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  1. Last one! Part of this story A student's copy of a term syllabus for class at the Ga-Metru School of Arts and Society. Nokama is one of those professors who doesn't understand that students have other classes to manage besides hers. But on the plus side, she's very faithful to her posted office hours. COMM/SOC 0275: Communication and Conflict Nokama Ds.N Ga-Metru School of Philosophy and Society TEXTS: Ihu, K S. Essential Foundations of Metru Nui: Society and Culture. 4th ed., II, Scholars Nui Society . Nokama, Ds N. Basics of Matoran Communication: A Comprehensive Text. 6th ed., vol. 2, Ga-Metru Scholar's Conglomerate. Taipu, A M. The Great City - Early Centuries. Vol. 2, Archivist Foundation. COURSE PURPOSE, GOAS, AND OBJECTIVES: From this course, students will gain the ability to observe, analyze, describe styles and variations of communication around them, and synthesize their findings into methodical, accurate, and academic language. Students will also develop conflict-resolution skills through studies in interpersonal communication, communication breakdown and decline, and study of peace and negotiation tactics. This course combines theory with practice, encouraging students to see hypothetical or concrete conflicts through to the end, and equips students to document and provide academic commentary on the entire process. At the end of the term, students will understand the following principles of communication and conflict: Basic communication styles Common principles of conflict sources Elementary theory of Negotiation Conflict de-escalation Practical debate formation Compromise principles and documentation Conflict analysis and documentation COURSE REQUIREMENTS & GRADING: Attendance & Participation (10%): While not meant to make or break the student’s grade, attendance and full participation, both in class and in assignments is essential for the course. The professor reserves the right to deduct 2% of the final course grade for each unexcused absence. Case studies (20%): Three to four tablet length requirement, fine-tip chisel only. Students will submit six (6) write-ups in the conflict documentation format of their choice on case studies found in the corresponding section of the selected texts. Outside case studies, which can be found in both the Archives and the Knowledge Towers, are available through the inter-metru academic loan system, but must be pre-approved by the professor. Written exams (45%): The term will have three (3) exams, with dates to be announced. Exams will be culminating, and include 1) multiple choice, 2) extended analogy 3) essay sections. Exam format is subject to change at the professor’s discretion, but she will notify the class no later than three class periods in advance. Practical exams (45%): In the middle and at the end of the term, each student will attend an individual hypothetical conflict scenario provided in conjunction with the theater coalition of the Ga-Metru School of Arts and Society. Students must demonstrate understanding of negotiation and de-escalation principles during this time, and provide a complete write-up analysis of that scenario no later than one (1) week later. Note: Extra credit is for underachievers, and will not be offered under any circumstance. See posted course schedule, which is also subject to change, outside Nokama’s office located at 451 Wisdom Plaza, Suite #221. Note from the Dean: Due to troubling current events in the city, the administration urges professors to show leniency in their attendance policies, provided students can provide sufficient evidence legitimizing their absence. In the event conditions in the city escalate to the point where class must be cancelled, professors are not to penalize students or assign work outside of class, as that would put students in danger. In the unlikely event that conditions cause the schools to shut down, students will be able to re-enroll in any and all of their interrupted classes without charge, and without loss of credit. image courtesy of BS01
  2. The first of a small series of flash fiction to augment my current epic, setting some groundwork for how the Matoran Civil War is going to be portrayed. Not meant to be chronological. Also, a bit of a bother, as these don't merit a short story, don't fit into the review topic, which I'm using as a reference section, and I don't want them interrupting flow in the story topic. So blog it up, right? Fun and totally legit fact: the newspaper in Po-Metru is called The 'Po-'st. Mutant Snipes Take Northern Sculpture Fields by Reporter Kodan First spotted by the northern assemblers two months ago, the swarm of giant Sand Snipes has proven impossible to dislodge from the northern sculpture fields. The sculptures that remain have been assessed by the Committee of Master Carvers and deemed irreparable. “It was horrible. If you thought Sand Snipes were bad before, imagine them fifty times bigger - the size of a Dikapi! And dozens of them! The biggest sculpture - they leveled it in less than an hour!” says carver apprentice Hafu, an eyewitness from the northern assembler’s village. Hafu is lucky to have escaped the fields unharmed, after the swarm moved in from the southwest in the middle of the carvers’ workday. Not every carver working that day can say the same. “In the end, it was either the assemblers or their sculptures,” Hafu tells our reporter sadly. Evacuation of the entire northern assembler's village is currently underway, with hopes of completing the evacuation before the mutant Snipe swarm can turn on it. The unnatural Snipe swarm is suspected to have powers related to fragmentation or disintegration, but they unfortunately leave too little behind to say for sure. The few Archivists who will still cooperate with our reporters have identified Kraata remains among the wreckage, as well. It’s not been an easy two months, but the Carver Committee is working with other assemblers villages to accommodate the displaced northern village and their workload. If you or any Po-Matoran you know has space or resources to accommodate our brothers in need, please contact the Committee or the Garrison immediately. Stipends can be negotiated. Effective immediately, the northern fields are now a completely restricted zone. Once the assembler’s village is evacuated preventatively, it will also become restricted. The Po-Metru Garrison also asks you to report any of the following immediately: suspicious and/or unknown Rahi activity; suspected Ta-Matoran tampering in any establishment, including private residences; shipments with unauthorized receiving and tracking codes, even and especially internal shipments. The Garrison Matoran also continue to ask you to keep a lookout for any of the Matoran listed below, or report any news on their possible whereabouts. Mata Nui be with us all. image courtesy of BS01
  3. Aderia

    Dear Sanso

    Popular Le-Matoran advice columnist, Sanso, replies to a concerned citizen. Dear Sanso Dear Sanso, Even though I’m an quick-running Ussal messenger with a High-Flyer level commute badge, I’ve heard whisper-talk that soon the Smelters will close all borders to their affiliated metrus, bar-none. What’s the point of having earned a High-Flyer badge if I can’t get into Ga-Metru to see the beautiful [name redacted] again? Any advice-help? Sincerely, Pining from the Ussal Pens Dear Pining, Never-worry. Even if the whisper-talk is true, it will be tough-hard for the firespitters to orchestrate a complete border-bar. With our sneak-smart control over the communication waves and transmissions of our entire city-home, they won’t be able to enforce a moratorium on transmetru travel. We have so many option-plans to mess them up - from imposing radio silence to sending fake message-casts. You and your golden Ga-Matoran have nothing to doubt-fear. And besides, even if something happens, what’s a little travel ban to a high-flyer like you? Be ever-daring! Great Spirit’s Blessings! Sanso part of this epic Image courtesy of BS01
  4. A subjective glimpse into happenings in the Silent Metru as the Civil War escalates. (see more here) Image courtesy of BS01. Kopeke sighed and placed the stone tablet with young Ehrye’s untidy scrawl onto the ‘reject’ stack on his desk. The excitable Ko-Matoran wrote almost as well as a Le-Matoran airship assembly worker who worked too long with the lighter-than-air gas that filled zeppelin buoyancy chambers. But Mata Nui bless Ehrye’s persistent heart. This was the fifth article he’d submitted this month. Normally, Kopeke’s editors wouldn’t have passed on a submission this unprofessional and speculative on to his desk, but he suspected that they pitied poor Ehrye. Kopeke pushed aside worry that his editors were going soft on him, and began scanning the next tablet. Still Kopeke's mind was half-stuck on a semblance of a good point Ehrye had made. Perhaps he'd pass the submission on to the tabloids.
  5. Image courtesy of BS01. and here. Ties in to this epic, here.
  6. In Remembrance - an Obituary by Aft Great Furnace maintenance worker, Buon, was welcomed through the Gates of Artakha on the fourth of this month. If there was any Ta-Matoran who earned a rest in paradise, it was Buon. He was known throughout the district for his unsinkable spirit and dependable work ethic. Many a Matoran, from any district, were privileged to call him a close friend and brother. Buon also was working on a degree from the Ga-Metru School of Synthetic Sciences, studying Protodermis Engineering and Processes in Protodermis Refinery. Outside the classroom and workplace, Buon also boasted a large collection of model airships, some of his own design, which is a little-known fact about this late, beloved brother. A shrine for Buon will be constructed in the Ta-Metru entryway to the Coliseum at the end of this week. Investigators hope to find more information regarding the mysterious and tragic circumstances surrounding Buon’s death available for friends and co-workers by that time. At this time, authorities assert that there is no reason to suspect Sculptor activity or agenda, and ask for self-restraint when speculating. In these trying, uncertain times, Buon would have been the first to encourage his brothers and sisters to stand strong and stand together, looking to the Great Spirit for guidance. Let us remember him honorably. part of this image courtesy of BS01
  7. Chapter 1 Luna scowled up at the sky as gray clouds rolled over Vista Point. Tapping a finger against the umbrella hanging on the railing, she thought, It had better hold out a little longer… She set the matter aside for the moment and looked back at the device in her hands. The terminal, dubbed the Hunter-VG, was the newly-released replacement of the Star Carrier, and was being advertised as so upgrade-friendly that there would never need to be another new terminal again. If she was being honest, Luna didn’t think it looked particularly revolutionary: it was little more than a thick disk with a narrow tray sticking out of one side, though the holographic interface it projected had worked very smoothly thus far. As she examined it, her eyes sought out the clock on their own. “What’s keeping her?” she huffed. In a flash of bluish-white, Ophiuca appeared on the other side of the railing. “She did say that she was unsure how long the meeting would take exactly. Though, by now, I’m sure she’s on her way if nothing else.” Luna tensed a little in surprise. “Huh…I’m still getting used to being able to see you.” Looking down at herself, Ophiuca said, “Yes, this Real Wave body will definitely require some adjustment, but it is exquisitely-made. What gives me more pause is this new classification of EM beings…I’m not truly sure I like the sound of ‘Wizard’.” “Well they had to pick something easy to remember. You’re going to have to get used to it.” Ophiuca dramatically raised her arm over her face. “My, how dreadful…but, if I must.” She vanished, only to reappear on the Hunter’s screen. “You know, I have a hunch that Sonia wouldn’t mind terribly if we were to move the rendezvous point.” Luna puffed out her cheeks. “Really, where is she? She knows I don’t appreciate being kept waiting!” A flash from behind the deck caught her attention. A familiar voice followed with, “Sorry, sorry, I know I’m late.” “I’ll say!” Luna replied. She deactivated the Hunter’s screen and pocketed the device, and then walked over to the corner of the deck. “I hope you have a good explanation for…” She stopped as Sonia stepped into view and began to climb the stairs. She was still Wave Changed, but the form looked slightly different: her golden bracelets were thinner than they used to be, and on each greave were two vertical white stripes like the ones on her dress. Her sleeves were totally different, with white patches on her shoulders that each spawned a single vertical line down the front of her arm and another down the back, dividing the pink on the outer side from the black that colored the inner sleeve and the area around her collarbone. There was also something coming off of the bottom edge of her helmet—a headset mic, by the look of it. Sonia reached the top stair and paused for a moment. Averting her gaze just a little, she asked, “Um…does it look good?” Realizing she was staring, Luna blushed and said, “O-Oh, yeah. You look great. But, what…” Hearing Luna’s answer, Sonia brightened up. “This is what Mr. Boreal wanted to see us about.” “I thought he was just adding Hunter functions to your guitar?” “He did, but apparently the Hunter-VG has a function for streamlining Wave Changes to enhance them. They wanted to see how it turned out, which is why he wanted Bud and Geo to come too.” Lyra materialized beside her, adding, “I must say, I feel more energized than I’ve felt in a long time! The humans have really outdone themselves.” “So that’s why you look different,” Luna said. “Wait, where is your guitar?” “Oh, right!” Sonia said, raising her left hand. Luna realized that the bracelet on that wrist was pale blue with a heart decoration on it. A second later, it returned to the familiar gold, and Sonia’s guitar appeared in her hands. The instrument had also gotten a minor change, with the face and microphone at the head being replaced by a large heart with pink light shining in its center, a light which flowed in a single line down the length of the neck before splitting and encircling the main body. There were also a few knobs added at the point where the body was at its widest. Striking a pose, she said, “So, what do you think?” Luna placed her hands over her heart and smiled wide. “Amazing!” Sonia blushed, scratching her head. “Heheh…well, I guess that’s enough showing off for now…” As Sonia undid her Wave Change, Ophiuca asked, “Then this affects every Wave Change? We should expect something different as well?” “Oh, let’s try it out!” Luna said, reaching for her Hunter. “The Wavehole’s over there, right?” “Actually, we don’t need Waveholes anymore! You can Wave Change wherever you want.” With a nod, Luna initiated the transformation, and Sonia stepped forward to take a look at her. The new Queen Ophiuca wore a triangular black breastplate over her torso, and her shoulder armor was much smaller, now looking like the heads of two purple snakes clamping down on her arms. “Wow, you look great!” Pointing, Sonia added, “Your…’hair’ is different.” Luna touched her helmet. “Really?” “Yeah, it doesn’t come out as much, and it’s more flat. Actually, it sort of makes you look like a cobra. It’s neat!” Satisfied, Luna returned to normal, and then took a look at her Hunter. The screen came up and displayed some sort of notification, a window that looked like a gray card with the Satella Police emblem on it. “What’s this…Transcode 007: Queen Ophiuca?” “Ah, I forgot!” Sonia said. “NAZA is…er, no, WAZA, is going to be keeping a registry of everyone who can Wave Change. Mr. Boreal said it’s part collecting data and part public safety. I’m 004, Geo’s 003, Bud’s 005…” After a moment, she muttered, “Wait, who’s 006, then?” Turning to her, Luna asked, “You don’t know?” Sonia shrugged. “I’ll have to ask next time I see Mr. Boreal, I guess.” “Wait, what about 001 and 002?” She thought she saw a slight shift in Sonia’s expression, but she didn’t quite know what to call it. “001 is registered to a new Satella Officer testing a Battle Wizard made with Wave Change capabilities. I’ve met him a few times—I keep meaning to introduce you, we just haven’t gotten the chance yet. 002…they said I’d meet him soon, and kind of pushed me on to the next topic. I’m not sure what that was about.” Luna waited a moment before saying, “A Battle Wizard made to Wave Change, huh? I didn’t know WAZA had that technology.” “He’s still experimental,” Sonia said. “They decided to base him on data they collected from Mega, since his lock-on works so well with Battle Cards and the Satella Police are already so used to using those. The two of them look like brothers, almost.” “You can imagine how thrilled he was to learn that,” Lyra said. “Oh, I’m sure,” Ophiuca laughed. “Now I want to meet him all the more!” Luna was about to say something when she felt a drop fall on her. Holding out her hand, she began to feel more, and realized the rain had finally started. “Oh shoot…” She went back for her umbrella and quickly opened it, and then turned back around to see Sonia frantically pulling her hood up while hunching over her guitar. “…You don’t have an umbrella, do you?” Flashing an embarrassed grin, Sonia said, “You know I can never remember.” Luna sighed. As she walked over, she said, “If you’d gotten here sooner, we could’ve been gone before this started.” Sonia stepped underneath Luna’s umbrella, defending herself with, “Hey, we had a lot to cover! I did say the timing was more of an estimate.” “You still should’ve tried harder to make the time you decided on!” “Yeah…” They walked side by side, staying close as they could so neither would get wet, and slowly made their way back into Echo Ridge. At one particularly long wait for a crossing signal, Luna glanced tentatively at Sonia—she was leaned up against her with a look of pure contentment. “…It’s been a while since we shared an umbrella, hasn’t it?” Luna mumbled as she tried not to blush. Sonia giggled softly. “A little while, yeah.” Luna could feel her heart pounding. C-Calm down! There’s no reason to make a big deal out of this. It’s only natural we’d share an umbrella, since we’re…w-we’re… “Hey,” Sonia said, “would you…be mad at me if I said I took a little longer getting back because…I was hoping we could do this?” The blush became too strong for Luna to hold off. “I…well, I guess that’s okay…” “Hmhm…” “Wait a minute, is that why you never remember your own umbrella in the first place?” “No, that’s just honest forgetfulness.” She paused, and then: “Darn, I should’ve thought of that.” “Geez!” The light finally changed, so they continued on. “So, have you started preparing for the election yet?” Sonia asked. “Well, I guess I should ask if you’ve started on your victory speech yet, huh?” When she didn’t get a quick response, Sonia lifted her head off Luna’s shoulder and looked at her. Luna stared ahead with a solemn expression, and soon mumbled, “I’m…actually wondering if I should…” “Huh?!” “It’s just…I’ve been Class President every year, and each time fewer and fewer people run against me.” Not sure what she was getting at, Sonia grasped for something to say. “People probably just figure you’re going to win again, so…” “Exactly. I’m pretty much unstoppable at this point.” “…Um, is that bad…?” Luna’s footsteps slowed, so Sonia slowed down to match her. “Shouldn’t I let someone else have a chance?” Luna asked, turning slightly. “If I just keep taking charge, then no one else has much opportunity to do what they can to help the student body. I’m…” She paused to wring her hands around the umbrella handle. “I guess I’m worried I’m pushing everyone else out of the way to do what I want.” “Oh,” Sonia said. She thought a moment, and then smiled and wrapped her arms around Luna. “Come on, don’t overthink it so much.” Luna stumbled a bit. “Wha…?” “Quick: why do you like being president?” “Well, I get to help improve conditions for the students and get their voices heard, so—“ “There you go.” “What?” “What do you mean ‘what’? You want to be president because you want to help your classmates out. So, it’s not that you’re being pushy, you just want what’s best for the students and think you can provide that. Right?” Luna looked up as she considered this. “…Well, yes. But I don’t necessarily need to be in charge to do those sorts of things.” “I think the reason everyone keeps voting for you is because they think you’re very good at being in charge. No one knows how to motivate and organize people like you do, and you’ll never back down from something once you’ve made up your mind. They love having someone like that fighting for them.” She returned her head to Luna’s shoulder as she finished, “I know I love having you on my side.” For a while, Luna watched the raindrops fall without saying anything. Then, she smiled, and she said, “Hmph. Well, if I’m worried I’m blocking good ideas, then I should be looking for better ways to take in the class’s opinion rather than just stepping aside. I’ll have to pay attention to what pieces of my opponents’ platforms get the most support—after the election I can approach them to negotiate implementing their plans.” She glanced at Sonia. “…Thanks.” “Don’t mention it!” They both looked up as they approached the building Luna lived in. Sonia started to reach for her guitar screen, saying, “Guess I should get going. I’d love to call you later—what time would be good?” Luna stared at the building for a few seconds. “U-Um…you know, we really didn’t get to spend much time together…” “Yeah, I know, I was late.” “What I mean is…for you to go so soon…” Sonia tilted her head. “…Well…why don’t you come inside for a while? I-I mean, if you want to…” It took Sonia a minute to absorb this. When she did, her eyes went wide in surprise, and she blushed slightly. “Oh…really? Yeah, I’d love to! It’s no problem?” “Of course not!” They both stood there nervously for a moment before Luna cleared her throat. “Come on, then. I’ll make us some tea.” The apartment Luna lived in was near the top floor of the building, and each room was stocked with expensive furniture and lavish decorations. Luna immediately went to the kitchen to prepare the tea, Ophiuca following to assist her, meanwhile Sonia and Lyra wandered down the hall marveling at the place. “Woah…” Luna craned her neck, barely hearing the distant remark. “What is it?” “All these trophies…” “Oh,” Luna muttered, remembering the case at the end of the hall. “Y-You don’t have to pay attention to those, they’re just—“ Sonia poked her head around the corner, a bewildered look in her eyes. Luna stopped what she was doing and waited. “…You play the piano?” Sonia finally asked. “That’s what…” Luna sighed and returned to making tea. “I’ve told you that before, haven’t I?” “Hm, have you?” Ophiuca mumbled as she set a cup down next to Luna. She playfully ignored the glance Luna gave her. “You definitely haven’t!” Sonia said, walking into the room. “How has that not come up in all this time?!” Luna grunted as she grabbed the cup. “Well, come on, what sort of person brags about putting on piano recitals when talking to an actual award-winning idol? It’s nothing.” Sonia leaned to one side in