Well, whadd’ya know? Curly hadn’t died after all. Maui had to give her some credit; surviving Lalotai was no easy feat, given all the various carnivorous things down here. In a monster-eat-monster world, mortals were barely an appetizer.
He trudged up behind her as she peered into the giant seashell lair, looking in over her shoulder and humming thoughtfu-
Maui glared at her, even as she gasped and whispered out an apology. Before he could so much as get a hand on her, let alone drag her away, Moana had ducked back down to continue staring into the cave. Maui rolled his eyes before looking in, as well.
“That’s a lot of treasure in the middle, but I don’t see your hook anywhere. Could it be on the other side?”
Maui frowned. “Yeah, probably. I would’ve expected him to be wearing it front and center, though. He’d want to show it off, brag about it.”
Moana glanced up at him. “Wait, wearing it?” she asked, obviously confused.
Maui glanced back down at her with a smirk. “This is the Realm of Monsters, kid. Or didn’t you notice what’s underneath that mound of treasure, there?” He nodded back in to the golden pile.
He knew it the moment she noticed, with a gasp, the swirls of purple spiralling through the collected treasure, artfully arranged to cover most, if not all, of his old friend’s shell. As he looked, however, Maui frowned. He could’ve sworn Tamatoa had had more treasure than that when they had parted ways, over a millenia ago now. And something about the stripes of purple seemed off….
Well, whatever. The crab had made his bed and now he got to lie in it, and Maui, meanwhile, had a magic fishhook to retrieve.
“What-” Moana’s surprised voice cut into his thoughts. “What is that?”
“That is Tamatoa. He’s a giant crab.”
“...You mean literally?”
“It’s the Realm of Monsters. Sheesh, kid, were you listening?” But he ignored her sputtering in favor of peering in again, trying to decide just what to do.
“Alright, here’s the plan,” he whispered. “You go left, I go right. Look everywhere, there are more nooks and crannies in here than you’d think. You see my hook, you call me over. If I find it first I’ll come get you.”
“But what if he wakes up?”
Maui looked down at her with a smirk. “Then you’d better start bluffing!” Then, ignoring her faltering protests, he darted out into the cave. He looked high and low, and in and out of every little crevice of rock and sand and shell. He was nearly halfway around, looking up to try to see into the spiral of ridges above, when he tripped on something, long and thin. The ground immediately began to shake.
Maui didn’t have any chance to hide. Within seconds, a spray of sand flew up as a long, striped antenna whipped into the air. The blunt, rough tip caught him in the shoulder, sending Maui spinning, and he had the smallest moment to wonder what was up with that before a giant claw came snapping at him.
It may have been over a thousand years since Maui had been involved in a real fight, but his reflexes were still sharp. He jumped and dove out of the way, a loud snap! sounding right behind him.
Maui turned, and there was Tamatoa, monster crab and avid collector of treasure, rising up out of the sand. Maui frowned, remembering their argument and their anger, and braced himself for a fight, feet widening their stance. He looked up and met Tamatoa’s hateful glare, eye to-
-Eye? Wait, what had happened?
One of Tamatoa’s eyes - the good one - had gone cloudy, and there were deep scars tracing over the lid. When the other eye narrowed to look - or was it a squint? - at him, the injured eye barely twitched.
When had that happened? How?
“Maui,” the crab greeted him, voice low and colder than the deepest waters or tallest mountains. “To what do I owe the honor of hosting your horrendous stench?”
The demigod glared at the insult, stream of thought interrupted. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Moana peeking around the bulk of the monster between them, eyes wide and shaking her head, hands raised in a questioning gesture. No sight of his fishhook, then.
“You know how much I love gracing you with my presence,” he returned, “but I’m afraid this isn’t a social call. Where’s my hook, Crab Cake?” He raised his fists, making the threat behind the words a little more obvious.
Tamatoa squinted at him, foul frown twisting into an ugly smirk. He leaned a little closer, looming over Maui aggressively. “Why, Maui! Color me flattered! I’m so glad you came looking here first.” Maui watched as those large, dangerous claws began inching closer, wise to Tamatoa’s old tricks. “But I’m afraid I don’t have it.”
In Maui’s surprised distraction, those claws sped forward. In the blink of an eye they were upon him; Maui skipped backwards, batting one pincer away and kicking at the other, trying to get clear. He failed, however, as his foot was caught in its wild kick. Tamatoa lifted him up in the air, dangling him upside down and bringing him ever closer to the enormous eyeballs. From way up there, however, Maui was able to get a better look at his former friend. And, wow… was he a mess.
