Note to the mods; since this chapter was longer than the 32000 word limit per post on its own, I've had to put it into two posts. If you guys know a good way to solve this, please apply it as you see fit.
Here we are, the final chapter. I'll leave my ramblings to the author's notes this time.
[Ch1&2]        
         
         
         
         
     
And so we found ourselves back where it had all begun just over a week before: Ko-Koro-Nuva in the middle of the night. At this time it was like a ghost town, a fact that had of course figured into Kopaka's decision to delay at our last stop; if anyone was going to recognize him through his hooded cloak and still evident limp it would be a Ko-Matoran. This was also the final stop on the track; every other passenger on board disembarked upon arrival. There weren't many, but nonetheless Kopaka elected to wait until they were out of sight before we got off as well. Just like in New Atero the station in Ko-Koro-Nuva was positioned right off of the town's central square, though both were much, much smaller in footprint than those of the capital. The same couldn't be said with regards to height; six enormous knowledge towers marked the borders of the square, awe-inspiring monoliths connected with walkways on multiple levels. Positioned in the center was a fountain whose waters flowed so slowly and quietly that much of the pond was frozen solid. Coming out of the station, which was located in the base of the northernmost tower, Kopaka turned left and quickly started down the road heading north-east.
"In a hurry?" I asked while trying to keep up. He didn't answer, but with the pace he was going at it was obvious that he wasn't too comfortable on these streets. I figured it was probably the recognition thing again; best to leave any further questions for the edge of town, given that even someone overhearing Kopaka's voice might give the whole game away. We soon reached the northeastern edge of Ko-Koro-Nuva, where a small park marked what geographically was the highest point in town. It included a lower and an upper level, and watching over the town from the rocky outcrop that formed the foundation of the upper level was a statue: Kopaka's memorial. The Toa of Ice headed up the stairs leading there, then slowed down as we got closer to the statue. He stopped about five feet in front of its base to look the whole thing up and down as though he was inspecting it; since it was close to forty feet tall, that involved a lot of looking up. It had an unnatural, crystalline shimmer to it even though it was only illuminated by the dim, cold light provided by the moon and stars in the crystal-clear sky above; the entire statue was carved from one solid block of ice, a feat made possible only due to the permanently freezing temperatures at this altitude. It depicted Kopaka standing with his weapons at his side, eyes fixed over the town on the horizon beyond. On one hand the overall expression perfectly matched the stoicism that the Toa of Ice usually displayed, but there was also something profoundly regal about it, a sense that he was a lot more than just an important historical figure to the Matoran who built his memorial.
"Quite the monument," I observed. Kopaka made no comment, but he was inspecting something on the statue's base. Making my way around, I noticed it too: a plaque inscribed with his name and a poem:
In memory of our guardian:
TOA NUVA KOPAKA
Land's highest reach, where Kahu soar,
where snow lies deep forevermore,
the clouds fade and the sky is clear.
Our future is written in the stars up there,
in prophecies we once scarcely grasped.
As they foretold, in darkest times,
when rahi turned and took our lives,
fate brought us him, our guardian.
With sword and shield and sight beyond,
our deliverance had come.
When mountains crumbled over our heads,
when the ground tried to swallow us whole,
when the Great Spirit's light was choked by shadow,
he guided and protected us,
led us to home in paradise.
Our lives restored, new towers rose,
gazing ever further through telescopes,
searching the stars for other worlds,
for prophecies, tales yet untold,
protected by our guardian.
In war, a hero. In peace, a scholar. In death, a legend.
As we look up to future days,
he watches over us, always.
I finished by reading the last part out loud, then noticed that Kopaka'd abandoned his spot. For a moment I panicked at the thought of him having left already, but thankfully that wasn't the case. He'd only taken a few steps away from the statue and was facing in the other direction, standing by the railing on the park's upper level's edge and looking over what his memorial surveyed.
"Phew… I thought you'd gone there for a moment…" I voiced my relief to no response. Then I noticed something; whether intentional or not, barring the fact that he didn't have his weapons out Kopaka struck the exact same pose as the statue when he looked out over the town below, a testament to just how accurately his stance had been captured in his element. I wondered for a moment just what any Matoran in town who happened to look up at this time would've thought of the sight; the real Kopaka standing in front of his avatar in ice. For a while he didn't move, taking in the entire view as though he was savoring it, watching over the homes of the Ko-Matoran. I moved up to and took a spot next to him. "Did you do this a lot?" I wondered.
"Do what?" he asked quietly without looking over.
"Watch over them from high above like this," I elaborated. "Just… it seems like this view of the city has something about it to you." He took a moment before answering.
