And so we found ourselves back where it had all begun just over a week before: Ko-Koro-Nuva in the middle of the night. At this time it was like a ghost town, a fact that had of course figured into Kopaka's decision to delay at our last stop; if anyone was going to recognize him through his hooded cloak and still evident limp it would be a Ko-Matoran. This was also the final stop on the track; every other passenger on board disembarked upon arrival. There weren't many, but nonetheless Kopaka elected to wait until they were out of sight before we got off as well. Just like in New Atero the station in Ko-Koro-Nuva was positioned right off of the town's central square, though both were much, much smaller in footprint than those of the capital. The same couldn't be said with regards to height; six enormous knowledge towers marked the borders of the square, awe-inspiring monoliths connected with walkways on multiple levels. Positioned in the center was a fountain whose waters flowed so slowly and quietly that much of the pond was frozen solid. Coming out of the station, which was located in the base of the northernmost tower, Kopaka turned left and quickly started down the road heading north-east.
"In a hurry?" I asked while trying to keep up. He didn't answer, but with the pace he was going at it was obvious that he wasn't too comfortable on these streets. I figured it was probably the recognition thing again; best to leave any further questions for the edge of town, given that even someone overhearing Kopaka's voice might give the whole game away. We soon reached the northeastern edge of Ko-Koro-Nuva, where a small park marked what geographically was the highest point in town. It included a lower and an upper level, and watching over the town from the rocky outcrop that formed the foundation of the upper level was a statue: Kopaka's memorial. The Toa of Ice headed up the stairs leading there, then slowed down as we got closer to the statue. He stopped about five feet in front of its base to look the whole thing up and down as though he was inspecting it; since it was close to forty feet tall, that involved a lot of looking up. It had an unnatural, crystalline shimmer to it even though it was only illuminated by the dim, cold light provided by the moon and stars in the crystal-clear sky above; the entire statue was carved from one solid block of ice, a feat made possible only due to the permanently freezing temperatures at this altitude. It depicted Kopaka standing with his weapons at his side, eyes fixed over the town on the horizon beyond. On one hand the overall expression perfectly matched the stoicism that the Toa of Ice usually displayed, but there was also something profoundly regal about it, a sense that he was a lot more than just an important historical figure to the Matoran who built his memorial.
"Quite the monument," I observed. Kopaka made no comment, but he was inspecting something on the statue's base. Making my way around, I noticed it too: a plaque inscribed with his name and a poem:
In memory of our guardian:
TOA NUVA KOPAKA
Land's highest reach, where Kahu soar,
where snow lies deep forevermore,
the clouds fade and the sky is clear.
Our future is written in the stars up there,
in prophecies we once scarcely grasped.
As they foretold, in darkest times,
when rahi turned and took our lives,
fate brought us him, our guardian.
With sword and shield and sight beyond,
our deliverance had come.
When mountains crumbled over our heads,
when the ground tried to swallow us whole,
when the Great Spirit's light was choked by shadow,
he guided and protected us,
led us to home in paradise.
Our lives restored, new towers rose,
gazing ever further through telescopes,
searching the stars for other worlds,
for prophecies, tales yet untold,
protected by our guardian.
In war, a hero. In peace, a scholar. In death, a legend.
As we look up to future days,
he watches over us, always.
I finished by reading the last part out loud, then noticed that Kopaka'd abandoned his spot. For a moment I panicked at the thought of him having left already, but thankfully that wasn't the case. He'd only taken a few steps away from the statue and was facing in the other direction, standing by the railing on the park's upper level's edge and looking over what his memorial surveyed.
"Phew… I thought you'd gone there for a moment…" I voiced my relief to no response. Then I noticed something; whether intentional or not, barring the fact that he didn't have his weapons out Kopaka struck the exact same pose as the statue when he looked out over the town below, a testament to just how accurately his stance had been captured in his element. I wondered for a moment just what any Matoran in town who happened to look up at this time would've thought of the sight; the real Kopaka standing in front of his avatar in ice. For a while he didn't move, taking in the entire view as though he was savoring it, watching over the homes of the Ko-Matoran. I moved up to and took a spot next to him. "Did you do this a lot?" I wondered.
