Their initial stumbling had stopped, and now the two Utywan Matoran simply struggled the long hike up the mountain path. Their guide, Okoth, turned for the thirty-ninth time to make sure Bour and Nireta were still with her, watching them grapple with the challenges the landscape of Tenpravih gave them. The air was starting to thin as they ascended, and Okoth could see the chests of the two visitors heavily rising and falling.
“Do you need to rest?” she finally asked.
“Maybe— we should have waited a few hours— to get our land legs back…” Nireta replied. The Ga-Matoran straightened herself. “We’ll get them back, don’t worry,” she reassured her guide. They both looked at Bour, who stood doubled over with his hands on his knees. The Po-Matoran gave them a thumbs up, his eyepiece on his Akaku extending to the path they still had to climb. Okoth nodded, waiting for them to restart their pace before she continued to guide.
The Utywans had allowed their cloaks to drift behind them as they climbed the base of the mountain, but the warmth of the bay was quickly left behind as they entered the bleaker parts of the island. The two wrapped themselves tightly as the mountain air sent shivers up the back of their necks. A wind unlike the far seas crept slowly around them, their expressions of exhaustion now of concerns. Okoth seemed unaffected by the cold, and did not express any concern about the weather.
“They are travelers,” explained Okoth to the guard of the bastion. Bour and Nireta, wrapped in their cloaks, marveled at the structure before them; seemingly carved out of the mountain itself. Though they had hiked a considerable distance, the walls of the place extended considerably higher than the Utywans would have thought. Large windows looked out from various points facing this side of the mountain, balconies looking down along the path. They had come up the jungle side of the mountain, and far to their right, they could see a river rushing down the face of the mountain, to where it would meet the waterfalls of the beaches they had landed on far, far below.
“What business do travelers have in the Bioaku?” asked the guard.
“Turaga Gali asked of them to come for information,” Okoth said. “She insists they are admitted in, and requests the presence of the elder of Ice.”
“If he is requested by the elder of Water…” the guard said. He opened the door, letting the three walk into the long shadows of the mountain.
“I can guide them myself,” Okoth insisted to the guide awaiting them inside. The Ko-Matoran looked dismayed at the Ga-Matoran’s frosty response, skulking as he resumed his post.
“Are we not welcome here?” Bour asked as Okoth took them down a wide hall. Their guide led them down the side of a large chamber, where hundreds of shelves extended with scrolls and tablets abound.
“The Ko-Matoran are usually tense this time of year,” Okoth insisted, filling the two travelers in as she escorted them. “There is little light until Kokovuki, our celebration of the Winter Solstice, and daylight is disappearing quickly each day. The scholars are hard pressed to use as much daylight as they can efficiently. The Ko-Matoran are just stiff and stuffy, nothing against you.”
They came to a smaller room branching off the large library, to where a number of still impressive shelves lined the walls. In the middle were a few tables to study. A few Ko-Matoran wandered in and out, carrying some scrolls here to and from the crisscrossing shelves.
“This is a study of our geography,” Okoth told them. “Largely farming charts from surveys about the jungle, but from what I know of this place there are a number of maps. Turaga Gali said here would be the place to start looking for the information you seek.”
“Are you leaving us?” Nireta asked as Okoth turned.
“I must find Shaktar, the elder of this place,” Okoth reminded her. “Gali has need of him.”
“Thanks for your help getting here,” Bour said, placing a hand on her shoulder. The Ga-Matoran nodded, giving a small smile before leaving the two.
“We must be in the southern reaches of Del Vienvi,” Nireta supposed as she unravelled a scroll. “Cipituez was the north pole, and it was tropical.”
“Wherever we are, there has to be a way back home,” Bour supposed as he perused the shelves Okoth indicated they could study from.. He reminisced for a moment of his forge back home, where the flames and heat would roar around him as he fired clay into stone and bricks. “And an end of winter has to come soon enough.”
The inhabitants of the cliffside’s catacombs gasped in surprise as a figure burst through the waterfall, frost forming under his feet as he landed. With his arrival, a cold cut through the warmth of the afternoon haze, hanging over the bay, much to the dislike of the villagers within the caves. Some looked toward him as he walked by as they would eye a lone cloud strolling into the path of the sun on a clear day— unappreciated, a minor annoyance, an unnecessary fundamental change.
