Frothy whitecaps rose to touch the sides of the boat as the island drew near, but it was not until we walked along the frozen beach that we could admit that we were cold. The wind out there was unyielding, blowing hard at our backs, but the constant motion of the gale kept the cold from settling into our cloaks. As we walked the icy shores, however, the wind was blocked by the towering mountain that took up most of the landscape, and the chilling air began to sink into us, seeping through the material and between the cracks and breaks in our armor until we were shaking at our cores. If there was an empty cove beyond the frigid dunes ahead, Nireta and I agreed as we made our way up the beach, then perhaps there was a chance of finding warmth on this desolate isle.
Following the curvature of the path, we left our boat behind, unanchored along the shore. The current was negligible, nowhere near strong enough to pull the dinghy away, so we let it sit there. A pathway carved through a dune was the one we followed, leaving behind a pink edged horizon as we continued hopefully to where shelter may lay. At the top of the beach I gave one long look towards the afternoon skyline, lowering my gaze to the frozen sand, a long line of pale white that ringed around us. I was about to turn when something else on the shore caught my vision— a small dot of red, a figure laying prone and motionless on the beach. I pointed them out to Nireta, and all thoughts of our own misery were cast away as we reverted our path to their aid.
The figure lay curled up in a ball on the middle of the beach, shivering violently on the cold sand. It was a Toa, his eyes firmly shut, arms tucked tightly into his chest and breath escaping him raggedly. I grimaced at the sight as I turned him over, Nireta helping me as she grabbed one side. We could not pick him up as we realized who he was, shock sapping our strength. “Tiribomba!” I exclaimed, recognizing the Kanohi Ruru on the half drowned Toa of Fire. Recollecting ourselves, we seized him by the underarms and hauled him away from the edges of the choppy blue green sea, the lapping of the waves becoming distant as we reached the other side of the dune again. Leaving the beach behind though, I felt an indescribable dread; despite the safety from the cold, there was something else that came with Tiribomba’s appearance that made me shiver.
An entrance to a cave had been our haven, a shelter from the cold of the beach as we Matoran huddled together in attempt to regain our warmth. Together we watched Tiribomba as he lay slumped against the wall, now looking only as if he were sleeping soundly. As we had brought him in, the shivering fit the Toa of Fire was enduring slowly faded away, his breathing slowing to a normal rate. Yet his heart light still flashed rapidly, and bursts of scorching heat emitted occasionally from his body. Shedding our cloaks, Nireta and I layered them over him, drying and insulating his body the best we could; the only thing we could do now was hope that he would wake soon.
Finding driftwood, we used Nireta’s tinder to make ourselves a small fire, a makeshift torch that we staked into the icy ground. We huddled around it for hours, taking in as much heat as we could whilst warming our friend. After a while we heard a mutter from him; as if sensing his element, Tiribomba began to stir, and crawled toward the fire. Slowly he rubbed his arms to his chest, probably too weak to use his own powers. He said nothing for a while, and I wasn’t even sure if he recognized us as his eyes stared off into the flames, his mind probably somewhere else. Knowing he needed to regain his strength, we watched him silently, patient for when he was strong again.
“Where…are we?” his voice croaked after a long while.
“Not exactly sure,” Nireta said, gesturing to her pack of maps. “Only that it’s far to the east of home, and it took us weeks to reach here. How did you get out here, friend, and how long have you been here?”
“Hom-m-me?” The Toa of Fire’s eyes seemed to lighten at the word, and he gasped, recognizing us. “Nireta? Bour?” he asked as he saw our masks. We nodded, embracing him as his awareness returned, his eyes returning to their vibrant yellow. “It wasn’t long af-af-t-ter yo-ou-ou-u left,” he stammered. “I w-was On-n-n the beach… with Ko-p-pa-pa-aka. The st-sto-or-m overtook the beach, and there was a tidal wave…” he paused, shaking his head so he could talk straight as the heat brought his body back to homeostasis. “I went under, and I d-don’t remember what came next. It’s just now, here and now, I don’t remember what happened before this.” A grim expression was on his lips. “Are they with you?” he asked flatly, knowing the answer to his question.
