her hands to hop around the fire without standing, stopping when she squatted next to Ed. Her dark eyes searched his face, and she raised her hand toward his forehead. “Hey!” Ed jerked back with a frown, and Keke flashed her teeth, startlingly white behind her black lips. Musical sounds spilled out of her mouth, and Winry wished she had some sort of an idea what Keke was saying. Frowning deeply, he glanced at Winry. “What’s she want?”
Winry had to shrug. “The woman all like my hair, maybe she likes yours, too?” Ed looked a lot more healthy than he had, considering the past few days, but from Keke’s observant stare, Winry thought maybe the healer was doing her best to check him over without actually touching him. Her brows drew down as something came to her; that Pogoso refused to touch her, too, though he was handy with Ed. She wondered if men and women didn’t put their hands on one another amongst these people? But that ought to mean they’d need a male healer, too, wouldn’t it, and Pogoso was too young, unless he was absolutely brilliant.
Keke looked past Ed to Winry. She spoke more slowly now, and Winry caught one of the words. “Fever?” Winry laid her palm on Edward’s forehead, miming that it was too hot by jerking her hand back and shaking and blowing on it. Keke nodded.
“She’s asking if you have a fever.” Winry said, “No.” She hesitated, then tried a word she’d heard Keke and Talileila say before. “Ii’hao.” When Keke nodded, Winry smiled, letting out a sigh of relief. She’d gotten one word right, at least.
“I thought you didn’t know what she wanted.”
Winry expected Ed to be grumpy. He always was when he was recuperating. The tone of his voice let her know he was feeling a lot better, though not as well as he expected to be. “I’ve been awake a few days longer than you have. I’ve picked up a few words.”
Keke said something, drawing their attention to her. The curious look on her face as she glanced toward the port on Edward’s leg made Winry smile. “It’s an automail port,” she said.
“Like she’s going to understand that.” Ed snorted.
Ignoring him, Winry started again. “Automail is so amazing!”
“Nng, don’t get going, Winry!” He glared, and she felt her heart skip. “Why are you smiling like that? Winry?”
The stupid grin spread over her face. “You’re trying to pick a fight.”
Ed’s glower deepened. “Am not!” he spat.
Keke’s high-pitched laughter broke into their squabble, and they both turned to her. Eyes squinted shut, she rocked back and forth on her heels, giggling at them.
“What’s that about?” Frustration leaked into Ed’s voice.
“How should I know?” Winry answered half-heartedly. In the sunlight, she could see so much more pitting on the cuff of metal around Edward’s thigh. She needed to check out the damage within the port. The nerve connectors had to be engaged with the automail itself before they activated, but there might be damage within the port. Ed didn’t seem to be in any pain from his port, but Winry didn’t want to take any chances. The fact her tool kit was still on board the Wavewalker didn’t matter. There had to be something she could use as grease to keep the port in decent shape.
Ed nudged her. “Winry?”
“Mm?” She looked up, startling at the sight of a man, his body decorated with whorls of black that covered his face, draping down over his chest and his stomach and disappearing into the loincloth laced around his hips. A woven, rectangular shawl draped over his shoulders, and his hair was twisted up into a topknot riding above his skull. A woman she’d seen before stood next to him, her crooked teeth showing in a grin. “Talileila. Hello!”
“How many people do you know?” Ed grumped, leaning his knuckle on his chin, his elbow resting on his knee.
“Winree.” Talileila carefully pronounced her name, turning her dark eyes to Ed. “Edu-edu-ward.”
He frowned. “She knows my name.”
“Be nice, Ed.” Winry smiled, just managing to keep from kicking his thigh.
“I’m trying.” Ed sounded exasperated. “It’s hard when I don’t know the language!”
The tattooed man squatted in front of Ed. “You Eduward?”
His eyes widened, and he glanced up at Winry. She gaped at the tattooed man. She hadn’t thought any of them understood her, but he obviously did. “You speak Amestrian?”
“Small.” He grinned. It wasn’t quite as shocking as when Keke or Talileila smiled, with their black lips framing very white teeth, but his grin still stretched the tattoos adorning his face, making it look as if he wore a fleshy brown version of Ran Fan’s mask.
Ed screwed up his face. “Small?” The tantrum died as he reasoned it out. “Oh, you mean you understand a little?”
“I Maike’a,” he said, thumping his hand against his chest. “You Eduward.” He glanced sidelong at Winry. “You Winree?”
“Yes.” Ed answered for them both. “Where are we? We were on our way to Xing.”
Winry nudged him with her toes. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Maike’a. Thank you for rescuing us.”
Ed sucked his lower lip. “Yeah, thanks,” he said.
“Well-come?” Maike’a gave them a hopeful look and relaxed when Winry nodded. “Talileila Ihe find.” He pointed at them, then at Talileila. “Grandfather said go look.” Shading his eyes, he mimed searching. “Dolphin find.”
A dolphin, Winry remembered, was a kind of fish. Not fish, it breathed air. One of the Wavewalker’s sailors told her they were smart, and sometimes rescued people who were adrift in the ocean. She didn’t remember a dolphin, or anything else, really, after that third or fourth night in the water, only vaguely the sensation of being pulled from the ocean.
Talileila said something in that liquid speech, and Maike’a listened to her without quite looking at her, nodding his head a couple of times. “You well?” he asked, fixing his gaze on Ed.
“Yeah, thanks.” Ed smiled a little bit. “We both are, thanks to your people.” Lowering his head, obviously in thought, he glanced at Maike’a through his bangs. “We need to get to Xing. Can you help us?”
Maike’a spoke to the two women. Keke answered, with Talileila saying something, though Winry couldn’t tell whether it was in agreement or not. The two women talked while Maike’a listened, nodding a couple of times. Finally, the women quieted, and he said, “Xing.” He pointed toward the northeast, a repeated gesture that made Winry think Maike’a meant Xing was a long way off.
Ed frowned, rubbing his chin. “That doesn’t sound so good,” he said, half to himself.
“Bad,” Maike’a said.
“Bad?” Winry realized she was scratching at her forearm and forced her hands together.
“How bad?” Ed wondered, cocking his head curiously.
He gave her a hopeful look. “Winry, what’s an a’umea?”
“A’umea bad,” Maike’a repeated. He stood up, stretching his legs in an exaggerated stance and clenching his fists. Sticking out his tongue, he bugged his eyes and stomped his feet.
“What is that?” Ed mumbled to Winry, jerking back as Maike’a’s foot came down next to his knee.
“I-I don’t know?” She frowned, squinting as Maike’a stomped past her and into the sunlight. “Maybe it’s a dance?”
“A’umea bad!” Maike’a shouted, stopping in front of them, a hideous glare on his face. He lunged at Talileila and Keke, his hands clenched into fists and swinging up and then down in a stabbing motion. The women fell onto the ground, bodies splayed as if in death.
Eyes narrowing, Ed muttered, “A’umea bad.”
Winry grimaced. “Really bad.”
X X X
Ihe adjusted the crutches under his arms, hobbling along the pathway to the Council meeting. Because of his foot, the deformity that made it turn in toward his other ankle, it took him longer to get anywhere, unless he was in a canoe. Wishing canoes could travel on land did no good, though, and he gritted his teeth and swung his body along faster. He could already hear voices, and hoped he hadn’t missed anything. Maike’a trusted him to be there, to listen close, and watch each of the speakers. No one paid attention to a crippled man, after all, even if it was his lower leg and foot that were deformed, not his mind.
The courtyard, a long field, was carefully maintained by everyone. The youngest children were taught to clean up leaves and twigs and small rocks that might have found their way onto the courtyard, and the older children and adults shored up the stone barricades that kept the lush grass from washing away. Highly carved wooden chairs were arranged at the eastern end, on top of a level stone platform, and Maike’a stood with the other leaders of the Kohona, the three of them speaking in low tones. Pogoso had saved a place for Ihe, and helped him down onto the woven mat. On Pogoso’s other side, Kayo sat with his carved staff, his hair nearly white from age, the tattoos on his face faded and lost amidst the wrinkles. Ihe nodded at Kayo, and the old man nodded back, though he shifted his beady eyes toward the leaders.
A woman stepped onto the stone platform, her own carved staff decorated with feathers from the more colorful island birds. The comb in her hair showed her status of herald, and the hubbub from the group gathered around the platform died down as she thumped the staff on the stone to call for quiet. Hawalui looked out over the crowd, as if she could see each of them, and could pick out who still might be talking in the sea of faces. Ihe dropped his gaze when she glanced his way, even if he wasn’t speaking. Her stony expression always made him want to hide. “The meeting of the Council is begun. The ka’ki’eo is shared among us all.” Closing her eyes, she began to sing.
“We meet to discuss
The strangers to Ialili,
The strangers to the Kohona
The one-legged mohakin
The mohakui, both
Of them and what they mean
to the Kohona.
We will share
The ka’ki’eo between us,
Make a decision,
About the strangers,
About the mohaki,
The strange man and woman.
“We meet to discuss the
A’umea and her warriors,
Their threat to Ialili
Their threat to the Kohona.
Do we go to war?
Do we wait for their attack?
We will talk.
We will make a decision
About her warriors.
About the Mariori.”
Everyone shouted, “A’aho,” when Hawalui finished her song. She hopped off the platform, standing at its edge in case the Council needed her. The leaders each took their chairs at the same time, and Maike’a waved his hand. A pretty girl brought a stone pitcher full of juice, pouring each of the men an amount. The pitcher was then passed to the people in the front row of the audience for them to take a sip. Other stone pitchers were handed around for everyone to have a taste. The juice, slightly fermented, exploded on Ihe’s tongue, and he licked his lips, tongue chasing for any last taste of it.
Tradition, manners, call it what you will, the visiting leaders would have a chance to speak first. Wi, from the southern part of Ialili, cleared his throat. “Kohona!” He raised his hands. “Tua, Leilei, our ancestors, hear me! You know what we face. You know we are beset by the Mariori to the north east.”
Ihe feigned interest in Wi’s words, though he was basically repeating what Hawalui had sung. Maybe Livali, from the north, would have something different to say. The answers would be the only ones available to them – A’umea would have to be faced. The dolphins led Talileila and him to the mohaki, the dolphins were ancestors to the Kohona. Because of that, the mohaki needed to be protected – the ancestors had brought them to the Kohona. It was simple, there really were no other ways around it. It would just take the Council to actually come to the decisions that had to be made. The Kohona wouldn’t back down from A’umea’s threat. She would have to be faced. People would die from it, some might be sacrificed. Ihe swallowed at the thought. The Kohona didn’t believe in sacrifice, not the kind the Mariori practiced. Blood willingly given was one thing, a life given was more than Tua or Leilei ever requested.
Livali and her scouts talked about the sound of drums coming from the Mariori islands. “They get louder every night. A’umea will be leading her war party to Ialili within a week, if she waits that long. The winter currents will only help her, and hinder us if we try to attack Mariori on their homeland. I don’t know why the ancestors brought the mohaki to us. A one-legged man is of no help to us, and the woman, what good can she do?”
Maike’a let the noise die down before he began speaking. “The mohaki couple are our guests.”
There were a few groans from the audience. As guests, the mohaki would be protected and taken care of, even at the expense of Kohona lives. Ihe tried to spot who’d had the negative reactions, but no one seemed likely to step forward, when traditions and customs dictated for the Kohona to provide for their guests. Maike’a waited until the groans died before speaking again. “It is through no fault of their own they came to Ialili. For all we know, the a’Kohona have plans for them at this time.”
Kayo shouted, “A’aho!” applauding Maike’a’s words. Ihe glanced over as other Kahona raised their voices in agreement, enough of them he couldn’t tell who might disagree with Maike’a and the traditions given to them by the a’Kohona.
“We are your leaders,” Maike’a boomed out, “and I believe the mohaki will give us aid against A’umea.” The silence following his words almost echoed around the courtyard, with the people in the audience exchanging looks. “I will consider them my guests, my personal guests. I will provide for their needs, and take care of them.”
Livali rocked back in her chair at Maike’a’s announcement, while Wi leaned forward, narrowing his eyes. The crowd around the platform erupted in exclamations, and even Hawalui reacted, spinning to look at Maike’a. He folded his arms over his chest, remaining still as a stone despite the buffeting of words like waves against him. The ability to weather their responses, vocal and otherwise, proved him to be the better man, and one able to carry out his declaration, his offer. It meant more than just food and shelter for the mohaki, but his life in exchange for theirs if need be. Ihe hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. Maike’a was worthy of their ancestors, and he didn’t want to lose him as their leader.
“So, is it decided?” Maike’a shouted to the crowd. “We will continue to fortify ourselves against the Mariori. We will come to each other’s aid when A’umea attacks. And I will host the mohaki couple, myself.”
“A’aho!” the shout rose from the throats of all the Kohona on the courtyard grounds. “A’aho! A’aho!”
Ihe raised his voice with theirs.
X X X
Chapter 8: War Drums
The raucous cry overhead made Alphonse tip his head back, watching as the huge bird soared past the ship. Its wingspan, he thought would be as long as his arms if he stretched them out. The tail feathers spread and wavered from side to side to control the direction of the bird. Alphonse watched as it circled the ship, landing on top of the wheelhouse and folding its wings. It gleamed, almost a snowy white, against the painted wood.
“It’s an albatross,” Puihe said. “They are considered good luck by sailors, as long as they remain unharmed, allowed to land as they want, and fly off as they want.”
He turned his head, acknowledging the captain. “Do you consider them good luck?”
Puihe shrugged. “Sailors are superstitious. The oceans are big, and dangerous. If the thought that a bird is lucky keeps them feeling safer, and able to concentrate on their jobs, I am not going to tell them otherwise.” She tracked the albatross as it opened its wings, and flung itself off the wheelhouse. “We’re near the coordinates where your brother and sister went over the railing of the Wavewalker.”
Taking a deep breath, Alphonse nodded. “It’s been too long for them to have survived in the water,” he said, “so we’ll have to look at islands.”
“I have already plotted the known currents for the area.” She began walking, motioning for Alphonse to follow. “There are islands throughout the oceans, Mr. Elric. We will have to decide which are the most likely islands for your brother and sister to have washed up on.” Opening the door to her private cabin, Puihe indicated a table with a map spread over it, weights anchoring the corners. “We are here,” she said, tapping a ship made out of pewter that rested on an expanse of blue. “The Wavewalker was here.” She pointed to another pewter ship, “and the currents flowed in a south-southwesterly manner. Taking into account the area, it is possible they were swept up on any of these islands, here.” Puihe spread her hands over an area that was dotted with yellow splotches, as if someone had flipped a paintbrush over the map.
“There have to be a hundred islands there,” Alphonse whispered, staring.
Puihe nodded. “There are more than even these. Some are too small to have been mapped.” Her dark eyes met Alphonse’s. “It is not impossible,” she said. “Most of these islands have at least one family living on them, and the people travel between the islands like birds. My people are curious, Mr. Elric. If your brother and sister were spotted, someone would have fished them out of the ocean.”
The tattoos curling down from her lips to her upper chest moved when she spoke, and Alphonse had to tilt his head to keep from staring. “That’s a good thing, right? I mean…Ed and Winry would stand out.”
“The Emperor said your brother has your coloring, and your sister is lighter?” At his nod, Puihe went on. “There are some families who have never seen people of your coloring.”
