The party in question turned out to be three cars ahead, and by the time I reached it, the music had grown from a distant droning to a loud cacophony that could unmistakably be recognized as the work of the a Le-Matoran band that I’d heard a number of times before: Kikanalo Stampede. I entered the car in which the festivities were taking place: it was the same car in which food and drinks were available, and it looked like everyone was taking great advantage of that fact. The car was packed to capacity with Matoran and Agori of all tribes, merrily sharing stories and drinks in an atmosphere that reminded me more of a nightclub than the dry, dull public transport cafeteria/lounge that this was supposed to be. Some were dancing to the beat where there was space to do so, and perched above it all on a bar stool by the center of the bar was Lerome, downing a drink and enjoying the undivided attention of a sizable gathering of Matoran.
“…and I looked that Skakdi leader straight in the eyes,” the Toa of Air proclaimed loud enough to be heard over the music, “and I told him that if he showed that ugly face in my town again, he’d spent the rest of his life watching over us from orbit!” His crowd responded with cheers and laughter, and drinks were shared all around. I looked right to find Jahlpu standing, leaning against the wall and calmly observing the happenings with a drink of his own, but before I could say anything to him, Lerome noticed me in the doorway. “Guess who’s decided to join us!” He announced, stepping down from his barstool and gesturing in my direction. “Toa Lis, ladies and gentlemen!” He beckoned for me to come over.
“Uhm, hello…” I greeted nervously as I took a few steps forward, still trying to take in the absurdity of the scene, which Lerome was quick to explain to me as he stepped forward.
“So, turns out this car has a speaker system,” he pointed towards the bar, “and I got our good friend there to turn off the boring tunes for some Kikanalo Stampede! And voila, we have ourselves a party!”
“So it seems…” I said as I looked over towards the bartender, a Vo-Matoran who seemed decidedly uncomfortable with the whole situation, a common feeling for those who found themselves caught in Lerome’s path.
“C’mon, sis! Let’s make this trip a fun one!” the Toa of Air invited, throwing his arm over my shoulders and moving me along towards the bar. A number of Matoran raised glasses to me as we passed by.
“I’m not so sure…” I began to object, but Lerome wouldn’t hear of it.
“Nonsense!” he interrupted. “It’s been way to long since you’ve kicked back with us!”
“You sure this is allowed?” I questioned. Lerome turned to the bartender and snapped his fingers, prompting the Vo-Matoran to quickly pull up another glass from below his counter and fill it with a fairly stiff-looking drink.
“Who’s gonna stop us?” the Toa of Air asked in return. “I mean, look around. Everyone loves a good party, especially when the alternative is to sit and stay quiet for twenty-whatever hours.”
“Can’t argue that…” I looked around, and to be fair, the other passengers seemed pretty okay with the fact that Lerome had turned the lounge into a club. “Where’s Kirall?” I wondered. Lerome gestured over to a corner on the other side of the car, where I spotted our Toa of Water, sitting with and rather enjoying the company of a Fire Tribe Glatorian, of all things… “Ah, she’s… uhm…” I couldn’t quite find the right words.
“She’s playin’, sis, she’s playin’,” Lerome said mockingly. “C’mon, you know her.”
“Yeah, true,” I admitted as the bartender offered me the drink, which I hesitantly accepted. Lerome’s crowd had regathered around us.
“So, Lis here,” he introduced me to them, “she’s our master mind reader and psionic manipulator. She knows what you’re gonna say before you even think of saying it.” Some of the Matoran looked at me wide-eyed, while others appeared more skeptical, especially the Agori. “She can make you see things that aren’t there,” Lerome continued dramatically, “she can make you remember things that never happened, or forget things that did…”
“That’s not…” I raised a hand, but that didn’t do much to interrupt the Toa of Air.
“…she can make you feel real good inside,” he continued, then darkened his voice, “…or she can show you stuff from your worst nightmares… BOO!” His captivated audience jumped at the scare tactic.
“Okay, that’s not what I do,” I objected. In fact, I was feeling profoundly uncomfortable with his description of my abilities…
“You can, though,” Lerome said.
“Technically yes,” I admitted, “but I don’t, okay?”
“Tell them what you did to the Skakdi lord,” Lerome invited, with a slightly cruel smile on his face… he was enjoying this.
“Oh, please not,” I shook my head.
“It was brilliant, though!” Lerome excited the group, who now all looked to me expectantly.
“Brilliant is a bit of a strong word…” I tried to calm them, but to no avail.
“Aw, come on!” my brother pleaded. “You don’t want me to ask Kirall to tell it, do you?”
“Fine,” I sighed. “I may or may not have made the Skakdi warlord see a giant Irnakk behind us. To be fair, though, Jahlpu was the one who gave me the idea.” There was little response from the crowd.
“They don’t know what an Irnakk is,” Lerome helpfully pointed out.
“You describe it, then,” I told him.
“Of course…” Lerome rolled his eyes, then turned back to his expectant followers. “So, the Irnakk is the ultimate nightmare of any Skakdi, a giant creature with red glowing eyes and razor-sharp fangs and claws…” He accompanied his description by elaborately miming out some of the creature’s features, though said description was also rather exaggerated; the creatures’ spines were definitely not fifteen feet tall as far as I could recall, nor had the Skakdi instantly caved at its appearance, though it certainly had been a powerful bargaining tool. That was Lerome’s way of storytelling, though; he told tall tales, great heroes’ journeys, and as far as he was concerned, we now counted among the ranks of those heroes. I had my doubts, but his audience was none the wiser for it... He got caught up in the story too, so much that pretty soon he was as enthralled as the audience, and completely forgot I was there.
Seeing my opportunity to slip away, I left my seat and walked back to the end of the car through which I’d entered; I really wasn’t in much of a mood for a party of any kind, and while Kopaka wouldn’t jump up and down at my company, he probably wouldn’t mind it if I stayed quiet. As I walked past the merry partiers, the festivities almost seemed to blend together in a haze of noise and color that I simply didn’t feel comfortable being a part of anymore. Still, I turned and watched for a while from the doorway. After he’d finished describing the Irnakk, Lerome switched to showing off some of his slick dance moves to the amazed Matoran, probably helped by a little application here and there of his control over the air. Kirall wasn’t paying much attention to anything anymore besides her Glatorian companion; in their own corner, secluded somewhat from the festivities, they were doing… decidedly un-Toa-like things, let me just put it that way. Turning away again, I noticed Jahlpu had vacated his spot to the right of the door. The imposing figure of the Toa of Earth would have stood out in the crowd, and I hadn’t spotted it anywhere in the car... maybe he’d had seen enough, too.
I made my way back, passing through a few cars as the music got progressively quieter behind me. At last, I reached the final car, the quiet one where I’d left Kopaka… and where Jahlpu had apparently found him. When I opened the door, I was astonished to see my teammate standing across from Kopaka, who was still sitting, hood up, in the same spot where I’d left him not fifteen minutes before. They were carrying on some kind of conversation. Curious as to what they were discussing, I moved forward, using my Volitak to mute any sounds and get close without interrupting them. From about halfway down the car, I could clearly hear what they were saying.
“…and she just followed you?” Jahlpu asked as though he was interrogating Kopaka.
“Voluntarily,” the latter said calmly.
“Why?” my brother asked.
“I do not know what she seeks,” Kopaka answered.
“Well, what do you offer?” Jahlpu leant closer, his impressive stature looming over the sitting Toa of Ice.
“I offer nothing, other than answering her occasional questions,” he explained.
“Hmm… can you see why I find this a bit concerning?” Jahlpu crossed his arms.
“Well, let me give it to you straight, then,” Jahlpu sighed. “She’s free to associate with whoever she wants, but if she’s keeping the company of mysterious people doing Mata Nui only knows what, I get alarm bells going off. She means well, I’m sure, but I don’t want anyone leading her to the wrong crowd, if you know what I mean.”
“I have no crowd,” Kopaka said flatly.
“Sure you don’t,” Jahlpu said sarcastically. “Just know this: if anything happens to her, I’ll come looking for you, got that?”
“Yes,” Kopaka acknowledged without looking up.
“Good.” Jahlpu turned; I ducked back behind a chair, turning my mask’s power to full to render myself transparent. That was enough to conceal me from Jahlpu, who walked past and exited the car, presumably heading back to the party.
“You really should not eavesdrop on people,” Kopaka said after the door closed behind the Toa of Earth.
“Well, I’ve kind of got the mask for it,” I said disappointedly as I deactivated the mask and got up. “Turns out they’re throwing a party a few cars up ahead.”
