After the excitement of last chapter, I just couldn’t wait too long with this one, and luckily I had a pretty empty day to write it. So, significantly earlier than planned, I present to you the resolution of Tahu, Master of Fire vs. the Porcupine. Enjoy!
[Ch1&2]        
         
         
         
         
    
The third round started off more like the first than the second; the fighters carefully approached each other with their guards up. What bandaging had been done on their wounds clearly wasn’t sufficient to stop them being a hindrance; Tahu favored moving to his left side and the Porcupine’s walk was stiff, almost clumsy, both results of the hits they’d taken in the previous rounds. Tahu’s chest plate was still severely dented, while charred burn and pot marks dotted the Porcupine’s armor and a couple of its spikes were bent or broken. However, battered as they were, both still moved with dark intent; their postures were low and aggressive, and Tahu’s blades were already pulsing red-hot as the fighters slowly circled around one another and watched hawk-like for any weakness to exploit. This state of affairs didn’t last long; pretty early on, Tahu either spotted a weakness or decided to create one, ‘cause he took a step back for and crossed his blades in front of him. They ignited in full, after which he rapidly swung them down to his sides, sending two streaks of fire in an ‘X’ pattern flying towards the Porcupine. The Skakdi simply put his weapon in the path of the attack and let it dissipate the fire for him. However, this created exactly the opportunity that Tahu’d been looking for; momentarily blinded to the Toa’s exact location by the fire and the morning star in front of him, the Skakdi didn’t realize that said Toa was following right behind and already maneuvering around him.
Tahu got in frightfully close and aimed low, striking deliberately at the back of his opponent’s legs. He didn’t quite hit the sensitive spot he was aiming for, but it had an effect all the same, forcing the Porcupine to quickly move forward and out of the way. Unfortunately, Tahu couldn’t quite move fast enough to stay behind him as he turned around, and soon found himself having to block a blind swing of the morning star which he only barely managed to do. Now the two were face-to-face again, but the Porcupine was displaying the aggression in spite of Tahu’s attempts to ward him off by hurling more fire in his direction. He moved in relentlessly, letting the flames splatter and run off his armor without any apparent effect, forcing the Toa of Fire onto the defensive, a position in which he was at a definite disadvantage. The Porcupine pushed his momentum to drive Tahu into the wall, but when they got there the Toa of Fire attempted to nail him with the same trick he’d used last round; jumping up and off of the wall to get over and behind the Skakdi. However, the latter was prepared this time: rather than attacking with a lower, horizontal swing, he went for an overhead one, putting his weapon exactly in the path that Tahu’s leap was to take. Tahu didn’t realize what was coming in time; he only managed to re-direct his leap slightly so avoid taking the hit face-first in mid-air; he caught it on his right shoulder instead. It mangled his pauldron pretty badly, but the main damage done was to his momentum, which was instantly lost, so rather than sailing over the Porcupine’s head and landing behind him, the Toa of Fire found himself landing right on the Skakdi’s spiked shoulder. Through some quick maneuvering he managed to avoid being completely impaled, but even just sliding off of the Porcupine’s spiked back clearly caused some substantial damage. The Porcupine turned around with another blind swing, which came within a hair of Tahu’s head; disaster narrowly avoided, the Toa of Fire managed to dash out of the weapon’s range before it could come around for another swing, but the initiative remained firmly in his opponent’s hands.
The Porcupine took advantage by proceeding to once again drive Tahu across the arena by coming at him like a juggernaut. Realizing that he could at least control the direction in which they were headed and that he could no longer rely in exploiting the wall to gain a tactical advantage, the Toa continuously withdrew along a path tracing a large circle through the battleground. In spite of this improvised control, the commentators still noted that he appeared at a loss for how exactly to get through his opponent’s offense, and now that opponent had the crowd on his side as well. It fast became clear that Tahu’d have to do something pretty spectacular fast to win back the fight, but he wasn’t in much of a condition to pull tricks at the moment. Then again, the same could be said of the Porcupine, whose charge at last began to lose steam. Much like Stronius’ the week before, the Iron-clad Skakdi’s energy had run out well before the timer, and to little effect; Tahu’d spent as little energy as he could to continuously get away, and was now ready to turn what he’d saved back on an exhausted opponent. The morning star slowed, hit the ground, then was drawn back up into a more defensive position, but by the time it was up Tahu’d already closed the distance and was ready to unleash another flurry of fire and steel onto its wielder.
