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Year 12
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  • Birthday 05/25/1992

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  1. I'd just like to thank my family, friends, my beloved readers, as well as the academy. I never thought I'd be able to accomplish this feat, but five chapters? Five?? In a relatively consistent posting schedule?? Amazing. I've truly reached my peak as a writer.
  2. Chapter 10 - Power and Protodermis Takua paused his work, sensing tension in the fork. This was the tipping point; this was the place that always offered two outcomes. In the first his fork would push the pin, unlocking it and offering freedom. And in the second, the tension would break his prong, and he’d have to start all over. It all depended on a delicate twitch of his fingers, a near insignificant tic of movement. He took a deep breath. No pressure, he told himself. It was only the last pin in his shackles. He’d succeeded before. He’d failed before. Takucva frowned, thinking very carefully about which way to proceed. How had the other pins turned? How would that influence the way this one — no. He stopped his mind from churning. This wasn’t about thinking; it was about feeling. No amount of forethought would influence his outcome, he needed only to focus. Focus, he reiterated to himself. Takua closed his eyes, honing his energy on the tips of his fingers. Breathing in and out, he silenced all thoughts from his mind, embracing his senses instead. He could feel the warm metal between his fingers, the rough wood beneath his body, the still air in his lungs. He let himself fall away, trusting his fingers to work on their own, letting the shadowy hull surround him. All was quiet. All was calm. The darkness enveloped him, and he allowed it. A subtle twitch of his index finger, separate from himself, controlled by nothing but instinct. And… done. Takua let out a sigh of relief, opening his eyes as he unlocked the shackles, placing them silently on the ground. His raw, atrophied wrists were finally revealed, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. But still, he let out a cocky smile. Take that, Sithrak. He was down to the last prong on his fork, but he’d done it. He’d picked the lock, and he was free to move about his prison. Free to move, to stand, to sit, whatever he wanted! As long as it was within the confines of his cell… which was roomy enough. Truthfully, he was still a captive, but it still was progress. Takua stood up, stretching his legs, steadying himself against the wall in case his weak muscles failed him. But he did so without issue, and he rose to his full height, standing tall, shoulders back, raising his chin as he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. A moment of peace, a moment of serenity. A moment of power. He knelt back down, his legs wobbling, feeling a little woozy. All this time he had spent in the dark, lost in his defeat, chained to the wall and eating so little — it had weakened him. And now that he was free — well, relatively speaking, of course — it was time to change that. He lay, stomach down on the floor, his hands flat against the wood, and he pushed his body up, working his muscles for the first time since his capture. Up, down, up, down, he breathed quietly, counting in his head, keeping track of his repetitions. Whenever the time might come — and he knew that eventually, it would — Takua needed to make sure he had the strength to fight. He promised himself, picturing his sword, stashed somewhere with the Kryll above his head, picturing its smooth leather grip, resting between his fingers once more. He saw its steel, cutting through the air, singing as he unleashed his power. He would get his strength back. And in time, he would fight again. He promised that much to himself. ~~~ Aya found Illum’s associate without trouble, who turned out to be yet another well-decorated, dark, Onu-Matoran noble. She introduced herself as Rae, and Aya looked her up and down, sizing her up before feeling it wasn’t necessary to return the favor. Rae already knew who she was. Rae already knew a lot about her, if she was anything like Illum. Wordless, she followed her new acquaintance through Ta-Koro’s southern gate, the guards standing at attention as they passed, not questioning the pair’s late stroll into the Charred Forest. In a minute the storefronts of the city had given way to tall, black, petrified trees, the bustle of late evening replaced with the sound of their footsteps. Their boots crunched atop the dusty, cracked, soot-covered earth, and as the sun reached the horizon, long, black shadows fell upon their stride. She’d heard the stories about this place. People it was cursed, that the trees should’ve grown back ages ago. But Makuta’s darkness during the Great War was so strong that his essence lingered, poisoning the land even after all these years. It was on old tale, used in bedrooms across Mata Nui to scare little ones into behaving. But now, as Aya eyed the back of Rae’s head, not comfortable with any part of this, it was hard to dismiss what they said. But still, Aya forced herself forward, not willing to give up this opportunity, readying herself for anything. It was quiet here. Upsettingly so. “Stay close to me…” Rae called back, breaking the silence. Much like Illum, her armor shone in the dim light, polished with care. Her voice was distractingly smooth, deep, and beautiful. “…It’s easy to get lost in these woods.” Aya shuffled forward, just now realizing her pace had slowed. For a second she’d gotten lost in the moment, staring at her guide, at the long-dead trees surrounding them. There was something about this place, something unnerving, yet… reverent. As if something more powerful was watching, listening, waiting. “Where are we going, exactly?” Aya asked as she caught up, her teeth grating at the sound of her own voice. She felt like she had to whisper here. But Rae only smiled, her silken words much more fitting for their surroundings, and Aya hated that she found them attractive. “Someplace where we won’t be disturbed.” “…Right.” Aya gripped her dagger as the sun left them, replaced by a low mist that shrouded everything. She followed the Onu-Matoran for longer than she would’ve liked, twisting and turning her way through the haunted trees, the eerie air only growing more intense. The sky was black, and with each crunchy, dusty, footstep Aya wondered if this was even real. Her gaze meandered back to Rae, gracefully walking a few steps ahead of her, like a siren leading a sailor to death. It certainly seemed like a dream… or a nightmare. Crunch… crunch… crunch…. Something wasn’t right about this place, and Aya knew it more with every step. But it wasn’t Rae, or even the knowledge that she about to meet Illum. It was… something else entirely. Something about the dead trees, the lifeless soil… it was as if the forest was watching them. As if it didn’t want them here. But Aya shook her head, pushing the absurd thought out of her mind. She had work to do; she had to stay focused. Crunch… crunch… crunch… Her footsteps felt like the loudest thing in the world. She winced with every step, feeling invisible eyes turning towards her with every movement. It seemed there were creatures staring at her, hiding behind every tree, watching, waiting, preparing… Aya took a deep breath, filling her lungs before expelling all at once. Her fingers twitched at her blade, sweat forming on her brow, her heart silently pounding. Try as she might, she couldn’t shake the feeling that this place was… unwelcoming. Off-balance. Wrong. Crunch… crunch… crunch… How much more of this she could take? They shouldn’t be here; no one should be here. There was something in these trees, something in the soil, in the ash, the dust, the very air around them — it kept this place for its own. It made this place, ages ago, and it had been here ever since. This was its’ domain, and anyone who entered was under its’ control, subject to its every whim. And more than anything… it didn’t want them here. Crunch… crunch… crunch… She knew it now, with every fiber of her being: she should leave. She had to get back to the city, back to safety. Aya tried to calm her mind, to tell herself she was being insane, but the feeling rose in her chest more powerful than ever. She had to get out. She had to — “We’re here.” Aya paused, shaken back to reality by her companion’s voice. They stood in a clearing, trees on all sides, with a few downed logs and stumps scattered across the ground. There was nothing that made it special. Nothing at all. “You came. I wasn’t sure if you would.” Caught completely off-guard, Aya whirled around at the voice, recognizing Illum sitting on a stump behind her, a dozen feet away. Realizing she’d been played, that the whole walk was just meant to disorient her, she gripped her dagger, her entire body tensing as she paused on the balls of her feet, surveying her surroundings. Illum sat relaxed before her, his mask dark except for his gold eyepatch, glimmering ever-so-slightly. Rae stood to her left, one hand on her hip, smugly silent. No one else was present, save for the trees, and the shadows. Aya looked back to Illum. “…Are we alone?” Illum’s voice was just as honeyed as she remembered. “Of course.” Not sure if she believed him, Aya didn’t move. She looked around the clearing again, trying to see through the dark mist before making her decision. “You son of a — ” In an instant she’d drawn her bow and nocked an arrow, pointing the barb at his heart and was ready to let it fly — but she was a second too slow. Cold steel rested at her throat and she froze, her gaze drifting to Rae, who smirked as she held a hidden blade, detached from the inside of her wrist. No one moved until Aya slowly loosened her bowstring, lowering her aim as Rae responded respectfully, taking a small, cautious, step back. Illum leaned forward on his stump. “Come now Aya, I know we’re not the best of friends, but I think we’re both reasonable enough to hold a conversation when we need to.” “You’re a traitor,” she spat. “You’re a snake. A worm.” “And you could have better manners…” Illum let out a short sigh. “Yet here we both are.” Aya glared at him, expressing her disgust as best she could. She had to force herself to stop reaching for her blade, hyper-aware of where Rae had positioned herself, just on the fringes of her vision. Deciding that this meeting wasn’t going to go quite as she had planned, that perhaps it was in her best interest cooperate, she opened her mouth to speak. “What do you want?” “Your help.” Aya snorted. “And why in Makuta’s name would I help you?” “Because you’re desperate. Same as I.” Aya crossed her arms. “You don’t know me.” Illum stood up, opening his palms in a peaceful gesture. “Perhaps you’re right; I don’t — not entirely,” he responded, looking her in the eye. “But I know what you’ve been up to. And I know, same as you, that something isn’t right in Ta-Koro. Something is going on — if not a plot, then an uncanny string of happenings.” Aya glared at him. Of course he knew; of course he’d been watching her. The thought made her gut churn: Illum’s little minions, always watching from somewhere, always with their prying eyes, staring from the shadows. She clenched her jaw, knuckles yearning to meet his mask. “You’re the one with the plots. You’re the reason Mako’s acting funny; you’re the one causing this ‘uncanny string of happenings.’” Illum almost laughed. “And your proof is...?” “I’ll find it, unless you want to show me.” “I assure you; I am not the one behind Mako’s… behavior,” Illum paused. “Though I am keeping my eyes open so we might soon discover who is….” “Ugh,” Aya grunted, already tired of his lies. “You’re like a squid… with your slimy tentacles, clouding everyone’s vision with ink.” “I’d love to listen to you insult me all night, but I do have other matters that require my attention,” Illum replied, clearly starting to get annoyed. “You came here to talk, did you not?” “You know…” Aya’s eyes flicked to Rae, deciding that if she could position herself at the right angle, she could take her. “…I haven’t really decided yet.” Illum rubbed his temples. “Believe it or not, Aya, we’re on the same side.” “The — ” Aya stopped herself to let out a string of curses, instantly furious and bewildered. “The same side? You tried to keep the Atouri for yourself! You tried to infect Takua, to kill us! You… you murdered Turaga Whenua! And now you try and say that we’re on the same side!?” “Everything I have done has been in service to my people. But don’t you dare blame me for Whenua’s death,” Illum retorted shortly, almost, but not quite losing his composure. “He was a dear friend of mine, and no one has grieved his loss more than I.” “Oh, so selling out to the Kryll, that was all for your people, right?” Aya rolled her eyes, perfectly ready to have a shouting match with the Onu-Matoran. “Well you should be thanking us then, because if we hadn’t stumbled on their contraption and messed up their plans, Krosis would’ve infected your whole city! You call that serving Onu-Koro?” Illum leaned back and clenched his jaw, but his voice was remained calm. “I established an open line of communication between our forces; one of first steps that can be taken towards peace. And while I admit not everything went according to plan, I did gain great insight into how the Kryll operate,” he took a breath, his eyes narrowing as he met Aya’s gaze. “And I don’t have to explain myself to you, but if you think for a moment that I hadn’t already re-routed those ventilation shafts to poison the very Kryll who were plotting against me, then you’re a fool. Krosis is clever, but I am ever-vigilant.” “Ha! Okay,” Aya laughed, not believing a word of it. “And starving your own people? I’m sure they just loved going without food while you were partying in Whenua’s palace.” “And there you go, just like the rest of them,” Illum let out, clearly having heard this a hundred times before. “Blaming me for the problems I inherited; the problems I wish to resolve.” Aya glared at him, vividly remembering their escort into the City of Earth, seeing all those poor, starving Matoran watching as she was paraded with fanfare. The thought made her feel grimy. “Whenua wouldn’t have let that happen.” “Tell me; were you there, Aya? Did you see how it ended?” Illum stood up, starting to get defensive. “The last years of his rule were chaos; he locked himself in his study and without his guidance the city fell into disarray. I took it upon myself to make things right; I was burdened with finding food and work for Onu and Po-Koro’s people, and yet here you and so many others are, calling for revolution, blaming me for your problems because I don’t fit this preconceived, idolized depiction of what you think a Turaga should look like.” This was news to Aya, but she could still connect the dots. She could still see through Illum’s lies “Jaka went to his tomb; he told me what he saw. You were poisoning him with that gas, trying to infect him. But then he died, and you scrubbed his mask clean to cover you tracks. It’s no wonder he locked himself away, he was trying to get away from you!” Illum paused, taking a step back as Rae put a foot between them, making sure Aya didn’t try anything. But the Ga-Matoran only smiled, knowing she’d struck a chord, staring at Illum over his bodyguard’s shoulder. There was pain behind his mask as he looked down, and it gave her pleasure to see it. But in a second he nodded to Rae, and she stepped out of the way as Illum looked back to Aya. “…You want to know what really happened to Whenua?” “If you’re going to confess I’d say do it in front of the council,” Aya leaned back, folding her arms again. “But I’d love to hear all the details.” “You won’t believe it.” Aya narrowed her eyes. “Try me.” And Illum nodded, reaching into a small satchel at his hip. “I suppose it does relate to why I called you here….” He produced two small cylinders, holding one in each hand as he brought both into the dim light. Two cylinders, containing two vastly different substances. “You see… it wasn’t by accident that Whenua found the Atouri, all those years ago….” Aya took a step back, instantly recognizing the Kryll’s grey-green gas; the essence of Makuta. Instinctively her hand reached for her dagger, but she paused as her attention was drawn to the substance in the other canister. It was… like nothing she’d ever seen before. “Tell me, Aya, do you know what this is?” Hesitant, she looked at it, a soft, shimmering, silver glow emanating from within the glass. It took her a minute, but she did recognize it, though she’d never seen it in person before. She’d heard so many stories, about its mystery, its power, but she’d never really believed it was real. A legend that had, up until recently, only lived in stories. A myth, torn from the pages of an old book, thrust into her new reality. “It that…” she swallowed, not quite believing what she was seeing. “…Energized Protodermis?”
  3. It has come to my attention that chapter formatting has been messed up again (I'm assuming this is due to BZPower's migration earlier in 2019?). So that's on the to-do list. But first -- another chapter! Been somewhat consistent recently... that's suspicious.
