***My life as a Matoran was never dull. Of the small island I hailed from, I could describe every nook and cranny, every nesting place of every Rahi that lived there. The conglomeration of villagers inhabiting this island was lead by three elected Matoran leaders, since we didn’t have a Turaga. They viewed my adventuring exploits as strange. After all, Ga-Matoran were supposed to be very peaceful, passive, wise creatures. But a few more adventurous spirits, normally of The Green or Lighting variety would join me from time to time.One such Matoran of Lightning earned the nickname Toa, a testament to her heroic deeds; saving Matoran from territorial Rahi, settling disputes, and helping out with daily activities, whenever she could. Our village used to say that we didn’t need real Toa; we had our own resident hero, who eventually adopted the title and name, “Toa.” Her thirst for adventure only rivaled mine, and we grew close over the course of our many escapades. Ironically, it was she who helped us find the Toa stone.One morning, Toa and I met at a familiar lookout point, and I found her already sitting down on a rock, admiring the view.“Never ceases to amaze me. You can see so much of the island from here,” Toa mused.“It looks even better with the rising sun,” I motioned towards the horizon. She gazed for a long time, then looked back at me.“Hey Naho, do you see that small cave?” she pointed. “It wasn’t there last night, or ever. The storm last night must’ve moved whatever blocked it.”It took me a while to see it; my eyes weren’t so sharp. However, I could tell she was excited, because it was difficult to keep up with what she said despite having grown used to the fast talking. She looked at me and apologized, grinning. It’s been a while since we discovered something new.We made our way through the jungle nimbly, almost running, and arrived at the cave. Or at least where we thought it was. Morning sun filtered through the leaves of the trees, highlighting the steep foothill where absent cave stood.“It’s not here!” Toa looked in disbelief. “I could’ve sworn the cave was – Maybe you could only see it from the cliff - Naho, double check the area.” Toa promptly scuttled up a tree.I scouted the area once more, and nothing. The cave should’ve been right here, so why wasn’t it? It couldn’t have been a trick of the light, could it? I scouted the area, to no avail. The hollow in the mountain, according to us, must be nowhere else. The combination of landmark features would lead to only here. As I scanned the location carefully, Toa leaped down from a rock face, disappointed.“I tried the tallest viewpoint, but still, nothing. The cave disappeared.”“We just have to look more carefully.” I pointed at the rock wall.Under close examination, the moss growing on the wall was looser in some areas, which struck us as odd, because moss doesn’t just decide to root in thin air. The soil at where the mountain met the earth was loose as well, revealing half a large footprint.“I think this is a door,” I concluded. “One with no seams, and a visitor...”I knocked on the stone several times, but the vibrations indicated it was solid. Perplexed, we ran our palms across the surface, until Toa’s hand brushed against a small symbol, which immediately shone with light. We both gasped as the wall dissolved into the mountain, unveiling a tunnel.Luminescent vines cast gentle shadows across the strange, yet familiar runes inscribed on the tunnel’s smooth interior. Toa ran from wall to wall, scrutinizing the eerie construction.“This place looks and feels new, but the writing – it’s like Matoran, but I don’t recognize any of the symbols. The footprints are gone.”The change of subject was abrupt, and it took me a few moments to recollect my thoughts. She was right. The stone floor concealed any possible evidence of the enigmatic visitor.The statement quickly drove home the fact that something else was in here with us. Cautiously, we made our way down the gradually declining path, occasionally pausing to look at the various depictions of a universe alien to us. As we turned another corner, I cried out. We both stood, shocked.“What…happened?” A corpse was strewn across the floor – our visitor, no doubt.