disbelief, and then turned around. “Lyra, how many of those trophies are for piano competitions? “ Lyra could be heard muttering, “Let’s see, everything on this shelf, that one too…quite a lot of them, actually.” Leaning back towards Luna, Sonia said, “It hardly sounds like nothing! Let’s play something together!” Luna nearly lost her grip. “Huh?!” “Come on, it’s perfect! Getting to play music with you, it’d just…” She trailed off. Latching onto Luna’s arm, she bat her eyes and quietly asked, “Please?” Luna thought about it for a moment, but then closed her eyes and pushed a cup towards Sonia. “For now, let’s just drink tea. I need to warm up after being out in the rain.” Sonia slumped against Luna, moaning, “Aww…” But, she took the cup she was offered, and sulked after Luna as she headed out into the living room. Lyra soon reappeared, and she and Ophiuca came to rest just inside the room as Luna and Sonia sat down on the massive sofa. “Anyway,” Luna said, “how’s your drama going? You said you were starting to film the season finale, right?” Sonia took a sip and nodded. “Mm-hm. We’ve got most of it done. Next week is the final scene and wrap party—I was actually going to see if you and everyone else wanted to come.” “Really? I’d love to!” “Great! I’ll talk to the studio about getting some passes, and then I’ll let you know the exact details.” After pausing to take a drink, Luna asked, “So?” Sonia turned to her. “When you first agreed to do the show, you weren’t entirely sure, and you said you’d try it for a season before deciding if you were going to continue or not. So, how do you feel about it now?” Sonia looked up at the ceiling, resting her teacup in her lap as she thought. “Hmmmm…I don’t know that my feelings have really changed all that much. I still think there are some benefits—people can relate to some of the show’s events, so I can try to inspire more people this way. We’ve gotten a lot of support, and I’m really thankful for all of it, and I don’t want to let anyone down.” Leaning towards her, Luna said, “If you don’t enjoy it, you shouldn’t keep at it just to please other people.” “It’s not…” Sonia started, but then stopped. “…I know. I know, I’m not going to be able to please everyone. But I don’t mean to sound like I hate working on the show. It can be a lot of fun, and they’ve given me tons of creative freedom.” She sighed and took a drink. “I guess I’m kind of indifferent. It’s weird, you’d think I’d have a better idea by now, right?” “Maybe. I don’t know, it could just be a relative thing. You seem to enjoy it, but not as much as you enjoy music. Comparing the two, the drama must come up short.” “Huh, maybe that’s it…” She shrugged. “Whatever it is, I actually haven’t decided if I want to do a second season yet. I’d like to give them an answer before we finish production, but…” Luna watched as Sonia rotated the cup in her hands, staring at the tea as it swirled around. Reaching out, she tugged on the sleeve of her hoodie and said, “Don’t let them rush you into any decision. If you need a little more time to know for sure, then you take it, alright?” “I’d hate to keep them waiting.” “If they have to wait, they have to wait! A little hiatus never hurt anyone. You’ll have an answer for them when you’re good and ready. That’s all there is to it!” Shifting her attention to Lyra, she added, “Make sure she remembers, okay?” Lyra nodded. “You can count on me, dear.” A smile slowly broke across Sonia’s face. Looking between the both of them, she said, “Thanks.” Luna let go and took another drink. “Well of course.” “Either way, I was thinking I’d like to go on tour soon,” Sonia said. “It feels like it’s been forever since I put on a show someplace new. I already picked out a few possible cities, actually.” “Oh…um, so…” Luna started, hiding her mouth behind her cup. “H-How far were you thinking of going?” “At this point, I almost feel like a world tour, buuuut maybe that’s going overboard.” After thinking a moment, she turned sharply and added, “Uh, so I probably won’t be going too far. And even if I do, we can just use the Wave Roads to get back and forth in a snap, so it’ll be like I never even left in a sense!” “Ah, that’s right,” Luna mumbled. “Heck, considering that, you could come and see me anywhere and get back home in no time. I’ve always got a ticket with your name on it, you know.” A small smile could be seen behind Luna’s glass. “Heh. I’ll keep that in mind.” Sonia giggled. Finishing her cup, she said, “The tea’s delicious, by the way!” She set the glassware on the coffee table and then grabbed her guitar, taking a moment to tune it and verify it hadn’t been damaged in the rain. Once she was satisfied with the instrument’s condition, Sonia thought for a moment, and then started to play slowly, while Luna watched intently and she pretended not to notice. Lyra and Ophiuca floated quietly on the other side of the room. Sonia’s music lazily wove around them all, set against the faint roaring of the rain hitting the roof. Luna stared, mesmerized by the gentle melody coming from Sonia’s guitar. She moved from one note to the next so fluidly, like it was happening on its own, like she could produce such expert sound without even needing to put conscious thought into it. Luna’s eyes wandered over Sonia’s face, her expression neutral but still having a cheery air about it. She thought she saw her eyes move her way, just a little, but wasn’t sure—the hypnotic sound gave everything a dreamlike quality. Luna wanted to move closer to Sonia, but all she could do was shift slightly before she froze up. What’s holding me back? She wanted to be closer, but when she tried, a nervous shock swept through her, rudely waking her from the dream. So Luna stayed where she was, and she listened. After some time there was a flash at the window—headlights, she assumed, and they reflected off of the trophy case for a brief moment. Remembering Sonia’s request, Luna decided to try something else and downed the remainder of her tea. “Hey,” she whispered, almost feeling wrong for ending the tranquility of the moment. Sonia immediately stopped playing and faced her. “Let’s…I-I mean, if you still want to…we could play together…” Light filled Sonia’s face. Eagerly, she leapt to the edge of her seat and near-shouted, “I’d love to!” They both blushed a little. Luna cleared her throat as she stood, and then headed down the hall to her room. Sonia followed, while Lyra and Ophiuca decided it best to stay put. Rounding the corner, Luna reached through the doorway and flicked on the lightswitch, and then stepped over to the piano and carefully lifted the cover off the keys. Sonia sat down on the bench next to her, facing the opposite direction so that she could hold her guitar without it poking Luna in the face. Luna ran her hand down the keys, and they each sounded off. “I, um, I’m not really used to being part of a duo, you know. So…what should we play?” Sonia tapped her finger against the neck of the guitar. “How about…” She started playing a simple tune. Luna listened for a few bars, and then began to mimic the notes on the piano. The two instruments strived to match each other, but the timing didn’t exactly match up, so the sound came out wrong. “Hold on,” Luna said. They both stopped, and after a few seconds, she motioned to start again. The two of them began playing at the same time, and were able to keep pace with each other much better. This time, rather than playing the exact same notes, Luna adjusted her playing to produce a slightly different sound that rose and fell just the same, and the resulting fusion sounded much better than their previous attempt. “Great job,” Sonia said as they finished. “I think I’ve got the hang of it now,” Luna said. “Let’s try something else.” “Okay. You want to start this time?” Luna nodded. When she had an idea, she played a piece of it for Sonia to listen to. It was more complex than the first tune, but nothing especially difficult; Sonia joined her when she restarted it, her guitar lining up perfectly with the piano and strengthening it with their harmony. They exchanged a glance, and then Luna altered the notes just a bit. Sonia matched her. They returned to the basic form for a short time, and then Sonia took her turn to improvise, and Luna followed her lead. They continued going back and forth like this for a while—neither was sure how long, but they enjoyed it so much they didn’t entirely care about the time. Eventually, they wrapped up the performance and let the instruments grow silent. Sonia laughed, and said, “You really are incredible, Luna.” Luna closed her eyes and straightened her back. “Hm. Well, it takes someone incredible to notice.” She turned slightly, her eyes locking with Sonia’s. As they held their gaze, rain continued to pound against the roof above, though Luna could swear the pounding of her heart soon overtook it. Unconsciously, she just barely leaned towards Sonia. Sonia slowly came to meet her. Mere inches separated them. Luna felt herself freeze up again, and seeing this, Sonia stopped where she was as well. No, I… She wanted to keep moving. Reaching within herself, Luna searched for the power to move her body those last few inches. Her concentration was broken by a sudden sound from the piano—her hands were shaking, and they had hit one of the keys by accident. Both of them recoiled in surprise. Luna pulled her hand close and clenched it into a fist, grabbing the wrist with her other hand, while Sonia looked down and awkwardly fumbled with her guitar. “I-I’m sorry,” Sonia said, “I shouldn’t have—“ “N-No,” Luna interrupted, “you have nothing to apologize for, I’m the one—“ “No, no, it’s fine!” “It’s not that I—I just—“ “It’s okay, really. It’s…it’s okay.” They stared off in opposite directions, a deadly wave of embarrassment washing over both of them. The pounding of the rain sounded deafening. What’s wrong with me? *** The door groaned gently as it swung open. A tall, slender woman slipped into the room, scanning her surroundings with a narrow glance from beneath the pink hair that framed her pale face. Her shoulders and arms were covered in gleaming white sleeves, while the rest of her dress was a deep reddish-brown sporting a faint argyle pattern, each piece of the design housing one of the four suite symbols found on playing cards. Her fingerless gloves were the same color, though her boots were a much lighter shade of red, and from her neck hung a massive piece of jewelry, made of blood-red gemstones encased in gold. Heartless barely made a sound as she strode purposefully across the green-carpeted floor, moving past the enlarged poker chip decorations on the wall and setting her sights on the vault at the other end of the room. There was someone waiting at its door, a middle-aged man with thinning black hair slicked back in neat rows and a long, spindly mustache sprouting from just above his mouth. He wore a high-collared dress suit that was a very dark shade of blue, accented by gold buttons and ornaments, and beneath that there was a comparatively plain white shirt topped by a red ascot. White gloves sheathed his hands, and over his eyes was a mask made of thin metal that curved upward into two sharp points just beneath his hairline. He sat encased in a floating chair made of black and gold metal, its front coming up to his waist before flattening into a desk that projected a series of holographic screens before him. When he saw her approaching, he spread his arms out welcomingly. “Ah, my dearest Heartless!” he greeted. “Thank you ever so much for responding so quickly to my summons.” Heartless bowed slightly. “Of course, Mr. King. What can I help you with?” King moved his hands to either end of the row of screens before him, and then moved one towards the other in a single sweeping motion. The screens moved at his command, shrinking so that they all fell into a single stack in his palm, and then he swiped his fingertip across the top of the deck to send one screen flying out towards his associate. It came to a stop a few feet in front of her and grew into a full display once more. The image she saw was of a field of stars, and in one corner was an ominous blot of red light. “This image was captured about an hour ago,” King said, shuffling the screens in his hand absent-mindedly. “It’s close now—almost close enough.” Heartless grinned. “What wonderful news. It would seem you were able to lure it successfully, as we all expected.” “Naturally,” King said with a flourish of his hand. “However, the plan is still far from complete. We have only a fraction of the Crimson we need. Therefore, I believe it is time to escalate our efforts.” “A very wise decision, Mr. King.” “Ha ha ha! Heartless, gather the children, if you would be so kind. It’s high time we had a family meeting.” As she turned to leave, King drew the top screen of the deck he held and smiled at it. “You should prepare your wager, WAZA. True, I may no longer have an ace up my sleeve, but now we’ll be playing by my rules. And here, the house always wins! Ha ha ha ha!” (Review)
  8. “There. That’s Merlin’s house.” Riku pointed just down the street to a plain-looking door, cut into the same grey and yellow stone as everything else in this part of the city. Cocking her head, Kairi asked, “Are you sure? How can you tell these places apart?” As discreetly as possible, Riku checked the piece of paper in his hand. “No, this is definitely it. You, uh…might want to knock first, though…” Kairi smirked. “I see…” “He’s right,” Mickey said, nodding. “I was here not too long ago. Merlin’s here, and I bet he’s already got everything set up for you.” He paused to turn towards her. “Kairi, you’ll be in good hands! We’ve gotta get going, but if you need anything, Merlin or the Three Good Fairies can get you in touch with Master Yen Sid in a snap. I hope your training goes swell!” “Thanks, Your Majesty,” Kairi said. She wasn’t entirely sure how to act, so she bowed a little just to be safe. Facing Riku next, she said, “When you find Master Aqua, come let me know, alright?” Riku nodded. “We’ll be back before you know it.” “Oh? Sounds like I should hurry if I want to be an official Keyblade Wielder by then.” “Heh. I’m sure you’ll blast through the lessons in no time. If anything, we should hurry so you don’t have enough time to get bored.” Kairi giggled, but ended up casting a sideways glance at the house. “Well, I doubt it’ll be boring…” Riku frowned. Before he could say anything, however, Mickey said, “Welp, we’re off! Next stop, the Realm of Darkness!” “Huh? Oh, right.” Riku gave Kairi one last look. She smiled, so he turned and headed back the way they had come with Mickey. Once they were gone, Kairi’s smile faded in an instant. She looked over her shoulder at the door, shuffled towards the edge of the street, and then came to a stop. Her gaze slowly drifted upward. It had been a very long time since she’d been here in Radiant Garden—not since she’d been cast into the sea between worlds as a child. She didn’t count the time Maleficent had used her and the other Princesses to open the Final Keyhole, since the world was very different then and she hadn’t even been in her own body for the majority of it. Her memories of the place had grown quite hazy after so long. Even just being here, though, she felt a certain sense of nostalgia not unlike when she had been able to return to Destiny Islands after its destruction. Just like that time, it had an oddly bitter taste to it. Kairi shook her head and leaned back against the closest building. So much had happened over the last two or three years, and it wasn’t over yet. She was eager to start training so that she could help put a swift end to all this chaos…but, at the same time, she was very hesitant. She trusted Riku, of course. If he said Lea could be trusted, then there wasn’t really any reason to worry, she told herself. Still, she might’ve listened to herself a bit better if he or Sora were there with her. But it was alright. She understood. Riku had to find Master Aqua in the Realm of Darkness, and she certainly didn’t want to delay that. After hearing the lost Master described, Kairi had remembered meeting someone similar a long time ago—here in Radiant Garden, actually—so she wanted to meet her again to be sure. And Sora…well, she hadn’t even gotten to see him when she went to Yen Sid’s tower, but she was sure he was doing something important. Kairi sighed. She had really wanted to see Sora, especially after hearing what had happened to him during the exam. If he needed someone to talk to about the trouble he’d gotten into, she wanted to be there for him. If only he hadn’t had to take that dangerous exam… But no, it was fine. She understood. Sora and Riku had to take the exam to be ready for what came next, to rescue those who were lost and to fight Xehanort again if need be. And Riku had been there, plus all his other friends, to bring him home. Well…all of his friends except for her, of course. She had been waiting back on the Islands. Kairi slowly slid down until she was sitting on the pavement. It had been such a shock to her, hearing that so much had happened in the time they’d been gone; if only she’d been there with them, or at least with the King and Donald and Goofy, so that she could have stayed informed. If only she had been close enough to know what was going on. She wished she could have been included in the ordeal somehow. But, really, she understood. It was dangerous, and Sora and Riku needed to know she was safe. She still couldn’t even summon her Keyblade on her own—not that she hadn’t tried again and again, but as she was now she knew she wouldn’t have been able to take care of herself, much less be of any use to them. The only thing she could do was give them the peace of mind of knowing that she was waiting back at Destiny Islands. She shrank inward. “Every day”, she remembered saying. Every day, she and Sora and Riku would be together, just like they had always used to be, before everything had become so complicated. But they had barely been home when news of some new adventure arrived, and they both ran off without her. And they were still running, stopping only to drop on her the immense expectations of quickly learning how to wield the Keyblade in order to save the entire Realm of Light, when until now they’d done everything possible to keep her away from any sort of fight. She understood. And she was so, so tired of just being understanding all the time. Kairi just wanted to be with her best friends again. Ever since the destruction of the Islands, she’d been almost constantly alone, sometimes at home, and sometimes as someone else’s prisoner. Sora and Riku would come to her rescue when she was in danger, but once that was over, they were off again, saving someone else, fighting someone new, and apparently not willing to consider letting her go with them. No matter how much she understood their reasons, it still hurt being abandoned over and over. And she couldn’t help but think that neither of them had a clue she felt that way. That only made the pain worse. She had hoped that things could be different now. She was going to learn to use her Keyblade, finally learn to do what they did and fight alongside them, so that they would be together no matter what happened. But just like that, they were off again. It was almost like they suddenly remembered her because it was convenient. She hated to think that way, but that didn’t make the feeling stop. And now, here she was, unceremoniously dumped into the custody of four people she’d never met before along with someone who had kidnapped her not too long ago, knowing that if she didn’t close the ever-widening gap between where she was and where Sora and Riku were (and fast), it could mean the doom of millions of innocent people. She didn’t know how to even begin approaching that. It was overwhelming. The pressure, the loneliness…but despite it all, this was her chance. Her only chance. If she could succeed here, then she could be with her friends again. They wouldn’t have any reason to leave her behind, and even if they tried to, there wouldn’t be anything they could do to stop her from going with them. But, if she failed… Kairi shook her head. No. If this is my only chance, then I definitely won’t waste it. I’ll master the Keyblade, and I’ll help beat Xehanort, and then I won’t let those two out of my sight ever again. She took a deep breath. Just a little longer, and I won’t have to be alone ever again. She got to her feet and walked over to Merlin’s door. After hesitating one last time, she knocked, and a few seconds later a bearded man in gray-blue robes answered. “Uh, yes? Can I help you?” “H-Hello,” Kairi greeted. “I was looking for Merlin? Master Yen Sid sent me to—“ “Ah, yes of course!” the man interrupted. “You must be Kairi! Come in, my dear, come in—we’d best get started right away.” He went back inside, leaving the door open. Kairi tentatively stepped in after him. She tried to look around, but walls of books blocked her view; the old man (presumably Merlin) was halfway around the corner of one such barrier, talking excitedly to someone. When he came back around, three women floated out behind him, coming to a stop just in front of Kairi. “So this is her!” said the one in red. “Oh, aren’t you just adorable?” “Your timing is perfect!” said one in green. “We couldn’t decide, so we wanted to—“ “Now, now,” interrupted the woman in blue. “First things first, we should introduce ourselves.” “Oh, yes, you’re absolutely right,” agreed the one in red. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kairi! The three of us are here to help Merlin train you. My name is Flora.” “I’m Fauna,” said the woman in green. “And I’m Merryweather,” said the one wearing blue. Kairi looked from one to the other, hoping she could keep their names straight. “Oh. It’s nice to meet you too! I’m really grateful that you’re all helping me like this.” “No thanks necessary, child,” Merlin said. “Now, if you’ll just—“ “Before we get started, though,” Fauna said, stepping forward. “We’ve been working on some new clothes for you. Since your friends all have garments imbued with our magic, it only seemed right to make some for you as well.” “But, we’ve hit a bit of a snag,” Merryweather said. “You see, we couldn’t agree on a good color. Personally, I think you’d look lovely in blue.” Fauna huffed. “She’s look much more darling in green!” “It’s always like this,” Flora sighed. “So, we wanted to ask you, Kairi. What color would you like us to make your new clothing?” “You’re asking me…?” Kairi muttered. She glanced over the three fairies and Merlin as they attentively awaited her answer. Kairi smiled. “Well, lately I have been thinking of buying something in red.” Flora grinned triumphantly, while the other two fairies exchanged a glance. “Well, if that’s what you want, that’s what we’ll do,” Fauna said. Merryweather leaned forward and said, “But if you ever change your mind, just let me know, and I can change it to blue in an instant.” “Alright, ladies, you heard her,” Flora said. “Come on now!” Kairi watched the three of them move a half-step away and ready their wands, while Merlin mumbled to himself as he flipped through a book. While she still didn’t really know anything about these people, she could feel that her nervousness was already starting to ebb away. For the first time, she thought she might actually enjoy her time here. “Are you ready, dear?” Flora asked. Grinning, Kairi nodded. “Yeah. I’m ready!”
