“They did it to keep the memory alive. To remember.”
The Gate was broad, spanning the wide channel. Two massive columns of smooth, gray stone surmounted by the ever-climbing arch that rose up, up, and faded into the clouded sky above. The Last Gate, they called it, for nothing lay beyond. That was their destination. What was it the Turaga had said?
“You are broken,” he had said with sad eyes as he bound wounds and patched limbs. “Broken, and so you must go to the end...yes, the end and back. Only there may you be healed, repaired. And one day you will return to finish the work.”
The old Turaga had stood then, and he smiled. One last time. The boats had been ready; long, narrow craft for the journey. It was not a long journey, at least. There were twenty Matoran, five to a boat.
And now the four craft glided in under the shadow of The Gate, and twenty pairs of Matoran eyes strained forward to see what lay beyond: the land of the Tinker, the Fixer. He had many names, but in recent centuries he had been given a new one, and it was not so uplifting. Karzahni, they called him, and whispered. The eyes that looked across the still water ahead were anxious, worried, for it was said that few returned now to finish the work. The land of Karzahni...land of the broken.
Hours went by as the boats slid forward, propelled by the steady strokes of short oars, dipping in and out of the dark water. The rowers were weary by now. They all were. But soon they hoped to find rest and healing and repair for their brokenness, so that they might rejoin their brothers and sisters. They hoped, but not too strongly. Instead, they tried to occupy themselves with the rowing—those that could row, at least. Uil was one of them, and he was no less anxious. His back hurt, but not from the rowing. It was his brokenness. His failure.
Soon the channel narrowed, and the sound of water lapping against smooth, slanting walls echoed in the space. There was a landing to the right—a long platform of carved stone at the water’s edge. The boats drew up alongside it, and they secured their woven lines to metal rings anchored in the pier. It was all done in silence, hardly a noise. In unison the Matoran left the boats and formed up on the causeway. Uil was one of the last. He stood near the end of the line, bent over with his injury. The rod they had patched him with was misshapen, and he could not stand up straight. It was the same story with most of them.
Regardless, they knew what to do now. The path was clear. To the left, the water went on in its winding track, but to the right, the stone jetty slanted upward in a ramp, climbing along the stone wall. They began to follow it upward, step by step. Some of the Matoran were injured in the legs and feet and had to be supported, so the going was slow, but soon they reached the top. Uil looked back for a moment and saw the boats down below, floating serenely on the gray tide. He hoped that he would see them again. He hoped...but deep down he felt that he would not. He shook his head. Best not think about it.
One after the other they crested the ridge of stone that formed the channel-wall, leaving the sea behind, and Uil looked out across a dim land stretching to a clouded horizon. Dark mountains sloped upward to east and west and north, so that the land of Karzahni was like a giant bowl scooped out of the earth. A bowl, or a crater? Uil wondered. The ground was dry and dusty, and long fissures stretched down the slope before them, widening into sheer valleys, dark and perilous. The sky was a dull, colorless color. No stars.
The path that led down had once been paved and well-kept, but now it was decayed. The masonry was crumbling, and here and there along the sides of the track, Uil could see the ruins of watchtowers long abandoned. How would anyone know they were coming? There was nothing but to follow the road down, down into the land of the broken.
Aptly named, he thought. A broken land for broken people. His back hurt, and for a moment he considered going back. It would be easy—just turn and walk back up the road, back to the boats. Back home. He would see the light again, hold a tool in his hand again. His pace slowed for a moment, and he glanced back with longing.
That was when he saw them. Dark shapes along the road behind. They were squat creatures, sidling along on crab-legs, and the eyes...Those were no living eyes. Unblinking, unsleeping. No, they could not go back. Only forward.
He turned back to the road, choking down his fear. It was the only way, but what a cruel fate. He wished he had appreciated the sight of color—the blue of the sky and the sea...green trees. He might forget what color was in this lightless place.
Forget...he looked down at his feet and plodded on. He hoped he would remember. They all did.
: : :
“Why have you come, broken one?”
