The last time Hahli had closed her eyes, she had awoken to a nightmare. She had seen the Realm of Karzahni, a place from the depths of legend. It was said that the greedy and selfish were sent there to be repaired into hard-working individuals. Few returned, however, for Karzahni was mad, and was just as likely to rebuild them as freakish monsters.
The Elders Hahli knew and trusted had soothed their peoples fears of Karzahni, assuring them that the story was a silly old myth, told long ago to frighten lazy workers. She had heard many such silly old myths serving as Chronicler of Metru Nui, a once-great city that had been devastated by treachery. Her people had been exiled a millennia before, but they had returned at last to rebuild their civilization and preserve its legacy. Their celebration quickly turned to frenzy. Buildings needed to be reconstructed, transportation systems need to be restored, defenses need to be installed, statues needed to be erected, and silly old myths need to be recorded, all in the name of prosperity.
Metru Nui had been protected by seven heroes, called Toa Nuva, each wielding Elemental Powers. However, six of the seven had been sent by the Elders to the island of Voya Nui, on a mission rumored to be vital to all life in the universe. The Toa did not return, and in their absence, mistrust of the Elders had built. As Chronicler, Hahli had been recruited by Jaller, Captain of the Guards, as part of a team to journey to Voya Nui, to offer aid to their heroes - and prove a point to the Elders.
Their expedition had traveled too close to the Realm of Karzahni. The ancient being had captured them with twisted glee, for so few had been sent to his Realm recently. He had sent them to laborious and often pointless work throughout his Realm while he prepared to experiment on them. Calling them back together, he had demonstrated his ability to conjure terrifying illusions from the very fears of his prisoners, but when he looked into the mind of Jaller, he saw the devastation of a world without Toa, and became so overwhelmed by the vision that they had escaped. The team found six Toa Canisters, sleek metal transports that could take them to their destination. Hahli climbed into hers and closed her eyes, breathing deeply, telling herself to trust the Canister to take her wherever she needed to go.
Traveling in a Toa Canister removes all sensation. The experience is compared to a deep sleep, although one usually wakes up from such a journey cramped and sore. They sacrifice comfort for automatic piloting and a nearly invulnerable transport.
Hahli yawned and tried to stretch her legs, but froze when she heard the sound of her feet crashing against the Canister wall. Her feet were too close to the front, but she could see in the dim Canister that her head was only a few feet away from the back...
Cautiously, she squirmed in place, trying to gather an idea of what had happened. She was taller, but that was a relatively small change compared to the rest. Her armor was gone, replaced with a far lighter, multi-layered armor she doubted could protect her from a slingshot. Her mask had gone with it - although she remembered Karzahni had taken her mask, he had then given her a different one as a replacement. Now, that had vanished, replaced with long strands of something brown sprouting from her head. She had changed into some sort of fleshy mutant, her body purely biological and absent of any mechanical components. Having never seen an animal without armor, she suddenly feared that she had been mutated into a plant.
At length, she decided that she wasnt going to get any answers in the Canister. She opened the massive Canister lid, bracing herself for the unknown; little was known about Voya Nui. But it couldnt be worse than the Realm of Karzahni, could it?
The Canister had landed on a small, rocky beach, dotted with tall weeds. She could clearly hear the wind and the crashing waves behind her. It was cloudy, but the light still made Hahli squint. Standing in front of her, leaning casually on a bolder jutting out from grass and sand, was a similarly pinkish figure. He was wearing light armor, as she was, in the form of a dark grey jacket and pants, a white shirt, and a blue tie scattered with white music notes. The growths on his head were much shorter, and partially covered by a grey fedora. Hahli opened her mouth, but gagged on her new tongue, allowing the figure to speak first.
"I went through almost the same thoughts as you did," the figure said, "But being a plant hadnt occurred to me," He spoke with the lightheartedness of an old friend, but it only perplexed Hahli further. He couldnt know what she was thinking, unless...
"Kanohi Suletu," he said, his smile widening, "Mask of Telepathy,"
"Kongu!" exclaimed Hahli, relief filling her. Kongu was another of Jaller's company, energetic and lighthearted. Their party had found a damaged Kanohi Suletu, and Kongu had decided to keep it. She ran to him, but she was still uncoordinated in her new body, and stumbled, falling right into his arms. She laughed at herself, and hugged him.
"I suppose I wanted to reassure you," he said, nervousness creeping into his voice, "And I dont want you to panic, but..."
Gently but firmly, he pushed Hahli back, and locked eyes with her. His eyes were a light blue-grey, but he didnt look at her with the happiness Hahli had expected.
"I'm sorry, Hahli. But I'm not Kongu," he told her.
She stepped further away from him, embarrassment filling her. She and Kongu had never been close, but after all that had happened since they left Metru Nui, all that was still happening, she had been thrilled to think she was with someone so familiar. Now, her initial fear returned, her mind spinning, trying to make sense of her transformation. It made her dizzy.
