He sat on the wet ground, rocking her in his arms. His tears ran down his mask, mixing with the rain that fell around him. The Toa of Fire watched as her heartlight beat. He closed his eyes, unable to bear the pain as he whispered, "Kleria, please. Please don't leave me."
"How could this have happened?" he wondered. He thought back just a few short hours ago to when the message came.
* * *
Koth burst into Onric's home where the other Toa Tedra had gathered.
"Onric, thank Mata Nui you're all here!" he cried.
"What's wrong?" asked Lestra, her Arthron drawn with concern.
"I just got a message from Veta Nui," replied the Toa of Stone. "The island's under attack by Skakdi. They need our help."
Onric had felt his heartlight jump. "Kleria," he thought.
"Well, we've got no time to lose then," he said as he headed out the door. "Let's get going."
"Let's take my airship," said Tivari, the team's resident inventor. "I just finished preliminary tests yesterday. She's ready to fly."
"Good thinking, Tiv," said Onric as they rushed towards the Toa of Gravity's home.
When they reached Tivari's home, they rushed to his laboratory where the airship was waiting. The airship was of Tivari's own design, much more streamlined and sleeker than most of its more bulky counterparts.
"Everybody hold on!" cried Tivari as the roof of his lab opened up and the airship took off.
Onric sat with Tivari in the cockpit, staring out through the clouds. As the ship rocketed northward, he thought, "Kleria, please be safe."
* * *
"And now look," he thought mournfully as he looked at the unconscious Toa of Water in his arms.
"Kleria," he sobbed as he took her hand, "I'm so sorry. I made a promise, and I failed. I failed!"
* * *
Onric stared at the retreating figures, a smile on his face.
"Well, one less thief for the world to worry about," he said, as the Matoran was led away by a pair of Cuartan police officers.
"Indeed," said the figure next to him, "though I must admit, he had some real skill. Perhaps if he'd used his talents for good rather than his own gain… Well, I suppose we can only know what is, not what could have been."
Onric chuckled at Kleria's comment. "Just like a Water Toa," he thought.
He shook his head in wonderment. "I still find it hard to believe we were both after the same thief," he said.
Kleria nodded, "It is a bit hard to believe, but I suppose something like this was bound to happen to someone. It just happened to be us."
Onric nodded as his thoughts wandered over the past few days. After the Sword of Heroes had been stolen from its place at Tedra-Kini, Onric had volunteered to search for the thief, a search that had led him all the way to the mining city of Aleris on the Northern Continent. Along the way, he had met Kleria, who was also searching for a thief. They had decided to help each other, only later discovering that the Sword of Heroes and Kleria's silver shield had both been stolen by the same thief.
And now, as they watched the thief being taken away, Onric found he was a bit loathe to part company with the Toa of Water. Despite what he had heard about Water Toa from Koth, he had found Kleria's company quite enjoyable, much more soothing than the boisterous behavior of his own teammates.
He turned to his companion. "Well, I guess we'd both better be getting home."
She nodded. "Though I think we'll be travelling together for a bit longer," she replied.
As it turned out, Kleria's own home island was quite near his own, no more than a day's journey by boat.
And when they finally parted company at Tedra-Koro's dock, Onric said, "If you or your home are ever in danger, just let me know. I promise; I'll be there."
Kleria smiled and gave him a warm hug. "Thank you," she said, "you've been such a good friend."
As the ship pulled away from the dock, Onric waved goodbye. As he walked down the street to his home, he smiled and thought, "I hope I see her soon. She's a good friend, too."
* * *
Onric choked on his tears as thunder clapped in the distance.
"I promised I'd protect you," he wept. He looked up, and in the light of another thunderclap saw the cliffside above him. With a jolt as strong as any lightning, he recognized the place he was sitting. Tears sprung anew as more memories flooded his stricken mind.
* * *
"Can't you tell me what this is all about?" asked Kleria, as Onric pulled her through the woods.
"Just wait and see," he said, a mischievous grin on his Matatu. As leader of the Toa Tedra, he knew he needed to be more serious than his rather rambunctious teammates, but, he reasoned, that was no reason he could not have a little fun now and again.
"Do you think they'll worry if they see we're gone?" asked the Water Toa.
