- Ishi Polzin, an informant and sleuth. Played by Kughii
- Catarix, NPC Ko-matoran and Editor of the Ko-Wahi regional branch for the Mata-Nui Daily. Played by Kughii.
Chapter 9: The Deadly Calm
A fog covered the window. It was ovoid, and as Ishi looked past his heated breath on the cold glass he saw the small group of guards crunching through the hard packed snows, spear tips glistening in the night. The crackle of the hearth kept him present, its orange illumination casting a shifting shadow on the window’s surface. He placed a hand on the window, feeling the chill seep into his palm. Seconds passed. The guards moved beyond his restricted view of the world.
“So it begins,” Ishi said with a cautious grin. The mountain’s peak fell as Caerus had told, and now an avalanche of chaos fell on Ko-Koro. Deadly silence would reign the aftermath, and from silence Ishi would strike. Inter-Koro politics would be in disarray for a period of time, order held in a nebulous balance, different sides vying for the subtlest upper hand in the game. Ishi had no intention of claiming any power for himself, the concept was arrogant for an informant, but rather wanted to see if his wits could match the keen edge of war.
He turned from the window, coat swaying with his hips. Ishi hung his coat on the back of the door, catching a glance at the shoulder harness in the dirty mirror before turning away. The karambit of a dead ta-matoran now in the Po-Koro morgue bounced on the inside of Ishi’s right side, just out of view but not enough to interfere with an emergency roll. Alone, the informant unsheathed quickly with his left hand, spinning the blade by its finger ring before returning it smoothly to the wood and leather-bound sheath. Ishi had one shot, and the determination to succeed burned in his blinking heartlight.
His biggest game was about to begin.
The bed closest to the door was missing Nichou’s wood shavings and personal belongings. The carver had found a ride to the Massif just in time it seemed. As much as Ishi was disappointed to have his unsuspecting partner in crime away from his side, his sense of guilt was lessened at the thought of one less sin passed from his head to Nichou’s. With luck they could communicate through letters until martial law lifted. Knowing what went on outside the walls of Ko-Koro was what would make or break his budding scheme. Ishi hated deal breakers.
Lighting a candle with the flames in the hearth placed it in the window. Ishi looked over the surface of the small writing desk just below, hands clasped around the back of a chair. It was a rickety desk, old and hobnailed to new legs of metal pipe. A ream of fresh parchment sat on the left, waiting to be covered in the plant-based ink stoppered in the glass vial by the far edge. A ceramic pen with fresh bronze nib served as temporary paperweight. In the center was a leather-bound journal, the kind purchased when widgets were scarce. Its only decoration was a single piece of obsidian bursting from the spine like a tumor. Ishi pulled the chair out, sat down, crossed his ankles, and pressed the tops of his toes against the floorboards.
“Numbers, numbers,” he muttered as the cover turned to reveal the same sight as always. A compressed list greeted Ishi with a cold disillusionment. To him this journal was a treat to test his cracking skills. Ishi picked up the pen, dipped it into the inkwell, removed the residual ink with a tap against the glass rim, then scribbled page one as a header on the top sheet of parchment. He looked at the discrete bundles of numbers, thumbing from the front of the page to the reverse in the journal with an investigative eye. Between the first and second page the pattern of numbers altered subtly, but to the trained eyes of Ishi it was as if a red ink had been substituted with green.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” he murmured, then dipped the pen into ink and jotted down his finding. The minutes passed and Ishi paused his playing to throw another log onto the fire, sap popping as the flames took hold, then returned to the journal with fresh ideas. The numbers were broken into pairs, revealing what were obviously letters. In this expanded form Ishi noted the repetition of a common number every six digits on both pages one and two. He chuckled, copying the expanded digits onto his parchment with the repetitive numerals.
“Bug numbers. Smart man, but what could possibly be important enough to bring all this trouble on yourself?” He paused, dry pen bouncing between his fingers, realizing any journal he kept had been disguised as a cookbook, and once as a home decorating catalogue when he was a youth living at the Polzin Mansion. Vera had read the journal and unknowingly filled her room with seaweed drapes to Ishi’s wry amusement. He smiled tightly as he remembered what happened next. Ishi went for more ink and constructed an alphabet grid on his parchment. He looked back at the string of numbers:
“Or are you something else,” Ishi mused, pen resting on the page until the end of the Z had swollen with ink. His eyes lingered beyond the flickering candle, resting on a crack in the wall, cold seeping through like a disease. Time continued with the burning fire as he vainly attempted to gather some spark from the crack. Nothing came to mind. Ishi sighed, letting his view glaze over, not focusing on any particular point. It was calming for the details he saw so clearly to blur and disappear. The parchment turned into a desert, the twin suns of the candle burning overhead. It almost felt as if he was back in the Motara, traveling from Onu-Koro with Nichou to his first assignment for Caerus. When he refocused his eyes the realization hit like a clap of thunder: there was only one candle.
