In the Shadow of Dume: Part 1
Written by A Pinch of Bazel
Illustration by Sandia_Head
From the desk of Kodan, Chronicler of Metru Nui:
The titles of Toa, and hero, are older than we sometimes care to remember. And like all things, they too are passed with time.
The following is a collection of texts detailing one of our greatest Toa, one of his greatest victories, and the day he chose to pass the strength of his generation to the next.
Prose will be interspersed to dramatically reconstruct that which was lost to history. Accuracy will be paramount regardless.
Six armies came, six conquests reaped
And by hands of many, fruits won for few
But no army too vast, nor lord o’ war too great
Can be still Mata Nui, or His hands of fate.
For these hands clasp doers, demigods beholden,
Toa above all, duty and deed emboldened.
--Excerpt of The World in Twelve Hands: A Barraki Wars Compendium, by Waiata, Ko-Matoran of Artakha, Published Cycle 25.6K
I hope this letter finds you well. I trust you’ve kept the shop together in my absence, and that the winter hasn’t gotten too harsh down there. The chimney better be in top shape. If soot builds up there again your lungs’ll be blacker than a Makuta’s heartlight by next week. And just think of the product! I work hard to get those pickaxes to shine like that. It’s what makes them look so sharp!
Sorry, sorry, getting carried away, I know. Yes, doing well myself. The war goes…well it could be going worse. We may yet have a way to outsmart these Steltian apes. Of course, having a Toa wouldn’t be remiss about now, but we just may be able to turn the tide ourselves. Even Mataku’s managed to keep his nerves together. You should see him! All those years keeping up our delivery guarantees really paid off for the little guy. He just has to pretend what he’s carrying isn’t a temperamental homemade bomb.
Wish us luck, old friend.
--Third of five correspondences between a Matoran detachment stationed at the Eastern Zakasian Strait, and Atu-Koro, a southwestern village of the Southern Continent, Cycle 19.8K
Fear always gripped Mataku’s heartlight in a cloying embrace. It held, strong, sometimes stronger than whatever might the greatest Kanohi Pakari could bestow upon you. The grip of an acquaintance from formative years, too insecure to grow beyond him. He could fight it, resist it, but it always found its way back eventually. It marked him a coward, but that was no surprise. Mataku already knew he was that, a coward.
He saw it, he felt it, wherever he went, for whatever he did. When he pined for the easiest tasks in the village, when he refused to step a foot past the main gate after dark, when he wouldn’t risk even a finger on his shop’s own forge. The little Ta-Matoran held no illusions as to why he did these things, or why people looked at him with such contempt every time he did them. He was a coward, out for himself and his own hide. Plain and simple.
And that silent resignation held true even now, as his legs desperately tried to propel his aching body across a scarred battlefield far from home. The rest of his squad was dubiously absent, and best left out of mind.
Quakes shook the ground with increasing vigor.
Best left out of mind.
Fire seared crimson scars across the black sky as ordnance roared overhead.
Best left out of mind.
The unstained dagger at his belt rattled, singing for action.
Best left out of mind.
Rusted metal clanked, warriors grunted and cheered, somewhere, everywhere, behind a hill or a rock Mataku refused to narrow down.
Best left out of mind.
Better to run. Better to hide, if the opportunity ever presented itself. Even surrender had occurred to him once or twice, but at the very least that felt like a line even Mataku wouldn’t cross. Not that the aggressively and violently single-minded laborers of Stelt would ever give him the chance.
It was hard to believe the Matoran’s little makeshift rebellion had only kicked off a month ago. Tren Krom Peninsula notwithstanding, the Northern Continent was famous for being so much more lush and fertile than the regions Mataku knew of its southern counterpart, his arid home of Atu-Koro most of all. But you’d be forgiven for mistaking the contrary now. Weeks of thoughtless battle had razed the green to ashen boughs and bare wooden limbs. What settlements had stood here stood no more, now only as good as the stones that comprised them, so much less than the sum of their parts.
A putrid black smoke hung in the air now, the afterparty of relentless artillery. Its all-encompassing mass put the skylights to rest, casting the land in a brackish dusk without end. And as above, so below, choking Mataku’s lungs with soot and powder. Every breath burned as he tried to push his run further with another bound. But still he ran, for he knew nothing before him, nor fatigue waylaying him, could compare to what marched behind him.
Not long ago, six warlords dubbing themselves “Barraki” had taken one look upon the universe in all its expanse and potential, and saw it owed to them. A crown by birthright for their newly founded League of Six Kingdoms. They had no trouble swaying others to that cause, or their authority. It was an aimless time, far removed from the inspiring legends of the first Toa and their mythical deeds. Toa these days were mundane, cold, and decidedly detached from the Matoran. They’d come, they’d protect, they’d depart, without ceremony. Over and onward to the next damsel.
Something felt different now, as if more gnawed on the mind than ever before. Elusive swirls of thought and desire, fluttering pieces of sand that menial labor just couldn’t grasp, let alone make solid. There was a unanimous loss of deeper purpose to serving the Great Spirit’s will, and Matoran, Toa, and everyone beyond and between, didn’t know what to do about it. But the Barraki knew. Or at least, they knew how to exploit it. If anything, even their own ambition likely owed something to it. After all, what more reinvigorating purpose than to hold the whole world in the palm of your hand?
As for their legions, some wanted certainty, others safety, but many simply wanted an excuse to finally unshackle themselves: one freedom sacrificed for another. The underclasses of Stelt were one such many. Bulky by design, brutish by trade, they found little use for themselves on their island home beyond shouldering the businesses of their upper class. Often they’d even resort to their own gladiatorial fights for no other reason, no other stake, than to simply feel the euphoria of unadulterated strength against another. Fist to fist, foot to throat, a chance, however brief, to experience the primacy their might deserved. Beings after the Barraki Carapar’s own heart: elegantly simple, viciously primal, and easily malleable.