"Do what?" he asked quietly without looking over.
"Watch over them from high above like this," I elaborated. "Just… it seems like this view of the city has something about it to you." He took a moment before answering.
"I always watched over Ko-Koro from above," he reminisced, "and Ko-Metru after that."
"Keeping them safe while keeping your distance," I interpreted. "Very… Kopaka. 'guess that's why they put your statue up here." He nodded slightly, but I thought there was a bit more to it than he realized for the moment. "Kind of symbolic too, I think," I went on. "I mean, Onua and Lewa's statues are in the center of their cities, and no doubt Pohatu's will be in the center of a Po-Matoran district in New Atero, right next to the kolhii field. They made themselves the center of their tribe, spent most of their time among the Matoran while they were around, you know? Meanwhile, yours is at the highest point right outside of town, 'cause that's where you were… always out of town."
"I was down there when my presence was required," he turned and explained somewhat defensively. "When it was not, I watched over them from afar as the poem says. A legend should be in view but not in reach."
"And that legend matters so much to you, right…" I sighed. We watched the quiet city for a bit longer. It really was a majestic place; built almost exclusively from ice, all the buildings were aligned in a complex geometric pattern and glistened in the moonlight, punctuated by the obelisk spires of the knowledge towers. Built to mathematical precision and fastidiously cleaned and maintained, it looked almost otherworldly, more like an idealized vision of a Ko-Matoran settlement than anything real, a fairy-tale town surrounded on all sides by knee-deep snow and the most hostile environment the planet had to offer. Given our reason for being here, however, it was an uncomfortable serenity from where I was standing.
"Lis?" Kopaka eventually spoke up.
"I have to do this. You know that." Though calm as he said it, he didn't seem entirely comfortable with the prospect of leaving, not in the way that he'd been before. I had to seize the chance.
"No, you don't," I corrected him, then pointed at the plaque. "You know, even though that says 'in death, a legend,' they only think you're dead. You're still around for now, and could be for a lot longer. And yet you're still planning on leaving?"
"Yes, I am leaving." He seemed to gain resolve as he said it, which wasn't encouraging.
"After this, after everything, you're still heading back up there?" I asked with some disbelief.
"Yes." His expression hardened a bit.
"Yes." Go figure. Well, that meant he had to show me his amended plan, right?
"Then I take it you've solved the problem," I concluded. "You said you've amended your plan of going back into the mountains to never be seen again. Yet you're still going back, so what's the amendment?" Faced with silence, I threw a guess out there: "Are you planning on coming back again at some point?"
"No," he answered immediately.
"So you're gonna die up there," I deduced. "For real this time. You know how messed up that is?"
"Are you surprised?" he wondered.
"Well, no… but still, I've got to do something about it," I went on. "You're about to walk up there to your doom and I have a chance to stop it. You're not going to walk up that path."
"Lis, my duty demands it," he insistently reminded me.
"No, it doesn't and you know it," I countered. "We've been here. Your duty doesn't demand you to go up there..." I gestured at the mountain peaks behind me, then pointed up at the knowledge towers; "…it would send you up there. Telescopes, well above the rest of the town and with clear skies overhead. What else do you need?"
"You already know the answer to your own question," he answered. He was right, of course; I'd known the real answer ever since that glimpse I'd caught into his nightmare during surgery.
"Yes I do, but that's not the point," I continued. "The point is that you don't seem to realize the answer. I'd almost be okay with you walking away if you did, if you could admit why you're really going back, but then if you admitted it you wouldn't be going anymore, would you?" Really, only a fool would've gone at that point… a fool or a man possessed, and Kopaka wouldn't admit to being either. For the moment, he still wasn't admitting anything; decidedly bemused, he turned back to the view. I decided back off a bit from that closed door by getting back to probing the amended plan instead. "Okay, so you're still planning on going back up there and not coming back. What's the amendment?"
