The Toa of Water and his kid sister spoke in hushed tones as they trudged through the thick undergrowth of the jungle floor. It was hot and sticky out, probably one of the hotter summers Mata Nui had had in a long while. Kazon had to hand it to his sister, though; being as young as she was and not complaining the whole journey was, at least in his eyes, no mean feat.
Even still, Tor would forget that they were supposed to be quiet as possible and Kazon had to gently shush her when she started absentmindedly raising her voice back to normal levels.
“Sorry, sorry,” she blustered almost inaudibly. They paused for a moment while Kazon cut a thick vine from their path and Tor shifted the quiver on her back.
“It’s okay, sis,” came the hushed, even-toned reply. “We’re almost there.”
He could tell she was nervous. This was the furthest from home Tor had gone, even if it was only just a stone’s throw from the Koro proper. Le-Wahi was a big place, but she’d grow into it one day. She’d certainly grow into the quiver she was hauling, which was almost exactly half her height. Kazon smirked at the mental image of Tor all grown up, heading off on her own and travelling the island.
“What’re you smiling about?” Tor inquired. ######. He was facing away from her, too. How could she tell?
He let out a chortle. “Just imagining you being all big and strong like your older brother one day.”
“I’m already big and strong!” she pouted, before being shushed again and turning beet-red in embarrassment.
“Always room to improve. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.”
Kazon cleared a couple more leafy branches in front of the two siblings, and then spotted the bright orange flag he’d left in this tiny clearing nearly a week ago.
“Here we are, Tor. Set the quiver down over there,” he instructed, pointing to the fallen log adjacent to the flag. Torana hesitated for a few moments before doing so. He remembered being as anxious as she was when their father brought him out into the jungle for the same purpose.
The young Vo-Toa leant herself against a trunk, arms crossed, head down and feet fidgeting and poking at the dead brush littering the clearing. She glanced up at her brother, setting the Yari down and unslinging the bow from his shoulder. He gave the bowstring a couple firm pulls before looking to his sister. She immediately glanced back down at her feet, kicking at a fallen branch.
“Do we have to?”
He blinked at her before averting his gaze and letting out a breath. Maybe we don’t. Maybe next month. Maybe she’s too young. Maybe-
“Yeah, Tor. It’s important. I’m not gonna be around forever, y’know?”
She mumbled something under her breath. Karz, she reminded him of himself at her age.
“It’s like ripping off a bandage, sis. Take it too slow and you’re just gonna draw out these bad feelings for longer. Best to get over with quickly. Trust me. I turned out okay, right?”
Her fidgeting slowed down, but she wasn’t budging yet. “Do we…” she started repeating her question, more quietly this time, but trailed off. She let her arms drop to her sides as she shut her eyes and let out a ragged breath.
“Okay…” she whispered. Kaz moved over to where she was, draping an arm around his sister’s shoulders and pulling her close.
“It’s okay, Tor. You’re gonna be alright. I’ll carry you home afterwards if you want. Okay?”
She nodded slowly, still looking at the ground. He knelt down to get to eye level.
“Fun stuff first, okay? We won’t hunt ‘til later. Archery is fun, Tor, you’ll like it. Promise.”
She finally looked at him and nodded. He gave her a smile. She was gonna be okay.
. . .
“Here.” He handed her another arrow before kneeling down to place his hands over hers. “Hold it a little higher up here.. There you go. Feels a little more natural, right?”
“Mhm. And when you draw…” he guided her hand to nock the arrow to the bowstring. “...tuck your hand a liiiiittle closer to your chin. No no, too close, you’re gonna thwap yourself with the string. There.”
“Do I always put the arrow on the left first?”
“Huh, well… dad taught me to put the arrow on the left side and then nock it. Most people do it that way. But you can put it on the right side, too. It’s easier to draw and nock that way, but it’s a bit harder to get used to and sometimes it won’t work with a specific bow. Which way do you prefer?”
“I like putting it on the right.”
“Well, then, right-side it is. Go on.”
She switched the arrow around, drew back, took a moment to aim…
“Remember to loose on the exhale-”
“Hey! You hit it!"
