…this one took ages… sorry to keep folks waiting, but I really wanted to get this one right, and it took me a long time to get it to a spot where I was satisfied with it. Hope you like it
“Ugh…” I slowly opened my eyes. I… I was lying on the floor, my ears were still ringing, and I had a splitting headache. “What happened?”
“You suffered a seizure,” Kopaka said. I looked up to find him still sitting where he had been before the final battle started, wearing a very different mask than usual; a noble Komau.
“Everything just, just shut down…” I remembered as I got up, still disoriented.
“You are recovering,” Kopaka pointed out. “Some kind of neural overload. You were out for four hours.”
“Overload seems right,” I sat down on my chair, still holding my head in my hands. Now I had some idea what Pohatu felt like on a bad morning. Or Lerome and Kirall, for that matter. “That battle got pretty intense, huh?”
“Battles usually do,” Kopaka said, straying as close to deadpan humor as I’d ever seen him come. He switched back to the Akaku Nuva.
“So, four hours?” I looked over to find two of my teammates still passed out in their seats. “Jahlpu didn’t come back, did he?”
“Still cleaning, I guess…” I looked out the window; the terrain outside was rocky and mountainous, indicating we were real close to Onu-Koro-Nuva. Sunrise wasn’t far away. “So, we’re pretty close, then, I guess…”
“About an hour,” Kopaka replied.
“So, what about the rest of that battle?” I wondered.
“You saw most of the important parts,” Kopaka concluded. “How we got here, the fight between the Makuta and Mata Nui, the arrival of the Skrall…”
“But how did it end?” I insisted. “I mean, I know how, but what did it look like?”
“Skakdi joined in on Makuta’s side,” Kopaka remembered, “but they were few in number and too late to help the remaining Rahkshi. The Glatorian eventually beat off the Skrall. Makuta’s head got hit by a falling planet as the reformation started. That is how it ended, and I will not risk your brain in trying to show you.”
“Fair enough…” I sighed. I’d have asked for more if it wasn’t for the fact that I already got more than I bargained for. We sat quietly for a while.
“Ah, man…” I heard Lerome cringe; looking over, I saw that he’d switched to sitting up and was rubbing his temples with his thumbs, clearly nursing the aftermath of the party from the day before. After a minute or so, he looked over in my direction. “Hey Lis and… mysterious guy.” He waved.
“Getting better?” I called back.
“Working on it…” Lerome replied, then got up, standing somewhat unsteadily at first. He made his way down the car towards us and slumped into a seat next to me. “It was great, you know… really great. You totally should’ve been there.”
“I was there, remember?” I pointed out.
“You were?” He looked at me curiously, but then seemed to recall something. “Oh, right, you were…”
“I didn’t stay long,” I added.
“Aw, too bad…” Lerome trailed off. “Had to keep this… specter here company, right?” he snickered. Kopaka’d already pulled up his hood, though I figured there wasn’t much chance of him being recognized by Lerome either way.
“Yup.” I nodded.
“Wonderfully boring times, I’m sure,” the Toa of Air sighed. He waited for a minute, then got back up. “I’ll… I’ll be back.” He wandered back to the front of the car, where he vanished through the doorway. Moments later, Kirall woke up too, but she didn’t so much as glance in our direction; she got up, stretched a bit, moaned about a headache, and then headed in the same direction Lerome did. Kopaka made no comment through the whole thing, and I wasn’t inclined to ask him. It wasn’t long before Jahlpu returned, though.
“Well, they’re up,” he informed me as he came walking down the length of the car towards us.
“Yeah, I noticed,” I replied. “They’re a little out of it, it seems.”
“That’s normal,” Jahlpu assured me. He was looking pretty out of it himself. “Anyways, we’re all getting some breakfast in the concessions car, if you’re interested. We’ll probably stay there until the train stops… which looks to be pretty soon.” He glanced out the window.
“I might join later,” I replied.
“Alright, see you there, then,” Jahlpu nodded. For a moment, he looked to Kopaka, still with a degree of suspicion, but then turned and headed out. Again, we sat quietly for a while… I watched as the sun began to rise over the mountains outside, going over the last few days in my mind again… there was one burning question left, and now was the time to ask it.
“So… this is it, then?” I began.
“Hm?” Kopaka looked up.
“I mean, I’ll be getting off here soon, and you’ll stay on for Ko-Koro-Nuva… right?” Kopaka nodded ‘yes.’ “Just, one last thing,” I continued. “I want to know why.”
“Why you’re going back up there.”
