Lightning Strikes Twice – Epilogue
The Jaswinder slipped through the dark waters of the Amari archipelago like a giant sea creature gleaming dully in the moonlight. There was a difference in its passage tonight, though – the crew was in no hurry. There were no enemies to chase, no dangers to confront. They were simply gliding under the stars to return to Notus. Stiaye wasn't sure about what had transpired on Enyo, and how she had been able to use the Spear, but she knew she had to go to the Island of Souls anyway. It had served its purpose, and it was time it was given back to Ajax, its creator and rightful owner.
Even as she stood behind the helm, Stiaye's thoughts were wandering. After they had destroyed Deimos and they had informed the rest of Xi-Koro of his death – and after the storm had died down – they had piled what remained of the halfling in the center of his crumbling fortress, tore it down around his remains, and set it alight. They weren't quite sure, but according to the tablets Japoro had translated on the journey south, burning what the halfling had mainly inhabited would destroy the evil taint that would otherwise spread and force the Matoran of Lightning off their home isle.
Thinking of Japoro made her smile. After they had been done on Enyo and all had returned to the village, her people had started what had been promised to be a very rousing party, celebrating the destruction of the halfling and the beginning of the storm season. After living for three weeks in fear, they had a cause to celebrate again. As the party had begun to reach critical mass after sunset, she, Aeolus, Stara, and Nuju had slipped off to the Jaswinder to make the pilgrimage to the black island. Japoro and Amphitrite had stayed behind; after the events on Enyo, or Halfling's Isle as it was beginning to be called, Japoro had seemed to surrender to what was inevitable between them.
Staiye's hand brushed her mask, her fingers automatically lingering on the new ridge that had appeared the day before – the day the lightning had struck her and she had destroyed Deimos. Ever since she had touched the Spear, she had found that her powers had seemed to increase: she could faintly sense the electrical pulses that made muscles move and transmitted information to a being's brain. It was only faint, but time and practice would tell what other abilities the contact had unlocked.
Seeing abruptly that they were nearly at Notus' shore, she eased off the power until they had stopped altogether, where Aeolus helped her carry them all over the black water to the foot of the similarly-colored cliffs.
Even as they trooped up the path, her eyes wandered to the back of their little parade. Ever since the events on Enyo, Nuju and Stara had hardly been apart, he still suffering from the effects of his prison and making it hard for him to sleep peacefully. When Stara had expressed her desire to join them on Notus, it went without saying that he insisted on coming along as well.
They crested the cliff trail and moved in towards the plateau's center. They had intended in opening the cave again and journeying to the Cavern of Souls, but as they neared the stone formations, it became clear that the haul was unnecessary: they had come to them.
All the ghosts that inhabited the caves below, save only the Dark Ones, had left the confines of the rocky island's caves and stood before the entrance. At the crowd's head stood Ajax, Cascata, Audra, and the spirits of the Toa Rohaya. Kronus and Cascata were standing beside each other, but the Water Toa's shade didn't seem to mind standing beside her former rival now.
The four living souls stopped about three bio away from the ghosts. That distance became one, as Ajax and his two deceased friends crossed the gap between the two parties.
"You've done it," he said, pride in the Fire Toa's eyes as he looked at the similarly-marked Toa of Lightning.
"I've done it," she agreed. "But how was it done? Aeolus was the one who passed your test, not me."
"That is true. He looked into the near future and saw what was fated to occur," Audra said, her Suletu shining dully in the moonlight. "Do you wish to see what he did?"
Stiaye looked quickly at the Air Toa and the two Turaga. The latter pair were silent, but Aeolus seemed to silently urge her on. Returning her gaze, she nodded. "Yes, I would."
Then the present world faded, replaced with another image . . .
She saw Deimos, his red eyes hard as he concentrated. She saw her own body slumped on the ground further back and felt confused, but only for an instant: she realized she was seeing the vision the way Aeolus had, through his eyes.
The Spear was in her hands, but they were moving without her permission as she ran at the halfling. It was only a vision, nothing more, but she still felt fear when the purple-tinted swords flew at her, slashing at her breastplate.
Pain took her then: pain familiar yet alien, tearing through her body like sharp daggers. She collapsed, feeling the Spear slip from her emerald fingers as she was thrust into pain's eager hold, delighted at its new game. Her body slammed down on the bare rock, trying to throw off the pain and regain her feet, but it dug its claws deeper into her biological parts.
