Cast of Characters
- Kyhra (Ishi Polzin), Kughii
- Nichou, Bulik
- Korru, Gear Director
- Akiri Hewkii, Iron Chancellor
Chapter 2: Agent and Artisan
Ishi was not the man in the mirror.
The single blue eye seared through the mirror’s reflection. It was fearsome, the perfect weapon: no one could see the warmth beneath such cold calculation. The smoky translucency of his kanohi kaukau only aided the lie of a frigid heart.
“What I do for the game.” Kyhra half expected to see the surgeon’s scars when the coat fell to the floor. The aluminum gray colored garment lay awkwardly at his charcoal brown feet, half supported by the tiny brigadine plates sewn within. He swallowed the growing lump in his throat, eating his fears before they could mature when he saw -- nothing. Everything inflicted had disappeared, except for a mess of silver skin along his left shoulder. Burn mark. The mirror continued to shout at him, screaming words he couldn’t accept: Ishi Polzin was dead.
Below the mirror.
Rose-shaped bronze glittered as Kyhra held it to the lamplight. The key to an insurmountable treasure balanced between his pale fingers, but where was the lock? In all things, there is an equal and opposite reaction; the Machiavellian Prince heard himself saying without speaking. His eye flickered toward a hastily made bed.
The map lay amidst a pile of papers, scrawled letters forming coded words, the island hidden behind theory and hypothesis. Sometimes its the little things that make mountains, he continued to ponder while placing the broach back on the cabinet. His brow furrowed while examining the intricate plans that relied on so much going right. So much requiring his gentle pruning, planting, and watering. Kyhra was master gardener of the mind, but how long before Jaller’s wits would snap? Would Kongu always be frivolous and drunk? War was a hard plant to grow.
And in war secrets are exposed.
He had contacts. The rose broach, the Polzins. There were others, but for now he needed the North. The map was heavy from ink, a thin film refusing to leave Kyrha’s fingers after tapping the desert. So many words. Ishi Polzin had been meticulous, leaving nothing to error or chance. It was infuriating; having nothing more to add or subtract left Kyhra without a purpose. All he had to do was follow directions.
The one-eyed matoran picked up each paper individually, taking time to look over the contents on both sides, making them orderly against his arm. Rosters from Ko-Koro, minutes from Onu-Koro, names of inductees to the Cultured Gentry, secrets until now unwritten, maps of passages and hearts, inventories of nations and purses, weapons outputs from Ta-Koro. As if a precious children, he laid them in the metal trunk, a red coat peeking from underneath the parchment and papyrus.
“What I do for love,” Kyhra said with a sigh, then lit a match.
Kyhra’s finger pointed to the Northeast, determining the compass point the caravans would hold. The desert stretched endless into the artist’s plane of sight. Smooth, tan dunes rushed about in the visible future, like mountains pulled about on wheels. Three days of occasional sand storms buffed Kyhra until sparkling. Kikanolo hopped alongside the party in curiosity of the matoran travelers. Sentinels were the guides keeping the Onu-Koro engineers protected and on their course. Kyhra walked along the ruts carved by the rattling carriages and carts, steps sinking softly in the sand.
Few travelers accompanied the merchants, engineers, and warriors back to Po-Koro. A firespitter matoran who enjoyed being left alone with his mead, and a bumbling matoran of earth who spend more time squinting at the sun than walking. Kyhra expected it was his natural expression.
"What takes you to Po-Koro," Kyhra asked the beady eyed traveler. "I'm Kyhra, Kohlii player."
Introduction. Look normal, be friendly, and try to smile. Kyhra tried a charming grin.
Nichou craned his neck to the side and squinted, trying to see clearly who was talking to him. He had not been exposed to such bright lighting in months, and thus was having a difficult time acclimating to the harsh sunlight of the surface world. The figure's main feature, a long, smoky gray coat was partially blending with the grayish blue sky, yet it was distinguishable from the seemingly endless expanse of desert.
"I'm just a carpenter, here to learn about your village's excellent stone carvings. But I'm also here to visit a friend of mine," The Onu-Matoran replied as he trudged though the dunes with the caravan.
“You must be Nichou,” Kyhra decided after a moment’s thought. The purple Kakama and words fit the pages of alley rumors. So far, they were proved. “I heard about you when I was a part-time miner. Is your friend a great artisan as well?”
"You're correct; my name is Nichou. But my friend is not an artisan. Instead of crafting with stone or wood, he molds the island's future. Toa Maru Stannis," Nichou replied. The Onu-matoran didn't brag about being friends with one of the island's most famed heroes, but he still sometimes liked to see the look on other people's faces when they found out.
"Really? A Toa Maru is your personal friend? You must have known Toa Stannis before his transformation! Could I be introduced? I'm a huge fan, even had one of the little statuettes of him. Of course, I think it got waylaid when I had my moving sale. Fan girl probably stole it." Kyhra's mouth moved like a record sped up. Too caught in conversation, the short matoran tripped on a rock and fell. Spitting a face full of sand, Kyhra said; "Sorry. I'm just really excited."
"Sure, I can do that," Nichou replied, extending a hand to help Kyhra upright. "And yeah, I knew him before he transformed. I was one of his original companions, before Mata Nui chose him to gather the matoran who would become the Toa Maru.”
The Onu-matoran quickened his pace slightly after helping Kyhra up, for it would be very unfortunate to be left behind in the Motara Desert. Luckily, they were positioned near the center of the procession, so the odds of that happening were quite low. But the onu-matoran carver quickened his pace nonetheless.
