The word, that concept, rattled about my head, like a trapped animal trying to escape a cage. We used that word so offhandedly, so casually, that when faced with the stark, bare, true concept of it, it was intimidating.
Might of Heart and Limb. The most commonly used, and least-understood, aspect of it. Courage was used to describe strength, not just in physical prowess, but of the power of the will to overcome obstacles. We used it errantly to describe the muscle fiber of one's being, when we should really be describing the most powerful and influential muscle of all: the heart.
Pride of the Guards. The concept of one's Duty despite the odds stacked against you, the ability to persevere, the fiber to stand firm to one's convictions and one's Duty to whatever cause he felt was just. This part of the word wasn't optional; it was demanded. Duty to one's fellow man, Duty to one's position, Duty to one's Koro and leaders... no matter the cost.
My heartlight skipped a beat.
Fear. The ability to overcome it. The Strength to withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. The Duty to understand how and why. The first two I had no lack of; I had the strength of ten matoran, and my duty to any cause I felt worthy never wavered. But fear? I thought I was fearless, taking on wild Rahi with my bare hands without a second thought. I thought I was fearless when I fought against greater and more powerful numbers to defend the matoran against the Makuta's minions, not even blinking at the thought. I thought I was fearless, challenging the elements and the very powers that be, without any regard to my well-being. No, now I realized those didn't count; that was par for the course. If at all that is the kind of fear that rises in the moment, the sense of uncertainty when facing the unknown. That is who I was, something innate to my nature. No, this word meant the kind of fear that is hidden deep with, the kind of fear that you refuse to acknowledge of face. The kind of fear that is a part of you, defines you, what prevent you from moving forward when confronted. I was afraid to admit guilt.
I was afraid to be wrong.
As long as I could remember, I had always striven to be the best... and succeeded. Whatever I touched turned to protosteel, any project I started was a guaranteed success. Failure was never an option to me... I never lost. Whatever I did was always correct, always the best; therefore, I was never wrong. I could always outsmart my opponents, outwit any rules, and if it came down to it outperform any opponent. Even when I was wrong I wasn't; I was too untouchable, too valuable, or too stubborn to reap any consequences, no matter my action. I never faced any sort of reprisal for my actions, so my entire life had been built on this idea that I could do no wrong. Which meant I never had to apologize.
I stared at the ground, the true meaning of the word flying right in my face. To have courage meant to face myself, to face my own wrongdoings, my own sins... no matter the consequences. Not just face them; accept them. To admit that I was wrong, to apologize for what I have done, to ask for forgiveness of those transgressions, and then accept the consequences, no matter how severe... that was courage. To be a man. To own up to one's mistakes. To embrace what was due to him, not to forever run from it.
And I would rather be sent to the very depths of Karzahni and fight every hoard and demon it had than do that. Or that's how I felt.
But that's what I needed to do.
Question was, did I have the courage to do it? This... this was the test. Not of intellect, not of might, not of will... but of heart and soul. If I wanted access, I would have to face and overcome my fear. Swallow my pride. Remove the ego that I had long embraced. Face my demon.
And in this case, it took the shape of an irate female Ta-Toa named Tuara.
To her credit, she paused, halfway between the temple and the bridge, her and Angelus both. How they heard me from that distance I didn't know, considering how quietly I said it, but it didn't matter. She had stopped, at least for the moment. I had to seize this now, or it would be lost forever.
Then why wasn't I moving?
With a great force of will I commanded myself to stand, beginning the long, lonely walk to her. Really it wasn't that far, nor could it have taken that long, but when you are alone with your own thoughts, your feet feeling like they were encased in granite, willingly moving towards not only your worst nightmare but promised punishment, it was an eternity. And eternity that I had to fight every step for. A battle of the heart against the mind. A conflict of which my ego was screaming at me, my pride berating me for being such weak individual for even thinking I needed to grovel for any kind of forgiveness. That I was weak needing others. Weak for in essence showing weakness, exposing myself to all those watching.
But I wondered, which took more strength - being alone and stubborn, or admitting I was wrong.
I inhaled stiffly, suddenly finding myself not a bio behind Tuara. She may have stopped, but she hadn't turned to face me. Her own breathing was labored, her body tense, fists clenched, heat radiating in waves off her. She might not even be listening.All the more reason not to do it. Here I was, coming to her, and she didn't even give me the courtesy of facing me as I did it. Why then should I even consider the aspect of apologizing!?
