Maori Pronunciation Guide:
a: As in "cat" or "apart."
e: Always a long a, as in "cake."
i: Most often as a long e, as in "seek," sometimes a short e, as in "pet."
o: Either as in "pot" or "pork."
u: Either as in "put" or "boot."
Conform to standard English usage.
au: As in "cow"; each vowel is voiced separately in single syllable words
ai: As in "pie."
ng: Soft as in "singer," not as in "finger."
ˉ: Vowel/consonant augmented by this accent mark (a macron) becomes long.
As outlandish as it sounded, the Greenstone Tunnel was the bane of the Walkers, and even the Flyers, of the Given Land. It appeared to be a secluded slice of paradise, a hidden treasure meant to be discovered by curious individuals.
That could not be further from the truth.
Rows of evenly spaced trees flanked a sickly green river, their organized layout anything but natural. It was evident their seeds had been sown in the past by birds, their growth carefully monitored and controlled.
The trees did not take kindly to this.
As they matured they developed a grudge, which began to flow within and between them freely. This evolved into a shared intent to ensnare and eliminate their feathered enemies.
The first few individuals who found the Tunnel were oblivious to the danger. Sooner or later it became apparent that they could not leave; by then it was too late.
The trapped birds were driven mad by the unrelenting malice seeping from the trees and the futility of escape. Unable to bear the torment, they deliberately starved or cast themselves into the river in a final act of desperation.
With the passage of time, the remains of scores of casualties piled ever higher. This mound of skeletal figures exposed the Tunnel's unbreakable grasp in ghastly fashion.
Those who saw the bone pool came to the crushing realization that their lives were forfeit. In time their own corpses would join those of countless others, forever frozen in the contorted positions they adopted when they expired.
Lush yet devoid of birdsong, the Greenstone Tunnel was nothing more than a verdant, waking nightmare. It cast its lethal spell on all who entered, consuming first their minds, then their spirits and flesh when they finally perished.
Two huia were slated to be its next victims.
Raven-sized birds cloaked in lustrous ebony feathers, their tails sported a broad band of pure white at their tips. Rounded patches of bare, orange skin sat beneath their beady black eyes.
The most striking feature was the drastic difference in bill shape exhibited by the pair.
That of the male, Huaka, was stout and sharp, like a dagger, whereas that of his mate, Hupine, was long, slender, and gracefully curved.
Though their kind were Flyers by definition, they themselves were confined to the two-dimensional earth.
Days prior, their control of Manapouri, a nearby village and trading post, was wrested from them. A brutish kea named Paihaukura led the revolt that was two full rounds in the making.
Valuing their lives over power, they surrendered, but were not spared adequate punishment. Their aggressors pinned them down and their flight feathers were shorn by Paihaukura's own blade.
They then fled Manapouri on foot. Pursued relentlessly by him and his subordinates, they were driven into the Greenstone Tunnel that now imprisoned them.
Nearly all their belongings had been confiscated by the village's new ruler.
Huaka had managed to hang on to a small pack containing flammable powder, while Hupine had fled with a pair of special stones that generated sparks when struck together.
These were prized heirlooms owned by not only them, but huia scattered across the South Island. These tools granted them the capability to conjure fire at will.
Their ability to do so was generally frowned upon by those not of their kind.
The fact that their unique gift was the target of so much derision plagued the female with shame. Was it a boon, or a curse? The answer had been unclear to Hupine for as long as she could remember.
In the unnerving confines of the Tunnel, at least she and her mate need not hide it from the judgmental eyes of others.
Amidst the isolation and silence, their companionship made their suffering bearable, if only just.
Unfortunately, they, too, had witnessed the submerged graveyard shortly after their unforeseen arrival.
The leafy canopy formed an arched ceiling of solid greenstone, unyielding and impenetrable. Even if they had not been stripped of flight, the barrier could not be breached.
The trunks of the trees formed a confounding maze, foiling their efforts to navigate out. Their numerous attempts resulted in a string of failures, as they ended up exactly where they started.
The portal to freedom, where the river emptied into Lake Manapouri, was unreachable. It seemed to recede as quickly or slowly as they'd approached, mocking them continuously.
The significance of everything, save for each other, drained away as rainwater soaks into parched earth.