“Looks like he put up a fight,” I referenced the deep gashes in the plating.The crimson-grey armour of the victim carried a wicked sword, serrated to kill, as well as a collection of throwing daggers. Carved on his chestplate in large, angular characters, was the Matoran word, “UNWORTHY.”Toa tentatively picked up a shortsword. “Who was this? Why was he ki-““I think we should turn back.”I raised a dagger off the floor. We were both scared, but Toa advanced further, curious, leaving me no choice but to follow her silent path. The tunnel suddenly widened into a small, but grand chamber with guardian statues lining the walls. Whirring machinery echoed in the hall - one of the statues strode forward with footsteps resounding, looming in front of us. It wielded a giant sword in one hand, and a strange launcher in the other. It appeared to be an exo-Toa, a powerful exo-suit that some Toa wore in stories told around campfires. We leveled our weapons, trembling. The robot stopped, and stared at us with its rounded headplate. It turned around and quickly resumed its place.Scared breathless, we slowly approached the faintly glowing stone at the end of the hall.“Protecting this is worth killing over?” I gingerly tapped the hieroglyph-covered artifact.“Who would even want to-”“Take it,” she suggested.After a moment of confusion, I understood, and wrapped my hand around the stone. I pulled, and it was dislodged from the stand. We stood still, expectantly. Nothing happened. Our treasure, it seemed, was intended only for those “worthy” enough. We could guess that the unfortunate being earlier wasn’t.Back at the village, the council leaders were a mixture of curiosity and wariness when we asked them to examine the stone. After our recounts of the journey, they deduced that it was indeed a Toa stone (much to Toa’s amusement). They locked it away in a protosteel vault inside the council chamber, crafted by the Fe-Matoran and Ta-Matoran leaders. Safe.
***The night split with a halted scream, and broke my light sleep. I grabbed the knife I had found in the cave and ran to the source of the cry. It was the temple on the edge of the village. The sanctum was ransacked, and a crumpled silhouette was sprawled across the floor – whoever did this was looking for something, and killed – I couldn’t bear to look. The Toa stone. It wanted the Toa stone. Who would possibly go after it? Who would have the resources and motive to find this out within a matter of weeks? The only people I could think of were Dark Hunters – countless times they’ve clashed with the Toa, no doubt they would try to prevent more from rising. I raced towards the council centre – maybe this madness could be stopped through the fulfilling of their quest. I didn’t know.The council chamber gaped with a broken wall. Dark violet armour flickered in the torchlight as my eyes peered around the shattered structure. Inside, a sleek, imposing figure - female, from the looks of it - searched for the artifact. A few council members lay motionless on the floor, and – Toa. Mata Nui, she was so still, I – I had a foolish plan.The Hunter managed to rip open the safe. She beheld the stone in her hand, a satisfied grin hinting across her face. My grip tensed around the dagger hilt. Just as she was placing it in a storage bag, I stabbed her fingers, releasing her grip on the stone. I grabbed it, spun and pointed the dagger at her. The Dark Hunter seemed amused, albeit slightly irritated.“What are you going to do now, Matoran? Oh my, you look so terrified!” She laughed.Suddenly I was on the floor, my arm holding the stone being crushed by her foot. Her knowing smile was laced with pity and sadistic pleasure.“Do you have an answer? None at all? Well, I think,” she extended a blade from her forearm, aimed at my chest. “You’re going to die, slowly, painfully, wishing you hadn’t done that.”Energy surged through me and I kicked, sending her flying off my chest. I didn’t have time to question my newfound strength. The hunter bounced off the other wall, torpedoing directly at me. Instinctively, I blocked. Water smashed through the side of the building, blasting both of us out to the adjacent beach. Immediately everything appeared smaller, felt – different. Awkwardly, I staggered to stand. My coordination was off. In this state, I feared I could not even move properly, let alone fight the Hunter. Anger narrowed her frost blue eyes as she leapt up and glared.“That was a Toa stone, wasn’t it?” she growled.“Shouldn’t you know what it looks like?”