As I predicted, this one took a bit longer and posed a lot more difficulty than the last two chapters, since I actually had to think quite a bit about what constituted 'in-character behavior' for our Toa in the situation they were in. Still, I like how it came out in the end, even if I had to restart it once because things just were not progressing in a direction I liked.
Up until this point, Kopaka had behaved, from my point of view, mostly like a calculator with legs; utterly rational, methodical, and precise in the way he went about things, black-and-white in how he saw the world. I found his mannerisms intriguing, in spite of how frustrating interacting with him was because of it; his logic wasn’t the kind that was always easy to follow, and he wasn’t usually keen on explaining. In tracing down Tahu after the end of this fight, though, there was something new mixed in; a determination, a drive that up until this point had been lacking; Kopaka now behaved like a man on a mission as opposed to a taciturn stranger.
He made his way around the upper rim of the Arena Magna; the crowd was watching Tahu receiving some kind of award for winning the fight, so he didn’t have to fear being spotted. I followed him quickly. He stopped when he reached a point above the tunnel through which Tahu had entered the arena. The announcer was just informing the crowd that, next week, the ‘Master of Fire’ would face up against the newcomer in the top ranks; The Porcupine. I shuddered. Kopaka didn’t wait around; in fact, I was shocked to see him rising slowly into the air. I’d never seen something like that; he just… slowly floated upwards without moving a muscle, and he continued to rise until he reached the top of the outside wall of the stands, where he stepped forwards and out of sight. Where was he going?
To follow, I had to exercise one of my lesser-used abilities: telekinesis. In this case, I tried to use it on myself to fly like Kopaka had, however he pulled that off. It was a difficult process; I couldn’t easily keep focused on myself all that well, and I almost fell backwards into the crowd. Luckily, I managed to get a hold of the top of the outer wall and could clamber up from there. The wall was a few meters thick, and once I reached the other side, I looked down to find that Kopaka was gently floating down towards the ground. I muttered something along the lines of “oh great…” to myself, then attempted to follow using telekinesis again. I held fine at first, pulling myself up just hard enough to float downwards at a manageable pace, but it was hard to keep my balance. Kopaka had just landed on the field below when a gust of wind knocked me off balance completely, breaking my concentration; I now found myself tumbling towards the ground, desperately trying to get that lock again… but to no avail. For a moment, I thought that was it. I’d been killed by falling while chasing after a mad old Toa who just wanted to be left alone.
Except… all of the sudden I slowed down. Something was pushing against me falling, the same sensation as when I used telekinesis on myself, except… more controlled. It didn’t just stop me splattering on the ground; it also reoriented me so I was standing up, and then gently set me down. I turned and looked around, trying to decipher what had just happened. There was no one around me except Kopaka, who’d already turned and was making his way across the field that surrounded the arena.
“Wait!” I called after him. “Was that you!?”
“Yes. Me and a Miru Nuva.”
“Whoa… you just saved me there!” Up until that point, I’d assumed Kopaka didn’t care about me at all, and that he’d just let me follow him around so I could satisfy my curiosity so long as it didn’t bother him. But if it’d been like that, he’d have had no reason to save me there… or I had him figured out all wrong. Did he actually care to some degree, or was I just useful to him for the time being? “Thanks. I mean really, thank you for that.”
“Do not mention it. Or at least do not shout it next time. Noise does not help us.”
“Oh, right…” and just like that, Kopaka dismissed what had happened. His mind had already moved on.
“So, what do we do now?” I asked after I’d caught up.
“Hide from what?”
“The group that will come out of there soon.” Kopaka pointed at a closed set of tall, wooden doors in the side of the Arena Magna that we’d landed just in front of. A straight path led from them to a locked gate in the fence that closed off the area around the arena. “Here.” Kopaka got behind a large set of ornamentally trimmed bushes and knelt down to stay out of view. I took a spot next to him. He seemed to be staring intently at the bushes in front of us.
“So, what is that?” I gestured in the direction of the doors.
“That is where the tunnel by which Tahu will leave the arena leads,” Kopaka explained. “There is a staging area in between, but sooner or later Tahu will appear there. Then we will follow him to where he lives so I can meet with him privately.”
“We’re going to have to be sneaky?” I asked.
“Good. I’ve got just the mask for it.” I smiled.
“Keep it down. Tahu has yet to appear, and now we really do not want to be seen. It is forbidden to even be here.”
“Right. So… we wait.” And wait we did. The post-fight ceremony lasted for maybe fifteen minutes, judging by the noise, but we had been waiting for nearly an hour by the time the doors opened, time during which I’d grown increasingly worried that we’d be spotted. I’d kept my Volitak on as much as I could while the crowds of Matoran and Agori coming out of the arena on the other side dispersed throughout the city. Since the area we were in wasn’t lit, Kopaka trusted his dark cloak to fade in with the scenery, which it apparently did well enough. No one spotted him, but then I’d like to think that no one was looking for us.