He started by parrying the morning star to the side with a slash from one blade in preparation for a thrust with the other. The attack only glanced off of the Porcupine’s thick armoring, but produced a shower of sparks as it did, and Tahu immediately followed it by twisting around to the Skakdi’s side and bringing both swords down in parallel on his left arm. That had more effect, even if that effect was mostly just more sparks; other than the back of the legs, Tahu still had to find another solid weak spot to aim for, and aiming that low would leave him vulnerable to a low blind swing from his opponent. That opponent wasn’t going to let him get away with even this forever either; after the hit on the arm, the Porcupine quickly managed to turn around to get his most heavily armored side (his front) to his opponent, only to be rewarded with a glancing blow against his helmet whose follow-up knocked his morning star out of the way again. Recognizing the momentary disorientation that the helmet blow caused, Tahu took advantage by bringing both his blades, flames and all, down on the helmet again in a cross-chop motion. The move left him momentarily defenseless, but the Porcupine was in no condition to retaliate. Still, almost by instinct Tahu leapt back afterwards and followed the move by sending two longer streams of fire at his opponent from a safer distance. The fire’s effect was still limited, but worse was the fact that it gave the Porcupine a sorely needed second to get his bearings, which of course he did. Now more furious than ever, he was coming at Tahu full-force in spite of his exhaustion and immediately forcing the Toa to take defensive action again. The scene from a minute before repeated itself, with Tahu dodging the first swing, parrying the second, and being well out of the way before the third one came along. He looked set to wear the Porcupine down again for a while, but then one sentence from the announcers changed everything:
“And the Porcupine takes the offensive again, but can he close it with only Thirty Seconds left in the last round!?” The announcement bellowed through the arena just like all the other commentary, but unlike any of the others this line actually had a real impact on both fighters. Before, they’d always had the next round, but here it was now or never, the time for final gambits. Still on the offensive, the Porcupine answered immediately with a larger-than-usual swing that Tahu only just managed to dodge, but unlike before the Skakdi let his weapon’s momentum carry him around this time, apparently giving the Toa the opportunity to move in. Tahu took it and swung at his opponent’s back, getting a hit in on the helmet from behind, but only then did it become clear that the Porcupine was going to carry his swing around again, and thanks to his attack Tahu was now too close to dodge it outright. He tried to maneuver his blades in the way and duck to mitigate the hit as much as possible, but as it came careening around the morning star’s energy was simply too much for him to fully redirect, never mind block. He caught a major hit on the same shoulder whose pauldron had already been battered severely earlier in the round. The chunk of armor went flying off, and muscle strands over the shoulder of the already bandaged arm were torn to shreds.
Caught low with a broken shoulder and the Porcupine raising the morning star over him to make sure he never got up again, Tahu’s position was extremely precarious, but his opponent’s exhaustion was showing in how long it took him to raise his heavy weapon. The Toa of Fire took advantage by thrusting his good arm’s weapon upwards towards the newly exposed weak point that was the Porcupine’s arm pit. He nailed it, cutting deep and forcing the Skakdi to lower his weapon. The Porcupine immediately retaliated by roaring out in anger and shoving Tahu’s head in the other direction with his free hand, forcing the Toa back down onto the ground. This was what the fight had gotten down to; a hands-on brawl. With Tahu struggling for a moment to get up, the Porcupine raised his weapon again, though he now had to use both hands to do so, and brought it down on top of the Toa with all the strength he could muster. Tahu rolled to get out of the way, but one of the weapon’s spikes still clipped one of his legs, doing a fair amount of damage. Then, to my surprise, Tahu let go of his left sword entirely and reached up with a now free hand, grabbomg a hold of the staff of the morning star to prevent the Porcupine from drawing it back for the next blow. The Porcupine reacted to this by attempting to stomp on Tahu while pulling back on his weapon, but his leg injuries prevented him from aiming his foot very well and instead he ended up stepping partially over Tahu, who took advantage by stabbing upwards with what little strength he had left in his right arm and planting his sword into the back of the Skakdi’s right knee. For that knee, that blow was final; the Porcupine managed to retain his balance for the moment, but he wasn’t getting much structural support from that leg any more.
