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The Folly of the Toa [Finished]


Scorpion_Strike
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Hello Bzpower, and welcome to what I can only describe as the largest collection of runaway imagination that I have ever put together. It all started with an off-hand comment on someone else's picture, which I followed with a satirical picture of my own, then a description that turned into a short story, which spawned a 'sequel' that ended up longer than planned with every chapter... And here we are, Word document upon Word document later. I've been posting this on DeviantArt and the TTV boards for a while now, but have now decided to share it here as well. So, without further ado, I invite you to join me on Spherus Magna, thousands of years after the Reformation, looking through the eyes of a young Toa of Psionics who's about to come face to face with legends of old... legends to whom time has not been kind. Welcome everyone, to...
folly_of_the_toa_logo_by_scorpion_strike
"It is our great folly: we helped create this paradise, but have no reason to exist in it. ...in this world that neither needs nor wants us, we slowly fade away."

- Toa Gali Nuva

 
[Review Topic]
 
In 'The Folly of the Toa," I wanted to explore some of Bionicle's most famous characters, the Toa Nuva, from a different viewpoint than the romances, the 'hero's stories' that they usually show up in. I aimed for a downfall instead: a tragedy. Obviously, the Toa Nuva are mighty heroes, but the question quickly arose: what do the heroes do when there's nothing to fight, or no one to fight for? Or, to paraphrase one government official from "The Dark Night Rises" concerning Commissioner Gordon: 'They are war heroes. This is peacetime.' What do heroes, who have known nothing but combat, do in peacetime? Throughout G1's story line, the Toa Nuva accomplish many great deeds and face many dangers, but they certainly aren't without flaws, or as Gali describes them, "...our own demons." They were also always prone to bickering among themselves, but they always had a common enemy to unite them: the Makuta. In the wake of the Battle for Bara Magna and the subsequent Reformation, the Toa managed to keep themselves busy, but sooner or later that lack of an enemy, a threat to face up against, created an opportunity for those demons to rise... And as our protagonist, Lis, will soon find out, they have the power to topple giants.
 
The Chapter List:
 
[The Prologue] Note: when I wrote this, I had no idea how much this story would snowball. Therefore, it was never originally intended as a prologue, but more as a 'journal entry' by Gali, something to go along with a picture to provide some background and explore an idea that arose from that picture's discussion. It's still accurate, however, so I figured sticking it in as the prologue was the most appropriate thing I could do with it.
 
Chapters:

[ 1 ] [ 2 ] [ 3 ] [ 4 ] [ 5 ] [ 6 ] [ 7 ] [ 8 ] [ 9 ] [10]

[11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20]

[21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30]

[31] [32] [33] [34] [35] [36] [37] [38] [39] [40]

[41] [42] [43] [44] [45] [46] [47] [48] [49] [50]

[51] [52] [53] [54] [55] [56]

Edited by Scorpion_Strike
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Prologue

 

I'm all but alone now. The last Toa Nuva? Not really, but most days it seems like I am. Everything I worked for, our team, our bond... broken. In spite of how I fought to keep us together, my brothers have gone their separate ways. Without a common foe to fight, they quickly found their disagreements too great to overcome. Now, one by one, we fall to our own demons.

We've already buried Onua and Lewa; victims of their obsessions; work and play, respectively. They found meaning in those things, and we like to think they died happy, doing what they love, but I can't help but think that both should have been able to escape the circumstances that caused their demise. Onua? A cave-in. Like he hasn't survived plenty of those before. Lewa? Flying among falling debris from a volcanic eruption. Looking for the ultimate thrill, apparently. Again, though, I've got this nagging feeling that the only way in which they could have died how they did was... if they let it happen, if they gave in. I can't think of my brothers like that; gone not because they were beaten, but because they let themselves be taken. I used to imagine what their last moments might have been like, trying to prove to myself that no, they couldn't have escaped. But near as I can tell, they could have, and that thought still keeps me up at night.

Tahu cannot but follow soon; his body is failing him, yet he still insists on fighting in that blasted arena. He is living a fantasy, a death wish to go out in a blaze of glory, to be the 'true warrior.' He acts like he doesn't have a reason to live without having something to fight or fight for, a villain to square off against or helpless villagers to save. So day after day, he goes back out in that arena and fights some Glatorian so the Agori can watch. Apparently it's the only job out there for someone whose entire resume consists of vanquishing the forces of evil by means of the sword, but it's barbaric, it's below him, and it's destroying him. I can't watch him do it anymore. I begged him to stop, but no; he's set on his path, seemingly resigned to his fate. He still stops by every once in a while; I heal whatever injuries he has accumulated as best I can while we chat about the 'good old days,' which seems an odd way to describe a period of time in which the Matoran lived under constant threat of elimination by one evil force or another. Then he talks about his glorious victories in the arena, I tell him what I think about that place, and then he tells me I shouldn't have 'let myself go' the way I have. We get angry, choice words are thrown around, and he leaves me to the show I was watching before he showed up. Yeah, we don't get along well these days; we both disapprove of the way the other is destroying themselves.

Pohatu kept contact... for a while. He became a Kolhii Star, but an injury put an end to his career there. I nursed him back to health, encouraged him to try coaching, to at least stay with the game, but while that injury merely damaged his body, it destroyed his spirit. He's still around, but the Pohatu I knew died on that field... and the shell that remains spends his nights with a bottle, or several, looking wistfully at the trophies on his shelf and cursing the fates. I used to go and visit him, but now it's honestly not worth the effort anymore. And Kopaka? He hasn't been seen since the split... wandered into the mountains, they say. No one knows if he's still alive... the Ko-Matoran erected a statue in commemoration of him. I like to think he's still up there somewhere, doing whatever he does on his own, the only Toa Nuva who's found peace on this brave new world, but I can't imagine he could have survived up there alone for all this time. He always preferred solitude, so even if he is still up there, I probably couldn't find him. And, if I'm honest, I'm in no condition to try.

Spherus Magna is now a land of plenty, and that plenty has left its mark on me; let's just say I'm glad my armor is of the 'adaptive' kind. Getting around is difficult now; not that I have much of a reason to go anywhere. Hahli takes care of me, for the most part; like me, she doesn't have much of a purpose in this world, but she's younger, more energetic, more optimistic, and she's got Hewkii to keep her company. Those two run around like they're taking part in an Agori courting ritual. I don't get out much: like I said, it's difficult these days, and some of the more insolent young Agori in the neighborhood have taken to calling me "Kraawa", after a rahi species that could apparently grow to enormous sizes. Okay, I won't deny there's a grain of truth in that, but pardon me for enjoying the spoils of a world that wouldn't exist without the efforts of me and the team I was a part of. That was harsh... but Hahli insists on bringing by the latest and greatest 'advancements in the culinary arts,' as she calls them, and it would be rude for me not to try them. Besides, it's not like I need to keep in shape for anything these days.

Yeah.. that's what I am now: an old, fat, bitter relic of a bygone age, little but a bad reminder to the Matoran of the horrors we all went through and a burden to a few other Toa. Frankly, I'm surprised Hahli puts up with me; even Hewkii has long since given up on trying to get what remains of Pohatu out of the bottle; why would he? We Toa Nuva have long since lost our purpose, and all my brothers who desperately sought a new one have met their end in one way or another because of it. It is our great folly: we helped create this paradise, but have no reason to exist in it.

So, in this world that neither needs nor wants us, we slowly fade away.

- Toa Gali Nuva

Edited by Scorpion_Strike
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Chapter 1


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I was passing through Ko-Koro-Nuva when I first saw him: a figure approaching from a path into the high mountains in the middle of the night. Though he had the stature of a Toa, he walked with a severe limp, using a large stick as a cane to steady himself. Still, his movements were precise, calculated, practiced. He wore a long cloak, with its hood drawn over his head to conceal his face. The few Ko-Matoran about didn’t seem to pay much attention to him; there were some odd looks, but his cloak totally concealed his identity, and none of the Matoran seemed interested in interfering with his journey. Just another traveler passing through, as far as they were concerned, but I sensed something more, so I quietly followed him.


He made his way to the train station, where he purchased a ticket and boarded the only waiting train. I asked the Matoran behind the ticket counter where he was going.


“New Atero, ma’m.”


So I purchased a ticket for New Atero, and just made it onto the train in time before it set off. Soon, it was rumbling down the track, on schedule to arrive in Onu-Koro-Nuva, the one stop along the way to New Atero, by sunrise.


The car I’d taken a seat in contained but a few passengers, but the hooded Toa had disappeared. Curious as to where he went, I started making my way back through the train. The further back I got, the emptier the cars were. The second-to-last one didn’t have a single passenger in it. The last had but one; the mysterious Toa, sleeping on the very back bench. Using my Volitak to keep from making any noise to wake him up, I made my way through the cart and sat down on the bench opposite him.


“I know you are following me.” He said quietly, much to my surprise.


“You do?” No reply. I was amazed; even the power of the Kanohi Volitak wasn’t enough to conceal one from him. Had he only been pretending to be asleep?


“What do you want?” he inquired.


“I’d like to know who you are.” I answered. “Specifically… are you the Toa of that statue in Ko-Koro-Nuva?”


“What would make you think that?” For a moment, I sensed surprise, but after that his mind was closed off, blank again.


“Kopaka, Toa Nuva of Ice. They say he disappeared into the mountains one day and never returned. You came down from those mountains, so I figured you might be him.”


“No.” Again, it was fleeting, but I could tell that wasn’t the truth.


“Then who are you?”


“None of your concern.” I could sense a degree of frustration in him. “Leave me be, please.”


“Well, newsflash, I can read minds,” I explained. “You are Kopaka. I’m sure of it.”


“You can?” He was surprised. He sighed, then sat up from his slumped position and pulled back his hood, revealing that most unique of masks; the Kanohi Akaku Nuva. It was old, and looked as though it had sustained plenty of damage, but it was still easily recognizable.


“I’m a Toa, too,” I explained, “a Toa of…”


“…of psionics.” He cut me off. He eyed me up and down with that alien, calculating gaze of his. The lenses in his scope made constant, minute adjustments, adding to the effect, as though he was trying to find just the right arrangement to allow him to see right through me. “You look new.”


“I am, sir.” I replied.


“They still need Toa these days?” Skepticism… a hint of irony.


“Rebellious Skakdi,” I explained. “Hardly Toa-worthy in the end, but some panicky Turaga decided they needed a Toa anyways. So I was chosen.”


“Then what are you doing here?”


“I was passing through Ko-Koro-Nuva when I noticed you coming down from the mountains. I was wondering who you were, since, you know, I could only see a cloaked figure. So I followed you.” A vague sense of relief. “But I really do want to know why you just disappeared up there.”


“Why?”


“Because it matters!” now I was getting frustrated. “Those Ko-Matoran back there practically worship you!”


“I know. I saw the statue.”


“Exactly! Shouldn’t you announce to them first that you’re back?”


“I am not back.” He sighed.


“Then why are you here?”


“Again, none of your business. Leave me be, and do not tell anyone I am here.” He pulled up the hood again.


“I can’t just leave you be. You’re hurt, you’re in pain. I can feel it.” I could feel it, and now that he was sitting and not using the cloak to fully conceal himself, I could see just what a condition he was in. His armor had many cuts, scrapes, and dents. His right leg had been badly busted and shoddily repaired, and numerous scars littered his body. The more I looked at him, the more I was horrified. What had happened to him?


“My pain is none of your concern. I will be fine.”


“Are you going to get yourself fixed up?”


“Yes.”


“Well, would you mind if I came along, then?” I asked. “It’s not like I have anything better to do.”


“So things have not changed in that respect.” For a moment, I was confused. Then I remembered what I’d heard about the Toa Nuva before, about how they’d split up. From what I knew, the Toa had begun to argue and bicker over what they should do now that the planet had been reformed. They’d all disagreed on their future as a team, and in the end decided that there was no point in them… being a team any longer, since there was no great evil to threaten the Matoran anymore. It had been a bitter breakup, particularly for the Toa of Water.


“No, things haven’t changed, I guess.” I informed him.


“You have become a Toa in a world that still does not need any,” Kopaka said bitterly. Unlike his voice, his face betrayed no emotion, but I could sense a degree of pity, and decided to play on it.


“Yeah… Now that those Skakdi have been put in line, I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do with myself.”


“You are looking for a purpose.” A shared recognition.


“Yes.”


“Good luck finding one.” Was that… a glimmer of empathy? Surely, he of all people knew what it was like to be left without a purpose?


“Until I do… would you mind if I stuck with you? I promise I won’t tell anyone who you are.”


“If you must. But do not expect me to stick around here for long.”


“Thank you. I’m Lis, by the way.”


So he was willing to tolerate me. That was enough. Looking at him, I was concerned. In his condition, and at his age, if he went back into those mountains it wouldn’t be long before he was dead for real. I’m not sure whether I was hoping to talk him out of going back, or whether I just wanted to spend whatever time I could with one of the legendary Toa Nuva before he disappeared for good. Or I just wanted to make sure he got fixed up well. But either way, I was coming with him, and while I had the opportunity, I figured I might learn something about the Toa Nuva along the way.


True to form, he did not talk for the rest of the journey, instead sitting in silent contemplation all the way to Onu-Koro-Nuva. I attempted to read into his mind, to peer beyond the silent exterior, but hard as I tried I couldn’t decipher much of anything. First off, there was this constant sensation of severe physical pain, which he was apparently able to ignore, but it was profoundly disorientating for me. Whenever I tried to get a picture of his thoughts, I was bombarded with this astounding stream of information. Sometimes, I caught a hint of a constellation moving in the sky, then the view would expand to include more stars, then more… and then everything would be jumbled again, as though he had moved to a scale my brain simply couldn’t process. Then there would only be the pain.  Legends always told of the Kopaka’s intelligence, of the way he’d analyze and process things at incredible speeds as though he could see the future; they were right. I couldn’t keep up, and even trying to do so was exhausting. Still, if he was bothered by me reading in on his thoughts, he didn’t tell me.


In Onu-Koro-Nuva several Matoran and Agori left the train, after which more boarded. We still had the back car to ourselves; it clearly wasn’t a busy day. The journey to New Atero would take a full day, and having just spent six hours attempting to read the Toa Nuva of Ice’s mind and not getting anything, I decided to try and engage him in conversation again instead.


“So, what did you do in the mountains?” I asked.


“Meditate.”


“Meditate on what?”


“You would not understand.”


“Are you sure about that?”


“You were trying all night, were you not? Did you figure anything out?”


“Not much, to be honest… So could you explain?”


“I cannot make clear to you with mere speech what you could not understand directly from my mind.”


“Okay, that’s a bit rude.” Not even a benefit of the doubt? How demeaning.


“Is it not true?” He locked eyes on me, again with that uncomfortable, piercing gaze.


“I mean, yeah… but you don’t need to say it bluntly like that. You’re basically calling me stupid.”


“You are incapable of comprehending my thoughts. So compared to me, you are stupid.”


“Again with the insults.”


“It is not an insult. It is the truth.” I was getting angry at him, but I could sense no… resentment, no intent to mock me, not a demeaning thought on his mind. He was judgmental, maybe, but I could only conclude that he hadn’t at all intended to insult me in any way. He simply said what he saw, regardless of the consequences.


“So, you always tell the truth straight up like that?” I asked.


“Always have.”


“Did that happen to contribute in any way to the breakup of your team?” Honestly, I was curious as to what he’d think of that.


“I had nothing to do with the breakup,” he said coldly.


“How can you be so sure about that?” Now I had him. Surely, the most solitary of the Toa Nuva would have had the least to lose from the team breaking up? It was hard to believe that he hadn’t had something to do with it.


“I did not start the arguments. I did not participate in them. I did not make things worse by trying to intervene,” Kopaka explained. “It was inevitable.”


“Then who started the arguments?” I asked. “And how do you know that interfering would have made things worse?”


“I do not have time to tell you that whole story.”


“Then don’t.” I suggested. “Just think it. I’ll pull out of it what I can.”


“Think the story?”


“Recall the memories, and I’ll read them. It’ll be quicker than you telling me everything.”


Kopaka sighed. “Fine.”


I closed my eyes, focused on his presence, and zoned in on his thoughts. Suddenly, I wasn’t on the train anymore; my senses had been replaced by those of Kopaka, or rather, the senses that formed that memory. I should note that I had used that power once or twice before; usually recent memories were quite vivid, while those from further back tended to be much more blurred and unclear. Kopaka’s memories had none of this; everything I got from him, I got in full detail, so much so that it was almost overwhelming. All sensation of where I actually was had gone; I was living Kopaka’s memory in perfect clarity.


Edited by Scorpion_Strike
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Chapter 2


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I was standing, leaning against a wall at the side of a meeting room. Out of the windows I could see the city of New Atero; I was high above the ground, probably at the top of one of the city’s skyscrapers. The room was circular; in its center was a large table with six chairs arranged around it, five of which were occupied by the other Toa Nuva: Tahu, Onua, Gali, Lewa, and Pohatu. Tahu and Gali looked frustrated. Onua and Pohatu were paying attention, but looked worried. Lewa looked bored.


“It’s not what we stand for,” Gali said. “It’s using your powers for barbaric entertainment, and the Agori gamble on it. We are Toa, protectors of the Matoran, of this planet. We should be above that.”


“Well, what else do you expect me to do?” Tahu asked. “Sit around with the Turaga and break up minor trade disputes like you?”


“That is our job now,” the Toa of Water argued. “We helped to save this world, now we must act to maintain it, for the good of the Matoran and the Agori.”


“Which the Turaga have covered just fine,” Tahu shot back. “And I’m not going to spend my days sitting next to them and pretending I have a reason to be there.”


“Well, those Turaga aren’t always going to be around,” Gali pointed out. “And when they’re gone, who will take their place? Us.”


“That won’t happen anytime soon,” Tahu said. “And I’m not going to just sit and wait around for it. I need something else to do.”


“Why can’t you find something peaceful, something respectful to do then, like the rest of us?” Gali pleaded.


“We’re Toa. We fight to protect others!” Tahu got up. “And having run out of people to protect, I’ll be ###### if I stop fighting too!” He slammed his fist on the table. His declaration staggered the others; for a few seconds an awkward silence hung over the room. Tahu took a deep breath, then sat back down. “Besides,” he argued, “it’s just a competition, no different than what Pohatu does these days, right, Pohatu?”


“Kolhii is competitive,” Pohatu agreed.


“And what about you, Onua?” Tahu turned to the Toa of Earth. “Don’t the workers of the most productive mineshafts get rewarded every month? That’s competition, too.”


“I won’t deny that,” Onua grumbled, “but there’s a major difference between that and Kolhii and what you do.”


“Which is?” Tahu inquired.


“The issue isn’t with competition,” Pohatu explained, “believe me, I’m completely on your side with that. The issue is that these fights can and do go to the death, and that outrageous bets are being placed on them.”


“And you know what the Toa code says about killing and gambling” Onua finished.


“I’ve dealt with that!” Tahu argued. “I told them that I would not kill anyone, regardless of who they put me up against! And I don’t place bets! I swore on that.”


“But what if they end up killing you?” Gali implored. “Not everyone who steps into that arena follows that code. What if you go down in there and your opponent decides that they’ve had enough of you?”


“Simple.” Tahu said. “I make sure that I don’t go down.”


“Yeah, like that’ll last forever,” Lewa grinned. “Imagine the headlines in the Chronicler’s Digest: planet-saving Toa-hero killed for Agori entertainment.”


“There’d be Matoran riots if that came true,” Onua said.


“Which is why it won’t happen,” Tahu insisted. “Like I said; if the fight is to the death, I don’t agree to enter into it. Simple as that. Meeting adjourned.” With that, he marched out of the room.


Gali’s expression was one of shock and sadness. “He’s going to get himself killed.” She said despondently, “and he’ll ruin us in the process.”


“Actually, he’s making bucket-loads of money off of people quick-betting on him,” Lewa pointed out. “Until the old firespitter hits a spot of hard-luck, that is. What’s so teri-bad about that?”


“The problem,” Gali explained, “is that as Toa we have a certain responsibility to uphold a moral standard, and Tahu… isn’t. Have you seen some of those gladiators?”


“Of course,” Lewa said nonchalantly. “I watch Tahu fight and beat them.”


“They’re thugs, bandits, monsters,” Gali said. “They sometimes throw Rahkshi into that place. Tahu’s in there fighting the Makuta’s spawn for entertainment; as though he wasn’t in mortal danger. Remember how many Matoran the Rahkshi killed?”


“Well, he relishes it,” Lewa said, “and I think he’s ever-fun to watch. So cry moral outrage all you want, sister, but if there’s no Matoran that need to be quick-saved I think Tahu’s fine doing what he is. And unless we have other things to think-talk about, I’m going to high-fly to someplace where this discussion won’t follow.” He got up, and when no one replied, dove out of an open window and soared off.


“I don’t believe this…” Gali said exasperatedly.


“Look, sister,” Pohatu got up. “I agree with you that it’s wrong, but Tahu needs this. He’s been itching to fight something, anything, for ages. If he can’t let that energy out somehow, he’ll blow up at something else eventually. At least the arena is right next door, so if anything does happen we can be there in a flash.”


“And in the meantime he’s making a mockery of what it means to be a Toa!” Gali blurted out. “We have to find something else for him, something that doesn’t make him into a sideshow for the Agori to gamble on!”


“Well, he doesn’t care for Kolhii ‘cause it involves running around with a ‘petty stick’,” Pohatu said, “and there’s not a lot of other sports out there in which there’s even enough Toa around to provide any competition. As for hunting wild rahi… what’s out there giving anyone trouble these days?”


“We occasionally have trouble with tunneling beasts in the mines,” Onua noted, “but I already told him about that. He said he doesn’t want to be a mere vermin exterminator, and he’d go crazy underground regardless.”


“Well we’ve got to find something.” Gali said resolutely. She got up. “I’m going to rest for a while. Turaga Nokama might call on me later today.”


“Yeah, I’ve got Kolhii practice to attend,” Pohatu remembered. He followed Gali out the door, leaving just me and Onua, who was still sitting at the table with a look I could only describe as one of extreme disappointment.


“You know,” he turned to me, “It’s not what we do, so long as we believe we’re doing good; it’s how we go about it.” He got up, too. “We have always faced disaster together and overcome it together. When there was disagreement, we compromised as best we could. That was our strength; we were a team. This… discussion, this discontent… it’s made them forget who we are, what we were, and what we stand for.”


“When there is no good left to be done,” I said, surprising myself, “there is no reason for heroes to exist. The world doesn’t require this team anymore.”


“Perhaps you’re right,” Onua said bitterly, “but if our brothers and sister had any respect for who we were, they’d be willing to put their differences aside for each other.”


That’s when everything went blank. For a moment, I felt like I was in freefall; then something hit me and I snapped back into the real world. I looked around; I was on the train, in the back car. We were still hurtling along the track. Kopaka was standing in front of me.


“D-did you just hit me?” I asked.


“You were stuck.” Kopaka said matter-of-factly. “I finished that memory, so I snapped you out of it.”


“How long has it been?”


“Three minutes.”


“Oh… and that memory… was that the meeting where you guys decided to break apart?”


Kopaka sat back down and sighed. “I wish.”


I waited for him to continue. “aaaand?”


“That was the first one, the first after Tahu started fighting in the arena. It was the catalyst.”


“How so?”


“We used to meet weekly, and every time it would devolve into an argument between Tahu and Gali about what Tahu was doing. None of us wanted to be there, so weekly meetings became monthly ones, then yearly ones. We had that debate over a thousand times within half as many years.”


“Didn’t anyone ever find a solution?” I asked.


“Onua tried, so did Pohatu. They did not find anything that satisfied Tahu’s need for something to fight. My brother… he had to be a hero. If he could not be a hero, then he felt worthless. And Gali never came to understand that. Onua tried to get them to compromise, but was rebuffed until he got fed up with it and threw himself into his work instead. Lewa got tired of the arguments even more quickly, so he would fly off the moment it started.”


“And you?”


“I could see the team’s days were over. I had worked with them because we needed to fight the Makuta. Without a common threat to put our differences aside for, those differences made themselves all too obvious, to the point where the others were bickering over everything. I had seen enough by that point.”


“Did you end it?”


“No. We had our last meeting after a two-year period in which we did not meet as a team at all; there was no point. The first thing that happened was that Gali pointed out Tahu’s new arena scars. It only went downhill from there, but Tahu brought it to a halt. He had had enough too, and called for a vote to officially disband the Toa Nuva, since we were not needed and not accomplishing anything as a team anymore. I voted ‘yes,’ so did Tahu, Lewa, Onua, and Pohatu. Only Gali voted ‘no.’”


“Hold the thought.” I focused in on his mind again; this was a moment I had to see for myself.


“Fine…” Kopaka sighs again.


My senses went blank for a second or two. Then I’m in the meeting room again, this time sitting at the table. Tahu is standing up; he looks older, everyone does, and his armor displays clear signs of battle damage. His hand is raised. Lewa, Pohatu, and Onua have theirs raised as well. My right hand is up in the air too.


“And all those in favor of staying together,” Tahu announces. All hands are lowered, except Gali’s. She raises her hand. It’s shaking.


“Then I think it is clear,” Tahu says, picking up his swords. “Brothers and Sister, it was an honor serving with you, but this world no longer needs us. Therefore, it is best that we go our separate ways. We’ll keep contact as needed, but from this day forth, the Toa Nuva are disbanded.” He turned and started for the door.


“NO!” Gali rose. “Does this mean nothing to you!?” She’s pointing at the symbol carved on the wall: Unity, Duty, Destiny. “Who we were, what we accomplished together,” she pleads, “don’t you think that’s worth fighting for!?” Her voice is hoarse, and there are tears in her eyes. “When we fought Makuta’s Rahi!? When we faced the Bohrok, the Rahkshi, and even the Makuta themselves!?” No one replied. “Remember the Toa Ignika’s sacrifice?!” Her voice broke. “…Matoro…Takanuva…” she was reduced to a whimper.


“Takanuva,” Tahu said, “did what the rest of us should have done a long time ago: he left to find his own way.” The proud warrior’s eyes weren’t dry anymore, and looking around the room, I could see that, in fact, everyone was struggling to come to terms with what had happened. Tahu turned, hesitated for a moment, then walked out. Gali collapsed onto her knees.


“NO! YOU DESTROYED US!” she cried out, but Tahu was already gone. Onua followed, pausing for a moment to turn to Gali.


“No. You destroyed us.” His voice was wavering, but it had an extraordinary edge to it. With that, the Toa of Earth left the room. Lewa followed, not even bothering to say anything on his way out. Pohatu stepped up to Gali.


“I’ll stop by later, okay?” Then he turned to me. “I know what you’re going to do,” he said. “And that I won’t have the chance to say this again.” He paused for a moment to collect himself. “I know you don’t like it, but…” he stepped forward and embraced me. I didn’t return the gesture, but my vision was blurred; I was crying too. Pohatu stepped back. “Farewell, my brother. Take care of yourself out there.”


I nodded. “I will. You do the same.” Pohatu nodded in response, then made his way out the door. After a few seconds, I did the same.


“Brother…” I looked down to see Gali reaching up from the floor. Her face… she was in anguish. A mother who lost her child would not have wept as Gali did there; she looked like the world had ended before her very eyes. “Don’t… please don’t leave too…”


I have to swallow before I can speak. “P-Pohatu will be back. He’ll be here. You always knew I wouldn’t be.”


“No… NO!” she howls. I turn around.


“Farwell, Gali.” With my head down, I walk out the door and down the steps leading to the ground level. All the way down, I can hear Gali screaming.


“NO! DON’T GO PLEASE! THIS IS NOT HOW WE END! DON’T LEAVE!”


Everything goes dark. For a few seconds, I’m staring at nothingness. Then I’m back again, back in the train. We’re in a tunnel; the lights in the train flicker on and off as it hurtles down the track. The only sound is the droning and thumping of the train wheels against the track. Kopaka is sitting across from me, bowed over, elbows resting on his knees. I sense a whirlwind of emotions inside him: fear, sadness, anger… but one overrides all of them: regret. When he realizes the memory is over, he slowly raises his head and looks right at me.


His eyes are filled with tears.


Edited by Scorpion_Strike
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Chapter 3


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For about fifteen minutes, neither of us said anything. I was still trying to process what had happened; sure, I’d known beforehand that the breakup hadn’t been pretty, but it’d turned out to be beyond anything I could’ve imagined. Kopaka sat in silence, but was different than before; not his usual, antisocial self-isolation. No, he was in pain, and not just physically. I could sense it; he was fighting it, determined not to let too much show on the outside, regardless of whether or not I could see in. I still remember that, even now, even through the tragedy I had witnessed right beforehand; the way he would fight himself to keep up appearances. It wasn’t vanity, at least I don’t think so. In his mind, Kopaka saw himself a certain way, and he tried to project that at all times. To anyone else, he would have appeared a stoic, steadfast Toa, a fixed point unmoved by excess emotion, rational to a fault. That’s who he was to himself, and who he was determined to be to others. But there were feelings in there; very strong ones, and he fought them constantly. It must have been exhausting for him.


But he did regain his composure. “So, now you know what happened,” he said calmly.


“That’s how it ended?”


“That was the end. I have not seen any of them since.”


“And, you just left Gali there like that? That was a full-fledged breakdown happening behind you.”


Toa of Ice’s eyes narrowed. “Gali,” he said with a hint of contempt, “was the one who drove the split. She was the one who kept insisting that Tahu find something else to do, something more in line with the morals of a Toa.”


“Was there something wrong with that?” I asked.


“It re-ignited that argument every time we met,” Kopaka explained. “Everyone would take a side, and soon they were arguing about every little thing and nothing ever got done. We all grew tired of it, even Onua.”


“I remember that… He told Gali that she’d driven the team part.”


No, you destroyed us,” Kopaka said, doing a surprisingly good imitation of Onua’s voice. “He was right. We all agreed on that. Gali could not come to terms with the fact that we were not needed as Toa anymore, so she desperately clung on to what we had been when the rest of us had long let go.”


“But still… She mentioned the history, everything you all went through together. Surely, you all owed your lives to each other, her included. Was it really necessary for him to just… put her down like that?”


“History is for the scholars to study and the Turaga to tell tales of around a campfire,” Kopaka said coldly. He was back to his harsh, calculating self. “We could not live our lives like her, purely for history’s sake. Time changes, we change with it. Unwilling to do so, she got left behind, and nearly took the rest of us down with her. Onua just had the guts to say it out loud.”


“So it seems.” I said curtly. But I couldn’t get that image of Gali out of my head. Collapsed on the floor, mentally shattered… It was harrowing. I felt angry, angry with Kopaka and angry with the other Toa. They’d been frustrated with Gali and with each other, sure, but nothing could excuse how cruelly they’d left her; not even an apology, a hint of ‘sorry, but this is how it is…’ They’d just walked out on her and on each other. It was a disgrace.


Again, we were silent for a while. Kopaka slept; I tried to do the same, to clear my head, but the light streaming in through the windows and my frustration kept me up, so I looked at the passing landscape outside instead. Spherus Magna truly was a paradise; the area we were passing through now had once been a barren sea of sand dunes. Now, looking out I could see rolling green hills, with large herds of grazing rahi. The track was elevated on pillars, allowing me to see the landscape for miles around. We had left the mountains behind for the time being. Rivers crisscrossed the landscape, and sparse trees and bushes were littered throughout it. Sometimes, I spotted a hut in the distance; Matoran and Agori herders. By noon, we were traveling through a forest, whose canopy provided enough shade for me to actually fall asleep. When I awoke a few hours later, Kopaka had returned to his silent contemplation.


“So,” I began, “you’re planning to just walk into the capital of the planet, get yourself fixed up, and then disappear again?”


“Yes.” He seemed perplexed as to why that was even in question.


“And you expect no one to recognize you?”


“I will be invisible until I need to be seen.”


“How?” This was rather curious to me. Rather than answering verbally, the Toa of Ice reached behind him and pulled out a mask. I couldn’t name its design off of the top of my head, but he switched it with his Akaku, then instantly vanished. The bench in front of me was empty, except… the cushion was still depressed, as though someone was still sitting there, and there was a shadow. Kopaka reappeared.


I was trying to figure out exactly where I had seen that mask’s design before. Then I got it: “Turaga Vakama wore a mask like that!”


“Indeed. It is a Kanohi Huna. The mask of concealment. It is a noble version, but it will do. I obtained it from Turaga Nuju before I left. Figured it might come in handy someday.” Kopaka switched the Huna back for his Akaku Nuva and stored it.


“To use if your disguise fails?”


“Exactly.”


“And how do you expect this ‘fixing up’ to work? Whoever does that will see who you are. It’s inevitable.” I was having a difficult time seeing how this plan of his could actually succeed.


“I will find someone I can trust.”


“Like?”


“Gali.”


“What!?” I couldn’t believe this. “After split, after the way you left her, you still expect her to help you!? That’s crazy!”


“Gali is an excellent healer,” he argued, “and she is strong. She will have recovered and found her feet.”


“And you think she’ll jump at the chance to fix your busted leg?”


“No. But her sense of duty is stronger than her anger towards me.”


“So, let me get this straight; her duty is to take care of you?” Again, I increasingly found myself disliking Kopaka’s attitude. How did he think that that was even remotely reasonable?


“No.” He sighed. “She has the ability to heal terrible wounds, so that becomes part of her duty. Or rather, she made it part of her duty when she showed herself willing to exercise that ability. Unity, Duty, Destiny, remember? We may have abandoned unity, but duty remains; our duty to others. Hers is to heal others.”


“What about destiny?”


“We reached destiny when Mata Nui reformed this planet,” Kopaka explained. “From that point on, we were to make our own path on this world, based on our duty.”


“Uh-huh…” there was something incongruent about his thinking that I was trying to pin down. “So, what’s your duty, then? What ability are you using up there in those mountains to fulfill your duty to others?” That was the ‘gotcha’ question; if he could justify Gali having to heal him because it was her ‘duty,’ what duty was he fulfilling by wandering off, never to be heard of again?


“Discovery. At the top of those mountains, I always have an unobstructed view of the stars,” Kopaka explained. “I study them, I chart them, and through that figure out the ways of this universe. When I decipher them, Matoran and Agori will be able to reach up to the stars and find new worlds to settle.”


“And... are you close to figuring that out?”


“There is a ways to go. But I have already made progress beyond current understanding. You saw it, you did not understand. That is why I work alone.”


“Right…” I didn’t agree, but I felt like nothing would be gained by pushing this line of inquiry further. This was the side of Kopaka that I didn’t like; he acted as though he was above everyone else, and perhaps intellectually he was, but he blatantly disregarded how the way in which he behaved or what he said affected others. He never considered how the Ko-Matoran felt about him vanishing the way he had; they believed he was dead, they grieved for him even though he was still alive, and he had no qualms about it. Nor did he see anything wrong with just marching up to Gali and ordering her to ‘heal him’ because it was her ‘duty’ to do so, in spite of the way he had left her when he at the very least could have offered some support. There wasn’t a question in his mind; he believed what he did was right, in spite of the pain it caused others. I hate to use the old cliché, but Kopaka was openly, frustratingly cold.


So I went back to asking about his plans instead. Surely, he’d forgotten about something, something that I could use to show him that he didn’t know everything as well as he thought he did?


“What if Gali isn’t around anymore?” I asked.


“Then I will have to find someone else.”


“How do you expect to find anyone else? Or Gali herself, for that matter?”


“Talk to other Toa. There will be some around. They should understand my situation, and at least one of them has to know of a healer somewhere who would be able to help.”


“And it’s their ‘duty’ to point that person out to you?”


“No. But few would not, as you say: ‘jump at the chance’ to help a fellow Toa.”


