It was pitch black and dead silent.

Hello?

She heard her own voice, but couldn’t see herself. She tried to move and the grinding of her feet against the metal floor have almost deafened her.

She shuddered, panic rising like boiling water. She felt the space around her and discovered that she’s surrounded by metal walls at an arm’s reach and she could barely touch the ceiling. Now she was afraid. She tried feeling up and down but found nothing.

Her breath fastened. She screamed.

Let me out!

She banged her fists on the walls.

Let me out!

She threw herself against the metal, to no avail. And then she heard the gurgling. Something wet touched her feet and she yelped and jumped. Then gurgling turned into a deafening roar as the water started filling the space around her.

No, no, not again!

In panic, she felt the walls again, looking for anything, a seam to hold onto, to no avail.

As the water filled the dark, scary space she was in, she struggled even more, until she couldn’t breathe. Then she tried to float up and feel the ceiling, but it was perfectly smooth.

Please let me out! her mind raced, flailing around. Please! Please, I’ll drown! I can’t swim!

Soon she couldn’t have held her breath anymore and water rushed inside, filling her lung, stifling her final, painful scream…

* * *

Maku woke up in cold sweat, screaming at the top of her lungs. She sat up, hyperventilating, and looked around.

She was home, in Ga-Koro. The water village, and home to the jolly water-maidens. It was an early morning, judging by the cold and the mist she could see in the window.

She stood up, shaking, and headed for the outside. The floor, a giant water lily, gently bobbed under her feet and Maku yelped quietly, holding onto the rubbery walls made of the same material as the floor.

She stood out, a narrow but short bridge with no handles leading for the main area: a truly grand water lily, surrounded by houses similar to hers.

On the opposite side of the bridge stood a hunched figure with a staff. Even in the mist, Maku recognized the elder of their village, Turaga Nokama.

Oh no I made Turaga Nokama worry! Maku thought, still holding onto the doorway. However, seeing the elder, she began to feel at ease.

Nokama was wise and calm, and she always had good advice.

“G-good morning, Turaga!” Maku’s voice trembled as she tried to sound optimistic. “The mist is truly something today, isn’t it?”

“Good morning, Maku,” Nokama responded in the gentlest of her voices. She stepped on a bridge, making the lilies bob a little more. The Ga-matoran squeezed the doorway even tighter. “Are you okay?”

“I, uh,” there was no hiding it. “I’m better! But I had a very bad dream… again.”

She looked down, feeling guilty.

“Bad dream?” Nokama approached her and took her hand - the one that held onto the house. She tugged gently, having Maku step out and follow her. “Same bad dream?”

“Y-yes, Turaga,” reluctantly, the Ga-matoran followed her. “The confined space of metal, with no light or escape, and a water prison.”

Nokama nodded.

“Are you afraid to be alone, Maku? Are you afraid to lose your Unity?” she asked.

“I’m not!” Maku retorted. “I love my sisters and they are always here!’

“Maku, you are the only Ga-matoran I know who is not in tune with her Element,” they stood at the edge of the lily, looking down at the still water. “You are afraid of swimming, except on the beach, and therefore you cannot perform your Duty and help the village. All of your sisters deep-dive to find resources to expand Ga-koro and trade with other villages.”

“I know that,” Macku pouted, bitter from Turaga’s words. “Maybe I’m just odd like that, you know? Maybe I am not Destined to be a swimmer!”

“Oh, don’t say that, dear Maku,” Nokama, the ever-patient, touched Ga-matoran’s shoulder and her core light. “Mata Nui has plans for everyone. You just have great Shadow haunting you. I promise I will help you overcome it. Let’s start with some simple meditations...”

* * *

A few days later, Maku was sitting at the edge of the diving pool, probing the water with a stick. The pool was covered with lily leaves, and the interior was lit with a couple of glowfish lanterns.

The nightmare did not repeat, and Turaga Nokama’s meditation sessions helped ease the anxiety, but the Ga-matoran still couldn’t bring up herself to swim anywhere outside of the shallows.

