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Pahrak Model ZX

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  1. SECTION XXI

     

    Zaekura knocked lightly before opening the door.  Beyond she found Ehrye, who looked up curiously as she entered, and Ackar, who didn’t spare her so much as a glance.

    “So…how are you two?” Zaekura asked.  “Recovering well?”

    “Uh, yeah,” Ehrye said.  “I’m fine.”

    After waiting to see if Ackar would say anything, Zaekura continued, “Sorry it’s taken me so long to visit in person: getting the city up and running was a priority, and a few things popped up after that.  But, I wanted to speak to you and see where you stand.”

    “Huh?  What do you mean?”

    “I’m not sure what you have and haven’t heard; for all I know you’ve been kept in the dark and were just fighting because you had no reason to question your orders.  I—"

    “She wants us to join her,” Ackar interrupted.

    Zaekura stopped short.  She glanced at Ackar, who still wouldn’t face her, and said, “…If you’re open to the idea.”

    “I am not.”

    “Not even a little?  Mind explaining why?”

    The Glatorian didn’t respond.  Ehrye seemed to still be thinking, so Zaekura decided to press the issue.

    “Have to admit, Ackar: now that I’ve been told more about you, I’m pretty surprised to see you here.  Apparently you’re a pretty big deal in Atero—odd time for a move, don’t you think?”

    “I was sent to deal with you,” Ackar said.  “Miserix predicted you would attack Xia.  I came to protect the civilians.”

    Zaekura crossed her arms.  “We don’t attack civilians.”

    Ackar finally turned and glared, eyes burning with a flame that had raged for uncountable years without dimming.  “Right.  Act high and mighty all you want, but you’re still attacking their homes.  Everyone on Spherus Magna is in danger now because of what you’re doing.”

    His words cut straight through her guard, and a blaze of shame began to spread in Zaekura’s heart.  Pushing the thought aside, she stared Ackar down as convincingly as she could.  “The way I see it, everyone was already in danger.  Sure, what dragged me into all this is the fact that I’m one of the ones in the most danger, but there’s no guarantee it ends there.  Let the Great Beings run unchecked, and they can haul off anyone they want, for whatever reason they want, leaving the rest of us to wait and wonder what happened to them.  For all anyone knows, their turn could be coming up.”

    Ackar grunted as he turned away again.

    “I was a civilian myself, Ackar, and the Great Beings decided they wanted me dead.  Maybe you’re fighting to protect people, but if you keep fighting on the side you’re on, then intentionally or not you’re protecting that unchecked power.”

    Ackar had no reply.  Zaekura waited a few moments before letting out a breath and dropping her arms.  She turned back to Ehrye to see him surveying the floor, and asked, “So?  What’s your angle?”

    Ehrye jumped a bit.  He stammered briefly, but then composed himself and said, “Well, I…I’m not as sure.  I mean, at first I was sure you were lying about the Great Beings, and that I had to keep people safe from you.  But the thing is…you’re not the way I pictured.  You made sure your forces were being careful, you tried to negotiate things before a fight started, you gave us all the option to leave…you showed compassion for the Vorox, even.”

    Zaekura waited as he thought.

    “Look, I just want to do my Duty, to be a good Toa.  I always thought that meant following the orders of the Great Beings, and even now…it doesn’t feel like what I did was wrong?  Like, I know I helped people—it’s hard to think of something that I outright regret.  I just…”  He shook his head.  “I’m not sure what’s the best way to help going forward, I guess.”

    Zaekura waited to be sure he was done, and then said, “Sounds like we all want the same thing.  I get it, though—after how long it took Fangs to come around, I have a better appreciation for how hard this can be.  I won’t rush you.  Let us know if you need anything, alright?”

    “Uh, right,” Ehrye said.  “…Thanks.”

    “Don’t mention it.”

    Ackar still had nothing to add.  Zaekura closed the door behind her, took a few steps down the hall, and ran a hand over her face, leaning against the wall and moaning quietly.  She inhaled sharply as she forced herself upright.  Farther down the hall was another door, and after another quick knock, she entered to find Emsar lying with her hands behind her head as she stared at the ceiling.  The Vortixx looked over to her for only a second.

    “The lady herself.  Have you prepared a speech of your own to attempt to convert me?”

    Zaekura became aware of just how tired she felt.  Shifting her stance, she said, “Alright, Emsar, I might not know you too well but I can tell arguing about principles might not be the best approach.  Why don’t you tell me what it is you want?”

    Emsar slowly turned her head.  After a small silence, she chuckled, and then rolled into a sitting position to say, “Now that’s refreshing.  Points for knowing your audience.”

    “I’ll spend them wisely.”

    “Hmhm…think it’ll be that easy?  Sometimes it isn’t so clear which choice is the smartest.”

    “Ah,” Zaekura said, “so you’re trying to make the ‘smart’ choice?  Yeah, I can see how that’d be tough right now.”

    “Precisely.  The Great Beings are likely to have my head whether I return to them or not.  While I could certainly risk it, risk is just so…unappealing, frankly.”  She laid back down.

    “Tell me about it,” Zaekura grumbled.

    Emsar laughed.  “Oh of course, I must seem woefully insensitive talking to you about risk.”

    “Like you said, I know my audience.”

    “Goodness, Lady Zaekura, I’m liking you more and more.  Perhaps dying at your side wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.”

    “And with luck, maybe you won’t even die.  Well, you know, not get killed, at least.  But anyway, how long are you going to dodge the question?”

    Emsar looked up.

    “What is it you want?”

    Giving a smirk, Emsar let her head fall back.  Just as Zaekura’s patience with her silence was wearing thin, the Vortixx quietly replied, “I suppose what I truly want is…to continue working alongside Makuta Antroz.”

    Zaekura was about to speak, but Emsar let loose a very loud sigh, draping her arm over her eyes.

    “As you’ve deduced, I’ve never entirely understood the appeal of principles, morals, the like.  Yet still, working alongside Antroz has been quite enjoyable.  I would very much like that to continue…but.  I simply can’t convince myself of that being the smart decision to make.”

    Zaekura thought a moment, and ultimately gave a shrug.  “Well, okay.  If you aren’t able to figure out what the smart choice is, why not make the choice you do understand?”

    She could just barely see Emsar’s eyes, staring blankly up as the words hung in the air.

    “…We’re going on a diplomacy run, but Antroz should be back soon, if you want to talk to her again.  Anything I can do for you before we leave?”

    The distinct lack of a parting quip from Emsar left the conversation feeling horribly unfinished, but Zaekura didn’t have time to wait.  She shut the door and headed downstairs.

    I know they need time for a decision like this…I just hope they get enough.

    ***

    Chirox trudged through one of the many halls of the Valley of the Maze, grumbling wordlessly as he messily patched up a hole in his armor.  As he rounded a corner, he nearly collided with someone, practically flinging himself back to avoid the impact and get a better look: it was another Makuta, white and gold armor bearing a simple design much like his own, glaring at him from behind a Mask of Healing.  Chirox sneered and brushed the dust from his shoulder.

    “Rare to see you in this wing, Mutran,” he said.  “To what do I owe the displeasure?”

    “Oh, so clever,” Mutran said.  “At ease, Chirox: I was simply disposing of some garbage, and it seems it has drawn me towards its kin.”

    Chirox’s eyes darted to Mutran’s hand, spotting a badly-charred Kanohi.  With a chuckle, he said, “Failed again, hm?  I’d never dream of placing fault with a Great Being, so it must be his lab assistant who bears the responsibility.”

    Mutran waved the mask in Chirox’s direction.  “The fundamental process is sound!  We’re simply working to refine it, and there’s a delicate balance to mind!  Unlike some of us, a true scientist always seeks to better what he has already made, rather than being content with mere—”

    The mask suddenly burst into flames, and Mutran stopped short.  Growling, he narrowed his eyes and willed a vacuum to form around the fire, gradually smothering it.  Chirox stroked his chin.

    “…And what, pray tell, has Lord Angonce been having you tend to?”

    “We have also been doing the delicate work of refining a foundational process,” Chirox said.  “Though, none of our experiments have ended up so, how should I say…fruitless.”

    Mutran tilted his head.  “Oh?  And the scars on your armor?”

    “…Fruit just the same.”

    A shriek suddenly rang out, echoing from the nearby darkness of the hall.  Now taking on a smirk, Mutran said, “I believe you’ve another harvest of fruit to gather.”

    With a huff, Chirox faced the direction the cry had come from and edged forward in a battle stance; not wanting to be caught off-guard, Mutran did the same.  Booming footsteps drew steadily closer, and soon a form could be seen bearing down on them: something that may have once been a Kane-Ra, but its horns had grown jagged and doubled in number, and the armor on its hide had a scaly texture, constantly shifting to be as aerodynamic as possible as the beast ran forward.  It opened its mouth, roaring at them, and a Rhotuka spinner shot from its open maw.  Chirox started to say something, but the wheel of energy struck him.  In a flash, he and the Rahi had switched places, leaving a very underprepared Mutran staring up at the Kane-Ra as it lowered its horns and smashed him into the wall.  The Rahi paused to bellow triumphantly.

    “Well,” Chirox said, “there’s something I can be proud of you for.”

    The Rahi looked at him for only a moment, and then turned in the opposite direction.  Chirox looked past it to see Gorast coming around the corner.

    “Oh dear…”

    She barely seemed to notice the Kane-Ra as it lunged at her.  Just before they collided, Gorast threw a punch at the monster’s skull, and a surge of energy rippled through its entire body.  With a sickening crunching noise, the Rahi’s mighty frame crumpled under the force of its own momentum, ending up a tangled, misshapen heap that Gorast simply kicked aside.

    As he approached, Chirox said, “You didn’t have to break it, you know.”

    Even after all this time, her glare was enough to shock him still.  “I had to break something.  Be glad I didn’t run into you.”

    Mutran was picking himself up now, saying, “Something troubling you, Gorast?  Normally you’d take that thing down the old-fashioned way.”

    Gorast grumbled a few moments.  “Zaekura.”

    “Ah, yes, that whole thing.  Angry you’re not out rending her flesh from her bones?”

    One of Gorast’s lower arms jabbed Mutran in the side, nearly knocking him over.  “Don’t treat me like some brainless Rahi.”

    Chirox crouched next to the Kane-Ra’s remains, resting his head in one hand.  “How do I even begin to clean this up…”

    Gorast started to walk away.  A few steps down the hall, however, she stopped and turned back towards the scientists.  “You two at least believe in what we’re doing, right?”

    Chirox craned his neck.  “What?”

    “I’m asking if you understand the importance of serving the Great Beings.”

    “Is that what’s gnawing at you?” Mutran asked as he stood back up.  “Worried more Makuta may follow in Antroz’s footsteps?”

    Gorast clicked her claws.  “…I never liked Antroz.  But she was devoted to the Great Beings, and I respected her for that.  Now, all of the sudden she thinks her ‘morals’ are above that duty…if even she can fail like that, then there’s not much hope for the rest of you saps.”

    “Touching.”  Mutran inspected his side briefly, and then reached towards the charred Kanohi, pulling it to his palm with magnetism.  “If it shall put your mind at ease, Gorast: there is no cause for concern.  I may not be the zealot you are, but frankly, neither duty nor morals hold great appeal for me.”

    Gorast bristled.  “What?”

    “Calm down,” Chirox said.  “Just as you are devoted to the Great Beings, we are devoted to science.  It just so happens that the Great Beings are far and away the most advanced scientists on the planet.”

    “Correct, for once,” Mutran said.  “You see, even Chirox is not so stupid as to jeopardize the opportunity this position affords us.  Whatever the Great Beings ask of us, we’ll do it.  Isn’t that all that matters?”

    “No!” Gorast said, slashing an arm through the air.  “You’re only following them because it’s convenient for you?  What kind of reason is that?!”

    Chirox gestured.  “Please, by all means, enlighten us on the correct way of thinking.”

    Gorast opened her mouth, but realized she didn’t have the words.  She tried to figure out how to say what she felt, but the more she struggled, the angrier she grew, until finally she simply snarled in frustration.  Beams of heat shot from her eyes, setting the Rahi carcass on fire much to Chirox’s dismay.  She turned and left without another word.

    ***

    The lush jungle of Bota Magna was a far cry from the vast desert the party knew.  While at first the trees had inspired a claustrophobic feeling, they grew more accustomed to the terrain as they went; the path was shaded by the sturdy canopy overhead, letting in just the right amount of sunlight to instill a vibrant sense of life, made only more real by the constant chatter of birds in the distance.  Zaekura had a smile before she even realized it.

    “Enjoying yourself, Lady Zaekura?” Charla said.

    “You could say that.  I am from the Jungle Tribe—maybe there’s something in me that just feels at home here.  Come to think of it, this might be the first time I’ve ever actually seen trees.”

    “Mine as well.  And the ground here, it’s so different from the desert sand, yet not like a concrete road either.”

    “Right!  If nothing else, at least we finally get to see some new places out of this whole thing.”

    “Heheh, I suppose it is a silver lining.”

    Zaekura breathed deeply.  “Ah…still.  We should hurry up and find the Le-Koronans.  There’s still a lot of work that needs done back in Xia…”

    “I am certain we will find them soon.  For the time being, why not enjoy these new surroundings?  Thoughts of work can wait until it is in front of us.”

    Walking a short distance behind the pair were Antroz and Krika, the latter having been uncharacteristically silent for the entire trek.  As they plunged ever-deeper into the jungle, the oddity of the situation began to weigh on Antroz, until finally she felt compelled to address it.

    “Krika,” she said.  “What vexes you?”

    “A great many things, but such is life,” Krika replied.

    “Clearly something has changed.  You’ve hardly spoken since returning from Mahri-Nui.  I do not mean to pry, but I am growing concerned.”

    Krika looked up at the canopy, seemingly lost in thought.  “Antroz…is it wrong to desire forgiveness?”

    Antroz went still for a moment, then resumed her pace.  “An odd question.  Why should it be?”

    “No matter what we do, it is impossible to truly erase the harm one may’ve caused—impossible to ‘make up for it’.  Is it wrong to ask those we’ve harmed to pretend otherwise?  To pretend that we’ve never harmed them, as if their pain did not matter?  Lately, I’ve come to think it may be arrogant, in addition to horrendously selfish.  What say you?”

    The birdsongs had the first reply.  Eventually, Antroz said, “I say that to wish to undo the harm one’s caused is contingent upon being aware that one has caused harm, as well as regretting it.  If you desire to make amends, then it means you have realized your past mistakes—that is far from arrogance.”

    “So it is simply enough to realize that one was wrong?”

    “…Truthfully, Krika, I am still in the midst of discovering all I’ve done wrong, so I cannot give you a proven answer.  Perhaps there are some who attempt to force others to forgive them, or feel being forgiven means they need not learn from their mistakes, but those are not the same as simply wanting to right the wrongs you may have committed.  What else would you do: relish in your wrongdoing and be content with the harm you’ve caused?”

    Krika appeared to ponder this, earning a sigh from Antroz.

    “Krika, I am trying—”

    A sudden burst of heat from ahead cut her off.  Zaekura and Charla had reached a wide gap between the trees, but when they had attempted to advance, a large fireball had appeared in the air before them.  Antroz and Krika both dashed forward.  Neither reached Zaekura, as each were instead blindsided by a bolt of shadow from the surrounding underbrush, causing them both to collapse in a tangled heap.

    An attack…but from who? Antroz thought.

    Zaekura and Charla had now backed away from the fireball, each facing an opposite direction to be ready for more blasts.  Zaekura asked, “Charla, how many are there?”

    “I…I don’t know,” Charla said.  “I can’t sense anyone other than the four of us.”

    Upon hearing this, an eerie recollection shook Antroz.  Propping herself up slightly, she said, “They’re hidden, same as Kapura.  We have to be cauti—”

    She ducked, just barely evading another shadow bolt.  Turning in the direction it had come from, Zaekura shouted, “Hey!  We’re not here to fight!  Please, just tell us what you want!”

    The fire dissipated.  Zaekura turned back to see a Toa of Fire standing in its place, one with a strange-looking object hanging from his neck and a blue Kanohi Pakari on his face.

    “Leave this place!” he demanded.  “Makuta are not welcome here!”

    Antroz could hear the voice, but she couldn’t sense the Toa’s location.  Trying again to rise, she said, “We come in peace.  Please, we seek only to meet with the Le-Koronans.”

    The Toa held one palm forward.  “You’re speaking with one, and I have nothing more to say.”

    “Okay, easy!” Zaekura said.  “Don’t burn the jungle down!”

    The Toa’s palm began to light up.  At first, Zaekura was expecting more flames to come her way, but she soon realized this light had no heat.  A split-second later, blinding light erupted from the Toa’s hand, causing everyone but Antroz to recoil in agony.  Antroz, meanwhile, continued to rise—until another shadow bolt struck her, this one coming from the direction she had heard the Toa.

    “W…what?” she grunted.

    Krika’s eyes were the first to recover, though it took him a moment to believe what he was seeing.  The fireball had returned just behind the Toa, while bright light wreathed one of his hands and the other was cloaked in shadows.

    “You’ve been warned!” the Toa said.  “Keep at it, and I’ll have no choice but to repel you by any means necessary!”

    “…Well,” Krika muttered, “seems you’re no ordinary Toa.  We’re certainly underprepared.”

    As the Toa opened his mouth to speak, Krika narrowed his eyes.  A stasis field sprang into being around their attacker, giving the others the time they needed to recover, but only just: a shadow bolt hit Krika from behind, making him lose focus and freeing the Toa.

    “Fine,” he said, “have it your way!”

    “Please, stop!” Zaekura said.  “We just want to talk, that’s all!  None of this is necessary!”

    The Toa leaned forward, willing a ring of fireballs to encircle the intruders.  He hurled twin blasts of light and shadow, supplemented with attacks of his hidden allies—Antroz and Krika managed to cover Zaekura and Charla, turning invulnerable to weather the attacks, but as beings of light the effects of the shadow blasts still proved a bit much for them.

    “You alright?” Zaekura asked, trying to keep Antroz on her feet.

    “Lady Zaekura…I believe we should withdraw,” Antroz said.  “There are no allies to be gained here.”

    Hesitantly, Zaekura looked around.  “There’s gotta be some way…but, I don’t want you two getting beat up…”

    “Well?” asked the Toa of Fire.

    Zaekura clenched her teeth.  Just then, some branches nearby began to rustle, causing her and the Toa to glance aside.  Out from the bushes burst a Toa of Air with a teal Rau, wearing the same odd necklace as the Toa of Fire, who ran to a spot between the opposing forces.

    “Wait, wait Takua!” the Toa of Air said.  “Hold on a second!”

    The Toa of Fire stepped back, his elemental auras vanishing.  “T…Tamaru!  What are you doing?”

    The Air Toa gestured to Zaekura, saying, “Listen, they called her Zaekura!  She’s the one I’ve been hearing about, the one fighting against the Great Beings!  They’re not our enemies!”

    A Toa of Water popped up next from the nearby bushes, yelling, “If they’re bringing their war to Bota Magna, then yes, they are!  Now get out of the way!”

    With a furious flapping of arms, Tamaru said, “Come on, Dalu!  You attacked them!  Hardly fair to say they’re the ones who brought a fight!”

    Dalu grumbled under her breath as she glared at the Makuta.

    “Takua, do you really want to do this?  They’re barely even trying to defend themselves, I can’t believe you feel good about hounding them like this!”

    The fireballs began to dim.  Takua looked down at the ground, saying, “Well, I…”

    Tamaru smiled cheerily.  “Let’s just hear them out.  Maybe they’ll actually be able to help us with something or other!”

    Feeling the tension draining out of the situation, Zaekura took a careful step forward.  “Takua, was it?  He’s right, we only—”

    Takua’s eyes shot wide in an instant, the ring of fireballs flaring up to twice their original size.  Shaking a fist at Zaekura, he shouted, “She!”

    “W-What?”

    “If you’re talking about Tamaru, use ‘she’!  Otherwise you won’t be making it out of the jungle!”

    Zaekura glanced to Tamaru: the Toa of Air’s expression was one of overwhelming unease, and the realization of what she’d just done slammed into her like a tidal wave.  Turning fully, she said, “I am so sorry!  I didn’t know that…well, I mean, I didn’t think Toa…er, no, just, I’m really sorry.”

    Tamaru nodded as she composed herself.  “Well…apology accepted…anyway, um, Takua.  If you don’t want to hear them out, then that’s okay, but I don’t think you should make that decision for everyone.”

    Takua stared at her for a few seconds, and then rolled his eyes and dismissed the fireballs.  “Alright, alright.  Dalu, Kiina, come on.”

    A Water Tribe Glatorian appeared from the bushes, keeping her trident pointed in the Makuta’s direction as she walked to Tamaru’s side; Dalu continued to grumble, but reluctantly headed towards Tamaru as well.  The Toa of Air smiled at her three associates, and then turned back to Zaekura and said, “Probably not the greeting you expected?”

    “No, I understand,” Zaekura said.  “We tried to keep to a small group so we wouldn’t appear threatening, but I guess that didn’t work out.  Sorry for that.”

    “So, what is it that brings you to Bota Magna?  Looking for some help in your battle?”

    “Yeah, something like that.  Mainly we just wanted to see if we could arrange to gather some of this region’s resources, though we’ll gladly take any help we can get.”

    Tamaru turned to Takua.  “See?  Nothing to worry about!”

    Dalu scoffed.  “If the Great Beings see them using Bota Magna for their own gain, they’ll probably burn the whole jungle down!  I won’t agree to this!”

    Placing her hands on her hips, Tamaru said, “Come on, Dalu…”

    “I’ve heard enough—if you want to put us all in danger, then go ahead.  I’m heading home.”  The Toa of Water turned, sighed, and quietly added, “Berix is probably worried sick by now…”

    Dalu stormed off.  Zaekura rubbed her neck, saying, “Maybe this would go smoother if we could talk to your leader?”

    “We don’t have one,” Takua said.  “The Le-Koronans stand together, but none stand above another.”

    “Oh?  How’d that come about?”

    “…You still don’t really know why we’re all out here, do you?”

    “Um…I guess not.”

