Fate of Yrenta
==Yrenta Region, Northern Continent, Matoran Universe==
Toa Kryaju walked alone through the mountain passes, alert as always yet at a leisurely pace. The recent centuries had been peaceful. It was odd, as soon as Vibrak had defeated his Shadow counterpart, the unnatural threat looming over the land lifted. The dead had walked for a time, but they did no more, and the Shadow Toa were never seen again. What was stranger was the fact that in all those years, Vibrak still had not yet become a Turaga. He had forfeited his guaranteed existence as a Toa, yet it seemed there was more for him to do, he had not yet fulfilled his destiny as a Toa. Kryaju admired his selflessness, but decided to not make the same choice. It could be disastrous to transform into a Turaga at an undesirable time. But Vibrak had had his personal reasons too. It had taken many years for the Matoran to see him as they had before, and he had not completely forgiven himself for what he had let happen. For over three hundred years, he had searched for his final purpose. The Matoran of Yrenta had peace the like of which they had not known for millennia, and for the first time, the Toa had spent time abroad, visiting new regions and solving their problems.
On a small island far to the east, Lidon's quest to assist the locals had led him to a mystery he could not solve. Wisely, he had sent a request for assistance to Kryaju. Kryaju and Spiileus had just put an end to a Dark Hunter extortion scheme in the Southern Continent, so the scholarly Toa of Ice gladly offered to help. Spiileus had remained to ensure the Matoran there would be safe, while Kryaju had sailed back to the port village of the Ga-Matoran in Yrenta. He had been away from home for months, and he suspected he would find some information of use to Lidon in the hidden archives of his home village, high in the mountains. A swift trip up the river to its source and a climb up the steep, winding path over the western bank had brought him to the feet of the eastern reach of the mountains of the north. Not so long ago, those lands had been blasted and desolate, home to savage foes, now they were calm and lightly forested. Kryaju had given himself little time to enjoy the pleasures of this green place, for he was eager to return home, both to see his people again, and to help Lidon the sooner. So he had come to the mountains' rocky base, found a path, and begun the trek to the heights of his homeland.
As he climbed higher, he came upon the lowest drifts of snow. Above him, a thick layer covered the slope, and he soon found himself knee-deep in it. The path was completely buried beyond this point. With a simple gesture, Kryaju parted the snow, uncovering the path as he trekked. It was tiring work. After traveling in this fashion for several kio, Kryaju stopped to rest. It would take a team of Matoran with shovels and plows to make this path suitable for common use again. Apparently, it had been abandoned for many years, thought it was well-preserved enough at its start to make an ignorant traveler think otherwise. Taking a small bundle of rations out of his pack, Kryaju looked up to the nearest peak. That one was named Onkilo, after an ancient hero of folklore. Kryaju was still too far to the east, his village was quiet some distance west of Onkilo and its neighbors. While he ate, Kryaju admired the view of the other directions. He was quite high now, and could see many kio of the the uninhabited lands to the south. To the east, he could barely descry the canyon that separated Ba-Matoran territory from the lost desert. And if he squinted, he thought he could see a tiny sliver of reflected light south of the canyon – all that could be seen of the river that he had come up, that went past the jungle at to the sea. From his perspective, the villages and fortresses far to the west were hidden by the mountains and high hills, though he did see a brief flash of lighting from Mount Tasle.
Rested and sated, Kryaju stood and resumed his journey. The way up looked arduous, but to retrace his route and find another way up would be more difficult. The sooner he reached his village, the better, for his own sake and that of the villagers Lidon was helping far away. Less than three kio ahead was a flag marking the location of a small shelter for wayfarers. The day was late, and Kryaju could feel more snow was on the way. He decided to rest at the shelter when he came to it. Dark clouds came from the north, and it was very cold and dark when Kryaju reached the buried shelter. Using a small fraction of his elemental power, he cleared the shelter's door of snow and ice, allowing him to open it, and stepped inside. The air was now cold enough to make even a Toa of Ice shiver a little. Kryaju was wise enough to carry a heatstone with him while traveling in the mountains. He took it out and warmed his hands and feet. He shut the door, and when the insulated shelter was warm enough, but not too warm, he covered the heatstone and put it away. Then he dozed for a couple hours.
It was the middle of the night and frigid when Kryaju started again, but he was freshly warmed and rested. Refreshed so, he was confident he would reach his village by noon the next day. As he exited the shelter, he almost overlooked a sign of danger. To the ignorant observer, the fresh mound of snow looked only slightly out of place. Snow had fallen, and was still coming down gently, and it seemed plausible that some trick of the weather and the geography could cause a large pile to accumulate there. An traveler experienced in these parts, however, recognized it for what it was. A Snow-Troll was hidden there, waiting to ambush a victim. Kryaju knew this when he noticed the bulge in the blanket of snow, and decided on a counter-strategy. He decided to play dumb, and began to walk the path as if he was oblivious to the danger, using his powers to clear away the snow as he went. As he expected, a heavy club soon came down upon him, aimed to crush him flat into the frozen ground. He adeptly spun to dodge the attack and face his attacker. The troll muttered in surprise and lifted its club again.
Like the Thunder Trolls of Mount Tasle, Snow Trolls were extremely resistant to the element of their environment. Cold temperatures did not bother them, they seemed impossible to freeze to death and they were strong enough to break free of shells of ice that would immobilize nearly anything else their size. Their armor was especially resistant to piercing attacks, such as sharp icicles, and spikes in their feet ensured they could remain standing on the slipperiest terrain. Altogether, a Snow Troll was a daunting physical opponent to a Toa of Ice. But Kryaju had never met a clever troll. It would expect him to throw all his elemental attacks at it until he was exhausted. Kryaju would not fight that way. Though he was not nearly as suited to heat things as a Toa of Fire or Plasma, his control over ice and the cold allowed him to divert and even temporarily absorb it. The first move would be to disorient his opponent by depriving it of its preferred environment. Invisible elemental energy flowed from the snow around the Snow Troll into Kryaju's staff. Kryaju released the power to the side, creating a harmless chill in the air that blew away. The troll was left standing in a large puddle.
