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  1. So he looked on in cold despair,and his ruins, they stared back and shunnedthe reckless danger he’d unleashed,fire borne of folly’s ignition.* * *A spark. A whirr of gears. A sudden screech — a faint puff of smoke—Silence.Nuparu pushed his goggles out of his eyes and leaned over the robot’s open chest paneling. To the untrained eye, the robot’s innards were naught but a messy sprawl of gears and cables, shoved inside the metallic outer shell like an afterthought. But Nuparu’s eye was trained well; to him, the mechanisms for movement, calculation, and balance all formed an intricate and delicate design, more artistic than Po-Metru sculptures, or Ta-Metru forgings.Only one, tiny hitch kept the Vahki from being perfect: It refused to start.A single, dim lightstone dangled from the ceiling; a century or two had passed since Nuparu had hung it, and yet he still remembered having to smuggle down the ladder in the midst of an excavation party. The crystal’s natural light cast a fuzzy halo across the body of the robot, which lay on a table in the center of the room, surrounded by tools and spare parts.Level 7H was a more-or-less hidden area of the Onu-Metru Archives. No civilians were allowed this deep, and though plenty of Onu-Matoran archivists had clearance to come down here, there was nothing to come down to; 7H was empty and had been more or less abandoned due to uncertain cave conditions, making excavation for Rahi containment centers out of the question. That was why Nuparu’s laboratory was here.Though, sometimes, the empty level got lonely. Only sometimes. At least no one was here to bug him about the Kralhi.He examined a particular batch of wires closely, then wrapped a finger around them and tugged gently. They held; the ignition wires themselves were fine, then. Humming a tune to himself, trying to push Dume’s sure-to-be impatient face out of his mind’s eye, he slid his goggles back over his eyes and all but dove into the mess of mechanical parts, a small, handheld lightstone in his right hand to better illuminate the Vahki’s mechanisms.He would have to report to Dume soon, and surely the Turaga of Metru Nui wouldn’t appreciate a delay.* * *Nuparu finished his report and stood silently, fidgeting under Turaga Dume’s gaze.Perhaps it was how Dume held his staff; he didn’t lean on it, he used it to stand straight and tall. Perhaps it was the Turaga’s gaze: powerful, experienced, with just the right mix of venerability and sternness that the Matoran of Metru Nui so endeared. Whatever the cause, Dume’s small, weathered physical stature seemed to cover a mental power beyond anything a Toa could possess. Control. Self-assuredness. A high political position.In short, Dume was a natural leader. Anyone who saw him could not disagree.A good leader knew a lost cause when he saw it, and Nuparu was afraid Dume would see him as a lost cause if the delays mounted. Oddly, in no book Nuparu had read was there any mention of what a good leader did to a lost cause.Finally Dume stirred, looking out the window in his office. The room was bright, with white walls and a white floor that easily reflected the sunlight caught in the room; everything seemed to gleam in the glow, from Dume’s desk in the back of the room to Dume himself.“So what exactly was damaged, Nuparu?”“I — I don’t know, Turaga.” Inwardly, Nuparu grimaced. “It could be the wires, or the AI, or the motor, or even the central power source. I haven’t run a full check-up yet; I wanted to report to you first, because the diagnosis might take a while to complete.”Dume nodded slowly, turning back to Nuparu, his famed strong-willed gaze meeting Nuparu’s more timid one. “Can it be fixed?”“Ye- er, I mean, I don’t know, Turaga. As I said, I don’t even know what’s—”“Other than this problem, the Vahki is almost complete? Including updated blueprints?”“Yes. To both, Turaga.”Dume must have noticed the nervous strain in Nuparu’s voice, for a faint smile passed over his face for a second. “I won’t bite, Nuparu.”Nuparu tried to smile but only succeeded in looking sick. Talking about completing a fully automated robot was one thing; actually building it was another. He had gone through Karzahni and back attempting to create a simple learning program. That had been a delay itself. But it hadn’t put him behind schedule.“All I’m asking,” continued the Turaga, beginning to pace to the left, “is that you complete the Vahki. If you think you need more time, Nuparu—”“I don’t.” Nuparu cursed himself for the interruption but could not fight the pride coming over his features. Dume had estimated Nuparu would need perhaps three years to create the first Vahki. But only two years had passed since the first meeting — or, rather, that first meeting after Nuparu’s folly.A long, slow decade had passed between the Kralhi’s being driven from the surface of Metru Nui and Dume’s summons. The talk had been staccato, lapsing into extended periods of silence whenever either Nuparu or Dume mentioned the Kralhi.And then Nuparu had waited another thirteen years before Dume summoned him again — this time to discuss the idea of the Vahki. He had told Nuparu to build his own prototype; he didn’t want his own engineers wasting time on a design that didn’t work. Another verbal jab, one that Nuparu could not parry.The pride receded. Dume nodded, passing over Nuparu’s momentary lapse from stolid motionlessness. “Of course, Nuparu. You are very talented.” His lips compressed. “That’s why I’m giving you a second chance,” he said, as if having second thoughts about the matter.“Turaga... the Kralhi were a fluke. I — I can do better this time, I swear by Mata Nui—”“So I suppose you had better get back to work.” Turaga Dume stopped; he stood a few meters from the door and turned his head slightly toward it: a clear sign of dismissal.Already moving, Nuparu nodded again. He placed his hand on the doorknob—“I expect great things from you, Nuparu,” said Dume as Nuparu opened the door. “Remember that. Your Kralhi are the past now; let us look toward the future, a time of law and order where the Vahki reign supreme — beneath me, of course.”He had said the last part like an afterthought. Somehow, that set off a warning bell in Nuparu’s subconscious.“Report back to me only when you’re ready to finally activate the Vahki...” Dume’s eyes glowed a little brighter. “...or when the Vahki proves to be impossible to activate. Either way, I’ll have to have a long talk with you.”Nuparu stepped outside; the office door closed behind him, the click of the lock echoing faintly through the grand hallway outside. The sunlight streamed through the windows in torrents, starkly contrasting Nuparu’s shadowed mind.* * *Your Kralhi, Dume had said.Nuparu grimaced at the interior of the malfunctioning motor. My Kralhi. The words had been uttered early in the morning, and still, in the evening, they were played and replayed in Nuparu’s subconscious. Another way of saying my mistake — like Dume wasn’t the one to contract me to build the Kralhi in the first place.That was politics, Nuparu supposed. Take a past mistake, twist it so it jabs another candidate in the back, gain voters. But in this case, Nuparu wasn’t running against Dume in anything. Maybe Dume had just fallen into a political mindset, treating everyone like an opposing candidate. Or maybe he was just still furious with Nuparu and half-failing at hiding it.That, however, was not the sole cause of Nuparu’s grimace.The motor’s fuses had burst, every single one of them. It had been flooded with power. The question was, if this motor was identical to the other motors in the Vahki — and Nuparu had checked — why was it the only one to suffer from blown fuses?On an engineer’s impulse, Nuparu placed the disconnected motor aside and leaned over the Vahki’s open paneling. If his intuition was right, he would be facing perhaps three days’ delay; if it was wrong, the delay would be longer.Nuparu tried to block that thought from his mind.Several minutes later, a messy sprawl of carefully disconnected wires lay stranded in the middle of the Vahki, and a semi-triumphant Nuparu was unscrewing the cover to the power source, tongue trapped between his teeth in concentration, goggles hanging askew with one lens over one eye and the other lens up on Nuparu’s forehead.The last screw came off. And Nuparu swore.The wiring had come completely undone, some of the metallic protodermis inside the power source had melted with the bare wire tips, and at least one wire too many was at the port formerly connected to the malfunctioning motor. He blinked hard, trying to make sense of the mess, wondering how any engineer could live with tricking customers with junk like this. A moment passed before he realized the goggles were obstructing his vision and moved them out of the way to better see what he was cursing.The scene before him didn’t look any better.Well. That’s that. Nuparu tossed aside his goggles and pulled a paper, pencil, and ruler over to the work table. If the only way to get something done is to do it yourself, why not design my own power source?His tongue trapped between his teeth, Nuparu used the ruler to begin sketching a new power source’s design.* * *Merchants’ Square was located in southern Onu-Metru. Most blocks were taken up by singular buildings — the Onu-Matoran were excavators, not archivists, so rather than build skyscrapers they built “horizon-scrapers”, which were referred to outside Onu-Metru as simply “obese”. In the midst of the neat rows of large, domed-roof buildings, Merchants’ Square stood out like a sore thumb: It was filled with large, tent-like stands, manned either by independent merchants or representatives from nearby companies. The products ranged from fruit to art to mechanical parts. Nuparu had come for the latter.He entered a stand well-known to him. Behind the counter, the trader, Zemya, turned as Nuparu tossed the blueprints on the counter. “Seems like a big project, Nuparu; what’ll it be today?”The merchant had been in the business of trading and purchasing mechanical goods for at least a century now. Nuparu was a common sight across his counter. Hopefully that would keep him from asking any... delicate questions.“Good morning to you too, Zemya,” replied Nuparu placidly. He unrolled the blueprints and pointed at each respective design as he spoke: “I need a battery, metal casing, maybe ten input sockets, twenty of your longest wires...”He had spent all of last night drawing the blueprints. Art was not his forte; now that he could see his lines in the light, he couldn’t help but feel irked by his sketchy angles. “...power moderators, aaand, uh, that’s it.”Zemya glanced over the blueprints. When he finally nodded, he was halfway to the back room, the blueprints in his hand. “Okay,” he said over his shoulder, “hold on; lemme get the stuff from the back.”The other Onu-Matoran returned a minute later with his arms full of mechanical parts. “There you go,” he said, and he dumped them onto the counter. Nuparu sifted through them as Zemya slapped the blueprints to the counter beside the pile of parts and continued, “Figure fifty widgets for the casing... ten for the battery, six for each input socket...” His calculations drifted into mutterings before he said, “One hundred twenty widgets, please.”A hefty purchase. Nuparu gritted his teeth and handed over the money. If the Vahki cost this much to make, what would Dume’s payment upon completion do? Restore Nuparu’s account to normal?“Hey! — Zemya!”Another Onu-Matoran ducked underneath the low cloth overhang and leaned against the counter to Nuparu’s left. “Toru,” said Zemya, his voice carefully ambivalent. “Nice to see you.” Nuparu noted the greeting lacked any true emotion. “So what’ve you heard today?”Toru leaned against the counter importantly; upon Zemya’s irked glance he straightened up again. “Only that Dume’s got another robot army in the works.”Nuparu, leaning over his pile of purchases, felt his shoulders stiffen. He froze, glancing to the other Onu-Matoran, but luckily neither Zemya nor Toru was looking at him.Zemya had half-turned to Toru, his hands sliding the widgets into a safe a ways behind the counter. His expression, though still neutral, included conspicuously raised eyebrows. “What?”“You heard me.”“Where’d you hear this?” asked Zemya, slamming the safe shut and turning to fully face Toru, taking a few quick steps to lean against the counter directly across from the other Onu-Matoran. His shoulders, Nuparu noted, were as stiff as his own had been moments ago.“I forget,” replied Toru; “some newspaper or other.”Zemya’s shoulders relaxed. Maybe he didn’t believe Toru; maybe Toru wasn’t the type of Matoran to be believed; either way, it was good. Dume had impressed upon Nuparu that the Vahki were to be kept completely secret, and if the secret got out Nuparu wanted to be able to claim total innocence.“Well, then,” said the merchant, his tone noticeably smoother now but carrying the hint of a threat, “maybe the newspaper was wrong. Or maybe these robotic guardians aren’t as bad as you think they’ll be.”“Nuh-uh. No robots are gonna rule over me, let me tell you.”“But,” Nuparu said, jumping into the discussion as he loaded his waist-held pouch with his purchases, “the robots aren’t—”“Look, Toru” — Zemya’s interruption effectively blocked Nuparu from the conversation; Nuparu grimaced — “I don’t care who is watching over us, as long as they do a Karzahni of a good job.”Nuparu tried again. “The robots aren’t evil; it’s how they’re—”“But robots?” countered Toru. Nuparu lapsed into an annoyed silence. “Remember the Kralhi?”Nuparu closed his eyes tightly as he swept the last of the parts into his pouch. The Kralhi were a mistake — Nuparu knew that all too well; so why must he keep being reminded of that fact?Through the dark haze behind his eyelids, he heard Zemya’s voice as if far away: “Well, these robots aren’t the Kralhi.”“We don’t know that—”“And if they were, why would the original Kralhi have been driven out of Metru Nui? Building them over again would waste money, materials, and time.” Silence fell; that and the sound of fingers drumming on the counter finally induced Nuparu to open his eyes. Zemya and Toru were staring hard at each other, Zemya with an expression that indicated simultaneous bemusement and suspicion, Toru with the blank glare of a criminal caught in a lie but unwilling to admit it.This was as good a time as any for Nuparu to depart. He made for the exit flap—“Look,” Toru said, his tone desperate, “no matter what you say, they’re robots—”“I already said that doesn’t—”“No. No you didn’t. See, robots aren’t like Matoran.”A pause. Straddling the doorway, one foot outside and one foot inside, Nuparu turned back.Zemya’s hand was clamped over his forehead in a clear gesture of exasperation. “Toru,” he said, “I know that.”“But do you want to know why?”Zemya lowered his hand roughly to the counter with a slap, rolling his eyes, but let Toru continue.“Because robots can’t feel.” Toru’s finger lifted, shaking in the air between the two. “A Matoran security force, heck, even a Toa security force, would know how to deal with a Matoran without putting them in bed for a week, or — or accidentally killing them. That was the Kralhi’s error; that’s any robots error, because it feels no sympathy, and so we don’t know what it would be willing to do to a Matoran.”“Dume knows what he’s doing, right? Wouldn’t he keep robots from doing that?”Toru turned to the doorway, his gaze sliding nonchalantly over Nuparu and to the paved-stone ground outside. “I’m not so sure. Is Dume really so set on the past that he would attempt to replace the Kralhi?”Zemya had no answer for that.Nuparu’s subconscious mind replaced Dume with his own name. The sentence still fit. Was he too focused on correcting his mistake to realize he was making another?No, he told himself. I know what I’m doing. If the Kralhi are my folly, the Vahki will be my redemption.With that thought set in his mind, Nuparu slipped out of the shop. The cloth exit flap waved in the breeze of his departure as if in farewell.* * *The Archives’ lifts were normally filled with Archivists or visitors, making it hard to find an empty one Nuparu could use to get to level 7H — or even 6H, for that matter — unnoticed. So Nuparu took a simpler way: the stairs.He was halfway down the flight leading to 7H when he heard the noise.Crunch.He froze, his heart pounding in his ears. A long moment passed before he broke free from his paralysis and took another cautious step down. His mind whirred with possibilities.Maybe someone had found his lab — maybe he had been followed — maybe a Rahi had broken loose—Too many maybes flooded Nuparu’s mind for him to make sense of them all. Between quick, short influxes of air, Nuparu swore at his predicament; he could not leave for help lest he risk giving away the secret of the Vahki, but he would be in equal risk if he encountered the whatever-it-was and it was dangerous.His inventor’s curiosity, piqued as it was, led him down.From where Nuparu stood, the bottom of the flight of stairs seemed dark. The hallway extended to the right and out of sight beyond the stairwell’s wall; Nuparu moved to place his back against that wall, edging downwards as stealthily as he could. The thought This is a stupid idea loomed in his mind, but if the sound had belonged to nothing, going to report danger to Dume would only make Nuparu seem like a paranoid dimwit.Crunch.Now at the edge where the stair flight’s wall met the tunnel’s back wall, Nuparu stopped again. His face was pressed against empty air. He only had to move several centimeters and turn to see what was beyond...Crunch-crunch came the footsteps, more like sharp objects impaling the dirt floor of the Archives than feet.Nuparu took a deep breath. Then he leaned forward and turned to look down the hall of level 7H—Nothing.The onset of foolishness was sudden and unstoppable. Setting aside his thrumming heart, he walked down the hallway that led to his laboratory. Upon entering the lab, he made a point of silently shutting the door behind him.* * *The power source was done.From the dry feeling in the back of Nuparu’s mouth, the dim blue of early morning had again conquered Metru Nui. From his weakly twitching fingers and hazy mind, he had been working overdrive all night; he ought to remember, but his only memories formed an hours-long blur: working like a drone, disregarding sleep as an easy way out, checking and double-checking his work even as a smoky, indistinct veil fell between his eyes and the world around him. Perhaps, for a while, he had acted as close to a robot as he ever would.Now all that remained was to actually install the power source.After a quick nap, of course.Nuparu leaned his head on the work desk, eyes sliding shut...* * *Crunch.Nuparu awoke. His hands, he noted, had automatically clenched into fists — was it in response to the sound, or to his dream, whatever that dream had been?Crunch-crunch.This time the sound was closer. Swearing softly, Nuparu took a careful step toward the door. Beneath his Kanohi Pakari, his face felt uncomfortably damp; he placed a hand on the door and then pulled it away, noticing the dirt sticking to it as well.Sweat was not his main worry. The sound was, or rather his lack of an explanation for the sound. The footsteps didn’t sound like a Matoran’s; they were too stealthy and steady to be a Rahi’s.Slowly, cautiously, Nuparu pushed open the door. Another moment passed before he abandoned the circular glow his laboratory’s lightstone afforded for the relative drab gloom of Level 7H outside.Again, nothing.Perhaps Nuparu was just not thinking straight. He had been working on the Vahki almost nonstop for the better part of the past month; in that light, it was not so outlandish that he would be tired enough to hear things. His brain was probably just inventing sounds to ease the monotony of working, or enhancing barely-audible ones in the absence of any others.So that was that. Nuparu slid the door softly shut, making sure it was locked before turning back to the Vahki’s body, laid out atop the work desk like the body of a Rahi scheduled for autopsy. Even the tools were similar: some for opening, some for prying, some for closing seams.Nuparu picked his goggles off the floor, examining them closely and then slipping them over his eyes. He picked up the welder, flicking its trigger momentarily to make sure the flame was hot enough, then took the new power source and placed it within the Vahki’s body. Back to work.