Chapter 11: Lore and Legion
Highborn, sea-bred, spawn of night,
Swept from the north, the tyrant’s blight.
Doling no mercy that’s not been earned.
All wicked deeds in kind, returned.
Erylist sat, perched on an unused work table, whistling. The tune, all too familiar, wound its way through the heavy air in Armonger’s forge, to the annoyance of Seja, who stood atop another table with arms and wings folded haughtily. She did not look comfortable, with her long neck bowed as low as possible, not because the ceiling was high, but from the assortments of this, that, and everything in between Armonger kept hanging from the ceiling. Whatever didn’t fit in the floor-to-ceiling shelves with crates and crates of other knick-knacks and experiments. The weaponsmith himself rummaged through the top row of shelves at the far end of the room, closest to the fires, and was apparently unperturbed by the heat.
“Will you stop with that song?” Seja growled, opening an eye to glare at Erylist. They all knew the words. It was a song about them, after all.
Erylist shrugged. “It’s catchy.”
“Don’t make her mad,” Armonger called around two crates he was carrying over, one in his top set of arms, and the second in his second set of arms. The dragon-like tinkerer teetered precariously on his last set of limbs, barely making it back to his work table safely. “She’ll fidget, and the molds will be ruined.”
Seja stood with her raptorial legs, from the mid-thigh down, completely encased in molds. Armonger’s plan was to cast boots for her that would make walking on solid ground painless and simple as flight. Although her talons were deadly enough in battle, they weren’t suited well for grounded work, of which they had been partaking more and more.
When comes the shade of jaguar’s night
And vain is hope of last moons-light,
Soft through the dark slips raider’s end
With silent steps and wrongs to rend.
“Why don’t I get special gadgets?” Erylist hopped off the table and began to poke through the nearest crate.
“What do you call your entire set of armor you’re wearing?” Armonger replied. He pulled loose two sacks of powder and began measuring the contents carefully into portions.
“It’s not shiny, that’s what I call it,” she said.
“That’s the point,” he said. "Matte. No reflection when you’re stealthing around.”
“I can do other stuff, you know,” Erylist insisted. But, of course, her brother and sister weren’t the ones she needed to convince of that.
“I passed that on to Av’Kra, and Axonn,” Seja sighed.
“What? When did you see them?” Erylist demanded. You didn't meet with the commander of the Hand and his deputy for any idle reason.
“On my debriefing from that mission to Ibonar.”
“When did you go to Ibonar?” The Midnighter’s rising tone betrayed mounting indignation. “Do you know the last time they sent me on a mission?”
Seja and Armonger exchanged a loaded glance, which didn’t escape her notice. “It was a diplomatic assignment,” was all Seja said. “You hate those."
“Careful with that!” Armonger snapped, as Erylist chucked a device she’d been fiddling with back into its crate, none too gently.
“I could learn diplomacy!” she protested.
Seja closed her eye again, and Armonger pointedly engrossed himself in measuring glowing metallic shavings.
“I can fight,” Erylist went on, petulant. “I took out a whole outpost of Nehrians! And I didn’t do too bad in that infiltration sting, remember? Kept it nice and low key the whole time, and-“
“We know all this, Eryl,” Seja interrupted finally. It was best not to let her go on, and work herself into a temper. “Take it up with Av’Kra.”
“I’ll take it up with Artakha himself if I have to,” Erylist promised to no one. As operatives of the Hand of Artakha, they didn’t technically work for the Creator Titan, but as creations of Artakha himself, Erylist, Armonger, and Seja were few of the Hand operatives outside command who were privy to audiences with the titan.
“You’re the best stealth agent we have,” Armonger offered, sweeping the metal shavings into a bowl, along with the powders.
“But that also means the more you’re deployed, more you and your skillset become known.” Seja had both eyes, blood-violet, open, fixing her sister with a scrutinizing gaze.