People returned to their daily activities, purposefully ignoring the arch of ice upholding a hole in the waterfall the entity had entered though. The break in the water was an anomaly, defying the pressure of thousands of gallons of water pouring from hundreds of feet above. A space of rigidity, they thought of it, where space should flow instead. Noting their ignorance of his presence, the stern faced, silver armored entity said nothing in his silent manner to the villagers. He continued to the depths of the caves without a word to the villagers, whipping of his grey cloak as he went.
“Strangers have arrived on the island, and you send them immediately to Bioaku?” Toa Shaktar spoke as he sat at the council of the elders. Being the last to arrive, his words started their meeting. The eyes of Gali, Kongu, and Kamen were drawn to him as his words went to them.
“They don’t wish to steal your secrets and studies,” laughed Kamen, the elder of the desert tribe. “They simply want too find a way back home.”
“You really believe they’re from some other place on Del Vienvi?” Shaktar asked. “Those who saw the arrival spoke of pirates.”
“Kopaka? A pirate?” Gali laughed. “I may have not seen my brother in many years, but the Toa Nuva of Ice is no pirate.”
“Villagers said it wasn’t a Toa who was seen leading the party,” Kamen said. Gali frowned.
“I was down there, ice brother. I was the one who spoke with them. They appeared peaceful and carried no weapons. What do you need to trust them?” Gali asked. “A Mask of Truth? You know none exist on this island.”
“What kind of Matoran colony lets a Skakdi lead them?” Shaktar quietly asked. Faces in the room grew bleak as his point sunk in. Kongu had not said anything yet, but his eyes were narrowing as the point sunk in. Shaktar knew memories of his younger days as a Toa were resurfacing.
“It shames me to see that though we have lived in peace for years, stereotypes still stand,” Gali glowered. “The Skakdi were peaceful in the kingdom, why would they revert?”
“They had little resources on Zakaz back then,” Shaktar reminded them. “That is what turned them savage. And if these travelers have little left as well, who is to say they haven’t turned down the same road?”
“We know how to defend ourselves,” Kongu finally spoke. “We know our home better than we do. If it comes to fighting, each of our village can muster enough forces in hours to overpower them.”
“You have so little proof of them being pirates,” Gali retorted. “Just sights of a few raggedy ships and an old prejudice, no doubt based off of some ancient tablets and scrolls in your library. But why don’t we give them the chance?”
“There is plenty of room on the island,” Kongu reasoned. “And Kokovuki is nearly upon us; why can’t we welcome these people in celebration?”
“Not as much as you think,” Kamen corrected, looking at the jungle and water elders. “Your jungles are crowded and your caves are filled. There would not be sufficient water for a crowd moving to the desert to share with those already living there.
“They will drink from my waterfall,” Gali affirmed. “We can keep them away from your reservoirs.”
“Still…Where will these visitors go in the meantime?” Kamen asked. “There may be space on the island, but it is in my own and our icy brother’s regions…and those are no fit places for malnourished people seeking shelter.”
“They don’t have to be here forever— I made them no promise of permanent residency,” Gali said. “They just need time off the sea and some food to regain their energy. There is enough to share on this island, isn’t there?”
“The autumn harvest is holding out, and yes, there is still food from the jungle,” Kamen noted, folding his hands and placing his elbows on the table. “But do your villagers echo your voices? Are they willing to give up food from their mouths, their gardens, in order to feed strangers?”
“Just for a little while,” Gali pleaded. “They can agree to work for the food, we can talk to our villagers about the option. If they happen to act against us, we will be ready. Until then…” she looked at her brothers. “Give me a week.”
“You are doing this only because of your old brother, Gali,” Shaktar sneered. “I know—“
“I would do the same for you,” she snapped coldly.
“This divide will not stand,” Shaktar spoke to no one in particular, getting up from his seat. For him, the meeting was over. “Risk your forests burning by savages…My mountain I intend to keep standing.”
“You’re spilling,” Peck pointed out.
Kopaka turned off the valve of the water tankard between the two of them, and sent the Utywan before him back into the crowd. He looked at Peck sheepishly before taking the next cup to fill. On the other side of the tankard, the Skakdi was handing out small fruits Gali had given them, hands of all the passengers grabbing desperately for food.
