Three on Three
by Makuta Matata aka Knuckles ChaotixIt was nearly midnight. The only ray of light in the Pit came from a lone, dim lightstone suspended above the rusty protosteel bars of the fifth cell in the dank hallway, in the middle of the wall. Surveying the jail, the prison guard, Hydraxon, paced through the cramped halls of the Pit, eyeing each prisoner as he passed their cramped, dank cells, all of which were on one side of the hall, facing a blank slate wall that was in a constant state of dampness. To pass the time on slower days, he would note the reactions of his captives as he passed by them on his routine corridor sweeps. Over time, the inmates would improve from their snarling, spite-filled arrests to a subdued and almost respectful demeanor. Sometimes, inmates glared at him or even snarled, but it was usually beings who had recently been condemned to the Pit. As days turned into months, months turned into years, and years turned into centuries, the criminals began to act more and more subdued, often times not sparing Hydraxon so much as a glance as he strutted by.
Something feels off today, Hydraxon thought as he turned into the hall where the malicious Barraki were confined. How long have they been here? 75,000 years? No, 80,000. I don’t recall. They’ve been here for eons, that’s what matters. And prisoners who have wasted away in this miserable place for that long tend to not be up and about. Especially at this time of night.
He walked down the hall, all his senses on high alert, because he knew that these particular criminals were extremely potent, even while completely unarmed. Hydraxon narrowed his eyes suspiciously at each of the former warlords in turn as he trudged down the aisle. In return, the Barraki assaulted him with piercing, white hot glares. This was his least favorite part of the Pit, if any part of it could be called his favorite. He was approaching a bend at the end of the hallway when he heard a condescending voice snarl his name.
“Hydraxon,” spat Pridak. “You’re pathetic.” Hydraxon spun around and walked back towards Pridak’s cell. Pridak slammed his fists against the protosteel bars, causing the dim, fading lightstone overhead to flicker, casting an eerie glow over the hallway, just enough so he could see Pridak’s menacing face loom out of the darkness.
“Pathetic?” said Hydraxon, raising a mechanical eyebrow. “Now what could possibly make you say that?”
“Your life is dedicated to pacing this miserable hole, constantly guarding us, trying in vain to keep a bunch of outlaws like us contained, even when you know you can’t,” said Mantax from an adjacent cell.
“You six will never escape,” said Hydraxon with a smirk. “This place has the best security system in the universe. How could someone like you ever hope to break through it?”
“You’ve never done anything substantial at all in your life, have you?” Mantax retorted, ignoring the insult.
“Funny you should bring that up,” Hydraxon said. “You might want to carve this one.”
And so his tale began.
I stood upon a rocky outcropping overlooking a warm, sunny beach on Daxia, observing the rookie Toa team before me with a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment. For a Toa team that had recently been created, they seemed to have mastered their new powers well. Their mastery did not translate into practicality, however. I saw Tahu melt a boulder to slag just for the sheer joy of it, Lewa summoning a breeze just to observe the rustling of the leaves, and Gali challenging Pohatu to a swimming contest. They needed training. After all, that was my assignment.
“Enough!” I shouted to the Toa before me, who all turned, unaware of who I was. “My name is Hydraxon, your new trainer. Line up!”
The Toa dutifully shuffled into a line, looking somewhat excited about their very first training mission, yet somewhat rebellious, knowing that their free time had come to a close. The red one, Tahu, looked particularly defiant. He did not seem happy being bossed around. He must have had the whole “being a leader” thing get to his head, I thought. I’ll have to work on that.
“Now,” I began. “When you train with me, you train as equals, no individual being placed in charge unless I say so. I am in charge around here.” Tahu looked at the ground, clearly disappointed. I could sense the Toa’s anger rising. “Now, now, Tahu,” said I, almost in a mocking tone, “you’ll get your chance to prove yourself as a leader soon enough. But first, it is quite evident that training is needed.”
“We already have mastery over our individual Toa and Mask powers,” said Kopaka in his signature cold, quiet voice that nobody could emulate, “what more training could we possibly need?”
