Posted Nov 11 2012 - 01:54 PM
Chapter 26: Confession
Ackar couldn’t help but be suspicious as he stepped into the Elders’ chamber. Silence wasn’t the usual practise in the room, or so he had learned from previous experience. To walk in and find the room not only void of all noise, but full with all Elders besides himself present was curious indeed.
Leaving Vastus to stand guard by the door, he strode forward and took his place at the large, circular table next to Norik and Vakama. Across from him, Hydraxon kept his gaze down, staring at the table with all the murderous intent of one whose family had been victim to a particularly nasty furniture related accident.
“What’s the problem,” he asked, leaning in to Norik. His response was a finger raised to where Norik’s mouth would be had he not been wearing a Kanohi mask. Seeing the Glatorian’s confusion, Norik then gestured towards the window at the far side of the room and indicated the figure he had not seen upon entry.
A tall purple armoured Toa stood with his back turned to them, staring down upon the entirety of Atero Nui. His arms were folded behind his back and whether he had noticed Ackar arrive, he did not show any acknowledgement.
The room sat in stony silence for a few minutes before Hydraxon finally cleared his throat and began to politely introduce the mysterious stranger. “Now that we’re all here, I’m sure you’d all like to know who let the poisonous snake into the room. Well, nobody did, he snuck in by himself. Apparently he has a few words to say, if he can get them out from behind that forked tongue of his.”
A light ripple of uncomfortable laughter brushed through the air from the gathered Elders’ before it was quickly hushed as the Toa turned to face them. His mask was an unfamiliar design to Ackar, though he was struck by the cold blue orbs that glowed from beneath. There was something unnerving about the figure’s intense gaze that would have made a lesser Glatorian quake. The silky tone of his voice offered no consolation as he began to speak. “Thank you Hydraxon. My name is Toa Bastral. Now, I don’t expect to be a familiar face to any of you. But I will be. In the absence of Toa Helryx, as her most loyal advisor I have been appointed the role of leader of the Order of Mata Nui.”
“And what does the Order of Mata Nui have to do with the way we choose to run our city?” Raanu said slowly. The Agori was leaning back in his chair with his arms folded, fixing a furious glare on the Toa. Ackar began to wonder if his attitude was related to his outburst earlier or if the Order of Mata Nui leaders’ presence was just that offensive.
“Nothing at all, Raanu,” Bastral said. If it were possible even his voice was now beginning to make the room’s temperature drop. “But we will remain as observers, as is our duty. After all, you have one of our own members sitting amongst yourselves.”
All eyes turned to focus on Hydraxon, who continued staring resentfully at the surface before him. Bastral continued on. “Ordinarily I would have pardoned him from our ranks and left him to deal with his own issues. But, you see, Hydraxon is an odd case. He has spent several thousands of centuries isolated from the rest of the order with nothing more than the companionship of criminals, most of who managed to escape when the Makuta attacked the Great Spirit. I act not only in the Orders’, but in everyone’s best interests when I step forward every now and then so that I might keep an eye on your ally, lest he begin to show any abnormalities.”
“I did the duties that the Order requested me to. Do not act as though I’m infected,” Hydraxon snarled, raising a finger at the amused Toa. “Besides, you say you were appointed yet why do I doubt that? I have a few theories involving Order members with their pockets lined after a brief meeting with you.”
“That’s very sweet,” Bastral replied slowly. His eyes narrowed and beneath his mask Hydraxon believed a smile was beginning to grow. “You can make allegations if you wish but ultimately they sound like little more than your impotent whining’s. You ought to watch your tongue around me, though. I always believed that Trinuma would be a far better choice for your place though from what I hear Tobduk and Johmak were highly insistent you be given the title of Elder. Frankly I don’t agree with their reasoning, which was that you ‘need to get out more’. However, I will be willing to let it slide. For now.”
With a shove, Hydraxon pushed himself upwards, sending his chair scattering across the floor. “I’ve been out of the pit for a month now, Bastral but with the way you talk whenever I’m around you I begin to think I never left.”
