Iuti Mano is a legend of her time. She is a fierce warrior whose energy has been drained by watching those around her suffer and die. Determined to regain her inner calm, she severs her bonds with Mano Niuhi, the honored shark that bestowed its magic and power on generations of her family. But even though she has slain her source of power, she is still plagued by the continuing war ravaging her land. A resident evil force that is increasing its power has disturbed her sabbatical on the uninhabited island she chose for its solitude. When a sorceress tries to steal her power and the mythical Demon Drummers stalk Iuti in order to crown her the Mother Drum, her quest for peace is disturbed. She must use her remaining power to defeat the dark magic that haunts the tranquility of her island paradise.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Iuti squatted motionless near the edge of the reef flat. Restless waves swept across her time after time, soaking her to her shoulders and leaving her shivering in the evening breeze. She wore a faded tan skirt, tucked carefully between her knees, and a long-sleeved man's tunic that blended perfectly with the tumble of coral stones and boulders.
Only her eyes moved as she searched the incoming swells.
"Come to me, brothers," she chanted softly. She didn't use a true beckoning spell -- she only said the words in time with the shifting waves. "Come fill my nets before I turn into a cold stone here in the sea."
Flickering color caught her attention, and she shifted her gaze to follow the erratic paths of two blue-green parrot fish. They approached the reef in unison and began feeding on the living coral. Iuti watched patiently while they darted here and there among the colorful growths, turning and drifting together through the clear water as if they were one.
Then suddenly, she dashed forward, leapt a gap in the coral, and scooped the startled fish into her hand nets. As quickly as one touched and tangled itself in the left net, the other did the same in the right. Iuti struggled for footing in the wave's strong backwash while she lifted each of the fish to her mouth. She bit them just behind their eyes, killing them instantly and removing them forever from Pahulu's power.
The island sorceress was particularly dangerous in and around the sea. Pahulu could send her soul into living fish and other sea-life, enchanting them so that their flesh caused terrible nightmares, even death, for those who ate it.
Iuti glanced back towardthe beach. She saw only sunset-gilded coconut trees and distant firelight from the village, but she knew Pahulu was lurking somewhere in the shadows -- watching, waiting for her to break her resolve never to use magic on this isle.
"It won't happen, witch," Iuti muttered. "Not tonight or on any other. You've had your last taste of my soul."
Iuti had faced many sorcerers during her years as a mainland warrior. Her personal bond with the shark god, Mano Niuhi, had provided her with both the physical and the magical strength to withstand them, even to defeat them. But never in all her travels had she met a witch quite so insidious as Fanape's self-proclaimed protector.
Iuti had come to Fanape Atoll five months before, tired and sick to death of the endless horrors of the Teronin War. Even with Mano at her side, she hadn't been able to move the southern army toward victory. As soon as one battle was won, the Teronin began another, each time employing ever-darker magic and a seemingly endless supply of empty-eyed warriors. Lately, they had even begun using the demon drums of Losan.
Finally, it had become too much even for Iuti Mano, the warrior the south depended on most to defend them from the invading Teronin. She had retreated alone to the distant island of Fanape, where she bargained with the island elders, and with their sorceress, for a time of peace far from the constant bloodshed and death.
During her early days on the island, Iuti had been exhausted; the simple acts of fishing and gathering food for each day's meal left her weak and shaking. Her sleep was restless and filled with dark dreams. At first, she thought her weakness was caused by her healing wounds and overall weariness. But after a time, even without Mano's help, her war-trained senses detected something more.
She set a careful watch on her mind and discovered that each time she attempted a simple sleep or self-healing spell, each time she sang the fish into her nets instead of simply waiting for them to come near, Pahulu was using the opportunity to drain her strength away.
"A miscalculation, warrior," Pahulu had said when Iuti confronted her. "I sought only to test your intentions, to verify that the fish you provide the villagers aren't tainted by any mainland war sorcery."
"Aye," Iuti had replied, "a miscalculation," and from that day on, she had employed only her physical skills. She lived and fished as she had in her childhood before being bonded with Mano Niuhi and trained to the ways of power and war. She avoided all use of the magic that would give Pahulu entry to her soul. The nightmares had ceased and her strength had slowly returned.
As she disentangled the fish from her nets, Iuti wondered if the island's permanent residents knew that their sorceress gained her power by draining it from other living creatures. It might explain why so little magic was in evidence here.
