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My unfortunate victim this year was Kanohi Ko-llector, who wanted a story with action, mystery, Dark Hunters, the Guys, and other underused characters. Unfortunately you've only got this. Hope you enjoy friend, and Happy New Year! ------- “Amphibax!” Before the order was even given, Amphibax had abandoned his spar and taken to the hallways of the Odina Fortress. It was unwise to keep the Shadowed One waiting. He could only hope his master’s thoughts would be kind to him and arrange the labyrinthian hallways to speed his arrival. Whatever the case, he quickly found himself before the throne and dropped to a kneel almost before coming to a stop. “Your orders, sir?” he hissed. The Shadowed One gazed down on him with a discomforting smile. “Amphibax, how kind of you to join us.” For the first time, the Hunter noticed the two other beings present. Both were short like Matoran, but that was where the similarities ended. Their arms stretched far beneath their wide shoulders, almost dragging around their stubby feet tipped with vicious black claws. The one kneeling at his right was red and orange, with a long, sneering face that resembled a Skakdi skull. The one at his right, grey with red arms and a naked face. Amphibax made his observations within seconds, not daring to take his eyes from his master for longer, but he still wasn’t quick enough to avoid a smirk from the right. The Shadowed One loomed over him, pausing for the precise amount of time it would take Amphibax’s sharp mind to piece everything together. “Before you are two new recruits, Urhan and Anla. You are to prove them. Is that a problem?” Amphibax knew better than to grumble. It was a necessary task that all participated in, however there were few that enjoyed training the rookies. “No sir. It would be my… privilege to accompany them.” The Shadowed One leaned back in his chair looking satisfied. He tapped a crystal overhanging his throne, the cue for the spindly Recorder to come stumbling from behind its desk with a tablet which The Shadowed One took. “I have chosen you for a reason, Amphibax. Your… abilities may be useful in ensuring the mission is completed. You know what happens if it is not.” He went on without pause, holding out the tablet to Amphibax. “A weapon shipment just left Xia bound for Destral. It would be a shame if the cargo were to never arrive.” Amphibax nodded. “And, these two?” The Shadowed One waved him off. “You will have time to become acquainted, but that ship will not wait.” The Hunter nodded again, quickly rising and turning back into the fortress. The grinning one followed as his heels, while his companion took a moment to realize they had been left behind. Amphibax didn’t make it easy for them to catch him with their short legs. However, he did stay close enough to catch the jeers the other Hunters sent their way. Apparently these two recruits had a reputation. That seemed pivotal to the mission, whether beneficial or ominous Amphibax couldn’t tell. “Oh no, where is our hero to stop Bad Guy?” called a Skakdi Amphibax knew only as Sting. The toothy one snarled at her, and she gave her own smug grin back until she caught sight of the other one. “Oh, there he is, behind as always. So much for Good Guys always win.” Fortunately neither stopped for long to answer her proddings. Amphibax wouldn’t have appreciated the delay for what had become a form of greeting among many Hunters. As they worked to get the boat ready to sail, the silence broke into friendly banter between the recruits. Amphibax saw little value in it and his thoughts turned to the mission. The Brotherhood wouldn’t allow their shipment to be taken aboard any Xian ship, so one of their own. They often followed a particular schematic. Amphibax already knew where the cargo hold would be located, and several entry points. The most useful would be… “Quiet type then?” Amphibax looked up into Urlan’s Skakdi grin. “Quiet keeps me alive. And you, if we’re lucky.” Urlan leaned up against the side of the boat. “Relax, all we need to do is break in, steal some slag, and get out.” “Weren’t you listening? This is a Brotherhood of Makuta ship. A floating fortress with guards and security measures at every turn. Getting in and getting out will be far from easy. Unless… you happen to be holding out on me.” If possible, Urlan’s grin widened. “Well, I’d never! I only thought you’d never ask! Anla?” His red and grey companion was significantly quieter than he was, simply sitting back against the side with a haughty look, but at the mention of his name he straightened and pulled a two-pronged weapon from his back. “Urlan knows well of my abilities, and as much as I would like to demonstrate, for the sake of our ship I will content myself with a simple description. This is an Echo Fork, of which the merest tap on any surface will produce enormous shock waves.” Amphibax nodded. He had heard of such devices. So much for sneaking aboard. “And you?” Urlan twirled a pair of orange claws in his hands and with a sudden motion raised one toward the sky and charged a purple bolt. Amphibax’s whip snapped around his wrist and