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BZPRPG - Kentoku Archipelago

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IC:

Leli felt her heart drop sharply in her chest, heartlight fluttering momentarily. The dragon had been enough of a surprise earlier.

Well, the trip had been enough of a surprise.

Cities of crystal and strange, matoran-but-not-matoran and toa-but-not-toa was much to take in. So far she had pushed it to the back of her mind, like she always did, keeping an upbeat and level demeanor that was expected of someone of her position. She was a Major in the Ussalry; she braved the Darkwalk with her men and bested the remnants of the dark tyrant who had created it. It was her job to keep it together, even if Tarnok was the only other member of the Ussarly for... hundreds of kio around. Even if he, well was far more of a friend than just a fellow Guard, had been there for her at her lowest many times in the past.

She couldn't let up now.

But, something was obviously wrong.

They had come this far.

And now seconds continued to slip by with... nothing happening.

In her periphery she heard two of the group, Kellin and Seventh speaking, something involving the miner's Ussal, whom Leli had grown rather fond of during their trek through the foreign land. Reminded her of the comforting weight of Onu-Koro. What they said didn't quite register.

Unconsciously, Leli clutched her pack, safely wrapped up inside what she could only think of as her closest link to the Great Spirit. For a fraction of a second she shut her eyes, and silently willed the powers that be to pull through.

"...Come on..." She breathed quietly, attempting to keep a steel to her voice.


Where to Iggy?

    ˹STAR WARS: INTERREGNUM˼   ˹EXO-FORCE˼   ˹BZPRPG˼

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IC: Lekua – on top of volcano or something? What is going on?

That's what Lekua had been asking at various levels of his consciousness for the past several-dozen hours. It was an exceedingly long and exceedingly strange journey that had brought him from his treetop home to a dragon's lair on the other side of the world, but there had been much time for reflection on the trek here, and his thoughts were elsewhere. He watched two of his new companions – Seven and Kellin, their names still slightly unfamiliar to him – tend to the crab. Lekua wished desperately that Cyclone were here now. He hadn't seen the bird since they'd descended into the tunnels at Kini-Nui.

Kellin spoke up. "So I'm not too caught up with these prophecy things, but is the hangtime normal, or did we mess something up? Because I was feeling really smart about refraction back there. You guys got any clue? I don't want that feeling taken away from me, I liked it."

If there was one guaranteed solution to any problem, Lekua felt, it was talking, and talk he did. "OK, I think we can agree on a couple things here. One, something is supposed to be happening right now. Two. Uh. Nothing is happening." Pause. "Which means, three, we probably did something wrong. Or the other possibility, which is that somebody else did something wrong?"

"Four—"

"That's all I've got right now."


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IC:

.:Don't look for me. Please, Masa, do me this favor. I should...I should be back..:Don't look for me. Please, Masa, do me this favor. I should...I should be back. (I KNEW YOU'D COME FOR ME)

I’m doing something reckless. I really am. Even for me, what I’m doing just barely toes the line between “necessary” and “treasonous”. I have no love for the Empire. Even less for the Rora. But Lord Rayuke and Desdemona, them I am loyal to. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t. And I hope Rayuke will understand why.

"I'll miss you either way," said a shaky voice, before the illusion abandoned her all at once. "I'll miss you either way," said a shaky voice, before the illusion abandoned her all at once. (NERA IS SLEEPING, UP ONE BACK OF CASTLE)

"Pull yourself together, Korae." I rasp out, stalking towards the lion's den without waiting for a response. "Or do you want (DON'T TRUST INOKIO) to be the Battlemaster outdone by a cripple?"

"We have a Chojo to save, and many, many Fursics (DON'T LET HER KEEP ME) to kill."

I’m not a fool, no matter what Inokio thinks. 

He wants to save Desdemona himself, he wants to save his own life. Fool. It won’t be Desdemona that saves his life, I have already chosen to counsel mercy. Not the mercy he would hope for, perhaps. It might be kinder to kill him than inflict what I intend to advise. But mercy nonetheless.

No, I won’t go along with his plan because of his clever misdirection. I will go along with it because despite his self interest, I cannot beat that particular Battlemaster. Not like this. I’m too tired. I’ve pushed for too long, I’ve had to maintain my strength long beyond is reasonable. The night’s rest was too brief respite, but it was all they could afford. It would have to be enough. I grab my ally by his good wrist, and pull him close.

It’s true. For all the strength of a Battlemaster’s mind their bodies are weak.

“Don’t lie to me, Inokio.” I whisper, a rough sound. “I will deal with Nera. Her execution is my responsibility. Free Desdemona. Help me get her out of here safely, and I will make sure you keep your life. On my honor as a warrior. It’s the only thing we can both respect.”

"You do not need to dictate the same terms twice. I said, I will save her."

I search his face a moment longer. I can’t see it the way he can see mine, but it’s important anyway. I don’t want to leave her life in anyone else’s hands. Not even Rayuke’s, if he was here. But if I can’t beat Sheika I must hope that he can. I let go of his arm with a quick nod and start on my way.

Desdemona can hear me, I know she can even if she isn’t talking to me. So I tell her.

I’m so sorry that I’m not coming to get you first. But if I do then none of us will make it. I will punish the woman who started this and then, I swear to you, I will come. My word is unbroken. So please, trust me just a little longer. I have not come all this way to let you down. You will walk out of here within the hour.

The office of the Executioner has justice to dispense.

