Chaotic traveling has unfortunately somewhat disrupted my writing schedule, so this chapter took a bit longer to finish. The same will probably go for future ones, too.
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.”
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?”
“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?”
author's note: Last chapter, Lis got an in-depth look at Kopaka's way of thinking. This chapter, she sees the first part of the plan that the old Toa of Ice has come up with unfold. A fairly lighthearted one in the end, but I had fun with it. Don't worry though; the normal feels-heavy order should resume soon.
I'll post more chapters as I finish them. Enjoy!