“With the right word I can send you back there if you really wish, Hydraxon. Maybe if you beg I’ll even let you do guard duty again.”
Hydraxon began to surge forwards until Vastus placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Realising the scene he was about to make, the Elder simply flexed his shoulders and turned back to pick up the fallen chair. He sat down again and said no more.
The attention returned to Bastral whose eyes were alight with pleasure derived from victory. However, there was a certain menace to them and Ackar realised that he was not going to let the insult lie any time soon. However, whatever his plans might have been he said nothing about them and simply turned his attention to Ackar. “You arrived before we had even sent out a summons for you. From what I hear you had left to interview a prisoner. How did that go?”
“Uneventfully,” Ackar said in response. “I could get nothing tangible from her. But she did deliver a warning, if an unspecific one. She said that we must evacuate Atero Nui. Something was going to happen and it was going to happen soon. And though I don’t know the events in question, she used some strange power to make me feel the same fear she felt so what I do know is that I don’t want to risk putting the civilians in any danger. I think she’s right. Atero Nui must be evacuated.”
He allowed a few moments for his announcement to settle and watched the realisation dawn on the expressions of those around him. Most looked curious, some sceptical. Finally, one voice spoke up. “No.”
Ackar turned to see Vakama staring at him intently with a fury that matched the flames he once wielded. “You have an objection, Vakama?” Ackar asked.
“We will not run,” Vakama said firmly. “I am tired of abandoning my home. The Makuta forced us to leave Metru Nui all those years ago, and so we built our lives on Mata Nui. He followed us there and we were driven back down to rebuild Metru Nui from the rubble he had broken it into. But once again our efforts were in vain as he forced us out yet again and now here we are in a new land. And yet, even though the soil is fertile and the trade is just beginning to move, you say we must run once again. I can not take this anymore.”
“I understand Elder Vakama’s sentiments,” Tarix said, “though I disagree with you for different reasons. You say the criminal was the one who tipped you off about the threat. Did she say anything else? Perhaps she meant the Skrall?”
“No,” Ackar replied, remembering her words. The Skrall have nothing to do with this. That had been what she said…maybe. Her words were distant, losing themselves in the recesses of his mind. She had put them so far back it was difficult to reach for them. Why? For his protection? Protection from what exactly? “She believed the Skrall were…something else. Perhaps a distraction. No, she detailed another threat entirely.”
“And you have no more details on this supposed threat?” When Ackar shook his head, Tarix almost looked relieved. “Well then that settles it. We don’t have a reason to trust some criminal who just tried to assassinate our finest secretary. It’s likely she was making it up, maybe trying to fix our attention elsewhere whilst hoping the Skrall forces sneak up on us.”
“Even if his reasons seem confused, shouldn’t we take Elder Ackar’s suggestion into account?” Raanu asked. Ackar frowned, feeling more than a little frustrated his warning had been tossed aside so easily. They weren't even interested in pursuing the matter. Raanu continued on regardless for Ackar’s irritation. “As Tarix just said, the Skrall forces are approaching. If Bomonga’s team do not succeed in their task, then surely we should be prepared by removing those who do not want to be caught in the conflict to a safer environment.”
“And where might you be suggesting?” Norik asked with a frown. “Atero Nui is already far south enough of this land. The Skrall are coming down from the north. The west is nothing but harsh desert for as far as the eye can see and the further east we travel, the closer we get to Skakdi territory. If we travel south we’ll get to the coastline and maybe that would take us to another land, but isn’t that little more than a surrender? What would stop the Skrall from taking a ship and following us?”
The meaningful expression in Raanu’s eyes said enough. Ackar began to realise where the Agori was suggesting and was about to say something before Vakama intervened, louder than before. “No!”
Leaning against the window, Bastral snorted and looked across at the Turaga. “He sure likes that word, doesn’t he?”