* * *The crunch sound came only once more, early in Nuparu’s working. The Onu-Matoran stopped for just a minute before continuing to weld the power source into the Vahki’s body. The noise did not come again.In the absence of paranoia, his mind thrust questions before his eyes: Are the Vahki truly righteous? Are you wasting your days away building a lost cause? What about what Toru said at Merchants’ Square — that robots can never understand a Matoran, that a robot wouldn’t know when it pushed too far?Nuparu had finished welding and had started on connecting wires to the power source when he realized he could not answer any of his subconscious’s criticisms. Yes, one could program a robot to be careful; but not all Matoran were the same, and pushing one Matoran just enough to get him back in line might translate to pushing another Matoran over the line and across the street. How was the Vahki supposed to know the difference? It was mechanical; it would be the exact same as its brethren; it could be unable to even comprehend the idea of differences between individuals.The Vahki could be the Kralhi all over again.But Nuparu had a job to do, and do it he would. Though his mind protested, his body moved in absence of commands, testing connections, test-firing the power source, correcting gear angles and spotty motor welds. He was doing this not just for Metru Nui; he was doing it for himself, to correct his mistake, to usher in a new age of peace.Perhaps even the Toa Mangai would be proud.And then, somehow soon to Nuparu’s muddled mind, it was all over.The Vahki lay before him, lit dimly by the lightstone swaying gently overhead. The robot was prone, inactivated. It was also complete.No odd sounds met Nuparu’s audio receptors as he left his laboratory, a good sign.* * *“Hey! Where are you going, Nuparu?”The morning crowd of Onu-Matoran heading to work bustled around Nuparu. He had hoped the activity would hide his departure. Apparently he would get no such luck. But then, Mavrah had always been an observant little Brakas.Mavrah slipped through the crowd, grabbing Nuparu’s right arm with his right hand. “Come on, you’ve been gone from work for days. The Chief Archivist won’t be pleased.”The Chief Archivist, thought Nuparu, already has a letter I gave him from Dume. But he refrained from saying so; it would provide another opportunity for someone to discover the Vahki.He shrugged, trying to remain nonchalant. “I’ve been on leave of absence for a while—”“—and building a new project?”Nuparu’s halted breath gave it away.Mavrah shook his head like a teacher to a misbehaving student. “Well,” he said, his mouth set in a line, “I guess I can’t stop you.” His hand slid from Nuparu’s arm. “But where are you going?”Nuparu thought quickly. “Er, Merchant’s Square. I have to get a couple light bulbs.” Which was true. Partially. Nuparu just wasn’t adding that after the visit, he would pay a little trip to the nearby transport chute station.Mavrah glanced back. “I really should be getting to work...” He glanced back to Nuparu. The two had never been good friends, but they were normally assigned to the same projects, so it naturally followed that they knew each other well. There were differences — Nuparu was what Mavrah called “a loose cannon”, and Mavrah was what Nuparu called in private “a stuck-up boss’s pet” — but generally they got along.The crowd was slowly beginning to taper out. Nuparu glanced behind himself. “I should get going, too.”He made to leave. Mavrah stopped him by grabbing his arm again. “Did you hear? Dume’s planning a new robot model, one to replace those malfunctioning Kralhi.”A long moment passed before Nuparu’s brain caught up to the fact that Mavrah apparently listened to gossip. Another moment passed before he realized he could hear snippets of conversation about the Vahki around him, if he only paid attention: Yeah, Dume’s vying for dictator — Dunno what he’s trying to do, we work hard enough already — I hope these robots don’t replace us...“Um — where did you find this?”“I know someone who works for Dume as a nighttime security guard. Last night he heard Dume talking about a new creation. He thinks they’re called the ‘Ahki’—”“Vahki—” Nuparu corrected before he could stop himself.And he mentally swore.“—er — would be a better name. I mean, uh, ‘Vahki’ has a better ring than ‘Ahki’. I don’t — I think — maybe Dume should hire me as his, uh, creative consultant,” Nuparu finished lamely. “Heh.”Mavrah’s gaze was like a solid wall pressing against Nuparu’s face. Nuparu tried to arrange his features into a casual, neutral expression, hoping the damage had not already been done.It hadn’t. Mavrah finally shrugged. “Yeah... I guess. What, are names a touchy subject with you inventors?”“Yes,” said Nuparu, a little too quickly.Thank Mata Nui Mavrah failed to notice Nuparu’s unexplained defensiveness. “Okay, then. Well, maybe an inventor has a unique outlook on the Vahki’s creation, too. What is it?”“That we need someone to protect us, don’t we?”“But whip us into line? That’s borderline slavery, when you think about it. Make the smallest mistake...” He shook his head slowly. “...and you’re punished for it.”“Dume wouldn’t do that.”Again, Nuparu swore at himself; again, Mavrah passed over the odd defensiveness in Nuparu’s voice. “If he wouldn’t do that,” asked Mavrah, “then why would he have tried with the Kralhi?”Nuparu opened his mouth — and shut it again.“All right, I’ll let you get back to ‘work’,” said Mavrah. “Just — stop by more often.”“I will,” Nuparu promised, and Mavrah finally departed.But Mavrah’s questions still buzzed in Nuparu’s mind like a swarm of firefliers, questions he, the Onu-Matoran Nuparu, inventor of both the Kralhi and the Vahki, could not answer.* * *Nuparu had been escorted to the door of Dume’s office; his escorts, two genial Ta-Matoran guards, had waved good-byes as they returned to their stations; and his fist was raised over the door in preparation to knock.But it had frozen there. Noises came from behind the cool, white metal. Talking. Arguing, perhaps.“It won’t work. The Toa Mangai can keep the peace if needed. These robots—”“No, Lhikan.” A shock when through Nuparu at the name of the Toa of Fire who led the Toa Mangai. What was Lhikan doing on Metru Nui? “No,” repeated Dume, for that was the only other person it could be, “the Vahki are needed. You cannot protect all of Metru Nui by yourself, Lhikan.”“I’m not by myself; I have friends.”“They’re elsewhere at the moment, I presume.”“It won’t take a Kanohi Dragon for us to come to Metru Nui for good, Dume.”A tense silence fell. Nuparu hesitated. Then he knocked.Dume’s voice rang out: “Enter.”Nuparu went in on his guard. Toa Lhikan, whose back was to the door, turned his head and looked over the newcomer. Dume was on the other side of the room, looking out the window; he turned to face Nuparu, eyebrows raised, and Nuparu noted that Dume’s gaze skipped over Lhikan.So they’ve been arguing... about the Vahki, I guess.“Nuparu.” Dume seemed a little surprised, but whatever was beneath his gaze stayed there. “Has the Vahki” — Lhikan tensed momentarily but said nothing — “been finished?”“Um... not quite, but—”“Then why are you here?”Please let me finish, Nuparu wanted to say, but he didn’t know if Dume would take offense at such a statement. Knowing Dume, he would. “I was going to say,” Nuparu said instead, “that I have finished putting together all the important parts.” A hint of pride bled over into his tone; no matter what Dume used the Vahki for, Nuparu had made them to be robotic guardians of the peace, and that earned a redemption in his book. “What’s left to be finished can — no, will be finished within the half-hour.”“And your previous setback?”“Minimal, Turaga. I just had to build another power source.”“The connections have been tested? The programming?”“Yes to the first, no to the second. But I assure you the Vahki has been programmed well enough for a basic attempt. The programming took me all of one and a half years, remember?”Dume passed over the attempt at humor. “Then let us finish this once and for all,” he said.“Finish, Turaga?”“Finish the unlawful side of Metru Nui, of course,” said Dume impatiently. He walked past Lhikan as if the Toa of Fire weren’t there, staring hard at the back of his head. “Come, Nuparu.”“I want to come, too.”Dume paused. “Lhikan,” he said slowly, “we’ve been over this.”“Yes. Yes we have.”In the silence, tension lacing around the room’s occupants like a Fikou spider’s web, the muffled argument between Lhikan and Dume replayed in Nuparu’s audio receptors:“It won’t work. The Toa Mangai can keep the peace if needed. These robots—”“No, Lhikan... No, the Vahki are needed. You cannot protect all of Metru Nui by yourself, Lhikan.”“I’m not by myself; I have friends.”“They’re elsewhere at the moment, I presume.”“It won’t take a Kanohi Dragon for us to come to Metru Nui for good, Dume.”Finally Dume spoke. “Fine.” His voice was gruffer than Nuparu had ever heard it before, and he wondered if Lhikan had struck a nerve. “But let us hurry.”* * *Hurrying, as it turned out, was impossible.Nuparu had gone into the transport chute first with the agreement that Dume and Lhikan would follow several minutes after, so no one would be able to make a connection. By the time the several minutes were up, Nuparu had already exited the chute and laid eyes on the massive protest in the distance, by the southeastern entrance into the Archives.The Onu-Matoran marched about in circles, fists pumping in the air. Some carried signs that, from this distance, were unintelligible. Their chants, however, carried a long way: “Matoran — over — robots! Matoran — over — robots!”A trickle of apprehension found its way into Nuparu’s gut. Gulping, he ran to the protest.It had seemed large from far away; that was because half its mass had been hidden behind the horizon-scrapers. In actuality the protest was enormous. The Onu-Matoran had no shortage of support; Matoran from all metru had gathered here, like the area just outside the Archives was their meeting ground.Nuparu couldn’t hurry through that crowd.He made his way forward cautiously. But other, non-protesting Matoran milled about, too, without being trampled by the protestors. Taking a breath, he plunged into the masses, wading through the crowd of Matoran, most of whom, he noted, were taller than he was. He was jostled by Matoran, deafened by their chanting, but the worst impact was not on his senses but in his brain.If they’re protesting the Vahki... they’re protesting me.He emerged from the other side. Only a few meters away was the entrance into the Archives. Nuparu threw the levers, nodded to the guard, who seemed irked by all the noise, then stepped over the threshold.And paused as the crowd’s chant cut off: “MATORAN — OVER—”He turned. The entrance was raised perhaps a meter off the ground; standing at his peak, Nuparu could see over the heads of the protestors. Lhikan and Dume were approaching, still an akilini field away but coming quickly.In response, the crowd doubled its efforts. Wincing at the noise, Nuparu continued inside. He made a point of shutting the entrance behind him.The Archives were empty. No Matoran admired the stasis tubes on Level 1H; no Archivists bustled through the corridors with analyses of newly-uncovered artifacts; even the receptionist’s desk was abandoned.They had all gone out to protest, apparently.Nuparu felt suddenly dizzy. Was Zemya out there, hoping that sheer noise and annoyance could change Dume’s? Was Mavrah even now shaking his sign in Lhikan’s face? If Nuparu had not been so focused on righting the wrong of the Kralhi, if he had refused the opportunity to build the Vahki, would he have joined the masses?Yes. He would have, and he would have done so spiritedly. No Matoran should be ruled by a robot; no Toa should be forced to answer to artificial intelligence. Had Nuparu been so blinded as to not see that from the beginning?But he had a job to do.His reverie was shaken by Dume stumbling through the Archives entrance. Lhikan was close behind, spinning and slamming the door shut. A pounding of fists could be heard through the metal door; the protestors’ chanting, though muffled, permeated the stone of the Archives’ walls. The dirt even vibrated.Lhikan grimaced. “Dume, I told you—”“Not now,” Dume interrupted. He turned to Nuparu, frowning at the confused flickering in the Onu-Matoran’s eyes. “Come; let us make history.”“This door won’t stay closed for long.” Lhikan’s words came through firmly closed teeth.Dume shook his head and chuckled. To Nuparu, the action was alien; humor seemed kilo away. “They’re too worked up to think about throwing the levers,” he said. “Hold it nevertheless until we’re out of sight down the staircase. Nuparu?”Nuparu blinked hard, throat muscles bulging in an attempt to say something. But his mouth refused to open; and, finally, he surrendered. “Yes, Turaga,” he said in a voice that felt like lead.They had passed Level 5H before Lhikan caught up to them at a run. “I have a feeling the protestors aren’t so riled up as to be stupid,” said the Toa of Fire. “I swear I heard a click when I released the door.” He pointed ahead to the doorway into Level 6H. “Let’s cut through here. Nuparu, can you lead us?”In answer, Nuparu took the lead as the three turned into the corridor. He did not trust himself to speak.* * *Nuparu led the Toa and Turaga through Level 6H at a clip, cutting through cross-corridors were he could. A dissented murmur could be more felt than heard through the stone, every now and again resolving into a word or two, but no one said anything. Perhaps they were too scared of jinxing their good fortune thus far.They rounded a final corner and came to another flight of stairs. Nuparu, still in the lead, leapt down the steps two at a time. He rounded the corner, pointed straight ahead to his laboratory’s entrance–Crunch.He froze, expecting at any moment a philippic on his hesitation. But Dume only said in a murmur, “Nuparu, do you know of any Rahi that would make that sound?”Nuparu cocked his head to the side, thinking. Then he shrugged. “I can’t tell just from the sound what Rahi it is.” Simultaneously a thought coursed through his mind: That noise was louder than before...“But you’re an Archivist; aren’t you supposed to know everything about Rahi?”That was a widespread stereotype, and Nuparu opened his mouth to say so.Crunch-crunch.The words died unsaid on Nuparu’s tongue as he turned. A shadow had moved into the right hallway, a shadow as familiar to Nuparu as his own two hands.A Kralhi.Dume jolted as if in shock. Lhikan drew his twin greatswords. Nuparu froze, silently muttering to himself, “No... no...”Down the hall, the Kralhi canted its head, as if confused by the sight of a Matoran, Toa, and Turaga together. Its confusion lasted none too long, though; it raised its tail, and a pinprick of light began growing at the tip.Nuparu was the first to react. “Cover!”The light blossomed like an explosion, resolving itself into a sphere that suddenly shot down the hallway. Nuparu and Dume dove around the corner, onto the stairs; Lhikan dodged in the opposite direction, pressing himself against the far wall. The bubble flew down the hallway beyond the stairs; a second later, a thump was heard.Lhikan was already gone.“The delinquents must be apprehended—”The sound of fire met Nuparu’s ears, mixed with the vhoomsof launched bubbles and the clangsof Lhikan’s swords striking metal. Taking a deep breath, Nuparu leaned around the corner—Just as his eyes cleared the barrier of stone, a brilliant flash lit up the corridor. The iridescent afterimage hovered in the middle of Nuparu’s field of vision as he watched Lhikan leap, duck, and strike in a vicious blur.The Kralhi was half-scorched, victim to Lhikan’s powerful blast of fire just moments before. Its four legs moved quickly to keep it out of range of Lhikan’s swords. The Toa of Fire was breathing hard, but still managed to gracefully somersault over a bubble and land on the Kralhi’s back.Charging his sword with fire, he sliced off its tail.It fell roughly to the ground. The Kralhi went ballistic, reaching backwards to strike Lhikan with its swords. But Lhikan was already gone; he stopped several meters away, caught Nuparu’s gaze and jerked his head toward the laboratory door in the opposite direction, and then darted into a nearby empty room. The Kralhi followed—There was a clang, a flash, a lick of fire, and the Kralhi fell out of the doorway to the ground, its body sparking wildly. Lhikan exited as well.In its death throes, the Kralhi ground out, “Unauthorized machinery — must — not be built...”It fell silent.* * *When everyone was in the laboratory, Nuparu shut the door; the lightstone quivered upon the impact, its halo of light drifting lazily over the work-in-progress torso of the Vahki.As Nuparu slipped on his goggles, he wondered:The Kralhi had detected the Vahki, but rather than destroy the machine it had waited for its creator to appear. Did that mean it was less concerned about the machinery itself than the troublemaker? — or had the machine assumed the Vahki would draw its creator back?If the former possibility was correct, the Kralhi had a serious impairment in its programming. If the latter possibility was correct, the Kralhi was perhaps smarter than even Nuparu had realized. Either way, the Kralhi was sure to have called its allies; perhaps they were even now approaching.A very faint crunch was heard. Nuparu gritted his teeth and gripped his tools.Lhikan and Dume stayed respectfully silent as Nuparu tested every single part of the Vahki thoroughly against a mental checklist: Yes, the gears worked; yes, the A.I. was properly plugged in; yes, the audio receptors had been installed correctly...When everything had been checked, double-checked, and in some cases triple-checked, Nuparu swung the chest hatch closed and began to weld it shut. Sparks danced into the air; the familiar white noise of plasma melting metal was soothing, perhaps the only familiar thing to happen today.“You know,” said Dume thoughtfully, “this could turn out to be a good test run for the Vahki.”Behind his goggles, Nuparu blinked. “What?”Dume shrugged. Nuparu turned back to the Vahki and tested the Kanoka launcher installed on its head one last time.By the time the welding was done, Nuparu could hear two sets of crunch-crunches. “Darn it,” he muttered, lifting the Vahki’s head and opening the hidden access hatch there. His fingers flew over the switches: A.I. activation, motor activation, quick diagnostic, et cetera. “Lhikan” — for the Toa of Fire had gone to the door, hand on its handle — “don’t go out yet. You might not be able to handle two by yourself.”Nuparu’s finger landed on the last switch and stopped. Even in his dire situation, he could not help but hesitate. Flicking this last switch would ignite another conflict, one worse than any battle against Kralhi: one against Matoran, against friends who wanted nothing more than freedom, against Toa Lhikan who would rather risk his own life than put others’ in jeopardy.In the end, redemption and his own life drove Nuparu beyond that barrier. He would deal with the problems later. He had done so with the Kralhi, and he would do so now.Eyes closed tightly shut, he flicked the ignition switch.There was a spark. A whirr of gears. A sudden screech—And sans theatrics, the Vahki sat up. Its head rotated slowly, bringing into focus the three beings around it. Nuparu held his breath a moment, praying that his programming would work, and then stepped forward and said aloud, “I am your creator.”The robot’s optic sensors focused on Nuparu, who pointed to Dume. “That is Turaga Dume, our—” His voice caught. “—our leader.” The finger shifted to Lhikan; the Vahki’s optic sensors followed. “That is Toa Lhikan, a friend. Friend.”For a moment, Nuparu thought the Vahki was going to attack. But it simply sat there, motionless.Another deep breath, and then Nuparu opened the door. For the Vahki to understand its enemies, it had to see them.The Kralhi were already half an akilini field away — far too close for comfort. “Those are Kralhi,” said Nuparu, trying desperately to keep the franticness out of his voice. “Kralhi are enemies.”The Kralhi’s tail tips began to glow. Lhikan moved forward to grab the door himself; Nuparu shook his head.“You destroy enemies.”The Vahki considered that for a moment, head canted to one side. Twin balls of energy appeared on the Kralhi’s tails — Lhikan tensed as Dume stood to the side, observing the situation as calmly as ever—Two Kanoka disks later, the battle was over. The Kralhi, one now lying in a smoking heap on the floor, the other frozen solid, had never gotten to fire.It was oddly symbolic, having a new creation destroy the older, more flawed one. That eased Nuparu’s conscience somewhat.* * *Getting out of the Archives proved more problematic than getting in had. But the Vahki was safely deactivated in Nuparu’s laboratory, and the blueprints were hidden in Dume’s own waist pouch; without anything apparent in his hands, Dume’s story of visiting the Archives for recreation managed to tide the crowd over long enough for him and Lhikan to slip away.Nuparu was left behind. His job was done; he was needed no more.Dume had told him that after enough Vahki were manufactured to keep the peace, Nuparu’s role in their creation would be revealed. Nuparu had resisted the idea; Dume, however, was as stubborn as he was venerable. “Credit,” he had insisted, “should be given duly. And you, my friend, are due for credit.”Which meant the blame for the Vahki would fall squarely on Nuparu’s shoulders in an act of political backstabbing. Never mind that Nuparu had created them out of a thirst to prove himself in Dume’s eyes. The other Matoran would see him as a monster creating other monsters.Perhaps that was all he was.The sun had not yet reached the apex of its arc. Slipping again through the protest, Nuparu emerged onto empty streets. Of their own accord, his feet shifted his direction toward home.Someday, he vowed — someday he would create a machine that would not rule over Matoran but coexist with them. The Kralhi were not his only folly.
