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Bonkle

Corvec Litters the Wind

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I.

 

The cardinal rule of trickery is this: attempting two deceptions at once typically results in the failure of both.

   

This old sentiment flutters across the back of my mind as I spot the Jaga, and my grip on the hammer loosens as those words from the captain finish their flight through my skull. This would not be so hard after all. The scorpion is crouched amongst the rocks at the foot of the mesa. Were I not looking for it, I never would have picked out its dull, sun-bleached carapace and beady little eyes from the sand and boulders surrounding it. But I am aware of its first deception, and so its second means nothing. And it knows I am coming.

   

It is hard to contain some deep, blunt sense of rancor or perverse excitement, maybe some of both, as I trudge through the sand. But I heed the captain’s words again, different ones this time. This is to be a clean job. Minimally brutal. He has come to me and made these provisions because he had no other choice, because my “minimally brutal” exceeds the worst his others could muster. And their worst is not enough for this.

   

The Jaga is remarkably still as I begin to pick my way through the stones. I suppose its stillness would be what it has mastered. It will do little else. Before long I am nearly upon it, and it must finally drop its self-pretense that maybe I actually do not see it. The creature springs to life, lunging at me with a pincer. It is poorly aimed and if I didn’t know better I might think the Jaga did not mean to hit me at all. Nevertheless I stumble back, finding a foothold on a rock wedged into the sand. I bring the hammer about as the thing swipes with its other pincer; the hammer connects with it and sends the scorpion tumbling to the side.

   

By the time it finds its footing down where the desert levels out, I am already nearly on it again, taking a swing for the armor just behind its head. It scuttles backwards, my hammer digging into the sand. Then the stinger comes at me and I am barely able to jerk to the left, wrenching my weapon from the ground as Ido. The beast lashes furiously with the stinger, and it almost seems there are many Jaga bearing down on me. It is pushing me back towards the rocks, and inevitably the wall of the mesa. I allow it.

   

It doesn’t mind giving me the high ground in this situation. The stinger can follow me up. But soon enough, I see an opportunity it does not. I brace myself against the boulder my feet are planted on, gripping the hammer so the flat top of the head faces out like a shield. As the Jaga stops, coiling for a strike, I leap from the rock. A satisfying crunch breaks out as I land, my hammer having pinned the tail and stinger to the flat slab of stone embedded in the sand that I’d waited for the Jaga to pass over.

   

It squirms and writhes and chitters, and I know I can’t hold it for long. But both of us know all I have to do is lift my foot and bring it down on the hammer to clip its tail in half. How badly I want to. But the Jaga relents, and gives up on its first deception. There is a glow beneath me, brighter than the desert sun above me, and then there is Corvec Ma, Toa of Stone, lying on the ground in front of me.

   

Before he can even so much as blink, my hammer meets his face and sends his Mahiki skipping away across several stones.

 

* * *

 

    I sit now in Captain Davik’s office, periodically looking between the captain himself, who sits at his desk, and Corvec, who sits behind bars. The room is silent. Davik holds the Great Mahiki in his hands, eyeing it wearily, almost fondly. Above all he is a tired man, tired of trying to run Rar-Kor in the absence of true leadership, tired of the almost daily updates to the lists of missing Matoran from around the region, tired of having to specify the parameters of “minimal brutality”. He was not pleased to see me drag in the Toa’s unconscious body, tossing the dented Kanohi on his desk. Somehow the captain has forgotten. Somehow he cannot see that this was minimal.

   

Corvec is crosslegged on the floor of the cell Davik had installed in the office to make interrogations easier. I see in his eyes the easy smile of a man who has it all figured out, but if pressed could not explain what “it all” was. The powerless copper Komau he wears for the time being is the only thing out of place. His bleached, sandy armor might as well make him another crumbling wall in this town. Or a Jaga after all. If he is on the verge of collapse like such a wall, his posture suggests a cool acceptance of it, which angers me. Why should he escape his own mess? His eyes meet mine and I pour all the hatred and malice I can into my stare, if I hadn’t already. His gaze does not falter. Mine does.

   

The captain sets the Mahiki on his desk carefully, somberly, like it’s a tablet reporting an incoming Westing assault on Rar-Kor. He has finally chosen his words. Standing from his stool, he comes around the desk, standing between me and the cell.

   

“Toa Corvec,” he offers with a modest bow. I nearly gag. But I do not disrespect the captain. This is a necessary evil.

   

Corvec’s eyes now meet Davik’s, but he offers no other acknowledgement to the honorific address. The captain clears his throat.

   

“I would have you know of my sorrow for your loss, -for our loss- for your comrades gave to Kor services we can never repay.” He stumbles in his mouth. “That is not to say you yourself are without a long list of great deeds,” he adds quickly. It’s been almost two years since Corvec did any deed, great or otherwise.

    “Secondly, I would like to apologize personally for the way my deputy-”

   

“Just tell me what you want.” There is a great distance to his voice I did not expect, like he is here but his voice comes down on the wind from the mesa where I found him.

   

The captain seems at once more tense and relaxed. “Alright,” he says, his old voice coming out more evenly now. “I’ll be upfront with you. We have a problem, the whole region does, really and it requires skills that only you possess.”

   

“So what?”

   

Davik’s jaw clenches behind his Huna and, in a rare moment of serendipity, he is thinking exactly what I am. ‘So what is that you are a Toa, and you swore an oath to protect this region until you’ve fulfilled your destiny, whatever that may be’. But these are not the words that leave his mouth. Instead, he sighs quietly and says, “Does the name ‘Gorloh’ mean anything to you?”

   

We both know that yes, it does, and so are not surprised to see Corvec lean forward and then stand, the ease fading from his eyes. “What about him?”

   

“We have reason to believe he is behind a recent string of murders and disappearances around Kor. I understand he is a delicate topic for you, which is why we were wary of simply approaching you to ask.”

   

“Delicate topic for me. That why you sent her out to smash my head in?”

   

“You attacked me first, you miserable rust-”

   

“Halak, please!” The captain raises his hand to silence me, although he does not speak too harshly. He is surprised I lasted as long as I did without interjecting.

   

“...minding my own business out in the wastes and she drags me in here…”

   

“Toa Corvec, I understand your frustrations. I really do. We were perfectly willing to continue to leave you alone indefinitely-” I let the captain speak for me here, incorrect as he may be, “-but we heard from a Matoran in Jok-Kor who claims to be an old acquaintance of yours. He said the situation is becoming so dire that the only solution he could come up with was to have us try and ask you for help. That’s why we sought you out.”

   

“What’s his name?”

   

“Ratuk. He keeps me informed on happenings in Jok-Kor. Roads are dangerous these days; it;s not worth going anywhere on foot if it can be helped.”

   

A second name from his past seems to make this more tangible to Corvec. His eyes grow distant, like his voice, and it seems to me for the first time in two years he’s giving something serious thought.

   

“Alright. I’ll go to Jok-Kor and check things out. But not for you, and certainly not because she treated me so nicely. Because of… the guy,” he says with a nod, like he’s speaking to himself as much as he is to us. “And I have a few conditions.” I roll my eyes but manage to keep my mouth shut. Davik waits expectantly.

   

“I want out of this cell before I leave for anywhere. I want my mask back. And I would like to track down my blades. I’ll need them.”

   

“How do we know you won’t just run off?” I let out before I can stop myself. The captain glares but says nothing. Corvec meets my gaze again.

   

“Because I want him dead more than you ever could.”

 

* * *

 

    The copper Komau of victory is back in the drawers of the captain’s desk. The cell is empty, the Mahiki gone. I watch Corvec from the doorway of the enforcement office as he sits on the village’s border wall, facing the sunset. He is doing what we have watched him do for the last two years.

