You can trust me.
I’ll tell the tale as well as I know how. I was raised to be honest, and I’ll do what I can to remove myself from this story. It’s not my story, after all; it’d be dishonorable for me to color your view of him with my opinions.
Don’t ask me about myself. You won’t get any answers. I don’t think they’re important, and the less you know about me, the better. This isn’t my story, and I don’t want to make it mine. It’s his, and that’s how it should stay.
Like all of us, he was born. He was First Son from the instant he entered the world, and under the heavy judgments of his mother, he was raised and trained to play his piece. He was taught his position on the Archipelago, and was told that he must never stoop below it. He selected and studied his powers until he became adept with them. He grew taller and older, maybe wiser, with the passage of time.
The finest place to begin Kuno’s tale, though, is not his earliest beginning. The evening when the assassin was caught – and Kuno’s first scheme thus foiled – is a better one.
The young night was warm and pleasant, not at odds with Kuno’s slumped shoulders and slack brow. He was perched, softly motionless, atop his backless chair – an aristocratic snare designed to lay bare posture (or lack thereof) and subsequently enable assembled company to judge the sitter; this was a test Kuno never failed, at least when he was in his body – facing his tower suite’s unbroken crystal window. The window afforded a clear view of the Towers of Knowledge and the ocean, dull in the growing darkness; had his eyes been open, Kuno could have seen the orange line of dusk fade on the horizon. He looked to be asleep in his seat. I stood beside him, glancing around the room, as was my wont during times like this.
Kuno’s apartment on Sado was expansive and handsome; all ornate bamboo furniture, cleverly wrought lightstone lanterns, and little indoors fountains, it was the quintessence of status. The drapes and carpets were ruby red, emblematic of the Fursics, and the clan’s insignia was etched over and over again into the chiseled patterns of the wall. Such an apartment was due, by political courtesy, to the First Son of a powerful family whenever he was in the Imperial Palace, and Kuno resided in his haunt on Sado more often than most. He preferred to be at once closer to the action of the Rora’s court and farther from his mother, Toroshu Nera, who managed clan dealings on Kozu.
Ironically, his distant position on Sado made Kuno a better tool for Nera; she used him as her arm in the Imperial Palace, a duty that he at once resented and strove to fulfill with excellence. His adherence to the virtue of Power, his pride, and his outrage regarding events that took place before his birth compelled him too mightily to do anything but endeavor to excel. To resist Nera in more than just the clandestine stronghold of his heart was never an option for Kuno.
The assassination had been Nera’s idea and, loathe as Kuno had been do to anything his mother’s way, he had not seen a better alternative, so had been forced to take the path she’d suggested. But the attempt, for all its careful consideration, failed; the assassin’s target, an isolationist Hogo courtier who held the Rora’s ear, was not touched by so much as a gust of wind, let alone the intended crystal dagger. Too quickly, the assassin was found and captured by the Palace Guard. Kuno, a floating spirit, watched it happen, and to his great frustration could do nothing.
Kuno’s Kanohi Iden let him leave his body at will, an ability that he prized as highly as his Menti disciplines. He could watch and listen, insensible by others, to anything and anyone; as long as his presence, his “feel” on the mental plane, was not being searched for, he was undetectable when thus detached, especially among crowds. For obvious reasons, Kuno employed his Iden only when I was at hand to guard his body. He had deigned earlier in the evening to observe the assassin’s progress this way; when she was discovered, taken forcefully by the guards and escorted to a cell underground, his spirit flitted back to his physical half. As soon as he’d returned to himself, Kuno’s posture improved dramatically, and his shoulders clenched in aggravation.
But there was no time for fury, not now, and he knew it. Mastering himself, Kuno stood at once from the backless chair, and headed for the door with meaningful strides. I followed, grabbing something on my way. He was about to depart when I called to him from the threshold of the room, and held it up.
“Your cloak,” I said, shaking it a little.
He stopped at once, realizing my intention. A First Son was never seen in public without sporting some of his regalia; in his haste, Kuno had almost left his apartment naked of stature, and such a thing could not be done, especially considering his objective tonight. If he left home in his present state, he would draw suspicious glances, glances that might be recalled… Extra attention was the last thing Kuno wanted on this outing.