Pahulu's power had surprised Iuti at first: the strength of it seemed out of proportion to the island's size and isolation, and to the sorceress's own lack of repute. The old woman carried the same name as the more notorious southern islands sorceress, but Iuti knew for certain they weren't the same. She had dealt with the southern Pahulu before. Still, this witch's sorcery had the same foul stench. Perhaps they were distant kin.
Iuti scanned the reef casually as she stuffed the parrot fish into her woven waist pouch and wiped the slickness from her hands. The sun had almost set and the island's shadow stretched toward her across the rippling water. The tide was still low enough for her to make out the wavering shapes of the underlying coral, although their brilliant colors had faded in the dimming light. The ever-present surf on the outer reef edge rumbled quietly, and were it not for Pahulu's evil presence, the approaching night would have been a time of pleasant calm.
Iuti saw that the girl Tarawe had crept closer while she was busy with the fish, and that made her smile. Her unacknowledged apprentice was lying prone in the water now, with only her head above the shifting waves, no doubt thinking herself well hidden.
Iuti knew she would have to do something about Tarawe soon. Send her away. Make her angry or afraid enough to stop her spying before the others, especially Pahulu, decided to take notice. It was too bad, for the teenager showed great promise and was obviously interested in learning. Often, Iuti came upon her practicing some water or war skill learned only from distant watching.
Tarawe was alone among the island's youngsters in defying the elders' orders to ignore their mainland visitor. Iuti was relieved that the rest kept their distance -- she had no wish to explain her daily actions to a gaggle of curious children -- but she still found it odd that they didn't come. She had grown up on an isolated atoll much like Fanape, and remembered all too well the excitement any new visitor caused.
Her own brothers had left her stranded high in a breadfruit tree once, when the call came that an approaching canoe had been sighted. They had been catching birds, and Iuti was the only one light enough to climb in the upper branches where the birds could be snagged with a sap-tipped spear. Because she couldn't climb down alone, she had been forced to stay in the tree until her brothers came back for her many hours later.
The time had not been entirely lost. Iuti had made the acquaintance of many birds, catching them with the sticky breadfruit sap, then removing a few feathers from each before cleaning them carefully and setting them free. Still, she had been furious with her brothers, because she had missed the arrival of the southern army's envoy. Any distraction to the lonely island life was welcomed, and the story of her imprisonment in the tree had provided the islanders, and their mainland visitors, with laughter for days.
Until the shark god passed them all by and chose me to carry him onto the human battleground, she thought. There was no laughter then. They'd have been wiser if they'd left me in the tree.
A change in the air brought Iuti's full attention back to the sea. The rhythm of the waves had not changed, nor had the wind, but something was oddly different. She listened carefully above the rumbling surf, wishing she could call on Mano's power to amplify the sounds. She had lived so long under her family god's protection that now she distrusted her own natural senses.
Iuti grew taut as she recognized the soft splash of canoe paddles, accompanied by the barely audible cadence of a whispered war chant. Quickly she squatted again and turned her look toward the open sea.
No islander would be on the ocean at this hour. She herself had stayed out this late only to teach Tarawe a lesson -- and to irritate Pahulu. She hoped the girl, at least, would have sense enough to remain hidden.
The chanting drifted off with the wind for a moment, then returned, just loud enough for Iuti to follow the boat's steady movement toward the island. Through squinted eyes she made out a shadow on the water, then the wavering silhouette of an outrigger paddling canoe. As it neared the breaking waves, the steersman dug his paddle deep into the sea and turned the canoe parallel to the reef's edge. The chanting stopped.
Then, abruptly, it began again -- this time with a strong, powerful beat. Deep male voices rang out over the rumbling surf, and dread crept like mainland cold across Iuti's back.
"Mano, protect the girl," she whispered softly.
The song was a ghost chant, sung only by crews of the dead.
The canoe moved steadily closer. Iuti could see now that it carried only seven paddlers. The place before the steersman was empty. The ghost canoe would pass just a few arm lengths away from where Iuti hid. She braced herself as best she could against the surge and breathed sporadically between the sweep of deepening waves. The tide was reclaiming the reef.
The sudden thought that the canoe might have come for her made Iuti shiver again. She tasted brine through inadvertently parted lips. The great warrior Ser Iuti Mano, she thought, one of the Teronin War's bloodiest survivors, dead with a sackful of fish on her back. Now there's a joke to test the gods.
Iuti had faced death more times than she could count. She had once heard her southern companions boasting that for as long as the shark god swam in Iuti Mano's mind, her body was immune to death.