   

Corvec litters the wind with the ghosts of ghosts, with faces and voices that exist only in memory, memory of a time when he was someone always, not someone sometimes and sometimes a thing. The Mahiki will glow all night as he lives in his own private world where he can pretend he isn’t a nearly-useless failure of a being.

   

The captain and I exchange a terse smile as he passes by on his way out of the office. We have not broken any rules; we are operating with just one deception.

 

 

 

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Edited by Terrorsaur

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II.

 

    “So what’s your problem with this Gorloh guy?”

   

“G’o’r’l’o’h.”

   

“That’s what I said. That Kanohi must be messing with your mind.”

   

“No, you, -there’s- apostrophes. Westing names are bizarre.”

   

“Rock, meet boulder.”

   

It has been an hour of chaperoning Corvec around Rar-Kor, a village of no more than a hundred or so Matoran. How he has yet to find the one he sold his blades to is beyond me. I am digging in. I know what his “problem” is with G’o’r’l’o’h. I want to hear it from him. He is a quick learner; in the short time I have watched him stumble around this town, half from the sun’s brightness and half from the near-constant occupation of his field of vision with whatever cryptic images he conjures up, he has come to understand that any lapse in my aggressive needling is a prompt for him to open his stupid mouth and let forth whatever drivel it contains.

   

“G’o’r’l’o’h is… an element of the circumstances leading to… the… loss… of my team.”

   

He was a “circumstantial element” for a lot of other losses, too. Rar-Kor had always fostered a healthy market, but over the last two years it has truly become a city of traders. Every crumbling hut or shack a shop; any slab of stone not torn to bits by Westing assaults a makeshift stall. Rar-Kor lives on only in the exchange, in the refusal to let anything lie where it falls, in a constant shifting like sand in the wind, to keep anything from settling in the mind, lest the truth of our losses set in as well. Corvec continues winding through the shattered remnants of town. I notice he is limping slightly, no doubt from my hammer on the Jaga’s tail. I restrain a smile and, for the briefest moment, feel sick that the smile made itself a notion at all. The feeling is interrupted as Corvec halts ahead of me. Most other activity in our immediate vicinity, sparse as it is, stops as well.

   

Two Matoran are lumbering through the center of the small crowd that has formed. Between themselves they carry the head of a Westing. Sleek, dark, angular as an arrowhead. The anonymity of the almost Rahi-like face is unsettling and captivating in equal parts. It is hard to look at it without hearing the slinking, rattling noises of its segmented body as it seemingly glides across the sand, decapitated though it may be. A would-be conqueror that may yet be. Outsider. Not From Around Here. Far End of the Desert. West Thing.

   

Corvec looks utterly confused, to my satisfaction and irritation. “Where did you get that? And what are you doing with it?” His voice is overloud, not blustery, but rather like he is trying to defuse tension he assumes is there. His tone has its own constant sharpness nonetheless.

   

The two Matoran, who I recognize as occasional hired muscle for Davik, simply glare at him the way I wish the captain had done himself. “Gonna sell it,” one of them grunts before they disappear down the street.

   

“Turns out there are a lot more Westings than we thought there were before you… disappeared,” I say, stepping up beside him. “They probably caught this one by itself, scouting ahead for a raiding party.”

   

“Things are that bad…? But G’o’r’l’o’h can’t be in Jok-Kor, can he? Otherwise your informant would be dead.”

   

“You’re not as stupid as you look and sound. Right, Gorloh is apparently hiding in the canyons just outside the city, likely biding his time until he’s got a strong enough hand to ensure he can wipe it out in one go.” He nods quickly and there is a liveliness and urgency I have not seen in him before.

 

 

* * *

 

   

Another hour has gone by. I am beginning to believe there are no blades. They are just another illusion of the Mahiki. Even torturing Corvec has become tiresome, to the point that we have searched in silence for some time barring the inquiries posed to vendors.

   

“Why did you sell those stupid swords anyways?” I growl as we hit what must be the dozenth dead end. The number of hands these weapons have apparently passed through is astounding. Our latest questioning has only revealed that they may be all the way in Jok-Kor.

 

“After… G’o’r’l’o’h, I… well, you seem to know. I… retired, let’s say. I sold my mask so I could afford iambi juice. When I realized that wasn’t going to cut it, I tracked down the owner through a chain like this one and convinced her that blades were more useful to her than a mask she couldn’t even wear.”

   

“...you sold your Great Kanohi, one of the most powerful and rare objects in the entirety of Kor, so you could get drunk?”

   

“And promptly bought it back when I realized it had the same effect I wanted if I used it right, but less harmful… and more potent.”

   

“Less harmful? You play those tricks so close to your eyes, you can barely walk in a straight line, with or without the illusions.”

   

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way I walk,” he says, and right before he can trip over a stone ahead of him,

   

“Corvec Ma?” comes a voice, and we stop. To our left, peeking from the doorway of a small stone hut, is a Matoran. I recognize the black Kakama, dented and scratched far beyond what I remember, but I cannot think of a name. His right hand is missing and under that arm he holds two blades. They are of a modest length, each serrated and tapering towards a point on one side, while the other is flat and dull. The dark metal, nearly black, looks like it has been recently polished.

   

He approaches, slowly, stumbling worse than Corvec. I am watching the uneasy figure approaching with deadly weapons. Corvec looks only at the blades.

   

“Corvec Ma,” the Matoran says again, and nods. He kneels, awkwardly offering up the blades with one hand. There is a pause, and then Corvec reaches out, his hand touching the smooth metal once more. The Kakama-wearer’s eyes meet Corvec’s.

   

“We have been waiting a long time for you to return, Toa.” He is gone just as quickly as he arrived, backing away and then rushing off before Corvec can even fully grab the blades, and they fall to the sand. He kneels, brushing them off before returning them to their former place, attached at the forearm near the elbow, underslung. The tips extend perhaps six inches past his fingers.

   

He rises slowly, eyes drifting from one blade to the other. There is almost a grace to his movements. When he reaches his full height he is still, and then suddenly hacks and jabs at the air with copious deftness. The urgency of his movement is punctuated by nostalgia, a certain wistfulness, like he’s accidentally fallen into a forgotten routine or called out a long-gone old friend’s name.

   

He turns to me and regards me like he’d forgotten I was there and says, “These are them,” as if it wasn’t obvious.

 

 

* * *

 

 

    Again the three of us are in Davik’s office, only this time no one is behind bars.

   

“So, the captain says, grunting quietly as he takes his seat, “How much of this office’s budget has gone towards arming this man?” There is a hint of levity behind his words I am not used to. I set the untouched bag of widgets on his desk and cross my arms.

   

“Someone just showed up and gave them to him when it seemed our search was going to be fruitless.”

  

 “Just gave him the blades? No haggling, no immaterial favors? No strings attached?”

   

“No strings attached.”

   

“Which is the biggest string of all. What did they look like?”

   

“Black Kakama, red eyes. Brown armor… missing his right hand.”

   

The captain pauses, eyeing me carefully. “You’re sure it was his right hand.”

   

“Yes. Why?”

   

“That sounds like one of the Matoran reported dead not too long ago.”

   

Corvec shrugs. “Kakamas are easy to come by.”

   

“And hands aren’t?” Davik sighs and then waves his hand dismissively. “You’re probably right. Did you see those two who brought in the Westing’s head? Who knows what’s out there that might be taking people’s hands.”

