[Note: Until recently, this was missing all its quotation marks, apostrophes, and dashes due to a bug. Should be all fixed now!]
Walls, as a rule, are not meant to explode.
Unfortunately, Tahtorak are not known for their law-abiding natures, and so the east wall of the Piraka Stronghold went rather off-script.
As the Tahtorak stormed off into the distance, a figure, tall and not quite a Toa, stepped through the hole her companion had so generously provided and looked up at the sky.
Krahka breathed deep, the flat of her nose shifting as she did. The stench of the Piraka’s base was a cavalcade of sour decay and bitter ashes, but beyond that –
Salt and sea.
“Told you,” she muttered after the vanishing figure of the Tahtorak.
For an instant, her body did something that bodies were not supposed to – it was far too small for its skin, or perhaps the other way around – and then where a not-quite-Toa had stood, a not-quite-Gukko took flight.
Metru Nui’s prodigal daughter had been away for too long.
Her wings were shaky, her flaps unbalanced, but at least she was flying again. There was no telling how long she’d spent locked in that nightmare, but it was far too long for a shapeshifter to stay in one form. Some little piece of her mind kept reaching for arms and legs that weren’t there, and it took a combination of instinct and conscious rebalancing to keep herself going.
Both up, then both down – no need to overthink things. Her beak tried to smirk. Well, how about this. Whole sentences without the dark screaming into your mind. What a pleasant change of pace.
It got easier as she went – the imprint of the Toa Metru was fading from her mind, and old memories of soaring with the other Gukko came to her if not in picture then at least in action. A familiar pride rose in her chest as her motions became more and more fluid.
That’s it. Remember who you are. A Krahka, not some Toa floundering in the shadows.
She redoubled herself; the wind was at her back, and if she was where she thought, she could be at the city by dusk. Toa floundering in shadows, indeed. I hope they’ve saved me a few Visorak to crush. The not-smirk widened. Maybe even Roodaka herself, if I’m lucky.
And if they had failed – well, Toa didn’t fail. It was one of the things that made them so irritating. But if they had failed, that made six new, very powerful Rahi who could use a leader. And maybe she could find it in her heart to lend her new brothers a hand if they weren’t too spidery. It might even be nice, having a few others to help marshal the Rahi.
She let herself daydream as she flew, reveling in the clarity of thought that accompanied her freedom. She would have to make sure everything was in order, of course, but then? Maybe it was time to crash open the archives, or to remind the Matoran who had fought for that city of theirs while they were sleeping. Perhaps those Toa would finally agree to give her and her brothers and sisters a piece of their world-
The city came rushing at her over the horizon, and any daydreams of Rahi rebellion faded away with it. Even at a distance, she could see that accursed webbing was gone. Toa. Always too good at their jobs.
Yet as her home grew closer, and her gaze fell upon the dust of ages that lined its towers, she suddenly found herself wondering if that was quite true.
She stayed up high for her first pass over the city; it was easy enough to see that the great transport chutes had long since collapsed, and that the buildings at the city’s outskirt were crumbling with disrepair. Her eyes darted from street to street, looking for any sign of life – a rambling Mahi, a stumbling Matoran, anything – and found only silence. Confusion and anger gnawed away at her. What had happened here? Surely the Toa had defeated the Visorak, but – why was her city falling to ruin?
There was a distant cry beneath her, and she turned and swooped down towards it, coming to land on the edge of a Le-Metru rooftop. In the street below, two Matoran – was it her imagination, or had their bodies changed since she’d left? – had bumped into each other and were scrambling after a bundle of fruits that had gone spilling down the street. Krahka pulled her wings closer to her and narrowed her gaze. Here, at least, was life, apparently unfazed by the city’s change. Now that she looked further up the street, to the core of the city, she could see a few other Matoran going about their business. Curiouser and curiouser.
Before she could take off again, she saw the two Matoran jump to attention. The door of the building she was perched on had swung open, and a stubbly green Turaga she had never seen before had stepped out into the street. She craned her neck to hear, shifting the Gukko’s ears into an Ice Bat’s.
“-just be more foot-careful, Tamaru. We still haven’t gotten the tree-gardens growing again yet, and we don’t want to make any more quick-returns than we have to.”
“Sorry, Turaga Matau-“
Matau? She blinked. Wasn’t that name – it was! Onewa, Matau, Nokama, Nuju, Whenua, Va- blast it, what was it? – Vakama.
On the street below her, Matau said his goodbyes and turned to make his way towards the coliseum. Krahka narrowed her eyes. Something was very wrong with her city.
