Carrying a basket of fresh t’samor fruit, Scorzen picked his way carefully along the steep path that marked the border between the western Golyi and Tahai districts. Lightstones made navigation easier near the city center, but out here only faint light from the forges up the slope illuminated his way. He spotted his hut sooner than he expected; the lightstone inside was already uncovered. Unusually, the cacophony of workshop noises that usually emanated from the hut around this hour was absent. Maybe his housemate was away?
He wasn’t. Tykal was sitting at the table, around which the virtual scrap pile that dominated the living space had been cleared to some extent.
“Hit a snag?” Scorzen asked as he set down the basket in the kitchen.
Tykal looked up, apparently surprised. “Snag? No, nothing of it. I picked up a bunch of things today.”
“Anything good in the scrap piles?”
“Absolutely!” Tykal gestured over several curious objects scattered about the table. Scorzen moved in to take a closer look. Tykal pointed out a strange, warped piece of metal opposite the table from him. “I’m pretty sure that was meant to be a kanohi of some kind, but the smith made a mess out of it. Still, that’s probably hyper-pure protodermis, very valuable stuff.”
Scorzen picked up the mask and turned it around. Its form was a little crude, but he recognized it all the same. “You’re sure it’s not supposed to look like this?”
“Don’t look like any mask I’ve ever seen. Looks amoral.”
Scorzen turned it in his hands. “I think I saw a De-Matoran with this mask once… same shape.”
“Ah, you guys buy all the weird stuff.”
“It’s cheap. No one else wants it.”
“Yeah, and with good reason,” Tykal smiled. “Guess it’s better for the smith to sell than to melt it down and re-forge it into something good.”
“Why didn’t they do that to this one?” Scorzen wondered.
“Maybe it’s a test piece, meant to get the shape down… Crap, that means it’s probably not even protodermis to begin with…” Tykal sighed. “And here I thought I’d found two great things in one haul.”
“Two?” Scorzen put the would-be mask down.
“Oh yeah, and this other one is definitely valuable.” Tykal drew back and picked up another piece on the table, a crudely shaped metal rod at first glance, which was all Scorzen caught of it; as soon as Tykal picked it up, it lit up in painfully bright orange. “This,” Tykal explained, “is something that I’ve never seen before. I found it in the scrap pile, all wrapped-up in parchment.”
Scorzen squinted at it. “Wrapped up? Who wraps up their scrap metal?”
“No clue, but this is something special. I just don’t know what exactly.”
“Lightstone’d be my guess.”
“No, working lightstones are valuable…” Tykal said with a pensive look on his face. “No, someone thought this was fine to throw away for some reason.”
“Can I see?” Scorzen reached out and Tykal handed him the rod. Its glow changed to white, to the surprise of both.
“Holy spirit!” Tykal exclaimed. “It can do different colors!? Whoever threw this out’s an idiot!” Scorzen placed it back on the table, where its glow rapidly faded. Tykal picked it up immediately. “Imagine what we could do with this! I mean, I can’t think of anything right off the top of my head, but still… I can tell when something’s got potential. This thing does!”
“That’s good,” Scorzen nodded apprehensively. Both looked at the rod for a minute before he broke the silence again. “Anyways, I helped out with an early t’samor harvest. Brought some home for dinner.”
“Very good, very good…” Tykal responded absent-mindedly. His eyes remained locked on the rod, and no doubt his mind on the possibilities it presented.
Scorzen turned and headed to the kitchen side of the room to start up the fire pit for dinner. Over the course of the next half-hour, he put together a considerably better stew than he’d concocted in the morning. All that time, apart from the occasional mumbling and moving of the rod with accompanying flash of light, Tykal didn’t so much as move a muscle. His mind was off somewhere, eventually to return with the idea that he would spend the next few weeks or months trying to realize. Scorzen knew well to enjoy the silence while it lasted.
