I wrote this as a sequel to my short story, In the Jungle. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend you start there rather than here, because otherwise this short story won't have the same meaning and may be a little confusing. That caveat delivered, I present without any further ado . . .
I am the Jungle
Through the nights when thou shalt lie
Prisoned from our Mother-sky,
Hearing us, thy loves, go by;
In the dawns when thou shalt wake
To the toil thou canst not break,
Heartsick for the Jungle's sake;
Wood and Water, Wind air Tree,
Wisdom, Strength, and Courtesy,
Jungle-Favour go with thee!
Sand. Everywhere I looked, sand. And I hate sand.
With every step it slid and shifted beneath my feet, thousands of independent particles displaced by the softest tread. I yearned for the firm, damp floor of the jungle, and for the trees that provided shade from the blinding, unforgiving sun.
I remembered with resentment the forces that had driven me from my halcyon home to this barren wasteland. The jungle had been my home; before the Bohrok attacked. I had fought them off to the best of my ability, but their numbers were overwhelming. I could not combat an army of their magnitude. So I did the only thing I could. I fled.
I hated every moment of flight and every moment spent away from my jungle and every moment spent once more inside the Matoran Universe, which had become in itself a figurative jungle. And I don't like figurative jungles. I like my jungles literal.
But then I escaped. I escaped into a desolate desert riven by a massive battle, dominated by two titans that towered any sky, standing at heights that transcended many times over those of any trees I had ever seen. Since the Bohrok had attacked, it had been flight from one scene of destruction to another.
But I could not ignore the battle raging around me. And so I had leant my bow to the aid of those whom I had once called compatriots, and to those mysterious inhabitants of this new world. But as soon as the fighting was over, as soon as the battle was won, I had left. I hate sand and I hate crowds. I hate anything that isn't a part of the jungle.
And so here I was now, leaving the scene of war far behind me as I trekked along the dunes. It was as I was reaching the peak of an eminent hill that something amazing happened. The sand beneath my feet turned to grass. Palms emerged from the seemingly infertile soil. Flowers sprouted forth from the ground, lending their colors to the picture being painted before my very eyes. Where the land had been desolate mere moments before, rivers sprang out of the hills and greenery abounded.
And then I mounted the hill. And I gasped.
Before me, as far as my eye could perceive, stretched trees. Trees as numerous as grass in a field, as sand in a desert; but breathing with far more life and individuality than any grass, standing firmer than any grain of sand. Creatures roosted or flew or brachiated or sprang about the treetops, like Rahi--but not. From one edge of the horizon to the other it lay, the greatest spectacle I had ever beheld, the most beautiful and diverse panorama of wildlife and verdure in the omneity.
But its feature attribute rose from its center like a crown atop a head. It aspired over the jungle to an altitude far greater than my perch, easily seven times the height and circumference of the tallest tree in the jungle. Boughs protruded from its trunk, each the size of a full-grown tree. Its branches diverged to become a forest canopy in and of themselves. It was a tree, but it was so much more than that; it was the Great Tree. It was the one and only Nui-Kao.
I beamed down upon this lush, sultry landscape. And I said, "I am home."
~ ~ ~
The view from the Nui-Kao was even more breathtaking than that from the hill. A single branch protruded above the Nui-Kao's canopy, like a lone tree rising from its leaves. From here I could see the horizon in every direction--and the trees spreading out as far as my eye could see and beyond. At intervals the ground rose in forested highlands or sank in great valleys. In some places green-topped mountains stood over the trees. Rivers and lakes interrupted the trees at some locations, while at others, the trees interrupted the rivers and lakes. It was a jungle like I had never seen before, familiar and simultaneously different.
But in spite of this rapturous, marvelous landscape, I had other thoughts on my mind. Thoughts of a short, blue figure who would sit by my side in this very spot back in the old jungle. And I wondered, and I asked myself, and I desired to know above all else: Where was Hahli?
