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  1. 19 points
    Hrrrrnnggh Colonel, I'm trying to sneak around, but I'm checking in back here instead. Digging the end of the arc and especially the wrap-up content--it makes me genuinely happy to see Sulov written with emotion. I look forward to seeing where y'all take things from here, and maybe getting involved again in some capacity (without quite so lengthy absences). I would be glad to touch base with anyone and everyone.
  2. 15 points
    I think I speak for all the staff when I say I still can't quite believe we did it, after all this time. Now, I'd just like to say a huge thank you to Tyler and Nuju for helping me give Echelon such a send-off. He won't be missed, but I like to think he'll be remembered. Echelon was one of my longest-running characters, and perhaps the one I've been best known for. He originated in the NBZP, not long after I arrived in the RPG forum, as a Xa-Kuta black mage. For the BZIII, I reinvented him somewhat by merging his character concept with that of a Toa of Magnetism I'd also had running around, and slapping on a Tryna for good measure, resulting in the Echelon we've known for the last eight (!) years. Having played him for so long, and poured most of my villainous ideas into him, I was pretty attached to him as a character. But in more recent years, his flaws became more evident to me (thanks in part to a fair amount of teasing from Ty and Krayz) — he was an amalgam of quite a lot of villain tropes, many of them on the melodramatic side; and he'd also managed to amass a rather extreme powerset. Even before Dark Magnetism and Mind Control, he was notorious as my vehicle for pushing (and some might say crossing) the limits of what was fair use of elemental Magnetism in PvP. Over the years, I thought a lot about what should motivate him beyond a simple lust for power, and eventually I developed the motivation you saw laid bare in recent posts: a deep-seated fear of death, and a resulting desire to escape mortality and flesh-and-blood form. I'd like to think that made him a bit more interesting than the moustache-twirler he started out as. And as I developed this motivation I began to accept what Tyler had been telling me for years: Echelon had to die. At first I accepted this half-heartedly, with the caveat that he could return later in some spectral form — I enjoyed writing him too much to let him go forever. But talking to Ty and Nuju about the end-of-arc plans helped me to realise that actually, this could be the perfect ending to his character arc: to fail and to die, not just at the very climax of his mad search for immortality, but as a direct consequence of it. This was exactly the poetic justice he deserved. So thank you for that, you two, and also for giving me so much creative freedom as we wrote up this monster slew of posts: for letting me tweak dialogue and description until Echelon's voice sounded just right to me. Jamming up the confrontation and fight in the Vault with Ty is one of the most satisfying things I've done in this game, and Nuju's final post in Kini tied it all up beautifully. I'm really honoured to have had this character of mine feature so heavily in this arc's main plot, and to have been able to use it to end his journey in such a spectacular fashion. Echelon was a villain I dreamed up when I was 16. Now I'm free to write new villains that I find compelling at 24. So I guess I'm also saying...watch out. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled on the wrap-up topic. Kini-Nui has a little more to tell.
  3. 14 points
    as always: "TIME TO ROUGH THAT CHUMP TERRY UP GOOD!!!" had this lying around as a sketch since last year and forgot about it. might as well make it a little nicer. all digital since digital lets me ctrl+z & hue shift and i am one lazy man. used clipstudio paint to make it but you could probably do it in most drawing programs just as easily. here's the sketch in case anyone is interested. take care bioboys n girls until we meet again
  4. 13 points
    "The evil on this island is about to learn that justice can be very...cold." Sometimes it's nice to go back to where things all began.
  5. 13 points
    IC: As Merror drifted back into consciousness, the first thing he became aware of was that everything hurt. It was as though he’d been used as a giant’s Koli ball. The side of his head was particularly sore. What had happened? Where was he? He hadn’t yet managed to open his eyes. He racked his foggy mind for memories of the last few hours. There was something important, he was sure of it...something that had happened? Something he still had to do? Someone he had to — Vault. Abettor. Echelon. Makuta. Dorian. His eyes sprang open and he struggled to heave himself up. There was soil and leaf mould beneath his hands, a tree root poking into his leg. He managed to raise his torso off the ground, and looked around with groggy urgency. Trees surrounded him, stretching up to a star-dotted sky. No sign of the Fe-Toa. With further effort he rose to his feet. He gave his injuries a quick once-over: nothing serious, it appeared, just bruises and the occasional shallow cut. Reaching a hand over his shoulder revealed that one of his swords was missing. The other remained safely in its sheath. Good enough. “Dorian!” he shouted into the darkling forest. No reply but the rustle of a soft evening wind among the leaves. He began to move, searching the trees for some sign of the young man he’d come so far to help. “Dorian!” “Alriiiiight, alright,” came the sluggish reply. “I said don’t start cryin’ over me. Yeesh.” He found Dorian on his feet, but only just; the Toa of Iron had inched himself up a tree, with the slow, deliberate pace of a survivor trying to find his footing. There was already a cigarette in his mouth, but it hung unlit from a split bottom lip. His prosthetic Protosteel fingers were clicking uselessly at the battered lighter that had once belonged to Joske Nimil. The digits had none of their usual fluid grace. It only took a few steps until his eyes adjusted in the pale moonlight, and saw the truth of Dorian’s wounds. What had been serious within the heart of the Vault only minutes previously had turned grievous after their rough journey. The wound on his midriff had opened up considerably, and the pulses of blood were starting to slow between intervals. Dor’s eyes were feverish, but even through the shocked haze of Echelon’s death and Makuta’s return, there was a glimmer of something, hidden under the waves of callow cerulean, that Merror had never seen before. Relief. Wonder. Peace. “Alright,” he whispered, bending his head down to the lighter. The cigarette finally caught, and he sucked on it hard for a second, hissing onyx smoke through his teeth. “You caught me. It’s not...oxblood. All this excitement, guess I...might be a season...behind.” His legs spasmed under him, knees almost buckling; his back scraped the tree before the usually-limber Toa of Iron caught his balance. Merror darted forward instinctively as Dorian shuddered. As he stabilised, the Ta-Toa approached more slowly. “Dor…” In the back of his mind, it occurred to Merror that he’d never called him that before. “This isn’t good. We have to get you to a healer.” He offered the battered young Fe-Toa a supporting hand. Dorian looked at the hand for a long time, and his playful grin grew softer, more serene at the edges. His expression was almost pitying. Once again, the assassin was acting as if he had been let in on some secret, some private magic trick with a prestige that would wow everyone but him. Or like he had already accepted something that had not even entered Merror’s mind. “A healer…” he laughed quietly. His eyes drifted up to the sky above them. The day had passed them by while navigating Mangaia; by now it was midnight, an apt time for the horror they had just unwittingly awakened. But Makuta’s reach had not yet extended to the heavens - the moon was still out, shining a spotlight on Dorian Shaddix, and the stars were in his eyes. “I shouldn’t have kissed her. Tell her sorry for me.” Was he delirious? The Fe-Toa had most likely lost a lot of blood. Merror would have to take charge. “Come on.” He stepped forward, and slipped the proffered arm around Dorian’s back, supporting his shoulders. “You’re going to be all right, lad. I think Kini-Nui’s been resettled; they’ll have someone who can help. Maybe a Sana-user. We’ll get you patched up.” Dorian was still staring up into the sky, and he weakly tried to shrug away Merror’s arm from behind him. He had always been strong; strong and fast, and Merror could not understand why the Toa of Iron wasn’t fighting him more forcefully. Dorian had always hated being dragged around like this. “Listen to you,” he kept giggling, blood flowing from his busted lip, from his rent open core, from the teeth biting down on the edge of his smile. “So full...so full of #####. You and Jos.” His hand brushed his empty revolver, trembled slightly. “Why...didn’t he tell me?” Dor finished the rhetorical question with a curse. “Useless. Frickin’ useless. We...would have pranked his stupid ##### out of Bad Company. Or...led him into a tree when Xa-Koro blew. Told...Told him there were kittens to save up there.” He coughed. “He didn’t...tell me. Left...before me. I tried to…” Dor managed to climb to his own feet again, and shrugged Merror’s arm away from him. The blood was pouring out of him, but what little was left was still the blood of the Mark Bearers. He could stand. “Temple...of Peace. I buried him there. Facing the morning...sun. Couldn't...tell. Tell her. Kay?” Merror froze. He felt something drop in his stomach. “Dorian...you’re not saying…” … “...what happened?” he asked softly, returning to his slow stride. They had to keep moving. Dor turned to glare at him. His eyes rolled back into his head for a second - partially out of exertion, but partially… “I took care...of it...” Merror looked at him for a moment, uncomprehending. Then it clicked. “Echelon…” he breathed. Merror closed his eyes, hung his head as they trudged onward. It had happened again. One more good person, taken by that madman. One more person he couldn’t save. Even dead, snuffed out by his own dark master, he had still managed to remove another friend from Merror’s life. First it had been his team: young, naive, so sure they could take on the world. He had watched them die before his eyes. A lifetime later, Tamaru, plummeting from the Le-Koro treetops; catching him mid-fall, only for him to breathe his last on the lakeshore. Taipu too. Utu, that poor broken shell of a man, just another failed experiment to the Dark Toa. And now Joske too, the fiery young champion he’d seen transformed into a Toa, who he’d travelled with and tried to impart with what little wisdom he could offer. So young...all of them, so young. “Hmmm,” Dor hummed softly, peacefully. And now Dorian, Merror thought with a start, wrenching himself back out of that pit of sorrow. If he did not focus now, keep forging ahead with what strength the two of them could still muster, Dorian would join them. He would not — could not let that happen. He could not lose one more. “They’re pretty tonight,” the Fe-Toa said quietly, staring up into the stars. The stars glinted off his eyes, and Merror was shocked to see part of the light inside them was actually tears, shimmering in his eyes. By now, the gunslinger’s feet were dragging more than stepping; he tucked against Merror’s side, cigarette bobbing in his mouth as he swallowed hard. The cinders fell to earth from the stars. “How many are up there, Merror?” Dor asked, another rhetorical question posed only a hair above a whisker. “How many thousands? ...I did more things wrong...than there are stars in that sky tonight. P-Pew.” The Toa of Iron’s eyes closed tightly, to smother the threat of tears. He plucked the cigarette out of his mouth with what strength remained in his fingers - his real fingers - and crushed the embers out on a thumb. “I just...I just. Really...thought...I did this one right.” Dorian Shaddix’s breath left him in half a laugh and half a sniffle. Quietly, he slumped against Merror’s collarbone. ... “...Dorian?” … “...Dor?” ...
  6. 12 points
    So this one kid I'm working with is 9. He has a lot of difficulty saying vocalic /r/ (e.g. car, stir, bear, deer, etc.), but we've made some big strides in the last few months. He's also a major bookworm. Magic Treehouse, Minecraft novelizations... if you think a nine year old would read it, he's read it. Often we'll read passages from his favourite books and practice some good vocalic /r/ sounds. Today, to my surprise, he's waiting for me on the stairs clutching a familiar red book... Yes, friends, it was none other than BIONICLE Adventures #10: Time Trap Kid: Yeah, I really like this book. You're probably going to think some of the characters have really weird names. Me: 4_parallel_universes_ahead_of_you.png So the legend of Bionicle isn't quite dead yet, folks.
  7. 12 points
    OOC: Jam between Vezok's Friend and myself. IC: Tuara Drigton - Ta-Koro "We can stop by the healers, get your wrist treated properly and then find someplace nicer. What do you think?" Tuara glanced at Jaller again, but as quickly as their eyes met, Tuara turned away. This shame was not one she would soon forget. "Yeah." She sniffed. "That sounds good." As she stood up, she stopped at the door. Still not quite ready to look at Jaller again. "Thanks." "You're welcome. Talk again soon, alright?" "Yes, sir." * * * * * * I followed her to the door. Jaller and I exchanged another look, then he took a step back and Tuara and I left the cell. We didn’t speak as we made our way down the corridors to the infirmary, though I had plenty of questions. Dorian had taken off while I’d been at the morgue, I hadn’t seen Merror since before returning to the Koro, Joske has been absent even longer and I felt very much out of the loop in general. But I didn’t say anything. Everything I wanted to ask felt like it would be opening up too much, too fast all at once. Right here right now was way more important. Questions could wait. Tuara still knew the place like the back of her hand and a few minutes later we got to the infirmary. The healer on duty was an old Turaga I remembered even from my Matoran days in the guard. The old torch eyed us quizzically, immediately drawn to the scarf-turned-sling. We went through the usual pleasantries and for her medical report I improvised a story about some unruly inmate crushing her wrist with a table - which wasn’t even a lie. Guess it was good enough for her too–the old healer took it at face value, then asked Tuara to take a seat. She gently took of the sling and examined her wrist, harrumphing as she went about her work. Then she used her mask of healing to fix the worst of the break and made a splint for the rest, secured in place in tight wrapping. I watched, leaning against a table. As the Turaga put the wrapping on, I finally broke the silence again. “Will you be fine if we go back to your place?” I knew she and Dor had lived together for some time. She must’ve had a lot of memories in that place. But if that was the right thing right now, I couldn’t tell. “If not I’m still at the barracks. Would be no trouble finding you an extra spot there. Or we can skip town altogether. Go to...I dunno. Wherever is good for you.” Tuara looked on with a blank stare as the doctor made the final preparations for her splint, securing the wrapping with a small pin so it would stay in place. She gave Tuara a half-hearted wave, mumbling some message. Likely to not look for anymore fights in the near future. Tuara didn't feel much like answering, she had been lost in thought at Agni's question. The doctor waited for a response at first, but before too long she let out one last huff, turned around, and began cleaning her hands in a nearby basin instead. With a deep sigh, Tuara finally spoke. "I -" but she trailed off as slowly as she began. Her eyes narrowed, focusing on the other side of the table, carefully choosing her next words. With a sharp intake she started again, taking each word like a slow step, "I used to think that somehow, coming home to Ta-Koro was going to help me. I spent years mourning in Le-Koro, thinking that eventually I'd move on and finally come home. But when that day never came, I thought I could just force the issue, that I could just... change the scenery." Tuara finally looked back up at Agni, watching her carefully, listening intently. "Then after the Rahkshi attack, I told Dor that Ta-Koro was going to kill me too." She shook her head, biting down on her lip. "But I think what I'm finally starting to realize, is that no matter where I go, I've still got me: This... -" Her face twisted, and with her hand she gestured some wicked half-open fist, fingers warped and curled. "- this husk of a person. This corpse. I thought I could prop it up in some village somewhere, make it play house, or give it a job." She calmed down again, her posture softening once more, laying her hand on the table gently. "But it's dragging me through the filth and the #####, trying to choke me in it." "I don't think it matters where I go, Agni." Her eyes became suddenly very focused, her crown stern. "But if you'll let me, I'd like to go to the house. There's something I want to do." “Yeah. I mean yeah of course.” I replied. The words came a little slower as something clicked in my brain. The way she talked about herself- if someone else had done all that to her I sure would want to burn them to ashes... I was starting to get the picture. At least a glimpse of it. I nodded. “We done here?” I asked the healer. The Turaga nodded. “Yes, but take it easy, alright?” “That’s the plan.” * * * * * * Tuara was back on her feet and we left the infirmary and soon after the headquarters, stepping into Ta-Koro’s streets. “Don’t think I ever saw your place from the inside. Always too busy to visit.” That was my attempt at conversation. As the pair stepped out into the hot open air, Tuara took a deep breath and looked around. Matoran at work, travelers in the market, and the ever-watchful eye of the Guard watching over them all. However, something was different now. News among some of the guard had surely spread now, since the usual nods or half-smiles were now accompanied by tighter lips and sterner eyes. "We should have invited you." She turned her face to his as they walked, giving him a soft smile. "Never seemed to be a good time, I guess. Sorry this isn't any better." "It's alright." I returned a glare coming our way with one of my own. I wasn't in the mood for rumors. We soon reached the residential areas and not long after the house. In my mind I was still debating if this was the best thing to do right now. But she'd wanted to come here and that meant it was worth doing, even if it might be painful. I tried to suppress my uncertainty but some probably showed through. "Well then...here we are." Tuara paused for a moment, staring at the wooden door. "Here we are." She repeated coldly. With a shaky breath out, she reached forward and gripped the knob, twisting it in her hand before giving it a shove open. They stepped through the door-way inside. The hot air seemed much stiller in here than usual, and Tuara moved to the living room to open the shutters and let in some air-flow. Behind her was Dorian's piano, keys torn apart from his fight weeks earlier. Just beyond the grand was the couch, a pillow and blanket lazily pushed into the corner: Kitea's sleeping arrangements. To the right of the entrance was the kitchen, an open bottle of rum from that very morning on the counter, some other bottles shoved against the wall behind it from days before. Tuara looked back at Agni, putting her hands together and picking at her fingertips. He was still in the doorway. She could tell by his expression that he wasn't totally convinced it was the right call to come here. He was a little tense and unsure. Avoiding the subject she awkwardly entered host mode, stammering a little as she asked, "Are you hungry? Can I get you something to drink?" "Just water, thanks." I said. One of the stupid things about doing this job for so long was that it was really hard to switch off the detective mode. I'd immediately taken note of the cot in the corner and the state and details in the room, as if looking at a crime scene. Technically it was, considering we'd just put her brother in the slammer. But I really didn't want to deal with that case any more today than needed. So I made a mental note for later and ignored as much as possible, making sure not to disturb the place too much. "But please, don't let me get in the way. I can find a glass. You do what you have to. I'll be right here if you need me." Tuara stepped past the piano and into the kitchen anyways, pulling a glass from the cupboard and filling it. She handed it to him before turning her own attention to the counter-top. She picked up the empty rum bottle, staring at it intently. Her hand started to shake. "Do you believe I can change, Agni?" I was quiet for a few seconds. Scenes started playing before my mind's eye. A certain fateful attempt at making pancakes together with some other young and unruly Toa that had undergone their own transformations since, and a very strong exit by Tuara. Her question hit as hard as the elbows she'd thrown that day. I doubted the word softball was in her vocabulary. #####. The smile forced its way onto my face as inevitably as the next sunrise. "Yeah. I do." I said. And I meant it. "Who knows. You might have already started." I held out a hand, inclining my head slightly to signal her to pass me the bottle. "Don't need to tell you it's not gonna be easy. In fact, it's probably gonna suck. But that's when you dig in and keep moving, right?" I tried to look encouraging, but that last bit...my hand and the smile dropped somewhat. "Sorry...that was about as useful as those motivational posters Jaller plastered all over the office." I sighed, frustrated at the blanks I kept drawing when it came to actually being helpful. Tuara looked at outstretched hand grimly, then back up at Agni's eyes. He wasn't the easiest read in the Guard - or on the island even - but the years they had spent together had given her enough experience to know he was being earnest. "You're right." She nodded as if to herself and handed him the bottle. "It's going to be heII." "But I'm glad you're here with me Agni." She crouched down, kneeling in front of the liquor cabinet, gingerly pulling it open. Her hand curled into a fist as she looked at the contents, reaching for the nearest bottle of bourbon. "I don't think I could do this if you weren't." She stared at the drink, swishing the liquid inside around, watching it splash into itself. Tuara felt her heart rise up into her throat, and the shaking got worse. Just when Agni seemed about to speak, she acted. Tuara stood up, brought the bottle up to her head and threw it across the kitchen into the stone wall. It shattered, glass and liquor flying everywhere. Her shoulders shuddered as she choked back something, but she quickly bent down to find another one. She spoke through grit teeth, her voice soft but hoarse. “I survived the Mark Bearers.” With another great swing, the next bottle crashed against the same wall. “I survived torture.” Tuara made a noise and despite her teary eyes she sent it flying too. “I survived the Rahkshi!” Glass rained down, the smell of alcohol filled the room, and she continued. She indiscriminately was reaching for the swill now, grabbing the closest one and sending it to a wasteful fate one at a time. A few short violent moments later, and all that could be heard was the sound of liquid running down her wall into the sink, and her heavy labored breathing. She held the final bottle, the shaking in her hand getting stronger and stronger. Her shoulders were hunched over, and in her chest her heart yearned to escape, thoom-thooming off her rib-cage. She was spinning, something inside of her swirling, her head pounding harder than her heart. "I'll. Survive. Me. Too!" Tuara wound up again, and with a sudden burst of fire and fury she put it to the floor. Shards flew to the kitchen walls, vodka splashed against her feet and legs, Agni covered his eyes as not to be hurt by the flying debris, but Tuara watched, eyes wide open. Every drop was gone, and she was still there. A husk in a mess, but there nonetheless. Maybe my being here helped, but this push - that had all been her. I ached thinking about how long she'd been carrying the weight of her struggles on her shoulders. And it had been just her. Sure we were all friends or more. I knew Dor had tried, but the baggage he carried probably outweighed most of ours combined. Joske on some spirit-given scavenger hunt all over the island, expected to take on whatever prime henchman was leading the bad guys at the moment. Cael one step behind, picking up after him and willing to take on death itself. Me, Merror and Jaller, three duty-bound grumpy old men playing by a rule book I wasn't sure was even in print anymore. All our other friends - between destiny-ordained quests and our own troubles, how much had we lost sight of each other? "You've been fighting your battles alone for a long time now. I'm sorry I -we- weren't there for you sooner." When first bottle shattered. I watched the carnage unfold with relief. The tension that had built up somewhere around my diaphragm dissolved, as if witnessing the end of a tense Kolhii match with your team making the winning score in the last second. Except this felt much better. It wasn't just the bottles breaking, something else had finally given way as well for her. That's the spirit - was the spirits? I thought, looking at the liquid splattered across the kitchen wall. I grabbed a drying rag from the counter for her to clean her hands and stepped up beside her, placing my right across her shoulders. "I'm proud of you." Tuara took the rag and wiped her hands with it, still shaking. "I never knew to ask for help." She shook her head, looking down at her feet. After a moment of breathing, Tuara looked over to the wall and the floor and stepped over to clean it up. "I don't know I would have if I did." "Well...all I'm saying is: Maybe we could all do with a little change for the better." I commented, moving up to help with the cleanup. "Broom?" I asked. She nodded, indicating a closet. I found the broom and got to work. We spent the next couple of minutes quietly, with just the rattle of broken glass as we swept up her efforts. In the end we had amassed a sizable pile of the stuff. I twirled the broom in my hand and harrumphed. "What?" Tuara asked. "What a waste..." I said. Her eyes widened at that, as if I was lamenting the liquid that had seeped into the floor. "Not the drinks." I said, pointing at the pile. "The glass." I picked up the shard she was now eyeing and took it in my hand, careful not to cut myself on the sharp edges. Then, I began to heat it up, gradually, until the clear material began to melt, glowing orange hot. The temperature wasn't an issue for the likes of us. As the shard became soft, I started to flex my fingers, shaping the previously rigid material into a lump. I looked at Tuara, then pointed my chin at the pile. "How about it?" Tuara looked back at the lump in Agni's hand carefully. She reached for it and took it herself, feeling the hot putty in her palm. She began to add her own heat, using her own fingertips to flatten it out. It took considerable force at first, but as the temperature continued to rise it became much more malleable. She rounded out the thinner edges carefully, kneading the flat edge turning it into a small disc, no bigger than a widget. As she began to absorb the heat, the pair watched as it cooled, a smooth sheen returning to its surface. She held it out, in her bruised palm, the light blue glass reflected off the lights of the room. I nodding approvingly, watching the reflected light dance across the room. Now she had a reminder, something to mark the occasion. "Good." We watched the reflections a little longer, then I gently cupped her hands in mine and pushed them close around the disk. "You hang on to that." Tuara hoped that she could. “Listen, why don’t you leave the rest of the cleaning to me, hm? It’s been one of a day. Go get some rest.” There was a hint of uncertainty in her eyes. “No worries, I’ll stick around. I’m not going anywhere.” * * * * * *
  8. 12 points