Now they formed the backbone of his army, the strongest of the six where pure brawn was concerned, a status that suited Carapar just fine. A legion of strongmen for the Barraki’s strongman. Serendipity at its finest. And when unruly Matoran came knocking on the League’s plans in the north, his seemed the perfect fit to efficiently stamp out the would-be threat. Looking across the blistered plains, Mataku couldn’t argue with the results.
A thought hit him again. Some fit of insanity had conscripted him into taking part in all this. Him. The Ta-Matoran too afraid to come within five feet of an open flame, and yet here he was, the soldier marching on behalf of the homeland, through a hell worthy of Karzahni himself. How did he let this happen?
Kamate, Mataku bitterly thought to himself all too readily.
Kamate had been the one to convince him this was a good idea. Kamate. The bolder one. The manager. The leader. And now the wannabe freedom fighter. Kamate. The Matoran that refused to sit by when the League’s armies rolled across the land. Theirs was a quiet village to the southwest, dwellings of craftsmen with barely enough material to sustain themselves, let alone some misbegotten war machine. They were well out of the way, well out of riches, and easily ignored. Such was Atu-Koro life. It was doubtful the Barraki would have ever set foot there, but it wasn’t a chance Kamate ever intended to take.
He went out of his way to instill that rationale in every villager, inside the koro and out, Mataku especially: wouldn’t it be more dangerous to sit home in waiting, not knowing when the enemy could come knocking at their door as they had for so many before?
“Would you really want that sword left hanging over your head?” he had said.
It was that visual in particular that finally swayed Mataku over. In some ways, beneath the nest of resentment and frustration, he respected him, even envied him. After all, in a world so resigned and bored with its duties, Kamate still held pride in everything he did. Running a forge? Light it the brightest for mios. Crafting tools? Craft them the sharpest for kios. All that said…that resentment and frustration still came from somewhere. Because he also hated him. Hated the way he always tried to push him, to assign him dangerous tasks about the village. Cool a red-hot blade, lure a rogue Kane-Ra bull into a pitfall, run deliveries through the middle of a raging storm. He was even the one to gift Mataku the dagger now strapped to his side, practically rusting from disuse, only action seen being the times Mataku almost fell upon it. Perhaps Kamate saw something braver in him, bold as he.
Or perhaps he’s got too much soot in his optics, Mataku silently dismissed.
Another quake rattled the earth, closer this time. To his immediate regret, Mataku chanced a look behind him. A nearby hill had erupted, rendered fragments of dirt and ash. The culprits, a pair of the usual Steltian brutes: beady red eyes of beaked white faces glaring down from a mass of navy blue armor, torsos lugging bulbous metal tanks masquerading as arms and fists. They saw him. Sized him. Targeted him. Another kill for their count.
The muscles in Mataku’s legs screamed as he tried to wrangle one last burst of speed from their sinew, darting back on course. The ground trembled in a steady heartbeat, no doubt the two bruisers attempting pursuit. It took all Mataku’s strength not to let his flashing heartlight leap out his chest in fright. He had to remind himself: Steltians were immensely powerful, but those mighty frames were carried by a rather unassuming pair of legs. If he could keep just far enough ahead, he might reach his escape route yet. And just a ways away…
Yes! Mataku almost blurted aloud. His gaze found it, his destination only a hundred feet to go: a metal hatch tucked away in the soil. Easily missed to the untrained eye. It was how he and his fellows had gotten around the battlefield unseen. Their greatest advantage, and right now, Mataku’s greatest hope. There was just one problem: it was closed. Locked from the inside no doubt, as was protocol.
They left me, Mataku realized. For a moment he was almost angry. A passing reflex, undone by the reminder of what he was already guilty of. By the reminder that this was probably what he deserved.
His pursuers didn’t give him time to process the thought. One opted to find another way to close the distance. With a mighty heave, the winds blew a baritone tune for the soldier that chose to take to the air, his tiny legs granting him a surprisingly high bound. A KA-CRASH brought him back down to earth, planted squarely between Mataku and the hatch. The impact sent the Matoran falling off his feet, the momentum of his sprint rolling his body through the soil. Down, and soon out.
Mataku groggily looked up to the Steltian in front of him, too stunned to run or fear or even make a half-baked attempt to brandish his dagger. Like a dream of danger bearing down upon you, closer and closer, all while your body refuses to escape. Despite the lethargy, there was still one thought that managed to piece itself together in Mataku’s frazzled mind.
This is it. This is the end.
The closest Steltian didn’t even get a chance to turn to the interloper before a Kanoka disk struck him square in the torso. One FWIP later and the 10-foot bruiser barely dwarfed a Hoto bug. The unfortunate victim of a shrinking disk, one of many eccentric Kanoka variants. Mataku had the sense to quickly flick him away, the poor thing letting out a high-pitched squeal as a light breeze plucked him up and carried him into the sky.
“Durva!” the other Steltian cried. His eyes turned a murderous glare to the shooter: Kamate, Kanoka launcher in hand, standing atop the now open hatch.
He waited for me, Mataku realized, not entirely believing it. Whole army turns tail and he waits for me.
The defiant Onu-Matoran slid another disk into his launcher with the smooth liquid precision of a machine. He coldly held it back aloft, ready to fire.
“Care to join your friend?” The ebon Kanohi Akaku upon his face betrayed nothing but steely confidence. The Steltian’s glare remained undeterred.
“You’ll pay for that, half-bio,” he growled.
“What does that make your friend? A quarter?”
The soldier roared. Kamate fired. In razor-sharp response, panels shifted aside on the Steltian’s left shoulder. A launcher of his own quickly flung itself into position, firing its own disk to meet his opponent’s. Both barreled, straight and true through the air. Flying, soaring, until--
Mataku could feel his heartlight sink into the dirt. Kanoka disks were a prized export from the island city of Metru Nui, and each section of that city prided itself on the unique characteristics they imbued their disks with upon manufacture. Po-Metru’s, for instance, could hone on other disks mid-flight and knock them off course with ease. And evidently, they were one of this bruiser's favorites.