Her pondering was interrupted with a splash: a group of Ga-matoran emeged from the pool, laughing, exchanging splatters and having the time of their lives. Upon noticing Maku, they quieted down.

“Still can’t swim?” asked one of them, Hali. Hali was the bravest Ga-matoran Maku ever known. An adventurous type, this one, she was always exploring the ocean floor and constantly pushing both the boundaries of allowed and Nokama’s patience.

Hali was also Maku’s best friend, most supportive of them all. She sat beside her, wrapping her dripping arms around her. Maku shuddered slightly, then nodded.

“Aw don’t worry about it,” Hali suggested with a smile. “With time, I am sure you’ll be able to overcome your fears, just like I did!”

“You also had fear of deep water?” Maku perked up, smiling coyly.

“Sssuuuuure, the first couple of minutes! Then something just clicked, and here I am!” Hali pat herself on the chest. “I am sure, eventually something will click for you as well!”

Macku laughed nervously.

“Your words of support are appreciated, Hali,” she sighed and looked at Hali’s companions. “Don’t let me keep you, though. I’ll be fine.”

Hali nodded, standing up.

“See you around then!” she said and went out.

The rest of the Ga-matoran followed her, with one stopping for a moment, looking back at Maku.

“Something on your mind, Vhisola?” Maku asked, but Vhisola only smiled with a sort of mischief and disappeared.

Maku did not like that little smile of hers, and her anxiety immediately spiked up. She had to remind herself of Nokama’s meditation techniques.

It’s going to be okay. I will be fine. It’s only fear. I must be brave…

* * *

In the dead of night, Maku woke up, prompted by a weird noise outside of her hut.

She uncovered the lightfish lantern and carefully peeked out to investigate. The moon was hiding behind the clouds, and there was barely any movement on the water.

“Hello?” Maku stepped outside, waving her lantern around. “Who’s there? I swear Hali, if it’s one of your pranks, I am not buying it!”

The answer was silence, almost like in that dream.

Maku’s heart skipped a beat and she instinctively backed off but then something grasped her leg and pulled her off the bridge.

With a scream, unable to resist, Maku went underwater.

It was dark, and something was pulling her down. The Ga-matoran could not scream, she let go of the lantern and struggled to swim up in vain.

For a moment she looked down to see a shape of a matoran fading away as the latnern went down.

Oh no it IS one of Hali’s pranks! a panicked thought crossed Maku as the sense of betrayal and loneliness sunk in, making her thrash and kick. Luckily, she managed to break free from the matoran’s grasp and she attempted to swim up, but by that time fear weakened her to the point that she couldn’t. As she started to sink, her vision became blurry. Last thing she felt was a powerful noise like someone’s dove in, then someone grabbed her by her hands and pulled her up.

* * *

Maku came to her senses, and it was still dark. First thing she noticed was a voice: someone yelled at someone else.

“Have you lost your mind, Vhisola?!” Hali shouted, stomping at their fellow Ga-matoran who was backing off from her slowly. “What did you think this little stunt would accomplish?!”

“I care about Maku as much as you do, but you all are being wrong!” Vhisola retorted. “Only subjecting her to the very thing she’s afraid of will help her overcome her fear!”

“Or it will completely break her!” Hali screamed. “How could you do something like this without talking to me or Turaga Nokama first?!”

“I, I,” Vhisola looked around. The rest of the villgers came out of their huts, disturbed and woken up by Hali’s verbal onslaught.

“What is the meaning of this?” Nokama emerged from the darkness, calm and collected, but Maku could feel a storm brewing behind her expressionless Kanohi Mask.

“Vhisola almost drowned Maku, says it’s for her own good!” Hali spat.

Upon seeing the Turaga, Vhisola went limp, falling onto her knees. There were tears in her eyes.

“Turaga, I just wanted to help,” she bawled.

Nokama looked at the three of them. All this time, Maku didn’t move, just staring at Vhisola in disbelief.

