PRESERVEThis is what it feels like to be Kopeke Nakali right now:
You’re numb. From the cold, firstly, but also from all of the blood flowing out of your legs, which have been sliced to ribbons. The snow around you has been stained crimson, where the blood has melted it into some twisted, nightmarish bit of red slush.
You’re scared. Terrified, actually. Your heart is beating what feels like a hundred times a second, and adrenaline floods your veins. You’re dying, you know this. It is inevitable. This expedition has gone horrifically wrong, and now you’re lying here, dying in the snow. There is nothing you can do to stop this.
You wanted to be one of the Knights – the Knights of Ekimu. You had just finished training; this was your first mission. You were given the honour of joining the Lord Commander himself on a small expedition, one joined by Toa Kopaka. No other trainees could say the same. They saw something in you, your trainers, and the other Knights. He saw something in you as well – the Khan. Nato Greavesey, the Traveler. He gave you this mission. He expected great things from you. He knew Agua Hielo would see great things from you.
Perhaps you might elevate the status of House Nakali, like he once did for House Greavesey. Even if the houses and their distinctions have meant less since the war. You were supposed to be like him.
You’re a failure. Your first mission, and you’re dead. Your first mission, and everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Toa Kopaka is lost. The Lord Commander is dead, or worse. When you tilt your head to the side, vision going blurry, you still recognize the dead, blank eyes of Kraku Treml staring at you. You don’t know what happened to the others. Are they dead? Are they missing? Did they escape?
You can only pray that they did. That they will warn the rest.
Your watch has only just begun, if it ever began at all. A part of you doesn’t think it did.
You close your eyes one last time, and everything goes black. You can feel the wind howling, but you cannot hear it.
And then you feel no more.
-This is what it feels like to be Toa Kopaka right now:
You’re filled with rage. Endless, suffocating rage. It burns within you, so hotly that you feel like you might explode, so hot that you cannot believe it has not melted the snow around you, and turned this blizzard into a rainstorm. Your muscles are tensed, and your chest heaving for breath. Blood is splattered across the tip of your spear. Your shield is missing.
You look around, and find it. It is embedded in a tree; one half of a Protector above it, another below. They are dead, that much is clear. You cannot remember their name. It was meaningless, really; pointless. They angered you, that much you know. They deserved it, a voice whispers in your mind, and you agree.
Then you pause. An inkling of suspicion begins to grow.
The voice rushes to calm you, to distract you, to turn you away, but you’ve already figured it out. You’re already remembering what happened. You remember plodding through the snow, grumbling with the Protectors. Grumbling at the Lord Commander. The mission, the expedition. A dangerous one, thanks to the blizzard, but necessary. A sighting of dark energy – the first in the North since the Battle for the Dawn.
You know the voice. It feels cold, and dark, and sends a shiver down your spine. It feels and sounds wrong. It ran alongside the voice of Skull Basher whenever it spoke. You feel like it might have done the same for Kulta. Not their voices, no, though their voices were much the same. This one is different. Older, more powerful, irresistible.
It whispers again. Kill the Spare. So you search, mindlessly, following its command, and a part of you dies as another fades away to horror as you lose all control. You search out the area with the x-ray goggles built into your mask, and you find the Spare.
He is fleeing up the mountain. Your body turns like an automaton, and rips your shield out of the tree. Both halves of the Protector collapse into the snow. You heft your spear, and take your first step up the slope.
You feel terror, horror, disappointment.
Another, darker part of you feels satisfied, and this sickens you, but it also feels so right.
You remember a colossal figure, with a single, gleaming red eye.
Metus, the Spare. He cannot be allowed to escape.
The hunt begins.
-This is what it feels like to be Corban Greavesey right now:
You’re afraid. The chill of terror eats away at your insides, and you’re paralyzed. Frozen to the spot. You’re scared to remain, but even more scared to flee. Can you make it? Do you want to? You do not know.
It was supposed to be an honor for you. To be named as the Lord Commander of the Knights of Ekimu, the third member of House Greavesey since the Knights returned to hold the position. You were supposed to carry on the legacy, continue your family’s domination and influence across the island. But you were never like Nato, pragmatic and stubborn and brave to a fault. You were never like Onaku, determined and hopeful and loyal. Historically, these two would have been the outcasts of your house, the outliers; thirty years ago during the War for the Throne, that’s exactly what Nato was.
But those thirty years have seen great changes come to the house, thanks to Nato himself, and now you are the outlier. A Protector who some might call coward, who prefers to remain uninvolved, and has always been considered with himself above all others. You’ve heard the whispers, about how you don’t belong, how you don’t deserve the Greavesey name.
You accepted the position, though. It was an elevation in status, and though you saw through the excuses, saw it for what it was, you still felt proud. Of all the Protectors, all the Knights to choose from, you had been selected.