Kamate’s disk was flung to the side, sputtering off into the hills like a dizzy insect. But the Steltian’s disk wasn’t done. Its path now unobstructed, it finished its flight on its true target: Kamate’s launcher. Another FWIP rattled the little mechanism in the Matoran’s hands. Before he could even register what just happened, the metal shattered to dust with a faint PUFF, as if it’d been no better than ill-kept glass all along. The work of a weakening disk, no doubt. The Steltian grinned with a biting cruelty.
“No more tricks.” He stomped forward. “No more games.” Another stomp more. “We crush you here, and now.” Turning over his shoulder, he whistled into the ragged air. On prompt command, a dozen more bruisers arose from the various hills and wooded debris around them.
At last, they all surely thought. Some entertainment.
Mataku hadn’t even thought to get to his feet. He panickedly looked back to Kamate for some sign, some hint of a plan that’d get them out of this. The Onu-Matoran merely stood his ground, frozen. If he chose to dash back into the tunnels right now, Mataku wouldn’t blame him. He didn’t need to stay behind to begin with. And yet here he remained.
Get up, a voice chided. So similar to Mataku’s, and yet entirely alien in its tone and assertion. It disturbed him, but at the same time it called to him, stirred something within him, all the same. Get up you idiot. He couldn’t. Stand with him. He shouldn’t. They’d die either way. Exactly. So die standing.
Mataku’s legs remained frozen, stricken with the same fear that gripped his heart. His hand reached down, grasping the hilt of the dagger at his side, ready to inch it from its sheath. Only a token gesture, surely.
It doesn’t have to be, the voice assured.
Perhaps. No plans, no arms, but at least he and Kamate could go down with some fledgling dignity. Or stupidity.
It didn’t matter. He still couldn’t stand. He still couldn’t move. He couldn’t even draw his own blade. He could already feel that small flicker of steel in his nerves rust away, as good as the dust the enemy trod upon before them.
I was wrong. This is it. There it was, his own voice now. Much more familiar. Pitiably so. Of that he was as sure as he was of his own doom. The only thing he wasn’t sure about was whether to cover his eyes, or cover his ears to smother the horrible shrieking that was filling the air.
Wait, shrieking? Why would the Steltians be--?
Mataku’s head darted up, hand relinquishing his blade back out of thought. It was no Steltian this time, but he wasn’t imagining it either. Kamate could clearly hear it, the Steltians could clearly hear it. All heads swiveled about in confusion trying to find the source. The bruisers fidgeted, the noise putting even them a bit at unease. Mataku couldn’t even put a proper analogy to it. Just a strange light whistle cutting into the back of his head, prickling his Kanohi mask. Too soft to be deafening, too loud to be ignored. But there was one thing he knew: it was getting louder.
Heads turned upward. As the whine grew, so did its apparent source: skyward, still unseen among the black and gray. The sound was becoming increasingly more familiar, and Mataku felt like an idiot that his mind kept coming up empty fishing for the word. He could feel his franticness only making the task clumsier.
It’s like…like a firecracker, or…or a mortar, or... Mataku’s heartlight froze. A falling star.
High above, the looming array of smog began to part, a clean circular window opening to the skylights beyond. The first light in ages finally shown down upon the land, a heavenly column of gold and luster, almost blinding to eyes so numbed by shadow. And through the window, two streaks of color flew with grace, red and white in hue. Searing as fire. Chilling as ice. The light they beckoned only added to their sheen. They were coming, falling, straight for the group with unrelenting aim and purpose, the shriek that foretold their arrival as loud and unambiguous as ever. Mataku knew he should be afraid, and yet, all he could muster was awe. Somewhere deep down with an almost religious certainty, he knew…he wasn’t the one who needed to be afraid.
A FWAM shook the earth as the stars found impact. A storm of dust blinded all, particulates of ice and fire only adding to the fray. The Steltians stumbled back, trying to find footing and ground in the torrent. As the dust cleared, two figures stood bathed in light in its stead, clad in curved, utilitarian armor. A pearly white figure held aloft a silver scythe, the other ashen black and dark crimson, bearing an impossibly massive hammer belching fire from its core. The right word finally found Mataku’s lips.
“Toa,” he whispered.
The red-and-black Toa glared down upon the surrounding warriors. They did their best to hide the cowering twitches in their posture beneath his gaze. They had three or four feet on him at least, but the pure vengeful determination in his eyes did that gap of height away with gusto. He towered over them, and each of them felt it.
He slammed the hilt of his hammer into the ground, carrying the hard FOOM of a gavel bearing judgment.
“You have brought a blight here. Harm and sorrow upon innocents undeserving,” his voice boomed, its bass rattling the armor of the enemy before him. He raised his hammer overhead. “No more.”
His hammer shook the earth harder than their arrival ever had. Its flames from within erupted outward, flailing every which-way in celebration of their newfound freedom. The Steltians tried to mount a charge, and failed as quickly as their plan came. Fire and magma swatted them away like flies. Any that attempted to foil the Toa of Fire from a distance with Kanoka disks were quickly met by his partner, streaks of ice from the tip of his scythe freezing their arms in place. Their actions synchronous, their duty synonymous, the two Toa moved as one.
The struggle was furious, but almost tragically one-sided.
And in all the chaos, and all the battle, as Mataku watched at the center of the storm, he never felt more safe. A new certainty had put every fear that rattled his heartlight to rest. The Toa were here, and soon, all would be right.
Tiarun: “I just— I never understood how they worked.”
Toa Colqi: “How what worked?”
T: “The stones. The ones that just…zap you [snaps finger], from Matoran to Toa. The Toa stones.”
TC: “What’s to know?”
T: “Well, how do they work? How do they know? They’re just any ‘ole rocks, right? How do they know they’re zappin’ the right Matoran? What’s to stop the wrong one from goin’ Toa?”
