Posted Jan 04 2012 - 02:23 PM
Hewkii was surprised to find that the Fire Toa who had stolen the discs had not covered her tracks very well. Her name was Alkah, and she was an experienced mask maker in Ta-metru's second district. Apparently, she had gotten a little too obsessed with her job.
Which doesn't say much for her intelligence. In Metru-Nui, if you're going to steal something, at least make it hard for people to find you, he rolled his eyes as he grabbed onto one of the metal support rings inside the chute to slow his ride. Timing his movement with the flow of the magnetized protodermis walls, he jumped out and steeled his nerves to land on the ground half a dozen bio below. Getting out at a chute-stop might be easier, but it would also require a detailed explanation to the Nuurakh, the Ta-metru Vahki. And they were not known for either patience or understanding. More than likely, they'd make me explain myself to the district manager, by which time, Alkah will have gotten away.
He landed smoothly on his feet and glanced around. The forges of the fire metru blew a thick cloud of smoke and smog that never quite dissipated - an uncomfortable climate for a Toa used to the clear desert air. A few Ta-matoran carted kanoka discs or tools to and from different factories, but most were indoors, smelting the metal and tools for which they were so famous. Except for the major chute-stations and important foundries, the Nuurakh would have few patrols until nightfall. Provided you don't get caught, it's the ideal metru to get in and out of without detection, he smiled. Of course, if you do fall into Vahki hands, chances are you'll end up mindlessly doing some embarrassing chore.
Hewkii quickly made his way to the forge where Toa Alkah worked, using back streets and smoke for cover. Using his powers to shift the stone street, he carved a passage under the walls and into a storage room. Carefully, he listened, trying to get the feel for who was where in the foundry. His element was almost useless for detection in here, since everything was made of metal; he would have to rely on his new Mask of Stealth to navigate. He had no doubt there were Nuurakh here, guarding the precious stores of new kanohi.
After a minute of listening, he activated his mask and slowly stepped through the doorway inti the main room. To his surprise, there was no one around. The forge was completely deserted. The machinery was running, but there were no operators, no mask makers, and no foremen. The floor was strewn with ash and dust, which seemed normal enough, but among the dirt lay pieces of smashed masks and... Was that Vahki armor?
"What's with this place?" he muttered. "Have the Ta-matoran finally started taking lunch breaks?"
"What are you doing here?" a voice demanded.
He whirled to face Alkah, who held her Toa tool - a spiked mace with flames dancing over the surface - pointed at him warily.
"You came to my metru; I'm just returning the favor." he replied coldly, sizing her up. She was obviously older than he, but from her stance he guessed she had little to no combat experience. Bullying matoran, not the art of fighting, had been her life's work. Looking closer at her Kanohi Matatu, he noticed there was something just slightly off-kilter, something not quite right about her face. It's her eyes, he told himself. They're green.
"Visit your metru?" she laughed harshly. "I'd rather face a stone crawler with a broom."
Hewkii took a step back. If she decided to use her element in here, where there was already so much heat, he wanted to have a little space to maneuver. "The discs. Where are they?" he demanded.
"Broken. All broken." Alkah glanced down at the floor and seemed to sigh. Her foot moved a piece of broken protodermis. "Like you, like me. All broken, all gone."
"Cut the drama." he snapped, slowly reaching for his axe, which was clipped to his back. "There's no way a master crafter like you broke all thirty."
She laughed again; a laugh that, like her eyes, was not quite right. "Moron! You see the shards, and you refuse to accept it! But you are broken, too... Cracked and tossed aside, like a flawed mask. Soon, he'll melt you down, too. Make you into something new, something useful." Her expression suddenly changed to one of anger. "Useful... For a time. Then you break again, and he melts it, remakes it. Only a tool... That's what you are!"
In one smooth motion, Hewkii grabbed his axe and swung it at her. She blocked with an unearthly ease, catching his blade in the spikes of her tool.
"Ha! You think you can fight him?" she cackled. "I knew stone Toa were stubborn, but not stupid."
"Snap out of it, Alkah!" he yelled. "This act isn't going to save you!"
Her face twisted between rage and pity. "Don't say that name."
Hewkii shifted his weight and broke his axe free of the deadlock. Using his Mask of Speed, he dodged her blow and darted behind her, aiming a punch at her back. Again, she seemed to anticipate his move and sidestepped, throwing a fireball as she did. It barely touched his arm, but even so, the heat penetrated his armor painfully.
"For embezzlement, you might have gotten a demotion and a slap on the mask." he growled. "For that, you're going to get whole lot more."