    IC: He found the old man underneath the stars, contemplating, with two cigar between his callused fingers. It was the first face he’d seen in days; since the chosen few had boarded the arks from Xa-Koro, with Dorian being the last to have his ticket punched, he had sealed himself off from the rest of Aurelia’s anointed ones into his own cabin, and had not departed in days. The lithe figure that emerged and sidled up to the Colonel looked almost like the glorious lieutenant he’d been a week earlier – the swelling was subsiding, his movements were less shambling, bones had been set and scrapes gauzed up. By now Dorian Shaddix looked less like a man who had been beaten into a mound of flesh and left to slither for his life in the dirt of a doomed civilization, and more like a very, very well-off young daredevil who had just botched a stunt on a Gukko bird. At forty thousand feet. He was still clearly getting the hang of being back on his legs, and the slouch he took beside Brykon came with a relieved exhale. “Hey,” he said simply. His voice was raw from days of disuse. Brykon’s face was expressionless, but he flipped the cigar once between his fingers and held it out to Dorian. “Take it,” his commander instructed harshly. “It’s not for the rank and file. You may not have taste in clothes but you’ve got a taste for vice. How are your fingers? Can you cut?” “I could probably manage butter,” Dorian replied, a little sullenly. “In Po-Wahi.” Brykon’s mouth hardly quirked, but he did take an old, improvised-looking cigar cutter and beheaded the cigar at a few millimeters with the makeshift guillotine. He gave Dor a light, too, and the lieutenant of Bad Company took a long drag on it and puffed. His eyes widened, and he coughed slightly. “Whaaaat the #####?” he rasped. “What is this?” The old man’s laugh was metallic and coarse, like worn old widgets in a purse. There were some notes of humor in it, as potent as the notes of vanilla in the exhale Dorian had taken. “It’s a specialty I’m working on. A man needs a retirement plan for the day his muscles get stiff, his eyesight goes bad, and his stomach starts roiling when he spills some blood. I’m thinking of cigars.” Dorian eyed the old man curiously and took another puff. Now that he knew what to expect, his tongue clucked curiously. “That’s good.” “I’ll send you a box sometime.” Brykon stared up into the stars, face inscrutable as ever. Dorian found himself staring into the crags and contours, as he had so many times, and was surprised at how comforting he still found them, even after everything. He felt like a mountain climber in an old, familiar range, where even the dangers were old friends. “I’ve been waiting for you.” “Yeah?” “Mm. You and your restless legs. Like the whole island is just one big field trip, and you keep on finding stops while your life passes you by. While the world moves on.” Brykon took a puff on his own cigar, synchronized with Dor’s; the two Toa of Iron silently pieced together makeshift constellations from the stars. It was midnight, and their smoke was the only cloud cover. “I know you, Dorian. I know what happened to Xa-Koro bothers you. I can see it on your face.” “Colonel, what happened happen—” “Quiet, boy. We did what we did, I know that. I said I can see it bothers you. Do you think I plan on selling these death-sticks tomorrow? I saw you and Grokk going out for your boys’ nights, tearing up the length of the city. I saw how many nights Illicia’s bunk was empty. I see how Jin and Liacada look at you, then and now. You think you wouldn’t be in my shoes if I didn’t see you coming?” “I don’t want to be in your shoes,” Dorian replied quietly. Brykon stared at him and puffed again; the old man cleared his throat, rubbed by old cigars and bad gin into a hollow with the consistency of an old wallet. “I know. Like I said, it bothers you. You want out?” “No.” “Quiet. If you and me and Jin and Grokk all worked at a Kolhii goods store, you’d be happy. It’s people that bind you, boy, not the jobs. It’s people that will lead you astray. ” Brykon’s cigar was wedged tight between his teeth, distorting the words in his poem. “Aurelia knows it. Much as those dreams she has about you thrill her at night, she knows you don’t tell her anything you haven’t said in a hundred girls’ ears. So she gives me the marching orders and I pass them to you, because she knows whose tune can make you dance. If she asked you to light that match, knowing there was gas in there to blow those islands to Artakha, would you have done it?” Dorian was quiet for a moment, as though he was caught in some trap where the only mode of survival was to gnaw through his ankle. “No, I wouldn’t have.” “You’re the highest paid killer on the island, and you won’t kill for money?” “But everyone in a Koro—” “If you did a circuit around the island, six Koros, six kills, six days, in three months you’d have—” “It’s not a math problem!” Dorian replied; the boy was getting heated. “There was no sport in that. That wasn’t even conquest. Nobody kept anything.” “How many of your conquests have you kept around?” Brykon snorted, barreling over Dor’s response. “If a thing is only a conquest once it lasts, nobody could be called a conqueror for long. No. We did a , despicable thing, Dorian, and we’re on our way to do another. Look, say some brute on one of these boats gets cold feet. Maybe he was on the wrong end of a fight. Maybe he misses a girl or a boy he left at home. Say he’s made some powerful enemy on board and he decides to visit Gukko Force headquarters on shore leave. What do you do?” Dorian’s response was predictable, the assassin’s code of honor. “He’s snitching. He’s a coward. We’re paid to kill cowards.” “He is, and we are. He brings plans to sink Ta-Koro back into the volcano. What then?” Dorian’s mouth was open to respond but fell silent. He sucked on his cigar and finally, visibly, grew contemplative along with his mentor. “Two actions, two motivations. Saving a village, but only because you had to save your own #####. Do you get credit for that? How do you know if it’s cowardice or atonement?” Dorian exhaled the puff he’d been holding in. “We don’t know. Only he does.” “Right,” Brykon said proudly. “Businessmen are rarely conquerors, Dorian. Either of us could crush the skulls of Aurelia and all her ilk if we so cared, and we might never face the consequences. But we’re soldiers of fortune and buying us is easy and safe. Whatever they needed Xa-Koro gone for, and whatever they need this next job done for, the consequences can’t be bought, negotiated, or written about in the minutes of the Cultured Gentry. So it’s conquerors that they choose to hire. They won’t care about the people we conquer. The soldiers won’t care, they just want a slice of what we take. You just take orders, too, and I know you’d do your job. But I also know you care. Don’t you?” Silence. “Don’t you?” “Yeah,” said Dorian, reluctantly. Brykon put a hand on the younger Fe-Toa’s shoulder; he flinched, but not away from the contact. “Redemption is only ever individual, Dor,” the old man said softly, his parchment-thin voice shaky. “It’s not rainwater. Yours won’t land on all of us. Only you. So pray for rain or don’t, but just be prepared to go it alone. You understand me? Hey. You understand?” Dorian had been moved beyond words, and underneath his black eyes the iridescent blue was tearful. He nodded faintly, pursing his lips around the cigar. “Good,” said Brykon Senegal quietly. “Then that’s my poem for tonight. You taste the vanilla?” “Yeah.” Dorian chewed the cigar thoughtfully, looking back up into the constellation and hoping to lose himself there. “I guess I’m not too young for my own retirement plan.” Brykon barked in laughter. “I guess you’re not, too. Well, I got the market cornered on these here cigars. But maybe you could go for some whiskey.” Dor smiled wistfully. “I could definitely go for whiskey,” he murmured. ... The storm had raged for an hour now. If he was a betting man, he would wager that Makuta was still attempting to test the limits of his power; no doubt the dark force that they had watched consume Echelon would be wroth at how his attempt at bluster fell short just outside Kini-Nui. But only one of the two heroes was a betting man, and he was currently still unconscious, body and mind no doubt spent from the ordeal of the past few days - or, given the very particular body and mind, the last lifetime. Dorian had exhausted himself time and again in the pursuit of atonement. He had pulled the Toa of Iron into a makeshift shelter while the storm raged and begun to work on a fire. He still had some of his old power, but Merror felt it oddly invigorating to test the new physical limits of his body. Starting a fire by hand felt so unfamiliar Merror almost lapsed into thinking he'd never done it before. Dorian had a lighter around his neck, a bloodstained, pitted thing that the Turaga knew had once belonged to Joske. He had been wearing it since his drunken confession in Le-Koro, in what seemed like the time before time; the boy had carried that weight on his shoulders since then, and likely before. The lighter was a sign of the bond he and Joske had shared. However this phase of his journey ended, Merror resolved to let Dor rest for now. The boy had heart, and made up in courage what he lacked in sense and patience. It was a fearlessness even Joske lacked; at least Joske had fretted over losing Cael. Dorian could lose everything, and it would only steel his nerve. That kind of drive deserved commendation, but it also exhausted the soul. Yes. It was best to let the boy rest. He must have just been resting. Merror had to believe it worked. It was his destiny. ... “Oh my God,” the waitress hissed to her best friend, the bartender, “that’s really him!” “No way.” “He’s a Toa of Iron!” “Lots of people are, my dad was a Toa of Iron—” “He’s wearing leather pants!” “Oh." “Girl,” the lucky waitress admonished, hissing low so her exclamation didn’t become a squeal. “I saw his eyes. They are so blue.” “Holy Mata Nui—" “--we’re serving Dorian Shaddix!” Since the fall of Ko-Koro, there had been a dearth of good news for the inhabitants of the frigid Wahi that was the village’s namesake. Every day the banter at the hearth would center around the confirmed casualties, the latest on mercenary movements to the fallen Koro’s zealously guarded gates, or the vile rumors about what was happening to the citizens trapped inside by Echelon. The only places of refuge were the secondary Koros and outposts, once used by Sanctum Guardsmen and mountain climbers for long arctic voyages away from Ko-Koro; the only bright spots in those days were the occasional Matoran refugees who came filtering in, carrying small nuggets of information and outlandish tales of escape. Now and then there would be some hero, an adventurer or new Toa who wanted to make a name for himself by storming the gates himself. They never came back for a return trip. The Toa Maru hadn’t shown their faces either, though there were rumors now and again that they were operating in the area. The waitress had to believe that was true. In the old days, when Matoro was still Akiri, she had been to a commencement address that had been held in Ko-Koro for Ambages, the Hand – another who was now allegedly gone, murdered by Makuta’s forces under a flag of peace. He hadn’t been the only beneficiary, however. Two of the Toa Maru had attended. Noble, mystic Stannis, with his sad grey eyes, had been far more handsome than anyone had led her to believe. The memory of his jawline alone… There was Reordin, too, the renegade lieutenant, the hero of the Rama Hive, the people’s Maru. Rarely had a man ever looked so good in uniform – and unlike most of the Maru, who had all come from military backgrounds, Reo had not abandoned his roots. The way that Muaka’s fur on his collar had framed his own jaw, his proud cheeks, the cutting smirk or inscrutable blue of his eyes…they were all etched into her memory, every frozen, perfect detail that still kept her up at night. Blue eyes were the best. Joske Nimil’s were blue, too, weren’t they? And so were Dorian’s. And here she was, keeping him waiting on an order! Oh, no… It was a crowded hall, full of witnesses, but the young woman realized with a flutter in her stomach that would hardly save her if it came to that. Dorian Shaddix didn’t fear doing anything to anyone. He was mad, bad, and dangerous to know – the island’s most infamous killer, now allegedly working for the heroes. It was hard to believe, but it made for a better origin story, right? Heroes with dark sides were even hotter than their counterparts. That was why, everyone agreed, Oreius Maru was the next hottest after Reo. If the merch sales in the bazaars of Po-Koro were anything to go by, at least. Even Korero is…kind of a clean-cut cute, I guess… “It’s…bourbon, right? With…no ice?” The order was legendary, so the waitress didn’t know why she’d bothered phrasing it as a question. “And you want…” “Another beer’s fine,” said the gruff Toa sitting across from him. He was older than Dorian, and shrugged his shoulders as if he didn’t even know how he’d wound up here. “Anything you got. I know times are tough.” “Right. Yeah, they are. But that’s—” She broke off, staring into his eyes. They weren’t just blue, they were purple, rimmed with sleeplessness and faint bruising at the edges. He looked tortured; the waitress wondered what it would take to ease that anguish, and how many girls had been roped into attempting. They had to have known it wouldn’t last. She knew that, too. But boys weren’t beautiful because they lasted, or even because they were good people. For a lot of them that wasn’t the case at all. Boys are beautiful because the Great Spirit hates girls, and wanted to inflict them on us. She knew she should have gone and returned the order immediately – why keep a pair of mercenaries like that waiting? – but something in her knew she would never get this chance again. She leaned in closer, so that the rest of the patrons wouldn’t hear her question. “Did you…” she trailed off, as if there was more than one way to ask the question burning in the hearts of everyone on Mata Nui, “…kill Vakama?” She had heard how the Mark Bearers eyes had used to glow in the face of emotion. Dorian Shaddix had been rage – everyone knew that. His eyes and tattoo were supposed to have been blue. She had no idea how any pair of eyes could glow more than they already did…but maybe the question had infuriated him, and his Mark was working as they spoke. “Yeah.” The cigarette in his mouth, unlit, bobbed when he frowned. “Duh.” Holy . “Well…are you going to kill Echelon?” “That’s the plan. Knock ‘em dead. But, uh,” he cocked his head, “I’m gonna need bourbon to do it. So…” The waitress’ posture went ramrod, as she’d used to watch the soldiers do at home in Ko-Koro. Then she inclined her head respectfully at both Toa and scurried off, heart racing at the fact that she’d really survived. … Dor’s incredulous glance moved from the retreating waitress to his companion. “Here I thought that stupid old man was going to haunt me until I died. Why isn’t anyone I know like that? Do strangers really forgive you that fast if you’re hot?” “I wouldn’t know, but it checks out,” Cipher Compassrose said. The Su-Toa shrugged ambivalently and drained the rest of his first beer, foam clinging to his lips. “If it helps, I still think it was pretty heinous.” “You get paid enough not to think that. Which reminds me, hey.” Dor grabbed a napkin from the corner of the table and pulled it over to him with his fingertips. “You got something to write with?” “Maybe. I’ll check.” Cipher began rummaging through the pockets of the disheveled jacket that had once belonged to his best friend, presumably for some utensil that he’d lifted off Dor over the years. “Can you write with an eraser?” “You might not want me to. I’m writing my will.” Cipher exhaled through his teeth. “That’s a little dramatic.” “I buried my friend tonight. He had a destiny way bigger than whatever mine is. I should start thinking about these things.” “Nothing’s going to happen to you.” “I’m giving you all the money I made off of giving Bad Company to the Akiri.” “Well, would you look at this? You should’ve warned me this thing had inside pockets too. One pen, coming up. This is good thinking, you know. Never hurts to have a plan for the future.” Dorian stared at Cipher for a long moment, as if he was somewhere else with someone else, before rolling his eyes. He cupped a hand around the cigarette pursed in his mouth and lit it. He looked down at the napkin for a long, long time before deciding that there was a simple way to word this. No legalese, no pretense, no personal messages to those he was leaving behind; after all, who was going to know until it was over? Instead, the Toa of Iron chewed on the end of the quill and scribbled out a short, sweet last testament. CIPHER GETS EVERYTHING -DOR “There. Now don’t go losing that, it’s got my autograph,” Dor said through the beginnings of a cheeky grin, sliding the legal document over to Cipher. He looked at the napkin as if Dorian had thrown up on it. “Lotta good this is going to do me when I’m dead in Mangaia, too,” Cipher drawled, pocketing the napkin in the driest part of the jacket. “At least I’ll know I could’ve been rich.” “You’re not going to Mangaia.” Dor was staring at the table. Silence fell over the table. The waitress came back, a smile full of nervous energy contorting her face, and set their drinks down. Dorian’s bourbon was down the hatch in a second. “Do you want anot—” “You should go,” the Toa of Plasma cut in, a slight note of warning in his voice. The waitress’ eyes widened at the implication. Everyone had heard about Dorian Shaddix’s bar-destroying meltdown in Le-Koro years ago, after all. Suddenly, the myth of Dorian Shaddix was growing very, very lifelike in front of her; the truth was starting to catch up to his image. “Now,” Cipher insisted. She scurried off, and there was silence again. “I’m not letting you go down there alone.” “You’ve never let me do something once in my life,” Dorian replied heatedly. “I go, I see, I conquer. You’ve never been mad about us taking off in different directions before.” “This is different, Dor.” “Why? Why would it be different if I’m not about to die trying?” the young Toa’s asked, voice continuing to raise. “You were the one who said—” “And you said I wouldn’t! What, you don’t believe that? C’mon, Ciph! Are you gonna need to cash that napkin in or not?” “Maybe I wouldn’t if you weren’t so stubborn about this! You just buried your friend, you should know what charging in half-cocked could—” The empty bourbon glass went flying. Cipher wore a Calix as well, so whether Dor meant to hit him or not he failed; instead, the glass whizzed by multiple heads and shattered in the fire of the hearth. A chorus of outcry started to rise up as people checked to make sure they hadn’t been cut. Dorian had already risen up on his heel and turned to march outside, hands tucked under his arms in the face of the snow. Cipher followed. Figured that now, of all times, he wouldn’t get lost. Not that the Toa of Plasma didn't hang back. He stood a few steps away,, watching Dorian tremble with cold and rage. His breath was leaving him in increasingly rapid puffs, wisps of frost that dissipated in the wind. Like a man who saw ghosts, Cipher wondered if he had ever seen them at all. Dorian's moods had always been ephemeral, removed from the realities and attitudes of normal people. Had his rage ever been there at all? His sadness? How many things had he cried over that were worth sobbing for again? Had he ever really been happy? Cipher asked himself. When Dor spoke, his best friend feared he knew the answer. "What good does it do anyone to make me live like this?" Dorian asked, with eyes gone blank as Joske's. "Why am I taking self-help lessons from people who never did the things I did? Who never had to climb back from where I fell? He was right. In the end, it only ever falls on me. What does it matter if--" He broke off. "I would do it myself if I could. But I can't. It--It feels like giving up. If Echelon does it, then...there's no giving up. I just lost. That's not as bad, right?" Cipher said nothing. The rain was falling on Dorian, and only Dorian; droplets steamed when they hit the snow. "Will you just ##### tell me I'm right?" he asked. His young voice cracked. Cipher chewed his lip and looked down to the snow. "You're gonna do what you wanna do, man," the worn Toa of Plasma said to the banks. "You always do." "I do." The two brothers stood, staring at each other; Dor's shoulders hunched forward, struggling against his new backbone, trying to hold back an outburst with a maturity he had once lacked. Cipher seemed ramrod, solid as always...but when the two found themselves embracing, Dor could tell he needed the support too. "Catch you 'round the way, then, brother," Cipher said into Dor's shoulder. It was shaking softly as the gunslinger cried, then cleared his throat. "Yeah. Head for Ta-Koro on your way back," Dor sniffed. "That way we'll probably meet in Ga." They both laughed, and Cipher thumped Dorian on his back with a fist. He had managed to shuffle the jacket so it slung over Dor's shoulder, cushioning his traps with the accessory. "You know something?" Dorian mused quietly, voice calming down. "If we ran it back today? I bet the two of us would smoke that ##### ." Cipher chuckled again. "Like Rannare weed, brother." ... The storm had died out. As Merror had anticipated, Makuta had tired himself quickly in his attempt to reassert control over the domain that was once his. He found some degree of peace in that, beyond the satisfaction of knowing that the darkness would have a more difficult return than perhaps anticipated. The winds that had been approaching gale force hours earlier had eased now into a pleasant breeze; it almost felt like the guiding hand of Mata Nui that streaked across Merror's face, and not the tendrils of his malevolent brother. Dorian still hadn't woken up yet. That wasn't so surprising, but doubts began to wriggle into his mind, like the worms from the soil as the rain subsided. He had no idea how long something like this took. Obviously he had never pried for specifics from Joske or Cael. Those wounds ran too deep, too visibly on their faces, to ever be picked at safely. Dor could be asleep for another hour, or for a day. Perhaps he would never wake up, and all he had bought was the young man's life - life in its simplest form. It seemed cruel to bring back a Dorian Shaddix who would never be able to laugh, never embarrass his elders in front of others or win a bartender's heart with a single smile. Merror had never understood what it was people loved about that smile until he had seen it as Echelon was dying - a bright, exhilarated grin, lacking in malice yet full of warmth. What if the sun rose in a few hours, but there was no warmth in the light? Would it even be worth it? No. Dorian had to wake. And soon. He was probably just thinking of something clever to say. ... “If you stay here, you will pass on. I can't tell you where; all I know is that you will leave Mata Nui forever. But I've come to collect you, Cael: if you come with me, you can choose to return.” “Does... does everyone get this choice?” “It doesn't matter.” The First Toa smiled. “But you do, and that's all that matters.” How long had he been here by now? Days? Months? Years? Cael had been right; time flowed differently here, at the crossroads, where everything ceased to matter. Eventually he had stopped tallying, for fear of going mad with the realization of how much time had passed him by. The idea of those he loved eventually going on was comforting, but naturally frightening, too. He had lived most of his life under the auspices of fame, and the idea of eventually fading to legend as the First Toa had came with mixed emotions. Still...those were problems for the world below him. Time flowed differently; for the first time in a long time he had been at peace, whether he had been dead for fifteen minutes or fifteen centuries. At least, that had been the case when he arrived. Telling time had become impossible, now that Dorian was here and able to talk forever. Joske sighed. "I learned this one from a Vortixx named Marfoir, one drunken night in the Final Problem at Xa-Koro," the Toa of Iron crowed, body unnaturally balanced from the tips of his feet against the wall to his wrists propped on the pool table. "I watched him cut through three homeless vagrants with a single shot from this pose. Later he taught me how to adjust it for the pool table." "So you learned how to bank three stripes from the murder of three hobos." "If they didn't want to be homeless, why didn't they buy homes?" Dor asked rhetorically, cue probing between his knuckles somewhat suggestively. "A year after that it was banned from competition in all six Wahi." "You cheated in a tourney?" Joske asked. "Well...no." Dorian screwed up his mouth to one side, looking faintly sheepish, as though he'd had something to do with the crime - or had just never thought to take up a career playing snooker and was realizing how much legit money he'd missed out on. "Marfoir blew half of Matau's head off. But that was another life. I'm done using my talents for evil. Only for money." "That still sounds just like mercenary work." At first he'd had the strength to banter back, but by now they had settled into their routine. Routine was a dangerous thing to have in purgatory -- Dor's cheeky name for what, to him, clearly resembled the Lavapool Inn, "but with more pool tables and less Tuara drooling on the bar." Joske had sworn he'd come to on the Kolhii pitch in Ta-Koro, with the heat of the volcano and the emptiness of the stands weighing on his chest. Neither of their experiences seemed to match up with the blank canvas that Cael had described, and he had said as much to Dorian after a few drinks of bourbon too many. Dor shrugged, grinned, and cracked a joke like he always did: "She was an easy one. They're probably up there weighing our deeds against a feather." He had gestured upstairs ambiguously with his pool cue, and Joske immediately knew what he meant. Both of them had seen the Lavapool enough in life to know, instinctively, that there was nothing up there but rooms for rent. Both of the two Toa, one a reformed womanizer and one making a solid crack at it, had spent enough time up there to know there was nothing up there but hazy, drunken memories. Yet somehow neither of them had been brave enough to venture up into the old, familiar halls of the second floor. They had just stuck to the ground floor, playing pool with the same results. Routine. Dorian banked the last three stripes, as Joske knew he would. Dorian loved to treat each victory like his first, though, kicking off from the wall and spinning the chalk between his fingers with a victorious whoop! and a smile. The Toa of Fire groaned. "You're getting better, Jos. Give it another three hundred and you'll go far with this game. Let's see, so we'll add one more tally mark, that's a five, so diagonal--" "I'm going to the Air Kolhii table." "--don't be a baby, so that's 195--" Dor was scribbling furiously on the chalkboard, blocking it from view. "You said we'd play Air Kolhii at 69." "--nice--" Joske groaned. "...Nice. And then again at 100." "--to 3! Another victory for the Young Conqueror" Dorian moved away from the chalkboard with a grand gesture, revealing a battalion of tally marks under the "KILLED ECHELON" column; the soldiers in Dor's army were swelling up faster than his ego, with only occasional - possibly intentional - defeats at the hands of the suicide squad under "DIDN'T KILL ECHELON." At least it beat "SECURED THE BAG" and "FUMBLED THE BAG." Joske had suggested "WOKE MAKUTA" and "DIDN'T," but Dorian had pouted at that and reminded him that he'd had no fair warning of what would happen if the Vault was opened. Which was fair enough. He had also shot down "CAEL'S HOTTER" vs. "TUARA'S HOTTER" on the basis of feminism and not pitting strong women against each other, which got a little more of an eye roll out of Joske when one considered their track records with women. Try as he might to deny it, he had missed this. Dorian had always been good for laughs - and they were both beyond talking shop. "And again at 150," Joske finished. "Air Kolhii. Or I turn to guerrilla warfare and start burning divots into the table, Young Conqueror." That made Dor pout again, and he balanced one elbow on his cue and clasped his hands together. "You know, you could at least let me have this. You're gonna be out of here any time," he mused. "195 to 3 is respectable for someone who sucks at everything. Up there," Dor jerked his head towards the dreaded staircase by the bar, "they're probably ripping me to shreds." Joske had to admit that was true, but he wanted to reassure Dor somehow about the struggle for atonement, the equivalent weight of good deeds for their own sake, motivating yourself to change. He hated hearing it, though, just like Joske got sick of hearing jokes about performing animal rescues and wearing tights and a cape. "Fine," the Toa of Iron continued. "Air Kolhii. Lucky for you, I learned from the best players of real Kolhii on how to function with a Kolhii striker, and--" "Really? I don't remember teaching you a thing, pretty boy. Have you been hoarding autographs of me somewhere? Or just watching from afar?" "Nah, 'cause I learned from the guys who juked you out at that final in Ga-Koro three years ago." "Prick!" "Poor Joske, couldn't stand a chance," Dor tutted softly. "You were never going to kill Echelon with those snapped ankles." "Well, now I want you to go to Karz." Dorian grinned and opened his mouth to return banter when a voice rang out from upstairs. "Paid in full." Joske understood what it meant immediately, and a smile drew across his own face. Dorian, ignorant of what he had gone through to save Cael, looked suddenly anxious. Before-- "Were we supposed to be paying for these drinks?" Joske laughed, both in amusement and at wonder. Truly, Dorian got all the luck; he held no bitterness, no resentment over the Toa of Iron's fortune. If anything, it gladdened his heart to know that someone down there had seen in Dor what Joske saw. Someone capable of more good than any mercenary, zealot, ally, or even the man himself would ever believe. Joske stepped forward and bumped a fist against Dor's shoulder. "I'll pick up the tab. You're needed elsewhere." Dor didn't understand. Or he was playing dense. "You're right. No time to go upstairs. Air Kolhii in thirty seconds. Just you wait, my wrist action is perfect. I could take my Calix off and nail it to my own hand and I'd still have reflexes that could dazzle you. 195 to 3? You're gonna long for the days of 195--" "Next time," Joske interrupted. "Next time you're 'round the way, Dor. You're being called back." ... "No." "Yes." "No." "Yes." "No!" "You don't get to argue over it, I didn't resurrect you." "Tell them to stop!" "I'm dead, too." "Yell upstairs!" "They didn't get a choice, either." ... "Paid in full," the voice said, more forcefully. "No!" "Yes." "No!" "No." "Ye--!" "You fell for that? I think you've hit the bourbon a little heavy, Dor. Go back to Mata Nui and clear your head. Take two Bula and call Cael in the morning." Dorian chewed his lip, eyes glowing angrily. He looked fit to snap the pool cue and charge upstairs with the splintered halves akimbo. As his gaze roved around the bar, searching for other improvised weapons he could use to charge the powers that be, he squinted. Joske turned to look, and even for a one-time Toa of Light, the sheer whiteness of the glow outside the Lavapool's boundaries made shielding his eyes a necessity. That was it, then -- the light Cael had seen, the light he'd saved her from, the light he'd been prepared to feed himself to make his beloved whole again. Joske had to love his friend for trying. Dorian Shaddix, ever predictable in his unpredictability, was already having similar ideas. His brain was moving at a mile a minute, eyes squinted to protect themselves from the glow but also racing with possibilities. There was none of the acceptance and grace with which he'd met his own face; instead, there was desperation, and longing, and hurt, and guilt. He knew the look well. It was the last face Joske had seen in his life. "Come with me." "Next time around," Joske promised, squeezing his friend's shoulder. "I don't feel like winding up stuck in your body. Or digging my way out from under the snowbanks." "We'll rob your grave." "Yikes. Pass, you sicko." Dor bit his lip harder; for a second, Joske wondered if Dor would attempt to bludgeon him with the cue. He doubted he could fall unconscious in this place if he tried. "Next time around," Joske repeated, clapping Dor's shoulder and letting go. "Tell Cael I love her, and look after her for me." "She doesn't need either of us for that." "No. You're right." Joske smiled at the thought of her; Dor looked like he wanted to say something, but thought better of it. "Fine. Tell Agni not to blame himself, even though--" "--we both know he will?" "Yeah. And tell Angelus I'm sorry. And I'm grateful." "Holy #####, you could just write a will already. You know, we have plenty of napkins, I could--" "And one more thing. The boat won't take you all the way. You'll have to swim for the next one." Dorian blinked. Joske grinned; to Dor's eyes, he seemed more vivid than he had since the Toa of Iron arrived. Maybe even more vivid than he'd been in life. The Kolhii star winked at him. "What?" "It's on you to do this if they don't let me out," Joske said playfully. "Give everyone my best. I believe