"You," he answered.
"Me?" I'd figured his plan included me, but how? Then I realized something: "What do you… hang on, I'm not going up there with you. No way." I already found the temperature in Ko-Koro-Nuva profoundly uncomfortable, never mind dangerous to me in the long run; I definitely wasn't going any higher than this.
"No, you are not," he confirmed.
"Then how am I involved?" I was burning both with curiosity and a need to find a flaw in his plan to exploit, but as with everything Kopaka was working on his own timescale. He sighed, then took a few steps back from the railing and out of the direct line of sight of most of the town. I followed right behind. "C'mon, how? What are you trying to get me to do here?"
"You said that my duty would be unfulfilled if everything that I have found did not find its way back to the Matoran," he began solemnly.
"Yes I did," I beckoned him on.
"You were right," he continued. "My duty is to the Matoran, and knowledge lost forever will not benefit them."
"Which is why I don't want you to go back up there," I brought the thing to full circle. "If you die up there, everything you found will be lost for good."
"That will not happen," he asserted.
"How? You don't still believe that you're invincible, right? You know you're gonna die up there; don't dismiss the possibility just because it's… inconvenient. And why wouldn't that result in everything you found being lost?" I wanted him to explain immediately, but he waited significantly longer before picking up the string again like he was penalizing me for the interruption.
"Because, in the event that I am unable to return my findings myself," he carefully worded his plan, "I would ask that you retrieve the data."
"R-retrieve the data? Me? Up there?" I gestured at the jagged mountain peaks behind me. "No one but you can go up there, 'cause no one but you can survive up there for any length of time! That's the whole point, isn't it?"
"The peaks are rough, yes," he conceded, "but for a Toa they are not impassable if you know what you are looking for and bring a Ko-Matoran along for guidance."
"So what, you expect me to go and find your recently dead body up there?" I couldn't believe this. "Kind of tramples on the whole legend thing if i bring a Ko-Matoran along, doesn't it? Also, how are you going to tell me things when..."
"You will not find me; you will find my private sanctum," he interrupted. "Everything I have found and deciphered is stored there."
"Oh, a sanctum," I feigned relief. "So what, a cave? A hut? A private knowledge tower? Given the weather up there, it'll probably be buried under new snow by the time I got to the place unless it's a straight-up tower. No way I'll find it then."
"No, you will find it," Kopaka argued, "because you will have this." With that, he reached behind his back and produced a mask unlike any I'd ever seen before. It wasn't super elaborate or legendary looking or anything like that, but it was definitely a rare design of some kind. It was dark blue and featured a very restrained amount of gold trim.
"What is it?" I wondered.
"It is a Kanohi Elda," Kopaka identified the mask.
"The Mask of Detection…" the title still didn't have much meaning for me. "Is it one of yours?"
"No, it is in your colors," he pointed out the obvious. "I would like for you to have it." He held it out towards me.
"Where'd you get it?" I wondered as I took the mask and weighed it in my hand. "Do I have a bunch of masks hidden that I'm supposed to go and find like you guys did?"
"No. I had it made in Onu-Koro-Nuva," he explained.
"Is that what you and Nuparu…" A picture of Kopaka's day was rapidly forming in my head.
"Yes." He cut me off.
"Okay, but what does this do?" I held up the mask to get an idea of what it would look like when someone was wearing it. I wasn't immediately sold on the expression, to be honest.
"It allows the user to locate a particular object or place," he explained. "Hahli used one to find the Kanohi Ignika once, but they can be keyed to anything. This one is keyed to an object in my sanctum."
"So if I wear this I become the only person in the world besides you that has a chance of finding the place," I realized. "I could just come and visit anytime."
"No," he shot the idea down. "It is not only keyed to my sanctum; it is also keyed to me. It is currently inactive. Only if I die will it activate and lead you to where the sanctum is."
