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Cast

  • Ishi Polzin, played by Kughii
  • Dervish, played by Norik
  • Ilofarn, played by Falcon Lord
  • Ferrum aka: "Alloy," and the rest of The Company, played by Aurora
  • Ambages, played by Emperor Whenua

Chapter 10: Breaking The Ice

Vampire Knight Soundtrack 06 - Mystical Night Class01:46

Vampire Knight Soundtrack 06 - Mystical Night Class

Used in the opening of Chapter 10.

Yo Nich', Sent this message to The Massif. Hope you get it. To make a long story short Ko-Koro is in lockdown 'cause the boss-man died. Until the Sanctum Guard finds the killer, don't even bother coming back. You enjoying The Massif? I heard they have a really great winery, kinda' sucks I'm stuck here now that I think of it. Keep in touch, alleviate my boredom! Oh yeah, when you're done with your little study trip, why don't we meet up in Ga-Koro? I'm sure Ko-Koro will be open for travel soon enough. ~K

The informant was unused to the high bridges of the city, but the web of ice proved itself the fastest way to traverse Ko-Koro. Sunshine kept the bridge in a constant state of glimmer during the day, making the glassy surface almost blinding to look at directly. The wind buffeted his coat and attempted desperately to push Ishi off the precarious edge, but his footsteps were sure and grounded after the first few stumbled attempts, and soon the po-matoran found himself falling into a steady jog, white departing angels of breath leaving his open mouth in ascending puffs.

Dear Akiri Hewkii, I read the book you recommended. Great ideas, especially the zig-zag step with a hammer grip. One of the greatest kohlii manuals in print, just as you said. It's saddening to learn the author passed shortly after publication. I'd have asked him about all sorts of techniques. What did he mean by a kanohi swap, or what foot should you propel with when pulling off the plug? Next time I'm in Po-Koro, I hope you'll be able to show me that underhanded steal you talked about! Sincerely, Kyhra


A black cloak flickered in the streets below. It moved in a repetitious pattern, as if a signal; Ishi nodded and the figure vanished. His gaze fanned outward, broadening his horizons as he stood in the center of the city, high above the movements of daily traffic. The occasional being passing by kept his motives unsuspected, the ice bridge nothing more than a swift and convenient way of reaching each district and he just one more tourist enjoying the view. Hands in his pockets, wind whipping, icy footing chill and unforgiving, Ishi observed his new haunt. From the vantage of height, life became a string of easily noticed lines and patterns, all stored in the mind of one matoran with a deadly intellect. Gone was the curious quip-machine. Ishi Polzin had vanished with the removal of his wedding bands, replaced by a fearsome intelligence. His outward demeanor still held the same innocence as before, but Catarix's words of warning had unchained the beast of reason, and now Ishi was nothing less than lethal.

~

The cold outside continued, blowing everywhere. The fe-matoran still stayed watch for his guests. They would be there soon...  The wind howled on.  The figure in the cloak spotted the Matoran in the middle of the cold. He stood in the middle of the vast expense, looking around, waiting.  The figure knew it was their contact. The contact who was offering a once-in-lifetime job.  The figure came out of the cave and walked directly to the Matoran.

"Are you 'Alloy'?" A firm and unreadable voice came out if the figure. They were using the codename that they were instructed ro use.  The fe-matoran looked at the newcomer, with a hint of a smile. "This way, we are still waiting for the others." He gestured towards the large open door.

Illofarn trudged on, seeing the Fe-Matoran he hailed him,  

"Do you happen to be 'Alloy'?" He said quietly.  

~

A bump and his waiting palm was filled with a common object. Ishi observed the messenger out of the corner of his eye, tapping the twist-cap of a small, metal cylinder with his thumb while walking through the streets. Scholars in the sciences of thought and prophesy passed by, characteristic white robes provoked into billowing polygons by the occasional cold wind which whipped suddenly around the sharp corners of the Merchant District. There were no covered sidewalks or porticos, like Po-Koro, and everyone mingled freely in the snowy streets, the occasional cart driver uttering a few words of disapproval at the melting pot of pedestrians. Ishi liked the disorganization. It made things confusing, and Ishi wore confusion like his coat.

Ducking into a tea shop he was greeted with the familiar silence of Ko-Koro’s hospitality. Foreigners who rarely traveled often balked at the concept of living in a cold world with colder beings for company, but to Ishi it was a respite. Here, no one would nose into his business.


“A buttered tea,” Ishi called out as he found a chair by the front window. It was a tall stool made for a toa, but after a quick calculation of force and physical probabilities the moderately sized matoran made an able hop up to recline easily within its larger surface. Taking a quick glance at the display from his higher vantage point Ishi added, “and one of those ginger scones.”


His order came promptly, tea steaming and thick with creamy butter, scone warm and well plated, and all in complete silence. He took a bite of the scone, and, rubbing the crumbs off his fingers on a nearby napkin, pulled the contents of the cylinder into the light. Thin paper made from pulped vines squeezed through a flattening machine, with thinner lines of ink in a cypher Ishi instinctively recognized as a current employer’s, unfolded in his spidery fingers, and with growing apprehension set his buttered tea aside to consume the contents of the cryptic note. Out of habit his eyes flickered to the edges of his vision: no one was watching. A toa with a huna, Ishi surmised, could be breathing down his back. Letting his senses expand, he calmed his mind, which had become unaccustomedly cluttered, and let the tea shop flood his senses. The occasional cup clattered against its saucer, the slow chewing of a skakdi two seats down the bar echoed sharply, a cough from the back of the house faded into an echo. Ishi was safely ignored, just one more matoran spending money on a hot beverage while reading the day’s mail.


Information received. Ishi began his response on the back of the paper napkin, The event in question began…


The matoran’s reply was concise. Using the same cypher for recognizability, Ishi transposed the more sensitive portions with a twist for added security. Cap tightened and cylinder tucked safely out of sight the informant enjoyed the rest of his meal, mind mulling over the enlightening details. The game had changed, new routes started while others ended with a crash of collapse in the mind palace of the Po-Matoran reclining in an oversized barstool. He sighed as a block of his mental city was demolished, effaced from record much like the city it was modeled after. He had no need for a faulty system. Instead, he formed a new block, one in which his information was quickly moved in and unboxed, ready for retrieval. Ishi enjoyed the new arrivals; they made richer neighbors than the previous tenants.


Last sip of buttered tea finished with a smirk Ishi dropped from the chair and departed, the streets less chaotic after the lunch hour. He walked in what seemed an aimless fashion, purchasing the ingredients for dinner from a small store tucked between a building with red signage and a rope-maker’s shop. His gaze wandered across the masks of the locals. If Ko-Koro could get colder, the poorer areas brought the chill. Gaunt eyes looked through the sockets of noble rurus and kakamas, a scrawny toa long-forsaking their destiny stood with smaller rapscallions around a rubbish heap, using their powers to start a fire for warmth. Ishi noticed with an odd realization how little actual beings of ice lived on the fringe: miners, welders, shepherds, weavers, and other foreign traders lingered in the soiled fringes of glacial splendor.