The cliff was black and flat and lonely, jutting up beyond the edge of the settlement, cutting off the sky. Uil slumped against its hard surface and rested his head on the stone, gritting his teeth against the familiar pain.
It had been a month. Or, at least, that was what he figured. There were no real days or nights in this place. No reliable cycle. Dimness gave way to dark, and there was no sense to it. Not anymore. The land was as broken as the beings that populated it. And soon, he would be just like them. There was no help here. All the promises were dust. He would never go back; never return to finish the work.
He shuddered at the memories that haunted him now.
Huddled outside the gates of the black fortress, they had waited for one of their number to return—the one who had gone to announce them to the ruler of this land. He did not return for a long time. The blasted plain beyond the wall was empty and silent, but here and there a figure could be glimpsed atop the parapets above. They seemed listless, and no one acknowledged their presence.
Eventually, the gate had opened again, grinding slowly on iron hinges, and a form stumbled out. It was the Matoran, but he looked worse than before, and he did not speak to them. There was no light in his eyes as he strode away across the plain. They had gaped at him for a while until he vanished in the twilight. Then they had tried to follow after, but none of them ever found him again.
Soon the darkness was growing deeper, and they began to feel true fear. Some of the Matoran went off on their own. Others sat down and wept. Uil had stayed with them for a while, but soon their weeping ceased, and they sat still as stone, and their eyes went dark.
He had fled then, fled from the statues of his companions. All around him on the horizon there had been dark figures, Matoran standing or sitting. He found a mine once, filled with broken, abandoned tools and the sad voice of the wind. He thought to climb the eastern hills then. Blind by night and weary by day, he tried to escape from the broken land. But it was no use. The monsters who haunted the hills hemmed him in, and he fled from them, back into the crater of Karzahni.
That was when he saw the fires burning. Down the slope, a little ways off. Fires. A camp. There was something alive after all. He crept toward it, too tired to be afraid, and found that there were Matoran here still. It was a small, bare settlement, but the sound of voices was like music to ears that had heard only dry wind on dry stone for so many days. They had welcomed him, and he found some rest.
But now he was rested, and his fears had returned. Despair...yes, true despair.
The sound of the old Matoran shuffling up the hill was easy to hear. He let the old one come. He was glad of the company.
“It is not good to be alone with your thoughts, Uil. Not here.”
“Why? My thoughts are all I have now. My memories...” he clenched his jaw. Memories...he could hardly remember his home now. It was all gray. Dead.
“Your memories are not the danger. It is your thoughts of the future that do you harm. You see no hope here. None of them do.” The old one swept a hand toward the settlement.
“That’s because there is no hope in a land like this. Karzahni was supposed to fix us, repair us. Instead...” He did not want to remember that again.
“Times change. Things go...awry,” the old Matoran sighed and scratched his head.
“Why does he exist then?” Uil retorted. Anger flared in him, “Was he made to punish us? Is that it?”
“No...no, he has lost his way. Forgotten it. The world is old and far from perfect, and many have gone astray. It is a pity, for he could have healed the broken ones.”
The broken ones. Like him. But there was no hope for that now...not anymore. The healer was a tyrant. He did not fix things—he bent them and broke them, twisted them to his will. This was the end, then.
“No,” the old Matoran put a hand on his shoulder. It was a rough hand, scarred and sooty, and two fingers were missing, “do not think that this is the end, young one. There is...another way.”
“What...what do you mean? They say that no one returns from this place.”
“None do, that is true,” the old Matoran’s eyes were distant, “At least, they do not return the way they came. Most stay and lose the light in their eyes. The light of life...” He shook his wizened head.
“But there is another way. A way that is whispered in the dark. A whisper of light. That light is power, young one. You must understand. It is not too late for you to seek it out.”
“Seek what out? Stop talking in riddles, ‘raga. Tell me!” Uil leaned forward. Hope had begun to spark again. Hope or desperation.
“It is a hard way, and by no means certain. But it is real. I am sure of it.”
“Where can I go? The walls of this realm are watched.”
“There is one place. In the north. A pass that is forgotten, even by the watchers-who-do-not-live.”
“Where does this pass lead?”