Even now, their love was immeasurable in its extent; many full rounds had come and gone since their serendipitous meeting.
Their endeavors failed almost as often as they came to fruition, yet they forged onward on their adventure through life undaunted.
Because of that blasted kea, their efforts to carve out a meaningful existence for themselves had all been for naught.
Owing to their tumultuous lives, starting a family was never a feasible course of action. Since their committed relationship began, they'd mated every so often – outside of the mating season, of course – to reinvigorate their bond and savor the unforgettable experience.
The catalyst for their intimacy was often due to a mix of seclusion and the manifestation of a compelling urge to please one another. However, they also made sweet, blissful love to celebrate a particularly jubilant achievement or upbeat holiday.
Despite their ousting from Manapouri and their lack of offspring, Huaka had recently cleansed his mind of all regret.
Lacking the resolve to drown himself in the river, he promised to extinguish himself via starvation instead.
The suffering would be most dreadful for the first few days as his hunger intensified and his stored energy reserves were consumed to sustain his metabolism. Once they were used up, his decline was certain to accelerate.
Paralyzing fatigue would set in, followed by cascading organ shutdown. He hoped to succumb to exhaustion and simply fade away in his sleep.
He preferred for his spark of life to blink out in such a serene manner.
Having orchestrated his own gradual death – one the majority of birds would be utterly terrified of – Huaka was at peace. His sole desire was to shower Hupine with affection before his strength dissolved.
Hupine, in turn, promised to starve herself as well, emphasizing the depth of her devotion to her mate.
Knowing in his heart she would treat him no less tenderly until her own strength waned, Huaka had no reason to complain.
With every setting of the sun, their assured demise crept closer. Bound by mutual adoration, it was those very chains that would keep them lashed together until the bitter end.
Blissful acceptance, tinged with borderline laughable nonchalance, characterized their moods. The doomed huia simply continued to live their lives as if they weren't already dead.
On the second morning since their eviction from Manapouri, Huaka awoke as the dawn broke. Hupine slumbered peacefully on beside him.
The flaxen rays of the young sun streamed between the ice-crowned peaks of the Teeth, sweeping across the land with great purpose.
Gingerly he stood, his right wing brushing against her left. She twitched yet did not wake.
He breathed a muted sigh of relief.
I should surprise her with something. I'm sure she'd appreciate it.
Quietly he scoured the vegetation in vicinity for turutu berries. Soon he encountered what must have been dozens conveniently dangling from the wiry stems of the parent plant.
Plucking one of the bright purple fruits, he carried it back to where Hupine napped, placing it on the soft earth near the end of her beak.
He retrieved an additional three for her, arranging them in a compact square shape.
The berries would do little to halt their starvation; the devouring of delicious morsels was one of the simple pleasures they indulged in.
Crouching a short distance in front of her, Huaka waited patiently for her to rouse. Her breast pulsated in a slow, steady rhythm, her beak halves opening and closing ever-so-slightly with each breath.
He'd always admired her cleverness and beauty; how fortunate he was to have stumbled upon her all those moons ago.
Had his fate been to perish alone, the Tunnel would've been flooded with his echoing cries of sadness.
Hupine's mere presence held negative emotions such as despair and trepidation at bay; the male felt no need to weep or fear his inevitable passing.
Perhaps our deaths are the will of the Giver. He granted us the privilege of living among His creations. Now we must depart the Maker's land forever. Hupine and I will return to the Giver's realm and be embraced by His majestic wings. Eternal comfort awaits us…
Huaka fluffed up his feathers momentarily.
Droplets of morning dew raced one another along the waxy surface of the leaf hovering above Hupine. At its pointed tip they coalesced into a sparkling bead.
Soon it became too heavy, lost its grip, and dropped, bursting on contact with the female huia's nape. She stirred, shaking her head gently.
Her eyes blinked open; they sparkled with recognition when she locked eyes with her mate.
Touching his beak lightly to hers, he whispered, "Mōrena, e kare." (Good morning, dear)
"Mōrena," she replied softly.
He gestured to the turutu berries before her.
"I brought you these."
"Tēnā koe, Huaka." (Thank you)
"It was the least I could do for you."
