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Nuju Metru

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About Nuju Metru

BioniLUG Members
Year 11
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    Senior BZPRPG Staff
  • Birthday 02/28/1995

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  1. Speaking for Grokk and myself, he's touched to be remembered.
  2. IC: Nowhere sees somewhere. Nothing perceives things. The doo— —r is openin— —g. Yes. Ye— —s! The life fl— —ows and I— —know tha— —t we— —a— —r— —e— —CLOSE. … The sword hissed when it descended, crystal through armor and then against stone; the flamberge slid perfectly through Echelon and into the notch on the Vault’s lock. As if a rock had been dropped through the surface of the stale underground atmosphere, a heavy wave of air rippled out in all directions from the point where Dorian had inserted the sword. Then things began to change. The alchemy transpired so quickly that Dorian hardly registered it, save through the difference in the grip. Still standing with its tip plunged through Echelon’s body and into the Vault floor, Heuani’s old flamberge started to change. It broadened, and its keen edges morphed from wavy to impeccably straight, like a wrinkled piece of cloth that was being ironed. The handle of the sword grew from a hand-and-a-half design to a two-handed grip with a brutally simple crossbar. Most astonishing of all, though, was that the very substance of the sword transmuted. The clear crystal of its blade seemed to melt away to instead reveal shiny, well-oiled protosteel. Echelon groaned and gasped as the weapon thrust through him swelled, forcing his grievous wound to open further. Dorian was deaf to the pitiable noises of his enemy, for he was too enraptured by the magic happening before his very eyes: he had never seen this new sword before, but he could feel ancient power in its huge handle, a handle now too large for him. This weapon, though Dorian and Merror did not know it, had most recently belonged to the Imperial Executioner Rayuke on the distant Kentoku Archipelago. The charm stones embedded in the floor seemed to appreciate the taste of the new sword’s protosteel; they grew enthusiastically brighter, graduating from gentle blue towards bright white. Their luminance began to spread, like the firing neurons of a brain, to each of the thousands of letters etched into the Vault’s quartz wall. Eventually, all the characters around the room glowed with their own luminance. The Vault, which had been dark and moody for so long, was now lit from all surfaces by harsh white light. To Dorian and Merror, it felt clinical inside the chamber, even sterile. The Vault seemed like it wanted to rid itself of disease, at any rate: with a terrific bang! Makuta’s old Antidermis vat which had hung from the wall fell to earth, the tar-like cords that had suspended it somehow dissolved by the lit letters. The vat shattered on impact, its black-green gas-fluid spilling dangerously forth— only to be vaporized, sputtering and bubbling, whenever it touched a white-lit sigil. Dorian let go of the sword in shock as it started to move of its own accord. The broadsword’s two-handed grip twisted, and the blade with it; the concentric circles on the floor of the Vault turned like a great lock. Echelon howled with pain as the inertia of his fallen body resisted the irresistible torque of the blade; nevertheless, his prone body turned 90 degrees along with the sword. The only area left unlit was the Vault’s door, that featureless pale stone slab which had beguiled and confused the Toa Maru from without and continued to guard its mysteries from within. But not even this portion of the room, stoic and sturdy as it was, could escape indelible change. Before the eyes of Dorian, Merror, and Echelon (who had been turned, fortunately, to have a better view of the door), the smooth stone face lost its composure. It crumbled—incredibly quickly—into dust-sized particles that seemed to be sucked… inward? As more and more of the door disappeared, the origin of the suction became clear: behind the sheer stone wall was a vertical pond of swirling, multicolored energy. Its pattern was ever-shifting, flowing like a lazy whirlpool where colorful tendrils chased each other in an endless dance. It cast a magnificent, gentle glow over all that stood before it, somehow even outshining the white light all around. When the granules of the dissolving stone door met the surface of the rainbow pool, the fluid around them fizzed a little, returning to placidity once the particles had passed beyond its surface. It was, unmistakably, the fabled portal Joske had long sought to open. Dorian and Merror—who had not known what to expect from the activation of the Vault’s device—wore looks of amazement and bemusement at the sight of this otherworldly gate. But Echelon, who was in-the-know, sported a sickly, ecstatic grin. Echelon let loose a wet cackle; his eyes were newly alight with a spark of manic glee. His speech was ragged and slow, punctuated by retches and coughs as he heaved his words from ruined lungs. “You... fools… it… is done—” “Quiet,” Dorian snarled belatedly, kicking Echelon in the ribs and eliciting an agonized wheeze. But his focus wasn’t on the Dark Toa. Dorian could not take his eyes off the swirling energies before him. “What… what is this?” Merror asked, awestruck. ”I… I…” Echelon coughed, spitting black blood, “...will have... my reward..." Echelon seemed unable to utter any more words; his mouth opened, his tongue flexed, but he was without air. In silence, all six eyes in the room fixed themselves on the awesome sight before them. Gradually, the door continued to atomize and crumble inward. The last of the Vault’s old stone was finally sucked into the multicolored pool, leaving it completely unobstructed for the first time in countless years. The second this occurred, things started to go wrong. Very wrong. … A gap rends nowhere. A gap only large enough for one half of nothing. Following its agreement, the nothingness redivides itself. I have kept my promise. Now, keep yours. I will. I will make you pay. I will obliterate everything you love. And, for now, I cannot stop you. But you cannot stop this. Goodbye, brother. Good riddance, brother. … For an instant, the rainbow currents of the portal flowed naturally. Then, all at once, they began to froth wildly again, as if they were consuming a second stone wall at ten times the previous rate. This time, however, nothing was passing into the portal. Something, it turned out, was emerging. Cold winds buffeted the chamber, sending technological items flying through the air. Merror was nearly brained by a flying Zamor launcher, but ducked just in time. The white letter-lights all around flickered, dimmed, died. The Vault grew dark; the Antidermis vat, which had lent the room a greenish source of illumination, had fallen and its contents dissipated. Only the rainbow glow of the portal, eerie and solitary, provided any visibility. The air ionized, crackled, suddenly smelled of burnt ozone. The darkness grew darker. And a terrible, bodiless, sourceless, invisible, awful, malicious presence squeezed forth from the portal. It filled the whole Vault. It filled the air in their lungs. It filled the whole world. “Free,” the presence murmured. Its voice, deep as the earth beneath Mangaia, rattled the bones in the bodies before it. It echoed off the hexagonal walls, filling the cathedral-like chamber and causing some of the Kanohi left in the Vault’s corner to shatter. The presence’s merest whisper petrified all three Toa, made them feel like their muscles had turned to loose sand. “I am… free.” The walls on either side of the rainbow portal erupted with hairline fractures as the presence experimentally moved from one side to the other. Echelon could not make a sound—he could barely keep his eyes open anymore—but, despite the surge of instinctual terror he felt, his self-satisfied smirk broadened. It was all he had hoped for, schemed for, dreamed for. At last, the power that could grant his great wish had come. He squirmed weakly on the blade of the broadsword, trying to draw attention to himself. “Ah,” the presence rumbled, fixing its focus on Echelon. “Here is my servant.” All the wounds in the Dark Toa’s body screamed in protest; something about merely being looked at by the presence increased his agony threefold. Dorian and Merror, meanwhile, were bound by primal fear to remain silent, motionless, helpless. The walls of the Vault splintered still more, as if insufficient to contain the enormous, evil thing that the portal had deposited there. Echelon, unable to respond to his master and essentially only kept conscious by the fight-or-flight reflex that had gripped his body, wriggled and mouthed silently. “You have played your part, however ineptly, to birth me once again into this world,” the presence mused, its voice causing a dozen pieces of technology behind the Toa to combust spontaneously. Dorian and Merror winced as littles splinters of metal dug into their backs. “For this,” the presence went on, “I am grateful.” Echelon blinked rapidly. He was losing control over his body; his limbs would no longer answer him, but he felt a surge of relief— “And yet,” the presence went on, quelling his hopes like an ocean quells a lit candle. “You have allowed my forces here to diminish, to dispel, to weaken. Because of your incompetence, I cannot yet return to this island with my full strength. For the inconvenience you have caused me, you deserve… punishment.” The darkness surged into Echelon’s mind, strangling and suffocating what little consciousness he had left. I would never have granted your wish, it laughed savagely. And then it snuffed Echelon out forever. Life departed the Dark Toa’s form, leaving his broken body motionless, his eyes still open. Under any other circumstances, Dorian and Merror might have celebrated Echelon’s death. But these were hardly normal circumstances. The prone form of the once-great Dark Toa served only as a fresh example of the dire straits into which they had stumbled. “You,” the presence growled at the two Toa. They were bound under its invisible gaze; they felt like they were being simultaneously boiled alive and flash-frozen. The Vault started to shake and crack, as if the wrath of the presence was becoming simply too much for the quartz walls to handle. “I also owe you a debt for your part in my return,” the presence conceded. “I will not take your lives today.” With that, a potent maelstrom howled to life. It picked up Dorian and Merror, as well as the scraps of ruined technology behind them, and started to spin around and around like a tornado. The Toa nearly fainted from the violent centripetal force, and strained to keep their eyes open as they watched the rainbow glow of the portal whip past, past, past their vision. The presence boomed all around them. “Tell the world that I have returned. Tell the Toa Maru that they can find me— if they dare face me again. I will be ready for them.” The quartz chamber of the Vault shattered at last, exploding outward into the enormous, dark chamber of Mangaia. The wicked presence, free from confining walls, swelled in magnitude and laughed. The gale-force column of air carrying Dorian and Merror deflected the worst of the Vault’s wreckage, sending it flying far out on all sides. The portal remained just where it had been, though, standing in midair within a newly-formed pile of rubble. Within the cyclone, Merror could not dodge a second piece of technology, which knocked him out cold. Dorian did not last much longer; susceptible to his wounds and extraordinary dizziness, he passed out a moment later, his body becoming limp in midair. At great speed, the whirling tornado carried the two unconscious Toa up to the surface, up to the world above, where evening had just begun to fall. Makuta was back. … Nowhere is nowhere, but nothing does not mind. Two down. Four to go.