Onric shook his head. "They're so into that Akilini game, they probably wouldn't notice if a Makuta broke in."
Kleria chuckled. "Yes," she said, "Denzer and Dyer do get a bit carried away sometimes."
"To say the least."
As the pair continued walking, Onric looked up at the sun. "Yes," he thought, "this is going to be perfect."
At last, the two Toa emerged from the woods and found themselves at the top of a cliff, overlooking the western ocean. The clouds glowed in pastels of pink and purple, the sky itself a deep orange. The waves lapped at the beach, about a kio away, but their soothing rhythm still reached to Toa's ears.
"This is beautiful," said Kleria as she sat on the cliff edge and gazed towards the sunset.
"That it is," said Onric as he sat beside her.
After a moment, Onric turned to the Water Toa and said, "Kleria, do you want I brought you out here?"
Kleria turned to Onric, a questioning look on her face. "Certainly," she replied.
"Kleria, we met each other for four, perhaps five, years ago. Soon after, our teams became friends. We've had some amazing adventures together. And all that time, I've wanted to ask you something."
He reached over and took her hand. As a surprised look came over her face, he took his other hand and reached into the small pack tied to his waist. As he removed his hand from the pouch, he looked into her eyes and asked, "Will you be my Vhalentain?"
Vhalentain – an old Matoran word, not commonly used. It meant friend, but more than friend. It signified a closeness that ran deeper than any other, that came from the depths of the heart. Oftentimes, it was hard to put in words just what it meant. But when Kleria saw the object in Onric's open hand, he knew no words were needed.
The light of the setting sun glistened off its polished edges as she gazed in wonder. In his hand was a ring. It was made of solid gold that shone in the sunlight, a heart shaped gem set in the band.
She watched speechless as he slipped it on her finger, his hands working ever so gently. As she stared at the ring, a smile crept across her face. Her eyes met Onric's for a moment before she said, "Of course, Onric. I'd love to be your Vhalentain."
"Yes!" A shout came from the woods behind them. The Toa looked back to see Senthen and Koth emerging from the woods, followed closely by the other Toa Veta and Toa Tedra. The Toa of Earth caught Onric and Kleria up in his burly arms and smiled.
"Congratulations," Senthen exclaimed in his deep earthy voice.
"How long have you all been there?" asked Onric.
Koth smiled. "Pretty much the whole time," he said, grinning from ear to ear.
Onric smiled at Kleria before turning back to Koth. "You know just how to ruin a moment, don't you?"
* * *
"That was where it all started," thought Onric as the wind-crazed waves crashed on the beach, "and here we are again."
He looked at her hand and saw the ring he had given her, no less than eight years ago.
The cold wind whipped around them as he stared at the wounds that covered her body. He shook his head as more tears flooded his eyes. He took her hand once more as the memories of the day came like a thunderclap.
* * *
A storm was rising over Veta Nui as Tivari's airship touched down near one of the island's villages, one which seemed largely untouched. As the Toa exited the ship, they made their way to the Battle Shelter. Skakdi raids were fairly common on Veta Nui, being practically next door to Zakaz, so for protection, the Matoran had built shelters in their villages that could withstand a Skakdi onslaught. The Toa approached the iron-plated door and knocked. A few moments later, a small panel slid open, and a pair of eyes could be seen on the inside. A moment later, the panel slid shut, and the door slid open. A Le-Matoran appeared in the doorway and motioned the Toa inside.
"We're ever-glad you came," he said. "I think you should talk-speak to Turaga Zeniic. He sure-knows what's going on out there."
The Toa followed the Matoran past dozens of others until they came to the back of the shelter where the Iron Turaga was sitting. As he saw the Toa approaching, he rose to his feet and bowed courteously.
"Thank you for coming, Toa," said Zeniic, his mask drawn with worry. "Fortunately for us, the other Toa drove the Skakdi out of this village a short time ago. They were last seen running into the forest about three hours ago, but we haven't seen them since. I can't use my Elda to pinpoint their location, but it is telling me that they are almost due west of here."
Onric chewed his lip as he thought for a moment. "I guess we'll have to go after them," he said.
As the four Toa ran out back out under the stormy skies, Onric found himself worrying about Kleria. He shook his head.
