The rattling of chains, at first a gentle, mocking whisper, then the squeal of demons.
His eyes jerked open, the world blinding his eyes and mind in unholy white light. The flood of color melted away to reveal naught but darkness. Shadows lurked within shadows. He sensed movement, felt a presence, yet saw nothing. Some wicked creature lie here…
Then the pain came.
His wrists were bound, bleeding. Through the wounds a storm of relentless, furious agony whipped through him. He felt his soul fracture and felt the shards knife through his limbs. He felt his body crumble to dust inside itself yet remain intact, alive, capturing the ungodly torture within. He felt death and death and death again, yet here he stood alive. Chained. A prisoner of pain, that ever-present invisible executioner.
“Pain is not the only tormentor, fire-spitter.”
A familiar splash of brown materialized in the blackness, then faded into memory…
That was not the voice of Pain. ‘Twas a woman’s—sister’s!
His voice was hoarse. Speech was a torturous spider crawling from his throat. Hers was a sort of blackened beauty, tainted by the poison of the night. Night? No sun hung suspended above…were they outside?
“Vakama! Kill him!”
What madness incarnate was this?
Nokama’s voice cried out, piercing through the sleepy chamber. Vakama’s Toa spirit awakened, rage billowing into his limbs, a fresh vigor launching his being to life.
His hands lit aflame, the chamber ablaze. Onewa stood at its center, painted in insanity, Nokama’s tears raining mercy at his feet…Vakama leaped for the Toa’s throat, blade in hand, crimson eyes burning wildly…
Night hung above, flooded into his eyes. The moon rose, cackling, glaring at him maliciously. There Onewa stood, a false expression of concern pasted over his countenance. His eyes betrayed his murder, Vakama’s his rage. Hand soaring to weapon, he leaped again—
His brothers held him back, forcing him to his knees. Whenua whipped a knife to his chest. For an interminable eternity, wind became menace.
“Brother! What is this mad treachery?!” Whenua’s voice was a bellow, condescending and reinforcing of reality.
“I…On…She…” He wheezed, collapsed. “What…?”
Nokama, the Great Spirit bless her, spoke. “Whenua, he only dreamed. This place realizes nightmares…let him rest.”
Onewa still shuddered. The others cast a skeptical glare at him.
Vakama concurred. He felt naked, barren of himself. Exposed. Even in sleep he could not hide…there had been a watcher, in the dream. His mind was not the only one…
Matau interjected his thought, thankfully, before it could be completed. “Brothers, sister, let’s far-fly this insanity. This place gives me the creeps…I wanna be awake in it for as little time as possible.” He yawned exaggeratingly.
Vakama could not pinpoint the proper words. Sleep? That was what had…made him…he didn’t…couldn’t…
Sleep overtook them all.
* * *
The sky itself was out to kill him.
Wind whipped his body mercilessly. He’d numbered four cracked ribs so far, and counting. By some miracle he’d so far managed to maintain marginal control of his air-blades, but he feared the worst. The skies were collapsing, imploding, and in a not entirely egotistical sense, he was at its center.
The Toa of Air was in his element, and he refused to admit he was being murdered by it. Ultimately, though, he was forced to accept the fact that he simply could not survive the sky’s merciless onslaught. Yet at this speed, a throttle toward the earth would cost him his life…
He veered left and risked a gaze downward, breaking the cardinal rule of flight.
Eyes sealed and body braced, Matau tipped his center of gravity ever so slightly forward, loosing a mad howl of youthful, glorious impulse, a shriek of bravado lost to the screaming maelstrom.
With startling suddenness that shriek was magnified a thousandfold, erupting through reality. Through the storm of pain that followed he barely felt the sensation of the hand of another slipping into his own, loosing his grip on his air blades, sending him in a furious tumble toward the ground, skull making impact—
—And falling straight through.
All sensation of motion ceased, yet the world fell ever-quick as it passed. Reality blended with fantasy until he could not discern image from thought—he saw histories recent and long-dead and mythical and future pass as he stay-floated, suspended in the expanse between dream and truth. He saw hideous, lovely evils, seductive and awful, ugly horrors, angelic beauties, life and death and pain and bliss and himself, cast about the tunnel as an immense, transparent mirror.
Ineffability shrouds that which the eye gazes upon.
And then, pain ripped him apart. Dark laughter bellowed down the hall, madness whispering over and over of bottomlessness and innocence and Metru. Vakama’s voice rang out silently from every presence…
* * *
“Spirits above, Matau, wake up!”
The pain stopped.
Whenua promptly slapped him across the face. That did the trick. The land of the awoken imitated the gesture. Matau found his body robbed of all strength and will, and then found it on the ground. Vision became clouded, then absent entirely.
