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The Shika Trilogy Omnibus

The Shika Trilogy Repost Tapestry of Evil An Unlikely Alliance TTOSN

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#41 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Feb 26 2014 - 09:36 AM

Chapter 22: Going Down the River of Shadow


Akuna was having difficulties moving her oar because of its weight. She had to lift it up, turn it around, and then pull it back to keep it going at the same speed as the rest of the oars, although she could tell that her friends were having an equally hard time moving theirs.

The bottom of the ship where the oars were was quite large. It looked like it could hold at least twenty Kra-Matoran villagers, all of whom were supposed to row the oars. But since it was just these four Toa with only their raw strength to move it they found that they had a hard time getting it moving, since the oars seemed to weigh about a ton each and the ship seemed even heavier.

Still, they were making progress at least, and that was what mattered most to her. As long as they kept rowing the oars and as long as Barilo and Nastan kept a watch out for any Kra-Matoran, she was sure that they would be getting out of Wyoko very soon.

A new thought popped into her bran as she rowed her oar. Why did Addis put Nastan and Barilo on the surface? Doesn’t he know how distrustful Nastan is of Barilo? she thought as she rowed. Maybe he is trying to get Nastan to trust Barilo so we will have true unity. After all, they do have a major trust issue going on and they will have some alone time up there so they can talk it over, hopefully.

They had been rowing the ship for hours upon hours, with Nastan or Barilo occasionally coming down to give a report on where they were headed. They had already gone down several forks in the river, each way directed by Nastan or Barilo so that they would be heading toward The Door, which seemed to be getting closer according to the two watchers.

It seemed to Akuna that there weren’t any villages near the river, otherwise Barilo and Nastan would have told them. So perhaps that meant that they would get to The Door with little to no mishaps, which was a relief to Akuna. She didn’t want to have to fight any villagers on their way to The Door because she wasn’t so sure that they could win, especially if they had to fight on the river.

Suddenly, the ship lurched sharply to the left, then to the right, and then to the left again. Akuna and the others tried to keep it steady, but it kept shifting itself all of the time and they had no way to stop it at all. Addis gave up try and looked over his shoulder at his three friends and he said, “Okay, who’s rocking the boat?”

All of them shrugged, indicating that they weren’t doing anything and that they hadn’t a clear idea of what was happening, either.

“Maybe we got caught in a current,” Nonzra suggested.

“I hope not,” Addis replied as the ship lurch again, this time more aggressively than before. “It may have swept us off course toward The Door.”

All of a sudden, they felt something brush against the side of The Endless Shade and then the wall burst open as a giant squid tentacle and water-like shadow came gushing in, causing the four Toa Shika to get knocked off their feet, and the next thing that Akuna knew she saw the squid tentacle coming toward them menacingly, ready to kill them all.

That is what caused the shifting, Addis,” Nonzra said as he looked at the appendage in surprise and fear.
 

-


A few minutes ago. . . .

Nastan and Barilo were sitting on deck, looking over the dirty, run-down ship and over to the shoreline, where they didn’t even see so much as a Rahi walking along it. Why weren’t there any villages or animals? They could see roads, but none of them had any Kra-Matoran traveling them.

Ah well, Nastan thought as he watched. Better to have no Kra-Matoran than a hundred, eh?

Both of the two Toa had been quiet the entire time, barely speaking to each other. Nastan was feeling rather angry at Addis for pairing him up with Barilo and Barilo didn’t particularly like Nastan, either. Occasionally they went down below deck to tell the others the progress of their journey but other than that they tried to keep out of sight as much as possible in order to avoid being detected by any Kra-Matoran.

In the distance they could see The Door coming closer and closer as The Endless Shade sailed smoothly over the surface of the dark river. They were getting closer, and that was what mattered most to Nastan at the moment rather than some personal grudge that he had against Barilo.

No, it’s not a just ‘some’ personal grudge against Barilo, Nastan thought. It’s a real issue, one that I honestly am thinking we’ll have to deal with eventually.

He remembered his little talk with Akuna about his trust issues with Barilo, but he wasn’t so sure that he was ready to talk with Barilo. After all, the Toa of Gravity tried to kill him once before and what if he tried it again when Nastan tried to talk to him? So he simply sat there and listened to the sound of the river rushing by him.

Barilo looked a little uncomfortable, too, and didn’t seem to want to talk. But then suddenly, he said, “So. . . . How’s life been treating you?”

“Horribly, I guess,” Nastan replied. “Can’t say I like being stuck down here in this weird place, but hey, at least Akuna is with me, so I’ll be okay.”

There was silence again and then Barilo said, “Nastan, I don’t think we should keep dodging the issue.”

“What issue?” asked Nastan, though he thought he already knew.

“The trust issue,” said Barilo. “If we’re going to be working together from now on, we have to trust each other.”

Nastan seemed slightly surprised by this, but he answered anyway, saying, “Well, to be frank, Barilo, I don’t trust you as much as the others and I don’t know if I can trust you. I mean, I trust you over the Shodios, certainly, but among us, well, I just don’t feel comfortable around you because of what you tried to do to me in the past. It’s hard to trust someone who almost killed you, you know?”

“I understand,” said Barilo, nodding. “I would lose trust in a person, too, if he tried to kill me.” He paused, as if lost in thought, then said, “Well, how can I earn your trust? I realize the mistake of what I did in the past and now I want to rectify it. I just want to trust all of my teammates and since you’re on the same team as I, I think that we should trust each other, you know?”

Nastan was surprised. Barilo really wanted his trust? That seemed an odd thing for Nastan to hear him say. But then, Nastan thought, maybe Barilo really had seen his mistakes and really wanted to become friends with Nastan again. But something inside the Toa of The Green was holding back that forgiveness for some reason. What if it were all a trick? He knew just how ridiculous and paranoid that would have sounded to anyone else, but he knew that Barilo was certainly capable of fooling others.

“I don’t know,” Nastan said slowly. “I mean, I don’t know what you should do to regain my trust. Save my life, maybe? It isn’t easy to mend one’s wounds so easily just by saying ‘I forgive you.’ “

“So there isn’t a way to regain your trust?” Barilo asked, sounding slightly disappointed. “Why can’t we just be friends?”

“Because, Barilo, when someone tries to kill you, you don’t usually forgive them just like that.” Nastan snapped his fingers. “It isn’t something you forget easily.”

“Oh, okay,” said Barilo. “I understand.” Although he didn’t seem to really understand it at all in Nastan’s opinion.

All of a sudden, however, the ship lurched to the left, then to the right, and then to the left again. Barilo stomped his foot on the ground and shouted, “Hey! What’s going on down there? Are you guys trying to throw us off or something?”

He heard no answer. Instead, there were a few more abrupt shifts and then they heard a loud crashing noise like someone had burst through a wall and then they heard a loud scream. Nastan recognized the scream as Akuna’s, and it sounded horrified.

“What’s wrong?” asked Barilo, looking at Nastan with a worried face. “Was that Akuna who screamed?”

“Think so,” Nastan replied, jumping to his feet and running to the lower deck.

Just as he got to the door, it burst open and the other four Toa came running out of it, their armor drenched in shadow, followed by what sounded like a crashing sound below. Addis, Akuna, Chimoy, and Nonzra looked like they had just been swimming, for they were wet and were panting hard but had their weapons out just the same.

“What happened?” asked Nastan. “Why are you guys wet?”

“Giant squid,” Addis answered. “Attacked us. Nearly killed us all. . . .”

“Giant squid?” Barilo repeated, walking over to them, his gravity axe out. “You’re sure?”

“Positive,” Akuna replied, now standing up straight as a rod. “It broke through the hull and is now going after us. We barely got out in time!”

Just as she said that, several giant tentacles shot out from the shadow around them, surrounding the ship immediately. Nastan drew his bow and shot off several arrows into one of the tentacles, each one hitting on target because he was using the power of his Kanohi Sanok, the Mask of Accuracy. That tentacle went down back into the shadow, but just as it did that, a giant beak broke through the floor of the ship, breaking The Endless Shade into hundreds of pieces, sending all six of the Toa Shika flying into different directions.

Barilo landed on the shadow and floated there for a bit before the squid reached out with a tentacle and grabbed him, holding the Toa of Gravity high above the river. Barilo was hitting his axe against the squid’s tentacle, but it kept bouncing off its soft, squishy surface, although he saw that it was still doing some damage. He could see the squid looking at him with one of its evil red eyes, a sort of hunger in its gaze.

In the river itself, the rest of the Toa Shika were trying to fight and swim at the same time, but were having no luck. Addis was trying to fire plasma balls but kept missing and instead they went into the shadow, while Chimoy and Nonzra had been captured by the squid like Barilo had been and were attacking the tentacles, trying to cut them off. Akuna and Nastan, meanwhile, were both holding onto a large piece of debris, shooting lightning bolts and plant life at any tentacles that came too close.

“How are we going to get out of this one?” Nastan asked as he used his powers to create a thick vine around one of the tentacles, causing it to start flailing around in order to get the tight plant off. “It’s got more tentacles than we have Toa!”

“Maybe I should electrocute the shadow, see if it will get knocked out,” Akuna suggested as she expertly stabbed an appendage with the sharp point of her staff.

“Akuna, the idea is good, but you might hurt the others,” Nastan replied as he hit one of the tentacles with a well-aimed punch. “Also, you shouldn’t worry about knocking it out. If we’re going to survive we’re going to need to kill it, at least.”

“But isn’t it in the Toa code not to kill our enemies?”

“Yeah, but Rahi are the exception,” Nastan answered. “Although I admit, being a Toa of The Green, the idea of killing an animal, even if it tried to kill us first, seems a little disgusting to me.”

“But you are right,” Akuna said as she shot another lightning bolt at a tentacle. “I may need to kill it, although I don’t know how I can do that without hurting the others.”

“Just shot it in the eye,” Nastan said, temporarily letting his guard down.

Because he wasn’t paying attention, a tentacle shot forward and smashed into the Toa’s mask, knocking him out and sending him falling deep beneath the shadow.

“Nastan!” Akuna shouted worriedly just as a tentacle wrapped itself around her body and lifted her out of the water. “Nastan! Don’t be dead! Nastan!”



-


The Door to The Light was an ancient relic, said to have been designed and crafted by Artakha himself. It was made out of extremely thick protosteel and was the only thing that was keeping the Shodios, Turaga Krashadi, and the entirety of the Kra-Matoran Empire from escaping and restarting their conquest of the universe. It was a sight universally hated by all Kra-Matoran, yet also revered as well, for no one had been able to destroy it at all during the 100,000 years that they had been in Wyoko. Even when all of the Shodios had teamed up and used their powers as one upon The Door, its Toa Seal that had been created by the Toa Avha had merely deflected the attack.

Now it was open for the first time in over 100,000 years, although the Shodios weren’t going to leave just yet, despite the fact that they were all there in the forest of shadow that surrounded the place. Instead, they were waiting for the Toa Shika to arrive, planning to kill the six Toa once they appeared there.

They were not alone. With them were at least 50 well-armed Kra-Matoran and Turaga Krashadi, too. No one thought it odd that a Turaga wanted to participate in what was sure to be a quick and bloody battle, for Krashadi always got what he wanted.

Currently that Turaga was examining The Door, his hand upon its cold, hard, old and smooth surface. He had seen it many times in the past, yet now it looked new to him, since it was open now, but it still emitted that strangely electric blue light that always reminded him where to look for The Door whenever he needed it.

I sincerely hope that the Toa Shika get here soon, Krashadi thought as he ran his hand along its metallic surface. I have waited 100,000 years, maybe even more, for this day when I would be free. If those pathetic Toa are going to dwindle and never arrive, then I will personally hunt them down.

Nearby, Teivel was leaning up against a tree, his mutilated eyes closed. None of the Kra-Matoran soldiers were near him, for they thought he looked weird and scary and so therefore they didn’t want to bother him, even after they had heard the explanation as to why he looked the way he did now.

Tikcah and Ira were sitting nearby, talking to each other, though it wasn’t very loud and it didn’t sound interesting whatever it was they were conversing about, though Tikcah kept shooting worried glances over to Teivel for some reason. Rhatara had his chain length out and was casually waving it in the air, although he looked quite impatient and mad. Jero, meanwhile, was sitting up against a tree, apparently studying some notes.

All of the 50 Kra-Matoran that they had brought with them were talking, comparing weapons, and tending to their Rahi that they had brought with them. The tone of the forest was one of excitement and seriousness, for they were all excited for the chance to be some of the first to leave Wyoko forever, but they also knew that they had to be quiet so the Toa Shika wouldn’t hear them if they were nearby.

Yes, it was true. Krashadi and the remaining Shodios had already decided that, after they killed the Toa Shika (which they were sure would be a quick battle), they would take this group of Kra-Matoran and leave Wyoko at once and secure Shika Nui. After that they would send some messengers back to Wyoko, gather the remaining villagers, and then take them back to Shika Nui. Then their conquest of the universe would begin anew once they set up a fortress on the island and got some ships built.

All we need now is for the Toa Shika to arrive, Turaga Krashadi thought. They will be the final piece to the plan, and once they are out of the way for good, no one in the known universe will be able to stop us.
 

-


Little did Krashadi know, however, that right now that the Toa Shika were all probably going to die at the tentacles of a beast.

Addis didn’t think any of them would survive. Akuna, Nonzra, Chimoy, and Barilo were caught by the behemoth and trying and failing to get out of its grasp, while Nastan was unconscious at the bottom of the river somewhere. He himself was holding onto a piece of driftwood while viciously firing plasma everywhere to scare the squid’s tentacles off, but they were started to get braver and he was starter to get more tired and he didn’t know how much longer he could hold onto the debris and shoot plasma.

It seems almost pointless, Addis thought tiredly. Practically all of my team is out of commission and I myself am almost ready to kick the bucket. Is this the end for us? Were we all destined to die at the hands of a giant, ugly squid?

Even as such undesirable and miserable thoughts entered his mind, he suddenly saw, several hundred feet above him that something big was flying down from the dark sky of Wyoko. It was swooping so fast that it was almost a blur, but he thought he recognized it.

A . . . Cracko? he thought, puzzled. Why’s a Cracko coming down here? Is it friends with the squid and wants to help it eat us?