  2. Setting the Stage: The Dark Times were indeed dark. This is the story of how one haunted Toa of Iron tore his team apart. ₪҉₪ Location: Kahu Forest Time: 23.55; Day 76; Year 503 AGC Toa Vihar sank weakly to his knees, horrified. Horrified not so much by the scene before him, but by the fact that this ghastly picture of sin was his own doing. Before him, strewn over the silver-spotted forest floor, was the body of his leader. The corpse lay where it had fallen only moments ago. A shaft of cold iron protruded from the deceased Ice Toa's heartlight. Vihar looked down at his trembling hands and saw the gunmetal gray and burnt orange armor that covered them. The colors of a Toa of Iron. The colors of a murderer. Vihar didn't want to believe that the iron spear that had slain his leader had been materialized by the shaky hands he saw now. These hands weren't the hands of a killer, they were the hands of a victim. The Toa of Iron lifted his gaze back to the body. He gave a strangled scream and scrambled backwards as far from the corpse as he could. Crouched over his fallen brother was a horrible creature. A wicked grinning monster, bone white with rigid spines down its back, with pallid milky white eyes set deep in a flat, horrible face. It resembled a hunched over, spindly monkey-rahi. Those eyes glowed evilly in the spattered moonlight reaching through the trees. The small terror just sat and stared at Vihar, all the while grinning. Even though the Toa had never seen this monstrous thing before in his life, he knew who it was. It was Fear. Try as he might, Vihar could not tear his eyes away from the haunting face of Fear. As he watched, Fear began to grow. As Fear began to swell in size, he also grew in grotesqueness, enough to jolt Vihar out of his stupor. The Toa of Iron scrabbled backwards. The only thing on his mind was to escape the vicinity of Fear. He had only made it a few yards when a solid tree halted his undignified retreat. The penetrating gaze of Fear held Vihar tightly as he used the tree trunk to haul himself to his feet and backpedal away from his crime scene. "Stop," Fear commanded in his raspy voice, like dead leaves shivering, and the Toa of Iron had no choice but to obey. Fear was overwhelming now, he was almost the size of an Ash Bear. Fear extended one bony hand towards the Toa of Iron under his spell, and said, "Come." "N-no!" Vihar stammered, "I won't. I-" Something slammed into Vihar from behind, sending him tumbling to the ground with a yell. "Vihar, there you are! We've been scouring the island for the two of you when you didn't...Vihar?" The Toa of Psionics that had run into him squinted down at him in puzzlement. She reached down and grabbed his hand, trying to haul him to his feet. "Oof, come on you big lug, help me help you." "Aviara," Vihar whispered as he got to his feet finally. "Aviara, don't you see it?" He whirled to face Fear, only Fear was gone. Aviara followed her brother's gaze. "See what, Vihar? See-" Her eyes found the prone form of the fallen Toa. "Vihar, is that..." She began to walk forwards slowly, in a daze. Deep down, she knew what she was looking at, but that didn't stop her from going to inspect. Vihar stayed where he was, clamping his eyes shut, waiting for the blood-chilling scream that was sure to come. And come, it did. It resounded off every tree, and bringing the Toa of Iron completely back to reality. He was no longer a Toa. He was a murderer. Aviara's scream ended in a choking sob, and after what seemed like forever, she spoke, still kneeling beside her fallen leader. "Vihar, I don't know what you've done, but I'm going to need you to come with me back to the fortress." ₪҉₪ Location: Interrogation Chamber Time: 01.30; Day 77; Year 503 AGC "Vihar, you were the second in command. Wasn't that enough for you?" Aviara sat down heavily on top of the interrogation table. The unfeeling stone chamber around them was silent, as if it were eager to hear this tale. "What happened exactly, after you and Iru left on patrol last night?" The Toa of Iron ignored his teammate's question, saying instead, "Aviara, you don't have to do this the hard way. Just use one of your little mind tricks you're so good at and be done with it." Aviara frowned, and shook her head. "That would be against protocol. Answer the question." "Isn't torture also against protocol? Mental, physical, et cetera?" Vihar countered with a bitter edge to his voice. "Yes," The Toa of Psionics replied carefully, and asked more forcefully, "What happened on your patrol last night?" "Telling you about last night, can't you see that's torture to me?" Vihar's eyes were full of desperation. "Don't make me relive it. Just lock me up in a cell where there's no sun and be done with it." "And you don't think having to interrogate my own teammate, my brother, about a cold blooded murder he committed isn't torture for me?" Aviara's voice was made sharp with pain. "Tell me what happened, Vihar." The one lightstone in the chamber cast dramatic lighting over both masks, and the silence grew even quieter. After countless weighty seconds ticked by, Vihar spoke."It started about three months ago, with Karzahni..." ₪҉₪ Location: Memory of Vihar; At sea Time: 14.00; Day 352; Year 502 AGC Vihar, Toa of Iron, leaned on the railing on the bow of a small sea vessel, looking out for their destination. Home. He and his team of eight other Toa had only just escaped the dark and dangerous island of Karzahni. Their mission had been to scope out the landscape, and thanks to a Mask of Sonar, Toa of Sonics, they had created a very accurate map using echolocation, their mission had been completed flawlessly. The one hiccup in the plan came on their way out. A couple nasty Manas crabs had scouted out the team's hidden camp. Without going into too much detail, the crabs ended up history, and the Toa went on their merry way. "Hey, I've gotta hand it to you, brother," An unfamiliar voice spoke suddenly, and a strong hand clapped Vihar on the shoulder, "The way you demolished those Manas crabs back there, you were amazing! Your team would have been helpless without you." Vihar looked into the genuine eyes of an unfamiliar face, but clanked his fist against the stranger's, saying, "Thanks, brother, but you're giving me too much credit." "Oh, no, I'm giving you just enough credit. It's your teammates who aren't giving you enough credit, trust me," the stranger said. Vihar frowned a bit, seeing nothing with his teammates. He studied this newcomer. "I don't know you, do I?" he asked. The stranger wore glossy metallic silver and dark orange armor, and wore a handsomely crafted Kanohi Sanok. He was only a bit taller than Vihar himself, but more muscled and sculpted, somehow. If Vihar didn't know better, he'd think he was looking at the perfected version of himself. Vihar narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Who are you?" "You can call me Pride, Vihar," He said as he began to walk away. "Just your lowly, humble Pride." And with that he disappeared around the sharp corner of the captain's cabin. At the same instant the mysterious Pride made his escape around the corner, a Toa of Ice made his entrance around the same corner. "Iru!" Vihar exclaimed, offering his fist to greet his leader. "Did you just see him?" Iru returned the Toa's gesture, but asked, "See who? I was looking for you, and here you are." "A... Another Toa, I think. How could you not have seen him? You should have run into him." Vihar shook his head. "Forget it. What did you need me for?" "Nothing, but I wanted to thank you for your help today. We wouldn't have gotten out of Karzahni so cleanly without you. Quick thinking, on your part back there, starting a landslide to bury the Manas." Iru said. "I'm lucky to have someone as reliable as you watching my back." Vihar couldn't help but let a smile creep onto his mask. "No problem. I'm lucky to have you for a brother. We can both look forwards to a good night's sleep tonight." A cry on deck triggered by the sighting of their destination and home, Kahu Island, interrupted whatever Iru had been going to say next. A wistful smile played across the Toa of Ice's mask, "I'll see you at the unloading dock, brother." And with that, the leader ducked into the captain's cabin. Vihar nodded to himself, still smiling. Maybe that Pride character was right, and he wasn't giving himself enough credit for the things he did. Letting that thought sink in, Vihar descended to the main deck to help bring the boat into port. ₪҉₪ Location: Memory of Vihar; Kahu Island Coast Time: 02.00; Day 362; Year 502 AGC It had been nearly a week and a half since the team had gotten back from Karzahni and their scouting mission. Ever since Pride had visited him on the short voyage back home, Vihar hadn't been the same. And now others were beginning to notice it. Since they'd returned home, Pride had been Vihar's constant companion. Nobody seemed to notice Pride, as he slunk around, following the Toa of Iron anywhere and everywhere. The thing was, though, Vihar didn't mind Pride shadowing him. In fact, he kind of liked it. Pride was always there to tell Vihar how brilliant he was, or how they could never measure up to him, and how anything they could do, he could do better. Vihar wasn't even aware that these thoughts that Pride was feeding him were even going to his head. But earlier that day, during a break in a sparring session, he and his team were talking battle tactics during the Toa/Dark Hunter War. "Ah, but Toa Lhikan, nobody could hold their own against him! He's a legend. His tactics, his strategies, his skill level, it's unbeatable!" One of the team's Toa was gushing about his favorite war hero. "You weren't there, you don't know any of that for sure," someone else pointed out. Pride whispered to Vihar, "One thing I'm sure of, Vihar, you could out-maneuver that rusty old fire-spitter any day. I mean, the guy ended up murdered, so how clever could he really have been in the first place anyways?" "Yeah," Vihar agreed, and repeated to his team, "I'm sure I could out-maneuver the rusty old fire-spitter any day. The guy ended up murdered, so how clever could he really have been in the first place?" And the Toa of Iron was met with the appalled looks and gawking faces of his team. The he realized what he'd actually said. He whirled around, looking for Pride to accuse, but the slippery fellow had melted away. Now, it was two in the morning, and Vihar was reliving that humiliating scene in his head yet again. Vihar sat on a bench, looking out towards the dark horizon, where the ocean met the stars. Beside him, he felt someone sit down beside him, and he didn't have to think twice, he knew it was his old friend Pride again. The Iron Toa drew a heavy sigh. "Did you see the looks on their faces? My team probably hates me. It's your fault too, you know." "My fault?" A silky, and most definitely feminine voice purred beside him. Vihar jumped up with a yelp. A green armored beauty had slipped onto the bench beside him. "Mata Nui, you scared me. I thought you were someone else. I'm sorry." "You should be." Vihar whirled around to see Pride emerge from the shady woods behind the bench and take a seat next to the beautiful green armored being. "How is any of your team's spite towards you my fault? If you go around throwing accusations like that around all the time, it's no wonder they hate you." Pride looked hurt. "You keep feeding me these arrogant ideas, and that's the last thing I need." Vihar grumbled to Pride. "Hey, whoa there. Nobody said that you have to listen to me, much less repeat what I say." Pride countered. It was true. A wave of self-loathing washed over the Toa. "You know, you could be just as great as Lhikan." The green lady said, crossing her arms in a delicately thoughtful way. "Is that so?" Vihar turned to her, open to suggestions. "No, no he couldn't. Lhikan was a great leader of legions upon legions of Toa. Vihar here is only second in command of his eight person team."Pride countered, still hurt from Vihar's earlier accusation against him. "Oh, but you want to be a leader, don't you, my dashing Toa hero?" Tthe green lady crooned. "Come, sit, and we'll see if we can't make a leader out of you." "I'm sorry, what?" Vihar shook his head. "I don't even know you. Besides, it' s late, I really should think about resting up for tomorrow." "Karzahni, where are my manners." Pride berated himself. "Vihar, meet my dear friend, Envy." The green armored female bobbed a quiet nod. She reminded Vihar of a Vortixx, almost. The two of them, Envy and Pride scooted apart, and Envy patted the space between them on the bench. "Sit back down, Vihar." ₪҉₪ Location: Memory of Vihar; Time: 17.30; Day 56 ; Year 503 AGC It had been almost two months since the team had returned from Karzahni, and progressively, Vihar had become more and more distant from them. The bridge between the Toa of Iron and his team had been crossed and burned when, at the celebration of the New Year, Vihar had elected to stay secluded in his chambers alone, as opposed to participating in festivities with the villagers and his team. After the evening sparring session, Aviara approached him before he had time to slip away back to his hermit hole. "Vihar, is there anything you want to talk about?" she asked gently. The Toa of Iron's gradual withdrawal since Karzahni hadn't escaped her keen eye. "No, I'm fine. Do you need me to go on patrol?" Vihar wanted to know, and his tone of voice sounded like he was tired of talking to her already. Aviara's eyes narrowed, and she refrained from launching a psychic probe into Vihar's mind, since it was against her morals. "No, but since you're offering, if you wouldn't mind taking the late beach patrol, that would be wonderful." The Toa of Psionics expected her brother to roll his eyes and accept the task like it was the weight of the world, or not accept it at all, but to her surprise, he nodded and said, "No problem." And without another word, left. On the quiet, gray sanded beach that lined the southern edge of Kahu Island, one set of footprints could be seen meandering down the coastline. But it never occurred to Toa Vihar to look behind him and see that his two companions were not leaving any footprints in the sand to accompany his own. He was too distracted by the wardrobe change his companions had pulled. "Pride, Envy, I almost didn't recognize you," He said. Pride, instead of looking like a Perfect Vihar, had transformed into a jet-black, bulky, killer version of Vihar. His armor was more angular, and dangerous looking, and his eyes were glowing white hot, and even Vihar had to admit it was a bit intimidating. And Envy had swapped out her signature poison green armor for a lethal blood red and ebony set of armor. If looks could kill, anything the femme fatale made eye contact with would be dead. "What do we owe this change in costume to?" Vihar questioned his friends. "Pride?" The black armored being scoffed. "That ship has sailed. You may call me Anger." "Anger?" Vihar cocked his head, wondering what brought on this change. "And who are you, Envy?" He decided to play their little game, see what they were really getting at. "Vihar, how long ago were you a Matoran?" she asked. Even her voice had changed, becoming an embodiment of velvet. She didn't let him answer before she continued. "Just as you died as a Matoran to be born as a Toa, I have died as Envy to come back as Lust." Something deep inside Vihar squirmed, desperately trying to warn him against taking this path. "Anger and Lust..." He repeated numbly, as he stamped out that little piece of conscience. "Why are you here? I'm not angry, and I certainly don't lust for anything. Can't you just go back to being Pride and Envy?" "Stop denying it, Vihar." Anger snapped. "You are angry. You are. Remember how Iru, the slob you call your leader, takes the credit for anything good you and your team accomplish?" "Well, he is the leader, isn't he?" Vihar countered. "Yes, of course he is, but he wouldn't even be alive if it wasn't for you," Anger replied without missing a beat. "He owes you his life. They all owe you their lives. And what do you get instead?" "What? They owe me nothing!" Vihar snapped. "They are my teammates, and that's what we do." "Exactly! They think they owe you nothing for saving their lives countless times. They treat you like nothing. Name the last time you sat down and had an actual conversation with one of them?" Anger challenged him. "Aviara, right before I came on patrol, she and I talked," Vihar told him. "Yes, I know, and all she did was send you out on patrol. She sent you out on patrol alone. Doesn't that seem like the perfect excuse to get rid of you for a few hours?" Anger was relentless in his arguments. "No, I...I volunteered. Besides, why would she want to get rid of me?" Vihar muttered. Anger saw Vihar falter, and pounced at this chance to manipulate him. "Of course they want to get rid of you. They can't stand you." Anger stated this matter of factly, and grinned evilly as Vihar visibly flinched. "They're my team, they don't hate me." Vihar whispered. "Of course they do, why do you think none of them can stand to talk to you? Why do you think Lust and I come every day to keep you company? Because your team treats you like nothing." Even if Vihar, somewhere in his consciousness, knew that these were outright lies, Anger had done his job. "I'm not nothing." The Toa of Iron snarled. "I am not nothing! I saved their lives! Countless times, I saved them," His eyes darkened. "I brought them back from Karzahni alive. And Iru takes all the credit." "That's right!" Anger crowed in agreement. "Iru took all the credit and didn't even bother to thank you." "How can they not see what a bad leader he is? He almost led them to their deaths there! I was the one who got them out of there! I don't get a word of thanks, and now I'm being turned into the island's outcast," Vihar growled. Anger smiled. He had planted his seed of sin so deep inside of this Toa, that Vihar wasn't even remembering that one day when he'd first met Pride, right before Iru actually had thanked him for saving the team in Karzahni. But Vihar had been so blinded by Pride he couldn't see it. Now Lust stepped in, with her voice like velvet. "Nothing is wrong with the world, dear Vihar. It's Iru. He's brainwashed the team into turning on you. I hear them, every day, plotting against you. Don't look so surprised, really now. You're a threat to Iru's power. He wants you out of the way." Vihar was silent. If he'd been free of the burning grasp of Anger, he would have easily been able to see through these outrageous lies. But it was not meant to be. Lust's slippery words fell on the seed that Anger had planted, watering and nourishing it. "You know," She continued, "It's not too late. You can still have all that you deserve." "What do I deserve?" Vihar demanded. " Power. Authority. Leadership," Lust rattled off. "I can list thousands of other things as well." Vihar was silent. "Your teammates are simply rahi-sheep, and Iru is their shepherd. Sheep follow where they are led. And it wouldn't be very hard to become the one that leads them." Anger smiled. "Indeed. In fact, for such a handsome, capable, crafty Toa like yourself, it would be mere Matoran's play." Lust purred in his ear. "...I'm listening." ₪҉₪ Location: Memory of Vihar; Kahu Forest Time: 23.30; Day 76; Year 503 AGC Vihar and Iru walked silently together towards the far end of Kahu Island. The half-moons and stars in the sky peppered the forest floor with their celestial light through the canopy of trees. "Vihar?" "Mmmm..." "Did you hear me?" "Mmm?" "I said that tomorrow is a big day," Iru chuckled a bit nervously. " Are you sure you're okay?" "Oh, yeah, I'm fine. What about tomorrow?" Vihar reigned in his attention and focused on Iru. He felt sick looking at his leader, with that phony grin plastered all over the dopy Kanohi Ruru. He swallowed a shudder. He could almost hear Anger telling him that now was the time. "Well, first off, I have to apologize for keeping you out of the loop." Iru started, slowing their pace a bit. They were right... Vihar thought darkly. Things were intentionally being kept from him. But the fact that Iru was apologizing for being secretive threw him off guard. "I never meant anything personal by it, but you just seemed distracted, and I could never find a way to bring this up. Besides, I thought it would be better if I surprised you." Seeing Vihar had nothing to say as of yet, Iru continued, "You see, only a few days we got back from Karzahni, you remember that trip, right? Only about three months ago?" "Of course I remember." Vihar said neutrally. "And that island that we were scoping out the terrain for?" His leader continued. Vihar nodded, and Iru began to explain. "Well when they got our maps, they sent a letter of thanks back, but also a request. You see, the island we were working for is chock full of veteran warriors. Toa, Matoran, Vortixx, and who knows whom else. Anyways, they're planning some sort of siege on Karzahni. So they need some warriors who've been to Karzahni before to guide sentries from their legion and place them in key positions. Do you follow me?" "Yeah, I follow. This is kind of big, huh?" Vihar chuckled. Who'd have thought that when they accepted that mission that it would be tied to something this big. Drawn into the plots of war and siege, Vihar forgot about his shady companions, Anger and Lust. Iru smiled upon glimpsing a bit of the old Vihar for a moment. " Yes, it is pretty big. I was going to ask you as soon the request for the scouting party was sent, but you seemed...preoccupied. Anyways, I'm needed here at the fortress and around the village. So, Vihar, as my second in command and brother, would you be interested in leading four other Toa from our team for this mission?" The Toa of Iron stopped in his tracks, utterly dumbfounded. It all made sense now. True, his team had been in conspiracy, but it was conspiracy for his own good. And looking back, Vihar saw that if he hadn't been so darned suspicious and full of himself, that they never did actually spite him, and that he had brought his period of solitude upon himself, by the way he'd been acting. He should have never listened to Pride in the first place. "You know, some of the villagers said you had gone crazy. Like, they said they'd seen you talking to yourself a lot. But really, Matoran will be Matoran, right? But you are okay, aren't you?" Iru tried to catch Vihar's eye. "Of course. Of course I'm okay. I'm better than okay!" Vihar said, breaking into a smile and meeting his brother's eye. The consuming weight brought on by all the bitterness and hate he'd been fed was suddenly lifted, now that he knew that it was all a malicious lie. The Toa of Ice returned Vihar's smile, and told him, "There were legends, saying that simply setting foot in Karzahni makes people go crazy, with hallucinations and all. We got a good laugh at that, down at the docks one time." Anger and Lust had had enough. They'd silently followed Vihar in their usual skulky way. The two of them were silently dying, watching as the seed they'd planted inside of their victim had withered and died all in the matter of a few minutes. "Well, come on then, Vihar, let's finish out this patrol." The Toa of Ice began walking again, turning his back to Vihar. Instantly, Anger and Lust leapt from the shadows, and began closing in on Vihar, circling like wolves. "You!" Vihar snarled, seeing his haunting fiends. Before he knew what was happening, they'd encircled him. "You lied. Both of you. Nothing, not a word of it, was truth!" He whirled in place, trying to keep an eye on both his tormentors at once. "You played me for fool!" Iru turned, seeing that his brother wasn't following. "Vihar...Vihar, are you coming?" But the Toa of Iron was deaf to his leader. "We didn't lie to you, Vihar dear. We would never lie. What reason would we have for that?" Lust, with her silk voice, but now it sounded like slime to the Toa. "We were simply trying to help you get what you deserve. What's best for you. What you want." Anger with his lean and lethal build now looked fragile and thin. "And you saw truth in our words, you did! Why else would you start out your patrol ready to kill?" she pressed. "Well I'm not surprised you got cold feet. Coward. And he calls himself a Toa." Anger scoffed in Vihar's face. Lust cackled in agreement. Iru didn't know what was happening. He saw his brother, rooted in one place, whirling back and forth in one place, sputtering a few words here and there. "Vihar!" He changed direction, going to see what was wrong. "You know, you're right. Vihar, you should really listen to Anger." Lust smiled, fixing her eyes on the Toa's, and he didn't see her as she reached for her long whip at her hip. The sound of metal sharpening metal took Vihar's attention next, and he saw Anger had produced two curved blades that looked beyond deadly. "And you like to compare yourself to the oh so great Toa Lhikan. Why, you can't even measure up to your own leader." The two fiends wouldn't stop grinning. Vihar didn't know which one he feared more. He drew his own Toa Tool, a morning star, as they drew closer and closer in their circling. The Toa watched in horror as their grinning masks twisted into grotesque faces, like something out of a nightmare. One look at what used to be Lust, and it was all Vihar could do not to shudder and give away his horror. "I liked you better when you were pretty," he said honestly. "But really, I should never have liked either of you at all! Go back to Karzahni, where you belong!" The Toa of Iron swiped at Lust with his morning star, and he should have landed a solid blow that could uproot a tree. But the ghoul sidestepped out of the way with speed that should not have been possible. Vihar's momentum carried him and his weapon up through another arc, which he brought down where Anger should have been, but all his weapon found was air. Lust and Anger danced around the haunted Toa, screeching and chattering obscenities. "Keep dancing, little Toa. Death is drawing nearer. There will be no escape," Lust howled. By this time she'd twisted into something like a harpy bird. A fiery crack of her whip caught the chain of Vihar's weapon, and with a triumphant scream, she yanked the weapon out of his grasp. "Vihar!!" Iru bellowed. It looked like his brother was fighting nothing. But at Vihar's anguished cry, he saw the morning star yanked from his grasp for no apparent reason, and fly through the air, landing yards away. "Brother, tell me what's happening!" But still Vihar was numb to reality. Suddenly, Anger and Lust halted in their tracks. They stood side by side, expressions of pure hate permanently sculpted onto their hideous faces, comparable to an unhappy Skakdi, but worse. Vihar stopped too, but not because he sensed what they sensed. "What?" He demanded. But instead of a response any mortal could comprehend, Lust threw back her now grotesquely avian head and let out a piercing, otherworldly scream. It drove Vihar to his knees, with his hands clamped over his audio receptors. Even Iru halted in his tracks, sensing something. Lust choked off her scream, and Anger looked to the sky, and two words escaped him that sent icy chills through everyone's frame. "Welcome, Death." Vihar followed their gaze up to the stars, but saw nothing. Vihar snapped his gaze back to his two foes, suspecting a trick. He called upon his elemental sway over Iron for the first time in what felt like forever. The gazes of both Anger and Lust were still fixed on the sky when Vihar held a fully formed iron spear. Vihar could count, and his math told him that he could only spear one of his tormentors before the other would strike, and most likely kill him. There was no time to think twice. If he didn't act now, he might never get the chance to again. Vihar leapt up with a cry, lunging forwards in one smooth motion, and sending his spear flying through Anger's heart. Both fiends tore their eyes from the heavens. Vihar braced for a deathblow, or another power scream, or Karzahni knows what. But all he received was laughter. And the icy, mirthless laughter was more terrifying than Lust's scream that heralded Death. It paralyzed Vihar. "My dear, dear ," Anger managed between fits of lunatic laughter. "Oh my, would you please explain to him, while I catch my breath?" He dissolved into insanity. "Vihar, dear. We can touch you. We can twist you and make you dance any which way we please. But you can't touch us. It's all in your head," Lust told him. "I would say your little trick with the spear was worthless, but really, it wasn't! See, you've accomplished what you set out to accomplish tonight after all!!" She crowed. Taking two deliberate steps towards him, she leaned down and whispered in Vihar's ear. "You murdered your leader." Anger stepped aside, passing through the spear like he was made of air. Vihar's aim was true, and his spear had found its mark. A perfect bull's eye in the heartlight. But the perfect bull's eye in the wrong heartlight. Anger and Lust mockingly bowed to Vihar, as the empty case of armor, mechanical parts, and select organic tissues that used to be Iru, Toa of Ice, crumpled to the ground. "You monsters...." Vihar rasped, straightening up to look Anger and Lust in the eyes. "Go to Karzahni." "You say that like it's condemnation!" Anger laughed. "Karzahni is our playground." But then, something nobody expected happened. Time seemed to freeze as a small Matoran in all white armor stepped out from behind the tree closest to Vihar. "Did somebody call me?" she inquired, looking from the fiends to the Toa of Iron and back. Her voice was sweet like the flowers of an island paradise. "Who are you?" Anger snarled at the little Matoran. The Matoran shrugged, and in that movement, she unfurled her snowy white wings like an angel. "Somebody called for Death, so I answered." "You're not what we expected." Lust frowned. "Death is unexpected," the Matoran said reasonably. "Now is there a problem that needs addressing, or am I free to go about my business?" "No, you're free," Anger drawled. "We've done our jobs. Vihar's done his as well." With one last smile, that would haunt Vihar for the rest of his life, Anger dissolved out of existence, just like that. Lust looked Vihar in the eyes, never blinking as she shrunk back to the green armored beauty Vihar had first known. "Job well done, Toa. If you ever find yourself missing me, you know where to find me." She planted a burning kiss on the cheek of his mask and then she too melted into the night. Vihar looked around for the white armored Matoran, whose presence he'd found disturbingly calming. But he was alone. ₪҉₪ Location: Memory of Vihar; Kahu Forest Time: 23.55; Day 76; Year 503 AGC Toa Vihar sank weakly to his knees, horrified. Horrified not so much by the scene before him, but by the fact that this ghastly picture of sin was his own doing. Before him, strewn over the silver-spotted forest floor, was the body of his leader. The corpse lay where it had fallen only moments ago. A shaft of cold iron protruded from the deceased Ice Toa's heartlight. Vihar looked down at his trembling hands and saw the gunmetal gray and burnt orange armor that covered them. The colors of a Toa of Iron. The colors of a murderer. Vihar didn't want to believe, that the iron spear that had slain his leader had been materialized by the shaky hands he saw now. These hands weren't the hands of a killer, they were the hands of a victim. ₪҉₪ Location: Interrogation Chamber Time: 02.45; Day 77; Year 503 AGC "So there you have it, Aviara." Vihar said quietly. "All my sins remembered. Do they answer all your questions?" "Yes." Aviara nodded, trying not to be overwhelmed, as her mind sorted through the memories she'd just seen. "Now, I have a question for you," Vihar leaned forwards, peering up at his teammate. "Why didn't you all see hallucinations when you came back from Karzahni?" Aviara was at a loss. "Some things aren't meant for us to know, Vihar. Now, I'm going to have to escort you back to your holding cell. Come with me." "Of course." ₪҉₪ Location: Holding Cell Time: 03.00; Day 77; Year 503 AGC The heavy metal door slammed shut after Aviara. Sitting on the cold stone floor, Vihar chuckled sourly to himself. Using an iron door to hold him seemed rather foolish. He could escape easily with his eyes shut. And that's what he intended to do. Just, not exactly. He'd thought this through dozens of times since he'd first thought of it while waiting in the interrogation room. From a small leather pouch that he'd 'forgotten' to give up to security, he pulled out a small tablet. All Toa had one of these tablets. When ingested, it created chemical reactions that halted all mechanical and organic functions with a specific radio-electrical pulse frequency, effectively causing death in under three minutes. Trying not to be overly dramatic as he leaned his head back and swallowed, Vihar smiled and closed his eyes, counting to ninety. "Hello, Death." He breathed. A voice like sweet flowers answered him. "Hello, Toa."
