An author's note before we get started: this fic is a sequel of sorts to "Fractures", the first story I ever put on BZP. (Give or take a "human on Mata Nui" one circa 2004. I was twelve.) You can read this without having read "Fractures", but it probably works a little better if you have.
This was, by his count, the seventy-seventh day of peace.
It was some two hundred since Makuta had fallen, but he would leave that as a reference for the historians. The Great Spirit’s departure had marked nothing more than the day they stepped foot upon a new world; it had not stopped the coming of Marendar, nor the fall of the Mahri. It had solved no murders, found no missing Toa, uncovered no secrets. All it had done for Toa Onua was give him a world of trouble - quite literally.
So it was natural that when peace arrived, he didn’t notice at first. True, there had been no great crises one particular day; nobody had come seeking help fighting back a pack of Skrall, no Agori had asked for aid in treating with the Bota Magnans. But there had been small problems – a minor collapse at the city mine, a crack in Nuparu’s prosthetic, a lost bag of widgets.
And then the next day was quiet, and the next, and the next. He had waited, as he had learned to do, for the hammer to fall. It took him fully thirty days before he realized what was happening.
But that was what they had now.
“Tell me, brother. Have we forgotten something?”
Lewa looked up from the bowl – Thornax stew, wildly popular with the Le-Matoran these days, much to the Agori’s confusion – and raised a brow. “You’re not getting into one of your deep-thought moods, are you, Onua? Because I’m really, really hungry-“
Onua sighed; it was the best way to hide a smile, he’d found. “Not tonight, Lewa. I simply mean – is there some responsibility we have forgotten? Some danger we’re not noticing?”
“No,” Lewa said promptly, and downed half the bowl.
“I don’t know how you can eat like that.”
“Well, first you lift the bowl to your mouth-“
Onua sighed again and plucked a Bula from another bowl on the table. Without thinking, he curled his fingers around it and let the energy from the fruit flow into him. “Would that Mata Nui had given us all such resistance to culture shock.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad,” the other Toa said, returning his now-empty bowl to the table. “You just have to listen to the Agori and figure out what works and what doesn’t. I survived learning tree-speak from the Le-Matoran; I can make do with a yummier way of eating.”
To the best of Onua’s knowledge, ‘yummy’ hadn’t even been a word before Spherus Magna. He placed the now-fallow fruit in a third bowl and leaned back in his chair. “To return to the topic at hand – I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s something vital I’ve forgotten. Something we’ve all forgotten.”
Lewa shrugged and looked away. “It’s peace-time getting to your head, brother. You need a hobby. You should come quick-racing with me-“
“Berix’s fixed up the land-rambler, it’s perfectly safe now-“
For a while, neither said anything, and silence filled the little hut. Onua’s home was at the outskirts of Onu-Atero, far from the bustle of the city and close as could be to the road out to the mines, and when the sky was still and the moon was shining as it was tonight, one could feel as though the world had stopped outside the hut’s four walls.
In time, Onua shook his head. “Perhaps you’re right. I admit, I’m not sure what to do with myself some days. I’m afraid I’d gotten rather used to dealing with crises.”
“Well, someone had to,” Lewa said teasingly. “I still owe you one for the Krana, and another for pulling me out of that jungle-tribe.”
“And the infected mask?”
The other Toa grinned. “I’ve already paid you back for that one.” Onua raised a brow and waited for him to go on, but when Lewa felt like playing coy, his smile could stand up to a horde of raging Kikanalo.
They passed the rest of the evening with those brittle, squarish, thin things the Agori were so fond of.
“Cards, Onua. They’re called ‘cards’.”
“Since when were you the one teaching me vocabulary?”
“Teaching you what now?”
He was somewhere else.
I’m dreaming, he thought, and knew it was true. It was dark around him, but not the dark of the unfamiliar land he couldn’t quite call home yet. This was somewhere he knew, somewhere he had been, once-
Someone called his name.
When he woke, he remembered nothing.
On the eighty-eighth night, he found himself stargazing. The old tree he was sitting beneath was plain to the point of being a good candidate for illustrating an Agori’s children’s book, but it had become something of a favorite spot of his.
“What’s eating you, pops?”
…And of hers. He looked over his shoulder to see Kiina leaning around the other side of the tree, eyebrows raised. “Nothing,” he replied.
“Ah, don’t give me that. You know you’re a terrible liar?”
“Since now.” The Glatorian turned away. “Don’t start messing with these little chats of ours, hey? I was starting to get fond of them.”
He smiled and turned back to the sky. “As am I.”
Kiina said nothing more for a few minutes; Onua could tell she was waiting for him to break the silence. And when he didn’t-
“Seriously, though. You’ve been acting weird the past couple weeks.”
“M-hm. Used to be I’d hardly see you around during the day- you were always out dealing with some kinda crisis. Now I see you helping little old Agori cross the street, or giving some Matoran a hand selling shiny rocks.”
“Is there something wrong with that?”
“Nah. But if I didn’t know better, I might say you’re getting bored.”
He shook his head. “My duties as a Toa are many things, but it will never bore me to help my people.”
“You don’t need to be coy, earth-head. I know what it’s like to go from adventure to everyday, remember?”
“Kiina,” he said, his voice a bit sharper than intended, “I do not help my people for some – thrill.”
“See, this is what I’m talking about. You’re being touchy. You’re never touchy.”