Through glazed eyes she saw Deimos reaching down for the discarded Spear, and weakly attempted to take it back. Then it shot away from both of them, sparks flying as it slipped into a new pair of hands.
Lightning flashed, and her eyes cleared just long enough to see her vision-double holding the Spear, then another flash chased her into darkness . . .
Stiaye gasped as Audra released her mind from the hold of the mask's power, heartlight flashing as the memory of the pain echoed in her again and again. She felt Aeolus's comforting hand grip her shoulder reassuringly, but she had never felt so unlike herself.
Still breathing hard, she tightened her hold on the Spear as she addressed Ajax again. "What does that mean?"
Cascata surprised her by answering instead. "Aeolus saw what would happen to him, and what would happen to the Spear. He passed the test, and took the Spear – but he only acted to carry it." She looked at Aeolus, as if seeking an assurance that she hadn't offended him with her words, and what she saw on his face seemed to give permission to go on.
"He saw this future – and accepted it. With that, he could carry the Spear without ill effect, but he could not use it the way you can, the way Ajax could, since he knew you would. Destiny has dictated it: you are the true wielder of the Spear."
Stiaye was quiet, rather stunned by the bluntness of it all. She had expected something else (though that "something else" was still unknown to her), and instead she had gotten this thrown at her. Her breathing was steady, but her mind was a-flutter with indescion . . . but she knew there really wasn't one to be made. She had used the Spear; she was marked as Ajax was marked, though not nearly as strongly as the Fire Toa. She was destined.
"Then so be it."
A peaceful look appeared on the faces of the dead, even as a gentle, almost sighing wind slipped over Notus. Something seemed to vanish from the ghosts, but before that something could be identified, all four of the living were startled to see all of the shades starting to fade away; their bodies were becoming something less than mist and soul. Some had already vanished to the point where they were nearly invisible.
"What is this?" asked Aeolus, his eyes wide.
Ajax's smile seemed to become more solid than ever, even as his body faded. "When Audra, Cascada, and I bound ourselves and those that followed to the Cavern of Souls, we did not wish to condemn the others to the senseless guarding of an object, even one as powerful as the Spear." There was no possessive quality in his voice or his words as he referred to the weapon he had forged, clearly indicating that he no longer considered himself its owner. "When someone became marked as I had once been, by using the Spear, the curse we created would shatter, and all the spirits on Notus would be free to move on."
Stiaye opened her mouth again, but Audra cut her off. "You do us all a great service by undoing our spell. This existence is a mockery of a real life; being trapped in limbo, not being able to move forward or back, just . . . existing. After all these near-meaningless years, it is a blessing to truly die." The expressions on the faces of those that were vanishing echoed her words, peace in their orbs as their souls lost the little physical substance they had had.
It was Aeolus that said the final farewell, his voice not congealed with chutespeak for once. "Rest in peace."
Ajax nodded, than seemed to relax, along with the majority of the spirits. Like they were suddenly in a hurry, the spirits began departing at a fleeter rate, much faster than those that had already gone. And with each ghost that abandoned Notus to ride the cosmic wind that was taking them away, the four living felt a lightening in their souls. The negative atmosphere that the spirits had been generating was fading with the spirits themselves; it became less the Island of the Dead and more like an island in general.
Finally, after what could've been an hour or five minutes, the black plateau was nearly devoid of ghosts, save nineteen: the spirits of the Toa Rohaya. They were fading like their brethren had, but they were doing so at a slower pace, like they were holding themselves back through sheer willpower. It didn't take a scholar to understand why they were lingering, so Stiaye and Aeolus retreated, so Stara and her former teammates could say their final farewells in peace. Nuju joined them: loathe as they both were to break their connection, he saw this was something private that Stara had to do alone.
"This is where we truly part, Stara," Alvis said, her vibrant voice strong despite the divide between her and her sole living teammate.
Stara stifled a choking sob as she looked at her friends. They were all arranged in their arc formation, with Kronus, Eos, Atlas, and Ares making up the forefront – as the founders of the Toa Rohaya, they were obligated to stand in front. A place opposite of Alvis and between Amaya and Calhoun was empty; her spot, had she died her teammates.