The mind-reader stared on, helplessly. "I dont know what to tell you," he admitted, "My name is Krakua, Toa of Sonics,"
"Sonics..." she whispered, not understanding, still dazed in the fog of her mind.
Krakua slowly spread his arms. Hahli stared at him, clueless what he was doing, when she realized that the sounds of the beach had disappeared. Sonics, he sighed, as though lost in nostalgia, closing his eyes and smiling at the peace. Hahli heard a low humming, and watched his hands rise and lower along with the new sound. He strung together a simple melody, and quickly began to build it. Hahli was dumbstruck; the music she was familiar with was entirely traditional, featuring little innovation. In a thousand years of exile, her people had never produced something as ornate as what Krakua appeared to be composing on the spot, nothing that she had heard; although, she realized, Kongus village had always been known for its music, and on her first and only visit there she had been greeted by a performance. The villagers had piped and drummed out a fast beat for dancing and celebration, without the need for an occasion. It hadnt been nearly as complex, but Hahli had laughed and danced with the villagers, delighted by their show. Krakuas song, meanwhile, waved and wove, sounding lovely and almost haunting. It was beautiful, certainly, but it didnt bring her that elation brought on by simpler, upbeat music. The two didn't really compare.
Hahli grew calm. She really did see something of Kongu in Krakua, something that went deeper than the mask they wore. They were both musical, and through their music, Hahli could see the sort of people they were. She heard their soul in their song, and that was reassuring.
"I'll take that as a compliment," Krakua grinned, bringing his music to a halt.
Hahli jumped, having already forgotten that he could hear her thoughts. "Oh, I like it," she told him a little too quickly, immediately wondering if that was being too friendly.
Krakua chuckled. "You trust me?" he asked her.
And, without speaking a word, Hahli told him that she did. They both grinned.
"Heh, good," Krakua laughed. He grew serious, saying, "Because I think I know what happened to your friends,"
"Don't worry, they're safe!" he blurted, sensing her worry, "But they're far away, Hahli. I'm sorry,"
"They arrived safely. But when they emerged from their Canisters, they had changed,"
Hahli nodded along, looking at the spread of her new fingers.
"Not like us, actually," Krakua clarified, "I dont know what this is all about. They kept their armor. But it was new armor. Toa armor,"
She stared at Krakua, expecting yet another twist. Instead, he stared back, his eyes meeting hers, apologetically. The concept of Jaller, Kongu, and the rest as Toa was ... unbelievable. She had known them all her life. It wasn't had news, really, but she was quickly realizing the implications...
"It was destiny, I suppose," Krakua went on, "No one's figured out how they transformed so far. But the world needed heroes. The old Toa, the Toa Nuva, had failed. Although they survived too!" he added quickly, "But the Toa Mahri, Jaller's team, they succeeded,"
"They saved, the universe, Hahli," he finished, gently.
"Without me," Hahli whispered, her voice cracking.
Krakua nodded glumly. "I didn't hear about a missing teammate - But I'm sure theyre worried!" he explained, "I just assumed it was a team of six, didn't pay attention to the details, sorry. Caught Jaller's name ... Kongu sounds familiar ... was there an Onepu...?"
Krakua trailed off, not expecting an answer. He bowed his head and tuned out Hahli's thoughts for the moment. Almost immediately, he felt the itch to check again. He had grown used to the Suletu, and for good reason. He had lived as an outsider among his people before it had come into his life. There were numerous reasons, but first and foremost, it had been because he couldn't pick up on the emotions of those around him. People had been unpredictable. So he had kept to himself, humming made-up songs and working alone when possible. When he spoke, he had usually been reprimanded for disruption, for getting people off task. With the Suletu, however, he knew what buttons to press, and could measure reactions to his activity. He peeked up at Hahli, hoping to try and deduce her emotion from her facial expression, despite never being very good at that. Instead, he noticed her lips were moving.
"Sorry, what was that?" he asked, re-activating his powers.
Hahli looked troubled, understandably, although her mind was no longer with her friends. "Why werent you listening?"
"I figured you wouldnt want me reading your thoughts right then, and..." Krakua took a breath, realizing that he was going to have to start from the beginning.
"And, as a Toa of Sonics, I make a lot of noise. I've created shockwaves that could reduce boulders to dust," he explained, pointing to his ear, "I lost by hearing completely. Butchered the Sound Receptors,"
Something occurred to him, and he poked at his new, human ear experimentally.
"I guess they're not electronic anymore. Purely organic ears..." he mused, "Still cant hear a darned thing, though. Hence, Kanohi Suletu,"
Hahli nodded, beginning to understand him. "I was just asking if you were a local Toa,"
Krakua shook his head. "I was sent to deliver a message Axonn, one of the guardians of..." he trailed off yet again, lost in thought.
"Assuming," he continued, "That this is Voya Nui," He squinted at their surroundings, seeing only the ocean or rocky hills in all directions.
Hahli sighed, feeling the flood of thoughts begin, wondering where she was. She was quickly growing sick of having the world pulled from beneath her feet. In contrast, Krakua was learning quickly, and he knew exactly what to do.