None of them thought much of a Gukko perched atop the balcony outside; Matau spent a few minutes trying to shoo her, and Nuju chirped at her in a passable, if rather foul-mouthed, attempt at Gukko, but soon Dume (the proper Dume, not the one whose scent had been tinged with something foul) beckoned his other Turaga to ignore the bird outside. Onewa looked back at her once, and she made a point of matching his gaze until he, too, turned away.
The Turaga’s conversation made little sense to her; they spoke of islands and “Toa Nuva”, of the Great Spirit, of disaster and prophecy. Eventually, the group fell quiet.
It was Onewa who broke the silence first. “How long has it been?”
In time, Dume answered for the rest. “Two weeks and four days.”
“And since the Toa Nuva left?” Matau murmured. ‘Nuva’ again. Teams of Toa had come and gone over the years, but that was a title she had never heard.
“Three weeks and six days.”
Onewa stared straight ahead, at a point in the wall between Nokama and Vakama’s head; Krahka could see the others finding their own ways to avoid each others’ gazes.
“And Takanuva?” Nokama asked. “Has he reported anything to any of you?”
“Nothing,” Vakama replied. Krahka shuffled her wings in irritation; would it kill these Toa - these Turaga to say anything directly for once?
Onewa looked down to the ground, and for a moment it seemed he would say something. Krahka waited for him to speak up, to cut through this inexplicable tension.
He did not.
The sun had slipped over the horizon by the time the meeting was over, and the sight of the city sinking into the darkness put Krahka on edge. The crumbling architecture seemed even more sinister than before, and – how had she not noticed sooner? – the air was tinged with a stale rot, the sort of smell she would expect to find in the long-abandoned remains of a Rahkshi den. At the edge of her senses, she could hear scuffles that might be the noise of her brothers and sisters prowling the empty streets.
Or perhaps she couldn’t. In the darkness, she had heard the voices of other Rahi whispering to her more times than she could count. Who was to say this city wasn’t itself false, the product of a mind worn down to nothingness-
I say. She breathed deep and tasted the city. This is real, and that prison is past now. And if I were to go mad, I would seek refuge in the city I knew, not this – graveyard.
She glanced down. Onewa was hobbling down the streets of Po-Metru far below her. And you, Toa. Whatever befell this city, did it take you as well?
She looked back up the street; at the corner, a flat, sturdy set of Po-Matoran apartments was nestled between a broken chute station and a run-down storefront. A Po-Matoran was sitting on its steps, carving away at something. Krahka’s eyes narrowed. There was one way to find out.
His room was surprisingly empty, devoid of the trinkets the Matoran seemed so fond of collecting. A spare staff lay in the corner, and a few rough-hewn stone spheres were settled at the foot of the bed, but other than that there was little to suggest it as the home of any leader. Krahka sniffed the air as she hopped down from the windowsill; his scent was there, but only barely.
She closed her eyes and let the image of the Turaga float into her mind. The first shift was always the most difficult, but –
There was a gasp of air, and it was done. She stretched an arm out experimentally; the muscle and metal clicked together wearily, and her fingers separated with a faint whine that ran up her arm. So weak. How can he stand it? On a whim, she shifted her other arm to match his old Toa form, and it blossomed into being, sturdy and strong; the difference was unnerving.
From below her, the clunking, slow sound of someone climbing the stairs came floating up. On a lark, she let her arm return to the Turaga’s form and grabbed the spare staff from where it lay, then turned to face the window as the door behind her creaked open.
She heard a gasp, then a muted curse. “Mata Nui take it, Hafu. Gift-giving is no excuse for breaking and entering, no matter how good the statue-“
Krahka turned and looked him over. “Hafu? Is that his name? You top-dwellers are always so fussy about the names of everything.”
To his credit, his knees were slow enough to give out that she had time enough to catch him. “Come on,” she chided, “this body is weak, but it’s not that bad.”
The Turaga lifted his head weakly and smiled. “Hello, Krahka.”
They sat themselves on his bed; at his insistence, she shifted form again to Nokama’s. He gave a low chuckle. “Try it as a Turaga. It’s going to be hard enough explaining things if someone walks in on me and Turaga Nokama; it’s going to be impossible if someone walks in on me and Toa Nokama.”
Krahka shrugged – Turaga were such worriers – and a moment later she was tossing the extra staff back and forth in Nokama’s shrunken hands. “So strange, you Toa,” she said. “You shift shapes nearly as often as I do. I think I preferred your forms the second time, even if they were a little more Visorak than I’d like.”
“Well,” he said, and she could hear his voice trembling, “we were made to be Matoran, not Rahi.”