“Rather be a Toa than a Kanohi,” Erylist said, spitefully quoting the popular Matoran proverb. Kanohi had one power, but a Toa using a Kanohi had many. It was one of the many sayings they’d learned in the three-years long mission in the Southern Islands, uncovering and taking down the multi-island slaver network. That was the mission that had, yes, broken and remade them as a team, but had also catapulted them to the status of legend in the South, as well as among their peers. That was where they’d first heard the song about them.
‘Gainst coast and corsair, the dragon’s fight
Bane-ships and brutes flee venom's bite.
To Karzahni’s twisted gates they fly,
As victor’s roar thunders the sky.
“So, that’s where you’re storming off to?” Armonger glanced up as she ripped open the door to his forge. “To find Av’Kra?” The leader of the Hand of Artakha wasnt’ even on the island. He was taking care of negotiations at the Southern Continent Citadel at the request of the large organization of Toa warriors and scholars there.
Erylist didn’t answer, and it seemed futile to try and stop her. But that didn’t stop Armonger’s concerned gaze from following her out into the courtyard of the Hand’s fortress headquarters.
“She’ll figure it out eventually, and hopefully tire herself out in the process,” Seja shrugged, also watching her go.
“You’re not worried she’s starting to really hate us?” the dragon asked.
“It’s misdirected frustration, that’s all,” Seja told him.
“You sound confident.”
The winged warrior’s only response was to tap the ridge of her Kanohi Suletu knowingly.
'Ware falling blades of wingéd sprite,
With soul-sharp eyes and Inner Sight.
Rains justice cold as low she flies,
Knowledge vast, and counsel wise.
“I didn’t hate you, you know. I was just…young,” the Erylist of the present said, now dropping into their midst from somewhere above them, from where she’d been watching this time. Seja and Armonger should have looked startled, to see an older, wearier Erylist appear out of nowhere. “I never hated you."
“We know,” they said together, both turning and boring into her with unblinking eyes. “So why did you fail us?”
And the sensation of falling and the sound of a windstorm drove Erylist to her knees. The forge’s fires went dark, and the whole foundry melted away.
The Midnighter crouched, holding her breath, and when her world stopped spinning, she found she had a bird’s eye view of the scene below. It was night, and she was hovering above an all too familiar harbor. It was Xia, and the deck of the gleaming Brotherhood vessel spread out below her. She saw Seja, Armonger and herself, her past self, sprawled unmoving, and at the mercy of white-armored warrior. Pridak.
“Why did you fail us?” their words echoed in the air around her.
Again, she fell.
From hard-fought battles to triumph bright
They put the land once more to right
Boasting proud Great Spirit’s light,
The Children of Artakha’s might.
With a splash, she plunged deep into a frigid, black ocean. She fought, but the water she was fighting had no substance, only cold. She may as well have been fighting void.
This was the part of the nightmare that felt the most familiar.
In the midst of her thrashing, she struck something solid, startling a gasp out of her.
Opening her mouth was a mistake, and the icy nothing that was drowning her rushed in with unnatural ferocity.
But that something solid held on, grasping her arm and burning her. She knew it would be death to let go, though. She was falling in reverse, at the mercy of this burning grip.
When she finally broke the surface, she found a Toa of Fire hauling her onto a dock, stern but concerned expression somewhat foiled by his Kanohi Miru.
“Sister,” he said to her.
But her attention was consumed by the Onu-Matoran at the Toa’s side, who sat facing away from her.
'I need to see his mask.'
She reached for the Matoran’s shoulder to spin him toward her.
She leapt back with a cry. The Matoran had Seja’s face, and it asked once more, “Why?”
She slipped back off the dock, and was falling again.
But this time, Erylist could see where she was falling.
Metru Nui, the Great City. She fell through rain and thunder and hail, with lightning zagging angrily around her. She caught a glimpse of the Avohkah Tamer, her mentor, through the storm. The fierce winds ripped her cry for help from her throat, and the Avohkah Tamer raced away into the gale.
