Bend the Knee
Anna Saryian stepped into the throne room with no small amount of trepidation, flanked by Nidhiki and Tekulo of House Briar. At the end of the hall, lounging upon the ornate golden throne strewn with silver vines, was Makani Chloe Saryian… her mother.
“Lady Anna Saryian, your grace,” a Protector of Jungle announced. “Accompanied by Lord Tekulo Briar and Nidhiki Briar.”
Her mother nodded. Sharing a wary look with Nidhiki, Anna approached the throne, kneeling before the steps that led up to it. On either side, both Tekulo and Nidhiki did the same.
“Rise,” said Chloe.
She did so, meeting her mother’s eyes. They shone with a dangerous light, and Anna fought the urge to sigh. Today was, apparently, a bad day. Most days had been, recently; her mother had never been the same after the War of Five Kings.
“Why have you summoned us today, your grace?” Nidhiki finally asked, when it was clear that nobody else would break the silence.
“The Spirit of the Wild threatens our territory, and if the other nations sense weakness, they will strike. Luckily for all of us, I have found a solution,” Chloe said, smirking as she turned to one of the guards. “Bring the mask, and the creatures.”
“Creatures?” Anna asked, staring at the guard as they hurried away.
After a few moments, the guard returned with a small burlap sack in their hands. They were followed by several other Jungle Protectors, hauling two large boxes on wheels behind them. One of the boxes was shaking back and forth, and whatever was inside it was growling. Anna opened her mouth, intending to inquire about the box’s contents, but was distracted as Chloe took the burlap sack and opened it to reveal a familiar shape.
“The Mask of Control,” Tekulo said, sounding puzzled. “It’s… green?”
“I had it re-painted,” Chloe explained, showing off the legendary mask. “I felt that the green and black suit it much better than the gold, don’t you think? It fits our aesthetic better.”
Without waiting for a response, the Makani took off her own mask, and replaced it with the Mask of Control. She then stood from her throne, turning toward the containers. At some unspoken command, one of the now strangely stiff Protectors unlocked the larger of the two and opened it.
Anna flinched as a large, green shape flew out of the container, landing on all fours only a few feet away. Her eyes went wide as she recognized who it was – Toa Lewa.
“He’s been missing for weeks,” Nidhiki said, his voice barely a whisper. “How did you find him?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Chloe said dismissively, stepping next to the Toa. “He suffers from Hordika, now. He is little more than beast… but with the Mask of Control, that means nothing. He is mine to command.”
Beside her, Toa Lewa stood straight, turning to face Anna and the others directly. His eyes were strangely blank, although if she looked closely, Anna could almost make out the primal rage of the Hordika sickness flickering in them. The Toa lifted a single open palm before glancing behind him at the second container; vines wrapped around it, contracting once. The force was enough to shatter the wood of the container. A large, dragonfly-esque silver and green creature hovered in the open air where the container had been for a split second before turning into a blur as it tried to fly away, only to suddenly freeze again halfway across the room.
“Uxar, the mythical Creature of Jungle,” Chloe said. “The Elemental Creatures have been sighted all across Okoto. They alone are said to be resisting whatever force has corrupted the other beasts; they alone have resisted Keetongu’s call. Some say that they are the key to stopping Keetongu altogether.”
As if locked in a trance, the Creature of Jungle dazedly buzzed over to Lewa, who twisted so that his back was to the creature. Uxar hovered behind the Toa for a moment before lowering itself onto the Toa’s back, and there was a brief, brilliant flash of light as the two connected. When the light had faded, a single silver and green armored figure stood before them; Uxar had merged itself entirely with Lewa.
“The Master and Creature of Jungle have united,” Chloe said, a dangerous glint in her eyes. “They belong to me, just as Karamu does. Okoto is threatened… but I shall save it. Under my guidance, it shall prosper.”
“And if the rest of Okoto does not wish to be ruled by a Jungle Protector?” Nidhiki asked, daring to voice the thought that Anna and Tekulo both refused to.
“They will bend the knee, and allow their salvation,” Chloe said, returning to her throne, “or be destroyed.”