“You were there?” Tahu was stunned. Did I detect a hint of… fear?
“We were up there in the stands,” I explained. “Saw the whole thing.”
“…and somehow I seem to remember that you made a very specific promise some time ago,” Kopaka added.
Tahu sighed. “You’re talking about how it ended, I presume.” Kopaka merely nodded ‘yes’. “Well, if I could’ve avoided it, I would’ve done everything I could to do so,” the Toa of Fire said dryly.
“So you killed him,” Kopaka asserted.
“Yes, because it was him or me,” Tahu explained; there was now more than a hint of anger in his voice. “I didn’t have a choice.”
“Oh, but you did,” Kopaka countered. “The Tahu I knew would not have let that fight go to its third round. You could have ended it much sooner and without the need to kill.”
“You have no idea how those fights work, do you?” Tahu stood up, displeased at the accusation. “The point isn’t to win fast, the point is to put on a show! That’s what I get paid for, not to kill! Yes, I let him get some hits in to make it look like a challenge, but I misjudged it, okay!? By the end of this one, my life really was on the line, so I didn’t have a choice.”
“Your life was on line for that entire fight,” Kopaka said calmly, “but you thought that you could take him easily and as such could let him ‘get a few hits in.’ Your overconfidence is showing, brother, and it will only lead to more tragedies like this one.” He pointed at the burned helmet.
“My life is on the line every time I enter that arena!” Tahu argued. “I win, I live. I lose, I die. And you know what? I accept that! So what if I die in there? At least I’ll die fighting, which is more than I can say for some of us!”
“At one point, you yourself would have been horrified to hear that coming from a Toa.” Anger was stirring in Kopaka as well; I could feel it.
“Well, at least I haven’t lost my edge!” Wild gestures accompanied Tahu’s arguments. “Like it or not, I’m still going strong while the rest of you have fallen! Besides, are you really going to argue that the world would be better off with this guy still around?” he gestured to the helmet. “He was a thug; the kind of thing we used to fight to protect the Matoran. I’m still doing that! I’m the only one of us still doing it!”
“Yes, you need that, do you not?” Kopaka grabbed hold of his cane. “You need that thrill, that fight, that satisfaction of conquering something in the name of good, and I was fine with you having it...” He got up as well; now the two Toa faced each other across the table. “But what I cannot accept,” he continued in a much more threatening tone, “is a Toa, especially my brother, killing people for others’ entertainment! That does not protect anyone! You have abandoned everything that being a Toa once stood for!”
“WELL, WE’RE NOT TOA ANYMORE!” Tahu shouted. “This world doesn’t need Toa, and you’re just too stubborn to see that! You’re clinging to an old fantasy, brother!”
“YOU ROASTED HIM ALIVE!” Kopaka shot back, pointing again at the helmet on the table between them. “We fought tyrants who did that! Remember the reign of shadows!?”
“How rich of you to remind me of that! You come here complaining of what I do, you compare me to monsters, and look at yourself! You vanished after we split! You complain that I abandoned what being a Toa once meant, while you’ve abandoned everything!”
“I WAS DOING MY DUTY!” now Kopaka was furious… didn’t need to be a mind reader to tell that. He really did take that duty seriously. I could feel the temperature in the room dropping.
“Your duty is to wander around the mountains while everyone who once cared for you thinks you’re dead!? How convenient for you: it’s what you always wanted: to be left alone!” By now, sparks and small bursts of flame accompanied Tahu’s gestures. I took a few steps back… both Toa seemed to be losing control and I did not want to be caught in the middle of it.
“Then what of your other brothers!?” I was surprised to see Kopaka bring that up. “What will they say when they see what you have become!?”
“Other brothers?” Tahu was taken aback as well, but then anger took over again: “Guess you really have been gone for too long! Newsflash, ‘brother’: Onua and Lewa are dead, and Pohatu’s been gone for ages! Not like they’re gonna see anything or complain about it! And if you’re uncomfortable calling yourself my brother because of what I do, then you can go find Gali and commiserate with her!”
“Then what you said really must be true,” Kopaka said coldly. “Fire as no brothers. Fire consumes all.” Something about that statement… it hit Tahu hard. It wasn’t just a biting remark; when Tahu heard it, that anger in him spiked. Meanwhile, Kopaka seemed to calm down again; he took a certain pleasure in it; making Tahu’s temper flare white-hot.
“DON’T SAY THAT TO ME!” Tahu shouted as a bolt of fire burst from his hands and flew towards Kopaka. I ducked for cover. Kopaka reacted instantly, forming an ice shield in front of himself. With a tremendous hissing sound, the collision of the elements produced a thick vapor cloud that almost instantly filled the room. For a few seconds, no one could see anything. When the vapor began to clear, I could see the two old Toa still standing in the same positions, but with weapons now at the ready, facing each other across the table. I’d had enough.