“It’s not a joking matter.”
“Hey.” She leaned around the tree again. “You wanna take a deep breath or ten? I’m just saying what I see – and what I see looks a lot like me a few months ago. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed. Lewa’s worried about you, and I’d bet the rest of your team is too - they just don’t get a chance to talk my ear off like he does.”
He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. “…My apologies. It’s true that lately I’ve had a sense of – unease.”
“Care to be maybe slightly not-vague?”
“I would if I could.”
“Fine. You sure it’s not just everyday life catching up to you?”
“Lewa asked me the same thing, but - no.” He paused. “I don’t know.”
He heard her sigh behind him. “Listen, pops. The people here are already safe thanks to you lot. You need to calm down.”
“That’s not one I hear often.”
Another sigh. “Look, maybe ‘bored’ was the wrong word. But you’re not used to this – danger’s gone, but you’re still here. I know you weren’t in it for the excitement, but that doesn’t mean you’re gonna take the change easily.”
He smiled again. “When did you start giving advice to me?”
“’Bout the time you started needing it. What I’m saying is, you don’t gotta be the hero all the time. The Matoran aren’t the only ones who get to enjoy peace, y’know? Don’t wear yourself out looking for trouble that isn’t there.”
He blinked a few times and looked up. The moon was hardly a sliver in the sky tonight.
“I’ll try,” he finally said.
“Better than nothing,” she muttered.
Silence fell between them once more. He was a better liar than she thought.
On the ninety-ninth night, he stayed at Lewa’s.
“Stayed” was perhaps too simple a term – he was trapped at Lewa’s, maybe. Fenced in. Left without choice for a few different reasons. The first was practical – it was well past moonrise, and his home was on the other end of the city. The second was also practical, in the sense that not ignoring an erupting volcano is practical; Lewa was two bottles deep into Kiina’s stash of “Agori moonshine”, and the next time Onua saw her, he was going to have some very choice words. For now, though-
“The night’s still young, brother,” sang Lewa, apparently unaware of the fact he was entagled in that absurd hammock he’d set up in the living room.
“Not young enough to go out in that pile of scraps, Lewa. And you’re in no state to do anything.”
“Don’t be like that,” the other Toa said, his head now poking through the bottom of the ropes. “You never let yourself have any fun, Onua-“
“Tonight was plenty of fun before she stopped by- nevermind that she didn’t even have the grace to stay-“
“You deserve to let loose once in a while! You’ve saved us all… how many times, now?”
There was a thud as gravity transferred Lewa from hammock to floor. Onua sighed and looked down at his friend; getting him to his bed was a losing proposition. Maybe he could get him back up onto the hammock, at least-
“How many times, Onua…?”
Blanket and floor, then. “I don’t count, Lewa.”
“If I was you, I’d count. I do count. I’ve only got one time under my belt, you-“ Lewa’s hand lifted from the ground and pointed itself at Onua like a rather confused snake – “you’ve got plenty. See, you’re doing one right now.”
Onua couldn’t help but smile a bit. “I don’t think bringing a blanket over counts as ‘saving’ you, Lewa. It counts as being a good friend.”
Lewa made a small and slightly rude noise. “Stick in the mud.”
“So tell me,” Onua said, as he dropped the blanket over the other Toa, “what is that one time?”
“’S nothing,” the Toa of Air said, his voice slightly muffled by his inability to move his head out from under the sheet. “You wouldn’t remember anyway.”
Onua paused. “What wouldn’t I remember?”
There was the distant night-cooing of the Gukko.
But the other Toa was fast asleep.
Someone was yelling for him. Someone he knew. He was running, running, running, but nothing was moving –
I’m dreaming, he thought again,
And it was true, for now.
He had never heard Lewa cry before. It was a quiet sound, short and sharp and trying altogether too hard to not be noticed, but in an instant it cut through his dream and deposited him back on top of the hammock. There was a second of confusion, and then he was on the floor and at the other Toa’s side; his brother had kicked away the blanket and wrapped his arms around himself, but his eyes were still dim, locked in a world only he could see.
Onua called his name again and again, shook him, pounded the ground, and there was no response until, very suddenly, there was.
“Alive!” the other Toa shouted. “Onua’s not dead, he’s alive, that never happened-“
And there they were – the Toa of Earth and the Toa of Air, his eyes worried, his eyes wild, and the Gukko had stopped cooing.
“What have you done, Lewa?”
His brother’s explanation made little sense – but given the events in question were entirely impossible, that could be forgiven. Onua stopped him more than once with questions – how had Tren Krom gotten his hands on the Vahi? How had Lewa found him? Had Tren Krom taken control of the Vahi at the end, or had the Vahi itself come alive? How many of these other timelines had Lewa seen? Why Vezon, of all people?
When his brother finished his tale, they sat in silence a while. The Toa of Air’s voice was hoarse when he spoke again.
“Not often - I don’t have these dreams often. But they’re there – pieces of me I thought I left behind when I banished Tren Krom back to where – when – he belonged. I used them to fight him, and now they won’t go.”
Onua had long since rested a hand on his friend’s shoulder; he squeezed it once, an old reassurance. “Just dreams, Lewa. That’s all they are.”
“Are they, brother?” Lewa’s eyes flicked away for a moment. “They happened – they’re real. I lived those lives. I just – I forget, sometimes. Because remembering feels like this.”
