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GUARDIAN ---- The Temple of Time stood on an island a day’s boat ride south of Okoto. The island had no name, for the only thing of interest on it was the Temple. Only a select few knew how to find it. Some speculated you couldn’t find it unless you were told where it was, but no evidence had been found to prove this theory. On the other hand, nothing had ever been found to disprove it either. The Temple itself was an odd structure. Two walls stood parallel to each other, towering over the rest of the island. A massive pendulum was swinging back and forth between the walls, an impressive bronze construct the likes of which Okoto had never seen. Impressive though this was, the important part of the Temple was nestled between the two walls underneath the pendulum, out of site from prying eyes. Tonight the Temple had guests. Six cloaked figures, each about four and a half feet tall, approached the Temple slowly and reverently. Their movements were calm and measured, but there was an urgency to their every step. The six reached the base of the structure, peering between the walls down into the Temple. A stone staircase led down to a floor that ran between the walls to another staircase on the opposite side. In the middle of the floor rose a circular dais, decorated with rings of ancient runes that ran along its side. Two more staircases rose up its the short sides, providing a way to ascend to the top. The six entered the Temple in silence. They approached the dais with a measured pace, stopping at the top of the stairs. In the middle of the circular platform stood a figure clad in gold and silver armor. He was no taller than any of the six visitors, and yet he radiated power and strength that dwarfed them. In his right had he held a sword, in his left, a scepter. The six swear he had not been there a moment before. For a moment no one spoke. The visitors stared at this mighty figure from under their hoods. He stared back at them, unmoving. Then the first of the six visitors stepped forward. He pushed back his hood to reveal a mask that burned with the fires from which it had been forged. His eyes blazed with a fiery determination as he began to speak. “Who are you?” he asked the golden armored being, his voice echoing between the walls. “I am Umbra, Protector of Time and Guardian of its Temple.” Umbra’s voice boomed like a thunderclap, and one of the visitors raised his hands to cover his ears. “The legends made no mention of any Guardian,” the fiery one said. “As I wished it to be,” Umbra said. The fiery one turned to his companions and conversed with them in hushed tones for several moments for addressing Umbra again. “We are the Protectors of Okoto, and we have come to-” Umbra cut him off. “I know who you are and why you have come. Your errand is an ignorant one. You have not considered the consequences your actions will bring.” A second of the visitors pulled back his hood and stepped forward. His mask was as solid and his resolve as steadfast as the bedrock upon which the Temple was constructed. “And what do you know of such things?” he asked. “If you guard the Temple then you have never been to Okoto! You know nothing of our plight!” “I see all that is past and that which might yet come,” Umbra boomed. “There are few possibilities that do not end in death.” The fiery visitor raised a hand to silence his companion. “We will do what we must, Guardian.” Umbra bowed his head in concession. “I cannot stop you,” he said. “Mine is not to interfere with what is to come. But one day, when you see what destruction has been wrought upon your land, you will remember this day and that I warned you that day would come.” Then he was gone, vanished into thin air. His words hung ominously in the air as the six Protectors removed their hoods and took their places along the edges of the dais. In unison they lifted their arms and released a stream of elemental energy. The six energies filled the crystal in the center of their circle, then blasted up into the sky as one beam. From atop the Temple’s walls Umbra watched in silence. The deed was done. Toa had been summoned from the beyond, and they would be the heralds of what would follow, be it victory or desolation. They would decide Okoto’s fate. As the night fell away to dawn, Umbra prayed history would not repeat itself.