  3. Death was an inconvenience. No, he supposed, that was selling it short. Death was an extremely unpleasant inconvenience. More than that, there was something personal about it. Death, he decided, was an insult. Yes, that sounded about right. Tens of thousands of years spent trapped on a little island, broken up only by a jaunt in that Toa of Air's body, and what had been waiting for him at the end? Death. He could have gotten used to death, he supposed, if there was more to it. Some sort of afterlife would have been acceptable – some mindless, incomprehensible plane that would drive anyone still alive stark raving mad just by looking at it. He would have fit in just fine there. Instead most of the time he found himself – or actually, didn't find himself, he supposed. Most of the time wasn't time. It took a sizable amount of effort just to keep himself aware of what was going on around him – it seemed to him that he was keeping himself in existence by sheer force of will; he felt as though he were pulling back pieces of himself from some very distant place and trying to hold them together. It really was obnoxious. Still, if you had to know how to keep immeasurable, unknowable bits of yourself together to get by around here, living as a many-formed abomination of tentacles and ichor really was very good practice. Even so, as the fragments of spirit of the being known in life as Tren Krom pulled themselves together once more, they had a particular thought in mind: this would not do. He watched the Toa of Ice and the Toa of Stone examining his remains and idly toyed with the idea of letting them know who had killed him. He concentrated for a moment on the Toa of Ice, calling on the telepathy he'd so often made use of while alive, and was disappointed but not particularly surprised to find himself unable to make any sort of connection. Perhaps if he really tried, he would be able to, but the more he concentrated on the figure in front of him, the more he felt himself breaking apart, the pieces of his spirit being pulled away from each other. Well, it wasn't that important who had killed him, he supposed. They would be found out sooner or later. There was nothing for him to gain from finding justice for his death – instead he ha d to fo cu s o n Nighttime. Tren Krom cursed as he came back into existence – an act not to be underestimated considering it came from a being who'd had millenia to practice. He needed to be done with death on his part, and the sooner the better; which meant he needed something that could either make him a new body, or something that could repair his old one. He watched some sort of small animal nibble on what had been one of his eyes and decided that the latter option was off the table. There were two options, he supposed; the Mask of Life and the Mask of Creation. They would be fairly easy to get to in this form; the trouble was their owners. Artakha would do nothing more than lecture him about destiny before putting an end to what little consciousness he had now. As for the Ignika, he could feel someone embodied within it; whoever they were, they had to be quite powerful to exist in such a state, and if his brief experiment with a lowly Toa was any indication, he was in no state to try any sort of psychic assault on a living being. Frustration seeped through him. He could wait for some fortunate turn of events; perhaps whoever was sleeping in the Ignika would wake up, or perhaps the one who had caused this whole situation had Artakha in mind next. But that was unacceptable; he might be able to maintain this form as long as was necessary, but it would be another era of imprisonment. The irony was not lost on him; he'd gone from being trapped on a piece of rock over which he had total control to being free to roam the universe, provided he never interacted with it and spent his time making sure his mind didn't fall apart. He paused. Why wait? There was a third legendary mask, after all. A moment's concentration was enough to feel its influence, a piece of time itself trapped within a mask. He could feel it throbbing; it had been damaged once before, and since then it had quietly raged, waiting for another chance to be released onto the world and leave its mark. Tren Krom would have smiled if he hadn't long since lost anything analogous to a mouth. Why, it was like they were kindred spirits. Lewa Nuva had had better days, weeks, and quite probably months. Teridax taking over the universe had been bad enough; spending a few days trapped in the body of something that hurt to even look at hadn't improved his mood. Being captured by what appeared to be a group of Matoran that had been hit with the ugly stick was, he decided, the last evidence he needed to prove his theory that somewhere along the line the Matoran had gotten the words for “Destiny” and “Comedy of Errors” mixed up. As he trudged along he supposed it wouldn't be that difficult to escape; a quick gust of air to lift him up and he would be off flying before the spear-lovers knew what had happened. Yet somehow he found himself not particularly keen to put in the effort. The truth was, he'd been able to deal with everything that had come before: Teridax's reign was bad, but the Toa had pulled through – okay, not worse, but still pretty bad situations before; his sojourn as something that had had far too many tentacles was possible to ignore provided he tried very very hard to not think about it; there was probably a better than even chance these junglewalkers weren't going to kill him. The trouble, really, was that not thinking about his time in the body of Tren Krom had gotten extremely difficult when the being had forced itself back into his head in the form of a scream. It had been impossibly loud; the villagers so kindly escorting him had been startled, but for Lewa that scream had superseded the rest of the world. He could feel it echoing in the back of his mind as he walked; it wormed its way into the gaps between thoughts, reminding him of the days he had spent trying not to even think. It did more than that; it seemed like it was splitting apart his mind, fragmenting it into pieces he'd long since buried. He smelled the slightest hint of something sour, a stench he'd hoped to leave behind forever in the Nui-Rama hive; he heard the quiet murmurs of the Bohrok, sleeping now somewhere far away; he felt rage and frustration that would vanish for hours at a time and then return. It was all he could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Night fell as the group reached a small village. Lewa smiled weakly at the patchwork huts sequestered amongst the jungle. Ah, it's a little bit like old Le-Koro – except they weren't trying to kill me there most days. He stood wearily as several of his captors spoke to a group that seemed to have been waiting for them to return; even as one of the beings he'd been trudging alongside pointed angrily back towards the fortress in the far distance, he was shouted down by one of the others. Something big had happened while the group had been away, it seemed, and Lewa had absolutely no idea what. A minute passed as the groups argued; eventually, two of the villagers stepped forward, spears at the ready, and gestured for him to follow them into a small hut. It was no surprise to him when his captors left him there, secured the door, and posted a guard outside the window. The Toa of Air let out a lengthy sigh as he slid down against the wall. He had no idea where he was, what had happened, or who those villagers were, he could barely move from exhaustion, and his mind was busy trying to convince itself that it was either a mad Rahi, a Bohrok, or a dead nightmare, depending on how it felt at the moment. His head flopped forward; his body had decided that sleep would probably be the best course of action for the moment. After all, he was a light sleeper; at least he could be sure nothing was going to happen while he was asleep without his knowing. Something was wrong. Something was extremely, dangerously wrong. Voporak tried to focus on the Vahi in his hands, pushing to restrain its power, but it was as though there was something inside it pushing back. It didn't make any sense – one moment it had been dormant as always, and in the next he'd felt it come alive in his mind, eddies of time forming around it. He struggled to concentrate on the mask, willing what little power he had over it to be enough. It wasn't. As the mask fractured in his hands, he felt something deep with in him start to scream, and then Lewa opened his eyes. The room around him buzzed with activity; the casualties in the final battle against Teridax had been many, and there were many with wounds far worse than his. All things considered, he'd gotten off lucky, scorched by a Rahkshi but otherwise undamaged. A familiar, warm voice called out to him. “Ah, you're finally awake, brother.” Lewa turned to see Onua walking towards him, seemingly undamaged. That was Onua for you – he'd always seemed the most on top of things of all of them. Lewa smiled at him. “What, I don't deserve a quick-nap after all that? We did just save the universe, after all – and for real this time.” Onua chortled in response. “The fact you have to quantify 'save the universe' says more about the history of the Toa than every book in the archives put together.” His face contorted into a frown. “And much as I'd like to say it's all over and done with, I have a feeling there's still plenty of work to do. It's a shame Kopaka isn't here; Tahu could use some backup getting things organized.” Lewa paused for a moment. There was something wrong with that sentence. It made sense factually: Kopaka had set out to Artakha on the Order's behalf, but hadn't been heard from since. More than a little concerning, all things considered. But still, something else was... off about it. Onua seemed to sense Lewa's trepidation. “Something the matter, Lewa?” Lewa opened his mouth to answer, to say that something was wrong, something was very wrong, when suddenly a scream, unending and echoing, pierced its way into his mind. He grabbed his head in agony, a sudden fury filling him. Onua reached out a hand in surprise, and The Vahi pulsed in anger. A small change hadn't been enough; more was required. Much more. Lewa blinked. For a moment, just a moment, he'd seen something completely impossible: he'd seen Onua reaching out towards him from a room he'd never seen before. He shook his head; the weeks spent on the run must have started to catch up with him. He finished putting together the small fire in the center of his campsite, and looked around his surroundings. Bleak. A small cave, inconspicuous enough to be easily passed over, and far away enough from any major locations that nobody would come looking anyways. It was as close to an ideal hiding spot you could get when your enemy was literally the universe you lived in. It had all gone so wrong – Matoro's death had done nothing but give their greatest enemy exactly what he wanted. Resistance had been strong, at first, but little by little it had fallen apart. If he really wanted to think about it – which he hardly ever did – he could pinpoint the event that had really shattered their chances: Tahu's death at the hands of Teridax's Exo-Toa. Onua had arrived too late; his voice had shaken with sorrow when he'd told Lewa of realizing there was nothing he could do. They'd all parted ways eventually; killing Tahu had emboldened Teridax even further, and it was clear that staying together would do nothing but get them all killed. Lewa morosely threw a stick on to the fire. It had all gone so wrong; looking around him, he felt as though there had been some cosmic mistake, that there was somewhere else he should be right now. Suddenly, he saw something move in the distance beyond the cave's entrance, he stood and drew his weapon, extinguishing the fire with a controlled gust of air. Suddenly, a silhouette filled the cave's entrance; Lewa stepped forward to look, and then A scream. Horribly, impossibly familiar; it was all-encompassing, coming from inside his head rather than outside it. He fell to his knees. The figure above stepped towards him, the moonlight reflecting off his white armor, and then Ridiculous. The branch he'd chosen was utterly different from his original death. How could he still die? He had to make greater changes. The world could change for him. The world would change for him. A sickly green glow permeated the nest far beneath the surface. There was a clean, precise order to it: the Tahnoks here, the Kohraks there. Silence permeated the space; not a single creature moved. There was no reason to, after all. They had finished their mission exactly as needed. Before each section of slumbering Bohrok stood a sentinel, unmoving, prepared to lead should additional orders be received. They had been repurposed; there was no need for guardians of an island that had to be removed. They had made for excellent leaders of the swarm once they had been subdued. One of them stiffened, just for a moment. Something was wrong. He had felt, just for a moment, as if he were somewhere else, as if he were someone else. Except that wasn't quite right either – he was a different piece of the same person. He was missing something important. Which was impossible. The swarm had finished its job. Nothing important could be missing. Of course. The moment passed. And then it suddenly fell forward, covering its ears against a scream that somehow, impossibly, none of the rest of the swarm heard. It remained that way even as the other five sprung to life, each taking aim at the bizarre being that had stepped out of thin air, a manic grin across his face. “I've been naming these, you know. This one's particularly good, I think. How about, 'The Bohrok Ascendant'? It's got a sort of ring to Impossible. Impossible and unacceptable. How could he still be failing? He'd erased everything from the past that could have led to his death. Everything! Something different, then. He would try something different. Lewa jolted awake in the hut in the jungle. The guard outside his window didn't seem to notice. He felt violently ill; the Bohrok murmurs in the back of his mind had risen to a chatter. A dream, that's all it was, a stupid dream that doesn't mean anything. Oh, Rahi breath it doesn't, what is going on here? Standing and trying to ignore the chatter, he walked to the window and looked out. The guard continued to ignore him. From here he could see the stars, entirely different from the ones he'd looked at so often back home. There was something wrong about them, as well. Something that didn't make sense. He looked up at them, the moons catching his eye. Moons? Yes, two moons, from the looks of it, one quite bigger than the other. From this distance it was impossible to make out any detail, but one shone blue, the other tan and brown. Nothing wrong with that – wherever he was, it had two moons. And yet looking at them he felt suddenly uncertain. Two moons; why was there a problem with two moons? Because, oh great-thinker, there were no moons when you went to sleep. He jerked back from the window; the sick feeling surged within him. That simply didn't make sense. He went up to the window once more and knocked on it to get the Agori's attention. “Sorry, but how many moons can you see?” The Agori frowned and looked up. “Well, there's two moons, of course. There's always two moons. That's Bara Magna, and that's Aqua Magna; the moons of Spherus Magna.” Lewa nodded appreciatively. He must have been mistaken. The guard continued, “Though of course, we don't have them anymore since the planet pulled back together a day or two ago.” Lewa froze. “Sorry, could you clear something up for me? Can you see... Bara Magna and Aqua Magna right now?” The guard smiled. “Of course, they're right up there in the sky.” “And you say the planet we're on is made of...” “Aqua Magna, Bota Magna, and Bara Magna. Least that's what it looked like to us.” The guard suddenly stopped and frowned, as though there was something in what he'd just said that bothered him, then shrugged. Lewa stepped back into the hut. Something was very, very wrong indeed, and it wasn't just the fact he suddenly knew that his guard was an Agori, or that he could speak the language fluently when he'd not understood a lick of it a few hours ago. It was probably best, he decided, to start with the fact he was standing on a planet from which you could see part of that same planet hanging in the sky. And then, impossibly, inevitably, he heard the scream. Close, this time. He understood what he had to do now; it was no good just looking at the branches of time. One had to trim them and connect them as necessary. All he needed was a little more time, and his own death would never have existed. It was a necessary change. In Voporak's hands, another fracture appeared in the Vahi. A staff smacked across the side of Lewa's head. Stunned for only a moment, he rolled away from the direction of the attack and leaped up, facing his attacker. Were the Agori trying to do him in after all? Vezon looked at him, a look on his face that he would consider “self-satisfaction” and others would call “extremely dangerous”. “Oh good, you're awake. It really is a pain tracking you down, you know, so I figure, why waste time once I do? Least you're not a Bohrok this time. You couldn't carry a conversation to save your life.” Lewa stared blankly. “Did you follow me from the fortress?” The half-Skakdi chuckled, a sound that should be avoided if at all possible. “Oh, you know, bit by bit, brick by brick. You should've stuck around, you could've seen their faces when it started. Our gracious host just started screaming. Not that he didn't do that before. We've got a lot in common, you know. He can outscream me on most days, which really is impressive.” Lewa felt a familiar frustration rising within him. “Look, Vezon, what are you doing here? I've got enough to deal with already.” His companion grinned, an action in fact illegal under common law, and leaned forward on his staff. “Like what, pray tell? Helping tend to the sick and wounded after your last big battle? Protecting the swarm? Figuring out what to do with these savage kidnappers of yours? Ooh, maybe you're busy helping the rise of the Toa Empire. Or are you dead in that one? That always was trouble, when you were dead. Had to wait for another go-around. It was sort of nice, though. Disposable universes! Nothing better. Did you know your friend Onua can only hold his breath underwater for thirty seconds? I mean, I guess I rigged it a bit what with dropping a few Rahkshi in to swim with him, but I believe improvisation is a virtue. Which he apparently did not possess.” Lewa's eyes narrowed. “What in the name of the Great Beings are you talking about? Have you harmed Onua?” Vezon laughed, which the guard outside took for an Agori reliving last night's dinner out back. “Come on, you can't be this dumb, can you? I mean I'm sure you can be, but I really hope you don't need to go look at the moons again to figure this out. Your pal Tren Krom's gone and broken time. I mean really broken it, not just made it speed up or slow down, which, may I add, can be quite nice depending on how far you are along putting your spear through your enemy's throat.” Lewa tuned him out. Memories were rushing back to him – impossible memories, memories that didn't make sense, memories that he couldn't possibly have. A deep-seated dread began to rise in him. He was suddenly aware of the seconds ticking by, of time marching on yet being slightly out-of-step. Vezon had miraculously gone quiet and was now watching the Toa intently. Lewa looked up at him. “Why us?” The half-Skakdi shrugged noncommittally. “Other dimensions are old hat for me these days – and really, that's all that's happening now. Lots of alternatives that show up and then get swept aside for the next. Fun, really, and easy for me to keep track of. Being crazy with a dimension-hopping mask for a head does have its advantages. As for you, I'm guessing spending a couple days as big, fat, and ugly made you see things his way, even if you don't realize it.” Lewa let out a breath. It wasn't a pleasant thought, but it was a disturbingly accurate one. Living in Tren Krom's body, he'd tried to shut out everything that came with it – he'd felt like he'd suddenly possessed senses he couldn't consciously understand, and that his very body was in flux, shifting in ways he was at a loss to comprehend. Closing his eyes, he felt almost like he was back in that body – he could remember the lives he hadn't led, the thousand days he'd woken up and found himself in the wrong world. His eyes snapped back open. “Vezon, how long has this been going on?” Another grin. “Good question. Haven't got a clue. I was alright with it at first, you know. I got any number of universes to play with – and I was the only one who was in on the game. Besides you, I suppose, but you never really picked up on it in time. But then he had to go and ruin things, had to try and start welding history together instead of just going with the flow. Moron, just like every other ancient all-knowing being out there. He hasn't got a clue what he's doing. Thinks he can just wipe away his own death. It's always snapped back in the end so far - but if he gets lucky, I'm going to guess something very bad will happen. This is all assuming the Vahi doesn't just explode, of course.” A familiar determination had begun to build up within the green Toa. Powerful beings messing with the building blocks of the universe for their own ends that had to be stopped – this was Toa territory. “How do we stop him?” The grin widened. “You mean, how do you stop him...” Tren Krom was beyond furious. He lashed out mindlessly, throwing everything he had into channeling the Vahi's energy. It had been easy, at first. Entering an empty mask was child's play, and by the time that fool Voporak had realized what was going on, it was too late. He'd been delighted to find he had much more control over time than he'd expected; he could alter history itself. But nothing worked. No matter what he did, no matter who had die or vanish or turn left instead of right, his death remained. It was impossible. Each time it seemed he was safe – he would be on his island, or long since escaped, his killer nowhere near, and suddenly he was in that blasted clearing, being torn apart, sending out that last scream. He was close, now, but something was still stopping him. Something refused to be changed. Impossible. Whatever it was, the Vahi's energy would wash it away in the streams of time. Lewa and Vezon materialized near Voporak's camp. The Dark Hunter stood stock still, the Vahi in his hands all but disintegrated, glowing with an angry light and spewing energy out of the cracks running down it. Vezon poked Voporak with his staff, to no response. He smiled. “Someone completely sensitive to time energy holding onto something like that at a time like this – oh, he's long long gone. Must make me look sane!” Lewa said nothing as he approached the mask. He'd felt his mind fracturing before, pieces of it returning to states outside his control. He'd lived the life of a Bohrok slave or an infected Toa many times over as Tren Krom had ripped through time; now it was time to make use of the other connection that lingered there. Silently, he removed his mask and handed it to Vezon, whose grin was now wide enough that it needed its own time zone. “Oh, this is going to be great. I couldn't ask for a better show if I tried. If you get left a gibbering moron, can I be the one to tell your friends? I love the despair on Onua's face whenever he finds out you're dead.” Wordlessly, Lewa took the mask from Voporak and affixed it to his face. For a moment, nothing. And then, Death was an inconvenience. No, he supposed, that was selling it short. Death was an extremely unpleasant inconvenience. More than that, there was something