"Do you mean the so-called Wanderer's Company? I’ve heard stories about them, but never met one. What was it like? What did you do?"
"Actually, I was there before the Wanderer's Company, before Stannis even became 'the Wanderer'," Nichou commented. "The original group - Stannis's Companions, we called ourselves - were composed of him and six other matoran - Dece, Aurax, Lepridan, Atiel, Lekua, and I. We travelled across the better part of the island, searching for meaning in the clues left behind by the members of the chronicler's company. From the Kini-Nui temple to the sanctum of Ko-Koro we travelled, until one night on the frigid slopes of Ko-Wahi, Stannis was chosen, along with two others already in the companions, Aurax and Lepridan, to be the next heroes of Mata Nui. He told us the news, and we all parted ways soon after.” There was an obvious thing in the story, the elephant in the room, if you will. Nobody had ever heard of Toa Aurax, or Toa Lepridan. What happened to those matoran? Why, if they were chosen, did they not become toa? Nichou wanted to find out that, most of all.
Kyhra was stunned by how simple things progressed. Was perfection truly attainable? Disbelief gnawing on his mind, Kyhra spoke again. "What do you mean? Was there a fight or something?"
The Onu-Matoran had a chance to slow down while Kyhra asked his question. It was at that point that Nichou realized he may have been going a bit fast, revealing all this information. But It's not like he was keeping it a secret, right? Khyra had asked a rather broad question earlier.
"No - Not really," Nichou replied. "We all understood that Stannis was chosen for some higher purpose, and that it would be a dangerous and difficult path to Makuta's defeat."
"Really, the challenges he faced in his wanderings after the companions dissolved must have been quite dangerous, even for toa," The Onu-Matoran continued.
"I can imagine. I heard he singlehandedly defeated six rahkshi and fought against all the Makuta worshippers on the island before he even became a Toa." Kyhra gazed with a wondrous expression at the sunset slowly falling into the sea. He spoke as if Stannis would hold up the sun and stall the moon. Dusk came swiftly with a vanguard of purple clouds. Ussals halted for the night and cookstoves quickly became the center of attention.
"What I don't understand," Kyhra said to Nichou as they waited for the evening meal on a solitary rock, "is why Toa have to be so powerful. These days it seems only the Maru are true protectors without allegiance to any but matoran as whole."
Nichou rolled his eyes slightly at the first comment, saying (sarcasticly); "I think that might a bit of an exaggeration.”
The crisp air of the night soon arrived and the caravan slowed to a stop, several matoran setting up camp and giving their ussals a rest. Nichou quickly realized how famished he was after a day's trek in the wilderness, and he followed Kyhra to the cookstoves, where merchants and others in the caravan were systematically given the day's rations while the watchful sentinel escort guarded camp.
"What do you mean? Are you talking about how many toa no longer follow the code and few work for the betterment of society as a whole?"
Kyhra nodded. "I don't get it. Why after the fall of Makuta, and even the coronation of new leaders, is there all this violence and petty crime? Matoran should be holding kohlii festivals and Toa chasing down what remains of a twisted and dark system and bringing it to justice. Not fighting over a barstool or the price of fish. Besides, if Toa are not there to protect matoran what point is there in having hope? "
Nichou remembered the time on the frozen wasteland of Ko-Wahi, in the harsh, unforgiving slopes of Mt. Ihu, when Lekua said his farewell to the companions. It was a particularly frigid evening when the Companions were huddled around a warm campfire. An evening Nichou would always remember.
"Here's hoping that one day we will all meet again."
Nichou hoped that soon, they would meet again. Such positive thoughts had been helping him survive the seemingly endless time it took for his part in the village repairs to be finished. He had been waiting for months to visit Stannis, but had so much work to do after the Rahkshi seige.
"I'm not sure about the future of our race, but I believe that if we band together and have faith, we can overcome many obstacles.” If there was one think Nichou remembered from his journies with Stannis, it was faith. Nichou wasn't sure why he was saying this, but hopefully it might put a positive spin on their conversation. "Unfortunately we cannot rely entirely on the toa to protect us, but groups like the Ussalry and the Sentinels have shown that matoran can defend themselves,"
Nichou stepped forward in line, and was given a bowl of bean stew. It smelled somewhat strange, but the Onu-matoran was famished after a day's march through the desert, so he didn't complain. At least, not out loud.
"The Ussulry certainly proved their mettle during the rahkshi invasion, I guess that shows matoran spirit too," Kyhra slowly admitted, disappointed in being so easily countered. The line for food was small, but bustled with merchants jostling forwards. Kyhra found himself using his kohlii stick to maintain his point in line. It only added to the rough laughter from the cooks. Kyhra forced himself to laugh alongside them. Getting the meal was anti-climatic: a double ladle of black beans and a strip of what he forced himself to believe was Mahi. Kyhra made a foul face as the bowl entered his hands, but followed Nichou back to the rock. They ate the first few bites in silence.
"I'd put more faith in kohlii players to make goals than cook though," He said, setting his food aside while he attempted to digest the radioactive slush.
Nichou finished chewing on a piece of Mahi bacon before he answered. "I think we both agree on that. But after trekking through the Motara desert for a day, I could care less about the taste of the food I'm eating.”
The Onu-matoran continued to eat his food vigorously as he waited for his friend to reply. Nichou was glad that the sun wasn't glaring down on them with immense rays of sunlight anymore. The dimly lit camp felt much better on the eyes of the underground-dwelling native of Onu-Koro.
