Chapter Three: The Village of Weary
Kopaka woke with a start as the beam shone upon his mask. He inhaled sharply, the cool night air filling his lungs as he was taken by surprise, his sleep interrupted. The Toa of Ice sat up on his bed, squinting as he used his hand to block the glare. It did not come directly outside his window, he observed. Using his Kanohi Nuva of Vision, he saw through the light to miles away, where the source of the light glowed brightly.
Kopaka… came a telepathic voice. The voice, like the light it came from, cut through the still and silent darkness of the late summer night.
“What are you doing, projecting yourself out here, old friend?” Kopaka spoke aloud, sitting on his bed, feeling the minute warmth of the light. “You should be on the lookout for sailors, Solek. But what brings you here tonight?”
Sailors have arrived here, Kopaka. The Matoran who were sent north have returned. And… a storm has followed them. Kopaka sat silent, staring into the darkness. Beyond Solek’s beam, he could see his desk sitting in the shadow. A storm had followed them. The sentence echoed in Kopaka’s head. Hurricane seasons had come and gone through Kopaka’s village for millennia. Each year the storms would come, taking away parts of the island, and Kopaka and his village would fiercely defend their homes. But now… maybe it was simply the lateness of the night call, but Kopaka sat in the light, thinking, Why do we need to go through this… again? It sounded like another storm, but Solek’s tone hinted something darker…
The clouds are pitch black, sitting out there on the horizon, Solek reported. It scares me, because it is unlike anything I have seen here before. If the winds carry in this direction, the storm will wreak some havoc on the village. Who knows what might be left standing.
“We are Toa,” Kopaka said, rubbing his eyes. This had not been the best wake-up call he had received. “We can control the elements, but sadly not nature. In this situation, any action of our power is only denying the inevitable. No amount of our power will hold off a storm forever. What of these travelers, Solek?”
Two Matoran and a Toa of Fire. Yetoxa rescued them in the storm last night, which already damaged the Lighthouse. Yetoxa is certain that we both can protect the Lighthouse, and he wants to send the travelers to help the village.
“I cannot stop his actions,” Kopaka spoke coldly. “I believe that the Lighthouse needs more protection, but you are one of the few who values my opinion these days. If Yetoxa thinks that they will be useful, let them come.” The beam gave no response, and there was silence in the room again. Kopaka sat, thinking about Solek’s words. Hopefully this was a dream, Kopaka thought as he lay down on his bed.
Rest well, Toa Kopaka.
“You as well, Toa Solek.”
Kopaka stood in somewhere in a desert, a sandstorm rampaging around him. Beneath his feet lay a brick platform, extending beyond the raging storm. The wind blew fiercely, the airborne sand whipping through his mask. The wind was fiercer than any other the Toa of Ice had known, but he remained rooted to the platform.
Next to Kopaka stood a powerful Toa of Fire. His armor and mask blazed crimson, a shade red purer than any fire ever burned; inspiration radiated from him, keeping his friend calm in the storm. Kopaka had been with him in the beginning and in the end, and yet he had never viewed him like this. His eyes refused to make contact with Kopaka’s as he stared deep into the sandstorm.
“It is time to start another layer,” he said, gesturing to the platform. The icy one did not even understand what he was talking about, the words were slipping from his lips. The Toa was not responding, and the Toa of Ice went to nudge his brother, but found he could not move. “It is wide enough.” Knowledge of the scene flooded Kopaka’s head, and he understood. But the other disagreed, shaking his head.
“No, brother,” he replied, frowning. “You are not prepared for the next layer. The wider it extends, the higher it goes. Remember the first trial? The pyramid collapsed early on, because the base was not wide enough. It will happen again, until you learn your mistake. We need to build wider, in hopes of reaching a peak beyond anything our imaginations can fathom.” Kopaka began to argue, but the Toa whirled, and their eyes connected. In his, Kopaka expected warmth and comfort, but saw something that froze even him. “You may have built with me for years, but yet you have to gain the experience to build something that reaches above your head. If you do not use the tools I give you properly, the base will sink beneath the sands and bring you with it. Goodbye and good luck with your project.”
“No!” Kopaka cried, reaching for the space where the Toa had been. He had faded before he flexed a muscle. He fell to his knees. Without him, the pyramid would fall, just as he foretold. Already Kopaka could feel the base lowering as the sand came up to swallow it. There was no way that he could fix it, for the resources he needed were gone with the Toa.
