He let her sit for a minute once she'd climbed out. A pair of Guurahk had their staffs at her back, and were hissing and snapping at each other with what sounded disturbingly like joy. The Toa of Shadow himself was sitting leisurely atop a rock; he'd placed a single dim orb of light between them, and she could just barely make out his face and his staff resting against his lap, unerringly pointed in her direction. Teridax's voice had vanished from her mind with a promise that he would find her soon, but she had no way of knowing if that was a promise he would keep.
Until she did know, all she could do was keep Takanuva occupied. "Planning to actually do anything now, or are you just going to lounge around and look all brooding? It's not impressive, if that's what you're going for."
He shrugged in response. "I just find this comfortable, is all. You know me – nothing better than stretching out after a long day's work. Or lack thereof. I was a lazy little Matoran, wasn't I?"
"Were you? I've never met you before in my life. For all I know you were a Makuta's right-hand man."
He laughed at that. "Still struggling to make me someone else? You really are disappointing me here, Hahli. I would've thought you'd have learned by now that part of being a Toa is looking at the ugly truth once in a while."
She fixed her gaze on him. "Believe me, I've seen my fair share of things I'd rather look away from."
It was hard to make out in the dim light, but it looked like he was pouting. "Still not taking me seriously? I really don't know why you seem so much concerned about the Makuta than about me. I'm hurt."
"I told you before," she shot back, "no Takanuva I know would spend his days hiding in the back of a cave like a worm. You want to know why I'm here and he's not? He's busy exploring the world. That sound familiar?"
"You did mention something about that before, didn't you?" He leaned forward and smiled. "Do you want me to explain? Is that it? Do you want the whole sad story about why I'm here in these rotten, slimy tunnels instead of out and about having grand adventures?"
"It'd be a good starting point."
His grin grew wider, and Hahli was suddenly and uncomfortably reminded of Vezon. "Oh, why not? One Chronicler to another. After all, stories are our job, aren't they? Nice, pretty things, filled with prophecies and heroes and happy endings." He laughed, and then with abrupt fury slammed a fist down into the ground. She didn't flinch; all she did was continue to hold his gaze. The blue eyes shining out at her were sharp and cold. "That's the way it always is. The Toa always come and beat the big bad Makuta. It's their destiny.
"Tell me something, Hahli, does this look like destiny to you? Do you think that when the Great Spirit was giving us tasks to do, he found me and said, 'Takanuva, it's your job to have everything stripped away that you ever held dear and then spend your days looking after Rahkshi in some other world's dankest, darkest corners'? Because if he did, then he can help himself to the results. I hope he's long dead by now."
She didn't look away. "You haven't answered my question."
"Oh, I'm getting there, don't you worry. Our little story keeps going, you know. It doesn't end just because some Makuta from another world comes along and whisks the legendary hero of light away to become his latest plaything - that's just a different direction for the story to take. But it's the funniest thing, Hahli. Our Toa's story goes on, but he finds himself without a place in the bigger story, a little piece of shadow that nobody knows what to do with. For a little while, he's happy to work with the Makuta, because really, why not? It's not like he's got any sort of duty to this world, and mass destruction seems like a fun change of pace. But then even the Makuta go and die, and he's left all alone. And what then?
"Well, our little Toa's left out in the cold. He's got no way home, and even if he did, he knows there's nobody waiting for him as he is now, deserter and monster that he is. There's this big new world, but anywhere he goes, he'll be recognized and hunted down like an animal. Then one day, he's stealing along the coast, and he sees a funny little armored slug is stalking him. A Rahkshi, he realizes! In quite the same boat as he is. So he teaches it a lesson, and then lets it lead him back to its brothers. Oh, it's a cold, nasty place they live in, but it's a place where he can at least survive. And for a little while he does, but even then a few Matoran come around, poking places they shouldn't be. The Toa's so reminded of himself that he's moved! And he has an idea. He has the Guurahk give the Matoran a good scare, and then he sits back and waits. Because he knows that somewhere out there is another version of his own story – the right version – still going on, and do you know something? It drives him insane."