I shook my head, laying a hand on his shoulder. “It is only the three of us, Tiri. Another adventure— just not as comfortable as the last one.” We sat for a few moments in silence, the sound of the wind and waves outside weakly permeating the cave.
“How long have we been here?” the Toa piped, suddenly concerned. “How long have you had this fire?”
“Not long enough,” Nireta muttered. But the look on the Great Kanohi seemed dissatisfied with that answer, and he asked again, a little more worriedly. “Two hours, maybe more, maybe less? You’ve been asleep for a while. Why?” he pushed the two of us away from the fireside, so the driftwood torch stood alone. At its base was a small film of water, a trail pouring down the path we had come from and out of the cave. Our friend stood up with a surge of renewed strength, and walked with the flow of it, extremely cautious in his pace. He walked to the mouth of the cave, out of our sight, still following its trail, until he came running back. I noticed that the sound of the ocean was growing louder, as though the tide were possibly having coming up the frost covered shores. The Toa yanked us to our feet, kicking over the torch over and extinguishing it. He said nothing, but pointed toward the depths of the cave.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Run,” was his reply.
The water that Tiribomba had traced from the fire streamed down to the beaches, braving temperatures that should have frozen it long before this point. However, something from the fire stayed within the liquid, protecting it from the full force of winter out there and letting it continue in liquid form. It trickled down the frozen sand, carving a stream that halted mere feet from the ocean. The waves that crashed on the shoreline just beyond seemed to sense its approach, bashing in fury as they impatiently waited for the water to complete its way down. Like horses sensing the start of a derby, sea spray flew in the air as the surf reached for the sky, but as it came down upon the icy shores, the beads of water would hit everywhere but around the stream it so anxiously reached for. The tide was already high, and could not come up any further, and so the waves sat there, thrashing violently in a gale that had sprung up unexpectedly.
Within the ocean, the consciousness of the Element Lord of Water internally screamed, his rage heard by only himself. He had traversed the planet, destroyed continents, only to be inches away from his goal. The Kanohi Olmak that was hidden within the countryside of Del Vienvi, the power that could return him to River Dormus, was inaccessible, some other force barring the countryside from him. He had come so far, waited for so many millennia, to find that he did not have enough power. His fury was seen in all of the shore towns that had played victim to his Cavalry as he laid waste to them, giving no mercy to any speck of land on the coastline.
So he had made his way east of the continent, looking to retreat and redesign his plot, to analyze where he had gone wrong, and in doing so, he had found this frozen spit, where he could sense a similar power within. But the place was frozen, the power and potential of water locked away, and he could not penetrate these bonds; without a passage of water leading to the ocean, he was once again thwarted by his goal.
The red armored one he had captured in his tidal wave on one of the islands was supposed to be the solution. He would be the one to unlock the water in the ice, and the Element Lord would be free to charge into the island. But the arrival of the two Matoran had taken the Toa inland; the plan was perfectly in place, and then these two came in and ruined it. And then this trickle came, only to stop just shy of his reach. He would sweep them all if he found them inside, another reminder of his rage, if and when he bridged the gap that lie before him.
The tempest’s temper was expressed as the waves grew larger, crashing harder than ever on the iced over shores. The equestrian like froth neighed as it reached for the sky, stampeding its feet hard but able to go nowhere. However, in its tantrums, the forces had caused reverberations in the ground, which had moved the still water. The ground rocked, and gravity was accelerated as the bead began to travel once again, sliding those last few inches to join the ocean. And it touched, and the path continued once more for the Element Lord.
I was horrified as I heard the storm waters surge into the tunnel, and sprinted as hard as I could to keep up with the other two. The driftwood torch was immediately caught in the ocean’s grasp, dashed to splinters against the tunnel wall. This was no tidal wave, a stern voice in my head told me. The roar of it coming in reached us not too far ahead of the waters. The tunnel widened the further we went in, and Tiri grabbed our wrists and pulled as along, screaming about something in the water that had brought him here. He had not told us what to run from, and I thought he had encountered simply screeched about some sea beast— But what I did not expect was to fear the ocean itself. So I ran with them, breathing heavily as we dashed.