She grinned. “Really? There was a half-Rahi Toa I met once who wasn’t bad at wrangling Tahtorak.”
“And there was a Rahi I met once who tried being a Toa and did quite a job of it.”
“I know,” she said, spinning the staff between her fingers for a few seconds before she grabbed hold of it. “Maybe a better job than the actual Toa, going by this city.”
He flinched the slightest at that, and she felt a moment of satisfaction and pity. At least the Turaga was ashamed of what had happened to this place.
“The Visorak are gone,” he said roughly. “Long gone. And Roodaka and Sidorak with them.”
“A pity,” she said. “I would’ve liked to crush that little neck of hers myself.”
If he was surprised at her choice of words, he hid it well. He had been staring at her ever since they’d sat down, as though he was still unsure of if she was actually there, and truth be told it was starting to grate on her nerves a bit. It was time to start getting some answers. “So,” she said bluntly, “how long has it been?”
That startled him, and she caught the hesitation before he said, quietly, “A thousand years.”
She mulled the number over in her head. She had dwelt in this city far longer than that, but – it was too long. Even without the Visorak’s meddling, much could happen in a thousand years. Any of her brothers or sisters trapped in the Archives that long without supervision would have surely perished. If the Rahkshi had been left unchecked, it was possible they had spread their infections –
His face was contorting with worry. “Not too bad, then,” she said, unsure of why she was lying. “Though it seems to have been a very – eventful time.”
The Turaga gave a tired laugh. “Perhaps not as much as you would think.”
His voice sounded eerily resigned, like the cries of a trapped Mahi in the Archives’ chambers, and it set her on edge. “You’ve changed, Onewa,” she said. “And I don’t mean that you’ve simply continued to shrink.”
“I have, and so have my fellow Toa.”
“Everything save me, then.” A fear she couldn’t explain was wrapping itself around her heart, and she stood. “I fought aside you Toa because I thought you wanted to protect this city. Instead I return to find it a crumbling wreck and the six of you not much better.”
Onewa flinched again and looked away. “That’s – I’m sorry, Krahka –“
Karzahni take it, what was wrong with him? “Fine. I was hoping to speak to the Toa who didn’t think twice about challenging me, not the Turaga who nearly faints dead away at the sight of his own old body.” She turned back towards the window. “I have a thousand years’ worth of city to check-“
“Wait!” The desperation in his voice ground on her ears. “Krahka, listen to me. This city – all that’s happened – I can explain.” He hesitated for an instant. “You deserve an explanation.”
That gave her pause. She looked back towards the Turaga. He was standing now, if leaning on his staff, but the light of his eyes was just a touch sharper, more like the gleam he had carried as a Toa.
“And what makes you say that, Turaga?”
“Because this has been your city as long as it has been ours, and because you died saving it.” He must have caught the annoyance on her face, for he quickly added, “or – almost died. Or, that is –“ he looked away for a moment, and when he spoke again his voice was pained. “Well. To us, you did die.”
She could still feel the tension that had gripped her since she’d seen the city come over the skyline, but something in the Turaga’s words softened it. He took a hesitant step towards her. “If you would let me – I’d like very much to speak to the great Rahi I once knew.”
She took a step away from him almost automatically. A hundred thousand years of dealing with the top-dwellers left instincts a single Tahtorak ride wouldn’t erase. And yet - she had come to him for a reason, hadn’t she? She wanted answers, and if he was willing to give them, she may as well take them.
“Fine,” she said, more than a little testily. “We shall talk. But I’ve had enough of this dusty lair of yours, and I have a city to see. I’ll be out behind the building.”
Before he could reply, she turned and leapt from the window, slipping back into Gukko form as she did. As she glided away into the night, she thought she heard a laugh of surprise.
They walked in silence for a while along Po-Metru’s back streets. Night was beginning to fall, and the few Po-Matoran they passed thought nothing of the Turaga out for a stroll with one of his people – even if they couldn’t recall seeing anyone with quite that combination of armor and Kanohi before.
The buildings grew dilapidated around them as they made their way out of the heart of the city, the few signs of Matoran inhabitation fading away in favor of shoots of green that poked through the crumbling streets and snaked up the buildings. A bit of twisted satisfaction rose up in her at the sight, and she couldn’t resist a jab. “For all the pride you top-dwellers have in these buildings of yours, they seem to fall quite easily to a few stray plants.”
“Don’t talk to me about plants versus buildings,” Onewa muttered. “I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime.”
“Perhaps it isn’t all bad,” she went on. “This city could use a little more life to it, if you Matoran aren’t going to take care of it.”