I decided to ignore that comment. He would see in due time. For an ice type, I thought, he doesn’t really have a good attitude towards learning and training.
“Now, for your first exercise.” I gestured towards Tahu, Pohatu, and Onua. “You three. Come here.” They obliged. “I will give you three a head start into that jungle,” I said, pointing to the semi-dark jungle behind me with my thumb. “After five minutes, Kopaka, Lewa, and Gali will be sent in after you with the intent of tracking you down, capturing you, and bringing you back to me. You three must avoid your brothers and sister and find me. I will be hidden somewhere in the forest. Be warned, though, because I will be well camouflaged. Whichever group fails to complete their task gets a... special treatment, courtesy of yours truly. Any questions?” Tahu and Pohatu exchanged a glance. I merely frowned. Neither of them wanted to find out what my ‘special treatment’ entailed. And I did not want them to find out either.
“When do we start?” asked Tahu, his usual bravado tempered by uneasiness.
“Now,” Hydraxon replied matter-of-factly, looking at the Order-issued mini sundial positioned on the ground nearby.
Pohatu grabbed Tahu’s and Onua’s hands and triggered his Kanohi Kakama, pulling the two of them into the brush in a blink of the eye, though not at top speed. Tahu and Onua cried out in fear as Pohatu zoomed out of sight. The Madu and bamboo trees swayed in the wind and moved apart where Pohatu had vanished into the jungle. I whistled, never having actually seen a Kanohi Kakama in action before. The wind he created even uprooted some palmettos, and would probably rip Tahu and Onua in half.
“They get five minutes like that?” Lewa asked exasperatedly. “How in Mata Nui’s name are we supposed to catch them if they’re running that fast?”
“That’s the point of the exercise,” I said, somewhat impatiently, not lifting my gaze from my sundial. After five anxious minutes, I pointed over my shoulder with my thumb again, I told Kopaka, Gali, and Lewa to go. Kopaka and Gali took off at a steady sprint and Lewa, letting out a groan, followed them with an off-balance jog. I waited for a few seconds, watching them disappear into the greenery, then followed, keeping to the shadows so as not to be seen by the Toa.
Upon reaching the edge of the forest, I quickly scaled a sturdy-looking tree and, listening closely, could still hear the three most recently departed Toa planning some distance away.
“Okay,” I heard Kopaka say. “Gali, you hunt down Onua. Lewa, see if you can somehow catch Pohatu. I’ll take care of Tahu. This is assuming they’ve split up already.”
“Kopaka!” said Gali incredulously. “They’re our fellow Toa! And even more. They’re our brothers! We can’t make them fail this test just so we can succeed. Mata Nui knows what Hydraxon will do to the Toa on the losing end.” This comment amused me.
“That’s exactly why we can’t lose,” said Kopaka grimly. “Helryx told us Hydraxon’s one of her most fearsome allies. Do you want to be shredded by that arsenal he carries on himself?”
“Now wait a moment here,” said Lewa, who I noticed was now levitating using his mask power. “Kopaka, they’re our brothers, and we can’t make them fail for us. But Gali, how are we supposed to finish the mission if we don’t capture them?”
Gali shook her head. Kopaka looked down. “I don’t know what to do, Lewa,” Gali said. She seemed deep in thought.
“I still say that we focus on each Toa separately, assuming they are not all together,” said Kopaka. “If we find them in time, we’ll decide what to do from there.”
“We’ll stick together until we have to split up,” said Lewa, even thought he was not in full agreement with Kopaka’s plan. Gali nodded and murmured something about agreeing, even though she did not seem thrilled with Kopaka and Lewa’s plan. Kopaka nodded too.
“Alright then,” said Kopaka. “If any of you captures one of our brothers, send a signal up into the air so we know where you are.”
As a group, they walked off along the path. I nodded in approval. This training mission is working better than I expected, I thought. Upon realizing that Lewa was about to scale the tree I was in, I crawled over a strong branch into a neighboring tree, this one even bigger than the last, and climbed down. Upon reaching the ground, left in search of my other three Toa.
