Tobduk toppled to the ground amidst a storm of rocky debris. The titan was battered and bruised on the outside, and burning within -- burning with the fiery rage of his people’s massacre. Tobduk’s anger strengthened him, reinforced him, and dulled the pain of a thousand smaller impacts... and the greater one beneath.
With a mighty series of crashes and thuds, the remnants of the stalactite plummeted into the murky waters below. The commotion was enough to rouse flocks of birds within quite a distance. Outside the Codrex, a few Makuta gave a worried glance in the direction of the crash... but they quickly turned their attention back to the all-essential Codrex.
Makuta Chirox’s wounds slowly closed, the metal of his armour gluing itself back together through his powers of quick healing. Slowly, lazily, the batlike creature spiraled downwards, towards the devastation he had wreaked on the Swamp of Secrets. Somewhere in that wreckage was a loose cannon with a personal grudge against him, and Chirox did not intend to let such a being survive. Whether or not he had survived the collapse, this angry character would not be leaving the core alive.
As Chirox drew near, he noticed a disturbance in his latest sonar pulses. Several smaller fragments of the stalactite were shifting slightly, and he could sense their vibrations. That could only mean one thing. A golden sheen of energy curled around the Makuta’s blades as he readied his power of disintegration. He kept up his regular pulses of sonic energy, scanning the rubble for movement...
...And suddenly, impossibly, the fragment was hurtling through the air -- on a collision course with the Makuta himself! Chirox’s eyes widened reflexively, and he loosed the disintegration beam. The huge rock crumbled to dust in an instant, but Chirox’s wannabe assassin had bought time enough to vanish from detection.
The Makuta hesitated to draw any nearer to the ground, but he gave an appreciative nod. This character is far stronger... and smarter... than I had anticipated, he murmured to himself. This only argues for his destruction to be enacted even sooner. Now, what are your plans, mystery man? he chuckled, scanning the area for any nearby minds to read.
Chirox paused with shock when his scan detected... nothing. He could not sense any intelligent thought in the area. Where had his assailant gone?
Down below, Tobduk felt Chirox try and fail to pierce his mental shielding. The Order agent gave a grin, relishing in his opponent’s shocked revelation. Tobduk himself had tucked himself away behind a mangrove, hoping the movement of its leaves in the wind would be enough to mask his movements to Chirox’s sonic senses. As if Mata Nui himself were on Tobduk’s side, the winds began to pick up, ruffling the leaves with greater speed and strength.
Tobduk peered around the tree trunk. Chirox had drawn lower, still trying to scan the area with his sonic and telepathic powers. Judging by the Makuta’s expression, both were entirely failing to find his assailant. Slowly, carefully, Tobduk took aim with his staff one more time. The point was not to slay Chirox with a single blow, though that would be a welcome miracle. The point was simply to lure him into melee, where he could become acquainted with the iron gauntlet resting on Tobduk’s arm.
A beam of pure heat struck Chirox once more, searing a hole straight through his leathery wing. The Makuta howled in pain and surprise, but soon composed himself. “Very well... I know now you are nearby, even if you have somehow hidden yourself from my senses,” he hissed. “In the interest of fairness, I will do the same.”
Chirox began to glow -- or rather, he did the opposite. Light around him darkened and dimmed, and the effect spread outwards, until a cloud of shadow had blanketed the area. Even the sunlight reflected off the Codrex, glaring as it was, vanished behind Chirox’s cloak of darkness. Tobduk couldn’t see the Makuta’s face, but he was likely grinning, in stark contrast to the scowl Tobduk wore. Chirox wasn’t even gloating, which robbed Tobduk of any chance to guess at the Makuta’s location in this artificial night. The wind howled as both combatants were silent, trying in vain to find the other.
It was an exercise in futility, and Tobduk had never enjoyed such things. “Condemn it!” he spat, and sudden fires blazed into being in his palms. Channeling his frustration in addition to his righteous anger, Tobduk staggered out from his hiding place and blasted the flames in all directions. In a matter of moments, the swamp all around was crackling and burning, and orange light flickered everywhere. And in the firelight, Tobduk could see the ebon-armoured form of Makuta Chirox floating ever nearer.
