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Homeland --- The sulfurous fumes of the volcano smell of rotten eggs and melting solder, a thoroughly disgusting aroma the likes of which can be found nowhere else. The heat that radiated from the flows of lava that streamed away is equally unbearable. What little ground exists in this unforgiving wasteland is rough and hard on the feet, and few can traverse it without incident. It is here that the Fire Tribe call home. Their bodies are accustomed to the heat and the stench, and their feet are sure. Every day they wake and breath in the ash with their air, bathe in water on the edge of evaporation and blink the dust from their eyes. In this hellish place they live their lives, content with their lot in life. After all, when one has a home he guards it desperately. Narmoto knows this. The volcano is his home as well, though he spends little of his day there. His work requires him to be everywhere, a feat said to be accomplishable only by the gods. And Narmoto is most certainly not a god. Such a thought was laughable. Even so, as the Protector of Fire it is his duty to ensure the safety of the entire region. And thus he has no choice but to float between the villages that dotted the blackened landscape, attempting to do what could simply not be done. But for now he would seek respite from his tiring task. He had returned to Kenna, the village of his birth. The village the first Protector of Fire had settled with a few brave companions. The village his ancestors had called home ever since. He is not glorified for his position here. The people of Kenna were used to the Protectors, having lived beside them for uncountable generations. When they look at him they see only the loving father and husband who has the misfortune of being tasked with a duty that keeps him from his family. They treat him as any other. A neighbor. A friend. Narmoto appreciates such gestures more than he can say. It is always a relief to be treated as an equal rather than a god, even if it is only for a few days. A head appears in the window of the house above him. “Narmoto! Back so soon? I would’ve expected the lava wolves to have put up more of a fight!” Narmoto looks up at the face of his friend. “Nay Aodhan, there was no fighting. The wolves are peaceable creatures, if given proper care and the right amount of sedative!” Aodhan laughs. “It is good to see you, old friend. Mirilleen will be happy to know you have returned safely.” “Give my regards to her for me, will you? It’s been far too long since I have been graced by her presence.” “You should come for dinner tomorrow evening! Bring your whole family, we still have room.” “I shall see if they are interested. Even if they decline, I shall certainly stop by. Tomorrow evening, then.” “Tomorrow evening. Welcome home, friend.” Friend. That is what Narmoto is here. It was a wonderful feeling. He is only a minute or two from his home now. His wife should be nearly finished putting supper on the table by now. He can almost smell it from here. Her signature vegetable stew. His favorite. She always made it his first night home. As soon as he reaches his door he feels two short arms wrap around his leg. His young son Hotaru, barely three years old, looks up at him with wide-eyed excitement. “Fada! Fada! Yous home!” “Why, I am, aren’t I? I hadn’t noticed!” Narmoto smiles warmly down at his son. He drops his traveling pack just inside the entrance then scoops the giggling toddler up in his arms so they are mask to mask. “Look how big you’ve grown! You’ll be as tall as me soon!” The little boy is nearly in tears now, he is laughing so hard. “Fada, don’ be silwy. Yous so much bigga den me!” Narmoto chuckles. “Not for long, I would say. Where is your mother?” “Muda’s in deh kishen, Fada! She’s makin’ suppa!” “Of course she is. Now, up you go!” As he speaks, Narmoto swings his son onto his back. The boy squeals and wraps his arms and legs around his father’s neck and torso, respectively. Narmoto carries him through the house, rounding the half-set table and entering the kitchen. The aroma of fresh fruits overwhelms him, and Narmoto stops just beyond the threshold of the kitchen. He closes his eyes and takes in a deep, long breath. When he opens his eyes he sees his wife for the first time in months. She’s standing with her back to him, putting the finishing touches on the meal. Her movements are deft and purposeful, never too much nor too little. Her light tunic does little to compliment her curves, but the feminine elegance is obvious. Her hair flows down her back like smooth silk. She’s just as beautiful as she was they day they met. “Muda, Fada’s here!” Hotaru chirps happily. She stops mid-motion. Slowly, she places her blade on the counter beside her cutting board. She turns around. Narmoto sees her eyes light up at the sight of him. She smiles shyly, her cheeks dimpling like they had since they were children. Narmoto smiles back. It is good to see her face again after so