Cast of Characters
- Ishi Polzin, played by Kughii
- Nichou, played by Bulik
- Caerus Valli, player by Eyru
Chapter 8: Interim
So much had happened in the past few weeks. The brass fittings for a briefcase rested in a jar below the shifting sands of Po-Wahi, the six akiri had made peace and rebuilt their trust in each other despite the looming secrets hiding in their shadows of command, and a new race of creatures had landed on the shores of Mata-Nui, their strange ways and looks spreading fierce as a blazing wildfire between koros. Ishi found the dasaka as perplexing as they were majestic, and already had begun to plan for the chance to see their native shores, rumored to be in the west as a archipelago of five islands. The world was getting bigger by the day: he would grow with it. The matoran of stone had rented a small room at Rhanus’ Inn, wooden floorboards creaking from the heated encounter of neighbors in the next room, exposed beams threatening to give any sapient taller than a matoran the severest of concussions. Two rough-hewn wooden bed frames were shoved into the slope of the roof, turned down linens bewitching Ishi with images of comfortable dreams. A crackling fire produced welcome heat from the woodstove situated in a corner of the attic room, two armchairs and a small table pointed toward the source of relief from the hoarfrost clinging to Ishi’s coat. He sat in one of the chairs while gingerly unwrapping the white lengths of cloth from his feet. Clots of snow fell from between the layers of fabric, melting in small puddles on the floor. Somewhat abashed, Ishi rubbed a foot over them, attempting to make the mess go away by increasing the surface area. With a sigh, he gave up and committed to rolling the cloth into two bundles for tomorrow. The door opened and closed, wooden latch locking into place. There were footsteps, and then the black and purple carapace of his friend and roommate came into view, flopping into the other chair with an exhausted groan. Nichou’s kakama showed weariness Ishi was afraid decorated his own. They had traveled far, and were due for farther still. Peace, quiet, rest, and a proper bed were deserved. “Any luck finding a ride?” Ishi asked without looking toward Nichou for a response, his blue eye staring into the orange tangle of flames. The pair of matoran had rode dikapi to the northern fringe of the mountains, then hitchhiked with a small caravan of merchants the rest of the way south, riding on the backs of bumpy carts, occasionally stopping to repair a wheel. Nichou had put his carving skills to good use, and Ishi had helped in allocating rocks from the side of the road to raise the cart. The carver and the kohlii player had made quick friends with the merchants, learning about island events as they traveled.
The Onu-Matoran tossed his pack on one of the cots, before sitting in a chairs, joints and muscles stiff from being in the freezing outdoors. Nichou immediately scooted the said chair further towards the fire, whilst being mindful not to feed the flames with the furniture. His hands drifted closer to the warmth, seemingly guided by a natural response to the cold around him. "Unfortunately, travellers to the massif are few and far between, and I would rather not try to find my way there myself. I suppose I could visit the sanctum instead. I never really did get to see it in all its grandeur, or after the renovations." The matoran's thoughts floated back to his last visit to the koro, back in the days of Makuta, when he was in Stannis's Companions. He brushed off a layer of frost that was clinging to the edge of his mask. Despite wearing a newly bought coat, Nichou was still quite chilled by the temperature. "Remind me, why exactly are you in the koro?"
“Oh,” Ishi responded naturally as he leaned back in his armchair. “I wanted to throw some snowballs. Actually, I wanted to see the new Academy. It’s supposed to be an architectural marvel… Well, and it has a library. I always loved books. Maybe they have some kohlii technique manual I can learn from.” He yawned and reached for the teapot. The buttered tea Rhanus had prepared poured out in a thick, golden brew. Glazed ceramic cup in hand, he took a sip, feeling the liquid warm his throat as it slid down. With an absentminded scratch at his eyepatch, the undercover informant lied again. “Besides, it’s good travel after all that political tension.”
Nichou poured his own cup of tea, eagerly letting the warm liquid refresh his throat and tongue. Setting the cup back down on the table, he responded. "Yeah, all that suspense was getting on everyone's nerves."
"More like suspended economy," Ishi joked. When Nichou didn't realize the parody he sighed and waved a hand to disregard his words. "Oh well, it sounded better in my head. Sometimes it's better to leave things like that where I found them."