"I always watched over Ko-Koro from above," he reminisced, "and Ko-Metru after that."
"Keeping them safe while keeping your distance," I interpreted. "Very… Kopaka. 'guess that's why they put your statue up here." He nodded slightly, but I thought there was a bit more to it than he realized for the moment. "Kind of symbolic too, I think," I went on. "I mean, Onua and Lewa's statues are in the center of their cities, and no doubt Pohatu's will be in the center of a Po-Matoran district in New Atero, right next to the kolhii field. They made themselves the center of their tribe, spent most of their time among the Matoran while they were around, you know? Meanwhile, yours is at the highest point right outside of town, 'cause that's where you were… always out of town."
"I was down there when my presence was required," he turned and explained somewhat defensively. "When it was not, I watched over them from afar as the poem says. A legend should be in view but not in reach."
"And that legend matters so much to you, right…" I sighed. We watched the quiet city for a bit longer. It really was a majestic place; built almost exclusively from ice, all the buildings were aligned in a complex geometric pattern and glistened in the moonlight, punctuated by the obelisk spires of the knowledge towers. Built to mathematical precision and fastidiously cleaned and maintained, it looked almost otherworldly, more like an idealized vision of a Ko-Matoran settlement than anything real, a fairy-tale town surrounded on all sides by knee-deep snow and the most hostile environment the planet had to offer. Given our reason for being here, however, it was an uncomfortable serenity from where I was standing.
"Lis?" Kopaka eventually spoke up.
"I have to do this. You know that." Though calm as he said it, he didn't seem entirely comfortable with the prospect of leaving, not in the way that he'd been before. I had to seize the chance.
"No, you don't," I corrected him, then pointed at the plaque. "You know, even though that says 'in death, a legend,' they only think you're dead. You're still around for now, and could be for a lot longer. And yet you're still planning on leaving?"
"Yes, I am leaving." He seemed to gain resolve as he said it, which wasn't encouraging.
"After this, after everything, you're still heading back up there?" I asked with some disbelief.
"Yes." His expression hardened a bit.
"Yes." Go figure. Well, that meant he had to show me his amended plan, right?
"Then I take it you've solved the problem," I concluded. "You said you've amended your plan of going back into the mountains to never be seen again. Yet you're still going back, so what's the amendment?" Faced with silence, I threw a guess out there: "Are you planning on coming back again at some point?"
"No," he answered immediately.
"So you're gonna die up there," I deduced. "For real this time. You know how messed up that is?"
"Are you surprised?" he wondered.
"Well, no… but still, I've got to do something about it," I went on. "You're about to walk up there to your doom and I have a chance to stop it. You're not going to walk up that path."
"Lis, my duty demands it," he insistently reminded me.
"No, it doesn't and you know it," I countered. "We've been here. Your duty doesn't demand you to go up there..." I gestured at the mountain peaks behind me, then pointed up at the knowledge towers; "…it would send you up there. Telescopes, well above the rest of the town and with clear skies overhead. What else do you need?"
"You already know the answer to your own question," he answered. He was right, of course; I'd known the real answer ever since that glimpse I'd caught into his nightmare during surgery.
"Yes I do, but that's not the point," I continued. "The point is that you don't seem to realize the answer. I'd almost be okay with you walking away if you did, if you could admit why you're really going back, but then if you admitted it you wouldn't be going anymore, would you?" Really, only a fool would've gone at that point… a fool or a man possessed, and Kopaka wouldn't admit to being either. For the moment, he still wasn't admitting anything; decidedly bemused, he turned back to the view. I decided back off a bit from that closed door by getting back to probing the amended plan instead. "Okay, so you're still planning on going back up there and not coming back. What's the amendment?"
"You," he answered.
"Me?" I'd figured his plan included me, but how? Then I realized something: "What do you… hang on, I'm not going up there with you. No way." I already found the temperature in Ko-Koro-Nuva profoundly uncomfortable, never mind dangerous to me in the long run; I definitely wasn't going any higher than this.
"No, you are not," he confirmed.
"Then how am I involved?" I was burning both with curiosity and a need to find a flaw in his plan to exploit, but as with everything Kopaka was working on his own timescale. He sighed, then took a few steps back from the railing and out of the direct line of sight of most of the town. I followed right behind. "C'mon, how? What are you trying to get me to do here?"
"You said that my duty would be unfulfilled if everything that I have found did not find its way back to the Matoran," he began solemnly.
"Yes I did," I beckoned him on.
"You were right," he continued. "My duty is to the Matoran, and knowledge lost forever will not benefit them."
"Which is why I don't want you to go back up there," I brought the thing to full circle. "If you die up there, everything you found will be lost for good."
"That will not happen," he asserted.