Homeland --- The sulfurous fumes of the volcano smell of rotten eggs and melting solder, a thoroughly disgusting aroma the likes of which can be found nowhere else. The heat that radiated from the flows of lava that streamed away is equally unbearable. What little ground exists in this unforgiving wasteland is rough and hard on the feet, and few can traverse it without incident. It is here that the Fire Tribe call home. Their bodies are accustomed to the heat and the stench, and their feet are sure. Every day they wake and breath in the ash with their air, bathe in water on the edge of evaporation and blink the dust from their eyes. In this hellish place they live their lives, content with their lot in life. After all, when one has a home he guards it desperately. Narmoto knows this. The volcano is his home as well, though he spends little of his day there. His work requires him to be everywhere, a feat said to be accomplishable only by the gods. And Narmoto is most certainly not a god. Such a thought was laughable. Even so, as the Protector of Fire it is his duty to ensure the safety of the entire region. And thus he has no choice but to float between the villages that dotted the blackened landscape, attempting to do what could simply not be done. But for now he would seek respite from his tiring task. He had returned to Kenna, the village of his birth. The village the first Protector of Fire had settled with a few brave companions. The village his ancestors had called home ever since. He is not glorified for his position here. The people of Kenna were used to the Protectors, having lived beside them for uncountable generations. When they look at him they see only the loving father and husband who has the misfortune of being tasked with a duty that keeps him from his family. They treat him as any other. A neighbor. A friend. Narmoto appreciates such gestures more than he can say. It is always a relief to be treated as an equal rather than a god, even if it is only for a few days. A head appears in the window of the house above him. “Narmoto! Back so soon? I would’ve expected the lava wolves to have put up more of a fight!” Narmoto looks up at the face of his friend. “Nay Aodhan, there was no fighting. The wolves are peaceable creatures, if given proper care and the right amount of sedative!” Aodhan laughs. “It is good to see you, old friend. Mirilleen will be happy to know you have returned safely.” “Give my regards to her for me, will you? It’s been far too long since I have been graced by her presence.” “You should come for dinner tomorrow evening! Bring your whole family, we still have room.” “I shall see if they are interested. Even if they decline, I shall certainly stop by. Tomorrow evening, then.” “Tomorrow evening. Welcome home, friend.” Friend. That is what Narmoto is here. It was a wonderful feeling. He is only a minute or two from his home now. His wife should be nearly finished putting supper on the table by now. He can almost smell it from here. Her signature vegetable stew. His favorite. She always made it his first night home. As soon as he reaches his door he feels two short arms wrap around his leg. His young son Hotaru, barely three years old, looks up at him with wide-eyed excitement. “Fada! Fada! Yous home!” “Why, I am, aren’t I? I hadn’t noticed!” Narmoto smiles warmly down at his son. He drops his traveling pack just inside the entrance then scoops the giggling toddler up in his arms so they are mask to mask. “Look how big you’ve grown! You’ll be as tall as me soon!” The little boy is nearly in tears now, he is laughing so hard. “Fada, don’ be silwy. Yous so much bigga den me!” Narmoto chuckles. “Not for long, I would say. Where is your mother?” “Muda’s in deh kishen, Fada! She’s makin’ suppa!” “Of course she is. Now, up you go!” As he speaks, Narmoto swings his son onto his back. The boy squeals and wraps his arms and legs around his father’s neck and torso, respectively. Narmoto carries him through the house, rounding the half-set table and entering the kitchen. The aroma of fresh fruits overwhelms him, and Narmoto stops just beyond the threshold of the kitchen. He closes his eyes and takes in a deep, long breath. When he opens his eyes he sees his wife for the first time in months. She’s standing with her back to him, putting the finishing touches on the meal. Her movements are deft and purposeful, never too much nor too little. Her light tunic does little to compliment her curves, but the feminine elegance is obvious. Her hair flows down her back like smooth silk. She’s just as beautiful as she was they day they met. “Muda, Fada’s here!” Hotaru