A Turaga stepped out of the throng and stood before the pond, hands clasped behind his back. His voice, deep and clear, rang through the night: "Gathered friends, it is time, once more, for the Choosing of another Hero."
Quiet voices hissed around him, some nervous, others excited. The Turaga lifted a hand and silence fell.
"As I am sure all of you know quite well, never has a Chosen Hero been successful with The Task."
A chant of "Boo"s broke out, but the Turaga hushed them once more.
"Time and time again the the Heroes have left on The Task and never returned. Still our village is cursed by the evil Terahi."
The Turaga allowed this chant of "Boo"s to go on for a few minutes before hushing the Matoran.
"This time, perhaps, a more worthy Hero will be Chosen." There was an edge of bitterness to the village leader's voice. He continued, "But that is neither here nor there. Tonight, we call upon the Great Beings to Choose a new Hero. May they make a wise selection."
The Turaga cast a meaningful glance at a large, heavily muscled Ba-Matoran; the latter grinned confidently, and several nearby Matoran shoved him jovially as murmuring, mostly excited this time, broke out once more.
"Let the Choosing begin!" cried the Turaga, spreading his arms and tilting his head to stare at the moon.
All heads turned to the orb glowing in the sky above them. It flashed brighter for a split second, then dimmed again. For several long moments, nothing happened; it was as if they had imagined the sudden glow.
Then, quite suddenly, the pale moonlight faded away completely. Only one Matoran cried out in surprise: she had never before witnessed the event. In silence they stood, waiting, with the only light coming from the stars.
A single beam of moonlight appeared at the center of the pond, only a few feet in diameter. Slowly, it moved across the still surface. The Ba-Matoran's smile faded as the light slid away from him.
The beam moved into the crowd, and the Matoran parted; a single De-Matoran, small and frail, stood alone under the moon's light. He shuffled his feet nervously as all eyes turned upon him.
The Turaga just stared. His mouth hung open but he did not speak.
At last the beam faded and the full moonlight shone down upon the village once more.
The Turaga glanced at the moon, then back at the De-Matoran, his mask wearing an expression of shock. Surely this is not so? he thought. How can he be our Hero?
The silence wore on, and the De-Matoran looked at his feet, avoiding eye contact. At that moment, he wished he could just fade away, as the moonlight had minutes before, rather than face the devastating disappointment of his fellow villagers.
The Turaga's shock turned to disdain. "So be it," he said crisply, and with that turned on the spot and stalked off. "The Great Beings have Chosen. They have doomed us to die."
Half of the village followed their leader. Others hesitated, glancing sympathetically at the De-Matoran before leaving. This left two Matoran; the newly Chosen Hero, and a Ce-Matoran.
"Well, congratulations, Padin," the Ce-Matoran said, circling the pool to stand beside the De-Matoran.
"Congratulations? For what?" Padin hissed, rounding on his friend. "For being Chosen as the next to die? The next to disappoint my village? Flii, I wouldn't wish my place on my worst enemy."
"Not even Tarka?"
Padin chuckled faintly. He thought of the Ba-Matoran's expression before the Choosing, and his disappointment after. "Yes, perhaps Tarka."
Flii hesitated before suggesting, "Couldn't...couldn't he go in your stead?"
Padin frowned. Though the same thought had occurred to him, this was not what he wanted to hear.
"Yes, everyone would like that," he muttered miserably. "You would, too, wouldn't you? You don't even believe in me."
Flii's eyes widened and she shook her head. "N-no, that's not what I--"
"Admit it," said Padin bitterly. "Nobody thinks I can do it. I don't even think I can do it."
He turned to leave, but Flii grabbed him by the shoulder. Her eyes, Padin noticed, were brimming with tears. Feeling awkward, he avoided her gaze.
"No, let me go with you!"
"Yes, I can help you! Please?"
Padin smiled. The thought of having Flii's comfort on The Task warmed him, but he pushed it away. No, I can't let her risk her life.
"No, of course not," the De-Matoran said aloud. "I can't let you come with me."
"Can't you? Can't you, please?" Flii pleaded.
Padin did not reply: he simply shook his head.
"It won't be the same here." Flii stared at her feet. "Not...not without you."
"I'll miss you, Flii."
"I'll miss you very much, Padin," the Ce-Matoran replied tearfully.
They stood together in silence, gazing into the depths of the still pond, a mirror image of the moon shining at its center.