"She's a capable fighter," he thought. "I'm sure she can handle herself."
"Koth," he said, "scout ahead; see if you can find them."
The Toa of Stone nodded as he raced off under his Kakama's power. The Toa continued to trek through the woods, the ground growing slippery as the rain began to pour.
A few minutes later, Koth rushed back, and from the expression on his mask, Onric could tell he did not have good news.
* * *
When they emerged from the forest, the Toa found themselves overlooking a cliff. A group of over thirty Skakdi had the six Toa Veta pinned against the cliff edge. One wrong step and they would fall to their doom. The Toa Tedra raced towards the fight and struggled to reach their friends. The Skakdi seemed unprepared for a sudden rear attack, but even so, they seemed more than ready to confront the new challenge.
Onric tried desperately to reach Kleria, but every time he tried to get through, the Skakdi got in his way. He watched in horror as an Air Skakdi summoned a gust of air and blew her off the cliff.
As he watched her disappear from sight, time seemed to pass in slow motion. The look of sheer terror on her face tore at his heart as she vanished beyond the cliff.
"No!" he cried, desperation filling his voice.
Summoning a burst of willpower, he plowed his way through the Skakdi and looked over the cliff. He could not see her.
As he clamored down the cliff, he thought anxiously, "Please, be alright. Please, Kleria, be alright."
Sliding the last few bio, he looked around desperately. Finally, he saw her, lying at the base of the cliff. He rushed over to her and took her in his arms. She was covered in wounds from head to toe. Her head lay limp to one side, showing that she was comatose.
He sat on the wet ground, rocking her in his arms. His tears ran down his mask, mixing with the rain that fell around him. Onric watched as her heartlight beat. He closed his eyes, unable to bear the pain as he whispered, "Kleria, please. Please don't leave me."
* * *
And there he had been for the last few minutes, cradling her in his arms, tears streaming down his face.
"Kleria, I'm sorry," he sobbed. "I should have been here, should have been here to protect you."
Pulling her even closer, he bent over and kissed her cheek. After a moment, he felt her mask moving.
As he looked on, her eyes opened slowly. "Onric?" she asked, groggily.
"Yes," he said, a smile creeping across his face, "yes, it's me."
Kleria turned towards him and smiled wearily as she laid her head on his shoulder. "I knew you'd come. Thank you, I'm glad I got to see you, one last time."
"What do you –" His gaze turned towards her heartlight. He could see it beating slower, slower, slower.
Onric closed his eyes, his tears flowing once more, as her heartlight flashed for the final time. His body shook as his sobs retched his body.
Slowly, his hands began to clinch into fists as his sobs gave way to heavy breathing. As he lifted his head up, his brows were knit, and his body shuddered as his gaze turned darker.
Gently setting Kleria on the damp earth, he turned his attention to the cliff top.
Calling on his mask power, Onric pulled a stone from the cliffside. Stepping on it, he willed Kleria onto the stone and for it to fly upwards. As he reached the cliff top, he saw the other Toa still locked in combat with the Skakdi. He stepped onto the cliff edge, fire gathering on his palms.
Yelling at the top of his lungs, he blasted a Skakdi with enough fire to melt his armor. Reaching out with his mask power, he caught another by the throat and squeezed. Grabbing a third, he tossed him over the cliff and, with his mask, dropped a boulder the size of the Battle Shelter on him. In less than two minutes, where there had once been three dozen Skakdi and nine Toa, there were now nine Toa and three dozen corpses. The other Toa stared in disbelief.
"What did you do?" cried Senthen.
Still breathing heavily, Onric turned and said, "No less than what they did to Kleria."
* * *
Three days later, two teams of Toa and an island of Matoran watched as Toa Kleria was lowered into the earth. It was tradition on Veta Nui for heroes to be buried where they had fallen in battle, and so, as day turned to dusk, the base of the cliff grew more and more barren as beings began to leave. Finally, as the first stars began to appear, only a lone Toa of Fire stood over the grave. In his hand, Onric held the ring he had given his Vhalentain so many years ago, and his face was drawn in a look of perpetual sadness and anger.
"Kleria," he said, "I failed to keep my first promise to you. But I swear by your grave, I'll make those retches pay, and nothing is going to stand in my way."