"Follow me," he told her, "We've got to find the others,"
Krakua walked briskly over the uneven terrain, while Hahli was still getting used to her new form, the swaying of her legs, the weight of such light armor, and was struggling to keep up. All the while, Krakua explained his thinking to her at a pace to match his stride.
"I can sense two other entities, recently awakened from Canister Hibernation. They've met, and they're heading roughly in our direction. I think it's a coincidence," he paused, "Yeah, theyre going to some sort of landmark we can't see from our vantage point."
"Over those rocks, I guess," he said, turning in that direction, "We'll meet them there,"
Hahli nodded, feeling a little excited. Rock climbing was proper adventure. They were going to find out what was going on, and she would have a story of her own to tell the Toa Mahri when she got home.
If Krakua heard her, he didn't warn her not to keep her hopes up.
Hahli did her best to follow Krakua's path as they began to ascend the dull, rough surface of the boulders. She moved uncertainly, testing potential footholds, while Krakua steamed ahead, on the rocks and in his speech.
"If you believe this is Voya Nui, than you have to trust that the Canisters functioned properly. Clearly, yours didn't! But while I've never heard of Canisters malfunctioning, I have heard of them being tampered with. Which would mean that someone wants us here, and they've changed us into these squishy things. Must be, otherwise these fellows wouldn't be here - how many people go to Voya Nui at this time of year? And if we were on Voya Nui, why didn't you arrive with the rest of the Toa Mahri?"
"Wait, wait!" Hahli called, both because she was falling behind on the rocks, and because she was falling behind in his logic. Krakua looked back, expectantly. Hahli began to ask, but then she starting laughing at the absurdity of the idea. "That doesnt mean ... That doesnt make me a Toa!"
No, she decided. There was no way. She looked to her guide, nervously. She saw that he wasnt laughing. "Does it?" she asked, shaking as she considered the idea.
In response, Krakua simply gestured behind her. She turned, and saw only the ocean and the beach, below the cloudy sky. She understood. She concentrated, not really knowing how to make it happen, but just willing it to. She focused so hard, she didnt realize that she had closed her eyes.
"Look," Krakua prompted.
A small font of water had sprung up from the sea in front of her, raising a few feet, barely a ripple. To Hahli, it was the most amazing thing in the world.
"Hahli Mahri, Toa of Water," Krakua admired, "I promise to you, you will get back home,"
"You knew," she whispered, in awe of her own display, "Because of the Suletu,"
"Not in the way you'd think," Krakua explained, "If you weren't a Toa, you wouldn't have a mask power. The Suletu can pick up on certain mask powers, even when its wearer cannot. You wear Kanohi Elda, the Mask of Detection. It allows you to see what is hidden,"
Krakua came forward as he was speaking, and touched Hahli lightly on the shoulder. "That's enough," he told her. She stopped the water, but remained fixated on the rippling sea until Krakua gently pulled her away. "Try and detect them," he nudged.
Hahli did her best to look for what was hidden. She looked for two entities, alone along the shore. Just as she and Krakua were.
She gasped. She could feel them, she knew where they were! Again, dizziness came over her. So much had happened; so much was happening still, that it was overwhelming.
"Krakua," she announced, "I can feel them! ... And thats not all. There are others - dozens of them, all together, in a village or something!"
Krakua nodded. "About as many as a small village, yes, but even at this distance, their mindset is so busy, so rushed, that they come across as city folk..." he pondered, "Perhaps a factory,"
Hahli studied the Toa of Sonics, and did her best to emulate his thoughtfulness: "I cannot..." she searched for the word, "...sense their mindset,"
"You never will," Krakua responded, "The Suletu and the Elda can both detect people out-of-view, but only the Suletu can read their minds," He resumed climbing the rocks.
"Whets the point of the Elda, then?" Hahli asked, starting after him.
"Kanohi don't work like that ... they weren't designed, but discovered, forged from Kanoka Disks. Don't ask me where the Disks come from; theyre just Crafted somehow. Combine the Disks in different ways, get different powers. Some are completely useless. There's plenty of redundant masks - Levitation is useless compared to Flight," he went on, "Oh, and Kanohi Crast, the Mask of Repulsion, lets you push things away. The Mask of Gravity can do that, and more,"
Hahli looked in despair at the foothold Krakua had used ahead of her; she knew she couldnt reach. She tried to hold on to some weeds growing in a crack, but when she tugged on them they became completely uprooted and crumbled in her hands. She began to look around for another way, when she saw Krakuas outstretched hand.
"My Suletu only works on people; Kanohi Elda will show you many other secrets that will pass by me unnoticed," Krakua smiled, "I've already won your respect. Have a little for yourself,"
Hahli grinned and nodded, letting him help her on to a ledge.
"Lead the way," he instructed.
She concentrated, feeling for the presence of the others ahead.
"This way," she determined.
