End of Yrenta
==Yrenta Region, Northern Continent, Matoran Universe==
Imlen ducked. A disk flew over his head and hit a wall, triggering a fireball that left a smoldering impression where it struck.
“We're over here, run!”
Imlen ran after Vilam. Around a corner, they came face to face with the rest of their team and some other Matoran. They paused there to catch their breath, but were soon interrupted. The building they were hiding behind disintegrated. Projectiles crossed the empty space where the building had stood. A Rahkshi backed away from the battle, seeking an escape. It had just knocked Najma out of the way in its retreat when it was struck by something and exploded. Najma, who had traveled with Imlen for four hundred years, was killed instantly from the resulting shrapnel. Dozens of other Matoran fell around him, killed or wounded by numerous ranged attacks. This was not collateral damage. After routing the Makuta forces, the Dark Hunters had begun to slaughter every laborer they saw. Imlen had been nearly too shocked to react. Such a massacre had never occurred during this war.
But it was a war, and inevitably innocent Matoran would get caught in it. Imlen did not know what started it, but he had heard it had been raging across the universe for centuries – since soon after that terrible earthquake that was dubbed the Great Cataclysm. Whatever strife the aftermath of the Cataclysm had caused between the Makuta and the Dark Hunters, that disaster had had grave effects on the remote region of Yrenta. Buildings crumbled, the ocean swelled over the plains of De-Wahi, and the Toa were missing, presumed dead. They had been underground when it happened, gone off to put an end to some mysterious threat. Whatever the Matoran of the underground feared, it had not come back to them, but neither had the Toa. Without the Toa, the Matoran were overrun by the Ukzokth, twisted creatures often called 'goblins', in a matter of days.
Makuta Teskor had saved them from that menace, revealing himself and the dominance he had attained over the Ukzokth before the Matoran were wiped out. Few remembered who he was, and those few had misgivings. Some had spoken out against him, claiming he had done horrible deeds in the past and was probably behind the Ukzokth all along. Those individuals did not last long, as Teskor, well-intentioned or not, quickly demonstrated that he had no tolerance for dissenters. The Turaga had quietly disappeared as well. In exchange for keeping the Ukzokth from getting carried away (he didn't seem to mind if they harassed the Matoran a little, killing and pillaging occasionally) he had requested that the Matoran honor him over Mata Nui. For the first few centuries, it seemed to be all about him. Statues honoring Mata Nui and the Toa were torn down and replaced with ones for him, old tombs and temples were buried, and every Matoran pitched in to pay him tribute.
Then the war came to the borders of Yrenta, and he got serious. The people formerly ruled by Metaku (one of the dissidents who had disappeared) were put to work mining and crafting for the Brotherhood of Makuta army. The old fortresses that used to defend the Matoran from goblins were renovated in preparation for Dark Hunter attacks, and tribute was tripled to pay for the war. But although many of the older, wiser Matoran, as well as some of the bright and brave young ones, had spoken out and disappeared, a few others had more success at staying alive while doing nothing to help Teskor and his brothers. Among those rebels were Imlen and his companions. He had been opposed to Teskor since day one, remembering old stories about him slaying a Toa from his village, and he soon had a following. Over the years, he had lost companions and gained new ones.
Today it seemed likely he would lose all his companions, and his own life too. The attempt to liberate the Matoran laboring in this fortress had gone all wrong. Imlen and his friends had joined the community of Matoran that kept the walls and weapons in order, hoping to lead the Matoran in deserting Teskor's forces when the Dark Hunters attacked. But the Rahkshi, Ukzokth, and other beings the Makuta commanded had kept the Matoran from leaving until the Dark Hunters had destroyed them. Now it was clear the Dark Hunters did not intend for them to leave alive either. It was a ruthless strategy: cripple the enemy's army by destroying the slaves that supported it. In Imlen's experience, the Dark Hunters were all corrupt and greedy beings that would do anything for money and power. But whoever was leading today's attack must have been especially heartless.
Several Dark Hunter soldiers charged. A thick-armored warrior with enormous hands and feet picked up Vilam and tried to crush her. Grimacing with pain, she pressed a button on the hilt of her sword, and the blade became electrified. Neither the jolt nor the blade's sharpness were enough to hurt the Dark Hunter's hand much, but it was a nasty surprise. He cried out in shock and dropped his Matoran of Lightning prisoner, and cursed as she bolted out of reach. One of his companions threw a stack of deadly bladed disks at the fleeing Matoran, but the villagers took cover behind another building just in time. They kept running, and only after making a few random turns in an effort to evade the Hunters did they dare to stop to catch their breath.
“Najma!” gasped a Matoran of the Green with a bow strapped to his back. “I saw him go down, we left him behind!”
“I know,” said Imlen. “I'm sorry, Paqyar, I saw him... he's gone.”
“And you're next!” said a slender, blue-armored warrior. His red eyes glowed, and the Matoran found themselves inexplicably mesmerized. Only Napruha, another Matoran of Lightning, was unaffected for some reason. She growled and skewered the hypnotic being with her rapier. He yelped, then hissed in anger. He grabbed Napruha's arm, pulled the weapon out of him, and disarmed her with a crushing grip. With his other hand he brought his sword to bear on her. Napruha blocked his initial attacks, but her Matoran-sized shield was no match. She was soon struck a mortal blow. Fortunately for them, however, this broke the other Matoran from their trance.
“Go! I will hold him off!” Napruha managed to say. She stood defiantly between the Dark Hunter and her friends, who obeyed her and fled. The Hunter gave her a quick death and pursued the others, but he was too late. He had lost them.
