IC: Before the Storm, Before the Island....
They passed the bottle back and forth, one to the other, into the small hours of the morning, waiting for the call to come. They had both known it was coming — it wasn’t unusual, a call to escort a Turaga from across the waters — and they had known that it would come for both of them. It would be their initiation. It would prove them as worthy of the name Simul.
“Bet we don’t even run into a pirate ship,” Plagia said, knocking back the bottle of whiskey as easy as if it had been water before passing it back to her brother. It had been Rynekk who had brought the bottle up to the roof of the family home, filched from their father’s liquor cabinet — for all his talk of piety, their father was man accustomed to a stiff drink at the end of the day. Sometimes more than one.
“Hey, no complaints here,” Rynekk said, leaning back on the rough tile roof, fingers laced behind his head, watching the sky. It was turning purple in the east, the first rays of sunlight catching on the clouds, refracting into pink and yellow through them. But even in all that light, the stars….
“I’m just saying,” Plag said, leaning forward, chin tucked behind her knee, “might as well be a bit of a challenge, you know? Just so….”
“So everyone knows,” he said. “For sure.”
His sister didn’t say anything for a moment — a long moment — and Ry turned to see her looking away from him, away from the rising sun, and off to where the sky was dark.
“Nothing wrong with wanting a little praise, kid,” he said.
“Kid? You’re still not older than me.”
“S’what Mom told me.”
“Ask her yourself,” Ry said, grinning a pearly grin, propping himself back up onto one elbow as he raised the bottle to his mouth.
“Maybe I just will,” Plag said, snatching the bottle out of his hand before he could even get a sip off. “It’d be nice to see you eat ###### for a change.”
“Big talk for someone who still hasn’t chosen her Toa Tool.”
“Shut up,” Plag said, taking another swig of whiskey. “You took the spear. That was the one heirloom that might’ve been worth taking.”
“Just ask Mom to make you something,” Ry said. Fe as she was, their mother had the requisite gift for iron — but she was a woman to take anything she did one step beyond where most would have. Most mornings, one of Simul kids would find her out in the backyard, one ear to the hardscrabble dirt, listening for the veins of iron that ran through the land. Most days, she would spend her time extracting ores, forging new weapons, fine-tuning the old ones. It was always best not to bother her during her work, Dad would tell them, sitting in his study. He’d sit there often, drink in one hand, sword in the other. He would stare out the window, to where the shore met the sea. For hours on end.
It was always best not to bother him, too.
“Nothing really feels right,” Plag said. “Swords and axes and spears. They all feel like extra weight.”
“So what?” Ry said. “You’re just gonna punch whatever comes your way?”
“Maybe I will.”
He chuckled. The sun was clearing the horizon. The call was bound to come soon enough. Who else was it going to go to? The Simuls were the only Toa in town — had been the only Toa in town for generation upon generation. Who else were people to go to for protection? Matoran? The words rumbled in Ry’s head, in the gravelly baritone of his father. They were Toa, they were Simuls. That’s what they always said. They were the strongest there were.
He closed his eyes against the sun, and imagined his mother — when he imagined her, it was usually with a sword laid across her lap, sliding a whetstone down its length. Evil will not submit to weakness, she would say. It won’t be felled by a blunt blade or a brittle axe.
Ry could feel the sun hit his body.
“I think I see someone coming,” Plag said.
“I think this is the call,” she said.
Ry kept his eyes closed.
“You’re probably right,” she said. “Probably best that nothing comes our way on this. We escort the Turaga, we come back. No muss, no fuss. No fights or nothing.”
Ry let one eye flutter open.
“Aw, c’mon,” Ry needled. But, when Plag didn’t respond, he added, “You gonna finish that bottle?”
“‘Course I am.”
“Just wondering,” he said.
For a long moment, then, neither one of them said anything. There was nothing but the sound of the trees swaying in the early morning breeze, the soft cries of the mourning doves, low and melancholic, the crunch of footsteps on gravel coming closer, closer, closer.
“What do you think they’re gonna do?” Plag said.
“What are who gonna do?”
“Mom and Dad,” she said. “Once we’re heroes — really heroes. The new defenders of the town. What do they do?”
“They’ll probably work with us for a while,” Ry said, shrugging. “Y’know, just in case we need help or something, and then….”
The sound of footsteps got louder, closer — so close that Rynekk could hear the laboured breath of the messenger.
“There are some teams that have six members,” he said. “Four of us — that wouldn’t be so weird.”
“I know,” Plag said. “Just that … I dunno. Have you ever seen Mom and Dad do anything that wasn’t, like … work?”
“######,” Ry said. “‘Course I have.”
But the more he thought about it, the less he could think up. With his eyes closed, he imagined his mother, sweating over the a half-sharpened sword in the heart of her forge. He imagined his father in his darkened study, staring out at nothing with a drink in his hand. Dad had been drinking more than usual, lately. Mom had been spending more time in her forge, too.
“I just…,” Plag said. “What does a Toa do when they’re not needed anymore?”
“They become a Turaga.”
“But what do they do when they’re a Turaga?”
“They lead towns, villages — they offer, I dunno, advice or some ######!”
“Can you really imagine Mom and Dad offering advice?”
“I don’t know, Plag,” he said, eyes open, pushing himself up to his feet. “What’s with all the questions? I’m pretty sure that Mom and Dad know what they’re ###### doing, don’t you?!”
The morning breeze whistled through the branches of the trees. Rynekk watched his sister look at him, and then look away. Her eyes, sharp green, were wide, and then narrowed as she leaned back and finished the last of the whiskey.
“I guess so,” she said, wiping her mouth with the back of her forearm. “Yeah, I ###### guess so.”
“Plag, I didn’t mean—”
“The messenger’s almost here,” Plagia said, getting to her feet and walking to the edge of the roof. “Grab your spear. I’ll just grab a couple of swords from the forge. Better than just punching things, right?”
And she dropped down from the roof. Rynekk didn’t need to see her to know that she had landed. But he stayed where he was for another moment, watching the sun creep higher and higher into the sky, throwing light across the town, across all the houses, across himself. He looked away, shielding his eyes from the light.
This would be a good trip, he thought. We’ll prove that we’re worthy. Of being heroes. Of being Simuls. It’ll be an easy trip — so easy that we’ll forget all about it. Another half-remembered anecdote to bring up over another half-finished bottle of whiskey. This would be good, he thought.
Surely, this would be the beginning of something good.