My stride takes me quickly and easily to the stairs, and up one level. The compound’s defenders are outside, they are not prepared for invaders to bypass them so easily. Morning has only just begun, and many have not yet woken. I encounter little resistance until the next floor. My strides are low and swift, keeping my center of gravity low and my steps quiet. Four blades follow every move and flank my course, gleaming harbingers of imminent retribution. The first Menti I come across is warned, just once, to surrender in the name of the Rora.

She doesn’t listen. 

One of the blades to my right strikes out once, and the Menti is silenced. But my presence is known, now. The short distance to the Toroshu’s quarters just became more hazardous. 

Lo and behold, the two guards posted outside are ready for me. I don’t hear what they say, but I feel when my perception changes. When footsteps begin to approach from other directions, and one set begins to charge from behind. Meant to inspire panic, no doubt, and for a moment it begins to succeed.

The Fursics are masterful Sighteyes, it is the discipline they are best known for. My Arthron tells me that there is no one behind me. One of the two guards is approaching me weapon drawn and the other stays still, posted outside Nera’s door. An illusion. She cannot move while it is active. Her colleague will cut me down while I try to deal with the false assailant approaching from behind. If they are communicating further I don’t know it, the illusion masks the reality of my senses. But I go along with it. I turn, raising my weapon to defend myself while the Menti steps in close behind me.

And my grip flips, my sword striking back to run her through.

I never hear her cry. I never hear her partner’s response, though she drops the illusion to charge me and avenge her friend. Never does she even get close. My blades intercept her before she can, and I step over cooling bodies towards the door. My sympathy lasts for barely a moment. My quarrel was not with them, but their loyalties pit them against me. They could not have been unaware of what Nera had done, not so close to where the Chojo was kept. Their fate would have been the same, whether I swung the sword or Rayuke. 

For their crime, they died. It was as simple as that. If they wished for mercy they should never have attacked me.

But ice grips my heart when I step inside, nevertheless. Death’s cold fingers squeeze the muscle, caressing it between beats. Those Menti pushed back against the same regime that the Dastana did, that I did. They had not harmed Des. The Chojo had violated their territory, it could be argued that they were within their rights to detain her. Especially after her attack on the Fursic people, the same invasion that had leveled me and Inokio on the beach. The clan would not have known what Nera planned to do, not known what Sheika had done to the previous Rora. These guards, now dead outside and a floor below, were blameless. I had invaded their home, cut down their friends, and marched straight to their Toroshu’s room. My aims were hostile, my reasons unknown. The two at the door may not even have heard me demand their clansister’s surrender.

Had I relished it? So wrapped up in my anger, finally given an excuse to lash out at the world. That was what I was looking for, wasn’t it? An enemy? Someone to finally vent my rage at what had happened to me upon, an excuse to maim and to harm until maybe I could feel better because someone else had suffered as I suffered. The thought was like ice, it chilled me to my very bones. 

How had I never realized I was so insecure, so angry over never truly finishing in the Yards that I could strike down my fellow citizens? I was no better than Sheika, really. It was disgusting. To see how weak I was. No wonder Inokio was disgusted with me, no wonder my Lord Rayuke had stopped speaking with me. I was little better than a rabid dog, I should have kept to the position I was given. Somewhere peaceful, quiet. Somewhere my caring clan had placed me to honor the wrong that was done, to help me heal and still feel able to contribute. I should have stayed there. I threw it in their faces when I went with Rayuke, and now look where it had gotten me. What it had made me.

No, not even that, that day at the Yards I should have-

The blade lashed out towards my throat.

No, no that wasn’t right. None of that was right, I-

I felt the cold for what it was, writhing and burrowing deep into the crevasses of my mind like an insidious parasite. The blade stopped, shaking suspended in the air.

The cold felt surprised. 

So that was what it felt like in earnest.

I balled my fist and shoved it towards the Toroshu’s chest, hurling her bodily backwards before I ever even touched her. The older Menti caught herself gracefully in midair, and reached out again to continue her work. Despair washed over me like a wave, whispering reminders of my failures. That I should have let myself be swept away and forgotten, that I only shamed myself by trying to persevere in spite of my feebility. My will weakens, I drop to my knees. This is what I deserve. To dare to oppose someone so far above my station, to have forgotten my lot in life so utterly. I deserved to die for that. I would dispense no less, in the Toroshu’s place. The failure ‘Menti’, who had never even truly deserved the title. Given so many chances out of pity, and still unable to meet the plummeting standards. Worthless. Waste of space. Unable to save even my ward.

No.

No, I know your game now Nera. You should have finished the job the first time. You should have dispensed with subtlety and drowned my conscious in winter, you should have pushed until I was a gibbering mess. And then you should have struck. But you couldn’t do that, could you? You didn’t bargain on being resisted, you expected your little sucker punch to carry the day. You coward. You snake. You utter slime of a Dasaka, I do not deign to give you the title of Menti. 

Anger spikes red hot to fight the cold, an old friend come to the rescue. I knew anger. Anger could make you strong, if you channeled it right. Rayuke, Zuto Nui bless him, had set his aside. I fed on mine. He was right to teach me moderation, he was right to teach me restraint, but right now my anger was power. My anger was defiance of this woman’s games, defiance of what she had done to me and mine, defiance of what she had done to those of her own clan. This woman was the twisted, hardened heart of this clan’s corruption. It was my job to tear it out. 

I’ll kill you for that, witch. She was in my head to hear it but I had woken up, my will roused from its slumber like a wrathful dragon. A Willhammer’s game was to be subtle or powerful, and the reality was that this woman was not stronger than me. Her training, her will, her experience, all were formidable. But to resist a Willhammer all you needed was to be stubborn, and this I have in spades. We’re fighting, pushing back and forth in a bid to control my mind. I cannot concentrate enough to keep my mask active, I get only flickers of the room. But I don’t need them, Nera is as strained as I am. This is my mind she is fighting, my will, and my sense of self. Until she disengaged she was rooted to the spot, or she risked giving ground. 