Onua paused, then buried the thought that had come to mind. “What do you need me to do, Lewa?”
Lewa opened his mouth for a moment, closed it, shook his head.
They stayed like that for a long, long time.
Somehow, the sun didn’t seem to get around to rising until they opened their eyes again.
Onua’s heart was in the right place, but his style of investigation was… perhaps a little too deliberate. He managed to corner all six of the Turaga, only to ask them the same questions: did they know about the side effects the Vahi could have? Did they know where it was now? Did they know how to find it? How to use it – maybe even how to cure someone with it?
All he got for his efforts was a name – “Voporak” – and a conversation with the Order made it clear that nobody knew where the Dark Hunter had gone.
It took him three days, a dozen Toa, and some very confused Glatorian to find another lead - of sorts. Onua found the sand-colored, scarred Agori sitting in a Po-Atero bar; he was less than cooperative at first, but at the word ‘Vahi’ his hand tightened around his glass.
“So that thing’s still around?”
“You know it?”
“Knew of it. A long, long time ago, when it was just a few schematics up on the wall of an old acquaintance.”
“Who was it? Where are they now?”
The Agori laughed bitterly. “Listen, Toa. If I knew where the Great Beings were, you think I’d be going town to town storytelling for a living?”
“Then tell me what you do know.”
The Agori – his name was Vatomu, by the way – took a sip of his drink and pretended to think. “Got a map?”
“There,” Vatomu said, and circled a certain mountain with a flourish. “Bottom of the east-most bluff, look for a false wall. You’ll find an old laboratory there. Or what’s left of it.”
“How do you know this?”
“Because I was the last person to visit it. Twenty years ago. Let me say ahead ‘a time: sorry about the mess.”
Onua took the map and folded it carefully before placing it in the old rucksack on his back. “Thank you.”
“You won’t find anything,” the Agori replied, bemused. “And even if you did, I’d stay far, far away from it.”
The Toa didn’t bother to reply; he simply turned and left the bar.
Vatomu stared into space for a little while, then finished his drink and did the same.
The Agori spoke truthfully; Onua found little in that dusty, metal chamber far beneath the earth. Strange machines and gaping screens criss-crossed the room, but they slept beneath a fine layer of ash and dust. When the Toa’s foot kicked against the fallen head of a hammer it clattered across the floor, sounding for all the world like a confused Bohrok.
Three hours’ searching turned up nothing, of course – it was the final ten seconds, as he made for the door, that granted a hint. One extra set of footprints, running along the wall, lead the way to an emptied safe.
When he returned to the surface, it was with a renewed sense of purpose. Someone else had been there recently, and the footprints were too large to be an Agori’s. Voporak, perhaps? (They were, by the way.) The sun was on its way out for the day, and so the Toa made camp in the shadow of the bluff. He would return to New Atero and redouble his investigation in the morning.
He could see, this time. Onu-Koro. I know these mines. Half a kio in that direction is the village, a third in the other is shaft #4-
He turned and sped off down the tunnel. Someone was yelling for him. Someone needed his help. Someone-
When he awoke the next morning, all thoughts of Voporak had vanished. Because he thought he understood.
Lewa looked better than the last time they had spoken, which wasn’t a difficult task. The two of them were back at Onua’s home, and the Toa of Air was silent as his brother laid out his theory.
“When the Vahi was going mad, you saw hundreds of different timelines, different worlds – different Lewas. In the end, you returned here, and used your link to them to drive out Tren Krom and repair the Vahi. But if you used your connection with them – why couldn’t they use their connection with you?”
The Toa of Air frowned. “You think – there’s another-me out there, trying to talk to me?”
Onua shook his head. “No. I think he’s trying to talk to me. You aren’t the only one who’s had strange dreams lately.”
“That doesn’t make sense. You never used the Vahi, you’re not completely off your rocker like Vezon, never got to spend time as Tren Krom the Big and Nasty. Why are you getting mind-messages?”
“I can’t say for sure. But the Vahi is an incredibly powerful mask. It doesn’t seem impossible that someone using it as a conduit could contact me, wouldn’t you agree?”
“But why you?”
Onua hesitated. “In my dreams, I can hear a voice calling my name. They’re desperate, scared– “
“Oh.” Lewa’s mouth tightened into a bitter smile. “I don’t rely on you that much, do I?”
“In any event, I’ve sent a request to the Order – asking them for an Olmak.”
“You want to go dimension-hopping?”
“If this other you out there needs help, that would be the only way to reach him.”
Lewa nodded slowly, but didn’t bother to hide the doubt in his eyes. “You’re right, but – something about this feels off to me, Onua.”
Ordinarily, Onua would have agreed. But nothing about this whole affair was ordinary, after all. They were dealing with the Mask of Time, and parallel worlds, and all that sort of mess, and wouldn’t it be better to get it sorted out now? That was what he told himself, and what he told Lewa, and in time the other Toa relented, because snide asides aside, he did rely on Onua. Even if once in a while he wished he didn’t need to.
And with that the matter was settled – in the morning they would discuss the matter of the Olmak with Johmak, consult with someone about proper use, and set off on a grand adventure to save Lewa number 3,964 from whatever plight he might be in.
Onua had no dreams that night, but just before the moon began to set, he awoke all the same.