Approaching the cluster around the growing blaze, Ishi raised a hand in greeting. “Mind if I add some fuel to that,” he asked, voice mimicking a peddler he had met once in the Kumu Islets. The toa of fire looked surprised, then a dirty sneer grew across his face as he replied with the same accent; “I only burn cops in trash heaps.”


Ishi put his hand down. Thinking quickly, the informant formed a false identity. He was a merchant’s son, prone to thievery after the family fortune tanked. Plagued by a jealous older sister he set off to find his own destiny and wound up a criminal in Kumu. Largely based on truth, but Ishi had been in a rush. With a nod of his head toward the toa of fire he replied, “How’d you get out?”


The matoran gathered in the small space looked nervously between the two survivors. The toa’s fists clenched and Ishi stiffened, calculating the probabilities of attack.


“The lighthouse,” the toa finally said as his temper subsided. Ishi walked the rest of the way to the fire while nodding, giving the closest matoran a thump on the back as he joined the ring.

“Heard about that. I’d taken work in Le-Wahi when it… When it happened." “Talk about classic,” the toa said. “You’re what, a pickpocket?”


“Nah,” Ishi said while pulling the translated copy of Ahkmou’s journal out of his pack. He took a last look at the top page then tossed the sheets of paper into the flames. The recent notes turned to ash with a fresh blaze from the toa. Ishi smirked. “I’m just an anarchist.”


“I’m Oslo.”


“Who named you something like that,” Ishi retorted. “Sounds like a sneeze.”


“Oh yeah?”


“Yeah. Like some old toa with an allergy to cats.”


“Aren’t you a little bundle of combustion waiting to happen.”


“The name’s Acket,” Ishi replied unfazed. The copies finished morphing into gray ash. A few hovering matoran coughed, but otherwise kept themselves ready to run.


“You got guts, I’ll give you that.” “I’d like to keep them too.” Oslo stared down at the shorter crook, a smile appearing after a tense moment of thought. “I like you, Acket. What’s your reason for getting stuck with the rest ‘round here?” He gestured at the snowy buildings surrounding the small open area.


“Some gig that didn’t pull through. Got a light?” Ishi flicked his wrist and a metal cigarette case slipped free from its hold inside the fabric. One of the nearby matoran gawked and patted his own thick coat before proclaiming, “Oi! That’s mine!”


Oslo chuckled and held a burning forefinger for Ishi to light the cheap smokes. “Whatdya want?”


“Heard of someone named Alloy?”


Oslo tapped the brow of arthron. “Does this look like sensory aptitude to you?”


“No, it looks like you spend your time checking the sounds from the two-story I just passed.” Ishi replied with a gesture toward the red-light building.


Oslo gave a wink. “Great minds think alike eh?”


“Something to that effect. So, Alloy?”


“Aye, I’ve heard of them. Forty-fifth flag, or something like that. Some mercs were whispering about a job, but with koro security there’s really no point in trying to get out. Heard there was a bust in the glacier tunnels earlier.”


“Would explain the small earthquakes,” Ishi said while staring at the burning trash heap, smoke from his cigarette spiraling into the air. A few cold minutes passed as the small congregation of heat worshippers held their hands out to the fire. “Thanks for the help, I’ll be taking off. Oh,” Ishi tossed the metal cigarette case back to the matoran he’d pick pocketed, “and thanks for the smoke.”


Oslo offered a fist to pound and Ishi’s smaller hand clicked against the carapace.


“See ya ‘round, Acket,” said Oslo.

Ishi nodded and strode off, grocery bag dangling from one hand and a cigarette perched between his lips.

~

He walked patiently in the setting sun of the late-afternoon, his shadow a long darkness stretched behind him. The icy stairs were cold as he ascended to the closest bridge, and his mind thought of Alloy. It had been one of the few rumors he picked up from certain social spheres, nothing more than a whispered name in the cups of drunks. A meeting in the drifts posed a difficulty: security. How would he get out? Ishi stumbled through the riddle long enough, taking until he was between the dying sun and the glittering citadel to realize the answer. It was a desperate loophole, a gamble yes, and Ishi leaned over the low edge of the bridge to gaze at the snowy road three stories below. Could he do it?


“Mata-Nui I hate heights.” Shaking his head he turned his attention back to the bridge. “Insane. I'm totally insane.” He fell.

~


Ishi was in the ocean, blue waves rippling above his head as the light from a light stone lamp flickered from the left. He blinked, and realized the ocean was the gothic vaulted ceiling of a familiar architecture, the blue tinted windows adding a feeling of submergence to the stone walls.


“You and I are going to have a nice long chat, right now.” Said a voice accompanied by the familiar scent of vanilla and tobacco. He turned his head, staring at the golden eye of a woman he’d known in a past life. Groaning, Ishi turned his head back to center, letting the pillow absorb the tension in his neck.


“Why am I not surprised to see you here?” He asked no one in particular. “Gabel. Makes sense you’d take her name. She is your sister after all.”


“Let’s get some things straightened out,” Riaril said with her usual disappointed tone, “Was my sister-“ Ishi rolled his eyes- “and when you were carried here on a gurney by the guard it was hard to classify your legs as three dimensional objects. Did you take up the sport of cliff jumping in Le-Wahi?”


“I don’t intentionally vault into canyons with angry people in tow for the record.”


“Could have fooled me.” Riaril uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. “What happened, and how the karz are you here?”


“I fell and died, according to the paper, or did you not bother to read my obituary? As for how I’m here, you’re the expert. Something about a gurney you said?” Ishi pushed himself up gently with an elbow, feeling a mild twinge in his side as he looked at the toa of water on her roller stool. “What about you? You look horrible.”


“Apparently I died too, or did you forget to read my tombstone,” Riaril retorted with a huff. “Of course I was kind enough to climb out of my coffin after a week, unlike a certain someone in this room.”


“And the eye?”


“How I died.”


“I’m noticing a pattern here. I think I’ll call it Unoriginal Plot Syndrome. But you’re hiding something aren’t you.”


Riaril bristled and leaned back. “What makes you-”


“You’re posture is indicative of someone who’s protecting something. It’s not just your blindside, since you don’t have the problem of turning your head slightly for a wider range of view. No, you’re hiding something that isn’t really physical. You say you died… Oh, they don’t know, do they? Which is why you use your sister’s name.”


Riaril glanced down toward a pair of nurses attending the lesterin at the end of the wing. “I hate that trick of yours.”