  4. Chapter 9 - Hushed Voices Aya sat at the table, twiddling her thumbs as Kokani and the other Ko-Matoran talked. Aya almost recognized him — they must’ve worked together in her brief time with the Sanctum, but they’d never grown close. Physically, he was larger than most Ko-Matoran, both taller and thicker, but his personality was quiet, aloof, and somewhat cold. Which was fine — it was just so stereotypically Ko-Matoran. He called himself…. “Sorry, what?” Aya wasn’t paying attention. “Ihko,” he answered, bowing slightly She returned a slight, polite nod. “Nice to meet you.” “We’ve met,” Ihko said plainly. “Back in Ko-Wahi. We rescued Takua together, and had to escape the Rahi Nui.” “Oh! Right, I remember you,” Aya smiled, not remembering him. She quickly turned her attention back to the inn, watching the innkeeper greet Matoran as they moved in and out of the building. Her mind was on other things right now. She listened half-heartedly to their conversation as she eyed the room. Ihko was a senior member of the Sanctum Guard now, and was offering Kokani a position with them after everything had settled down. Kokani had his doubts, due to his obvious injuries, but Ihko insisted they had work for him. His name still held weight in Ko-Koro, and they’d heard the stories of his deeds. How he stood in Po-Koro, ready to die as the Kryll surrounded them? Narrowly escaping the tunnels of Onu-Wahi? Fighting alongside Toa in Ga-Koro, leading up the summoning of the Seventh? People respected him, all over the island, and — There! The back of Raipu’s head, pushing through the door and leaving the inn. She’d followed him from Vakama’s palace, and this was her moment. She turned her head, leaning over to whisper in Kokani’s ear. “Sorry about this, Kokani.” “What?” Aya kicked at his chair with just enough force to tip him over. Surprised, he groped for balance before falling over and hitting the floor with a soft thud, surprising a few tables of Matoran around them. “Mata Nui!” Aya stood up, yelling out. “Hey, innkeeper! This chair’s faulty, it collapsed underneath my friend! Out of nowhere!” Surprised and concerned, the innkeeper put down her things and hurried over, drawing everyone’s eyes as she fussed and cursed at her carpenter for all the shoddy work he’d been producing recently. Ihko bent over Kokani, helping him to his feet as Aya slipped away, slinking behind the innkeeper’s counter, easily pocketing her master key, which now lie unattended. She flashed Kokani a smile and a wink as she met his confused gaze, before disappearing upstairs. In a minute she was on the second floor, sliding the key into a lock, pushing her way into Raipu’s room. She’d asked the innkeeper earlier which one he was staying in. After all, she was just an old friend, looking to pay him a visit. With a soft click, Aya was in, and she grinned, taking her first look at the space. “Mata Nui…” It was a mess. The same size as her room, it had one door and an open window, but it was packed to the brim with books and scrolls, notes and notepads. Piled atop each other, scattered here and there were minutes and transcripts of appointments, meetings, and deadlines. The bed was messy, belongings were strewn about the floor, and the only thing that seemed in order was a closet in the corner, containing a handful of decorative Onu-Matoran sashes. Illum kept Raipu very busy with his clerk duties, apparently. But — Aya smirked as she took it all in — with any luck, all this mess meant she would find a great deal of secrets. Quickly, she got to work. Starting in the corner of the room, she tore through the tomes and manuscripts, searching for anything that might hint at Illum’s plans. It was tedious work, scanning through Raipu’s mess of a lifestyle, trying to keep everything in roughly the same place she had found it, but she persevered. Aya made her way across the room, piece by piece, glancing over the thoughts of this house of Onu-Matoran nobles, how this meeting had gone, the schedule of events for these three people who worked closely with the Turaga. But so far, nothing caught her eye. “Come on, come on….” There were books on Ta-Koro, about its people, its structures, its history. Raipu’s pleasure reading, maybe? Maps and charts, blueprints on buildings, structures and statues Illum wanted to erect, city districting plans, plumbing, mining… not only about Onu-Koro, but the other cities as well. Why did Illum need all this information? It didn’t make sense to her, but then again, none of this did. The intricacies of trade routes, market values… there was so much more to being a Turaga than she had thought possible. But none of it was what she was looking for. “Ugh!” Aya threw her hands on her head, taking a moment now that she was halfway through Raipu’s things. There was nothing on Illum’s plans. Nothing on Makuta, nothing on the Kryll, the Toa, Takua… nothing! With an exasperated sigh she threw a booklet of all the Koro’s waterways down, pausing to pull herself together. She took a few deep breaths, calming her frustration. …Footsteps. Aya cursed, gathering her pile, tying to remember where she had found it, before hurriedly placing it on the bed. She’d been here too long. How much of the afternoon had she wasted on this? The footsteps echoed down the hall, coming closer, and she knew she had to move. They were too close for her to leave now, and she whipped her head around, searching for someplace to — the closet! She opened it, shoving herself inside, Raipu’s sashes covering her face as she pulled it closed again, just mere seconds before the doorknob rattled. Aya froze, a sliver of light allowing her to see through the seam in the doors. Raipu stepped into the room. The Po-Matoran paused, looking at his key, obviously wondering if he had forgotten to lock the door on his way out. But he paid it no mind, and soon went about his business. Aya watched, silent. He walked over to the window, pausing to select a few key documents, placing them in his satchel as he moved about, picking up a random tome here and there. It was clear he had some sort of chaotic system, and Aya was glad she’d taken care to keep everything mostly as she’d found it. Raipu then went to the bed, knelt down, and… pulled a small chest out from under it. Aya leaned forward, careful to stay quiet. She hadn’t had time to check under the bed yet. Raipu pulled a key from his bag, and Aya heard the chest unlock. But he bent over as it opened, blocking her view no matter how she craned her neck. He pulled a small object out, placing it securely in his bag — but no, Aya still couldn’t see what it was. She heard the chest lock again, and Raipu shoved it back into place, standing up. Then he paused, seeing the packet of waterway schematics atop his bed, where Aya had dropped it. His voice was a low mutter. “That’s… not where you belong….” Aya held her breath. Raipu glanced around the room, a confused look on his mask, growing more puzzled as he inspected his things, now noticing that this pile wasn’t quite right, that notepad was out of place… no, he always kept this book on top, and now it had fallen over to the side…. “Hello?” Raipu called out. “Is anyone here…?” Aya pressed herself against the closet’s back wall, trying to shrink as small as possible, trying to hide behind the sashes. Her heartbeat pounded in her chest. Raipu approached, walking closer, taking another look around. Cautiously, his attention turned to the closet, and he raised his arm, fingers reaching for the handle…. A breeze blew through the open window, and a pile of papers fluttered to the floor. “Ah, Mata Nui!” Raipu cursed as he went to the window, shutting it before gathering his pile, placing it back in order. He sighed, relaxing as he grabbed just a few more things. And then, with one last look, he left, locking the door behind him. Aya exhaled, her shoulders sinking with relief. She heard his footsteps disappear down the hall, and her eyes closed, taking a moment to calm her beating heart. And as all sound of Raipu faded, she pushed the closet open and got back to work. She grabbed Raipu’s chest from under the bed, sliding it out from under the frame. It was a sturdy thing, made of hard wood and iron, with a formidable lock in the front. After inspecting it, she knew it was beyond her skills to pick, unless she wanted to spend the next week trying. So instead, she went to the window, waiting to see Raipu down below, exiting the inn, heading to… Mata Nui knew where. Her eyes narrowed, knowing her next move. Down the stairs, outside, and out into the street as fast as she could. Where was he going at such a late hour? Aya squinted at the back of his head, slinking her way through the marketplace. The day was almost done now, and they were headed toward the outer wall. If he was one of Illum’s clerks, wouldn’t he have normal working hours? Shouldn’t he be moving toward the city center, where all the meetings and councils were happening? Aya frowned. Unless this late trip was for pleasure. But there was something about the documents he’d chosen, something about that object he’d pulled from his chest that made her doubt that. She didn’t trust this, Aya thought as she slid behind a blacksmith’s shop, careful not to be seen through the dwindling crowd. The sun was setting, and her cover was quickly dispersing, but that didn’t stop her. She climbed a small ladder to the roof of the forge, giving herself a better vantage point. She didn’t trust this one bit. Aya looked down at the Po-Matoran, quietly making his way through the city, his suspicious bag resting at his hip, and suddenly, the realization hit her: it wasn’t the situation she didn’t trust — it was Raipu. Now that she was conscious of it, it was a bit sad, considering how far they had traveled together, how close they had once been. But that was life, she supposed. Aya hopped across a narrow alley and onto the next rooftop, her eyes following Raipu as he turned onto a side street, weaving his way closer to the outskirts. Aya let out a small exhale. Life had a way being sad, sometimes. Before she knew it, the sun was just shining over the walls, its golden rays streaming through Ta-Koro’s thick air. With the day’s business winding down and their continued movement toward the outer wall, the streets were soon quiet, and so Aya took care to keep her distance. She stayed on the rooftops, using only the city’s hidden pathways, sticking in the shadows as she kept Raipu in her sights. But then, just a few blocks away from the wall, the Po-Matoran reached his destination — a small, unmarked doorway at the intersection of two narrow, quiet streets. Aya watched from the rooftop across the way. He paused at the shadowy entrance, looking over his shoulder, checking if anyone was watching. Aya hunkered down, lowering her profile, but she remained unseen. Raipu didn’t think to look up. He disappeared inside. It was — in Aya’s opinion — nothing if not suspicious. She knelt there for a minute or so, deciding whether she should follow him or not. Where did it lead? She didn’t want to find herself in a creaky, one-room cellar, where Raipu would instantly notice her presence. But then again — ah, to Makuta with it. She was here to find answers, wasn’t she? So in a few seconds she was at street level, peering into the dark doorway — no, it wasn’t a doorway, but a tunnel. An old, stone tunnel, with a weathered staircase that descended into blackness. Aya paused, frowning. …Suspicious. She entered, her feet silent on the cold stone, her fingers brushing against the dusty wall, guiding her way as the tunnel grew ever darker. Like a ghost she moved, gliding forward, watching, listening as she delved into Ta-Koro’s underbelly. The sound of water reached her ears, growing louder as she descended, and the walls soon grew damp. There was moss on them now, and she could feel moisture in the air. And then, up ahead — light. She’d reached the end of the stairs now, and she could see the tunnel opening into a larger chamber. Glowing with a few streaming rays of soft, gold-yellow sunlight, the sound of running water echoed from it, and she inched her way forward, always on the lookout for… Mata Nui! Raipu — or at least, his distant silhouette — coming towards her! She turned heel, moving as fast and as silent as she could, taking long strides as she made her way back to the entrance. She didn’t think Raipu had seen her, but she wasn’t about to stick around and find out. Up the steps she went, skipping two at a time, her heart pounding as she made her way back outside. Back to the narrow intersection, back to the outskirts, and she power-walked away, trying to look natural until she could turn a corner and be out of sight — “…Aya?” She froze, wincing at the sound of her name before slowly turning, placing a façade of confusion on her mask. She met the Po-Matoran’s gaze, squinting as if she didn’t know it was him. “…Raipu?” she let out. “What are you doing out here?” But Raipu didn’t seem to buy her reaction. He met her gaze, cocked his head and crossed his arms. “I could ask you the same question.” “Just out for a stroll, you know. Trying to get away from people; there’s just so many here.” She shrugged, clapping her hands together, forcing herself to not act awkward. “Crazy to run into you — ” Raipu sighed. “Why are you following me, Aya?” “Following you? Why would I…?” “I’m not stupid.” And Aya paused, not sure what to do at this point. Raipu was right, he wasn’t stupid — but maybe she was if she thought she could talk her way out of this. “…I’m worried about you,” she half-lied. “You know I don’t trust Illum. I just… want to make sure you’re safe. That he’s treating you alright.” “You never cared before.” “Am I not allowed to now?” Raipu almost laughed, shaking his head. “You think I’m up to something, is that it? You think Illum and I are whispering in a dark corner, plotting some evil scheme?” “I never said that.” “But you’re thinking it.” Aya lifted her chin, guilt rising in her stomach, but she tried to play it off as offense. “Why on earth would you assume that I — ” “Go on,” Raipu cut her off, emotion breaking in his voice. “You want to know what I’m up to? What I’m doing out here? Take a look,” he gestured to the open tunnel. Aya hesitated, looking into the tunnel before glancing back to Raipu. She didn’t quite know what to say, and before she could come up with something Raipu went on. “It’s a cistern, Aya. I come here every evening.” He paused, his gaze cold, and suddenly solemn. “Because the sound of water helps ease my mind. Because I can’t sleep anymore. Because every time I close my eyes I see Nika, dying behind that door.” Aya swallowed. “Raipu we had no choice….” “Look — it doesn’t matter,” Raipu said, his mask tired, obviously not wanting to go into this right now. “I’m actually glad to run into you. It saves me a trip.” It was Aya’s turn to cock her head. “A trip…?” “Yeah,” Raipu replied, reaching into his satchel, pulling out a sealed letter. “I’m supposed to give this to you.” Aya hesitated. “Who’s it from?” “I don’t know,” Raipu said quickly, insisting that she take it. She did, and he closed his bag and started to walk away. “It’s not my job to ask questions.” Puzzled, Aya looked down at the envelope. It was nice parchment, and her name was written along the front in beautiful black calligraphy. Curious, she wasted no time in breaking the seal, unfolding the small piece of paper that was enclosed. The script was short and to the point, but her eyes widened as she read it. Aya — I heard you wanted to see me. An associate of mine will meet you at Ta-Koro’s southern gate, tonight at dusk. Come alone. —Turaga Illum Aya looked to the sky, her muscles suddenly tense, her heart suddenly thudding. It was almost dusk. She wavered for a second, before hurriedly crumpling the paper and looking back to Raipu, now a dozen feet away and moving farther from her. “What does he want?” Raipu answered without stopping or turning around. “Not my job to ask questions, Aya.” Aya stared after him, her mind racing. “…Will I be safe?” “Again — not my job!” Raipu’s voice faded as he turned a corner down the street. Aya cursed, straightening her belt, securing her sword and dagger before checking her bow, making sure the string was tight. She knew what lay beyond Ta-Koro’s southern gate, and she didn’t like it. But she had to make a decision, and this might be the only chance she’d get to meet with the Turaga of Onu-Koro. She swallowed, composing herself as she rolled her shoulders and cracked her neck, loosening up as she normally did before a fight. She moved for the southern wall, her gaze focused and determined, yet also nervous. She wasn’t exactly thrilled to venture into the Charred Forest. ~~~ Click! Takua held his breath as the lock on his shackles let out the tiny, almost indiscernible sound. It was the sound of yet another pin clicking into place, the miniscule, quiet sound of success. This was the fourth pin of five, as he’d been able to figure out over the past… however long it had been since he started. He knew it was the middle of the night, as dinner had been served hours ago, but he was still hard at work, determined not to give up while he was still making progress. His fork had proven extremely valuable; the prongs were flexible enough to bend so they’d fit the keyhole, but sturdy enough to hold their shape as he twisted and prodded the inside of lock. He was almost there, and had only broken one of its four prongs so far. He pushed the fork in further, bending it just a little more, feeling for any movement inside the lock, twisting his wrist as he tried to push up the final pin. He was close. He was close…! And then —crack! “Mata Nui!” Takua cursed under his breath. Make that two of his four prongs. But then, movement. Takua stirred, hiding his tool behind him, pulling the broken prong out of the keyhole before the heavy clumping of armored boots made it to the door at the top of the stairs. It swung open quietly, and the dim yellow glow of a candle shone as two Kryll descended the steps. The rest of the ship was quiet; most of the crew were probably sleeping. The two exchanged a few hushed words before pausing at the foot of the stairs, their heads turning to the long cargo hold, their gaze finally reaching Takua at its end. Thinking quickly, Takua pretended to be asleep.One of them spoke in a deep, rumbling voice, just barely audible from the other side of the ship. “…Almost forgot that one was down here.” “Don’t worry about him; he’s a deep sleeper,” the other shrugged off, his voice rougher, older. “He won’t bother anybody. I haven’t hardly seen him move since we left the island.” “…I don’t like him.” The second Kryll laughed. “He’s a Matoran, nobody likes him.” There was the sound of something scraping across the floor, and then the definitive crack of a barrel being opened. “You sure ‘bout this? If Sithrak finds out — “ “If Sithrak finds out. Which he won’t,” the other Kryll interjected. There was the sound of liquid sloshing, and he went on. “Here. Settle your nerves. Makuta knows we’re not rationed enough anyways.” The first Kryll grunted. “You know why he’s so stingy? We got a lot down here.” “Who knows? If I were him I’d let us have our fill. Just so we could stand being around him.” The Kryll snickered as chairs scooted across the floor, and Takua peeked through his eyelids, sensing he had lost their interest. They were simple crew members, both in standard gray armor. The one with the deeper voice was huge brute, and was built like a wall. At least three times as wide as Takua and with legs as thick as tree trunks, he dwarfed the chair he sat upon, corded muscles spilling over almost comically. But the other was much smaller, and Takua realized it was the Kryll’s surgeon — he had that unmistakable scar, and the mutilated mandible. He was clearly the older of the two, but the pair sat on the other side of the hold as equals, just beyond the infirmary. The light of the candle illuminated their tankards, and Takua could smell the brew they drank, sweet with fruit, yet heavy with hops. It was familiar, although he couldn’t quite place it. The brute grabbed a drink the other had poured for him, taking a few gulps before setting it back down, his body visibly relaxing. “That’s good stuff. Not like that water they ‘ave in Po-Koro.” “Yeah, its southern drink. Guess they picked it up outside of Le-Koro on the last raid.” And then it hit Takua. The smell of their drinks, why it recognized it: it was brew from home; he’d had it before, in the Twisted Nail. His mind buzzed. Had the Kryll raided Le-Koro again? What had happened to his people? He bit his lip, trying to calm himself. If he ever got out of here, if he ever made it back to the jungle… would there be anything waiting for him? He shuddered, trying to push out the thought. “Le-Koro? That’s up in the mountains, innit?” “Come on, Rikks…” the surgeon put down his drink, and it was only then that Takua recognized the brute — he was the one who’d placed him and Jaka together, back on Three-Finger Island. The surgeon rubbed his temples before looking back to his companion. “You ever seen a map before? There aren’t that many cities with the ‘Koro’ name on them.” “Hey,” Rikks crossed his huge arms defensively. “I don’t like readin,’ and I really don’t like readin’ maps. Never left the bamboo forests in my life ‘till we marched for Po-Koro.” “…Seriously? How’d you get picked for this job then?” Rikks shrugged his bulky shoulders. “I’m loyal and good at fightin,’ I guess.” “Tons of people are loyal and good at fighting.” “Yeah but they ain’t ever fought a Toa, ‘ave they?” This caused the veteran to raise his eyebrows. “…You fought a Toa? You never told me that before.” “Alongside Krosis, yeah,” he smirked, taking a swig from his mug. “Battle of Po-Koro. Had to fight off Pohatu just to capture the city. When everybody else was running I was swinging my axe. An’ Krosis noticed that.” “Huh,” the surgeon nodded, seemingly impressed. “How was he in person? All my years, and I’ve never even seen him.” “Pohatu? Or Krosis?” There was a sigh of exasperation, and the surgeon shook his head. “Krosis, of course!” “Oh! Best warrior I ever seen. And he’s real good at leadin.’ Gave us a speech before stormin’ the gates — glory and honor and all that. You shoulda seen us; we’d ‘ave followed him into the Mangai if he asked.” After a long drag he placed his mug down, empty. He went on as the other Kryll refilled it. “Never respected anyone more.” “Yeah, well… he does have his talents, doesn’t he?” Takua craned his head as he tried to get a better view of the Kryll. It was strange to hear them talk about someone he hated so much, but in a way it was interesting. His chains clinked as he moved his shoulder, and the two looked back in his direction. Takua dipped his head instantly, and, taking him to be still asleep, they paid him no mind. “…Just wish the cap’n was like that.” Rikks added, finally. The surgeon groaned, hunching over the barrel as he rubbed his temples again. “You hear what he did to the quartermaster yesterday? Winds were strong, sea was calm, and everybody was in a good mood. But he forgot one of his sheets for his report. So he asks if he can grab it real quick, it’s just sitting underneath his hammock, right? Wrong! Sithrak goes off, angry about everything, out of nowhere! Gave him a black eye and tied him to the mast. Made him sleep there all night.” “Huh, I was wonderin’ what he was doin’ there,” Rikks responded, as if he hadn’t thought anything about one of his crewmates being tied to the mast until now. “Did you notice Rashi though?” “Chief…” Rikks frowned. “You know I ain’t real good at noticin’ things.” “How many times have I told you to stop calling me that?” “Sorry, Chief,” Rikks grinned. The surgeon, apparently named Chief, rolled his eyes. “Anyway… Rashi. You see her? She was quiet like always, but you could tell she was furious. I don’t think she can stand him much longer. And there’ll be trouble if that happens.” “What’s she care? It’s not her crew.” “Oh… you don’t know?” Takua opened his eyes and furrowed his brow, curious to hear what the Kryll was about to say. Rashi, knowingly or not, had given him the note from Illum, as well as his fork. And she had spared Jaka his fingers that one time. If she wasn’t getting along with the captain… well, Takua decided to close his mind and open his ears. “You see,” Chief went on, his scar catching the candlelight as he lowered his voice and leaned over. “This was probably a little before your time, but back when we were still wandering about in tribes, back when Krosis was still trying to unite us all under Makuta, her and Sithrak were enemies.” Rikks looked puzzled. “But they’re both in Krosis’ council, ain’t they?” Chief nodded. “I’ll get to that. But her clan — and a number of others, mind you — they all thought we should stick to the old ways. Keep close to the earth, you know? Seek peace with the Matoran where we could find it, instead of uniting and starting a war like Krosis wanted.” He paused to take a drink, wetting his throat before continuing. “So Krosis, knowing how passionate Sithrak is about everything, has him travel to all these clans and speak out, see if he can convert any of their people over to his cause. Sithrak does what he does best, and with a little muscle from Noruk where need be, Krosis gets a lot of followers. Suddenly, all these clan leaders who wanted peace are in the minority, and from there its easy pickings — a kidnapping here, an accident there, and just like that everyone has no choice but to look to Krosis, who names himself ‘King of the Kryll.’” “That why some people call her a traitor, ‘cause she was against Krosis?” Rikks asked. “I mean, I never seen anybody say it to her face, but some of the crew been mumbling about it when she ain’t around.” “Don’t you listen to them, she’s never betrayed anyone as far as I know. And if you get on her bad side she’ll mess you up, I’ve seen it.” Chief pointed a long, clawed finger at Rikks. “But you see, when Krosis took power, he saw how good she was at stealth and gathering intelligence, so he gave her a choice: swear fealty or die. Obviously she swore, even though it’s clear she doesn’t really care for his cause. But Krosis let her into his circle, albeit on a short leash. Which is why we’re stuck here with Sithrak, too.” Rikks frowned for a second, contemplating a thought before responding. “But why don’t she like Makuta? I heard of some Kryll thinkin’ like that, but he ain’t done nothin’ but good for us, I say.” “Well…” Chief paused, choosing his next words carefully, as if he had many thoughts on the matter, but didn’t dare voice them out loud. “I don’t know,” he responded blandly. “People just have different ideas of how the world should be, I guess.” And Rikks thought again, scrunching up his face as if he wasn’t very good at doing so. But before he could reply, Chief brought their conversation back on track. “What I’m trying to say is,” he cleared his throat, “long story short — Rashi’s here, taking orders from the very person who turned her clan against her. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying anything’s going to happen, but… well, there’s a lot of tension on this ship. And it might all snap before we make it across the sea.” “Tension?” “Yeah,” Chief explained, trying to clarify for his companion. “You know, like you feel before a storm. Before a fight breaks out.” This was easier for Rikks to handle. “So? Sithrak’s the boss. If Rashi makes trouble we beat her up, right?” “I’m trying to tell you that it doesn’t matter if Sithrak is in charge. After all, you and I aren’t his biggest fans, are we? “Yeah but he’s the boss. So I do what he says anyways.” “Ugh, just listen for a second, will you?” Chief set his tankard down. “I’m just saying I’ve been around both of them before. And neither are very… flexible. So if this goes on, if they keep trying to get at each other’s throats, people are going to start taking sides. And remember, I’m not saying anything’s going to happen, but if it does... we need to make sure we’re on the right side.” Rikks looked puzzled. “…What’s wrong with the left side? My hammock’s on the left side of the ship.” Chief smacked Rikks upside the head. “The winning side, you big idiot. Look, I’ve lived through a lot of power grabs, and I did it by anticipating people’s actions and picking the right allies before everything blows up. And here, if we pick the losing side, we’ll end up swimming with the fish.” “Right,” Rikks nodded. “Swimming with the fish. Which is… bad….” Chief groaned. “Makuta help me — we’ll end up dead, Rikks!” “Oh! Yeah, I don’t like that.” “Yeah, you’re telling me. Look, you and I, we have to stick together. Everybody on this ship is good at what they do, or else they wouldn’t have been picked for this whole thing. But that doesn’t mean they’re good people or that I like them.” Chief took another sip from his tankard. “Now, I can smell trouble pretty well, and I can mostly make sure we make friends with the right people. But I have a few jobs for you, alright?” “Whatcha need, Chief?” Chief paused for a second to chug the last of his drink before looking Rikks in the eye. “First off, whatever I do or say, just go along with it.” Rikks finished his drink as well, smiling with a sharp, toothy grin. “No problem, Chief.” “Also, I need you to — hey, pay attention, this is important,” he snapped his fingers, forcing Rikks’ attention away from his drink. “I need you to not make any enemies. Can you do that for me, big guy?” “I can do anything I set my mind to, Chief.” “Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about,” Chief muttered with a sigh, before putting their tankards away and sealing the barrel back up. “Now come on, somebody will notice if we’re off our posts for too long.” Takua watched as the two scooted the barrel and chairs back to their proper positions, before pretending to be asleep again as they turned towards him and made their way back up the stairs, the candle light fading as they moved. Their feet clumped up the wooden steps, and soon the creak of iron hinges and the thumping of wood signified that Takua was once again alone. Alone, in the dark, with nothing but his thoughts. But now, he had so much to think about. He sat in the shadows, staring at the ceiling as his mind sifted through everything the pair had told him. The tension on the ship, the dynamic between Rashi and Sithrak, how Krosis had come to power in the first place. It was all very… interesting, to say the least. In the grand scheme of things, it probably wasn’t much, but it felt like he had learned of events he wasn’t supposed to know, and that in itself was exciting. It felt like he had something on his captors now, something to work from, something he could use against them — if only he could figure out how. He remembered a conversation he’d had once, a long time ago. At the center of the Underworld, in Turaga Whenua’s old study, he’d talked with the newly-appointed leader of Onu-Koro. Of course, that entire encounter hadn’t gone as planned, but he had learned a fair amount from the experience. Information is the key to victory, right Illum? He leaned back against the hull, feeling content. There was power in patience; there was power in planning, and something told him that he could use this. Takua smiled, feeling for the first time in a while — well, powerful. Takua doubled down, working on his shackles with renewed vigor. He could use this to his advantage.
  5. Chapter 8 - Perseverance “Apologies for the wait….” Mako tapped a pile of papers on his desk, organizing them into a neat rectangle before placing them to the side and looking up. His eyes were tired and sunken, but other than that, his Matatu was emotionless. “It’s been a busy morning. Now, how may I help, you… Aya? It is Aya, yes? Defender of the Atouri?” “Yeah,” Aya quipped, staring with her arms crossed. She’d wasted no time in coming here, and Mako’s quarters were just what she’d expected: functional, but plain. “How are you? You seem a little under the weather,” she asked with narrow eyes, trying to glean any bit of information she could. “Tired, but well,” Mako returned her look, not sure why she was asking. “As I said; it’s been a busy morning. But surely you have a more pressing reason for visiting?” Aya looked him up and down, disappointed. He did look well. The best she’d ever seen him. Gone was the heaving, the coughing, the shaking from last night, gone was his twitching and fidgeting, his general nervousness. He didn’t even flinch when she dropped her dagger to the floor, loudly rattling as the steel met stone before she apologized, blaming her clumsy hands. In the few hours of night that had passed since she’d last seen him, Mako had become the Guard Captain she expected: strong-willed and to-the-point, perhaps even annoyed she was here, seemingly wasting his precious time. Aya picked her dagger off the floor, not sure if she should be comforted or put-off by his change in demeanor. “Alright…” she said. “I have to see the Turaga. Or the Toa — Toa Gali. As soon as possible.” “Toa Gali has left the city temporarily,” Mako leaned back in his chair, confirming the rumors she’d heard. He crossed his arms. “May I ask your reason?” Aya paused, copying him, as she leaned back as well. “It’s private.” Mako sighed, picking up a scroll and starting to read it, clearly not giving Aya his full attention. “Do you know how many Matoran have told me that? The Turaga are extremely busy, I can’t just let anyone in to see them on ‘private business.’ Nothing would ever get done.” “Look,” Aya said, not trusting Mako enough to say anything about her suspicions. “It’s important, okay? Nuju himself gave me the task of escorting the Atouri. I know Gali and Nokama personally, and I’ve worked with many of the Turaga before. They trust me.” She swallowed, trying her best not to get on the Ta-Matoran’s bad side. “I know you’re busy, but all I need is an escort into the palace.” The Guard Captain didn’t look up from his scroll. “And do you know how many Matoran have told me that?” Aya bit her tongue, already preferring the twitchy Mako over this brash, stubborn one. She lowered her voice, trying to sound as pressing as possible. “I have information that could affect the security of the council, for their ears only. And sorry for asking, but if someone like me isn’t important enough to meet with the Turaga, then who is?” Mako glanced up before putting his scroll down and leaning forward. “As I’m sure you know, I oversee the Turaga’s security. So, that being said — if you know something that might affect that security, perhaps it would be in everyone’s best interest for you share it with me?” Aya clenched her jaw, pausing as she tried to think her way out of this. “I have specific instructions from Nokama that I am to report to her, and her only,” she lied. “I’m under an oath of secrecy. Do you want me to break that?” “Not at all. But surely you won’t mind if I verify that with her first?” Aya groaned as she rubbed her temples, well-aware that this was going downhill fast. She’d rather stay under the radar; what would Nokama say if Mako approached her with an obvious lie? Aya stopped herself before she paused too long. “...We don’t have time for that!” “Look,” Mako leaned over his desk, clearly having had this conversation before. “As soon as Le-Koro arrives, the Turaga and Toa are going to lock themselves in the council chamber, and not come out until they’ve decided on a solid plan of action. And in the meantime, it’s my responsibility to provide a safe and productive environment for them, so they can gather the information they need to make the best decisions. Now, I’m not saying I don’t believe you, but how do I sift the important issues from those just looking to benefit from the Turaga’s presence, or from those who may wish to do them harm? By getting as much information as I can.” He concluded, leaning back in his chair again. “So, if you want to see the Turaga, I need to know what’s going on.” Aya sat there, at a loss for what to do now. Her mask warming, she kept her mouth shut, fearing an outburst would ruin her chances of ever getting in. Feeling it was best to cut her losses and rethink her strategy, she looked to the floor. “Well… fine,” she mumbled through gritted teeth. “Thank you for your time then.” Mako nodded, acknowledging her decision as she stood and turned to leave. Aya crossed the study, opened the door, and was halfway out when the Ta-Matoran suddenly spoke her name. “Aya.” She paused, looking over her shoulder. And for just a second, Mako twitched, letting the other side of his personality break through. His yellow eyes stared at her, just slightly glimmering before he opened his mouth to speak. But then he froze, and no words came out. He looked at her, as if asking for help, his mouth hanging half open, stuck on his own thoughts. Aya squinted, her brow furrowing as he took just a second too long to respond. “…Yes?” And Mako sat up, once again his normal self, his voice was stoic and professional. “I’m sorry I can’t help you.” Aya paused, puzzled by his mannerisms. “Yeah… me too,” she replied, then quickly left. ~~~ Takua soon found himself aboard the flagship, separated from Jaka before Sithrak noticed they had been briefly placed together. Takua hated it, but it wasn’t all bad; if Sithrak had known they’d spoken, he wouldn’t have been happy. And it seemed the Kryll put in charge of him realized that, as their brief meeting stayed a secret. And so, still chained up, still holding his little metal fork, Takua was once again attached to an iron ring in the hull, this time within a metal cell, in the lowest part of the ship. But surprisingly, Takua found his new accommodations weren’t all that bad. The flagship was three, maybe four times bigger than their schooner, with multiple floors built within its massive hull. The deck was multi-layered, with Sithrak’s quarters at the rear, its roof forming the tallest portion of the deck, where a helmsman manned the wheel. A narrow staircase allowed access to the lower levels, the first of which was the crew’s quarters, and weapon storage. This level had hatches along the walls that opened outward, presumably so the Kryll could fire arrows out, but also — as Takua had made sure to notice — to allow access to the flagship’s longboats, which hung along both sides. The lowest floor was where Takua found himself, again with the freight and ballast, but now also among Kryll’s kitchen, and infirmary. These two rooms were at the rear of the ship, closest to the staircase, and Takua’s cell was located at the bow, separated from everything by a long, dark, path through the freight. A lone lantern illuminated his end of the hold; it was obvious Sithrak wanted to isolate him, to break his will even further. But Takua simply found it quiet. Calming, almost. He couldn’t eavesdrop as well as he could on the schooner, but he did have more privacy. And, he thought as he looked down at his fork, warm between his fingers — that was especially important. They were back at sea now, and Takua had very few visitors. It was the cook he saw most of, the small, brown Kryll who worked tirelessly at the opposite end of the hold, pulling together dishes and hauling them up and down the stairs, making sure everyone, including Takua, was fed. He didn’t know his name — everyone just called him ‘Cook,’ and so Takua decided he would too. Three times a day Cook would bring him a meal, usually small and lukewarm, but Takua made sure to thank him nonetheless. He figured if he was nice to Jaka, he couldn’t be all bad. And maybe, if this Kryll took a liking to him, it could come in useful later. But Cook never spoke a word to Takua; only clicking his mandibles once or twice before heading back to the kitchen. The other visitor Takua caught glimpses of was the surgeon, who seemed to be a new member of the crew since they’d swapped vessels, but that didn’t mean he was a rookie in any sense of the word. He knew his way around the ship like the back of his hand, constantly moving in and out of his infirmary and the hold, kept very busy with whatever his slew of duties were. With standard grey armor he was lean and quick, larger than Cook but much smaller than the brutes, and a long scar on his face ended in a mutilated, broken mandible, suggesting a lifetime of experience. Occasionally, at the end of the day, he would sit in the middle of the hold, crack open a barrel of brew and have a drink to himself. Takua got the feeling that Cook and this Kryll were something close to outcasts; not large or strong enough to have the status of brute or warrior, but still kept around for their necessary, if underappreciated, skills. And so Takua’s routine went on, occasionally visited by these two Kryll, but for the most part, left alone with his thoughts. Left alone, with his plans. Takua watched through the bars of his cell as Cook lugged a steaming crockpot up the stairs, ready to serve the crew. His muscles twitched, growing eager as the Kryll’s footsteps thumped upward, and then Cook had pushed his way through the wooden door, entering the crew’s quarters above. The door swung shut behind him, and… finally. He opened his palms, grabbing the fork in one hand as he shoved one of its prongs into the keyhole of his shackles, cautiously, carefully, feeling around inside the metal lock. He’d been at this for hours, slowly trying to feel his way through the metal pins, carefully pushing, pulling, prodding his way toward freedom. He was by no means a locksmith, but with this one tool he knew he could figure it out. He knew he could do it, given enough time. And if there was one thing he had on this ship — it was time. It’d been in his mind since speaking with Jaka. His first problem was the shackles. But — he presumed as he jiggled his fork, feeling a single pin slide in the direction he wanted — he would solve that eventually. The same went for the lock on his cell; it would be a bit harder, as it was on the opposite side of the bars and he would have to pick it blind, but once his hands were free he knew he could do it — assuming the fork held up. His major problem was what to do at that point, though. He and Jaka could steal a longboat while most of the crew were sleeping, but he’d first have to get a message to his friend. There were so many factors to consider, with guard schedules, weather, how to get supplies — and even if they pulled that off, even if they got far enough away so that the Kryll couldn’t find them once their absence was noticed, neither of them knew how to navigate at sea. They’d be adrift; lost in the vast expanse of ocean, with no way to find their way home. The dim lantern flickering as he moved his fork, Takua felt a little click inside the lock. He squinted, trying to decide if that was a good or bad. One problem at a time… he told himself. And besides, Takua had a feeling something was up. Sithrak wasn’t one to leave the island in the middle of the night; he would’ve wanted to gloat, to have a glorious send-off in his beautiful new ship, to give a booming speech about destiny, salvation, or whatever. Takua tried to push the thought out of his head, as he didn’t want to get his hopes up… but he couldn’t stop seeing Illum’s note in his mind. Do not give up hope; we are coming… Maybe, if they could get off this ship, if they could get a longboat… someone would come. Someone searching for them, someone on Sithrak’s trail would come by, and — Takua stopped himself. Grimacing as he moved his fork just barely, bending its prong just enough to push another pin into the unlocked position. He focused on his task at hand. One problem at a time, he thought. ~~~ She squinted, gazing into the crowd as she poked her head out from under a low-hanging tapestry. From her secluded alleyway, she could just see Mako on the other side of