But she would win eventually. I am not trained to resist, and spite only goes so far. So I change the game.

I threw a book at her head. A book sitting on her nightstand, grabbed and chucked straight for her bitter, frownlined cranium. The object didn’t matter what mattered is that to avoid the blow, she had to disengage. She batted the tome aside contemptuously, but it was too late. I pushed back hard against her will and won back my control, following the book with a deft slash towards her knees. The Toroshu danced backwards, as quickly and easily as breathing, but I had created my room.

“Toroshu Nera, you are guilty of treason.” I growled, shoving off hard to stab at her with my blade. “In the name of the Imperial Executioner, I will take your head.”

Nera’s only response was a quirk of the mouth, a distasteful look as she stopped my blade with her mind. Dripping psychophysical energy whipped towards me and I twisted, bumping it off course with my forearm. The gauntlet on it complained, the star biting deeply into its crystal surface, but the armor held. For now. My blades rocketed at her, and she responded by catching each one with an object garnered from the room. The throwing star completed another pass, one I barely shifted aside from. The woman had barely made a move, simple flicks of her fingers to impose her will on the world around her. She was astonishing. Prowess on the mental plane and its intersection with the physical that I had never seen before, and might never see again. Or perhaps I had simply never seen a Battlemaster fight in earnest.

Every move I made she countered and followed with her Soulsword, keeping me off balance. Here and there the attacks would falter, infinitesimally, and I would be forced to devote a little focus to staving off her intruding mind. When I did she would swap in an instant and start to wrest control of my swords, forcing me to change gears as quickly.  

And she was rested. Even if I had been her equal as a Mindarm, and it was hard to tell, she could outlast me. Easily. I was tired. Tired from rowing, tired from hiking, tired from fighting. I can’t see a road to victory, I don’t know how, I-

Wait a tick.

I played this game her way, and she couldn’t pull a decisive win. I was preventing her from trying again, and I was tired, yes, but… To maintain a Soulsword and contest my telekinetics was a truly incredible amount of focus. Of energy. And Nera is not a young woman, something I have on her even as tired as I am.

Her mind is unparalleled. 

Her body had not been her strength, even when she was young.

I’ve been playing to her strengths, like the fool I am. In an instant I drop my four blades, and with my freed focus lunge. I perceive shock for the first time from the traitor, even if I can’t really see her face. Her star whips towards me but off target; she gauges my speed wrong. It clips and carves away part of my visor, narrowly missing my face, but my first makes contact with her sternum. Her breath leaves her body, and she shoved me hard with her mind. I slide, but my own telekinesis keeps my steady. That broke her concentration. I step in again, catching her cheek with a swipe that she barely stepped back from. 

Nera grabs one of my swords with her mind, I ‘see’ it move, and I freeze it with my own. She disengages again, reach for another, but her desperation to find another avenue costs her ground. One of my sword flies to her hand and she blocks, but without grace; she tries to catch my blade head on, and her grip slips. My dagger flies from my waist and cuts a tendon inside her forearm on its path to my hand; I hear her gasp. I wonder how long it has been since she knew pain?

I sense weakness and slam her to the wall. Her head strikes against it with a crack, and I feel the pressure on my mind abate. 

I pant. Every muscle in my body burns, my strength failing fast. I’m exhausted. 

“Jasik was right. You don’t learn to take a hit.” I rasp and pant, stumbling towards where Nera was pushing herself to her feet. All of that power, all of that training, and she couldn’t take a blow to the head better than anyone else. “Fursic Nera, Toroshu of the clan Fursic.”

Her fingers move, trying to conjure her star. It doesn’t come, nothing more than wisps of psychophysical energy. She didn’t practice summoning it concussed, I suppose. Confusion colors her breathing, pace picking up little by little. She recognizes the danger she’s in, she’s searching rapidly for ways out.

“You are guilty of treason in the conspiracy to kill the late Rora, you have conspired with the current Rora’s adviser to take control of the Empire, you have fomented dissent and betrayal. You have detained the Crown Princess against your will.”

My voice drops, the edge of my blade coming to rest against her neck.

“You made her cry. I can never forgive you for that. Your sentence is death.”

“No, you-”

I flicked my blade, and Fursic Nera fell silent. 
 

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On this eve, the thirtieth anniversary of that first colony, many are left to wonder; is the world fast approaching a breaking point?

 

 

  Breaking Point: An OTC Mecha RPG

 

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IC: Soraya [The peak]

She laughed.

She couldn't help it, and it got her a glance of irritation from one of her sudden companions - Leli, wasn't it? - but man, she really couldn't help it.  Across an ocean, snatched out of a bar by a bunch of not-Dashi, through an impossible tunnel and into Rayuke's fountain, up the peak, past some impossible golem and legendary dragon and -

Nothing was happening.

And you know, she'd really been banking on this destiny hogwash to get her out of hot water with Morie.

Maybe she'd take her chances with the dragon instead.

Edited by GSR

Hey: I'm not very active around BZP right now.  However, you can always contact me through PM (I have email notifications set up) and I will reply as soon as I can.


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IC:

Desdemona knew she had a soft heart.