“That’s quite enough,” the Turaga said. “Hali, Vhisola’s heart in the right place, but her actions, indeed, were inappropriate,” she looked at the weeping Ga-matoran. “You,” Nokama beckoned. Vhisola stood up, with an effort. “I will deal with you later; go back to your hut and think about what you did, and think hard.”

Vhisola nodded, avoiding eye contact with anyone and scurried away.

“Now, Hali, help your friend up,” Turaga said, and Hali obeyed, taking Maku by her hands and letting her up. Then she hugged her tight. Maku felt Hali’s heart racing and her body trembling.

“Are you okay?” Maku whispered.

“Shut up I’ll be fine,” Hali responded and let her go. Together, they went back into Maku’s hut.

“That Vhisola, I swear to Mata Nui,” Hali grumbled as she helped Maku dry and helped her get comfy in her bed. “If it wasn’t for Turaga Nokama, so help me I’d punch Vhisola.”

“It’s okay,” Maku sighed, closing her eyes. “I think I understand Vhisola’s intent, but you’re right, she’s a jerk.”

“You’re always so kind to the others,” Hali’s voice softened. She bent over and kissed her best friend on the forehead. “You rest now. Tomorrow’s a new day.”

“Yes,” Maku’s voice trailed off as exhaustion took over and thrown her into the depths of her sleep.

* * *

I heard that you have the most endurance out of your class, Macku. I have a task only you can perform. Come visit the labs tomorrow. We need to run some tests. It’s for the bettement of all Ga-matoran...

* * *

A few more days have passed. Vhisola got tasked with chipping barnacles off the boats, and Maku barely saw her. On the third day, though, Vhisola came to visit her briefly. She looked heavy under the guilt. She apologized and Maku gently hugged her.

She truly was the kindest of them all.

Then at the sunset, Turaga Nokama called Maku to join her at the diving pool.

When Maku entered she barely recognized her elder: Nokama discarded her robes and straightened up. She was higher than the other matoran and had a strong, elegant buld to her. Maku gasped in surprise.

“Today we will do something different,” the Turaga said and sat down, legs in the water. “Maku, do you trust me?”

Maku nodded, sitting against her by the water, but keeping her legs dry.

“Then take my hand and breathe in as much as you can,” Turaga spoke with this soft confidence that made Ga-matoran feel safe and not to worry about the prospects of the upcoming activity she’s devised for her.

Maku nodded again. She took as much air in as she could and grabbed Nokama’s hand. The Turaga smiled as she picked up a lantern with her other hand and slid down into the water. Maku followed suit.

They dove in and Maku looked around in amazement. The lantern cast its light on stones, seaweed and sea creatures inhabiting the shallows.

Nokama looked back at her and smiled. Maku smiled back, awkwardly trying to keep herself afloat.

Her heart was pounding hard and she felt anxiety sapping her of her energy.

Nokama tugged her and they swam forward, away from the shore. Maku looked back at the dark circles of giant lilies, then back at Nokama. They continued.

Soon the shallows ceased, and this is where fear came in full force, slamming Maku into the chest. She moaned in protest, tugging Nokama on her hand. The Turaga looked back at her and then thrust the Ga-matoran up with a surprising force.. Soon she was on the surface, several hundreds of meters away from the village.

Maku was desperately gasping for air, thrashing her arms.

“Maku, calm down,” she heard Nokama’s voice as Turaga emerged, her lantern still with her. “Take a deep breath and try to position yourself as if you are laying down in your hammock.”

Maku made an awkward attempt and it worked. She finally sighed with relief, drifting on the surface and looking up into the starry skies.

“Feel better?” Nokama floated closer, smiling. The way her village’s elder acted and behaved gave Maku confidence. “Now listen, Maku, it’s very important. We are going to dive, and we’re going to dive deep.”

“D-deep?” Maku have almost lost her balance as she stared at Nokama with disbelief and terror.

“Yes,” Nokama nodded. “There is a place deep down that I want to show you. It’s a great place for meditations!”