“I can fill most of this with water to keep the ruki as fresh as possible,” Ario explained, “and the boat doesn’t mind one bit. On a good day, we catch enough to feed the whole village for three!”
“Pretty impressive,” Garta nodded as Ario concluded the tour of his fishing boat that followed the tour of Ga-Koro which in turn followed the excellent Ruki dinner. They were standing on deck, looking down into the vessel’s now-empty cargo hold.
“Much better than lashing cages to the outside.” Ario moved towards the bow. “We spent months building this one to spec, but every second was worth it.” He sat down on a supply chest and leant back against the bow railing. “I know it’s been a while, but… you can still be a part of it.”
“Yeah, I suppose…” Garta gave a slight smile.
Garta sat down on the chest opposite his friend. “You know I wouldn’t just leave Gol-Rui.”
“Old duty’s still got you occupied?”
“Something like it, yes.”
Ario shook his head. “You know, the early days are behind us. Just because we worked our fingers to nubs to keep everyone alive back then doesn’t mean we still have to catch everything for them now.”
“And yet I’ve still got customers.”
“You’ve not changed a bit.”
“I hope not…”
Ario looked at him for a moment, his expression changing with the mood. “You okay?”
“Mostly,” Garta quickly nodded. “A little worried, maybe.”
“Just… what you said about Kayalan.” Garta cast a glance towards the village.
“Yeah, I should’ve sent a message when it happened,” Ario admitted. “You were close. Just, once it happened it happened so quickly, you know? Cascade. The Great Spirit showed him mercy.”
“He deserved it.”
“Hear hear.” Silence fell over the boat for a minute. Ario eventually broke it. “Are you worried you might be next?”
“What makes you say that?”
Ario took a moment to consider his words. “I know we’re getting up there, but the Garta I knew was imperturbable. Whenever there was a storm, none of us dared go out there on those rickety excuses for boats, yet you sailed and came back two days later with enough fish to make up for all our lost time. You wouldn’t let anything stand between you and your duty, yet here you are now, away from it. Showing up without prior notice to boot. Make no mistake, I’m glad you’re here, but I’m wondering what you’re dealing with that made you come.”
“Well, Gol-Rui won’t fall to pieces if I’m out for a few days,” Garta smiled meekly.
“Hey, that’s why I’m here.” Ario gestured towards the town. “Figured it wasn’t much use staying after the Bo-Matoran took over the food supply. I did my part to keep us alive, now I get to enjoy retirement in beautiful Ga-Koro.”
Garta shook his head. “I’ll never get how you do it.”
“Enjoying retirement?” Ario laughed. “By looking back and being satisfied with what I’ve done.” He turned serious again. “Never been your approach, I guess.”
“No, I find satisfaction in a good day’s work.”
“There’s your problem,” Ario pointed out. “You’ve never really left the Old World.” Garta shot him a questioning look. He explained: “I mean, I was with you there for a long time, taking it day by day, same duty, same plan. All part of a big machine, that’s how it worked. But this isn’t Spherus Magna, and it sure isn’t that big robot of the legends. At some point, you’ve got to be able to look back and say that you’ve done well and can leave well enough alone.”
“So you keep inviting me,” Garta nodded slowly.
“Exactly! We worked great together! Still do. I’m telling you, you’re wasting your time up there… you know, we don’t have all the time in the world anymore.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about… I can’t waste it here.”
Ario sighed. “Look, you’ve done your duty longer than any of us. If anyone should be able to step back and be happy it’d be you, but you worry too much. I mean, look at me. I was terrified when we found out what lay in store for us, but now I’m not worried about it anymore. Kayalan wasn’t either.”
“Kayalan was livid,” Garta recalled.
“At first, yeah,” Ario admitted, “but he got over it. After he passed, we found a note of his saying that we should celebrate what he did, not mourn that he wasn’t here to do it anymore. He was satisfied with his legacy. I am with mine. You should be with yours. Join us.”