Kuno nodded curtly. I approached, threw the red mantle over him. As I fixed its clasps near his neck, the steely tension he held in his shoulders was like rock under my hands. I sometimes had to stand on my toes to get the right angle on the brooches; he was tall even for a male. But dressing him was something I’d done countless times, and my steady fingers knew the motions. In seconds, the cloak was secure, and he left with me at his heels.
Though much of the city stilled with the coming of darkness, the gardens did not. This was Kuno’s destination, and nobody stopped or questioned him on his way there. As Fursic First Son, it was within his rights to visit the gardens whenever he wanted. Very little was not within his rights. By night, the stunning floral vistas of the Gardens were nearly as enthralling as they were by day; near the edge, the ambient light from the rest of the Palace pervaded into the trees and bushes, but in at the center of the Gardens, the only light was from the moon and stars; dappled, it fell through the branches and glowed within the crystal walkway. It was beautiful, but Kuno had no time for beauty.
The assassin had been imprisoned in one of the Rora’s cells, which were dug out underground below the healing centers; the healing centers, in their turn, were below the bottom level of the Gardens, where Kuno now stood. It was as close as he’d be able to get to the assassin without arousing suspicion.
In the morning, the assassin would doubtless meet Rayuke’s steel; before then, though, Willhammers would question her. Although she had been hired by a maverick Taajar – and so did not know Kuno, the Taajar’s master – and although she had sworn upon the name of Zuto Nui to keep that employer’s identity secret, Kuno could risk nothing. He had to beat the other Willhammers to her. They may have already been inside. He had no time to waste; he gave me a look, sat down on the banister of the crystal walkway, and leaned forward, elbows on knees, eyes fixed on the crystal walkway. I sat beside him and prepared to pretend to speak to him, in case anyone passed us. Vigilance was my duty while he did his.
Kuno’s body became still as he extended himself on the mental plane, and probed about for the assassin’s mind. He located her feel quickly among the other prisoners, and found to his grim satisfaction that she was still alone, and more importantly, that she was within his reach. He sprang upon her.
The assassin probably heard, in her imagination, a ponderous dripping noise first. This would have intensified to the relaxed chuckle of pouring water, then the glad laughter of a fountain, then the powerful roar of a waterfall; spellbound and overpowered within the space of a moment – she was no Willhammer, and Kuno knew it – her mind was overtaken by gushing water that flooded the niches of her consciousness. The water level rose; Kuno pushed deeper and deeper, his psychic fingers reaching for her inner mind and the spark of life.
Meanwhile, I noticed movement on the other side of a grove of softly bioluminescent ferns. A Datsue, accompanied by two Dashi shadows, was strolling aimlessly along the moonlit path. Her head swung idly side-to-side, taking in the nighttime plants; on one such rotation, her gaze happened upon Kuno and me, reposing under mottled shade. Unfortunately, this Datsue was polite, and she deigned to approach Kuno, doubtless to exchange the same meaningless pleasantries that they would have given one another in court. But Kuno’s mind was elsewhere, and he would be unable to play with her; in his silence, he would condemn himself. I readied an unseen finger to give him a sharp poke that would return his focus to the physical plane. I would hold off as long as I could.
Through the assassin’s eyes, Kuno saw two Dasaka unlock the cell door and enter the room. He had to hurry. The assassin knew only the rumble of the sea, and was pacified by it; Kuno, vigorous and hurried on the seafloor, urged his currents onward. He broke the dam of the inner mind, surged in. He spared a second glance at the Rora’s Willhammers, who looked at the slack-faced assassin wearily. Their mouths moved, no doubt trying to question the assassin verbally before resorting to mental entry. He had seconds.
“Good evening, Kuno,” the Datsue said as she drew near along the path, smiling benignly even in the face of his closed-off pose. “I see we have had the same idea; how enchanting the Gardens are by night!” Choosing to ignore his continued fixation on the ground, she directed her attention to me. “Ah, dear, please remind me of your name.”
“Ikori, madam,” I replied. I couldn’t poke him when the Datsue was looking at me so closely, or else she’d see.
“Ikori,” she nodded. “Yes. Kuno, do tell me, how is your mother?”