"I didn't want any of you to die," she said softly. "None of you." It was a lame pair of sentences, but it was all she could manage.
"We know," Egan said softly. "And there is no need to apologize. Destiny ultimately chose for us to end on Rohaya, and you had nothing to do with our fates."
Kronus knelt so he was at eye level with the Turaga of Lightning, and then pressed something into her hands. When she looked, a pair of dull-silver charms were in her hands, with the symbol of the Toa Rohaya – a volcano, a sword, and a compass – pressed into them.
"This is soulmetal," the Gravity Toa's shade said softly. "It's a very rare metal that only the dead know about. Give one of these to Nuju, and make sure he keeps it with him. And when the day comes that you know it must be used – and you will know it, in your heart – bring it to the Elemental Well and fling it into the depths. Tell no one of this," he said urgently.
Stara couldn't make head or tails of this final command, but nodded silently in agreement, tucking the charms into a belt pocket. Kronus nodded and then stood, saying his last words to the Turaga.
"And so we leave this world, this time for good. May we meet again someday, my friend, but let it not be soon, so you can enjoy more of life than we did." Then, the final ghosts of Notus vanished, and the last of the fog lifted from the island's atmosphere.
There was quiet for a moment, broken by Stara's voice, strong even with tears of another farewell threatening them. "Let's go home."
Amphitrite's eyes were strangely heavy, like each had been carved from granite, but she slowly managed to open them. In her mind she was back in Shi-Nui, in the building she and the other Toa of her team called home. On a normal day, she was the fourth person out of bed, with Japoro, Castor, and Stiaye all getting up earlier. Once she was able to string a coherent sentence together, they would all march upstairs again and haul Enki and Eurus – their resident Rip Van Winkles – out of their shared room and down the stairs. Their methods ranged from Stiaye zapping them with her lightning, Castor hanging them out the window by their ankles with his plants, and she herself dumping cold water on their heads. The methods had gotten crazier and crazier, until Japoro had cooked up something they used every morning, much to the annoyance of the two sleepers.
"You guys ready?"
Another of Enki's floorboard-rattling snores rumbled out, and the Water Toa wrinkled her nose distastefully. She was deep sleeper simply because of the Earth Toa's snoring was so loud. Only his roommate Eurus seemed immune to it – though then again, since he had fallen asleep in the war to the sound of explosions, he probably was used to it. They had always considered soundproofing the walls, but they never seemed to get around to it.
"Anything to make Enki shut up," Stiaye replied, her expression one of concentration as she knelt before the lock. Since their teammates kept barging in to wake them, the two male Toa kept changing their door locks in an attempt to keep them out. However, they didn't know that the Lightning Toa was something of an expert when it came to lock-picking, courtesy of Stara's tutoring, and she had taught Castor, Amphitrite, and Japoro the basics.
"Great. How's the lock coming?"
No sooner had the words left Japoro's mouth than the door obediently clicked open. "Done," she smirked, pushing it all the way in.
In the room, Enki's snoring was even louder than it was in the outer hall. The Ice Toa quickly wheeled his invention inside, tied a string to the firing mechanism, and backed outside to the other Toa, threading it through the keyhole and closing the door most of the way as he did.
"Ready?" he asked of his teammates, who all nodded. Once the earplugs had been passed out, Japoro counted down, "In five – four – three – two – one!" and then yanked the string.
The cord went slack, and there was a loud BANG from inside the room. There was a loud thud from the other side of the door – either one or both of them had fallen out of bed – and Enki's snoring got replaced with cursing from both Toa.
Laughing, Castor pushed the door open again and surveyed the scene. Enki had tumbled out of his bed and had landed on his back, taking half the covers with him. The Air Toa was half-in and half-out of bed, his legs tangled in the bedspread, and both were cursing up a storm.
"That's one way to wake up," snickered the Water Toa as she peered around the doorframe.
"Tomorrow," Eurus said, his voice slightly muffled by the rug he had faceplanted into, "I'd rather that Stiaye came in and zapped us."
Smirking at the memory, Amphitrite opened her eyes all the way. She was still tired, though – and considering the fact that the party had gone on until long after midnight, she really couldn't be blamed.
A shadow passed by the eastern window, briefly cutting off the golden light filtering in through the glass. Though she was quite content to stay underneath the blankets, she ordered herself to move. Groaning, she dragged herself off the mattress and over to the window, squinting through the sun glare in time to see Stiaye trudging out of Xi-Koro.