The Fursics had been the opposition party her whole life, a clan of schemers, double-talkers and rebels whose ambitions always raced ahead of their decency. They were cautious to a fault, less impulsive than the Dastana but crueler in their manipulations. The Fursics had risen against Umbraline Roras for as long as histories had been written; the Fursics had taken her mother. Yet the yells of alarm rang coldly in her ears. Every flicker on the mental plane, every candle light that was a Menti's life being extinguished by Inokio's deft fingers, left her stomach clenching. The names and voices that were disappearing had names to her, even if most of them never acknowledged her presence; her tuggings at their minds had equated to an intimacy that almost felt like friendship, and she felt herself mourning for the presences that would never again ring in her mind.  Try as she might, she had a soft heart, not a ruler's heart, and she found she could not harden it.

They're just people. They're just like me. She tried to close her mind to them, but she had never been good at silencing her mind. Inokio was doing that for her; the sounds of battle had left the mental plane; she heard them outside the door, signs that no mere Fursic had been able to stop the ferocious advance of her sister's Battlemaster. The fight through the castle was no longer abstract, it was at her doorstep...and she steeled herself for whatever Zuto Nui commanded would come through that door. 

When he did, she bit her lip to prevent herself from crying.

Yumi had never lacked for protection. The Hogo were around her night and day since she was old enough to speak, and she and Hana had been inseparable until the expedition to Mata Nui had taken the gentle Herupa away from both of them. But it was Korae Inokio who had been her sister's most deadly sword. Yusanora had picked him for his keen mind, yes, but he had been a killer long before he'd been a tutor. She had read all about the Fifth Fursic Rebellion in her youth, and had relentlessly grilled Rayuke and Commodore Ayiwah for war stories whenever they sat for state dinners with Mother, but Inokio's ferocity was always something that had been unspoken. To Desde, years younger than Hana or Yumi and never subject to their lessons, Inokio had always been an opaque figure, hard to read. She saw him clearly now.

He was about Ayiwah's age, and there was still an air of youthful attractiveness on his face that was only slowly giving way to years, but his eyes were hollowed in a way that Des had never seen. His wrist was tied in a splint, and he was favoring it while keeping an unorthodox one-handed grip on his Soulsword. His legs looked fit to give out on him, and his armor was pitted with scrapes and burns, flesh mottled with purpling and yellowing bruises underneath. The look in his eyes was worse. It was as though Inokio was being dogged by something, some force that was nipping at his heels and chasing him towards some hideous truth, previously unknown to them all. This went beyond fighting his way through Kozu. One look at Inokio made her realize that she had been right all along. 

The Chojo bit her lip. Tears welled up in her eyes as he approached.

"My Chojo," Inokio said respectfully, half-bowing before he began to inspect her chains. "I am glad to see you live."

"Ino...kio?" she asked softly, surprised at the huskiness of her voice. There was a rasp in the way she asked the word, almost pleading; she hadn't realized how long it had been since she'd spoken physically. "But...you betrayed..."

"Yes, Desdemona," he said curtly. "Your bindings. Metal, but not infallible. Your Mindarm has been improving greatly in the past year. The two of us together may be enough to loosen them."

"Mom trusted you. Yumi loved you. Hana loved you. Inokio, I loved you. Why?"

Inokio's eyes stared into her for a long time.

"You have a good and gentle soul, Desde," he finally said quietly. "You could never understand one so black as mine."

"Inokio--"

"Your Mindarm. Please. Masayoshi will be waiting for us." His voice had grown harsh, the way it was when the Battlemaster quarreled with Rayuke in court. Desde quailed slightly at the change in tone, but closed her eyes and concentrated on her chains. Inokio's remained vacant and far-away, but he was clearly exerting his will in the same fashion. The chains around her right wrist trembled, then gave way; the restraints on her other wrist gave way moments later. Her ankles were still bound, and Desde felt the familiar lurch in her stomach, like tripping in a dream--

--and waking up before you hit the ground. Inokio's arms had caught her, wrapping gently around the Chojo's slender back. The chains around her ankles clinked softly as she flailed, fruitlessly attempting to find purchase in thin air, but Inokio never let her go, and even in his physically diminished state he seemed more than capable of restraining her. He had not let go; with a start, and a sting in her eyes, Desde realized that she was being embraced. Inokio had never hugged her before. 

"You saved me," she whispered through her sniffles.

"No," Inokio replied somberly, "the woman saved you. She enlisted my help. Make no mistake, Chojo. I am here for myself as much as you."

"But you are here for me." Desde's head lifted off his shoulder to stare the Battlemaster in the face; he was surprisingly less anxious than she had ever seen him. His face is impassive. "You saved us both."

The traitor's lips tightened. So too did his arms around her, until the chains at Desde's feet snapped with a psionic twist and she could be lowered to the ground.

"There are ships the way we came," Inokio said urgently as he released her. The fidgeting had returned to his fingertips, and he was rocking back and forth on the soles of his feet, anxious to get moving again. "It has been years since I was at a helm, but the sea is in the blood of my clan dating back as far as our history. I should suffice to at least return us to Sado. There we can consult with--"

"You're both a long way from Sado," a voice drawled from the doorway. Desde recognized it instantly, along with the acrid smell of smoke and crackling flesh that heralded her. Battlemaster Sheika had always been a prodigious Willhammer, on par with the Chojo herself; the wildfire that marked her presence on the mental plane raged, threatening to consume them all. The same fire burned in her eyes. "Hello, Inokio. Is it pay day? I'm a little short on dragons myself, but perhaps we could go see dear Nera together."

The way that Inokio pivoted his body, blocking the Chojo from sight, was not lost on anyone in the room. Sheika's smile was as catlike as Inokio's mental tell, and her wiry frame was still where Inokio's jittered.