the street, walking through the mass of people. Though in a moment he was gone, and she moved to keep him in view. The market was busy, as always, and the golden, early-morning haze highlighted every glint of Ta-Matoran armor. Fumes of nearby furnaces muddied the air, but Aya didn’t mind. Through the hustle and bustle of business and trade, it was easy to stay hidden. Another glimpse of the Guard Captain, and Aya was on the move, pushing past a stand selling fresh fruits and veggies, following just far away enough to not arouse suspicion. A slight of her hand and she had grabbed an apple, tossing a widget into the owner’s bucket. He didn’t seem to notice. Her teeth sank into the fruit as she watched Mako move purposefully toward the Lake of Fire. After their conversation, she knew she no longer had the luxury of listening to rumors. The Guard Captain’s suspicious behavior was one thing, but if he was actively going to keep from the Turaga? Something far worse had to be going on, and she was going to find out what — all by herself, if she had to. Aya slid behind a cluster of nobles as Mako looked back. But the Ta-Matoran didn’t see her, and a second later he was on his way again. Another crisp bite of the apple and Aya followed with renewed perseverance. Mako had reached the shell of the Mangai now, and was talking to two guards positioned at the tower there. The conversation lasted a few minutes, and Aya used the time to grab a thin square of fabric from a nearby clothesline. She draped it over her mask, disguising herself as a weary traveler. There weren’t too many Ga-Matoran here, and she didn’t want to be recognized as the one who stalked Mako everywhere. His conversation over, the Guard Captain moved on to cross the Lake of Fire, and Aya waited a minute or two before following. She pushed her way through the crowd, passing through the tower’s open gate, watching the guardsmen through the corner of her eye. They paid her no attention. Sticking close to a ragtag group of traders, she crossed the fiery lake, its searing heat enveloping the narrow stone bridge. Mako walked faster now, was he in a hurry? She had no doubt they were headed to the Turaga’s palace, but as they crossed the bridge, as elder Ta-Koro arose through the red haze and they walked through its inner gate, her suspicions were confirmed. The maroon Matoran made a beeline for the palace’s doors, and she moved faster, pushing her way through the square, hoping maybe she could slip through behind him. He was talking with these guards now, nodding as they gave their report, while another Matoran stood — …What? Aya paused, her yellow eyes wide as she stared at the four Matoran: Mako, the two guards at the door, and…. Raipu. What was he doing here? Aya pulled the fabric tighter around her mask, staring as the crowd moved around her, watching as Raipu listened to everything, before nodding to Mako, and the two were ushered through a small opening in the heavy iron doors. She cursed her hesitation, moving quickly as she tried to get close, but the doors slammed shut again, clicking as they locked tight, the guards once again on alert. Aya wanted to scream. She stood in the middle of the square, balling her fists tight as she tried to search the building for any opening — a servant’s door, a low window, a ledge she could climb up, but no. It was designed to be secure. Raipu? she huffed. Raipu gets in and I don’t!? “Hey!” she yelled at one of the guards, giving into her anger as she marched confidently, perhaps stupidly, forward. “Hey!” she yelled again, and this time the guard turned toward her, cocking his head in a curious, cautious manner. “Why’d you let him in?” she demanded, suddenly not caring about stealth. “That Po-Matoran with Mako, why’d you let him in?” “Sorry miss,” the guard recited his line as he had probably done a thousand times before. “No one gets into the palace without an escort by the Turaga or the Captain of the Guard. And that Po-Matoran was with the Captain.” “Yeah, I know that. But why did you let him in? What’s he doing in there that’s so important?” “Inspecting the council chamber’s security, so I’ve been told. Happens every day before work gets going. Not that it’s any of your business, Miss…?” “Miss None-Of-Your-Business, actually,” Aya snarked, pulling the fabric tight against her mask. “Do you even know who that is? Do you ever even ask where he comes from?” The guard leaned against his staff, starting to get annoyed. “I know he’s with the Guard Captain, so he gets in. That’s how this whole thing works.” “Hey, wait a minute,” the other guard chimed in. “I think I recognize you. Weren’t you here the other day trying to get in? Take that cloth off, lemme see your mask.” Aya took a step back, immediately playing her part. “A palace guard forcing a weary traveler to expose herself? If this isn’t an abuse of power!” “Hey... what!? You listen here, Miss None-Of-Your-Business — ” “Good day!” Aya stomped her foot, storming off before anything could escalate. She quickly turned a corner, hiding in a secluded alleyway before muttering ‘Fire-spitters,’ among a few other choice words. She crossed her arms. This… this was Illum’s doing. It had to be. He must have gained some leverage over Mako, and was using Raipu to influence him and carry out his schemes. The Turaga of Onu-Koro was working with the Kryll, and was going to sabotage the council… or something. Aya didn’t know, not yet at least, but this had to be some sort of power grab, some way to gain control over the other Turaga. But that was all fine. She turned around, marching back to her inn, where she knew Raipu was staying as well. She could find the answers she needed — all by herself.
  6. Chapter 7 - Resolve Soon enough, their journey began once more. Thunder cracked and Takua clenched his fists. He watched the Kryll move about, hauling crates along the dock, moving supplies onto the great flagship that sat at the end of the harbor. Shivering as the wind and rain pelted him, he gazed up at the massive vessel, its grey sails furled upon three towering masts. Sithrak had swapped out their schooner for this dominant craft; a necessary change for his self-proclaimed ‘journey to salvation.’ He’d even bragged about escort ships, scout ships, battleships — it seemed they would arrive on the Eastern Continent with their own miniature fleet, carrying all those important enough to witness the dawn of their ‘New Age.’ But Takua didn’t see those ships now, and he couldn’t help but roll his eyes. He knew what this really was: Sithrak stroking his ego. He turned his attention to the shanty-covered island. Unlike their arrival, there was no fanfare for their departure. The packed-together buildings were one solid, dark grey mass, with only a few points where torchlight shone through shuttered windows. The Kryll who lived here were all in their homes, quiet, asleep in their beds, sheltered from the torrential rain. Takua rolled his shoulders, his chains clinking as another sheet of water came crashing down. Must be nice. After only a day and a half on the island, locked in the fortress at its peak, Sithrak’s brutes had dragged him back to the harbor in the dead of night. It was strange, now that he thought about it — in the middle of a storm? Takua looked back to the flagship, barely seeing Sithrak’s outline, barking orders over the torrential rain. It seemed the Kryll was in a hurry, or at least had a very tight schedule to keep. Perhaps… he’d received word that someone was following them? Takua wasn’t sure if he wanted to hope. “…I don’t know, just throw him somewhere, Rikks! We got a lot to haul still!” “Where? I was just told to grab him. I don’t wanna get on Sithrak’s bad side.” “Just make sure he’s tied up good and come on!” Takua looked up as a pair of bulky Kryll approached, one lugging three crates, the other, seemingly named Rikks, pulling a chain with a smaller figure in tow. For a second Takua squinted, trying to see through the downpour, but then lightening flashed, and… Jaka! Takua hid his excitement as the massive brute thumped over to him, making eye contact as Jaka was pulled closer. They exchanged a glance, and in a minute he was tied to the post as well. The two sat on the slippery dock as the Kryll loomed over them. “Stay,” Rikks growled before stomping off to grab more supplies. The two Le-Matoran sat there, waiting in silence as the rain pounded around them, until the Kryll was out of earshot. Then, quickly turning to each other, they both spoke at the same time. “Thank Mata Nui you’re — ” “I was worried they’d — ” They paused, taking a moment to give each other reassuring nod. Jaka nudged Takua with his elbow; it was the friendliest gesture he could manage, considering their wrists were still bound. “Hey,” he asked. “How are you holding up?” His Kakama was dark, but his eyes were still bright, still full of that signature Jaka energy. Takua shook his head as he looked down at their chains. “I’m… still holding, Jaka.” “Well…” Jaka shrugged. “We’re alive. We have that going for us, right?” “Yeah. Are they treating you alright?” Jaka hesitated, scratching the back of his mask. “Well… I spend most of my time locked in the crew’s quarters. And a handful of them are okay, like the cook. But I think if it weren’t for Sithrak’s orders a lot of them would’ve thrown me overboard by now. They figure I just get in their way.” Takua raised an eyebrow. “Do you?” Jaka grinned. “Oh, every chance I get.” They were quiet as more Kryll thudded past, dragging a rickety cart full of food and drink. Once they were alone again, Jaka went on. “What about you? Sithrak give you any more trouble?” Takua huffed, lowering his gaze to stare at his boots. “What do you think, Jaka?” he replied, his palms still pressed together. “Hey,” Jaka nudged him again. “Hey… look at me,” he repeated, waiting until Takua made eye contact, and then he smiled. It was a sad, yet somehow optimistic grin. A gesture that, even considering their circumstances, still dared to hope. “We’re going to get out of here. You hear me? We’re going to get out of these chains, we’re going to find wherever Sithrak keeps the Atouri, and we’re — ” “No.” Jaka’s smile faded. “Come on, Takua. You can’t just give up — ” “He came to me,” Takua said abruptly, knowing that if he didn’t just say it, his words would quickly fail. He looked at his friend, guilt welling up in his throat as he nodded. “He already took it. Makuta has the Atouri.” Jaka paused. “…What do you mean?” And Takua explained it. He told him how it happened, how it hadn’t been Talim at all, and rather Makuta, using her form as bait. He told him how he’d seen the yellow in her eyes, and how her fingers had closed around it, then disappearing into a whirl of shadow. And Takua swallowed, taking a deep breath before continuing, summing up what it all meant. “It’s over, Jaka.” The rain fell upon them, cascading onto their armor, pinging and thumping as it hit metal and wood and the water around them. And for a moment, the world was grey. For a moment the world was bleak and cold, without color or life, and as they sat there, chained to a weathered stump on a forgotten island far from home, the world was doomed. But it was only for a moment. “Takua, you know I’ll always have your back,” Jaka piped up again, piercing the lull in their conversation. “But you can be really thick sometimes.” “…What?” Jaka turned to face Takua as best he could. “If it was over, why would we be here right now? Why would they be lugging us across the sea, why would Sithrak still be yammering on about his ‘New Age,’ and why would Makuta still hide in the shadows, only appearing as… I don’t know… as fleeting ghosts?” He let out a half-smile, shrugging as if all of this were obvious. “I can’t say I understand it, but I just feel like if it were really over, if Makuta was really back to his full strength…” he trailed off, pulling his thoughts together before continuing. “…We would know.” His words fell like the rain upon Takua’s weary mind. Heavy, but cleansing and refreshing, washing away all the dirt and grime, the blackness that had accumulated in the corners of his consciousness. It was almost hard to accept, after dwelling so long in the dark… but it did make sense. If the Atouri was all Makuta needed to release his wrath upon the world, why was the world still here? “I don’t know how, or why…” Jaka continued, “…but I know that it’s not over. Not yet.” So Takua lifted his chin, replying with a small nod. Illum’s note appeared in his mind, and he thought about the hastily written words, the sugary paper glinting in the moonlight. And for the first time since leaving his cell at the fortress, Takua opened his fists, looking down at the small metal fork Rashi had given him. He’d kept it, smuggled it out within his palms — it had been easy, given that his wrists were always chained together. He looked up to the deck of the flagship, where he could see Sithrak’s silhouette, still pointing and yelling, overseeing their operations. “Yeah…” he responded, closing his fingers around the fork once more. Lightning cracked above them, streaking across the clouds as he stared at the Kryll, his mind focused, fueled, and suddenly clear. He repeated himself, gripping the metal within his hands. “We’ll get out of here, Jaka,” he said, his words both hopeful and threatening as he felt a fire ignite inside his chest. A warmth, slowly growing, rejuvenating him with strength and power. “One way or another, we will.” And Takua narrowed his eyes, his gaze boring into the Kryll. “I swear to it.” ~~~ Ta-Koro began to grow on Aya, once she got to know it better. Sure; it was still crowded and hot, and yes; she still felt the guards were watching her every move, but as time passed, as she went about her business and began to settle in, Aya started to find the parts of the city that called to her, the fragments she belonged in. It was in these areas, the shadowy spaces between spires, the narrow nooks and attenuated alcoves, where Aya found that it was, in fact, still possible to remain unseen. One could still slip away into the shadows, even in a place so loud and crowded as this. And, as she continued to explore, to peel back the first few layers of the City of Fire, she found it opened a whole new world of possibilities. The city’s packed-together buildings were daunting at first, but she soon learned what to look for. A scratch of graffiti here, an open doorway there, a flash of color hanging on an empty clothesline; all these were signs, marking pathways unused by the majority of Matoran. These almost-secret trails took her above and below street level, up ladders and onto balconies, across planks that linked rooftops, through slim passageways and into shadowy taverns. There was almost a whole world unknown to the rest of the city, a world of its own, populated by shady barkeeps, brokers, merchants, and mercenaries. A world, it seemed, that preferred to remain unnoticed by the ever-present Ta-Koro Guard. But Aya stayed focused, choosing to ignore the colorful characters that inhabited this new scene she was quickly discovering. These gruff and sketchy Matoran eyed her whenever their paths crossed, but she simply looked the other way and they paid her no mind. After all, she had business of her own to attend to. She made it a point to truly learn the city, to understand how its gears turned, how its people moved, how the ever-constant bonging of its clocktower influenced it all. She became a fly on the wall, a shadow in the corner. Ever constant, ever vigilant as she watched guardsmen and trailed nobles, intent on finding some way to Illum. She heard rumors about everyone and everything, about people and their pasts, events and actions, predictions and places she’d never been before. And, Aya thought as she took a sip from her drink, now staring out at the dozens of people before her, some of it was quite useful. “The Turaga are worried. They still haven’t heard anything. I know Lewa and Gali went off to investigate, but I’m not sure if they’ve returned yet.” Aya sat in the corner of the dark tavern, listening to multiple conversations as they played out before her. The nobles staying at this inn seemed particularly loose-lipped. “I don’t see why it matters. Le-Koro’s always been out of the way, and Matau’s been gone for how long now? I say just start it all without them. They’re holding everyone up!” “You think the Kryll got to them? People have been saying some were spotted in the Charred Forest.” “Don’t be ridiculous, they’re retreating! I bet there’s not a single Kryll south of Ga-Wahi by now.” Aya brought her tankard to her lips as the candle beside her flickered. Over at the bar, two Onu-Matoran shared a pint. “Spoke to him in the council chamber last night, you would not believe the security they have in there!” “Is it that different from normal? You know how the Guard always is.” “You kidding me? With all the Koro’s leaders in one place, Vakama’s not taking any chances. I mean, the chamber itself is carved out of solid rock beneath the palace, so the Turaga never even have to leave the building. And there’s only one way in or out, with this huge metal door guarded by all the Toa while they’re talking. Makuta himself couldn’t get through there.” “Yeah, I heard no one gets in or out without Guard Captain escorting them.” “It was almost insulting! Don’t they know who I am?” And again, Aya’s attention shifted, this time to two Ga-Matoran scholars. “I have a friend in the Guard. She says he hasn’t always been this twitchy. It only started once everyone from the other Koro arrived.” “What, you think he’s nervous?” “I would be if I was suddenly responsible for keeping all six Turaga and their entourages safe.” “You’re not the Captain of the Ta-Koro Guard.” “Well yes, but it’s still understandable.” “Hmm… I don’t buy it. Either he’s up to something or he’s unfit for the job. Either way, its unprofessional. That’s the way I see it.” Aya leaned back against the wall, contemplating as she inhaled the fumes from her drink. It seemed to be a common theme; Mako, Ta-Koro’s stout-hearted and stoic Captain of the Guard, who was also somehow twitchy and shy in person. The whole thing was admittedly strange, but if she wanted to get to Illum, he seemed to be the key. Aya stayed at the tavern just long enough to finish her drink, then walked out into the evening light. Within minutes she was back at the inn, leaning out the window as she watched the guard house, eyes fixed on Mako’s quarters. Her own room was quiet and dark; Kokani was out reconnecting with some Ko-Matoran he knew from the Sanctum, and Aya didn’t want to make her presence known by unwrapping a lightstone. She huffed, resting her chin on the windowsill as she stared at Mako’s window. No light shone from the inside, which meant he probably wasn’t home… but still. She could wait. And so she did. Bored, Aya watched as night fell upon Ta-Koro, as its forges settled, its roaring smokestacks fizzling into trails of steam. The sun set upon the charcoal buildings and night arose, but no stars were visible tonight. Clouds rolled above and a breeze that smelled of rain blew across her mask. And still Aya waited as the clocktower boomed from far away, marking the ever-growing hours as people began to return to their homes. She watched as guards of all shapes and sizes entered and left the house, some retiring for the night, others just starting their shifts. And yet, even as the late-night taverns began to close, there was no sign of Mako. Starting to get frustrated, she began to wonder. How long would he take? She’d rather not have to search the entire city for him, but if it came to that she supposed — Mata Nui, is that him? A figure shuffled toward the guardhouse, alone and hunched over, holding himself and twitching. Aya squinted for a better look — it was Mako alright, although he didn’t seem well. His steps were shaky, his gait weaving back and forth, and the only way he was able to open the guardhouse’s door was by throwing his weight into it, and stumbling inside. Aya stared as the door closed behind him, confused. She knew the Guard Captain to have a nervous tick, but this made her think he was ill, or even injured. In a second he reappeared, visible again through the foggy window of his quarters, and she watched as he fumbled with his lightstone, barely able to hold it through unsteady fingers. The Ta-Matoran doubled over, suddenly coughing, heaving over his desk as he began claw at his mask before stopping, twitching, then starting all over again. Then, eyes bloodshot, he looked to the window and pushed himself toward it, shoving a pile of papers off his desk as he steadied himself, barely able to keep upright as he wretched. Mako’s hands managed to grab his curtains, and the maroon fabric fell in front of the window, cutting off Aya’s gaze. She stared, wordless, trying to comprehend what she had witnessed. It took her a minute before she was able to move again, and she looked around the square as dozens of questions filled her head. Her brow furrowed, and she dipped back inside the room, realizing that Mako wouldn’t be coming out again anytime soon. She stared off into space and slid down against the wall, sitting on the floor as she tried to make sense of things. She didn’t understand it, but from what she knew about Mako — his strange disparity of personality traits, the sneaking around late at night, the behavior changes with the arrival of the Turaga — it didn’t seem good. And she knew it was foolish to jump to conclusions, but she couldn’t help but feel that something was going on. Something about the council, about Illum and Mako, about the timing of it all… it didn’t feel right. Aya’s fingers slipped to the hilt of her dagger, absent-mindedly gripping it as her heart began to pound. Her mask tensed as she thought, about the implications, about what it could all mean. One thing was for certain: something about Ta-Koro was definitely wrong.
