The Keeping Place welcomed its new guests with open arms. It knew that these six were the most important; their essences felt oddly familiar, and they bore themselves with purpose. The Keeping Place showed them the same ravine in the nighttime that it had presented Joske and Heuani a short while ago, but all was at peace, restored again. Not even a twig fallen to earth was broken, for the location had reset itself. The trilling of the birds and the sound of the waterfalls gave the night a pleasant aura; it was almost morning, and the darkness now was more navy blue than black.
The six Toa Maru were finally where their destines would be consummated, where they would make the final step on their transformative journey. Whatever lay in wait for them in the Keeping Place, the Great Spirit's failsafe, would equip them at last to try and rectify the fall of the First Toa. It was a weighty mantle to wear, even now, but none of the Maru tried to shrug away the heaviness of destiny. They had learned by now from Stannis that the best way to confront destiny was to face it head-on. Staring out at the waiting ravine, the Maru felt destiny as a wall before their eyes, or perhaps a waterfall that, if stood under for too long, would batter them into the earth.
Joske had not told the Maru how to enter the heart of the Keeping Place, and Korero pointed this out. "How do we get inside?" he asked, hoping the others may have had an idea. He was met with noncommittal shrugs from the others and quiet stillness from Sulov (though the latter wasn't all that uncommon); they had as much understanding of the place as Korero himself. Stannis had also been quiet, and it was clear that the Maru's leader was trying to feel a current of destiny nearby that he could surf. The Toa of Stone twisted his halberd pensively.
Reordin looked at Leah, noticed her lips were pursed as though she was deep in thought, and her eyes were trained on the far side of the ravine. He asked her what was going on. The Toa of Water spared him a distracted glance before returning her gaze to one of the waterfalls across the way. Somehow the water in it didn't look quite right to her, as though it was falling infinitesimally too slowly. Then again, Leah reflected, she may have been crazy. Reordin, seeing that Leah was dry of conversation, started to try Oreius, but it was clear from the Toa of Fire's mannerisms at that his mind, too, was elsewhere; at that moment, he was speaking to Inu. By now, all the Toa Maru had learned to recognize when Oreius was conversing with the being molded to his back.
Sulov was the first one to move. He took a step forward on one of his thick legs, and finding that this presented no danger, took another step, and another, until he was standing on the edge of the ravine. The other Maru followed his example and drew closer to the gap in the earth, stared down at the stream and the sharp rocks at its bottom. It was Reordin who first noticed the stone tablet pushed into the earth like a sign. He called the others over to look at it and Stannis, seeing the strange symbols carved there, immediately recognized the Bird Speech from the slab of rock he'd gotten from Turaga Whenua so long ago. The way the text was aligned on the stone implied to him that it was the six clues of the former Chronicler's Company. Stannis repeated the clues he knew to himself in his head and searched for their meaning to the situation.
"Inu thinks... we have to jump," Oreius said, drawing everyone's attention. "He says we need to jump over the edge of this ravine to get deeper inside."
"How would that work?" Reordin asked skeptically. "We'd crash on those rocks and die. That doesn't seem all that productive to me."
"Why did Inu have this idea?" Stannis inquired, addressing Oreius. Though Stannis didn't fully trust his companion's Parakuka yet, something about the suggestion Inu had just made seemed... right.
Oreius took a moment to ask his slug, then answered on Inu's behalf. "Inu says that we won't die, he has this... feeling. Like..." Oreius struggled to put the surge of excited sensations from Inu into normal words. "Like it's a leap of faith. A test of mettle. He was thinking about what around here could possibly be a test like that, and jumping into a deep hole with sharp stuff at the bottom seems the most likely to him. He's very agitated about it; the more he thinks about it, the more true it sounds to him. And I agree; wouldn't the Keeping Place test us before we go inside?"
"I think it sounds plausible," Leah nodded. "If we're the heroes who are destined to get the Great Spirit's failsafe, surely we have to prove our faith, first."
"It just seems, I don't know, crazy," Korero interjected. "I mean, think about it for a second."