Garta mulled it over. “One day, maybe. When Turaga Galesh retires.”
Ario shook his head. “She’ll never do that, and you know it.”
“You never know. Last I heard she was considering raising a Nuvatoran. Maybe she’ll retire from being a Turaga to focus on that.”
“Maybe she’s considering her legacy too,” Ario mused. “I mean, Kayalan called Nugatu the best thing he left to the world, and I wouldn’t dispute it. I might have to raise one myself.”
“You? Raising a Nuvatoran?” Garta asked incredulously.
“Well, with Eyres,” Ario quickly added. “I know it’s not a one-Matoran job.”
“I guess, if she’s up for it. Where’d you pick her up anyways?”
“I didn’t. She came through town a couple of years ago on her way to Gol-Rui. Was gonna work in the hospital there, but she stopped and picked up a couple shifts at the inn.” Ario pointed to a wooden structure on the nearby shoreline. “Loved it so much that she didn’t want to leave, but she couldn’t take up room there forever. I had space to spare, so she moved in with me.”
“Just like the early days,” Garta nodded.
“Ah, yes, when we were crammed dozen-a-time into little leaf huts. Got room? Sure, we have half a square meter. Come on in and stay a while!” Ario reminisced with exaggerated enthusiasm. “Anyways, I’m not planning on going anywhere in the next thirty years or so, and neither is she, so why not? We’ve got plenty of experience to impart on a young one and plenty of time to do it with.”
“Eh, I don’t know about the experience…” Garta quipped.
Ario laughed. “I’ve got as many years on the water as you do, pal. But hey, if you’re worried that I’m gonna miseducate a little one, you can always come over here to be… what did the Agori call it?.. An uncle? Someone they look up to who can set ‘m straight if I lead ‘m wrong.”
“I could drop by occasionally, just in case.”
Ario leant back against the railing. “You should. You might even come to appreciate it.”
“We’ll see…” Garta cast a glance over the village again. Admittedly it was an appealing prospect.
“Anyways, it’s great catching up, but I still don’t know exactly why you’re here,” Ario reminded him. “So what is it?”
Garta sighed. “Okay, but I’m hoping to keep this quiet.”
“Nobody’ll hear a peep from me,” Ario assured him.
“Good.” Garta nodded before continuing in a lower tone: “you see, I fished this weird thing out of the Komisi a few days ago…” With that, he explained to Ario what he’d found and how he’d figured out what it was… well, what he suspected it was.
“So the temple’ll tell you whether you’re right or wrong?” Ario asked at the end of it all.
“That’s what I’m hoping, yeah.”
Ario thought on it for a minute. “You know, you might ask Eyres about it in the morning. She used to work there.”
“No, cleaning and maintenance. All the Ce-Matoran in Kini-Koro work in the temple at some point. Their duty under orders of the old Turaga. She might’ve seen something while she was there.”
“It’s possible” Garta admitted. “Are you sure she can be trusted?”
“Without a shadow of doubt,” Ario answered immediately. “She works at the inn, talks with Matoran traveling between Gol-Rui, Kini-Koro, and even Shunikhi all the time. If they don’t want what they say to travel any further, it doesn’t. She makes sure of that.”
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt,” Garta looked to the inn on the shoreline. “Is she working there now?”
“Yup, holding up the fort overnight.”
“I should go and grab a room, then.” Garta got up.
“No need,” Ario assured him. “You’re my guest, and with Eyres working overnight, I’ve got a room to spare. No Ga-Matoran should spend the night off the water if they can help it.”
“That inn’s practically on the water…” Garta protested.
“Nonsense!” Ario declared as he got up. “You’re staying with us!” Garta was about to protest further, but then thought the better of it. Ario wasn’t one to take argument on matters of hospitality, and Garta was tired from the day’s trip anyways. In the end, he didn’t regret giving in on it. He soon found himself back in the big hut, letting its gentle rocking on the waves guide him into a much-needed shutdown.