   

He stands, coming around the desk to us. He takes in the sight of Corvec, and for a moment he almost looks like he was the one who picked those mournful blades from the sand. He lets out a breath, wishing us luck and reminding us that we leave tomorrow.

 

 

* * *

 

 

    It is near dark and the air is starting to chill. Corvec sits on the wall again, and this time I do too, watching him with my hammer. I’ve gone out of my way to get him armed; now would be the perfect time for him to run. But he sits, his Mahiki idle for once, his eyes on the horizon.

   

“Why do you need them, anyway?” I ask him, the first question with no strings attached.

   

“What?” He comes out of his stupor. “Oh, the blades?”

   

I nod. “You’re a Toa of Stone. Do you not have incredible elemental powers?”

   

“I do. But I also have very poor aim.” He turns to me, “And before you say anything, no, it’s not because I use my mask on myself so much. I’ve always been a terrible shot.”

   

A Jaga scuttles across the horizon near the setting sun and Corvec hops from the wall. I grip the hammer and watch closely in case he runs. He doesn’t. He takes a deep breath and then stomps the ground with his right foot. A boulder comes rocketing up through the sand, flying high over the town. He winds up as it comes down, his fist connecting and sending the rock off at incredible speed. There is a faint thud and crunch as it lands on the scorpion.

   

I am about to admit to myself a grudging respect to him for having fooled me, for making the shot so expertly, just before he admits it was luck.

 

 

 

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Edited by Terrorsaur

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III.

I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy this.

   

I am walking up to the gates of Jok-Kor, Corvec in front of me. I am holding my hammer. He is holding his hands together near his pelvis, cuffed together as they are. The shackles are for show, of course, a fraction of his Toa power could shatter them like glass. But there are forces in Jok-Kor that would not have a Toa idly walk into the city, especially not one like Corvec. So he must play the prisoner. Although nowhere near as necessary, putting his hands in the cuffs before we even left Rar-Kor, to “provide a justification”, as I said, for his sudden appearance and disappearance from town, was equally enjoyable.

   

The elation that carried me over so many dunes, however, fades as we draw nearer and nearer to the iron gate. Jok is the only place in Kor where the buildings can be seen from outside the city walls, and their shadows loom large over us in the afternoon sun. The Matoran in the watchtower, sullen and hunched, wearing a pockmarked Rau, sees me step out from behind Corvec. She raps twice on the wall with her fist, and two more Matoran appear from somewhere behind the wall, unlatching the gate before they each drag half of it inwards. The hinges creak and the sand hisses as the bottom of the gate halves are tugged through it. The eyes behind the Rau never leave mine. When the pair vanish into the wall again, like they are a part of it, I nudge Corvec in the back with my hammer and we move forward.

   

Jok-Kor stands tall so its people can live in its shadow. It is a city from the stone, a gift from Kor that we have squandered. The walls surround a plateau rising from the sand. Much of the city was carved into, or on top of, this near-disk long before any Matoran can remember. It is the largest city in Kor, and the only one made where the rock that composes it originally stood.

   

Naturally, it is also home to much of the evil in Kor. For most of us who exist or have existed here, Matoran or otherwise, Jok-Kor has been the only constant apart from the sand and the sky themselves. It is an anchor point; at the very least it is on the periphery of everyone’s existence. The ambitious, the greedy, the hungry, and the cruel all feel some natural claim, a birthright to it. Treachery and deceit have been carved into Jok-Kor as deeply as the tunnel system that circumvents the trip around the plateau’s perimeter.

   

But lately a new malevolence has fallen over the city in an indescribable way, as if it were caked with the aftermath of a dust storm that could only be seen one grain at a time. This is what Corvec has caused. This is what he has been called to fix.

   

Malice radiates from eyes seen and unseen as easily as heat from the sun as Corvec and I reach the top of one of the staircases carved into the plateau’s side. We are surrounded by the movement and noise of a busy city; each individual hushed, withdrawn, occupied with avoiding each other person. If any hatred directed our way is not from knowledge of who Corvec is, then it is because he is a Toa.

   

“So where’s G’o’r’l’o’h?” Corvec asks. Falling back to walk next to me, seemingly oblivious to the attention he draws.

   

“Ratuk,” I correct sharply and immediately. “We’re going to see your friend first and find out what else he can tell us about what’s going on.”

   

“What else is there to know? There’s another Westing attack looming, G’o’r’l’o’h is waiting somewhere in the canyons, and you want me to stop him. Seems pretty open and shut to me.”

   

“How well did just ‘stopping’ Gorloh work out for you last time?” I say, and he falls silent.

 

* * *

 

    Finding Ratuk is proving to be difficult. The only information we have about him is that he is who he says he is, from Corvec’s confirmation, and corroboration from other sources regarding his description of Jok-Kor’s current state. The ill will in this city was always more frightening than in other places because it was never afraid to show its face, in part or in full. Now, it almost feels as if we are walking amongst secretly violent corpses. For all that could be said of Jok-Kor, it was supposed to be a lively place. It is not now. Locating a nondescript individual in a sea of unhelpful gray masses is nearly impossible.

   

Now do you remember what he looks like?” I ask yet again.

   

“Well, he’s definitely brown… and tan.”

   

“A Kor-Matoran is the color of the desert. How very insightful of you.”

   

“It was a long time ago-”

   

“He’s supposedly your friend, and you can’t even remember what he looks like?”

   

“Listen, he was technically my friend, alright? More of a fan, I guess. Someone I would talk to if there was ever a moment’s rest while I was here. Do you know how many Matoran I’ve met in my time, how many things I’ve tried to forget-” His voice is rising, and then he sputters and stops as he turns fully to me.

   

With more strain than I expected, he snaps the chain in two, leaving the cuffs around his wrists. I raise my hammer to shield myself from his attack, but he instead moves past me in a brisk walk. I turn and jog to keep up.

   

Ahead of us, down the compact, incredibly straight street, three Matoran are chasing after a fourth.

   

We catch up quickly as they come to a stop, the three pursuers having pinned the other to the wall of a house.

    “What’s going on here?” Corvec asks, but it is not the authoritative tone of a hero ready to spring into action. Only a general curiosity permeates his words.

   

One of the attackers turns to tell him off, and then realizes he also has to look up to meet the eyes of the person who just spoke, which causes him to back off. Their friend’s silence makes the other two turn as well, and then all three are stepping away.

   

“Toa! We were-” begins the first.

   

“He knows what we were doing,” the second one cuts in, glaring up defiantly. It seems he recognizes Corvec, “That’s why he’s stopping us. Can’t ever let anything get fixed,” he adds bitterly, stepping towards Corvec. “The Westing is dead. You are dead. It’s all dust now,” he spits. Corvec’s gaze hardens, but I can tell it is more out of confusion than anything. The three push past him, heading back up the street. The other Matoran has not moved the whole time, staring ahead at nothing.

   

“You alright?” I offer with a grunt. The Matoran turns to look at me and even in the heat I am chilled by the void in his gaze. He blinks, looks at Corvec, and then at the black replacement armor he wears on his right arm, before shuffling off the other way.

   

“The Westing is dead?” is all Corvec says after a long moment of silence.

   

I shrug nonchalantly. “There are a lot of Westings. And he also said you were dead. That’s not true just yet either.”

   

He turns to me and looks me in the eye and there is a searching, a sort of pleading there.

 

* * *

 

    The canyons, as they are formally known, stretch across the entirety of Kor’s north end. They are an endless network of cliffs separated by spiderwebs of passages. They tower high above even Jok-Kor. If there is anything worthwhile on the other side, if there is another side, no one knows anything about it. Few ever go in and even fewer return.