The Toa of Ice wanted to escape, to find his partner, so they could fix it. He wished he had listened to him. The one gone was a leader, he knew naturally what to do- Kopaka had not a clue, and he needed his friend. Kopaka would venture out into the ferocity of the sandstorm to bring his brother back, if that was what it took to save the base…
There were pyramids before, and there would be more to come, rang a voice.
“But this one was supposed to be finished!” Kopaka sniffled. He sat there, sobbing, mourning, even as he sank lower into the sand….
Kopaka’s eyelids rose with the morning sun, the chill of the morning spring air seeping through the walls. It was the beginning of autumn, but it felt like mid winter. The Toa of Ice sat up, awake, remembering the events of the night before. Was it a dream? He asked himself, but immediately dismissed the thought. The light of Solek had awoken him and warned of an oncoming storm. It was real, there was no denying it. Yet as he looked out his window, above the village homes, he saw the cloudless skies. A purest blue lay above the land. It may not be here today, Kopaka thought, but it will come.
Drawing himself from the window, Kopaka left his home, only glancing at his ice blade, mounted on the wall as he closed the door. That blade had been used in countless battles, saving Kopaka’s life innumerable times. The power is in me. The sword is but the focus, Kopaka remembered. He had thought that the first time he used his blade in Ko-Wahi, tens of thousands of years ago.
The Toa of Ice walked among the houses in the quiet streets, the town shadowed and grey underneath the morning sunrise. Making his way toward the beach, he climbed over the rocks that separated the roads from the beaches, walking along the rock pier that went out to the water. He plopped himself down, gazing out at the flat morning surf. Watching the splayed ocean, frayed by only the dinky waves on shore, he focused his thoughts. There were two warnings last night. Solek’s and… the dream. Dreams mean something, I know that. That was a warning. But what was it warning me of? Kopaka leaned his head against the jetty and pondered deeply.
Our boat jumped forward as our oar snapped to the surface, the blades sending our puddles swirling into the marshes. The blades trailed mud as Tiribomba and I leaned forward for another stroke, and I could feel the bottom of the stream against my oar’s edge as I pried. Over the side of the boat, the waters were dark; however, we could feel the bottom of our vessel dragging along the shallow channel, letting us know how low the tide truly was. Not all still waters run deep, I thought, watching the water we left behind, as flat as glass once more.
The marsh grasses breezed by as we rowed, sitting high on mud banks on either side of the channel. The green yellow walls of marshes stood together like soldiers, erect at attention, yet they tilted in the slightest breeze. From the light blue morning sky, a warm gust would come down, playing across my neck as it rusted the turf. My eyes drifted from Tiribomba’s shoulder blades to the grasses that cut through my peripheral vision.
Our boat came to a halt as we slid onto a mud bank once more. Tiribomba grunted as he used his oar as a shovel, pushing the boat hopefully towards water. I hope we don’t have to push this thing again, I thought as I did the same. Nireta squatted uncomfortably among the supplies we carried. Heavily stocked, carrying two Matoran and a Toa, it was a wonder we had made it this far. Yetoxa had loaded the boat with as much as we could carry, back to the village, desiring to help us prepare for the storm as much as he could.
The boat finally ended up in deeper waters, and we began rowing once more, cautious of the mud. Nireta fumbled with the map, and I chuckled. “The Ga-Matoran who gets lost in the stream,” I teased, calling to her over Tiri’s shoulder.
My thoughts were interrupted by a distant rhythm; my ears perked as I heard the ocean crashing on the shore. Kshh. Kshh. We had traveled through this maze of streams, and now an exodus had finally been discovered. The gentle sound carried over the marshes, energizing us with hope as our strokes grew stronger. The boat jumped as it traveled through the portal to the sea.
We emerged from the streams into the seaway, waves slapping against the bow as we interrupted their path to the shore. As we plowed through the surf, larger crests batted the hull, the bow veering up to touch the sky. Sea spray flew in the sky, only to rain down on us. Nireta found herself grabbing hold of the sides of the boat, afraid to be flung out, while Tiribomba and I dipped our oars, struggling to keep the boat parallel to the ocean line.
We cruised out into the clear ocean, our fatigued arms lightly stroking the calm ocean. Calling for a rest, my eyes observed the coastline as my body slumped, exhausted. Ahead of our stern was the outer wall of the marsh maze. The green yellow grasses swayed, resisting the continuous beating of the spindrifts, extending to unseen points in either direction. As it ran southwest, the lighthouse protruded above the marshes, a tall white candlestick on the horizon; to the northeast, the grasses pointed to the village, which, despite its proximity, still hung in a distant haze. Almost home, I thought, smiling slightly.