“A signal… a self-conserving light… a tribe-tester…” Tykal mumbled under his breath as he paced around the table. “Elemental dowsing rod… Lightstone starter…”
“Still going?” Scorzen’s voice pulled him out of the zone. Looking up, he could see the De-Matoran standing on the stairway.
“Yeah, off and on,” Tykal replied quickly. “I’ve got ideas, lots of ‘m. This thing’s gonna be something big, I can feel it.”
“Of course…” Scorzen surveyed the room, quickly picking up on the contraption on the table. “What are you doing with that?”
“That?” Tykal pointed to the device, which amounted to little more than a battery and switch to which the rod was hooked up. “Oh, I was testing it.”
“… responses to what?”
“Something besides Matoran,” Tykal hurriedly explained. “We know it gives of light of different colors when different Matoran touch it, but I’m trying to figure out what about us it’s responding to. That’s really important if we want to use it for something.”
“If you say so…” Scorzen nodded slowly.
“Like… for example,” Tykal picked up a warped piece of scrap on the table, “protodermis. This isn’t particularly pure, but neither are our fingers.” He pressed the piece against the rod, which did not respond. “No effect. So I know it doesn’t respond to us because of what we’re made of. That’s unfortunate, ‘cause if it did respond, it could be the core to a protodermis detector. Imagine how useful that’d be! We’d be rich!” He tossed the protodermic scrap aside. “Oh well. Now, electricity…” he flipped the switch, and nothing happened. “Again, nothing. It doesn’t respond to electricity either.”
“I don’t know, I think I saw a spark…”
“That’s the setup, not the rod.” Tykal flipped the switch back to ‘off’.
“Okay, what else are you testing for?”
“Well, I need to get a hold of lubricant. Fresh stuff, not just leached from any old Matoran. And muscle fibers that haven’t been part of a body for a while.”
“Where do you get those?”
“Nuvatoran forges. It’ll probably cost me too…” Tykal shook his head, then suddenly slammed his fist on the table. He pointed frustratedly at the rod. “I’ll figure you out, just you wait.”
“Maybe it’s broken?” Scorzen suggested. Tykal shot him a dirty look and put his finger on the rod. It lit up immediately. Scorzen shrugged in response.
Tykal stepped back, hopped onto the chair, and leant against its backrest with a long sigh. “I swear, it’s like it’s taunting me. What are you, weird glowstick?”
“Weird glowstick…” Scorzen quietly repeated.
Tykal looked up at him. “What, do you have any better ideas?”
Scorzen shook his head. “No, I just…” Suddenly his eyes lit up. “Someone asked me about weird glowing things yesterday.”
“What? Who!?” Tykal all but leapt out of the chair.
“A Le-Matoran up in the west Tahai station,” Scorzen answered. “I was just shepherding some stuff through there, but right before I left she asked me if anyone had found any weird glowing things.”
“Really? Why would a Le-Matoran be asking… have you heard any rumors of it at the market?”
“Oh, that could be bad. Real bad…” Tykal began pacing again. “If people with no reason to know are asking, that means there’s more out there.”
“Maybe she knows something?” Scorzen suggested.
“Maybe!?” Tykal stopped and pointed at the rod again. “Think about it! I found that in the Tahai scrap piles. Why would a random Le-Matoran be asking you about Ta-Matoran garbage?”
“No, the only reason why anyone outside the Tahai would be asking is that there’s more out there…” Tykal tapped his finger in the air. “Whatever she knows, we need to find out.” He started for the doorway. “West Tahai station, you said?”
Scorzen got no further before Tykal reached and opened the door, where he was greeted with pitch darkness. He turned around. “What time is it?”
“I was gonna say, it’s like three in the morning.”
“Three?” Tykal looked outside, then back to Scorzen. “When does the Madumei open up?”
Tykal gave a frustrated grunt. Two hours? Also, had he been up almost all night?
