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About Ghosthands

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Year 11
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    BZPRPG Staff
  • Birthday 03/01/1995

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    Mostly just here for the BZPRPG, of which I've somehow become a staff member.

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  1. Work is still going on (admittedly slowly) behind the scenes on the various pieces that need to come together to deliver the new arc and setting. I'd like to stress that we are very, very close, but -- as Silvan says -- unfortunately the coronavirus lockdowns haven't reduced our respective workloads. Some of us have also had added family stress as a direct result of the pandemic. Once again, I can only say sorry it hasn't all come together yet. I wish I could tell you exactly when we'll be able to wrap up the wrap-up and deliver the new arc, but I can't; it may be days, it may be weeks. Ultimately it will depend on how three busy people's timetables and creative energies happen to align. But be assured that we are committed to this and making progress.
  2. IC [Tallik Vao, The Stray Tach] Tallik placed his own down-payment on the table beside Sue's, and gulped down the last of his ale. "No, nothing else," he replied. "The sooner we get going, the better." Eyes still hidden by the mirrored goggles, he turned his head a little to address Kaal. "Names can wait until we're on the ship."
  3. IC [Tallik Vao, The Stray Tach] The odd-looking Pantoran's price wasn't outrageous; it was about what he and Cy would've charged for that kind of job. More to the point, he could afford it with what he had on him, though not with much to spare. So he was quietly relieved when Sue chose to haggle the price down; who knew what difference a couple of hundred credits would make once they got to Dantooine? He let Sue take the lead on the negotiations, giving only a small nod to indicate his support for her offer.
  4. IC [Tallik Vao, The Stray Tach] "Dantooine," Tallik said, quietly but decisively, hunched over his ale. "I need to get to Dantooine."
  5. IC [Tallik Vao, Taris lower city streets] As he walked with as much inconspicuous confidence as he could back towards the Stray Tach, Tallik Vao couldn't help but berate himself for deciding to do something so stupid as return to the bar where, not even a full rotation ago, he'd fought an Imperial Inquisitor in hand-to-hand combat. But as bad an option as it was, it somehow looked like his best one. After giving the Inquisitors' troopers the slip, he'd laid low in a safehouse (who was he kidding; a disused maintenance duct with a small stash of supplies) he and Cy (don't think about Cy) maintained. With little else to do but massage his bruises and eat expired nutripacks, he'd plugged the New Republic guy's data chip into a datapad to see if he could figure out what all the fuss was about. It wasn't exactly enlightening. Some of it was meaningless to him: some kind of cipher, he guessed, but couldn't glean anything from it. The only information he could make anything of was a set of coordinates; he recognised the planet code as Dantooine. It wasn't much to go on — in fact it was only a little more than nothing. But he needed to get off-world, and if he was now an accessory to whatever this spy had been up to, he may as well follow through with it. The Midge wasn't an option; he couldn't fly it alone, and the Imps would be on the lookout for any illegally docked vessels leaving the planet. That meant he needed passage on a ship, with a captain who'd ask as few questions as possible. Finding that could be difficult, and wasn't something he was used to doing; after all, he was usually on the other side of the equation. He and Cy (don't think about Cy) had contacts on Taris, of course, but they'd been gone a long time; Imperial credits would likely be more motivating than half-remembered loyalties. There was only one person on Taris he could think of who'd be streetwise enough to know of a suitable ship, and decent enough not to sell him out, and that was Sunorhyyn. Bartenders saw all kinds of comings and goings, and despite being barely more than acquaintances, Tallik somehow felt he could trust the Wookiee. It was an odd but familiar kind of hunch, and he'd learned to trust them when they came. And he couldn't help thinking, with what foolish hope he had left, that maybe she'd have some idea what the Inquisitors had done with Cylund. Don't. Think. About. Cy. So back to the Tach he went. Hopefully he wouldn't be recognised: he'd scraped together as much of a disguise as he could from the gear in the safehouse, namely a large and shapeless poncho, a pair of mirrored goggles, and a passable Twi'lek headdress he'd improvised from some strips of cloth. He told himself the last place the Imps would expect a suspect to go was the scene of the crime (and felt foolish even as he did). But again: it was the best option he had. He spotted the Wookiee before he'd even reached the bar, which was unexpected. Even more unexpected was that she appeared to be carrying a pair of suitcases. He quickened his step to catch up with her. "You going somewhere, Sue?" he asked in a low voice once he was close enough, hoping not to make her jump. Even knowing her generally mellow temperament, he knew better than to startle a Wookiee.
  6. "It's said that every Toa has a destiny..."