long. “Hotaru, go feed that rock salamander of yours and then wash up for supper.” Her voice is music to his ears, soft and gentle, but strong as the three volcanoes of Okoto. “Otay.” The toddler jumps off his father’s back and scampers out of the kitchen. For a moment all is still and silent. Narmoto spreads his arms from his sides. “I really am here, Tana. I’m home.” For a moment she seems hesitant. Then she throws herself into his arms. He wraps her up in his embrace, stroking her hair as she sobs gently. He knows her well enough to know that they are tears of joy and not sadness. “You can’t stay away for so long,” she says at last. “Hotaru needs you.” “You’re doing fine, Tana,” he reassured her. “You’re the best mother he could possibly have.” “He needs his father, Narmoto.” Narmoto says nothing as they end their embrace. “You need to pay attention to him. Soon he’ll be old enough that he’ll start to seriously think about why you’re almost never home.” “You of all people should appreciate the sacrifices I must make to perform my duty.” “As Protector it is your duty to raise your son to be your successor. Surely those who created this system did not mean for you to ignore him!” “My father was always away from home. I learned to accept it and gained strength in independence.” “Agnimu was many things Narmoto, but a good father was not one of them. Learn from his mistakes. Be the better man.” Narmoto opens his mouth to speak. “Muda I weddy!” Narmoto turns to see Hotaru standing outside the doorway, holding his hands in the air and letting the water drip off. He beams up at his parents, waiting for their approval. Tana smiles back. “Silly little Hotaru, you forgot to dry your hands!” She grabs a towel and kneels in front of her son, wiping his little hands dry. He is lost in a fit of giggles before she is half finished. “Alrighty now, go to the table and wait for me to bring in the food, “ she orders. “Otay!” Hotaru obeys immediately as only a three year old can. “Narmoto, help me take the meal out to the table?” “Of course,” he answers, despite not needing too. They collect what has not already been taken out to the table. Narmoto half expects Tana to say something, but she remains silent as they carry the bowls of stew out to the table where Hotaru waits. The two adults take their places around the round stone table. Tana places Hotaru’s in front of him, then looks to Narmoto. “Shall we pray?” he asks. A formality, of course. Not to pray would be blasphemous. They lift their heads to the ceiling and rest the backs of their hands to the tabletop. Narmoto’s voice is the only thing that can be heard, even talkative little Hotaru remains silent. “Great Augalai of the Harvest, we thank you for this meal you have provided. Our household is blessed by your eternal grace. Join us as we celebrate you with this meal. May your glorious fields in the heavens never wither. Let the gods be appeased.” “Let the gods be appeased,” his wife and son echo after him. As soon as the prayer is complete, Hotaru snatches his spoon from the table and begins to frantically scoop the broth into his mouth with undisguised enthusiasm. Narmoto chuckles and begins his own meal, politely scooping just enough at a time and savoring each bite. It’s not often he gets the chance to enjoy his wife’s cooking. He glances across the table where Tana eats her own bowl with the same calm demeanor as he. She catches his eye and shoots him a look. He knows exactly what it means. Narmoto swallows his mouthful of stew and turns to his son. “Have you been behaving for your mother?” he asks idly. A pitiful attempt at conversation, but it is better than nothing. Hotaru, having just shoved another spoonful of broth into his mouth, nods vigorously. “He’s been a good boy,” Tana speaks in his stead. Hotaru continues to nod. “I trust you’re still friends with Borvo, Aodhan’s son?” Narmoto says before scooping up another mouthful. The toddler finally manages to swallow before answering. “Yes, Fada. Bovo’s fun! We friends.” “Good to hear. Speaking of Aodhan, he invited us over to his house for dinner tomorrow evening.” Tana looks up from her bowl at these words. Her frown speaks volumes. Narmoto suspects she thinks he started this conversation just to bring that up. Honestly, he simply had forgotten until he mentioned his friend’s name. “Oh?” As usual, her reply reveals nothing about her opinion. “Dinna wit Bovo?” Hotaru asks excitedly. “Pwease Muda?” Tana sighs as she looks at her son’s pleading face. “That sounds lovely. Tell him we will most certainly come next time you seem him.” The rest of supper is eaten in moderate silence. Occasionally questions are asked. Hotaru takes great interest in his father’s tales of the dangers of the region, and listens with rapt attention as he speaks. When supper is finished Tana clears the table and goes to clean the kitchen while Narmoto takes Hotaru to his room. Besides the bathroom, the young boy sleeps in the smallest room in the home. There’s barely