Grasping one gently in her beak, she tossed it skyward with a calculated flick of her head. Deftly snatching it as it fell, she swallowed it in earnest.
She made one more disappear in the same manner.
"Since you were so kind to me, these are for you."
She flung the two remaining berries into the air one at a time. Catching them no less skillfully, Huaka gulped them down as well.
"Tēnā koe, Hupine."
She tickled Huaka's right cheek with her blunt bill tip, earning a chuckle from him.
"Did you enjoy them?"
"Wonderful. Care to take a walk with me?"
"As if I would stay behind and let you wander off, e kare. You know me as well as I know myself."
"That is true."
"Besides, you have a habit of getting into all sorts of trouble," she remarked. "No, I must come with you and do my best to keep you out of it."
"A fair point. I'd rather you accompany me anyhow. The world is that much more pleasant with you around, and here is no exception."
"I could say the same thing."
They gazed lovingly at one another for a few moments.
Huaka draped his port wing across her upper back. With that, the huia initiated a leisurely stroll along the river's left bank.
They had no singular destination in mind, content to wander this way and that. A dead limb spanning the river at an oblique angle allowed them to access the opposite bank.
Their feet were not exactly built to shoulder their weight for extended periods of time, so the huia paused to rest as needed.
Wildflowers of various shapes, sizes, and colors were in no short supply. They stopped every now and then to admire the particularly flamboyant ones.
The diversity of the blooms was just another layer of the complex illusion of splendor exhibited by the Tunnel. They were hardly tricked into thinking it was paradise.
Their subconscious monitored the inexorable flow of time as they explored the artificial forest. Over two hours had passed since their exploration commenced.
Another fallen limb bridged the waterway far upriver from where their trek began. Tentatively they clambered onto it, and it bowed slightly in response to their weight.
As Huaka crept along, his foot contacted a patch of wet moss. It lost purchase and he slipped.
"Taukuri!" (Oh dear!)
Hupine instinctively seized him by the tail, halting his plummet into the river. He winced as it went taut, a jolt of pain shooting up his spine.
"Do you see what I mean?" she quipped.
The branch quivered as she carefully hoisted him back onto it.
"Taukahore…" he groaned (Ouch)
"Are you okay, e kare?"
"Kei te pai. You always were a quick thinker." (I'm fine)
"What would you do without me?"
"To be honest… I'd suffer from endless misfortune and solitude."
"A reasonable answer, not that you have to worry. Wherever fate leads you, I'll stay by your side, in this life or the next."
"Faithful until the very end. You humble me, Hupine. I couldn't have chosen a more wonderful huia as my mate."
"I share your sentiments, e kare."
Huaka ambled to the jagged terminus of the branch, hunched over, and leapt to the spongy ground. He turned and offered his wing to Hupine, helping her down off it.
Slowly-but-surely, they made their way back to their starting point. Along the way they scrutinized several types odd-looking flowers.
The sun had almost ascended to its zenith when they finally arrived. Hupine's feathers shimmered with metallic iridescence beneath its golden gaze.
Rarely had Hupine looked more alluring; she was undoubtedly a special gift from Giver, one Huaka treasured above all else.
Feeling tired and uncomfortably warm, the huia crouched side-by-side in the shade provided by the overhanging leaf.
Huaka calmly began preening himself. Hupine emulated his example.
The male's short beak was a restriction, prohibiting him from reaching a few specific spots. He accomplished as much as he could, then patiently watched her.
Once she finished tending to her own plumage, Hupine took over for Huaka, preening his neck, rump, and tail diligently. He remained still while she worked.
Soothed by sensation of her bill gliding through his feathers, he nodded off in under a minute.
To liberate herself from his watchful gaze had been her intent. The fear of wasting away haunted Hupine to such an extent that she could not go through with it.
Drowning herself was the only alternative. She despised her weak will, but what wounded her the deepest was the violation of her oath.
E noho ra… Huaka. I love you… (Goodbye)
She stealthily backed away until a spherical bush obscured him. Her snoozing mate had not seen her retreat.
A spear of icy guilt impaled her soul. Stifling her sobs, she trudged downstream to the bone pool.
She waded into the tepid water, immersing her feet and tail. The warm sunlight dancing on her back pleaded with her to reconsider.