And when he does, he realizes very quickly that he has made some terrible mistake.
A few things tip him off to that fact: the first, that there is ‘silence’ and then there is ‘nothing’, and this is the latter. He goes to the window and looks out at the unmoving desert and the moons shining down, and it takes him a little while, but eventually his brain reaches a very simple question: why are there two moons?
The second hint is that Lewa is no longer breathing.
It’s quite a scene; the Toa of Earth shakes his friend, yells his name (pleads, really), splits open Lewa's armor and searches frantically for the heartlight. The horrid, sharp chill that has been snaking up inside him vanishes when he sees it is not extinguished, and he lets out a sigh of relief. And then he blinks in confusion - the heartlight is glowing, true, but it is not pulsing. All it does is look back at him, unwavering, apparently unconcerned that it’s breaking the laws of Toa physiology.
For a moment, the Toa of Earth pulls back from his friend, puts his hand to his face, tries to figure out what has gone wrong – and that’s when he glances out the other window, and the bird frozen in half-flap outside spells out the answer for him.
For a time (as much as that phrase means anything), Onua is at a loss for what to do. The answer, of course, is to step outside, to investigate this world caught between the ticks of a second, but his brain doesn’t quite allow him to do that. Doing that means abandoning Lewa, and wasn’t helping him the whole reason he got caught up in this mess? Of course it was, he tells himself.
It takes a little push to get him moving – a glint of light on the horizon, movement where none should be. The Toa looks from the window to his sleeping (for some definition of ‘sleeping’) brother, hesitates, leans down.
“I’ll be back soon,” he says, pointedly ignoring the fact it’s impossible in several different ways for Lewa to hear him. “I promise.”
There’s one last worried look, and then the Toa of Earth leaves his home.
He has always been the slowest of his brothers, but when it comes to persistence he has no equal, and so when he takes off running towards that ever-so-tantalizing horizon he does not ever slow or stop. It takes him precisely twenty minutes and three seconds to reach it.
When he gets there, he stops dead and just – stares at it for a few seconds. Which is an understandable reaction – there’s an island in the middle of the desert, after all. That sort of thing isn’t in the rulebook, and the fact that the line between desert sand and clayish, soft earth is sharp enough to cut yourself on doesn’t help matters.
To his credit, only now does he stop and ask himself if he’s dreaming. The answer is a resounding ‘no’, this time.
He takes a step onto this other earth, and is surprised to find it familiar. (He has never been here, of course.) He takes another step, and then another, and then he’s off running again.
The unease biting into his chest only grows as he traverses this new land; each outcropping, each glow of stone in the moonlight is at once utterly familiar and completely alien. He tries to piece things together as he goes – is this another timeline? Has someone put the Vahi to ill use? Is this where he’s been looking for – where that voice in his dreams is coming from? (The answers to his questions, not that he’ll know for sure for another thirty minutes and seventeen seconds, are “yes,” “not exactly,” and “in a sense.”)
He climbs up a rock, turns the corner, and freezes. A torchlight is burning in the darkness, and sitting beneath it is a Matoran.
No, not a Matoran. Matoran weren’t this – spikey, they didn’t have those strange mechanisms on their chests. It’s clearly not a Matoran. So why did he think it was?
The not-Matoran looks up in his direction – and then looks back down. Onua blinks, and takes a hesitant step forward, into the light. “Excuse me,” he calls out. Ever so polite.
No response. Onua clears his throat. Still nothing. He takes another step, ready to reach out – and stops, due to a slightly more pressing concern. His shadow has apparently decided to stay back on Spherus Magna.
Onua rests a hand on the not-Matoran’s shoulder all the same and gets no response. He’s a guard, that much is clear, and if he’s not reacting to someone touching him, the only (ir-)rational reason would be that from his point of view, he isn’t being touched at all.
Behind him is the mouth of a tunnel boring down into the earth, and Onua can see the glint of lightstones within. For all the world, it looks like Onu-Koro.
Onua gives the guard one last look, then walks past him, down into this other place.
He passes a few more of the still-not-Matoran shuffling through the passageway, tablets and tools in hand. One pair is deep in conversation, and he draws close enough to hear:
“-number four. Master Onua’s helping with the final excavation.”
“Truly? Can he afford to put his quest aside?”
“I asked him the same thing.” The shorter not-Matoran drops his voice an octave. “’My quest only has meaning because of you all. I would be a failure as a Toa if I were to turn away from where I could do good simply to chase after my own glories.’”
“He actually said that?”
“He did – we’re lucky to have him –“
“No, I mean, he actually said that many words…?”
Onua stops, and the pair go chattering away down the tunnel. His head has begun to ache and throb – in part, probably, because he has realized he does not speak the language of the Protectors, and yet he understands them perfectly. (This thought occupies his mind enough that he entirely misses the fact he has begun calling them ‘Protectors’.)
But he understands now, he thinks. If ‘Master Onua’ is here, then a ‘Master Lewa’ must be as well. There must be some danger at hand – something deadly enough that this Lewa’s cry for help went beyond this world’s Onua and reached him.
Four, they said something about a ‘four’. The Toa takes one last breath, then shakes his head and plunges into the tunnel twilight once more.