“I can show you where she was later,” Scorzen offered. “Just… get some rest before then.”
Tykal sighed. “Fine. Don’t expect me to shut down much.”
“Never would.” Scorzen shook his head and turned to head back up the stairs.
Tykal turned back to the rod and accessories on the table. He was accustomed to running late into the night on his projects, sure… when you’re in the zone, why would you jump out of it for something as mundane as sleep? But this thing… this was something else. He’d tried to shut down. Thrice. Once he’d managed it for a bit, but every time he couldn’t get his mind off of this darn rod. What was it? He sat down on the chair and gazed at it intently. “What are you?…” he shook his head. Best to try and shut down one more time before sunrise.
“Well, I can’t say that you’re wrong…” Eyres closely inspected the rod, which Garta had set on the table between them. It lit up bright yellow whenever she touched it. “Do you know much about Toa stones?”
“I read up on them before I left,” Garta explained. “I know what they’re supposed to do, but not how one could possibly have ended up here. It’s more of a gut feeling.”
“Well, I can tell it’s doing something.”
“I’m not sure, but it has an effect…” Eyres mused. “It’s got a natural draw to it. I can feel it.”
“I got that too, the way it… grips you. I just couldn’t get it out of my head. The librarian in Gol-Rui suggested that might be a sign.”
“I’d call it a solid guess that we’re dealing with a Toa stone of some kind, then” Eyres leant back. “As for how it got here… I can’t say I know more about the subject than you do.”
“I figure there’s not that much more out there on the Toa stones themselves,” Garta shrugged, “but there is something else that you might be able to help with. Ario told me that you worked in the temple for a while.”
“I did,” Eyres nodded. “Cleaning, mostly, and touching up the murals. Got to know the place pretty well.”
“Good,” Garta smiled with some relief. “You’d probably know, then: does the temple have a suva?”
“It’s a… thing that looks like a dome of some kind, and it’s supposed to work with the Toa stones. The temple of Metru Nui had one. It was in the center, like the whole temple had been built around it.”
“I didn’t see anything like that in there.” Eyres shook her head. “We’ve got a big table in the center of the Kini-Kofo.”
“Hm… did it have any weird spots, or markings, or something like that? Any mechanisms in it?”
“Not that I saw. It’s got a big carving on the surface. I dusted and polished it plenty of times, never ran into any hidden mechanism or anything. I wasn’t really looking for that.”
“Okay…” Garta sighed. “Maybe something’ll come up when I bring this in.”
“It could be a key, I suppose…” Eyres nodded slowly. Both looked at the rod on the table. “You know,” she began again, “there’s a fair bit of mystery surrounding the Kini-Kofo as it is. I wouldn’t be surprised if something is hidden in there.”
“You think? I heard rumors, but they were just that: rumors.”
“Well, Turaga Galaza and some of the older Matoran built it almost completely in secret,” Eyres explained. “That kind of invites rumors. Only when the temple was finished did the Ce-Matoran even move out there.”
“I remember that. Well, I remember hearing about it.”
“Right, you were around back then. A bit before my time, I’m afraid.”
“It was a big deal for a while,” Garta recalled. “Everyone wondered what the Turaga was doing down there for years. They were still asking questions about it after she passed.”
“I do wonder why she kept it so secret,” Eyres admitted. “Or why she built it so far away from Gol-Rui. I mean, it’s supposed to be there for everyone, but most Matoran have to travel four days to get there, and those of us taking care of it don’t even know how it was built.”
“Would make sense if you’re hiding something important…” Garta pointed out.
“Yeah… or maybe they just wanted an impressive location,” Eyres suggested with a smile. “You ever been there before?”
“You’ll see it when you get there. It’s something to behold.”
“What is?” Ario entered the room still looking a bit groggy.
“The Kini-Kofo,” Eyres quickly informed him.