personal about it. Death, he decided, was an insult. Yes, that sounded about right. Tens of thousands of years spent trapped on a little island, broken up only by a jaunt in that Toa of Air's body, and what had been waiting for him at the end? Death. He could have gotten used to death, he supposed, if there was more to it. Some sort of afterlife would have been acceptable – some mindless, incomprehensible plane that would drive anyone still alive stark raving mad just by looking at it. He would have fit in just fine there. Instead most of the time he found himself – or actually, didn't find himself, he supposed. Most of the time wasn't time. It took a sizable amount of effort just to keep himself aware of what was going on around him – it seemed to him that he was keeping himself in existence by sheer force of will; he felt as though he were pulling back pieces of himself from some very distant place and trying to hold them together. It really was obnoxious. Still, if you had to know how to keep immeasurable, unknowable bits of yourself together to get by around here, living as a many-formed abomination of tentacles and ichor really was very good practice. Even so, as the fragments of spirit of the being known in life as Tren Krom pulled themselves together once more, they had a particular thought in mind: this would not do. He watched the Toa of Ice and the Toa of Stone examining his remains and idly toyed with the idea of letting them know who had killed him. He paused. Something was wrong. He felt as though something was rushing towards him from a direction he couldn't identify. Lewa's fist connected with Tren Krom's face, which was impressive on several levels, including but not limited to strength of punch, posture of fist, and the fact that a physical being had just punched a ghost that did not have anything resembling a face. The sight would have been comical to Kopaka and Pohatu if it weren't also entirely impossible. The Toa of Ice regained his composure first. “Lewa, what in the name of-” “Not now, Kopaka!” Lewa stood over the spot where the pieces of Tren Krom were gathering themselves together again. In the distance, he could feel the Tren Krom trapped in the Vahi screaming incoherently at him to stop. Suddenly, he felt a familiar presence in his mind as the spirit of Tren Krom drew itself together. “You. Why? How?” Lewa panted, trying to keep both Tren Kroms under control in his mind. “You made a mistake, Tren Krom. You decided to swap bodies with a Toa who's had more than his fair share of mind-madness. You didn't think a Toa was capable of keeping up with you, did you?” He could feel Tren Krom's spirit bubbling with anger. “So I gave you a new perspective on the world. Wonderful. You've yet to tell me why you're here.” Lewa was unhesitating in his response. “Because you can't accept your time. The fact I'm talking to you right now must make you so proud, doesn't it? You're putting off death, and you think you can beat it.” Scorn. “And if I have the power, why shouldn't I? Don't I deserve more than the life I had?” Lewa scowled. “I'd tell you no, that you're just ignoring your destiny, but I know you won't listen. So deep-listen to this: whatever life you think you deserve, you've used it up. By the time you're through with this, you'll have taken more lives than the Makuta could even dream of. And here's how it ends for you. Me, telling you this. Telling you that you fail.” The spirit in the Vahi rebelled. I HAVE NOT FAILED! I AM NOT FINISHED YET! Tren Krom's spirit was defiant. “Tell me what you like, Toa, but this one encounter hardly means I fail. You're barely keeping that mask on. Tell me, how am I doing in there? I must be very close to success indeed.” Lewa smiled a bitter smile. “Why don't you find out yourself?” He closed his eyes and drew everything he had into bridging the two minds of Tren Krom. A torrent of images and words poured through him. What he'd seen was only the smallest fraction of what had been done; he could feel the memory of all those worlds flowing from the Vahi into the spirit of Tren Krom. Thousands upon thousands of timelines created, evaluated, and thrown away; universes of contradiction brought into being, madness an inevitable result. He felt Tren Krom's spirit break away, and quickly tried to quiet the Vahi's voice in his mind. Tren Krom's spirit radiated denial. “That is – that cannot be – I am not that! That is not me! That is not life!” Lewa's bitter smile remained unchanged. “That's where this ends for you, Tren Krom. Did you really think you could control time itself? Did you really think that forcing your way into the Vahi would save your life? All you've done is end yourself. You've torn apart the very spirit you're trying to hold on to.” Tren Krom's spirit spoke now with despair. “Why, then? Why do I have to die now? How is that fair?” Lewa's voice was sharp. “You saw all those timelines you created. Were any of those fair? Why should fair just apply to you? Everything has its time, Tren Krom. You're no different.” He could feel the Vahi cracking on his face, time energy seeping from within. “But listen to me. You need to quick-choose. When I came to you, you agreed to help save our world, and you agreed. You don't want this world to end, even if you can't be there for it. Help me stop you. If you die now, none of this will have happened, but the Vahi will still be damaged, I can feel it. But if you give yourself to the Vahi, you can fix it. Please. Your time is up, but there's still so much more waiting for everyone else.” The spirit was silent, and for a moment Lewa thought it was gone. Then it spoke. “This world – should have been mine to explore. It should have been mine to live in.” A pause. “But I decided a long time ago that I had no quarrel with it.” Lewa felt him move towards the Vahi. “Perhaps I have changed one thing, at least. I have given myself a better death.” UNACCEPTABLE. The word was forceful enough that Lewa buckled to the ground. Kopaka and Pohatu rushed forward, but the storm of energy around the Vahi all but froze them the moment they entered it. Lewa heard what was left of Tren Krom screaming from the Vahi. YOU WILL NOT END ME. I SHAPED THE WORLD YOU EXIST FOR. MY WILL IS NOT TO BE DENIED. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG, LITTLE TOA? DO YOU THINK YOU UNDERSTAND THE TRUE SHAPE OF THE WORLD BECAUSE YOU BORROWED MY BODY? I AM PART OF THIS UNIVERSE. IF ENDING ME ENDS IT, THEN SO BE IT. Lewa was vaguely aware of Tren Krom's spirit struggling against the overwhelming voice from the Vahi. He held his hands to the mask, desperately trying to hold it together, but he could feel it fracturing in his hands. He needed something more. It couldn't just end like this – all those different universes, created and obliterated for nothing? No. No, that was impossible. He closed his eyes and forced himself to think; the memories of the lives he hadn't lived flooded back to him. He had come this far by denying the true shape of the things he'd seen; he understood now that they were the only chance he had. It was becoming impossible to tell what was real and what was memory – he was Lewa, sentinel of the Bohrok, he was Lewa, rebel against Teridax, he was Lewa, warrior of the Battle of Spherus Magna – and suddenly he was whole. He was Lewa, and he was not going to let the universe end here. Within the Vahi, the spirit that had once been Tren Krom raged. But it found itself limited; the voices of the Bohrok swarm poured into it, the rage of an infected Rahi attacked it, the despair of a thousand dead heroes subdued it. And suddenly, they were all secondary to one voice. A single phrase rang throughout the spirit of the Vahi. “I end myself.” Lewa's eyes popped open. It was morning now, and sunlight was streaming in through the window of the hut he had been imprisoned in. To his amusement, the guard outside was clearly asleep; he supposed it wasn't the most thrilling job to have. Outside, he heard a commotion, and the guard roused himself. Ahead, a group of other members of his captor's species had arrived in the village, with – his face broke into a smile – Onua among them. He grinned and leaned out the window to tap his imprisoner on the shoulder. “Hey. Could you have someone go tell the dark-tall Toa-hero over there that I'm fine? I'd appreciate it.” The guard looked startled. “When did you learn how to talk?” Lewa's grin widened. “Oh, I'm a fast learner.” Voporak shook his head. He felt sort of ill today; he couldn't put his finger on why. On a hunch he took the Vahi out of the bag he carried it in, but the mask was as impassive as ever. He sighed and started to return it to the bag, then frowned. He could've sworn there was a chip on the back corner before... Vezon smiled, shattering a mirror across the room in the process. He was having quite a lot of fun watching miss high-and-mighty Helryx try to reason with a completely insane Great Being. It was a bit of a shame, really. He'd had quite a lot of fun with all those disposable universe, but he supposed continued existence was a fair trade. Still, he'd always have the memories. He leaned forward and tapped Axonn on the shoulder. The Order member turned and regarded him with disdain. “Did you know,” Vezon said conversationally, “that when push comes to shove, that axe is in fact too big for you to swallow?”
  4. Shyyrn

    12.5

    Toa Regmar.On walls and scrolls they stand apart,Above the other Toa,Not for deed or duty, role or riseBut for size. They were thirteen strong. Their homelands are lost;Powers and masks are footnotes,Even names are lost in smudged ink and weathered stoneSave two; noble AravAnd poor, mean Carr. Arav was deemed leader, and bore it well.Sure orders, clear eyes, and proud heart lentItself to many victories. And beside him alwaysWas Carr. Ne’er a warrior before, only a reluctantOne thence, but his spirit was true. Stories aboundOf thwarted assassins, protected flanks, even brunt of fireBlast borne—all with modesty. Four virtues, it said,Burned in his heartlight—three for the watching Spirit,The final for Arav. None knows what transpired—walls stand unblemished, scrollsStay furled on the matter. Only confirmed is a sojourn into unmapped jungle, aDesperate charge out. Arav stood worse for wear, armor pockmarked, tissue burnt,Jaw set to bite back screams of pain,…But Carr… He lay immobile, limbs limp, eyes closed,Face set in repose, suggesting the peace that only theDead may lay claim to. Yet the claim was false;He was not at death, though he played it well. His heartlightFlickered as a beacon to a bobbing junk—a lighthouse to theSoul, which had left stable Body to brave the ephemeral Sea. He was, yet was not.Half a being.Arav had brought him back, told a taleOf heroism and sacrifice.“The twelve-and-a-halfth member,”With a quirked smile.The moniker stuck. Such is the story the records display… but know this.Arav’s tale is spun of webs,An opaque screen, hiding from view the terribleTruth.And as the truth stays submerged, the universe is in peril. I am Carr’s stranded spirit, and I implore you,Look beneath Arav's lies.The truth is there; it must be brought to light!
  5. The Coming of the Toa =||= Do you remember, Kua, how all this came to be? The words sounded as clear to Kua as they had when the old Turaga had spoken them on his deathbed. “Do you remember…a time before? A time when the islands were not separate, when we were not scattered as we are now. Scattered and broken like leaves on a pond’s surface.” The old Turaga had lain very still, and Kua had held very still beside him, daring not to breath. The room was dim, and only the light of their eyes had lit the space. Time was running out. “D-do you remember,” the Turaga began again, “a time before the cities were built, before the Red Star dawned in the north? Surely…surely you must. Surely we all must, for we were all there. But it was so long ago…We have forgotten everything.” “No…not everything, elder,” Kua tried to comfort his friend, tried to reassure him in his final moments. “Surely not,” he said, “We…we have the Legends, and the walls of history, and—” “—No, Kua,” the Turaga sighed slowly, “th-they are only a reflection of…of what we have lost. I do not understand why we do not remember. No one does, and it makes us afraid. Afraid to seek out the answers to our questions. Afraid to remember.” The old Turaga shuddered, his breath rasping through crushed lungs. The accident had been so sudden, so fast. Kua had not been able to stop it. Now it had come to this. His elder was dying. His friend was dying. “We…” Kua could not find the words. “We are not afraid, elder.” “Oh, but we are, Kua,” the Turaga replied. “There…there is a darkness in our past. A darkness that we have fled from all the days of our lives. You know I am right, Kua. You are…my most trusted disciple. You know…I am right.” Kua did not understand it then. Did not comprehend the elder’s words. Standing there with the old Turaga’s hand clasped in his, choking back the tears. And afterward, when the ceremonies of death had been completed, after all the ritual and the burial and the entombment of the elder’s Kanohi was done. Even then Kua did not understand. But the words stayed with him. Gnawing at him, deep in his spirit. It drove him to seek out their meaning, to seek out some meaning…any meaning. That was why he turned to the Stars. That was why Ta-Kua, right hand of the late Turaga Vakama, resigned from his place. That was why he left his village behind, why he fled to the Tower of the Great Telescope, with its ancient markings, undeciphered. There he might find some meaning. There in that tower, alone, with only the view of the stars that the telescope offered him. He would find something there. Some way of recovering what the Matoran had lost. Some way of…remembering. It was painful to remember. Painful to hear these words again, echoing in his mind. Kua turned over in the darkness of the night and clenched his eyes, trying to sleep, trying to find some peace. But there was no peace. He could not escape his own thoughts. And the sound of the sea crashing on the rocks below was no aid in slumber. Not tonight. He would have no rest. He stood and walked to the door that opened on the Sea. He went out and stood upon the balcony of the Tower, looking out into the black night. Below, the darkness was filled with the noise of moving water, endlessly swelling up from the depths to break against the rocks of the islands of the Matoran. Endlessly trying to suck them down, to gnaw away at the foundations, to undo them by time and patience. Endless, yes. For they were the waters of the Endless Ocean, the waters that had no edge and no boundaries. Kua raised his eyes, squinting. The stars were dim tonight, clouded. But he could still see the brightest of them faintly: the constellation Nuyo, the mountain, and Hoii, the great turtle, and, shining clear in the north, Nga Rui: the Two Brothers. He knew them all, their names and their paths across the sky, their portents in the prophecies and designs etched upon the surface of the Telescope. It was said that every island had its Telescope. Every island had its link to the stars. But even knowing them so well, the stars still filled him with awe: the immenseness of space that lay between him and they, and the great patterns in which they all turned, infinitely vast. He was so small. Perhaps…perhaps he would never find what he sought, out there in all that distance and time. The thought always rose at the back of his mind on nights like this. The clutching of despair, trying to drag him down, whittle away at his resolve…would he ever find what the Matoran had lost, lost in all the distance of time? Lost in the darkness when the sea bore them, when they were led by the Great Spirit, when the cataclysm was over and the islands were scattered… You will never know. It whispered to him. It is all gone. It said. All lost beyond recall now. Kua felt sleep finally winning the battle, he had no strength to resist this…this voice out of the emptiness, out of the void. What was the point? He slumped against the stone railing, letting his head lean forward, staring into the night and seeing nothing. He didn’t know how long he remained that way, drifting in and out of sleep, fitful and restless. His muscles ached, and always his ears were filled with the noise of the crashing sea. He didn’t care, didn’t care about anything. But then…then something changed. Something in the wind, maybe, or maybe it was more subtle than that—could it be that the sound of the waves had changed? The voice of the waters no longer seemed so…so angry, so deep. And then his sleep-dulled eyes saw something. Or at least he thought he saw something, in the corner of his vision. Could it be a light? Had he stood here all night long? No, it was not the sun. It came from the north, not the east. But it was a light. Kua stirred and inclined his head slightly, looking to his right, looking to the north. It was red. A fiery, crimson glow that began as a single point, marking the edge of the horizon. Quickly it spread, outlining the surface of the ocean where it met the sky. A blazing red line, and then it all flared up and resolved into a single point again. A single light. A single star. The Red Star. Up, up it rose, faster than any of the other stars. Comet-like, it streaked up across the pattern of the heavens, drawing its scarlet line in the darkness, splitting the night sky in two as it flashed ever higher. Kua watched in dull amazement, hardly registering what he saw. Could this be real, or was he dreaming? Never before had he seen the Red Star—Inaitea, the star of prophecy—so clear and bright and moving so fast. Already it had reached the zenith, speeding south. He leaned back, trying to keep it in view as it moved behind him. The crest of the Tower would block his sight soon, and it would be lost. Kua leaned out from the railing, craning his neck to see. Suddenly there was a burst of radiance, and the trail of the Red Star swelled with the trails of other lights. Six more in all. All following, all falling. Falling in the darkness. Six new stars… A vision blossomed in his mind, filling every part of his thoughts, every crevasse, every chink, ever hidden, deep facet of his soul. He knew it was a vision—something in the way he saw things, as if everything was clearer, sharper. He stood upon the balcony no longer. No longer did the weight of his limbs or his body inhibit him. He was rising high above them all now. Among the stars. The space yawned beneath him, black and empty, and he felt fear. But above him there was light—pure light. Light and hope. The darkness reached out with formless hands to seize him, to drag him down. He cried out— —And he was answered. Out of the light above him something fell, and it seemed to embody the light. It was a stone, oval-shaped and smooth. It fell toward him and past him and struck the earth. Earth? Yes, there was earth beneath him now—the darkness had gone. Only dim sand spread on all sides. The stone towered above him, and Kua saw that it was carved with a face. It was the face of the Great Spirit. He had seen it many times in the etchings on the walls of history. An ancient face. An eternal face. And yet…the Great Spirit had not spoken to them for so long. So long. Kua wept at the memory, that slow descent into despair. He remembered how the Turaga had felt, how he had said that there were no more visions. No more prophecies given to him. They had all dried up, like water scattered upon the ground. Dried up and soaked into the earth. “…into the darkness that lies beneath,” Vakama had said, and his old eyes were sad. No visions for a century of centuries. But this…this was a new vision. This was something new. Kua looked on. The stone of the Great Spirit still towered from the sand before him, and now Kua saw that around him there were many smaller stones. They were moving, drawing closer to the great Stone, tracing lines in the sandy surface of the earth. They formed a circle around the Great Spirit, gathering themselves into smaller groups. It was good. The light seemed to shine brighter from above now, banishing the darkness. It was good… But it did not last. Suddenly a shadow fell across the scene. Great and black, it reared up from the blackness that surrounded them, and Kua felt the earth shudder as a black stone fell from heaven to bury itself in the sand beside the Great Spirit. Terror seized him, and Kua knew suddenly what it was. This was the darkness—the darkness from their past. The nameless, creeping, whispering darkness…It must be. Now the sand began to quiver again. The two Stones stood side by side now, and Kua felt the struggle between them, though he saw no visible change. Face to face they stood: the stone of the Great Spirit and the Black Stone, and Kua watched horrified as a shadow crept out of the base of the black rock and moved across the ground between them. Up, up it rose, covering the face of the Great Spirit, that ancient face. The ground quaked and shook, and Kua fell to his knees. Before him, the small piles of stones fell apart, scattering again into chaos as the earth beneath them shuddered with the struggle. Kua wanted to cry out, wanted to rush forward and do something, but he could not. It was a vision. His purpose was only to watch. And watch he did. Again the light above him flashed, and now Kua saw six smaller stones hurtle down out of the glowering sky. Six stones…they fell in a circle around the two larger ones, surrounding them, glowing with a white radiance. Something had changed. Now the balance of power was different. The earth no longer trembled in fear—it trembled with power, with energy. A shock ran through the sand, expanding outward from each of the six stones—Kua could see the ripple in the earth. Suddenly the ground lurched violently beneath the Black Stone, and the stone cracked. Cracked! The sound was like thunder, deafening Kua, but he did not turn away. It seemed that the Great Spirit had won! But it was not so, for even though the Black Stone broke, it did not crumble. Instead it fell forward, toppling, slow and immense, falling, falling… …With a great noise it struck the stone of the Great Spirit, and Kua watched in horror as both fell shattered. Shattered! The white stone toppled in ruin, and its pieces were scattered over the sand. Dust rose up, and Kua could not see. He was blinded. No! He could not bear it, could not bear to watch as the darkness claimed the Great Spirit. To see the victory of the Six Stones undone…it was too much. He fell forward upon his face, despairing. But the vision was not over, and, try as he might, Kua could not resist looking up again. There, there above him, far off in the blackness, the Red Star still hung, blazing and immense, and it seemed that a voice spoke to him out of the light of the Star, spoke to him with words that had no sound except in his mind: I have slept for so long. The words echoed through his thoughts, and now the dust cleared from before his eyes. Kua turned and looked upon the scene once more. My dreams have been dark ones. There, scattered across the sand that spread endlessly on all sides, Kua saw the remnants of the white stone. But now… The pieces stirred suddenly, rising up out of the dust in which they had been buried, tracing lines in the sand once more. …now, I am awakened. In the center, Kua saw the Six Stones, standing in their circle still, unmoved. The pieces of the white stone crept slowly back within the circle, converging on one point. Now the scattered elements of my being are rejoined. Up, up, the great stone rose once more. The face of the Great Spirit lifted again from the sand—that eternal face, regarding him again with ancient eyes… Now I am whole. And the darkness cannot stand before me. The vision ended. Kua fell forward, spent. He felt the stone of the balcony-railing rough against his hands. It was strange, feeling something solid again. He was back. He lifted his head, searching the black sky for some sign of the Red Star, but it was gone, lost in the swelling night. Kua’s spirit fell. Was it over then? No, for though the Star was gone, the night was not dark. Another light was shining, but it was not the light of the Inaitea. It was morning. Dawn broke from the east as Kua stood motionless atop the Tower of the Telescope. The spreading sunlight flashed across the water and turned it all to gold as he watched, still exhausted from the vision. This was a light that did not fade. There was something different on this morning. Surely there was. Surely something had changed. Six new stars… Kua closed his eyes. Peace flooded through him as the sunlight swelled over the ocean. Yes, he would find the strength to continue. Find the strength to carry on through the distance and the time…find a way to remember, to discover what was lost. He had been given the key… He leaned forward heavily on the railing, eyes still closed. The light seemed to shine through his eyelids, filling his mind with warmth, with peace, with freedom and release. He was light as a bird, light as air. Soaring in the wind. Soaring like the birds. Falling, falling away into nothing… Crack. The black stone of the railing broke, cracked, gave way, and Kua fell. Fell down, down. The air rushed in his ears, deafening him, but he didn’t care. Didn’t care as the water rose up to take him. Didn’t care as the darkness yawned to accept him in its embrace—the darkness that lies beneath. Didn’t care, for he was a light now, a light hurtling down into the dark, and he knew, knew in the depths of his soul, as if a voice still spoke to him there… …Knew that it was not the end. The sea rose and crashed upon the rocks, endlessly gnawing at the foundations of the world. Birds sang in the morning, circling high above the Tower of the Telescope, set alone upon the coast of the island of Mata Nui. No one stood on the broken balcony there. No figure watched at the window. The morning was still again. But far below, where the pebbled shore stretched northward in an unbroken line, a round metal cylinder lay half-buried in the sand. The sunlight glinted on its ancient burnished face as it lay there, waiting. Waiting. Patient. Through all the distance and the time…Waiting… …and dreaming. =||= I have slept for so long. My dreams have been dark ones. But now, I am awakened. Now the scattered elements of my being are rejoined. Now I am whole. And the darkness cannot stand before me. =||= JRRT