    Takua sighed.  “Maybe that’s to be expected.  We all have our own individual reasons, but basically, each of us felt out of place in the Great Beings’ society—either just unhappy, outright rejected, or in very real danger.  So, we left.  Outcasts like us would probably be safer in Valwahi…”  He paused, making air quotes as he repeated, “Safer.”  He then continued, “But it’s way too inhospitable.  Bota Magna is a place we can thrive, and a place where we can be ourselves.”

    “I heard about why you’re doing this,” Tamaru said to Zaekura.  “In a way, you’re one of us!”

    Zaekura smiled at this.  “Ah…thanks.  Nice to feel welcome.”

    Tamaru giggled.  Behind her, Takua said, “Still, Dalu has a point: it’d be dangerous for all of us if any of us got involved.  Not only that, but the few of us can’t speak for all Le-Koronans.”

    “Right,” Zaekura said, nodding.  “Well, it’s not like I need an answer right away.  Why don’t I come back in a week or two?  That way you’ll have time to talk to everyone and get a better idea of how they all want to proceed.”

    “That sounds wonderful!” Tamaru said.  “I’ll start spreading the word right away!”

    “Hold on,” Takua said.  “If we’re going to actually discuss the issue, then we need to know a few things, like your motivation and what the Le-Koronans gain from helping you.”

    “We already know her motivation, Takua!  I’ve already told you!”

    “Okay, that still leaves incentive.  What will we get out of a potential arrangement?”

    Zaekura took her time in considering this.  When she was ready, she said, “To be honest, I don’t know if I can offer much in the short-term.  We’ll of course do our best to protect you, but with the Great Beings, that’s hard to promise.  And, if there’s anything you want brought out to Bota Magna, we’d be more than happy to bring it.  But on a more long-term scale: if we’re able to beat the Great Beings, we’re planning to make a lot of changes, hopefully prevent anyone from feeling like an outcast.  I think your input on that would be really helpful.”

    Takua inclined his head.

    “And I mean, you’re certainly welcome in the cities we control now, we just…don’t control too many cities.  Not sure how enticing that is.”

    “It might be nice to live in the city again,” Tamaru said.  “Right, Kiina?”

    The Water Glatorian simply grunted.  Takua said, “If that’s the case…then I think there’s someone you should meet with before you head back.  Offer him a more accepting environment in a big city, and he might just join you on the spot.”

    Tamaru clapped her hands together.  “Oh yes!  It’d be a shame to send you back empty-handed, and I’m certain you’ll get something useful from Nuparu!”

    Antroz inclined her head.  “Nuparu?  This is where he disappeared to?”

    “Hm?  Oh, I guess he did say he used to live in Xia…”

    “That sounds great!” Zaekura said.  “Thank you so much!  Where can we find him?”

    “We’ll lead you there,” Takua said.  “It’s easy to get lost in this place if you don’t know where you’re going.  Shouldn’t take too long.”

    Now a party of seven, the group headed off in a new direction, with Antroz bringing up the rear alone.

    It may not be the case for all of them…but at least some of these Le-Koronans have shadow abilities.  Can we truly trust them…?

    Despite her misgivings, she continued on.

     

    ADDENDUM:

    -So…how’s everyone holding up?  Things have gotten pretty crazy since my last update—sorry it took so long, I work an “essential job” so my time to write remains limited.  Still managed it before the end of April, though, so I just might be able to keep that monthly update goal rolling!

    -There were a handful of characters I realized could use a bit more focus while we had the time, plus Mutran had yet to be properly introduced.  Also, I’ve decided on a couple of new Great Beings, and the mask Mutran is carrying is the first hint towards one of them.  The answer may surprise you!

    -Related, Gorast has always had a certain importance to this story, but her appearances have amounted to little more than cameos and that’s something I intend to fix.

    -I’ve been needing to learn to write more diverse characters, and the combination of the concept for the Le-Koronans and the widespread adoption of the trans Tamaru headcanon provided an opportunity I would be remiss in passing up.  In case I can’t find a way to adequately exposit this in the upcoming chapters: plenty of Glatorian and Agori are trans, but when it comes to Toa and Matoran, the Great Beings are very adamant about the element-locked genders they assign and don’t tolerate having them questioned.  In the city, Tamaru could only be herself around a few Agori friends, so as soon as she found out about the Le-Koronans she rushed off to Bota Magna.  Again, I lack experience writing trans characters, so if I make a misstep please do not hesitate to correct me—I want to be sure I’m representing others with due respect.

    -As per my goal there will be at least one chapter in May; I have a rather short story I want to focus on getting done as soon as possible, but after that (and maybe one other shorter project) I’m thinking I’d like to focus on Right of Law and give it some real momentum.  We’ll see how that goes.

    -Reviews to be submitted here


  2. SECTION XX

     

    As Zaekura stepped onto the dock, she did her best to shake loose the anxieties that clung to her.  She made her way to Ga-Koro’s cathedral: Kojol was there waiting, but to her surprise, Carna was not.

    “Welcome back,” the Makuta greeted.  “I see Pridak did not have you executed.  It went well, then?”

    “Mostly,” Zaekura said.  “Where’s my mom?  I thought she was going to wait here.”

    “Carna went to visit the others from Nynrah, I believe.  I am sure she will return sooner or later.”

    “Oh, alright.”

    Turning to Krika, Kojol said, “You look almost seasick, Krika.  Attempting to better your acting?”

    Krika looked up slightly.  “Simply preoccupied.  Pay me no mind.”

    “I certainly try—are you actually going to make it easy for once?”

    “Indeed I will,” Krika said, walking over to sit in one of the pews.  Not another word came from him.

    “…Hm, I find myself quite curious,” Kojol murmured.  “But then, if I am to remain neutral, your negotiations are none of my concern.”

    Zaekura paced across the room, thinking, How exactly am I going to pitch this to the others?  Really, I’d rather not work with Pridak, but it does seem like the most strategic option right now.  And I wonder if I should bring up Mavrah…

    She glanced at Krika.

    …Should I say something?  It’s too weird seeing him like this.  But if Mavrah’s the one who sold me out, I don’t really feel all that bad…and after all, Krika is the reason grandpa…

    Zaekura sighed.

    But I’ve got to make use of him…no, wait, that doesn’t sound good.  I don’t want to manipulate people.  It’s just…

    “You seem rather agitated,” Kojol said.

    Zaekura stopped pacing.  “Uh…yeah.  Guess so.”

    Holding out a hand, Kojol offered, “I could help you with my Peace powers, if you would like.”

    “…Yeah.  I think I’ll take you up on that.”

    With a nod, white light surrounded Kojol’s hand.  Zaekura could feel the energy move into her, and immediately it helped: her muscles relaxed, her thoughts cleared, and for a moment all was totally calm.  She turned to thank Kojol, but paused as she noticed the Makuta staring at her oddly.

    “What?”

    “Oh, my apologies.  It’s just that…”  She paused to select her words.  “Your mind…it feels different somehow, compared to the first time we met.”

    “What?  I don’t—”  Zaekura stopped and clutched her head as a bolt of pain ripped through it.’’Agh!  Nnngh…”

    “Are you alright?” Kojol asked.

    “Yeah, this has been happening a lot lately.”  Zaekura sighed—while she was no longer entirely calm, she at least felt better than when she had walked in.  “It’s probably just the stress getting to me, and there isn’t really anything to be done about that.  This situation is going to keep going until we find a way to make it end.”

    Her ears perked up as the cathedral door opened.  Carna entered, took one look at Zaekura, and rushed forward.  “Zae!  You’re back!”

    Hugging her mother, Zaekura said, “Yeah, things went okay.  Not entirely ideal, but…okay.”

    Carna pulled back, keeping her hands on Zaekura’s shoulders.  “So?  Is that Makuta going to work with you?”

    “Probably—I figure I need to check with everyone else, though.  We can talk about it on the way back to Xia.”

    Carna’s gaze drifted.  When she brought it back, she said, “Actually, Zae…”

    Zaekura waited until she was ready.

    “For a while now, I’ve been trying to think of a way I could help you.  There isn’t really anything I can contribute to the fighting, and it’s not like I have the temperament for diplomacy.  But, I thought back to what happened in Civitas Magna, and that gave me an idea—and after talking about it with everyone from back home, I think it’s worth giving a try.”

    Krika had turned his head now, listening quietly.

    “When we met with Yarion, we were downplaying the whole thing, but really, art can definitely be dangerous.  It can challenge old ideas and present new ones, and that’s exactly what we need right now.  So, if a bunch of us from Nynrah fill Civitas Magna with art made from the ideas we’re working towards, I’m sure we’ll have an impact on public opinion and win you some more support!  Or, worst case scenario, we have a little extra money you can use to buy supplies or something.”

    “An art movement, huh?” Zaekura said.  “That sounds like it could work…heh, I’d like to think it would, at least.  Sounds like fun.”

    “Right.  So I think, for now at least…I should stay here.”

    “Huh?  Why?”

    “I want to make sure this is done right, so I want to personally get it off the ground.  Much as I really want to stay close to you…the only real difference between me worrying there and worrying here is that here I have something more productive to do.”

    Reaching up to grab her mother’s arms, Zaekura said, “Mom, you don’t have to be productive.”

    “I know, but…well, the distraction will probably do me good.”

    “…Yeah.  You’re probably right.”

    “Besides, this’ll let me keep an eye on the others from Nynrah.  I’m still not sure which one of them let your secret out.”

    Krika sighed.  “Actually, Miss Carna, that matter’s been settled by Makuta Pridak.”

    Carna turned.  “What?  He found out who it was?”

    “Yes, it was—”

    “It was a traveler,” Zaekura interrupted.  “Someone who had passed through and saw me working.  Probably a scout the Great Beings had sent out specifically to look for people like me.  They’re locked up in Mahri-Nui, they can’t do any more harm.”

    Krika remained silent.  Carna said, “Oh…good.  Well, regardless, I still think it’s best if I organize our art team.”

    “I understand,” Zaekura said.  “Just, before anyone actually goes to Civitas Magna, let us find some guards who can accompany them.  It shouldn’t take me long to find someone inconspicuous who can make sure you’re all safe.”

    “Good thinking.  Alright, we won’t leave Ga-Koro until we’ve got our escort.”

    “Alright.”  Zaekura fidgeted.  “…Thanks for everything, Mom.  Knowing you have my back has really made this a lot more bearable.”

    “Of course,” Carna said, hugging her daughter once again.  “Be safe, okay?  Don’t do anything too crazy.”

    “Well, I’ll do my best.”

    “I’ll see you soon, Zae.”

    “Right.  See you.”

    Zaekura nodded to Krika, and then the two of them left Ga-Koro to set out across the desert.  Once they were outside the city, Krika asked, “Why didn’t you tell your mother about Mavrah?”

    Hesitating briefly, Zaekura said, “I figured she’d probably blame you, and then be a lot less likely to stay.  She needs something else to focus on.”

    “Ah.  I see.”

    There was a pause.  Eventually, Zaekura said, “I think it’s a good idea—mom’s plan to influence Civitas Magna.  Not sure if everyone from Nynrah will join in, but every pair of hands helps.  Now to figure out who to send with them…”

    Krika had nothing to say, so Zaekura thought in silence until something occurred to her.

    “Hey, Krika…mind if we make a stop on our way back?”

    After explaining herself, the pair veered northward, their new course leading them to Bitil’s outpost.  Zaekura asked around to discover that the person she was looking for was currently examining the nearby lab, and sure enough, as she descended the staircase she spotted Natan standing at the console next to a Guurahk wearing a beret and scarf.  The Rahkshi of Sonics looked up at her arrival.

    “Hey, look who it is!” he said.  “Nice to see you again, Lady Zaekura.  Well, I hope it’s good news?”

    “It is, don’t worry,” Zaekura said.

    The Guurahk stepped forward, saying, “Oh, hello Lady Zaekura!  I’ve been wanting to meet you: I’m Ulwin!”

    Zaekura unconsciously tilted her head slightly as she shook the Rahkshi’s hand.  “Ulwin, huh?  You can speak…how’d you manage that?”

    Ulwin chuckled and shrugged.  “Well, once I set my mind to it, I was able to focus all my creative energy and find a way to make it work.  All Rahkshi have vocal cords—it’s just a matter of figuring out how best to use them.”

    “Incredible!  Then theoretically, you could teach all of the Rahkshi how to speak!  Well, if that’s something they’re interested in, I guess.”

    Glancing over the various elemental chambers, Krika asked, “What exactly were you two doing here?”

    “I’m bodyguarding him,” Natan said, jabbing a thumb in Ulwin’s direction.  “Figure we can’t be too careful.”

    “I wanted to take a look at the data on this console,” Ulwin said.  “I had heard that it was gibberish and thought I might be able to make some sense of it…but, ah, results have been less than encouraging thus far.”

    “Don’t beat yourself up, mate.  Anyway, what brings you here?  If you’re done in Mahri-Nui, shouldn’t you be headed back to Xia?”

    “There’s something I wanted to discuss with you, actually,” Zaekura said.

    “Me?  Really?”

    “Yeah.  See, my Mom’s starting this plan to use art to sway the people of Civitas Magna, and as I was thinking about it, I realized it’d probably work even better if we had a wider variety of art to use.”

    Natan inclined his head.  “…What?  You mean me and the band?”

    “Exactly.  What do you say?”

    Scratching his chin, Natan said, “Sounds…pretty good.  Sounds great!  I mean, I gotta get the go ahead from the others, and we, uh, still need a name and all…but this could be just what we need!  Can you hang around long enough for me to track ‘em down?”

    Zaekura nodded, and Natan was out of sight in an instant.  She turned back to Ulwin then, seeing the Rahkshi of Creation’s eyes aglow; he said, “That sounds wonderful…Lady Zaekura, if it’s not too much to ask: might I also assist in this process?”

    “Huh?”

    “Please!  Locked up in a place like this, a creative spirit can only stagnate—I need to be surrounded by like minds, artists who can challenge me so I can challenge them in turn!  I can’t even use my powers on any of my siblings!  But the people of Nynrah, the most famed artistic community on the planet…oh, working with them sounds heavenly!”

    Zaekura broke into a grin.  “…That passion’s refreshing, Ulwin.  It certainly isn’t my place to refuse.”

    “Truly?!”

    “You’re gonna have to be just a little patient, though.  Once I get back to Xia I’m going to assemble some guards to escort artists to the city, and I think it’s best if you and the band wait to meet up with them before heading to Ga-Koro.”

    “Oh of course, of course!  Thank you, Lady Zaekura—you won’t regret this!  I promise I will craft works you can be proud of!”

    Ulwin wandered off to the side, bouncing with glee.  Zaekura turned back around, preparing to head back out, but her eyes caught on the console.  The same mess of data still raced across the stream, utterly incomprehensible.  After staring at it for a time, however, Zaekura furrowed her brow.

    “…Hm…” she mumbled.  “Is that…?”

    Slowly, she stepped over to the console, eyes fixed on the screen.  Krika watched somewhat absently as she scanned the display over and then, with hesitance, struck one key, then a second, then three more; her fingers moved steadily across the board as she continued to stare straight at the screen, her face frozen in place, and it gradually dawned on Krika what was happening, briefly shocking him to attention.  Not saying a word, he simply remained where he stood until Zaekura’s movements finally came to a halt.  She faced him with a look of confusion.

    “…I understand it,” was all she said.

    Krika walked over to examine the screen.  It still made no sense to him, but he could tell the data had been rearranged somehow, and a small graph was now displayed in one corner.  Zaekura typed briefly, and the readings changed at her command.  Krika glanced back to her.

    “I mean…not all of it.  But.  Some of it.  I…I can actually understand some of what…agh!”

    She recoiled then, clutching her skull as another headache began.  Krika said, “Of course.  I’m such a fool, missing something so obvious.”

    “Miss…what?” Zaekura asked, the pain slowly subsiding.

    “Well, Lady Zaekura…it seems to me that those headaches of yours are not due to simple stress.  Instead, I wager they are a side effect of your synapses restructuring themselves, evolving into something closer to the minds of the Great Beings.”

    Zaekura stared at him blankly.  After taking another look at the screen, she muttered, “You mean that genetic quirk?  It’s causing this?”

    “That quirk was but a spark.  Now, it seems the fire is being stoked.”

    “But, stoked by what?”

    Krika shook his head.  “There is still a great deal we do not understand about this mutation.  But whatever catalyst enabled the Great Beings to become what they are today, I believe you have been exposed to it.”

    “…Kojol did say my mind felt different…I guess she was talking about this.”  Zaekura turned and took a few steps away from the console.  “I can’t tell if this is good or bad.”

    “In any event, your brainpower is increasing, and that will certainly have its benefits.  We should act on this discovery.”

    Zaekura thought for a few more moments, then nodded once.  “Yeah.  Give me a minute to look over this data one more time…I think I’m starting to come up with a plan.”

    ***

    Gaaki stood before the door, steeling herself as best she could before knocking on it.

    “Come in.”

    The office itself had changed very little.  Bur the Toa of Stone slouched at the desk was not Kodan; their new superior had an aura of arrogance swirling around his gold-trimmed Rau, and he spared her only a sideways glance as she approached.

    “Ah, Gaaki,” he said.  “Finished already?”

    “Yes, Turaga Ahkmou,” said the Ga-Matoran.  “Here’s the piece you requested.”

    She held out a stack of paper.  Ahkmou gestured, and so she simply set it on his desk.

    “…Also.”

    Ahkmou raised an eyebrow.

    “I have a proposal I wanted to run by you.  I wanted to take a team to Xia and—”

    “No,” Ahkmou interrupted.

    “But, Turaga—”

    “You still don’t get it, do you?  How many times do I have to explain to you how things work around here?”

    Gaaki clenched her fists.  “Turaga, our duty is to keep the people up-to-date on current events.  Zaekura’s forces have taken a city, and nobody knows exactly what that means!  The only way to be sure is to go talk to the Xians still living there.  Zaekura’s been willing to talk before, I’m sure we’ll be able to get in and out without any trouble.”

    “This idea is nothing but trouble, stupid Matoran.  It’s the same idea that led to your last boss disappearing.”

    Gaaki froze.

    “Our duty is to do as instructed by the Great Beings.  You don’t want to disobey them, do you?”

    “…Of course not.  But, Turaga…people trust us.  They expect a more complete view from our pages, not the forceful, one-sided articles we’ve been running.  Voriki Post, unreliable as they are, is at least printing different ideas—how long until readers leave us for them?”

    Ahkmou smiled.  “Voriki Post is doing what?  Did you hear that, Makuta Yarion?”

    The Ga-Matoran became aware of a presence behind her.  Slowly, she looked over her shoulder, seeing the Makuta standing in the doorway, staring straight at her with an expression she couldn’t read.

    “I did,” Yarion said, their voice low and quiet.  “Is something the matter, Matoran?”

    Gaaki turned fully, now noticing the scuffs and dirt that covered Yarion’s armor—they clawed at one spot of dirt momentarily before again falling still.  She tried to say something, but when she opened her mouth, no words came.

    “Gaaki was just leaving,” Ahkmou said.  “Isn’t that right, Gaaki?”

    Eventually, she nodded, and she went on her way.

    Leaning back in his chair, Ahkmou said, “Crushing their doubts is proving a real nuisance.  Can’t you send some Rahkshi to help keep them in line, maybe boost their conviction?”

    “Wouldn’t that be a bit too heavy-handed?” Yarion said.

    “Well, maybe.  Anyway, what’ve you got for me?”

    Yarion produced a disk, saying, “The Great Beings have prepared a new outline for your upcoming releases.  Also, they mentioned they were discussing some suggestion you had made.”

    “Ah, must be the kolhii tournament!  Good, good, I hope it gets approved.”

    “A sports tournament?  Why would the Great Beings need to consider something so trivial?”

    Ahkmou rolled his eyes—it was slight, but he didn’t exactly hide it.  “The triviality is the point, Makuta.  I was put in charge here to control what information gets to the public, and that’s important, but it can only do so much.  Constantly telling the people to side with us in this conflict is still telling them to think about the conflict—and if they get the chance to do too much thinking, they might just start to think for themselves.  So, we need to give them something else to think about.  Something safer.  Such as a nice, friendly sporting event, one that’ll quietly and automatically draw everyone in and make sure they’re too distracted having fun to stop and think.  Follow?”

    Yarion said nothing, simply rubbing one of the scuffs on their armor.

    “Oh.  Speaking of controlling information!  I’d recommend doing something about Voriki Post.  They may have a reputation for being disreputable, but every voice of dissent reaches someone’s ears, you know?”

    “I understand.”

    “Good.  If that’s all, then I’ll be seeing you.”

    Yarion made their way out of the building, stepping into the nearest alley they came across.  After waiting a few moments, they turned, and sure enough, Vamprah was there clinging to the wall, head tilted to get a clear view of their every move.  The sight may have once shaken Yarion, but now, they weren’t sure it gave them any particular feeling.

    “A news source called Voriki Post has been helping dissenters be heard,” Yarion said, hand absent-mindedly moving to work on another patch of dirt.  “We must silence them.”

    Vamprah faded from view.  Yarion looked down at their arm, where the stubborn patch of dirt refused to be removed.  Trying their best to put the matter from their mind, they returned to their office, staring at the clock until it was exactly the appointed time, and made a call to the Maze.

    “Hello there, Yarion,” Angonce greeted.  “Oh, you’re looking a bit worse for wear.”

    “The result of hard work, my lord,” Yarion said.  They reached for a patch of dirt, but stopped half-way.  “I have made my rounds and taken the necessary actions to keep loyalty on the people’s minds—there is one small matter I have delegated to Vamprah, but only because it was brought to my attention mere minutes ago and I did not wish to be late.”

    “Good, good.  So, how are the people of Civitas Magna doing?”

    Yarion rubbed a scuff on their knee.  “Excellent, my lord.  Everyday operations are continuing without the slightest issue, and several of those who are off-duty have been celebrating the Great Beings in whatever way they can, firmly reestablishing our city’s dedication to your will.  One group even went so far as to burn an effigy of Zaekura.”

