- Ishi Polzin, played by Kughii
- Ryiu Polzin, played by Douglas
- Krios, played by Kughii
Chapter Ten: On The Road II
Ishi followed Ambages’ advice, leaving the autopsy reports for Korzaa with an attendant while she was busy with more prominent guests, a hulking toa of earth and a toa of water Ishi vaguely remembered calling a mood ring. With his errand for the good doctor completed he left the citadel, taking the snowy streets to Rhanus’ inn. On the walk he thought about the deduction of Matoro’s killer. It had come to him after his meeting with Alloy and The Company, when he had finally taken a peak inside the dossiers. The concept made sense, but was nothing more than an educated guess. It had potentially saved his life in the Akiri’s Office, but Ishi knew the next time he walked through the heavy door into the small enclosed space to see the Hand something more concrete would be needed to ensure his survival. Ambages was a man of business, not prediction. His left eye shut as the warmth of Rhanus’s Inn washed over him from the threshold. Even if the small silver scars around his left eye had been healed by Riaril the current residents of the Inn knew the informant as Kyhra, the jocular kohlii player with one eye and a tongue of silver.
“Welcome back.” Rhanus called out from behind the bar. He was busy drying glasses, but something in the way he looked at Ishi held a hidden warning. What was he trying to convey through silence?
“Thanks.” Slipping a few widgets onto the counter Ishi went up the stairs to the second floor, his feet padding silently down the carpeted hallway. His shared room with Nichou was the second from the end on the left, room fourteen, and it had a simple wooden door with a green copper lock and knob. Gripping the handle he inserted the key in the lock and turned.
"Interesting," Ishi muttered when the usual sound of a lock sliding out of place was uncomfortably absent. Nichou couldn't have possibly returned yet: the onu-matoran had left for the massif and Ko-Koro was still in lock-down. The key remained in the lock, but his hand drifted to the hilt of the karambit hidden under his right arm, thumb slipping through the finger ring for a speed draw, and then with a shove of the door he stepped into the room ready to face whatever foul creature had slunk into his rented chambers. A foul beast wasn't far off the mark in Ishi's eyes.
"What are you doing here?” Ishi growled at the evergreen akrainad sitting by the crackling fireplace. Ryiu Polzin was as tall as he was dashing, twinkling blue eyes mirroring the flames he stared into. Unlike the white-suited memory in Ishi’s mind, Ryiu wore layers of thick clothing and a pair of mittens dangled on the mantle.
"The usual," came the reply of the somewhat pre-occupied intruder as he looked up from a small, handheld volume titled 'Ko-Koro and You: A Guide to the Mountainous Regions'. "I'm here to bring my brother back home so Vera and I can try and straighten him out until he runs off to play villain once again.”
"Charming," Ishi grumbled as his grip on the karambit waned. The door closed with a thud and he stepped into the room, letting his bag drop on one of the two beds. "Let me guess, my sweet sister coaxed you into this scheme?”
"Oh, there was nothing sweet about it," he said, a small smile invading his otherwise emotionless face. "You know how she is these days, so stressed... Possibly from carrying the weight of an irresponsible younger brother." His eyes darted across the room, examining. "Two beds? I never took you for the social type.”
"I told you I have no interest in going back to the Polzin Mansion, and that was," Ishi paused, pretending to count on his fingers, "Oh, I'd say, you know, before I disappeared for thirty years. If I'd know she would have sent you on a gukko chase around the island I wouldn't have bothered leaving that stupid kohlii ball with the maid.” He crossed his arms. “I have friends. Just because I find your face uglier than an ussal belly doesn’t mean I can’t interact with normal people.”
Ryiu stood, dropping the cloak he was wearing to reveal business casual-complete with a dark purple shirt and striped tie. He had left the weapons in the cloak, and was now unarmed. "I don't think whatever agents of treason you shake hands with count as friends," he straightened his tie, "I'm going to be straight here. What will it take to get you back to Ga-Koro?”
"A few drinks and a hot ga-matoran. But I think you’re forgetting something: you can’t leave.”
"Salamander's Revenge, my secretary Eisha. As for that...I have my ways of getting out.”
"Oh, Eisha, what an offer to give what you already own." The po-matoran rolled his eyes. "Do enlighten me."
"Birds. Well, one bird. A quick one.”
"You mean your bird?" The question came out with more disbelief than Ishi had anticipated, but the golden ticket in his bag was making teasing his older brother so pleasing after the harrowing discussion with Ambages. "You're mind must have gone soft without me around to test it. Not to spin things in a fatalistic light, but the Sanctum Guard are about ready to shoot anything that moves right now."