“For the last time it’s not a trick. I just see these things. Now we’re on even footing: both of us would prefer to be seen as someone else. What else are you going to pull up as leverage?”  Riaril frowned. Ishi took a moment to stare at her longer, noticing the scars peaking from the inside of her lab coat, hastily buttoned with the middle only half through the hole. “Your kanohi-”

“That’s enough,” Riaril snapped. “Fine. I get where this is going. If I’m going to scratch your back you’re going to scratch mine, got it? I’ve got some coronary reports The Hand needs to see. I’d deliver them myself but at the moment I think the living wounded are more important than the registered dead.”

“Of course,” Ishi said as he tentatively put a foot to the floor, leaned forward, and then with a push of his arms stood free of the medical bed. Surprisingly, the matoran felt better than he had in the morning. “When can I start?”

~

A red umbrella bobbed in the falling snow. Underneath, Ishi ran a disappointed finger around his left eye. Riaril had removed the scar, something they had debated during his time with Team Kanohi Dragon. It had been a memento, a reminder of his family and why he never wanted to return. Now, free of the medal for surviving his youth with Vera he felt the last few traces of his past were beginning to fade away, as if in reverse chronological order his life was deleting itself. He paused, adjusted the black bag on his shoulder. Inside was the folder of reports due on the desk of Ko-Koro’s hand. Flapping in the breeze, however, was a red flag. The forty-fifth red marker flag, accompanied by a matoran who seemed as much a part of the landscape with a fluff of snow on his head as the mountainside. Ishi tilted his borrowed umbrella back enough to show his face, which held a gregarious smile.

“Sorry I’m late. Bit of a problem with security back at the city. Did I miss much? You must Alloy, yes?” Ishi paused, then held out his bag of groceries for the fe-matoran to take. “They took a bit of a tumble, but I brought some munchies.”

Just before the figure entered the door, they turned and saw an all too familiar Matoran with a red umbrella approaching Alloy. The figure sighed angrily. Anyone would recognise that Hapaka anywhere. The figure moved forward into the doorway, hoping that the irritating Po-Matoran would not notice them.

The Fe-matoran outstretched a hand, delicately receiving the groceries as if they where packed with stralix powder. A quizzical look fell on his face, hidden by the gunmetal of his welding mask. It did not stay there for long, something in his mind felt, off. A pattern had emerged. To many people had come, each looking for an Alloy, one of the many names he bore. They where not alone either. In the distance, he watched as a toa crossed the drifts. A small dot in the snow before him. "Follow" he barked. He walked inside the door, waiting for the three to enter. "Seal the door!" The fe-matoran reached inside a small hole in the wall. A faint clicking sound was heard, and then as he pulled the object inside forward, the large gear-like door jarred itself shut. An onu-toa inside an adjoining room channeled his power to cover the door with natural rock, as to disguise it from any bystanders. Nothing could get in. Nothing could get out. Just the way the company liked it. The matoran walked to the meeting room, gesturing for everyone else to follow. He sat down in a crystalline stool next to his companions, waiting for the others to do the same.

The figure followed the armed Fe-Matoran into the base. They were relieved that the infernal cold was behind them.

As the three visitors(OOC: Illofarn, Ishi and 'Dervish') followed Alloy, the figure slowed down a little to keep in step with the Hapaka Ishi.

"What are you doing here?" The unreadable voice had a hint of annoyance to it.

"Well, it's always nice to be invited in," Ishi said under his breath, shaking the snow of his borrowed umbrella. It was thick rice paper with a bamboo handle, brought from the sunny shores of Naho-Bay to the cold crags of Mt. Ihu. On impulse he tapped it once on the doors, listening to the unusual resonant percussion. "Not just stone... Interesting."


Folding up the umbrella he hopped gainly down a short flight of rough hewn stairs after the others, enjoying the cryptic map on the side of the wall, the sizes of rooms disproportionate to the functions they were assigned. Alloy was the most intriguing of group, the only matoran besides Ishi, and an anomaly. With all the steel on the fe-toa's face it was impossible to discern his features, except for the jaw, which was free to allow uncluttered speaking, and the twin eyes. His observation of Alloy's gait was interrupted by a feminine hiss.


"What are you doing here?"


Ishi shrugged, paying the toa of lightning little mind. Despite the appearance of a faxon Ishi knew the woman wore a kanohi volitak, having been the in-man for the dual scimitar mercenary when she had washed on the shores of Mata-Nui and in desperate need of a job. With a few words and widgets traded the aspiring murderer had her chance to prove her mettle. Her name, in the criminal world, had become Dervish after her first hit. Ishi enjoyed the power of knowing who she really was. It helped she was shorter than most toa, her chin just above Ishi's eye line. Her appearance in Ko-wahi wasn't shocking.


"I came for the fantastic conversation," Ishi replied with a happy wink, "and I heard the tea biscuits were divine. Maybe we could share one."


A rectangular arch and several smaller tunnels later and they had all entered a meeting room, glowing light stones making the table and surrounding crystal chairs shimmer as if struck by daylight. Ishi waited for everyone to sit, then slid himself onto a stool closest to the exit. Years of slinking and secrecy had taught the master informant to keep his exits close in a den of thieves. His blue and orange eyes cascaded about the room, assuaging the possibilities of harm from each. The toa of earth with green eyes seemed docile enough, though the bracer on his arm undoubtedly carried a retractable blade, a common tactic of volitak-wearing sneaks. Dervish could explode at a moment's notice, like stralix powder, but more than likely she would back him in a fight. Alloy, however, seemed the greatest potential threat. It was the matoran of iron who controlled the keys to leaving the mountain complex, the two toa by his side seemed more than henchmen, and Ishi doubted anyone who didn't agree with what was about to transpire would find their heads mounted on a plaque over a hearth somewhere in the bowels of the tunnels.


Illofarn stepped into the room, seeing a chair close to the exit he slid in to the chair directly beside Ishi's, "The Hapaka? Interesting."


She sighed at the Hapaka's response. She knew that he knew something others did not, her name. It wasn't so much the fact that he knew it that bothered her. It was the fact that she had once required this annoying yet strangely interesting Matoran's help. The Toa sighed again. At least he was better than other informants. As she entered the room, she realised that the one just beside it was labelled 'Interrogation' was really a toilet. She took a seat at one of the chairs in the meeting room. Ferrum led the trio of prospective conspirators into the meeting room. He took a seat in his favourite crystalline chair and motioned fr the others to take a seat too.

"The three of you are here today beacause you all have skills required for a rather... daunting task. But due to the sensitive nature of the assignment, I cannot disclose any details until you agree to take the job first. You now have a choice."

"Payment?" One of the three asked.

"Will be negotiated after you agree," Ferrum replied.

The three figures nodded in turn.

Ferrum leaned forward.

"Since all of you have agreed to this mission, none of you will be backing out. Alive. If you have second thoughts, this is your last chance."

He let the threat hang in the air. None of the mercenaries said anything.