She forced herself to keep looking at him. "And then what? Were you going to kill him for having the life you couldn't? How does that help you?"
He shrugged. "It doesn't, really. But didn't I say it before? Life isn't fair. I never realized that until someone came along and gave me a wake-up call. I'm just passing the favor on."
"Really? Is that what this is all about? Fairness?" She laughed. "When did you lose your light, Takanuva? Was it before the 'Great Spirit' was awoken in your world? Did you get to watch our victory? Did you get to see the Kraahkan form in the stars, or hear the Makuta's voice booming that we had failed, utterly and completely?" Her voice turned hard. "Oh, remember Matoro? Did you get to see him die in your world? Did you get to see his sacrifice twisted and used for the blackest ends you could imagine? Don't talk to me about unfairness, Shadow Toa."
There was no smile or frown on his face now, just a blankness. "Oh? Are we playing the 'unfairness' game now? Is that what this is? You got to see your friend's sacrifice twisted, oh, what a shame." His hand shot out and grabbed her by the throat. "Do you want to know what it was like to have my light drained?" Slowly, inexorably, he began to squeeze. "Do you feel this? Imagine now that you're feeling it everywhere and nowhere at once. At first you think, oh, I can fight it, I'm a Toa, this is just another adventure. It's my destiny to get out of here." He tightened his grip. "But it doesn't stop. You can feel yourself just going. So you start to cry out for help. Surely my friends will come and save me, you think. I have done so much for them, surely they will do the same for me." He smirked. "I don't see your Teridax anywhere, Hahli. Or your Takanuva.
"So you cry, and shout, and nobody comes. You are alone, you realize. So you turn to that last bastion of strength – duty." He spat the word. "I have to overcome this, you think. I am a Toa. I have so much work left to do." He laughed, and this time it was a dead and hollow sound. "And then you realize that if you have no destiny, and you have no unity, then why should you have duty? And with that it's over. The last thing you realize before your mind goes is that every little bit of pride and heroism you built up over all those years of adventures can be cast away in the blink of an eye. And then all you feel is the pain.
"When you wake up, you truly have nothing. Your powers are changed, your body reshaped, and your world forever lost. You're not quite a blank slate – you can remember everything you used to be, and if you close your eyes for just a moment you can pretend you still are everything you used to be. But you know, deep in your heart, that that's just another lie. All those stories your Turaga told you of what a Toa is were just that – stories.
"That is what I mean when I say I learned life is unfair, Toa Hahli. Your little Matoro's death isn't worth Rahkshi spit compared to what I've been through."
She struggled for breath. "You know… you haven't changed at all… Takua."
His eyes narrowed. "What?"
Something close to a laugh escaped her. "You heard me. You always did think… you were something bigger than the rest of us Matoran."
With a roar of fury, he lifted her from the floor and slammed her against the wall, then let her drop. He glared down at her as she gasped in pain. "Is that what you think this is, Hahli? You think I'm just doing this because I think I'm more important than the rest of you? Do you think this is what I wanted? Do you think I've forgotten that somewhere out there, you might be dead because I wasn't there?"
She coughed and looked up at him again. There's still a chance, she thought. "Maybe I do, because all I heard from you back there was about how everything was so terrible for you, and that the world was so biased against you. It sounds to me like you don't really care about what's happening back wherever you came from, because you'd rather hide out in a cave and brood on how unfair life is."
In a flash, the blade of his staff was at her throat. "You're nothing to me, do you understand that? I've never seen you before in my life. All you care about is hunting me down for the crime of having life chew me up and spit me out. I could kill you."
She didn't let her gaze leave his face, even as she heard a rumble growing in the chamber walls. "Could you kill her?"
Hahli never knew if the flicker she saw in his eyes was real or not, because in the next instant the back wall of the room exploded inwards, showering them both in stone. She braced herself against the impact and then launched herself in the direction the source of the blow, which was three bio tall, holding a golden warhammer, and very, very angry. "Are you hurt?" the Makuta asked.
