A Po-Matoran stood atop a rocky outcropping, squinting underneath his Kanohi as he tried to see through the white radiance of the afternoon sun immersing the plains around him. He gleaned small sprouts of shrubbery along the endless stretches of sand, but his Akaku kept scanning, his eyes never settling. Rays of sunlight streamed from the sun, an orb in a sky so fair blue that it looked white. It was one of those days where one could forget it was still the depths of winter, true spring many months away. The wind had even died down to a breeze as it participated in the weather’s charade, the Matoran’s tunic robe barely flapping atop the rocks.
Having seen enough of the rolling desert, he climbed down from the crest to where his covered wagon lie. The two Mahi that carried him here grazed on nearby brush, looking up at his return. Climbing back on his wagon, he urged the Rahi forward, continuing his journey. What the Matoran was looking for he did not find, so he would continue exploring the further depths of the desert.
Beneath the desert dirt, beyond what his Kanohi could see, the Rhode was buried, a highway system connecting this place to the rest of the continent of Del Vienvi. Somewhere out here, half buried in the desert, the elders of Tenpravih claimed that the Rhode still existed. The Matoran had been sent out to find it; their home having been destroyed by hurricanes, his village had sailed to find new lands, to only find that they had not left their country at all. If the Rhode existed in this desert, then he and his own people—the Utywans—could possibly make their way back home this way once the winter ended. There could be food on the Rhode, and they would be able to be away from the ocean they’d grown to hate sailing on. He shuddered at the thought—across the sea had been an unforgiving and unforgettable journey; if they found the Rhode, they would not have to endure that ordeal again.
The first step, however, was trampling through the desert in the direction he thought was right. Now a few days journey beyond the westernmost homes of the most withdrawn hermits, even the silhouette of the largest mountain of Tenpravih no longer visible. Out here existed nothing but the wilderness, (and hopefully the Rhode) the grasslands even fading to the beginnings of the deep desert. While the pair of Mahi pulled the traveler, their footing shifted, the sand turning from stretches of hard packed and rocky to soft and hilly. There were hours when sweat poured from the three of them, falling into the waves of heat that rippled off of the dunes. The Matoran would watch them, before looking into his wagon, unsure on how many more days he could travel in this direction before being forced to turn back.
The nights were cool, where the extremes of the day gave way to the comfort of the stars. While his steeds rested, the Matoran would lay on the dunes, watching the constellations in the blackness. His Akaku contained starcharts from previous adventures, and he would compare where the stars rested in the sky; most nights, however, he would just gaze up, seeing what made the night milky. The Red Star still was up there, hanging stoically amongst the whiter stars, while bursts of the cosmos were plastered against the sky for his viewing pleasure.
He would lay like this, watching the nights, until he fell asleep. In his slumber he would dream, most nights of how he first came to the Tenpravihn shores…
Peck’s sight stayed just above the ocean line, as he couldn’t bear to be entranced by the frothy whitecaps. Watching them in combination with the rocking of the ship would have his stomach forfeit what little food he had left, he knew. The unbroken grey clouds above the blasted ocean landscape were much more comforting to look at; his neck craned up to watch them, a low ceiling on the infinite plain that was the endless ocean.
Most of the villagers were down below, unwilling to look at the reminder that they were homeless. Below deck was much more closed and comforting, they had said. The ocean plain seemed to stretch forever, and many villagers were unable to stare at that for what might be that long. The Skakdi wanted to be one of them, but his position as leader didn’t allow him the luxury of self-pity.
The others around the rails were few; some huddled together in muttered conversation, while others stood on their lonesome. Their posture against the rails reflected the clouds, the gloomy day pressing down on this ship and the entire fleet. Perhaps not everyone wanted to wallow in their cave of sorrow, Peck supposed, trying to be optimistic.
His eye caught a Po-Matoran he recognized named Bour, leaning against the rails with the others. Before the hurricanes had come, Peck had sent him and two others on explorations, gathering supplies and information regarding how intense the storms would be. He had ripped Bour from his bricklaying trade, in hindsight possibly a bad idea. The storms had destroyed their homes to their very foundations, and Peck remembered their argument before the fleet had set sail…
“Maybe I can rebuild it!” Bour had protested, flinging his arms to the bases of the hurricane ruined houses. Even in Peck’s memory the destruction of his home was not lessened, the images of obliterated buildings and flooded streets still tearing at his mind. “Let me into my forge, and I can start to lay the foundations for new homes!”
