“I think… I think perhaps this is not the time for me to walk among you. You all have a new life to build. My destiny is fulfilled, but for many of you, it has yet to be written. You need to find your path without my shadow hanging over you. [...] Never goodbye. Even I cannot predict the future, or if the time will come when I shall be at your side once more."
A promise never kept, a wish never fulfilled. With these parting words, Mata Nui went into self imposed exile following the reformation of Spherus Magna. Toa, Matoran, Glatorian and Agori had a bright future to look forward to, one of peace and prosperity. The two peoples were to unite and forge a living paradise with the virtues Mata Nui had taught them. And for a time following Makuta's fall, it was so. However not even such a grand event is immune to the ravages of time. Eventually, history became legend, legend became myth...
And myth became blasphemy. 7000 years after the reformation, Spherus Magna has become a world much unlike what its denizens had once envisioned. Seven millennia is a vast amount of time, over the course of which the unimaginable has ample opportunity to become reality. Mata Nui's final wish for the Great Beings to be sought out eventually led to them seizing power once more, however the once revered creators of the Great Spirit turned out much different than what their seekers expected.
The world has since been carved up into four ever warring nations, each with a Great Being at its head who demanded their subjects to revere them as gods. The Matoran have been subjugated by the organic Glatorian and Agori, and have become slaves, their numbers replenished by technology the Great Beings developed. The Turaga were forced to compel their people to obey lest they be massacred. The Great Spirit's body was salvaged and reverse engineered, but only the higher caste was to benefit. The Toa were hunted down, and the Ignika was lost. Any semblance of unity was gone, seemingly forever.
Aderyn was making his way through the desert that still reigned around Spherus Magna's equator. Legend has it that in the past, the vast region covered the whole planet, or that it covered a section of the planet prior to it being reformed. It depends on who one asks. Facts change depending on which of the four great kingdoms one was in, as each told a different story of the past, each claiming the other retellings to be not only false, but blasphemous. The only thing everyone agreed on these days were names, and the desert had one: Bara Magna.
Aderyn was a Glatorian merchant, one of the few beings who could freely pass between borders without fear of being imprisoned. The various castes that divided the society of each nation all had their particular rules, and while being a merchant didn't bring with it the most comforts and pleasures, it was certainly one of the most convenient. He enjoyed freedom of movement, freedom of commerce and universal immunity. Import and Export kept the economies of the kingdoms alive, so merchants were always needed. Anyone who would harm him faced the most severe of consequences, which were frightening enough to almost entirely eliminate banditry.
Any onlooker would have considered Aderyn to be travelling light for a merchant, for lack of a cart or caravan, but he didn't deal in resale, but rather distribution. All he needed for his trade was wit and a ledger. He was adept at his work, he had a solid network of contacts, regular buyers and stock full of product that was always in demand. His life was, in relation to most others, easy.
He hated it. Aderyn eternally suffered from ambition restricted by caste. A few centuries ago, there were some, albeit incredibly difficult and complex, methods to alter one's caste upwards on the ladder, but recently these were all abolished. These days, one can only possibly drop in the hierarchy of the classes, and it was increasingly easy to do so. That said, should even the worst befall Aderyn, he knew he'd never hit the bottom caste - he simply couldn't. The bottom caste of slaves was exclusive to the biomechanical beings, the Matoran, and what few Toa remained. The lowest any organic could drop is Servitor, whose lives are still glamorous in comparison to the biomechanicals.
The sun hung right above him. He planned on reaching Tarsus, a trading post on the border of Angonce's realm. His trip took him right through The Killing Plains, an area which some legends - ones which when uttered draw the wrong kind of attention - claim was the location of an apocalyptic battle between two gods, while other legends claim this is where the Matoran arrived on the world. Aderyn had passed through the area on occasion, but to him it seemed like any other sea of sand. If there was anything here at one point, the centuries buried it all beneath the dunes. He was lost in thought, trying to guess which two nations will be the next to go to war. The kingdoms of Angonce and that of Velika, which he called home, were in a state of truce at the moment. Angonce was warring with the kingdom of Bothma, while Velika and the fourth ruler, Tatui, locked their common borders and were in a state of cold war. The balance of power shifts by the week, and for all he knew, Velika and Angonce could be at each other's throats next month.