  7. OOC: Soundtrack to this post. IC The silence of the Kini-Nui forest was deafening to Merror. The air was still; there was no rustle of leaves, no nightly birdsong. No answer from Dorian. The weight on his shoulder had grown heavier, slacker; it had become the young man’s full weight, resting limply again Merror’s own frame. He stood there, unmoving, supporting that weight, for a brief eternity. He couldn’t bring himself to raise his hand to Dorian’s neck and check for a pulse. “...yeah, Dor. Yeah, you did this one right,” he said through a growing lump in his throat, knowing full well he’d said it too late. Tears welled in his eyes. “You did.” At last he raised his hand, placed two fingers on the young man’s neck, and felt what he’d known he’d feel: only stillness. Slowly, agonisingly slowly, he lowered Dorian’s limp form to the ground. As he laid the Fe-Toa’s head gently back onto the carpet of leaves, the moonlight fell on the young man’s face, and it struck Merror that Dorian’s mask, like his own, was a Calix. Behind it were peacefully closed eyes, still wet with tears. A saltwater drop pooled at the eyehole of Merror’s own Calix and fell to earth. They had been different in so many ways, he and Dorian, but until now he’d never seen how they were similar. Too similar, he thought bitterly. Despite knowing the price would almost certainly be his life, Dorian had gone to fight Echelon alone — not bringing even his closest friends, because he couldn’t take the chance of losing them. So that the sacrifice would be his, and his alone. How many times had Merror refused help, turned friends away, for fear that his fight would cost their lives? Except Dorian had done what Merror couldn’t: he’d won. He’d stopped Echelon for good, stopped him dragging any more souls into the void in his own long fall towards oblivion. Merror had faced Echelon so many times, held back so many times for fear of breaking the Toa Code, and innocents had paid for it. If he’d just let go, stopped clinging so tightly to the Code and fought with all the deadly ferocity of a Ta-Toa, perhaps he could’ve stopped him. Or perhaps not. There was no knowing now. As he’d trekked through the Mata Nuian wilderness following Dorian’s trail, the memory of his vision in Ko-Wahi had played over and over in his mind: the weight of age, the rustle of linen robes, a staff in his hand. He’d begun to think his time was approaching. He’d begun to wonder whether his destiny awaited in the Vault: to stop Echelon once and for all, to remove his darkness from the world. To kill his oldest enemy. But he’d arrived too late. Too late to do the deed. Too late to save the one who had. He rose to walk away, but only made it a few steps before he was overwhelmed. He sank to his knees. He shut his eyes tight, but could not clamp back the flow of tears as this new failure tore open all the old wounds. Too late. Always too late. Too late to avoid the ambush that killed his team. Too late to keep the darkness from consuming the Chronicler’s Company. Too late to help a young man who’d played the hand life dealt him, who’d sinned and made mistakes, but in the end had given his life to protect the people he cared about. He’d deserved a second chance. And though Echelon was gone, a far greater evil had returned. All through Merror’s life the darkness of the world had deepened, and one by one he’d seen lights that could’ve brightened it be snuffed out, and been powerless to stop it. Now that Makuta was back, things would be darker than ever. The light, the cause of Mata Nui and all that was good in the world, needed Toa like Joske. Like Dorian. Toa burning with the courage of youth, not burdened by the weight of the past. It needed them far more than it needed old Toa Merror, and yet here he was, still alive, while Dorian lay cold and still behind him. Why? A faint light began to seep through Merror’s tight-shut eyelids. Slowly, blinking away the tears, he opened them, and looked down at his hands. They were glowing. Many times had Merror’s hands blazed with elemental Fire — hurling flames in battle, giving heat in the cold, bringing light in darkness. But never before had they shone with a gentle silvery radiance, with wisps of light slowly rising from his upturned palms and arcing between his fingers. And yet it was familiar; the feel of it was familiar. It was something that had always been there, hidden away deep in his spirit from the day he picked up his Toa Stone, but only now came brimming to the surface. *** “It’s said that every Toa has a destiny; a part to play in Mata Nui’s grand plan. Some claim that Destiny is fixed, immutable. Others insist that it is ever in flux, changing and readjusting as events take their course. And some…” The old man smiled wryly. “...some would say that to be overly certain about such things is foolish. But nevertheless, it is agreed by most that each Toa has a destiny that is theirs to fulfil. Many