“But how will we survive while you work?” Peck responded. “There is not enough food here for us to survive on. There is no protection for us against the winter while you work. There is no way we can survive here.” He hated what he had said, but the decision had been made, which he could not overturn.
“And exposing ourselves to no shelter at all? That is the better decision?”
Peck had no response then, and he had no response now. Or rather, he did not want to create false hopes for Bour, who had seemed down ever since that conversation, or any of the other villagers that were in his stead.
Land might’ve been found, but there was no guarantee. Solek, a Toa of Light with the ability to see far into the distance by turning himself into pure light, was working with Peck, claimed to have possibly seen shores ahead, but there was no promise it was what they were looking for. They thought they’d found land shortly after the beginning of their journey, a few weeks in, only to find an unsuitable atoll that they just had to sail on through. The fleet hadn’t been the same since, and he didn’t want to let them down again. This time, no rumors would swirl and dissipate just as salt swirls atop the ocean’s surface, Peck had decided with Solek and a few others. It was a long winter, and he wanted the journey to end just as much as the rest of them, but nothing would be revealed until he was absolutely certain.
Peck closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to rid himself of the pessimistic thoughts. He let his thoughts relax, and went to lean against the rails, avoiding staring at the ocean the best he could. But something drew his eye to the horizon line, and he gripped the rail in disbelief.
Not much further, out in the direction the ships were headed, a black dot had appeared on the horizon.
A mist kept whatever the dot was shrouded in mystery, but the object remained stationary as the bow of the ship leapt in the air. Peck could feel the boat turning as the driver set the course toward it. Peck strode over to Bour, who had noticed the dot, his telescopic eyepiece on his Akaku zooming in on it. He tapped the villager on the shoulder, asking what he saw.
“The whitecaps…” Bour reported. “They’re dying off.”
“Can you see what it is?” Peck asked, but the villager shook his head, explaining it was out of his Akaku’s range. But Peck didn’t need to hear it, as he looked up toward the cabin of the ship. Toa Solek was looking down at him, nodding. They had found land–he could feel it in his spine. People were starting to emerge from below, word reaching them that there was something spotted on the horizon. The slight change of the ship’s direction helped prod their curiosity. Other boats in the fleet were turning with the flagship; people began to look to an empty crow’s nest, murmurs coming from their lips as they saw where the bow was pointed. Peck put a finger to his lips, eyeing up the others on deck, and Bour nodded.
The mist around that black dot began to dissipate once the ships came closer, and so did any doubts of what Peck was seeing. The water flattened out, the winter winds of the open seas unwilling to follow the fleet into shallower waters. The chill that had made Peck grasp his cloak so tight while out there was suddenly absent, and he could feel the air suddenly become warmer.
Small canoes littering the bay moved to accommodate as the ships entered, though the fishermen in them craned their necks upward at the fleet in utter confusion. Silhouettes of more locals could be seen on the shores, gathering to see what had arrived to their lands. As he boarded a lifeboat with Kopaka, Bour and Nireta, Peck looked wide eyed at the landscape that the silhouettes stood below: a thin line of beaches rested under a steep cliff, blue and serene against a forest that topped it off. A waterfall cut through the middle of it all, a mist churning up in its rumbling wake.
Peck licked his dry lips as he witnessed what had to be hundreds of thousands of gallons of presumably fresh water tumbling into the bay. Behind that, far off in the distance, a snow covered mountain rose from the jungle, aloof from the paradise at its base. To an average fool, they would simply see paradise, but Peck knew what made it paradise. There had to be plenty of food and water here.
Climbing onto the wet beaches, Peck looked around to where most locals stood a distance, wary of the newcomers. A Turaga, Ga- judging by the color of her robes, was walking toward them, a few assistants at hand. “Welcome, strangers,” the figure said, a slight smile along her mask. “You come with quite a fleet. From where do you visit?”
“I wish we were only visiting,” Peck said, introducing himself. “We have been looking for land for many months, and you are the first place we have come upon. Where do we come to, and whom might you be?”