The matoran of stone sipped his tea and stretched his feet out toward the fire. In his mind he reviewed the past and the future. For the informant, the present was a useful time to plan and reflect. Simply being in the moment wasn't enough: Ishi Polzin had to do something in the moment. A small notecard popped up in the haze of rapid thoughts, the words written in a well known handwriting of a man he had yet to meet. It was a script you found on almost any formal document, the pinnacle of the written language. The font even had it's on name, taken from the typographer who spent his days scribbling anything anyone desired for a widget or two. Valli's script was indeed magnificent. The simple circles made in perfect equality, the lines which just barely broke their hold. It was esoteric, now that Ishi had begun to understand the inventor a little better through correspondence about his espionage in Po-Koro. The truth was breaking through, eventually it would emerge and walk the island free from the shackles of creed or culture.
The fire slowly crackled into embers, at which point Ishi found his bed, leaving Nichou to enjoy the final few minutes of glowing firelight. Facing the wall he thought of the coming morning when Caerus Valli, The Spider, would meet the Disappearing Man.
Nichou lingered after Ishi retired, not wanting to let the final moments of this fire's warmth be wasted on the cold air, which had no appreciation of such homeliness. After the fire died, the Onu-Matoran snuggled in the embrace of his coat. After a minute or two of feeling warm, Nichou stood up to put a shade over the lightstones. His keen Onu-koronan eyes could easily discern his surroundings anyway. The two narrow beams of light emitting from his glowing green eyes, casting a different shade on parts of the room as his gaze shifted. A sigh brought a puff of hazy steam, the body-temperature of his breath clashing with the frosty surroundings. Nichou took his axe and a small chunk of wood from his pack. While his body drifted towards the bed, Nichou's train of thought floated on the memories from months ago.
Sitting down on the edge of the cushion, Nichou began his first stroke on his new creation. The suspense he truly cared for continued to build, and after months of straining for an answer, his thoughts kept to himself, a burning question that stoked the flames in his curious mind to the breaking point.
A chip of the sierra-colored aged le-koronan wood was sliced off the larger structure with the skill and dexterity of a practised carpenter. The small carving was a stress-reliever, which Nichou hoped would calm his nerves. For as he lacked the answers, every time his imagination ran wild with strange scenarios on what might have happened. Nichou needed an output for his stress. The creative juices just flowed from his subconscious to his hands as the Onu-Matoran's rational thoughts fought back the clearly impossible possibilities. But where they really that outlandish?
No time for Nichou to think about that, lest invoke another session of the stress. Tomorrow would bring answers. Rumor has told that Stannis was travelling to the koro of ice at the moment. If he could get answers, his fears would be put to rest. For surely, nothing could have happened to Aurax or Lepridan.
As the minutes passed on, the restless matoran set aside his small knick-knack, laying down as he attempted to get some sleep.
Ishi woke before the onu-matoran had finished snoring. Nichou didn’t so much sleep as practice rock breaking with his voice. Rolling out of his small bed he sat on the edge, readjusting the white eyepatch he wore to stay incognito. It had been almost a month, and Ishi was looking forward to the chance to finally look at someone with both eyes. Crossing the room he grabbed his coat from the peg on the back of the door, slipping into the garment with the soft rustling of hidden armor. It wasn’t the same as his old coat, Ishi reflected. True they were similarly cut, but the feel was different. His first coat had seen more. He had jumped through a window of melting glass, and besides the scar on his left shoulder lived to tell the tale thanks to his flamboyant cinnabar accessory. Ishi sighed. The Hapaka’s lineage was now locked in a trunk somewhere with the woman who hired him. It had been important to disappear again, she said.
After a glance in the mirror to confirm what he already knew to be striking, the informant left the room quietly, a small note wishing Nichou safe travels to the Massif balancing on the bed post. The streets were bustling with early morning activity, though words were sparse as heat. Shivering, Ishi climbed up a staircase of ice and wormed his way down a muse so tight his back and chest brushed against the building walls. At the entrance to Ko-Koro he turned left, feet leaving a impermanent trail in the snows. His destination fluttered in the wind, a small slip of paper clutched tightly in his right hand.