never do, of course. Some turn from their path, into darkness, or merely apathy. Some fall before their time. But some, a blessed few perhaps, do meet the destiny to which Mata Nui has appointed them. Having done so, they may relinquish their Toa Power for a greater good, and so become Turaga.” “Did you?” asked the Ta-Toa sitting opposite him, somewhat too large for the Matoran-sized bench (it was all the Turaga had in his humble Ta-Koronan abode). “Were you a Toa once, I mean?” Vakama raised an eyebrow. The flames in the nearby fire-pit flared briefly, casting the Turaga’s silhouette more starkly against the carved basalt walls. “Well, now, that would be telling. Such an impertinent question, young Toa!” The Ta-Toa looked taken aback. “I’m sorry, Turaga — I meant no offence…” “And none was taken, my young friend,” Vakama replied with a chuckle. “But my past is a story for another time. You came here to ask about your future, I believe.” “Well…” the Ta-Toa hesitated. “...Yes, I suppose. It’s just that I was so sure my destiny was...shared, with my team. But now they’re gone, and I…” The young Toa broke off and looked away. Vakama studied his eyes. He saw pain, loss. Guilt. “You blame yourself,” he said softly. The young Toa closed his eyes, hung his head. “And you wonder whether you still have a destiny, now they’re gone.” “...yeah.” The Turaga sighed. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen this, and as long as the war with Makuta burned on, he knew it would not be the last. “I’m sorry, my young friend. I do not know your fate. The fires of prophecy show only what they will, and leave much clouded. But I can tell you that your destiny did not die with your friends. Neither should your hope.” “But how will I know my destiny?” the Ta-Toa asked, a pleading look in his eyes. “How will I know what I’m fighting for, what my purpose is?” “You already know what you’re fighting for,” Vakama replied, with a small smile. “To be a Toa is to know the path but not the destination. As I said, many never reach it. But I think you will. I think that one day, you will find the moment of your destiny. In a way, a Toa’s destiny is the truest expression of their self, and in that moment, we are granted...a clarity, an understanding. Then, Toa Merror, you will know.” *** And in that moment, Merror knew. He knew that his path had always been leading him here, to this moment. He felt the clarity Vakama had spoken of, all those years ago: saw his life laid out before him, every twist and turn, every victory and every loss, every sorrow and every joy, and was at peace. Every step of the way had been a preparation so that he would be here now, in this moment, where Destiny needed him. That was why the Abettor had let him pass, though he was too late to partake in the battle. He understood now that his destiny could never have been to kill Echelon; that was not who he was. The destiny of Toa Merror had never been to take a life, but to save one. Just one. And that was enough. He looked up at the sky and its myriad stars, and his eyes welled with new tears, but not of grief. “Thank you…” he breathed. He rose, and as he turned back towards Dorian the silvery glow began to spread along his arms and outward from his heartlight, across his chest. He drew his one remaining sword, and looked down one last time at the Toa Tool that had served him well all those long years, then laid it carefully on the ground. He began to walk towards the fallen Toa, and as he walked he saw the faces of his team, his friends — not etched with pain, as they had been in his dreams every night since he lost them — but happy, smiling as they had the day they became Toa, and he understood that it had not been their souls he’d needed to find peace for, but his own. As he knelt beside Dorian’s still form, the light that was his Toa Power encompassed him in a white aura, drifting upwards like slow white flames. He gathered Dorian’s limp body into his arms, like a parent cradling a sleeping child. He felt the Toa Power swell within him as though sensing its time was at hand and fighting to be set free, and the glow brightened, throwing the shadows of trees deep into the forest. Gently, he placed one hand above Dorian’s heartlight. Breathed in, closed his eyes. And let go. He gasped as he felt the Toa Power surge out of him, down his arm and into Dorian’s chest in a flood of pure energy. It was a long, slow lightning strike drawn from his very soul. Merror felt it leaving him: everything that made him a Toa, the source of his power and strength, flowing out and into the fallen Fe-Toa, drawn by the inexorable pull of Destiny. It knitted ravaged tissue back together, mended broken bones, refilled drained arteries. Even the blood soaking the young man’s clothes began to fade away. Merror felt his armour begin to shift, to change. He felt age begin to seep into his bones. The light became blinding, and was gone.