"Very well. Here is the plan. Marik, stop lying on the table and unlock the filing cabinets!!"

---

"So does everyone understand their roles to the letter?"

All the agents nodded. They now understood the gravity if their situation.

"Down payment is one million each. Another million when the job is done." ---

Negotiations done, the Matoran was satisfied.

"Good. Off we go. Remember your roles," the Matoran said as he got off the rather comfortable stool and motioned to the exit.

"I followed the smell," Ishi replied to Ilofarn, a finger playing with the groove in the table as he looked away from the toa of earth, "like any good hapaka would."

~


Ishi felt the weight of the pouch as he stepped into glittering snow of late afternoon. He slipped the collection of precious gems into his shoulder pack and opened the red umbrella, feeling the bamboo grip cold from the mountain weather. Outside, the group of allied mercenaries went their separate ways, each cog heading to their place in the devious machine of Alloy's scheme.


"Second thoughts, eh?" Ishi muttered under his breath, and with a sigh struck out across the snowy path toward Ko-Koro, a song softly floating off his lips.

Oh the summer time has come, ​

And the trees are sweetly blooming,

And the wild mountain thyme grows around the blooming heather...


A doctor's note later Ishi found himself through the gates. He walked through streets and ascended stairs, enjoying the tension of his current position. Caerus was right: in this game Ishi would live or die.


"Exhilarating," Ishi announced to himself as he finished a flight of stairs at the edge of the wide Sanctum plaza. Across the flat expanse of snow rose the crystal spires of the Citadel, a towering sanctum of prophecy and government. Pushing through the small crowds of market vendors and beleaguered citizens Ishi climbed the front steps to the main door.


"I'm here with the coroner's reports on behalf of Doctor Gabel," Ishi said while producing the same note he'd used at the front gate, confirming the truth of his words to the Guard. "I'll need to see both Captain Korzaa and Vizier Ambages to deliver each copy."

A single guard accompanied him to the Akiri's office. Ishi trotted along behind, taking in the cold splendor of the citadel as they passed floor after floor of glittering, icy hallways, silent save for the echo of their two-toed footsteps. He kept the burning desire to wander off and explore the building further under control by continually tapping a finger to the palm of his hand. If anything, it made him look more nervous messenger than lethal informant. The guard stopped long enough to confer with a fellow at the door, and then with a nod left the way he had come with the constipated march of a soldier. "I take it that's a good sign?" Ishi asked.


"Vizier Ambages, Hand of the Akiri, is at leisure to see you now," replied one of the door guards. He held a short spear in his hand, advantageous in a corridor fight where enemies would have little chance of dancing to the side of a well placed thrust. Ishi nodded and walked through the door into a small but immensely tall room. Ishi stood at the threshold as the door closed, touching his back, and looked up. Staring at the crowning buttresses and the celestial ceiling he had an almost religious feeling swell inside the blinking heart-light in his chest. Slowly, as if returning to the land of the mortals after staring at the gates of paradise, Ishi's gaze fell on the enormous desk, and, behind its paper-laden surface, Ambages. The man of mystery and plot sat naturally in his chair as Ishi took a moment's glance before approaching. Uncharacteristically pink eyes, soft yet perceptive, peered from the light-senstive lenses of a kanohi ruru, grey armor softly countering the black body beneath. The Architect was dashing, the weariness of his job yet to show in the jaw or shoulders. Taking a tentative step forward Ishi gave an awkward bow.


"I'm sorry to say, but I never learned proper etiquette for leaders of Koros," Ishi said while wavering in his position. "My name is Rōhi, and Doctor Gabel sent me as a courier for some papers she said needed to be delivered to you."

The hand had been expecting the report from the research hospital for a while by then. Gabel was nothing of not dedicated to her tasks and truly did find herself surrounded by the macabre -- purely for science, of course, or so she claimed. Ambages didn't care, though, content that she was doing her job to his satisfaction. That was the deal they struck: Gabel, would run the hospital according to her own desires providing she didn't violate any terms set by the architect, who both designed and funded the hospital as with the rest of the Academy. So far, Gabel had done admirably. But few things in Ko-Koro were as they seemed. Ice wastes could be just as deceiving as sand dunes, giving way to their own sort of mirages, but were far more dangerous. So many things could be hidden in the snow, and unlike in Po-Wahi the snow drifts never moved like the dunes. Secrets tended to stay buried, though everyone with a keen mind strove to dig them up. And in Ko-Wahi none were better than Ambages.


"It's quite alright," he replied with his characteristic smooth tone. To the courier before him it was like Ambages had lubed his tongue with olive oil and the words seemed to dance off his tongue. The words were like honey, sweet and lingering long after they had been said. Over the years Ambages had perfected the art of his speech into an art and it had gotten him more assets than any legitimate professional work had ever garnered him. "As it is I'm barely the leader, anyway. No need to fret."


The doctor had been hired as a certain "Toa Gabel" but Ambages, being the master actor he was, could tell there was deceit in the air the moment he met with the smoky, rail-thin doctor. He did research of his own, temporarily foraying to his study to analyze documents and dossiers, until he began working with Caerus, who filled in the details he was missing. Gabel had no idea, but Ambages knew who she really was, to say the least. So long as Gabel did her job and did it well she got to not only keep the job but also her dignity and identity. In ways beyond the material Ambages owned her. So long as Gabel did her job and did it well... But then, as Ambages looked the courier over once and once again, he had a tinge of doubt about Gabel Riaril. Had the doctor made a mistake?


"Thank you for this," Ambages said, taking the papers from the courier with some earnestness, seemingly out of great interest in the contents. He quietly leafed through the first couple pages to look involved, but then promptly shut the folder and slid it into a drawer. "But..." he said inquisitively, cocking his head slightly to the left and a little bit back. The courier fidgeted. "Would you have another reason to be concerned?"

He let the idea mingle in the space between the two matoran like their breath did, which turned nebulous in the icebox of an office. It was uncomfortable and stuffy despite the vastness of space, especially for the Hand. Ambages liked being the akiri's second more than the commander of the village, in part because as mere associate he could work from his apartment, by the fireplace, with his cognac and books which he so loved. The office, and the Sanctum as a whole, was far too stark, too cold, too ###### spiritual for him. He loathed it and its necessity. The courier was an actor of his own right; Ambages could see that. It took one to know one. "Rōhi" didn't give anything away. Yet.


Ambages face spawned a knowing smile as he began to explain what he knew. "I own the hospital and visit it sporadically. I got to know the employees there well and 'Rōhi' isn't on any manifest I've read. Which means you're either new -- which I'm inclined to doubt because Gabel wouldn't send someone she didn't know to me with an important report -- or 'Rōhi' is... a fabrication." At that point the Hand leaned back in his chair and clasped his fingers across his belly, at ease. He knew an actor when he saw one and this was an actor. "So tell me, who is standing in before me in the office of the akiri, and why are you lying to me?"