I crept stealthily through the forest, searching for my other three trainees. I sincerely hoped that they were no longer using Pohatu’s Kakama to traverse the forest, otherwise I would never be able to find them. I wondered how in the name of the Order of Mata Nui Kopaka expected Lewa to catch up to Pohatu at that speed. It’s ironic, I thought with a smile. Their mission is to find me, and here I am stalking them.
I turned a sharp bend in the narrow path I was walking on and nearly fell over, because Tahu, Onua, and Pohatu were walking not two Bios in front of me. Luckily for me, they were facing the opposite direction. Using this to my advantage, I scrambled behind a thick tree and decided to climb, just to be safe. The last thing I wanted at this moment was for the Toa to find me. Only once I had cleared my mind of all internal sounds and thoughts did I realize that the Toa below me were chatting amongst themselves. I leaned in closer to hear.
“If we don’t find Hydraxon, we’ll lose,” said a friendly voice that belonged to Pohatu. “But if we do find him, our brothers and sister will lose.” Once again, I smiled. All this smiling is unlike me, I thought. I haven’t smiled this much in one day since... I don’t think I’ve ever smiled this much.
“I don’t want to make my fellow Toa lose for us, but we have to win this,” said Tahu gruffly. “And they are probably thinking the same thing as we are right now.”
“I propose,” said Onua, “that we confront our brothers and sister rather than searching for Hydraxon. This way, we can work out together what exactly we must do.”
“Now wait a minute, Onua,” said Tahu haughtily. “What if they aren’t thinking the same thing we are? I said probably, not definitely. And who made you the leader? Last I checked, I was in charge here.”
Pohatu chuckled. “Remember what Hydraxon said? Your leadership is irrelevant unless he says so.”
“As for your first objection,” said Onua, “we’ll just have to assume that they are thinking for us just as we are for them. And besides, if they try to capture us, we have this.” Onua tapped Pohatu’s mask with an armored finger, which caused a faint clanking sound.
“So, we’re all in agreement?” said Pohatu jovially. Onua nodded, and Tahu merely looked away, then looked back at Pohatu.
“We’ll take that as a yes,” said Pohatu with a chuckle.
Pohatu grabbed his brothers around the waists and took off at a faster than normal speed, but took care to not go nearly his top speed, as he did not want to hurt his fellow Toa. I lowered myself from the upper branches of the tree, making a beeline for the area I knew Kopaka, Lewa, and Gali would be. They could not have gone too far. I ran at a steady pace to the east, already looking forward to the confrontation I knew would be one to remember.
Again, I crouched in a tree that dwarfed me in size, watching Kopaka lead Gali and Lewa along a forest trail. They made a triangle formation, but all three were on alert, keeping their eyes peeled for any sign of their brothers. Lewa, unsteady as he was on his feet, was levitating rather than walking, leaving his legs trailing limply behind him. Gali looked dried out, as if she had been away from water for too long. Her armor, normally a deep aquamarine, seemed like a dull blue. Kopaka seemed as if he had melted; the strong determination that exuded was replaced by a dull weakness, like a melted ice cube. I suddenly realized that we had been in this jungle nearly all day, and that the sun was beginning to set. If Tahu and the others didn’t arrive soon, I might have to terminate the exercise.
Alas, from my vantage point atop the tree, I saw the brown streak that I knew to be Pohatu. The others couldn't be far behind him. I knew that Pohatu was not running full speed so that Tahu and Onua could attempt to keep up. Hoping that they would notice their brothers and sister in the near-darkness, I could do nothing but watch. Sure enough, they slowed down to a stop near Kopaka, Gali, and Lewa, but did not reveal themselves. Quietly, I crept my way through the treetops so I could hear the ensuing conversation.
“Are we sure we want to do this?” said Tahu, who was clearly more bent on finishing the mission. I realized at that moment that I would have to train Tahu to be a better leader someday. I could not imagine at that point why he was appointed leader and not one of the others. I would learn in due time, though.