“There wasn’t anyone left to clean up after the Visorak,” he grumbled. “I’d say it’s in perfectly good shape when you consider that.”
She snorted. “Excuses. And besides –“ she pointed to a set of tracks in the dust – “it seems a few of my brothers and sisters got along fine without you.”
“And is that what you want?” he replied. “A Metru Nui of Rahi?”
“It seems I just missed it.”
“Perhaps not as much as you believe. Most of the Rahi left the city with us.”
She missed a step and pretended she hadn’t. “So you rounded them up?”
“Hardly,” said Onewa. “They followed us willingly.”
She could feel one of her hands curling into a fist. Of course, some of the Rahi had lived alongside the Matoran even in her time (my time?). They had been pets to the Matoran, or tools, and it had always burned at her pride to see them as such. Had so many of them really –
“They were happy, Krahka.” Onewa’s voice was soft. “Most of them lived free, independent of us. Others – the Gukko, the Ussal Crabs – were our friends and partners.”
She growled lightly at that. First the Matoran let the city crumble, then her fellow Rahi abandoned it – an instinctive frustration was eating away at her. They had all been so quick to let her home fall to ruin.
They walked on in silence a while longer. At the foot of the street was the deserted remains of a chute station; the pipe was long since shattered, a barren bed of an artificial river. The station itself was cracked and decayed, even the steps leading up to it beginning to crumble with the weight of the years.
“Tell me,” she finally said, “where did you all go?”
“Mata Nui.” He looked over to see her furrowing the brow of her mask in confusion and groaned. “Of course. You don’t know Mata Nui, the island.”
“What a –“ she struggled for the word –“redundant name.”
He chortled. “It was. It was the least we could do to keep the Matoran connected to the Great Spirit, I guess.”
“Tell me, then,” she said, idly shifting a hand to tentacle and back. “What sort of place was it?”
He looked up at the empty station. “Where do I begin? It was beautiful. I’m certain it still is now.”
“Where is it?”
He gestured to the sky. “Above us, if you can believe it.”
He smiled at that. “It was a place of purity. When we arrived, there was no sign that Matoran had ever set foot there. I can still remember the sound of the waves lapping up against that golden shore.”
“I can’t, Onewa. Get to something more solid.”
His smile grew wider. “Fine. The island was a mirror of this city, but where there is metal and stone here, there was earth and tree there. Po-Koro was a desert, but it was never a dead place. The crags and bluffs were of the cleanest sandstone, and soon the Mahi had taken to roaming the sands as though it were the only home they’d ever known.” He smiled. “I guess we were much the same.”
That flame of frustration had leapt up inside of her once more, but there was something painful tingeing it now. “It sounds – peaceful.”
“It was, in a way.” He sighed. “The Makuta came with us, corrupting all he touched. For a thousand years we fought off Rahi brought to madness by his poisons, and slept in fear of the shadows.”
Krahka frowned and kicked away a stone. “Fear of the shadows? You Toa truly did let yourselves go.”
Onewa’s mask darkened. “I know,” he muttered. “Believe me, we weren’t happy about it.”
“Then why didn’t you do something?”
“Easier said than done,” he said. “It is one thing to stand against the Makuta when you are the destined Toa. It is another to take up arms against him when you are a weak little reflection of your past, the ghost of something that was only given power because of his whims.”
Krahka started at that. She had forgotten the task Roodaka had had her carry out, the old secrets of the Makuta she had laid bare for them. “Did those tablets’ words truly weigh so hard on you?”
“No,” he said. “Not ultimately. But we always remembered them, on the darkest nights.” He turned and set off down the street. “Come on. I haven’t been down towards the Great Temple since we’ve returned. Let’s see what a thousand years have done to it.”
Ga-Metru was silent at this time of night. Nokama’s people were even more reluctant to reclaim the city than Onewa’s, and it was only the light of an occasional glowstone that guided their path.
“It’s strange,” Krahka said. “This must be the longest I’ve ever walked these streets without running into some Toa charging off to ruin someone’s day.”
“You just missed them,” Onewa replied. “They left on a quest of their own some weeks ago.”
“And left the city unguarded?” She snorted. “The old fire-spitters, Lhikan and Dume – what would they say?”
“Dume is still with us. And he understands their quest is necessary.”
“I heard,” she said, shifting an arm from Matoran’s to Turaga’s and back. “Even with six other Turaga, he can’t resist playing the leader.”
“So you were that Gukko.”
“It pays to know where one’s enemies are, even if it takes some time to recognize them.”
Onewa let the barb slide. “Tell me, Krahka – what happened to you? How did you survive? Where did you go?”