Satisfied, Tahu let go of the morning star, and while the Porcupine drew it upwards again to try and smash the Toa loitering around his feet, that Toa reached upwards with his left hand and grabbed a hold of one of the spikes jutting out from his opponent’s lower back. Just as the Skakdi brought his weapon down again, Tahu pulled hard, quickly dragging the rest of his body over the ground between the Porcupine’s legs and out of harm’s way; the only thing the morning star managed to destroy were yet another two or three floor tiles, while Tahu managed to pull himself up enough to get back on his feet behind his opponent. It took the latter a moment or two to realize where the Toa had gone, time which Tahu spent switching his right hand sword to his left and then stabbing his opponent in the back of the left knee to give him a matching set. A cry, a roar, something borne of rage and anguish bellowed out from the Porcupine, who tried to go for another blind, back-handed swing as he turned around, only to find his that his legs were failing him. With a loud thud, he fell to his knees, no doubt breaking them even more. Now there were twenty seconds left on the clock.
“…and we haven’t seen anything like this in ages!” Durzek announced in a voice frantic enough make one believe that he was about to explode with excitement. “It’s like a drag-out street brawl down there, and Tahu just outmaneuvered the Porcupine by the skin of his teeth! He’s got him on his knees and at his mercy!” Standing behind a momentarily immobile opponent, Tahu angled his sword downwards and drove it directly into the gap between the Porcupine’s torso armor and left pauldron, eliciting another thundering roar from the Skakdi.
“And there goes the left shoulder!” Evahl exclaimed. “He’s dismantling him piece by piece now!” Tahu withdrew the blade and was about to do the same thing to the Porcupine’s right shoulder when the Skakdi furiously bellowed:
“TOA COWARD! FACE ME HERE! FACE… THIS!” As he uttered that last word, he suddenly hurled all his weight into twisting himself around on his knees, bringing his morning star around in the process. It forced Tahu to abandon dismantling the shoulder, but just like before he was too close to dodge the blow outright. Instead, as his opponent wheeled around to face him in a clockwise direction, Tahu did the same, swinging down with his sword… but not at the Porcupine. No, he was swinging for the morning star, and he managed to catch his sword right on the base of the weapon’s weighted end. With a loud grunt, Tahu pushed his blade outwards as hard as he could to drive the morning star away from himself and the twisting Porcupine, and to everyone’s amazement, it worked! The weapon was wrenched out of the Skakdi’s hand, and the combination of its gathered momentum and Tahu flinging it away on his sword caused it to careen off and land thirty feet or so away with a loud crash. The roar of the crowd went from louder than usual to downright deafening.
“Can we believe this!?” Durzek must’ve been jumping up and down in his seat judging by the energy in his voice. “The Porcupine’s weapon is GONE!”
“What a maneuver!” Evahl added. The Porcupine’s momentum carried him around to face Tahu, and for the moment he just about managed to remain upright.
“FACE ME!” he spat as he began to raise his fists, the left one rather shakily. Tahu responded by bringing his sword with flames on full down on the Skakdi’s right shoulder, managing to plant it right in the armor gap present there and forcing his opponent to lower his right fist.
“And there goes the other arm,” Evahl continued to narrate. “The Porcupine has almost nothing left to work with now!”
“FACE ME!” the Porcupine exclaimed again in a blind rage, spitting foam in Tahu’s direction as his eyes began to glow a deep, bloody red. Tahu responded by taking a step back and kicking the Skakdi square in the face, forcing him onto his back, or rather onto the spikes on his back. The Skakdi let out a raging, bellowing sound that words honestly couldn’t describe as two heat vision beams shot up into the sky.
“He’s stuck! The Porcupine’s pinned on his own spikes!” Durzek helpfully identified the Skakdi’s predicament. With all his limbs seriously crippled in at least one joint, there was little he could do to push himself off of the spikes he was balanced, much like a dermis turtle turned on its back. “Ten seconds left, and he’s down for the finishing blow! Up on the chopping block!”