She shook her head. The Rahkshi that had been blown back by the impact were getting to their feet, and the jet-black Toa in their midst was raising his head from the rubble. He looked over his shoulder at them with a look of pure hatred. "Kill them," he spat.
Hahli grabbed Teridax's arm. "Run!"
The Makuta stood his ground against the advancing Rahkshi. "Why? This seems as good a place as any to put an end to this."
"Because I need time to think of a plan that isn't mass murder, you overgrown, psychopathic light-stone! Now shut up and run!"
For a moment the Makuta hesitated, but when he glanced over the look Hahli was giving him could've drilled them a tunnel out of there on its own. With a roar he swung the hammer in a mighty arc to smash the first wave of advancing Rahkshi and bring more of the ceiling down upon them, and then turned to follow the retreating Toa of Water. Within moments he had caught up to her, and before she could protest he grabbed her bodily and slung her over one shoulder. For a second she was struck by the utter absurdity of being carried to safety by Makuta Teridax – away from Takanuva, no less – but then she realized that after everything else that had happened that day, it no longer fazed her.
As they – or rather, he – ran, she heard his voice in her head. Would you care to explain in a little more detail why we are retreating and allowing them to gain a tactical advantage over us?
Not even bothering to pretend politeness with the telepathy thing anymore?
Fine, fine. We're running away because if we weren't, you would've charged in there like Pohatu on a bad day and tried to turn Takanuva's head into paste. I'm not going to let you do that.
She felt a wave of anger, and realized uncomfortably that it was not her own. I would have thought it clear by now that it is foolish to think there is any reason to let that corrupted Toa live. Or are multiple attempts at murder considered a good sign for rehabilitation in this world?
And I would've thought it clear by now that I'm not about to take any of your judgment calls on faith. See, us Toa have this idea that sometimes it's worthwhile to try talking to someone before you smash their heads in.
Enough mockery, Toa. Answer me clearly, or I will leave you and end this myself. What possible reason do you have for delaying this Takanuva's elimination?
I can still help him, that's what.
He laughed even as he continued his sprint down the tunnels. Very optimistic of you. I believe the Makuta of my world have a word for that sort of optimism: idiocy. Suicidal idiocy may be an even better term. I am truly starting to regret missing that first hammer blow.
"Oh, stuff it, Teridax!" She was shouting before she knew it, fed up with having him poke around her head to talk. "You're so sure about how right you are about this that you're won't even bother spending half a second looking and listening. You want me to explain why I think I can still help him? Then let me talk!"
"And tell me what? Did you forget, Toa Hahli, that I was close enough for telepathy during your entire conversation back there? Is the part where he explained how he threw away the Three Virtues supposed to convince me, or the part where he talked about murdering his own self out of simple jealousy? I looked into his spirit as we fought, and I will tell you, there is not even the slightest glimmer of light there. There is nothing that separates him from the three I eliminated when I first arrived in this universe."
"I know," she said. "And there's not much that separates him from the Takanuva I know, either. You heard our conversation, but did you listen? Did you hear how he talked about the Toa, and how they're supposed to be heroes? Did you catch the part where he told me that it's driving him mad to think of his friends dying because he's not there? What did you hear, Teridax, anger and hatred, or fear and pain? And be honest. I think it's going to tell me a lot more about who you really are than any showy light powers ever could."
For a few moments all she could hear were his feet smashing against the ground. When he spoke, there was a surprising gentleness to his tone. "Do you remember when I asked you if you wanted to see your shadow, Toa Hahli?"
"Is there a point to this question?"
"I was bluffing."
"Toa save worlds, Bohrok clean islands, Makuta make bluffs. Again, what's your point?"