Norik scanned their surroundings impatiently. They were in a region of rocky hills, surrounded by boulders, easily ambushed from above or below. As he scrutinized every potential avenue of attack, he confirmed, once again, that his paranoia was unwarranted. Feeling restless, he inspected his own garments. Although he didn't know it, he was a military officer's formal dress. He wore a dark red uniform, complete with a matching cap, and his jacket was decorated with medals of no significance to him. He felt naked in such light armor, wishing he still had his shield, spear, or even his mask.
Over the decades, Norik had risen through the Toa ranks to be the leader of a Toa Hagah Team. Toa Hagah were elite among elite; they served as the personal vassals of Makuta, bureaucrats charged with protecting existing forms of life and, if need be, genetically engineering new animals as beast of labor. As a Toa Hagah Team Leader, Norik had guarded Makuta Teridax himself, who had possessed so much influence that the Great Spirit addressed him as a brother. The work was dangerous, and often morally ambiguous. Norik had restrained his lord's failed experiments minutes after their birth, extinguished revolts against Teridax's authority, and stood through day-long negotiations without flinching or speaking a word, in order to intimidate the other faction in a display of Teridax's strength. Still, that was the way of the Makuta; in times of crisis, they did the work that needed to be done, and once peace was restored, they hid in the shadows, perhaps, Norik had wondered, out of shame. Norik had felt a kinship with his often secretive lord, imagining how it felt to receive less recognition than the glorified Toa-heroes, despite fighting far grimmer battles. He instructed his Team to be proud of their duty, for everyday, even if they accomplished nothing else, they showed the Brotherhood of Makuta that the Toa of the universe supported their lordships wholeheartedly.
But Norik's respect had not been enough. The Makuta had grown envious of the Light, and had plotted a horrible revolt against the Great Spirit himself. Conversations heard through closed doors and words he shouldn't have read revealed to Norik a small glimpse of the plan, enough to recoil in horror. It was known that the Makuta were powerful, and fearing such a scheme, a Great Kanohi Mask had been created as a fail-safe. The Mask of Light was said to be able to negate the Makutas' power, but the Makuta, hearing of this, had stolen the Mask of Light preemptively. Norik had led his team to the Makutas' inner sanctum, stolen the mask back, and then labored to return it to safety. The stress had torn their team apart, and Norik had been left frustrated and hopeless. The Makuta had pursued them relentlessly, capturing no less than four of the six Toa Hagah. Norik had searched for his remaining teammate, Iruini, and had convinced him to help him free the others. They found their allies, partners, and old friends horribly mutated and tortured, part of some sick experiment. As Norik had cursed himself for his failure, a servant of the Brotherhood appeared, raising her weapon to his head. He had tried to run, but he knew it was hopeless; closing his eyes, he had prepared for death.
His body had gone cold and numb. As he felt his surroundings, he had realized that he lay in a Toa Canister, with no weapons, no armor, and no idea what was going on.
The Toa of Air crouched between two boulders, peering through the gap at their discovery, some variety of civilization in the distance. He wore a strange pattern over all of his cloths, blobs of green, dark green, brown, and a dozen other colors, layered over each other. Military grade camouflage, although neither Toa recognized it.
"Those towers..." he was muttering, "Ready to shoot anything in the sky, but limited defenses on the ground. Why?"
He was quickly getting on Norik's nerves. Like Norik, this Toa, named Nidhiki, had been moments away from being killed, only to be transported to a Toa Canister. He claimed to have been fighting in the Toa-Dark Hunter War, a terrible conflict begun when the Dark Hunters, a band of mercenaries, had been refused access to the legendary city of Metru Nui, and retaliated in rage. Nidhiki had been a part of the Toa Team sent to fight the Dark Hunters' spree of terrorism. As the war reached a stalemate, with the Dark Hunters unable to defeat the Toa in combat and the Toa unable to find them, Nidhiki had been caught alone and off-guard by a Dark Hunter. He fought, but soon surrendered, closing his eyes and bracing himself for death.
The events of the Toa-Dark Hunter War were well known to Norik, and Nidhiki's description of events matched what he had heard. What didn't add up, however, was that the Toa-Dark Hunter War had ended ages ago, while Nidhiki spoke of it as though it was still going on. He certainly spoke like a warrior; since they had found each other, Nidhiki had shrugged off most of Norik's questions and focused on finding civilization. Now that they had found it, he seemed convinced it was an enemy camp. The anachronism was far more frightening, however. If the force that had brought them here moved through time itself, what else could it do?
Norik shook it all off, trying to concentrate on the present. "If there are people there, its a good a place as any to start looking," he repeated, "Lets just climb down and -"
A glare from Nidhiki cut him off. "You have no idea who these guys are, or how friendly they are," The veteran took a dark-colored mask from the ground, a mask with a glass visor and a large mouthpiece. "The Mask of Stealth can get me in,"
"If we go to straight to subterfuge, we'll ruin their trust before we even meet them," Norik pointed out.
"If we don't, we'll get shot," Nidhiki retorted, and moved to put his mask on.