“Are we going to see a decapitation!?” Evahl speculated as Tahu walked around his opponent-turned-turtle to get to his head side. While he did so, a unanimous, deeply disturbing chant of the crowd began to overtake even the volume the commentators could produce:
“Finish him! Finish him! Finish Him! FINISH HIM!” I was simultaneously desperate too look away and so transfixed that I couldn’t. Having reached a position by the Porcupine’s head, Tahu ominously began to raise his sword over his head like an executioner, maintaining poise I would’ve thought impossible with the injuries he’d suffered. He stood there, eyes transfixed on his opponents’ and with his sword pointing up at the sky, about to come down on the Skakdi’s neck like a flaming guillotine, his face contorted into an expression of extreme anger and disgust. For his part, the Porcupine was still repeating the same phrase at him, now barely coherent through spit and laced with expletives. The crowd’s chant grew ever louder, but Tahu held the pose, glaring down on his opponent as if to say ‘any moment now,’ breathing furiously through his teeth. The announcers counted with the clock:
“Five! Four! Three! Two!..” Tahu remained motionless apart from visible breathing. The flames erupting from his sword flickered in the wind, and the Porcupine writhed as large red pools formed below the parts of his body that’d been severely wounded. He was still keeping up his mindless tirade while Tahu didn’t so much as utter a single word, like he was standing still in time…
BWUAAAAAAAAP! Just as the horn signaled the end of the round and the fight, Tahu brought down his blade. The crowd, the source of a deafening cacophony before the horn sounded, instantly fell silent. So did the commentators. Everyone watched to see a head roll, but no head rolled… A collective gasp could be heard from audience and commentators alike. Tahu hadn’t brought the blade down to cut through his opponent’s neck at all, though there was no doubt that had been his original intention. Instead, he’d brought the pommel of the blade down on the forehead section of the Skakdi’s helmet, producing a loud “CLANG” and instantly rendering the iron warrior unconscious but not dead. For a few seconds, while the crowd and the announcers struggled to realize what had happened, the Toa just stood there, still looking down on his opponent, still with an expression of disgust. Then, just as the murmurs in the crowd started up, he spoke up:
“In the name of my brother you live today,” he said just loudly enough for a nearby microphone to pick up, “but I will not see you in here again.” With that, he turned around to retrieve his other blade.
“Tell me you saw what I just saw,” Durzek turned to his co-presenter. “Did the Master of Fire just let that opportunity slide?”
“Yes, that he did,” Evahl confirmed in a grim tone, “and believe me, the crowd’s no happier about it than we are.” No kidding. By the time Tahu’d picked up his other blade, loud boos were emanating from the crowd, which rapidly swelled up into a full-blown roar of discontent. Tahu totally ignored them; after retrieving his second weapon, he stored them both away and proceed to march across the arena to the gate through which he’d entered in the first place. Behind him, I could see sections of the crowd beginning to move, throwing various forms of Tahu memorabilia that I’d seen on sale in New Atero into the arena to express their disgust with the fighter who they’d been rooting for only a minute before.
“This is not good, folks, not good at all,” Durzek explained over Tahu’s march and the noise of the crowd. “A fighter who can’t finish the job is bound to meet their end soon, and Tahu’s just joined that doomed club.”
“No doubt,” Evahl concurred. “Already, disappointed fans are turning on him left and right, and a fighter with no fans left is on borrowed time. Even if his next match is a spectacular victory, the world won’t soon forget this betrayal.” His words were still broadcast through the arena, and no doubt Tahu could hear them, but just like the crowd he utterly ignored them. As the Toa got close to his entrance, Matoran and Agori in the seats nearby started to pelt him with his own icons; statuettes, small models of his weapons, signs, everything, but Tahu marched on into the tunnel without so much as a glance in their direction. Limping slightly, and with his right arm motionless at his side, the wounded warrior disappeared from view, leaving a knocked-out opponent turned turtle and a riotous crowd in his wake. No, really, there were riots all through that night. At the time, even the announcers quickly decided it was best to get a move on. I, meanwhile, turned to Kopaka.
“By Mata Nui…” I struggled to find words to describe what we’d just watched. “Those people are furious at him…” Kopaka, of course, didn’t bother to reply and was managing his expressions as to give little away, but I could tell that he was shaken. No, not just surprised, taken aback, even shocked; the Toa of Ice was fundamentally shaken. When he’d told me to watch what this world had become, I don’t think even he knew what he was in for. As the commentators said a hurried goodbye and urged people to tune in for new fights the following week, he got up, turned off the telescreen, and headed back to his seat further back in the car without another word. I followed. “That was… that was awful,” I finally fit a word to my feelings, albeit an inadequate one. “He chose not to kill, and look what he’s getting for it. I mean, I wouldn’t miss the Porcupine or anything, but he chose to let his foe live… he chose mercy. He did what a Toa would’ve done, and now the world is his enemy for it.” Suddenly, Kopaka looked up at me; his expression betrayed a sense of despair, of hopelessness, but he was keeping as straight a face as he could regardless.