enough room for his cot, a chest for clothes and armor, and a shelf for his few toys and and copy of the sacred book of the gods. Hotaru jumps onto his bed and pulls the sheet up to his chin. He smiles up at his father with wide eyes. “Fada, will you tuck me in? Pwease?” Narmoto smiled. “Of course.” He tucks the sheet in around his son, wrapping him up in the light coverage. The sheet was not terribly necessary given the heat, but the children tended to feel more secure with something covering them for whatever reason. No one questions it. Narmoto leans over the cot and plants a kiss on his son’s forehead. “Good night, Hotaru. I’ll see you tomorrow.” “An deh day afta dat?” his son asks. Narmoto pauses. “Yes, Hotaru. But I’m only here for a few days. Then I have to go back to work.” Hotaru thinks about this for a moment. “I don’ want you to go.” “I have to. It’s my duty. And one day, it’ll be yours.” “But Fada, I wan you to stay!” Narmoto takes a breath. “All right Hotaru. I’ll stay for now. But it’s time for sleep now, okay?” “Otay. Goo nigh Fada.” “Good night, Hotaru.” He exits the room as quietly as possible. “You lied to him.” Tana is standing just outside the doorway. Her arms are crossed in front of her chest, and her eyes piece Narmoto like daggers. “I said I would stay for now. That’s not a lie.” “But you made him think you wouldn't leave. You’ll break his little heart when you do.” “What was I supposed to tell him? That my duty is more important than he is? Than any of us?” “You were supposed to sound sorry about it! Tell him you want nothing more than to stay with him, but you can’t because you have to protect the region from danger! Gods, sometimes you are so stupid Narmoto.” Narmoto exhales slowly. “I must make sacrifices, Tana. The safety of the region must come first.” Tana stands there for a moment, staring intently at her husband. He waits uncertainly for her response, sure she will see the truth in his words. “Well if that’s how you feel, then get out of my home.” Narmoto feels as though she had slapped his across his face. “What?” “If you think protecting people you don’t even know from petty dangers is more important than raising your son, then you should do that. Don’t keep teasing him with these visits. Get out and let me raise him with the love he deserves.” He doesn’t know what to say. Tana is kicking him out. Sending him away. And for no reason other than he cares about doing what he has been tasked to do. Isn’t he supposed to set an example for his son? Shirking his duties would set a pretty poor one. He is perfectly justified in his decision. “Well?” Tana is still waiting for his answer. But what is he supposed to say? He hasn’t the slightest idea. “Tana, don’t do this. You of all people-” “No, stop. Don’t try and talk me out of it. Promise me you’ll stay and help me raise him or go. Now.” For a second neither moves. Then Narmoto turns and walks towards the exit. For a moment he expects Tana to break, to call for him to come back and stop this foolishness. But she did not. He pauses on the threshold, picking his traveling pack up from where he had left it when he arrived. He slings it onto his back and looks out over the barren terrain. The land that is his home. All of it. And it is his duty to protect it. He takes a step out the door. “Muda, where’s Fada goin?” He keeps walking, ignoring the growing ache in his chest. Part of him wants nothing more than to drop his pack and run back to his son. But he can not. He has a duty to his home, and the best he can do for his son is set an example of how a Protector must live. He pretends he doesn’t hear the young boy’s wailing as he vanishes into the fiery night.
The End of Time, by SkullKid Narmoto ran through the thick jungle toward the Temple of Time. The temple’s bell’s tolls were so loud, that it rattled the molecules of his very being. His age was getting to him. His muscles screamed, his armor cracked, but he kept going. Suddenly, the world went black. When Narmoto came to, he was face-first on the ground. As he looked around, he noticed two things. One, the root that tripped him was unusually large. How he didn’t notice it while running befuddled him. The second thing he noticed was the wind against his naked face. His mask must’ve fallen off when he tripped. After a brief survey of his surroundings, Narmoto found his mask. Taking it in both hands, he prepared to return it to its home, but something stopped him dead in his tracks. Was this his mask? It was familiar, but it seemed off. Gone was the ornate red metal and translucent orange ore that made up his mask, and before him was a light orange mask, rounded, save for a grated fixture around the area his mouth would be. The bells chimed again. Narmoto had no time to be confused. He took one last look around before he threw on this alien looking mask, and moved forward. If those bells were chiming, it could only mean trouble. As the Protector of Fire climbed the stairs, he thought back to the past few