Against another enemy, Kryaju could have frozen the puddle and left that enemy trapped. In this case, however, it would slow Kryaju down more than the troll. Instead, he chose a more physical attack. A creature such as a Snow Troll had to react quickly to changes, but despite its effort to focus its weak mind and hulking body, it hesitated for a moment upon finding itself ankle-deep in liquid water instead of snow. Kryaju dashed forward quickly, feinted a move, and ducked behind the reach of its club as it came crashing down again. His staff was made of high-quality metal, durable but light, stiff but not brittle even at incredibly low temperatures. But against most of the troll's thick armor, it could do nothing but annoy the troll. Only a very sharp blade could cut through it, and only a very heavy blunt blow could crack it. Fortunately, trolls, like everything, had weak spots. This one took its clawed right hand off its club and batted at Kryaju, who ducked again to avoid the attack and pushed the arm forward as it passed over him, using the troll's great momentum against it. The large creature staggered, nearly losing its balance, and in a flash the Toa struck hard at three of its weak points. A swift, strong sweep at the piston at the back of its right leg kept it off balance longer, followed by a strike at the lightly-armored section where its left arm met its body, finished by a vicious jab at its left eye. A small crack appeared on the lens of the eye, and it flickered. The troll groaned with pain and frustration.
In this period of time lasting only seconds, the Snow Troll had impaired vision, a battered leg, one arm numb and the other arm thrown to the side. Kryaju had studied and fought enough to have a strong hunch of what it would do next: a headbutt or an all-out body slam. In that attack, the troll would likely fall over, but it would be able to get back to its feet. Kryaju would be squashed as flat as the wafers of traveling rations he carried with him. It could be a devastating move, but not hard to counter. All he would have to do...
Kryaju stopped nearly long enough to lose the battle. In such a dark and misty night, there were no shadows to be seen except for the one shadow the covered the world. But Kryaju could feel when something was lurking behind him, towering over him. He was not the cursing type, but a vulgar obscenity passed through his mind as he desperately threw himself out of the way of a pounding fist from behind. He lurched forward and grabbed onto the troll it front of him, the one he had been fighting. It reacted impulsively, kicking its left leg out in an attempt to throw Kryaju off of it. Kryaju let go and let himself be launched through the air, landing as gracefully as he could. The troll found it could not long support its great weight on its injured right leg, and fell over. The Toa of Ice stood up. He was out of that trap, but now up against two Snow Trolls. They had not been known to hunt in groups for a long time, but if they were now, Kryaju had to assume even more would arrive at any time. He scanned the immediate area for conspicuous heaps of snow and saw none. A group of two or more trolls could be a challenge for a somewhat weary Toa who had not fought any for a long time, but fleeing was not an option. The terrain was too rough for him to escape quickly enough. He would have to defeat any foe that attacked him, whether that meant scaring them away, beating them unconscious, or killing them.
Fighting two opponents at once had the potential to be twice as hard as fighting one. A smart warrior like Kryaju knew how to avert this. Two large, stupid brutes trying to crush a smaller, more nimble and clever target were quite likely to smash into each other, if that target knew how to manipulate the battle. Kryaju knew how to manipulate battles. The first troll got back onto its large feet, and together with the second one, they marched forward threateningly. Kryaju made a move that was either stupidly obvious or brilliantly counter-intuitive. He sprinted to the Snow Trolls and stopped between them. Both trolls turned to face him, and he was caught between the two, in very close quarters, the first to his right, the second on his left. The trolls were smart enough to not use their clubs, for this close to each other they would clobber each other before they clobbered the Toa. Instead, the second troll kicked at Kryaju, hard, but carefully enough to not hit its comrade. Anticipating this, Kryaju dodged and stuck his staff between the troll's lower legs and twisted it to the side. Its left leg was pressed back, the right one, the one that had been used to kick, was pushed forward. As that troll staggered, Kryaju feigned being tired and taken off guard. This was, to a degree, true, but he was not an easy target yet.
The first troll fell for the feint, however, and thrust a hand at the Toa, trying to grab him or crush him with the momentum of his heavy arm. Kryaju was still moving too quickly, and instead it grabbed the right leg of the other Snow Troll. Before it realized what it had hit, it squeezed hard, digging its claws into its ally's leg armor. Before the second troll realized what was attacking its leg, it lashed out. The resulting kick nicked Kryaju with enough force to send him crashing into the snow a few bio away, and the first troll took the brunt of the attack in its left knee. Armor shattered, the flesh and metal bones under it split, and it fell to the ground moaning. One of its legs now had a crippled knee and the other was still weak in its piston. That enemy was nearly immobilized, and the trolls were now quite cross with each other. As the second troll wrenched its leg free of the grasp of the first, it ripped the claws out of the hand and left them imbedded in its leg armor, to the great discomfort of both trolls. And the second troll was now limping, the claws had dug into its leg deeper than Kryaju had hoped. If he could keep fighting so well for just a little longer, the fight would soon be over.
“Good show, Ice-warrior!” called a somewhat high-pitched, scratchy voice. “But it's all over now. We've all had our fun.”
Kryaju looked around as he got up. It was dark, but he could make out small shapes blending in with the snow. Ko-Matoran? No, these were slightly larger and much uglier. These, he realized, were the snow-goblins, the Ukzokth of the mountaintops. In his moment of distraction, he was nearly struck by a boulder the troll hurled at him. Acting on reflex, he created a wall of ice to block it just in time. The leader of the goblins did not show himself yet, but he went on.
“Ragh and Blung have done an admirable job against such an opponent, though you made it difficult for them. Poor Blung is crippled now, and his life is forfeit. To compensate Ragh for the loss of his brother, he shall have the first choice of what part of you he will take. Lads, attack!”
