My lungs burned as I rushed through the water, my eyes squeezed shut in fear. I was plummeting towards the bottom of the ocean at a frightening speed. When I finally broke through, I gulped in as much air as I could. It didn’t really do much, however, when I hit the ground and all of it was knocked out of me again. I groaned and turned on my side, trying to gain my breath back.
I wasn’t sure why I had decided this was a good idea. When escaping from Kakamora, one doesn’t usually consider Lalotai to be the best hiding spot. However, if you’re me on a small boat surrounded by nothing but water, the Realm of Monsters seems to be the best way to go. That is until I actually landed in Lalotai and heard all the noises coming from it. Way to go me! Jumped from one hell into another. Such is life I suppose. Especially when you tend to be one of the unluckiest humans to ever exist. Funny how that happens.
I had set sail a few days ago, wanting to find a remote island and bring something back from it for my people. They didn’t trust me, they thought I was no good to them. My father wasn’t the greatest human. He had stolen something very valuable from the chief of the village and had been sentenced to work long and horrible days to repay the debt he owed. I never found out what it was, I had just been a baby at the time and my father never mentioned what had happened that night. Once he died, the village moved their untrusting gaze to me. With no mother to teach me better, they figured, I would grow up to be just like my father. Unwanted and unable to help the village thrive. After years of being treated this way, I knew I had to do something. So I approached the chief and asked that he let me venture out on my own so that I may find new ways to help my village. A new medicine or an exotic fruit that we could plant so we’d have more food. Anything. After a while, he consented. They gave me a small canoe and enough food to last me for a few months and sent me on my way.
Now, here I was, stuck in Lalotai. Alone and afraid. My plan to be helpful turned into me being thrown into a nightmare. All I wanted was to be accepted, to have friends and eventually a family. My odds of that were now slowly dwindling down as I lay in the sand, uncovered and unprotected from the wilds of Lalotai.
After resting for a few moments longer, I stood up and looked around me. Lalotai was filled with different colours and lights, trees that were similar to the palms that grew on my island stood next to me, but the fruits that hung from them didn’t look like coconuts. I could hear growling and monstrous cries everywhere. I regarded everything with cation as I tried to sneak my way through this hell, hiding at every noise I heard. I had tied my dark hair up so it wouldn’t get in my face and held a small dagger in my hand, the weapon giving me some assurance. Not that it would do much against the monsters of this world, seeing as a lot of them were bigger, stronger and deadlier than anything I had ever faced in the human realm but at least it helped a little bit. At least I would die fighting.
It felt like hours had passed since I jumped from that mountain. Hours of walking and trying to not get noticed. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t stop. I knew just by looking at how far away the water was, I wouldn’t get back easily. There had to be somewhere though. Anywhere. An island that breached the ceiling, a tree that was tall enough....There had to be something.
I was so stupid to think I could voyage safely by myself! I wanted to prove to my village that I could do this, that I could be useful to them! Now I just had to...find my way out. Which, after another look up to the water, seemed impossible.
“Stupid,” I muttered to myself. “You just had to prove yourself this way. Couldn’t have climbed one of the mountains or gone with any of the other wayfinders. You just had to go off on your own like an idiot!”
At one point I found myself staring at a weird sloth like creature that started chasing me, multiple arms sprouting from it’s body. I ran as fast I could, trying to keep far away from it, when a large plant smashed down and gulped the creature up. I shuddered, realizing that could have been me. Lalotai was filled with all manners of monsters that would gladly eat me. With that thought in mind, I knew I had to find a way out sooner rather than later.
I was following a path up a hill, looking over my shoulder ever few seconds to make sure I wasn’t being followed, when I heard a voice. Hoping it was another human, wanting to see a friendly face in the darkness of Lalotai, I raced towards it, not caring about how much noise I made. Maybe they knew of a way out! Less time spent in this place would strengthen my odds of survival!
I turned a corner and skidded to a halt, back tracking a bit so I would stay out of sight. It wasn’t a human I had heard. It was a crab. A giant crab. A giant crab with a mountain of gold and jewels on it’s back. And it was talking. I think I hit my head too hard when I fell.
“Everything is so shiny~” it sang as it rummaged around a broken ship, occasionally pulling up pieces of gold. I backed up further and stepped on a fallen branch, making a very nice and loud crack ring through the area. The crab jerked its head up and swivelled around, looking for the source of the noise. I stood still, praying to every God there was that he would miss me. However this was Lalotai and I was a human who stood out like a sore thumb. Our eyes met and it squinted. I stood rooted into place, afraid to even breathe. “A human?” It made it’s way over to me and I internally screamed at myself to start running. Did I listen though? No. I was suddenly picked up from the back of my shirt and lifted up to eye level with the crab. Looking down proved to be a very unhelpful action, seeing as I was way too high up for comfort.
“Um.....h-hello Mr....Crab thing...” I gave a small wave as I dangled.
“Crab thing?” It scoffed at the name, looking offended. “I am the great Tamatoa! The shiniest monster in Lalotai! Monsters hear my name and tremble!” He moved his shell a bit so some of the light reflecting of the gold hit me in the face.
“Tama...toa?” I whispered, eyes going wide. I had heard about him, from stories the elders would tell us. Tamatoa, a giant coconut crab who had faced the demi-god Maui and lost. Twice. It was also one of the monsters Moana of Motunui had faced in her quest to restore the heart of Te Fiti. And now I was face to face with him. Great.