Norik and Nidhiki swerved to face the newcomers, fearing that they had been discovered. A man wearing a grey suit had spoken, standing casually behind a companion. She wore jeans and a jean jacket, both splattered with white paint, over a faded light-blue shirt advertizing a boating company. Norik took a cautious step forward. "Do you work there?" he asked, tilting his head towards the facility.
Krakua shook his head. "We're just like you, Toa dragged off course and dumped here without explanation,"
"We didnt mention," Nidhiki spoke slowly, "That we were Toa,"
Krakua grinned and said nothing. Instead, Norik and Nidhiki heard his voice in their heads: Suletu, the Mask of Telepathy. He sensed distrust rise in Norik immediately, resentful that his thoughts were being invaded. In Nidhiki, however, he only found confusion.
"How did you do that?" Nidhiki asked in awe.
"... He just told us!" Norik reminded him, "He's got a Suletu!"
"He's not wearing it now!" Nidhiki shouted, defensively.
The four Toa stared at one another in silence for a time, processing the information. Krakua and Hahli had been using mask powers without a second thought. Before long, however, the rest of the group was snapped out of it by Hahli gasping. They looked around and noticed that Norik had become three feet tall and half as wide, his cloths shrinking to fit.
"Excellent," Norik nodded, growing back to his original size, "I still have my Pehkui after all,"
"The Mask of Diminishment," Krakua mumbled to Hahli, "Allows the user to shrink. Nothing that the Mahiki cant do, though,"
Then, Nidhiki seemed to fade from sight. A surprised Hahli looked around for him, but Krakua and Norik recognized the effects of the Mask of Stealth. They were compelled not to look precisely where the Toa was, although the strong-willed still stood a chance at find him.
"Bloody useful this is, then," said Nidhiki upon reappearance, throwing the mask he had been given onto the ground beneath him.
"We've mutated," Norik said, piecing everything together, "And our masks fused to our faces, becoming ... soft, like plants. Then Nidhiki was given a second mask, because..." He squinted, trying to riddle it out.
"Just to mess with me! Ha! Ha! Ha!" Nidhiki belted out, tossing his head back, his voice scathing.
Norik stiffened at Nidhikis outburst. "I found this one," he continued, "Wandering the beach. He says he's from the Toa-Dark Hunter War, all those years ago. We think that weve somehow been transported out of our times -"
"I never said I agreed with you," Nidhiki interrupted.
"I am Norik Hagah, Toa of Fire," Norik pressed on, ignoring the Toa of Air, "Appointed leader of Makuta Teridax's Toa Hagah," Krakua was impressed by his proclamation; to be selected as a Toa Hagah at the height of the Brotherhoods power was high acclaim. Hahli had never heard of a Toa Hagah, but the mention of Makuta Teridax quickly put her on edge. Teridax had exiled her people from Metru Nui, and terrorized them for decades after. Legends of his past deeds only described other crimes, and his status as servant of the Great Spirit had been forgotten by all but the keenest historians.
"Nidhiki Magnai, Toa of Air," added the squatting figure, who had begun poking at the mouthpiece of the mask on the ground.
The group fell into silence again. Hahli sighed, peering at the building in the distance and wondering how they had wound up here, why she had been chosen. If they needed Toa, surely they could have just asked? And why four who had never met, four from different places and - what had Norik said? Times? For all of the legends she had heard, the histories she had transcribed, this was unprecedented. She looked around to the others, only to find that they were staring at her.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "I'm Hahli, sorry ... Toa of Water, I guess," She felt her face grow hot, and found herself all the more uncomfortable in her new form. She noticed that Norik was still watching her intently, studying her, and she cursed herself for not speaking sooner.
"H... Hahli?" Norik asked, looking bewildered. He pondered the name for a moment, certain he had heard it before, until he reached a moment of realization.
"Hahli!" he cried, alarm filling his voice, "We've got to get out, Hahli, we've got to get back..." His voice weakened, and he wavered on his feet. Krakua moved closer in case he fell, but Norik managed to remain on his feet. The mind-reader studied him closely, perplexed. Hahlis name had triggered something in Norik, revealing to Krakua a shadow cast over his mind. It was as though some power was trying to prevent the Toa of Fire from even thinking about her.
"Where do we have to go?" Hahli shrieked, caught entirely off guard, "Who are you?"
Krakua held up his hand to stop her. "Don't," he cautioned, "Not now."
"I don't..." Norik stammered, pushing himself to remember. He felt Krakua enter his mind, soothing him, telling him not to worry.
"It's okay, Norik," Krakua whispered, "It's not your fault. It's in all of us,"
Nidhiki looked up, growing nervous, while Hahli began shaking. The sun was falling in the sky, and it was growing colder.
"Yes, I noticed it before," Krakua confirmed, "There was darkness surrounding Nidhiki's name, too, in Norik, Hahli," and, he stopped, reluctant to admit it, but continued, "In me. It was not nearly as extreme as Noriks reaction, of course,"
"What is it?" Hahli whispered.