weeks. Ever since Ekimu returned with news of the Toa’s departure and completion of their destiny, peace had returned to Okoto. Ekimu had returned to his forge, and had taken Narmoto in as his apprentice. He had tinkered with mask making in the past. The art itself was lost for the most part after Makuta and Ekimu’s big clash, but he managed. He’d never made real masks of power, but he’d made his fair share of ornate, non-powered masks for his village. When Ekimu took him on as an apprentice, the mask maker gave him full access. Any material he desired, he got. Any advice he needed was given. Any formula, any power source, everything was at his fingertips. He was content with this life. He even began to consider his retirement as the protector, and whom he might pass the torch too. Things began to change however, when Ekimu encouraged a new task, one that had been puzzling him for ages. The task: the completion of the Mask of Time. Legend claimed that the Mask of Time that lay in the Temple of Time was only one half of a mask. The lower half was lost a long time ago. “I have searched the oldest prophesies, the most ancient of legends, and none give hint of what might of happened to the lower half.” Ekimu mused. “But if it’s impossible to find the lower half, perhaps we can make it a new one.” Many formulas were tried. Ore from a meteorite, possibly the oldest metal on the planet, was gathered. Bones from ancient beings were dug up and carved out to create a frame. After forging, the mask was quenched in water drawn from the Temple of Time. However, no matter what the shape, the density of the metal, or how long it was forged, it shattered every time. With each failure, Ekimu became more and more agitated. Narmoto had never seen the usually calm and collected legend lose his temper. But the apprentice kept at it, despite the continuous failures. It was when a seemingly desperate Ekimu suggested maybe a combination of elements needed to be added to the formula, that Narmoto questioned the master Mask Maker. “With all due respect, my liege, this is not the way. This would lead to destruction! You can’t repeat Makuta’s mistake for this!” A wildness that had occupied Ekimu’s eyes for weeks now had left them as realization fell over him. He excused himself, saying he needed to meditate. Narmoto too took his leave. It was late, and tensions were high. Once he arrived at his home, he finally was able to rest. Unfortunately, this was short lived, for the very same bells that rung now, cried their shrill toll. Narmoto shook his head. He had to focus on the now, not relive the past. The temple’s bells chimed again. He reached the top of the stairs and stopped. Something felt off. Everything felt cleaner, shinier, and new. It felt wrong. “HALT trespasser!” A voice boomed from the open door that faced him. Two figures, tall, slender, and covered from head to toe with armor emerged, wielding shields that depicted the elements. The one with red and gold armor had a shield adorned with images of fire and sparks. The other had blue and silver armor with a shield depicting the ocean and torrential rain. “This is the Temple of Time, stranger.” The red one exclaimed, its words almost sounding like the average Okotian, but with the slight uncanniness that gave away its artificiality. “It is off limits to all except for high level mask makers, and elemental protectors.” Two things went through Narmoto’s mind at once. The first was simply him trying to comprehend what he was looking at. This was impossible. These were ancient automated warriors that he’d learned about on only the most ancient of tablets. They were created by ancient mask makers to protect sacred lands. But they were as ancient as those tablets, and had long since fell into disrepair, without Makuta and Ekimu around to keep them running. But these two automatons were up and running. The second he figured he could solve immediately. “My name is Narmoto, Protector of Fire like my father before me. You might not recognize me because of my mask.” He pointed to his mysterious orange replacement mask. “Incorrect response. Turn back or be forced back.” The blue automaton hammered his shield with his fist in a show of force. Narmoto had no time to question these two. In a swift motion, he removed the cloak he was wearing, and threw it at the face of the blue one. He took advantage of the beings temporary blindness, and unloaded his elemental blaster at its head. It was quick. The blue being fell to the ground, sparks flying from where its head should be. The temple’s bells chimed. Narmoto was about to book it, leaving the red one behind him, but a simple glance changed everything. The red being was gone, replaced by what looked like an Okotian Villiager. “What did you do!?! He was my brother! HE WAS MY FRIEND!” The villager screamed. Narmoto looked over to where the automaton should have been laying, but what he saw gave him the greatest chill he had ever felt. Most of the body was covered by his cloak, but what stuck out were not the feet of the robot he’d just dispatched. They were much smaller. The red villager tackled Narmoto, too distracted to see it coming. “YOU DID THIS TO US! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO US!?!” he cried, a deep mourning resonating in his voice. The bells chimed again. “I-I’m not….you…he…you both weren’t like this a moment ago…who are you?” Narmoto stammered. His fear had only just begun, for the villager rapidly began to change. His body broadened, gears and tubes emerged where they weren’t before. His arms and legs shortened, and the hands that gripped Narmoto’s armor began to turn hot as they began to morph into fire laced claws. “I…REMEMBER...WHAT…you…diiiiiiiiiiiiiii…..” An electronic buzz reverberated from the villager’s head, which began to elongate. The now round, buglike being, threw Narmoto to the side. “It…must…be…cleaned….” The creature’s now severely distorted voice said. The robotic bug suddenly jumped at Narmoto. Time inched by as he faced death. There was so much he’d done with his life, but there was so much more he wanted. He’d never completed his mask-maker training. He’d never fallen in love and had a child of his own. He’d never climbed the tallest peak of Mt. Ihu. Mt. Ihu, he thought, that’s not right. Just then, wind blustered by his face as stone stalactites impaled the red beetle-like creature. Narmoto looked for its source. Standing there, triumphant, was Nilkuu, grinning, elemental blaster in hand. “Come, on fire-spitter,” said the Protector of Stone, “You’re gonna let that take you out. I thought fire consumes all?” “Fighting fire with fire was never my strongest suit” Narmoto admitted. Nilkuu hoisted Narmoto to his feet, took off for the main hall. Narmoto looked back, trying to convince himself that he didn’t have killed an innocent life. Nilkuu was the first to speak. “You gonna tell me what that was all about? The new mask, robo-bug back there, the bells?” “It’s a long story, much of which I don’t understand.” Narmoto mused. “But if there are answers to be found, they will be in here.” He pushed open the inner sanctum door, just as a new set of chimes reverberated through the hall. Inside, he could see the stairs that led up to Mask of Time. But unlike the rest of the temple which looked completely refurbished, the inner sanctum appeared to be in further disrepair then they had left it, like millennia had passed with no upkeep. At the top, the other Protectors stood, waiting for the two. “Come on, Kohlii-head!” Nilkuu exclaimed, making his way up the decrepit stairs. “Not a moment to waste!” “Kohlii-head….what?” Narmoto questioned. The term seemed familiar, but he couldn’t place it. He followed his brother in arms up the stairs to meet the other Protectors. Vizuna, Protector of Jungle and Kivoda, Protector of Water were watching the mask from a distance, while Kargot, the Protector of Earth was tending to the Protector of Ice, Izotor, who seemed to be in a daze. “Kargot, what happened?” Narmoto asked, concerned. Kargot looked toward her long-time friend, recognition absent from her eyes. “Who…….Narmoto? What’s with the mask?” Kargot queried. “Not important right now. What’s wrong with Izotor?” “I don’t know.” Kargot looked worried. Narmoto had rarely seen her like this. She was usually the brave one of the lot. “We were the first to get here. When he saw the mask, he tried to grab it, but it….affected him.” Kargot returned her focus to Izotor, who looked around franticly, whistling and clicking like a bird. Narmoto looked to where the Mask was, floating above a basin of water. He noticed the difference immediately. Before when they came to summon the Toa, the mask was golden, and the water in the basin was pure. Now, the mask was rusted over, taking on a more orange appearance, like age had gotten to it. Cracks were forming on the outside, and pieces of it were falling off into the basin. “This is what I was talking about,” said Vizuna, “My tail has been going crazy ever since the bells went off. It has to be the mask.” “I’ve never seen a broken mask do something like this,” Kivoda said, walking over to Izotor. “Do masks usually leak their power when broken?” Everything seemed to click in Narmoto’s mind. These odd fluctuations, the age of the Temple, the resurrection of the Temple guards, all of that must be the Mask’s doing. “It would make sense,” the crimson protector said. “Such powerful masks rarely exist or have been broken…but the Mask of Ultimate Power was shattered by Ekimu, and we all know the results of that.” Dread began to fall over the gathered leaders. The destruction of the Mask of Time could lead to something even more catastrophic than Makuta and Ekimu’s cataclysmic battle. Kargot approached Narmoto. “What should we do? You’re a mask maker now. Do you think we can fix it?” Narmoto reached his hand out, but stopped half way. “I don’t know. I don’t think I should even touch it. Didn’t it mess up Izotor?” “Who?” Kargot asked. “…Izotor…” Narmoto