Of all the things Beom thought she would be doing on harvest day, sitting on her heels before the village chief and the council of elders was definitely not one of them. After hours of listening to him ramble on about nothing, the urge to interrupt was overwhelming. Looking past the Chief, she could see the endless stretch of blue through a crack in the woven wall. Tuning out the grumble of voices, she could hear faint sounds of drums and smell the spiced rum in the air.
Fiddling with her bracelets, she could still feel the salt on her skin from the dive she had taken that morning. She had intended to wash off, but before she could make it back to her rooms, the royal guard had come to collect her. Biting her lip, she contemplated walking out or rolling into the ocean ingress. Intended to facilitate the merfolk to join in their meetings or parties, it would add a bit of flair to her exit, but then again, they’d just haul her back. There weren’t many places to go when your village was built on the ocean, miles away from land. Not to mention that she was the headhunter and the most skilled fighter in the village―they wouldn’t let her go. Pulling at a dried scab on her palm, she redirected her attention to the babbling Chief, who was now purple in the face.
“Chief, as I said before, something is killing the fish and destroying the reef. Our haul has been shrinking for months, our nets empty for a week! We cannot live off the garden alone," she said. Rolling her shoulders back, she levelled his glare with her own. It wasn’t like she could spontaneously create fish out of thin air. She wasn't a water god or spirit. She was just a hunter.
The Chief scrunched up his nose, crossing his arms over his fat belly. “What are we supposed to do―starve? You need to―”
“―Something is wrong.”
"Fix it! Go to the other side of the island and set new traps there. Do something. Do anything.”
"You're not listening! We have set traps. Around the entire island, and yet here we are. Empty nets. Empty traps.”
“Then we move to land.”
“No,” she shot back. “Hunting on the island hadn’t been an option for centuries. Most of the vegetation is poisonous.” Not to mention that the edible vegetation was sparse. This was why they were growing all of their vegetables on a floating garden with the rainwater they collected. The only thing they took from the land was lumber and bamboo to build with.
“Yes! If you cannot find more fish, then we’ll start hunting on the island.” The Chief bellowed, guesting for one of his councillors to his side. He was going to give the order to assemble a hunting party. “We will not starve!”
Looking up at the carved beams of the room, she noted the small motifs of the gods and demi-gods that had once walked amongst them. Particularly Ame No Mi Kumari, their mother goddess. Their protector and provider, she could heal wounds, summon fish, and calm stormy seas; she was the most powerful of the water gods.
"Wait!" she yelled. Standing from her stiff position on the smooth wooden floor, she was eye level with the seated Chief. "What if we repent to the water gods? Ask for guidance―for forgiveness? It's been almost a thousand years. Maybe they'll forgive us." Silence fell over the courtroom, the Chief’s face reddening with every second. Beom could feel blood pool in her palm, a ripped scab in between her fingers. Pressing her palms together, she was suddenly very aware of the insult she had made.
Ove a thousand years ago, the gods had drowned a demi-god named Hak, the Chief's distant ancestor, and in their grief, the people raged war against the gods. Refusing to pray or acknowledge the gods. The feud bubbled into a decade long battle that resulted in the people fleeing the island of Nakada to Kenro. It was only through bedtime stories, old carvings and hushed whispers that she had even known about the war or the magic that the gods had taken back from them. Although, to be fair, while no one in the village had magic, it was still forbidden to mention the gods.
“No! Hak did nothing wrong. It was them―they who fired the first shot. They drowned that poor boy for what? Nothing. They drowned him for nothing because he did nothing wrong.”
“The elders say that this will pass, so give it some time. For now, we’ll focus on setting up a hunting party and on the gardens. I hear the taro is doing very well these days. Maybe it will win the best prize this year?" Standing, the Chief signalled for the guards to tie back the curtains, flooding the space with noontime sun. Turning his back to her, he motioned for the council to follow him as he walked out the room, throwing a disapproving glare at her. “We will reconvene tomorrow.”
Slamming the door of her chambers shut, Beom cured the Chief’s name. Loud enough so that the guards stationed at her door could hear. Arrogance. That would be the undoing of Kenro. Crossing the small living space, she flung open the lanai door and stormed onto the wooden deck. His inaction might just kill us all, she thought sullenly. Grabbing a clay pot, she smashed it to the ground. The impact scattered splinters of clay across the smooth surface.
Blinking the tears out of her eyes, she surveyed the shards of clay around her feet. Bending to collect the pieces, she felt her palm grow wet before she saw the bright red blood that dripped down her fingers. Damn it! Wrapping her palm in a loose piece of her skirt, she watched patches of scarlet blossom on the cream-coloured fabric. After a few minutes of holding pressure, she peeled the fabric back. She stared disapprovingly at the sticky mess. The cut wasn’t deep, but it was still bleeding.