  3. IC: Nowhere sees somewhere. Nothing perceives things. The doo— —r is openin— —g. Yes. Ye— —s! The life fl— —ows and I— —know tha— —t we— —a— —r— —e— —CLOSE. … The alchemy transpired so quickly that Rayuke hardly registered it. Still standing with its tip plunged deep into the Vault’s crystal podium, the Imperial Executioner’s broadsword started to change. It narrowed, and its keen edges morphed from impeccably straight to wavy, like it was being bent by a mirage. The handle of the sword shrunk from a two-handed grip down to a hand-and-a-half design. Most astonishing of all, though, was that the very substance of the sword transmuted. The polished metal of its blade seemed to melt away to instead reveal cold, clear crystal. Dasakan crystal. … Out of a shadowy wisp a sword unlike any Heuani had ever seen materialized before him. It had a sturdy, elegant metal hilt – a basic T-shaped crossbar, an unadorned ovular pommel, all crafted out of smooth lines – but what was remarkable about the weapon was its transparent, rippling blade. Heuani plucked the sword from the air and felt its balance suit him excellently, as though it had been made for his arm. The blade looked like it was made of glass, and its edge was so sharp it almost disappeared into the shade around it. He pulled the flat of the flamberge close to his face and noted that its seemingly smooth surface was actually comprised of exceedingly minute flat polygons that bent so subtly that their edges were imperceptible unless closely examined. Inside the blade, Heuani’s acute vision made out a tiny crevice, an angular-looking air bubble; it was, as far as he could see, the sword’s only flaw. … Side banter died as the Matoran took in the changed blade. Rayuke had never seen this flamberge before, but others in the group knew it at once. “I know that sword!” Leli gasped. “It’s—” “—Is it?” Tarnok murmured. “Could it be?” “—the Dark Toa Heuani’s sword!” Leli finished. “Hey-you… hey-who… whose?” Soraya asked. “I saw it at the Battle of the Hive,” Leli clarified. “It was the weapon of Makuta’s most despicable lieutenant.” “It felled some of our friends,” Tarnok growled. “That’s not the kind of weapon you forget.” The group didn’t have much time to muse on the weapon, though, or to speculate as to how it had arrived, before the reason for its presence announced itself. The dot of the Red Star’s light, which had bounced uselessly off of the blade of Rayuke’s metal sword an instant before, interacted quite differently with the crystalline one. The red pinpoint shone through the flamberge, passing right into the prismatic bubble close to the sword’s hilt. This, the famous flamberge’s only “imperfection”—which had been noticed by a handful of its previous owners—suddenly announced itself as anything but: it had long been destined to act as the intricate key for a complex refractive sequence. The sequence transpired at the speed of light. Red starlight passed through the key chamber in the flamberge; it entered the white crystalline podium before the sword, making the quartz there glow with refracted light; that light surged down and lit up the whole amethyst platform beneath the Matoran party’s feet; surfaces within the platform bounced brilliant rays of light out to hit the crystal pillars on every side; and the crystal pillars, lit like towers of daylight, shot identical beams towards the rough nodule of crystal which was the only blemish on the Vault door’s smooth, blank face. Rayuke, resident of the crystalline city of Sado, knew enough about crystal to know that light refracting through it should become dimmer, not brighter. And yet, the small, dim glow of the Red Star had grown brighter and brighter as it moved through the Vault’s mechanism. Forces beyond those of nature were at play in this moment. “Mata Nui…” Seven marvelled behind him, her hands to her mouth in amazement. The crystal nodule in the doorway soaked in luminance like a sponge. It glowed brighter and brighter, becoming too brilliant to look at. The nodule glowed like the sun, resculpting Koshiki’s crater into patches of stark light and sharp shadow. Everyone present squinted and averted their eyes. Soraya ducked under her scarf. Kellin tried his best to shelter Cancer’s eye stalks with his hands. Meanwhile Rayuke’s eyelids offered him little protection; he blocked his face with his huge palms, but these provided no more relief. He feared the inescapable light would blind him. Only the Abettor kept its gaze on the Vault door, the empty sockets of its Kanohi seemingly impervious to even the brightest light. Finally, as if it could take no more, the crystal nodule shattered, and its light died with it. Its keystone obliterated, the face of the Vault’s door lost its composure, too. It crumbled—incredibly quickly—into dust-sized particles that seemed to be sucked… inward? As more and more of the door disappeared, the origin of the suction became clear: behind the sheer stone wall was a vertical pond of swirling, multicolored energy. Its pattern was ever-shifting, flowing like a lazy whirlpool where colorful tendrils chased each other in an endless dance. It cast a magnificent, gentle glow over all that stood before it. When the granules of the dissolving stone door met the surface of the rainbow pool, the fluid around them fizzed a little, returning to placidity once the particles had passed beyond its surface. It was, unmistakably, the fabled portal. The group of Matoran, stunned and silent with awe for a few moments, burst out into cheers and whoops. Bouncing up and down with excitement, they seized one another, grabbed wrists, hugged, shed tears of joy. They had done it! By their cleverness, diligence, solidarity, and courage, the first of the great Veins of the Universe was open… and they were one step closer to waking the Great Spirit. Seeing the little beings celebrate around him—and having a few of them try, completely unsuccessfully, to tackle him to the earth with bear hugs—Rayuke felt his throat rise into his mouth with emotion. He felt a tremendous sense of relief. But, like many peaceful moments in Rayuke’s life, the relief, pride, joy, and happiness surging through his heart were destined to be short-lived. Mere moments after the heroic party began to celebrate, the last of the Vault’s old stone wall was finally sucked into the multicolored pool, leaving the portal completely unobstructed for the first time in countless years. The second this occurred, things started to go wrong. Very wrong. … A gap rends nowhere. A gap only large enough for one half of nothing. Following its agreement, the nothingness redivides itself. I have kept my promise. Now, keep yours. I will. I will make you pay. I will obliterate everything you love. And, for now, I cannot stop you. But you cannot stop this. Goodbye, sister. Good riddance, sister. … For an instant, the rainbow currents of the portal flowed naturally. Then, all at once, they began to froth wildly again, as if they were consuming a second stone wall at ten times the previous rate. This time, however, nothing was passing into the portal. Something, it turned out, was emerging. Hurricane winds, icy-cold and heavy with hate, assaulted all that stood before the portal, hurling the group of Matoran, Cancer the crab, Rayuke, and even the monumental Abettor back off the amethyst podium. All of them crashed into the glassy sands of Koshiki’s lakeshore, easily 20 yards from where they’d stood. The early evening sky, which had been painted expressionistically by the dying breath of the sun and speckled with white-blue stars, grew overcast and totally dark. The air ionized, crackled, suddenly smelled of burnt ozone. And a terrible, bodiless, sourceless, invisible, awful, malicious presence squeezed forth from the portal. It filled the whole crater. It filled the air in their lungs. It filled the