    “You don’t say!  Ah, I’m so glad everyone’s stopped biting the hand that feeds them…and of course, you’ve cut off all contact with Xia, I presume?”

    “Absolutely!  When I heard the news, I halted all shipments and informed the necessary personnel, and then contacted Makuta Miserix to begin arranging trade with Atero.”

    Angonce nodded.  Very good, Yarion, you’re really on top of things!  Miserix was quick to react too: he put his factories into overdrive without even needing to be told.”

    Yarion grabbed their wrist to still their hand.  “In relation, Lord Angonce, I have begun work on plans to reduce Civitas Magna’s needs.  I have no doubt that the Aterans will make us proud, but as their city was not designed for such output, I wish to lessen their burden as much as possible.”

    “Mmmm, probably a good idea.  Don’t worry too much, Yarion: we don’t plan to let Zaekura hold Xia for long.”

    “Understood.”

    “Oh, and one more thing.  The Xians who fled to Civitas Magna…you’ve detained them, correct?”

    “I have, my lord,” Yarion said.

    “Excellent.  We’ll be bringing them to the Maze for questioning just as soon as we can get the logistics figured out.”

    “Shall I have them questioned here, my lord?”

    “No no, we’ll take care of that.  You focus on keeping your citizens in line.”

    Yarion’s hands shook.  “Of course.  It shall be done.”

    “Great!  Be seeing you, Yarion.”

    The call ended.  Immediately, Yarion began to scratch at the stubborn patch of dirt.  They scratched harder, and harder, but try as they may they could not remove it.  Finally, they grunted and used a burst of Heat Vision to melt away the grime, leaving a scorch mark in its place.  Yarion winced, and then leaned forward and set their head in their hands.

    I will obey.

    A distant explosion jolted them to their feet.  Running to the window, Yarion looked to the pillar of smoke just beginning to climb into the sky.  Reflexively, they went over the city’s layout in their head, and quickly realized that the affected area was where Voriki Post was located.  Yarion began to claw at the scorch mark on their arm.

    We all…must…obey.

     

    ADDENDUM:

    -“Ulwin” is derived from “Ul”, the name of Guurahk’s kraata…in the main universe, at least.  I figured our first named Rahkshi of Creation would look like an “artsy” type.  He probably has an internal focal point for his power—otherwise I’d want to give him a gigantic paint brush or something, and I think that’d be just a bit too much.  I think opening up the possibility of any Rahkshi being able to speak is going to be helpful in the long run, even if I was hesitant at first; there’s only so much you can do to characterize someone through hissing.

    -The console in the Great Beings’ lab seemed the best way for the characters to realize that Zaekura’s mutation is progressing, but it may be a while still before I get the chance to properly elaborate on what’s causing the change.  What I will say is that it’s something a bit more…general than one might expect.

    -While my history with goal-setting has been spotty, I’ve decided to aim for at least one chapter of Right of Law each month going forward.  Ideally it’ll be a bit more than that, it’d be nice to finish this within 2020, but at the very least I want to maintain some degree of momentum.  As for the immediate future: there’s a few more matters that need attended to, but you heard how eager the Great Beings are, so I doubt it’ll be long until we’re back to the battlefield.

    -Reviews to be submitted here

    • Like 1

  3. SECTION XIX

     

    Zaekura flipped through her notebook, eventually finding a blank page and hastily scribbling something down.  Turning back to Neton, she said, “Alright, I’ll see what I can do.  For now I’d say just focus on another block.”

    The Rahkshi nodded and was off.  She then turned to Erad, and Charla applied her powers to allow Zaekura to understand their hissing.

    “Wow, that’s more than we were expecting,” she said, jotting down the figure.  “Good thing with our Stone and Iron Toa being busy with reconstruction.”

    Erad made an additional note.

    “Right, good point.  Well, when they’re free we’ll have them conjure up what they can, and that should give us enough of a head start that I’ll have time to organize a long-term plan for mining Iron Canyon.  If you could, stop by the armory and look for a Rau, then go meet with the workers who’ve stuck around and talk things over with them.”

    When they left, Zaekura paused to breathe, and Charla chuckled a little.  “You’re holding up well.”

    “You too.  At this rate we should have Xia up and running in no time!  What’s next?”

    Charla reached out over the city, but then frowned.  “Oh…it would seem she has arrived, Lady Zaekura.”

    “…Ah,” Zaekura said, her enthusiasm dimming.  She tucked away her notebook.  “Okay, let’s go meet her.”

    The two of them made their way through the city, careful to avoid getting in the way of the ongoing reconstruction.  The Xians who had elected to stay were hard at work alongside the Rahkshi—on occasion they revealed an unease behind their actions, but still, such feelings were set aside and work progressed harmoniously.  Zaekura was relieved to see that was the case.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start.

    Soon they had reached the gate, which had been left open for their visitor.  Many paces away, the Sand Lord could be seen approaching the city, flanked by half a dozen Vorox guards; Zaekura and Charla met her halfway and bowed before the elemental.

    “Welcome, Sand Lord,” Zaekura said.  “Please forgive our state of disrepair.  It’ll still take a while to get things pristine, but we wanted to contact you right away.”

    The Sand Lord gave a vaguely melancholic hum.  “Where are they?”

    “This way.”

    She led the Sand Lord into the city, through the streets to the central tower, and down into the dungeon beneath it.  Crowding the stony vault were countless free-standing stasis fields, each of which held a mutated Vorox.  The Sand Lord silently stepped up to the nearest one.

    “This seemed the safest place to keep them,” Zaekura said.  “We have guards stationed around the clock—nobody’s getting in here without permission.”

    A cloud of sand drifted out from the Sand Lord, gently rolling through the room before eventually returning back into her body.  “This is all of them.  You truly did keep your promise…thank you.”

    Despite the gratitude offered, Zaekura felt only shame.  “…I’m sorry this happened to them.  I swear to you, Sand Lord: I will find a way to reverse the process and return them to normal.  They’ll be able to walk Spherus Magna free, too.”

    She looked up as the Sand Lord turned to meet her gaze.  Quietly, the Sand Lord said, “You shall be held to that.”

    Zaekura nodded.

    “How, exactly, do you plan to follow through?”

    “About that…I’m expecting figuring it out will require blood samples, both from affected and unaffected Vorox.  But, I wanted your permission before I took any.”

    “Very well.  Take what you need from the sick, and from my guards.  Afterwards, however…I must insist that we take our brethren back with us.  Do not think that I doubt you—”

    “But we’re a military target, and that’s not very safe,” Zaekura finished.  “I understand.  We’ll be happy to help in any way we can.”

    The Sand Lord took a step towards Zaekura.  “…You’re being quite generous.  I have not yet agreed to become your ally, Zaekura.”

    “Your answer to that won’t change anything.  I’m not offering this help to try to get help back, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

    “Then why?”

    “I…”  Zaekura shrugged.  “I just want to help.  That’s really it.”

    The Sand Lord stared at her a moment.  Then, she turned and walked towards the door, saying, “I will leave you to take the samples you require.”

    “Thank you, Sand Lord.”

    “And then…I believe it wise we conduct a strategy meeting.  I wish to know how we plan to proceed in this campaign.”

    Zaekura smiled.  “Of course.  I’ll inform you when we’re ready.”

    ***

    Antroz knocked on the door before slowly stepping into the room.  Emsar sat in a chair next to the window, her ankle connected to the bed by a long chain; she looked up as the Makuta entered, shifting her weight and smiling.

    “Quite a comfortable cell, I have to admit,” the Vortixx said.  “Not worried I’ll find a way out?”

    “There was no room left in the dungeon,” Antroz said.  “But even with a proper cell, I am sure you could escape if you wished to.”

    “Hm.  Maybe.”

    “Emsar, might you satisfy my curiosity?  What is it you plan to do from here?”

    Leaning back, Emsar said, “What can I do, Makuta?  I am a prisoner.  Few roads are open to me now.”

    “What I mean is that you need not remain a prisoner.  We would benefit greatly from your help, Emsar.  I would much prefer to work alongside you again than to keep you captive.”

    “My, so quick to trust?  Or need I go through a Shadow Trial to earn this freedom?”

    Antroz shook her head.  “No, nothing so extreme.  I imagine there will be some conditions to your release, but that is something I shall have to discuss with Zaekura and the other Makuta.  You will still need to earn our trust.”

    “Ah, I see…”  Emsar’s gaze wandered out the window.

    Coming closer, Antroz said, “You said you were afraid that the Great Beings would label you a traitor.  But here, you are safe from their reach, and—”

    She stopped as Emsar began to laugh.  The Vortixx leaned forward and said, “Wrong approach.  Everyone knows you can’t truly guarantee safety from the Great Beings.  What you should be saying, Makuta, is that now that I’ve failed to stop you, then whether I stay in my comfortable cell or join you on the battlefield, the Great Beings are likely to react the same.  I have already lost their good graces.”

    The silence lingered briefly.  “…I’ve no desire to threaten you,” Antroz said.  “Loyalty acquired through fear is meaningless.  If you believe you have a reason to fight this battle, then we will gladly accept your help, but if not, we shall not force you.  And we will still do all we can to protect you should you find yourself a target of the Great Being’s ire.”

    Emsar watched her closely, a thoughtful look on her face.  “Those same pesky morals you’ve always gone on about?”

    “…I suppose you could say they’ve changed a bit as of late.”

    “Oh?  In that case, Makuta: are morals worth adhering to if they’ve already proved inadequate?  How are you still able to have such solid conviction in something now revealed to be fluid and changeable?”

    Antroz took her time in thinking of a response.  Ultimately, she said, “Truthfully, Emsar, I’ve begun to feel it is better this way.”

    Emsar raised an eyebrow.  “Better?”

    “Before, I was so convinced of the completeness of my morals that I refused to see anything that conflicted with them.  I was willfully ignorant, and stubbornly self-righteous, and my morals grew stagnant as a result.  That is the reason they failed.  But now, now that I have started to open my mind, to take in new information and learn different points of view…perhaps in changing, my morals are being refined, being further honed into something stronger than they were before.”

    “…How intriguing.  Then, the most moral thing to do is to let your morals change?”

    “Not change completely.  But we must allow ourselves to grow…and perhaps, sometimes, the only way to truly do so is to realize that certain values you once believed in must now be shed.”

    Emsar leaned back once more.  “Hm.  Food for thought, I suppose.”

    “Emsar—”

    “I would ask you give me time to consider it.  I’m sure you realize such a decision does not come easily?”

    “…All too well.  I shall leave you, then.  Rest easy.”

    No further response followed her out.  After locking the door, Antroz headed for the staircase, planning to find a way to contribute to the reconstruction effort; however, a telepathic signal from Charla came to her mind, letting her know that the Sand Lord had requested a strategy meeting be convened.  She gave a brief reply, and then went to the first floor of the tower and waited for the others to arrive.

    I suppose, she thought, we shall have to make a plan that does not include Emsar’s assistance.

    She was soon joined by Krika, then Bitil, then Zaekura and Charla, before the Sand Lord herself finally arrived.  The Element Lord spared Antroz a glance, but said nothing.  Zaekura cleared her throat.

    “Thanks for coming,” she began.  “Good news: the Sand Lord has agreed to ally with us!  We’ll be working closely with her and the Vorox from this point on, which is going to be a huge help.”

    “Many thanks, dear Sand Lord,” Krika said.  “We look forward to a prosperous partnership.”

    The Sand Lord rustled.  “Let us hope.  For the time being, how are we planning to proceed?”

    Bitil waved his hand, creating a purple light projection of Spherus Magna.  “That’s a good question.  Right now, we’re mainly concerned with settling into Xia…” On the map, an area connecting Xia to Nynrah turned from purple to teal.  Ga-Koro turned gray.  “The walls have been fortified, and things should be in working order in a matter of days.  At that point, we’ll be able to start manufacturing weapons and armor.”

    “There’s a good deal of raw material still in stock, and we have Toa of Iron and Stone on-hand to conjure more,” Zaekura said.  “However, we don’t want to overtax them, so we’re going to need to acquire some resources the old-fashioned way.  Iron Canyon is the most obvious answer.”

    The canyon flashed yellow.  Charla said, “However, there are some concerns.  With how long Iron Canyon has been in use, most of the ore still there is deeper in, which makes it more difficult to transport large quantities back to the city.  Also, there’s Atero to consider.”  The great, sprawling city at the northern exit of the canyon flashed.  “Now that Xia is ours, they will likely be the new source of arms for the Great Beings’ forces, meaning they will be making increased use of Iron Canyon as well.  Even aside from that, the canyon provides a very convenient route for them to attack Xia.  We will need to be extremely vigilant.”

    Zaekura nodded.  “I want to get what we can from Iron Canyon, but we definitely want to look into alternatives.  That being said, we can’t exactly go mine in the Northern Frost or Black Spikes, not with Atero standing between here and there.”

    “I can offer assistance,” the Sand Lord said.  “The Vorox know of several untapped deposits scattered throughout the desert.  I cannot assure that any run especially deep, but we will mine what we can.”

    “Excellent!  I was worried we might not have many options until we expand our territory a bit more.”

    “What about Bota Magna?” Bitil suggested, rotating the globe so that the immense jungle was visible.  “Xia is fairly close to the border—we could easily set up a route to ship resources along.  The Great Beings leave the region alone, save for Karzahni, but that’s far to the northeast.”

    Zaekura rubbed her chin.  “Hm, not a bad idea.  Though, aren’t there people living in the jungle?  I know I heard stories about them at some point.”

    “Ah, the Le-Koronans,” Antroz said.  “I’ve had some interaction with them: they keep to themselves for the most part, though if we were to begin mining their lands that could very well change.”

    “Right.  So, what do you know about them?  How do you think they feel about the Great Beings?”

    “As I understand it, they’re a self-made tribe composed of Matoran who prefer life in the wilderness to life in the Great Beings’ cities.  I doubt they feel particularly loyal to the system.”

    “Alright.  In that case, we can probably negotiate with them.  Once Xia’s stable, let’s pay them a visit, see what they have to say.”  Zaekura looked back up at the map.  “Going off of that train of thought, what about Aqua Magna?  We’ve got easy access to it, and we know Kojol won’t bother us.  Obviously we’re talking a different type of resources, but still.”

    “First things first,” Krika said, extending his finger to point at a coastal city far to the north.  “While it may be some time before we control it, we need eyes and ears in Stelt.  We still have the Odinans to worry about, and if one of their ships comes into port, we want to know immediately.”

    Zaekura grimaced.  “Oh, good point.  Bitil, think you could pick a couple of Rahkshi suited for that?”

    “Of course!” Bitil said.  “I’ll confer with them and report back by tomorrow.  Consider the situation handled.”

    “Thanks.  Well, other than Odina—and with how far north they are, we can easily avoid them—the only inhabited island is Mahri-Nui…”

    Antroz faced Krika.  With a sigh, the other Makuta said, “Yes, ah, in regards to that…you may recall, Lady Zaekura, that there was something we wished to inform you of prior to marching on Xia?”

    Zaekura tilted her head.  “Huh?  Oh, that’s right…it has to do with Mahri-Nui?”

    “Indeed.  You see…hm, where to begin.  When I went to Civitas Magna, I posed as a Toa who had been newly transferred from Mahri-Nui and, with the way that situation escalated, it came to be that Makuta Yarion ended up contacting Mahri-Nui to verify that I was who I said I was.  The Makuta of Mahri-Nui vouched for me.”

    “…Huh?  Wait, why?”

    “I dare not speculate.  However, that Makuta has since contacted me, saying that he wishes for an audience with you.  I believe it in our best interest to quickly open negotiations with him.”

    “Huh…well, if he’s open to it, then definitely!  If we ally with Mahri-Nui, then we basically have control of Aqua Magna.”

    “Yes, and should things go well in Bota—”

    “Krika,” Antroz interrupted.

    Krika fell silent.  Zaekura glanced at Antroz, asking, “Is there more…?”

    “You should know more about the Makuta of Mahri-Nui,” Antroz said.  “He is not a being to be trifled with.  While he does pursue what is best for his people, he is arrogant in a truly dangerous way…and if he cuts ties with the Great Beings, if he no longer has loyalty to their rule restraining him, there is no telling just what he will do.”

    “So he’s a wildcard.”

    “That’s putting it mildly,” Bitil said.  “He actually believes that it’s impossible for a Makuta to be wrong about anything.  Makuta like Antroz and Kojol might be a bit self-righteous, but Makuta Pridak is so convinced of his own purity that he thinks anything he thinks or wants is inherently right only because he thinks it.”

    Zaekura shifted.  “…Yeah, not liking the sound of that.  How does…I mean, Makuta disagree, right?  If he thinks they’re both automatically right when they want different things—”

    “I know, it’s absurd,” Krika said.  “None of us have quite wrapped our heads around it, so you’d have to ask him personally.  Though, I wouldn’t recommend bringing it up during negotiations.”

    Should we negotiate with someone like that?”

    “That is for you to decide.  Personally, I would rather keep him close so that I can watch him, rather than let him do as he pleases under the Great Beings’ banner.”

    “I’d prefer to avoid dealing with him altogether,” Antroz said, “but it seems that option is not available to us.  At the very least, I think we should honor his request to meet.  It is difficult to say beyond that.”

    Bitil and Charla both nodded.  The Sand Lord said, “This being sounds untrustworthy…but the odds we face demand we utilize every opportunity we discover.  I would advise against letting such a valuable one pass by.”

    Zaekura slowly nodded.  “Well…guess I’ll be planning a trip to Mahri-Nui ASAP.  But we don’t need to go over that right now.”

    “Back on topic, then,” Krika said.  “As I was saying, should we secure an alliance with both Pridak and the Le-Koronans, it would provide us with quite the hold.  The Great Beings were keen to situate themselves as far away from their subjects as possible…”  He gestured towards the Valley of the Maze, and then down to Civitas Magna.  “…that is something we can easily turn to our advantage.  If we can cut them off, form a border so well-defended that travel between the Maze and Civitas Magna is unreasonably dangerous, then the people will enjoy freedom from their rulers, giving them the comfort necessary for vocal dissent.”

    “That’s true,” Bitil said, shifting the projection so that the teal coloring joined and consumed both Aqua and Bota Magna.  Giving a hum, he then rotated the globe.  The other side of the planet was highlighted in red, lacking any sort of real detail.  “Although…that would still leave Valwahi…”

    A tense silence hung over the room.  Breaking it, Zaekura said, “Unless we ally with them, too.”

    Every eye turned to her.

    “That’s a discussion for another day.  Right now, we focus on Xia, Mahri-Nui, and Bota Magna.  Sound like a plan?”

    Her allies were in agreement.  The Sand Lord was first to depart, along with Bitil, who offered to help in transporting the stasis-held Vorox; soon after that, Zaekura and Charla went to resume overseeing the reconstruction.  Krika tapped his fingers, lost in thought.

    “Do you truly think she will be safe if she visits Mahri-Nui?” Antroz asked.

    “I plan to ensure that she does,” Krika said.  “You and Bitil are needed here, and ideally I suppose I should be the one to clean up my own mess.”

    “…I shall leave it to you, then.”

    “Please, don’t sound so excited about it.”  Brushing some dust off his armor, Krika started making his way towards the door.  “Our fight begins in earnest now—acknowledging every possible front at once rather than focusing on a single goal at a time.  None of us will get to be hands-on with the entire process.”

    “True.”

    “So look on the bright side, Antroz: there’s a chance none of us will even need to be in the same room as Pridak at any point!  Really, I deserve thanks for taking on the burden so willingly.”

    Antroz shook her head.  “Shouldn’t you be going?”

    “Very well, very well…”

    Alone again, Antroz reflected upon the various factors that had been discussed.  Assuming Krika could handle Pridak, then the only immediate threat was Atero, and while she knew Miserix was not the type to act impulsively, it would be far better to attack the city sooner rather than later.

    We need just a bit of time to find our footing.  And, with luck, time to convince Emsar to join us.

    ***

    The docks of Mahri-Nui bustled endlessly, forming a sea of people even more tumultuous than the ocean surrounding it.  Somehow, Krika and Zaekura fought their way through this crowd, making their way to a long stone staircase which they began to climb.  The island was built in tiers: the docks were the lowest and widest, and above that was what appeared to be a market district, followed by a residential district, then a ring of laboratories, and finally, a great stone keep ringed in sharpened rocks, mirroring the massive outcroppings that clasped the island itself.  Rahkshi could be seen everywhere—Zaekura even noticed several specially-modified aquatic Rahkshi swimming about, paralyzing her with curiosity for a moment—and while they and the other inhabitants kept a very close eye on the visitors, none made any act to stop them.

    “Think he’ll give us access to the data he’s collected?” Zaekura asked as they passed the labs.  “Being out here studying Aqua Magna for millennia, I can’t even imagine how detailed their research must be…”

    “You can certainly ask,” Krika said.  “Hard to say how he’ll respond, but at worst I imagine he’ll simply find it odd.”

    “Huh, so getting on his good side won’t be as easy as it was with Bitil.”

    Krika chuckled.  “If I may say, Lady Zaekura, you seem far less nervous than I expected.  That tranquility will be quite the boon in our negotiations.”

    “Yeah, you know me, tranquil as they come.”

    “I believe in you.  Keeping a level head is easy, once you get the hang of it.  You begin to see there’s simply no point in being rattled by minor inconveniences.”

    At the top of the stairs stood two towering, four-armed beings sporting rows of spines over their shoulders and down their backs.  Before Krika could even make an introduction, the brutes opened the doors of the keep and headed inside, glancing back after a few steps as if expecting the visitors to already be following them.  After a brief delay, follow they did.  The interior was dimly lit by blue lightstones, with two great, shimmering pools of water on either side of the center path.  The room was long, but at its end, back against a wall covered by a dark curtain, was a throne with an unnecessarily tall base, flanked by four Rahkshi and seating a very pleased-looking Makuta.

    Pridak’s form could easily have been mistaken as muscular by someone unaware of the Makuta’s nature.  The shell was carefully crafted, an ultra-precise replica of a body of enviable fitness and power, with an imposing height to boot.  It was mainly white, but patches of red wisped over it, most noticeably along his limbs and on the Kanohi Arthron he wore.  His fingers ended in short claws, and blade-like fins jutted up and back from his forearms and calves, partially obscured by the heavy, seaweed-colored cloak draped over him.