“I have told you already. Multiple times.” Kopaka’s expression fell sour; he knew where this was going.
“You’ve told me parts, but they don’t add up,” I continued. “Something’s missing.”
“I have my duty to the Matoran, which is why I am going up there,” Kopaka spelled it out again. “You know that.”
“Yeah, you explained that…” I pondered for a moment about how exactly to phrase things, “but shouldn’t you pursue your duty in, I don’t know… the most effective way possible?”
“What do you mean by that?” he asked, but his souring expression revealed that he already had a clue as to where I was going.
“What Gali suggested, about working in the knowledge towers,” I reminded him. “Wouldn’t that be better? I mean, you’d have modern equipment, for one…”
“I do not need that,” Kopaka said. “I have my own.”
“Maybe you do,” I continued, “but what if you get killed up there? You got mauled pretty bad last time; if you died up there, no one would ever find what you’d discovered. How does that help the Matoran?”
“That will not happen,” Kopaka asserted.
“That’s wrong and you know it,” I pressed on. “You’re not invincible; even you recognize that. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.” Kopaka glared at me, but gave no reply. Still, I could tell there was an awful lot running through his head. “So why are you really going up there?”
“You do not understand.” His eyes were fixed right on me, that penetrating gaze, but this time that look didn’t stop me; he had nothing left to hold over my head, and we both knew it. He’d shown me as much of the final battle as I was likely going to see, and we’d be heading our separate ways in less than an hour regardless; he could neither threaten to leave me nor refuse to show me more, so I’d be a lot more insistent this time than I’d been the day earlier.
“Oh, I think I do,” I argued. “Gali did, too. Know what she told me? She said you’re not going up there to do astronomy, to chart stars for your duty.” Kopaka’s eyes widened… indignation , I could tell “Yeah, maybe you’ve convinced yourself of that,” I continued, “but you’re not going up there for the Matoran’s benefit. If you were really doing astronomy for them, you’d be in New Atero right now, or at the very least in Ko-Koro-Nuva, and you know it. No, you’re going up there because you want to be alone, to be away from everyone.”
“Lis…” he scowled.
“No, it makes perfect sense.” This time, I shut him down. “I saw it in that dream; what shadow Kopaka told you. You’re better than them, they’ll only slow you down… you really believe that, don’t you? That’s why you keep yourself so detached: you’re above them, you don’t need them.” Okay, maybe that was pushing it a little far, but at this point I was provoking him on purpose, and boy did it work.
“Shadow Kopaka does not exist anymore,” he insisted. “He was defeated, destroyed, and what you saw was the product of a drugged mind. I told you to disregard it; it will not lead to any truth.”
“You’d like to believe that,” I countered, “and yeah, physically, he doesn’t exist anymore. But he’s still a part of you, and you’re still trying to prove yourself to him, to yourself. You wanted to believe him when he said you needed no one; that’s why you’re going up into the mountains. Out there, no one can help you, you’re forced to be independent, and you want it that way. You want to prove you’re better than them, that you can handle yourself, especially now that they’ve fallen.”
“I am already the last Toa Nuva left,” Kopaka scowled. “If what you are insinuating is true, and it is not, then would that not be proof enough?”
“You don’t need to prove it to them; you need to prove it to yourself,” I continued, “and surviving isolated and alone is the only way you can do that. Screw the Matoran, screw your duty; you need to be alone because you have that image of yourself, an ego you need to satisfy, and you just can’t rationalize that. It doesn’t compute to you; that’s why you could never give me a straight answer. You can analyze and understand everyone except yourself!”
“Lis…” His eyes were shooting daggers at this point, but I was only getting started. All the questions I didn’t get to ask, everything that I’d struggled with about him… it all came pouring out.
“And you know, I wouldn’t care.” I stood up and started pacing back and forth. “I wouldn’t care about it if you didn’t try to be the moral high ground all the time. All this talk about duty, about honor, about what it means to be a Toa, and here you are throwing it out the window for your own selfish reasons! Not only that, but two of your fellow Toa are languishing back in New Atero, and you could be working back there and helping them at the same time! You’re the only person who could save Gali at this point, the only one who might have a chance at getting Pohatu out of his death spiral, but no, you’re going to abandon them too! And I guarantee you’re going to get yourself killed up there in those mountains. You’re going to die, you’re going to let those you fought with die, and you’re going to abandon your duty all because of your stupid self-delusion!”
“YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND MY DUTY NOR THE WAY I CHOOSE TO FULFILL IT!” Kopaka suddenly exclaimed as he, too, rose to his feet, now standing face to face with me. He was furious. “You spent days following me and probing my mind, and you still do not have the slightest idea why I do what I do! You violated my privacy, you bothered me at every turn with pointless questions, and now you think you understand! You are wrong, Lis, and I was willing to tolerate you so far, but this is enough! I have fulfilled my one promise to you, so leave! Go rejoin the worthless pretenders that you call your friends, and leave me to fulfill my duty as I see fit!”
I just stood there for a moment… shocked at the harsh reply. Then anger boiled through again, anger at his blatant self-denial, at him calling me stupid and wrong when I tried to point out the harsh truth about him. “Fine!” I blurted out. “You know, I thought you could see reason, or at least give me some explanation, but to see you abandon it like this…” I was at a loss for words. He just glared back, his face locked in anger, not even blinking.
“You actually thought you could stop me,” he said, no longer shouting but with a voice that sounded almost sadistic and cruel, like he found a certain pleasure in this twisted ‘victory.’ “You thought you had found what I could not explain, to stop me from going about my duty simply because you were not satisfied. You are wrong, Lis; you have only found what you cannot understand, and I have no reason to explain it to you. You have lost that privilege. Now leave.”
That just took the self-denial to a whole new level; I was done. “■■■■ you… never mind. You’ve already ■■■■■■ yourself.” I shook my head, then turned around and started to walk away, trying to hide the fact that I was welling up in tears. You know, over the last few days I’d alternatingly resented him and looked up to him, but having seen the proud and noble warrior on the outside, I found it genuinely gut-wrenching to find how low he could sink if pushed beyond his comfort zone. He said nothing as I went, forward through the cart, past the two buckets still sitting on the floor where I’d left them, and eventually reached the door. I turned around one last time; he hadn’t moved a muscle, still standing there, staring me down even as I walked away. At that point, I really saw shadow Kopaka in him… the expressions were one and the same. I turned away again and walked out.
I was one part angry, furious even, disappointed, and sad all the same. I wanted to scream, to run, to turn back and smack sense into him… a whirlwind of emotions were running through me. For better or worse, for five days I’d followed him, tried to decipher him, hoping to learn from him… and I had figured him out, or at least I thought I did. Yet, his utter inability to turn that critical lens through which he analyzed everyone else on himself was bitterly disappointing, and the fact that he could really make a difference if he did was downright infuriating. I stopped in the third car from the back, realizing that I couldn’t afford to show up in front of my teammates like this; they’d ask a lot more questions than I was willing to answer, and I needed time to calm down, to think… the car was empty; most of the passengers had moved forward, to the cars from which they could disembark once the train reached the station, now only minutes away. I sat down, cried, cursed under my breath, but I got myself under control. After waiting a few minutes and wiping the tears off of my mask, I decided it was time to get a move on.
I found my teammates in the dining car, not looking all that great themselves. Jahlpu still looked tired, and given that he’d just spent most of the night cleaning out the mess in this car, which looked pretty clean given the state it was in when I last left it, I couldn’t blame him. As for Lerome and Kirall… well, they were coming down from one heck of a party, and it showed. All three had empty plates in front of them, and the Toa of Air and Water were both drinking some kind of fruit juice. Judging from the empty glass, Jahlpu’d already finished his.
“Hey, Lis…” Lerome greeted un-enthusiastically.
“Hi,” I nodded back, before turning to the bar, which was now staffed by a Fire Tribe Agori, who didn’t look all that happy himself. “I’ll… I’ll have whatever they had, if I can,” I said, putting a couple of widgets down on the counter without really bothering to count them. “Will that cover it?”
“It will,” the Agori informed me as he reached under the counter, pulled out some kind of prepackaged and heated meal, and then proceeded to pour me a large glass of juice as well.
“Keep the change,” I told him as I picked up the plate and drink. He nodded, and I turned and made my way over to the table my teammates had taken up. I took the fourth, empty chair, and proceeded to quietly eat my breakfast without really paying attention to what it was. I honestly didn’t care… I was numb, as were my teammates, though for different reasons. The journey’d been exhausting for all of us, and for a while, none of us really felt like saying anything. By the time I finished my meal and the drink, the train was starting to slow down; Onu-Koro-Nuva was right ahead.
“We’ve arrived,” Jahlpu pointed out.
“You think?” Kirall said sarcastically.
“Oh c’mon,” Jahlpu continued, “we’ll find a place to rest for a while, and then we can play tourist for a bit.”