"I'm not certain, but I believe it's our memories. They've been tampered with, suppressing all knowledge we had of one another before we arrived here. If Norik's right, and Nidhiki's from our past, then we must have heard of him. And subsequently, that knowledge was removed," he paused, considering the possibilities. "Such a precise modification would be difficult to sustain ... if you tried that on two people who knew each other well, they'd overcome it eventually. Although they'd get a far worse headache than Norik did,"
"That's why we're strangers," Norik deduced, gathering his senses.
"Someone," Krakua agreed, "Has gone to great lengths to bring in four Toa who don't know each other,"
Hahli sat watching the sun set over the horizon. Even the sky seemed different from her home. She pulled her knees to her chest, holding herself together, wondering where she was.
Krakua had joined Nidhiki by the boulders, leaning on one of the rocks and peering at the structures in the distance. It was a large complex of grey buildings, surrounded by two walls and a ring of watch towers, armed with some sort of cannon, scanning the sky. The entire compound was hidden from the rest of the world, stationed in a deep valley and surrounded by steep hills. There appeared to be several roads leading in and out through tunnels. Krakua used his Suletu to try and learn more, but the people were far away, and the signals were weak. Hahli doubted they were ever going to decide to go down there.
Norik had resumed his watch without prompting. It gave him something to do while he thought. He had a nagging suspicion, and at last, he had exhausted all other possibilities. It was a flimsy conclusion at best, but Norik knew Toa teams. He had led several, and he had been promoted to Toa Hagah for his expertise. And there was something obviously out of place here.
"Why four?" Norik asked aloud.
Krakua turned, perplexed. He had been focusing on the facility, not listening to Noriks mental reasoning.
"Toa come in sixes. There are extenuating circumstances, to be sure," Norik went on, "When a bunch of Toa group together, their number depends on how many Toa were in the vicinity, how many are ready to work together. And then deaths, births, mutations, and a hundred other things can change it, too."
"But that's when a team gets together on its own," Norik pointed out, "And we didnt come here of our own free will. We were brought here by someone, and if that someone wanted a Toa Team, why did they bring four?"
"I didn't realize," came Nidhikis voice. The group turned to see him glowering.
"I didn't realize we were a team," he reiterated.
Krakua shook his head, saying, "I scanned the beach for the thoughts of people emerging from Canisters. I only picked up you three, not even a ghost of another signature. And I havent picked up anyone else since then,"
"I see them," Hahli whispered.
"Sorry?" Krakua asked.
"They've found the buildings," Hahli claimed, "They're on the other side of the valley. Two of them, all alone,"
Norik and Nidhiki looked at Krakua expectedly, but he was still shaking his head. "That's impossible. No one's thinking over there, I would be able to feel it if they could,"
"Unless," Norik suggested, "They're shielded from telepathy,"
Krakua laughed, nervously. "The Elda can't see anyone the Suletu can't. Look, we've been waiting long enough. They're not likely to attack us if were unarmed, and if they did, wed have Elemental Powers to defend ourselves with -"
"Look into her mind, Krakua," Norik insisted, "And see what she sees,"
"Were wasting time -" Krakua began.
"Guys..." Nidhiki moaned, his eyes fixed on the sky.
"Have you looked?" Norik asked.
"There'd be nothing to see -"
"I can feel them! Right over there!" Hahli interrupted.
"Guys!" Nidhiki called.
"You've just gotten your powers -" Krakua dismissed.
That was enough for Norik. He had nearly been killed, he had lost his job, his team, everything, he had been transformed into something he had never seen before, he had been humiliated by the power of a name he didnt recognize, and now everyone was pulling in different directions, shouting over each other. But Norik had seen this before; he had been placed in front of Toa, watched them snap and bite at one another, and he had been expected to lead them.
"Do you, Krakua," he yelled, "Outrank a Toa Hagah Team Leader?"
"I'll have you know -" Krakua began, but his confidence faltered. In Norik's days, there had been a strong hierarchy of Toa. There had been a long sorting algorithm of success and experience. Norik had maneuvered through that, and come out as an aid to one of the most powerful people of the time. Krakua's situation unraveled before him. This was intended to be nothing more than his first mission, a simple go-and-fetch quest for him to get some practice. He answered to a high authority, to be sure, but he was just an errand boy within that Order.
"Do you?" Norik asked again.
"SHUT UP!" Nidhiki yelled, before Krakua could reply. All turned in his direction, and found there wasnt much to see. The Toa Magnai looked annoyed, as he had looked since they met him. He still crouched in his chosen vantage point. What had changed was that he was urgently pointing to the sky.
They flew overhead, making such a clamor that the Toa were surprised they hadn't noticed. Each was a massive, dark egg shape silhouetted over the fading blue sky. Those that flew closer to the ground revealed rows of sharp wings, jutting from either side, along with a shorter row running along the bottom like a fin. Two massive orange lights glowed on the rear of the underbelly while smaller lights blinked on the tips of the wings. Flittering about them were their smaller kin, perhaps serving as communication links, delivery routes, or scouts.