Yet here you are – one mission in, and you’ve failed.
You never should have been made Lord Commander. You never should have given into Kopaka’s taunts, and decided to run this expedition yourself. You never should have allowed a rookie like Kopeke Nakali to be assigned to the team.
It didn’t help that the rest of your team despised you. Kraku Treml, who now lies next to Kopeke in the snow, having bled out minutes ago. Solek Sivr, now stuck to a tree, impaled by a shield. Kylma Glacies, whose head was crushed like a tin can. Lumi Nivis, burned away to ashes by pure Dark Energy. Metus Crustallus, who is much like you, and now stands trembling next to you in the snow; and finally, Toa Kopaka, now twisted by the Spirit of the Wild, corrupted into something else.
Kopaka advances. You know this is the end.
Your watch ends here.
But somewhere, in the back of your mind, you know that one of you must escape. The word must be spread. The Knights must be warned. Toa Kopaka as they knew him is gone. The Spirit of the Wild – long thought to be only a myth – has returned, and is now powered by the same Dark Energy that once fuelled Kulta. The other Toa are at risk; if they all turn, Okoto might be doomed.
So you turn to Metus.
“Go”, you say. “Run.”
No more needs to be said; Metus understands. You shake hands, and then he is gone.
You turn to face Kopaka, whose eyes have been consumed by madness, gleaming red, and bow your head.
You feel no fear, anymore. Only acceptance.
You watch as Kopaka advances towards you. You watch as he hefts his spear in his hand. You watch as he stabs it towards you, watch as it pierces your armor like paper, watch as the blood begins to gush out of you.
And then everything goes black.
Your watch has ended.
-This is what it feels like to be Metus Crustallus right now:
You’re exhausted. Your heart is thumping, adrenaline pumps through your veins, and your actions are fuelled by the desperation of a dying man who fights to stay alive at all costs, but you are exhausted all the same. You have watched each of your companions be butchered, first by the Spirit of the Wild, then by Kopaka, after he was twisted into something else entirely.
The old words of the Knights of Ekimu ring through your mind. “We Watch, We Listen, and We Remember”, they had said. Well, you watched your companions die, and you listened to their screams and cries, and for the rest of your life – however short it might be – you will remember.
You are filled with shame, that you might be the only one to survive. You have always known that you were a coward. You only joined the Knights out of self-preservation, to avoid the conflict of the War of Five Kings after your house butchered its enemies at a peaceful banquet. Now here you are, running yet again, because that is what will keep you alive. Even Corban Greavesey – disgrace to his house that he was – could find enough bravery to make one final stand.
He is dead now, you know this. You can hear Kopaka somewhere behind you in the storm. He is relentless in his hunt, and you know that he will find you before you can return home.
You hear footsteps crunching in the snow up ahead, and pause.
Kopaka still approaches from behind.
A part of you expects the corrupted Spirit of the Wild to confront you. You prepare yourself for the single, gleaming red eye of Keetongu to penetrate into your soul once more-
-but it is not Keetongu whom you see, pushing their way through the snow.
It is a figure clad in what must have once been a navy blue armor, though its edges have rusted orange. He is your height, but he is no Okotoan that you remember, and no region has ever clad its Protectors in armor of that design. He is… something else.
He stares at you in silence.
Your shoulders slump. You are tired, and weary. You’re ready to give in.
“Metus Crustallus. I’m here to offer you a choice. Join me, and the one that I serve… or die.”
Kopaka approaches. He senses you now, you know. His Mask of Power will have revealed your location to him. Somewhere, Keetongu still roams the blizzard. This stranger, he radiates some sort of power. Not Dark Energy like Kulta and Keetongu, nor the feel of the Toa, with their elemental powers. It is power of a different sort.
You saw the Mask Maker Voltex, once, after the Battle for the Dawn. Before he disappeared.
This newcomer’s aura… is not unlike his. But it feels darker than Voltex, and colder.
“Make your choice, Okotoan, before I leave you to your fate.”
You consider refusing his offer, but, flushing with shame, you realize you never could. You are selfish, and a coward, and you fear death most of all. Any opportunity to delay it, you will seize with both hands. You fall down to one knee, and bow your head. When you look up at the newcomer again, there is a satisfied gleam in his eyes. He understands what you have said without words.
You hear Kopaka slow to a halt behind you.
“You have chosen well,” the figure tells you, and you incline your head again.
You have only one question.
“Might I know your name?” you ask. “And the name of whom we serve?”
The newcomer smirks. “My name is Sahmad. And as for the one we serve...”
He trails off, and a chill runs down your spine.
“…you’ll find out soon enough.”
The Great Game returns October 6th.