"That's… a rather specific custom job," I thought out loud. Kopaka didn't offer any response to that while I took a moment to process through just what exactly he was wanting me to do. "So, let me get this straight; just in case you… can't get all your stuff back to the Matoran yourself, you want me to go up there and do it, using this?" I held up the Elda.
"Yes," he answered without showing any sign of realizing just how bad a plan it was. I did, and boy was it disappointing, if not downright infuriating to see that this was how far he was willing to go just to try and go back into the mountains without further argument from me.
"It's… it's ludicrous." I tried to be civil in offering my thoughts, but it only lasted about a second or two. "You went through the expense of having a custom mask made and roping me into this just to reconcile your high-proclaimed duty with your need to go up there and be away from everyone? This is just… no, it's terrible. When'd you think of this contrived hack-job for a plan?"
"Contrived?" He looked at me quizzically. "It satisfies my duty." I don't know how much work he'd done to convince himself that this plan was a good one, but his momentary confusion at having it described as 'contrived' spoke volumes.
"Yes, contrived," I reaffirmed the description. "What led you to this? You realized your previous plan wasn't going to work, that it wasn't going to fulfill your duty, and this is how you solve it? By getting someone else to finish the task after you've killed yourself trying? You know, lots of other Toa might've been willing to help you without question, but not me. You're asking me to do something extremely dangerous here; it's going to take a lot more than asking nicely."
"Like what?" he remained civil in spite of how I went off on his plan.
"What I told you earlier," I reminded him. "I'm sorry, but this plan is nothing but a desperate concoction of trying to satisfy all this talk of duty that you're so fond of with the real reason why you're going back. I know what the real reason is, and if you want me to do this, if you want to be able to head up there knowing that you're actually satisfying your duty in doing so, you're going to have to come to terms with it first. Tell me you know why you're really going back up there; not duty, not being a legend, not a better view of the sky. Tell me why you're really going back. I can't just let you go otherwise, not with a promise that your legacy is safe." In retrospect, I'd expected his plan to be a lot harder to criticize. As it was, I just put it all on the table to see what he thought of it, and think of it he did. I had to wait nearly a full minute before I got any kind of response, a minute in which he hardly moved a muscle even though his mind was working at fever-pitch. It made me all the more confident that I had him in a corner: he needed this plan to work, but now I'd laid down the ultimatum so that he'd have to acknowledge the influence that ego, that shadow Kopaka had on his decision. Once he acknowledged that, he'd have to re-examine the decision from a more purely objective standpoint, and objectively, he had no solid reason to go in the first place. He'd have to admit that, and when he did he couldn't on good conscience justify going anymore. So the trap was set and I awaited his reply, but when at last he did it was with a question rather than an answer.
"What do I get from staying?" he asked.
"What do you get?" I wasn't sure of the significance of the question. "Why does that matter? It's about duty, not what you get out of it. It's about what the Matoran get out of it."
"The Matoran could get what they need either way," he elaborated. "If you accuse me of not being objective in my decision to leave, then you should provide me with some objective reasons to stay."
"You need reasons?" This was unbelievable to me. "How's not dying for a start?"
"Lis, you saw what happened when Tahu tried to be a Toa in that arena," Kopaka said disappointedly. "You have seen what happened to the other Toa Nuva. This world does not have a place for a Toa like me; why would I stay longer?"
"But it does have a place for you," I gestured up at the knowledge towers again. "And you'd be around to help the people who need you."
"Who, Lis?" he asked grimly. "Who here needs me?"
"Tahu! Gali! The Ko-Matoran!" I listed off.
"My duty is to the Matoran, not to fallen mockeries of Toa," he denounced the idea, sounding oddly like an older version of himself in the process, then gestured towards the railing and Ko-Koro-Nuva beyond, "…and can you honestly say that these Matoran are currently in need of my presence?"