I pushed her from my mind and descended the tree. I maneuvered through the branches with the agility of a Brakas, climbing down the trunk with a grip as firm as an Ash Bear's. Among the roots crawled creatures strange and unknown to me, yet endearing and amiable. The trees through which I travelled were unfamiliar, yet welcoming and intimate.
And through these trees, I ran. With no idea where I was or where I was headed, I ran. I ran, flitting amongst the tree trunks and underbrush and vines, crossing fallen logs and shrubs and streams in bounds. I was in my element. And I ran through it.
Gradually I realized that my feet knew where they were going. The trees were guiding them. They whispered to me, in voices harsh and strange, but voices that beckoned and directed me. They ushered me onward: turn here, go straight, cross the gully at the log bridge farther downstream. The Visorak's toxins flowed through my veins, obstructing my control over my element--but not my connection to it.
My travel through the jungle was long but tireless. I was in my element. My journey was interrupted only at long intervals, when I would pause to cool myself in a calm pool or to observe the fauna in an effort to identify which creatures were dangerous and which were not--and which plants were dangerous and which were not.
The trees urged and goaded. I followed their lead, now running, now weaving through their branches, now brachiating from vine to vine. My journey lasted for suncycles, but to me, it lasted mere minutes.
And at last it was over. From the treetops not even Nui-Kao was visible behind me. But ahead, a sheet of blue extended to the horizon. It was the border where two worlds met, clearly defined, clearly separate, contrasting but not contesting. It was the edge of the ocean, and the edge of the jungle--the edge of my new world.
And they were mutilating it. They were Ga-Matoran, working alongside taller, more organic blue creatures. They were chopping down trees with axes and saws, cutting and shaping the wood, building structures, boats, rafts, floating platforms. They were building a village--with the trees. With my trees.
The trees whispered. Their language may have been alien, but within myself I felt their message reverberating. The trees mandated: Stop them.
One of the blue creatures raised an ax above his head. He took a few practice swings--he swung--and crumpled. Screams erupted from the shore.
I landed on the earth beside him where he lay, eyes shut tight with the pain from his wounded leg. I had shot to injure, not to kill--and I never missed.
My bow was already drawn taut with another arrow. "Leave my trees alone!" I ordered.
The Agori's eyes widened. Gasps of surprise erupted from the crowd. Among them stood a taller being I recognized as a Toa, who stared at me in shock. A Ga-Matoran gasped, "Who is that?"
I narrowed my eyes. "I am the jungle."
"Kao- . . . Kaomata?"
I knew that voice. It had changed, but it was still possessive of the dulcet tenor I remembered, the tone that quickened the pace of my heartbeat. And it was only that distinct voice which had ever called me by that name.
"Hahli?" I scanned the crowd. Could it really be her? After all this time? But I could not discern her Kaukau.
"I can't believe it!"
I gaped. It was the Toa speaking. "H-Hahli? Is--is that you?"
"It's me, Kaomata."
I lowered my bow, grinning. "Hahli--little Hahli! It's been so long! How you've changed! That little Ga-Matoran--a Toa! I can't believe it! How have you been?"
"I was better five Muaka heartcycles ago."
My smile faltered. "Hahli----" I began.
"You haven't changed at all. What did you do to that Agori?" She pointed to the pitiful figure writhing in pain beside my feet.
I sighed. So this was how our reunion would have to be. "I have to protect my jungle, Hahli."
"This isn't your jungle!"
I raised my bow. "It is now."
"Don't do this, Kaomata."
"Same old Hahli, telling me to do what she knows I cannot."
"Do not make enemies of us!"
"You've done that yourselves."
"Do not make an enemy of me!"
I narrowed me eyes. "You did that long ago." My bow creaked as I pulled the string back. "Now leave--my jungle--alone."
"They're a few stupid trees, Kaomata! How much do they matter?"
"You have plenty of fingers. How much does one matter? Why don't I shoot one off right now?"
"We don't have to do this."
"If you turn around and leave my jungle alone, I won't stop you. I'll see you off with a grand farewell; I'll throw leaves over your heads and cheer good wishes."