Ambages’ smooth deduction echoed like thunder after a lightning strike from the vaulted ceiling. The speed of calculation, the ease in which he spoke. Everything Ambages endeavored was sure in its footing, sound in its logic, and true to reason; he was a viper slowly coiling around his prey. A green informant would have balked and, like a startled bird, broken cover only to fall into the waiting trap. Someone with more practice might have attempted to keep the ruse going, but eventually a lack of prefabricated lies would expose them. A gambler might have revealed the cards and produced leverage as a weapon. Ishi was neither the green novice who would sprint for the door, nor was he the journeyman reaching for metaphorical straws, and the one thing Ishi never revealed was his playing hand. Ishi Polzin was… Different. If Ishi hadn’t been in character he might’ve hugged Ambages on the spot.


“Lying?” Ishi repeated as he pulled his bag closed and slung it back over his shoulder, his burdens of truth weighing almost nothing. “That’s a rather harsh assessment of someone just trying to pay off their hospital bills, sir. But your deduction skills are superb. I can see why you were chosen as Hand to Akiri Matoro, may he rest in peace. You must enjoy riddles, yes? I’ve taken up the hobby myself. It’s always good for clearing away the mental cobwebs, I guess I could say.” He paused to let the thought simmer, rocking from toe to heel as his hands clasped behind his back.

“Would you like to hear a riddle?”

Ambages twisted in his seat, not used to being placed in such a situation as that. On one hand he was up for a challenge by a stranger, but on the other he was not used to being challenged in the first place. Nevertheless, his curiosity got the better of him and he nodded slowly. "Go ahead," Ambages said, seeming cool and calm in his chair. "Let's see what you've got."

"What has a face but never sees its tail, always moves but has no feet, lives forever but never sleeps?" Ishi asked as he stood in the small office, eyes pointed toward the ceiling as he listened to the riddle echo in the office, realizing how any word spoken would never go unheard. After a moment he looked back at the Vizier, calmly awaiting the moment of truth: would Ambages answer correctly? The informant didn't doubt his opponent's capabilities. In fact, he relished the opportunity to watch the speed at which Ambages could think.

Ambages twitched, at first swamped with possibilities. His gears whirred at lightning speed to weed out the rotten guesses. Rock. It was the first thing that came to mind. A carved rock, perhaps in the figure of an animal or person. But the architect had discovered over the years that his first ideas were typically not the best ones. Knowledge was only bred by long study and fostered learning, not by jumping to conclusions, and the hastiness that the idea of a hewed statuette was the answer quickly dispelled the notion. The answer would have to not only be something simple but also meaningful, at least to him of not to the both of them. It had to be interesting, otherwise it wasn't on the table for discussion. The statuette idea was finally perfect if taken literally but there was no imagination behind it, no intrinsic meaning to make it special. It wasn't rock.


"I've decided I do not like riddles." But despite the consternation in his voice his eyes still were alight with interest; there was no sign that he was slowing down in his analysis. What has a face? he asked himself. Rocks do. Carved rocks. Cliffs. Mountains. (Both relevant to Ko-Koro.) 'Facing the issue/fears/truth.' (Relevant to secrecy and politics.) He took that harvest and tried to match the ideas with the rest of the equation: Does it have a tail? Does it have life? Does it sleep? Cliffs had no tail; they were out. Mountains did trail off into ridges and some did have trails on them, but Ambages had a hard time convincing himself that it was the answer; mountains meant very little to him. No, the actor had to have chosen something obviously associated with the Hand. It was almost a rule of the game. The ethereal ideas, those of 'facing' something, were quickly dissolved; they were aspects of personality and not open knowledge. There had to be a simpler answer...


Important... Clear... Relevant... Of course! he thought as it struck him. It's so obvious! Coins!


"The answer is a coin," Ambages finally said -- his analysis had taken all of three seconds from the end of his last sentence. He must have been going soft. "It has a head side and a tail side and you can only see one side or the other. Money will always hold value and its exchange never rests." And as the island's wealthiest man money had a very specific relationship to his identity, one that was an open secret to anybody.


"So now that I've played your little game and solved your riddle, it's my turn to flip it around. Who are you and why did you pretend?" he asked, this time more forcefully, menacingly even, though not as blatantly as a threat. "You've made it this far into my castle but don't test my patience any longer, or else I might get bored and do something, well, I'll call it 'less than diplomatic.' I don't, and Ko-Koro does not, suffer liars, criminals or assassins, would-be or otherwise. So, please, make yourself plain to me." Okay, thaaaat was a threat.

Playtime was over. The interest Ambages held for Ishi was spinning into something more sinister, like a coin rotating in the air. The possible resolutions dwindled, leaving only one input where the outcome might equal survival. Ishi had planned for this. Moving forward, a sign of determination or attempted domination, would have been stupid. Instead, he kept his footing on the icy floor, not making any movement to indicate a desire to leave or even to overcome Ambages through force. Stirring the pot would only bring chaos.


“Identity is a strange bird,” Ishi said with a sad smile. “You can squash it and strangle it into oblivion, rip it from the history books and burn the remains of its fragile body, and still it will laugh at you every time you pass a mirror. No, Ambages, you’re right. I’m not Rōhi, or at least not anymore. That rose withered after you answered my riddle. Now I’m just Ishi Polzin, at your service.”


He gave a soft bow with his head, orange and blue eyes twinkling. “Yes, I’m a guilty man, but I’m also a good sleuth, and far more valuable alive than skewered by the two guards outside. Besides, I’m not the only liar in this room, am I?”

The Hand propped his head on his left hand, arm propped up on the armrest, and chuckled, giving his first expression of good nature since telling the courier to be at ease, and shook his head. "I should have known it was you, Ishi," he said slowly. He knew that name, heard it mentioned by Caerus in reports, seen it in his private archives, and though Ishi Polzin was officially classified as deceased there were rumours drifting around that said otherwise. They were just verified.


"I can't say I'm impressed or surprised, so you'll have to forgive me for not being excited," he said, stirring to sit upright and look at Ishi directly. "Identity is never what you choose to make it, it's what others perceive. That's why changing a name can confuse the enemy and make you invisible -- for a time, anyway. But I think you know all that, it's how you've come this far, anyway. Therein lies your mistake, Polzin."

Ambages leaned on his desk, leering closer to the little matoran before him. "You came this far."


