HANGING BY A THREAD
A Vignette In Which Chronicler Takua Holds On For Dear Life
Things were looking up for the Chronicler - which was good, as he had little energy to do so himself, and looking down wasn't an option. It didn't help that he could still feel the chilled winds of Ko-Wahi raking across the soles of his feet, taunting him. His breath came ragged and erratically, and when it did, icy crystals scraped along his throat, torturing him from the inside. Not that they needed to, as the burning in his muscles was providing pain enough, straining against the unrelenting tug of gravity.
'At least the storm has passed,' he thought to himself as he stared up at the blue sky beyond the stony precipice. With vision blurring from the brightness, his thoughts turned to an altogether different blue expanse, where he had begun his present journey what seemed a lifetime ago. The gentle waves of the ocean lapping the edge of the beaches south of Ga-Koro, the serene stillness of the waters as they stretched to the horizon. Warm sand underfoot, cool breezes off the sea, and vast possibilities before him. Had he known where he would end up, perhaps he would have stayed on that beach, embrace that tranquility, if only for a short while longer.
'No,' he decided, 'even then I would have taken up this mantle. Besides, any peace I could find there would have been fleeting. No sense in fighting my Duty for the sake of false security.'
Even before he began his present journey, darkness had been spreading across the island, insinuating itself through the forgotten corners of the wilderness and, slowly, almost imperceptibly, into the homes and hearts of the Tohunga. The Chronicler's travels served only to cement that notion in his mind, as he bore witness to the many ways in which Rahi, Tohunga, even Toa, could be corrupted - a testament to the imperative for action.
Now all he bore witness to were empty, blue skies, bitterly chilled winds, and taught hemp rope, straining against a snow-worn cliff edge. Nothing to hear but the high pitched whistle of winds pressed between jagged mountain faces, and his own hoarse breath.
On the edge of hearing, a faint roar, carried from Mata Nui knew where. Up here, an echo could carry for several kio just as well as it could a few bio. Then again, it could just be an illusion, his mind playing tricks on him after so long in the thin, mountain air. A paranoid manifestation of Ko-Wahi's desire to swallow him alive.
'Paranoia.' He had seen much of it during his travels, perhaps nowhere as much as his first destination - the city of Ta-Koro. So distrustful were they that they had even attacked their own Toa Tahu on sight. They had little love for travelers such as he, suspicious perhaps of the corruption he had seen during his journey. Maybe they were victims of that very corruption, seated at the foot of the dark Mangai volcano, at the heart of the island. He hoped that same force hadn't come upon him here in this mountain chasm.
How had he even gotten here? The blizzard from the night before had been blinding, but why did he take the risk in the first place? Perhaps he thought fortune on his side, and it may have been. After all, despite his inauspicious step over the cliff's edge, he lashed out and grabbed this tattered rope, perhaps part of a rope bridge that once spanned this gulch. Surely, if fortune did not favor him, he would have plunged to his death on the jagged rocks below.
'Last thing I need on my mind are those rocks,' he quickly thought, trying to turn his mind to more pleasant memories. Fortune and misfortune - ever had the two gone hand in hand during his voyage. How fortunate had his friend Maku been to escape the beleaguered village of Ga-Koro, and how fortunate had she been to meet him there on that tranquil shore. But these had only served to make up for the misfortune of the Tarakava attack, of the people of Ga-Koro finding themselves trapped beneath the waves. But with his help and that of the Toa Gali, their plight had turned around.
'I wish I could get a bit of that help now.' The ache came back into focus, burning his arms and lungs, freezing his feet and face. Second, minutes, perhaps hours passed before the worst of the pain subsided and he could think again.
Now he thought of pain, but not his own - the pain of the people of Po-Koro, struck ill by virulent plague. Their village had seemed a ghost town when he entered, save for the wracking coughs of the afflicted. Even their Toa Pohatu was stricken with blindness, but with the Chronicler’s help, he had been able to put an end to the corrupt source of the villagers’ infection.