"I passed quite a few bodies on the way here. It seems like someone was trying to rescue this poor princess from her tower. As if that's ever gone well for you, young one," Sheika continued to drawl. "I suppose they were too much for the poor guards, but between two Battlemasters, I think we can handle any would-be heroes. I'm sure Nera will be delighted that she has such a loyal retainer in Korae Inokio."

Inokio had finally found some steel to armor his voice. "I serve the Empire, woman," he said brusquely, fingers twitching, preparing his Soulsword. "I serve those who benefit her the most. You bring no benefit to the Empire; you bring no benefit to the world. Desdemona, close your eyes."

"Yes, Desdemona, close your eyes." Sheika laughed harshly. "Just like Kuno. Just like Arsix and sweet, brave Jasik. The royal family has always been very, very good at closing its eyes. That's why Inokio came crawling here; his eyes were closed, too, and he would do anything to open them. You have always sought knowledge, Inokio, isn't that right? And in return...just close a few more eyes. It was a very sweet deal. One you've now trampled."

The silence Inokio's wake had left in the mental plane was being filled with gust; the winds lapped at Sheika's fires with greedy tongues. Desde remembered the night of Yumi's party, the amateurish Soulsword bursting from the chest of her mother. The fires had eaten Yusanora's heart that night. Slowly, but surely, they had eaten her daughters too.

"My credit, however, remains quite sound," Sheika continued, a long, thin shape conjuring from one hand. The arrow was joined by a bow, and Desdemona felt as though she'd been transfixed on the spot. Her eyes were wide with shock at the display before her, two distinct Soulswords being joined in a weapon she could never had conceptualized. Of course an orb had been chosen to slay Yusanora; such a majestic weapon, such a Menti, would have been pegged on the spot. And if she had been, who would have been able to stop her...

Me.

The word felt so foreign, so full of pride, that she thought it had been planted by Inokio. Or Yusanora's ghost.

I was her daughter. I would have stopped you.

I'll stop you now.

The Soulsword was notched and aimed at Inokio's heart; even with the reach of his Soulsword, his wounded legs would never reach Sheika in time--

A vase struck the Battlemaster in the back of the head. Desde, who had found herself brained days ago with a mug of beer, still found the prospect hysterical. The Chojo's face had broken into an impish grin from behind her battered protector. Sheika did not seem to be laughing this time.

"You," declared the heir to the Empire, with an unfamiliar strength that coarsed in her veins like hot metal, "are a shitbird."

Inokio took the opportunity to lunge. His Soulsword was out and ready to cleave Sheika from waist to collar diagonally, but even dazed from the impact, Sheika was faster and more energetic than the tired, wounded Korae. She nimbly ducked backwards, out of the path of his choreographed attack, and pressed forward with a thrust of her arrow that grazed Inokio's left forearm, cutting it deep. Des could smell the singe of his flesh, but apart from an instinctive yelp of pain, the wound hardly seemed to faze Inokio. He pivoted ninety degrees and gazed down the mercenary Battlemaster, a sworn sword whose focus transcended all his faults. The nervous fidget was gone. The wounds were gone. The indecision was gone. This was Korae Inokio, the demon of Kozu, whose rise to the realm of politics and into the hearts of the Umbraline princesses had been built on Fursic bones. Even as the wounds began to pile up - Sheika's arrow worked well as a makeshift dagger, while Inokio's nodachi strikes were slower and more suited for a range Sheika refused to give - he seemed preternaturally focused, waiting for an opening that Des began to worry would never arrive. In her head, the cats that marked Inokio's presence began to mewl in pain. They licked their paws gingerly.

But still, Inokio kept up. The arrow found his right side, and his leg almost buckled. But he pivoted again. He's fighting for me, Desde realized, and even watching the hopelessness of his cause and the seriousness of his predicament, the Chojo's heart sang. He wants me to be okay.

"Enough of this, Korae," Sheika growled, lunging forward. Somehow, Inokio managed to step backwards, and cut horizontally in a strike similar to the one that had blinded Masa in the yards all those years ago. Sheika reared back, clearly cognizant of that very risk, and her incisors glinted in a leer. "Enough of this, Korae."

...

Inokio smiled. There was a brief leap in the mental plane; the flames had begun to part. Sheika realized something was amiss, but not quite what. Her stance turned into a confused slouch; her smile shifted to an uneasy frown.

.:Why did I say that?:. Her eyes demanded of Inokio. .:Why did I say that?:. 

She realized she had done it again, and began to panic. Her eyes shifted to Desdemona, and the realization struck - but it had struck too late. By now, Desdemona had her. The princess had spent her life in a tower, making it her own and shaping it to her whims; this tower was colder and crueler, with none of the comforts, but a cage was still a cage, and the Chojo had made it her own.

.:You killed my mom,:. the mental plane rumbled at Sheika.

"...you killed my mom," came the echo from her lips.

.:You took her heart.:.

"...you took her heart."

.:Inokio. Now.:.

"...Inokio. No--"

Sheika's mind, desperately fighting to keep the raw strength of the Chojo at bay, had started to make progress in the fight for her mind. In the process, though, mental faculties had to be diverted. Her Soulsword had shimmered and vanished. Inokio smiled with grim pride at his Chojo, and finally made his strike. The arm that had wounded him to the quick a dozen times over fell to the ground. The cut was so clean that Sheika did not bleed.

But she did scream. The scream grew in pitch and shock as Desde took advantage of the opportunity and pushed into Sheika's mind, without grace or style becoming of a Battlemaster or princess. She was an enraged daughter now, a girl who had been freed from her restraints, ripping and tearing anything she found that seemed vital. It was one of the hundreds of tantrums that Yumi had inflicted on her bedroom, only writ large; the wildfire turned on Sheika's innermost sanctum, lighting fire to the tapestries and the bedsheets. There was nowhere in the room for the Tajaar to turn. Desdemona's hollow blue eyes were in every nook, every cranny, under beds and inside closets. The fires licked at Sheika inside her very brain, and the smell of burning flesh became her own.