Stannis, though, had been convinced, and like Inu, the more he thought about it, the more likely the test seemed. But, of course, there was only one way to find out. The Toa of Stone backed away from the others, positioned himself at the edge of the jungle clearing, facing the ravine. The others noticed and watched with held breath. Stannis secured his Halberd over his shoulder and took a runner's ready position. The Toa of Stone felt the blood pound in his head. He told himself he would count down from three, then run.
With all his speed, Stannis sprinted at the ravine and, at the last second, he propelled himself up into the air on strong legs, opening his arms and free falling into the middle of the gorge. Stannis felt for only an instant as though he was falling; the next, it was as if he had collapsed into a waiting cloud, a soft pad that cushioned his fall gently. The others saw Stannis fall, saw his body rush towards the sharp rocks, and then vanish into thin air. It was clear that he had gone somewhere else entirely; Inu had been right. The only way to go deeper was to take the leap of faith.
One by one, the other Toa Maru executed the same maneuver as Stannis and entered the Keeping Place. Sulov was the last one left on the surface. He took a few practice jog steps in place to steel his mind against this improbable task before rumbling after his fellows, taking the titanic leap, and disappearing mid-fall. Once Sulov was gone, the Keeping Place was able to abandon its facade of the jungle and focus entirely on what lay ahead.
Sulov, after his "landing," found himself in a plane of blank, colorless nothing. There was nothing around him in sight, and if he tried to focus anywhere aside from the central object of his test, his vision would blur and automatically return to the structure before his eyes. It was unnerving for a Toa who was in the habit of always searching for threats around him, but after a time, Sulov accepted the tunnel-vision and took a good look at what he was faced with. It was a tall stone archway, propped up on two monolith pillars, which was unobstructed in its middle. Sulov took a walk around the arch, examined it from every angle, but was unable to get any clues as to its purpose.
The closer he drew to the arch, though, the more uneasy Sulov felt. He got the feeling that to walk through the arch as he now was would be suicidal. The Toa of Earth, massive and hulking, retreated a ways away from the arch and sat down to face it. He knew that this odd place, which set his vigilance into overdrive, had to be a test, so there had to be a right answer. Sulov knew that something about him had to change before he walked through that archway, but what? He thought he heard a sound behind him, instinctively turned around, and was returned at once to facing the archway. To be forced to contend with his mounting instincts of danger was-
Contending with his mounting instincts of danger. That was the question of the test. Could he defeat those instincts?
Sulov sat back down and tried not to focus on the increasing scratching noises around the empty plane. Every reflex of Sulov's told him to spring into action and search for these enemies, but he forced himself to sit still and ignore them. After a time of this meditation, Sulov felt ready enough to go through the archway, but despite his calm center, he still got a curdling feeling as he drew closer to passing through. What had he missed? Sulov stopped himself from wheeling around at the feeling of breath on the back of his neck. He had to be at peace.
At peace. Sulov knew what he had to do. As calmly as he could, slowly, Sulov reached across to his left arm with his right hand and he unscrewed the spade there, letting it fall to the earth. He had to enter at peace, and that meant without a weapon. The breath on the back of his neck was warm and moist, but he did not turn to find its source. He did not concern himself with the bestial growl from behind him. Sulov walked through the stone arch. He had passed the test.
Sulov was transported to a new chamber, this one small, stone, and entirely physically realized. Sulov had the feeling that he was underground; the cave walls looked like those of Onu-Wahi. He noticed that his spade had returned to his arm, and that on an illuminated pedestal before his eyes was a mask. As he put the thing on, he immediately understood what it was called, and what it did.
Kanohi Kimi, the Mask of Seeking
The Kahoni Kimi allows the user to track people or objects. These people or objects must have been pre-marked by the user ahead of time through direct physical contact, but once that contact has been established, the user can thereafter know exactly where the object or being they seek is. This location is summoned voluntarily by the user of the mask; they have only to think of what they want to find, and they will know where it is. A caveat of this mask is that it can only hold a limited number of items in its "database", and that objects marked longer ago will be forgotten faster, and become harder to locate as they age.
