Where Groundwater Goes

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“Why don’t you go home?”

Brutaka looked up to find Peck hovering over his table. The Skakdi did not ask hastily, but was merely curious. Wrapping his hand around his mug, he shook his head. “Don’t feel like it yet.”

“You’ve been clearing out my house, and I cannot repay you enough for that,” Peck told him. “But there’s a limit to how many drinks I can pass onto you tonight. I’ve already had one incident here, I’d rather keep the tally low for tonight.”

The titan nodded, taking a long swig. “I’m tired, sure, but I’d just rather stay here for now. The company’s fine now.” He watched the Skakdi through the bottom of the glass, a skeptical look on his large mouth. Setting the glass down, he shrugged. “But if you want to cut me off here, by all means.” The Skakdi nodded, collecting the glass and turning away.

“Alright. I’ve been having dreams.”

The Skakdi turned around, confused at what the titan had said. He cocked his head, bar rag still in the glass. “What?” Peck asked.

“That’s why I haven’t gone home. I’ve been having dreams. And they haunt me. If I don’t go home, I don’t go to sleep. And so I can’t dream.”

“From town overseer to bar back to shrink,” Peck grumbled to himself. “What happens in these dreams?”

“I’m not sure,” Brutaka says. “But it’s the same thing, for the past three nights. A few times in the night. I’m on a street. There’s the storm coming up the beach on one side, and there’s the marshes on the other side. I can always see a shovel out on the marshes, but then I wake up.”

“If this is your way of telling me my house is too much work, then I can do it myself tomorrow,” Peck said. Brutaka shook his head. “This storm season has gotten to everyone’s heads. I have Tiribomba reporting from the lighthouse that this storm is like no other, and then people like you disturbed on storm dreams?”

“Maybe it is just me,” Brutaka shrugged. “It’s just…”

“Go home, Brutaka,” Peck said. “No offense, but I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.”

Brutaka found that conversation leading himself to the docks, which was odd for him. He usually went right to the center lane of the island, the street of his home. But he didn’t want to dream. As tired as he was, he was not ready for sleep yet. Maybe the drinks were getting to him. Or maybe the dream was. He, the islander who hated water more than a Po-Matoran, wandering the docks of the bay.

He found himself on the public dock, leaning on a rail as he looked out toward the marshes. He didn’t expect to see anything out there, he just wanted to look. To see what real marsh grasses were, to see that shovels didn’t naturally appear in the wild. The moon was not full, but he could see far enough into the marshes, just watching grasses sway to and fro in the breeze.

Brutaka shook his head, jumping up from the rail. The trickle of the baywater brought him back to alertness. It was getting late, and the drinks must have finally started to hit him. Though he did not want to dream, he supposed he should get home and get to sleep. For his own safety, that he did not find himself on the dock at sunrise. He crouched along the side of the dock, reaching for water to wake him up. Dipping his hands in the water, he scooped a handful to splash on his face.

His hands went in, but the rest of his body followed.

Water suddenly surrounded Brutaka, and he thrashed in the water in horror. He was tired, he was drunk, but he was not mistaken when he felt something pull his hands in. Something was in the water with him, though he could not feel it. He could feel a pulling at him, yanking at all directions, but no limb enacting the force. Brutaka struggled, trying to pull himself to the surface, but he struggled against the forces acting against him.

Invisible hands crept all over Brutaka, pulling him down as he made way for the surface. He could feel them, and the tides swirling all around him, throwing his sense of direction off. The titan screamed underwater as he panicked, kicking with all his might to get away from the invisible hands. All it did was pull him further down. He could feel the hands groping his legs, his waist, his torso… and finally, his mask. Whatever was attacking Brutaka, it now reached for his mask. He crunched his face, unable to keep a hold of it as he pulled himself to where he thought the surface was.

The next thing he knew, he was on the dock, panting in the night air. Someone was standing over him, shouting at his mask. His mask was still on. Brutaka breathed a sigh of relief, too tired to think, too tired to care anymore.

“Hey!” the voice yelled. Brutaka’s eyes slowly opened to see Cenolb standing over him. Had the villager pulled him from the bay? “Hey! What’s your deal?”

“Something pulled me in,” he breathed. “Something… was trying to take my mask.”

“You’re drunk,” Cenolb shook his head. “What on earth would pull someone your size into the bay?” Brutaka shrugged, and began to respond, but no words came to him. “C’mon, then. I’m walking you home.”