Slowly, the Tajaar's defeated scream tapered down into a whimper. She sat slumped in the corner, eyes as vacant and sightless as Masayoshi's. Inokio stepped in for the finishing blow.

"No," Desde interrupted, before he could bring the nodachi down on her neck. "Leave her."

"My Chojo--"

"Am I?"

"...Desde," Inokio acknowledged, bowing his head in respect for her strength, "she is a powerful enemy. Her recovery from...that...is not out of the question. And she is a traitor besides."

"So are you, Inokio," Desde reminded him. The whip in her voice reminded him of Yumiwa. "But I'm letting you steer me home. Leave her be. If she's in there, she knows who her betters are now."

A beat. Inokio smiled.

"Yes. My princess."

...

"And then I said, 'Lady, you are such shitbird," Desde finished, blowing imaginary smoke away from her fingers the way she'd seen one of the Chaotic Six do, what seemed like a lifetime ago. "And bam. We strolled out like we owned the place. Just like the legend."

It was clear that the open air and the smell of the sea had improved Desde's mood. Since they had commandeered the boat - one Des recognized as one of Kuno's private pleasure vessels, still docked at home probably as punishment from his domineering mother - she had been pacing the deck, eagerly recounting - and, eventually, embellishing - every detail for Masayoshi's implicit benefit. The Executioner's assistant could see her charge pacing with the help of her Arthron, and though she could not make out the distinct impression it was clear that the Chojo wore a giddy smile. She was uncharacteristically animated.

"The legend," Inokio recounted skeptically. The fight seemed to go out of Desde.

"...Yeah," she said uncertainly, turning from the Battlemaster to the Soulsword. "The legend of Desdemona the Valkyr. And her journey into the cave...of the...it's..not a legend. Is it."

Masayoshi's sightless eyes revealed nothing. They both turned to Inokio on the helm; typical of the traitor, he could not meet their gaze for a time. Then he did.

And he smiled.

"Of course it is, my Chojo," he said, stifling a smile as he turned away from them and towards the imprisonment awaiting him on Sado. "It was one of my favorites when I grew up."

The smile broke loose; he was glad she did not see it.

-Tyler

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IC:

Nowhere sees somewhere. Nothing perceives things.

 

The doo—

 

—r is openin—

 

—g. Yes. Ye—

 

—s! The life fl—

 

—ows and I—

 

—know tha—

 

—t we—

 

—a—

 

—r—

 

—e—

 

—CLOSE.

 

 

The alchemy transpired so quickly that Rayuke hardly registered it.

 

Still standing with its tip plunged deep into the Vault’s crystal podium, the Imperial Executioner’s broadsword started to change. It narrowed, and its keen edges morphed from impeccably straight to wavy, like it was being bent by a mirage. The handle of the sword shrunk from a two-handed grip down to a hand-and-a-half design. Most astonishing of all, though, was that the very substance of the sword transmuted. The polished metal of its blade seemed to melt away to instead reveal cold, clear crystal. Dasakan crystal.

 

 

Out of a shadowy wisp a sword unlike any Heuani had ever seen materialized before him. It had a sturdy, elegant metal hilt – a basic T-shaped crossbar, an unadorned ovular pommel, all crafted out of smooth lines – but what was remarkable about the weapon was its transparent, rippling blade. Heuani plucked the sword from the air and felt its balance suit him excellently, as though it had been made for his arm.

The blade looked like it was made of glass, and its edge was so sharp it almost disappeared into the shade around it. He pulled the flat of the flamberge close to his face and noted that its seemingly smooth surface was actually comprised of exceedingly minute flat polygons that bent so subtly that their edges were imperceptible unless closely examined. Inside the blade, Heuani’s acute vision made out a tiny crevice, an angular-looking air bubble; it was, as far as he could see, the sword’s only flaw.

Side banter died as the Matoran took in the changed blade. Rayuke had never seen this flamberge before, but others in the group knew it at once.

 

“I know that sword!” Leli gasped. “It’s—”

 

“—Is it?” Tarnok murmured. “Could it be?”

 

“—the Dark Toa Heuani’s sword!” Leli finished.

 

“Hey-you… hey-who… whose?” Soraya asked.

 

“I saw it at the Battle of the Hive,” Leli clarified. “It was the weapon of Makuta’s most despicable lieutenant.”

 

“It felled some of our friends,” Tarnok growled. “That’s not the kind of weapon you forget.”

 

The group didn’t have much time to muse on the weapon, though, or to speculate as to how it had arrived, before the reason for its presence announced itself.

 

The dot of the Red Star’s light, which had bounced uselessly off of the blade of Rayuke’s metal sword an instant before, interacted quite differently with the crystalline one. The red pinpoint shone through the flamberge, passing right into the prismatic bubble close to the sword’s hilt. This, the famous flamberge’s only “imperfection”—which had been noticed by a handful of its previous owners—suddenly announced itself as anything but: it had long been destined to act as the intricate key for a complex refractive sequence.

 

The sequence transpired at the speed of light. Red starlight passed through the key chamber in the flamberge; it entered the white crystalline podium before the sword, making the quartz there glow with refracted light; that light surged down and lit up the whole amethyst platform beneath the Matoran party’s feet; surfaces within the platform bounced brilliant rays of light out to hit the crystal pillars on every side; and the crystal pillars, lit like towers of daylight, shot identical beams towards the rough nodule of crystal which was the only blemish on the Vault door’s smooth, blank face.