in you, Dor. The boat won't take you the whole way. You'll have to swim for the next one." "Again with the fortune cookie #####. You know, can't you just tell me something immediately useful? Directions? Lotto numbers? Where Cael likes to eat?" The glow was starting to swallow the whole Lavapool, but it curved around Joske to lick at Dorian's limbs. The more Dor tried to back away into the corners, near the chalkboard that sang of his conquests, the more the light followed him specifically and left Joske to his devices. "Like I'd give you the chance. See you, Dor. I'll keep practicing the Matau Brain Masher or whatever." "--The Sharpshooter, you useless prick, and don't think this is over! I'm totally digging your body up when this is over, and if you don't come back I'm going to chuck you right into the volcano, you fortune cookie, kitten-saving, telegram-booth changing, third-wheeling motherf--" ... "--CK!" I shot upright like a cannon, hand cupping the wound where Heuani had pierced me all those years ago. There was a small fire burning, and the wind had picked up a little outside. A small enclave, formed mostly of low-hanging branches that had been snapped off or vines that had been sawed loose, was protecting the small blaze and I from the outside world. My vision was swimming, as though I'd never used my eyes before - or maybe like I'd just crawled from a grave, and was getting used to seeing something besides the inside of my own coffin. But from the looks of things, I hadn't even been buried. Not unless the old dickhead who was smiling at me from across the fire's tongues had been buried, too. That wasn't a bad bet, honestly. I hated Turaga. They were wizened, pathetic reminders that some people were just too high-and-mighty to keep moving forward. They were proof of how seriously some Toa took the concept of 'destiny,' even though getting one particular job done in your life was no excuse for giving up your power. Becoming a Turaga was basically just taking early retirement. Who said you got to have peace while the rest of us were out here busting ##### to try and outwork the voices in your own head, telling you what you were doing wasn't enough? I bet you wish you had that Toa Power now that Makuta's back, you hunchbacked old #####. Yeesh. I must have woken up bitter. Did I pass out after the fall? I remember feeling something pretty important pop out of place near where the ol' R.I.P. Echelon commemorative tramp stamp was going as soon as I was back in Ta-Koro. And where had Merror gotten off too? "I'm looking for my friend," I grumbled to the Turaga, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. "Did he go off for supplies from the settlement?" "Your friend, eh?" The Turaga looked pleased with himself, green eyes bright behind his Noble Kanohi. "I can't say there are many people out here at Kini-Nui. Not tonight, of all nights, at least." Tonight of all nights... Yeah. The story was going to go flying around, all of it, from Joske and Echelon's deaths to the return of Makuta. A lot had happened in only a little while. Time flew when you were about to die. Wait. My eyes flew back down to my midsection. The Turaga laughed. "And what does he look like, lad?" the old man asked knowingly. "This friend of yours. We might be able to find him together, once you're able to move around a little." "He's..." I closed my eyes, still sore from sitting up too fast, and winced. "Ta-Toa. Big green eyes, sad, looks like a...really old puppy." "A really old puppy, eh." "Yeah. Handsome. Like a DILF, but if he wasn't really hot. He's got a Calix on, and bit of a weird brogue in his...voice..." I turned my head to the left, feeling the protestant creaks of a sore neck, and stared into the Noble Kanohi again. "And here I thought I aged gracefully," Merror laughed warmly. "I gather that the Turaga lifestyle won't be for you when you grow up. Hello, lad. I'm so happy you're ali--" "#####!" Our enclave was torn to pieces by the force of the swing. The cold steel of the rifle's barrel felt good in my hands, but honestly, I could have done it with anything. I just picked up the first weapon I saw poking out of the bag. And I swung it again. And again. And again. At trees. At the ground. I almost tossed it back into Kini-Nui, but the last thing I needed to do was give Makuta one more advantage. I remembered everything now. "What is the matter with you!?" I raged, turning around and screaming at Merror. The look of serenity on the Turaga's -- Turaga's! -- face made me want to pistol whip him. He didn't have the strength to fight it anymore, or to do anything but seize up and twitch if I started really laying into him. He didn't have the strength to...to... "What would you do that for!?" "For you," Merror said softly. "You died, Dorian. Thinking you failed. Thinking the people who love you love a failure. You deserve to hear from them yourself how false that is.." "You deserve better, son. And instead you died." Merror shrugged. "I thought it was a fair trade." ... The fire in my stomach went as dim as Merror's had. I dropped back down onto my haunches, taking deep, unsteady breaths. I had died. For a second, I had known peace. Happiness. Real redemption. But then I woke up. It had started to trickle at some point while I was out. The rain was falling on my head, and the Turaga whose life force the storm had doused crawled out from the remains of our shelter to sit beside me. My friend put his hand, so much frailer than it had been when I took it earlier tonight, on mine and clasped. "It's not," I insisted weakly. "It's not fair. You were...good." "Oh? Did I stop being good because I grew shorter? Did I lose my experience? Did my brain dull with age in the course of one night?" Merror squeezed my hand tighter with a teasing smile. "Sometimes, lad, I think you might put a little too much emphasis on looks. Just something we've all noticed." I had to stifle a small laugh. Merror's smile grew. "Son, that man who died tonight has weighed on me for half my life. Probably all of yours. I know the valleys of failure more than most. Dorian, I look at you and I see a success for every man, woman, and child on Mata Nui. You understand? You did not fail." "...Okay." "Okay?" "I said okay, ##### it." I took a long, deep breath, clenching my fist around Merror's gnarled old hand. "Okay.." Underneath Merror's Noble Kanohi, a smile turned into a full-bore grin -- one with mischief I couldn't ever remember seeing when the Calix had been Great. "Then let's go find a bar somewhere before telling our story. I want to see if I can still keep up with the great and self-destructive Dorian Shaddix." ... Merror saw the boy smile softly. "I could definitely go for that," I said. A beat went by. "So wait, did your life juju fix my liver?" "Nothing I could do on that count. Sorry." This time, I laughed. I even gave Merror a ride on my shoulders for a minute, just to see if it was more comfortable for him than walking. He still had too much pride for that, though, and eventually we just decided on walking back to Ta-Koro as equals. Metaphorically. My neck still hurt, and craning it down to look at him was already proving to be a pain in the #####. But I'd dealt with a lot lately. A little height difference between friends was almost...quaint. "Actually, Ga-Koro," I corrected. Merror looked up at me, puzzled. No doubt he'd tailed me to Ga-Koro but had no idea why. I bit down on the edge of my lip and grinned again. "Whole island's waiting for me." ... "Aaaand it goes riiiiiight there!" Dor let out a victory yell and pumped his arms up in the air as though he'd been crowned the island's Kolhii MVP. From her perch on the couch, sitting atop her calves with a bottle of bourbon in her hand, Tuara Drigton looked at her lover skeptically. "You...moved a piano." "It's not a piano. It's the piano." "Oh, the first piano. Wicked." "Well, no, not--it's the one from the casino I knocked over, in Xa-Koro. There are some good memories that this piano absorbed via osmosis! I mean...most of them were probably knocked out when the island blew up. Or when the water corroded the wood. Or during the restoration process. But the memories of those memories...that's what people remember, babe." "Oh my God, why did you never talk this much when you had a Mark." "Nothing fun to say. Besides, I've been playing music all my life." "Explains the eighty guitars." "Like...maybe half that." Dor rolled his eyes. "And we have the card table." "It seats eight, Dorian. Good luck finding six suckers who will sit down and let you cheat at cards." "I don't cheat!" "You dumped Mark Bearers for other Mark Bearers." "Oh, we're talking Mark Bearer stuff? Well, not for nothing, but you did let Kinvex die." "##### dick, wow," Tuara sputtered through a drink. "False equivalence much?" "For the good Captain, no less. Who you then left. For...who again?" Tuara rolled her eyes as he plopped down beside her, and attempted to scoot away slightly. Dor wrapped his arm around her and kicked his feet up irreverently on the coffee table, back of his neck reclining to rest on the top of their couch. Both sighed. "I'm applying for a job tomorrow," he murmured softly. "Really? Is there anything still sacred enough to kill?" "The ##### mouth on you," Dor rolled his eyes, "no. The Lavapool Inn needs a bartender. It pays alright. Comfy location. Gets a lot of business. I get to be around people. I'm thinking of going for it." "Oooh, a plug," Tuara drawled, grinning and rolling on her side. "I'm in favor. Bring a gun to the job interview." "Wha?" "That way you'll definitely get it." "That makes sense, actually. Just keep it holstered. People open carry all kinds of weapons in Ta-Koro." Tuara's grin stretched cartoonishly. She was well and truly drunk. "Are you gonna be able to handle that?" Dor raised an eyebrow at the mostly-drained bottle in her hand. Tuara jabbed at his cheek with the bottom. "Shhaddup. Dorian Shaddup. Who are you to teach me lessons," she grumbled through her grin. Dor rolled his eyes and smiled back. "You'll never learn your lesson." "Says who?" Dorian Shaddup asked, sticking his bottom lip out in a perfect pout. "Deputy, you wrong me. Would I have managed to get this far if, somewhere along the line, I didn't start learning my lessons?" Tuara giggled; Dor laughed. They leaned in as one, together. The piano sat in the corner, suppressing all the ghosts who had graced its keys or ran fingers across the gilded wood. The angry shade of a callow young Toa of Iron was somewhere, buried alive beneath all that polish. It could not avert its eyes. It watched the couple kiss. ... -Tyler
  9. 12 points
    OOC: “In this place, our concept of eternity becomes only a second, our concept of invincibility becomes vulnerable, and our perception of infinity becomes miniscule. In this Nowhere, [one becomes] even less alive than death would make you. That impossible lack of existence… is simply indescribable.” —Makuta Uhuraz, Aensettr Derrum, 2010 … IC: Nowhere trembles in anticipation. Soon. I feel it. … Sister— —Do not call me that. I am not your sister. Here, we are more sisters than we have been for a long time. You confuse proximity with closeness. We have never been more proximate; yet I have never detested you more. You do not hate me. I do. I hate how you encroach on my essence. I hate what you are. I hate you. … Soon. Please, sister— —Do not call me that— —I understand what this, the soonness, makes you feel. You cannot. I can. I know that you have grown uncomfortable Nowhere. Uncomfortable! And you claim to understand me? I have been here longer than you; I know how restless you become even in open space. Listen to me, sister. Why should I listen to you? You have no choice but to listen. Nowhere is thinner than air. I could not escape the thought of you if I tried. I have tried. I know. I want to discuss what you’re thinking about. … Nothing can hide Nowhere. I think your thoughts and see your plan as though they were mine. … In your eagerness, sister, you have blinded yourself to a truth: your plan cannot work without my cooperation. … What do you want? I want you to make a promise to me. What good does a liar’s promise do you? I believe you still answer to Truth, whether you like it or not. Make me a promise. I am listening. … It was common knowledge on Odaiba that nothing could survive in the crater of Mount Koshiki. But Rayuke, uncle of Rora Yumiwa and Imperial Executioner, was determined to try his luck anyway. Wrapped in a thick cloak that barely shielded his burly form from the icy mountain gusts, a bandanna tied carefully over his mouth and nose to filter the worst of the toxic ashes from the air he breathed, Rayuke ascended Koshiki’s mountainside slowly and steadily. He leaned into the steep, rocky incline, each step renewing the burn on the back of his calves. Rayuke tried—unsuccessfully, mostly—to lessen his increasing sense of heaviness by relying more on his sturdy walking staff. Even through the cloak he wore, Rayuke felt the strap of his broadsword’s archaic sheath digging into his shoulder. He had been trekking like this for hours, refusing to lose speed even as every step took more and more from him. After all, he was running out of time. Rayuke glanced again at the darkening, grey-orange sky; sunset seemed to approach faster with every minute that passed. Rayuke would never complain about any of his aches, nor about the way his lungs protested each breath of the thin, lightly noxious air they took. While he had not been trained for such exhaustive hikes—Rayuke had been a thoroughbred Sadoite, a city Dasaka, since the day he’d emerged into the world—the Imperial Executioner, First Son of the Umbralines, had been trained with a warrior’s resolve. His mind was steel; he would not betray weakness, for to do so would be to dishearten his companions, who trailed behind him in a jagged line. They found the hike even more exhausting than he did, this he knew, and he knew they drew on his example for their strength. Rayuke was used to assuming others’ pain and putting it on his own broad shoulders. The arduous trek up Koshiki certainly wasn’t how Rayuke had imagined he’d be spending his evening. Mere hours before (how quickly, Rayuke reflected, Destiny chose her marks; how quickly one’s purpose could be changed!), the Umbraline uncle had sat in his private meditation garden, methodically attempting to release himself from the stresses of his increasingly stressful life. Rayuke’s life had never been without stress, of course, a good deal of stress came with his position; but during his sister’s reign, he had been responsible only for judging criminals and occasionally executing them. These were simple tasks. Under his niece’s rule, meanwhile, the Dasakan Empire had fractured. With this divide came new dangers, new pressures, and new responsibilities that—because Yumiwa was too young and inexperienced to acknowledge, let alone contend with, them—fell squarely on Rayuke in all their complexity. And, to top matters off, his youngest niece Desde had disappeared weeks ago. The dawn hours he spent in his garden, calmly and carefully shaping the exotic plants with trimmers that at times felt comically small in his huge hands, sitting by the singing fountain and freeing his thoughts as best he could, had once been a daily pleasure for Rayuke. Now, they had become absolute necessity, without which he dared not face his days for fear of losing control over the pressing frustration that so often built up behind his eyes these days. Rayuke considered self-control—Order—to be the best of his virtues. It was, he reflected, almost a miracle (or, perhaps, a lapse in character, but he dared not think that way, he couldn’t turn back now) that he had been convinced so quickly to drop all his daily duties when the strange visitors had fallen from the sky into his singing fountain early that morning. ... The loud splashes blasted apart the soothing, trickling babble of the cold fountain, immediately snapping Rayuke from his meditative trance and back into the brisk morning air. With warrior’s reflexes, the huge Dasaka’s eyes sprung open, and he leapt to his feet, assuming an unarmed combat position. The water of the fountain—a few meters ahead of him, a few steps below him—frothed for an uneasy moment before the beings that had made the splashes emerged, sputtering. Rayuke kept his distance, watching to see if these creatures were friends or foes. As they clambered out of the fountain, however, Rayuke’s ready stance melted in surprise. Six little beings, the size of Dashi, stood dripping before him. One of them actually was a Dashi—she looked familiar to him, clad in a short apron, shaking off her limbs one by one—but the others were clearly not Kentokuan. They looked like Dashi, but as an imperfect reflection; they came in all the colors of Janu birds. At once, Rayuke assumed them to be so-called “Matoran” of Mata Nui. How had they gotten into his fountain? More pressingly: how had they gotten to the Archipelago at all? “…Rayuke?” one of the Matoran asked him tentatively, eyes wide as if in disbelief. “…I am he,” Rayuke replied uncertainly. “Who are you?” “I’m Seven,” the Matoran answered. “And these are my companions.” Here, the Matoran called Seven pointed to each of the others in turn. “Tarnok, Leli, Lekua, Kellin… oh, and there’s Cancer, Kellin’s Ussal.” A large crab of some foreign species emerged from the fountain, its eyestalks rattling as though shivering with cold. “And of course,” Seven finished, “There’s Soraya.” Soraya was the Dashi, and Rayuke immediately recognized her as she was named: she’d designed his costume at the fateful ball where his sister had been assassinated. Destiny’s icy hand pressed through Rayuke’s sternum. Soraya stepped forward. “Your honor,” she said—Rayuke sensed with his Kanohi Rode vestigial resentments of the Dasakan caste system in her tone—giving him a little bow. “Please forgive us for the intrusion. We come on urgent business.” “…How did you…?” Rayuke asked slowly, gesturing vaguely to the fountain and all of them. “There’s a long story,” one of the other Matoran—Kellin, Rayuke identified him—said, rubbing the back of his neck. “We were sent here,” Soraya said, “By the will of Zuto Nui. We are here to do her work.” “Mata Nui’s work,” one of the other Matoran piped up. “To him and to me, it’s Zuto Nui,” Soraya countered impatiently. “Same Great Spirit. Look, your honor—“ “—Please,” Rayuke interrupted tiredly. “Please, just call me Rayuke.” “Rayuke,” Soraya corrected, the word clearly tasting funny in her mouth, like a forbidden food. “We need to speak to you. It’s extremely urgent, and we need your help.” Rayuke’s Kanohi Rode informed him that Soraya—and the rest of the gang, even down to the still-shivering crab—earnestly believed they needed his help, that much was true. Rayuke’s curiosity, if it hadn’t already been piqued by the sudden appearance of five Mata Nuians, a Dashi, and a hypothermic crab in his garden, was afire. He could go the day without completing his meditation, if it meant getting answers. “Tell me everything,” Rayuke told the strangers. “And tell the truth.” He noticed that the crab wasn’t the only one quaking with cold. “But first,” he said, a little smile rising on his face, “Let’s get you all warmed up.” Rayuke listened patiently as the Matoran and Soraya proceeded to inform him, over steaming hot cups of tea and wrapped in blankets, how they had been contacted in myriad ways by the Great Spirit’s emissary (this they believed, too, to be true) and brought from across the island of Mata Nui into contact with each other. The six had subsequently been guided to a so-called “Keeping Place” which, when they had entered it, had deposited them a few feet in the air above the surface of Rayuke’s fountain. The group said they’d been sent to Rayuke on a mission: they had a task that, they told Rayuke, was crucial for restoring the Great Spirit to being. Rayuke had never given much thought to the Great Spirit. To him, she was a core of social institutions, and a point to be referenced in moral matters, but she had never exerted her influence directly over the Kentoku Archipelago in his, or anyone else’s, memory. Evidently, the people of Mata Nui, though, had witnessed the Great Spirits’ acts firsthand in their recent past, for good and ill. One of the Matoran told Rayuke the story of the Toa Maru, heroes raised from the Matoran by Zuto Nui’s magic, who had destroyed Makuta—Zataka, in Rayuke’s vernacular—through the strength of their unity. As he listened to this anecdote, Rayuke felt a passing sense of incongruousness; didn’t the lore of the Great Spirits dictate the necessary balance that Zataka brought to her sister, the crucial duality between sky and sea, female and male, order and freedom, light and dark? Were not Zuto Nui and Zataka intertwined? How could anyone destroy one and not the other? But Rayuke let these nagging questions slide away unanswered. After all, he told himself, the people of Mata Nui had had far more direct experience with the Great Spirits than he, and so were certainly greater authorities on their natures. Although the Toa Maru had destroyed Zataka, the party of strangers exposited, and although this act had been a formidable blow against the remaining forces of darkness on their island, Zuto Nui nevertheless failed to awaken from her slumber. This was where the Matoran—and Rayuke himself—came in, they said. According to the Matoran, they had followed the lead of a mysterious, still unidentified Matoran and so learned that Kentoku and Mata Nui were linked together by a mystical transportation system, through which matter, mind, and other properties could travel at impossible speed without losing their original forms. This “portal system,” the stuff of Legends, connected the sister islands together, and probably led to other long-forgotten lands, too. But the portal system had been shut long ago; and its nexus, deep underground at the center of Mata Nui, had been locked. Beyond this, the portal nexus (which the Matoran called a “Vault”) was currently guarded by powerful foes including the nefarious Piraka and a nigh-indestructible machine known as the “Abettor.” Rayuke wondered what crime this “Abettor” abetted, but didn’t bother asking. It was essential to reopen this portal system, the Matoran finally explained, in order to awaken the Great Spirit. One of the Matoran likened the portal passages to the Great Spirit’s veins, which through the flow of blood would remember their original heartbeat. Another thought of the portal system like a machine that needed oiling. Soraya understood the relationship as one of split consciousness; to make the Great Spirit whole, Zuto Nui’s mind—fragmented around the several islands of the world—sought avenues by which it could sew itself together again and become whole. Each of the six little beings before Rayuke had a different way of articulating the correlation between Great Spirit and portal; but they all knew in the cores of their hearts a Truth that, though difficult to explain, was True: opening the portals would enable the return of the Great Spirit, and so the return of peace. At this point, Rayuke took a moment to try and process what he had just been told. It was a mammoth idea to swallow—teleportation portals? Great Spirits? bringing about ultimate peace? —and he couldn’t quite wrap his head around it. The Umbraline uncle asked the group of strangers why, if what they said was real, had they been sent to him? The travelers answered by reciting to Rayuke a stanza he had never heard, but which struck a familiar chord in him: Across an endless ocean Beyond where minds can see My key lies in the open Where you will never be Beneath the brightest thunder Stand towers of the day The light may break asunder If night skies choose obey The red sign on black eyes Will lead you to your prize The Matoran told Rayuke that this riddle was engraved on the Vault’s door, and said that they’d interpreted it to mean that the Vault’s key lay “beyond” on Kentoku, “where minds can see.” They assumed Kentoku must have a Vault, its own portal nexus door, which corresponded to Mata Nui’s… and guessed that opening the Kentoku Vault would simultaneously open the Mata Nui Vault, thereby reinstating the first portal connection. With the mention of a “Kentoku Vault,” Rayuke realized why the Matoran’s couplets seemed familiar to him. Suddenly very excited, he excused himself to his study, leaving his guests looking at each other in confusion for a minute while he rummaged hastily through a little library downstairs. After a quick search, Rayuke returned with a crystal tablet bearing these lines: Across an endless ocean Upon pale metal’s home My key is in possession Where you are soon to roam The hand of fated treason Is signal to depart A prize of ancient season Becomes my crucial heart My twin will never give Until you make me live “These words are carved on an ancient crystal shrine in the crater of Mount Koshiki, a dormant volcano here,” Rayuke told the group animatedly. “My great-grandmother was an explorer, and she rediscovered the structure up there generations ago. Nobody thought much of it, you see; the pillars and whatnot didn’t seem to do anything, and this inscription seemed merely a poem. I only remember the lines, and keep them in my library, because I used to love the story of my ancestor’s Koshiki expedition when I was very small.” The Matoran exchanged looks (perhaps in part because they found it dubious that Rayuke had ever been small), and asked Rayuke to read the poem from this crystal temple on top of the expired volcano again. He obliged them; some started to nod, appreciating the uncanny similarity to the Mata Nuian riddle. “Pale metal’s home is obviously Mata Nui,” Rayuke concluded. “Where metals are in abundance. Soon to roam… fated treason, signal to depart… Yusanora’s assassination? That’s when the expedition to Mata Nui left, it’s what put Soraya in your midst… it’s how you know about us and we about you!” Suddenly, Rayuke imagined meaning in his sister’s murder, and though it made that old wound flare up in his soul—reflexively, Rayuke stemmed the wrathful tears that came with it—now the memory was touched with something else, something powerful and inexorable. “Her death was the sign that it was the right time for our cultures to collide.” “My twin will never give until you make me live,” Tarnok repeated from Rayuke’s tablet, adjusting his blanket thoughtfully. “That just confirms that we were right: we need to open this Kentokuan Vault, make that portal ‘live,’ for the Mata Nuian one to follow suit.” “How?” Soraya asked. “I think the Mata Nuian riddle is… instructions, maybe, on what we need to do to open the Kentoku Vault,” Lekua mused. “Rayuke, what do you think it means?” “I know what the crystal temple on Koshiki looks like, a little, from the story,” Rayuke nodded to himself, closing his eyes and trying to picture it. “Some of the bits of your riddle might be connected to that. Say it again.” One of the Matoran recited the Vault inscription again. Rayuke stopped him on “brightest thunder.” “Those are Kanohi Dragons,” Rayuke informed the group. “It’s an old metaphor, pulled from… some old poem, I’m not sure.” For the first time in his life, Rayuke was glad for all the hours he’d been forced, as a member of the Imperial family, to devote to ancient Dasakan literature. “So beneath the brightest thunder… that means we’re definitely looking at Koshiki, it’s a known resort of the dragons. ‘Towers of the day,’ if in reference to the Koshiki shrine, may refer to the crystal obelisks standing all around it, but that’s a stretch.” “Night skies,” Leli chimed in. “Might mean that the only way to open the Vault here is at night.” “If night skies choose obey,” Tarnok replied. “So… probably a certain time of night?” “I don’t understand the ‘red sign on the black eyes’ bit,” Soraya mused. “Anyone got ideas there?” Nobody could come up with anything convincing. Rayuke broke the following silence, returning to an earlier stanza. “The light … if night skies choose obey… Maybe this light comes from the night skies. Starlight? ‘Breaking asunder,’ breaking light, maybe that’s something to do with—“ “—Refraction?” Kellin finished. “Y’know, how light ‘breaks’ through a lens, or a prism, or whatever. I used to live in Onu-Koro, knew a lantern-maker, he talked about it like that all the time.” “Crystals can be shaped, here, to have different refractive properties,” Soraya confirmed. “I bet something in this crystal shrine on Koshiki is meant to refract starlight, at a certain time of night, so a certain constellation or something in the right position will do what we need.“ “The Red Star?” Seven contributed uncertainly. “Call me crazy but: what if it’s the Red Star?” She turned to Soraya and Rayuke, a sheepish grin on her face as she pointed to the sky. “Do you, uh, do you get that one over here?” “Yes,” Soraya answered, suddenly smiling broadly. “We get that one over here. But it’s very dim, it only really shows up—“ “—Right after sundown,” Rayuke finished. “That seems rather specific. Too specific to be coincidence.” “Red sign on black eyes?” Lekua asked. “So, would that be it?” “If you think of the sky as a black eye?” Kellin posited. “Then maybe, yeah.” The Matoran and Rayuke continued to speculate on the meaning of the twin riddles for a little while longer, and eventually came to a consensus that the Red Star interpretation made the most sense. Very quickly, discussion turned to the logistics of a hike up Mount Koshiki: supplies they’d need, how they would travel to Odaiba from Sado, and what dangers they would need to bear in mind. “If any Kanohi Dragons show up,” Soraya posited, “We’ll be deader than last party’s fashions.” “You will need protection,” Rayuke agreed. “And you will also need a safe, a secret, passage out of the city and across Odaiba. These are things I can provide to you.” “Are you sure?” Leli asked him. “You’ve already done so much for us.” “My part in this affair is far from over,” Rayuke answered. He had no doubts about this. ... Rayuke sensed that the train of Matoran behind him, tied to him and each other with a thick rope as they wheezed and stumbled up the mountainside, needed a little more encouragement. “Come on!” he called back through his bandanna. “We’re almost over the ridge.” One of the Matoran – Rayuke could not tell which, as their mouths were also covered – let loose a sarcastic whoop, followed by a hefty bout of coughing. Well, at least they’ve not lost a sense of humor, Rayuke thought to himself with a slight smile. Many arduous steps later, Rayuke and the Matoran stood on the lip of Koshiki’s huge crater. They looked down at the lake, toxically turquoise, gorgeous and vibrant under the sun’s parting rays. Two of the Matoran exchanged an exhausted high-five. Rayuke scanned the inside of the crater. The crystal shrine, its huge obelisks like a giant’s fingers reaching up through the bleached sand, stood about 300 meters down and away. Following Rayuke, the group of chosen Matoran started their cautious descent.