TC: “[chuckles] Well there is no ‘wrong one.’ The stone simply…knows. It always knows.”
T: “And how do you figure that?”
TC: “Because the Great Spirit knows.”
--Excerpt of interview for Tiarun’s Toa Talks and Travel Thoughts, Issue #459, Published Cycle 94.1K
Chronicler’s Records - The Great Temple, Ga-Metru, Metru Nui
Alright let’s get one thing straight: I’m not a Chronicler. I never pretended to be a Chronicler. But Toa Oroka couldn’t find anyone else so she asked me to write this down. So if this isn’t objective enough for you, go get an actual Chronicler to sand it down. Or do it yourself. I don’t care.
As for me, I’ve been asked to record the goings-on for the first proper Toa Stone Ceremony in Great-Spirit-knows-how-long, hosted in the Great Temple of Metru Nui. Cycle…93K? Give or take a year. Anyway, the crowds are still assembling. Turaga Lygari didn’t want to take too many Matoran off the job, bless the fire-spitter, but he’s made a surprising amount of exceptions for today, and that’s without mentioning all the Toa. The Toa Apocta are an obvious addition: Amante, Lhela, Oroka, Rohu. I think it’s been a while since they’ve all assembled together. Well, four out of six, but all things considered that’s not a bad ratio. Amante’s certainly enjoying it. He’s been playing doorman all evening with Lygari, genuflecting for every new guest like an overzealous twit. He keeps touching the back of everyone’s hand to his mouth. Don’t know what he’s showing at there. Just plain strange.
As guests file in, subtle runes and shapes give away the regional embellishments of faraway lands, adorning Toa and Matoran alike. The gentle, intricate curves of Artakhan masks, the squared shoulder armor of the Southern Islands, the boxy heartlights of Voya Nui, it’s a true mass of everyone from everywhere. Nothing short of impressive. I just hope they’re not leaving too much unattended back home. This many unworking Metru Nui Matoran is bad enough.
As the suns dip onto the horizon, and evening gives way to night, the arrivals finally conclude. And in their stead, the guests of honor. Five new Matoran march through the temple’s entrance. Amante makes no show of graciousness this time. Just a quiet reserved reverence, one the rest of the crowd shares. Oroka had informed me about these five before: Naho, Motara, Colqi, Doucasse, and at the head, mask shining its glorious gold, Lhikan. Matoran of many places, and the five chosen worthy to become Toa. I couldn’t tell you for what deeds, but I suppose that’s not for me to know. What’s important is they’re here, and look like they’d rather be anywhere else. This audience and atmosphere clearly aren’t their forte. It certainly isn’t mine.
The silence becomes doubly deafening as another figure pulls up the rear. He towers over the Matoran, and quite frankly everyone else. Armor old and embattled, its red and black sheen still catches the lightstones’ glow with ease. There is grace and wisdom in the warrior’s stride where youth lacks. All bow their heads, the Turaga, the Toa, even I throw mine down with them. It’s only due.
I side an eye to the Toa Apocta, all joined in the grand gesture to honor the fifth to their six. Oroka shoots me an amused look, a playful grin at the proceedings. It’s all a little silly, sure. We’ve all known each other for so long, the borderline deification’s a bit unnecessary, and yet…something about it still feels right. They say the two most important moments in a Toa’s life are when they become one, and when they stop being one. After all, the former is what enables their entire legend, and the latter is when they finally pass that legend to the next generation, enabling their own. Not all Toa get to live to see that second moment, but here, before the eyes of all, Toa Dume has. And I don’t need to be a Chronicler to be any more proud.
Dume reaches down to a satchel hanging at his side, and pulls aloft a stone. It glows a soft crimson and pulses in hand, steady as a heartbeat. It is the means of the transition, from the old to the new. A Toa stone.
Dume raises his free hand to quell the crowd’s reverence. If Kanohi could blush, I’m sure his would probably find a way to grow redder at all the attention.
“Please,” he calmly begs. Everyone’s heads rise. “This honor is not for me.” He gestures down to the five Matoran. I notice a familiarity in the way he looks at two of them, Naho and Lhikan. He gives them a wink, the kind that immediately seems to put their nerves at ease. It’s what he does best. “The day belongs to them.”
He nods to Lhikan. The little Ta-Matoran leads the rest in a march to the center of the chamber: a massive dome embedded in the floor, adorned in markings and light. A Toa Suva. Each Matoran takes a stand at its edge, surrounding it. Dume steps forth, but does not join them in the circle. Instead, he looks back to the crowd. To us. To me. He clutches the first Toa stone close, wrapped in gingerly fingers. You’d think it were fragile as glass. Something so small, it’s strange to think that this is how a Toa ends.
“Now…” he announces. “Let us begin.”
Mataku had never seen a Toa before. Only heard of them, in passing, in legend, but all the scripture in the world didn’t seem to do their presence justice.
“Are you alright, little one?” the red-and-black warrior asked, leaning down to close the gaping height between them. It did no good, of course. Mataku felt miniscule in his shadow. Forgetting to get up off the ground probably didn’t help.
“Y-yes sir,” he squeaked. “You’re here now. It’ll all be alright.”
The Toa scowled at that thought, then immediately tried to mask it.
“Good, good,” he nodded.
Did I say something wrong? Mataku wondered, another nervous thought to join the flurry of others in his head. No matter. The Toa had more to say.
“I am Dume, Toa of Fire,” the figure stated. His voice spoke with an utter clarity, every word as good as law. Yes. He was Dume, Toa of Fire. “And this is Aidau, Toa of Ice,” he gestured to the pearlescent Toa behind him. If he didn’t know any better, Mataku would’ve sworn the Toa had tried to strike a pose in the skylight. “We come from the city of Metru Nui. We had heard talk of Matoran making a stand against the Barraki’s forces, and thought it only right to provide whatever aid we could.”