"You know," Kyhra replied; "You have a valid point. It's better than military rations in the Sanctum Guard. I've heard they get sugar syrup and have to make snow cones!" He laughed humorously at his own joke, tickled. Wiping away a small tear, Kyhra tossed the spoon aside and stuck his palm into the food. A slow, popping sound accompanied the beans slowly shriveling into dry husks. "I really don't care about fashion trends. If it's too bad to eat, I'll just do it the old way."
Nichou chuckled lightly at Kyhra's joke and continued eating. He was used to the hardy onu-Koronan diet of fermented and salted foods that probably were less 'fresh' tasting than the foods above ground. The merchants around the fires soon began to wander into their respective tents for the night, but Nichou remained awake and outside, despite his physical exhaustion from yesterday's hike. When you live in Onu-Koro for a while, your sleep cycle deviates from the normal night time, since you don't have any reference points to find the time of day.
"What happened to your eye?" He asked, curious about Kyhra's eyepatch. In the darkness it was easier for Nichou to notice these things in full detail.
Kyhra looked at Nichou curiously, as if he was a specimen in a dusty museum. "That's a question people don't usually go about asking.” Nichou stumbled over an apology, but Kyhra just waved his food-stained hand. A bean fluttered away into the darkness. "It's alright, really. It's nice change of pace. Most people stare but never question. Well, let’s see...
“It all happened before I'd really started playing Kohlii and was still just a carver. Not that good, mind you, my sort of carving was pillar cylinders, shaping bricks for construction, the like. I got out of the carving business pretty fast, since I'm hopeless at it, and became more interested in medicine. I'm pretty good at healing people with needles, and herbalism just comes naturally." He paused, as if trying to remember the exact details. "It was a job accident you could say. I was grinding some roots in the pestle and the concoction got in my eye. Nasty mess, burned like a nui-jaga sting and got all swollen. The medical team in Ta-Koro couldn't really do anything to save the eye, so it just abscessed. Amputation was the proposed solution, but why bother spending the money when I can't feel anything in that socket anymore?" Kyhra accented his comment by sliding a finger between his mask and face. He pressed a finger into the white eyepatch without wincing.
"It must be tough to play kohlii with a single eye," Nichou commented.
"Well, it was a crutch at first, but then I got the hang of it. Sight isn't what really matters, because honestly there’s not too much you can see even with perfect vision in the middle of an intense game. I guess it's like a sixth sense, knowing where everyone is and what they're next action is going to be. Especially that ball," at this Kyhra laughed softly into his chest; "that metal ball is one of the most vexing things I've ever loved. It can ricochet off the smallest bump in the field and go flying into my blind side. However, that's why my play style is so different."
He paused a moment. "Do you play Kohlii?"
"I only know the basics," Nichou replied. "But I'm sure if I stay in the 'Lost Koro' for long enough, I'll learn much more about the game.”
" You'll be carted out as a heretic if you don't," Kyhra joked. "In all seriousness though, we Po-Korans practically worship the sport. One word of warning, Nichou: never ask us about our favorite teams or players. You'll die from the broadside statistics bombardment." He shrugged, stared at the finished bowl of food, then looked at the stars. The constellations were precise and logical like Ishi Polzin’s designs. It didn’t seem to matter what he said; people fell into their place because he was following the design. It had nothing to do with who operated the program.
"They're beautiful, the stars. Especially the odd-one out. I've got a certain love for all oddities; comes with the injury, I guess. Tell you what, if you ever want to learn some basic kohlii tricks to keep you moving on a clogged field, just let me know."
"I'll be sure to remember that," Nichou said. "We should rest if we want to be ready for tomorrow's hike," He continued . The exhausted Onu-matoran leaned his numb and aching body back against the rock (which didn't feel all too different to the stone and clay dwellings in the village of earth) and within a few minutes his eyelids soon began to feel as if they were made of lead weights. Soon later, Nichou was asleep.
He didn't stay on the boulder. It may have been lights out for the mole, but Kyhra walked around the camped caravans, his pace sure despite the minimal light from the new moon. His eye glittered with self-illumination. Kyhra had to be sure of the plan. With stealth, he peeled back covers on cargo, memorizing contents or searching for the item's origin. Steel filled most of the carts. Long, black bars of steel. What were the Onu-Koro Engineers creating in the hot desert? Kyhra frowned. This hadn’t been in the plans. The discovery soon faded after confirming the Polzin business crest under each cart. A bittersweet smile.
Nichou arose in the morning along with the rest of the caravan. The sunrise barraged his eyes with light and soon the Motara desert began to warm up to it's usual blistering heat. The tents were disassembled and packed into the Ussal carts soon after dawn peeked over the horizon. Sentinels mounted their kikanalo and the convoy soon reached it's regular, steady pace as it trekked through the barren landscape. Nichou began to walk beside Kyhra again, thinking that conversation would seem to shorten the long journey ahead.
"Good morning, Kyhra," the Onu-matoran said, blinking to ward away the sleepiness.
Kyhra gave a drawn out yawn and waved, hands drooped over the kohlii staff riding his shoulders. He yawned again, Kyhra’s back popping as it stretched beneath the coat.
“Morning Nichou, slept well? I had a wonderful night’s sleep, except for the dreams. I swear I still feel those mahi bacon strips strangling my neck while the nasty beans danced a Le-Koro jig on my belly.”
He chuckled and shook his head to throw off Sleep’s hold. Looking out at the desert, Kyhra gave a soft sigh. Despite the early hour, the sun was already beating down relentlessly, shipwrecking the caravan against a small outcropping of rocks for shade as they journeyed.