  7. Hey yeah my bad.... so a while back I read through my last two parts and quickly realized that they A) did not remotely follow any character arcs B) did not answer any questions that had been proposed earlier in the story C) just kind of were really bad in general! So I had to take a LOT of time to rework them. Ta-Koro's part is the longest one so far, given that it's basically telling two stories a the same time. Still have a bit of work to do, but I can for sure promise the lapses in posting won't be nearly as bad as this last one. Thanks for still being here
  8. New chapter up. Updated the review topic for clarity. Let's go babey I have been hard at work and I am here!!
  9. Chapter 6 - Friends and Enemies Takua stumbled as he was thrown into the cell, the door’s iron hinges creaking as it was slammed shut behind him. He whirled around, watching Sithrak as the Kryll did the same. His black armor glimmered in the early moonlight, streaming through a small window near the ceiling. The Kryll had spent the better part of the day parading Takua through the streets like an animal — an exotic beast to be shown off, a thing for people to ogle at in fear and wonder. But finally, after hours, they had made their way to the fortress at the top of the island. This was where the crew would stay while they restocked on supplies and prepared for journey ahead. And it was where — as Sithrak put it — Takua was bestowed with his own luxurious quarters: this stone and iron prison cell. The two stared at each other before Sithrak spoke up, clearly not done antagonizing. “Do you like it?” he smiled, taking pleasure at the Matoran’s glare. “I oversaw the building of this place, so many years ago now.” Takua crossed his arms, letting his back slide down the wall until he sat on the floor, never breaking eye contact. “I’ve seen better.” Sithrak ignored him, sighing as he looked to the ceiling. “This island was once a place for your people. In older ages, before it was lost to time.” Takua continued his stare, determined to show the Kryll how much he didn’t care. But nevertheless, Sithrak continued. “Three-Finger Island, is what they once called it. Your people claimed it was the hand of Mata Nui, rising out of the depths to serve as a refuge for desperate sailors. The only earth between Mata Nui’s shores and the distant lands of the Eastern Continent.” Sithrak knelt to Takua’s level. “They said it was a sacred place. A peaceful place. One to be respected, preserved, and savored.” Takua blinked. He’d grown so tired of the Kryll’s words. “But Mata Nui didn’t care when we took it over. Mata Nui didn’t care when we built upon this quiet rock, molding it into a noisy place of business and trade. He didn’t care about its sacredness. He didn’t care about your sailors’ sanctuary.” Sithrak clicked his mandibles, eyes narrowing as he finished his threat. “Just like he doesn’t care about you.” And Takua continued staring, thinking of all the ways he could respond to that, before deciding to let out an exaggerated yawn. He stretched his shoulders, rolling his neck before looking back to the Kryll. “You know, after the first thousand taunts, it gets a little repetitive.” Sithrak smiled, enjoying himself. “Don’t get too comfortable,” he hissed. “We’ll only be here a few days, then our journey begins again.” He stood and turned to leave, walking down the stone hallway and out of sight. His voice echoed a moment later, barking at some unseen guard. “Fetch this one dinner! I want someone nearby at all times; make sure he eats and stays healthy….” Takua stared at his bars as Sithrak’s voice faded away, the moon highlighting their rusted iron. The fortress was barren and cold, and the breeze flowing through the barred window certainly didn’t help. The moon’s blue light streamed across his vision, and as Takua rubbed his arms, he began to wonder how all of this had happened. How did he get here, in this cell within a fortress, miles away from the island he had always called home? How had it happened that his only company for weeks had been Kryll? How had he become such a pitiful prisoner, unable to fight back, unable to do anything but watch as he was paraded around by his captors? He sank lower to the ground as his isolation got the better of him, his hatred for Sithrak fading, replaced only with hatred for himself. And he felt the endless cycle of rage and sorrow continue, one he had been trapped in ever since Ga-Koro. Ever since he had let his friends down. Ever since he had let the world down. For a brief instant, he remembered Le-Koro. He remembered the Spring Solstice, he remembered Talim, he remembered sitting atop those cliffs, watching the fireworks light up the sky as the people below celebrated. It all seemed like a dream now, a fantasy. Something he had made up to distract him from the real world. Takua closed his eyes, burying his head into the crook of his elbow as he remembered the life he used to have. The Twisted Nail, the Storyteller, the day Matau had given him the Atouri. He’d thought it was an honor at the time. A blessing. Something to be proud of. And look where it had gotten him. Why did you do this, Matau? Takua gritted his jaw, just a bit of water forming in the corners of his eyes. You could’ve sealed it away, you could’ve thrown it in the ocean. But you gave it to me instead. He wished he could go back, knowing what he knew now. He wished Matau would hand him the stone again, so he could bury it in the ground and forget about it forever. He wished he could scream at the Turaga, to show him all the heartbreak he had caused, all the pain he had brought to Le-Koro, to Talim, to his friends. If he had never touched the stone, none of this would have happened. If he had never held the Atouri, he would still be safe at home. If he had never felt Makuta’s heartbeat…. Takua squeezed his eyes shut, a tear falling down his cheek as he realized how much he missed the Turaga who raised him. …You’d still be alive. Thump-thp. There was a clatter of metal on stone, and Takua looked up, wiping the water from his mask as a tray of food slid through the bars towards him. A figure stood in the shadows just outside his cell, and while Takua at first thought it to be the cook who normally fed him, he quickly recognized his visitor’s crimson eyes and dark war paint. He scowled as he looked from Rashi to the tray, noticing a small portion of fish and a ball of rice wrapped in thin paper. Rashi knelt to slide something else across the floor, and a second later a crude metal fork came to rest near Takua’s boot. He picked it up, eyeing it suspiciously in the moonlight before looking back to the Kryll. He leaned back against the wall, putting up his usual front of hostility. “I get a fork today? What’s the occasion?” Rashi stared at him without emotion, her armor almost melding into the fortresses’ stone. Then, slowly, she nodded to his rice. “It is wrapped in sugar paper. Edible. But do not eat it until you have finished the other food.” Takua lowered his gaze, not sure what to do with this information. The Kryll stared back, and the two beings were silent for just a few seconds longer than was comfortable. But then Rashi stood up, nodded briefly, and walked off. Her footsteps echoed away, and Takua’s cell was silent again. He stared at his food, twirling the fork between his fingers, feeling like the encounter had been… strange, for whatever reason. But his stomach quickly got the better of him, and he pushed the thought out of his head, picked up the tray, and began to eat. He wasn’t sure why, but he did as Rashi said, leaving the sugar paper untouched as he cut away at his fish, as he scooped rice into his mouth with the fork. It wasn’t normal to have any kind of silverware, but perhaps the cook was in a good mood and felt the urge to spare him the simple kindness of an eating utensil. No matter why, Takua appreciated it; it made him feel more like a person, rather than a chained animal. Having finished his dinner, Takua put the tray down and grabbed the small square of edible paper, feeling its waxy texture as he tore off a corner and put it in his mouth. It dissolved quickly, sweetly, and he found it quite the delicacy. He’d never had anything of the sort before, and figured it must be a distinctly Kryll confectionary, when he — His train of thought stopped. Something on the paper caught his eye. Something, in a single string of moonlight… glimmered. Instantly he looked up, keeping watch for anyone who stood outside his cell, listening for any nearby footsteps, but for the moment he seemed to be alone. He sprung to his feet, flattening the paper out and holding it up to the moonlight, and… there! Written in a kind of glaze, some kind of syrup, were letters. Words! Sentences! He squinted, trying to make them out and, concentrating through his pounding heart, Takua… able to read it. Takua — Your friends yet live. The fight continues. Do not lose hope; we are coming. Takua gaped, wide-eyed, trying to comprehend what he had just read. He looked for a signature, for some way to figure out who had written the letters, but there were only a few markings in the corner he had already bitten off, and he was only able to make out the letter “I.” And he instantly knew. Only one person would be able to pull this off. Only one Matoran would be able to get a message to him all the way out here, in enemy territory, surrounded by guards and Kryll he — Takua turned around, thinking of Rashi, his image of her suddenly muddied. Surrounded by Kryll he had thought to be his enemy…. Looking over the paper again, making sure he hadn’t missed anything, Takua quickly balled it up and shoved it in his mouth, destroying all evidence of its existence. He looked out his cell’s window, shaken, confused, cautious, and yet… hopeful? His friends were alive? Kokani and Aya were alive? Could it be true? Takua stared out the window, watching the moon as it’s light twinkled across the endless sea, as it highlighted the gentle waves of the infinite ocean. A few specks of light, here and there, in what would overwise be an endless, dark horizon. Takua squinted, trying to make sense of it all. Whose side are you on, Illum? ~~~ Aya watched the back of Mako’s head as the Ta-Matoran escorted her and Kokani through the long, narrow hallway. There was something off about him, something that unnerved her, but she couldn’t quite place it. The captain of the Ta-Koro guard walked on, his maroon boots clumping softly on the mahogany floor, and Aya decided she didn’t like the way he slouched, the way the tips of his fingers twitched, the way he seemed to flinch at every sudden noise. She squinted, folding her arms before abruptly opening her mouth. “So which room is ours?” she blurted loudly. As expected, Mako flinched at the sound of her voice, before quickly regaining his composure and leading them to the second to last door in the hallway. “Right here,” he said quietly, as if his low voice wasn’t already hard enough to hear. He handed a metal key to each of them before motioning to one, then the other end of the hallway. “Guards are positioned at each end of the hall, at the top and bottom of the stairwells. They will come running at the slightest hint of provocation. When the Turaga require your council, a runner will be sent to give ample notice and to escort you to the council chamber when needed.” He gave a slight bow, opening the door to let them in. “I will be stationed on the first floor of the guard house just across the courtyard, if you have any concerns.” Aya took her key, entering the room behind Kokani. She took a quick look at the place. It was… functional, to say the least. Mako bowed again, his Matatu twitching only slightly. “You are in good hands, Kokani and Aya, Protectors of the Atouri.” “Thanks, but I think we can handle ourselves.” Aya said over her shoulder quickly, but Mako had already shut the door, and the two were alone in their new quarters. Protectors of the Atouri… she frowned, wishing the title would’ve been accurate. Good joke. Upon their arrival to the city, their caravan had split in a few different directions. About half of their number had stayed outside the city’s walls, and would camp with the convoys from the other Koro. Those who would have some role in the council were invited into the city for lodging, Aya and Kokani among them. But the Turaga and Toa had gone their own separate route, no doubt to wherever in the city was most secure, and while Aya wished she could have gone with Nokama and Gali, they had been instructed to follow the captain of the guard, and so here they were. In what they were told was a luxury inn. But the Ta-Matoran were known for their utilitarianism, and it definitely showed in their hospitality. The guesthouse was nice enough, but when it came to décor and comfort, it left a bit to be desired. Her and Kokani shared the space, and while they each had their own bed in opposite corners, that was about all the room offered. Save for a decorative tapestry that hung above Kokani’s bed, the rest of the room was barren and black, having been carved from volcanic rock. Only one small window sat on the far wall, offering a mediocre view of the courtyard below their third-story accommodation. Aya tossed her belongings in the corner as she walked to the window, opening it and sticking her head out as Kokani slowly sat on his bed. The cane Aya had made for him helped with his mobility, but his steps were slow and shaky, and he still needed to rest every few minutes or so. Aya glanced back to make sure he was okay before turning her attention to the skyline. “I don’t like it,” she said, staring out at the mess of spires and smokestacks, silhouetted against the early evening sky. “Something’s off about him. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like it.” Kokani closed his eyes, breathing heavy as he leaned back on the bed, resting his scarred body. “You’re overthinking.” Aya’s gaze drifted downward, to the stone courtyard that separated the inn from the wide, grey guardhouse on the other side. Below, a small group of Po-Matoran advisors talked, waiting to be shown to their rooms. A moment later, Mako walked out of the inn to greet them, and Aya stared some more. “Did you see Raipu earlier? He was with all the Onu-Matoran.” Kokani nodded, but didn’t respond. “I don’t like that either.” But again, the Ko-Matoran said nothing. He stared at the ceiling, lost in whatever thoughts passed behind his off-white Akaku. Aya let out a low grumble, feeling more anxious the longer she stood, watching the Matoran mill about below. It was only their first day within Ta-Koro’s walls, but already she’d decided she’d rather be anywhere else. She understood the need for security, but all the guards, all the nobles and politicians, all the tall, packed-together spires that constantly surrounded them… she felt like she was being watched. As if no matter where she went, there would always be a pair of eyes following, prying, just out of sight. “We shouldn’t be here.” Aya turned around, slumping down to sit on the floor. “We should be helping find Takua and Jaka.” Kokani continued to stare at the ceiling. “I don’t think I could help much with that anymore.” Aya paused, regretting having said anything. She couldn’t seem to wrap her head around the fact that Kokani just couldn’t do the things he used to. She twiddled her thumbs, needing to do something, unable to simply sit and wait for the Turaga to summon her. How long would this whole thing take, anyway? Days? Weeks? The thought of watching Matoran meander from her window when she knew Takua and Jaka were out there, somewhere, held prisoner against their will — it was enough to drive her insane. She had to do something. “They’re still alive, right?” Aya asked, hoping for some validation. “If Krosis wanted them dead they would’ve been killed on the spot, right?” It took Kokani a moment to respond, but he did with a subtle nod. His mask was emotionless as he spoke. “That’s what I tell myself.” Just a little relieved, Aya shrugged. With newfound determination, she stood up and started to gather her belongings again. “Do you know where the Turaga are staying?” Kokani looked at her. “Aya….” Aya strapped her bow to her back and tightened her belt. “I heard someone say at a palace within the Lake of Fire. That’s toward the center of the city?” “Aya.” Aya paused, turning around to spare him a second of her attention. “What?” “We’re guests here,” Kokani said slowly, giving her a knowing look. “But that doesn’t mean we can do anything we want.” “I know that, I’m just having a look around.” Kokani propped himself up on his elbows, clearly aware that her response could mean a great many things. “Don’t do anything stupid.” “I’ll be back before nightfall,” she replied, patting the sword and dagger that rested at her hips. “I’ll be safe.” “I’m not worried about your safety.” Aya rolled her eyes as she turned to open the door, making sure to grant the Ko-Matoran a light-hearted farewell. “Bye, Kokani.” He didn’t have time to respond before the door shut behind her, and without hesitation, Aya pressed onward. She marched to the end of the hall, turning into the stairwell and ignoring the guard who snapped to attention at her presence. Within a minute she was on the ground floor, making her way through the inn’s bar and