"Maybe...maybe you will complete The Task."
"We both know that's impossible. Not me." Padin sighed. "Oh, why did the Great Beings have to Choose me? There are many others so much more worthy...."
Flii shifted her feet uncomfortably. "Perhaps they saw something in you. Something you don't even see yourself."
Padin rubbed his hands together in desperation. "Or maybe there's just no chance left for the village. No Hero has ever succeeded...I doubt any Hero ever will. So now...now the Great Beings are just Choosing the most expendable."
"Don't say that!" Flii gasped.
"But what other answer is there? Why else would they continue Choosing Heroes?"
Flii hesitated thoughtfully. "Could it be out of mercy, not cruelty, that they continue to send Heroes to their deaths?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Wouldn't it be easier to go to your doom, knowing it will come, rather than stay here, every day unsure if you will live to see another?"
"I think I'd take the second choice."
"Maybe you're braver than you think, then."
Padin did not reply. Flii fell silent.
After several minutes, Padin noticed a faint glow on the horizon. "It will be morning soon. I better get going, the villagers will expect me to be dead when they awake."
Flii opened her mouth, but could find no answer. She settled for a simple, warm, "Good luck. May the Great Beings light your path."
"They have already shadowed it," Padin muttered darkly.
The pair turned in opposite directions. Padin made his way through the Northern area of the village, which sloped upward toward the mountain whose peaks towered high above the little huts. The lowest of the peaks was his destination: home of Terahi, the beast that had tormented the village for centuries.
But first there was one thing to do. He did not want to go unarmed, even if it would probably not be much help. Another thing he would rather have avoided was facing the Turaga again, which he had to do to get his arms.
The door to his large hut was hanging wide open, but to be polite Padin knocked.
"Come in, I don't care!" came the answer. The Turaga's voice was hoarse, and there was a hint of madness to it. "Rob me blind, it matters not! I won't be poor long, anyway! In fact, murder me to eliminate witnesses, I'd thank you for it!"
The words shocked Padin. "I won't hurt you," he promised, stepping inside.
The Turaga squinted at him for a moment, and his gaze hardened as he realized who had entered his hut. "Not intentionally, perhaps," said he drily. "I would have preferred a thief or murderer."
Padin winced at his tone, sharp as a blade. "I-I came to get my arms," he spluttered.
Wordlessly, the Turaga waved an arm at a table near the center of the room, where a shield, spear, and helm were laid. They were all made of metal, the shield emblazoned with a warrior, thus armed, battling a vicious beast. The beast's appearance, of course, was fictional; for any who laid eyes on the real Terahi was never heard from again.
Padin opened his mouth to speak, but seeing the village elder's mask, he closed it again. The De-Matoran walked to the table, feeling awkward. Muttering a word of thanks, he took his arms and hurried out of the hut.
After donning the helm and slipping an arm through the shield's straps, Padin set off again, northward. The walk to the edge of the village was short, and he met no one. Tired and disappointed, all the Matoran of the village had retired to their beds. Few, however, slept that night.
The night was eerily silent. The normal night noises were hushed, as if all the inhabitants of the small valley, Matoran and Rahi alike, were holding their breath as they watched yet another Hero march to his doom.
Padin trudged out of the cluster of huts and ascended the first hill, pausing midway to turn his gaze once more on the village that had been his home. His friends, his house, his work...all was being left behind. And for what? To join the dead bodies of the past Heroes? To fruitlessly sacrifice himself?
Run, he thought suddenly. Run away. There is nothing more you can do for your village, you cannot defeat Terahi.
No, that is the coward's way out, said another voice, deep in his mind.
At least I'd be alive, Padin told himself.
Better to die in the line of duty than to live as a coward.
He knew his conscience was right. Perhaps it would be in vain, but it was the honorable thing to do.
The De-Matoran turned his back on his home for the final time and walked on. Presently a light drizzle fell from the sky, but he did not mind. In fact, he revelled in this wonder of nature, this last glimpse of beauty. How had he never come to appreciate how awesome rain was before? He had seen rain many times in his long life, and yet never had he truly recognized it for all it was.
Rain was a means of life, for the Rahi that drank from the ponds and rivers, and ate from the trees and other plants which needed water to survive. Many creatures even lived in water, lakes and oceans which would be dry without rain. Matoran were equally helpless without water. Never had Padin realized how important it was.