“Out. Out of the darkness, to a place where light is still remembered,” the Matoran mumbled, and his face was clouded, “It is a hard way, young one. Dry and deathly, but at the end there is water, and freedom. You may succeed where others failed.”
Failed. How many others? Perhaps it didn’t matter. He had nowhere to turn.
“Then lead on, and show me how I may go out of the darkness and into the light.”
: : :
“I have come to...remember.”
The slope was steep, and the pain in his back made him stoop and wheeze, but he would not slacken his pace. To the south, the hills emptied out into the blackened bowl of Karzahni, dim and horrible. And to the north, mountains raised their iron heads to the gray sky. It was not an uplifting sight, to be sure, but it was better than what he had left behind. Ahead and to the right, a pile of ruined stone marked the remains of a watchtower that used to man the heights. It was the marker that would lead him out. That was what the old Matoran said. The words rose in his mind again:
The broken tower and the dark pass beyond. Then the pillars, and the path downhill, and the end of the journey.
There was more than that, of course, much more. The old Matoran had told him everything he knew as they made their way through the foothills, skirting the edge of the black plain. Some of it was familiar to Uil. He had heard the tales and legends before in one form or another, but when the old Matoran told them they seemed to have new life. They fit together and made sense at last, and he felt that there was truth in them. Truth and hope.
He climbed on, and his mind wandered, remembering...
There were three, in the beginning: the First, who saw all worlds and all dimensions. The Second, who was Master of all things, great and small. And the Third, who was called a King. They wandered the world for many ages and did the bidding of the Great Beings before their departure. But soon the three came together, it is said, and established the hidden place, and made it their own. And the call went out to all who worked in darkness and to all who would hear: Come and live.
It was like a light shining out in a dark place, crossing the waters of the narrow sea, and many heard in those days.
Many, but not all...
Uil looked up at last and saw the tower looming to his right. It clung to the steep pass like some crumbling insect, half-collapsed. The wind was picking up, and he could hear it moaning through the cracks of the ruin. A corpse, long cold.
Carefully he picked his way over the tumbled rocks, slowed by his injury. The walls of the tower drew steadily closer, and finally he was standing beneath the cracked, wind-burnt stones of the foundation. He leaned against them for a moment and caught his breath. His mouth was dry, and the cold wind bit cruelly. The old Matoran had said this was only the first part of the journey. He looked around for the Sign. It was supposed to be here...carved upon the stones of the tower. He walked along the length of the remaining outer wall, climbing slowly uphill.
There. It flashed in the dimness—a carving on the rock. It almost seemed to glow. He felt hope thrill through him for a moment. It was as the old Matoran had said...maybe his journey would not be fruitless.
But then he moved past the stone and saw the narrow way that led on into the mountains and the Pass beyond. The Dark Pass, black as night. Wind howled in his face, almost as if the deep gash that rent the mountainside were screaming at him. Screaming...Go back. Go back. Forget. Forget.
No. Nothing for it now. He gritted his teeth, and left the mark emblazoned on the stone behind, and let the memories fill his mind again.
: : :
Many heeded the call and came. Many, but not all, for there were evil things lurking in the hills beyond the sea. They hated the light and the sound of the call, and plotted to silence it and snuff out the brightness forever. They ambushed those who came along the hidden roads and gathered their strength together. Soon, they crossed the waters and found their way into the Hidden Place, and they brought destruction with them. The battle was fierce, and for a time all seemed lost.
But in the end, they were not victorious. In the end, they were cast back into the sea, and the Three raised great walls around the Place, and it was called a City, Koro, a Power. Watchers were set upon the shores and the hills beyond, and the evil ones crept away into their holes. They are fewer now and more scattered than before, but forever they have nursed their hate, hacking at the foundations of those walls in their rage and futility, lurking in the jagged cracks of the earth, down in the dark.
The Pass was full of whispers. Skittering noises and half-seen shapes seemed to surround him as he stumbled onward. He had no light to drive them back, no light but the light that shone dimly from his own eyes. He did not know how long that would last...he was weak. So weak, and his injury pained him worse than ever. This place was cold as the grave. He could feel it seeping into his bones, into his heart. He longed for light again, light and color and the warmth of the daylight, just a glimpse!