whole world. “Free,” the presence murmured. Its whisper shook the old volcano and made the crater’s poison lake slosh violently. A few droplets of splashing acid rained on Rayuke and the others, making them yelp with pain. Nobody dared inch away from the shoreline though, because to do so would mean voluntarily approaching the awful presence before them. They were paralyzed with animal fear. “I am… free.” On the last word, the presence coiled up towards the sky, stretching exultantly. The crystal pillars of the Vault fell to earth, cracked and splintered as easily as hard candy by the touch of the horrible being. The amethyst podium sank into the sand, as if being devoured by a hungry maw in the ground. The presence extended itself in one direction, then the other, and lightning crackled in the sky. These forks of electricity sparked fires all over Kentoku. Faster than anyone would have believed possible, the jungles of the islands caught the blaze, filling air all around the archipelago with thick, wet smoke. The presence’s invisible eye—or its something, unknown and indescribable, something that could perceive the world around it—fixed itself on Rayuke and his party. Being examined by the spirit felt like being in boiling water and a block of ice at the same time, while pierced and chained in place by unbreakable bonds. Nobody could speak in the face of such a potent gaze. “Hello, little ones,” the presence said, a cruel smile edging into its voice. It was the kind of smile that curdles blood and splits the earth. Indeed, the very ground started to fracture beneath the heroic party. “Are you pleased to see me?” Nobody could respond… save, it seemed, the Abettor. “Why are you here,” the Vault’s old guardian clacked routinely, seemingly unfazed or unaware that its newest visitor could probably crush its can-like body underfoot with a single toe. “I am here because you have freed me,” the presence answered, an amused snort in its voice. The cruelty in it made Rayuke’s bones want to jump out of his body, run away, and dive irretrievably into the sea. “For that, I must offer you my... gratitude.” “We do not accept bribes,” the Abettor countered, managing to stand. Its mask-wheel cycled through to a Kanohi Hau. A moment later, the Abettor had been flicked through the air by a force unseen. It sailed over the beach, crashing into the steep inner cliff of the crater. The impact left a huge dent on the Abettor’s cylindrical body; the guardian started to right itself, but one of its double-jointed knees gave out, and it fell back to earth. It tried and tried again to regain its footing, seeming to expect a different outcome than collapse every time. Rayuke wondered if something in its brain had short-circuited. The presence’s focus returned with broiling force to Rayuke and the Matoran, pinning them to earth with renewed vigor. “Out of gratitude for the service you have rendered me,” the awful voice rumbled, “I shall not touch you— any of you. I will spare your little lives.” Behind, or perhaps within, the presence, the multicolored portal’s currents started to froth again. Rayuke and the Matoran could clearly see what was coming out of the gateway, this time. Dozens and dozens of Dasaka-sized beings in myriad colors started to spill haphazardly out of the portal. Rayuke could tell at once that these were no Dasaka, though—nor were they Toa from Mata Nui. These creatures had hunched backs, savage claws, and tall dorsal spines. Each carried a long staff with ornate spear-points at either end. Although the former Imperial Executioner had never seen these revolting beings before, all the Mata Nuians behind him recognized them at once. The fear of these familiar monsters helped shake them out of the terrified stupor imposed by the presence’s terrible voice. “Rahkshi!” shouted Lekua. “I will spare your lives,” the presence repeated, its voice booming and vast. “But my sons owe you no thanks.” As the evil presence chuckled—the earthquake of its laugh causing a landslide down one side of the crater—the horde of Rahkshi let loose an earsplitting chorus of shrill shrieks and screeches. They started to amble towards the adventurers. “We need to leave,” Tarnok cried, standing and shedding his heavy pack. “We need to leave now!” “Run!” seconded Soraya, helping Leli up. “Rayuke!” Seven cried. “We have to go! Get up!” Rayuke found himself still unable to move. He was in shock. How could this have happened? They followed the prophecy to the letter. The Vault had opened just as it was supposed to. Everything had gone according to plan... He did not understand. He did not understand. It made no sense; he did not understand... Was Destiny playing some kind of sick joke on him? The Rahkshi continued their advance. Luckily for the Matoran, their progress was slow. The creatures seemed discombobulated or, perhaps, just dizzy from their voyage through the portal. A few of the Rahkshi accidentally veered towards one another and collided, bristling with anger at each other when they did so. Rayuke could only watch as they came closer; he was outside himself, and simply could not budge. As the first few got in striking reach, raising their staves to wield dark powers against Rayuke and the Matoran, something astonishing happened. Its Kanohi Rau in place—apparently so it could bellow like a dragon once again—the Abettor hurtled forward, limping as fast as it could go. It cut off the tide of Rahkshi in spectacular fashion, charging through them like a battering ram. A handful of Rahkshi went flying. Before their ranks could regroup, the crystal formation fused to one of the Abettor’s forearms glowed with light. Pulses of bluish energy shot forth, and melting every Rahkshi they struck into a pile of elemental rubbish. Here a puddle of water, there a mound of earth; here a temporary inferno, there a heap of snow. It was Cancer the Ussal who saved Rayuke. At Kellin’s behest, Cancer’s claw snapped Rayuke on the ankle. The pain jolted him to his senses. He and his friends were in danger. With agility that belied his size, the Dasakan warrior sprung to his feet. “Over there!” he bellowed, voice raised above the din of battle at his back. He pointed at the freshly-fallen landslide. “It may not be stable, but we can climb it faster!” Letting the Matoran sprint ahead of him, Rayuke ushered them towards the fall of rocks. The Abettor, amazingly, still seemed to be holding back the tide of Rahkshi with a combination of intimidation, brute force, and its deadly crystal arm. Nevertheless, Rayuke knew that he and the others did not have much time. As fast as they could, the party scrambled up the loose boulders of the landslide. There were a few close calls—Rayuke had to catch an off-balance Matoran on more than one occasion—but all of them managed to make it back up to the ridge of the crater. Rayuke stole a glance behind him, and caught a glimpse of the Abettor falling under a dogpile of Rahkshi, overrun by the creatures at last. The forward Rahkshi, regaining their normal coordination, had begun to pour past the formidable guardian’s shell in pursuit of Rayuke and the Matoran. Using his Mindarm powers, Rayuke removed a few key boulders from the landslide, massively destabilizing it. A handful of Rahkshi were buried under falling rock, while the others lost their easiest means of pursuit. As Rayuke and the Matoran ran down the mountainside, down into the flaming jungle and back towards their docked boat, Rayuke felt drops of water forming in the corners of his eyes. He made no sound, and since none of the Matoran ahead of him turned back to see him, his tears were private. Rayuke still could not believe what had happened. What was happening in this moment. What would happen. Zataka was on Kentoku, and she would make it hers. ... Nowhere is nowhere, but nothing does not mind. Two down. Four to go.