  8. Look how they massacred my boy...
  9. I think I speak for all the staff when I say I still can't quite believe we did it, after all this time. Now, I'd just like to say a huge thank you to Tyler and Nuju for helping me give Echelon such a send-off. He won't be missed, but I like to think he'll be remembered. Echelon was one of my longest-running characters, and perhaps the one I've been best known for. He originated in the NBZP, not long after I arrived in the RPG forum, as a Xa-Kuta black mage. For the BZIII, I reinvented him somewhat by merging his character concept with that of a Toa of Magnetism I'd also had running around, and slapping on a Tryna for good measure, resulting in the Echelon we've known for the last eight (!) years. Having played him for so long, and poured most of my villainous ideas into him, I was pretty attached to him as a character. But in more recent years, his flaws became more evident to me (thanks in part to a fair amount of teasing from Ty and Krayz) — he was an amalgam of quite a lot of villain tropes, many of them on the melodramatic side; and he'd also managed to amass a rather extreme powerset. Even before Dark Magnetism and Mind Control, he was notorious as my vehicle for pushing (and some might say crossing) the limits of what was fair use of elemental Magnetism in PvP. Over the years, I thought a lot about what should motivate him beyond a simple lust for power, and eventually I developed the motivation you saw laid bare in recent posts: a deep-seated fear of death, and a resulting desire to escape mortality and flesh-and-blood form. I'd like to think that made him a bit more interesting than the moustache-twirler he started out as. And as I developed this motivation I began to accept what Tyler had been telling me for years: Echelon had to die. At first I accepted this half-heartedly, with the caveat that he could return later in some spectral form — I enjoyed writing him too much to let him go forever. But talking to Ty and Nuju about the end-of-arc plans helped me to realise that actually, this could be the perfect ending to his character arc: to fail and to die, not just at the very climax of his mad search for immortality, but as a direct consequence of it. This was exactly the poetic justice he deserved. So thank you for that, you two, and also for giving me so much creative freedom as we wrote up this monster slew of posts: for letting me tweak dialogue and description until Echelon's voice sounded just right to me. Jamming up the confrontation and fight in the Vault with Ty is one of the most satisfying things I've done in this game, and Nuju's final post in Kini tied it all up beautifully. I'm really honoured to have had this character of mine feature so heavily in this arc's main plot, and to have been able to use it to end his journey in such a spectacular fashion. Echelon was a villain I dreamed up when I was 16. Now I'm free to write new villains that I find compelling at 24. So I guess I'm also saying...watch out. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled on the wrap-up topic. Kini-Nui has a little more to tell.
  10. IC Six retorts as Dorian fanned the hammer. Six impacts, thudding across the torso. Pain and shock washed through Echelon’s mind. Through it, in a strange disconnected clarity, he could feel precisely what had happened: where the bullets had struck, which organs they had punctured. He knew what they meant. no This time, there was no escape. i can’t He drew a shuddering half-breath through lungs already beginning to flood. but i’m His muscles slackened. The flamberge slipped from his grasp and began to fall. not ready The Dark Toa toppled backwards and thudded to the Vault floor. He could not move, only stare up at the ceiling high above, gasping for shallow breaths. He had fallen at the centre of the lock, with the key-slot beneath the small of his back; encircled by the glowing crystal orbs, he looked like the subject of some arcane ritual. His black robes, now with six holes punched through, began to glisten with wetness. A pool of blood, turned black by Antidermis, was spreading slowly out across the floor beneath him. Echelon stared up at the ceiling, the capstone of quartz high above, in despair. The moment he had dreaded, the moment he had fought for so long to forestall, had arrived on the very day he had been sure he would escape it forever. There was nothing left: no more weapons, no more tricks, no way out. He was dying. Footsteps sounded dimly in his ears. From somewhere, some last reserve now good for nothing else, he found the strength to move his head and look. Dorian Shaddix had risen slowly, and started to trudge towards him. Echelon felt like he was seeing the young Toa advance from some other perspective, from some vantage point very far away. Neither Toa, for his measure, had seemed quite so small before; Echelon watched Dorian bend down to pluck the flamberge from the ground, followed by something else; he sensed, rather than felt, the still Vault air on his maskless face. The blood from Dorian’s ruptured midriff was still flowing, but that in itself was not necessarily fatal, if he was taken to a healer quickly. If Echelon himself could find the same second wind, then perhaps...but no. Dorian had suggested the status quo - he would always live, and so would Echelon - and Echelon had ignored it. How had killing Nimil been easier than killing Shaddix? Why had he been allowed to come so close, only to fall at the last hurdle? How had so many been destined to come so far, but the final step was left in the hands of this...this… Echelon remembered when the boy had worn a scarf. His eyes had gone slightly hazy with despair and the fate at hand, but he could see another Toa coming through the same back entrance that Dorian had used, and Echelon before him. Where was Zaktan? Had the coward fled so far already? “Dorian!” The newcomer’s voice was familiar, Echelon thought. He sounded both concerned and relieved at the same time, as though the scene