"My point is that Light and Shadow are two sides of the same coin. I could have shown you your shadow if you wanted. But it was such a small thing, in truth. It lurked in the corners of your heart, feeding on your fear and your worries, but it never grew. How could it? Whenever you brought it out, it was smothered by who you were. True, you hated me for killing those three Takanuva, but it was a hatred born of love for your fallen friend. Nor was your suspicion of me born of simple prejudice - my other self had hurt your brothers and sisters, your very world, and that you could not allow. How could you? They tell me you were the Chronicler. You'd seen so much of the world, you could not allow anyone to harm it."
She snorted. "Were you looking in the right place, Makuta? I do not have a gentle heart."
"Liar." It was said as a simple statement of fact. "Your shadow was there, but you would not let it grow. To you, the very idea of darkness is antithetical to everything you hold dear. And that is why I understand your reluctance to end this. Takanuva is a good friend, of that I am sure. But the damage to this one is already done, Toa. I am sorry, but the darkness has taken him. Perhaps his spirit resists it in some small way, but it can do no more against his shadow than your shadow can against you. He is a rotted thing, and there is nothing I can do but stop him before he spreads his rot."
She sighed. "Put me down. We've run enough."
He slowed his pace. "What?"
"I said, we've run enough. I said I wanted a chance to think, didn't I?"
He regarded her warily as she climbed down from his shoulder. "Are you saying you agree with me, then? You will help me stop him?"
"I'll stop him, don't worry about that. I'm not sure I'll help you do it, is all."
He furrowed his brow. "Do not play games, Toa. Will you do as I ask or not?"
She shrugged. "One last question. You keep saying that Shadow and Light are two sides of the same coin and all that. So, say, if someone were controlling darkness, they'd be controlling light at the same time, right?"
"I suppose you could say that. But what-"
Hahli spun so fast that the Makuta barely had time to register it before her foot slammed into the side of his mask. It separated from his face with a mechanical clunk as he went tumbling to the ground. A moment later, he heard her pick it up.
"Sorry, Teridax, but if you think I'm letting you anywhere near Takanuva, you're even crazier than you were in this universe. After all, I've seen how messy things get when you two fight." He heard the tell-tale metallic sheens of a mask being removed and another being put on. A moment later, a Faxon tumbled into view. "Sorry about taking this, but you can borrow mine. It's a fair trade, right?"
Before he could say anything, a foot slammed into his stomach. "You probably aren't going to believe me, but that was nothing personal. I just need to make sure you don't try and stop me. You can either follow me in ten or fifteen minutes once your breath is back and I've got enough of a head start, or you can sit here and wait for me to come back. Your choice."
Another foot slammed into his face, and Makuta Teridax knew darkness.
Her eyes struggled to adjust as she ran back down the passageway they'd come through; it felt as though the Kraahkan had gone into her mind and flipped a switch from "seeing light" to "seeing dark". It was pitch black around her, she knew, but somehow when she looked at what should've been by any sane measure a patch of nothingness her mind was able to pick out the slightest detail of a crumbling wall, the faintest sheen of water. Is this what it's like for Teridax? she wondered. Or does he have enough control over the mask to let him see the world as the rest of us do?
The golden mask itself felt awkward around her face, like it was trying to slip away back towards its rightful owner. She grabbed hold of it and pressed it back on; the Makuta could have the cursed thing when she was done with it, but right now there was a chance, however slim, that it was going to let her get all three of them out of there alive and not completely insane.
She forced herself to remember his words as she ran. He'd spoken of spirits and elements, of Light and Shadow being two sides of the same coin, of this mask that could peer into a spirit and play with the darkness within in ways even a Toa of Shadow or Makuta of Light could not. If she was right, then – and she had no idea if she was – there was a chance, however small, that she could use the mask to peel away some of the shadow that was choking Takanuva's heart. And once she had done that…
If it truly desires to remain in the dark, there is nothing I can do.
She shook her head at the memory of the Makuta's warning. That she wouldn't believe. She'd cajoled and taunted him in the hopes that maybe someone so ensconced in darkness would respond with something close to his true self, and he hadn't disappointed her. There had been agony in his voice, hidden underneath the anger, and fear for the people he had left behind. He was still Takanuva, her friend - she had to believe that.
