Joske leaped from chunk to chunk of stone even as they flew, with such unnatural speed that he was barely so much as a blur to the naked eye. But once again, Echelon had seen into his mind with the power of the Komau and anticipated his attack. Joske’s attack was too fast for him to redirect this time, so he used the opposite strategy: he moved himself.
An upward push of Dark Magnetism lifted the Necromancer into the air just in time for Joske to hurtle beneath him, so close that the crystal flamberge nicked the hem of his robes.
Now that Joske was wise to Echelon’s thought-skimming (and so had more than half expected his attack to be evaded), he recovered from the miss in a fraction of the time it had taken him before. Before Echelon had so much as slowed his ascent, the Ta-Toa was already running up the face of one of the Temple’s three still-intact stone totems and launching himself off it at his opponent, swinging the sword back and up and then forward and down like a hammer-strike.
This time, although Echelon managed to swing his staff around in time to parry the attack (making up for his lack of physical prowess with a generous application of his elemental power), it was a hasty defence that was barely made in time, and his own follow-through knocked him off-balance. The Komau had provided him with less warning before because, quite simply, Joske had thought less about what he was about to do.
You see, as Joske hurled himself at Echelon for the third time, he had realised the key to winning this fight. His mastery of the Kakama gave him a huge offensive and defensive advantage, letting him move to close range faster than Echelon could react and dodge attacks faster than Echelon could make them, but this advantage was made useless by his enemy’s Kanohi. With the Komau, Echelon could see into his mind and skim his surface thoughts, and thus predict his plans the moment he made them.
So the key was to not plan, not think. If he could attack faster than thought, acting on pure spontaneity and instinct, Echelon’s neutralisation tactic would itself be neutralised and he would be defeated.
As he began to put this plan of non-planning into action, letting go of his conscious thoughts, his attacks came faster and faster even as Echelon’s ability to predict them waned. The Dark Toa was forced more and more onto the defensive: his parries and dodges grew sloppier, his counterattacks less frequent, and the strain of concentration began to show as a grimace on his usually-composed face.
It was working.
Echelon, for his part, had not expected his trump card to fail. But try as he might, he could only snatch briefer and briefer glimpses into Joske’s next move. The Komau was still skimming the Ta-Toa’s surface thoughts, he was sure of it—it was those thoughts themselves that were increasingly empty, as tactical consideration was replaced by a kind of fierce serenity. He didn’t like it one bit.
A magnetic throw connected with Joske, flinging him back, but it was rushed and the aim suffered. He was thrown not against the unyielding stone of a totem as Echelon had intended, but past it into the snow, where he landed on his feet, regained his balance instantly, and surged forward.
The Dark Toa’s staff was raised and rippling with shadowy energy as its master channeled his power through it, preparing to unleash a second attack: an attack that would never come. The crystal flamberge moved through it in a smooth arc, bisecting the metal rod as easily as a scythe would a stalk of wheat. Echelon staggered back, dropping the halves of his ruined implement, and Joske planted a kick in his chest that sent him sprawling.
Just like that, it was all over.
Joske stood over his defeated opponent, who lay disarmed and struggling to squeeze air into winded lungs, and raised his sword to finish him. One swift stroke and the world would be rid of this evil, evil man.
But as he prepared to bring the sword down Echelon turned his head to face him, and meeting the fallen Toa’s gaze he faltered. The pain and dread etched on that gaunt face stirred pity in his heart. Echelon deserved to die for all that he done, there was no questioning that…and in the heat of battle any one of his attacks might have killed the Dark Toa in an instant…
…but can I really execute him? Is that who I am?
Echelon seemed to see the hesitation in his eyes, and raised a tremulous hand in a plea for mercy.
Then that hand flared with shadow and the plea became a thrust of Dark Magnetism. It whipped Joske away like a leaf on the wind. This time the aim was true and he did not miss the monolith, and the impact knocked the flamberge from his hand and the Kakama from his face. Through the haze of stars that bloomed across his vision he saw them both fly from where they had fallen, before he could so much as reach for them, and into the waiting hands of Echelon.
Just like that, it was all over.
Joske felt Dark Magnetism ensnare his limbs and torso and lift him into the air, then pin him spread-eagled against the stone he had struck only a moment ago. Now there was no escape. He couldn’t move, let alone fight. For a bitter moment he wished he had never given up his power over Fire, but that power had bought Cael back to him from the void, and the thought of her gave him a moment’s comfort.
“Compassion,” the triumphant voice of Echelon broke his reverie, “is the dagger you plant in your own back.”
The Dark Toa advanced at the slow, satisfied speed of a spider approaching a web-entangled fly. The wind was beginning to pick up, whipping Echelon’s black robes about him and riming them with snowflakes. The snow was falling thicker too, drawing insubstantial curtains between the two Toa and then whipping them away. A blizzard’s on the way, commented some disconnected part of Joske’s mind.
“A long time ago,” Echelon said, “you took my weapon from me, and with it you destroyed my mask.”
It took Joske a moment to realise that by ‘weapon’ he meant Utu.
“So first, we have the matter of revenge.”
The red-streaked gold Kakama that was famous island-wide floated from Echelon’s hand, and one swipe of the crystal flamberge clove it in two. The pieces lost their Dark Magnetic aura and fell with soft crunches into the snow.
“Next, the matter of spoils.”