Having traveled with Ling throughout Xing, Alphonse had come across people who shunned him for his coloring, while others welcomed him as the son of the Sage of the West, just because of his features and hair color, without even realizing he actually was Hohenheim’s son. A few were outright aggressive toward Alphonse, despite Ling’s insistence that he was a friend of Xing, and a personal friend of the Emperor. “Do you think any of your people might harm them for looking different?”
“Perhaps,” Puihe nodded thoughtfully. “His Imperial Majesty said your brother is temperamental.” Her tone of voice, and her sideways glance let Alphonse know that Ling had probably told her all about Edward and his tendency to pitch fits. “That could possibly be more problematic than the difference of their skin and hair.”
Alphonse sighed, as he stared at the map, not actually seeing it. So much land – no, water – to cover, and there still wasn’t any surety they’d find Ed and Winry. He thought he’d know for certain if something happened to Ed – if he’d actually drowned, it seemed like his own soul would twinge, or he’d have a vision – that his chi would feel dimmed, maybe. It was weird to think about, but their souls had been crossed when they committed the taboo of trying to bring their mother back to life. Maybe they were still connected in some way.
Straightening, he forced his fingers to unclench, shaking the feeling back into them. He wouldn’t give up hope. He couldn’t give up hope. Ed and Winry were out there, and alive. He just had to find them.
X X X
Moving day came as a surprise, though Edward thought he really should’ve expected it. Winry and he were as healthy as they could be at this point; their burnt skin finally shed, his fever completely gone, all body functions back to normal, despite Winry’s continued concern over the prolonged soaking his automail port had endured. The Kohona gave them gifts to welcome them into the society, and proved there were far more of them than Edward had suspected, despite the size of the healing house.
They’d been moved to a small building, smaller than the healing house, and one, they’d realized, was part of Maike’a’s household. Through his broken Amestrian and hand gestures, he explained they were his guests, and he and his family would take care of them. His wife, or one of them, Edward thought maybe the Kohona practiced polygamy, didn’t seem as pleased with this plan, but didn’t protest beyond a token grimace.
The Kohona had given them gifts, shawls and pottery cooking bowls, bedding and sandals woven of grass. There had been a ceremony where Maike’a and Talileila blessed the house, or something; Ed wasn’t sure what had actually happened, just that it involved some salt water, and some sort of powder, and a lot of singing before Maike’a and his wife – wives? – ushered Winry and him inside the house.
It was a miniature of the healing house, though instead of mats covering springy moss for bedding on the floor, there was a clever bed built into one of the corners, big enough for two. A bowl to hold a fire sat in the center of the house, ceramic and deep, nestled into the black sand that they’d spotted on the beaches below the village. There were baskets, woven of grass and reeds, made large enough to store a body, Edward thought, though he didn’t say it out loud. The functionality of the items within the house and that they’d been gifted with showed an amazing artistic ability; everything was decorated in one way or another, usually elaborately. Edward already decided he didn’t like the looks of the ancestor carving decorating the lodge pole. He looked like he was willing to climb off of the pole and attack them for being strangers.
After they’d been escorted inside the house, Maike’a told them they were welcome to join in any activity in the village. Winry took it in stride, and had already started some sort of barter with the wife of one of the wood carvers. That was something kind of weird to Edward, that men and women were more or less forbidden to speak to the other sex. A few of the villagers seemed to be above these strictures, namely Maike’a, Talileila and Keke, and the children, but they were guests, and Winry and he had agreed to try to follow their rules. The Kahona had done their best to make them comfortable and safe, and Edward wished he could come up with an idea of how to repay them.
For now, though, he lay stretched out on one of the woven grass mats outside their new house, where Winry could look him over in the sunlight. She really wanted to check out his port, and Edward could tell she missed her tools most at times like these. At this point, he’d yet to see any metal that could even be reformed into some sort of tool she could use. Brow furrowed, she knelt with his stump propped on her thigh, a pot of sweet-smelling goo at her side.
Edward tried to relax, to let Winry perform whatever maintenance she could, but his skin felt warm and strange, even prickly. He’d bent his leg, and Winry leaned against it, using his cocked knee as her backrest. The way she curled forward made her breasts seem bigger, at least to Edward. He kept trying to look anywhere else, but it seemed like his eyes were magnetized to them.
They’d done a few things back in Rezembool, though Edward found it kind of awkward to do much under Pinako Rockbell’s roof – despite her casual acceptance of almost anything “you kids might get up to”. It kind of put a damper on any kind of…romance time. And then, when they were traveling to get to the Aerugan sea ports, in theory starting out on their honeymoon, there had been too many people around on the trains for any type of alone-time, specifically of a sexual nature. On the Wavewalker, he’d been too sick to do anything except beg for his own death. Now, however, he was finally starting to feel human again, and with that, his body was intent on making its needs known, and Winry, sitting so close to his crotch – gah!
“Are you okay, Ed?”
She’d noticed, too, but he couldn’t expect anything less. Even distracted as she was with his port, she’d be aware of any changes in his breathing, his temperature, any stupid swellings that could occur. It was part of her training. The old hag was an automail surgeon; she’d schooled Winry about reactions to all types of stimulation.
“Fine!” Edward barked. The periodic table wasn’t working this time. “Uh…”
“Stop squirming!” She slapped his thigh lightly, and the sting of it went straight to his dick.
Damn it, Winry had to be doing it on purpose. Gritting his teeth, Edward twisted his head to the side, clenching his hands into fists. The tension transmitted itself to his forearms, and they trembled.
“What’s wrong, Ed?” Her rough fingertips touched his chin, and he let Winry pull him back to look at her. She leaned over him, one hand cupping his chin, the other planted next to his hip, her breasts – no, no, fuck, no! “Ed?” His hips shifted involuntarily, and the curious, concerned gleam in her eyes changed to understanding. A soft noise escaped her, almost a purr, and the sound of it made his groin tighten even more. Winry leaned farther over him, and Edward gave in to the temptation, running his hands along her ribs as she kissed him.
Kissing Winry was like eating a peach – soft and sweet - and there were times, like now, when Edward wondered why the hell he hadn’t kissed her years sooner. The clinical part of him knew why, but the other part, the one that really enjoyed the taste of Winry’s mouth, and the silkiness of her skin, and the way she smelled, like flowers and the faintest hint of metal, despite not having worked in weeks, wanted to kick his younger self in the ass. Still, this wasn’t the time or the place for this kind of thing – no matter how much he might want it to be. “Winry,” Edward kissed her again. She did that thing with her tongue; god, he didn’t want to think where she learned that trick, but it practically made his body sing. “Win,” another kiss, “ry. We…not…I mean.”
Art by SeeInBlackAndWhite
“You’re stuttering,” she said, between kisses, and oh, god, her body lay over his and it was all Edward could do not to buck up into her.
“We’re in the open!” he managed to whine, pushing at her shoulders even though he wanted to grab her ass.
Winry let him guide her up, though her thighs straddled his hips. Edward gritted his teeth to keep from whining. “So, we could go inside,” she said, tickling her fingers over his chest. “There’s a nice bed.”
The bed was different, Edward would admit to that, built into the corner of the wall. The carvings around the bed, those were pretty weird, but no weirder than some of the other carvings he’d seen around the village, at least, what little he’d seen of it at this point. But the glittering, staring eyes, well, he’d rather do without them. Still, it had been comfortable when they’d slept on it the night before, a lot nicer than the padded mat back in the healing house. “You’re right,” he told Winry, and pushed himself up, so their chests nearly touched. “You’re going to have to move, you know.”
Winry chuckled, swinging her leg over him, and positioning herself so she could help him up. Edward couldn’t help it, when he flung his arm over her shoulder, his fingers brushed over the upper swell of her breast. He got his foot under him as Winry let out an annoyed little grumble, bracing herself before she pushed up. They both rocked a bit as Ed got his balance, then they began moving into the building.
Winry remembered to let the curtain covering the door down, putting them nearly in the dark. The smoke hole let in some light from outside, and there were ceramic bowls full of more of the sweet oil with wicks in them for providing light at night, but they didn’t need any extra light right now. They shuffled quickly toward the corner where the bed was, Edward purposefully reaching for her breast this time. “Grabby!” Winry snapped at him as he accidentally pinched her nipple.
“They’re nice, Winry,” he whined, bumping his hip into hers as they more or less fell into the bed. Edward rolled so he could pull Winry on top of him, running his hands along her sides.
She squirmed, giggling, slapping lightly at his chest. “Stop it. You know I’m ticklish.” Edward leaned up to nuzzle her breasts, lightly biting an erect nipple. Winry tossed her head back, groaning softly. “Ed…” Her fingers dug into his chest, and scrabbled at his shirt to pull it free.
Clothes were just distractions, and Edward hurried to get Winry out of hers, just as much as she rushed him out of his. Nudity hadn’t meant much when they were kids; Edward couldn’t remember how many times he’d seen Winry naked. Probably almost as many times as he and Al had shared bathwater. While he’d made loud noises in the past about ‘girl cooties’, Edward knew things were different now. He swallowed hard at the sight of her naked body. He couldn’t think of when he’d seen her totally nude last – when they were kids, and Granny’d dumped them all in a wash tub to clean them up from a day of running through the mud bank during the summer.
“Ed?” Winry cocked her head slightly, and her hair slipped over her shoulder, the ends tickling his stomach.
Edward curled a strand of it around his finger, giving it the softest tug he could. “You’re beautiful,” he mumbled.
Even with the dim lighting, he could see the pleased flush darkening her face. “Thanks.” Winry smiled at him, her hands moving in slow circles over his chest. Her palms moved lower along his torso, her fingers tracing scars that crossed his body. Edward licked his lips, inhaling sharply as Winry stroked the stellate scar above his left hip. The roughened patch of skin remained sensitive, especially to her knowledgeable fingers. Winry leaned over him, her hair curtaining off the world for them both as she kissed him.
His hands spanned her shoulder blades. Winry seemed so delicate, but it was an illusion. Edward knew how strong she was, both physically and mentally, but knew she could be fragile, too. He kissed her softly at first, then more hungrily. His dick twitched and lengthened, the heat of it digging into her thigh. She had to feel it, Edward knew, and wasn’t surprised when she palmed his shaft. Whining, he couldn’t control himself, thrusting into her hand.
Winry laughed, a soft, breathless sound. “Hmm, eager?”
Edward caught hold of her hips, rolling so they were lying side by side. He slid his hand down over the curve of her ass, stroking her thigh and pulling her leg up so it rested on top of his. This gave him room to touch her. He twined his fingers into her curling, darker hair, tugging lightly to make Winry hiss and arch her hips. “Eager?” he teased.
“Brat,” Winry growled without any heat, letting out a soft groan when Edward slid his knuckle into the moist heat of her lower lips. He’d gotten good with his fingers, with a little bit of tutoring, but this was a lot nicer than many of the lessons he’d learned over the years. Finding that hot pearl of skin, Edward stroked it firmly, smiling when Winry gasped.
“Who’s the brat?” he asked as Winry dug her fingers into his shoulders. Her back arched and she moaned, eyes closing tightly. Edward closed his mouth on her collarbone, sucking and drawing another groan out of Winry. She was wet against his hand, and Edward slipped a finger inside her. Her hand tightened around his dick in response. She pumped his shaft, and he grunted. “God, Winry.” She felt so hot and slick around his finger. “Hnn…are you ready?” He curled his finger, rubbing inside of her. Winry panted, forgetting to rub his dick. “Winry?”
“You…I think you need to be on top.” Edward slid his finger out of her, sucking it clean. Winry’s eyes dilated at the sight. She chewed on her lower lip as he rolled onto his back. Throwing her leg over his hips, Winry situated herself, holding onto him as she rose up on her knees. The heat of her engulfed the head of his dick, and Edward dug his fingers into the bedding to keep from grabbing her hips. “Winry.”
With another of those breathless chuckles, she lowered herself onto him. Edward thumped his head back into the bedding, his eyes closing tight and teeth gritting as Winry sank down his shaft. His eyes snapped open when she hit his hips and a silent moan vibrated through his throat. Edward clutched her hips, shuddering.
It seemed forever before they started moving, the sensations increasing like electric sparks along their touching skin. The rhythm they found was like the ocean waves, rolling their bodies together. Edward pulled Winry down to him, kissing every part of her within reach, tasting the sweat collecting on her skin. Her heat felt like a fever around him. Winry whined, her fingers curling tight around his shoulders, and she leaned her forehead against his.
“Oh…nn…Ed,” she panted, and her breath caressed his mouth.
Edward cupped the back of her head, pulling her down for a kiss as his hips rolled up into hers. He shuddered, a sensation building in the small of his back and in the tightening of his balls. “C-can’t…Winry…”
Her smile vanished as quickly as it appeared, and Winry arched her back. “Ed.” Her skin flushed dark from the top of her breasts to the roots of her hair. She flipped her hair back, though it didn’t go far, sticking to her damp skin.
He managed to catch hold of one of her nipples with his mouth, sucking on it. Winry’s wordless exclamation echoed around the house, and she pushed down on him, hard. Her body froze for an instant, her fingers digging achingly into his chest. Edward gloried in the sight of her coming for him, on top of him, the feeling of her body convulsing around his shaft, before everything was lost in the white-hot flame erupting out of his own body and deep into hers.
Winry sighed, collapsing on top of him. Edward rubbed her back, trying to catch his breath, his chest heaving like a bellows. “You…good?”
“Mm,” she hummed, not lifting her head. Rubbing her cheek against his collarbone, she relaxed even further against him. “You?”
Wrapping his arms tightly around her, Edward kissed the crown of her head. “God, yes.” His heart slowed down to its normal steady rate, and he stretched his leg, pointing and spreading his toes. The weird thing was he could feel his left leg’s toes spreading, too. Damned phantom leg.
“What?” Winry mumbled.
Edward cocked his head so he could meet her eyes. She had a sated, sleepy, rumpled look he really liked, and he wanted to see her that way more often. “Twinges.” He didn’t want her to move right now, or worry about his port. “I’m fine,” he added, as Winry started to push off of his chest, halted by the band of his arms around her. “Phantom leg. You can’t do anything about it.”
Winry made a grumpy sound, but relaxed against him again. “Not yet.”
“I haven’t seen any metal or even ore around.” Edward sighed, regretfully. “I don’t think you’re going to be able to build me a new leg until we get to Xing. If then.”
“I know.” Edward could feel the tension running through her body at that idea. “Ed, I’m trying to get one of the carvers to work on a leg for you, but it’s hard for me to talk through his wife. I don’t know if she’s getting what I want him to do.”
“You can point him out to me and I can talk to him.” A wooden leg would be better than nothing, despite their lack of mobility. At least he wouldn’t need Winry to help him hobble around if he had a wooden leg and a decent crutch. “Well, maybe.” He scratched the back of his head. “I wonder if anyone besides Maike’a can talk to us?”
Winry shrugged, her fingers tightening on his sides for a second or two. “Keke and Talileila try. Pogoso, too.”
Giving her a kiss, Edward said, “We should learn their language.” His fingers trailed along her back, freezing in mid-stroke. “Fuck!”
Winry jerked back, startled, her eyes wide. “What?”
“Al! He’s got to be worried sick.” Edward pulled away from her, swinging his leg over the edge of the bed. He cast around for his clothing, reaching for his pants with his toes and dragging them close enough so he could yank them on. “Fuck. How do we get word to Xing?”