When she reached the chamber where Takanuva had trapped her, it was empty, and she saw half a dozen holes in the wall that he could have escaped through. Gritting her teeth, she tried focusing on the mask; there was an almost imperceptible blip in her sight, and then she saw shadows hanging in the air where none had before. Some she recognized as the trails of the Rahkshi, but weaving through them and down a tunnel to her left was a banner of obsidian that seemed to absorb the wisps of black around it. There was no mistaking who it was coming from. As she started down the passage, she realized she should have seen it back at the first lake they'd found - just one more thing Teridax had hidden from her.
It was only when she was some hundred bio down the passageway that she realized it had grown utterly silent around her. There was none of the familiar dripping of water that had permeated the rest of the cave, nor was there the quiet rush of a stream beneath her feet, nor even the hiss of a stalking Rahkshi. For just a moment, her mind turned inward in an effort to break the silence, and a thousand images flashed before her eyes: her, Takua, and Jaller clashing in a game of Kolhii; Takanuva laying a golden Hau to rest; the Toa of Light and the Makuta struggling; Jaller's stunned face looking back at her the night they became Toa; the moment they'd known Matoro had succeeded; the Kraahkan in the sky; her and Takanuva standing over a wounded Jaller, the three of them laughing in the crowded New Atero hut so they wouldn't cry.
And then her foot came down against the rock and she was back in a flooded cavern untold kio beneath the surface, on her way to try and save a friend she'd never met. How much of that has he seen? When did he lose them? When did they lose him?
She had no answer to that, but she remembered his words, the fury in his voice when he'd spoken of stories gone astray. This was her chance to help him, she knew. A Chronicler was meant to record stories, she had been told, but she'd learned from a certain red-and-blue Matoran a long time ago that sometimes they could fix them as well.
Hahli found him surrounded by smashed Rahkshi, sitting and looking at the Avohkii in his hands, his back to the tunnel's mouth. For a few seconds she stood there, watching him, and then the Toa of Shadow began to speak without turning to face her.
"Tell me something, Hahli. Why haven't you left this place?"
Her voice was soft but unhesitating. "I still have something I need to do."
"Oh? Why is that? What about you 'needs' to deal with the hollowed-out shell of a Toa of Light in some cave kio away from civilization? Am I talking to Hahli, or the Toa of Water?"
He laughed at that. "Of course. I should've known that would be your answer. That's what happens to all us Toa, in the end. We say to ourselves, 'of course I'm destined to be a Toa. That's who I am. What else could matter?' We might be a little nervous at first, but soon we're righting wrongs and having grand adventures like it was the most normal thing in the world." He turned the mask over in his hands. "But soon that's all we can do. The thrill of exploring the world, the joy of fighting evil – that's all that we live for. Take that away from us, and what are we? A bunch of overgrown Matoran who've forgotten where we came from. There's no place for us."
"You never forgot. And you still have a place."
He shook his head. "Didn't I? Do I? I don't know your Takanuva, Hahli. All I know is that he's still traveling the world and helping his friends as a Toa of Light, while I sit and rot in a cave as a Toa of Shadow in a world I was never part of. He must be a good friend, for you to be so repulsed by me." Abruptly, he stood, putting on his mask as he did. "I'll say this once, Hahli, even though I know you'll refuse. Leave. Forget what you found here, this Toa in the dark, and go home. Find your Jaller and your Takanuva and live the life you're supposed to, and pray that it's never taken away from you."
Her only reply was to step closer to him. He sighed and picked up his staff from where it rested on the floor. "I don't want to do this, no more than I want to be here. But this is the life I've been given, and even if it has no place in this world, I don't intend to give it up." He spun and slashed at her, but Hahli was already sliding along the ground beneath its arc. With a shout she launched herself upward and grabbed the staff, struggling to pry it from his grasp. Blue eyes stared back at her with a resounding emptiness. "You've taken his mask. Why? Do you think you can overpower me with it? Do you think I'll dance to your command with it?" His body began to glow with a black light she felt certain she wouldn't be able to see if it weren't for the Kraahkan. "Answer me. Why?" His strength seemed to grow tenfold as he spoke, forcing her to the floor with the weapon. "Why?"