Not focusing on the sand before him, naturally Aderyn couldn't have noticed the little piece of metal sticking out of the ground. It caught his foot, and he tripped, with a faceful of sand tearing him back into the real world. After uttering a few curses under his breath, he clambered to his feet, brushed off the sand from his armor and robes, and turned to inspect the cause of his inconvenience. It was a dull, jagged scrap of metal, utterly unremarkable and seemingly rusty. Such scrap was said to litter this area of the desert centuries ago, but none of it should still be on the surface. It was most likely dropped by another passer-by recently.
"Very recently, if it hasn't yet been covered..." - Aderyn thought.
Usually one to leave such junk behind, Aderyn felt a surprising urge to pick it up, as if compelled. Not by curiosity, but rather... Shooing away these thoughts, he bent down and grabbed the object. As he tried to pull it out, the difficulty of doing so suggested much of it was still under the sand. He finally heaved it out of the dune's surface with such force that sent his hand into the air. Sand poured through holes on the object, which he now saw wasn't rusted, but colored orange, even though it was dull, scraped and worn. He examined the object. It seemed to be some kind of armor, possibly. Two wedge like shapes extended from a central section. The wedged had holes in them and semi-circles cut out of the edges, while the center was topped with a T-shaped element and ribbing on the front. The wedges were slightly angled backwards. The strangest feeling of familiarity gripped him as he looked at the object, which made him uncomfortable. He hid it in the folds of his robe, and continued his journey.
"Ah, Aderyn, my friend! On your way to the coastal cities, am I right?" - Borian's voice boomed through his emporium. The old Glatorian of fire was a good friend of Aderyn's, and a long-time contact. Tarsus was far enough from the inner kingdom to allow for a healthy black market, and Borian usually helped Aderyn whenever he needed to deal with this underground element.
"Headed to the capital, actually"
"Ah, yes, the grand metropolis. Must be some big deal you're working on, then."
"Indeed, though I'm worried how negotiations will go now that the rumors of the treaty's end are afoot."
"Pah, Velika would sooner attack the south than break off the truce."
"My thoughts exactly, but the merchants of a weakened nation might not be convinced."
"We'll see what credibility those rumors have. However, I suspect it is not to discuss hearsay that brought you to my fine establishment."
"You suspect well. I have come across a trinket in my travels on which I want your expert opinion."
"Ah-h-h, what kind of trinket may that be?" - Borian dug out a little head-mounted magnifying glass.
"The kind which I might wish to sell, without the good and noble guard hearing about it."
"Give it here then, lad."
Aderyn produced the object from the folds of his robe, but before Borian could inspect it - even, before Aderyn could place it on the desk - his companion adopted a facial expression resembling one he'd wear upon witnessing a phantasm.
"What's this then? So valuable, or so... illegal, that is has you at a loss of words?"
"Aderyn, did they search you at the gates?"
"You showed this to the guards?"
"Naturally, hiding it would have been suspect. They thought nothing of it."
"You showed this to the guard?!"
"Speak then, what has you frightened so?"
Borian, instead of doing so, rushed around the counter, put out a "CLOSED" sign and shut all the windows. Aderyn now realised that it wasn't mere fear he saw on the old Glatorian, but rather fear mingled with elation. What could this bauble be?
"You're lucky the guard posted to a backwater like Tarsis are as ignorant as you are, my friend. What you hold in your hands no mere trinket, and indeed is nothing but a Kanohi Mask."
Upon hearing the nature of his acquisition, Aderyn promptly dropped it on the floor.
"Being's blood!" - He exclaimed. Little knowledge about the masks worn by the subjugated Matoran and Toa was common, but one thing everyone knew - carrying, owning, selling or even touching one could be equated to an express ticket to the prison-pits of Mahraia in the far north, where the most hated criminals of all four nations were sent.