“We have to,” said Onua in reply. Before Tahu could stop him, he stepped out in front of the others, attempting to reveal himself, but his dark armor concealed him in the darkness. Slightly annoyed, he grabbed Tahu, who's red armor glowed like an inferno, and pulled him out next to him. I almost smiled again. Kopaka stopped in his tracks, causing Gali and Lewa to nearly crash into his back. For a moment, they wondered why he had suddenly stopped walking, but they quickly noticed the red and black duo blocking their path with Pohatu on the sidelines, who was following the other two out of their concealed position. Lewa landed back on the ground gently.
“Don’t!” said both Onua and Gali simultaneously, each holding out their hand. Neither was amused at this coincidence.
“Don’t run,” Gali said to Pohatu.
“Don’t try to catch us,” Pohatu replied with a chuckle.
“We’ve come to work out some sort of deal,” said Tahu, stepping forward. “This way, neither of us will fail this test.”
“Same,” said Kopaka shortly and flatly.
“So uh, any thought-plans?” asked Lewa sheepishly.
“What if we catch Hydraxon at the exact same time that you catch us?” said Pohatu with a grin. “We won’t know who to pass and who to fail.”
“This isn’t the time for jokes, Pohatu,” said Gali in a reprimanding tone.
“Maybe we could talk to Hydraxon,” suggested Onua. “Maybe the point of this mission was to work out this compromise.”
“We were told differently,” said Gali.
I decided it was time to reveal myself.
“You are correct, Onua,” I said, my voice booming from the treetops. I jumped down from my perch atop the tree and landed gently in the middle of the group. All the Toa, even Kopaka, appeared startled at my sudden appearance in their midst. Onua and Pohatu exchanged a look of confusion. I almost smiled again. Almost. I continued.
“You’ll find that this will be one of your easier tasks throughout the course of my training, but it is no less important than all the rest. If anything, this is the most important of them all. This mission is meant to show you that fighting is not always the answer. As you have seen, a solution to a conflict can often be worked out by simply talking the situation over with the enemy, eliminating the need for further conflict.”
“Then why the arsenal of weapons you have with you?” Tahu asked. I ignored him and continued.
“This exercise also showed that sometimes, your camaraderie may be threatened by your mission. Never allow that to happen. A mission that puts your friends or the innocent in danger is a mission not worth completing. That was something my trainer told me. Remember to always use your better judgment in situations like these. It could make the difference between being a Toa hero or a villain like those in the depths of the Pit.”
“Uh, what’s the Pit?” asked Pohatu.
“Thank you, Hydraxon, for teaching us this valuable lesson,” said Gali, elbowing Pohatu.
“You six did the right thing today,” I said.
“It was all luck, we just thought the same way,” said Kopaka. “We felt petty emotions and we acted upon them.”
“I think that was the idea, Kopaka,” said Gali. “These ‘petty emotions’ are what we were supposed to feel.”
“It’s almost like it has been programmed into us,” said Lewa. “Like it’s what we are built to do.”
“You’re correct, Lewa,” I said. I have hope for these Toa. Through training, they could possibly become the best Toa team to ever live.
I turned to Kopaka once more. This one seems much more promising than I previously thought. They all do.
“Remember, Kopaka,” I said firmly. “It’s not luck. It’s what you do that makes you a hero.  And sometimes, being a hero isn’t about defeating the villain. Sometimes, it’s about making the peace that will keep you together.”
Hydraxon took a deep breath and sighed. He wondered how those Toa were doing millennia after they were sealed in the Codrex. Memories of the days before he got assigned to this miserable Nui Kopen dung hole flooded his mind, but he quickly repressed them.
Pridak simply stared at him, as if he was at a loss for words. Then, without warning, he burst out hysterically laughing.
“Bravo, Hydraxon, bravo!” he bawled. “That was perhaps the funniest tale I have ever heard. I can say for certain that even our finest jester 80,000 years ago could not top that!” Hydraxon frowned. “That’s what you do that makes you a hero? That’s the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard! That whole story was complete rubbish. Any of the grand tales of the Barraki can blow that story out of the water.”
“I found it to be worthwhile,” said Kalmah, who had recorded the whole story onto a tablet. Hydraxon turned to him.