Kryaju had already been moving before the goblin-leader finished talking, first to avoid the troll that was still standing – Ragh, apparently – and next to dodge the hail of arrows, bolts, and spears the Ukzokth rained upon him. Fortunately he had much elemental energy left, as his powers would have availed him little against the trolls, but he was nearly exhausted physically. He battered down one wave of goblins with his twirling staff and agile feet, and another, and yet another. After the first wave, he found he could do nothing but stand still as he channeled his Ice powers to ward off a horde as it came a few at a time, its full number unknown. Yet each time the surge of goblins became larger, and Ragh was still advancing, limping angrily, slowly, but too quickly for Kryaju to escape. When the troll reached him, scores of goblins were frozen in various poses of fear and anger around him. It lifted its massive stone club and brought it down. Kryaju dodged, but stumbled with weariness as he did so. Before he could stand, a barbed spear pierced his back, followed by another, and crossbow bolts lodged in his limbs. He cried out in pain.
“That's enough!” said the leader of the goblins. The Ukzokth ceased the attack, and the leader came forth. He was a rather large blue and white one of them. Kryaju did not recognize him, and guessed he must have been a minor chieftain of some sort. But that was far from his main concern.
Kryaju struggled with all his strength and elemental power against Ragh when the troll picked him up, but he was too weak. It was over. Ragh chose a body part, for food or a trophy or some other ghastly purpose, and relieved Kryaju of it. Then he threw what was left of the region of Yrenta's first Toa of Ice to the ground and let him die.
Fate of Yrenta
==Yrenta Region, Northern Continent, Matoran Universe==
It was very easy to find the general area a Toa was in, and in what direction he or she was traveling. One simply had to find that Toa's Spirit Star and navigate to it. A Toa might be able to hide, but if there was a Spirit Star directly above in the sky, it was proof he or she was nearby. If there was no Spirit Star, there was no Toa. To Vibrak and his companions, an astronomer's claim of seeing Kryaju's Spirit Star burn out above the mountains could mean nothing but his death. It was among the worst news they had heard in their long lives, and frustratingly it had taken them nearly two weeks to gather in the port village. Now Vibrak, Spiileus, and Lidon traveled the route they guessed Kryaju had taken, up the river, through the pleasant forested lands at the feet of the mountains, and to the path at the base of the mountainside. The Toa of Sonics led the way, consulting the map that had been sent with the urgent message.
“Here it is, plain enough,” he said, showing them the obvious start to the path. “Let's be careful, though, I expect it will not be so clear for long.”
Vibrak was right. Soon they were in the snowy parts Kryaju had trekked through, days earlier. Fresh snow had fallen, making the way more difficult, but it was obvious that some force had recently parted the deepest layers of snow, and it was thus easier than it had been when Kryaju passed through. They were on the right track. According to the concise message they had received from the village of Ice, they would soon find an abandoned shelter, if it was still standing. The Toa of Ice's Spirit Star had been above that location when it faded away. The air was cold and the wind howled, fortunately the Toa had packed heatstones for the journey. The message warned to not travel by night and to seek shelter during storms. It was late morning by the time they reached the shelter, which was as Kryaju had left it: buried under snow, but with the door accessible. Barely a word had been spoken since they had started upon the path, hours ago.
“Looks like we found something,” commented Lidon. A frozen puddle was a short distance ahead, on the path beyond the shelter. The frozen carcass of a Snow Troll lay about a dozen bio to the left of it.
“Yes, let's take a closer look,” said Vibrak.
Those two signs were but the first the Toa found in their search. It did not take them long to find goblin corpses, along with some discarded weapons. Spiileus recognized a disturbance in the snow as where Kryaju had sent ripples of elemental energy to freeze wave after wave of Ukzokth. Upon closer investigation, they found used arrows and fragments of metal, but nothing they could identify from Kryaju save a few rations that had fallen out of his pack. There was one last clue to resort to: footprints. The snow had buried most of them, but the troll footprints were still quite apparent. One set led away to the north. The Toa decided to follow it. Along the way, they could see traces of goblin footprints, and occasionally the corpse of a wounded goblin that had not made it home. The Toa paid little attention to these, except for one that caught Vibrak's eye. He squatted down next to it and investigated.
“These are sword cuts on his body,” observed Vibrak. “I expect this large one in his stomach is what killed him, though it seems he traveled quite a way while wounded, judging from the footprints and lack of signs of battle here. And look at the position of his fingers. Something was taken out of his dead hands. The other Ukzokth most have attacked him, but let him walk back with them until he collapsed, then they took what he was holding.”
“Do you think this has to do with Kryaju?” asked Spiileus.
“If they did kill a Toa back there, there would be plenty of prizes to bring home,” said Lidon grimly. “I expect that an argument broke out about who gets each prize, and this fellow's possessiveness cost him his life.”
“I agree. Let's move on,” said Vibrak. “Be on your guard. They haven't covered their tracks, it is possible they are expecting Toa visitors.”
Were it not for the path the troll and goblins had beaten through the snow, the Toa would not have been able to follow. They spent most of the day on that trail, and before it came to the dwelling place of any goblins, it ended. The trail of footprints and snow pushed aside ended, leaving the Toa at a dead end of snow up to their waists.
“So much for not covering their tracks,” said Spiileus. “A Toa of Plasma would sure come in handy now.”
“I think we're close. See that ridge over there?” indicated Vibrak. “I am going to scout it out. Stay here. Rest, warm yourselves up, but stay alert.”
Vibrak activated his mask and sent his spirit flying over the fallen snow. From the dead end of the trail, he had thought he had seen the entrance to a cave. He soon found he was correct. He had discovered an underground Ukzokth village. His invisible, intangible spirit could not be hindered, so his search did not take long. A look at the goblins confirmed his fears for Kryaju. With sadness and disgust, he realized that several of them were wearing parts of his brother's body, some bits more recognizable than others. The Toa of Ice was certainly dead, but Vibrak did not retreat yet. He noticed a large central chamber with a fire pit in it. In a dark corner of the chamber a great white troll snored. In front of the blazing fire several Ukzokth that appeared to be of high rank conversed. The largest of these was wearing Kryaju's mask on his shoulder, others had hands, feet, and other bits dangling off of their armor. Vibrak noticed the goblins seemed to regard the fire in some shamanistic way. He could not understand the harsh language they spoke, but it seemed important to him. He deactivated his mask and returned to his body, but was determined to investigate further.