  9. Chapter 1 A howling roar tore through the ruins of the underground city for the dozenth time, it's echoing sound one of fury and desperation. The source, a being by the name of Kulta, took a moment before releasing another roar deep into the winding tunnels and dark caverns. Silence and more echoes were his only response, as it ever was. If he’d still possessed lungs, Kulta would’ve sighed as he laid his head back against the stone floor. The Skull Grinder rested on his stomach beneath a few tons of stone and debris, his entire lower half and most of his left torso buried and crushed beyond repair. Thankful once again that his dead-yet-not state left him immune to feelings such as pain and fatigue, Kulta closed his crimson eyes and remembered how he’d ended up trapped in the ruins of his former home. Following his defeat at the hands of the self-righteous Toa and their decrepit Mask Maker, Ekimu, Kulta had found himself in a empowered cell built to drain away his power and rage, rendering escape nearly impossible. Worse yet, the Toa had confiscated his Skull mask, taking an incredible amount of his necrotic power with it. Calling out to the shadows, his master had granted him mercy after his defeat. An arachnid creation of the master had returned his mask and with its power, he had freed himself and returned to the city beneath the earth as vengeance burned in the ribcage where his heart-light used to reside. Much to his shock and infuriated discovery, the Toa and Mask Maker had already arrived and were battling his Skull Raiders, an army of the pirates he’d once lead to the island of Okoto years ago, turned undead like himself by their master, the Dark Lord Makuta. Another defeat had driven them underground, and now here they stood, locked in battle with the revered “heroes” of Okoto. After the chaos of bone and elemental power reached its apex, Ekimu challenged Kulta to a duel, one on one, and the Grinder had gladly accepted. Kulta grit his teeth behind his mask at the treachery Ekimu had wielded against him, not just wielding the Earth beings weapon to bring his own city down upon him, but had broke his word at a fair fight. Even as a former scoundrel, honor was not completely lost, and the Mask Maker had broken it without hesitation. “And they call us the filth, Master… How comical,” Kulta said to the darkness surrounding him, voice dry and rough. Silence was his answer, as it had been for the weeks following his defeat. The Skull Grinder did not understand why his master did answer his howls for assistance, but a quickly sinking feeling told him this was to be his fate, to simply rot into oblivion in this make-shift tomb. He’d half-considered simply tearing himself free from the crushed components of his body and trying to crawl to freedom, but the city was nearly caved in. Even if he’d freed himself, he’d lack the strength to go very far, and his ruined body lacked the strength of will to create a skeletal minion to work on digging him free. No, Kulta was trapped with only his icy-cold rage and stinging defeat to keep him company. With a growl, the undead lord twisted around as much as he could and used his free arm to start clawing away at the smaller chunks of debris and rocks that held him in place. He was the Skull Grinder, the Lord of the undead armies upon Okoto, and he refused to accept this… He’d claw his way free, even if it took an eternity, smash Ekimu’s mask to scrap, and then melt the Mask Maker in his own forge… Yes, that thought would’ve spread a smile across the Grinder’s lips if he’d still had any. As his silver fingers pulled each stone aside, a wispy smoke bled from beneath a set of larger stones, moving like a cloud and finally settling next to Kulta’s iron-colored pauldron. The Grinder let out a breath of relief and rested back against his chest. Perhaps all he needed was to show a little initiative, life...or, rather, unlife was funny like that. “I don’t mean to be impatient, my Master, but you could’ve answered my calls a little sooner. A lot of our time has been wasted with my imprisonment here… Not that I’m arguing with your will, of course,” the Grinder corrected, quickly. Makuta did not take disobedience well, and he did not wish his lust for revenge to blind him into earning the Shadow Titan’s wrath. The smoke-like cloud settled and began to slowly take shape, earning a tilt of the head from Kulta. Makuta’s form never became any more corporeal than a cloud of malice and red eyes, yet this shape looked to be almost...recognizable? The shadow finally solidified and the short being tilted its head at Kulta, as if studying his trapped state. Its form was that of one of the Okotan villagers, but instead of the vibrant colors of the various elements, the beings armor was a solid black, and the muscles beneath that were a rippling yellow-green. Eyes of a poisonous, almost sickening, shade of green sizzled from beneath its usual Okotan mask, with a forehead that swept back in two arches over the brow and smooth cheeks. Kulta always considered the islanders to appear weak and innocent due to the cultural shape of their masks, but with those eyes… the little one almost appeared as sinister as some of his skull raiders. “When Makuta sent me to find you, I expected something...more.” The being said, voice smooth, though plenty unamused with Kulta’s pitiful state. . “Yes… and you are clearly not the Master. Who are you, tiny one?” The shadow tilted its head as he looked Kulta over, not responding immediately. The great Skull Grinder, reduced to half a pile of broken bones, armor, and rubble. At this moment, he was half the being’s size, and even then, was his superior in this situation. The thought was delightfully amusing. “My name is Ahkmou. Makuta has sent me to correct this mess, both figuratively and literally.” The being had a sense of humor. Kulta rolled his eyes for a moment, and pointed down at his pinned bones and shattered crimson-black armor. As he spoke, his voice did nothing to hide the irritation with the new servant’s arrival. “I believe the master may misunderstand the severity of the situation then. Even with my full army, it would take days to dig the city out… and most of them are shattered by the Mask Maker’s treachery,” Kulta finally turned and matched the shadow-beings burning gaze with his own, pointing a finger at the little form, voice as sharp,”so unless you brought the Master himself, you are of no-!” Ahkmou’s small hand suddenly snapped out and caught the Skull Grinder’s wrist, grip nearly breaking the bones from the force. Without warning, a black and emerald energy laced down the Grinder’s arm and tore into his being, forcing a cry from him that echoed through the caverns as his strength was sapped away by the shadow being. As Kulta’s roars of fury slowly began to whither and his attempts at freeing himself ceased, the shadow Okotan simply watched as the Grinder’s life was burned away. When the cries fell silent, and the Grinder ceased to move, Ahkmou simply released the now-dead arm and knelt down in front of the still-smoking former lord of the Skull Army. Makuta had been very clear about how he would become as powerful as the Toa, but first, a sacrifice had been needed. Who better than this failure? Now, only one step remained. Ahkmou ran his fingers across the Grinder’s skeletal mask, the sharp ridges still warm from the power he’d used to destroy its owner’s existence, and gripped the mask by it’s eyes, tearing the mask free with a solid pop. Well, that had been far easier than he’d expected. Kulta’s corpse had almost instantly drained of color, though Ahkmou’s eyes were on the mask. It was a grim visage, truly, but if it granted the power Makuta promised, he had no issues with that. Okoto had abandoned him and the others who’d been trapped in the Shadow Realm, it was only right that they knew the terror he had. No… they deserved so much more. Shadow, darkness, fear, everything his people had suffered until Makuta turned the city into a servant of his will. Even now, Ahkmou still remembered fear being replaced with tyranny. He closed his eyes and saw it as easily as he had the day darkness truly engulfed the Shadow Realm. Chapter 2 From the very first day of his rule, Makuta had treated the Okotan’s as simple slaves, living embodiments of his will, and nothing more. The Shadow Lord had commanded them to build statues, dig up bones of untold monsters for him to reanimate as servants, and other heinous acts that he’d blocked from his memory. Just exhaustion and resentment towards the Okotans who were still safe in their beautiful homes, living happy lives with friends and family. As some tried to rebel against Makuta and lost their free will as punishment, Ahkmou began accusing his neighbors and acquaintances as traitors, quickly gaining the Dark Lord’s favor for finding either those with rebellious thoughts or those with promising strengths to become favorable tools and drones. It was his latest achievement at bringing Makuta a particularly skilled Okotan painter accused of creating propaganda to fuel rebellion among the dark streets that Ahkmou had earned the Titan’s true favor. “Where did you find her, Ahkmou? She’s been eluding even the Skull Spiders for weeks…” Makuta had asked, sitting forward on his throne to peer down at the blue-armored, trembling villager of Water, her eyes wide with terror. He’d been different then, his armor still its original rust-brown and silver, though his mask had always been a deep midnight black, and he’d stood directly behind the painter, wielding the staff of Makuta’s authority he’d been gifted as a boon for his loyalty. The design was simple, yet ornate, featuring a golden carving of the Mask of Control resting upon a head of swirling Okoton runes and a pair of gold-forged horns curling back from the staff’s tip. “Center of the city, my lord, beneath the old library. There was a hidden passage behind a painting of your old self that lead into the structure’s foundation. I found multiple items of propaganda inciting rebellion against your glory, Lord Makuta. She is, without a doubt, guilty of these crimes.” Before Makuta could respond, the painter’s terror must’ve been boiled over into madness, Ahkmou remembered, and she’d turned, launching herself at him, fists risen and golden eyes blazing to an almost white fury. He’d been unprepared for such an outburst and he remembered simply standing there, watching her fist soar towards his mask. It never landed. A flash of crimson light ripped through the air from the throne and tore through the little Okotan’s form, her form going limp before it finished its step towards Ahkmou. She slumped forward and he caught her out of reflex, her head limp against his chest and body still smoking from the bolt of darkness. He remembered looking up, seeing the Makuta’s claws still glowing from the attack that’d destroyed the painter with such efficiency. As if he’d just swatted a Nui-rama from his face, Makuta sat back onto his throne, resting his chin on his palm. His tone was not excited or angry, simply casual, like taking a life was as simple as kicking a Kholi ball into the goal. “Well done. Hand her over to the Skull warriors, they’ll make use of her parts. Since you know the way, you personally will destroy the artwork and seal off the passage. We can’t have anyone else becoming a martyr from her, now can we?” He hadn’t answered, simply looking down at the mangled corpse of the once-beautifully skilled painter, her eyes dark and colors faded. He’d gone cold in that moment, right down to his organic bones and he was glad her body was mostly concealing his hands as they shook. He didn’t care about her life, wouldn’t grieve for even a moment, but it was the raw display of power that shook Ahkmou to his core. His Lord had snuffed out a life like he was simply crushing an insect in his palm, and had done so without a moment's hesitation. His own expendability was what had chilled him that day, how insignificant he was in comparison the tyrant lording over him and his people. He’d finally realized he was simply a tool, and one had falsified his latest success as well. The painter had not been promoting a rebellion, while she had been hiding her works, the beautiful landscapes she’d created were simply that; gorgeous recreations of Okoto’s landscapes, places he’d honestly forgotten after the years of imprisonment in the shadow realm. Raging storms over an ocean of vibrant blue, the lush and thriving jungles and his home in the deserts, sands blowing in the dry winds. All forms of expression and creativity that didn’t grace Makuta’s glory had been banned early into the city’s banishment, and this was a crime unto-itself, but accusing her of rebellion would’ve only made him look even greater in their Lord’s eyes. He expected her mind to be shackled or sentenced to physical labor… he didn’t believe Makuta would ever destroy one of his people, surely his ego wouldn't’ allow the loss of a worshipper. Apparently, Ahkmou had been wrong that day. Shortly after disposing of both the painter and her work, he’d been summoned back to the Throne room. Makuta explained how he was planning his escape from the Shadow realm soon, with the help of another servant by the name of Umarak. Ahkmou recognized the name, Umarak was a hunter from the rumors he’d heard drifting the streets and hunted the Elemental Creatures of Okoto, the beastial incarnations of the elements themselves. For what purpose, Makuta had not shared, as usual. He’d wondered how a hunter could assist in freeing them from eternal banishment, but of course he didn’t voice such questions. The Shadow Titan then explained how the Toa, the master’s of Okoto’s elements and living legends, would most likely stop his escape, as the prophecy foretold. He hadn’t had much faith in the Toa, even if Makuta seemed wary of them. If they were so powerful, why hadn’t they come and simply saved Ahkmou and the rest of the city from his monster? Just like the other Okotan’s, apparently, the Toa had better things to do then save a villager playing the role of a servant to avoid ending up food for the Skull Warriors. “My Lord, if you expect to be defeated by their combined power, why go through with this plan at all and waste the time? Surely your wisdom can create a scheme they don’t expect?” He’d said, leaning on his staff as he watched Makuta pace, claws folded behind his massive back. “Of course, and that is where you come in, my loyal servant.” “Pardon?” “My defeat will take everything from the Toa. They can not defeat me alone, and will sacrifice everything they are to make sure I remain banished. As foretold, they will most likely succeed despite my best efforts, and I will be returned to this wretched place...but you, Ahkmou, will escape while I hold the way open for you.” His staff had clattered to the floor in shock, earning a bemused smirk from Makuta over the Titan’s massive shoulder. Free? He’d...be free of this place? He could see his home again, lay in the warm sands and breathe without his Master’s presence looming over him. He smirked to himself there in the darkness of the ruins as he remembered how quickly he’d accepted the offer. He thought about it for a moment, temporarily ceasing the memory’s playback in his mind, and realized he probably didn’t have any choice to begin with. Makuta had not simply sent him into Okoto unprepared, for Ahkmou was now an extension of the Shadow Titan’s will, and thus had to be equipped as such. His gift was far more extreme and far less pleasant than he’d expected as Makuta had gripped the little Okotan by the throat and with a simple force of will, expelled a portion of his shadow essence into Ahkmou’s form. He’d shivered, cried out and shook as the power latched onto his being and soaked deep into his organic components, staining his armor black and tainting his warm-gold eyes to a toxic green.. Even now, he still felt a chill he couldn’t truly shake off. Instead, he’d simply adapted to the coldness at his core. On top of the shadow power now coursing through his veins and armor, Makuta had left him with a warning, voice low and grating like stone upon stone. “Now, little servant, remember… This power I have gifted you binds to you to my will. There is nowhere on Okoto, or the Shadow realm, where I can not find you and if you should try to simply escape with your freedom while I am trapped here…” He’d emphasized his point by squeezing Ahkmou’s throat tighter for a moment before releasing him and sending him crashing to the floor. He’d been unable to respond, simply coughing with a nod as his vision cleared slightly, though he still shook from the new power coursing through him. He’d been given little time to recover, as Umarak had prepared to open the portal a few simple hours later. The Shadow Titan had gone through first, as Ahkmou had been informed he would, and was only half-formed on Okoto before he heard a growl of confirmation to proceed through without delay. The portal was a rippling mass of violet and black in the center of the throne room, and he’d not entirely trusted such a violent look collection of energy, but another growl from Makuta said he had little time to argue. With a deep breath, he’d broke into a sprint and launched himself with his empowered legs into the swirling mass of power. He instantly felt his head spinning as his form was transported from one dimension to another, muscles tingling for a moment as he was turned from solid to incorporeal and back again. Then, with a thud, he felt stone beneath his fingers and felt the rush of wind from a storm overhead, the scent of fire, water, ice and lush jungle assaulting his senses after going so long without any form of weather. As he’d gathered himself, he saw the half-corporeal Makuta looming above him, silhouetting the little Okotan in his shadow as he directed a torrent of raw shadow at a team of figures at the other end of what appeared to be some large sinkhole rimmed with violet crystals. The tall figures fought back against his Master with a respective element, and their colors had led him to only one conclusion on their identity. So these were the Toa. As much as he’d wished to join his Master and crush them, that was not part of the prophecy. He remembered growling under his breath, and using his Master’s distraction, taking off into the shadows to spend the next few weeks hunting for the ruins of the Grinder’s city.. He’d spent so long lost in the memories leading him to this dark and ruined place, he realized the Grinder’s mask had gone cold in his hands, and his logical side told him he was simply delaying the next part of the plan. Makuta had told him to seek out the Skull Grinder and claim his mask, whether the failure was dead or alive. Fortunately, he’d been alive, and provided an impressive test for Ahkmou’s new power, so that was a surprise he was still thanking his lucky stars for. The shadow Okotan turned the mask over in his hands for another moment, before he reached up and plucked his own from his face, tossing it aside with a soft clank of metal against the carved-out floor. With a sigh, he reached up and snapped the mask into place over his dark face, eyes closed as he prepared himself. Ahkmou knew, masks were everything. They could assist a farmer with growing his crops that season, or grant Makuta the power to nearly end the island. Everything was relative to the power of the mask, and since Ahkmou had been told Kulta’s was a rare design from somewhere not native to Okoto, he really had no idea what to expect from its power. As soon as the skull-like mask rested into place, the Okotan’s body erupted into power and spasms that sent him to the ground, voice tearing out through the caverns in pained cries. He felt his muscles tear as the mask’s power flowed through his small body and extended his limbs to better suit the new energy. He’d hear tales of how the Toa had once been Okotan’s like himself and their original masks had helped them ascend to their almost legendary state of power, but this… this wasn’t power, it was torture. He felt his torso crack and tear as the toxic-green light burst from within and tore his rib-structure at the sides, earning another scream. As the pain began to subside and Ahkmou took the risk of raising his new limbs to look at his new form, another sudden eruption of power from his left shoulder forced him to roll onto his stomach as bone-spikes tore from his shoulder armor and protruded like a grotesque mantle. Ahkmou’s vision began to darken from the pain, the trauma having pushed his body beyond what his mind was willing to endure. With the soft clank of metal against stone, sweet darkness took him and he collapsed against the floor, eyes dark. Chapter 3 The soft feeling of a stone rat’s nose against his fingers brought Ahkmou from the blissful void of unconsciousness and returned him to the painful existence that was reality. He slowly opened his eyes, and flicked his hand out at the little creature, lips curling in both frustration from his still aching form, and disgust for the little rodent. As soon as his hand neared it, a bolt of emerald energy lept from his fingers and struck the little Rahi animal. It twitched and instantly dropped dead on the spot as Ahkmou felt the aching in his forearm slowly subside for a moment before returning. He tilted his head at that, forgetting his pain for a moment. He hadn’t even put any amount of will behind the movement, and his power simply leapt out and seemed to steal the life from the stone rat. Then, that life seemed to be converted back into an energy that dulled his pain, if only for a moment. Clearly, he had some things to explore with this new power. Pulling himself up to rest his back against the cave wall, Ahkmou looked himself over in the dim light. Thankfully, so long in the shadow realm had helped his eyesight be more sensitive in low-light scenarios and he saw his new, grotesque state in full clarity. He was significantly taller now, easily the height of the Toa he’d seen, though it was like the mask had not twisted him proportionately. His armor had not grown with him in all places, exposing his skeletal structure on his ribs and lower limbs. His feet had grown long claws, glowing a soft, sickening green in the cave and gently scratched against the floor as he drew his knees up to his chest, shaking from shock and the pain still aching deep into his body. Makuta had not mentioned how the power would twist him, how agonizing it would be to simply wield it, and what happened if he lost it somehow, the mask or power itself? Would he simply return to his old self, or would he… Ahkmou shook his head away from the other possibility and stood, growling at the ache in every joint and bone as he did so. This new height was going to take getting used to as he nearly stumbled and lost his balance, reaching out to brace himself against the rocks still burying the deceased Skull Grinder. Then, a thought crossed his mind, looking down at the pile of dead bones and armor. More specifically, the armor. Clearly Kulta would not be using it any longer, he thought, as he bent down and began tearing bits of armor from the former skull lord’s body. A few pieces of crimson armor from the beings arms that should work on his new limbs, and the ribcage-like torso armor would most likely work as a sufficient pauldron for his right shoulder. For a moment, he understood he was wearing a few body parts of another being, but considering he was going to most likely be fighting the entire island on his own, he needed this more than Kulta. With a few solid pops, the armor worked itself into place, and Ahkmou rolled his shoulders and stretched his still-aching form. The crimson armor wasn’t perfect, but his entire left arm and legs were now armored, so he considered that sufficient. Now, onto the next task at hand. Ahkmou focused and closed his eyes, hoping that when the mask had twisted him, it hadn’t robbed him of the shadow empowerment Makuta had bestowed upon him. His body ached even further from the exertion of effort, but after a moment, his power obeyed and his form dissipated into mist, sliding through the rocks blocking the tunnels and back into the winding caverns of Okoto’s underbelly. It didn’t take him long to find his way free of the caves and back out into the Region of Earth, his darkness form sweeping past a large open cave filled with jagged violet spikes and a handful of floating platforms leading towards a stone pedestal of some kind. As he passed through, Ahkmou wondered why there would be a such a display for nothing at all… Probably some random legend the Okotan’s had dreamt up in his time away. They had a habit of that, listening to Narmoto and his stories. He never understood the obsession the fire-spitters had with telling stories, but they surely never missed the chance. He wondered as he exited the caves and floated across Okoto’s surface, heading towards the coastal region of Ga-Koto, if they’d tell stories of him once he and Makuta conquered the island… That would be nice, let someone worship and chant his name for once. As he neared the sands of the water region, he let his power fade and became solid again, limbs still protesting with every movement as he did so. His claws sank into the shifting grains beneath him and a sudden crack of thunder overhead was the only warning he was given before water began to fall against his armor and mask. The rain was light at first, but quickly becoming a heavy downpour that matted the sands together beneath his feet. Ahkmou tilted his head back and closed his eyes, droplets occasionally slipping through the slits in his mask and pattering against his dark face. It had been so long since he’d smelled the scent of rain or felt the coolness against him, far too long. The former Po-Okotan nearly fell forward and sobbed, digging his fingers into the wet sands and try to let Okoto’s glorious, refreshing rain wash away everything Makuta had tainted him with. All the filth, the darkness… the evil. Instead, he simply stood there for a few minutes, letting the rain grow to a raging storm, the lightning occasionally illuminating the raging seas and dark grey clouds of the late evening. “Po-Okotan’s are supposed to hate water, yet here you are, soaking it up… and talking to yourself. Great, now you’re going crazy,” he said to himself after a soft chuckle and continued on his way towards the now furious waters. The storm had come on rather suddenly, and despite his welcome of the refreshing rain, it was a tad curious. It was almost as if the elements themselves were voicing their distaste