“The Cavalry has disappeared,” Nireta said, waving to the free sky. Heeding her claim, I saw it was true- the approaching storm we had dubbed ‘the Cavalry’ had vanished from the sky. We had wandered through the maze as a shortcut to give the village an early warning, and now it was gone. I frowned. Where had it disappeared to?
“Don’t worry,” Tiribomba remarked, gazing warily as he took a stroke. “It’ll be back.”
A long breath of relief escaped me as the village finally came into sight. My legs ached as I waded across the sandbar, heavy from trudging through the muck of low tide. In my hand was a rope that dangled out into the bay, containing the last crab trap of my rounds. I had walked far along the marshes this morning, only to find each and every one of my pots washed clean by the recent storm, not even a scrap of bait left. I stumbled home now, hoping I would have some better luck with this final trap.
I felt the drag of the cage from underwater as I pulled and pried, retrieving my catch from the depths of the channel. My feet dug into the sandbar, my calves flexing underneath my armor as my wobbly muscles pulled harder. The trap then broke the surface, flying out into the air, and I fell back into the sandbar as the tension on the rope vanished. It was relaxing, laying in the soft mud; I wanted to stay there, have a rest from walking, but the water creeping up my face reminded me how much I enjoyed air.
I sat up, shrugging off the mud, a grin coming to my face. The crab trap had landed on the entrance, preventing any of the creatures I had caught from escaping. Maybe my luck is turning, I thought as I picked up the cage. Keras and hahnah crabs scuttled in the bars, clawing at one another. Tonight I would eat well, I decided, picking up the cage and resuming my plod home. I didn’t get far before hearing a noise from behind; Coming down the channel was a rowboat, three beings in it. The one Matoran, Nireta, I recognized, and the Toa seemed vaguely familiar… was that Tiribomba? I silently laughed, looking once more at my catch, and at the oncoming boat. Maybe my luck was changing, I thought as I walked toward the boat.
We passed into village waters, leaving the marsh grasses behind. Tiri and I rowed past the houses that hung off the island, weaving around the wooden and metal mishmash of docks extending into the bay. Next to Nireta sat Cenolb, one of the island crabbers, the two of them squashed in with the supplies.
“So… you’re a Toa,” Cenolb said to Tiribomba, breaking the awkward silence that hung in the boat.
“I’m still a Ta-Matoran, just taller,” he grinned, going for another stroke. “That’s some pot you got there,” he nodded to the cage in Cenolb’s lap.
“It was my best pot of the day,” the crabber told him, offering Nireta a closer look. “In fact, it’s my only pot of the day,” he added with a weary chuckle.
“What happened to the others?” Nireta asked, eyeing a crab scuttling away from another in the cage.
“The storm washed them clean,” Cenolb reported. “Not even a scrap of bait was left.”
“You may not want to reset those traps,” I grunted. “There’s a storm coming, worse than the first.”
“Worse than the first?” Our guest replied, eyeing the guts of the boat and taking in its contents. “Then with all this supplies and Tiribomba being a Toa, I’m guessing the three of you aren’t coming back from vacation.” A silence fell within the boat at that. We rowed on, Cenolb only speaking to give directions to his house or to wave to the fisherman sitting idly on the docks. Sensing the journey’s end, Tiri and I had settled to a slow crawl along the water, unable to pull much harder. Our hands went up to our faces as we coasted into Cenolb’s dock, the pockets of sunlight on the bay dazzling our eyes.
“Thanks for the dock,” Tiri grinned as he stumbled onto the dock.
“Thanks for the ride,” Cenolb countered, grinning as he tied down the boat. “Come in for a moment. You three look spent.” I nodded, replacing the parcel I had picked up from the bow. The crabber, trap in hand, led us up the dock, ascending to a wooden porch; we followed him up the staircase and into the darkness beyond the screen door.
The shadows seemed welcoming as we entered Cenolb’s home, a relief from the brightness outside. Our eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, gradually making out the kitchen we stood in. The three of us sunk into the chairs surrounding the table where the cage sat, while the crabber ducked into the halls, looking for something. Tiri slumped, his closed eyes looking toward the ceiling, his long legs sprawled underneath the table; Nireta shrunk into the back of the chair, massaging her temples. I just sat there, my rubbery arms too weak to lift to the table. I could feel my eyelids drooping, and I let them close for the moment, feeling my eyes roll into my head. Today’s row had taxed our strength.
“Jaatikko and Azibo aren’t here,” our host’s voice jolted us, our bodies snapping out of our trance as he walked into the room.