  4. Nowhere, the fabric of nothing rips— | —spir gnihton fo cirbaf eht ,erehwoN
  5. IC: Nowhere, the fabric of nothing rips— —and I feel it. I feel it, too— —So soon. I can almost— —Yes. So can I— —… What is it? Stop agreeing with me. We are having the same experience. I sense what you sense; so, I cannot help but agree with you. I am sorry to be so agreeable. I hate you. … I will make you your promise, if you still insist upon it. I do. I am glad. Your gladness is folly: you believe my promise has worth. It does not. No power binds me to honor my word. I know you will not break a brotherly vow, even though you have that power. Why are you so confident? Am I not transparent Nowhere? You need not ask. ... Your smugness agitates me. I am never smug. Are you not transparent Nowhere? You are smug. Perhaps, a little. Is it so wrong to derive satisfaction from a brother’s word? It is as you say: so close. The breach begins. We do not have much longer. Yes. Make the promise. This is the time. I hate you. No; you just hate being outmaneuvered. Fine. I will keep my word. … “Don’t!” cried Zaktan. Perhaps it was Zaktan’s raised voice that caught Echelon’s attention and stopped the sword’s motion. Zaktan never yelled. Even fools knew a shout betrayed emotion; and Zaktan, not a fool, preferred to keep his emotions to himself. But under these circumstances, the usually stoic Piraka felt in his gut that he had no other choice but to… What, to cry forth? Zaktan thought in the instant after his ejaculation. To plead? Zaktan did not completely understand why he so opposed Echelon inserting Joske’s old sword into that slot on the floor. At least, he didn’t understand with his head. Rather, his gut jumped to a conclusion; and loathe though Zaktan was to follow instinct over intellect, this sensation felt irresistible and utterly urgent. It felt to Zaktan as if the countless particles which constituted his body had been synchronized with some high, clear note struck on the flamberge’s rippling blade. The silent reverberation felt, to him, like the eerie sound of a wet finger being drawn along the lip of a wine glass. Zaktan understood the vibration as fear. He felt a mortal fear, the kind of fear a cursed near-immortal almost forgets. For the first time since Zaktan’s rebirth as a million swirling organisms, he had awareness, somehow, that he was in danger. All at once, nothing felt more crucial to Zaktan’s survival than stopping Echelon from inserting that crystal blade into its notch. Echelon’s gaunt face twisted into a mask of self-satisfied scorn. “Are you afraid?” “Yes,” Zaktan admitted with surprising ease. “And you should be t—” His words were cut off by Echelon’s bark of a laugh. “The fearsome leader of the Piraka, cowering from the power of the very Vault he has made his lair? Please; I think little of you, Zaktan, but not this little.” Zaktan was incensed and terrified at once. “You-must-listen-to-me!” the Piraka snarled desperately, picking himself up, rising to rush Echelon again. Another mental blast from Echelon’s Komau reduced Zaktan to a shivering cloud. Zaktan regained his form as Echelon approached him, taking steps away from the slit on the floor. This, at least, was good news to Zaktan. “You take me for a fool,” Echelon mused. “Yes,” Zaktan growled, his multitude-body still aching from its second rebuffing. “I do.” “You think I would be taken in by this little theatre act?” Echelon asked, scorn etching itself deeper into his forehead. “You, whimpering and afraid? Ha. You disappoint m—” “—I’m not lying.” Zaktan interrupted. “I think you are,” Echelon countered. “I think you know enough about this device to guess at its purpose, to think you could supplant me in its activation. I’ve seen the way you look at that tank of yours.“ Echelon stabbed a finger in the direction of the roiling vat of Antidermis. “I know we are rival servants of the same master. You would take my place? I will not allow you nor anyone else to stand in my way — not here, at the culmination of my life’s work!” The Dark Toa’s mocking tones had risen into a wild-eyed rant. “Listen to yourself, Echelon,” Zaktan hissed. “Or, better, listen to me. You must not activate Joske’s device.” “Joske’s device?” Echelon crowed, almost hysterically. “I retract my earlier theory! You know nothing about this Vault, do you?” “I know more about its source than you do,” Zaktan howled. “And I know that you don’t understand what you’re getting into! You’re a fool, Echelon! You must cease!” Echelon grimaced and stabbed the crystal flamberge at Zaktan. Zaktan let the sword slip right through him, the Protodites of his body separating to let its blade pass unencumbered. Echelon sliced from side to side, and the famous sword met no resistance. With a snarl, he spun away from Zaktan and strode back to the hexagon of charms on the floor, intent on resuming the Vault’s keyhole ritual. A sound from over Zaktan and Echelons’ heads stopped the Dark Toa cold once more. It was the same patter of footsteps and clang of the Abettor’s voice that Zaktan had heard earlier, that same sequence which had announced Echelon’s arrival a few minutes earlier. Someone else was entering into the Vault uninvited. Echelon glanced away for a moment, concentrated on the sound, stood frozen— but Zaktan wasted no time in making his move. Before Echelon had a chance to swivel, use a mental assault, anything, Zaktan had deformed into a dust-colored cloud of protodites. With the force of a sandstorm, Zaktan lunged forward, the particles of his being buffeting the Dark Toa, knocking Echelon to earth and seizing the crystal key-sword from his grip. Echelon cursed, and his Komau’s devastating mental blast spread radially around the room. The cloud that was Zaktan—which had been swooping for the exit—shrieked in pain, lost cogency for an instant, spun off-course and ran into the wall. In that instant of disembodiment, the flamberge fell from Zaktan’s gaseous grip, twirling a few feet through the air and falling into the center of the junk heap that still towered against one side of the Vault. Zaktan momentarily considered darting back after the sword. He could perhaps have continued to deprive Echelon of the flamberge; that would certainly have been the best course of action to stop the Dark Toa from unleashing the Vault’s horrid power on the world at large. But such a solution could only have been temporarily and, more importantly, would’ve cut short Zaktan’s escape. Zaktan, fundamentally a self-interested being, had seen enough to realize that escape was his only option. Having now sustained three debilitating Komau blasts, the Piraka found himself nearly spent. Given Zaktan’s particular condition, Echelon was simply insurmountable. Besides—just maybe—if Zaktan stayed far enough away from it, the Insanity Voice waiting to be unleashed in the Vault might not catch him. Might not rob him of his very self. Fast as he could, eager to avoid another shock from Echelon’s Komau, the Piraka’s leader zipped up and out. He passed through the hole in the ceiling, rose into the entry tunnel, and swerved over the shoulder of the Abettor. As Zaktan did so, he caught a passing glimpse of a new Toa entering the Vault. This Toa carried violent intent in his squared shoulders, fierce stride, and set face. Zaktan hoped that the newcomer might finish Echelon off, but thought a delay of the inevitable a much more likely outcome. Zaktan’s cloud barrelled through the dark, winding tunnels of Mangaia. It blasted out the aperture of Kini Nui and rocketed into the early evening sky. It hung in space for an instant, considering the best route of escape. Then, like a swarm of silent locusts, it plunged into the jungle and was seen no more.
  6. IC: Nowhere, the fabric of nothing rips— —and I feel it. I feel it, too— —So soon. I can almost— —Yes. So can I— —… What is it? Stop agreeing with me. We are having the same experience. I sense what you sense; so, I cannot help but agree with you. I am sorry to be so agreeable. I hate you. … I will make you your promise, if you still insist upon it. I do. I am glad. Your gladness is folly: you believe my promise has worth. It does not. No power binds me to honor my word. I know you will not break a sisterly vow, even though you have that power. Why are you so confident? Am I not transparent Nowhere? You need not ask. ... Your smugness agitates me. I am never smug. Are you not transparent Nowhere? You are smug. Perhaps, a little. Is it so wrong to derive satisfaction from a sister’s word? It is as you say: so close. The breach begins. We do not have much longer. Yes. Make the promise. This is the time. I hate you. No; you just hate being outmaneuvered. Fine. I will keep my word. … After quarter-hour of methodical descent, Rayuke and the Mata Nuians arrived at the crystal shrine. Sunset was imminent. Standing as he now did before the Kentoku Vault, Rayuke could get a much closer look at the six huge pillars of crystal he’d already seen from afar; curiously, while their flat sides were intricately carved with disjointed letters on top and bottom, they were blank and prismatic at their middles. The orange light of the rapidly dying day caught in one, and sparkled down at the company. In the middle of the hexagon these pillars created, a much shorter crystal protuberance caught Rayuke’s eye. Raised on a clean amethyst platform, a bizarrely shaped crystal, clear and white, proudly sat at the center of everything. This malformed gem reminded Rayuke of a podium. Far in front of the “podium,” flush with the rough-hewn wall of the crater many meters away, stood an upright slab of perfectly smooth stone, the pale face of which was flawed only by another glassy node of crystal fixed in its middle, and a few lines of familiar text inscribed close to its base. At the sight of the Kanohi Dragon, of course, the details of the Vault became temporarily unimportant. Acidic water from Koshiki’s crater – from which the leviathan creature had emerged – hissed as it sloughed off the dragon’s gorgeous lapis-lazuli scales, and dripped down onto the bleached sand below. The dragon languorously shook off its plumed head, and spread its jaws lazily, revealing too many glistening teeth. The tigrine yawn which issued forth resonated in Rayuke’s gut, activating a