“Are you sure about that? It’s not like you’ve done anything for them that they know of.”


Kopaka looked me straight in the eyes. “You are a Toa. You are here, are you not? Did I force you to come with me? Did I tell you it was your duty to accompany me? No. I did not. Did you have any reason of your own to be here, on this train, right now?”


“Not really…”


“And yet you are here.” Again, he was staring right through me. Those lenses had found the right alignment.


“Yeah… Yeah I guess I am.” Well, he had me there. I was really coming to hate the way in which he could just detach himself, to analyze me and others like pawns a game. But he was right; I was here because I thought he needed help, needed someone to talk to, and I’d been more than willing to help him, to be that person. Increasingly, I was coming to the conclusion that he didn’t need anything from me. He had everything all sorted out. Were it not for that busted leg, he’d probably not even have come down from those mountains at all. Frustrated but beaten, I didn’t question his plan any further. Besides, even if I’d found a serious shortcoming, it’s not like he would have changed it for my sake. Honestly, as night began to settle in, signaling that we were on the final part of our journey, I had half the mind to just leave him and head off on my own in New Atero.


So, want to know why I stuck with him? At this point, it might have seem like I was wasting my time, like I was just tagging along with no reason. Well, thing is, I didn’t have anything better to do. I was in the same boat as Kopaka had been; a ‘hero’ in a world that didn’t need one. And, much as his cold demeanor and detached view of others annoyed me, and made him seem more and more like a massive jerk, I wanted to see how the other Toa would react to seeing him again; especially Gali when he told her he’d come back just to get his leg fixed. For better or worse, I was along for the ride.


I had no idea how hard the next few days would be for both of us.


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Chapter 4

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New Atero: the capital of an entire planet. It looked the part; larger than even Metru Nui, the fabled City of legends, its skyscrapers could be spotted from miles away; far enough that Kopaka, with his telescopic vision, noted that he could see their tops over the horizon almost thirty minutes before we actually arrived in the outskirts of the city. From a distance, it resembled a silver disk with a series of spires rising out of its center, nestled on the coast among lush, green farmland in which Bo-Matoran and jungle Agori worked and cultivated all manner of crops. As we got closer, it became possible to distinguish the individual districts and elevated train tracks entering the city in multiple locations. Kopaka pulled up his hood.

Having never been in New Atero myself, I was amazed at the place; everything looked modern and new, though many buildings had been decorated with traditional elements from Matoran and Agori architecture. In the outskirts of the city, the poorer areas, most buildings were made with clay bricks or wood, but as we got closer to the city center, concrete and then metal and glass dominated the landscape. The skyscrapers dispersed throughout the city center were the modern incarnation of Ko-Metru’s knowledge towers: gazing up at their peaks, I could just distinguish a number of telescopes that peered out in multiple directions. By now, our track was flanked by another on the right and two on the left; we were getting close to the central station.

The central station was a gargantuan building, connected on its west side to the largest knowledge tower, and on the right to the Turaga building, where the elder council met. This was the epicenter of all Matoran and Agori society on Spherus Magna; it was where the Turaga governed from, where great events where held, where cutting-edge research was being done. Elevated walkways filled with Matoran moving back and forth stretched between the structures; though we arrived only half an hour after sunrise, already this was a place of feverish activity. How Kopaka intended to pass through unnoticed was beyond me; even if he turned invisible, sooner or later someone would run into him and the game would be up.

The Toa of Ice seemed utterly unfettered by such concerns. I don’t mean that he didn’t show any outward physical signs of worry; no, even inside I could sense no tension of any kind. He was completely relaxed, assured that his plan would work out fine. Secretly, I kind of hoped his confidence would prove premature, just to see how he’d react to things not going his way. When the train stopped and the door opened, he calmly made his way onto the platform, looked around for a moment, then began to make his way across the busy space to the wall on the other side. I followed. Matoran and Agori disembarking and boarding the train passed us by in every direction. Some greeted us with a “Good morning, Toa,” or a respectful head nod. Kopaka got stared at a lot; not surprising, since his decrepit old cloak cut a stark contrast to the modern station and clean, business-minded Matoran all around. Yet it accomplished its main purpose; hard as they looked, no one seemed to recognize who he was. He was hiding in plain sight by standing out like a sore thumb… Kind of funny now that I think about it.

For a moment, I was wondering exactly where he was going, since he didn’t seem to be heading for any of the platform exits. Turns out he’d spotted something through the crowd that I hadn’t: a small stand off to the side, set up against the wall, where a Fa-Matoran sold maps of the city. Kopaka stopped in front of it; even hunched over and leaning on the stick he was using as a cane, he still loomed over the tiny stand like a threatening giant.

The Fa-Matoran, clearly unnerved by the mysterious figure in front of him, greeted the stranger hesitantly: “H-Hello. Good morning, sir. Can I help you?”

Kopaka didn’t reply in voice; instead he pointed at a rack of maps that were set up on the vendor’s right. The Fa-Matoran grabbed one.

“A map of the city? Of course, of course… It’s three widgets, sir.”

Kopaka reached under his cloak and behind his back, rummaged around for a moment, then extended his arm forwards and dropped three widgets on the counter. He then grabbed the map from the bewildered Matoran’s hand and proceeded towards one of the platform exits.

“H-have a good day, sir…”

The platform exit lead down a set of stairs to a large lobby below, from which we exited onto the central square of New Atero. It was a massive, open circular space, with flagpoles arranged around a statue of the Great Spirit robot in its center. The flags of various Matoran and Agori tribes hung motionless; there wasn’t a breath of wind on this day. A fair number of Matoran and Agori were moving about across the square, and a few vendors had set up stands by the edges. Kopaka made his way to one of the benches that were positioned in a ring around the statue and the flags. After taking a seat, he unfolded the map and proceeded to study it. For a minute or two, I didn’t say anything while he took in every square inch. Then I got bored.

“So, where are we going to look for Toa?” I asked.

“Wherever we are most likely to find them.”

“Okay…so, where do we start?”

“So far, north looks to be the way to go,” Kopaka asserted.

“What’s to the north?”

“The Arena Magna.”

“And…?”

Kopaka turned to his left and pointed at a large billboard set up above the railway line by which we’d arrived. It announced:

THE ULTIMATE PRIZE FIGHT!

TAHU, MASTER OF FIRE VS. STRONIUS, LORD OF THE SKRALL!

BE THERE – FEBRUARY 18th IN THE ARENA MAGNA!

“Oh…” I was a bit miffed about having missed something that obvious. The board was even decorated with promotional images of the fighters and bright red and black decals, with fire rushing in from Tahu’s side and a sort of blocky, dark energy from Stronius’ side. “Today’s the 18th, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, what are we waiting for, then?”

“One minute.” So I waited a minute. At the end of it, almost as if on cue, Kopaka grabbed his stick, got up, turned north, and off we went. When we passed a trash can, he tossed the map into it.

“Don’t we need that?” I asked.

“I have it.” He answered. I wasn’t so sure, but I wasn’t going to root around the trash can for it.

The road from the station to the Arena Magna was a long, wide parkway, clearly built to accommodate the kind of mass foot traffic that a high-stakes prize fight would generate. Again, Kopaka got a lot of questioning looks, and again it appeared that his disguise was successful. I was starting to like the humble, respectful way in which Matoran and Agori would greet me; it was an acknowledgement of how much they owed to heroes like us, though I wasn’t sure whether I was really deserving of their reverence.

I was amazed, though, by everything arranged along the parkway: large, leafy trees provided shade to the Matoran and Agori making their way about, and the sides were lined with shops and vending stands of all kinds. Perhaps it was particularly busy that day since a prize fight was happening; I noticed one particular stand was selling little plastic figurines representing the two fighters on that night. I was tempted to go get one of Tahu, but I didn’t want to lose Kopaka in the crowd. Though, to be fair, we both stood head and shoulders above most of them, and it wasn’t like he was moving all that quickly with his limp, and he was the only person I’d seen walking around wearing a ragged cloak do to conceal his identity, so in retrospect I probably could have gone and gotten one anyway.

The Arena Magna soon came into view; a giant colosseum, built in the Agori style since watching gladiatorial combat had originally been mostly an Agori pastime. Only after the arena’s completion had it become more popular among the Matoran as well, probably because one of their heroes now participated in it. There were two open ticket booths; Kopaka approached the one on the right. Like the map vendor in the train station, the Agori behind the counter was somewhat intimidated by the mysterious stranger in a dark, weathered cloak standing in front of him, and again Kopaka got is point across without a single word said. After he got the ticket salesman’s attention, he simply turned, pointed at another billboard advertising the nights’ prize fight.

“Tickets for tonight’s fight?”

Kopaka gave a slow head nod indicating ‘yes.’

“How many, sir?”

Kopaka held up one finger.

“One ticket, that’ll be twenty widgets.” Twenty widgets? That arena could sit thousands. No wonder these prize fights were big business if that’s what people were paying to watch. The scene from the station repeated itself, with Kopaka reaching behind him, gathering the collected widgets from storage, and dumping them unceremoniously on the counter.

“Okay, just one moment…” the Agori proceeded to count the widgets, but math clearly wasn’t his strong suit and Kopaka wasn’t keen on waiting. He snatched the ticket from the Agori’s hand, mumbled something along the lines of “there’s twenty there,” turned around, and started back down the parkway. The Agori was stunned.

“He’s like that,” I told him. “Looks like twenty to me, though. And I’d like a ticket too.”

After paying the exorbitant price, I turned and found Kopaka standing in front of the booth selling the figurines. He was holding one of Tahu and inspecting it closely. After I caught up, he put it down, informed the Agori running the stand that Tahu ‘didn’t look reckless enough,’ and we were on our way again. He turned and headed down a narrow side street, then proceeded to lead me on a crisscrossing path through the maze of side streets and alleyways that connected this part of the city.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Someplace quiet.” How typical.

“You know, for someone who really wants to stay anonymous, you sure do make an effort to stand out.”

“Trying not to get noticed would be more suspicious,” Kopaka asserted.

“Can’t fault you for that one… But why’d you stop by that toy stand?”

“Those figurines were of Tahu,” he explained, “and they were very detailed. Assuming they were accurate, they could’ve given me an idea of how my brother is doing.”

“You actually care?” This was news to me.

“No, but it is useful to get an idea before I meet him face to face.”

“And what did the figures tell you about him?”

“All the figures were missing their right eye, so it is safe to assume that my brother is missing his. Their armor has many cuts and scrapes, which he would normally have fixed as soon as possible, but on the figures they are signs of status, signifying that he has won many battles.”

“Well, he’s Tahu. Of course he’s won lots of battles.”

“There were sixty figures of my brother set up on that table,” he continued, “and only ten of his opponent. That shows who is more popular, and who is deemed more likely to win the fight.”

“Okay, get to the point.”

“My brother has become a celebrity around here, and knowing him, that has likely gone to his head. He may prove difficult to talk to, especially concerning Gali.”

“Right…” frankly, I still wasn’t sure what the point of all that was, but once again, there was no doubt on his mind. So I changed subject again: “When’s this fight supposed to start?”

That one he wouldn’t even dignify with a verbal answer. Instead, he held up his ticket, which clearly said 7:00 PM. Again, I got that same vague sense of disappointment, mixed with just a little annoyance. Had he expected to find a lead sooner, or one that he could follow up on more immediately, or was he just tired of answering my questions? He betrayed nothing, much to my frustration. So, content to just see where he was heading, I followed in silence.

He made his way through the urban maze without hesitation, not even stopping to look at the street signs. I was about to ask him again where we were heading and demand a more concrete answer when he suddenly turned again and arrived at our apparent destination; a park, still not far from the city center, a patch of Nature nestled within a forest of metal, concrete, and glass. A sign read:

                                                                                “Matoro Memorial Park”

“Matoro Memorial Park?” I’d never heard of this place.

“So the sign says.”

“Who’s Matoro?” I asked. Suddenly, I felt a surge of… something within him. That question struck a chord. He stopped walking and turned to me.

“You have never heard of Matoro?”

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Chapter 5

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I’d heard of Matoro, of course, but largely only in name. They teach about him in schools, but history is usually not a subject one pays great attention to. Something about ‘what it means to be a hero’ and all that. I was just a Matoran then; what use was knowing how to be a hero to me? We had Toa for that, and no, at the time I really didn’t see myself ever becoming a Toa. Clearly, though, Matoro meant something to Kopaka.

“Come,” he said, so I followed again. The park’s arrangement was roughly circular, and Kopaka led me down a path to a hill in its very center, which was crowned by a statue. A large plaque identified the statue:

Toa Mahri Matoro, Savior of Mata Nui

A lengthy paragraph below described Matoro’s actions, but at that moment my mind was more occupied with the statue itself; statues of heroes were common in any populated area on Spherus Magna, but this one was unlike any I’d ever seen; heroes are usually depicted standing tall, self-assured, and they have a degree of… authority about them. Matoro had none of that. First off, he was in this bizarre, tumbling pose, like he tripped on something while backing up. His back was arched, causing him to look towards the sky, as opposed to straight ahead or down upon those standing at his feet. His left arm, its hand equipped with an odd weapon resembling a set of curved hooks, reached upwards as well, giving the impression that he was calling out to something above him. In his right hand, he held a gatling-type cannon that looked far too heavy for him, and even in this odd pose, it was obvious that he had a comparatively frail physique, coupled with a hunchbacked posture usually only displayed by the far bulkier Toa of Earth. I only know that because I worked with one. And while the statue was marble, Matoro’s mask alone was done in gold.

“Bit of an odd statue, don’t you think?” I observed. “Just… the pose is weird.”

“This is the most important moment in the history of the Matoran,” Kopaka said solemnly. “The pose is because he was falling into Karda Nui at the time he made his sacrifice.”

“Sacrifice?”

“He gave his life so Mata Nui could be saved, so all of us could be saved.”

“Oh…” That’s why we covered him in class… Turns out I probably should have been paying attention at the time; this wasn’t the first time that I’d come to realize that long after the class in question was over. “Could you tell me? Or better yet, show me?”

“I was not there at the time. I only heard about what Matoro did from others. If you wish to see, you should seek out one of the other Toa Mahri.”

“Oh… okay, I will.” I turned back to the statue. “What’s with the mask?”

“It is the Kanohi Ignika.” I’d heard of that one; its design was imprinted on pretty much everything of great importance as a symbol of Mata Nui. Apparently, the legendary mask itself was on display at the Museum of Shared History in the city. Another place I’d have to visit at some point. “Another Toa wearing it eventually made the sacrifice to wake up Mata Nui in the same way.”

“Was that before or after the giant robots came?” The ‘giant robot fight’ was one of the few things I had payed attention to, because…well, giant robots, right?

“Several months before it. Mata Nui woke up, stood up, and then the Makuta took over. That was the darkest time for all of us; our worst enemy was in control of literally everything we knew, and he used that power at his whim.”

“It sounds terrible... Were you in there when he and Mata Nui fought?”

“Yes. We evacuated everyone during the fight, then fought the legions of rahkshi that Makuta unleashed on us.”

“Could you show me that?”

“At some point, yes. But not now.”

“Okay…” At first, I wasn’t quite sure why Kopaka wanted me to wait, but looking back on it now, I think that it was because we were in a public place. Memory sharing is… it’s an intimate process, and especially if the memory is a tough one, it can release a flood of emotion; we saw that on the train. Kopaka didn’t want to deal with that in public, but I think he appreciated the efficiency of memory sharing as opposed to telling the story by mouth. So we waited. I read the story on the plaque, which briefly mentioned Matoro’s participation in the fight against “Piraka,” which were apparently some kind of Skakdi, and “Barraki,” who I didn’t even recall from history lessons. After that, it basically reiterated what I’d already been told, so I sat down next to Kopaka, who was once again just waiting silently while deciphering the mysteries of the universe. From memory.

I tried to read into his mind again to try and figure some of it out, but got nowhere. However, it did keep me occupied to where the hours in the park went by surprisingly rapidly. More surprising was the fact that no other Toa showed up in the park all day. I figured Kopaka might have chosen the spot to wait by the fact that he believed it likely that Toa would show up there, so on our way back I asked:

“Were we waiting in that park all day hoping another Toa might show up at some point?”

“No.”

“Why, then?”

“It was the closest one.” I guess that made sense, given that his limp probably made walking difficult, and I knew he was in pain. Still, I thought Kopaka might have taken a more…active approach to finding another Toa.

The lines into the arena were enormous. All the ticket booths were opened, selling and checking tickets before letting anyone in. Even though it was late in the evening by market standards, pretty much all the stands on the parkway were still open, and some selling various kinds of food and drink had set up shop as close to the arena as they were allowed.

“Great… we’re going to be standing here forever…” I mumbled.

“No.”

“What?”

“We cannot possibly stand here for more than an hour, or we would miss the start of the fight. So, we cannot stand here for forever.” Were it not for my ability to passively read at least his surface thoughts, I wouldn’t have known whether that was the analytical Toa’s concept of a joke or he was being serious. He was being serious. I guess that, after waiting close to ten hours on a park bench, he really did not mind standing in line for just an hour longer. Except he did, because instead of making his way to the back of the lines, he walked right up to one particular Agori who, by his uniform, appeared to be one of the security guards.

“Excuse me,” he got the guard’s attention. “My friend here is a Toa who has saved many Matoran lives,” he gestured to me. “…and I cannot stand for too long due to a leg injury I sustained while protecting many Matoran and Agori as well. Would it be okay for us to move forward so that we may take our seat before my leg becomes too much of a bother?”

“Uh…” the guard seemed a bit perplexed at the request. I was stunned too, but I soon regained my bearings and made sure to stand straight and look like I meant business: square shoulders, a neutral expression with a hint of disdain, and my arms folded across my chest. It did the trick. “Sure, sure you can go forward,” the guard finally said, and he led us past the waiting crowd to the front of the line. I could sense a degree of resentment from many of the waiting Agori, though interestingly not from the Matoran. I did my best to maintain appearances, though.

“Have a great time,” the guard said when we reached the ticket booth, at which point he turned around and went back to his post. Kopaka handed his ticket to the Agori behind the counter; the same one who we had bought the tickets from that morning. He stamped them, handed them back, and we were allowed to proceed into the Arena itself.

It was massive; there were enough seats for tens of thousands of Matoran and Agori, a real indication of how much both the sport and the planet’s population had grown; I’ve heard it said that the population of Bara Magna before it was reformed into Spherus Magna could be seated in the new Arena Magna three times over. Now, one would need twenty to the same. Thanks to Kopaka’s stunt, we were one of the first allowed in; that was when I found out we were seated in the very top row, about as far back from the fight as we could get. No one had sat down anywhere near there yet, so when we reached our seats I felt safe asking about what we’d just pulled.

“What were you thinking?”

“I did not want to stand for an hour. It hurts.”

“I know, but still, did you really have to lie to them about us?”

“I did not tell any lies except by omission, and I omitted the parts that I did to conceal our identities.”

“So yes. But what if he’d called us out on it?”

“He was about to, but I can be very persuasive.” As he said that, he lifted the corner of his hood just enough so I could see his face, and… his mask had changed, but this one I thought I recognized.

“Is that… a Komau?”

“The mask of mind control. A noble one, yes, but it was sufficient on a weak-minded Agori.”

“That’s… that’s just wrong.”

“I could have used a Miru to fly us in instead, or the noble Huna to make myself invisible and sneak by, or a Matatu…”

“Okay, okay,” interrupted, “I get it, there’s all sorts of ways in which we could have gotten in. But why… why choose the one that involves messing with someone’s mind?”

“It was the only way in which we were not breaking any laws. You are a Toa of Psionics: your powers can all be described as ‘messing with someone’s mind,’ and you do not seem at all bothered by it.”

“Because I understand the implications!” I blurted out. “I do not use my powers just to overcome some petty nuisance! There are serious questions to be asked here!” Then I realized that my outburst was probably attracting more attention than we were looking for. “Sorry…” I lowered my tone. “It’s just… I know what misusing psionic abilities can do.”

“As do I,” Kopaka said. I shook my head; there probably had been some event in his past that had brought him face to face with psionic powers run rampant, so I couldn’t really argue his point, but I felt like he was missing mine. Besides, there was another question on my mind:

“How in the world are we actually going to see the fight from all the way back here?”

“I can see just fine.” He pulled back his hood slightly again, revealing that he had switched back to his Akaku Nuva. The scopes were trained on the arena field, still making slight adjustments here and there.

“Okay, but how am I supposed to see?”

“Squint.”

Ugh… Like that was going to work out for a fight that could easily last over an hour. Clearly, Kopaka was used to wearing scoped masks. “Do you happen to have another mask that could give me that telescopic vision thing?” I asked him. “Just to borrow for the match?”

Kopaka rummaged around in storage behind his back for bit before pulling out a noble Ruru. “It does not have telescopic vision, but it will make slight improvements to your eyesight,” he explained.

“That’s as close as you’ve got? Just how many masks do you have?”

“Twelve.” Wow… I’d heard some Toa liked to carry multiple masks and switch between them on occasion, but twelve? It’d be hard for anyone to keep half as many of them straight enough to actually be able make meaningful use of each one’s powers; it required tremendous mental discipline. Then again, this was Kopaka… When I put on the Ruru, I noticed everything seemed a bit brighter and I could see detail a little further away. It was odd, and it took me a while to get used to and focus properly, but I eventually worked it to where I had a much better, if still not perfect view of the field than before.

Kopaka, meanwhile, scanned the crowd that steadily made its way into the arena and to their seats. He fixated for a while on what looked to be a press box located on the opposite end.

“You see anything of interest?” I asked him.

“Possibly.”

“What do you mean, possibly?”

“You will see later.” I looked at the press box to try and see who or what he had spotted, but it was so far away that I didn’t have a hope of seeing anything in there, Ruru or no Ruru. So instead, I went back to trying to find Toa in the crowd until the announcer came online and announced the opening fight for the night; there would be anywhere between seven and ten fights; a four-entry best two-out-of-three elimination tournament lead up to the night’s main event, the face-off between Tahu and Stronius.

I guess that all made the ticket price a little more worthwhile.

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Chapter 6

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The opening tournament ended up taking close to an hour and a half. The contestants included a male Skakdi of Iron nicknamed “The Porcupine,” who wore a suit of spiked armor to complement his spine and wielded a large morning star, a young female Glatorian of the Ice Tribe who had apparently looked to Gresh for inspiration in the design of her armor and her use of wrist-mounted fangblades, an aging Skrall warrior who mixed limited shadow powers with the traditional sword-and-shield weaponry of his people, and a male Vortixx who apparently fought for the glory of his master, Lady Soraka, with a spear and a pretty impressive set of martial arts moves.

The Skakdi unfortunately wiped the floor with him. The Vortixx’ fighting style was fluid, with lots of sweeping motions of his spear, the tip of which could apparently light on fire. Unfortunately, none of this did him any good against the iron-clad Skakdi. Soraka’s champion confounded the slow Skakdi for a while by dodging swings of the morning star and constantly maneuvering around him, but the fact remained that his opponent featured both a weapon that could cripple in one blow and armor that he simply couldn’t get through, so that’s how it went; eventually, the Skakdi got a hit in, and after that it was pretty much over. They didn’t even have to run a second fight between these two; Soraka’s man would spend the rest of his life crippled and humiliated. If his master even let him live, that is.

The match between the “Lady of the Frost” (no, I’m not kidding) and the Skrall was more interesting. The shadow powers had enhanced the already fearsome fighting moves of the Skrall even more: his combination of speed, defense with his shield, and offensive striking power with that massive blade was formidable, but when it came to speed I swear the Lady of the Frost was a blur on this battlefield. Even Kopaka must have found it hard to track her as she raced around the Skrall, blocked and redirected his every attack, and finally managed to down him with a sweep under the legs while he was off-balance after a strike. The second round, however, the Skrall came prepared. He used his shadow abilities more this time, using a ‘shadow sword’ move that basically extended the reach of his blade’s wide sweeping attacks. It came as a total surprise to the Ice Glatorian and apparently most of the crowd too, judging from their reactions, and it ended up winning him the second round. 1-1.

For their final and deciding match, the Lady of the Frost packed some extra ammo for her thornax launcher, and it was the explosive kind. She started off by focusing on staying out of the Skrall sword’s range and dodging the shadow bolts he hurled at her while firing thornax in return. The Skrall could easily block the thornax with his shield, but their spectacular explosions both thrilled the crowd and disoriented him with their concussive force. However, ice Glatorian still couldn’t make the inroad that she had in the first match, and the Skrall came up with a novel technique: holding his shield above his head and spinning it rapidly while launching bolts of shadow from the edge, creating an ‘umbrella’ of falling bolts around him. It kept any attempts to get in melee range at bay, but his opponent now got a clear shot with the thornax launcher and took it. That was enough to down the Skrall, and the Lady of the Frost went on to face The Porcupine.

I expected the final between them to be a one-sided affair. She’d shown great skill, but ultimately the Glatorian’s fighting style relied on the same principles as that of the Vortixx, and we all knew how well that worked out for him. Crucially, while he’d had a spear that might have been able to hit a weak spot in the Skakdi’s armor if aimed well, she was relying on slashing motions that would likely have little effect in any case. Turned out that I underestimated the thornax again, though; the Porcupine’s armor only added to the concussive effect of the exploding projectiles, so one good hit left him momentarily dazed. When he regained his senses only a second or two later, he was lying on his back with the Lady of the Frost on top of him and one of her blades at his throat. Several in the crowd began to chant “Kill! Kill! Kill!” but instead she chose to just take the victory for the round.

It only became apparent afterwards, when she tried to get up, that she’d impaled one of her legs on two of his armor spikes in the process of forcing him down; she had to remove it very carefully, and was bleeding severely from the two stab wounds afterwards. With it hastily bandaged up, she was ready to face the second round. The injury didn’t do her well, though, especially given how much she relied on speed and mobility. She did manage to stun the Porcupine again, but was too slow in closing in this time, and to add insult and more injury to injury, he specifically swung low into her legs, all but instantly bringing the fight to an end. However, she had gotten a hit in as she fell, causing the Porcupine to temporarily back off, forfeiting the killing blow. So the match would go into its final round.

The wait between the second and third match was cruelly long, as two Agori medics frantically worked on getting the Glatorian back on her mangled feet. I swear, even over the strong emotions, mostly joy and some kind of primal bloodlust, of the crowd, I could sense in credible pain and agony coming down from that field; how she kept from screaming I’ll never know. Yet somehow, she was standing again fifteen minutes later. But anyone in that arena could already see the writing on the wall: this wasn’t going to be a fight; it was going to be a slaughter. After the bell sounded the start of the fight, the porcupine toyed with his morning star, twirling it around in his hands as though it weighed nothing, and at one point even turning to the crowd and raising his hands as though he was asking them what he should do. They chanted “Kill! Kill! Kill!” again, but the Lady of the Frost wasn’t keen on going down easy.

She made her way across the arena, using one of her blades as a cane to help steady herself, the other one at the ready. Her posture was slumped; blood loss by this point had left her barely conscious. Yet, when the Porcupine raised his weapon and swung it down over her, she instantly reacted, dodged, and rolled to the side, slashing into the thinly armored back of his leg in the process. The Porcupine… he saw his prey was still up for it, but that she wouldn’t be for long; dark spots appeared on her bandaged shins and rapidly grew larger. She was bleeding again. So what did the do? He backed off, stood there, and waited. I don’t remember how long it was, but it felt like ages. She stood there, unable to really walk, weakened but still defiant. She even shouted at him. I couldn’t hear her over the chanting crowd, but I swear she was taunting him, throwing the worst imaginable insults at him, and he deserved each and every one.

Slowly, her head began to sink, her arms dropped… she fell on her knees, but still did what she could to hold at least one blade ready as the life drained out of her. Believing her sufficiently incapacitated, the Porcupine now moved in, carrying his morning star like an executioner’s axe. The crowd’s chant had turned into a deafening roar; when he raised the weapon over his head, I turned. The ice Glatorian was all but lying on the ground, her strength having drained out of her almost completely; I couldn’t bear to watch. Turns out, I didn’t have to, because when the full force of that weapon came down on her head, the crunching sound was broadcast through the entire arena, followed by a triumphant announcement of “PORCUPINE WINS!” The crowd cheered. The announcer informed them that, with his great victories, the porcupine would be moving up to the top tier arena rankings. I felt sick.

I asked Kopaka if he could tell me when they’d cleared the field before I dared look down there again. He’d watched the whole event without displaying any emotions of any kind, positive or negative. In fact, when I tried to focus in on him to try and detect any, I couldn’t find a thing. Had he actually been watching? It wasn’t long before the announcement came over the speakers:

“And now… the match that everyone has been waiting for!” Kopaka tapped my shoulder to indicate the field was clear, and it wasn’t… really. It was as clear as it was going to get, apparently, but there still was a very large dark stain where the young Glatorian had fallen, along with bits and scraps of armor strewn around. I guess that was too hard for them to get that out. The announcer continued: “And entering the arena now, the current champion! The one who brings the heat just by walking in! You’ve all seen him, you all know what he’s got, it’s TAHU, THE MASTER OF FIRE!”

A blast of flame erupted from one of the entrances to the arena floor below. It lasted for a second or two, and when it vanished, Tahu entered the arena with fire erupting from his swords, walking determinedly across the open space until he reached the center. There, he raised his swords over his head, crossed them, then brought them down and swung them around him, sending a heat wave in all directions that we could feel even in the back row. The crowd went wild; Tahu now assumed a ready stance, looking in the direction from which his opponent would appear. I looked to Kopaka; again, not a hint of any emotion or feeling was coming from him, even at the sight of his brother.

“And his challenger for tonight,” the announcer continued, “you’ve all seen him before, fighting his way up out of prison with the fastest climb through the arena ranks that anyone as ever seen! Beware the Skrall elite, the Special Forces, the Ultimate War Machine! It’s STRONIUS, LORD OF THE SKRALL!

His appearance was heralded by a blast of thick, acrid smoke from the entrance opposite to the one Tahu had appeared from. It lasted a while, but when it cleared, it revealed a warrior who frighteningly reminded me of The Porcupine, except in black and red with a monstrous spiked club for a weapon. The jagged, spiked armor, the way he held himself, they were almost identical, and just like his Skakdi counterpart, he twirled that massive weapon around him like it was a mere toy, much to the crowd’s amusement. He slammed it into the ground twice, leaving small craters to taunt his opponent. Tahu responded by swinging his blades around, lighting up the edges, and then planting them in the ground, sending streaks of fire through it which erupted next to Stronius and all over the area between them.

“Well, it looks like these two are more than ready for the FIGHT OF THE CENTURY!” The announcer really didn’t have to do anything to get this crowd riled up even more, but yeah… that’s what he was doing. “Well, how’s about we LET THEM HAVE IT!?” At this point, just the noise and emotional volume of the crowd were becoming exhausting for me, but this I had to see. Both fighters assumed ready positions about ten meters apart. The Announcer counted down: “And they’ll proceed to pummel each other in Three, TWO, ONE…” a small pause for effect…

“… AND FIGHT!”

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Chapter 7

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At the sound of a deafening horn, the fighters charged towards each other. Stronius’ club was over his head; he brought it down but Tahu side-stepped and dodged the swing, after which he spun around and slashed with both his swords into the elite Skrall’s side. His armor prevented much of it from having an effect, though, and Tahu had to back up fast in order to avoid the backswing of the club. Now they stood only a meter or two apart, both with weapons at the ready, circling each other and looking for a weak spot. Tahu was faster; he moved in and parried the club out of the way with one of his blades while moving in to stab with the other. Stronius leant into the attack, however, causing Tahu’s sword to glance harmlessly off of his large, rocky pauldrons. He quickly followed that by swinging his club upwards, nailing an uppercut right on Tahu’s chest, causing the Toa of Fire to stagger backwards. Confident that his foe was momentarily dazed, the Skrall moved in and swung again, but Tahu fell backwards on purpose, rolled out of the way, and was on his feet again less than a second later.

So they were facing off again, but this time Tahu increased the distance; his swords began to glow red-hot, and he planted them in the ground again, sending fire in Stronius’ direction that erupted all around the Skrall before he could react. That did something; clearly Tahu stood a better chance at actually hurting Stronius with elemental attacks than by trying to pierce or slash into his ridiculous armor, and he could outrun Stronius all day, hurling fire at him as he went. But amazingly, he didn’t do that. He moved in to strike with the swords again, leading to another quick exchange of blows that were equally blocked, parried, and dodged by both sides. That became the pattern: a quick melee bout followed by a short standoff between the two sides. Each time, they tried to attack from different angles, or with a move we hadn’t yet seen, and occasionally they landed hits; Stronius’ armor had numerous cuts and scrapes now, though few if any seemed to have had any effect on the tissue below, and one of Tahu’s pauldrons, his chest plate, and his right thigh armor were seriously busted. But neither side gave anything to the other. Eventually, time ran down to where the first round was pronounced a draw, although that one round had featured more action than the rest of the evening so far combined, and the crowd’s energy levels were through the roof.

While the fighters prepared for the second round and the announcer kept the crowd riled up, I turned to Kopaka:

“What did you think so far?”

“My brother has lost his edge,” the Toa of Ice said dryly. “Stronius would not be standing now if he was on form.”

“I think he fought well,” I observed.

“You have not seen him fight before.” That was true, but really, I thought Tahu had put up a sporting display, and at least this fight was a lot more evenly matched than most of what we’d seen so far.

The second round was almost a repeat of the first until the start of the last of the five minutes’ duration of each round. Tahu moved in again, this time trying a quite spectacular set of moves: he charged Stronius, jumped in the air and corkscrewed over him, trying to land on the other side to slash into his more vulnerable back. Stronius wasn’t going to let that happen, though: he jabbed upwards with his club, managing to hit Tahu’s leg and spoiling the maneuver to where the Toa landed on his back instead of on his feet. Though he managed to dodge the club now coming down on top of him, he was in serious trouble: Stronius kept swinging like a maniac, not allowing the Toa any window to regain his footing. So instead, Tahu stabbed his blade into a vulnerable spot in the elite Skrall’s armor right at the inside of his leg. Following that, he proceeded to set the blade alight, but Stronius took advantage of the delay by swinging his club down and nailing a massive hit on Tahu’s shoulder, completely smashing the remnants of the pauldron and visibly mangling the tissue below. Tahu was forced to roll back and try to get out of his opponent’s striking range while the latter’s leg was out of commission, which he did successfully.

Now the fighters stood and faced each other again, but Stronius’ left leg was weakened, causing him to limp, and Tahu’s left shoulder was messed up to where he couldn’t raise the arm much or strike at anything with it to any effect. Unable to charge effectively, Stronius endured the intermittent fireballs that Tahu threw at him by blocking them with his club until the fire warrior tried once again to move in. He followed closely behind one of the fireballs to try and take advantage of the elite Skrall being in a blocking as opposed to a striking position; with his club interposed between him and Tahu to block incoming fire, Stronius wouldn’t be able to see Tahu coming. But he guessed Tahu’s plan correctly, and after the fireball hit, he simply shoved the club forward. It wasn’t a very powerful or damaging hit by any means but like anyone else, Tahu quickly found that getting a spiky club shoved into your face is a disorientating experience. While he was dazed, Stronius managed to get another, more powerful hit in just as the bell sounded the end of round 2.

Because of the damage he dished out, though, he was awarded the win for the round. Tahu now had to either win the next round convincingly enough to be awarded a point or win by outright knockout to stay in the fight. The announcer worked up the tension with rhetorical questions like “Is this the end of Tahu!?” I was scared that he would lose; we’d already seen a loss could mean death, and this crowd was bloodthirsty to say the least. Kopaka didn’t seem the least bit concerned from what I could read.