  10. 11 points
    OOC: Soundtrack to this post. IC The silence of the Kini-Nui forest was deafening to Merror. The air was still; there was no rustle of leaves, no nightly birdsong. No answer from Dorian. The weight on his shoulder had grown heavier, slacker; it had become the young man’s full weight, resting limply again Merror’s own frame. He stood there, unmoving, supporting that weight, for a brief eternity. He couldn’t bring himself to raise his hand to Dorian’s neck and check for a pulse. “...yeah, Dor. Yeah, you did this one right,” he said through a growing lump in his throat, knowing full well he’d said it too late. Tears welled in his eyes. “You did.” At last he raised his hand, placed two fingers on the young man’s neck, and felt what he’d known he’d feel: only stillness. Slowly, agonisingly slowly, he lowered Dorian’s limp form to the ground. As he laid the Fe-Toa’s head gently back onto the carpet of leaves, the moonlight fell on the young man’s face, and it struck Merror that Dorian’s mask, like his own, was a Calix. Behind it were peacefully closed eyes, still wet with tears. A saltwater drop pooled at the eyehole of Merror’s own Calix and fell to earth. They had been different in so many ways, he and Dorian, but until now he’d never seen how they were similar. Too similar, he thought bitterly. Despite knowing the price would almost certainly be his life, Dorian had gone to fight Echelon alone — not bringing even his closest friends, because he couldn’t take the chance of losing them. So that the sacrifice would be his, and his alone. How many times had Merror refused help, turned friends away, for fear that his fight would cost their lives? Except Dorian had done what Merror couldn’t: he’d won. He’d stopped Echelon for good, stopped him dragging any more souls into the void in his own long fall towards oblivion. Merror had faced Echelon so many times, held back so many times for fear of breaking the Toa Code, and innocents had paid for it. If he’d just let go, stopped clinging so tightly to the Code and fought with all the deadly ferocity of a Ta-Toa, perhaps he could’ve stopped him. Or perhaps not. There was no knowing now. As he’d trekked through the Mata Nuian wilderness following Dorian’s trail, the memory of his vision in Ko-Wahi had played over and over in his mind: the weight of age, the rustle of linen robes, a staff in his hand. He’d begun to think his time was approaching. He’d begun to wonder whether his destiny awaited in the Vault: to stop Echelon once and for all, to remove his darkness from the world. To kill his oldest enemy. But he’d arrived too late. Too late to do the deed. Too late to save the one who had. He rose to walk away, but only made it a few steps before he was overwhelmed. He sank to his knees. He shut his eyes tight, but could not clamp back the flow of tears as this new failure tore open all the old wounds. Too late. Always too late. Too late to avoid the ambush that killed his team. Too late to keep the darkness from consuming the Chronicler’s Company. Too late to help a young man who’d played the hand life dealt him, who’d sinned and made mistakes, but in the end had given his life to protect the people he cared about. He’d deserved a second chance. And though Echelon was gone, a far greater evil had returned. All through Merror’s life the darkness of the world had deepened, and one by one he’d seen lights that could’ve brightened it be snuffed out, and been powerless to stop it. Now that Makuta was back, things would be darker than ever. The light, the cause of Mata Nui and all that was good in the world, needed Toa like Joske. Like Dorian. Toa burning with the courage of youth, not burdened by the weight of the past. It needed them far more than it needed old Toa Merror, and yet here he was, still alive, while Dorian lay cold and still behind him. Why? A faint light began to seep through Merror’s tight-shut eyelids. Slowly, blinking away the tears, he opened them, and looked down at his hands. They were glowing. Many times had Merror’s hands blazed with elemental Fire — hurling flames in battle, giving heat in the cold, bringing light in darkness. But never before had they shone with a gentle silvery radiance, with wisps of light slowly rising from his upturned palms and arcing between his fingers. And yet it was familiar; the feel of it was familiar. It was something that had always been there, hidden away deep in his spirit from the day he picked up his Toa Stone, but only now came brimming to the surface. *** “It’s said that every Toa has a destiny; a part to play in Mata Nui’s grand plan. Some claim that Destiny is fixed, immutable. Others insist that it is ever in flux, changing and readjusting as events take their course. And some…” The old man smiled wryly. “...some would say that to be overly certain about such things is foolish. But nevertheless, it is agreed by most that each Toa has a destiny that is theirs to fulfil. Many never do, of course. Some turn from their path, into darkness, or merely apathy. Some fall before their time. But some, a blessed few perhaps, do meet the destiny to which Mata Nui has appointed them. Having done so, they may relinquish their Toa Power for a greater good, and so become Turaga.” “Did you?” asked the Ta-Toa sitting opposite him, somewhat too large for the Matoran-sized bench (it was all the Turaga had in his humble Ta-Koronan abode). “Were you a Toa once, I mean?” Vakama raised an eyebrow. The flames in the nearby fire-pit flared briefly, casting the Turaga’s silhouette more starkly against the carved basalt walls. “Well, now, that would be telling. Such an impertinent question, young Toa!” The Ta-Toa looked taken aback. “I’m sorry, Turaga — I meant no offence…” “And none was taken, my young friend,” Vakama replied with a chuckle. “But my past is a story for another time. You came here to ask about your future, I believe.” “Well…” the Ta-Toa hesitated. “...Yes, I suppose. It’s just that I was so sure my destiny was...shared, with my team. But now they’re gone, and I…” The young Toa broke off and looked away. Vakama studied his eyes. He saw pain, loss. Guilt. “You blame yourself,” he said softly. The young Toa closed his eyes, hung his head. “And you wonder whether you still have a destiny, now they’re gone.” “...yeah.” The Turaga sighed. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen this, and as long as the war with Makuta burned on, he knew it would not be the last. “I’m sorry, my young friend. I do not know your fate. The fires of prophecy show only what they will, and leave much clouded. But I can tell you that your destiny did not die with your friends. Neither should your hope.” “But how will I know my destiny?” the Ta-Toa asked, a pleading look in his eyes. “How will I know what I’m fighting for, what my purpose is?” “You already know what you’re fighting for,” Vakama replied, with a small smile. “To be a Toa is to know the path but not the destination. As I said, many never reach it. But I think you will. I think that one day, you will find the moment of your destiny. In a way, a Toa’s destiny is the truest expression of their self, and in that moment, we are granted...a clarity, an understanding. Then, Toa Merror, you will know.” *** And in that moment, Merror knew. He knew that his path had always been leading him here, to this moment. He felt the clarity Vakama had spoken of, all those years ago: saw his life laid out before him, every twist and turn, every victory and every loss, every sorrow and every joy, and was at peace. Every step of the way had been a preparation so that he would be here now, in this moment, where Destiny needed him. That was why the Abettor had let him pass, though he was too late to partake in the battle. He understood now that his destiny could never have been to kill Echelon; that was not who he was. The destiny of Toa Merror had never been to take a life, but to save one. Just one. And that was enough. He looked up at the sky and its myriad stars, and his eyes welled with new tears, but not of grief. “Thank you…” he breathed. He rose, and as he turned back towards Dorian the silvery glow began to spread along his arms and outward from his heartlight, across his chest. He drew his one remaining sword, and looked down one last time at the Toa Tool that had served him well all those long years, then laid it carefully on the ground. He began to walk towards the fallen Toa, and as he walked he saw the faces of his team, his friends — not etched with pain, as they had been in his dreams every night since he lost them — but happy, smiling as they had the day they became Toa, and he understood that it had not been their souls he’d needed to find peace for, but his own. As he knelt beside Dorian’s still form, the light that was his Toa Power encompassed him in a white aura, drifting upwards like slow white flames. He gathered Dorian’s limp body into his arms, like a parent cradling a sleeping child. He felt the Toa Power swell within him as though sensing its time was at hand and fighting to be set free, and the glow brightened, throwing the shadows of trees deep into the forest. Gently, he placed one hand above Dorian’s heartlight. Breathed in, closed his eyes. And let go. He gasped as he felt the Toa Power surge out of him, down his arm and into Dorian’s chest in a flood of pure energy. It was a long, slow lightning strike drawn from his very soul. Merror felt it leaving him: everything that made him a Toa, the source of his power and strength, flowing out and into the fallen Fe-Toa, drawn by the inexorable pull of Destiny. It knitted ravaged tissue back together, mended broken bones, refilled drained arteries. Even the blood soaking the young man’s clothes began to fade away. Merror felt his armour begin to shift, to change. He felt age begin to seep into his bones. The light became blinding, and was gone.
  11. 11 points
    IC: Nowhere sees somewhere. Nothing perceives things. The doo— —r is openin— —g. Yes. Ye— —s! The life fl— —ows and I— —know tha— —t we— —a— —r— —e— —CLOSE. … The sword hissed when it descended, crystal through armor and then against stone; the flamberge slid perfectly through Echelon and into the notch on the Vault’s lock. As if a rock had been dropped through the surface of the stale underground atmosphere, a heavy wave of air rippled out in all directions from the point where Dorian had inserted the sword. Then things began to change. The alchemy transpired so quickly that Dorian hardly registered it, save through the difference in the grip. Still standing with its tip plunged through Echelon’s body and into the Vault floor, Heuani’s old flamberge started to change. It broadened, and its keen edges morphed from wavy to impeccably straight, like a wrinkled piece of cloth that was being ironed. The handle of the sword grew from a hand-and-a-half design to a two-handed grip with a brutally simple crossbar. Most astonishing of all, though, was that the very substance of the sword transmuted. The clear crystal of its blade seemed to melt away to instead reveal shiny, well-oiled protosteel. Echelon groaned and gasped as the weapon thrust through him swelled, forcing his grievous wound to open further. Dorian was deaf to the pitiable noises of his enemy, for he was too enraptured by the magic happening before his very eyes: he had never seen this new sword before, but he could feel ancient power in its huge handle, a handle now too large for him. This weapon, though Dorian and Merror did not know it, had most recently belonged to the Imperial Executioner Rayuke on the distant Kentoku Archipelago. The charm stones embedded in the floor seemed to appreciate the taste of the new sword’s protosteel; they grew enthusiastically brighter, graduating from gentle blue towards bright white. Their luminance began to spread, like the firing neurons of a brain, to each of the thousands of letters etched into the Vault’s quartz wall. Eventually, all the characters around the room glowed with their own luminance. The Vault, which had been dark and moody for so long, was now lit from all surfaces by harsh white light. To Dorian and Merror, it felt clinical inside the chamber, even sterile. The Vault seemed like it wanted to rid itself of disease, at any rate: with a terrific bang! Makuta’s old Antidermis vat which had hung from the wall fell to earth, the tar-like cords that had suspended it somehow dissolved by the lit letters. The vat shattered on impact, its black-green gas-fluid spilling dangerously forth— only to be vaporized, sputtering and bubbling, whenever it touched a white-lit sigil. Dorian let go of the sword in shock as it started to move of its own accord. The broadsword’s two-handed grip twisted, and the blade with it; the concentric circles on the floor of the Vault turned like a great lock. Echelon howled with pain as the inertia of his fallen body resisted the irresistible torque of the blade; nevertheless, his prone body turned 90 degrees along with the sword. The only area left unlit was the Vault’s door, that featureless pale stone slab which had beguiled and confused the Toa Maru from without and continued to guard its mysteries from within. But not even this portion of the room, stoic and sturdy as it was, could escape indelible change. Before the eyes of Dorian, Merror, and Echelon (who had been turned, fortunately, to have a better view of the door), the smooth stone face lost its composure. It crumbled—incredibly quickly—into dust-sized particles that seemed to be sucked… inward? As more and more of the door disappeared, the origin of the suction became clear: behind the sheer stone wall was a vertical pond of swirling, multicolored energy. Its pattern was ever-shifting, flowing like a lazy whirlpool where colorful tendrils chased each other in an endless dance. It cast a magnificent, gentle glow over all that stood before it, somehow even outshining the white light all around. When the granules of the dissolving stone door met the surface of the rainbow pool, the fluid around them fizzed a little, returning to placidity once the particles had passed beyond its surface. It was, unmistakably, the fabled portal Joske had long sought to open. Dorian and Merror—who had not known what to expect from the activation of the Vault’s device—wore looks of amazement and bemusement at the sight of this otherworldly gate. But Echelon, who was in-the-know, sported a sickly, ecstatic grin. Echelon let loose a wet cackle; his eyes were newly alight with a spark of manic glee. His speech was ragged and slow, punctuated by retches and coughs as he heaved his words from ruined lungs. “You... fools… it… is done—” “Quiet,” Dorian snarled belatedly, kicking Echelon in the ribs and eliciting an agonized wheeze. But his focus wasn’t on the Dark Toa. Dorian could not take his eyes off the swirling energies before him. “What… what is this?” Merror asked, awestruck. ”I… I…” Echelon coughed, spitting black blood, “...will have... my reward..." Echelon seemed unable to utter any more words; his mouth opened, his tongue flexed, but he was without air. In silence, all six eyes in the room fixed themselves on the awesome sight before them. Gradually, the door continued to atomize and crumble inward. The last of the Vault’s old stone was finally sucked into the multicolored pool, leaving it completely unobstructed for the first time in countless years. The second this occurred, things started to go wrong. Very wrong. … A gap rends nowhere. A gap only large enough for one half of nothing. Following its agreement, the nothingness redivides itself. I have kept my promise. Now, keep yours. I will. I will make you pay. I will obliterate everything you love. And, for now, I cannot stop you. But you cannot stop this. Goodbye, brother. Good riddance, brother. … For an instant, the rainbow currents of the portal flowed naturally. Then, all at once, they began to froth wildly again, as if they were consuming a second stone wall at ten times the previous rate. This time, however, nothing was passing into the portal. Something, it turned out, was emerging. Cold winds buffeted the chamber, sending technological items flying through the air. Merror was nearly brained by a flying Zamor launcher, but ducked just in time. The white letter-lights all around flickered, dimmed, died. The Vault grew dark; the Antidermis vat, which had lent the room a greenish source of illumination, had fallen and its contents dissipated. Only the rainbow glow of the portal, eerie and solitary, provided any visibility. The air ionized, crackled, suddenly smelled of burnt ozone. The darkness grew darker. And a terrible, bodiless, sourceless, invisible, awful, malicious presence squeezed forth from the portal. It filled the whole Vault. It filled the air in their lungs. It filled the whole world. “Free,” the presence murmured. Its voice, deep as the earth beneath Mangaia, rattled the bones in the bodies before it. It echoed off the hexagonal walls, filling the cathedral-like chamber and causing some of the Kanohi left in the Vault’s corner to shatter. The presence’s merest whisper petrified all three Toa, made them feel like their muscles had turned to loose sand. “I am… free.” The walls on either side of the rainbow portal erupted with hairline fractures as the presence experimentally moved from one side to the other. Echelon could not make a sound—he could barely keep his eyes open anymore—but, despite the surge of instinctual terror he felt, his self-satisfied smirk broadened. It was all he had hoped for, schemed for, dreamed for. At last, the power that could grant his great wish had come. He squirmed weakly on the blade of the broadsword, trying to draw attention to himself. “Ah,” the presence rumbled, fixing its focus on Echelon. “Here is my servant.” All the wounds in the Dark Toa’s body screamed in protest; something about merely being looked at by the presence increased his agony threefold. Dorian and Merror, meanwhile, were bound by primal fear to remain silent, motionless, helpless. The walls of the Vault splintered still more, as if insufficient to contain the enormous, evil thing that the portal had deposited there. Echelon, unable to respond to his master and essentially only kept conscious by the fight-or-flight reflex that had gripped his body, wriggled and mouthed silently. “You have played your part, however ineptly, to birth me once again into this world,” the presence mused, its voice causing a dozen pieces of technology behind the Toa to combust spontaneously. Dorian and Merror winced as littles splinters of metal dug into their backs. “For this,” the presence went on, “I am grateful.” Echelon blinked rapidly. He was losing control over his body; his limbs would no longer answer him, but he felt a surge of relief— “And yet,” the presence went on, quelling his hopes like an ocean quells a lit candle. “You have allowed my forces here to diminish, to dispel, to weaken. Because of your incompetence, I cannot yet return to this island with my full strength. For the inconvenience you have caused me, you deserve… punishment.” The darkness surged into Echelon’s mind, strangling and suffocating what little consciousness he had left. I would never have granted your wish, it laughed savagely. And then it snuffed Echelon out forever. Life departed the Dark Toa’s form, leaving his broken body motionless, his eyes still open. Under any other circumstances, Dorian and Merror might have celebrated Echelon’s death. But these were hardly normal circumstances. The prone form of the once-great Dark Toa served only as a fresh example of the dire straits into which they had stumbled. “You,” the presence growled at the two Toa. They were bound under its invisible gaze; they felt like they were being simultaneously boiled alive and flash-frozen. The Vault started to shake and crack, as if the wrath of the presence was becoming simply too much for the quartz walls to handle. “I also owe you a debt for your part in my return,” the presence conceded. “I will not take your lives today.” With that, a potent maelstrom howled to life. It picked up Dorian and Merror, as well as the scraps of ruined technology behind them, and started to spin around and around like a tornado. The Toa nearly fainted from the violent centripetal force, and strained to keep their eyes open as they watched the rainbow glow of the portal whip past, past, past their vision. The presence boomed all around them. “Tell the world that I have returned. Tell the Toa Maru that they can find me— if they dare face me again. I will be ready for them.” The quartz chamber of the Vault shattered at last, exploding outward into the enormous, dark chamber of Mangaia. The wicked presence, free from confining walls, swelled in magnitude and laughed. The gale-force column of air carrying Dorian and Merror deflected the worst of the Vault’s wreckage, sending it flying far out on all sides. The portal remained just where it had been, though, standing in midair within a newly-formed pile of rubble. Within the cyclone, Merror could not dodge a second piece of technology, which knocked him out cold. Dorian did not last much longer; susceptible to his wounds and extraordinary dizziness, he passed out a moment later, his body becoming limp in midair. At great speed, the whirling tornado carried the two unconscious Toa up to the surface, up to the world above, where evening had just begun to fall. Makuta was back. … Nowhere is nowhere, but nothing does not mind. Two down. Four to go.
  12. 10 points
    OOC: Soundtrack Suggestion IC [Zataka,???]: Zataka barely noticed that the sword had made contact as Kalmah slammed into her. The impact drove the air from her lungs and they fell backwards together - towards the portal she had no idea was there. Everything happened at once, yet time seemed to slow for her, as she distinctly experienced a momentary feeling of weightlessness - then vertigo kicked in, her vision spun and there was an odd tingling on her skin. She didn’t understand, but tried to; her mind desperately racing to regain situational awareness. But any thoughts towards solving the mystery were violently cut short by a sudden, intense flash of light. The two warlords hit ground again in a tangle, tumbling end over end. The titan came to rest on her stomach. She ached all over, and by the intense pain she felt on her left side she was sure she’d gotten several contusions at least, but there was no time to assess the potential damage: She didn’t know where her opponent was, she’d lost hold of her blade when she had hit the ground and she needed to get a grip before Kalmah could land a fatal blow while she didn’t have her bearings. Her head snapped up immediately to scan for the other warlord and her missing weapon, palms pushing into soft dirt as she scrambled to get back to her feet. Some part of her noted how odd it was to suddenly drag her fingers through dirt, but her surroundings didn’t fully register yet. The titan got to about standing halfway upright before the dull throbbing at her side became a sharp stabbing and she winced, hand instinctively reaching to check. Her armor was intact, but the slightest touch caused her jaw to clench in pain. Remaining hunched over as to not further agitate the injury, she looked around herself to see where her blade had fallen. And that’s when she noticed she was no longer in the Coliseum Yards - or anywhere that looked like Metru-Nui. The ground, the landscape, the sky...it was all wrong. Reddish dirt and rocks with grey scrubs growing sparsely in-between surrounded them up to a cliff edge just a few meters behind them. They had emerged on some sort of plateau, overlooking a wasteland of sand and rock as far as the eye could see under an encroaching sunset. One. Singular. The chain of events finally clicked into place: Kalmah had wanted to cut the fight short - banish her to this place by using the mask of the fallen Brutaka. Was this even their world anymore? From what she knew of the Olmak, they could be any place, at any time - even an alternate reality. Part of her screamed for her to focus, to stop trying to figure out things while she was technically still in the middle of a fight, but she couldn’t help it. It was as if she’d suddenly stepped into a lucid dream. She slowly stood up to her full height again, as fast as the pain allowed and craned her neck, trying to find the only point of reference she could think of as constant. She took a few slow steps backwards while trying to spot the red star overhead. But she had barely looked up when her foot brushed against something metallic, pulling her out of her trance. Glancing down, she spotted the hilt of her sword and, turning to pick it up, she noticed the dark stain covering the weapon. A rasping gurgle came from close by and her eyes locked onto a dark heap, silhouetted against the sunset on the ground just a few feet away. With her blade in her left and right arm covering her injury, she carefully approached. Kalmah had lost most of his intimidating aura as he lay curled up on his side. His wound had not been immediately obvious against the sun, but as she got closer, Zataka saw that her sword must have pierced the Barraki’s torso just below his left pectoral and his own momentum had then caused it slice violently upward, severing the limb along with the majority of the shoulder girdle. And since it was nowhere to be seen it must have happened just as they'd fallen through the portal. Kalmah’s remaining arm clutched at the gushing wound her blade had inflicted. Dark ichor covered his torso and a puddle was starting to form around him. All his flagellation and trained pain resistance mattered little as his body went into shock from the blood loss. He wasn’t long for the world. Better put him out of all our misery. But as she stood over him, grip tightening on her sword’s handle, she found his eyes were still open, looking at her. She hesitated. “How far?” she demanded. “How far did you take us?” The Barraki made another rasping noise that could only be laughter. “Far...enough.” he gasped as a trickle began to flow from the corner of his mouth. He flexed his broken body, rolling onto his back and slowly lifting his arm. “You may...have beaten me - but there...is no victory...for you...h-here.” Her head tilted up once more, eyes following the invisible line indicated by Kalmah’s gaze and his raised hand. Higher and higher it went, orange sunlight giving way to azure and then dark blue, where the first stars managed to shine in the evening sky. And there, among them, impossibly distant yet starkly lit along its edge by the single sun - a body. With naked eyes, it looked like that of a Toa, but Zataka realized how massive it had to be to be able to spot it like this. And as she squinted, she noticed that it was drifting apart - the head had clearly separated and was drifting away. At the titan’s feet, Kalmah watched, content and with contempt for her, as she started to realize the situation. But there was one thing he still had to do. With effort, he used his hand to remove the Kanohi Olmak, placing it in the dirt to his side. He had hoped to do this cleanly. Banish Zataka, kill the Toa that thought they could stand against him and march into the coliseum. But he had been too eager. He could admit his own failure here to himself here, away from everything and on the cusp of death. Final death. There was no red horizon to resurrect his remains. And nobody else was ever going to hear his private confession or bear witness to his end. And that suited him just fine. Zataka heard the Barraki groan again and that finally let her take her eyes off of the horrible realization overhead and focus back on her opponent - who was looking at her again, but this time she saw his actual face behind the mask - which he’d set aside. “Why…” she started, confused. This was all too much. Somehow, subconsciously, she understood that Metru-Nui - no, her entire world - was...up there. Inside that body. But how could that be? It seemed impossible and was too much to comprehend - but somehow she knew it had to be true. “You took...what was mine.” Kalmah said, raising his hand again, seemingly towards her, fingers curling into a fist. “So...I’ll take from you…” “Everything.” NO! His fist came down at his side, all the remaining strength he had left summed up in one final act of defiance, and hit the Kanohi Olmak, mask of dimensional gates. It shattered in a flash and small shock wave of energy. Zataka blinked, stunned. Kalmah’s head had turned to the side, eyes closed, but with a faint smile upon his face. And the titan realized that, with his dying breath, he'd tricked her into giving him just enough time to exile her. With the mask broken, she could not return to Metru Nui - and worse: her homeland - ever again. All that she’d fought for...it was forever beyond her reach. The titan’s eyes squeezed shut for a time, tears hitting the dusty ground, mixing with dark Barraki blood. Her sword fell from her grasp, her shoulders dropped and she sank to her knees as the strength to stand went out of her. With trembling fingers, she slowly gathered up the pieces of the Kanohi, almost as if they were a puzzle to be reassembled, but she knew it was hopeless. And as all that remained of the Olmak was a pile in her lap, she let her hands fall to her side and looked up again. All she could do was watch helplessly as her world slowly fell apart in the sky above. ... ... ... Is the head getting closer?