As it turned out, however, the Cracko wasn’t very interested in eating them. Instead, the giant bat-like creature began clawing and screeching at the squid with its sharp toes and wings and the squid, Addis forgotten, began to swat at it with its tentacles. The rest of its slimy appendages, the ones that had been attacking Addis, all quickly began trying to hit the Cracko, but the flying rodent was moving too fast for it to hit, frustrating the river monster even more, though it still wasn’t letting go of the other Toa.

Now’s my chance! Addis thought, aiming his plasma cannon at the squid’s tentacles.

He shot off four balls of plasma, each one striking one of the tentacles that held the other Toa, dropping his friends into the shadow and causing the squid to shriek with pain at the same time. He saw the rest of the Shika break the surface and begin swimming toward him and away from the frightening beasts that were beating the stuffing out of each other.

“Nice shot, Addis,” Barilo said as he grabbed onto the same piece of flotsam as Addis. “Although it was really hot and I nearly got my mask melted off.”

“Well, it’s good that you guys are still safe,” said Addis, nodding. “By the way, anyone have any idea why that Cracko suddenly decided it would be fun idea to pick a fight with a giant, hungry squid?”

“That was me,” Nonzra replied, sharing a piece of wood with Chimoy. “Thought I’d use my Zatth and see what happened. Either that, or it was a stupid Cracko, though I’m betting that my mask had something to do with it.”

“Did you go for Nastan?” Akuna asked, also sharing the same piece as Barilo and Addis. “He’s under the shadow you know!”

“No, I didn’t,” Addis admitted. “I was more concerned for you guys-“

“Then I’m going after him,” Akuna replied, pulling out her staff. “And I’m going to rescue him.”

“Akuna, no!” Barilo shouted, but the Toa of Lightning had already dived beneath the waves and was gone from view in seconds. “Mata Nui, what’s up with her?”

“Love must make people act stupid,” said Nonzra. “She loves the guy and wants to save him, although it is a rather stupid thing for her to do in my opinion.”

“No, it’s not stupid,” Chimoy said, shaking his head. “It’s what Toa are supposed to do. Not only do we save others, but we should save ourselves.”

“Sounds like something Nastan would say,” Addis remarked. “But you’re right. Akuna may need help under there. Who wants to go and help her?”

“I will,” Barilo volunteered.

“Then go!” Addis barked, pointing at the shadow. “If the Cracko or squid try to get us we’ll let you know by having Nonzra send a wave of sound down, okay?”

Nodding, Barilo took a deep breath and then dove under the shadow.

It was a very black and dark world underneath the surface of the river. If he thought that Wyoko was the epitome of shadow, then he was wrong. This shadow made Wyoko look like the core of the universe it was so deep. He could not see more than an inch ahead of him and he had no idea where Akuna and Nastan might be. Worse yet, it really did feel like he was underwater, since he could see bubbles everywhere he moved his limbs and he could feel the cold creeping into his body.

Please let Akuna have her mask on, Barilo thought hopefully as he swam. If she doesn’t then I won’t be able to find her or Nastan!

It was also very cold under the river, almost cold enough to make him want to retreat, but he didn’t. Still, more than once he had to rise up and get a quick breath of air before continuing his seemingly-fruitless search.

Finally, after what seemed like hours of swimming and searching, he saw a small point of light ahead, though he thought it was the most glorious and beautiful he had ever seen after having seen nothing but shadow and darkness everywhere for the last few minutes. So he picked up speed and swam faster, his eyes fixed on the light.

He finally arrived at the light to find Akuna swimming a few feet above Nastan, who was unconscious. Akuna, despite being a strong Toa herself, was having a hard time lifting Nastan up, who seemed to have become nothing more than deadweight now. When Barilo swam into the light, Akuna first thought he was some kind of sea creature and tried to spear him with her staff until she recognized him.

They could not talk, for if they did they would let shadow into their lungs and lose air and drown. So Barilo communicated with hand gestures to her until Akuna finally figured out what he was telling her what he was going to do. The Toa of Gravity grabbed Nastan’s other arm, while Akuna still clung to the other. Now it was time for Barilo’s plan.

He activated his gravity powers and focused on Nastan, lightening his personal gravity until he began to float upwards very fast, but not fast enough. So he extended the field of light gravity to himself and Akuna until they were moving so fast that Barilo was afraid they might fly straight out of the shadow. Akuna was looking upward, her Mask of Night Vision still on.

It was then that Barilo realized that he was beginning to run out of air and by the look on her face, Akuna was, too. He couldn’t decrease their gravity anymore and he wasn’t sure if they would make it up to the surface in time or if they would end up drowning. So he and Akuna began kicking their legs to increase the speed, although it was obvious that it wasn’t really helping much, if at all.

But finally, just when Barilo had given up any hope of surviving, the three Toa broke the surface of the river of shadow and Barilo cut off his gravity power, allowing them to float gently on its surface. Akuna and Barilo were gulping for air, but he thought that they were both okay. He looked around wildly until he spotted Chimoy, Nonzra, and Addis swimming toward them, the squid and Cracko nowhere in sight.

“Help us!” Akuna shouted, her voice sounding hoarse as she coughed out shadow. “We gotta get Nastan to the shore!”

Nodding, the other three Toa quickly grabbed Nastan and the five Toa Shika began pulling the Toa of The Green to the shoreline until finally they reached it and hauled Nastan onto the sand, flopping him face up. He did not look good at all.

“He’s not breathing!” Chimoy shouted. “Somebody needs to get air into his lungs now!”

Without so much as volunteering, Akuna bent down and put her lips to Nastan’s, putting air into his mouth. Then she stopped and began pumping his chest very hard with her hands, hoping against hope that he was still alive. This went on for some time as the other Toa watched helplessly, hoping that Nastan was not dead. Finally, after several long minutes of Akuna pumping his chest and giving the Toa some more air, Nastan sputtered and coughed and Akuna pulled back, looking surprised that he had woken up so suddenly.

He was coughing up shadow as if it was water and he was breathing very deeply. He opened his eyes but did not sit up. Instead, he looked around at them with a weak expression in his orbs.

“What happened?” Nastan muttered in a hoarse voice. “Did I drown? Is this Paradise?” He looked around at the wet Toa, the debris of The Endless Shade out on the river, and at his own dented armor and then asked, “Why does Paradise look so much like Wyoko?”

Akuna merely happily smiled at him, and then, for the second time in 24 hours, hugged him tightly although this time he hugged her back without hesitation. They were like this for while, until Addis, now feeling slightly impatient, said, “If you two are done, we’re very close to The Door now. We can probably walk the rest of the way there.”

“Oh, yes,” Nastan said, quickly separating from Akuna and looking up at Addis. “Yes. Let’s do that. I am sick of seeing shadow and darkness and death everywhere, although I suppose it isn’t all bad. . . .” He looked at Akuna in the eyes as he said that.

So the two lovers quickly got back up to their feet (Nastan had a hard time balancing properly because of how weak and tired his limbs were) and then they rejoined their fellow Toa and soon they were walking again, this time toward The Door, which was within walking distance as Addis had said. They could see the forest of shadow, sitting at the foot of The Door to The Light, the trees silently shaking in the cold wind. They all knew that they would be returning home very soon and that thought, more than any other, gave them the courage and strength and encouragement to keep going. What they did not know, however, was what was waiting in the very heart of the wood itself. The remaining five Shodios, Turaga Krashadi himself, and about 50 well-armed and well-trained Kra-Matoran were all awaiting the Toa Shikas’ eventually arrival, ready to kill them and restart their conquest of the universe as they had done 100,000 years ago.

But even if the Toa had known that, they would still have confidently walked on to The Door anyway, preparing to meet their destiny.
 

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#42 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Feb 27 2014 - 09:38 AM

Chapter 23: A Destiny Fulfilled, a Life Lost


In the forest of shadow, a small Kra-Matoran quickly dashed out of his hiding place and into the camp, his eyes scanning the place for the Shodios. Once he spotted the five Toa, all of them huddled together and talking to one another, he dashed toward them and, bowing quickly, said, “Honorable, wise, and awesome Shodios, I have spotted the Toa Shika walking toward this very forest. They seem to have emerged from the lake, for they look very wet.”

Teivel smiled a sort of twisted and evil smile that sent shivers up even the Kra-Matoran’s spine. “Good job, villager. If they have been swimming (although why they would I have no idea), surely they must be dead-tired and thus be easy targets. Gather the rest of the troops and hide them in strategic places to wait for the arrival of the Toa Shika. Then we strike as soon as they enter this clearing.”

“Yes, Master Teivel,” said the soldier, solemnly bowing at the Toa of Shadow’s feet. “Today the Kra-Matoran Empire shall rise again!”

With that note of pronouncement, the villager ran off and began congregating with the rest of the Matoran soldiers, helping them all clean up the camp so as to make it look like that they had never been there and showing them good places to hide, for this villager had lived in a village near the forest and therefore was knowledgeable about the wood and its many hiding places.

While that was going on, Turaga Krashadi walked up to the five Shodios and told them, “I do not wish to hide. I will be out here to face them, which I know will throw them off guard. After all, if they see I, a feeble, old Turaga, is their only opponent that they must pass to get to The Door, surely they will become overconfident and cocky enough for your squad to finish them off?”

“It sounds like a good idea,” said Jero, nodding. “But I do not expect the Shika to fall for it easily, however. They have had dealt with our treacherous dealings far too often not to be expecting a trap.”

“And we can’t trust that you won’t kill them first,” Ira added. “We’ve all have been waiting for an equal chance to rip off their heads and mount them on poles outside of Castle Kra. If you kill them first, then it would rob us of a joy we’ve all been patiently awaiting.”

Krashadi’s dark, black eyes flashed at Ira and when he next spoke, his voice sounded like that of an earthquake about to start.

“Ira, my dear friend,” Krashadi began. “I understand your desire to eliminate the light spit, but they have already proven themselves more than capable of escaping our clutches without much effort. We will have to kill them efficiently and quickly. The downfall of many beings is their inability to simply kill their foes quickly, instead jabbering on about their secret plans or gloating over their triumph. That is a mistake we will not be repeating today, I can assure you of that.” He paused, and then added, “And you will attack on my signal, meaning when I begin my own attack, not before, and not after.”

“Then let’s take positions already!” Rhatara said irritably. “If we stand around all day they’re going to see us and we’ll lose the element of surprise!”

So the five Shodios quickly hide in the thick bushes and dark trees of the wood, none of them moving even slightly. Turaga Krashadi decided to stick with his original plan and stood right in the middle of the clearing, already preparing for his own assault. He would strike without mercy, and if he killed a few Kra-Matoran as a result, so what? Better a few Kra-Matoran die than have the entire population locked up again.
 

-


“So, what happened to the squid and Cracko anyway?” Nastan asked as the Toa Shika walked toward the forest. “I was unconscious and didn’t see what happened.”

“I am eager to know as well,” Akuna said in agreement. “Barilo and I were under the shadow river at the time, saving Nastan, so we don’t know what happened.”

“Well,” said Addis. “When you guys dove under for Nastan, the squid and Cracko’s fight started to get closer to us. We were afraid they might hit us, so Nonzra and I used our own elemental powers to keep them away.

“The squid got burnt by my plasma and went back under the shadow again to get away from us, while the Crack could not take the super loud noise that came from Nonzra. It flew way back up and we never saw it again.”

“Not as epic or awesome as I thought it was going to be,” Nastan said with a chuckle. But then he suddenly became serious and said, “Wait, Akuna. Did you say that Barilo actually helped you save me?”

“Of course,” said Akuna, nodding. “In fact, had it not been for his lightening up your personal gravity, we probably would never have made it to the surface alive. But I helped light the way with my Ruru.” She added as an afterthought.

Nastan seemed impressed by this and he asked Barilo, “You really risked your life to save mine?”

“Yes,” said Barilo, nodding. “Does that mean we’re friends again?”

Nastan paused, as if thinking. For a minute Barilo feared that Nastan would say no, but then the Toa of The Green smiled and said, “I guess you’ve earned my trust again, since I think saving my life counts for that. Unless you really just wanted to be the one to kill me and didn’t want to get beaten by shadow or water or whatever that stuff was.” He added with a sly smile.

The six Toa laughed, but it was short, for Addis quickly shushed them up, saying, “I just saw a Kra-Matoran run into the forest. Coincidence? I think not. Methinks the Shodios are waiting in there for us and that Matoran was probably their watch dog to tell them when we were coming.”

“They always seem to be one step ahead of us, don’t they?” Nastan asked.

“Not necessarily,” said Chimoy, shaking his head. “If they were, we would be dead. Teivel and Jiki wouldn’t be dead and we wouldn’t have survived for as long as we have. Perhaps it is we who are one step ahead of them.”

“Either that, or just plain dumb luck,” Nonzra added.

“It comforts me to know that we can outsmart 100,000 year old Toa who’ve probably got loads more experience at this than we do,” Barilo said with a grin on his face.

“Shhh!” Addis snapped. “The more we talk the more we let ourselves known! We need a plan if we’re going to enter the forest without getting caught.”

“What kind of plan?” Nastan asked. “Does it involve running headlong straight into the trap with nothing but our weapons and armor?”

“No,” said Addis, shaking his head. “I’ve already thought a plan up. Here it is. . . .”
 

-


Turaga Krashadi, despite being a patient Turaga, had to admit he was getting rather impatient at the moment.

The Toa Shika hadn’t arrived yet for some reason, even though the scout had clearly reported that they were on their way here. He knew that they should have been here by now. Had they stopped to make a plan of action? They may have seen the scout who had been posted at the edge of the forest, although he hoped that they didn’t. If they did, that would mean that they would need a new plan to take them down.

Get a hold of yourself, Krashadi, he told himself. The Toa Shika can’t have any sort of plan. They do not know we are here, and by the time they do, they will be dead. It is nothing to worry about.

Suddenly, he heard the soft sound of crunching leaves, indicating that someone was walking up the path. He braced himself for battle, but then saw to his disappointment (and confusion) that only one Toa entered the clearing. It was Barilo, who had his axe drawn and was looking grim, yet also determined at the same time.

“Barilo!” Krashadi said in a mock-excitement. “Come to leave Wyoko, have you? Where are you friends? Did they abandon you?”

“You know they haven’t,” Barilo snapped. “Your scout saw us on the way here.”