for such a twisted being planning to enter their waters. Ahkmou understood, as he’d essentially become a monster thanks to Kulta’s mask, but he had no choice. Makuta still held the leash of his shadow infusion, and would most likely tug-or choke-him with with it should he try and escape. Besides, Gali wasn’t here to stop him, so the elements themselves would have to continue to rage on. As the winds began to throw the rain in sheets, Ahkmou arrived at the water’s edge and blew out a breath. As a Po-Okotan, he’d never been a great swimmer, and now, as his body was still recovering from its mutation, he wasn’t any more confident in his odds, but Makuta had been very clear. Arrive at the water’s edge, and wait for further commands. So he waited. He listened to the storm, felt the water lap at his feet and for the moment, enjoyed the silence as he waited for some sign. Instead, he was nearly scared out of his new armor when Makuta’s voice suddenly echoed through his mind, sounding no more pleasant than usual. “Good, Ahkmou, I see you’ve claimed Kulta’s power over the dead. You will need it. There are defeated Skull Spider’s littered about within these waters from Gali’s defense of her home. You must raise each of them from the dead until you find the one that knows where her original Mask of Water resides... “ “Dare I ask for what purpose, my Lord? Gali is dead, along with the other toa, as the prophecy you explained predicted.” Makuta’s response grated against his mind, and nearly drowned out even the booming thunder overhead with its intensity. “I only answer your narrow-minded question because it is required for your task…. I plan for you to corrupt that mask,” he explained, slowly, as if Ahkmou was having issues understanding, much to the servant’s annoyance,“Then, you will use your new power over resurrecting the dead and create a Shadow Toa through her corrupted mask and Skull Warrior remains. A simple shadow of the real thing, but ultimately loyal to me. You will do this for each Toa, and through them, I will use their combined elemental powers to free myself from this realm.” Ahkmou frowned in thought, and for a moment, he had to compliment his master on the plan. In theory, it could work. While shadows of their true selves, a darkness-born being wearing the Toa’s original, yet weaker, masks could combine the six elements and open the portal to the shadow realm again. Whether the creations survived the process was obviously irrelevant, and if they were as mindless as the Skull Warrior’s he was commanded to make them from, they wouldn’t miss their lives any way. As much as he hated to admit it, Ahkmou was impressed. Unfortunately he didn’t have long to mull over the more fine details before Makuta’s growling voice echoed through his mind. “I did not release you from this prison realm to stand around, Ahkmou. Go!” The necrotic servant sighed and threw himself into the surf, wincing as his body protested the movement, and began swimming towards the lower areas of Ga-Koto. The underwater village lay carved into the stone of the seabed, soft lights glittering within the huts and homes. Makuta had not said what he should do if the villagers or Protector tried to stop him, but he had a guess. Not that it truly mattered to him, what had they ever done for him? They’d never tried to come save him and his people, or even make contact… No, he had no love for these Okotan’s. If they tried to get in his way, he’d do what was needed. A school of Takea sharks swam by, and for a moment, he felt a stab of fear. The aquatic hunters were known for their ferocity, even to someone who spent a lot of his time in the desert regions. Villagers he understood, but Takea… they swarmed, chewed, tore at their victim. If the full school turned to attack him, he’d be Takea bones in seconds. Not willing to take the chance, he brought himself to a stop, rose a hand towards the large rahi and forced his will out through his hands, as he had with Kulta. Emerald bolts lept through the waters and struck the school, chaining to each of their silver bodies and causing them to spasm and twist in agony. The energy lept through the school for only a few moments before they finally went limp and began to gently float towards the surface. Just like with the stone rat in the ruins, Ahkmou felt the ache of his body subside, and this time, it did not return. So, it appeared if he took the life of others, it fueled his own. Well that was convenient. It also explained why the Grinder and his people had a constant need for prisoners, they most likely used them as fuel for their power. Sick, but also clever. Ahkmou was noticing a trend with Makuta and his minions. You’re one of his minions, y’know. Just a tool to be used and thrown away. He shook that thought away and continued his swim past the village and towards the ruins he could see off in the distance. The Skull Spiders’ work, most likely, so that was a good as any place to start. He was no Ga-Okotan, so he wasn’t going to be able to hold his breath for too long, so on top of Makuta’s impatience, time was not his ally. He spent roughly an hour in those waters, going up for air every so often and feeding upon the local wildlife when his limbs began to ache or his body grew weak. The Okotan’s must’ve done an efficient job of clearing out the skull spiders after their defeat, as he was having a very difficult time finding even a scrap of the little creatures. Ahkmou brushed his hand against a bit of coral as he came to a stop, toxic eyes searching for the accursed corpse, and as it died in his fingers, he noticed a deep blue among the now-cracked remains. There it was. The remains of a skull spider, deep blue shell nearly blending in with the coral until he’d broken it away. He gripped the little creature’s remains and shot towards the surface, gasping in air as he broke the surface. The storm was still raging, and he almost believed it had gotten worse in his time below the raging waves, as returning to shore took far more effort. He turned and leaned against a large rock outcropping on the coast, looking down at the little creature. Makuta had not told him how he was supposed to go about bringing the little terror back to life, or unlife, and so far he had only experience in draining the energy from a victim, not revitalizing one. However, Ahkmou did remember Makuta using the creatures in the shadow realm to...subdue the more destructive or rebellious matoran, using them as sentient masks. If they had a mind of their own, he may be able to simply let his power work for itself and read its own memories from beyond its watery grave. He figured it was as good a shot as any, and reached up to remove Kulta’s mask from his face. He enjoyed the soft whisper of the now-calm winds against his face before reaching down to gently press the salt-riddled spider to his face, nestling its mask-like underbelly onto his face. Its mechanical components had mostly rusted away from the caustic salts and he felt organic fluids dripping across his cheeks and forehead as he did so, forcing a silent gag. Then, he waited, yet again. He was starting to get tired of that. With a sudden dizzying rush, his eyes gave way to a memory not his own. Well, nice to see he could still improvise and get results. The skull spidr was underwater not far from where he himself had been searching, swimming towards the original Mask of Water that Gali had either abandoned or somehow lost during her short adventures on Okoto, its ocean-blue surface buried eye-deep in the sands. Ahkmou assumed it was being commanded forth by Makuta for the same reason he was now, but ignored the theory as he watched the memory. The creature’s long forelegs finally settled upon the mask and curled around it. With a satisfied hiss, it kicked its back legs and began towards where Makuta must’ve instructed it to take the mask. Ahkmou smirked behind the creature’s mask-esque remains. Perhaps things were going to go smoothly for once. Obviously this one had found her mask, now he simply needed to see what had ended it, and then find that. Most likely, the mask would be near by. The spider swam on a ways before a flash of movement sped across it vision, bringing it to a stop with another sharp hiss. The shape had been large, long, and easily identified as aquatic… but far too large to be a Takea shark. Besides, he thought, the sharks and other rahi feared any creation of Makuta’s by natural instinct. As he watched the shape whip by again, this time closer, Ahkmou made out colors now. Blue, orange, streaks of silver across its head… No, that was no Takea. The skull spider waited for the creature to swim by before it darted forward and tried to simply escape through speed alone. It made only a few feet before it seemed to be hit by a sudden current of water moving at such a rapid speed that it sent the arachnid swirling end over end, making Ahkmou feel nauseous for a moment from the view. The spider corrected itself just and he finally got a good look at its attacker as it raced forward, head bowed forward and tail moving rapidly to keep up speed and force. A body of bright blue and silver, fins lean and powerful, and a head of the purest silver, featuring a deadly fire-orange horn upon its tip. Along its back, a pair of weapons that looked familiar to the ones wielded by the Protectors were strapped and loaded. Ahkmou prepared for the memory to come to an abrupt end as this...creature of the ocean charged forward to impale the spider and reclaim the mask. Instead, Ahkmou himself was launched off his feet by a sudden force he didn’t register until he was a flying through the air, coughing water from his mouth as the spider came loose from his face. It felt as if the ocean itself had created a tendril of water and simply struck him with all its force. He landed with a sharp crash on the flat top of the rocks he’d been near, crying out as the impact nearly broke one of the bone spikes from his left shoulder. A moment later, Kulta’s mask, which he’d been holding at his side the whole time, landed next to him with a metallic clang. He sat up, coughing and sputtering, and more than a little furious. So now he had both a giant fish to find, and on top of that, the very ocean itself wished to get in his way. “Is that it now, huh?! First the Okotan’s don’t come to save me, then me trying to save my own mask turns me into Makuta’s lap dog, and now I have to fight the very waters themselves?!” he roared at the churning waves, rains pelting his face and armor in a torrential downpour,”Fine, I’ll face the ocean's fury!” As if the sea heard his request, he heard the waters suddenly roar an answer and with a brief flash of lightning, saw a new column of water rise from the currents and lash towards him before darkness fell again. His normally excellent night vision was ruined by the sudden flash and he had no idea where the strike was coming from. A moment later, he was struck dead-center, breath knocked from his lungs and he forced off his feet yet again. The continuous stream of water engulfed him, threatening to drown him in its fury as he unleashed bolt after bolt of darkness against the waves to try and fight back, their violet and black arcs simply cutting through the waters without effect. Just as his lungs began to burn and scream for oxygen, the waters suddenly cut off and Ahkmou gasped, lurching forward as he spit water from his mouth and his body expelled the salty invader. In the back of his mind, he noted to note mock the ocean anymore. As he slowly regained his breath, he looked up, expecting the last assault to come and finish him. Instead, a flash of lightning illuminated his true assailant, silver and blue armor reflecting the light brilliantly. The fish creature… There it was, floating a few yards off the raging waters, tail lazily swaying back and forth, though the sense of fury was present even from here. It’s movement was an idle one, instead, Ahkmou had seen enough rahi to sense their tension before the pounce. Ignoring its obvious distress for his presence, Ahkmou was more baffled by how the aquatic rahi was flying above its natural habitat, as well as how it was controlling the elements. As far as he was aware, only a Toa had that kind of power. Well, the Toa and… No, that was impossible. Surely he hadn’t attracted the power of the creature of Water, that was far too powerful for him to defeat alone. The Toa controlled the elements he know, but the Creatures? Makuta had mentioned them as the living elements themselves, fury and all, and he’d very much made this one angry. That explains the storm getting worse, he thought. He reached over to collect Kulta’s mask and snapped it back over his face, feeling a dark presence return to the back of his mind that he hadn’t noticed was missing. So that’s how Makuta communicated with him, the same way he had the Grinder apparently. Masks were everything, once again, it seemed. “Come on then, creature! If you’re here to try and stop me, I must say, I’m more afraid of Makuta then I am of you! What’s stopping you?” “Because her I asked her to stop.” Chapter 4 Ahkmou whirled at the feminine voice, nearly jumping off the rock’s surface from the shock of what he saw. She was tall, a good mask over himself, and her mask was beautiful. A shining golden hue that marbled into a deep-sea blue, eyes a brighter blue like the warm sky over Po-Koto and carved runes of the Okotan language arced across her forehead. Her armor of blues, silvers and sea-star orange was smooth and curved slightly across her body, most likely aiding with her swimming, though her identity was immediately known thanks to the carved symbol in her breastplate. “T-Toa… Gali…?” He whispered, sound barely audible over the storms and waves. There she stood, shape shimmering like a desert mirage, but unmistakably present. He couldn’t see her face, the Toa’s masks were far more protective of the wearer then the usual Okotans, but he could’ve sworn he saw a smile in her eyes. She rose a hand, and suddenly, silence struck him like a physical blow. Everything stopped. The storm, the waves, rain, everything came to a sudden halt at this Toa’s command. Such a simple display of power finally broke Ahkmou’s composure and he sunk to his knees before her, simply staring in stunned silence. “Yes, little one… Well, I guess not so little now. I am here, as my brothers and I should’ve been for all of you, so long ago.” “H..how?” “As a Toa, I am the element of water upon Okoto. From the dew that drips in Le-Koto, to the raging storms of my home, as long as the waters exist, so do I. Even if that means not physically, my spirit remains wherever my element does. Don’t worry, I didn’t get it at first either,” She giggled softly for a moment, the sound almost sounding a bit childish as she knelt down in front of him. Those eyes were so cool, like a drink after he’d spent all afternoon climbing the carvings of his home, and Ahkmou realized that she was both the ocean's beauty and wrath at once. “But… you were sent to the stars when you re-imprisoned Makuta? How are you still on Okoto?” he asked, starting to regain his voice again as he processed how he was speaking to the spirit of Water. He was grateful he hadn’t simply died at some point and not realized it. That would’ve been a terrible end to his legend. Drowned by a flying fish. “Our bodies were sent to the stars, yes, once our power was released and we once again united with the elements. Our spirits, however, remained here on Okoto to work with the Creatures and protect our homes.” Ahkmou nodded as he slowly grasped the situation. The Toa weren’t gone, could never truly be gone, but one thing still stuck out in his mind. Looking up at that gleaming golden mask, he asked a simple question, head tilted slightly as he frowned. “How did you find me…?” Toa Gali’s expression darkened and she shifted her gaze to the now-still oceans. She didn’t respond immediately and instead simply walked around him to look out across the endless waters. When she spoke, her voice was distant, as if she was lost in a painful memory she couldn’t ever truly forget. “During the battle with one of Makuta’s minions, Umarak, my soul was taken into the shadow realm. I did not linger long and it was through my visit I figured out the destiny my brothers and I had to fulfill,” she said, folding her arms as if catching a sudden chill. “When a spirit enters that place, it leaves a stain that… can’t ever truly be removed.” “That still doesn’t explain how-!” She held up a hand and Ahkmou instantly fell silent, afraid another torrent of water would flatten him against the stone again if he continued. Gali was silent for another moment, before continuing. “Because of that stain, I’m able to follow anything that also has that darkness within it. It’s both a blessing and a curse, really. I am able assist Akida in finding any threat to our home, but having that darkness within oneself is…” Ahkmou finished the sentence for her, a grim chuckle on his lips as he did so, “Fatiguing? Always feeling like another presence is hovering over your shoulder, like a looming shadow?” “Yes… You are wise, littl one.” She replied, eyes softening again a few degrees and turning back to look at him. “The name’s Ahkmou, and I’ve been around the shadow realm for about a thousand years, you tend to get used to the lack of privacy,” he shot at her, bitterness dripping from his voice. “Yes, I’m sorry we couldn’t save you all… Even if we were physically on the island, doing so would also release Makuta, and you know what kind of evils he would unleash.” “So the lives of the Capital city are worth the lives of the rest of Okoto…?” She frowned and looked away, as if the thought of leaving any Okotan in peril was too much for her to bear. Ahkmou didn’t care, he pushed harder as he stood and walked over to her, pointing up at Akida, as she’d called her. “You still have a connection with your elemental creatures, you could do something, anything, to try and help us, instead you’ve accepted that we’re lost… and you still haven’t told me why you found me here. You could’ve just ended me and stopped whatever Makuta is planning for me, but you haven’t,” he tilted his skull-like visage so he caught her gaze and she looked at him fully, pain obvious in her eyes. “The prophecy is done, Ahkmou, our destiny fulfilled.”
  10. I know I said I was rewriting Bionicle Legacies, but that project has stopped yet again. After having a few false starts and ruined campaigns, the group I role play with on Mondays has found a campaign that is working for us. We've done various Pathfinder system games in the past, but none of them has had the same full world feel that this one has. It is set in a world inspired by Forgotten Realms, but has been dreamed up by one of my friends. We'd already talked about chronicling the adventures of the characters with previous games, but this one has piqued my creativity more than the others. I wrote out a rough backstory for my character just prior to the first session. I've also put more work into this game than any prior characters, and it shows. ​The funny thing about this game, is that the mythos that's been created has a chance of leading into the plot of the Novel that I started a year ago. The campaign theoretically takes place in the distant past of that book, and that in turn has got me started on filling out my character's backstory even more. On May 15th, 2017 (Technically the 16th) I started a second novel based on this Pathfinder campaign. In the three or four hours I worked on it, I put out around 2000 words, a new conscious record for me. The opening is a bit rough, but as the tale progresses, so to does the potential repairs to the intro. I just wanted to let the small community we still have here know of my gratitude for this website. Back in 2003, when I joined, I had only written a small Star Wars fanfiction. That was in 2000, when I was in 4th grade. I hadn't really picked up a pencil for more than the small bit of homework I'd actually get around to doing. Reading the Epics and Short Stories forums, which were populated by authors such as Daydreamer, Korobound, and GaliGee, gave me the inspiration to begin writing. By the end of 7th grade, I had written a handful of poems, a cringeworthy short story that was never posted here, a screenplay, and a pair of attempted epics. The next four years were full of more writing. In 2005 I discovered High Fantasy through Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara. I wrote an unfinished story called Takori-Metru. It was based on the screenplay from a few years prior. I then began my first world-building attempt for a novel. That summer I started another epic called The Fall of Darkness. It was an attempt at an edgy tale of lost love and revenge. Let's just say that Takori-Metru had more potential than this Takanuva and Nixie pairing that started with the death of Gali. I worked on that epic throughout my Sophomore year of High School, a time in which I gained my first girlfriend, a goth girl that I briefly reunited with last year. It was a strange time! The summer of 2006 came around, and just a few days before my birthday I began work on my Bionicle Magnum Opus, The Return. I worked on it and it's accompanying short stories for the next several years. The epic itself was finished in January 2008, and was completely posted by my Graduation that May. The one short story that I still cherish was "The Light's Love". It was the first time I had written a story that connected events unseen in the main story. I entered college that fall, and ironically never passed English 101, also known as 121 at the college I was at. After a year and a half, my writing fell mostly by the wayside after the second failure at that English class. A few more false starts at novels would come, before I started looking at some of the ideas I'd already written. I took on the project of rewriting The Return as something publishable for a bit before I had some really bad things happen to me. --- I actually took a break from writing this post because of my need to write down some of what happened to me. I'll link to my facebook once I feel comfortable posting it, if I post it. Anyways, there was a physically, psychologically, and socially abusive person in my life for a year, and what he did to me killed my writing for several years. The things I went through then and during high school, were softened as they happened, because of this community. Just seeing my peers grow up made me have hope, even if there was a hint of jealousy at some of you guys! I'm sad to see that the community here has become so small, and that there are now days without activity in most of the forums, but I'll always cherish the things I learned and memories I made here, even if this site eventually vanishes. I'm not leaving, in fact I plan to stay until the very end, whenever that comes. But I wanted to say my thanks to everyone here. Even SPIRIT and his awesome brand of crazy.