Korero was in a similar environment to Sulov, only he was faced with an insurmountable stone wall that blocked one side of the world from him. The Toa of Air tried to float above the wall, but found his powers of air vastly diminished; he could only rise a few feet before collapsing back to earth. The wall rose as tall as the invisible sky, and it was built excellently; there were no hand or footholds on the wall. Korero discovered as much when he tried to clamber up the thing and fell to earth once the rock became sheer. How could he get over the wall?
Korero was an intellectual, and he saw this problem as a puzzle for the mind. It was only him and the wall, and somehow he had to get over it. The Toa of Air decided the best place to start was to establish his givens, so he ran along the wall one way and then the other. It went on forever, that was clear. But at one point, Korero saw a chink in the wall, maybe thirty feet up, just large enough for a Toa-sized being to squeeze through. This was his best option, and Korero started to think about the best way to get up.
He tried again to lift himself through the air, but the atmosphere here was too dense, and it afforded him no purchase. The wall itself was just as bleak a route; it was smooth as glass below and everywhere next to the chink. Korero leaned against the stone, staring up at the chink, his mind in overdrive. There had to be an answer, because this was clearly a puzzle to test him, and all puzzles had answers. He just hadn't come upon the right one, yet. Maybe he had to think like the First Toa. How would Lewa have made it up to that chink?
It hit him like a ton of bricks that the chink wasn't the answer. That wouldn't have been a worthy answer; he had to think outside the box. He'd been trying to think of ways over the wall, when all along he should have been thinking of ways to get through it. He hadn't tried to go under the wall.
Korero, excited, crouched to the earth and dug his hand into loose soil that was suddenly there. He knew he had been creative and figured it out, because the earth beneath his hands gave easily, disappeared when he scooped it out. It was only a minute of easy digging before he emerged on the other side of the wall, and felt himself transported to a different place. Korero had out-thought the puzzle, and bested it.
He found himself in a small tree house, flooded with green light that streamed through the leafy canopy that made its roof. On a little wooden table was a mask, which Korero felt himself compelled to pick up. When he donned the mask, the mask introduced itself to the Toa of Air.
Kanohi Hiko, The Mask of Jumping
The Kanohi Hiko allows the user to jump between real locations in a flash. The Hiko allows for unlimited distance between locales, since it is not based on direct sight, but rather on images. The user can simply look at a picture of a location, or recall a memory of a location, and instantly "jump" there. If the location is unknown, then the picture must be explicit for the Hiko to work, for there is no room for error; any confusion in the moment of the jump will have grave and potentially mortal consequences. The user can also transport up to twice his or her own body weight with the mask, meaning he/she can jump with up to two other people or equivalent equipment. The Hiko does not allow for transportation through time or new dimensions.
Leah was in total blackness. She couldn't even see her hands in front of her face. The Toa of Water tried to speak experimentally, but when she opened her mouth, the darkness surged in like water and stifled her. She quickly stopped trying to talk, and instead started to listen. All around her were chattering voices that spoke in subdued whispers at distances that at once seemed close to her ears and far away. Leah couldn't tell what they were saying, but whatever it was, the sounds of the voices set her on edge.
The Toa of Water felt more and more uneasy as the voices got louder, but no more distinct. They were a clamoring roar that beat her morale down. Leah instinctively assumed a curled-up position to feel more secure, so it was to her terror that she found that she never felt her hands touch her knees. Frantically, Leah tried to feel her hands, but there was nothing there. Like in a nightmare, Leah realized that she no longer had control over a body, that she didn't feel anything. She was just a mind, floating around among these other minds, these incomprehensible moaners.
Was Leah doomed to become one of them, to lose her sense of self? Had she already lost herself? The Toa of Water was no longer sure of her own identity, meandering in this black place with ambivalently hostile entities.