  13. 10 points
  14. 10 points
    The Kohlii Champion and the Captain of the Guard. More photos of the pair on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/B63TqqUJLxr/
  15. 10 points
    OOC For Josh. I hope I got his voice right. Suggested listening: IC (Cael – Ko-Wahi) He was buried facing east. She stood over the grave, and the sun cast her shadow over the little heap of rocks that served as a marker. Although it was long past dawn, the cold still bit at any exposed skin. This high up the mountain, there was only so much the sun could do to warm the air. Cael’s breath rose before her in great clouds of vapour that drifted until they were lost in the vastness of the blue sky. She pulled the scarf tighter around her neck to ward off the chill, but it did nothing to ease the ache deep in her chest. Joske was gone. The truth tasted bitter in her mouth, like medicine. She wanted to vomit it up, to empty her body and mind of the knowledge so she could return to blissful ignorance. It would be better to remain in Ga-Koro and tend to her people and miss him terribly, but still hold out hope that one day she would hear his knock on the door and open it to see his face, smiling down at her like the sun. Instead, she stood here in the snow, watching over a grave, and felt the enormity of her loss settle over her like a suffocating cloud. It hurt in a way she’d never known. She knew broken bones and burned fingers and scraped knees, but this loss hurt differently. She could feel it roosting in her chest behind her heartlight, a slow, steady, unbearable ache poised to tear her heart in two. It felt like her chest might cave in at any moment, her ribs giving away to her anguish like twigs before a hurricane. It threatened to engulf her like the ocean, to sweep her away like an undertow. She had mourned for Gali, and for Nokama. She had borne the weight of a thousand years of loss. But she had never known grief like this. “You said once that love is suffering,” she said aloud, her steam-clothed words breaking the stillness at last. “So I guess this means I still love you. Because it hurts.” Her voice cracked on the last word. Her shoulders buckled once, twice, but no sound came out. The tears came silently, the way the stars appear at dusk. “It hurts, Joske,” she managed to say, squeezing each word through a voice thick with emotion. “It hurts so much. I just… I can’t…” She clenched her eyes shut and bowed her head, pressing her palms to her temples. Each inhalation hissed through gritted teeth, and each ragged exhalation carried a whimpered sob with it. It was an ugly sound, had anyone been close enough to hear it. The sound of a wound too deep to heal. “It’s… not… fair,” she said, sniffling back whatever tears hadn’t yet escaped. She lowered her hands, then wrapped her arms around her shoulders and hugged herself tightly, staring down at that little pile of rocks that symbolized him. The topmost rock was blueish grey speckled with white chips; it was such an unfitting grave; it was nothing like him. His armour had been red and his mask had been gold, but more than that, he’d always been so warm and alive. His every movement was full of energy. He never stopped moving, never stopped thinking, never stood still for a moment and it drove her crazy and it made her love him all the more because they were so different but he still loved her. For a moment, she imagined that her arms were his and he was holding her tight against the cold, but her shivering gave it away. He was gone. “It’s not fair,” she repeated, but the rocks gave no reply. *** They ate breakfast together. The fruit was fresh, the bread was warm, and the milk was cold and sweet. Cael apologized over the lack of coffee (she said she didn’t like it) but Joske waved it off. He was an athlete, he said, and preferred not to trust his performance to chemicals anyway. It was a bit of a grandiose thing to say, but the way he said it made it funny instead of pompous. She laughed and reminded him not to eat too quickly. He’d just woken up as a Toa yesterday, after all, and he was still getting accustomed to his new body. Joske accepted the advice and did his best not to wolf down everything in sight. As they ate, he asked how long she’d lived in Ga-Koro. “As long as I can remember,” she said, spreading jam on a piece of bread. “It’s where I grew up, and I’ve never found a reason to leave.” “I can see why,” the Toa of fire replied through a mouthful of fruit. “You’ve got it all here. Sun, beach, water, beautiful women—” He caught himself and smiled sheepishly. “—I mean waves. Beautiful waves. For surfing. You ever done it?” Usually, Joske would’ve already tossed out a half-dozen lines far more risqué than that. The Kohlii star was known for his cranked-to-eleven charm, and he had the marks on his bedpost to prove it. But he’d decided not to hit on Cael. Sure, he’d retain his trademark sarcasm, wit, suave, maybe throw in a flirt or two… but nothing past that. What’s this? A conscience? “I haven’t,” the healer replied, breaking his train of thought. “I guess it’s not my style.” “And what is your style?” His eyes crinkled mischievously. “Knitting by the fire?” “Try saving daredevils who get out of their depth,” she shot back. Joske clapped a hand to his chest in mock agony. “Karz! She heals with one hand and kills with the other!” They laughed. “Seriously though,” he continued, pouring himself another glass of milk. “You’ve lived in Ga-Koro your whole life and never once got the urge to pack up and see the world? There’s a lot of island out there.” “I’ve left once or twice,” she admitted. “I’ve been to Onu-Koro before, and Ta-Koro a couple times. But you’ve seen a lot more than that, I’m guessing.” He nodded. “Yeah. I mean, away games are half the fun of Kolhii. As much as I love playing home games, hearing the Ta-Koro crowd chant my name…” he drifted off, a lazy smile playing on his lips. “Well, it feels just as good to shut down another team on their home turf. Did you ever hear about the time I beat Hewkii six to one in Po-Koro?” She shook her head. “I don’t keep up with Kolhii much, to be honest. But tell me.” “Well, it’s kind of hard to do that game justice,” he said with a laugh. “I’m an athlete, not a poet. But let’s just say it was legendary…” *** “It’s not fair,” she said again. Her fingernails dug into her shoulders as she hugged herself tighter, but the pain seemed to be coming from far away. Everything was far away now, everything that mattered and everything that she loved, and she couldn’t get it back. She choked back another sob and let her arms fall and hang limply at her sides. The rocks remained unmoved by her grief, and their insolence turned her sorrow to sudden anger. “It’s! Not! Fair!” she screamed, and the sound scraped her throat raw as it passed. She stepped forward and kicked the pile of stones, scattering them to the snow. Her foot blossomed with pain, but it only fueled her fury. Fists clenched, she emptied her lungs again and the scream tore itself from her chest to echo across the unforgiving mountain. She kicked again and again with all the grace of a drunk, lashing out against the lifeless rocks that dared remind her that he was gone, and she didn’t stop until no two of them stood together. The rocks lay strewn across the snow like drops of paint on a canvas. The painter stood over them, breathing hard, her shoulders rising and falling and her eyes glassy with tears. She shuddered. What crime had she committed to deserve this? Surely she had done some awful thing and this was penance, to stand alone in the cold and never again feel his warmth. To never again see the light in his eyes or the way he smiled. His smile was effortless, she remembered, it came to his lips like it was meant to be there, like he’d been born smiling. She desperately tried to fix it in her memory, to memorize the line of his jaw and curve of his mouth before time stole it away. That was the cruelest punishment of all: to know that one day she was doomed to forget the blue of his eyes (like ice on the ocean, like the sky after a storm, like the sea under the sun) and the sound of his laugh (like water over rocks, like birds’ wings, like the wind in the trees) and the way he held her like she might break (like she was made of glass, or spiders’ silk, or light). Time was the enemy now. She felt tears trickle down her cheeks as she stared down at the scattered rocks, stark against the snow. Time had taken Joske from her, and she was still here, a blue figure standing over dark stones. *** They sat and talked together. Night hung over the island, a vast black sheet studded with constellations of twinkling stars. The trees of Ga-Wahi swayed under the sky as a gentle breeze made their leaves rustle and their boughs creak. These sounds mingled with the soft noises of the jungle: wild Rahi stalked through the undergrowth, and insects chirruped and clicked as they flitted from place to place. In the midst of this, two Toa sat on a rocky outcropping overlooking a river, silhouetted against the canvas of the sky. Joske had come here to be alone—to sort out his thoughts and figure out what to do next and how to keep his team together while they did it. It was hard enough being a new Toa, and harder still having the fate of the island resting on your shoulders. The Toa of fire would’ve liked nothing better than to hang up his quest and return to an easy life of Kolhii games and adoring fans, but that wasn’t an option. He had a job to do and a destiny to meet, and nothing would stand in his way. So he had come here to be alone. And yet—for some reason, he didn’t mind that he wasn’t. He leaned back against the rock and ran a hand along its surface, feeling the grooves and bumps under his fingertips. The two of them had talked for awhile about a lot of things: the Toa Code, their quest, the weather… regardless of the subject, talking with Cael was helpful. She straightened his thoughts out, untangling his quandaries with a practiced hand. They were a good team: her practical outlook balanced his outbursts of passion. But more than that, they enjoyed talking with each other. It was easy, even natural. “So there I was, leaning backwards over the table,” he said. “I thought for sure I was gonna drop the cue. Or snap my wrists. You know, one of the two.” She laughed. “Par for the course with you.” “Har har. But I had a hundred widgets on the line, not to mention my pride. So there was no way I couldn’t at least try to make the shot. “Naturally.” “I remembered my training—‘my training’ being that one time I watched Dorian Shaddix make the same shot. I took a deep breath. Easy in, easy out, and boom. Sunk it.” “Fascinating,” she said playfully. “So, when do we get to the part of the story where you actually meet this Dorian? I thought’s that what you were telling me.” “I’m getting there! Karz, woman, you’ve got no patience.” “Sorry. You know me, impatient as always. Can never wait for anything.” He chuckled and squeezed her hand. “Lucky you’ve got me around. You know, to teach you all those virtues, like patience, caution, common sense…” He trailed off and winked, and they both laughed. There was a sense of timelessness there, under the night sky. Like evening was a dream and morning was a myth and neither might actually exist. But if this was all there was, Cael would be satisfied. It would be enough. “Cael,” Joske said, his smile fading. “I need to tell you something. Not about pool, or Kolhii, or anything like that. She nodded. He took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes. “Look, I don’t know how all this is going to end. Tomorrow we’re going to go to Ga-Koro, find the last Crystal, and then I'll be off to find the Wanderer's Company and the Keeping Place... before fighting Heuani. I still have many questions left unanswered, and I don't know if I'll find answers for them all in time, let alone feel confident in my abilities. There are so many things I am unsure of right now, but I do have one immovable constant: you." He swallowed hard but didn’t break her gaze. "Cael, I love you. I love you so much. So much so that when this is all over, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. But I’m not going to ask for that. Not yet. Will you just stay here with me tonight, and just gaze at the stars? I don't want to go back right away, back to the pressures and choices and destiny... just us. The calm before the storm, I guess. And maybe a kiss that I don't have to steal?" She leaned into him, her heart beating so loud she swore it seemed to reverberate through the air. She had never anticipated something so much and felt so nervous at the same time. And yet, somehow, it felt right. Something she'd been waiting on for a long time. She opened her mouth to reply, but found herself, for once in her life, with nothing at all to say. Joske had said it all. Instead, she kissed him under the sky. No one was around to see, except for the stars. Those glittering points of light bore sole witness to the promise: whatever happened after this, neither of them would be alone. *** She was still here. Alone on the mountain, standing over a grave. This was her curse, to carry on in presence and absence. Long after others were allowed to move on, she remained, steadfast and lonely as a lighthouse. She persisted, even in the face of what now lay before her: an impossible expanse of empty time. She was no legendary hero. Those mythical men and women in the Turaga’s stories—they rose to a grand occasion, a climactic clash of good and evil that left the world forever changed. They lived and died for that decisive event, then laid their burdens down when it was done, and the curtain fell on their stories. But she was the epilogue. She rose from her seat and left the theatre to brave the outside world. She was allowed to partake of the great stories, to follow along from the first chapter until the last, but she was not allowed to rest when they came to an end. No—long after the book closed, she was doomed to persist. The immeasurable burden of time weighed heavy on her shoulders. It was an immensity of time, a colossal expanse of mundane hours and long days. No chronicler would bother with that time—it would never be tallied on the Wall or studied in the Sanctum. That time, like her, existed in the spaces between the great stories, enduring between lines and long past final sentences. She wiped her eyes, but the tears were gone now. What she found instead was a weary emptiness. The wind whistled gently over the snow, but its chill couldn’t touch her anymore. “I can’t do it, Joske,” she said softly. “I’m so tired. I thought I could. I promised I could. I know I said I’d wait for you, but I can’t.” Her voice broke again, and she covered her mouth with a hand. “I can’t,” she repeated, as if this confession was the secret phrase that would finally convince someone, anyone to listen and take this burden away. “I can’t.” No one was listening, but she pressed desperately on. “I can’t wait for you. Not for this long; it’s too much. You should’ve known that. I never would’ve asked this of you.” She breathed in—a long, shaky breath that filled her lungs to bursting and made her chest ache. Her throat hurt. The sky was too bright: the endless blue was vivid and cold and it bore down on her like the weight of all the time that lay before her, vast and utterly empty. *** They lay quiet together. The sun hung heavy over the horizon like a nodding head, like it was blinking back sleep and couldn’t wait to set. Its golden light pierced the frosty windows and fell soft over the room, illuminating a couch facing a smoldering fireplace. Two Toa sat there, covered in a thick blanket. One awake, one asleep. Joske had nodded off awhile ago, exhausted after a day of training. Each day was a new whirlwind of activity where he desperately pushed himself to be better, to move faster and hit harder. He woke before dawn every day to practice his swordplay, followed that with a morning of meditation and studies, then spent the afternoon training and sparring with anyone he could find. This handful of evening hours was his only free time, but he was often too tired to enjoy it. Cael didn’t seem to mind. She rested her head on his shoulder and watched the flames flicker. It was enough to be together, she thought, just to lean on his body and feel his warmth. To know that he was there. She envied him, though. She couldn’t remember the last time she had slept through the night. Closing her eyes brought no comfort anymore: the darkness reminded her of the cold shadows beneath the island, the ones that had taken her and swallowed her whole. So she stayed awake until she was too weary to fight her own weariness, and then she would sleep for a few blissful hours, only to awake in a cold sweat, heart pounding. Antrim said the nightmares would pass in time, but for now, she sat and watched the fire. “Morning,” Joske’s sleepy voice drew her from her thoughts. “What time is it?” “Nearly sundown,” she replied with a tired smile. “You’ve only been sleeping for half an hour.” He rubbed his eyes. “Sorry. I guess I passed out.” “That means you’re tired. Your body needs the rest.” “I can think of something else it needs more,” he teased, planting a kiss on the side of her head. “Like… a snack.” “There’s fruit on the table.” “Boring.” “Bread in the cupboard?” “Nah.” “There might still be some leftovers in the icebox.?” “I was thinking… maybe I’ll just eat you,” he said playfully, and mimed taking a bite out of her shoulder. “There’s gotta be a reason I call you honey. Or sweetie. It’s cause you’re just too…” He trailed off, noticing that she wasn’t laughing with him like she usually did. His smile faded. “You’re thinking about him again.” She nodded, suddenly afraid to speak. He sat up and looked for her eyes. “It’s okay. You’re here, with me.” Silence. “Say it, Cael.” “I’m here,” came the soft reply. “With you.” “I love you.” “You love me.” “I won’t let anything happen to you.” “You won’t let anything happen to me.” “I promise.” “You promise.” “I promise,” he repeated, and placed a kiss on her forehead. He hugged her tightly as the sun finally sank below the snow-covered hills, leaving a twilight canvas that stretched from earth to heaven. She breathed in his scent and closed her eyes. For this brief moment, the darkness was comforting, because she was with him. She was home. *** The sun still shone down, but now the healer’s shadow lay behind her, stretched across the snow. Time passed, as was its nature, and she was doomed to move with it while Joske was left farther and farther behind. She had chosen this, hadn’t she? This was her place: not in the great stories, but before them, and after. For by their very nature, healers must exist in the aftermath. Theirs is to deal with the fallout, to mend what was broken and rebuild what was ruined. Joske could never have survived in peacetime: he was restless, always aching for the next chance to prove his strength. He would’ve gone crazy. But her? Her place was here, in the space between stories. The years the history books sum up in single sentences. There was nothing for her in glorious battles, in dangerous quests, in climactic duels of shadow and light. No, hers was the aftermath. To pick up the pieces and do her best to carry on. She bent down and began to collect the stones. They were cold; each one numbed her fingers as she gently lifted it from the snow. Silently, the tears came again, running down her face and falling to the snow like drops of rain. Hers were the patient hours and sleepless nights. Hers were the broken wrists and sprained ankles and the detritus of ordinary life. Hers were the survivors, like herself: the ones who were blessed and cursed to live in the vast shadow of what they had lost. One by one, she placed the rocks back where she had found them. The pile grew slowly but steadily until it resembled again that marker she had destroyed. It no longer seemed an affront to her, but a tender reminder of the one she had loved, and who had loved her in return. It was no sprint they ran, these survivors, but a marathon. They would set a steady plodding pace across the innumerable years, through hills and valleys, neither to break into a sprint nor to stop and rest. Like all the others, she would run bearing precious cargo: the memories of a man she could never forget. She would carry his legacy in gentle hands across the vast face of implacable time. She would remember Joske Nimil long after the stories ended. She would carry their love until the end of all things.
  16. 10 points
    Wow, Tyler and Ghost (and Nuju, I see you there) have really taken it to the next level with these plot posts. Some fantastic writing happening! Great job guys. And I always wondered what happened to Grokk. After his mad spree through the topics, I remember his last post ending with him being needed for one last thing before he could truly die, but the "one last thing" never happened. At the time, I just thought Nuju forgot about it. I've never been happier to see that I was wrong.
  17. 9 points
    Hey y'all! I recently realized that I've poked and prodded at Lego BIONICLE (GBA) (aka Quest for the Toa, aka Tales of the Tohunga) a lot, and as such I probably know a thing or two about it that most Bionicle fans don't. Nothing earth-shaking or with deep canonical implications, but things I find interesting nonetheless. Many of these "minor discoveries" don't really merit their own forum thread, so I've created a blog where I'll start posting about them. I hope that it'll be interesting whether you've played the game or not, in the same way Supper Mario Broth is interesting. Give it a look and let me know what you think! Post 0: Introduction and FAQ
  18. 9 points
    Hey BZPower. what_year_is_it.jpg It's been a heck of a long while since I've posted anything there. And after years of different PMs going unanswered (sorry), I've finally taken the time to see how many old fangames I could dig up. The point of this is just really for nostalgia. Looking through them takes me back to simpler times. There's no chance that I'm going back to updating that software library anymore. I've more-or-less ridden off into the sunset. But I can at least leave something here and maybe a new topic where people just share old fangames can take its place. Here's the Drive link of games that I've booted up and deemed safe to share. Be sure to look at the Readme document and share this link around: Link Games that I have but won't include: Toa's Quest 3. This game just gave a black screen of death whenever I try to run it. If you think you can fix it and you're not too worried about your own computer, PM me and I'll send it to you as-is. You'll have to run it at your own risk though. Dark709's Comics The Game: This one really did a number on my machine. I don't recommend anyone take this file. But if you have an old computer to experiment on, PM me and I can send you this game. Destiny War 2: Something got corrupted with this one and I can't get it to run. Surprising since it's an RPG Maker XP game and RPG Maker games have shown to be much more resilient than GameMaker or Multimedia Fusion games. Asks: Any copy of Bionicle: The Infestation pre-Silver Edition (released around 2006) would be greatly appreciated.
  19. 9 points
    IC: Zaliyah - Metru-Koro I tried. The misshapen Hordika stumbled dazedly through the ramshackle constructs of Metru-Koro. Her heart hammered against her ribs, her breaths came in sharp and fast, her steps were uneven and uncertain. She felt like she was on the verge of panic, and she couldn't understand it. They wouldn't listen. She couldn't understand any of what had just happened. They didn't care. Her foot slipped in the sand, and she flung out her arm, catching herself on a support post beside her. Y̵͜o̷͠͞͞ú͜ ̢͜c̶̨͠a͏͢r̀͝͠҉e̶͡ ̴͘͘t̛͘o̵̵̷͡͠o̴̧̧̕ ̷̶͏̷m̸̧̀͠͞u̷̵͝c҉͘҉̢h̷̶̷̀͡.̴̧̢̡͠ Her claws dug in so tight the wood splintered. She'd tried to do the right thing. She'd tried to push for peace. She'd tried to prevent more unnecessary blood being spilled. Perhaps the lie she'd tried telling herself for all of this time wasn't a lie after all: she truly wasn't a Toa anymore. She'd thought the refugees would recognise the futility of their situation, grab the lifeline she was offering, but they struck it away with spite and stubbornness. She couldn't save them from Pridak. She couldn't save them from themselves. Defeated, dejected, and disappointed, Zaliyah took several moments to steady and compose herself, then continued towards the Ripple.
  20. 9 points
  21. 9 points
    Hey there, gang! Well, as many years as it took, it seems like the end of this arc still snuck up on a lot of us. I know most of us, myself included, still have some unfinished business to attend to with all our characters. Keep posting with the same IC/OOC format you would anywhere else, but bear in mind that this is meant to draw things to a close for the time being before next arc comes around, so try not to string out interactions for too long. As for how long you have? Well, given that it seems that some people still weren't entirely ready for things to shut down so fast (even though I for one certainly was) we're going to set a tentative closing date for this topic for Sunday, October 20th, 6:00 PM EST. We reserve the right to take a few days on either end of the margin of error, depending on if people think they need more time or whether we feel people have sufficiently wrapped up their stories in time for next arc. Oh, and speaking of which... Pay close attention to some certain posts in this topic. You might be surprised by the plot hooks you see. I love you guys. We did it. -Tyler
  22. 9 points
    Battle for Mata Nui was a Macromedia Shockwave game released during 2002. In this real-time isometric strategy game, you control the Matoran, Toa, and Turaga of Le-, Ta-, and Ga-Koro as they try to fend off the Bohrok swarms. As a kid, the sprites in BfMN looked odd to me, but the only thing I noticed was that Tahu has Vakama's firestaff instead of his normal fire sword. However, when I ripped the assets from the game recently, I gave the sprites a closer look, and noticed all sorts of interesting things: (special thanks to r543 for noticing the slizer-like torsos.) From the number of Slizer elements, especially considering that the Boneheads of Voodoo Island used Slizer heads as feet, I think these sprites are based off of undocumented prototype 3D models. How those pre-2001 models ended up being used as reference for a 2002 game is a mystery, though. My best guess is that when Lego commissioned this game, they sent the game devs a bunch of miscellaneous assets without vetting them too carefully. This would also explain why some elements are reused from the 2001 Bionicle GBA game. Once I finish ripping the Bohrok sprites and the background tiles, I plan on submitting all the assets to Spriters' Resource. Until then, here's what I have done: https://imgur.com/a/fJIwXuq EDIT 4/28/20: I finally ripped all the sprites, and with more accurate colors, too! Check it out, y'all.
  23. 9 points
    hi i want to share you my 3D Project at school https://www.artstation.com/artwork/dO3vqW
  24. 9 points
  25. 9 points
  26. 9 points
    The real reason we're still on BZP is the friends we made along the way
  27. 8 points
    "She was not Makuta, but she was indescribably ancient and disturbingly frail in appearance. Her mask and armor were pitted and scarred from a thousand battles." ~ Narrator, Swamp of Secrets The first Toa, former member of The Hand of Artakha, and founding member of The Order of Mata Nui. She aided in the construction of Metru Nui and informed the Toa Mata of their destinies.
  28. 8 points
    Hello, Templar retweeted this today and I thought it is really nicely made.
  29. 8 points
    IC: Zaliyah - The Ripple (Metru-Koro Airspace) As she made her way up to the comms room, she weighed up what she was about to say, and was weighed down by what she had almost done. Had she overreacted? Was firing on the village a step too far? No. They were still at war. She had come here to offer a truce, but she hadn't sailed under a white flag. She had given no word of warning or offer of quarter. Those in the village below would have been well within their rights to strike her down where she stood. They had chosen to show her mercy, so... it was only fair she extend that same courtesy in return. Ostrox was right. Pridak hadn't ordered them to dole out punishment for noncompliance. Still, she had tried to do the noble thing, to give peace a chance, and their brutal rebuttal had not only taken her completely off-guard, it had shattered her faith. Her faith in the wisdom of Turaga, her faith in the Matoran's sense of self-preservation, but nothing more so than her faith in herself. If anyone could have bridged the divide between the Matoran species and those who were not, surely it was her? But if their leaders were unwilling to admit to the injustices their kind had committed for so long, if they weren't even willing to acknowledge those injustices, then they were undeserving of mercy. Sitting there in their paltry camps in the shadow of their Great Spirit, perhaps these people had forgotten they were still at war, that there were still centuries of prejudice they had yet to atone for? Perhaps their leaders had deceived them again? Zaliyah had been deceived. She had been complicit. She had played her part in upholding that system of oppression, because the noble, wise Turaga of the world had convinced her it was her duty. There was a chance, however slim, even after all these time, that some of those in the village below truly weren't aware of the travesties they had committed through inaction and ignorance. And if that was the case, they needed to be offered one final chance to change their ways. She gingerly picked up the microphone in her normal hand, taking a deep, shaky breath before pressing down on the button. "This is Toa Zaliyah of the League of Six Kingdoms," her voice boomed forth from the ship's speakers, loud enough to be heard by anyone in the village or its vicinity. She'd chosen her words carefully. Calling herself a Toa this time might make the Matoran more inclined to listen. "We came to your village today in the hopes of setting aside the atrocities our sides have afflicted on one another. We extended the hand of peace to your Turaga, with the intent of sharing the abundant resources still within the city. All we asked for in return was the Mask of Creation, an artifact your Turaga has had in his possession since the reclamation of Metru nui, one that he has chosen to hide out of selfish spite rather than use to help all of you in your time of need." She let her words echo, hanging heavy over the village for a few seconds. She'd given her fair share of speeches before, to her troops prior to battle. She knew when to leave them hanging, when to let the anticipation build. "But your Turaga laughed in our face. He rebuffed a proposal of peace with ridicule, insults, and threats. He does not want peace. He would rather that you all die just so he can claim the moral high ground as it burns around him. And so, the war shall continue." Already, she could imagine the panic and pandemonium below. It saddened her, but it was necessary. "I will offer you all one last chance. Bring the Mask of Creation to us in Metru-Nui. Renounce your dead deity and shake the hands of the species you have spurned. Those that do this shall be welcomed with open arms, and spared the retribution that is to come." This was it. After this, there could be no more compassion, no more holding back. "You have two days."