    “Makuta Krika, Lady Zaekura,” Pridak greeted, remaining slouched nonchalantly upon his throne as he glanced down at them.  “I am ever so pleased to see that you have accepted my invitation.  We have a great deal to discuss, and I have been quite eager to get started.”

    “It is an honor to be here, Makuta Pridak,” Krika said with a bow—Zaekura mimicked the movement.  “I am thrilled to be able to thank you in person for your help in obscuring my identity from Yarion.”

    “Of course, of course.”  His cold blue eyes turned directly upon Zaekura.  “And the lady of the hour.  You’ve caused quite the stir, haven’t you?”

    “Wasn’t my intention,” Zaekura said.  “Er, not initially, that is.  But now I’m prepared to fight back against the Great Beings.”

    Pridak leaned forward, putting his hands together to rest his chin on them.  “Indeed.  I hear you have already conquered Xia in your name—quite the accomplishment.”

    “We were fortunate no one got seriously hurt.  Here’s hoping we can keep that momentum going.”

    “Hm…I see.  And, your next target will be…?”

    “Pardon me, Pridak,” Krika said, “but just as a formality: we want to clarify what our relationship will be going forward before getting into such matters.”

    “Heh.  Understandable.”  Pridak sat up straight.  “I have acquired a copy of your infamous interview, Lady Zaekura, and I must say I was shocked by its contents.  Supposing you can convince others you are telling the truth, I imagine you will have great success in rallying the virtuous behind you.”

    “Uh…thank you,” Zaekura said.

    “This is a turning point in the history of Spherus Magna: the first time someone has stood up to the Great Beings and actually had a chance.  I must ask: should you become the next one to steer the planet’s fate, where will you lead it?”

    “Well, truth be told those points are a bit vague at the moment.  I’ve got a lot of more urgent matters to deal with before we get there.  But…”  She paused to think for a moment.  “I don’t know, just something…not as overbearing, I guess.  Give people more control over themselves, not teach them to cling blindly to one supreme rule or whatever.  If that makes sense.”

    Pridak nodded slowly.  Krika said, “Determined specifics include no longer capturing those with the potential to become Great Beings and freeing the Vorox.  That’s about the point we’re at currently.”

    “Very interesting.  It sounds as though you’ve allied with the Vorox, then?”

    “I’m afraid I can’t confirm or deny that just yet.  Again—”

    “Yes, I know; let’s end this coyness already,” Pridak interrupted, rising to his feet.  “Lady Zaekura…I desire to assist you.  Mahri-Nui has soldiers aplenty to offer you, and controls the seas of Aqua Magna with the notable exception of Odina and its route to Stelt.  Our power would serve you well, and you will have protected sea access to Civitas Magna—no small benefit, as I am sure you are well aware.  What say you?”

    “Oh,” Zaekura said.  “That sounds very generous, Makuta.”

    “But pray, indulge me,” Krika said.  “What is your motivation in this alliance?”

    “Is my desire not motivation enough?” Pridak asked.

    “Should there be more, I cannot help but be curious of the complete picture, brother.”

    Pridak chuckled quietly.  “Indeed…I suppose you could say I wish to have more freedom in how I run Aqua Magna.  The seas have served me well, but the Great Beings do limit what commands I can issue them.  It sounds to me as though Lady Zaekura will provide an environment in which such limitations are no longer a concern.  I am willing to fight for the opportunity to control the seas as I truly see fit.”

    “Ah, I see.  Your ‘freedom’ nearly sounds like power.”

    “Freedom is power, Krika.  Our goals align in that sense, wouldn’t you say?”

    “One could say that, I suppose.”  Krika turned to Zaekura, asking, “What do you think?”

    Zaekura crossed her arms.  “We would definitely benefit from this alliance…but…”

    “You have some misgivings?” Pridak asked.

    “Er, well…”

    “Worry not: I understand the necessity of caution.  As such, I have prepared a gift of good faith to set your mind at ease.”

    Zaekura blinked.  “A gift?”

    “That’s right,” Pridak said, taking a few steps forward.  “After hearing of your story, I began to wonder: how exactly did the Great Beings learn that someone such as yourself was living in Nynrah?  Someone must have told them, so I set out to discover who.”

    Bristling, Zaekura said, “You…you found who sold me out?”

    “That’s right.  My servants visited Ga-Koro to question the people of Nynrah, the only ones who might have known of your ability.”

    “Hold a moment,” Krika said.  “The people of Nynrah are loyal and compassionate—I will not believe that one of them is the cause of this fiasco.”

    Pridak grinned.  “True, they are a very commendable people.  You have raised them well, Krika.  We are certain that no one we spoke to in Ga-Koro was responsible for the information leak…but in our search of the surrounding area, we came across another citizen of Nynrah, and they have confessed to their crime.”

    Krika narrowed his eyes.  “The entirety of Nynrah’s population fled to Ga-Koro.”

    “All but one, that is.”  Pridak produced something from his cloak, tossing it onto the floor between him and his guests.  It was badly damaged, but the metal object seemed roughly spherical, with exposed wiring that blinked erratically.  Krika quickly recognized it.  Instantly, a primal horror consumed his features.

    “…No,” he mumbled.  “No, that can’t…”

    Soon Zaekura recognized it as well.  She glanced at Krika briefly, then back to Pridak.  “…You’re absolutely sure?”

    Raising one hand, Pridak said, “Absolutely.”

    He snapped his fingers, and a servant pulled away the curtain behind his throne.  The covering fell away to reveal a large tank of water, currently with only one occupant: a massive, hideous creature not even remotely akin to any other Rahi they had ever seen.  Their massive eye gazed out with a look of resignation, and Krika took a single step forward before going completely still.

    “Mavrah,” he said.  “Is this true…?”

    Pridak nodded to his servants, who activated a panel on the side of the tank.  A voice then emerged from the metal plate: “Yes, Makuta.  I was the one who told the Great Beings about the Glatorian.”

    Krika gaped for a long moment.  When he finally found his voice again, all he could say was, “Why?”

    “Self-preservation,” Mavrah said.  “Seldoa found me.  She was going to kill me.  I told her I was not the one in Nynrah who posed a threat to her.”

    Krika’s gaze began to fall.  “…You traded Zaekura’s life for you own…”

    “Why would I not?  Did you think I had a sense of loyalty to Nynrah, or to you?  Did you think I came to see you as a friend, simply because you decided to keep me as a pet rather than killing me like the rest of my kind?  Did you think you were forgiven, Krika?”

    The Makuta did not answer.  Pridak faced Mavrah, saying, “What an ungrateful creature.  Shall I have them disposed of, Lady Zaekura?”

    Zaekura glared at the Rahi, but her gaze was not without pity.  “No.  That won’t be necessary.”

    Pridak nodded.  “Krika?”

    Very quietly, Krika said, “No.  They behaved in the only logical way they could.  It is not my right to condemn them for it.”

    “…Interesting point of view.”  Pridak snapped his fingers again—his servants shut off the panel, and then set about raising the curtain once again.  Once he was back on his throne, Pridak said, “So, Lady Zaekura.  I have demonstrated my investment in your cause.  Has this affected your opinion of me?”

    “It has,” Zaekura said flatly.  “…I probably shouldn’t say anything official without conferring with my other allies—I don’t want them to feel out of the loop.  But as long as they don’t have any objections, Pridak…then I will accept your alliance.”

    “Wonderful!” Pridak said.  “By all means, take the time you need to gain the others’ approval.  I await your official decision, Lady Zaekura.”

    Zaekura and Krika bowed, and then they made their way out and headed back down the long staircase.  Somehow, it seemed even longer now.

    “It seems I owe you yet another apology, Lady Zaekura,” Krika said.  “Mavrah most likely learned of your nature from me.”

    “…What’s done is done,” Zaekura.  “At least we know we can trust the rest of the city.  More importantly, we’ve got ourselves an ally.”

    “Ah, yes.  Then, do you trust Pridak?”

    “Not sure I’d say that.  You guys were right: he’s going to be trouble.  But, beggars can’t be choosers, and if he directs that dangerous energy at Velika’s drones instead of us…”

    Krika nodded.  Without another word, they returned to their boat, and set sail once again for Ga-Koro.

     

    ADDENDUM:

    -January was not as productive as I would have hoped.

    -Things are really opening up here, giving a more complete picture of the landscape of Spherus Magna in this universe.  Aqua Magna is more or less set, and we’ll get our first look at Bota Magna very soon; it might be a bit before we dig into Valwahi, but I’ll at least tell you that its name can be traced back to “Valmai Wahi” and grew simpler over time.  With the minor exception of Aqua Magna, these places are areas where the Great Beings exert little to no control, largely due to lack of interest, so many potential allies live there.

    -Right, so, Pridak.  If you know me you might know that I loathe the Barraki. (As characters—the sets were great, except Kalmah.) At first I wouldn’t even consider including them in this story, and from there I moved to the idea of a one-off, mocking reference and nothing more.  But as I thought more about it, about what sort of Makuta might rule over Aqua Magna, I found myself using Pridak’s arrogant personality as a basis, and when I looked at the results, I felt it could offer a very interesting new perspective into the conflicting ideas of leadership in the story.  Of course to do that, I needed to make him a Makuta.  I was hesitant, so I understand if you have some misgivings, but I truly think this will better the story, so please allow me a chance to prove that.

    -Reviews to be submitted here

    • Upvote 1

  4. SECTION XVIII

     

    Folding her wings, Antroz landed atop her tower and immediately drew her sword.  She reached out, sensing Emsar within the building, and climbed through the nearest window before descending to the floor where she waited.  The Vortixx had a dagger in each hand, standing perfectly still as she watched the Makuta without making any attempt to hide.

    “Emsar,” Antroz said, “I—”

    Emsar hurled one of the daggers before she could finish, drawing another to replace it as she charged.  Antroz stepped to the side, letting the knife hit the wall behind her; it ricocheted, hitting another wall before angling back towards Antroz.  She ducked, and the blade now flew at Emsar, who kicked it towards the ceiling and lunged, swinging carefully to avoid being in the path of the rebounding dagger as it bounced from ceiling to floor and back, slowly closing in on Antroz again.

    Her Kanoka Blade daggers, Antroz thought as she wove around Emsar’s attacks.  She’s truly serious…

    She activated her Dodge powers, focusing entirely on avoiding contact for the time being.  Emsar pressed on nonetheless.

    “Listen to me, Emsar!” Antroz said.  “You are on the wrong side of this fight!  I understand you are shocked—it was baffling to me as well!  But the Great Beings are not worth defending!”

    Emsar simply continued attacking.

    “…You will not even hear my words?  Must I force you to heed me?”

    Antroz snatched the rebounding dagger from the air and swung it forward.  Emsar dodged, and the knife ended up stuck in the floor.  Antroz next swung her sword in a horizontal arc: it was blocked by one of Emsar’s weapons, and suddenly it shrunk, the once fearsome sword turning into little more than a needle.  As this happened, Emsar kicked upward, missing, and another dagger slipped free from a sheath on her ankle.  Before Antroz could react, Emsar brought her foot back down, driving the weapon directly into Antroz’s shoulder; she then flipped backward to put more space between them, and…

    Antroz shook her head.  She tried focusing on Emsar, but now she could only vaguely sense where she was, some other psychic energy now pressing against her mind and disorienting her.  Ripping the dagger from her shoulder, she tried again only to receive the same result—and to her surprise, a small but intense burst of heat and light sailed past her head, incinerating the tiny bit of antidermis that had escaped from her wound.

    “A Firework Revolver?” she said as she recoiled.  “I thought you didn’t like firearms.”

    She heard Emsar’s voice, faint yet easy to understand: There’s nothing about this I like.

    Emsar charged.  Not wanting to risk her sword further, Antroz picked up the rebounding dagger in the floor to parry Emsar’s first strike.

    Yes…

    A faint glow surrounded the dagger.  It was ripped from Antroz’s hand by some unknown force, and that force then threw it against the wall to begin ricocheting once again.

    Left shoulder!

    The words came with an urgency that made Antroz react in reflex, guarding her shoulder.  Emsar instead dove for her right ankle.  Her dagger passed through the Makuta’s leg, but did not tear her armor—instead, it emerged with a small cloud of antidermis clinging to it.  Antroz swung her claw, and Emsar met her blow with the handle of her revolver, fending her off long enough to fire and incinerate the recently-freed gas.  Anger swelled in Antroz’s mind, and Emsar suddenly leapt back.

    “…I see,” Antroz said, continuing to dodge the rebounding blade.  “A risky move, don’t you think?”

    She heard Emsar’s laugh all around her.  I can’t exactly fight you normally, Makuta.  This is the closest thing to stealth I can use.

    “I wasn’t aware you owned a Suletu dagger.  Seems you did manage to surprise me.”

    Another dagger flew out.  Antroz dodged it, but it began to rebound as well.  Just as she moved to deal with the two bouncing blades, she became aware of Emsar right before her, making another successful cut.  This one did leave a gash in her armor; the rebounding blades nicked Antroz, prolonging her distraction, and the psychic interference began to lessen as she felt some kind of stress upon her newest wound.  The armor held where it was thanks to Alize’s earlier treatment, so Antroz swiped her claw—but Emsar realized the attack’s ineffectiveness just in time, and the strike missed.  The interference returned as Emsar fired her revolver, but Antroz moved forward nonetheless, holding her sword back to conceal the fact that it was steadily returning to its normal size.  When she felt she was close, Antroz made a sweeping slash, the interference fading as Emsar focused entirely upon ducking just under the edge and allowing her to level a Light blast at the Vortixx, knocking her into the wall.

    “I have no desire to harm you, Emsar,” Antroz said as her foe recovered.  “This fight will accomplish nothing!”

    Appearances are everything.

    Emsar was back on her feet.  Antroz plucked the two rebounding daggers from the air and threw them at her.  With a swift movement, Emsar deflected them both, placing them in a telekinetic grip as she pressed against Antroz’s mind to disappear from her perception.

    What do you mean? Antroz asked, pushing back.  You linked our minds, Emsar—at least explain the thoughts you have made known to me.

    Emsar dropped down from above.  Antroz reached up to catch her, but all she grabbed was empty space; Emsar had visualized herself wielding the dagger she held psychically, producing a mental decoy to keep Antroz busy as the two blades dug into her armor.  The real Emsar came at Antroz from the side, using one of her daggers to cut away another chunk of antidermis so that she could dispose of it from a safer distance.

    You put me in a bad spot, Makuta.  I’m just doing what I have to.

    Antroz focused her Light power outward, producing a blinding flash.  Emsar shut her eyes just in time, and as she retreated further, she realized Antroz was making some sort of clicking sound.

    Before she could figure out what was going on, the Makuta asked, Why do you believe that?  We gave you an opportunity to surrender peacefully.  For what reason must you turn our offer down?

    An image came to Antroz’s mind: an image of the Great Beings.  It was lost in the psychic tides a second later, but it was enough to help Antroz understand.

    If you don’t do your best to stop me…

    I will be labeled a traitor.

    Emsar’s throwing knives came at her again.  Again, Antroz caught them.

    Appearances are everything.  I need to look committed, no matter how I might actually feel.  And, Makuta…

    A vase hit the floor, shattering loudly.  Antroz winced.

    You need to be more subtle for echolocation to be effective!

    Emsar got in under Antroz’s guard, executing a double slash across her chest that caused a huge cloud of antidermis to spill forth, as well as shocking her into dropping the rebounding blades.  Antroz reacted in time to knock the daggers from Emsar’s hands, and then landed a punch that sent her tumbling back.  She moved forward in an attempt to pin her foe, but Emsar already had another blade drawn; she cut Antroz’s mask this time, causing it to shrink instantly, and rolled away in the confusion.  Now with the interior of the “head” of her armor exposed, Antroz kept a hand over it, and was more careful than ever to avoid the fireworks Emsar was shooting her way.  The throwing knives began to rebound again.  Emsar increased the amount of interference she produced, and Antroz remained perfectly still.

    Emsar.  Were it possible, I would take as long as is necessary to convince you to lay down your arms.

    More fireworks came at her.  The rebounding blades moved in as well, but stopped short.

    But you would kill me long before we reach that point.

    The rebounding knives were sent up into the ceiling, and Emsar, who was halfway across the room, suddenly stopped and leapt back.

    Ah, you magnetized them earlier.  Clever.

    Antroz tapped into her power of Sleep, releasing it throughout the room rather than focusing on any individual point.

    You know I’ve trained to shield my mind…what are you planning?

    Antroz revealed nothing.  Emsar edged forward tentatively, not making a single sound as she touched two of her daggers together.  Bestowing a telekinetic grip upon one, she willed it to float up and aim at the hole in Antroz’s chest, spinning to make it harder to stop before shooting out like a bullet.  Just before it hit, Antroz disappeared.  Emsar could still feel her mind, and so remained on alert, becoming aware just in time to feel the Makuta’s claws closing around the back of her neck.

    What?!

    The Vortixx tried to retaliate, but gravity multiplied around her, and in a fraction of a second she was facedown on the floor, too heavy to move a single muscle.  Antroz breathed a sigh of relief.

    How did you know where I was?  The interference…unless…

    “You’ve become so adept at shielding your mind that you block mental attacks reflexively,” Antroz said.  “I had to use that against you.”

    You attacked with Sleep…I automatically guarded my mind, and in drawing in my mental power to do so, I wasn’t able to jam your senses any longer.  Curses, I didn’t even realize…

    “It’s over, Emsar.  You tried your best—appearances were kept.  But now, Xia will belong to me once more.”

    “…I suppose so,” Emsar murmured.  “Hardly surprising, really.”

    Antroz gave a small smile.  “You feel somewhat relieved, old friend.”

    “Do I, now?”

    Antroz gently placed one finger against the back of Emsar’s head.  “I suppose it doesn’t matter.  For now, why don’t you rest?”

    Slowly, Emsar’s mental shields peeled away, and Antroz’s powers cast her into a deep slumber.  Antroz stood up and, after mending her armor a bit, carried Emsar over to the stairs and headed down.  As she walked, however, she sensed a great deal of distress hanging over the city, and reached out to sense how the battle was progressing.  What she felt made her stop dead in her tracks.

    ***

    A Rahkshi of Teleportation deposited Zaekura on top of the wall before vanishing again.  The Glatorian stared at the oncoming horde of Vorox, still in shock.  Bitil approached her, saying, “Most everyone else is dealt with, so we should be able to martial our defenses well enough.  However…we’ve no idea what to expect from them now.  I know you told the Sand Lord none of them would be killed, but…given their disposition, subduing them may prove exceptionally difficult.”

    Zaekura swallowed hard.

    “We will do everything we can.  That is all I can promise.”

    Bitil leapt down to the base of the wall, where a large squad of Rahkshi had already gathered.  He gave a shout, and they charged into battle, and Zaekura dug her fingers into the brick as she wracked her brain for an answer.

    The first attack came from the Vorox.  One in the lead had a Rhotuka launcher incorporated into their tail, and launched a wheel of energy at the sand immediately in the Rahkshi’s path.  Bitil hovered to avoid the terrain as it shifted suddenly, a wide patch of it turning to quicksand; a handful of Rahkshi were unable to react in time, finding themselves waist-deep upon taking a single step into the muck.  Weak blasts were hurled at the Vorox to break their front line, and the two forces finally met.  Gantra wrestled with one, his foe thrashing about wildly and sinking their fangs into his arm; he managed to secure their tail, at least, so he fought with all his might to maintain his hold.  Bitil flew overhead and used his Sleep power, causing a handful of the Vorox to simply collapse.  However, one suddenly leapt up at him, stinger stabbing repeatedly, forcing him to pull back.  From just behind the patch of quicksand, a Rahkshi of Darkness stood with their hands forward, moving them as if to section of an area of space.  Nodding, they pulled their hands back and clapped twice—immediately, the area ahead of them went completely dark, causing the Vorox within to growl in frustration.  More Rahkshi advanced to the edge of the darkness, ready to surprise their foes.  However, they noticed too late that the Vorox’s eyes could still be seen burning in the shadows, and they pounced upon the Rahkshi before they had a chance to retreat.

    “Come on, come on!” Zaekura said, now pounding her fist against the wall.  “There’s got to be something!”

    “What are you getting so worked up about?”

    She turned to find Ehrye, the Toa of Ice bound and sat against a section of wall guarded by a couple of Rahkshi.

    “Sure they’re vicious, but your army should easily be able to wipe them out.”

    Zaekura grunted.  “We’re not going to wipe them out!  What we need is a way to stop them without causing any real harm!”

    Ehrye tilted his head.  “Huh?  Why?”

    “Because we’re not going to let anyone else die!  Now shut up so I can think!”

    Below, Erad tranquilized as many Vorox as they could.  However, they eventually ran out of ammunition, and it was then that a Vorox with three tails leapt upon them.  With so many stingers pelting them at once, Erad was unable to hold the assault off entirely.  Azin appeared and kicked the Vorox onto their side so he could help his sibling up.

    “Is that why you’ve rounded us all up?” Ehrye asked.  “I did think it was weird you didn’t just level the place when you got in.”

    Zaekura turned the other way to shake her head, and in doing so caught sight of a partially destroyed catapult.  After a short pause, she said, “Maybe…Charla!”

    Lady Zaekura?

    “Contact Burfis, see if you can get her to the wall!  I’ve got something for her to fix!”

    Right away!

    Zaekura ran over to the catapult, quickly examining how the mechanism worked.  Once Burfis arrived, the Rahkshi joined her, setting her hands on the catapult and using her powers of Regeneration to begin repairing it.

    “Great!” Zaekura said.  “Charla, I’m going to launch some of these Eccentric Boulders at the Vorox—tell everyone down there what to expect, and that if they get the chance, I want them to split the rocks before they hit to lessen the chance of hurting the Vorox.”

    I understand.  It shall be done!

    Once the catapult was functional, Burfis and Zaekura rolled a boulder onto it and moved it into position.  The first shot was fired, sailing over the sand until a bullet from Erad broke it open; protodermis spilled out onto a group of Vorox below, forming a cage around them, freeing up several Rahkshi to deal with the rest of the pack.