This epiphany led to many others as Padin climbed the mountain. The flowers that stretched their beautiful petals toward the sky, the bugs that crawled through the grass, the stone and earth from which the planet was made. Every aspect of nature was magnified and glorified during those quiet hours.
At last Padin's climb was nearing an end, and the sun had begun its own ascent. How majestic, those golden rays that tinged everything it touched with light and color, filling the Matoran's body with warmth even through the rain that had become torrential during the night.
Even those bleak cliffs and peaks of the mountain were filled with splendor that morning. Padin's heart soared with glee and laughter, in spite of the dark knowledge that this was the last time he would see any of it.
And so what? He had seen all these things every day for thousands of years, and never had he seen the magic it held. It did not feel as if he was about to die, rather that he had been reborn. How could he have been worried, how could he have considered running away from all this, so few hours before?
Finally, Padin reached the ledge near the tip of the lowest peak. There the entrance to Terahi's lair arched above his head. But at that moment, his gaze took in only the sun that blazed over the eastern horizon, its rays just pouring into the valley far below. He saw movement in the village, which looked like ants scurrying over their anthill from such a distance. Flii was down there; oh, if only she could know, could feel what he had felt in the past few hours. Perhaps she would be Chosen as the next Hero, and then she could.
A cloud drifted around the peak, blocking Padin's view of the village. With that cue, he strode up to the mouth of the large cave.
Warmth and happiness drained from the De-Matoran's mind. His heart was swallowed whole by the shadows that danced and jeered out of the sunlight's reach. And then he fully realized what he was walking into: death.
What, he wondered, would death be like? Would it be swift? Would it be slow and painful? He did not know. No one knew, he realized. No one alive, anyway. His heart filled with dread, but he knew there was no turning back. He had made it this far, and it was his duty to see it through to the end. His end. He gulped.
Bravely, he took a step forward. And then another. He thought of the rain, the sun, all the natural wonders he had seen in that morning. And he thought of Flii. All this lent strength to his limbs once more, and he marched onward into the darkness. It did not press and squeeze around him as he had expected. On the contrary, the shadows seemed to wilt and cower as he made his way past them.
The terror that had overpowered him momentarily was gone, and he reflected on the wonder of his own life force as he followed the tunnel, which spiralled slowly downward. His mind, his heart, his body...that it worked, that it existed, was miraculous. How easily it could be taken away, too...and yet only at that time was it truly appreciated.
The shadows grew darker and darker, and more confident, as he marched along. He felt as if hundreds of bodies rushed and swarmed around them, yet he did not suffer by it. Shadow...the opposite of light. It was just as vital as light, Padin realized. It gave a break from the heat of the day that would shrivel plants and animals alike if it wore on without pause. It calmed the light and allowed for the creatures with sensitive eyes to emerge from their dens, hidden from their prey by the darkness. It was a wonder, a marvel, not to be feared, but embraced.
And yet...the shadow produced evil.
Padin jumped. The echo of the voice and his told him that he was in a large chamber. Was this Terahi's den? But who had spoken?
"H-hello?" he called feebly.
A high-pitched, scratchy laugh echoed around the cave. It seemed to come from the shadows themselves. "They're really scraping the bottom of the barrel now, aren't they?" said the voice, pausing again to laugh. "Well, at least you showed up. That's a change of pace.
Padin gasped in surprise. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, let's just say that this is the first time my prey has come to me."
"You're lying! What about all the other Heroes?"
There was no answer, save another cackle.
"Who are you, anyway?" Padin asked fiercely.
"My, what bad manners!" taunted the voice. "Very well. I am the being whom you Matoran call 'Terahi.'"
A sharp intake of breath echoed around the cave. A similar gasp followed, tinged with mockery.
"Now, Hero: what is your name?" hissed Terahi.
Padin gathered his courage, pushing away the pressing fear once more. This was why he had gone there, after all: to face Terahi.
"My name is Padin, Terahi. What an honor it is to meet you," he declared. His voice was heavy with sarcasm.
Terahi laughed. "Well, well! You have spirit, Hero."
"Show yourself, Terahi, so that I may shake your hand." Padin whispered.
Another laugh. "Do you not see me, before you? Look carefully."
Padin squinted, but to no avail: darkness blinded his vision. "I see nothing but shadow," he replied.
Padin was quickly tiring of Terahi's laugh. "Precisely, Hero!"