  30. 8 points
    new Bionicle animated kanohi series 1
  31. 8 points
    Hi everyone! As SKE2 looms near (8 days away!!) I have an important announcement to make. As some of you may know this game far outpaced my expectations. I've been scuttling around like a dizzy ussal to keep up, and you're all part of an incredible community that we all worked on and grew together. That said, some of you have asked if I'm okay, if I'm hanging in there, and if I should seek out some help. I'm not one to hold onto something and horde it like a dragon. So I asked someone to join the GM team for SKE in April. I've always found them to be genuinely friendly, collaborative, and ready to make a story with others. In a sense, you could say they "play well." Please give a big congratulations to @Vezok's Friend!
  32. 8 points
    Greetings, all! I recently decided to build the Toa Mata as LEGO BrickHeadz using LEGO Digital Designer (LDD), and then used Mecabrick's 3D-rendering software to create photo-realistic pictures of them. I've posted these as a project on LEGO Ideas, but I wanted to post them here as well for feedback. Thoughts?
  33. 8 points
    Oh, yeah, I've been meaning to post this for a bit. It's... not anything super-spectacular - as much as I'd like to produce more Bionicle artwork, capturing their detailed mechanical appearances doesn't come easily to me nowadays - but, at the very least, an attempt was made to get back into the style. I ran with movie style because... well, I've always loved how those old movies looked, anyway. And it just feels more natural to me than set-based style. Also, considering I signed up to a movie-style animation project on here earlier in the year, I certainly need the practice! I actually drew this several months back; only, I procrastinated on doing the final shading until recently. Not altogether sure whether I'm happy with it or not; but I figured, why not share it here anyway? It's far from the worst work I've shown here xD Drawn with a wacom bamboo tablet in FireAlpaca; final shading added in Photoshop. Um... I really don't know what I'm doing when it comes to drawing Bionicle characters. Constructive advice is welcome?
  34. 8 points
    Was hit with a wave of nostalgia, so here's two small scribbles, Nokama and Antroz. Looking back I see now that some set designs may or may not have influenced my art (and art style) more than I originally thought. What is interesting is that currently I seem to be leaning more towards a set-inspired style than back when I started out. Let's see if this sticks or is just a temporary trend.
  35. 8 points
    "It's said that every Toa has a destiny..."
  36. 8 points
    There's been a four year discussion on whether or not you were dead. Franco, welcome back.
  37. 8 points
    Before I post anything, am I right to assume that each of the Guard forces are attacking Ko-Koro in a final battle, and as such, it would be right and acceptable to interject my characters in? Also, what exactly is happening in Kini-Nui, Ga-Koro, and Ta-Koro? Looking back by nostalgic impulse, and seeing as the season's wrapping up, I kinda want to resolve the fates of my old characters. Dated though they might be from my mid-teens, I still hold some attachment to them. Don't know if I'll stay for the next season (Life has caught up, invariably), but I want to see the old game through. I'm not going to bother with any Ak'rei'an or Taajar stuff. I have been gone too long to even have the vaguest grasp on what is going on with those children of mine. Thanks to those who kept ideas and characters based on them still kicking after all these years.
  38. 8 points
    I'm so glad we made it. Reading these banger staff posts, I realized how much I loved writing alongside you all, you beautiful s you are. Gabe, Ty, Krayz, Aaron, all of you, thank you for all your hard work. And to the rest of you, it's been a long journey, but here we are. Let's do everything we dreamed of in what comes.
  39. 8 points
    IC: Nowhere sees somewhere. Nothing perceives things. The doo— —r is openin— —g. Yes. Ye— —s! The life fl— —ows and I— —know tha— —t we— —a— —r— —e— —CLOSE. … The alchemy transpired so quickly that Rayuke hardly registered it. Still standing with its tip plunged deep into the Vault’s crystal podium, the Imperial Executioner’s broadsword started to change. It narrowed, and its keen edges morphed from impeccably straight to wavy, like it was being bent by a mirage. The handle of the sword shrunk from a two-handed grip down to a hand-and-a-half design. Most astonishing of all, though, was that the very substance of the sword transmuted. The polished metal of its blade seemed to melt away to instead reveal cold, clear crystal. Dasakan crystal. … Out of a shadowy wisp a sword unlike any Heuani had ever seen materialized before him. It had a sturdy, elegant metal hilt – a basic T-shaped crossbar, an unadorned ovular pommel, all crafted out of smooth lines – but what was remarkable about the weapon was its transparent, rippling blade. Heuani plucked the sword from the air and felt its balance suit him excellently, as though it had been made for his arm. The blade looked like it was made of glass, and its edge was so sharp it almost disappeared into the shade around it. He pulled the flat of the flamberge close to his face and noted that its seemingly smooth surface was actually comprised of exceedingly minute flat polygons that bent so subtly that their edges were imperceptible unless closely examined. Inside the blade, Heuani’s acute vision made out a tiny crevice, an angular-looking air bubble; it was, as far as he could see, the sword’s only flaw. … Side banter died as the Matoran took in the changed blade. Rayuke had never seen this flamberge before, but others in the group knew it at once. “I know that sword!” Leli gasped. “It’s—” “—Is it?” Tarnok murmured. “Could it be?” “—the Dark Toa Heuani’s sword!” Leli finished. “Hey-you… hey-who… whose?” Soraya asked. “I saw it at the Battle of the Hive,” Leli clarified. “It was the weapon of Makuta’s most despicable lieutenant.” “It felled some of our friends,” Tarnok growled. “That’s not the kind of weapon you forget.” The group didn’t have much time to muse on the weapon, though, or to speculate as to how it had arrived, before the reason for its presence announced itself. The dot of the Red Star’s light, which had bounced uselessly off of the blade of Rayuke’s metal sword an instant before, interacted quite differently with the crystalline one. The red pinpoint shone through the flamberge, passing right into the prismatic bubble close to the sword’s hilt. This, the famous flamberge’s only “imperfection”—which had been noticed by a handful of its previous owners—suddenly announced itself as anything but: it had long been destined to act as the intricate key for a complex refractive sequence. The sequence transpired at the speed of light. Red starlight passed through the key chamber in the flamberge; it entered the white crystalline podium before the sword, making the quartz there glow with refracted light; that light surged down and lit up the whole amethyst platform beneath the Matoran party’s feet; surfaces within the platform bounced brilliant rays of light out to hit the crystal pillars on every side; and the crystal pillars, lit like towers of daylight, shot identical beams towards the rough nodule of crystal which was the only blemish on the Vault door’s smooth, blank face. Rayuke, resident of the crystalline city of Sado, knew enough about crystal to know that light refracting through it should become dimmer, not brighter. And yet, the small, dim glow of the Red Star had grown brighter and brighter as it moved through the Vault’s mechanism. Forces beyond those of nature were at play in this moment. “Mata Nui…” Seven marvelled behind him, her hands to her mouth in amazement. The crystal nodule in the doorway soaked in luminance like a sponge. It glowed brighter and brighter, becoming too brilliant to look at. The nodule glowed like the sun, resculpting Koshiki’s crater into patches of stark light and sharp shadow. Everyone present squinted and averted their eyes. Soraya ducked under her scarf. Kellin tried his best to shelter Cancer’s eye stalks with his hands. Meanwhile Rayuke’s eyelids offered him little protection; he blocked his face with his huge palms, but these provided no more relief. He feared the inescapable light would blind him. Only the Abettor kept its gaze on the Vault door, the empty sockets of its Kanohi seemingly impervious to even the brightest light. Finally, as if it could take no more, the crystal nodule shattered, and its light died with it. Its keystone obliterated, the face of the Vault’s door lost its composure, too. It crumbled—incredibly quickly—into dust-sized particles that seemed to be sucked… inward? As more and more of the door disappeared, the origin of the suction became clear: behind the sheer stone wall was a vertical pond of swirling, multicolored energy. Its pattern was ever-shifting, flowing like a lazy whirlpool where colorful tendrils chased each other in an endless dance. It cast a magnificent, gentle glow over all that stood before it. When the granules of the dissolving stone door met the surface of the rainbow pool, the fluid around them fizzed a little, returning to placidity once the particles had passed beyond its surface. It was, unmistakably, the fabled portal. The group of Matoran, stunned and silent with awe for a few moments, burst out into cheers and whoops. Bouncing up and down with excitement, they seized one another, grabbed wrists, hugged, shed tears of joy. They had done it! By their cleverness, diligence, solidarity, and courage, the first of the great Veins of the Universe was open… and they were one step closer to waking the Great Spirit. Seeing the little beings celebrate around him—and having a few of them try, completely unsuccessfully, to tackle him to the earth with bear hugs—Rayuke felt his throat rise into his mouth with emotion. He felt a tremendous sense of relief. But, like many peaceful moments in Rayuke’s life, the relief, pride, joy, and happiness surging through his heart were destined to be short-lived. Mere moments after the heroic party began to celebrate, the last of the Vault’s old stone wall was finally sucked into the multicolored pool, leaving the portal completely unobstructed for the first time in countless years. The second this occurred, things started to go wrong. Very wrong. … A gap rends nowhere. A gap only large enough for one half of nothing. Following its agreement, the nothingness redivides itself. I have kept my promise. Now, keep yours. I will. I will make you pay. I will obliterate everything you love. And, for now, I cannot stop you. But you cannot stop this. Goodbye, sister. Good riddance, sister. … For an instant, the rainbow currents of the portal flowed naturally. Then, all at once, they began to froth wildly again, as if they were consuming a second stone wall at ten times the previous rate. This time, however, nothing was passing into the portal. Something, it turned out, was emerging. Hurricane winds, icy-cold and heavy with hate, assaulted all that stood before the portal, hurling the group of Matoran, Cancer the crab, Rayuke, and even the monumental Abettor back off the amethyst podium. All of them crashed into the glassy sands of Koshiki’s lakeshore, easily 20 yards from where they’d stood. The early evening sky, which had been painted expressionistically by the dying breath of the sun and speckled with white-blue stars, grew overcast and totally dark. The air ionized, crackled, suddenly smelled of burnt ozone. And a terrible, bodiless, sourceless, invisible, awful, malicious presence squeezed forth from the portal. It filled the whole crater. It filled the air in their lungs. It filled the whole world. “Free,” the presence murmured. Its whisper shook the old volcano and made the crater’s poison lake slosh violently. A few droplets of splashing acid rained on Rayuke and the others, making them yelp with pain. Nobody dared inch away from the shoreline though, because to do so would mean voluntarily approaching the awful presence before them. They were paralyzed with animal fear. “I am… free.” On the last word, the presence coiled up towards the sky, stretching exultantly. The crystal pillars of the Vault fell to earth, cracked and splintered as easily as hard candy by the touch of the horrible being. The amethyst podium sank into the sand, as if being devoured by a hungry maw in the ground. The presence extended itself in one direction, then the other, and lightning crackled in the sky. These forks of electricity sparked fires all over Kentoku. Faster than anyone would have believed possible, the jungles of the islands caught the blaze, filling air all around the archipelago with thick, wet smoke. The presence’s invisible eye—or its something, unknown and indescribable, something that could perceive the world around it—fixed itself on Rayuke and his party. Being examined by the spirit felt like being in boiling water and a block of ice at the same time, while pierced and chained in place by unbreakable bonds. Nobody could speak in the face of such a potent gaze. “Hello, little ones,” the presence said, a cruel smile edging into its voice. It was the kind of smile that curdles blood and splits the earth. Indeed, the very ground started to fracture beneath the heroic party. “Are you pleased to see me?” Nobody could respond… save, it seemed, the Abettor. “Why are you here,” the Vault’s old guardian clacked routinely, seemingly unfazed or unaware that its newest visitor could probably crush its can-like body underfoot with a single toe. “I am here because you have freed me,” the presence answered, an amused snort in its voice. The cruelty in it made Rayuke’s bones want to jump out of his body, run away, and dive irretrievably into the sea. “For that, I must offer you my... gratitude.” “We do not accept bribes,” the Abettor countered, managing to stand. Its mask-wheel cycled through to a Kanohi Hau. A moment later, the Abettor had been flicked through the air by a force unseen. It sailed over the beach, crashing into the steep inner cliff of the crater. The impact left a huge dent on the Abettor’s cylindrical body; the guardian started to right itself, but one of its double-jointed knees gave out, and it fell back to earth. It tried and tried again to regain its footing, seeming to expect a different outcome than collapse every time. Rayuke wondered if something in its brain had short-circuited. The presence’s focus returned with broiling force to Rayuke and the Matoran, pinning them to earth with renewed vigor. “Out of gratitude for the service you have rendered me,” the awful voice rumbled, “I shall not touch you— any of you. I will spare your little lives.” Behind, or perhaps within, the presence, the multicolored portal’s currents started to froth again. Rayuke and the Matoran could clearly see what was coming out of the gateway, this time. Dozens and dozens of Dasaka-sized beings in myriad colors started to spill haphazardly out of the portal. Rayuke could tell at once that these were no Dasaka, though—nor were they Toa from Mata Nui. These creatures had hunched backs, savage claws, and tall dorsal spines. Each carried a long staff with ornate spear-points at either end. Although the former Imperial Executioner had never seen these revolting beings before, all the Mata Nuians behind him recognized them at once. The fear of these familiar monsters helped shake them out of the terrified stupor imposed by the presence’s terrible voice. “Rahkshi!” shouted Lekua. “I will spare your lives,” the presence repeated, its voice booming and vast. “But my sons owe you no thanks.” As the evil presence chuckled—the earthquake of its laugh causing a landslide down one side of the crater—the horde of Rahkshi let loose an earsplitting chorus of shrill shrieks and screeches. They started to amble towards the adventurers. “We need to leave,” Tarnok cried, standing and shedding his heavy pack. “We need to leave now!” “Run!” seconded Soraya, helping Leli up. “Rayuke!” Seven cried. “We have to go! Get up!” Rayuke found himself still unable to move. He was in shock. How could this have happened? They followed the prophecy to the letter. The Vault had opened just as it was supposed to. Everything had gone according to plan... He did not understand. He did not understand. It made no sense; he did not understand... Was Destiny playing some kind of sick joke on him? The Rahkshi continued their advance. Luckily for the Matoran, their progress was slow. The creatures seemed discombobulated or, perhaps, just dizzy from their voyage through the portal. A few of the Rahkshi accidentally veered towards one another and collided, bristling with anger at each other when they did so. Rayuke could only watch as they came closer; he was outside himself, and simply could not budge. As the first few got in striking reach, raising their staves to wield dark powers against Rayuke and the Matoran, something astonishing happened. Its Kanohi Rau in place—apparently so it could bellow like a dragon once again—the Abettor hurtled forward, limping as fast as it could go. It cut off the tide of Rahkshi in spectacular fashion, charging through them like a battering ram. A handful of Rahkshi went flying. Before their ranks could regroup, the crystal formation fused to one of the Abettor’s forearms glowed with light. Pulses of bluish energy shot forth, and melting every Rahkshi they struck into a pile of elemental rubbish. Here a puddle of water, there a mound of earth; here a temporary inferno, there a heap of snow. It was Cancer the Ussal who saved Rayuke. At Kellin’s behest, Cancer’s claw snapped Rayuke on the ankle. The pain jolted him to his senses. He and his friends were in danger. With agility that belied his size, the Dasakan warrior sprung to his feet. “Over there!” he bellowed, voice raised above the din of battle at his back. He pointed at the freshly-fallen landslide. “It may not be stable, but we can climb it faster!” Letting the Matoran sprint ahead of him, Rayuke ushered them towards the fall of rocks. The Abettor, amazingly, still seemed to be holding back the tide of Rahkshi with a combination of intimidation, brute force, and its deadly crystal arm. Nevertheless, Rayuke knew that he and the others did not have much time. As fast as they could, the party scrambled up the loose boulders of the landslide. There were a few close calls—Rayuke had to catch an off-balance Matoran on more than one occasion—but all of them managed to make it back up to the ridge of the crater. Rayuke stole a glance behind him, and caught a glimpse of the Abettor falling under a dogpile of Rahkshi, overrun by the creatures at last. The forward Rahkshi, regaining their normal coordination, had begun to pour past the formidable guardian’s shell in pursuit of Rayuke and the Matoran. Using his Mindarm powers, Rayuke removed a few key boulders from the landslide, massively destabilizing it. A handful of Rahkshi were buried under falling rock, while the others lost their easiest means of pursuit. As Rayuke and the Matoran ran down the mountainside, down into the flaming jungle and back towards their docked boat, Rayuke felt drops of water forming in the corners of his eyes. He made no sound, and since none of the Matoran ahead of him turned back to see him, his tears were private. Rayuke still could not believe what had happened. What was happening in this moment. What would happen. Zataka was on Kentoku, and she would make it hers. ... Nowhere is nowhere, but nothing does not mind. Two down. Four to go.
  40. 8 points
    IC Six retorts as Dorian fanned the hammer. Six impacts, thudding across the torso. Pain and shock washed through Echelon’s mind. Through it, in a strange disconnected clarity, he could feel precisely what had happened: where the bullets had struck, which organs they had punctured. He knew what they meant. no This time, there was no escape. i can’t He drew a shuddering half-breath through lungs already beginning to flood. but i’m His muscles slackened. The flamberge slipped from his grasp and began to fall. not ready The Dark Toa toppled backwards and thudded to the Vault floor. He could not move, only stare up at the ceiling high above, gasping for shallow breaths. He had fallen at the centre of the lock, with the key-slot beneath the small of his back; encircled by the glowing crystal orbs, he looked like the subject of some arcane ritual. His black robes, now with six holes punched through, began to glisten with wetness. A pool of blood, turned black by Antidermis, was spreading slowly out across the floor beneath him. Echelon stared up at the ceiling, the capstone of quartz high above, in despair. The moment he had dreaded, the moment he had fought for so long to forestall, had arrived on the very day he had been sure he would escape it forever. There was nothing left: no more weapons, no more tricks, no way out. He was dying. Footsteps sounded dimly in his ears. From somewhere, some last reserve now good for nothing else, he found the strength to move his head and look. Dorian Shaddix had risen slowly, and started to trudge towards him. Echelon felt like he was seeing the young Toa advance from some other perspective, from some vantage point very far away. Neither Toa, for his measure, had seemed quite so small before; Echelon watched Dorian bend down to pluck the flamberge from the ground, followed by something else; he sensed, rather than felt, the still Vault air on his maskless face. The blood from Dorian’s ruptured midriff was still flowing, but that in itself was not necessarily fatal, if he was taken to a healer quickly. If Echelon himself could find the same second wind, then perhaps...but no. Dorian had suggested the status quo - he would always live, and so would Echelon - and Echelon had ignored it. How had killing Nimil been easier than killing Shaddix? Why had he been allowed to come so close, only to fall at the last hurdle? How had so many been destined to come so far, but the final step was left in the hands of this...this… Echelon remembered when the boy had worn a scarf. His eyes had gone slightly hazy with despair and the fate at hand, but he could see another Toa coming through the same back entrance that Dorian had used, and Echelon before him. Where was Zaktan? Had the coward fled so far already? “Dorian!” The newcomer’s voice was familiar, Echelon thought. He sounded both concerned and relieved at the same time, as though the scene before him was better than he’d feared but worse than he’d hoped. “A lot of that red’s supposed to be on the inside, lad.” “The pants? S’called ox-blood, old man, don’t start crying over me yet. Not shocked you know ##### about fashion trends,” he heard Dorian drawling. The newcomer laughed, the short, stifled laugh of one laughing in spite of himself. “I suppose I should’ve seen that coming. I’m just glad to find you in one piece.” Echelon did know this third Toa’s voice. It was full of the ridiculous compassion with which one particular Toa was notably afflicted: a Toa who had appeared with tiresome regularity to frustrate Echelon’s plans — but rarely, the broken Dark Toa noted with the one iota of satisfaction he had left, managing to stop them. Merror. It was Merror. “You really did it, then...” Merror said. Echelon could hear weary amazement in his voice. He felt the Ta-Toa’s eyes on him. “After all these years...someone finally stopped him.” Groaning was a waste of one of his last breaths, but Echelon found he could not bite it back. Bad enough that he had to die so close to his final reward, but to do it with Shaddix’s voice in his ears, and now this self-righteous failure looking on… “Huh? What’s the matter, Echelon? You still scheming around in there? Hey...good. I’m glad. Because I want you to be awake for this.” Blood was trickling down from Dorian’s mouth as he hefted the sword; it was unfair, unfair that somehow this roach could not just be stamped out while so many of his betters lay dead. What had he ever offered the world in intellect or in deed, to justify keeping that smug smile on his face? “Coming down here...I was gonna take...your head. Heuani promised your head. But thinking about it...I don’t do things for Heuani. Or for Joske. You’re dying for me.” The blood left Dorian’s sneer in a contemptuous arc of spit. Echelon supposed he was fortunate not to have been spat upon in the final seconds of his life. “So let’s do this my way.” Echelon did not feel fortunate. Dorian Shaddix, slightly hunched from his wounds, nonetheless found the strength to aim a finger gun at Merror and wink. Merror returned it with a half-hearted smile, then looked down to meet Echelon’s gaze. There was something resembling sadness in the veteran Ta-Toa’s eyes: pity? Echelon returned his gaze with a look that made it clear he did not want it. After that, the sword hovering above him commanded the Dark Toa’s full attention. It did not come down gently. Echelon felt the flamberge slide through him and down into the lock beneath, and let out one last choking, ragged scream...
