Cast of Characters
- Kyhra, Kughii
- Tork, Kughii
- Fiesta, Kughii
- Suilt, Kughii
- Kiln, Kughii
- Ta-Matoran radio operator, Kughii
- Po-Toa, Kughii
- Drunkard, Kughii
- Ventra, Kughii
Chapter 4: On The Road
Kyhra sat in the stands of Po-Koro stadium, his chance at a league position lost earlier before the lunch break. He and the other rejects lingered in the stone bleachers, watching the final teams competing. In his hand he held a silver kohlii ball. The hollow sphere barely extended past his fingertips. Despite its feather weight, Kyhra couldn’t crush it with his strangle hold. Kohlii balls were forged to sustain far more damage. Kyhra gave a happy sigh as he gazed at the brand name printed on its shining surface, letters somewhat obscured by the eastern sun.
“Ought to bring a smile to that vixen’s face,” he muttered and returned his attention to the last plays of the final game.
Orange armor broke the struggling surface as a matoran of plasma launched himself into the air. Tork’s red eyes glittered with smug satisfaction as the kohlii ball rebounded off his chest.
“Fiesta,” he shouted above the panting of exhausted athletes who refused to quit.
“Already on it,” the burly matoran of earth replied as he took possession of the ball; using his body as a bastion while putting along the stadium’s edge. Fiesta gained six yards before a peripheral illusion broke his concentration.
“Don’t always look at the ground, 05,” said Suilt as she tacked off the wall, spun in a circle through the air, and hit the ball halfway across the field to her teammate. Kiln slid underneath Tork’s defense, sparks rising from his armor as he skid across the stone. The ball landed in his basket, and raising to a knee he sent the speeding object rocketing in a left cross. There was the sound of it clattering in the goal, then the booming voice yelling:
Smiling, Kyhra walked down the stadium bleachers to the exit, slipping the kohlii ball inside a drawstring bag of hempen cloth slung over his shoulder. With a tune whistling from his lips, the matoran of stone began the next part of the game.
The first test run of the train to Naho Bay was filled with few riders leaving Po-Koro. For a five widget piece Kyhra was handed a wooden token for economy class. Given the general lack of foreigners in the desert city, Kyhra was not surprised to find the entire car he entered empty of passengers. Claiming a compartment as his own, he slid through the wooden paneling and plopped down on the teak bench. A net above his head offered room for luggage, soon bulging under the weight of Kyhra’s bag. The train started with an unexpected jolt, then rattled forward, swaying until the engine picked up speed. Preparing for the headaches, vertigo, and possible loss of the morning meal, Kyhra pulled out a small tin of herbs and placed a pinch in his mouth. Within minutes Po-Koro had become nothing more than a faint tan bump in an otherwise flat sea of sand. A wild herd of kikanolo rose their heads from foraging to watch the train roll past, Kyhra staring back through the window.
Kyhra’s attention was broken as the compartment door slid open. He watched through the window as a matoran stood in the frame, briefcase in one hand, the tranquil veneer of power spread across his kanohi. The door closed shut softly on its rollers behind him, Kyhra’s ears picking up the minute sound of a clicking lock.
“Can I help you,” Kyhra asked, sliding around on the bench to face the newcomer. He smiled and crossed his feet, stretching out to look comfortable as his hands turned into a pillow. The ta-matoran regarded him for a moment, then sat down opposite, the briefcase set aside with careful precision.
“Yes, I think you can.” He flashed a confident smile, giving Kyhra the unsettling feeling of looking in a red-tinted mirror. Ishi swallowed the remaining herbs in his mouth, taking a quick glance at military badge tied across the left arm.
“Well then, what does a sentinel in the radio division need?
“Surprised you noticed,” he sentinel said with a laugh. He glanced down at his badge then shrugged, as if the item was too commonplace to notice without effort. “I’m Tanewa, and yes I work the radio relay.”