"Airships," Hahli summarized, barely audible over the sound of the engines, "But I've never seen so many,"
"The facility doesnt seem happy about it," Norik commented. The watch towers were bursting with activity. Each weapon was taking aim at the fleet.
The Toa didn't know what to do. They stood and watched as the airships passed overhead. The watchtowers didnt fire. The sound of roaring engines died away.
Krakua spoke again. "It was a display," he explained glumly, "I could feel the confidence in the airships. They were trying to intimidate the people down there," He pointed at the crack, at the facility slowly calming down. "It worked. They were scared stiff."
"Some sort of conflict?" Norik asked.
Krakua was numb. "A war," he confirmed.
The Toa had fell into silence yet again, the events of the day exhausting them. At length, Krakua cleared his throat and turned to Hahli.
"You were right, Hahli," he confessed, "I can't see them, but I can see that you see..." He stopped, sensing that she had forgiven him.
"Are they still where they were?" Norik asked.
Hahli shook her head. "They were scared off by the airships, I think," she said, "And started heading around the valley, back where Krakua and I came from,"
She started out, with Norik following close behind. After an afternoon of scaling boulders, they descended the first rock with ease. Krakua came after less confidently, testing every foothold. Nidhiki let them get ahead of him at first, before at last rising from his perch, glancing again at the fortifications behind him. Before he left, he thought to take the mask with him, powerless or not.
It was night now. Seeing the alien constellations, scattered across a sky with no red star, was unsettling to them all. None of them spoke of it, but they knew they were in another world. Those who had jackets wrapped up tight in the night chill; Norik suggested they jog to create warmth. He didnt use his power over fire. He didnt want to draw attention to the group.
Hahli saw them, even in the darkness: two more displaced souls traversing the landscape. "Hey!" she called out, "Over here!"
"We're unarmed!" came a quick response, "We come in peace!" The two didn't come any closer, but neither did they run away.
Krakua, try as he might, still heard no thoughts from either of them. One seemed as though he simply wasnt there, an empty space on the map; the other was more clumsily hidden, sort of like a black spot on the Suletus radar, blurred, but not invisible. He wouldnt have noticed it at first, but now that he knew what to look for, he would be able to find him again.
The Toa jogged up to them. It was difficult to make them out in the darkness, but they were dressed just as strangely as the Toa. One of the two was a giant, easily seven feet tall, broad-shouldered. He wasnt muscular, however, but in fact possessed nearly skeletal limbs, having lived on scraps for decades. He was wrapping a long black trench coat over a strange, neon-orange costume, the cloths of a construction worker. His mind was entirely invisible to Krakua.
His companion, who had spoken first, was shorter, but still relatively tall, wearing a long, crisp white lab coat. He was of pale complexion and short, dark hair which almost seemed spiky. Boney and slouching, he didnt look like a soldier of any sort, despite holding his hands up in surrender. He was reciting military clichés, but he wore a sarcastic smirk. Unlike the giant, Krakua could feel this man's consciousness there, but something was still preventing him from getting in his head, pushing him back, as though they were magnets of the same charge. His brain was a safe, locked tight.
"We came in Canisters!" Norik explained, ignoring the possibility that they were locals, "But we do not remember how we came to be here! We guessed there are meant to be six of us. Are you Toa?" he asked, believing he already knew the answer. To his surprise, the pale man began laughing.
"Ha! No, sir, no I am not! And by friend here has never even heard of Toa!" he explained. The giant stepped behind him, appearing frightened.
"But you came in Canisters?" Norik asked, already frustrated with this new development.
"Oh, yes!" the pale man confirmed, still smirking.
Krakua stepped forward. "Forgive me, but, I wear Kanohi Suletu, the Mask of Telepathy. But hear no thoughts from either of you!"
The pale man looked surprised, and turned to his friend. "Telluris, how are you pulling that off?"
The giant, Telluris, only stammered, "I ... I do not understand,"
The pale man reassured him, "Don't fear, Telluris, you have no way of knowing. I truly am sorry you've gotten wrapped up in all this,"
Just as Norik was about to speak again, the pale man called out, "A wear Kanohi Crast, sir. You've probably never heard of it. It was deemed useless, as it only repelled, and couldnt pull things forward as a Mask of Gravity can. But I studied it for some time, and I realized that it repelled not only objects, but also energy, all kinds of energy. Psionic, electric..."
As he spoke, he vanished before them, becoming, just as he was a blur to the Suletu, a blur to their eyes. Color and form are merely the products of light bouncing off of objects, light that this stranger was no longer allowing to touch him.
"Even light itself," he continued, reappearing, "I am quite difficult to find,"
"And, you are?" Norik interjected.
"You have not told me your names, yet," the man pointed out. He had no desire to be the first to introduce himself, nor to state his name upon request. He had no reason to respect the red-uniformed figure in front of him.
