Maui sighed and hauled his boat ashore. There was ash on the wind, and everything smelled of fire. The deep fire, the red blood of the earth that boiled up and turned the seas to steam and the air to poison. The roar of the conflagration had drawn him steadly southwards, to far band of islands. Only one of the islands was inhabited. Unfortunately, it was the one with the now-active volcano on it.
Two gods were at war in the heart of that volcano. Maui intended to put an end to that conflict – hopefully before it wound up sinking some of the islands that he’d worked so hard to draw up from the bottom of the sea. But first, there was the small matter of ensuring that no innocents were caught in the crossfire.
The village that spread across the shore was new. Or at least it hadn’t been here last time he’d passed this way. There were people on the beaches, fleeing for their boats. The design was one he was familiar with, though they were not native to these waters. Neither were the mortals, for that matter.
They paid him little heed as he strode onto shore, his great hook in hand. The weapon hummed with power, and its rope coiled about his arm like a serpent. Like him, it could sense the divine conflict that was the source of the conflagration.
The island shuddered, and vibrant, crimson lines rolled down the volcano’s slopes and into the jungle that clustered at its base. Birds hurtled squawking into the air, seeking safety. Maui growled in consternation and swung his hook out, letting it thunk into the ground some distance from the village. Hauling tight on the rope, he began to carve a wide trench in the trembling earth. A firebreak wouldn’t solve the problem, but it would buy him and the island’s inhabitants some time. But even as he retrieved his hook, he heard a cry from the clustered huts. Drifting ash and embers had set several of them alight. The cries were coming from one of them. He cursed and barreled towards the hut, ignoring the cinders that pelted him like rain.
He burst through the wall of the hut, and saw a man and women crouched over a pair of children. The roof was burning; about to collapse inward. He lunged towards the nearest support timber and pressed his shoulder against it, momentarly stabilizing the structure.
“Out,” he bellowed. “Get out – to the boats! Get to your boats!” He didn’t know whether they understood his words or not, but they scrambled to safety as he uprooted the support timber and lifted the entire hut from its base. With a grunt, he hurled the burning hut towards the others that had already caught fire. Then he quickly turned and slung his hook towards the shore. It crashed down into the water and he gave it a tug, tearing an irrigation trench from the water’s edge to the village.
As the trench filled with sea water, Maui snatched up several buckets and began to fill them. With a speed no mortal could match, he quickly wet down the remaining huts. It wouldn’t save them from the volcano, but it might keep the risk from errant sparks down. Moving swiftly, he dug more irrigation trenches through the village and to the tree line, and then, without stopping, carved a larger trench right to the volcano’s base. If he’d positioned it correctly, the lava would spill into the trench and avoid the village.
He paused and turned, surveying the small flotilla that was heading out to sea. Silently, he wished them luck and turned back to the volcano. The ground was shuddering underfoot and he could hear something like thunder echoing down from within the volcano. It was the sound of godly combat. Once you heard it, it was impossible to mistake it for anything else.
The volcano expelled a gout of smoke and Maui knew it would soon erupt fully and catastrophically. There was only one way to stop it, and that meant taking a direct hand. He bounded up the slope, leaping from rock to rock, dexterously avoiding the exploding bubbles of lava that trickled down.
He swung his hook over his head as he leapt, and cast it towards the mouth of the cave. The hook sank into the superheated stone and he was drawn after it, quick as a fish plucked from the water. He landed lightly at the mouth of the cave and raced towards the sound of battle. He hoped he wasn’t too late.
Inside, he was startled to find not the fiery cavern he expected, but something altogether more refined. Rather than raw earth and fire, it was a scene of industry – a massive forge, wrought from the very substance of the mountain itself. Or, it had been before someone decided to wreck it. He heard a hiss and ducked as a globule of magma struck the wall behind him. He turned and saw a familiar face, rising atop a plume of fire – Pele, goddess of volcanoes and violence. “You have gone too far, Vulcan,” She cried. “This place belongs to me. I will not have you sully it with your machines!”
Her opponent was a squat, heavily muscled god with a bristling crimson beard and a bald head. Maui recognized him as Vulcan, a member of the Roman pantheon. What he was doing here, Maui couldn’t say. Thus far, neither had noticed him.
Vulcan gestured at Pele with the massive hammer he held. “It was you who offered me this place, deceiver! Was it all a trick? Were you hoping to steal my secrets for your own? Well, you’ll not have them – not if I have anything to say about it!”
As he spoke, he reached behind his back and retrieved a round, metallic object. It glowed with heat as he hurled it at Pele. The subsequent explosion knocked her from her fiery platform, and sent Maui crashing into a wall. As he hauled himself upright, he saw Pele rise again, and the interior of the volcano moved himself upright, he saw Pele rise again, and the interior of the volcano moved with her. Streamers of magma spurted from the walls and the floor, slamming into Vulcan from all directions. He roared in surprise, and perhaps a little pain, though Maui suspected that it would take more than a bit of melted rock to slow the Roman god down.
Instantly, the magma cooled to hard, gray stone, imprisoning the god. Vulcan shouted and struggled, but was trapped, at least for the moment. Pele approached, a fierce expression on her face. Maui knew he would have no better opportunity to intervene.