   

After nightfall, like now, they are nothing more than a shadow, a looming, amorphous shape a few miles from the city.

   

This is where Corvec is running now, and where I am following.

   

Our first day of searching for Ratuk ended unsuccessfully, and so we had made our way to an overnight inn located in one of the safer areas of the city. Corvec ran as soon as my guard was down. He is much faster than I, but I do not falter.

   

Soon we are in the canyons. Corvec begins to slow  down, stopping to consider each fork in his path. I start to realize he is not fleeing. He really is not as stupid as he looks.

   

I am almost caught up to him as he slows at another intersection, looking at the ground and the walls of the passages. He makes his choice, and then again so quickly that I nearly lose him around a corner. We move up a slight incline that ends at a cave mouth and he turns back to me, breathing hard, but otherwise silent. In the moonlight his stare is pleading again, then he plunges into the mouth of the cave and I follow.

   

There is a nasty crunch a few moments later; evidently he has tripped over a rock and lost his way.

   

“Corvec,” I call out, my voice beyond my control and soft for once, “whatever it is you want to find, it’s not here.”

   

He grunts somewhere in the darkness as he gets to his feet, again rushing towards the moonlight at the other end of the cave. I step into the open air only a few moments after he does, and I sigh.

   

We are in a clearing of sorts, an oblong space among the cliffs that is without any walls of its own.

   

In the center of the ring, shining faintly in the dim moonglow, is Gorloh, crumpled and dead.

 

 

 

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IV.

 

    We expect our enemies to be, in all things, at once both their best and their worst; the former so our victory over them may be all the sweeter, the latter to justify our hatred for them.

   

The sentiments Davik has shared with me over the past few years could only be recalled in full in the same span of time a trip from Ror to Jok takes, but this one in particular stands out to me now. Here is Corvec standing over a foe who can neither be his greatest nor weakest any longer. He is just nothing as the nighttime breeze blows through empty eye sockets. I almost feel sorry for him.

   

There is a very long near-silence punctuated by the distant clanking and cracking carried from Jok-Kor on the wind. Finally, without turning or moving at all, he says, “Did you know?”

   

It takes me a moment to even comprehend what he said, to realize that the plan may be falling apart. Then I simply say “Yes,” without hesitation.

   

He looks back at me over his shoulder. “Then why?”

   

“There’s someone called Arhet,” I say quickly. We were hoping to ease him into this later, but unsurprisingly Corvec turned out to be uncooperative. “And he-”

   

He cuts me off, scoffing as he turns his gaze up to the moon. “You lied to me so you could get me to come take care of a problem for you?”

   

I’ll admit this arrogance stuns even me, momentarily. “...do you think that even if this really was about Gorloh, we were just giving you a courtesy call? Letting you have first crack at him if you wanted it because you had a score to settle? No. We came to you because we need your help.”

   

“Then why did you lie to me about this if it’s so desperate?”

   

“Oh, Davik didn’t want to, believe me. But I convinced him we had to - because I knew this exact conversation would take place. I knew the second the scope of this went beyond the little world inside your head you would deflate and go back to burying your head in the sand -literally- because you don’t think it’s your problem.”

   

“This isn’t my problem. I came here to fight G’o’r’l’o’h.”

   

“You came here because you wanted out of that cell and Gorloh let you justify it to yourself. And it doesn’t matter if it’s your problem - it’s your job. ‘Toa’ means ‘suck it up and help people who can’t help themselves’.”

   

He shifts, finally turning to face me. “This is no longer the way for me. This is not what I am supposed to do. Not without my team.”

   

I let out a growl that ends in a frustrated roar, paying no mind to whatever might be lurking in the canyons, listening for prey. I explode. “In your two wasted years in the desert did you ever ONCE consider that the reason Kor is falling apart -if you even knew it was- is because you decided the loss of your team was a free pass for you to just give up? Did you ever think that people who aren’t you were ALSO affected by the loss of three Toa? Matoran are disappearing into the night, cities that have stood for centuries are turning to dust and rubble, and no road in Kor is safe to walk, sun out or not, because you ran away when things got hard. It wouldn’t matter even if you were squaring off with Gorloh right now. You gave up on your destiny. He already won.”

   

There is a blur and a sharp crack and breath flees from my lungs as I slam into the wall of the clearing. Corvec approaches swiftly but evenly, ready to deliver another blow. I have struck a nerve. “Don’t presume to know anything about me,” he says, and all the idle warmth is absent from his tone. I will admit it is frightening. I retrieve my hammer from the ground and send him back with a blow to the gut before stepping away from the wall.

   

He sends his fist at me again and I block with the broad side of the hammer.

   

“I have no destiny!” He shouts, bearing down on me. “Fate is the result of sloth on entropy’s part. And believe me, you could scour Kor for an eternity and never find anyone who works harder than entropy.” He is attacking mechanically yet furiously, but though his gaze is intense there is no anger in the weary eyes.

   

Soon enough he has worn me down, knocking the hammer away. Off balance, I stumble and fall to the ground.

   

“You are nothing, then. Directionless. A grain of sand on a breeze, littering the wind.”

   

I can tell this, too, slinks under his armor. He snorts, putting his boot to my chest. He leans in, bringing the precious blades close to my neck in an x-pattern. I steel myself and offer, “Go ahead, then,” with a whisper. “I don’t want to die. But if I do, at least it’ll be because I was actually trying to get something accomplished.”

   

He seems then to come back into his own body, like he is just now aware of what he is doing. He pulls away quickly, hesitates for a moment, and then offers me his hand. I ignore it and pull myself to my feet. I was ready for something like this to happen.

   

“Now if we’re done with that, let me just say, I was honest with you where it counts: I despise you, but I truly do need your help,” I say.

   

“Yes, that has been clear from the beginning,” he mutters. There is another long silence before he adds, meekly, “I’m… sorry for... that.”

   

I blink but otherwise do not acknowledge it.

   

“So are you going to help me or not, Corvec?”

   

“Corvec Ma.”

   

I shake my head. “Maybe you can get that back after this.” The honorific suffix, the first syllable of a Toa’s mask, is intended as a sign of respect for their power - it’s only worth noting what mask someone wears if they can actually use it. It is a deference I have consistently denied him.

   

He smiles wryly and I allow myself to as well. Even though he did just attack me I find my opinion of him not necessarily hardening any further. It is something beyond requiring a basic decency for the sake of the mission, and my already incredibly low view of him. I get the sense there might be something else about him I do not understand after all, loathe as I am to admit it. 

   

“Give me one reason why I should.”

   

“I’ll break your ankles and leave you here with your friend if you don’t.”

   

“A different reason.”

   

I sigh. He’s already made up his mind one way or another. This is just to irritate me. “Be honest. Do you have anything better to do?”

 

* * *

 

We are waiting in the canyons for morning to come. Not exactly welcome in Jok-Kor as it is, approaching the city in the dark, from the canyons, would be the perfect excuse for a guard, or anybody really, to kill us on sight.

   

Corvec has been sitting quietly for some time. I think Gorloh’s death is finally setting in for him. In his mind, anyways, killing Gorloh, or at the very least fighting him, would have fixed everything. I wish it was that easy. But if fate were to let us walk easy paths, fate’s guidance would not be needed after all. I am tempted to ask if he really did plan to kill him, even if it might anger him again, when he finally speaks.

   

“So you said we’re dealing with an… Arhep?”

   

“Arhet.”

   

“You’re one to correct me when you can’t even say G’o’r’l’o’h right.”

   

“You’re saying ‘Arhep’. That’s entirely different from ‘Arhet’. ‘Gorloh’ is the same as… ‘Gorloh’. You can’t hear apostrophes.”