The unmistakable colossus that was The Coliseum spread out below her, calling the lightning to its pylons. Calling her. It was strong, and no matter how she twisted and turned in the air, she couldn’t control her fall. She was sure she was screaming, but what good had that ever done?
An immense pain of impact wracked her entire frame, and she saw an energy pylon erupt from her heartlight, having impaled her straight through.
With a groan, Erylist, the real Erylist, sat up and spat the city sludge back into the stream that ran over her, shaking off the lingering dream-terror as she looked around the dark tunnel, lined with pipes and bundles of wiring. She was still in one of Metru Nui’s many gutter-tunnels, but there was no sign of her quarry - a many-tentacled Takea-squid hybrid, amphibious, and as she’d just learned, capable of electrifying you straight to oblivion. This wasn’t the first Rahi chase that had ended in the Rahi’s favor, but it was the first one that had almost drowned her in the city’s slurry and runoff.
It was time to get to the surface. There was no telling how long she’d been unconscious. Sore and feeling weak in more than just one way, Erylist scraped what slurry she could from her armor, and staggered to her feet. The slurry was a mix of various oils and machine fluids, granulated solid and metallic protodermis, various bits of organic matter, mostly plants from the smell of it, and some chunks of synthetic protodermis that refused to break down. She wouldn’t be surprised if she’d been out for a few hours, based on how little she’d been sleeping in recent weeks.
Her dream sequences, when she did sleep, were mostly the same, and always ending at the Coliseum, one way or another. Usually it wasn’t a gruesome, impaled death. That was new, and perhaps she’d ask Helryx to have a contracted Toa of Psionics peer into her head to make sure everything was okay, once her mission in the city was done.
Of course, at the rate Erylist had been going, for nearly a year now, her mission in Metru Nui would go on for centuries.
Armonger and Seja, once fellow members of the Hand of Artakha, and now fellow members of Helyrx’s Order, were here in the city somewhere, trapped in stasis, as Erylist herself had once been, over a century ago. Erylist’s job was to get them back. Her job was to also find out what in Mata Nui’s name was going on in the city, since all exports and communications had halted years earlier. And that all looked simple and straightforward on the directives tablets, but when was anything in life actually that simple or straightforward.
Shaking more slurry out of crevices in her armor, Erylist grumbled to herself as she keyed in coordinates to her holo-nav device. “I didn’t spend a year in intensive training on Daxia to get left for dead in the gutters by mutant crustaceans.” She didn’t even know what metru she was in - or, under. The display from her device said she was still in Ga-Metru, but on other side from where she’d started.
A green pinprick appeared on the edge of her nav’s display. It was accompanied by a second pinprick of the same green light, which caught her interest. These were two of her tracking devices that were programmed into the device. She brought up information on the pinpoints with two quick commands punched into the device. “Matoran?” One tracker was her Le-Matoran contact, Larker, and the other was some Ga-Matoran she’d had a brief encounter with, and not seen in the months since.
With a shrug, she scrolled on the display until she found the nearest maintenance tunnel exit, and loped off after the pinpricks of light.
And the watcher in the shadows was satisfied. Sometimes, it was sure that the Midnighter knew it was there. But perhaps that was just paranoia. The watcher melted away.
“You’re sure this is the way?” Tengi asked. Again. She was ninety-seven percent he was just as lost as she.
“Right-sure,” Larker replied, obviously distracted. He whistled again, and shook a small box of dried Bula berries. “Subi!”
“Do you really think that’s a good idea? Anything could be out here with us,” Tengi fretted.
“The Rahkshi probably scared off anything else,” the Le-Matoran reasoned, and called his Ussal again.
The two made their way through what used to be an Assembler’s village. They had to walk carefully. The center of the main boulevard had collapsed in, and was now the district’s newest canyon. It wasn’t that impressive, right now, but time and earthquakes would fix that. But this was a long-abandoned village.
“Maybe we passed the village they said to go to?” Tengi suggested. “Hey.”