  11. Paula slipped quietly around the corner and through the alleyway, Franklin close behind her. They crouched on opposite sides of the exit, and cautiously, she leaned just enough that she could peer out into the street while still being obscured by shadows. Two people clad in green armor were headed in their direction. Pulling back, Paula nodded, and then crossed the alley to Franklin’s side without making a sound. They waited as the armored footsteps grew steadily closer, eventually bringing the two guards right past the alley. When they had gone five steps past it, Franklin rushed out at them, while Paula began to scale the wall. A cry went out as Franklin drew his knife through a gap in one guard’s armor. The second turned to see what was happening, but saw only an elbow being jammed into his face. The first guard grabbed Franklin’s ankle and pulled him onto the ground; she raised her sword, but before she could lower it, Paula fell upon her, bringing down her tonfa with enough force to smash her victim’s skull into the concrete. She was rendered unconscious, possibly dead. “Look out!” Franklin shouted. Paula turned to the second guard, but found he was backing up. Franklin pushed her—there was a sharp sound, and she looked back to see an arrow embedded in her partner’s shoulder. She now saw the archer wearing green who had appeared further down the street. Looks like our information was off. She raised her tonfa to parry the guard’s blow. Franklin swept in with his knife, cutting his exposed side. “Get her,” he urged, “I’ll hold this one!” Paula stayed low and rushed at her target, who was already running for cover. Meanwhile, Franklin took a stab at his opponent, but the pain in his shoulder was more intense than he expected and prevented him from reacting quickly enough. The guard evaded his blow and dazed him with a punch to the temple. As he fell, he dropped his weapon, and the guard loomed over him with a toothy smirk. Franklin prepared for the worst. To his surprise, the guard collapsed, revealing another person standing behind him. The woman looked to be in her twenties, with brown skin and grayish-black hair that was kept in a short ponytail, wearing a white karate gi with black lining its edges. Smiling, she said, “Hello.” Franklin gaped for a moment, unsure how to respond. When he snapped out of his trance, he recovered his knife and leapt to his feet, brandishing the weapon while he found his stance. “Who are you?” The woman’s smile gave way to a confused frown. “Huh? Why are you pointing that at me?” Franklin took a quick glance up the road: Paula had caught up to the archer, but the enemy wove around each of her swings and reached into her quiver, slashing with an arrow to force her back. When Franklin looked back to the stranger, he realized she was already walking towards the fight. “Hey, wait!” The archer pulled her arrow through the bow. Paula was preparing to dodge, but in the blink of an eye the stranger leapt forward and knocked the archer out with a kick. Franklin ran over to Paula’s side as the newcomer faced her. “Who are you?” Paula asked, raising her tonfa. “My name’s Brynja,” the stranger said. “You can put those away. I don’t want to hurt you.” Paula watched her closely. She made no movements. “…Franklin, get the keys.” Hesitating, Franklin ran back to the defeated guards and searched them. “I haven’t seen you before.” Brynja smiled again and replied, “No, I’m from far away. I was passing by and got curious when I saw that.” She pointed up, but Paula didn’t look. The veil of darkness had covered the kingdom for as long as she could remember, blotting out all sunlight and preventing any of them from leaving—she didn’t need the reminder. “How did you get in?” Paula asked. “The veil was said to repel any attempts made to pass through it. You shouldn’t be here.” Brynja shrugged. “It was tough, but I was persistent.” Paula waited for her to elaborate, but she never did. Franklin returned with a set of keys, and said, “We should go in case more show up.” She stared at Brynja for a few moments longer. Then, with a grunt, she said, “You’re coming with us.” *** The apartment was a single room with only a handful of chairs for decoration. There were a few other people waiting there when Paula and Franklin returned with Brynja in tow—Franklin handed the keys off to one, and then another began to sift through medical supplies while asking about his shoulder. Paula pointed to a chair, and Brynja sat. “Alright,” Paula said, pulling up a chair of her own. “How did you get through the veil?” “I pushed my way through,” Brynja said. “Once I focused my energy I was able to punch a hole in it just long enough to get inside.” Paula still couldn’t believe it, but decided to move on. “Why did you want to get in here?” “I was curious.” “Just curious?” “That’s right. So what is that veil? What’s been going on in this kingdom?” Paula crossed her arms. “…That veil is what keeps us trapped here. It’s what we’re fighting to destroy.” Brynja’s expression shifted a little. It wasn’t much, but Paula got the impression she was listening closely. “Years ago, a woman named Delan took control of this kingdom. She created the veil saying it was for our own protection…but no one feels safe. The streets are always dark like an eternal night, and we’re totally cut off from the outside world: no one inside can leave, and no one outside can get in. Except for you, apparently.” Brynja looked around the room. “Her forces must be very strong, if you have not been able to dethrone her in all this time.” “Taking down a few guards is all we can do. The veil blocks everything—we can’t even channel power from other realms, so we’re left with the limitations of the human body.” Franklin shouted as the arrow was removed. “It even blocks the ability to channel?” Brynja said, putting a hand to her chin. “Hm. I suppose that would make it extremely difficult.” “You don’t know the half of it,” Paula said, gripping her arm tightly and looking out the window. “There used to be a lot more of us, but Delan’s forces just grow and grow. The people here are terrified. We’re forced to carry out our lives within these invented boundaries Delan has created, never having a chance to reach outside our cages—not even being allowed to take one look at what the world outside has to offer. It’s maddening.” She shook her head, and then looked back to Brynja and continued, “So that’s our story. Tell me more about you.” Brynja looked up. “Hm? Oh, there isn’t really much to tell: I’m just a simple traveler.” Her eyes shifted towards the person now holding the keys. “You ambushed those guards for a reason—can I assume you have a new plan of attack?” Reluctantly overlooking the topic change, Paula said, “With these keys we can sneak into Delan’s castle and take her down before she realizes what’s happening. We’re heading out just before dawn, to get in before she notices those guards haven’t come back.” Brynja nodded. “Very well. I would like to come with you.” Paula squinted and tilted her head. “What?” “I want to help you in your mission. I think my skills will prove extremely useful.” “…Why would you want to do that?” Brynja blinked, as if the answer were obvious. “You need help, and I can offer it.” Paula scowled and leaned forward. “I’m not so sure we should trust someone we just met, especially on a mission this vital.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Franklin wrapping his wound. “…But…you did help us earlier, and I suppose we are down a man…” “What is your name?” “It’s Paula.” With a nod, Brynja looked her in the eye and said, “Paula, I give you my word that I will help you take away Delan’s power and destroy the veil. Your cause is a righteous one, and I have sworn an oath to use my powers for good, so please: allow me to help you.” “Your power? I just told you, we can’t channel here.” “I understand that. It will not be a problem.” Paula glanced at her comrades one by one. With varying degrees of hesitation, they each nodded. Groaning, Paula spun back to face Brynja. “…Fine. But if you betray us—“ “I will not,” Brynja said. “Now, is there anything more about your plan that I should know?” *** Brynja kicked down the door and walked into Delan’s audience chamber, finding herself faced with a wall of guards. She quickly surveyed the room: it was a wide circle with green banners against gray mortar, and spaced evenly along its perimeter were tall candlesticks made of gold. At the very center of the room sat Delan, a pale, sickly old woman who looked like she was disappearing into her faded green robes; she stared at Brynja with eyes full of hate and fear. “Who are you?” Delan shouted. “You don’t look like one of my people…” Brynja shook her head. “I’m a traveler from far away. I want to know why you’ve cast this veil over your kingdom.” Delan’s eyes grew wider. “An outsider…you managed to get through?! That shouldn’t be possible!” One of the guards rushed at Brynja. She bashed her fist across his face, knocking him flat instantly. “Please answer me,” Brynja said calmly. “Why did you create the veil?” Enraged, the rest of the guards swarmed her. Brynja ducked and kicked, sweeping three guards’ feet out from under them, and then came up into a handstand and flipped through the air. She landed with her foot on a guard’s helmet, and quickly got to the ground and spun just in time to grab the shaft of a spear aimed at her face. Yanking, she reeled the spear-wielder in and knocked her out with a punch, and then planted the weapon in the ground, dodged a blow from an axe, and dispatched its wielder with a chop to the neck. The guards tried to flank her—she wove around the swords being swung at her, dancing back a short distance before coming forward with an uppercut that flung one of the soldiers back into four more. Thinking they had an opening, the guards on the other side charged. Brynja easily stepped around them and rained her fists down on their bodies. As she looked for more attackers, Brynja heard someone shout, “Get clear!” She spun to see a row of archers emerging from the rear entrance. As they drew their arrows, Brynja extended one arm: bolts of purple light shot from her palm and towards her foes, snapping each and every bow they held in two. Delan finally rose from her throne. “Fall back!” she shouted. “All of you, get out of here! I shall deal with her myself!” Some of the guards hesitated, but they inevitably complied, dragging their unconscious comrades with them. Brynja turned to face Delan expectantly. “You’re some kind of monster, aren’t you?” the queen asked. “No human could get through my veil, much less still be able to channel once inside it.” “Oh, I’m not channeling,” Brynja said. “These powers are mine.” Delan gritted her teeth. “Even more proof of your inhumanity. Whatever you are, demon, I will not allow you to waltz into this domain and assault my people!” “I’m not a demon.” Brynja received no response, however. A wall of glass rose around Delan, encasing her completely, and she began to glow with eerie white energy as orbs of flame appeared in her hands. The candles around the room took on the same color, but curiously, the room only grew darker, and darker, until soon the ring of lights in the background was all Brynja could see. “I see you can bypass the veil’s effects and channel whatever power you want,” Brynja observed. “Then, you took away the people’s ability to channel so that you could keep all the power for yourself?” “Don’t speak of things you don’t understand!” came Delan’s voice. It was clearer than before, echoing all around Brynja. “I crafted the veil to protect my people—protect them from fiends like you!” Brynja reached forward and fired a bolt of energy. It sailed off into the distance, and Delan laughed. “Hm,” Brynja murmured, “so she’s moved?” She stepped forward to make sure, moving her hand through empty air where the glass should have been. She jumped back—a white fireball whizzed past her. About a dozen more flaming orbs were taking shape not far away, so Brynja turned and started running, managing to cover a short distance before the attacks came. She jumped and rolled to avoid the onslaught, and then, guessing where her foe might be, she swung her arm and fired another volley of energy blasts. Fireballs soon appeared nearby, some to her left, others off to her right. So she can definitely conjure them from a distance. Brynja started forward and ducked, transitioning into a slide that carried her far enough to avoid being singed. She got up and kept running, doing her best to stay mindful of her surroundings, but as she went, she noticed something peculiar. Setting her sights on one of the candles in the distance, she broke into a full sprint. Delan didn’t attack, offering only a few chuckles as Brynja ran for a full two minutes before stopping. The candle was no closer than it was when she had started. “This is an illusion power,” she realized. “You figured it out quickly,” Delan said. “But don’t get too comfortable: my flames are very real!” A fiery pillar erupted behind Brynja. It surged forward, and as she rolled out of the way, she thought, I can’t trust my senses. I’ll have to figure out where she is some other way. “You still haven’t answered my question!” Brynja shouted. “Why did you create the veil?” Delan growled in disgust. “I did answer. I crafted the veil to protect my people!” “But from what?” Brynja asked as she evaded more fireballs. “Who is your enemy?” “I don’t know! How can I know who my enemy is in this world? How could I know where they are, or see them coming? It’s impossible to know!” A fireball arced through the air, exploding in a bright flash that blinded Brynja. She felt a searing pain spread over her back, and immediately dropped to the ground and tried to put the fire out. “This world is infinite. A countless number of domains, all connected to each other by paths anyone can travel, filled with people who can draw power from any other realm in existence…all these people have the potential to be my enemies!” A tight circle of flame pillars sprang up around Brynja. She dared not try to rise, instead focusing on enduring the intense heat that washed over her. “Anyone could channel some great power and make their way here, killing or enslaving my people for their own selfish reasons! I’ve seen it—I’ve seen invaders from faraway lands appear from nowhere to kill for sport! I vowed to protect this kingdom, and the veil is the only way I can do that!” “…I see,” Brynja whispered. “Then it would seem there is no way for us to understand one another.” The flame pillars pulled a few yards away and merged together. Delan said, “Indeed. I didn’t think one such as you could understand. The only thing travelers understand is violence…and so I shall speak to you through that.” A form emerged from the pillar: humanoid, but made entirely of green fire, its features all but indistinguishable. Brynja pushed herself onto her feet quickly, crossing her arms as the specter rushed forward and threw a punch. Even when she blocked it, the heat from the fist was too painful to put up with for long; she pivoted and kicked, but her leg merely passed through her foe, dealing it no damage while she only took more. “My soldiers understand,” Delan said. More pillars sprang up nearby. “They are loyal even in death, giving everything they are in service of our people. As their souls leave their bodies, I preserve them in my flames, keeping them as lanterns to light our way forever more.” Brynja shuddered. She backed away from the specter’s blows and retaliated with an energy blast, managing to graze it, and was then sent flying by a spiraling tongue of flame. Hitting the ground hard, she bounced up and stumbled a bit. “So this is why your numbers can only grow,” she said. “It is not your place to decide who gets to pass on. You think yourself a goddess?” More soldiers emerged from the other pillars. Delan said, “They have no complaints. As I have said, I must protect my people, and should the veil fall, these soldiers are the final line of defense. Mortal fists cannot harm unsheathed souls.” “Not our fists, perhaps,” Brynja said, stepping out of her sandals. “But this is not the first time I have fought ghosts. Energy attacks can harm any specter.” “Do you think your measly shots can lay waste to this entire battalion?” Brynja rolled up her sleeves. “No, using only energy blasts would make this extremely difficult. I do enjoy a challenge, but since I gave my word that I would defeat you, I will hold nothing back.” She stood with her feet wide. Curling one hand into a fist, she held her other palm open, and with a deep breath, she beat them together. Purple light flashed down the length of her arms and legs, and its wake, Brynja’s skin had converted into shining iron-gray metal. “W…what is this?” Delan asked, her voice wavering. Brynja swung one arm out. Four small circular bits of metal detached from the outer side of her limb, each exuding violet energy—they flew towards her hand and arranged themselves into a line, and the light around them hardened into the shape of a double-edged saber. Brynja gripped its hilt and hefted the weapon, focusing a deadly glare on the soldiers. “With this,” she said, “I can rend them free of your imprisonment.” She cleaved straight through one before they even realized she was moving. The other specters closed in at once, so Brynja put her other arm forward. Four more bits emerged from it, these forming a circle and generating a small arm-mounted shield. Fiery fists struck the barrier to no avail, and Brynja quickly raised it over her head—those in the rear had lobbed fireballs, which now bounced off of her protection—and made a horizontal slash, cutting a huge chunk out of the enemy forces. She spun forward, moving her shield to block every punch thrown her way, while her sword reformed into a spear. Taking aim at one of the ranged attackers, she hurled the weapon. Not long after impaling the target, the weapon dispersed, and the metal disks zipped back towards Brynja and created a new sword for her. Delan watched in horror as her specters were slain. “These weapons…this is the power of the Valkyries…you truly aren’t human!” “No, I’m still human,” Brynja said, raising her sword. Three of the bits shifted towards its tip, and the energy flowed around them, transforming the saber into a battle axe. “Well…mostly human.” She crushed the soldier before her and threw her shield, which transformed into a boomerang in midair. The projectile circled the arena and picked off the rear guard, meanwhile Brynja leveled the soldiers in arms reach, and soon only a handful of specters remained, eyeing their foe with uncertainty. “W-Why would a Valkyrie be here?” Delan asked. “A god must have sent you, but why are you attacking? A god…wouldn’t want to strike down what I’ve done here…I’m just defending my people!” “I already said I’m not…” Brynja shook her head. “Well, I guess that’s not important. But I think I’ve figure out how to end this, Delan.” Trying to regain her composure, Delan replied, “There is no end, save for your death!” Brynja readied her sword. “You look at the world and see only things to fear, and so you hid your entire kingdom away. You must still be nearby, watching this fight, but you’ve been hiding in what you believe to be the safest place possible.” Turning her sword around, Brynja thrust it under her arm and straight behind her. There was a crunching sound, a scream, and then silence. A few seconds later, the specters burst apart, and the darkness began to lift, allowing Brynja to see the room again. She was facing the door. Directly behind her, Delan stared at the blade mere inches from her stomach, and the hole it had punched in her glass shell. “You have lost,” Brynja said. Her weapons vanished, their metal components returning into her arms. In a flash, her limbs were flesh once more. Delan sank to her knees. Tears started to emerge from her eyes, and she said, “I’ve failed…I’ve failed my people…” “You did that long ago. You had good intentions, Delan, but this was the wrong way to protect your people.” “Is that the judgment of the gods?” Brynja wasn’t sure how to answer that. In the end, she said nothing. *** Paula turned her hand over, watching yellow sparks dance around it. She took a step out from under the balcony—it would take a while for their eyes to adjust to proper daylight, she imagined, but she still wanted to try. Blinking rapidly, she looked up the street to see Brynja approaching. “Thank you,” Paula said as soon as she was in earshot. Brynja grinned. “I was happy to help! So, are you getting the hang of channeling?” Paula clenched her fist, and electricity burst around it. “Yeah, I think I’m starting to pick it up.” As she came closer, Brynja stopped. “What will you do with Delan?” “Well, we can’t exactly let her go. We’ll just have to keep her under close watch.” “Indefinitely?” “At her age, I doubt it’ll take that long.” “Oh. Maybe.” Paula stepped back under the balcony, taking a moment to rub her eyes. “I just can’t understand,” Brynja sighed. “Huh?” “Delan. I can’t understand how she can only look on the world with fear.” “I find that hard to believe. If you’re a traveler, then you must have seen plenty of bad people in your journey.” “I have. I’m not saying there aren’t bad people out there—there are plenty of them. But Delan looked at this realm and saw infinite evil.” Brynja looked off into the distance. Paula tried to follow her line of sight, but she didn’t see anything in particular. “Okay, I’ll bite. What do you see?” She took a moment to think. Then, Brynja shrugged, smiled, and said, “I guess I don’t know either. But I want to. That’s why I’m traveling: I want to see as much of this infinite world as I possibly can. So many places, so many people, so many powers and cultures and ways of thinking—I want to see it. An endless, beautiful infinity…I don’t see how anyone could look at it and feel anything but wonder.” Paula laughed. “You’ll never be able to see all of it. We humans are mortal, after all.” Brynja continued to stare forward, her smile widening and her eyes lighting up with pure awe and excitement. Paula tried again to see where she was looking, but as best she could tell, Brynja was just staring at the horizon. “…Maybe it’s just because this is my first time seeing the horizon,” she said quietly, “but…I think I have an idea of what you mean.” Brynja turned to smile at her. “I hope you enjoy the world that’s just opened up to you. I know I have. Good bye." With that, she continued down the street. As she watched her go, a strange feeling came to Paula, an inkling that she wouldn’t see Brynja again. Well…you never know. As she was about to head back inside, she saw someone standing on the roof of a nearby building. It was a woman, somewhat on the short side, and she wore a coat that looked like it was made from the scales of a reptile. She watched Brynja with an odd smile on her face. Paula stepped out to say something, but had to shut her eyes to adjust to the sunlight. When she opened them again, the stranger was gone. Must be seeing things. She took one last look at Brynja, but the traveler never turned back as she disappeared beyond the horizon.
  12. Chapter 1 Sonia paced the lobby of NAZA HQ. The metallic white walls were covered in screens that displayed a mix of mission records and data feeds and news events—she would stop and look one over every so often, but she inevitably lost focus and got moving again. Her gaze found its way to the yellow reception desk flanked by two staircases. Both were still empty. “I told you we shouldn’t have come so early, dear.” She put on her Visualizer and turned to Lyra. “I know, I couldn’t help it. I haven’t been without it this long in years—I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself.” Lyra chuckled. “You know Mr. Boreal is working on it with the utmost care.” “Of course! I trust him more than anyone else to take good care of it.” “But then, taking extra care in a task does tend to increase how much time said task requires.” Sonia thought a moment, then sighed. “Right. You’re right, I should take it easy.” She started pacing again. Lyra said, “You don’t get many chances to relax these days, dear. You haven’t forgotten how, have you?” “I wouldn’t say I’ve forgotten,” Sonia laughed. “But, maybe I should focus on something else…oh, what about the ambassador?” Lyra rolled her eyes. “You’re still thinking about work.” “I’m curious, though. Is there anything I should know about Goat before we receive him?” “I only met him a few times, so I can’t really say. He was only a mid-ranked soldier when I was on Planet FM. Truthfully, I was a bit surprised to hear he’d been given the ambassador position.” “Cepheus said in his message that Goat was curious about Earth. Maybe that was the motivation he needed?” Lyra shrugged. She looked up at the sound of footsteps, and Sonia followed her gaze to see Boreal coming down one of the staircases carrying her guitar. Removing her Visualizer, she rushed over to meet him. “Hope you weren’t waiting long,” Boreal said, holding the instrument out. “Not at all!” She took the guitar and looked it over gleefully. “Thank you so much for doing this!” “My pleasure! I’ve had so much paperwork lately; getting to actually work on something was a nice change of pace.” Lyra appeared on the guitar’s screen. “My, it’s far more spacious in here than it was before! Quite the renovation!” “The guitar now has all the functions of a Star Carrier,” Boreal said. “A couple components couldn’t be replaced—I didn’t want you to lose all your data—so the processing power isn’t quite up to the commercial model’s standards. The only probable effect is that a few operations might run a little more slowly, but if it gets serious or you notice any other problems, be sure to let me know.” “I will, but I doubt I’ll need to,” Sonia said. “It’s amazing you were able to make a big new terminal when you’re busy running NAZA! Everybody’s so excited about the new features that you hardly ever see a Transer anymore.” “Well, it wasn’t all me! We had a whole team working on it, and the most interesting feature is the Matter Waves that Dr. Vega invented.” He frowned for a moment, and then said, “Also, there’s something else you should know about. We asked Tom to help us make the Star Carrier, and with the data he gathered from examining the Wave Balls two years ago, we came up with something that should be a big help for you.” “Oh?” “The terminals are equipped with Z Wave Amplifiers. Now, when you’re Wave Changed, you can become tangible and visible at will!” “Really? Wow, that’s incredible!” “We’d better tell Bud before he switches it on accidentally,” Lyra said. “…Helpful as this may be, isn’t it somewhat dangerous?” “There are a few concerns,” Boreal said, his eyes on the floor. “Still, with the FM-ians being our allies now, we don’t have any real reason to be suspicious of EM beings misusing it.” “I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Sonia said. “You worry too much, Lyra!” “Perhaps I do,” Lyra said. “In this case, I do hope that’s all.” Sonia turned, gesturing for Boreal to come with her. “Let’s go—they should be here soon!” Sonia and Boreal strolled out of the lobby. NAZA HQ was within a mountain crater, its multi-tiered silver form built right into the wall, with the majority of the brown stone floor left open as a sort of courtyard. At the far side was a metal-lined tunnel guarded by a few Satella Officers, from which emerged two children: one of them wore a pale-yellow, sleeveless jumpsuit with blue lines coming up the side of the legs and then meeting in an angle on the chest, along with a red vest and a red beanie that didn’t do a very good job of covering his spiky brown hair. The other was a bit taller and had darker skin than his companion—he wore a light green gi with thick yellow stripes on the sleeves and legs, with a symbol on the left side of his chest and high white boots on his feet. A black belt was tied at his waist, its ends adorned with blue medallions, and the long tails of a purple headband fluttered behind him, their shared center showing a white symbol. The shorter one waved. “Sonia, over here!” Approaching, she greeted, “Hey Claud, I haven’t seen you in a while! How’ve you been?” “I’m doing great! Oh, I should introduce you! Sonia, this is the friend I told you about: Kidd!” The other child bowed. “It’s very nice to meet you, Miss Sonia, Mr. Boreal. Thank you for allowing me this privilege.” “Nice to meet you too, Kidd,” Boreal said. “Claud told us you were fascinated when he told you about the FM-ians, but he didn’t say why you volunteered to partner with the ambassador. Is it just curiosity?” “It’s partly that. But also…well, I’ve been considering going on a journey.” “He’s gotten bored beating everyone at the local dojo,” Claud said. “It’s not boredom! I’ve just begun to feel that I’ve learned all I can here, and that seeing more of the world might be good.” Kidd grinned excitedly as he continued, “I want to see what other opportunities are out there, and how I might be able to keep growing if I take advantage of them! I know I have so much more potential, but I just don’t know how to tap into it…it’s frustrating, but I want to turn that into drive!” “I see,” Boreal said. “I can appreciate your motives, but why do you need an FM-ian to do that?” “I suppose I don’t, but…” Kidd shrunk back. “The main reason I haven’t left is because I worry it’d be very lonely to travel by myself.” “Ah.” Sonia smiled. “You want to take a friend with you. Well, it’d probably be good for Goat to see as much of Earth as possible, so this could work out well for him too.” Claud lightly jabbed Kidd with his elbow. “And with you off on your little quest, I’ll be top of the dojo in your place!” “I’m not sure you’ll be able to secure it that easily,” Kidd said with a smirk. “Just be a little cautious,” Boreal said. “The FM-ians only recently started learning to trust people—you shouldn’t be discouraged if you and Goat don’t hit it off right away.” “Understood,” Kidd said. “I will keep that in mind.” “Hey,” came a voice from Claud’s Star Carrier, “we’ve picked it up pretty quickly if I do say so myself!” “That isn’t the point, Cancer,” Lyra replied. “And, as I recall, you weren’t too sure about this planet until several months into your immersion.” “Ah! Well, uh…” Boreal’s Star Carrier beeped. He looked at it quickly, and then turned towards the sky and put his Visualizer on. Sonia did the same. A streak of light had appeared, difficult to see but definitely growing closer, arcing straight towards the crater where they all waited. “He’s right on time!” Boreal said. “Let’s try to clear some space!” The group moved closer to the crater wall. The light continued to fall towards them, its speed increasing until it ultimately hit the ground with a soft thud, kicking up a small cloud of dust that lingered only a few moments before it began to disperse. Floating in its place now was a being made of blue energy, with a white, horned mask and hoof-shaped gauntlets at the ends of his arms. He spotted the humans and paused to straighten himself, and then he swiftly advanced. “You must be Goat!” Sonia said, coming forward to meet him. “My name is Sonia. This is Mr. Boreal, Claud, and Kidd.” Goat stood up even more stiffly. “It is a pleasure to meet you all! FM King Cepheus sends his warmest regards, and he hopes my visit will provide us with a way to further ties between our two planets—as do I.” Lyra emerged from the guitar and nodded to the new arrival. “Welcome to Earth, Goat. May I ask how things are back home?” “Planet FM is doing as well as can be expected, ma’am. King Cepheus has shown admirable zeal in his efforts to reform it, and a large portion of the populace has responded very favorably. There are several dissenting groups, of course, but they make up a relatively small piece of the planet’s population, and His Majesty expects they will come to see reason in time.” Sonia frowned. If they were no problem at all, he probably wouldn’t be telling us. Maybe I should ask Cepheus about it the next time we send a transmission… Cancer was out now. “Uh, hi, Goat! You probably don’t remember me—I’m Cancer. We served together in the Sigma Cluster a few years back.” After a short delay, Goat inclined his head. “Ah, yes! Good to see you again.” Boreal took a step forward and said, “We’re honored to have you here, Goat. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have!” “If it’s no trouble, I believe I would like to meet my assigned partner first,” Goat said. He looked over the two boys. “Is it one of them?” Boreal handed his Visualizer to Kidd. The boy put on the visor and, upon seeing Goat, nearly jumped. Bowing instead, he said, “H-Hello! My name is Kidd, and I have been offered the chance to be your partner, if you will have me. I hope that we will get along!” Goat came closer and squinted. “Hm…so, I am assigned to him?” “He was the first candidate we wanted to present, at least,” Boreal said. Goat raised an eyebrow. “I assumed I was going to be ordered to a specific partner.” “We don’t want to be that strict,” Sonia said. “The main point of you coming here is to get a closer look at how relationships are formed, right?” Goat nodded. “Well, you can’t force a relationship—you and Kidd are both going to need to decide if you’re willing to give each other a shot.” Goat turned back to Kidd. “I see. Forgive me, but I don’t feel that I have much information to go on…” “I’m afraid that’s just the way things are sometimes,” Kidd said. “For what it’s worth, I think we could become great friends, and I’m willing to try! And if things don’t work out, then we can decide where to go from there.” Goat thought for a while longer. When he finally nodded, he said, “Very well. I would like to attempt being friends with you, Kidd. I hope that we will get along.” The FM-ian bowed, and then disappeared into Kidd’s Star Carrier. Kidd returned Boreal’s Visualizer as Goat looked around the screen. The alien commented, “This storage unit is most intriguing.” “I’m glad you like it!” Boreal said, grinning a bit wider than usual. “Kidd, if it is acceptable, I believe I would like to attempt a Wave Change. It would be a good way to estimate our compatibility.” “Of course!” Kidd said, practically shaking with eagerness. “What do I have to do?” “Why don’t I show you?” Sonia volunteered, putting her Visualizer back on. She took a quick look and spotted a Wavehole near the front corner of NAZA HQ. “Come on, over here!” As she and Kidd crossed the crater, she explained, “To Wave Change, you need to find what’s called a Wavehole. They’re sort of like whirlpools where the Real World and Wave World get mixed together. Mr. Boreal didn’t have time to make you a Visualizer, but Goat should be able to direct you to a Wavehole anytime you want to transform.” She stopped and held her guitar in one hand. “Now, you’re going to want to stand right here and hold out your Star Carrier. And then…you ready Lyra?” “Always, dear.” “EM Wave Change! Sonia Strumm, On The Air!” Sonia shut her eyes to block out the flash of light that accompanied her transformation. When she stepped out of the Wavehole, she was surprised to find she was still on the ground. She could see a Wave Road above them and scanned it in confusion; it eventually led to a ramp that sloped down into the crater, and she made a low hum. I guess the Wave and Real Worlds have gotten a little closer with all this new technology. Speaking of which… She wasn’t entirely sure how to activate the Z Wave Amplifier, so she just focused on Kidd and hoped he would be able to see her. When he stepped back in shock, she assumed it had worked. “Amazing!” he exclaimed. His fingers tightened around his terminal. “Okay, now it’s our turn!” Stepping into the Wavehole, he raised his Star Carrier high and took a breath. “EM Wave Change! Kidd Gruff, On The Air!” Blue light wrapped around Kidd for a moment before spitting him out in a new form. He wore a blue bodysuit with green swirls on the sleeves and legs, and tan lining on the edges and around his shoulders and waist. Across his chest was a black X shape. There was a silver cowbell hanging from his hip, and his feet and hands had been changed to hooves—his head, also, had become that of a goat, covered in white fur and with two long yellow horns. Kidd’s jaw dropped as he looked down at himself. “Wow…this feeling is incredible! Can you still hear me, Goat?” “I can,” Goat replied. “We appear to have merged without any difficulty. It seems we may indeed make an effective pair.” “Come on, Kidd, let us see what you look like!” Claud called. “Huh?” He turned to Sonia. “You can only be seen in this form when you want to be,” Sonia said, trying to sound like it had always worked this way. “Just focus, and it should happen on its own.” Kidd turned to Claud and was still for a moment. Claud soon shouted, “Oh, wow! You look so cool! See, I told you you’d be perfect for this!” Taking a few steps, Kidd said, “I feel much stronger than usual!” “We should test that,” Goat said. “Sonia and Lyra. If we may, I would like to request a sparring match. It would be an excellent chance for us to learn to work together, and I would also like to see your power for myself.” Sonia giggled. “It’s been a while since we last sparred with someone, so maybe you shouldn’t expect too much. But I’d be happy to give it a shot!” Kidd bowed and took up a fighting stance. Sonia bowed back, and then readied her guitar. “So, what sort of abilities do you have, Goat?” Kidd asked. “Truthfully, I’m little more than a melee fighter,” Goat said. “I am built for quick and precise physical strikes.” “Really? That’s perfect!” Suddenly he was in front of Sonia. She threw herself back as soon as she realized he was there—a hoof was thrust over her shoulder, missing her by an incredibly slim margin. Yikes! He’s way faster than Bud! Sonia flipped backwards and kicked off of NAZA HQ, strumming her guitar a few times as she floated over Kidd. Musical note-shaped energy blasts flew towards her opponent, but he nimbly dodged each one, waited until she landed, and ran at her again. Sonia summoned two speakers, each to the side and a bit ahead of her, facing each other; when Kidd was in front of her again, she played, and he was caught between the notes launched from the extra equipment. Kidd was stunned, so Sonia used a sound pulse to send him soaring across the crater. She winced as he landed. “Ah, sorry, maybe that was a bit much!” Kidd picked himself up, shaking his head as if he were dizzy. “No, that’s quite alright…if this is what these battles are like, then I must get used to it!” “I wanted to take it easy on you at first, but you’re a natural! I’m already having trouble keeping up!” Smiling, Kidd ran forward. Sonia readied herself, but her foe suddenly launched into a flying kick, catching her by surprise and knocking her back. She recovered in time to dance around a few punches. Finding an opening, she played one note, and then put some distance between them before playing more. Kidd was able to dodge them at first, but she soon summoned a new pair of speakers, and he found himself gradually overwhelmed by the storm of sound. When she stopped playing, he said, “Why did you stop? I would have found a way out!” “Sorry, it just seemed like I had you trapped—it didn’t seem fair.” Kidd renewed his stance. Goat advised, “I do possess a special ability that we can use, but since this is our first battle, you may find it a bit taxing.” “Even so, let’s give it a try!” Kidd said. Sonia watched closely. Kidd moved in again, and she sidestepped his next punch. Something materialized beside him, however: a shadowy replica of Kidd that appeared to flicker in and out of existence, and it mimicked his action, landing its own punch on Sonia. She jumped back, noticing Kidd was breathing somewhat heavily. The image soon vanished. “You can make duplicates of yourself?” she asked. “That’s going to be really unfair once you master it! I’m a little jealous!” Kidd prepared to strike, but had to dig in to avoid being flung away by the sound pulse that battered him. Managing to hold his ground, he lashed out with a punch. Sonia stumbled back. A duplicate of Kidd appeared in front of him to knock her further back, and then a second duplicate appeared, sending her back another step. Kidd steadied himself as they were dismissed, and then threw himself into another kick. Sonia ducked and he flew over her. Aiming her guitar, the strings shot out from it and wrapped around Kidd; as his momentum faded, Sonia pulled on the line and spun around, swinging Kidd through the air and ultimately smashing him into the stone wall. He fell to the ground and laid there, sprawled out in a dazed state. Sonia rushed over. “Sorry, sorry! I definitely got carried away that time!” “That’s alright,” Kidd grunted. “You’re just as strong as Claud said…we’ll need to train quite a bit if we’re going to be a match for you!” As Sonia helped him up, Goat said, “Thank you, Sonia and Lyra. It was an honor to see you in action.” “What do you think of your new partner, dear?” Lyra asked. “I am impressed. He is already an accomplished fighter, and he was using my powers more effectively than I thought he would. This is most promising indeed.” “Thank you!” Kidd said. “It was a thrill being able to use your power! I hope I will continue to exceed your expectations.” “Are you two always going to be this formal with each other?” Sonia laughed. “Anyway, I think you should get some rest, Kidd—Wave Changing can take a lot out of you before your body gets used to it. Mr. Boreal will answer any more questions, and tell you how to keep in contact with NAZA during your journey.” “Journey?” Goat repeated. Kidd stepped back into the Wavehole, reverting to normal. “Well, I was hoping to leave home and explore the world a bit. As long as you’re okay with it, that is.” “Where will we be going?” “Nowhere in particular. I just want to see what’s out there!” Goat paused. Kidd looked at his Star Carrier, finding the alien staring at the side of the screen. “…If that’s not acceptable, then—“ “No, it’s not quite that,” Goat interrupted. “I’m simply…nervous to embark on a directionless quest. It sounds like the goals are less defined.” Sonia stepped out of the Wavehole next, looking past Kidd so as not to rush him. “So that’s your concern,” Kidd said. “I don’t want to push you into anything you don’t want to do…maybe if we picked a few specific places? Would you be more comfortable then?” “I…suppose…” Goat said. He nodded, and then continued, “Actually, my assignment does require me to step outside of what I am comfortable with. Please carry on as you intended.” “No, I can be more exact without it causing any problems! We’re going to work together, so I’m ready to make compromises.” “…Of course. Thank you, Kidd.” Claud ran over, shouting, “That was awesome! You and Goat go together perfectly—you’re gonna be one of the toughest out of all of us, I can tell!” As they talked, Sonia nodded to Boreal. He nodded back. “Well,” she said, “if you’ll excuse me, I need to get going.” “Already?” Claud said. “Sorry, but I’m trying to plan my next concert right now, and we’ve still got a lot to do. I’ll mail you later, though!” “Alright. Good luck with the plans!” “Thanks. It was great to see you! And nice to meet you, Kidd, Goat.” They shared their good-byes, and then Sonia made her way towards Boreal. “Hope you don’t mind me dropping the rest of the work on you.” “Not at all,” Boreal laughed. “You go on, I can—“ He stopped as his Star Carrier beeped again. Taking a look at the screen, he frowned, and then surveyed the crater. “…Something wrong?” Sonia asked. “Not sure,” Boreal murmured. “We’re starting to think it might be an error in the Z wave detector program we’re using. It keeps going off, but we haven’t seen any unfamiliar EM beings no matter how hard we search.” “Huh. Do you want us to look around?” Boreal shook his head as he pocketed his terminal. “No, that’s alright, we don’t need to hold you up when we don’t have any real proof. But you might want to keep an eye out.” “We’ll do just that,” Lyra said. “Here’s hoping you’re able to find the problem.” “Right,” Sonia said. “In that case I really will get going. See you later—I’m sure I’ll find some reason to be back here soon enough!” (Review)
  13. I have recently seen an instance in which a single female character was portrayed overreacting to something. The scenario was played for laughs, and while a good amount of time could be spent going over the joke itself and why it was or was not funny, a more important issue is some of the criticism that the joke received - that having this character, who was female, overreact in an emotional manner, was sexist. That it implied the attitude that all women were prone to overemotional reactions. This, I believe, is a flawed judgment, for the reason that some individual women are, in fact, prone to overemotional reactions. This is not because they are women. This is because they are human, with any of an assortment of personality quirks that come along with that condition. I know more than a few men who are prone to such an overreaction. And perhaps, one might say, it would have been better to use a male character for that role - to make a man overreact instead of a woman, to deter the accusations of sexism. I disagree. Women are approximately fifty percent of the human population, and it is probable that approximately fifty percent of overemotional freakouts are had by women. Simply because years of consistent portrayals of a trait as a quality exclusive to women has made it a sensitive subject does not mean that this trait can never again be ascribed to women in fiction, nor does the ascribing of such a trait to one character mean that the writer is sexist. For that to happen ,the writer has to consistently portray the majority of their female characters as overemotional basket-cases - have a look at a good many sitcom writers if you need an example. Having one character with this trait is not sexism, it's having a character with believable human qualities - or, in the case of some works of amateur comedy, somewhat unbelievable human qualities. Even exaggerating these traits to absurdity in one case, however, does not make the writer a sexist - anymore than making a male character an unbelievably smug windbag suggests a belief that all men are cartoonishly smug windbags. When writing fiction, it isn't healthy to constantly be looking over your shoulder to make sure that nothing you write could possibly offend someone. Just write natural characters that fit the story you're writing. And even if you can't do that, a bad joke doesn't make you a bigot - perhaps a bit thoughtless, and certainly not a master comedian, but not necessarily a bigot.
  14. The Queen of the Sky sat crouched atop the cliff face, her fingers picking at one of her leather bracers of their own accord. Before her lay a vast expanse of land encircled by mountains. A waterfall spilled over the edge in one place to form a large lake, which then split into a number of rivers that reached out to carry life to every corner of the domain. People gathered by huts along the banks, organizing supplies to build more dwellings while others brought food to them. The sight made the Queen a bit sad, but it was encouraging at the same time. We are resilient…but I hope we never have to rebuild like this again. Her gaze drifted up. The sky was still blue, though not for much longer. The sun was already making its descent, and would start to sink behind the mountains soon enough—even now it was trying to mask itself behind some clouds, but a breath from the Queen was enough to part them. To most, the sky might look different every minute, a million small things that are forever shifting, always interacting in a new way, and many stand in awe at this marvelous complexity. But to some (and certainly to the Queen), the base essence of the sky was what they saw most clearly: the static canvas happy to play host to this ever-changing string of guests, the companion that was always there, always watching no matter its state, like an old guard dog. She smiled, and for a moment her face knew not a trace of weariness. Knowing that her namesake remained so reliable was enough to give her strength. Footsteps caught her attention. Standing and turning, she saw another woman making her way towards the edge, this one wearing a dress of a burnt orange color and a golden crown nearly identical to hers. “Land!” Sky said, starting forward. “Careful, there’s a loose patch of soil!” At the Queen of the Land’s step, the ground reshaped and hardened itself, transforming to fit her foot perfectly just before it landed. “Come now, dear, I’m not one to lose my footing,” she chuckled. Nonetheless, she accepted the hand she was offered and pulled herself closer to the other Queen, pausing for a brief kiss before stepping away. Her expression hardened as she reached the cliff. “To think we nearly lost all of this…and all for some petty sense of competition…” Sky set a hand on her shoulder. She quickly removed it, saying, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” Land shook her head. “Don’t worry. How are your wounds healing?” Shifting her weight to test her leg, Sky said, “Decently. However, this body has begun to grow old. There may be new limits to how well I can heal.” After a pause, she added, “Do you think we should go see Fire? We have to make sure the Eastern Ruin is sealed away, else—“ Land put a finger to Sky’s lips. “She will see to it. We all decided that the ones at the most extreme points would be responsible for sealing the Ruinous away; we need to honor that agreement. I know it’s difficult right now, but we have to start learning to trust the others.” Sky sighed, running her hands down Land’s arm. “You’ve always said that.” “Well now that the wars have ended, I have all the more reason to keep saying it! Besides, plenty of humans say bonds forged in battle are the most profound. Why don’t we give that a shot?” Sky smiled, trying to stifle a laugh. Land turned and crossed her arms, saying, “I see.” “No, that’s not what I meant! Simply…” She tried to find the words. Land looked over her shoulder patiently. “You’re so eager to see the best in people, I suppose. I never really learned to appreciate it…I didn’t have much chance, with all the warring. But I think it’s an attitude that will serve us well in this new era.” Land tapped her foot. “Hm. ‘You have an attitude that will serve us well.’” She shrugged and smirked. “Not a very traditional compliment, but I suppose it’s one I’ll accept.” Sky gently wrapped her arms around Land from behind, kissing her on the cheek. “I am quite relieved.” They continued to watch the people together. Eventually, Sky asked, “What are you going to name this place?” “I’ve heard that the others are naming their queendoms after the first human who bore their Crown. I think it’s a lovely idea.” “Roche, then?” “I’m not entirely sure it fits. What do you think?” “I’ve always found it a beautiful name.” Land giggled. “An excellent maneuver, dear, but I daresay you’ve missed the point.” She hesitated before asking, “…And you?” Sky lifted her head from Land’s shoulder. “I’ll need to find a domain first. There are some cliffs on the southwestern shore that I think I could enjoy, but they’re quite a distance away.” Clouds appeared, forming a blanket of shade over the two. Land was silent for a time. Then, she quietly asked, “Did they ask us to separate?” “Hm?” “We’ve been operating under the assumption…we’ve thought that, now that the Queens are going to formalize their territories, that means you and I need to find separate spaces. But I’ve been thinking, and…I don’t think anyone said anything about that.” She pulled away so that she could turn and look at Sky. “Sky, think back: did anyone say we needed to separate?” Sky stared at her blankly, trying to remember the conference. “They…well, I hadn’t really…now that you mention it, I don’t recall any specific mention of our situation.” A hopeful grin took Land’s face. Sky could feel something similar within herself, but still said, “That might not mean what we want it to. Land, I want nothing more than to remain here with you, but this…doesn’t seem the best time to stir tensions. We need peace, else the Ruinous might reawaken.” “And would the others break that peace just to keep us apart?” Land asked. Sky looked down. The wind started to pick up. Land reached out to her, saying, “Sky, I love you. I have not a single memory of our time before this realm, but I still know that I have loved you since time began. And I know that you feel the same.” She took Sky’s hand. The other Queen whispered, “I’m afraid, Land. We didn’t see the Ruinous until they were out butchering people. I’m frightened that anything I do might carelessly unleash them again. If the Eastern Ruin destroyed this place, killed even more of our people…if one of them killed you, I couldn’t…” Land embraced Sky. She waited a moment, then said, “The Ruinous draw power from the hate and violence that filled this world. When we began to trust instead, their strength was lessened—we all saw that.” She looked up at Sky, putting a hand to her cheek. “So what do you think would happen if we taught this world to cherish love? I doubt that’s something those fiends could ever recover from.” Sky thought hard, making sure she could not come up with an argument. When she found she had none, she leaned forward for a long kiss, and the clouds cleared away to bathe the queendom of Roche in sunlight. When at last they parted, she found herself giggling, and she asked, “What would I do without you?” “I promise that you will never have to find out,” Land said. Review
  15. Pahrak Model ZX

    Sequel On!

    About five months after the first one ended, I’m finally ready to start Shooting Star Sonia 2: Tribe! This might’ve been out a little sooner if not for computer troubles (which seem to be doing much better, thank God) and standard-issue distractions…and Kingdom Hearts Unchained X…but anyway, I got a bit of a headstart before deciding to post the first chapter, so hopefully updates will be regular for at least a little while. For now the schedule is every other week, so expect Chapter 2 on the 18th! I’m already taking some more liberties this time around, since the general consensus is that Star Force 2 was Very Bad. For starters, rather than a gap of 2-3 months between games, SSS2 takes place two years after the end of the first, and in the duration Sonia has been working alongside NAZA to maintain relations with Planet FM in addition to restarting her singing career. (It bugged me that the entire trilogy takes place in under a year.) The other changes will be revealed steadily, but hopefully I’ve been able to smooth over some of the more glaring issues the game had. So there you have it! It’s time for Sonia’s second battle to begin!
  16. Just a day or two ago, a topic started by -Takua- on deciphering the Gen2 runes made the front page. Naturally, it got a lot of traffic and many replies. There was, and still is, a great amount of excitement over a new BIONICLE language. Unfortunately, among many of the objective posts (most posts were either off topic or approval of adding a new language), the general concensus is that these symbols do not, as of this time, have any meaning and are simply decoration. Given the LEGO Group's aptness to heavily incorporate the old Matoran Language into the first generation before it became expected to do so, if these symbols do not mean anything, it is unlikely that they ever will. However, at least from what I have heard, LEGO has been known to accept fan input for the BIONICLE story from time to time. What I suggest is the creation of a fan-developed language, one using few other symbols outside of the ones featured in the shorts and inscribed on the Mask of Creation. This is really a time to be creative, so don't feel confined to the English alphabet (or grammar, for that matter). Get creative enough, and we just might be able to give a meaning to that endlessly repeating string of non-repeating characters. Before attempting to start this puzzler, I recommend seeing -Takua-'s post as well as SkullKid's (towards the end) as they are the most informative (there are a lot of posts). Even if LEGO still never gives the runes a meaning, this could be a sort of ongoing project/puzzle to give meaning to the meaningless; a "fanonical" language if you will, which is better than none at all. Feel free to post your thoughts even if they only are half baked. A fragment of an idea just may prove inspirational to someone else. NOTE: There still is a chance that these symbols do indeed currently have a meaning, it is just unlikely.