Alas, she could not be swayed.
Pointing her beak at a partially-visible cloud drifting on by overhead, she thanked the Giver one last time.
Her mate's voice sounded far-off, dampened by the foliage.
Aroha mai… e kare… (I'm sorry)
"Where are you?"
His voice seemed louder, more concerned. He was coming closer.
With a pitiful whimper she flipped onto her back. Her waterlogged feathers grew heavy, causing her to sink.
Coming to rest on the carpet of submerged bones, she now viewed the world through a rippling, murky green lens. She resisted the urge to breathe for ten arduous seconds.
Her panicked brain forced her beak wide open. A stream of bubbles floated to the surface.
It then commanded her breast to swell in a futile bid to obtain oxygen. Her back arched, her talons clenched.
Water flooded her lungs, distorting her scream into a gurgle.
Disturbed by an errant leaf grazing his head on its way to the ground, Huaka suddenly awoke. The space beside him she had occupied minutes earlier was empty.
Puzzled, he began searching for her.
"Hupine?" he called.
She did not reply. Facing southwest, he hobbled along the muddy bank.
He took twenty more steps and called out to her again: "Where are you?"
Hollow silence was the Tunnel's response.
Is she attempting to… no… she wouldn't dare…
Reluctantly he headed for the bone pool, hoping she was anywhere but there. As it melted into view, he caught sight of a dark object sprawled out on the bleached bones.
A chain of bubbles disrupted the surface, spawning a series of concentric ripples. The misshapen figure arched its back.
Terror ripped through Huaka's mind with all the savagery of a serrated bloodstone blade.
Streaking up to the bone pool as rapidly as his legs would carry him, he charged into the water. He clamped his beak down on her tail.
Pushing forcefully against the substrate with his legs and pumping his useless wings, he hauled her sodden form out, inch by grueling inch.
Huaka let go once she was completely free of the pool.
He stumbled backwards, ending up in a seated position with his tail projecting out behind.
Heart hammering and breast heaving from the exertion, Huaka could hardly catch his breath.
Had he been delayed even one additional minute, he would've been dragging her corpse out of the river. He shoved that dreadful thought aside practically the instant it materialized.
Hupine coughed and spasmed, ejecting water from her beak in spurts. It rained down all over her face and breast.
"What… in the name of the Maker… were you thinking?!" he demanded, his tone poisoned by dread and shock.
"Why… did you try… to break your promise… to me? Why, Hupine?"
Lifting her head off the ground, she made eye contact with Huaka but struggled to speak. Her foiled suicide had left her in a traumatized daze.
Remorse, not water, was suffocating the female huia.
Huaka threw his wings around her. His melancholy embrace shattered her heart.
"E kare… I…" Hupine muttered lamentably.
A moment later she fainted. Her body went limp and her head slumped against his shoulder.
Sobbing uncontrollably, Huaka tightened his grip on his mate as if the slightest gust of wind would steal her from him.
Hupine was still unconscious when the velvety cloak of night descended upon the island.
On a small pile of dead, desiccated leaves he placed a few downy feathers he'd plucked from his belly. He then spread a thin layer of his special powder on the fuzzy plumes, then used her stones to ignite it.
He breathed on the minuscule tongue of flame to encourage its maturation. As it increased in size, he added a few slender twigs at regular intervals.
The fire grew active enough to sustain itself; its spread was prevented by the sodden earth.
The distraught male huia sat beside his companion, halfheartedly sipping the dew he'd amassed in a rolled-up leaf.
Around the time the moon cleared the frozen summits of the Teeth, Hupine came to. She sat up with a groan, swaying unsteadily.
The moment their gazes met Hupine looked away, hanging her head in grief.
He offered her some water. She refused it.
"Aroha mai… e kare…" she moaned. "I couldn't bear the thought… of starving myself. I am weak… and selfish… and I tried to abandon you…"
Huaka drank the rest of the dew, setting the leaf aside. Flinging the five remaining twigs into the controlled blaze, he returnied to his mate's side.
"I'm sorry for pulling you out... but I couldn't let you drown yourself..."
"No… I'm so thankful you did. I will keep you company… until my breathing ceases…"
She leaned against him, tucking her head beneath his chin.