She let her arm grow and shift until it was an amalgamation of the Toa Metru’s. “You remember this little trick of mine. I introduced the Zivon to it.”
“And got pulled into another dimension for your troubles,” Onewa muttered. “One which that – thing was born of. You’ll excuse me for taking it as death.”
“You Toa always did underestimate me.”
He sighed. “Krahka, the last thing we did together was ride a Tahtorak through the city. I don’t think it’s possible for me to underestimate you anymore.”
“A shame there isn’t one around. It would have been a better way for us to pick up where we left off.”
“Whatever happened to him, anyway?”
“Ask the southerners.”
Onewa winced. “I feel sorry for anyone there who doesn’t have an answer.”
“If they aren’t ready for the occasional titan, they have nobody to blame but themselves.”
“Rahi wisdom we could all take to heart,” he replied. “The south, you say?”
“Something there opened a gate to our prison. We wasted no time in escaping.”
“And the first thing you did was return here?”
“Is there something the matter with that?” she snapped, her arm solidifying back into a Matoran’s.
“Not at all. This place is your home.”
She gave a small harumph and looked away, and he let the topic drop.
For a time they walked on in silence. Something she had noticed was weighing on her mind, and when she spoke again, she could not hide the curiosity in her voice. “We passed Nokama’s home, did we not?”
“We did,” he said. His staff clattered against the cool stone street.
“You don’t intend to tell your brothers I’ve returned?”
“So Whenua can try and lock you in the Archives?” he replied, the joke stale before it left his mouth.
She regarded him in silence, and he sighed. “No. Not yet. Maybe not ever, depending on – what you want to do.”
She looked away, and hoped he didn’t think she had an answer to that.
The bridge to the Great Temple was still and silent under the light of the stars. Its great stone gate stood undisturbed, and though it carried the same wear as the rest of the city, the sheer size of it seemed to drown out any challenges to its grandeur. Past it, she could see scaffoldings lining the walls of the temple itself, the first signs of the Matoran’s attempts to undo the damage of years past.
“Why here?” Krahka asked.
“It’s like I said. I haven’t been here since I was a Hordika.”
“And that’s it?” she asked.
He hesitated. “And – I’ve come here twice before. Once as a Matoran, once as a Hordika. I’d like to see how it looks as a Turaga.”
The two crossed the bridge to its entrance in silence.
Save a small, lit candle placed beneath a carving of a Po-Matoran, the temple’s interior was as desolate as the rest of the city. Around them, murals and statues proclaimed the city’s history and the legends of the Great Spirit. The stone beneath their feet was lined with crystal, and she could hear the waves of Ga-Metru lapping away beneath the building.
“It’s hardly changed,” she murmured.
“You came here often?”
“No. On the days I borrowed a Matoran’s shape and visited the surface, I had better things to do than see some old drawings.”
To her surprise, he laughed. “You sound like me back when I was still a Matoran. Don’t think I ever came here until Lhikan summoned us.”
“He always had a flair for the dramatic.”
“You knew him?”
She shrugged. “He was this city’s Toa before you were. I knew him as much as any other did.”
“But he never confronted you?”
“He stayed out of my way, and I stayed out of his.”
The answer seemed to satisfy him, and he said no more. Blasted Turaga. If he gives that little knowing silent smile one more time-
“There,” Onewa said, and pointed a finger. The chamber ahead of them was anchored by a round, squat structure. In the ceiling above, a panel had fallen loose, and the dim light of the stars gave a pearly glow to the room.
“This is where it began,” she heard him mutter, as if to himself. “Lhikan had us come here, Toa Stones in hand, and plunge into the world of heroes.”
“Sounds more like he shoved you into the job.”
“I guess he did.” The Turaga hobbled forward into the room, and she followed him at a slight distance. Something in his stance had changed, and she could smell the anxiety wearing away at him.
For a while they stood there in silence. He was staring intently at the Suva, gripping his staff so hard it had begun to tremble.
“Well?” she asked.
“How does it look as a Turaga?”
He stiffened and looked back over his shoulder to her. She met his gaze.
He turned back to the Suva. “Wrong,” he spat, and threw his staff down. He took a step towards it, and another, and as he stumbled over a crack in the ground she was there to catch him.
“I know I shouldn’t feel like this,” he whispered as they sat themselves on its edge. “But – Mata Nui take it all, this isn’t –“
“It’s not how it should be,” she finished for him. Something flittering and hopeful had planted itself in her breast.