There was no malicious entity behind the Chronicler’s present pain, however. No great beast that exhaled this frozen air, that tricked him over a deadly precipice towards its waiting jaws. This was simply the apathetic cruelty of nature, the other side of the widget that bore the bountiful splendor of natural harmony. The only blame he could place here was on himself – that was reason enough to endure it.
It wasn’t the first time he had witnessed the vagaries of nature. The miners of Onu-Koro placed no blame for the lava flow which had blocked their work – an outstretched hand seeking to bring community with the people of Le-Koro. They simply persevered, and even without his help in diverting the flow, they would have persevered still. It may have taken longer, but they would have found a way around their obstacles.
‘I suppose I should do the same,’ his conscience chided. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could hold on, and with the burning in his arms, climbing wasn’t an option. His neck creaked stiffly as he diverted his gaze to the side, looking for some foothold – anything that might provide a way out of this predicament. He scanned the cliff face to his right for any protrusions, when the urge struck him.
He wished that he hadn’t. The surface of the cliff slipped away below him, leaving nothing but open air and sharp, snow-covered stones far below. The slowly drifting silhouette of a cloud cast its afterimage on his retinas, and he closed his eyes in disbelief. It hadn’t been that long ago when he had flown through the open air with Kongu on the back of his Kahu bird, but that was an entirely different experience.
He forced himself back through the memories of that flight, soaring over the treetops of Le-Wahi, trying to free the villagers of Le-Koro from the Nui-Rama. Slowly, visions of the clouds below him were replaced with those of leafy canopies, terror ebbing away to be replaced with thrill. Calm came to the Chronicler again, until he recalled the crash landing in the hive.
Cold sweat ran down the inside of his mask, as he recalled the hive floor rushing up to greet them, but now the jagged canyon floor came up in his mind’s eye to swallow them. By the Great Spirits, he wished Toa Lewa were here to pluck him from his perch and put him back on solid firmament. But after receiving the Golden Kanohi, the once-tainted Toa was needed elsewhere, and certainly wouldn’t visit this part of the island just to save a foolish Chronicler.
‘Come on, Takua,’ he urged himself, ‘keep looking. You’ve only got yourself to blame, but you’ve also got yourself to save.’
Slowly, he opened his eyes, his gaze glued to the surface of the cliff. With his breath coming in even shallower rasps, he turned his attention to his left. The winds in this ravine had long ago worn the mountain’s face smooth, as featureless as the snows that had enveloped him the night before. But even then, much had been there that had been unseen – the frozen Kopeke, who the Chronicler had tended to, for instance.
‘As well as this blasted pit,’ he added to himself, eyes darting about in search of any hint of a foothold. And there was one, half a bio to his side. It might not be much, but it would be a start. The only obstacle was getting to it.
‘Guess I’ve got to swing.’
The Chronicler pitched his body to the right, gently, to avoid tearing his sole lifeline. Back to the left he swung, slowly gaining momentum. Soon he had become a precarious pendulum, straining to gain precious height. It would all be worth it, though, as he could almost reach that foothold and the hope that it brought.
‘Just a little more,’ he pleaded, stretching his leg to catch the stubby protrusion. Arms crying out with pain, he let out a yell and grasped the tiny platform with his toes, for just an instant, before he heard the sharp report of snapping rope.
He looked up to see the frayed rope splitting against the edge of the cliff, dropping him into freefall. His voyage flashed again before his eyes, and it surprised him to find that he feared more for the loss of the Chronicle than of his own life. He braced himself for impact as the smooth cliff slipped away from him.
For just an instant.
His hands nearly slipped from the rope as it jerked to a halt, pulling his gaze back to the cliff’s edge and the sky beyond. A pair of white hands firmly grasped the rope’s end, slowly lifting it back on to the plateau. As the Chronicler rounded the edge, the faded blue of his rescuer’s Kanohi came into view, locking eyes with him as he crawled up onto the solid ground.
“Thanks for the save,” he whispered to the Ko-Koronan, before a wave of relief and exhaustion took hold of him. The last thing he felt was the stranger lifting him up and carrying him towards safety, before sliding into the undisturbed darkness of sleep.