pulled it downward, redirecting the bolt into the water where it disappeared with a fizz. Urlan rubbed his wrist and grinned, but he found it much less funny as Amphibax pounced atop him and snarled. “Are you trying to give away our position?!” “Relax, it was just…” he suddenly found Amphibax’s claw clamped around his toothy maw. Urlan grumbled and tried to pull him off, but Amphibax was firm as his eyes searched the horizon. Anla turned, and after a moment Urlan picked himself up quietly. There was a dark shape in the distance belching smoke. The Brotherhood ship. Quickly, Amphibax forced the others low again. “No more mistakes,” he whispered. “One more thing,” Urlan said with a sneer. “What is it?” “Call me Bad Guy.” Amphibax stared at him. “Bad Guy?” Anla looked down at his friend. “A nickname the Hunters call him. He seems to have mistaken it for a codename.” “Bad Guy is a great codename!” Amphibax looked questioningly at Anla. “Bad Guy. And that makes you…” He sighed. “Yes, Good Guy.” ------- After making the necessary preparations, Amphibax led the recruits over the side of the boat. He entered the water with hardly a ripple, while they were decidedly less graceful. Hopefully they were still far enough out to escape notice on their approach. The side of the ship loomed large and dark over them before long. Amphibax scanned its defenses like a crocodile watching its prey while the others drifted just below the surface with their rebreathers. He soon rejoined them and signaled to “Bad Guy.” The toothy being nodded and surfaced before carefully charging his claws and punching a hole about a bio over the waterline, and the three clambered in. Their eyes were the only light in the dim corridor they found themselves in. That is, until a searing glob of plasma flew past “Good Guy’s” face and burned a hole in the wall behind. Amphibax looked up to see three Rahkshi glaring at them from the end of the hall, and one of their staffs was still glowing hot. “Run,” Amphibax said softly before shoving the two behind him and following quickly. He shepherded them around bolts of plasma, disintegration, and sound, slashing his twin blades at anything that got too close. Up ahead, six more narrow orange eyes burned from the darkness. Amphibax quickly took stock of their location before opening a door and shoving the two inside. “Go!” “What is this place?” Bad Guy asked as he tried to pick out the details with what little light his eyes provided. Everyone blinked as Amphibax pulled out a lightstone to reveal, “A supply closet. Now we have a bigger problem. Rahkshi will be swarming that door and we have no other way out. The cargo hold is on the other end of the ship.” “I could blow the door and all the Rahkshi off the side of the ship,” Good Guy announced, raising his Echo Fork before it was caught by his companion. “In this small space, we’d be liquified before those hinges burst,” he grinned grimly. “Perhaps a little more finesse is required, my friend. Say, what might we find on the other side of this wall?” Amphibax had been watching silently. It was their time to come up with the plan. But he did offer, “Crew’s Quarters. We’d likely find much worse than Rahkshi in there.” Bad Guy jumped as the door vibrated, the room growing hotter as a glowing orange began spreading from the handle. “We’re running out of options!” he said nervously. Good Guy quickly snatched his claw and aimed it at the wall before firing. Amphibax pushed the others aside to enter the newly created hole first. Bad Guy then Good Guy followed, and Amphibax quickly led them to the door. Good Guy stopped as he realized just what was in the room. Matoran, at least twenty of them crammed into tight bunks along the walls. Their expressions ranged from shocked to absent; some of them didn’t even seem to notice the Hunters there. “Who are they…” he asked quietly. “Prisoners of war,” Amphibax replied quickly, “And not our problem. Come on, before the Rahkshi catch up.” Good Guy ran after without taking his eyes off the miserable sight. They had nearly reached the door at the end of the hall, passing more rooms filled with countless, soulless Matoran when something new emerged from a door just behind them. He was a Toa in form, but his body was jet black and covered in dark, almost corroded armor. His red eyes quickly fixed on the intruders. “Who are you?” He rasped, drawing a staff and shield. Amphibax pushed the others toward the door and stood before them, staring down the Shadow Toa. “Go,” he hissed at them. When the recruits didn’t move, he turned and roared, “Go!” The two ran through the door, looking back to see Amphibax catch the Toa’s staff in his blades before he disappeared from view. They didn’t stop running until the sounds of combat faded into the distance. “What do we do now?” Good Guy panted. “We finish the mission,” Bad Guy responded firmly. “Amphibax said the cargo hold was on this end of the ship, didn’t he?” “Yeah, but how are we supposed to find it? He had the map!” “We’ll find it.” Bad Guy leads the way down the hall, watching for Rahkshi, but it seemed most of this floor had followed them to the supply closet. Still they