Kuno, in a final exertion, drowned the assassin’s consciousness and immediately retreated, leaving no vestigial traces of his presence. The Rora’s Willhammers, when they tried to enter their prisoner’s mind, found it to be a void. One of them felt for the assassin’s pulse; there was no heartbeat. Kuno’s liability was dead.
At once, Kuno was back on the physical plane, and his body was alive again. He returned just in time to hear the word “mother” spoken questioningly in a voice that was not mine. He recovered seamlessly. As casually as he could, the Fursic First Son sat up and looked at the Datsue, taking stock of her and recognizing her without letting her know that he had only just done so.
“She is well, Datsue Tsura,” he answered politely.
“Energetic as ever, I’m sure.” Tsura grinned knowingly. “Nera and I trained at the yards together, you see, and I do enjoy keeping track of her… our journeys have been slightly different, of course, but there was a day when we shared everything with one another.”
“It is difficult to imagine my mother sharing anything with anyone,” Kuno said evenly. Tsura wouldn’t have been able to detect the tiniest malice in his tone.
“She is a Toroshu,” Tsura agreed, “And their sort are notoriously secretive, even if they’re not Fursics!” She seemed not to care that her jab had also prodded her conversation companion; Kuno brushed it off with grace.
“Tsura,” Kuno asked, a sudden recollection about Tsura making him genuinely interested in the conversation. “What was the island of Mata Nui like?”
“It was intriguing,” Tsura replied, delighting in her rapt audience. “Quite different, but eerily familiar at once… They speak in our language, they divide themselves into clans, they wear Kanohi, and they pay respect to a Great Spirit. But how dissimilar they are! The people of Mata Nui have powers we cannot comprehend; some of them can summon fire to their fists, others can move the earth to suit their wishes. Metal is in abundance, there… they use it for things as menial as toys!”
“Toys?” Kuno asked. This sort of tidbit about Mata Nui was baffling to him, as it was to us all.
“Yes!” Tsura exclaimed delightedly, her old eyes crinkling. “The very first creature that we happened upon was a Skakdi. He was sitting on the beach with a little toy, made of metal, which flipped up and down in his hand. It was so clever; I do regret now that Saru chopped it in two. Though, of course, Nihi would have had the Skakdi’s head meet a similar fate, if she’d had her way.”
“Nihi?” Kuno asked.
“She was one of the Dasaka chosen for the first expedition,” Tsura explained. “She was selected for her passion, you see; she wanted nothing more than to see the Piraka dead, after what they did to her sister… But this, in turn, prejudiced her against all Skakdi.”
Something in Kuno’s manner subtly shifted. “Are there many Skakdi on Mata Nui?” he inquired of the Datsue, sitting forward a little. Even such a subtle change, to the trained eye, proclaimed Kuno’s fiercely renewed interest.
“Yes, I believe so,” Tsura said. “Nihi was sure to ask about that when we visited one of the Mata Nuian Toroshu – or, Toroshu equivalents, they call them ‘Akiri’ – named Hahli. She was, if you’d believe it, a Dashi – or, Dashi equivalent, they call them ‘Matoran’ over there – and she told us that yes, many Skakdi had made Mata Nui their home, though they were not native to the island. When we mentioned the name of that Skakdi we’d encountered on the beach, Grokk, Hahli seemed to know him. She told us that he’d done hateful, hateful crimes… so maybe Nihi is right about the Skakdi race. Perhaps they are all as evil as the Piraka.”
“Perhaps,” Kuno echoed before standing. I stood too, and Kuno bowed to Tsura. “Datsue, it was a pleasure as always to encounter you; I look forward to our next conversation. Your wisdom and wit are without rival.”
“Don’t make me blush, Kuno,” Tsura interjected sweetly.
“The hour, though, is late, and I should excuse myself to sleep,” Kuno went on. “Zuto Nui watch over you, and good night.”
We parted ways with the Datsue and her Dashi shadows, and headed out along the same crystal path we’d taken into the Gardens. As Tsura was lost from view, Kuno turned his head back to me and spoke with hushed animation. There was no mention of the murdered assassin; that was beyond his concern now, for he had found a new scheme to achieve the invasion that his clan sought.
“Fetch me this Nihi.”