Adventure Fantasy Mystery

We were sitting on the beach, watching the sunset on the last day of our holiday in Kaikōura. Gillian had been tethered to her phone and laptop for the whole trip, work casting a shadow over our much-needed quality time. She was a lawyer for a prominent property developer, and they were having trouble with environmental groups about developing a piece of land. It was ironic because she had once aspired to be an environmental lawyer.

Gillian had acquiesced to spend our final night together without any devices or talk of work. And so, armed with a picnic blanket, snacks and sundowners, we had walked along the peninsula walkway to find the perfect spot to watch the sunset from. 

The sun hung lazily in the sky just above the horizon, emitting a golden glow that resembled an overripe peach, its soft hues splattered across the horizon like spilled paint. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore created a soothing symphony that drowned out our thoughts. 

We opened our small champagne bottles and toasted.

“Here’s to us,” she said. 

“To us,” I echoed, but wondered if we would still be together a year from now. We sat in silence, captivated by the serene view.

Eventually Gillian broke the stillness. “I can’t believe we have to return to Wellington tomorrow.” She slumped her shoulders, her gaze lingering on the fading sun, as if trying to hold onto the fleeting moments of our vacation.

“And soon it will be winter. I wish summer could go on forever.”

We sat for a while longer, and after some time the sun disappeared below the horizon, painting the sky in delicate hues of pink. I intertwined my fingers with hers, feeling the warmth of her palm against mine. The silence between us spoke volumes, a plea to bridge the growing distance. I gazed once more at the ocean, when I saw the strangest sight: the sun appeared to be rising. I blinked in disbelief. 

“Uhm, Gill, do you see what I’m seeing?” I wondered if I had had too much to drink. Surely not, it was just a small bottle of bubbly. 

She turned her gaze from me to the ocean. The perplexed look on her face told me I wasn’t hallucinating. 

“This is insane, Willow! How is this possible?” she exclaimed. 

But I had no answer. The sun was unmistakably ascending, defying nature’s laws. 

“I have no idea,” I stammered, my sense of wonder slowly giving way to a growing sense of unease. 

We were drawn to a rustle on our left, and a figure emerged from the rocky terrain, approaching us.

“Kia ora,” they greeted us, their smile enigmatic. 

Gillian and I offered polite greetings, all the while stealing glances at the still-rising sun. 

“I’m the Guardian of the Unending Changing of the Seasons,” they introduced themself, “but you can just call me Guardian.”

They donned a vibrant dress, adorned with every hue of the rainbow, a kaleidoscope of colours that made your head spin if you looked too closely at it. 

“Uh, nice to meet you… Guardian. We were just on our way,” I managed. Who was this peculiar person? 

“You can’t leave,” they said. “You have to help me.”

“Help you?” Gillian asked. “Sorry, but we don’t have any money with us.”

“I don’t need your money, Gillian. I need something else.”

“How do you know my name?” she questioned. 

“No matter that. And perhaps I should rephrase. You don’t have to help me. And of course you can leave. But it would be nice if you did, and didn’t. If you did help and didn’t leave I mean.”

“What is it that we can do for you?” I asked, my curiosity piqued. 

“Well, Willow, you must have noticed that the sun is going back up, yes?”

“Yes, uh, we noticed… that. Do you know what’s going on?”

“I do indeed. As I mentioned, I’m the Guardian of the Unending Changing of the Seasons, entrusted to maintain the delicate balance of our world. But something has gone amiss. If it’s not fixed, it’ll be summer forever.”

“Summer forever… that doesn’t sound so bad! No more rainy, gloomy Wellington!” I said, excitement bubbling within me as thoughts of year-round swims and endless beach days danced through my mind. 

But the Guardian’s expression remained stern. “It is quite a serious matter. It may sound like a dream come true, but there’s a good reason we have different seasons. So, will you help?”

“What is it that you need?” Gillian asked. 

“It’s quite simple: you have to solve three riddles. If you succeed, the seasons will be restored.”