“Where’s Peck?” Nireta queried.
“Probably the same place they are- the bar,” he guessed. “Sorry to cut your rest short, but do you mind taking a short walk?”
A few moments later found us outside again, as Cenolb led the way, cage in hand, down an avenue of houses. Our feet paced the dirt road, and my heavy eyes were drawn to the homes that lined the street. Broken shell pathways cut through the grasses of the properties to vacant lots that occupied the space under some houses, while wide staircases led to open aired porches on others. Shadows relaxed in low laying breezeways, sheets of blackness covering the windows. Wraparound decks and balconies loomed over twin garages, and shingles led their way up to tall roof lines, short only to the midday sky. Colors that complimented the front yard gardens were painted onto the houses- dark reds, blues and yellows, standing next to each other, accentuated by the dark browns of stilts and the still green grasses of the bushes below. A Steltian sat on the staircase of his home, applying a coat of turquoise to the rail. The colors clashed as we walked further, yet it all melted into a neighborhood feel.
As I observed the architecture of the avenue, Solek’s words came back to me- if we did not warn the village in time, Utywa would be doomed. I realized now what that exactly meant- we weren’t just protecting lives, but our homes as well. Glancing at a few houses with tired eyes, I remembered that I had laid the foundations of some of these houses. A sense of pride briefly rushed through me- there was no way I would let a storm topple what I had helped raise.
Turning off the street, we walked up a gravelly pathway, following the clatter and chitter chatter that floated out the screened windows. Tiri opened the door, letting us step inside the crowded bar. Within the boundaries of the orange walls, Skakdi and Matoran sat among the tables, relaxing in the calm of the day. Cenolb ducked into the kitchen, where a bruiser could be seen scrubbing a pan, while we wound through the crowd. Several eyes were drawn to Tiribomba as we passed their tables, low mutters and raised brows acknowledging the new Toa of Fire. Some of our friends were there, and I could tell he wanted to greet them, but the change in tone nearby made Tiri feel uncomfortable. Walking through the crowd without a word, we sank into the booth, drained. Cenolb soon joined us, dropping a tray of steamed crabs in front of us.
“Don’t worry,” he said, noticing how Tiribomba watched the crowd. “You’ll be the island gossip for a few days, and then everything will be back to normal.” Glancing back to the kitchen door, he pushed the tray closer to us. “Peck says he has a little longer on shift, but he will be out to see you. For the meantime, eat.”
“But this is your catch, isn’t it?” Nireta gestured to the dish. “We can’t!”
“There’s plenty of food here,” he assured her. I smiled in gratitude, pulling some of the meat from the crab shell. The flavor sat in my mouth, and I closed my eyes, savoring it, letting my hand drop into my lap.
While Bour slept, the sun slid across the sky, white rays shifting to an orange glow that hung over the bay. The late afternoon light shown down on the reeds, giving them a pale look, as if winter had arrived. Winter did arrive at the bar, in the form of Kopaka. Slumping on a stool, he stared into his glass, frustration and disappointment emitting from his armor in an icy aura as he stared into his glass. He had wasted the day, sitting on the jetty for hours, pondering Solek’s warning; using his Akaku Nuva to analyze the sky, he could see the storm forming, the warning signs in the air. Why didn’t he relay the message?
They would not believe me, he thought bitterly, conscious of the people around him; Skakdi, Matoran and others sat at each table, elatedly chatting with one another, while he sat alone with a troubled mind. Tahu they’d believe, came the angry thought, remembering his dream from last night. He was always action. He would never have been the way I have through the years here. Or they’d believe one another, but never the loner. No, never me, especially with the estival season almost over.
A tap on his shoulder brought him out of his glass. Kopaka looked at Tiribomba standing before him, sun from outside shining on his fresh black and crimson armor. So, this is the Toa that Yetoxa sent. He had been the only Toa on the island for many years, so he immediately knew who the newcomer was.
“Kopaka,” Tiribomba greeted him with a slight bow. “You were one of the greatest warriors of the past, and now it is an honor to call you brother. I—”
“’Warrior’? Is that all you think a Toa is?” Kopaka exclaimed, quiet rage on his mask. Eyeing up the new elemental, he shot, “Oh, you probably think that because of Tahu; it was always Tahu, always fire that recieved the glory. We were more than warriors- we were protectors! A Toa isn’t just a Kanohi of Power and a sword to battle your enemies. If that’s what you think being a Toa is, then go hand back that armor to whoever gave it to you.” Tiri straightened himself, his Ruru glowing with embarrassment, while Kopaka glowered with anger as well as pain in his eyes. “You are not a brother. That we live on the same island means nothing. Brothers are Toa that have been through the worst together.”
