This is a repost of a short story from the old forums. It’s position in canon is somewhat more dubious than it was when I posted it, but I still think it’s legible.
A Strange Tapestry
I wake, as usual, just on the edge of a scream.
The first think that I see when I open my eyes is the soft light shining through the holes in the ceiling. I must trace those lines between light and dark. I must steady my breathing, let my eyes drop closed. I know I will not sleep, but I must appear so, while my ears catch every creak, every pebble falling on the floor.
Now, as I force my body to relax, my mind can see my dreams in a different light. I have no idea how the fear seems so real, how it drives me panting from sleep. The dream is always the same, and it is always false.
I remember the coliseum, the screams of matoran, the blood and the panic. That much is true. But I did not run.
But you did, little toa. When you saw it was hopeless, you ran. How intelligent of you.
No. I will not answer. I have learned this, from many nights and many struggles, that I will lose if I answer back. I must not show any reaction, for he can twist any argument I have with him. So I do not protest that I saved what matoran I could. I must concentrate on that icy awareness that keeps me still. If my muscles tense and my heartlight flashes faster, they will know that I am not asleep.
And yet I cannot sleep now, for that is when the nightmares come. So I hold the line between sleeping and waking and wait for her to come.
I do not know how much time passes be before I hear her footsteps. They are soft and cautious. We have all learned to walk like that, like we are treading on thin ice. It is the only way to walk without falling through.
She puts her hand on my shoulder, and for a moment I am choking. The air is thick and poisonous, and it is not a hand but a claw, a claw sinking into me. I want to yell, to snarl, to fight back against the hand that grips me and the shadows and the wall and the lines between light and dark that are slow sharp that they cut me. I see spots of red, and then the spot churn and merge into a pair of crimson eyes that bore into me. I want to hurt the eyes too, stop the cold laughter that echoes in my head, stop everything. I want to lash out, flail, because the only thing that matters now is to get out.
She shakes me.
I catch myself, force stillness and emptiness into my mind. Not yet, wait until she moves again.
When she shakes me the second time, I open my eyes slowly, like someone who has been woken from a deep sleep. My joints must move without coordination, I must appear groggy and insensitive. My feet come to rest and I test the floor, swaying as I stand up. Instantly, the darkness in the room retreats as my eyes adjust, and I can see her clearly now.
She looks at me. He eyes mirror mine, catching the light and reflecting it back better than any matoran’s. We are toa made for darkness.
“Jaller,” she whispers. “How did you sleep?”
Her eyes meet mine, the brows arched, seaming to look deeper into me. All my cleverly controlled movements, all my calculated drowsiness spoiled by that look. She knows. I know because I told her, and she comforted me. But I can’t bring myself to tell her the complete horror of it. I want to protect her as I have always wanted to, and I want to protect the others. I’ve kept that secret from them because I have to. I am a leader, and leaders must be strong.
No, they must appear strong, for I have not been able to manage true strength for a long time.
“The same,” I reply, returning her look.
She opens her mouth and shuts it again, then nods and turns, walking towards the pallet on the floor where she sleeps. She gives me one last glance before she curls up, and her eyes are warm.
I am grateful for that. I am grateful that she did not press me, did not demand a clearer answer. These days, she is the protector and I am the protected. We used to walk side by side, but now I am falling behind. Still, I am grateful for her protection. She is my sister, after all.
Once, I thought I loved her in a different way, that there was a future with her that could mean so much more. Now, I realize that I need a sister far more than a lover. I do not hold secrets from her as I did before, and I trust her more than anything else.
But how can she trust you? How can she, when she knows at anytime you could run, could give in to your fear?
How do you know that she isn’t protecting the others from you?
I do not answer. I leave the silence hanging.
The hall of the great temple is smooth and unmarked, so different from the rest of the building. No cracks mark the curved walls, no pools of light interrupt the dark floor. The only sound I hear is my own footfalls, and these are soft, the sound of something touching something else and nothing more.
Yet, there is something behind me. I must keep walking eyes straight ahead. There is nothing behind me, I can feel, it is not there. But it is, there was a shadow that moved, the shadow of thing about to pounce-
I turn, sword raised. There is nothing.
Soft laughter echoes through everything. I have to force myself not to turn or shout. The laughter is in my head and all around me. I fell for it. I proved my weakness. I am nothing but his toy.
There was nothing behind me. I knew that. My eyes, adjusted to darkness of the ocean depths, easily take in the scene around me. And even if I close my eyes, my mask detects the shape of any object in any direction. And yet I turned.
Perhaps he was right. Hahli does have reason to doubt me.
But I am Jaller. I am a toa.
I have held onto that, lately. My name and my existence are really the only things I have to stand on when I am alone. And even they are beginning to blur and change. The past feels like a dream, the island of Mata Nui seems aeons ago.