“You know,” I told him, “this could mean the end of him, right?”

“It could be.” Yup. No concern whatsoever. I knew he liked to be detached and all that, but this was his own brother; did he really feel nothing or just show nothing? Over the mental noise of the crowd, I honestly couldn’t tell.

I was on the edge of my seat when the fighters stepped forward again for the third round. Tahu’d gotten a hold of a new pauldron and braced his arm, but it was still weak and he looked battered overall. Stronius appeared to have bandaged his leg, and his armor looked worn but the brute inside was otherwise fine. I’m not usually faithful, but I honestly prayed to Mata Nui that Tahu would come out on top. If he didn’t… that was it.

The final round began. Stronius, confident that he could finish the fight faster with fewer injuries to contend with, went on the offensive straight away, charging Tahu and bringing the club down on him again. Tahu in part dodged and in part parried the strike, after which he struck back, but the elite Skrall’s helmet easily deflected the hit. That set the tone for the round early on; Stronius had the initiative, but Tahu’s defenses were up so he didn’t really get anywhere. Tahu also threw in fire attacks here and there when he could. After two minutes, Stronius was beginning to show exhaustion; swinging that heavy club about really took everything he had by this point, and he was forced to back off. Now Tahu went on the offensive, though more cautiously than he had before, and like Stronius he accomplished little with it. More cuts, more scrapes, but nothing that would earn either fighter points or contribute to a knockout.

Then Tahu ramped it up. With two minutes left, he began making more daring strikes, increasingly rendering himself vulnerable in an effort to land more powerful blows with swords that now glowed red-hot. Still recovering, Stronius didn’t really have an answer other than to keep backing off; Tahu slashed right, then left, then brought his swords over in a kind of cross-chop… I wouldn’t say it was graceful; the Lady of the Frost had done basically the same thing in a much smoother, effortless fashion, but the way Tahu chained his attacks together was nonetheless very impressive and emphasized the power the Toa of Fire still possessed. By this point it was evening and therefore dark apart from the gloomy arena lighting, which made the resulting light show all more spectacular. Those bright red glowing swords and the shower of sparks created every time they clashed against Stronius’ armor were spectacular to behold, and Tahu’s assault was relentless. It was do or die, and the crowd loved it.

But Stronius wasn’t going to let that go on forever, and when Tahu began to falter with a minute left, he struck back, swinging the club in front of him with as much if not more energy than he’d done at the start of the match. Now it was Tahu’s turn to back up, and he did so quickly, dodging left and right while he tried to recover some energy. The fighters had almost made it back to the center of the arena where they started. Then Stronius made a mistake: with maybe ten seconds to go on the clock, he went all out and dove forward more while swinging the club down over his head two-handedly. This was the moment that Tahu had been waiting for. He ducked low and to the left, dodging the club again, then rolled right to get underneath Stronius. But Stronius had either been expecting it or he had quicker reactions that I thought, because he brought his foot down on Tahu’s chest, pinning him to the ground, then began to raise his club again. But the Toa of Fire had a plan too: while he was pinned to the ground, he could stab upwards with both of his swords, nailing Stronius on the inside of both his legs; the same vulnerable joint he’d hit on just the left leg the last time. And this time, he’d ignited the swords beforehand.

The whole crowd, myself included, was astounded by what happened next; with maybe four seconds left in the match, and Stronius about to bring the club down on his head, Tahu surged his fire powers through his swords, sending searing jets of flame upwards and into the elite Skrall’s body and armor. I can only describe the result as a furnace: white-hot flames burst out of every crack and split in Stronius’ armor: under the shoulders, by the elbows, from holes in the chest and abdomen, from his neck and, most frighteningly, out the eye holes of his helmet. A nightmarish scream erupted as the Skrall’s body was roasted, burned, then utterly carbonized inside his steel shell. That club never came down. The bell sounded, and Tahu managed to get out from under the foot of the Skrall, who seemed to be standing frozen in position, the club still raised over his head, dark smoke rising from inside his armor.

Tahu stood in front of him, seemingly sizing him up for a bit, challenging him, then stepped back and kicked the chest plate. Stronius fell backwards and when he hit the ground… he fell apart. I’m not kidding… I still shudder to think of it. He’d been dead by the time the bell rang, nothing but a carbonized statue inside of blackened armor, barely standing. The impact against the ground broke what remained, leaving the Lord of the Skrall literally in pieces. Tahu raised his swords in the air and ignited them again; his signature victory pose. To say the crowd went wild was an understatement; I was surprised my hearing survived.

“AND THAT IS THE POWER OF A TOA OF FIRE!” the announcer had found his microphone again. “TAHU WINS!”

Looking over, I saw Kopaka getting up and preparing to leave.

“Come,” he said. “Let us go and see my… brother.”

The cold, spiteful way in which he said ‘brother’ after that match… This was the first time that I’d seen Kopaka display a genuine sign of anger, even hate. This was not going to be a pretty reunion.

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Chapter 8

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Up until this point, Kopaka had behaved, from my point of view, mostly like a calculator with legs; utterly rational, methodical, and precise in the way he went about things, black-and-white in how he saw the world. I found his mannerisms intriguing, in spite of how frustrating interacting with him was because of it; his logic wasn’t the kind that was always easy to follow, and he wasn’t usually keen on explaining. In tracing down Tahu after the end of this fight, though, there was something new mixed in; a determination, a drive that up until this point had been lacking; Kopaka now behaved like a man on a mission as opposed to a taciturn stranger.

He made his way around the upper rim of the Arena Magna; the crowd was watching Tahu receiving some kind of award for winning the fight, so he didn’t have to fear being spotted. I followed him quickly. He stopped when he reached a point above the tunnel through which Tahu had entered the arena. The announcer was just informing the crowd that, next week, the ‘Master of Fire’ would face up against the newcomer in the top ranks; The Porcupine. I shuddered. Kopaka didn’t wait around; in fact, I was shocked to see him rising slowly into the air. I’d never seen something like that; he just… slowly floated upwards without moving a muscle, and he continued to rise until he reached the top of the outside wall of the stands, where he stepped forwards and out of sight. Where was he going?

To follow, I had to exercise one of my lesser-used abilities: telekinesis. In this case, I tried to use it on myself to fly like Kopaka had, however he pulled that off. It was a difficult process; I couldn’t easily keep focused on myself all that well, and I almost fell backwards into the crowd. Luckily, I managed to get a hold of the top of the outer wall and could clamber up from there. The wall was a few meters thick, and once I reached the other side, I looked down to find that Kopaka was gently floating down towards the ground. I muttered something along the lines of “oh great…” to myself, then attempted to follow using telekinesis again. I held fine at first, pulling myself up just hard enough to float downwards at a manageable pace, but it was hard to keep my balance. Kopaka had just landed on the field below when a gust of wind knocked me off balance completely, breaking my concentration; I now found myself tumbling towards the ground, desperately trying to get that lock again… but to no avail. For a moment, I thought that was it. I’d been killed by falling while chasing after a mad old Toa who just wanted to be left alone.

Except… all of the sudden I slowed down. Something was pushing against me falling, the same sensation as when I used telekinesis on myself, except… more controlled. It didn’t just stop me splattering on the ground; it also reoriented me so I was standing up, and then gently set me down. I turned and looked around, trying to decipher what had just happened. There was no one around me except Kopaka, who’d already turned and was making his way across the field that surrounded the arena.

“Wait!” I called after him. “Was that you!?”

“Yes. Me and a Miru Nuva.”

“Whoa… you just saved me there!” Up until that point, I’d assumed Kopaka didn’t care about me at all, and that he’d just let me follow him around so I could satisfy my curiosity so long as it didn’t bother him. But if it’d been like that, he’d have had no reason to save me there… or I had him figured out all wrong. Did he actually care to some degree, or was I just useful to him for the time being? “Thanks. I mean really, thank you for that.”

“Do not mention it. Or at least do not shout it next time. Noise does not help us.”

“Oh, right…” and just like that, Kopaka dismissed what had happened. His mind had already moved on.

“So, what do we do now?” I asked after I’d caught up.

“Hide.”

“Hide from what?”

“The group that will come out of there soon.” Kopaka pointed at a closed set of tall, wooden doors in the side of the Arena Magna that we’d landed just in front of. A straight path led from them to a locked gate in the fence that closed off the area around the arena. “Here.” Kopaka got behind a large set of ornamentally trimmed bushes and knelt down to stay out of view. I took a spot next to him. He seemed to be staring intently at the bushes in front of us.

“So, what is that?” I gestured in the direction of the doors.

“That is where the tunnel by which Tahu will leave the arena leads,” Kopaka explained. “There is a staging area in between, but sooner or later Tahu will appear there. Then we will follow him to where he lives so I can meet with him privately.”

“We’re going to have to be sneaky?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Good. I’ve got just the mask for it.” I smiled.

“Keep it down. Tahu has yet to appear, and now we really do not want to be seen. It is forbidden to even be here.”

“Right. So… we wait.” And wait we did. The post-fight ceremony lasted for maybe fifteen minutes, judging by the noise, but we had been waiting for nearly an hour by the time the doors opened, time during which I’d grown increasingly worried that we’d be spotted. I’d kept my Volitak on as much as I could while the crowds of Matoran and Agori coming out of the arena on the other side dispersed throughout the city. Since the area we were in wasn’t lit, Kopaka trusted his dark cloak to fade in with the scenery, which it apparently did well enough. No one spotted him, but then I’d like to think that no one was looking for us.

Tahu appeared, surrounded by four smaller figures; either Ta-Matoran or Fire Agori; it was hard to tell, since they wore the official gear of the city guard, carrying round shields and small thornax launchers. Apparently, Tahu needed a guard when traveling around the city for some reason. They escorted him down the path and through the gate. We followed, keeping to the shadows as much as we could. Kopaka used his Miru Nuva to get over the fence. I climbed over it. By now, the streets had largely cleared; everyone’d gone home for the night, and therefore we had to keep our distance while following Tahu and the guards to avoid being spotted. Luckily, Kopaka could track them with his Akaku even when they disappeared around corners. The party made their way into one of the wealthier parts of the city, where many of the more influential Agori and Matoran lived, and stopped in front of one particular house. Kopaka and I watched from behind a hedge across the street as Tahu dismissed the guard, who went their separate ways while he entered his home.

“Looks like our time to act, right?” I asked after the guards were out of sight. Kopaka got up and made his way across the street, me following close behind and keeping an eye out for anyone who might see us. The street was completely quiet, but lights were still on in some of the houses. I figured Kopaka had thought up some kind of sneaky way to get in without being seen, but no, he simply walked up and knocked on the door. It took a bit of time before Tahu opened it.

“Who are you and what do you want?” he asked curtly. If he was surprised to see Toa at his door, he didn’t show it.

“We need to have a word,” Kopaka answered.

“Don’t you lot realize what time it is? Get lost!” Tahu tried to close the door, but Kopaka shoved his cane into the opening, preventing it from closing completely. So Tahu opened it again. “What, you looking for trouble?!” he asked with more than a hint of anger in his voice.

“No. I need to speak to you… brother.” When he said ‘brother,’ Kopaka pulled back his hood enough to reveal his face to Tahu, whose eyes widened with stunned surprise at the sight.

“Kopaka?… You’re alive?” he barely got it out, but then regained his composure. “Come in, come in.” he stepped aside to let us in. Kopaka silently made his way past, and I followed suit. “And who are you, then?” Tahu asked me.

“I’m Lis…” I introduced myself. “I’m a friend.”

“A friend?” Tahu asked incredulously. “Kopaka has a friend? Things really have changed, haven’t they?” Kopaka didn’t reply; he silently made his way into the living room instead.

Tahu’s was a pretty decent size house, and the outside looked presentable enough in the dark, but I would have recommended he find a new decorator. The walls were covered top to bottom with all sorts of trophies from his arena fighting; shields, swords, helmets, other mangled pieces of armor… name any piece of combat equipment and he probably had several nailed to his wall. It looked busy, cluttered, and given the state of some of the trophies, like a garbage dump. The exception was a set of shelves on the wall opposite the door, where an impressive collection of victory cups and plaques was proudly displayed, though they had gathered a fair amount of dust. Other furnishings were few and far between, though; a chair or two and a couch were set up around a low table to form a living room, joined by a new consumer-model telescreen on a side table, and there was another chair loitering about the mess that was probably the kitchen. Most of the furniture looked old and worn, and the place generally gave the impression that taking care of his house was not a top item on Tahu’s priority list.

There was also the faint odor of something burning… that was when I recognized a charred object sitting on the table: Stronius’ helmet. It instantly called back the sight of the elite Skrall’s death… those flames coming out of his…everything… I almost threw up, but tried not to look it. Kopaka’d taken a seat on the couch right behind the table, and for a moment, I swear, he looked more at home there than Tahu did; his old cloak and worn, decrepit appearance looked a lot more appropriate for someone living in a hole like this one than Tahu’s battered but otherwise quite new and shiny equipment.

“So, would you like something to drink?” Tahu offered Kopaka.

“No.”

“To eat, then?” I found the thought of eating anything made in that kitchen of his revolting; nothing there was anywhere near its original color due to food stains, and the pile of dirty dishes stacked in and around the sink was the largest I’d ever seen.

“No.”

“Then what did you want to see me about?”

“As I said, we need to talk.” I could sense some impatience from Kopaka; he had a point to get to, but for some reason he wasn’t coming out and saying it the way he usually did.

“Okay then, let’s talk,” Tahu said as he took a chair opposite of the couch. “Where’ve you been the last eight thousand years?”

“The Ko-Wahi mountains.”

“Well, that’s no surprise. Looks like you’ve taken a few knocks up there, though. Bad leg?” Tahu gestured at the Toa of Ice’s cane.

“An injury, yes. Looks like I am not alone, though.”

Tahu looked puzzled for a moment, then Kopaka nodded to his braced left arm and bound-up shoulder. “Oh, that…” the Toa of Fire said. “Arena fight went a little rough.”

“I know,” Kopaka said. “I was there.”

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Chapter 9

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“You were there?” Tahu was stunned. Did I detect a hint of… fear?

“We were up there in the stands,” I explained. “Saw the whole thing.”

“…and somehow I seem to remember that you made a very specific promise some time ago,” Kopaka added.

Tahu sighed. “You’re talking about how it ended, I presume.” Kopaka merely nodded ‘yes’. “Well, if I could’ve avoided it, I would’ve done everything I could to do so,” the Toa of Fire said dryly.

“So you killed him,” Kopaka asserted.

“Yes, because it was him or me,” Tahu explained; there was now more than a hint of anger in his voice. “I didn’t have a choice.”

“Oh, but you did,” Kopaka countered. “The Tahu I knew would not have let that fight go to its third round. You could have ended it much sooner and without the need to kill.”

“You have no idea how those fights work, do you?” Tahu stood up, displeased at the accusation. “The point isn’t to win fast, the point is to put on a show! That’s what I get paid for, not to kill! Yes, I let him get some hits in to make it look like a challenge, but I misjudged it, okay!? By the end of this one, my life really was on the line, so I didn’t have a choice.”

“Your life was on line for that entire fight,” Kopaka said calmly, “but you thought that you could take him easily and as such could let him ‘get a few hits in.’ Your overconfidence is showing, brother, and it will only lead to more tragedies like this one.” He pointed at the burned helmet.

“My life is on the line every time I enter that arena!” Tahu argued. “I win, I live. I lose, I die. And you know what? I accept that! So what if I die in there? At least I’ll die fighting, which is more than I can say for some of us!”

“At one point, you yourself would have been horrified to hear that coming from a Toa.” Anger was stirring in Kopaka as well; I could feel it.

“Well, at least I haven’t lost my edge!” Wild gestures accompanied Tahu’s arguments. “Like it or not, I’m still going strong while the rest of you have fallen! Besides, are you really going to argue that the world would be better off with this guy still around?” he gestured to the helmet. “He was a thug; the kind of thing we used to fight to protect the Matoran. I’m still doing that! I’m the only one of us still doing it!”

“Yes, you need that, do you not?” Kopaka grabbed hold of his cane. “You need that thrill, that fight, that satisfaction of conquering something in the name of good, and I was fine with you having it...” He got up as well; now the two Toa faced each other across the table. “But what I cannot accept,” he continued in a much more threatening tone, “is a Toa, especially my brother, killing people for others’ entertainment! That does not protect anyone! You have abandoned everything that being a Toa once stood for!”

“WELL, WE’RE NOT TOA ANYMORE!” Tahu shouted. “This world doesn’t need Toa, and you’re just too stubborn to see that! You’re clinging to an old fantasy, brother!”

“YOU ROASTED HIM ALIVE!” Kopaka shot back, pointing again at the helmet on the table between them. “We fought tyrants who did that! Remember the reign of shadows!?”

“How rich of you to remind me of that! You come here complaining of what I do, you compare me to monsters, and look at yourself! You vanished after we split! You complain that I abandoned what being a Toa once meant, while you’ve abandoned everything!”

“I WAS DOING MY DUTY!” now Kopaka was furious… didn’t need to be a mind reader to tell that. He really did take that duty seriously. I could feel the temperature in the room dropping.

“Your duty is to wander around the mountains while everyone who once cared for you thinks you’re dead!? How convenient for you: it’s what you always wanted: to be left alone!” By now, sparks and small bursts of flame accompanied Tahu’s gestures. I took a few steps back… both Toa seemed to be losing control and I did not want to be caught in the middle of it.

“Then what of your other brothers!?” I was surprised to see Kopaka bring that up. “What will they say when they see what you have become!?”

“Other brothers?” Tahu was taken aback as well, but then anger took over again: “Guess you really have been gone for too long! Newsflash, ‘brother’: Onua and Lewa are dead, and Pohatu’s been gone for ages! Not like they’re gonna see anything or complain about it! And if you’re uncomfortable calling yourself my brother because of what I do, then you can go find Gali and commiserate with her!”

“Then what you said really must be true,” Kopaka said coldly. “Fire as no brothers. Fire consumes all.” Something about that statement… it hit Tahu hard. It wasn’t just a biting remark; when Tahu heard it, that anger in him spiked. Meanwhile, Kopaka seemed to calm down again; he took a certain pleasure in it; making Tahu’s temper flare white-hot.

“DON’T SAY THAT TO ME!” Tahu shouted as a bolt of fire burst from his hands and flew towards Kopaka. I ducked for cover. Kopaka reacted instantly, forming an ice shield in front of himself. With a tremendous hissing sound, the collision of the elements produced a thick vapor cloud that almost instantly filled the room. For a few seconds, no one could see anything. When the vapor began to clear, I could see the two old Toa still standing in the same positions, but with weapons now at the ready, facing each other across the table. I’d had enough.

“Stop it, both of you!” I stepped in between them with my arms outstretched. “We’re not going to accomplish anything by blowing up the house, okay?” Both of them looked surprised for a second, but then they came to the realization that this was neither the time nor the place for a sword-fight. Warily, they put away their weapons.

“Please…” I turned to Kopaka. “We’re here to ask him a question, right? Not to re-ignite pointless arguments.”

“Recent events made the argument relevant,” Kopaka said, “but you are correct in that we are not accomplishing anything by it.”

“Well,” Tahu said, “I do think it’s pointless, I don’t have anything else to say on the matter. If you want to ask this question so badly, do so. If not, get out of my house.”

“Fine.” Kopaka said. “Where is Gali?”

“You expect me to know where she is?” Tahu asked incredulously. “You think I kept up with her after how we ended?”

“Yes, I think you did.”

“That’s crazy. Sorry, but no, I have no idea.” I could sense Tahu was lying, and I was about to tell Kopaka as much when the Toa of Ice himself beat me to it.

“No, you do know,” he asserted. “First off, you know she is alive, because you told me to ‘go commiserate with her.’ Secondly, there is no way in which one could spend as much time in the arena as you have without accumulating several grievous injuries. I can think of only one person who you would trust to fix you up properly.”

“There’s hospitals,” Tahu countered, “and they do a fine job.”

“Well then perhaps I like to think that there is just a little bit of that old Tahu left,” Kopaka continued. “The Tahu who cared for his fellow Toa and who, regardless of the circumstances, would do his best to make sure they were okay.”

Tahu thought for a few seconds, then sighed: “Fine. She’s staying with Hahli. Has been for years.” Without another word, Kopaka turned and headed for the door.

“Hang on!” I interrupted. “Where do we find this… Hahli, then?”

“She’s got a house downtown,” Tahu explained. “Head south a few blocks past the station, then east. It’s right on the coast.” Kopaka was making his way out the door by this point. “Be warned, though:” Tahu called after him. “You won’t like it when you find her.” Kopaka didn’t reply. When I turned to follow him, Tahu tapped me on the shoulder. “Lis?”

“What?”

“Look, I know I kinda lost it there… he is infuriating to deal with sometimes.” Okay, true, and I could sense a degree of regret on his mind, but I still wasn’t inclined to feel sorry for him.

“That’s the first time you see him in eight thousand years,” I pointed out, “and this is how it goes?”

“I know,” Tahu said, “and I don’t expect you to understand what I do and why… but I fought alongside him. A lot. He’s even saved my life a few times, so… I know he won’t ask for it, but if he needs anything, call me. I want to make sure he’ll at least be okay.”

“Fine. I will.” I turned to leave, then realized something. “I guess he was right,” I said to Tahu before stepping out. “There is something of that old Tahu left after all.” For a moment, there was a meek smile on the Toa of Fire’s face. I stepped out into the front yard. Kopaka was making his way down the street already.

“One last thing,” Tahu called after me. I turned and waited for him to continue. “I don’t know how you found him or why you’re still with him, but it’s a good thing that you are. And he cares too. He won’t admit it to you or me, or even to himself, but he cares a great deal about us, about the Toa Nuva, and even he needs help sometimes. When he finds Gali, or Mata Nui forbid, Pohatu, he will need help… be there for him, please.”

“Thanks. I will.”

“Have a good night, Lis.” I nodded and turned to run and catch Kopaka. I caught up quickly.

“What was that in there?” I demanded.

“An argument.”

“You nearly blew up his house! I agree what he did was horrible, but really, he’s your brother. You two couldn’t even pretend to keep it civil!”

Kopaka waited a moment before replying. “My brother’s failings are his own,” he said calmly, “so I could not stop him, but it was necessary to try to preserve the name of the Toa.”

“And you still failed, so you’re angry.”

“No. He will stop fighting in the arena soon.”

“Why?” Did he really think he was that convincing?

“He is getting older like the rest of us; it will not be long before he gets killed in there.” He clearly had no doubt about it either…

“And you’re okay with that?”

Kopaka grunted but didn’t reply. I tried to read into his mind again, to figure out what was going through his head that made it okay just to leave his brother when he thought said brother would die soon. I got anger, a bit of sadness, both of which were to be expected… but also concern. Tahu was right: somewhere down there Kopaka did care, but… he was forcing it down, trying to look like he didn’t mind that which he acknowledged he could do nothing about. But he did mind, and I began to fear that it was going to keep eating away at him.

It would be but one of many such things.

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Chapter 10

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With midnight fast approaching, we made our way along the streets leading south, back in the direction of the Arena Magna.

“So, are we heading to Hahli’s place, then?” I asked.

“Eventually.”

“What do you mean, ‘eventually?’ Why not immediately?”

“I am tired, and it would be rude to show up at her door now.”

“Didn’t seem to bother you with Tahu.”

“… Tahu is different. I had… a bone to pick with him. And I was not tired yet.”

“Fair enough…” I could imagine an argument like that took a lot out of him, given his age… but the fact that he paused before answering meant something. Also, I could sense anxiety in him, which was new. He’d been completely confident and self-assured for this entire trip, but now that he was so close, I felt he was… becoming hesitant. As with everything else, of course, he wouldn’t let it show on the outside, but from what I saw now, it seemed that there was something about meeting Gali that was more daunting for him than anything we’d faced on this trip so far… What was it? I wasn’t going to get it from him here, not when we were both exhausted, but when we did find Gali, I’d be paying very close attention.

“Where are we going now, then?” I noticed we’d turned east.

“A quiet place.”

“Another park? I’ve had enough of park benches for today.”

“No. A place more private. A place to contemplate.”

“Ah, contemplation. Your favorite pastime.” Kopaka didn’t pick up on my dry attempt at humor… Was I really expecting him to? Well, he wasn’t the only one who was tired. Whatever this quiet, contemplative place was, I really hoped there’d be a good spot to lie down and catch some shuteye…

Turns out it was the beach.

Unsurprisingly, it was empty. The road we’d followed had lead us past ever more elaborate houses, and this clearly was the part of the beach where the wealthy could come to relax, if they wished. It was a wide, shallow cove, hemmed in by a seawall behind, rocky shores that grew into cliffs to the north, and more rocks to the south. I could see the silhouettes of Ga-Matoran and Water Agori huts situated beyond the rocks in that direction; many were raised on posts to protect them from the tide, and further still docks jutted far out onto the sea, with ships of various sizes moored to them.

Kopaka made his way to the north side of the beach and found himself a decently sized boulder to sit on. He sat there, looking out over the sea… his was mind sorting through Mata Nui only knows what. Something calming about the ocean, I suppose, though from the way he was adjusting his scopes, I could swear he was looking at something on the water, something well beyond my limited night vision. I could have tried to read into him more, but I was practically falling asleep standing up, so I found a nice spot of soft sand, lay down, and was out in moments.

-*-*-*-

A flash… I’m in a tunnel of some kind… is that a door opening? A dark voice thunders from all around…

“SO YOU FOUND YOUR WAY HERE, BROTHER…”

I tremble… there are others around me who do the same… another flash.

Now I’m outside. The light is blinding… something is coming towards me… something yellow… it lets out a blood-curdling screech... it’s some kind of monster! Suddenly, I see another one next to me, and a third. Their eyes glow red. They have these… these weird forked staffs that they keep trying to stab me with. I try to hold my own… another flash.

Something I recognize! Skrall! Hundreds of them… but they look different than I remember. I look around and see Tahu standing next to me… he looks younger than before, not as damaged, and he’s… shouting orders about something. It’s hard to hear him over the noise of battle commencing, as more Toa and Glatorian meet and fight the Skrall… flash again.

Now I’m on a hill, overlooking the aftermath of some battle that happened below. The yellow creatures… there’s hundreds of them, all dead. Some Glatorian and Agori are littered among them. I look up to see more fighting happening in the distance, and something… something is casting a giant shadow over the landscape. I turn too look, but suddenly my vision fills with red… I hear clashing swords, a sick, gurgling sound, then everything is black again. A voice calls to me from the distance… I can’t distinguish what it’s trying to tell me. Flash again…

-*-*-*-

Suddenly, I was wide awake. My heart was pounding, I was breathing heavily, and I was drenched in sweat. What kind of nightmare was that? I looked around, trying to get my bearings again. I was still on the beach… the sky was starting to lighten over the ocean to the east; sunrise would come soon. I noticed Kopaka was still sitting on that boulder, but slumped over. I made my way over to him. He was asleep, shut down in that position. Looking around, I could see that the beach was still empty apart from us. Then, I spotted something on the ocean horizon; some kind of island. It was too far out for me to make out anything but a silhouette in the dim light.

“You see it?” I was shocked to find Kopaka was now awake.

“S-see what?”

Kopaka pointed out over the water. “The fingers.”

“What fingers?”

“That is where the Makuta fell,” he explained. “Those islands were his fingers.”

“Oh… The battle! The Makuta fell in the ocean! I remember that!” I looked again, trying to distinguish these ‘fingers’ in more detail, but it’d have to wait until after sunrise. There just wasn’t enough light there. I turned back to Kopaka. “Were you there?”

“I was.” Suddenly, what had happened clicked for me.

“Were you thinking about that, about what happened then?” I asked him.

“Yes.”

“Oh… were there yellow monsters with red, glowing eyes?”

“Rahkshi of heat vision.”

“So it was…” knowing didn’t really make me feel better. “I… I think that I might have picked up on some of that…”

“While you were asleep?” He sounded… surprised, perhaps even a little indignant about it, and rightfully so.

“Yes…” I felt embarrassed. I’ll admit I wasn’t the best at controlling my abilities at the time, but now Kopaka had seen it happen twice... and I could tell he disapproved. Accidentally picking up on things like that, reading minds while asleep… it showed that lack of control, that inexperience. I felt like an Agori child who’d just wet their bed. “Sorry…”

“It is fine. You will learn. You wanted to see it anyway, did you not?” Even though he said it was fine, the tone of his voice said it wasn’t. Not keen on elaborating further, he got up, pulled up his hood, and started for the stairs up the seawall that marked the end of the beach and the start of the city. I followed behind, but my mind wasn’t fully in the present; I was still trying to piece together the fragments of that memory, of that dream, especially the end. Whose voice was that, shouting at the end? And what were they trying to get across?

As we headed south along the road parallel to the beach, I started to pay more attention to the city waking up around us; on various piers I could see Ga-Matoran and Water Agori preparing their vessels for a day of fishing at sea, and a few seaside shops and restaurants were just opening up. Kopaka didn’t seem to be paying as close attention to what was around us as he usually did; he was pondering something. He actually stopped once to look around and get a better idea of the layout of the beach and everything on it, and his eyes fell on “Daila’s Dermis Shack,” a picturesque little place with a covered terrace over the beach. Apparently, it was time for breakfast, which I greatly welcomed.

A stocky water Agori who I could only assume was Daila was making preparations for the day inside the kitchen hut. We approached the hut’s front counter and proceeded to inspect a large board that showed the breakfast menu. It wasn’t long before Daila took notice.

“Well, you folks are up early,” she remarked as she approached the counter with a smile. “And Toa, nonetheless. What can I get you two?” Kopaka pointed at the third item on the menu; dermis soup. “Dermis soup, eh? Any side with it?” The Toa of Ice pointed at ‘pokawi strips’ listed under ‘sides’ on the board. “So, dermis soup and pokawi…” Daila noted, “and for you, ma’m?”

“What’s the three-gafna dish?” I inquired.

“Three types of gafna cubes on a seaweed bed,” Daila explained. “You can choose the types if you prefer.”

“Sounds nice, I’ll take it. You pick the types.”

“Will do,” Daila noted. “Any side with that?”

“Pokawi strips sound nice.”

“Three-Gafna and pokawi it is, then.” Daila concluded. “Two tickets or together?” Kopaka held up two fingers, answering that question. By this point, I was starting to find his silent of way of dealing with Matoran and Agori quite amusing to watch; he could get so much across with just a gesture or two, while they were left wondering who this weird figure was. “Separate tickets…” Diala noted down, “okay! Should be out in a few minutes!”

Kopaka made his way onto the terrace, found the one table that was Toa-sized, and took the seat facing east, overlooking the sea. I took the chair facing south, giving me a prime view of the shoreline, but that wasn’t what I was really interested in. No, I could sense that hint of anxiety in Kopaka again, coupled with that sense that he was mulling over something; for some reason he really wasn’t looking forward to this meeting. Looking around, I couldn’t find anyone within earshot of us, and judging by the sounds coming from the kitchen, Daila would keep herself busy, so I decided to try and get the reason out of him.

“So, you finally get to see Gali again,” I began. No reply. Hm… “Excited?”

“You would know if I was.” Okay, fair point.

“So you’re not.” Again, no reply. It seemed that I wouldn’t get anywhere with the indirect approach, though given that this was Kopaka that really shouldn’t have surprised me. “Mind if I ask why? Your entire reason for coming down here was to meet her again, to get her to fix that busted leg, right?”

“Yes.”

“So, you could be better by tonight. Isn’t that exciting?”

“I suppose.” The Toa of Ice didn’t do ‘excited.’ Not on the outside, at the very least, but I quickly got the impression that even inside there wasn’t much in the way of joy left to repress; it might well have been the one emotion that Kopaka had been able to eliminate from his mind completely. That certainly would’ve explained his generally dour demeanor, come to think of it.

“I don’t know… I think I’d feel a little happier knowing I was about to get better.”

“So long as Gali still cares about duty,” Kopaka said with a hint of spite in his voice.

“I think she will.” I really did. From what I’d seen already, I didn’t get the impression that Gali was the type to give up easily on something… then again, I would’ve been pretty furious at the other Toa if I’d been in her position during the split. I couldn’t imagine it would’ve left anything but a bad mark on her, and she could still have been bitter about that. Was she really the type to let that override her concern for others, though? I concluded that she wasn’t. “And believe me, if I know anything, it’s how to read people.” I regretted making that statement the moment it left my lips.

“Of course you do. You do it even when you do not intend to,” Kopaka said critically. “Before you assert confidence in your powers, you should know to use them properly. Particularly yours.”

“Yeah, I should…” I admitted. Suddenly I felt ashamed again. “I-I’m working on it.”

“I am not talking about the lack of control,” Kopaka continued, “I am talking about your frivolous use of it. You have been reading my mind at every spare moment since we met, have you not?”

“Kinda, yeah…”

“You should consider that some things are better left hidden. Your powers were given to you for the protection of Matoran and Agori, not to satisfy your curiosity. There is a reason your kind was made female rather than male.” There was? That was the first I’d heard of it…

“Why is that?”

“Imagine your abilities in the hands of someone as temperamental as Tahu, or someone as careless as Lewa,” Kopaka explained. “Fire, lightning, stone, air… they destroy bodies. You? Your powers can destroy minds; a far more dangerous thing. In its own way, psionics is the most powerful of the elements; the great beings therefore saw fit that the more gentle of the sexes should be given custody over it.” Really? That’s why Ce-Matoran were female? That wasn’t written in our legends anywhere.

“Seems like a bit of a generalization to me.” It did, quite uncomfortably so, in fact. Then again, it was probably true to a large extent, though no one seemed to know why… Really, Matoran and Toa gender was a strange thing. At least with the Agori there were… understandable reasons for why the sexes had their associated characteristics; not so with us.

“It was not one of their smarter decisions,” Kopaka asserted, “but it is done with now. Point is, you have been given abilities whose use can have tremendous consequences for you and everyone around you, and whose use raises many questions. Use them wisely.”

“I will.” I was intent on taking his advice, but what defined ‘using them wisely?’ I’d spent a lot of time thinking about that… in fact, I still don’t think I have all the answers.

Edited by Scorpion_Strike
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Chapter 11

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It wasn’t long before Daila showed up with our breakfast.

The gafna cubes were interesting; they were small, roasted pieces of gafna meat, colored and spiced according to the gafna type they came from. Turns out fire gafna is typically spicy, no surprise there, ice gafna are quite mild, and air gafna are… well, light. I wasn’t much a fan of the seaweed, but the pokawi was a good choice. Kopaka offered no comments on his food, though the dermis soup looked tasty from my side of the table. Meal finished, he paid Daila in his usual silent, no-nonsense way, I did the same, and we were off, heading south along New Atero’s shoreline.

Traffic was picking up already. Matoran and Agori were moving about, their day just beginning. Kopaka’s pace was slower than usual; another indication that he wasn’t really looking forward to what was coming. Were Tahu’s warnings causing him to doubt? I wasn’t sure, but in light of our breakfast conversation I didn’t want to read into him deeper to find out. Instead, as we continued past one block after the other, I was beginning to wonder just where exactly Kopaka hoped to find Hahli’s place.

“Tahu said ‘a few blocks south of the station,’ right? Any clue where we’re at now?” I asked.

“Level with the station.” Kopaka said dryly.

“So, it should be on the right here pretty soon…” I started looking that way, but how could one recognize the house of a Toa among those of Matoran? Was there some key difference to look for?

Turns out it was easy. In each street we passed, houses had been built together in rows, but Matoran and Agori had decorated them according to their own tastes. One that caught my eye, and certainly Kopaka’s, was a larger house that looked like someone had just joined two neighboring ones together. Next to the door, four small stone tiles with carvings of various Kanohi masks were fixed to the wall.