  6. Clang. Clang. Clang.Crunch.Clang.Again and again, day after day, the Toa had worked exhaustive, menial labor.Chunk.Ker-thunk.She had enlisted herself three weeks prior into a large workforce of Matoran, assisting in the building of a walled village on a particularly Rahi-infested portion of the Southern Continent.It was monotonous, mind-numbing, utterly dull work.That was precisely what she wanted.But her life was so tedious, so blatantly unfulfilled. The remnants of her past, those horrific, ghastly memories, stalked her in the day and tormented her by night.Clang. Bash.Snap.Ker-thump.She briefly let the sounds of the construction wash over her, filling her mind with blankness for the briefest of instants - until reality and her memories elbowed back into her psyche, jockeying for her attention once more.She could not live with herself if she continued to truly be a Toa. To live as one, in her mind, would be to defile her brothers and sisters – all those that were, are, and were yet to be, the ones that deserved to be known as heroes and heroines. She lived by her own rules now, revoking by her own accord her status as a Toa, solemnly vowing never to use her elemental or mask powers again.Her abilities had failed her. Every moment of her life was spent thinking about what had happened, or wishing ever so hard that something would whisk her back into her past so she could have a chance to correct her brutal mistakes.She had to exhaust herself, as she had been doing for a while. Pushing herself to exhaustion was the only way she could rest, the only way to make herself feel in any way useful to the universe, the only way she could now live.“Puone?”A Matoran’s voice interrupted her endless void of thought, jerking her mind back to the real world.She glanced down. A Le-Matoran was staring back up at her, holding a hefty stone block. He released it, letting gravity take hold and slam it into the turf. Particulates of dust congealed around the edges and curled up into the air.“Hello, Arkapi. Need some help with that stone?”Arkapi half smirked, half grimaced. “You know, if you used your mask – what’s that, a mask of telekinesis? – you could really help us out. It’d make the build go a whole lot faster.”“I can’t.” She paused, breathing, trying to compose herself. Her memories needed only the slightest stimulation to painfully and completely resurface. “I shouldn’t.” Her voice was breaking up.“What, are you phobic of masks or something? Maybe being a Toa isn’t the right line of work for you, eh?” the Le-Matoran joked.“It isn’t,” Puone replied sharply and quickly. Tears were welling up behind her mask.Throwing down her tools, she briskly walked away from her briefly adopted life and into the hills and forests beyond.There really wasn’t a place for her in the world. * * * She had traversed the hills, woods, and rocky outcroppings. She didn’t know how far she’d been going, but she knew was on the run from her past once again. But physical distance has no effect on emotions and memories, and only time would teach her that lesson. Until she learned it, or acknowledged that she knew it, she would have to rely on the numbing effects of exhaustion to drag her on through her miserable excuse for a life.Now, here she was, kios from any civilization in a mountainous section of the Southern Continent. A dank storm malignantly brewed, lightning generating in its gloomy bowels and finally crashing to the earth in the distance. The fringes of the same storm had reached the trees above, sprinkling them with water from the sky.Tired, alone, and now wet, she sank to the ground. * * * The gap in the trees ahead came forth into her field of vision, yielding a great and bustling village full of bright and happy Matoran. Her eyes darted around – it was like she remembered, but yet couldn’t quite.Shadows sneered out from the sides of the city from the woods beyond, engulfing the buildings and streets in fire and terror as Matoran screamed and perished. Her instinct as a Toa was to help, to Karzahni with her vow of powerlessness – but yet she could not move – not even blink – as she saw before her the terror of the indefinite unknown wreaking its terrible wares upon the innocent, her body feeling drenched …Puone started the next day in a pouring rain, jolting instantly awake in the first faint wisps of sunlight on the horizon. The main body of the storm had reached her, dumping its liquid contents upon everything below. Some water had pooled in the grooves of her mask, but she did not care to dry it out.Getting up, she felt the strain of walking and climbing upon her legs. But, still, she had to move on. She needed to get to some shelter, at least until the rain and wind abated. * * * One of the few things that Puone liked was taking naps. She liked them because they weren’t overtaken by consistent nightmares, unlike her nightly rest. She had located a small outcropping under which to lie against a rock, thinking about anything she could to occupy her mental faculties. She tried to study the beauty of a small gulf that was in front of her, just beyond a few trees that obscured a perfectly idyllic view, but she had tired of that an hour previously.Now there was something else to focus on – a patterned sound, unlike the random noises produced by simply being out in the wilderness. They were footsteps, and they were approaching.As the rain lessened and the odor of petrichor increased in the air, Puone eased herself up off of the ground and looked around to the left and right.Just a few paces away was Arkapi, walking staff in hand.Puone allowed herself to return to her resting spot. “You know, I did try to get away from you. Why did you follow me? What do you want?”The Le-Matoran eased himself down, sighing contently as he finally got off of his legs. “It’s not easy tracking a Toa down like that, especially after that storm,” he said. “I found you because I need to tell you something.” After a few seconds, he placed his hand on Puone’s armored thigh. “Thank you.”“Of all beings, I shouldn’t be thanked,” the Toa replied, brusquely slapping the Matoran’s hand away.“No, you should.”Puone just growled in reply. Arkapi simply sat there, completely unfazed.“A long while back – and this was many, many moons ago – I lived in a small village not unlike the one we’re building now. It was … attacked. Viciously. Unknown assailants ravaged it. A lot of my closest friends were killed, burned alive or … worse.” He paused briefly, gathering and then hiding his emotions. “No one knows who, or what, was really responsible. A few Toa tried in vain to stop it, only one having marginal success. But that one Toa could not stave off the forces of evil.”Puone filled her empty heart with rage. “I have been replaying that moment in my mind for every second of my life since it occurred. It has turned my existence into a living Karzahni. I do not need to hear about it again!” She got up and began to walk off.“You saved my life, Puone,” Arkapi said, gently, but firmly enough so Puone would stop and listen. “You saved my life, and to that I thank you and owe you an incalculable debt. No Toa could have possibly saved us all. You did well that day, and you would have been foolish to try and stay; you would have only gotten yourself killed. You saved as many of us as you could, as any Toa could, and you live to fight the forces of evil and discord again, on another day. For that, I’m proud to have known a great heroine.”Puone took a deep breath, willing herself to stay, her back still stock-still to the Matoran. She could not accept herself as a great heroine. She had relived the moment too much to ever think that.“One moment doesn’t have to define you, even if you think it does. You can’t change what’s gone. You can only move on and revere the past, and what it teaches us.”“How could you possibly know anything about what I’ve been through?!” Puone screamed, half-crying, spinning around to face the Le-Matoran. “You were there. I can’t imagine you being so insufferably ignorant.”“I lost many a friend that day, Puone. Matoran I had known all my life. I remember them, true, and I’m sad that they’re gone. Could I have saved them? Could I have done something, anything, to help them?” He looked to the ground and shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I should have. I, too, carry a lot of weight from that fateful day. I’m not letting it go, but I’m not letting it completely define my life, my actions, the way I move on. I honor the past, but I’m not stuck in it.”The Toa turned around. “You didn’t mention this earlier. When we were building the Koro back there, you could have easily mentioned this. Why didn’t you?”Arkapi smiled softly. “I thought I’d give you time to get over it. I knew you had to have some grief, but I didn’t think that it would be this severe. I wanted to make it right for you, because I was one of only few in the Koro who understood who you were and knew your past.”“And you felt like you had that responsibility.”“Yes.”Puone sat back down next to the Matoran again, breathing heavily now, staring intently into the distance, like she wished to stare right past the horizon and into the mystery beyond. The dead silence, interrupted only by the chance sounds of nature, made the Matoran increasingly uncomfortable.“I’m sorry to have bothered you,” he said at long last, picking up his sack and walking stick once again.Minutes later, he was out of sight, traveling back down the winding path to the village. Puone still sat there, reflecting on Arkapi’s new point of view – and thinking for the first time the events of that day in a new light.She glanced down, spying the rocks and loose pebbles on the ground. She lifted herself up off of the ground, looking about at them.Raising her arms, she made them float.Lightning shot across her limbs, arcing from sections of her armor. Power, her own innate power, something pure and energetic that she hadn’t felt in much too long of a time, flowed through her, sparking against the air and the ground.As she stood there, elemental and mask powers ignited again and in full use, a stray thought occurred to her.Maybe, just maybe, she had what it took to be a true Toa after all.
  7. A matter of time... Tock... tock... tock... tock...The strokes of the timekeeping pendulum echoed in the cave. Ruihi studied the mechanical arm, carefully counting the ticks and dutifully marking each swing on the marker cylinder. The process was eventually going to be automated, he had been assured, but for now, Ruihi had no choice but to mark time by hand.Then there was a rush of displaced water and the Matoran looked out over the underground lake. The inflated red bubble breached the surface of the water, hissing air like a whale. Ruihi pushed the stop plunger on his timer and grabbed the retrieval pole.The floaters were designed to measure the depth of the underground lakes. They went in deflated, with a small amount of some sort of powder and a blasting cap on the bottom. Then, when they sunk to the bottom of the lake, the cap was activated and some sort of reaction took place (Ruihi had no idea what really happened), and the now-inflated balloon rose to the surface. Just measure how long it takes, Nuparu’s minions had promised, and you’ll know how deep the water is.Ruihi grumbled to himself as he hoisted the balloon, now pathetically half-inflated, back onto shore. It was all well and good, but did they really have to be so heavy?The floaters were supposed to be faster and more reliable than just using a measuring cable, but Ruihi didn’t think much of it. Gone were the days when mining relied on determination and willpower. These days, now that Nuparu’s shop had driven ore prices down and volume up, things just weren’t the same.After haphazardly folding the balloon, stabilization ribbons trailing behind like tentacles on a jellyfish, at the edge of the lake, Ruihi went back to the record cylinder and carefully transferred the readings onto paper. As much as he disliked the new process, the initial reconnaissance of a lake was critical so as to not make any mistakes later. Ruihi whistled as he reread the numbers. This lake was deep.“Third SHIFT, reporting IN!”Ruihi’s head snapped up. The bellicose call came from the passageway back to the Great Mine. Ruihi turned to look. Another Tohunga was approaching; Ari was his name.“Arayy! My friend!” Ruihi called. The silhouette slumped out of attention and into a more natural posture. “How does the stone fall, my brother?”“As the Earth wills it!” Ari replied, skipping into the light of the cavern. “I didn’t know you were on this shift!”“Just reassigned, friend,” Ruihi said. “Just taking some baseline measurements, here at the lake. Using these floaters.”The sympathetic pair shared a few words on how dreadful this new technology was and how it was all the more inconvenient to use than than good old cables and elbow grease.“So the whole system’s going down to the realm of ’zahni, am I right?” Ruihi said. “Anyway, listen, brother, you don’t need to take the shift tonight. I’ve got it.”“You mean it?”“I know you’ve got family at home. I was just getting into it. Besides, I like doing recon. Nothing like exploring new territory.”“Yeah, man, I know what you mean. But really,” Ari stood, “I owe you one.”“I’ll see you around, brother. Go well!”“Go well!” Ari hurried off back into the tunnel. Ruihi sighed. Yes, he was perfectly willing to do it. But it would be a long night.He waddled back over to the machines. After the initial depth measurement, he had to measure the width. Then, with the help of an air bladder, he could start a grid-cell survey of the entire area of the shaft. He would probably only get part of the way through, though. He double checked the depth measurement. This lake was deep.The Tohunga pulled out his measuring string and air bladder, hooking them to his belt. He activated the timer again, this time attaching it to a loaded weight that would last until he walked all the way around, again to measure the distance using his walking speed. Tock, tock, tock. The pendulum echoed loudly in the cavern. He stepped over to the edge of the lake, over the pile of deflated floater.And then he slipped on the wet rocks. He grunted in pain as his head slammed against the rock behind him.As he scrambled to right himself, he grabbed onto the streaming stabilizers of the floater. Bad idea. The deflated balloon, and its ballast, slipped into the water alongside him. Ruihi grabbed for the shore, but suddenly his arms were tangled in the ribbons and his legs were under the balloon and he was falling and sinking, sinking into the lake below.Sudden darkness. Water rushed by the floundering Tohunga as the floater dragged him down.After the cold shock, his Onu-Matoran survival instincts kicked in. He struggled to get his left arm free, but the streamers were somehow tied in knots too tight for him to slip out of. With his right hand, he wrestled his lightstone out of his belt and held it in his mouth. It only shined for a short distance in the murky cave water. The ballast on the floater kept pulling down.As spots started to form in front of his eyes, Ruihi grabbed the air bladder in his belt and took a breath. He would have enough air for two, maybe three breaths before it ran out. Better make it count.One breath. He pulled at the streamers, slowly loosening them. Another part of his mind was tracking his descent. He was sinking quickly and still nowhere near the bottom.Another breath. One knot came undone; Ruihi moved onto the second one. It was looser, so he made short work of it.And then the floater was free, and Ruihi twisted in the water to begin his ascent to the surface. He would have sworn at the situation if he had the breath. But he just had air left in the bladder for one more deep breath, which he took.The lightstone went back in his belt, and Ruihi started pulling himself out of the water, his lungs straining at the exertion. One stroke. Two strokes.And then Ruihi hit his head, for the second time in as many minutes. Surprised, he coughed out the air and choked in water. He thrashed, deep underwater, as he inhaled water. Pull up, pull up. Nothing else mattered now.And then he broke the surface of the water, spewing water. He grabbed forward, onto a rocky ledge, gasping and choking.It took him five full minutes to catch his breath and empty his lungs, and it was only then that he noticed two things: First, he was not at the surface of the water in the main cave. The cave above him was only a few bios high. Second, the room throbbed with a dull humming sound, a sound that Ruihi recognized only too well.He looked around for the source of the sound, and found it a few bios to his left: A cylindrical machine with a glowing heart-light, vibrating and coughing and spluttering into the water. A surface-air pump. Evidently this lake had already been discovered but forgotten before Ruihi was assigned to it. Careless record-keepers.Ruihi pulled himself out of the water and looked around. He was in a pocket, a small hole in the side of the limestone caves, that was being maintained by the surface pump in the corner. A few lightstones dotted the walls of the cave, evidently the reason why it had been cleared in the first place. As he breathed, his breath crystallized. It was cold, too.These chambers were kept vacated of water only by the grace of the surface pumps. If the power were to be shut off, the pump would stop and the water, eager to replace the void so deep underground, would slosh back into place instantly.Ruihi took a shaky breath. His options were limited. He was down very deep; unaided he could not swim back up. If he just had... The air bladder! He grabbed at his belt for the pouch, but there was nothing there. In the rush underwater, it must have fallen out of his mouth. He halfheartedly peered through the murky water, hoping desperately that it was down there somewhere where he could see it, but with no luck.Now Ruihi cursed, loudly, but the small cave muted his voice. He took another look around in the hopes of finding a passage to the surface, but there were none. This cave was just a preliminary, exploratory cavity. Save a few lightstones, the pump machine, and, of course, himself, there was nothing in here.The Matoran crawled the corner, his lightstone the only source of heat. He took a few more unsteady, deep breaths. The pump was going, but barely. Whatever power source it had been running on was now unduly stressed by the presence of a new pair of lungs. The machine’s heart-light was flickering. It obviously had not been stressed in years.Maybe it would last until the morning and the next shift would notice his absence. The system was supposed to protect against problems like this, and he had no doubt that if his disappearance was noted, the rescue team would shortly find him with their SCUBA gear. Or perhaps the pump would fail before that happened.It was just a matter of time. ********* Beep.“Doctor, I see a flicker!”Beep.“Administer the protodermis booster!”Beep.“Still unstable.”“Double the dose!”Beep. Beep.“We’re getting something here!”Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.“He’s stabilizing.”Ruihi took a sudden, sharp breath. The insides of his lungs felt like they were lined with needles. Where was he?“He’s opening his eyes!”Ruihi rolled onto his side. Blurry, white shapes slowly came into focus. Tohunga in clean blue linens.“Ruihi, I need you to focus on me,” a doctor said. A mask appeared in Ruihi’s field of vision. He coughed.“Respiration’s normal,” the doctor said to one of his assistants. “All systems are returning to normal.”Ruihi tried to lift himself up, but the doctor gently pushed him back onto the bed. “You should stay reclining,” he said. “But here, I can prop you up a little. You’re still in some shock.”The doctor propped up Ruihi and shined a focused lightstone into his eyes. “No sign of vision damage,” he said. “Now, can you tell me your name?”“Ruihi,” the Tohunga said weakly. The doctor nodded.“Good. Now, do you remember what happened?”For a moment, Ruihi couldn’t remember anything and started to panic. Then it all came back. “The lake...” he said. “And I was trapped in the pocket. But...” His memory was hazy after this. “The pump failed?”“Cognitive functions appear to be normal,” the doctor said. “He’s a bit hazy, but that’s to be expected. You’re done.” The assistant who had been standing behind him noted the record and handed it to the doctor before leaving the room. Then the doctor turned back to Ruihi.“You had a pretty bad accident,” he said. “We thought we almost lost you there. But it looks like everything is going to be OK. A rescue team found you floating in the lake you were assigned to. It was actually your clock that tipped us off. One of the miners noticed that it had been running for too long. I guess that loud ticking is useful for something, eh?”Ruihi smiled weakly. The doctor continued.“If we had gotten to you any later... well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”The doctor cleared his throat. “It will be a day or two before you’ll be back on your feet. So rest up, and I’ll check up on you in a few hours.”In the bleary moments before Ruihi fell back into sleep, he puzzled that the technology that he so disliked ended up actually saving him in the end. Well, he owed Nuparu an apology.But that didn’t mean he had to start liking the blasted machines. Ruihi turned over and went to sleep.