"Do you have any other plans?”
He winked. "Yes, but that might require two Salamander's Revenge. I've got a ticket to freedom, but I have no intention of using it to go back to that Kharzani you want to call a family home."
Ryiu crossed his arms, his smile fading. "New deal. Three Salamander's Revenge, and both my secretaries.”
"You really are desperate.” "You know how I hate seeing Vera sad.” "I could care less how that vixen feels, but maybe that's just because she threw chemicals in my eye," Ishi retorted as he flopped into the open chair. In the enveloping silence of the moment the fire stood prominent, sap popping and smoke lazily floating up the chimney. Going to Ga-Koro with Ryiu was a nightmare under the current circumstances. Alloy and the rest of the mercenaries were poised, ready to enact their plan which, without the aid of Ishi, might actually succeed. If they did, the kanohi komau had a chance of disappearing forever. Ishi couldn't let something so rare vanish when it danced at arm's length before him. "I," he started, but found his list of jabs running slim. Instead, Ambage's mission called his attention to the moment. Traveling to Ga-Wahi left two possible routes, even with Ryiu's rahi. The first, overland, would take three days at the most. The Dark Walk, however, was a far faster route and could allow for a possible side trip on the way back. A side trip to Caerus. "Alright Ryiu, you win. I'll take that deal, but in return we make a stop in Onu-Koro.”
Ryiu sat back down, sighing deeply. "Whatever you said, Ish."
"You don't happen to have the first drink on you," Ishi asked, his head tilted to look at his dapper older brother as he warmed his two-toed feet by the fire. The years had wrought business lines on his reptilian face, even if Ryiu still dressed to kill. "You've done well, leaving Vera to hold the reins.”
"I have enough to deal with, such as the Ga-Koro Yacht company and the Onu-Wahi Cigar conglomerate. Yachting is where it's at. I have a personal boat that pulls in more money a month than most people get in a year. We should go into business together- at least one of us will be able to keep ourselves afloat.”
"I'm sure you mean yourself, but if you haven't noticed, despite all my 'short comings' as you so candidly call them I'm still here, alive and well. Besides, I find more pleasure in my line of work than sitting on a boat waiting for the tan to set in.” Ishi shrugged, feeling a gear in his neck pop back into place. "We should leave. If there's one thing I hate it's having to deal with the Hag, so let's just get this disaster waiting to happen over with.”
"Let's go then. I don't really want to meet any of your 'friends' anyways."
"Oh I dunno, this one's a carver. The worst he could do is make a wooden bust of of your ugly face." With a chuckle Ishi stood up, grabbed the kohlii stick from its impromptu home in the corner behind the door, and gave a last look around the room before stepping out into the hall. With Ryiu behind Ishi set off, stopping only long enough at the bar to remind Rhanus to keep the room in his name before his feet were once again in the cold snow of Ko-Koro, leaving a path toward the gate Ambages had mentioned. With the sealed note in hand the two Polzin's breezed through customs, their white breath bouncing off the tunnel ceiling until with the sharp piercing light of the setting sun they stepped out into the courtyard of the Nuju-Marion Research Hospital.
"This'll only take a moment, unless she tries to kill me," Ishi grumbled as he hopped up the few steps to the main entrance. A ko-matoran named Majit took the letter at the front desk. Looking back at his older brother, Ishi gave a grin. "Well, that was easy."
"What was in that letter?" Ryiu questioned, hands buried in his pockets.
"I have no idea," Ishi stated as they walked back out into the cold, the great doors of the hospital booming shut behind them. Ishi shivered and pulled his coat tighter, using the rose pin to clasp the sides together. The soft hapaka fur of the collar brushed against his neck, insulating. A storm had kicked up in the West, and was rapidly traveling toward them Ishi realized with a dour expression. "Anyways, on to the tunnels. Think the weather's good enough to fly there?"
Ryiu looked up at the skies sourly, "no, I don't think so. Looks like we're on foot.”
Ishi laughed. "Saves me the headaches. I still haven't gotten over that karz forsaken motion sickness.”
"You're just saying that because you're the worst flier in all of Le-Koro," Ryiu chucked, bumping Ishi's shoulder with his knuckles. The snow gave way from the blow and Ishi's foot sunk deep into the drifts. He cursed, but despite the words a smile played on his face. It was Vera he hated, not Ryiu.
"Watch it or I'll unleash my snowball skills on you. But enough playing, if we take the road South a bit there's a snow path toward the tunnels."
"Let's go, then," he pulled out his staff, ready to use it as a hiking stick, "we've got a deadline to meet and borders to illegally cross.”