With the knowledge that Ishi Polzin likely still existed, Ambages understood that it was only a matter of time before his overt activities would attract a cunning man, and Ishi Polzin fit that bill. As such, Ishi posed a threat. The fact that Ishi worked for Caerus did nothing to help his case as it was not unknown for Peers to plot against one another; power often left many competent people overly confident and assured of victory, greedy for more even when the only way to get more was by ripping it from an ally, so in fact it served against Ishi at that point in time. What perplexed Ambages, and that was by no means a good thing, was why Polzin would even endeavor to approach him there without a reason. It made Ambages doubt when he was already in a paranoid fit, with Leah Maru scowling at him and Captain Korzaa doubting his sincerity already. The Hand did not appreciate the questionable circumstance Ishi Polzin's presence posed. In his mind there were only two answers possible:


Answer one: Ishi Polzin was offering his intellect to Ambages' cause. Ambages hoped that wasn't the case. He didn't need loose screws or cannons or threads and double-agents would be all of the above. He didn't want Ishi's help, he didn't need it and he certainly wasn't going to take it. And while a possibility, it wasn't what a smart man would do. A smart man would remain in the shadows and avoid being in the service of a creature who could break it, especially when it was already in the service of a good master. Though the more Ambages thought about it he didn't think it was a possibility, he kept it in mind.


Answer two: Ishi Polzin was there as a courier of much more than Matoro's coronary report. A warning, perhaps? An ultimatum? Ambages considered the gaps in his acting before -- had 'the Hapaka' found one such loophole? Despite the immediate threat this possibility posed Ambages much preferred it. He could answer danger directly, address it with unflinching cunning and effortless force an end it before it grew out of control. One needle-thin blast of shadow from his fingertip to Ishi's head would end it, or slam on the trap door release to put Ishi in the dungeon, or flip the switch for the guards to storm in and skewer Ishi like the would-be assassin he could be framed as. Either way, Ishi was on thin ice. He wasn't the kind of person to lay down his hand but at that point the odds were stacked against him and he was all at fault. Maybe Ishi had a trick up his sleeve or he wasn't as smart as he was said to be, but he still needed to show his cards. Ambages grew weary of the mind game and was losing interest quickly, and every second just doubled the amount Ambages considered Ishi a man worth swiftly executing.


"In order for this conversation to continue I need to know what make yo think you're worth anything to me alive. So. Why are you here?" he asked. "And calling me a liar earned you no respect points from me. Bold, cute even, but not smart. Come on, Polzin -- you're said to be so clever. Impress me."

“You present an impossible puzzle. Maybe you’re wondering if I will attempt to impress you with knowledge of classified information, spouting some little flash-bang, some secret tid-bit with which to win your attention, as if I were a chef appealing to your palate with exotic morsels, but no, I won’t be cooking. If I were to say something that sparked your appetite, it would not be satiated until I had been removed, the recipe eliminated along with me.” The words echoed as he paced in the small office, taking in the details of his current location as he spoke. Icy sconces were placed at mathematically calculated intervals, felt bags over the light-stones they held removing what illumination they might have emitted. Instead, the sunlight seeping through the walls of ice served enough in the mid-afternoon of Ko-Koro. By a similar attention to detail he noticed the thin lines in the floor where he had been standing, which hinted to some form of hidden trap. Turaga Matau had kept an ejection platform in his hut, but in the enclosed space of the Akiri’s Office there was nowhere to go except down. By reason, it led to either a dungeon or a meat grinder.


“And,” Ishi continued without breaking what had become a growing monologue, “if I were to offer my services it would prove myself untrustworthy given our associated connections with a certain arachnid. Besides,” here Ishi paused to slide a finger across the large desk only to find no dust, “I have enough sense to see such an offer is unwanted. You’ve been incredibly calm, never having left your seat since reclining. Judging by a common thread of my previous meetings with others you should be attempting to pull out my tongue or bust in my teeth about now. By doing nothing it shows your control of the situation, or at least it would if not for your pupils. A man’s gaze speaks volumes, Ambages. When we’ve lived the kinds of lives we’ve lived, so full of stress and plotting and scheming, eventually our eyes dilate enough for it to be noticeable to the trained, well for lack of a better word, eye. You’re having some anxiety issues.”


In a daring move the matoran turned away, exposing his back as he looked over the door. It was a moment short lived, and with his coat swaying about he returned his eyes to Ambages, still sitting in the chair. “I heard a rumor, or maybe it was more of a general conversation, among the guards on my way up to your office. It seems like there are Maru here. Four Maru, to be exact. I personally would dread running into Leah Maru, her powers of perception were stunningly shown in the trial regarding a failed assassination attempt on Akiri Hahli’s life. After that story went to print no one who makes a living off of secrets would want to be in her presence, that’s common sense. But, you’re not supposed to be a man of secrets, are you? You’re Ambages, Vizier and Hand to the deceased Akiri and now current interim leader until you’re also named Akiri. You’re stuck in a position where it would raise alarm to not see her, an aberrant behavior saved for people more like, well, me.”


Ishi smiled.


“Of course I’m assuming she’s here because when Maru arrive after the death of someone important, and a murder at that, it just makes sense for a pretty toa with a mood ring for a face to tag along and interrogate the suspects. Although,” Ishi gave a forlorn glance at the ceiling, “putting them to The Question would be fun too… I got to do that once. Of course I got stuck with some lousy cultist who was fine with their arms all… Sorry I’m rambling aren’t I? The point is: you’ve got your work cut out juggling all your different faces.”


“Why am I here?” Ishi scratched the back of his head and gave a laugh. “Honestly, I’m not here because someone wanted me to carry some message or anything so dull. I’m here for three reasons, and they can all be summed up by one thing…” Ishi’s hand returned to view and with a flick of his thumb the widget he had palmed during his turn away from the door from up his sleeve arced through the air to land with dramatic showmanship on the desk. “Coins."


“I’m here first and foremost to say hello and enjoy a stimulating conversation with someone who actually has a a decent intelligence level. How often do you get house calls from visitors who aren’t trying to pin some evil deed to the lapel of your admittedly rather well cut wool coat, hm? From one genius to another it must feel so dull surrounded by brakas’ who do very little except wave sharp objects in one another’s faces. Meeting you is a connection, and by my good luck allows me to reduce my hospital bill significantly with the little courier job.


“Second, I’m here for my family.” Ishi paused to straighten his face from the animated delight he had previously exhibited. “I know I don’t look the part of the family man, but my sister and brother are important to me. We’re a unit, and I’d very much hate to see that unit actually become functional. My sister, however, has more than proven herself a takea shark in the sea of commercial opportunity. Isn’t it about time she, as the head of Polzin Shipping Co., is given a seat in that charitable organization called the Cultured Gentry? In the thirty years I’ve decided to play dead she’s done an amiable job growing the company. Now, only Horseman Shipping holds any sort of competition in the market. I want her in the Gentry. It’s cash for the family, and besides she’d make a good ally for you. She’s all logos, my sister.