“The Sentinels are saying we’ll be in Po-Koro this evening. I’m just glad there hasn’t been a raid or anything bad. Getting lucky seems to be my motto.”
Nichou tried to shield his eyes from the glint of light, but still was caught off guard. The matoran of earth shook his headand blinked for a second, but quickly regained his eyesight somewhat. He also began to feel the heat rising rapidly from the unforgiving rays of sunlight. The onu-matoran was glad that, if all went well, the weary travellers would reach the 'Lost Koro' by evening. At least, according to the head merchant.
Nichou continued walking, Just another tiny spot standing out from the monotonous tan dunes stretching out in every direction. The desert sands were by now hot enough to bake a decent meal on, so the pace quickened slightly so that feet did not rest long enough to be exposed long on the scorching hot ground.
"So... Why did you go to Onu-Koro?' Nichou asked, breaking the dull silence. It was a simple question, and the answer might have been easy to assume, but Nichou asked it anyway.
"I guess I was like you are now," Kyhra said; "you're heading to Po-Koro to reconnect with friends, and I went to Onu-Koro to do the same. Unfortunately, they moved on without any notice." He paused for a moment, staring out at the dunes. With a sly wink Kyhra waggled a finger and continued. "I also wanted to study up on my competition, if you know what I mean. If I'm gonna be in the game i need to have a few tricks I can pull."
Nichou smiled and nodded. "How did your most recent game go?" The Onu-Matoran asked. He wasn't an avid sports fan, but he has watched a kohlii game or two.
"Honestly, I didn't get to play. I missed the tryouts and so had to sit in the stand." Kyhra continued after another yawn; "but the game was intense! The goalies did an amazing job -- it is Onu-Koro's speciality after all -- and in the end Le-Koro didn't really have a chance. I mean, those tree swingers are great team players but lousy tacticians when it comes to kohlii, especially when going up against a mountain like Ussalry goalies."
Nichou nodded his head slowly in agreement, looking ahead. The mesa that Po-Koro was nestled in was spotted just over the horizon, and the weary travelers were glad that the end of the road was in sight. During the last leg of the journey, there was mostly silence, especially among the few foreigners in the caravan, as they admired the massive stone monuments on the road to the city of stone.
"So, what will you do when you get back to Po-Koro?" Nichou asked, breaking the silence.
"Well, first I'll eat until I burst," Kyhra said with a jovial laugh; "and never eat beans again! I've just about gotten sick of these boiled excuses for rocks." He paused then, scratching the side of his mask. "Huh, probably need to find a place to stay. I know a few good hotels, but I sold my flat last time..."
Nichou chuckled and continued looking in awe at the Path of Prophecies. He snapped back to reality within a few seconds, realizing he had a similar problem. The Onu-Matoran looked over at Kyhra, and asked a question:
"Do you think you could help me find a decent inn? I've never been particularly good at that." The Onu-matoran remembered his prievous visit to Po-Koro, when he haggled prices with an inkeeper in frustration, before turning to Stannis and Atiel for assistance
"Well, how long do you intend to stay? There's a phrase among us that goes a little like: 'Cheap, Fast, or Good, but not together;' but I can't quite remember. Oh well, it fits with your question anyway. If you're staying here for a while, why not get a flat with me? We can break the rent fifty-fifty, and I do know some nice places with views."
"I'm fine with that," Nichou responded, somewhat glad that they had solved a minor problem.
The matoran of stone nodded in satisfaction. Grand faces glared apathetically at the caravan of merchants returning home along the Path of Prophecies. It was the majesty of their scale, not their features, which brought awe and deep seated religious fervor. Kyhra swallowed, attempting to remember the exact height of the smallest and failing. Too high, he finally decided, and then turned his gaze to the approaching Koro. And the plan continues.
Nichou craned his neck to see the massive stone gate to Po-Koro, chiseled to perfection by the famed Hafu, built to last for milennia to come. The gate took the shape of a massive head, with a gaping mouth that travellers would fit through. To it's side were bastions and towers of masonry, holding guard posts and lookout points critical to the defense of the city. They caravan had been spotted by the Sentinels, and as soon as the procession passed the gatway flanked by warriors bristling with weapons and ceremonial armor, there was a small crowd of villagers eagerly expecting the traveling merchants.
Po-Koro was a city of arches and architecture, carved from the living rock into a V-shaped canyon within a larger mesa. In the peace following Makuta's reign of shadow the carvers had put their skill to expanding and improving their homes. Great staircases cut along the rising cliffs, leading to adobe and stone houses built from square caves, manufactured on a specified blueprint for city unity. The caravan's guards rode under the main gateway oblivious to the swirling changes reaching the returning kohlii player and newcomer wood-carver.
"This, is magnificent," Kyhra declared after the first few blocks of sandy streets laid in perfect right angles; a grid work of skill and creativity overflowing with reliefs, frescoes, and bustling trade. "I thought the 'lost koro' was going to be all secretive. Nichou, I can't believe this! My home is completely different."
Despite being known as the 'Lost Koro', Po-Koro had expanded quite a bit since Nichou visited last, so many months ago. It was magnificent, to say the least. The caravan was met with several curious onlookers as the travelers walked (And rode) to the bazaar, which wasn't too far away. After getting inside the city safely, most of the Kikanalo-riding sentinels split from the main group, heading back to their stables.
The monuments and art sprouting from this fertile patch of prosperous matoran were a sight for sore eyes, especially for an artisan such as Nichou, who knew firsthand how much labor and sweat goes into making wonderful reliefs and frescoes. Speaking of which, Nichou realized he needed to find a carver to learn from.