The leg that he had once-upon-a-time ripped off had grown back, even if it looked a little skinny. However, deep scratches covered the crab’s carapace, and the treasure on his back did little to hide them now that Maui could see the entire shell at once. Further scars ran down his legs and crisscrossed his claws. There was the one cloudy eye, and, now that Maui was taking the time to look, he saw that one of Tamatoa’s antennae had been dramatically shortened.
Good grief, what had happened?
“Unfortunately,” Tamatoa continued, “I’m afraid you’ll never find it, since this is the last place you’ll be looking, too.” He opened his mouth and began to lower Maui down.
Maui rolled his eyes. Overdramatic crab. He curled up and wedged his hands in next to his foot, then flexed. It wasn’t easy (nothing about dealing with Tamatoa ever was) but he pushed the claw open then stood there, wedged. Tamatoa glared at him again before suddenly opening his pincer, obviously trying to drop Maui into his gaping maw, but Maui was prepared for that and clung on with his hands, feet now dangling freely. Tamatoa growled and began to shake him back and forth, much the same as a human with a crab clinging to a finger, but Maui was just as tenacious.
Tamatoa’s mouth twisted in displeasure. “Let go already, you overgrown louse,” he grumbled.
Maui glared. “Not until you tell me what you did with my hook,” he countered. Behind the crab, he could see Moana again, hands fisted and looking anxious, but obviously trying to stay out of the way. Probably for the best; once Tamatoa noticed her things would get far more complicated.
Tamatoa looked pained. “I don’t have your stupid hook!” he growled, angry. “Wish I did; didn’t work out.” He flicked his pincer, hard, and Maui finally lost his grip. He went flying for a brief moment, before crashing into a wall and falling to the ground. He propped himself up, shaking his head to clear the dizziness before glaring back up at the monster before him.
Tamatoa was… sulking, by the looks of it. He was still glaring at Maui, but his legs were close to his body and claws rested on the sandy ground. Maui raised an eyebrow.
“If you’re wanting me to beat it out of you, you’re making it awfully easy,” the demigod quipped.
The crab’s glare intensified for a moment. “Been there, tried that,” he threw back. He turned his head away with a flick of the still-long antenna, his unscarred eyelid sliding closed dismissively; then both antenna flicked again, his eye reopened, and he glanced back behind him.
“Well, well, well!” he purred, turning his whole body and reaching carefully for Moana. “Little Maui brought along a friend!” The girl saw the danger coming and ran, angling back towards the gap in the enormous shell wall, but the giant crab was too fast for her. Before Maui could get up and stop him, Tamatoa had caught Moana up by the waist. “And he didn’t even introduce us! Tsk! The nerve of him!”
Tamatoa’s smile was delightedly evil now, and Maui didn’t like it one single bit.
“You be careful with her,” he growled. He may not like the girl personally, but she had promised to help him get his hook back and her getting eaten wasn’t going to help with that.
Tamatoa smirked back at him. “Oh? And what will happen if I’m not?” He squeezed, minutely, but it made Moana gasp in pain.
Protective instincts triggered, Maui glowered. Here this crab was, again, threatening mortals, again. “I think you know,” he said, voice full of threat and promise.
The crab laughed, eyes wiggling and antennae shaking. “Oh, I’m shivering in my shell!” The nasty smile he shot Maui then was full of dark threat all its own. “I’ll make you a deal, Maui. Leave her with me, and I’ll let you go. A little bribery goes a long way, you know, and I haven’t eaten all day.”
He heard her fearful gasp and glared all the harder. “Here’s my counteroffer, Fish Breath: you set her down right now, and I won’t tear you limb from limb again.”
Tamatoa scoffed. “You got one measly leg and you got lucky with that. I’ve seen worse than you.”
Well, and if that didn’t feel like an opening. He started walking forward, calling out, “I see your scars, there. Want me to go find whatever did that, maybe bring it back here for round two? I’ll cut him a deal: we split you fifty-fifty.”