“No,” he said wearily. “No, it’s not. On Mata Nui I could survive being a Turaga. But here? In this city?” He shuddered. “How am I supposed to deal with sitting here, weaker than I’ve ever been, in the remains of what used to be my home?”
“I’d love to know myself,” she said, resting a hand on his shoulder. She had been right to come to him, after all.
“This –“ he waved around them, at the crumbling walls of the temple – “it isn’t how it was supposed to be. When we became Toa, do you know what we wanted? To protect our city. Simple as that. That’s all a Toa was meant to do, as far as we cared.”
“Even if that meant crossing me?”
He gave a short, barking laugh. “Of course. We thought it was so simple – just root out the Morbuzakh, watch out for the occasional Krahka, stomp a few Rahkshi – and soon things would be back to normal.”
“But it wasn’t that easy, was it?”
“Is anything?” He gave a heaving sigh. “You know, until the end – until we threw away our Toa powers – I thought things could still fix themselves. I was certain I’d walk the streets of Po-Metru as a proud Toa, see the glories my people made for themselves. I got an island, a thousand years of guard duty, and a half-broken city for my troubles.”
“Maybe they still can,” she said. “These new Toa of yours – when they return, perhaps they can aid you in rebuilding-“
She stopped short. He was chuckling tiredly. “No, Krahka,” he finally managed to say. “No, I’m afraid it won’t be that simple. There’s too many things in motion, these days. Toa and Makuta and masks and Great Spirits…” He let out another sigh. “I’ve got no clue how it’ll all end up. But I don’t think it’ll be with the lot of us happily going about our days in the city.”
“So what?” she snapped at him. That gnawing fear was back. “You’re just going to sit back and let that happen?”
He looked down at his hands. “Tell me, Krahka. Why did you fight with us, that day?”
“Don’t dodge the question, Onewa.”
“I’m not,” he replied. “I just need to hear your answer first.”
“For –“ she hesitated and frowned. Very cute, Onewa. “For the same reason as you. To protect this city.”
“Not quite,” he said. “We fought for our people, Krahka. This city is important, true, but they were our duty.”
“Spare me the lectures,” she growled back. “Make your point.”
“My point is that even as a bunch of half-mad half-Rahi, even with the city buried under those accursed cocoons, nothing had changed for us, really. We still had our people to protect. It didn’t matter what shape we came in, or where we fought – our duty was the same as ever.”
“So – “ he held out one of his arms. “So look at me now. I can barely walk some days, much less go Tahtorak-riding. It’s my job to stand around and look wise now, not to be out there fighting. That’s how I’m supposed to ‘protect’ them.”
“And you’re happy with that?”
“Would you be?”
She remembered how it had felt to walk in the Turaga’s skin, the sense that she was crumbling away. She shook her head violently. “Never.”
The smirk turned bitter. “Well, at least you’re honest with yourself. I can only assume giving up my Toa power seemed tremendously noble to me at the time.”
“Look, Onewa – if you hate being a Turaga so much –“
“Hate might be too strong-“
“Shut it. If you hate it so much, then why did you do it?”
He turned away from her and looked out into the darkness of the temple. “I couldn’t say. In that moment, I knew it had to be done. That’s all.”
“Is that so.” She looked up; above them, the stars were shining bright, even if they had shifted more than they had any right to. “That almost sounds familiar.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him start. “I told you I fought to protect this city, didn’t I? But I didn’t think about it. This place is my home, my territory. The only one I’ve ever known. Fighting for it is as natural as breathing.” Idly, she picked a pebble from the ground and twirled it through her fingers. “I suppose it’s the same for you Turaga and your Matoran.”
“And look where that’s got the two of us now,” he muttered.
For a while, they sat there in silence.
“How do you live with it?” she finally asked.
He shrugged. “It took a while. About a thousand years, if we’re exact. And I had some help along the way. Hafu’s carvings, a star Kolhii run or two by Hewkii, Pohatu’s feats of wonder…”
“You must have had quite the time on this Mata Nui of yours.”
“It was easy to forget there - to tell yourself that you only ever were a Turaga, that there was no city awaiting your return.” He gave a sour smile. “Of course, that only worked on the good days. On the bad days you’d hobble into bed and think about how maybe the Morbuzakh wasn’t that awful after all.”
“You know, I never thanked you Toa for cleaning that one up.”
“I never said I was thanking you. You get enough praise as is.”
He flat-out guffawed at that, and she jumped and turned to him, fighting down the reflex to form an extra mouth or two. “Something funny, Turaga?”
“Yes,” he said warmly, and turned to face her. A shock of recognition ran down her back. The weariness was gone from the Turaga’s burning orange eyes, and for half an instant some distant voice in her said Toa. “You know, Krahka – I missed you.”