    “And…?”

    The Vorox flailed against their bars.  Soon, pieces of the cage began to chip away.

    “Great.”

    Bitil flew over to the cage then, using his Sleep powers upon the imprisoned Vorox before they could break out.

    “Well, I guess it’s our best bet right now…”

    As she went for another boulder, a Rhotuka hit Bitil while his back was turned.  He teleported next to his attacker and knocked them out with a powerful punch, but upon landing, the ground beneath his feet instantly turned to quicksand.  Caught off-guard for a moment, Bitil was unable to defend against a blow from another Vorox.  Quickly, he teleported out and gave his foe a mild shock to incapacitate them, before tossing a plasma bolt up to shatter an incoming boulder.  Bitil looked over his shoulder to take stock of the situation.  His Rahkshi were holding most of the Vorox at bay, but he could see a great number of them slipping past and continuing towards Xia.

    “We can’t hold them all,” he said.  “Charla, tell the forces inside the city to be prepared: they’re about to make contact!”

    A portion of the wall transmuted into quicksand.  As she pushed the catapult out of harm’s way, Zaekura said, “Darn it!  This isn’t going to be enough!”

    A shrieking sound reached her ears.  Soon, a Vorox climbed up over the edge of the wall, setting their feral gaze directly upon Zaekura.  Burfis moved forward as she scrambled back—the Vorox lunged, but before they got very far, they stopped in mid-air.  Zaekura glanced aside to see a hastily-patched Krika headed their way.

    “Goodness,” he said, “all this just when we thought we’d won?  Can’t anything be easy?”

    Zaekura let out a long breath.  “Krika…do you have any ideas?  We can subdue some of them, but it’s slow going, and everyone’s already tired from securing the city.”

    Krika faced the Vorox he had caught, gently spinning them with his magnetic powers.  “Truth be told, Lady Zaekura…we may have no choice but to use lethal force.”

    Glaring at him, Zaekura leapt to her feet.  “No way!  Why are you so hung up on that?”

    “Please listen.  I am aware we promised the Sand Lord to spare Xia’s Vorox, but this unforeseen complication changes things.  We are not prepared to deal with these animals.  Given the circumstances, I am sure the Sand Lord can be made to understand.”

    Zaekura turned back to the catapult, setting it up to fire again.  After loading the boulder, she stopped suddenly, and set her gaze upon the Vorox.

    “They are like animals, aren’t they?” she said.  “Whatever happened to them, it made them more like Rahi than Glatorian.  So, maybe…”

    Krika straightened the Vorox and set them down, saying, “Oh, a last-minute deduction.  Always a treat.”

    “Charla, where is Rusp?”

    Rusp?  Let me see…he’s out fighting the Vorox right now.  Do you have orders for him?

    Zaekura leaned over the wall.  Sure enough, down below she could spot a magenta Rahkshi riding atop a Kane-Ra, doing his best to catch the nearest Vorox with the lasso he carried.  Grinning, Zaekura said, “Perfect!  Tell him to try using his power on the Vorox!”

    In the distance, Rusp looked up for a moment.  Then, tossing the lasso over his shoulder, he held both hands out towards the Vorox he was facing.  First, they stopped in their tracks, and then, slowly, they crumpled to the ground.  Zaekura spun towards Krika.

    “Yes, yes, I see now,” Krika said, snapping his fingers.  “Let’s test your theory.”

    The captured Vorox’s struggle almost immediately ceased as Krika’s Rahi Control powers washed over them.  Blinking, they groaned as if in agony, and Krika gradually lessened his magnetic hold on them.  The Vorox fell to their knees, clutching their head, and continued to moan, and Zaekura cautiously approached them.

    “Urrgh…wh…what…?” the Vorox grumbled.  “What…is this?”

    “How curious,” Krika mused.  “I intended to place them fully under my thrall, but this isn’t quite what I was going for.”

    The Vorox’s eyes met Zaekura’s—she could see clarity in them.  Coming still closer, she said, “I see.  Their minds aren’t gone completely!  You were able to quell this Rahi influence, and that let their original self resurface!”

    Looking down at their claws, the Vorox said, “I can think again…is it over?  Am I free?”

    They turned to Krika.  With a dissatisfied hum, the Makuta said, “No.  I can still feel the Rahi within you fighting my power.  Once I release it, it will no doubt consume you again.”

    The Vorox’s gaze fell.  “…Oh.”

    Zaekura looked back over the wall.  The Vorox in front of Rusp was crying into their palms as the Rahkshi knelt beside them.

    “Please,” the Vorox said, “just kill me.”

    Snapping back to attention, Zaekura said, “What?!”

    “You don’t know how awful this is!  Having no control, just being ruled by savage instinct…I can’t stand the thought of going back to that!  I’d rather die than keeping living like a mindless animal!”

    Krika sighed.  “Truly dreadful.  You have my pity, Vorox.”

    Zaekura just stared at them, her expression blank.

    “You heard them, Lady Zaekura.  This mutation is a fate worse than death.  If we free them from it, I am certain the Sand Lord will bear us no ill will.”

    She clenched her fists.

    “And, even if she does, her alliance is not a deciding—”

    “Shut up!” Zaekura shouted, her voice cracking over the words.  “Shut up, you idiot!  Screw alliances and agreements, that garbage isn’t what’s important!”

    Krika grew silent.  The Vorox watched her in confusion.

    Tears started to form in Zaekura’s eyes.  “It’s not…we can’t just think of them like bargaining chips!  These are people!  Innocent people who have had their lives ruined by the Great Beings, just like the rest of us!  I won’t kill them just for being victims!”

    “That’s very noble of you,” Krika said.  “However, this Vorox specifically asked to be killed.”

    Zaekura came up to the Vorox, crouching down and setting her hands on their shoulders.  “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry this happened to you.  And I’m sorry we can’t fix it right now…but I’ll find a way.  Whatever it takes, I’ll find a way to undo what they did!  You and all the others will be back to normal, and free to live your lives however you want!”

    The Vorox was too stunned to reply.  Zaekura wrapped them in an embrace.

    “I’m so sorry.  I don’t know how long it’ll take…I can’t imagine what that time will be like for you.  But I’m going to make sure its temporary!  Please…maybe it’s not right to ask, but please…”

    The Vorox leaned into Zaekura’s shoulder.  After a long pause, they gave a muffled, “Alright…I…I’ll trust you.  Please…help me.”

    “Wonderful,” Krika said.  “For the time being, I suppose we’ll have to place them in stasis.  Lady Zaekura?”

    Zaekura stood and took a step back.  “…What’s your name?”

    “Stidem,” the Vorox said.

    “I promise I’ll cure you, Stidem.  I’ll put everything I have into making it happen.  You’re going to be free.”

    Stidem nodded.  Krika stepped forward then, generating a stasis field around them.  Zaekura wiped her eyes, took a deep breath, and looked out to Rusp, who had an unconscious Vorox slung over his Kane-Ra steed.

    “…Charla?”

    Yes, Lady Zaekura?

    “Tell Bitil and Antroz.  Their Rahi Control powers will help them subdue the Vorox, but they won’t be enough on their own.”

    Of course.

    Zaekura returned to the catapult.  “We have a plan to handle this, and without killing anyone.  It may not happen fast, but this is the final push: once we’ve captured all the Vorox, Xia will be ours.  See if that’ll boost morale.”

    I’m certain it will!

    Zaekura fired the catapult.  From not far away, Ehrye sat with wide eyes, constantly looking between her and the incapacitated Vorox.  He opened his mouth to speak, but realized he had nothing to say.  So he sat in silence, watching as Zaekura solemnly kept fighting.

    ***

    From atop the tower, Zaekura looked out over the now-quiet streets of Xia.  Luckily, the city had sustained relatively little damage during the battle, and luckier still, they had successfully managed to avoid there being casualties on either side.  The first step on their road to victory had been taken.  Still, she found herself having no reaction to that thought whatsoever.  It simply was, and Zaekura was too numb to have any other opinion on the matter.

    Antroz stood next to her, adjusting her mask quietly.  Zaekura asked, “So?”

    “…It’s an odd feeling,” Antroz said.  “I can’t deny there’s an element of nostalgia in being back here.  I know we must look forward, not back…but there’s still so much uncertainty.”

    “Yeah.  I thought I had at least half an idea of where we were going, but now I think it’s a bit less than that.  Huh…”

    Zaekura turned to Charla.  Tired but still trying to be cheery, the Rahkshi said, “I am ready whenever you are, Lady Zaekura.”

    She nodded.  “Guess we’d better do it before I get cold feet…”

    She took a moment to prepare herself as Charla reached out, brushing against the minds of everyone in Xia.  Soon she let Zaekura in—the Glatorian reeled a moment, the feeling of so many other minds connected to hers feeling unspeakably alien, but she quickly recomposed herself.

    “People of Xia,” she announced.  “My name is Zaekura.  The battle is over, and my forces are now in control of this city.”

    Waves of anxiety from the populace battered her.  She held firm against them.

    “I understand that some of you may be concerned, but you have nothing to fear.  While you are free to remain here, you are also under no obligation to stay.”

    The anxiety lessened somewhat.

    “We aim to overthrow the Great Beings.  I am under no illusions as to how terrifying that prospect is, and I won’t force any of you to be a part of it.  Should you wish to leave Xia, no one will stop you—if you are concerned about the journey, we can even arrange an escort to ensure you arrive safely.  I do not demand allegiance from any of you.  Where you stand in this conflict, if anywhere, is something only you have the right to decide.”

    The thoughts she felt began to churn, not entirely without fear but far closer now to reason.

    “Take all the time you need to be sure of your decision.  I intend to have the city repaired and running as normal as soon as possible, so hopefully we won’t intrude inconvenience you much further.”

    Zaekura paused.  She felt there was something else she needed to say, but she wasn’t quite sure what it was.  Then, Antroz stepped forward.  Zaekura thought a moment, then nodded.

    “My people,” Antroz said.  “I know your opinion of me is not what it once was, but please, listen to what I have to say.”

    Some minds pulled back, but only slightly.

    “These are confusing times we live in.  My whole life until now, I have taught you that loyalty to the Great Beings is sacred—that we must follow their commands without fail.  However…more important than loyalty and obedience, what matters most is that we each must strive to do what we feel is right.  Perhaps I failed to teach you that, thinking it would naturally fall into step with the will of the Great Beings.  I am sorry.  The truth is that the Great Beings are also fallible, and they are now, and have previously been, engaged in practices I can only deem repulsive.  Innocent people have been abruptly hauled away from their lives, never to be seen again, only for the circumstances of their birth.  Our leaders are working to suppress the truth, interested only in their own vision and those who align with it.  I thought they cared for the well-being of Spherus Magna’s people…but now they have shown they only desire subjects to rule over.  People such as these, people who think themselves above morals and demonize any who dissent, are not fit to lead.  If they are allowed to keep their power, they will only continue to abuse it.  I feel a certain responsibility to do what I can to prevent that from occurring.”

    A tense quiet answered her.

    “I have implored the Great Beings numerous times to mend their ways and resolve this matter peacefully.  They have consistently responded with anger and violence.  I detest that it has come to this…but again, I am compelled to do whatever I can.  So I cannot turn my back upon this matter, not until the Great Beings’ power is stripped from them or I am vaporized into naught but ether.  I do not seek to make this decision for you, only to explain the reasons why I have made mine.  You deserve to know the truth.  And now, you do.  That is all.”

    Antroz stepped back.  Charla checked with Zaekura once more before shutting off her power.  Zaekura opened her mouth to speak, but a sharp pain suddenly cut through her head, forcing her to stop for a moment.

    “Are you alright, Lady Zaekura?” Charla said.

    “Yeah,” she said.  “I mean…not really, but, you know.  I’m sure this isn’t anything to worry about.  Already over!”

    Charla stared at her.

    “Honest.  Anyway, thanks Fangs—I was at a real loss and that was a pretty good closer.”

    “Of course,” Antroz said.  “How shall we proceed, then?”

    “Let’s see…the Rahkshi are already cleaning up what they can, but it’s going to be dark soon.  Might be best if we save the big decisions for tomorrow.”

    “I agree,” Charla said, “rest would serve you well.”

    Antroz nodded, electing to stay behind as Zaekura and Charla went inside.  Reflexively, she swept the city telepathically, verifying that the perimeter was secure and taking stock of the general atmosphere.  It was difficult for her to place exactly what she sensed: something between dread and relief.  She turned her head to the west as her own dread swelled.  But, setting that aside, she then turned north, and focused again on her goal.  Planting her still-sheathed sword, Antroz dropped to one knee and bowed her head.  Despite the uncertainty they all faced, Xia slept peacefully through the night.

     

     

    ADDENDUM:

    -Of all the cool Xian weapons, Kanoka Blades are probably my favorite.  It’s a lot of fun to think of how the different Kanohi powers could be weaponized, reworked into abilities that function based on making contact with the blade—especially since the easiest ones to envision are the “immoral” powers I can’t use here, forcing me to think a little deeper.  Emsar uses: two with the powers of the Mask of Rebounding (causes projectiles to bounce back to you, making it ideal for throwing knives); a Pehkui dagger, which shrinks what it hits; a Suletu dagger, which allows the user to read the mind of whoever they stab with it; a Matatu dagger, letting her telekinetically control whatever she hits with it; and an Iden dagger, which when used against a Makuta, allows her to “cut” their essence right out of their physical body.  Of course, none of those are able to destroy antidermis, so the Firework Revolver was added so that Emsar could actually make progress in the fight.  It may not be especially powerful, but I figure it’s enough to dissipate small bits of a substance we usually see getting incinerated.

    -New Rahkshi: the unnamed Darkness Rahkshi has an internal focal point for their power, and activates it by clapping because I wanted to reference the good old clap-activated light switch (just be glad I ditched the idea to have one using a lamp-shaped staff); Burfis is a Rahkshi of Regeneration, name derived from “refurbish”; and Rusp is a Rahkshi of Rahi Control whose staff is a lasso, Kane-Ra are his favorite Rahi, I was envisioning a bull rider aesthetic so his name is derived from “spurs”.

    -“Stidem” comes from “sediment”.

    -It’s weird to think of any part of a Bionicle fanfic as social commentary, but mainly from how screwed up it is that things are so bad that a plot about corrupt, self-absorbed leaders hauling off innocent citizens can even be qualified as social commentary.  Anyway my anxiety’s flaring up and this is how I’m coping.

    -Reviews to be submitted here


  5. 100 damage!

    KARDAS DRAGON backs up, landing on the ground for a moment.  It takes note of MoarBotar's pleading and, reminded of how it hates fetch, blasts a beam of concussive energy!

     

    So, I think it's time to admit that I'm not running this as well as I would have hoped.  Still, you all seem to be having fun even when I'm MIA, so instead of closing down maybe I should just find a way to shift things to work better no matter how distracted I get.  Any suggestions for how you would like to see this done?

    • Like 1

  6. KARDAS DRAGON absorbs the energy of the bomb!  It continues to grow, sprouting a second pair of wings and deadly spines all along its body!

    KARDAS DRAGON flies up to the ship, driving its claw into the shield!  The barrier holds, but energy fluctuates around KARDAS DRAGON's claws--its frequency rapidly changes, growing ever closer to the same frequency as the shields!


  7. Since Hewkii was here to use the Rhotuka Battle Axe I thought the Sanok would be a good fit, making the numerous Rhotuka he would be using sure to hit.  While definitely powerful, the Garai is somewhat limited: the user can't alter their own gravity, just make a target lighter or heavier, so I thought implementing weight increase as Hewkii's Rhotuka power would serve essentially the same purpose without the added need to concentrate to maintain the effect.  With that off his mind and the Sanok being a constantly active mask, Hewkii doesn't need to split his focus to utilize Kanohi powers, giving him an extra edge over Neton who had to keep a lot of things in mind and constantly adjust his power output.


  8. On 11/14/2019 at 4:31 PM, Alexander123 said:

    My scans reveal that the radiation is actually weakening and slowly killing Kardas. With that, I send the rest of Earths armies to attack it (except for Switzerland).

    Your scanners spark!  Seems the radiation may be affecting them instead.

    KARDAS DRAGON punches the ground between it and the armies, causing the tectonic plate to shatter and flip them like an egg!

    On 11/14/2019 at 5:10 PM, Laval- Master of Energy said:

    Seeing as how Alexander123's army is still on its rampage, I choose to stay on the ship. That doesn't mean that I'm helpless, though...

    CORDAK BLASTER TIME!

    Several rockets launch from various cannons mounted on the transport/gunship, and blaze toward Kardas.

    KARDAS DRAGON dodges the rockets in slow motion!

    On 11/15/2019 at 11:49 PM, kanohi of jello said:

    I realize that I left the towel outside in the fray and rush to get on the ship. There's not much left. Thanks but sorry @Downfall....

    Every time someone attacks i notice a damage count appearing. I wonder how many hit points Kardas actually has..... I ponder out loud

    "A lot," says a convenient bystander.

    2 hours ago, Laval- Master of Energy said:

    "I'm starting to think that Kardas' hit points are infinite."

    The Cordak Blasters continue firing. We're not out of ammo yet.

    Smirking, KARDAS DRAGON fires a pinpoint blast through the incoming volley of rockets!


  9. 100 damage!

    KARDAS DRAGON lays on its back for a moment to process everything that just happened.  In this daze, it is unable to dodge the nuclear warheads as they land, consuming it in radiation and flame.

    Not long after, a roar is heard!

    Pulsing with radioactive energy, KARDAS DRAGON steps out of the smoke, growing larger by the second!  It glares angrily at Iroh as it continues to transform!

    • Like 1

  10. Thank you!  Finding the right balance for these interpretations of the characters can certainly be tricky, but I've had a lot of fun figuring it out!  I hope you enjoy the rest of the story!


  11. On 10/30/2019 at 11:18 AM, Downfall said:

    I grab a spot on the mobile bleachers that have been erected to watch the match. I cheer Kardas on from the stands while retrieving several small concessions. Quietly, of course, as to not interrupt the players.

    KARDAS DRAGON smiles to itself in pride!  It becomes determined to win this match!

    5 hours ago, Alexander123 said:

    All of the sudden Kardas sees Picketts  Charge heading towards him, he turns to face it, but its a diversion as hundreds of versions of Good Guy throw holy hand grenades of Antioch towards him and I open a black hole where his neck is.

    KARDAS DRAGON is pulled into the black hole and disappears!

    Moments later, a large portal appears and KARDAS DRAGON stumbles out!  It waves one claw menacingly at its attackers, but then sits down and resumes its game.

    2 hours ago, MoarBotar said:

    Iroh counters, calmly administering the Epipen to himself. He begins to brew a fresh pot of tea. 

    I nervously watch, anticipation mounting as all the pieces of my plan fall in to place....

    KARDAS DRAGON thinks very carefully about its next move, ultimately choosing an aggressive strategy that goes right for the king!

     

    (Sorry that took so long...)


  12. SECTION XVII

     

    The thunderous sound of footsteps was all Zaekura could hear as the horde of Rahkshi charged over the sand towards Xia’s gate.  She and Charla sank back into the center of the army, while Antroz and Krika led the way; Bitil had disappeared somewhere, but Zaekura knew that meant he was seeing to his part of their strategy.  From atop Xia’s walls, numerous Hagah Plasma Cannons opened fire, blasting shots at random into the oncoming forces.  A massive, skeletal Rahkshi Kaita rapidly teleported through the air above, leaving a trail of afterimages in their wake—as the blasts approached them, each image suddenly turned solid for a brief moment, exerting their own Plasma power to nullify the attack before fading away entirely.

    Gappel can handle the turrets, but we still have to worry about…

    Two enormous boulders were suddenly launched over the wall.  Antroz and Krika sprang into action: flying up to one of them, Antroz grabbed it with her telekinetic powers and cast it aside, and Krika moved beneath the second, rapidly increased its gravity to fall straight towards him, removed all gravity just before it hit him, and then stepped behind the floating rock and gave it a quick tap to teleport it back whence it came.  The stone cracked open like an egg on the wall, spilling out a huge amount of liquid protodermis that quickly hardened as it spread, forming a bizarre-looking cage around the guards unfortunate enough to be near it.  More such boulders were catapulted into the sky, so Antroz and Krika resumed dealing with them as the Rahkshi continued to close in.

    Alright.  So far, so good.

    As they drew closer, she could spot Toa lining up on the walls, most of them commanding either Iron or Magnetism.  They merely waved their hands in the direction of the two Makuta, exerting their power in unison, expecting to stop or at least slow them by seizing control of their armor.  Each gained a look of panic as their efforts proved fruitless.

    Just what we expected.  Alize’s power should hold for about an hour—we’ll need to incapacitate all of those Toa before that time is up.

    The Toa of Iron switched tactics: enormous spears sprang into being in front of and above the army, forcing them to loosen their formation to avoid being skewered.  Toa of Fire, Plasma, and Lightning were now taking shots from the battlements, scattering their lines even further.  Only a small handful of Rahkshi were able to continue along the straight path towards Xia’s gate.  Before they reached it, however, the sand beneath them suddenly shifted, pulling them all down into the ground.  Zaekura squinted to see four Toa with tan and gray armor standing just above the gate.

    “Halt!” Zaekura shouted.  “Hold position and take up defensive formation!”

    The Rahkshi all stopped marching, turning their attention solely upon the incoming fire.  Many gathered into small groups protected by Rahkshi of Invincibility, while the Rahkshi of Dodge worked to draw the enemies’ focus, and Antroz and Krika took the brief opportunities they had to begin recovering those who had been swallowed up by the sand.

    “Is he in position yet?” Zaekura asked.

    “Yes,” Charla said, “we need only hold out a little longer!”

    The Toa of Magnetism had now taken to hurling large chunks of metal to contribute to the onslaught.  There was a flash of light as three Toa formed into a Kaita, and the resulting being hurled a blast of elements so intense it knocked Antroz from the sky momentarily.  The sand grew less and less stable, and without Antroz to cover, several boulders impacted nearby, the Rahkshi only narrowly avoiding imprisonment.  Just as Zaekura was reviewing her backups, Bitil dashed across the top of the wall, breaking artillery and knocking aside resistance as he went; after pausing to disable the Toa of Sand with his Sleep powers, he faced the Toa Kaita and, ducking under a beam of entwined elements, shot forward to deliver a punch that knocked it into separate beings once more.  Zaekura grinned.