"Norik Hagah, Toa of Fire," Norik replied sharply, "And this is Nidhiki Magnai, Toa of Air, Krakua, Toa of Sonics, and Hahli, Toa of Water,"
The man in the lab coat hung his head, as though in shame. His smirk vanished. "Knowing my name," he sighed, "Would only trouble you further,"
Norik watched his temper, not wanting to raise his voice again. "Look, weve got enough problems without -" he began, but stopped, noticing the sound of engines growing louder again.
They swarmed in the sky, even closer to the ground this time. Nidhiki shuddered, and not due to the cold; in the darkness, their resemblance to hunting insects was even stronger. The orange lights did not blink, but their glow faded and grew, sending the unsettling implication that they were scanning the ground below. The curved metal wings seemed to flap, although perhaps they were just shaking in the wind. The scale of it all was only more imposing.
Telluris whimpered, beginning to fall to the ground. His friend was there to catch him, though, grabbing him under the armpits.
"I've got you, my good man," he reassured him, "I won't let you fall again,"
Krakua's eyes were fixed on the larger, orange lights, as though eye contact would improve his reception. He struggled to make out the thoughts of those on board. He could sense hundreds, if not thousands, of staff in the fleet. They knew they were flying over enemy territory, and although Krakua sensed confidence, he could also detect an undertone of nervousness. As he scanned the fleet for names, places, or anything else of importance, he picked up on that sensation of worry again, more intensely this time. Pinning it down to one ship, he felt the anxiety rise. Something was wrong.
Before he could shout to the others, the ship burst, a singeing bright fire expanding from one of the lights. It fell from the sky.
Toa and strangers alike watched as the airship grew larger in the sky, the flames spreading. They saw the silhouettes of girders that once held it together warping and twisting sickly, like a breaking hand. It had not started directly above them, but it veered straight overhead, the spectators having to crane their necks to keep their eyes locked on the turmoil in the sky. Even Krakua, who heard the thousand screams of the crew grow ever louder as the airship grew closer to them, could not take his eyes away. Perhaps they would have watched until it landed on their heads. However, it flew on, never faltering from a straight descent over the beach and towards the ocean, and as it neared the sea, the wings folded back and the landing gears extended. The last deed of the bridge had been to follow their landing procedure.
They may have aimed for the water, but it landed on the beach, partially submerged, thousands of feet away from the six. The little seawater did not quench the flames, but the explosions soon ran out of fuel on their own. The fires died down, licking the metal corpse. Screams turned to whimpers in Krakuas mind.
"There, there," the pale man whispered. Norik turned to see that he and Telluris were locked in an embrace. The image was almost comical, the giant stroking the twigs back as he wept. The consoling preacher whispered to him, speaking as a mother would to a child, telling him that we was safe, that everything would be fine. Indeed, he played the part to the letter, convincing Norik that he was following a script, mimicking something he had seen, faking the emotion. Norik clenched his fists, containing the anger of a day of turmoil. He was tired of everything happening at him. It was time for action.
"Your name, sir!" Norik demanded.
The man looked up from the heaving chest of the displaced Glatorian. "I am Makuta Krika," he revealed.
Norik looked at the measly frame in disbelief. He recognized the name; Krika had been infamous, even by Makuta standards. Not that he had committed any crime, as far as he knew; rather, he kept to himself, giving answers which sounded wise, but meant nothing at all, whenever he was addressed. He was cynical, and while he patiently sat through meetings, contributing just enough to warrant being kept around, he sometimes snapped, berating his allies and opponents both for their stupidity. Norik wasnt sure if he had followed Teridaxs plans for rebellion, if that had even happened yet in Krikas timeline.
Nidhiki, Krakua, and Hahli remained silent, waiting for the esteemed Toa Hagah Team Leader to react. Norik looked around, taking in the absurdity. He had been stripped of his armor and weapons. He had become the de facto leader of a team of strangers, two of whom werent Toa at all, and completely unpredictable. He was in a war zone, but knew nothing of the conflict at hand, only that the locals were constructing hidden bases and sending airship flybys.
And now, one of those ships was on the ground, which meant that he could do something about it.
"Come on!" Norik ordered.
The Toa burst into a sprint, Norik at the lead. Even at this distance, he tried to kill the fire with his Elemental Power, knowing that it was futile to think he could extinguish the entire inferno. Still, any the slightest impact he could make on the flames might save a life.
"Observe, Telluris," mused Krika as he watched them go, "Toa. Heroes. They come in all shapes and sizes. But at the first call for help, they all throw their personal safety to the wind. They rush into obvious danger for the sake of complete strangers,"
"Do you..." Telluris hesitated, confused, "Like them, or what?"
"Hm?" asked Krika, still staring after them.
"Do respect them?" he clarified.
"Oh, I shudder," the Makuta answered, "To think of a world without them," He broke into a run, following the fledgling team. Nervously, Telluris started after him.
Edited by The Spectral Mask, Feb 24 2013 - 05:12 PM.