“Of course!” He shouted excitedly. “A shift. He used a shift that sly kavinika.” Head bursting as he mentally translated the numbers, the po-matoran scribbled at a dazzling pace. “How blind could I be? I need to stop wearing that eyepatch…”
The parchment filled quickly on the first pass, then another sheet with a new shift, and then another. Holding them up for light as he began to pace the small room, Ishi glared at the letters to reveal their answers. “Which of one you is it now.” An idle finger flicked the pages he began to read aloud to himself with an impatient whisper;
Dawn peeked from the window, softling alighting on the stack of solved words to the right of Ahkmou’s journal. There had been one more trick to contend with: the shifts were equivalent to the page number added until a single decimal was reached, although the bug letters were constant on every page. Page two read;
- My hut is a single dome, but I plan to enlarge it with an adjacent workshop where I can carve, maybe build another hut and connect them as a guest room for His people. I may not be allowed to perform more works, but I can still aid Him. The shadows are lengthening; an island at twilight will be an island at peace.
One passage, secreted away on the forty-seventh page, drew Ishi’s attention more than the rest. The transcript was in his hands as he sat in the armchair by the fire, low embers offering little to no heat in the morning chill.
- The atheist came tonight, not surprising given Onewa’s now sealed in stone. We are different sides of the same coin, and he is an enemy I would keep the closest. His name is strange, but it seems to fit his modus operandi. I can’t help wondering if it was really given at birth or taken by some indirect means of deception. Although I may regret my decision, I gave it to him. The Po-Koro guard will be sure to check my hut before any other, and I can’t have it compromising my situation with Him. I’m sure he’ll find a way to ambage the rise of Makuta. I’ll have to speak with him soon.
In the passage, Ishi had gone over one word multiple times with the ink until it was thick and dark. Ahkmou’s journal ended two pages later on forty-nine, the follower of Makutra admitting fear in his actions in the entry Ishi now held. His work for Hewkii had unveiled more than expected. Ahkmou had been a safe house for Makuta’s followers, confirming the suspicion long held by residents of Po-Koro after the debacle with infected comets, but it seemed the po-matoran had pulled on old connections with the Cultured Gentry. Ishi shook his head, remembering the words Hewkii had written to accompany the journal. Ahkmou died of a knife wound, Hewkii had explained, most likely attacked from behind by a skilled assassin. The angle and depth of the cut, however, pointed towards a vortixx or tall toa, though a sentinel had offered the idea of a matoran on stilts until he was made to walk around Po-Koro for a shift on the accursed objects. A tablet with NEX chiseled on its surface had been found alongside to the body. Ishi’s eyes closed for a moment, the lack of sleeping catching up with his excitement.
“Did you pay them?” Ishi asked, tapping his finger on the circled noun, “Or was it just good luck?”
Ishi realized as the sun rose his resources were slim. He was an army of one, yet the enemy surrounded him in every watchtower and pub and market stall. A deceitful matoran masquerading as an officer of peace was the Hand of a dead leader, and the captain of the guard was sure to be drooling for the uncomfortable icy throne in the citadel. Ishi needed to tread softly, and in the city of snow even his footsteps would against him. Despite the mounting odds, Ishi laughed at the dying fire. It was time to find a candidate.
- “Winds in the east, Mist coming in. Like somethin' is brewin' and ‘bout to begin. Can't put me finger on what lies in store, But I fear what's to happen all happened before.” ~Bert, “Mary Poppins”
His hand gripped the curtain with confidence, pulling open the separation between mid-morning’s bright snowfall and his weary eyes with the metallic sound of rings on the steel curtain rod. The icy roofs of Ko-Koro dazzled in the light. They were an intermingling and meandering set of highways for the koro’s vagabonds and messengers above the mountain mist in the streets. Brushing aside a passing dust cloud reflected in the window pane, Ishi looked out over Ko-Koro with a broadening smile, his eager reflection grinning back from the glass.
“So the game begins” Ishi said after spinning around to face his small room, coat swaying in the wake of his motions. A half cup of tea and nibbled scone kept temperature on the mantle. The bottle of Po-Koro Cream lingered on the side of the tray, cap yet to be returned; the scent of alcohol and tea leaves intermingled with the burning fire of pine and spruce.