“Lis,” he said in a serious tone, “a real Toa would not have been in that arena to begin with.” With that, he returned his gaze to the floor and his mind to its practiced meditation. He was right, of course; Tahu’d forsaken the title of Toa long ago. He’d said so much himself when we’d dropped by his place after the last fight, but at this moment, he’d still decided to do what a Toa would’ve done by sparing his opponent. Moreover, it was an opponent he hated, if his expressions during the battle were anything to go by… so what had spurred this on? He’d said that he was sparing the Porcupine’s life ‘in the name of his brother,’ so chances were it had something to do with Pohatu’s death, but how exactly had that prompted him to make this decision in the arena? Or had something about our visit after his last fight changed his mind? I figured some insight from Kopaka would be helpful.
“Kopaka?” It took a moment before he looked up at me, signaling that I had his attention. “Why do you think he did it?” I asked.
“He said…” Kopaka began, but I pre-empted him:
“He said ‘in the name of my brother,’ I know,” I pointed out, “and that means either Pohatu or you. What do you think changed his mind?” The Toa of Ice spent a few seconds thinking that over before answering.
“What did you say to him?” he asked in return.
“After I left Tahu’s house,” he reminded me, “you stayed for a moment before catching up. What did you tell him then?”
“Uhm. I asked him how to get to Hahli’s place, I think…” I found it difficult to recall anything meaningful at first, but then I got something. “Oh! He said some things about you, that it was good that I was with you ‘cause he figured you needed the help.” I could tell from a subtle drop in the ambient temperature that that was not the answer Kopaka was looking for, so I kept running the sequence of events through my head to come up with the missing pieces. I hit on another one: “actually, the last thing I said was that you were right about something.”
“About what?” he asked dryly.
“That there was something of the old Tahu left after all,” I remembered. “Like, the Tahu who watched over and cared for his teammates, you know?” A slight nod indicated that he did, but again he took a few moments to get his thoughts together before answering in voice.
“That may well have been it,” he spoke in uncharacteristic uncertainty, but then elaborated: “He claimed to regret killing Stronius, that it was forced on him.”
“You told him the old Tahu wouldn’t have let it get to that,” I pointed out.
“He would not have,” Kopaka confimed. “However, your last statement may have started him thinking about what he has lost. Perhaps his decision in that arena was an attempt to regain some of that.”
“Like, he was trying to be a Toa again?” I wondered.
“Nothing could make him deserving of the title again,” Kopaka coldly denounced the idea. “However, if you encouraged him by saying you believed some of the old Tahu still remained, this decision may have been his attempt to act upon that part of himself.”
“You think?” I found the idea of me planting the seed that had let to this likely disastrous decision a difficult one to swallow.
“The Toa Nuva’s best days are well behind us,” Kopaka explained grimly. “For him, the temptation of a chance to return to being the hero he used to be was likely too powerful to resist.”
“Maybe, maybe it was,” I concurred. “However, he’s not the only one in that, is he?” I mean, returning to being the hero he used to be? That was a pretty darn apt description of Kopaka going back into the mountains, right? Kopaka considered what I said for a moment and sighed, but then his expression hardened.
“Enough for now,” he repeated the old refrain. “It is all speculation, and we will reach Ko-Koro-Nuva soon.” With that, he dropped his gaze to the floor and retreated into his practiced isolation again; a quick glance at the clock confirmed that Ko-Koro-Nuva was at most twenty minutes away. If he was planning on telling me anything more before we got there, he would’ve done it by this point, and as far as I was concerned his shutting down of the discussion where he did it was proof enough that I was right. It wasn’t a full admission, which I certainly still wanted to get from him, but unlike when we’d rolled into Onu-Koro-Nuva after our first trip to New Atero he wasn’t feverishly arguing against anything that disputed the fabricated logic around Duty that he believed his decision to go back was based on. That decision was his version of what he was accusing Tahu of doing here: trying to go back to the past, to the time of the Island of Mata Nui, to being the hero he was back then. However, as neither that island nor the world it was located on existed anymore, the new Ko-Wahi mountains were the closest analogue, and they were just as isolating. And just like the decision Tahu’d just made, Kopaka’s choice had only negative consequences from a practical standpoint. So, while I wasn’t going to force the comparison now, it was yet another point that I could bring up when the time came. That time was going to be real soon in any case.
#####author’s notes: none of the original plans for this story ever called for a fight between Tahu and the Porcupine to be shown; it was just one of those things that kind of took shape with littered plot details over the course of several chapters. It was only about a month or so ago, when I was planning the final chapters in more detail, that I actually decided there’d be good reason to show it, and thankfully it was a joy to write. Quite gruesome, though.
I’ll post more chapters as I finish them. As always, post any questions, comments, and/or observations below. Enjoy!