“You’re welcome by the way,” Aidau muttered. Dume shot him a glare.
“Yes yes, of course! Thank you so much for your help, Toa,” Mataku sputtered, trying not to fumble his skittish words. “We would’ve surely been goners without you!”
The gratitude did nothing for Dume. If anything it seemed to only irritate him more.
“Yes, well…” he stood up and quickly gestured to Kamate. He was, after all, still standing atop the little hill and hatch it hid, and still had some dignity left. “You there, what’s your name?
“Kamate!” Mataku blurted out against his better judgment. “He’s Kamate.” Dume and Aidau both looked at him with barely restrained left eyebrows. “And…I’m Mataku,” he added meekly. Some days he wished he was an Onu-Matoran himself, just so he could bury himself twenty feet under in moments like this.
“I see,” Dume replied, putting a merciful end to the awkward silence. “Well then, Kamate. What news from the front?”
It took a moment for Kamate to shake his own awe off.
“We’ve held our own as best we could.” His gaze immediately lowered, ashamed. All his vigor and steel gone, no better than the smog the Toa cleared. “But our best…our…it wasn’t...” His voice petered away.
Dume knelt down to him now, though Mataku couldn’t help but feel there was less of a gap to close. He placed a calm hand on the Onu-Matoran’s shoulder as he did. There was a pain in his eyes, and a humbling sag in his shoulders. Something about seeing a Matoran become so dispirited seemed to drag Dume down with him.
“Tell me everything.”
It was a curious tale. The Barraki’s forces had swept across the world’s many lands with ease, an insatiable beast with a particular taste for industry, strategy, and power. Metru Nui to the north was off the menu, too isolated and fortified for even them to claim, at least for now. But to the east were perfectly fit consolations: the islands of Xia and Stelt. The former’s manufacture and the latter’s finance were ideal for the Barraki’s growing war machine.
When Kamate had decided to make his stand, and swayed at least fifty Matoran to stand with him, this symbiotic relationship seemed the ripest for sabotage if they had any hope of making a dent in the Barraki’s plans. Their navy was underdeveloped and unfit for long transportation, making hops from island to island a begrudging requirement. To this end, their means of reaching Xia from the Northern Continent was navigating the Zakasian Strait, the thin body of water that played ligament to the Continent and two adjacent islands, Zakaz and Karzahni. And from there, an easy shot to Xia, and beyond that, a route to Stelt that avoided the perils of the Tren Krom Peninsula. A functional system, if convoluted, until Xia could fortify them with a proper armada. That chance, of course, was not one Kamate intended to give.
As infantry Matoran stood little chance, and so brains and espionage became paramount. The Onu-Matoran put decades of mining expertise to use, mapping out and carving a network of tunnels all across the eastern side of the Continent. A lesser mind would’ve left it at that, but Kamate took it further, explicitly linking the tunnels to every enemy encampment carrying the chain of trade posts from the west to the Strait, and Xia. A few crafty Ta-Matoran brainstormed their own contribution: bombs, of a very special variety. Mechanisms crafted from multiple Kanoka disks, various powers jammed together in unholy matrimony, fit to blow with the right fuse. Mataku, of course, was not one of those Ta-Matoran smart enough nor daring enough to come up with the idea. He was, however, gullible enough to be talked into placing them.
“You should’ve seen him. He was the fastest runner we had!” Kamate boasted, some small sense of pride seeping back into his body. “Why I think we can chock up a dozen wrecked camps to his name.”
Just another stupid trick he fell for. Mataku could already feel his loathing for Kamate stir back to the surface. And with it his respect all over again, when he remembered the other fact of the matter.
It worked, didn’t it?
For a time, at least. It made its dents. It drew the Barraki’s ire and attention. But even beings as dense as the Steltians couldn’t be fooled forever. One clumsy bomb-runner was all it took to reveal their system, and from there the entire plan unraveled. Attacks were anticipated, runs were intercepted, and soon their numbers grew thin.
“Mataku here was trying to make one last strike. Him and three others tasked to escort him to and from.” Kamate and the Toa looked to the Ta-Matoran, still sitting on the ground. Now it was his turn to hide his shameful gaze in the dirt. He was alone, and there weren’t many guesses as to why. Mataku could only shake his head.
“We…we tried. They saw us coming. I ran, and…” Mataku closed his eyes, for all the good it did. He could still feel all their contemptuous glares holding him in judgment.
And why shouldn’t they?
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. Barely a whisper.
A grave silence held the air still.
“Is there anyone left?” Dume asked. He stifled a burgeoning dread for Kamate’s answer.
“The rest have gone. I told them to go.” He finally pulled Dume’s hand off his shoulder. He didn’t feel worthy of it. Perhaps he never was. “Like I said, we…we did our best. But it’s over. And I…this is my fight. Not theirs. Not anymore.”
He looked pointedly at Mataku, not a shred of contempt in sight. If anything, there was…sympathy? Mataku wasn’t sure what to make of it. He’d never heard Kamate speak like this before, look like this before.
“It’s just as well,” Aidau interjected. He pulled his scythe from his back, gripping it tight. “Matoran have no place in battle.” He walked past Dume and Kamate, nodding to the Onu-Matoran as he did, and ignoring another glare from Dume. “You did your best, miner, like you said. But no more Matoran are dying on our watch.”
He stood atop another hill to look over the battlefield. Dume shook his head.
“We need everyone here, brother.” He rose to his feet to meet him. “These Matoran were ready to fight, and we need all the help we can get. They need to stand with us.”
“We’re Toa,” Aidau emphasized, sounding almost disgusted at the notion of needing help from anyone that wasn’t. “We’re born for this. They aren’t.”
He gestured to Kamate and Mataku equally. Dume marched closer, his voice growing noticeably more irritated.
“Oroka and Amante are inbound for the Southern Islands. Rohu and Lhela are stuck guarding Metru Nui. We are all they have, and we are not enough.”