Torana stood motionless for a moment before her mind registered that her arrow hadn’t tumbled a few feet in front of her or sailed straight into the brush. It was sticking out of the tree Kazon had carved a haphazard target into. Well, it had just missed the edge of the target itself, but both the Avaliona siblings counted it as a minor victory regardless.
“Well, I didn’t hit-” she started.
“Hey, hey. Stop that. You’ve only just started. You’re doing great.” He patted her on the head. “I’m proud of you.”
That made her smile a bit. Which in turn made him smile.
“Alright, try it again. You’re gonna be a natural archer, sis.”
The two spent another hour loosing arrows at the tree, which slowly collected more and more projectiles within its bark. The occasional whoop of excitement rang out through the treetops and into the summer air.
. . .
“On the exhale,” he reminded her. She drew back, took aim…
...and then Kazon’s hand clamped down over her own before she could loose. Tor gasped in shock, jerking her head to look at her brother. He was looking back with a hard look and a finger over his lips, shushing her once again, but with a lot more vigour this time around. Tor was confused for only a moment before she clenched her jaw and pushed her lips together, slowly nodding in acceptance of her brother’s instruction. Satisfied, he withdrew his finger and pointed past her head, his eyes moving to follow the same vector.
Slowly, Torana turned her head to follow suit. There, right on the edge of the clearing, was a plump Pokawi, clucking softly to itself and pecking at the ground, looking for seeds dropped from higher up. The two siblings were motionless watching it.
After a pause, Torana turned back to her brother. She shook her head. The rest of her body was shaking, too, but not quite in the same way. Her brother responded by nodding. She shook her head even more violently.
“C’mon, Tor,” he pleaded in a voice so quiet it was barely audible over the sounds of the jungle itself. “Remember what I told you about the bandage? This is what we came out here for. You just gotta get it over with.”
She shook her head again, but Kazon gently held her chin with two fingers to get her to stop and look at him again. “Kaz, I don’t…”
“Just one shot,” he pleaded. “Just one arrow. I promise. One shot and then we can go home. That’s it. I promise, Tor.”
She looked back towards the bird, before returning her gaze to her elder brother. “Just one,” he repeated. She lowered her head and closed her eyes.
“Just one?” she mumbled.
“Just one. I promise. Okay?”
She paused again before nodding slowly. “Okay…”
He patted her on the shoulder. “Alright. Chin up. Draw your arrow. Just pretend it’s the tree.”
She couldn’t. But shakily, she drew back her arrow, and pointed it at the Pokawi.
“That’s it, Tor. You can do it. On the exhale.”
She didn’t exhale. She didn’t even look. She shut her eyes and loosed the arrow. Her eyes remained shut when she heard the awful scream of the wounded bird and she dropped the bow when she heard it still fluttering around moments later.
Kazon sprang up and snatched the Yari from where he’d set it down. With one quick motion, he swung the polearm and deftly severed the dying bird’s head. The fluttering stopped. The bird’s cries stopped.
But Torana’s sniffling started.
Kazon turned back to his sister. Her eyes were still shut and she was frozen in place, arms straight down at her sides, her fists balled. The sniffling only lasted a moment before the tears started to fall.
He dropped the Yari again and rushed over to his sister. She turned limp as he embraced her and the sobbing intensified.
“It’s okay Tor. Shhh. You did good. That’s all we’re gonna do today. Shhh. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s gonna be okay. Just let it out. You’re gonna be okay. We’re going home now. Shhh…”
. . .
He was true to his word.
She was still lightly sobbing, but they were heading home. Kazon had bagged the bird and collected her gear. When Tor had calmed a bit, he’d hefted her up onto his shoulders, and she held onto him tight as he trudged through the jungle, back to the Koro.
She kept sniffling even as she slumped down and closed her eyes, lulled by the rhythmic movements of Kazon’s trek back home. He’d promised her.
. . .
Tor drifted back from her nap. She was still slung over Red’s shoulder. She didn’t know when she’d passed out again and she wasn’t awake enough yet to know where they were going, just that she’d probably been lulled to sleep by Red’s slow, meandering gait.
And in the back corner of her mind, she remembered. He’d promised her.
She was gonna be okay.