THE SUBTAROND PROJECT
Night had fallen over the Northern Continent. All across its vast lands, beings were drifting off to sleep (or exchanging in illegal nighttime activities), while the full moon shone down… but just beneath its surface, the activity never ceased.
Onu-Matoran by the thousands hurried to and fro in the massive caverns of Netheria, their home beneath the world. The pitch-black darkness swarmed all about the caverns, with a few sparse torches as the only islands of light. The Onu-Matoran weren't perturbed by the absence of light; they relished it, just like they relished their work mining and drilling beneath the ground.
No, what perturbed them was what they were working for - or rather, who they were working for.
In the darkest shadows of the grandest cavern, surrounded by massive pillars of rock and seated upon a great, ten-foot throne, sat an ebon-and-brown-armored tyrant the Onu-Matoran feared beyond all else… feared beyond even the most aberrant creatures in these tunnels. For creatures, after all, only thought of eating. This figure thought of subjects buried deeper in history than civilized society had… for civilized society dared not speak or read of the subjects unearthed by Makuta Brond.
Brond's eyes were shut tight, and his figure was cold and still. But the Onu-Matoran in the chamber knew that he was as alert and alive as ever…. if any Makuta could truly be considered alive. Indeed, they feared him more when his eyes were closed, for he was surely using one of his more terrible powers of the mind.
The Onu-Matoran miners shivering before Brond's throne were terrified, chilled beyond any cold that weather could induce. The information they had come to report was far from bad news - indeed, they were reporting that the explosives experts had cleared away a tough layer and the drills could proceed even further - but Brond, as all Makuta were, was known for his sadistic sense of humor. A being who presented Brond with their servitude as long as they lived and longer, with no rewards expected in return, was just as likely to be vaporized as one who refused an order.
Brond's fanged mouth never moved, but his terrible voice echoed in the Matoran's skulls. "You have done well to break through this layer, Matoran. Why is it I sense fear in your hearts?"
The Matoran could not answer. They were too afraid.
Brond's voice chuckled. "Is it possible you fear me, Matoran? Me, of all beings?"
Still they did not answer.
Brond's eyes snapped open, glowing red as fire, but his expression was cold. "Very well. You may go back to your posts… I shall remain in my hall for several minutes more, for a moment of peace. I repeat: you may go."
It took the Matoran several minutes to realize what Brond had ordered them, and by then his temper had risen too high. The Makuta leapt from his throne, landing upon the rocky floor with enough force to form meter-wide cracks all about the room. His voice was terrible as it commanded them.
"I… SAID… YOU MAY GO!" Brond roared, and in the same moment activated his mask. The Matoran shot backwards faster than one would think possible, smashing through the door of the chamber and slamming into a wall beyond… and a wall beyond that.
Brond growled and reclined back in his throne. Casually, he reached out for an ornate, jagged blade mounted on the wall; he touched it to the ground, and suddenly the stone grew back where it had been shattered. The floor smoothed itself out, and the door was whole and shut once more.
Brond placed the blade back on its peg, sighing as he closed his eyes once more and turned his thoughts inwards… and at the same time, outwards, probing the unseen caverns far below, searching for his goal.
"I will find you," he hissed. "I will find you and free you from your shackles, vaporize your chains. Then all above will know fear at the name of Subtarond!"
Three miners stood at the mouth of a long, winding tunnel, peering cautiously into the darkness below… and at the walls.
"It's here, too," one grunted unhappily. "All the rocks for miles around are tainted with this slime. Is there no safe haven?"
"Well, it doesn't appear to be too thick here," said another, pointing at the scarcity of the green strands of chemical. "Perhaps this tunnel might lead to a clear area. Let's follow it."
The other two Matoran looked at each other and shrugged.
"Well, it is our job to explore any new tunnels unearthed by the drilling, so it's this or death by Brond's claws," said one.
"Well, actually, Brond kills you rather quickly," the other replied. "I'd rather be incinerated than die of slow chemical poisoning."
The first miner, the one who'd already gone a bit further down, sighed exasperatedly. "Look, this is why we've got the gas masks!" he cried. "Just put them on, for Mata Nui's sake!"
"For Brond's sake, more like," one muttered angrily, but he and the other reluctant miner applied the apparatuses and descended.
The tunnel was thin at first, and several spots even required the Matoran to crawl, but it soon opened up and became a bit wider - wide enough for a Steltian or even Brond to stand in comfortably. But still, the green strain covered the rocks, glowing eerily in the light of the Matoran's lamps.
"It's hopeless. Let's turn back," one insisted.
"Are you kidding? We've come this far," the first one cried. "Let's just keep going, and see if this opens up onto anything. You never know what you might find down in these tunnels!"