Returning pressure back to her hand, an idea came careening into her head. She could go. She could go to Nakada and beg the water Goddess Ame No Mi Kumari for forgiveness. It was crazy, but what else was she supposed to do? Sit and wait for things to get better?
The world then tilted on its side, as a breeze raked through her braided hair, pulling at her ear, it whispered something to her, as if in answer. Ho’oponopono, make right.
After bandaging her hand and sweeping up the clay, Beom started to pack her boat with supplies. Docked just off her lanai, she hurriedly packed a few rations of food, some rope, and her cutlass. Strapping a sacred whale tooth knife to her thigh, she prayed that it would be enough. After all, the knife was said to have been made by the god Hironaka, master of weapons. Sitting on the lanai and waited for the night sky to fall.
Bathed in the moonlight with nothing but an abyss of stars as her map, Beom sailed her boat eastwards through the serpent’s pass. An archipelago of rocky islands and sparse foliage, the islands were said to have been cursed. Passing the occasional shimmering water spirit in the dark, she was warry of their cavernous eyes and curved lips but what scared her most were the odd ripples of water that rose out of the water without warning. She had been told bedtime stories about the First Gods and the leviathans that haunted the serpents pass; she just didn’t think she’d ever see one.
Still swathed in the night, Beom shot up from her place at the rudder when a wall of mist started rolling towards her. She had just cleared the serpent's pass, which meant that she should see the great mountains of Nakada, but this, this wall of mist shouldn’t be here. It was the wrong time of the year; the night was too warm.
Adjusting the sails, she took in a deep breath, letting the air settle into her lungs. She needed to stay calm. The moment the bow pierced the mist, the hull began to shake. Her supplies banged around violently. Her lungs caved in. What was happening? Trying to steer the boat into another direction, Boem was sucked into the ominous mist, encasing her in shadows darker than night.
The sound of leathery wings and screams sounded in the distance. Gnashing of teeth and the snapping of bone rattled through the air. She reached for a bone knife, but before she could grab the hilt, it flew out of its sheath into the darkness. Beom pressed her back against the mast. She could barely hear the distant roars against the pounding of her heart. Horror leapt up to her throat as invisible hands plucked her from the small boat, baptizing her in shadow.
The wind lashed against her skin with a vengeance as the fog melted away.
Blinking sharply, she felt her sense of gravity shift because Nakada wasn’t the lush island full of rolling hills and white sand as she had been lead to believe. Instead, she saw an island covered in ash and a shore of obsidian sand. Blinking the mist out of her eyes, she saw flames devouring a hilltop. Embers and soot rained down from above. What happened here?
Suspended in the air, she looked down. Fighting against the invisible bonds, she heard a hiss, followed by bubbling. Oh, gods. Something was bubbling below her. With the shore still, miles away, and her arms pinned to her side, she felt her screams etch themselves into her throat, her voiceless cries threatening to choke her.
She was being silenced. Someone was silencing her.
Splinters of light erupted from the murky water, first a roiling ball of water that morphed into―into Ame No Mi Kumari. Her body flickered to life before Beom’s eyes. She towered above her. A crown of pearls sat atop her head, with iridescent skin and milky eyes to match. She looked at every ounce of a goddess.
“Ame No Mi Kumari," she whispered, this time not as a call but in disbelief. “Ame No Mi Kumari, I've come to repent." Invoking any of their names was heresy, but she didn’t care. So what if irreverence stained her teeth and marred her tongue? She was desperate.
“You have come to die,” the goddess roared.
Beom gathered all the fire within her and pressed on, “I have come to apologize for my people―for our past.”
“Yes, and you will hear me out.”
"Who are you to demand such a favour―how dare you ask such a thing." Her words sent shock waves through the air.
“Ame No Mi Kumari,” she stuttered, “I have come to repent on behalf of my people. To apologize for the insurmountable grief that we inflicted on you and your people all those centuries ago." Daring a glance, Beom looked into the void of Ame No Mi Kumari’s eyes, dipping her head slightly, “I have come to make things right. Ho’oponopono.”
The goddess’s eyes flared wide as she seized Beom out of the air, fingers curling around her body. “Grief? You know nothing of the word. I have lived for millennia, and I will outlive even the brightest star. Your existence is fleeting.”
“Yes, but that is exactly what makes it valuable," she shot back. "Every minute that passes by is one less that we cannot get back. But you know what, that’s what makes life precious. This is why I have come. To apologize. Please, people, are dying. They are suffering. They need your help. They need you.”
"What makes you think an apology could soothe the damage that has been done? The lives that have been lost?"
“It can’t. But we were your children―”
“And look at what it cost us―cost me. It cost us everything,” she gestured to the wasteland around them. “I lost everything.”