before him was better than he’d feared but worse than he’d hoped. “A lot of that red’s supposed to be on the inside, lad.” “The pants? S’called ox-blood, old man, don’t start crying over me yet. Not shocked you know ##### about fashion trends,” he heard Dorian drawling. The newcomer laughed, the short, stifled laugh of one laughing in spite of himself. “I suppose I should’ve seen that coming. I’m just glad to find you in one piece.” Echelon did know this third Toa’s voice. It was full of the ridiculous compassion with which one particular Toa was notably afflicted: a Toa who had appeared with tiresome regularity to frustrate Echelon’s plans — but rarely, the broken Dark Toa noted with the one iota of satisfaction he had left, managing to stop them. Merror. It was Merror. “You really did it, then...” Merror said. Echelon could hear weary amazement in his voice. He felt the Ta-Toa’s eyes on him. “After all these years...someone finally stopped him.” Groaning was a waste of one of his last breaths, but Echelon found he could not bite it back. Bad enough that he had to die so close to his final reward, but to do it with Shaddix’s voice in his ears, and now this self-righteous failure looking on… “Huh? What’s the matter, Echelon? You still scheming around in there? Hey...good. I’m glad. Because I want you to be awake for this.” Blood was trickling down from Dorian’s mouth as he hefted the sword; it was unfair, unfair that somehow this roach could not just be stamped out while so many of his betters lay dead. What had he ever offered the world in intellect or in deed, to justify keeping that smug smile on his face? “Coming down here...I was gonna take...your head. Heuani promised your head. But thinking about it...I don’t do things for Heuani. Or for Joske. You’re dying for me.” The blood left Dorian’s sneer in a contemptuous arc of spit. Echelon supposed he was fortunate not to have been spat upon in the final seconds of his life. “So let’s do this my way.” Echelon did not feel fortunate. Dorian Shaddix, slightly hunched from his wounds, nonetheless found the strength to aim a finger gun at Merror and wink. Merror returned it with a half-hearted smile, then looked down to meet Echelon’s gaze. There was something resembling sadness in the veteran Ta-Toa’s eyes: pity? Echelon returned his gaze with a look that made it clear he did not want it. After that, the sword hovering above him commanded the Dark Toa’s full attention. It did not come down gently. Echelon felt the flamberge slide through him and down into the lock beneath, and let out one last choking, ragged scream...
  11. IC With the third mental blast, Dorian’s guard was broken. Echelon had the opening he wanted: his left hand shot out and flared with Dark Magnetism, and Dorian was thrown sprawling to the floor among the slotted Crystals. Angelus’ sword, knocked from his already-loosened grip, clattered to a stop nearby. Echelon advanced, aiming the tip of the flamberge at the prone Fe-Toa. “I could gut you now,” he hissed, sickly green eyes burning with malice. “Clean and quick, just like Joske. But for you, Dorian Shaddix — “ He lowered the flamberge, instead raising his left hand once more. “ — I’m going to make this excruciating.” Shadows erupted across Dorian’s body. His clothes, his bones, his flesh itself: all were enslaved to that dark force, twisted against themselves, pummelled this way and that, and crushed against the Vault’s unforgiving crystal floor. His screams of pain echoed off the walls. Echelon’s face was twisted into a grimace of intense, hateful focus as he unleashed wave after wave of his power, each wracking Dorian’s body more violently than the last. Muscles tore. Bones fractured. The old wound on his abdomen ruptured; blood trickled, then spilled, then began to pool in his lap. Dorian’s screams grew quieter, more strangled. His eyes began to glaze.
  12. IC Echelon’s attention too was momentarily caught by the unusual effect. Interesting. His gaze snapped back to Dorian. Twice now Shaddix had managed to knock him to the ground; he would not be allowed a third. The Dark Toa’s armour began to flicker with shadow as he rose into the air, hovering half a Toa’s height off the ground. Levitation was an additional drain on his energies, but a worthwhile one: he would be more mobile, and have a more comprehensive view of the battleground. He spotted another of the exotic disks lying nearby, engraved with unfamiliar symbols, and exerted his power to send it spinning towards the Fe-Toa — who leaped aside, and the disk instead struck a foreign rifle on the floor behind him. The gun glowed purple, emitting a strange humming sound that increased rapidly in pitch — as the weapon itself grew until it was the size of a cannon. Both Toa stared, the rhythm of their duel broken by the sheer novelty of these bizarre artefacts. “Cool,” I repeated, thin grin slowly stretching across my face. The cavalier word broke the stalemate; any order that Makuta had kept his trophies in had been undone by the occupations of Echelon and the Piraka, so there was a brief precious few seconds of scrambling through the unfamiliar disks trying to figure out what disk did what. Echelon had the power to fling them at me faster than I could at him, but I was younger than the Dark Toa, more athletic, and wore a Calix; my throws were cleaner and more accurate. The rifle behind me that had grown so huge shrank down again, down to the size of a large fruit; the Patero Launcher that had blasted Echelon to the ground twice was struck by a disk and vanished. It didn’t reappear. In the chaos, I felt the familiar prickle on the back of my neck that hinted at Echelon’s trump card - he was ready to use his element. Time to see what you’re good for, Angel Face. Echelon’s Dark Magnetism pulsed towards me and struck the sword. It went no further, holding its tenuous position long enough to ripple in the air in front of me before vanishing. On the side of the sword facing me, an ancient rune shone, in the sickly green