Even walking down this corridor, I can’t stop myself from looking at my hands to assure myself that they are still there. They are scratched and scared, their armor rubbled smooth from constantly holding a weapon. I am close to my destination, but I allow myself to a little thought. There are many times where I look at myself and wonder how I got here. Who is this strange toa, staring back at me with eyes that glow in the dark? Where is Jaller, the Captain of the Ta-Koro Guard, a matoran set on protecting his friends?
Sometimes, I wonder if he died a long time ago.
I feel the widening in the hall before I see it. Suddenly, the space is wider and rounder, and I can hear the steady lap of water on stone. The pool in the middle is circular, its rim made of obsidian. Some long-dead carver had etched the enemies of our principles into the the glossy stone. Anger, Hunger, Disintegration, Shattering, Poison, Fear. A warning those for who would transverse the black tunnels under the Great Temple.
I warning I will not heed.
The surface of the water is hardly discernible from the stone; it is black and smooth, like glass. I stare into its depths.
A turahk stares back at me.
I do not scream, I cannot, the fear holds me too tightly. I can already feel the cool metal closing me in, stifling all feeling. A staff lands my hands, and it fits perfectly.
What if you could be fear itself? To never feel, never to wake up at night sweating? To lose control without guilt?
No. The rahkshi staring back at me is not my reflection. It is real. I have wrenched its staff away from my throat. I hold panic back, struggling with it as it hisses at me.
All it takes is a little concentration, a little chink in the armor where its neck connects to its body. The turahk screams, and I know that the kraata within is burning, writhing as it shrivels and turns black. I have fought so many rahkshi that killing them almost easy. Almost.
The empty shell disappears into the water, and I dive after it, breaking into the delicious cold. This only place I feel safe now, in the icy water that calms my mind and slows my heartbeat. When the light vanishes a few bio down, it does not matter. I can feel in the water so much better than in the air. Every little see creatures is a shape silhouetted against the emptiness.
But the watery chamber is not broken by any new holes into the vast ocean. Wherever the rahkshi came from, it was not here. I will have to go deeper.
I almost scrape the sides of the tunnel I choose as I swim through it. We had discounted it before, but now every nook and cranny is worth checking out.
It suddenly stops. A dead end.
On impulse, I swim up to the wall. The metal surface, though crusted with algae, is solid enough, but there is space above me, reaching up into light. I shoot up through it, my hands landing on the metal mesh of drain.
It is hard to reach my sword in the narrow tunnel. I draw it out, and then slowly turn it upward. I thrust. Heat flows through me to the sword, and the metal contorts, turning red. I wrench the drain away, and it lands with a clang as I thrust myself back into the air.
The room around me is almost completely destroyed. The floor is nearly covered with fallen pillars and rubble, and the ceiling is disintegrating, the stone crumbling away to reveal the metal framework beneath. It casts a spiderweb of shadows across the floor. The only recognizable thing in the middle of the destruction is a flat circular table, with the likenesses of toa carved on it. A Suva.
It is not empty.
Facing me, stone eyes unseeing, is a golden hau. I know that mask. It is the one I wore as a matoran, the mask Turaga Vakama took from Lhikahn and gave to me. A mask I promised to find again.
I remember what Gali told me in the coliseum, that dreadful day when everything changed. The Toa Nuva had found it in the realm of Karzahni, after being defeated by Makuta Icarax. The nightmares of that place seem so far away compared, to now, so petty. I have learned there are far worse things than being shown a vision of my world destroyed. Now it has.
Still, there is light. My fingers curl around the mask, and it comes away easily. I remove my arthron, and the space around me becomes only what I see. For a moment, the weakness and the blindness I feel almost spurs me to put it back on, but I overcome them and place the hau on my face.
Go then. But look what happened to me.
I rush to the pool and look at myself, searching to find some trace of the hero on my face. But the mask makes no difference. My eyes are hollow, they know too much. My armor is still scratched and covered with dirt and grime.
You are not Lhikan. You could never be like Lhikan. He would have died in the Coliseum, died a hero. You are a toa made for darkness. A toa made for me.
My hands grasp the edge of the pool. I want to run more than anything, to not answer him and go back into the water. But I cannot.
The shadows of the roof run across my hands, threading them with light and darkness, like a strange tapestry. I am made of those threads of light and dark.
“Yes...” I say looking at nothing.
“I am a toa made for darkness...and a toa made for light.”
It is simple now, to weave those threads of white and black into a shell around me that Makuta cannot touch. He could crush the light. He could pass through the darkness. But against both, he could do nothing. The best tapestries are made of many colors.
“I am not Lhikan. Lhikan would have died a hero, because he could not stand a world with darkness. But I am Jaller, and I live!”
I jump to my feet, my voice quiet and clear. A challenge. “I am a little star still shining at midnight. I am the darkness before dawn. And...I am afraid. But I will not run any longer.”
For once, I do not know if it is me or the darkness that is laughing.
For once, I do not care.
Edited by Yukiko, Feb 01 2014 - 08:05 PM.