"Hey Kyhra, how about we split up for a bit, and meet back here at dusk? I must find a carver to study beside, and we can try to find an apartment soon after," He asked his friend.
"Sounds good," Kyhra said with a smile. Waving a hand behind as he walked away, the matoran turned a corner and vanished, leaving only the faint sound of a whistled melody.
In an alley.
“What was all the iron for,” Kyhra muttered softly as he waited. Onu-Koran engineers meant the construction of new technology. It was progress in the fields of science and industry. He gazed at the sliver of afternoon sun shining through between the rooftops. They should be here soon, he realized.
On cue the sound of feet crushing sand reached his auditory receptors. Kyhra brushed his coat off while standing, marveling at the timing of the next puzzle piece. The red being before him huffed a chestful of steaming air.
“Yer shorter than expected, pipsqueak,” the rough growl of a skakdi said as Kyhra disappeared into the shadow of the muscular body. “Sure, what the karz. Start talking.”
Kyhra cleared his throat and looked up. The red eyes in their slant of anger met the blue of mathematical performance. He noticed the cut across the skakdi’s cheek, but didn’t linger. “You’re going to kill me. And this is how you’re going to do it...”
The sun was hovered over Po-Koro; the harsh, scorching day refusing to give way to the freezing cold night sky sweltered over the Lost Koro like a blanket, filling every nook and cranny with dry heat. A certain Lesterin, of improbably large size and mass, was sitting by his lonesome self in a small cafe, taking in the scenery with a content drowsiness that often resulted from a hard day's work, a cup with a warm beverage of some kind almost disappearing in his massive hands. Korru took a big slurp, and sighed lazily as he leaned back so the chair creaked in agony, threatening to snap under Korru's weight.
Kyhra watched him from the street, reflecting back to the papers he had burned. The brutishly large lesterin was his man. Crossing the street, he quickly made his way into the cafe with the jangle of a bell. With the wave of a gray hand he dismissed the oncoming waitress. His soft grey coat of lava-eel scale moving like silk with his body as he joined Korru at the open window table. The po-matoran smiled softly, a calm complexion seeping through the translucency of his kanohi. "Hello," He said in a soft voice; "you must be Korru."
Korru lazily opened one eye, and threw a glance at the Po-Matoran, who looked extremely puny from Korru's standpoint. Korru was already quite large, and a matoran of such diminutive stature looked practically bite-sized to him.
"Howdy, mate" he said and leaned forward again. "Yeah, I'm Korru. Po-Koro Sentinel at your service.” The fact that the Po-Matoran knew his name didn't bother him much, he was a registered Koro official, after all, who'd just recently been in both a trial and a street fight. "Something you needed help with?"
"Well, you could say that," Kyhra said with a nod. He glanced about briefly to make sure no one was watching before continuing. "The truth is, I'm looking for someone. Problem is, going straight to the bureau would just draw attention. Actually, I think I'm being watched. I don't know why a kohlii player like me trying out for the leagues would be followed, but I'm getting pretty scared. Is there anything you know about that could help me? Some sort of program or agency?" He rolled his shoulders forward, projecting fear.
"Well," Korru mumbled and stroked his chin; "the only thing I can think of right off the bat is the Koro's asylum program. If you have reason to believe that someone is after you, we could probably protect you. I know someone else I arrested was given that opportunity because she was afraid for her life. You'd probably have to present a good basis, though.” Korru could tell the Matoran was terrified, and he did his best to appear as non-threatening as possible, which was kind of hard when you were so large, and had an equally large broadsword within arms or Matatus reach
"Does getting nearly gunned down count? I was shot at by a Po-matoran in Onu-Koro. I don't know what became of him because I was able to get away, but he mentioned an organization. I can't remember the name though... Maybe he didn't give the name, just that there was more of him." Kyhra shuddered, thinking back on the memory. "I have a scar where the bullet nicked me -- see?"
Korru looked at the silver ripple in otherwise perfect brown and gray physique on Kyhra's left shoulder, the coat pulled away to reveal the wound. It crawled like a virus across the carapace's surface, a hard mass of failed assault. "I would request having a bodyguard or someone to protect me," Kyhra finished; "but I don't have the money. I'm just a poor kohlii player. Starving athlete type."
"Who told you needed to be rich?" Korru asked as he studied the wound in Kyhra's arm. "I'm a Sentinel, it's my job to protect you"
"Most things cost money in this world. I wouldn't be surprised if the Sentinels were privatized by now, not that I would assume our Akiri Hewkii would so quickly do such a thing." Kyhra seemed to double on his words, attempting to be as honest, yet pleasing, as he could.
Korru chuckled a little, apparently this Matoran was pretty paranoid. "I can assure you the Sentinels aren't privatized as far as I know. And even if they were isn't there such a thing as helping your fellow man?"
Kyhra smiled at the words. He felt relaxed in Korru’s presence, sure in his safety. Waiving a waiter over, the matoran quickly ordered an iced tea to beat the heat, then returned to the conversation, far more cheery than before.
“Hearing you say that makes me a happy man, Korru. Erm, is it alright if I call you that? I’ve never been good with military rankings or any of those specifics. If I get asylum, can I still play Kohlii with the leagues? I have a tryout tomorrow at the stadium...” He paused, staring at the wooden table for a moment. “Kohlii’s my life. I don’t really know what I’d do without it.”
