This one took a lot longer than I expected, but I'm really pleased with it.
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.”
“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.
author's note: this chapter was always going to be a somewhat difficult one; I re-wrote the argument between Kopaka, Hahli, and Jaller something like four times before I was satisfied with it. I also tried more consciously to apply a 'show, don't tell' approach, which is probably better to read even though it takes some more thought and consideration to write.
I'll post more chapters as I finish them. Enjoy!