Mine shaft number four is incomplete. That much he can surmise from the moment he steps inside – parallel universe or not, he knows mining, and the half-laid tracks and scattered tools tell him it will be another few months before any real industry comes from this place. There’s hardly a soul around; they must be preparing for a controlled demolition, he thinks, drawing the right conclusion without noticing he has no concrete evidence for that theory. His gaze shoots from point to point as he enters the room, searching for any sign of that familiar green armor.
“Are you ready, Ahau?”
The voice comes rumbling down the shaft, and though it’s a little smoother, a little slower, Onua knows it as his own. Hesitantly, he steps to the edge of platform and looks up; far above him, he can make out the shape of a Toa, massive and dark.
“Almost, Master Onua!”
Another voice, from below, and Onua peers down to see a Protector, chipper and skinny, leaning out and waving back up.
The Toa blinks. Something’s wrong. The Protector has Lewa’s voice.
Or, no, that’s not it, he realizes.
He turns slowly – or it feels that way – (funny how time seems to speed up and slow down at the worst moments, isn’t it?) – opens his mouth, roars up to the other Onua. “STOP!”
The other Onua does not stop. He raises his drill and drives it through the wall before him, not that our Onua can see this. All our Onua sees is the fault line splitting. All our Onua feels is the rumbling of a cave-in. And all our Onua hears is the panicked voice of Ahau shouting that “Something’s wrong, Master Onua! It’s collapsing down here – help –“
A slab of rock finishes his sentence for him, and then all our Onua hears is his own roar of horror and anger, doubled a thousand times over.
“Well, have you figured it out yet?” I ask him.
He turns – spins on the spot, actually, not very like him at all – and falls over himself in the process. For a few moments all he can do is stare back up at me. I’ll give him credit – he doesn’t seem to mind at all that the world has dropped away from us entirely, and that we’re now standing where we shouldn’t be able to stand (on account of there being, well, nothing to stand on.)
He finds his voice in precisely two point six seconds. “Voporak?”
“Half-right,” I say. “He’s the body in this case.”
Point eight seconds. “Then you’re-“
“Vahi’s the name they usually use, isn’t it? It’s a pleasure to be having met you.”
He looks at my (Voporak’s) outstretched hand, and I giggle a bit. “Sorry. Tenses are so much fun. I don’t know how you people live with them.”
Anger comes flooding into his eyes. “You – what have you done?”
“You say that a lot, don’t you?” I sigh theatrically – a bit of Tren, a bit of Lewa – and shrug. “I’ve done very little. Just my normal function, really: a bit of timestream-patching here and there. It’s you Toa that seem to feel the need to go mucking about with them. It’s quite tiring.”
The Toa opens his mouth, closes it, put a hand to his head, takes a few deep breaths. “Tell me what is going on.”
“What, no guesses? Very blunt of you, Toa Onua. Almost boring. If Lewa were here, I’m sure he’d be running his mouth at a thousand words a minute.” I pause and think that over. “Come to think of it, that could get very busy between the two of us.”
“Vahi!” he yells. Ooh – bit of rumbling when he does that. It’s one thing to observe, quite another to see in person. “Explain. Now.”
“Very demanding, to boot. I might think you forget your place.” I tsk lightly – that one’s an old favorite of my designer – and wave a hand. We’re back outside the mineshaft, and the sky above us is beginning to split with the first vestiges of dawn. Quite literally.
He looks out over the horizon, at the sharp divide between the pink of Okoto’s sky and the midnight blue of Spherus Magna’s, and shakes his head. “Madness.”
“It’s really no worse than what Lewa went through, you know. Better, I’d say. This is just two timelines bunched together, not a dozen. I’ve even been nice enough to pause one of them for you, relatively speaking.”
“Then – it’s happening again? Time is breaking down? Has Tren Krom returned – is that what’s caused all this?”
“No, no, and no,” I say. “Please, Onua. Have you forgotten who you’re talking to? That… brute’s work was an oversight on my part. I’ve decided to take a much more hands-on role from now on, even if this whole consciousness thing takes some getting used to. Still, no need to worry about anything falling apart while I’m here.”
“Then what would you call this?”
“A controlled demolition.” The side of his face twitches beneath the Pakari, and I smile a bit. “I’m sorry. That’s a sensitive term right now, isn’t it? And it’ll likely stay that way for the foreseeable future. Or maybe it has been for a while?”
Behind us, there are hushed whispers coming from the mine, and the sound of an Elemental Master walking too slowly. Carrying something.
“Would you like to see him?” I ask. “I think you’ve put most of it together by now, but maybe you won’t really appreciate what the good Master is going through unless you see it firsthand.”
“I’ve seen enough,” the Toa replies, his voice sharp – but there’s a weariness beneath it, the one Lewa was always so good at spotting.
I tsk again. “Then do explain things. Put them in order for me. I’m afraid that was never a strong suit of mine.”
He turns and shoots me a glare. Very impressive. Kopaka was always the one with the reputation, but if you go and take a look over the long run – and I certainly have – I think you’d find that it was Onua who nailed the stink-eye.
“It wasn’t Lewa calling me,” he says. “The voice in my dreams was that – Protector’s. He’s the one who dies today. But I don’t know him – I don’t see how he would be connected enough to me to reach across time like this, to call me here.”
“So if he didn’t, who did?”
He looks back at the tunnel.
I know he’s going to punch me when I start clapping, but I just can’t stop myself. I push myself back onto Voporak’s face as I get up from the ground and nod approvingly. “That wasn’t all Pakari, was it? Taking up exercise in your downtime, very nice. Got to stay in tip-top shape, after all.”