Curiosity overrode her desire to go back to sleep, and she quickly retrieved her sword and left the hut, trailing after the Lightning Toa.
The path her friend took lead deep into the foothills of the main Amari Island, which Amphitrite had recently learned was called Amaria, after the Eldar Toa that had led the original colonization efforts of the chain. After about five minutes of walking, Stiaye – who still seemed to not have noticed her friend following her – turned down a side path that was lined with tall deciduous trees, their branches and trunks somehow leaning over in the still air, creating a natural archway over the path.
Further down, past the trees that were bending like they were caught in a perpetual windstorm, the soft heather beneath the Water Toa's boots began to give way to stone as they drew closer to a cliff face, jutting up from the roots of the mountains nearby. A trickling of liquid reached her ears, breaking the quiet but making the atmosphere seem more tranquil, more peaceful.
Finally, they reached their destination: a grove of trees that were slap against a hollow in the cliff, worn away by erosion. The trees were large and close together, their branches stretching out to form a ceiling of leaves. It covered the ground where the heather had been covered by crumbling stone that had rained down from the cliffs, choking the plants like it itself lived.
A stream flowed down the mountain peaks, pouring from a bolthole that was in the middle of the rock face, pooling into a deep hollow in the ground beneath it, and then it flowed away to place even the Toa of Water could not tell. All around the spring were Matoran letters carved into the stone, some so worn away that she couldn't read them from her position.
Only one thing in the natural temple seemed artificial, standing out in the naturally beautiful Kini. Near the exact center of the grove was a circle of raised white stone, carved with designs like the cliff wall. It had no bottom, but seemed to go on down into the earth forever.
Amphitrite looked at Stiaye questioningly, wondering if it was alright to go closer to this strange structure (and wondering if the Lightning Toa had even noticed her), but Stiaye nodded; apparently she had. "Take care that you don't fall into it, though," she added softly. "Else you'll fall forever and into the universe's core."
Shivering at the thought, Amphitrite moved forward to kneel beside the strange structure. The stone was worn with age and rain, but the carvings into the white stone were able to be distinguished enough that by tracing it with her fingertip, she could read them.
The words surprised her, because they spoke of a way so alien to her, she had a hard time reconciling herself to it. Unlike the ways she knew, Stiaye's people were so different, chosen by their predecessors' wills instead of those of Destiny, and instinctively knowing when their Destiny was fulfilled . . . the Water Toa yanked her hand away, marveling.
"Nuju was the only one not to react like that," the Lightning Toa said, now sitting at the roots of a great tree. Her spears were laid beside her, eyes calm. "It's why we rarely tell others about how it is done here."
"I can't say I blame you," Amphitrite said, nestling down into another tree's roots. Not sure what to say next, she looked down into the heather, twisting her fingers in the blades, uprooting a few of them idly.
Footsteps came from the path, audible even on the heather, and then Amphitrite realized why Stiaye hadn't given a sign that she knew was following: in this quiet Kini, it was easy to tell when someone was on the path with you. Neither Toa was able to do anything other than look towards the path, though; they were both perfectly content to stay right where they were.
Japoro and Aeolus walked into the clearing, as subdued as they by the atmosphere surrounding the Elemental Well. Apparently they had been following the Lightning Toa as well, and had just gotten out of bed to do so; both had half-open eyes and were slouching.
Japoro had an expectant look on his face despite the clear fact he was only half-awake, and Amphitrite tried to figure out why. It came back to her five seconds later. "So?" she said, addressing Stiaye and Aeolus.
Amphitrite and Japoro stared at the Lightning Toa like she had grown another head. "What do you think we mean? What happened last night?" the Water Toa demanded.
Laughing slightly, Stiaye quickly filled in her friends about what had happened on Notus. Both listened raptly, with the cobalt Toa crooning slightly as she heard what had happened to Ajax and his ghosts.
"Apparently, the Spear is mine to use," she finished. "Maybe this is my destiny; to use it and finish the job that was started long ago and finish off the Brotherhood's remnants.
"I'll come with you and Japoro when you go back to Shi-Nui, but I won't stay there for very long. The sooner I leave, the less likely I'll get talked out of this."