   

“Yes you can. You have to know what to listen for.”

   

“Whatever. Arhet. Everything I told you before holds true, just for this guy instead. Matoran are disappearing all the time. Westing sightings have increased. And something is just… off in Jok-Kor. All information points to this Arhet being behind it.”

   

“That’s it?”

   

“We were going to hear more from your friend until you decided to run out on me.”

   

“...Fair enough.”

   

“I already am aware of your… disinclination for action, so I’ll warn you now: this is really not going to be easy. All the rumors point to this being just one guy. He’s causing all these disappearances by himself. At best, he might have some Westings as allies somehow. But that’s not very reassuring either.”

   

He nods grimly, and I shift against the rocks to try and find a more comfortable position. Out of the corner of my eye, I swear I can see two more eyes watching me; when I turn that way, there is nothing. Corvec shows no indication he has seen anything.

   

I sigh, looking up to the thin strip of stars afforded by the high narrow walls of the passage we now rest in.

   

“There’s one other thing.”

   

“What’s that?”

   

“...Technically, his name is Arhet Su.”

   

He lets out a long, exasperated breath. “Oh boy, it’s a Toa.”

 

 

 

 

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V.

 

    In the hours leading up to dawn, Corvec has seen everything and absolutely nothing.

   

After I gave a grunt agreeing with his sarcasm implying the difficulty of facing a Toa, and after his responses to a few more of my jabs and prods, he fell silent. At first, he stared up into the night sky, stars dimmed by the moon’s brightness. And then his gaze fell on the passage wall opposite the one we were leaning against, and stuck.

   

For a moment I was confused considering he had the Mahiki at his disposal, and then I realized the mask was the reason he was staring at a wall. Who knew how long it had been since he actually slowed down and took the time to see something through his own eyes, not those of a Jaga, that wasn’t an illusion? Not long after, he reached across the narrow channel, placing the tips of his fingers against the stone. He was, again, silent when I asked what he was doing.

   

Kor is not so cold at night.

   

Now the sun is almost at the horizon and Corvec’s hand is still pressed to the stone. The night passed in silence, a silence finally broken as he lets out a shaky breath and slowly draws back his hand. There is nothing, and then a deep cracking as the face of the rock begins to fracture rapidly. Before I can react, Corvec is on his feet. He grabs me, hauling us off down another passage as the channel collapses behind us.

   

“What in the name of the sun were you trying to do?” I hiss, wrenching my forearm from his grasp.

   

“Fikouweb fracture,” he sighs. “I wanted to see if I still knew how to be precises enough to create just the tiniest crack.”

   

“It took you all night to figure out you don’t know after all?” I retrieve my hammer from its sling on my back, getting a good grip on it. I swing hard at Corvec, who jumps to the side. The head connects with the stone behind him, leaving a small rupture on the wall. “There. Easy. Now let’s find another way out of here.”

   

With limited light to work with, it seems to me we are quickly moving even deeper into the canyons. Corvec offers little help, simply turning abruptly when he feels it is appropriate. I do something I have never done before; I consider how he is feeling. Truthfully, I can’t quite imagine being so disconnected from a fundamental part of myself the way he is. It must be like losing a limb, or function of it at the very least. I glance ahead at Corvec and push these thoughts from my mind. He ranks as an enemy, up with Arhet and the Westings. He is simply a useful one.

   

Any further debate of mine is cut short by a hollow cry that sounds just enough like a steady tone to be disturbing.

   

From atop one of the nearest stone walls jumps a Matoran, who lands on Corvec’s shoulders, knife in hand. He begins making light jabs into Corvec’s armor, no longer screaming.

   

“Halak?” Corvec grunts, flailing and trying to reach back and grab for the attacker. I eye him, and then the Matoran, each in turn. Then I wind up and smash my hammer into the back of his knees. He cries out and falls, landing on the Matoran, who continues to writhe about and stab wildly. I grab his wrist, hauling him out from under Corvec even as the larger of the two stands with a groan.

   

“Did you have to do it like that?”

   

“I’m not as smart as a Toa-hero.” The Matoran is still lashing out in all directions and I am barely able to dodge his knife over and over.

   

“Uh… hello. We didn’t mean to intrude or anything. We’re just looking for a way out,” Corvec says. The Matoran doesn’t respond, in fact this only seems to make it angrier. I growl as he nicks my armor and then let go. Corvec looks to me and we both start to back away. He follows us at a distance, swinging wildly even though we are out of his range.

   

I am starting to wonder if maybe he is backing us out of here when my feet suddenly touch sand instead of rock. I turn and there is Jok-Kor in the distance. When I look back into the passage, the Matoran is gone.

   

Corvec shrugs. “Crazed hermit?” I stare down the tunnel a moment longer and then shrug as well, and we begin making our way across the sand to the city.

 

* * *

 

    Scarcely any time has passed since our sneaking back into Jok-Kor before I hear a voice calling, “Toa Corvec! Corvec Ma!” It is a sound I am growing tired of hearing everywhere.

   

Coming towards us is yet another Matoran, this one wearing a solid gray Kaukau he’s evidently carved eyeholes into. Like so many other stone Matoran the rest of his body nearly blends in with the rock and sand around him. “I think this is our guy,” Corvec mutters as he approaches.

   

“So Davik did get my message then,” he says, a little winded. “Oh, sorry. I’m Ratuk. You remember me, right?”

   

Before Corvec can respond I interject. “Tell him something only Ratuk would know.”

   

The Matoran regards me for a moment and then turns back to Corvec. “Um. Let’s see. How about the time we met? There was a dispute between the carvers’ guild and that band of merchants from Nal-Kor. When things started getting bloody, your team was brought in to settle it. I wound up getting hurt in the crossfire, and-”

   

“And afterwards I got you patched up and took you down to that one restaurant on the north end - the owner imported too much mukau so it was cheap… and tasty.”

   

Ratuk nods, smiling. “That day really let me see what a Toa could be.”

   

“Me too,” Corvec says quietly, his gaze growing distant.

   

I clear my throat. “Right. Well, I’m assuming this is Ratuk then. Do you have somewhere we can go?”

   

“Oh! Yes, follow me.” Ratuk begins leading us through back alleys and mostly empty streets, jogging ahead of us.

   

“Oddly cheerful for someone desperate enough to call on you for help,” I grumble. Corvec shrugs.

   

Soon enough we spill out of another alley onto a deserted street, a residential area quiet during the morning. Ratuk runs across the street, opening the door of a small stone hut and standing aside for us. Corvec doubles over to get in, I follow. Ratuk comes in last and shuts the door behind us, plunging the room into darkness aside from the beam of early morning sunlight filtering in through a small window carved into a wall.

   

Our informant’s demeanor changes entirely. “Okay. Let’s do this quickly. There’s no telling how many… watchers Arhet has. What do you know already?”

   

I shoot an annoyed glance at Corvec, who is sitting on the floor but still hunched over, trying to find a comfortable position.

   

“He’s here, and he’s causing trouble. And he’s a Toa. That’s really about it.”

   

“And he wears a Suletu,” Corvec adds.

   

Ratuk blinks, and then nods. “Okay, so just the basics floating around. Well, he’s a Toa of Fire, specifically, No one knows where he came from exactly. He’s not a Kor Toa. I believe you have the honor of being the last of those,” he nods towards Corvec, who turns away and hits his head on the ceiling.

   

“What does he want?” I say, already feeling impatient. Every moment in here puts me more on edge.