“Kryaju is dead,” he announced regretfully as he stood up. “Those things tore him apart, as you expected, Lidon, and are wearing him as trophies.”
“That is bad news. But I am glad the truth is known,” said Lidon, but he seemed to be more deeply affected than his words suggested.
“Are we going to do anything about these monsters?” asked Spiileus. “We can't clear out every goblin home, but if this one is a threat...”
“We are going back,” said Vibrak. “We are going to eavesdrop on them.”
“We? With your mask, shouldn't you go back alone?” said Spiileus, confused.
“They were speaking Ukzokth language. I could not understand them. With this mask...” Vibrak's mask glowed and was replaced by the Kanohi Rau forged by Metaku almost seventeen hundred years ago. “With this, I can understand them, but of course not spy on them in spirit form. I'll need to go in person, so we'll all stay together.”
“Huh. Almost forgot about that mask,” said Lidon. “Of course, I haven't wanted to speak with the filthy things, and most of them seem to have picked up enough Matoran speech to annoy us now... anyway, if we want to understand the nasty things the goblins say, we have some digging to do, it looks like.”
“Perhaps not. I have an idea,” said Vibrak.
Vibrak held out his glaive and let out a carefully adjusted wave of sound, nearly silent, but certainly present as a tiny vibration. In the wake of his maneuver, the loose layer of fresh snow collapsed, compacting into a much thinner and denser layer. Now the snow ahead was not even up to his knee, and thick enough to walk on without sinking in much.
“That was brilliant, brother,” complimented Spiileus. “Now let's get a move on, it's getting late, and you know what the note says about traveling here at night.”
The Toa of Earth shivered to illustrate his point, and stepped on to the compacted layer of snow. Vibrak went in front, and as they went he used his power again in this way, to destabilize the loose layer of fresh snow. Soon the cave mouth was in plain sight, but it was guarded. Vibrak lay prone in the snow and gestured for his companions to do the same.
“How will we carry out a stealth operation when the one entrance is guarded?” asked Lidon.
“It will be tricky,” agreed Vibrak, “but we must remain undetected. Hmm... got any masks that might help?”
“If I did, I wouldn't be wearing this Mask of Rahi Control out here, where it's useless.”
“I have a...” mused Spiileus. “Aha! Why didn't I think of this before... I have a Mask of Quick Travel.”
“Nice, how come you get such handy masks?” snapped Lidon.
“Hey, sorry, it was a gift from Turaga Siok. I actually forgot about it... it's not much use in tunnels where I can barely see where I'm going anyway. Look, you can have it, okay?”
“No, I'm sorry,” admitted Lidon. “I'm just angry because... well, you know, what happened to Kryaju.”
“We are all upset,” said Vibrak. “But you'd better lend me that Kanohi Kualsi first, Spiileus. I have a plan in mind.”
Spiileus swapped his Mask of Biomechanics out for his Kanohi Kualsi, then removed the mask and traded it for Vibrak's. Vibrak put on Spiileus's mask, explained the plan, then executed it. In the flash of a heartlight, he teleported to the mouth of the goblin village. Using a technique he had relied on many times before, he redirected the sounds of battle so that nobody could hear them as he took out the sentries. The Ukzokth wailed as he attacked, attempting to alert the others, but from inside, all that could be heard was the howl of the wind. Spiileus and Lidon got up and ran as he hid the goblins' bodies under the snow. Fortunately the tunnels were large, so that trolls could move through them easily, and very dark. The three Toa had to silently eliminate the group of goblins in the foyer just inside the cave mouth. Then Vibrak and Spiileus switched their masks back and they moved on undetected. The central chamber was barely within view, around a corner, when Vibrak signaled for them to stop.
“I can hear what I need to hear from here,” whispered Vibrak. “Drat, this mask will glow when I use it... is the coast clear?”
“Yes, for now,” answered Lidon. “Seems they're all giving their elders some time alone to hold council.”
“Perfect timing,” sighed Vibrak happily, and he activated his mask.
His sensitive hearing discerned the harsh syllables being whispered in the chamber, and his Kanohi Rau translated into understandable language. They were words of frustration, hatred, fear, suspicion, and dominance.
“And y'know Ikglag was done in in that squabble over the foot, to add one more to the list...” one Ukzokth was saying. “I understand their hollowed-out heads make regal soup bowls...”
“And Blung sure found the meat tasty,” interrupted another.
“Not the point! What I'm saying is, why should we go after the Toa? We did nab that one, but he's got friends I'm sure... three more like 'em. And ignoring those, I'd rather not have those ice Matoran knocking on our door anyway. Which they will all the sooner, now we've killed their big hero.”
“What should we do, then?” asked another. “Live off snow and the occasional Ice Vermin?”
“No! But we could've razed their village... maybe even more than one village... while the Toa were away. Then we'd have plenty 'a warmth and good eating. 'Stead of thirty of us being frozen... might as well have just eaten them.”
“You do got a point there,” agreed the second goblin. “I don't trust this 'Dark Lord.' Heard he sent our kind off to die fighting Toa, and abandoned us. I dunno what Kunshnagk's thinking, saying we should let him boss us –“
“Shut up, Mruz! Shut up, all of you!” barked another Ukzokth, who apparently was Kunshnagk. “I heard what you were saying. Would you like to ask the Master about these issues? Eh?”
“Maybe...” whispered Mruz, so quietly that Vibrak could barely hear him. He doubted Kunshnagk could.
“I thought not,” said Kunshnagk, oblivious to Mruz or ignoring him. “The 'Dark Lord' is back, and he is requesting our service. We might not remember it, but he made us all. If nothing else, we must trust he who made us.”
“Yeah, I made myself a bit of stew from the leftover Muaka meat,” somebody snickered. “That stew had reason to trust me, didn't it?”
Sounds of a struggle echoed from the chamber, followed by the sounds of the wisecracking goblin protesting and moaning. Judging by the sound of it, he had not been killed, but had been given a thorough beating. Kunshnagk called out for order, and all fell silent.