“Mmm, I’m gonna steal that quote someday.”
They set off.
The swift current carried them from the tunnels. Ishi and Ryiu floated down the Hura-Mafa on a Polzin Shipping Co. barge, the small informant perched atop a barrel, toe tapping the deck, mind far from the widest river on the island. His horizons had broadened beyond the minute, his mind saw the markers written on the path to the inevitable end, and yet still the knot of mystery escaped his nimble grasp. Loose ends, those wearied frayed pieces of rope like The Company and Akiri Hewkii, he manipulated with the same ease he fingered with the strap of his bag, but the contents felt hidden behind glass, his palm touching the crystal clear surface but still unable to reach through. What could remove the distance lay across it. Ishi ground his teeth in frustration.
Secrets, secrets, secrets.
He was in a grand entryway, the stairs to the second level spiraling upwards from the landing before him where countless paintings lined the walls, paintings capturing moments of his life in sun-faded memory. Four pillars held up the roof, their bases carved in the likeness of matoran reaching toward the heavens as if in prayer. The floor was covered in a mist, which rose about Ishi’s shins as he strode forward.
Secrets, secrets, secrets.
He passed the statue of The Spider, noble rau dirty with ink smudges and emerald eyes glittering with hidden information. Through him Ishi had wormed his way into Akiri Hewkii’s trust, gained a home and a friend, and saw his first few clues of Mata-Nui’s inevitable political collapse. Caerus Valli knew things no one else possibly could, but he was not the brain. He was the ears, collecting the information, sending what was considered pertinent on to the next necessary organ: the brain. Ishi stopped, turning on his heel to look at the marbleized form of The Architect. Without a doubt, Ambages was the mind of whatever scheme was slowly forming among the most secret of organizations. He had plotted, slowly and methodically, making sure there was no room for error before action would take place. Ishi sighed. So much of Ambages remained hidden behind the dashing visage of his ruru and relaxed shoulders. Even with the few pieces of the puzzle – Ahkmou’s journal, Ambages ease in slipping past Leah’s kanohi power – he was uncharacteristically left in the dark as to the truth of the de-matoran’s character. An atheist Ambages may have been, but to simply kill a god for sport seemed strange. Then again, Ishi realized with a smile, waltzing in to Ambages’ office bordered on suicidal, and Ishi had done so with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Once the ears had passed the news to the brain, and the brain had created the blueprint of an action, it was up to the heart and the hand to perform. Here Ishi was painfully at a loss. He looked to the other two pillars of the building, seeing only faceless matoran waiting to be fleshed out with meetings of their own. From what he had learned the four pillars of an overarching doom were partners only in name, putting little faith in each others’ trust. Whoever the final two were, wherever they hid, Ishi knew it was only a matter of time until he found them. Somehow, he had a way of finding the deadliest playmates.
The barge jolted to a stop, the buoys along its rail bouncing against the dock. Ishi blinked, suddenly aware how long he had disappeared into his mind palace. Sunlight glittered on the water, dazzling his eyes as Ga-Koro came into view. The barge had stopped for portage at the Naho Falls, emptying its cargo into ussal carts for the trip down to the coastal city by path. Stepping off the ship Ishi breathed a grateful sigh: he was back on firm land.
“Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Ishi asked Ryiu as he slid alongside his older brother. “I figure I’ll be able to get this karz-forsaken reunion over and done with and go back to my self-imposed vacation before too long. She doesn't expect me to sleep in that infernal house, does she?"
Ishi and Ryiu descended Naho Falls along the well worn steps carved into the hillside. The evening light from a burnt umber sunset streamed overhead through thinning foliage. As Ishi's toes sank into the warm sand of the beach he heard the sound of gulls, the clicking of rigging, and the rumbling of the surf. Their walk from the falls to the village in the bay was silent. Ishi had retreated into his mind, mulling over conspiracies and rumors, facts and prophecies, until the jumbled pieces of the puzzle slowly took shape. The game gave him strength, and Ishi relished each time he discovered a new connection, however tenuous, with a burst zealous self appraisal. He had finished the border and begun working toward the center by the time they reached the village of water.
The marines at the gate looked at Ryiu and let the duo pass. Everyone in Ga-Koro knew one of the Polzin brood by sight, which made the lack of stares at first disturbing. Ishi realized how different he looked, his once tan and brown body now gray with spots of white, the classic pakari replaced with a kaukau, thigh bags for a sturdy drawstring, his flamboyant coat traded in for something more reserved. He had grown up, Ishi admitted to himself as his feet went from walking on sand to lily pads.