primordial fear. “Don’t make sudden moves,” Rayuke instructed the Matoran over his shoulder as calmly as he could. Slowly, he motioned the group to fall behind him; together, they backed carefully towards the amethyst platform, eyes fixed on the dragon the while. Rayuke’s hand drifted up to the hilt of his broadsword; the beast was more than a hundred yards away now, but that could change all too quickly. The creature’s gaze alighted at last on Rayuke and the Matoran. With a regal, feline gait, the Kanohi Dragon started towards the intruders on its territory. Its eyes, full of royal pride, gave Rayuke little doubt that he and his companions would be expelled from the dragon’s kingdom by force, or else executed under its magisterial decree. How simple, how efficient, nature is, a part of Rayuke that had clearly already fled his body, remarked. Emperor and executioner, rolled into one. But for all the aggression coiled into its body, and the haughtiness in its eyes, the dragon – to Rayuke’s amazement – did not charge, pounce, leap, or make serious move to assault him and the smaller beings behind. Instead, the animal stopped short about halfway to its prey, and paced from side to side agitatedly. It pawed at the sand and bristled its spines, but made no further advance. Why? A voice, deep and metallic, sounded somewhere behind Rayuke and his companions; and they almost jumped out of their skins. Rayuke swung around, his sword drawn out of reflex. “Identify yourselves,” the voice boomed. The voice emanated from a huge being which, as far as Rayuke could imagine, had materialized from thin air, so suddenly had it appeared directly behind him and the Matoran. The thing which had spoken was shaped vaguely like Rayuke, insofar as it had arms, legs, and a torso. The resemblance stopped there. Its arms were thick as barrels; its legs had all the solidity of trees, and they were double-jointed like a predator's; its torso was a spilled can propped on top of an oversize Dasaka’s bulging abdominal section, and its shoulders were on either side of the can. No head sat on top of the cylinder; but a Kanohi Rau with empty eye sockets stared out from a cavity in the center of the chest. Instead of a right hand, the being’s powerful forearm merged at the wrist into a rough cluster of rough blue crystal. A myriad of small letters, arranged in sporadic lines and dots, glowed brilliant blue all over the imposing thing's body. These seemed to have no reason behind their arrangement, as none of the lines formed real words. Rayuke was reminded at once of the text on the crystal pillars around him. “It’s an Abettor,” one of the Matoran behind him said. “We are the Abettor,” the Abettor confirmed dryly. “Identify yourselves.” “…We are the Great Spirit’s envoys,” Lekua finally announced, and gestured to himself and then each of the others in turn. “I am Lekua. Here are Tarnok, Soraya, Leli, Seven, Kellin, Rayuke, and Cancer.” A violent snarl from the Kanohi Dragon, still pacing at a fixed distance away, made some of the company jump and wheel around yet again. The Abettor pointed its crystalline forearm in the dragon’s direction, and issued a manufactured-sounding bellowing noise, a roar that resonated from deep inside its cylindrical body and made some of the Matoran cover their ears. The animal halted, spat furiously at the Abettor and the travelers in reply, and then resumed its pacing, albeit more quietly. Hot resentment colored the animal’s steps; but it dared not face the same fate as others it had seen intrude on the Abettor’s ground, especially not after the Abettor’s warning in dragon-tongue. Rayuke tried to swallow the panic he felt about being caught between a Kanohi Dragon and a creature strong enough to cow a Kanohi Dragon into submission. He turned back to the Abettor as, with a sequence of clicks and the rustle of metal on metal, the Kanohi Rau in its torso lifted out of sight, disappearing back into its body as another Kanohi rose to take its place. A few masks cycled past this way, like rivets on the outside of a wheel; the wheel slowed and settled on a Kanohi Rode. Rayuke shivered involuntarily to be stared down by his own mask; and his broadsword slowly floated down until its tip rested in the sand. “Why are you here,” the Abettor clacked. “We have come to free the Great Spirit from his deep sleep,” Lekua proclaimed. The other Matoran nodded in assent; Cancer’s eyestalks bobbed in agreement, too. “We are destined to reopen this door.” Rayuke studied the Abettor’s mask, meaning to gauge the behemoth’s reaction to this statement; but, reminding himself that so far the Abettor had displayed no reactions whatsoever, he quickly looked away. Instead, he chanced a glance back at the rest of the party, and saw six resolute faces. For a moment, Rayuke envied the Matoran’s resolve and the simplicity of their mission. The Matoran, decidedly on the side of light, fought darkness. Rayuke’s life’s work had, on the other hand, consisted of navigating the twilit spaces between these extremes. During the course of his career, he had killed eighty-seven Dasaka in the name of Order, and though he regretted none of these executions, he would not soon forget them, either. Rayuke would never forget the eighty-seven desperate looks, or the eighty-seven poem boats he had launched for the criminals on the grey mornings after he had slain them. The Abettor’s answer snapped Rayuke back to his present. “You may proceed,” it said. It took a step to the side, then walked around Rayuke and the huddled Matoran, placing itself between them and the pacing Kanohi Dragon. The behemoth’s massive chest swiveled as it addressed the group again. “We will keep this beast at bay.” Thunderstruck by the ease with which they had bypassed the Abettor, Rayuke and the band advanced—at first cautiously, but with growing resolve—towards the amethyst altar, the console for the Kentoku Vault. Steps weary after their long hike, they ascended the platform and gathered around the oddly-shaped crystal podium standing at its center. On closer inspection, Rayuke noticed a deep notch just before the platform. Its rhomboid shape looked familiar to him, an exact breadth and angle, just like the mark left by his— But could it be so simple? Forget titles, forget sanctions, forget duty, forget the good of the Empire, forget even the good of his family; Rayuke knew he was the most prolific killer on the Kentoku Archipelago. And at his core, he recognized himself as a murderer. He’d murdered one morning, long ago, when he picked up the Executioner’s sword for the first time—too young—and swung it down at a person he had never met. It had taken three swings to do the job; he hadn’t been as strong, then. It had been Rayuke’s first time meeting the sword, and the sword had owned his life ever since. His purpose, his great shame, and his very nature had become tied to the object, to the covenant of murdering it entailed. The sword turned Rayuke into a perfect machine. The sword knew him far too well. And Rayuke knew the sword, too. Eighty-seven times he’d cleaned a departed soul off its surface, wiping in long strokes, oiling and maintaining the metal blade with practices forgotten by all but the custodians of the Executioner’s Sword. Countless days, he’d strapped it on in the morning and unshackled himself from it at night. Rayuke knew every dimension of the blade, from the weight of the pommel to the keenness of the edge. Had the sword honestly believed it could leave a gash in a block of crystal without Rayuke recognizing its footprint? Rayuke almost laughed; what a silly feeling, to feel enslaved by such a careless, amateurish sword. Almost as soon as the Matoran around him had begun to chatter about the position of the sun, about the time until darkness, about what to do next, Rayuke—separated from his heavy body, and from the heavier sword; at last, he was free of it—deftly plunged the tip of his badge of office into the rhomboid niche. It hissed a little, metal against quartz; the broadsword fit perfectly, and Rayuke decided in his heart that this would be the last time he ever swung it. As if a rock had been dropped through the surface of the atmosphere, a heavy wave of air rippled out in all directions from the point where Rayuke inserted the sword. This gust stirred the sand and nearly caused Kellin to stumble off the amethyst platform. Feeling a sourceless wind suddenly on its nose, the Kanohi Dragon growled hesitantly and, as though deciding it was in over its head, retreated down into the toxic water; nobody seemed to care. Even the Abettor turned at once to face the Vault door. The group stared expectantly at the flat stone door; the sun fell below the lip of Koshiki’s ragged crater a moment later; and, as if by the Great Spirit’s own hand, the Red Star grew clear on the inside of the sky’s black eye. A spot of red reflected on the blade of the sword. It caught the Red Star perfectly. One breath. Two. Three. Nothing happened. Rayuke felt the sense of perfect purpose, of certainty, he’d enjoyed moments before drop out of his stomach, as though a hand had reached out of the earth and pilfered it. What could have gone wrong?
  7. Nowhere trembles in anticipation | noitapicitna ni selbmert erehwoN