said slowly, “…Izotor, Kargot…our friend.” Narmoto looked around. Izotor was nowhere to be seen. “Izotor…who is Izotor?” Kargot asked again. “There is just the five of us Narmoto.” “No! That’s not right…I…” Narmoto paused. He couldn’t remember what he was fretting about. The name that was just in his mind was gone. Kargot put her hand on his shoulder. “Narmoto! Snap out of it. We need to figure out what to do!” Vizuna spoke up. “My tail is driving me nuts! I can’t…I can’t focus. Maybe if I..” He grabbed for the Mask of Time, but as soon as he touched the rusty mask, he was flung back by an invisible force. The bells chimed again, as Vizuna collapsed on the floor. “Oh no…” Kargot gasped. Kivoda ran over to his fallen brother as Kargot stood by. Narmoto was shaking. Something was wrong. He felt there was something else missing. That couldn’t be right though. There was always just the four of them leading Okoto. Kivoda shook the unconscious Vizuna, trying to wake him. Suddenly, with a swift push, Vizuna launched Kivoda into the air. “NO! This…this isn’t right!” Vizuna cried, as he began to transform. He grew taller, one arm growing longer, and more beast like. His shoulders broadened as his full frame hunched over. “We…we were fighting….spiders.” The bells chimed again as Kargot ran forward to try to calm the now monstrous looking Vizuna. Narmoto ran to help…he couldn’t remember. There was no one to help. He gripped his head as a massive headache rendered him useless. Kargot put up her hands. “Vizuna, it’s going to be alright. Let me help you.” Vizuna jumped back. “No! No! We were fighting…..spiders…..” “Yes, we defeated the Skull Spiders, Vizuna. Come on, we need to get you help.” Kargot said, trying to coax Vizuna from the shadows. “No….the Visorak. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE VISORAK!” Vizuna screamed, launching himself at Kargot. A bright light illuminated the chamber, and both Kargot and Narmoto covered their faces. Vizuna cried out in pain. When the light dimmed, Narmoto looked down to see Ekimu blocking the enraged Vizuna. “GO! Narmoto, take the mask, and leave. Return to my forge. I’ll meet you there.” Ekimu grunted, as Vizuna clawed at his shield. Narmoto had the urge to ask questions, but was stopped by Kargot. “We have to go.” She said, urgency in her eyes. Kargot reached for the mask. “NO!” Narmoto said. “Wait! Don’t touch it.” He took a deep breath, his mind clear for the first time in hours. “I believe this is my destiny.” And with that, he grabbed the decaying Mask of Time. Everything went white. Everything was quiet. Everything stopped. Narmoto blinked. No, it wasn’t all white. He could make out the outline of a vast city, reaching far into the distance. He stood on a balcony, overlooking the vast metropolis. This looks…. “Familiar, right?” a voice said. Narmoto jumped. Sitting on the ledge right next to him was a Toa, but not like he’d ever seen. He was grey, thin and lanky, with a mask that looked sort of like Tahu’s did. The Toa pointed to his mask. “My mask reads minds. Don’t freak out too much. You didn’t the first time we met. Krakua’s my name…or do you remember?” “I’m sorry, I think you have me confused for someone else.” Narmoto said, puzzled. Krakua sighed. “I was afraid of that. This will be tougher than I thought.” He paused. “Sit with me, won’t you?” Narmoto, careful to not fall off, took a seat with the tall grey Toa. “Where are we?” “Well, nowhere really. This is just an echo of what once was. Residue of the destruction of the Vahi” The name Vahi resonated in Narmoto’s mind: it was the ancient name of the Mask of Time. Then the rest of what Krakua said hit him like a brick wall. “Wait, what do you mean?” “Maybe it’d be better to show you, Vakama.” When Krakua spoke that name, the world erupted. A massive war surrounded him. Toa of all shapes, colors, and sizes teamed up with other armored beings amongst an onslaught of vicious warriors. Some had toothy grins, others had elongated obsidian helmets with war paint. There were even more of those beetle-looking robots. Amongst the carnage was a hooded figure, holding on high a rusty orange mask, a truly monstrous being under his foot. The Mask of Time Narmoto thought. “It’s the final moments of the War of Spherus Magna. That hooded figure right there is Velika, the last Great Being. He led an army against the combined forces of the Toa and Glatorian. When a great leader called the Shadowed One tried to use the Vahi to secure the victory, he almost lost control, and Velika struck him down.” Narmoto stared at this, confused, which Krakua noticed. “That’s not as important as what’s about to happen.” Suddenly, out of nowhere, the Mask of Time flew out of Velika’s hands, as an orange figure appeared out of thin air, flying overhead. Narmoto immediately recognized the mask he wore as the one he found in the forest. “And there you are. Always seeming to cheat fate, right Vakama?” Krakua laughed. Vakama landed in the arms of a Toa Narmoto immediately