Gillian and I exchanged glances and we withdrew to the side to confer. This could be the adventure I’d been craving! But I could see Gillian’s reservations clouding her eyes.

“This person is crazy. We should go,” Gillian urged, her voice hushed. 

“You shouldn’t call them crazy. And I don’t know… I mean – the sun… how do you explain that?”

“Well, there’s got to be some kind of logical explanation, right? Anyway, it’s not for us to solve, let’s just get out of here.”

“But, Gill. Yesterday we agreed that we will take more risks, be more adventurous. Now at the first sign of adventure you bail?”

We locked eyes, a silent exchange that felt like an eternity but likely lasted no more than 15 seconds.

“Fine,” Gillian said at last, “but if this goes wrong, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

I grinned and my words burst forth with enthusiasm as I exclaimed to the Guardian, “We’re in!” 

As soon as I said those words, I felt a bizarre energy enveloping us. It was as if the environment was responding with approval to our decision. The Guardian nodded and began to explain the purpose behind our quest.

“Willow, Gillian, you’ve taken the first step towards restoring balance to our world,” the Guardian began. “The changing of seasons is not just a natural occurrence; it’s intricately tied to the creatures that inhabit this Earth.” 

 Their words resonated with a bizarre harmony, and Gillian and I exchanged intrigued glances. 

“And so, here is your first riddle,” they said, and handed us a piece of paper. “I will see you again as soon as you solve it.”

Gillian and I started looking at the riddle, and when I glanced up to look at the Guardian again, they were gone. 

We decided to head towards the rocky cliffs that overlooked the ocean to ponder the riddle. The unusual daylight cast a surreal and constant glow over everything. As we gazed out at the shimmering water, Gillian furrowed her brow, pondering the riddle. 

Under the starry sky, I take to the air, 

In a realm where the mountains touch clouds with care. 

Breeding high in the peaks, where alpine breezes blow, 

I’m a seabird like no other, with a unique place to go.

“Any ideas?” I asked. 

The warm light of the sun seemed to emphasise the urgency of the quest. The distant calls of seabirds echoed in our ears, and Gillian muttered, “It’s as if the answer is right here with us, hidden in this unending day.”

“Well, the riddle says it’s a seabird,” I said. “But which one?”

We sat in silence on the rocks for a moment, absorbing the beauty of the scene before us. Then, Gillian ventured a guess, “A seagull?”

I shook my head, “I don’t think so. They don’t breed in alpine places.”

“This riddle made me think of when I was a little girl,” Gillian said. “I used to rescue injured birds. There was this one time I found a wounded falcon, and I nursed it back to health. Releasing it back into the wild was the most magical feeling.”

“That’s so sweet,” I said.

Gillian smiled and scanned the horizon. “Anyway, back to the riddle. Maybe a shag?”

We waited for something to happen, but the beach was silent and empty, save for us and the seagulls. It seemed that the answer was incorrect.

“I don’t think they breed in alpine places either,” I said. We needed to think more deeply about the riddle and the unique creatures that inhabited this region.

As the sun’s unusual ascent continued, we pondered the clues in the riddle. “Under the starry sky,” Gillian muttered to herself. “It must be a nocturnal bird then? Can you think of any?”

My eyes lit up. “Wait, Gillian, I think I’ve got it! Just the other day I watched this documentary on TVNZ…”

She interrupted me with a laugh, “Why were you watching TVNZ?”

I frowned. “Because you were on your super-urgent video conference and I was bored?”

“Oh, right…” She broke eye contact.

“Anyway. It was about these birds … their numbers are dwindling, so they built an artificial colony for them, here in Kaikōura! I remember the name because it sounded like mutton and something about shears. Uhm… Oh yes! Hutton’s Shearwater!”