“Of course you do,” I sighed, taking the seat across from him.
“You should tell your teammate not to make hollow threats,” he suggested.
“Oh, it wasn’t hollow,” I corrected him. “Jahlpu’s a bit… overbearing sometimes, but he’s also protective, and he means well.”
“I did not doubt its sincerity,” Kopaka countered, “but he may have a difficult time finding me even if something does happen to you.”
“Well, at least he’d know who to look for,” I said.
“He never asked my name, nor recognized me,” Kopaka said, momentarily looking my way. I noticed he’d switched masks to a noble Mahiki, of all things, but he returned to his staple Akaku Nuva after I saw it.
“Ah… okay.” I understood now, though it once again brought up the grim reality that Kopaka’s time here was coming to an end, and I’d likely never see him again afterwards… “So, you’ll be heading straight out, then?” I asked him, though I already more or less knew the answer.
“That is the plan,” Kopaka reiterated himself.
“That thing,” I suddenly remembered, “that thing that Gali told you, about being able to do astronomy in the knowledge towers instead…”
“No.” Uncharacteristically, Kopaka cut me off.
“Why not, though?” I continued. “I mean, she had some valid points…”
“What valid points?”
“You’d have better equipment, you’d be safer, and if somehow you hurt yourself she could be right there to help you,” I explained. “And you’d be able to stay with and help her… or Pohatu, even.”
“It makes no sense that you’re doing this.” I said… “To me at least… It just doesn’t.”
“I work better alone,” Kopaka said. “That is why I prefer the mountains.”
“They’d let you work alone up there, though, if you asked for it,” I countered. “I mean, you could live up there if you wanted to, well above and far away from everyone.”
“Not far enough,” Kopaka complained. I could tell I’d hit a nerve; he was getting frustrated with me again. What did he mean by ‘not far enough,’ though? Half a mile above the rest of the city, he’d surely be insulated from the noise, and what else could possibly bother him?
“What does that mean? How isolated to you need to be to work?”
Kopaka waited for a moment before replying. “Remember what I told you about questioning my actions?” he asked.
“Yeah, you told me not to,” I replied, somewhat put off by him breaking off the subject.
“Continue down this path and you will not see the final battle,” Kopaka said with a threatening undertone to his voice. “I need not explain my reasons to you. Also, I already asked you to leave me alone for now once; I would prefer you do so now.”
“Fine…” I relented, getting up again and moving off. If we had any time left together after he showed me the final battle, though, I’d have to ask him that question again. Something about his behavior on the subject of why he preferred the dangerous mountains over the safer knowledge towers didn’t fit right… it wasn’t logical like everything else he did was in one twisted way or another. He centered everything around duty, yet refused this opportunity to better work towards fulfilling his… something had to be missing, something that he wasn’t inclined to share, as evidenced by the fact that he immediately returned to sleeping. Not inclined to return to the party going on up the train, I took a seat in one of the cars in between and watched the telescreen in there for a while, trying to think of what it Kopaka’s reasoning could be. Then I recalled what Gali had told me about him, the night when she was up filtering his blood. She believed his primary reason for living up there wasn’t astronomy; it was solitude. That made sense, actually… as much as he could isolate himself atop a knowledge tower, Kopaka would always be able to see the massive city below him, whose residents would never be more than a door and some stairs away… Was that what bothered him? The mere presence of other people? But why? In light of his threat concerning the final battle, I wasn’t inclined to ask, but the idea stuck with me as I sat and watched Hahli’s morning news broadcast. The idea of trying to read into Kopaka’s thoughts again did cross my mind, but I decided against it. Not now, not when we were getting so close to when he’d actually show me what I’d been waiting for ever since that night on the beach of New Atero.
author's note: somewhat more of a filler chapter, this one, but with a bit of background world building included. The idea of Lis using the ability to project illusions into someone's mind as part of a negotiating tactic was something that I thought of while writing the chapter, and in light of her discussions of her powers with Kopaka, it's not something that she's all that comfortable with in hindsight... Of course, her teammates share none of those reservations. Other than that, I think the party scene really illustrates the radical difference between the world as the Toa Nuva knew it, and the one that exists for Lis' team today; other than maybe the Le-Matoran, spontaneous festivities weren't really a thing in the Matoran universe. In the carefree paradise of Spherus Magna, though...
I'll post more chapters as I finish them. Enjoy!