   

Ratuk sighs, “We don’t know. But he is behind the Matoran disappearances, and the… off… ones who are still here. I don’t know if you’ve run in to any of them, but there are a lot of people around here almost acting like zombies.”

   

I nod, thinking in particular of the Matoran being attacked in the alleyway.

   

“I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it involves mind control or something like that. He traps consciousness deep in the mind, not so deep to cause death, but enough to allow… something else in.”

   

“But he has a Suletu, not a Komau,” Corvec says, and I simply nod in agreement. “He can read minds, not control them.”

   

In the darkness, I can almost swear Ratuk grins. “Well, here’s the thing. Some time ago, Arhet had just about the closest brush with death possible. Three guesses who brought him back from the brink.”

   

Corvec and I are silent.

   

“The Westings.”

   

I clench my fists at the mention and Corvec leans forward, careful not to his his head again.

   

“They… augmented him, let’s say. Repaired the worst of the damage to his body with implants and saved him from near-brain death with their foreign technology. It gave him… a new perspective, to say the least.”

   

“So he serves the Westings now?” I ask.

   

“No! No, no, no, no, no. He is… so far beyond the Westings. And anything else in this forsaken world for that matter. Arhet serves no one and nothing but his own destiny.”

   

“How do you know all this?” I breathe, and I am afraid I already know the answer. Ratuk looks me in the eye and then laughs. It is harsh and mocking and artificial but it soon devolves into something real. And it seems like it is tearing him apart. Then, just as abruptly, he is completely still, and I see in his eyes the void in those I saw in the canyons and the alley and een back in Rar-Kor. I jerk my head away and look at Corvec.

   

His arms are stretched out towards the door, and I can only guess he is trying to use his powers to widen the exit. He quickly gives up and springs forward, smashing the front of the hut to pieces. He rolls and then springs to his feet, freezing as he looks down the road. I grab my weapon and rush out to join him, leaving Ratuk still as a statue.

   

Ahead is a horrible figure that can only be Arhet, Toa of Fire. He smiles, hands on his hips. Knowingly, he asks, “Speak of the devil?”

 

 

 

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VI.

 

    There are few things in this world more frightening than a Toa in battle.

   

In their later years, the Kor Toa were mediators and defenders for the most part. But I saw them fight once, and have heard tales of them and Toa from other regions. They are the only beings anyone knows of that have elemental abilities. Nothing compares.

   

Most threats in Kor were handled with a few punches or kicks, maybe a couple of well-placed swings of a Toa tool. If something truly required the elements, nothing was held back. Of course, Toa were considerate of innocents and of their surroundings. But to see a war waged not with strength, but sheer will, an extension of oneself, is staggering. To know some who walked among us could shatter everything with little more than a glance, but somehow kept that urge shackled, rocks the core of being. I have often wondered who abandoned this forsaken world that beings of such power could exist, unchecked.

   

Of course, among the handful of things more frightening than seeing a Toa fight is witnessing two of them fight each other. Particularly when one of them has minimal command of his abilities and the other seemingly cares for nothing.

   

Were I just turning onto this street now, I might have figured a meteor had found its way to the ground. That is truly the easiest way to comprehend.

   

A thick fog of dust fills the air, through which I am only able to see thanks to the intermittent fire bursts from Arhet, which also serve to provide me with better glimpses of him; I was only able to look for a brief moment before Corvec charged down the street after him.

   

His Suletu, once a darker color, is bleached almost white. Red eyes glow unusually bright beneath. One arm ends in a nimble three-fingered hand under a flame emitter. I am not sure if it is a replacement or merely an augment for his natural powers. The other appears normal aside from a small blade fixed to the wrist. From his back sprout several tubes and other apparatuses that appear fragile but are apparently quite sturdy. The dark armor is heavily tarnished.

   

My view is suddenly obscured by the appearance of new fighters. I quickly realize Corvec is using his mask, trying to throw off Arhet, who clearly has the upper hand. One, then two, then three illusions are hacked away, and I hear Arhet’s genial laugh as the pitch of the battle increases. Boulders shoot up out of the sand in a blur and are batted away almost as quickly. Corvec ducks under sweeping waves of flame, parries jabs and punches with his blades. The heat becomes more and more unbearable, even for desert dwellers as us. The street rumbles and buildings start to crack, as if they’re part of a rope being pulled too tightly by someone ignorant of its tolerance.

   

Then the stone begins to soften, melting away under Arhet’s intense heat.

   

Coils of sand fly waywardly through the air like serpents. I fall back as one hits me square in the chest, coughing. The ground quakes hard enough to almost throw me back to my feet. There are no words.

   

This is not the precision Toa were known for, the well-timed, relentless hammering at a problem. This is two madmen. It is all I can do to watch.

   

It’s done like waking from a dream, gone so quickly but lingering so vividly that one wonders whether or not it was real, whether it could even be real. The dust and sand return to the ground fast as rain and the fire is gone from the air. Buildings sag as if pulled down by their own weight.

   

They stand, breathing hard, just out of the other’s reach. Eyes locked. Staggered, hunched, but invisible energy ripples off them like stones in a pond. If a Matoran were to somehow exert the same force that has only temporarily tired a Toa, they would be swept from this plane. Perhaps this was Corvec’s plan; perhaps he knew his tenuous grasp on his powers would be best used to simply exhaust Arhet. But then Arhet smiles, and a truer and warmer smile I have not seen in Kor.

   

“I’m so glad you responded to my call,” he says, as though we had just come pleasantly out of the hut with Ratuk and the last ten minutes up and down this road hadn’t happened. “I was hoping we could have just talked. But then again, that was a most interesting welcome. You’re the only person in this wasteland who’s bothered to give me one.”

   

Corvec just shakes his head silently, gasping. Then, with surprising speed he jabs with his left arm, but Arhet brings up his flamespewer just as quickly, which the blade bounces off of. Off balance, Corvec stumbles back, allowing Arhet to punch him in the gut. Stone wheezes, stomps fire’s foot with his own, and gets a weak slash in to his enemy’s breast. Fire tilts his head before ramming it into stone’s, knocking him to the ground, freeing fire’s movement.

   

“Give it up, Ma. You’re in no danger. I spent so much time finding you, and if I wanted you dead I would have come to you. Let’s talk.”

   

“No thanks,” he gasps, “the sooner I’m done with you, the sooner I can get out of this city.”

   

With great strain Corvec pulls himself to his feet, groaning, glaring down an openly impressed Arhet. His Mahiki glows fiercely and he lunges at his opponent, starting to take the shape of a muaka, a strange beast from Jen’lan.

   

Arhet catches his wrist, the half-claw at the end of it almost embedded in his chest. He twists, hard, and throws Corvec to the sand at his feet.

   

I rush towards him when Ratuk suddenly springs to life, knocking away my hammer and tackling me to the ground with unprecedented strength. Even as Corvec struggles to get up again at least a dozen other Matoran flood the street, grabbing him and holding him down as well.

   

“I would say you chose the hard way, but it’s really no more difficult for me than any other way we could have done this,” Arhet says, dusting himself off.

   

I struggle against Ratuk, trying and failing to avoid looking into the many void eyes on those holding Corvec. The patchwork abomination looks down at his defeated foe again, then to me as if noticing me for the first time. I call out to Corvec, but he is already unconscious, or worse.

   

“You are.. Sufficient,” Arhet says, “Consider yourself lucky, Matoran.” That last word is the first he’s said in a tone suggesting anything other than complete politeness, in this case, contempt.