Aidau spun his scythe. A harsh burst of ice scarred the earth between him and Dume, cutting off his attempt to bring the confrontation face to face.
“Wait!” Kamate cried. Mataku looked up. At first he thought he was simply trying to break up the argument, but something sounded different in his voice. His body echoed it, vigor sparking all over. Excited. Motivated. Inspired.
“I have an idea.”
Tiarun: “Y’know, funny thing. I actually knew you before you were a Toa.”
Toa Colqi: “Did you now?”
T: “Well, of you.” [shuffling noises] [scraping noises]
TC: “Is that…?”
T: “A bonafide Colqi original. Really spruces up my desk back home.”
TC: “Yes, I remember. I based it off a small shrub I came across in Po-Metru. Just a little sprout bursting from the rocks. I liked the idea of it, just… continuing that, from anywhere. A little bit of stubborn beauty growing from wherever you placed it.”
T: “It’s so sparkly. Look at it! You’d think it was ice.”
TC: “I used to work with ice. But it never lasted, and it didn’t feel right to limit my work to Ko-Metru. The other Matoran there, well, they weren’t ones for art anyway.”
T: “Then what? You got some Ta-Matoran to teach you glass-work, just like that?”
TC: “[laughs] Eventually. When I found one who could stand me. He even provided me the tools.”
T: “A Ko-Matoran workin’ flames. You think you’ve seen everything…”
TC: “It wasn’t easy. But that’s what made the ends so gratifying.”
T: “[sighs] Guess that’s all over now.”
TC: “What do you mean?”
T: “Well you’re a Toa now. Now you get to do things that matter.”
TC: “[scoffs] I’m sorry?”
T: “Er, things more important. Sorry. That was— that wasn’t the right way to put— um, yeah. Wasn’t the right word.”
TC: “I’m still very proud of my work.”
T: “Sure, but…that doesn’t compare to bein’ a Toa, does it? To what a Toa does? Goin’ around, fightin’ evil, savin’ the meek?”
TC: “They matter in different ways. I’d like to think my sculptures, well, that they meant something to people. That they made them happy. And if not, they still made me happy.”
T: “Sure but, savin’ the day--”
TC: “--also matters to me. They all matter to me. Before or after. That hasn’t changed. Why should it?”
Turaga Lygari takes the stage.
“Thank you for your kind words, dear Toa. Our city thanks you. You honor us, yes, honor us very dearly, to host your history here today. Mata Nui be praised, and all those He moves through!”
“Mata Nui be praised, and all those He moves through!” the crowd echoes.
The five Matoran remain standing around the Suva, and Dume with them, all in silence, as the little fellow hobbles on his cane to meet the crowd. You’d think they’d have gotten the stones by now, but, well, formalities. Lots of formalities. A Toa team hasn’t been brought together here for many ages.
I’d even heard that this particular temple wasn’t all that old. That it’d been rebuilt not too long ago after a nasty bit of Rahi tore the old building down, then subsequently died, their bodies forming the peninsula on which the new temple now rested. The circle of life at its oddest. Either way, something tells me they don’t just want to break the new place in. They want to make this one count. Make it one worthy of the history walls.
To that end comes Lygari’s idea of bringing things full circle: a retelling of Dume’s legend.
“Allow me to set your stage, dear Toa,” Lygari bows. He gives his raspy voice a moment to clear. “As was his beginning, so shall be his ending, here!” Lygari gestures grandly to the Suva, and Dume’s chosen. “Amongst the Matoran that shall carry his power, as Toa!”
He’s going to be at this for a while.
He thrusts an arm to the side expectantly. A Ko-Matoran aide quickly hustles forth, a Kanohi Matatu - a Mask of Telekinesis - in hand. Lygari thrusts it upon his face promptly. He snaps the finger of his free hand to the air.
On the other side of the Suva, unseen hands shift and crank panels apart to unveil an array of lightstones from the ceiling. They shine a snow-white beam down upon a vast enclosure of sand: the Amaja Nui, the Great Story Circle. I’d seen smaller variations before across so many villages, but none compared to this. Mere beaches to this sprawling microcosmic desert.
The crowds collectively shift to the side, moving to gather around the Amaja. Lygari joins them from high above. He raises his hands, fingers outstretched, across the sands.
“Gathered friends, listen, again, to the tales of the Toa.”
His new mask glows. On command the circle shifts. Forms and structures take shape in the sediment sea. Crowds “ooo” and “aaa” at the theatrics.
“It began simply, with the tale of a Matoran. Yes, a Ta-Matoran, caretaker of the hearth of his village.”
He really emphasizes the “Ta.”
The circle wavers and shifts. A small figure emerges, no doubt a little analogue to the eponymous Dume. A sphere of sand spirals before it, imitating the waves and arms of flames.
“In his care the hearth grew, and his village flourished. But there were no Toa to call his land their own. No, none to protect it, or the Matoran that dwelled within it.” Sands swirl into a writhing storm, tendrils slashing at the little “Dume” at the center, and the little flame he guarded. “So the duty fell to Dume, the strongest of his Matoran. Only he could protect them, and at this task, he did not relent.”
He speaks fancifully, but there’s a sincerity to the presentation that can’t be denied. This will probably be his only chance to guide a Toa ceremony. Far be it for him to waste it.
The tendrils now form the shapes of various creatures, monsters, hideous things I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. Some serpentine. “When the Great Snake, Many-of-One, emerged from the sea, the very breath of its six heads a plague to choke the land, he did not relent.” Others hulking titans. “When one of the Crowned Dragons marched from the eastern ashes of Zakaz with ravenous hunger, he did not relent.” And so many things more. “When the mighty--”
You get the picture.
Dume watches from the Suva. Every other detail brings out a bit more ire, another crick in his posture. He won’t say it aloud, but there’s something to the story that displeases him. The way it’s told, what is told. I have my suspicions.