***

The light scanned over the ocean plain for the thousandth time that night, observing the dark, empty water. Within it, the mind of Solek pondered as he used the power of his Akaku to view the darkness. A storm was arriving on southern Del Vienvi, as he, Yetoxa, and the explorers from Utywa saw this morning. The sky tonight showed different, however, starlight reflecting in the still, black waters. The Toa of Light was perturbed, but not just because he was unable to find the clouds he knew were out there. They seemed to be avoiding him…

as if it knew someone was watching it. The very suggestion sent shivers through his essence. And it wanted those who awaited it to sweat a little longer. Or, maybe the village is lucky, and they have been given more time. He conflicted between these thoughts for a while, trying to deny the probability of the first, while his gut told him otherwise. The storms that had brought Tiribomba and his companions to the lighthouse heralded more, and enough time had passed that a stronger storm was ready to take over. But where was it?

The Kanohi Akaku began to pick up on the waters around the lighthouse’s peninsula. All the body heat of the fish had been accounted for, but more kept arising on his readings. Massive expanses of water that shifted with the littoral currents were going berserk, energy coming from apparently no source flooding the coast. Solek tapped into every ability of the mask that he knew of, but to no avail. There was something occurring beyond his power.

He had to contact Kopaka, who knew more about the Mask of Vision than he. Another warning had to be issued; he knew it wouldn’t put him in the Toa of Ice’s good books to wake him a second night, but it was a necessary act. Solek braced himself to project out to the Toa Nuva’s home, but his mind was struck by tendrils of thought; subjected to bizarre images and memories that weren’t his, the Toa of Light panicked, attempting to retreat from the stronger mind that surrounded him. A mental thrash caught him unawares, and Solek suddenly sat sprawled on the floor of his chamber, darkness surrounding him. He could hear the sounds of Yetoxa’s worrying footsteps racing up the staircase.

“There’s something out there,” Solek fearfully whispered to himself.

***

Dreams floated through the brain, flashes of color and symbols hovering in the abyssal darkness of the mind. Sequences rolled out like films, entertaining the closed eye with scenes while the memory only recorded a few frames as shady photographs. Messages lay underneath the continuation, but they were undetectable by the wandering arbiter. All perception of time and reality were warped within the realms, following their own laws of physics under looming twin ovals of backdrop.

While the flow of confusing dreams unfolded behind Tiribomba’s eyes, Kopaka stood above him, watching the Toa of Fire sleep in the early hours of the morning. Light was breaking outside the window; Tiri was the one who was so urgent in delivering Solek’s warning, yet he was the one wasting precious time. Raising his hand, Kopaka send out a wave of frost, trapping Tiribomba in a shell of ice. Only his head was left free, which jolted awake at the feeling of the cold.

“Wh-what-t-t?” he chattered, wondering why the morning temperature had suddenly dropped. His eyes were wild with shock and confusion as he saw Kopaka in his home. His muscles strained to crack the ice, but the Toa of Ice kept shoring it up.

“Use your power,” Kopaka quietly advised. “Melt it, without wetting your bed.” He watched as Tiri struggled, his face contorted and frustrated within the shell. The ice remained solid, and Kopaka hung his head, until he saw Tiri’s hands. Pools of water began to collect in his palms, until his hands were completely free, twin jets of flame evaporating the water. It was a slow start, but Tiri was heating his body, hollowing his shell until it was broken by a simple flex of the muscle. Kopaka, apathetic to the wakened Toa’s eyes, walked out the shadowy doorway. Sliding his feet out of bed, the novice followed his elder.

Kopaka led him out to the beach, where twin blades were buried, crossing one another. Tiribomba was led out there, but not allowed to touch the swords, the Toa Nuva of Ice shaking his head at the first attempt to grab one. Instead he circled around the Toa of Fire, quietly observing what stuck out. While he did so, golden sunlight warmed the sand, the first few minutes of the day disappearing.

“What are we doing out here?” Tiribomba finally asked.

“Last night was not your fault,” the Toa of Ice admitted. “You see through the darkness with your Ruru, and I see precision with my Akaku, but I overlooked what a Toa is- someone who does their job.” He paused, remembering how whispers of the storm’s coming breezed through the neighborhoods last night. “You did your job, in warning everyone. The fault of last night’s scene was mine.” Tiribomba nodded, accepting the apology. “Why do you acknowledge what Toa used to be?” Kopaka asked him.

“I feel inadequate,” Tiribomba explained. He blinked as he watched the sun, remembering the eeriness of the Steel Visionary’s antechamber in the brief darkness of his eyelids. “We live in a dead world, but there are things out there- if they rise, I need to know how to approach them.”


“Your power is underdeveloped,” was Kopaka’s reply. Prying a sword from the sand, he circled the surprised apprentice. “Though we are different elements, I can show you how to control your power.” Their feet glided over the sand as they slyly stepped side to side, wary of who would make the first move. Twirling his blade, Tiri leapt forward for a lunge that Kopaka easily blocked. A barrage of blows hit the Toa of Ice, the swords dancing and sparking as they met. With a forceful shrug, Tiri was pushed away, and they circled again. “You can create fireballs and send out waves of heat in all directions. To control your power is to show precision, to use your power so you don’t waste your energy.”