She took a step backwards. Perhaps the Turaga had gone mad and she simply hadn’t noticed?
“I mean it,” he went on. “That – what you just said – it’s perfect. Nobody ever told us we got thanked too much on Mata Nui. Nobody ever did anything except follow the old legends, pay their dues to the Toa, listen to the Turaga…” the lines of his mask relaxed in disappointment. “Not even us.”
“Don’t fool yourself, Onewa. If I hadn’t had to deal with that Zivon, I’d have stayed in Metru Nui, not wasted my time on a bunch of Matoran.”
“But you did deal with that Zivon.” His voice was confident now, so much like the Onewa she’d known that it set her on edge. “You saved us.”
“I told you, it was for the city-“
“Oh, forget the city,” he shot back. “What’s a city? A whole bunch of roads and buildings we pretend has some special meaning. I fought for my people, you fought for your Rahi, and that day we each fought for the other. Am I wrong?”
“You-“ she took another step away from him. “Enough of your Turaga-tales, Onewa.”
“Krahka.” He reached out a hand. “Am I wrong?”
“That’s-“ Words were failing her. For a second she had the wild urge to shift and take flight, to leave the Turaga alone in this crumbled place.
But Krahka did not run.
“I don’t know,” she finally said. “In the heat of that battle – I can’t tell you what I was thinking. Maybe I didn’t want to see you all crushed, or maybe I just didn’t like the Zivon’s face.”
“You just went with what felt right?”
“It got me that far.”
“That it did,” he replied, and sat back on the Suva. He gestured for her to join him, and after a moment, she hesitantly sat herself down at his side.
“You know,” he said, his tone almost cheery, “you were the first person I couldn’t save.”
“Since when did I need saving?”
“Never, but spend enough time as a Toa and you start talking that way. What I mean is, I thought you died for us, because I wasn’t quick enough, or strong enough, or – well, the point is you died. Or close enough. And you took a bit of Metru Nui with you.”
“Do you Turaga ever speak straight?”
He scrunched up his face for a second. “Well, I’ll try.” He looked at her. “The time we fought together was extraordinary, you weren’t anything like my fellow Toa or the Matoran, for the next thousand years I missed you terribly both as a friend and as a connection to my home, and whenever I found myself powerless as a Turaga I remembered failing you. Straight enough?”
She stammered for a moment – Karzahni take it, Turaga never could resist packing half a dozen stories into a single sentence – “Hold on, Toa. Since when were we friends?”
“I thought we’d already established that was around the time we rode a giant lizard through the city together.”
“You have odd taste in friends.”
“You have no idea,” the Turaga said with a smile. She smirked back and wondered why. Something had snapped the tension between them without her even realizing it.
The Turaga continued, “But that’s not quite what I mean. I mean – I wish you could have come with us to Mata Nui. It was a long thousand years. I could’ve used someone who didn’t take my every word as wisdom.”
“A village of Matoran taking your words as wisdom? It’s a miracle the Mahi didn’t wind up enslaving you instead.”
The joke had come without thinking, but the instant it left her mouth a lifetime of instincts roared back to life. What was she doing, joking with a top-dweller? He is a Turaga, Krahka. Rahi are his pets and workers, not his equals.
Onewa must have seen her face darken, for his own grew serious. “Krahka – I spoke true when I said the Rahi came with us of their own volition. They roamed free, and those that lived at our side did so willingly.”
“They must have thrown away a hundred thousand years of bad memories very quickly,” she muttered.
He sighed. “For a while, few would come near us. The Matoran didn’t understand why. Some thought that was just the natural order of things.”
“Maybe it is.”
“Maybe – “ he hesitated, and when he spoke again his voice was soft. “Maybe it used to be.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What?”
“Krahka.” He reached out and rested a hand on hers. She waited for herself to pull away, and didn’t. “You asked me how I live as a Turaga.”
“Why do you Turaga never answer my questions in order?”
“Because we’re too used to using twenty words where one will do-“ he shook his head. “Krahka, in the course of one evening you’ve dredged up doubts and resentments my brothers have failed to hear for a thousand years. Becoming a Turaga wasn’t easy for any of us. The world had changed, and us with it. But no matter what – there was a part of me that wouldn’t let go.”
“Sounds natural enough to me.”
“Maybe it is. But what I realized is that there are changes that will tear away everything you held onto to live your life. And when they come, you can’t look back too long if you want to survive.”
