Ic: Stannis laboriously stepped through the wide tunnel of the Dark Walk from the Mangaia to Po-Koro and pondered with every step. He wasn't the Wanderer anymore -- that duty had been fulfilled upon his apotheosis -- but he was still a prophet and a sage and a fervent believer that solutions were in every riddle. The problem he faced then, however, was a riddle without a prophesy.
Across an endless ocean
Beyond where minds can see
My key lies in the open
Where you will never be.
Beneath the brightest thunder
Stand towers of the day
The light may break asunder
If night skies choose obey
The red sign on black eyes
Will lead you to your prize.
The poem written on the presumed Vault of the Makuta taunted Stannis. Specifically a single word: "If." That one syllable laughed at Stannis and made him question the poem's value because it only defined a possibility, not an absolute reality. It was as if Stannis had been made a Wanderer all over again, journeying towards a goal he didn't know about or understand. It was a journey anew.
The other Toa Maru had pondered over it with him before and it was from that meeting that he was returning from. It was a small council, only Leah, Korero, Oreius, Inu and himself, but it was necessary to at least help the team leader mill over the door's destiny. Though as he thought back over the meeting he doubted it had done anything to help his mood...
* * * * *
"[color=#b22222;]Inu doesn't know what's in there[/color]," Oreius said, his arms crossed as he stared down the massive door, as though simply looking at the riddle long enough would cause it to puzzle itself out. “[color=#b22222;]He and Turaga Onewa got inside the Makuta's head, but this knowledge was buried too deep.[/color]”
"[color=#0000cd;]As far as riddles go, this is pretty much as vague as they come...[/color]" Leah said. "[color=#0000cd;]Does it refer to another place? Or a hidden location on this Island, like the Keeping Place? Either is possible... Just take the first line... 'an endless ocean.' That could mean the seas around Mata Nui. Or it could be a metaphor for something else... Time, for example.[/color]"
Korero was silent for a while, rubbing the base of his mask as he pondered the graven words. "[color=#006400;]There are a few words that jump out at me,[/color]" he remarked. "[color=#006400;]It says 'beyond where MINDS can see'. Minds, not eyes. And 'where you will never be'... that seems very absolute, doesn't it?[/color]"
Oreius chuckled at an unheard joke. "[color=#b22222;]We babble like Brakas.[/color]"
"[color=#0000cd;]True.[/color]" Leah admitted. "[color=#0000cd;]But we're just trying to narrow it down. You know sometimes words have two meanings. We have to start somewhere.[/color]"
"[color=#006400;]It's all a riddle...[/color]" Korero continued, "[color=#006400;]but the most intriguing part? The last couple of lines. 'Night skies', 'red sign on black eyes'...that makes me think of one thing.[/color]" He looked around at his brothers and sister, a slight frown narrowing his eyes as his mind continued to map out the possibility. "[color=#006400;]The Red Star.[/color]"
Stannis merely listened as the others spoke in turns. His eyes were strained on the single troubling word he found in the poem and they burned brightly, casting a little illumination on the inscription. "If," he said slowly, deliberately. "It seems so absolute, yes, save for that single word," he pondered. "It's as if it leaves open the possibility that this door can be opened, not that it will. That... that troubles me," he said.
Leah nodded slowly, then said. "[color=#0000cd;]'If' can mean a lot of things. But to me, it sounds like a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Like an eclipse of the sun.[/color]"
"[color=#b22222;]Like how Takua got into the Keeping Place,[/color]" Oreius said in agreement. "[color=#b22222;]If everything is in alignment, you can enter. But he could never find it again after.[/color]" He paused. "[color=#b22222;]Unlike the Keeping Place, though... this Vault isn't a part of any prophecy, is it? That's what you mean by 'if', right, Stannis?[/color]"
"Correct," Stannis said. "This is like a final taunt from the Darkness. Of all the insults he could give he chose to leave us a box we cannot definitively open. There doesn't seem to be a higher destiny to this place and instead it's just a reminder, a thorn in our sides, there to laugh at us and be a joke. Unlike the Second Great Prophesy I cannot sense a deeper meaning beyond the simple possibility that this cage can possibly eventually be opened. This absence of destiny does not sit well with me."