"I am getting impatient, Terahi!"
"Oh, you are, are you?" the voice jeered, followed by another echoing laugh. "Very well, Hero, I will spell it out for you. You see me before you. I am the darkness; I am shadow. The endless abyss, the nothing from which everything is created, and to which everything must return."
"Enough talk," Padin said. "Let us end this. Cease your hiding."
"And why would I do that? Why should I not just kill you where you stand?"
Padin grinned. He had an answer ready for this. "Are you afraid to face a Matoran?" And he laughed.
The high-pitched laugh joined his own. "Very well, Hero, I will humor you."
With a rush and whistle, the shadows disappeared, swishing away like a huge, black cloth and piling into a heap at the far end of the chamber. To Padin's amazement, an unnatural light filled the area, bright and dark at the same time. Yet it had no source: it seemed that light could by smothered by shadow, to be revealed once more when the darkness is removed.
Padin took in his surroundings. The cavern was very large, though it seemed much smaller in the light. The dirt floor was uneven and rocky, but was barren of anything that might suggest it as a home. During all these observations he kept an eye on the shrinking mass of shadow that wriggled and writhed on the ground. Suddenly, it began to take form, twisting and folding. When at last it stopped, Padin took a step back in fear, tripping over a rock and falling on his backside.
The shadow creature looked as if it had been made from nightmares, a solid incarnation of fear itself. Yet it was not solid: it was visible, but it was neither two- nor three-dimensional. It did not, it could not exist, yet it was still seemingly there. It was nothing, and yet everything. Words simply cannot describe with due justice the fearsomeneness of that being that inspired both awe and terror, wonder and horror.
A lesser Matoran, even many Toa, would have fainted in Padin's position: he, however, was stronger than this, even if he did not realize it. Gathering every last bit of strength, courage and resolve he could muster, Padin rose to his feet.
"Now show me what you have got, Matoran."
Padin took a deep breath. For my village, he told himself. For the Matoran he took during the night, for the Great Beings who stood by us, through one cowardly Hero after another, and for Flii.
With a wordless battle cry, Padin charged, shield and spear gripped firmly. He slashed the spear at the shadow, expecting to hit flesh. He immediately realized what a fool he was being. The spear slashed, visibly disappearing behind the shadow as if it had penetrated something firm, yet it waved through thin air. Unbalanced, Padin fell to the ground, and laughter echoed throughout the cave.
"Is that really all you've got?"
Angered, Padin rose to his feet and jabbed again with the spear. Once more it had no effect. He slashed, stabbed, swung and lunged, all to no avail. All the while Terahi's cackling filled his ears. At last, the De-Matoran collapsed, breathing heavily.
"A valiant effort, yet you have accomplished nothing. And so now it ends. I send you to the darkness from whence you came."
"No!" Padin shouted, speaking firmly despite his panting. "You are--wrong! It is not--shadow, but light--light that dominates--all. Light creates amid the shadow, protecting and defending against the darkness's evil. Even in death, the light does not release the good. It is not into shadow I now go--but light."
Terahi roared with laughter, but Padin just grinned up into the shadows.
"Well, prepare to find out!"
Padin's cackling joined Terahi's, as the shadow creature pulled back an arm. Sharp, wicked claws extended from the form of a hand. And with great speed, they descended upon Padin.
Padin just smiled. He understood what had to happen, but did not fear it. He just remembered his village, and Flii. This was his destiny.
A sudden pain exploded throughout his body, but it did not last. It faded, along with Terahi's chortles and Padin's own gasping breaths. And then a light appeared, brighter than any he had ever seen. Terahi let out a terrible scream, deafeningly loud but distant. In the light, the shadows faded and disappeared.
Padin stood up.
"Hello. I expected you'd come."
"Are you ready?"
"I think so--I am dead?"
"He is returning to the darkness from whence he came. No longer will he terrorize your former village."
Padin breathed a sigh of relief before the voice went on:
"You have done well, Padin."
"Thank you...I was right, then?"
"Yes. You were brave enough to make the sacrifice that all the Heroes Chosen in the past fled from. That is why you were Chosen, and that is how you defeated Terahi."
"Thank you, sir."
"Come now. It is time for us to go. But you need not fear."
"Yes, I understand...you are taking me to the light."
Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith
Edited by Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith, Mar 15 2012 - 02:30 PM.