Leah did not want to exist that way. She loved herself and would not suffer to be removed from her body. She resolved to do something to fix it. But what can you do? the voices around her asked. You are already lost, and it is now too late. Leah had to concede that they were right... how could she recover who she once was, when she already felt so defeated? If Leah had had eyes any more, she could have cried at the fundamental loss of herself. With each passing moment, she felt less aware, and less afraid of the other voices.
Where am I?
It was a simple question that Leah asked herself, but one that saved her. She was in the Keeping Place. She was being tested... and she could guess that she was failing. She was losing her inner motivation with every moment that passed... she had to take a stand, and be strong, against the coercion of the disfigured voices. That though made them angry, and they swarmed to her, trying to drown her once again in blackness-
"NO!" Leah shouted, and as soon as she did, a sliver of light invaded the black space, pulling her out of it and restoring feeling to her body. Leah had passed the test; the dark voices melted and evaporated, leaving her in peace again.
Leah was transported to the inside of a cave in a cliff that faced the sea, and it was a clear day. The hollow in the cliff was buffeted by cool, salty air, and Leah took a moment to enjoy the view before, relaxed, she turned around and saw a mask that sat happily on a stone ridge, as though also appreciating the panorama before it. Leah walked to the mask and put it on, and it explained itself to her.
Kanohi Ruhaku, The Mask of Intent
The Kahoni Ruhaku allows its user to sense the intent of any other creature in the form of an aura around the being. The Ruhaku cannot tell the user thoughts or specify how the particular intent being sensed is to be carried out; it is merely lightly clairvoyant, telling the user or a target designated by the user what others are going to do or are already doing to him/her based on their emotions. The mask is always on at a low level. The aura and their corresponding intent are as follows:
Red – Angry/intent to attack
Orange – Lying/intent to deceive
Yellow – Afraid/intent to flee
Green – Helpful/intent to aid
Blue – Indifferent/no intent
Violet – Passionate/strong and unknown intent
No color - Mask is being blocked
Oreius and Inu were alone in a blank field that went on forever. It was oddly peaceful to be there, and something felt right. It was a moment before Oreius realized what: he and Inu were physically separated from one another. Oreius's hunch at having the Parakuka on his back no longer existed, and he stood as a proud Toa of Fire for the first time in his life, feeling energized and alive. Inu shrugged slowly along the ground, looking just as he had after he killed Turaga Onewa.
The Toa of FIre felt as though he could still communicate with Inu. Oreius was overjoyed; he had to share his happiness with the Parakuka. Look at me, Inu! the Toa of Fire exclaimed, spinning in place to try and see every inch of his true self. Look at me, I am free! I have so much energy! But Oreius' overjoyed attitude faded when his thoughts met Inu's, for the Parakuka was weak, hardly able to move, unable to reply, and certainly unable to jump up and latch back onto his host. Inu had been separated from the energies on which he fed, and he could not go on living for much longer.
Oreius, at first, felt pity for Inu's state of weakness and silence, but his pity faded as the Toa of Fire remembered what this slug had done. It had killed the good Turaga Onewa, its last host, and in its very nature, the Parakuka was an evil thing, a drinker of bodies. Oreius detested the pathetic slug on the ground, and felt the desire to kill it. But he stopped himself from using one of his knives on the slug. Killing was wrong, against his code, and he could not kill even a being as vile as Inu.
It was only a moment before Oreius realized that he could simply let the slug die. Inu was at death's doorstep, and it would only be a little while before the slug expired. Oreius decided that would be his plan; he would do nothing for as long as it took, and gratefully accept the rewards of his inactivity. Oreius would be a free Toa. Inu would be gone from his life, and would stop pulling him down towards evil.
But to let Inu, his friend, die, no matter how convenient it was for him, was as evil an act as any Oreius could imagine.
The Toa of Fire knelt next to Inu, stroked the back of the slug, and lay down on his stomach. He felt stinging shame at his near-abandonment of Inu and tears welled forth from his eyes, dripping to the ground. But Oreius' heart was reassured by the forgiveness of the slug, signaled by Inu climbed slowly up his back and reattached to him with a sweet, familiar pain. Oreius had opened his heart and sacrificed a better future for the survival of a parasite; it was an act of great goodness, and he passed the test.