“You will not take anyone to Fort Lhikan,” Vakama ordered. He raised his fist and slammed it against the table. Fort Lhikan was a fortress built not too far away in the desert, constructed as military barracks for an army the Elders had hoped they would not need to use. Its construction had been swift due to the organisation of the Po-Matoran though some of the Elders had abandoned it once a certain individual had moved in and taken a role of authority. The individual’s presence was so controversial Vakama had forbidden even the mention of his name, insisting instead that be referred to simply as the Red Phantom. “I will not allow anyone to be near such a monster. Please, Norik. You understand my concern. The Phantom will corrupt them. Twist everyone around him.”
“I know how you’re feeling, Vakama,” Norik said sadly, “but this is neither my decision nor yours to make. It is everyone’s. I stand by you in refusing to allow Fort Lhikan to be our sanctuary but I also believe that an evacuation must take place if only to save those who can or won’t fight. Understand how torn I am in this decision.”
“We must settle this in a vote,” Tarix said before Vakama could respond. “That is why the Elders were brought together after all. We will only act as the majority decides. We are all in agreement that the city must be evacuated before the Skrall…or Ackar’s shadowy threat…arrives. So Fort Lhikan is the safest structure that that’s not still in development though it’s clear there is some resistance to moving the innocents there. So we must take a vote. All opposed to evacuating to Fort Lhikan, please raise your hands.”
Vakama’s hand shot up into the air before Tarix had even finished speaking. Norik paused for a few moments before hesitantly decided to let his join the Turaga’s. A few silent moments passed before Tarix continued. “And all in favour, now do the same.”
This was nothing more than a formality, Ackar realised. The answer was obvious, though Tarix continued on, dragging the procession further than it needed to go. Raanu raised his hand almost immediately, followed closely by Hydraxon. Ackar had already made up his mind before the question was asked, though still paused for thought for a few seconds before finally raising his arm in agreement, almost at the same time as Tarix. Across the room, he saw even Bastral was raising his arm.
“Then it’s decided. We will issue the command for all who do not wish to fight the Skrall to depart the city as soon as possible. I will arrange transport for a speedy departure and hopefully before too long we can get them to safety.” He cast a wary glance at Vakama’s brooding figure. “Or as safe as relatively possible.”
“I hope you know just what you’ve done,” Vakama said quietly. The fire had left his voice leaving his tone dry and crackly like charcoal. In just a few seconds the Turaga suddenly looked far older than he had done when protesting earlier. “It seems I cannot prevent this. Very well. I will go with the evacuees and offer them any protection I can. I am not capable of combat anyway, so it would be best for me to leave the battle to the more physically able.” And with that he tented his fingers and left the conversation, choosing to simply stare off into the distance.
“Right, next on the agenda,” Tarix continued and began to trail off into a discussion of proposed strategy. As the other Elders nodded and looked forlornly at the blue Glatorian, Ackar looked around as Vastus gestured towards the door. Ackar gave his apologies and left the table, making his way towards the door.
“I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but dislike that Toa Bastral,” Ackar muttered quietly as soon as he was out of earshot, bouncing down the stairs.
Vastus said nothing for a few moments but closed his eyes and nodded. “I have to agree. Though frankly, Ackar…I’ve yet to find a single one of those Mata Nui species that I do like.”
The idea of meeting the outsiders had a certain appeal to Bragh, even if the lowliness of the job in question did not. He knew he was far better than some mere messenger but at least it would be to deliver information to a new species that he had never encountered before. During the battle of the two titans he had caught a glimpse of what others had called “Toa” fighting off swarms of “Rahkshi” and he had been overwhelmed by a sense of awe that the first contact with alien life had been through war. That was an experience he was certain his ancestors would envy him for, though he never did get the chance to try the newcomers’ hands in combat. By the time he had weaved through the throngs of Skrall the retreat had already been declared. A brilliant glow was tearing through the Rahkshi and that was more than enough incentive for him to turn tail and flee.
The bitter taste of disappointment was still alive in his mouth as he approached the sorry looking excuse for an inn, standing solitary against the looming barriers of the forest as though it had been abandoned midway through transportation. Though it had only been erected in less than a month, as a rest zone for weary travellers, the two story building had been thrown together so shoddily and beaten so mercilessly by the cruel weather, it gave the impression of being a structure far older than it actually was.