“That little detail was spared from my attention, it seems,” the words spat off her tongue.Her expression had become grim, though it swiftly relaxed. “But don’t worry, I’ve killed a few Toa before, all more experienced than you.”She flung several daggers at me, all frantically swept away with seawater. Something grabbed me from behind. Fierce pain pierced my back and I kicked us off the sand. We were submerged.The cool ocean water wove around my body, separating the two of us. Rejuvenated, I rose for air but was snapped back as the Dark Hunter seized my foot and used me as leverage to resurface. I summoned a torrent of water, launching both of us into the air, then threw together a fountain to support my weight as my lungs rejected some water. The hunter hit the water with a loud splash, and struggled towards shore against the current feeding the fountain.This had to end fast. Any longer, and the tide would turn in the Dark Hunter’s favour. As I descended, wave after wave of water swelled, gathering behind me, my muscles stiffening through the strain of concentration. The hunter could barely finish turning towards the sound before being hurled onto the steep cliff-face where the beach ended. I followed suit, and managed to drag her unconscious body to shore.The relief was short lived. A large shadow cast itself across the sand.“So is that where the stone went? Pity.”I raised my head, confronted by a mass of void-black plating. My energy was wasted. I couldn’t take another hunter. It suddenly occurred to me that I would fail, the people I had so shortly fought to protect could die because I took that stone. Because I had to act the hero; I had to do something.“Forgive my partner for her little outburst. She tends to take her missions a little too…personally.”Seeing my morbid expression, she chuckled, “No, I’m not going to kill you. I have no reason to. If we don’t have the stone, we don’t get paid. Simple. I won’t bring you to our boss either. I have no guarantee of a reward if I do. Take this as an act of mercy.”Her face darkened, “I warn you, though – if you pull something like this again against the Dark Hunters, not just you, but all your little friends are going to pay for it.” The black hunter dragged off her friend as I crumpled, and the world left me.I awoke in my room, the seaweed walls a familiar sight. It was comforting, more so than my constantly aching figure. I was lying on the floor. Why? My hand reached for the bed, and it looked different; bigger. My eyes darted to the rest of my body. No, of course it wasn’t a dream, but it was so surreal. Painfully, I rose, wondering why Toa wasn’t here, now, helping me up, giving me hope, like she does when she isn’t preoccupied… Toa! I jerked forward, exploded from the hut, and collapsed.I willed my body to pick itself up, but it was responding ever so slowly. My village stared, wide-eyed at the paradoxical sight – a helpless Toa, hah! Bone headedly, I asked, “Where’s Toa?” to which they were confused even more – a fallen Toa, asking about herself? “It’s me, Naho! Can’t you recogni- I mean, have you seen Toa, the Matoran of Lightning?”A Matoran of the Green stepped forward and pointed in the direction of the village centre. “I think she’s making preparations for the funeral.”My chest hollowed out even further as I first glimpsed the village square. The full gravity of the ceremony hit me – Matoran had died. I was too preoccupied with the Toa stone, I didn’t give a thought about the other Matoran; I should’ve left the hunters to take the stone, and helped any who were further wounded.I arrived, and found Toa placing the carvings of the Matorans’ names on their respective altars. Beautiful flowers sprouted from each altar, each one picked to represent their character. They all had one which showed bravery.One, two, three dead, I counted. I counted. The first was a builder, a shy Fe-Matoran who loved to design buildings in particular; he was always on building sites, laying out his plans for the structures.The second was a Le-Matoran, a friendly merchant on the coast who worked in the sea trade; he never failed to make you laugh, even in the hardest of times. The final one, a Matoran of Gravity who I only knew by name and nothing else.The Matoran could have been anyone; the Dark Hunters would have killed them anyway. That could’ve been Toa. A surge of emotions launched me forward and a few seconds later I realized I was hugging Toa tightly, thanking Mata Nui she was safe. She looked at me with a painful expression, a mutual feeling of loss flooding my mind.The ache evolved into uncontrollable fury as I realized that these innocent deaths were born of the cold, indifferent blades of the Dark Hunters. They must suffer for this. I will make sure of that. I will tear their-“Naho!” Toa interjected, seeing the rage build up inside. “You can’t do this. You can’t kill them. If you do, more will take that place, do you understand? You’ll become an instant target.”