At a wave of Echelon’s hand, Joske’s satchel and scabbard unbuckled themselves and drifted over to the Dark Toa, who slung the former over his shoulder and the latter at his hip. He did not sheathe the flamberge yet, but instead held it up, admiring the way the moonlight gleamed through the crystal in patterns of silver and azure. No snowflakes settled on the blade: they slid off as soon as they landed, as though its surface was too smooth for them to grip.
“Quite a prize,” Echelon murmured. “This blade would have taken my life once, if Heuani had had his way...quite a prize.”
His gaze flicked back to Joske.
“But not enough.”
He stuck the flamberge’s blade into the ground and stalked towards the Ta-Toa until their faces were mere inches apart. Joske felt rage bubble up inside him, driving him to lash out at the Necromancer. Still unable to move a limb, he did the next-best thing: he spat in Echelon’s face. The Dark Toa’s mouth curled in disgust as he wiped the spittle from his mask, then broke into a disdainful chuckle.
“Of course. What is a fire-spitter without his Fire?” he remarked sardonically. “No element, no mask, no way out—you are powerless. And yet, not quite...for as I have always said, knowledge is power, and you still have your knowledge. So now I will take that from you, too.”
Since conquering Ko-Koro, Echelon had spent the vast majority of his time cooped up in the towers of the Sanctum, and he had not been idle. Much of that time had been spent poring over the city archives and drawing up defensive strategies, but he had managed to find time in his schedule to experiment with his new Kanohi, exploring its capabilities and pushing its limitations.
The Komau was a more subtle mask than its moniker of ‘Mind Control’ might suggest. It allowed the user not to puppeteer a target’s thoughts and actions, but rather to look into their mind and plant suggestions or compulsions there. To a weak will these could be overwhelming, but a stronger will could fight back, particularly if ordered to do something directly against their morals or convictions. The key, as Echelon had learned, was to be indirect. Order a hero to stand aside and he will resist, but he will find it far harder to ignore a compulsion to tend to the wounded and thus, indirectly, allow you to escape.
Whatever Joske’s secrets were, Echelon knew he would not tell them willingly, especially not if they were of the kind that would be dangerous in his hands, and though he disdained the hero he knew his will was strong. But the Dark Toa knew of another way.
He gripped the Ta-Toa’s head in his near-skeletal hands—one at the top of the cranium and the other at the base of the jaw—and with all the power of the Komau, he implanted a command into Joske’s mind:
Joske heard Echelon’s words in his head, more deep and terrible than his real voice, and full of mesmerising command. He felt the floodgates of his memory tug open.
Remember the day Makuta fell.
And he did. He couldn’t fight it. The memories seemed to stir of their own accord, as memories do, and suddenly he was reliving those fateful events. He saw it all again: the Crystals, the Keeping Place, the Mask of Conjuring, Heuani...and as he saw it, so did Echelon.
Losing Cael. Fighting Heuani. Defeating Heuani. Sending the Maru to the Keeping Place. Opening the Suva-Nui for them. Those parting words with Stannis before the plunge. The past surged into his present, sometimes racing past in a blur almost too fast to process, sometimes slowing into moments of crystal-clarity.
Again he fought the battle at the Kini-Nui, defeating Echelon, then Ronkshou, then Vidar. Again he brought Cael back from the dead. Again he witnessed Heuani’s comeuppance—and in that particular memory, Echelon found a particularly delicious secret: the truth about the Toa Mata, and what they had become.
But the Dark Toa’s hunger was not yet sated. He sensed there was more to be found.
Good...good. Now go on, further. Remember. Remember the day we fought a second time. The day you disappeared.
And he did. Again he faced the Dark Toa and his allies, with his own friends at his back. Again Echelon’s trickery brought down the cave. Again he escaped the tunnels, alone. Again Stannis found him.
Again Stannis told him the truth.
Echelon’s eyes, having drifted shut as he focused all his will on extracting the knowledge hidden away in Joske’s memories, now snapped open. He released his grip on Joske’s head. As abruptly as they had come, the memories stopped, and the Ta-Toa’s head flopped forward as his mind almost shut down from the overload of memories.
“Legend...” the Dark Toa breathed. There was a light in his eyes: the look of a gambler who, having hoped only to recoup his losses, suddenly finds the jackpot within his grasp. “Not dead...not dead, merely banished! And what is banished...can return.”
He seized Joske’s head once more, eliciting a groan as he wrenched it upright.
More, he hammered into his mind. Remember more. He sent you there, didn’t he? Remember!
The memories came again, this time memories so crucial that Joske might have been able to muster the will to hold them back, if he still had the strength...but he did not. Everything he had learned in the Legend, the truth about the world, spilled out.
The barrage of memories ceased.
Slowly, slowly, Joske’s mind became clear again. Like a sleeper awakening from a deep and vivid dream, he opened his eyes, blinking in the cold light of reality. He raised his head.
Echelon stood before him, hands clasped behind his back.
“Once again, Toa Joske, you are full of surprises,” he said, his voice as calm as ever, but his eyes burned with barely-contained glee. “Who could have foreseen that of all the people and powers of this world, my salvation would come to me from you?”
Joske wouldn’t have thought the weight of dread in his stomach could get any heavier, but as the implications sank in, it did.
Oh, Cael...Dor, Agni, Tuara...everyone...Mata Nui...I’m so sorry…
“Until now, I have been searching blindly, stumbling in the dark,” Echelon continued. “But you, you who vanquished Heuani and heralded the Maru, have brought me more than I could have hoped for: you have given me the tools to unravel it all.”
He pulled the flamberge from the frozen ground.
“And now, Gatekeeper,” said Echelon, “your work is done.”
Joske barely felt the blade drive through him.