"Fallen mockeries of Toa!?" Now things were getting heated on my part; he couldn't denounce them like that after having made a genuine apology to one and convincing me that the other was still trying to be as much of a Toa as he could be. "You're one to talk! You said you lost the title too! I was there when it happened!" The reference to Pohatu's death hit him hard; his eyes widened and his expression fell, but even after he quickly reasserted himself I could still tell it hurt him. An awkward silence followed, and in spite of my anger I immediately regretted what I said. "I-I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."
"No, I do not have the title anymore and for good reason," Kopaka conceded. "I do not doubt that many Matoran would agree if they knew the truth."
"They got a legend for Pohatu out of it, though," I attempted to mitigate the damage. "I'm sure most would understand why you did it if they knew."
"Understanding does not change the fact that they do not need me," Kopaka brought things back on topic, "and they are better off not knowing. Legends, Lis, remember? Duty alone does not provide me with a reason to stay."
"Not immediately, but that doesn't mean you can't offer the Matoran anything." I gestured at the plaque on the statue. "Look, it says 'in peace, a scholar.' There's a role for you right there. Make it your duty, like Gali with the healing."
"Being a scholar is exactly what I am doing up there." He gestured up at the mountains.
"Not just a scholar, not up there," I continued the argument without realizing that it was losing steam. "Up there you have to be something else just so survive. You could fulfill the role of scholar much better over here, and again, you could live."
"Living among people who have to believe me dead?" Now that he said it, that did sound somewhat preposterous. He went on, however: "Lis, we are free to choose to pursue our duty as we see fit, and I see fit to go back to my sanctum. Yes, I will eventually die up there, but no one needs me here. Not the former Toa Nuva, not the Matoran, no one."
"So now you admit it," I picked out one part of his answer: "you are going to die up there." It was a sobering admission on his part; up until now he'd avoided explicitly stating that his death up there was inevitable, but now the possibility of that delusion fueling into his decision making was slipping. The matter of his death was no longer an "if;" it was a "when."
"Yes," he sighed after giving the confirmation. "I will not be back again. I will die up there."
"And what about me?" I asked. "I'm just supposed to watch that happen? I've seen two Toa Nuva die, a third on the brink and a fourth come damned close twice. I can't just watch you go too. Okay, you don't want to stay for them, and maybe the Matoran don't need you to stay either, but I… I do." That also struck a chord, at least to the point where Kopaka spent some time thinking about how to proceed without him actually being in a tight spot to think his way out of. It was true, though; ever since the idea of him staying had taken root in my mind as a possibility, it had become rather much of an obsession. Watching him go would be like watching him die, and after Onua and Pohatu I didn't want to experience that again. The idea alone gave me shivers.
"Lis?" Kopaka interrupted my thinking in a voice that had softened considerably. "You do not need me."
"You don't know that," I pointed out. "You can read people's intentions, their reasoning all day long, but you don't understand what they feel or what your actions do to them. You don't even consider it."
"No, you do not need me because I have nothing left to show you," he corrected, and in disregarding my point about his lack of empathy lent more evidence to said point.
"Nothing left to show me?" I questioned. "Is that your point in all this; to show me… what?"
"…what it means to be a Toa in this world," he finished.
"What about this world?" Yeah, I'd spent quite some time thinking on what it meant to be a Toa now, but his view on what exactly he'd done to help me along in that was a point of interest.
"Toa who understand this world, who fit in it," he continued. "You accuse me of being unable to understand how people feel, and you are right. As a Toa, I did not need to; I needed to know how to fight the monsters the Matoran faced at the time. Rahi, Bohrok, Rahkshi, the Makuta, those are the monsters I fought and would fight again if they threatened the Matoran. But no, the only monsters in this world are within the Toa and Matoran themselves, inner demons that I cannot fight."
"That doesn't mean you can't stay here," I repeated, "or that I don't need you to."
"No, it does not," he acknowledged, "but it does mean that if I stayed I would be staying without purpose like Gali, like Pohatu after his injury, and like Lewa and Onua when they found themselves no longer able to fulfill their duty. You know what happened to them, and you do not want to see it happen to me."