“Recognize the masks?” I asked Kopaka as we stood in the street, looking at the place.

“Great Arthron, great Faxon, great Garai, noble Huna.” Kopaka named them off one by one.

“Is Gali’s one of those?”

“She had a noble Huna, but it is not her usual mask. Hahli is the only living Toa I know of that wears a Faxon, though.” Kopaka stepped forward, making his way across the small front lawn to the door. He knocked and waited. No response.

“Try the doorbell,” I suggested. He did. Still no response. “No one home?”

“It appears not.”

”So now what?”

“Wait until they return.” Kopaka turned and headed across the street, where a small terrace and fountain were nestled among the houses.

“That’s it?” Sigh… I was not looking forward to another day spent waiting on what amounted to another park bench, but Kopaka took a seat facing the house and, surprise surprise, quickly entered his meditative state again. At least, I thought he did, but when I was about to take a seat, he turned to me:

“I can handle it from here. You can go”

“Handle what?”

“You came along because you wanted to make sure I got here, did you not?”

“Kind of…” What had caused me to follow him onto that train? Concern? Curiosity? A mix of both, I think.

“Well, I am here. All I need to do now is wait, which as you know is no issue for me; I will be here for hours, and I know you would rather be somewhere else during that time. So go.” I was kind of surprised by that… I technically could have left at any time, but here he was specifically telling me to go. “Thank you, goodbye,” he added.

I was amazed at the ‘thank you,’ but much as I was trying not to read into him too deeply in light of the morning’s conversation, I couldn’t help but still detect that anxiety in him, and I really wanted to figure out what that was all about. However, even with no plans to go anywhere else, I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to spend my day on this terrace just waiting for someone who probably wouldn’t show up until the late afternoon at the earliest, especially when the beach was literally yards away. But he still had to show me the final battle, and that wasn’t going to happen here, because… public place.

“Look,” I said to him, “you’re right that I’d rather be elsewhere right now, but I don’t want to just... leave. You still have to show me the final battle, for one.”

“Not here, not now.” Figured.

“Fine, but I’ll be right out there on the beach,” I gestured in the direction of the beach, “and I’ll be back in a few hours. You still owe me that one.”

“Fine. Go.” So I did. With the city settled into its daily routine, the beach was anything but busy. I spent some time strolling further south, looking at the various shops and stands set up along the coastal road along the way. The main harbor of the city loomed in the distance. Eventually, I found myself sitting at the end of an empty pier, enjoying the peace and silence.

I was still thinking about what Kopaka had said about my powers in the morning… he was right that I used them a lot, probably more often than was warranted given that no Matoran were actually in danger, but… was it really doing any harm? I mean, being a Toa of Psionics naturally comes with an innate, always active ability to read surface thoughts and feelings, which was most of what I’d been doing, and I think people more or less expected that. I couldn’t just turn it off, though come to think of it there were plenty of times when I’d wanted to. In a crowd, especially an excited one like the crowd at the arena fights, all the accumulated surface readings just become loud static, a jarring noise that’s exhausting to have to deal with; just being in a crowded city was sometimes annoying. Try wearing a Suletu at some point, and you’ll get a good idea of what it’s like. That silence I was enjoying at the end of the pier? It was mental silence; being far enough away from anyone else that I couldn’t hear them.

The silence was broken when I sensed someone approaching along the pier. I turned to see a Ga-Matoran standing there; she looked a little weathered and aged, but lively.

“Hi,” she smiled.

“Uhm… hello.”

“I’m Macku,” she introduced herself with an outstretched hand. I shook it.

“Lis.”

“Lis?” Macku thought for a moment. “Are you one of those new Toa from the south? The ones that fought the Skakdi?”

“Yes… yes, I am.” I was a bit surprised this Matoran knew of me and my fellow Toa… we hadn’t really done that much, had we? “Though, I wouldn’t say we fought them, per se.”

“Well, that was rumor,” Macku acknowledged, “but whatever you guys did, it worked. Or was that rumor too?” she joked.

“No, the Skakdi stepped down…” I was still rather perplexed by what exactly her interest in me was. “Sorry, is there something you want?”

“No, not really. I just like meeting new Toa, and I hadn’t seen you around before.”

“Well, guess I fit that criterion.”

“Toa always have interesting stories,” Macku continued, “that and you looked like you could use someone to talk to.”

I gave a half-hearted chuckle. “Yeah, I probably do… lots to think about.”

“Figures,” the Ga-Matoran smiled. “First time in the city? Trying to get away from the noise?”

“Yes and yes.” Okay…

“Exhausting to listen to, isn’t it?” She leant onto one of the bollards. “All the thoughts, the… what did they call it?... mental noise, I think.” Wow… where’d this Ga-Matoran gotten the knowledge of that? Was she somehow a mind-reader too?

“Yes… how do you know?”

“Oh, a friend of mine used a Suletu for a while,” Macku explained. “Said it was exhausting.”

“Using a Suletu... was he a Toa as well?”

“Yeah, his name’s Kongu. Like I said, I know quite a few Toa. He’s got some stories too.”

“You happen to know a Toa by the name of Hahli?”

“You kidding?” Macku laughed. “I live with her! Okay, she’s gone most of the time for her job, but we’re really close. I mean, I played on our village’s kolhii team with her when she was still a Matoran!”

“Really?” Fancy that… Then I remembered one of the mask plates next to the door of Hahli’s place had shown a noble Huna; Macku wore a noble Huna.

“Of course! Just out of curiosity, why’d you ask?”

“Oh…” how much to tell… “I have a friend who’s looking for her, or rather for someone who is apparently living with her.” That was suitably vague, I think.

“Is it me?” Macku feigned surprise.

“No… Actually, I should probably let him explain.”

“Well, I’ve got time,” Macku said. “Who’s this friend of yours?”

“Uhm… I don’t think he’s too keen on me giving anything away. He’s a bit paranoid.” I didn’t think of Kopaka as paranoid, but describing him in any more accurate way probably would have alerted this Toa-savvy Matoran to his true identity. “But I know where he is.” I got up and started down the pier again, heading back to the terrace with Macku making conversation close behind.

“Correction. I know where he was.” We’d reached the terrace; it was empty. Kopaka had simply vanished.

“He was right here, sitting across the street?” Macku asked, surprised. “Why didn’t you guys knock?”

“We did, but no one answered,” I said bitterly. What made Kopaka think it was okay just to leave like that? Where’d he gone?

“Ah… Hewkii was probably already out, then,” Macku concluded. “Darn. Think your friend’ll come back?”

“He’ll have to.”

“Well, in that case, why don’t you come over?” Macku invited. “I was about to make lunch anyways. Maybe he’ll show up soon.”

“Yeah, okay, I guess…” my mind was a bit preoccupied. I’d told Kopaka I’d be back, and he’d told me he’d still be here, right? And he’d just left. I was right to feel betrayed, especially considering how much value Kopaka apparently placed on honesty and duty; didn’t making a promise make fulfilling that promise part of one’s duty? Screw it; next opportune moment, I was going to tell Macku.

I followed the excitable Ga-Matoran into the house, where I was somewhat surprised to find that everything, and I mean everything, was Toa-sized. All the chairs, tables, other furniture. Heck, Macku needed a step stool to comfortably prepare something on the Toa-height kitchen counters. Apparently lunch would consist of Ruki subs.

“So, you live here with Toa Hahli and Hewkii?” I asked.

“Yeah. Hewkii’s a Toa too; we go way back.” I could sense there was a bit more to her relationship with Hewkii than just ‘old friends.’ “Toa Jaller lives here too; he works with the police force now. Hewkii coaches the Po-Matoran Kolhii team and plays on the Toa Team with Jaller.”

“And they were all part of the Toa Mahri?”

“Still are,” Macku asserted. “Kongu and Nuparu occasionally drop by, and they all have a great time talking about all they’ve been through together. I like to listen along; we’ve all known each other since we were Matoran back on Mata Nui.”

“Sounds great.” They hadn’t broken up. This fascinated me; unlike the Toa Nuva, the Toa Mahri never broke up. Why? What did they have that the Toa Nuva didn’t?

There was another issue that I felt rather hesitant to mention: what about Gali? Wasn’t she supposed to be here too? As we talked over lunch, I increasingly got the impression that Macku was holding something back, though certainly not for any malicious reason. Still, it almost had to be related to Gali; that or Tahu had been completely wrong about her actually being here. Didn’t think so, though, because I sensed someone else in the building… or so I thought. It was extremely vague; a mere hint of a presence that could well have been that of someone passing by in the street except it was constantly here. I wanted to figure out more, but I couldn’t focus on it while keeping up conversation with Macku.

The Ga-Matoran kept up a lively conversation all the way through, quite a change from my company of over the last two days. She apparently gave boat tours that led past various islands comprised of remnants of the Makuta robot, including the ‘fingers’ that Kopaka’d pointed out to me in the morning. She hoped to one day start diving expeditions into the old universe itself, though the scale of such an undertaking meant that she’d have to organize it with Hahli’s help. Speaking of Hahli, I got to hear lots about how she and Macku had won the last great Kolhii tournament on Mata Nui, beating Jaller and Hewkii in the process.

“The only time I ever beat those guys in that game,” Macku joked.

Whenever she talked about Hewkii, I could sense an emotional spike that I couldn’t quite identify. Some kind of joy, but… more intense, and more focused on the other person. Macku felt that whenever she was with Hewkii, whenever she described him even. It felt great, yet so alien. I’d never sensed anything quite like it from a Matoran or Toa before. I’ll say this, though: the language she used to describe him sounded a lot more like how an Agori or Glatorian couple would describe each other than what any Matoran would ever use…

“Would you like anything else to eat?” Macku asked when we’d finished our lunch.

“No thanks, I’m good.” I wasn’t much a fan of Ruki fish, but Macku had managed to make it taste pretty good.

“Well, unfortunately, I do have another boat tour to give this afternoon, so I can’t stay and chat forever” the Ga-Matoran admitted as she collected the dishes, “but if you’d like to come along, I’d be happy to give you the ride.”

“I’d like that, actually.”

“Great!”

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Chapter 12

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Macku’s boat wasn’t a particularly large one; besides me and her, there were three Agori, a Glatorian, and a party of four Matoran; with all of us on board the seats were quite filled. Macku, as it turned out, did not actually do much of the sailing; that honor fell to another old friend of hers from the days of Mata Nui: Pelagia. Pelagia was another Ga-Matoran, who before we set off explained that the boat we were on had been constructed using “traditional techniques” and she’d been sailing vessels like this one ever since she’d set up Mata Nui’s first ferry line between Ga-Koro and Po-wahi. Our route for the afternoon would take us first to the Fingers, then south to the spot below which the giant robot’s head was located, after which we’d sail west over the body to arrive at the only parts of the robot that were still above sea-level; its legs.

While we sailed east to the Fingers, Macku provided us all with some background information: created by the Great Beings, the giant robot was once controlled by the Great Spirit, Mata Nui, and the universe inside had been home to Toa, Matoran, Vortixx, Skakdi, and a whole host of other races. Unfortunately, among the inhabitants were the Makuta, who eventually moved to try and take over the place under the leadership of one Makuta Teridax. Teridax, through a series of plots, machinations, and a fiendishly complicated plan too long and intricate for me to detail here eventually managed to seize control of the robot and banished Mata Nui, who ended up on Bara Magna.

During his time on Bara Magna, Mata Nui came to realize it was his destiny to reform Spherus Magna in its entirety, and in order to do so, with help from the Agori and Glatorian, he collected parts of and re-assembled what had been a prototype giant robot left on Bara Magna. Teridax got wind of the activity and arrived just as Mata Nui was trying to pull the fragmented planets back together using the power of the prototype robot, and the event known as the “Battle for Bara Magna” ensued. Eventually, Mata Nui killed Teridax by causing a fragment of Aqua Magna to smash into the back of his head, and the giant robot had collapsed here, after which all its inhabitants had abandoned it.

And now it was a tourist destination. Go figure.

The Fingers were a pretty inhospitable looking set of three curved pillars that rose straight out of the sea, looming over our tiny ship and giving us a pretty good idea of just how tiny and insignificant we were in the grand scheme of things… Seriously, the top of each finger, now thoroughly colonized by plantlife and flying rahi, could have held a small city, and this was just part of one of this giant device’s hands. After sailing a circle around the fingers, we set off southwards while Macku explained how everything below us, other than the giant robot, had in fact once been Aqua Magna, while Bota Magna was now located on almost the polar opposite side of the reformed planet.

The giant robot’s head had to be the most spectacular thing we got to see, though. It was resting close enough to the ocean surface that, looking down into the relatively clear water, we could actually see it. At first, we didn’t even realize it, since to the untrained eye the view below just looked like the regular, rough ocean floor, but once Macku started pointing out how various ridges, crests, and other features combined to make a part of the face, we got an appreciation for just how incredibly big this thing was… we spent close to an hour sailing in a crisscrossing pattern over the head just so we could get to see most of it. Really, it was staggering.

Most of the body was too deep down for us to see, but we could see the next major point in our tour from very far off: the giant robot’s legs, which rose from the ocean to reach hundreds of miles inland. The knees were just about on the shoreline, so only the robot’s shins and feet were actually on land, but just to give an idea of the scale: nothing had been built within fifty miles or so of the legs anywhere, due to the fact that the shadow they cast over the landscape made it hard to grow anything there.

With all of us thoroughly impressed by the sheer awe and magnitude of the giant robot even when it was lying mostly underwater, Pelagia set a course back to New Atero, sailing close enough to the shore that we could see the harbor and the rest of the city’s beaches in great detail. Along the way, Macku explained how the remaining parts of the prototype robot had been scrapped and recycled to build the city, but the other one had been left as-is since most of it was underwater, making salvage all but impossible. She closed off with a short talk on how she was planning to someday be part of an expedition to venture back into the lost universe, to bring back footage and artifacts important to Matoran history.

After the boat was once again securely tied to the dock from which we’d set off, the other guests thanked the two Ga-Matoran and departed, though their conversation indicated the tour really had left an impression. Pelagia assured Macku that she’d make sure everything concerning the boat was taken care of, so she and I set off down the dock as well. By now, it was late evening.

“So, what’d ya think?” Macku asked.

“Very impressive… and to think that all Toa and Matoran lived in that thing at one point.” I was still trying to get my head around that.

“Oh, it was beautiful,” Macku remembered, “until Teridax took over, that is. He turned the place into a nightmare. By the time the final battle ended, we were jumping up and down to leave.”

“And now you’re trying to get back in,” I smiled. “After the place has been dead and wrecked for thousands of years.”

“Yeah, I’m not expecting to find much intact,” Macku acknowledged, “but imagine if we could actually get video footage in there… to see what’s left.”

“And the whole thing’s flooded now, right?”

“Near as we can tell. Apart from anything above water level, like the legs.”

“Wow… You know, I think I’d like to be a part of that someday.” I really did. I’d never seen the inside of that robot; in fact, until today I’d never actually seen the physical thing from the outside. To call it awe-inspiring didn’t do it justice.

“You should talk to Hahli about it,” the Ga-Matoran suggested. “She’s the one who’s really driving the project, being a reporter and all. That and Jaller and Hewkii wouldn’t mind either, though they’re a bit worried about what all might be living down there in the dark these days.”

“Understandable.”

“And look at that, home sweet home,” Macku said. We’d reached her house again.

“Looks like someone’s already in,” I pointed out, noting that there were lights on inside. The door was already open; when we entered, Macku announced herself in no uncertain terms:

“I’M HOME!”

“Be right down!” a female voice called from upstairs.

“Looks like Hahli’s home,” Macku said, after which she shouted back up the stairs: “We’ve got a guest! Make sure you’re presentable!”

“Presenting is kind of my job, you know!” Hahli called back mockingly. “You ever seen me not being presentable!?”

“Hahli’s fun,” Macku smiled. “Every morning!” she called back. “Anyway, make yourself comfortable.” She gestured towards the living room.

“I-I really don’t know whether I can stay long.” Come to think of it, what was I going to do? Go off looking for Kopaka again? Find some other job in the city? Keep wandering and looking for something to do as a Toa?

“Nonsense! We’ve got the space and any Toa is always welcome here,” Macku assured me as she made her way to the kitchen. “Want something to drink?”

“Sure. Some kind of juice, if you’ve got it.”

“Will do.”

The living room had enough chairs and couches for a whole Toa team to make themselves comfortable, and a large telescreen was set up to provide entertainment, though it was currently turned off. What got my attention, though, was a large, framed picture on the wall opposite the telescreen, showing all five Toa Mahri standing with the statue of the sixth, Matoro. So this was what a team of actual heroes looked like… They all stood in front in what I could only assume was full battle gear with the statue towering above and behind them. A small plaque on the frame read:

“The Toa Mahrii: Heroes of the Pit and Saviors of Mata Nui”

Saviors of Mata Nui? Weren’t the Toa Nuva the ones who did that? And what was this ‘pit’ they spoke of?

“Like it?” I turned to find Hahli standing in the doorway, and boy was she not what I’d expected.

“Y-yeah, it’s nice.” Yes, she still wore the Faxon, and she was definitely still affiliated with the element of water by color, but for a moment I thought I was looking at some kind of Toa-Glatorian hybrid. She was still recognizably a Toa in structure, but the shape reminded me a lot more of a female Glatorian than any kind of Toa I’d ever seen; it was honestly a bit freaky. Also, those thin braided extensions coming from the back of her head… was that imitating hair? She held herself with a kind of self-assured confidence, though.

Hahli walked up and looked at the picture. “Ah, what they call the good old days,” she smiled. “When we spent all our time chasing after the Ignika while monsters tried to kill us for it.”

“Uh… good thing you guys caught it.”

“Barely, but yeah, we did. Those days are well behind us now. Anyway, I’m Hahli, but you probably already knew that.” She extended her hand. I shook it.

“Lis.”

“Lis? A Toa of… psionics, I’m guessing?”

“Yes, yes. From the south.”

“Oh, I’ve heard about what went down there,” Hahli took a seat on one of the couches. “How were the Skakdi?”

“Oh, not all that much trouble in the end,” I took the seat across from her. “I mean, all we really had to do was show them that we actually were Toa, after which they pretty much caved.”

“Doesn’t sound like the Skakdi I remember,” Hahli pointed out. “But then again… they were also busy enslaving an island while pretending to be Toa themselves. The stakes were high back then.”

“Yeah, ours were just bandits,” I admitted.

“Drinks are here!” Macku entered the room with two glasses of fruit juice, setting one in front of each of us on the table.

“Thank you.”

“Looks like I’ll be frying up Hahnah for dinner,” Macku continued. “You two okay with that?”

“Sure,” Hahli answered.

“Hahnah sounds nice,” I said. I knew it was some sort of sea creature, but had never tasted one before.

“Hahnah it is, then.” Macku returned to the kitchen.

“When’d you meet her?” Hahli asked.

“This morning. She offered me lunch, we kept talking, and then she showed me her boat tour.”

“That definitely sounds like her,” Hahli took a sip from her juice. “She likes to take care of people, particularly Toa.”

“She taking care of you Toa, then?” I asked.

“Kind of,” the Toa of Water explained. “I mean, we’re all perfectly capable of managing ourselves, but if any of us does the cooking we’d end up living off of combat rations. She lives here anyways ‘cause she’s hitched to Hewkii, and she actually knows how to prepare something, so she does. The rest of us, we’re Toa; we do a lot better in battle than in home life.”

“So it seems… So what do you do now, then? I assume there isn’t some battle you’re preparing for.”

“Goodness no,” Hahli chuckled. “Imagine me going into battle like this.” Looking at her, that was hard to imagine. That physique might have worked for Glatorian, but there was a reason that the vast majority of successful fighting Glatorian were male, and I couldn’t imagine trying to fit a Toa’s anatomy into that shape did any good for their fighting ability. “No, I’m a reporter now. I was chronicler for a while back on Mata Nui, so it seemed like a good job for me, and I really like it.”

“Is that the reason… I mean, I don’t want to be rude…”

“This?” Hahli gestured at her own body.

“Yeah… it’s quite different from your picture.”

“Lotta modifications, yeah…” Hahli admitted. “Demographics.”

“Demographics?”

“Agori and Glatorian. They apparently have different standards of what looks appealing, and apparently for girls, ‘Toa’ does not fall under that. Of course, Matoran don’t have a problem with it, but that’s only half of potential viewers, you know? Basically, I got told that while I did a great job reporting on the actual news, they didn’t much like to look at me, which hurt our ratings.”

“I don’t get that.”

“Neither did I, but apparently it was enough of an issue for them to consider firing me. And what would I do then? So I told them that if looking like one of their Glatorian girls would help ratings, I’d be fine making a few… modifications, and this is what we ended up at.”

“That’s a lot to go through for a job.”

“It still is,” Hahli admitted, “but I’d rather have this than no job. The Toa Nuva made a pretty good warning of themselves in that department.”

“So I hear…”

“Granted, Jaller still doesn’t like that I went along with this. Says it’ll hurt me in a fight. Like we’ll ever need to fight anything again.”

“I mean, he’s kind of right, though…”

“He is,” Hahli laughed. “Imagine me carrying a cordak blaster like this; you know how heavy those things are? But as far as I’m concerned, the weapons can stay mounted on the wall now. Jaller can keep carrying his sword if he wants to, but these days the tool of my trade is the microphone.”

“What does Jaller do, then?”

“Works with the police force and city guard. He can probably explain it better when he gets home…” Hahli was interrupted by the sound of someone knocking on the front door. “Looks like we’ve got company,” she asserted.

“Can you guys get it? I’m kind of in the middle of something here!” Macku called.

“Yeah, we’ve got it!” Hahli got up and headed down the hallway for the door.

“Were you expecting visitors?” I asked.

“Not that I know of,” Hahli called back. I heard the sound of the door being opened. “Yes?”

“I am here to see Toa Gali.”

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Chapter 13

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I recognized the voice immediately: it was Kopaka.

“Toa Gali?” Hahli asked. “Sorry, she’s not here.”

“I was informed that she is here.”

“She’s not.”

“Reliably informed,” Kopaka added.

I entered the hallway only to see Hahli still holding her ground at the door, not stepping aside to let the cloaked figure in front of her in. Rather than interfere, I held myself back and mostly out of view. I was curious: why did Hahli keep saying Gali wasn’t here? And for that matter, what did Kopaka do if he didn’t know I was there?

“Your source is wrong. Sorry, but please go,” Hahli said impatiently.

“I highly doubt that.”

“What’s going on out there?” Macku called from the kitchen. “Shut the door! It’ll get cold in here!”

“Gali is here, I know it,” Kopaka continued.

“Look,” Hahli said, exasperated, “I told you she’s not! Who even told you she is?”

“I was told by Toa Tahu.”

“Oh… you know Tahu?” Hahli was a bit perplexed. “Couldn’t he come himself?”

“I am not here in his name.”

“Well who are you, then, to come here looking for Gali?”

“A friend. Former friend, perhaps.”

“Well, you’re going to have to do better than that before I let you in,” Hahli asserted. The cloaked Toa turned left and right, looking down the street presumably to see if anyone was there to recognize him.

Macku appeared from the kitchen wearing an apron, gloves, and holding what I could only assume was the carapace of a frozen hahnah crab. “Who is it, Hahli?” she asked. Then she noticed the cloaked figure standing in front of the door. “Well, who’s that, then? And why is the door still open?”

Apparently satisfied that he wasn’t getting any undue attention, the figure pulled back the hood of his cloak, revealing himself as Kopaka, Toa Nuva of Ice. Hahli was staggered. Macku all but dropped the crab.

“May I enter now?” Kopaka asked dryly.

“K-Kopaka? You’re alive!?” Hahli couldn’t believe it.

“I think that is obvious, and I would like to come in.” Kopaka said. Dumbfounded, Hahli stepped aside. Kopaka entered, after which she closed the door behind him. He spotted the Ga-Matoran down the hallway and gave an acknowledging nod. “Hello, Macku…” after which he turned back to the Toa on his left. “…and Hahli.” He eyed the Toa of Water head to toe. “You appear to have… changed somewhat,” he said with a hint of disapproval in his voice.

“Uhm… long story,” Hahli explained. “Where’ve you been, though?”

“Not your concern,” Kopaka said. “I came to see Gali.”

“Right…” Hahli clearly wasn’t all that thrilled about it. She sighed: “Well, if you have to… follow me.” She led the way down the hallway; I made sure to keep a wall between me and Kopaka, though in retrospect his default mask power made that rather pointless. Hahli led Kopaka to the stairwell at the end of the hallway, where they descended to the basement below.

“Who would’ve thought…” Macku mumbled. Then she spotted me. “You know anything about this?”

“He’s the friend was talking about earlier,” I replied.

“You’re his friend? Sorry if I find that a little hard to believe…”

“Well, I stuck around him for a while, and he appears to tolerate me.”

“Well, that’s about as close as it ever got with him,” Macku acknowledged. “You better go see what’s going on down there.”

I nodded and started down the stairs, using my Volitak to try not to make any noise as I did so. I found Kopaka and Lis standing in front of a door in the basement hallway.

“She’s in here,” Hahli said glumly.

“Thank you,” Kopaka turned to open the door, but Hahli put her hand on his shoulder to stop him.

“Look, at least let me know why you need to see her so badly,” she asked. “I know it’s none of my business, but I can’t just let you walk in there for nothing.” Kopaka sighed, then pulled his cloak aside enough to reveal his right leg, visibly shocking Hahli with its mangled appearance.

“I need that fixed,” he explained.

“Okay… that’s fine,” Hahli continued, “but just so you know, she’s not doing well. It’s… it’s been downhill ever since all of you broke up, and I tried… we all tried to help her, but she’s lost that drive she had… I’m just not sure if she’ll care anymore.”

“She will.”

“I hope so, but please don’t… please don’t go all Kopaka about her condition, okay? She’s broken enough already.”

Kopaka nodded. Hahli let go and stepped aside, after which he opened the door. Some indistinct noise that I concluded had to be some kind of telescreen broadcast emanated from the room. After Kopaka was out of sight, I approached the doorway. Hahli noticed and was about to say something, but I quickly planted the message in her head “don’t worry, I know him, and I’d like to see how this goes.” Apparently aware that telepathy was among the powers of Toa of Psionics, Hahli didn’t question. Instead, she moved past me waited by the stairs, leaning against the wall. I watched events unfold through the doorway.

The room was large and quite dark, only lit by a dim lamp on a side table and a small, early model telescreen on another table tuned to some Agori drama. Facing the telescreen and with its back to the doorway was an old, dilapidated couch; it, the tables, and the telescreen comprised all the furniture in the room. Trash was strewn about the place; old snack food bags, wrappers, dishes… I recognized two axe-like weapons lying in a pile of assorted rubbish in a corner. This place was worse than Tahu’s…

Gali was on the couch, watching the telescreen, but I could only see the back of her head at this point. Kopaka slowly made his way across the room; much to my surprise, he dropped the cloak about halfway there, then stopped and waited for a few seconds like he was expecting Gali to notice him. But nothing happened. He hesitantly cleared his throat to get her attention, but got no response; the Toa of Water was apparently very oblivious, but what confused me was how slowly and hesitantly he was going about this, what should have been the end of his journey.

Finally, he stepped forward again and awkwardly made his way around the right side of the couch, avoiding looking at Gali directly. When he reached a spot that that should have been roughly within her peripheral vision, he stopped and stood there, just looking ahead at the wall. He was still trying to get Gali to notice him passively… I focused in on his mind, trying to get some idea of what was taking him so long, and to my great surprise, I got one extremely powerful emotion: fear. Terrible, paralyzing fear. It explained his actions, but what did he have to be afraid of? Whatever it was, he really was forcing himself through this. Meanwhile, when I focused on Gali’s mind, it was as though there was almost nothing there; no activity, no thought, no emotion… she was all but shut down; not even dreaming.

After a minute, apparently tired of waiting, Kopaka finally turned to look at Gali for the first time in eight thousand years… and just about did a double take.

“G-Gali!?” Suddenly, it was like there wasn’t a shred of that stoic Toa of Ice left. He was floored, staggered, stunned… His jaw would have hit the floor if that had been physically possible, but at last he got Gali’s attention.

“What…” She slowly turned her head. At the sight of her brother, I could just see the Toa of Water’s eyes widen. “K-Kopaka? I-is that you?” There was something odd about her voice; it was… pressured, breathless. “Am I… Am I seeing things? Is that really you?” Kopaka barely nodded; his mouth was agape and he didn’t even blink. For a couple of seconds, neither Toa really seemed to believe what they were looking at. Then Gali noticed the state Kopaka was in, and almost immediately I felt a jolt of concern from her as her mind seemed to suddenly come alive. “By Mata Nui! What happened to you!?” she exclaimed.

“I might ask you the same thing…” Kopaka barely got it out, but Gali didn’t even notice. Instead, she got up… or attempted to. Somehow it was extremely difficult for her to get off that couch; while Kopaka watched with in utter disbelief, she rocked back and forth a few times, and eventually with a muffled grunt managed to rise to her feet. At that point, my jaw dropped as well; it was the first time I could see more of her than the back of her head, and I don’t want to be rude, but really the only word I could’ve used to describe her was ‘enormous.’ In light of the situation, I barely noticed it, but there was a jolt of regret, shame, and worry coming from Hahli’s direction. No prizes for guessing that this was the ‘condition’ that she’d been referring to.

Now standing in front of him, Gali got a much clearer image of Kopaka’s injuries, and for a moment she just stood there, shaking her head, trying to take it all in. Kopaka regathered his senses and eventually, with great difficulty, broke the silence.

“Gali… I… I need your help.” The words came out labored, forced… his voice sounded hoarse and broke. It was a grueling thing for him to say. I swear there were tears in his eyes; tears of frustration.

“What have you done to yourself…” Gali said, clearly not quite as concerned with Kopaka’s mental struggles. “That leg… how long has it been like that?” She moved in to get a closer look.

“It’s been some time…” Kopaka admitted, but he didn’t get further.

“And you’ve been walking on it? Like this!?” Before Kopaka could answer, she cut him off: “Never mind that. You’re coming with me. Right now.” With a surprising turn of speed, she headed for the door; I ducked back into the hallway. Gali appeared and turned to the stairs, shouting: “HAHLI!” Only then did she realize that her fellow Toa was right there, standing apparently flabbergasted at how things were progressing.

“Whatever we have in the medicine cabinet, get it to the guest room! Fast!” Gali ordered.

“Yes… yes of course. Yes!” Hahli dashed up the stairs, apparently… elated for some reason? Meanwhile, Gali headed back into the room. I quickly stepped forward to watch; she’d positioned herself next to Kopaka, who’d started across the room looking more old and broken than ever, and carefully tried to position her hands to support him.

“I will be fine,” Kopaka protested, trying with failing strength to push Gali aside, but the Toa of Water wouldn’t budge.

“No, you won’t,” she asserted.

“You can barely support yourself right now,” he argued with surprising edge to his voice. “I can manage.”

Gali winced at the statement for a moment; it was obvious what Kopaka was pointing out, and that it was a sore spot for her. But she didn’t give in. “Shut up,” she said. “Like it or not, I’m helping you.”

Surprisingly, Kopaka didn’t argue further. Really, I didn’t get why he’d argued in the first place; wasn’t his whole point in being here to get Gali’s help? I stepped away from the door again and watched them slowly make their way through the hallway, then up the stairs, where Gali made sure to stay behind Kopaka, just in case he’d fall. The day before, or even a few hours before, I would have thought that all but impossible, but from the way Kopaka moved now, it was obvious that he was struggling with that constant physical pain a lot more than before. Seeing Gali again, that shock… I think it tore down some of his mental barriers.

I followed a little ways behind the two old Toa, but broke off when they headed up to the second floor; clearly the guest room was upstairs, but I heard lots of commotion coming from a room next to the kitchen. It turned out to be a storage room, and the commotion consisted Hahli and Macku going through a bunch of shelves and cabinets, pulling out bottles and vials with a rather impressive variety of pills and potions.

“Wow… you guys have half a hospital in here,” I observed.

“Gali insisted on it, back when she cared,” Hahli explained. “Speaking of which, that’s the first time I’ve seen her off that couch in months.”

“Except to get some of my cooking,” Macku joked, though somehow it didn’t seem all that appropriate in the moment.

“Well, I for one am glad that at last she seems excited about something.” Hahli added.

“Not too sure it was excitement,” I voiced my concern. “You’re right that she cares for him, though.” Frankly, that was a relief; whether his reasoning was correct or not, Kopaka’s assertion that Gali would help had been correct. Why had it been so hard for him to ask for it, though?

“Whatever it is,” Hahli replied, “it’s got her moving. Frankly, that’s more than she’s done in years.”

“Really?” Okay, given her condition it wasn’t surprising, but how in the world had Gali gone from the passionate and energetic if emotionally shattered Toa that I’d seen in Kopaka’s memory to a listless, half-conscious mound that had practically been grafted to the couch?

“Yup. Coming through,” Hahli warned. She was carrying a basket filled with all manner of bottles. I stepped aside to let her through, then followed her up the stairs, where we headed down a hallway to an open door: the guest room. Inside, Kopaka was lying on the bed, fast asleep in spite of the fact that the light was on. Gali was sitting beside him, inspecting his leg more closely.

“Right, this is the first batch of what should still be good,” Hahli informed her.

“Please tell me there’s some pain killers in there,” Gali voiced her concern.

“I think so…” Hahli started pulling out some of the bottles and set them on a side table.

“Wow, asleep just like that?” I observed. “How’d you pull that off?”

“My brother’s exhausted,” Gali said. “I don’t think he’s slept in days. And who are you, by the way?”

“Lis,” I introduced myself. “I was with him, actually.”

“You brought him here?” She looked surprised.

“Not really… more like I followed him and he tolerated me,” I admitted. “Until this morning, when he just… left while I wasn’t looking.”

“Well, we’re lucky he made it,” Gali noted. “It’s not just his leg that’s in a poor state.”

“I’ve noticed that,” I said. “He’s got scars all over.”

“It’s not the scars, it’s what’s below,” Gali explained. “From the state he’s in… he had maybe a week left.”

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Chapter 14

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“Can we do anything?” Hahli wondered.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done… but yes, I think we can fix him.” Gali said somberly.

“How?” I asked.

Gali sighed. “Well, we should probably start with the most dangerous thing…”

“The leg?” I mean, it was the most severely damaged part of his body… on the surface.

“The leg is bad, but it won’t kill him,” the Toa of Water asserted. “He’d be better off if we looked at his pump first.”

“What’s wrong with it?” Hahli asked.

“Look at his heartlight,” Gali instructed, “then compare it to yours, or mine.” That we did; our heartlights all had a steady, bright beat, though Gali’s was noticeably quicker than Hahli’s or mine, but Kopaka’s was nowhere near as bright, and it seemed to hiccup… a lot. “His heart pump is damaged somehow,” Gali concluded; “it’s not keeping up a strong or steady flow.” She turned to Hahli. “You said we still had painkillers?”

“Uhm, yes…” Hahli sorted through a few bottles before coming up with one that contained a few green, speckled pills, which she handed to Gali.

“Hmm…” the elder Toa inspected the bottle’s worn-down label. “They’ll take the edge off, but I fear that we’ll need something stronger.”

“I think that’s all we have,” Hahli replied.

“We’re about to do surgery here, Hahli!” Gali replied, suddenly agitated. “I’d rather not have him wake up in the middle of it!”

“Surgery?” I wasn’t too keen on the idea of doing that in a guest room with only outdated medicine to work with.