The tunnel gave way, opening up into a cave of ice, and we flew across its floor in between our strides. Other tunnels lined its sides, but whatever we were fleeing from was coming through every one of them. There was no path forward, only a giant wall of bluish white that stretched far above us, higher than the purple cliffs of Cipituez. Despite no source coming from anywhere, the emptiness of the cavern seemed to glow, shining with the gleam of a lightstone. Tiri turned on a dime, his eyes filled with fear as his Ruru looked for a way out. I looked with my Akaku, its lens tracking up the wall of ice before us. I pointed to it as I saw it, something none of us could see without the power of a telescopic lens— the wall near the ceiling was further back than what was at ground level, a shelf midway in-between. If it led anywhere I could not tell, but as long as it was away from the monstrous waters we had to take a chance.
He slung both of us on his neck as he approached the wall, using his powers to burn handholds into the ice. Water dripped from each hole that he created, and I was afraid he would slip, but Tiri kept steady as he ascended. Frigid droplets rained down on Nireta and I, and we glanced downward to see the water begin to cover the chamber floor. Swirls of salt water came to cover the ice, slamming into the wall we climbed that shook Tiri’s grip. I tightened my grip around my friend’s neck, closing my eyes as I felt the world spin. But the impact on my back was solid, and there was never a finer moment to want to kiss the ice. The other two crawled on their hands and knees along the shelf, a crack in the wall leading to somewhere behind it. Scrambling, I caught up to them, the sound of the water filling up the chamber enough to quicken even my slow limbs.
Another tunnel was on the other side of the wall, winding high up the inside of the mountain. The sounds of the rising water remained behind, but our pace was still quick as we went up the frosted slope. Light—perhaps from the outside? came down from high above, or perhaps the walls glowed with a light of their own, letting us see the worried mask of my friend. His face more frightened than I could ever recall, he merely gestured for us to keep climbing.
The place was an endless catacomb. The tunnel ceilings would widen to tower above our heads, but a little further on they would be so small that we would have to shimmy through them sideways. A being any bigger than the three of us would have been stuck. The sound of the water did not seem to return as we ventured deeper… perhaps it was only a freak tide, and Tiribomba was wrong? No. He knew more sense in this madness than we did, so we had to trust his judgement and keep following him. But there was one thing bugging my mind that I had to voice.
“What is it?” I asked him, knowing the response I would get. He had been rambling for the last two miles of the climb.
“The sea itself. Remember when we were at the lighthouse, and we called the storm the Cavalry? Well, it is no army. It’s something singular, yet something greater. He’s after us, and he’s angry. We have to keep climbing, Bour, or he will find us, and it will not be a tough row through the low tide when he does.”
“But how far can we flee?” I stopped him. If he said it was coming, it was coming. “We reach the top of wherever we are headed. Then what? You say it’s the ocean we are running from. Well there is more ocean out there than island here, and it will eventually reach us. Or we are headed to the other side, where whatever we are running from will simply meet us? Where in Mata Nui’s name are we going?”
“I don’t know, but you just have to trust me on this.” he said. “Up is the way to go. If I’m wrong, then we’re safe. If I’m right, then at least we didn’t die down on the beaches.”
The sound of water was nearby again, faint and coming from somewhere ahead. Tiribomba did not seem worried about it, and Nireta and I glanced at each other, wondering if we should be concerned for our friend. As if sensing our worry, he turned to us, smiling, with a finger to his lips. “Listen,” he said. “It’s not the Cavalry.” How could you know for sure though? I almost asked. Quieting my thoughts, I kept my guard up as I listened and climbed. The water sounded different, flowing smoother than the furious waves had. It even sounded as though it were not even traveling in our direction. There was no distracting the entranced Toa as we grew closer to the source, while Nireta and I both felt the hours of hiking in our shorter Matoran limbs. Our climb was soon over, however, as the path ended not far ahead. Shadows clung to the sides of a bluish veil, but they could not permeate the bright white light that shined from beyond.
The chamber beyond the veil was wide and open, light spilling in again as we crossed the threshold. The center was an abyss dozens of bio wide, through which an enormous waterfall fell, its roar deafening even our thoughts. There was something about this water that we didn’t seem afraid of, the light somehow drawing out that feeling of danger. Where was the light coming from? I dared get close enough to the edge to peer over, to the darkness of the well thousands of feet below.