Ga-Koro buzzed with hundreds of passing conversations. Ishi swallowed the tidal wave of background conversations with practiced mastery. He pocketed the information gained from two weavers, wondering how the mooring of the Fowadi fit into Akiri Hewkii's normally defensive mindset. More information arrived as a tired fisherwoman leaned out the kitchen window to talk with a friend. Ishi quickly came to the conclusion Hewkii had nothing to do with the ship's sailing once he knew Ussalry members had been seen on deck. From a marine blocking a road Ishi learned a fight had broken out at Nixie's soon after the ship's arrival. Ishi smiled as the pieces fell into place. Something had happened in Po-Wahi requiring Nixie’s prophetic star gazing and it was big enough for Onu-Koro to want a piece of the action and for the non-sentinel crew of the Fowadi to capitalize on. Despite his listening, the word of Matoro’s passing had yet to slip from the unsuspecting mouths of passerby. Ishi wondered if Ambages kept the secret tight within the walls of Ko-Wahi. It fit the Architect's modus operandi of being discrete.
"To home, then," Ishi said as the final stretch to the Polzin Manse became apparent. "Or should we buy a present for our sister first? I was thinking thumbscrews or a bottle of poisoned wine."
Ryiu lost sight of his sibling somewhere between the last minute purchase of a bottle of wine for Vera and the walk to the Polzin Manse along the beach. Away from the shore Ishi leapt from a branch into the foliage of another tree, leaving only the occasional rustle of leaves in his wake as he made a successful escape. Later, the brothers would reunite and visit their sister but for now Ishi had run away. Ishi’s speed was not of fear; it was excitement he felt as his hands rubbed against bark and sap and moss. He was heading toward something far more important than a reunion, something that could change the fate of everyone on the island...
Night song had ended and the stars filled the sky with a silver glitter as the informant walked into a moonlit clearing. A lanky vortixx dressed in fashionable traveling clothes looked up from his gazing into a small pond. His hand went speedily for something beneath the dark blue cloak. “Who goes in the darkness?”
“Woah buddy,” Ishi said as he stepped out of the shadows and raised his hands briefly. “I’m just a traveler. The name’s Porui, what’s yours?”
“Krios,” the vortixx replied. “You’re far from the Fusa Path, and traveling alone. What sort of traveler does that?”
“I have a hobby of taking the outback. May I?”
“Of course,” Krios replied with a slight nod as Ishi stepped closer and dipped his feet into the pond. The exercise of the afternoon drained away as he sat in the grass. The matoran looked up at the stars, calculating his course southwest while the soft clattering of rolling dice in Krios’ palm echoed in the clearing. A minute passed before the conversation began again.
“Who are you really?” Krios asked. “A matoran alone in the woods without apparent gear for travel gives the appearance of a man on the run. Although, you don’t look haggard.”
Ishi laughed. “We’re all running away from something. I just happen to be running toward something at the same time.”
“You speak in riddles.”
“So? You’re a gambler, figure it out,” Ishi replied as he stared at the vortixx, not giving the reason behind his sudden deduction. “Ever been to the Kumu-Islets? Well, I mean before they sank.”
Krios stopped rolling the dice in his palm. He nodded before speaking. “Yes.”
“Aaaah, there was nothing like it. Chance hanging over my head and always checking back over my shoulder. I loved that place. Almost shed a tear when it sunk.”
“So you are a criminal,” Krios observed. “I could take you back to the Marines and get myself a reward.”
Ishi shook his head and lifted a foot out of the water, watching as the droplets fell. “On this island who isn’t a criminal? Though in terms of morality I may be a soft grey. Traveling presents its challenges with bandits on the road and cultists in the caves. So, what’s a gambling vortixx who’s spent time in the Kumu-Islets doing in the middle of southwest Ga-Wahi? Obviously you’re running from something.” He pointed at the hem of Krios’ cloak.
Krios shrugged his shoulders and didn't answer. “Where you headed Porui?”
“Onu-Koro, by means of Le-Koro. I wanted to refresh my supplies in the village, visit a few friends, maybe get drunk for a night.”
“Then we’re headed the same direction.”
Ishi cocked his head and gave a smile as he leaned back in the grass. “Fancy that. Wanna keep each other company?”
Krios mulled it over for a minute and then his reptilian face broke into a thin grin. “I don’t see why not. If an ash bear shows up I can use you to get away safely.”
Ishi nodded and held out his hand. “Seems fair.”