    “There he is!” she yelled.  “Charge!”

    Once more the army advanced, this time with hardly any impediments as Bitil continued dismantling Xia’s defenses.  Soon they were nearly upon the gate, so the other two Makuta flanked it: Antroz attacked the wall on one side with her sword, slicing it from top to bottom, while Krika melted the other side using plasma.  Two very large Rahkshi tackled the gate head-on, and it fell inward with a mighty crash.  Panicked guards fanned out, hastily arming themselves as Rahkshi streamed into the city and spread out in every direction.  Zaekura looked up as Bitil dropped down next to her.

    “Enjoying your swim?” she asked.

    Ignoring the question, Bitil said, “Don’t worry about the oasis.  I’ve found more turrets being set up throughout the city, dealing with as many as I can.  Emsar is headed for the tower.”

    Antroz took off around the corner.  Small explosions began going off all around as the guards attacked with Cordak Blasters.  Zaekura ducked behind some cover as Bitil began to tackle them one by one, Azin appearing to assist him in knocking them out.  The Rahkshi of Chameleon faded from view as several of the miniature rockets flew at him.  Erad, a blue and purple Rahkshi with eight firearms strapped to their chest, leapt atop a broken catapult and twirled two pistols in their hands to draw attention.  Using one to shoot any rockets coming towards them, they used the other to fire tranquilizer darts at the guards in the vicinity, their efforts combined with those of the Rahkshi still charging in quickly securing the area immediately around the gate.  Erad paused to blow smoke from their weapons before climbing up to the nearest rooftop, a dozen or so other Rahkshi following them.

    “Wait here for now,” Bitil advised.  “Once we’ve made some headway, it’ll be safe for you to keep a closer eye on things.”

    Zaekura nodded, and Bitil returned to the wall.  As he headed off, she glanced over the wrecked gate, becoming filled with a grim feeling.  Just beyond, she could see Erves going down a line of captured foes, sealing them in stasis one-by-one, and several other Rahkshi searching for any working weaponry they could salvage.  She turned to look up the road then: Toa, Glatorian, Matoran, Agori, and Vortixx had all come to fight them off, but despite their weapons they were steadily falling before the Rahkshi’s teamwork and versatile abilities.  Another Hagah Plasma Cannon briefly appeared on the roof above, but someone in Erad’s squad sliced it in two before it had a chance to fire.  Zaekura was transfixed by the sight until Charla’s voice snapped her out of it—the Rahkshi of Telepathy sat next to her with eyes closed, scanning the entire city with her mind.

    “Lord Bitil has secured the financial district—there was minimal resistance.  Our forces have broken into the armor and industrial districts, but the defensive line of the weapons district is holding firm.”

    “I see,” Zaekura said.  “Where’d Krika get to?  Can he help them out?”

    There was a brief pause, and then Charla said, “He is en route.  I will inform Clera.”

    Three Rahkshi stepped into formation around the two of them.  Zaekura waited a moment before turning back to Charla.

    “…Also.  Do you sense any Vorox fighting?”

    “No, not a single one.  Weren’t we told they would be here?”

    “We were.  I wonder what changed…”

    “Whatever the case, I believe it is now safe for you to proceed down the main road.  Do take caution, however.”

    “Right.  Thanks—and please keep me updated.”

    “I will.”

    Zaekura returned to the road to find it mostly clear, so she followed it.  On all sides were immobilized foes, Rahkshi nursing wounds, and buildings with entire chunks missing.  It was all going according to plan.  But upon realizing this, she felt no pride or sense of accomplishment.  Everything she saw only reminded her how much she wished she didn’t need to be doing this.  The reminders grew more numerous as she went, and when she reached the main square, she saw it filled with forces still clashing with all their might.  After staring a moment, she realized she was exposed and hopped behind some cover.  Part of her wanted to retreat.  She made herself stay and watch.

    A Toa of Ice wearing a Mahiki stood at the front of the Xian forces, fending off attacks with an Electro Chute Blade before taking aim with a cylindrical weapon.  It fired a blast of energy, hitting a Rahkshi dead-on, but the shot had no effect.  The Toa grunted as he jumped back.

    “Why aren’t the Ghost Blasters working?!” he exclaimed.  “We’ve tested them on Rahkshi before!  What’s different about these?”

    Neton charged him, the Rahkshi of Gravity swinging his massive hammer in a sweeping arc to catch the Toa.  However, his target vanished on contact, only to reappear several feet to the side and retaliate with a blast of ice.  Neton’s feet were frozen in place.  The Toa advanced, but a large crimson Rahkshi with four arms bounded in suddenly, repelling the Toa with two arms while shattering Neton’s bindings with a third.  The two Rahkshi faced their opponent, not noticing someone else approaching from behind.

    “Neton, Gantra!” Zaekura shouted, being sure to stay out of sight.

    Hearing her cry, Gantra rushed the Toa of Ice, while Neton spun in place to see a Toa of Stone swinging a battle axe roughly three times his size.  Neton readied to parry the blow, but the weapon fell short—the newcomer flashed a bright smile from beneath his Sanok.

    “Looks like you could use some help, Ehrye!” he called to the Toa of Ice.  “Hope you don’t mind me stepping in?”

    “Hardly, Hewkii!” Ehrye said as he wove between blows.  “Just be sure to watch your own back!”

    Neton took a step back to size up his foe.  Hewkii lifted the great axe onto his shoulder, saying, “So, a Rahkshi of Gravity?  This’ll be interesting.  I’m sure you recognize my element and mask, but do you know what this weapon is?”

    Neton hissed.

    “…Sorry, can’t tell if that’s a yes or no.  Just to be on the safe side…” He held the axe forward, blade sizzling with heat.  “This Rhotuka Battle Axe is equipped with levitation weights, making it light enough that I can easily handle it despite my size!  Its edges can also be heated to increase its cutting power, and as you’ve likely guessed, it features a Rhotuka launcher.  Mine are able to make a target heavier with every strike—though with powers like yours, I guess you’ll be able to negate it easily enough.”

    Cocking his head, Neton grumbled something.

    “I bet you’re wondering why I’m telling you all this,” Hewkii said.  “Well, from observing you, I can tell you’re an exceptionally skilled warrior.  And when I see someone like that, I want to be sure I have a fair fight with them!  So, now that we both know everything the other can do…let’s see who comes out on top!”

    The pavement lurched beneath Hewkii, flinging him through the air towards Neton.  Reacting quickly, the Rahkshi reduced his personal gravity to jump out of range, and as Hewkii passed beneath him, he let go of his hammer and rapidly increased its gravity so the weapon would shoot straight down at him.  A curved shell of rock sprouted from the ground to intercept it, not completely stopping the hammer but throwing it off-course enough that Hewkii was able to twist his body out of the way and land safely.  Neton slammed down and retrieved his weapon.  The stone under him tried to reach up, but he anticipated the attack and maintained an intense field of gravity to make the rocks too heavy to rise.  Hewkii swung, hurling a Rhotuka from his axe.  Neton rolled out of the way and began to increase gravity on the Toa of Stone, but a few seconds later, the spinning wheel of energy arced around and hit him in the back, suddenly making him feel heavier and causing his concentration to falter.  At that precise moment, a fist of stone shot up to punch him in the jaw.  Neton was sent reeling; Hewkii stood up, but he didn’t press his advantage.

    “Forget about the Sanok?” he said, tapping the edge of his mask.  “Most people take a bit to adjust: you get so used to dodging working that your reflexes tell you it’ll be enough.  Keep it in mind going forward!”

    Getting back to his feet, Neton hissed quietly to himself.  A light application of his power was enough to negate the effects of the Rhotuka, but this meant that every time he adjusted his own gravity, he would need to compensate when deciding how much power to use.  That, combined with the Mask of Accuracy and elemental attacks that could come from any direction, was a lot to keep track of during a fight.  Neton found himself chuckling.

    “Ready?” Hewkii said.

    The two charged at each other.  Their weapons clashed, producing a brief shockwave that split open the pavement.  Neton made a downward swing, so Hewkii stepped back to counterattack, missing as the Rahkshi kept his weapon anchored, made himself light enough to swing above it, and then made himself much heavier to stomp Hewkii’s back.  Due to the reach of the axe, Hewkii was easily able to twirl it around to force Neton to retreat.  He launched a Rhotuka as he recovered, but Neton rapidly increased gravity on it, overcoming the effects of the Sanok to force it to plummet to the ground.  Unfortunately, doing so took a great toll on his focus: Hewkii willed a boulder to shoot from the wall behind Neton, launching him forward into the Toa’s range.  Neton was able to reduce his gravity to alter his trajectory, but the stone beneath Hewkii lifted him up so that he could still land a solid blow.  Zaekura winced as Neton skidded along the ground.

    Hewkii was about to move in when a Rahkshi clad in maroon armor came running up.  Before they came too close, however, Neton held up a hand and shrieked.  Once he was upright, he turned and said something to the other Rahkshi, and then faced Hewkii and raised his hammer.  He pointed first to the Toa, then to himself.  Hewkii nodded.  Neton ran forward, and Hewkii launched a Rhotuka as he came to meet him.  Not having enough time to sink the projectile, Neton instead blocked it with his hammer—the weapon’s weight shifted immediately, but he was able to counter it fast enough that he could still block the axe and reach around Hewkii’s guard to punch his chest.

    “Hm,” Zaekura murmured.  “I can’t help but wonder if now is really the best time for one-on-one…”

    She looked across the square.  Gantra was still locked in combat with Ehrye, the smaller being nimbly avoiding almost all of the Rahkshi’s attacks while steadily wearing him down with weak but quick ice attacks.  She then turned back to the maroon Rahkshi, who now seemed confused as to what to do.

    “Psst!  Aleps!”

    The Rahkshi spotted Zaekura.

    “Why don’t you back up Gantra?”

    Aleps took one look at their brother’s predicament and charged in.  Ehrye slashed one of Gantra’s arms—the chute blade passed straight through him, but the electricity coursing through it stunned the brawler—and then blew him back with an icy burst.  Gantra was about to renew his assault when Aleps leapt in front of him, one hand glowing.

    “A Rahkshi of Sleep?” Ehrye said.  “Hah!  Go ahead: I’ve been through training to shield my mind from abilities like yours!  You’re wasting your time!”

    Aleps smirked.  Raising their hand, they pointed it at Ehrye a moment, before slapping their own chest instead.  The Rahkshi’s body half-crumpled as they lost consciousness.  Ehrye blinked.

    “Strange way to surrender…”  Shaking his head, he raised his sword and faced Gantra.  “Well, it doesn’t matter.  I’ve just about got you beat!”

    Using the power of his Mahiki, Ehrye generated three illusions of himself to join him in circling the four-armed Rahkshi, making him hesitate to attack for fear of providing an opening.  One of the illusions jumped forward.  Gantra dispelled it with a punch, leaving his back exposed to the real Ehrye.  The Toa of Ice was just about to swing when someone hit him in the back of the head.  He stumbled into Gantra, confused, and the Rahkshi grabbed him before he had the chance to run away.

    “What the—?!”

    Craning his neck, Ehrye saw that Aleps was still asleep nearby, but their position had changed.  He was halfway to understanding when he realized Gantra was carrying him off.  Opening his mouth, Ehrye exhaled a massive blast of frost into Gantra’s face, forcing him to release his grip and drop Ehrye.  The Toa scuttled back hurriedly, this time staying alert.  Sensing movement, he ducked, and saw Aleps—still asleep—leaning forward to awkwardly swipe at him.

    “Are you serious?!” Ehrye said.

    He swung his sword, but Aleps spun out of the way, staggering about as they eventually stopped, only to fall forward to launch into a flurry of random blows.  It took all of Ehrye’s focus to track and parry the strikes, allowing Gantra to blindside him with a powerful double-punch.  Gantra paused to watch his sibling stumble about a bit, but then returned focus to their opponent: Ehrye sent out a wave of ice spikes at the two Rahkshi, so Gantra leapt in the opposite direction.  Aleps, however, remained where they were.  The spikes passed through them harmlessly, meanwhile Gantra backed into something sharp that he couldn’t see.  Ehrye walked forward steadily as he exerted more of his power, encasing Gantra’s arms in ice shackles to immobilize him.

    “Alright, you surprised me,” Ehrye said.  “I’ll just have to be more careful!”

    He sent more illusory copies of himself towards Aleps.  However, with their eyes closed, the sleepwalking Rahkshi didn’t even realize they were there, and simply shambled in the direction of the real Ehrye.  The ground beneath them froze over—they slipped and fell, but continued sliding forward, eventually springing up and nearly landing a punch on Ehrye.  The Toa slashed with his chute blade, hoping to stun the Rahkshi.  Aleps’s body spasmed at the sudden shock, but they bounced forward as this happened, making their flailing limbs even more unpredictable for a few moments and rolling right over Ehrye.  With a frustrated groan, Ehrye picked himself up and created a tall ice platform to stand on, keeping him out of range of Aleps so he could return to restraining Gantra.

    “There,” he said, “that ought to be enough.”

    No sooner than the words had left his mouth, Bitil came running around the corner.  Upon surveying the scene, he charged straight for the platform, shattered it, and snatched Ehrye out of the air as he fell.  Ehrye swung his sword through the Makuta, but the electricity didn’t affect him in any visible way.

    “Save it,” Bitil said.  Turning to Aleps, he snapped his fingers a few times, and eventually the Rahkshi woke up.  “Good work—see if you can get your brother out of there.”

    As Aleps saw to that, Zaekura stepped out from her hiding spot.  “Things are going smoothly, I take it?”

    Ehrye’s eyes widened when he saw her.  He raised his Ghost Blaster, but Bitil pushed it aside and glared at the Toa, saying, “Don’t.”

    In the distance, Neton and Hewkii were still fighting.  Bitil prepared to head that way, but Zaekura said, “No, he’s fine.  They agreed to a fair one-on-one fight—your son turned away Aleps when they tried to help him earlier.”

    Bitil sighed.  “Sounds reckless…but, if he’s not in any real danger, I suppose I’ll take this one to Erves.  And you should find more cover, Lady Zaekura!  I thought we agreed you wouldn’t be getting this close?”

    Zaekura shrugged.  “Can’t recall.”

    Bitil simply shook his head and walked towards the gate.  Zaekura turned to see Gantra finally free, and then looked back to Neton and Hewkii as she dropped back out of sight.  The two traded blows as they slowly fought their way across the square.  At a glance, the match seemed even, but watching more closely revealed Neton making several small mistakes, struggling to stay focused on balancing his weight against the effects of Hewkii’s Rhotuka.  The Toa of Stone leapt back and created a wall between them, immediately firing three Rhotuka as Neton bashed through it: the wheels struck bits of rubble and caused them to drop down onto Neton, stunning him so Hewkii could smack him with the flat of his axe.  Leaning on his hammer for support, Neton paused a moment to catch his breath.

    “You’re every bit as good as I expected!” Hewkii said.  “Thank you—it’s so rare that I can enjoy a fight this much.”

    Neton nodded as he gave his response.

    “Still…much as I’d like to draw this out, we both have other things to do, right?”

    Neton started to one side, then dashed in the other direction.  Hewkii saw through the feint and drew back his axe, but Neton focused his power upon the weapon’s head, rapidly increasing its weight to disrupt Hewkii’s grip on it.  As the Toa fumbled, Neton alleviated gravity on his own weapon and threw it, letting it fly over to its target within the span of a second.  Hewkii shot a small stone at Neton, but the Rahkshi crossed his arms and increased his own gravity to prevent the blow from pushing him back.  Reducing it next, he ran forward, jumped when Hewkii swung his axe, and placed his hand on the blade to more easily flip overhead and grab the handle of his hammer as he landed.  Neton glanced around to see he was surrounded by the remaining bits of ice from Ehrye’s earlier attacks.

    “Ah…Lady Zaekura?” came Charla’s voice.

    Zaekura looked up.  “What is it, Charla?”

    “I’m sensing something new.  It’s hard to describe: the presence feels feral, but it’s definitely sentient, unlike a Rahi.  There’s dozens of them moving in swiftly from the direction of Iron Canyon.”

    “Hm…is anyone free to go investigate?”

    “I can—oh…?  Oh, Lord Bitil says he will see to it.  I will share his findings with you.”

    “Thanks.  I’d like to avoid as many surprises as possible.”

    Hewkii began to drive Neton back.  Neton did his best to counterattack, but Hewkii proved too quick for him.  One slash clipped his leg—the searing pain made him realize just how high the temperature of the edge was set.  He slipped over a patch of ice, coming up in time to parry a blow, and then backed away until he was up against a line of icicles.  Hewkii jumped forward and swung with all his might.  Narrowly, Neton twisted out of the way, and the blazing edge of the axe dug into the ice, releasing a blast of steam right in Hewkii’s face.  Neton smirked—he swung upward, launching Hewkii into the air, and then used gravity to pull him right back down for a hit that knocked him through a wall.  Cautiously, the Rahkshi advanced.

    “Heh…” came Hewkii’s voice from the rubble.  “Guess…I should’ve paid more attention…”

    He crawled out from the hole in the wall, half of his mask missing.  Neton gave a short hiss and stored his hammer on his back as he rushed over, helping Hewkii to his feet; he gestured to the mask, but wasn’t sure how to express what he wanted.

    “Don’t worry: I know you didn’t mean to hit me that hard,” Hewkii said.  “I’ll be fine.”

    Neton sighed in relief.

    “Your name was…Neton?  Did I hear that right?”

    The Rahkshi nodded.

    “Neton.  I’ll remember that!  I hope we get another chance to fight someday.”

    The Toa extended his hand.  Neton seemed surprised at first, but then chuckled, taking the hand and nodding.  Both took a moment more to gather their bearings before heading away from the battle, and Zaekura found herself rolling her eyes, mumbling, “Well, if we can garner respect even amongst our enemies, I guess it’s a good thing…”

    “L…Lady Zaekura!” Charla said.

    “Huh?  What’s wrong, Charla?”

    “Lord Bitil has made contact…they’re…those presences I couldn’t identify, they’re…”

    Dread began to build in the back of Zaekura’s mind.  “Can you show me?”

    “Y…yes…perhaps you should see it for yourself…”

    Zaekura closed her eyes, feeling Charla bring an image into her mind.  The dread instantly consumed her.  They had found the Vorox, all in one large squadron that was closing in on the city, but these were not the beings they had been prepared to fight.  Whatever animalistic air the Vorox’s stinger tails lent them, it was nothing compared to the bestial visages of the pack Zaekura now saw.  No two looked entirely the same—some had oversized claws, others had rock-like growths along their backs, one of them now had three tails at their command—but every one of them ran ahead on all fours with a look of savage fury in their eyes, snarling wordlessly in a wild cacophony.

    “Oh no,” Zaekura said, body trembling in shock and disgust.  “What did the Great Beings do to them?!”

    ***

    A barrier lined with Hagah Plasma Cannons blocked access to the weapons district, with combatants constantly popping up to fire Cordak rockets and other projectiles.  The Rahkshi held their own well enough, but faced with so much firepower, they had yet to find a safe way to get past their foes.  Suddenly the turrets exploded, and the guards shouted as they engaged in combat with an unseen foe; shortly afterwards, the barrier crumpled under intense magnetism, revealing Krika as he bowed and gestured towards the road beyond.  The Rahkshi ran past him with a cheer, and he knelt next to one of the incapacitated Vortixx.

    “No need to worry,” Krika said.  “We aren’t going to hurt you.”

    “Why should I believe that?” the Vortixx asked.

    “That’s always such a hard question to answer…”

    “Either way, you’re not going to take over our city!  Xia is loyal to the Great Beings!”

    Krika stood, turning aside.  “Why?”

    “What?”

    “Surely you’ve heard the rumors—why do you choose to ignore them and continue to side with the Great Beings?  Reluctance?  Convenience?  Feeling there’s no other option?  It’s not—”

    He was cut off as a powerful blow connected with his mask.  Krika flew back, righting himself quickly as he could to identify his attacker.  A Glatorian with red and orange armor stood before him, holding in one hand a slender blade with prongs attached to its end, his opposite arm a prosthetic made of dark metal with three flexible claws uncurling as he stalked forward.  His glare was fierce, but more than that, Krika could see a wealth of experience in his eyes, making the sureness with which he carried himself into battle with a Makuta genuinely discomforting.

    “How rude,” Krika said, casually strafing.  “Can’t you tell when a person is mid-monologue?  I would speak with your superiors.”

    The Glatorian slowly turned, keeping his gaze fixed on Krika.  “No one’s superior to me.”

    “My, you are an arrogant fellow.  What’s your name?  I’m curious if I’ve heard of you.”

    Readying his blade, the Glatorian said, “If you did, you’d know by now.”

    Krika parried the swing with a focused burst of magnetism.  “I just thought perhaps you’d like to introduce yourself.  But, you are right: your reputation does precede you, Ackar.”

    Ackar jabbed with his prosthetic, the claws forming into a drill that nearly pierced the Makuta’s side.  Krika moved to chop Ackar’s shoulder, but Ackar blocked him with the blade, spun the weapon around, and nicked him as he pulled back.  An odd sensation rippled through Krika’s being as the sword made contact, but he had no time to analyze it.  Ackar didn’t let up: he twirled his sword around as he advanced, not leaving any openings for Krika to exploit, then made a short jab that led into a sweeping blow as he leapt forward, slicing open the wall of a nearby building as Krika ducked just beneath it.  Krika fired a weak plasma blast at the Glatorian’s torso, but to his surprise, Ackar ignored the attack and simply brought his claw down on Krika.  The prosthetic was made of solid protosteel—Krika could tell from the way his armor strained, sure it would have buckled if not still held in place by Alize’s powers.  He teleported beside Ackar and tried to counterattack, but Ackar’s blade found him.  Krika teleported even farther away as he worked to process the bizarre effects the weapon induced.  A black and green glow begin to emanate from the sword, and it was this that allowed Krika to begin lining the pieces up.