Kopaka struck this time, swooping upward toward the struggling Ruru. His opponent cut down to intercept the blow, and the steel twirled as Kopaka fluidly flicked his wrists. With one hand he slashed at Kopaka, who met with a dozen parries. The novice struck wildly from all angles, and still was met with the opposing blade omnipresent. The Toa of Fire fiercely attacked, making a step’s advance with every swipe, until he separated Kopaka’s hand and blade. Feeling a burning in his arms, Tiribomba made the vital mistake of lowering his sword; Kopaka’s tip was at his neck in a flash.

“You fight like a fire,” Kopaka noted, seeing how Tiri held his arms. “Crackly and spontaneous. With as many moves as that, in a real fight you’ll burn out quickly.” Turning his back to Tiri, he walked away.

He’s only distracting himself, Tiribomba thought, his eyes fixed solely on Kopaka as he charged. The white Toa spun to the sound of rushing footsteps, sidestepping instead of parrying the arching blade. Momentum carried the charging Toa mask-first into a dune. “Always mind your surroundings,” came Kopaka’s voice. Leaping to his feet again, Tiribomba’s body followed his eyes as he charged again.

The blades in the sand were meant to serve as a landmark on the beach, but that was lost as the two ran away to continue their duel. Blades whistled through the air, each of the owners driving all of their strength behind each swing; each blow contacted with a resounding like clanging bells. Sparks flew from not just the protodermic sabers, but from the fighters as they watched each other’s moves, each feeling nympholepsy for the other to concede.

Powers appeared in the frisk; whether it was Kopaka showing he was more experienced or laying a hint on his apprentice, Tiri countered with the same move, superheating his blade. Steel was glowing in their hands, their elements pouring out of the tools, and it seemed as if they would break. But they held, and it was a test to see whose sword would give out first. The younger Toa backed out after a moment of steam erupting from crossed blades, tossing a series of fireballs. The Akaku’s eyepiece tracked each burst, an opposing blast of ice canceling them out. The swords separated for a moment as flashes and fire and ice overcame the beach, but soon rejoined each other in the fury of the match.

Kopaka had the upper edge, but Tiribomba was the one who dealt the final move. The Toa of Ice froze the ground they danced on, the surface going from easy-to-trip to easy-to-slip. He held his footing, but his adversary began to slip, as he had no skill of footing that Kopaka possessed. Sending fire through his feet, however, gave him the edge, as he melted the ice, sending fireballs at the sand. Glass formed as the sand met the flame, and Kopaka found himself slipping, unable to keep his footing. Tiri’s blade was quickly at his neck.

“Enough!” Kopaka declared, dropping his sword. Tiri nodded, his bottom following his sword into the sand. Sweat dripped from their brows as they panted, exhausted from the long combat. “We have done enough for today,” the Toa of Ice reported. The sun was now above the ocean line, making its way toward the apogee of the sky. They had spent enough time out here, and he could see the village from the dunes, already awakening to prepare for the long day ahead. We might as well join them, he thought, offering Tiri his fist before walking to the road.  He responded to the gesture, spending only a few moments more on the sand to ponder what had just happened before heading back home.

***

In the building clouds far out on the horizon, high above Utywa’s roofline, the Element Lord sat, excitement coursing through his essence. He could feel his power like he hadn’t in millennia, his strength in full for the first time following the strike on the Kingdom. He had never disappeared from the endless ocean, oh no; even in the uncountable years of aftermath, he was still there. In every storm that had hit Del Vienvi— every drop of rain, every wave that eroded the beaches— that had been him, testing the continent.

His energies were great now, but precision he lacked. He could sense the power to send himself home among the lesser beings on the islands, but his form could not activate it on his own; he needed the one who possessed the power he sought. A small kidnapping attempt days earlier had failed, the being pulled back to land, where he could not reach. He would have to tear the island to pieces, from the outside in, and drag the being into the ocean, in order to convince him to give up his power.

He “watched” the coastal village scramble about, people darting through the streets as they built up their homes. There would be no shoring, no shelter, he resolved, refusing to be held back by petty villagers. Some could sense him out there. Their minds could tell he was not just a storm, but something more, and he basked in their fear. With his years of failure to penetrate the continent, he had learned their language, and understood the simplicities they lived by. They had not a clue of what was really coming their way.

None were granted the privilege of watching the sunset— they’d had their time of calm and serenity, in the millions of dusks that had already passed. The light of the lighthouse met the wall of approaching clouds, darker than night, as the Element Lord prepared to advance. Bour had dubbed the storm “the Cavalry”, and it began to catch on in Utywa as the inhabitants could see the looming storm. The thunderheads were like the horses on the front line, angry at their commander holding the reins, eager to run forward on the waves and crash through the village. Soon, they would come charging, very soon.