“Then where are they?” Krashadi demanded, his body now glowing an extremely dark shadow of black. “It will be quite boring to dispose of just one Toa instead of six, you know . . . “

Barilo noticed that Krashadi’s body was glowing strangely black and his voice was getting darker and heavier. In fact, it seemed as though the shadow of the area was being sucked straight into the Turaga of Shadow’s body, but Barilo took a step forward just the same, with a determined expression on his face. Yet he was also wondering what Krashadi was doing, since normal Turaga can’t do that. Was he going Nova, like Teivel had back in the volcano?

Don’t lose your cool, Barilo, the Toa of Gravity thought calmly. Remember the plan!

“Today, Toa Shika, you shall face the wrath of the true shadow!” Turaga Krashadi bellowed as he disappeared in a ball of shadow. “Now my Shodios and Kra-Matoran . . . Attack!”

Just like that, 50 Kra-Matoran plus five Shodios seemingly popped into existence from the trees, hurling bolts of shadow and spears at Barilo. There was no way Barilo would be able to dodge the attack, and the Shodios, Kra-Matoran, and Krashadi were perfectly aware of it. Yet despite knowing that, Barilo was merely calmly standing around as if he wasn’t getting attacked by over 50 soldiers and was merely enjoying the breeze.

The reason for his calmness appeared just as quickly as the Shodios had. A huge, thick wall of protosteel shot up around Barilo, blocking the projectiles easily. Then lightning bolts and plasma balls began to strike the ground, Krashadi (though he merely absorbed the hits), and the Kra-Matoran and the Shodios, who all began to try and get out of the way of the sudden attacks.

“What’s going on?” Teivel shouted angrily as a lightning bolt nearly fried him.

“Up there!” Rhatara bellowed, pointing up at the sky.

Several hundred feet above them, Akuna and Addis, riding on a Cracko, were shooting blasts of lightning and plasma furiously, while Chimoy was hovering near them, using his power over metal to weaken the weapons and armor of the Kra-Matoran, which was working perfectly because of how old their equipment was.

Turaga Krashadi, however, was ignoring them and slowly eating away at the huge protosteel wall that was protecting Barilo, but the Toa of Gravity managed to get himself out of the way by executing a superb jump, landing awesomely on the ground. As he landed, he used his power over gravity to uproot some of the large, old trees of the forest and hurl them into Krashadi’s true shadow, but they didn’t do anything except get absorbed by the transformed Turaga.

Meanwhile, during the chaos of having their armor and weapons disintegrate before their eyes, along with the lightning and plasma falling from the sky, Tikcah and Rhatara had somehow managed to get out of the way of the attacks and were now shooting shadow at the three flying Toa, but were mostly missing because Addis, Akuna, and Chimoy kept flying out of the way, although they broke Chimoy’s concentration so that their equipment would stop rotting.

At that moment, Nastan suddenly appeared atop one of the trees and then reached out with his power over plant life to make several tree branches extend from their usual length and capture many of the Kra-Matoran tightly in their grasp, causing the villagers to drop their weapons in shock.

What should have been a quick ambush had suddenly turned into the most violent battle in the history of Wyoko. Shadow, lightning, and plasma bolts flew every which way, trees squeezed villagers, a giant ball of shadow was absorbing everything in its path, including Matoran, and to add to all of this it was extremely dark out as well.

As much as Teivel wanted to keep fighting, he knew this must be a distraction of some kind, for all of the Toa Shika was moving toward The Door, although if you hadn’t been paying attention (unlike himself) you wouldn’t have been able to tell. Taking precious cover behind a tree, he counted only five Toa. Where was the sixth, Toa Nonzra?

That question was answered when, amid all of the fighting and explosions, he saw Nonzra, the sixth Toa, sneaking through the shadows toward The Door.

Hmm, seems like we’re not the only ones who do the sneaking around, Teivel thought. And then another thought struck him like the lightning bolts of Akuna. He’s going to open The Door for the rest of the light spit! It makes sense! While the other Toa Shika distract us, he is silently sneaking toward The Door, and once he’s reached it everyone else will abandon whatever it is they are doing and rejoin him! What fools we’ve been taken for! I must stop him, no matter the cost.

He drew his shadow blade, which looked heavily melted from the lava but still strong enough to stab through the armor of a Toa, and he began to advance on the Toa of Sonics, raising his blade higher and higher as he tried to dodge all of the fighting.

Barilo was slamming trees, rocks, dirt, dropped weapons, and anything he else could find into the true shadow, but none of it was working. It was absorbing everything and he didn’t have any new ideas to use against Krashadi.

This guy’s a monster! Barilo thought as he backed up against a tree. He’s like acid, destroying everything that goes in him without mercy! What the Karzahni should I do?

As it turned out, his friends were also beginning to pull back. Now the that the initial shock of the surprise attack by the Toa Shika had worn off, the Shodios and the Kra-Matoran that hadn’t been eaten by Krashadi’s true shadow were regrouping and mounting attacks, particularly on Akuna, Addis, and Chimoy, who were still flying in midair. The Cracko that had been summoned by Nonzra’s Kanohi Zatth was beginning to tire as well and wasn’t moving nearly as swiftly or quickly as it usually did.

Nastan, however, was still doing fairly well, taking advantage of his power over plant life to capture their enemies, although the Shodios and Kra-Matoran were starting to get smart and were beginning to dodge or destroy any trees that came in their way (although Barilo noticed Jero get caught by one from behind and squeezed into unconsciousness).

Nonzra was at his position, though, Barilo noticed. He was standing in front of The Door, trying to pull it open. The original plan had at first been that they would attack the Shodios and scatter them and then in the confusion of the battle they would all regroup and help Nonzra get through The Door. Now, it seemed, with the Shodios and Kra-Matoran recovering and with Turaga Krashadi’s new form that came absolutely out of nowhere destroying everything in its path, they would have to make a new plan or they would all die. Maybe one of them should go Nova and hope to stop the Shodios?

No, too risky, Barilo thought as he quickly jumped out of the true shadow as it shot a beam of darkness at him, destroying the tree that he had been standing in front. Could kill us all, especially if Addis has to be the one to do it.

But another new thought had entered his head at that moment, a new, creative thought: Should he try to use his gravity powers and lighten or increase the gravity of Krashadi? It might work and it was most certainly worth a try, but at the same time he was hesitant. Krashadi had turned into pure shadow; what if he didn’t have gravity? After all, shadow has no weight or anything like that. For all he knew it would be futile effort.

Better a futile effort than no effort at all, Barilo thought as he dodged another attack by the transformed Turaga of Shadow.

The Toa of Gravity landed on his feet and turned around to look at the ball of shadow, which was moving toward him very slowly but threateningly. He took a deep breath and concentrated really hard on Krashadi. Please let this work . . . he thought as he aimed to make Krashadi as light as a feather.

The true shadow stopped for a minute, as if feeling too tired to move, but then it tried to proceed further until it realized it could not move any further at all. In fact, it noticed that it was actually flying up, higher and higher, faster and faster, until it was almost beyond the clouds. The strong, clever mind of Turaga Krashadi was panicking. Gravity wasn’t something he could fight. Gravity was not a physical force that could simply be absorbed or destroyed. It was a part of nature, a natural thing that no one could fight or control unless they were a Toa of Gravity, and he instantly knew that Barilo was behind this, but he couldn’t do anything about it.

In fact, he was so shocked by being so high in the sky that he lost concentration and then the ball of shadow shrouding the Turaga disappeared instantly, revealing a tiny old man who was shaken and unconscious. Barilo managed to see it happen just in time, though, and then decreased Krashadi’s gravity, watching the elder sink slowly toward the ground until he was well-beyond the trees, which he had floated behind somehow.

One down, Barilo thought triumphantly. Time to help the others.
 

-


The Cracko that Addis and Akuna were flying on got one of its wings shot off by an expertly aimed shot by Rhatara and it crashed into the trees, but fortunately Akuna and Addis managed to jump off before it made contact and the two Toa swiftly landed on the ground, hurling lightning and plasma at the Shodios and the few Kra-Matoran that were still alive.

“Die, Toa!” Rhatara shouted as he threw his chain link around a tree. With a loud grunt he ripped the tree off of its roots and then tossed it at the two Toa.

Addis melted it in half with a plasma ball, however, and the two parts went flying behind them and hit the two Kra-Matoran villagers that had been sneaking up behind them.

“Nice,” Ira said in a sarcastic voice. “Try this!”

She suddenly disappeared into thin air and for a minute Akuna wondered where she went until she heard the unsheathing of Ira’s knife and whirled around as the Toa of Shadow brought it down upon her. Akuna, however, managed to pull up her staff just in time and block the blow. But Ira was now moving incredibly fast and within a few minutes kicked Akuna very hard in the midsection, sending the Toa of Lightning falling down, moaning in pain.

“Akuna!” Addis shouted, temporarily taking his eyes off of Rhatara and Tikcah to make sure she was all right.

But those precious few seconds were all that the two Toa of Shadow needed to attack, for within minutes they shot off half a dozen shadow bolts and they all hit Addis, knocking the Toa of Plasma down, his red and brown form barely moving because of the pain.

“I think it’s time to finish you annoying, idiotic Toa once and for all!” Rhatara shouted, whirling his chain over his head as he shouted those last few words.

Addis managed to look up and saw the chain swinging toward him. He had no time to dodge it and he knew that once it hit him he would most likely die. So he closed his eyes and gave a quick prayer of hope that somehow the others would survive and defeat the Shodios . . .

Suddenly, he heard the sound of something flying overhead and then he heard lots of shouting and then he heard a noise that sounded a lot like something exploding out of the ground and grabbing someone, plus a person’s shout of protest in reply. And then there was silence. He didn’t know what to do since he didn’t feel dead, so he decided to open his eyes and check things out to figure out what had delayed his inevitable death.

When he finally opened his eyes, he saw Tikcah and Rhatara wrapped up tightly in some newly formed plants that seemed to have come from nowhere, and, judging by the expressions on their faces, both of the evil Toa were shocked by this sudden turn of events. The remaining Kra-Matoran soldiers had also been caught by plants as well and were struggling to get free, just as the Shodios were. He wondered where the plants had come from for a minute until he realized that Nastan was bending over Akuna, who was lying right next to him. The Toa of The Green had a look of worry in his eyes as he helped Akuna up

“Are you okay?” Nastan asked, more to Akuna than to Addis.

“A little dazed, but I’m fine,” said Akuna, quickly giving Nastan a big hug before letting go again. “Thanks for saving me, although I could have done it on my own.” She added slyly.

“Right,” Nastan said with a slight smile on his face.

Above, Chimoy dove down and landed next to Addis, helping the leader of the Toa Shika back up onto his feet. Addis thanked him, looked around quickly, and saw that Ira, too, had been captured by plants, and she, like Rhatara and Tikcah, was struggling to get free but having no success whatsoever. Addis noticed that Nastan was now looking over at the captured Shodios with an expression in his eyes that looked far too much like the one he wore back when he had been a Toa of Shadow, and when he next spoke to them he sound extremely angry.

“So, you tried to kill my girlfriend, is that it?” said Nastan, his eyes glowing even brighter than before as he spoke, although it wasn’t a nice glow.

“Yes,” Rhatara spat, still trying to get free. “And we would’ve killed you, too. Besides, these plants can’t hold us forever! We’ve gotten out of worse traps than these, and we’ll get out of this one, too!”

“Agreed!” Tikcah shouted as she struggled. “For Teivel’s sake, the universe shall fall before us once again!”

“No,” said Nastan, shaking his head. “I don’t think so.”

With that, he held out his hand and forced the plants binding the Shodios to squeeze the three evil Toa so hard that they actually began to scream in pain. His eyes looked dark and hollow, as if he wasn’t aware of what he was doing, and he was wearing that same crazy grin that he used to wear as a Toa of Shadow.

Akuna seemed to notice this, though, and was horrified by it. She grabbed Nastan’s arm and shook him roughly as she said, “Stop it! Stop killing them! Nastan! You’re better than this! You’re not evil anymore! Suppress your evil!”

It was not clear if it was her pleas of protest or if shaking him did it or both, but either way Nastan suddenly sunk back into reality, and shook his head as if awaking from a daze. The plants had stopped squeezing Tikcah, Rhatara, and Ira now and they were unconscious, their heads hanging limply on their chests.

Nastan, however, was still troubled by this and looked down at Akuna, with a terrified sort of look in his eyes as he said, “I looked a lot like I did when I was a Toa of Shadow, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” Akuna said through an emotion-filled voice. “It was terrifying, especially since you seemed to have been enjoying it.”

“Interesting, isn’t it?” a voice said from behind them. The four Toa whirled as one and saw, to their surprise, that Jero was now walking toward them with his claws raised high as shadow energy began swirling in his palms. “Despite the fact you are now ‘cured,’ you still have those same violent tendencies that you had as a Toa of Shadow. Which reminds me, how did you go back to normal anyway? I thought the process was irreversible!”

“That’s none of your business, Jero,” said Nastan. “All I know is that I am no longer evil anymore and I will never again be like my old, evil side. He is gone forever.”

Jero laughed a cold, insane laugh as he said, “Gone forever? I think not! You still have shadow in you, do you not? And as long as you have shadow, that evil, ill-tempered side of yours will always be there. He is waiting for just the right opportunity to reveal himself to the world again and bring more evil, chaos, and discord and disunity to all.”

Nastan didn’t want to admit it, but Jero was right. Nastan might have been normal again, but he still could do evil, still could kill without mercy just as the Shodios could. Nastan admitted to himself that he still had a hard time fighting the evil shadow inside of him, the side that wants to kill, lie, and do all sorts of other bad things, and that even then parts of it leaked through in his speech and actions. So, instead of answering the Toa of Shadow, he merely glared at him, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he could torment Nastan by planting that thought into his head.

“Now I’ve noticed that you’ve knocked out my brother and sisters,” said Jero, gesturing to the unconscious Rhatara, Tikcah, and Ira. “But you know what? I am not going to let any of your get me. I am charging up a shot so powerful that I calculate that once it hits you four it will kill you all instantly and painless . . . maybe. It will move so fast that none of you will get a chance to counter. So don’t try to move or anything. . . . “

Nastan noticed that one of the trees behind Jero was beginning to sway ever so slightly, so slowly and quietly that Jero did not hear it moving until he heard a loud crack and then, looking over his shoulder, he saw to his horror that a giant, 50-foot-tall tree was falling toward him so fast that he had no time to move out of the way. In mere seconds the large shrubbery landed on him with a sickening thud, and then there were no more traces of the sadistic Toa of Shadow except for the sounds of his screams of pain as they died out into the wind.