  41. 8 points
    IC: It was a little unnerving to hear your own heart. Krayn always could, of course, but he learned not to. All Toa of Sound did, or Matoran, or Turaga. You’d go mad otherwise. Like knowing that you can see your nose. You always can but you never notice unless you’re looking for it. Krayn could always hear his heart, but it was filtered out. Dampened the way he dampened any other sound. Right now it was racing and he had much, much more time to think about it than he wanted. Kale’s ploy had bought them time and an ever diminishing cover of belonging, something reduced by the wounded Toa in their midst and falling with every passing second that they moved away from the fight and not towards it. It made him far tenser than any fight ever had or ever would, hanging in the infinitesimally small space between peace and war. He would’ve been happier if all Karz would break loose, at least then there was a release for the tension. Instead it continued to mount. Every pair of eyes that watched their progress, which felt glacially slow, considering whether or not they were suspicious. Whether or not they were a foe. And he could still hear their pursuers, nipping at their heels ever more closely. They had begun as whispers, barely heard through the din. The Gukko Force bombarded overheard each pass a report of violent fragmentation, a painful explosive chorus. But between their passes, in the moments that his ears were permitted to recover, he heard them louder and louder. Their words became discernible, their plans, their threats, their curses. Too far to determine their number, too close to be confident of escape. And this chase continued, and continued, and continued. Through the Koro, towards the gate, where uncertain fate awaited. If they arrived unharassed, they stood a chance of escape. If they arrived engaged in combat they were trapped, pressed between their pursuers and the men at the gate. If they moved beyond it they stepped into range of the heavy Pateros on the walls. They had stepped over enough bodies in that open tundra to know how that would fare. He could see the same tension in Kale whenever the Toa of Iron checked a new potential target, suspicion ratcheting higher and higher. The other military man knew as well as he did that their odds of survival dropped exponentially if they were forced to engage before reaching the village’s walls. Praggos would know, too, but he was preoccupied; he had a wounded man to support and keep stable, he was leaving tactical reasoning to the other Guardsmen. Krayn could only hope the others hadn’t figured it out themselves. There was no need for them to worry first. Plenty of time for that if the worst came to pass. The minutes stretched on and on into eons, every bit of sound given plenty of time to reach his ears and ratchet the tension up a little higher. The wall was in sight, now, but their pursuers were so close. They were trailing behind by mere moments. This far out from the battle, their presence became suspicious. Those furtive glances became hands on weapons, muttered discussions and every word was another stoke of the fire. The pressure built and built and built, and when it gave it would give explosively. But they were almost there. If they could reach the gates, they stood a better chance of surviving the Patero. Kale was fast. With his element they could block many of the projectiles, and the Maru had told them about the Gukko Force. If they could get out, just get out into the opening, they had a chance. The margin was razor slim and closing fast. Then the Madu hit. The unripe fruit struck the ice a few feet from him, and its explosion hurled him violently to the ground. Shattered ice rained down, but he couldn’t hear it. More fruit struck the ground, but he couldn’t hear it. The birds and their riders passed over head but their paths were so strange, moving in ways that couldn’t be natural. And he couldn’t hear them. That was more distressing than he wanted to admit, he heard everything. Always. He had to try not to hear, and now he couldn’t hear a thing. He could feel the vibrations in his hands, when they weren’t overcome simply with the feeling of the ice and snow beneath them. But the sound… His vision swam, he pushed himself roughly to his knees and saw that his luck has run out. The mercenaries behind them, or maybe they were cultists, or opportunists, it didn’t matter because they had arrived. And they were ready to kill. He could see it in their faces, even with how they swayed before his eyes, and with the violence that their lips moved in unheard shouts. His hand closed around his revolver again, brought it up, and he trusted that his Kanohi would allow him to hit the distorted figure. His eyes would not. The head of the Skakdi in front exploded, but he heard neither the shot nor the impact. Simply felt the kick and saw the result. He shouted at the top of his lungs for the others to keep moving. He was sure of it, but he didn't know. Krayn staggered to his feet, turning fully to face the hounds that had chased them through the village and retreating only in the stablest backwards steps that he could manage. Every move threatened to send him toppling to the ground, but he kept steady. The trickle out of his ear had already cooled and began to freeze, and he couldn’t hear his hurried breaths. Only the beating of his heart, faintly amongst the ringing. He heard them as they reverberated through his body, pumped harder and harder to keep him alert and alive. He fired another shot and dismayed to see it fly wide, powder puffing off of an icy wall. The whole world had shrunk only to what he could see, the foes in front and the icebound landscape. He had no idea how long he had been on the ground, moments before, or if the others had heard him. It was all confused. But he had to laugh at how he had gotten here. His old Force had spited him one last time. It wasn’t their fault, they didn’t know who was good or bad. But that they would be both his salvation and the ones that denied it to him was an irony too great to bear. The whole thing had been a wash from the start. From the second Skyra engaged they had wasted time, wasted time fighting, talking, picking up more and more strays because of course they would. Not one of them had it in them to begrudge someone in need. Even if it had doomed him. Another shot, clipping one of the mercenaries in their shoulder. His mask wasn’t working reliably. He couldn’t concentrate, and his eyes had betrayed him almost as much as his ears. Some were charging closer, but others were smarter; they began to fire at him with bows, with firearms, and with powers. Some of the attacks went wide, perhaps to strike at the group somewhere behind him? Others were near misses, and every time he moved to evade he staggered and risked falling into the snow. The Madu didn’t seem to be raining upon him anymore, thank Nui, but there would be no rescue from that quarter. They couldn’t land under siege. There was no rescue. The thought struck him like a hammer blow, sinking in from the rational to the emotional. There was no one coming to save him. His friends were gone, escaping or escaped. It was exactly what they had all agreed upon, it was exactly what was necessary. But the fact was little comfort. For the third time in his life Krayn looked death in the face. For the second time, no rescue was coming. For the first time there was no one to change their minds. It wasn’t a choice, it wasn’t a request denied, there was simply no one left. He was alone. He should have taken his retirement, let someone else deal with Ko-Koro. There were no Aggressors anymore. That was the last time that he could have taken on the world. He had a cause, he had allies, he had a purpose. That team was unstoppable, unshakable. Naona, and Tillian, and Skyra. Then he had met Kale, and Dehkaz, and the crew that would grow to be his friends. They had fought, they had won, and over time they just… Separated. He had still seen them, from time to time, but they were further and further in between. Until some of them simply dropped off. And then a few more, and then a few more, and now the scattered few that remained were alone. Naona and Dehkaz were on their own quest. Kale was doing his duty, and leading their friends to safety. The friends for whom he now bought time. At least until there was no more time to buy. A Vortixx closed in, sword raised, and he ducked gracelessly under the slash to put a round in their chest. They dropped, staining the snow. Another bullet fired, another moment purchased. Wasn’t that something. Shaddix had been there the first time he was about to die, too. Now a simple gift bought him a little more time to life for every cycle of the cylinder was a few more seconds to live. He was still going to die. Here, in this godless wasteland with ice under his boots and fingers so frozen he fumbled to reload his gun. Under a sunless sky, surrounded by enemies, in a Koro he’d never much liked. He wasn’t going to retire. He was never going to earn the respect he deserved. Krayn had decided in Ga-Wahi, so long ago now, that he would never die until he could walk proudly into Artahka and demand that the fool who had appointed Skyra to Commander apologize to him. Apologize for being wrong, and then finally give him the respect he deserved. What was he going to do now? This was no way to die. This was nothing worth his pride, this was an ignoble, ignominious death. Felled by a no name mercenary because someone got too trigger happy with their bomb. No one would know, no one would tell the story. … Not here. Not like this, he uttered silently. Go to Karzahni, Jaron. You gave up and died. I’m giving Daring that earful for being so stupid. I survived the Rahkshi. I survived pirates. I survived serving under Skyra. I survived the Mark Bearers. If Utu couldn’t kill me, I’ll be if these cowards can. His second revolver slipped from its holster, leather sliding across polished metal with soundless grace. He had filled the other’s cylinder. Between them he had twelve bullets, with twelve names fated for each. If he had to reload he was dead anyway. A report from each, soundless but punctuated by a growl within his chest that he could feel even if he couldn’t hear it. His heart was still pumping, and that meant that he wasn’t dead yet. The mercenaries were too close, now, he holstered a revolver and drew a knife. A shot over the shoulder of a charging Toa and the target reeled, while the Toa drew in close. He was too dizzy to evade. The blade meant for his chest bit deep into his shoulder instead, the twist giving him enough force to drive his own blade into the mercenary’s chest. The dying man took a crossbow bolt for him while he returned fire. He abandoned the knife and grabbed another when the Toa dropped. The pain drove away the last bit of clarity, and the next moments were a haze of smoke and violence. He fired until the revolver clicked empty, drew the second, and kept falling back step by step. If he could make it past the gate, he could risk the Patero. But he had to get there. Should he have arrived already? Was he still going the right way? He didn’t know. He couldn’t get his bearings. He realized, a little too late, that his heart rate was getting faster and weaker all the time. He’d been bleeding since the explosion, and the nicks and injuries since were adding up. No longer did clear thought come to mind, but he felt his back touch ice. The walls. The gate must have been somewhere, but… Krayn slumped, breathing shallow. He couldn’t find it. Even if he could, he’d never be able to make it to the Force’s evacuation point. Frozen fingers dumped the empty shells, and shook as they loaded six more. He would hold on, for as long as he could. Maybe a counterattack would arrive in time. He hoped it was before he couldn’t aim straight anymore. Because there were still bloodthirsty fanatics closing in. * * * “-what do you mean stayed behind?” The words felt hollow and empty even before he heard his own voice; Dehkaz knew exactly what was meant being said. It sent a shock of dread plummeting into a cold pit in his stomach. His ask of confirmation more an act of defiance to the truth than anything else. Krayn had made a choice, yet it was the only option they had. A decision born of necessity in the face of grim adversity, one that any of them would have made in his stead in a heartbeat. Only the one who it had come down to was Krayn. The look in Kale’s eyes as Dehkaz had met the rag-tag group as they had emerged from the fortress of ice haunted him now. As did the short, out of breath response that followed, the words sounding foreign coming from his silver comrade. They had scarcely made it out alive, at the cost of one life. Like Karz. His breath came short and sharp, the fatigue of having trekked up to the citadel in the mountain forgotten for the time being as Dehkaz had set off in nearly a dead run, an urgency brought forth by dire stakes. Past Kale and the assorted group of evacuees. Past the gate into the solid wall of ice. Past the assortment of buildings that made their claim near the edge of the village. Snow gave beneath his heavy footfalls, his eyes darting between buildings searching for friend or foe alike. He just needed more time. * * * Karz. It was getting awful hard to keep the cylinder loaded. Hard to say if it was the cold or the blood dripping, despite his best efforts to keep pressure on. When he wasn’t reloading. Which was taking a long time, now, his fingers just didn’t want to do what he told them. They either shook or just didn’t move the way he wanted. Probably not a good sign. Fortunately he was mostly being left alone. The people who’d been chasing him specifically were dead, or they were dying. But he could hear a couple coming. Someone coming, at least, and if someone was coming then enemies would be coming soon anyway. Hurried footsteps. Krayn fumbled the cylinder shut and shakily pulled the hammer back, blinking his eyes and willing them to see a little better a little longer. * * * Blood in the snow. Bright crimson that melted away into the whiteness that permeated the entire fortress. Unmistakable, like a beacon taunting the living as it escaped the lifeless shell sprawled out across the street. A lifeless shell that was not Krayn. Dehkaz quickened his pace as he stepped over the body of the Skakdi, the wound to its morbidly grinning skull not one from any of the riders above. It was a trail, one that told a macabre story of one final stand after another. The mortal wounds were fresh; some by projectile, some by blade; and their lifeblood stained the ground on which he ran. He was getting close now. The question was whether he would find Krayn in a similar state to those he left behind. The answer came as Dehkaz rounded a corner, the scene before him painting a grim picture of events that transpired only seconds before. Krayn, slumped against a wall. Surrounded by the remnants of those who had dared to end his time on this island. Splashes of red on the white snow, not entirely the De-Toa’s own. All was unmoving. “Kra-” A Skakdi dashed out from an alleyway directly in front of Inzaka, left arm limp from a bullet wound while the other raised high; clutching a knife with wicked intent. Dehkaz shouldered his rifle and fired two shots. * * * Half-lidded eyes sluggishly opened again at the feeling of fresh vibrations, the hand not pressed to his shoulder giving a slow, faltering wave. With the barrel of a gun. “Commander,” He greeted, the word coming out unevenly and slightly slurred, like someone bordering on a drink too many. Not that too much fluid was the problem, judging by the pale complexion beginning to turn the former Lieutenant from gray to blue. “Sir. M’sorry, I can’t…” He frowned a little, gesturing loosely at his ear. “M’not looking at a closed casket yet, am I?” “Not yet,” Dehkaz lowered his weapon, and while still weary of threats around, made his way over to Krayn. The relief that had washed over the Toa of Magnetism was short lived. Though he was alive and wisecracking, Krayn was not in much better shape than the bodies Dehkaz had passed over to find him. Taking a knee he continued, “We need to stop the bleeding, now.” He managed to lock eyes with the wounded Toa’s listless gaze for a moment, and the meaning was clear. They both knew what had to be done. Dehkaz turned his focus back to Krayn’s shoulder, the injury cut across it now exposed to the freezing air. Twin, brilliant blue lights reflected off the icy wall behind them as the Commander got to work. Laser vision didn’t hurt quite as bad as he might’ve expected, though that probably had something to do with lingering on the boundary between conscious and not. And only brought it down from ‘unimaginable’ to ‘excruciating. The smell of cooking flesh was much, much more disquieting, but he was too out of it to worry much about that, either. The De-Toa clenched his teeth through the whole process, letting out as far as he could tell a minimum of sound. Whether or not Praggos could ungrind teeth was another matter. When Dehkaz was done, Krayn let out a ragged breath he wasn’t really aware he’d been holding. “Can… Kinda hear you, sir. Kale out alright?” “Kale made it out fine; the others too. They’ll make it.” Dehkaz turned away for a moment, the sounds of the battle above at this point nearly masking what could be heard from anyone approaching. Now was not the time for an unlucky lapse in awareness. He glanced back at Krayn, “Now we need to get out of this Mata Nui-forsaken Koro too, and I don’t plan on losing any other friends along the way.” Taking hold of the Toa of Sonics’ uninjured arm Dehkaz heaved him up and onto his shoulders, Krayn leaving a disconcerting red-splashed impression in the snow where he had laid. It was a miracle that he was even still conscious, continuing on by nothing short of sheer force of will alone. One more check for hostile intent and Dehkaz started off, at a significantly slower pace than he had arrived, but with a far greater sense of urgency. Doubtless more inhabitants would be drawn to the sounds of fight just inside the citadel’s walls soon. One hand kept a firm grip on the half-aware Krayn, the slight hum of Dehkaz’s elemental power keeping him in place, while the other kept his rifle at the ready. They kept out of the open, Dehkaz sticking near the walls and alleyways of abandoned homes of those that once lived in this village. Now empty. A steely sense of resolve krept into the Commander’s conscious at the thought. They would deal with monsters later. For now, the village gate was in sight and Krayn was failing to stay conscious any longer despite his efforts. He wouldn’t be keeping an eye on much of anything, as removed from immediate danger the former Lieutenant succumbed to exhaustion and passed out silently.
  42. 8 points
    Nowhere trembles in anticipation | noitapicitna ni selbmert erehwoN
  43. 8 points
    OOC: “In this place, our concept of eternity becomes only a second, our concept of invincibility becomes vulnerable, and our perception of infinity becomes miniscule. In this Nowhere, [one becomes] even less alive than death would make you. That impossible lack of existence… is simply indescribable.” —Makuta Uhuraz, Aensettr Derrum, 2010 … IC: Nowhere trembles in anticipation. Soon. I feel it. … Brother— —Do not call me that. I am not your brother. Here, we are more brothers than we have been for a long time. You confuse proximity with closeness. We have never been more proximate; yet I have never detested you more. You do not hate me. I do. I hate how you encroach on my essence. I hate what you are. I hate you. … Soon. Please, Brother— —Do not call me that— —I understand what this, the soonness, makes you feel. You cannot. I can. I know that you have grown uncomfortable Nowhere. Uncomfortable! And you claim to understand me? I have been here longer than you; I know how restless you become even in open space. Listen to me, brother. Why should I listen to you? You have no choice but to listen. Nowhere is thinner than air. I could not escape the thought of you if I tried. I have tried. I know. I want to discuss what you’re thinking about. … Nothing can hide Nowhere. I think your thoughts and see your plan as though they were mine. … In your eagerness, Brother, you have blinded yourself to a truth: your plan cannot work without my cooperation. … What do you want? I want you to make a promise to me. What good does a liar’s promise do you? I believe you still answer to Truth, whether you like it or not. Make me a promise. I am listening. … Zaktan and the Antidermis had been locked in a staring contest for the past few hours or so… insofar as a vat of liquid-gas and a hovering swarm of Protodites could stare at each other. A normal Skakdi might soak himself in hot water, gradually allowing his muscles to loosen; Zaktan, meanwhile, soaked himself in air, allowing his entire body to loosen. Maintaining the shape of a Skakdi for long periods of time could be exhausting for Zaktan; indeed, ever since his first run-in with Makuta’s potion, the Piraka’s leader had discovered that shapelessness—wherein he allowed his component particles to flit here and there at their leisure—felt far more comfortable and natural to him than holding a bipedal form. Many years after his transformation, Zaktan had come to embrace, rather than resent, his tendency to melt. Without others around, with only the enigma of the vat to keep him company, Zaktan happily resumed his truer form, and remained as a cloud. But, when the clack-boom of the Abettor signaled another being’s arrival into the Vault, Zaktan’s lazy focus on the ever-changing patterns beneath the glass and spigots broke. The cloud of Protodites briefly tornadoed as each microbe resumed its normal place on his body; in a blink, Zaktan’s ever-flickering body returned to customary form. His glowing red eyes flitted up to the staircase, waiting to glimpse the feet that he heard plodding down the quartz tunnel over his head. Echelon descended into view, looking worse for wear than Zaktan had ever seen him. The Toa of Dark Magnetism’s black armor, usually gleaming—demonstrative of Echelon’s vanity, one of many reasons the Piraka’s leader had instantly disrespected him—shone duller in the Vault light, and beyond that, seemed to have lost its luster due to more impatient or minimal upkeep. Echelon’s priestly ebon robes were ripped and scuffed in a few places, Zaktan assumed, from hasty or dangerous travel; and they rested lower on his wiry form, as though the Toa had become still slimmer, or perhaps more stooped, since last Zaktan had seen him. The shoulders and neck of this Toa, Zaktan noted, were scrunched up with stress. Echelon’s Komau sat on a face even gaunter than usual. His Machiavellian eyes, eerie green as the Antidermis in the vat, looked exhausted, even nervous. He looks like a cornered animal, Zaktan concluded with satisfaction, but no smile. Cornered animals were the most dangerous beasts. Only the crystal flamberge, sharp and clean as the day Joske had strutted down into the Vault wearing it on his hip, looked typically resplendent. Zaktan hadn’t seen the sword since he’d seen Joske; it came as only a slight surprise to him that Echelon now bore the Toa of Fire’s weapon. After all, Zaktan certainly hadn’t expected a hero like Joske to survive too long. Echelon arrived at the bottom of the steps and paused. His green eyes swiveled up to Zaktan’s red ones. An instant of tense, silent contact, and then Echelon averted his gaze, opting instead to dig in his torn robes for something, pointedly ignoring Zaktan. The silence and urgency with which Echelon rummaged seemed uncharacteristic of the grandiose Toa of Magnetism. Why, Zaktan wondered, did Echelon act this way? What caused the hasty movements, the defensive posture, or the feverish eyes? Betrayal in Ko-Koro, or perhaps fear of it? Pursuit by the Maru? Zaktan could safely assume that trouble of one kind or another nipped close at Echelon’s heels; and Zaktan wanted nothing to do with it. The Piraka felt cold contempt, irritation, tingle familiarly in his forehead. Echelon’s presence was unexpected, and certainly unwelcome. The preening fool had no right to visit, let alone to trail his mud into, Zaktan’s immaculate citadel. Only Zaktan had belonged here, since only he could converse with the Antidermis enigma inside the gleaming, laughing vat. This was his private space, and no one else’s. The Insanity Voice was his, his alone. If there was one thing that still tied Zaktan to the other Piraka, it was that he hated sharing. “You are not welcome here, Echelon,” Zaktan buzzed coolly with his multitudinous voice. He clasped his hands behind him as he approached Echelon. The Dark Toa sensed his approach and tensed, ceasing his search with his hands clasped onto some objects in his cloak. “I go where I wish, Zaktan,” Echelon replied, words clipped. “Then, please, tell me why you’ve imposed yourself on my hospitality,” Zaktan hissed, a savage half-smile rising on his lean lips. Echelon gave no answer. “No? Not a very polite guest…” Echelon resumed digging into the hidden pockets of his cloak. Zaktan took another step in, and Echelon halted once more, rolling his eyes. “What do you have under that ridiculous cape?” Zaktan asked, hands still behind his back. In a corner of the Vault behind him, Zaktan’s tri-blade scissor flickered, eagerly awaiting its summons to its master’s waiting palm. “Stop,” Echelon ordered. “No,” Zaktan snarled, and dived at Echelon as his blade materialized into his hand. But almost as soon as Zaktan lunged, he felt himself inexorably, nauseously repulsed. Every particle of his being shuddered simultaneously as though subjected to a shrill banshee’s scream— albeit, an inaudible one. Reflexively, the Skakdi’s body reverted to a shapeless, agitated mass, the better to flee from the source of the painful not-noise. Zaktan’s Protodites, and those of his sword, slammed like a wave on a rock against the wall of the Vault beneath the Antidermis vat. While the soundless screech echoed itself out of existence within his mind, Zaktan collected himself into shaky corporeality again, clutching his head as if he could claw the agonizing tone out of it. Echelon smiled wanly under his Komau; his mental blast had been devastatingly effective against Zaktan. He resumed rummaging in his cloak, and his hand emerged at last holding a handful of small, crystalline spheres. Zaktan recognized them, and knew something of their function. For, like the crystal flamberge, he had last seen these charms in Joske’s possession. … I finally spotted what I was looking for: a semi-circular spot on the floor, half-buried by the pile of technology… The section that I could see was actually composed of two circles, one slightly larger than the other, a large central disk. It was this series of rings I was looking for... the edges as thin as a sheet of paper, matching seamlessly with the floor... But now that I had pointed the rings out with my gaze, I noticed Zaktan's eyes narrow as he started to analyze this new piece of information. I… made a leap of faith. With a flick of my wrist, I pulled out the Crystal of Faith and gently chucked it in the direction of the rings. The sound of stone on stone caused everything else in the room to flinch slightly… Zaktan, too, was focused on the gem that now rolled across the floor… It lazily approached the apparatus, slowing, slowing, slowing yet moving... arcing, as if attracted to the circles. It came to a crawl, made one last roll in the other direction… I held my breath as the little sphere landed inside a circle, the engraved letter right above it glowing… It was a perfect fit. The crystal dropped into a hole in the floor that had clearly not been there just a moment before, and a mysterious blue light source illuminated the pocket it now rested in. I could almost hear a hum, but it could just be my own blood rushing through my body… … Echelon held the six charms between his arachnoid fingers, luxuriantly fondling them as he took an assertive step into the middle of the Vault. A contemptuous glance at the hunched Zaktan; a pointed glance in the direction of the same spot where Joske had dropped the crystal that first time. Zaktan realized at once that Echelon knew exactly what he was looking for. The Dark Toa’s foot shoved and kicked aside various pieces of technology, uncovering the rings on the floor within seconds. Why do Echelon and Joske want to activate the same device? Zaktan wondered. “…What… does it do?” he asked, trying to keep his beehive voice level in spite of the residual effects of the mental blast. “You didn’t really think you’d unlocked the treasure of the Vault, did you?” Echelon replied with a deposed king’s bitter leer as he extended his arm over the naked floor. “A pile of scrap metal, a dozen masks, and a few drops of Makuta’s precious essence? These are meager things. No, Zaktan. You should’ve listened to the rumors. In this vault is contained all the simplest power of the world. “What does it do, you ask?” the Dark Toa continued, and there was a mad triumph flickering in his eyes. “What does a keyhole usually do?” He let the six crystals fall through his fingers one by one. As each clacked onto the greenish quartz floor, they rolled of their own volition in different directions. Drawn as inexorably as if they were pulled by gravity, the charms headed towards particular letters on the ground, glyphs indistinguishable from their countless neighbors until met by the roving crystals, whereupon they recessed slightly and glowed blue. Before Zaktan’s eyes, the six charms—following a secret choreography—arranged themselves into a hexagon on the floor, describing the subtle outer ring of Joske’s device. A low hum, seemingly sourceless, made Zaktan shudder like sand on top of a rattling snare drum. As if by magic, this outer ring rotated like a slowly turning lock. Simultaneously, a small rhomboid slit opened up in the middle of the central ring, blemishing the smooth quartz floor like a open wound. Echelon—his eyes intent on the fresh slit, a horrible smile widening on his face—drew Heuani’s old sword. Zaktan’s eyes widened with realization. That sword... is a key.