"How? You don't still believe that you're invincible, right? You know you're gonna die up there; don't dismiss the possibility just because it's… inconvenient. And why wouldn't that result in everything you found being lost?" I wanted him to explain immediately, but he waited significantly longer before picking up the string again like he was penalizing me for the interruption.
"Because, in the event that I am unable to return my findings myself," he carefully worded his plan, "I would ask that you retrieve the data."
"R-retrieve the data? Me? Up there?" I gestured at the jagged mountain peaks behind me. "No one but you can go up there, 'cause no one but you can survive up there for any length of time! That's the whole point, isn't it?"
"The peaks are rough, yes," he conceded, "but for a Toa they are not impassable if you know what you are looking for and bring a Ko-Matoran along for guidance."
"So what, you expect me to go and find your recently dead body up there?" I couldn't believe this. "Kind of tramples on the whole legend thing if i bring a Ko-Matoran along, doesn't it? Also, how are you going to tell me things when..."
"You will not find me; you will find my private sanctum," he interrupted. "Everything I have found and deciphered is stored there."
"Oh, a sanctum," I feigned relief. "So what, a cave? A hut? A private knowledge tower? Given the weather up there, it'll probably be buried under new snow by the time I got to the place unless it's a straight-up tower. No way I'll find it then."
"No, you will find it," Kopaka argued, "because you will have this." With that, he reached behind his back and produced a mask unlike any I'd ever seen before. It wasn't super elaborate or legendary looking or anything like that, but it was definitely a rare design of some kind. It was dark blue and featured a very restrained amount of gold trim.
"What is it?" I wondered.
"It is a Kanohi Elda," Kopaka identified the mask.
"The Mask of Detection…" the title still didn't have much meaning for me. "Is it one of yours?"
"No, it is in your colors," he pointed out the obvious. "I would like for you to have it." He held it out towards me.
"Where'd you get it?" I wondered as I took the mask and weighed it in my hand. "Do I have a bunch of masks hidden that I'm supposed to go and find like you guys did?"
"No. I had it made in Onu-Koro-Nuva," he explained.
"Is that what you and Nuparu…" A picture of Kopaka's day was rapidly forming in my head.
"Yes." He cut me off.
"Okay, but what does this do?" I held up the mask to get an idea of what it would look like when someone was wearing it. I wasn't immediately sold on the expression, to be honest.
"It allows the user to locate a particular object or place," he explained. "Hahli used one to find the Kanohi Ignika once, but they can be keyed to anything. This one is keyed to an object in my sanctum."
"So if I wear this I become the only person in the world besides you that has a chance of finding the place," I realized. "I could just come and visit anytime."
"No," he shot the idea down. "It is not only keyed to my sanctum; it is also keyed to me. It is currently inactive. Only if I die will it activate and lead you to where the sanctum is."
"That's… a rather specific custom job," I thought out loud. Kopaka didn't offer any response to that while I took a moment to process through just what exactly he was wanting me to do. "So, let me get this straight; just in case you… can't get all your stuff back to the Matoran yourself, you want me to go up there and do it, using this?" I held up the Elda.
"Yes," he answered without showing any sign of realizing just how bad a plan it was. I did, and boy was it disappointing, if not downright infuriating to see that this was how far he was willing to go just to try and go back into the mountains without further argument from me.
"It's… it's ludicrous." I tried to be civil in offering my thoughts, but it only lasted about a second or two. "You went through the expense of having a custom mask made and roping me into this just to reconcile your high-proclaimed duty with your need to go up there and be away from everyone? This is just… no, it's terrible. When'd you think of this contrived hack-job for a plan?"
"Contrived?" He looked at me quizzically. "It satisfies my duty." I don't know how much work he'd done to convince himself that this plan was a good one, but his momentary confusion at having it described as 'contrived' spoke volumes.
"Yes, contrived," I reaffirmed the description. "What led you to this? You realized your previous plan wasn't going to work, that it wasn't going to fulfill your duty, and this is how you solve it? By getting someone else to finish the task after you've killed yourself trying? You know, lots of other Toa might've been willing to help you without question, but not me. You're asking me to do something extremely dangerous here; it's going to take a lot more than asking nicely."
"Like what?" he remained civil in spite of how I went off on his plan.