The short walk to the left rose up a slope of reflecting snow, the dawn breaking over the horizon to turn world golden. Ishi relished the warmth of sunshine on his front, smiling with his eyes closed as he basked then flopped into the snow to form the first of many snow beings to litter the path to the Academy.
The Nuju-Marion Regal Academy stood against the mountainous background, the attached hospital situated on the bluff above. Its complex of buildings were all connected by bridges and ornate courtyards, ice used in several instances as a building material. The frost on the roofs melted with a dazzling glimmer, and Ishi admired the lotus petal shapes of the overlapping tiles. Granite hexagons paved the central courtyard, and some of what he assumed were caretakers by their uniformed robes walked about with brooms, shovels, and buckets of salt, clearing the courtyard of Ko-Wahi's most abundant natural resource. There was no fountain in the center of the courtyard. Ishi found that sensible given the climate, and continued straight across to what could only be the Grand Library of the Academy. Through the deep burnished doors of heavy wood, down a corridor filled with the murmurings of lectures through colored glass windows, up the wooden staircase to the second floor, the Library stood patiently waiting.
Books sat on long rows of high shelves. Matoran librarians walked about with ladders or large extendable claw arms to reach the tops. Ishi saw a vortixx stood down for a small handbook on the bottom shelf, labeled Chemistry and Alchemical Equations. The po-matoran swished his coat about himself while turning in an awe inspired circle, immediately deciding to come back one day and devour all he could. Finally business returned to his mind. Looking back down at the paper in his hand he read the directions, already known by heart. He walked to the information counter, a large oval set in the center of a rising domed ceiling, and loudly asked the Ko-toa standing behind where to find historical fiction. The toa blinked behind his rau, as if contemplating whether to tape the po-matoran's mouth or simply kick him out. Instead he gave a brusque answer and turned to help someone else.
"Turn around. Go three rows back the way you came. It's on your left, down at the end of the row."
"Thank you," Ishi said in a whisper, then followed the directions. It had all been a ruse. The question was intended for someone else, not the Ko-Toa. Pocketing the note inside the black drawstring bag on his shoulder, Ishi turned the corner into Historical Fiction. Reaching the end of the shelf, he placed a finger at eye level, counting three feet back into the section. Grabbing a sappy tome called "Tahu's Requital," he began to idly flip through the pages.
There was a flicker of movement through the shelf as the book directly behind disappeared, revealing the eyes of an onu-matoran.
"Hello." Ishi said, and the meeting began.
The voice was softer and higher than he had expected. “Hello.”
"Interesting choice of location," Ishi answered, “it’s got some good reading though, I’ll give it that.”
"Knowledge," the voice said. In fact, it sounded familiar. Those eyes, too, reminded him of someone. "Knowledge lives here. There exists no richer bank, no grander vault, no mightier armory, than a library. It is here that secrets come to die.”
"Well put." Ishi leaned against the bookshelf and crossed a leg as he stared down the row. "I think this place could do with a few more secrets martyred, don't you?” Through the hole to his left he passed a folded note, the paper made of rough papyrus from Ga-wahi. "He's been an interesting character.”
The note disappeared through the shelves, and there was silence. Then an object appeared in its place: a small purse. Upon perusing its contents, Ishi would find a miniature fortune in 50-widget pieces. "No need to bite them," the voice said, tinged with humour for a moment. "Those are real.”
"As are you it seems," Ishi replied cheekily while slipping the pouch into a pocket of his coat. Scratching the rim of his kaukau, the informant continued. "He's not as much of an anomaly as thought. Same old stone-head as always. Has a need for security, and that's been worn thin by roaches in the military. Had to relieve one of their post who’d sniffed too deep." The way he spoke about killing a spy sounded as if throwing people off the iron mahi was part of a balanced exercise program. "Though, I did learn something useful during all the adventure. I know who’s behind the monorail sabotage. “
"If this is true, your reputation is indeed well earned.”
"You'll find my reputation is far behind my true abilities. When the Inquisition arrives I like being the smallest fish in the pond.”
"If your abilities are sufficient, the curious will never come calling.”
"Precisely." He paused, letting the time go to better find the next precious sentence. "Several figures were involved, and all for interconnected reasons. The Iron-mahi is the key.”