He rushed forwards, delving further into the tunnel. The two reluctant explorers looked at each other again, sighed, and made to follow after him…
A scream echoed through the caves. It was the voice of the first explorer, terrified and lethally hurt… but before long, it crumbled into a raspier croak, and eventually faded. The two remaining explorers looked at each other once more, and then ran back for the surface.
They didn't make much distance before something odd happened to the rock up ahead. The ground before them shattered into several chunks, slowly rising upwards in a mound. Before the Onu-Matoran's startled eyes, the pile of rocks and dirt congealed into a vague figure… a hulking, burly figure made of earth.
The earth elemental (for what else could it be) made a menacing noise - so low a note that the Matoran felt it rather than heard it. As the sound resonated through their bodies, they felt unimaginable pain burst through their limbs, and screamed as their companion had. But the screams died away as the first one had, and then there was silence in the caves.
The earth elemental glared down at the two small piles of dirt lying before it. It looked at them with emotion more powerful than elementals could summon. Then it melted back into the earth, smoothing out into a flawless rock surface.
Brond's eyes snapped open.
Within moments, the Makuta of Netheria stood in the command chamber of the drilling project. The chief driller took a few moments to realize Brond was there… then he had shattered into thousands of ebony shards, and Brond was free to access the controls.
"STOP THE DRILLS!" his deep voice echoed through the caverns. "I WOULD WISH TO OBSERVE… SOMETHING."
The drills ceased immediately, and a terrified hush fell throughout the entire region of caverns. No Onu-Matoran dared move a muscle, for fear Brond would hear and descend upon them.
Brond closed his eyes once more, reaching out with his senses. But this was unnecessary, for even the Matoran on the highest levels could hear the echoes of sounds emanating from the latest drill shafts.
"Drums," Brond hissed. "Drums in the dark… drums in the deep. We grow close."
The Makuta paused for a moment, allowing a grin of joy to creep over his mask. Then he slammed his clawed fist into a desk, shattering it, and bellowed once more into the caverns.
"INCREASE DRILLING SPEED!" he roared. "WE ARE NEARLY THERE!"
The drills resumed immediately, working as fast as they could to plow through miles of rock and earth. Brond grinned to himself, still able to hear the pounding of the drums over the cacophony of the drills.
"He is awake."
Tobduk stared into the mouth of a yawning chasm. He looked around at the surface world one last time - this was the last time he would see it for a conceivable time. Rocky plains stretched all around him, the suns of this dome baking down upon them. The effect was stunningly beautiful. Of course, Tobduk didn't care for it.
He turned to his left and grinned at his loyal companion. She stood as proud and tall as he did (well, maybe not quite as tall). The sun glinting off her golden armor plates, contrasted with the deep blue of her mask and under-armor, made for a far more beautiful sight than the landscape could ever achieve, at least as far as Tobduk was concerned.
The Toa of Psionics named Nestra was almost as enigmatic a character to Tobduk as he was to her. They had first met when she was but a Ce-Matoran villager; Tobduk was on the trail of Makuta Draug, and was blazing a path through the Ce-Wahi jungle with his flaming machete. Nestra had appeared and warned Tobduk of his actions; the Order member had ignored her, and continued on his way.
Nestra's warning had rung true, and Tobduk was soon set upon by two powerful jungle elementals. After the exhausting fight, Nestra supplied Tobduk with food and asked that he might bear a psionic pendant to her lost friend Taria. This pendant had been invaluable in the struggle against Draug, in which Taria - converted into a monstrous water beast by the Makuta - had sacrificed herself to destroy Draug and his minions. (Tobduk sometimes felt that Taria had cheated him of killing Draug, but truthfully didn't really mind.)
Then Tobduk had left Ce-Wahi, and not seen Nestra for a while - though he still bore her pendant. But Kylodus, a Toa of Ice whom he encountered on the desert isle of Crono, knew Nestra (how, Tobduk was not sure; he meant to ask sometime), and showed Tobduk how to work the psionic pendant. The pendant had burned out, but it had saved Tobduk and Kylodus from a group of psychotic, undead stone skeletons.
Finally, Tobduk had traveled to Indusko Island and its Factory to eliminate whatever had been pumping chemical waste into regions for miles around. During the escapade, he had been astonished to discover that none other than Nestra was also infiltrating the Factory - and now she was a Toa.
After the Factory was done with, Tobduk had broken his vows of secrecy by telling Nestra all about the Order of Mata Nui - and the reason she could not join. As a Toa, she was never to kill… a limitation Tobduk did not have to deal with. Nestra, however, had devised a method of communication utilizing the psionic pendant Tobduk now wore - in a bit of mental jiggery-pokery Tobduk did not and would never understand, he could concentrate thoughts into the pendant and therefore notify Nestra of his current location and mission.
This was how the two had met up above the region of Netheria, a network of dark tunnels and caverns. Now, the yawning entrance to Netheria stretched before them, and Tobduk felt anxious to enter.