“He is back,” repeated Kunshnagk firmly. “He is back and calling upon us. He is our master. Now, let us commune with him.”
The chamber and tunnels darkened. Vibrak risked a peek around the corner and realized the purpose of the central fire in their rituals. They did not use the fire for it, they used the shadows. The fire was to keep the shadows away while they did not need them. He wondered what, if any, mystic ritual they could perform by darkening the room, but Spiileus pulled him back before he could see any more.
“I am here, my devoted of the mountains,” boomed a voice from the shadows that now covered the center of the chamber. “Why have you called for me?”
“For direction, my lord,” said Kunshnagk humbly. “As you know, the Toa of Ice is dead. But we have suffered great losses in the act, and I expect alerted everyone in the process. The eating is bad out here, and we'll be found soon I f... I expect. What should we do?”
“I will not have my people starve and freeze. There is another tribe on the other side of Mount Onkilo that is traveling to you as we speak. When you meet up, move west into Matoran hunting grounds. Try to remain unnoticed while we consolidate our strength. But if you are discovered, do what you must do.”
“Matoran hunting grounds? As in, grounds the Matoran hunt in, or grounds where Matoran can be hunted?”
“Both. But try to remain unnoticed by their community. I would like you to unite with one or two additional tribes before you attack.”
“As you command, Master. I trust that soon we will take our place in your reformed army?”
“Do as I wish, Kunshnagk, and it will be so. My chosen will take their rightful place in this land, and those loyal to me will be rewarded.”
“I am loyal to you, my lord. But some of us, such as Mruz here, question the wisdom of attacking such dangerous foes as Toa.”
“What? No, no my lord!” spluttered Mruz. “Chief Kunshnagk misunderstands!”
“Mruz can do as he wishes,” said the voice from the shadows, though he seemed to imply the opposite. “The wisdom of those who follow me will be proven. And Kunshnagk, you are the chieftain – do what you must to keep your tribe in line.”
“As you say, Master, I do what I must,” said Kunshnagk. Vibrak heard Mruz scream as a blade cut through his neck. The Ukzokth's head hit the ground and bounced, followed by his body.
“You serve me well, Kunshnagk. We can afford no distractions. We can tolerate no dissenters.”
“Yes, lord, no dissenters...” echoed Kunshnagk, and another scream heralded the death of the first goblin, the one that had mentioned one named Ikglag.
“I do hope the rest of your tribesmen are loyal. A chieftain is of little use if his followers are traitors,” said the voice from the shadows. A long silence indicated the unspoken submission of Kunshnagk's followers. The voice broke the silence. “Good...”
“So, we await the arrival of the nearby tribe, then we move to better lands to the west. We keep a low profile until one or two more tribes join us, then we wipe out the village of Ice.”
Kunshnagk began to say a subservient goodbye to his 'Dark Lord', but at the same moment Lidon stepped forward. His companions pulled him back, but not before his heavy step echoed down the tunnel. The ritual was interrupted by silent curiosity and wariness.
“Lidon, what are you doing?” demanded Vibrak in a terse whisper.
“They killed Kryaju, now they plan on destroying his village. And they have summoned their leader to him. Let us end this now!”
“We don't know how many are in here, and I don't think their master... and if he is...” mumbled Vibrak.
“I must do this, for Kryaju.”
“I thought you didn't even like the ice-boy,” said Spiileus.
“He was less annoying than you,” retorted Lidon, and he jerked free.
Lidon would not be restrained. He ran into the chamber, and even in its darkness he could be detected. Vibrak had to admit the way he charged Kunshnagk and cut him down with a cry of “For Kryaju!” was impressive. But he could not take on a whole village of goblins in the dark on his own, and the troll was waking up too. Vibrak and Spiileus ran to back him up.
“Just once, I'd like to sneak out of a place as well as we sneak in,” said Vibrak as he got into position next to Lidon.
“We were going to end up fighting these anyway,” said Spiileus. “Might as well be before they meet up with those other tribes.”
“But this isn't the place to do it. There's not enough room to maneuver in here, and it's too dark to see what's coming at us.”
“We're underground, brother. This is my place,” reassured Spiileus as the Toa focused elemental attacks on the Snow Troll.
“Give me a moment...” said Lidon. He had something in mind, but the Toa were too busy fighting to execute it.
The troll may have been virtually immune to ice-based attacks, but concentrated attacks from three other Toa brought it down quickly. By the time it fell, all the Ukzokth chieftains in the chamber were dead too. The many remaining goblins were blindly swarming into the central chamber and throwing themselves at the intruders. While watching for more goblins running through the dark, the Toa noticed the pair or orange eyes watching them from the shadows. Again, Lidon was the first to charge. With a yell, he leaped to the sinister eyes and drove his sword right through the middle of them. His blade bounced off hard rock, jarring him, and the voice grunted dismissively.
“It seems I will have to adjust my plans,” it said nonchalantly.
“Show yourself, fiend!” demanded Lidon. There was no response but the continued glare of the eyes. “Alright, enough shadow! Time to use a technique I learned from Turaga Morok: lightvines!”
The Toa of the Green send a luminous vine twisting from his sword, illuminating the chamber. As the light banished the shadows, the glowing eyes disappeared. Lidon growled and sent a ring of the lightvines around the perimeter of the chamber. Now no goblin could enter the chamber unseen, every entrance was lit. It was too late to save Spiileus from being pierced in the leg by a spear. He stood his ground, ignoring the pain, but the Ukzokth kept coming. Their bodies piled in a circle around the Toa and scattered throughout the room. Vibrak counted perhaps a hundred of them now. He guessed that was about half of them.
“Tenacious things!” said Spiileus as he stepped onto a pile of bodies to maintain the high ground. “I think their plan is to bury us alive in their own carcasses.”
“We've taken out the leaders, now we must weather the rage of the followers,” said Vibrak. “I hope if something happens to me, you two will handle yourselves with more care.”
“Of course, and I've had enough of this,” said Spiileus. “Get ready to run...”