“What is a human doing in the realm of monsters?” Tamatoa leered, bringing his face closer.
“Thought it would be a great place for a vacation,” I replied. That’s it. Go out with your wit still about you. That’s how everyone will remember me. The girl who died while still being sarcastic. “I hear it’s lovely this time of year.” The crab gave me a once over, looking like it was considering something. “So um, if you could kindly let me go, I’ll just be on my way!”
“How about I just eat you instead? I am a bit peckish.” He started moving me closer to his mouth and I let out a small scream.
“No no no! You don’t want to eat me!” I tried to desperately think of a way out of this. “I’m really scrawny! Hardly a good meal for anyone! I’m just trying to find my way out of here!”
“Babe, there is no way out of Lalotai,” Tamatoa pointed up with his free claw. “If you haven’t noticed, the ocean is miles above you.”
“Well...then....”My eyes darted around, trying to think of a way to stay alive. “What if I helped you! I could shine your gold or help you get new pieces to add!”
“Don’t think you can fool me, tiny human!” Tamatoa snarled. “The whole lot of you are tricksters. You think you can come in here and master the great Tamatoa! Steal my gold and go back a hero?” He gave a humourless chuckle but didn’t move to try and eat me again.
“Look I really just don’t want to die,” I confessed. “I have to prove to my village that I’m not completely hopeless so please, for the love of Te Fiti, put me down!” I yelled the last bit, which seemed the surprise the crab. So much, apparently, that he did as I asked. “Thank you.” I smoothed my shirt down and looked back up at the giant crab. His eyes were squinted again as he regarded me.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve to be wandering around down here,” He said. “You’re lucky you haven’t been eaten yet.” He poked me with one of his claws which made me fall over.
“It’s not like I’m here by choice!” I huffed and got back up again. “And I wasn’t trying to trick you. I really will clean your stuff! Honest!” He leaned down so he was some what eye level with me.
“And why should I trust you?” Tamatoa asked, his face turned up into a sneer.
“Because if I go back on my word, you can always eat me?” I offered. Wow. Good one. Tamatoa seemed to consider this, his eyes flicking to his shell and then back to me.
“Fine. But if you try anything, your life is done for,” he stood back up and started walking, all the while muttering to himself. “Trusting a human, bah! Next thing I know, I’ll be flipped on my back again.” I breathed a sigh of relief and started to follow him. At least now I had some better protection...I hoped. We followed a worn down path for a while, my short legs trying to keep up with the giant crab.
As we walked, I noticed the smaller monsters shy away from Tamatoa. They would eye me up but refused to come any closer, content to just watch in the shadows and chitter to themselves. I glanced up at Tamatoa, thinking just the sheer size of him would scare anything off. It made me feel a little safer though, knowing the smaller monsters wouldn’t dare attack me while he was around.
We eventually came up to a giant cave that was made of shells and sparkled in the light. My mouth gaped open as I stared up at it. Gold coins and other trinkets were strewn across the entrance, like they had fallen off of something and nobody bothered to pick them up. I eyed Tamatoa’s shell and guessed it was probably from that. He sauntered into the entrance and I followed behind, my mouth falling farther open as I took in the inside. Gold and jewels covered the walls, mountains of priceless artifacts were on the floor. There was an opening in the ceiling where water shimmered. I could see a school of fish swimming just above too. Tamatoa must have seen my face because I heard a low chuckle.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” He asked in a low voice. “I had to make sure anywhere I lived was as amazing as me!”
“It definitely is amazing,” I said in awe. “The stories don’t do it justice.” I turned towards him and I was suddenly face to face with him. I jumped backed and gave out a little yelp.
“Stories, eh?” Tamatoa grinned. “Do tell me what stories you’ve heard about me.”
“Um...h-how great you are,” I stuttered, trying to think of some of the things I had heard. “My village would speak of how you came across your greatest treasures and how you started out.” He lifted his head back up and peered down at me.
“They’re probably washed up versions of the truth,” He boasted. “If you want the real stories, I can tell them to you as you clean my gold.” I winced, remembering that was what I had offered.
“I-I would love to hear you tell them,” I offered, trying to smile. No use getting myself killed by being on his bad side. He showed me to a small pool inside the cave, the bottom just as glittery as everything else.
“You can use this to clean my things.” He handed my the first piece he wanted done, an elegant shield, made of gold of course, and encrusted with blue and red gems. It had a good amount of dirt on it, probably being one of the oldest of Tamatoa’s treasures, so I gently set the shield in the water and began working away at the grit. Tamatoa watched me for a moment, making sure I didn’t ruin his treasure, before moving off to one side of the room so he could start to rearrange things. I thought he was just going to keep quiet but, true to the stories, he liked talking about himself way too much.
“As you may have heard, I wasn’t always this amazing.” Tamatoa started and I glanced over my shoulder at him. For the next few hours, he talked about himself while handing me different items to clean. When I was finished with the current one, he would take it and place it on his shell or somewhere in the cave. With a growing dread, I realized this was going to be my life until I found a way out. I would have to appease the giant monster so he didn’t kill me. Why did I offer this? Why hadn’t I just run when he wasn’t looking? I stared at my reflection in the gold goblet I currently was holding and wide, horrified eyes stared back at me.