If someone had told him in his youth that one day, Koros throughout the island would play host to metal juggernauts that carried people and freight across distances even a Kakama user couldn't hope to catch - and he had known a few slick ones - he would have considered it something out of a fairy tale. Ko-Koro, where he'd grown up, had been stagnant and aloof; all his neighbors had been obsessed with finding the meaning in the stars, as if a look in the night sky would dictate the meaning of their lives, too. He had spent a lot of his life looking at night skies, wondering what it was they saw up there. Red stars, spirit stars...they all went over his head after a while. He didn't even know what spirit star was his.
But trains were an unstoppable force of progress. Make life easier for everyone at all costs. Stand in front of one and get mowed down. And, if you were a real idiot, stand in front of one and see if you can halt the speed of progress too. Test what you're really made of.
He had been tempted a few times, if not for what that sorta thing would do to his body.
The other good thing about trains was that usually, unless they were charted by a real moron or someone with a fantastic case of nepotism, they connected vital points along their route. Hubs like Koros, or the outlying villages they relied on for supplies, trade, or military development. He had been on both ends of the moron and nepotism arrangement, and the administrations of Hewkii and his successor smacked of neither; they were built on calculus, baby, ruthless calculus, and there was a pragmatism in it that even he could admire. He'd known some Po-Koro Guardsmen once upon a time, too - they were pretty improvisational people, just like him, but even they'd had a method to their madness. So following these trains would eventually lead him somewhere, closer to his nebulous goal. He just had to believe that.
Otherwise he probably woulda tried his luck with the train by now. Instead, now and again he would watch the Iron Mahi chug by - and just like a little kid, every time he heard the thunder along the dunes he couldn't help but grin and cheer.
He'd grown to appreciate Po-Wahi a lot over the years. He'd learned to herd Rahi here.
That had been the last time he'd bothered visiting the village, though; many routes to Po-Koro were lost, he knew, in case he followed the tracks, and even since Renaka had begun opening the village to the rest of the island it would be years before some of the routes reopened. Even the routes that had become secrets of his trade were hindered in some way, undone by precise cave-ins or calculated goat path removal. So he would follow along the tracks until he reached Po-Koro, or maybe Forsi, with only periodic stops to rehydrate or stare at spirit stars.
He wished he'd brought some bourbon from Ga-Koro.
But it was still the morning hour, and by now whatever stars were left had faded into the cloudless sky, which meant it was his favorite time of day - pull the rifle from his duffel bag and scan the dunes for any hint of the old man. It was stupid to worry about whether or not he was being pursued, he knew; the cranky old-timer would have easily fit into his bag, right between the Zamor Launcher and the sword he really needed to get around to returning already. But he owed the Turaga a bit too much to stuff him in with all the guns. Maybe he had collapsed in some dune, back near the border, and his little legs had never quite found the strength to trudge another step. Maybe he'd just thirsted himself to death. Sounds like him for sure.
That one, at least, would be his own fault. Nothing to feel guilty about there.
Whatever the case, he wasn't on any of these dunes, so the Toa followed the path down the bay to wherever his destiny took him. Once, in a definitely-uncharacteristic-for-sure feat of navel-gazing, he looked down at the ground below him, parallel to the right side of the tracks.
There are footprints.
He could be thirsty.
He could be a mercenary, too. Or worse. He could be some normal person. The last thing he wanted to do was explain himself to one of them.
He could need help.
So call a hero.
He buried his face in his hands, feeling the weight of the duffel bag's strap dig into his right shoulder, and let out a muffled yell of frustration - nay, rage. He missed the old days. Back then he knew what to do with rage.
The tracks led him to what could only be Ostia, a desert wind covering both their paths in hi wake, but the first thing he saw at the docks wasn't someone in need of help. Rather, it was all he needed to see to know it was time for him to turn around and hit the Iron Mahi tracks again. It was a boat in name only, an ugly ironclad that been modified and frankensteined again and again. It was the flagship of the most pathetic, oxymoronic 'navy' he would probably ever encounter, and it was a credit to his star-crossed life that he'd never been forced to step foot on it.
Hi Fowadi. Bye Fowadi.
But something stopped him from taking a step backwards. He could make out a few of the people doing target practice, and in particular, one voice carried.
"Don't #### it up Praggos."
He knew it was the right thing to do, turning around and leaving them. He wouldn't be able to stick around. They weren't really his friends. His friends were buried in the bottom of the Kumu Sea, or maybe wading across it in search of him at that moment. His friends were righteous and just, and they always found ways to remind him that he wasn't. His friends were good, gentle people who had a habit of grabbing their own arms and falling to their deaths - a real thing that happens to sloths, by the way, but here meaning a metaphor for letting him into their hearts time and time again.
I don't want to keep doing this to people.
He knew he should turn away, but her voice had dug into his brain like a worm. Absurdly, the wind had picked up again, and sand was blowing into his eyes and making them water.
The boat won't take you all the way. You'll have to swim for the next one.
...But the boat might be a start, at least.
The Toa shifted the duffel bag comfortably onto his shoulder again before beginning his walk to the docks. Briefly, it occurred to him that he should probably dry his eyes before he got too close to them. He pulled the desert-stained scarf up from the lower half of his face, just for a second, to wipe away his tears. Then he tucked it back into position, so that only his feverish blue eyes remained visible.