Two days passed in underbrush and bog. Six rationed meals were foraged on the go by the unlikely duo as they traveled to Le-Koro. Krios proved to be an able enough trapper and had swift aim with a rock, and Ishi had the slight of hand to bend down and snatch critters as they scampered away. They slept on moss covered jungle boughs above the Fau Swamp and traded drinking songs and stories of women. By the time the clattering of the elevator crankshaft brought them to the platform village both were ready for a comfortable bed and a stiff drink.
The Bright-Star Inn was more than willing to quench their thirst and pamper their bodies with clean sheets. Instead of a seat at the bar they opted for a comfortable pair of adirondack chairs on the second floor patio with a wonderful view of the treetops and the setting sun. Ishi sipped a peppered beer from the bottle and Krios swirled a golden liquid in its sniffer and both reached freely for the meat and cheese plate on the small table.
“And so you’re saying they couldn’t tell the dice were loaded?”
“Nope,” Krios said with a smirk and a delicate sip. “If I hadn’t needed the money I might have gone easy. Alas, I was broke."
Ishi looked aghast and then chuckled. “Pitiful, not being to tell loaded dice. That’s basic.”
“So you say,” the vortixx countered, “but you’ve never been at the table when I’m rolling.”
“I’ll make care not to in the future too.” Ishi grabbed a piece of meat and drained the life from it in his mouth before spitting the remains over the railing. The banter continued until the meal was done, peppered with laughter and salted with the occasional dry remark.
“What takes you to Onu-Koro?” Krios asked not for the first time as he finished the last of his drink. Ishi turned his head to appraise the vortixx then tipped the bottle to his lips. It had been a question skirted with further questions, but now Ishi felt he'd learned enough about Krios to tell something of the truth.
“Just traveling. I’ve got an itch to visit the underground. Interested in tagging along?”
“I don't have much of a need to go to Onu-Koro. Last time I was there I was bored out of my mind. And so you bought a kukri for your love of traveling?"
Ishi glanced at the rucksack full of provisions he’d purchased when first arriving in Le-Koro. strapped to the side within easy reach was the accused weapon. “Why? Is there something wrong with liking knives? It has nothing to do with going underground. Besides, my karambit didn’t do the best job on our journey, and your stiletto was useless at gutting the meal.”
“And you like swinging through the trees on volo-lutu launchers as well I suppose”
Ishi released a sigh and shook his head. “They’re to get me up into the Abettor’s cave.”
Krios blinked and Ishi leaned closer. “I want to see it. I’ve heard so many tales about the crystal cavern and the question it asks that it’s driving me mad. I have to see it, Krios, have to. If nothing else just so I can ask how it wipes its own ###### with a crystal hand.”
There was a long laugh from the vortixx. “Puroi you’re insane.”
“Glad we can agree on something.”
The sound of flies droned onerously from the marsh. They rode a pair of homesick dikapi bought earlier in the day for several hours at a steady pace along the trading road north, Ishi in front with most of the gear to even the weight and Krios trailing behind in thought. Le-Kini and its jungle temple came into sight as the sun reached its zenith. Dismounting, the two travelers took refuge from the sun in the shade of the temple and had a quick lunch. Between a swig of water from his canteen and a bite of cured mahi Krios asked;
"Puroi, how much money do you carry?" His avian eyes glittered with the hint of greed. Ishi looked into them for a moment, reading whether or not the vortixx was planning to rob him. It was a delicate coin toss: would Krios become a tool for manipulation through money or leave Ishi destitute in the middle of a swamp filled with venomous rahi?
"Enough," Ishi replied with a chuckle, deciding the reward was greater than the risk. "If you're asking if I'm wealthy my answer would be disappointing."
"Are you then?"
"Richer than most, poorer than some." Ishi stood up and stretched his back. He was stiff from the hours in the saddle and sitting on a slab of granite did little to help. "I'm going in for a minute. You game?"
"For visiting a shrine?" Krios asked. "You didn't seem the type."
Already on the wide staircase to the main building Ishi turned and said, "I'm always into learning things."
"I'll stay here and eat your food." Krios smirked and toasted with his canteen. Ishi rolled his eyes and continued up the stairs.
Le-Kini was a round complex built on a rare patch of solid ground in northern Le-Wahi, with six small outbuildings circling a larger shrine to Lewa. The building was covered in jungle vines and in places the pillars had begun to crumble and the ornate reliefs telling of the Matas' coming faded by wind and rain. Ishi ran his hands across the layering of dust on the suva at the temple's center and stared up at the vaulted stone ceiling with a sense of envy...
Krios hadn't robbed him. The vortixx was packing away the meal into the saddle bags as he exited the shrine. Ishi waved.