Tahu appeared, surrounded by four smaller figures; either Ta-Matoran or Fire Agori; it was hard to tell, since they wore the official gear of the city guard, carrying round shields and small thornax launchers. Apparently, Tahu needed a guard when traveling around the city for some reason. They escorted him down the path and through the gate. We followed, keeping to the shadows as much as we could. Kopaka used his Miru Nuva to get over the fence. I climbed over it. By now, the streets had largely cleared; everyone’d gone home for the night, and therefore we had to keep our distance while following Tahu and the guards to avoid being spotted. Luckily, Kopaka could track them with his Akaku even when they disappeared around corners. The party made their way into one of the wealthier parts of the city, where many of the more influential Agori and Matoran lived, and stopped in front of one particular house. Kopaka and I watched from behind a hedge across the street as Tahu dismissed the guard, who went their separate ways while he entered his home.
“Looks like our time to act, right?” I asked after the guards were out of sight. Kopaka got up and made his way across the street, me following close behind and keeping an eye out for anyone who might see us. The street was completely quiet, but lights were still on in some of the houses. I figured Kopaka had thought up some kind of sneaky way to get in without being seen, but no, he simply walked up and knocked on the door. It took a bit of time before Tahu opened it.
“Who are you and what do you want?” he asked curtly. If he was surprised to see Toa at his door, he didn’t show it.
“We need to have a word,” Kopaka answered.
“Don’t you lot realize what time it is? Get lost!” Tahu tried to close the door, but Kopaka shoved his cane into the opening, preventing it from closing completely. So Tahu opened it again. “What, you looking for trouble?!” he asked with more than a hint of anger in his voice.
“No. I need to speak to you… brother.” When he said ‘brother,’ Kopaka pulled back his hood enough to reveal his face to Tahu, whose eyes widened with stunned surprise at the sight.
“Kopaka?…You’re alive?” he barely got it out, but then regained his composure. “Come in, come in.” he stepped aside to let us in. Kopaka silently made his way past, and I followed suit. “And who are you, then?” Tahu asked me.
“I’m Lis…” I introduced myself. “I’m a friend.”
“A friend?” Tahu asked incredulously. “Kopaka has a friend? Things really have changed, haven’t they?” Kopaka didn’t reply; he silently made his way into the living room instead.
Tahu’s was a pretty decent size house, and the outside looked presentable enough in the dark, but I would have recommended he find a new decorator. The walls were covered top to bottom with all sorts of trophies from his arena fighting; shields, swords, helmets, other mangled pieces of armor… name any piece of combat equipment and he probably had several nailed to his wall. It looked busy, cluttered, and given the state of some of the trophies, like a garbage dump. The exception was a set of shelves on the wall opposite the door, where an impressive collection of victory cups and plaques was proudly displayed, though they had gathered a fair amount of dust. Other furnishings were few and far between, though; a chair or two and a couch were set up around a low table to form a living room, joined by a new consumer-model telescreen on a side table, and there was another chair loitering about the mess that was probably the kitchen. Most of the furniture looked old and worn, and the place generally gave the impression that taking care of his house was not a top item on Tahu’s priority list.
There was also the faint odor of something burning… that was when I recognized a charred object sitting on the table: Stronius’ helmet. It instantly called back the sight of the elite Skrall’s death… those flames coming out of his…everything… I almost threw up, but tried not to look it. Kopaka’d taken a seat on the couch right behind the table, and for a moment, I swear, he looked more at home there than Tahu did; his old cloak and worn, decrepit appearance looked a lot more appropriate for someone living in a hole like this one than Tahu’s battered but otherwise quite new and shiny equipment.
“So, would you like something to drink?” Tahu offered Kopaka.
“To eat, then?” I found the thought of eating anything made in that kitchen of his revolting; nothing there was anywhere near its original color due to food stains, and the pile of dirty dishes stacked in and around the sink was the largest I’d ever seen.
“Then what did you want to see me about?”
“As I said, we need to talk.” I could sense some impatience from Kopaka; he had a point to get to, but for some reason he wasn’t coming out and saying it the way he usually did.
“Okay then, let’s talk,” Tahu said as he took a chair opposite of the couch. “Where’ve you been the last eight thousand years?”
“The Ko-Wahi mountains.”
“Well, that’s no surprise. Looks like you’ve taken a few knocks up there, though. Bad leg?” Tahu gestured at the Toa of Ice’s cane.
“An injury, yes. Looks like I am not alone, though.”
Tahu looked puzzled for a moment, then Kopaka nodded to his braced left arm and bound-up shoulder. “Oh, that…” the Toa of Fire said. “Arena fight went a little rough.”
“I know,” Kopaka said. “I was there.”
author's note: as mentioned, I had to restart this chapter once, since it proved really difficult to keep the story moving to the next setting in a way I thought satisfactory. Also, I ended up spending a lot of time 'rehearsing' the conversation between Tahu and Kopaka to make it seem natural for both characters; most of that will be seen next chapter, though.
I'll post more chapters as I finish them. Enjoy!