Nireta had taken notice in something other than the liquid that tumbled. The Ga-Matoran ran her hand along the wall, and upon focusing my Akaku I could see scribbles all over the surface. No, they were not scratches… they were names. Taking care on the slippery ring of ice around the waterfall, I inspected closer. Faded by the erosion of water on ice, but they were there, dozens upon dozens of names, graffitied on the walls. So others had been here? I wondered who would want to travel to this isle. Nireta was bringing out one of her carving tools, carefully etching her name in a blank spot, or perhaps a place where the names were so faded that it looked blank. She stepped back to admire her work, handing me the chisel, but it slipped from her grasp, sliding towards the waterfall and tumbling over the edge. She lunged for it, but she slipped on the slicked ground towards the dropoff. I lunged to grab her, but slipped as well, praying for a grip on the edge before we both went over.
Our bodies paused at the edge, feeling the water thundering by. Stupid, stupid move, I cursed her, but my own ideas were cast away as I watched the water glow, a sudden splash to the face taking me elsewhere. The light changed colors, and different shapes and images were seen within. Faces floating by on a river of realities, scenes of other places which were not mirages but actually existed.
Another douse of water splashed the Akaku’s lens, and my mind returned to the edge of the bottomless well again. One of my hands held Nireta’s wrist, the other digging into the ice, and a third hand yanking at my ankle. Third hand? Our Toa friend was there, hauling us to our feet, and patted our heads to make sure we were alright. We chuckled together.
“We’ve made it to the top,” I noted, all the entrances pointed downhill to the bottom of the mountain we had just reached the peak of. “What do we do now, wait it out?”
“Well, the two of you still need to carve your names,” Nireta insisted, offering the recovered chisel that had brought us to this trivial predicament.
Take the chisel, carve your names into immortality; and once you have made your marks, perish.
The thought ran through all of us, and we whirled to the entrance, where a figure of sea foam and water floated under the arch. It stood in crude semblance of Tiribomba, without the sleek definition that the Toa’s armor gave him. The body was a whirlpool, with slender arms like a pair of streams diverging from its body, sporting wicked looking claws. Its bold chest visibly rose and fell, not as if the thing was breathing but more like the tide coming in and out. The legs had it standing as tall as the Toa of Fire, but the feet were lost in the constantly shifting mass of ocean at its feet. Glowering at us from behind a clear helmet, its orange eyes burnt below horns protruding the sides of its head. This was what Tiri was so afraid of, this was what he had thought was out in the ocean.
You three… I should have drowned you in my northern realms months ago, but I sensed there was some use to you. You have led me to this place, but plagued me with endless frustration. Now you have outlived your uses. Raising one liquid arm, a beam of water shot forward and crushed my throat, the steady stream strangling and drowning me at the same time. I was pinned against the wall, but I could feel myself moving, as the alien creature moved me closer to the waterfall. Brown ones like you sink like a stone. But even if you can survive to swim, these streams don’t lead to the ocean. Nevertheless, wherever you may land, the fall alone will probably kill you.
I do not remember what happened next, only that Nireta was hauling me to my feet, and Tiri’s palms were ablaze, a wall of fire appearing to cut the Element Lord of Water off from us. The tentacles of water that leapt in response hit the white wall of flame and were turned to steam. The entity recoiled, the hissing of the steam carrying his rage, and he pushed onward; but Tiribomba turned up his intensity as well, sending more fire to burn him away.
The consequences of using fire in a fight in an icy environment were apparent as Nireta and I felt the dripping of water around us. The heat of the firewall beat through our masks in waves, and we could sound the ring of ice around the waterfall gradually melting. Chunks of scorched ice were diminishing rapidly, the newly freed liquid running towards the waterfall’s well. All around us, we could feel the ice shake, and began to backed towards a veil, but our friend could not retreat, stuck in combat with this monster. The laughter made him fight more furiously, hurling fireballs as furiously and frequently as he could, his arms a blur, flying just as fast as the projectiles he launched.
The creature had forced Tiri against the wall, where he could not retreat any further. From an alcove we watched our friend fight, witnessing whips of flame and water nullifying one another. Steam was all about, and the ice soon shook more violently than the roar of the water fall. I watched the place melt, my best friend slipping uncontrollably until he was on his back, the ocean’s froth about to wash over him. No amount of fire can stop me, the alien tongue whispered in our minds. I have blotted out the sun, I have doused bonfires a thousand times your size, no more will these matches be bothering me.