“Well, Tanewa, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I don’t mean to be rude, but I do love looking at the view, so...” Kyhra glanced at the glass before returning his left eye to Tanewa’s attention. They both exchanged smiles in the short silence. There was a bump as the train rushed along the track. And now the game begins, he realized as a savage spasm passed through Tanewa, nearly imperceptible.
“The thing is I need a little help.” Kyhra blinked and cocked his head slightly at tanewa’s words, but didn’t mention he was becoming a parrot.
“I had a little mistake back at the office,” Tanewa continued while interlacing his fingers; “they decided I would be shipped to Forsi as a demotion of sorts. Now, I don’t like the idea of leaving Po-Koro, but it really is for the best. You see, I’ve become partial to some information.”
“Oh, how drawl,” Kyhra said with a smirk. Tanewa glanced at him oddly. The moves were in play, and now the actors simply had to say their lines. “Sorry, do continue. You became partial to some information?”
Tanewa smiled again. “Yes, yes I did. The reason I’m telling you this is because I’ve gotten into a spot of trouble. You wear the rose. I knew someone would be aboard wearing one; so will you help me?”
“Depends on what you need me to do, Tanewa. What’s the plan?”
“Oh, it’s really quite simple.”
Kyhra slid his feet off the bench, the two matoran facing each other, their grins parallel. “Really?”
“Mhm. You just have to die.”
The cold sliding of steel pulled Kyhra’s attention as Tanewa lunged forward, a talon knife held recurve in his right hand. Kyhra flowed with the motion, rising to counter with a sweeping left arm in low guard. The knife missed the cut, swinging far from the target. Tanewa blinked in surprise, then staggered from Kyhra’s haymaker. The po-matoran took his chance and spun around Tanewa’s body, coat billowing, and grabbed the briefcase in the few precious moments he’d bought.
The knife flashed out again overhead. Gripping the briefcase in both hands, Kyhra rammed the impromptu weapon into Tanewa’s neck before the stroke fell, slamming the assassin’s head into the compartment wall. He pressed his advantage, spinning the briefcase around to Tanewa’s cheek and punched with his fist until the sharp sound of glass shattering filled the compartment, quickly drowned by wind rushing past. Tanewa shouted out, kicking at Kyhra’s leg and knocking him to the ground.
“You’re gonna’ pay for that,” Tanewa promised in a red rage as he adjusted his kanohi and pounced, the talon knife digging completely through the briefcase to hover perilously close to Kyhra’s blue eye.
“Hey, you started it,” Kyhra grunted, then with his greater strength shoved the briefcase back toward Tanewa. They separated in a flurry of falling papers as the construction ripped from the damage. Kyhra slid on white sheets of copied transmissions as he tried to stand, working to keep ahead of his competition. The ta-matoran was younger and wild, leaving Kyhra hard pressed to defend himself as the fight raged on. The field of view increased as he turned his head slightly to the right, but a hook from the blind side sent him reeling into the compartment door.
Kyhra’s right ear popped as he opened his mouth in an attempt to stretch out the pain. “Ow.”
“Shoulda’ just laid there and made it easy,” Tanewa spat and swung underhand with the knife. Lacing his fingers together Kyhra managed to knock the attack back down, but Tanewa shoved with his shoulder, throwing the smaller matoran back onto the bench he’d originally occupied. “Now stay there.”
Kyhra wheezed, his chest burning from the beating, world spinning from the punch to the head. The red and yellow copy of himself stepped forward slowly, fingers dancing along the blade’s hilt with anticipation. He sighed, realizing his only option and the blade descended. His own fingers wrapping around the kohlii stick propped next to his head, Kyhra rose up and countered on the inside of the wrist. Under the sound of the railcar’s wheels rushing down the iron track he could hear the scraping of metal as the weapons ground against each other. Raising his guard and pushing forward, Kyhra swung the hammer end behind Tanewa’s bloodied head and pivoted, sending him mask-first into the bench Kyhra had occupied with a dull crunch.
“My sister always said I had a blacksmith’s arm,” He stated, admiring his handiwork. The car surged on the rail, forcing Kyhra to drop the staff and cover his mouth with both hands, nausea nearly taking his balance and lunch. His brown-gray legs wobbled ungainly. Suddenly, Tanewa was back up and rotating clockwise on his knees. The talon knife slashed across the right side of Kyhra’s coat, renting a gash in the lava-eel scales but catching on the hexagonal plates sewn inside.
“What?!” Tanewa’s eyes widened as realization flashed across his face. Kyhra grimaced and finished his foresight by grabbing the caught knife hand and dislocating the exposed elbow with a well-placed jab with his own. The blade quickly fell into his own hand.
“Glad I wore this,” Kyhra said with heavy breaths, air coming sweet into his bruised body. “Now, you’re going to answer some questions and you’re not going to lie because that would just hurt,” he said over the ringing in his ear. He tapped the talon knife against his thigh and gave Tanewa a savage kick.
“Who do you work for?”
“Gyaah, I’m freelance,” Tanewa responded, attempting to curl into a ball for safety while nursing his damaged arm at the same time. Another kick brought more answers. “I was hired to copy reports from the radio relay.”
Another kick. Tanewa spat blood. “None, so far as I know. Private work. Look, that’s all I know.”
Kyhra gave an exhausted sigh and squatted beside the groveling matoran. “Well, I guess that ends the interrogation. All these papers can explain the rest.”
Tanewa blinked, his eyes flickering about the compartment like a frightened animal. “So, now what?”
Kyhra smiled. “It’s really quite simple. Now I kill you.”
Kyhra observed his temporary stop on the noisy elevator down the sheer cliff face. Forsi’s ten private dwellings were carved into the rock; the portions dangling in the air roofed in classic terracotta tiles of the Po-Korans. Smaller, personal elevators took locals from the shore to their front door. Kyhra found himself placing another pinch of bilious herbs into his mouth to vanquish to rising nausea.
The gate of the elevator protested loudly as it was pulled open at dockside. Kyhra hopped the single step onto the planks, wet sand and damp wood cooling his sore feet while an ocean fog cleared his head.
“Welcome to Forsii, little-one. If you need a place to keep yourself warm while the mist clears, or you’re looking to get a passage south, the Forsi Inn is the place to go. Just down the wharf, see?” The toa of stone talking pointed his hand in the general direction, but his eyes lingered on Kyhra’s coat. “Just don’t go looking for trouble. It’s run by us Sentinels, and we don’t take well to trouble.”
Kyhra nodded, self-conscious of the knife cuts from the train and his bloodied lip. “I’ll remember it.”
He whistled at the cold wind and watched the waves break against black, foreboding rocks as he walked through the thin mist toward Forsi Inn. Ten ships sailed the harbor, some coming to trade, others with bow pointed to open water. The sounds of their bells, propellors, and sails filled the craggy cove, echoing off the cliff side behind.
A three story lighthouse guarded Forsi’s harbor, built on a spit farther to sea. Kyhra watched the yellow beam flash into the watery horizon, illuminating the mist. A metal rod with wires poking from it like the shaved limbs of a tree poked from the upper minaret: radio technology. He stopped and stared at the mechanical marvel. For a gear-loving matoran, radio was a boon, a herald of the future. Kyhra resumed his whistling and continued on, wondering if one day he would be able to see the being he wanted to talk to from halfway across the island. But then again the one he wanted to see couldn’t talk.
Forsii Inn glowed with the mirth of drunk sailors; music and rowdy sea chanties threatened to burst the glass windows from their perches. Kyhra pushed the yawning doors open on the gaudy festivities without fanfare, preferring to slither his way along the smooth wall. The gray and brown matoran blended into the crowd at chin height with most of the merchants present, his torn coat going unmentioned by those who eyed him. Most of the inn’s patrons were matoran, Po and Ga with a small mix of others hiding in private booths. Their heads were hidden from view by maroon curtains extending to the tables. Kyhra wondered how much extra trouble it brought the few patrolling waiters.
A rough hand clapped Kyhra’s shoulder. Wheeling around, Kyhra prepared to strike but halted when he saw the sad mirth of the drunkard, twinkling eyes filled to the brim with bula berry wine. The intoxicated inebriate staggered off to clasp some unfortunate soul with sticky hands and breathe on them, leaving Kyhra alone to cope with the aftermath of their encounter. The violated matoran glanced around for something equating a towel. He seized upon the maroon drapes, and with a few strides was on the path to cleanliness. Kyhra glanced down while wiping his hands only to be captivated by a red leg. Following the vision upward, he groaned inwardly at the sight of an all too familiar tattoo.
“What the karz are you doing here,” Kyhra hissed as he pushed his head under the curtain. The Ta-Matoran nearly dropped her drink, grabbed his wrist, and pulled him inside the safety of the concealing fabric with a killing glare.
“Not so loud,” Ventra whispered back, her eyes flickering toward the singers and sailors beyond the curtain. “And since when do I have to justify getting a drink? You like karzahni, by the way. What happened to you coat?”
“I tripped. And are you going to let go of my hand or...”
The informant released as if she had been holding a wood stove. “Business. Waiting for someone.”
“Well, I hate to say I didn’t get the memo, again.”
“The island doesn’t revolve around you Hapaka,” she retorted. “He was supposed to be on the train today.”
Kyhra slid the drawstring bag off his shoulder, pushing it between the wooden booth and the stone wall. “He? Did he, uh, happen to be a Ta-Matoran like yourself?”
Ventra coughed on her drink, spluttering as an ice cube slid down her throat. “Why for all the money in the Gentry would I tell you?”
“Well, because a certain someone might want to know why there’s a Ta-matoran laying in the Motara Desert about 150 miles from here.”
The glass slowly returned to the table with an uncomfortable silence. Kyhra ignored the building tension and fiddled with a breadstick. Taking a bite, the tiny matoran nodded happily as Mahi feta melted into his mouth. “Mmm, they got the filling inside. Yum.”
“You killed my contact?”
“Hey,” Kyhra reproached, stuffed bread stick pointed at Ventra’s chest; “he came at me first. Pulled a knife and tried to slice my jugular right open. Would have been a nasty mess all over the compartment. You should be happy I’m still here.” Kyhra leaned back into the booth, taking another bite from his stolen pastry.
“I would be happy if my contact was sitting here instead of soaking the sands with his blood like soap on a sponge. You may not realize this, but this line of work is not a game. You can’t waltz about as if you’re some omnipotent Great Spirit when you’re -- for Mata-Nui’s sake eat the stupid breadstick or put it down already -- when you’re not. You’re a nobody, Hapaka. A nobody. When you wear your rose, you alter the destiny of this island from the shadows. Who we are, who we work for --” Ventra stopped, emotion turning her words to furious tears. Straightening her back, she wiped away what crawled across her kanohi and continued. “How’d you kill him, huh? With a Patero Launcher, or did you just shove him off the train the moment he said hello?”
“With his own knife... Actually,” Kyhra responded, picking his words.
“Why am I not surprised,” Ventra barbed. She rolled her eyes and gave a long sigh. “You killed Poku with his own gun, and now my contact with his own knife. Is it some sick hobby you have or something? I mean, really?”
“I’m unarmed. I simply use my enemy’s strength as their weakness. And it’s not like I wanted to kill those men,” Kyhra countered, his elbows resting on the table while he leaned inward to speech with quiet force, dark coat rustling into position. “I killed them because I like living. Got it? Hapaka likes to live just as much as Poku or any other Jack I’ve offed.”