***

Darkness settled above the village, the night visiting once again. This time, however, it came upon a town much changed from the night before. The mood had darkened, its problems no longer the doubts and fears of individual Toa. The first rays of sunlight could not define the property lines of the homes, grass fraying into the dirt avenues while garden beds and fences lined conjoining backyards. As those final rays sunk over the horizon, they could see the borders had changed, yellow lamplight coming from bolted shutters to cast shadows on sandbags that defined the lawns. On the back bay, slack was nonexistent on the ropes holding the boats to the dry docks that had been assembled that day. Porches were lawn chairs has been spread out were now empty, their contents drawn indoors. Only the occasional wind chime hung, its sounds heralding the approaching wind. People sat in their homes, anxious of what was to come.

Many of us sat in the bar under the yellow lamplight, discontent to be ignorant to any news. Nearly every table was full, but barely any food came out of the kitchen- even some of the staff stood around the doorway, anticipating Peck’s report. He sat at a table nearby, conversing and writing with the two surveyors he’d walked the island with at sunset. Some ate while we waited for the verdict. Nireta, Cenolb and I centered on a table game, while Kopaka and Tiribomba threw darts together, something noted by those present the night before.

“We’re short sandbags,” the Skakdi finally announced. I leaned back in my seat, listening as murmurs filled the barroom. “It’s quite a few,” he spoke over the building noise. “We had a long summer, and it was probably longer than we thought. But–”

“How are we going to get more?” someone cried.

“The next village has sandbags! We’ll borrow from them!”

Suggestions flew around the bar, and Peck let them have their say. Kopaka, however, grew annoyed at the banter, and lowered the temperature around the bar until Peck had the floor once more. “We can’t borrow. If we take from others, then we lower their defenses. More or less, everyone is in the same boat.” He pointed to a map mounted on one of the walls. “We don’t have to borrow, either. The shore isn’t the only place where sand is found. Out in the country, there’s a sandbagging outpost. We’d need a messenger to go out there for a shipment that would restock us through next year.” His eyes swept over the crowd, observing our nervous faces. The Skakdi smile fell, though, once he felt the tension in the room. No one was willing to leave their home when the storm hit, nobody was confident enough to risk everything they had for the village. Not even Peck, we could see- he was just waiting for someone to volunteer, so he wouldn’t have to go. As still as stone, everyone waited for the next person to raise their hand.

“I’ll go,” someone finally spoke. “I’ll go,” someone finally spoke. From the corner of the room, the colossus named Brutaka stood up, ducking under one of the hanging lights. “I’ll use my mask to get me there. Hopefully this place will grant us the supplies we need quickly, and I can be in and out of there before the storm really hits.” Peck nodded, his eyes expressing his gratitude for the volunteer. From another unseen table, someone banged on their tabletop, an applause for Brutaka. Several other people joined in, but Peck silenced them, and pulled Brutaka to his table.

“Your dreams driving you away from here?” I heard Peck ask.

“I think so,” the titan said to the Skakdi.

Across the table, Nireta rummaged through her packs. Pulling out a scroll, she handed it over to Brutaka. “I did this, of the desert, on one of my expeditions,” she told the titan. “Use it in case you get lost.” Brutaka shook her hand, thanking her. “All you have to do is get to the Rhode. Just follow the Rhode, and it should take you there.”

***

Brutaka stood outside the bar not an hour later, Peck by his side. The tension in the bar since his volunteering had lessened, but the mood in there was still grim. “Brutaka, mover of sand,” Peck grinned. He handed him a sack of coins, payment for the services rendered. “You’d make an excellent Toa of Stone yet.”

“Anything to get away from the water,” Brutaka said. He looked Peck in the eye. “Be careful out here. This storm is not going to be easy to get through.”

“We’ll get through it, we always have,” Peck insisted. “You should get a move on.” Stepping aside, he watched Brutaka as the titan activated his mask. In the lot of the bar, a titan size portal appeared, purple sparks flying from its edge. Brutaka nodded to him one last time, before he stepped through, and was gone from Utywa.

On the other side of the portal, Brutaka stood in a completely different scene. It was daytime where he stood, the sun high overhead in the clear sky. He looked around, seeing nothing remotely resembling the Ga-Matoran’s map.

Brutaka had no idea where he was. Had his mask malfunctioned? He took it off, looking at the golden sheen of protodermis. There was a slight crack in one of his horns, that had not been there the last time he looked in a mirror.

He cursed.

***

I sat on my porch the next morning, staring out into the darkening skies. Grey wisps of clouds flew over the edges of land, while on the ocean an unending black thunderhead loomed. The clouds seemed to charge, pouring unending from well beyond the horizon. Darkness hung so heavily that the lighthouse still shined, day and night indiscriminate. Thunder rocked the morning air with an earsplitting crack that shook even the bridge.

The Cavalry had arrived. ns-monogram1

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