  8. OOC: “In this place, our concept of eternity becomes only a second, our concept of invincibility becomes vulnerable, and our perception of infinity becomes miniscule. In this Nowhere, [one becomes] even less alive than death would make you. That impossible lack of existence… is simply indescribable.” —Makuta Uhuraz, Aensettr Derrum, 2010 … IC: Nowhere trembles in anticipation. Soon. I feel it. … Brother— —Do not call me that. I am not your brother. Here, we are more brothers than we have been for a long time. You confuse proximity with closeness. We have never been more proximate; yet I have never detested you more. You do not hate me. I do. I hate how you encroach on my essence. I hate what you are. I hate you. … Soon. Please, Brother— —Do not call me that— —I understand what this, the soonness, makes you feel. You cannot. I can. I know that you have grown uncomfortable Nowhere. Uncomfortable! And you claim to understand me? I have been here longer than you; I know how restless you become even in open space. Listen to me, brother. Why should I listen to you? You have no choice but to listen. Nowhere is thinner than air. I could not escape the thought of you if I tried. I have tried. I know. I want to discuss what you’re thinking about. … Nothing can hide Nowhere. I think your thoughts and see your plan as though they were mine. … In your eagerness, Brother, you have blinded yourself to a truth: your plan cannot work without my cooperation. … What do you want? I want you to make a promise to me. What good does a liar’s promise do you? I believe you still answer to Truth, whether you like it or not. Make me a promise. I am listening. … Zaktan and the Antidermis had been locked in a staring contest for the past few hours or so… insofar as a vat of liquid-gas and a hovering swarm of Protodites could stare at each other. A normal Skakdi might soak himself in hot water, gradually allowing his muscles to loosen; Zaktan, meanwhile, soaked himself in air, allowing his entire body to loosen. Maintaining the shape of a Skakdi for long periods of time could be exhausting for Zaktan; indeed, ever since his first run-in with Makuta’s potion, the Piraka’s leader had discovered that shapelessness—wherein he allowed his component particles to flit here and there at their leisure—felt far more comfortable and natural to him than holding a bipedal form. Many years after his transformation, Zaktan had come to embrace, rather than resent, his tendency to melt. Without others around, with only the enigma of the vat to keep him company, Zaktan happily resumed his truer form, and remained as a cloud. But, when the clack-boom of the Abettor signaled another being’s arrival into the Vault, Zaktan’s lazy focus on the ever-changing patterns beneath the glass and spigots broke. The cloud of Protodites briefly tornadoed as each microbe resumed its normal place on his body; in a blink, Zaktan’s ever-flickering body returned to customary form. His glowing red eyes flitted up to the staircase, waiting to glimpse the feet that he heard plodding down the quartz tunnel over his head. Echelon descended into view, looking worse for wear than Zaktan had ever seen him. The Toa of Dark Magnetism’s black armor, usually gleaming—demonstrative of Echelon’s vanity, one of many reasons the Piraka’s leader had instantly disrespected him—shone duller in the Vault light, and beyond that, seemed to have lost its luster due to more impatient or minimal upkeep. Echelon’s priestly ebon robes were ripped and scuffed in a few places, Zaktan assumed, from hasty or dangerous travel; and they rested lower on his wiry form, as though the Toa had become still slimmer, or perhaps more stooped, since last Zaktan had seen him. The shoulders and neck of this Toa, Zaktan noted, were scrunched up with stress. Echelon’s Komau sat on a face even gaunter than usual. His Machiavellian eyes, eerie green as the Antidermis in the vat, looked exhausted, even nervous. He looks like a cornered animal, Zaktan concluded with satisfaction, but no smile. Cornered animals were the most dangerous beasts. Only the crystal flamberge, sharp and clean as the day Joske had strutted down into the Vault wearing it on his hip, looked typically resplendent. Zaktan hadn’t seen the sword since he’d seen Joske; it came as only a slight surprise to him that Echelon now bore the Toa of Fire’s weapon. After all, Zaktan certainly hadn’t expected a hero like Joske to survive too long. Echelon arrived at the bottom of the steps and paused. His green eyes swiveled up to Zaktan’s red ones. An instant of tense, silent contact, and then Echelon averted his gaze, opting instead to dig in his torn robes for something, pointedly ignoring Zaktan. The silence and urgency with which Echelon rummaged seemed uncharacteristic of the grandiose Toa of Magnetism. Why, Zaktan wondered, did Echelon act this way? What caused the hasty movements, the defensive posture, or the feverish eyes? Betrayal in Ko-Koro, or perhaps fear of it? Pursuit by the Maru? Zaktan could safely assume that trouble of one kind or another nipped close at Echelon’s heels; and Zaktan wanted nothing to do with it. The Piraka felt cold contempt, irritation, tingle familiarly in his forehead. Echelon’s presence was unexpected, and certainly unwelcome. The preening fool had no right to visit, let alone to trail his mud into, Zaktan’s immaculate citadel. Only Zaktan had belonged here, since only he could converse with the Antidermis enigma inside the gleaming, laughing vat. This was his private space, and no one else’s. The Insanity Voice was his, his alone. If there was one thing that still tied Zaktan to the other Piraka, it was that he hated sharing. “You are not welcome here, Echelon,” Zaktan buzzed coolly with his multitudinous voice. He clasped his hands behind him as he approached Echelon. The Dark Toa sensed his approach and tensed, ceasing his search with his hands clasped onto some objects in his cloak. “I go where I wish, Zaktan,” Echelon replied, words clipped. “Then, please, tell me why you’ve imposed yourself on my hospitality,” Zaktan hissed, a savage half-smile rising on his lean lips. Echelon gave no answer. “No? Not a very polite guest…” Echelon resumed digging into the hidden pockets of his cloak. Zaktan took another step in, and Echelon halted once more, rolling his eyes. “What do you have under that ridiculous cape?” Zaktan asked, hands still behind his back. In a corner of the Vault behind him, Zaktan’s tri-blade scissor flickered, eagerly awaiting its summons to its master’s waiting palm. “Stop,” Echelon ordered. “No,” Zaktan snarled, and dived at Echelon as his blade materialized into his hand. But almost as soon as Zaktan lunged, he felt himself inexorably, nauseously repulsed. Every particle of his being shuddered simultaneously as though subjected to a shrill banshee’s scream— albeit, an inaudible one. Reflexively, the Skakdi’s body reverted to a shapeless, agitated mass, the better to flee from the source of the painful not-noise. Zaktan’s Protodites, and those of his sword, slammed like a wave on a rock against the wall of the Vault beneath the Antidermis vat. While the soundless screech echoed itself out of existence within his mind, Zaktan collected himself into shaky corporeality again, clutching his head as if he could claw the agonizing tone out of it. Echelon smiled wanly under his Komau; his mental blast had been devastatingly effective against Zaktan. He resumed rummaging in his cloak, and his hand emerged at last holding a handful of small, crystalline spheres. Zaktan recognized them, and knew something of their function. For, like the crystal flamberge, he had last seen these charms in Joske’s possession. … I finally spotted what I was looking for: a semi-circular spot on the floor, half-buried by the pile of technology… The section that I could see was actually composed of two circles, one slightly larger than the other, a large central disk. It was this series of rings I was looking for... the edges as thin as a sheet of paper, matching seamlessly with the floor... But now that I had pointed the rings out with my gaze, I noticed Zaktan's eyes narrow as he started to analyze this new piece of information. I… made a leap of faith. With a flick of my wrist, I pulled out the Crystal of Faith and gently chucked it in the direction of the rings. The sound of stone on stone caused everything else in the room to flinch slightly… Zaktan, too, was focused on the gem that now rolled across the floor… It lazily approached the apparatus, slowing, slowing, slowing yet moving... arcing, as if attracted to the circles. It came to a crawl, made one last roll in the other direction… I held my breath as the little sphere landed inside a circle, the engraved letter right above it glowing… It was a perfect fit. The crystal dropped into a hole in the floor that had clearly not been there just a moment before, and a mysterious blue light source illuminated the pocket it now rested in. I could almost hear a hum, but it could just be my own blood rushing through my body… … Echelon held the six charms between his arachnoid fingers, luxuriantly fondling them as he took an assertive step into the middle of the Vault. A contemptuous glance at the hunched Zaktan; a pointed glance in the direction of the same spot where Joske had dropped the crystal that first time. Zaktan realized at once that Echelon knew exactly what he was looking for. The Dark Toa’s foot shoved and kicked aside various pieces of technology, uncovering the rings on the floor within seconds. Why do Echelon and Joske want to activate the same device? Zaktan wondered. “…What… does it do?” he asked, trying to keep his beehive voice level in spite of the residual effects of the mental blast. “You didn’t really think you’d unlocked the treasure of the Vault, did you?” Echelon replied with a deposed king’s bitter leer as he extended his arm over the naked floor. “A pile of scrap metal, a dozen masks, and a few drops of Makuta’s precious essence? These are meager things. No, Zaktan. You should’ve listened to the rumors. In this vault is contained all the simplest power of the world. “What does it do, you ask?” the Dark Toa continued, and there was a mad triumph flickering in his eyes. “What does a keyhole usually do?” He let the six crystals fall through his fingers one by one. As each clacked onto the greenish quartz floor, they rolled of their own volition in different directions. Drawn as inexorably as if they were pulled by gravity, the charms headed towards particular letters on the ground, glyphs indistinguishable from their countless neighbors until met by the roving crystals, whereupon they recessed slightly and glowed blue. Before Zaktan’s eyes, the six charms—following a secret choreography—arranged themselves into a hexagon on the floor, describing the subtle outer ring of Joske’s device. A low hum, seemingly sourceless, made Zaktan shudder like sand on top of a rattling snare drum. As if by magic, this outer ring rotated like a slowly turning lock. Simultaneously, a small rhomboid slit opened up in the middle of the central ring, blemishing the smooth quartz floor like a open wound. Echelon—his eyes intent on the fresh slit, a horrible smile widening on his face—drew Heuani’s old sword. Zaktan’s eyes widened with realization. That sword... is a key.