“At last,” Chirox hissed, “we end this.”
Tobduk glared at the Makuta’s hated face for several long moments. Chirox was taking his time, mustering all his strength as he prepared to disintegrate the titan. Gritting his teeth and ignoring the pain in his limbs, Tobduk quickly raised his doom staff and fired off another blast. Chirox effortlessly dodged, but in that moment the titan had fled between two trees and was dashing across a patch of solid ground.
Wings beating against the rising winds, Chirox growled in frustration. “You cannot escape me!” Swooshing through the turbulent air, Chirox followed the titan’s trail -- yet just as he picked up the figure’s movement through the waving leaves and branches, Tobduk had turned a corner and darted through the trees.
Snarling, Chirox disintegrated an unfortunate tree, but this did not bring him any closer to pinning down Tobduk. Nor did extending his shadow hand, which swatted at the titan’s feet but failed to seize him. With some difficulty, the Makuta flew through the swamp and around a few more twists and turns, trying all the while to land a hit on his opponent. If it had been difficult to pinpoint Tobduk’s location before, it was nigh impossible now. And to make matters worse, these accursed winds seemed dead-set on smashing him into a tree. Growling and grumbling, Chirox alighted on the muddy ground and tucked in his wings. Very well... I shall proceed on foot.
Tobduk ran as hard as he could, but even with rage’s flame fueling his every action, he knew his legs would not survive much more exertion. He could only hope his plan was working. Going by the obscenities Chirox was shouting from behind him (loud enough to hear over those blessed winds), it was.
After taking a few more arbitrary ducks to the left and right, weaving between trees, Tobduk found the largest tree he’d seen yet. He glanced back to see that Chirox was still on his trail; against all odds, he was. The Makuta barreled through the trees now, blasting them out of his path with chain lightning. Tobduk waited until he could be sure Chirox had seen him: apparently out of breath, on his last legs, staggering around the giant tree. With a sinister grin, Chirox pressed forwards, shadows curling around his blades, and darted around the tree --
-- only to find Tobduk far closer than he would have expected. Just after ducking around the tree, the titan had pressed up against the trunk and waited for the Makuta to round the corner. Now, aided by his honed reflexes and Mask of Accuracy, Tobduk leapt forward and caught Chirox entirely by surprise. The blue talons of Tobduk’s heavy gauntlet closed around Chirox’s neck as both toppled to the ground.
“You cannot choke a Makuta to death, fool!” Chirox spat, nevertheless scrabbling at Tobduk with his blades and preparing a power scream.
“Don’t need to,” Tobduk grinned, clenching his fingers and activating the gauntlet’s special properties. “This is a Griffin Gauntlet.”
Chirox’s eyes widened, even as rings of crystal began to take shape around the gauntlet, encasing the Makuta’s ironclad form. The Brotherhood had banned the manufacture of Griffin Gauntlets long ago, on account of the special danger they posed to Makuta. Even now, a matrix of crystal was beginning to unfold across Chirox’s form; when it had formed a suitable casing, the material would quickly and violently contract, crushing the being within -- including Chirox’s antidermis essence.
“Get off! Get - off!” Chirox cried, accentuating the last syllable with a power scream that blew Tobduk back into the tree. He struck the bark and froze for a long moment, overwhelmed with pain. Meanwhile, Chirox struggled to move his arm out of the crystal lattice; if he could only bring his hand into contact with the crystal, his shattering power could let him escape...
“No!” Tobduk grunted, blasting the offending hand with his doom staff. Chirox’s clawlike fingers turned to slag, leaving him with only a stump. His other arm had already been encased entirely in the crystal. The Makuta was left helpless in the rapidly expanding straitjacket.
With desperation in his eyes, Chirox glanced at Tobduk once more, and tried one last attempt. A sphere of vacuum encircled Tobduk’s head, cutting off all air. “Release me... or perish!” Chirox spat, but his attempt was in vain. The winds of the core were truly raging now, and the Makuta could not keep them at bay for more than a few seconds. Tobduk knew it, and simply glared at the Makuta as the winds rushed in to fill the vacuum.