“Yeah, we’ll see all the amazing rocks and mounds of dirt,” Lerome jested. Jahlpu cast a frown in his direction.
“We won’t be staying that long,” he told the Toa of Air. “Nothing compared to how long we hung around in Le-Koro-Nuva, anyways.”
“That place was fun, though,” Lerome mumbled. Jahlpu rolled his eyes, then turned his attention to me.
“You feeling okay?”
“Uh, me?” I wondered for a moment. “Yeah, yeah. I’m fine… just tired like you, that’s all.”
“Is your friend coming?” Jahlpu asked.
“No, no he isn’t.” I said. “He’s going on to Ko-Koro-Nuva, then west from there. He travels a lot.” Lying through my teeth, of course, but I really didn’t want to discuss Kopaka right then and there.
“Who was he, exactly?” Kirall asked. Oh, great, now she was interested. I had to shut this down before I revealed more than I was willing to answer questions about.
“No one important,” I replied. “Just… had a few thoughts on what a Toa should, you know, do.”
“Ah… no wonder you ended up with him, then,” Lerome grinned.
“Yeah, but I’ve heard enough,” I concluded. “We’re back together for now.”
“Great,” Lerome continued. “We’ll be sure to get you into enough parties to catch up.”
“C’mon, not now,” Jahlpu intervened. “I’m sure you’ve got some places you’d like to see, right?” he asked me.
“Uh… Le-Koro-Nuva, I guess,” I thought out loud.
“Aw sweet!” Lerome perked up at the idea.
“I mean, I’d like to see that stuff you guys saw about Lewa,” I continued, realizing the Pandora’s Box I’d just opened, but it was too late to shut it.
“Sis, what we did here,” Lerome gestured around the car, “it was nothing compared to what the Le-Matoran can pull off. You’re gonna be amazed.”
“Yeah, sure…” I smiled nervously. The prospect of a Le-Matoran party wasn’t all that an exciting one for me. Not anymore.
“We’ll get you to throw down properly,” Kirall added. “Like you used to. You’re like, no fun now.”
“Yeah, thanks.” I shot her a dirty look.
“Let’s worry about that later, okay?” Jahlpu concluded. We could feel the train slowing down again. He looked out the window. “Looks like we’re here,” he informed us, apparently having spotted the station outside. Less than a minute later, the train came to a complete stop, and what few passengers were in the car with us started to get up and make their way to the car in front, from which they could actually get to the platform. We did the same, and were soon stepping out of the train and into the bright sunlight of day. Squinting and blinking for a minute as our eyes adjusted, we looked around; this was a sizable station, but the platform we’d stepped onto was the only one meant to load and unload passengers; from it, a long elevated walkway led across a leveled-off area with numerous tracks running across it.
“That’s where they load all the processed ore from the mines onto trains to be shipped out,” Jahlpu informed us as we crossed over the loading area. Two trains were parked there, while a third was being loaded with ore, car by car, by two large cranes. Coming down at the other end of the walkway, we passed a waiting area for passengers and a set of ticket booths, beyond which the station officially ended and we found ourselves standing on Onu-Koro-Nuva’s main street. To the left and right, simple wooden and stone buildings made up the above-ground portion of the town. Down the road, a couple hundred feet away from us, a cavernous opening in the side of the mountain that cast its shadow over much of the town lead into the underground portion. Everything looked quite dusty and dirty; this was an industrial town first and foremost. “Looks like there’s a place to stay.” Jahlpu pointed to the largest building on our left, a long, two-story structure that advertised “Hotel” on a sign by the entrance.
Inside, we found a Po-Matoran manning the counter. Jahlpu stepped forward, introduced himself, and before we knew it he’d gotten us two rooms on the upper floor. Tired and numb, we made our way upstairs and eventually found the rooms. Lerome and Kirall would share one; Jahlpu and I had the other. We walked in, closed the door behind us, noted there were two beds, and each collapsed onto one of them. Within seconds, I was out.
#####author’s note: a new contender for “most difficult chapter,” as far as I’m concerned. Took a lot of takes before I felt like I got this one right. Very pleased with it in the end, though, particularly the way in which Lis really puts it all on the table, now that she doesn’t really have anything to lose by doing so. And Kopaka’s reaction… very un-Kopaka. Then again, it is “the Folly of the Toa,” and sooner or later Kopaka’s folly had to come into the full light. There you are, folks! Of course, we’re not at the end yet… not by quite a long shot.
I’ll post more chapters as I finish them. Enjoy!