“Where the Karzahni did you get that tablet?” said Hydraxon, alarmed. The Barraki were in special holding and were not allowed anything at all that could be used as a weapon, tablets included.
“Oh, relax,” said Kalmah, annoyed and amused at the same time. “I can’t hurt anyone with a puny tablet, can I?”
“I don’t care if you can or can’t” he said. He held out his palm. “Just give it to me.”
Kalmah rolled his eyes and extended his arm through the bars of his cell, giving Hydraxon the tablet. He clutched it tightly.
“Great,” said Kalmah. “Now what will I read when I’m bored?”
“Don’t worry,” said Hydraxon, grinning somewhat maliciously. “I’ll be around for the rest of your lives to tell it to you on the slow days in your cells. Then again, it’s not like you’ll ever have a turbulent day in here.”
No sooner had the words escaped his mouth when the whole prison began to rumble. Hydraxon, confused, looked around frantically for the source. The Barraki were taken aback, but Takadox merely chuckled.
“Someone has succeeded where we had failed,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Hydraxon snapped.
“He means that someone else has struck down the Great Spirit Mata Nui,” said Mantax, who, along with the other five Barraki, was now smiling.
This can’t be good, he thought. He could see cracks beginning to form in the walls and ceiling. Water began to drip through the cracks. Hydraxon’s eyes widened. “Why is water flooding in?” he wondered out loud. “There shouldn’t be water in here!” For the first time ever, Hydraxon was openly expressing fear.
All the Barraki looked worried, but they felt jubilant that someone had finally finished the job they began 80,000 years ago.
Despite not knowing exactly what was going on, the Barraki were openly expressing glee and triumph. Their prison was collapsing. Their jailer was, for the first and only time in his existence, alarmed. They would soon be free, and they would soon extract revenge.
The ceiling tore open, while the walls were shattered. Within minutes, the mutagen-filled water that filled the Pit would drown some of its inhabitants, and transform others. The water had already begun to inflict its painful transformations on its victims; Hydraxon was barely able to keep his breath. Multiple cells were ruined. Many of the other inmates were either floating corpses or writhing monstrosities. The Barraki, however, seemed to be at ease with their transformations. One by one, they escaped their cells, shooting Hydraxon dirty glances as they went. Hydraxon tried to react, but a piece of debris smashed against his arm and disabled it. Between his transformation and his wound, he was not able to move, let alone stop the Barraki. He watched as five of the warlords swam by him, barely even sparing him a glance. Wait, he thought. Where’s Takadox? Too late, Hydraxon realized that Takadox was right behind him, his face giving off an eerie blue glow. As for the rest of him, Hydraxon preferred to keep his sanity and not even look. Takadox grinned and elbowed Hydraxon, forcing him to take in some of the water.
The pain his former jailer was experiencing was almost too much pleasure for him to handle. Killing him and forever dooming him to this sort of pain was a good idea, he reasoned. Takadox grabbed Hydraxon’s wrist and forced off his wrist blade, twirling it between his fingers.
“Maybe I can’t exact my vengeance on all of those cretins who locked me here, but I can certainly exact my vengeance on you. And what sweet vengeance it is,” Takadox croaked, the water horribly distorting his voice.
With those words, Takadox rammed the blade into Hydraxon’s neck. Leaving the jailer to die, he followed his allies. He would be free of any captor, of any Toa, of any Makuta that could possibly strike him down. He would be free to rule this cesspool while he amassed a new army. He was free, and soon it would be known that the Barraki had returned.
Hydraxon’s heartlight was flickering rapidly. He was seconds away from death, but in those seconds he looked at the tablet Kalmah had carved his tale on. Without thinking, he tossed it with all the strength he had left towards the hole in the ceiling. Perhaps, one day long after his death, a chronicler would find it and share his last memoir...
Hydraxon’s feebly glowing eyes finally lost their light and closed, and the jailer of the Pit was lost to the world. For now.
: Mask of Light, 2003 (Not sure if I was supposed to cite that quote, so I did, just to be safe.)
Edited by Makuta Matata, Nov 14 2012 - 03:17 PM.