“It’s not the flame coming toward you that is the problem!” Tiri shouted before the froth enveloped his face. His palms facing the ground, he sent jets of flame all along the slushy floor, the fire cutting a straight line into the shelf. There was a large crack, and then Nireta and I watched in horror as all of the ice fell, carrying the two elementals with it. I shouted, my hand reaching out from the arch to grab him, but it was no use, the shelf tumbling far too fast.
The Element Lord slid off the shelf, a sheet of water that now fell and contorted in midair. His momentum carried him toward the waterfall, and soon the catacombed island was gone. He was in a stream of many worlds for an instant, until a blue path caught his sight, its route all to familiar, and he aimed for it as he tumbled through space; if he had a physical form then, he would have smiled. The mess of white noise quickly faded to the rushing of wind as he fell towards a new earth. As the warlord crashed into the world, his essence could feel the fresh water around him. He could sense the borders of the river— mountains to the north, and the desert to the south, and though they had clearly aged in the millennia he had been gone, he continued his way down the River Dormus as though not a day had gone by.
The Element Lord of Water was home.
The sounds of battle were gone, and I hung onto the Ga-Matoran’s arm as I peered out to see the destruction. The shelf had been sliced off, bringing total destruction to the edge where we had stood. A large pile of ice sat at the lip of where Tiri’s heat had sliced, but no movement came from it; only drops of water silently slid toward it, dropping off into the abyss. Each drop joined the waterfall, and the great cascade rumbled on, uninterrupted by the skirmish. But the little landing we had been on was totally devastated.
I held my breath as I listened for any sound beyond the waterfall, desperately praying that Tiri had made it. There was no body— from what I could see— in the pile of ice, still and cold next to the ever moving stream of water. I stared intensely at it, certain that he had survived. Nireta tugged at me, urging me back to the safety beyond the arch, and I reluctantly conformed, a dark expression on my face as I crossed into the shadowy corridor. I did not accept the fact that my friend had fallen. The entity— to Karzahni with him, I had seen him hit the waterfall and go down— but of my friend I was not sure.
“I want to believe it too, Bour, but it’s just not… If there was any way he could…”
“We need to explore,” I told her. When she looked at me with wide eyes, I insisted. “We’ve explored the country, the unknown seas, a waterfall is surely nothing!”
“But you heard what that thing said. It doesn’t descend to the ground.”
“How can you be certain of what it said? It was trying to kill us!”
A sound interrupted our argument, and I whirled to the archway again. The ice on the lip had fallen, leaving nothing on the lip except for water… and something that gripped along the edge, four little stubs that twitched. Four more joined it, a chisel throwing itself up to the steep slope. And then… Tiri pulled himself up.
He had a hard climb, but he burnt footholds to steady himself as he hiked the slope to us. We hauled him the last few feet, yanking him to his feet as he had us. “Is he truly gone?” I asked him.
“Yes,” Tiri said, standing up tall. “Guys, I think it’s time to go home.”
We sailed along the rocky coast for days, witnessing the damage that the Cavalry had caused. The shoreline was ruined, buildings now bare skeletons of what they had been before. Beaches were strewn with rocks and rubble, and I could not feel further away than I did just beyond the waves. I had escaped having to endure what had brought all of this, only to encounter it head on, but the firsthand sight of the havoc that the entity had wreaked still made me feel isolated and guilty about not being there. Everyone else had to stay, forced to watch their homes be washed away.
I did not recognize the area around Utywa at first, the familiar skyline of the lighthouse gone. The lighthouse… was gone. I wondered what had happened to Solek and Yetoxa. The Vortixx had treasured that lighthouse… and now it was swept clean from the lower reaches of the sky.
We coasted in along the breakers, Tiribomba pulling the boat to shore once we were shallow enough. Driftwood and debris covered the blown out beaches, and the waves had withdrawn, leaving the shoreline wide and empty. Someone far away could be seen kicking a kohlii ball, attempting to rid their minds of the lament around them and convince themselves the late afternoon sun was like any other. It was not, however, as I dashed over the dunes to see what town was like.