The Skrall tied his rock steed to a post, almost willing to bet that by the time he had finished the beast would have snapped its restraint like a twig and escaped, and walked inside. As soon as he entered, he couldn’t help but to wrinkle his nose and the dingy smell of damp wood and cheap alcohol.
He stepped over to the counter and regarded the petrified Agori with a gaze of disappointment. He had hoped for a species a little newer. Instead he got little more than an eyeful of yet another quivering Agori, though he supposed that was flattery in itself. At least the mere sight of Skrall armour was still intimidation.
“My name is Bragh, morsel,” he declared proudly, puffing out his chest in what he hoped was a sign of authority. He waited for a sharp intake of breath, the dawning realisation in the Agori’s eyes, maybe even a few futile prayers muttered to the Great Beings. When nothing came, he coughed slightly and added, “You may have heard of me.”
“N-no sir,” the Agori replied. “I-I didn’t even think the Skrall had names.”
Oh. Feeling a little deflated, Bragh tried to press on regardless, trying to keep the hurt he felt from welling up into his voice. “Well my leader, the mighty Tuma, has a mission for me involving the meeting of two vital contacts…Contacts for the coming war in which we will crush every one of your pathetic people. To death. With our swords. Do you understand?” The Agori nodded uncertainly, the fear in his expression slowly fading into a confused manner of mirth that filled Bragh with a prickly irritation. He was starting to believe the Agori wasn’t taking him seriously. “Look, their names are Xavor and Zhorya. I was told they’d be here, so are they?”
At the mention of those two names, underneath his helmet the Agori’s face darkened. He seemed to have forgotten his fear of the Skrall before him as a low growl began to reverberate from the base of his throat. When he spoke it was with a steel edge that Bragh could almost have fought off with his sword. “Yes, they’re upstairs now. If you’re here to kill them, please do it quickly.”
As soon as the Agori stopped speaking, a loud crack filled the air, making him wince visibly. Bragh saw that in his surprise he had unconsciously reached for the hilt of his sword. Disguising his involuntary arm movement by coughing into his fist, he looked up to the ceiling which he deduced to be the source of the noise. A hushed sniggering leaked from between the panels of wood, punctuating the silence.
“Well, I wish you luck Brug,” the Agori hissed, casting a vicious glare at the ceiling as though it were that which was to blame for the disturbances.
Bragh wordlessly left the Agori alone, casting a dark glance behind him as he began ascending the staircase. It had barely been a minute of two and the Agori had already forgotten his name. He will pay dearly for this insult, Bragh decided. It was such a complete sign of disrespect that surely a high class Skrall such as himself should not be allowed to tolerate.
The sound of commotion was getting louder and more frequent the higher up he got. Each step creaked in protest as his foot fell upon it, making him jump more times than he would be willing to admit. When he finally reached the second floor he approached the only room with the door firmly closed. At first it refused to budge, not opening further than an inch. With a grunt, Bragh slammed his shoulder into it. The splintered a little and fell forwards a tiny bit further, though still not enough to even see through.
“Password?” an airy voice called out to him. For a moment Bragh froze. Tuma hadn’t mentioned any passwords. Surely they couldn’t refuse to speak to him without it. Wasn’t his armour indication enough just who was representing?
“Let me in,” Bragh ordered, affecting the most authoritative tone he could muster. He hoped that he had only imagined the slight quiver of impotence in his voice. “Tuma has a message for you.”
His response was a series of hushed whispers that he had difficulty discerning. He pressed his ear to the door in the hopes that he might be able to make them out. Without warning, something heavy crashed into the door with an ear-splitting bang, sending the Skrall reeling back with a small, suppressed yelp. “Wrong answer,” the voice called.
The anger that had been boiling under the surface was finally beginning to reach its peak. Through gritted teeth, Bragh spoke slowly and very clearly. “I’m not asking anymore. Let. Me. In.”