“Why did you bring me here?”
Crick-crack. Voporak could use a little more durability on the jaw front. “I thought I said earlier? I’ve got very little to do with this. It just sort of happened.”
He closes his eyes. “…Lewa’s dreams. He had a sort of connection with his other selves – and somehow, that influenced me as well, let me reach out to this timeline’s Onua and vice-versa.”
“Sort of. Well, no. Not on the dream front, at least.”
He looks at me quizzically, and I shrug. “Oh, hasn’t he told you yet? He’s always had nightmares. Ever since you first knocked that infected mask off his face. And now look at you two - what sort of friend’s response to emotional trauma is to go questing? For shame, Toa Onua. Some might even say it’s like this was never about Lewa to begin with.”
This next punch I dodge. “Temper, temper.”
He’s breathing heavily. “Enough – taunts. Tell me why I am here.”
“Oh, please don’t make us go in circles, I do enough of that on my own. You know why-“
“I know my other self just watched one of his people die,” he snarls, then takes another breath. “That I – that I watched one of my people die.”
A few moments’ silence. I lean in. “Because of your mistake,” I stage-whisper.
This time there is no punch, and I stay right where I am. “So tell me, Onua. Why are you here? Why is it that your other self managed to put a little kink in space-time – and why were you the one to answer?”
The Toa doesn’t respond. This really is so much more fun than just observing; I’ll have to thank Ignika for the idea one of these days. I lean in a little closer. “How many, Toa Onua?”
“How many what?”
“How many times did you save them?”
“I don’t count.”
“Oh, you don’t? Let me try a different question, then. How many times didn’t you?”
It’s like snuffing out a candleflame. He slumps more than his natural hunchback ever did, and he refuses to meet my eyes. “Once.”
“And this makes twice!” I say, and spin away. “Oh, you don’t like to talk about it, do you? A mining accident, quite like this, albeit his name was different - started with a D, I think - but that time at least there was nothing you could do, you were off in another section, and after all it was supposed to be a controlled demolition, you didn’t know about it until afterwards, not that stopped you from blaming yourself and spending the whole night praying over his poor broken body, asking Mata Nui why this had to happen – not that he’d have been able to answer, you all could’ve used a crash-course in what he was and what he wasn’t – and then you came out the next day and never told the other Toa, except of course they knew, even if they didn’t let you know they knew, but you knew they knew, and oh, poor Lewa, he did think a party would cheer you up, after all that was how they dealt with deaths in Le-Koro, a good old-fashioned wake, and just once he wanted to be the one helping you and not vice-versa, no go but points for trying-“
“That’s enough.” One of his hands has curled into a fist again, but he does not move. “Tell me why.”
“Why what? Why you’re here? Honestly, this is the third time, get some better questions-“
“Tell me why you are here.”
“Ah,” I say, and click my tongue. Voporak’s. Technicalities. “That, I’m afraid, I can’t fully tell you. I can give you a simple answer, though it won’t be very satisfying. I’m here because I must be here.”
And for the first time, Toa Onua surprises me. (Or, rather, this was the part that surprised me when I first saw it. Now it’s old hat, of course.) In an instant, the weariness is gone, or at least buried; he’s standing tall once again, and his gaze has snapped away from anger or exhaustion into furious thought.
“You’re here because you must be? In other words, you knew this was going to happen – but you don’t have control over it.”
“Very close,” I say. “Very, very close indeed. Yes, I knew the two of us would wind up here.”
“Oh, it’s very simple. You’re going to put me on soon, and that’s going to give me a fantastic view of your timeline.”
“And why do I do that?”
“Well, I thought that was obvious.” I nod back to the tunnels. “You’re going to save his life. Answer that call for help. That’s what this whole thing’s about - it’s so difficult to make up for the failures when your world won’t give you any more chances for success, isn’t it? I’m just here to move things along.”
He eyes me warily, and I match his gaze. Another habit I picked up from a certain Great Being.
“You’re lying,” he concludes.
“Perhaps,” I say. (I am.) “But you don’t really have much of a choice, do you? If you walk away now – well, first of all, good luck. The timeline’s a bit wobbly at the moment, and I think you’ll find getting out more difficult than getting in. And second, if you leave that Protector to die, you will regret it. Unless you’d like that other Onua to start his own count?”
We stay like that a while longer, eyes locked.
“Give yourself to me,” he says.
“Never say that to Kiina if you don’t want a terrible misunderstanding,” I remark, and pull myself off Voporak’s face.
There’s a bit of a gap, then. It’s always a little blurrier when I haven’t got someone grounding me, but reality snaps back into focus quickly enough. Well, this is interesting, I say to him. You’re not as – snappy as Lewa was. And not as irritating as Tren. Not as boring as-
“-him?” Onua asks. I see with his eyes; Voporak is standing there, completely immobile.
Don’t worry about him. I’ll pick him up on the way out. It wasn’t very bright of them to give someone with that much time sensitivity the job of looking after me. Didn’t take long to convince him to put me on, and the rest is – well, history.
I can feel Onua’s mouth contort into a frown beneath me. (It tickles.) “You destroyed his mind.”
It was going anyway from all their tinkering; none of you people are made to work with the kinds of forces I do. And he was getting ideas. If anything, he should be thankful I was around to give him a little… guidance.