Winry climbed out of the bed, getting her dress and putting it on, her nose wrinkling slightly as she tried to brush out the wrinkles and stains. Sighing in realization she wasn’t doing any good, she turned to Edward. “I don’t know how far away from Xing we are, Ed.”
“Yeah, but we should still ask Maike’a about it!” He realized he couldn’t walk anywhere without Winry. “He could send someone out.”
“Remember ‘A’umea bad’?” Winry frowned, bumping his shoulder as she sat next to him. “We talked to Maike’a about Xing before.” She glanced off to the left corner of the room. “Ed, if that A’umea is between us and Xing, that might be why Maike’a said that.”
The stomping feet, the exaggerated grimaces, Edward remembered them, and how Maike’a had mimed killing Keke and Talileila. “We still need to know,” he mumbled, rubbing his chin. “Damn it. We need to speak their language, Winry.”
“I’ve been trying to learn it since I woke up.” She blew out a puff of air, her bangs fluttering at the force of her exhalation. “It’s hard.”
“No wonder you’re having a hard time explaining to that woman what you want carved.” Edward caught the strand of her hair tickling his arm, and twined it around his finger. “Maybe we can still barter something. Someone might be willing to try to get a message to Xing for us.”
“Maike’a would be the one to ask.” Winry pursed her mouth, staring at the fire bowl. “We need to do something nice for him. And Talileila and Keke.”
Tugging her hair softly, Edward murmured, “Yeah. And figure out something we can use to trade.” He nuzzled her cheek. “Not your earrings or our wedding rings.”
“They can be replaced,” Winry said, leaning into him. “They’re just things.”
He scowled, giving her hair a slightly sharper tug. “I didn’t carry your earrings for an entire winter and through the Promised Day to give them up in trade for anything. The rings…” They could be replaced, Winry was right about them. Being gold, and him not having seen any metal here besides what they brought to this island with them, they might fetch a decent trade, if it came down to it. Edward didn’t really want to trade them. When he’d put Winry’s ring on her finger, it seemed like something he’d been waiting to do for a really long time. It didn’t mean he wouldn’t barter them away, it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. “We really don’t have anything else, do we?”
“Well.” Winry turned to meet his eyes.
She took hold of the strand of hair he was playing with, pulling his hand with her tug. “They’re pretty interested in our hair.”
Edward blinked a few times. “You’re saying we should trade our hair?”
“It’s not like it won’t grow back.” Shrugging, Winry rubbed a length of Ed’s hair between her thumb and forefinger. “It’s long, too.”
“You think they’d want our hair?” There was something fundamentally weird about that, Edward knew it. And kind of creepy.
“I don’t know. It’s an idea.”
The sound rumbled through their house, Winry peering around, Edward frowning, pushing to his foot and balancing himself on Winry’s shoulder. “What the hell?” He wished he could run out the door, but barely contented himself with squeezing her arm.
“Here.” Winry shoved his pants at him, and Edward huffed. After he buttoned them on, Winry slithered up under his arm, wrapping her arm around his waist. They trotted to the doorway, peering outside to see Kohona men running across the dike bridges, many of them carrying spears or clubs. “Is it an attack?”
“A’umea?” Edward stood on his toes. He couldn’t see anything, even with the extra height, and, gritting his teeth, he gripped Winry’s shoulder tightly and lowered himself again. “Fuck!”
Winry twisted as much as she could with Edward anchoring her in place. Pogoso ran up to them, shouting something in his musical language. He stabbed his finger at the men, still running over the bridges, then pointed at their house. Making a pushing motion at them, he waved at them to go back inside.
“Why?” Edward asked, shaking his head. “What’s happening, Pogoso?” He tried again. “A’umea?”
The boy’s eyes widened and he babbled something, nodding his head hard enough it seemed like it would snap off his neck. “A’umea,” he said, then some sort of gibberish, and, “Livali!” He stabbed a finger at the house again.
“Maybe we should go back inside,” Winry said, but Edward planted his weight. “Ed!”
“There has to be something I can do to help!” He trembled, wanting to run out and find Maike’a, figure out what he could do. “Stupid fucking leg!”
The sound – Edward recognized it now as drumming – grew louder. His expression desperate, Pogoso made the shooing motion at them again. His gibberish grew louder, and he tossed his head, looking over his shoulder, then back at them. He’d paled, his skin tone taking on a peculiar grayish tone.
“Ed, come on.” Winry reminded him again just how strong she was when she pulled him back through the doorway of their house.
“Winry!” He snatched at the doorframe, managing to grab the curtain instead.
“Ed, you can’t do anything! We can’t even figure out what’s going on!”
“It’s an attack, we know that much!” Edward snapped at her.
She glared back at him, still hauling him along, despite how much Edward tried to stay in one place. “And what are you going to do? Hop at A’umea? You’re not an alchemist; we don’t even speak the language!”
“But there has to be something - !” Looking over his shoulder, Edward gnashed his teeth. Though he knew Winry was right, he chaffed at having to wait, without knowing what was going on.
There was a scrabbling sound at the doorway.
Edward and Winry exchanged a look, and without asking, she turned them around and they made their way back to the door. Edward pulled the door curtain aside, revealing a young man leaning on a pair of crutches. His face wasn’t as tattooed as Maike’a’s, and his topknot of hair was only a small club. A worried smile twitched at his mouth. He said something, and Edward tried to move aside, nearly tangling his leg with Winry’s. She grunted, but kept them both upright. “Come in,” Edward said, and gestured at the young man.
He and Winry hobbled along, the young man following them. The thump-thump of his crutches sounded so familiar, a chill ran up Edward’s spine. Winry helped him down at the fire bowl, where a series of mats had been laid out, and started to offer to help the young man, but hesitated. Still, she smiled, and held out her hands, gesturing at him and the mat. Shaking his head, the young man folded his leg, neatly hiding the club foot, and lowered himself to the mat.
“Would you like something to drink?” Winry mimed raising a container to her mouth and pointed to one of the gourd pressed against a wall.
The young man shook his head again, but gave her a faint smile before turning his attention to Edward. “Ihe.” He patted his chest. “Ihe.”
“Hello, Ihe. This is Winry, and I’m Edward.” He tapped his breastbone. “Ed.”
“Hi,” Winry wriggled her fingers, though she didn’t make direct eye contact with Ihe.
Edward noticed, but didn’t say anything. What was there to say, after all? Their culture was different. Rubbing his fingers over his mouth, Edward turned to Ihe. “Can you tell us anything about what’s happening?” He pointed toward the door. “Out there?”
Ihe frowned, squinting, obviously trying hard to figure out what Edward was asking. At the pointing, he bit his lip, and spoke slowly, though his agitation bled through.
Exchanging a look with Winry, Edward realized she was in the same situation he was. The only word Ihe spoke that they knew was, “A’umea.”
X X X
Chapter 9: Battle Rites
The runner came from the northern village fell at Maike’a’s feet, holding up a baton painted red with ochre, two black stripes marring the symmetry of it. Maike’a closed his eyes for a second, just long enough to compose himself, then turned to his eldest son. “Find Hawalui! Tell her A’umea has attacked Livali’s people. Tell every man you see to gather his weapons and to meet me at the northern bridge.”
Kulu nodded and ran off, while Maike’a turned to his second eldest son, advising him to do the same. Elihi, his first wife, covered her mouth with her hands, letting out a sob. He turned to her, taking hold of her shoulders. “I will come back,” he told her. Pulling her close, he leaned his forehead against hers; rubbing his nose against hers. “I will come back,” he repeated, inhaling her breath and holding it in his mouth as long as he could as he released her, heading quickly into their home to collect his own weapons.
Elihi followed him, opening a lidded ceramic bowl. Scooping up some of the aromatic oil in the bowl, she began smearing it along his arms. Maike’a helped her by releasing his kilt, letting it fall in a puddle at his feet. Elihi shouted at Naya, his youngest wife, and she ran inside to help spread the oil over his body. Maike’a closed his eyes as Elihi rubbed oil into the shaft of his engorging penis. Her touch always had that effect on him. If there was time, he would take her and Naya, both, but they would need to run to the north, and he couldn’t afford to waste his energy on sex. Still, his penis jerked when first Elihi, then Naya, licked the tip of it, and it was all he could do not to grab their hair and pull their mouths back on him.
Women could offer not more assistance, and he sent them out of the house, rather than let them distract him. Gathering his war cape, Maike’a fastened it around his neck. It protected his left side from attacks, inasmuch as woven fibers could. He caught up his heavy wooden patu, studded along one of the edges with shark’s teeth, and looped its anchor knot around his wrist. His youngest adult son, the last child he had with Elihi, trotted inside the house, already glistening with oil, making his newest tattoos twist like black snakes over his skin. Without asking, he began collecting Maike’a’s other weapons, the two headed dagger with the handle between the blades, and the short spear, lashing both of them to the interior of Maike’a’s cape. He took down the heavy leather loincloth and wrapped it around Maike’a’s waist, tying it with the traditional double knot, and stepped back.
“This is your first battle, Milihi.” Maike’a turned to his son. “Are you prepared?”
His eyes were clear but his shaky smile told more than Milihi probably wanted his father to know. “I am!” he said, and lifted a helmet made of a heavy gourd. It matched his robe in coloring, with crimson, black and yellow feathers decorating both. The helmet had its own eyespots and snarling mouth with extended tongue, the tongue dangling down to offer some protection to Maike’a’s nose. He reached up and released the topknot of his hair, letting the oiled strands fall down to his shoulders, then accepted the helmet from Milihi. “Get your weapons and helmet,” Maike’a told him gruffly, “we need to join the others.”
Talileila waited outside, her fingers twisted into a tight knot. She gave Maike’a and Milihi a smile, and bent down to pick up a tightly woven pot. Knocking the lid askew, she pinched out some pollen, mixed in with something else, ochre, perhaps, or herbs, maybe even blood. Talileila offered the pinch to Maike’a and he accepted it onto his tongue, swallowing hard. He kept his focus past her as she offered the same pinch to Milihi.
“I will sing your return,” she said.
Maike’a nodded. “The mohaki, should anything happen,” he let his voice die out.
“I will take them and the women and we will hide.” They both knew the best place to hide would be far away from Ialili, if A’umea continued her attacks.
“Keep my wives safe, too.”
“Of course.” Talileila’s crooked teeth flashed. “Come back safely.”
Maike’a clasped the back of her head, pulling her close to rest his forehead on hers. They stood that way for a few seconds, then he released her. “Milili, it’s time.” Without waiting for his son to answer, Maike’a started off at a jog to the bridge at the northernmost edge of the village.
There were things Maike’a would always remember about this day; the way the breeze curled around his face as he jogged along the narrow paths, half-hidden to keep strangers from finding the way from one village to the other. The sky overhead, its rich blue only marred sometimes by clouds, as wispy and thin as badly frayed cloth. He could hear the sound of his koa, his warriors, running with him, their breath a steady rumble in his ears, mingling with the sound of his own pulse. He thought of the layout of Livali’s village, how it differed from his own. He considered the best way to enter the village as an attacking troop, and how to best defend the village. The runner had only been able to say that A’umea’s canoes had been sighted, that they were on their way. A’umea wasn’t known for friendliness or cooperation, and Maike’a knew she wasn’t bringing stock for trading. The red baton with the black slashes on it proved Livali was taking no chances. He wondered if she’d sent a baton to Wi, too, then decided she would have. Whether Wi decided to answer the call would be another thing entirely, but it would make sense if Wi did – he’d know they needed to protect the island, not just one part of it. If the Kohona didn’t stand together, they’d all fall.
It took half a day of steady running to reach the northern edge of the island. Maike’a had maintained an easy pace, knowing his koa would be no good if they were exhausted when they reached the village. Besides, A’umea hadn’t landed by the time the runner had left Lavili’s village; and the sighting had had them still out at sea. He hoped they were just on a scouting mission, it would feel like a waste if that was true.
From the hill across from the village, it looked as if all was calm, but Maike’a shaded his eyes carefully, and could just make out heads of koa peering over the ledge of a trench. Beckoning his best scouts, Maike’a spoke to them in whispers. “You will try to get as close to the village as possible. Try to find where A’umea’s koa are, and return to let me know.”
“A’aho,” the scouts replied in unison, their whispers a soft explosion in the cool air.
He watched them slide away before turning his attention to his warriors. Still speaking in a whisper, he said, “You need to keep your muscles from seizing up. We have had a long run, and we may be here for a while yet, until we have information, or until A’umea’s men attack. Pass the word along. Stay quiet, stay hidden.”
Milili offered Maike’a a stoppered gourd, and Maike’a took a drink, holding the water in his mouth on his dry tongue before swallowing. He raised the gourd again, pouring water into his mouth again, rinsing it around for a long time. “Thank you,” he told Milili afterward, pleased his son shared his water gourd with another of the koa and insisted it be passed along. Maike’a knew there was water close by; fresh water was never a problem in Ialili. Unless A’umea’s koa had poisoned the springs, they’d be able to find something to drink while waiting for the scouts to return.
The difficulty in waiting was that the koa had built up their excitement on the run to Livali’s village, and needed some way to maintain that energy. Even though the rest was not only welcome but necessary, any wait could increase the tension amongst Maike’a’s men, particularly the younger ones who had not yet seen actual battle. He’d always paired them with older, more experienced koa, to give them someone to keep them steady in situations like these. It didn’t help him, though. Maike’a wanted to run to Lavili’s village, to take up a place in one of the trenches, to join his scouts in their attempts to locate A’umea’s warriors. And a part of him wished he was back home, letting Elili finish what she’d started with his body.
X X X
A’umea hissed, rubbing the tip of her tongue on her eyetooth. The edge of it felt almost as if it could cut through her flesh. Like a shark’s tooth, she thought, sharp. Deadly. A predator’s tooth.
She studied the village. The bridges had been pulled back, leaving the trenches to protect the people within the deep ditches. A’umea licked her lips, tasting salt on them. There were four trenches she could see, though her warriors hadn’t inspected them yet. They waited for her signal to move forward, and she waited on her scouts to give her more information, so she knew the best places to start the attack.
Wriggling in delight, she felt the excitement thrumming through her blood with every heartbeat. They were fools, believing what she wanted them to, following the trail she’d laid to trick them. The Kohona koa were all in the north, and here, she and her warriors sat, above an unprotected village. Waiting, watching, choosing the best time to swoop down, and take control of the village.
Her warriors might complain out of her hearing about how there was no honor in this attack, but they would be pleased by the women and slaves they collected. This was a village ripe as an unpicked huah fruit tree, and just as flavorful. A’umea licked her teeth again, testing the edges. Her mouth watered at the thought of sinking her fangs deep into the village, at the thought of shaking her head from side to side to tear free a bloody chunk of it.
Her scouts couldn’t return fast enough to give her the news.
X X X
Edward held up his hand, stopping the flow of Ihe’s speech. He’d been tutoring them in Kohona words, laughing at their lousy pronunciation and worse comprehension. Edward still wasn’t sure whether ‘hau’iki’ meant ‘house’ or ‘roof’, for one thing, but something caught his attention.
“What - ” Winry started but Edward jerked his hand at her, frowning.
“Birds,” he said.
“Birds. Um.” He spun his hand, trying to remember the word Ihe’d said earlier. “Ma-kack?”
“Macac.” Ihe nodded, though his brow furrowed in confusion.