Her voice was hoarse. "Because this isn't how your story ends." In one smooth motion, she let go of the staff and charged forward into him. The two of them tumbled backwards into a heap against one of the walls, and before he could move she shot out a hand and grabbed onto his armor where his heartlight was shining through. She didn't have time to think – she just focused on the mask and the Toa before her, hoping to whatever Great Spirit there was now that something would happen.
For a split second time seemed to stop, and then she could feel a wave of fear and fury crash over her. Her vision had gone pitch-black, as though she was floating in a field of nothingness – yet there was a single point that seemed even darker than the rest in some impossible way. It pulsed and shuddered, without the slightest hint of light peeking through its surface. This is what Teridax saw, she realized. This is Takanuva's spirit. The mask can show it to me as easily as it could a Rahkshi's trail.
She reached out a hand that she couldn't see towards it. I have the mask. I can strip away the darkness, I know I can. Shadow and Light are two sides of the same coin, he said as much. But the surface of the orb simply slithered away at her touch, shifting and sliding but never truly changing. She could feel hopelessness and fear pressing down on her, and she could not tell if it was hers or his. There is something I can do to help him. There must be. Anything!
And she looked down. There was no body she could see, only a shining orb of azure light, its surface rippling like the ocean surface. That is me. Water, light… for just a moment, one of the waves fell dark. …And shadow. There, but hidden. Controlled. Part of me, but never all of me.
The answer came crashing down on her. She reached out the hand that wasn't there again towards Takanuva. For just a moment, her sight seemed to dim and brighten at the same time, and she saw a glimpse of him starting to shove her away as he reached for his staff. No! No, please. I can help you. All I need is a second.
She didn't even need that. Her hand plunged into the ball of darkness before her, and she threw everything she had into the Kraahkan. She felt something shifting within her, and then she could see light flowing through an arm that wasn't there, sliding onto the surface of the orb before her and pushing the shadows away. And away they went, happily, back across the conduit and into her own waiting spirit.
She gasped, or at least thought she did. It was as though she was caught in a vice, the darkness around her pressing in against everything, a dull, throbbing pain draining throughout her like a poison. This is what happened to him, she thought deliriously. This is what they did to him. Mata Nui, why? Why did you let this happen? Why him? She could still see her own light flowing into his spirit. Two sides of the same coin. Use this, Takua, you have to use this. Your spirit was never made for shadow. Fight it, I'm begging you. You have a home that needs you. Don't be weak!
And then something tore at her face, and she felt the world yanking away. For a moment she could see - a golden hand pulling the Mask of Shadows away, a grey-and-silver Toa before her, clutching his body in agony. Their eyes met, hers yellow, his green, and then the pain overtook her and Toa Hahli knew darkness as well.
When she came to, she could feel the rocking of the boat below her and the gentle touch of water as the ocean lapped over its sides. She smiled to herself; she was off the coast of Mata Nui, that was right. Jaller was clinging to the sail for dear life, even though they'd be at the Ta-Koro shore within the hour, and it was hardly as though they were sailing in deep water. She could almost feel the sunlight on her skin.
Then her head bumped against a rock as Teridax turned the corner, and her eyes snapped open. The Makuta had her over one shoulder again, and he was swaying under the weight as he walked, an orb of light floating alongside him to illuminate the murky tunnel. He glanced over at her as she shifted, his face unreadable. "Ah, good. You're awake. Now you can walk." Unceremoniously, he dipped his shoulder and she slid off, scrambling to land on her feet. She stumbled briefly before righting herself.
"Makuta! What's – where's Takanuva? Did you –"
And then she saw him, slung over the Makuta's other shoulder, eyes closed and body unmoving. Before she could act, Teridax spoke, his tone gruff. "He's not dead. Check if you like."