"Nothing much, just some old stories and bad memories," Ishi replied as he hopped onto his dikapi and flicked the reins. They left Le-Kini without another word and continued north toward the maw of the underground highway. When they had left it was as if Le-Kini had never been disturbed from its slow decay, except for the pentagon chiseled on the edge of the suva.
~ Soft velvet of deep purple covered the seat of my armchair. I call it my armchair but only because it was from where I reclined and watched as Puroi perused the Wise Man’s Archive. He would flitter like a small bird from one shelf to the next, and the table by my chair tucked neatly into a corner of the building’s first floor had become littered with scrolls and tablets, books and maps, until I was sure he would declare himself a nest builder and settle down for the season. At first I was unable to discern the course of his learning, but as the pile grew so did my understanding. Titles such as, “Rhetoric for Ko-Matoran,” were balanced atop more academic works like, “Geodes: An illustrated guide,” and one particularly damaged copy of, “Understanding Rahkshi,” that had seen far better days. “You’re preparing to meet the Abettor, aren’t you?” I asked, a scroll unfurled in my hand and a claw tapping the compass rose. It was a map of the local tunnels, drawn with thick lines and tiny circular letters. He did not acknowledge my question at first, but after he had flipped through the pages of a small diary and deemed it unworthy for his reading his eyes looked up toward mine. “You’re catching on rather slow. I figured by the third or fourth you’d have noticed the trend,” Puroi commented sardonically and walked back down the shelves to return the rejected diary. I’ve come to believe he is not Puroi. Those two syllables have nothing in common with the way in which he commands himself, the way he dances and dawdles and delights in the fervent exploitation of his wit. His ego is enthralling, full of greed for some object I will never know, but can venture never will he, yet when I have least expected him to he has surprised me with an alarming sense of empathy and compassion. Such is the complexity of a man such as he is, and I do not wish to unravel the bundle of his character for fear of damaging my own. Where am I in all these musings about the little savant? In physicality I transitioned from the armchair to the shelves themselves, reading the titles on the spine without truly bothering to understand what each entails as I follow his gray coat deeper into the Archive. In mind I am desperately searching for the answer to a nagging and tenacious question: why? Why did I join Puroi in the jungles of Ga-Wahi and why did I follow him any further than Onu-Koro? To answer I began with a short list which I will record here:
A good gamble
I see now money is what first drew me toward him. When I saw him in the clearing three nights ago he had the air of a wealthy man lacking responsibility. So far I’ve seen nothing to change that first impression, only add upon the groundwork to build something solid. He offers adventure and since my time with the Ga-Koro Marines in the battle in the lighthouse I have grown weary of conning simpletons. Where he goes I surely stand to make a profit, be it in money or memories. That was the gamble of the situation. As for companionship… “Krios, if you’re quite finished recording your thoughts in that notebook I’d like you to help carry these books.” Ishi looked up at the vortixx expectantly from behind the mound of knowledge in his outstretched arms. “That or make room so I can get by. If you’re going to follow me around while I research you might as well help.” Krios stared for a moment and then with a wisp of a laugh Ishi couldn’t quite place slid his pen back into his breast pocket and took the books to the table. Companionship.
IC: Ishi Polzin and Caerus Valli (Jam)
Ishi left Krios at the Wise Man's Archive a little past mid-morning tea. Time was told by the clockwork contraption in the center of Onu-Koro instead of by the rise and fall of the sun, though some matoran could tell the hour by the waxing and waning of a light-stone's strength, or so it was rumored. His feet were sure as they walked the wide road from the center of town outwards into the homes of the village... The house did not deviate far from Onu-Koran standards: it was dark and quiet, with a single, elegant light-stone lamp providing dim light to each room. The ceiling was low, so much so that a Toa might have to duck to pass through each doorway. Throughout the halls, the sound of a harp could be heard, playing a slow, peaceful tune. A Matoran sat before one lamp, reclining comfortably in a purple chair, his face cast in shadow. Across the room, the harpist played, her dextrous fingers plucking delicate strings. He waited, listening to the music. The movement ended and a slow clapping echoed off the stone walls, drawing the seated figure's eye to the doorway where a matoran leaned against the frame, legs crossed, tired face slowly returning to normal with the medicine of music. He had been let in, an expected presence, and yet his footsteps had not been heard on the stone floor. "You were right about the mountain top, but the avalanche seems to have frozen in place for now." Ishi said and entered the room. The Matoran gestured to a chair that sat across from his own, one of the few other pieces of furniture in the room. After a long pause, the harpist began to play again, more softly than before. “Take