Because it was the right thing to do... the courageous thing to do.
My mouth opened... and I said nothing. My throat had tightened up harder than a miser's fist, unable to utter even the simplest of sounds. The silence surrounding us was oppressive, heavy, harsh... exposing. Not only was I afraid of it, but at the same time I was embarrassed. I'd never done this before. Fear, embarrassment... shame...
Yes, shame. The feeling hit me like one of Cael's water waves. It was the first time I had even experienced this sensation, and it was not pleasant. No... it was downright awful. Shame at how I had treated her. How I treated Cael. How I even treated Agni. No wonder I had so few friends... I was a terrible one myself. It must be awful to be around me, to see how inflated one being's ego can be-
I practically chocked on the thought. My Onu-Matoran friend. No, he wasn't my friend... he was someone I had kept around in an attempt to look normal, a facade to keep myself honest, a farce to be likeable. I... I had used him. Used him like everybody else. Used people to get what I wanted. To feed my ego. Inflate my pride. To get what I felt needed to get done, not matter the personal cost.
It was more of a croak than a statement, my throat very try and still very tight. There. I'd... I'd said-
Like karz that's good enough.
I just couldn't do it... it was so hard...
Mean it, you prick!
Imagine swallowing an Ussal whole. No silverware, no outside help, no flavorful sauce to help it go down. Just you, that massive crab that was your pride, and your throat, crusty shell and all. No mincing words, no doing it sections... all at once. One big, ginormous, painful, humiliating gulp.
It was the most terrible, gut-wrenching experience of my life.
As hard as it was to accomplish, it was over in an instant, a sensation so foreign that internally I gasped in shock. This massive thing that had been inside me as long as I could remember was suddenly gone, sucked away by this vacuum that appeared in my soul, imploding then... vanishing. Gone. Nothing. I suddenly felt relaxed, like a great strain on my body had been released, but I also felt.. empty. Vacant.
Where my ego was, there was only a void now. I had killed a part of me, and there was nothing I had that could replace it.
But that meant there was also no more resistance.
The sudden emotion in my voice was surprising. There was now nothing holding me back, and I found myself crying as I spoke.
"Tuara, I was wrong. I was so horribly, sickeningly, unapologetically wrong. I should not have done what I did, and I especially should not have said the words that I spoke. Not only were they rude and without thought, but I crossed the line into things I have no business speaking about. I... I am sorry about the theft. I am sorry that I so horrendously insulted you and what you stand for. I am sorry for being me."
I needed... no, had to say it all. Face the music. "I made a mistake; no, many mistakes, most of them consciously. I... " Oh Mata-Nui... " ... I take full responsibility for my actions, both intentional and not. I... I am willing... willing and prepared to accept any an all reprisals for my conduct as you deem fit as both my elder and my superior. Well, I guess now just as my elder."
Reaching into my belt I pulled out my own Guard insignia, the officer rank gleaming in the orange overcast light. Unable to look at her any longer I cast my eyes to the ground, before finally closing them. "I have give the Guard a bad name, in both my actions and my words. It doesn't matter whether or not I agree with their rules; as a member I am obligated to follow them regardless. And I rarely did. As of now I am resigning my post so that punishment can be meted out accordingly; not only am I not deserving of this badge, but to heavily reprimand a fellow officer would be devastating for public relations... and I know a thing or two about that. I... willfully and... fully... comply and accept any punishment you deem necessary. I... I just ask that... outside of immediate verbal and physical reprisals, anything more enduring be reserved for after this mission is over. If it would be done now we wouldn't have the time required to help the matoran."
The best way to describe myself at this moment would be that a part of me died. Yes, a great burden had been lifted; for the first time in my life I felt like I did something right, but yet... yet I felt empty. A part of me had been torn away, and now with not much left I didn't know what to do with that feeling.
Speaking of feeling... was that a low rumbling sensation?
Cranking my head around I spotted the source of the vibrations - the door. The Temple door, the stone slab that had defied me, was moving. The whole bowl shook as ancient gears ground to life, the first time they'd been used since their creation. A millennium of stone, soot, and ash fell away with a great grey and black cloud, rocks and shavings breaking off bouncing about like hundreds of tiny Kohlii balls in an enclosed arena. When the dust settled the mouth of the face was gaping wide open, a tiny red speck deep within. I... I had opened the door.
Why then didn't I feel happy?