“Who did that?” Akuna asked, slightly shaking. “Who killed him?”

“Me,” answered Barilo, walking out from behind the tree. “I used my gravity powers to uproot the tree and then make it fall. I was the one who killed him.”

Nastan stared at him with a sort of angry look in his eyes as he said, “Why’d you kill him? Toa don’t kill! He was just-!”

“But Nastan, don’t you see?” Barilo asked as he walked over to his comrades. “There was nothing else I could do. He would have killed you guys in a second if I had tried any other way. Killing him was the only option, although that doesn’t mean I liked it. On the contrary, I feel just as bad about as the day I killed Iroko back on Shika Nui, and I felt very bad about that deed.”

Nastan was still staring at him distrustfully, but he said, “Okay, I guess. I still trust you, Barilo, but I do not think you should be killing our enemies like that anymore. It reminds me too much of my shadow self, of the evil I used to be, even if I never actually killed anyone.”

“Well, anyway, looks like the battle is over, doesn’t it?” Akuna asked, trying to veer away any sort of argument between Barilo and Nastan.

She was right. The battlefield was empty of any fighting Matoran. Most of the villagers were dead, some killed by Addis and Akuna’s earlier attack, some by Krashadi’s true shadow form. Others were unconscious, knocked out by being captured by trees that Nastan had commanded, some knocked out by accidentally hitting each other.

The trees were all melted or burned by the plasma and lightning of earlier. Some of them had been ripped off of their roots and quite a few were still burning ever so slightly, illuminating small areas under their glow, giving the place an eerie look that made Nastan feel uncomfortable.

All in all, the place looked like a war had happened, with all of the dead bodies, burnt trees, and the scarred ground covering every inch of the place. The scene did not fill any of the Toa Shika with any sort of pride. They all felt equally frightened and sick of the place.

But then Chimoy, who had looked over at The Door for a minute, gasped and said, “Teivel is about to kill Nonzra!”

The five Toa all whirled around and saw, to their horror, that their friend really was about to be killed by the Teivel, who was now standing over him with his sword raised high, Nonzra clutching a wound in his stomach, looking as though he had been stabbed. Although it was a mystery to them all how in the world that Teivel was still alive when they knew that he had died in the eruption just a day ago, they had no choice but to go and rescue their comrade from the evil Toa. And that they did, running toward him with their weapons raised, yelling at the top of their lungs, ready for to defeat Teivel once and for all.
 

-


A few minutes earlier. . . .

Nonzra blocked Teivel’s blow with his sword, but he was still surprised at the identity of his attacker.

“Teivel? How did you survive the eruption of those mountains?” asked Nonzra. “Weren’t you killed? Did you come back as a ghost or something?”

Teivel gave a cold, harsh laugh and said, “Could a ‘ghost’ do this?”

With a single stroke of his sword he sliced the tips of Nonzra’s fingers off, causing the Toa of Sonics to drop his weapon, and then reared back and stabbed his blade into Nonzra’s stomach, causing the Toa to cry out in pain and fall over. He was huddled up on the ground now, his hands clutching his exposed stomach as blood bleed out.

“Or this?” Teivel asked as he kicked Nonzra in the face. “I think not!”

But suddenly, Teivel felt a large metal block hit him in the side and into The Door, making a loud clanging noise as his mutilated body made contact with it. Pain shot through his form as he looked up to see who had done it and saw, to his surprise, the other five Toa Shika walking toward him, weapons aimed at him. All of them looked angry at him, but he noticed that Chimoy was bent over Nonzra, apparently trying to make sure that he was okay. Looking behind the five standing figures he saw that Krashadi was nowhere to be seen, Tikcah, Ira, and Rhatara were all unconscious, all of the Kra-Matoran was either dead or unconscious like the other three Shodios, and underneath a fallen tree he saw something that looked remarkably like one of Jero’s arms.

Teivel cracked a huge, ugly smile and said, “So, you managed to defeat Krashadi, all of us Shodios, and our 50 Kra-Matoran? And none of you got seriously wounded aside from your dying friend here? I am impressed. You six are just like the Toa Avha, never giving up even when the odds were totally against them.”

“And the Toa Avha succeeded,” Nastan said with a grim look on his face as he stood up. “So will we. Now you either get out of the way or we’ll make you move!”

Teivel laughed. “Oh really? And why should I move when I am so close to freedom that I can practically taste it? Even if you do destroy my body, heroes, I will simply reform as I did before. And then I will come back and open The Door, as I have already killed your friend, Nonzra.”

“I am not dead,” Nonzra gasped, still clutching the wound in his stomach. “I . . . will help my friends lock The Door for good!”

“But, Toa, are you so sure that you wish to return to Shika Nui?” Teivel asked in a voice that sounded much more like a growl that sounded oddly familiar to Barilo.

“Why wouldn’t we?” Nastan asked defiantly. “Sure, the Dark Hunters are there, but if we managed to beat you guys, we will figure out how to beat them, too!”

“I said that because, before I reformed my body, I was truly one with the shadows, barely what you would call ‘alive,’ but one with them nonetheless,” said Teivel. “And, before I recreated my body, I took a quick peek of Shika Nui, just to see my home one last time before killing you all. . . . And let me tell you, Toa, it is not pretty at all.

“It is vile, almost as bad as this place, perhaps even more so in some cases. I saw that strange creatures are roaming your land now, Toa Shika, ones that not even I have seen before. Your island is a ruin of what it once was, of what it could be, and had I not been waiting 100,000 years for this moment, I wouldn’t want to return there. But I would rather take my chances with the creatures of your island, Toa, than live for 100,000 more years in this vile place!”

With that, the Toa of Shadow seemingly-activated his Mask of Shape Shifting and suddenly a large beast stood where Teivel had been standing before. Now a hulking behemoth with dull, blue armor and hundreds of tiny, sharp-looking teeth in its large mouth stood before them and its endlessly black eyes focused upon them. It looked just as melted and dead as Teivel, but despite its mutilated appearance Barilo instantly recognized it from his dream.

“The Graalo!” he shouted suddenly. “That is what the mysterious figure in my dream meant when he said ‘The Graalo is closer than you think’!” Then he stopped, as if suddenly realizing something. “Then . . . does that mean. . . .”

The Graalo/Teivel laughed, which sounded like rocks being ground to dust. “Of course this is what I truly am, Barilo. Or, really, this is what I am now.”

“What do you mean?” Barilo demanded, his axe drawn.

“What I mean is, before I was exiled to Wyoko, I encountered a Graalo on the southern continent,” said the Graalo/Teivel. “I shape shifted into it, fought it, and killed it, but I discovered one secret ability that the monster had: The ability to transfer its physical appearance to shape shifters.

“From then on, this Graalo has been my true form. My Toa form is now a shape shifted form, not truly my real form as it had been previously. I have to constantly keep my mask power on, or else I will end up as this creature forever. Somehow I knew that, but how, I cannot say for sure. Perhaps it is because I know how shape shifters work, how they discover their true forms. . . . And that is when I learned that I had changed into this Graalo forever.

“Only Ira ever learned that I was really a Graalo and I forced her to keep it a secret. Even then, however, it had become too painful to stay in my Toa form for too long because my body yearns to be like that of a Graalo, like that of its true form. So I occasionally retreated to the Shahada Desert and turned into my Graalo form for a while.”

His voice seemed to be slightly quivering, but he continued on just the same.

“And now, Toa Shika, I shall eliminate you once and for all and become king of the universe once more!”

He reared back and then jumped with surprising agility, aiming straight for Barilo! He was coming too fast, his claws were too long. There was no way that he could dodge Teivel and he knew that once the Graalo’s sharp claws made contact with his body it would kill him. . . .

But then suddenly a large ball of plasma hit Teivel’s Graalo head in the side, melting his already disfigured face and making it look even worse. The attack was apparently strong enough to hit Teivel off course, because he slammed into a large gathering of burning trees, knocking them over onto him, crushing his body and setting it aflame.

Barilo was breathing very hard and very fast now, and then looked over to see Addis, who was holding up his plasma cannon, which he had shot at Teivel. He had a scared, yet brave, look on his face as he watched the unmoving form of Teivel.

Then the Graalo, despite being almost dead, lifted his head up and was, to Barilo’s horror, actually smiling, which looked extremely ugly on his mutilated face.

“That attack may have killed me now, Addis, but you do realize that I will just come back, don’t you?” Teivel growled in the low voice of the Graalo. “That is the special power that Mata Nui gave me, a power which will bring me back as king of the universe some day!”

“That may be so,” said Akuna. “But you’ll never escape this place. Ever. We’re going to lock The Door to the Light and even if you do come back, you will never be able to leave this place again!”

“Then I will use my shadow abilities and leave this place!” The Graalo/Teivel shouted. “Watch, my enemies, and learn with an all encompassing fear as I leave this place for good!”

With that, his head flopped in a dead way onto his side, the red eyes of Teivel showing no light in them. But suddenly, a being of shadow that looked remarkably like Teivel emerged from the Graalo’s body. It resembled a ghost similar to how Wanderer had looked, although it was completely and utterly black and it looked down upon the six startled Toa Shika with cold, dead eyes.

“Today, the Kra-Matoran Empire shall rise once more!” Teivel shouted as he shot toward The Door to the Light.

“No!” Barilo shouted, but he was too late. Teivel’s ghost laid one hand upon The Door and then grinned triumphantly.

But the grin only lasted for a few seconds, for a huge burst of light enveloped The Door and, by extension, Teivel’s now-horrified-looking ghost. The Door glowed so brightly that it became impossible to see it or Teivel’s ghost. However, they all heard Teivel’s loud, long, and painful-sounding screams coming from somewhere in the all-consuming light.

When the light finally passed, there was no trace of Teivel. Only The Door remained now, and it looked just as normal as ever. The six Toa Shika merely looked at The Door in awe. None of them were celebrating. All of them looked at The Door to the Light with puzzled expressions on their faces, wondering what just happened.

Akuna gathered the courage to voice her question, the one question that all of the Shika were thinking but were too afraid to ask: “Is he dead?”

“Maybe,” Barilo said in a voice that was barely more than a whisper. “The light must’ve destroyed his spirit completely.”

“But why?” Nonzra wondered, still clutching the wound in his stomach. “Why did The Door shine so brightly when Teivel’s ghost touched it?”

“Perhaps . . . . Perhaps, whoever made this door, knew that Teivel could never truly die,” Chimoy said, but he sounded as though he were thinking it in his mind, rather than saying it out loud. “Maybe they knew that if Teivel were to accidentally die, he would realize that he could escape and somehow open The Door from the outside. Maybe they fueled it with light like that to destroy him if he attempted it. Maybe the light was so pure, and so good, that if a being’s spirit was full of evil and darkness like Teivel’s, it would destroy them totally. The reason it didn’t destroy him or the others prior to this, even though they’ve probably touched The Door several times over the years, was because they had their physical bodies to protect their spirits from total annihilation.”

There was silence now as the other five Toa all reflected on Chimoy’s theory. It made sense, but none of them knew if they were glad to see their worst enemy’s spirit destroyed. What lay beyond death? What happened to spirits that got destroyed? Would any of them ever suffer such a horrific fate? Those hard questions and more all buzzed through their heads and none of them had the answers for any of them.

Addis didn’t want to have to think over these questions, however. He had to deal with the now and then and the now was that they were merely inches away from leaving Wyoko forever. So he said, in a small, quiet sort of voice, “We ought to get going now. No point in staying here to wait for the other Shodios to wake up and get us, right?”

The others quietly agreed, all of them secretly deciding that those questions were worth thinking about later, and then Chimoy helped Nonzra up to his feet, though the Toa of Sonics was still clutching his wound painfully.

“Are you okay, Nonzra?” Akuna asked in a concerned tone.

“Yes,” said Nonzra, though he didn’t sound okay. “I think I can make it past The Door all right.”

“Then let’s get going,” said Addis. “Chimoy, open The Door.”

Nodding, the Toa of Iron raised one hand, concentrating his power over metals on The Door, and then the large protosteel door gradually creaked open until the black, lightless tunnel that lead up to Shika Nui was revealed. And then the six Toa Shika, taking one last look at the land of Wyoko behind them, moved as one beyond The Door even as Chimoy closed it. They had finally left Wyoko, this land of shadow, and although they had only been inside of it for less than a week, it had felt likes years to them, and now they were truly going home.

Finally, they crossed the threshold into the dark tunnel and The Door closed behind them with a loud bang. And then they turned as one, all six of the Toa Shika raised their hands and shot off narrow beams of each of their respective elements at the same time at the barrier that lead into the land of the exiled, Wyoko.

Lightning, plasma, sound, plant life, iron, and gravity energy all sped toward The Door to The Light. As they flew, straight and true, to the very middle of the enormous gateway, they met at the same point and were all transformed one beam of solid protodermis that hit The Door. And when it collided with the barrier, protodermis, pure and strong, instantly began icing over The Door like ice on a wet tree in the middle of winter. In minutes, the entirety of The Door was covered and a Toa Seal appeared over it to finish it off as they heard a loud clicking sound that signified the locking of The Door.

For the second time in 100,000 years, Wyoko was sealed away, a true disaster, averted by six brave heroes who did not want history to repeat itself.

The Toa all dropped their fists and were now panting, since that one act had taken a lot of skill and power out of them. But once the reality of it sunk in, that Wyoko was locked up and that the Shodios and Kra-Matoran weren’t going to be terrorizing the universe again, almost all of them broke into grins and began cheering and laughing. They had gone to Wyoko and survived! They had entered what might have been the worst threat to the universe and had survived! Now they were to return to their home at last, this time returning as true heroes. They were willing to take on all of the Dark Hunters now, even if they died as a result.

And yet, not everything for the assembled Toa Shika was cheerful. Nonzra, who had been looking very weak since Teivel had stabbed him, immediately fell to his knees and began coughing up blood. Shocked, the other five Toa ran over to try and help him up, but he waved them off, saying, “It’s no use. Don’t waste your time on me.”