  17. I've played with LEGO since I was a kid. It all started with a LEGO City set with a female minifigure I named Megan. I gave her all of the powers of a Powerpuff girl. She fought crime, battled monsters and generally saved the day. Then one day I decided she should probably have a love interest. So, I picked a fire fighter minifig and named him Jack (because Titanic was a popular romance movie at the time, and that love interest was named Jack, so I figured it would work). While Jack had no special powers of his own, he... well he was indeed a love interest. Their son, however, grew up into a super smarty smart and built himself a super powered robot suit. But that's getting ahead of myself. Anyway, I figured it might be neat to write a story about my LEGO collection, starting with my first minifig loves. Light and Shadow Beware, it's probably horribly written and super depressing. It is being written by me after all. GET OFF MY LAWN! ~Tekulo <3
  18. Chapter 1 The unarmored blue FM-ian yawned loudly. His tiny gray box of an office was empty, as it always was. The giant, glowing portal to the Astro Wave was clear, as always. And the stretch of Wave Road leading from the portal out into the distance was, predictably— KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK The guard snapped to attention. Floating just outside his office was an FM-ian shaped like a large harp, eyeing him with a bored expression. “Oh, Miss Lyra!” the guard said, quickly saluting. “My apologies, I didn’t see you coming!” Lyra smirked. “Nodding off, perhaps?” The guard gulped. “Oh, don’t worry, dear, I won’t tell anyone. I hardly blame you: guarding this place must be dreadfully tedious.” “Y…yes, ma’am. Thank you very much, ma’am.” Lyra moved a pace away. “I’m here on official business. Could you open the gate for me, please?” “Oh, of course! I’ll get it immediately, ma’am.” As the guard reached for the lever, Lyra casually floated towards the portal. The blue pillar of light turned green, the bars surrounding it disappearing one by one. Poking his head out, he said, “It’ll only take a moment, Miss Lyra. If I may ask, where are you going? Hardly any off-planet assignments have been handed down these days—do you have some kind of special mission?” Lyra watched the locks continue to open. “Something like that.” A light on the control panel flashed. The guard turned to a viewscreen, which soon flicked on to display a large yellow FM-ian. “Gemini, sir!” Lyra spun around. “This is an alert for all Astro Wave guards,” Gemini said. “One of our elite soldiers, Lyra, has betrayed the FM King.” She turned back to the portal. Only one more lock to go. “We believe she is trying to make it off-planet. Should you see her, you are ordered to turn her in to the authorities.” The guard looked up. “I-I see. Um…sir?” The last lock disappeared. Lyra leapt into the portal before the guard could do anything, feeling the world rush past her as she was transported to Planet FM’s upper atmosphere. “Yes? What is it?” Gemini asked. Staring at the portal, the guard said, “Um…I’ll let you know if I hear anything…” *** Sonia walked down the dirt path cutting through the park, staring up at the stars. She had hoped to explore the city a little more, but she was so recognizable lately that she couldn’t go anywhere without attracting a mob. No one was in the park except her—she had some room to breathe here. Of course, she might have been able to look around if she had her staff with her, but her manager didn’t even know she was out. He had insisted she stay in and spend the next few days practicing, regardless of the fact that she knew all these songs backwards and forwards and could play them in her sleep. (She had played in her sleep once—for how unnerved her manager had been she thought he would’ve remembered.) She stopped in front of a large flowerbed and looked at the open field beyond it. “So that’s where the stage is going to be?” she mumbled. “Hm…this looks good. We should be able to get a lot of people out here.” So many people. She shook her head. Sonia walked to the nearest bench and sank into it, pulling her guitar onto her lap and exhaling loudly. At the instrument’s head was a small screen that displayed a Transer menu—she touched through the options and skimmed her email to pass time. This is still boring, but…I guess it’s better to be bored out here. She picked at the guitar for a bit, and then looked down at the sunglasses clipped onto the neck of her hoodie. She held them up and examined them: they had wide, pink, oval-shaped lenses that mashed together at the center, with concentric semicircles etched into their surface. Sonia slipped them on. “Haha…they’re not very fashionable, but I guess I shouldn’t complain.” She started playing again. About half-way through the song, something caught her eye; her fingers stopped and she looked up at the sky, seeing a bright white light streak across it. She leapt to her feet. “A shooting star?” The light kept moving, seemingly growing brighter by the second. “Weird, they’re not supposed to last this long…well, more time to make a wish, I guess!” She closed her eyes and thought. An image of her mother came to mind—she tried to think of something else, but that was all that came. …I guess, she thought, I wish I had a chance to know more about her. She didn’t think shooting star wishes really came true (not for several years now), but she still felt silly for not wishing for something a little more realistic. When she opened her eyes, she saw that the light was still getting brighter… And it appeared to be angling towards her. “Huh?” She took a step back and bumped into the bench, falling onto it. When she looked back up, her sunglasses started flashing, forcing her to shut her eyes. “What’s going on?!” She opened her eyes just enough to see the bright light barreling down on her. “Ah!!” Sonia was knocked off the bench by some blunt force and hit the ground. She was dazed for a few seconds; when she could see straight again, she grabbed her guitar and was relieved to see it was unscathed. “Whew, that’s good…” She stood up and dusted herself off. Stooping to pick up the sunglasses, she wondered, “What the heck was that?” “Hello there.” She spun around. No one was there—even the strange light had disappeared, leaving the park just as dark and empty as it had been a minute ago. “Weird,” she said, putting the sunglasses back on. She blinked. The glowing neon platforms in the sky didn’t go away. She took the glasses off, and the lights disappeared. She put them back on—they came back. “…Huh,” she said. “Excuse me, dear?” She turned around without taking the glasses off, and now saw a large, flaming harp with a face floating in front of her. “…Oh, um, you mean me?” Sonia said after a short delay. The harp smiled. “Yes, you. I know you can see me with those.” Sonia ran a finger along the glasses. “Is that it? Why? This has definitely never happened before…” The harp frowned. “You don’t know what the Visualizer does?” Sonia shook her head. Is this a dream, maybe? “I see…well, put simply, it lets you see EM waves, which humans normally can’t perceive. I’m an EM lifeform from Planet FM—it’s only because of your Visualizer that you are able to see me. They were off, so I jumpstarted the battery for you. Apologies for the rude landing, but I was having some trouble aiming.” Sonia crossed her arms. This being was being polite enough, but somehow she couldn’t help but feel…patronized. “So you’re an alien?” “Yes.” “Okay.” The alien raised one eyebrow. “You’re being awfully calm about this.” Sonia smiled nervously. “Well, even if this isn’t a dream, panicking won’t really get me anywhere.” The harp laughed. “What an interesting human…my name is Lyra, by the way.” “I’m Sonia. Sonia Strumm.” Lyra’s eyes widened. “Did you say Strumm?” Sonia cringed—having her name recognized was a bit concerning even when talking to humans, let alone sentient instruments from outer space. “Um…yes?” “I see…” “…So, um, what brings you to Earth? I mean, if it’s okay for me to ask.” “Considering how I made my entrance, I believe you’re entitled at least to that,” Lyra replied. She spoke a bit slowly. “Some brutes from my home planet are looking for me. Earth is sort of out of the way, and…” She trailed off. Sonia waited expectantly, but all she got was, “It just seemed like a place where I could find a friend.” “Really?” Sonia said. “Is there anything I can do to help you?” “Hm? You want to help out an alien you just met?” “It sounds like you’re in trouble. I might not be able to do much, but if most people can’t see you then I feel like it falls to me to at least try to help.” Lyra looked at her for a moment, and then grinned. “…Thank you. I think I’ll take you up on that.” The alien disappeared in a burst of pink flame. Sonia looked around, and then heard laughter coming from the screen on her guitar. “The EM technology of you humans is still a bit primitive,” Lyra’s voice said, “but this should do for now.” Sonia looked at the screen—Lyra was floating inside it. “Huh? Hey, please be careful! This was a gift from my mother!” Lyra’s face shifted. It bothered Sonia in a way she couldn’t articulate. “Really…did she give you the Visualizer as well?” “Huh? Well, yes, but…” “Forgive me if this is sudden, but can I meet your mother?” Sonia blinked. A pit began to form in her stomach. “…Um…” “She must have some experience with EM waves if she had access to a Visualizer,” Lyra explained calmly. “Such a person would definitely be able to—“ “I can’t.” “Hm?” “I’m sorry, but…I can’t take you to Mama.” Lyra eyed Sonia warily. “…And why not?” Sonia lowered the guitar and looked up. “She’s in Heaven.” After a moment, Lyra asked, “And where is Heaven?” “What?” “Is it someplace far away? Is that why you can’t take me?” “You…don’t know about Heaven?” “I have some basic knowledge of this planet, but nothing in-depth. Is it on another continent, or the other side of the world?” Sonia shook her head—her chest was starting to sting. “No. Heaven is, um…it’s where you go, when you…pass on…” Lyra had been edging closer. She now recoiled, wide-eyed. “…Oh. Oh, dear, I’m so sorry.” She sounded far more sincere now. “That’s alright,” Sonia said, and her unease began to subside gradually. She started walking back towards town—no use standing around in the park all night. “But, you really don’t know about Heaven on your planet?” “…Our beliefs are a bit different,” Lyra quietly returned. “We FM-ians have a legend that says when we die, our waves drift through space and eventually coalesce with those of our ancestors in the form of a star, or maybe in a larger constellation if you have a prestigious lineage.” Sonia brightened up a bit. “That sounds beautiful.” “In a way, I suppose.” Sonia hummed. “I’m not really sure where to take you. You say it might help to see someone who has experience with EM waves, but I don’t know anyone like that.” “…I hope I don’t seem rude in asking, but…you don’t know any co-workers or friends your mother might have had?” “No, sorry. She did used to be a scientist, but she left that job about three years ago; she never really talked about it much.” “I see.” “There was one friend she had who I met a few times after that, but I don’t know how to get ahold of him. I could try looking him up.” “That’s alright, dear; thank you anyway. I’ll figure something out.” As they reached the park exit, Sonia became aware of a strange buzzing sound. She looked up at the buildings that loomed above, and her eyes were drawn to their brilliantly-flashing signs, which were pulsing with an odd frequency she had never seen before. “That’s strange…” Suddenly, one of the signs burst apart, raining glass shards and live sparks on the road below. Sonia jumped. “Ah! That’s definitely not normal!” “Rats,” Lyra said. “Looks like this wasn’t the best place to hide after all.” “What do you mean?” Another sign burst. “This can only be the work of EM viruses.” “Viruses? But viruses are easy to keep in check—they’ve never caused problems like this.” Lyra shook her head. Well, her whole body, really, but Sonia assumed it was an equivalent gesture. “These are EM viruses from Planet FM. The entire planet is made up of strong EM waves, so our viruses are a lot more powerful. Some of them must have been on my tail; I can’t believe I didn’t notice…” More signs began to erupt. Sonia dashed away from the dim street light she was standing next to. “So we have to stop the viruses, right? Can you do that?” “Normally it’d be a breeze. But, the EM waves on this planet are so much weaker, I don’t have access to my full power. These viruses picked brawn over brains—they don’t get as bad a penalty as intelligent waves like me.” Sonia ducked behind a bush as the streetlights in the park started popping. “Isn’t there anything you can do?!” Lyra hesitated for a moment. “…Do you see that? Over there, on the ground?” Sonia looked. A whirlpool of orange light was spinning on the ground a few feet from her, right next to an old tree at the edge of the park. “What is that?” “It’s a Wavehole. Distortions like that link the Real World and the Wave World, and—oh, there’s no time for the specifics. If you want to stop this, then step into the Wavehole!” Sonia nodded and ran. She entered the Wavehole a bit tentatively, but didn’t feel a thing. “Now,” Lyra said, “no matter what happens, just follow my lead, alright?” “Alright,” Sonia said. A bit reluctantly, she added, “I trust you.” Lyra faltered. “You…a-alright. Good. Raise this device and say ‘EM Wave Change! Sonia Strumm, On the Air!’” Sonia raised her guitar, then: “Wait, what?” Another streetlight exploded. “Er, I mean…EM Wave Change! Sonia Strumm, On the Air!” Light blinded Sonia, and a feeling like a mild static shock ran through her whole body. The sensation lasted for what felt like a long time, and when it passed, she looked around and discovered she was now standing on the Wave Road above the park. “How did we get up here?” She then looked down at herself. She was wearing a pink dress with a large heart-shaped armor plate over her chest, and black fabric over her legs and shoulders; her lower legs were encased in thick pink armor, and the fabric on her arms was striped pink and white. She held up one hand and looked at the yellow cuff and pink glove now adorning it. “…What is…?” She touched her head—it was now covered by a helmet, and the Visualizer had transformed into a visor. A long white scarf was hanging from her neck, and she saw that her guitar had changed to look more like a light blue harp with a microphone stand growing from its top, a face carved into the head just above the mic. “I’ll explain as we go,” Lyra replied, her voice coming from the guitar. “Just brace yourself. They’re going to come to us now.” Sonia nodded. “…Um…is this…permanent?” “No, this is a temporary transformation.” Sonia wore an exasperated grin. “Well, I guess I always did dream of being a magical girl…” The lights that were still flickering returned to normal, and a creature appeared on the Wave Road in front of each one. All of them looked like black dots with nothing but eyes and feet, hiding under oversized hard hats that sprouted antennae. They advanced down the road like a mob. I’m so sick of mobs. “We’re going to have to fight them,” Lyra said. “I thought you said you didn’t have your full power here?” “I don’t. But when you EM Wave Changed, we fused together to create this new form. It restores my power, but you’re the one who has to use it.” Sonia looked at her guitar and exclaimed, “I don’t know how to fight!” “You know how to play this instrument, correct?” “Well, yes.” “Then you’re in luck! No one is better than me at weaponizing sound waves. Just play something and I’ll handle the rest.” The viruses kept moving forward. Sonia faced them, took a breath, and strummed her guitar. A large musical note appeared before her and flew at the viruses, plowing into a small group of them; they exploded on impact, and the shockwaves knocked over a few of their companions. “Whoa!” Sonia said, taking a half-step back. She played a chord, sending out a few more notes that thinned the oncoming group even more. “Wow. But, there are so many of them…if only we had—“ Before she could finish, two box-shaped speakers appeared on either side of her, and at the next note she played, they sent forth additional notes that wiped away the majority of the surviving force. One of the viruses summoned a pickaxe. It struck the Wave Road, sending out a shockwave that destroyed one of the speakers. Sonia jumped back, avoiding another shockwave, and sized up the threat: fewer than ten viruses remained, but they had successfully closed the distance and could attack her at any time. “Now might not be the best time to test your evasion tactics,” Lyra said. “I can take them out in one go, but since you’re new to this, the strain might be a bit much.” The viruses raised their pickaxes. “Fine with me!” Sonia said. “If you say so.” Sonia raised her arm high and then brought it down on the strings. A massive, heart-shaped shockwave pulsed out from her, sweeping away the viruses and the smoke and flames that they burst into one-by-one. “Amazing…” She began to feel lightheaded. Stumbling to the side, she sat down on the remaining speaker and caught her breath. “You okay, Sonia?” “I think so.” “Sorry to throw you into this headfirst. For what it’s worth, you handled it quite well…I’m actually impressed.” Though the FM-ian sounded somewhat condescending, Sonia was too drained to care. “Haha…thanks…” She went back to examining her outfit. This was a lot to take in: aliens, super-viruses, magical transformations, battles…Lyra was already seeming like a lot of trouble. …But…she needs help. And she doesn’t seem that bad. After resting another minute, Sonia stood up. The speaker vanished. “So?” she asked. “I’m sorry?” “So, what do we do now? If those viruses were able to follow you here, then the others you’re running from will probably be here soon too.” “Yes, probably…and they’ll surely want to pick a fight. I guess I’ll just have to be ready for them.” Sonia nodded. “Alright. How do we do that?” “Hm? Wait, do you mean you still want to help me?” “Well, yes. I said that I would, didn’t I?” “Yes, but that was before I said anything about actually fighting. I’d hardly be offended if this was a deal-breaker.” Sonia shook her head and smiled. “It is sort of scary, but…I want to do what I can, I guess. Besides, Mama always told me that I had to keep my word!” It was a while before she received a response. “You truly are an interesting human…” Lyra laughed. “Very well, then! I’ll teach you how to use my power so that you can defend us both. But, for now, I think we could both use a little sleep.” Sonia yawned. “Yeah. How do I get off the Wave Road?” “Just step back into the Wavehole, dear—that’ll separate us again.” Sonia walked back into the swirl of energy. Another flash, another shock, and she was back in the park, looking like her normal self. She took off her Visualizer and sighed deeply, and then headed back towards her hotel. Well…I’m certainly not bored. (Review)
  19. What are your thoughts on Greg's writing of Bionicle?
  20. That way I can't be accused of breaking my word. =P But in any case, Reborn has begun! I should have the next chapter up by next weekend, if not sooner.
  21. As the title suggests, none of this is final. I literally just came up with it today and I haven't set anything in stone yet. So anyways, my idea is a story centered around side-protagonists (so no generic shopkeeps from a JRPG or anything, people with a name and impact on the story but not serving as the main point of view) from different media getting invited to a sort of... Vacation home? Vacation neighborhood? Not sure what it's called. Anyways, said characters get a letter saying something along the lines of "We feel your contributions could use appreciation!" that invites them to the place, so a bunch of these wildly different side characters from wildly different series all end up in this one place. And for the first part or more, it'd be a sitcom-ish story about this ragtag group struggling to get along well and also live a rather mundane life. However... There's the potential that, as the story progresses, those at the vacation home could discover secrets that suggest something less than wholesome at work.... Or something like that. =P So yeah. That's about it. The collab part comes from selecting interested folks to control two(?) side characters from some series of their choosing, no original characters or fanon additions. Aside from a few chapters that require input from multiple writers (probably handled with a Google Doc), it'd mostly be an at-your-own-pace setup, with each member writing a chapter from the perspective of their chosen characters. If this actually becomes a thing I'll formalize a selection process but for now, I'll just listen to people who habe anything to say. I'm sure the concept needs a ton of refinement, and truth be told, I'm not sure I could actually make this happen? But if things work out alright and enough people would want to see this... Well. Time to hope for the best.
  22. From VERSUS 2's Team MEGA-ORB (Pulse, Kopekemaster, ShadowVezon, Unit, Vrokorta, and possibly other contributors), this is: Welcome, fellow weavers of extravagant tales of Bionicle lore. The Bionicle story team has convened all of you to write the next Bionicle story. Unfortunately, there is a catch. The story must be typed out in sections, and each of the continuing sections must be voted on by the entire group. Rounds: Part 1: Submit your continuation In this part of the round, any member who stops by this topic may type up a paragraph to continue the story after the The Story So Far (see below). Your paragraphs may be serious, wacky, comedic, or anything else you want them to be - the sky is the limit! You will have 24 hours (from the time on this post, etc) to submit your paragraphs. Part 2: Vote on the submitted paragraphs After the paragraph-submitting portion of the round has ended, you will have 24 hours to vote for which paragraph will be added to the The Story So Far. Evaluation of the paragraphs and providing reasoning behind your vote is encouraged! -Rules: ---Has to be a paragraph, so it has to be more than just one sentence, but not be something fifteen sentences long. ---Has to be written as a story, so no role-playing. Characters, if any, do not belong to anyone. ---Cannot simply disregard previous stuff without a good explanation. ---Don't be a sore loser. ---Don't plagiarise. ---Please distinguish your paragraph submission from the rest of your post/commentary. The Story So Far: The Toa who had no name stepped onto the final jutting rock of the ledge, looking out over the plains of Po-Wahi. They had no name because they had left it behind, abandoned it because they no longer deserved one. They were merely a traveller, now, an observer of the way things went on around them without participating themself. That was the plan, the intention. To observe, but not to interfere. It had been so long since they had last acted they had forgotten most of themself, now reduced to a mere observer. They heard the wind breeze over the sand, they saw the sand move along with the wind, they felt the sand flying into their body as it was carried by the wind. A sandstorm was coming. It was time to move, to travel onwards. They jumped off the ledge and landed lightly, flattening the dried shrub below them with a soft crunch. ------------------------------------ What will happen next? Go! 24 hours starts now.