"We only need a little wood. It will grow back."
"The first Matoran or Agony to go near my jungle with an ax will taste the fruits of my bow. And I will be aiming to kill this time."
"I am a Toa now," snarled Hahli. "I protect the Matoran--and here on Spherus Magna I protect the Agori as well. I live by the Toa Code. Something you would know nothing about. But if you continue to threaten my people, it is my duty to stop you."
"You can't stop the jungle. The jungle nearly ate you once. It is my duty to finish what it started!"
The bowstring quivered with a twang as I released, and the arrow flew through the air with a zing; but a wave of water swept round Hahli's feet, springing into the air to catch the arrow and wash it away.
The assembly of Matoran and Agori dispersed with screams, providing for us combatants a wide berth. I nocked five simultaneous arrows to my bow and unleashed them in a single volley. A wall of water rose up in front of Hahli, shielding her; but one arrow sliced through the wall and grazed her arm. She hissed in pain.
I launched a spinner at Hahli's feet. A tree sprouted out of the ground, upsetting her balance as it lifted her into the air. I launched another spray of arrows into the branches, which she deflected and dodged as she worked her way out of the tree's grasp. She landed on the sand of the beach with a roll, evading another arrow. I shot another, and another, and another, each only to be whipped out of the way by jets of water.
I slung my bow over my shoulder and drew my dagger. "The jungle prefers their battles up close and personal."
Hahli flexed her long claws. "I'm not the weak Matoran you once knew."
We sprang at each other. Hahli's claws raked through the air, a blow I diverted with my dagger. I swung my fist at her head but she caught my hand in hers. We stood side by side upon on the sand, locked in this crisscrossed fashion. Then I kneed her in the abdomen, and as she doubled up, I struck her back with my elbow. She fell flat, but before I could react she struck out with her legs, tripping me up. We both scrambled to our feet and were immediately back at it.
She clawed. I dodged. I thrust my dagger. She grabbed my wrist. She slashed her claws again and I elbowed her arm aside. She jabbed, I parried, and riposted; she ducked and headbutted me. Her strength stole my legs from under me and I fell. Hahli landed on top of me, pressing me down, claws upraised. With every muscle from my chest downward I heaved and threw her over my head into the sand. We regained our feet and began circling one another.
Hahli hurled a sphere of water. I sprang out of the way. "Is this really worth it?" she hissed.
"Is it?" I retorted. "Do you need the wood so desperately?"
"Does it matter so to the jungle?"
"Every Kavinika is a part of the pack. Every Gukko is a part of the flock." I launched a spinner, which Hahli tried to block with her claws. Immediately vines enmeshed them like a fly caught in a Fikou's web. "By your terms, every Matoran is a part of your village, each under your protection. Every tree is a part of the jungle--my jungle. The trees are under my protection. I guard them--I am one with them. Haven't you learned by now, Hahli?" I lunged. "I am the jungle!"
Hahli discharged a string of blasts at me. I swerved and wove through them as if they were the branches of a tree. Her claws entangled, it was all the Toa could do to evade my flashing dagger. But then I jabbed, and she raised her foot to catch my wrist. She leapt into the air and kicked. She caught me a blow in the face. I reeled. She knocked me off my feet with a blast of water. Prostrate, I gazed up into her glowering face.
"It's over, Kaomata," she panted.
The battle had worn us both out. But she had not won yet. "The jungle cannot be defeated!" I gathered all my strength for a final attack. I launched a spinner, which exploded on the ground beneath my back. A tree shot up from under us both, carrying us into the air as it grew, and grew, and grew. Now, among its thicket of branches, we were in my element.
Hahli clumsily crawled among the branches while I slithered through them, maneuvering toward her, for we had grown apart in the boughs. I was faster than she. But then she dealt me a hard splash of water in the chest, throwing me off my branch.
The fool! Did she believe she could knock me out of one of my own trees? I caught a branch with my legs and swung myself even closer to her. She fired bullets of water at me, but I dodged them easily as I moved among the branches.
