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FLOW LIKE WATER Gali was exhausted. Her legs ached from swimming all day—which she had been doing for weeks now, following a figure she hardly knew. Her guide called herself the “Protector of Water,” and Gali didn’t even know how much she could be trusted—but this mysterious character seemed to know who she was and why she was here, which was more than Gali herself had any recollection of. “Not much farther now,” chided the elder, slowing to allow Gali to catch up. The less athletic Protector was propelled through the water by two large turbines affixed to her armor—handy, thought Gali resentfully as she looked down at the flippers extending from her own aching legs. “I don’t know if I can swim much farther,” Gali called through the expanse of seawater that separated them. The elder figure tut-tutted reproachfully. “Pathetic,” she muttered, just loud enough for Gali to hear. “There’s a cave up ahead,” the Protector called back, indicating a rock outcropping rising from the seabed in the distance. “We can stop there for the night.” Gali let out a groan. In truth, the cave wasn’t far, but after swimming for more than eight hours non-stop, it seemed like a mile. Gali collected herself and pushed forward once more, following her guide for one final stretch. O O O O O O O O O O O The cave was small, and dark—but not so small that it couldn’t accommodate two occupants, and not so dark that Gali couldn’t see once she got inside. Bioluminescent seaweed grew from the cave floor, illuminating Gali and the Protector of Water from below with an eerie glow. “You’ll be happy to know that this is the last leg of our journey,” said the Protector, with a smirk. “Tomorrow we should arrive at the Seabed Sanctuary where the Golden Mask of Water was hidden.” “And then what?” asked Gali. They had been traveling for weeks now, and she no longer had any concept of distance. How far were they from the Okoto mainland? Gali didn’t even want to think about it. “You wear it,” retorted the Protector, as if the answer couldn’t be more obvious. “And then, just maybe, that’ll be enough to make a proper Toa out of you!” Gali knelt beside the Protector. Despite her guide’s abrasive personality, Gali knew that this wise elder held the only clues to her identity. “You called me that before, when you first found me,” said Gali gently, hoping to smooth things over with her grouchy companion. “What does that mean? Toa?” The Protector let out a long, rumbling groan. Clearly Gali had said entirely the wrong thing. “Toa!” cried the Protector exasperatedly. “Heroes! Six warriors from the heavens, destined to save our island from the evil that threatens our very existence!” Gali slumped against the cave wall. “I don’t feel like a hero,” she admitted despondently. “You don’t act much like one, either!” snapped the Protector. “And yet… you have already performed one great act of heroism,” the Protector recalled, her face briefly softening. “Clearly you have hidden depths even you were unaware of.” Gali stared pensively at the weapon she held—a slender harpoon with a golden tip. She had been holding it when she first arrived on the outskirts of the Village of Water, but she had no memories of where it had come from, or for that matter, where she had come from. She couldn’t recall anything from before her arrival on Okoto, not even her own identity. She slowly twirled the harpoon in front of her in a wide arc. No matter which angle she looked at it from, it seemed alien to her—yet when the Skull Spiders attacked shortly after she awakened in this foreign place, she had wielded it deftly, as if guided purely by instinct. “If we don’t reach the mask soon it might be the depth of us both” she muttered, after a long silence. She looked up at the Protector of Water, who looked back at her with a puzzled stare. “You know…” explained Gali, “depth… death…” The Protector’s eyes narrowed sharply, in a mixture of anger and shock.” “Sorry,” said Gali, feeling a bit flustered at her pun’s poor reception. “I thought I’d make a joke... you know… to lighten the mood.” She sighed and stared at the seabed beneath her feet. “I don’t know how you expect to lighten the mood with talk of death!” cried the Protector. It was clear that of all the wrong things Gali had said to her guide, this was the most wrong. The Protector of Water was actually quaking. It’s more than anger this time, observed Gali, worriedly. I must have struck a nerve. “I’m sorry!” exclaimed Gali, anxiously. She was worried that she might have done it this time—that her new companion would just leave her here with no idea who she was or who she was meant to be. But the Protector just staggered, collapsing to the floor of the cave. She was drawing breath from the water in a rapid and unsteady rhythm—like a particularly bad case of the hiccups. Or… tears? It was hard to tell when both of them were already submerged in the water. Gali hesitantly extended her arm toward the elder, who had never before seemed more frail. “I didn’t ask for this,” sobbed the Protector. “Defending a dying village from a swarm of monsters that never seems to stop growing. Trying to keep my people from turning against one another in their desperation.” She let out a loud honking sound and a dribble of mucus fell from behind her mask before being dissolved by the briny saltwater. “My father…he was the previous Protector of Water, and he was proud of it. Times weren’t great even then, but he was always a source of stability for us all—never faltering, always faithful. He kept our hopes up with tales of the Toa—legendary heroes, summoned by our ancestors, who