of Antidermis. That was the easy part. I swung a test blow towards Echelon’s left side - dangerous enough to slice through the armor on a regular Toa’s side, but easily parriable for the wielder of that flamberge. Echelon had dropped back to the ground to channel more power into his attack; a look of bemusement flashed across his face as it was absorbed — something new was at work — before he had to react to Dorian’s swing. He brought the flamberge up easily (more easily, in fact, than should have been possible; it was as though the blade moved his arm, rather than the converse) to block the runed sword. Crystal and Protosteel made contact. A wave of force, equal and opposite to the one Echelon had fired at Dorian, slammed into the Dark Toa and sent him hurtling across the Vault. He hit the wall hard and fell with a crash into the pile of tech. Stunned, and breathing past what felt like broken ribs, Echelon’s could think only one thing. That was Dark Magnetism. My Dark Magnetism. His own element — unique, to the best of his knowledge, thanks to the Antidermis’ alteration — had been used against him. How was that possible? He heaved himself up on one arm, the other still (somehow) gripping the flamberge. His vision came back into focus, honing in on the advancing Dorian — then on the weapon in his hands. Was it the sword? Was Shaddix’s new toy more than it appeared? A sword with the power to turn Echelon’s greatest weapon against him? As much as he loathed to admit it, Echelon could not take that chance. It was time to switch tactics. His element was, for now at least, off the table: that left his mask and the flamberge. Regathering his will, he stopped Dorian in his tracks with another mental blast, buying time to rise back to his feet and raise the crystal blade. He found it settling comfortably into a parrying stance — one he had never used, and yet felt perfectly natural. The Dark Toa had, all his life, made a point of shunning physical training in favour of the mind, and yet somehow his muscles seemed to know the exact form to which this singular weapon was suited. And there was something familiar about the stance he found himself in. As though he had seen someone use it before.... ...Heuani? Perhaps Shaddix was not the only one whose blade possessed more subtleties than met the eye.
  13. IC Wrapped as they were in nonchalance and bravado, the significance of Dorian’s words was unmissable to Echelon. Years prior, Echelon had watched from a distance as his own (albeit illusory) head was lopped off by the Fe-Toa, with Heuani himself looking on approvingly. It was a reminder not only of the failure of one of his more ambitious experiments, but also of how casually Makuta’s erstwhile lieutenants would’ve disposed of him. And, Echelon realised, it signalled Dorian’s intentions. Only one of them would leave the Vault alive. So be it. “You know, you’re a lot calmer than usual, Ech. I came down here expecting to die, but you - you’re taking certain death in stride. Good for you.” Echelon’s temper flared. “Oh, but you are so. very. wrong. Shaddix.” The Dark Toa’s snarl laid bare the tension on his shoulders, the rage of a man straining to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And finding a fast-talking assassin standing between him and his salvation. “Because I have done what no other could. I have forged the dregs of Makuta’s empire into an army strong enough to take one of your precious villages. I have killed the champion of Mata Nui and turned his grand ‘destiny’ to my own purpose. And now, Dorian Shaddix, I will open the Vault of Mangaia and claim what is rightfully mine!” Echelon was ranting again; railing not just at the young man in front of him — in fact, not really at him at all, but at the world itself. Dorian had simply become a focal point for his hatred of a world whose ultimate, harsh reality he could not accept. Echelon did not want to die. Since even before he found his Toa Stone, this deepest of denials had gnawed at him. It was not just a visceral fear: it was an intellectual one too. How could his mind simply...cease? Or at best (and likely wishful thinking, peddled by liars and simpletons), pass on from this world, he knew not where. How could one make peace with this? He could not. He would not. He was blessed with a brilliant mind. He would find a way. An escape. At any cost. For all his long life, Echelon had studied, searched, experimented in pursuit of this obsession, shedding what few scruples he might once have carried as he went, replacing them with cold logic rooted in monomania. He honed his mind and powers, and at the same time began to resent, then to hate his physical form. Why should a mind like his be shackled to a body, a fleshy prison, condemned to fail and drag him down with it? This, too, he must escape. It had taken him so long, but eventually he had realised the only solution to his obsession. His experiments could only delay the inevitable: the freedom he sought, from body, from death, could not be attained. It could only be given. And there was only one with the power to give it. And Echelon would bring him back. “Death, Shaddix?” Echelon raved. “You think you know death?! I survived the Marks. I survived Heuani. I survived Makuta’s fall, and every trial I have faced since! I have been cheating death since long before you were a glint in some Xa-Koro harlot’s eye, because I have the will to survive, by any means and at any cost! That is why I will be the one to open the Vault — not for riches, fame or power, but for survival — and I have not come THIS FAR, TO DIE NOW!” Echelon lunged for the crystal sword. The Patero Launcher swiveled and took Echelon once, square in the chest. It was a lazy riposte to a blind lunge. At first, I’d been interested in Echelon blah blah blahing on about all the things he’d survived - yeah, dude, I was there - but eventually I became truly fascinated. I’ve had sex with a few cautionary tales before, but I don’t think I’ve ever killed one - and in the span of