When it returned, he found Nuju’s condescending glare glued to his face. A shiver and a shadow passed through him. Whenua’s voice became twenty, then coalesced and formed vague words.
Matau believed he nodded, though the numbness made it hard to feel any physical movement. Whenua’s eyes were a bird’s, narrow and shrewd. He peered warily at the shadows surrounding the Toa. Matau felt caged by them. He wiped a layer of sweat from his brow.
Onewa spoke. “No mission is worth a stop here.”
The others nodded in solemn agreement. Night wrought wicked evils upon those who rested in this domain…this would be a trauma to stalk Matau’s memory until the grave.
There would be no more sleep tonight.
Silence hovered for an everlasting moment, shattered by Nokama’s hesitance. “Let’s…Whenua, follow me.”
The Toa of Earth raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Hm?”
“We’re scouting out the island. Something’s clearly wrong here. Let’s find out what.”
Matau leapt, an animal fury booming from his chest. Blade in hand, he threw a mighty blow at the Toa of Fire’s direction, only to be deflected by Whenua’s weapon, its bearer steadfast against Matau’s suddenly feeble form.
Nuju still stood apart, arms crossed, expression stoic, almost disappointed. He seemed an angry parent, or god.
Whenua huffed and glared back at the Toa of Ice. “Watch the kids while mommy and daddy are gone.”
Matau lost himself pondering Onewa’s words. No mission was worth Karzahni.
* * *
Onewa found his current position incredibly awkward, to say the least.
Not a word had been spoken in the two hours since the others’ leave. Vakama stood in his eternally irritating brooding depression at the shore, eyes midway between blazing rage and tears as they gazed off into some fantastically romantic horizon; Matau sat twitching in near-violent impatience, waiting for anyone else but him to speak, as well as quite obviously debating as to whether he should slaughter Vakama or not. Nuju stood apart, of course, silent as ever.
Did the man’s legs never grow tired?
Onewa clapped his hands for the tenth time, opened his hands and attempted to form words, and utterly failed. For the tenth time. That won him a murderous look from his incomparably bold red-skinned leader. He feared that emotion would soon become intention. Since the dream, Onewa had been cast as some demon in Vakama’s eyes…what had sleep shown him? Was he naïve enough to believe dreams of darkness?
Footfalls. Onewa and Vakama peered up. Matau’s head jerked. Nuju remained still as a Bohrok without a Krana.
Growls all around. At least something was agreed upon.
“Glad to know you boys’re happy to see me.”
“Where’s Whenua?” Vakama’s voice was numb. Emotion had abandoned his voice and flooded into his eyes instead.
“He’s waiting by a cave we found. We heard some movement coming from inside. He’s guarding the entrance, told me to go get you guys in case it’s something big.”
Nuju moved! His expression transformed into one of slight intrigue. The fate of the world must be at risk.
Vakama slowly rose, his body stiff, as if braced for something. Mentally and physically poised.
Onewa rolled his eyes. “Little slower, please. Nokama, let’s go.”
* * *
Their movement was cautious—if dreams had rained the havoc they did, reality would be far worse. No imposing ebony figure stood at the cave’s mouth. The others cast a questioning glance at Nokama, who responded with one of equal confusion.
“Shut up. Follow me.”
Only a few paces into the blackness, something emerged from the shadows. Hands reached for steel.
There knelt Whenua, collapsed on the damp earth. Panting…weeping?
Matau cast a suspicious, somewhat awkward glance at the others, stepped forward. “B-brother...? What happened?”
For a moment, the air was heavy upon their shoulders as Whenua shivered, gasping for breath. His gaze met his brethren’s, horror painted across it. His voice was a hoarse rasp, a whisper’s whisper.
“I fell asleep.”
Heads whipped. A small, rodent-like Rahi crawled under Nokama’s legs, shrieked an ugly cry.
Some object lie by the wall, glistening the luster of silver armor...
Nearly frantic, Nokama dragged it toward the group…
More of the Rahi pests gnawed at the body. Bits of flesh had already been chewed away. A pool of dried blood soaked into the ground beneath it.
Five necks craned backwards.
The sixth was Nuju’s, and was quite alive.
The color of pale white skin deepened into a hideous shade of burnt ash. Muscles throbbed and expanded, flesh ripped, armor cracked and tumbled to the ground. The air around the Nuju-thing swirled until it became a storm whipping through the cavern, an ocean of noise thundering with it.
Half of the face of the beast that replaced it grinned with an insane, immeasurable malice, the other’s mouth inhumanly bent in furious agony. Eyes scarlet and sapphire blazed with the terror only millennia could inspire, from within and without. Laughter echoed from a million crevices.
The Metru fell to their knees, prayers and final breaths drawn forth from their quivering lips. Two words crawled from Karzahni’s, and a silence never to end settled upon his island.
* * *
An entry for SSC#8. How is?