And Tamatoa… flinched. His eyes drew close together and he ducked his head in a quick movement. Maui was much closer now, and knew what Tamatoa was going to do probably before the crab did. He started running just as the crab’s eyes flicked to the mortal girl still held in his claw. Maui saw the anger behind that one clear eye and leapt right as the claw began to squeeze. He landed on the giant pincer right by Moana’s head and jammed his foot into the gap beside her, pushing and getting his hands down in there to prize the claw apart just as he had done earlier. It was a considerably more difficult maneuver this time, and Maui realized that Tamatoa must not have been trying very hard before. Still, pushing with all of his might, he managed to leverage open enough space that Moana dropped, relatively safely, to the ground.
Maui found himself in a precarious position. Tamatoa was ignoring Moana in favor of a full-on hateful, spiteful glare aimed directly at the demigod, squeezing down still as though to make a point. And Maui, now, he was stuck; if he wasn’t careful about how he extricated his hands and foot, he’d find himself caught tight by that massive claw. But for all that Maui was struggling not to collapse under the pressure of that claw, Tamatoa wasn’t really fighting him, wasn’t bringing the other pincer or any of his cleverness into this pseudo-battle. Not that Maui was complaining.
“Unwanted filth!” Tamatoa growled, and squeezed harder. The unexpected, cutting words sent old feelings of worthlessness stabbing into Maui, but he shoved that aside as he tried to figure out how to remove himself from this pointless battle. He glanced down and behind himself, saw Moana loitering near the entrance. “Abandoned and saved only by pity!” Tamatoa continued, voice growing louder. Maui’s own breath caught, the terrible reminder echoing through him, but he pushed hard with one foot and gained enough space to leap again, away from the poisonous words pouring from the crab’s mouth. “You who could never be enough!” Tamatoa roared. “I thought you were something, you know? But you’re nothing. Now get out!”
The monstrous crab charged. Maui didn’t need to be told twice. He turned, and ran, and tugged Moana along behind him as they fled the lair. Maui expected the shell to come crashing down behind them, sure that Tamatoa would continue the chase, but as they gained distance he realized that it wasn’t happening. He stopped suddenly, and Moana bumped into his back and stayed there, heaving for breath. His thoughts swirled, circling that oldest of doubts, that deepest wound that had never healed. His vision darkened, tunneling into that maelstrom, until Moana’s voice poked through.
“Well, I don’t think he likes you very much.”
Thank you, Miss Obvious. But Maui chuckled despite himself. “No, he doesn’t. And that’s putting it lightly.”
“I don’t think your hook is in there,” she continued.
The darkness was pushed back as Maui focussed on her. “He’s gotta have it, though. He’s always been eyeballing it. He was always jealous about it. It’s gotta be in there somewhere.”
He didn’t want to think about Tamatoa not having his hook. Because if the crab didn’t have it, Maui had no idea who did.
Moana walked around him to his front, and looked up at him. Maui met her eyes, let them hold him steady. “Maui, I don’t think it’s there. Did you notice how he acted?”
Yeah, Maui had noticed. He winced. “I noticed a whole buncha’ insults thrown my way.”
Moana quirked an eyebrow at him. “I wouldn’t expect a few mean words to deter Maui, demigod of the wind and sea.”
She was teasing, and she was right. But what Tamtoa had said wasn’t mere mean words, it was downright fighting dirty. A physical fight, throwing insults, threats - those were par for the course. But to bring up his past, his weakness… his failures… He and Tamatoa hadn’t seen eye to eye in a long, long time, to be sure, but these were low blows even for him.
“Maui,” Moana’s voice broke into his thoughts again, voice soft and tentative. “What he said in there… I won’t pretend to understand everything that’s happened to you, or between you two. But he was lashing out, saying whatever he could to hurt you. Don’t let him have that higher ground.” Maui took in a breath to assure her, of course he was over it! But she continued before he could.
“But we need to go back in there. I’m pretty sure he knows where your hook is, and we need to convince him to tell us.”
….Tamatoa knew where his hook was? “Wait, why do you think that?”
“Because of what he said.” Moana’s eyes were bright and earnest. “He said ‘I don’t have your hook, wish I did, didn’t work out.’ Doesn’t that sound like he went looking, at least?”
Maui was less hopeful. “He once wished to be worshipped by an entire island, and when he tried, that didn’t work out either.” The crab had been much smaller then, and had been chased off that island. Maui had had to listen to Tamatoa complain about the scratches that spears and rocks had left on his shell for weeks… huh. Tamatoa’s reactions to threats of violence - “Been there, tried that; I’ve seen worse than you” - and that flinch…
"…I think you might be right,” Maui finally admitted. “And he wasn’t the only one looking.”