The three Toa sprinted out of the chamber as Spiileus brought it down. Vibrak struggled to keep the sound of tons of rock falling from overwhelming him. Lidon kept a coil of lightvine wrapped around himself to see where they were going. Spiileus kept collapsing the tunnel behind them, and blocking off additional tunnels branching off the main one as they fended off the swarms of Ukzokth that poured out of them. When they could feel a cold draft from the cave entrance, Vibrak signaled for them to stop.
“It is night,” he said. “We must camp here. I do not hear any goblins, but we must take turns resting in case they return. Spiileus, you are hurt.”
“It's not bad. Just a little prick.”
“Very well, but you and Lidon should rest first. I will awaken you in about two hours, if we are not attacked before then.”
The Toa placed their heatstones on the ground and huddled around them. Lidon and Spiileus allowed themselves to doze while Vibrak guarded them. Listening carefully, he heard muffled cries and scratching noises of buried goblins trying to escape. The noises soon stopped. The sounds of loose earth and stone settling continued for some time, then Vibrak was left with only the sound of he and his companions breathing and the howl of the wind outside. Lidon offered to take the second shift, allowing Spiileus to spend more time recovering. He could not hear what Vibrak could, but the glow of his lightvines ensured nobody could sneak up on him. Spiileus took the third shift, and they rotated in this way throughout the night. At the end of his last shift, Vibrak went to the cave entrance and saw the glow of dawn. He woke the others and they moved on.
“It seems we have affected that being's plans,” he said. “But that does not mean the Ice village will not be targeted soon. We must warn them.”
“I agree, and we should deliver the sad news of Kryaju in person,” said Lidon.
“To the Ice village, then. And come to my village after,” said Spiileus to Lidon. “I was serious about giving you my Mask of Quick Travel.”
Lidon accepted, and the three Toa traveled to Kotulo's remote village. Their passage was watched, but no enemies dared to confront them.
“For the past three hundred years, I have wandered the universe, trying to fulfill my destiny,” said Vibrak when they spotted the village. “Now I realize I belong in this land, back home. My fate is to protect my people.”
Fate of Yrenta
==Yrenta Region, Northern Continent, Matoran Universe==
Vibrak's words proved true for the next year. The village of Ice, in fact, was not the first to be attacked, but the time soon came for the Ko-Matoran to defend themselves. Kotulo considered the result of the battle to be a tactical victory, but decided it was time to lead his people in search of a new, more secretive sanctuary. They had sealed and hidden their fabled library before leaving, and none had heard from them since. Everyone else had their own safety to consider. The scattered tribes of Ukzokth had reunited, and full war had begun again. Toa and Matoran alike were hard-pressed to save their homes. Aki-Naja and the other fortresses were restored to their former might, and unfortified villages looked to them for protection. But this time there was no front to defend. The goblins were entrenched beyond the northern border, and were attacking from all sides. This distressing comeback of the Ukzokth and their killing of Toa Kryaju drove fear into the hearts of the Matoran. Before they had had time to grieve, the people of Yrenta had been conscripted into a sudden war. Most of these were younger Matoran that had few surviving veterans of the old war among them. Each battle was a desperate struggle, each victory seemed almost miraculous. And each time, Matoran died. Most of these Matoran had never fought before.
Among these were many of the Ga-Matoran from the village where the river emptied into the sea. Their territory had been haunted by goblins and aquatic trolls for many years, but this was the first time those invaders had amassed for an assault on the village itself. Lidon was coordinating the defense; the other Toa were fighting elsewhere. It had been Vibrak's hope that Lidon's confident, martial demeanor would inspire the demoralized Ga-Matoran to fight to their best ability. The Toa of the Green now looked upon the assembled mass of blue-armored villagers and hoped that his brother had the right idea. He had come with his own force, most of them warriors from his own home, which was larger than the fighting force of the Water village. Still, it was their home that the Ga-Matoran were defending. How they fared would decide the outcome of the battle.
“Hail, Matoran of Water!” he began his speech. “Ten days ago, it was exactly one year after the death of Toa Kryaju. You may not have marked the day, but now you know. I realize that his death fills you with fear and grief. Me, too. But I do not allow that to overcome me. We know what this enemy is capable of. We cannot let them do to us what they did to Kryaju. You may ask yourselves 'Why bother to fight back we are to be overcome anyway?' To answer that, I must question you. Do your rulers oppress you?”
“No!” shouted the members of the crowd. They muttered among themselves in confusion, not quite understanding his point.
“Are they the leaders they should be?” Lidon pressed. His audience was inspired by that. The Matoran of Yrenta were blessed to have leaders that were all fair and just, and Akahati was especially loved by her people.
“Yes!” they boomed, in unison.
“That is our advantage over these creatures, or these people as they may be, that attack us. They have a hidden master that rules them by fear and awe. It is he that drives them against us. I know you are a peaceful folk, so I will promise this: we will turn aside the blades of these Ukzokth, weather their assault, and when they have been taught how futile it is to attempt to conquer us, we will release them from their slavery. We will show them that this master of theirs is not to be followed so blindly. He is one and they are many, and you, the Matoran, are even more. Let this battle be the one in which they learn to fear us – and to trust us – more than him!”
The crowd cheered at that. Lidon himself doubted that they could convince the Ukzokth to go home by defeating them in one battle, but he did believe that that was the key to ending the war, and that this battle could be the turning point. There was no need to present doubts and complexities in a motivational speech. Nor was there time. Just now, scouts were rushing in, shouting that the enemy had been sighted.
“Now, it begins! Let us show them our special advantage!” he shouted, and rallying the Matoran to him he made his way to the battlefield.
The Ga-Matoran built their homes in a traditional style out of buoyant aquatic plants. The village was literally on the shore, so that a portion of it was floating and a portion rested on the sand. Now it was high tide, and most of the village was over the water. At this time, only a few small walkways provided access from the beach. Lidon sent the majority of his forces to defend those. Goblins of many clans were emerging from hidden lairs and converging upon the beach, and it would be up to Lidon's soldiers and the villagers to defend the village from that direction. From the sea came an attack only a Toa stood a chance against. He made his way to the outermost pier of the village and waited. The rest of the defenders, all especially brave and agile Ga-Matoran swimmers, came with him. These were by no means elite warriors, but they were the best allies he could muster for the fight. Each of them knew that some of them would die that day. They could all clearly see the large shapes swimming toward them.