    “Ah,” he said.  “An Energy Siphon Blade…you came prepared.”

    Ackar remained silent.  He moved in yet again.  Krika created a bright flash to blind his foe before moving in, aiming for Ackar’s jaw only to get bashed across the face.  The blade sliced him again as he stumbled back, stinging far worse than its previous strikes, draining even more of his power into itself until he threw himself out of range.

    Goodness, he thought, another one who doesn’t need his eyes?  I suppose the Mahiki will be of little use then…need I really play the brute in order to prevail?  How dreadful.

    Krika charged the moment Ackar opened his eyes.  He ran half the distance before teleporting the rest, punching as Ackar formed his claw into a shield and forcing the Glatorian to attack with his sword.  Krika ducked and pivoted his whole body, avoiding the blade altogether, and connected with a kick to Ackar’s head as he lessened his foe’s gravity, knocking him down the street and then reaching for his prosthetic using magnetism.  Ackar simply rose to his feet, unaffected.

    I suspected they have their own methods of countering such attacks.  He’s immune to Sleep as well, and presumably all mental assaults.  Well, most.

    Ackar barely had a chance to move before Krika seized his body telekinetically.  Remaining focused on immobilizing on his foe, Krika walked forward, saying, “I commend you, I truly do.  There is no question you would best me in a fair fight.  Alas, while you may be able to counteract some of my powers, they remain too varied for—”

    Something struck him in the back.  He could feel his energy draining away, just like when he was struck by the siphon blade, and it made his concentration falter.  Ackar leapt from his hold and knocked him to the ground with an overhead slash.  Krika rolled aside to avoid being pierced by his foe’s drill, but when the device began to spin it kicked dirt up over the eyes of his mask, giving Ackar the chance to land another strike.  Teleporting away bought him some time, but another mystery attack made contact before he was prepared.  Ackar advanced on him.

    “Curious,” Krika mumbled.

    The Makuta willed vines to erupt from the soil to bind Ackar’s legs.  The Glatorian kept his guard up, but Krika amplified the force of his punch with his Vacuum powers, successfully pushing Ackar back into a wall of sonic energy that reverberated painfully until he fell out of it.  Krika attacked next with his Electricity powers, keeping the intensity low while making the bolts look very flashy—having more focus to spare this time, he was able to avoid the next surprise attack, and caught a glimpse of an Agori holding a rifle ducking down on a nearby rooftop.

    “Ah, yes of course!” Krika said, dodging another shot.  “You have a blade to siphon energy, but Xia also makes rifles that do the same!”  Multiple shots came at him, but he avoided them all while maintaining his attack on Ackar.  “You have quite a few helpers waiting for the right moment, don’t you?  Isn’t that tactic a bit cowardly for the noble warrior Ackar?”

    Ackar did his best to fight the pain, slowly raising his prosthetic.  “How else would you fight a coward?”

    “Your accuracy wounds me.”

    A smirk broke Ackar’s face as a panel in his palm slid away.  A Thornax was shot out instantly, striking Krika square in the mask; the electricity dissipated as the Makuta stumbled, half a dozen rifle shots pelting him at once.  Ackar surged forward and gave a mighty swing of his blade, this time cutting open a gash in Krika’s chest.  Antidermis poured out as Krika retreated, and Ackar waved his sword through it, letting it all slowly collect within the weapon.

    Krika grunted as he watched his foe, taking stock of how much energy he had left.  “Heh…well-played.  You’re far more merciless than the tales give you credit for, Ackar.”

    He carefully dodged another swing.  Ackar used the blade to absorb the following light bolt, saying, “Because this is the first time I’ve fought a rogue Makuta.”

    Krika teleported away from his next swing.  Ackar spun in place and pointed: when Krika materialized, he had another volley of sniper shots to deal with, only able to dodge some of them.  With a groan, he said, “Come now…am I really worth all this?  Best be careful not to strain yourself in your old age.”

    “This is no time to be careful,” Ackar said as he walked towards Krika.  “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to keep the citizens safe, no matter what cost I might suffer.  Makuta were supposed to do the same.  Yet here you are, attacking those you were sworn to protect…”

    He lunged.  A storm of slashes and punches came at Krika, who had only just enough strength to dodge them—and when a single shot stole some of that strength, he was grabbed by Ackar’s claw and slammed into a wall, feeling the blade immediately poised to wrench his mask off.  He weakly said, “We’re not…going to hurt…anyone…”

    “I’m not going to gamble on your word.  Not when it comes to my people.  Now fade.”

    The sound of sniper shots reached his ears.  Whirling about, Ackar threw Krika forward, smacking him into Bitil just as the Makuta was about to attack.  A few shots hit Bitil, but he simply shrugged them off as he pulled Krika back under an overhang.

    “Hello there, brother,” Krika said.  “Forgive me for greeting you in such a sorry state, but you won’t believe the day I’ve had.”

    “Shut up,” Bitil said.  “I need you to use what remains of your strength to help me.  I’m told this foe is skilled, but I sincerely doubt he can repel two Makuta at once.”

    Someone above shouted to Ackar.  The Glatorian raised his claw to catch a rifle, planted his sword in the ground momentarily, and then ripped a cartridge from the firearm before tossing it aside.  He jammed the component into the elbow of his prosthetic—a surge of energy suddenly moved through the metal limb, and the tips of its claws gained a faint azure glow.  Drawing his sword once more, Ackar began another slow advance.

    “See if you can lock him in place,” Bitil said.  “I’ll knock him out.”

    “I shall strive do my best,” Krika said, “however inadequate it may prove.”

    Bitil gave a sigh as he ran out to meet their foe.  Krika tried again to telekinetically restrain Ackar, but Ackar fired a second Thornax at him, this one flying even faster thanks to the charge imbuing his arm.  Krika was unable to dodge, and unable to help, but Bitil still managed to get close while Ackar was focused on firing.  Ackar held his blade low, so Bitil swung high.  He landed a punch, but Ackar had braced himself well enough to withstand it, and now slammed his open claw against Bitil’s midsection.  The azure glow intensified suddenly, signaling a function that consumed all of the extra energy just plugged into the device: a ring of crystalline protodermis sprang into being around Bitil, binding his arms to his sides.  Bitil stumbled back in shock.  He then realized the ring was shrinking.

    “You’re finished,” Ackar said.  “Coming here was a mistake.”

    Ackar left Bitil where he was, facing Krika once more.  The two Makuta exchanged glances.  Just as Ackar moved to attack, Krika activated his laser vision powers, forcing Ackar to form his shield to block the beams.  As he did, Bitil’s body contorted, shrinking and turning into a mass of white light as it slid free from the ring only to reform right behind Ackar.  Ackar’s eyes widened.  Bitil dealt a heavy blow to the back of his head, and as his consciousness faded, he saw the ring of protodermis now constricting around a round metal object that floated in the air.

    “My gratitude,” Krika said.  “Lucky for me you can be in so many places at once.”

    “One less now,” Bitil said.  “I’ll have Charla tell the nearby Rahkshi to scour the roofs, but for now, stay out of sight and keep him under.  I won’t save you a second—”

    The projector cracked open under the pressure of the crystal, and the hologram of Bitil blinked out.  Krika pulled Ackar inside the nearest building, muttering, “I’m touched by your concern.  At least notify Surja of my condition…”

     

    ADDENDUM:

    -Glad I got this out before the end of the month!  As of this past Monday, I’m officially back taking college courses (going for a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction), and while I will absolutely do my best to stay on top of this story, it’s hard to know for sure how exactly my routine will change until I get into the thick of it.  So now you know: if I appear to be lagging, give me the benefit of the doubt and assume I’m doing coursework rather than my usual shenanigans!  …Please?

    -Xian weapons galore!  This is a big part of why I loved the idea of having Xia to work with in this story.  So many of these weapons are really interesting, both in what we’ve already got and ways they could be tweaked, and once those designs are in her hands I think Zaekura’s going to have a lot of fun.  However, the one that’s probably my personal favorite is being saved for next time…

    -I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in-story yet, but Sand is a Toa element in this universe!  I haven’t 100% decided on details like prefix and Matoran ability, but it remains to be seen if those will even become relevant, so, eh…?

    -Since Ehrye was established earlier I definitely wanted him to reappear, but he probably won’t carry much weight until he gets to talk to Antroz directly.  He was going to be more of a threat thanks to his (non-Nynrah) Ghost Blaster, until I realized Alize’s power would protect from that manipulation as well (see below for more on that).  I also knew I wanted someone to fight Neton using a Vortixx Battle Axe, and looking over my options, Hewkii seemed like a solid choice—he should be pretty fun to work with.

    -Ackar was one of (if not the) only Glatorian who could convincingly go toe-to-toe with a Makuta under the right circumstances.  The Energy Siphon Blade was implied to be very dangerous to Makuta, and I knew I wanted someone to use the Earth Claw…though, I guess it’d be called something different here.  It also felt like I should include the Griffin Gauntlet at some point, hence the azure glow function, though to prevent it from being overused it requires a large amount of energy to activate.

    -When I was tossing around ideas for what Bitil can do with his Faxon, I began to wonder if he could use a replica of Mavrah’s projection lure—or even several at once.  Since the projection is made of hard light, he could have a very refined level of control over it using his elemental powers, and this is a Rahi ability.  Of course, you have to share the environment with the Rahi you’re copying—but luckily, Xia is situated next to an oasis, so as long as he stays submerged there he can use his mask to interface with as many lures as they’ve brought!

    -New Rahkshi names, en masse: “Gappel” comes from “doppelganger,” they’re a Kaita of Plasma, Teleportation, and Molecular Density with the power to leave afterimages that can briefly increase their density and fight autonomously; “Alize” comes from “neutralize”, she’s a Rahkshi of Magnetism who can temporarily render a metal object (or a person’s armor) immune to manipulation, which unfortunately also includes the recipient (which is why Krika isn’t using his spikes here); “Erad” comes from “desperado”, they’re a Rahkshi of Accuracy who likes firearms (I mentioned them last time but forgot to elaborate whoops); “Clera”, only briefly mentioned, comes from “cleric”, she’s a Rahkshi of Faith and…well, we’ll see when she shows up properly; “Gantra” comes from “gigantic” and “tetra” (four), he’s a Rahkshi of Courage with an internal focal point and, uh, I just thought a four-armed brawler would be a cool go-to; “Aleps” comes from “narcolepsy”, they’re a Rahkshi of Sleep with the ability to fight while sleepwalking in a highly erratic manner to catch foes off-guard, similar to the technique of “drunken boxing”.

    -Next time is Antroz vs Emsar, as well as the arrival of the Vorox Hordika!

    -Reviews to be submitted here


  13. On 10/26/2019 at 11:16 PM, Laval- Master of Energy said:

    I place a folding chair next to the table and sit in it, anxious to see what will happen next.

    (That mask from earlier is in my backpack again.)

     

    EDIT: Fixed a typo.

    KARDAS DRAGON eyes you suspiciously but makes no move against you.

    On 10/27/2019 at 12:59 PM, Alexander123 said:

    I charge Kardas with a javelin, but he closes his jaws around my torso, rather than scream in agony I calmly say, "Computer terminate program". Around me I see the walls of the holodeck. I calmly walk out of the Holodeck, but before I do I say "Computer delete program". I then walk to the Enterprise bridge.

    The reason why this plan fails is unclear, but in all likelihood it has to do with a transporter malfunction.

    On 10/27/2019 at 5:15 PM, MoarBotar said:

    TREACHERY! Iroh was mistaken! It was NOT delectable tea, but DEADLY POISON! Iroh's face begins to swell! 

    Yet even as he begins to sweat and scratch, Iroh manages to open the game with a virtually unbeatable strategy.  

    The energy coursing through KARDAS DRAGON destroys the poison!  KARDAS DRAGON offers Iroh an Epipen as it makes its opening move.


  14. On 10/21/2019 at 1:50 PM, Onaku said:

    Good on it.

    That'll help against the overwhelming nothingness it'll find itself in.

    KARDAS DRAGON does indeed find itself through much soul-searching in the void, and achieves inner peace for approximately 10 seconds.

    On 10/21/2019 at 1:57 PM, Alexander123 said:

    Q saves the universe from ceasing to exist, leaving a highly dysfunctional universe of multiverses remaining. The Star Trek casts and the Doctor create a device that causes the Oblivion Incarnate aura to be redirected on Kardas, baking him alive. As Kardas flies toward the dragon armada he realizes too late that all the dragons are carrying versions of Goku and Siper Saiyan Shaggy. Kardas is knocked to the ground by a destructive blast emanated by the dragons, Gokus, and Shaggys. As Kardas goes to his feet he sees a giant robot made from every Super Sentai and Power ranger robot heading towards him.

    With the undoing on the destruction, Oblivion Incarnate's power wanes!  Ironically, this saves KARDAS DRAGON from being damaged when the aura is turned against it.

    KARDAS DRAGON is overwhelmed by the surprise blast!  50 damage!

    KARDAS DRAGON easily evades the impractically enormous robot, damaging its weak points faster than its body can move!

    On 10/21/2019 at 5:37 PM, Donkay Kooong said:

    I use the Olmak to summon General Iroh who serves up Kardas some deliciously hot Ginseng tea with a side of comic yet endearingly heartfelt wisdom.   

    KARDAS DRAGON nods as it absorbs Iroh's wisdom!  The tea also helps to calm its mind!

    23 hours ago, Laval Master of Energy said:

    I just keep using my mask's power. It ought to distract the dragon.

    An explosion spills tea onto KARDAS DRAGON's face!  KARDAS DRAGON sits there growling as it tries to maintain its calm.


  15. On 10/18/2019 at 11:18 PM, Valendale said:

    With Kardas's attention firmly on me, I take my hand and make a circle below my waist.

    KARDAS DRAGON isn't sure what you're doing, but continues to watch you carefully.

    On 10/19/2019 at 10:20 AM, Onaku said:

    Roaring triumphantly?

    I glare at the dragon as bits of my being fade away, just as bits of everything around me fades away... just as bits of the Kardas Dragon will be fading away. It really thinks this is a victory? The end of everything? The end of itself? An omnicidal maniac... should've pegged it for one.

    ... I then fade into the same nothingness as everything around me does, feeling pity for this deluded being as reality itself comes to an anticlimactic end, timelines and universes torn asunder only to meet a pitiful wheezing end, fading from being.

    The aura of Oblivion Incarnate, fed by dying existence, grows brighter until it obscures KARDAS DRAGON from view, before settling down to only a subtle shimmer.  KARDAS DRAGON's wounds have healed, and it looks stronger than ever!  999 healed!  Stats up!


  16. On 10/15/2019 at 10:15 PM, Lipuret McKaukau said:

     While the Battle of the Century ft. Mighty Convergence takes place, I sit thoughtfully, wondering just how to continue my RP posts.

     I look to the ground, and one thing catches my eye among the charred randomness...

    ...it's a marshmallow. A pure, white, lonely marshmallow survivor. And it inspires me.

     From among the forces of fiction I draw my Stupid Blue Girl again, and with the marshmallow as our guide...

    ...we go help Valendale and Downfall with their paperwork!

    The marshmallow sticks to your hand, ruining the papers you touch!  The staff goes to make new copies.

    On 10/15/2019 at 11:29 PM, Laval Master of Energy said:

    The Rahkshi survive the blast, but are severely damaged. My dimensional gate reopens, and the Rahkshi enter it.

    Which of my weapons to use next?

    From my backpack, I retrieve a Kanohi, and put it on. Yes, I can wear and use Kanohi. The mask itself looks like a Great Mahiki with a scope.

    Activating the it, I focus its power on a patch of ground near the Kardas Dragon's left foot. The targeted area explodes soon after.

    KARDAS DRAGON is surprised, but the explosion is swallowed up by its aura!

    On 10/16/2019 at 7:26 PM, Onaku said:

    ... We've lost.

    All of us. Kardas Dragon, me, every single brave individual who's faced that monster down.

    It... doesn't matter now. None of it does. Reality can't bounce back from this. A ready it s starti g to break appa t as I s ea . . No hin  t  do  ow bu  w it  ou  obl vi

    KARDAS DRAGON roars triumphantly, spewing flames into sky!

    On 10/16/2019 at 8:57 PM, Valendale said:

    I high five Lipuret and Downfall as they come to help me, each of the high fives sending out a shock wave.

    KARDAS DRAGON's aura twists as it absorbs the shockwaves!  You've drawn the dragon's attention.

    On 10/17/2019 at 2:32 PM, Alexander123 said:

    There shall be no surrender from me or anyone else in the multiversal armada. I transform into a blue dragon, and lead every other dragon and fighter from star wars  into an attack formation. The combined ground forces do a massive charge. Doctor Strange uses the time stone to finish the paperwork, and the combined captains and cast of star trek are in a secure place trying to figure out a way to defeat Kardas using technobabble and plot devices. Also the mass of everyone is starting to cause a black hole to open up.

    KARDAS DRAGON has the high ground!  It levels the battlefield with a swipe of its tail, and then flies up to meet the incoming dragons.

    The paperwork is completed!  However, KARDAS DRAGON has used its Corporate Greed ability to bribe the Oblivion office CEO, and the files disappear mysteriously!

    • Like 1

  17. On 10/12/2019 at 8:49 PM, Onaku said:

    Onakuzilla is able to shield most of the rifts from the Kardas Dragon's wrath, with only a fraction of the superweapons being destroyed this time around. Time and space bend, but don't break. Reality is safe for now. Which means it's time to throw down for real. Emerging from Onakuzilla's core is an emerald glow of their own, an aura of energy similar yet distinct from the Kardas Dragon's. Similar in intensity, yet distinct in function... quite the inverse in fact. When Onakuzilla's energy waves hit Oblivion Incarnate's waves, the two cancel each other out, leaving a gap between the two without any energy. And in that gap, in slow motion, Onakuzilla charges forth to deliver a heavy blow to the dragon's face.

    30 damage!

    KARDAS DRAGON takes the hit, unflinching, and then drives its claws into Onakuzilla's torso!

    On 10/13/2019 at 6:52 PM, Downfall said:

    As I cease my efforts at concentrating on using the mask, I consider trying to use it to speed up the aforementioned paperwork, but then decide it probably wouldn't help at all with my limited degree of control. Instead, I've decided that I'd like to try to help Valendale myself. 

    You assist in filling out the paperwork, speeding up the process at least a little!

    On 10/14/2019 at 6:13 PM, Alexander123 said:

    Stunned I lift myself to my feet, my armies are dead or dying, Constantinople is in ruins, my people died on the Death Star, there is now one thing to do. I deliberately destroy the fabric of the multiverse and bring all the forces of fiction to attack the Kardas Dragon. The Daleks, the Doctor, Sauron, Morgoth, the Federation, Klingons, First Order and much much more. Kardas prepare to be destroyed by this mighty convergence!

    As the boundaries of universes crumble into oblivion, KARDAS DRAGON's aura grows stronger!  With a roar, it sends out an energy wave of cataclysmic proportions at the multiversal armada!


  18. On 10/10/2019 at 3:07 PM, Onaku said:

    Oh... oh no, Kardas you FOOL! The redirection of large scale attacks from other universes to one point is one thing, but you've just destroyed massive objects from countless realities. Did you really think there wouldn't be a consequence for this?!! Even as we speak, time and space are buckling under the weight of this major temporal transgression. Guess I'll have to pull a little temporal transgression myself to prevent reality itself from being torn asunder. Aboard my trusty space ship, I turn a dial to turn it into a time ship, before then hitting go.

    A few moments ago, a massive being falls out of the sky, the size of the Kardas Dragon. The impact itself is enough to leave a crater in its wake and send dust into the air. From the dust I emerge, now a being to rival the Kardas Dragon in size, strength, and durability. With this new found power I will assuredly catch the Kardas Dragon's attention before it can even begin to think about retaliating against the superweapons.

    Oblivion Incarnate Kardas vs Onakuzilla. Place your bets folks... on the Battle of the Century!

    KARDAS DRAGON scoffs at Onakuzilla!  It releases another shockwave, not hitting every superweapon this time, but enough to be a problem.  KARDAS DRAGON's aura grows stronger as swaths of time splinter into oblivion!

    On 10/10/2019 at 6:26 PM, Alexander123 said:

    I ride on a horse to the front of my reorganized remnant army of romans, space marines, Persians etc. and make a stirring speech to reinvigorate them about Good Guys sacrifice not being in vain. My army cheers as we charge Kardas.

    KARDAS DRAGON flexes its wing.  A wave of energy washes over the charging forces!

    On 10/10/2019 at 7:27 PM, Laval Master of Energy said:

    Oh no... not Oblivion Incarnate. Fortunately, I also know how to deal with this.

    I toss a black metal disk onto ground. A golden light begins to shine from the center, and a beam of it lances high into sunset skies above.

    Within 30 seconds, a dimensional gate opens up. Stepping through it is a group of 24 Rahkshi. Each is aglow with strange energy, which seems to come from blue crystals embedded in the armor.

    "Open fire!" I shout.

    The Rahkshi issue their screeching battle cry, and turn all of their power on the Kardas Dragon.

    KARDAS DRAGON endures the barrage, turning and throwing a punch.  A massive ball of energy flies off from its fist, ready to engulf the Rahkshi!

    On 10/11/2019 at 2:17 PM, Valendale said:

    You fools are missing the obvious solution here...

    I'd like to deincarne the oblivion, please.

    You are given a stack of paperwork to fill out!  You sense much red tape along this process.

    23 hours ago, Downfall said:

    I just wanted to eat marshmallows! I offered them to all of you, too! BUT NO, YOU JUST COULDN'T RESIST.

    I pull out the Mask of Time in an attempt to do something, anything really, about the current situation.

    Time begins to slow around the battlefield, making the actions of the combatants look even cooler!


  19. 11 hours ago, Onaku said:

    In that moment, Good Guy's last sacrificial attack is reflected at the Kardas Dragon's back.

    The attack is destroyed by the energy surrounding KARDAS DRAGON!  KARDAS DRAGON slowly turns and glares over its shoulder!