“I can see how Tren Krom got along with you just fine,” the Toa mutters.
Just the opposite, really. He was far too screamy near the end. I’ve tried to avoid using him as too much of a basis for my personality-
“Tell me what I need to do.”
Ah. Leave the next bit to me. And you may want to close your eyes.
It’s true that, for all my tricks, physical time travel is one I can’t properly do. I pulled it off with Lewa, but that was a special occasion – when the whole village is on fire, nobody stops to check if you’ve got official permission to go grab a bucket of water. And here, of course, my power is… limited. Distorted, perhaps you could say.
But I’ve always been quite good at moving my perception around timelines, and deciding to run with the whole consciousness thing has only sharpened that skill. So I take a look inside the Toa wearing me. It’s a simple thing, like floating down a river. Or up, in our case.
(For those of you wondering, yes, there is more than one river. Thousands of them. And one in particular runs parallel but separate – except for one violent rapid that cuts away and smashes into the one we’re moving along. For a moment I’m tempted to take a detour, beat back against that particular current, but – no. He’ll find me soon enough as is.)
Open your eyes.
We’re standing at the entrance of shaft four, exactly where he was before. Entirely exactly, to be precise. There is only one Onua Nuva standing here – and now he’s been through this before.
“Almost, Master Onua!” comes the call.
This time there is no hesitation. I feel the Toa’s will reach out into me, and – this is the part I always loathe – for a moment I am a mask, nothing more. Power flows through me, and the world slows.
Very good, I say as he dashes for the nearest ladder. Tahu wasn’t nearly as fine-grained in his control. Though I was in a bit rougher shape back then.
The Toa ignores me; he’s sliding down the ladder and looking out over the shaft. Ahau is not quite frozen across the way; he’s oh-so-slowly pulling back from his perch into the side tunnel where his life is slated to end in five point six seconds. Give or take a time dilation.
Onua’s off the ladder and sprinting now. For a moment I toy with the idea of slowing down his senses a bit, but no – his own brain’s got that front covered. Better hurry, I whisper. Time waits for no Matoran.
“Shut up,” he growls.
Oh, me? I never could.
Four point eight seconds. The Toa is pouring everything he has into me, but things are going as slow as they can. Far above, there’s the beginning of a fatal rumble. “Stop it,” he gasps. “For Mata Nui’s sake, there isn’t enough time-“
Do you realize who you just said that to?
He roars, turns, and leaps – for fully two point seven seconds, we’re flying through the air, the abyss of mine shaft number four happily waiting below us.
Well, hello there.
Oh dear. This is going to be a rougher landing than I had hoped.
I honestly can’t even be certain if Onua realizes time has snapped back to normal – if not a bit faster - because at this point the Toa is running on sheer instinct. Lewa must have a habit of rubbing off on people.
Ahau looks up and manages to get out a squeak before we bowl him over. “Stay down!” Onua shouts, and almost before we’ve landed he’s thrust his hands into the ceiling.
You do realize we don’t have a Pakari, I say conversationally. This truly is turning out to be an interesting experience.
“Shut up,” he growls again as the ceiling begins to buckle. Elemental energy is flowing from his hands, which helps, but some of what’s pressing down on the little chamber is rock, after all. (Somewhere above us, a certain slab of stone bounces off the wall.)
I suppose now’s as good a time as any to mention – I don’t know how this ends.
Ahau is on the ground still, his face some mix of confused and horrified. The timeline’s just been poked. I’m afraid I’m blind as a bat for the moment. Powerless, too. He’s noticed me.
I can feel the Toa’s brain queueing up a dozen questions, but before he can get around to pulling any out, we’re rather ungracefully interrupted.
My, my, their voices truly are alike, aren’t they? Master Onua fills the tunnel entrance almost comically – here I’d thought our Onua was keeping himself in shape – but he is surprisingly quick for his size. He snatches the Protector from the ground and pulls him close, intent on guarding him with his own body. A not-impossible plan, probably, given his chest is larger than some mountains.
He looks up, and the two Onuas’ eyes meet.
“Who-?” says Onua of Okoto.
“You know,” says Onua of Spherus Magna.
There’s another crash, and the world goes black.
“They’ll be fine,” I say, picking myself up off the ground and dusting Voporak’s arms off. “Terribly confused, of course. But that comes with the territory. Excellent job, by the way. Would you like your Pakari back?”
Onua blinks and lowers his arms. We’re no longer buried under half a kio of earth – in fact, we’re not much of anywhere now. He turns to me. “What in the name of Mata Nui happened back there?”
“You ask a lot of questions, don’t you? We survived, for one thing. And so did they.”
“That isn’t what I mean.”
I raise a brow. “Is that so? My, you’ve adapted to the idea of jumping in and out of timestreams remarkably quickly-“
“There should have been more time,” he growls. “And I thought you knew what was going to happen.”
“I did,” I say cheerfully. “Until I didn’t. Someone interfered. Just the person I’ve been looking for, actually.”
“Right on the mark for once! Yes, Toa Onua, I’m afraid you’ve caught me. I’ve been a very curious mask. There were schematics for me back in my designer’s little mountain hideaway, so surely there could be more than one of me bouncing around out there – and if you include other timelines, well, it’s practically a given! Very convenient that he happened to be in the same place you were having a little mine-difficulty in.” I pause. “Mine-difficulty. Do you think that counts as treespeak? Lewa’s just making it up most of the time anyway-“
He sighs – no smiles in this one – and puts up a hand to silence me. “Has this got anything to do with Lewa and I?”