She did. His armor was still warm to the touch, and she could see the slow rise and fall of his chest. Relief washed over her, and she sighed in sudden exhaustion. "You didn't kill him."
"No." He began to walk forward again.
She stumbled after him, her body clumsy with exhaustion. "Why not?"
"I saw no reason to waste your sacrifice."
My sacrifice. Suddenly the nightmare she'd lived in that moment before Teridax had arrived and torn the mask from her face came back to her. Unthinkingly, she put a hand to her heartlight, as though she expected to feel something there, but all there was was the familiar, warm touch of her armor's protodermis. "So… I did it, then?"
He snorted. "I doubt you understood what it was you were trying to do, but yes, you did it. Some small part of him has escaped the shadow, and some part of you has been given to it."
She struggled to keep up. "I knew what I was doing. You said it yourself – light and shadow are two sides of the same coin. I thought if I could use the mask –"
"You could pull him out of the darkness in exchange for a bit of your own light. A not impossible plan. But still utterly ridiculous."
Anger flared within her. "What's the matter, Makuta? Upset I managed to solve this without smashing his head in?"
"Upset that you threw yourself into this without stopping to think of the consequences. Tell me, Toa Hahli, if I had not removed that mask, how long did you plan to continue your little trick? Did you think to yourself, 'I shall give him just a little bit of light, and then stop'? Or were you just watching, without the slightest hint of control over what you had begun? You would have awakened as much a monster as he was - did you think to have your newly-saved friend kill you? Even with my interruption, it is a miracle the two of you still draw breath; the Mask of Shadows was not made to do these things. Perhaps you thought the two of you dying in an effort to redeem him would make for an impressively tragic legend?"
She looked up at the impassive golden mask. "No. I didn't think any of that. All I thought was, 'I can help him'. I can understand if that's a little hard for a Makuta to grasp."
He didn't bother to meet her eyes. "So you charged in blind and survived through sheer chance. I am beginning to understand why the Toa of this world seem to have such a colorful history."
"Now you're starting to learn."
For a while they walked in silence. The Makuta seemed to know where they were going, and she saw no sign of Rahkshi as they climbed up and out of the labyrinth.
Eventually, she spoke again. "Why didn't you ever try something like this? You make it sound like my only problem was that I couldn't control the mask. If I was able to do… whatever it was I did back there… I can't see you having any trouble."
She saw his mouth tighten. "No. I doubt I would."
To her surprise, she saw him look away – out of shame? Disappointment? "Because I cannot take that risk."
"When I took my mask from you, Hahli, the first thing I did was peer into your spirits. Where he had light, you now had shadow. It was an equal exchange, or close enough. You stepped into the shadow to pull him into the light."
Instantly, everything was clear to her. "You're saying that no matter how much control you have over the mask, you would've had to do the same."
Teridax nodded. "And the moment I do that is the moment I let the darkness back into myself. Do you remember what I told you about spirits and elements, Hahli? That they sway us as much as we sway them?" He sighed. "We Makuta are first and foremost beings of Shadow. I stand before you now because I dedicated my life to turning myself away from it. If I allow myself the slightest slip – the smallest unjust act, the most minute amount of pointless cruelty – I let it back into my heart. We define ourselves through choice, but there is no escaping our nature. Some spirits can smother the shadow, but others nurture it and let it grow as large as it pleases." His head bowed. "I could use this mask to save those locked in the grasp of darkness, perhaps. But the day I do is the day that the Makuta Teridax that killed your friend Matoro has a chance to live again. I cannot allow that to happen. A few Takanuva are not worth thousands of others."
Hahli looked at him, the golden mask still its nightmarish shape, the armor still pitted and scarred, the eyes still crimson red, and for the first time she felt something like pity for the being that walked alongside her. He was more an outcast than Takanuva ever was, the sins of another self hanging over him wherever he went. And in that moment, she knew – she could never forgive him for what his other self had done, but neither could he.
"Here. Take him off your shoulder."
He looked at her in surprise. "What?"