"Caves," he grunted. "The perfect residence for a Makuta. The others must be so jealous of Brond."
Nestra smiled through the mouth grate of her Kanohi Huna. "Unless he is afraid of the dark?"
Tobduk snorted. That sentence was ridiculous on two counts, one of them being that Nestra would make a joke at all. The Toa of Psionics was normally calculating and logical - far from a jokester.
The tall and muscular agent stared down into the pit. "It's so… tempting… to just throw yourself in," he said under his breath. "Like it's… calling to you or something."
Nestra shook her head. "There is no presence speaking to you in your mind," she said firmly. "I feel no telepathy in this area. Whatever voice you hear is your own imagination."
Tobduk shrugged. "But whatever the case… it's there."
In a sudden movement, the Order agent was gone from the cliff. Nestra managed to catch sight of the red-armored warrior hurtling into the blackness of the chasm. She cried out in shock…
…and then Tobduk was hovering back into sight, using his rage-fueled fire powers to levitate on a heat thermal.
"Come on in!" he bellowed. "The shadows are quite nice and cool!"
Nestra rolled her eyes, tensed her muscles, and leaped for Tobduk.
As she sailed through the air, she made the mistake of looking down. The sight of absolutely nothing was far more frightening than any jagged rocks could be… she turned her eyes away from the blackness, looking ahead to the waiting Tobduk. For several terrible moments, she knew she would not make it, she would topple into the never-ending blackness and fall forever… the next thing she knew, she felt Tobduk's strong arms plucking her out of the sky like a simple kolhii ball.
"That was an impressive jump," he grinned. "I was expecting to have to dive after you, but you just about nailed it. You sure you're not still wearing that Noble Kadin you picked up in the Factory?"
Nestra and Tobduk enjoyed a small little chuckle before they descended into the dark.
After some time, Tobduk was able to locate a tunnel with a solid floor. The two walked slowly and cautiously through the darkness, Tobduk's hand alight with a flame to light the path. As they walked, Nestra noticed that the walls were caked with a green slime she knew all too well.
"This is Indusko's waste," she frowned. "I have seen it all too much for my liking. I had hoped the destruction of the Factory would somehow eliminate the poison, but it was a foolish hope."
"We need to find some way to destroy this gunk," she continued, "or it will be the death of us all."
"Would you listen to me?" Nestra demanded.
Tobduk began to grunt, stopped, and thought better of it. He cleared his throat. "I am listening to you," he explained. "But I don't know much about poisons. I'm not sure if anyone I know does. This stuff could be here for a while."
Nestra frowned. "We had best find somebody who has knowledge of this slime and knows how to remove it. I don't care if it's a thief, a crime lord, a murderer, even a Makuta - just somebody."
Tobduk chuckled. "Never say things like that," he grinned. "Wishes like that tend to come true, in the nastiest of ways."
Nestra sighed. "Your evidence?"
"Experience," Tobduk replied, "which I have plenty of. Heck, just before the Visorak, I was thinking 'Let's have some excitement'…"
The warrior's voice trailed off into oblivion. Nestra did not press for him to continue speaking; she had seen this before. However tough-skinned and resilient Tobduk appeared, he suffered from the same post-traumatic stress as any survivor of a massacre. Nestra hadn't quite picked up the details of whatever it was that sent Tobduk into such sorrow, but she had gleaned that it had to do with Visorak and Makuta Chirox. This was, apparently, his entire motive for joining the Order and hunting down Makuta: vengeance.
A dangerous wish if there ever was one, Nestra mused, but if it ends with the demises of enough Makuta without too many innocents' deaths, then I am fine with it.
After several more minutes, Tobduk regained his composure. But just as he was about to speak, the tunnel widened into a massive cavern that seemed large enough to accommodate the dragon god Aktoros he'd encountered a few weeks ago.
Nestra noticed Tobduk's abrupt halt and peered over his shoulder. Behind her mask, her jaw dropped. The cavern was huge, this was true; its rock formations were a true work of art. With their organic shapes, they appeared to possibly be huge monsters of a bygone age, turned to stone by some magical spell (or a special kind of sand). Regardless, this was not what awed Nestra and, to some extent, Tobduk.
The awesome scene was that of the labor being carried out through the entire cavern. Onu-Matoran scurried back and forth, on the ground floor, into tunnels branching off of the cavern, and even on the rock formations, picking into the stone in search of some valuable mineral. Massive drills took up most of the room, which was quite an accomplishment given the cavern's size. The drills' din was terrible, for they were drilling full speed ahead. Yet the actual drills were nowhere in sight; they must have been kio down.
After a few minutes of standing still, some Onu-Matoran noticed the two intruders. These miners stopped what they were doing in shock - for one moment, they stared up at the unknowns - and then, fearfully, would clutch their materials and dash off to their next station.