would someday arrive to save us all! But before I knew it... he was gone, and I was left alone to figure out just how he managed!” The Protector gasped for breath again, then gulped down a mouthful saltwater in a vain effort to regain composure. Gali was struck by the vulnerability that her guide must have been hiding all this time—not just from her, but from the other villagers. Everyone. “And I tried. I tried my best. But it was so hard to keep hope alive even when you can’t hold onto your own.” The Protector sniffled and looked into Gali’s eyes with an almost haunted expression. “And then you showed up. And for a minute my hopes reignited. This was it, I thought. Father was right. Only to find out that—that you were just as clueless as I was! And now I’m wondering if it’s even worth it. If I should just throw away my blaster and leave my people in exchange for the cold embrace of a Skull Spider.” The elder continued to stare into Gali’s eyes. Gali realized she was looking for answers—and that this time, she couldn’t afford to give the wrong one. “I think…” Gali paused to find the right words. “I think… you and I… we’re actually the same. A Protector… a Toa… neither of us chose our roles.” The Protector’s whimpering began to die down, as she listened intently to what Gali had to say. “You’ve been forcing yourself to try to be your father for so long,” Gali continued. “But I don’t think that works. If you try so hard to force yourself into a role that doesn’t fit you… you’ll break.” “Exactly!” cried the Protector, bitterly. “So what is there for me? What am I supposed to do?” Gali knelt in front of the seated elder and placed a hand gently on her shoulder. “You have to adapt to your own role,” she said. “It’s like... water, poured into a jug. It adapts to the shape it’s meant to fill… it feels out the nooks and crannies and empty spaces, but in the end, it fits.” Gali paused to allow what she’d said to sink in. “Tell me,” she said, hesitantly, “Who do you think you’re meant to be?” The Protector started sniffling again, and Gali worried for a minute that she had said the wrong thing again. “I think…” the elder sputtered, “I think… I’m meant to be right here—“ She paused to catch her breath, which had grown much steadier than it had been moments ago. “—with you. My father... he was a great Protector, but I think we need a new kind of Protector now—a mentor to a new generation of heroes. And you know what?” The Protector of Water looked up at Gali again, but this time, on the edges of her mask, Gali could almost see the hint of a smile. “I think you’ve just proven that you’ll make a fine Toa.” Gali was a bit taken aback. “That… that was just a pep talk,” stammered Gali. “I don’t think that has anything to do with fighting evil.” “It has everything to do with fighting evil!” insisted the Protector. “Mind you, you’ve already demonstrated that you have what it takes to hold your own in battle. But the real battle—it doesn’t take place on a battlefield. It takes place in minds. Evil can have a way of clawing its way into the hearts of good people—anyone, even heroes or leaders—and replacing their hope with doubts and hatred.” The elder grinned and jabbed her finger into Gali’s breastplate. “And you just proved that you can cut to the core of that and remind those people what they’re fighting for. That’s the true measure of a hero!” Gali couldn’t help but grin herself. This was what she had needed. She might not have learned who she was or where she came from, but she had learned something equally important. Her purpose. “Alright, Toa Gali,” said the Protector, lying down against the wall of the cave. “We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow. Let’s get some shut-eye. “Shore thing!” Gali replied cheerfully, stretching out against the opposite wall. “Oh, and Gali… one more thing?” “Yes?” Gali replied. “Please, for the love of all that is good… no more jokes.” THE END Author's Notes I make no claims to being a good author or even a decent one. I've never done much more than dabble in fanfiction. But the discussions about the Bionicle 2015 story—what's good, what's bad, what we're hoping for in books—made me realize that it's probably better to give fanfic a shot BEFORE I have actual prose stories to live up to. So when inspiration struck, I took advantage of it and whipped this out over the course of a single afternoon. I think one of the most compelling things about the new story is how the Toa are still developing as characters. They're more than just archetypes—the new Toa are people, with their own strengths and weaknesses. The Toa's amnesia provides a perfect excuse for a deep exploration of that—and more broadly, about the struggle to both define and come to terms with one's own identity. The Protector of Water was a blank slate to work with as a character, and a lot of her characterization was developed as I was writing. Mostly, I was trying to create a character who was not Nokama—someone whose personality actively clashed with Gali's, rather than just generally being like an older, wiser version of the same character. I tried not to base her on any one character in particular, but intentionally or unintentionally, she ended up taking a lot of cues from Toph Beifong from Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra. It's entirely possible that the Protector of Water will get different characterization in later books or story media—but hey, I'm not going to complain about more canon characterization for the Protectors. Anyway, thoughts? Opinions? I hope that at the very least someone will enjoy what I've written, regardless of the story's overall quality.