Finally, Bragh let out an exasperated sigh and began to back away. “Fine. If that’s the way you want to play it. I’m coming in anyway,” he declared. Tensing his muscles, he leaned forwards, aimed his shoulder at the door and began charging forwards. He braced himself for impact, closed his eyes and surged ahead, ready to drive through the wood and whatever obstacle it was keeping it closed.
And then it opened.
Bragh barrelled into the room, taken completely by surprise. As soon as he passed through the doorframe, the same voice drifted to him, saying “Well if you insist.” Unfortunately unable to stop completely, the Skrall’s momentum carried him ever onwards until finally he tripped over his own feet and landed in a crumpled heap onto the wooden floor.
“Wow, you really were eager to get in,” somebody behind him said.
“Though I don’t know why your first instinct was to hug the floor,” said another, who seemed to be standing right next to the first speaker.
“Were you two close?”
“Did you miss it?”
“Do you need some time alone?”
“What-?” Bragh began before shaking his head. He was too confused to feel any kind of anger so simply settled for a frustrated groan as he began to pick himself up from off of the cold floor. “So, stay where you are.”
“Come now, young Bragh, we know better than to come between a man and his floor,” the voice retorted. The silence that followed was more than enough indication that despite the speaker’s insistence neither had yet departed. Bragh was beginning to regret this.
Turning around he finally caught his first glimpse of the two creatures he had been sent to speak with. He marvelled at just how differently they looked from any other being he had encountered before. Instead of the armour being an additional layer between the world and skin, the two creatures appeared to have been fused to their armour, with sheets of metal woven into their very being. Just underneath gaps and creases he could make out the sight of a constant whir of spinning cogs and gears. Their faces were elongated and slightly flat, with their located on either side of their angled heads, an appearance than reminded the Skrall of the many venom snakes that used to lurk just under the sands of Bara Magna. The backs of their heads were decorated with what appeared to ribbons of glowing metal, lined with glowing blue lights that shone dimly through the midday sun that cut through the window. These appeared to resemble the follicles of hair that he was so used to seeing on the Sisters of the Skrall, yet far more unnatural and so in a way, eerily fitting given that they had been designed for them.
The most striking feature in their possession, however, was the constant leering grins attached to their faces as though the afterglow of a joke echoed on their face and would do so for all eternity.
“I think he’s violating us with his eyes,” one of them whispered to his partner, loudly enough for Bragh to hear.
His associate nodded and forced a shudder, at the same time raising his arms to cover his chest. “So bad mannered. Was he never taught that it’s rude to stare?”
“I guess it’s because of his foul species. They’re so brutish. I bet this is just their usual way to greet strangers. I knew we shouldn’t be dealing with that Tuma bloke.”
“Wait? What?” Bragh asked, now beginning to get even more and more flustered. There was something insincere in their smiles that made him think he was being played for a fool. That very same look was starting to grate on him, tempting him to wipe them away with a slash of his sword in the name of his own honour. He restrained himself, thinking of the reward Tuma would hopefully bestow upon him for the completion of this mission. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause offense.”
“We know you didn’t sonny,” the one on the left said and then outstretched his arm for Bragh to shake. The Skrall carefully returned the gesture, wary of any traps.
“Now, onto business I think. He’s Zhorya.”
“And he’s Xavor,” said the other who Bragh now identified as Zhorya. He tried to look for any tell-tale differences but could discern only a few, being perhaps a slight difference in height and the different eye colours. “And you of course, are Bragh.”
“I don’t remember introducing myself.”
“You didn’t need to. We could hear you downstairs,” Xavor said cheerfully, striding over to a desk placed on the far side of the wall. With him, he carried a chair that had been suspiciously close to the doorway Bragh had just fallen through and placed it next to two similar seats. “Now, please don’t stand around gormlessly all day. It’s quite embarrassing.”
Bragh needed no further instruction and lowered himself into the chair provided. The two Vortixx followed and placed themselves either side of him, making him feel curiously surrounded. Their proximity alone was unnerving enough even without the growingly menacing grins adorned on their faces. In front of him were three copper tankards which Zhorya began to fill.