“I don’t hear any birds, Winry.” Glancing at her, Edward narrowed his eyes. “I don’t hear anything, no insects, no birds.”
She cocked her head. “So?”
“So, animals go quiet when something weird’s in their area, when they feel like they’re being threatened.” Edward turned his attention to the doorway. “I don’t know if anyone was left behind to protect the village.” Gnawing his lower lip, he looked back at Ihe, and the confused expression on his face. “But I don’t think they’d go that quiet for a goat.”
Winry sucked in her breath. “You think someone’s here to attack the village?”
“I think, if it was my call, and I knew I could trick all of the people who’d protect a city out of it, I could take it over a lot easier,” Edward said grimly.
Ihe looked between them as they talked, his confusion growing. Edward was sure the young man could understand their worry, if nothing else. Edward laid his hand on Ihe’s shoulder. “A’umea,” he said, and then stabbed his finger at the floor. “A’umea here.”
The boy’s eyes widened and he shot a glance at the doorway. Arranging his crutches, he used them to get to his feet and hobble to the entrance to their house, pushing the curtain back to peer out of it.
“Winry,” Edward took her hand in his, “you’ve got two good legs. You’re going to run.”
“I am not!” she snapped, closing her fingers tightly around his, hard enough to hurt. “I’m not leaving you, Ed, not this time! If we’re going into hiding, we’re going together!” Fury lit her face, made her eyes blaze. “Besides, who’d help haul you around if we weren’t together?”
“I don’t need your help!” Edward tried to say, only to have a shaking finger shoved nearly up his nose.
“You do, too! And you know it. Now, if there’s trouble, we’re getting out of it together.”
Edward clenched his jaw, knowing he wouldn’t lose this fight with Winry. There wasn’t any way he could, really. She was right. “Fine,” he spat out.
The sound started as a low rumble, one Edward could feel through the floorboards of their house. Winry’s eyes widened, a sign she felt it, too. Ihe turned from the doorway, hopping back to them, words they couldn’t understand spilling from his mouth, except for one. “A’umea!”
The rumble increased to a roar, shouts and ululations echoing outside the building. Edward winced at a scream. His trembling hands tightened into fists. “Damn it!”
Winry cast around, suddenly crawling across the floor on her hands and knees. Ihe made a curious noise, looking at Edward, who shrugged eloquently in return. “Winry,” he said.
“Shut up, Ed,” she snapped back, passing her hands over the floor. “Ah.” The smile that lit Winry’s face was startling in its intensity. She dug her fingernails into the floor, and began pulling. “Get over here and help me, Ed!” The floor creaked and moaned, and Edward realized what she was trying to do. He scrabbled across the floor on three limbs, wishing he had a knife, a pry bar, anything that would help lift the floorboards. Winry growled, pulling harder.
Hobbling closer, Ihe let out a string of sounds, getting Edward’s attention. Ihe wagged one of his crutches at Edward, pointing it at the space Winry had made between the floorboards. “Winry, be careful,” Edward said, grinning, and helped guide the end of the crutch into place. “We need something for a fulcrum to help pop that board out.” He didn’t see anything he’d trust to the pressure, his eyes lighting on his port. “Uh.”
Winry followed his gaze. “No.”
“It’s not like we have a choice, Winry.” Edward shoved his thigh under the crutch, making sure the metal was beneath the wood. “Push down, Ihe!”
The floor groaned again, and Winry jerked backward, turning her head and shielding Edward’s face with her hand. “One more time, Ihe!” Edward panted, ignoring the twinges going through his thigh at the pressure on the port.
Ihe pressed his weight harder against the crutch, not even looking around when they heard more screams. Edward squeezed his eyes shut, gritting his teeth. Winry caught hold of the shaft of the crutch, adding her weight. Yelping, Edward shot her a dirty look. “Sorry, Ed,” she grunted, as the wood squealed.
“It’s okay, just hurry,” he groaned.
The board popped up, and Edward jerked his right arm up, catching the wood on his forearm. “Fuck!” he shouted, as the board clattered to the floor. “Damn it!”
“You forgot it’s not automail again,” Winry said, with a sigh.
“Shut up and…why did you want the board lifted again?” Edward rubbed his forearm, hissing at the sting.
“We can get down there.” Winry pointed at the ground beneath the floor. “Come on, Ihe, you’re first, then you, Ed.”
“Don’t argue!” Winry glared at him, moving aside for Ihe to slither down into the hole. She passed him the crutches. “Now you, Ed.”
Gnashing his teeth, Edward slid his foot into the hole. “You’d better be right behind me, Winry, or - ”
She shoved at his shoulders. “Get in that hole, Edward, before I kick you into it!”
Grumbling under his breath, Edward slid down into the hole, belly crawling after Ihe to get out of Winry’s way. He twisted back around, poking his head up out of the hole. “Winry! Come on!” Winry bit her lip, looking toward the door. “Winry!” he hissed.
Ignoring him, she pushed to her feet, running over to one of the baskets along the wall. Knocking the lid off, Winry dug into it, pulling out the heavy twine they’d been given along with their other gifts. “Winry,” Edward whispered, sitting up in the hole, his hands on either side of it to haul himself out.
“Stay in there, Edward!” Winry glared at him over her shoulder, taking the twine as she hurried back to the door.
“What are you doing?”
Winry tied the twine on the doorpost, around the leg of one of the carved men, then began weaving it back and forth across the opening. Edward shook his head, biting his lip. “Winry!” he hissed. “Please!” A hand grabbed his ankle and he had to stop himself from kicking hard. Twisting down, he stared at Ihe, at the boy’s face, twisted in worry. “Winry.”
“Get back into the hole,” Winry told him, her voice tight, though not quite shrill. She continued spinning the twine around the doorpost carvings, tying it off as tightly as she could. Her hands on her hips, she took a step back, nodding, then ran back across the floor. “Ed, move!”
He lay down, rolling onto his stomach and started wriggling out of Winry’s way. Ihe managed a grimace, using his elbows and knees to propel him along. Edward looked over his shoulder, his eyes widening as Winry smiled at him. “I love you, Ed,” she said, laying the floorboard back into place.
“Winry!” Edward snapped, turning around and scrabbling back to the hole. “Winry!” He couldn’t get the leverage he needed to shove the board out of the way. “Winry!” Slamming his palm against the rough wood, he groaned. “Winry, come down here!”
Her answer was muffled. “Ed, shut up. You know this is the best way. Now, go with Ihe. I’ll be okay.”
Ice seemed to run through his body. “No, Winry. Please!” Edward punched the wood. “Damn it, Winry!”
“Shut up!” she shouted through the floor, “Ed, listen to me and get out of here. Go! Now!”
Ihe babbled something, grabbing at Edward’s shoulder. He gestured, pointing at the hint of light showing from underneath the building. Seeing feet and legs moving toward the building, Edward swallowed a groan. “Winry,” he said. “Please…they’re right outside. Please, Winry.”
“Quiet, Ed! I’ll be fine.” The tremor in her voice belied that statement. “Now shut up, and stay safe.”
Edward gritted his teeth, thumping his fist one last time on the floor. He wasn’t moving, not while Winry was up there. He heard the voices of the men surrounding the building, the music of it making him want to scream. Instead, he clenched his jaw and his fists, staring holes up through the floorboards. Someone tried to come into the building and shouted. Even though it was in a different language, Edward knew rage when he heard it. “Winry.”
There was a clatter, and the sound of pottery breaking, and Winry’s voice, cold and harsh. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Feet shuffled at the doorway, enough of them to make the wood there bow. Ihe gasped and slapped a hand over his mouth. Edward bit his lip to keep from shouting. Someone started across the floor, heavy, thumping footsteps. They stopped, and Edward tasted blood. He spread his hand against the floorboard, licking his lip, wishing he could see. Wishing he still had alchemy, wishing they’d stayed in their cabin aboard the Wavewalker. Wishing they’d gone through the desert, rather than taking a ship. “Damn it,” Edward whispered, closing his eyes.
Winry’s voice rang out. “Do not touch me!”
“Leave her alone!” He slammed his fist into the floorboard. Ihe squeaked, and started scrabbling backward as Edward punched the wood again. “Don’t you dare touch her!”
There were shouts, and the floorboard suddenly jerked up, faces staring down at him. Edward snarled back, grabbing the first topknot he saw, yanking it down hard enough to make the man scream. He kicked straight up, cutting off the scream when his heel jammed into the man’s stomach. The man collapsed over the hole, making Edward swear until the hole was cleared again, and a series of spears were pointed directly at him.
“Winry, are you okay?” he asked, ignoring the spears, shoving one of them out of the way so he could sit up. Unable to see her, he craned his head to the side. “Winry?”
Something crashed against the back of his skull, stars erupting as he slumped sideways. Before the darkness dragged him down, Edward thought he heard Winry shouting his name.
Chapter 10: Raiders
A’umea watched as her warriors marched their new slaves along the paths of the village, a faint smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. The attack had been swift, moving forward without any complications. Her warriors had suffered little, only a few of their bodies would be left behind when they paddled back home to the island of the Mariori. The high-ranking women appeared to be missing, which meant they’d been sent into hiding early. She thought there should have been more children, too, but it was of no matter. This raid would be enough to take the best, or at least, more than expected from the Kohona. This attack would show them that the Mariori were a force to be reckoned with, rather than mocked.
While her unwounded warriors collected items of worth from the various houses, putting them in piles for later distribution, Taitora stood beside her, keeping a tally on a piece of bamboo as to how many women and children had been captured in the raid. He prided himself on his accurate counts, one of the reasons A’umea prized him so. His eyes always seemed to be everywhere, despite the fact he didn’t participate in the battles. He always knew which of her warriors were deserving of an extra prize from their plunder.
Taitora totted up another group of children and waved them off. “Some of the children must have escaped,” he murmured, “our spies told of more.”
“I haven’t seen the wives of the chief,” A’umea said, chewing on a fingernail absently. “Or any of the elder women.” She turned to Taitora when he clicked his tongue. “What?”
“The warriors should beat the land, drive them out. They’ve gone into hiding.” Taitora’s eyes widened, and his voice dropped, almost becoming hushed. “But they didn’t take that prize with them?”
A’umea glanced sideways, her hand dropping from her mouth at the sight of the approaching pair. The man dangled between the hands of two of her men, while the woman walked behind him, her chin tilted high. Mouth dropping open at the color of their hair, A’umea marveled at the rich, pale strands; like fairest dawn on the woman, the sun at midday for the man. Their coloring practically gleamed like the moon compared to her own skin, and A’umea wondered at how it must feel to touch. Perhaps like the moss under certain trees. She clenched her fingers to keep from reaching out as the pair were brought closer to her, and she had to clear her throat to be able to speak.
“Is he alive?” A’umea pointed at the man with her patu.
The woman snapped something out, her eyes, the same color as the sky at dusk, narrowing sharply. A’umea sucked her lower lip between her teeth. “Set him down,” she said. “And wake him. Gently!” she barked, when one of the men made to drop him.
The woman broke free of her captors and went to him, her arm around the mohaki man’s back. Fury lit her face like lightning as she shouted out words that made no sense. The man leaned against her, his hand clutching her thigh. His yellow head, stained with blood, raised, and A’umea stared into his eyes, marveling at the sight of them. They were like twin suns, and blazed just as hot.
“Who are you?” she wondered aloud.
“Edward Elric,” he spat back.
A’umea blinked in surprise, though her smile returned. She wondered if that was his name. “You speak my language?” He glared at her, and that answered A’umea’s question. She smiled, walking toward him, her hips swaying, twirling her patu in her hand. The cape over her shoulders slipped, revealing her body, though he didn’t seem to notice. As she drew closer, A’umea noticed his leg, or what was left of it, and the dark band that covered the end of the stump. How could he dare believe he could offer up a threat to her when he was so obviously useless, except as a marvel for his coloring?
The woman next to him shifted her weight, drawing A’umea’s attention to her. The man tried to block A’umea’s view, leaning sideways in front of the woman. “Brave,” she told him. “Stupid, but brave.” Spinning the patu faster, she smiled.
He sneered in response, spitting out something in his native tongue. The woman clutched at his shoulders, something she did often, A’umea was sure of it. “Pick her up,” she said, waving her patu at her warriors. “Keep hold of her,” she added, squatting down in front of the strange man. He reacted when the woman was pulled away from him, grabbing for her hand. She fought to stay with him as A’umea expected. Her feet kicked with an amazing accuracy, making the men yip and jump. She hid her smile, watching the gold-haired man’s grin at the sight of the woman’s fighting. She recognized pride when she saw it. “Don’t hurt her,” A’umea reminded her men. “Just hold her.”
The man’s gaze turned back to her, and A’umea smiled at him. His expression remained cold as stone, and A’umea felt like he was studying her in a way she didn’t particularly like. He didn’t seem taken in by her beauty, or her obvious ranking within the Mariori. There was no fear in his eyes, only a rich gold hostility, one that made her wonder. If he had all his limbs, this one would be a warrior, she was sure of it. As it was, his body was marked with scars, scars that only came from one who participated in battle. She recognized the markings across his ribs, and the puncture scar on his lower left side. How, she wondered, had he survived such a blow? A Mariori would have died from a wound like that. She wanted to touch the scar, but refrained. A faint scar rode his forehead above his eyebrow, the only one marring his face. It was a fascinating face, A’umea thought, one she would like to study. His features were so different than those of the Mariori, the Kohona, the tribes she knew. Somehow, she knew if she took her attention off of him, he’d strike, just as quickly as a water snake. His hands were broad and strong, and A’umea thought he’d choke her or break her neck if she got within range.
Rocking back on her heels, A’umea glanced toward his stump. The band around it, protecting it, that caught her eye. She wondered what it was. Instead of cauterizing the wound, had the piece been placed over it instead? What would happen if she tried to pull it off? She licked her lips at the idea. Would it hurt if she pulled it off? Her hands itched to touch it, to run her fingers over it. There seemed to be a dimple in it, and A’umea wondered what would happen if she poked her finger into it. Wriggling at the idea, she flexed the hand not holding her patu.
“Hey!” The woman flung herself against her guard’s grips. Her voice grew shrill and angry, and A’umea rolled her head to look up at her exclamations. Anger snapped in her eyes and suspicion curled her mouth. It wasn’t jealousy, A’umea could tell that much. The woman was more protective than anything, almost as if she knew what A’umea was thinking and tried to warn her off from touching that cap on the man’s leg stump. A’umea’s hands felt hot at the possible threat in the woman’s eyes. No one looked at her that way.
It made her skin tingle.
“Bring them both,” A’umea said, turning to Taitora. “Mark them as mine.”
He nodded, making a new set of hash marks on the bamboo stick.
X X X
Talileila cupped her hands around her eyes, staring down at the village from her perch in the top of a tree. She could see the warriors moving through the houses, herding the remaining women and children, like she’d herd a flock of goats. A splash of yellow showed her that Winree and Eduward had been captured. Pursing her mouth, Talileila slithered down out of the tree.
Elihi waited for her, her arms folded across her chest. “Well?”
“The Mohaki have been captured,” she said. Talileila shrugged, turning toward Ihe. He balanced on his crutches, his chest and face filthy and scraped from his crawling out of the house.
“She kept me safe,” Ihe said, looking past Elihi’s shoulder as he said it.