 

Rayuke, resident of the crystalline city of Sado, knew enough about crystal to know that light refracting through it should become dimmer, not brighter. And yet, the small, dim glow of the Red Star had grown brighter and brighter as it moved through the Vault’s mechanism. Forces beyond those of nature were at play in this moment.

 

“Mata Nui…” Seven marvelled behind him, her hands to her mouth in amazement.

 

The crystal nodule in the doorway soaked in luminance like a sponge. It glowed brighter and brighter, becoming too brilliant to look at. The nodule glowed like the sun, resculpting Koshiki’s crater into patches of stark light and sharp shadow.

 

Everyone present squinted and averted their eyes. Soraya ducked under her scarf. Kellin tried his best to shelter Cancer’s eye stalks with his hands. Meanwhile Rayuke’s eyelids offered him little protection; he blocked his face with his huge palms, but these provided no more relief. He feared the inescapable light would blind him. Only the Abettor kept its gaze on the Vault door, the empty sockets of its Kanohi seemingly impervious to even the brightest light.

 

Finally, as if it could take no more, the crystal nodule shattered, and its light died with it. Its keystone obliterated, the face of the Vault’s door lost its composure, too. It crumbled—incredibly quickly—into dust-sized particles that seemed to be sucked… inward?

 

As more and more of the door disappeared, the origin of the suction became clear: behind the sheer stone wall was a vertical pond of swirling, multicolored energy. Its pattern was ever-shifting, flowing like a lazy whirlpool where colorful tendrils chased each other in an endless dance. It cast a magnificent, gentle glow over all that stood before it. When the granules of the dissolving stone door met the surface of the rainbow pool, the fluid around them fizzed a little, returning to placidity once the particles had passed beyond its surface.

 

It was, unmistakably, the fabled portal.

 

The group of Matoran, stunned and silent with awe for a few moments, burst out into cheers and whoops. Bouncing up and down with excitement, they seized one another, grabbed wrists, hugged, shed tears of joy. They had done it! By their cleverness, diligence, solidarity, and courage, the first of the great Veins of the Universe was open… and they were one step closer to waking the Great Spirit. Seeing the little beings celebrate around him—and having a few of them try, completely unsuccessfully, to tackle him to the earth with bear hugs—Rayuke felt his throat rise into his mouth with emotion. He felt a tremendous sense of relief.

 

But, like many peaceful moments in Rayuke’s life, the relief, pride, joy, and happiness surging through his heart were destined to be short-lived.

 

Mere moments after the heroic party began to celebrate, the last of the Vault’s old stone wall was finally sucked into the multicolored pool, leaving the portal completely unobstructed for the first time in countless years. The second this occurred, things started to go wrong.

 

Very wrong. 

 

A gap rends nowhere. A gap only large enough for one half of nothing.

 

Following its agreement, the nothingness redivides itself.

 

I have kept my promise. Now, keep yours.

 

I will.

 

I will make you pay.

 

I will obliterate everything you love.

 

And, for now, I cannot stop you. But you cannot stop this.

 

Goodbye, sister.

 

Good riddance, sister.

 

 

For an instant, the rainbow currents of the portal flowed naturally. Then, all at once, they began to froth wildly again, as if they were consuming a second stone wall at ten times the previous rate. This time, however, nothing was passing into the portal.

 

Something, it turned out, was emerging.

 

Hurricane winds, icy-cold and heavy with hate, assaulted all that stood before the portal, hurling the group of Matoran, Cancer the crab, Rayuke, and even the monumental Abettor back off the amethyst podium. All of them crashed into the glassy sands of Koshiki’s lakeshore, easily 20 yards from where they’d stood.

 

The early evening sky, which had been painted expressionistically by the dying breath of the sun and speckled with white-blue stars, grew overcast and totally dark. The air ionized, crackled, suddenly smelled of burnt ozone. And a terrible, bodiless, sourceless, invisible, awful, malicious presence squeezed forth from the portal.

 

It filled the whole crater. It filled the air in their lungs. It filled the whole world.

 

“Free,” the presence murmured.

 

Its whisper shook the old volcano and made the crater’s poison lake slosh violently. A few droplets of splashing acid rained on Rayuke and the others, making them yelp with pain. Nobody dared inch away from the shoreline though, because to do so would mean voluntarily approaching the awful presence before them. They were paralyzed with animal fear.

 

“I am… free.” On the last word, the presence coiled up towards the sky, stretching exultantly. The crystal pillars of the Vault fell to earth, cracked and splintered as easily as hard candy by the touch of the horrible being. The amethyst podium sank into the sand, as if being devoured by a hungry maw in the ground.

 

The presence extended itself in one direction, then the other, and lightning crackled in the sky. These forks of electricity sparked fires all over Kentoku. Faster than anyone would have believed possible, the jungles of the islands caught the blaze, filling air all around the archipelago with thick, wet smoke.

 

The presence’s invisible eye—or its something, unknown and indescribable, something that could perceive the world around it—fixed itself on Rayuke and his party. Being examined by the spirit felt like being in boiling water and a block of ice at the same time, while pierced and chained in place by unbreakable bonds. Nobody could speak in the face of such a potent gaze.

 

“Hello, little ones,” the presence said, a cruel smile edging into its voice. It was the kind of smile that curdles blood and splits the earth. Indeed, the very ground started to fracture beneath the heroic party. “Are you pleased to see me?”

 

Nobody could respond… save, it seemed, the Abettor.