 

* * *

 

I wake in the cold and dark feeling rather sore and wishing I could get a break from some combination of those factors sometime soon on this mission. I also find, to my inconvenience, that I am chained to the stone wall of the incredibly dim, torchlit cavern we are in. “We” being myself and Corvec, who is actually alive and well and staring straight ahead at a dark corner of the place. I can only guess we are deep in the center of Jok-Kor’s plateau.

 

Arhet appears at the mouth of a passageway, smiling broadly and kindly once more. “Heard you were awake,” he says, tapping his mask and chuckling to himself.

 

“Need someone to listen to your evil scheme?” I spit, struggling against the chains.

 

“No, I have plenty of listeners already… although I suppose there’s no point in having them listen to what they can’t understand. It’s simply that what I need to do is easier when you’re awake. Though I’d gladly go into detail about my ambitions if you’d like.”

   

“Spare us. Please,” Corvec says quietly. I crane my neck to look at him fully, He’s physically exhausted, clearly, but somehow he seems to have back the bite I last saw in Rar-Kor.

   

“As you wish,” Arhet says, pausing to take in the sight of his fellow Toa. “I really must say, Corvec Ma, it is a true pleasure to have you here. We haven’t even been introduced, not… conventionally, anyways. I’m Arhet Su, and I’ve been waiting so long to meet you.”

   

Corvec says nothing, just stares. It is not a calculated silence designed to frustrate. He is genuinely confused. I’ll admit I am as well, the exact picture of Arhet’s machination not totally clear.

   

“Oh come on!” Arhet continues jovially. “You’re a hard man to find. I spent months chasing rumors, but it seemed you’d disappeared from Kor entirely. But then I started hearing more and more whispers about the hermit Toa of Rar-Kor, so I sent some information that way through one of my… conduits. So someone else could find you for me. A little Matoran in danger here, a little G’o’r’l’o’h there. Quite a tidy little package if I do say so. Although I musn’t forget to credit this lady. I don’t believe I caught your name?”

   

My silence is calculated.

   

“Can you just tell me why I’m here so we can get this over with?” Corvec sighs, not giving either of us time to let the knowledge of that manipulation turn to despair.

   

“You are here… because you have something I want- no, something I need. And you can give it to me without losing it for yourself.”

   

“Either way, I’m not interested in handing a liar and a traitor anything.”

   

Arhet shrugs, approaching him. “Very well. It’s no matter to collect memories from Matoran, or even from Toa, but I figured someone such as yourself might appreciate interpreting your experiences for me rather than having me translate a tangled, cluttered life. We can try both.”

   

Corvec glances at the Suletu inches from his own mask. “You’re not getting in my head.”

   

“Do you think Ratuk said that too?”

   

Corvec comes to life, his eyes flaring as he lashes against the chains. Arhet does not budge.

   

“Minds are like doors, some have locks, others don’t. You’ve just given me the key to yours.” His left hand moves to Corvec’s throat, holding the head in place while he moves the three-fingered hand to Corvec’s mask, the thumb on the forehead, the other two on the cheeks.

   

The cave becomes very quiet, and both of them, very still. I count the seconds in agonizing tension.

   

They pull away from each other and gasp like they were holding their breath. Arhet sighs, not agitated, but like someone who just stepped in mud or dropped a fruit in the dirt. He rips Corvec’s Mahiki off, sending it sailing across the cave. Before it can hit the ground he is on me, wordlessly. The fingers touch my mask.

   

I wake in the cold and dark.

 

 

 

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VII.

“Why do you hate Corvec Ma?”

   

He stands before me across the void arms impatiently folded across his chest and there is silence for what feels like a very long time

   

“I only ask because it’s something we have in common.”

   

I strain and pull and feel like something is going to snap somewhere I’m not sure where and then I learn how to speak “I don’t.”

   

“Oh come on, Halak. Don’t insult me by lying. Memories alone might not tell the story, but I know emotion. Passion. I’m a Toa of Fire. It’s written all over you: You’re physically aggressive, you belittle him every chance you get. You torture him with your feigned ignorance.” The void between us narrows and he seems to loom over me and he smiles a smile like the one Corvec did in Rar-Kor that infuriated me so much and he says “You hate him.”

   

“What if I do?”

   

“Then we might have just become the best of friends.”

   

I am silent he sighs but does not look irritated

   

“Do you have a dream, Halak?”

   

“You’ve been digging around my head like there’s a prize at the bottom, right? Shouldn’t you know?”

   

He chuckles “No. You see, that right there is why I don’t know. I can see your memories in your head, but while I’m here I have no idea of what you’re feeling. Each scene remains as insignificant as the last. For a Matoran, your mind has a remarkable spirit and resistance.”

   

“Thanks. I’ll remember that next time I’m in this sort of situation.”

   

A pause “Do you have a dream, Halak?”

   

“Do you?”

   

“I do. One I will share in exchange for yours.”

   

Before anything the cold black empty is gone and we are in the desert Arhet still standing in front of me watching me intently arms still crossed The Matoran around us pay no mind Rar-Kor goes on like it should like it always does here

   

“Why did you bring me here?”

   

“I didn’t do anything,” he says “You took us here.”

   

This is not what Rar-Kor looks like now This is Rar-Kor before the fall right before I can already hear the slinking and chittering of their segmented hideous deformed black bodies I don’t know if it’s in my head in my head or in my memory in my head I close my eyes but I can still see everything every detail I know exactly how it goes and then the screams start in my head and then they start again I fall on my knees my head is pounding I feel the sand and it feels real I hear something break and then we are back in the void and something is rumbling ringing off the wall Arhet is silent but he moves closer and then sits next to me

   

A red dawn on a ruined tower

    Halak

    What

    I know you’re getting tired of hearing me say this

    I know Davik I don’t have to do this

    But you want to

    But I need to

    There are others

    What gives me the right to walk away

 

    Then a day in the sun empty white clouds above

    So what is it you want to do Halak

    What do you mean

    For the future We can’t all become carvers

    I don’t know

    You do

    Fine I guess I wouldn’t mind chronicling

    Really

    Yes I’d like to visit Jen’lan and learn from them and then go everywhere I can maybe someday I’ll be the first to get to the other side of the canyons

    Very interesting for someone who just said she doesn’t know

    Shut up you won’t be making fun when I come back from Qital or somewhere and you’re still playing with rocks

 

    Screaming and the rattling of segmented bodies

    Where’s the Toa

    They were killed remember

    But where is the last one

    I don’t know

    Why won’t he help us now

 

    Halak

    It’s okay Ryban you’re going to be okay don’t

    Halak

    Don’t leave me okay everyone is going to make it out fine

    Halak please

    I’ll get you help friend don’t move

    Don’t take your eyes off the inner light you

 

    Rare predator bird knifes silently through the sky overhead violently red

    You don’t owe anyone anything

    Who would I be if I left now Davik

    No less than who you are now

    And who is that

 

    Void it’s ringing in my ears again but there’s nothing on my eyelids now Arhet turns and looks at me 

   

“That was your dream? Seemed more like a recurring nightmare to me. I meant a ‘dream’ as in an aspiration, a goal…”

   

My eyes flare with hatred I stare him down and don’t stop “I was going to leave. I was going to be a writer. I dared to dream without being one of destiny’s children who can afford to, who are supposed to. Someone like you. I stepped out of line and when tragedy came looking for Matoran like it always does, because it seems that’s all we’re good for, it wasn’t just another day in the life for me. It was punishment. I tried to be something more, and so loss became something more than just a fact of life. I found something to hold on to, and after the Westings came what could I do but let it go?”

   

“And this is why you hate Corvec Ma?”

   

"He left me as less than a footnote, another face in the crowd in the background of someone else’s tale- and then he just disappeared.” My voice quakes and the walls rumble again “Why did he get to give up?”