“And my husband promised to take care of them,” Elihi said, not quite grudgingly.
“Our people need us,” Talileila said, sweeping her hand out toward the village.
Elihi followed the gesture, her mouth tightening. “We are women and children,” she said, “and men too old or too young to fight. Our weapons are in the village, being stolen by A’umea and her warriors.” She spit out the last words like they were a curse.
“There are weapons hidden in storage,” Ihe said, and ducked when Elihi shot her cold gaze his way. “I – I know.”
“You know?” Elihi waved off his protest. “Of course. Maike’a trusts you.” Her smile was faint but approving. “Tell us where they are, Ihe, so we can take back our people.”
Ihe’s eyes widened, his gaze skittering between her and Talileila. Talileila gave him an encouraging nod. “Women,” he asked, “fighting?”
Elihi snarled, “I will protect my people, Ihe. Do not lecture me on my place, when a woman leads the Mariori!”
He ducked his head. “I can tell you how to get to the weapons, Talileila.”
“Do that, Ihe,” Elihi said, and her eyes glittered. “Go, Talileila. Bring us weapons.”
Talileila smiled, sharp as the edge of an obsidian dagger. “Of course, Elihi.”
X X X
Edward tried to ignore the dull throbbing in his skull, but it hurt like a son of a bitch. Every jerk under his arms made his head bob, increasing the pain. It was like someone pounding to get out of his skull. He narrowed his eyes at Winry’s back. She walked ahead of him, the fringe of her hair swaying above her ass. Edward wondered if the men hauling him along were staring at her backside, too. They’d better not be, he thought, then reminded himself he couldn’t really do anything about it. If he had his leg, though.
The thought entertained him for a few seconds but not long enough to distract him from what was happening. He’d noticed some of the trophies the attackers wore; strips of human hair, and he was sure that the woman who seemed to be leading them had a dried penis dangling from the end of her weapon. He was pretty sure his balls retreated right up into his stomach at the thought of losing his dick to this woman.
A’umea. Edward raised his head, trying to find her in the mass of black heads surrounding him. There were too many for him to pick out one, though she had worn a comb in her hair that stuck up almost like a turkey’s tail over her head. And that cape to match. But even that didn’t seem to be visible in amongst the bodies in front of him.
At least he knew where Winry was. Edward watched her backside, then jerked his eyes up again, even if it didn’t matter. They were married, he could look at his wife’s ass, damn it. And it was a nice ass. Round and tight, and the way it moved…no, he really shouldn’t be thinking about it. Not right now. Not when there were other things to think about, like where A’umea might be taking them. Edward winced as he was jostled over a fallen tree, his head booming like a drum as a flock of brilliantly-colored birds flushed out of the underbrush. The men holding him craned their heads back, and Edward thought, if he had two good legs, he’d be able to take advantage of their distraction. As it was, he knew he’d never be able to hop away, even with Winry’s help.
The birds squawked and cried as they wheeled overhead. Edward didn’t look up like so many of the men around him did, instead, he studied the path and the land ahead of them. Trees dripped leaves over everything, and were so thick, they could almost block out the sky. The fallen tree they’d just climbed over would slow everyone in the column down. Edward thought it would be a great place to launch an ambush. He was almost surprised when the warriors moved on, feeling somehow let down that something hadn’t happened.
Biting back his irritation, Edward let the men drag him forward. He could hear sounds of the forest around them, the birds and insects quieting as the warriors approached, then starting up again as they realized they weren’t being attacked. This was more than he’d seen of the island since he’d woken up in the healing house. A part of him was curious about how lush and green everything was, and how brilliantly-hued the birds were. A butterfly fluttered across the path ahead of them, and Edward blinked the sheer blue of it, then how it seemed to change to grey when it was in shadow. He thought Winry needed a dress that shade, and wondered if Ling’s people could make something that color. He’d have to ask when they got to Xing.
The path narrowed ahead, going through a crevasse in the dark grey of the island rock. Edward cocked his head slightly, wondering what kind of rock it was. Was this island a dead volcano? He tried to look around without attracting attention, but wasn’t good enough to escape a smack to the back of his head. Though light, the blow made his head swim, and he closed his eyes against the world spinning around him.
A shout made his eyes jerk open again. The sound came from the crevasse, and one of the men ahead of them was trying to run back through the line, shoving to get through. Some of the men jeered at him, a couple hooting and shouting at his obvious fear. Edward heard something else, a faint scream, and he planted his foot on the ground. “Winry!”
More men broke and run, despite the shouts of their fellows. Winry tried to break free of her captors, glancing over her shoulder at Ed. “Is it an ambush?” she asked, her eyes wide.
“Think so.” Edward let his guards take his weight as he jerked to the left, kicking hard with the heel of his foot to the ribs on his right. The wet snap and screech made him grin, though his guard pulled Edward down as he crumbled to the ground. “Shit!”
Winry fell back at the same time that Edward snap kicked at his guard, letting her weight take her to the ground. Her hands pulled free of her guards’ grips, and she scrambled backward, inadvertently slamming into the knees of Edward’s second guard. Edward yelped, windmilling his arm as he tried to keep from landing on top of her. In his head, he could hear Master Izumi’s disappointed voice, “Tuck and roll, Ed!” and tried to obey her, fighting to curl his body in on itself. Body mass dragged his second guard down, and they fell in a tangle over Winry. Edward clenched his jaw as someone kicked him, trying to flatten himself over Winry, to protect her from the stampede of feet running over them. He could hear orders being barked out, almost able to make out what was being said from the tone of voice of those shouting.
“We need to get out of here!” he yelled at Winry.
She shoved at his shoulders. “Get off!”
Edward tried to roll, seeing his guard on one knee, his club raised. Edward froze, catching hold of Winry to keep the blow from reaching her, but she saw; he could feel the tension running through her body. He ducked his head against her, bracing his shoulders to take the blow.
It never came.
He dared to raise his head, seeing the guard with an arrow in his throat, a shocked look on his face as he fell backward. “Damn it,” Edward mumbled, trying to shield Winry from the sight, but she ducked her head against his chest for a second.
“We have to move,” she whispered, barely loud enough for Edward to hear her.
He nodded, risking a glance around. “I think the Kohona are back,” he said in her ear, half-shouting to be heard over the din around them. Edward caught sight of someone running toward them, a stone club raised over his head, his tongue outstretched and eyes bugging. The man leaped them and Edward turned his head to follow his path, wincing hard as someone rose out of the underbrush with a bow, the arrow taking the man in the knee. He screamed as he fell, and another set of arrows flew out of the trees, striking down A’umea’s warriors.
“Maybe we’d better stay right where we are, Winry.” Edward wrapped himself more tightly around her, tucking his face against her shoulder. She was so warm and felt so good, even with what was happening around them. They’d be okay, Edward told himself, maybe even said it out loud, he wasn’t sure; they’d be okay, and they’d get out of this okay, and get to Xing. Winry’s arms bracketed his waist, and her breath was hot against his collarbone. Edward gritted his teeth, cursing his body for the reaction it was having. He’d read about this happening, about the body reacting to frightening stimuli by trying to engage in reproduction. Stupid, embarrassing, but true, just like the boner pressing into Winry’s thigh.
“Ed!” she hissed. “This is not the time!” Her fist pounded into the small of his back, and Edward winced.
“Don’t you think I know that?” Growling, he forced his hands to open, to let her go. “C’mon…we have to move.” Edward squirmed off of her and began belly crawling toward the underbrush, reaching back to take Winry’s hand. “Winry, come on.” He smiled a little bit as she rolled over and slapped his hand away. They wriggled toward the trees off the path, Edward trying to steer clear of the bodies prickling with arrow shafts and cracked skulls, but realizing they were too hard to avoid. “Close your eyes, Winry.” Guiding her hand to his waistband, Edward fitted her fingers around it. “Follow me.”
Another scream came close by, and Edward saw someone leaping out of the high grass, clutching at his throat. Blood spurted out in an arc, and Edward wanted to close his eyes, too. This wasn’t like fighting those dolls under Central City. These were people, and even if he wasn’t involved in the fight, he didn’t want to see anyone die, not like this. Reaching back, he grasped Winry’s hand tight in reassurance, though whether he was trying to give it to her, or take it for himself, he wasn’t sure. “Stay close to me, Winry.”
She nodded, her eyes screwed tightly closed, and Edward began leading her toward what he hoped were the Kohona warriors, and safety.
Chapter 11: Drawing Lines in the Sand
A’umea stared straight ahead. Her hands were tied behind her back, the lashings cutting into her skin. Blood tickled as it dripped down her wrists to her fingers. She tried for impassivity, though the tremors running through her body gave her away. She couldn’t even look at what was left of her warriors. They had let her down, let themselves down. That her warriors had been decimated by a handful of women and some old men astounded her. Women weren’t taught the bow; or how to strategize. They weren’t allowed to listen in when the men spoke of raids and battles. How did these women know how to destroy her?
Gritting her teeth at spotting a gold head amongst the revelers, A’umea bit back a curse. It wouldn’t do to curse him now. He needed to be closer, so he and his ancestors could hear it.
A’umea flexed her fingers, dragging them over the ground. Grass sprang back under her touch, and soft soil was under that. No rocks within easy reach for her to use them to cut through the lashings so tight around her wrists. Her men were dead, or captured, and the Kohona had taken precautions with them – it was too early for them to be lax in their routines for guarding their prisoners. By the time they were, she thought it might be too late, at least for her. The men would be gone long before then, though, killed as sacrifices to the Kohona’s ancestors, or roasted for a special meal. Her mouth twisted at the thought she might be kept for sex and bred for slave children.
She wasn’t afraid of death, but A’umea had always thought she’d be able to choose how she died. Dying in childbirth was not the way she planned to join her ancestors, not after the glory they’d helped her achieve. “I promise,” she whispered, barely moving her lips, her gaze fixed on that yellow head across the clearing, “I promise I will bring you more glory before I die.”
X X X
Maike’a came into the village, the younger children leading him and the koa to the clearing in front of the dais. The voices of the women and older men were raised in celebration, Hawalui leading them in song. Elihi saw him first, and broke away from the crowd, making her way to him. Her face glowing, she swept an arm at the captives. “Do you see, my husband, what we can do to protect our home?”
He felt the astonishment radiating off of his koa, like heat from the sun. Hiding his shock wasn’t going to be easy, instead, Maike’a changed it into a broad smile, opening his arms. “You have done well. Amazingly well.” He leaned his forehead against Elihi’s, sharing her breath. “I am so proud of you.”
“It wasn’t my idea,” she said, sounding only slightly grudging at having to share the praise. “Talileila and Ihe wanted to rescue the captives. And the two mohaki.”
“Tell me now,” he said, “how many died?”
Her expression dimmed and she watched as the koa moved around, searching for their own within the chanting Kohona. “The attack was unexpected. We escaped – Talileila led us out of the village, and Ihe found us at the rendezvous. He said the mohaki woman figured out a way for them to escape, but the man refused to go.” Elihi glanced toward them. “They’re very devoted to one another,” her mouth twitched in amusement, Maike’a thought, “foolishly so.”
Maike’a didn’t say anything about that, instead, cupping her shoulder and giving it a squeeze. “There have been others who have loved foolishly in the past.”
If Elihi planned on responding, she didn’t have a chance. Ihe limped up to them, propped up on one crutch. “Maike’a, the mohaki. I think they want to speak to you. They’re,” he glanced over his shoulder, his face screwing up and making his tattoos twitch, “agitated.” Realizing he’d interrupted a reunion, he ducked his head, looking sideways past Elihi. “I apologize,” he said, “I didn’t mean to intrude.”
Elihi sniffed, but patted Maike’a’s hand where it rested on her shoulder. “Go with him,” she said. “You know how to find me later.”
Maike’a squeezed her shoulder again and walked with Ihe, slowing his pace to match his tribesman. “Elihi said Talileila and you came up with the idea of attacking A’umea’s warriors.”
“They had my little cousin,” Ihe said, his mouth a thin line. “And the mohaki made sure I was the first to get away. Eduward argued with the Mariori to keep them busy, so I could get to safety.”
“Your cousin, is she all right?” Maike’a asked.
Ihe sighed his relief. “Yes, thanks to the ancestors. She has a few bruises, but the Mariori didn’t harm her.”
Eduward sat on the ledge of the dais, his leg bent up so he could rest his elbow on it. His attention seemed focused on the Mariori, his expression pensive. Maike’a cleared his throat as he drew closer. “Eduward.”
He turned to them, smiling faintly. “Maike’a. Welcome.”
Maike’a nodded, pleased Eduward had made an effort to speak in the language of the islands, even if he didn’t know many words. “Winree, you well?”
Eduward tilted his head slightly, then nodded. “Yes. Thank you.” And then he hesitated, frowning toward the Mariori captives. “Those people. What will happen to them?”
Maike’a turned, studying the Mariori, his gaze landing on A’umea and lingering. “They kill, we kill back.
X X X
Winry knew Ed wanted to pace. His stump twitched and he growled, not quite under his breath. “Ow! Winry!” Jerking forward, he twisted so he could glare at her.
“I have to clean the cut, Ed.” Patience running out, Winry tried to keep her voice pleasant. It was hard, particularly after helping Keke with the wounded earlier. Some of them had been terrified about letting her touch them, despite the obvious pain they were in. It was worse because she couldn’t reassure them that she knew what she was doing, and didn’t have cooties or whatever they thought she had. “You don’t want it getting infected!”
Ed growled again, and bent his knee so he could lean his torso against it. Winry parted his hair with her fingers, studying the goose egg on his head. Blood still seeped sluggishly from a shallow cut in the center of it. Frowning, Winry explored the bump, ignoring Ed’s hisses and whines. “Do you have a headache?”
“When don’t I?” he snarled.
Her mouth twitched. “Stop being such a jerk,” Winry said, mildly enough. “Bend your head to the side, Ed, so the liquid will drain without getting into your eyes.”
Sighing loudly in aggravation, Ed leaned his head to the side, wincing at the movement. Winry pushed his hair out of the way and poured some of the warm water, steeped with herbs Keke had provided earlier, over the cut. “Ouch! Damn it!” He snapped and swore, clenching his teeth at the sting. “You could’ve warned me, Winry!”
“And miss the opportunity to listen to you bitch?” She grinned when he rolled a furious eye back at her. “Hold still. I’m going to need to actually clean the wound now. It looks like there’s some grit in it.” Winry picked up a cloth, dipping it in the potion, then making a comforting sound as she dabbed it against the wound. “I know it stings.”
“It hurts a hell of a lot more than a sting!”
Winry ignored him. “You know if you hadn’t antagonized those men, they might not have hurt you. Is that how you got into so many fights over the years?”
Ed snorted, clenching his jaw. “Take it easy, Winry!”
She ignored his whining and irrigated the wound again. “I’m not letting this get infected, dummy. Your head is swelled enough.”
“Gah! That’s not funny!” Ed gnashed his teeth, rolling his eyes.
Winry snickered. “It is to me, Ed.” She parted his hair again, nodding at the sight of the wound. “It’s clean now. I wish I had a way to bandage it, Ed, just to keep it that way.”
He straightened up, folding his leg so he was sitting tailor-fashion. “Yeah…it’s okay.”
Avoiding the puddle she’d made from cleaning his head, Winry settled in front of Ed, holding up a single finger. “How many do you see?”
“Winry,” Ed sighed.