“Who’s that Kesian Matoran, anyway?” She had a hunch that would be a sufficient distraction.
“Who’s Kesian?” Larker repeated, turning to look at her. “He’s only the boss-chief of half of Le-Metru.”
“Really?” Tengi was skeptical. One Matoran couldn’t hold that much power, surely.
“He runs the Phase Dragon company, is an advisor to the committees of most of the other big-shot companies in Le-Metru, meet-chats with the Turaga, they say.”
“But, you don’t know him?”
“Well, now I do,” Larker said, as though he didn’t quite believe it himself.
“If he’s your boss, how could you not have met him?” she pressed.
“It’s a big business.” He shrugged, as though that settled it.
“Sounds like a bad business,” she muttered.
“Job-work is job-work,” Larker said. “Rare-precious nowadays.”
“Well, it doesn’t much sound like he cares about his workers,” Tengi shot back. "He’s out playing Toa, whatever that was, while his workers are scrounging for spare widgets?”
Larker said nothing, but whistled for Subi again. He didn’t have the energy to address the Kikanalo in the room, the hokey-pokey Toa-hero game they’d just witnessed.
“If he can’t even be bothered to meet his workers, how can he even be in charge of any?”
“Kesian’s been a high-flyer as long as anyone can remember,” he explained. “Some Matoran just have Mata Nui’s blessing like that.”
“That’s ridiculous. You talk about him - scraps, you even talk to him like he’s made of purified protodermis. Nobody’s that special.”
Larker didn’t meet her eye. “Subi!” he called, instead.
Tengi growled to herself. If it didn’t mean wandering off on her own through the dangerous night in a completely new part of the city, in a more or less hostile Metru, she’d leave. She tried to think of a subject change, quickly getting tired of being for the Le-Matoran who wouldn’t be indignant for himself. “Subi can follow your scent, right?”
“Let’s trust-hope so,” he said, also relieved she’d let off.
“How old is he?” she asked. “I haven’t worked with Ussal much, but-“
“Hey! I’m not the one who’s been whistling all night! Don’t-“
“Hush-quiet! Low-duck!” Larker pulled her off what was left of the main road, into the shadow of one of the assembler’s canopies that was still standing.
Now Tengi heard it too. Frozen, they listened for a moment. Voices, approaching.
Even as she relaxed, the voices called, “Hey! How’d you end up all the way out here? Yeah, we saw you.”
“It’s them,” Tengi said, reluctantly relieved. She stepped out into the street once more, and Larker followed.
And Larker and Tengi came mask-to-mask once more with Kesian and his Po-Matoran companion, Emyk. And, there was one more waiting to greet them.
“Subi!” Larker cried, falling to kneel by his nipper. “How…?”
Kesian grinned and offered his own trusty pouch of Bula berries. “He’s quite the snackster, this one. Even better, he led us straight to you.”
“Where’s your friend,” Tengi asked, looking around.
“What? The Rahkshi?” the Po-Matoran asked, and tried to suppress a proud grin.
“I meant the Ko-Matoran.” She scowled. “But where is the Rahkshi?”
“It’s…dealt with,” Kesian told them. “Don’t worry. Emyk? The Ko-Matoran?”
“He had to go study,” Emyk, the Po-Matoran shrugged. “Come on, you guys are headed straight into crafter’s territory. I’m not sure a Ga-Matoran would be welcome there.” He jerked his head back the other direction, and headed that way. Larker and Subi followed, the former careful to avoid unnecessary interaction with Kesian.
After a moment’s deliberation, Tengi followed. Kesian fell into step beside her, offering her some berries.
“Thanks,” she said, taking a few to be polite.
“I’m Kesian,” the Le-Matoran, apparently of some standing, introduced himself.
“So I’ve been told,” Tengi replied cautiously. “I thought you said your name was Tines.”
“Sometimes. That dependicates on the job we’re doing. Same with Emyk. Sometimes he’s Helix. Like, when whatever we’re up to would be bad for whatever jobs we have.”