These were the Sea Trolls, yet another variation of those brutish and mysterious beings. Completely amphibious, capable of swimming or walking along the sea floor, and just as strong as their brethren, the Sea Trolls could have shredded the village nearly effortlessly. Fortunately for the defenders, a Toa of the Green could transform their fragile botanical structures into a vicious fortress of moving vegetation. On his signal, Lidon and his followers dove into the water. The trolls were soon upon the village. Great finned arms reached out to rend the leafy foundations of the pier, and found themselves wrapped in vines tougher than tree roots. The Ga-Matoran cut through their surprised and immobilized enemies while Lidon called upon more of the village to awaken and defend itself. This technique was not new to him, he had done so in his own jungle home many times. But he had not yet fought underwater in such a manner.
One troll that had not been restrained lashed out at Lidon. The Toa blocked the claws with his sword, but the force of the blow knocked him back and caused him to drop his weapon. Before the Sea Troll could attack again, grasping weeds shot from Lidon's hand. The plants held the hulk still long enough for Lidon to lunge forward and stab one of his throwing daggers deep into a weak area in its armor. The troll growled and sank away, incapacitated. Lidon surfaced to take a breath, then went after his sword. He spotted it resting on the sandy seafloor, and sent a handy retrieving vine out from his hand to return it to him. Meanwhile, the Ga-Matoran above were falling back before another wave of trolls. None of them had been slain yet, but they could not fight off the assault themselves. As Lidon moved to assist them, he almost did not see a smaller, faster shape attack him from behind...
Anecrax teleported in to find Teskor's lair was more cluttered than ever. Tablets, cauldrons, vials, scavenged Kanohi, and other items littered rickety shelves and tables. The most impressive sight was still there from last time Anecrax had visited: a rather makeshift-looking empty portal. It consisted of a large frame embedded with various bits of machinery and artifacts of power that would have intrigued him sometimes, but right now he had no interest in it all. Teskor was standing in front of it, and now the blue Makuta turned to his visitor, full of subdued annoyance. He never appreciated these unannounced visits, but the years had forged a bond between the two Makuta, and he would rather have it be Anecrax dropping in than Gorast or Antroz.
“I see you are still reaching out into other universes,” commented the black and bone-colored Makuta. “I thought the incident with the shadow-devouring light beings had taught you a lesson.”
“Such risks must be taken. I have come so far, and put such effort into this, all without a Kanohi Olmak. To abandon the project now would be a tremendous waste.”
“What about your own considerable forces, as well as mine? I am on your side, and my abilities are not insignificant,” said Anecrax. He looked for something dead to reanimate to illustrate his point, but saw no such thing.
“Bah, the Ukzokth? They are rabble. Less numerous, less disciplined, less formidable than Visorak... I could gain a small amount of favor for adding them to the Brotherhood army, but other than that, their only real use is in entertainment. And your preferred method has its limitations,” said Teskor, applying just enough of his magnetic powers to Anecrax's mask to cause it to slip off.
“Do not touch the mask,” growled Anecrax as he put it back on his face.
“I will respect your property when you respect mine, my uninvited guest. For now, I tolerate your intrusion because we understand each other.”
“The time is near,” said Anecrax with a nod. “I intend to be prepared when the time comes. Our brothers will need us. We will have their respect.”
“Indeed. Now watch. Today, I will draw forth my mightiest servant ever!” announced Teskor.
Teskor shot a bolt of electricity from his claws. It struck one part of the portal frame and redirected itself along the perimeter, activating the various components. An interdimensional rift appeared and expanded to fit the frame. At first, the portal was absolutely black and silent, but it quickly seemed to register something. A faint heat emanated from the rift, then suddenly the Makuta were nearly overwhelmed by it. They could only strive to activate their Heat Resistance powers while the portal frame glowed white-hot. Various liquids in containers scattered throughout the cavern boiled. Teskor cried out in disappointment and frustration as the frame began to collapse, both from the heat, and as Anecrax could now see, something tearing it apart.
“This had better be worth it,” said Teskor as he and his brother Makuta looked in shock at the ruins of the portal project... and the enormous being towering over those ruins.
Lidon nearly kicked his attacker out of instinct, but restrained himself upon glimpsing long, sharp claws. Instead he threw a dagger behind him, towards the attacker, and used the moment of distraction that gave him to turn and bring his sword to bear. The being that had ambushed him was neither troll nor goblin, nor any other sort of creature Lidon recognized. It was slender and mostly green-armored, with spines and plate armor of other colors covering its body haphazardly. The Toa feinted with his sword then made a quick jab with his dagger, but his opponent was too quick and agile in the water. He attempted to propel himself to the surface to breathe. The new enemy lunged at him, trying to restrain him, and Lidon caused a leaf of seaweed to intervene. The aquatic attacker quickly sliced through the attacking plant, but not quickly enough to prevent Lidon from surfacing. To his dismay, Lidon saw that the trolls were now forcing the Ga-Matoran back, and destroying the foundations of the village as they advanced. If this new enemy kept him out of the fight, the battle would be lost.
He could not fend off the creature underwater, however. He climbed onto a nearby pier and manipulated the structure to fend off the nearest trolls. In moments, claws began to shred the pier. Lidon would not allow it. Grasping vines lifted the green-armored being out of the water, and it gasped for breath. Lidon wondered what do as it hung there. He did not wish to kill something without knowing why it attacked him, but this was a battle. He could afford no more distractions. He raised his sword to bring a quick end to the creature, but something else acted first. A similar set of claws cut through the vines, releasing the trapped being, and then Lidon found he was surrounded by several similar beings. He looked to shore and saw that the battle there was going well, but the village was quickly being destroyed by the trolls. The Ga-Matoran could not hold them back without his aid. With a shout he leaped onto a nearby walkway and ran as claws from the water shredded it under his feet. He was just in time to jump in front of a Sea Troll before it could crush a trio of terrified Ga-Matoran.