"Now-now!" - Borian chided, and went to pick up the mask and place it on his desk.
"What on earth are you doing? Melt it!" - Aderyn referenced the first and foremost method suggested to civilians by the members of the guard should they ever encounter such a mask.
"Don't be silly. This trinket as you call it is more valuable than my whole shop combined."
"Is it worth the risk?"
"You said the guards did not recognize it. No wonder either, 'tis an atypical shape. Never seen one like it on any Matoran neither. Would be worth fortunes to a collector.
"Who would want to collect Kanohi?" - Aderyn thought to himself.
"You know someone of the sort?" - He asked aloud.
"Hm? Yes, of course. I know and avid... collector. Yes."
"Yes, yes. I should meet him promptly." - he turned to leave out a back door right as he wrapped the mask in a cloth.
"Do you not think I should be told to whom you intend to sell it? And for how much?"
"Now, Aderyn, when has Borian ever cheated you?"
True enough, Borian was the most... no, only, merchant who peddled black market good who was honourable to a fault as well. However, he felt like he was being left out of a particularly interesting element of the underground. This is the most valuable thing I ever found, and very well might be the most valuable thing I ever sell, even counting the legitimate deals. If there ever was a transaction worth risking the black market for such a reputable merchant as he was, this was it.
"Take me with you. I want to see this... collector."
"Uh, we're, uh, not meeting him first. I cannot identify this mask, so I need to take it to a, uh , expert."
"An expert in Kanohi?! What has Borian gotten himself into?"
"All the more intriguing!" - Aderyn said. Borian grew grim, and stepped closer.
"Do you realize what it is you ask?"
"Hm, thought so. To be involved with these elements will mean being marked forever. You can let me take this, now, and return in some days with a hefty purse. Or, you can come with me, and consign yourself to a life of hushed voices, sideways glances and fear at the mere sight of guards. Is that what a merchant, one with an easy life, would want?"
Aderyn considered. He was a creature of comforts, true, however he was also a capable fighter whose talents were going to waste. He grappled with his ambitions constantly. Could this be the key to becoming something more? For all I know it could turn me into a fugitive, not exactly a bright future. But then. Maybe this holds the potential for me to experience things of a nature no merchant ever could. He became resolute. Fearful, but certain.
Borian had led him to a back room, which acted as a warehouse. He pushed aside a crate, a trapdoor under it. After leading them through winding tunnels, they emerged from a crevasse in the wall of the rocky plateau upon which Tarsus stood. Before them the desert stretched.
"Where's this expert of yours, Borian?"
"Out there, somewhere."
"What, in the desert? How will we find him?"
"He'll find us." - With that, the old Glatorian started walking straight into the desert.
The pair walked for a little over 3 hours. Tarsus was ever shrinking behind them, the sun slowly descending. The bottom of it had already dipped below the horizon, the rest of its gargantuan disk throwing warm shadows across the dunes.
"How much longer?"
"You must understand, we need be a safe distance from the walls."
"They wouldn't even see us with a scope out here."
"Aye, he could be here any minute now."
"How will he know where we are?"
Just as Borian said that, Aderyn felt a slight whoosh, a gust of hot air and a presence behind him. He spun around, and true enough, a figure about his height, clad in bright red and orange armor was standing there, looking at him.
"Ah!" - Aderyn exclaimed in surprise. Borian spun around as well.
"Kapura, my friend!"
"Who is this?" - The red being asked while looking at Aderyn. He spoke slowly, in a monotone voice. His face showed no expression, though that could have been due to the strange helmet he wore. "Not a helmet..." - Aderyn thought.
"He's worth your trust, I've known him for centuries. You've naught to fear from him."
"How much does he know?"
"Not rightly enough, actually." - Aderyn interjected before Borian could answer. Then: "What the shadows is going on here? Borian, is this what I think it is?"