“Ah, the temple!” Ario nodded quickly as he bumped fists with Garta. “Beautiful place, that is. A bit out of the way, but whoever decided to build it on that cliff really knows how to make a place stand out. It’s a lighthouse and temple in one!”
“I won’t have trouble finding it, then,” Garta remarked.
“Not if you’re half the navigator I remember,” Ario said as he looked to the ceiling. There, dial connected to a windvane on the roof of the hut pointed resolutely south. “Hey, and with this wind, you won’t have any trouble getting there quickly either.”
“Yeah, late afternoon, maybe sooner if the weather holds.”
Ario turned his attention to the window. It was a gray, overcast morning, though the Komisi’s trademark fog was relatively light. “Looks a little grim out there, yeah.”
“I’d forecast light rain for the morning at the very least,” Garta added.
Eyres nodded in agreement. “You could stay a while, see if it clears up.”
Garta got up. “Thanks, but I would prefer to be on my way soon.”
“In that case, you should take some supplies with you,” Ario suggested, making his way to the kitchen before Garta could offer any opinion on the matter.
Eyres picked up the rod. “Well, I know you don’t want too many people knowing about this yet, but when you get to Kini-Koro, show this to Celan.” She handed the rod to Garta.
“Celan?” Garta stuck the rod back in its box.
“He runs the inn there and hears all sorts of stuff from people coming through,” she explained. “Plus, he worked the temple for decades. He knows the place a lot better than I do.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Actually, for that matter, if you can’t find anything in the temple, I’m pretty sure they still have the construction plans in Shunikhi.”
“Yeah, in the Akutai-Nui. Celan knows more about it, but he told me once that the plans they used for the temple are still being kept in secret by the Ko-Matoran.”
“Wouldn’t be out of character for Ko-Matoran…”
“Well, Celan likes to tell stories,” Eyres admitted, “but if you’re willing to pursue this to the end, there’s no better place I can think of than the great library. If anything more is known about this, you can bet it’s there.”
“I’ll consider it,” Garta nodded. The prospect of traveling to Shunikhi, the frozen fortress high in the mountains of the Inona, was not something that he was too excited about.
“You’re sending him up there!?” Ario questioned loudly from the kitchen. “That’s days away from the Komisi! No place for a Ga-Matoran!”
Eyres smiled and called back: “No, I’m just saying there might be answers there if they aren’t in the temple!”
“Well, then I’m praying to the Great Spirit that they are!” Ario called back. Eyres chuckled.
Before long, Ario reappeared with a set of ‘seasoned ruki slices’ as he described them. Garta stuck them in the box with the rod before heading out.
“You know, you can hitch a ride with us,” Ario pointed to his boat as he and Eyres followed Garta out of the hut. “We’re going to be fishing south-east of here today anyways, so we could easily drop you off at some point along the way.”
“Thanks, but I do have my own boat,” Garta reminded him. “Plus, I wouldn’t want to cut into your catch for the day.”
“So much for the old days,” Ario shrugged. “Either way, you’ve got to stop by on your way back. I can’t match Eyres’ ruki, but I can still cook up that mean keras.”
“I’ll definitely come back for that,” Garta said as he surveyed the weather, “but for now, the wind’s blowing south and it’s bringing the clouds with it, so I’m gonna take advantage.”
“Fair sailing then, old friend,” Ario reached out with his fist.
Garta bumped it, then climbed into his boat and stowed the box away. Ario untied the mooring lines, and Garta maneuvered the boat clear of the platforms with the oars, then raised the sail. It quickly caught the wind, and with one more wave to Ario and Eyres back on the platform, he was off. Rain began to sprinkle ever so lightly from the increasingly dense clouds and the wind picked up a bit more. Today’s trip probably wouldn’t be as pleasant as yesterday’s, but at least it’d be quicker.
An extra chapter for this month in the spirit of Nanowrimo. I’m not actually doing it in any official capacity, but it’s a great excuse to write more all the same.