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I. The cardinal rule of trickery is this: attempting two deceptions at once typically results in the failure of both. This old sentiment flutters across the back of my mind as I spot the Jaga, and my grip on the hammer loosens as those words from the captain finish their flight through my skull. This would not be so hard after all. The scorpion is crouched amongst the rocks at the foot of the mesa. Were I not looking for it, I never would have picked out its dull, sun-bleached carapace and beady little eyes from the sand and boulders surrounding it. But I am aware of its first deception, and so its second means nothing. And it knows I am coming. It is hard to contain some deep, blunt sense of rancor or perverse excitement, maybe some of both, as I trudge through the sand. But I heed the captain’s words again, different ones this time. This is to be a clean job. Minimally brutal. He has come to me and made these provisions because he had no other choice, because my “minimally brutal” exceeds the worst his others could muster. And their worst is not enough for this. The Jaga is remarkably still as I begin to pick my way through the stones. I suppose its stillness would be what it has mastered. It will do little else. Before long I am nearly upon it, and it must finally drop its self-pretense that maybe I actually do not see it. The creature springs to life, lunging at me with a pincer. It is poorly aimed and if I didn’t know better I might think the Jaga did not mean to hit me at all. Nevertheless I stumble back, finding a foothold on a rock wedged into the sand. I bring the hammer about as the thing swipes with its other pincer; the hammer connects with it and sends the scorpion tumbling to the side. By the time it finds its footing down where the desert levels out, I am already nearly on it again, taking a swing for the armor just behind its head. It scuttles backwards, my hammer digging into the sand. Then the stinger comes at me and I am barely able to jerk to the left, wrenching my weapon from the ground as Ido. The beast lashes furiously with the stinger, and it almost seems there are many Jaga bearing down on me. It is pushing me back towards the rocks, and inevitably the wall of the mesa. I allow it. It doesn’t mind giving me the high ground in this situation. The stinger can follow me up. But soon enough, I see an opportunity it does not. I brace myself against the boulder my feet are planted on, gripping the hammer so the flat top of the head faces out like a shield. As the Jaga stops, coiling for a strike, I leap from the rock. A satisfying crunch breaks out as I land, my hammer having pinned the tail and stinger to the flat slab of stone embedded in the sand that I’d waited for the Jaga to pass over. It squirms and writhes and chitters, and I know I can’t hold it for long. But both of us know all I have to do is lift my foot and bring it down on the hammer to clip its tail in half. How badly I want to. But the Jaga relents, and gives up on its first deception. There is a glow beneath me, brighter than the desert sun above me, and then there is Corvec Ma, Toa of Stone, lying on the ground in front of me. Before he can even so much as blink, my hammer meets his face and sends his Mahiki skipping away across several stones. * * * I sit now in Captain Davik’s office, periodically looking between the captain himself, who sits at his desk, and Corvec, who sits behind bars. The room is silent. Davik holds the Great Mahiki in his hands, eyeing it wearily, almost fondly. Above all he is a tired man, tired of trying to run Rar-Kor in the absence of true leadership, tired of the almost daily updates to the lists of missing Matoran from around the region, tired of having to specify the parameters of “minimal brutality”. He was not pleased to see me drag in the Toa’s unconscious body, tossing the dented Kanohi on his desk. Somehow the captain has forgotten. Somehow he cannot see that this was minimal. Corvec is crosslegged on the floor of the cell Davik had installed in the office to make interrogations easier. I see in his eyes the easy smile of a man who has it all figured out, but if pressed could not explain what “it all” was. The powerless copper Komau he wears for the time being is the only thing out of place. His bleached, sandy armor might as well make him another crumbling wall in this town. Or a Jaga after all. If he is on the verge of collapse like such a wall, his posture suggests a cool acceptance of it, which angers me. Why should he escape his own mess? His eyes meet mine and I pour all the hatred and malice I can into my stare, if I