Nowhere, Nestra realized, did she see the stereotypical image of Onu-Matoran that most koro joked about. Nowhere did she see any workers taking a break. No one was enjoying a nice, warm drink; no one was casually leaning against the wall and chatting with friends. Everywhere, everyone, it was just work, work, work.
"Either the work ethic in these parts is through the roof, or there is some magnificent incentive for the miners if they keep working nonstop," Nestra theorized.
Tobduk grunted. "Those are both possibilities… but you've overlooked another."
"Which is?" Nestra asked.
"The possibility that these workers aren't working out of eagerness to get their hands on the paycheck, or even the goodwill of their spirits," Tobduk explained. "It's possible - no, not possible, probable - that they're working out of fear. Something, or someone, promises such a nasty punishment if they stop working that they'll go on working till they drop."
Nestra nodded slowly. "Ruling a nation through fear. That's been done before."
"It's being done now."
"How can you be certain?"
"Because I can see the overlord that's keeping them in line," Tobduk grunted, pointing to a massive, powerfully-built Makuta armored in rocky spikes and wielding an ancient, lethal weapon in each claw. "And he's coming this way."
To the surprise of Tobduk, Nestra, and every Matoran in the chamber, Brond did not immediately attack. Instead, the Makuta looked them up and down silently… then closed his eyes. The Matoran winced and turned away, not wanting to see what the Makuta would do to them… but after a moment, Brond's eyes snapped open, confused.
"I could not enter," he snarled. "The Ce-Toa, her mind was… difficult, but still I could pry it open. How is it you, tall red-armored one… how have you blocked your mind?"
Tobduk chuckled. "Now, if I told you, you'd be able to figure out a way around it. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?"
Before Brond could retort, Tobduk's hand was at the Makuta's long neck, clutching it in a death grip.
"And whatever you've done with her mind, you'll reverse it," Tobduk commanded. "Now."
Brond was the one chuckling now. "Do you honestly think that gripping my neck would stop me?" he asked, his voice booming through the cavern. "I am Makuta Brond! I am beyond a physical form… my neck is no more important to me than my foot."
"Certainly," Tobduk nodded. "But your essence is far more important than either, correct? As I recall, antidermis is highly flammable…"
Heat emanated from the tall one's fist, beginning to eat away at the protosteel armoring the master of Netheria. Brond frowned, now faced with a more powerful threat than he had anticipated. Still, it was not hopeless… he activated his power of density control, turning himself briefly intangible. Brond slipped through Tobduk's fist and condensed several meters away.
"What a Makuta does with another being's mind is not something anyone else can argue against," Brond hissed. "All I chose to do was to temporarily shut down her thought processes, so she could not muster a psionic attack. I am sure she will awake in several minutes… if she still lives. She will not, and neither will you."
Brond raised his ornate, spike-covered blade. "Do you know what this is, infidel?" he asked. "It is the lost Chasmblade of Subtarond! This weapon holds within it the power to shatter, and reform. It was with this he cleaved through any that stood in his way! It was with this that Subtarond destroyed entire nations!"
Brond stroked the blade lovingly. "All I desire is the blade," he explained. "But Subtarond infused his very spirit with the weapon. It will not work properly if he himself does not wield it. So I must find him… find the resting place where he was chained all these years ago."
Tobduk thought. He didn't know who Subtarond was, but that wasn't important. What was important was getting away from Brond, at least until Nestra could recover… or maybe he could stall the Makuta.
"Who was this Subtarond, anyway?" he asked.
Brond looked scandalized. "How could you not know of Subtarond?" he hissed. "Subtarond was destruction. He rose from the earth and shattered continents!"
"Poetic, but it doesn't really answer my question," Tobduk sighed. "What was he, some sort of greater earth elemental?"
Brond spat. "No! Subtarond was no mere elemental. Very well, ignorant one, I shall spin the tale of Subtarond for you.
"Once, when this world was young, a Matoran engineer observed the devastating power of earthquakes. This engineer understood how useful this power could be in mining, and if he could reverse it, in repair work.
"So the engineer and his comrades created a living weapon, one imbued with the strength of the mightiest earthquake - and the strength to reverse it. They designed for him the Chasmblade, through which he could focus his awesome power.
"But Subtarond knew he was not destined for mere mining projects. Subtarond broke loose and laid waste to entire regions of the universe, fracturing them into shards. The destruction was nothing short of glorious.
"Of course, the inhabitants of the universe disliked the destruction of their homelands and united against Subtarond. He was imprisoned, chained beneath the earth, his power negated by an aberrant creature that did not exist." (Tobduk thought he knew who Brond was talking about, and grinned.) "These so-called 'heroes' who had placed Subtarond in chains used his Chasmblade to repair the lands he had crushed, and then hid it away in the deepest caverns they could find.
"I found the Chasmblade," Brond giggled. "I found it, after so many years of searching! Now I must find Subtarond, so that the blade can cleave as it once did. I shall steal Subtarond's body and wield the power of a god!"