“Answer the question, Ed.” Winry wagged the finger at him. And keep your eyes on it.”
“One,” he groaned.
Ed grumbled at the way she snapped, but tracked the movements of her finger with his eyes. Neither of his pupils were dilated or blown, and he didn’t turn his head very much to follow her finger. From how stiffly he was holding his neck, Winry thought maybe Ed might be suffering from a bigger headache than he’d like to admit. Idiot. She’d have to get him some analgesic to drink, and maybe she could get Ed to rest. Winry mentally shook her head at the idea. Ed wouldn’t rest. He was too keyed up. She could see it in the way his foot bobbed at his ankle. “What is it?”
Ed sighed again, a completely different tone to his exhalation. “Winry,” he said, and hesitated, shooting her a look through his bangs. His chin wobbled for a second, then firmed up. “It’s nothing.” But he glanced sideways after he said it, letting her know he was lying.
He twitched at how she said his name, and lowered his head.
“You know you’ll tell me or I’ll figure it out,” Winry reminded him, putting her fists on her hips. “So tell me, so I don’t have to resort to sign language and drawing things on the ground with sticks.”
Ed made a noise deep in his throat, and he finally raised his head. Sorrow and horror filled his eyes, and his mouth turned down. “Winry, they’re going to kill them.”
She opened her mouth, ready to say something, and realized she had nothing to say. The sounds of those men dying around them, of the arrows slicing through the air, of screams coming from all sides, they surrounded her. She could smell those deaths, and tasted the iron of the blood in the air again. Taking a deep breath, Winry put her arms around Ed, tucking her face into the crook of his neck. “Oh, Ed.”
As he clutched her tight, his body trembled and she could hear his teeth chatter. She cupped the back of his head, swallowing hard, hoping she could keep her stomach under control. While they’d been in the middle of it, her thoughts had been on surviving. Now, afterward, Winry realized they could have died, again, and Al wouldn’t have been there to save them. And there wasn’t anyone who could save the people who’d attacked the Kohona. “I can’t let them get killed, Winry. Even if they were wrong…even if they killed some of the Kohona. It’s not right.” His cheek felt damp against hers, and Winry wondered if it was from the water she’d used to clean his scalp or not.
“We don’t even know enough of their language to argue, Ed. How do we convince them not to kill anyone?” She rubbed her cheek against his, still a little surprised that he hadn’t grown much of a beard in the time since they’d gone overboard. “We may be Maike’a’s guests, but I don’t think that gives us much leverage.”
“We have to think of something, Winry.” Ed pulled back, cupping her cheeks in his hands. “I know it’ll be hard, but we have to try.” He leaned his forehead against hers, licking his lips. “I don’t want to see anyone else die.”
Winry kissed him softly. “Then I guess we’d better start thinking of a way to keep them from getting killed, huh?”
X X X
Alphonse watched as the canoe approached the Waiua, a pair of men paddling out to meet them. Captain Puihe leaned over the railing, shouting out a greeting, which the man in the back of the canoe returned, both of them waving the dripping blades of their paddles in the air.
“That means they want to talk,” Ran Fan’s voice came near Alphonse’s ear, making him start.
He’d nearly forgotten she’d come along on this trip. Now, he glanced sidelong at her. Out of her normal guard clothing, wearing canvas pants and a sleeveless t-shirt, she looked very different. He wondered how her automail arm was handling the salt air, but decided maybe this wasn’t the best time to ask. “Do you think they’d be willing to talk to me?”
She gave him a thoughtful look, then turned her attention to the canoe, as the men paddled closer to the ship. A ladder was flung down to them, and they anchored their canoe to it before climbing up. With a tilt of her head, Ran Fan led Alphonse closer to the islanders.
Captain Puihe and her first mate, a man named Marwan, helped the islanders aboard the Waiua. Puihe spoke to them in a musical tongue, beckoning them further onto the deck. She’d had a table set up with drinks and food, and asked the men to join her at the table. Alphonse hung back, not sure if he would be welcome or not, studying the men as best he could from the angle where he stood. Their bodies were highly tattooed, including their faces, and their hair looked like it had been greased and forced into elaborate topknots. Their skin, what wasn’t tattooed, was darker than the Ishbalans’, and they wore what looked like grass skirts and wool shawls, with intricate designs woven through them, draped their shoulders. Alphonse thought their hawk noses were interesting, and glanced at Ran Fan again. “Your grandmother came from these people?”
Ran Fan nodded once. “Not this particular clan,” she said, “but similar. All the clans are. My grandmother’s lips were black, like the tattoos on their skin.”
Taking another look, Alphonse tried not to stare. Who knew how rude it could be considered? Well, probably Ran Fan. “Do you think they know something about Ed and Winry?”
“It would be rude to ask until after they’ve been served food and drink, and told a few stories.”
Yes, she’d know if it was rude. Alphonse sighed, wishing he could be rude for once, and barge over and ask what he wanted to know. As it was, he could tell the islanders didn’t speak a language he knew. “Do we need to stand around and watch or if we leave, would it be considered bad manners?”
“If we were offered food, we would need to stay. Captain Puihe didn’t say anything about you needing to be available, so we should leave them to their meal.” Ran Fan walked away, and, reluctantly, Alphonse followed her.
The cabin they shared was tiny, but at least there were a pair of platform cots. Alphonse threw himself into the lower one, picking up the book he’d been trying to read since they’d started this voyage. Ran Fan hopped up to sit on her own cot, above his, her legs swinging for a few seconds. He stared at their motion, wondering how she could be so cool. But she was Ran Fan, about the only time she got excited was when Ling was threatened in some way. She liked Ed and Winry, in a sort of oblique way, well, Winry, at least; Alphonse still wasn’t sure if Ran Fan liked Ed at all, or just tolerated him for Ling’s sake. She swung her legs up and out of his space and she lay down, the fabric squeaking slightly as she arranged herself on the thin mattress.
Alphonse stared at the words printed on the pages, the letters blurring and spinning. He closed his eyes, laying his forearm over them, letting the book fall down on the bunk next to him. Deep inside him, he was sure Edward was still alive. Maybe it was because of that theory Ed had so long ago, when he’d been explaining about how he thought maybe their souls were crossed. And then he and Winry had started arguing about milk, and Alphonse had ignored them to think about whether his brother was right, whether Edward was eating for his body, and sleeping for it. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t think that Ed had died, because, if their souls were crossed, surely something inside of him would be dead, too.
Still, until he saw them with his own eyes, hugged them close, Alphonse couldn’t help but keep thinking the worst.
Chapter 12: Cages
It had been after dark before Captain Puihe came to see Alphonse and Ran Fan, and her expression was grim. “There’s word that an island north of here found some people floating in the ocean,” she said, “a pair of mohaki - ”
“I beg your pardon? What?” Alphonse shook his head.
Puihe gestured at him. “Your kind.” She went on. “The mohaki are with the Kohona, and my pilot is plotting a course there now.”
Spilling out of his bunk, Alphonse stumbled in the little space, crashing to his knees. “How soon?” He staggered upright, brushing his trousers. “How soon will we reach the Kohona?”
“Two or three days, depending on the weather.”
Ran Fan hopped off her bunk, landing next to him. It was hard to read Puihe’s face with the tattoos, but Alphonse knew tension when he saw it. “What else, Captain?”
“The rumors among the islands fly swiftly as birds, Mr. Elric,” she said. “That’s how this tribe knows about the mohaki. I can’t say they’re your brother and his wife, but it’s probably a good guess, considering the area they wound up in. If that Delacourt had been a better captain,” she shook her head abruptly, that was neither here nor there. “The Kohona and the Mariori are bitter enemies, and the Mariori have a new leader, a woman named A’umea.” The tattoos around her mouth disappeared as she frowned. “She’s as bloodthirsty as they come. You should be prepared; our arrival on Ialili could be considered hostile. Or,” her jaw clenched, “we might be sailing into a war.”
X X X
Talileila caught up to Maike’a the next morning as he was making his rounds of the prisoners. “I was going to make my morning prayers, if you’d like to join me.”
He nodded, checking the bamboo cages the wood carvers and their apprentices were building to keep the prisoners in. “We should make a special sacrifice to our ancestors for protecting the village.”
With a grim smile, Talileila said, “We did yesterday, while waiting for you to return.” She remembered the blood spilled into a bowl and poured out in front of the carvings of Tua and Leilei. The way the ground had soaked it up, it almost seemed as if the carvings had been thirsty for it. “You heard Hawalui’s song. She kept singing long after sunset.”
Maike’a grunted, thinking that his thanks had been rather perfunctory. He’d been far more interested in his wives, and they in him. The stray thought crossed his mind that one of them might wind up being pregnant from what happened last night. “We should make formal thanks today, you’re right.” He searched the faces within the prisoners, spotting the one woman amongst them. A’umea stared at him, her face fixed in a rictus of rage with her tongue sticking out. The ochre on her face was smeared, showing off the lines of her tattoos and the cords in her neck stood out. Maike’a thought he could see the pulse in her throat. “And we should start with her.”
Talileila turned her attention to A’umea, as well. “Yes,” she said, “I believe you’re right.”
X X X
Sunlight dappled the grass as they hobbled across it, a four-limbed creature. Edward couldn’t help but mentally thank the Kohona for keeping the village area clean of any detritus. It made it so much easier for him to walk. The makeshift crutch one of the men had given him earlier was a little too long, making him lopsided, and he knew later today, he’d be in a hell of a lot of pain, but for now, he ignored it. Wishing, not for the first time, he had one of the Rockbell loaner legs, Edward gritted his teeth and kept moving.
Her arm laced around his waist, Winry provided the real stability he needed to be able to move around. Edward almost wished he didn’t have the crutch. He could get around with Winry’s help, but he hated not using the crutch after someone had made it for him, even if it was too long. “Is that him, over at the dais?” Edward squinted, trying to make out the different figures.
“I think he and Talileila sing in front of those wooden statues every morning,” Winry said, waving off in the distance. “We could go there and check.”
Edward exhaled, staring at the men working on building bamboo cages to hold the prisoners. A few were already completed, and he recognized the woman in one of them. The poles were stained with coloring from her skin, he realized, and she stared out through them, impotent fury in her eyes. “I wonder if anyone’s given them any water or food,” he murmured.
Winry squeezed his waist. “We’ll ask Maike’a,” she said, and Edward let her guide him through the village, heading east.
He couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder at the captives again, then the jerk of the crutch into his armpit took his attention away from everything but walking. It took a little time to get to the area Winry had mentioned where a lush green sward lay out, and Edward, with an eye toward what farmers liked to see in grass, knew that someone took a lot of care of the area. The grass seemed to be maintained at a certain length, and he didn’t really want to think how that was managed. He’d not seen anything like a wheel in the community, much less blades to cut grass. A few young children picked up twigs from the lawn, though rather than getting rid of them, they turned on each other, shouting and swinging the sticks.
“Kids,” Edward said, shaking his head.
Snorting, Winry said, “I remember you doing that sort of thing.”
“You’d usually hit harder than me.” Before she could do more than inhale for a retort, Edward pointed. “Look, there’re Maike’a and Talileila. You were right.”
Winry pinched his side, making him wince. “Jerk,” she muttered, but helped him make his way over to the edge of the grass. They waited there while Maike’a and Talileila finished their morning ritual in front of the wooden carvings. Edward tilted his face back, closing his eyes to let the sun warm his skin. Winry’s fingers rubbed his ribs, soothing the area she’d pinched. Leaning more of his weight against her, Edward eased the crutch out from under his arm, letting out a relieved sigh as his body settled into a more natural position.
Opening his eyes again, he asked, “What are they doing?”
Watching as Talileila threw something in the air, Winry shrugged, jostling Edward’s arm inadvertently. “I don’t know.” A hint of frustration laced through her voice as she said, “We should have worked harder to learn their language.”
“I was sick,” Edward pointed out, pouting.
“All right, so I should’ve worked harder at learning their language.” Winry didn’t sound very apologetic, though.
He showed her some of his teeth, but by the way her eyes narrowed, Winry wasn’t impressed. “We both could’ve done better,” he finally said. “But you were worried about me.” Beneath his arm, Winry tensed, and Edward rubbed her shoulder. “For good reason,” he said gently.
“You worry me a lot.” Though she said it with a bright tone, Edward knew it cost her. He leaned his cheek against hers. Unable to think of anything to say, he stroked the crown of her head.
“Sorry,” he finally said. “At least this time you were with me.” Thinking about what might’ve happened wasn’t something Edward did, but the idea of leaving Winry alone gave him a chill. “I’m glad you were.”
“Me, too.” Her faint smiled widened, and she rubbed her cheek against his.
“Sorry about the stubble,” Edward mumbled, “should’ve bought a razor.”
Winry chuckled, and she patted his side. “Next time, remember.”
“There won’t be a next time. I’m never getting on another boat again. I don’t care how hot it gets in the desert.”
Talileila threw something else in the air that sparkled for a second, then vanished. She turned away from the elaborate carvings, her eyes sparkling at the sight of them. Maike’a did something, too, but Edward couldn’t tell what it was. He nodded at them, and they both walked across the thick green grass. “Meia, Eduward, meia, Winree,” he said.
“Meia, Maike’a, meia, Talileila.” Edward took a deep breath. “Maike’a, is there a place we can talk?”
His eyebrows arched, and he touched Talileila’s shoulder. They spoke quickly and she nodded, saying her goodbyes to them and wandering off. Pogoso caught up to her, and he danced at her side for a few seconds before she laughed. Giving his shoulder a light shove, she started him on his way and jogged after him. Edward hoped he’d be able to move as easily again, soon.
He mentally shook himself to get back on track, and turned his attention back to Maike’a. Gesturing toward the dais, Maike’a led them to it. He took a seat on the retaining wall. “Please, sit,” he said, indicating the wall. Once they’d settled themselves, Maike’a asked, “You well?”
“Yes, thank you,” Edward said, nodding. “We weren’t hurt.” He amended that statement when Winry grumbled something under her breath. “Well, I got a knot on my head.” Raising his hand toward the knot on his skull, he shrugged. “I’ll heal. And Winry’s fine.”
“I am,” she said, and Edward managed to keep his eyes from the bruises bracketing her wrists and tracking her arms. “I’m glad you and your men came back safely, too, sir.”
Pride radiating off of him Maike’a said, “Ihe say you save him. Thank you.”
“That was all Winry.” Edward could be proud, too, especially of her. His little finger touched hers, and he moved his hand to cover hers. The warmth of it beneath his palm reminded him of a lot of things, namely, how stupid he’d been for making her wait, and how lucky he was she had. “I was too dumb to follow Ihe out of there.”
Maike’a tilted his head to study Winry, then Edward. “He said you save,” he agreed, nodding at Winry.
“I was trying to get us all out of there safely,” Winry said, her mouth twitching. Edward winced at the faint sting in her voice. “I’m glad Ihe got away.”
Remaining silent for a few seconds, Maike’a appeared to be gathering his thoughts. “Ihe,” he began slowly, “owes debt. I take.”
Edward couldn’t understand that. “A debt?”
“Life debt.” Face set, Maike’a’s tattoos and his dark weathered skin reminded Edward of the carved statues. “Ihe’s life, you save.” He waved his fingers between Winry and his chest. “I owe you.”