"But they're not you," I countered. "We know how they met their fate, and you can avoid that."
"Then something else would take me," he concluded, then paused for a moment before elaborating: "Lis, my brothers were not taken by crystals or volcanoes or alcohol. They were taken by those inner demons; what we saw were just their methods."
"Then what inner demon would take you?" I asked, though I already knew the answer and expected him to find a way to dodge the question again… except this time, he didn't.
"You already know," he answered. "You saw it that night."
"Shadow Kopaka?" Hang on, was this at last the admission that I'd been looking for?
"Yes," the Toa of Ice admitted, though clearly with difficulty.
"Well, if you call him an inner demon than he's a separate entity, right? Where'd he come from?" I hoped that perhaps that would offer a clue as to how to get rid of him.
"It did not come from anywhere," Kopaka explained. "It was a part of me before, but the Makuta merely recognized it separately. When we met him, he identified our inner demons and gave them form."
"But then you can get over it," I tried to encourage him. "You know he… it's there, you know what it's telling you, so you can work around it, truly look at things objectively. Think about it: what would really be the best way to fulfill your duty?"
"In purely objective terms, the best option would be to stay," he recognized, "but it is not as simple as that."
"Why not? Even if you still want everyone to believe you're dead, I know there's a way that we can make it work," I pointed out. "And you could still live quite a ways away from people. I'll just make sure you'll have what you need and…"
"No." He dismissed the idea immediately. "It would not do, and you know why."
"Do you?" I really wanted to make sure he did; if there was anything left to explain, there was leverage to get him to stay. However, rather than giving a short, straight-up answer, he sighed and prepared for a longer one.
"When I first woke up," he began, "I did not know what a Toa was. None of us did. All we knew was that we landed on an island and that these little people called 'Matoran' kept calling us heroes. They said that we were their deliverance, that we were going to save them from all the evils in the world. However, we did not know what it took to be a hero, so each of us tried to imagine one based on what little we knew of ourselves. From that point, that was who we were or tried to be. It still is."
"And your hero doesn't need help from anyone," I remembered. "Nuparu told me something similar."
"Lis, we all have a certain image of ourselves that we work towards and aspire to be," Kopaka continued. "Mine is up there, completely cut off from the rest of the world, and if I give up on it I give up on the last part of me that I have left. I have already lost my title of Toa to ensure Pohatu's memory and my duty is to a people whose need for me to fulfill it vanished long ago. My former allies have fallen or are falling to parts of themselves that I could do little about even if I could overcome my own. Those mountains are what I have left, Lis, and if I do not go there then I will have nothing. At that point, I might as well be dead."
"Your inner demon is the very image of a Toa that you created for yourself, just as it was for the others," I realized. "Then let me help. As you said, I'm at least somewhat familiar with this world. Let's find you a place in it together, something that is Kopaka without the mountains."
"Something that will hide the fact that I am alive from the rest of the world?" he didn't sound hopeful. "You have already committed to helping Gali get back on her feet, and unlike me she still might have a place here. You have a duty to the Matoran too, Lis, and you will be fulfilling it far more effectively by helping a living Toa rise to become a legend to be proud of for one tribe than by bringing back a dead one for another that already has a legend to live after."
"Still, there's got to be something," I pushed on. "Any better option than… than this." I gestured up with the Elda, but increasingly the inevitability of what was about to happen was dawning on me, much to my despair over the situation and anger at myself for being unable to do anything to stop it. Granted, at least it was clear that Kopaka felt no better about it.
"If there was, I would have chosen to pursue it at this point," he gloomily observed. His voice, his expression, everything about him telegraphed a resignation to fate, a Toa broken of all illusions about his path yet fatalistically devoted to it. Opposite him, I found my toolbox empty; everything I'd thought of, every reason for him to stay was shot down one way or the other. Staying alive longer? He had no reason to and no other place to go. Helping the remaining Toa Nuva? Wasn't his duty, and no doubt he still didn't relish their company. Finding something else with my help? A waste of my time, according to him… to my frustration I had nothing left. I couldn't even help him after he did go back other than by making sure that the legacy of the last however many years of his life didn't get buried forever in those blasted mountains. I felt as I had done back in Pohatu's place, back when I'd pleaded with Kopaka not to kill the Toa of Stone only to realize that there was nothing that could be done and nothing left to save. Was that truly the case here? Was there nothing that could satisfy Kopaka without resigning him to this fate?