There was a shocked silence in the chamber as everyone came to terms with Brond's goals. The Onu-Matoran trembled. Brond, with even more power than he already had? It was unthinkable. The universe would be doomed.
Tobduk didn't really care. He knew he could stop Brond dead in his tracks any day… especially that Nestra had just woken.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"Nestra, meet Brond. He's the resident nutcase who wants the power of a god and has the sword of one," Tobduk explained quickly.
"I see," Nestra nodded slowly.
Brond had noticed Nestra's revival, and realized he'd been tricked into letting her revive. Immediately, he closed his eyes, striking with his mind… but Nestra's fought back, tossing him aside. Brond's eyes snapped open, and the Makuta staggered back, shocked. However, he quickly regained his fury.
"Seize them!" he cried.
Tobduk chuckled. This was ridiculous. Who did he expect to "seize them"? The Matoran? They'd hardly put up a fight. Indeed, with Brond's rage flowing into him, Tobduk doubted anyone would put up much of a fight against him.
Suddenly, thunder rang out through the cavern. At least, so it sounded to everyone. Ears ringing, Tobduk and Nestra turned to see the being Brond had ordered to "seize them".
An ebon-armored bodyguard stood before them, almost as tall as Tobduk. His black armor was the texture of solid rock, spiked and jagged. Silver hints accented the ebony, including his large boots, jagged shin guards and two spiked shoulder pads. His absurdly muscular arms were almost ape-like, ending in viciously clawed mitts with fingers the width of Nestra's sword hilt. Beneath the bodyguard's intimidating helmet, there were no eyes to be seen - only shadows.
"I call him Onus," Brond chuckled. "He doesn't say much - doesn't say anything at all, actually - but actions speak louder than words. Especially when they're such actions as causing the earth beneath you to swallow you without even moving a muscle."
Onus stepped forwards. The earth shook, rumbling like the loudest thunder anyone present had ever heard. A long stalagmite erupted from the ground in front of Onus, bristling with spikes. Onus reached out with a claw and snapped it off, wielding it as a club.
"I could deal with you myself, but Onus just has that certain… style," Brond cackled.
The next few moments were a blur to the Matoran who watched, bodies trembling. Tobduk shot forwards, flames trailing from his limbs, and slammed into Brond. The two fell to the ground with twin bellows of rage. Meanwhile, Onus swung for Nestra, who dodged and seemed to disappear from view. Onus paused, confused, and then felt the needle-like stings of Nestra's mindblade prick him all over his body.
There was a small explosion, and Tobduk hurtled into the air, only to freeze in place. Brond stared up at him with loathing, fist clenched to keep his stasis field activated.
"You know how to make an enemy," Brond snarled. "I shall make sure, for your own good, you never make another one."
At the other end of the cavern, Onus still felt the mindblade slicing at him. He paused, not moving at all for several long seconds. Then, suddenly, he stuck out his fist into the air, seemingly at random. There was a yelp of pain, and the Ce-Toa popped back into view - falling to the ground as a result of Onus's attack.
Nestra scrambled to her feet, realizing with a curse that she had dropped her mindblade. She scanned the cavern for it - there! Behind that massive stalagmite!
Only as she drew near to the stalagmite did she realize it was no stalagmite at all. Again, she felt Onus's fist slam into her, and flew into the air. She came down to the ground twenty feet away… then slid another ten.
Tobduk bellowed, not out of rage so much as surprise. The moment before, he had been falling, dropped from the sky by Brond abruptly ending the stasis field he was held in. Now he was still falling… but in a drill shaft miles deep.
He twisted his body mid-fall, working his way into an upright position. Drawing on all of the anger and adrenaline of the situation, he formed it into pure flames - and rocketed upward on a powerful heat thermal.
Brond was headed for the conflict between Onus and the Ce-Toa when he heard a rumbling noise and the screams of several Matoran. The Makuta whirled to see flames erupt from the drill shaft he'd thrown the tall one into; a moment later, the tall one himself blasted out, headed for Brond like a homing missile.
The Makuta had only enough time to decrease his density by so much; he still felt a crushing blow when Tobduk struck. Then the two were at it again, sword clashing against Chasmblade. Brond willed the Chasmblade to activate its power, but it didn't always work, and it didn't now. Tobduk pressed forwards, grinning wildly.
Nestra had gotten to her feet, just in time to see Onus standing over her. She began to worm an illusion into his mind, but a rumbling and cracking noise distracted her. The next thing she knew, the floor had fallen out from beneath her, and she was falling into the abyss on several large chunks of rock.
Well, fall she might, but Onus was coming with her. She reached out with her mind and telekinetically seized Onus, dragging him into the chasm he had formed. They fell together… into the darkness below.