Korru stroked his chin, "hmming" thoughtfully. "I honestly don't know, you'd have to speak with the Commander, or possibly the Akiri, shoot if I know. And yes, you may call me Korru"
"Alright, Korru," Kyhra said with chirpy acceptance; "I'd love to do that sometime soon. If there could be guards while I was trying out that would be a dream come true. I just don't want something to happen and be framed as an accident, you know? Do you think you could spare say, twenty Sentinels to monitor the League's tryouts, or is there not that many free? I know this is all really forward, but I'm willing to give a percentage of my winnings in my games if I get on the team to the Sentinels in thanks.”
"Whoa, twenty?" Korru blurted out as he looked at the Matoran with his mouth slightly agape. "Who are these people who want you dead so bad, then?" he asked as he thought back to the brutish Vo-Toa he'd fought sometime earlier "The Sentinels are just really short on manpower right now; we were hit really hard by the Rahkshi attack, our numbers really dwindled down becuause of that... We'd need a real good reason to spare that many"
"Really, I'd figured we'd been more or less saved by the canyon Po-Koro wedges into," Kyhra said with melancholy. He paused, remembering the trauma of the fight through the pained expression on Korru's face. "I wasn't here," Kyrha added hastily; "but I experienced the conflict in Ga-Koro first hand. It was truly inexplicable." He shuddered.
"I know things about a certain prominent leader. Found out by accident, but I’ve been chased across the island ever since by a hired group I think called NEX. I heard about Ahkmou, and I don’t want to be another victim in whatever is going on.”
Kyhra's shoulders sagged with the weight of truth. "Can I have an appointment with the Akiri, today?"
"We'd have to bring that up for review with my superiors" Korru replied "I'm not exactly Hewkii's right-hand man"
"That's alright," he said, immediately brightening at the prospect; "will you guard me to where I can get in line?"
"To the Sentinel HQ it is" Korru replied, followed by the sound of metal scraping against stone as his broadsword slid across the floor semingly balancing on its edge, while in reality it was just Korru's Matatu at work.
He grabbed the hilt and rested the sword's blunt edge against his shoulder as he stood up, his head almost scraping the roof. The scope built into his mask whirred and turned, as Korru zoomed in on each of the other patrons in turn, studying them with ingrained suspicion. "You just stay right in front of me, citizen, and we'll get there without being any worse for wear"
"Thank you very much Korru," Kyhra said politely, then flashed a happy smile. He hopped off the seat after downing the last of his beverage, then patted his smoky grey coat for crumbs. "I'll do just that, but you need to tell me where to go."
"It's just up the alley, second to the left and the third on our right" Korru replied as they exited the tavern.
Kyhra replied with a steady pace, although Korru had to shuffle in order not to step over his ward. The sand slipped between Kyhra's toes, warm but itchy. It felt good to be home, within the canyon of Po-Koro easing between ancient buildings carved straight from the granite. Majestic pillars were sculpted into iconographic shapes on every building; a city of carvers would never be seen more beautiful. The alley Korru mentioned was more of a causeway, with raised steps and flat landings climbing along the side of the ravine. Each slab was polished by the sands of time, making the ground sparkle in dizzying silvers and tans whenever Kyhra looked down to admire the care taken.
"And that's basically why I can't believe Le-Koro will make it to the championship this season," Kyhra finished, wagging his finger in the air. During their walk toward the Akiri's the lesterin and matoran began talking of the only thing they truly had in common: kohlii. "So, I really don't see why your friend would lay bets on them, Korru..."
Kyhra stopped in his tracks, eyes widening at the sight of two husky skakdi lingering at the end of the landing. He took in a deep breath, and gulped. "You guys, again."
"Yo, pipsqueak," a rusty voice growled from one of their mouths. "You sure gave us a hard run back there. Got a new friend too, eh?"
"You two don't want to give me an excuse to use this" Korru warned as he strode over Kyhra and raised his sword. "Under my authority as a Po-Koro Sentinel, I order you to stand down. Do so, and I'll leave you alone, refuse, and we'll see how many times your skulls can take being banged against a wall"
"Stand down? Eh... Funny, cause I'm still sitting, Lesterin, or can you not tell the difference," the brawny skakdi growled, his legs crossed and foot tapping. The second pulled the massive blade from off her back, the sharpened edge digging into the sandstone stairs. She stepped closer, her yellow toes creating cracks in landing as she approached the range of a duelist. The skakdi's grin would have been menacing if there had been teeth.
"You're gonna bust his skull? Let's see you try," she shouted with an odd accent, gumming the words. With a burst, she rushed forward, giant cleaver shaped weapon cutting through the air toward Korru's head.
Kyhra backed behind the guard, his body shaking. "They're the ones," he said. He glanced toward the stairs they had just climbed, then out over the edge of the causeway at the buildings below. They were fighting on a ledge, and Kyhra was not going to fall off.
The cleaver suddenly met a wall of invisible force that blocked its path. It didn't stop it, as the force it already had managed to break through Korru's telekinetic shield, but it did slow it down considerably. Korru side-stepped lightly to avoid the weapon and aimed a punch right in the Skakdi's face.
The blade sunk into the causeway, powdered stone blasting from the impact into the air. The toothless skakdi blinked, then reeled as Korru's punch struck solid, her body willowing back to reduce the blow's power. Blood trickled from her smashed nose as she yanked the blade from its hold and began anew with a snarl. The two clashed, kanohi flashing while sweat dripped between their palms, loosening sword grips.