Ahead, the Matoran saw a surviving group of Brotherhood soldiers, led by a Steltian lieutenant. It seemed the soldiers had a clear escape route, but if the Matoran accepted their protection, they would lose their freedom. Then it would be back to laboring for the Brotherhood until the next opportunity to escape came, if they lived that long. Imlen considered it. Last time the Dark Hunters had captured a fortress, Teskor had sacrificed a considerable number of Ukzokth to take it back, an act which was beneficial to the Matoran. However, after that, dozens of Matoran had been worked to death improving the recaptured fortress and laboring to make up for the Brotherhood's losses. Fortunately none of the Matoran had actually been sent into battle, as they served the Makuta better as laborers, but Imlen feared Teskor might do something rash as a result of this recent defeat. Matoran were no match for the Dark Hunters' army, but if he was willing to throw away the lives of the Ukzokth, he might decide he had more than enough Matoran to waste. Yet, the Dark Hunters would certainly kill them all immediately. In a choice between death and slavery, Imlen would choose the latter, at least for a little while.
But it seemed the choice would be made for him, one way or another. The lieutenant had spotted them and ordered two soldiers forward to retrieve them, while the rest retreated. They were halfway to the Matoran when another Dark Hunter emerged from an alley. This one was a male Vortixx, an unusual specimen to find away from their homeland of Xia. His quick, precise movement set him apart from the other Dark Hunters – the Matoran sensed something especially dangerous about him. They were soon proven right. As soon as they turned to him, the Brotherhood soldiers sent to escort the Matoran were dead. His sword moves were some of the fastest Imlen had ever seen. As the bodies hit the ground, the Vortixx turned to the Brotherhood lieutenant and his group. The lieutenant took another step back nervously, and ordered the rest of his company to attack. The warriors, consisting of four recruited soldiers of different species, three Visorak, and a Rahkshi, attacked together. Imlen gestured to his friends, and they took the opportunity to flee.
The Matoran stopped short as a series of knives landed in the ground in front of them, thrown by the Vortixx as a warning. He had barely turned away from the Makuta forces. Intimidated, Imlen and the others paused. They wondered what it was for. The Dark Hunter could have easily killed them. He certainly was doing well in his fight. A hail of shuriken stung the recruited soldiers, distracting them while he took out the Visorak. The Rahkshi, a Turahk, attacked with its fear power. This slowed the Vortixx enough for the soldiers to score a few hits, but it was not enough. Seconds later, the Rahkshi was scrap, and the four soldiers were next. The last one standing, the terrified Steltian, held up his axe and shield as the Dark Hunter charged him, but it was no use. The Matoran were still standing in place, almost equally afraid as the lieutenant when his head was removed from his body.
“Well, well,” said the Vortixx Dark Hunter as he leaped backwards and landed smoothly in front of the group. “Four Matoran trying to escape. And judging by your weapons, you are not mere laborers.”
“Are you going to kill us?” the Po-Matoran known as Mosori said bitterly.
“Those are my orders,” the Dark Hunter admitted. The Matoran prepared themselves, but he did not act yet.
“We won't make it easy,” said Vilam, trying to sound more certain than she was.
“Hmm... but you do have some spirit, don't you?” chuckled the Vortixx. “You're renegades of some sort, I can tell. Rebels, bandits, adventurers, whatever you call yourselves, whatever others call you. I think it would do the Brotherhood some harm to let you go. Don't you think?”
“Certainly,” said Imlen hopefully.
“Well then, I think it would be in both our best interests to let you go. Agreed?”
“No doubt,” said Imlen, more confidently this time.
“Better run. Sounds like my friends are coming,” warned the Vortixx. He was right, the Matoran could hear others approaching.
They took his advice and fled. Fortunately, the fortress wall had been damaged nearby. A hole had been blasted in the inner wall, and the outer wall was weakened significantly. With moderate effort, Mosori kicked the damaged section down, and the four Matoran spilled outside. Nearly stumbling, they continued down a hill and stopped half a kio away. There a large rock formation provided cover, and they rested.
“Kara-Naja, there it burns,” said Paqyar, referring to the fortress. “I wonder if Aki-Naja is next.”
“I doubt it,” said Mosori. “We Po-Matoran put our best into the Fortress of Valor, and I know Makuta's got it full of his forces up and down the hour-chart these days. Not that it makes much difference to us.”
“Don't say that,” said Imlen. “You know there are still many of our brothers and sisters trapped in there, working for the Makuta until they drop dead or die in the war. I won't stand for it. If battle ever comes to that fortress, I swear I'll be there to help them escape.”
“We need to see to our own survival first,” Vilam pointed out. “Look, our group is almost half gone. Weti, Najma, and Napruha, all of them are lost.”
“I know. I... I don't know how we can...” stammered Imlen.
“The Matoran must save themselves,” said Paqyar, answering the unspoken question. “We must show them: if they are to be free, they must work together to achieve it. They can't rely on a small group of rogues to do it for them.”
“So that's your plan, is it?” said an unfamiliar voice.
“Not again!” groaned Mosori.
“We were followed!” gasped Vilam as she and the others stood. “That treacherous Vortixx – wait, that's... oh, Kraata slime.”
Vilam's curse was a terrified whisper. For she and the others peered around the rock and saw a Brotherhood soldier flanked by two Rahkshi and led by a leashed Energy Hound.
Edited by The Iron Toa, Apr 01 2012 - 01:43 AM.