“Nonzra, you can’t die!” Chimoy shouted. “You can’t!”

“It’s happening, Chimoy,” Nonzra coughed as he lowered himself onto his back. “Teivel’s blow had been fatal. I am going to die, right here and now, and I will never see Shika Nui again. . . .”

“Don’t talk like that, Nonzra!” said Nastan, the fear in his voice evident. “You went through too much not to be able to come back with us!”

“Sorry, guys,” said Nonzra, his voice becoming so low that they had to strain to hear him. He gave them a weak smile and said, “I’ve had a lot of fun with you guys. Being a Toa was amazing, and I understand why Nastan likes it so much.” He coughed again, but continued on as if he were struggling to cling to the last drops of his life to deliver these last few words. “But my time in this world has come and gone. I may not have been the most philosophical guy while I lived, but even I understand that something great awaits me beyond death. I do not know what it is, but I am prepared to meet it head on, whatever it is.”

He coughed once more and then finally said, “Tell Jokao and Joha that I said good bye. . . .”

And with that last breath, Toa Shika Nonzra, Toa Shika of Sonics, good friend of Chimoy and of the rest of the Toa Shika, gave one last cough and died, his heartlight fading away slowly until it was completely colorless. The five remaining Toa Shika still stood there, looking down at his dead, cold body, and then they all realized that they had not only lost a teammate, but also a good, devout (if a little snarky at times) friend.



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#43 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Feb 28 2014 - 09:38 AM

Epilogue


Nonzra’s dead body just lay there, stiff and cold as the snow of the mountains of Wyoko, with no life inhabiting it anymore. Barilo wasn’t looking at anything else but the lifeless carcass that was lying before him. It was as if time itself had frozen as he considered the fact that he had been confronted with death of a close friend for the very first time in his life. Oh, yes, on Shika Nui he had seen countless disobedient Matoran killed by the Dark Hunters, and in Wyoko he had killed Jero and seen Teivel die, as well as other Kra-Matoran in the final battle. But never before in his entire life had he ever encountered the death of a loved one, and he wasn’t sure how to take it, really.

Beside him, he could hear Akuna sobbing into Nastan’s chest, and he could also hear Addis and Chimoy sobbing as well, surprisingly. And then, to his amazement, he began sobbing at the death of his friend, too, and he felt a little angry as well.

Why did Nonzra have to be the one to die? Barilo thought angrily. Why hadn’t it been me? He should have lived, not me. He never killed anyone, and I’ve killed two people already. I’m not the one who should live, not me. He shook his head, however, and reminded himself, Get over it. He is dead. There’s no way to go back in time and redo it again. No need to blame yourself at all.

Regardless of these thoughts he was having, he saw his tears hit the floor of the tunnel and for a while there he was both sad and mad, mostly at himself. And then he looked up and saw Addis bending down and taking Nonzra’s Kanohi Zatth off of the corpse’s face, a serious and grim expression on his face as he looked at the mask that he was clutching in his hands. Barilo could still see the tears in Addis’ bright red eyes, although the Toa of Plasma wasn’t sobbing anymore.

“My team,” Addis said, looking around at them all seriously while trying to hold back the emotion in his voice, but he was failing for he had a slight quiver in his voice as he spoke. “Nonzra died a hero, and for that he will be remembered. He may not have done as much as some of us, but I must remind you all that, if he were still alive, he would not have liked to see us crying like babies about his death. He would have wanted us to continue on and remember his name in gratitude of his brave deeds. For that I will take his mask back with us to Shika Nui and later, once we free our home of the Dark Hunters, we will return for his body and give him a proper funeral to honor his life and his sacrifice.”

Nastan and Akuna had stopped sobbing, but they were still in each other’s arms now, looking over at Addis. Chimoy was quiet again, too, but looking at Addis with sober eyes.

“You’re right,” Nastan said, wiping the tears out of his eyes. “He would want us to continue on. I know he would. Once we return to Shika Nui, I say we give him the hero burial that he deserves!”

“Yeah,” said Akuna, nodding and sniffling slightly at the same time. “I agree, a funeral is what he deserves.”’

“Yes, that is right,” Chimoy said quietly. “We should return to Shika Nui. No point in crying over him now that he is dead. It is disrespectable to his memory to do that, when he would have wanted us to continue on, regardless of what happened to him.”

“Then let’s get going, guys,” Barilo said, now with a new tone of determination in his voice. “Onward to Shika Nui. . . . onward, I say, to freeing the Matoran of their 25,000 year old enslavement by the Dark Hunters!”

The other four Toa Shika all agreed, and, after paying their respects to Nonzra for what they knew would be the last time for quite a while, they turned as a group back up to the surface with expressions of determination underneath their masks. Each one was ready and willing to take on whatever the Dark Hunters (which would be no doubt waiting for them at the end of the tunnel) had to throw at them, confident that whatever it was, they would be able to take it as a team.

Yet, despite this feeling of renewed encouragement, Barilo couldn’t help but look over his shoulder at the unmoving corpse of Nonzra, and wonder, Will that be one of us next? Will one of us die, like Nonzra? It doesn’t seem like any of us are safe anymore. I used to think that since we took on a Makuta and won, that we would never get killed. But maybe we aren’t as invincible as I thought. If so, we’ll all have to be careful from now on.

Even as they walked up to the surface, none of the Toa noticed a ghost-like hand scrawling one lone word into the ceiling of the cave, one that they would all know very well soon:
 

Tuikas.


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#44 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 01 2014 - 04:43 PM

Book Three: An Unlikely Alliance

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: A Forgotten Enemy Says Hello
Chapter 2: Unpleasant Revelations
Chapter 3: Revelations & Explanations
Chapter 4: Discussions & Suspicions
Chapter 5: Possession
Chapter 6: Assignments & Missions
Chapter 7: A Familiar Place
Chapter 8: Only One Way to Go
Chapter 9: Battle & Pain
Chapter 10: Tunnels
Chapter 11: New Ambitions
Chapter 12: The Loss of Life
Chapter 13: Tamers
Chapter 14: Speculation & Conspiracies
Chapter 15: More than Meets the Eye
Chapter 16: A Visitor
Chapter 17: Expedition
Chapter 18: Truths & Falsehoods
Chapter 19: Of Insanity and Betrayal
Chapter 20: He Escapes
Chapter 21: Target Locked
Chapter 22: Renewed Determination
Chapter 23: Deals & Conflicts
Chapter 24: Underneath
Chapter 25: How to Save a Life
Chapter 26: The Clash of Shadows
Chapter 27: No More
Chapter 28: Reunited at Last
Chapter 29: A Hero’s Sacrifice
Chapter 30: In Memoriam
Epilogue


Chapter 1: A Forgotten Enemy Says Hello


Despite the bright glow of her Mask of Night Vision to illuminate the place, Toa Akuna, Toa of Lightning, could still not see very far ahead. The shadows in the tunnel were thick, with the possibility of hostile Dark Hunters hiding in wait ahead, ready to ambush her and her friends at any moment. She was not very afraid of that, however; merely cautious with a budding hatred of the shadows. All she wanted to do was get out of here as quickly as possible, because though she was unafraid, the darkness still made her feel uncomfortable.

One reason she was not particularly afraid was because she had been through quite a bit in the last few days, much more than just walking down a seemingly-endless dark tunnel. She had fought beings that controlled the shadows and that were relentlessly cruel and evil towards all who were not from their tribe. She and her friends had managed to beat them and escape their wrath, though not all of her friends had made it alive, she reflected sadly.

Another reason for her confidence was the fact she still had most of her friends, who had been with her through thick and thin. She felt that she could take on whatever might be lurking in this tunnel or on the surface with them at her side, especially Toa Nastan, Toa of The Green, who was walking beside her, his bow at the ready, aiming straight into the darkness ahead.

She glanced at him as they walked. Nastan was normally a more lighthearted, optimistic and slightly idealistic kind of guy, but he seemed to be more serious now, if a little more cynical and less easily trusting of others. This was no surprise to her, since she remembered what he had experienced personally during their adventures in Wyoko, all of which contributed to his change in personality.

Of course, we’ve all changed, Akuna thought, glancing over her shoulder at the others behind her. Ever since we left, ever since Nonzra’s death I think we all matured. Perhaps even before; certainly, one could not go through what we did without at least experiencing a little change in personality.

Her brief glance over her shoulder had shown her Toa Addis, Toa of Plasma and leader of the Toa Shika speaking in low tones with Toa Barilo, Toa of Gravity and deputy leader of the team. She had also seen Chimoy walking just a little bit behind them, looking even more quiet and serious than usual. Akuna knew Nonzra’s death had affected him the most, since he had been very close with the Toa of Sonics before Nonzra died. All of them, in fact, were looking more serious than before and were all, she knew, feeling sorrowful about his death.

However, Addis had not let Nonzra’s death stop him from devising a plan for the rest of the Toa Shika. Since the tunnel they were traveling went straight into the heart of the Dark Hunters’ fortress on Shika Nui, simply walking through it casually would be impossible, since they weren’t exactly the best of friends with the Hunters.

So the plan was that, once they had reached the surface, they would run as fast as they could through the many corridors and hallways of the fortress, beating back any Dark Hunters they came across, until they would eventually find a way out (or make their own, if that proved impossible). They then would reunite with Turaga Joha and Jokao, a Ta-Matoran, two friends of theirs who had stayed behind to rally the local Matoran slaves into rebellion against their Dark Hunter masters.

Though she did not mention this to Addis, Akuna felt the plan was a little too risky. For one, how were they supposed to make it past the hundreds of Dark Hunters when they themselves were all wiped out from their battle with the Shodios? She could barely walk, let alone battle Mata Nui-knows how many Dark Hunters as well.

Secondly, what would they do if Joha and Jokao were dead? That was a very distinct possibility, since, though Joha had been a great fighter in his days as a Toa, he was no longer as physically fit as he used to be and therefore would likely be an easy target for even the weakest of Dark Hunters. Akuna worried greatly for the safety of their two friends. She didn’t know what she would do if she learned that both Joha and Jokao were dead on top of Nonzra’s own death as well.

Aside from that, she was bothered by something else. Despite the fact that The Door to the Light had been unlocked the entire time during their journey, no Dark Hunter had ever entered it, so far as she knew. She didn’t know why. After all, what kept the Dark Hunters from entering their own fortress, going down the tunnel, and through The Door to Wyoko?

Of course, that’s if they even know we’re down here, she thought as she remembered how distracted the Hunters had been when she and the others had first escaped them into this tunnel, not too long ago. For all they know, we could have gone straight through the fortress and out the other side. Maybe they’re still searching for us on the surface. If so, then maybe our chances of escaping will be a little higher than I thought. Just a little, though. Not by much.

Another thing that she was wondering about was the shadowed entity they had faced prior to entering Wyoko. He had been a guardian of The Door, created by the Dark Hunters to keep intruders out, but had been defeated by the Toa Shika, thanks to Addis’ Suletu. Unless Addis had actually killed it, she wondered why it was not attacking them now, why their journey was progressing so easily with no obstacles. It didn’t make sense, but she was glad for that and merely assumed the shadowed entity was dead. That was one thing they didn’t have to worry about, at least.

Of course, there were still the Dark Hunters themselves, and they were no walk in the park. Their first encounter with seven Dark Hunters had wounded up with them on the losing end of the battle. What if they went up against eight or nine or ten or twenty, even? True, they were a great deal more experienced than before going to Wyoko and might be able to survive a scuffle with more Hunters, but she was still worried quite a bit.

She glanced at Nastan again. He was merely staring straight on and did not seem to be wearing much of an expression on his face. She wondered if he was thinking the same thing as her, or if he was thinking about something else. Anyway, she was glad he didn’t look frightened; she felt a lot braver with him by her side.

She then noticed a small light ahead at the end of the tunnel, which was growing steadily closer as they approached. At first, she wondered what it was, having not seen such a thing in a long time. But then she realized what the little glow ahead was: pure, simple sunshine. Having been in Wyoko for so long, she had forgotten what real light looked like and immediately felt her spirits soar. She was about to go home . . . she was about to be back in the light, where she would be able to see the mountains and the proto forest and everything that she had known and loved about Shika Nui. The emotions she was feeling right now nearly overwhelmed her, but she held them back. She needed to keep a level head here otherwise she would be running straight into the Dark Hunters themselves and end up dying early. Still, her paced quickened anyway, her eyes and attention focused solely on the light at the end of the tunnel.

She looked at Nastan, who was actually smiling a little now. He seemed to have noticed the light too, and, based on the expressions on the others’ faces, they had as well. Addis looked eager, pointing it out to Barilo, who looked excited; and Chimoy, though usually reserved, seemed to have gotten some of his energy back and was walking faster than the other Toa and soon was ahead of Akuna, even.

In fact, all of the Toa were now walking so fast they were nearly running. The presence of the light – even from such a distance – had given them renewed energy and vigor. None of them had seen such beautiful light since they had went to Wyoko, the land of shadows, and they did not want to lose it ever again.

Akuna was beginning to feel impatient. Despite running fairly fast now, it seemed like the closer they got the farther the light became. She simply wanted to reach it now, or else she didn’t know what she would do with herself. She hadn’t realized before how much she had taken light for granted; she decided to never take it for granted again for as long as she lived, remembering the dark, sunless land of Wyoko.

What is taking us so long to get there? she wondered as she ran. Why does it feel like . . . like I’m moving, but not making any progress at all?

She glanced at her feet. They were moving, all right, but it seemed like they were running on the same stretch of dirt and stone as before. Though she was no Toa of Earth, even she realized that she was simply running on the same spot, over and over again, with no discernable differences. This puzzled her greatly.

What’s going on? she thought, still running. Am I in some type of time loop or what? Or is it something else entirely?

She was starting to feel disoriented now. Running in the same place for this long, adding to the pain she was already experiencing from their battle with the Shodios not too long ago, was beginning to get to her, making her wish she could just stop and rest.

But she couldn’t; she just couldn’t stop, no matter how many times she told her legs to halt. They weren’t listening to her and now she was getting worried. Would she and the others keep running and running forever, never reaching the tempting light that they so wanted? Were they destined to just keep going and going, not stopping for even a minute? Would they never reach Shika Nui again?