“So, we were quite surprised to catch you snooping around our nest. We’d come here believing Tuma would be the one to grace our presence,” the Vortixx said, tilting his head as he brought his flask to his lips.
“He has an army to lead. So instead he gave me the task of meeting you here,” Bragh responded. As he finished, he lifted the cup and swallowed the contents in one gulp. He lowered it, appreciating the warm sensation as it spilled down his throat. On either side, the two Vortixx had done the same. Xavor began to refill them.
“And then what?”
Bragh paused. In his head, he ran through all the instructions Tuma had given him. Get to the inn. Find Xavor and Zhorya. Tell them he would be late. Surely there was something next. “Um…I don’t think he said.”
Zhorya’s smile sank slightly and he eyed the Skrall with disappointment that didn’t make him feel the least bit more confident. “So that’s it? He just told you to make us wait?”
“He didn’t even have a real message? Just sent some foot soldier to tell us to be patient?” Xavor added, sounding curiously hurt.
However, whatever discontent they might have felt with the message barely even registered to the actual messenger as he processed their words. “Some foot solider?” he cried. In that moment everything was beginning to rise to the surface, every lost battle, every time somebody had forgotten his name, every time he had been addressed without the proper respect. In the flood of frustration he was swept away, losing himself in the outrage that now flowed freely from his mouth. “How dare you refer to me like a common Skrall! My name is Bragh! Bragh! Why would Tuma give a full name to just some foot soldier? He wouldn’t! I was the one who found Roxtus! I’m sorry if the message wasn’t what you were expecting but it doesn’t devalue in any way the one who had to deliver it”
There. He had said it. He had let the irritation that had been welling inside of him go. Or at least he thought he had, until Zhorya winked mischievously at his partner and leaned over to the panting Skrall. “If you’re really that important then why are you here? Is it not the least bit strange that Tuma would send somebody so significant to deliver a message so unnecessary? It sounds to me like he just wanted to get rid of you. You must have been pretty pointless to be tossed aside so quickly.”
It looked as though he would have had more to say if it weren’t for the fist that flew down onto the table before them with an almighty crash. It took the last of Bragh’s remaining effort to restrain himself from skewering the Vortixx where he sat for all the unjust insults. “You insolent hunk of scrap metal,” he spat. He could feel a vein throbbing somewhere beneath his helmet and now his fist was aching too. “What do you know of significance? Here, I am ten times the worth of both of you! Combined! Don’t you dare call me unimportant when I’d wager that neither of you are little more than street rats in whatever hole you crawled from! You’re probably not even wanted there anymore…”
He could have gone on and described the grandeur that being a named Skrall allowed. He could have compared his position in his society to theirs and knocked them from whatever pedestal they thought they stood on with his own success. But he knew better than that. The look on their faces had told him he’d gone far enough. Their smiles had all but vanished and the dark glares that had replaced them offered countless promises of revenge.
“I think you’ll find you’re quite wrong,” Xavor snarled. His eyes were narrowed until Bragh could only see a thin pinprick of light glaring out at him. “We were wanted in the land we came from.”
“Most wanted in all of Xia,” Zhorya added, leaning forwards. “And we might have been less than the rats in everyone’s eyes but we lived like kings regardless.”
“You’re exactly the kind of arrogant bag of scum we stepped on to get to where we are today, so don’t you dare try and take a high and mighty tone with us.”
The threats he could read in their scowls were more than enough warning for Bragh who coughed uncomfortably, raised his arms in a sign of deference and apologised as politely as he could manage. “Please, I realise I spoke out of turn. That was…rude of me. Very rude. But I’ve had a long nights ride and I feel embarrassed to come to you with such little information. I…I lost control.”
Zhorya closed his eyes and shook his head lightly, the familiar smile widening once again. “So you were embarrassed enough to proceed to take out your angst on poor, innocent us. How cute.”