a seat,” he said, green eyes blinking once. “Welcome to my home.” "The place is far less ostentatious then I'd imagined, but then you've always kept a rather low profile. Hearing you're voice is one thing but," Ishi paused to straighten the front of his coat as he nestled into the chair, "having the face to match it only makes things more... Interesting." He smiled and tapped a finger to the side of his head. "I've always had a bad habit of analyzing people. For example, Ambages was a real piece of work but I got somewhere in the end. I feel I can play the part you asked in Ko-Koro’s succession, but I need more information before things can slip into place. At the moment it’s more likely the individual pieces will fall into place and grind against each other until the whole mechanism goes up in smoke.” "What do you need." Ishi thought for a moment. "A few things. First, I want to know more about this organization you and Ambages both belong to. I've heard rumors in certain circles but meeting with The Architect confirmed my suspicions. Ideally you'll answer truthfully to save us both time and money. Second," Ishi thumbed the fur lining of his collar, "Your knowledge of Matoro's death. Where'd you get it? If I'm going to align the pieces properly I need to know who started the ignition." Ishi stared into Caerus’ green eyes, watching as he spoke for the nearly imperceptible flickers of emotion, more habit than specific intention. “You're very curious,” the Matoran replied. “Your investigation into Ko-Koro's affairs has been less discreet than I had hoped; you have gathered little that I have not already known; and yet you come back asking for more secrets that you have not earned. What do I gain, Hapaka, by telling you these things?” "Curious, yes. I learned many things with my 'heavy-handed' approach. When I work on my own in a closed container what becomes necessary are allies, or at least some form of body fodder to take the blade intended for my neck. It may have seemed heavy handed but for all intents and purposes it's now my move in the game and I have almost everything I need. I know who drew Matoro's blood, I know the neuro-poison he ingested, and I've learned..." He paused long enough to wave a hand through the air, as if parting a veil. "Both you and Ambages work together. And more so, neither trust the other or you're phantom companions I've yet to find. There is something turning in the shadows of this assassination. Matoro's death was heavy handed, it's only a front to hide the more subtle plan moving steadily behind. You're well aware how common such a tactic is. I have other things at work, which I'm sure is expected. If you'd be kind enough to answer my questions I may be able to stop chaos and place someone credible on Ko-Koro's throne, possibly Korzaa and less potentially Ahka Tamara, while moving the blame of it all away from the source so the larger game can continue in the shadows unexposed. You have many things to gain, one of them quality sleep without the fear of death clawing at your mind. The other is undoubtedly a sense of ease knowing I'll be able to pull off what is required of me without starting an island-wide war. If you want me to keep counting the benefits I can list them off alphabetically or chronologically. You don't trust me, Caerus and I respect that, but in the end I'm where I am because I enjoy it. I won't kill the game, I'll only move it forward. Who are The Peers, what is there agenda, and who plotted Matoro's death?" A slow, deliberate blink. The harpist continued to play, notes floating on the air like rose petals. “Sometimes, Hapaka, we must make difficult decisions,” the Matoran said. “And, sometimes, I wonder if my slumber might be better served not by removing Ambages, but you.” Ishi cocked his head to one side. "Would it be better to kill someone who digs up truth for his enjoyment or a man who can avoid the accuracy of Leah Maru's kanohi and more than likely plans to lay waste to civilization as we know it?" He shrugged, the folds of his coat opening with a rustle of lava eel skin and fur as he rested his head in his hand and his arm on the chair. “Telling the truth can be dangerous business,” the Matoran replied. “Those who dig too deep may find more than they bargained for.” "Who said I would tell it?" Ishi gave a soft laugh. It echoed off the walls and down the halls, temporarily overpowering the harpist's tune. "Most of what I learn I keep locked up in this black box of a brain. It sounds hypocritical, but I'm sure you understand. Knowledge is its own special form of power. It may not be able to move mountains or freeze oceans, but it can certainly sway the tides of our desires. The more I know the less I can leave to guesswork. The less I leave to guesswork the more perfectly I can perform." He rose, taking a few steps about the room. The walls were smooth, carves from a single chunk of stone in the bowels of the earth. "I hate guessing. It makes things messy. If I know instead everything becomes wonderfully ordered. I'm all for order." He finished with a wry smile as he leaned against the wall near the harpist, watching her fingers move with delicate precision. A precision he wished to emulate throughout his own life. “I, too, hate guesswork,” the Matoran returned. “And perhaps my affairs might be more ordered if I simply returned your mask to Ambages to gain his trust.” The music ceased. His green eyes glowed in the dim light. “Secrets stay safest when buried.” An impassive glance passed