“Hey,” said Nastan, who like her was running fast without making any real progress. “Am I the only one who notices that we’re not any closer to the light than we were about five minutes ago?”

“I noticed that,” Addis said, who was now beginning to look quite tired. “Must just be our imagination, I think. This tunnel is just really, really long, that’s all, and we’re just really tired.”

“Then why can’t I stop?” asked Akuna, unable to hide the panic in her voice. “I’m really tired, but I can’t stop my legs at all.”

“Let me try,” said Addis. She looked over her shoulder and saw Addis running slower, but he was not stopping. His face had a look of extreme concentration on it, but he finally gave up. “You’re right, Akuna. I can’t stop, no matter what I do.”

“Then are we going to be stuck like this forever?” asked Barilo, who also sounded slightly panicky. “Why? Who or what is doing this?”

“I don’t know, Barilo,” said Addis, frustrated. “Maybe it’s some kind of new security system that the Dark Hunters installed while we were gone.”

“Or just an old one seeking revenge,” said a dark, hoarse voice from somewhere within the shadows. Akuna felt a sudden cold fill her body as the tunnel appeared to get a little darker.

“Who’s there?” demanded Nastan as he ran, looking all around the cave but seeing no one and nothing. “And what do you mean ‘an old one seeking revenge’? Are you the one responsible for this?”

“You have forgotten me that quickly, then?” said the voice with a sarcastic chuckle. “Your memory must be faulty. Don’t you remember the shadowed entity you had faced before you passed beyond the wall? Don’t you remember how you defeated him by simply overwhelming him with mental energy, an attack he had not been prepared for?”

Akuna gasped, though it was more because she was out of breath than because she knew who it was. “Is that you? The one who had guarded The Door? The shadowed entity?”

“The very same, my friend,” said the shadowed entity sinisterly. “I am still alive . . . alive, and seeking revenge on those who had defeated me for the first time in my 25,000 years of existence. Your very name brings uncontrollable anger to me, one that has been smoldering inside me since you escaped me beyond the ancient wall of protodermis long ago.”

“What do you plan to do to us, then?” asked Nastan in a slightly breathless voice. “Kill us?”

“Oh, not just yet,” said the shadowed entity. Akuna did not like that the entity did not have any apparent physical form. It just made him all the more dangerous. “Because of the illusion I have trapped you in, you will simply run on and on forever and ever, until your legs break and your lungs burst into a million little pieces. And I will simply watch you die, one by one. I noticed that the Toa of Sonics died back there; soon, you shall join him in the afterlife.”

“Well, if this is an illusion, we can just break it if we try hard enough, couldn’t we?” asked Barilo. “All we got to do is-“

“I would like to see you try,” the shadowed entity laughed. “Your weak Toa minds are incapable of breaking this illusion. Even if you somehow manage to do, I will simply kill you anyway. You have no way to fight me. You shall all simply die here, from the powers of my superior mental abilities, just as I was instructed to do.”

“What, too frightened to actually fight us?” asked Addis aggressively. “Before you were okay with attacking rookie Toa, but now you’re just happy to see us run until we can’t run anymore? No wonder I was starting to forget about you; you’re utterly pathetic.”

The shadows around them seemed to bristle with anger as the entity said, “Do not test my temper, Toa Addis. I was designed specifically to deal with intruders like you. Besides, why waste my energy killing you myself when I can simply make you kill yourself?”

“And then what, shadow spit?” said Addis in a mocking tone. “Have your Dark Hunter masters come and drag our corpses away, or will they simply keep them here until they rot, leaving you to tolerate the stench?”

“Quiet, Toa, or I will-“

“Or you’ll what?” Addis taunted. “Curse us? Threaten us with empty threats? Admit it, ‘shadowed entity.’ You’re nothing more than shadow; no form, no substance, nothing. I don’t even know why I feared you before. Guess I was just intimidated by the darkness, wasn’t I? Well, I no longer am, after what we’ve all been through, so I’m not afraid of you anymore, either.”

“I could kill you now, Toa, if I wished,” the shadowed entity said angrily. “And maybe I will, just to prove my point.”

“I’m not afraid of death,” said Addis, without a hint of fear in his voice. “Nor am I afraid of the shadows anymore. I have . . . I have conquered my fear of the shadows after Wy . . . Wyoko . . .” His voice sounded ragged and weaker now; it was obvious the strain of running and speaking at the same time was getting to him.

Akuna didn’t blame him. Her legs were beginning to feel like lead and her lungs felt close to exploding, just like the entity said. She glanced at Nastan, who looked just as worn out as she felt. Barilo and Chimoy both looked equally tired, Chimoy looking close to collapsing even. She knew it wouldn’t be long before at least one of them stopped and fell.

Or can we stop, even if we fall unconscious? she wondered, despite her mind being too tired to do a lot of hard thinking. This illusion is so strong that I don’t think I’ll be able to keep running for long. We’ll just keep going and going, unless we stop him. Perhaps Addis will use his Suletu again?

As though he were somehow reading her mind, a bolt of shadow lanced from out of the darkness and hit Addis squarely in the face, causing him to cry out in pain as his mask shattered into pieces, though he didn’t stop running.

“Now I remember how you defeated me last time, Toa Addis,” the shadowed entity hissed. “And I won’t allow you to do it again. Now there is no escape. You are incapable of beating me. You could melt the walls, fry the dirt, or do whatever it is you Toa can do, but none of it will be any good. Your pathetic lives end here, Toa Shika. My masters will be plea- ah! No! Stop!”

The shadowed entity’s cry of pain caused the illusion to abruptly shatter and all five of the Toa Shika stopped running and fell to the ground in exhaustion. Akuna looked around, but did not know what was happening. The shadows were swirling all around them like water while shrieks of pain and anger came from every direction. Panting hard, she glanced at Nastan, who was lying on the ground in exhaustion and seemed to have lost consciousness.

“Stop! What are you doing?” the shadowed entity screamed, so loud that Akuna had to cover her audio receptors to protect them. “Who do you think y-? Gah! This. . . . I can’t. . . . No. . . .”

“Wh-what’s going on?” asked Barilo, who was on his hands and knees and panting hard. “I don’t-“

“No!” the shadowed entity bellowed loudly. “Get out of my- Stop it! No . . . I can’t . . . I won’t . . . die . . .”

And with one last, prolonged shout of pure pain that was like a blast of cold wind, the cavern became as silent as the dead. The shadowed entity, it seemed, was gone.

Akuna, however, could care less about what happened to him. Her mind was dazed, her body ached all over from the hard running she had done, and she was just about ready to fall asleep right here in this dark cave. She didn’t know or even cared who had saved them. She merely fell face forward onto the ground and into unconsciousness, though right before she fell asleep she thought that she had seen two beings silhouetted against the light shining from the exit. She didn’t know if they were friends or enemies; but it didn’t matter, for at that moment she fell fast asleep, as though someone had hit her hard on the back of her head with a heavy stone.
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Mar 31 2014 - 05:46 AM.

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#45 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 02 2014 - 09:35 AM

Chapter 2: Unpleasant Revelations


“Akuna . . . wake up, Akuna . . . C’mon . . . Get up . . .”

The voice speaking to her sounded distant and faraway, as though being spoken to from the other side of the island. Yet at the same time she recognized it as belonging to Nastan, as it had the same concerned tone he used when speaking to her if she was hurt or if he was worried about her. She didn’t know what he was talking about; why should she wake up? She hadn’t got a good night’s sleep in a while and didn’t really feel like waking up right now.

Her body, however, disagreed with her on that. The aching in her joints was hurting her and making it impossible for her to sleep any longer now that she was aware of it, even though that was all she wanted to do. She tried to ignore it, but that seemed to make it worse in her opinion.

She opened her eyes a few inches and saw Nastan’s face, which seemed to be a mixture of worry and excitement, staring into her own. How long she had been unconscious, how much time had passed, she didn’t know, but she wasn’t going to ask him, mostly because her head was starting to hurt badly and she didn’t think she could ask too many questions right away at the moment.

So in a tired voice, she asked, “Nastan? Where . . . where are we?” She tried in vain to sit up, but failed miserably.

“Are you okay?” he asked her, helping her into a sitting position on the hard, rock floor. She did not fall over, fortunately. “Do you still need to sleep?”

“No, I’m okay,” she answered, quickly hugging him before letting go and looking around, rubbing the back of her head with her hand as she did so. It was quite dark; she could barely see her hand, despite the fact that her eyes were now adjusting to the darkness. “Thanks for asking, though.” She winced at the pain she felt in her joints, but tried her best to ignore it anyway. “Anyway . . . um, what is going on, Nastan? Why aren’t we dead? Or are we?” She added worriedly, looking at Nastan with slightly fearful eyes.

“No, we’re not dead,” said Nastan, whose face was now breaking into a smile. “We were saved, Akuna. We were rescued from the shadowed entity by – you’ll never guess – Jokao!”

“What?” Akuna said, looking at the Toa of The Green in surprise. “But Jokao’s a Matoran. I mean he’s a tough guy, but he’s still just a Matoran and if we couldn’t beat the entity, how-?”

Nastan laughed, which sounded slightly painful, as though he was still experiencing some pain, though he didn’t complain about it. “He’s not a Matoran anymore, Akuna. He’s actually a Toa!”

“You’re pulling my leg,” she said in disbelief, shaking her head. “There’s no way-“

“He’s over there if you want to see for yourself,” said Nastan, pointing behind her somewhere into the darkness. “He’s also got a new friend, apparently, though he hasn’t introduced her to us yet.”

Akuna twisted around to look in the direction he was pointing and was surprised to see a small fire lit about ten or fifteen feet away, where she saw Barilo, Addis, and Chimoy sitting with two other Toa, Addis speaking to them. One wore crimson and orange armor that had fiery designs on them, while the other wore black armor which was almost the exact shade of black as the shadows, making it difficult to distinguish between her and the shadows. She didn’t know who the other Toa was, but the red one’s Mask of Spirit did look very familiar to Akuna. She wondered for a moment why she hadn’t noticed them before, but decided that she must have been too distracted by the pain in her head to have taken any notice of them.

“See?” said Nastan with a chuckle. “Our Jokao, a Toa now! Man, I remember when he barely reached my waist. Now he’s the same size as me!”

“But how did he become a Toa?” asked Akuna, now thoroughly confused. “Why is he here? How’d he save us? And how long have I been asleep?” She was too puzzled and tired to put all of her questions in any kind of coherent order, but Nastan didn’t seem to mind.

“You’ve been asleep for a few minutes at most,” said Nastan gently. “As for the other questions . . . I don’t know. Addis and the others might, though. I’ve been trying to get you up the entire time and haven’t been talking to him. But how’s about we go speak to them now? Do you feel good enough to walk over to them?”

“Yes, I do,” she said, slightly embarrassed by how he was worrying about her like this. “You don’t need to worry, Nastan. It’s just a few feet away.” She smiled at him, which seemed to reassure him slightly.

“Okay,” said Nastan, though he did not sound entirely convinced by her words. “Here, let me help you up.”

He took her hand and lifted her back to her feet. Akuna cursed very softly under her breath at the pain, but managed to stand just fine, though her balance was a little off and she had to lean on Nastan for support, though he did not seem to mind too much.

So they began walking towards the other five, who all turned to look up at approaching couple. She looked at all of them as she and Nastan sat down around the fire. Chimoy and Barilo looked tired, though okay, while Addis looked like the worse. His eyes were dark and tired-looking and he was wearing his Suletu, which seemed to have been repaired by Chimoy, though rather hastily in her opinion. She wondered briefly why he was not simply wearing Nonzra’s Kanohi, but then she decided that the Zatth had been worn by a corpse earlier, so it might not be entirely healthy for a living being to wear. That, perhaps, and maybe it would have been disrespecting Nonzra’s memory to wear his Kanohi so soon after his death, though she personally couldn’t think why.

She looked at the red Toa, who wore a Mask of Spirit and flame-styled armor, giving him the look of a Toa of Fire. She really couldn’t believe that was Jokao, despite the fact that Nastan had assured her it was. However, she could see why he might be Jokao, because aside from his mask (which was the same as Jokao’s, except in Great Kanohi form) he had the same, apprehensive eyes Jokao usually wore, though they also looked slightly more confident now.

As for the black Toa who sat next to Jokao, Akuna had absolutely no idea who she was. Her element was a mystery, too; she didn’t look like a Toa of Earth or any other elements commonly associated with the color black. She had unique-looking armor and seemed like a very quiet and shy person. Her mask looked different, too, though Akuna thought its design seemed familiar, but she could not place where she had seen it at the moment.

“Are you all right, Akuna?” asked Addis grimly, who was not smiling.

“Yes, I am,” said Akuna, slightly exasperatedly, rubbing the back of her head with her left hand as she spoke. “But you don’t look too good yourself, Addis.”

He nodded. “My mask doesn’t work anymore, either. Got to get a new one sometime, I think.” He paused, then added brightly, “Oh, Akuna, look who saved us . . .” he pointed at the Toa of Fire, who merely looked at Akuna for a moment before staring back into the fire, “. . . it’s Jokao! He and his new friend here saved us from the shadowed entity! We were just talking about it right now, actually.”

“Thank you, um, Jokao,” said Akuna, somewhat awkwardly. Fortunately, Jokao was still not looking at her, or any of the others, for that matter. “And you, uh . . .”

“Oggakia,” the black Toa replied quietly. “But you can call me Oggak for short if you want. Everyone else does.”

“Er, right,” said Akuna, nodding. She wondered why the name Oggak sounded so familiar to her, but like Oggak’s appearance she could not put her finger on it. “Thanks.”

“Well, it’s great to see you again, Jokao,” said Nastan, who had put an arm around Akuna now. She found this slightly uncomfortable, mostly because her shoulders happened to be hurting quite a bit right now. However, she ignored the pain to focus on the conversation instead. “We missed you quite a bit when we were in Wyoko.”

Jokao suddenly looked up at Nastan and snapped, “You obviously didn’t miss me enough to want to return, did you? Maybe you thought I’d stop you from pulling even greater heists than before. After all, that was one of the first things you told me when we first met. You wanted to become greater thieves than ever before, didn’t you? And how else could you accomplish that but going to other lands? Clearly, Shika Nui was much too small for your tastes.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Nastan in surprise. Akuna was surprised by this outburst, too. Jokao had never snapped at them like this before; was there something bothering him?