hadn’t already. His gaze does not falter. Mine does. The captain sets the Mahiki on his desk carefully, somberly, like it’s a tablet reporting an incoming Westing assault on Rar-Kor. He has finally chosen his words. Standing from his stool, he comes around the desk, standing between me and the cell. “Toa Corvec,” he offers with a modest bow. I nearly gag. But I do not disrespect the captain. This is a necessary evil. Corvec’s eyes now meet Davik’s, but he offers no other acknowledgement to the honorific address. The captain clears his throat. “I would have you know of my sorrow for your loss, -for our loss- for your comrades gave to Kor services we can never repay.” He stumbles in his mouth. “That is not to say you yourself are without a long list of great deeds,” he adds quickly. It’s been almost two years since Corvec did any deed, great or otherwise. “Secondly, I would like to apologize personally for the way my deputy-” “Just tell me what you want.” There is a great distance to his voice I did not expect, like he is here but his voice comes down on the wind from the mesa where I found him. The captain seems at once more tense and relaxed. “Alright,” he says, his old voice coming out more evenly now. “I’ll be upfront with you. We have a problem, the whole region does, really and it requires skills that only you possess.” “So what?” Davik’s jaw clenches behind his Huna and, in a rare moment of serendipity, he is thinking exactly what I am. ‘So what is that you are a Toa, and you swore an oath to protect this region until you’ve fulfilled your destiny, whatever that may be’. But these are not the words that leave his mouth. Instead, he sighs quietly and says, “Does the name ‘Gorloh’ mean anything to you?” We both know that yes, it does, and so are not surprised to see Corvec lean forward and then stand, the ease fading from his eyes. “What about him?” “We have reason to believe he is behind a recent string of murders and disappearances around Kor. I understand he is a delicate topic for you, which is why we were wary of simply approaching you to ask.” “Delicate topic for me. That why you sent her out to smash my head in?” “You attacked me first, you miserable rust-” “Halak, please!” The captain raises his hand to silence me, although he does not speak too harshly. He is surprised I lasted as long as I did without interjecting. “...minding my own business out in the wastes and she drags me in here…” “Toa Corvec, I understand your frustrations. I really do. We were perfectly willing to continue to leave you alone indefinitely-” I let the captain speak for me here, incorrect as he may be, “-but we heard from a Matoran in Jok-Kor who claims to be an old acquaintance of yours. He said the situation is becoming so dire that the only solution he could come up with was to have us try and ask you for help. That’s why we sought you out.” “What’s his name?” “Ratuk. He keeps me informed on happenings in Jok-Kor. Roads are dangerous these days; it;s not worth going anywhere on foot if it can be helped.” A second name from his past seems to make this more tangible to Corvec. His eyes grow distant, like his voice, and it seems to me for the first time in two years he’s giving something serious thought. “Alright. I’ll go to Jok-Kor and check things out. But not for you, and certainly not because she treated me so nicely. Because of… the guy,” he says with a nod, like he’s speaking to himself as much as he is to us. “And I have a few conditions.” I roll my eyes but manage to keep my mouth shut. Davik waits expectantly. “I want out of this cell before I leave for anywhere. I want my mask back. And I would like to track down my blades. I’ll need them.” “How do we know you won’t just run off?” I let out before I can stop myself. The captain glares but says nothing. Corvec meets my gaze again. “Because I want him dead more than you ever could.” * * * The copper Komau of victory is back in the drawers of the captain’s desk. The cell is empty, the Mahiki gone. I watch Corvec from the doorway of the enforcement office as he sits on the village’s border wall, facing the sunset. He is doing what we have watched him do for the last two years. Corvec litters the wind with the ghosts of ghosts, with faces and voices that exist only in memory, memory of a time when he was someone always, not someone sometimes and sometimes a thing. The Mahiki will glow all night as he lives in his own private world where he can pretend he isn’t a nearly-useless failure of a being. The captain and I exchange a terse smile as he passes by on his way out of the office. We have not broken any rules; we are operating with just one deception. Review Topic