"I'll come with you, Stiaye," Aeolus said softly, rising to his feet and facing the Toa of Lightning.
"Aeolus – I already decided; I'm doing this on my own."
"And I'm not going to let you get dead-killed by yourself."
"You're not getting rid of me that easily, either," Amphitrite said brazenly, lifting her chin in defiance of her friend's choice, no longer tired. Beside her, the Toa of Ice nodded in agreement.
"Look, I'm already taking a risk with this. I don't want you to go down with me."
"That's the price we pay for adventure. I told you that at the beginning of all this, and I'm still willing to pay it," the Water Toa shot back.
Stiaye looked imploringly at Japoro, trying to make him talk the other two out of this. The white and gunmetal Toa took his time in answering, but he finally said, "Stiaye, while I was translating those tablets we got, I forgot to tell you something."
"And what's that?" the silver and gold Toa asked suspiciously.
Japoro shrugged casually. "It told how we can sense Makuta and halflings from distances."
Excitedly, Stiaye darted to his side and gripped his shoulders, not noticing that she had hauled him off his feet. "How do you do that? Tell me, please!"
Japoro winced slightly as a kink appeared in his joints. "I will on two conditions."
"And what are they?"
"Well, for one thing, you need to put me down. And two, you have to accept the fact we're all coming with you."
Stiaye released the Ice Toa, crestfallen. "And there's no way I can get you to tell me otherwise?"
"None at all."
Now she looked highly annoyed. "You don't fight fair, Japoro. You know that?"
"Yeah, I do; Enki and Eurus tell me that every morning I use the cannon as their alarm clock. But still, if it's the only way we can get you to accept that we're coming . . ." Japoro let the sentence trail off, the implication clear. Stiaye glared at her friends for a long moment, and her friends just met her gaze, arms folded. After a long moment, she sighed.
"You still don't fight fair," she repeated sourly. However, she couldn't hide a small smile that tugged at her lips.
Back in the village, silence still reigned; many of the Matoran still slept, either exhausted or hung over from their party the night before. In her hut, however, Stara was awake, though not out of bed yet. She was suspended in that state of awareness halfway between dreams and reality, sleep and wakefulness. Her left arm was aching from the stretch between her bed and the cot she had set up earlier. (She had insisted that Nuju take her more comfortable bed, since it might help him recover from the trauma faster.) The only way he had managed to fall asleep peacefully, though, had been when she had reached out and taken his hand, reassuring him that she was next to him.
Like her Toa heir, she had been thinking. Her tribe wasn't known for being pensive, like the Ice or Water Matoran were. Nor were they overly impulsive, like the Ta- and Le-Matoran were. Their eagerness of action and excitement was tempered by their love for justice and level heads, though they were noticeably shorter-tempered than the Ga-Matoran were; more inclined to be ruled by their bias and emotions. Thinking ahead wasn't a trait they shared either; since the future always changed, and never followed one set path, they preferred to focus on the now.
Thanks to her less-than-stellar rap sheet, Stara was a rare exception to that rule. Though she couldn't read the thoughts of others, she had instinctively sensed what Stiaye's new task was now that she bore the Spear. The thought satisfied her. Though the Lightning Toa had never voiced it, the Turaga had known that Stiaye had fretted about living out her time as a Toa in Stara's shadow. This Duty would secure her a spot outside her own shadow, creating her own legacy.
Nuju was another matter. Japoro's translations hadn't told her how long it would take for the trauma to fade, so the date for his return to Metru Nui was still unknown to anyone. Smug satisfaction filled her; it meant he had a perfect excuse to stay here with her for a good amount of time.
So be it, she thought, shifting and then sinking back into blissful unconsciousness. So be it.
Mood Music: "May It Be" by Enya, "Dreams of an Absolution" by Remix Factory
Author's Note: And with that, Lightning Strikes Twice is complete. My thanks go out to all my readers and reviewers, in particular Akaku (for coming up with the idea that started it all) and Japoro (for donating his character, and putting up with everything I did to said character =P).
In the (hopefully) near future, the sequel to this story will be released. I'm thinking sometime in the summer, though this may be changed. You can read a sneak peek in my library, if you wish. (The link is found in my profile.)
If you have any questions about this, let me know and I'll be happy to answer, assuming I can do so without spoiling anything.