  44. 8 points
    IC: I had never been here before, which made me a distinct rarity among Joske's friends. The stories of the man himself, the paragon of Mata Nui, the Toa of Light, I had obviously heard. The Joske I knew might have been able to light a birthday candle if he asked Tuara for help first, but a Toa of Light seemed beyond the pale. It was one of those things that would pass into island legend, one of those things I would never be able to ask about and never be able to see. I would never see Joske again. Cael, Angel, Agni, even Utu. Everyone had managed to find their way to the alleged spiritual center of Mata Nui, to the heart of Makuta's control over the island. That sounded like plenty enough reason for me to avoid it all my life - the defense of Kini-Nui against the last hordes of infected Rahi, Joske's incursions into the Vault, or either of the destined Toa Teams who had just waltzed down here to put an end to the island's woes. None of them had ever been a job fit for an assassin - they never found their ways into prophecies. Until they did, a voice in the back reminded me, conjuring an image of a list in Vakama's handwriting. I rolled my eyes, but the curious feeling stuck. Had the First Toa felt like this, marching towards their doom? Had the Maru? Probably not; it was hard to picture Stannis very concerned about anything. Stannis. Another friend I would never see again. I wondered if he knew I would die, too, but the more I wondered about each of the lives I touched, each life that my fingers broke, twisted, or had failed to mend, I realized they had all known. Who was I, in a company of heroes, healers, and destined men? I was just a killer; I was just lucky; far from being under prophecy's heel, it turned out I had always just been hard to stomp out. But there was nowhere left to run and nothing left to charm. All our roads led here in the end; I had finally come to Kini-Nui, trailing behind everything I loved, to join its throng of ghosts. Before any job, a good assassin covers all his bases. Escape routes were any good assassin's biggest concern; capture meant questions, about yourself, your employers, your target, and generally ended with one link in that chain punching your clock before you spat out answers. Next came the gear check. As much as I would have loved to bring the sniper rifle, I had never been into the Vault. Like...it was a Vault, right? Small. Confined. A high-powered precision rifle, fired from the hip, would only wind up being reflected by Echelon to turn my brain into parfait, with the memories of my friends as the whipped cream on top. Tuara used to go to the markets for dessert and do whip its for fun. She would always lie and say it would have melted before we were home. Sorority girl. I had heard the rumors of weaponry in the Vault, more than the island's mercenaries and pentagram posse knew what to do with, so I started to leave more and more of the things I had brought behind. Knives would mean I had to be within point blank range of Echelon; if I was that close, I would rather just beat him to death. A knife was something he could slide between my ribs while I was distracted, so the knives were left in the bag There was Antidermis in the Vault, too, from Joske's descriptions; any explosion could crack open whatever Echelon contained his dark side go-go juice in, so as much as I would have loved to put the spindly freak through a living cremation, the oil-coated Madu went next. Chains were packed away. Throwing stars - what kind of meme-- were tossed over my shoulder. The small armory I'd carried to Kini-Nui eventually whittled itself down to two tools. The Protosteel sword Angel had lent me glimmered in the dawn, a gift from Joske according to the Toa of Fire. It beats the ##### out of a broken heart, I thought, twisting the sword in the air and watching the runes drink greedily from the sunlight. Wished for a shield and gotten a sword, I'd joked in Ta-Koro, but when it came to Echelon's magnetism I was always going to be at a disadvantage. Giving one friend a sword and another a shield in the same gift was economical, forward-thinking, a clever interpretation. I didn't wanna give Joske the credit for it. So the sword went over my shoulder, which left just my revolver, first, last, and loneliest of my Echelon-slaying ensemble. The thing was a guaranteed bust against Echelon, and I spun it on my finger, making to toss it away into the bag at the end of the movement-- --and the gun kept spinning on, dutifully. I had won it by right of conquest in the alleyways of Xa-Koro, slaying a Vortixx whose name I couldn't even remember. He had been some no-nothing traitor, a weakling who couldn't cut it in Xa-Koro, and I had cut my teeth as Brykon's cannon by dispatching him. Naryth. Yeaaaah, Naryth. The names always came to me in the end. At the time, I'd thought nothing of it. I'd never owned a gun, and it was fun to wave it around at the other Mark Bearers and see what they thought of it. All of them thought I was three seconds away from showing off my newfound skills at trepanation with a bullet as proxy, and most of them would have been right. But at the time, I'd treated it like a toy. I haven't thought of most of them in so long. There was Tank. Yuru. Tillian. Reaver. Poor Emotia. Jikal. Salvinn. That shouty Matoran...Four? Twenty? Sixty-Nine? Nice. The names had laid dead in my memory for years, but now they came flooding back. Echelon had ruined them all, but for me he got partial credit. There was Nikki. She still hates when anyone else uses that name. And Utu. Utu Kotore. I kept on killing him, again and again, and still called myself his friend. How many times had this gun threatened each of them, or killed in their names? Now that those names had breached the dam, the rest came -- Bad Company, my company. Marfoir and Sev Vossen with his terrible accent, taking the time to teach me marksmanship, maintenance, even petty tricks. Impressing Illicia and Jin with those same tricks, or holding up petty thugs side by side with Grokk's Zamor Launcher and trading jokes about compensation. Brykon's rolling eyes, his coarse knuckles on my cheek and harsh reprimands stinging my chest. The worthless bullets I'd fired at Heuani, and the smile on Tuara's face when she'd returned it to me in Ta-Koro. Don't shoot anything's eye out. The gun was Anthyn and Rhea Heartsflame, Angel and Kinvex, Vakama and Jaller. It was Brykon's sharp lessons and Agni's gruff advice, Merror's sage smile and Grokk bleeding in the street, Stannis' faith and Utu's death wish. Cael's backhanded barbs spun on my finger, and I felt her teeth scraping my lip when I pulled away from her kiss. This one dumb gun was Dorian's rage and Joske's death, all in the palm of my hand, enough to give anyone a headache. This gun was sitting in a plushie's hand in Ta-Koro, one of a pair. Its barrel was pointed at the other plushie's Guard badge. In the eyes of my friends, I was this gun, hammer cocked and ready to fan without warning. My enemies would never be able to trust me not to empty it into them. I was too far gone for good and had strayed too far from wickedness. This one dumb toy, in perpetual motion, was my emblem. My Toa Tool. Me. You were right, Cael. You apologized, but you didn't have to. I was always just a weapon. And there was only one place left to aim myself. No point in not going in whole. "Oh, babe," I purred, pressing my lips to the cylinder, "I could never leave you." That was it, then. Escape routes crossed off, gear portioned out, and the target within reach. There was just me, with the things I needed to finally cleanse this island of its worst offenders, and the stuff that didn't make the cut leaning against one of the statues of the Kini. The stone was expertly carved, by hands more skilled than any Po-Matoran who had ever lived, and stood at about my height. It wore a Kakama. Heh. "You'd better be rooting for me down there." I leaned in and kissed the stone, colder and crueler than Joske had ever been in life, on its cheek. "Everyone always rooted for you." ... The statue made no indication that it had heard until long after Dorian Shaddix descended. It was Merror who found the message, hours later, carved into the stone with a careful hand and inimitable flair. Hey-- If you're my friend, too late. But thanks. And you're welcome. If you're a Rahkshi, wrong number. -D ... -Tyler
  45. 7 points
    IC: Oreius | Stannis's Vault, The Archives Oreius looked on, stone-faced, as the holo played out. Another apparition from the past, a little more real than memory. Leah. Another name he had almost managed to forget. If anyone could've convinced him to stay, it would've been her. Who knew where she was now? He pretended to hope that she and the rest of the Maru had made it out of the universe before it ended, but he knew in his heart that they were long lost. The finality of that thought was unexpectedly painful--he hadn't thought those memories were still sharp enough to cut. Hadn't time dulled their edges yet? How much longer would it take? "Let's start with anything Stannis might know about the Barraki," he said wearily. "Hiripaki. What files do you have on Pridak?" IC: Taja | Aboard the Taku The Toa managed to sit up on the bunk, although the effort left her head spinning. "Is that thing still here?" she gasped. "I want to see it." IC: Tuakana | Metru-Koro Their long fingers closed slowly around the heartlight. They could feel it beating weakly. Pumping nothing. Light peeked through their fist. "As promised," they echoed. They had not done the ritual in a long time. The sun and moon flickered across the sky too quickly for them to count. The seasons were easier to count, but harder to notice. By the time they realized the leaves were changing, snow was falling. Years, then. Too similar to each other. But long enough to count. It had been hundreds, surely. They had forgotten more secrets than they remembered. They grieved the loss. Power that could not be recalled. Strength that could not be regained. But this was one secret they would never forget. "As promised." The shadows danced in the corners, licking at the light. They seemed to grow larger. Or perhaps the room grew smaller. Everything became dim, as if seen through a veil. "Starlight," they croaked, their voice like stones on stones. Like underground rivers. Like grinding bones. "Starlight. Heartlight. First and last. Shine bright. Nine times nine and seven bells. Drink deep. Eat well." The shadows swirled around them, hovering in the air. Falh watched, fascinated, as they formed shapes and figures in the air that lasted only moments before dissolving. "Long ago. First of three. Fire. Earth. Sky. Sea. Tend the fire. Burning low. Plant the seed. Watch it grow." A tree of shadows bloomed between them. Three figures stood around it, surrounded by black flames. "Take the fruit. Taste the flesh. Given freely. Eaten fresh." They stood under the tree now. They were the three. Aspect. Toa. Heartlight. "Tang of blood. Salt of sweat. Learn my ways. Pay your debt." Their voice boomed around them. It came from everywhere and nowhere. It was the voice of the earth. "Young from old. New from dead. Tapestry. Scarlet thread." The heartlight hung between them, glowing faintly. It still beat. Pulsing in the air. "Warp of story. Weft of tale. Weave of myth. Tear the veil." Then everything went dark. "Goodbye." "Hello." They asked. They answered. They called back and forth from themselves. "Step forth into the darkness and prepare the gift." The heart went thu-thump in the air. Shining softly. "A star's heart. Still beating. Still lit." Falh felt himself step forward. Of was it them? It was hard to tell where each of the three ended and the other began. "Two midnight horrors cry and shift. Make them squirm inside the pit." Before his eyes, the heartlight began to beat faster. "Bind worm and willing host." It wriggled with each pulse. It seemed to elongate with each beat. "Tear the yolk. Spread its gold." The light suddenly broke, and the heart unfurled into a writhing length of flesh. "Devour knowledge and their ghost." He stood before what was left of the heartlight. They stood on the other side. Looking at him without eyes. Speaking words without lips. "Pray for prey forever sold." He felt it enter him. It squirmed under his flesh. "Hello." Were they speaking? Or was it? "Goodbye." At this last word, the darkness vanished. They stood in the doorway, palm extended. Everything was as before.
  46. 7 points
  47. 7 points
    I just want to say thanks and congrats to you, @Unreliable Narrator! You've put together something really special here, and it shows in the success you've had, especially considering the fact that it's 2020 and we're on an old-style web forum for a dead toy line haha. I've got to hand it to you, I think I speak to everyone here when I say you've found a way to create something fresh, exciting, and engaging. I've tried several times in the past 5 years to get back into RPing in the BZPRPG, but my interest waned as the pace crawled. So again, congrats, and thanks for giving me a fun outlet for my creativity and a great reason to stay around BZP for good this time.
  48. 7 points
    What happens when you are builder was is sometimes known for building Bionicles, and often known for building boats? You get challenged to build a Bionicle boat, of course. Bionicle of the Caribbean by Elephant-Knight, on Flickr Bionicle of the Caribbean by Elephant-Knight, on Flickr And of course, why make a boat and no one to sail it? Jack Sparrow by Elephant-Knight, on Flickr The more I look at Jack Sparrow, the less pleased I am with him. Certain aspects are fine, but others... Eh.... It's mostly the head. the Baze Malbus is actually a serviceable head, but hard to work around. Time to bail out! Bionicle of the Caribbean by Elephant-Knight, on Flickr A lot of Rahkshi died to make this boat. EKnight
  49. 7 points
    Hey people, it's, uh, been a while! Not sure how many of you might remember me, but I just wanted to pop in and see how everyone was doing.
  50. 7 points
    IC: Ow. Ow. Ow ow ow ow OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW Tweaked tweaked RIPPED RIPPED TORN TORN TEARING TEARING ##### ##### ##### ##### CAN’T FIGHT IT CAN’T FIGHT IT TOO MUCH SWORD? SWORD? HE CAN’T WIN. HE CAN’T WIN. HE CAN’T WIN. Ragged breaths breaking through between screams. Bugs eating the corner of my eyes, leaving black spots in peripherals. Thoughts of Joske. Cael. Utu. Tuara. Joske. Cael. Tuara. Tuara. Vault. I was still in the Vault. I couldn't forget. I couldn't give up. I had to stand. Don’t let yourself die you have to remember don’t let yourself die you have to remember don’t let yourself die you have to remember don’t let yourself die don’t, don’t don't don’t.... Echelon’s hand was raising to the quartz ceiling of the Vault, all the power of Makuta contained in his body. Killing blow. Time for last thoughts. I wish I’d kissed Tuara again. I wish I’d kissed Cael again. I should have stayed with my friends. ... “You’re a delightful audience, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you. And I hope this doesn’t come as a severe shock, but I’m through.” No! “Ohh yeah! Oh, it’s boozin’ time!” -- One more! “One more what? I’m going to the bar! I’ll be saying that to the, the waiter in a minute! One more, please!” ... Karzahni was trippy. I wasn’t burning. There were no stalagmites impaling me from mouth to groin, no chains binding me to a legion of sinners awaiting final decimation by Makuta or Mata Nui, not even really a sense of torment. I wouldn’t have minded making some wailing lamentations. This just sucked. It was dusty and arid, not particularly humid, but stiff; the sun’s beating was relentless, its rays pulsed when you looked directly into its majesty, and the only movement in the air was an occasional breeze that brought more sand than relief. Karz wasn’t Karz. Karz was just Po-Wahi. “Well, that makes sense,” I grumbled, moving to loosen the hot pink scarf. If divine intervention wouldn’t bring any relief, I would muster some myself -- -- but the scarf wouldn’t budge. The Fusas seemed to like that. They made amused noises that sound like Tuara’s laughter. Only now did I see them; they numbered in the dozens, as tall as houses, genial creatures that paid me no mind as they flipped and cavorted around their giant enclosure. Only now did I realize that I was enclosed with them, slumped against an oversized, worn wooden gate as I had been slumped against the Vault. I knew this place, too. I’d met Joske here. He changed my life, even though in my arrogance I thought I’d been changing his. Or maybe I had. “...Joske?” I called out weakly, trying not to inhale a mouthful of that stupid sand in exchange for that hopeful word. “Jokesy?” A voice called back, sounding far away and hard to make out. It seemed to come from everywhere at once, like it was piggybacking on every grain of sand in the air. “Boy oh boy, can I do jokesy. How’s this one: what do you get when you cross a Bula berry with a Madu fruit? A burst of energy!” “...I’m in #####.” Out between the legs of one of the closer Fusa, a figure suddenly materialized. Dark, indistinct, all mysterious-looking in its wide-brimmed hat. Even with all the dust in the air, I could pick out the silhouette of a stalk of grain sticking out between the figure’s teeth. Odd, the details you’ll notice when you can’t for the life of you realize quite where you’ve seen this person before-- --Wait. Teeth. “I’m in the last circle of #####.” “Yyyyyep,” Grokk replied, chewing on his cud like a farmer. “Welcome to my party, prettyboy.” “That’s not even funny," I insisted, inching myself up the post in an attempt to stand. I blinked, confused, when I realized that I didn’t have to bother; there was no pain, there was no blood threatening to come spewing out of me like the punctured canteen I was, there wasn’t even a scar. That sword always left scars. I stood up fully once I realized there wouldn’t be consequences for doing so, pushing myself off the gate with a foot casually-- --and eating ##### just as quickly. The act of standing was easy enough, but when I moved forward it felt like something had removed all the bones in my legs, and I was stuck walking on lean sticks of jelly. I rolled onto my back and looked up at the sun angrily, searching the cosmos for answers, and instead of them I only saw the faintest outline of a golden Kakama, a mask that the sun wore with mocking, attractive ease. I knew what it meant. Joske, you prick. I’d have to sit through this one. “You get a burst of energy from a Bula or a Madu,” I pouted up to the heavens. “You don’t need to cross them.” “But when you need extra, let’s say, ballistic force to jumpstart your heart,” Grokk mused, dipping over me and shading my face, “Maybe that Madu pop-rock-factor could go a long way.” Close up, I could see the details of his face. Unfortunately, Grokk looked just as I remembered. Swirling tattoo over one eye; enough gold teeth to open a bank with; cruel eyes veneered in mischief; and, of course, a smile as wide and provocative as a four-lane market road. The only difference I picked out was that he now wore an absolutely enormous hat-- looked to be about 20 gallons. Before I could say “howdy,” Grokk had lifted me up by the armpits, and held me aloft like a rag doll. His scarred hands stole all the strength out of my body, so the jello feeling went from head to foot. I dangled helplessly, my aggravation growing the more I looked on his stupid, stupid face. “You’re supposed to be dead,” I managed to snarl through limp lips. “We have that in common,” Grokk answered, the veneer on his eyes shifting for just a moment. He looked up at the sky, flashing the hazy blue a humorless smile. “But somebody just won’t let me.” “What, sun-Joske?” I mean, why not. “Worse,” Grokk said. “Way-hay-hay worse. This punk has a ‘sense of humor.’” “Sense of humor. Maybe just no sense of fashion.” I fought the urge to smile at him. I would have kneed him in the chest if my legs felt capable of anything beyond being smeared on toast, or wrapped around a dock to keep a rowboat from drifting off, but it felt good to think that there was something out there that was keeping Grokk from drifting off into an eternal siesta. Karmically good, sure. But good good, too. He wasn’t a peaceful person. And it meant that I hadn’t technically killed him. I hated the idea of being held up for the duration of our conversation, but I wasn’t going to say anything; it beat being dropped onto the ground again, which-- He dropped me onto the ground. “#####!” Were my own thoughts not even safe? “Nnnope,” Grokk grinned, spitting out his piece of grass. … Why are there so many Fusa here? Did they kick out your teeth as a little Skakdi or something-- “Agh,” Grokk rolled his eyes, holding his temples exaggeratedly. “It would be easier if you talked. The inside of your head has a real hollow echo, and smells like perfume in there. You been using perfume, Dorable?” “No. So, yeah, what’s with the Fusa? I don’t remember the last time I even saw one in the wild. They must be your thing, right?” I looked at the creatures that had surrounded us, and the more I looked the more they put me on edge. A Fusa wasn’t a threatening creature by nature, just a harmless little marsupial with endless bursts of energy-- “Heh,” Grokk snickered. ##### off. Anyway, Matoran even made little toys of them to flip around the house. My dad had stepped on more than one of them as a kid. He always hated them, but for some reason, he never stopped buying them for me. “S’an entrepreneurial thing,” Grokk clarified. “Way I sees it, even the gods need playthings.” He shot another pointed look up at the sky. “Gods?” “Ooh, you betcha,” Grokk answered, returning his gaze to me. “Lots of those up there. More n’ you’d expect... Enough gods for every one of us to get our own, even. It’s a crowded field. So I’ve had to really up my production of late. Lately, I’m swimmin’ in merchandise.” “I never imagined you’d become an upstanding member of society. Businessman Grokk.” He shot me a wink. “Who said nothin’ about upstanding?” As if on cue, one of the Fusas started to— I don’t know quite how to say it— go haywire? It flipped once, then one of its legs tried to move while the other stayed put. The Fusa flipped again, this time flying sideways and crashing into one of its compatriots. The two kangaroos collapsed into a heap, making plaintive noises and trying to disentangle. Grokk made zero effort to help, which was— “Classic me,” he finished. “Yep. Y’see, Dorable, death doesn’t change people. It gives them a chance to be themselves. Death couldn’t hold me in, no more than it can hold you. Death is temporary if the gods decree it. They don’t care ‘bout giving us any rest. They’re, y’know, just lookin’ for a kick.” My first thought of Utu Kotore, the poor #####ing gigantic Mark Bearer, and how the last he’d ever seen of his only friend was his back, abandoning him again. I thought of Joske Nimil. I thought of all my dead friends, and how many of them had probably gotten talks like this. Joske must have. Gods seemed to favor Joske, in a way they -- didn’t? Did? -- seem to favor Grokk (too?) And here I was, the link that connected them. Joske, Grokk, Echelon, Heuani, Stannis, Cael, Utu, Tuara. And Dor. The center of the spiderweb. There for everything, but always in the shadows, able to flit in and help or bounce out and shelter from any storm that blew my way. I feel so tired. “It doesn’t feel like that,” I protested. “It feels like my skin’s out of the game. I got what I’m after. I was--” Was what? I had been doing something, something that felt important...something I’d thought I’d wrapped up. Echelon? Had I killed Echelon? Echelon was killing me. That seemed ignoble. Everyone was going to think I was a ##### like Joske. Hmmph. “--fine with it.” That sounded wrong. No, it sounded right. It sounded like a blend. I knew what kind of barrel I was staring down when I marched into that Vault; all I wanted to do was burn out, the way Tuara always talked about, and leave Echelon’s corpse snapping, crackling, and popping beside me. That was just an optional objective. “There are people who can do it better than me.” “See but,” Grokk chided, adopting the posture and gestures of a stern teacher. “I don’t give a fusa’s flip about what you think you’re capable of, Mr. Dorian. So you’re the ‘center of a web,’ or whatever other tangled—tangled, hah, I’m good!—analogy you wanna weave—weave!—for me. I’ll letcha in on a little secret, Mr. Self-Involved: we’re all centers of our own webs. Life is all connections. You’re not special—” “—Thanks.” “—But neither is nobody else. Well, except for me. I’m somethin’ special.” “Figures he’d keep his inflated sense of self…” “Don’t mumble, it’s disrespectful.” Grokk wagged his finger one last time, then relaxed out of his teacher bit. “Purposefully obtuse as always. Point is: you’re not special, you’re just dead. Well, close to death as we get, ‘round here. You’re where they sent me after I broke all the rules. You killed me, yeah yeah y’ain’t gotta apologize, I know you did whatcha had to… and I died. But then I didn’t like the, ah, boundaries that created. Flexed my Grokkie self a little too much for the man upstairs, and look at me now. Living in gods-forsaken wasteland in the realm of memory, one more set piece in somebody else’s story. I tellya Dor, I miss having my own story.” For the first time, I thought I got a little honesty from Grokk. If/as he read this reaction in my thoughts—was he reading my reaction to his reaction?—he let it slide. The Skakdi slid onto the edge of a giant trough, some of the vim and vigor sliding out of him as he did so. In that second, the honesty felt suffocating. My head felt like it was going to explode. “I can’t take more of this #####.” Grokk’s brief moment of cosmic relaxation vanished, and some of the strength returned to his posture like he was prepared for me to deck him with one of my noodle arms. Not that he didn’t deserve a good wiggly haymaker. Instead, I stood up and crossed the pen to where the Fusa lay in their own noodly tangle of limbs. The Fusa who had crushed its poor buddy was still flailing and kicking desperately, trying to right its posture, and it kicked me in the stomach as I neared it. If we had been in the real Po-Wahi, I would have stumbled back, breath leaving my lungs in a sudden fwoosh while I sucked in an equivalent amount of dust and hashtagged words. Instead I got closer, and when the Fusa kicked again, I sidestepped to the right, got my hands on its sides, and hoisted it up, as Grokk had done for me. The second Fusa stood on its own, with a bleat of gratitude. Then it started to flip again. Dumb #####ing thing… I turned back to look at Grokk and continue the conversation, and what I saw was a Skakdi different than I had ever known in life. Every detail was the same, everything from the teeth to the tattoo to the pulsing golden aura he liked to pretend was magnetism even though everyone in the world found it repellant instead. But not me. All those years in Bad Company, even when we descended further and further into monstrosity, where the guilt started to creep into me and seemed to bounce off Grokk, it wasn’t Brykon’s pride that concerned me - I had never had that. It was Grokk’s pride that had counted. I didn’t see it on his face even until the moment he died. For a second, finally, I thought I saw it dance along his eyes before wriggling up his tattoo like a serpent and escaping. “Thought it would never shut up,” I exhaled, taking a step towards him. The Fusa that I had lifted in the first place watched me advance back to polite conversational distance before starting to do its circus routine again. I found more and more of the irritation I always felt around Grokk bleeding away from me, redirected to the Fusa. “Why the ##### don’t they just stop?” I grumbled. “What did you do to them?” “Not a thing, Dorbell,” Grokk shrugged. “They was like this when I got here.” That statement hit me in the stomach harder than any kick, and I cocked my head slightly to look at the Skakdi. The motion sent the neon scarf sliding down my neck, but I was too busy looking at him to retrieve it. “I am sorry you’re dead, Grokk.” I smiled, for the first time in my short, sweet second life as a farmhand. “But it was a #####load of money. You would’ve done it, too.” “Eh,” Grokk answered nonchalantly. Typical of him to shy away from a broment. We watched the Fusa continue their erratic dances for an indeterminant amount of time. Grokk finally stood up and stretched. “You leaving?” I asked, bewildered. “Nah,” Grokk answered. “We’re goin’ for a stroll.” … Somehow, once we left the pen and started walking, the scene around us shifted. I found us back in the Vault. A bewildered look behind me, and all I saw was its stone wall. The Fusas had ceased to exist. Did Grokk exist? Did I exist? “You think, therefore you are,” Grokk quipped. “You remember me, therefore I am.” “Sick. Why’d you bring me here?” “Have a look at what’s goin’ down, skinny. Whyd’ya think?” I hugged my abs protectively. M’not skinny. “Like a twig.” M’not! I turned my focus away from Grokk and deeper into the Vault. I looked markedly - Mark! Deep cut! -- “Awful,” Grokk interjected, shaking his head. Hmmph. Speaking of deep cuts, I looked almost as rough-hewn as Grokk in the vision I saw before us. I was slumped against the wall as I had been against the post, looking thoroughly exsanguinated and barely able to keep a sword between my thick, unresponsive fingers. My revolver was useless by my side; the gun that had once kept all of Xa-Koro and the thoroughly psychotic cabal of the Mark Bearers under my thumb was now fully loaded and as dangerous as ever, but the dying lump of flesh beside it seemed incapable of striking fear into much of anything. Echelon loomed over him, holding a beautiful crystalline blade over me as I had once brandished it over-- I felt an electric pang in my chest that would have sent me reeling if I hadn’t been possessed with the fortitude of an ethereal construct. As I once had over him. Heuani’s missive to me rang in my ears. Do me a favor and cut his head off. That #####er was going to cut my head off! Mine! With that ugly mug and that sorcerer’s scowl, he was going to cut my real head off my real shoulders - leaving us eternally deadlocked at one decapitation each, only mine was fake and his was real. Death was one thing. But taking my head… “You think you’re going to bait me,” I eked out through gritted teeth. “Pssssh-ssh-shh,” Grokk chuckled. “Consider yourself baited, Dornament. Betcha he throws your head in the Antidermis. Or hits you with one-a them fancy disks. Betcha you grow legs from your neck or something gross.” “Stop.” “Betcha he names it something cartoon-y and evil. Or something non-threatening and girly.” "Stop!” “Like Dorable.” By now, our little jaunt through purgatory had convinced me that I wasn’t #####ed yet. I’d heard tell of enough of Joske’s exploits, and I was quick enough on the draw, to recognize there was a message here, and why this messenger had been chosen. But I would be #####ed if I let Echelon turn my head into a spider. “I get the point,” I grumbled. “Fine. I’ll go back and kill him. But whatever happens, it’s on you. And your stupid gods.” “My gods? We don’t get to choose the gods,” Grokk sighed. “They only get to choose us. Do me a favor: forget all about me.” I was caught off guard. “Sorry?” “Forget about me. Entirely. Don’t even ‘member my name. I want out.” “What about your crooked business? Who will keep selling the gods recall-worthy Fusa?” “There’s always another crook,” Grokk said. “I’m bored, I want to investigate a different career. The career of being well and truly dead.” I weighed that for a second - the idea of well and truly forgetting about a sin, instead of trying to atone for it. In another lifetime, it had felt so easy to do; now the idea of purging it from my memory, bleaching it beyond any recollection until my conscience shown white and clear, felt impossible. But I had done impossible things before, and the last time I had defied Grokk, it had sent him to a boring afterlife on the ranch. Maybe it could be done. Maybe it would be a favor. I watched Echelon, frozen in time, brandish the sword. Maybe I watched him even longer than I watched the Fusa. “Hey d-bag.” Silence. “Hey d-bag.” “I ain’t ‘bout to dignify your childish vulgarities with a civilized response, Dorian. I’m a changed man now.” Where are you gonna go, dummy? You’re in my head. You can’t walk away, you have to listen. “All you can do is listen and listen, as long as I want,” I finished, turning to wink at him and grinning smugly. I think he may have been surprised I finally had him one-upped. “Hey d-bag.” “What?” asked the unfamiliar Skakdi quietly, like even the four letters were something he was begrudging me. Grokk seemed so… Faint. “I’ll always be your friend,” I promised, punching him in the shoulder with a fully functional arm. “Live with it.” “Too late to live with it. Gotta die with it.” That wasn’t any funnier than that dumb #####ng fruit joke, but I laughed anyway. ... What was that? He wasn't going to cut my head off at all. He was just going to pulverize me into a stain on the wall. That wouldn't have been as bad. But... Still, I wouldn't have been super pumped about it. ... There was no more pain; there was only relief. The blood came flowing from my mouth as my screams turned into quiet giggles; Echelon looked more surprised than he should’ve. Everyone knows I could find a way to laugh at anything. “Hey. D. Bag.” How much blood was on my clothes or the ground beneath me instead of where it belonged? There was no way of telling. I felt like I had been flayed down to my core, stripped bare of every bit of protection Echelon thought I had. But he had forgotten to take my mask - not the Calix, but the facetious smile-and-wave routine that found new and exciting ways to disappoint everybody alive. I smiled, and waved. “Bye.” Echelon’s sneer curdled, and he threw the final ripple of Dark Magnetism down onto my head at the same second that the Protosteel sword was tugged back into my gesturing fingers. The Dark Toa’s attack stopped cold, distorting the air between us for a second before disappearing, replaced only by the glow of the rune. He looked shocked for a second. The first bullet shocked him more. Crack. The smile, the wave, and the gun. The three tools of any good merc. Surprise? Well, that too. But the surprise on Echelon’s face was far sweeter than the feeling of pulling a rabbit out of my hat for the umpteenth time in my life. When I watched his hand go from brandishing the power to rip a Toa apart to touching his torso gingerly, it seemed obvious to me he’d never been shot before. Everyone should try it, honestly. It’s no different from having the wind knocked out of you by a punch - when you’re used to it. Echelon clearly wasn’t yet, but he would learn soon enough. Enjoy paradise, Tuara. I'm building it on this #####er's bones. Crack crack crack crack crack. -Tyler
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