 

“Why are you here,” the Vault’s old guardian clacked routinely, seemingly unfazed or unaware that its newest visitor could probably crush its can-like body underfoot with a single toe.

 

“I am here because you have freed me,” the presence answered, an amused snort in its voice. The cruelty in it made Rayuke’s bones want to jump out of his body, run away, and dive irretrievably into the sea. “For that, I must offer you my... gratitude.”

 

“We do not accept bribes,” the Abettor countered, managing to stand. Its mask-wheel cycled through to a Kanohi Hau.

 

A moment later, the Abettor had been flicked through the air by a force unseen. It sailed over the beach, crashing into the steep inner cliff of the crater. The impact left a huge dent on the Abettor’s cylindrical body; the guardian started to right itself, but one of its double-jointed knees gave out, and it fell back to earth. It tried and tried again to regain its footing, seeming to expect a different outcome than collapse every time. Rayuke wondered if something in its brain had short-circuited.

 

The presence’s focus returned with broiling force to Rayuke and the Matoran, pinning them to earth with renewed vigor. “Out of gratitude for the service you have rendered me,” the awful voice rumbled, “I shall not touch you— any of you. I will spare your little lives.”

 

Behind, or perhaps within, the presence, the multicolored portal’s currents started to froth again. Rayuke and the Matoran could clearly see what was coming out of the gateway, this time. Dozens and dozens of Dasaka-sized beings in myriad colors started to spill haphazardly out of the portal. Rayuke could tell at once that these were no Dasaka, though—nor were they Toa from Mata Nui. These creatures had hunched backs, savage claws, and tall dorsal spines. Each carried a long staff with ornate spear-points at either end. 

 

Although the former Imperial Executioner had never seen these revolting beings before, all the Mata Nuians behind him recognized them at once. The fear of these familiar monsters helped shake them out of the terrified stupor imposed by the presence’s terrible voice.

 

“Rahkshi!” shouted Lekua.

 

I will spare your lives,” the presence repeated, its voice booming and vast. “But my sons owe you no thanks.”

 

As the evil presence chuckled—the earthquake of its laugh causing a landslide down one side of the crater—the horde of Rahkshi let loose an earsplitting chorus of shrill shrieks and screeches. They started to amble towards the adventurers.

 

“We need to leave,” Tarnok cried, standing and shedding his heavy pack. “We need to leave now!

 

“Run!” seconded Soraya, helping Leli up.

 

“Rayuke!” Seven cried. “We have to go! Get up!

 

Rayuke found himself still unable to move. He was in shock. How could this have happened? They followed the prophecy to the letter. The Vault had opened just as it was supposed to. Everything had gone according to plan... He did not understand. He did not understand. It made no sense; he did not understand...

 

Was Destiny playing some kind of sick joke on him?

 

The Rahkshi continued their advance. Luckily for the Matoran, their progress was slow. The creatures seemed discombobulated or, perhaps, just dizzy from their voyage through the portal. A few of the Rahkshi accidentally veered towards one another and collided, bristling with anger at each other when they did so. Rayuke could only watch as they came closer; he was outside himself, and simply could not budge.

 

As the first few got in striking reach, raising their staves to wield dark powers against Rayuke and the Matoran, something astonishing happened.

 

Its Kanohi Rau in place—apparently so it could bellow like a dragon once again—the Abettor hurtled forward, limping as fast as it could go. It cut off the tide of Rahkshi in spectacular fashion, charging through them like a battering ram. A handful of Rahkshi went flying. Before their ranks could regroup, the crystal formation fused to one of the Abettor’s forearms glowed with light. Pulses of bluish energy shot forth, and melting every Rahkshi they struck into a pile of elemental rubbish. Here a puddle of water, there a mound of earth; here a temporary inferno, there a heap of snow.

 

It was Cancer the Ussal who saved Rayuke. At Kellin’s behest, Cancer’s claw snapped Rayuke on the ankle. The pain jolted him to his senses. He and his friends were in danger. With agility that belied his size, the Dasakan warrior sprung to his feet.

 

“Over there!” he bellowed, voice raised above the din of battle at his back. He pointed at the freshly-fallen landslide. “It may not be stable, but we can climb it faster!”

 

Letting the Matoran sprint ahead of him, Rayuke ushered them towards the fall of rocks. The Abettor, amazingly, still seemed to be holding back the tide of Rahkshi with a combination of intimidation, brute force, and its deadly crystal arm. Nevertheless, Rayuke knew that he and the others did not have much time.

 

As fast as they could, the party scrambled up the loose boulders of the landslide. There were a few close calls—Rayuke had to catch an off-balance Matoran on more than one occasion—but all of them managed to make it back up to the ridge of the crater. Rayuke stole a glance behind him, and caught a glimpse of the Abettor falling under a dogpile of Rahkshi, overrun by the creatures at last. The forward Rahkshi, regaining their normal coordination, had begun to pour past the formidable guardian’s shell in pursuit of Rayuke and the Matoran.

 

Using his Mindarm powers, Rayuke removed a few key boulders from the landslide, massively destabilizing it. A handful of Rahkshi were buried under falling rock, while the others lost their easiest means of pursuit.

 

As Rayuke and the Matoran ran down the mountainside, down into the flaming jungle and back towards their docked boat, Rayuke felt drops of water forming in the corners of his eyes. He made no sound, and since none of the Matoran ahead of him turned back to see him, his tears were private. Rayuke still could not believe what had happened.

 

What was happening in this moment.

 

What would happen.

 

Zataka was on Kentoku, and she would make it hers.

 

...

 

 

Nowhere is nowhere, but nothing does not mind.

 

Two down.

 

Four to go.

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