Grabbing the metal door handle Ishi pushed down the latch button and exited, turning a skeleton key in the lock as he stood in the hallway, savoring the start of something grand, then his feet called forth a creaking rhythm from the wooden stairs to the main floor, out the portal, and into the snows. He crunched up the street, eyes absorbing the details of life in the city. A mapmaker was flipping the wooden sign in their window to display their business was open. Across the way, a potter’s wheel could be heard turning from a small workshop adjacent to a traditional dome dwelling. The Sanctum Guard was visible on corners, or passing in small squadrons, but at ease with the daily workings of their home.
Ishi’s feet propelled him to a tall and thin building at the edge of the main market, built several stories into the side of a glacier. A silver bell announced his entrance, and a ko-matoran looked up from where he was sitting, legs cross on a coffee table and a proofing of the Mata-Nui Daily in his wizened hands.
“Can I help you?” The ko-matoran asked, his blue eyes assuaging Ishi from his grey coat to the disheveled look of his black drawstring bag.
“Catarix,” Ishi said with a faint smile of knowing, “I’m looking for him.”
“Well, you found him. My first question stands.”
“Shrewd as ever,” Ishi replied as he crossed the well-lit room and stuck out a hand for Catarix to shake. The editor of the Mata-Nui Daily’s Ko-Koro branch stared at the thin fingers for a long moment then took the gesture with his own, giving Ishi’s hand a firm shake.
“I feel we’ve met before.”
“Must have been in passing,” Ishi smoothly lied, leading his former employer astray with honestly placed words. “About your question: I’d like to see back issues of your paper, specifically regarding the matoran Ahkmou.”
Catarix narrowed his gaze, the paper folding and finding rest on the table while ice-blue feet returned to the floor of packed snow. “That’s old copy… What would a, uh…”
“why would a ‘historian,’ as you say, have desire for that information?”
“I’m preparing a book to be honest,” Ishi said with a sigh of admittance. “Since the fall of the Makuta, there’s not been much on his dealings with followers brought to press. I feel it’s time.”
“You’re one of those conspiracy theorists, aren’t you?”
“In a fashion.”
There was a frozen pause. “Alright. Not much I can say against your kind, and we keep catalogued copies of our papers since the beginning of print for public perusal. There’s a fee for upkeep. Ten widgets.”
“Deal.” Ishi fished out a few spare widgets from the secretive folds of his coat. He brushed a finger through them, then removed a Ta-Koro widget before placing the metal on the coffee table with a soft rattle. Catarix’s already narrowed eyes thinned more. “There’s thirteen widgets here.”
Ishi nodded. “I’d prefer you don’t mention my book if possible. I’ve already had a few radicals, if you get my drift.”
There was a wink of understanding between writer’s. Catarix rose, swiping the extra widgets for himself and walked towards a door off to the side. It was made of metal grating, and racks of filing cabinets could be seen through the bars. A key was produced, and with the click of a lock releasing Ishi was led into history…
Hewkii and Hafu once again take the Kohlii world by storm in their latest match with Ta-Koro, leaving an all-season high score of five points to one. Since the disappearance of kohlii star Joske Nimil, Kohlii Hall of Fame VIP winner for the past three seasons, Ta-Wahi’s team seems to have lost it’s competitive heat. Perhaps Po-Koro will once again rule the roost of this competitive sport. “There’s always someone out there willing to train twice as hard,” said Hafu when asked about how he prepares for the championships. “Kohlii’s all about enduring the pre-game. If you and your teammate can’t beat personal goals from day to day there’s really no point in stepping onto the field to face anyone else…”
Ishi sighed, folded the newspaper back up with the audible crackle of old print, and slid the relic back into it’s folder in the filing cabinet. Hafu’s words broke a soft smile across the Ishi’s face the same as it broke a rule about dead men and tales. The walls of the Mata-Nui Daily’s records room were covered floor to ceiling in bolted sliding drawers, and as he closed one all the others gave a loud metallic shudder, as if to say to the informant you don’t belong here. How long had Ishi kept himself trapped in the past? His tawny candle, already a stub when lit, had nearly turned the metal holder into a liquid pond, the wick about the extinguish in its own fuel. Ishi imagined the sun hovering over the brilliant city of ice, mid afternoon light streaming down on the cold citizens in their mourning. Catarix floated near the door like a mirage, his pale complexion suffering from the lack of light, a ghost in his own office. When Ishi turned to look the Ko-matoran would vanish up a flight of stairs to add another article to the growing list for tomorrow’s publication. A steady stream of journalists came through the doors, several Ishi remembered from his earlier life as a wanderlust stricken reporter detailing the front lines of a conflict against an irrepressible evil.