The words had scarcely left my lips when a strange energy enveloped us, causing the air to shimmer and dance. In that instant, the Guardian materialised before us, their form flickering like a mirage. Our eyes widened in astonishment. “You have unlocked the first riddle’s secret,” they declared, “but the sun’s course will not return until you’ve answered all three riddles and restored balance. I will find you when you solve the second riddle.”

They handed us the next riddle, their enigmatic smile fading as they stepped back, disappearing like a wisp of smoke into the sea breeze. We exchanged determined glances, knowing that each riddle held a piece of the puzzle to save the world. Taking a deep breath, we settled down on the sun-warmed rocks, the weight of the task ahead sinking in, and we began to analyse the riddle, our minds racing against time.

In New Zealand’s coastal waters, I make my play, 

With a petite frame and grace, I brighten your day. 

Pacific’s gentle waves, where I’m often seen, 

A rounded fin marks me, elegant and keen.

Creamy white beneath, in this southern sea, 

Who am I, in these waters so free?

“Any ideas on this one?” I asked. 

“No,” she answered, “except that it’s some kind of fish.”

We walked along the shore, pondering the riddle in silence, eyes fixed on the sand. 

“Maybe I can help?” A voice asked. 

We looked up and saw a man nearby with sun-bleached hair and a perpetual tan, his fishing line disappearing into the sparkling sea. 

“I do know quite a bit about fish,” he said. 

“Oh, hi. Yes, we’ve got this riddle. Maybe you have an idea.” I showed it to him and he read it and pondered for a bit before answering. 

“Hmmm, yes, I think I’ve got it. I don’t think it’s a fish though.”

“Really?” Gillian and I asked in unison. 

“Yes, you see, it plays and brightens people’s days. So it could be a dolphin, seal, or whale, I suppose. But then it says it’s petite and has grace, so that rules out whales. But there are two further crucial clues – the rounded, elegant fin and the white belly. It’s so obvious that I’m surprised you don’t know,” he cackled, then resumed his fishing. 

“Uhm, sir, do you mind telling us the answer please? It’s critical,” Gillian pleaded. 

“Oh sure, sure,” he replied, “but please don’t call me sir. The name’s Manaia.” We introduced ourselves and shook hands.

“That’s an interesting name,” I said, “what does it mean?”

“The Manaia is a mythological creature in Māori culture. It’s believed to be the messenger between the mortal and spirit world. It guards against evil. And the creature you’re looking for is the tiny adorable, and sadly endangered, Hector’s dolphin!”

Again, just as the words were spoken, the Guardian reappeared. 

“You have solved the second riddle,” they announced, “and one remains.”

They handed us the third riddle and we took it with trepidation. The last riddle. Will we be successful? 

In times of old, I soared with might, 

A towering beast, a wondrous sight. 

In New Zealand’s ancient, lush terrain, 

My thundering steps caused the ground to strain.”

We walked further along the beach. It stretched out before us, the sand warm and powdery beneath our feet. The salty breeze carried the faint scent of seaweed, and the rhythmic crashing of waves provided a soothing background soundtrack to our conversation.

“Hmmm, this is all in the past tense, unlike the others. It must mean that it no longer exists?” Gillian ventured. 

“Yeah, it seems that way. So what can it be?”

“Well, it says towering, so maybe it’s a moa?” she ventured. 

“No, silly. Moa couldn’t fly, and it says it ‘soared with might’. Maybe, the New Zealand swan?”

We listened and waited, but nothing happened. 

“I really wish I had my phone with me,” Gillian said, and I glared at her. 

I thought back to when I visited the museum the other day alone, because Gillian was busy with work again. There was a whole section on extinct birds. Come on, Willow, think! 

And then, it clicked. Yes, the largest eagle known to have existed. And it ate moa! 

“Haast’s eagle!” I exclaimed with glee, and the Guardian reappeared. 

“Well done! You have solved all three riddles.”

We beamed with triumph, but nothing happened. I guessed it would take some time for us to notice the sun going back down. I had expected some kind of ceremony. 

“So, we’re done now?” I asked. “Everything’s back to normal?”