He flung his hook between them, embedding it in the wall opposite. Pele stopped in surprise and turned towards him. “You-?” she began.
“Me, Madame Pele,” Maui said, hauling his hook back to his hand. “I come to ask a boon of you. Cease this meaningless skirmish, before you endanger more innocent lives.”
Pele stared at him in incomprehension. “Meaningless…? He stole my temple from me!” She pointed and accusing finger at Vulcan, who flushed with rage and redoubled his efforts to escape his bindings.
“I stole nothing,” he boomed. “You gave me this place as a gift!”
“Why would I give you anything?” Pele replied. “When have we ever spoken, god of useless things?”
Maui intervened before Vulcan could respond to the insult. “You thought she promised you this place, only to find that she was unaware of it – or you” Maui looked at Pele. “And you’re certain you didn’t promise Vulcan this place?”
Pele frowned. “I think I would remember something like that.”
Vulcan bared his teeth. “You lie!”
Pele whirled towards her captive, her expression wrathful. “I do not lie, Roman! Why would I give you one of my own sacred placed, just so you could turn it into a -a…”
“Workshop,” Vulcan growled.
“A rubbish heap,” Pele countered. “I did not – would not – do that. Nor did I give your worshippers permission to live here.”
Vulcan’s eyes narrowed. “If you have hurt them, I swear I will -“
“They are unhurt,” Maui interjected. “No thanks to either of you, I have to add.” Both Pele and Vulcan turned their glares on him and Maui shrugged. “Then, you were distracted I suppose. Even so, it must be clear to you both that your fight is not with each other.”
“What do you mean?” Pele demanded.
Maui put on his best smile. “You were tricked, Madame Pele – by a most devious and cunning creature. An amoral and conning deceiver.” He stepped back as a sluice of magma crawled past his bare feet.
Pele frowned. “You just described yourself, Maui.” More magma geysered from the rockface, swiftly cutting off Maui’s route of escape. The air wavered with heat. “Are you claiming responsibility, then?”
“Hardly,” Maui said, offended. He paused, and cast w wary glance at the magma. He assumed a pose of unconcern, his great hook balanced across one shoulder. “Though I admit I am cunning…and, yes, devious. Perhaps a touch conniving. But never amoral!”
Pele snorted. “Get to the point.”
“It wasn’t me. But given Vulcan’s presence here, I think I know who it was, though admittedly, it is only a guess.” Maui put on a humble expression – or as close as he could to one. “But given that I see no benefit to any party in your clash, I think it is a good one. There is only one goddess in this world who enjoys causing her fellow deities to fight one another for no reason other than her own amusement. And Vulcan there knows who I refer to.”
Pele paused and looked at her captive. “Discordia,” Vulcan snarled, in sudden realization. “I’d heard she was up to her old tricks again, but I never imagined she would be foolish enough to play one on me.” He began to struggle against his magmatic bonds, causing them crack. “Free me! I will avenge myself on that fluttering witch!”
Pele gestured, and Vulcan’s bonds crumbled like sand. He staggered and gave her a glare of thanks. Then he looked at Maui. “Where is she then?”
Maui shrugged. “I have on idea – but I can find her!” He stepped back, his hands raised in a placatory fashion as Vulcan glowered fiercely at him. “I will find her.” He paused, as an idea occurred to him. A slow spread across his face. “In fact, it would be best to leave the whole matter to me, I think.”
Vulcan frowned and glanced at Pele. “What do you mean?”
Maui grinned. “It’s just that – well – Discordia is a trickster at heart. Simply pummeling her won’t teach her a lesson. Better to serve her up a meal of her own making, don’t you think?”
Vulcan’s frown deepened. “You talk too much and say little. Speak plainly.”
Maui sighed, “I’m going to trick her, the way she tricked you.” He looked at Pele. “Is that acceptable, Ka wahine ‘ai honua?”
Pele considered his words for several moments. “Why would you do this for us?”
Maui felt his smile slip. He thought about the mortals he’d saved as their homes burned. As their lives were upended, all because of two gods had decided to settle an imaginary grudge. He did not believe that Pele – or Vulcan – had intended to harm the mortals. But they had, nonetheless. “Tricks are only entertaining when they do no lasting harm. Discordia, from what I know of her, does nothing but harm to those she targets.” He glanced at Vulcan. “I am a craftsman, and her shoddy work offends me.”
“That I understand,” Vulcan rumbled. He looked at Pele. “What do you think?”
Pele nodded. “Maui is very good at making people regret ever having met him. I say we let him ply his trade on Discordia. Let the trickster get a taste of her own poison.”
Vulcan grunted. “Very well. But if you fail, I will take what I am owed out of your hide as well as hers.” He poked a thick finger into Maui’s chest as he spoke. Maui fought to keep from laughing. It was difficult, be he managed.
He turned away from the pair of gods, hook still balanced on his shoulder. “Well then, I guess i’d better get started then.” He gave them a jaunty wave, and started for the mouth of the cave. “After all, I have a trickster to find – and a trap to lay.”