“Zurec, Ardor, I would have the two of you go down into the village below. Knock on the door of the keep within, and when a giant toa answers your call, tell him ‘the Akiri of Ko-Koro’ is in the monastery and would like to see him.”
“Lord Hand!” Zurec objected with alarm, “With all do respect, you are not the akiri.”
“True as that may be,” Ambages almost lamented, “if you tell him that ‘the Hand of the Akiri’ awaits him he will beg for answers and you will be forced to reveal that Matoro is dead. That will only make him less agreeable for the discussion I intend to have with him and that, as with any distracting element, cannot be allowed. Please, I beg of you, say what I’ve instructed and nothing more.”
The two guards looked at each other incredulously.
“They’re not buying it…”
Finally Ardor, being the senior guard, gave the affirmative nod, perhaps understanding that, despite all doubts harbored the first day they trekked together, he should trust Ambages’ instincts—after all, they hadn’t failed yet. Zurec relented. “Alright, Ambages… We’ll do it.”
“I told you.”
“So you did.”
“Thank you,” Ambages said and clasped his hands together in a show of gratitude. “I will see you again shortly.” With that, he turned and navigated his speeder across the emerald field’s gentle slope towards the monastery’s sanctified doors.
Zurec and Ardor strode with cool confidence into The Massif after parking their speeders outside the gate. Sanctum Guards hadn’t been seen in the village’s walls in years, not since Turaga Nuju’s death for sure, and their sudden arrival properly drew stares from the denizens. Koro-forged weaponry and machines were objects of curiosity, as were the uniforms and icy calm of a soldier. People on the streets paused their activities to admire the guards and people in their houses poked their heads out windows to inspect the newcomers and greet them just the same.
It was an inviting scene for them. After being little more than arms of the law in their city being greeted as heroes of legend in the tiny town was endearing to their hearts; Zurec even returned firm waves to the folk, and Ardor remained more casual though less reactive.
They stepped up to the keep’s door and knocked the banger twice, then waited. The careful amble of a large man could be discerned from within, then, just as Ambages predicted, the door opened and revealed a massive toa with a broad grin. “I watched your approach with interest, gentlemen. Please: Come inside,” the toa said and stepped aside to allow the two soldiers entry.
He moved with surprising swiftness toads the hearth and stroked the fire with a poker. “I don’t believe we’ve ever met. My name is Antrim Vakitano, Some call me ‘lord,’ others a baron, some even call me an abbot or high priest, but there’s only one title I care for. I’m the toa-protector of this village and the chapel on the massif this land is named after.”
“I’m Zurec. This is Ardor. For titles, I’m a guard; he’s a sergeant.” Ardor’s keen sense of detected noted another toa in the dark stairwell, thin and clearly of fire. The toa did not move, nor did he get introduced. Neither guard mentioned him.
“What can I do for you, Zurec and Ardor?” Antrim said with a wide smile. “What brings you two into this march of Ko-Wahi’s?”
“We’ve come to inform you that the Akiri of Ko-Wahi is in your monastery, paying his respects at the shrine, and would like to see you there,” Zurec announced heartily. He felt his manner gave nothing away.
“I seeeee,” Antrim said and collected his hands at his back as he stood pensively. “Then I will not keep the akiri waiting. Please, do make yourselves comfortable here. There is food in the pantry and chairs throughout. Rest. I’ll be right back.”
Antrim went to the staircase with a subtle sense of unease in his wake. The Visitor followed behind him to the next story up; the creaks of wooden steps confirmed it.
“Brother,” the Visitor said in a hushed, worried tone and gently put his hand on Antrim’s thigh, “remember… what I said.”
“I remember,” Antrim said. His brows were tightened together and eyes perplexed as though he was confronted with an enigmatic puzzle. They stood together in silence for what seemed like a short eternity before Antrim placed his larger palm over the Visitor’s. In reference to his friend’s warning of impending death, he added, “Not if I can help it.”
“You’ll be taking Rain?”
Antrim nodded. “It’s as much my tool as it is my token of office. I’m seeing the akiri, apparently. Matoro likes ceremony and theatricality.”
Antrim assured his friend by name, then said, “you of all people should know Destiny cannot be changed. Whatever awaits me up there, I’ll be ready.”
“… I want to go with you.”
“No,” Antrim adamantly held and withdrew his massive greatsword from its wall mount and slid it into its scabbard. The Visitor helped him mount it to his waist. “No, whatever is there is for me alone. You stay here. Keep the fires going for when I will return,” he said.
“I pray that you will,” the Visitor worriedly said and leaned up to give one last passionate kiss.
The candles flickered low as Ambages entered the sacred center of the monastery as though some pure spirit within the walls had been defiled by the dark master’s presence. His pink eyes scanned the flames maliciously, raping Mata Nui’s holiness as he did.
He stepped up to the carefully laid out shrine to the Great Spirit and inspected it with abject curiosity. Reverence to Him always confused the architect. Mata Nui was a distant god, one people seemed to ‘feel,’ as they called it, even though there was no sensation attributed to the guy in the stars. His so-called will was revered as Destiny by the Matoran, but it was nothing but superstition. They were gullible fodder who thought their god could be seen in nature, tasted in the waters, smelled in the wind and heard in the desert, but all they ever knew was what they chose to see without proof. Mata Nui was unpredictable, unkind and cold, but Matoran—Matoran was assured and true to itself. It deserved a better god than Mata Nui.
Ambages reached out and touched a candelabrum and felt the urge to clobber the charms and talismans until they were dust but restrained himself. That was not the time for raw emotion. This was a delicately set table and he would not let himself down. He took several steps back and knelt before the altar irreligiously. Thus and there he would wait.
Antrim Vakitano entered his chapel and sniffed the air. Something wasn’t right.
Ambages ponderously admired the chandeliers. They were so expertly crafted out of bronze and silver. What are these great arts doing in a humble church? he wondered.
The toa-protector stepped with faithful authority through the narrow, reverberating hallways to the heart of the holy compound. The guards said the akiri was waiting for him and Matoro was a welcomed soul. Why then did the very stones upon which he tread scream at him to leave without regret?
The Visitor sat quietly by the hearth, breathing life in the ebbing coals to reinvigorate the fire. The two guards ate at a nearby table, sipping tea from ceramic cups and partaking from the meager bounty of the Massif’s agrarian stock.
“You haven’t introduced yourself like Antrim,” Zurec pried. “Why not share your name with us?”
The Visitor did but the matoran lost the name like wind in a cage. “Antrim and I were comrades-at-arms together eons ago. More than than, even. We were… much more…”
Ardor picked up the telltale emotion and asked, “You say ‘were’ as though he is in the past. Why?”
“Because I fear for Antrim,” the Visitor confessed but kept his eyes glued on the fire. The fire Antrim asked him to guard. The fire Antrim wished to greet him on his return. But there would be no return. “He teleported to the monastery, I’m sure. If you leave now you can be up there soon enough.”
“Why do you want us to go up?” Zurec asked, befuddled.
“Because whatever happens in the monastery should be witnessed. One or both of you: Go. Now." He gazed into the bright embers with a rapt sadness. "I will… stay... and tend to the fires.”
Edited by Jenny Quantum, Apr 19 2014 - 02:40 AM.