But there was nothing. Nothing but the harsh, steep stone on either side and the blackness before and behind. Forward and back. He could not stop now. Sometimes it seemed like eyes were staring at him from the heights above. Dead, lightless eyes. Colorless eyes. But then he would shake his head and look again, and they were gone. Gone! Fear was a part of him now, a constant dread. It blotted out everything he knew and had known. He could hardly remember his life before now. It was only the surrounding cold and the lurkers in the shadows.
Indeed, he would have lain down right there; fallen to his knees and let them take him. He would have, but for the only memory that he had left: the words of the old Matoran. A place where light is still remembered...You may succeed where others failed. He clung to the words. They were his only comfort now. He stared straight ahead, daring not glance behind again, and went on, on, on through the darkness.
: : :
Many came and went, and their names are largely forgotten. But they kept the fire alive through the days and the nights, and they watched on the walls.
As varied as the Hand of Artakha they were, and as loyal. There was the Hybrid and the Unforgiven One and the Nine-hundred-and-three; the Island and mighty Devor and Meka, who are all lost to us now; the fierce empress and the Anger, the water-hound and the Ender, and the one whose name is simply I Am. Beside them were Raptor and swift Stormblade, Kain and the Masters of Ice and Rahi; the Seven and wise Kopaka, whose name is ancient, and a host of Ice-Toa with him, chroniclers and builders...Together they manned the walls of the Koro for long years.
And when their duties were done, others took their places: the Stern One and the Kaita, Nova and the Swarm and the Matrix, kind Shi’oi and the Lord of Bones, Tokk and Turahk , Ni-ki and Tuc and the Rider on the Wind. So many more—their names went on and on...
...And Ninjo the last, whose mark is upon the shore and the wall of the Dark Pass and the Tower beyond. He was the one who left the hidden realm to seek the wider world. He blazed the trail for others to follow. Even now it is said that he wanders the world, and someday perhaps he shall return...
The names whirled in his mind, and it was a wonder that he could remember them all. It was as if the old Matoran were speaking to him still, whispering in his ear, driving him onward through the dark and the fear.
And then light broke through the blackness, and the whispers went suddenly silent. The wind turned, and a warm, humid breeze brushed against his face. On his left, a symbol glowed silver, carved into the black stone of the ravine-wall. He had crossed the Dark Pass.
: : :
On either side the Pillars rose: a mirror image of the Gate beneath which he and his people had sailed so long ago. Sadness pierced him, to think of them now. He would never see them again. Never again. It was too late for them...But he had no more tears. Not now, when the journey was almost over.
He stumbled on the gravelly path that went on before him. It was steep in places, and much weather-worn. Erosion had carved great gaps in the causeway as it ran along the lips of cliffs and deep ravines. The cavern wall leaned outward above him, dark and jagged, with hanging stalactites that dripped and glittered. Higher and higher it rose until it was lost in the mist that filled the massive space, above and before and on all sides.
He could not see the end of the path, but light filtered through the fog ahead, far ahead, at the end of the journey, and the wind blew warmer now. It was tinged with the smell of salt. He did not shiver.
The vast cavern was rough and unshaped, and he remembered how the old one had described the carven halls of the City: chambers of art, with artists aplenty—too numerous to name, and some who cannot now be named. The Stern One walked those halls, and Machalis of old; the Toa, the Dragon and so many others. Houses of building stood beside them, where things were made both marvelous and terrible, and creations were judged in countless tournaments of skill. The Northerner and the Southron and others besides.
There were Libraries too. Chambers of writing where the scribes gathered and the daydreamers scrawled tales of war and mystery, love and history, past, present, future. Corridors where the great ones roamed; Elce and the Listener and the epics of Hurdi, and the far-off whispers of dragons.