“Gali.” The name came from Kopaka. The name rang a bell in Peck’s head—Gali had been a Toa on Kopaka’s team, long before the Shattering. But this was no Toa, Peck knew, unless…
“Kopaka, brother. It has been too long.” The Turaga offered her fist, to which he matched her.
“You gave up your powers,” Kopaka breathed.
“And you kept yours,” Gali said. “Are the others with you?”
“No,” he shook his head. “I’ve not seen any of our team in a long, long time. I do not even know if they are alive. Your jungle up there looks like Lewa could come flying out of it at any moment.”
“You know Pohatu perished,” Gali said. They smiled at one another, something Kopaka rarely did. “What brings your village here?”
“There was a storm,” Peck answered, “It ravaged our home, and we were forced to flee. There was no way we could survive the winter there, so we sailed, and here we are.” Gali’s brow furrowed, and she whispered something to a villager at her side, whom then ran off.
“So you need supplies,” she nodded. She noticed Bour and his friend Nireta, a mapmaker, standing aside Kopaka and Peck, and studied their robes. They looked malnourished and weak, and for a moment Peck wondered how he himself looked. He had been well built back at home, but the winter had probably withered his form; it had been too long since he had seen himself in a mirror. Gali looked from the four of them toward the ships out on the harbor, where the remainder of our village littered the decks of our ships. “How many of you are there?” she asked.
“I do not know precisely how many survived the voyage, but there are a few hundred of us,” Peck said. Gali frowned as she thought.
“This is Tenpravih,” she said, introducing the land beyond the cliffs. “We do not have visitors often. Not many come from the sea, and the Rhode is inaccessible, buried far out in the desert. The wat—“
“The Rhode?” Bour blurted. “What do you mean?”
“The Rhode of Del Vienvi,” Gali elaborated, confused with Bour’s outburst.
“The Rhode is here?” asked Nireta, looking at Bour in disbelief. Peck went wide eyed, his mind racing, remembering the trip he had sent Brutaka on. There was a quarry supposedly out in the countryside that Brutaka was supposed to have gotten sandbags from, but he had disappeared through a portal his mask had made and never returned. If the Rhode was here, then they hadn’t even left the continent! This place looked as though the storms that had ravaged their village never had a presence. Where had the fleet sailed in these winter months?
“Far off, yes, the elder said, her tone concerned. “You know of it?”
“Utywa was at the end of the Rhode, or at least a part of it,” Bour explained. “But how is it here? We have sailed across the seas, in the opposite direction.” Gali frowned as she looked at the four of them.
“Do you have maps?” she asked. Bour nodded. “Then we must compare yours with ours. There is a library, inland, on the mountain. Shaktar, the elder of the mountain, can show you them.” She then turned to Kopaka and Peck. “The waterfall is fresh, and we can get you drink from it. But food, I do not know what we have to spare. The other elders must be notified of your arrival. If these two come with me, I can get fresh water for you, but for food your villagers may have to wait.”
Gali led Nireta and Bour away, leaving Peck with Kopaka by their life boat. The villager watched Peck look out at the fleet sitting anchored in the bay, wondering what he was going to say with so little to be promised for them.
From atop the cliffside, two Matoran watched the encounter between Gali and her visitors, quiet and narrow eyed until the newcomers clambered back into their boat. As they paddled away, one let the pair of binoculars come away from his eyes.
“You’re thinking pirates,” Orkahm said, practically reading the mind of his partner.
“I’m not sure,” Caamley replied, his powerless Kiril stern. “But their ships look ragged enough.”
“Could you see any weapons?” the Le-Matoran asked. His friend shook his head. “The ones in the lifeboat had their cloaks closed, but they looked menacing enough,” Caamley reported. “A stern faced Toa of Ice, and two Matoran, though some spiky freaked… thing seemed to be the leader. Turaga Gali is taking the two Matoran somewhere.”
“Even if they tried something, you can see how many of Gali’s villagers are down there,” Orkahm insisted. “The whole beach would have been upon them in seconds if they tried anything.”
“We should go warn our elder,” Caamley said, short in tone.
“We can’t spread news from here,” Orkahm agreed, turning with Caamley to the jungle behind them. “It could be a simple matter of trade,” he suggested to his friend.
“Still, you know what newcomers mean,” Caamley reminded him. “Change is coming.”