“Not quite,” the Guardian declared. 

“How so?” Gillian asked. “We’ve done everything you told us to do. You said it would fix everything.”

“Life is rarely so simple,” the Guardian responded. “You have solved each riddle individually, but you haven’t considered their collective meaning. Only when you do, will balance be restored.” With those words, the Guardian vanished once more. 

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Gillian exclaimed. 

I stared at the three riddles, puzzled yet determined. “We’re almost there – this is the final step!” I urged. 

“I thought we came here to relax, not work,” Gillian mumbled, her shoulders slumping. 

“That’s ironic,” I muttered. 

“It’ll get better soon, it’s just this important project that I need to...”

“Yes, just one more project, I’ve heard that before. Anyway, let’s focus on discussing the link between the riddles, shall we?”

“I’ve no clue,” she said, sounding defeated. 

“Come on,” I encouraged, “at this stage, there are no bad ideas. Just say anything that comes to mind.”

“Well, they’re all animals,” Gillian said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. 

“Haha, good observation. But yes, and they’re all native to New Zealand?”

“And one is extinct,” she added. 

“Yes. And the Hutton’s shearwater’s numbers are dwindling. And Manaia said Hector’s dolphin is endangered.”

“Yes, Willow, that’s good!” Gillian brightened. “It’s like there are steps. Starting with Hutton’s shearwater that’s endangered, and Hector’s dolphin that’s, let’s say more endangered, and at the end of the scale you have the extinct Haast’s eagle.”

“Yeah, so it’s like a lesson of what will happen if we don’t stop…” I trailed off. 

“Don’t stop what? Ruining the environment?” she suggested. 

“Exactly,” I affirmed and paused, before saying, “and working for the enemy.”

Gillian raised her eyebrows. “Oh, come on! They’re not the enemy. They’re helping solve the housing crisis,” Gillian argued. 

“Do you honestly believe that? You’re destroying penguin habitats! I think you know what needs to be done. You need to switch sides.”

We locked eyes, her trembling hands and glistening eyes revealing her inner turmoil in the fading sunlight. We stood there in the gentle lapping of waves, a silent confrontation.

I went to her, wrapping my arms around her, and she let the tears flow. Her body trembled, the weight of her conflict palpable.

“My job pays the bills, your writing doesn’t!” she choked out, her voice quivering, tears streaming down her cheeks. “It’s not as simple as just switching sides.” 

I held her tighter, whispering softly and ignoring the slight at my writing, “I get that it’s difficult, but there are more important things in life than money. Your work is destroying the very environment you once wanted to protect.”

Gillian sniffled, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand. Her gaze met mine, and I could see the battle raging within her. 

“I know, Willow,” she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper. “I’m just scared.”

I brushed a strand of hair from her face, meeting her gaze with reassurance. "I’ll take a side job, and you’ll find a new one. It’ll be okay."

“My dad always pressured me,” Gillian confessed, her voice cracking with emotion, “He wanted me to become a big-shot lawyer, but it was never what I truly wanted. I used to dream of protecting the environment, Willow. That was my passion, but it got lost along the way.” She looked into my eyes, her vulnerability laid bare. “You’re right. I need to change course – I can’t ignore my true calling any longer, no matter how scared I am.”

Suddenly, the fabric of the atmosphere seemed to ripple and convulse, a phantasmagoric dance of cosmic forces. Time itself trembled as if the universe held its breath, and in that ephemeral moment, the sun became a golden streak hurtling towards the horizon. Of course it wasn’t the sun moving; it was the Earth spinning with a frenetic urgency.

A surge of inexplicable energy surged through the air, electrifying our senses. It was as though the world had awakened, and we were caught in the current of its rousing. The voice of the Guardian resonated, ethereal and distant, as they declared, “It is done.” Yet, their presence had dissolved into the essence of the shifting world, leaving us in profound solitude amidst this celestial spectacle. But the Guardian was wrong; this was just the beginning. 

September 08, 2023 21:39

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