Four Onu-Matoran walked cautiously and apprehensively through yet another slime-caked tunnel. It was second nature for them to walk through caves, but this was the deepest any of them had ever gone - possibly deeper than anyone had ever gone. And still this disgusting, chemical slime did not stop.
There were worse things here than sludge, though. As noted, none of the Onu-Matoran had been down this deep before, but there were plenty of late-night tales about what might be down here. They had begun to catch glimpses of things just beyond the torchlight - pale, deathly-white creatures, with an aberrant concentration of organic matter on their metallic skeletons.
"Over there!" cried one Matoran. "Just behind that stalagmite - never mind," he sighed as it slithered out of view.
"What was it?" one of his companions asked.
"I'm trying to figure that out for myself," the first Matoran replied. "I can't be sure if it was another giant worm, or rather a tentacle."
His comrades shuddered. "Thanks," one hissed sarcastically. "The white, fleshy things were bad enough without tentacles."
"Without eyes, too," another muttered. "We're in the realm of the Blind Things."
"Big deal," snorted the first Matoran, who was trying to maintain his reputation as the most courageous in Netheria. "We've got plenty of eyeless Rahi higher up. Isn't it better for the beasts to not be able to see you?"
"But they can still hear and feel us," pointed out the previous speaker. "I'm sure every Blind Thing within kios is aware of our presence!"
"And do they eat Matoran?" the first Matoran countered. "There are no archived cases of Matoran ever being devoured by the Rahi down here."
"That's because there aren't any archived cases of anything down here!" retaliated his friend. "Oh, surely there have been Onu-Matoran down here before us, but they never came back. There's got to be a reason for that."
"Accidents. Maybe they got lost, or got caught in a cave-in, or even went so far down that they tunneled through the Great Barrier and died in the void outside the universe," the first Matoran chuckled, then realized he hadn't really lightened the atmosphere.
"Actually, I'd quite like to know - " began another Matoran, but he was cut short by a sudden rumbling. "Do you hear that?"
"Yeah," replied all three of the others simultaneously. As one, they stopped bickering and listened intently to the sounds and tremors in the rock. Eventually, one of them dared to share his conclusion.
"Something's smashing through the earth," he said quietly. "Coming closer and closer."
"It's just the drill," said the first Matoran confidently.
"We all know the frequency of the drill," the other Matoran pointed out, "and this isn't it. This is the sound of something literally smashing through the rock, punching a hole straight into the - "
Then the ceiling exploded, a little ways off. The Matoran, though each dropped solidly to the ground, were able to see none other than Makuta Brond and a mysterious tall warrior falling from the hole in the ceiling, locked in combat. For a split-second, they were visible, and then they smashed through the floor and were gone.
There was a long silence as the four Onu-Matoran looked at each other. It was broken by the first Matoran stating shakily, "Are you guys still worried about the Blind Things?"
"Don't you get it?" Tobduk bellowed over the roar of himself and Brond smashing through tunnel after tunnel after tunnel. "I go, you go."
Brond frowned. He had used his power over gravity to increase Tobduk's until the warrior was drawn at high speeds towards the core of the universe, far below the surface world. Yet this had also meant that when Tobduk grabbed hold of Brond, the Makuta was also dragged with him. The experience of smashing through tunnels for several kios was distracting him a little too much to use his more delicate powers, so he was getting down and dirty. His power of shattering was smashing rock walls far before the two, sparing them from breaking their bodies against the earth. Tobduk, however, was a very resilient warrior - a few bursts of poison, electricity, laser vision, and several other abilities had been unable to even loosen his grip. There were very few options for the Makuta.
"Very well," Brond hissed at last. "But this ends nothing."
"Of course," Tobduk grinned as the Makuta closed his eyes. "That would be a rubbish ending."
A moment later, both Tobduk and Brond were standing solidly on the floor of a tunnel, just next a few levels above where they had last been. Tobduk sighed with relief - he felt lighter than air now, compared with the weight he had felt just before.
He turned to see Brond raising the Chasmblade, holding it against Tobduk's body. The weapon… changed. Nothing happened physically, but the aura it gave off changed from cold steel to a force far deadlier - that of the earthquakes that Subtarond wielded. Brond's Kanohi Crast stretched into a horrific visage: a smile.
"Now it ends, killer," Brond hissed. "Now it ends."
Nestra hit the ground. Hard. She blinked once, twice, resting momentarily and waiting for her energy to return to her limbs. It did, just in time for her to roll out of the path of a titanic slab of rock. The impact knocked her into the air, but she managed to land on her feet.
Striding through the rock, which parted before him, was Onus. The bodyguard of Brond was powerful indeed, and almost more intimidating for his mystique. What lay beneath that shell of steel armor, and what was obscured by the darkness inside his helmet? Onus himself had given no clues; he had not spoken through the entire battle.