"Give me his legs. We can carry him together. He'll only be half as heavy for you that way."
For a moment he regarded her in surprise, and then lowered the Toa from his shoulders without a word, letting his chest and head lie in his hands as Hahli lifted his legs. In silence, they walked forward, their lifelong friend and mortal enemy resting in their arms.
Takanuva was still unconscious when she cut the rope of their ship and set sail back to New Atero. The stars were shining down on them, and in their faint light she could just see that his armor had changed, the jet-black faded to a muted grey. "Is he going to be all right?" she asked Teridax.
He considered it. "Physically? Forcing light into a spirit so long lost in the darkness is not an easy thing. I don't know how long he'll take to recover."
"And is that light… I don't know, enough?"
"I do not know. There is much he has been through, and a shadow grows from despair and anger. But there is some part of him that's returned to the light. If he is as true as you say he is, then that may be enough." He looked to her. "It will be a difficult journey."
She nodded. "I know that. Which is why he's going with you."
The Makuta's eyes widened in shock. "What?"
"You heard me." She turned and looked him in the eyes one last time. "I was right about you from the very beginning. You're Makuta Teridax, through and through; there isn't a single piece of you that's any different from the Makuta I know. The only difference was the world you were given." She looked down at the unconscious figure between them, and reached out a hand. Hesitantly, she stroked the side of the silver Avohkii. "And if you're Teridax through and through, then he's Takua through and through. And if you of all people could drag yourself into the light, then I know he still has a chance.
"Here's what's going to happen. By the time he wakes up, the two of you are going to be far away from New Atero, and I'm guessing he's not going to be happy to see you. When you've calmed him down one way or the other, you're going to tell him just who you are, and how it is Makuta Teridax became a being of Light. And then you two are going to set out together for home. His home.
"It's going to be a long journey, and I think we're both smart enough to know it's not always going to be a happy one. I don't know how you're going to figure out some way to jump across dimensions, but you're going to - and along the way, you're not going to ever leave his side. You're going to drag him into the light kicking and screaming if you have to, and once you find his world, you're taking him back to his Hahli and Jaller and everyone, because that's where he should be. And even if they turn out to be evil enough to make you look good or if they're all dead or whatever the universe feels like throwing at you, he'll have at least one friend." She lifted her hand from his mask. Her voice was small and weary. "He deserves at least one friend."
He regarded her, his face unreadable as ever. "You do not think it would be better for him to join you in New Atero?"
She shook her head. "No. It would be a nightmare for him. So many would doubt him, and when he met his other self – what would he do? You didn't hear our last conversation. He knows this isn't his place. Forcing him to live that fact won't change it."
He nodded, but seemed unconvinced. "And why in the world do you entrust me with this task?"
"Because you know this isn't your place either. Maybe your Great Beings won't take you back, but that doesn't change the fact that everyone on this planet has had enough of Makuta Teridax to last them a lifetime. So I'm leaving it up to you – because if you can find a world accepting of a Toa who fell to the shadow, maybe you can find a world accepting of a Makuta who rose to the light."
He looked down in silence. She thought he was done, and then he spoke in the voice she so hated, in the simplest, kindest tone she'd ever heard it. "Just so. I thank you, Toa Hahli. I do not think it is any more my place to spend my days absently hunting Rahkshi than it is his to raise them."
She smirked. "I knew you wanted to play hero. You Makuta are nothing but ego."
He laughed. "Oh, when did I ever deny that? I'm a Makuta who's spent his life as a chosen messenger of justice and light. I'd be worried if I didn't have an ego."
It was so unexpected she found herself chortling. And then the two of them were laughing, the Makuta and the Toa, the waves carrying them and the sleeping figure between them over the starlit bay, towards journey's end and journey's beginning.
And that's that. Thanks very much for reading - I know the start was a little slow, but hopefully you enjoyed it in the end. Special thanks to a one Nick Silverpen for helping out with the early drafts.
Comments and critiques are always wanted, so if you've got anything to say, positive or negative, the review box is right there. Thanks in advance!