“Forgive him, Toa,” a Po-Matoran chimed, sliding out of a booth. “He meant no harm, and he only wanted to talk to you. We’re tired--”
“You think you’re tired?” the Toa of Ice interrupted. “I’ve been tired for millennia! You have a job here, a trade, a duty, where people need you. My duty was suddenly gone before I could perform it. Do you know what it’s like to wake up to a void?”
“Watcher, Toa,” the bartender muttered, wary eyes monitoring the scene as he wiped a glass with a rag.
“No,” Kopaka replied. “Don’t tell me to hold back. I--”
“That is enough,” growled a voice. Raising his head, the angry Toa saw a purple Skakdi standing in the walkway between tables, an apron hanging over the arm pointed at him. Peck. Whether he was done his kitchen shift or heard the commotion and come to investigate, Kopaka did not know, but his appearance on the scene cut all conversation. All eyes were on the two. “That is enough,” he repeated. “Kopaka, you feel rejected, but you continuously isolate yourself. Those three have done nothing to you, so don’t let your anger out on them. If you can’t be sociable, then back to your brooding.” With a bitter expression towards the Skakdi, Kopaka nodded, turning back to his glass. No matter what he said, his mouth would make this situation worse. “As for you three,” the Toa of Ice heard Peck say, the only sound in the bar, “come with me.”
The three of us stood on the beach, watching Peck pace angrily through the sand. Behind him, waves broke on the sloped end of the beach, muffling his muttering as they crashed. Coming in long, slow periods, they sat on the ocean line like a wide staircase to the heavenly orange blasted sunset sky. My eyepiece scanned the expansive beach, seeing no clouds anywhere; where could this storm possibly be?
“Kopaka frustrates me,” Peck confessed, looking at the Toa in his midst as if he were a reminder of the Nuva. “And so does Yetoxa. Is this what he told me to send you to find?”
“Yes. And no,” I piped, fidgeting my thumbs. I recounted our trip to Cipituez, only omitting the fact that Solek was the light in the candlestick on the horizon; Yetoxa had claimed he was a secret, and I wasn’t willing to be the one to break it. Peck listened with a calm face, quietly taking in what I told him.
“I’ve never known a Po-Matoran to be a storyteller,” he spoke once I finished, “but that was some story. I’m not sure if it’s all believable, but what is important is what you learned. To your convenience, I know about Solek, so the secret is still safe.” Turning to Tiribomba, he asked, “How long have you been a Toa?”
“A week,” he mumbled, the embarrassment of the scene at the bar still fresh on his mind. The confidence that helped him approach the Toa Nuva of Ice a mere half hour ago was gone, and now he was no different than a Matoran who had just lost a beach Kohlii tournament.
“Exactly,” Peck chuckled darkly. “I may not be a Toa, but I understand this stuff a little. Kopaka and Solek have been Toa for far longer than a week. They’re known for whom they are, and they don’t try to be like Tahu or anyone else. Give yourself time, be yourself, and eventually you’ll be known for that.
“As for the storm, I believe you. I’ve never trusted the ocean, and Karzahni knows why I live here.” Looking over Nireta’s charts, Peck glanced at the skyline.
“The storm is out there,” Nireta said with grim confidence. “I don’t know why it disappeared, but it is coming.”
“It’ll hit,” the Skakdi agreed. “One day or another. Tomorrow, we will begin preparation at sunrise.”
“But the Cavalry could be here by then!” I protested.
“Someone will be on watch,” Peck assured me as he began to make his way up the dunes. In the southwest, as the sunlight was finally gone, the lighthouse lit up, Solek’s beam swooping into the distance.
The light scanned over the ocean plain for the thousandth time that night, observing the dark, empty water. Within it, the mind of Solek pondered as he used the power of his Akaku to view the darkness. A storm was arriving on southern Del Vienvi, as he, Yetoxa, and the explorers from Utywa saw this morning. The sky tonight showed different, however, starlight reflecting in the still, black waters. The Toa of Light was perturbed, but not just because he was unable to find the clouds he knew were out there. They seemed to be avoiding him…
…as if it knew someone was watching it. The very suggestion sent shivers through his essence. And it wanted those who awaited it to sweat a little longer. Or, maybe the village is lucky, and they have been given more time. He conflicted between these thoughts for a while, trying to deny the probability of the first, while his gut told him otherwise. The storms that had brought Tiribomba and his companions to the lighthouse heralded more, and enough time had passed that a stronger storm was ready to take over. But where was it?