"I wish." Now she sounded like she might cry. "It's already too late. Too late; for you, for me, for everyone in this blasted city! The darkness has won." Alkah suddenly dropped to her knees, sobbing.
Hewkii looked down at her warily. What's with her mood swings? It's almost like she's... No, she can't be! The mendarii would mean she'd have the rash on her mask. It's just an act to get me to let my guard down. Just like a female.
"Ahh!" A blood-curdling cry escaped Alkah's lips as she leapt back to her feet. "You will feel my pain - you will suffer like me!" She swung her mace wildly, spraying fire in a wide circle around her. The flames were white-hot, fueled by her anger.
Hewkii wasted no energy on words. He pulled a block of stone up through the metal floor as a shield against the heat, then began throwing dagger-like cones of rock as a diversion.
"The matoran fled this place." she cried; in anger or sorrow, he couldn't tell. "They sent Vahki to release me from my pain, and they failed. Why should you do any better? Tell me that!" With the words, she spun and smacked her mace squarely into his blockade, cracking and melting the solid rock.
She's gotten herself into such a rage, even her armor's glowing from the heat, he thought, leaping to avoid her next swing. He tried to form a stone chain around her hands to limit her motion, but the moment it appeared, the rock melted to slag. Great. Where's Macku when I need a Toa of Water? But even as she threw another blast at him, he noticed her wincing and looking at her hands. Some of the molten rock had slipped through the cracks in her armor and scalded her. For anyone but a Toa of Fire, the pain would have been excruciating. That's it! If she can anticipate my moves, then let her defeat herself!
He rolled, came up on his feet and swung his axe at her left leg. She dodged yet again and raised her mace for a deathblow with a savage cry. He barely ducked the attack and forced the floor to buckle under her feet. She instantly sank into the sand pit he had created. As her hot armor touched the tiny pieces of stone, the sand became liquid glass. She fell further into the widening pool of hot sand, screaming wildly as the glass found the gaps in her armor and burned her flesh.
Hewkii shook off the burns he had received from her last effort and spoke quietly. "The more you heat yourself up, the worse the pain will get. Give up, Alkah."
"Don't call me that!" she yelled. Her armor was almost as hot as the flames she wielded now. "I left her behind long ago! I hate her!" Her voice trailed off into another shriek.
"Stop heating yourself, and the pain will stop." he repeated. "You left yourself behind?"
"Always serving, always crawling." she moaned. "Well, I broke away! I broke free of him! Free, free! But it was all an illusion; none of it real. You can't outrun him when he's in you." She cried and laughed at once. And in the light of her glowing armor, he could finally see a streak of greasy, grey-green slime on her kanohi... the surest sign that the mendarii, the madness, had her in it's grip.
"How long have you been sick?" he asked, refusing to show any of the horror he felt.
"Years... Eons... A week. It's all the same." She was still increasing the heat, but now she seemed unable to feel the pain. "All one long dark tunnel. And you'll see! One day, you'll look back and see him over your shoulder, controlling your every move and thought. And if you rebel," she shuddered, "he'll break you, like he broke me."
"Who? Who broke you?" He had a feeling he already knew the answer.
"Him! Him, you imbecile!" She laughed again; the sound somehow embodied all the pain of the ages. "You'll see!" Her breath was coming in gasps now. "Never liked Po-Toa. Always caring about what you see, not what is." She shuddered again.
With a start, Hewkii saw her hands burst into flame. Not as if she had summoned the fire, but as if she was burning from the inside out. And I think... she is. More flames spurted up from the pit of glass and sand, melting even Alkah's armor. For a moment, even above the roar of the fire, he could hear her wild, throbbing screams. And then, just as suddenly as they had appeared, the flames died. There was nothing left but her half-melted kanohi and blackened glass. He stared at the hole in shock and disgust. What did she mean? Was it all madness babble? She seemed sane enough at some points... But then why kill herself?
A squad of Nuurakh smashed the door open and surveyed the scene. One of them came up to Hewkii and scanned the district identification code that was welded onto his armor. The Vahki nodded and shrugged him off. The other five machines were surveying the forge, taking digital images of the evidence and chirping to each other in their annoying beep language. Even without speech, he got the message: "We know who you are, and we'll visit if we need you. You're free to go."
Slowly, he turned and left the battle-struck foundry. "Next time a Toa steals, I think I'll just report it to the local Vahki." He was not smiling.
Edited by Hahli Historian, May 24 2012 - 11:05 PM.