  8. Taipu1

    Showdown

    Showdown Mazeka faced down Strakk in the arena. Normally he wouldn’t have taken on someone like this voluntarily, but he had faced worse, and he had a duty to fulfil. He had come a long way to do it.1 day previouslyThe ship tilted violently as a powerful gust of wind struck it, sending Mazeka stumbling. Strong winds and rain he could handle, Ko-Matoran were no strangers to extreme weather, but the rocking of the ship in the stormy waters was not something he was accustomed to. Another gust struck the ship, thanks to his years of combat training and honed reflexes he was able to maintain balance as he dashed across the ship towards the cabin. He climbed the ladder onto the top, his feet slipping on the soaked rungs and pulled himself onto the top. He was just in time for another powerful blast of wind to hit the ship, and to see the Captain of the vessel stagger away from the wheel, falling through the wooden rail at the edge of the ship.Moving faster than was possible for most matoran or agori, he leapt across the top of the cabin, landing on his chest and sliding, he seized the flying ankle of his captain, an agori of the water tribe. At the same time his other flew across the surface of wood beneath him, his finger finding a grip in a gap between planks. He let out a loud grunt, and the captain yelled, but nobody heard their feud over the roar of the wind. Mazeka pulled with all his might, but he could barely manage to maintain his grip on the captain’s ankle.Then the ship began to tilt ominously, and Mazeka quickly remembered that no one was steering the ship anymore. He pulled hopelessly at his Captain's ankle again, but he was only wasting his energy. Then he saw a Ga-Matoran stumble over the top of the ladder onto the roof of the cabin, followed by two Onu-Matoran. The Ga-Matoran seized the rapidly spinning wheel of the ship and struggled to regain control. The two Onu-Matoran both stumbled across the platform; reaching over the edge and pulling the Captain back aboard.Mazeka felt the weight leave his arm and relinquished his grip, rolling onto his stomach, breathing rapidly.“I’ll permit that slacking, seeing as you saved my life.”Mazeka was glad the Captain was pleased; he just hoped it was all worth it. He recalled how he had joined the crew of the ship a week previously, and the duty he had to fulfil.8 days previouslySince the reformation of Spherus magna, there had been huge developments across the planet. An agori of the rock tribe was walking through a port that had sprung up around an old Bara Magna village, which had suddenly become a picturesque coastal area. The agori was in the port looking for work, and had already come across a flyer for work on a large fishing ship. He walked across the threshold of an old inn that looked as though it had been around before the village become a port.The agori spotted his target, a replica of the flyer was pinned to a wooden pillar, and a member of the water tribe was leaning against it. Approaching him he said:“Are you the captain of the fishing ship?”“What’s it to you?” asked the Captain.“I want this job,” the rock agori said, gesturing to the flyer.The Captain looked him up and down once, then said:”Nope.”Appalled at this abrupt judgement, the rock agori burst out:”Why? You’re not even going to find out what skills I have. I’m strong, I’ve worked in mines, and I’m a good fighter-““Don’t care, jobs not for you,” the Captain said.The rock agori, angered at this extreme prejudgement swung a wild punch, knocking the Captains head against the pillar, sending him toppling sideways onto the floor.A whirl of white flew through the air, and just like that the rock agori was unconscious on the floor.A Ko-Matoran stood over the Captain, holding out his hand.“Well you’ve got the job if you want it,” the Captain exclaimed, taking the hand and pulling himself up.“Thanks,” the Ko-Matoran said. “But I’m not looking for work, just information. My name’s Mazeka.”“I’m Captain Baru,” the Captain said. “I guess I owe you something for flooring that bone hunter.”“He’s rock tribe isn’t he?” asked Mazeka, distracted. He was still getting to know the culture of Spherus Magna, and would like to think he knew the difference.“Yeah, but what’s the difference?” Baru said. “What can I do you for?”The two of them went and sat at the bar.“Can I buy you a drink?” asked Baru.“You don’t know a whole lot about matoran do you Captain?” Mazeka laughed.“Eh?”“We consume through our hands, cups are usually an obstacle, and it usually attracts the attention of your kind when done in public.”“Fair enough,” Baru said. “Can’t say I did know that. All I know is, you matoran are strong and resilient, and with an unrivalled work ethic.”“Yeah, back in the day our work was what kept the universe going,” Mazeka said. “Literally. Anyway I need help in locating a fellow matoran.”“What was he like?” asked Baru.“I heard he joined your crew for a short while I believe. Po-Matoran, where’s a noble Kanohi Rau.”“uh…?”“Brown armour, round-ish mask with a circular mouth, with ridges around it, fairly prominent brow.”“Ah right.” Baru said, now understanding. “Still not familiar with your matoran words. Yeah I’ve seen him, went by the name of Onukama.”“That’s definitely him!” Mazeka exclaimed, then more to himself said, “foolish.”“Sorry?” asked Baru.“Nothing, not you.” Mazeka said. “Think it’s a combination of Onua and Vakama. Or Nokama. Not very imaginative.”“I’m not understanding still,” Baru said.“Just put it out of your mind.” Mazeka said. “So where’d Onukama go exactly?”“Said if I gave him transport to a remote village far from the city of Mata-Nui, he would work on my ship for the duration of the journey without pay or food.”“Yeah matoran don’t need nearly as much food as agori, we could last a number of weeks without sustenance.”Mazeka drummed his fingers on the tabletop for a moment, staring into space. Then finally, he said: “I changed my mind. I’ll take you up on that job offer.”“Really?” Baru said, surprised.“Temporarily,” Mazeka conceded. “Give me the same treatment as Onukama. I promise to work hard during the journey. But this would be my quickest option to get to him.”“Old friend, this Onukama? Or enemy?” asked Baru.“The nature of my mission is top secret,” Mazeka said. “I’m not authorised by the people I work for to divulge some information.”“You’re hired then I guess,” Baru said, shaking Mazeka’s hand. 1 day previouslyThe fishing ship Tajun was now clear of the storm that had almost torn it to bits mere hours before. The sea was now calm and the skies clear, and the ship was cruising quickly to its destination. Mazeka was leaning against the rail atop the cabin, and Captain Baru was standing by the wheel, one hand holding it steady.A few of the Matoran crew were also with them, enjoying Mazeka’s stories.“You fought in the Destiny War?” asked one Matoran.“Yeah,” asked Mazeka. “I was in the core, chasing down a shadow matoran. Also fought several shadow Toa, and had to kill a Skakdi on Destral.””Destral,” the matoran said in awe. “Closest I got to being in the war was running from a swarm of Rahkshi.”“What was the Destiny War?” asked Captain Baru.“A war,” Mazeka said rather lamely. Captain Baru rolled his eyes, and Mazeka continued, “To fight for the destiny of Mata Nui. Some say we lost, others say we won.”“How can you not know who won?” Baru asked.“Because Makuta took control of the Great spirit. If I were to voice my own opinion I’d say we won, its just Mata Nui’s destiny was far more complex than was our understanding.”“You matoran set too much store by ‘destiny’,” Baru said. “I for one don’t believe my fate is written.”“Maybe it isn’t here,” Mazeka said. “Mata Nui knew Makuta had to help him reform the planet, even though when at his peak he could do it himself. He knew that Makuta would take control. Everything inside the Great Spirit was already written. If that was the work of Mata Nui, then maybe your future isn’t already decided. However the Great Beings have a lot of influence, and if it is them that chose our destiny, perhaps these things are still written now.”“Just a load of Ko-matoran hogwash,” Baru said.”You know the Ko-matoran ways then,” Mazeka said.“I know you’re a punch of absent minded futurists who can’t take their heads out of the stars.”“I wouldn’t describe myself quite like that. But I’m partial to looking up at the sky on a good night, see what’s what, observe the beauty of the heavens.”“The skies here are more beautiful than anything I ever saw,” chipped in one matoran.“Throw anchor,” Captain Baru said. “Time you acted like hard working Agori.”“Thought you said matoran had an unrivalled work ethic?” Mazeka said smartly.“Thought you said you would work hard.” Baru retorted.“Aye, Aye Cap’n!” Mazeka said, saluting and vaulting over the rail onto the deck, where all the other matoran were dashing about with nets, and several were working the winch for the anchor. He began to help another matoran unroll a net and hang it over the side of the ship.Mazeka didn’t like Captain Baru at all. He was a fair enough Captain, but he was extremely ignorant of matoran culture, yet exploited them as a skilled workforce. He was the only agori on board the ship, and all the work he had to do was boss people about and turn a wheel when he felt like it. Glancing back towards the cabin, Mazeka saw that Baru didn’t feel like it now, there was a Ga-Matoran at the helm.Over the next few hours the ship brought in huge quantities of fish, Mazeka was astounded by the diversity of the Spherus Magna rahi, and at the same time surprised how quickly rahi of the Matoran Universe had spread through the oceans.As the sun began to set, Mazeka looked to the horizon and could just make out the outline of the Mainland through the orange light of the sun. Then it dipped below the horizon, and Mazeka struggled to make out the land. He went back to the cabin and down the stairs, into the bowels of the ship. Beneath the deck were two rooms, one filled with fish, the other filled with hammocks and barrels, where the crew of matoran slept and spent their free time.”Hey,” one of the matoran said. “Kobyu is looking for you.”“Kobyu?” asked Mazeka, confused. He didn’t know any of the matoran on the ship by name, and while he told interesting stories, he didn’t get the impression any of them would seek him out personally for anything. “Where is he?”“He’s up in the crows nest, he hates being round us.”Mazeka’s confusion faded when he got back up on deck and saw that Kobyu was a De-Matoran. Naturally he would seek out the point furthest from the other matoran, but he couldn’t think of a more unusual place for a De-Matoran to be. The sea was noisy, and working on a ship more so.“Hey,” Mazeka said quietly. “You were looking for me?”Anyone else wouldn’t have heard such a quiet and understated greeting, but the De-matoran’s hyper-sensitive hearing meant he turned immediately and looked down. He vaulted over the rim of the basket and began to climb quickly down the rigging.“I know you,” Kobyu said. “You knackered my ears for a year, and kidnapped that weirdo, Krakua.”“What?” Mazeka said, surprised. “I didn’t do anything to harm anyone in that village. Vultraz let off that sonic bomb.”“Oh,” Kobyu said. “Sorry, I remember seeing you arrive and hearing you talking to Krakua. Then that thing went off, knocked the entire village out. When we awoke we were all deaf for over a week, and had headaches for months. And Krakua was gone.”“Sorry about that,” Mazeka said. “I had no idea Vultraz would turn up, he nearly killed me. I was just taking Krakua away to become a Toa.”“He’s a Toa?” asked Kobyu, surprised.“He was always going to be something, no ordinary De-matoran hums.”“True.”There was a long silence, which Mazeka found rather awkward, but Kobyu seemed to find relaxing.“So why’d you want to talk to me?” asked Mazeka.Kobyu frowned at the return to conversation, and then said, “Just wanted to know what happened that day, what your motive was. And why you’re here, because I heard you were getting off at some obscure port we only stopped at once before. Another matoran left then as well.”“Yeah well…” Mazeka said. “That’s kinda classified…”There was another long silence, and then Mazeka gave a nod to the De-matoran, and turned to the stairs.“Mazeka,” Kobyu said, and Mazeka looked back over his shoulder. “Remember this isn’t your world anymore.”“I will do what is necessary,” Mazeka replied, and then descended the steps to the other matoran.The next morning Mazeka awoke early, walking up on deck he was just in time to see the sun rise over the sea. The sight still held him in awe, and he envied the matoran who had lived on the island of Mata Nui, who had experienced a similar sight every day for a thousand years. Mazeka walked to the front of the ship, and stared out over the prow of the ship.“Morning.”Mazeka jumped, and spun round. Kobyu was sitting against a barrel; Mazeka had walked right past him without noticing.“Do you sleep out here?” asked Mazeka.“Yes,” Kobyu said. “It’s too noisy below deck.”Mazeka nodded, and stood in silence for a while. What with the quiet and awkward conversations of Kobyu, and the hypocritical and prejudiced attitude of Baru, Mazeka wondered if there was anyone on board the ship he actually liked.A few hours later the ship docked at the port, or arrived nearby. There was no harbour to pull up in, so Mazeka, Baru and a Le-Matoran had to go ashore in a small boat. When they arrived on the beach, the Le-Matoran left to try and sell the inhabitants of the nearby village some fish. Mazeka held out his hand to Baru, who shook it.“Shame to lose you,” said Baru. “I should make this transport in return for work thing more regular, you really turned out to be quite the sailor. If you ever need a job…?”“Thanks, but I doubt you’ll see me again,” Mazeka said. “Although a friend of mine may come looking for me, he was supposed to travel with me, but he got held up.”“Really?” Baru said, interested. “Another hard working matoran who might join up with my crew, temporarily at least?”“No, he’s a Makuta.”Stunned by this response, the word only stirred something in Baru’s head when Mazeka had left for the village.Mazeka stood in the village square looking around. This was far beyond where most matoran were, the locals were all agori of various tribes. This was the Bota Magna part of the planet, where the villages were small and far apart.Mazeka saw the Le-Matoran crewmember walk out of one of the huts, and walked towards the small building, peering cautiously through the door, to find a small shop.”You’re not here to sell me fish as well are you?” asked the agori sitting on a barrel in the corner.“No, I just came on the same ship,” Mazeka said.“Clear off then,” the agori said rudely.“I’m looking for someone,” said Mazeka. “A Po-Matoran, by the name of Onukama.”“I don’t see why I should tell you anything,” the agori said.Mazeka could see that this villager wasn’t a fan of outsiders. He would have to apply thumbscrews to get information out of him. In a fluid motion he swept the barrel from beneath the agori’s feet, slammed him against the wall, one hand covering the agori’s mouth, muffling his yells, the other drawing a knife.“Now when I take my hand of your mouth, you can tell me what I need to know. Or, you can try and yell for help, and I’ll cut the cry right out of your mouth, and be out of here before you hit the floor.”Mazeka removed his hand; the agori breathed heavily then said, “You matoran are all scum. You come here, assuming that you have as much entitlement to the land as agori do, and we kindly let you stay. Then you ask for more, you’re manipulative and abuse our land, you-“Mazeka put his hand over the agori’s mouth, said, “Not what I wanted to hear, try again,” and then removed his hand again. “Fine! Onukama came by, bought a map and asked which was the quietest village on it.”“Subtle,” Mazeka said. “Which village?”“It’s up in the caves on the volcano to the south west.”“Now that wasn’t so hard,” Mazeka said. “And I wouldn’t blab about this to anyone, because a friend of mine will come looking, and he’s quite capable of turning an entire village over if need be. You might have heard of him, his name is Makuta Teridax.”Mazeka turned and left, grinning to himself. Strictly speaking he wasn’t lying to anyone, the agori was just misinterpreting him. Makuta Teridax would be looking for him, just not the Makuta Teridax they had heard of. He sighed heavily when he looked southwest and saw the volcano. He could see a plume of smoke coming out of a crater at the side. This seemed the most likely spot, whether it was the sign of agori activity, or the volcano was just active. He’d have to go there to find out.Mazeka was walking along a jungle path, apparently alone. Unbeknownst to him he was being followed. He only became aware of their presence, when they spoke out loud to him.“Stop.”Mazeka ducked instinctively, spinning as he did so and drawing his knife and throwing it in the direction of the sound. Luckily for Kobyu, Mazeka was used to targeting taller assailants, and the knife embedded itself in the tree above his head.“Kobyu, what in Karzahni are you doing here?” Mazeka said loudly.Kobyu winced at this volume and said, “Easy, I’m a De-Matoran remember!”“Sorry,” Mazeka said quietly. “Why are you here?”“Because I know who you’re looking for,” Kobyu said.“Is that so?” Mazeka said. “Then you’ll know why my mission is dangerous, and that I work for a very serious organisation.”“I know what he did,” Kobyu said. “I want to help, I have abilities you can use.”“What abilities?”“Well,” Kobyu continued. “I can hear that a large creature is heading in our direction.”Mazeka swore. “What is it?”“I don’t know! I can’t hear what it looks like!”The two matoran moved more cautiously, Kobyu’s head darting from side to side, taking in sounds that Mazeka wasn’t picking up.“East,” Kobyu whispered. “Less than half a kio away.”Mazeka registered this, and leapt at a tree, climbing up and trying to get a better view of the surrounding jungle. He couldn’t see the rahi, but he could see detached trail of destruction where whatever it was had torn trees out of it’s path. He stepped casually out of the tree and fell straight to the bottom, landing gracefully beside Kobyu, and they continued to walk.A minute or so later, Mazeka could hear the sound of something large tearing through the trees. Gaging where the sound was coming from now, Mazeka gestured to a resilient looking tree that he thought was out of the rahi’s path. He gave Kobyu a boost onto the larger branches, and then clambered up after him. When he reached a stable branch, he drew his knife, and crouched, ready to spring. Then there was a huge crash, and a Tahtorak tore through the trees into their view. To Mazeka’s horror, the sound had struck Kobyu hard, and he had fallen out of the tree. He sheathed his knife and leapt down. Tahtorak were intelligent, his best hope was to reason with the beast.“Matoran,” hissed the Tahtorak when it laid its eyes upon them.“Please!” Mazeka said. “We mean you no harm.”“Why should I believe that, when you carry a weapon.”“It’s not for you,” Mazeka said. “I have a mission.”“My former masters carried weapons, meant for others. Yet they would slaughter their own kind for entertainment.”“I’m no Skakdi!” Mazeka pleaded, “I have a duty to fulfil.”“Fine,” The Tahtorak hissed. “I have a duty, you have yours. But bearing arms will bring your kind no luck. Continue, but there’s no turning back now.”The Tahtorak tore a tree down so that it blocked the path which they had come down, before trampling it’s way westwards, apparently with it’s own purpose to fulfil.“Kobyu,” Mazeka whispered. To most beings, whispering to something would seem about as likely to wake it up as leaving it, but Kobyu stirred instantly, sitting up and leaning against the tree.“It’s leaving,” he said.“Some creatures are more amicable than others,” Mazeka said, “No matter what their appearance might be. I fear that my objective will be less cooperative than any rahi.”The two matoran journeyed up the side of the volcano for many hours; looking back Mazeka could see the village, already bathed in shadow from the volcano. He could also make out the ship in the far distance.”We’re nearly there,” Kobyu said, pointing towards a cave below the crater they had been heading for. “I can hear voices.”Mazeka knew that if Kobyu could hear then it didn’t necessarily mean they were nearly there at all, but at least they now had a bearing on where the village was now. Within a no time it seemed, they were at the cave entrance, which was a short tunnel down into a large open cavern. The smoke was indeed from a large fire at the centre of the village, rising in plumes out of the crater of the volcano.“Welcome,” a fire tribe agori said.Mazeka nodded to him, surprised. Clearly it was a self-sufficient village, as their target had chosen it to hide, but it was much larger than he had been expecting.“Hey,” Kobyu said to the agori. “We’re looking for a matoran who goes by the name of Onukama.”“The carver?” the agori said jovially, making Kobyu wince, although he said nothing. “He lives by the bridge over the river. Friend of yours is he?”“Yeah,” Mazeka lied.Kobyu and Mazeka descended the steps down to a second level of the village, where they could see a river of lava splitting it down the middle. Spotting they bridge, they headed for the hut nearest to it.They walked into the hut without knocking, and the matoran inside looked up. He had enough time to swear, before Mazeka had pinned him to the floor.“Ahkmou,” he said. “You are under arrest for treason to the great spirit.”2 hours previously“You can’t just take away our chief sculptor,” protested the village leader.”He committed many crimes!” Mazeka said. “He tried to betray the great disks to the dark hunters, he obeyed the will of Makuta during the dark time and betrayed his kind during Makuta’s reign over the Great Spirit.” “He has done no harm to anyone here,” the village leader said. “You matoran can not just flout our authority by taking our workers because of what they’ve done in the past, and most certainly must not try and take him by force. If there is a need for conflict, then it should be carried out through official channels, by our village traditions.”Mazeka knew where this was going, but did not want to go there. It seemed unavoidable though, so he said, “I will take on Ahkmou in the arena.”“What?” the village leader said. “No! This is a conflict with my village, so you must settle it with our villages Glatorian. Your warrior shall face Strakk in the arena.”