OOC: Jam session between EW and I. Enjoy!
Once Stannis and Ra'lhen were separated from the group and in a quiet corner between two huts, the Maru spoke. His tone was casual, though there was no denying Stannis sought not just to smooth the past but also understand it, the toa before him in particular.
“So,” he said and nodded at Ra'lhen's body, “this is who you truly are. What can you tell me of Ra'lhen?”
Ra’lhen’s expression remained welcoming but plain. The fact that he had to talk once more about the thing he used to be annoyed him more than he had expected. However, Ra’lhen had promised Wokapu that this would be easy, that he would be more than prepared to reassure and maybe even befriend those who had once feared or hated him. He would just have to push his irrational feelings aside for the moment.
“Well, first and foremost, I consider myself a close friend of Wokapu – one of the few he has, unfortunately,” the Vo-Toa replied with weight in his voice, “He and I have a lot of history together, but given everything that has happened, we both sometimes struggle to remember everything. Nonetheless, just as I was in the very first days after the First Toa fell, I am a hero just trying to make this island the paradise it’s supposed to be”
Ra’lhen wasn’t sure how much Stannis needed, but he would leave the door open for questions anyway.
“I suppose you actually want to know what happened. Where the monster that many likely still see me as first came from?”
“Only if you wish to share it,” Stannis said impassively. Everything about his personality seemed set in stone, from the pitch of his voice to the rigidity of his muscles and from the even glow in his eyes to the steadfast march forward. Nevertheless, despite all that, Stannis was not cold—he never had been. When he was still a Pa-Matoran he could melt ice by touching it, and as a Toa, even though destiny swapped him elements, he retained that empathetic kindness. He desired to understand Ra'lhen, not dissect him, and so would not ask for anything the Toa didn't want to part with. “I can only imagine what it was like to be trapped inside.
“But no. I want to know who Ra'lhen was before he was... claimed by another soul. I want to know the real you.”
“Well, originally, I was just like any other hardworking Matoran. As much as I hate to say it, much of who I am now is defined by what I experienced in my weeks as a Toa before I took my team to Mangaia that fateful day. I’ll have to start from the beginning,” Ra’lhen said. He rested his hands behind his back as he began to tell his story.
The Vo-Toa shrugged, “I’ve always been the one that people went to when they needed help, or strength, or to just feel a little bit more confident in themselves. And more importantly, I enjoyed being that person. It baffled me when I met another Matoran who just stood by, seemingly paralyzed with fear of saying to another Matoran ‘hey, don’t worry – you’re doing great’. Maybe they didn’t realize that saying that really did make the person they said it to do a lot better”
Ra’lhen paused for a short moment, “I remember the day that I learned that the First Toa had failed their quest. I think most of us who are over a certain age remember the pain from the news that came to all the villages. Only a few days later – as you may know – other Matoran transformed into Toa. Then one day, I too, for whatever reason was chosen and transformed via methods that I don’t quite remember myself. It’s odd, really. That event itself escapes me but the events around it are crystal clear”
Ra’lhen continued as he saw Stannis listen intently, visibly absorbing each word that exited Ra’lhen’s mouth.
“Almost like clockwork, Toa began grouping and forming into teams. Some Toa were friends as Matoran, and kept their bonds by forming a team. I, on the other hand, was the only Matoran from my large circle of friends who was chosen by Mata Nui to become a Toa. Back then, every Toa was more or less expected to give up their former lifestyle and join with others in the fight against the Makuta. But with no one else to take up the mantle of Toa with me, I wandered alone, with no Toa tools and limited experience with my mask of shielding – until another Toa approached me”
The red and blue Toa’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly when he said his next words.
“His name is Wokodin, a Toa of Stone, and Wokapu’s father. This was a man who had a strong sense of leadership, even though sometimes his tactics seemed lacking. He recruited me to be a part of a Toa team that he would train. He promised me and the other members that we would be the ones to defeat the Makuta. He made us believe that it was our destiny. But as you obviously know, that was far from the truth. Once I accepted Wokodin’s offer, he gave me a beautiful and strong broad sword and introduced me to the other five Toa. Wokapu was among them, and it was while training that we became friends”
Ra’lhen chuckled, “Wokapu isn’t exactly the Toa type, as you might have guessed. In the beginning, he really struggled using his katana swords and mastering his fighting maneuvers. He also wasn't the most perceptive. I was the one who helped him and motivated him while his father would just berate him”
Ralhen continued, “Long story short. Wokapu, I, and four other Toa went to Mangaia to confront the Master of Shadows himself. Stupid I know, but we were convinced to go by Wokodin, who had taught us everything we knew about being Toa, and we simply didn’t know better. To this day I’m still baffled that Wokodin didn’t even know better. I remember earlier that day when he said he didn’t want Wokapu to come with us. But I had Wokapu come with Mangaia anyway because I saw more potential in him than his father did.
“But anyway – we were outmatched. We didn’t even make it to the presence of Makuta himself. We were overpowered by his Rahkshi – creatures that we all thought were just myths to scare the young ones. To spare my friends and brothers in arms, I stayed behind while buying time for the other Toa of escape.
“I should have been killed by those Rahkshi but… I wasn’t. I suppose the rest is history”
Stannis took the story and soaked it in like dry mud flats in absorb rain. Ra'lhen was speaking the truth, the proof was all there: His facial expressions, his withdrawing gaze, his clenching fist at reliving the mission into the Mangaia, his protective glance in Wokapu's direction, they all hinted at his true emotions and regrets, and such things could not be masked. And so Stannis, after waiting a moment after Ra'lhen's story, reached out and placed the palm of his hand on Ra's heartlight.