between the unpredictable man and his hapaka. He knew Ishi had taken stock of the room before entering. It had been the fleeting glances as the informant clapped. The fireplace, the chairs, the small table, and the other few belongings had been placed in a mental map and plotted for possible outcomes. the shortest line of distance between Caerus and the harpist had been mathematically evaluated. Ishi knew where things were. It was a confidence he had no pretense to hide but no arrogance to flaunt. "Threatening to kill me did nothing for you," Ishi admitted candidly as he moved to the arm of the open chair and sat ad-hock on the wood. "It only proved what I had suspected, that my questions were of a far more than sensitive nature and that you're afraid for it to get out, afraid for your own life I can imagine given your partner in this plot." He undid the rose broach holding the front of his coat closed and tossed it lightly in the palm of his hand to create an awkward metronome. "There are certain things that happen in communication. Threats from men like you and Ambages often mean I've hit a nerve. Strangely, if I can prove how I'm useful in someone's plan they let me live. If you planned to kill me from the outset I'd have died in a Po-Koro cell months ago." He re-pinned the brooch to his coat. "Let's be honest. You distrust Ambages. He more than distrusts you. Sending him my mask wouldn't do much, except maybe you'd get a return request for my corpse as confirmation. Ambages does business and likes things tidy in his dealings. Loose ends really aren't his style until I come along and start pointing them out. Same with you. Sure, you two could use me as a way to temporarily relieve your paranoia. Putting your differences aside to keep the status quo. It wouldn't work though. If you kill me it shows you don't know your pieces and therefore are not suitable to play the game. If he kills me, well," Ishi gave a chuckle, "then I guess he'll be able to keep mowing down challengers to the position of Akiri and your attempts to thwart his plans without direct interference will be moot. In other words you lose, he wins, and I'm a poorly used piece, pawn sacrifice or queen trade it makes no difference." There was a short pause and then Ishi hopped onto his feet and clapped his hands together as if struck with a marvelous idea. "Or, you could answer truthfully and use your pieces wisely. I'll stop the ascension of our acquaintance to leadership of a wahi, you'll look perfectly innocent thanks to some well timed hot heads taking the fall instead, and I'll have a sixty-six percent chance of death to contend with. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?" “You talk too much,” the Matoran returned, his delivery almost lazy. “I'm not afraid of you. I am, however, wary of your hubris and of your need to incessantly prove your intelligence to everyone within earshot. I find that the more a man talks, the less he knows; and the less he knows, the more useless he becomes. “I won't reward you for an empty guess. I did not threaten you: I offered a solution to our current state of affairs, one that is appearing increasingly sensible as your vapid conversation continues. Even I, the master of whispers, am growing tired of listening to you.” Ishi had the good sense to remain silent and return to the chair. His ego floundered, as if Caerus had walked up to a large balloon with a pair of pins and stuck them deep. Ambages had done something similar when insulting Ishi's intelligence. The informant stalled, finger tapping the chair arm. Hubris,vapid monologues, and a loose mouth were the accusations of the prosecutor. In the specific instance Ishi had to agree. Ishi had been notified of his weaknesses, and weakness killed in the dark world of secrets. “You're right, my apologies. I stepped over a line that shouldn't have been crossed and wasted plenty of air decoding our conversation rather than focusing on the larger matters." He looked back at Caerus. The Spider was paying more attention to the crackling hearth than his repenting spy. It would take true information, actual useful bits of the truth Ishi coveted so dearly, to regain attention. Ishi leaned forward. "There's a group plotting to take Ko-Koro before an election can happen. They're rabble rousers mainly, but with deep pockets. I've found my way in with them, but it's only a matter of time before things begin to fall apart. You'll know when because transportation and communications will be shut down. Their plan is full of loop holes to manipulate and I intend to. If I knew the origin of Matoro's murder I could use that as well. Being able to give the entire population something to rally behind would only bring them to the watering hole. I just need information they'll drink. I could concoct it, but lies only work when truth is behind them. “I also know who owns the kanohi Komau.” The Spider steepled his fingers. The harpist didn't move. Then, at last: "Very well." He leaned forward, eyes alight. "I killed Matoro. "I left my game of secrets for the first time in a long time because the moment was right. I set up Ambages to take the throne because I knew it would be too obvious. The easier his ascension, the deeper the suspicion. The other Akiri never trusted him, but now they are almost certain. "You wish to bring him down? Then make his ascension easy. By serving him, you will both gain his trust and earn your coin, and, when the moment is again right, the other Akiri will turn on him. He will fall."