After all, he and his team have more than enough history to their name as it is. Lhela’s tales of saving Dume from disaster could fill a book, and Amante’s still particularly fond of retelling how he and Dume subdued a rabid Blade Burrower with their bare hands. And Rohu, well, Rohu doesn’t shut up about his own deeds period.
As long as I’ve known him, Dume was never alone. If that’s so utterly true for his time as a Toa, could the same possibly be said for his time as a Matoran? You wouldn’t know that from Lygari’s regaling, that’s for sure.
I can just imagine the cries of subjectivity creeping up again. A real Chronicler would repeat Lygari’s words letter for letter. Turaga knows best, the “legend” knows best, but frankly? I think anyone reading this is due a little honesty.
“And after banishing all evil from his home, so prodigious were his deeds, yes, so very, that even Toa from faraway lands would be remiss to ignore them, or him, any longer.” Lygari gestures back to Dume with pride. The subtle discontent all across Dume’s body continues to go unnoticed. I’m starting to wonder if it’s by choice. “One saw great potential in Dume’s courage, and by way of the Toa stones, so too was Dume elevated to the title.”
He raises his hands high. The entire circle’s display dissipates, fluttering to the ground, until only Dume’s analogue remains. A new stream of sand rises, enveloping the figure in a cocoon of sediment. It falls away, and in its stead, a figure buffer and taller than before remains: Toa Dume.
“It was here that Dume’s grandeur, his legend, truly began.”
“Do tell,” Aidau replied, an only light condescension in his tone at the idea that a Matoran would suggest anything. Kamate ignored it, and instead quickly pointed to the streak of ice the Toa had left on the ground.
“Your power. Your elemental power. That could be the key.”
Aidau’s eyes narrowed, intrigued. Even a little flattered, if the small self-satisfied grin was any indication. “Go on.”
Kamate tugged at something on his back, a frayed cloth bag that, judging by the patches, was a few weeks due a replacement. From its contents he plucked the most precious: a small, thick tablet. It rattled, so much so Aidau couldn’t help but squint curiously for a hint of its secrets. The Matoran had his attention now.
Placing the tablet on the ground, Kamate carefully tugged on each side. From the center slid stone plates, and from them thinner plates more, each engraved with fractions of terrain and landmarks. Taken altogether, the pieces formed a very familiar map, scrawled with a vast net of lines encircling the landmass, each line occasionally interrupted by a bold dot. Aidau’s gawking was better masked than Dume’s.
“Well crafted, little one,” Dume remarked, obviously impressed. He didn’t even try to hide it.
“This was as much as we could map, of this side of the continent anyway,” Kamate explained. “And this…” He traced a finger over the net of lines. “...is our tunnel network.”
“And those are the Steltian camps, I take it?” Aidau guessed, pointing to one of the dots checkering the web. Kamate nodded.
“Our tunnels link almost every encampment across these plains. We could take them out in one fell swoop, if we had the means.”
Mataku pulled himself to his feet to meet the gathering. Even he couldn’t keep his curiosity quelled now.
“What are you driving at, Kamate?” the Ta-Matoran asked, the gnawing acid of his suspicions all too obvious. They lapped at Kamate’s feet, daring him to confirm them.
“Bombs won’t cut it anymore. We don’t have the numbers to get that much firepower across the battlefield all at once. Even before, there was no way we could do it without drawing notice anyway.” Kamate pointedly looked up to the two Toa. His confidence, his gusto, it was all flaring back into his bones with triumph to propel his next sentence forth. “Fortunately we have a damn fine substitute, and then some.”
Dume and Aidau looked to each other, a knowing glance passing optic to optic. The plan was already coming together in their own heads. Aidau cracked another grin.
“I like where your head’s going, miner.”
“It won’t be easy,” Dume warned.
“Nothing worth it ever is, right?” Aidau dismissed. He pumped a fist in the air, biceps bulging beneath his armor. “I take one kio, you take the other, between us that’ll be more than enough power to blow the whole network sky-high.”
Dume raised a hand to pipe his brother’s excitement down.
“There’s still the matter of the path. If any of those tunnels are blocked, our entire stratagem is jeopardized.” He glared at the convoluted web that comprised the Matoran’s precious tunnels. “And there has to be a more efficient way than simply flooding everything. Our power isn’t infinite, little one.”
Kamate nodded expectantly. He jutted a confident thumb to himself and Mataku.
“That’s where we come in.”
“We do?!” Mataku knew this was coming and still felt terrified at the prospect.
“Yes,” Kamate quelled acidly, his patience hitting their usual limits every time Mataku pushed back. “We’re the only ones that can fit down those tunnels. We need to make sure the path’s clear and block off anything extraneous. We give them the shortest route, the fastest route, and they do the rest.”
“Absolutely not!” Aidau and Mataku shouted in unison. Perfect overlap for all the wrong reasons.
Kamate jolted back, surprised. Not at Mataku, his reaction was expected. He could deal with it as he always had. But the Toa?
Aidau shook his head, as if to reassure that the Matoran hadn’t misheard him. “Out of the question.”
“They already know your little trick. They’ll see you coming kios away,” Aidau warned. He pointed an unceremonious thumb to the side at Mataku, not even looking him in the eye. “Your little friend’s fiasco is already proof of that.”
Kamate stood up, defiant as he could be only meeting Aidau’s knees. “We can handle it.”
Aidau closed the gap between them, emphasizing his height as he did. It took every ounce of will Kamate had not to shrivel in the Toa’s shadow.
“No. You can’t,” Aidau uttered coldly.
Dume’s crimson hand clasped him by the shoulder, yanking him back. His iron grip thrusted the Toa of Ice face to face with him. “What do you think you’re doing?” he asked, anger doing its best to reserve itself to an undertone.
Aidau’s stance remained undeterred, instead leaning in further.
“You know I’m right.”
“That’s beside the point.”
“It’s exactly the point.” Aidau pushed past his brother, gesturing to the open hills. “They’re not going. I’ll rip up every camp the League dug out here myself if I have to.”