The Onu-Matoran had scattered from the cavern, with some help. Nestra had telepathically put the idea into their paralyzed minds, and telekinetically lifted a few locks keeping them in. That was all she had managed, but she had succeeded: Onus and herself were the only two beings in the massive drill chamber.
She turned and ran, but only for a few steps. Nestra had learned not to trust the earth when Onus was around. Indeed, even as she ran, the earth was falling apart and forming a chasm around her. Nestra pushed off of the remaining ground and leapt into the air, even as the chasm snapped shut like a giant, hungry mouth.
Now Nestra was headed for a secure handhold, one that Onus could not control directly: the ladder that led up to the drill's control chamber. With a telekinetic push, she propelled herself up several bios more than she would ever have been able to climb in the few moments it took for Onus's next boulder to smash into the ladder.
Down below, Onus stared out of the dark pits that took the place of his eyes. He watched the pesky mind-bender ascend the ladder with considerable speed. If he had let his mind wander, he might have lauded the psionic Toa's grace and agility. As it was, Onus's mind was set firmly in focus, not unlike the rocks set in the earth.
Throwing big rocks would not be the answer, that much was obvious. The Toa had already shown an aptitude for dodging them, or even telekinetically hurling them right back. Not that the boulders harmed Onus, but it was still irritating. No, a different solution would have to be found.
Onus took a step, and set his foot down at the bottom of the ladder, the earth beneath his feet having shifted at a rapid pace. He turned his eyeless face upwards. The Toa was up a considerable distance, far enough up to be out of the ground's reach. Still, it was able to give him a considerable boost, as he rose on a pillar of rock.
The bodyguard curled his fingers around the rungs of the ladder, which creaked and bent under his weight. Onus felt no fear. It was time to end this.
Taking its time, like the shift of the continents, a full thought formed in Onus's mind.
We have suffered, he said to himself. Now they will pay.
As he scaled the ladder, slowly, one rung after another, Onus had another thought. And though he was no Bohrok, it fit his mission perfectly.
It must be cleaned.
Immediately before Brond unleashed the temporary power of Subtarond on his body, Tobduk ducked beneath the blade and bowled into him. The Makuta was thrown off balance, smashing to the ground and nearly dropping the Chasmblade. As it was, the weapon merely smashed a stalagmite and some of the floor.
Brond was back on his feet in no time, cursing the Chasmblade and Tobduk. He shook his head and readied a bolt of shadow energy.
Tobduk yelled in rage, a fireball forming in the space before his body. With a mere gesture, he sent it hurtling towards Brond. Yet Brond stood tall and confident before the flames. He showed no pain or any damage whatsoever as it struck his body and quickly dissipated.
"Fire resistance," the Makuta said simply. "An adequate defense against your power, is it not?"
Tobduk didn't bother to answer, just snarled and raised his sword. The tall warrior shot towards Brond, swinging the blade in a deadly arc. Brond slipped away from it with an impossible dodge, then shrieked out a power scream. Several nearby rock formations shattered into fragments, and one wall gained a Tobduk-shaped hole.
The Makuta of Netheria strode cautiously towards that particular hole, and waited several long moments. His patience was rewarded when the wall behind him erupted in a storm of stone, revealing a tall, angry figure. Brond fell before the assault of fire and rock - and dropped the Chasmblade.
In that moment, its aura once again changed from cold steel to something much, much more deadly…
"No!" both Tobduk and Brond yelled simultaneously, but it was too late. Like a sheet of glass, the floor beneath their feet shattered and flew apart, dropping both into the abyss.
Nestra placed her hand on the drill controls - then froze. The entire control center had just shaken, and she knew she was not alone.
The Toa of Psionics turned to face her enemy. She had a different option - negotiation.
"Why?" she asked.
Onus turned his head, confused. Nestra repeated the question, explaining further.
"Why do you ally with Makuta Brond?" she clarified.
Onus nodded, understanding. To Nestra's surprise, when he spoke, it was in her head - and his own mouth did not move.
WE HAVE BEEN DEFILED, boomed the rumbling, earthy voice. WE MUST BE CLEANSED.
"And Brond can help?" Nestra asked uncertainly.
NO. BUT WE SEEK THE SAME GOAL - THE ONE WHO CAN. IT IS SO DRAINING TO CREATE THESE AMBASSADORS, LIKE ONUS. AND THEY ARE NOT POWERFUL OR CHARISMATIC TO ALERT THE SURFACE DWELLERS OF OUR PROBLEMS. BUT SUBTAROND…. SUBTAROND'S POWER COMMANDS ATTENTION. SUBTAROND COULD SPEAK FOR US.
"And you are…?" Nestra asked again, not sure she wanted to know the answer.
Onus's response was to reach his hands to his helmet - and remove it. Nestra gasped. Instead of a bio-mechanical face, or head, or at least some living thing - there was nothing but rock.