A strange sense of nostalgia overwhelmed the Po-matoran. Here were the annals of the dead, the records of the famous, the stories of the mundane activities of day to day living. How long was it since Ishi had removed himself from the world? When did he choose to live outside reality, a lurker on the boundaries of those he cherished, unable to touch their lives directly? He closed his eyes, leaning back against a wall of files as he tried to remember what work had been like. Visions swam, melting together like the burned projects of a failed wax artist.
Who was Ishi Polzin?
“What about Onewa’s death then,” Ishi murmured as he pulled himself back on topic, skipping closer to the present time and yanking the drawer open on its caster wheels. History spluttered dust and the occasional two dimensional bug as Ishi removed paper after paper, his single orange eye appraising the headlines for any articles of value.
…Despite being unable to remove the parakuka on their backs, the turaga return to their villages and the warm welcome of their people after containment in Pala-Koro under the watchful gaze of Madhrik, leader of the Island Liberation Front. Of the many speeches given upon their returning, Turaga Vakama spoke eloquently about the past and the future, “Sometimes, there are hardships and trials for which we know not the cause or reason. It is in these moments we must unite in our faith of the Great Spirit and accept our duties to endure what has been placed upon us… Walk in the light. Always in the light.”
A short time later in history: …Turaga Onewa passed away yesterday afternoon, authorities pointing to the parakuka having sucked the life out of its host and now attached to a ta-matoran Onewa had recently welcomed into Po-Koro. Likewise, the other respected leaders of each koro have been found deceased in differing manners. The killers are unknown, though it is believed to have been enacted by a coordinated group effort…
“Now we’re talking.” Reading further his eye grew wide with a dawning comprehension made possible by Ahkmou’s personal record. Following his intuition, Ishi searched for a mention of Ahkmou’s death in later papers. The time difference was days.
“Of course,” Ishi murmured excitedly, “because if he was afraid to be found with… Oh. Oh!” As if a kaleidoscope of riddles suddenly vanished, Ishi beheld the secret web in a dazzling moment of clarity. Onewa’s death, the Atheist in Ahkmou’s past, and a wanted poster published by Akiri Hewkii soon after becoming leader of Po-Koro all fit together with a sudden light of disillusionment in Ishi’s mind.
He stole the kanohi komau. Stole it straight from the dead face of a murdered turaga, and then had to find a place to hide it, Ishi thought to himself as he allowed himself a sly smile of success. It quickly morphed into something wry. Excellently played Ahkmou. Now you’re dead.
Candle blown out, files closed, and door locked, Ishi returned the key to Catarix. The ko-matoran set aside his work with a shrewd smile, the pen rolling a short distance across the desk until it bumped into the inkwell. Ishi looked at the line of black momentarily, enjoying how the ink curved against the wood’s grain. “I trust your time was well spent.”
“Seems so,” Ishi replied with a nod as he looked back at the editor. “Your writers are truly exceptional documentarians.”
Catarix walked around the wide desk, his footsteps balanced and precise. Moving a hand in a low gesture toward the door he said, “allow me,” and the two matoran stepped onto the small, uncovered porch of the Mata-Nui Daily branch office, a chill afternoon wind causing the foreigner to shudder softly in his gray lava eel coat.
“Well then, thanks for the help,” he said and went to step down the two stairs to the street.
“Anytime. Oh, before I forget, how is Nakumiir?”
“She’s,” Ishi started, stopping abruptly when he realized the trap. Catarix let out a soft whistle and dramatically gave a few slow claps, his pale eyes filled with a disappointed sense of satisfaction.
“So this is what you became. Some apotheosis indeed.” Catarix chided as he held the door with a foot. “I always wondered… Why don’t we talk upstairs?”
The third floor of the branch office was a small studio apartment, a half dome of glass giving a panoramic view of Ko-Koro. The room was warmer than the lower floors, and the walls not revealing the world were paneled in old growth timber. Pots of flowers lingered on stands like hazardous traps. A particularly large carnivorous plant sat in a corner. Catarix made a pot of tea in silence; Ishi was left to observe the surrounding city as he had in earlier years.
“The citadel,” he said, breaking the silence, “how many toa did they use to create it?”
Catarix scratched his brow. “Somewhere around thirty for the ground work, if I remember right. They did the sculptures the traditional way however. Po-Koro can keep their stone. We have the ice. Now, enough small talk. Where have you been for the past thirty years?” Catarix eyed Ishi like an improper use of a conjunction as he set a tea tray on a small table by the glass wall.