The Kanohi Akaku began to pick up on the waters around the lighthouse’s peninsula. All the body heat of the fish had been accounted for, but more kept arising on his readings. Massive expanses of water that shifted with the littoral currents were going berserk, energy coming from apparently no source flooding the coast. Solek tapped into every ability of the mask that he knew of, but to no avail. There was something occurring beyond his power.
He had to contact Kopaka, who knew more about the Mask of Vision than he. Another warning had to be issued; he knew it wouldn’t put him in the Toa of Ice’s good books to wake him a second night, but it was a necessary act. Solek braced himself to project out to the Toa Nuva’s home, but his mind was struck by tendrils of thought; subjected to bizarre images and memories that weren’t his, the Toa of Light panicked, attempting to retreat from the stronger mind that surrounded him. A mental thrash caught him unawares, and Solek suddenly sat sprawled on the floor of his chamber, darkness surrounding him. He could hear the sounds of Yetoxa’s worrying footsteps racing up the staircase.
“There’s something out there,” Solek fearfully whispered to himself.
Dreams floated through the brain, flashes of color and symbols hovering in the abyssal darkness of the mind. Sequences rolled out like films, entertaining the closed eye with scenes while the memory only recorded a few frames as shady photographs. Messages lay underneath the continuation, but they were undetectable by the wandering arbiter. All perception of time and reality were warped within the realms, following their own laws of physics under looming twin ovals of backdrop.
While the flow of confusing dreams unfolded behind Tiribomba’s eyes, Kopaka stood above him, watching the Toa of Fire sleep in the early hours of the morning. Light was breaking outside the window; Tiri was the one who was so urgent in delivering Solek’s warning, yet he was the one wasting precious time. Raising his hand, Kopaka send out a wave of frost, trapping Tiribomba in a shell of ice. Only his head was left free, which jolted awake at the feeling of the cold.
“Wh-what-t-t?” he chattered, wondering why the morning temperature had suddenly dropped. His eyes were wild with shock and confusion as he saw Kopaka in his home. His muscles strained to crack the ice, but the Toa of Ice kept shoring it up.
“Use your power,” Kopaka quietly advised. “Melt it, without wetting your bed.” He watched as Tiri struggled, his face contorted and frustrated within the shell. The ice remained solid, and Kopaka hung his head, until he saw Tiri’s hands. Pools of water began to collect in his palms, until his hands were completely free, twin jets of flame evaporating the water. It was a slow start, but Tiri was heating his body, hollowing his shell until it was broken by a simple flex of the muscle. Kopaka, apathetic to the wakened Toa’s eyes, walked out the shadowy doorway. Sliding his feet out of bed, the novice followed his elder.
Kopaka led him out to the beach, where twin blades were buried, crossing one another. Tiribomba was led out there, but not allowed to touch the swords, the Toa Nuva of Ice shaking his head at the first attempt to grab one. Instead he circled around the Toa of Fire, quietly observing what stuck out. While he did so, golden sunlight warmed the sand, the first few minutes of the day disappearing.
“What are we doing out here?” Tiribomba finally asked.
“Last night was not your fault,” the Toa of Ice admitted. “You see through the darkness with your Ruru, and I see precision with my Akaku, but I overlooked what a Toa is- someone who does their job.” He paused, remembering how whispers of the storm’s coming breezed through the neighborhoods last night. “You did your job, in warning everyone. The fault of last night’s scene was mine.” Tiribomba nodded, accepting the apology. “Why do you acknowledge what Toa used to be?” Kopaka asked him.
“I feel inadequate,” Tiribomba explained. He blinked as he watched the sun, remembering the eeriness of the Steel Visionary’s antechamber in the brief darkness of his eyelids. “We live in a dead world, but there are things out there- if they rise, I need to know how to approach them.”
“Your power is underdeveloped,” was Kopaka’s reply. Prying a sword from the sand, he circled the surprised apprentice. “Though we are different elements, I can show you how to control your power.” Their feet glided over the sand as they slyly stepped side to side, wary of who would make the first move. Twirling his blade, Tiri leapt forward for a lunge that Kopaka easily blocked. A barrage of blows hit the Toa of Ice, the swords dancing and sparking as they met. With a forceful shrug, Tiri was pushed away, and they circled again. “You can create fireballs and send out waves of heat in all directions. To control your power is to show precision, to use your power so you don’t waste your energy.”