"Yer protectin' this?" The voice rang from behind the lesterin, a sharp yelp as Kyhra felt the grimy hand clamp across his face. He tried to breath, but air left faster than it returned. Kyhra felt his eye clouding, head pounding. The skakdi leered with jagged teeth, a small object clutched tightly in his other hand. "Sometimes I wonder if there's any brains in yer' lesterins' skulls. Protectin' means keepin' guard, merc."
Korru stopped dead for a few seconds as he surveyed the situation. First priority: secure the civilian. Korru's best bet was to get his opponent to let go, even just a little, and then use his Matatu to pull Kyhra to him, where it was safer. The problem was the small object the Skakdi held. Korru would assume it was a weapon, but not one he'd ever seen before. Korru dislodged the sword from the lock he'd been in with the other Skakdi with a rough push, and took one step toward the the other one... To hear the whistling of a blade returning toward his back.
"Son of a..." Korru didn't have time to turn and defend himself so he did what he hoped was unexpected enough to work... he charged forward. stomping down the steps toward the other Skakdi. A hand flew forward to grip the Skakdi's hand holding the mysterious object, while another drove Korru's sword toward his neck, sweeping the air where the skakdi had once been. The eventful sound of crashing steel on stone told the lesterin his plan had worked in part. Kyhra blinked as he felt himself lifted, then suddenly forced to grasp for a grip on the skakdi's arm as he dangled over the edge. Not good, I didn't ask for this; he thought with desperation, fingers digging into the bulging muscles of his captor's arm.
"Yer gonna' put that big sword down and die quietly, or this lil' guy takes the fall."
"Well, that just made everything a whole lot easier" Korru thought to himself, as he made sure that he knew where both of the Skakdi were at the moment, before he raised his sword. "I suggest you both just give up right now" Korru threatened and puffed up his massive chest.
Kyhra flashed his blue eye at his protector, the lack of air taking its toll. His legs kicked, looking for a perch that didn't exist. The skakdi shrugged, gave a shake, and let him drop. As he fell through the air, Kyhra felt the terror leave as the city below rushed to meet him.
"An, now we're gonna disappear," The skakdi said with a dismal expression. With the push of a button, the tiles exploded outwards, fracturing from the bomb placed below. As Korru was blown into the air, he could see the word NEX spelled out in explosive casings.
"SON OF A TARAKAVA" Korru cursed as he flew off the stairway in a flurry of shrapnel, dust and debris.
"Focus" Korru berated himself, and fixed his gaze on the rapidly descending Kyhra. Although Korru was catching up very rapidly due to his weight. "Well, here goes nothing" Korru thought and used his Matatu to pull Kyhra over to him. He caught the Matoran in a tight embrace, and angled him away from the ground. Milliseconds later, he hit the ground, and everything went black.
The dust settled as Kyhra walked form the wreckage, hands swiping the dust from his coat. The brigadine plates within the fabric had kept him safe from shrapnel, while Korru had been an excellent cushion with his sheer mass. With luck, the Sentinel would be dead and his plan successful. If not, Kyhra could keep acting just fine. Glancing back into the destroyed home, he glanced at the brown armor.
"You okay," Kyhra asked, stepping back into ground zero and giving the lesterin a poke with his finger.
"Not now mommy, I'm not hungry." As Korru slowly came to, he saw Kyhra leaning over him, he blinked several times as he tried to get his concentration back;"you okay?" He asked as he sat up, only to feel a throbbing pain in the back of his head, and a sharp pain ran up his left arm. He winced as he gripped it. Something was definitely broken.
"I just asked you," Kyhra said with a concerned frown. "Why are you gripping your arm? Is it bleeding? See what I meant? These people are serious." He glanced about the destroyed room, looking for something that could work as a brace. The broken leg of a chair fit the bill, soon strapped to the lesterin's arm despite Korru's. Protestations. "Please shut up. It's the best I can do with my basic sports med training."
"The smartest thing to do now is to get you to Sentinel HQ: Hop on my back, I'll carry you there" Korru said as he forced himself up.
"Alright," Kyhra agreed dolefully as he climbed onto the large lesterin's back. Wrapping his hands together the matoran dangled like a small sack across Korru's shoulders. How easy it would be to strangle him, Kyhra found himself thinking. Korru’s pulse thumped underneath his fingers. It only required pressure. But the plan...
The walk to HQ was fairly uneventful, the reactions of the other Sentinels on the other hand, were not.
While Korru was hustled off to get someone to look at his arm, Kyhra was asked to explain the situation as best as he could.
“Look, I’ve been attacked and if you want more evidence you’ll have to go there. And what is this blanket about,” Kyhra asked as a matoran placed a heavy linen cloth about his shoulders.
“It’s for stress,” he explained, then walked away. With a shrug Kyhra returned to examining the room, finally alone to wait for the Akiri. The hut was simple, having remained unchanged during the architectural renaissance. Carved from a boulder of granite, the semicircular waiting area was filled with muted furniture: simple objects for a simple ruler. A few waiting guard glanced at Kyhra’s eyepatch, but otherwise left the conversation unsaid. Within minutes he was ushered to the wooden door. With a push, the handle slid out of the lock and he stepped in to Aikiri Hewkii’s office.
Hewkii's office was a simple, spartan affair. No fanfare, no glorious halls or tapestries. Just a simple hut with two guards at the entrance and a secretary in the outer office. The inner office itself wasn't very large either, simply a desk with two chairs and filing cabinets against the back wall. Hewkii had just cleared his desk of papers as his visitor entered.
"Can I help you?" He seemed tired, worn away like a mountain battered by storms.