“I figured you’d ask that,” Ishi said. “I’ve been unavailable - thank you - until recently.”
“Any chance you can make more of a story out of that sentence,” Catarix asked with a frown. Ishi shook his head and sipped the cup of buttered tea. The tea was slick down his throat, and immediately began to warm his chilled body. “I had a change in career.”
“You speak in ever increasing riddles. You didn’t become a jester all of a sudden did you?”
Ishi shook his head and chuckled. “No.”
“You still as tight lipped as you were?”
“Are you calling me a squealer?”
They looked at each other, Ishi’s blue and orange eye staring directly into the icy field of Catarix’s soul. “No, I guess not.
“Look, Catarix, what you’re asking I’m not even sure I have an answer to. Those years were… Hazy, especially when I look back on them. It feels like, I don’t know, almost as if the world moved forward faster than I did. I can’t explain…”
“Alright, alright. What, then, made you disappear?”
“Always the reporter asking the questions.” “You’re a reporter too.” “Was a reporter,” Ishi stressed before continuing on, “I suppose you’re right about that though. My job with the paper really influenced how I look at things today.” He scratched his lip. “I’m always asking questions, always prying for answers. For example, how could you tell it was me?”
Catarix stared out at the city for a long time. Finally, he answered. “The same way I can tell a good writer from a bad one: gut feeling. You acted similar to my memories of you all those years ago. You’re suave. You’re slippery. The grace chips haven’t fallen in your favor, and your face is different, but that orange eye gave it all away. You’re too much of a gambler Ishi, and that eye of yours was screaming to me you’re in high stakes.”
Ishi frowned. Was he so easily caught by an old friend, even after all that had happened? He listened as Catarix went on.
“You’ve got to lose the curious persona, Ishi. You’re still too much of a journalist and it’s a red flag to anyone in the profession: warning, this man wants to write a column. I don’t know who you’ve become, but I can take an easy guess by how you act it’s not a pretty job.” As he finished the editor sat in a plush leather chair, the cushion sighing as his weight fell upon it. Ishi bit the inside of his lip, but otherwise remained silent. “What’s the stakes this time, Ishi?”
“My neck,” Ishi admitted, setting the tea back on the tray. “It’s always been that way.”
“I read about you going to prison in Po-Koro,” Catarix confided. “It was in the notices for members of the Mata-Nui Daily. Don’t worry, I wiped the record before it hit print. Call it an editor’s intuition, but I figured you didn’t want that publicized. Seems you were released on bail three months later as well.”
Ishi nodded slowly. “Thank you, then. Yes, I was.”
“You’re bail was paid for by?”
“I’ve got a generous family,” Ishi lied. Whether Catarix believed him or not went unmentioned. “You’re doing these things for me… Why?”
“Because of Nakumiir,” Catarix said. Ishi blinked, fully attentive. “She wrote me a letter years ago, begging for anything about you to be erased from publication. Something about your being better off dead to the world than alive and on the run. I met with her personally at one point to get more information, but she was as closed lip as I am.”
“Did she pay you?”
“Of course,” Catarix said with a vague altering in his demeanor. “But not with widgets. There’s other ways to buy my secrecy.”
“Of course,” Ishi replied while trying to keep his hands from balling into fists. “And how much longer will that debt continue?”
Catarix rolled his eyes. “Oh for Mata-Nui’s sake! Once paid enough I’m silent into perpetuity. You’ll be something I take to my grave. It was a generous contribution.”
“I’m sure.” There was a pause. Ishi rolled his shoulders and turned away, his temper subsiding. Thirty years had passed. Of course life would have moved on. The world did not stop for one missing po-matoran. His left thumb rubbed against the twin silver bands on his ring finger, eyes lidded while his memories faded away. Ishi cleared his throat.
“You’re right, Catarix. I need to let go of my past. I’m not the journalist always seeking for the scoop any more. The ghosts I’ve clung to all these years are little more than fog. It’s time to move on. ‘Doubt is a thief that often makes us fear to tread where we might have won.’ Here,” Ishi reached into his coat and produced what he had originally rescued from the payment earlier in the morning for record access. The Ta-Koro widget soared through the air as he tossed it, and Catarix caught it with a firm hand. “You can have it. Consider it from my past.”
“There was a writer who once wrote, ‘time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past.’ Is this one of those?”
“So are these,” Ishi replied as he pulled off the wedding bands and placed them on the tea tray. “And you can keep the past where it belongs: in the dark.”