I'm not immune now, she thought. She sucked in a slow, deep breath, tucked her chin to her chest, and slid beneath the water.
As soon as the canoe had passed, she surfaced again. There was something familiar about the ghostly vessel, Iuti studied its shape carefully. Suddenly wood thunked on wood and a muffled curse reached Iuti's ears. She choked in surprise and quickly dropped underwater again.
That's no ghost canoe! she thought. Not unless dead men now curse in the gutter tongue of Teron. She shifted and peered again through the near darkness. The vessel appeared island-made from a distance -- and certainly the death chant was authentic enough, it was being sung in Fanape's own dialect -- but the decorative prow was slightly higher than the outer island style, and the outrigger was a good deal wider.
The men aboard that canoe, Iuti wagered, were as alive and warrior-wise as any she had faced on a mainland battlefield.
She was staring at a Teronin war canoe!
Iuti whispered a curse of her own, then settled low in the water again. She remained as still as the growing coral while the canoe completed its passage along the windward reef.
After it had turned back to sea, she slipped across the reef flat. She startled Tarawe from her hiding place and urged the soaking, shivering girl back to the village. Pahulu was already there, talking excitedly to the islanders who had gathered outside the main canoe house at the village center.
"You must all remain inside tonight," she called out as Iuti approached, "and for the next two nights, as well. No one should take any unnecessary chances until the ghost canoe completes its third passage. I'll set a protective spell against accidents and illness, and the canoe will be forced to seek elsewhere to fill its vacant seat."
Iuti stepped forward, still dripping from the sea. She was much taller than Pahulu and most of the others, and she did nothing to disguise her size. Even the sorceress sidled back as she approached.
"The only lives that vessel seeks are those too foolish to prepare a defense," Iuti said. "It's an old Teronin trick. They use some local superstition to frighten their intended victims into huddling together unarmed. Then they attack when you're most vulnerable."
"We have no quarrel with the Teronin," Tarawe's uncle said. He was chief of the leading clan, and in the absence of an elder sister, he spoke for all the others.
"If you insist on hiding in your homes to avoid a nonexistent ghost canoe," Iuti said, "Teronin warriors will walk ashore unchallenged two nights from now. They'll slaughter you in your own homes."
"These islands are neutral territory," Pahulu said. "They're more valuable left alone than destroyed by roving warriors. We pay regular tribute to the Teronin to leave us in peace."
Iuti wondered, not for the first time, what these small islands had to offer that kept the Teronin away. Perhaps it was only their isolation and their seeming poverty that provided their protection. The islanders owned little more than their thatched houses, a few coconut and breadfruit trees, and the small bit of land upon which they stood.
"I swear to you," she said. "Those were real men on a real canoe. If you will allow me, I can show you how to protect--"
"No, warrior," Tarawe's uncle said quickly. "That was a true ghost canoe. Pahulu saw it from shore. We all heard the death song right here in the village."
"But Pahulu was far up on the beach," Iuti insisted. "I was at the reef's edge, so close I could have reached out and touched the canoe." She explained again about the shape of the vessel and repeated the whispered war chant she had heard, and the Teronin curse. She implored them to aid her in preparing for the island's defense.
But they only murmured and whispered among themselves.
"Go back to your hut," Pahulu said finally, "before your foreign ways and tales of bloodshed corrupt our children." Her black teeth glistened and her eyes flashed triumph.
Iuti knew that further argument was useless. She could never convince the others while their own sorceress denied her warning.
"You gave your word not to bare your sword on our soil," one of the younger men said.
"Aye, and you killed your own family god to seal the bargain," another added. "How can you even think of taking up that blade again?"
Iuti lifted a hand to her neck, where she had once worn a strand of Mano's teeth to signify her shame. The necklace was gone now, but the feel of the shark's lost strength still burned against her skin.
"We're not interested in war here," Pahulu said. "Go away and don't speak about it further."
Iuti cursed -- the islanders for their stubbornness, Pahulu for her duplicity, and herself for having so foolishly accepted the conditions of their peace. She was enraged by the casual reference to her disgrace. She dumped her pouch of fish at Tarawe's uncle's feet and stalked off, taking little satisfaction from the envious comments concerning the size and quality of her catch. She pointedly ignored Tarawe, who had entered the village canoe house and was measuring the height of the largest canoe's prow.
"Fools," she muttered.
"Shark-killer," she heard one of the women reply.
Copyright © 1992 by Carol Severance