Kopaka struck this time, swooping upward toward the struggling Ruru. His opponent cut down to intercept the blow, and the steel twirled as Kopaka fluidly flicked his wrists. With one hand he slashed at Kopaka, who met with a dozen parries. The novice struck wildly from all angles, and still was met with the opposing blade omnipresent. The Toa of Fire fiercely attacked, making a step’s advance with every swipe, until he separated Kopaka’s hand and blade. Feeling a burning in his arms, Tiribomba made the vital mistake of lowering his sword; Kopaka’s tip was at his neck in a flash.
“You fight like a fire,” Kopaka noted, seeing how Tiri held his arms. “Crackly and spontaneous. With as many moves as that, in a real fight you’ll burn out quickly.” Turning his back to Tiri, he walked away.
He’s only distracting himself, Tiribomba thought, his eyes fixed solely on Kopaka as he charged. The white Toa spun to the sound of rushing footsteps, sidestepping instead of parrying the arching blade. Momentum carried the charging Toa mask-first into a dune. “Always mind your surroundings,” came Kopaka’s voice. Leaping to his feet again, Tiribomba’s body followed his eyes as he charged again.
The blades in the sand were meant to serve as a landmark on the beach, but that was lost as the two ran away to continue their duel. Blades whistled through the air, each of the owners driving all of their strength behind each swing; each blow contacted with a resounding like clanging bells. Sparks flew from not just the protodermic sabers, but from the fighters as they watched each other’s moves, each feeling nympholepsy for the other to concede.
Powers appeared in the frisk; whether it was Kopaka showing he was more experienced or laying a hint on his apprentice, Tiri countered with the same move, superheating his blade. Steel was glowing in their hands, their elements pouring out of the tools, and it seemed as if they would break. But they held, and it was a test to see whose sword would give out first. The younger Toa backed out after a moment of steam erupting from crossed blades, tossing a series of fireballs. The Akaku’s eyepiece tracked each burst, an opposing blast of ice canceling them out. The swords separated for a moment as flashes and fire and ice overcame the beach, but soon rejoined each other in the fury of the match.
Kopaka had the upper edge, but Tiribomba was the one who dealt the final move. The Toa of Ice froze the ground they danced on, the surface going from easy-to-trip to easy-to-slip. He held his footing, but his adversary began to slip, as he had no skill of footing that Kopaka possessed. Sending fire through his feet, however, gave him the edge, as he melted the ice, sending fireballs at the sand. Glass formed as the sand met the flame, and Kopaka found himself slipping, unable to keep his footing. Tiri’s blade was quickly at his neck.
“Enough!” Kopaka declared, dropping his sword. Tiri nodded, his bottom following his sword into the sand. Sweat dripped from their brows as they panted, exhausted from the long combat. “We have done enough for today,” the Toa of Ice reported. The sun was now above the ocean line, making its way toward the apogee of the sky. They had spent enough time out here, and he could see the village from the dunes, already awakening to prepare for the long day ahead. We might as well join them, he thought, offering Tiri his fist before walking to the road. He responded to the gesture, spending only a few moments more on the sand to ponder what had just happened before heading back home.
In the building clouds far out on the horizon, high above Utywa’s roofline, the Element Lord sat, excitement coursing through his essence. He could feel his power like he hadn’t in millennia, his strength in full for the first time following the strike on the Kingdom. He had never disappeared from the endless ocean, oh no; even in the uncountable years of aftermath, he was still there. In every storm that had hit Del Vienvi- every drop of rain, every wave that eroded the beaches- that had been him, testing the continent.
His power was great, yet he could sense all of the lesser energies around him. The power to send him home was among them, emitting from somewhere deep in the countryside. Landlocked, protected by hundreds of miles of land, it was inaccessible to him. The lure of power was what had attracted him all these years to the continent. He could not tear this place apart like the last time, however there was a more precise strategy to get what he wanted, the Element Lord knew, constantly waiting for the insight to occur, the solution to fall in place. He had no idea who or what the power came from, no way to find what it was, but he would.
He “watched” the coastal village scramble about, people darting through the streets as they built up their homes. There would be no shoring, no shelter, he resolved, refusing to be held back by petty villagers. Some could sense him out there. Their minds could tell he was not just a storm, but something more, and he basked in their fear. With his years of failure to penetrate the continent, he had learned their language, and understood the simplicities they lived by. They had not a clue of what was really coming their way.