“But… but what if I won’t have enough oxygen?” the Ga-matoran protested. “What if I will faint?”

“It’s okay,” Nokama touched her shoulder. “I’m with you, remember?”

“Yes, but...” Maku took a deep breath.

I must be brave.

“You are doing so well already, Maku,” Turaga reassured her. “Come, now.”

She took Maku by her hand. Ga-matoran breathed in, and they began their descent.

* * *

This dive felt like it was taking forever. And the deeper they went, the darker it became. Soon Maku could not see anything, even her own hand, but Nokama’s lantern still glowed under her, beckoning her further.

She felt her oxygen supply depleting, and she started to panic again.

As if feeling her anxiety growing, Nokama stopped and waited for Maku to level with her. She smiled gently and then pointed behind her.

Maku turned around and strained her sight to see a hole in the coastal wall. She looked back at Nokama and Turaga nodded.

They swam there and as soon as they entered a medium-sized hole, Nokama stuck her lantern between the rocks and urged Maku to continue further into the dark.

The fear gripped onto Maku and she almost let out the remaining air, but she steeled herself and swam in, farther and farther away from the lantern.

They ended up feeling their way around until the tunnel went up and they finally reached the surface.

It was very dark and only Nokama’s eyes and core light were seen, Maku scrambled up and dropped onto the rocky floor, gasping for air.

“It’s so dark in here,” she spoke and shuddered at the sound of her own voice.

“Indeed,” Nokama sat beside her. “It’s an underwater cave, and the only exit we just came through.”

“A-a cave?” Ga-matoran panicked. “What if the ceiling will fall down and block it?! We will never get out to see Ga-Koro again! I will never get to see Hali again!”

“It’s all right,” Nokama squeezed her hand. “I’ve been here a lot of times. You’re safe. I am with you.”

“But it’s so dark!” Maku repeated.

“It is not, actually,” the Turaga smiled gently, “Look over there!”

Maku looked in the direction Nokama was pointing, and at first, her eyes saw nothing.

But she saw faint glow rising from the rocks and walls, and even the ceiling.

“W-what is it, Turaga?” Maku asked.

“These are colonies of very small bioluminescent organisms,” Nokama explained. “Once your eyes are comfortable with the darkness, it’s apparent that it is not at all dark. Come, let’s sit over there.”

There were a couple of particularly flat stones deeper in the cave, and they sat there, their legs crossed.

“This is where we will be doing our meditations from now on,” Nokama proclaimed. “That way you can get used to the deep, and I’ll be here to keep you company,” she smiled.

“O-oh,” Maku felt the sting of fear in her heart, but she fought it with all her might. “That’s okay!” she smiled bravely. “I like it here! Totally different from my nightmares!”

“Yes, I’d imagine,” the Turaga nodded. “Now, let’s start from the top...”

Ga-matoran chuckled, remembering their journey down here. Nokama nodded in approval.

* * *

“... Ever since then, Maku have become braver and braver by the day,” Nokama finished. “She’s doing great, and I couldn’t be proud. One day she might even beat Hali at deep-diving,” she chuckled and looked around.

The rest of the Turaga looked back at her. Matau, always laid-back, in his collar of feathers, was grinning.
“That’s a great story, sister!” he said. “Very awe-inspiring.”

Turaga Whenua nodded sagely, but said nothing.

“I am more intertested in those dreams of hers,” Vakama admitted. “They are disturbing.”

“Our past is quite disturbing, Fire-Spitter,” grumbled Onewa. “I am not surprised she has nightmares.”

“But they are not supposed to remember anything,” the fiery Turaga argued. “And yet...”

“Yes, curious indeed,” Whenua finally spoke. “And terrifying… why would they test Ga-matoran, and in such a traumatizing way?”

“We might never know,” Onewa shrugged. “One more mystery to leave to the past, Librarian. I say we live in “now”. For example, did any one of you see Ahkmou since the Great Rescue?”

The Turaga rocked their heads in unison...

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