“What is it?” he asked the disturbed Toa. He saw the eyes behind the Akaku leave the ship, flitting toward Tenpravih for a fraction of a second. “She seemed fond of you. She’ll put in a good argument with her cohorts.”
“How much kindness will they allow her to give out?” Kopaka asked. Peck could see hunger of the long voyage not just gnawing at his body.
“Whatever we get, we must be grateful for,” Peck reminded him.
“We can’t just accept,” Kopaka insisted. “We need a push.”
“There’s no need to, yet,” Peck told him. “What we have here, this water, this fruit…. its not what we need, but it’s a sign we can get it. Slowly but surely.”
A Vortixx villager on the other side of the ship, who had taken his rations earlier, could be seen holding his stomach. He had eaten his fruit rather fast, the other Utywans had noticed, and now was leaning over the side of the ship, spitting bile into the bay.
“It better come surely then,” Kopaka muttered.
Bour and Nireta sat around a table in the library, uncertain of what to make about the scrolls before them. They had pulled everything they could find on the geography of the land, even tracing scrolls back to the Kingdom, when the land was whole. The maps did not have the answers they sought; what the scholars in Binoaku possessed were incomplete maps of the continent. Everything they had found showed the bay area they had landed near, and the further surrounding area. Tenpravih was apparently on the southeastern peninsula of the continent of Del Vienvi, but once they got so far west, to where they supposed Utywa’s coastline may have been, the maps cut off. There was a large desert in the middle of the continent, that much they had found, but past that, very little.
Still, there was the Rhode. It was marked in the west region past the mountain they were on, confirming that they had not left their home country, despite what other part they had travelled to that was unlike their own.. “There’s not much to guide us to it,” Nireta remarked, relying on her mapmaking skills. “I have no way of telling how many days out there we’d have to travel to find where it could possibly begin. And Turaga Gali said it was buried, so it’d have to take even more of an effort to find…”
“It’s still worth a shot of looking for,” Bour said. He tapped on his eyepiece. “Though I can’t access its power to see if the Rhode is beneath the sand, I can still scout with my telescopes. That’ll give me an advantage.”
“But how far do you go for it?” she asked. “You can’t go out into the desert forever.”
She leaned against a shelf carved into the wall, pondering their choices. The information they found wasn’t optimal, but they had to find a way home. Gali had only promised a limited amount of time here, they could not stay the whole winter. And sailing again, they didn’t know if it was possible. They would die. They would—
Nireta found her thoughts interrupted as the stone she leaned on broke. The wall broke where her hand was, and her hand went into a pocket cave within the wall. Bour jumped, just as scared, rushing to her aid.
“Are you alright?” he asked her, as she pulled her arm out of the hole. She nodded.
“Just surprised.” she answered, nursing her arm.
“The wall… the stone must be brittle from so much cold,” the bricklayer guessed. He looked into the darkness of the hole, seeing nothing.
“What are you doing?” a voice demanded. The two Matoran whirled, to see a Toa of Ice before them, brow furrowed with anger. This must have been Shaktar, the two Matoran figured, the elder Okoth had spoken of.
“It was an accident!” Nireta exclaimed, flustered. “We were discussing something of maps, and…”
“Clumsy. Barbaric,” Shaktar sneered. “Leave this place. You have damaged the library. You are not responsible enough to be here. Go, before you ruin anything else.”
With the two Matoran gone, Shaktar set to clean up the mess they had made. He reached into the hole, pulling out the rubble, the sound of broken glass reaching him. The elder frowned, trying to remember what could have been stored in here. Whatever it was, it had been sealed off for a reason. He pulled out the slab of rock with caution, unsure if he would like what he found.
The rock he held vibrated. Confused, the elder turned it over. Amassed on it was a blue and white gel like substance. A distinct purple vein ran through its center, pulsing and somehow creating the vibrations. It seemed to cringe as it felt the surface it occupied turn towards the dim lights of the library.
The sight of the substance made his memory flash, long forgotten discussions resounding in his brain, as he remembered what it was and what it could do. Being very cautious as to not let the substance touch him, he scooped what he could into a vial, sealed the hole in the wall with his ice powers, and set off to his chambers.