“Still, we’re all stressed from time to time so we’re quite happy to let this slide for once,” Xavor said as he raised his tankard, watching the contents churn around as he swilled it. “Just once though,” he added warningly, then tilted both his head and the cup backwards.
“I understand,” Bragh nodded, shivering slightly. He coughed again, then considered taking the tankard in front of him but thought better of it. He didn’t feel like drinking again for the moment. Instead he decided to change the subject and satisfy his curiosity at the same time. “So, there are rumours circulating amongst the Skrall that Tuma was helped to find the Kazyshian sword with the help of two outside contacts. Assuming that the two in question are the both of you…how did you find it?”
Zhorya looked relieved at the question and confidently puffed his chest out. “Well, it wasn’t difficult of course. We know somebody who knows somebody and from there we told Tuma.”
“Turns out what we knew wasn’t as specific as we hoped. We heard the sword was being held above ground but as it turns out it was being held beneath it.”
“But it was close enough and from our ever so valuable research Tuma was able to find it.”
“So why would you even help Tuma locate it in the first place? The warrior was a wretch. When he was cast into exile he had nothing valuable to offer anything. He was little more than a hollow shell of what he had once been.”
“That might be true but it wasn’t what he offered us that made us help him. It’s what he would do with the gifts we bestowed upon him,” Xavor said, and his eyes began to glint like two glistening jewels.
“You wanted him to build an army?”
“Of course, it served two purposes at once,” Zhorya smiled. “You see, we’re being hired to do what we’re doing. You might not know this but down in Atero Nui we’re starting to become something of a household name, particularly with the Elders.”
“Our employer has a task to fulfil and he needs us to help him with it.”
“Something to stop the Elders from prying too much and stumbling across something they’re not meant to.”
Xavor reached up to his shoulder and prised away two spheres that had somehow been held firmly in place by hollows in his armour. Bragh stared in curiosity at the two devices. They were strange contraptions covered in tiny indents and crisscrossed with lines. They were like nothing he had ever seen before.
“These are a special kind of bomb,” Xavor grinned proudly, looking down at them as though they were his own offspring. “Powerful devices. You heard this type on your way in. They’re linked to our minds so when we want them to go off, then boom.”
“This particular type is a sonic bomb. It’s not much in the way of damage but it can make for a great distraction or entertainment if there’s a particularly surly bar-Agori downstairs.”
“There are other types too. Flash bombs, smoke bombs and even bombs that set off a strobe light.”
“What we’re trying to say is that these are our favourite kinds of weapon. We’re covered in the things because we hold them close to our hearts.”
Xavor mimed his partner’s statement by holding the two bombs in his hands close to his breast, maintaining eye contact with Bragh the entire time. “They remind us of ourselves. Loud, dangerous and particularly uncontrollable once let loose.”
“But there’s another kind of weapon that we enjoy just as much for when we need a….a subtler approach,” Zhorya said, lifting himself to his feet. Bragh stayed where he was and coughed nervously, wondering just why they were telling him all of this. “Poison is a fantastic weapon for subtlety, but then it’s only as good as the user.”
“You see, there’s an art in applying poison in the right manner. If you’re too blunt about it, people will figure out something’s wrong and investigate,” Xavor grinned. He leaned back in his chair and raised both legs onto the surface of the table.
“What you need to do is distract your victim, make them think that everything’s alright or alternatively, that something is very wrong and then keep them focussed on that thing.” Zhorya had begun pacing around the room at this point, though his face never left Bragh’s.
“Multiple things work even better. If we keep our victim looking in too many directions to handle then that’s perfection.”
Bragh hadn’t noticed at first, but his jaw had ever so slightly begun to drop as their words fell upon him like rain. He didn’t fully understand every detail but the strategy made sense. “So you convince Tuma to build his army so that the leaders of Atero Nui have something to look at?”
“Now you’re getting it!” Zhorya exclaimed happily. At the same time Xavor slapped him encouragingly on his back which triggered his tickly throat into a coughing fit.