"Ta-koro had the saboteur in custody, or so rumor goes, but have yet to glean anything, An obvious fact since the meeting of Akiri would have been less pleasant if they had. The earth, however, has so much darkness to hide the truth.”
"Any man can pick a lock, yet you claim to hold the key. I have yet to hear any proof for your claim.”
"I'm just here for the game," Ishi admitted with a soft laugh and a nonchalant wave of his hand. "I wouldn't make a claim without proof.”
Ishi's hand retrieved a second note. It disappeared into the gap. "You'll find a cypher, of which this is but a copy, in your hands. The original is with a briefcase stripped of inorganic parts and a corpse either in Po-Koro, or, even by now, Ta-Koro. A ta-matoran spy was found on the side of the po-koro railway with the baggage already vandalized. I assume the detective corps in Ta will have begun to work some sense out of the numbers if they've got the package. Of course, I've already cyphered it. In a gist, the matoran had stolen components from radio relay towers, given them to a middle man, and then headed for a safe-house. Perhaps the sponsor wished for loose ends to be cut and killed the runt. In any case I made due with the note.”
"Well played, Hapaka.”
“Before I explain this puzzle further I want to learn a few things myself. Being sent north means news more or less evaporates like water in a desert. First, what is this Abettor, and second, what are these strange beings from the West who visited Ga-Koro?”
The voice sighed longingly. "Such rich secrets... so many eons of life and death are hidden from our eyes, my friend. There are some flies that even escape my webs.
“What little that has tickled my ears has surely brushed yours as well. The Abettor is a monstrosity of iron and crystal that guards the Vault below the Kini-Nui, placed there from time immemorial. The Dasaka are a race of beings from a distant land who call upon different powers and a different god. There is little else I can tell you of them.”
Ishi rubbed a motley colored hand against the bottom of his kanohi in thought. He went to speak, but quickly shifted gear when he saw a matoran approach. Ishi flipped open the book in his left hand, staring at the stomach churning romance novel without noticing the words beyond 'he gripped her in a tight,' until the passersby had found their favorite trash and disappeared. "I see. That leaves plenty for my weekends then.”
"I would be disappointed if you said otherwise.”
"Glad to have a sponsor who supports my hobbies. Now, where was I …"
"Ah, yes." Ishi clapped the covers of the book together for emphasis and tucked it back under his arm as precaution. "Our bomber is without a doubt the toa Ta-koro took into custody. It was a web of espionage, and cleverly planned I’ll be the first to admit that point. Like any good gardner the seeds were planted in soil already tilled and ripe with mistrust. All they needed to do was sit back and occasionally water the project with money. The remote technology was an issue easily remedied by mining Po-Koro’s radio relay towers for individual components. Once the materials were taken they had to be smuggled into Akriin's hands – his name was in the Daily. I tracked down the missing links in the past month or so. The trade-off happened in Onu-koro, the last place the mercenary had visited before the hit. I would have done the trade in Ta to begin with, it makes the most logical sense. Honestly, I can't think of a reason why they did that other than 'the closer you are to trouble the farther you are from harm,’ but they didn’t tread lightly on hot ground in the final phases. My guess is the job was behind schedule and rushed, a careless mistake leaving a clear trail.”
"We make a living off mistakes.”
Ishi nodded in agreement.
"Which is why it's all the more ironic,” the voice continued, “When one of us makes one of our own.”
Ishi blinked, the words going multiple ways in his mind. After a brief pause the matoran gave a tired sigh. "Po-Koro was rewarding while it lasted, but the game has gone stale with Hewkii. Now all I do is sit and talk about kohlii moves.” Even as he spoke Ishi thought of the journal tucked away in the traveling bag over his shoulder, the cryptic pages begging to be read after the silence their dead writer had banished them too.
"Where do you wish to go?"
"Where the stakes are highest.”
"We stand there.” The voice chuckled softly. "It's a dangerous job, being a leader. This peaceful mountain's peak is being cut off, snow and all.”
"You certainly offer a high stakes game.”
"When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die.”
Ishi shifted, suddenly chilled despite the warmth of the library. "I don't suppose you want me to stop this?”
"It's your life, Hapaka.”