The rest of his armor shattered and fell away, revealing a being made of earth and rock. It towered over her - and she noticed another component to it.
Green slime. Like that of Indusko's Factory, that which had poisoned Netheria and Ce-Wahi.
THE EARTH. WE ARE THE EARTH. WE HAVE BEEN DEFILED.
The earth elemental stepped forwards, shaking the structure with every step. Nestra backed cautiously away, but there was nowhere to run.
WE MUST BE CLEANED. AND YOU STAND IN OUR WAY.
YOU ARE POWERFUL. STRONG. CUNNING. BUT EVEN THE TALLEST MOUNTAIN DOES NOT STAND FOREVER…
Brond opened his eyes. He was surrounded by pitch-black darkness on all sides. But as a creature of the night, this posed no obstacle to the Makuta.
He was lying in a vast cavern, far bigger than the one he had housed his drill in. Magma streams gave off a dim glow from their zigzag, crisscrossing patterns in the rock walls. The rock formations down here were even more twisted and frightening - to a lesser being - as the ones he had decorated his chambers with. Blind Things slithered and crawled just out of sight. Far above, far, far above, he could just barely make out the hole he and his opponent had tumbled through -
The opponent! Brond snapped his gaze down to the ground, looking for the prone body of the tall warrior. It was not there, although a small crater in the floor could have been made by it. Brond frowned and scanned the rest of the cavern, but it was large, and the warrior could be anywhere.
But then he realized one thing - if the warrior had woken before him, surely the Makuta would be dead by now, his armor crushed and his essence incinerated. So clearly, he had not moved of his own accord. If Brond had been afraid, this would have comforted him. As it was, it instead caused a slow smile to spread across his face, and the Makuta began to explore the cavern.
Though his vision could pierce the blackness easily, the place was so large that some of it was out of his range of sight. He released a sonic pulse from his palms and listened intently for the echoes, using them to shape the unknown.
The cavern continued for nearly a kio in all directions, roughly the shape of a Great Kanohi Rau. He was, of course, near one of the walls. Since the chamber was like a Rau, he decided to consider the wider end, which served as the Rau's chin, the "back", and the narrower curve that it gradually became the "front". If this was so, he was at the left wall.
Brond sent out another sonic pulse, this one finer tuned, to pick up smaller shapes. He could identify rock formations, many of them… and Blind Things, ranging from small as a rat to as large as… Well, he concluded that such Blind Things would be best not approached.
One of the larger Blind Things, he realized, had a smaller, separate creature clutched in whatever it used to clutch things with. He focused, and confirmed that this prey was tall, thin, and armored in metal; sound bounced off of it much differently than the organic Blind Things. Brond grinned. So this was what had happened to his opponent.
Then he noticed something else, something near the front of the chamber, the narrower end. It was something large, something tall and bulky, and long appendages stretched from it all the way to the cavern's walls, in many directions. Most intriguingly… it was metal.
If Brond had need of breath, he would have gasped. As it was, instead his eyes widened and his fanged mouth jumped open - then pulled shut again, beginning to emit jubilous giggles. With increasing speed, Brond took wide strides across the rock floor, until he was clearly running.
After some time, he caught a glimpse of metal in the darkness, and made for it. This was revealed to be a chain, a massive chain whose links were half a bio long and were forged from protosteel. A peculiar aura of nothingness surrounded the links, and Brond decided very firmly that he did not want to touch them.
However, he could certainly follow them. Brond followed the chain, never touching it, for a considerable distance. His echolocation told him he was nearing a spot equally between both walls. It also warned him of a large, circular chasm surrounding a small island of rock.
This did not perturb Brond. He had waited many long centuries for this moment, and he had come prepared - with the energies of several unfortunate Onu-Matoran stored in his body. Now he called upon those energies to easily add large, powerful wings to his form, causing him to look not unlike a giant bat. With several whooshing wingbeats, the Makuta rose into the air and glided over the deep abyss.
He touched down on the small pillar rising out of the chasm's center. Another being stood there, held by the massive chains Brond had traced. It was tall, nearly twelve feet in height, and bulky beyond most anything. It did not seem to move, but when Brond drew out the Chasmblade, it slowly turned its head. The blade glowed with an unimaginable power.
"Shatter the chains," it commanded in a whisper that somehow felt louder than anything Brond had ever heard. It echoed all around the massive cavern, not fading for several long minutes. However, Brond did not wait several long minutes to unleash his power of fragmentation and blast the chain links for several bios around into shrapnel.
The giant stirred, power flooding back into its body. It reached out a burly arm for the Chasmblade, which Brond reverently handed to it. When it took the weapon in hand, both giant and Chasmblade released an explosion of energy - not seen, not heard, but definitely there. For the first time in centuries, and rather unnecessarily, Brond breathed in a long gasp.
This was Subtarond.
Edited by Angel Bob, Oct 14 2011 - 05:04 PM.