"Lis," he brought me out of my thoughts again.
"What?" Caught between anger and despair, I somehow evened out at numb.
"I will be going back up there regardless of whether you take the mask or not," he began, "but there is one last thing I need to say before I leave."
"What's that?" I neither knew what to expect nor cared for it until Kopaka placed his hand on my shoulder.
"Thank you," he said in about as warm a tone as he could manage. "Thank you for accompanying me and for showing me what you did."
"What? What did I do?" I was drawing blank on what exactly he was thanking me for.
"You never knew me before a week ago, yet you were immediately willing to help even though I did not ask for it," he explained. "You assisted in operations when you were under no obligation do so, and even after we parted in anger you came back and showed me something that I needed to see: Onua's death. It is because of that and because of you that Pohatu will get the legend that he deserves and that Gali is in a position to become the only one of the Toa Nuva to find a place for themselves in this world. Because of you I have left the world, or at least several of my former allies, in a better place rather than in a worse one."
"R-Really?" I wasn't so sure myself just yet.
"For a long time, I only had one person who I could call a friend," Kopaka went on. "You have seen the moment when I first met him, you have seen saw the moment when I thought that I had lost him, you have seen the moment when we thought we said goodbye for good, and you have seen the moment of his actual death. He was my friend not because he never questioned me; he was my friend because he understood. He was patient, willing to listen and ready to help, but also ready to hold me and everyone else accountable. That is how he was able to get along with everyone, to forge bridges while the rest of us continuously burned them. You have that same quality, Lis, and after what happened in the arena today this world needs it more than ever; this world does not need Toa like me, who fought great monsters that are little but bad memories now. It needs Toa like you, who are able to use their power to stop individuals' inner demons from destroying themselves; they can tear paradise apart just as they do to any Toa team in it. In this regard, I believe the world could not be in more capable hands than yours; you may have not seen many years or many battles, but I have hardly met another person more deserving of the title of Toa."
"Thank you, that's… that's a lot to take in," I stammered. "I'm like Pohatu to you? Like a friend?"
"I would be honored to call you that," he replied. "Lis, there is no one else who I would have entrusted this mask to. You are right in that it is a poor solution, but regrettably it is the best that I have left. There is nothing else that you can do for me."
"Nothing I could do for the Kopaka I met last week, maybe, but you've changed." I made one last desperate attempt. "You're not the Toa you were back then, no longer blinded by yourself to your own fate. You've changed already; can't you take it just one step further and overcome that inner demon altogether, or at least try?"
"Lis, people do not change that much," he solemnly replied, "not when there is so little left of them. Even if I stayed, I could never ignore that voice in my head, telling me that I had nothing left to live for. Up there, it is silent; up there I have peace, and I will take that at any toll that it will take on me. I am sorry, but I have nowhere else to go." For a couple of seconds, I just stood there, one side of me trying its hardest to convince me to keep arguing him out of this while the other was ready to give in, trying to convince me that in some ways, the decision to stay or leave was never his to make, nor mine. Nothing could've kept him here. Still numb and caught in between, I eventually came to the same decision I had arrived at two nights before.
"Then… then I'll take it," I just about managed to say. "I'll use the Elda, if only to make sure that at least your legacy is safe."
"Thank you," he said with audible relief still tinged by sadness. I decided to try on the new mask to cement the decision. Though trembling hands made it difficult, I took off my old mask, stored it away, and put the new one in its place. Even though it fit perfectly, its grip still felt tenuous; I'd have to get used to the tax of maintaining multiple masks at once, and for that matter to the field of view provided by the new one. Concentrating, I managed to summon back the Volitak.