   

A long silence Arhet watches me closely but I can’t bear to look at him He’s thinking of what to say next

   

“For a Matoran, you’re surprisingly bright, so I’m not going to insult your intelligence and say that you and I are not so different. But I must say, parts of your story sound remarkably similar to my own. As does your burning question. Why did he get to give up?”

   

“In case it wasn’t clear earlier, I’m not really interested in hearing about your dreams.” My voice is sharp and harsh and biting I am in control again

   

“Well that’s just too bad, then, because I’m the one who decides when we ship out of here. Anything else you want to show me in the meantime?”

   

“I already told you, I’m not showing you anything.”

   

“But you already have, my friend. I can say, ‘show me your memory of the desert’,” we’re in the sand “or your house,” we’re there “but I cannot string together a cogent narrative while we’re like this. That wonderful, if sloppy, presentation was all you.”

   

I say nothing He stands

   

“Come on, say something. I can tell you’re not a big fan of my work. But you have to admit, it felt good to tell, or show, someone all that, didn’t it?”

   

I say nothing but I know he’s right this time

   

“Okay. Captive audience, that’s fine. I will say, though, I truly did appreciate you sharing that with me, even if it was on some subconscious level. You’re about the closest thing I have to a friend, my friend,” and his voice is somber and I know deep down he is being honest right now “I apologize, was that strange of me? We’ve only just met. But I feel like I know you so well.”

   

I strain against myself trying anything I can imagine to break out of this and wake up in the cave so I don’t have to hear him prattle on any longer I begin to miss Corvec’s stoic silence Nothing I get back on my feet “Hurry up and tell me your story, then.”

   

He claps his hands together “Oh, I’ve been waiting for a chance like this. Corvec wasn’t particularly willing to listen.”

   

“I thought you said the Matoran you’ve corrupted were listeners enough.”

   

This time it’s him that meets my gaze and there is again a deep genuine sorrow in his eyes that baffles and frightens me “Do me a favor,” he says “Imagine, if you will, a pot of water.”

   

I blink and then almost involuntarily before us in the void is a clay pot red and brown like the walls of the canyons it is simple no more than a hollow cylinder with a hole at one end the water line near the top

   

“A little more simple than I was thinking myself, but it works.”

   

I scoff and stare at it

   

“This part I’ll do for you,” he says and the water rises until the pot overflows, spilling its contents down the sides He looks at me expectantly

   

I throw my hands up in frustration “Okay, you win. I don’t understand your brilliant tale.”

   

“I’m the water,” he says it like that should make sense to me and it just irritates me more

   

“...Okay. Then what’s the pot?”

   

“I am.”

   

I kick it over and it shatters and the fragments disappear the breaking sound echoing

   

“Rather, what you see before you is the pot. Inside I am the water.”

   

“Just get to the point before I imagine a hammer to hit you with.”

   

“Fair enough. I was simply trying to illustrate that every vessel has its limit.”

   

“And?”

   

“And I have found a way to reach mine. Or, I suppose I’ve been gifted with the knowledge.”

   

“To what end?”

   

“You mentioned destiny when explaining your distaste for life, Halak. I believe in destiny too, and that we all have one. Why are we here if not to fulfill some purpose laid out for us? The notion of providence is too compelling for me to believe the world is governed by blind chance.”

   

“Am I supposed to clap? There’s only one person I know who doesn’t seem to believe in fate, and you just talked to him.”

   

“Yes, that’s alright. But how would you define fate? You seemed to characterize it as vengeful, or spiteful.”

   

“...I don’t know. It’s the driving force behind our lives. Sets us on a path we can’t break from.”

   

“But it is simply a force acting on the universe? If I were to set the empty pot out in the rain, what is its fate?”

   

“To fill, and eventually overflow. That’s your master plan? To stand out in the rain once you leave the desert?”

   

“No! Because I think you’re wrong here. Without intelligent design, fate is just a fancy word for organized and highly predictable forms of chaos, and if so there’s no point in making a distinction anyways. True fate has an author.” He is pacing now, gesticulating wildly

   

“So you’re saying that beyond any sort of deity that might affect our lives through action like any normal person can, just on a bigger scale, there is a being whose will is implicitly carried out through us.”

   

“Yes! Why does someone set a pot out in the rain, or fill it with water at a river? They have a use in mind for it. We are all destiny’s vessels, set on a path that will fill us with knowledge and experience appropriate to fulfill whatever is required of us.”

   

I let this settle for a moment “And what does this have to do with anything?”

   

“Halak, what are you if not a sum of your memories and experiences? You would still be a Matoran named Halak, but that is nebulous and pedantic. A pot filled twice contains different water, with different flavor and trace elements however subtle or noticeable, each time. Your body is the inconsequential element with regard to who you are.”

   

“Get to the point and get out of my head.”

   

“To put it simply, I want out of here. Of this world. I am sick of the noise, the smell, especially the people. It’s nauseating, overpowers and dulls the senses. There is nothing here for me.” His face and tone darken in an instant “I intended to make myself useless to destiny. I will assimilate every single consciousness in this world into my own if that’s what it takes for this vessel to overflow. I will find the total sum of knowledge and experience in this world, and when I try to go beyond, there will be no choice but for me to spill over, out of this body and beyond this plane. I will pool on the ground fate treads. It will not pour me back in the river of being when it’s done with me.”

   

Ears ringing again and I feel something I haven’t felt in a long time disgust not like the disdainful contempt I have for Corvec but utter revulsion that masks something deeper a primal fear that doesn’t understand how something like this could ever exist I try to shrug it off “Then that’s why all the Matoran acting strangely are mutilated in some way? A connection to your Westing grafts?”

   

“Yes! Once again Halak you set yourself apart from the rest. I’m sorry to say I found no reason to be gentle in my operations. Small minds yield small thoughts and little experience, hardly goods worth handling with care. Beyond a certain threshold, I even stopped learning new things from them. But I have to be thorough! Wouldn’t want to miss something important!” He chuckles like we’re talking about the weather Walls rumbling now I am shaking too

   

Why only some of the Matoran, then? Why not take the whole city while you’re at it?”

   

He gives me an incredulous and patronizing look “You think I have no plans to? I simply started with the ones who welcomed it, who had nothing left to live for in this broken place.”

   

“And then?”

   

“Do you think the sum of all experience is to be found only in this wasteland?”

   

I follow up on my earlier promise He was so kind to make me aware I can just think things up There is a hammer in my hand before I know it I aim for his face But he grows and grows until he towers over me Again I see the sorrowful tinge in his features “Hate to say it, but that was stupid, my friend. You may know yourself better than I do, but I know my way around a head.”

   

“What does any of this have to do with Corvec?!” I growl seeking an end to this torture He returns to his normal height

   

“I hate him because I cannot understand him. Your hatred of him is personal, justified, but offers no answers. No Matoran’s mind has given me anything more about him than the basics that set me on his trail in the first place. I hate him because he is a zero sum that refuses to cancel. He is waterlogged with despair, saturated with cynicism and defeat inside and out. He persists when there is no reason to. I have plumbed the depths of his mind and found nothing. His experiences are nothing new to me. I need him because I must know why he is still here.”

   

I think about the pain I saw in his eyes and what he said through Ratuk My head is throbbing and I’m shaking in a violent rage I muster all the venom I can and then in a tone that scares me I say “He’s you.”

   

He falters for a half second and then

 

    I dreamed a dream I won’t pretend it was special but it was mine

 

    We wake up in the cave, recoiling from each other and gasping for air. Corvec’s mask clatters to the floor.

 

 

 

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