Oreius was transported to somewhere in the charred forest, Inu's familiar presence touching again next to his mind. Before the pair, there was a wizened tree stump on which rested a mask. At Inu's encouragement, Oreius reached for the mask and put it on. He and the Parakuka immediately understand the purpose of the mask, and that the mask's power would still be available to their use despite their pairing.
Kanohi Auporo, The Mask of Weaknesses
The Kahoni Auporo allows the user to instinctively sense the weakness or weaknesses of other beings. An Auporo user is constantly aware, in and out of combat, of where and in which way in which to strike their opponents for optimum damage. They can sense the best way to defeat an enemy, the quickest way; conversely, they can also sense the areas in which their enemies are strongest.
Reordin stood, to his alarm, in the middle of a field of fire. The flames did not show any signs of slowing, but they also did not move closer to him. He stood in a circle unimpeded by fire, but it was small, too small for him to stay in. Reordin looked around him, saw the fire was a sea that went on infinitely in every direction - save one. Perhaps a hundred yards away from his safe circle, Reordin noticed that there was another circle of equal size, and he knew that it was his destination.
The Toa of Ice's first logical move was to try and suck the heat out of the flames, but this was to no avail. He next tried to conjure up a bridge of ice, but there was not enough moisture around him for him to use his element. He reached the back of his hand near the flames experimentally to be sure that they weren't an illusion of some kind; the heat against the hand was all too real. The field of fire was all real, and he had to find a way to get to the other circle. Reordin certainly couldn't jump over the fire, and there was no way for him to extinguish it either, so what did he have to do?
The answer arrived with dread to Reordin; he instantly hated it. He would have to run through the fire.
How could he, a Toa of Ice, possibly survive such a sprint? Fire was the element of his weakness, and he would certainly fall over with exhaustion before reaching the other safe spot, then burn and die. Surely there was another way through; Reordin would not have been given an impossible test, after all. There just had to be another way through, because surely to run through the fire would kill him.
Or would it?
Reordin and the other Toa Maru had just jumped off the edge of a cliff and into a gorge which, for all intents and purposes, had looked like a death sentence. But it hadn't been; Reordin had dissipated like the others in midair - and, granted, he had reappeared here, which was practically a death sentence anyway - because the Keeping Place required blind faith to be entered. Could this be the same test twice?
Reordin breathed in through his nose once and stepped into the fire. It hurt, and he instinctively leaped back away from it, back into his safety circle. So this test was pain endurance plus faith? Delightful. Reordin thought about how easily Stannis would tackle this test. Surely if Stannis could do it, he could. He prepared himself again and ran full speed through the fire.
Midway to the next safety circle, legs burning and weak enough to collapse, Reordin was transported elsewhere, removed from the test he had already passed. He found himself on top of a cold, snowy mountain, and was relieved to treat the burns on his legs before he realized they had disappeared. He was faced with a mask in the snow, and Reordin put the thing on, instantaneously aware of the ability that it granted him.
Kanohi Tauhaka, The Mask of Alchemy
The Kahoni Tauhaka allows its user to change the material or element(s) of one object into another. For example, the user could turn a tree from wood to stone, or a metal door to glass, the transmuted object gaining all the new strengths and weaknesses of the new material. This mask cannot create or destroy new things; it can only alter already-created items. The rate of change is determined on the size of the object – the larger the object, the more time is required exponentially to transmute its substance. Against living beings, the mask is far less effective.
Stannis found himself standing in the middle of a blank white place. The ground and the sky were as one; there was no horizon, no defining features to this landscape. It was just Stannis, all alone - or so he had thought a moment ago. Just now, next to him, another being had materialized. The being was small in stature, and he sat with his back to Stannis. Stannis walked around to see who the being was; he was a little shocked to be confronted with his own face, the face of his Matoran self. Matoran Stannis sat perfectly still, straight-backed and cross-legged, and he gazed through grey eyes unblinking into the nothingness.