  9. OOC: “In this place, our concept of eternity becomes only a second, our concept of invincibility becomes vulnerable, and our perception of infinity becomes miniscule. In this Nowhere, [one becomes] even less alive than death would make you. That impossible lack of existence… is simply indescribable.” —Makuta Uhuraz, Aensettr Derrum, 2010 … IC: Nowhere trembles in anticipation. Soon. I feel it. … Sister— —Do not call me that. I am not your sister. Here, we are more sisters than we have been for a long time. You confuse proximity with closeness. We have never been more proximate; yet I have never detested you more. You do not hate me. I do. I hate how you encroach on my essence. I hate what you are. I hate you. … Soon. Please, sister— —Do not call me that— —I understand what this, the soonness, makes you feel. You cannot. I can. I know that you have grown uncomfortable Nowhere. Uncomfortable! And you claim to understand me? I have been here longer than you; I know how restless you become even in open space. Listen to me, sister. Why should I listen to you? You have no choice but to listen. Nowhere is thinner than air. I could not escape the thought of you if I tried. I have tried. I know. I want to discuss what you’re thinking about. … Nothing can hide Nowhere. I think your thoughts and see your plan as though they were mine. … In your eagerness, sister, you have blinded yourself to a truth: your plan cannot work without my cooperation. … What do you want? I want you to make a promise to me. What good does a liar’s promise do you? I believe you still answer to Truth, whether you like it or not. Make me a promise. I am listening. … It was common knowledge on Odaiba that nothing could survive in the crater of Mount Koshiki. But Rayuke, uncle of Rora Yumiwa and Imperial Executioner, was determined to try his luck anyway. Wrapped in a thick cloak that barely shielded his burly form from the icy mountain gusts, a bandanna tied carefully over his mouth and nose to filter the worst of the toxic ashes from the air he breathed, Rayuke ascended Koshiki’s mountainside slowly and steadily. He leaned into the steep, rocky incline, each step renewing the burn on the back of his calves. Rayuke tried—unsuccessfully, mostly—to lessen his increasing sense of heaviness by relying more on his sturdy walking staff. Even through the cloak he wore, Rayuke felt the strap of his broadsword’s archaic sheath digging into his shoulder. He had been trekking like this for hours, refusing to lose speed even as every step took more and more from him. After all, he was running out of time. Rayuke glanced again at the darkening, grey-orange sky; sunset seemed to approach faster with every minute that passed. Rayuke would never complain about any of his aches, nor about the way his lungs protested each breath of the thin, lightly noxious air they took. While he had not been trained for such exhaustive hikes—Rayuke had been a thoroughbred Sadoite, a city Dasaka, since the day he’d emerged into the world—the Imperial Executioner, First Son of the Umbralines, had been trained with a warrior’s resolve. His mind was steel; he would not betray weakness, for to do so would be to dishearten his companions, who trailed behind him in a jagged line. They found the hike even more exhausting than he did, this he knew, and he knew they drew on his example for their strength. Rayuke was used to assuming others’ pain and putting it on his own broad shoulders. The arduous trek up Koshiki certainly wasn’t how Rayuke had imagined he’d be spending his evening. Mere hours before (how quickly, Rayuke reflected, Destiny chose her marks; how quickly one’s purpose could be changed!), the Umbraline uncle had sat in his private meditation garden, methodically attempting to release himself from the stresses of his increasingly stressful life. Rayuke’s life had never been without stress, of course, a good deal of stress came with his position; but during his sister’s reign, he had been responsible only for judging criminals and occasionally executing them. These were simple tasks. Under his niece’s rule, meanwhile, the Dasakan Empire had fractured. With this divide came new dangers, new pressures, and new responsibilities that—because Yumiwa was too young and inexperienced to acknowledge, let alone contend with, them—fell squarely on Rayuke in all their complexity. And, to top matters off, his youngest niece Desde had disappeared weeks ago. The dawn hours he spent in his garden, calmly and carefully shaping the exotic plants with trimmers that at times felt comically small in his huge hands, sitting by the singing fountain and freeing his thoughts as best he could, had once been a daily pleasure for Rayuke. Now, they had become absolute necessity, without which he dared not face his days for fear of losing control over the pressing frustration that so often built up behind his eyes these days. Rayuke considered self-control—Order—to be the best of his virtues. It was, he reflected, almost a miracle (or, perhaps, a lapse in character, but he dared not think that way, he couldn’t turn back now) that he had been convinced so quickly to drop all his daily duties when the strange visitors had fallen from the sky into his singing fountain early that morning. ... The loud splashes blasted apart the soothing, trickling babble of the cold fountain, immediately snapping Rayuke from his meditative trance and back into the brisk morning air. With warrior’s reflexes, the huge Dasaka’s eyes sprung open, and he leapt to his feet, assuming an unarmed combat position. The water of the fountain—a few meters ahead of him, a few steps below him—frothed for an uneasy moment before the beings that had made the splashes emerged, sputtering. Rayuke kept his distance, watching to see if these creatures were friends or foes. As they clambered out of the fountain, however, Rayuke’s ready stance melted in surprise. Six little beings, the size of Dashi, stood dripping before him. One of them actually was a Dashi—she looked familiar to him, clad in a short apron, shaking off her limbs one by one—but the others were clearly not Kentokuan. They looked like Dashi, but as an imperfect reflection; they came in all the colors of Janu birds. At once, Rayuke assumed them to be so-called “Matoran” of Mata Nui. How had they gotten into his fountain? More pressingly: how had they gotten to the Archipelago at all? “…Rayuke?” one of the Matoran asked him tentatively, eyes wide as if in disbelief. “…I am he,” Rayuke replied uncertainly. “Who are you?” “I’m Seven,” the Matoran answered. “And these are my companions.” Here, the Matoran called Seven pointed to each of the others in turn. “Tarnok, Leli, Lekua, Kellin… oh, and there’s Cancer, Kellin’s Ussal.” A large crab of some foreign species emerged from the fountain, its eyestalks rattling as though shivering with cold. “And of course,” Seven finished, “There’s Soraya.” Soraya was the Dashi, and Rayuke immediately recognized her as she was named: she’d designed his costume at the fateful ball where his sister had been assassinated. Destiny’s icy hand pressed through Rayuke’s sternum. Soraya stepped forward. “Your honor,” she said—Rayuke sensed with his Kanohi Rode vestigial resentments of the Dasakan caste system in her tone—giving him a little bow. “Please forgive us for the intrusion. We come on urgent business.” “…How did you…?” Rayuke asked slowly, gesturing vaguely to the fountain and all of them. “There’s a long story,” one of the other Matoran—Kellin, Rayuke identified him—said, rubbing the back of his neck. “We were sent here,” Soraya said, “By the will of Zuto Nui. We are here to do her work.” “Mata Nui’s work,” one of the other Matoran piped up. “To him and to me, it’s Zuto Nui,” Soraya countered impatiently. “Same Great Spirit. Look, your honor—“ “—Please,” Rayuke interrupted tiredly. “Please, just call me Rayuke.” “Rayuke,” Soraya corrected, the word clearly tasting funny in her mouth, like a forbidden food. “We need to speak to you. It’s extremely urgent, and we need your help.” Rayuke’s Kanohi Rode informed him that Soraya—and the rest of the gang, even down to the still-shivering crab—earnestly believed they needed his help, that much was true. Rayuke’s curiosity, if it hadn’t already been piqued by the sudden appearance of five Mata Nuians, a Dashi, and a hypothermic crab in his garden, was afire. He could go the day without completing his meditation, if it meant getting answers. “Tell me everything,” Rayuke told the strangers. “And tell the truth.” He noticed that the crab wasn’t the only one quaking with cold. “But first,” he said, a little smile rising on his face, “Let’s get you all warmed up.” Rayuke listened patiently as the Matoran and Soraya proceeded to inform him, over steaming hot cups of tea and wrapped in blankets, how they had been contacted in myriad ways by the Great Spirit’s emissary (this they believed, too, to be true) and brought from across the island of Mata Nui into contact with each other. The six had subsequently been guided to a so-called “Keeping Place” which, when they had entered it, had deposited them a few feet in the air above the surface of Rayuke’s fountain. The group said they’d been sent to Rayuke on a mission: they had a task that, they told Rayuke, was crucial for restoring the Great Spirit to being. Rayuke had never given much thought to the Great Spirit. To him, she was a core of social institutions, and a point to be referenced in moral matters, but she had never exerted her influence directly over the Kentoku Archipelago in his, or anyone else’s, memory. Evidently, the people of Mata Nui, though, had witnessed the Great Spirits’ acts firsthand in their recent past, for good and ill. One of the Matoran told Rayuke the story of the Toa Maru, heroes raised from the Matoran by Zuto Nui’s magic, who had destroyed Makuta—Zataka, in Rayuke’s vernacular—through the strength of their unity. As he listened to this anecdote, Rayuke felt a passing sense of incongruousness; didn’t the lore of the Great Spirits dictate the necessary balance that Zataka brought to her sister, the crucial duality between sky and sea, female and male, order and freedom, light and dark? Were not Zuto Nui and Zataka intertwined? How could anyone destroy one and not the other? But Rayuke let these nagging questions slide away unanswered. After all, he told himself, the people of Mata Nui had had far more direct experience with the Great Spirits than he, and so were certainly greater authorities on their natures. Although the Toa Maru had destroyed Zataka, the party of strangers exposited, and