"What I told you earlier," I reminded him. "I'm sorry, but this plan is nothing but a desperate concoction of trying to satisfy all this talk of duty that you're so fond of with the real reason why you're going back. I know what the real reason is, and if you want me to do this, if you want to be able to head up there knowing that you're actually satisfying your duty in doing so, you're going to have to come to terms with it first. Tell me you know why you're really going back up there; not duty, not being a legend, not a better view of the sky. Tell me why you're really going back. I can't just let you go otherwise, not with a promise that your legacy is safe." In retrospect, I'd expected his plan to be a lot harder to criticize. As it was, I just put it all on the table to see what he thought of it, and think of it he did. I had to wait nearly a full minute before I got any kind of response, a minute in which he hardly moved a muscle even though his mind was working at fever-pitch. It made me all the more confident that I had him in a corner: he needed this plan to work, but now I'd laid down the ultimatum so that he'd have to acknowledge the influence that ego, that shadow Kopaka had on his decision. Once he acknowledged that, he'd have to re-examine the decision from a more purely objective standpoint, and objectively, he had no solid reason to go in the first place. He'd have to admit that, and when he did he couldn't on good conscience justify going anymore. So the trap was set and I awaited his reply, but when at last he did it was with a question rather than an answer.
"What do I get from staying?" he asked.
"What do you get?" I wasn't sure of the significance of the question. "Why does that matter? It's about duty, not what you get out of it. It's about what the Matoran get out of it."
"The Matoran could get what they need either way," he elaborated. "If you accuse me of not being objective in my decision to leave, then you should provide me with some objective reasons to stay."
"You need reasons?" This was unbelievable to me. "How's not dying for a start?"
"Lis, you saw what happened when Tahu tried to be a Toa in that arena," Kopaka said disappointedly. "You have seen what happened to the other Toa Nuva. This world does not have a place for a Toa like me; why would I stay longer?"
"But it does have a place for you," I gestured up at the knowledge towers again. "And you'd be around to help the people who need you."
"Who, Lis?" he asked grimly. "Who here needs me?"
"Tahu! Gali! The Ko-Matoran!" I listed off.
"My duty is to the Matoran, not to fallen mockeries of Toa," he denounced the idea, sounding oddly like an older version of himself in the process, then gestured towards the railing and Ko-Koro-Nuva beyond, "…and can you honestly say that these Matoran are currently in need of my presence?"
"Fallen mockeries of Toa!?" Now things were getting heated on my part; he couldn't denounce them like that after having made a genuine apology to one and convincing me that the other was still trying to be as much of a Toa as he could be. "You're one to talk! You said you lost the title too! I was there when it happened!" The reference to Pohatu's death hit him hard; his eyes widened and his expression fell, but even after he quickly reasserted himself I could still tell it hurt him. An awkward silence followed, and in spite of my anger I immediately regretted what I said. "I-I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."
"No, I do not have the title anymore and for good reason," Kopaka conceded. "I do not doubt that many Matoran would agree if they knew the truth."
"They got a legend for Pohatu out of it, though," I attempted to mitigate the damage. "I'm sure most would understand why you did it if they knew."
"Understanding does not change the fact that they do not need me," Kopaka brought things back on topic, "and they are better off not knowing. Legends, Lis, remember? Duty alone does not provide me with a reason to stay."
"Not immediately, but that doesn't mean you can't offer the Matoran anything." I gestured at the plaque on the statue. "Look, it says 'in peace, a scholar.' There's a role for you right there. Make it your duty, like Gali with the healing."
"Being a scholar is exactly what I am doing up there." He gestured up at the mountains.
"Not just a scholar, not up there," I continued the argument without realizing that it was losing steam. "Up there you have to be something else just so survive. You could fulfill the role of scholar much better over here, and again, you could live."
"Living among people who have to believe me dead?" Now that he said it, that did sound somewhat preposterous. He went on, however: "Lis, we are free to choose to pursue our duty as we see fit, and I see fit to go back to my sanctum. Yes, I will eventually die up there, but no one needs me here. Not the former Toa Nuva, not the Matoran, no one."
"So now you admit it," I picked out one part of his answer: "you are going to die up there." It was a sobering admission on his part; up until now he'd avoided explicitly stating that his death up there was inevitable, but now the possibility of that delusion fueling into his decision making was slipping. The matter of his death was no longer an "if;" it was a "when."
"Yes," he sighed after giving the confirmation. "I will not be back again. I will die up there."
"And what about me?" I asked. "I'm just supposed to watch that happen? I've seen two Toa Nuva die, a third on the brink and a fourth come damned close twice. I can't just watch you go too. Okay, you don't want to stay for them, and maybe the Matoran don't need you to stay either, but I… I do." That also struck a chord, at least to the point where Kopaka spent some time thinking about how to proceed without him actually being in a tight spot to think his way out of. It was true, though; ever since the idea of him staying had taken root in my mind as a possibility, it had become rather much of an obsession. Watching him go would be like watching him die, and after Onua and Pohatu I didn't want to experience that again. The idea alone gave me shivers.