Halls of debate rang with many voices, and tidings were brought from across the world, and so it was for many ages. Through the good and the bad, the Koro went on, guarded by its sentinels. The Three lingered for a time, but slowly they too departed, and the mantle passed to others: the empress and silent one and the Black Six, who guard all doors. All these watched upon the walls of the city, to safeguard the Power, and who can say if they remain?
“They are formidable guards, but they shall not harm you. You have made the journey, and you have paid their price,” the old Matoran finished his tale.
A long silence, and Uil felt the weight of all this knowledge, a burden and a comfort, now passed to him.
“Why did they do all of this?” he had asked on a whim, “What...what was the point?”
They had come to the feet of the northern mountains, he and the old Matoran, and they were about to part ways. The old one had chuckled at his question.
“They did it to keep the memory alive. To remember,” he said.
“Remember? What’s the use in that?”
“Oh, great use. There is power in memory, you know. It can keep a thing alive long after death. It can comfort the soul. That city is the Place of Memory, the place of those who remember.”
“Why, the way,” the old Matoran had said, smiling sadly.
“The way of the Bionicle.”
: : :
At last he came to an open space where water lapped against a shore of carved stone. Mist hovered above him and on all sides, shrouding the horizon, and there were no stars to guide him here.
He stood still for a moment, looking down at the stone beneath his feet. The last sign glimmered there, just where the water met the shore. But there was nothing else. Not a ripple disturbed the surface of the quiet sea. He grimaced as he shifted on his feet, his injury flaring up again. His eyes strained into the fog, and questions rose up in his mind, urgent questions, and doubts.
What now? Was there nothing here? Was it all just a story—a desperate dream? He had come to the end, and it was silent and still and colorless. His heart dropped, and he almost lost hope...
But there! There in the mist, hard against the shore—a shape. Dark, gaunt. It was a figure. And a boat.
He went along the shore on leaden feet, feeling the warm air against his Kanohi. Fear rang suddenly in his heart, but he fought it down. The words of the old Matoran echoed. You have paid their price.
The figure who stood upon the shore was twice his height and yet thin, almost skeletal. Blue eyes shone in the murk, and the figure bent over him, dreamlike. A voice like steel spoke:
“Why have you come, broken one?”
He gaped for a moment, speechless at the sight of the being that towered above him. A maskless face—a skull, surmounted by golden gears. And those eyes...they pierced him through.
“I...” he stammered at first, but finally the words came. “I have come out of the darkness and into the light. I have come to...remember.”
The cold blue eyes stared him down. There was no mirth in those eyes. Only sternness, judgment. They looked into his heart and saw the truth. At last the being stirred, raising a skeletal hand. He did not flinch as the fingers touched him upon the forehead. They were not cold as he had expected. The touch burned as with fire, but it was a good fire. It filled him, driving out the cold and the dark, and suddenly he cried out. Pain coursed through him from his neck to his feet. He felt like he was being twisted, stretched, wrenched. It was too much. Too much!
But then it was over, and the sentinel withdrew his hand. Uil’s heart was pounding as he stood up, shying away.
That was when he realized that the pain was gone. His back...it was repaired. Good as new. He was broken no longer.
“Th-thank you,” he said, his eyes wide.
“And now the end of your journey,” the being said and beckoned him as it moved toward the water, stepping heavily into the boat.
He followed, dazed and wondering. The water rippled and splashed as he clambered up the side of the craft and sat.
“Wh-where is the end?” he asked dumbly, “What is it?”
The figure turned to fix him with its gaze again.
“It is the place where the memory is kept alive,” it said. “That memory is a great Power. I am its Heart, and it cannot be broken.”
The skull leaned forward once more, but now its eyes were red. Red like fire. Warm and alive. A name rose in his mind. Yes, he remembered it. Hapori...the heart. The flaming heart...Hapori Tohu.
The figure took up a long pole and thrust against the shore. The boat rocked as it moved out onto the narrow sea.
Suddenly there was a stirring of wind, and the mist began to waver and break. Light poured through the gaps, and slowly the world went from dimness into day, from gray to bright, shining blue.
Blue skies, and blue waters, and far away, just a glimmer on that long, blue horizon...
Edited by Tolkien, Aug 19 2012 - 03:45 PM.