“Third and finally, I’m here because I want to get you seated on that Throne of Kopaka pronto, again, for financial reasons. In exchange for me leaving this room and enjoying my forced vacation during Ko-Koro’s lockdown without any sort of bodily harm I’ll gladly help stop a rather elaborate plan to depose you and shut off most of your connections with the outside world. You are not, for some random reason, a well liked man, Ambages. Despite the generous contributions you’ve made it seems the public is just swelling with resentment for the little man with the earmuffs. I’ve been to a few meetings, and I can easily help dig up the roots of the plants before they sprout and give you a headache.”


Ishi crossed his arms, quelled his mind, and gave a thin smile at the de-matoran in the chair. “You said identity is what others perceive. As an experiment, take a look at the widget. You’ll see the face has weathered from use, age has made it’s spokes brittle and scraped. But is it still not a widget?”

The Hand stared at Ishi Polzin for quite a long moment and neither man did so much as breathe for that pause, but it was the Hand who broke the silence. He exhaled loudly through his nostrils and slid his lips to the left in a genuine grin, then bobbed his head up and down, clearly showing Ishi at least succeeded in retaining his attention for another roll of the dice. But then he slid back from the desk and sat upright in his chair and clasped his hands on his chest, quietly gauging Ishi's performance before giving his review.

"So you come to me seeking to make a trade," Ambages said, "with goods you can only promise me of and nothing for me to bite on except references to how the goods can maybe help me do... something. Meanwhile, you perfectly addressed how my end of the bargain would help you and your family. Mmmmm... I'll give you a seven out of ten; it's entertaining, but I'd only see your sales show after the half-off coupons were mailed out en-masse." He winked. "It's all about the coins. I'm sure you can understand."


Ambages pushed away from the desk and leaned back in his chair before clasping his hands across his chest, oozing political calm. Ishi had made several keen observations of his personality but he had also made two blunders and Ambages was more than willing to point them out.


"Yes, it's true: The Maru are here and Leah among them, but as both Jaa and Korzaa can tell you I've already met and spoken with her and..." He opened his hands and gestured in a half-shrug to present himself, "I'm still here." He clasped his hands again. "We may be smart but we're nothing alike. Unlike you I've learned long ago that lying only postpones the inevitable. It's a loan with high interest, an investment not worth making." Unless you can buy the bank with it, anyway, he thought to himself.


"People detest me because I represent something none here like: The unalterable death of the akiri. I don't want this power, I have it because I was chosen for it. You mistake a competent step to maintain order as the sign of an eager powergrab. You don't know me, Ishi Polzin, and you clearly don't know what I want, either. If there are circles who want to see me deposed they may continue to hope their way is granted, but until then they are still my wards and I will serve the whole of Ko-Koro as Hand until an akiri is chosen -- I'm not expecting to be elected at this rate." He moved on to the other matters.

"Mmmm, your sister is an interesting woman. As chairman of the Gentry I've been watching her activities, both personal and with the company, and I say that if she wants to be a part of the Cultured Gentry she may join it, but that will happen by her own petition and volition and not due to her lost brother's pleading. If she feels she can contribute to the club she is more than welcomed to ask for membership herself, but from you, you're just giving me a blank check with an unclear number from a finite bank account." He shrugged. "It's not good for business to accept wild card checks."


Looking down on the widget without seizing it and observed it from his chair. It was well-worn, tarnished and blemished from years of use and exchanges. "Now, this coin of yours you are soooo enraptured by -- though I can't imagine why what is. You see a widget, but that is not what I see. This trinket is an avatar of the Mata Nuian economy, an infinitesimally minor fraction of it but a part nonetheless. It is a widget because what people call it but it's soooo much more than that, isn't it, Ishi?" He reached across and picked the coin to inspect it up at his eyes. "People call this a widget not because some bloke wipes his ###### and saw the letters w-i-d-g-e-t spelled out on the tissue, it's because some smart people came together and gave a name to a concept, the concept of money. The coin never asked to be called a widget; it takes whatever name people give it. The identity of this coin is what people perceive it to be, not what it chooses to be, and so it can be anything to anybody. Personally... I'm the richest man on the island. You can keep your trinket."

He flicked it across the room and back at Ishi's face.


"While I appreciate your joy in playing this little game of words, but I do not accept your offers. But you came here to do business and I am a businessman at heart, so I cannot let you go until after I make an offer of my own." He smiled as he delivered his response. "You say you are a good sleuth, I say you're alright for a reporter. An akiri recently died here and I want to know who was behind it. Find that out. So if you do what I say, I'll make you rich. If you don't, I'll make you into shoes."


It was a fair deal, he felt -- that was to say, not fair at all. Ishi tried to make a deal with nebulous information that stacked odds against Ambages, and so the Hand responded with a deal that featured equally great benefits to him in turn. But unlike Ishi, he had leverage, and in Ishi's begging, pleading, pathos-driven negotiation he had given Ambages all the information he needed to turn it all against Ishi. No more words. Ambages smiled broadly.

Ishi palmed the coin, letting it vanish with a sleight of hand. “Well, I guess I was hoping for too much, thinking you’d offer a cup of hot buttered tea and a fireside chat. You’re a busy man after all.”


He shrugged, letting the tension of the moment dissipate like the uncertain laughter after a poorly timed joke. Ambages’ little speech had been enlightening, to say the least. Somehow, the Machiavellian Prince had done the impossible and beaten a Maru at her own game. The kanohi of Intent allowed its user to see the auras of those around them at all times, so far as Ishi had learned in the past couple months. Could Ambages have been capable of hiding his emotions so thoroughly? Ishi looked back at the dilated eyes he had previously used to deduce Ambages’ stress and inwardly discarded the notion. No, no one was capable of so thoroughly lying to themselves, there were always traces of the truth hidden in plain sight. Ambages had even been the one to point out the finite use of hiding one’s identity. If the Ruhaku was designed to see through the smokescreen of deception there were only one option: Ambages was exempt from its powers of detection. But why? There was something more to The Architect than met the eye, and Ishi was beginning to feel it was darker and far more dangerous than he could imagine. Yes, he knew much about Ambages’ covert exploits and sinister plots, but to fully escape the unique powers of Leah Maru unscathed was something on another level. Had Ahkmou known about this and handed over the kanohi komau with the true knowledge of Ambages’ powers? Had he died for knowing such secrets?


“I reasoned a letter would have arrived from my sister by now,” Ishi stated after the momentary pause. “It was a logical assumption, but then, I once met a woman who very candidly said ‘assumptions can kill,’ and I’ve been keen to follow her advice until just then.” He side-stepped around the trapdoor, the first recognizable display of his knowledge of the device. Before, Ishi had simply kept his position to the edges as he paced, in the chance it might open and he would have to dive for safety, but now it was time to slowly reveal what he could see.