“Yes! We’ll need a knive, a stitching kit, a toolbox…” Gali hurriedly counted off on her fingers.

“What’s all this about?” a voice came from the doorway. I turned to see Jaller standing there. Unlike the Toa of Water, he definitely was in full combat gear, and had changed very little from that picture. “Hahli, what’s going on?” he demanded. “I come home to find Macku frantically going through the cabinets, and now you’ve occupied a guest room…” then he noticed me. “And who are you?”

“Jaller!” Gali greeted him before I could reply, clearly taking the Toa of Fire by surprise with her presence. “Good thing you’re here: we need your help.”

“You’re up here too!? Help? With what?” Jaller entered the room, only to see Kopaka on the bed. Suffice to say he wasn’t much good at concealing his feelings on the mounting number of surprises. “I-is that… Is that Kopaka?” he asked. Hahli nodded. “What happened to him!?” Jaller looked to each of us for answers.

“Not important,” Gali said. “What is important is that we’re going to fix him.”

“So this is what it takes to get you out of the basement…” Jaller mumbled, still not really believing what he was seeing. “Fine then. You said I could help?”

“You could start by finding a toolbox,” Gali replied. “We’ll be doing surgery.”

“By Mata Nui, I hope this goes well…” Jaller moved out, presumably to retrieve the tools.

“How can I help?” I inquired.

Gali thought for a moment. “We’ll need to keep him out during the procedure… can you use Psionics to keep him asleep?”

“Uhm… I can give him pleasant dreams, maybe…” I wasn’t too sure. “Anything beyond that would be stabbing in the dark at mind control, and I’m not really comfortable with that.”

“Well, keep an eye on what he’s thinking,” Gali said as she created some water in her hand and used it to maneuver one of the pain killer pills down Kopaka’s throat. “That should help with any chance of pain signals waking him up… but if you could try to block out pain it would help a lot.”

“I think he does that rather well himelf,” I joked half-heartedly, “but I can do it.”

So I prepared to try and isolate Kopaka’s mind from... well, his body. It’s tricky, you see, because much of what I can actually ‘see,’ if you can call it that, is the mind reacting to what the body sends it… and I basically was trying to cut some of the signals by putting up a psionic barrier. There was no telling how that would alter Kopaka’s experience, though in theory it should’ve made the whole procedure like a peaceful night’s sleep to him. Meanwhile, Gali instructed Hahli to go find her Akaku Nuva, the knife, and the sowing kit from earlier, while she and I busied ourselves with removing Kopaka’s chestplate. When Hahli returned with the mask, Gali used it to inspect the insides of his body more closely; she wasn’t much thrilled at what she saw, but before she could explain what concerned her, Jaller arrived with a pretty expansive set of tools.

From that point on, the operation was in full gear. Gali used a knife to carefully cut through muscle strands that enveloped the chest, laying bare the core structure beneath; a mesh cage that contained and protected the vital organs. Worryingly, the mesh already looked like it had taken a lot of hits and had been shoddily repaired more than once. Wire cutters from Jaller’s kit made opening it up a quick job, but all of us except Gali were staggered when we saw inside… much of the cavity was filled with the air exchangers, but these were deeply scarred and had clearly sustained multiple cutting and stabbing wounds.

“We’ll have to stitch those up too…” Gali noted. However, the most shocking was the state of the pump, located in the center of the chest right behind where the heartlight was before we pulled it aside with the mesh. It was in bad shape; the housing was cracked, though thankfully nothing appeared to be leaking out, and it had a large dent on one side. It produced an ominous rattling sound, as though something inside was constantly banging against the bent housing.

“How’d it get cracked like that?” Hahli asked.

“The cold…” Jaller observed, “it makes metal brittle. The pump housing got too cold, then something hit it hard… producing the dent and the cracks.”

“Too cold for a Toa of Ice?” I found that hard to believe.

“He can deal with it better than we can,” Gali explained, “but he is far from invulnerable. There’s also a lot of dirt in his system.”

“So… his heart’s smashed and his blood’s dirty…” I concluded.

“I can deal with the blood,” Gali said. “Water cleanses… but the state of the pump is another matter, which is why you’re here.” She pointed at Jaller. “Fire welds.”

“Woah!” Jaller reacted. “Fixing Tahu’s armor, fine, but I’m not heating a running heart pump close to melting point. It’d kill him!”

“I can’t very well take it out for you,” Gali countered, increasingly frustrated, “and if we don’t fix that dent and the cracks, this thing’ll soon stop on its own! Of course, then you can take your sweet time fixing it up, except WE WON’T HAVE A TOA LEFT TO PUT IT IN!” Her heartlight flashed bright… the stress of the situation, coupled with these outbursts, were not doing her already taxed body any favors.

“Okay, okay!” Jaller raised his hands. “I’ll do it, but you’ll have to guarantee it’s safe first.”

“Thank you.” Gali was still on edge. She took a few deep breaths, then set about explaining: “Blood’s mostly liquid protodermis. Hahli can keep it flowing through there no matter what you do, and it’ll take care of the cooling, as long as we don’t have the pump too hot for too long. It won’t be comfortable for Kopaka, but that’s what she’s here for.” She nodded to me.

“I’m on it,” I assured him. “I’m Lis, by the way.”

“Please, Jaller,” Hahli pleaded.

“Fine…” Jaller sighed. “If we’re all so intent on doing this, I suppose we’d better get to it.”

For the next three hours, Hahli and Jaller were a team in sync, surprisingly. Jaller carefully repeated a process of finding a crack, heating the area around it until the metal turned red, and then lightly hammering it closed, while Hahli kept up blood pressure on the inside to keep the pump itself clear. The large dent was handled that way as well; heated until the metal was soft enough to manipulate, after which both Hahli and Gali carefully pressed the blood against it on the inside to push out and restore the area to its original shape. The operation was difficult because they had to shape the flow to pressure that one area of the housing without allowing it to slow down too much; the latter option would’ve stopped the pump completely, which would’ve been catastrophic. On the plus side, once the dent was (mostly) gone, the ominous rattling sound stopped.

By the end, the pump looked far from new, but it was a great improvement, and when we temporarily closed the mesh and re-connected the heartlight, it already displayed a much more consistent beat than the day before, though still a weak one. However, by that point we were all well exhausted.

“You need me to weld the mesh closed as well?” Jaller asked, not sounding excited about the prospect. “We’ve passed midnight here, and I don’t have much left in me.”

“Neither do I…” Hahli admitted.

“The imminent danger has been averted,” Gali concluded. “We’ll have to work on the air exchangers, but not tonight.” She turned to me: “You can stop now, too.”

“Are you sure?” I was still blocking pain signals left and right. “His chest is still open, and his body doesn’t like that.”

“It’ll hurt him,” Gali took out another pain killer pill and gently washed it down Kopaka’s throat, “but you need the break.”

“Okay then…” I broke off contact. I would’ve gone for hours longer if needed, but now that I wasn’t focusing on Kopaka anymore, I realized just how taxing an activity it was; I was exhausted, too. Now that we had all disengaged for the moment, we could at last breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, Kopaka’s chest was still open, and nothing’d been done about the air exchangers, but the most imminent problem had been apparently solved.

“Thanks for helping me press out that dent,” Hahli turned to Gali.

“It would have been nice if you’d jumped in a little more often,” Jaller commented to the older Toa. He had a point: apart from when they were working out the big dent, Gali had mostly sat by and offered occasional advice. “Why didn’t you?”

“Because I’m going to be up all night keeping an eye on him and cleansing his blood,” Gali said.

“And how do you plan to do that?” Jaller said with a surprisingly cynical tone. “Put it through a sieve?”

“In a way,” Gali replied coldly.

“Well, I’ll let you get to sieving then.” Jaller got up.

“I’ll check in with you in the morning, okay?” Hahli told Gali, before yawning and getting up as well.

“Of course… good night.” Gali turned her attention back to Kopaka as Jaller and Hahli left the room.

“I can stay, if you need me…” I offered.

“Not as much as you need sleep right now,” Gali said quietly. “Go, get some rest. I’ll probably need your help again tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, then.” I got up and stepped out as well. Then I realized I should’ve probably asked Hahli about where I was expected to stay, or if I was going to stay the night at all. With all the chaos concerning Kopaka, I hadn’t really considered it, and I wanted to make sure it was okay with them first. Following her and Jaller, I got about halfway down the stairs when I heard them talking in the living room.

“What do you mean, routine?” Hahli asked.

“I mean that this has happened before.” Jaller said, sounding rather agitated. “It’s like this every time Tahu stops by, and I don’t like where it’s going.”

“But this time’s different,” Hahli argued. “For one, that isn’t Tahu lying up there!”

“An insignificant detail,” Jaller countered. “Things’ll play out the same as they always have.”

“Kopaka is dying!” Hahli exclaimed. “Don’t you see how much more important that is than Tahu’s little scratches? Gali knows that! This’ll be the time we’ve been waiting for!”

“The time you’ve been waiting for, and no it won’t!” Jaller argued. “Kopaka’ll wake up at the end of it, and he’ll be just like Tahu: he’ll point out the truth, she can’t take it, he leaves, and all the progress you say she’s making will be gone! Again!”

“Kopaka isn’t like that!” Hahli shot back. “He’s critical, maybe, but I told him not to bring it up and he promised!”

“He did? Really?” Jaller was skeptical.

“Okay, fine, I asked him and he nodded yes!” Hahli admitted. “But that’s a promise, and Kopaka takes those seriously!”

“You think you know him that well!?” Jaller shouted in an almost mocking tone. “Kopaka is worse than Tahu! Tahu at least cares; Kopaka’ll tell the truth and bugger the consequences! After all this, she’ll be back in our basement, more depressed than ever, and mindlessly making her way through mountains of food and programs that we have to pay for!”

“Kopaka won’t destroy her like that! And regardless, we owe her our lives, so have some respect!” Hahli pleaded.

“We’ve been respectful, we’ve been patient, we’ve tried to help, and nothing’s worked!” Jaller was sick and tired of it. “If it takes a dying Toa to get her out of that basement...” he sighed. “Kopaka is only going to be here for so long. She’ll slip away again afterwards regardless of what he does.”

“She’s stronger than that!” Hahli argued, “and besides, your attitude is doing nothing to help her!”

Neither of them noticed, but as they continued arguing in the living room, the front door opened and Hewkii stepped into the hallway. I quickly activated my Volitak to remain hidden in the stairway. Hewkii put aside the Kolhii stick he’d been carrying, stretched, then seemed to realize there was an argument going on… and his cheerful expression instantly turned sour. He made his way to the living room, but stopped at the doorway and just leant against the wall, watching the argument unfold.

“Neither is yours, or Macku’s for that matter,” Jaller pointed out to Hahli. “You’re not doing her any favors by ignoring the truth! She’s destroying herself, she doesn’t care anymore, and you’re letting her!”

“She does care!” Hahli was getting emotional. “Don’t you ever talk with her!? She’s embarrassed! She feels useless! She’s ashamed! And you know what!? It only keeps her trapped down there! She just needs something to properly get going again… this is it!”

“And what if it isn’t!?” Jaller shot back. “I’m not doing this anymore! I’m not letting you throw away your income and your life just to keep her around and pity her!”

“That’s not your decision to make!” Hahli reminded him. “How I spend my earnings is none of your business!”

Hewkii cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Okay, that’s enough! Cut it out, cut it out…”

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Chapter 15

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I quietly made my way to the living room entrance to see what was happening.

“Really, you guys are having this same argument again!?” Hewkii exclaimed. “What’s the point!? I thought we agreed on her staying here so long as you footed the bill!” he gestured towards Hahli.

“We did, and I have no problem with that.” Hahli said. Both she and Jaller were trying to regain their composure.

“I didn’t either, but this has really gotten out of hand,” Jaller admitted. He turned back to Hahli: “at the rate things are going, she won’t even be able to walk soon. What’ll you do then? Help her to the bathroom, bathe her?”

“If I have to, I will,” Hahli asserted.

Jaller gestured wildly with his arms: “Don’t you see how ridiculous that is!? You’re willing to let her get to that point, and you’ll still help her when she gets there!”

“Okay, okay!” Hewkii interposed himself between the two. “This isn’t going anywhere, you realize that, right? Look at you; you’re both exhausted. Is this really the time to bring this up?”

Having seen and heard enough, I stepped back, only to almost trip over something. I turned to find Macku standing behind me. The look her face was a worried one.

“Oh, sorry…” she apologized quietly. “We-we’ve got another room, if you’d like to use it.”

“That’d be great,” I yawned. I followed Macku back up the stairs. “Do those happen often?”

“The arguments?”

“Yes.”

Macku sighed. “they do… every week or two that they argue about whether or not Gali can stay here. And every time Tahu shows up.” As we passed by the room where Gali and Kopaka were, I looked in. Gali was sitting by the side of the bed, leaning forward, and… doing something around the pump.

“Hang on, I’d like to take a look at this.” I stepped in to get a better look.

Gali had enveloped the entire pump in a bubble of water that she held suspended; she’d cut small holes in the lines leading into and out of the pump, diverting blood through the bubble instead… where she manipulated it to push dirt, small metal fragments, and other contaminants to the outside of the bubble, keeping them from re-entering the bloodstream. It was a slow, meticulous process, and the Toa of Water was intensely focused; she didn’t even notice my presence. That or she didn’t bother acknowledging it. Having seen enough, I rejoined Macku in the hallway.

“So, the surgery was a success, then?” Macku asked.

“Well, the pump is working better,” I informed her, “but Gali’s still keeping an eye on him while cleaning the blood.”

“She’s a miracle worker,” Macku said without a hint of doubt.

“I suppose she is.” I couldn’t help but wonder how Macku had developed such a respect for this one Toa, in spite of her obvious… failings. “What did Jaller mean when he said she’d just slip away again after this?” I asked. “She seems to be doing rather well now...”

“She is,” Macku replied as she opened the door to another room, “and it’s the same way whenever Tahu shows up. When the opportunity comes for her to do something that really matters for her former teammates, she steps up and does it…”

“…but?” I could sense there was more.

“Apart from those times, she… she feels useless. Ever since the Toa Nuva broke up, really… I think it broke something in her. Afterwards, she just didn’t find meaning in anything she could do anymore.”

“Surely, there must be something,” I argued, “I mean, imagine her working in a hospital, doing things like that… and I’m sure there’s lots of other things she’s good at. Even just the wisdom of an elder Toa must be worth something.”

“It is, and she worked at a hospital for a while,” Macku explained, “but most of the cases that show up these days are little scratches and bruises that just about anyone could fix; not something that makes her feel… essential. Anything worse usually comes out of the arena, and she won’t support those fights by fixing the gladiators up again and again. Tahu’s the only exception.” The Ga-Matoran’d taken a seat on the bed.

“So how’d she end up here?” I wondered.

“Hahli’s concern, mostly. She could see her slipping away like that, becoming more and more depressed at feeling… not needed, you know? She could see Gali was losing that drive, that purpose… I mean, anyone could see it happening. She shut herself out, her place was a mess, she wasn’t making any money, she stopped taking care of herself…”

“She let go.” I concluded.

“Exactly,” Macku agreed. “When she couldn’t afford to live on her own anymore, Hahli invited her to move in here and took her to places, tried to get her to try new things, hoping something would capture her interest and get her going again.”

“And she didn’t like any of them?”

“That’s the vicious thing about depression,” Macku sighed. “It destroys vitality. I’m sure she would have liked something, but… it just didn’t get through to her. It’s like she sees everything as doomed to be pointless from the outset, and that colors the experience a lot.”

“Except when a wounded fellow Toa shows up at the door,” I noted.

“That’s the weird part,” Macku acknowledged. “The moment she’s got that opportunity, to help out and old ally… it’s like that fire in her instantly sparks up again.”

“What keeps putting it out?” I wondered.

“Well, in Tahu’s case, they inevitably end up arguing about what he does, and how she disagrees with it. Then he gets angry, bashes her on her weight, and they throw insults at each other. When he leaves, she feels worse than ever about herself.”

“That’s rather rude of him,” Really, I knew Tahu was temperamental and prone to acting without thinking, but I couldn’t imagine him being that vicious towards Gali… even when the team broke up, I remembered him being relatively civil about it.

“To say the least. I swear, if it wasn’t for the fact that he at least gets her to get off that couch for a while, I wouldn’t let him in.” Thinking about Tahu seemed to make Macku’s temper flare up too. Was Tahu really that bad?

“Well, insults aside, he would be right… I mean, Gali has gotten rather big…” I still found it hard to believe Gali’d let herself get to this point when she could see it happening. “She does know, right?”

“Of course,” Macku said, somewhat indignant. “She struggles with it every day; you really think she doesn’t know?”

“No, it’s just… How’d she let it get to this? Couldn’t she see it happening?” That comment set Macku off.

“You really don’t get it, do you?” she got off the bed. “She can see it every time she looks in the mirror, feel it every time she struggles to get up of that couch, or wakes up gasping for breath! Believe me, she knows!”

“Okay, sorry…” I raised my hands slightly to indicate I meant no insult.

“And you know what?” she continued, “Hahli’s right: Gali’s ashamed of herself. You know, she used to go outside occasionally, until those rude Agori kids started calling her names; now she won’t even go near a window. Jaller tried his ‘tough love’ approach, and guess what? It only made things worse. Whenever Tahu comes along, she still helps him, and he goes and confirms her fears by saying she should be ashamed of herself, and that he’d be embarrassed to be seen with her. You know what that does to her!?” Macku pounded a fist in the air to drive the point home. “They’re making her feel terrible! Worthless! They’re only driving her down further!” She shook her head… “She knows she has to do something… but she can’t do it when everyone around her just makes her feel bad about herself. I-I honestly think she’s given up on it.”

Macku seemed to be at wit’s end. I stood by, a bit surprised by how emotional of a subject this was for the Ga-Matoran. For a few seconds, the room was quiet as she collected herself. “Sorry I went off on you like that…” she continued, more quietly. “It’s just… It’s hard to look at her like this, you know? She was a hero to us… she still is. I can’t even count how many times she was the only thing standing between us and death… and saved us. So I don’t care, I don’t care what state she’s in or what she looks like; neither does Hahli. It’s our duty now to take care of her, regardless of what Jaller, or Tahu, or anyone else says.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, I think you’re right.” I told her. “And if what I saw today is anything to go on, I think you’ll pull her out of it, too.” I honestly did. If, when he woke up, Kopaka broke her the way Tahu did, I’d have some serious words for him about the concept of gratitude.

“Thanks. I hope you’re right.” Macku gave an earnest smile. She sighed, then turned her attention to the room: “Anyways, uhm, there’s a bed, some cabinets if you need to bring anything in here, and the bathroom’s down the hall…

“I think I’ll just need the bed…” I was having trouble just keeping my eyes open.

“In that case, good night, and I’ll make sure to have breakfast ready in the morning.”

“Thanks. ‘night.” Macku proceeded to leave the room. I closed the door, still trying to process everything that had happened in the last few minutes, but I was burnt out for the day. After I turned off the lights, I pretty much collapsed onto the bed and was out in seconds.

-*-*-*-

I’m seeing something… I’m in some kind of complex underground… a brutish, dark being is standing in front of me… is he laughing at me? I look around… there’s figures, figures lying on the floor... it’s dark, but I feel like I can recognize them… hang on, is that… is that Kopaka? And Tahu? They’re not moving! None of them are… are they… dead? I can’t tell from here…

“You were fools to come here," the being says in a deep, ominous, twisted voice… a voice of madness. “This staff belongs TO ME!”

“Not if I have anything to say about it!” I’m surprised to hear my own voice… there’s a dark determination to it…

“There is NOTHING you can do!” the being’s eyes flash red.

“Watch and see!” I call out. Suddenly, there’s a growing sensation all through my body… first it’s a kind of tingling, then more like pressure… I feel like it’s something I’m doing, but what is it? It’s getting painful… a sharp, unrelenting pain… I want to scream, to shout, to stop, but I can’t. The pressure keeps building… It’s becoming almost unbearable… Suddenly, I hear myself screaming, but it isn’t pain… no, it’s… it’s rage.

KRABOOM!!

-*-*-*-

I woke up in cold sweat. It was still dark out, and a quick glance at the clock confirmed I’d only been out for a few hours… well, out... apart from unintentional memory sharing, I guess. That image, though… the Toa Nuva lying either dead or knocked out in front of this bizarre being… Who was it from? Who else was awake this time of night?

Oh right… Gali.

Since I figured I wouldn’t fall back to sleep all that quickly anyways, I decided to go and check on her. The room was still lit; I entered to find her still using a water bubble to ‘filter’ Kopaka’s blood, though the bubble was larger and cleaner than before.

“I guess you weren’t kidding when you said ‘all night’,” I quietly remarked.

“Oh.” Gali hadn’t noticed me coming in. “Yes… this is a bit of a long process.”

“Seems to work, though,” I noted. “That bubble already looks better than a few hours ago.”

“I think I got most of it,” Gali said, gesturing towards a small bucket set on the bedside table. I noticed there was quite a lot of a dark, grimy substance in there.

I leant against the wall opposite the bed from Gali. “How’d that even get into his blood?”

“Deep cuts that were not quickly taken care of,” the Toa of Water concluded. “My brother has never been known for his medical skills, much as he likes to try.”

“Not many doctors to turn to up in those mountains,” I remarked. “He said he studies stars up there… but he’d have to occasionally go out and hunt something to eat. That probably explains the injuries.”

Gali looked at me curiously. “Studying stars? Is that what he told you?”

“Well, something like it… you don’t think it’s true?”

“No, it probably is… to the extent that it’s the reason that he’s convinced himself of.” Gali turned her attention back to Kopaka.

“Convinced himself? What do you mean by that?”

Gali sighed. “My brother has always wanted to be alone, to do things himself. He never trusts anyone else to get a job done, so he isolates himself; alone, he can’t rely on anyone for anything. I guarantee you that’s the reason why he went into those mountains, not to look at stars; he wanted to get away from everyone to live out his ideal of self-reliance.” I was reminded of how difficult it had been for Kopaka to even admit he needed Gali’s help, even when she was standing in front of him.

“But he can’t really do everything himself. I mean, look at the state he’s in.”

“Good luck getting him to admit that,” Gali said somberly. “I tried for ages and never got anywhere. The only time when he actually worked with us was when not doing so would’ve killed him. Even then, he never asked for anything.”

“Fair point.” Again, it was Kopaka trying to be completely independent from others.

“Have you met Tahu?” Gali asked, much to my surprise.

“Yes,” I answered. “He actually pointed us to Hahli to find you.”

“You know what he does?”

“He fights in the Arena Magna. I saw last night’s fight.”

“Dreadful business, but… it’s kind of odd,” Gali mused. “You know, he and Kopaka used to argue all the time, about who was in charge, about what they thought of each other… yet for all their differences, they’re doing the same thing now.”

“How so?” I thought stargazing and arena fighting were vastly different occupations.

“They’re both living out their fantasy,” Gali answered with a hint of foreboding in her voice. “… and it’s killing them both.” She sighed again. “Look, you really shouldn’t be up at this hour.”

“I know, just… bad dreams.” I mean, it was kind of true. “This is interesting, though.”

“Get some rest, really…” Gali said. “I can bore you with stories from the past later.”

“Fair enough,” I yawned. Perhaps it wouldn’t take all that long to get back to sleep after all. “Goodnight then.”

“Goodnight, Lis.”

I made my way back to my room, still wondering what exactly Gali meant by Kopaka’s “fantasy.” His wish to be totally independent, not answering to nor relying upon anyone for anything… I hadn’t really questioned it before. But the old Toa of Water was right in that there had to be a reason why Kopaka went into those mountains specifically; he could study stars far better by working the telescopes in one of New Atero’s knowledge towers… and I was pretty sure that several of those already existed at the time he left. It fit, though rather uncomfortably so for me; much as he wished to do everything alone, surely Kopaka had to acknowledge at some point that he wasn’t the expert in everything that he apparently thought himself to be. He’d already reached that point at least once. It was why he was here in the first place: there were things he simply couldn’t fix. Not alone, that is.

 

Thing is, he had to come to death’s doorstep to admit it.

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Chapter 16

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Thankfully, the rest of the night was free of unwarranted mind reading, and I felt pretty rested when I woke up in what I thought was the morning; an illusion that lasted all of about five seconds when Macku knocked on the door.

“Hey Lis! Are you up yet?”

“Yeah, yeah…” I made my way to the door.

“Great,” Macku continued. “We’re about to have lunch.” I stopped for a moment… lunch? Just what time was it? I opened the door to find the Ga-Matoran still standing there.

“Lunch already?”

“Well, I tried to wake you for breakfast,” Macku explained, “but you were out cold. Then Gali said you’d woken up again in the middle of the night, so I figured it was better to leave you be.”

“Ah…” I followed Macku down the hallway. I noticed the door to the room in which we’d put Kopaka was closed. “Is she still watching over Kopaka?”

“No, Hahli is doing that now. Gali was pretty beat this morning,” Macku informed me. “She told me to wake her up for lunch, though. I figured I’d cook up that crab from yesterday, since dinner was kind of a bust.”

“Sounds nice.”

“Say, how about you go get Gali, and I’ll get the crab started?” Macku suggested.

“Sure.” We’d reached ground level, so Macku headed to the kitchen while I took the stairs to the basement. I headed straight for Gali’s ‘living room,’ but the telescreen was off and the Toa wasn’t there. I noticed a side door to the left, which as it turned out led to a small and quite decrepit looking bathroom. Still, no Gali… Back in the hallway, I tried the next door down; it led to another room roughly the size of the living room, which also featured a small, dirty window near the ceiling. The window shed some dim light onto the only piece of furniture in the room: a large bed that supported the bulbous, obese shape of the sleeping Toa. She looked like she’d collapsed face-first onto the bed. I knocked on the door.

“Uhm… huh?” Gali moaned, half conscious. “W-what is it?”

“It’s lunchtime,” I informed her.

“Oh… already?”

“Yeah… Macku’s going to cook up the Hahnah crab that we were going to have for dinner yesterday,” I continued. “Want to join in?”

“Yeah, just… give me a minute,” she held up a finger.

“Okay.” I stepped back into the hallway and waited, leaning against the wall. After a few seconds, I heard a series of groans and ominous creaking sounds as the heavyweight Toa maneuvered herself from lying face-down on the bed to standing next to it. The struggle took a minute, and at one point she stopped for a bit to catch her breath. Eventually, though, she appeared in the doorway, and we proceeded down the hall to the bottom of the stairs. Now that Kopaka wasn’t occupying my attention, I actually saw just what a challenge even basic mobility was becoming for Gali; she didn’t walk, she waddled, swaying heavily from side to side with each step forward and swinging her arms to help shift the weight about.

“Uhm, are you okay?” I was honestly concerned just by how much of a struggle it apparently was for her just to get out of the bed and… walk.

“Well, I’ve managed so far, haven’t I?” Gali replied, sounding a bit agitated. “Go on,” she gestured up the stairs. I made my way up; she followed, taking one step at a time, hands on both railings to help pull herself up. When she reached the top of the stairs, she had to catch her breath again... even through her mask I was pretty sure her face was flushed. “Right,” she said, “lunch, then?”

Macku’d already thrown the crab into a boiling pot, so we made our way to the living room, where Gali occupied a couch while I took one of the chairs.

“So,” I began, “what’s the plan? We still need to close up Kopaka, right?”

“After the air exchangers are fixed up,” she reminded me, still a bit out of breath. “A lot of sowing work, mostly… and we need Jaller to actually close him up well.”

“When does he get home?”

“Sometime in the evening… of course there’s also the leg.”

“Hey, Lis!” Macku called from the kitchen.

“Yes!?”

“Can you go check on Hahli and Kopaka!? See if they want anything!?”

“Sure!” I got up.

“He’s probably awake, by the way,” Gali added as I made for the hallway. Awake? In his current state? “…and I think she’s already working on the sowing.” I couldn’t imagine that being all that comfortable for Kopaka, though he at least had Hahli to keep him company… As expected, I found Hahli sitting beside the bed, and she had indeed broken out the sowing kit and was working on one of the air exchangers, cleaning out filth and then sowing up the wounds. Kopaka was awake, and watched the whole thing rather intently.

“How’s it going?” I asked. Immediately, I noticed Kopaka was very surprised at my presence, though as I’d come to expect of him, he tried not to show it on the outside.

“Well, this one’s coming along,” Hahli said as she diligently used a small brush and water to clean out a particularly vicious cut, “but these things have taken a lot of hits. I’m going to be busy all afternoon at the least.”

“What did you run into up there that did that?” I asked Kopaka, pointing at the wound.

“Muaka,” the Toa of Ice answered. “…and a few other things, but mostly muaka.”

“Really, you shouldn’t go picking fights with those anymore,” Hahli pointed out.

“One muaka provides enough meat to last months,” Kopaka countered. “They are well worth the risk.”

“Risk of getting gored, or your leg chewed up?” I was rather skeptical. Kopaka merely grunted, then resumed his careful examination of Hahli’s working methods. “Anyway,” I continued, turning back to Hahli, “lunch is about to be served downstairs. Should I bring some up or do you want to come down?”

“If you could,” the Toa of Water began, but Kopaka cut her off.

“We will come down,” he decided.

“Na-ah! No way you’re going anywhere opened up like this,” Hahli said as she put her tools aside. “I can bring something up for you, but you’re staying here.” Kopaka didn’t reply immediately; instead he grabbed the opened mesh, folded it closed, and flash-froze some small orbs of ice around the edge to hold it in place.

“My chestplate,” he demanded.

“No. Not happening.” Hahli argued, but Kopaka didn’t need her cooperation; he’d just find the plate himself. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t take the Akaku-equipped Toa very long. He grabbed the chestplate from under the bed, packed his cut muscle strands together, and fitted it back on.

“You’re going to walk down there like this!?” Hahli couldn’t believe it.

“I will be fine,” Kopaka concluded, reaching for his cane. Hahli sighed while muttering something about a Kane-Ra mentality… Clearly, the Toa of Ice wasn’t going to take no for an answer, but his body thought otherwise; the cut muscle strands normally helped brace the shoulders, so their disconnection meant he couldn’t support a lot of weight with his arms. As he reached with his left arm, the right gave way, and he fell back onto the bed, grimacing from the pain in his chest.

“See?” Hahli quickly moved in and helped to return Kopaka to his position of lying down on the bed.

“Fine…” Kopaka grudgingly agreed.

“Lis, just bring some food up here for us,” Hahli suggested.

“Will do.” I was still concerned about Kopaka’s condition after his attempt to get up, but knowing Hahli would keep a close eye on him, I made my way back downstairs and informed Macku that Hahli and Kopaka would like their food brought up; she told me it would be ready in ten minutes, so I went back to the living room, where Gali’d turned on the telescreen, which was turned to some news channel.

“Only two days after the last time that Tahu, known as ‘Master of Fire’ gave another stunning performance in the Arena, his next challenger is already fast approaching,” an Ice Agori reporter explained, “and excitement is building as the world waits for what will certainly be an epic confrontation between the Toa veteran and the rookie: the Porcupine.” It went on to describe the Porcupine’s recent rise in the rankings. I shuddered, recalling the Iron Skakdi’s brutal fight against the Lady of the Frost; Gali’s expression had turned decidedly sour.

“I saw him, two days ago,” I told her. “The Porcupine, he’s… he’s brutal.”

“They all are,” Gali said dourly. “Those fights should have been banned long ago. They’re barbaric.”

“Of course. I mean, the Agori say it’s an important part of their history,” or so I’d heard, “but why can’t they just leave it as that… history?”

“It’s hard for people to let go of the past,” Gali sighed.

“Right…” I nodded. Her comment resonated more than I think she’d meant it to. “That’s why Tahu’s still in there too, right?” Gali looked at me curiously. “That’s his fantasy,” I continued, “that he’s still in the past, that he still needs to fight.”

“Perhaps…” Gali shrugged. “You could be right; some part of Tahu’s definitely stuck in the past… Kopaka, too,” she sighed. “You know he used to fight Muaka all the time on Mata Nui?”

“He did?”

“They sometimes attacked Ko-Matoran on the icy mountains,” the Toa of water explained. “Kopaka stopped them. He even saved Matoro a couple of times that way.”

“He did?” That shed a whole new light on his relationship with and reference for the dead hero.

“Indeed,” Gali continued. “It seems my brothers really are living in the past.”

“And what about you?” I asked. “What did you do back then?”

Gali seemed a bit surprised to have the question turned on her. She thought for a moment. “Well, I watched over Ga-Koro,” she remembered, “fought some Tarakava, healed the Matoran when they were injured… You should have seen the ocean of Aqua Magna back then; it was beautiful.” She smiled, but it was a sad smile. “Of course, that’s all over now.”

“Isn’t that ocean out there still Aqua Magna?” I asked, gesturing towards the water to the east.

“It is,” Gali acknowledged, “but it’s not really the same… nothing is these days.” I wasn’t going to point it out straight to her face, but it was becoming clear to me that, while Gali wasn’t living the past, she certainly hadn’t moved on either. Rather, she just seemed to mourn what had been lost… I wasn’t sure which I preferred: her approach of lamenting what had been lost and just fading with it, or Tahu and Kopaka’s of trying to preserve it and soldier on at all costs. In the end, it hadn’t turned out very well for any of them.

We sat and silently watched the telescreen broadcast until Macku arrived and set a pot filled with cooked Hahnah meat on the table.

“Lunch is served,” she announced. “Hang on, let me grab you some plates.” She soon returned with plates and cutlery, divvying them up by giving a set to me and Gali and then setting the other three down on the table.

“Okay, let me just take some out for Hahli and Kopaka first,” she said as she produced a serving spoon and scooped a solid serving onto each plate.”

“I can carry them up for them, if you’d like,” I offered.

“It’s fine, I’ve got it covered,” she said as she grabbed the two plates. “I’ll be right back.” She vanished into the hallway. Gali gestured at the pot, and then at me.

“Enjoy,” she invited. I scooped up a few spoons’ worth of Hahnah meat before sitting back down in my chair. Then I noticed the pot was definitely out of Gali’s reach, and the Toa of water was preparing to get up to serve herself. Remembering that image of her trying with difficulty to get off the couch, I got up and set my plate aside.

“Here, I’ve got it.” I reached out for Gali to hand me her plate, but she instead put it aside.

“Don’t worry,” she assured me, placing her hands onto the couch beside her to help push herself up.

“No, here.” I picked up the pot and moved it to Gali’s side of the table, then handed her the spoon.

“Thanks…” She smiled for a moment, but I could sense a hint of… something. Not quite embarrassment, nor guilt, or shame… maybe a little combination of all three, a tacit acknowledgement that the help was appreciated, but not really needed, or perhaps it just shouldn’t have been needed even though it kind of was. I sat back down, then watched as Gali served herself a… uhm… very generous helping of crab, which she finished before I was even halfway done with my plate. Macku returned and took a small portion for herself, after which we continued watching the telescreen broadcast while Gali served herself seconds… and thirds. Macku noticed it too, but didn’t say anything. Out of politeness, I didn’t either, but all of the sudden Gali’s condition was making a lot more sense. Weird thing is, she didn’t bat an eye about it; she seemed keenly aware and ashamed of her size, but didn’t seem in at all motivated to do something about it. In spite of everything, was she still in denial, just like Kopaka about his injuries? Or was Macku right?

Had Gali really given up?