Another Matoran appeared out of nowhere, once again unseen by Stannis until this Matoran was right before his nose. The Matoran, another familiar face, spoke. "You have come so far, Stannis. So very far."
Stannis looked into eyes that had been committed to his memory ever since they drew off the enemy on the day Aurax died. "We have not come here without our scars," the Toa of Stone commented.
"Death was always in the prophecy," the Matoran replied, shaking his head. "There is always defeat on the road to victory."
"Does our path lead to victory?" Stannis asked, posing a question he had long harbored but never given in to. The Matoran smiled sadly, and Stannis prodded him to say more. "Yes?"
"I cannot say, because I do not know," the Matoran answered. "I have deep faith that victory is within reach, but I cannot be sure. We believed that the First Toa would save us, but their destiny changed."
"Does destiny change frequently?" Stannis asked.
"Yes, and no," the Matoran said. "True destiny is immutable. It must have always been the destiny of the First Toa to fail, because they did fail. But our prophecy was incorrect, and so destiny appeared to change. It is generally misunderstood that destiny has two levels; expectation and reality. The former is mutable, the latter inscrutable."
Stannis took another look at his Matoran self, who had not moved and stayed statuesque regarding the nothingness. The walking Matoran placed his hands on little Stannis' shoulders; little Stannis did not move or acknowledge them. The Matoran looked at Toa Stannis. "You have changed a great deal, Wanderer," he said. "Evolved. You stand before me now as one of the strongest Toa on the island, yet it was not long ago that you were another Matoran from the Massif."
"I have not forgotten who I was," Stannis defended, glancing at his Matoran image again.
"I know," the other Matoran said. "But be sure that the others do not lose sight, either. There are great legends in store for you and your team, but only if you always fix to your purpose."
"To defeat Makuta," Stannis qualified.
"No," the Matoran said, smiling again. "To restore the Great Spirit Mata Nui."
"I don't see a difference," Stannis countered.
"Not yet," the Matoran said. "But you will, in time, and as new doors are opened to you."
There was a silence as Stannis mulled over the Matoran's words. The Matoran took his hands off of little Stannis, and the motionless Matoran was blown by a sudden wind into particles of dust. The Matoran watched Stannis, waited for his next question.
"What was your purpose?" Stannis asked.
"It has changed with time."
"What is it now?"
"To rest," the Matoran said regretfully. Stannis nodded.
"Death is the ultimate rest," he said sagely.
"If I were dead," the Matoran winked, "I would not be here."
Then he was gone. Everything was gone; the whiteness, the Matoran, the dust from the vision of little Stannis. Toa Stannis found himself somewhere much more definitive. It was a smallish room made entirely of translucent blue crystal, the likes of which Stannis had never before seen. Through the crystal walls, he saw a teal horizon line that met a clear blue sky. But this was not his focus. The mask that lay before him was. He was drawn to it, a faded golden-orange thing, and he put it on. As soon as he did, the mask's purpose was clear to Stannis.
Kanohi Hiripaki, The Mask of Stories
The Kanohi Hiripaki allows the user to bring to life anything spoken in story form, literally taking out of the Legend and into our world. If the user begins with the phrase "All hear the tale of the Great Spirit and of all things..." and ends with, "So transpired the legend," that which they have told in story form will come into being. The user may summon both animate and inanimate things from their stories. There is no limit to what a user may call forth from the Legend.
However, since something comes out of the story, something must go in to keep the balance; this "tribute" is random and of equivalent value to that which has been summoned. For instance, if a new Toa is called into life from the Legend, a random and nearby Toa will be subsequently sucked into it. The user may not transport his or herself into the Legend. Objects and beings summoned from the Legend will not return there unless specifically re-exchanged by the user in another spoken story. Beings or creatures summoned from the Legend retain free will, and are not under the control of the user in the event of their summoning.
The Toa Maru emerged again from the ravine of the Keeping Place in unison.
Behind them, the night had ended, and the sunrise dappled the sky.
They were finally whole.