“Don’t play dumb with me, Nastan,” Jokao said angrily, his fists clenched in fury. He sounded as though he had wanted to say this for a while. “You know exactly what you did. You and your friends simply abandoned us to our doom. Right when we needed you the most, you simply disappeared. Ran away like the cowardly thieves that you are is what you did. Didn’t even stop to think of the consequences of your actions, did you? Didn’t even stop to think that maybe we needed your help?”

“Jokao, we have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Addis firmly, leaning forward and looking at the Toa of Fire with a mixed expression of confusion and seriousness. “We didn’t leave Shika Nui by choice-“

“Oh, yes, you did!” Jokao yelled, which caused the fire to expand widely and heat the area up to uncomfortable temperatures before shrinking back to normal size and cooling off a little. He pointed at Addis and continued, “You knew about the Tuikas; knew that they were under Shika Nui, sleeping and waiting for their day of destruction. You’re nothing but a lying, dishonest little thief who does not want to face the consequences of his actions! You’re all like that, actually!”

“I’m telling you, we didn’t leave Shika Nui willingly!” Addis replied in an annoyed voice. “We were forced in and could not escape!”

Jokao laughed hollowly. “Oh, that’s good. ‘We were forced in and could not escape!’ Where you were taken? Why couldn’t you escape? Or are you simply trying to justify your cowardice?” He looked around at them all, and then added, “And where is Nonzra? I count only five when I know six left. Perhaps you simply left him behind? Or maybe even killed him because you didn’t want to split the loot?”

A shout of anger was the only warning Jokao got, for the next moment Chimoy had leapt to his feet and sent a devastating punch at the Toa of Fire, which connected and sent him flying away from the fire, landing hard several feet away on the rough dirt ground. Akuna, alarmed, looked up at Chimoy with the others and saw that he looked extremely angry. This was surprising, for Chimoy was more reserved than the others and rarely displayed emotions of any kind. To see him now looking as though he would be willing to commit murder frightened Akuna even more than nearly being killed by the shadowed entity earlier.

“Chimoy . . .” said Akuna in a pacifying voice. She didn’t think it would be wise for Chimoy to get into a fight with Jokao, especially in his current state.

“Don’t you ever accuse us of killing Nonzra,” Chimoy said quietly, though threateningly, to Jokao, who was still lying on the ground and moaning in pain. “I would never . . . We didn’t do it. It was Teivel. He killed Nonzra.”

Jokao sat up and wiped some dirt off his mask. “Teivel? Who-?”

“Teivel, a Toa of Shadow and leader of the Shodios,” said Oggak promptly.

Everyone looked at the black-armored Toa in disbelief and shock. Akuna wondered, in amazement, how Oggak had known that. No one else knew about the Shodios or, indeed, the Kra-Matoran tribe in general, except perhaps for the Order of Mata Nui, which the Shodios had mentioned to them back in Wyoko. So how did Oggak know this? That questioned buzzed through her head like a Nui Rama swarm, but she had no answer to it.

“How’d you know that?” Nastan asked her in confusion. “Nobody else knows about the Shodios but us. Can you read minds or something?”

Oggak looked at Nastan and Akuna realized just how red her eyes were. Almost the same shade as Teivel’s, really . . .

“Because, Nastan, I know who Teivel is because I was once a . . .” Oggak said, though her voice trailed off and Akuna, suddenly remembering where she had heard the name ‘Oggak’ before, was beginning to put two and two together. The conclusion she was coming to was nonsensical, yet at the same time seemed to be the only explanation that did make any sense.

“Because you were what?” asked Nastan eagerly, leaning forward a little to listen better. “Did you know him? Are you a member of the Order of Mata Nui?”

Now Oggak looked uncomfortable and glanced at Jokao, who had now rejoined their group. The look she gave him was almost like she was asking him something. He returned the look with a reassuring nod, and Oggak smiled slightly and nodded back.

Turning back to Nastan, she said softly, “Because I was a Kra-Matoran, Nastan. That is why.”

“Wait a minute,” said Nastan slowly as he looked from Oggak to Jokao, a look of dawning comprehension upon his face. “But if you were a Kra-Matoran, then that must mean-“

“That I am a Toa of Shadow, yes,” said Oggak reluctantly.

Suddenly, all five of the Toa Shika moved backwards and looked at Oggak suspiciously. Though she had heavily suspected it and frankly would have been surprised had she been wrong, Akuna was still shocked to it hear Oggak confirm it and even felt a little angry now. Why was Jokao hanging out with a Toa of Shadow? Akuna didn’t even want to be in the presence of a Toa of Shadow. After what she and the other Toa Shika had been through, after nearly been killed time and again by the Shodios and their Kra-Matoran servants, after Nonzra’s death, she had a deep mistrust of anyone who was associated with the shadows. Akuna now began to question Jokao’s sanity, because really, who in their right mind would ever willing ally themselves with a Toa of Shadow? It was almost as bad as being a friend of a Makuta yet at the same time somehow even worse.

Addis tentatively leaned toward Jokao and, doing his best to avoid Oggak’s gaze, said, “Jokao, did . . . did you know this?”

“Yes, I did,” said Jokao. He seemed surprised at the way they were reacting to learning Oggak’s element. “It was one of the first things I learned about her. So? What’s so bad?”

“But, Jokao,” said Addis exasperatedly, glancing at Oggak for a moment before looking back at the Toa of Fire. “She’s . . . she’s a Toa of Shadow. They’re evil. A Toa of Shadow actually killed Nonzra, you know.”

“Evil? She’s not evil,” Jokao said, shaking his head in disagreement. “She’s just as good as any Toa I’ve ever met, though I supposed that isn’t saying much, since the only Toa I’ve ever met are a bunch of cowards like you!”

“I thought we made it clear that we are not cowards?” Chimoy said quietly. “Do you even care that Nonzra died to save us from . . . from her people?” He pointed at Oggak, who was no longer looking at any of them and was instead staring into the fire, as though hoping they would somehow forget about her.

“Of course I care!” said Jokao angrily, his eyes glowing. “But just because the others are evil doesn’t make her evil!”

“Jokao, I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but you can’t honestly trust her, can you?” said Nastan indignantly. “She’s a Toa of Shadow, and shadow, as we all know very well, is evil. I should know more than any of us ‘cause I was a Toa of Shadow myself at one point, for Mata Nui’s sake! I know how seductive it is, how it eats away at any attempts to do good and makes you think otherwise. She’s probably nothing more than a manipulative little-“

“Now who is the one making false accusations here?” Jokao said sarcastically, rolling his eyes. “You know absolutely nothing about her and yet you’re already jumping to conclusions? Totally not hypocritical, eh?”

Nastan actually looked unable to respond to this and merely shook his head helplessly, muttering something about the Shodios and Oggak. Akuna realized - though she really wanted to deny it - that Jokao had a point. Nastan was jumping to conclusions, though that did not make Oggak instantly trustworthy, did it? Then again, Jokao did seem to trust her, so maybe . . .

No, Akuna thought. She can’t be. The Shodios were evil, cruel, and downright rude at times. They saw other living beings as merely obstacles that should be dismantled. Why would she be any different? She might be tricking Jokao, which I wouldn’t put past a Toa of Shadow.

She glanced at Oggak, who had remained completely quiet during this entire argument. The Toa of Shadow did not look particularly threatening or even evil, but she knew all-too-well how easily it was to disguise one’s evil, as she and the others had learned when an entire village of Kra-Matoran had fooled them into believing that the villagers were actually good but turned out to be just as foul as their Shodios leaders.

Barilo, who seemed to have been trying to stay out of this argument, said quietly, “Well, I don’t think there is much else to discuss, is there? Can’t we discuss this subject, er, later? I mean,” he looked pleadingly at the other Toa Shika, “am I the only one here who wants to see pure sunshine again? The only reason I’ve tolerated this place for as long as I have is because I wanted to talk to Jokao. So can we please leave now?”

“Okay,” said Jokao, who was still glaring at Nastan, who looked defiantly back at him. “Come on, then. We’ll be safer back in the village.”

“Yeah,” said Barilo, nodding, as he rose to his feet, leaning on the cavern wall for support. “What if the Dark Hunters come in here? In fact, now that I think about it, how did you get past the Hunters anyway? Must’ve taken some skill to get past them all, since there were like what, three hundred of them or something like that?”

Jokao rose to his feet and then helped Oggak up. He looked back up the tunnel, from which a bright light was shining, and said, without looking at Barilo, “We . . . we didn’t need much skill to get into this place. Not much at all, I’d say.”

“What? Did you just blast them apart or something?” Barilo asked curiously.

Jokao turned to look at the Toa Shika, all of whom were on their feet now. He looked extremely grim. “They are all dead. That’s why it didn’t take much effort; no one was there to stop us in the first place.”

Akuna was thunderstruck by this revelation. All of the Dark Hunters are dead? It didn’t make sense, but she could tell that he wasn’t joking or lying. Yet how could it be true? There were at least 300 Dark Hunters on Shika Nui before – possibly even more – and most of them had been quite alive last she checked.

She glanced at the others, all of whom looked just as shocked as she felt. Barilo actually looked frightened, and she couldn’t blame him. If there was something lurking on the surface that could kill all of those Dark Hunters, then what chance did they have at surviving for longer than a few seconds? Unless whatever was the source of the killing had left, Akuna felt as though she would rather be back in Wyoko, facing the wrath of the Shodios, than out there with whatever it was that might have slain the Hunters like that.

But she didn’t turn and run. The light ahead, though small and rather insignificant, tempted her greatly. She wanted to keep going until she reached the light, and if it meant facing those things, well, that was just how things would have to be, even though fear was creeping up her spine. Her desire to be in the light overrode her fear of whatever might be out there.

“But what killed them all?” asked Addis, who began walking slowly towards Jokao. Akuna noticed he had a limp now; whether it was from the shadowed entity or acquired from their adventures in Wyoko, she did not know, for she hadn’t been paying that much attention to what kinds of wound were inflicted on the others before. She’d been too distracted by her own. “What could possibly have enough power to wipe out a small army of Dark Hunters like that? You’re joking, right?”

“He is not joking,” said Oggak softly, speaking suddenly without so much as a warning, which irritated Akuna. “They were killed weeks ago.”

“Weeks?” said Nastan, frowning. “We’ve been gone for days, not weeks.”

“You must not have been keeping track of time, then,” said Jokao shortly, rolling his eyes at him again. “You’ve been gone for weeks, and that is a fact. But to answer your question, Addis,” he said, addressing the Toa of Plasma now, “the Tuikas are responsible for the Dark Hunters’ deaths.”

“Just what are Tuikas?” Addis demanded impatiently. “You’ve mentioned them before but have never-“

“Tuikas are, to put it simply, living nightmares,” Jokao said. He pointed at his shoulder, which had a bad wound on it, something Akuna had never noticed before. “They make the Dark Hunters look like saints, basically. We’ll tell you more about them later, though; right now we have to return to the village. Turaga Joha may be worrying about our absence.”

“Joha?” repeated Nastan, with a slightly more interested voice. “He’s still alive? How’s he doing these days? I’ve missed him quite a bit since we left.”

“Overworked, doesn’t get enough sleep, and nearly ready to collapse into teeny tiny bite-sized pieces,” Jokao answered curtly. The seven Toa had now begun walking up the tunnel towards the exit. “He’s been working night and day to make sure that the Matoran are kept safe and that the Tuikas do not breach our walls. Otherwise, he’s ‘okay,’ if you want to even use that word.”

Nastan, evidently offended by Jokao’s tone, shook his head and whispered to Akuna, so that no one else could hear, “Geez, what’s his problem? Ask a simple question and he just snaps.”

Akuna, who didn’t know how to answer, merely shrugged. She thought perhaps Jokao sounded overworked himself, though she did not say this aloud. She simply wanted to get back to this village Jokao mentioned, which would surely be in the bright, pure sunshine of Shika Nui, which was something she had sorely missed. Though she was still surprised by the fact that the Dark Hunters were all dead, she did not weep for them. They were, after all, her enemies and had been cruel to her and her friends for over 25,000 years, so their deaths did not bother her much, if at all.

However, as they drew closer to the glorious light, she did notice one odd thing. The light up ahead began to look less natural, more like the bluish glow of the light stones instead of the yellowish sunshine of Shika Nui. She decided that that was because there were going to be inside the Dark Hunters’ fortress, not actually on Shika Nui itself. She felt slightly disappointed by this; she had been looking forward to emerging into the sun.

At least we won’t stay in there forever, she thought as she walked. We’ll have to go outside eventually, where the village obviously is. It is probably bathed in sunshine. Personally, I think I’ll spend all of my time lying in the sun, though if these Tuikas are as bad as Jokao says, then I don’t think I’ll have a whole lot of time to relax.

All of a sudden, a silhouette appeared at the top of the tunnel. The figure looked small, about Matoran-sized, and seemed to be looking at them. Akuna, who had been taken by surprise far too many times in the past few days (most of them by lethal and evil beings), whipped out her staff of lightning, ready to fight whoever it might be, but Jokao put his hand on her weapon and gently lowered it.

“Don’t attack,” he whispered. “The Matoran up ahead is a friend.” He then looked back up at the figure at the entrance and shouted, “Hey, Reesha! We’ve found friends! Look! New Toa!”

The Matoran up ahead titled her head, as though trying to get a better look at them, and then disappeared. Akuna was surprised that there was a Matoran here at all. Wasn’t it dangerous to take a Matoran with them to here? It seemed irresponsible to her. What if the Matoran got hurt or even killed? This tunnel did lead into the Dark Hunters’ fortress; what if there was still something lurking around in there?

But as they approached the exit, she heard hundreds of voices jabbering up ahead. She could not tell what they were saying, but their tone sounded both frightened and excited. She then felt disappointed with Jokao again.

First he allies with a Toa of Shadow, and now he’s brought along hundreds of Matoran, too? What the Karzahni is he thinking? What if they all get hurt or killed somehow? she thought, annoyed. Maybe there’s more to this, but this seems awful irresponsible to me at the moment. They ought to be in a village, safely protected by its walls and defenders, not here, in this unsafe place.

