OOC: here's another doozy...
The stalemate ensued, my eyes locked with hers. Why the karz didn’t I just walk away to the temple, charm in hand, and open the door? We had better things to do than stand here staring at each other. I won that spat fair and square, yet they were all over me like Muaka over a fresh kill. Tuara had it coming, that Rules Rahkshi, and she simply couldn’t stand it that I had outwitted and outmaneuvered her. Agni seemed to understand, why didn’t she? Or Cael for that matter? Why should I listen to her? She had no idea what went on inside that Koro, what the Guard life was like, what living under oppressive regime was like. Why could I give a spiritdam iota about her opinion? Really I don’t, and that’s the answer.
And why, if so, did her verbal slap hurt so much?
She stood there, arms crossed, leaning back, not giving an inch. For someone who knew of my capabilities to challenge me, knowing fully well what I could do, was gutsy. Despite my best attempts she probably knew me as well as I did, knowing not only how to push my buttons but how to pull me back from the brink. She had saved my life twice now, and was willing to stake life and reputation by accompanying me.
And that’s why her opinion DID matter to me.
I wrestled internally, trying to come up with an answer. Ok, so maybe she was right? Maybe I went too far, maybe I am bit childish, so what? I’ll go over and apologize, kiss and make up if I have to… no, that wouldn’t be good enough for her. She would want me to mean it. Ok, go on over there and mean it. It’s just an apology. Saying I’m sorry. Nothing major. I mean, it’s not like I did something bad… or being at fault… or admitting… admitting wrongdoing… I’m… I…
I couldn’t bring myself to apologize.
It was as if Cael was holding up a mirror, and for the first time I could see it. Something so simple, something so easy to say, yet I stood here locked up tighter than the vaults, unable to perform this simple task. It was my ego. My pride. My view of myself. The thing that made me ME was apparently making me a monster, driving these people away. Suddenly I understood why many beings reacted the way they did around me, why I didn’t have a lot of friends, why I seemed to drive people away. I was completely unbearable.
But there was nothing I could do about it. So in my arrogant honesty I answered her question.
“Yes it is.”
My pride, my ego… it had a chokehold on my soul. It was the one thing I had no matter what else happened in the world. Friends came and went, but my accomplishments remained. Feelings were subjective, but one could not wave away skill and ability. It was the one thing that could keep me going… and it had saved my life more than once. More than Cael ever did. The only person I could ever in the end depend on was me and me alone. It had always been that way; why should it change now? My ego was the only thing I needed. I didn’t need them; they were just tagging along anyway, along for the ride. My mission, my destiny, my reward. If they couldn’t handle it, then they could leave and I will help those matoran myself. But why then do I still feel a twinge of guilt?
Finally able to break away from Cael’s gaze I walked over in front of Tuara. With exaggerated gestures I took off my newly-acquired gear one by one, dropping them unceremoniously to the ash-ridden ground below. Bracers, guards, staff, disks… all of it. When the clanking ceases I dusted off my hands in front of her, washing my hands of this affair. If that’s what she wanted, fine, she can have her precious merchandise back, I don’t care. I have a job to do.
Without a word I calmly strode to the temple door, brushing past Agni who was already there, studying the monument closely. Bending down I began to explore the door, and quickly found what I was looking for: three key-like slots in the otherwise perfectly smooth surface. Tilting my head I carefully tested the charm I had found – yes, right size and fit. It would seem as though I would require two more to open the door. I stood, carefully turning over the charm. Yes, this was familiar… because I had seen it before.
Or others like it.
Activating my Kakama the world streaked around me, a blurry mass of dark grey and red. Quickly I retraced my steps and bounded up to the Koro ramparts, rushing along the walls until I came to a stop inside Jaller’s office. I completely expected him to be in there. To my complete surprise I arrived at a rare time he was not present… huh. Strange, but fortunate. Glancing around I spotted my prize, a small white disk sitting prominently on a shelf. Why did he keep it there? It’s not like it was important to him, just a trinket. I shrugged to myself, swiped the object, and with a twitch was a running blur once more.