“Or whatever monopolies you control,” Tengi said, accusation coloring her words brightly.
“Hey! You tellin’ my secrets, Larker?” Kesian called ahead, although judging by Larker’s flinch and quickened pace, Kesian’s joking tone wasn’t received well.
“How many other employees of yours can you name?” Tengi challenged him.
“Me. Larker,” Kesian began counting off on his fingers. “Kumo.”
“That’s your second in command, that doesn’t count,” Emyk called from the head of their little group. He took a right-hand turn at the intersection of two boulevards.
“Well, fine. I’ve given you enough names, by now. You haven’t given me any.”
“It’s not a game,” Tengi said, regarding him cautiously.
“Could be, if you play hard enough,” Kesian shrugged, offering her more berries and eating a few himself.
“Tengi,” she told him, accepting a few more Bula.
“Student?” he guessed. It was a safe guess, most Ga-Matoran were, at least part time.
“I was. But the schools are shut down, I thought everyone knew that.”
“Mmm. Slipped my mind. So, now what?” he pressed.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, work is hard to come by, I’m sure. And with no school, there are no dormitories,” he reasoned.
“I have to move to the tenements,” Tengi admitted, still cautious. What was he after? Surely this wasn’t idle chit-chat.
“Do you?” His tone suggested that she didn't.
“What do you want, Kesian?” Tengi stopped, and folded her arms, glaring at this nosy Matoran who was much too full of himself for her liking. The long stretch of road slowly became dotted with Matoran homes.
“Want?” he repeated, stumbling back half a step with a hand over his heartlight, offended. “What do you mean?”
Emyk and Larker and Subi also stopped, Larker turning back and looking hesitant to interfere, and Emyk looking impatient.
The Matoran homes, shut tight against the night, began to give way to some vendor and artisan canopies, with a large sector of warehouses looming behind.
“Well, I can get you into a better neighborhood than any tenements,” Kesian said.
She raised an eye-ridge, which asked, “How?”
“Widgets. You said it yourself, I run a monopoly. I’m sure I’ve got widgets to spare. Any mask kept out of the tenements is a mask saved, I say. Especially nowadays,” he added.
“I can fund myself, thanks.” Tengi brushed past him, making for Larker’s more-familiar presence, even if he was off balance and on edge.
“I’m not sure you can,” Kesian returned. "You’re a student out of school and a home, your skiff-sailer got wreckified, and since you’re obviously not from Metru Nui, you’ll have an even harder time than a citizen getting a job here.”
Tengi froze. “What did you say?” She turned ever so slightly so she could see him out of the corner of one eye.
“You’ll be out of a job for a while,” he repeated. “Especially with how the city’s going, recently. Now that you mention it, I suppose I could hire you for nautical deliveries.”
“No." She gave her head a frustrated shake. "You think I’m not from here.”
“I know you’re not.”
She turned fully to him, and the two sized each other up in silence.
Finally, Tengi dropped her gaze, and said through clenched teeth. “How did you know?” She was positive she'd never told anyone here about that, especially not this so-named 'big-shot' transportation tycoon.
Kesian just smiled and popped another handful of Bula berries into his mouth. “Nobody from here likes to snack.”
“What do you want?” Tengi asked for the last time, quietly.
“Access that your student ID would get me, like into the Archives. And, information, if you have it,” Kesian answered directly, also quieting his tone to match hers. “And, I can get you another skiff-sailer with a shipping license, which would let you into a mariner’s neighborhood.”
“What, so I can be your errand sailor?”
“No, we kind of owe you a new sailer,” Kesian said with a guilty shrug, and nodded to Emyk to resume their pace.
“I’d still owe you, though,” Tengi grumbled.
“Only if you want to think of it like that,” he replied.
“What was that, anyways?” Tengi asked.
Kesian glanced at her. So did Emyk, although she didn’t see. “What was what?” he asked, insincere and not even giving any effort to play dumb convincingly.