    7 hours ago, Downfall said:

    You just HAD to kill the marshmallow. Everything was going perfectly FINE until you killed the marshmallow.

    At least the bonfire is still going. Maybe we can return to it after this situation blows over. I sigh, then stand up and grab my equipment. I think I might just need a little more than a Kualsi to help this situation. I pull out an Olmak to attempt to send all these superweapons back to where they came from.

     

    Onaku, here. Take this. I brought it over specifically for you. Maybe you can somehow fix this mess you've made.

    IgnikaEdited.png

    Drat, I'm out of marshmallows.

     

    As the superweapons begin to vanish, KARDAS DRAGON opens it mouth and roars.  A shockwave shoots forward, ripping the weapons to shreds just as their portals close!

    • Like 1

  20. On 10/8/2019 at 2:13 PM, Alexander123 said:

    As I gather my surviving soldiers of my armies to make one last charge Good Guy expends all his energy and life force into a powerful destructive beam aimed at Kardas.

    KARDAS DRAGON avoids a direct hit, but the fringes of the beam still damage it!  100 damage!

    2 hours ago, Onaku said:

    The sky is set alight with innumerable rifts in space and time, windows into countless other universes are torn open, all of which open up to one consistent target: A superweapon of some kind firing at full power. An infinity of Death Stars, Starkillers, converging Species 8472 bioship rays, meteor strikes, colony drops, etc. all fire on one point; The Kardas Dragon. With no time to react as the weapons simultaneously fire upon the rifts opening, there's little room for anything else but taking the full brunt of this unimaginable brutal attack.

    Far away, onboard a ship in orbit, I cough up dust and blood from my smirking mouth as my finger leaves the button responsible for activating this cascading attack.

    The blasts envelop KARDAS DRAGON!  100 damage!

    As the smoke clears, a badly wounded KARDAS DRAGON with armor charred black looks around.  Its marshmallow has been destroyed in the assault.  Something changes in its eyes...

    Suddenly, a flaming aura of whitish-yellow energy springs forth from KARDAS DRAGON!  It bares its teeth and raises its wings, exuding an incomprehensible force of destruction from every pore!

    KARDAS DRAGON's OBLIVION INCARNATE has been activated!

    • Like 1

  21. SECTION XVI

     

    Angonce paced back and forth, fathoming just how furious he was with the situation.  Yarion sat quietly at their desk, watching the Great Being with a cautious patience, while Kodan trembled nervously in a nearby chair.

    “I, just…why are we even having this conversation in the first place?!” Angonce finally said.  “Both of you ought to know better, especially you, Yarion!  For Heremus’s sake, are all my favorite Makuta going to turn on me?”

    “I have most certainly not turned against you, my lord,” Yarion said.

    “Oh, most certainly!  It’s not like you had someone from Nynrah right here—“ He shook his hands at the floor. “—and just let her go!  Wait a second!  That’s exactly what you did!”

    “I questioned her, and verified that she had nothing to add to the Nynrah investigation.  The Toa representing her made quite a compelling case that continuing to hold her at that point would breed distrust amongst the people.”

    “What Toa?  Where are they now—I want them brought in immediately!”

    “I’m afraid he’s gone, sir.  He was a recent transfer from Mahri-Nui, and departed with the accused once the matter was concluded.”

    “So you let two criminals escape, then.”

    “This Toa was trustworthy, my lord: when I contacted Mahri-Nui, the Makuta himself vouched for him.”

    “And what of it?!  Clearly a Makuta’s word means nothing anymore!”

    Yarion sighed.  “My lord—“

    “And you!” Angonce said, whirling on Kodan.  “You found Zaekura herself, chatted her up like you were old friends, and then published and circulated her manifesto!  How is it possible that at no point in that process did you consider what you were doing treason?!”

    “I-I-I-I was only doing my j-j-job, Lord A-Angonce,” Kodan stammered.  “The p-people need to know w-what’s going on, and w-without Zaekura’s point of view I f-feel our understanding of the issue would b-be left incomplete.  W-We’re only trying to understand the t-t-truth.”

    “Truth?!” Angonce repeated, looming over the Toa.  “The only information you need is what the Great Beings provide you!  The only perspective you need is ours!  ‘Truth’…it’s such a simple thing to grasp!  The truth is what we say!  Anything that goes against our truth is nothing short of blasphemy!”

    Kodan could only shiver silently.  Angonce turned with a frustrated grunt, taking a few steps away.

    “Yarion.  Find all copies of this interview and have them destroyed.”

    Slowly rising to their feet, Yarion asked, “M…my lord?”

    “I know you heard me.  See to it that this heresy is eradicated, before it has a chance to spread.”

    Yarion glanced at Kodan as they thought.  “…If I may, my lord—“

    “You may not!” Angonce cut them off.

    Reluctantly, Yarion continued, “What will this accomplish?  It is too late to prevent the word from getting out—it will spread.  Worse, how will the people react to such an extreme action?  Would it not only breed greater distrust, greater fear?  Such a retaliation would surely only lead to more people believing the validity of Zaekura’s words!”

    Angonce glared over his shoulder.  “Well.  If they decide to act upon that misguided belief, then I suppose their Makuta will have to set them straight.”

    Yarion’s eyes wandered.  They saw their reflection in the wall, realizing just how troubled their expression was.

    “Th-This…”

    Yarion and Angonce turned to Kodan as he spoke up.  The Toa got to his feet, still shaking but not letting that stop him.

    “This isn’t right.  Hiding the facts, scaring people into submission, attacking anyone who disagrees with you…those aren’t the values Spherus Magna was built on!”

    “Oh I can assure you,” Angonce said, “they most certainly are.  I am the one who built it, after all.”

    “No.  The world you’re talking about isn’t the world that I see, the world I’ve been trying to serve.  I still feel that way: that my job is the truth, and not just what anyone says is true.  I cannot…I will not give the people what I know are lies!  To do so would be to betray who I am!”

    “Think very carefully about what you’re doing, Toa.  Are you going to cooperate, or are you going to continue your treasonous ways?”

    Kodan swallowed his fear and stood tall, sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the right thing to do.  “I will not cooperate.”

    Angonce looked past him, nodding once.  And then Kodan cried out in pain, falling forward lifelessly.  Yarion’s jaw dropped.

    “What…” they tried to ask, but the words wouldn’t come.

    A massive gash had appeared in Kodan’s back.  Behind the Toa was a strange distortion, and soon Yarion realized it was something imperceptible coming into view: a strange-looking being, nearly as tall as them and clad in gold armor with white speckles spread haphazardly across the surface.  Folded wings hung from the being’s arms, which they drew back as they retracted razor-sharp claws into their fingers—on their back were numerous dangerous-looking spines, and behind that, Yarion could see a long reptilian tail swaying back and forth.  They wore a Mask of Adaptation, but Yarion could see there was no mouth behind it, and on the back of their head was a second set of eyes, blinking to reveal inner eyelids.

    I suspected Lord Angonce did not come alone, Yarion thought.  But I never expected him to bring Vamprah…

    Angonce beckoned.  Vamprah stepped over the corpse and went to the Great Being’s side, his rear eyes fixed directly upon Yarion as he did.

    “Makuta Yarion?” Angonce said.  “You have your assignment.  Get to it.”

    Yarion could only turn back to Kodan, watching the Toa of Stone’s blood slowly pool around his broken form.

    “Don’t worry, your staff will clean up the mess while you’re out.  Time’s wasting.”

    Vamprah turned sharply.  Angonce turned in response, seeing Yarion with a hand over their face, shaking their head.

    “This is…cruel,” Yarion said.  “How could you?  We were to protect the people—how can you ask that we now strike them down at the slightest provocation?!  I…I cannot do this, Lord Angonce…I cannot be a part of something so vile!”

    Angonce rolled his eyes.  “Goodness…I’m grown quite exhausted of this nonsense.”

    The Great Being turned around, and Vamprah took a step forward.  Yarion backed up into their desk, realizing just how little room separated them.

    “You will follow my orders, Yarion,” Angonce said.  “And if you will not do so willingly, then I’ll simply have you recalibrated, so that you can return to your job with the right set of priorities in mind.”

    Yarion’s eyes widened.  “B…but…”

    “Decide quickly, Yarion.  My patience is entirely used up.”

    A heavy silence filled the room.  Eventually, Yarion went down on one knee, hanging their head and muttering something.

    “Speak up,” Angonce said.

    “I…will obey, Lord Angonce,” Yarion said.  “I shall see to the destruction of Kodan’s treason.”

    Angonce smiled.  “Finally, one sees reason.  You made the right choice, Yarion.  Go on.”

    Yarion stood, sluggishly walking towards the elevator.

    “But ah, just to be on the safe side…I think I’ll have Vamprah remain in Civitas Magna for the time being.  Just, watch over you for a bit, on the off-chance you find yourself getting cold feet.”

    Yarion didn’t need eyes in the back of their head to know Vamprah was staring at them.

    “Best of luck, Makuta Yarion,” Angonce said as the elevator doors closed.  “I look forward to some truly impressive results.”

    ***

    Rahkshi made their way through the outpost, each taking their own path but nearly all of them winding up just outside the gate.  Antroz stood atop the wall, monitoring the congregation as it formed, trying to shake off the anxiety that was weighing down her heart.

    “Ready to go home?”

    Antroz sighed as Krika walked up beside her.  “This is hardly a homecoming.  I’m returning as a conqueror…never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed this to be my future.”

    “Sounds as though you’ve hosted boring dreams, then.  I’ve seen myself win battles far more threatening.”

    Antroz didn’t answer.

    “I say that because it is a lower bar than you seem to realize.  These are still your people, Antroz: surely they must have some lingering fondness for you that shall stay their hands, regardless of how devout you raised them to be.  And that aside, I can attest that builders rarely make the best warriors, especially as they shall be without your guidance.”

    “They have Emsar’s guidance,” Antroz said.  “That alone worries me.”

    “Emsar?  I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the name.”

    “She’s a Vortixx warrior who operated as my right hand.  Her skill in peerless, and her mind is every bit as sharp as her dagger—under her orders, Xia has weathered several attacks where I was unable to defend it myself.  We must not underestimate her.”

    Krika shrugged.  “Alright, duly noted.  But you know this army well now, Antroz.  Taking into account the abilities these Rahkshi possess, not to mention that there will be three Makuta assisting them, do our chances really seem so grim?”

    “You forget our handicap, Krika.  Of course we could level the city if we wanted.  But we must win without using lethal force.  Emsar surely knows this, and will use it against us.”

    “My word, you are simply impossible to cheer up.”

    Antroz became aware of Bitil as he strolled along the inside of the wall.  At his side was a handful of Rahkshi who had been chosen to stay behind to guard the outpost, and he babbled nervously as he went over their defenses for the dozenth time.

    “Well,” Antroz said, “Zaekura’s interview should be available to the public now.  I am hopeful that will sway at least a portion of Xia, so long as Makuta Yarion hasn’t snuffed it out before the flame has a chance to spread.”

    “I’ve told you, they’re not a threat,” Krika said.  “I was very clear with the ideas I implanted in their head when I defended Miss Carna, and the fact that she was released is proof enough that they will be sympathetic to our cause.”

    “…That’s been bothering me.  You said you posed as a Toa to defend her, but given how meticulous Yarion’s records are, I don’t understand how you were able to fool them.”

    “The urgency of the matter played to my favor.  I simply said I had recently been transferred to Civitas Magna, and that my bumbling superiors had neglected to send in the paperwork.  Yarion didn’t have time to verify.”

    “Transferred from where?  Once Yarion inevitably contacts that place—“

    “Not to worry, Antroz.  The Makuta himself has spoken on my behalf.”

    Antroz turned towards him slowly.  “…How do you know that?”

    Producing a small scroll, Krika said, “I received a message from him while we were in Ga-Koro.  He informed me that he would play along for now, but he wants to meet soon.  But we should focus on Xia at the moment, don’t you think?”

    “Krika.  Where did you say you were from?”

    He took a very long pause, rolling the scroll between his fingers as he scanned the horizon.  “Mahri-Nui.”

    Antroz’s wings twitched.  “Mahri-Nui?!”

    “I understand your concerns—“

    “And now he thinks we owe him…Krika, what have you done?!  We cannot work with someone like that!”

    Krika smirked.  “On the contrary, dear Antroz: I believe he’ll make the perfect tool.  We’ll have to tread carefully, no doubt, but he knows working with us will be the best way to achieve his ambitions…and, isn’t this better than having him as an enemy?”

    “I greatly doubt it will be!”

    “Fine, fine, but can we at least agree it’s best to cross that bridge when we get to it?  Our forces have enough on their minds with this upcoming battle.  Why burden them any further?”

    Antroz turned back to the Rahkshi with a grunt.  “We must tell Bitil, and Zaekura as well.  They need to know what’s coming.”

    “Oh, very well.  Are we to do that now, or…?”

    Antroz was already moving.  With a roll of his eyes, Krika fell into step behind her.  They caught up to Bitil as he neared the watchtower, where Zaekura stood talking to Carna, and waited for an opportunity to speak.

    “Can’t you just command them from here, Zae?” Carna asked.  “You don’t have to put yourself in danger!”

    Zaekura shook her head.  “I told you, Mom: if they’re risking themselves for me, I want to risk myself for them.  And we’ll be fine!  We have insider information, a bucket of tactics to use, more troops than we’re ever likely to need—I’ll be back in no time!”

    Carna grumbled something as she hugged Zaekura.  Regardless, she ultimately went inside, and Zaekura turned to the Makuta.  “Are we ready?”

    “Nearly,” Bitil said.  “Erad took their squad out for some last minute target practice, but they should be back momentarily.”

    “Also,” Antroz said, “there’s something we must discuss before we depart.”

    “Does it have to with Xia?” Zaekura asked.

    “Well, no—“

    “Then it can wait.”

    “Zaekura, this is a very serious matter.”

    Walking past her, Zaekura said, “Then tell me on the way if it’s that urgent.  But I gotta say something before we leave, and I don’t need anything psyching me out.”

    Bitil eyed Krika, but Krika drew his fingers across his lips and followed Zaekura.  With a scoff, Bitil did the same, and eventually Antroz went as well.  They exited the outpost and went around to the eastern side of the Rahkshi army, finding Charla waiting for them as she tried to keep her siblings organized.

    “Ah, there you are!” she greeted.  “Erad and the others have been spotted—it shouldn’t take them more than a minute or so to join us.  We can depart at any time.”

    “Great,” Zaekura said.  She took a deep breath.  “…Alright.  Everyone, listen up!”

    The crowd gradually went silent.  Zaekura swallowed hard, and then stiffened her spine as she prepared to speak.

    “It’s time for us to march on Xia!  They’re our nearest hostile, and using the extensive intel we’ve got on them, we’re going to capture their city and the resources they’ve got access to, leaving the loyalists without their primary manufacturer of weaponry!  Despite this edge, do not take this battle lightly!  There are two things you need to remember above all else: don’t kill anyone, and don’t get yourself killed!  You’re all gonna remember that, right?”

    A short but decisive cry of affirmation answered her.

    “Good!  Do that, follow the orders of your squad leaders, and this time tomorrow we’ll be celebrating our victory!  This is the first brick we pull from the wall of the Great Beings!  Starting today, we give our all to tearing it down!  Let’s go!”

    Cheers echoed as the army moved out.  After a while, Zaekura finally released the tension in her body, and turned to Antroz.

    “Alright, Fangs,” she said, “is that thing important?”

    Antroz thought for a moment.  “…You are certain you would rather wait?  I do not wish to withhold information from you.”

    Zaekura smiled.  “I appreciate that, but right now I really do just want to focus on one thing at a time.  We’ve already got a lot riding on this.”

    “Then…it can wait.  For now, we will give all our attention to Xia.”

    “Okay,” Zaekura said with a nod.  “…You gonna be able to do that?”

    Antroz faced forward.  “Most certainly.  I haven’t been able to think of anything but.”

    ***

    Emsar paced back and forth through the bottom floor of Xia’s central tower.  Lying on the table was an unrolled parchment, its title drawing her attention again and again no matter how hard she tried to look away: “EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ZAEKURA, SURVIVOR OF NYNRAH INCIDENT.”

    I truly hoped the rumors were nothing but lies.  It would’ve been easier that way.

    Alarming as the contents of the interview were, talk of them had spread near-instantaneously.  While physical copies of the publication had all disappeared before they could be distributed beyond Civitas Magna, a Vortixx living there had smuggled a single copy out just in time, telling Emsar it was something she needed to read.

    When it rains, it pours…so this is what they mean.  Running Xia without Antroz has been difficult enough, especially now that Chirox has tasked us with training those things, but learning just how murky this situation is just as Zaekura advances towards us…

    Indecision was something Emsar had never experienced.  Only now did she fully appreciate that fact.  But as she continued to pace, the doors were pushed open, and in walked a very grim-looking Ehrye.

    “Um…they’ve arrived,” the Toa of Ice said.

    Emsar gritted her teeth.  “Hmph.  How close exactly?  Have we engaged?”

    “No.  They, uh, they’ve stopped quite a distance away from our gates, actually.  Zaekura’s at the front…she…”

    Growing impatient, Emsar made her way outside and headed for the gate, leaping onto the sides of nearby buildings to gain height as she went, ultimately perching just above the gate itself.  Sure enough, around two hundred Rahkshi were positioned across the sands, with Zaekura at the head waving a white flag emblazoned with a wavy vertical line separating two small circles.  Emsar sighed.

    …Well…perhaps this will clear things up for me.

    She dropped down to the street, nodding to another Vortixx nearby.  Hesitantly, they handed her an identical flag, and she held it high above her head as the gate opened to let her through.  Seeing this, Zaekura, Antroz, and Bitil slowly walked forward, meeting Emsar halfway as both sides planted their flags in the sand.  Emsar crossed her arms and stood there silently.

    “Emsar,” Antroz said.

    She didn’t answer, instead staring at Zaekura.

    “Um…hello,” Zaekura said.  “You probably know who I am.  And you probably know why we’re here.  But, I’d like to settle things peacefully if possible—thank you for at least coming to speak with me.”

    “You must be confident, giving up the element of surprise in favor of negotiation,” Emsar said.

    “From what I hear, surprising you is impossible.”

    Emsar laughed.

    “And again: I’d rather do this peacefully.  We’re here to assume control of Xia, and use it to bolster our forces as we fight to free Spherus Magna from the Great Beings’ control.  Is there any way you could be persuaded to turn it over willingly?”

    Emsar cocked her head.  “So you’re really serious about this.  You really think you can oust the Great Beings.  Even I can’t fathom the gall required for such a declaration, and gall is something I know quite well.  Tell me, young Zaekura: why should I stick out my neck when yours will remain on the block regardless?”

    “Because it is the right thing to do,” Antroz said.  “Emsar, please.  I know this situation has turned the entire world on its head, but if you fight us here you will be fighting for a cause that is simply unjust.  Does that not matter to you?”

    Emsar considered this a moment.  “Hm.  I wonder if it does?”

    Antroz scowled.  Before she could say anything, Zaekura said, “Emsar, if you’d rather not join us, then you can still flee to Atero, or Civitas Magna.  We will not pursue you.  But if you stay and fight, you will lose…and at that point, we will be forced to hold you captive.”

    Emsar smirked.  “Yes, a bottomless reservoir of pure gall.  Should you really be so sure you can best me?”

    Bitil puffed out his chest.  “My Rahkshi are more than up to the challenge!  You don’t stand a chance!”

    “And I know Xia’s defenses inside and out,” Antroz said.  “You have not had enough time to alter them so severely as to catch us completely off-guard.”

    “Oh, I don’t know about that,” Emsar said.  “You may run into a few things that surprise you, Makuta.”

    The three of them had nothing more to add, and so simply waited for Emsar to give them an answer.  She closed her eyes as she mulled it over one last time.

    “If I did escape, I’m sure I’d simply be executed,” she said.  “And, right or not, joining you sounds just as suicidal.  I’ll admit…I have my doubts.  But I cannot risk my life upon such uncertain ground.”

    Antroz stepped forward, saying, “Emsar—“

    “That is my answer.  Xia will not surrender to you, Zaekura.  I don’t suppose you’d be willing to surrender to us?”

    “Never,” Zaekura said, not missing a beat.

    “Then it’s to arms.  Lovely chatting with you.  I do hope we get another chance before you’re sent to the Maze.”

    Emsar uprooted her flag and returned to Xia.  Zaekura and Bitil rejoined the Rahkshi at once, with Antroz lingering a bit before finally following them.  As she walked back through the gates, Emsar handed off the flag, and then signaled to a nearby Glatorian.  They ran off, and Emsar cast one last look over her shoulder.

    “To your stations, all of you,” she said.  “Xia is under attack.”

     

    ADDENDUM:

    -Well.  That took a while.  But I’ve finished that other project, so now Right of Law is my top priority!  There are a few other things I want to work on simultaneously, but I’m going to be sure to keep Law moving while I do!

    -At first Angonce was going to bring Gorast along as usual, but I realized I hadn’t introduced Melding Vamprah yet and this was the perfect opportunity to do so.  Like Prime Vamprah, he prides himself on being a hunter, and remains silent at all times.  His Mask of Adaptation constantly mutates him to give him an edge in various situations—I’m not entirely sure if the mask is supposed to make permanent changes, but I really liked the idea of Vamprah being a grotesque amalgamation of traits similar to Frankenstein’s monster and decided to roll with it.

    -The reason I’m being a bit secretive about the Makuta of Mahri-Nui is because they’re a canon character who, in the main timeline, was not a Makuta.  I know that probably sounds like an odd change to make, and I was a bit hesitant myself, but this character has a lot to contribute thematically, and making them a Makuta was the only way to properly pull it off while staying within the established rules of this world.  I understand if you feel this is too big an alteration, but please, give it a chance!  I’ll go into more detail once it’s time to bring them into focus.

    -A white flag seemed the best way to convey what was going on to the readers, but coincidentally that color is also associated with Peace in this universe!  What luck!

    -Our next major battle is finally underway!  Hard to say how long this one will take, but I’ll do my best to get the next installment out in a timely fashion!

    -Reviews to be submitted here

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