about a minute, Echelon had morphed into one before my eyes. The look of deliberate boredom I’d adopted while fishing for another, better cigarette had grown still, and the unlit smoke was still held aloft between pursed lips. I struck it lit and took a longer, more careful drag. “Then turn around and run, you idiot.” I puffed the smoke towards where Echelon had landed on his back, struggling to stand again. I sat on my perch, with the flamberge, my bag, and a lot of other miscellaneous weaponry behind and below me. He looked at me as though he was incapable of seeing me clearly - and for the first time I really felt like I saw him. “Where do you think we are right now?” I asked softly. “Were you even listening to me? I didn’t run into any army on the way here. There’s nothing racing here to come bail you out of this. There’s nothing that could save you from me on its best day - and even if there was, you betrayed it a long time ago. All this time chasing Joske, chasing a sword, chasing snow globes from old temples..and in the end you outran anything loyal to you and wound up here alone. A guy who made his bones killing a Gukko tamer. What have you done since? For anyone?” “I SEIZED--” Echelon spluttered, still winded by the projectile. “Ko-Koro, yeah, yeah. You weren’t listening to me. You took Ko-Koro with, what? Those Skakdi that torched the Lavapool? Left some goat’s blood on a Suva? Woo-hoooo, man. Some necromancers, too, if the rumors coming out of Ko-Koro are anything to go by. And what did you do? Let the necromancers freeze to death, drove the Piraka away on their own if that little beehive on the way out was any indication. Nobody likes you, man. Toa need teams. Mercenaries need companies. Makuta needed followers...but here you are, all alone in a Vault with one way out. And Ko-Koro? When is the last time you went outside? I was in Ga-Koro last night. You know how many armies have sent forces out to Ko-Wahi by now? You grouped every last follower of Makuta left into one big cage, and maybe any merc without the stones to stand against you. How long do you think the mercs hold out before they figure there’s more profit in switching sides? What’s left after them? A few dozen priests and savages? I’d kill for those necromancers back, you’ll need them when the corpses start falling. The Maru will roll in, the Guards will roll in, and when all’s said and done, there won’t be anyone left to even light a candle to this place for five thousand years. You’re right, big man. You did something nobody else has ever done. You set Makuta all the way back to square one.” For a second, I thought I saw doubt in Echelon’s eyes. I rolled mine at him. “If you were God, how would you feel when all your worshippers died? How would you feel that they were abandoned when your high priest buried them alive in the snow with the infidels? Would you reward him with something? I wouldn’t want you to live forever. I wouldn’t want you to stick around and things up for one more day than you already have,” I dragged, blowing another contemplative smoke into the air between us. “But hey, I’m no god. I’m just a mercenary. Just a poopbutt kid who’s survived you again, and again, and again, which probably means I’m the best expert on long odds you’ll ever run into. But you didn’t listen to me. Didn’t listen to Joske, who tried to warn you what the alternative was. Instead you killed him, and made sure that the next person after you wouldn’t follow a Toa Code. Good plan.” Patero Launchers began to rise from the junk pile like marionettes, and other weapons too - Zamor Launchers, disk launchers, and projectile weapons that looked way too foreign for me to point them at random. Instead I pointed them at Echelon. A sword, adorned with runes more ancient than either of us and such a lustrous Protosteel that it shone almost silver, lay on my lap. “Listen now, Echelon. You’ve got a funny way of settling things for someone who wants to live...but I do, too. So go. Leave. Leave the crystals, leave the sword, leave the Antidermis, and go to ground, Echelon. You killed Joske, and I should rip you into chunks for that, but just this once, I’ll try what he would have tried. There’s no saving your followers or your power. When the blood stops raining in Ko-Koro, you’ll get what you wanted - you’ll be the last freak left. You’ll never be able to show your face again, you’ll never get to rule the island, strike fear in kids, and your name will eventually die - but you’ll live. It’s a rough way to live, but it still beats whatever Makuta does to ups like you. Once I put the bullet in your head, anyway.” Echelon was silent for a time after the Fe-Toa finished his ultimatum, his face unreadable. Then he laughed, a scornful, spiteful laugh that made it very clear Dorian had been wasting his breath. “Listen to yourself, Shaddix,” he said, his thin mouth twisted into a grimacing smile of hatred and derision. “Oh, so noble! Doing what Joske would do, what that fool Merror would do! You really do think you’ve changed. Or you want to think so.” As he spoke, Echelon began to subtly seed the hovering panoply of weapons with Dark Magnetism. Not enough to disrupt Dorian’s control over them, or for the visible effects to catch his eye, but enough that the Dark Toa would be ready when he made his move. Telekinesis was Echelon’s game, and Dorian would regret challenging him at it. “But I know you, Shaddix. The Mark showed me what you are: not the charming rogue you so like to play, or the troubled hero you clearly want to be for the sake of Joske and his insipid friends. No, Shaddix: you’re a killer. A murderer. You don’t kill for something greater; you don’t even kill for money. You kill because you like it. “You can pretend you’ve changed all you like, Shaddix, but deep down, you know you haven’t. You know you can’t. Do you really think those friends of yours don’t know that too? They may pity you, but whether you die down here or saunter out with my skull under your arm: they will never accept you.”