“You know exactly what I mean,” Tengi snapped.
At the same time, Larker, whom they were now walking beside, said, “You know, the three of you turning into a Toa-hero?”
Emyk and Kesian exchanged a conversation in a single, silent glance, and Kesian grinned. “It’s not exactly that, Larker. It's called The Kesian Cohesion, I invented it myself. And, well, would you look at that, we’re here. What a convenience-idence.”
“What? Here?” Larker glanced around the deserted street. They were in a silent warehouse block.
“Here,” Emyk said, marching up a short flight of concrete stairs and holding his badge up to the electro-magnetic lock on the door. It opened with a click and a beep, and Emyk disappeared inside.
“I’m not going in there,” Tengi said, shaking her head. There were zero reasons to trust these Matoran, and about four dozen reasons to blatantly mistrust them.
“Can you find your way back to Ga-Metru on your own?” Kesian asked rhetorically, because they all knew she couldn’t. “Who knows, maybe there are more Rahkshi where that one came from…”
“Rust in Karzahni,” she snapped at him, and pushed him out of her way, following Emyk through the door. In the scary stories told at a camp-out or on the docks, this was always how Matoran ended up dead - following strangers into remote, darkened buildings.
Larker, however followed without nearly as many qualms. Cautious, yes, but mostly curious. What did Le-Metru’s most prominent Matoran do in his spare time? What in the world did Kesian have in Po-Metru?
His curiosity, however, was met with disappointment, as the dark warehouse was lined with rows and rows of floor-to-ceiling shelves of product crates, and they seemed to be the only things moving. Their footsteps and Subi’s skittering claw-feet were the only sounds. Emyk led them along the wall, and they walked for what felt like hours.
“Hey,” Larker whispered to Tengi, just ahead of him. “So, where are you from, then?”
“From Karzahni’s scrap bucket,” she replied, not thrilled at all with the situation.
“Keep moving,” Kesian urged impatiently.
Emyk turned down one of the rows of shelves, seemingly at random, and led them about halfway through. They were standing in an aisle of solid crates taller and wider than they were.
Kesian pushed his way to the front of their group, joining Emyk. Each pressed his key card badge to his respective edge of a product crate, as unremarkable and unmarked as all the rest.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then, the front of the crate slid upward automatically, with a hydraulic hiss, to reveal a staircase, lit by lightstones, leading down.
Emyk smiled, and led the way down.
“Guests first,” Kesian motioned for Tengi and Larker to follow. Tengi obliged, half-preparing to meet her maker.
It took a moment of Subi pacing skittishly, and Larker said sheepishly, “He’s not great-good at stairs.”
The two Le-Matoran worked together, carrying the whining nipper between them.
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, which weren’t at all as treacherous as they’d first appeared, Larker’s jaw dropped. It was a huge room supported by many pillars, jam-packed full of Po-Matoran and Le-Matoran, all sitting around smaller crates and barrels like tables. There were even a few Ko-Matoran present. There must have been a few hundred of them.
But perhaps more astonishing was the familiar mask sitting alone at the nearest crate-table. Subi rushed to greet the Ta-Matoran, and Larker sat down heavily on the stool next to him. “Rofto?”
The Ta-Matoran smiled widely. “Larker! It’s been a little while. I see they hijacked you, too.”
Larker sputtered here and there, having trouble taking this all in.
Tengi, all too aware of all eyes in the room beginning to fix on the new arrivals, including herself, asked out of the corner of her mouth, “What in Mata Nui’s name is all this?”
“This,” Kesian said, and stepped forward, raising both arms to greet the room, and raised his voice to address the crowd. “This is an army.”
If you’re at all curious about Erylist, more about her past can be found in this epic and this short story. (the epic more so than the SS) /shamelessplug
Edit: Counting the short story, the previous epic, and the flash fictions, this saga officially broke the 100K word count!! I know that's nothing compared to some of the works here, but it's definitely a personal best.