"Until my heart stops beating... so will I… e kare…"
"Having spent… so many full rounds together… it is only fitting… that we die together as well…"
"That is all I could ask for…"
The huia engaged in sporadic conversation, the fire shrinking and dimming with the passage of time. In roughly an hour it had been reduced to a bed of red-hot embers.
Mental and physical weariness threatened to drag them under at any given time.
Huaka smothered the coals by scraping soil onto them, planting himself next to Hupine afterwards. Bidding each other good night, they submitted to the temptation of sleep.
By the following dawn, the huia had reconciled. Though they hadn't forgotten the previous day's incident, its impact had lessened substantially.
Huaka sensed that Hupine had changed on some level, but exactly how she'd changed, he was uncertain. He did not dwell on this prospect for long, as it amounted to a distraction he didn't care for.
Hupine's composed demeanor rubbed off on him rather readily. The huia interacted almost as though it hadn't occurred.
They whiled away the morning hours by flinging dew at one another, swapping whimsical stories, performing magic tricks, and tossing turutu berries back and forth across the river.
They did not eat them.
Having burned through their stamina, they napped well past noon. Feeling rejuvenated, Hupine elected to half-bathe, half-splash around in the water.
Huaka would not join her. Incensed, she doused his underbelly and breast.
This did not faze him, so her backup plan was to wail. Alto notes possessing a penetrating, fluty quality streamed unchecked out of her beak.
Her display was as amusing as it was childish.
"Please," Huaka said insistently. "Please, e kare. If you stop, I'll do my shell trick."
She abruptly ceased her high-pitched keening.
"You never do it right," she answered breezily. "I can tell when you tuck it in your feathers."
"I know. And that's why you like it."
Movement out of the corner of their eyes snagged their attention. Swiveling their heads towards its source, a plump young kiwi and a respectably-aged kakapo ambled into view.
The huia hunched over, never averting their eyes from the strangers.
"Who are you?" the male inquired after several seconds of tense silence.
"We are travelers, on our way to Wakatipu," explained the kakapo. "Maybe you can help us."
"My mate and I are trapped here too, old one," he confessed.
"You cannot fly out?"
He unfurled his wings, exposing the damage done to them by their nemesis, the kea.
"What happened to you?"
"A misunderstanding," Huaka said, shrugging indifferently.
"At Manapouri we were mistaken for criminals. We were robbed, disfigured, and driven into this place. But even if we could fly, it would do us no good."
His voice grew fainter, more ominous.
"The Greenstone Tunnel traps Flyers, too, not just Walkers."
"The Greenstone Tunnel?"
"That's what this place is called," he said, then continued: "If you're going to Wakatipu, you were lost before you wandered into the Tunnel. Why would you come this way? There's no passage to Wakatipu in this direction."
Annoyed by the male huia's nagging questions, the kiwi affected a sour expression.
"Our business in Wakatipu is our own," he shot back.
"Why speak of Wakatipu at all?" the female interjected.
Liquid scurried down her plumage as she rose out of the water.
"How many birds do you think have escaped this place? You've seen the bone pool. This is where we'll die."
"I have less reason for optimism than you know, young one. But still I have hope."
"Then you're a fool," she quipped bluntly.
The kiwi's temper flared. "Fool!" the kiwi shouted. "Do you know who you're speaking to?"
The formerly-tame kiwi's indignant outburst caused the huia to shrink back.
"It's all right, Waro," the elderly kakapo assuaged. "We are all frightened."
"What are your names?"
The male bowed.
"My name is Huaka and this is my mate, Hupine. We are entertainers – magicians, jugglers, and actors."
"This is Waro. And I am Eldest with Feathers."
Surprised by his admission, the huias' feathers stood erect momentarily. Huaka tipped forward in a gesture of respect. Hupine lowered her head in deference as well.
"We are honored, Eldest," said the male. "It's an odd coincidence that we should meet you here."
"Call it coincidence," said Eldest, "if you believe in such things, but it may turn out that we have met so we can save each other. What do you two know about this place? We were going to follow the river to the lake and then travel along the shore to the village. But if that was possible, you would have done it already, I assume."
"That's right, old one," replied Huaka. "Where the river ends the trees grow to the shore and even out into the lake. Unless you can swim, you have to try the forest eventually."