rushed through the hall, not wanting to press their luck. It took some time to find the right door, time that they would have thought the Rahkshi would have used to catch up. But there it was, the Matoran symbols spelling out “Cargo Hold” above a large round door. Good Guy took one last survey of the hall while Bad Guy rushed straight to the button. The door split into eight sections and spiralled open like an aperture, revealing the darkest area of the ship yet. Bad Guy walked right in despite the dark, while Good Guy hesitated a moment before following. They felt more than saw their way through the maze of crates while ominous rattling and cracks sounded in the darkness. “How are we supposed to know which one has the weapons?” As it turned out, the crate revealed itself after a time. A solitary lightstone laying on the floor shone its light on a crate where “Xian Forges” was written. Bad Guy quickly cracked it open to reveal… nothing. “I knew it was too good to be true,” Bad Guy snarled as he turned and flopped back against the side. “We can’t go back without it,” Good Guy sighed. “We’ll have to keep looking.” “That won’t be necessary,” said a new voice from behind them. The recruits started and spun around, casting the light on Amphibax, who was holding out six silver cylinders etched with vents and a black grip. “We thought you were dead!” Bad Guy snapped before Amphibax could tell him to be quiet. “How did you get here first?” Amphibax shrugged, “All Toa are the same. That isn’t the first one I’ve killed. But, considering you made your way here anyway, I believe we can tell The Shadowed One you succeeded.” “That means we’re in!” Bad Guy said, a little quieter. “Not yet. We still need to get past an army of Rahkshi and off this ship. So perhaps we should find out what these weapons do…” ------- Each of the Hunters took two of the cylinders and made their way out of the cargo hold on the other side of the ship, returning to the hole they had already created. Along the way, the recruits marveled at the Rahkshi shells strewn around the halls. Amphibax hardly seemed to notice. “Did you kill all of them?” Bad Guy asked. “We can’t have them alerting the rest of the ship,” he replied casually. But it seemed he was too late. Before they had reached the hole, Amphibax stopped them as a hiss spread through the air. At the end of the hall was a platoon of Rahkshi with staffs pointed toward them. At the head was another Toa, this one female with a black Avsa. “Kill the thieves,” she commanded, and the Rahkshi swarmed around them toward the Hunters. Bad Guy leapt in front, holding one cylinder out, a strange lens pointed toward the horde. “I’ve got this,” and with that he pushed the red button along the side, and a red beam of light raced out toward them… before stopping a bio from the cylinder. Bad Guy pulled it back, looking at the glowing blade in confusion. It was then that one of the forward Rahkshi’s eyes began to glow, and two lasers blasted toward them. Bad Guy flinched, somehow putting the blade between him and the lasers. The reflected and sheared off the arm of the Rahkshi just to the right of the attacker. Bad Guy’s Skakdi grin returned, and he charged in, pulling out his second cylinder which created a short beam of orange light. Chain Lightning and Heat Vision were ineffective as he tore into the front few Rahkshi. As it turned out, protosteel wasn’t a match for it either. Good Guy and Amphibax just looked at each other for a moment. Then Amphibax wielded one of the lightblades in his claw while Good Guy pulled out one of his own. Instead of diving for the attackers like Amphibax, he turned to the wall and started carving a new exit. Bad Guy traded blows with Rahkshi left and right, making good use of the double blades. Patches of scorched and crumpled armor covered him from grin to claws, but a manic glee glowed in his eyes as he fought through the pain. Amphibax found himself engaged with the Toa, though she managed to fend off the lightblade with one conjured from shadow. Light broke through the darkness of the halls with every swift parry. He slashed at her legs with his whip, earning a moment to strike that was just as quickly stolen away as a Rahkshi pounced on his back. “Everyone get down!” Good Guy called, and Hunters and Toa alike turned to see him holding Echo Fork high and made to get out of the way. Amphibax snatched up Bad Guy and darted toward him. The Shadow Toa tried to follow, but found herself falling back into a pile of Rahkshi as Amphibax’s whip snagged her ankle. Good Guy waited a few seconds for his allies to get clear before smashing the fork to the ground, sending a deafening wave of sound down the hall. The Toa and remaining Rahkshi were blown back into the shadows, and before they could recover the Hunters were out into the ocean and returning to their own boat. Rahkshi emerged from the Brotherhood ship, but their aerial search was no match for Amphibax’s finesse underwater. No one said a word until the ship had disappeared far into the distance. And uncharacteristically, it was Amphibax that broke the silence. “Good Guy, Bad Guy, welcome to the Dark Hunters.”