None were granted the privilege of watching the sunset- they’d had their time of calm and serenity, in the millions of dusks that had already passed. The light of the lighthouse met the wall of approaching clouds, darker than night, as the Element Lord prepared to advance. Bour had dubbed the storm “the Cavalry”, and it began to catch on in Utywa as the inhabitants could see the looming storm. The thunderheads were like the horses on the front line, angry at their commander holding the reins, eager to run forward on the waves and crash through the village. Soon, they would come charging, very soon.
Darkness settled above the village, the night visiting once again. This time, however, it came upon a town much changed from the night before. The mood had darkened, its problems no longer the doubts and fears of individual Toa. The first rays of sunlight could not define the property lines of the homes, grass fraying into the dirt avenues while garden beds and fences lined conjoining backyards. As those final rays sunk over the horizon, they could see the borders had changed, yellow lamplight coming from bolted shutters to cast shadows on sandbags that defined the lawns. On the back bay, slack was nonexistent on the ropes holding the boats to the dry docks that had been assembled that day. Porches were lawn chairs has been spread out were now empty, their contents drawn indoors. Only the occasional wind chime hung, its sounds heralding the approaching wind. People sat in their homes, anxious of what was to come.
Many of us sat in the bar under the yellow lamplight, discontent to be ignorant to any news. Nearly every table was full, but barely any food came out of the kitchen- even some of the staff stood around the doorway, anticipating Peck’s report. He sat at a table nearby, conversing and writing with the two surveyors he’d walked the island with at sunset. Some ate while we waited for the verdict. Nireta, Cenolb and I centered on a table game, while Kopaka and Tiribomba threw darts together, something noted by those present the night before.
“We’re short sandbags,” the Skakdi finally announced. I leaned back in my seat, listening as murmurs filled the barroom. “It’s quite a few,” he spoke over the building noise. “We had a long summer, and it was probably longer than we thought. But--”
“How are we going to get more?” someone cried.
“The next village has sandbags! We’ll borrow from them!”
Suggestions flew around the bar, and Peck let them have their say. Kopaka, however, grew annoyed at the banter, and lowered the temperature around the bar until Peck had the floor once more. “We can’t borrow. If we take from others, then we lower their defenses. More or less, everyone is in the same boat.” He pointed to a map mounted on one of the walls. “We don’t have to borrow, either. The shore isn’t the only place where sand is found. Out in the country, there’s a sandbagging outpost. We’d need a messenger to go out there for a shipment that would restock us through next year.” His eyes swept over the crowd, observing our nervous faces. The Skakdi smile fell, though, once he felt the tension in the room. No one was willing to leave their home when the storm hit, nobody was confident enough to risk everything they had for the village. Not even Peck, we could see- he was just waiting for someone to volunteer, so he wouldn’t have to go. As still as stone, everyone waited for the next person to raise their hand.
“I’ll go,” someone finally spoke. My eyes flew across the table to Nireta, who casually raised her hand “I’ve been out in the desert before. I know the way.” I stepped up, not needing her glance to volunteer myself to Peck. I was a Po-Matoran who once questioned why he had signed up for a sea expedition- now here was a land journey, and I was on board. Around the room, people began to relax- someone had risen up for them, and taken the unwanted responsibility. A mild atmosphere began to develop as everyone dispersed, leaving Peck and us to a table.
“You should stay,” was the first thing Nireta said to Tiri when he offered to join. “You will be needed around here, when the storm hits,” she reasoned, seeing our confused masks in the glow of the lamp. After all that we had been through in the past days, we were a trio, and now she didn’t want him to come along? It made sense- he and Kopaka would be assistance to everyone, but was it worth him not coming along? Leaning back in his chair, away from the light, he teetered with his decision, but reluctantly agreed.
“How are we going to get there?” I asked.
“Just follow the rhode,” was her reply. She brought the map from the wall down, pointing to the far end of the island. A line cut inland, labeled “the Rhode”. It branched off to other portions of the country, a single line leading into the desert. The name held some curiosity, as if it were more than just a pathway out of the village; the lassitude that had overtaken me following the row home had vanished, and I was now intrigued by the foreignness of the spelling. Whatever the name meant, I would soon find out.
We left at daybreak, but there was no sun that arrived upon our departure. As we walked over the bridge, grey wisps of clouds flew over the edges of land, while on the ocean an unending black thunderhead loomed. The clouds seemed to charge, pouring unending from well beyond the horizon. Darkness hung so heavily that the lighthouse still shined, day and night indiscriminate. Thunder rocked the morning air with an earsplitting crack that shook even the bridge. I glanced one last time at the village, before raindrops began to blur my vision. As we left, one thought was in my mind, and it scared me more than I would have thought it was capable.
The Cavalry had arrived.