"You know I'm going to miss this one," I pointed out.
"Sneaking never did become you," Kopaka replied.
"No, I guess it didn't... never fooled you anyways," I smiled in spite of myself and the situation, but it didn't last long. "You know, there's some things I should tell you as well," I remembered. "It's just… if I could do anything, anything else to keep you from having to go, I'd do it. I.. I hate that this is where we're at, you know? With everything we've seen over this past week, I really hoped I'd found something…" I was choking up; my eyes were welling up with tears. Kopaka took over.
"Lis, it was always going to end like this," he replied almost apologetically. "Nothing was going to change that, awful as it is."
"A-awful as it is…" I repeated softly. I was still struggling to come to terms, but those were the facts; nothing I could do was going to change the choices that Kopaka faced, and he was under no illusions about any of them anymore. This was the end, and it was the end I'd been trying so hard to avoid to no avail. Small wonder I couldn't keep from crying.
"I should get going," Kopaka decided.
"No, one last thing." I recollected myself enough to speak up again."Look, when I followed you onto that train, I didn't know where I was going. I'd pretty much broken up with my team a while before, didn't know what I was supposed to do as a Toa or how… how I should use my powers and all that. You were a curiosity at first, and there were some times when I really, you know, questioned what in the world I was doing, but… I'm glad I stuck with you and that you kept me around. I know I was hard to deal with sometimes, but you've shown me so much that… I don't feel so lost anymore, you know? So thanks, thanks for not giving up on me, for showing me everything that you did. It was hard and sometimes it hurt… but it's helped me a lot." At this point, I would've thought Kopaka didn't have any surprises left in store, but here in his reply he did; he didn't say anything, didn't move, just stood there and for the first time that I could remember, he smiled. It wasn't a very happy smile, but it was a satisfied one, a proud one even. Proud of me, proud of himself, probably both, but it was a strong gesture of appreciation all the same. Overwhelmed, I surprised myself by stepping forward and embracing him. No more words, just a tight embrace that I did not want to let go, 'cause I knew that when I let go he'd pretty much be gone. For a few seconds he just awkwardly stood there, surprised and without an immediate response ready, but then he returned the gesture as warmly as he could manage. There was something comforting, something reassuring in that, something that made his imminent departure just a little less heart wrenching. "I'll miss you," I managed between tears.
"I… will miss you too," he admitted it hesitantly, but I felt as sense of satisfaction about it all the same. Eventually we released; I took a step or two back, still struggling to keep control, still trying to fully come to terms with what was about to happen. Kopaka also took a moment to reassert himself, but I could tell that he'd shed some tears too. That helped in a way: it proved further that he really would've gone for any other option if he'd felt that he had one, and while this one still sucked it also made it considerably harder for me to question what else I could've done. Kopaka straightened out his cloak slightly in preparation for departure.
"Farewell, Lis." With that, he turned and started around the statue's base.
"Farewell, Toa Kopaka," I managed without choking up. He paused for a moment and glanced back at me. Though he'd reverted to his neutral facial expression after the embrace, I now noticed an ever so slight smile again. It was a hesitant one, but its meaning was clear to me; he wasn't entirely comfortable with being called Toa anymore, but appreciated it all the same. Honestly, in spite of what I'd said earlier, as far as I was concerned he still deserved the title regardless of what he'd done. He resumed his pace and headed towards the area where the rocky outcrop melded into the steep mountainside and where a narrow, barely visible trail led away from the town and towards the distant peaks. As I watched him slowly ascend, it looked to me like a vision from days gone by; the Toa Nuva of Ice returning to his post high in the mountains when his presence was no longer needed, tragic as it was. I had first seen him coming down that trail only eight days before, but it felt like so much longer and now I was likely the last person to ever see him alive. As darkness and distance gradually took him out of view, I thought back to everything we'd shared; the memories shared, the surgery, Pohatu's death… Truly, I had much for meditation.