  23. Cyrix

    Quick Update

    -so finals are approaching, i'm taking 2 ap tests, and so logically the best option is to cram as much schoolwork down student's throats as possible -I'm taking part in the day of silence this Friday! As a part of my high school's Allies Club, I'm making a more conscious effort to be informed and to take a more active part in promoting equality, so I won't be talking to anyone or interacting with anyone outside of what's required for school for the entire school day. I'm friends with one of the co-leaders of the club, and she explained to me that the purpose of the day was to simulate as best as possible what it feels like when you don't feel like you can talk to anyone (obviously not anywhere close to how it actually feels), so I'm excited and hope that this will be a learning experience for me. -Also going on the retreat for my high school next week. This is the last one I'll be able to go on unless I sign up to be a student leader on a retreat, but next week's retreat is apparently the amazing, life-changing, super feels-y one. From what I've heard everyone cries. I'm excited because yay feelings! -not bragging or anything but a 2360 is a good SAT super-score right #totallybragging sorry just excited -Daredevil. Soooo good. I'm only on episode 10 and I won't be able to watch anymore until this weekend but oh boy wow this is a big step for Marvel. If you haven't been a fan of Marvel's stuff up to now there's still a good chance you'll enjoy Daredevil. -Speaking of Marvel, AOU in two weeks! I am a fanboy so I'll love it regardless of actual quality (that being said I don't expect it to be anything under great) -super secret writing project is underway. Stay tuned! It will most likely not be good but I really just want to test the waters with writing and stretch myself, and I think that's a good goal. -I've been feeling a little odd lately. On one hand, a lot of my relationships with other people have been going really well! My friendships feel like they're in a good place and I'm strengthening some of my newer ones. But at the same time something feels off. I'm not sure if it's one thing or many things, but I think one factor is this creeping feeling that all relationships and experiences are temporary and fleeting- a little deep, but I get where I might be coming from as I lost touch with almost all of my grade/middle school friends of 8+ years upon coming to high school, plus some complex relationship-y stuff once in high school. Trying to make sense of it all but it feels all muddy and unclear. I'll try to make sense of it as best I can but I'll be fine. -Ending on a happier note- prom is this Saturday! Also the ACT is this Saturday! haha you thought this post was gonna end on a happy note but for real I am very excited for prom! And pre-prom and after-prom and after-after-prom and crashing at a friends place after after-after-prom and jeez who designed this system what even
  24. The Queen of War’s throne was made of polished steel, with crimson cushions that spilled over the sides of the seat and armrests. On its high back was her emblem—a sword impaling a shield—outlined in red. It sat at the end of a long, windowless hall made of ancient gray rock, next to a rack of swords and maces and spears and such which all gleamed with a calm, thinly-veiled eagerness. Two torches hung on the wall behind the throne, creating an orange aura around the Queen and making the seat itself shimmer with ominous intent. The hall was wide enough that the light from the torches lining both sides of it did not make it all the way to the center, drawing attention to its sides. Not an inch of wall was bare. Shields, swords, pieces of armor, bows, banners, pelts. Dozens of each manner of trophy could be picked out even at first glance, just in case a visitor would be too frightened to take a second. It was all kept as clean as possible; a few near the door bore permanent blood stains, but that was unavoidable. War sat upright, hands hanging off the ends of the armrests, her feet flat on the floor. Even now she was in full armor. She glanced to her left, the side opposite the weapon rack: a wooden pedestal with leaves of gold wrapped around its edges sat just beyond her reach, and upon it rested a twelve-pointed crown nearly identical to the one she wore. The crown on display, however, depicted a mountain on one side, the emblem of the Queen of the Land. The iron doors at the far end of the hall swung open. Two guards stepped in, moved to either side, and proceeded down the hall, each with a hand on their weapon. Between them came a woman with dark blonde hair that fell onto the shoulders of her brown travelling cloak, which was just a shade darker than her tan skin. Flashes of red armor could be seen beneath the garment as she moved. War’s eyes wandered up to the crown she wore, and the teardrop-shaped symbol it displayed. The visitor dragged her feet across the stone floor, muttering, “Man, it’s cold in here.” She cupped one hand in front of her mouth and exhaled a brief puff of flame. As she rubbed both palms together, she looked up at War and smiled. “War, thank you ever so much for having me. I know you must be busy organizing and reorganizing your precious collection—I really appreciate that you’ve taken some time out for me.” War inclined her head. “Not at all, Queen of Fire. It is a rare treat to see other Queens come to me.” Fire stopped a few feet from the throne and rubbed her shoulder. “Indeed.” She squinted. “It’s so dark in here, I can barely see you.” She snapped. The torches all flared with new life, growing to twice their normal size and making the hall a bit brighter. “There, that’s better. I think this body’s eyes are starting to go. And so young, too! Perhaps I should re-evaluate my lifestyle and take more precaution next time.” War stared silently. “…Here I thought it curious you had no jester, and now it all makes sense,” Fire said. “I should’ve expected it, really. Perhaps public executions are what get you smiling instead?” A minute passed. “It really is cold in here,” Fire grumbled. “My apologies for your discomfort,” War said. Her expression had not changed, and her tone was less than sincere. “I’m afraid we’ve done all our climate will allow.” “For me? You shouldn’t have. I’ll complain either way.” Fire stretched. The guards jerked a bit, and she chuckled. “I suppose that’s all the formalities I can bear. The real reason why I’m here is in regards to Land’s crown.” War cocked her head. “Oh? How unexpected. If anyone, I expected her wife to come see me about that.” “Oh, she wanted to. She was ready to just lay waste to Kenzaria and leave your crown buried in the rubble, actually. But we’ve…talked her down.” War blinked. “We?” Fire shrugged. “Irrelevant details. I wouldn’t want to bore you.” “…Thank you for your consideration.” War rose to her feet. “You were a bit vague. What is it exactly that you want?” “Well, I shall be clearer, then,” Fire said. “I want to take Land’s crown back to Roche.” “I beg your pardon?” Fire leaned a bit, but her eyes locked onto War. “I’m not one to repeat myself.” After a moment, War walked towards the crown. “Such a baffling request. I killed the Queen of the Land. I am allowed to possess her crown for one year. Those were the terms we settled on when writing the laws of our region.” “You are still within your rights. That’s why I’m here rather than the Queen of Knowledge.” War’s head jerked, throwing her gaze over her shoulder and just short of Fire’s vicinity. Fire suppressed a cackle. “But, with the deadline coming up so fast, and you apparently being too occupied to send a messenger telling Roche when to expect the crown back, I thought that perhaps I would lend my assistance and make the return trip for you.” War turned around. “I do hope you will forgive me, Queen of Fire, but I am surprised. You do tend to usually only take part in matters that concern you.” “Don’t act like I’m not involved already, what with the bait you used to get Gravity away being an attack aimed at my queendom.” The hall began to grow hot. “Ah. I meant you no offense, of course. The troops needed to be sent towards a queendom for the ruse to be effective. I assure you that Pyrada was selected solely for its proximity.” Fire’s teeth showed through a smirk. “I’m sure you meant that to console me, but that’s actually rather degrading from where I stand.” “My apologies.” “Don’t lie. You’re too smart for me to fall for it.” War chuckled and returned to examining the crown. “Well, I’m not about to deny it,” Fire continued. She walked towards War, and the guards tentatively stepped after her. “That’s why you’re so feared: not only are you destructive in a way no other living thing can emulate, you analyze every possible outcome and plan things out with unsettling accuracy. Only you would think to draw a Queen away from her domain just to stroll in, say hello, and stroll back out.” “That’s not exactly what happened.” “But it was your original plan, wasn’t it? You only wanted to make a display, so you could leave deep psychological scars in Roche and eliminate any threat it might pose. But when Land decided to fight back, things changed.” War said nothing. Fire paced to the other side of the hall, warming her hands with another burst of flame. “Admittedly, I’m impressed you haven’t pushed your advantage. A good move for your reputation. But I can see that you haven’t given up on totally decimating Roche, and that’s why I’m here.” War clenched one fist. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Fire sighed. “I’m being honest. You could at least return the courtesy.” War looked at Fire’s back as the visitor continued, “You’re clearly in no hurry to return the crown, and the longer you take, the more anxious Gravity becomes, until she finally snaps and charges in here on her own. Then you’ve got an easy kill due to her emotional instability, a queendom with no Queens ripe for pillaging, and, look at that, it was actually Gravity who made the first move, thus the blame falls on her.” She turned and looked into War’s eyes. “I’m onto you, War. And if I am, then do you really think Knowledge doesn’t see right through you? Do you really think she’ll let you carry out a plan like that?” They glared at each other. At last, War said, “This is all wrong.” She waved to the soldiers. They hesitated a bit, but then left the hall, closing the doors behind them. Fire laughed. “What, are you going to come after me now? I’d love an excuse to warm this frigid keep of yours.” “Why do you defend our current system?” War asked. “This brittle peace we’ve created is ridiculous, and you must know this.” Fire frowned. “Oh, so you’re resorting to this?” “Conflict is natural. Bloodshed is the way of the world, the only way for society to move forward. For instance: in the early days, when we all fought with each other and levelled this entire region, all of our peoples desperately struggled to develop new technology. Some of it went to the combat effort, some of it found other uses that enhanced the standard of living. Can you deny that?” Fire thought for a moment. “I suppose I can’t.” War stepped forward. “All progression, all advancement, all evolution begins in warfare. If we do not fight, we do not evolve. If we do not evolve, we grow stagnant. If we grow stagnant, then we will rot away to nothing. Peace is the road to our downfall.” She paused. “Does any of this make sense to you?” Fire smiled. “I should’ve known you thought of yourself as some kind of hero trying to save the world. You were always self-righteous.” War’s brows lowered. “This isn’t about me, Fire: this is about everyone! I’m not wrong, and you know it! Look at human history, even before we got here, and you’ll see that the driving force behind all evolution is war! If I am to carry that name, then it is my responsibility to spur on the development of the human race so that it doesn’t ignorantly fall into its own extinction!” Fire’s eyelids went up. War stalked down the hall. “You and the others are so selfish. All you want is to keep yourselves safe, to avoid getting your hands dirty. None of you even try to see my point of view.” She laughed. “But how could you understand? You are an element. I am a concept. The only one who might understand is Knowledge, but she too has chosen to shut her eyes and enforce this grand jest.” Turning around, War said, “What you’re all doing is—“ Fire cut her off with a punch. She didn’t recoil from the blow, but it was enough to shock her into silence. The other Queen gave her an annoyed look and put one hand on her hip. “Will you just shut up? This ‘prophet of the end’ act is undignified.” War grabbed Fire by her cloak, but she continued, “I get it, you feel like an outcast because nobody understands your point of view. You think you’re doing the right thing, but so does everybody else, so there’s no resolution to be found. But what do you want from me? To suddenly change my beliefs and side with you? To feel pity for you, and look the other way just this once?” The torches in the chamber began to burn brighter and hotter. “You should’ve thought of that before you prodded Pyrada.” She batted War’s hand away. “I couldn’t care less about your glorious vision, and I’m not going to lecture you about the current system either. Truthfully, I don’t care either way. For me it’s much simpler. Land is dead because she wanted to help me, so that puts me in her debt. I don’t like being indebted.” Fire took a deep breath, and the torches slowly died down. “Now stop embarrassing yourself and just give me the crown.” War glared, then slowly walked over to where the crown sat. She grabbed it, and then looked back at Fire. “I will not forget this.” “Glad to hear it.” *** Fire rode across the grassy plains, her horse galloping towards the smog-wreathed volcano looming in the distance. The diamonds in her crown glittered for a moment as a thought appeared in her mind. Fire: You left before I was put in this new body, so I wanted to send you a wave thanking you. I was about to go mad sitting on that stool, and it sounds like Gravity was nearing her breaking point as well. You said you felt indebted to us, but if anything, we are now in your debt. If there’s anything I can do to repay you, please let me know. However, we might not get to see you in person in the near future—Gravity has decided that Roche shall be isolated…and that she will see to it that our armies are strengthened. Can I ask you something? Do you think War might’ve been right: that we can’t really develop unless we fight each other? It troubles me. Regardless, thank you again, and please do keep in touch. Land Fire scoffed. “Of course she was right—Gravity is proving that.” She rode on. Eventually, she groaned and composed a reply. Land: Don’t worry so much. War was just trying to defend her crazy beliefs, and you know she’d say anything to demoralize a potential adversary. She’s afraid of you, and Gravity, and Roche, so there’s no need for you to be afraid of her. If she does try to stir anything else up, let me know so I can finish settling my own score with her. For now, just be with your wife. She missed you. Fire She sent the wave, and then focused again on reaching Pyrada. “Ugh, I’m sick of this freezing cold!”
  25. The cab rolled to a stop in front of the line of dingy white storage units. The back doors opened, and out from one side stepped a fair-skinned man in his late 20s, wearing jeans and a simple white t-shirt and possessing short blond hair. From the other side stepped a Japanese woman around the same age, wearing a black suit with a long skirt and carrying an old-looking purse. The woman paid the driver while the man ambled towards the unit. He looked at the tennis racket in his hand, spinning it around absent-mindedly. When the woman joined him, he said, “So, Hanako—“ She held up one hand. He stopped talking, and then followed as she approached a storage unit and drew a key from her purse. Rather than a modern key, however, this was an ancient skeleton key, looking at least a century old and covered in cracks and dark spots. Hanako looked back to make sure the cab had departed. She then tapped the lock with her key, waved it upwards, and said, “Akete.” At her command, the door unlocked and flew open. Once the two of them had stepped inside, she waved downward and said, “Shimete.” The door slid shut. She flicked on a standing lamp in the corner, shedding yellowed light on the assortment of treasures within the unit: a rack of swords, an umbrella, nearly a dozen Noh masks, four pairs of sandals, a grandfather clock, one oar, a table with a few small boxes on it, and, against the back wall, a Japanese sliding door with browning paper that displayed a row of bamboo shoots in gold ink. “Tadaima,” Hanako said, putting the key away and removing her shoes. A slight jolt seemed to run through the room, each object rattling in place for only a moment. She turned to her companion and said, “Please have a seat. I’ll call and see if we can talk to Tennou-sama now.” He nodded. After removing his own shoes, he pulled a cushion out from behind the clock and sat on it in front of the sliding door, setting his tennis racket on the floor. “Sorry, Tess. If I had been paying more attention during that third blast we could’ve finished the job before we got caught.” The racket shook a bit, shifting so that it angled towards him. He smiled. “Thanks.” Hanako was on her cell phone, talking in Japanese, for about five minutes. When she hung up, she said, “Jeremy, he’s ready now.” Jeremy straightened his spine and folded his hands in his lap. Hanako set another cushion beside him and approached the sliding door, pulling it open gently before going to her seat. On the other side of the door could be seen another room, with three green paper walls and one open wall through which poured a stream of sunlight. The floor was made of tatami mats. An elderly Japanese man sat at the room’s center holding a wooden staff about four feet in length, with a symbol at its head that resembled a tall rectangle with two horizontal lines inside it about one and two thirds down its length. Hanako and Jeremy bowed, the former saying, “Thank you for taking the time to see us, Tennou-sama.” The old man held the staff upright and rapped it against the floor. The lines inside the rectangle marking moved closer together suddenly, and then moved lower very slowly. A square mark appeared beneath the rectangle and they heard a high-pitched voice speaking in Japanese; when the voice went away, so did the second symbol. Hanako and Jeremy sat back up. Jeremy looked to Hanako, who said, “Tennou-sama wishes to hear from you how the mission went.” Jeremy looked directly at the staff. “Ah, yes, well…you see, Tennou-sama, I went to see the streetlight we had heard about, and it was indeed a tsukumogami. Tess and I began to fight with it, but before we were able to purify it, the local authorities detained me. The streetlight does not pose immediate danger, but it is not in a good state to be left alone.” “We used our connections to retrieve him, and I intend to wrap up matters with the streetlight this evening,” Hanako said. “But, if I may say: while Jeremy does show potential, his inability to fully transition to the Empathic Plane is proving to be an enormous hindrance to the swiftness of our operations. I recommend that he be taken off of active duty until he can learn to leave his physical form.” Jeremy looked at the floor. The square appeared on the staff again, and the voice said something else. Hanako replied, “I am aware it is very difficult to find people capable of hunting tsukumogami these days, but regardless of how short-handed we are, Tennou-sama, if I must take the time to retrieve Jeremy after so many of his assignments then I will not have time to complete my own. He should be sent to a training facility, or at least assigned as a Kōrogi in the nearby area. We will soon need someone new to watch over the Liberty Bell, after all.” Jeremy looked up. “In my defense, Tennou-sama, I feel like I’m learning a lot more actually going out and doing things than I would just standing guard at a monument. I know that I make mistakes, but I have completed several assignments without incident, and with how many tsukumogami are appearing now I think I’m still more useful in action than as a Kōrogi or in training. Not to speak ill of Kōrogi, of course, I just mean—“ Tennou-sama’s “eye” shifted towards Jeremy, and he fell silent. He spoke again. Hanako frowned, but then bowed. “Of course, Tennou-sama. We shall keep you informed of how things develop.” Confused, Jeremy bowed as well. Hanako stood and closed the sliding door. When he sat up, he asked, “So, what did he say?” Hanako walked over to the table and began sifting through her purse. “He wishes you to remain on active duty.” Jeremy grinned. “But consider this probation. He desires constant updates on your performance, and if you do not show signs of improvement he may very well assign you as a Kōrogi when Matthews leaves in December.” Jeremy’s expression fell. “That sounds fair.” Hanako rummaged a bit, then sighed and turned around. “I don’t mean to sound like I mind helping you, you know. I’m just trying to think things through practically, and it becomes difficult when the results can be so variable.” “Don’t worry, I know you don’t mean anything harsh.” Jeremy got to his feet and stretched. “I think the whole Tea Caddy Order is on edge with this new influx of tsukumogami.” Hanako nodded and went back to her purse. “It’s certainly concerning. It used to be that an item needed 100 years to absorb enough emotional energy to develop sentience, but now we’re running into tsukumogami that are only a few decades old. Just last week I retrieved a VCR that had come to life—it can’t be more than 40 years old. At this rate, keeping the tsukumogami under control and out of public knowledge might become impossible soon enough.” Jeremy picked up Tess, staring at the racket thoughtfully for a few moments. “So, what’s the plan for the streetlight?” Hanako pulled something out of her purse: a bronze pocketwatch on a long chain with a few kanji engraved onto its rusty cover. “Since you’re staying on-duty, we should use this as an opportunity to train you. I’ll use Ji-kun to give you some cover. Hopefully, if you don’t have to worry about people seeing you, you’ll be more relaxed and find a way to abandon your physical form.” Jeremy looked up at the Noh masks on the wall. “In that case, could I maybe—“ “No.” “Exactly, can I use the Noh masks to—“ “Stop that, you know what I meant. Mask tsukumogami are dangerous even when their wearer is in the Empathic Plane. We have no idea what could happen if you use them as you are now, and I have no desire to find out.” Jeremy shrugged. “Well, it was worth a shot. Either way…thanks.” Hanako smiled. “I’m just following orders. You should get some rest; we’ll leave at sundown.” *** The road was quiet, with only a handful of cars occasionally driving down it. Lining the sidewalks were a multitude of shops with their neon signs crammed against one another, vying for the attention of the people strolling by, hoping themselves bright enough to break through the dusk and land fresh prey. Hanako and Jeremy focused on their destination: a streetlight that flickered at odd intervals, as if not sure if it wanted to light the way or leave it in shadows. Pulling the watch from her pocket, Hanako said, “Now, Ji-kun will pause time for regular humans in this area, so even if you retain your physical form you will not be seen. But remember that he can only work for a maximum of five minutes. At that point, I’ll have no choice but to step in and settle things myself.” Jeremy eyed her purse warily. “I understand. I’ll make it so you don’t need to.” Hanako stood still and took a deep breath. At once she vanished from sight, though no one but Jeremy was paying enough attention to notice. Jeremy closed his eyes and took a similar breath; when he opened them, he could see Hanako again, but she had a faint white aura surrounding her body. He looked down at his hands. There was no aura around him. “Dang it.” “It’s alright. Just focus on the tsukumogami, and see if the rest comes to you.” He turned to the streetlight, which had developed an aura of its own. It bent and twisted, shining light in his eyes, and then the edges of its dish closed together as if it were blinking. Sharp metal teeth began to grow from the edges of the dish, giving the appearance of a robotic Venus flytrap, and the pole elongated and became loose, twisting like a squid’s tentacle as it reached out, snapping as its head came closer. Hanako flipped open the pocketwatch and muttered something in Japanese. A pulse of purple light radiated from the watch, and the other people walking down the street suddenly froze in mid-step. “Five minutes.” Jeremy raised Tess—she, at least, was glowing, and that would be enough. The streetlight reared back and made a gagging sound, and then spit a ball of light at Jeremy. He swung Tess at just the right moment, batting the orb back at the streetlight and making it recoil. Jeremy advanced, holding Tess in both hands. The streetlight lunged at him. He carefully sidestepped, and then bashed Tess against its “neck”, causing it to go limp and fall to the street. “Not falling for that one again!” Suddenly the streetlight rose and swung itself around him, wrapping around his midsection and lifting him into the air. “Oh, great.” Hanako watched the clock. “I can step in now if you—“ “No, no, we’ve got this, right Tess?” The streetlight snapped at him, but he smacked it away with Tess and then began to beat against the stretch of pole holding him. It lurched and hurled him against the pavement, leaving him dazed, and then began to cough up another ball of light. Tess jerked back, pulling his arm behind her and barely deflecting the attack, though it flew against one of the shops and left a dent in its sign. “Ah…thanks, Tess…” Jeremy rolled to his feet, and the streetlight sank its teeth into the concrete where he had laid. He retaliated with a quick backhand, and then jumped back before it could snap again. Tess’s net began to glow red. Pulling her back, he said, “Okay, let’s try that!” A fireball formed in front of the racket, and Jeremy swung, launching it at his foe. The streetlight recoiled and screeched, slowly slinking back towards its initial position. Jeremy wasn’t much different: the attack had left him drained, and he was desperately trying to catch his breath. “We’ve almost got it,” he panted. “Just a little more…” The streetlight faced him and spat a light ball. He avoided it, but it followed by lashing out and headbutting him in the chest, smashing him back against a wall. Jeremy collapsed and dropped Tess. Hanako checked the clock and then put it into her pocket. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out a glowing battle axe and waved it to get the streetlight’s attention. As she took a step forward, she noticed Jeremy grab Tess’s handle. The streetlight reared back and roared. That was when Jeremy sprang up, hitting the streetlight on the head so hard that it rocketed down against the street. When he fell, he brought Tess down on it once again, and a burst of electricity came from the dish. Jeremy looked up at Hanako, smiling. “Thanks, but I got it.” Hanako cautiously nodded, and then returned the axe to her purse. Jeremy knelt down and touched the streetlight. It growled at him. “Hey, it’s okay,” he said in a low voice. “I’m sorry I had to do that, but it’s the only way to dispel all that negativity. You were just scared, right? All of a sudden you have thoughts and feelings of your own, and it’s all being immediately overpowered by the anxiety and road rage coming off of these commuters. It must have been so overwhelming.” The streetlight fell silent, and began to squirm a little. “That’s the way it usually is with tsukumogami. But it doesn’t have to stay that way, you know? No matter what emotion brought you into being, once you shake it off, you get to choose your own feelings, and they can be just as good as they can be bad. You can form your own identity now.” It twisted around to look up at him. “You don’t have to do it alone, either. If you’ve become a tsukumogami, then the rest of these lights aren’t going to be far behind. You can help them—stop them from drowning in anger like you were, and they’ll give you strength in return. Having someone to look after is a wonderful feeling, I’m told.” Slowly, the streetlight got up. Its teeth retracted, and the glass of its broken bulb began to mend itself. After retracting a bit, it looked back to Jeremy. With a grin, he said, “Take it easy, alright? I’ll stop by soon to see how you and the others are doing.” The streetlight pulled back to its original position and stiffened, looking like a regular light once again. Hanako checked the pocketwatch. She signaled to Jeremy, and he limped over to her side. As the people walking by began to move again, the streetlight maintained its brilliance, no longer flickering as before. Jeremy and Hanako went back the way they had come, and Jeremy rested Tess on his shoulder and took a deep, pained sigh. “Sorry.” “You calmed it, didn’t you? You don’t have to apologize.” “I still wasn’t able to transition.” “Well, that’s why Ji-kun and I were here.” “Yeah, and I mean, thanks, but I know you can’t be there every time I fight a tsukumogami. I’m really trying to figure this out so I won’t be such a pain, it just—“ Hanako raised a hand. “Jeremy, it’s alright. I know you’re doing your best. As long as you keep doing that, I’m sure you’ll figure out where your problem lies and how to resolve it. Until then, we’ll just have to manage. So don’t worry.” Tess vibrated in agreement. Jeremy thought for a moment, then said, “Right…thank you.”
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