I blink. “Well, no. No, not particularly. You’ve gone and done your good deed for the day, and my other self’s got his own timeline to deal with, so I doubt he’ll come chasing you down. As for me, it’ll be easier to get back there now that I know the way. Assuming he lets me. Anyway, no, no, I’m quite done with you. Off you pop.”
He chuckles – once, twice – and then breaks into a full-on laugh. I blink again. “Well. That’s not like you. Am I missing a joke? I’m really not very good with those. The punchlines are always out of order-”
“That’s it. That’s all this is. You were hitch-hiking on me.”
“Well, if you have to put it like that.”
He’s still chortling between sentences. “That’s – I’m afraid you’ve left me speechless. You play with us like an Ussal Crab’s squeeze toy, but in the end you still need us to fulfill your curiosity.”
I blink a third time. “Well, yes. Of course I do. After all, what would I be without you?”
He looks up. “Nothing at all?”
“Well, not nothing. I’d still be around, sort of. The universe would continue to run, time would march onward. But think how tremendously dull it would be. You Toa, you scurry about, make your choices, change the world once in a while – I don’t know what I’d do without you as a jumping-off point. Go back to being a mask, I suppose. That’d be so dreadfully boring; I think I prefer this. Even if you do give me a terrible headache once in a while. When I have a head, that is.”
He shakes his head. “Fine. Then we’ll call this done.”
“Oh, yes, I suppose we will. Well, sort of. It’s not happened yet, for me. Or it’s happening right now. Already has happened. Tenses, I don’t know how you people get by with them. And as for you-“
Just for a moment, I let my smile drop away. “You won’t forget this. Not even half-forget, not even push it away into your most distant dreams like you did with poor little Duisi. That is your penalty for playing where you shouldn’t, as it is Lewa’s. When you next wake from a dream of your world in ruin, know that somewhere that is not a dream, and understand that there is a reason the Great Beings made plans for me to handle these matters and not you.”
He looks back at me, and – oh, there it is! The great stone face. Utterly unreadable.
“You should thank me,” I go on. “I could have done much worse. That upstart, Tren Krom – he taught me it’s simply no good to let you people meddle unsupervised, fun as you might be. I would have been well within my rights to end this little adventure of yours as soon as it began, to do to you what I did to him and Voporak.”
And like that, my smile’s back. “But instead I helped you save that Protector. Wiped out one regret. Part on good terms? Eh? After all – you’ll be dealing with me for the rest of your days. Everyone does.”
The Toa of Earth turns away. I suppose I could take another quick peek into his timeline, find out what he’s thinking at that moment, but – what a bother. I’m starting to like this whole ‘uncertainty’ thing. It’s such a nice, new feeling. I’ll leave him be.
When he opened his eyes, the sun was streaming through the windows, and Lewa looked very, very confused.
“Onua,” he said hesitantly, “tell me there’s a reason my armor’s split open?”
The Toa of Earth opened his mouth to answer, then closed it. Maybe best to start with the simple parts. “Your heart stopped.”
“I – what?”
“And so did the rest of you. And the rest of the universe.”
Lewa cocked his head, and Onua sighed. So much for simple. “Come on. Let’s go grab breakfast. It’s going to take quite a while to explain.”
“Aren’t we supposed to be meeting Johmak?”
Onua stood and crossed the room. For a few seconds he looked up at his brother, and then wrapped his arms around him in a hug. The Toa of Air made a face rather like a Protector who’d seen a boulder coming his way. “Onua?”
“To Karzahni with Johmak, and to Karzahni with the Vahi. I think you and I need to have a very, very long talk, brother. And then I think we need to go quick-racing.”
Lewa’s arms finally figured out where they were supposed to go. “I can live with that,” he said, and smiled.
“-But you saw him too, didn’t you, Master Onua? Was he a Toa?”
Onua sighed and patted the Matoran – no, Protector, where had that word come from? - on the head. “It doesn’t matter, Ahau. What’s important is that you’re safe.”
“But – where did he go? Who was he?”
“Some mysteries do not have simple answers. Now listen: you’re not to work in the mines for the next month. That is an order.”
Ahau’s head drooped. “I’m sorry, Master Onua, I should have been more careful –“
“No. The fault was mine – I simply think it best you be far away from it. Now go.”
The Protector gave a hesitant nod, then turned and made down the tunnel. Onua looked back at the half-collapsed shaft.
“Toa Onua,” he said quietly, “I know not where you came from, nor what that mask you wore was. But I thank you.”
I smiled to myself – or at least I would have, if I had had a mouth.
Don’t worry. You’ll know sooner than you think.
So! Apparently my way of celebrating Bionicle 2015 is writing a story that is pretty much as far away from Bionicle 2015 tone-wise as you can get. (The next one'll be a more traditional romp, I promise.) I'll probably do a blog post a little later with some more thoughts, but this thing's been languishing in editing long enough as it is. Thanks to Janus, Ballom, and fishers64 for their rough draft feedback!
As always, thoughts and feedback are appreciated!
Edited by GSR, Oct 30 2014 - 01:47 AM.