Menacingly, Tobduk strode forwards and raised the doom staff. Chirox recoiled at its sight. “You know this?” Tobduk nodded. “Yes, it belonged to Makuta Droth, your colleague. Until I killed him.”
Chirox tried again, this time using his powers of laser vision. The beams struck, and cut like a knife, but Tobduk ignored them. “Even if you could kill me with those beams,” he growled, “that wouldn’t scare me into releasing you.” He knelt down to stare Chirox in the eyes, though he knew now those eyes were robbed of sight. “Ever wondered how come so many of your brothers have perished across these millennia?” he asked. “You’re looking at the reason. Ectrolis, Indusko, Brond, Luporax... I hunted them all, but those were just assignments. But killing Droth... killing you?” Tobduk sported the grin of a wolf. “It’s been a pleasure.”
Tobduk straightened up, raising the doom staff once more. He leveled the doom viper’s head at Chirox. “I understand you birthed the doom vipers,” Tobduk said. “Makes no difference to me. But the Visorak? The ‘Scourge of All Life’, the ‘Conquering Horde’?” The staff primed itself, glowing with energy. “I’m avenging far more lands and people than my own. Consider this a payment in full for what you’ve done to the universe, Chirox. It’s my honor to deliver it to you.”
Then a red flash filled the air, but it was not of Tobduk’s creation. A deadly bolt of lightning had just snaked through the air and struck the massive tree behind him. What had been a pillar of life moments before was now a scorched, blackened shell, still smoldering from the ruined crust. Both Tobduk and Chirox stared, and took note of their surroundings for the first time in several minutes.
The wind had whipped itself into a fury now. All around, the terrific force was tearing branches from trees, and trees from the murky waters. Red flashes of lightning echoed in the sky above, over and over and across all of the core.
“This is no ordinary storm,” Tobduk muttered. “This is the apocalypse!”
Chirox’s eyes were wide with fright. “I can feel them... feel them dying,” he gasped. “Makuta Mutran is dead... after so many years... and Bitil next, and Antroz after him...”
Tobduk lowered his staff, looking around at the devastation. And this storm is just getting started, he realized. He whistled in awe of the pure destructive force of it all. And then another sensation filled his heart, one of joy beyond imagining. He didn’t know how he knew, but... Mata Nui has awakened.
“Looks like the Destiny War’s over,” he grunted to Chirox. “And we’ve won.”
Chirox was beyond bewildered. “No,” he breathed. “His waking is a crucial step in the Plan... but these storms...”
Tobduk was putting the pieces together. Watery images flashed before his mind: snippets of information about Karda Nui, things he’d seen in Helryx’s pool but brushed aside. The energy storms... Mata Nui awakening... the two go hand in hand. And then he understood Helryx’s hesitant farewell. “...No wonder the core is a forbidden place,” Tobduk said grimly.
With that, he turned and stepped away.
“What?!” Chirox spat. “Aren’t you going to kill me? I thought that was the whole point of this little scuffle.”
Tobduk glanced over his shoulder at the Makuta. Chirox was a spindly, blind thing, lying helpless on the ground, imprisoned in a crystal lattice. He was just barely sitting upright.
“No,” Tobduk said over the roaring winds. He glanced around again. “You and your kind have brought this storm upon yourselves. I’ll leave you to the fate you deserve.”
Tobduk turned back and, staring ahead, strode away from the fallen Makuta. He heard the scrabbling noise of Chirox attempting to stand, to teleport, to escape in any way, but he paid them little heed. Even the loud, crackling zzzzap! and searing red blast from behind him didn’t draw his eye.
The titan kept walking, placing one foot after another in the mud. Trees toppled all around him, while winds buffeted his face, but Tobduk kept walking. All anger had gone from him; his veins pulsed slowly, calmly, with no trace of boiling rage. No, only one sensation remained in Tobduk’s mind, a sensation that had been absent from his life ever since the night of the attack.
One simple sensation: