Cast of Characters
- Ishi Polzin as Kyhra, Kughii
- Pelagia the ferry woman, Kughii
- Dockside Guard, Kughii
- Unhappy traveler, Kughii
- Lipa of the Ga-Koro Marines, Lloyd: The White Wolf
Chapter 5: Unexpected Encounter
The morning blossomed into a brilliant flower, a humid warmth settling into the region of Ga-Wahi. Palm fronds along the shore swayed in a cool ocean wind, waves leaving damp history in the soft white sand of the beach. Birds ascended with the wind, their calls pulling the eye upward toward a brilliant sun. The clatter of wood and rope echoed beneath the gentle thrumming of boat engines, and Kyhra leaned over the rail of one such craft, the last of the breadsticks ejected with a dismal quiver. He wiped his mouth on a sodden rag and let it fall, the swift current created in the wake pulling the polka dots from his blue eyed view. Kyhra could feel the magnified gaze of the ferry’s captain; her akaku gave her unparalleled view of his misery.
“You’ve got a nasty case there,” Pelagia commented after Kyhra’s shaking had died down to the occasional shudder. She loosened her grip on the throttle, slowing the craft as a fellow vessel crossed broadside. After the boat had passed she finished her sentence; “Haven’t seen someone like you in a long time. Why didn’t you take the land route?”
“I didn’t want to get mugged, and I’d already taken the train so I figured why stop there?” Kyhra tried to shake his head, but found the motion too disorienting to complete. He was drunk with vertigo; direction and gravity had eloped with insanity. With an eye fixed firmly on Mt. Mangai in the distance he swallowed the burn in this throat. “Think you can dock in ten?”
Pelagia contemplated a few mental calculations. “No, too much traffic this morning. You could swim and wait for your stuff though.”
“I’d drown,” Kyhra lied. Ishi Polzin was an excellent swimmer. His mornings as Alarick’s youngest heir were spent perfecting the strokes in the cold ocean beside the mansion. It was a way to escape his older brother and work out the anger he felt toward his sister, imagining each slap of his hand on the surface like a knife to her chest until the rage disappeared and was replaced by disappointment in his lack of power.
“Should come away from the rail then. Never know when you could fall over.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
Pelagia snorted in a nonverbal ‘suit yourself.’ “Hewkii learned to swim, so I don’t see why a few more rocks can’t skip across the surface.”
“What’s that supposed to mean,” Kyhra asked suspiciously. The kohliihead wasn’t one for riddles. “And he’s Akiri now.”
“And I’m Captain to you,” Pelagia retorted mischievously. “You’ve just got a swimmer’s bod is what I’m alluding to.”
“And you’re saying Akiri Hewkii doesn’t? So what, are you alluding to him being fat too?”
Pelagia rolled her eyes at the mention of the leader’s title. “Please, like I’d know what he’s become since he shut off Po-Koro.” Then in a more inquisitive tone she asked; “Is he?”
“Only the rumors about him,” Kyhra quipped.
Ga-Koro offered steadier purchase, the queasiness becoming little more than a passing flutter as Kyhra walked along the docks. He brought a hand to his kanohi to shade from the morning sun and squinted at the small lights dazzling from the underwater greenhouses. They were pearls at the bottom of the bay. With a wave of thanks to Captain Pelagia he shouldered his pack and walked into a checkpoint. The jarring of wood to his face brought a rush of questions and sun spots.
Blinking away the smarting pain, he stared briefly at the turnstill blocking his passage into Ga-Koro. A tall matoran of water with an equally massive clipboard about her neck began to speak in a slow, bored and somewhat incomprehensible drawl; “State yer name and purpose while in Ga-Koro.”
Kyhra yawned while rubbing the bridge of his mask. “I have to have a reason to be in Ga-Koro?”
“Yes sir, standard prot these days. Can never be too careful, so don’t take it personally: everyone’s gotta’ sign in.”
“Really...” Kyhra mused, a sly glint tinting his eye. A complaint from behind about Kyhra’s stalling made him turn and face the offender. Giving a cordial bow to his fellow Po-Koran, Kyhra said; “With pleasure my King. Shall I wipe your smile off your face and through you in the water, your Grace?
“The names Kai-rah,” Kyhra said as he turned back to the marine; “spelled with a K and a Y: yeah, like that. I’m a Kohlii player who isn’t good enough for Po-Koro’s league. My reason is pretty bland when I think about: I want to spend my widgets on food and pleasure and be completely useless for the next couple days while I mope in self deprecation.”
The marine forgot to laugh at the joke, her pen simply copying down his words in a classic shorthand. With a final nod Kyhra walked past the barricade and was free to explore the village, hopefully becoming less sober in the process. His feet pulled him through patterns of his youth, stopping at stores no longer in business. The few that were he didn’t enter, merely giving a cursory glance of nostalgic satisfaction and moving on.
Lipa rushed down the street, expertly dodging and weaving through the crowd as she did. Her message wasn't of critical importance, just a routine missive from the docks to HQ, but she made it a point of professional pride to deliver things entrusted to her posthaste.
Kyhra had purchased his first bottle of Ga-Koro brew, the cork disappearing into the bay with a nonchalant toss. With a prerogative to uphold he leaned back and downed the first gulp in plain sight of an officer. The alochol hit his system slowly. He whistled as he walked about without cause, oblivious to the messenger dashing headlong into his path. Stepping out of the alley, his head turned at the pounding of speeding feet, only to let out a shout as the matoran crashed headlong into him, the two rolling several yards across the floating ground before stopping in a heap of first class mail. Kyhra stared at the bottle, a sigh of relief escaping his lips when none of the fluid had escape his hastily made cap with a thumb.
Lipa tumbled to the ground in a mess of legs and arms, but she extricated herself quickly and began collecting packages. "I'm sorry, sir." She said perfunctorily. "Let me just clean these up and I'll be out of your way."
Kyhra shook his head, trying to clear the blue tinted vision without success. Rolling around onto all fours he began grabbing white envelopes and placing them in an ordered stack in his hand, each addressee and recipient memorized with blazing talent. "Here let me help..."
She took them quickly, trying to prevent him from reading them--quite aptly, she thought. "No, no, it's fine, sir. I'll take care of it."
"You Ga-korans need to learn to rely on men more. I don't mean offense miss, er?"
"Corporal Lipa of the Marines." She said, giving him a Look that said did you really just say that?
There was a pause, a drop in the bucket as Lipa's glare dug into Kyhra's eyes. He smiled and gave a nervous laugh. Standing up fully as the last letter was returned, he gave a bashful smile. "Well, sorry about that. As a way to make up, would you join me for lunch? I may be from the desert, but we Po-korans have a strong sense of honor."
"I'm sure, with the way you've been hiding for so long."
"I'm sorry," Kyhra said and bit his lower lip; "but we've been developing an entirely new kohlii style and couldn't have anyone stealing our secrets while doing so..."
She tried to stay serious, but couldn't help laughing. "You've got a sharp wit on you. Be careful, you could hurt someone."
Kyhra smiled and glanced at her face. Beneath her sky blue kanohi rau were a pair of enticing yellow eyes. Her intellect flashed through them, as if she could see beneath the varnish of propaganda to how life really was.
Corporal Lipa was cute, smart, and well connected to an organization Kyhra would need to bore himself into like a leech. She was a perfect opportunity, one he couldn’t refuse. "How 'bout you finish your work and join me around six at that noodle house by the docks." He enjoyed leaving it a statement.
"I'll consider it." She said, nodded, and turned away. A moment later she was gone in the crowd.
Kyhra sighed as she vanished, feeling the excitement of capturing a new pawn course through his mind. The gears began to set themselves into alignment: first Lipa, then the family in the morning. Praising his fortune, he continued to walk, this time consciously aware of his course as he ambled between the lily homes.
Kyhra found himself pushed for time, pace quickening to arrive early for his date at Dockside Noodle. The building was located by its namesake, a traditional round building of leaves and branches made to accommodate a number of customers. Jovial slurping preceded the steam and clatter of noodle bowls. Ducking his head under the cloth awning, Kyhra entered the restaurant and took a perfunctory glance at those inside. The tables were taken, the bar was packed with muscular backs.
“Karz, this place wasn’t hopping like this last time I was here,” he muttered while looking for the matoran of water from earlier.
Despite the crowds, it soon became quite evident that Lipa was nowhere to be found.
Stepping back into the dockside evening, Kyhra lingered by the entrance. The corporal was a useful tool, an easy access to private information if properly greased. With a disappointed frown at the possible estimate of time, he leaned against the building and waited. Kyhra waited a full ten minutes before she arrived.
Her eyes danced over him, evaluating his worth. "Interesting choice of location."
“Well, when all you do is play kohlii, you find you’re manners unsuitable for upscale establishments. Besides, we don’t have noodles in Po-Koro. We’ve got flatbreads and crackers. Nothing like warm noodle soup though.” Kyhra flashed a grin, the white eyepatch bending with his cheek, allowing the faintest glimmer of the closed eyelid behind. The white scars around his blue eye shimmered, as if dancing with spirited enthusiasm. He brushed open the curtain with a raised hand. “After you?”
"Your chivalry is astounding." She deadpanned, and stepped inside, quickly selecting a table and taking a seat.
After helping her sit, Kyhra found his own chair, lazily slipping onto the wood with a leg crossed. The menu hung from wooden boards along the walls, and the two matoran spent the next few minutes attempting to locate their evening meal.
“I might recommend that one,” Kyhra stated. “It’s good, if you’re looking for something to really fill you up. Oh, I almost forgot the first rule of tonight: don’t pretend to not be hungry. Get whatever you want and enjoy yourself.”
She made her order, then looked over to him, deciding to cut to the chase. "What do you want from me?"
“Sheesh, so brusque,” Kyhra countered, his blue eye blinking. It took a moment for Lipa to realize the matoran had tried to wink, failing humorously without his right eye. “Can’t I just enjoy you’re company without having to need a reason for it? Everyone assumes I want something from them. Alright, alright, stop glaring at me like that. I just want to talk, get to know you, and have a meal with a very pretty matoran of water.”
She raised an eyebrow. "I'm flattered. Do you know what my job is?"
"Messenger, or something like that. You said you were a, uh…" Two steaming bowls of food were placed onto the rickety driftwood table, stealing his attention momentarily while he asked for more tea from the waiter. "Right, where were we? Oh, please don't wait for me, eat. You're a Marine, right?"
She nodded. "You're not the first person to try and sweet-talk your way into my messenger bag."
Her words brought an impish grin. “Oh, I’m sure. But I could care less about your profession, though I bet your rank gives you a nice apartment. No, I’m more interested in your character. I haven’t been able to get you out of my head since you ran me over this morning,” Kyhra said, taking a dumpling with his chopstick and inspecting the glistening fat from the broth before letting it fall into his mouth. He chewed, and hot liquid burst into his mouth, threatening to rush down his throat. With a gulp, he reached for the cup of tea and ignored the light burn on the top of his mouth.
She took a measured bite of her fish and looked up at him. "You don't know anything about me--how could my character be intriguing?"
"Precisely," Kyhra said, unconsciously using his chopsticks to emphasis the point. "I don't know anything about you, and I'd like to. Most everyone is so dull and impersonal, but when you find yourself in a tangled ball with someone, it only stands to reason you'd be interested in who they are. As a measure of good faith, I'm happy to tell you about myself as well."
Lipa nodded. "Tell away." She took another bite.
“Not much to reveal. Anyone could guess most of my traits from a glance,” Kyhra admitted, setting his utensils down on the table with an unintended clatter. One of the chopsticks rolled of the edge, but reappeared in his hand before it could touch the floor. “Woho... That was close. I’m a kohlii player. I got banged up a few times, I suck at carving so don’t ask me to do any of it, and people seem to like to punch me in alleyways. Must be the fact I’m short.” He paused, tapping a finger to his lip in thought as he stared at the ceiling.
“I like music. I used to play the flute, but never really learned how to read the notes so I practiced by ear. I enjoy jokes and riddles. Don’t have a knack for them myself, but it’s a fun way to bond with your fellow teammates.”
Lipa nodded. "I see...Personally I like a good game of poker, but I'm never averse to more physical activities. I can beat most Ga-Matoran in a swimming race."
“Now, you see, I’d beat you in a game of who could stay down the longest,” Kyhra said with a sigh, letting the joke slide without emphasis. “What kind of physical activities?”
"Athletics, mostly. I admit a fondness for Le-Matoran vine-swinging."
“Don’t get to do much of that though I’d imagine.”
She nodded. "Not often, but once in a while." She took another bite.
“The last time I went to Le-koro was...” Kyhra reminisced, his mind’s eye pulling up the faces of Tillian and Lazerbeak with a frown. “A bad experience.”
"Well," Kyhra began, the story coalescing as the breath rushed between his teeth. The truth may have been fabricated, but it was a lie so beautiful it could only be accepted as fact. "I went their before I lost my eye. Had a great time learning to ride a gukko, though I fell off quite a few times and landed on the wooden platform. I met someone there. They were smart, and funny, but in the end the dream turned into a nightmare. I haven't had much sympathy toward toa since."
She grimaced in sympathy. "Yeah, the first few times are the worst. After that, though, you learn to fall."
“Yes, but that’s me: school of hard knocks.” Kyhra tapped his kanohi and began eating again, finally getting to the noodles themselves with a satisfied slurp. “Though, I guess we could apply what you said to both parts of my tragic little story, couldn’t we?”
Lipa nodded. "So, why has Po-Koro been so isolationist lately? Talk is that they're gearing up to invade."
The second bite of noodles splashed back into the bowl, chopsticks dropping to the floor. There was an uncomfortable pause, then boisterous laughter which caught the attention of half the restaurant’s clientele. “HAaa, that’s, hahaahha: funny!” Kyhra managed to wheeze out, hands clenched across his stomach. “Hewkii wage... hahaahahhaa, war? You’ve got to be, hahahahaah, kidding me.”
She raised an eyebrow. "Enlighten me."
Kyhra pulled another pair of chopsticks from the cup on the table side, taking his time to settle his laughter before expertly pulling them apart, lightly biting his tongue in concentration. Returning to his meal, he replied;
“So, who’s using who now?”
"You're a Po-Matoran, and we have a dearth of things to talk about. I figured I'd get information from closer to its source than rumors that crossed the island before they got to me."
"Well, you're right about the rumors. People seem to like to play a game of Radio Operator with any little thing that goes by. Why, the other day in Po I heard someone saying Ga-Koro had taken ships to invade Le-Wahi. Of course that's silly, cause how would you invade a jungle with an ocean going boat? Too deep of a draft. That's what you call it, right? So, about Hewkii the Conquerer. Fierce enemy you've got in the deserts. Big orange eyes, can crush a kohlii ball with his bare hands. Pssh. That guy wouldn't harm a sand snipe, let alone order a war. The only thing you'd have to worry about is if he couldn't submit Po-Koro in the Kohlii League anymore. Then he'd be ready to go postal. At heart, Hewkii's just a jock that loves his people and wants to have his old life back and everyone up north knows it."
She nodded, watching him closely. It seemed like he was telling the truth--or rather, the truth as he understood it...wait, no. Was that a flicker of deception in his eyes? She couldn't tell, it was gone too fast.
"In summary: Hewkii is more likely to burn his kohlii stick than send soldiers south." Kyhra closed with a sip of broth.
She nodded. "Good to know. What do you make of the rail system and port?"
Kyhra thought a moment while dipping his head to the side. "I took the railway down. Really nice ride. I'm not one for moving vehicles myself, I get motion sickness pretty easily, but the compartments are well crafted and the tracks themselves didn't seem to have any problems. Forsi is a nice place; a little rowdy in the evening, but nothing a strong, beautiful marine like yourself couldn't handle." He pulled his awkward wink and took a sip of tea. "The fare isn't too expensive either. I spent five widgets for a one-way ticket to Forsi."
"That sounds reasonable." She said.
"Mm!" Kyhra nodded. "Now then, if you've sufficiently done your job to gather all evidence you possibly can to report to, well, whoever is your boss…"
She took another bite of food and waited for him to continue.
He watched her eat, the food finding its way daintily from plate to thin lips. Kyhra found himself transfixed. With a soft shake of his head that could easily be misinterpreted, he focused back to the task at hand. “Maybe you could return the favor?”
She nodded. "What would you like to know?"
"I've heard rumors about the underwater greenhouses, and I wanted to know how they worked. One of my little joys is mechanics. Honestly, if I wasn't such a kohlii head I'd ask to apprentice under an engineer from Onu."
She paused. "I'm not sure I can give you that information. The Akiri is a little tetchy about the greenhouses--and security in general, really."
"Oh," Kyhra said with a disappointed look. Shrugging, he said; "but why would Akiri Hahli be so tight on security? Everyone points to Po, but my koro has commissioned a railroad: what faster form of travel is there besides a kanohi?"
"The Daedra put everyone on edge." Lipa said. "Akiri Hahli was the only one they felt they could trust."
Kyhra nodded in approval, but his following words posed a different mind. "Mm, as opposed to Kotu who's been the standing Captain for how long?"
"I don't believe Captain Kotu made any effort to become Akiri." She said. "Besides, running the Marines and the entire village... That would get rather stressful, no?"
"I'd figure a population fearing for their security would turn to those who provided it. Akiri Jaller was Captain of his own guard, after all. Perhaps I just think from a goalie's mind."
"I don't pretend to know the gestalt mind of the Koro." Lipa said, shrugging. "I'm just guessing."
"Enlighten me on that word," Kyhra said with the look of a schoolboy who had misplaced his textbook; "I'm not quite sure what gestalt means."
"My understanding of a gestalt consciousness is when lots of smaller minds come together, a larger mind can tend to form, metaphorically speaking." She said. "Simulating intelligence by polling its lesser minds for ideas and data."
"So, to put it in a more concrete train of thought: it's the team made from a group of kohlii players?" Kyhra scratched his head, seeming to wrangle the philosophical quandary with unfounded result.
"Basically." Liipa said.
Kyhra nodded, finally getting the word’s meaning. Inside, he was bored at the necessary game of intellect, but continued the act just as fluently as if it were truth. “Alright, well enough about that I guess.” With a wink, the matoran of suave altered the conversation:
“Where could a kohlii player like me find a place to sleep?" he asked; "I'm not really interested in the tough guy inns: they smell of blood and defecate, and cost more than I can afford. No, where would someone with an ear for music, a flavor for good wine, and feet for dancing find a place to rest his head for the night?”
"I'd try the Tohu. It's closer to the land entrance, and further from the docks. Should keep you away from all the big scary sailors." She said, a slight smile crossing her face.
Kyhra nodded, as if the answer was difficult to swallow. "Thanks for the help on that front then."
"Of course. And thank you for the dinner."
"Oh, my pleasure," Kyhra replied hastily, a jarring quiver rushing through his body. "If you're finished, I'd be happy to walk you back to, uh, wherever it is you need to go."
She nodded and stood. "I'm flattered."
With the light banter of a skilled waiter the dinner was quickly bought, tipped, and finished with a final sip of the smooth soup broth, hot liquid leaving a trail of comfort down Kyhra’s throat. For the first time since the breadstick revolt aboard Palagia’s boat Kyhra didn’t feel the burning coat of acid. A little fat went a long way. Rising, he helped Lipa through the jostling crowd: a little marine let by a littler liar.
Outside, the docks had begun to quiet down and the moon was rising in the East even as the sun still lingered on the other side of the mountains. Kyhra quickly averted his gaze when Lipa caught him staring.
She made her way down the darkened street, eyes scanning the road ahead expertly, as she had learned to do. It didn't take too long for her to reach the area of the Koro where she lived.
She turned and nodded to her "escort." He seemed a bit slow, but honest enough, though there was something about him that seemed off. She didn't know what it was, but there was the occassional shift of the feet, or glimmer in the eye, that didn't match her overall impression of him. She made a note to keep a weather eye out for him.
"Thank you, kind sir." She said.
"Any time," Kyhra said with a half-bow, the gray lava eel scales of his coat reflecting the sunlight like small flames lifting from his body. "I'll be in Ga-Koro for a few days; I'd be happy to be in your company again."
She bowed in return. "I'll keep that in mind."
With a turn, Kyhra vanished into the dusk.