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Chapter 17

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Lunch finished, Gali headed back downstairs to rest up before trying to tackle Kopaka’s leg, which would require Jaller’s abilities to fix up properly. I went upstairs to see how Hahli and the Toa of Ice were doing and retrieve their plates. I found Hahli still cleaning out cuts on the air exchangers, but it seemed the largest ones had been taken care of. Kopaka, customarily confident in his own abilities and apparently with his mental barriers to pain restored, was actually working at it as well; the sight of him reaching with a small, wet brush into his own chest and rubbing clean scratches and on his air exchangers as he was breathing was a bit bizarre, yet he behaved as though it was entirely normal. Two empty plates were sitting on the side table by the door.

“I came to collect the dishes,” I explained, then nodded to Hahli: “Looks like you’ve got some help.”

“So it appears,” Hahli said with a slight edge to her voice. Apparently she wasn’t much pleased with Kopaka’s self-operating habits.

“Well, on the plus side, you’ll be done quicker,” I noted as I collected the silverware.

“I suppose,” Hahli agreed. “And after we close it up we can start work on his leg.” I noted she was talking about Kopaka in the third person in front of his face, not that he minded. “Then he finally can go back to… whatever he did.”

“Astronomy,” Kopaka said without looking up.

“Right, astronomy…” Hahli rolled her eyes.

“Do you not have some news story to cover?” Kopaka asked. “I have things covered here.”

“Uhm, no you don’t,” Hahli asserted. “You’ve been watching, and now you’re bungling about. That’s all. And for your information, this ‘doll’ took a day off.” Doll? What was that all about?

“A waste of a day off,” Kopaka said. “I would have been fine until the evening.”

“You know what?” Hahli put her sowing tools aside and got up. “Fine, you manage if you’re so eager to,” she said curtly, then turned and made her way out of the room. I looked back at Kopaka, who didn’t seem fazed in the slightest, then followed Hahli. I caught up with her at the bottom of the stairs. “ fool,” Hahli muttered as she made her way to the kitchen, where Macku was cleaning up.

“How’s it going?” the Matoran asked, but Hahli didn’t reply. Instead, she grabbed a cup from the counter and proceeded to root through the coolbox for a drink.

“I got the plates,” I informed Macku, setting them next to the other dishes on the counter. Macku nodded towards Hahli with a questioning look on her face. “Kopaka’s being Kopaka,” I explained.

“He’s being an idiot,” Hahli remarked as she pulled a bottle filled with some kind of wine out of the coolbox.

“Hahli, wine? At this hour, really?”  Macku said, somewhat concerned.

“I’m tired, so to me it’s evening.” Hahli poured some wine into the cup, then placed the bottle back into the coolbox.

“You’re worried about Kopaka,” Macku asserted.

“Everyone’s worried about Kopaka except Kopaka.” Hahli said, frustrated. “Once he’s halfway patched up, he’ll just walk out of here thinking he can take care of the rest of it.”

“You’d like him to thank you first,” Macku smiled, though I could tell this was more a nervous attempt to use humor to diffuse tension rather than to actually cheer anyone up.

“No, I wouldn’t expect that from him,” Hahli took a sip, “but at the very least he could care, you know? I mean, we’re doing him a massive favor here, and he acts like it’s nothing.”

“He thinks it’s your duty,” I interjected. “Or Gali’s, at least. He sees it as duty.”

“Wonderful,” Hahli said sarcastically. “So he thinks we all exist to help him.”

“Not exactly…”

“Right...” Hahli walked out, heading for the living room. Macku sighed and returned to the dishes while I followed the Toa, who’d taken up a reclining armchair.

“Look, I know he can be a bit exhausting, but I can keep an eye on him for a while if you need a break,” I offered.

“Nah, he’s probably right,” Hahli sighed. “I mean, he looks bad, but he’s not critical or anything anymore…” she took another sip.

“That’s Kopaka.” I sat down on one of the benches. “Annoyingly right...”

“Yeah, I don’t mind him being right, even if he is being a fool regardless,” Hahli said, “but really, why does he have to be so… rude about everything, you know? He doesn’t care, he never considers how it makes me feel. Or Gali. Or you, I’m guessing.”

“True,” I couldn’t argue that, “he does do that.”

“You know what he told me?” Hahli asked. I nodded no. “He wakes up while I’m sowing on his insides, doesn’t say anything, not even a peep. Just sits and watches, for like an hour, just staring at me working. I’m finally done with the biggest cut that he had in there, so I ask him how he’s feeling. He says fine.”

“Right…” Seemed like his usual answer.

“Then he asks me, and I’m quoting here, ‘Why do you look like a meato fantasy doll?’” “Meato” was derogative slang sometimes used by Matoran to describe Agori and Glatorian, a turn of language I certainly wouldn’t have expected from Kopaka.

“Okay, that is bad,” I agreed. “He really said that?”

“That’s not all,” Hahli continued. “He goes into this whole spiel about Gali, and how I shouldn’t have let her blow up like she has. Says she’s an embarrassment to Toa, and I’m somehow responsible.”

“He didn’t say how?”

“Nope. Just convinced I was,” Hahli said, taking a larger swig from the cup. “I spent hours working on him, and then he proceeds to insult me like that. It’s like he’s got it in for me for some reason. What did I ever do to him?”

“Hm…” I thought about it for a bit, but that really did seem very unlike Kopaka. “You’re right. That doesn’t make any sense, and even if it did, he’s got no right to talk to you like that.”

“So he’s just a jerk, then.” Hahli concluded.

“Maybe, but… it’s not like him.” I continued. Hahli looked at me curiously. “I mean, he comes off as rude,” I explained, “but from what I’ve seen everything he does is… considered, you know? He thinks things through, he looks at them objectively. Insulting and blaming people… it’s not what he does.”

“Well, you might want to check his brain then,” Hahli said. “If you’re right, something in him’s gotta be messed up.”

“Maybe I should go talk to him.” I got up.

“Good luck.” Hahli turned her attention back to her drink.

I considered what I was going to tell Kopaka as I headed back upstairs. The last twenty-four hours had been rather crazy, and now I had a chance to finally ask some questions. What gave him the right to mouth off to Hahli like that? Also, why’d he abandoned the park when he’d promised me he’d be there when I got back? Never mind the fact that he’d promised to show me the final battle; he owed me some answers, especially since I helped out with the surgery.

I found him still sitting in bed, trying with some difficulty to thread a needle. “No success?” I asked.

Kopaka looked up. “So you made it here.”

“I did. Before you, as it happens,” I informed him. “I was here when they did the surgery on your pump. I helped.” Focused on the needle, he didn’t reply. “So where’d you go?” I asked.

“Go? When?” He’d at last gotten the tread through the tiny hole in the needle.

I took a seat next to the bed. “At the park. You said you’d be there, I got back, and you were nowhere to be seen.”

“I got lunch,” Kopaka said calmly, but I could tell that wasn’t the whole story.

“Just lunch?”

“Yes.” Apparently, that was all he was willing to give. I knew there was more, and I was already convinced that, in fact, his disappearance had been a deliberate attempt by him to be rid of me before meeting Gali. Though I wondered why, I didn’t feel like I was going to get anywhere pursuing that line of inquiry.

“You really should let Hahli do that,” I pointed as Kopaka started to try and sow shut one of the cuts on the air exchangers.

“No need,” he replied.

“You know, she’s not happy with your accusations,” I continued. “About her looks, and what happened with Gali.”

“I told her the truth,” Kopaka said without a hint of regret.

“Yeah, I know you do that, but have you ever considered that sometimes the truth hurts?” I asked. I actually was interested in what he’d have to say to that.

“Not as much as the fallout of a truth gone untold,” he said flatly.

“You know, I think that depends,” I argued. “It’s usually not so clear-cut, especially when other people get involved.”

“To you, perhaps, but you do not know the other Toa as I do.”

“Really?” That rather surprised me. If anything, as a Toa of Psionics, I figured I had the edge in reading others. What kind of reaction did he expect from these people who he apparently knew so well?

Kopaka looked me straight in the eyes. “We fought alongside each other. We saved each other’s lives. We faced the Makuta, the Bohrok, and the Rahkshi. I assure you, I know my brothers and sisters well.”

“Uh-huh…” I wasn’t convinced. He certainly had more experience with the other Toa, true, but from what I’d seen his ability to really understand them in anything other than a purely analytical way was very limited. “So, are you going to tell Gali the same things once she makes it up here, right?”

“What things?”

“What you told Hahli,” I explained. “That how she’s an embarrassment to the Toa, that Hahli looks like a fantasy doll, that stuff. I mean, clearly you don’t approve, so are you going to tell Gali about it like you did with Hahli?”

Kopaka thought for a moment. “No.”

“Why not?” I continued. “Does Gali not deserve to be… informed of your thoughts like Hahli was?”

“She does,” Kopaka looked a bit confused as to what exactly I was calling into question.

“…but you’re not going to tell her. Seems to me that you’re blaming Hahli for everything that’s changed; she certainly thinks so.” I had him; he’d betrayed a bias. Not a surprising one, really, but I wanted to see him explain his way out of it: in his ‘objective’ view, what made Gali and Hahli different? Why did Hahli get the harsh truth, with insults thrown in, while Gali would be spared?

Kopaka didn’t quite seem to get it yet, so I posed the question: “why is Hahli the only one who you are willing to tell the truth to?”

“She is not the only one,” Kopaka said. “I would tell Jaller and Macku the same things.”

“You’re dodging,” I said. “Why them and not Gali? What makes Gali different?”

Kopaka thought deeply, even stopping his sowing as he concentrated; he was genuinely having difficulty coming up with an explanation. Watching his mind, I could see that considering the question was bringing up a number of emotional responses… Just as I expected, Kopaka wasn’t the fully rational machine that he pretended to be. To me it was obvious: having fought alongside Gali as much as he had, he emphasized with her more. Perhaps he even felt a need somewhere to protect her, or at least not to treat her has harshly as he did everyone else, a feeling clearly absent in his dealings with Hahli. In fact, as I looked deeper, it seemed that the emotion associated with Hahli was disappointment, mixed even with anger... anger about what? Meanwhile thoughts of Gali elicited concern, worry. Contrary to what he showed on the surface, and even deluded himself into thinking, Kopaka really did care for his sister… something that to him just didn’t compute.

“Difficult to explain, huh?” I couldn’t help but smile in spite of the fact that I could detect a growing frustration within his mind.

“Like I said,” Kopaka spoke up, “you do not know the Toa as I do. You cannot understand.” Interesting that he was projecting a lack of understanding onto me… unless there really was something in their history that he could use to rationalize his feelings.

“Well, perhaps you could help me with that,” I argued. “I seem to recall you promising that you’d show me the final battle at some point. The other Toa were there, right? Show me what it was like, and maybe I’ll get it.”

Kopaka sighed. “I am busy, but I will show you, soon.” He went back to his stitching. “Patience is the fourth virtue, Lis. Even the Makuta understood that.”

“I’d be patient if I wasn’t afraid you’d just run off again as soon as you could.”

“You have my assurance that I will not.” He considered that case closed.

“Fine.” I agreed, but I’d be keeping a close eye on him. I also noticed his stitches were slow and rather shoddy. “You’ve never done that before, have you?”

“No.”

“Here,” I reached out, trying to get him to hand over the needle and thread.

“I will be fine.”

“You won’t. C’mon, let me try.” He hesitantly released the tools to me, after which I proceeded to stitch up the cut in a far cleaner manner; having worked under a tailor for years before becoming a Toa, I was pretty darn good at it. Just like he apparently had with Hahli, Kopaka kept a close eye on what I was doing, but didn’t say another word. Nevertheless, I could sense that there was a lot more going on inside him than the outside betrayed. It seemed that I really had gotten him to ask himself some questions, a victory in itself as far as I was concerned.

I thought back to what Hahli’d said… did Kopaka really see her like that? For that matter, what did the think of me? I had half the mind to ask him, but given that he’d tried to get rid of me just the day before, I was worried that I wouldn’t much like his answer.

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Chapter 18

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By the end of the afternoon, everything in Kopaka’s chest was looking solid again, if far from pristine. All that was required now was for Jaller to weld the protective mesh shut and then to sow the covering muscle back together.

“So, feeling better?” I asked Kopaka.

“Yes,” he said without much excitement.

“We’ll get started on your leg tonight, I’m sure.”

“At last.” Clearly, Kopaka didn’t much fancy staying here for very long. I think he’d expected to be on his way already.

“Well, good afternoon,” a voice from behind surprised me. I turned to see Hewkii’s black and yellow form filling most of the doorway. “I was told we had guests,” he explained as he entered. “Sorry I didn’t get to meet you yesterday. I’m Hewkii.” He extended a hand towards me.

“Lis,” I introduced myself.

“A pleasure,” Hewkii replied, then turned his attention to the Toa of Ice in the bed. “Well, well. One has to see to believe it.”

“Hello, Hewkii.” Kopaka greeted him flatly.

“So, you’re back after all these years.”

“Only temporarily.”

“And it looks like you took a few knocks up there. That’s looking pretty beat up.” Hewkii pointed at Kopaka’s leg.

“Muaka.”

“No kidding, huh. Some people never change,” Hewkii smiled.

“Some…” Kopaka said with a dour undertone.

“So, you’re staying for long?”

“No.”

“Ah… well, I’m sure we’ll have plenty of stories to tell over dinner.” Hewkii turned to me. “And what about you?”

“I’m kind of keeping an eye on him,” I explained.

“In case he tries to run away?” Hewkii joked, apparently unaware that that was actually a possibility.

“Kind of,” I smiled.

“Well, Macku said dinner will be ready in half an hour or so,” Hewkii informed us, “and she’s insisting that we should all be there to make it a ‘family dinner.’” He rolled his eyes, clearly not as committed to the idea of a family dinner as Macku. Wasn’t that something Agori did, since they actually had… families? “Looks like you’re not in any condition to move, though.” Hewkii pointed at Kopaka’s open chest.

“It appears so,” Kopaka said. I sensed a degree of relief in him; perhaps he realized his open chest was a great way to avoid sitting with a bunch of people conversing at a dinner table. However, I was quite curious to actually hear what kind of stories would surface with Kopaka around, so I decided not to let him pass on the opportunity.

“Get Jaller up here and he’ll be ready,” I assured Hewkii. “Everything in there’s fixed, we just need him to close it properly.”

“Works for me,” Hewkii said as he turned to head back out and downstairs. “See you downstairs in a bit.”

Kopaka seemed somewhat agitated, but he didn’t comment. It wasn’t long before Jaller appeared.

“Hewkii said I had to do some welding.” I noticed he was still in what amounted to full combat gear, minus his sword.

“They are done with my lungs,” Kopaka said, to my surprise, “and apparently it is important that you close this quickly.” He lifted up the mesh flap, revealing the cleaned-up chest cavity below.

“Gali’s not here?” Jaller looked around.

“She’s resting, but she’ll need your help on the leg later,” I explained.

“Fine…” Jaller sighed as he positioned himself beside the bed. “This might sting a little,” he added as he looked into Kopaka’s chest, then lined up the edges of the mesh flap with those of the gap. Without stopping to ask Kopaka whether he was good to start, he proceeded to slowly run his fingers along the cut lines, heating up and pinching the metal threads to weld them together. I could tell the process was painful for Kopaka, but he didn’t so much as blink, rigidly maintaining control over his reflexes in the way that I was becoming so familiar with. I watched, intrigued by how Jaller quickly maneuvered his fingers to grab two tiny metal strands and weld them into one in a matter of seconds. He repeated the process over and over, making his way along the seam at a fair pace; clearly, it was a well-practiced routine.

“You’ve done this before, I’m guessing?” I asked quietly as to not disturb Jaller too much.

“On Tahu, lots of times,” Jaller answered slowly as he concentrated.

“Ah… He gets cut up a lot, I bet.” I’d forgotten about Tahu; Mata Nui only knew what his insides looked like after a couple thousand years of fighting.

“That he does.” Jaller said in a grim tone. “Nothing compared to what he does to his opponents.”

“Murder.” Kopaka said. For a second or two, no one answered.

“Pretty much,” Jaller agreed, though he seemed somewhat more indifferent to it than Kopaka.

“We saw the match against Stronius,” I added. “It was brutal…”

“Hahli told me about it,” Jaller said. “A shame how our brother has fallen.” I got a distinct feeling of bitterness from him, but it wasn’t just directed towards Tahu.

“Worse is that he is not alone,” Kopaka added. “Much has changed since I was last here.”

Jaller nodded in agreement. “Last of the old guard, that’s what we are, apparently.”

“Quite literally, in your case,” I smiled, trying to add a little humor to the distinctly dour conversation.

Jaller looked at me; he wasn’t amused. “The city guard, you mean?” He sighed again. “That was all of us once.”

“Did Kongu and Nuparu leave?” Kopaka asked.

“More or less,” Jaller said. “They’re off doing their own thing and don’t visit this city much, but they’d help if they were called upon. Hewkii would pick up arms, too. As for Hahli…”

“I doubt she would be capable of lifting them,” Kopaka asserted.

“Not in her current form,” Jaller said, sounding rather dismayed. “Our sister has forsaken her ability to protect those who need us in favor of the wishes of a few grumpy Agori.”

“Truly shameful,” Kopaka agreed.

“I think she’s fine,” I interrupted. The two Toa turned to me.

“Go on,” Jaller invited.

“I mean, she’s different, yes,” I continued, “but she really didn’t have a choice if she wanted to keep her job. And being a journalist, she’s got a lot of power to call attention to those who need help. There’s something to be said for that when it comes to helping those in need.” Really, I felt both Jaller and Kopaka were being very short-sighted in their approach to their duty. The old guard they may have been, but the world and the Toa had moved on, something that Kopaka in particular seemed to have a hard time coming to grips with.

“So she keeps telling me,” Jaller said, turning his attention back to welding. “Insists that the pen is mightier than the sword, and that the camera and microphone have the pen beaten in turn. Personally, I’ll take a sword any day; pens, cameras, and microphones would have done nothing to deter the Piraka or the Barraki’s legions.” Kopaka gave a nod in agreement. I shrugged. “What did you tell her, by the way?” Jaller asked Kopaka. “She was very cross with you when I got home.”

“The truth,” Kopaka answered.

Jaller looked up at him. “The truth?”

“He told her she looks like a Glatorian doll,” I explained, “and that she’s responsible for Gali’s… situation.”

Jaller stopped welding again and turned to Kopaka. “Is that true?” he asked with a distinct edge to his voice.

“As I said, the truth,” Kopaka asserted.

“On the doll thing, you may have a point,” the Toa of Fire admitted, “but if you blame her for Gali’s size, we’re going to have a problem. She has nothing to do with that.”

“She seems quite eager to give her whatever she wants,” Kopaka argued.

“And she’s been trying for years to get Gali off of that couch,” Jaller pointed out. “Hahli’s worked day and night to find things for her to do, to try and help her out of the hole you all threw her into. I keep telling her it’s a lost cause, but she won’t give up on it. Say what you will, but Hahli’s the one person who’s doing anything to help your sister. We clear on that?”

“Clear,” Kopaka said coldly, but I could tell he didn’t really believe what Jaller was saying. That idea of Gali being so far gone that even with Hahli’s help she’d failed to get herself together just didn’t make sense to him. That wasn’t the Gali he knew… yet I remembered seeing Gali’s breakdown at the end of that last meeting. Jaller was right; the other Toa, Kopaka included, really had broken her. Jaller continued welding for a bit longer before calling it good.

“Looks like I’m done,” He concluded. “I’m guessing you’ve got it from here?”

“Yes, I do.” Kopaka answered, already starting to re-connect various muscle strands over the newly repaired mesh.

“Good.” Jaller leant back, then watched as Kopaka crudely tied together some of the muscle strands. “That won’t hold long,” he pointed out.

“It does not need to,” Kopaka noted. Before long, he asked me to hand over his chest plate, which he fitted solidly. Granted, the muscles were a mess underneath, and but at the very least he now looked presentable. Kopaka reached for his cane, but was hindered by the fact that the tied-together muscle strands couldn’t stretch to give him full range of motion.

“Here.” Jaller handed him the cane. Now equipped, Kopaka got out of the bed, standing somewhat unsteadily at first. For a moment, I was concerned, but the Toa of Ice quickly regained his bearings and started making his way to the hall. I could tell he wasn’t dealing with as much pain as he had been before; his step was quicker and there was a greater confidence, a calculated certainty to his movement. Granted, he still limped and it was more than obvious his body wasn’t in a good way, but he nevertheless seemed significantly stronger than before. Jaller and I followed him down the stairs and to the living room, where we found Hahli and Hewkii already at the table. Hewkii was talking about the preparations for some big upcoming game, but he fell silent for a moment when Kopaka appeared in the doorway.

“Welcome,” the Toa of Stone greeted, motioning to some of the open spots on the couches and chairs around the table. “Take a seat. Macku said things’ll be ready in a minute or two.” Behind his welcome I could detect concern; Hewkii hadn’t seen Kopaka standing until this point, and I don’t think he’d realized just how battered the old Toa was until now. Hahli nodded and feigned a smile but she didn’t seem to be in a particularly good mood. Cutlery and plates were already laid out on the table. We all took a seat. Jaller took a chair at the head of the table; something told me that was his usual spot. Kopaka took the chair next to him, while I sat down on the couch opposite the one that Hewkii and Hahli’d taken.

“So, as I was saying…” Hewkii continued telling of how he was coaching the Po-Matoran Kolhii team for their next big game, only days away. Apparently, they didn’t lack in spirit, but their technique was often sloppy, which led them to lose points more often than they should have. Nevertheless, Hewkii believed they would do well. Jaller noted the Ta-Matoran guard team had been practicing as well, though they were more proficient in wielding spears and thornax launchers than Kolhii staffs.

“…as they should be,” Jaller finished.

“How’s the Ga-Matoran team doing?” Hewkii turned to Hahli.

“I checked in on them last week, remember?” Hahli reminded him. “They’re hard at work, I’m sure. Kotu wants them to be ready to face you guys in the finals.”

The conversation was interrupted by the appearance of a slightly winded Gali. “Good evening,” she greeted us. We all kind of nodded in return as she made her way across the room. “May I?” she asked, pointing at the open spot next to me.

“Of course.” I smiled, thinking Gali was nothing if not polite. I mean, it was a two-person couch, after all, but it was nice of her to ask…

“Thanks.” Gali turned and carefully lowered her bulk onto the couch, taking up two-thirds of its seating space in the process. No one said anything, but even without psionic abilities it was obvious everyone was kind of uncomfortable. The awkward silence continued for a few more seconds until Hahli cleared her throat.

“Ahem,” she turned to Jaller. “So, did you get the mesh closed up?”

“Yes,” Jaller replied, “But the muscle’s another matter.” He turned to Gali. “You’ll have to stitch that back together.”

“Of course,” Gali agreed. “How are you feeling?” she asked Kopaka.

“Better,” he answered matter-of-factly.

“Good,” Gali nodded somewhat worriedly. “That’s… that’s good.” I could tell she was nervous among the company of her fellow Toa… or was she just dismayed by Kopaka’s indifferent reply? Either way, she was getting more uncomfortable by the second, not helped by the fact that everyone else pretended to be minding their own business; only Hahli’s expression showed any shared concern.

All spirits were lifted, however, by the arrival of Macku and dinner.

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Chapter 19

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 Macku was carrying a large tray filled with some kind of roasted bird rahi. “Dinner’s here,” she announced as she set it down on the table.

“Husi!” Hewkii identified the meal. “You’ve really outdone yourself this time, Macku.”

“Best to bring out something special when we have guests,” Macku smiled, looking at me and Kopaka. No kidding about the ‘special’ part. Not only did the husi look to be impeccably cooked; it was lying on a kind of seaweed salad bed, with various fruits arranged throughout. A carving fork and knife protruded from the top of the roasted bird. Macku’d clearly put time into the presentation.

“It looks great,” I commented. “Thank you.”

“Please, tuck in,” Macku stepped back and walked around us, taking the one spot remaining on the couch next to Hewkii.

Jaller got up and pulled the carving equipment out of the bird’s back. He turned to Kopaka, asking: “how much?” Kopaka held up two slightly pinched fingers, prompting Jaller to carve off a small piece of the husi and deposit it on Kopaka’s plate. The Toa of Ice sat back, while Jaller turned to me.

It wasn’t long before he’d served everyone their desired helping, and we all enjoyed the result of Macku, by her description, “…experimenting all day with different spices to get just the right flavor.” As far as I was concerned, she’d hit the mark, and I don’t think anyone at the table would have argued. The arrival of food as a topic also dispelled the uncomfortable air that had pervaded before Macku’s arrival, though the Ga-Matoran’s curiosity and conversational drive certainly helped. Hewkii told us about the progress that his Kolhii team had made again, after which Jaller and Hahli described exactly what all they’d done to fix up Kopaka’s insides. The Toa of Ice remained noticeably quiet throughout the conversation, his eyes mostly fixed on Gali, who was making her way through one generous helping of Husi after another. I got a growing sense of disbelief and frustration from Kopaka; I think he was having a hard time believing that that really was his sister sitting down the table. His mounting feelings had me worried, too. What would he say if he was left alone with Gali?

“What do you think, Lis?” Hahli asked.

“Huh?” for a moment I’d stopped listening. “Sorry, about what?”

“Going back into the Great Spirit Robot,” Macku explained.

“We’re going to get a hold of some Kaukaus, if possible,” Hahli added. “It’ll be expensive, but it would help a lot for those of us who can’t breathe water.”

“Oh, right, since the thing is flooded,” I caught up. “Well, if we’re going that route, we might look at a few other masks that could be helpful.” I’d seen first-hand from Kopaka how useful an arsenal of Kanohi could be, taxing as it probably was to maintain.

“Not a bad idea,” Hahli said. “Again, though; it’ll be expensive.”

“Who else do you have so far?” I asked.

“Well, we’re all coming,” Jaller said, gesturing to himself as well as Hewkii.

“I’m going to work on documenting the trip,” Hahli said. “There may not be much left in there, but any footage would help teach newer generations about where their ancestors came from.”

“It’s documenting our history,” Hewkii added. “We’ve come far ever since we all left that robot, but sometimes it pays to look back.”

“And, when is this all supposed to happen?” I wondered.

“Sometime early next year,” Hahli answered. “We’ve been thinking about it for years, but only recently have things really begun to pick up steam. That said, there’ll be a lot of equipment involved. Even if we decide to bring more Kanohi, it’d only be the start of it.”

“Of course,” I agreed, “and I’ll help in whatever way I can.”

“Good to see that at least someone is still interested in preserving our past,” Hewkii smiled. “Seriously, I had to explain to one of my Kolhii players the other day what a Bohrok is.” Everyone chuckled, though again there was a kind of uncomfortable undertone, an acknowledgement that, barring me, they were all getting on a bit, and the experiences that had defined them were now well beyond the memory of most people.

The conversation soon moved on to some of the stories Hahli had covered as of late, which in turn led to a discussion of the renovations being made to the city’s largest Kolhii stadium. Macku stepped out to get drinks at one point. After a good hour and a half, there wasn’t anything left of the Husi beyond its bones, largely due to Gali’s ‘efforts.’ Macku brought out a very nice looking pie for dessert. It turned out to taste as good as it looked, and it wasn’t long before the plate was all but empty, and all of us were quite satisfied.

“That was excellent, Macku,” Hewkii complemented. The rest of us agreed.

“Glad you all liked it,” the Ga-Matoran smiled. “So, what’s the plan for the evening?”

“I think we should start on that leg.” Jaller gestured to Kopaka, then looked to Gali. “Can we get it done before midnight this time?

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Gali said somewhat sheepishly.

“Well, if you’re all going to do that…” Hewkii got up and turned to Macku, “… I’d like head out for a bit. Would you like to join me?” he invited the Ga-Matoran.

“Oh, I’ve got to take care of the dishes first,” Macku blushed, “but after that…”

“I’ve got it,” Hahli interjected. “You two go have fun.”

“Really, Hahli, it’s no problem,” Macku argued.

“No, just go,” Hahli urged her. “You’ve been working like mad for us the past two days. Go and enjoy yourself.” I wasn’t going to say it, but I could tell Hahli had her own reasons to want to occupy herself with the dishes; her mood had sunk the moment the topic of Kopaka’s leg was brought up. I think she wanted to keep some distance between herself and him for a while, and this was her ticket out of helping with the surgery.

“Well, if you insist…” Macku turned back to Hewkii. “Shall we?” They left the room and were soon out of the house.

“Not that it is any of my business, but… where are they going?” I asked.

“The beach, probably,” Hahli explained, relieved. “It’s nice and quiet in the evening. Romantic, even.”

“Ah…” I was right; Hewkii and Macku’s relationship was far more than a close friendship, though I couldn’t really decipher the reason why.

As Hahli gathered the dishes and took them to the kitchen, Jaller, Kopaka, and Gali proceeded to make their way upstairs. I followed them, and soon we were ready to start fixing the most obviously broken thing about Kopaka’s body; that mangled right leg. Kopaka’d already acknowledged that a Muaka was responsible for it, and by the looks of it the leg had been used as a chew toy by one of those massive creatures. Its armor had large holes and gashes torn into it, and was bent in a number of ways that would have made it impossible to fit it onto a… non-mangled leg, I guess.

After we removed the plating, the true extent of the damage became clear; the leg had been broken in multiple places and clearly hadn’t been set properly; the core structure had several jarring, unnatural angles to it, exposed between the atrophied muscle strands that stretched over it but failed to cover it in any way. The knee joint was in poor shape, and the ankle was busted to the point of locking Kopaka’s foot in place.

“You tried to fix this yourself, didn’t you?” Gali asked.

“Of course,” Kopaka said as though that was never in question.

“Well, it’s not good,” Gali continued. “The muscle in here’s almost gone… looks like you haven’t had much circulation in here for a while.”

“It kept freezing,” Kopaka answered. Somehow I found the thought of a Toa of Ice having to worry about freezing a bit ironic.

“That’s because there was no circulation,” Gali concluded as she started to inspect some of the muscle strands more closely, disconnecting and peeling them back to lay bare the structure underneath. “Well, good news is the muscle isn’t dead,” she said, “but even if we arrange everything properly, it’ll be weak. You won’t be rid of that cane for a while.”

“At least it will recover,” I said, trying to put a positive spin on things. I was relieved; for a moment, I thought the leg was beyond fixing and that we’d have to amputate it and get a hold of replacement parts.

“Just like Tahu, right?” Jaller asked. “Start by straightening the bone?”

“Right,” Gali agreed. “Work from the inside out.” She had now disconnected almost all the muscle strands, laying them on the table beside her. They looked like dark, shriveled worms; not at all the healthy, reddish tissue that one would normally expect. The leg’s jagged and bent metal inner structure was now laid bare; I sensed disbelief from Jaller.

“Even Tahu’s never this bad,” he half mumbled as he begun to inspect some of the sharp turns and jagged edges on the bone. It clearly had been set badly, and Kopaka’s body had ever so slowly welded it back together, cementing its new position. “I may have to break and re-weld it altogether,” Jaller informed us. “It’ll be quicker than trying to melt and bend it all back into shape.” Kopaka nodded, but Gali looked a bit more worried.

“You’re sure?” she asked. “It would also be the most painful way to go about it, and we’re out of pain killers.”

“You’ve got me,” I offered. “If Kopaka’s fine with it, that is…” I looked to Kopaka, who uncharacteristically hesitated at first, but then relented. “It would help if you were asleep,” I suggested. “Less noise for me to keep track of.”

“So be it, then,” Kopaka said.

“Very well,” Gali sighed, opening up the drawer of the bedside table, and pulling out one of the bottles that Hahli and Macku had gathered the night before. “This’ll help you get to sleep,” she explained to Kopaka, “but don’t hold me accountable for the dreams.” Apparently unconcerned by the warning, Kopaka took the pill and swallowed it, then lay back and closed his eyes.

“That was quick,” Jaller noted. “Usually it takes longer with Tahu.”

“He’s not asleep,” I corrected him. “He’s waiting. Give him a few minutes.” I could still see plenty of activity in Kopaka’s brain, but it slowly started to settle down. While I waited, Gali and Jaller discussed the exact procedure lying in front of them; Gali’d stop the circulation running through the leg altogether so they could operate on it safely, after which Jaller would heat up the bone in its worst bent spot until it was hot enough to break cleanly and reset. He’d probably have to move quite a bit of metal about in the process, but once the worst break was corrected, the rest could probably be bent back into shape. After the muscle strands were re-fitted, the knee joint would have to be oiled.

“As for the ankle…” Gali sighed. “I’m afraid there’s not much we can do there without new parts.” She pointed out the ankle had probably received the worst end of the Muaka’s teeth, and that it had been broken so badly that in the process of welding the pieces back together, Kopaka’s body had completely locked up the joint. Short of a new ankle, not much could be done to fix it.

“I think he’s asleep now,” I informed her. It’d been about ten minutes, during which I’d gradually watched Kopaka’s mind settle into its resting state.

“Let’s get started, then.” Jaller picked up the mangled armor plates and used them to prop up the leg to make sure the sheets wouldn’t catch fire (apparently, that had happened with Tahu, once). He then placed his hands on the worst bent section of the bone, channeling his control of fire to gradually heat it up. Meanwhile, Gali focused her power in on the blood channels higher up the leg, stopping the flow as to dry up what little remained in the vessels further down. I closed my eyes and focused on Kopaka’s mind more clearly, ready to block out the ‘red’ signals. Already, a slow stream was pouring in as the bone was heated up to painful levels.

That incoming stream steadily grew stronger over the next fifteen minutes as Jaller heated up the leg to the point where, as Gali described, it was glowing in an orange-red color. After another minute or two, I suddenly had to block a near avalanche of pain signals; Jaller’d broken the leg in two. Now he’d clean and reshape the breaking points so he could smoothly weld everything back together at the right angle. Had Kopaka been awake, I couldn’t help but think that even he would have been screaming with the pain that was surging through the nerves in the part of the leg that was still attached, but I was keeping him insulated from it, and I was getting better at it.

Then I noticed signals beginning to flare up in a different area… they certainly weren’t pain. Was Kopaka waking up? I considered trying to block them, to try and dim the lights, so to speak, but I quickly realized that this wasn’t Kopaka’s regaining consciousness… no, he was dreaming. For a while, I considered trying to read into the signals, but I didn’t want to lose track of the ones I was actually supposed to be watching for, so I waited.

“Hey, Lis,” Gali got my attention, sounding somewhat concerned.

“Yes?” I answered.

“He’s looking a bit uncomfortable… Are you doing alright?”

“Yeah…” I looked to see if I was missing any pain signals. I could imagine Kopaka was shifting, or grimacing, or something of the kind. However, as far as I could see, he should have been perfectly fine, unless… “It’s not pain,” I informed Gali. “I think he’s dreaming… maybe it’s a nightmare. I’ll try to check it out.”

“You sure?” Gali asked.

“Yeah, hang on…” I couldn’t quite untangle the new dreaming signals from the underlying noise, so I didn’t want to try and block them, but I could try to read into them, to get a picture, a snapshot of what exactly Kopaka was experiencing. Turned out I was in for a lot more than just a snapshot.

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Chapter 20

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I can’t see, but I can smell something… something awful, something rotten. I’m hurting real bad, too, and I can hear a voice. It’s a deep, tremendous voice, clearly from some powerful being, but I can’t distinguish what it’s saying. It’s distorted, like I’m listening to it underwater, but it still sounds threatening. A momentary flash of light blinds my eyes, then things darken again, but I can see now. Everything’s blurry, but I can make out that I’m lying on the ground. I look over slightly… now I recognize where I am! I don’t know its name, but I’ve seen this place before. It’s some kind of dark cave… I can barely distinguish some nightmarish-looking equipment. Is this some kind of lab? Scrap seems to be littered everywhere… my eyes fall on a red shape lying on the ground not far away from me. I blink again, trying to see more clearly exactly what it is. It’s… It’s Tahu!