Winry blinked a couple of times. “Oh,” she said, and a faint flush showed on her cheeks beneath her tan. “Oh.” Edward recognized that calculating gleam in her eyes. When it had been focused on him in the past, he knew it usually meant nothing good to him. This time, he hoped she was thinking the same thing he was. “Ihe owes me his life, and you’ve taken that debt for him?” Winry tilted her head to peer at Maike’a.
Edward squeezed her hand, the warmth in it seeming to have bled away. Winry licked her lips, and twisted around to face the Kohona leader. “Maike’a, would you set your captives free?”
X X X
A’umea dug her fingers into the soil beneath the bars of the cage. The dirt was still cool, as opposed to the sun, blazing down on her head. Her throat burned, as if she’d been made to swallow coals. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had water. Food had been the morning before the attack on the village. Her stomach had stopped rumbling yesterday, and now only pinched at her from the inside. She was downwind from some of the cook fires, and wondered why her warriors hadn’t been tossed on those flames yet. Instead, they were being guarded, just as closely as if they were expected to attack again at her sign. A’umea knew her men would; if they had any chance of breaking free of the village, she might consider it. That they’d been bested by women, old men and children had broken their spirits, though. She could see it in the way they sat, listless, in their cages.
She could think of no way to excite them, to incite them to rise up against their captors. Their heart was missing. They’d lost a battle in such a way there was no regaining their pride. Even if they did escape, there would always be someone who knew about their defeat – they would have to obliterate all of the islanders of Ialili to regain their pride. They wouldn’t even be able to keep any as slaves, because the Kohona would sing of the first battle, and the way they defeated the Mariori warriors.
If she had won the victory the Kohona had, she would have had her waihini make sacrifices to the ancestors, to thank them for their help. A’umea knew she would’ve chosen the chief, offering his blood up in gratitude, and given his wives to the men who’d fought the hardest for their victory. His waihini would’ve been sacrificed as well, her heart and brain delicacies for the Mariori waihini and her apprentices. There would’ve been singing and dancing throughout the night when they returned home, lasting for at least seven days. There would be daily sacrifices and feasts, competitions and rewards and games of chance to divide up the spoils of the battle.
A’umea stared through the bars of her cage. Her fingers went into her mouth and she began chewing her nails. The dirt under them tasted bitter, though it didn’t stop her from biting through a nail and spitting it out. Something salty flooded her mouth, but she kept chewing.
They should have won the battle. Her warriors were hungry for it, ready for it, and they were up against the dregs of the Kohona village. The ancestors had said the Mariori would triumph, and take the island of Ialili for their own. Catching a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye, A’umea watched through her bangs as the mohaki pair stumbled along like a crippled crab. The ancestors had said nothing about them, despite advising what Kohona village to attack, and when to do it. Biting savagely at her thumbnail, A’umea spit out the ragged edge. If the ancestors had known of the mohaki, her warriors would’ve won the battle.
If she killed the mohaki, she would be able to rouse her warriors, and incite them to fight. They could reclaim their victory, and bury the shame of losing to the Kohona. A’umea shifted her hips, moving closer to the bars of the cage. Craftsmen always knew how to make cages, but so many at once meant something might have been overlooked. Putting her hand back in her mouth, she began chewing, while her other hand explored the knots of cord binding the bamboo bars together.
X X X
Talileila turned at the sound of her name, spotting Maike’a. From his gait, she could tell he was concerned about something. “Keke, Pogoso, excuse me,” she said, and got to her feet, trotting over to Maike’a. “Meia!”
“Meia,” he said, giving her a tight smile. “Please, walk with me.”
She fell into step with him, not surprised he led her to the area where the cages holding their invaders were. Talileila noticed the women were offering the Mariori water from gourd ladles. The men mostly turned away from the ladles, and those who did accept either emptied the ladles on the ground or flung them back at the women. “Stubborn,” Talileila said.
“There are others more stubborn.”
Talileila glanced toward A’umea’s cage, watching as the woman chewed on her fingers.
“Not her, our mohaki guests.” Maike’a rubbed his temples. “I took Ihe’s debt for the rescue Winree gave him.”
She nodded. She’d sat through the discussion between Ihe and Maike’a, and agreed that Maike’a would be better able to relieve the debt than Ihe would be. The a’Kohona, the ocean and the dolphins had brought Eduward and Winree to Ihe and her, so there was no debt between them. “Did she have a request?”
Maike’a didn’t seem to know how to respond, his mouth opening and closing a few times before he answered, “She wants me to release the prisoners to return to their island.”
Talileila turned to him, narrowing her eyes to hide her shock. “Winree asked…that?” When he nodded, she looked back at the caged men and lone woman, biting her lip. “That…is a difficult request.” Rubbing her upper arms with her hands as if she felt a chill, Talileila studied the captives.
“I want you to contact the a’Kohona,” Maike’a said, “and let me know what their feelings are about the request.” His frown deepened some of the tattoos on his face. “Whether they agree or not, I need to give an answer to Winree.” He sighed, his face smoothing out. “As you find out something, Talileila, let me know. I do not want to wait on this.” His gaze went directly to A’umea. “Obviously.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll get started right away.” Talileila inclined her head, feeling Maike’a pat the top of it, giving her his blessing before he dropped his hand. She glanced toward the captives, feeling hatred simmering off of them like a cooking pot over a fire. Something had to be done with them, and soon, before they exploded. Spinning on her heel, Talileila jogged back to the temple, where she stored her herbs and sacred items. She knew she’d need all of them to get an answer from the a’Kohona for Maike’a.
First, she needed a bath, to wash away everything that might have collected on her skin. After that, she would rub herself dry, and coat herself with a layer of perfumed oil, an anointment, to make her more pleasing to her ancestors. She’d mixed a ground-up herb into the oil a month ago, on a waxing moon, as well as the oils that made the oil smell sweet. She would dress herself in a specially woven garment, matching skirt and cape, and light a fire in a ceremonial bowl. More herbs would be tossed on the coals when they had burned down, to produce a smoke that would carry her words to the a’Kohona.
Taking a deep breath, Talileila opened one of the baskets in the temple, removing the items she needed to start the process of contacting their ancestors. Times like these, she wished a child had been born to be her apprentice, but none had proven themselves yet. She knew she needed to find one, soon. Her own loins had proven barren, so she couldn’t offer up a child to teach, and had to rely on someone within the Kohona to produce a child who could talk to the ancestors.
Talileila shook her head, knowing she had to clear it of those thoughts. Right now, there were more important things to fill it. She had to find Maike’a the answer he needed. Considering, she filled a carrying basket with soap, and a drying cloth, and the things she would need at the bath.
The walk to the warm bathing pools was filled with birdsong, and, if Talileila concentrated, she could hear children laughing somewhere within the village. Guards were posted a little more heavily around the outskirts, and she waved at one in the top of a tree, getting a wave back. Spotting one of the kids, Talileila grabbed him and gave him a tickle, making him shriek and squirm. “Are you a good boy?”
“Yes!” he squealed, laughing.
“Good. You go play.” She patted him on the back and let him run off to join a gang of kids waiting for him.
Steam rose off the waters in the bathing pools, and Talileila stripped off her clothes, scrubbing wet sand over her skin to clean the sweat and dirt off before climbing into the hot water. She sighed as it lapped up over her body, wondering if anyone had bothered to show the mohaki the pools, then reminding herself she had other things to do. Taking a deep breath, she cleared her mind, concentrating on relaxing each of the muscles in her body. Talileila sang under her breath, a low continuous hum that made a counter part with the bird song, the whistle of the wind, the sounds of her people, even if they weren’t immediately nearby.
When she emerged from the water, Talileila dried herself, and draping her body in a clean robe, she started back to the temple. No one spoke to her as she walked, recognizing from the robe she wore and the symbols woven into it that she had something special to do. Interruptions would not be tolerated but Talileila could feel their awe, their well-wishes that whatever her quest was, whatever she spoke to the ancestors about, the answer she received would be the one they needed. She hummed as she walked, the sound a continuous backdrop and in time with her heartbeat. Reaching the temple, Talileila hung the robe over the door to show she was working. After anointing her body with the perfumed oil, she rubbed the excess on a piece of dried wood, setting it into the deep ceramic bowl in the center of the wooden floor. It took a little time to get the wood burning, but once it had burned down, Talileila added herbs to the coals, inhaling deeply of the smoke that billowed up out of the bowl. She cupped the smoke, coaxing it to her face, drawing it down into her lungs. Laying more herbs on the smoking remains, she swallowed down the smoke, feeling her pupils dilating, allowing her to see everything in the dim building.
She exhaled with a cough, and took another deep breath before beginning to sing to the a’Kohona. She sang of yesterday’s attack, and the thanks of the people for turning the battle upside down. For protecting as many of the Kohona as they had. For giving them the victory in the second fight, and for taking the souls of those who’d died in the battle, and bringing them into their bosoms, and offering them rest. Her words rang around the inside of the temple and her body swayed in counterpoint to the rhythm.
When the a’Kohona spoke, they spoke like the living – sometimes in whispers, sometimes in riddles, sometimes in shouts. Sometimes, they didn’t actually speak, but gave visions, maybe of things to come, or dangerous circumstances that might be able to be avoided. This time, they appeared in the temple with her, crouching in front of her. Talileila recognized them, the namiani rolling off of them like waves sweeping up the beach.
Tua and Leilei wore stern expressions, watching her with eyes dark as the shiny rock that sometimes washed up on shore. Their tattoos seemed freshly inked, and their hair was glossy as a bird’s wing. Leilei held out her hands, as if cupping the smoke in the air around them, and then spread them apart. Talileila could smell salt air, and felt a breeze against her face. Suddenly, she hovered over the ocean, Leilei guiding her down to a mohaki ship. They landed on the deck, Leilei taking her by the hand and leading her to a man. Talileila gasped, recognizing that rich yellow hair, as bright as the sun.
He comes for his brother, Leilei said. Her mouth didn’t move.
“Thank you, Leilei, I’ll tell Eduward.” Her head swam as she realized they were back in the temple now. “What about the Mariori? Should we set them free?”
Tua turned his head, and Talileila knew he looked directly through the temple wall. The mohaki beliefs are not our own.
“You are wise, a’Kohona, both of you. Thank you for speaking to me.” Talileila bowed her head in supplication as Tua and Leilei faded away from her view.
Head aching, she stood up, nearly falling again, and staggered to the wall. She dropped to her knees next to a ceramic bowl, picking it up as her stomach twisted. Talileila vomited into the bowl, her body purging itself of the smoke she’d inhaled. Heaving twice more, she clutched at her stomach afterward, letting out a soft moan.
An apprentice should rush in and help her up, pull the door curtain down to let in fresh air. Talileila crawled to the door, jerking at the edge of the robe she’d used to block out the rest of the island, coughing as the fresh air swirled into the room. Falling out of the door, she took deep, whooping gasps, curling into a ball as spasms wracked her body. Soon, she thought dimly, she’d get up, and go to Maike’a, tell him what the first ancestors said. Soon.
Chapter 13: Swept Away
Clouds slowly marched across the sky in long, dark ribbons. The sun couldn’t marshal the strength needed to push through them, leaving the day grey and dull. Everything seemed muted, Edward thought, even the birds were quieter, and the kids who usually ran around screaming seemed to be hiding.
He stood with Winry, leaning against her, watching as Maike’a spoke to his people. His voice carried over the crowd. Edward could pick out a few words now, but they made no real sense. It didn’t mean he couldn’t understand what was happening. Winry’s request to Maike’a had caused a reaction yesterday, one that Edward couldn’t help but noticing. The Kohona were keeping a wary eye on both Winry and him, though not as closely as they watched the Mariori.
Talileila sat at Maike’a’s feet, and her skin was pale beneath her tattoos. She wore a heavy cloak around her shoulders and shivered regularly. Edward wondered that Keke had let her out of the healing building, from the way Talileila looked. Maike’a laid his hand on Talileila’s head. She shuddered, and he knelt next to her, wrapping the cloak even more tightly around her. Raising his voice again, Maike’a said something that made the Kohona start and mumble, looking at each other, and ultimately, turning to Winry and him.
Edward felt Winry stiffen under his arm. “It’s okay,” he mumbled without moving his lips. “They won’t hurt us.” He hoped.
Maike’a gestured, and a man trotted up to him, hoisting Talileila in his arms. Keke joined him, the three of them leaving the meeting. Edward thought he could hear Keke scolding Talileila, but it was probably his imagination. Making his way to them, Maike’a waved at Winry and Edward to walk with him, slowing his pace so they could keep up. The rest of the Kohona followed behind them, and the skin between Edward’s shoulder blades twitched at the feeling of those eyes watching him. He tightened his arm over Winry’s shoulders.
They made their way to the place where the cages rested, and Maike’a stopped. He beckoned for Winry and Edward to join him, and they hobbled up. Maike’a put a hand on either of their shoulders, as if he was about to embrace them. A faint hiss came from somewhere, but whoever made the sound quit before Edward could pinpoint it. “You ask free Mariori,” Maike’a said to them. “My people fight. Kill enemies. Not free.”
Winry freshened her grip around Edward’s waist, her fingers drumming on his side. “Our ways are different,” Edward thought about what he could say. “You’re right. But I fought in a war,” he said, “I saw people die. It was horrible.” He swallowed the bile rising in his throat. The deaths of those around him – had it only been yesterday? – had brought back memories he’d hoped he’d never have to relive. “The deaths of your people and the Mariori, that was horrible, too.” Needing to take a breath, Edward was glad Winry was next to him, even if she was being forced to relive it, too. Her being there kept him grounded. “No one deserves to die like that.”
Maike’a’s face reminded Edward of stone, or the wood carvings that embellished nearly everything within the village. “You ask lot.”
“I know,” Winry broke out, glancing at Edward, “we know.”
“I cannot set free.” His mouth turned down, the lines bracketing his mouth deepening. “Mariori come back. Kill more.”
“There has to be a different way,” Edward said, clenching his fist, clinging to his temper. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a couple of the Mariori men stand up, craning their necks so they could watch. “One that lets everyone live.”
Inhaling, Maike’a said, “No,” and Edward thought regret laced that single word. “Is not your way,” he said, “but ours.” He pointed over their shoulders. “Go. You not watch.”
“But,” Winry began.
Maike’a pointed again, imperiously. “Go now.”
“C’mon, Winry,” Edward mumbled when she seemed ready to protest further, “we’re not going to get any farther here.” He raised his voice, “Thank you for at least considering it, Maike’a.” His wave shooed them along rather than gave them a farewell, and Edward hopped to get turned with Winry. They made their awkward way along the path of the cages. One of the Mariori made a sound, kind of like an owl’s hoot, but backwards, making Winry start. Edward tried to keep her from looking over at them, knowing it would either encourage or antagonize them, but Winry was stubborn, and he could feel her chin going up and her jaw clenching. “Keep walking,” he hissed at her. “Don’t look.”
They were nearly at the end of the cages, and Edward tried to follow his own advice, to not look into the cages, to not make eye contact. The Mariori were all standing now, all except the woman in the very last cage. She squatted, watching through her hair, the comb in her crest broken, her clothing torn. Her fingers were in her mouth, and Edward remembered the loathing in her eyes from when he’d last seen the homunculus, Envy, before it destroyed itself.
Everything seemed so clear, as if the sun suddenly came out from behind the cloud cover overhead. Winry took a step, turning to meet Edward’s eyes, her mouth opening to say something. He thought she looked beautiful, even smudged and rumpled as she was.