"Actually, it's more of the other way around," Kyhra said softly, hand lingering on the door as it shut. The packed dirt floor was cold and refreshing, unlike the desert sand outside. "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Akiri. There's no use beating around the bush with things: I am Ishi Polzin."
Hewkii raised an eyebrow, his hand reaching under his desk. "You have a lot of confidence to set an appointment after being arrested for espionage."
"You can leave that where it is. I'm unarmed." As if to stress his point, Ishi pulled aside the front of his coat. A slow turn in place, and the Akiri saw nothing.
Hewkii nodded, his hand not moving.
Ishi crossed the room in three steps and sat down, legs crossing with a natural bounce as an arm hooked around the back of the chair. He exuded a contagious calm, his face clear to read through the smoky translucency of his kaukau. He paused, analyzing the best way to continue. Hewkii hadn't moved; did his hand really rest on a weapon, or was it a bluff? Judging by the body posture, Ishi decided the threat was real enough. A kohlii champion didn't need a knife to kill someone like himself.
"Espionage really isn't the biggest worry, honestly," He said with a sigh; "I'm not like the Daedra of Ga-Koro. I've never committed murder, and I pretty much leave things in their place, though sometimes necessity has demanded borrowing something permanently."
Hewkii watched the Matoran carefully. He was either very confident or very stupid. Espionage was one of the greater dangers to Po-Koro that Hewkii knew of.
"What do you want?" He asked. It was pretty obvious that Ishi was going to ask for some kind of favor in the guise of an offer of help, a bargain of some sort. He was a merchant's son, after all.
"I want to help you."
"Consider it a change of heart." Ishi waved a hand as if to brush dust from his shoulder; "I feel more patriotic lately, what with all the upheavals around the island. If there's one place I want to win, it's my home. No, not Ga-Koro -- don't look at me like that -- my real home. Sure, I was adopted into that stupid family of capitalist war-mongers, but that's not really me. I want to be able to walk the streets of Po-Koro freely without pretending to be someone I'm not, and I want the streets to exist after the rest of this island has burned."
Hewkii's thoughts were masked behind a blank poker face. "How do I know you're telling the truth?" He asked.
Ishi grimaced, as if he'd sipped a bad wine but had nowhere to spit. The matoran pulled his hands together at the palm, fingers stretched upwards. "Truth is such a nasty word. Lies are much easier, they require no real backing; they're like the people on the street: you'll never know them even if you see them everyday. You can watch and learn and hypothesize about their lives, but never know who they are, one hundred percent. Truth requires proof. You would be looking for physical proof, yes?"
"If we're going to argue semantics, call it objective proof."
"Then I can give you information," Ishi said with a devilish grin. Standing up, he pulled off his coat, the sudden motion causing Hewkii's muscles to tense in anticipation of a sudden attack. The sound of a zipper, and then Ishi presented the Akiri with a grey slab of technology. "This is just the beginning."
Hewkii looked it over. "What is it?"
"Trade routes. Invoices from the Polzin shipping company. Essentially, we don't own the weapons and medicine, but we do transport it," he said matter of fact. There was a pause to let the value sink in. "I just gave you a map."
Hewkii looked it over with interest. "Really..." He wasn't ready to believe the Matoran was doing this out of altruism, not by a long shot, but that didn't mean he couldn't be useful.
The informant slid his coat back on in two smooth motions. "Glad to see your hand leave the desk. Yes, it's a map of trade and money. I've always found money to be the fastest way to understand a political situation."
"Agreed. And in return you said you wanted a pardon?"
Ishi nodded. "That and a warm bed when I'm around. If you could give me a key to your library I'd appreciate that as well, though I'm not counting on it at first."
Hewkii thought for a moment. "I can give you a hut of your own and a pardon. You'll excuse me if I'm skeptical of your patriotic desire to see classified records."
"Excused, and thank you. I appreciate being able to work with you so civilly. Oh, everyone outside this office knows me as Kyhra. I'd appreciate if you kept my identity hidden so I'm not arrested on accident." Ishi chuckled, letting the moment of comedy subside.
Hewkii didn't laugh. "Of course." He said. "Anything else?"
"Hahaha, I've taken enough from you already, but I'll probably go to Ostia to reconnect with sailors under my family's pay and update the information in your hands. Is there a sentinel caravan heading that way soon I could join?"
"Caravans to and from Ostia are fairly common. I'm sure you should have no problem attaching to one--it's much less likely to attract spies than a caravan to a different Koro."
"Alright," Ishi acknowledged with a nod. He began to rise, then paused. "Is there anything else I could do for you? "
Hewkii shook his head. "If there's anything else I need, I'll ask." he said.
Ishi stood and bowed lightly to his Akiri before grasping the door handle and exiting the way he'd came. His coat flashed a fleeting image before the door closed with the sweet sound of finality.
Hewkii pulled out a piece of paper and began writing, assigning one of his civilian employees to tail Ishi at all times.
Cool drops of water splashed against the back of Kyhra’s neck as he waited by the piazza’s fountain. The sun shown in a final burst through the canyon on the steppe, leaving the purple clouds for a last moment of glory. Kyhra tossed a pebble in his palm to pass the time. People had begun to fall in their place. Everything was running as predicted. Vera would have been proud to see her younger brother spin such a web, especially with the forged documents. He let himself have a thin smile of success, then focused on the next part of the plan. In his mind, the map from the bed returned in full vision, nations pulling on each other until the weight of government collapsed all. All that stood in the way were the Maru, and for that he had a plan.