"[color=#b22222;]But... just because this door has the word 'if' on it doesn't mean there's no destiny involved,[/color]" Oreius pointed out. "[color=#b22222;]Father spent his li- I mean, the Makuta spent his life running from destiny. He thought the Prophecy could be changed, else he would've just given up. This riddle could just be a denial on his part.[/color]"
A small smile tugged at Leah's lips. She couldn't help it, but Stannis being worried about a riddle with seemingly no destiny seemed oddly appropriate. "[color=#0000cd;]Indeed...but with Makuta gone, we do have one luxury: time. We can try out different approaches...[/color]"
"[color=#006400;]Wait, wait,[/color]" Korero interjected. "[color=#006400;]Just wait a moment. Should we even be discussing it like this? Like it's something that we should, or even can open? And I don't mean whether it's possible. I mean whether it's right.[/color]" The Toa of Air shifted his weight a little. "[color=#006400;]There's something about that Vault...it gives me the creeps. I don't like it.[/color]"
"[color=#b22222;]We all know he wasn't exactly truthful.[/color]"
"That is a question I struggle with already," Stannis said and pointed to his mask. "I can open this vault with just a wish and a prayer, but the consequences of any action freeze me to inaction. There has to be a time for everything, I just have to understand what the time this poem refers to, but I cannot know it."
[color=#0000cd;]"Even so...do you think we can take the chance to not take action? What if somebody else attempted to gain access?[/color]" Leah interjected, looking from Stannis to Korero.
"Something has to be done to guard this place," Stannis concluded. "It needs to be kept safe. If I, if we, cannot take action to open it ourselves then none should."
Korero nodded. "[color=#006400;]I agree, Stannis,[/color]" he said. "[color=#006400;]We don't even know what's in there. Some source of power? Power corrupts, and nobody's incorruptible - not even us. I wouldn't trust myself with the power of Makuta. Would you? We could become the very thing we were destined to rid this island of, or even worse.[/color]"
"This matter deserves the authority of the other Maru's insights," Stannis said, finally looking away from the riddle on the wall and looking at the others present. "We should table this question until Reordin and Sulov are with us, too. In the meantime we should think about how to solve this issue. Our minds cannot be left to dull on this predicament."
Leah nodded. "[color=#0000cd;]Sulov's wisdom and Reordin's insight would be more than welcome on this matter.[/color]" She sighed. "[color=#0000cd;]If the Turaga were still with us...maybe they could have helped. As for keeping this place safe until we find the meaning behind these words...it would be the easiest to just block or guard the entrances to the dark walks and the great temple. But there are only six of us.[/color]"
"[color=#006400;]What about the Koro militaries?[/color]" Korero suggested.
"If people wish to gain entry to the forbidden they will find a way to do so. Our efforts are best directed at protecting this thing itself," Stannis said, slamming his hard fist on the door for emphasis; it did nothing to the door and his hand merely rebounded from it. There was darkness in that stone that rejected even his touch. Turning to Korero he mentioned, "The koros squabble amongst each other and I can hardly even place my trust in what is apparently now my own city. Unity isn't as great as it was before and I have little doubt the koros would seek to open this vault just the same as any other fallible people."
"[color=#0000cd;]So what do you suggest? We go and hunt down every last Rahkshi, Makuta-follower and whoever else might attempt to access the vault with ill intent incarcerate them before they find their way down here?[/color]" the Toa Maru of water asked.
"My instincts tell me to do one of two things," Stannis said. "Either the six of us combine our might to seal this evil sepulcher with protodermis... or I use my mask to open it and we destroy the contents and end the threat within, if there is one. Either way all six of us are required. In the meantime we should leave this place for now; if there is a destiny to be had with this thing it will happen with or without our involvement." He paused for a moment before repeating: "If."
* * * * *
The small council meeting had left Stannis with no resolutions and no fewer questions than when he arrived. When the light and heat of Po-Wahi was sensed he had to shield his eyes against the harsh environment. It all just reminded him how much he truly didn't like the koro he was assigned to by Mata Nui. It seemed like some sort of karmic balance to offset the great power he was given; in exchange for profound abilities over reality and destiny he had to endure a nuisance that would just cut into his side. As Stannis exited the Dark Walk the handful of Sentinels who were tasked with guarding the entrance to the passageway nodded respectfully to their toa-protector and hero.
Po-Koro had devolved further than where it had been in the dark times, Stannis thought. It had become petty and isolated, embroiled in politics that the prophet had no care for. The culture seemed off to him, too, and was far too engrossed in sports and carving to be regarded well by the stoic and aloof-minded Toa Stannis. He was a Su-Matoran at heart and spent his years in the Ta-Koro guard or in solitude on the Massif; Po-Koro was too raucous and cheerful, even in hiding, for him.
Still, he was their toa and he would serve them as best he was able. He only wished to remain distant from its games, recreational and political, and keep his service to the people of Mata Nui as a whole. Wordlessly the prophet trudged through the sands to the city gate.