Now I was beside her. I caught her free hand in mine, and then thrust with my dagger--but not at her. I cleft the thin shoots and tendrils and twigs beneath her, creating a gap in the verdure that had been supporting her. Her balance upset, she plunged through the hole, falling to the sand with a dull thud.
I landed nimbly beside her, bow drawn, arrow nocked, string taut. The jungle had won.
"Finish it!" the Toa of Water growled.
"The jungle is hungry, Hahli." I was seeing red. The Hordika Venom pounded within me, growling like a Muaka, urging me to consume her life. And so I did something I never regretted.
I aimed and released the bowstring. The arrow zinged straight into the sand beside her head.
I turned away from the eyes that, even now, glowed up at me with the same splendor and effervescence I remembered; the eyes that quickened my heart, even at the pace it was beating from the heat of the battle.
"I won't kill you, Hahli. Years ago, I saved you from the Kavinika. Even then, if I had left you, the jungle would have swallowed you. But I couldn't let that happen. I didn't let the jungle kill you then, and I won't let the jungle kill you now. But you leave my trees alone." I turned and ran up the beach toward the jungle.
She called out, "Kaomata--wait!"
But I didn't listen. I sprang into the trees, and stayed there, watching until Hahli had risen to her feet; watching until she ordered the Matoran and Agori to gather their equipment and what materials they had; watching as she tended to the wounded Agori; watching until her graceful figure, taking up the rear of the departing procession, disappeared from sight.
~ ~ ~
Suncycles passed. Mooncycles passed. Seasons passed, maybe. Each day was like another in the jungle; fighting to protect it, fighting to keep it alive, fighting to stay alive. Each day, like any other, I was haunted be the memory of Hahli's Kanohi, both her Kaukau of old and now her Toa mask. Each night, like any other, I climbed the Nui-Kao to gaze out over the jungle, to listen to its breathing slow as it lulled to sleep, to admire the stars, to dream. I felt the branch beside me--where she had used to sit.
And then another hand touched mine. The tree quivered. I looked up; there was Toa Hahli, simpering at me.
"Hahli!" I gasped. "How--where--I----"
She gazed out over the treetops. "It's even more beautiful here than it was on Mata Nui. It must all seem so strange to you."
"Not so strange. The jungle is the jungle. I am the jungle, wherever I am, wherever it is. Though the creatures of this jungle are different, though the trees are new, I am one with them. It is my home. I know it all like the back of my hand. I know all its secrets. Even the places I have not been are familiar to me."
"I never did understand you, Kaomata. Even now--you're a mystery to me."
"The jungle is a mystery, Hahli. Its secrets are inconceivable, its depths unfathomable. I do not comprehend it, myself. But I understand it."
"That--that doesn't make any sense."
"The jungle is not rational."
Hahli swung her legs idly. I remembered the way she used to do that when an awkward silence fell. "Kaomata----" she began.
"Don't," I replied. "The jungle does not hold grudges. Fallen trees grow back. Its dead are absorbed and given new life. The jungle always heals. Similarly, when you plunge into the water, you leave a hole in its surface--but then the current washes over it again and it is as if nothing had happened. Sea and jungle both are constant, unchanging--and so is friendship."
I smiled at Hahli. She smiled at me. She drew closer and I put my arm round her shoulders as she leaned upon mine. And we gazed out over the endless expanse that was the jungle.
I murmured, "The jungle needs water to grow. The trees and their inhabitants all drink it. Without it the jungle cannot survive. And Hahli . . . I am the jungle."
~ THE END ~
If you've read In the Jungle, you might have noticed how fervently I enjoyed writing it. It was such a great time I had and such an intriguing ending that I knew I wouldn't rest unless I continued it. And so I did. And I'm very glad I did.
And I hope you are, too! But even if you weren't, I'd like to hear your thoughts, and to know why. Comments of any caliber are highly appreciated!
From the desk of Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith
Edited by My Name is Nuile, Aug 01 2012 - 08:06 PM.