“Stop it, both of you!” I stepped in between them with my arms outstretched. “We’re not going to accomplish anything by blowing up the house, okay?” Both of them looked surprised for a second, but then they came to the realization that this was neither the time nor the place for a sword-fight. Warily, they put away their weapons.
“Please…” I turned to Kopaka. “We’re here to ask him a question, right? Not to re-ignite pointless arguments.”
“Recent events made the argument relevant,” Kopaka said, “but you are correct in that we are not accomplishing anything by it.”
“Well,” Tahu said, “I do think it’s pointless, I don’t have anything else to say on the matter. If you want to ask this question so badly, do so. If not, get out of my house.”
“Fine.” Kopaka said. “Where is Gali?”
“You expect me to know where she is?” Tahu asked incredulously. “You think I kept up with her after how we ended?”
“Yes, I think you did.”
“That’s crazy. Sorry, but no, I have no idea.” I could sense Tahu was lying, and I was about to tell Kopaka as much when the Toa of Ice himself beat me to it.
“No, you do know,” he asserted. “First off, you know she is alive, because you told me to ‘go commiserate with her.’ Secondly, there is no way in which one could spend as much time in the arena as you have without accumulating several grievous injuries. I can think of only one person who you would trust to fix you up properly.”
“There’s hospitals,” Tahu countered, “and they do a fine job.”
“Well then perhaps I like to think that there is just a little bit of that old Tahu left,” Kopaka continued. “The Tahu who cared for his fellow Toa and who, regardless of the circumstances, would do his best to make sure they were okay.”
Tahu thought for a few seconds, then sighed: “Fine. She’s staying with Hahli. Has been for years.” Without another word, Kopaka turned and headed for the door.
“Hang on!” I interrupted. “Where do we find this… Hahli, then?”
“She’s got a house downtown,” Tahu explained. “Head south a few blocks past the station, then east. It’s right on the coast.” Kopaka was making his way out the door by this point. “Be warned, though:” Tahu called after him. “You won’t like it when you find her.” Kopaka didn’t reply. When I turned to follow him, Tahu tapped me on the shoulder. “Lis?”
“Look, I know I kinda lost it there… he is infuriating to deal with sometimes.” Okay, true, and I could sense a degree of regret on his mind, but I still wasn’t inclined to feel sorry for him.
“That’s the first time you see him in eight thousand years,” I pointed out, “and this is how it goes?”
“I know,” Tahu said, “and I don’t expect you to understand what I do and why… but I fought alongside him. A lot. He’s even saved my life a few times, so… I know he won’t ask for it, but if he needs anything, call me. I want to make sure he’ll at least be okay.”
“Fine. I will.” I turned to leave, then realized something. “I guess he was right,” I said to Tahu before stepping out. “There is something of that old Tahu left after all.” For a moment, there was a meek smile on the Toa of Fire’s face. I stepped out into the front yard. Kopaka was making his way down the street already.
“One last thing,” Tahu called after me. I turned and waited for him to continue. “I don’t know how you found him or why you’re still with him, but it’s a good thing that you are. And he cares too. He won’t admit it to you or me, or even to himself, but he cares a great deal about us, about the Toa Nuva, and even he needs help sometimes. When he finds Gali, or Mata Nui forbid, Pohatu, he will need help… be there for him, please.”
“Thanks. I will.”
“Have a good night, Lis.” I nodded and turned to run and catch Kopaka. I caught up quickly.
“What was that in there?” I demanded.
“You nearly blew up his house! I agree what he did was horrible, but really, he’s your brother. You two couldn’t even pretend to keep it civil!”
Kopaka waited a moment before replying. “My brother’s failings are his own,” he said calmly, “so I could not stop him, but it was necessary to try to preserve the name of the Toa.”
“And you still failed, so you’re angry.”
“No. He will stop fighting in the arena soon.”
“Why?” Did he really think he was that convincing?
“He is getting older like the rest of us; it will not be long before he gets killed in there.” He clearly had no doubt about it either…
“And you’re okay with that?”
Kopaka grunted but didn’t reply. I tried to read into his mind again, to figure out what was going through his head that made it okay just to leave his brother when he thought said brother would die soon. I got anger, a bit of sadness, both of which were to be expected… but also concern. Tahu was right: somewhere down there Kopaka did care, but… he was forcing it down, trying to look like he didn’t mind that which he acknowledged he could do nothing about. But he did mind, and I began to fear that it was going to keep eating away at him.
It would be but one of many such things.
author's note: this one was rough... the dialogue between Tahu and Kopaka kept coming out forced, like I just couldn't quite get everything to work out the way it did in my head. I might make some slight edits to this one at some point in the future, but for now this'll do.
I'll post more chapters as I finish them. Enjoy!