He’s knocked out, wounded just like me. I try to get up, but I don’t have the strength. Instead, I turn my head, trying to look around and figure out what’s going on. I spot the green figure of Toa Lewa lying on the ground a bit farther away, along with Pohatu… that other, darker one must be Onua… Where’s Gali?

“Watch and see!” I hear her announce from above. I look up. Gali’s there, standing on a stone pillar, facing off against a monstrous, shadowy creature. A blue aura has formed around her, and I can see streaks of it drawing into her body. She’s starting to glow… what is she doing? She’s in mortal danger! We all are!

At last finding new strength, I get to my knees, but my body still isn’t really cooperating. The dark being raises one of its arms, revealing a long chain which suddenly ignites. It’s twirling the flaming weapon around as though it weighs nothing, threatening to bring it down on us at any moment! Gali, meanwhile, now looks as though she is turning into light; she glows so brightly as to make looking at her difficult. I finally get to my feet, but I have trouble standing up fully. Nevertheless, I raise my swords and attempt to call up a bolt of ice to deter our foe, but my power fails me… I try again, but barely manage a wisp of condensed air.

Gali is somehow floating above the ground, and her bright light is now illuminates our enemy. I can see his face; a bizarre mask that looks to have been welded together from scrap, yet it gives off an aura of great power. Bright red, demonic eyes are focused down on my fellow Toa as the demon suddenly raises his arm, then brings it down in a rapid motion, sending the end of the chain on a collision course with her. She’s mere moments from being struck down… At last, a sudden surge of power allows me to move, I run, sprint towards Gali, switching masks as I do so. Activating the new mask, I rise into the air; my momentum still drives me forward as the chain comes careening down onto my sister, who now seems utterly oblivious to what’s happening. I raise my shield, on course to interpose myself between her and the tyrant’s weapon…

CLANG!

Two links in the chain smash into my shield, deflecting the weapon away and sending me hurtling off to the other side. I almost hit the ground, but recover my senses soon enough to re-activate my mask and hover above it. My shield is dented and covered in black burn marks, but it has saved us; I put it away. Now positioned a ways to the right and behind Gali, I can see the chain has been extinguished. Power surging, I rapidly rise into the air, trying to get a clearer shot. About fifty meters up, I raise my blades, calling the elemental power of Ice, then point them down towards our enemy, who seems to be laughing and screaming at the same time in a power-crazed frenzy. Enough of that; I launch a freezing beam at his mask, rapidly creating a sheet of ice to blind him. Gali’s still gathering energy, floating in the air with her arms outstretched. Suddenly, I realize what she’s going to do…

Without warning, a bright flash emits from her; I’m blinded, but my ears all but shatter as a gargantuan explosion rips through the cave, and for a moment I swear I see a tidal wave shooting off in all directions at once… then everything goes silent. I don’t hear, see, or smell anything anymore…

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The dream was over.

I pulled back for a moment, back into my own senses. I felt cold.

“You okay?” I hear Jaller ask.

“Yeah… I think so.” I answered, keeping my eyes closed to keep my focus on Kopaka’s mind. “He’s definitely dreaming.”

“You looked like you were gone there,” Gali said worriedly.

“How long?” I asked.

“Only a few minutes,” the Toa of Water answered. I could see some activity starting up again.

“Hang on… I think it’s starting again.”

“The dreams?” Jaller asked.

“Yeah… hold off on Kopaka for a second. I’m checking it out.”

“Be careful,” Gali advised. “You’re looking shaky already.”

“I will, don’t worry.” I turned my attention back on the dreaming part of Kopaka’s brain. Already, it looked to be building to feverish activity.

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Ouch… my chest feels like someone just punched it really hard. Twice. I shake my head, then open my eyes. It’s a dark place, again. But there’s a dull, orange-ish light emanating from somewhere in the ceiling. This is a cave, no, a lair… and looking up I can see the inhabitant.

It has no shape, not really... a dark mass, a combination of shadow and a scrap heap, rapidly churning in the air while dark tentacles seem to erupt from it in all directions. I quickly look over my gear; somehow I only have one sword, and my shield has holes in it, but both seem to be otherwise okay. Well equipped, apparently, I move forward, ready to face our foe again. More Toa emerge from the darkness, all looking somewhat battered but otherwise okay, and ready to fight. They… they look somewhat like the Toa Nuva, but different. Their masks, their build, they bear similarities, but they seem equipped with neither the armor nor the weapons that I have seen before. Together, all of us have the dark entity surrounded.

“You are weak,” a thunderous, guttural voice seems to shout from all directions. “I could create better from nothing.” A shadowy pillar suddenly plunges down towards the ground from the bizarre aberration, splitting into six individual beams near the ground. Each beam is coalescing into a solid form… the form of a Toa! I don’t know what to make of this: within seconds, our foe has conjured up six Toa, who appear to be mirror images of all of us, except they are darker.

“We have to take them down!” the red Toa, who I’ve now decided is Tahu, orders. We all ready our weapons; the shadow Toa charge at us. I face off against one wielding a shield and sword identical to mine, wearing an Akaku. He swings first, but I easily deflect the blow with my shield. However, before I can counter, he strikes again, and then again, keeping up an avalanche of sword strikes that I can barely hold off. My darker counterpart he may be, but he appears far more reckless and aggressive than I’d dare to be.

Not far off, Tahu is struggling in a similar manner with his dark opponent, who taunts him as he attacks: “Come, give in to the flame,” it suggests in a dark, twisted version of Tahu’s own voice. “Let it consume you and all you hold dear… I know you can feel it burning deep inside.”

Suddenly, everything turns to black except for a faint red light shining down on Tahu and his opponent. For the moment, the attack on me seems to have stopped. Both Tahu and his counterpart seem frozen in position… then Tahu lowers his blade, raises his head, and closes his eyes. His shadow counterpart dives forward and… is absorbed into his chest. Seemingly knocked out, Tahu falls forward, but instead of hitting solid ground, he is swallowed by a dark sea. The red light fades, but now a dim blue light shines down in the distance above Gali facing her altered self. She stops fighting, and like Tahu absorbs her foe, then collapses into liquid ground. The light fades, but no sooner have things gone dark and a green light appears above Lewa, who does the same thing Tahu and Gali did, followed by Pohatu and Onua.

The shadowy Kopaka re-appears, looking at me just as the Kopaka I knew had done on that train, seemingly peering straight into my soul. “They do not deserve you,” he says darkly. “They do not know your honor, and they will only hold you back. Leave them. Show them how cold the ice can really be.” Everything fades to black again.

For a moment, I think the dream is over, but suddenly a bright light appears, shining down on a silver lake. Something breaks the surface… It’s Gali, slowly rising as though she’s being lifted on a platform. She looks like herself now, like Gali Nuva, but rather than regal, she looks dejected, sad, hopeless. I want to reach out, but find I have no body, no form whatsoever; I can only watch. The other Toa come rising out of the lake as well, all with their own expressions. Tahu, in particular, looks angry. Pohatu, tired. They all stop rising when their feet clear the water, and step out onto the dry shoreline, then each walk off in their own direction, away from each other and into the shadows. I move alongside Gali; now it seems like I have a body as well: I’m Kopaka Nuva again, but I am still not in control of my movement. A dark twisted version of Gali’s voice, shadow Gali’s voice, calls from behind her:

“You are nothing to them. They will not respect you, nor heed your warnings. Stop trying, Gali; you cannot save them from themselves. You are a mere drop in the ocean; weak, worthless, without purpose.” As she walks, I can see Gali’s expression change from sadness to disappointment to desperation… “No matter where you go, nothing you do will matter. So fade, Gali, fade away. There is nothing you can do.” Gali’s crying now, and she stops walking. Around her, I see fleeting images of her and the other Toa Nuva; Gali interrupting arguments between them, then arguing herself at their meetings… Onua appears in front of her; he looks frustrated and exhausted.

“No, you destroyed us,” he says bitterly.

“No…” Gali whimpers, but Onua turns and begins to walk away, then fading into the darkness. Tahu appears, then turns and walks away in the same manner, followed by the other Toa Nuva except Kopaka; me. Gali protests, then begs: “Please, please don’t go. This is not how we end!” but she can do nothing to stop them as, one by one, they all leave her behind. I want to do something, say something, to step in and show her she’s not alone, but I can’t. Defeated, destroyed, she sinks down onto the ground and sits there, head in hands, weeping. Then she turns to me: “Don’t leave, please. Not you too.” I so desperately want to help her, but I can’t do anything… I… I turn away!? I try to look back, but I can’t, I force myself to keep walking away even as my eyes well up with tears. Gali calls from behind me: “NO! DON’T GO! NOT YOU TOO! DON’T GO PLEASE! THIS IS NOT HOW WE END!” I keep forcing myself on with every step; her voice fades with distance, but the feelings linger. The temperature seems to be dropping around me as I find myself walking through snow… looking forward, I see the Ko-Wahi mountains. Soon, they are all around me.

I keep going, seeing creatures moving in the distance, but then the mountains and snow begin to fade again, and… what’s that in the distance? Still walking, I notice a figure has appeared beside me. It’s me! I mean, me, Lis! Lis… she’s talking, but I somehow can’t understand a word she is… I am saying. Suddenly, I extend my arm, shoving straight into her, and she fades in to thin air. How rude! I look forward again, the object that was distant now in plain view. It’s the couch, the couch from downstairs, and I’m looking at it from behind. It’s lit only by an elevated glowing rectangle in front of it. Gali’s sitting on it, seemingly collapsed, tired… I keep approaching, moving around the side of the couch; now I see her again… she’s huge. She looks like she does today, absentmindedly watching the screen while munching on what looks like one of Macku’s sandwiches. She turns to me; her eyes are glazed over, but when she recognizes me they suddenly become clear. I expect her to react as she did last night, when I saw her meet Kopaka again for the first time in years, but instead her face takes on the same anguished expression I remember from her breakdown.

“Why, Kopaka, why did you leave?” she says, tearing up as she does so. I don’t say anything; I want to, but I stay silent. “WHY!?” Gali continues. “You knew I needed you! You knew!” Out of the darkness behind her, Shadow Kopaka appears, apparently having taken on a Nuva form as well.

“Hello,” he greets me in that sick, twisted voice. “Remember me?” He grins as Gali looks to me, desperately, unaware of the monster behind her. I want to pull out my sword, charge, punch him, do anything, but I can’t move. “Of course you do,” the dark Toa continues as he leans down towards Gali. “I am you.” He grins, then turns to the trapped Toa of Water. “Tell him, dear.”

“You knew,” Gali says to me, trembling. “You knew you shouldn’t have left. Why did you? WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME!?” she begged. “I NEEDED YOU!” Shadow Kopaka’s eyes flash bright red as he stands up. He walks around Gali and towards me.

“Look at her now,” he says as Gali turns back to the screen and begins to blow up even more. “Did I not tell you she would only slow you down?” the dark Toa continued, “Turns out I was right; it is good that you listened to me.” He looks back down at Gali, who by now looks utterly helpless, so big that she probably can’t even stand up anymore… “Well done, Kopaka” he grins as everything except his face slowly fades away. His eyes are still staring right through me. “Very. Well. Done.”

I… I can’t take it anymore. “NO!”

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I opened my eyes; I was standing, trembling, with sweat running down my forehead, breathing heavily. Gali and Jaller were both looking at me with stunned looks on their faces.

“Lis! What is it?” Gali asked, clearly concerned. I didn’t get a chance to answer before Kopaka awoke and bolted up into a sitting position.

“AAARRGH!”

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Chapter 21

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Kopaka’s eyes were wide open, and I could see the flash of panic akin to that of a cornered animal. For a moment, I feared he might kick into a fight-or-flight response.

“It’s okay! It’s okay!” Gali turned to her brother, raising her hands slightly, trying to calm him down. On the other side, however, Jaller looked about to pull out his sword, and he was holding Kopaka’s detached lower right leg. In between them, I stood, still all but frozen in position as I tried to recollect myself; shaking and with what I imagine was a look of terror on my face, I definitely didn’t look good.

Luckily, Kopaka’s habit of checking himself kicked in; he looked around, still obviously unnerved, but after a few seconds his rational brain took over and his face returned to its typical, neutral expression. “I believe… I am not supposed to be awake right now,” he said, his voice still revealing a tremble.

“No, you’re not!” Jaller exclaimed, still on edge. He turned to me. “What was that!?”

“I… I saw his dream,” I stammered.

“Are you okay?” Gali asked, concerned. I looked to Kopaka, whose had mind telepathed agitation the moment I mentioned seeing his dream, then back to Gali.

“Yeah…” I reasserted myself. “Yeah, I think I’ll be okay.”

“You look like you’ve seen ghosts,” Gali noted.

“I… I think I kind of did,” I said, still with the image of the shadow Kopaka in my head.

“Excuse me,” Kopaka got our attention. He pointed at the broken-off leg that Jaller was holding. “Do you need to be in here to work on that?”

“Come to think of it, no.” Jaller answered. “Not until we put you back together.”

“And you,” Kopaka turned to Gali, “is your presence required at this time?”

“I’m stopping you from bleeding out,” Gali pointed at where the leg had been broken off, just below the knee, where an open blood channel was curiously dry. Kopaka leant forward and inspected the spot, then reached forward and covered the open channel with his hand, freezing a clump of ice over it to seal it.

“That should hold it,” he asserted. “Now, I would like to have a word alone with Lis.”

“No problem,” Jaller said curtly as he got up, then made his way around me and out of the room.

“You sure?” Gali asked.

“You know me to kid?” Kopaka said, sounding moody even by his standards.

“Okay,” Gali sighed as, with considerable effort, she got to her feet. “But call me if anything happens with that.” Kopaka nodded, after which Gali departed the room. I stood, waiting for Kopaka to say something, but he waited in silence for a good thirty seconds as the Toa of Water audibly made her way down the stairs.

“Close the door,” he finally instructed. I obliged, then returned to my position standing at the foot of the bed. Again, Kopaka paused for a moment, but already he had adopted that piercing gaze again, much to my discomfort.

“Look…” I began, “I didn’t mean to get so caught up...”

“WHAT IN KARZAHNI’S NAME MADE YOU THINK YOU HAD THE RIGHT TO DO THAT!?” Kopaka thundered at me. His forceful outburst caught me by surprise; dumbfounded, I couldn’t muster an immediate reply. “I told you certain things are to be left hidden,” he continued, “and you blatantly disregard it!”

“Gali told me to!” I blurted out. Kopaka didn’t believe me. “I mean, she said you looked uncomfortable,” I elaborated, “so I blocked out the pain just like I was supposed to, but it was those dreams that were causing you pain. I told her I’d check it out!”

“One’s dreams are meant to be private.” Kopaka contended, sounding calmer but no less agitated. “Especially so when they are influenced by mind-altering substances.”

“I know, okay? I’m sorry!” I apologized. “I didn’t mean to… to get caught up like I did.”

Kopaka’s eyes remained fixed on me. “You did not mean to,” he said sternly. “You mean to say that you were not prepared for what you saw.”

“Well, should I have been?” I asked, exasperated. “Y-You saw what I saw, right? The… the twisted monsters, the evil Toa.”

“The shadow Toa, they are ancient history now,” Kopaka dismissed. “Mere illusions, nothing important.”

“Not important?” I was staggered.

“We dealt with them,” Kopaka explained. “They are long gone, if they even existed in the first place.”

I thought for a moment. “But, they looked real… Yours claimed to still be a part of you.”

“What you saw was a drug-induced nightmare,” Kopaka reminded me. “Do not expect it to be accurate. In fact, consider it false.”

“You’re sure?” I couldn’t just believe that there was no significance to these dreams whatsoever. They had hit far too hard and close for that.

“I am,” Kopaka asserted. “Refrain from looking into my dreams again, or there will be consequences.” I couldn’t imagine what those consequences might have been, but felt inclined to believe him.

“Okay, I won’t do it again,” I agreed. “But if you think there’s no meaning behind what we saw, you’re wrong.”

“Believe what you will,” Kopaka said coldly, “but I will be awake for the rest of this procedure.”

“Fine…” I acquiesced. “I’ll tell Gali and Jaller.” I turned and headed out into the hallway. Kopaka seemed awfully eager to shut down the dreams as anything of value, but that only reinforced the notion that there really was some meaning behind them. No, I didn’t believe that they were mere drugged hallucinations; they reflected deeper feelings, exactly those that Kopaka worked so hard to suppress, and if any in particular stood out, it was guilt. Guilt about Gali, about leaving her when he was her last rope, about helping to push her over the edge. I couldn’t decide whether he was really the one responsible for it, but he had been the last to walk out of that room, the last to turn away. And the guilt proved that Tahu was right; for all his pretenses, the way he deluded himself and others, Kopaka did care, something that his darker side, shadow Toa or not, tried desperately to cover up.

I found Gali sitting on a couch in the living room with a drink and a large bowl filled with some kind of fried snack food, watching a news broadcast on the telescreen.

“Hey,” I greeted as I took the chair next to her.

“How are you doing?” she looked up, still concerned.

“Shaken a bit, to be honest.”

“He was angry, wasn’t he?” she said somberly.

“He believes I invaded his privacy by looking into those dreams,” I explained, “and yeah, he was angry about it.”

“It was necessary,” Gali reassured me. “No matter what he says, you were right to look into it, even if it was a risk.”

“Yeah…” I sighed. Both of us were quiet for a moment, but then I remembered something. “I have a question.”

“Go ahead,” Gali invited.

“Did you ever use a nova blast?” The question clearly surprised Gali.

“Nova blast?” she asked. “Well, yes… once. Why do you ask?”

“The first dream… I think I saw it,” I continued. “You were facing some kind of gigantic evil creature in a cave, a lab of some sort.”

“Makuta Icarax,” Gali said, shuddering as she remembered the name. “Stronger than Teridax, and several times more ferocious.” She paused, trying to recall more. “We were sent to retrieve a staff,” she continued, “the staff of Artakha. Icarax had stolen it, and we tracked him to Karzahni.”

“The confrontation didn’t go well, did it?”

“We were struck down, one by one,” Gali said quietly. “The nova blast… it was my last ditch option.” She sighed; this wasn’t a pleasant memory. “Sorry, but… you said you saw me do it? In Kopaka’s dream?”

“Yeah. He saw it, too,” I recalled. “He even jumped in with his shield, blocking one of the chain strikes while you were charging.”

Gali looked rather perplexed. “Chains? What chains?”

“The flaming chains,” I explained. “Icarax almost hit you while you were charging the nova blast, but Kopaka blocked him. Then he used ice to freeze over Icarax’s eyes, so he couldn’t see. You don’t remember?”

“No.” Gali shook her head. “Flaming chains? Icarax didn’t have any of those… And my brothers were all knocked out; they only knew about the nova blast when I told them afterwards.”

“Then… who did I see?” I asked.

“I’m not sure.” Gali pondered what beings she’d heard of that used flaming chains.

“He had a weird mask, too,” I elaborated, “like it was made from scrap metal, or a few masks welded together.”

Gali’s face turned bleak. “I think I know who you’re talking about.”

“Who?”

“Karzahni,” she answered. “We never faced Karzahni… not in his own realm, that is.”

“So, Kopaka was making things up?” I didn’t take him for the imaginative type.

“Could be. I mean, it was a dream, not an exact memory,” Gali reminded me.

“That’s true…” I wondered what exactly its significance was, then. How much of what I’d seen was wrong? Or was it Kopaka’s idealized version of events? Of course, it hadn’t been the only dream either… “I, uhm, I did see something else,” I continued, unsure of how to approach the second one.

“What was it?” Gali asked curiously.

“Well, it might be a bit personal,” I said, still hesitant, “but… was there ever such a thing as shadow Toa?”

“Shadow Toa?” Gali said, somewhat shocked. “Yes… but they were illusions, created by Makuta Teridax.”

“So Kopaka told me,” I continued, “but I saw them. In his second dream, that is.”

“That’s… that’s odd.” Gali’s voice had weakened in tone; clearly the shadow Toa were an uncomfortable topic for her as well. “That was ages ago, back on Mata Nui. They… they were created by the Makuta… dark versions of ourselves for us to fight.”

“How did you beat them?” I wondered.

“We… we realized that they were just mirrors… mirror versions of ourselves,” Gali said, taking a sip from her drink to steady herself. “When we accepted that, they… we absorbed them… and they were gone.”

“I saw that,” I acknowledged, “but I still saw shadow Kopaka after that… he was taunting Kopaka.”

“They did do that… all of them.”

“He was still doing it after he was absorbed, though,” I continued. “Like he was still there.”

“That’s not possible…” Gali said it but her reaction confirmed that she didn’t fully believe it. “They, they’re gone. Even the Makuta that created them no longer exists.”

I remembered hearing shadow Gali’s voice… had Kopaka’s dream been accurate in that regard? “I’m sorry, and I know this is hard, but… do you remember what your shadow Toa said to you?” I asked.

“Yes…” Gali sighed, lowering her head as she gathered her thoughts. When she looked up at me again, her expression had changed. Rather than shocked, she looked troubled, sad. “She… she said I couldn’t do anything about the other Toa,” she began, “that I couldn’t do anything at all… She told me I was worthless, that I should have given up, t-that nothing I could do… nothing would matter.” She choked and teared up as she recalled her vicious counterpart.

“It’s okay…” I reached in, trying to comfort her. “That’s… that’s all I need to know.” As far as I was concerned, that confirmed it; Kopaka’s dream had been right as far as shadow Gali was concerned, much to my dismay. We sat there for a bit as Gali recollected herself.

“Sorry…” she said, “it’s… it’s difficult. They were horrible.”

“I know.”

“Y-you said the shadow Toa… they were in his dream? All of them?”

“Yes, they were… I saw you fighting them, absorbing them… and I heard what they said.”

“I’m sorry,” Gali said, “sorry for making you go in there… You shouldn’t have had to see that.”

“It’s fine,” I assured her. “I’m sure they’re long gone. Besides, I wanted to check it out, remember?”

“That’s true… that you did.” She gave a meek smile; I did the same. After a moment, realizing the absurdity of our now shared experience, we chuckled. There was a certain relief; we’d seen bad things, but hey, we made it through, and here we were…

“You did warn him about the dreams,” I reminded her. “He was pretty shaken too.”

“True,” she smiled. “You know, I wonder…” she paused to think for a moment. “How exactly did you end up with him anyway? You seem to be the one person that can stand him.”

“Probably true,” I admitted. “I basically walked into him in Ko-Koro-Nuva… he was coming down from the mountains, he looked hurt, and I was curious, you know? I mean, he was wearing a cloak, so I couldn’t see who he was, and he looked hurt.”

“So you followed him,” Gali nodded.

“Yeah… he boarded the train north, and I didn’t really have any place to go, so… I went with him. We talked on that train, and I figured it’d be interesting to stay with him for a while, to learn something about, well… being a Toa.”

“Makes sense,” Gali agreed.

“Yeah…” I reflected. “A lot has happened the last four days. He’s told me a lot of things, too, about history and such.”

“Well, you’ve accomplished something pretty amazing, then,” Gali noted. I looked to her, wondering what she was referring to. She explained: “You’ve managed to get Kopaka to tolerate you for four days on end.” We laughed; she was right. Over the last few days, I’d seen Kopaka being grumpy and distant to just about everyone, but somehow he’d allowed me to stick around.

“Well, he did try to get rid of me once,” I remembered, “and he did make the point multiple times that I didn’t have any obligation to stay with him… but yeah, here I am.”

“Maybe he sees something in you,” Gali said, “but I don’t know what that might be.”

“Maybe…” I sighed, relaxing. “I mean, he’s kind of been teaching me, I guess…”

“Educating the future generation,” Gali remarked. “Not something I imagined him doing, but hey, maybe he just wants company after all those years alone.” We looked at each other, then burst into laughter again. Kopaka? Looking for company? Yeah right…

“What’s going on here?” Jaller appeared in the doorway, followed closely behind by Hahli.

“Gali?” Hahli looked surprised, then stepped forward, noticing the bowl on the table. “Already?” she asked. The connotation was obvious.

“Kopaka asked them to leave for a while,” I explained.

“Did he, now…” Hahli turned to Jaller, then noticed the partially re-assembled leg he was holding onto. “You’ve got his leg!?”

“I’m working on it,” Jaller said. I noticed the leg’s armor had already been largely bent back into something resembling its original shape.

“It looks better already,” I observed.

“Well, we were right,” Jaller said to Gali. “Not much we can do about the ankle, but this section is pretty much done otherwise. It goes a lot quicker when you don’t have to worry about the person it’s attached to.”

“You should remember that for the next time Tahu shows up,” I quipped, getting a chuckle from Gali and a restrained smile from Jaller.

“On a more serious note, you might want to go and re-attach it,” Hahli pointed out.

“That’s the plan,” Gali informed her.

“I’m pretty sure Kopaka is ready whenever,” I said. “He said he’d rather be awake this time, though.”

“Of course he does…” Gali mumbled as she prepared to get up.

“Awake? For this?” Jaller didn’t look all that excited about the prospect.

“Yup… that’s Kopaka.” Gali sighed after she got to her feet.

“Probably trying to prove how strong he is,” Hahli said sarcastically. Gali, Jaller, and I momentarily exchanged looks.

“Let’s go with that,” Gali said as she started around the table, grabbing a handful from the bowl along the way as Hahli and Jaller looked on disapprovingly. “Shall we?” the older Toa gestured towards the hallway.

Jaller turned and quickly made his way to the hallway and the stairs, slightly shaking his head ‘no’ as he mumbled something to himself. Gali and I followed, the former either oblivious to or ignoring the apprehensive look on Hahli’s face as the Toa Nuva waddled past.

Heading back upstairs, I thought back to the Gali I’d seen in Kopaka’s second dream… from Macku’s description and the memories I’d seen from Kopaka, it had certainly been an accurate portrayal, yet I found it scarcely believable that I’d just been talking to, joking, and bonding with that same Toa. Gali seemed all at once lively, enthusiastic, concerned about her brother… not at all the depressed, apathetic shell of her former self that Macku had described and the vision had showed. Was it all a shallow façade, or was her confidence just shattered so easily that she inevitably collapsed back into that downward spiral the moment her services weren’t needed anymore? And if that was the case, what would happen after we fixed Kopaka’s leg? He clearly wanted to leave, and with his leg put back together, he totally could, possibly taking Gali’s one reason to come alive with him. I noticed that, by the time we reached the room, Gali’s mood had fallen considerably as well; it had become tainted, once again, with a nervous edge, and it wasn’t just about the surgery…

Was she thinking the same thing I was?

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Chapter 22

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“Good news!” Jaller announced as he entered the room ahead of Gali and me. I was wondering where the sudden rush of euphoria had come from, but he answered my question before I could ask it; “This is ready to be re-attached,” he continued, holding up Kopaka’s severed leg, “and it’s not even nine o’clock yet!” Gali and I entered the room.

“How are you feeling?” Gali asked the Toa of Ice, who’d apparently been waiting patiently for us to return.

“Fine.” I rolled my eyes at Kopaka’s usual answer.

“Unfortunately, it looks like your ankle won’t be working again,” Jaller continued his presentation, “but other than that, this is as good as new.” Comically enthusiastic he may have been, but I couldn’t say the leg looked ‘good as new.’ Functional, yes, but it was also abundantly clear that Jaller really wanted to get this over with in good time.

“You’re sure you want to be awake for this?” Gali asked. “It will be painful.”

“I can’t do much about pain signals when you’re awake,” I added. “Too much noise.”

“I will manage,” Kopaka said calmly. He’d probably been mentally preparing himself already, knowing his penchant for planning ahead.

“Okay then, let’s begin.” Jaller said as he positioned himself at the foot of the bed, motioning for me to step aside. Gali sat down on the chair beside the bed and focused in on the blood channels leading down to the point where Kopaka’s leg was severed.

“I’ve got the blood flow stopped,” she informed us.

“Wonderful.” Jaller reached and put his hand against the chunk of ice covering the end of the blood channel. Adding heat, he melted it in a matter of seconds, but thanks to Gali no blood came rushing out. Jaller looked up to Kopaka. “Ready?” he asked. The Toa of Ice nodded, to which Jaller placed his hands on the exposed bone on both the attached and severed parts of Kopaka’s leg, channeling heat to bring them up to welding temperature.

Kopaka remained stoic at first, blocking out or managing the pain as best he could, but as Jaller got to the point where things began to glow red, signs of stress began to show on the old Toa’s face. He clenched his teeth, closed his eyes, and at one point grimaced for a moment before reasserting his expression again. Gali looked on with concern; I tried to focus in on Kopaka’s mind to help block out some of the pain, but it was such a jumble of activity that I found it hard to get anywhere. Nevertheless, I kept trying, but this time I kept my eyes open to avoid getting caught up in his thoughts again.

“Almost there,” Jaller said after he’d been heating things for about ten minutes. In spite of my help, I could tell Kopaka was in pain that I personally would have considered unbearable, and even he couldn’t conceal that as every muscle in his body contracted; his way of blocking out the opportunity for any reflex to kick in and pull his leg ‘out of the fire. “Okay, this should be hot enough,” Jaller decided. The edges of the broken bone gave off a bright yellow, almost white light. “Gali, can you hold down his leg?” Jaller asked, motioning towards Kopaka’s right thigh. “This’ll hurt, but I can’t afford him moving while I do it.”

“Of course.” Gali got up and placed her hands on top of Kopaka’s thigh, then leant forward, pressing down a considerable weight on the leg and effectively holding it in place with a vice grip.

“Ready?” Jaller asked. Gali and Kopaka both nodded ‘yes,’ though Kopaka did so with significant difficulty. Jaller lined up the lower leg with what bone was still attached to the knee. Satisfied with the alignment, he counted down: “3… 2… 1…” and shoved leg forward when he reached his unspoken ‘0.’ He pushed hard, forcing the two hot ends of the bone together to start the melding process. Kopaka grimaced and let out a forced grunt, keeping himself from howling out in pain as his body jerked in response to the thunderbolt of pain signals shooting up his leg. With Gali holding it down, however, he couldn’t move it, even as Jaller kept pushing to meld the metal further. Once he was satisfied with that, the Toa of Fire began squeezing the joint to complete the weld… after about a minute of shoving, prodding, shaping, and periodically checking the alignment, he seemed satisfied.

“Gali, water. Now!” he ordered. Gali obliged, moving one of her hands to above the still glowing joint and creating a bubble of water to envelop it whole. With a loud hissing sound, the bubble evaporated, but Gali continued to replenish it, rapidly cooling the metal down. Within seconds, it had cooled to where it had stopped glowing. Gali recalled her bubble as Jaller inspected the weld. The metal was still hot and discolored, and the bone’s surface was somewhat uneven. It looked strong, however, and above all, straight. Jaller put Kopaka’s legs together, checking the length. They appeared to be exactly even.

“Well, I think that’s just about perfect,” he declared.

“You feel it?” Gali asked Kopaka, who was no longer having to concentrate all his efforts on not giving in to the pain. I’d drawn back as well, my presence in Kopaka’s mind no longer necessary.

“Yes,” he answered, looking down at the reattached leg.

“Good.” Gali stepped back. “Blood should be flowing into it now,” she assured him.

“It’s still cooling down,” Jaller advised, “but it should be good for the rest of you to touch pretty soon.” We waited a minute while he kept a close eye on the weld, watching for any cracks or imperfections, but nothing bad happened.

“Keep an eye on it; I’ll go get some oil for that knee.” He stood up and headed downstairs while Gali and I watched to make sure there were no leaks anywhere along the bone or in the foot. After a minute or two of nothing happening, Gali declared the re-attachment a success. Kopaka wasn’t one for celebrating, so she and started fiting the loose muscle strands over the core structure, carefully aligning them to match Kopaka’s other, undamaged leg.

“It may be a little while before everything is fully reconnected, but all of these should still work, and they’ll get better over time,” she explained, referring to the dark, dried-up muscle strands. Jaller soon returned with a squeeze bottle with oil in it.

“About that knee,” he pointed at Kopaka’s right knee. “It’s going to need a few drops of this.”

“I will take care of it.” Having recovered from the agonizing experience of getting his leg re-attached, Kopaka sat up and took the oil from Jaller, then proceeded to apply it to his knee by squeezing drops of oil onto the seams of the joint and then allowing it to slowly sink in. Jaller leant down to inspect the weld one last time; it had now cooled down, and was still clean of the imperfections he’d worried about.

“Okay, then…” he yawned. “I’ve got an early guard review for tomorrow, so unless you need me to weld something else shut I’d like to call it a night.”

“This should be all,” Gali said, though she didn’t sound particularly excited about it.

“Great.” Jaller said. “Goodnight then.”

“’night,” Gali said without looking up. Kopaka nodded, I said “goodnight,” and with that, Jaller headed off to one of the other bedrooms. Things were silent for a while after that; I watched as Gali meticulously aligned the muscle strands to provide as much strength as possible, while Kopaka patiently re-lubricated his knee.

“So, how long are you staying?” Gali eventually broke the silence.

“Staying?” Kopaka didn’t look up.

“A couple of days, maybe, just to recover,” the Toa of Water suggested. “I mean, your leg will be good after this, and we fixed your heart and lungs, but… you know, there’s a few other things I could take a look at.” I couldn’t help but notice that she sounded a bit nervous.

“No,” Kopaka said, much to Gali’s disappointment. “I will leave when this is done.”

“So soon?” Gali asked. “Why do you need to go so badly?”

“It is easier to travel unseen at night,” Kopaka explained. “I would rather not reveal my presence to the world. The attention is only a hindrance.”

“Oh… of course.” Gali sighed, then continued working the leg. A minute or so later, she broke the silence again. “You’re sure?” She asked. “I mean, I really should take a look at your spine, too. I noticed there was a nick in one of the links.”

“Dangerous?” Kopaka asked.

“No…” Gali admitted, “but it could start to hurt. You don’t want that, right?”

“I will manage,” Kopaka answered. Again, there was silence for a while. Then Gali tried again.

“What about your chest? Did Jaller connect all the muscles properly?”

“No.”

“Well, at least let me take a look in there, then,” Gali suggested. “I mean, I’d like to wait and watch this for a while anyways,” she looked the leg, now with all muscle strands properly re-attached, “just to make sure they’re getting blood. Can I?”

“Do what you must,” Kopaka said, clearly growing annoyed with Gali delaying his departure. After setting the oil aside, he reached for the sides of his chest plate and unscrewed the bolts that held it in place. It didn’t take long to remove the piece of armor, but Gali was clearly shocked by the mess that was revealed underneath.

“He just tied them up like that!?” She exclaimed.

“It was temporary,” Kopaka defended Jaller.

“Well, good thing you’ve got me to fix it up properly, then.” Gali said. “Lie down.” Kopaka did so, after which Gali proceeded to untie and untangle the muscles. “Really,” she said, “these things would have died if you’d left them like this.” Kopaka didn’t respond, preferring to wait silently while Gali properly reconnected everything to brackets around his heartlight. It really was a tangled mess, and the fact that Kopaka had used them while they were tied up like this had only made the knots tighter. I helped out for a while.

“There,” Gali said, a good half hour later, satisfied but dismayed at the same time. “That’s how it’s supposed to be.” Kopaka moved his arms back and forth, testing the range of motion. It appeared that everything was now functioning properly, so he reached for his chest plate to re-attach it while Gali turned her attention back to his leg. “This is looking good so far,” she informed him, though again there was a sadder tone to her voice than I expected. “I think… I think I can finish it up.”

“At last.” Kopaka mumbled under his breath. Gali didn’t respond.

“Lis, would you hand me that, please?” she asked, pointing at the repaired shin guard that Jaller’d left lying on the table beside me.