dining area, through the polished wood double doors, and into the courtyard. It took her only a few moments to get her bearings. The inn sat just a block off Ta-Koro’s main road, a wide, bustling street lined with shops, forges, artisans, and market stalls. Ta-Matoran of all sorts gathered here, looking to buy, bargain, smelt and sell, and while a few other types of Matoran roamed the busy streets, Aya felt she stuck out like a sore thumb in the sea of red, orange, and maroon armor. But, undeterred, she pushed forward, heading to the city center. The vast majority of the people they arrived with had been granted lodging around this area, about halfway between the outer wall and the shell of the Mangai, which apparently separated the rest of the city from the oldest, most ancient districts. That coveted real estate rested within Ta-Koro’s infamous Lake of Fire, and was where — according to the rumors — all the Turaga would be staying. Aya paused, looking out at the cacophony of the street. She and Kokani weren’t important enough for the Lake of Fire, apparently. She moved, ignoring the vendors as they hocked their wares at her, ignoring the smells and sounds of the city, the roasting meat and vegetables on fiery grills, the hammering of crafters, the corded tapestries that flapped in the breeze as she kept pace. It was, she thought, certainly the loudest city she’d ever been in. If it wasn’t the chatter of the marketplace, it was the pounding of metal, the whooshing of bellows, the clanking of gears and steel and iron as the city worked and heaved and breathed on and on and on, well into evening light. Soon, the golden rays of sunset found their way through Ta-Koro’s billowing steam and smoke, and Aya found herself bathed in an orange, hazy light, face to face with a small guard tower, rising above the rest of the city’s charcoal buildings. It was built into the shell of the Mangai, and beyond it, as Aya could almost see through an open gateway, was the Lake of Fire. She stepped forward, passing two guards in crimson armor who carried tall, dual-pronged spears. They ignored her as they paced back and forth, patrolling the city’s oldest gate as the Ta-Koro Guard had done for centuries. Aya moved on, turning her attention to…. Mata Nui. All thoughts drifted away as she stared at the sight before her. It was a huge cavern, or perhaps more of a canyon, as a hole in the Mangai’s shell left the vast space open to the outside air. Fumes from far below billowed toward the sky, and Aya looked down to see the Lake of Fire itself — a boiling, churning lake of lava. She stared out into the smoky air, feeling the heat rise, taking a minute to process the blistering, fiery scene. But then, she swallowed and stepped forward, her boots moving onto the long, stone bridge that extended into the haze beyond. Aya wiped sweat from her brow as she glanced at the few other Matoran who crossed the bridge, going about their daily business. She’d never been one for cities in general, but at least Ga-Koro had beaches, and nice weather. She shook her head, hiding a grimace behind her mask. Fire-spitters…. But soon enough, she could see it. There, in the middle of the cavern, the faint outline of elder Ta-Koro arose; a giant, stone and metal column, rising from the magma’s center. All sorts of pipes and vents and bridges branched off it, extending into the lava, the walls at the edge of the lake, or back into the pillar itself, drawing power and warmth from the volcano. Dozens of towers and fortresses were built upon its flattened peak, towering above as Aya approached. She stared up at the blackened structures. Ominous and powerful, it reminded Aya of everything she knew to be inherently Ta-Matoran; strong, sturdy, and stubborn. Seriously… Aya thought as she reached the end of the bridge, passing through yet another gate. She remembered her history, how once, long ago, this city had been destroyed by Makuta’s forces. But what had the Ta-Matoran done? Moved to a safer spot? No, of course not; they’d rebuilt in the exact same place. Aya shook her head. Even I’m not that stubborn. Finding herself in a large square surrounded by thick fortress walls and grand, important-looking buildings, a huge stone clocktower among them. Aya examined the city’s center. All sorts of Matoran bustled about, and there were guards were almost everywhere: atop the walls, on street corners, beside gates and doors. But what really drew her attention was the palace — or fortress, as it was sometimes hard to tell with Ta-Koro — looming the opposite end of the square. Already knowing she was in the right place, Aya made a beeline for it, pushing her way through the crowd as she stared at the structure’s tall pillars and thin, slit-windows. Grand, powerful, and in the center of everything, it shone like a star among the other buildings, lit up by a hundred lightstones imbedded into its black stone. Its entrance was secured with a pair of tall iron doors emblazoned with the symbol of Ta-Koro, and as Aya reached them her heart fluttered, both intimidated and excited by what she might find inside. She reached out, pressing her weight against the iron, pushing her way inward, and — The doors didn’t budge. Vakama’s palace, it seemed, was not open to the public. Overlooking the few Matoran who shuffled around her, she stepped closer, resting her hands against the doors’ metal, feeling their warmth against her palms. Ta-Koro’s signature glow reflected in their design, and Aya frowned as she looked up into the steamy, hazy, red air. She took a deep breath. It smelled of sulfur and smoke. “Hey!” a voice called out, and Aya looked to her left, where a guard was fast approaching. A helmet covered half his mask, and he carried a guardsman’s tall, customary spear. “You lost or something? The palace is off-limits.” Aya took her hands off the doors, immediately ready to play her part. “Thank Mata Nui you’re here! I’ve been summoned by Turaga Illum; he needs my testimony for the council immediately, but I’m new to the city and haven’t quite found my way around yet.” she said, acting as flustered as she could. “Won’t you please help me? Am I in the right place?” The guard stopped just a few feet away and eyed her up and down. “Yeah, you are. But its standard protocol that no one gets into the Turaga’s quarters or the council chamber unless escorted by the captain of the guard or the Turaga themselves. So sorry, but those are the rules.” “You don’t understand,” Aya placed her hands on her hips. “This is an urgent matter! Every minute that ticks by is another minute wasted. I’d really rather not have to tell the Turaga that our meeting didn’t happen because some guard at the gate was obsessed with protocol.” The guard crossed his arms. “Yeah, well, Turaga Vakama’s a pretty forgiving guy. And we got a lot of important people visiting right now, so I think he and Illum will understand if I err on the side of caution.” “Listen to me,” Aya glared at the guard, quickly running out of things to say. “I have to get through this door!” And the guard leaned forward, a taunting smile spreading on his face. “Then you’re more than welcome to ask the captain or the Turaga to escort you.” Her face growing hot, Aya clenched her jaw. In an instant she had sized up the Ta-Matoran, determined his armor to be too clunky, his spear too long, and in a matter of seconds she would be able best him, search for a key, and be on her way. Her fingers twitched for her dagger, hovering at her waist, but… no. She shook a finger at him instead. “You’re doing the Turaga a disservice! I have official business to attend to, and when I meet with them I’ll make sure that you are held accountable!” she scolded, making sure to back off before she completely blew her story. But the guard wasn’t worried. “Come back with a better excuse tomorrow, I’ll be here.” He grinned, leaning against his staff. Aya shot him one last dirty look before she stormed off, muttering something about finding his superior, and slid into the nearest alleyway, out of sight. “Fire-spitters!” she cursed. Once free from the eyes of the guard and the crowd, Aya took a moment to think. She pressed her back against the building behind her, concealed within its shadow and the many fabrics that hung from several clotheslines above. She bit her lip in frustration. Getting to the Turaga — getting to Illum — was going to be harder than she thought. The clocktower above her went off, startling Aya with a deep, bellowing bong. The jarring, metal sound echoed throughout the city, and Aya counted the number of times it rang in her head. One, two, three… a total of ten — the day was growing old; perhaps it was time to head back. And besides, Aya shrugged, stifling a long-winded yawn. She had learned what she’d set out to. With a deep breath, Aya turned and headed back the way she came, scheming of all the possible ways she could bypass the guard. If she could get a letter to Nokama, perhaps, or Gali…? That option seemed slower than what she was looking for, and she’d prefer this whole thing to be as secretive as possible. She could always just wait until the Turaga summoned her, but again, who knew how long that would take? And besides, she doubted they would let her roam freely once inside. If she had to guess, people would be watching Illum, and if she could get a close-up with the Turaga of Onu-Koro, the last thing she wanted was people watching. He knows something. Aya remembered the way he had smiled at her and Kokani, the way he had seemed so confident and comfortable, even though half the reason this council was happening was to determine if he should be dethroned or not. He has to know something…. With her brow furrowed, she continued her way home. By the time Aya reached the inn again, the sun had set and city was dark. Business on the main road dwindled, and while a few Matoran still roamed the streets, it was much quieter. The courtyard was empty, almost silent and as Aya crossed it, and she looked over her shoulder at the guard house sitting on the other side. It was dark, save for a lone window on the first floor, one she assumed to be Mako’s quarters. She briefly thought about barging in and demanding entrance into the palace, but… Aya yawned. It had been a long day. Tomorrow, perhaps. She turned to head back to the inn, and — Raipu stared at her, just a few feet away. It seemed the two had caught each other by surprise, as neither of them moved a muscle. They both stared, frozen, the air motionless around them as each tried to think of what to do or what to say. But, after an excruciating few moments, Aya swallowed, managing to pull just a few words out of her throat. “Hey,” she said, her voice cracking. “I saw you earlier, when we first arrived. Didn’t… uh… didn’t really expect to see you here.” “Yeah,” Raipu said, managing a slight nod. His tan Hau was almost stoic, save for a bit of confusion, or maybe worry. “You either.” The city was silent as the seconds ticked by, and Aya suddenly wished it would go back to the noisy rabble from earlier. The moon slid out from behind a cloud, shining a dim light upon the two Matoran. “So…” Aya crossed her arms. “So, what happened? Sorin went back to look for you, but we never heard anything. And… none of us were ever sure…” “I made it back to Onu-Koro,” Raipu replied quickly, almost cutting her off. “Illum found me. And apologized for everything. For anything his guards may have done…” Aya narrowed her eyes, her temper creeping at Illum’s name. “…And… what? Now you’re a part of his posse?” “He was just doing what he thought was right. And if you’d hear him explain it, you’d understand.” Raipu replied, his voice only slightly giving away his emotions. But he paused, took a deep breath, and it quickly returned to normal. “He offered me a job, so… I’m here.” “Yeah, an apology and a job offer,” Aya felt her chest warm. “That absolves him of everything right?” “He got Nika’s body out,” Raipu retorted coldly. He stared at Aya, his eyes shining in the dim light as he paused again, obviously having trouble with his words. But still, he persevered. “And we gave her a funeral. A beautiful one. One that she… one that she deserved.” Aya cursed. “Raipu, none of us wanted that to happen — ” “Yeah, well — it did.” She breathed in, filling her lungs to their brim before exhaling all at once. Arms still folded, she looked to the ground, biting her tongue. There was a lot she could say, but none of it felt right. Not now, at least. Not after all this time. “…Well, it’s good to see you back on your feet.” “I heard Takua’s dead.” Aya looked back to him, instantly tensing. He’d said it with spite, as if it was good news, as if he was mocking their failure. She gritted her jaw and stared him in the eyes, her gaze nothing if not intense. It was her turn to speak coldly. “You don’t know that.” But Raipu had his response prepared. “Then where is he?” He let out a sad smirk, gesturing to the empty space around him. To the quiet, empty darkness. “Where is he?” he repeated. “Where’s the Atouri? Where’s the Toa of Light?” And Aya knew she couldn’t respond to that. She stood there, unmoving, gripping her biceps with white fingers as she stared at him, suppressing every emotion she felt but couldn’t explain. She tapped her foot, swallowing, trying to force out some sort of reply, if not an explanation than a witty comeback. Something, anything to fill the silence as Raipu’s eyes bored into her. But in the end she found nothing, and forced herself to say the only thing she could. “…Have a good night, Raipu.” And after only a second, Raipu walked off. His voice reached her ears just as he passed beyond her vision. “I’m sure we’ll see each other around.”
  10. Hey, better late than never, and I love it!! Just the kind of lighthearted (and somewhat absurd) adventure I was hoping for. A 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids' and Bionicle mashup is something I never knew I wanted until now. I didn't expect to find a Mavrah tie-in with a Mata-Nui setting, but I always found his character interesting and I can't wait to see where you go with it. The way you use treespeak -- which is always a challenge, from my experience -- definitely isn't canon, but I like the liberties that you took with it (poop-crud, lol. I am an adult.) Also, Kopaka's 'What the Fikou?' Hahaha classic. Thank you for this, and I can't wait to read more! PS. I know I'm not supposed to comment in an epic's primary topic, but I didn't see a review topic available, and I just had to respond, so... yeah. Please feel free to delete or move to another review topic if I missed it... sorry!!
  11. Haha Lewa was always my favorite too! I really tried to get his character right; I feel like he tends to be forgotten when it comes to fanfiction. And I love that you love it! I tried to make something that focused heavily on the themes, was definitively and recognizably Bionicle, all while making sure it was something I enjoyed writing about as well - early 2001 seemed to fit the bill. And I actually did think about adding a MoL-esque Makuta scene (we seem to be one the same wavelength here), but in the end I thought it was better to keep everything small and grounded. This was my first fanfic exchange ever, so I was actually pretty nervous about how this would be received - but in the end you do have the final say, so I guess I did a good job! (Read: I AM SO FRICKIN STOKED RN HECK YES) So yeah, glad I could be a part of this! In the immortal words of Marie Kondo, your comments and thoughts sparks joy
  12. This is like... one of the nicest things anyone's ever said about my writing?? Brb I'm gonna go cry for a minute. But seriously thank you so much. I really really tried to capture that signature atmosphere of 2001, and I'm so glad you could feel it. Thank you!! It just always feels off-putting when I read fics and the characters act out of their canon selves, so I really tried to keep them as true as I could. And I don't know why, but I absolutely LOVE putting lore references into my work. So glad you found them! Concerning the treespeak - ah, the freakin treespeak. It just ranges so much in the canon depending on the time and who is using it, it's difficult to find one definitive way to implement it. I'm glad you thought it worked for the most part, I tried to keep a good balance of the old-school, choppy way it was used in MNOG, and what was actually understandable and consistent with how Lewa talks it the majority of the timeline. But as for your question! I tried to slip it in just a little after Bionicle Issue #2 - Trapped by the Rahi (as is referenced by Lewa obtaining his Kakama, getting ambushed by a Nui-Rama, and being saved by Onua), but before most of the events of Bionicle Issue #3 - Triumph of the Toa (where the Toa seem to learn the value of teamwork). I never actually read the Bionicle books (I have no excuse for this; I am a bad fan), so I wasn't entirely sure it fit there, but that's what I was going for. I actually did spend a solid amount of time on BS01 looking up the time frame's of everything, so... awesome! I guess it worked! Oh, and as for the title... I was aiming for something descriptive yet short and relevant, something that would help the story rise up; something that would help it levitate, if you will. Ehhh that was pretty bad I'll see myself out.