“Generalization,” Kyhra admitted with an animated hand; “there’s been a few Jills. You’re right though, this is for real. But real people play games Ventra, they just get into bigger ones as they pretend to grow up. We are altering the destiny of this island. Every rose bearer, every guard, every Makuta worshipping sand snipe that’s burrowed themselves bottom up to hide from the apocalypse that is their lost god. We all affect the course of destiny. I just want to see what the end looks like so I know if all the time I’ve spent playing is worth my eternity in karzhani when I finally kick the bucket.” He paused, glaring at Ventra as she stared back in shock. “I’ve been in this game longer than you. Spies come and go. Toa come and go. Karz, even Makuta comes and goes, well one go after a lot of coming, but Hapaka outlasts them. He exists because destiny continues to push new fools into the fray, and the fray is where you’ll find me. I enjoy the big game we play, but in the end I want to win.”
Silence between the toa matoran as Kyhra closed his eyes and raised his head. With a sigh, he looked at the lower halves of milling merchants and sailors on the other side of the curtain with his blue eye. “Look, I’m sorry about your boyfriend, but I’m not an idiot. I made him talk before I removed his capacity to form syllables. Where’s our mistress?”
“Holiday,” Ventra replied blankly.
“That’s pretty vague,” Kyhra complained with a frown; “and besides holiday is a state of being, not a dot on our island map.”
Kyhra perked up immediately. “Oh, then we’re back in business. As for your contact, he was carrying a file and a stolen key. I left the key and documents on him.”
“Now, calm down. We didn’t need them. Besides, they’ll change the locks in the next couple days. The key would be useless after that. Better off getting covered in a sandstorm or melted into widgets by a traveling scavenger. The man you’re dealing with, he’s smart; from our few dealings I’ve learned not to underestimate his intellect. I wouldn’t underestimate his hammer shot either in a kohlii match.”
Ventra swallowed. “But the documents...”
“Boring. Useless fakes planted to route out spies. I got a look at some of the paper’s on the big desk -- I read fluently in any direction, so stop looking at me like I just became a skakdi -- and what your roach collected was intentional leakage. When she finds out She’s not going to be pleased. I was assigned this mission, not you. Don’t go pulling some firespitter in to do my job without approval from Her and me. You’ve only increased my work load and kill count.
“I only did-” Ventra said, but Kyhra cut her off with the last of his breadstick before it disappeared into his mouth.
“You did something that’s put yourself in a great deal of danger. My advice is to see if that surgeon who made me ugly can make you pretty. Maybe a lime green would suit you... Get underground and pretend you’re dead. It worked for me for thirty years, and I’ve heard rumors it worked for Takua much longer. Now get out of here before I decide to kill you with your strength.”
“And what’s that,” Ventra muttered.
Ventra gulped and vacated the booth, downing the rest of her drink and slamming the glass onto the table. Kyhra scratched his eyepatch with a disappointed sigh. Well, with any luck she won’t find out; he thought, but didn’t hold much value in the hope. Her spies were everywhere. It would only make sense to spy each other.
A waiter came by with Ventra’s meal. Kyhra took it and finished the plate of fish and greens with gusto, happy to have something in his stomach after the trials of the day. When the bill arrived, Kyhra waved it to his Ventra’s tab. He left the boisterous inn for the quiet whispers of the dock, bag over his shoulder, kohlii stick in hand, and a fistful of cheesy breadsticks.
The sun had tired of its battle with the fog, a cold moon reflected on the water, but invisible when he looked up. The multitudes of toa stars scattered across the sky refused to shine their light, and the docks were dark save for the orange brazier by the elevators and the flickering lightstones from aboard boats. It was high tide, but calm. Water lapped softly against the floating platforms, Kyhra’s balance lilting side to side. The stench of dead sea life, brine, and rotting woods was overwhelming, but Kyhra found himself enjoying the memories it dragged forward.
During the night Kyhra bought passage on a ferry and slept on deck, his bag doubling as a pillow. By morning, Forsi had been left far behind, the little barge sailing between the small northern archipelago and into Naho Bay, the fog long forgotten.