Everything looked haunted, a shelled out version of its summer pride. Roofs had collapsed or been swept away, planks and beams jutting out of the rubble like bones that had broken through skin. In some plots of land only the brick foundation was left, cracked and ruined. I could see some of the insides of buildings, completely washed out or containing some outside tree that had been pinned in. Sand had filled the lower levels of the exposed shelters, and boats lay on their sides in the middle of the path. There was cookware strewn about, and other destroyed personal possessions that we stepped over. Some of the paths we walked were still flooded, unable to drain to the ocean or the bay. I did not venture down the neighborhood of my house, unsure if I was yet ready to see the damage. Other trees that were still standing were completely stripped of the leaves, giving the island a cold wintery feel that was long overdue for this time of year, but somehow warm compared to where we were coming from. But there was still a haunting chill.
“Where is everyone?” Tiri wondered out loud. “This surely didn’t take everyone with it.”
We ventured further along the main avenue, until a Skakdi was wondering amongst the houses as we were. He came running once he saw us, and I recognized Peck. “You’ve returned!” he exclaimed.
“Where is everyone?” I asked. He led us to the back bays, where a string of the islands largest boats sat in the bay. There were people all working on them, as if preparing them for a deep sea voyage. I could see what was going on, but I had to say it to be certain. “Are we… abandoning Utywa?”
“We have to, and other islands are doing the same,” Peck confirmed. “You’ve been out there in the country. There is nothing out there for us other than sandbags, which we no longer need, right? With cold months coming, there will be no food here; the best we can do is set sail for somewhere else that might be able to shelter us for the winter.”
“Will we return though?” Nireta asked, to which Peck did not know.
“There is bound to be a shelter on some vessel for you, and plenty of work to do,” he sighed, heart heavy as he looked around at his ruined home. “Find yourselves some quick, for we set sail at nightfall.” He then headed off, before we did the same.
We found Kopaka on our way, sitting on a broken dock as he watched the crews ready themselves. Tiri tapped him on the shoulder, giving him a seldom nod. The Toa of Ice jumped and embraced him, unable to believe his eyes. “I survived, and so did you, brother. Which vessel are you going on?”
“I’m not.” We looked at him with surprise, while he looked at the dark waters of the bay. “It’s out there, still,” he said. “I’m not sure if its more fearsome as a raging storm, or simply sitting there, waiting.”
“What was out there… it is gone,” Nireta told him, explaining what happened at the waterfall. He listened patiently, but when she was done denied the truth she spoke.
“No,” he refused. “It will never be gone. Even its gone from this ocean, it’ll just appear in the next one. And even if that monster has disappeared like you said it has, it’ll still haunt my nightmares for years to come.”
“Please, Toa,” I insisted. “If you stay here, you will remain with its memory, and will never come to forget the ordeal. It is gone, and your fears are nothing to worry. I have seen it with my own eyes, the ocean is nothing more than itself anymore.”
He was stubborn, remaining on that dock even mere moments before the convoy was ready to set sail. He refused to listen to us, and I couldn’t believe he would remain on Utywa for the oncoming winter, with no food or shelter. I didn’t want to believe it, but as the boats started moving, he was staying behind.
When I had turned my back, a shout came from the deck, pointed to the docks. The Toa of Ice had dove into the bays, dashing furiously through the shallows. He porpoised under the waters, until he was waist deep in the bay, and someone was shouting for a ladder to be thrown to let the Toa onboard. I watched him climb aboard the vessel I was on, and rushed up to greet him.
Someone threw him a towel to dry off, but he denied that, freezing the water and shaking the ice off of him. Like a baptism, that plunge was, as Kopaka had dove into his fear. The cold had numbed even him, freezing his core until even his uttermost doubts of the Element Lord remaining were shattered, and they blew away over the deck. Our Akaku’s met as we set off, and I could see the rejuvenated look in his eye. He nodded to me, muttering a thanks, before turning to see what work the captain had for him. He had seen the truth of our story as he swam out here, that there was nothing more in the dark waters but mud and wreckage.
I gave one last look at our home before turning to the sea, as we sailed out into the thin, chilly airs of winter itself.