  13. This story is part of the 2018 BZPower Fanfic Exchange, and was written for Torran! He wanted to see grand adventure, character development, and internal conflict — I hope I did a good enough job for you. Enjoy, buddy! The Mask of Irritation Lewa… he was the worst. Kopaka took a deep breath, rolling his shoulders as he stifled a scowl. He trudged along the underbelly of the jungle, plowing his way through mud and leaves and roots as his companion flitted easily alongside. The Toa of Air was in his element, leaping and swinging across branches, humming a happy tune as he waited every few minutes for Kopaka to catch up. He was — as he always seemed to be — in a wonderful mood, and that annoyed Kopaka to no end. “I’m quick-telling you,” Lewa’s voice echoed as he dangled like a monkey a dozen feet up. “Just try leap-swinging, brother! We’ll make much faster progress.” Kopaka’s sword sliced through a thick vine as he waded through murky, calf-deep water. He glared straight ahead. “That’s not how I work.” “Suit yourself, bog-foot walker.” Kopaka pushed forward, suppressing an urge to fire a bolt of ice at the Air-Toa. It had only been a few weeks since their arrival on Mata Nui, and in that time he’d gotten to know his fellow Toa well enough. Onua and Pohatu were alright; he admired their prowess, and while he normally preferred to work alone, their strength was sometimes useful to have around. Gali was wise and had proven herself a peacekeeper when tempers were hot, which he felt was a necessary addition to their team. Even Tahu, an arrogant, hot-headed, impulsive, fire-spitting — Kopaka took a breath. Even Tahu had a strong sense of duty, among a few other redeeming qualities. But then… but then. There was Lewa. His sword flashed through the misty air, slicing a path through leafy-green foliage as the Air-Toa flew overhead, his green armor glinting as he perched on a branch, humming some tune from Le-Koro. Lewa’s head was in the trees, literally and figuratively. He was overconfident, aloof, wild, without a care in the world. He had no sense of duty or purpose, and had yet to prove himself capable in any sense of the word. Sure, he had managed to find a Kakama, but he’d been ambushed afterward and had lost his mask in the process. Onua had managed to get him out of that situation and all was good in the end… but still. It was sloppy. And they were up against Makuta. Kopaka hacked his way through a broad cluster of undergrowth. They were Toa — they didn’t have the luxury of being sloppy. Up ahead, Lewa had climbed to the forest canopy, looking out above the trees. His voice carried down, muffled slightly by all the leaves. “Daylight wanes, and we have long-miles to go. Perhaps it is best if we rest for the night?” Kopaka looked up, halfway through a bramble patch, only now realizing that the light had faded into the golden-orange of early evening. His response was short. “We can go a bit longer.” “…Bad-Rahi prowl the jungle at night, brother.” “Then we’ll deal with them.” Kopaka retorted. He began hacking his way forward once more. Lewa gazed down at him, stifling a concerned look before continuing to swing through the branches. But Kopaka paid him no attention. He had to get this mask, if only so he could stand being around Lewa. With the Air-Toa having both a Miru and a Kakama, Kopaka figured it was in his sanity’s best interest to at least obtain his own Mask of Levitation. Lewa had heard rumors of one nestled in the depths of Le-Wahi, quickly offering his expertise in reaching it, and while Kopaka dreaded putting himself in this situation… one way or another, he had to get this mask. And so the two continued, Kopaka following Lewa’s lead as he hacked and slashed his way through the jungle, wading through murky waters and streams, weaving through towering trees and grasses, climbing up creepers and vines, all to get a few feet deeper into the rugged rainforest. The hours went on and soon the light faded, turning from yellow to orange to blue and then, eventually black. A mist fell upon the trees and the temperature dropped, going from hot and humid to… well, chilly, but still humid. Not that Kopaka was complaining about the cold, by any means. Crickets, cicadas, and other creatures of the night awoke, their calls soon echoing through the trees, muting the sound of Kopaka’s sword has he pushed his way ever forward. His blade never failed him, but as he kept going, as he kept lashing out, carrying his shield on his back, trudging through waist-deep water and mud, Kopaka soon found himself exhausted. His breathing became labored, his legs strained with every step, and his arms grew heavy from cutting through miles upon miles of jungle. And all the while Lewa hung effortlessly overhead, pausing every few minutes as he patiently waited for the Ice-Toa to catch up. It was. So. Annoying. Silent as ever but stifling a storm inside, Kopaka swung his blade at a tangle of vines, cutting, tearing them apart as he advanced, slowly, steadily. This way and that his blade sang through the air, his face emotionless as his body tired, as his eyes struggled to see in the shadowy night. But still, he wouldn’t stop. He kept up his grind, he kept moving, he kept cutting and hacking and slashing, delving deeper and deeper into the mass of green and brown, refusing to be beaten by the jungle’s snares, until — A hand on his shoulder. Kopaka whirled around, ready to defend himself from an attack, only to see Lewa’s dim outline before him. The Toa’s lime eyes glowed in the darkness, the only light for miles around as the trees towered quietly around them. “Perhaps we should rest, brother.” And Kopaka stared at him, his armor scratched and muddied, his mask stoic but his shoulders slouched, arms hanging low at his sides. He took a few deep breaths, regaining his posture as he took in his surroundings. It was late. Night entombed the untamed jungle, and the Ice-Toa crossed his arms. “If you insist.” ~~~ “Where is this mask, exactly?” Lewa paused for a moment, the firelight reflecting off his Miru. “Deep-wood. Perhaps a day or so more. I’ve only seen it from a far-distance, but it is hard to miss. Atop cliff-bound, old-bone ruins. Matau says they’re spirit-haunted, but I don’t think so. Rahi, maybe, but not ghost-demons.” Kopaka squinted, managing to make sense of his treespeak. Even the way Lewa talked managed to get on his nerves, and he wondered if he had come to Mata Nui speaking like that or if he’d learned it from the Le-Matoran. He wasn’t sure which option annoyed him more. His response came as a grunt from where he sat, and Kopaka leaned back against a tree trunk, trying to put it out of his mind. Trying to rest his tired body and nerves. Across their fire, Lewa lounged on a low hanging branch, his axe sunk into a great root below him. And for a moment, their small, secluded camp was quiet, just the way Kopaka liked it. He took a deep breath, crossing his arms as he listened to their crackling fire, to the sounds of the forest, and Kopaka closed his eyes, allowing himself a moment of reprise. But it couldn’t last. “So what masks have you search-found?” Kopaka’s icy blue eyes opened, narrowing as they stared at the fire. His response was short. “A Hau.” “Shielding?” Lewa plucked a leaf from a nearby branch, fiddling with it before blowing it into the air, using his powers to send it skyward. “I could pass on that one. Way I see it, why does a Toa-hero need shielding when he has ever-quick agility? Miru and Kakama are the most important, I say-think.” Kopaka attempted to close his eyes again. “We need all the masks to defeat Makuta, Lewa.” “Yeah, but I can slow-wait on a few of them. Like Kaukau? Mask of Water Breathing? Why water-breathe when you can dry-stay on land?” Kopaka grunted, choosing to end the conversation and focus instead on his breathing. It was easier to meditate in the mountains, where the snows muffled sound, and where Lewa didn’t like to go. He fixated on the cicadas, their constant drum serving as a backdrop to the night, a subtle white noise that he could use as a canvas to drape over his turbulent mind. He relaxed his shoulders, letting go of the day’s worries, returning once more to his calm, collected self — “You ever get shiver-cold up in those mountains?” Kopaka’s eyes snapped open. “No.” “What about wet? All that freeze-water, it must soak into you after many long-walks, yeah?” He gritted his jaw. “If it melts, I freeze it.” Lewa cocked his head, the orange firelight flickering off his armor. “So when you’re thirsty, do you drink water, or does it quick-freeze the moment it touches you?” And Kopaka looked at him, unable to tell if he was joking. He closed his eyes again, not granting Lewa a response. But again, the Air-Toa was undeterred. “I just don’t understand how you do it,” he went on as he looked to the dark canopy. “Snow… it’s water, but cold. Gross-bad. And it sticks to you. Annoying.” “Not as annoying as certain people.” “Ah, people!” Lewa laughed, clearly not taking the hint. “What would we ever-do without them?” he sniggered for a minute before looking out at the forest again. “It is good to be out in the quiet, don’t you think? In the ever-wilds.” Kopaka sighed, his patience waning faster than ever. “Lewa — I’m going to sleep. You take first watch. Wake me if anything approaches, or when it’s my turn to take over.” “…Oh,” Lewa paused. “Alright, deep-sleeper. Your closed eyes are safe with me.” And again, Kopaka was quiet. His mask still, his body relaxed, he once again focused on the trees, on his breathing, on the ever-constant rustle of leaves above. It was, now that he finally had some peace, quite calming. Different from the mountains, yet similar in many ways — instead of the snow’s quiet embrace, the mist hung around him. Instead of the frost-dusted pines, the jungle’s broad leaves — “You want the fire doused? The flames keep away bug-Rahi, but might attract bigger —” Kopaka’s eyes erupted, and his stare alone was enough to freeze the Toa of Air in place. Fiercer than Ko-Wahi’s winds and colder than its glaciers, his mask was somehow stoic yet menacing at the same time. Lewa hovered halfway over the fire, a water-filled gourd in one hand, suddenly not sure how to move. “…I just thought it might be a little bright if you want to deep-sleep.” “Do what you will.” And Kopaka closed his eyes. Again. It took a while for sleep to come, as he kept expecting Lewa to make some other sudden, annoying noise, but this time the Toa of Air seemed to get the message. The night remained quiet, it remained calm, it remained everything Kopaka needed it to be in order to get just a little bit of rest. The crickets chirped, the fire cracked, the leaves rustled, and all around, Kopaka let the forest embrace him. He let himself relax, and finally, he rested. For a while, at least. ~~~ Vibrations. Twigs snapping. Leaves… moving. Something was coming. Kopaka stirred. He lay still as his mind awoke, his spine tingling as his body went on edge. He opened his eyes, though he couldn’t see much — the fire was out; only a few coals glowing beneath a pile of smoking ash. The leaves were motionless, the mist hung low, and Lewa lay across from him, unmoving on his branch, facing away from camp. It seemed to be just before dawn. There it was again. Leaves pushed out of the way as something stalked the forest floor. It was coming towards them. Silently, Kopaka reached for his sword, looking to Lewa. He had to have felt it too, right? A slight thump to his right — a leg, pausing on a tree root? It had to be big. Kopaka braced himself, his muscles tensing as everything went silent, ready for anything. Squeezing the hilt of his sword, his heart pounded as the seconds ticked by, and he knew it was coming. The world paused and time froze as he took a deep breath, holding steady… steady… and…. Nothing. Kopaka squinted, looking to his right as he activated the powers of his Akaku. And for an instant his vision lit up, an orange heat signature confirming that something nearby was — Skreee! The screech filled his ears as a monster flew towards him, barreling through the air as it pounced. Kopaka rolled out of the way just as its claws sank into the earth, popping to his feet, whipping out his shield and readying his blade as it turned on him again. Behind, Lewa stirred, but Kopaka had no time to spare any attention — the beast was on him. It leapt forward again, its eight, spindly legs scraping against his shield as he stumbled, pushed back by its weight. He swung his sword in retaliation, and the giant spider-thing screeched, retreating for only a second before pouncing again, but this time Kopaka was ready. Sidestepping, it flew past him, sinking its claws into a nearby tree, and Kopaka fired one, two, three icicles through his sword, each spike embedding into the wood as the Rahi scuttled upwards, narrowly avoiding his attack. Kopaka looked up just in time to see it jumping down, flying forward, but this time he didn’t have the speed to dodge. With a thud he hit the dirt, the spider on top of him, its dark eyes shining just inches from his mask as he tried to shove it off, drooling fangs yearning to sink into his armor. But with a roll and a kick he was free again, and he swung his sword as he sprang to his feet, unleashing his ice at the monster once more, forcing it back once again as Kopaka — Fwoosh! A fire erupted behind him and Kopaka had to pause, shielding his eyes as light engulfed their camp. The large spider-Rahi squealed, sinking away from the flames, pausing for only a second before it scuttled off, a trail of foliage fluttering in its wake. Kopaka turned to see Lewa, standing across the fire, smugly having used his air to reignite the smoldering coals. But Kopaka wasn’t happy. “What are you doing?” he demanded, his voice calm but stern. “I thought you were keeping watch.” Lewa frowned, obviously expecting a different reaction. “Sorry for quick-saving you, I suppose.” “I had that under control. Why weren’t you keeping watch?” he insisted. “I was watching.” “I specifically told you to wake me if anything approaches. You fell asleep, did you not?” “It was just a Fikou,” Lewa crossed his arms, obviously avoiding the question. “Maybe a big-strong one, but not too dangerous.” Kopaka felt his chest warm. “And it if wasn’t? If it was a Nui-Rama, or a Muaka, or something that could’ve crippled us with one hit? What then, Lewa?” “Easy, brother, everything is alright.” “It is not, Lewa!” The clearing was silent as the two Toa stared at each other, both in a bit of shock after hearing Kopaka raise his voice. The fire flickered as a dim light began to shine through the leaves, and they both knew that dawn would be arriving. Another day would soon be upon them, along with many more miles of travel. Kopaka sheathed his sword, placing his shield on his back as he went on. “There are only six of us,” he said plainly. “We have a responsibility to the people of this island, and we need to take this threat seriously if we’re going to succeed. Everything is very much not alright, Lewa, and if you want to survive all of this, something is going to have to change. I suggest you think about that.” And Lewa didn’t have much else to say. He stood there, motionless for a second, before answering with a quiet nod. He loosened his shoulders and walked over to where his axe was still embedded in its root. And then, picking it up, he turned and pointed to his left. “About a day’s journey, southeast. Look for tall spire-cliffs; the mask should be at their peak-top, in the middle of the ruins.” Then he turned, looking over his shoulder at Kopaka. “I know when I’m not wanted, Ice-Toa, and I work better alone. So if you need me, I’ll be search-finding my own masks.” He swung his axe over his shoulder and hopped onto the nearest, low-hanging branch. “I suggest you quick-think about that.” And in a moment, Lewa was gone. Disappeared through the trees, leaving Kopaka to fend for himself. The Toa of Ice didn’t move for a minute or two. He stood there, letting dawn shine ever brighter through the canopy of leaves as the jungle slowly awoke to start another day. And as Kopaka prepared to leave, he made sure to douse the fire. With a swing of his sword ice shot into the coals, which sizzled for a moment before turning dark and dying. It would be another bright, warm day in southern Mata Nui, but Kopaka liked it cold. ~~~ As it turned out, Lewa’s directions were wrong. Maybe it was a day’s journey at his speed, swinging and levitating through the air, but it took Kopaka three until he could even see his destination: a cluster of tall, spire-like cliffs, standing in the middle of a deep, overgrown valley. From where he stood now, at the edge of the basin, he could almost make out the stone ruins that rested at their peak. He could almost see where his next Kanohi waited. The journey had been long, hard, and exhausting, and Kopaka had spent it in a foul mood, but he had made it all the same — even without Lewa’s help. He had always preferred to be alone, and perhaps that was the one trait he shared with the Toa of Air; perhaps that was Lewa’s one redeeming quality. Kopaka huffed, securing his shield before beginning his final descent into the valley. It had been foolish to accept the Air-Toa’s help in the first place. He knew the only person he needed was himself. Still traversing at a snail’s pace, Kopaka was ever-patient, cutting, climbing, working and wading his way through the valley, until finally, after hours, he stood at the base of the tallest spire, looking up at the great cliff before him. It stood, tall as a mountain, rising almost straight up into the sky, daring him to try and climb it. It’s peak, barely visible from so far away, gazed down on him, as he would the tiniest of insects. The Toa of Ice cracked his neck, rolling his shoulders. He had climbed many mountains in his time, but never as steep, as abrupt, or as intense as this. The Mask of Levitation… he thought. How fitting that one would need to levitate to find it. And so he began his ascent. Searching for handholds, he climbed the vertical rock, carefully placing his boots, cautiously wedging his fingers into whatever crevice he could find. He climbed and he climbed, rising above the treetops that grew from the valley’s floor, soon finding himself exposed to the open air of Le-Wahi. It was tiring, pulling himself higher and higher, bit by bit, but he knew he could do it; he could do anything he put his mind to. He just had to focus, and he would make it, in time. Kopaka was beginning to notice a trend about this island, about this strange land of Mata Nui. There was a certain… logic to it, a certain dry humor to the places he could find these Kanohi. Makuta seemed to be testing them, choosing hiding places that were never impossible to reach, but always difficult enough to test their merit. As if finding these masks were simply a game to play, a puzzle to solve, a riddle to understand. Kopaka pulled himself onto a narrow ledge, frowning as he spared a minute to rest. He looked out to the valley. He had always hated riddles. Although only a third of the way up, he still towered above the treetops. Able to see for miles, the vast expanse of Le-Wahi stretched out before him, ending in a green haze at the horizon where the endless jungle met the bright blue sky. The mid-morning sun shone upon his armor, and a cool breeze brushed against his mask, smelling of earth and soil and life. Allowing himself this moment, he stared to the horizon, taking it all in: the sun, the sky, the trees, the earth, the air. Le-Wahi, as vastly different as it was to Ko-Wahi, was still… beautiful. Kopaka took a deep breath, filling his lungs to