  14. IC (Merror) As Merror jogged through the forests surrounding Kini-Nui, he had to admit to himself that he wasn't as young and spry as he used to be. He'd followed Dorian cautiously and from a distance as the younger Toa left Ta-Koro, knowing that he wouldn't brook company. Dorian had had a look about him as he slipped away from the Guard HQ that was all too familiar to Merror: the look of a man going to meet his fate alone. But the veteran Toa could not leave him to face the darkness without help — not least because of his own past failures to stop the Dark Toa that, according to Dorian's words in Ta-Koro, even now lay in wait in the Vault. Echelon would be more dangerous than ever, and it was Merror's responsibility to help put an end to him. Perhaps even his destiny. He recalled once again that vision from Ko-Wahi: was his time drawing near, after all these years? Could this be it? So Merror had to follow. There had been no time to rally the others; Dorian would soon have been gone without a trace. All he could do was try to keep track of the younger Toa on whatever journey he had chosen to undertake, and to be ready with sword in hand when the time came. This had proven difficult. Dorian had not entered the Dark Walk as Merror expected him to: instead he had turned northward towards Ga-Wahi once outside the city gates, and the young Toa had quickly picked up the pace. Merror was no stranger to a cross-island trek, but he could not match the Fe-Toa's raw speed, and before long had lost sight of him and had to resort to his moderate tracking skills to keep up the pursuit. Crossing into Ga-Wahi he'd lost Dorian's trail entirely, and lost even more time doubling back searching for it. Eventually he had concluded that Dorian's general direction was towards Ga-Koro, and so set off for the Village of Water. When at last he'd reached the Koro gates, he was able to pick up the Fe-Toa's trail again: a Marine had spotted him headed for the old waterfall trail that led to the Kini-Nui. That squared with Dorian's supposed mission to the Vault (though why he'd stopped by Ga-Koro first was a point on which Merror was uncertain) and so the veteran Ta-Toa had shaken out his aching muscles and set off along the trail with renewed confidence and as much vigour as he could muster. That trail had led him over hill and dale until eventually he found himself here, among the green woods that blanketed the valley of the Kini-Nui, with the sun rising in the sky behind him. Through the trees ahead, Merror could now glimpse sandstone spires, shining in the morning sunlight. Soon he came out into a circular clearing, at the heart of which was the Kini-Nui itself. Briefly, as he strode across the grass towards the temple, he reflected on the last time he had come to this place: it was in the months leading up to Makuta's fall, when the area was still rife with Infected Rahi and other perils, and as a result he'd had to help some other pilgrims fend off an attacking Muaka, only to have to flee an entire swarm of Rama. Now the Kini-Nui was a peaceful place, as it should be. Those scuffles with Rahi almost felt like a lifetime ago now, so much had happened since... He reached the steps of the temple and turned his attention back to the task at hand: locating Dorian. The Suva Kaita was said to have been an entrance to Mangaia, but Merror could see no means of opening it; he vaguely recalled it having been said that the Maru sealed that entrance after their victory. Somehow Merror doubted a little thing like a seal created by Mata Nui's six mightiest Toa could stop Dorian getting in somewhere he wanted to. Out of the corner of his eye, Merror spotted something: a collection of objects that didn't belong, left in the shadow of a nearby statue. A quick investigation showed them to be gear he recognised as belonging to Dorian. So the young Fe-Toa had been here. On the same statue, he noticed a small scrawl of writing carved into the stone. Anywhere else it would have been easy to ignore as some lover's memento or prankster's graffiti, but not here. Even Makuta cultists had never dared deface the Kini-Nui. Merror took a closer look. Hey-- If you're my friend, too late. But thanks. And you're welcome. If you're a Rahkshi, wrong number. -D Too late. Merror felt a pang in his chest as he read those words. Then defiance. No. Not this time.
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