chirps happily. She stops mid-motion. Slowly, she places her blade on the counter beside her cutting board. She turns around. Narmoto sees her eyes light up at the sight of him. She smiles shyly, her cheeks dimpling like they had since they were children. Narmoto smiles back. It is good to see her face again after so long. “Hotaru, go feed that rock salamander of yours and then wash up for supper.” Her voice is music to his ears, soft and gentle, but strong as the three volcanoes of Okoto. “Otay.” The toddler jumps off his father’s back and scampers out of the kitchen. For a moment all is still and silent. Narmoto spreads his arms from his sides. “I really am here, Tana. I’m home.” For a moment she seems hesitant. Then she throws herself into his arms. He wraps her up in his embrace, stroking her hair as she sobs gently. He knows her well enough to know that they are tears of joy and not sadness. “You can’t stay away for so long,” she says at last. “Hotaru needs you.” “You’re doing fine, Tana,” he reassured her. “You’re the best mother he could possibly have.” “He needs his father, Narmoto.” Narmoto says nothing as they end their embrace. “You need to pay attention to him. Soon he’ll be old enough that he’ll start to seriously think about why you’re almost never home.” “You of all people should appreciate the sacrifices I must make to perform my duty.” “As Protector it is your duty to raise your son to be your successor. Surely those who created this system did not mean for you to ignore him!” “My father was always away from home. I learned to accept it and gained strength in independence.” “Agnimu was many things Narmoto, but a good father was not one of them. Learn from his mistakes. Be the better man.” Narmoto opens his mouth to speak. “Muda I weddy!” Narmoto turns to see Hotaru standing outside the doorway, holding his hands in the air and letting the water drip off. He beams up at his parents, waiting for their approval. Tana smiles back. “Silly little Hotaru, you forgot to dry your hands!” She grabs a towel and kneels in front of her son, wiping his little hands dry. He is lost in a fit of giggles before she is half finished. “Alrighty now, go to the table and wait for me to bring in the food, “ she orders. “Otay!” Hotaru obeys immediately as only a three year old can. “Narmoto, help me take the meal out to the table?” “Of course,” he answers, despite not needing too. They collect what has not already been taken out to the table. Narmoto half expects Tana to say something, but she remains silent as they carry the bowls of stew out to the table where Hotaru waits. The two adults take their places around the round stone table. Tana places Hotaru’s in front of him, then looks to Narmoto. “Shall we pray?” he asks. A formality, of course. Not to pray would be blasphemous. They lift their heads to the ceiling and rest the backs of their hands to the tabletop. Narmoto’s voice is the only thing that can be heard, even talkative little Hotaru remains silent. “Great Augalai of the Harvest, we thank you for this meal you have provided. Our household is blessed by your eternal grace. Join us as we celebrate you with this meal. May your glorious fields in the heavens never wither. Let the gods be appeased.” “Let the gods be appeased,” his wife and son echo after him. As soon as the prayer is complete, Hotaru snatches his spoon from the table and begins to frantically scoop the broth into his mouth with undisguised enthusiasm. Narmoto chuckles and begins his own meal, politely scooping just enough at a time and savoring each bite. It’s not often he gets the chance to enjoy his wife’s cooking. He glances across the table where Tana eats her own bowl with the same calm demeanor as he. She catches his eye and shoots him a look. He knows exactly what it means. Narmoto swallows his mouthful of stew and turns to his son. “Have you been behaving for your mother?” he asks idly. A pitiful attempt at conversation, but it is better than nothing. Hotaru, having just shoved another spoonful of broth into his mouth, nods vigorously. “He’s been a good boy,” Tana speaks in his stead. Hotaru continues to nod. “I trust you’re still friends with Borvo, Aodhan’s son?” Narmoto says before scooping up another mouthful. The toddler finally manages to swallow before answering. “Yes, Fada. Bovo’s fun! We friends.” “Good to hear. Speaking of Aodhan, he invited us over to his house for dinner tomorrow evening.” Tana looks up from her bowl at these words. Her frown speaks