Dume shook his head. “Madness, brother. You’re no good to Mata Nui dead.”
Aidau bluntly pointed to the Matoran. “And they are?”
As the Toa continued to argue, Mataku moved to join Kamate’s side. He watched him. He watched him watch them, his eyes coldly indifferent. Mataku thought for a moment. There had to be a more tactful way to put this, but then, maybe it wasn’t the time for that. Better, perhaps, to simply give voice to his own side.
“The Toa’s right. We don’t belong here.” Kamate refused to look at him. What little tact Mataku had bent to annoyance. “Look, just say something. Kamate, please--”
“Twenty-seven,” he murmured plainly.
Mataku’s frustration quickly dissipated, left more confused than angry.
“Twenty-seven. I marched here with fifty Matoran, Mataku. Fifty of the bravest Matoran I could band together all across these lands, when everyone else was ready to just sit and hide and watch. And twenty-seven of them aren’t coming back.” He finally looked the Ta-Matoran in the eye. Though still cold, there was a tinge of glass to his optics. Glossy, almost aqueous if one didn’t know better. Mournful. “And that’s my fault.”
Mataku stammered, trying to speak. He stopped. Tried again. Still nothing. He tried to think of something to say, to console him at least. But the truth was, deep down…
Kamate shook his head.
“Don’t even try to pretend it’s not true. I talked them into it. I talked you into it.”
He admitted it. Right there, he admitted it. All Mataku’s quibbles and woes over the years put to word. So why didn’t it make him feel any better? Then Mataku remembered. If he truly felt this morose over everything, that still left one gnawing contradiction on the table.
“Then why don’t you want to leave?”
“Because I’m not done. And if twenty-seven Matoran died to get us this far, who the hell am I to not finish it?”
Mataku thought for a moment, then shrugged. Tact be damned.
“That wasn’t for them to do.” Even Mataku was surprised how cold he sounded. He quickly relented, putting a soft but insistent hand on the Onu-Matoran’s shoulder. “Like you said, it’s over. Let’s just… let’s go home.” He tried to imbue every bit of nostalgic yearning he could into that last word. It’d been only a month, but home felt so far away, and so long ago.
Kamate shook his head again. He brushed Mataku’s hand off, useful as a fleck of dirt clinging to his armor.
“You just don’t get it.” He thought for a moment, then sighed of deep regret. He couldn’t hold this back any longer. “Maybe you can’t get it, the way you are.”
The way you are.
He didn’t say the word itself, and somehow that made it so much worse. To hear himself characterized as something so inescapable and…and dirty, Mataku wasn’t sure what to be more bothered by: the insinuation, or its possible accuracy. Before he could respond at all, a deafening blare roared over the plains.
A harsh cacophony that cut through every wind and breeze like butter. Due dread and callousness for the song of war horns.
A thunderous percussion joined their clarion symphony, pulsing the earth step by step. Confident, propulsive, and only growing nearer. Dume and Aidau looked to the noise, their argument quickly dismissed. They grimaced, hands reaching to their weapons.
As dark forms took shape on the hills decorating the horizon, Mataku’s heart sank once again. Horns did sing, but it wasn’t drummers or performers following in their melodically ugly wake. No, the quakes that shook his feet, the bass to every brassy flare, all that had been needed to produce them was much simpler.
The march of an army. The march of an honor guard. The march of a king.
A long time ago, Mataku had the near misfortune of being caught in a Kikanalo stampede, the one time he’d ever made the mistake of wandering too far from the village to explore the sights of Mount Atu. He was younger then, stupid, careless, until he was put in his place for daring to wander into their valley pass. The sight of them on the horizon, the sound of their ominous tread, there was a certain humbling terror to seeing something so inevitable coming your way. Uncaring, unrelenting, a force of nature unto itself.
And yet there was also a certain comfort in times like those. Though unstoppable, it was never personal. Step out of the way, respect duly the power that be, and it’ll spare you in kind. But to know that force hunts you, to know purpose guides its stride, to know what marches unrelenting seeks quarry only with you, to put you underfoot, well, that was another matter entirely. For no matter how slow its pace, however long it took to pass, such a prospect terrified Mataku far, far more; as he was soon finding out.
A gilded chariot lurched forth in indulgent patience, pulled by the glistening silver hides of two Rock Lions. The ends of their manes glowed a fierce red, but only barely enough to light a proper flame worthy of their reputation. Even from here, their jaws visibly scowled and winced, agitated but too tempered by domestication to do anything more than pull forward. To either side, three Steltian bruisers marched in step. Each held a golden spear in hand, a token weapon of decorum they’d undoubtedly toss once the fighting started.
And between them, atop the chariot, whose frame held aloft nothing but a decorated throne, sat a lone warrior. His figure pulsed with muscle, clad by armor plating so thick it put his Steltians to shame, ending with a curved, quilled helmet that housed unblinking red eyes. Their glare was apathetic, more bored with the proceedings than anything. His body was almost uncomfortably smooth, blurring the lines between metal and skin. It reminded Mataku of the tops of crab shells imported from the shore, appearing hard and soft all at once. Only its sheen gave it away, a brooding amber whose glow was only strong enough to be metal. Perfection with ease.
And when the Barraki Carapar spoke, his stature felt only earned.
“Halt!” The boom of his voice wasn’t unlike Dume’s, but it lacked his cooled timbre. In its stead tore an underlying rasp, slashing the air with a rough indifference that called earthquakes to Mataku’s mind, of crevices cleaving tectonic plains in two.
Such a sound brought the Rock Lions to an abrupt stop. The Steltians followed suit, bodies doing their best not to drip their obedient fear. Carapar marched down, from his throne, from his chariot, until his feet brought smoking craters to the soil.
And there he stood, eyes locked with his Toa opponents. A reserved glee squeezed his eyes with newfound joy at the sight. Perhaps this day wouldn’t be so boring after all.