“Sure.” I handed it to the Toa of Water, who proceeded to line it up with its attachment points just below the knee and above the ankle.

“You know, if you have time, I’m sure we can find the parts to fix your ankle, too,” she pointed out. “I mean, right now your foot’s kind of fixed in place…”

“I already said I am not staying,” Kopaka replied.

“Right… I guess it’ll be fine.” Gali knew the ankle would, at best, be a minor problem, but I could tell she was scrambling for some valid reason to keep Kopaka around for longer. She really didn’t want him to leave… “Where are you going, anyways?” she asked.

“Back to where I was.”

“The mountains?” she sounded concerned. Kopaka nodded. “After everything that happened up there, after all this, you want to go back?” Gali didn’t get it. “For what? What do you do up there?”

“Astronomy.”

“Charting stars?”

“Yes.”

“But… you could do that here,” Gali argued. “The knowledge towers have telescopes, really good ones, and I’m certain they would let you use them. You could even show the Matoran everything you have found out.”

“No.”

“Why not?” Gali continued. “I mean, you could stay around here instead of going back into those dangerous mountains, you’d have better equipment to work with… I’m sure they’ll let you work alone, if you prefer.”

“They would not.” Kopaka seemed pretty certain about that, and he was finding Gali’s continuing questions very annoying to deal with.

“But what if you get hurt out there again?” Gali asked, increasingly worried. By now, she’d stopped working on the leg and was arguing with Kopaka directly. “I mean, we’ve fixed you up for now, but I guarantee sooner or later something else will fail, and you probably won’t be able to make your way back again. What then, brother? What happens then?”

“Then I do not return,” Kopaka said coldly.

“You would die up there…” Gali stammered, “and you’re okay with that?” No reply. “I’m telling you, we can stop this right now. Stay, stay here with me, with us,” she pleaded, now frantic as her brother’s suicidal plan dawned on her. Kopaka didn’t respond, but I could tell his expression was darkening. “You and I are all that is left,” Gali continued. “Lewa, Onua… they’re gone. Tahu and Pohatu aren’t themselves anymore. It’s just you and me… Kopaka, we’re the last ones, the last of the Toa Nuva! You can’t walk away again, not to where you’re planning to go!” She stopped and waited, hoping Kopaka would say something. He remained silent, but his eyes shot daggers. His patience had run out. Gali tried one last time: “I know you don’t like it, but believe me… believe me when I can say you can’t take care of yourself out there.”

“That may be…” Kopaka replied at last, “…but in that I am not alone.”

“What…” Gali’s eyes were wide open. Kopaka’s anger spiked.

“Look at yourself!” he scolded her. “You argue that I cannot take care of myself when you can barely stand under the weight of your own failing! Were it not for your mask, I would not have recognized you!” Gali shrunk back… “I remember who my sister was, and this travesty, this mockery of a Toa,” Kopaka gestured at Gali’s body, “this isn’t her. The sister I knew is gone, and you’re all that’s left! How dare you call yourself one of the Toa Nuva!?” Gali was beyond shocked… she looked terrified. I’d seen all I needed, and more than I wanted to.

“That’s enough!” I stepped forward and tried to interfere, but Kopaka wouldn’t listen.

“How did you let yourself go like this!?” he continued. “Do you think that, just because we fulfilled our destiny, we can afford to rest on our laurels!? I still have a duty, Gali, and I will not abandon it for your satisfaction!” He stood up beside the bed, now towering over Gali, using the cane to support himself. “You are wrong,” he said cruelly, looking down on the speechless Toa of Water. “There are no two Toa Nuva left. There is but one: me.”

“THAT’S ENOUGH!” I positioned myself between Kopaka and Gali, who by this point had been reduced to tears. She didn’t even try argue back… instead, she just retreated… retreated into an inner shell, cocooned away from the vicious attacks of her brother. “She saved your life!” I angrily reminded Kopaka. “She fixed your heart and stayed up all night afterwards to watch over you. She fixed your stupid leg! And what do you do!? You berate her for it!” Kopaka glared down at me, but refrained from saying anything. “You know it’s true, I’ve seen it!” I continued. “If there’s one Toa Nuva left, it’s not you! It’s her, and she deserves far better than you for a brother! You should be thanking her on your knees, not destroying what little of her is left!” I paused for a moment and took a deep breath, trying to keep calm. “If you’ve got any honor, you’ll apologize to her,” I ordered, “and you’ll apologize right now.”

“Impossible,” Kopaka said through clenched teeth, clearly restraining himself. I wanted him, oh so desperately wanted him to apologize, but he blew it.

“Don’t give me that, ! I saw you, parts of you that you so stupidly deny.” I recalled Kopaka’s second dream. “I know that somewhere in there you care, and that you feel guilty for everything you’ve done! It’s eating away at you, and you just don’t let yourself admit it.” I really needed Kopaka to show some humanity for once; I knew it was in there. “Apologize to her, if only to ease your own conscience,” I begged of him.

“I have nothing to apologize for or to.”

“You’re kidding.” I was in disbelief, but as I turned and looked at Gali I was surprised to find that she’d gone, vanished in the heat of the argument. “Where… where’d she go?”

“Irrelevant,” Kopaka said as he sat down on the edge of the bed and finished fixing the shin guard onto his leg.

“You know, I thought, just for a while there, that you actually had a shred of humanity left in you,” I said, exasperated. “But… I don’t know whether that shadow Kopaka really exists or not, but he’s clearly got a hold on you.”

“He doesn’t exist…” Kopaka proceeded to argue, but he was cut off by the appearance of a furious Hahli in the doorway.

“WHAT DID YOU TELL HER!?” she demanded, marching up to Kopaka. “What in Mata Nui’s name did you say to her!?”

“I told her the truth,” Kopaka said coldly.

“You monster!” Hahli slapped Kopaka square in the face so hard that for a moment I thought she’d knocked his mask off. “You promised me! You promised you wouldn’t bring it up!”

Incensed, Kopaka rose to his feet. The temperature in the room instantly dropped something like ten degrees. “She would not listen,” he seethed, “and I swear that if you hit me again I will leave you a frozen doll without a second thought.” I tried to get in between them, to put some distance between them, but with them standing face-to-face between the bed and the wall, I couldn’t get in.

“Hey, that’s enough!” I called out, but neither Toa was paying attention.

“Oh, you wanna go!?” Hahli challenged Kopaka. “’cause I’ll fight! I’ll fight to protect her from you.”

“Do not fool yourself into thinking that you stand a chance!” Kopaka threatened. “You are even worse than Gali! She may have let herself fall, but you jumped voluntarily!”

“TAKE THAT BACK!” Hahli took a step back but stood in a combat ready position, with a blueish energy already forming around her hands. “Or I will blast you out, through that wall and into the street!”

“Try me,” Kopaka narrowed his eyes and braced himself.

“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!” a voice thundered from the doorway.

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Chapter 23

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A bright orange flash startled all of us. We quickly turned to find Jaller standing in the doorway, holding a flaming sword out in front of him.

“There will be no fighting in here!” he ordered, looking around the room, taking in the sight of two Toa standing battle-ready while I’d moved back after unsuccessfully trying to interfere. It took a moment, but eventually both Kopaka and Hahli stood down. “Good.” Jaller extinguished his sword and stepped forward. “Move aside,” he ordered Hahli, who obliged. Now Jaller stood face to face with the Toa of Ice. “By tomorrow morning, the Turaga, the guard, and every living being in this city will know you are here,” he threatened, “and I guarantee they will come looking for you. You have until then to get out of my city.”

“I was planning on leaving anyway,” Kopaka said coldly.

“News travels faster than trains,” Jaller asserted. “By the time you reach Onu-Koro-Nuva, crowds will have swarmed the stations to meet you.” That revelation clearly shocked Kopaka. For a few seconds, he stood silently, glaring at Jaller as if he was attempting to stare him down, but the captain of the guard wouldn’t back off.

At last, the Toa of Ice replied: “You will do no such thing.” It wasn’t a threat, nor an argument; Kopaka merely stated what, to him, was fact. Or was he just hoping it was?

“Try me,” was Jaller’s resolute reply.

“So be it.” Kopaka stepped forward, maneuvering himself around Jaller and towards the door. He maintained his stoic appearance, but underneath I could tell he was deeply worried. Jaller wasn’t the type not to follow up on his promises, and this capitulation could only mean that Kopaka saw no option but to take his chances out there. The first step in improving those chances as much as possible lay in leaving without delay. Jaller, Hahli, and I followed behind him as he left the room and made his way downstairs, where we found Macku and Hewkii in the hallway.

“Kopaka?” Macku quickly stepped forward, an anxious look on her face. “Gali just went downstairs, and she didn't look good... What’s going on?” The Toa of Ice marched past her without answering, followed closely by Jaller.

“He said it,” Hahli curtly informed the Matoran as she, too, passed by her.

“Said what…” the realization came over Macku before she finished the question. “Oh no…”

“Don’t worry, he’s leaving,” Jaller announced as Kopaka reached the front door. “And he won’t be back.”

“Whoa, hold on a minute!” Hewkii stepped forward. “What exactly did he say?”

“The full rant, I’m sure,” Hahli replied.

“The full rant? As in, Tahu-style?” Hewkii questioned. He looked to Kopaka, then back to Hahli.

“Worse.” Hahli glared at the Toa of Ice as he opened the door.

“I told her the truth.” Kopaka grumbled, looking back over his shoulder at the Toa of Water.

“You promised me you’d keep your mouth shut!” she snapped back.

“It was for the better,” Kopaka defended himself.

“Insulting her into saving herself!?” Hahli's question was accompanied by wild arm gestures. “He already tried that!” She pointed towards Jaller.

“...and so did Tahu,” the latter added.

“Exactly!” Hahli continued. “Tell me, is she any better off for it!? I don't think so!”

“Then she is beyond saving,” Kopaka said grimly as he turned away again.

“NO she isn't!” Hahli blurted out.

“Okay, Okay!” Hewkii stepped in again, interposing himself between the other Toa. “Can we keep it sown a bit, please?” The air was tense, but he had everyone's attention, even Kopaka's. “Now what exactly is going to happen here?” he asked Jaller.

“We’re going to spread the word,” the Toa of Fire replied. “Kopaka is back. Then we’ll see how long it takes half this planet to find him.” Kopaka was giving him a death stare, but Jaller glared back; “I’m sure their attention will be sufficient punishment for a broken promise.”

“You wish.” Hahli stood with her arms crossed.

“It is,” Jaller confirmed.

“Look, I don’t doubt it, but… can I speak to you two for a second?” Hewkii requested.

“Fine,” Hahli shrugged. Jaller offered no objections.

“Great.” Hewkii turned to Kopaka. “Just... wait a moment, okay?” Kopaka nodded.

“Make it quick,” Jaller moaned as he reluctantly accompanied Hewkii and Hahli to the living room. I looked to Kopaka, who remained standing in the doorway, looking past me down the hall as though he was expecting someone. To my surprise, Macku appeared from downstairs, carrying Kopaka’s cloak. Between the chaos and arguing, I hadn't even seen her leave.

“You’ll need this,” she said curtly as she handed him the garment, which he quickly put on. “Just so you know,” the Ga-Matoran continued, “she won’t help you again.”

“I will not need her help again,” Kopaka assured her.

“Well, even if you did, she won’t be able to provide it anymore,” Macku continued. “You were the last straw; she’s lost for good. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

“She was long lost already,” Kopaka asserted, “thanks to you and Hahli.”

“I disagree, but I guess that doesn't matter to you.” Macku sighed. “I will say this: at least we tried.” Tearing up, she turned and quickly headed back down the hall and up the stairs.

“You know, they really did,” I informed him. “They've been trying for years to pull her out of her depression.”

“Without much success,” Kopaka concluded.

“It would do you well to judge based on effort every once in a while, not just results. You might just learn something.”

“Nothing that matters to me.” Now he was glaring at me, too. I wanted to remind him that, if I'd judged him based solely on his success in fixing himself, or his social skills, I wouldn't think very highly of him either, but at that would have implied I thought highly of him in the first place, so I held off. We waited another minute or two. Kopaka periodically turned and looked up and down the dark, quiet street outside; I feared he would just decide to walk away now, but something kept him turning back, awaiting the other Toa's return. It wasn't long before they did.

“You know, you could close the door,” Hahli pointed out. “It's getting cold in here.” Her suggestion elicited exactly zero response from Kopaka, which given his fondness for the cold wasn't surprising.

“Okay, there's been a change of plans,” Jaller informed him, though he didn't sound all that excited about it. “You can leave, and we won't tell anyone you were here.”

“Good.” Kopaka didn't show it, but I could tell that inside, he was breathing a huge sigh of relief.

“...on one condition.” Hewkii stepped forward. “You're coming with me.”

“To what end?” Kopaka asked coldly.

“There's someone I need you to meet.”

“Someone I can trust, I take it?”

“Don't worry about that,” Hewkii dismissed his concern. “Even if he told anyone, they wouldn't believe him.” With a heavy sigh, Kopaka agreed to the terms.

“Fine,” he grumbled as he stepped aside.

Hewkii turned to Hahli: “I probably won't be back for a few hours. Tell Macku not to wait up.” With that, he headed out the door. Kopaka followed, closing the door behind him. Jaller sighed.

“You know I don't agree with this,” Hahli pointed out.

“Hahli, it's late, I'm tired, and I have to be up early. No arguments, not now, not after you already agreed.” Jaller rubbed his eyes.

“Uhm, excuse me?” I got their attention. “Who are they going to see?”

“An old fried of Kopaka's,” Hahli said. In spite of her disagreement with the plan, there was a hint of satisfaction in her voice.

“Kopaka has friends?” I wasn't sure that was possible after what had happened this evening.

“One friend,” Jaller informed me. “Ever heard of Pohatu?”

“The Toa Nuva of Stone? Yeah, I've heard of him.” Heard of him? I'd seen him, straight from Kopaka's memory.

“He is the only friend Kopaka's ever had, at least as far as Kopaka's concerned,” Jaller continued. “He lives on the outskirts of the city. That's where they're going.”

“Oh...”

“You're welcome to stay here, if you'd like,” Hahli offered.

“You handle that,” Jaller told her. “I'm going back to bed.”

“'night, Jaller.” Hahli turned and placed her hand on his shoulder for a moment. “Good luck tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled as he proceeded down the hallway, then up the stairs.

“Anyways, like I said, you're welcome to stay,” Hahli turned her attention back to me.

“Thanks, but... I think I might actually like to see Kopaka meeting Pohatu again,” I decided.

“Don't get too attached to him,” Hahli warned. “He'll drop you like he has everyone else first chance he gets.”

“Maybe he will,” I conceded, “but I'd like to see how he does it.”

Hahli smiled and extended her hand, which I shook. “Good luck then, Lis,” she said. “Do stop by again sometime.”

“I will,” I assured her before heading out into the cool night air. Hahli stood in the doorway and waved; I returned the gesture when I reached the street. Looking west, into the city, I could see the silhouettes of Hewkii and Kopaka. I had to run to catch up to them, but it didn't take me long.

“Hi,” I greeted when I reached them.

“Lis.” Hewkii nodded and acknowledged my presence, but Kopaka made no such gesture. No one really seemed in the talking mood, so I kept quiet as we made our way deeper into the city. Five minutes and a few turns later, we reached a set of stairs going down into a tunnel from the side of the street, which Hewkii entered. We followed, and soon found ourselves standing in an underground room of some kind; I'd never seen anything like it. A booth in the wall at the opposite end of the room gave some clue to its identity: apparently, this was part of an underground train station.

“Three tickets to Station West,” Hewkii requested at the booth. Its inhabitant, an Onu-Matoran with a distinctly dour expression, obliged, producing three tickets and writing “Station West” on them.

“Six widgets,” he said in a tired monotone. Hewkii placed a ten-widget piece on the counter.

“Keep the change,” he told the Onu-Matoran. We turned and left the room through a set of double doors on our right. “Underground rail line,” Hewkii informed us as we stepped onto a platform. “High-tech, electrical. Just completed. Makes crossing the city a lot easier.” I looked up and down the platform; on both sides, the track vanished into a barely lit tunnel. Hewkii found a small bench to sit on, while Kopaka remained standing close to the edge of the platform, waiting for the train to arrive. About fifteen minutes passed before a loud, rumbling noise heralded the arrival of the metal carriage. After it stopped and opened its doors, one tired-looking Agori disembarked; upon boarding, we were the only people in any of the three carriages besides the driver.

The train followed a vaguely circular track, stopping at two other stations before it reached Station West. The clock was closing in on eleven by the time we disembarked. Station West much resembled the one we'd embarked from in its layout, but whereas the latter had been relatively clean, this station's platform was quite dirty. Bits of trash littered the ground, and a large, crude painting of a Glatorian decorated one of the walls. Kopaka said nothing as usual, but this place did nothing to lift his spirits. I noticed that, as we crossed the platform to the exit, he seemed to plot a path around the dirtiest spots.

Emerging above ground, I found it hard to believe that we were still in the same city, such was the contrast between this neighborhood and the clean, well-kept, modern one that we'd left. These were the slums, the part of New Atero that most other people didn't get to see and didn't want to think about. Trash was piled up in the streets. The old, brick buildings had clearly been patched up numerous times, but that did nothing to conceal their dilapidated state. If Kopaka'd found the station bothersome, this place had to drive him close to panic. Nevertheless, he continued to quietly follow Hewkii as the Toa of Stone led us off the wide street and through a series of confusingly winding back alleys. Here, out of sight and away from the road, few of the houses, if they even deserved that status, had windows or even curtains, and I caught glimpses of several inhabitants as we passed by. We soon reached a slightly wider road again, where Hewkii stopped us in front of one particular house. A single-floor structure, it was somewhat larger than most of the others, but was in no better a state. A wooden crate filled with empty bottles was sitting beside the door.

“He lives here,” Hewkii told Kopaka.

“Who?” the Toa of Ice demanded.

“You'll see,” Hewkii said dejectedly as he stepped aside. Kopaka sighed, then stepped forward and knocked on the door. Getting no response, he looked back to Hewkii, who'd taken up a position leaning against the wall.

“He probably won't open,” he said. “Just go in.” Kopaka hesitated for a moment, then cracked open the door. The sound of a telescreen broadcast emanated from inside.

“Aren't you going in?” I asked Hewkii, who made no motion to follow as Kopaka entered.

“I'll wait out here,” he answered. “I don't like to go in there much. Not anymore.”

“Okay...” I nodded, somewhat concerned by Hewkii's apparent worry. If he didn't like to come here anymore, what purpose did bringing Kopaka serve? I made my way inside, almost walking straight into Kopaka in the process; the Toa of Ice had stopped barely clear of the doorway.

“Is he in here?” I asked as I maneuvered next to him. Kopaka didn't answer, his eyes were fixed on something across the room. A tiny telescreen, positioned about 30 feet away from us and facing the entrance, provided the only light in the room, courtesy of yet another late-night drama. Facing it was an old, reclining armchair, containing the slumped-over figure of a Toa.

I looked back towards Kopaka; I could tell he'd realized who he was in to meet the moment he'd entered his place. He took a deep breath, then stepped forward, making his way across the empty room. I stayed near the door and watched.

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Chapter 24

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Kopaka crossed the room slowly with his eyes fixed on the figure in the chair. The whole scene reminded me much of how he’d approached Gali, but this time he didn’t hesitate, didn’t stop or wait to be noticed.

“Brother?” he greeted in a low, subdued tone. He got no response at first, but just as he was about to move around the chair, Pohatu raised his fist.

“ bunch of morons!” he yelled, referring to the scene on the telescreen, in which two of the characters were watching and commenting on a Kolhii game. “Ain’t any of you *hic* ever held a kolhii stick before!?”

Kopaka halted for a moment at Pohatu’s sudden outburst, but quickly reasserted himself. “Brother,” he said more forcefully as he stepped forward again, entering Pohatu’s view.

“Whoa! What... Who are you!?” the Toa of Stone exclaimed. Kopaka’s eyes widened as they fell upon him.

“I am Kopaka, your brother…” The Toa of Ice’s voice faltered. He looked Pohatu up and down.

“Brother!? Ha!...” Pohatu took a drink from the bottle in his other hand. “I have no brothers…” he said, chuckling as though that was somehow amusing. I noticed that, when he wasn’t shouting, his words were slurred. That bottle likely wasn’t his first for the night. Then, all of a sudden, his drunken abandon turned back to anger. “Get out of my house!” he yelled.

Kopaka stood, shocked, neither responding nor retreating; for the first time since I’d met him, he appeared to have no idea on how to proceed. Curious, I made my way across the room, almost tripping over an empty bottle lying in the darkness on the floor. Pohatu turned and locked eyes on me.

“Th…there’s more of you!? Whaddaya want!? I won’t buy anything, I’ll tell ya right now! Scram! Get lost!” Exaggerated, uncoordinated hand gestures accompanied his drunken tirade. He took another drink. Now standing next to Kopaka, I, too, was astonished to see the state Pohatu was in. He looked dirty, haggard, and was wearing little to no armor whatsoever. His eyes were hazy, his movements clumsy. After gulping down several mouthfuls, he was dismayed to find his bottle empty. “Aw… !” he cursed at it as though that might convince it to fill itself again. The bottle offered no response, so he turned his attention back to us. “I told you to s to get lost!” he shouted as he raised the bottle over his head, then hurled it at me. His aim wasn’t much good, and rather than striking me the bottle went careening into the wall, where it shattered. “Ugh…” Pohatu looked off to where he thought he’d sent the bottle. I took a step back and looked to Kopaka to do something, anything. However, he stood as if rooted, utterly perplexed by Pohatu’s behavior. This was nothing like the Toa either of us remembered.

Pohatu half-heartedly threw up his hands, sank back into his chair, and resumed watching the broadcast as though we weren’t there. Recovering at last, Kopaka stepped forward and tried again: “Do you remember me, brother?” he asked earnestly.

“Whoa!” Pohatu reacted as though we’d completely vanished and reappeared again. “Who’s there!?” he looked back and forth between me and Kopaka. “Wait…. d-didn’t I tell you two to beat it!?”

“We’re not here to sell you anything,” I attempted to pacify him.

“Go to Karzahni,” Pohatu scoffed at me, then looked back to Kopaka. For a moment, he seemed to try and focus in on the Toa of Ice, then his expression mellowed somewhat. “You,” he gestured, “d-don’t I know you from somewhere?”

“I believe that you do,” Kopaka said.

“I knew…” Pohatu’s sentence was cut short by a loud belch. “I-I knew a guy who looked just like you,” he smirked. “A T-Toa,” he continued. “A - *hic*- a prick he was, too… would’a made a Makuta look nice!” he laughed, but the laughter quickly descended into a harsh coughing fit. Kopaka retreated somewhat as Pohatu hacked up some kind of mucoid substance, which he re-swallowed afterwards. The Toa of Stone leant back, staring up at the ceiling in drunken satisfaction. “…that left years ago…” He remained silent for a few seconds, then gestured at Kopaka: “Y-you should go find him… he’d love your company.”

“Who?” Kopaka asked. His voice had taken on a distinctly cooler tone.

“Ah…” Pohatu contorted his face as though in deep thought. “Meh… I don’t remember the name.”

“Was it Kopaka?” the Toa of Ice asked.

“Kopaka! Yes, Kopaka!” Pohatu blurted out. “That was him! Hehehe….”

“I know Kopaka.”

“You do, huh?” Pohatu leant forward and locked eyes with Kopaka, though he appeared to have a hard time focusing. He looked him up and down. “Nah!” he eventually concluded. “The guy’s stone dead, I’m sure.” He laughed again, but his jovial mood quickly seemed to drop. “You… you wanna know the worst part?” he slurred.

“Do tell,” Kopaka said coldly.

“I - *hic* - I never told him… never told him how much of an he was!” Pohatu laughed out loud. Kopaka assumed a scornful gaze, clearly not amused by his brother’s delirium. Pohatu took no notice as he turned and rummaged around the ground behind the chair, producing a fresh bottle of what looked like a rather stiff drink. After some uncoordinated picking at the cork, he managed to open it and take a few swigs. Indignant, Kopaka turned and walked back across the room and out the door, kicking a bottle aside along the way. I turned to follow, but Pohatu gestured at me. “You… *hic*… You look nice... I swear, if we were meatos…” Pohatu’s voice trailed off us he looked me up and down, making me feel profoundly uncomfortable. I quickly followed Kopaka as Pohatu took to his bottle again.

“Why am I here?” Kopaka curtly asked Hewkii, who’d been waiting outside.

“I figured you should see what you left behind,” the latter replied. “All of it.”

“That is not Pohatu!” Kopaka pointed inside.

“Maybe not,” Hewkii admitted, “but it is what’s left of him.”

“Your point?”

Toa of Stone sighed. “I stop by here every few days… to take care of him, you know? Half the time, he doesn’t remember who I am, yet he always asks for you. Any idea why?”

“He does not recognize me now,” Kopaka informed him. “How does he ask for me?”

“He does whenever he’s not… not this far gone,” Hewkii said. “I figure he thinks you can help him somehow, when he’s actually thinking. I’ve asked him why he needs to see you, but he won’t tell me. So… maybe you know something I don’t.” Kopaka waited for a moment, then turned and walked back inside past me. He staunchly marched up and positioned himself between Pohatu and the telescreen.

“Hey, I wanna see that!” the Toa of Stone protested, but Kopaka wouldn’t move.

“I am Kopaka,” he said curtly. “Your brother. You asked for me. Why?”

“Kopaka?... who’s Kopaka?” Pohatu gave him a blank stare.

“You know who I am,” Kopaka continued. “You just told those two people, remember?”

“I don’t know any two people…” Pohatu smiled. “No one comes here!” He laughed himself into a coughing fit again. Kopaka waited until he was done.

“You believed they were here to sell you things,” he continued. “You told one of them they looked like Kopaka. Like me.”

“No, no I didn’t!” Pohatu said with a manic grin on his face.

“Yes, you did!” Kopaka’s patience was wearing thin.

“Whatever… I don’t remember…” Pohatu sank back into his chair, but the sound of an explosion from the telescreen immediately jolted him upright again. “Move, move! I want to see this!” He waved his hand, gesturing for Kopaka to step aside. He didn’t, and by the sound of things the explosion had ended. “Aw c’mon…” Pohatu lifted up his bottle again. Suddenly, with surprising speed, Kopaka reached forward and backhanded the bottle so hard that it flew out of the Toa’s hand and shattered against the opposite wall.

“You have had enough of that!” he chided the stunned Pohatu. Kopaka was now practically leaning over his brother.

“Wha… whaddaya do that for?” the latter said hazily. “You… you know you’re gonna have to *hic* get me another one for that, right?” He pointed at Kopaka while the latter loomed over him, growing more agitated by the second.

“Look at me, brother,” he insisted. “Look!” he pointed at his own mask. “You remember, you must remember something, anything!” This wasn’t Kopaka’s usual coolheaded argument; it sounded more like a desperate, if angry plea. “YOU wanted me here, brother!” he continued to the stunned Pohatu. “Tell me what you want me for! What do you need me to do!?”

“I don’t know!” Pohatu insisted, then chuckled again as though the whole situation had him very amused. “Stop… stop asking, okay? Really, I’m *hic* fine…” After a tense few seconds, Kopaka backed off.

“No, brother…” he said, his voice wavering. “You are not fine.”

“No, really… I’m fine…just go…” Pohatu murmured as a drunken stupor started to overtake him.

“No.” Kopaka said as he finally stepped aside. However, instead of walking out like I expected him to, he positioned himself next to the chair, then leant down again. Standing halfway across the room, I couldn’t see what he was doing, but then he stood up... carrying Pohatu in his arms.

“HEY!” the unwelcomed move jolted Pohatu awake, if that was the right word. “Put me down, you!” he insisted as he struggled, but his uncoordinated arm flailing posed little problem for Kopaka, and for some reason his legs weren’t moving at all. Without saying another word, Kopaka made his way over to the side of the room, where an open doorway led to a small bedroom. “You can’t do this!” Pohatu protested. “I want to see my show! And get *hic* get me another drink!”

Kopaka laid the struggling Pohatu down on the bed. “Rest, brother,” he said quietly.

“I ain’t listening to anything you tell me!” the furious Toa proclaimed, sitting up by supporting himself on one arm while shaking a fist with the other. Kopaka stood up, backed off and lowered his head. When he looked up again, he’d switched out his Akaku for yet another mask.

“Sleep, brother,” he said in a surprisingly tender, melancholy voice. I could tell the mask was activated.

“You don’t listen, do ya!?” Pohatu continued. “I told you get me a drink!”

“Sleep.” Kopaka repeated. There was no authority in his voice; in fact, it was wavering, but somehow the command got through to Pohatu, who, without another word, lowered himself down from half-seated to lying on the bed. Seconds later, he was fast asleep. Kopaka stood, looking down at his brother, not saying anything. Standing in the bedroom entrance, I was struck by how different he seemed all of the sudden… he didn’t look angry or frustrated as he had with Hewkii, Jaller, and Hahli, nor disappointed as he had with Gali; with Pohatu, he looked gravely concerned, a feeling I hadn’t thought possible from him until fifteen minutes before. Thinking back to their goodbye at that last meeting, I could only conclude that there was something to his relationship with Pohatu that didn’t exist between him and any of the other Toa. Perhaps Jaller was right; Pohatu was Kopaka’s only friend, the only one who could elicit such concern from the otherwise detached Toa of Ice.

An old, rickety chair stood in the corner of the bedroom. Kopaka sat down on it, and still watching his brother closely. I waited a few minutes, curious as to what exactly he planned to do now. Eventually, I got bored and decided to ask him directly.

“So, are you going to watch over him all night?”

“Yes.”

“But… I thought you couldn’t wait to leave,” I reminded him.

“His mind may be clearer come morning,” Kopaka said quietly. “Perhaps then he will remember something.”

“Ah…”

“If you are looking for something to do,” he suggested, “go see if he has any large bowls or pots.”

“Why?”

“We might need them.”

“Okay…” I figured that, whatever the purpose of the pots was, I’d probably see it sooner or later. I stepped back into the living room and turned right, where a small kitchen was attached. It was cleaner than I’d remembered Tahu’s to be, but only because Pohatu appeared to own very few dishes of any kind. Searching through the few cupboards, I soon found a reasonably sized, if dirty cooking pot, which I took back to Kopaka.

“This is all he has,” I informed him.

“It should do.” Kopaka set the pot down beside him.

“Anything else you’ll need?” I wondered.

“The telescreen,” Kopaka answered. “Turn it off.” The telescreen was still broadcasting the noise of whatever program it was on all through the house. I headed back into the living room and turned on a standing lamp in the corner to not plunge the room into darkness when I turned off the telescreen. After turning off the broadcast, I looked around the room. It was a mess… that bottle I’d tripped over coming in was far from the only one scattered around the floor, not to mention the fact that, in two areas by opposite walls, the carpet was covered in broken glass. Everything, including the reclining chair that besides the table and telescreen made up the only furniture, was covered in stains of one kind or another, and it all reeked of alcohol. In one corner, I noticed a rusty-looking wheelchair. The telescreen was surrounded by a ton of shelves bolted into the wall. They were all empty and covered in dust, except one, on which a faded trophy stood. It was kolhii trophy, a pillar topped by a kolhii stick and ball, and it was gold. I picked it up to polish off some of the dust. Its plaque read:

Toa Pohatu Nuva

Champion

100th Great Kolhii Tournament, Spherus Magna, 500 A.R.

“Nice, isn’t it?” I turned to find Hewkii standing in the front doorway.

“Oh… yes, it is.” I quickly put the trophy back on its shelf.

“Those shelves used to be filled with ‘m.” Hewkii gestured as he walked in.

“What happened to them?” I asked.

“Pohatu sold them for more drinks. The trophies never did mean much to him.”

“Oh…”

“I noticed the noise stopped,” Hewkii continued. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” I assured him. “Kopaka put Pohatu in bed, and he’s watching over him now.”

“He is, eh?” Hewkii looked into the bedroom for a moment, then turned back to me. “So, he does care,” he said with more than a hint of surprise.

“Yes, amazingly, he does” I said quietly, not wanting Kopaka to hear.

“That, or he’s curious too,” Hewkii said as he made his way back to the front door.

“Curious about what?” I followed him.

“Curious about why Pohatu’s asking for him,” Hewkii replied.

“Could be.” We stepped outside. “I think there’s more to it, though,” I admitted.

“I hope you’re right about that.” We stopped in the front yard, where Hewkii picked up the crate with bottles. “But if he’s staying around tonight, I’m heading home.”

“Okay… just, one last thing.”

“Hm?” Hewkii waited.

“What happened with Gali?” I asked. “She just vanished from where I was.”

Hewkii’s expression grew somber. “Macku and I just got home, and we saw her come down,” he said. “She was in a hurry, she was crying… she basically fled back to her basement room; exactly what happens every time Tahu comes by and bullies her.”

“I’m sorry…”

“Not your fault. Tahu, Kopaka, they don’t understand what changed about her,” Hewkii explained. “They think what she needs is tough love, a jolt to break her out of that cycle she’s stuck in. If Gali was still the same Toa she was back then, that might have worked, for all I know…” he sighed.

“She’s changed.” I agreed.

“Look,” Hewkii continued, “Hahli, Macku, Jaller, myself… we’ve all watched it happen time and time again, and every time Gali ends up worse. Jaller thinks that we should kick her out, force her to get back on her feet; Hahli and Macku want to take care of her, ‘cause she saved them back in the day... I hate to say it, but I think Gali’s given up, and Tahu and Kopaka have only made it worse. Jaller’s solution would do the same thing, whereas Hahli and Macku are just helping her down. They don’t mean to, but they are. They’re half the reason she got so big.”

“And you?” I asked.

“Me? I’ve got my own broken Toa to worry about.” Hewkii nodded towards the house.

“What happened to him?” I asked. “I mean, he used to be kolhii champion. How’d he end up like this?”

Hewkii sighed and waited for a moment, recalling past events. “He pushed too hard,” he said, “he pushed his body past breaking point. We’re all getting older, you know, but he just kept pushing his game… I don’t think he could imagine it ever ending, that his body would give out on him eventually. But he had to keep pulling those stunts, those spectacular moves on the field, and one game, his spine just said “no.””

“His legs, the wheelchair… is that why?”

“Yep. Gali helped him, much as she could, but there’s only so much you can fix,” Hewkii was choking up a bit, remembering a difficult time. “He’s still in constant pain, which is why he started drinking. He got angry, he got bitter… cursed out Gali a few times, after which she didn’t dare visit him anymore. From then on, it was just a freefall down to… well, where he is now.” Hewkii looked frustrated, but not with me. His expression contorted as though he was fighting back tears. “He was my hero once… still is, sometimes, when I forget what he’s like now.”

“I’m sure it was hard,” I empathized. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up something so painful.”

“No, it’s... it’s okay.” Hewkii collected himself. “They were all heroes, but I’m afraid there’s not much we can do for them now, besides making sure that they will be remembered for who they were, not what they’ve become.”

“I’m sure you’ll manage that,” I assured him, somewhat shaken myself. His assessment of the situation was somber, but I feared it was accurate. We stood quietly for a few seconds.

“Look, if you want, you’re still welcome to stay with us,” Hewkii offered. “Better than spending the night out here.”

“Thanks, but I’ll stay,” I declined. “I think Kopaka won’t stay around for much longer, and I’ve still got questions for him.”

“Don’t we all?” Hewkii shrugged. “Well, in that case, ‘till we meet again.” He nodded, smiled, then turned to head back to the station.

“Good night!” I called after him, watching until he turned back into the side alley from which we’d entered the street before turning and heading back inside myself.

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