Standing by the desk, he looked down at Ambages sitting comfortably in the chair, electricity dancing between their guarded gazes. “I can tell you who the killer was without leaving this office. As for who was behind it, I may need to borrow Korero Maru’s powers of travel. He is here of course. I see no other way the Maru could arrive so suddenly and in such number, none wear the kakama after all. The killer of Akiri Matoro was found by your own guards. His autopsy report included with the papers I brought you. Unfortunately, the guard did a mediocre job in examining the location of his death, but between their report to your doctor and her own exemplary examination I can piece together the story, up to a point.” Ishi leaned back, moving his head and neck until a soft pop echoed in the room. “That’s better.

“Our killer was found apparently frozen to death in an alleyway alongside an inn. He was in an odd position, but the guard assumed the de-matoran had frozen, nothing more than a homeless beggar. During the autopsy, however, a few things arose which Dr. Gabel found notable enough to scribble alongside the musings of an insomniac with a cigarette addiction: the matoran had suffered a fall from some height, but the trauma to the neck and spine were not enough to cause death, his mouth held the residue of a common sedative known to be poisonous in high doses, and there were small flakes of frozen blood lodged between the pinky and ring finger servo joints. From this information I can extrapolate when he stole the weapon from the scribe’s hands it was with an overhanded grab," Ishi demonstrated the motion himself, his right hand reaching over the top of his left fist, "leaving the chisel in the attacker’s right hand as a reverse gripped weapon. Although range would be limited, it would allow him to put more power into a downward stab, leaving a puncture wound angled as if someone tall had performed the kill. Matoro’s blood would have splattered on his hand, particles lodging in the servos even after he would have washed away most of the stain.

“He must’ve been staying at the inn he was found outside. I happened to pass the location on the way here: there’re balconies on the second floor. At some point he’d have ingested something containing a lethal dosage of the sedative, a rewarding drink after a successful hit perhaps, while observing the city from his room’s balcony. Once the sedative got into the system, boom, he’d lose stability and fall over the edge, implanting the noted trauma to his neck and spine.”

Ishi nodded to himself, letting the deduction settle before he tackled the next portion of the crime.

“Of course, you asked me who was behind the killing and so far I’ve only told you who the murderer was.” He tapped a finger to his kaukau thoughtfully and spun in a tight circle. “I believe this is where extrapolation until further evidence is found comes in. Our arachnid friend seemed to know Matoro’s life was nearing its conclusion. I believe his exact words were ‘the peaceful mountain’s peak is being cut off, snow and all.’ He always was a riddler. If you want me to find out who truly was behind the killing, I might as well start there.”

~

Why was it that every time Ryiu visited Ko-Koro, it seemed to be snowing? To forest Akrainid like himself, snow was irritating and intrusive. Something that was cold, very small, completely useless, and incredibly, incredibly common had no place in sophisticated society. After all, if everyone is unique, like a snowflake, then uniqueness is forfeit and everyone is the same. And Ryiu liked to think he had a measure of uniqueness in him.

He'd recieved quite a few looks since he'd arrived- apparently many of them had never seen a live Akrainid. Ever since Kyju had tainted their name in his attempt to take Onu-Koro, he'd had more trouble in business than he ever expected he would.

But today was not the day for business. He'd forsaken his white suit for warmer cloakings. His staff and shield had been left in the Polzin home, traded for more discreet equipment. A poisoned dagger which he hoped he'd never have to use. A gauntlet with a hidden blade he had promised himself he wouldn't unsheath. It was all necessary, however, if he wanted to accomplish what he had come for.

It had taken three long months to track down Ishi to Ko-Koro. Three months without correspondence with his businesses. Three months without the comforts he usually enjoyed. For someone like Ryiu, this was not an easy ordeal, and finding his brother had been even harder. Had it not been for three months of searching, he might never had found him

Through all the code names, backtracking, secrecy and sneaking around, the long lost Polzin brother had made himself surprisingly scarce. With any luck, Ryiu would be able to find him before he left the village. The best place to start was in the slums, of course, since Ishi had never been particularly prestigious in his practices, and so that was where he went first, asking around in hopes that his brother had been seen.

~

he Hand paused and mentally nibbled on Ishi's deluge of information, matching the report's logic with his own in an attempt to verify it. It seemed to hold up, at least at face value. The truth of the matter was Ambages wasn't aware of what happened himself; Korzaa's morning reports hadn't gotten to him yet, his informants weren't getting to him, he hadn't done his own investigation and the Maru weren't going to help him personally, so Ishi's intel was as much as he had gotten so far. "This body is in the morgue?" he asked. "Yes!" Ishi piped up. Ambages was relieved to hear that much. It indicated the corpse was at least held as evidence and reviewable; he'd have to dispatch someone to check it out. He may even do it himself if he were so inclined. And if the body existed then the evidence deduced from the body had to exist as well. As he considered the words Ishi said he also looked the little informant over for clues about the person, too. Ishi was slight and wiry, ectoplasmic and highly nerdy with an apparent love for the intellectual that bordered on obsessive, as observed from his daring entry in search for company from someone rumoured to hold a candle to his own mind and mistaken belief that he would get a more hospitable reception than he did. In short, Ishi was curious. Irregardless of his smarts, it was his thirst for information and equal that seemed to be the most dangerous weakness exploitable. Ishi was too excited by the game, while in deep contrast Ambages played the game without enthusiasm, not distracted by possibilities of equals or excitements; he played the game out of need, not desire. That addition explained why Ishi had found himself in the employ of Caerus, a spymaster and weaver of secrets. Information was a currency both men appreciated, as was the cryptic and subtle, so it was only natural for the Hapaka and the Fikou to mingle. Nevertheless, Ishi's thrill of the game was to be his downfall. He folded his arms and caressed his chin's imaginary beard as he addressed Ishi, looking more like a sage giving wisdom than a scheming politician. "You're a smart man, and I'd like to think I'm an intelligent man, too, so let's pretend and talk as two men of similar minds. You talk as though he and I are friends," Ambages said. "You couldn't be more mistaken unless you think the two of you are friends. He doesn't have friends and neither do I. It's a lonely life on the top, unforgiving even, but we exist. "I'll employ you for this job, so go find out who was behind the assassination. Go and speak with that spider if you want but he may be as much a suspect as he is a library so treat him with such suspicion, too. I... I want to see this matter dealt with swiftly, and let me tell you why: Ko-Koro has lost a turaga and an akiri to conflict, perhaps because those leaders refused to bend to another power. Whatever, whoever that power is I will not bow to it, either, but I do want to see that this city remains independent which cannot be true for myself or the next akiri if the clouds still cloak the alpine summits as it has been. I want what is best for Ko-Koro and for Mata Nui, and that stability cannot exist so long as leaders cannot lead. "I'd also like to make it clear that I don't actually need you, Ishi, but since I sit here and you stand there, and you want something I have --money-- and you have something I can use --research-- I'm willing to employ you. Just don't do anything to make me regret my decision in giving you this opportunity, though," he warned, his eyes turning grave despite his silky voice, and he shrugged slightly, "because I won't regret what I will do to Vera if you do."

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