"The village is close by?"
"Yes. A few hours' walk, I would guess, from where we are now. Only minutes by air."
Eldest gazed at the huia fervently, the bristles surrounding his beak quivering. He turned his back on them and strode a few steps away. Waro pursued him.
"What do you think, Waro?" Eldest inquired in a low tone. "Can we trust them?"
"Not as far as I can fly, nehe. They say they were mistaken for criminals. I think maybe it was no mistake," he asserted.
Eldest made a grunting noise.
"But we have no choice. We must trust each other. In fact, it's lucky we found them."
"Lucky for them maybe," Waro stated.
"And for us."
"How, nehe? Look at them."
"Luck – good or bad – often wears a mask."
Eldest stared into the distance, contemplating all viable options Bothered by his prolonged stillness, the huia squirmed.
The kakapo hummed fragments of a tune that were familiar to the kiwi.
"You have a plan," said Waro. Lightly, Eldest chuckled.
"Chick in the Nest, remember? We could not have done it with only the two of us. We need three at least and four is even better."
He faced the huia.
"We're going to try the forest again," he said confidently.
"But that's pointless," Hupine countered. "The forest won't let you out. The forest drives you mad and then you…"
Her voice trailed off into nothingness. Huaka's head bobbed up and down once.
"If you can guide us out, we will be your servants. Thank you, old one."
"Don't thank me too soon," cautioned Eldest. "Hupine, you stand here where I am. Waro will enter the forest and go as far as he can and still see you. Then Huaka will go past Waro as far as he can. Waro will keep him going in a straight line. Then I will go past Huaka. Once I have gone as far as I can, Hupine will come forward. You see? Brothers behind and sisters ahead. We can't lose our bearings. We have to travel straight. Eventually we will reach the other side."
"Brilliant," Waro declared.
"It seems too simple," Hupine said, then swiftly added, "but we'll try."
The plan was put into action beginning with Waro. Huaka hopped on by, followed by Eldest with Feathers. The kakapo's summons was muted, but the female huia detected it with ease.
"Come on, Hupine."
Passing by Waro, she pressed on far beyond his sight range. She gave an audible signal and he came traipsing through the forest, catching up to her then leaving her behind.
Eldest noted Huaka was in good spirits by the way he bounded along, flapping his wings to help him leap over stray roots.
Hupine's mind seemed to be wandering, but she presented one shining black eye to Eldest when she, beaming at him.
The violet and onyx hues of night were bleeding into sky as Waro advanced to the front of the chain.
The contribution of the huia had proven to be invaluable, yet Waro's trust in them was tenuous at best. Eldest was wise to split the pair, as they could not abscond if he and Waro slipped away first.
They conducted two additional rotations but hadn't broken free of the forest. Darkness was guaranteed to outpace them.
"Shorten the line while we can still see each other," Eldest told Waro, who occupied the lead position.
"If we stop now, we won't see the day, Eldest," Huaka pointed out. "The villagers warned us that the forest couldn't be endured at night."
"I am sure that is what they told you," the kakapo surmised.
"Perhaps you don't understand, old one," remarked Hupine. "We can't stay. Let the forest guide us back to the river. We can try again tomorrow."
"Why do you think the river at night is better than the forest?" inquired Eldest with Feathers. "Did the villagers say anything about that?"
"At least let us huddle together," Huaka proposed. "We can't pass the night like this."
"We have to stay in line. Otherwise we will lose our way."
Waro foraged at the bases of the trees but found no sustenance. The leaden silence overwhelmed him. The very insects whose job it was to banish that silence were absent.
The penetrating emerald color of the foliage morphed to a dull gray, then a deep black, a welcome shift for him. His eyes were fully open, yet it was as if he'd gone blind.
"I can't stand it," the male huia protested, his voice diffusing throughout the forest. "We're not night birds. We need the light or a good roost."
"You can bear it," said Eldest with Feathers calmly. "You have to."
"What magician has placed a spell on this place?" thought Waro out loud.
"This is not the work of a magician," Eldest replied, "or any bird. Magic is the stuff of stories. At least the magic of spells and incantations."