“’Too long’?” She snorted. “Turaga wisdom has gotten weaker since I left.“
An old voice kicked up inside her. Enough. “No,” she cut in. “I – whatever it is you’re going to say, Onewa, it is for your people and not for me. I am not a Matoran.” She pulled back, let a Gukko’s wings sprout from her back, felt her face harden into the smooth plate of a Rahkshi. “I don’t need to hear your ramblings-“
“Don’t run away from this,” he said, his face showing no response to the form she had taken.
She felt herself tensing. “Run away? Who do you think-“
“I know you don’t want to let go of the Metru Nui you knew. I know you want to believe you can go back to the life you had.” His voice grew raw and hurt. “Because every day I walk these streets, I feel the same way. I would give anything to have the strength to protect my people myself again. I haven’t forgotten the past, I swear to you. It drives me as much as anything else.
“But I can’t let myself be chained to it. The world is going to keep moving on, with or without me. We have to survive, Krahka. We have to change with it, as we did – as your Rahi did on Mata Nui.” He reached out a hand once more. “And I wish so badly you had been there to change with us.”
One of her hands was shaking, jumping from Toa’s to Vortixx’s to Matoran’s and back again. “Onewa-“
“You shouldn’t have to go through this alone. We survived those first days as Turaga because we had each other. But you have to make that same leap we did long after everyone else has. So-“ he reached his hand out further.
For a few moments they stayed like that. Something deep within her was raging and whirling, howling with the same cries that her caged brothers in the archives once did. Fool Turaga doesn’t know doesn’t understand isn’t fighting why is he how is he this is wrong wrong wrong-
A Krahka’s claw shot out and gripped the Turaga’s hand. He smiled.
They stopped at a small, rusted little hatch in the ground of a Ga-Koro back alley. Krahka saw him looking up at the sky as she tore its latches from the ground with her bare hands.
“This is it, then?” he asked.
She nodded. “The Archives run the length of this city twice over. Even if this is a dead end, it will be nothing to blast my away back into them.”
“What do you hope to find down there?”
“Anything,” she said quietly. “A Nui-Rama hive that survived the years – a Rahkshi nest that needs disciplining – I need to know what’s there and what’s not if I’m going to survive this city anew.”
“You have us,” he responded. “Don’t forget that.”
“I know,” she muttered, refusing to meet his eyes. “But I survived down there long enough before. I don’t expect I’ll be needing any of your help.”
They both knew that wasn’t what he had meant.
He sighed. “Be careful, Krahka. These are dark times. It may be that not even the Archives are safe anymore.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Do you realize what you just said?”
“Safe for you.”
“Better.” She looked down into the darkness, and paused. “Tell me. Is this city in danger?”
“I don’t know. But I would be very surprised if it isn’t.”
“Do not expect me to fight for your Matoran if it is. That is your duty, not mine.”
“But –“ she looked up at him, and she could see the hope in his eyes. “If you ever need refuge, I have no intention of abandoning this place again.”
“I’ll remember that,” he said. “Thank you, Krahka.”
She gave a small snort and turned away to descend into the hatch.
He blinked. She looked up at him and gave an apologetic smile from behind her mask. “The Toa Metru are gone now. I have no desire to recreate others’ glories.”
He sagged. “I understand. Forgive a weak old Turaga a moment of nostalgia.”
She shrugged and turned away; he did the same. They had said all that needed to be said, which is why she couldn’t stop herself from saying, “Onewa.”
He started and looked back to her. “It can get boring down there, once in a while. So if you ever see a second Vakama wandering around –“
He smirked. “I’ll keep quiet – if he lets me share his wanderings for an evening, once in a while.”
“After your ramblings tonight, that may be too high a price.” He lifted a brow in skepticism, and her scowl faded away into the smile it had been hiding. “But then again, perhaps not.”
He smiled back. “Until we meet again.”
“Until then,” she said, and hopped down into the hatch without the slightest ceremony. The tunnel was dark and cold, and without thinking she traded her eyes for a night-crawler’s and her body for a sturdy Mahi bull’s.
As she trundled away down the tunnel, she could hear him breathing just above the surface.
“Thank you,” she thought she heard him say.
For a very long moment she thought about replying. And then she turned back down the tunnel and dove into the darkness of her home.
[Author's note: For the good peoples of Tumblr and also Hahli Husky! Sorry this took so long.
Truth is, this was supposed to be done like, months ago, and then Janus came in and pointed out a billion things that needed improvement, so I rewrote it and it is now much better thanks to his help. I hope you enjoyed this little foray into Rahi/Turaga not-quite-romance as much as I did! Thoughts, comments, criticisms - they're all welcomed.]
Edited by GSR, Aug 07 2014 - 06:13 PM.