recognized as Onua. The other Toa soon gathered around him, to protect the elderly leader. Vakama and Velika began speaking to each other, but Narmoto could not hear their words. “What are they saying?” Narmoto asked Krakua, who frowned. “The details aren’t important, but this was the end. You threatened to break the Vahi, knowing full well what would happen if Velika didn’t stop. You’ve made this gamble once before. This time, though….” Velika raised an arm as he telekinetically began to disassemble the biomechanical beings around him, with a crazed look in his eyes. As more Toa charged, more fell. None could stand his might. Those who didn’t crumble immediately thought twice about charging and backed away. All that stood in his way now was Gali, Onua, Lewa, Pohatu, Kopaka, Tahu, and a gold-clad Toa he mistook for Ekimu. The gold Toa leaped forward, and just as his attack was about to connect, Velika knocked him aside. Each of the remaining Toa put their hand on Vakama. They all knew what was about to happen. “There was no choice,” Krakua said. “Velika had caused so much carnage already, and would cause so much more unchecked. No reality was better than a reality where he ruled.” There was a solemn moment before the hammer came down. The mask cracked. It hit again. Another crack. With each impact, and new crack formed, and in turn, the reality around Narmoto cracked too. Then, it shattered. Everything was white again. It was just him and Krakua sitting on an invisible ledge. Krakua was silent. Narmoto was numb. “After you broke the Vahi, time began to unwind. Everything happened at once, and never happened. Time ran backwards for some while for others it moved forward. The universe ended that day.” He paused. “But it also began that day too. The universe established a reality loop with constants. There is always a threat of shadow to take over the land. There are always six heroes summoned to fight it. There is always an object, imbued with the power of time that holds together that reality, no matter how brief it might be. And then there is always you, a wise sage, with a will of fire to guide the heroes to their task. You may take on other names and faces, but you at heart are always Vakama. Always the mask maker that accidently created this loop in the first place. Every time, the loop plays out the same. Shadow tries to conquer light, but light always prevails. Then, the object imbued with Time falls apart, and the cycle happens again. But this..” Krakua motioned between them.”…this hasn’t happened. In fact, I’ve been waiting for it to happen for what seems to be eons.” Narmoto looked puzzled. “Why you though. Why are you here and no one else from…the first reality?” Krakua shrugged, “I‘m not sure exactly. It could be my destiny, a previous connection we shared, maybe just the universe being cruel, or maybe I’m just your guardian Great Spirit. I’m not even sure if this is the real me. I might just be an echo too. What I do know, and have waited so long to tell you is this. You have a choice to make. You can either break the mask or continue the cycle, which is not the worst way to go. It’s consistent, and though the events might be a product of the Vahi’s influence, the lives are real. Or, you can repair the Vahi. This will stabilize the current reality. I cannot promise everything will return to the way it was, but life will go on here until the end of the natural universe.” Narmoto considered his choices. On one hand, who knows what the next reality would hold, or if he would ever get to this point again. On the other, he wasn’t sure what was left to save. Who knows what havoc the Mask of Time caused outside of the Temple? In his hand appeared his realities Mask of Time. It was so fragile, like it would shatter at any moment. “It’s your choice, brother.” Krakua said, his voice fading “I’m just the messenger. This decision is up to you.” Reality bled back in like a liquid, and filled the space around him. He was back in Ekimu’s Forge, what remained of the Mask of Time in hand. Narmoto took the mask, and put it on the table. He knew exactly what he was going to do. He wasn’t a destroyer or a fixer. He was a creator. He heated up the forge, took a pair of forging tongs, and began to melt down the Mask of Time. As he did, he could feel the coils of space-time begin to unravel around him. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, but he persisted. He took the molten metal, and poured into a round cast. As it cooled, he began to hammer and mill out the form burned in his memory. Reality began to fade as white oblivion over took it. After what felt like years, or maybe it was seconds, it was done. And for a brief moment, everything felt normal. Narmoto took the mask, complete for the first time, and put it on. He turned to face the oncoming oblivion. Now Narmoto thought, Let’s see what a real mask maker can make. Then, Narmoto, Vakama, and the countless names he was called before now, activated the Vahi for the last time.