Green splinters exploded, the flinders flying past Winry’s head, and Edward thought the cracking sound didn’t belong to this second. Grabbing Winry in his arms, he pulled her off-balance to roll them both onto the ground as A’umea crashed out of her cage. She screamed, flinging herself at one of the Kohona guards, the man moving too slowly to keep her from snatching the spear out of his hand, reversing it and stabbing him through the gut. Kicking him to the ground, A’umea grabbed his war club, swinging it in her hand as she spun around, her hair flying in a short arc behind her. Her men yelled as she plowed into another Kohona guard, swinging the club. Edward winced at the horrible, wet crack of the man’s neck breaking. Feeling rather than hearing the sound of Winry’s squeak at the noise, he cupped her head against his chest, risking a look up.
A’umea snatched up the short spear from her second kill, brandishing both weapons with a glee Edward couldn’t fathom. Blood splashed across her body, her teeth bared in joy, she spun and lunged, drawing blood from another Kohona man but not killing him this time. Grinding his jaw, Edward watched as A’umea howled out something, her men screaming back. She whirled again, and her eyes lit up. A’umea had caught sight of him.
Two strides, and she was on top of them, her mouth opened wide and eyes blazing. Edward tightened his arms around Winry instinctively, his mind imprinting everything in this split second before it happened; Winry’s fingers digging into his ribs, her scent, thick and heady, the color of her wide eyes, and damn it, the trust and love in them as she stared up at him. No time, he thought, there hadn’t been enough fucking time, and twisted hard, watching as A’umea drew back the spear. A wild ecstasy gleamed in her eyes as she stabbed the point down.
Throwing up his arm to block the spear, Edward choked back a shout as A’umea’s eyes bugged. She staggered, and blood bubbled up out of her mouth. The screams from her men silenced as she dropped to her knees. Winry gasped as A’umea collapsed half on top of them, the end of a spear quivering in her back.
“Winry!” Edward touched her face, her neck, “Winry, tell me you’re okay!” Eyes squeezed shut, she nodded, and he kissed her, a soft brush of his mouth against hers. “Me, too,” he told her, as someone dragged the body off of his shoulder. Twisting, he saw Maike’a’s grim face as he pulled the spear from A’umea’s back. “Oh,” he mumbled. “Thanks.”
“Now you know why we kill,” he said, thrusting the spear into the ground and offering a hand to Edward to pull him up.
X X X
Cold rain drizzled down the back of Alphonse’s neck as he peered under the shelf of his hands at the island in front of them. Captain Puihe had hooked a black and white flag to the mast earlier that morning, saying it would alert the islanders that they wanted to talk. “Now all we have to do is wait,” she said, and went back to her cabin.
Waiting was something Alphonse could do particularly well, but today, every second seemed like a slow slap in his face. He glanced over his shoulder at the flag, hanging heavy and limp from the rain saturating it, wondering how anyone would be able to see it, then chided himself. The ship itself ought to attract attention, and if the people on this island were worried about a war, they’d surely have lookouts keeping an eye on the ocean.
Ran Fan sat on the railing, also studying the island, or at least looking toward it. Alphonse wondered how she could be so still for so long, then reminded himself what she’d trained for her entire life. Besides, it wasn’t her family on the island. Maybe on the island, Alphonse reminded himself, and then had to remind himself that they were alive, not dead. They couldn’t be dead.
“You should go inside,” Ran Fan said, though from the tone of her voice, Alphonse knew she was just saying it to say something. They both knew he wouldn’t leave the deck.
“Just a little longer.” He could keep up the pretense, too.
Every minute crawled by, and rain dripped off of the ends of Alphonse’s hair, and the tip of his nose. He sneezed, and received a look from Ran Fan that was readable even with her implacable expression. “I’m not going in yet,” he said. “There’ll be someone rowing out any minute.” He coughed. “Any minute,” he repeated.
Sometime in the late afternoon, Puihe stuck her head out of her cabin. “Get inside,” she shouted. “No one’s coming today.”
Ran Fan slid off the railing. “Alphonse. Come with me.”
“I should stay,” he whispered, not even sure if she could hear him. Maybe he just thought it. Still, Alphonse let her catch his wrist, and tug him along behind her toward their cabin. He looked over his shoulder, watching the dense green of Ialili until the door to the cabin closed and blocked out his view.
X X X
Rain hit the palm leaf roof and slithered off, a peculiar sound that had turned lulling as the day went by. Winry dragged herself up out of the bed, shivering, and reached for the woven blanket, draping it around her shoulders. Ed sat in the middle of the floor next to the fire pit, feeding twigs into the crackling flames. From the way his other hand kept rubbing his stump, Winry knew it had to be aching. Joining him in front of the fire, Winry draped part of the blanket over him, sliding her arm around his waist and leaning her head against his shoulder.
Ed stopped moving at her weight against him, turning slightly into her warmth like a flower turned toward the sun. “You’re cold,” Winry scolded him, shivering again. “No wonder your leg’s hurting.”
“Rain.” He grimaced.
Winry ran her hand over the port. “Is it bothering you worse than normal?” Her fingers dipped and scraped over the pits in the cool metal.
“No, not really.” Ed made a face. “It feels the same, just an ache. I don’t think it’s any worse than before.” Winry couldn’t tell if it was the light from the fire or something else that made his cheeks darker. “I…uh…you help. I mean, you sitting next to me.”
Winry rubbed his thigh above the metal band, trying to increase the blood circulation. “Ed, yesterday, when A’umea got free.”
It didn’t help that he tensed up again at the sound of her name. “Yeah?”
“I just wanted to say thanks.”
Sighing out the tension, Ed patted her crown. “Yeah. We should both thank Maike’a, too.” He stared into the flames, his eyes haunted. “Do…do you think they killed them all?”
“I don’t know.” Winry didn’t want to think about it, either. Talileila and Ihe had saved their lives, and that was what she wanted to remember, not people dying around them. The memories leaked through, though, and she closed her eyes, tucking her face closer to Ed. He smelled warm and alive, and Winry wrapped her arms around him, trying to immerse herself in him, rather than memories.
“Nng…Winry…it’s,” his voice died out and Winry heard him swallow as he pulled the blanket tighter around them both. “We’re okay,” Ed said finally, into her hair. “We’ll be okay.”
“I know!” Her normal bright tone came out fake and higher pitched than normal. Maybe it was better if she didn’t say anything.
The warmth of the blanket around them made Winry feel a little sleepy. Ed shifted his arms around her and she shifted closer to him, their weight against each other enough to keep them both more or less upright. “I didn’t think it would get so cold here,” Ed mumbled into her hair, “but we are up in the mountains, huh?”
She smiled, understanding what he was trying to do. “Yeah. Do you want to - ”
Her voice tangled up in itself as someone knocked at the door, a heavy impatient banging. Frowning, Ed twisted, letting air leak into their warm cocoon. “Who is it?”
“Pogoso!” the boy shouted. “You come! Boat!”
Winry turned staring at the door, then up at Ed. “Did he say?”
“Yeah. Yeah!” He threw off the blanket, swearing as the cold struck them like a wet towel.
Winry braced herself to help Ed get his footing, but she grabbed at the blanket again, wrapping it back around them. “You have to hold it,” she told Ed as he tried to start for the door.
“Fine,” he snapped, but he anchored the blanket.
She could tell he was happy he had when they stepped outside. Cold rain beat down through the trees overhead, and Ed flipped the blanket up so their heads were protected. Winry held part of it up so she could track Pogoso, who would run ahead a few steps, stop and wait, and run off again. He kept waving his hands at them, gnashing his teeth and stomping his feet. “I think he wants us to hurry.”
Snorting, Ed said, “Sorry I’m slowing him down.” Still, he tried to pick up his pace, and they scrabbled along after Pogoso. He led them to the courtyard, skirting the center of the village, where they’d been attacked the day before, and pointed at a group of people. Even through the rain, Winry recognized Maike’a’s topknot with the macac feathers. Ed stiffened under her arm. “Al?”
He turned, and Winry thought she’d never seen a more brilliant smile. “Ed! Winry!” Breaking away from Maike’a, he ran to them, grabbing them both in a hug that nearly swept them off their feet. “Oh, god, it’s so good to see you,” he whispered. Winry choked back a sob as Ed pounded Al’s back. “I’ve been looking for you, just as soon as I heard. Ling gave me a ship, and we’ve been looking so hard.”
“And you found us,” Ed said, a grin splitting his face.
Al leaned his forehead against Ed’s. “Yeah. Yeah, I did.” Turning slightly, he kissed Winry on the cheek. “I want to know everything. How you…lost your leg, how you wound up here. Everything.”
“Fell overboard,” Ed shrugged.
“Talileila and Ihe rescued us,” Winry added.
Ed went on, “And we’ve been here ever since, waiting for you to find us.”
Winry thought about it for a few seconds. “Oh, we got married.”
Al looked back and forth between them as they spoke but stopped at Winry’s last statement. “You what?”
“Got married. Well, we signed the paperwork. We were waiting to jump the fire ‘til we came back from Xing.” Ed bared his teeth. “Say ‘congratulations’, Al.”
Dazed, he said, “Congratulations,” then shook his head, water drops splattering their faces. “Congratulations!” Cupping Winry’s cheeks, he kissed her again, then hugged Ed. “I can’t believe I wasn’t there. You didn’t tell me!” The hug turned into a cuff off of Ed’s skull.
“Ow! Fuck, Al.” He rubbed the back of his head. “We didn’t tell anyone. There wasn’t a ceremony. We’re going to do that after Xing, invite everyone, jump the fire.” Before Al could slap him again, Ed snapped, “It was the old hag’s idea. And we thought we’d surprise you.” He paused, grinning. “Surprise.”
“You’re a bastard, Ed,” Al said. “But at least you did something right.” His smile warmed Winry. “And thank you, Winry. For being willing to put up with my idiot brother.”
“He’s not so bad,” Winry squeezed Ed’s waist, “for an Elric.”
Impulsively, Al hugged them both again, a light laugh ringing out of him like bells. “Come on,” he said, “let’s get you two back home.”
X X X
Sunlight washed over the beach, the black sand warm underfoot. Maike’a surveyed the canoes and small boats, traveling back and forth from the ship sitting in the bay, leaving the shore empty except for men paddling out, returning with the canoes sitting heavy in the water from the rewards for finding the mohaki. The villagers waited almost patiently, exchanging whispers and laughs over what the mohaki pair might be worth. Talileila stood next to him, and Maike’a wondered if she mimicked his wide-legged, folded arm stance on purpose. “Who knew Eduward and Winree were so important,” she said, watching as everyone pitched in to unload another canoe. A golden-haired man worked with the villagers, helping shift boxes and packets up out of the reach of the waves. Eduward’s brother, introduced to them as ‘Al’, wore a smile to rival the sun, and somehow, it grew bigger when he glanced over his shoulder and spotted his brother and Winree.
The last boat from the ship pulled to the floor and Al dusted off his hands after rolling a barrel up the beach. He walked back down to his family, bare heels digging into the sand. Offering Eduward his hand, he pulled his brother to his feet. Winree got up, too, brushing off the back of the mohaki leggings she wore. They spoke, a laugh rising from one of the men, and Winree poked Al in the chest with a stiff finger. Together, Winree and Al put their arms around Eduward and Maike’a stiffened his spine as they made their way toward him.
“Meia, Maike’a, meia, Talileila,” Eduward said.
“Meia, Eduward, meia, Winree, meia, Al.” Maike’a spoke and Talileila echoed him.
“We’re ready to go, Winree said, waving a hand at the ship.
“Yes. Is good your brother found.” Nodding at Al, Maike’a was gifted with another of those huge smiles that both of the brothers favored. “You go home.”
“You saved our lives, twice,” Eduward said. “There’s no way to really repay that.” He shifted his weight, and glanced sideways at Winree. His expression was too clear. Maike’a thought Eduward needed to learn to hide his feelings more, but it made him easy to read. Maybe too easy for his enemies to understand, and anticipate what he might do next, but such a man might be able to convince others to follow him with their hearts.
“Is no debt,” Maike’a said. “Brother repay.” Jerking his chin toward the largess on the shore, he went on. “Over pay. He grinned. “You worth it?”
Al laughed hard, slapping his brother’s back. “Winree is.”
Cheeks flushing, Eduward grumbled, “Yeah. She is.” He stroked some of her hair away from her face, and his fingers trembled then steadied. His eyes glittered, as if he thought of how close A’umea had gotten to Winree with her spear. Winree smiled at Eduward, and they were suddenly lost in each other.
Al shook his head, turning his attention away from his family. “Maike’a, Talileila, thank you for saving them, and for taking care of them.”
“Yeah.” Eduward dragged his attention away from Winree. “Ke’aku.” His pronunciation was off, but the gratitude was sincere. “Thank you.”
“Ki’aku,” Winree said, and let go of Eduward to hug Talileila. “Ki’aku, Maike’a.” She hugged him, too.
Maike’a blinked down at her, but put his arms around her shoulders, giving her a light embrace, then gently guiding her back and away from him. “You are kind woman, Winree. Good you go home. Both of you.” He took Eduward’s extended hand, grasping his forearm and squeezing tight. “Travel safe.”
“Do not fall overboard,” Talileila said, pointing at Eduward, and Maike’a translated for him.
Eduward laughed and nodded. “I won’t. Nau? Nauna.” He draped his arm over Winree’s shoulders, giving her a squeeze, and made a face at the waiting boat, swallowing hard. “I guess…”
“Yeah. Al took a deep breath. “Ki’aku,” he said, and laid his hand on his brother’s back. “Ki’aku.”
They shuffled around, and started for the boat. Keke ran up to Winree, embracing her around Eduward. Removing the comb from her dark hair, Keke smoothed back some of Winree’s pale hair and caught the strands in the teeth of the comb. Patting Eduward’s chest with both hands, she said something to them both, then stepped aside, clasping her hands together as the three mohaki made their way down to the boat and the sailors waiting with it.
Eduward complained as they put him in the boat, but he settled once Winree climbed in with him. Al and the two sailors pushed the boat out into the surf, the waves breaking up over their knees and splashing them up to their chests. Al leaped into the boat, and the sailors climbed in after him, slipping the oars into place so they could row out to the ship.
Eduward and Winree both waved. Keke swung her hands over her head. Pogoso danced into the waves, shouting a farewell that Ihe repeated. Squeezing Maike’a’s arm, Talileila broke away from him to join Keke. Maike’a watched until the boat reached the ship, and the ship slowly turned in the bay, and making its way out into the open sea.
The tide rose as he stood there, wiping away the footprints in the sand, erasing the marks of three mohaki who had stood on Ialili. Maike’a glanced toward the ocean, at the dark speck that was all that remained of the ship. “Ti halua,” he said, wishing them well, and turned away, calling to his people. They turned from the ocean, starting back toward the village, everyone gathering up something to carry from the gifts Al brought them.
“We must give our thanks to the a’Kohona,” Maike’a said, “and the Mariori warriors wait.” He nodded at Hawalui, who raised her voice, singing about the farewell to the mohaki, and the battle with the Mariori. Blood and fresh hearts would prove an appropriate offering, and they would dance and sing and celebrate their victory. Talileila skipped up next to him, taking his arm, and they led the way back to the prisoners, and glory.