When he finished, Xavor continued. “So they deal with an army. But that’s not enough so what do we do? We realise there’s some friction between the people and we make that worse. We know there’s a civilisation of xenophobic creeps hiding just out of sight so we give a particularly fragile member of the species they hate something to anger them with and wait to see how it all unfolds.”
“But we wouldn’t want them to forget Tuma though, so we find an immortal Skrall that just so happens to be wandering a little way away from a city and find a way to lead him there.”
“Although I hasten to point out we didn’t just randomly stumble across some immortal warrior. That was down to an accident caused by our employer.”
“It wasn’t originally part of our plans but we’re resourceful. We let everyone feel involved,” Zhorya smiled. He had stopped pacing and now stood behind Bragh, leering down over him.
“And that’s how we poison Atero Nui. We keep it looking away even as the venom begins to spread.”
“You have to understand of course, wars just aren’t our thing…they’re too noisy. There’s too much clean up following afterwards. We prefer a quieter approach. After all, it’s the best kept secrets that do the most damage.” Bragh shivered suddenly as though Zhorya’s words were icy water trickling down his back. He looked at his palms and his eyes widened to see just how viciously they were shaking.
He gasped in surprise and tried to stand but was caught in a vicious fit of coughing; keeling him over just as his legs gave in and sent him tumbling back down onto the ground. When he pulled his hands away he was horrified to see the once shining, ebony armour was stained with crimson blood. Without warning, two pairs of arms snaked out from above him and hoisted him unceremoniously up onto the table.
He looked up to see the faces of the two Vortixx leering viciously down at him like two snakes poised to strike. “Y-You’ve poisoned me!” he croaked.
Xavor tutted and rolled his eyes, sharing a glance of mock disapproval with his partner. “Not very bright, is he?”
“You would have thought when the very subject was about poison he might have noticed something.”
Bragh hacked again, a mist of blood blooming from his lips as he tried to pull himself away from the Vortixx’s grip. Still they pinned him down with relentless ease and simply watched as he futilely fought against them. Even as he did so, questions whizzed through his mind, pounding relentlessly at his thoughts, each one demanding answers. How could this be happening? Why had they done this? Was it because he had insulted them? No, surely it couldn’t be. They hadn’t had the opportunity to poison him afterwards which meant…
“Th...The drink you gave me…before…” he tried to force out.
“Was poisoned, yes,” Xavor interrupted. “Don’t worry though; there wasn’t any danger for us. Our organs don’t process consumables so we can’t be poisoned so easily.”
“Why, you ask? Well, we needed to let Tuma know that we weren’t to be trifled with. If we’d have known you’d be so rude…well…Let’s just say we don’t regret our actions.”
Bragh choked again, feeling his muscles begin to spasm. His vision was beginning to darken and he could feel the force of his struggle weakening. That, or their grip was tightening. He couldn’t be sure. He didn’t really care at this point. “Wh…Wh…Why did y-you tell me…a-about your plans?”
The Vortixx shared a knowing look and their smiles wavered momentarily. “We needed someone to confess to,” Xavor said.
“Because what we’ve done is terrible and we’re too far gone to pull back now,” Zhorya added. “We wanted to see if telling somebody would make us feel any better. Maybe we shouldn’t have poisoned the same person, who knows?”
“We told you there were two reasons we helped Tuma find the sword. The first was that his army would be able to do our job for us.”
“The second…Well, the second is so that his army might prevent our work from succeeding. If Atero Nui must be destroyed as a result, then so be it.”
“We’ve played with fire and we lost control. It burned us for our foolhardiness.”
“Now we’re trying to stop it from burning anyone else. We may not look it but we’re trying to be good people.”
“Though we’d understand if you didn’t believe us…You kind of have a reason not to.”
Bragh said nothing as the two prattled on. If he wanted to, he couldn’t anyway. His muscles were giving in the fight. All sound in the room was fading away until he could hear nothing more than his own dying heartbeat. And then, even that disappeared too, leaving him alone, staring up at the two Vortixx until his world fell away into nothingness.
Edited by The Wretched Automaton, Nov 11 2012 - 04:42 PM.