“I have no Glatorian,” Mazeka said.“Toa? Skakdi? Vortex?” the village leader asked.“It’s Vortixx actually,” Mazeka said, while Ahkmou frowned, as he stood quietly behind the village leader. “I will fight Strakk if that is what it takes.”“If you are to fight, then there is no need to wait, you have two hours to prepare.”1 hour previously Mazeka stood in a weapon storeroom, holding a shield in one hand and examining various swords, axes and maces closely, occasionally picking one up to test it’s weight. Ahkmou entered behind him, and Mazeka turned coldly to face him.“You should leave,” Ahkmou said. “I won’t bother the matoran again.”“You disgust me Ahkmou,” Mazeka said. “I’ve known matoran to do Makuta’s bidding, but you’re the first who did it without ever even seeing a shadow leech. You’re a coward, and a traitor and I will do what it take’s to bring yourself to justice.”“Suit yourself,” Ahkmou said. “But no matoran could beat Strakk. He used to be in the central Glatorian system, but was exiled for being too…brutal.”Mazeka had no intention with playing along with Ahkmou’s mind games. He only wished he could strike Ahkmou down and take him out of the village, but there was no way he could get out without being seen, and he had no idea where Kobyu was, and he had no intention of leaving the De-matoran behind.Ahkmou walked over to the weapons rack, pulling down a war hammer. He handed it to Mazeka saying, “Might as well give you a fair chance. I made this myself, as a gift to the village for taking me in. It’s the only weapon here that uses protodermis.”“If you made it, it’s probably infected by Kraata,” Mazeka spat.“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but everyone on Metru-Nui had their opinions about me, and they were all positive when it came to my crafting abilities.”He walked to the door, leaving Mazeka standing there with the war hammer.“By the way,” Ahkmou said, turning back. “You couldn’t drop the Great disk thing could you? Feel arresting me for that is unfair, I don’t even remember it!”Mazeka said nothing and Ahkmou left, a second later Kobyu entered. Wordlessly he handed Kobyu the hammer, who examined it closely, knocking on it with his knuckles.“Good acoustics,” he muttered. “Quality piece.”“Ahkmou made it,” Mazeka said bitterly.“Probably the best thing here then,” Kobyu said. “You can’t fault the guy for his successes, only his failings.”“Do you think I should let him go?” asked Mazeka, in spite of himself.“That’s up to you,” Kobyu said. “You have your mission, but is it worth it?”“I’ll soon find out.” The PresentMazeka was small and agile. Strakk was big and strong. Both had their advantages, both had their disadvantages. Mazeka was leaping this way and that, avoiding each swing of Strakk’s axe, which seemed to be chasing him through air wherever he went. He threw himself onto his stomach, pushing himself straight up as it went over him. It came swinging back, and he ducked. Seeing an opening, he dived to the floor, flipping on his back and sliding between Strakks legs, he swung the hammer into Strakk’s back, who stumbled forward. This gave Mazeka a chance to stand up before the enraged Strakk had turned around again. Mazeka realised the blow had barely weakened his opponent; he needed to find another tactic. This time when Strakk swung his axe, Mazeka swung his shield into it’s path, using the momentum of this swing to bring his hammer round, smashing heavily into the side of Strakk’s head.Strakk fell back now, looking wary. He had expected this to be a walk over, but Mazeka was a skilled fighter. He should not have retreated though, as this gave Mazeka an opening, swinging the hammer towards his arm, causing him to lose his grip on the axe. Strakk countered this by swinging his shield round into Mazeka.This was the first blow to strike Mazeka, who was knocked several feet, but he did not lose his footing, turning back round swinging the hammer, forcing Strakk to back away from his dropped weapon.“You think you have won Matoran!” laughed Strakk, in an attempt to distract Mazeka. This was far from effective, as Mazeka swung his hammer into the ground, launching himself into the air and sending a two-footed kick into Strakk’s chest. He brought the hammer round again; smashing Strakk’s other hand, causing him to lose the shield.Meanwhile in the crowd, Ahkmou could not believe what he was seeing. He was going to be sent to the Pit, or whatever prison was used by the Order of Mata-Nui now, unless Strakk somehow turned around a battle that seemed lost. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning he saw the person he least expected, and so hoped he would never see again.“You!” he said, staring into the eyes of Makuta Teridax. “You’re dead.”“The me you knew is dead,” Teridax said, and immediately Ahkmou could tell from the voice, this was not the Makuta he knew. He looked different too, with white armour, and the imposing mask of shadows was gold.“Call a halt to this,” Teridax said. “There is nothing more to be done.”Ahkmou did not know what trick this was, but it scared him. He turned to the village chief, who was staring up at Teridax, bewildered at the giant who had apparently come to watch the small village Glatorian match.“End it,” Ahkmou said. “Mazeka’s won, and he’s perfectly capable of killing Strakk.”“Are you sure, Onukama?” asked the chief.“My name is Ahkmou,” Ahkmou said. “And yes, I’m sure.”In the arena, Strakk and Mazeka heard the call to halt. Mazeka turned immediately, exiting the arena, leaving a fuming Strakk to pull himself up and gather his weapons.Mazeka spotted a familiar figure towering over everyone. Smiling, he went over to Teridax and said, “Hope this isn’t all too trivial for you, I expect you had much more important things to do in your universe.”Ahkmou was rather baffled by these comments, but Teridax merely laughed.”The Great Beings made a fair exchange, I will serve this world, as I did my own. This is my own now, there’s no going back. Anyway, are we taking him away?”Mazeka looked at Ahkmou, who was staring at his feet, his fists clenched. He looked at the village leader, who was sitting on a bench looking thoroughly disappointed. He looked to Kobyu, who looked back at him, his expression unreadable.“No,” Mazeka said finally. Ahkmou looked up, hardly daring to believe what he had heard. “You did some terrible things Ahkmou, but they don’t matter to the people here, and it make’s no difference to me if you’re here or locked up, as long as you’re not doing anything against Mata Nui. So you can stay here, but don’t ever return to New Atero. Don’t ever do anything against your own kind again.”Ahkmou nodded, staying quiet for fear of causing a change of mind.“This is yours,” Mazeka said, throwing the war hammer to Ahkmou, who caught it with both hands, staring at it. “It served me well.”Mazeka, Teridax and Kobyu all turned and walked to the cave exit.“So, who did he exchange for you?” joked Teridax to Kobyu.“No one, he didn’t even want me,” Kobyu replied.“Everyone makes mistakes,” Mazeka said, patting Kobyu on the back. “I couldn’t have got here without you. And of course, I won’t be leaving here without you Teridax.”The Makuta took the hint, and summoning up one of his many powers, teleported them away.
  9. HANGING BY A THREADA Vignette In Which Chronicler Takua Holds On For Dear Life Things were looking up for the Chronicler - which was good, as he had little energy to do so himself, and looking down wasn't an option. It didn't help that he could still feel the chilled winds of Ko-Wahi raking across the soles of his feet, taunting him. His breath came ragged and erratically, and when it did, icy crystals scraped along his throat, torturing him from the inside. Not that they needed to, as the burning in his muscles was providing pain enough, straining against the unrelenting tug of gravity. 'At least the storm has passed,' he thought to himself as he stared up at the blue sky beyond the stony precipice. With vision blurring from the brightness, his thoughts turned to an altogether different blue expanse, where he had begun his present journey what seemed a lifetime ago. The gentle waves of the ocean lapping the edge of the beaches south of Ga-Koro, the serene stillness of the waters as they stretched to the horizon. Warm sand underfoot, cool breezes off the sea, and vast possibilities before him. Had he known where he would end up, perhaps he would have stayed on that beach, embrace that tranquility, if only for a short while longer. 'No,' he decided, 'even then I would have taken up this mantle. Besides, any peace I could find there would have been fleeting. No sense in fighting my Duty for the sake of false security.' Even before he began his present journey, darkness had been spreading across the island, insinuating itself through the forgotten corners of the wilderness and, slowly, almost imperceptibly, into the homes and hearts of the Tohunga. The Chronicler's travels served only to cement that notion in his mind, as he bore witness to the many ways in which Rahi, Tohunga, even Toa, could be corrupted - a testament to the imperative for action. Now all he bore witness to were empty, blue skies, bitterly chilled winds, and taught hemp rope, straining against a snow-worn cliff edge. Nothing to hear but the high pitched whistle of winds pressed between jagged mountain faces, and his own hoarse breath. Wait. On the edge of hearing, a faint roar, carried from Mata Nui knew where. Up here, an echo could carry for several kio just as well as it could a few bio. Then again, it could just be an illusion, his mind playing tricks on him after so long in the thin, mountain air. A paranoid manifestation of Ko-Wahi's desire to swallow him alive. 'Paranoia.' He had seen much of it during his travels, perhaps nowhere as much as his first destination - the city of Ta-Koro. So distrustful were they that they had even attacked their own Toa Tahu on sight. They had little love for travelers such as he, suspicious perhaps of the corruption he had seen during his journey. Maybe they were victims of that very corruption, seated at the foot of the dark Mangai volcano, at the heart of the island. He hoped that same force hadn't come upon him here in this mountain chasm. How had he even gotten here? The blizzard from the night before had been blinding, but why did he take the risk in the first place? Perhaps he thought fortune on his side, and it may have been. After all, despite his inauspicious step over the cliff's edge, he lashed out and grabbed this tattered rope, perhaps part of a rope bridge that once spanned this gulch. Surely, if fortune did not favor him, he would have plunged to his death on the jagged rocks below. 'Last thing I need on my mind are those rocks,' he quickly thought, trying to turn his mind to more pleasant memories. Fortune and misfortune - ever had the two gone hand in hand during his voyage. How fortunate had his friend Maku been to escape the beleaguered village of Ga-Koro, and how fortunate had she been to meet him there on that tranquil shore. But these had only served to make up for the misfortune of the Tarakava attack, of the people of Ga-Koro finding themselves trapped beneath the waves. But with his help and that of the Toa Gali, their plight had turned around. 'I wish I could get a bit of that help now.' The ache came back into focus, burning his arms and lungs, freezing his feet and face. Second, minutes, perhaps hours passed before the worst of the pain subsided and he could think again. Now he thought of pain, but not his own - the pain of the people of Po-Koro, struck ill by virulent plague. Their village had seemed a ghost town when he entered, save for the wracking coughs of the afflicted. Even their Toa Pohatu was stricken with blindness, but with the Chronicler’s help, he had been able to put an end to the corrupt source of the villagers’ infection. There was no malicious entity behind the Chronicler’s present pain, however. No great beast that exhaled this frozen air, that tricked him over a deadly precipice towards its waiting jaws. This was simply the apathetic cruelty of nature, the other side of the widget that bore the bountiful splendor of natural harmony. The only blame he could place here was on himself – that was reason enough to endure it. It wasn’t the first time he had witnessed the vagaries of nature. The miners of Onu-Koro placed no blame for the lava flow which had blocked their work – an outstretched hand seeking to bring community with the people of Le-Koro. They simply persevered, and even without his help in diverting the flow, they would have persevered still. It may have taken longer, but they would have found a way around their obstacles. ‘I suppose I should do the same,’ his conscience chided. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could hold on, and with the burning in his arms, climbing wasn’t an option. His neck creaked stiffly as he diverted his gaze to the side, looking for some foothold – anything that might provide a way out of this predicament. He scanned the cliff face to his right for any protrusions, when the urge struck him. Look down. He wished that he hadn’t. The surface of the cliff slipped away below him, leaving nothing but open air and sharp, snow-covered stones far below. The slowly drifting silhouette of a cloud cast its afterimage on his retinas, and he closed his eyes in disbelief. It hadn’t been that long ago when he had flown through the open air with Kongu on the back of his Kahu bird, but that was an entirely different experience. He forced himself back through the memories of that flight, soaring over the treetops of Le-Wahi, trying to free the villagers of Le-Koro from the Nui-Rama. Slowly, visions of the clouds below him were replaced with those of leafy canopies, terror ebbing away to be replaced with thrill. Calm came to the Chronicler again, until he recalled the crash landing in the hive. Cold sweat ran down the inside of his mask, as he recalled the hive floor rushing up to greet them, but now the jagged canyon floor came up in his mind’s eye to swallow them. By the Great Spirits, he wished Toa Lewa were here to pluck him from his perch and put him back on solid firmament. But after receiving the Golden Kanohi, the once-tainted Toa was needed elsewhere, and certainly wouldn’t visit this part of the island just to save a foolish Chronicler. ‘Come on, Takua,’ he urged himself, ‘keep looking. You’ve only got yourself to blame, but you’ve also got yourself to save.’ Slowly, he opened his eyes, his gaze glued to the surface of the cliff. With his breath coming in even shallower rasps, he turned his attention to his left. The winds in this ravine had long ago worn the mountain’s face smooth, as featureless as the snows that had enveloped him the night before. But even then, much had been there that had been unseen – the frozen Kopeke, who the Chronicler had tended to, for instance. ‘As well as this blasted pit,’ he added to himself, eyes darting about in search of any hint of a foothold. And there was one, half a bio to his side. It might not be much, but it would be a start. The only obstacle was getting to it. ‘Guess I’ve got to swing.’ The Chronicler pitched his body to the right, gently, to avoid tearing his sole lifeline. Back to the left he swung, slowly gaining momentum. Soon he had become a precarious pendulum, straining to gain precious height. It would all be worth it, though, as he could almost reach that foothold and the hope that it brought. ‘Just a little more,’ he pleaded, stretching his leg to catch the stubby protrusion. Arms crying out with pain, he let out a yell and grasped the tiny platform with his toes, for just an instant, before he heard the sharp report of snapping rope. He looked up to see the frayed rope splitting against the edge of the cliff, dropping him into freefall. His voyage flashed again before his eyes, and it surprised him to find that he feared more for the loss of the Chronicle than of his own life. He braced himself for impact as the smooth cliff slipped away from him. For just an instant. His hands nearly slipped from the rope as it jerked to a halt, pulling his gaze back to the cliff’s edge and the sky beyond. A pair of white hands firmly grasped the rope’s end, slowly lifting it back on to the plateau. As the Chronicler rounded the edge, the faded blue of his rescuer’s Kanohi came into view, locking eyes with him as he crawled up onto the solid ground. “Thanks for the save,” he whispered to the Ko-Koronan, before a wave of relief and exhaustion took hold of him. The last thing he felt was the stranger lifting him up and carrying him towards safety, before sliding into the undisturbed darkness of sleep. The End
  10. FRACTURESShort Stories Contest #8Vezon looked up from his underground cell. So this is what he got. He saved Mata Nui on more than one occasion, and he got locked up by the Order. Talk about disrespect."At least you could give me a snack," he yelled to the guard."You've been asking for a snack ever since you finished your second breakfast," the guard yelled back down. "And that was five minutes ago."Vezon shrugged and sat back down. Disrespect. One of the world's greatest heroes (and only half of that was his ego speaking) was holed up in an Order of Mata Nui (whom he served) prison with gruff guards and no snack after second breakfast. The world would just fall apart without him. If there was a world to go back to."Can I speak to someone in charge?" Vezon asked."No, we have better things to do," the guard sighed. "You're going to be treated just like any other prisoner we've held here.""So can I at least speak to Helryx?""I said no, didn't I?""Well, at least consider it."The guard pretended to think for a moment. "Hm, ah, yeah, maybe. Lemme see. No.""At least you considered," Vezon said, sitting back down.Well, at least he still had his ego. Maybe there was a way to escape and return to a kinder world where people might appreciate him for saving Mata Nui. No matter how much he argued with the guard about his rights, he got nowhere. This was pointless. There was no escape, and that foolish Helryx was keeping him cooped up in this Karzahni-hole for no good reason.Now that his mind had wandered, he found he couldn't stop thinking about his captor. He didn't imagine all the possible ways he might get revenge on Helryx, but instead, he just imagined her standing in a field of flowers with a smile on her face.It was then that Vezon fully accepted he was insane. And maybe the world had begun to fall apart already."I need to see Helryx," Vezon called up once more, his voice hoarse with yelling at the guard."For the thousandth time, NO!" the guard growled, smacking the grate."You don't understand," Vezon said. "I need to see her. Just once.""I'm gonna file a complaint if you don't quiet down."So it was a Toa who was guarding him. They didn't come into cells to rough prisoners up, they filed complaints. Maybe if enough complaints were filed, Helryx would have to come down. Case solved."So go file a complaint," Vezon challenged."Maybe I will," the guard shot back."Well go ahead. I'm not stopping you.""I'm going to go up, and get Helryx, and she's going to kick your head into the wall."There was a clunking of footsteps as the guard trudged down the hall. Several minutes later, the clunking returned. The grate opened, and Helryx, escorted by several guards walked down the fold-out staircase."What do you want, Vezon?" she asked."I just needed to see you," Vezon sighed."Why?" she interrogated him. "I heard you were making quite the racket down here. What's that all about?""I said, I needed to see you," Vezon repeated."Well, that's not much of an excuse," Helryx scorned him. "Do you need anything important?""Is the world falling apart outside?" Vezon asked."Somewhat," she answered. "Society is degrading, and there seems to be a panic. We're not sure why. There's not much of a threat yet.""Maybe the world just isn't the same without me," Vezon laughed."I told you about his ego," a familiar voice sighed. It was his cell guard."I know about his ego," Helryx said, closing her eyes. "It's gotten him into plenty of trouble before.""And that trouble saved the world," Vezon corrected. "Now I'm here, and you're not letting me out because I'm a bigger hero than you, right?""You're in here because you're dangerously insane," Helryx snapped.Vezon looked her in the eyes. "You feel the same way too." It wasn't a question, it was a fact.She looked away. "So what if I do. And if the world is falling apart outside, it's not because of your egotistical theory.""When did it all begin?" Vezon asked."Well, a few hours after we put you in this cell, but that was a coincidence," she answered. "Besides, that was weeks ago. Lots of things happened on that day.""Maybe the world needs me and my insanity," Vezon put in. "And maybe you just put me down here to repress your feelings for me. You ever think about that?""Every day!" she burst out. "You're right about everything. The world needs you, you're a hero, and I love you but I don't want to. I put you down here, and the Matoran and Agori started fighting because you weren't there, and it's all my fault."There was silence in the cell. Helryx gestured for the guards to leave them. Once they were gone, she fell to her knees, sobbing. Vezon knelt to comfort her."Let it out," Vezon said, softly. "Are you ready to let me out?""I guess so," Helryx said, between sobs."Are you ready for a relationship with a totally insane, over-egotistical, morally flawed Skakdi?" he asked."I suppose," she said, wiping her eyes.Vezon smiled and helped her up the stairs. "So a world is in fractures because you didn't want to fall in love with your worst enemy and best friend," he said. "It doesn't work like that. Not even if you're the head of an all-powerful Order of protectors. The world needs me, and you thought that you didn't. Well, I love you too. You need to learn to accept your feelings, not crush them beneath the lies of how you want to feel, rather than how you do feel."Their eyes met for a moment."I can't believe I'm being lectured by the Skakdi I've loathed ever since I first heard of him," Helryx laughed. "And now, I'm in love with him, and he's right.""Let's put the world back together," Vezon suggested. "And I know a great restaurant in New Atero. What do you say about dinner?"Helryx put her head on Vezon's shoulder as they walked out of the building. "I'd like that," she said.
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