"I wouldn't say so," challenged Hupine. "Some believe the Giver gave each race of birds a unique ability, and that each has kept that talent secret, more or less. Who knows what some birds are capable of?"
"Call this magic if you want, but it's not the same thing. I think this is the work of the trees. A single tree has no will of its own, or a very weak one. And usually each tree has its own intent, its own grievances, its own desires. Usually, their wills conflict, but when an entire forest shares an intent, when all the trees want the same thing, then they can do what we would call magic. These trees are strong-willed, and they all want the same thing."
"And what do they want?" Huaka asked, his voice cracking.
"They want us dead. They hate birds."
"But the trees are our brothers. Why would they want to hurt us?" questioned Waro.
"I am convinced birds planted these trees. Who knows what they did to make them grow this way? It seems obvious that the trees didn't like it. Even brothers will kill if provoked."
The intangible darkness bore down upon them; the great pressure it applied almost convinced them it actually was tangible. To Waro, the vast expanse of the world shrank down past that patch of forest. It threatened to be compressed further, until it could fit inside his mind, if none of the others talked.
"Someone tell a story," Huaka advised.
Initially, his request fell on deaf ears.
Eldest's tales of battles he'd fought long ago would not ameliorate their moods. In the same vein, the tales Waro stored in his memory were fanciful stories meant for chicks.
Had he possessed an immunity to fear, he would've gladly let the huia languish in the darkness.
Bringing his reedy voice to bear, he recounted the origin story familiar to all birds.
"The Maker broke her first egg to make the sun and the waters," the kiwi said, "then she took the shell and crumbled it and cast it upon the waters to make the islands. She plucked the fruit of the first tree and hung it in the sky – a fruit that ripens and is eaten, but ripens anew each month."
Waro then told of the Maker's brother, the Giver, who dreamed all the creatures into being.
But the creatures multiplied under the Giver's care and the Maker was not pleased. They would soon cover all the lands, she said, which was not her intent.
She would destroy the creatures the Giver had dreamed, but he begged to find some other solution.
They argued long and, in the end, rather than see his dreams destroyed, the Giver dreamed of Four-Feet-and-Fur and other creatures that hunt.
The Giver's first creatures suffered, but none worse, he thought, than the birds. He heard their cries and saw how they fled from island to island pursued by Four-Feet-and-Fur.
The birds were his favorites, and those most like him in spirit if not form. He too sang songs so that his soul would not burst.
Hearing their lament, he was moved, and in secret he made a new land by gathering together many of the shards of the first egg.
Some pieces had lowlands and tropical forests, others had evergreen mountains and gorges filled with wild rivers, still others rose up in terrible volcanoes.
The Giver then placed the new land far away from all the other islands and gifted it, free of predators, to the birds.
Waro hesitated a few moments; his companions stifled their breathing until he continued speaking.
"But he warned the birds that there would be a price. 'I can no longer watch over you,' he said. The birds cried, 'but who will care for us?' The Giver answered that they must take care of themselves, and he placed in each of them a piece of himself. And for the first time, the birds felt the Giver's Burden."
Waro did not speak further. His story, fresh in their minds, carried them through the painfully-long hours of the night.
The new dawn infused painted the world with color, a reflection of the Maker's artistic touch. Glancing around, the band of birds saw that the forest was nothing more than that.
Their collective phobia had been a delusion. They brushed off their unnecessary anxiety via laughter and shakes of their feathered heads.
They pressed on, the world turning more vibrant with each step they took. Their emergence from the forest heralded the defeat of the Greenstone Tunnel.
Huaka burst out of the foliage and was the first to taste freedom.
"Come on! Come on!" he said excitedly.
Spurred on by his enthusiasm, Hupine and the rest followed suit.
Unbridled exhilaration surged through the huia, for they had been rescued from the Tunnel's fatal clutches.
They trailed closely behind Waro, who turned over leaves as he waded through them. Huaka and Hupine feasted on the menagerie of insects hiding beneath the debris.
Eagerly quelling their gnawing hunger, they neither had to starve nor perish. Their rekindled future, mysterious as it may be, stretched out before them.
Locking eyes, the huia donned jubilant grins. Huaka knew precisely what his mate was thinking, as did Hupine: Bless the kindhearted Waro and Eldest! Bless the Giver! Bless the Maker!