“But they killed-”“I know. You’re a Toa now, but that doesn’t mean you can take on anyone that gets in your way – that’s dumb, not brave.” She took a deep breath. “If anyone is to blame for their deaths, it’s me. I was the one who got us to the Toa stone, I am why the Dark Hunters came for it. They couldn’t get it themselves, and we brought it out for them.”The image of the dead hunter in the cave flashed across my vision. UNWORTHY. I stared at my armoured body. The body of a Toa.At that moment, I realized that she would have been a better Toa than I will ever be, because of her unflinching resolve and her bravery when confronted with overwhelming opposition.A crowd of Matoran had amassed in front of the village square. What will they do if they found out why the Dark Hunters really came?“It’s not like they won’t find out anyway,” Toa retorted, almost reading my mind. “It’s okay. I will answer for what I’ve done.”“No, they’ll exile you, or worse. I’ll take your place, and I’ll stay away so you won’t get hurt.”“They need a Toa to protect them after what’s happened.”“And it’s going to be you.”“Matoran, listen,” Toa addressed the crowd. “The reason the Dark Hunters attacked last night is because of me. They were after the Toa stone I found a few weeks ago.”Murmurs enveloped the crowd. Before I could interject, anger burst forth from a few,“The Dark Hunters wouldn’t have come if you didn’t take the Toa stone out!”“Those Matoran didn’t do anything wrong, and you brought this upon us!”“And now Naho’s a Toa? What kind of justice is this?”“Someone should kill the Dark Hunters who did this!”“Quiet!” The Ba-Matoran leader, often known as Giant, spoke, embodying his name. “Is this the time to argue? Is this the time to forget that we have lost? Even Toa and Naho understand the gravity of their actions, and will mourn for the dead as well. Do not deny them that. Only after the funeral will we decide how we will handle this situation.”The Matoran calmed down, dispersing, most preparing for the ceremony this evening. Toa and I returned to our arguing, but then realized it was futile – the Matoran would decide what we will face, and to go against that is to go against what being a Toa is about – I cannot become an enemy of those I am sworn to protect. We spent the rest of the day setting up the funeral, during which I found out that it was Toa who dragged me back into my room, made sure the council members were safe and helped retrieve all the deceased. They were killed just to prevent them from waking the whole village. Toa and the council members were lucky, since they were quickly knocked out and didn’t have time to confront the hunters.The funeral, conducted by Giant, was even more painful than the moment I realized that Matoran had been killed. Each word uttered by the Ba-Matoran reminded me of all the Matoran I couldn’t help, all the Dark Hunters that I could have prevented from coming had I just put my foot down and said we shouldn’t continue through the tunnel. Toa’s eyes locked with mine, sharing sadness and guilt as the procession moved forward excruciatingly slowly, until our minds and bodies went numb.The next day, we were held at trial for the deaths we had brought down on the village, and they decided I should leave, because I would likely become a magnet for Dark Hunters everywhere. Toa was held back; she was too valuable a member of the village to be sent away – her skills with just about everything made her so. As much as she wanted to come with me, she solemnly agreed, since it was her duty.
***Aurum light washed over the aged wooden dock, rooted in a glow not unlike the sunrise that marked the beginning of our adventure. Ocean lapped at the sides of the boat and wooden supports. I gazed up at the island, once my whole world, then my eyes found Toa, casting a small shadow in front of me.“This is it, huh?” she sighed.“I will come back, just not so soon. I need to get the Dark Hunters off my trail, and I promise, I will come back,” the words tumbled out of my mouth, feebly trying to grasp onto all familiarity.“I know, but I have a feeling it won’t be for a long time.”“Why wasn’t it you?” I asked, “Why didn’t you become the hero, instead of me? You’re more worthy-”“Don’t argue with what has happened. You can’t change it. The only thing you can do is accept your responsibility, and keep going.”Her eyes betrayed her voice; she couldn’t help but think how things would have been different had she transformed in my place. But she seemed to understand. She knew she could not change the reality in front of her, and accepted it.“I’m going to miss you,” I knelt down, and her arms quickly wrapped themselves around my neck. I hugged her back tightly, as if I could never let go.“I’m going to miss you too.” Releasing her grip, my best friend smiled wistfully and brought her mouth to my ear, softly.“Goodbye, Toa Naho.”
Edited by Iku, Nov 27 2012 - 05:16 AM.