although this act had been a formidable blow against the remaining forces of darkness on their island, Zuto Nui nevertheless failed to awaken from her slumber. This was where the Matoran—and Rayuke himself—came in, they said. According to the Matoran, they had followed the lead of a mysterious, still unidentified Matoran and so learned that Kentoku and Mata Nui were linked together by a mystical transportation system, through which matter, mind, and other properties could travel at impossible speed without losing their original forms. This “portal system,” the stuff of Legends, connected the sister islands together, and probably led to other long-forgotten lands, too. But the portal system had been shut long ago; and its nexus, deep underground at the center of Mata Nui, had been locked. Beyond this, the portal nexus (which the Matoran called a “Vault”) was currently guarded by powerful foes including the nefarious Piraka and a nigh-indestructible machine known as the “Abettor.” Rayuke wondered what crime this “Abettor” abetted, but didn’t bother asking. It was essential to reopen this portal system, the Matoran finally explained, in order to awaken the Great Spirit. One of the Matoran likened the portal passages to the Great Spirit’s veins, which through the flow of blood would remember their original heartbeat. Another thought of the portal system like a machine that needed oiling. Soraya understood the relationship as one of split consciousness; to make the Great Spirit whole, Zuto Nui’s mind—fragmented around the several islands of the world—sought avenues by which it could sew itself together again and become whole. Each of the six little beings before Rayuke had a different way of articulating the correlation between Great Spirit and portal; but they all knew in the cores of their hearts a Truth that, though difficult to explain, was True: opening the portals would enable the return of the Great Spirit, and so the return of peace. At this point, Rayuke took a moment to try and process what he had just been told. It was a mammoth idea to swallow—teleportation portals? Great Spirits? bringing about ultimate peace? —and he couldn’t quite wrap his head around it. The Umbraline uncle asked the group of strangers why, if what they said was real, had they been sent to him? The travelers answered by reciting to Rayuke a stanza he had never heard, but which struck a familiar chord in him: Across an endless ocean Beyond where minds can see My key lies in the open Where you will never be Beneath the brightest thunder Stand towers of the day The light may break asunder If night skies choose obey The red sign on black eyes Will lead you to your prize The Matoran told Rayuke that this riddle was engraved on the Vault’s door, and said that they’d interpreted it to mean that the Vault’s key lay “beyond” on Kentoku, “where minds can see.” They assumed Kentoku must have a Vault, its own portal nexus door, which corresponded to Mata Nui’s… and guessed that opening the Kentoku Vault would simultaneously open the Mata Nui Vault, thereby reinstating the first portal connection. With the mention of a “Kentoku Vault,” Rayuke realized why the Matoran’s couplets seemed familiar to him. Suddenly very excited, he excused himself to his study, leaving his guests looking at each other in confusion for a minute while he rummaged hastily through a little library downstairs. After a quick search, Rayuke returned with a crystal tablet bearing these lines: Across an endless ocean Upon pale metal’s home My key is in possession Where you are soon to roam The hand of fated treason Is signal to depart A prize of ancient season Becomes my crucial heart My twin will never give Until you make me live “These words are carved on an ancient crystal shrine in the crater of Mount Koshiki, a dormant volcano here,” Rayuke told the group animatedly. “My great-grandmother was an explorer, and she rediscovered the structure up there generations ago. Nobody thought much of it, you see; the pillars and whatnot didn’t seem to do anything, and this inscription seemed merely a poem. I only remember the lines, and keep them in my library, because I used to love the story of my ancestor’s Koshiki expedition when I was very small.” The Matoran exchanged looks (perhaps in part because they found it dubious that Rayuke had ever been small), and asked Rayuke to read the poem from this crystal temple on top of the expired volcano again. He obliged them; some started to nod, appreciating the uncanny similarity to the Mata Nuian riddle. “Pale metal’s home is obviously Mata Nui,” Rayuke concluded. “Where metals are in abundance. Soon to roam… fated treason, signal to depart… Yusanora’s assassination? That’s when the expedition to Mata Nui left, it’s what put Soraya in your midst… it’s how you know about us and we about you!” Suddenly, Rayuke imagined meaning in his sister’s murder, and though it made that old wound flare up in his soul—reflexively, Rayuke stemmed the wrathful tears that came with it—now the memory was touched with something else, something powerful and inexorable. “Her death was the sign that it was the right time for our cultures to collide.” “My twin will never give until you make me live,” Tarnok repeated from Rayuke’s tablet, adjusting his blanket thoughtfully. “That just confirms that we were right: we need to open this Kentokuan Vault, make that portal ‘live,’ for the Mata Nuian one to follow suit.” “How?” Soraya asked. “I think the Mata Nuian riddle is… instructions, maybe, on what we need to do to open the Kentoku Vault,” Lekua mused. “Rayuke, what do you think it means?” “I know what the crystal temple on Koshiki looks like, a little, from the story,” Rayuke nodded to himself, closing his eyes and trying to picture it. “Some of the bits of your riddle might be connected to that. Say it again.” One of the Matoran recited the Vault inscription again. Rayuke stopped him on “brightest thunder.” “Those are Kanohi Dragons,” Rayuke informed the group. “It’s an old metaphor, pulled from… some old poem, I’m not sure.” For the first time in his life, Rayuke was glad for all the hours he’d been forced, as a member of the Imperial family, to devote to ancient Dasakan literature. “So beneath the brightest thunder… that means we’re definitely looking at Koshiki, it’s a known resort of the dragons. ‘Towers of the day,’ if in reference to the Koshiki shrine, may refer to the crystal obelisks standing all around it, but that’s a stretch.” “Night skies,” Leli chimed in. “Might mean that the only way to open the Vault here is at night.” “If night skies choose obey,” Tarnok replied. “So… probably a certain time of night?” “I don’t understand the ‘red sign on the black eyes’ bit,” Soraya mused. “Anyone got ideas there?” Nobody could come up with anything convincing. Rayuke broke the following silence, returning to an earlier stanza. “The light … if night skies choose obey… Maybe this light comes from the night skies. Starlight? ‘Breaking asunder,’ breaking light, maybe that’s something to do with—“ “—Refraction?” Kellin finished. “Y’know, how light ‘breaks’ through a lens, or a prism, or whatever. I used to live in Onu-Koro, knew a lantern-maker, he talked about it like that all the time.” “Crystals can be shaped, here, to have different refractive properties,” Soraya confirmed. “I bet something in this crystal shrine on Koshiki is meant to refract starlight, at a certain time of night, so a certain constellation or something in the right position will do what we need.“ “The Red Star?” Seven contributed uncertainly. “Call me crazy but: what if it’s the Red Star?” She turned to Soraya and Rayuke, a sheepish grin on her face as she pointed to the sky. “Do you, uh, do you get that one over here?” “Yes,” Soraya answered, suddenly smiling broadly. “We get that one over here. But it’s very dim, it only really shows up—“ “—Right after sundown,” Rayuke finished. “That seems rather specific. Too specific to be coincidence.” “Red sign on black eyes?” Lekua asked. “So, would that be it?” “If you think of the sky as a black eye?” Kellin posited. “Then maybe, yeah.” The Matoran and Rayuke continued to speculate on the meaning of the twin riddles for a little while longer, and eventually came to a consensus that the Red Star interpretation made the most sense. Very quickly, discussion turned to the logistics of a hike up Mount Koshiki: supplies they’d need, how they would travel to Odaiba from Sado, and what dangers they would need to bear in mind. “If any Kanohi Dragons show up,” Soraya posited, “We’ll be deader than last party’s fashions.” “You will need protection,” Rayuke agreed. “And you will also need a safe, a secret, passage out of the city and across Odaiba. These are things I can provide to you.” “Are you sure?” Leli asked him. “You’ve already done so much for us.” “My part in this affair is far from over,” Rayuke answered. He had no doubts about this. ... Rayuke sensed that the train of Matoran behind him, tied to him and each other with a thick rope as they wheezed and stumbled up the mountainside, needed a little more encouragement. “Come on!” he called back through his bandanna. “We’re almost over the ridge.” One of the Matoran – Rayuke could not tell which, as their mouths were also covered – let loose a sarcastic whoop, followed by a hefty bout of coughing. Well, at least they’ve not lost a sense of humor, Rayuke thought to himself with a slight smile. Many arduous steps later, Rayuke and the Matoran stood on the lip of Koshiki’s huge crater. They looked down at the lake, toxically turquoise, gorgeous and vibrant under the sun’s parting rays. Two of the Matoran exchanged an exhausted high-five. Rayuke scanned the inside of the crater. The crystal shrine, its huge obelisks like a giant’s fingers reaching up through the bleached sand, stood about 300 meters down and away. Following Rayuke, the group of chosen Matoran started their cautious descent.
  10. Your prayers have been answered. Let's kick it old school.
  11. Glad to be celebrating my 10th year of good times around this place— 10 years of getting to use the sublime emoticon!
  12. I almost forgot all about that! You just tossed me down a serious rabbit hole...
  13. Eeeenteresting conclusions indeed... and your research was sound, from my point of view.
  14. This is a series of five satirical creations I've designed to examine our relationship with technology. Let me know what you think! No.1 "Sleepless" No.2 "Picture Perfect" No.3 "Out of Guntrol" No.4 "Fixing the Drain" No.5 "Held Apptive" The whole gang...
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