“I hear you. I believe you. I bless you,” he almost chanted religiously as though granting a benediction on a talisman. “And I hold no anger from the battle in the alps. I am assured that was not you.”
When Ra’lhen accepted Stannis’s blessing, he couldn’t explain it, but it vaguely felt like an aching heart. As the Toa’s face began to feel hot, Ra’lhen took deep breaths to calm himself down.
“Thank you,” Ra’lhen said, his voice sincere but also tense from his almost choking hold over his emotion. The Toa’s face was almost in pain now.
“Though, the other being you worked with. What of him?” Stannis asked.
When he heard Stannis’s next question, it helped to quell Ra’lhen’s guilt over a blessing that he was sure he didn’t deserve, but it also gave way to a different guilt.
“You mean Vidar?” Ra’lhen responded, “Well… last I remember of him, he was writing on the grass in front of the Kini Nui and babbling nonsense after Toa Joske disintegrated the Parakuka that was attached to the his back. I’m still not sure how Vidar survived for even a moment, but I have no idea what happened to him”
Ra’lhen rubbed his left arm. Vidar was yet another dark mark on Ra’lhen’s own history – on the level of the attempted murder of Stannis’s company and the conspiracy against Hafu, which led to his death.
“Then he is also finished.” The Makuta's inner circle had grown smaller since the dark one's fall; it seemed all that was left was Echelon. Stannis would bring the topic up as a mission for the assembled Maru, assuming they would be gathering soon. Ending the circle's menace was a priority for Stannis even though he almost brushed aside the report of Echelon to assuage any worries others had; one step at a time, he reasoned.
“I wish I could go with you to Po-Koro,” he admitted, “though as you understand now, Destiny often pulls different ways than your mind wants. I want to get to know you better, Ra'lhen, and look forward to when we cross paths again. And while I can't be there when you meet Wokodin again, I can help with something else:
“Po-Koro knows and vilifies The Other Guy all too well and your appearance is... not all that well disguised. They will recognize you, maybe even riot against unless now-Akiri Hewkii is made aware that you are not That Guy anymore.” Stannis sighed and almost breathed a stone tablet into his hand, bearing flawlessly grooved words. "This stone bears your pardon. But before we go our ways... it's only right that you have the opportunity to ask me whatever you choose.”
Ra’lhen took the stone, and looked back up at Stannis, giving a thank-you nod.
“I can’t thank you enough Stannis,” Ra’lhen said. He paused to gather his words for a moment before asking his questions.
“I saw you talking to that Earth Toa before, giving him guidance,” Ra’lhen said. He then sighed, “I don’t know else to ask this, but… I still bear the scars from my captivity in darkness. I want to return back to how I was before I was enslaved… but I don’t know if I ever can”
Ra’lhen looked at Stannis square in the face, “What you do you think was Destiny’s plan? Does ‘she’ choose those who will be built up and those who will be torn down? I just… I don’t know what to think anymore. The Three Virtues used to be in my core, but now I feel like they’ve betrayed me”
“No, they haven't betrayed you.” He cracked a slight grin. “Antrim taught me to see the Virtues as people. Duty is an ever-vigilant warrior, mighty with armour and arms, and Destiny is a fair maiden who flits in and out of dreams. The Virtues are still with you so long as you believe in the Great Spirit, Ra'lhen, all you have to do is believe. You've been away for so long I can understand why everything feels so cold, but you've regained your light.
“Destiny did bring you this way, though, I'm sure of it. Why?” He shrugged widely. “We can never know. She oft works in mysterious ways and I'm convinced she sometimes has a sense of humour. But every step is a life's lesson, and every lesson grants a nugget of wisdom. Take what you've learned and don't squander it but make it a tool for what is good. Maybe this Wokodin can benefit from your journey's journal,” he offered.
Ra’lhen didn’t speak for a moment while he soaked in Stannis’s words.
“Thank you, Stannis,” Ra’lhen said with a warm smile and light slap of Stanni’s upper arm, “That’s just what I needed”
Stannis bowed his head humbly. “My honour. When you are in Po-Koro, give the tablet to Hewkii. He will heed its words. Come and let's ensure it.”
Turning back towards the group he pointed at Korero to get his attention. “Brother, listen closely: I need you to take these people to Po-Koro. Everyone should go to the bazaar, but Ra'lhen needs to be delivered into Akiri Hewkii's presence. Vouch for him and this tablet I made. Anything otherwise and the village will riot against him. I would go and be the advocate... but if I went I'm sure the koro would make me regret leaving them again,” he said with a roll of his eyes.
“Oreius and I will be here.”
OOC: GH, if I'm correct, you'll be moving Wokapu, Ra'lhen, Seria, and Sucogu to Po-Koro.
IC: Wokapu - Onu-Koro Marletplace
"No worries!" Wokapu said with a grin, "Just that in my time before becoming an intrepid adventurer, I was once an entrepreneur who ran a rather large mining guild. Quite a successful one too, but I sold it to someone who later tried to kill me. My Life 101"
Wokapu then heard Stannis mention something to Korero about Po-Koro. Ra'lhen was back in our fold too, holding a stone tablet with words that looked official carved onto it. Wokapu then turned to Korero,
"So I guess you're taking us to Po-Koro instead" Wokapu said, unaware of Korero's mask power, "Looking forward to the journey!"