volumes. Narmoto suspects she thinks he started this conversation just to bring that up. Honestly, he simply had forgotten until he mentioned his friend’s name. “Oh?” As usual, her reply reveals nothing about her opinion. “Dinna wit Bovo?” Hotaru asks excitedly. “Pwease Muda?” Tana sighs as she looks at her son’s pleading face. “That sounds lovely. Tell him we will most certainly come next time you seem him.” The rest of supper is eaten in moderate silence. Occasionally questions are asked. Hotaru takes great interest in his father’s tales of the dangers of the region, and listens with rapt attention as he speaks. When supper is finished Tana clears the table and goes to clean the kitchen while Narmoto takes Hotaru to his room. Besides the bathroom, the young boy sleeps in the smallest room in the home. There’s barely enough room for his cot, a chest for clothes and armor, and a shelf for his few toys and and copy of the sacred book of the gods. Hotaru jumps onto his bed and pulls the sheet up to his chin. He smiles up at his father with wide eyes. “Fada, will you tuck me in? Pwease?” Narmoto smiled. “Of course.” He tucks the sheet in around his son, wrapping him up in the light coverage. The sheet was not terribly necessary given the heat, but the children tended to feel more secure with something covering them for whatever reason. No one questions it. Narmoto leans over the cot and plants a kiss on his son’s forehead. “Good night, Hotaru. I’ll see you tomorrow.” “An deh day afta dat?” his son asks. Narmoto pauses. “Yes, Hotaru. But I’m only here for a few days. Then I have to go back to work.” Hotaru thinks about this for a moment. “I don’ want you to go.” “I have to. It’s my duty. And one day, it’ll be yours.” “But Fada, I wan you to stay!” Narmoto takes a breath. “All right Hotaru. I’ll stay for now. But it’s time for sleep now, okay?” “Otay. Goo nigh Fada.” “Good night, Hotaru.” He exits the room as quietly as possible. “You lied to him.” Tana is standing just outside the doorway. Her arms are crossed in front of her chest, and her eyes piece Narmoto like daggers. “I said I would stay for now. That’s not a lie.” “But you made him think you wouldn't leave. You’ll break his little heart when you do.” “What was I supposed to tell him? That my duty is more important than he is? Than any of us?” “You were supposed to sound sorry about it! Tell him you want nothing more than to stay with him, but you can’t because you have to protect the region from danger! Gods, sometimes you are so stupid Narmoto.” Narmoto exhales slowly. “I must make sacrifices, Tana. The safety of the region must come first.” Tana stands there for a moment, staring intently at her husband. He waits uncertainly for her response, sure she will see the truth in his words. “Well if that’s how you feel, then get out of my home.” Narmoto feels as though she had slapped his across his face. “What?” “If you think protecting people you don’t even know from petty dangers is more important than raising your son, then you should do that. Don’t keep teasing him with these visits. Get out and let me raise him with the love he deserves.” He doesn’t know what to say. Tana is kicking him out. Sending him away. And for no reason other than he cares about doing what he has been tasked to do. Isn’t he supposed to set an example for his son? Shirking his duties would set a pretty poor one. He is perfectly justified in his decision. “Well?” Tana is still waiting for his answer. But what is he supposed to say? He hasn’t the slightest idea. “Tana, don’t do this. You of all people-” “No, stop. Don’t try and talk me out of it. Promise me you’ll stay and help me raise him or go. Now.” For a second neither moves. Then Narmoto turns and walks towards the exit. For a moment he expects Tana to break, to call for him to come back and stop this foolishness. But she did not. He pauses on the threshold, picking his traveling pack up from where he had left it when he arrived. He slings it onto his back and looks out over the barren terrain. The land that is his home. All of it. And it is his duty to protect it. He takes a step out the door. “Muda, where’s Fada goin?” He keeps walking, ignoring the growing ache in his chest. Part of him wants nothing more than to drop his pack and run back to his son. But he can not. He has a duty to his home, and the best he can do for his son is set an example of how a Protector must live. He pretends he doesn’t hear the young boy’s wailing as he vanishes into the fiery night.