their brim before exhaling. But alas, he still had much work to do. And so Kopaka turned his back on the view. Up and up he went, climbing ever higher, the distance between him and the ground rising to terrifying heights. But he never looked down, always keeping his mind on his prize. Eventually he managed to find a broken, narrow ledge that wound its way up the cliffside, some parts of which were still wide enough to walk upon, and so he shuffled his way along it. It seemed to have once been a trail, perhaps to reach the ruins at the summit, but if that was the case it was last used ages ago, and was by no means reliable, or safe. But still, the narrow, inconsistent platforms helped his progress, and he found himself another third of the way up by midday. It was here that his narrow path stopped, instead turning into the spire itself, and the Toa of Ice found himself staring into a gloomy tunnel, carved into the rock by forgotten hands an uncountable number of years ago. The sun shone bright at his back, but he gazed into the dark, unsheathing his sword, knowing that it had all been too easy. He would’ve been a fool to think Makuta would leave this Kanohi out in the light, unguarded. And so Kopaka stepped into the mountain, his icy eyes glowing as he left the light behind. Come now, Makuta, he challenged. You should know by now that I do not fear the dark. The black consumed him quickly, and soon, everything was silent. Drip… drip… drip…. Water, falling somewhere nearby. The quiet tapping of his boots, echoing on tunnel floor. The steady, in and out of his breathing. Kopaka’s fingers were white around the hilt of his sword. The air was still. The air was quiet. The rock watched from all around. Tap… tap… tap…. He wished he could walk quieter, but in a world as silent as this, every movement echoed. He wasn’t alone here, in this twisting, climbing tunnel — that much was obvious. He could feel it in the air, in his spine, in his bones. With a twitch of his neck he activated the powers of his Akaku, allowing him to scan the gloom for any trace of life, for any signature of heat, even through rock. And there it was: a ways upward and ahead, somewhere deep within the rock: a great blur of heat, far larger than himself. Something massive, some great and terrible Rahi, lying in wait for him. But without any light, how would he know when he was close? Exactly how large was the beast, and which way would the tunnel take him? If he moved straight forward, would he soon meet his foe, or would the tunnel twist and turn for miles before forcing them together? Kopaka took a deep breath, readying his shield just in case. There was only one way to find out. Keeping one hand on the wall to guide him, he marched onward, steadily climbing through the inside of the spire, keeping his gaze on the strange heat signature. It was unlike anything he’d ever seen — seemingly without a head, tail, or even a clear body, it displayed as an orange blob through his mask, like the entire thing was one twisting mass of appendages. He kept it in his vision no matter how the tunnel twisted, and as he drew nearer it grew larger and larger, until it was far beyond the size of any Rahi he’d ever encountered. Blind, and up against something massive he wasn’t familiar with, he feared for a moment he was in over his head, but he soon pushed that thought away. He was a Toa. He had no room in his head for doubt. Moving, walking, shuffling through the darkness, he eventually found himself at the same level as the beast, and he knew he had to be close to the spire’s summit. And then he turned one last corner, and the wall quickly fell away from his hand. Realizing he was in a larger cavern, with the orange blob ten times his size now, he readied his sword and shut off his mask, seeing light for the first time in what seemed like hours. It streamed through a small opening at the other end of the cavern, barely highlighting the edges of boulders and rock columns, and providing just enough light to see the massive, twisting beast that sat before him. Kopaka froze in place. What… what was it? The light silhouetted it from behind, and so he couldn’t see much, but his initial instincts seemed correct. It was a mound of armored legs and claws and tails, twisting around each other, with no head or body to be found — a huge, disgusting, horrid thing that clustered in the center of the room. Kopaka hoped he could avoid it by skirting along the cavern’s edges, and so carefully, he took a step to his left. But… His boot met a puddle of unseen water, making a splash. A tiny, small, trivial splash — one that echoed throughout the cavern. And suddenly, the beast had eyes. First two, then four, then eight, then a dozen pairs of eyes, all glowing orange in the dark, all turning to the Toa of Ice as he cursed to himself. It wasn’t one massive Rahi, it was many, clustered so tightly together they had seemed to merge. Kopaka stood on the balls of his feet and readied his blade, channeling his power as he realized what he was up against: a dozen stingers, two dozen claws, six dozen legs. Nui-Jaga. A nest of them. “Come on then, you…” Wasting no time, he unleashed his power, throwing giant spikes of ice as he sprinted for the exit, but he wasn’t the only one to move. All at once the Rahi came alive, scuttling across the cavern floor, walls, and ceiling, making a beeline for him as they dodged his attacks, closing the distance in seconds. Thinking quickly, Kopaka coated floor around him in ice, and the nearest of the Rahi slid, scrambling for traction as they smashed into each other and the cavern wall. Dazed, it granted Kopaka a precious few seconds, which he used to get just a few feet closer to the light. Crunch! A boulder to his right crumbled, crushed under the power of a Nui-Jaga’s claws, and the force of the blow sent Kopaka sliding sideways across the cavern floor. Wincing, he whirled around, just barely able to dodge the nearest one’s stinger, which sank into the ground above his shoulder. The massive scorpion struggled to free its tail from the rock, and Kopaka retaliated with one great swing of his sword, a spear of ice slashing through its armor, sending the beast flying backwards, pinning it to the cavern wall. In a second, Kopaka was back on his feet. One down, eleven to go. He jumped back as three more lunged at him, just barely avoiding their claws before turning to run again, raising a wall of ice between him and the monsters — but with a crash they broke through; they were too strong, too quick! Another had scuttled down from the wall, cutting off his escape, and he fired another ice spear at it, but to no avail: it scuttled out of the way, and he was surrounded as two more came from the sides. Kopaka turned to face them. “Foul beasts —” But he didn’t have time to finish his taunt. The Nui-Jaga to his right lunged, its stinger plowing forward as Kopaka leapt into the air, twisting his body as the poisonous barb sailed underneath him, and with a flick of his arm, his blade cut through flesh and armor, lopping off the end of Rahi’s tail. With a thud Kopaka landed safely, the Rahi’s high-pitched squeal reaching his ears as he whirled around, ready for the next attack. It came from his left as he dodged a pair of snapping claws, rolling back before popping again to his feet, and — “Aah!” His eyes. Kopaka cursed. His eyes! He stumbled back as a cloud of venom hit him in the mask, and his already poor vision went blurry, disorienting him as he whirled around again, ready to fend off another of the beasts. Swinging his sword wildly, he fired a stream of ice at the large shape in front of him, trying desperately to clear his vision… Slam! A hit from behind and Kopaka was down, losing his grip on his sword as he slid across the cavern floor, gravel and dust cutting into his back. He winced, throwing his shield above him as he heard scuttling, as something massive came down upon him, the full weight of a Nui-Jaga pushing him down, the blurry forms of its pincers trying to bite through his shield, trying to tear at his flesh and armor. He kicked upward, still blind, still desperately trying to get the Rahi off him, fighting for every inch of space. But there was more scuttling, and he knew he only had seconds before the rest of them came down as well. He didn’t have the strength to push it off… he didn’t have the time! Already he could feel the others coming, and he had to move, but the Nui-Jaga clawed at his shield, its drool dripping onto his mask, its great weight pinning him down, and… and… A sudden gust of air — no, a hurtling burst of wind, with the speed and power of a hurricane! The Rahi above him grew lighter, its weight lifting, and with one final kick, Kopaka pushed it off, springing to his feet and feeling for his sword. His fingers closed around its hilt and he swung it upwards, unleashing the power of winter. His frost merged with the wind, a blizzard forming before his blurry eyes, the whirling sheets of ice and snow forcing the Nui-Jaga back, back to the darkest end of the cavern. And Kopaka put distance between them, moving towards the light as he regained his bearings, already knowing who had come to his aid. “Couldn’t just let you become Rahi-bones like that, could I?” Lewa’s voice reached him as he finally managed to wipe the venom from his eyes, and he moved backward, keeping up his constant stream of chill until the Toa of Air appeared in the corner of his vision. They stood just before the cavern’s exit now, and Kopaka’s response was calm. “I had that under control.” “Uh huh, and I’m the Toa of Water.” But with a subtle nod, the two Toa put forth one final burst of power, moving back into the light as the Nui-Jaga scrambled at the other end of the cavern, trying to gain their footing. But Lewa was relentless, pinning them to the far wall with his hurricane, his Miru smiling, his axe glinting in the streaming sunlight. And Kopaka turned his sword to the stone around them, his power freezing everything he pointed at. His ice coated the rock, crystals forming atop each other, growing and growing as he moved his weapon back and forth, back and forth, slowly forming a wall of ice between them and the Nui-Jaga. And in a minute, it was over. Lewa lowered his axe, cutting off his wind as Kopaka plugged the final hole in his wall, a dozen feet thick and spanning the cavern edge to edge. He admired his work for a moment before turning around, satisfied, knowing that even in Le-Wahi’s heat, it would take weeks to melt. Finally, he turned to Lewa. “Not bad, I suppose.” And he walked out of the cavern. “…You’re welcome for quick-saving you!” Lewa called after him, pausing for dramatic effect before hurrying to catch up. “Again!” But Kopaka ignored him. As usual. He stepped into the light, greeting the outside world at sunset, finding himself atop a small, stone temple surrounded by tall, broken spires. The peak of the summit was flat, only a few hundred feet in diameter, and was covered in thin grass and mossy boulders. But what caught Kopaka’s eye was another temple — or perhaps more of an altar — placed directly across from where he stood, near the opposite edge of the summit. Atop it, he could see a shining silver object, glinting ever-so-slightly in the setting sun, and he paused, his heart almost fluttering. The Mask of Levitation…. But all was not well. His moment of triumph fizzled as he realized the air around them was humming, and they were not at all alone. His attention diverted from the shining mask, and he finally saw what they had stumbled into; he finally saw the horror that they were up against. All along the edges of the summit, clinging to the cliff walls, clustered within the grass, and climbing across the boulders, were Rahi. Dozens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of fast and agile Rahi, each large and winged, all with grabbing pincers and all-seeing, compound eyes. And Kopaka, exhausted as he was, drew his sword once more. The scourge of Mata Nui’s skies; a great swarm of Nui-Rama. “Kopaka…” “Ready your blade, Lewa,” Kopaka retorted, feeling energy surge through his blade once more. “We have the fight of our lives ahead of us.” “Brother!” Ready to run straight for the mask, Kopaka didn’t have time to listen to anything else Lewa had to say. Standing on the balls of his feet, his muscles twitching, he braced himself for what was to come. His shield up, his sword ready, he scanned the summit, watching the countless pairs of wings, ready for this last stretch, this last challenge. He lowered his weight, ready to charge, and — A hand on his shoulder. Kopaka whirled around, seeing Lewa standing there, relaxed, his axe slung across his back, completely unprepared to fight. Confused, and at this point completely exasperated with the Toa of Air, it took all his willpower to not lash out. “What are you doing?” he snapped, settling on an icy glare instead. “Relax, Toa of Slush,” Lewa walked to the edge of the temple and sat down, beckoning him to follow. “Have a sit-rest. Sheath your knife-blade.” And Kopaka, so bewildered by his actions, was unable to move for a second. At a loss for words, he looked from Lewa to the Nui-Rama and back again, unable to comprehend what was going on. “Come on, Brakas,” Lewa beckoned again. “Trust your local king of know-nothingness.” And after a few moments of hesitation, Kopaka obeyed, if only because it seemed the swarm hadn’t noticed them yet, and maybe Lewa had some sort of plan. He walked over to stand next to his companion, still gripping his sword, but allowing the Toa a moment of his time. But instead of laying out a plan, or a well-thought course of action, Lewa took a deep breath, stretched, and laid back to stare at the sky. Kopaka gazed down at him. Lewa, in turn, closed his eyes. And still Kopaka stood there, his momentum all but dissolved, waiting, but not necessarily expecting something to happen. The air around them hummed with the beating of wings, the sun moved closer to the horizon, and a cool breeze blew across the spire’s summit. And eventually Kopaka sighed, asking his ever-constant question once more. “…What are you doing?” “Taking a nap.” “Do you realize where we are right now?” “Do you realize where we are not?” Lewa peeked open an eye, his Miru smiling as it always did. “Because we are not in ever-danger.” Kopaka was about to retort, about try and make Lewa see reason, but as he took another look around at the swarm, he realized, begrudgingly, that Lewa might be right. The Rahi’s masks… they were clean, and matched the insects’ natural color. There was no rust, no scarring no pitting… Kopaka lowered his sword, suddenly quiet. The swarm wasn’t infected. It didn’t belong to Makuta. Lewa looked up at him, noticing his change in demeanor. “You see?” Kopaka didn’t reply. “The buzz-flyers are big and irritable, but not evil.” Lewa added, sitting up again. “You quick-run into their swarm and they’ll attack, but leave them be and they’ll slow-move on. They just want to eat the moss-grass, and not be bothered.” He took a moment to breathe, motioning again for Kopaka to sit. “Come on, might as well slow-wait it out.” And this time, Kopaka complied. So together, the two Toa sat, quiet as the swarm moved, feeding and crawling and buzzing about, content to ignore them as long as they did the same. Kopaka watched, quiet as the breeze blew and the evening wore on, their humming ever-constant in the background. The sunset soon spread across the sky, casting yellow, orange, red and purple against thin, wispy clouds, and for once — Kopaka realized as the minutes went by — Lewa seemed content to stay silent. It was peaceful, Kopaka thought as his shoulders relaxed. Tranquil, even, watching the sun inch closer to the horizon, watching these Rahi go about their lives. He had always meditated, of course, but this seemed different, somehow. As if here, in the jungle, there was something offered that he couldn’t find in the mountains. A different kind of peace; a certain connectivity, a bond with all the life that was constantly in motion — a tie to Mata Nui that the snows couldn’t quite grasp. Sure, it was good to be alone, in the quiet, but perhaps — not often, but maybe every once and a while — it was good to be surrounded, too. Perhaps — he thought as the Rahi slowly, steadily, began to move — for all his flaws, Lewa did have something useful to offer. And so Kopaka leaned back, breathing the fresh, cool, evening air as the swarm made their way across the summit. One by one the bugs buzzed over the side of the cliff, having had their fill of moss and grass, flitting to the next spire, or to the trees at ground level below. And one by one, more followed, the swarm slowly thinning, slowly quieting as the two Toa watched. They didn’t speak a word to each other, instead content to simply sit, to relax, and to exist in such a strange, beautiful world as this. The sun eventually dipped below the horizon, its colors fading to a soft orange glow, then yielding to the dark blue, starry sky. And as the last of the Nui-Rama passed on, the Toa were, finally, alone. “See?” Lewa said after a few minutes of silence. “Calm-relaxing isn’t so bad, is it, snow-walker?” Kopaka took a moment to respond. “…Perhaps.” Lewa smirked, and the two got to their feet, Kopaka marching forward, finally ready to claim his prize, and Lewa tagging along behind, because what else was he going to do up here? They crossed the open summit in a minute, the light of the moon reflecting off their armor as Kopaka approached the mask. Eager to feel its power, he soon stood before the stone alter, the shining silver-grey Miru gazing up at him, finally — finally — his for the taking. He reached down, his fingers feeling its cold metal, lifting it from the stone, and — he put it on. Power. Power! It surged through his body, tingling his nerves, the Miru imbuing him with the energies of levitation, adding to those he had already obtained — shielding, vision, his elemental mastery of ice. He felt alive, fulfilling this little part of his duty, his destiny, and he knew that soon more would follow. He knew, with this power, he could go farther, faster, reach places he never dreamed of reaching before, and — “Alright fellow Miru-wearer, quick-race you back to Le-Koro! Ready set go!” And before Kopaka could react Lewa had sprinted away, throwing himself off the cliff ahead, plummeting straight down to the jungle below. “Lewa…!” Kopaka ran to the edge of the cliff, only to see the small shape of his companion disappear within the canopy far below. And Kopaka realized that he was alone, hundreds of feet up with no easy way down, except for a brand-new mask that he still didn’t quite know how to use. He took a step forward, teetering at the edge of the vertical drop, confident in his abilities, yet secretly wishing the Toa of Air had stayed a moment to teach him how, exactly, to use this new-found power. Kopaka took a deep breath, rolling his shoulders as he stifled a scowl. Lewa… he was the worst. The End Author's note: special thanks to my wife, my beta with absolutely zero Bioincle knowledge, who asked if Lewa's character was basically "Yoda, but younger, and possibly in a frat."
  14. "It's a canon weapon; you can look it up on BS01" lmaoooo Really good job overall. I was convinced it was going to be Dumon, but you managed to keep me going till almost the very end! Also Roz is my new favorite character. He is canon now.
  15. Me: hey remember this character? Readers: I mean that was literally years ago but okay Me: :) :) :) :) Sorry for being the biggest procrastinator in the world lol Buuuut thanks for staying with me!!!
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