Looking into the void of her eyes, the stillness of her gaze cracked her heart. “Please,” she begged. “I will do anything.”
A wicked smiled curled across the water goddess’s face to reveal a row of sharp teeth, "Is that so."
With a replay poised on her tongue, Beom was ready to barter for her life for people when Ame No Mi Kumari plunged her fist into the black sea.
The sudden impact knocked the breath out of Beom’s lungs. Thrashing in the goddess's grip, the sting of salt made her eyes burn, and her lungs ache. A small eternity passed by as the light seeped out of her body. The goddess was too strong. Too old. Too unforgiving. She was a woman with ire in her veins and cruelty in her heart, but so was Boem.
With the last kernel of strength, she focused on her roaring heartbeat. Forcing her limbs to go limp.
Slowly the goddess uncurled her fingers, releasing Beom.
Floating to the surface, she rolled to her back, careful not to make a sound. Her lungs greedily drinking in the air. Tentatively opening an eye, she searched for her bone knife, eventually finding it in the sand a few feet away. Glancing around, she saw that Ame No Mi Kumari now stood on the beach. Her back was turned to her. Arms wide and belly up, she allowed the waves to push her to the shore. The soft thump of sand against her head was all she needed. The knife was within reach. Taking in a few deep breaths, she reached out her hand, gripping the knife with bruised fingers. If she refused to listen, to save her children, to save Beom, she would just have to save them herself. She would steal the goddess’s power.
Rising to her feet, Boem sprinted towards the goddess. Digging her feet into the sand, her legs carried her faster than she thought possible. Jumping on a nearby rock, she propelled herself upward. The carved bone gleamed in the fiery light.
Plunging the knife into the goddess’s back, Beom heard a scream so raw and feral that if she hadn’t been the one to strike, she would have been petrified; but she wouldn’t be the prey. Nor would she be the villain. She was simply another beast, cold and cruel. Hungry for blood. Ichor spilt down her wrists and elbows, staining her clothes gold. Stumbling forward, the goddess fell to her knees, but still, Beom held on. Twisting the blade, she savoured her screams until the goddess began to shake.
Pulling the blade from her back, Beom jumped back onto the sand, watching the goddess shrink to mortal size. Now not much bigger than herself. Ame No Mi Kumari now lay face first in the black sand. Rolling her over with the tip of her foot, she watched the goddess begin to choke. Unleashing a smile, she pressed one knee into the goddess’s chest, using her free hand to wipe away a stray lock of hair from her bloodied face.
“You know I came here in the name of peace, but what good are gods who refuse to help their people? What good are you?” She asked; her tone matched the ice in her veins.
Now spitting up ichor Ame No Mi Kumari reached a hand towards the water. Summoning a drop of water, she hurled it down Beom’s throat. "You fool," she coughed, "you have just cursed yourself."
What? At a loss for words, Beom pressed her blade to the goddess's throat, hard enough to draw a drop of ichor, but not enough to slit her throat. From the threat in her eyes, the question was clear, explain.
"You cannot kill a monster and not become one yourself. It goes against the very fibre of nature. The same rule applies to power―to immortality. How do you kill a god?"
“You become one,” she whispered. Beom was going to be sick. The stories never said anything about this. Her face was numb. Immortality wasn’t living forever; it was watching the people around you die. It was standing in a garden of the most captivating flora, knowing that they will die, but loving them anyway. It was a curse to walk the earth alone.
The smile fell off her face. All of the anger fizzled in her veins. Dropping the knife, her body went limp. A brutal breeze blew in from the ocean, clearing away the thick wall of shadows and mist that shrouded Nakada. Sunlight flooded the beach. The once black water turned cerulean and clear. Whipping her head to the mountains, she saw the volcano settle, the lurid tower of smoke melted into the ivory clouds. Yet the black sand remained, and the ashen hills endured.
Wobbling slightly, something inside Beom began to quake. Looking back at Ame No Mi Kumari, she saw her now crooked hands grab onto her wrists, her grip iron clad. Ichor snaked up her arms and sunk into her skin, leaving behind gilded swirls on her skin. The new patterns glowed in the sunlight. Shielding her eyes from the light, she felt the weight below her give out. Looking at her shaking hands, she saw that the gashes in them were now healed. The skin over her palms smooth. Another wave of light exploded around here. What had she done?
After the flash faded, she was greeted with a puddle of water.
An immortal no more.
The remnants of the goddess seeped into the black sand as if she were only ever water―and maybe she was. Maybe that was her first form? The stories always said the gods came from the sea. They never said what they were made of.
With shaky knees, she rose to her feet and walked into the ocean.
She had been remade. Transformed.
Mortal no more.