"Aderyn, look, you'll understand all when we get to the enclave."
"Enclave? Enclave! Fantastic, let me guess, more biomechanicals there?"
"This is a Toa. A Toa! You're going to get us killed."
"Aderyn I warned you in advance. He's nothing against us, and we won't be harmed. I've associated with Kapura and his companions for longer than I've known you."
"I... ah, bother, merely being here has me complicit already. Might as well see this through." - Aderyn surrendered, though his own curiosity had as much to do with that as Borian's reassurances.
"Still sure he won't be trouble?" - The Toa called Kapura asked.
"He has a name, and yes, I mean no threat to you." - Aderyn once again interjected.
"Very well. Why have you come?" - He now turned to Borian.
"Aderyn, he found a Kanohi. I can't identify it." - He said. Then: "Aderyn, show him."
Aderyn produced the mask from his robe. Kapura's mask twitched under the eye, his only reaction so far.
"The Turaga must see this. At once."
The world around Aderyn blurred suddenly. The great disk of the sun had disappeared. When he began seeing clearly again, he saw that the three of them somehow wound up in a well-lit cave.
"How..." - That word was all Aderyn could muster before collapsing, dizzy.
"Hah! I had a rough first time too, mate." - Borian exclaimed.
"What the bloody pits was that?" - Aderyn demanded.
"I practiced." - Kapura said, with as little expression as he did before. Then: "Come."
Aderyn clambered to his feet, and followed Borian and Kapura through the caves. They passed into a large cavern, with alcoves carved into the wall. Only now did the weight of the situation register with Aderyn. Around him were Matoran of all elements, fixing equipment, mending armor, all shooting him sideways looks. Among them, he saw a few other Toa, but no more than 8. Some were resting in alcoves, two were sparring. "What kind of enclave is this?"
Nearing the far end of the cavern, Aderyn saw a fireplace. Yet, instead of flames giving off light, which would also have filled the cavern with smoke, a pile of yellow crystals, arranged with much care, provided the illumination. A being, smaller than he but larger than a Matoran, sat before it. He heard them approach, and turned around. The being wore a blue mask, partially transparent, with a clear visor covering its eyes, and a triangular cutout around its mouth. Deep, wise yellow eyes peered at Aderyn.
"Turaga Gali." - Kapura and Borian said in unison, Kapura bowing.
"Who is this?" - She asked after returning the greeting with a nod.
"This is Aderyn, he found something of great import at the grave." - Kapura said. "The grave?" - Aderyn made a mental note.
"What did you find, newcomer?" - Gali turned her attention to him.
"He'd better show you." - Borian interjected.
Aderyn looked at his friend first, uncertain. Borian nodded knowingly. Aderny turned back to the Turaga, ever so slightly trembling. The same discomforting ease of escaping familiarity gripped him.
"Come now, let me see what it was that convinced ever-vigilant Kapura to let a newcomer see me." - She said with a reassuring smile that rang with wisdom.
Aderyn produced the mask, which made the old Turaga produce an expression not unlike that of Borian when he saw it. Matoran who have gathered around them to see what brought the newcomer in their midst were shocked into silence save for a few whispering to others to bring the Toa. Aderyn just stood there, mask in hand, not understanding the commotion.
"Could it be..."
"The prophecies..." - And other such utterings could be heard.
Gali reach out her hand, and as she took the mask, for a split second both of their hands were touching it. In that moment, an image flashed in Aderyn's mind. Not a vision, nor imagination. It was a single image of a sandy beach lined with trees, but not one which Aderyn had ever visited, and the sky was utterly different from the one which blanketed Spherus Magna.
"Would someone please tell me what is happening?" - He pleaded.
"It is not by mere chance that you found your way here, Aderyn. What you found out there in the desert, this is no ordinary mask, which would have already been a rarity. No, wanderer, you have found what may very well be the key to undoing the calamities which brought us here."
"I do not understand."
"This is the Kanohi Vahi, the legendary mask of Time."