“Fall back!” he commanded as he fought off the troll. “Press onto land and hold position there.”
“Yes, Toa Lidon!” said one of the Matoran, and the three of them started off.
“Wait!” called Lidon as he pushed the troll back into the water. “Tell the others that several creatures of a new sort, very agile water-breathers, have joined the battle against us.”
“Oh dear! We will tell them,” the Matoran called back.
Lidon braced himself for the troll to emerge from the water, likely with backup this time. Instead he noticed signs of a struggle below. Confused, he risked a dive underwater. To his surprise, he saw the trolls and the other aquatic beings fighting each other. It looked like the new creatures were winning. Their claws cut through the trolls' thick armor as easily as Lidon could cut through a leaf, it seemed, and they were far too quick for the trolls to counter. This battle was not completely one-sided however. One of the mysterious green-armored swimmers made a tactical error, and was smashed against the seafloor by its opponent's massive foot. The troll began a finishing blow, and that was when Lidon intervened. Vines entangled the troll while the stunned water-breather roused itself and then tore the troll apart. Then it moved toward Lidon.
It seemed to be approaching with hostile intent despite Lidon saving its life. The Toa of the Green assumed a defensive posture, ready to block the claws as they came at him. Unfortunately, his sword proved as resistant to the claws as the troll armor had. He dropped the hilt of his shredded blade in surprise, and felt hands – not sharp claws, but none too gentle – grasp his neck.
“Why did you interfere, Toa?” it demanded. Lidon nearly inhaled water in his surprise. “No, I will let you get some air so you can talk. How tedious.”
The green water dweller and its allies brought Lidon to the surface. Lidon managed to turn to see that the village was almost completely demolished. However the Matoran were driving back the Ukzokth, most of the Sea Trolls were dead and the remainder were too clumsy on land to be much of a threat against so many Matoran.
“Who are you?” asked Lidon when his and his captors' heads were above the surface of the water. “You allowed the Sea Trolls to destroy the village, but it seems you are enemies. Why?”
“It is not obvious that we are three separate factions?” said the leader of the aquatic creatures when they were submerged again. “Our hatred of the trolls matches our hatred of you.”
“I understand your enmity against the trolls,” said Lidon when he was allowed to breathe air again, “but what do you have against Toa and Matoran?”
“Over three thousand years ago, our home was invaded and destroyed by your kind. Is that not plain enough? Long have we wished to bring you to justice, but this day our other enemies did the work for us. We had only to remove you from the scene. Now you may give us a reason to not do so permanently.”
“I... I do not believe this... Matoran would never...” Lidon was interrupted by being dragged underwater again.
“Matoran fishers intruded upon our territory. In our attempt to settle this dispute, Toa destroyed our home. They melted the very stone of it. What have you to say about that?”
“I do not know of this. Wait! Please, let us discuss the matter with my Turaga. He will know.”
The sea-dwellers debated this intensely. Meanwhile, the Matoran had won the battle on land and were searching for casualties and missing survivors. Lidon was on that list, none of them could see him from the shore. Finally the leader of the creatures pulled Lidon underwater and spoke to him.
“We are still angry, but we agree that justice has been done. Your home has been destroyed, as ours was. We have difficulties enough without inciting more hostilities. But you will take us to your Turaga, and if he does not excuse the behavior of your kind, we shall never allow you into these waters again.”
“Very well, but he lives quite far inland. This is awkward... you could get there by the river, I suppose.”
The mysterious sea-dwellers allowed Lidon to speak with the survivors of the battle. He explained the situation to them, and left with the promise to help repair their village as soon as he could. The journey to the jungle village was not a short one, but the water-breathers were patient. They seemed very intent on speaking to Turaga Morok, although it was sure to be an awkward conversation, and not only because one party breathed water and the other breathed air. Fortunately, faster messages had been sent, and Morok met them near the southern edge of the jungle, at an enjoyable green riverbank. He did not look pleased to see his visitors, Lidon noted. In fact, he looked rather frightened. He also had an air of sorrow and regret, which was usual for Morok, but his was usually subtle and subdued. Now his manner was full of the feeling.
“I am Turaga Morok,” he greeted the aquatic beings at the river. “I was there when my team... my team and I... drove you away and destroyed your home. I am sorry. Only two of us are left to answer for our crime, but I ask on behalf of my part: how can I make amends?”
“You speak fairly, Turaga,” replied the leader when Morok had plunged his head underwater to hear. “We all can see the genuine regret in you. Justice has been served, as it was by our intervention that your villagers' home was destroyed. We only ask now to be left in peace, with none of your kind intruding upon our territory.”
“Justice was not done to the Matoran of Water. It was not their fault that your home was destroyed. It was the fault of me, and of my old companions. But I do not wish for this to escalate. I do not expect intrusion from us to be a problem for you. Our people are dwindling. And we are not the only ones threatened by these attackers, it seems. I have an idea. Let us collaborate to defend each other from this common threat. With your prowess and our support, the coasts will be kept safe.”
“We brought just retribution upon the Matoran of Water that intruded upon our home. Now we are appeased. And to your offer, I must decline. No, we will keep to ourselves. You see, we were once trained and armed to be living weapons for some faction. We cannot say what this faction was. But we are free now, and we live as outcasts, scavenging to survive. We wish to be left alone.”
“Alright then. But I trust you will continue to oppose the trolls that enter your territory?”
“I'm terribly sorry about what I did. I wish I could help you, but these are hard times...”
“They are indeed, Turaga, and the times are growing worse. But it gives me some relief to know that our home was not destroyed by unrepentant monsters... yet.”
The sea creatures departed respectfully. Morok would not tell Lidon more of the story, and so the Toa of the Green was left to wonder. The scenario seemed very strange to him. But the important part, he decided as he traveled back south, was that the Matoran of Water were safe. The trolls and goblins were gone, and with a Toa of the Green helping, a village made of plants could easily be rebuilt.