A few seconds later I was at the edge of town, staring at a long, blank wall that was carved into the volcano itself, tools littered about the construction site. This was the “Wall of History” project, started by Turaga Vakama but over the years fell into disrepair, and after his disappearance the project was abandoned completely. Glancing around I didn’t see what I was looking for; I could have sworn it was here. Did someone take it? Move it? Destroy it? My mind raced as I began to pick through old piles of stone debris, my mind conjuring up the worst-case scenarios. I needn’t worry, for after a few moments of digging I found what I was looking for: the third charm, buried under some fresh rubble. Snorting with satisfaction I blinked, and when I could see clearly I was back in front of the temple.
I could not help but feel cocky as I wiped centuries of ash away from the key holes, revealing sets of words carved into the stone above: Conquers Fear; Pride of Guards; and Might of Heart and Limb. Riddles. And not difficult ones at that. “Might of Heart and Limb” clearly referred to Strength, as Agni properly mentioned a part of Kohlii training. “Pride of the Guards” was also glaringly easy; the charm that had ‘Duty’ written all over it. Which meant that “Conquers Fear” was the Courage charm; again, obvious. With flair and flourish I placed the charms in their corresponding key slot, waiting for the magic to happen, expecting the massive stone door to roll away, revealing the Crystal of Courage in all of its brilliant glory.
Only that never happened. In fact, absolutely nothing happened.
I stared at the wall. Maybe I placed them in there wrong. Quickly I took them out and replaced them, taking a step back. Perhaps I was too close? Again, nothing. I could feel myself becoming frustrated as I activated my mask, trying every single permutation possible in mere seconds. The stone wall stood there defiant.
I took several steps back, unable to comprehend this setback. What was I missing!? I found the temple, got the key charms, solved the riddles, and inserted them into the correct slot. That… that should have been it.
“Open up you danged slab of useless rock!”
I could feel my voice echo back at me; it was as if I was talking to a stone wall. I could feel the desperation creep in, my air of confidence quickly evaporating. I ran up to it and in a fit of anger punched it, doing nothing but releasing more soot and ash and possibly breaking a few fingers. I sank to my knees, frazzled. I had no idea what to do… I did everything right, it should have worked…
I looked up at where I had struck, only now noticing an indentation in the rock; there was no way my fist could have done that. I reached up with my spare hand, scraping away an even thicker layer of ash to reveal a new set of writing, another phrase that seemed to produce power as I read it.
Only those without wickedness can understand it
Understand? Understand… what?
Were they talking about courage? I understood everything about courage; I practically used it every day. I used it when fighting off the Tarakava and the Muaka. I used it when I held the line for the matoran to escape. Whenever I had to face Agni when I came back after curfew. Karz, I was even willing to take on the Guard and my companions over a set of armor; now that took some courage!
Then why can’t you look them in the eye?
The thought hit me like a bolt from the blue, the impact so shocking it struck me dumb. Of course I… couldn’t. I mean, I could always… walk away from them. It was so easy to… not apologize. I… no, oh, no, oh no no NO! This cannot… this cannot be happening. You mean to say that my inability to apologize was preventing this door from opening!? ARE YOU SERIOUS?!
What are you afraid of?
I’m not afraid. I’m freaking invincible. I’ve looked death in the eye and spat on its face. This is ludicrous. I’m not scared of anyone or anything-
How about admitting you were wrong?
I found myself on my hands and knees, trembling at the foot of the temple, a terrible conflict raging in my own mind. My pride, my ego that I was hanging on to so tightly was preventing me from doing the one thing that needed to be done: make amends. If I couldn't do that, then this door would never open, I would never get this crystal, and I would never get any of the others. This quest would be over before it even started.
I would have failed.
But to admit I was wrong... to suggest that I have been a complete and absolute... to grovel honestly before someone else... no, I was better than that... I was... I just... to admit I was wrong... I just...
... I... can't...
I can't do it.
I could feel a tear leave my mask, hearing the sizzle of it landing the hot ground. I... failed. It was that simple. I had too much pride.
And I couldn't tear it out.
OOC: come along little Joske, it's character development time... even if I have to drag you by your teeth kicking and screaming.