It did not take long for them to finish their journey; after a short walk (though it felt long to Akuna), they reached the very top of the tunnel and were right at the exit itself. Akuna, exhausted, took one glance into the chamber before them, shrieked in pain and took a step back into the darkness, her hands over her eyes. Her eyes were so used to the darkness that the light was actually quite painful to look at and judging by the stumbling she heard all around the others must have been affected the same way.

But her audio receptors still worked as fine as ever, and the sounds of Matoran talking was so loud and near now to be almost uncomfortable. She was almost longing for the quiet darkness; somehow the light and sound seemed too much for her now, despite that being what she had wanted in the first place.

Once her eyes stopped hurting so badly, she lowered her hands slowly, and realized that the light no longer irritated or hurt her eyes, much to her relief. She then opened her eyes – for she had had them closed behind her hands – to enjoy the light, but what she saw was too shocking for her to do anything more than gasp, for words failed her at the moment.

Hundreds of Matoran of various tribes stood near or around the entrance, all chattering and looking over the heads of their neighbors to see the new arrivals. They were all crammed into the hallway that the tunnel ended in, the cracked walls looking like they were straining to not burst open and pour all of the villagers out.

Jokao took a step forward, turned around, and said to the Toa Shika, spreading his arms wide, “Welcome to Koro Nui . . . the last remaining Matoran settlement on Shika Nui.”
 

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#46 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 03 2014 - 09:39 AM

Chapter 3: Revelations & Explanations


It looked as though all of the remaining Matoran of Shika Nui were here, which was probably the case, Akuna thought as she and the others walked through the rapidly parting crowd, lead by Jokao and Oggak. There didn’t seem to be as much as she originally thought, though; possibly only a couple of hundred, from what she could tell. The hallway didn’t seemed to be as cramped, either, though it wasn’t exactly wide open. The Matoran were all quiet now and staring up at her and the others with a mixture of expressions that she couldn’t quite identify, for her eyes were still adjusting slightly to the light. All of the Matoran were in the hallway of the Dark Hunters’ fortress, which seemed to be lit with old light stones that were growing fainter and fainter each minute, or so it looked to her, anyway.

As for the Matoran themselves, they looked as though they had been fighting some kind of war. Many wore mismatched armor, as though they had had to replace broken pieces with whatever they could find instead of simply creating new armor from protodermis. Most seemed to have been wounded in some way, for they wore bandages wrapped in many places all over their bodies; some had blood smeared on their armor. Akuna, horrified, wondered what had happened to them. Perhaps these Tuikas that Jokao had mentioned had something to do with it? She knew she would probably learn soon enough, but she was still frightened just the same.

Jokao and Oggak, after explaining to the Matoran villagers who the Toa Shika were and where they would be taking them, had begun leading the Toa towards the throne room, where Joha was supposed to be. Akuna didn’t mind; all of the Matoran staring at her made her feel extremely uncomfortable. It wasn’t that she disliked it, per se, but she just wasn’t used to being looked at with awe and wonder instead of fear and hate like she had been by the Dark Hunters and the Shodios, and judging by the expressions on the faces of the others, they weren’t, either.

“What happened?” asked Addis, who was still limping beside Jokao, but managing to keep up quite well. “Why is Koro Nui the last village on Shika Nui? I don’t understand.”

“The Tuikas mercilessly destroy the rest of them,” Jokao replied grimly as they winded their way through a crowd of Matoran, who all looked up at the Toa as they passed, without uttering a single word at them. “Survivors managed to make it here or were rescued by Oggak and me. We sometimes make trips outside of Koro Nui to see if we can find any survivors who need shelter and protection. We’re usually successful, though sometimes we are ambushed by the Tuikas or we don’t find anyone at all.”

“Or worse,” added Oggak, “we find people, but then they . . . then they get killed by the Tuikas, or get heavily wounded. Sometimes we just find corpses and nothing more.”

“But why choose here, of all places?” Addis demanded. “This is where the Dark Hunters lived. It has been a physical representation of our people’s suffering and enslavement ever since it was first erected 25,000 years ago. I can’t imagine any of us wanting to live in here unless we absolutely had to!”

“Addis, you just answered your own question,” Jokao replied as they turned down a corner, passing a few Matoran on the way. “We have no other choice. This is the most secure place on the entire island. Every other village was exposed and undefended, which is part of the reason they fell so easily to the Tuikas. Thus far, we’ve managed to protect it fairly well, but at the cost of many Matoran. Joha concluded it was the only reasonable place to stay in, hate it though we may. Besides, it isn’t such a bad place once you get used to it.”

“Why didn’t you just leave the island, then?” asked Nastan incredulously. “Aren’t there some Dark Hunter boats docked at the harbor you could have hijacked or something?”

“All ships were sunk and destroyed by the Tuikas,” Jokao said shortly as they walked down a long hallway. “Some Dark Hunters did try to escape via warship, but it was sunk and . . . let’s just say that what the Tuikas did to them wasn’t pretty and leave it at that.”

Since no one else said or asked anything after that, Akuna let her mind wander and began looking at the hallway all around them. She had been in this fortress only once before, and that had been when they had attempted to escape through The Door. She remembered seeing dead Dark Hunters, Visorak, some broken Rahkshi armor, smashed furniture or statues, and at least a few rooms had been blocked off.

It looked slightly better now, as though they had cleaned it up a little. Many of the broken statues had been moved away and there did not seem to be any kind of decoration in the hallways at all, probably to make room for the Matoran that now inhabited it.

Yet it also stank of death, as though it were imbued into the stone itself. Parts of the ceiling and walls were ripped off or destroyed and had been replaced with bits of metal or stone that obviously didn’t match the rest of it. She figured the Tuikas might’ve been responsible, though she didn’t know for sure having never seen what a place looked like when the Tuikas were done with it before.

Finally, after a more few minutes of walking, they arrived at a large stone archway, which Akuna recognized as the entrance to the throne room. They passed through it and soon found themselves inside a huge, stone chamber, its only occupants three beings that stood at the very end of the room, apparently in conversation with one another.

The room looked pretty much as she remembered it: Four entryways split off the sides, most likely leading into other parts of the fortress, though again she noticed the absence of the furniture and carvings, save for the throne itself, which seemed to have been repaired during their journey. The suits of armor that had been here previously seemed to have been moved out to make room for dozens of empty makeshift beds, with a straight line down the middle that lead to the throne itself. The beds were probably for the Matoran, since despite its immense size there didn’t seem to be enough room in this massive fortress for all of the villagers.

But she wasn’t paying much attention to that now. No, she was now paying attention to the three beings that were standing at the end of the room, near the throne. One of them she identified as Turaga Joha, the only remaining member of the original Toa Shika team that had predated her team by about 25,000 years, who was sitting on the throne. She was happy to see him again, but she was surprised and even a little angry to recognize the other two as she and the others followed Jokao and Oggak towards the throne.

The two beings in conference with Joha were two Dark Hunters whom she knew very well from her past encounters with them. The first one, an orange and green colored being of about Toa-height, with a short horn on his head, was Kigin, a nasty Hunter who had lead the squad that had been ordered to kill her and her team in the past. He looked up at them as they approached and Akuna saw an expression of dawning recognition and hatred rising on his features. He seemed to remember them, too.

The second one wore gold, spiked armor and was named Death, another Dark Hunter who had hunted the Toa Shika in the past. Though he was a lot quieter than most Hunters she knew, she still was not thrilled to see him, but when he looked over his shoulder to see them his expression was that of surprise. He had evidently not been expecting them, though she didn’t blame him, since no one had been expecting her or any of the other Toa Shika to return, if the reaction of Jokao was any indication.

Joha, meanwhile, looked thunderstruck as the seven Toa approached. He looked from one Toa to the other with his mouth hanging wide open. Akuna noticed he looked quite tired, just like Jokao had said. His eyes were darker and his lids hung heavily over his eyes, while he sat slumped in the throne instead of sitting straight. She was quite surprised he was managing to stay awake for as long as he was.

Then again, he did survive in the mountains all alone for 25,000 years as a Toa, she thought. This must be nothing to him, if that is the case.

“Turaga Joha, Oggak and I have found the Toa Shika,” said Jokao as he bowed with Oggak. “They were coming up the dark tunnel back there and were nearly killed by the shadowed entity. But Oggak managed to absorb him and saved them, fortunately, but they are still quite tired.”

“We thought you would like to see them again, Turaga,” Oggak added in her usual soft voice. “They are old friends of yours, are they not?”

“Why this . . . this is incredible,” said Joha, who sounded as though he was not sure how to react. “What a pleasant surprise. For a moment there, I thought you six would never return, but I’m glad you did, since we are in desperate need of new warriors to aid in our fight against the Tuikas.”

Addis stepped forward with a grim expression on his face as he said, “While I am thankful to meet you again, I should tell you that not all of us made it back here alive, sir.”

“What?” said Joha, his eyes widening even more than before. He counted them again and said slowly, “You’re right. I don’t see Nonzra. Where is he?”

“He is . . . dead, sir,” said Addis bitterly, looking down at his feet. “He died just as we escaped Wyoko.”

“Wyoko?” repeated Death curiously. “You know, I think Oggak has mentioned that place before, but I’m not sure . . .”

“Yes, because that is where the rest of my people are currently imprisoned,” Oggak answered. “I have already explained my past to you, so you should know what they are talking about.”

“But how did Nonzra die?” asked Joha, who sounded shocked and sad. “Did one of the inhabitants of Wyoko kill him?”

“Yes,” said Addis, nodding, and he then explained, as briefly as possible, what the Toa Shika had found and done in Wyoko, from their capture by Ira and Rhatara all the way to their final confrontation with the Shodios and eventual escape.

Once Addis finished, Joha looked at Oggak, who nodded, as though confirming their words. Then he said, pointing at them, “So, Nonzra was killed by the leader of the Shodios, Toa Teivel?”

“Yes, sir,” said Addis. “That’s what happened. We only brought his mask with us because, well, we didn’t think we could bring it with us and get past the Dark Hunters at the same time. Too heavy for us to both carry and fight the Dark Hunters, is basically what we thought.”

“Of course you couldn’t,” Kigin answered before Joha could say anything. “If the Hunters were still alive, you wouldn’t have survived longer than a minute against us, much less so if you had been dragging a corpse with you!”

“Enough, Kigin,” said Joha sharply. “You will be working with them in the future, so you ought to learn to hold your tongue unless necessary.”

“Whatever,” the Dark Hunter said, shaking his head. “Just saying . . .”

Nastan, who had been surprisingly quiet during Addis’ tale (which had included Nastan’s transformation into a Toa of Shadow), suddenly said to Joha, “But sir, forgive me if I sound ungrateful or rude, why are you allying yourself with Dark Hunters and Toa of Shadow?”

Joha shifting uncomfortable in his chair, said, “We need as many fighters as we can get, Nastan, to protect the Matoran, whatever our differences may be. The Tuikas are-“

“But we can’t trust them!” Nastan protested, taking a few steps closer, his eyes focused entirely on Joha. “They’re nothing but no-good-“

“Scumbags? Liars? Traitors? Torturers? Slavers?” Death offered with a slightly annoyed-sounding voice. “Is that what you think we all are?”

“That, and a lot more colorful names I can think of, too,” Nastan snapped at Death.

“This is not the time or place to discuss this,” Joha said sharply, breaking up their argument quickly. “We have far, far more pressing matters to deal with at the moment.”

Akuna, though just as annoyed as Nastan that there were apparently a few Dark Hunters working with them, was nonetheless amazed at the way Joha managed to break up their argument so quickly. Nastan, who heavily respected Joha, quieted at once, though he looked rather annoyed; Death, too, became silent and merely looked questioningly at Oggak, who shrugged. The Toa of Lightning didn’t know what that was all about, though she assumed Death must have been asking her if she was sure about the Toa Shika, though why her and not someone else, she did not know.

After making sure neither Nastan or Death would start another argument, Joha looked at Addis again and, upon noticing his hastily repaired mask, asked, “Addis, what happened to your Kanohi? Was it damaged by the Shodios, too? If so, we’ll have to get you a new one.”

“Not the Shodios, no,” said Addis, who seemed slightly taken aback by Joha’s sudden business-like behavior. “The shadowed entity destroyed it so that I wouldn’t be able to use it against him. Chimoy repaired it as best as he could, but he’s no Metru Nui Ta-Matoran mask maker, so it doesn’t work anymore. No offense to you, Chimoy,” he added.

“None taken,” the Toa of Iron replied. Akuna realized Chimoy was holding his left arm, which seemed to be hanging limply at his side, though it didn’t look like it was permanently damaged, fortunately.

“Well, like I said before, we need to get you a new mask pronto,” said Joha. “I know we have some extra masks, but I’m not sure if any of them are Great Masks . . .”

“That’s fine, Turaga, but we’re still confused,” said Addis, gesturing with his hands at the chamber all around them as he spoke. “I mean, we just got back here. We don’t know who or what the Tuikas are, or what Shika Nui’s current status is (besides being apparently uninhabitable), or who Oggak is, or . . . well, a bunch of other things, too. An explanation would be nice, sir, because we’re totally lost.”

“What was that?” said Joha, shaking his head as though to clear it of water. “I am sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

Addis sighed, slightly exasperated, and repeated his request for an explanation, this time more slowly.

Once he finished, Joha nodded and said, “Of course, if you have been gone for all of these weeks-“

“Days,” corrected Nastan automatically. “We’ve been gone days, sir.”

“We told you, you’ve been gone for weeks,” Jokao snapped, glaring at the Toa of The Green. “You must have lost track of the time.”

“No, I’m definitely sure we haven’t,” said Nastan defensively. “Of course, it is kind of hard to tell the time in a place that doesn’t have anything that looks even remotely like a sun, but still, I think I’m right.”

“Actually, it is possible that both of you are right,” said Oggak calmly, causing the two arguing Toa to look at her in surprise. “Time in Wyoko goes by differently than here, at least from what I know of the place. So it is possible that it looked like days had gone by to them because days had gone by, while for us it seemed like weeks and weeks really did go by.”

“That explanation makes my head hurt more than it already does,” Nastan muttered, turning away from her to look back at Joha.

“However long you’ve been gone – whether it was days or weeks – does not matter,” said Joha, slightly raising his voice, as if making sure they could hear him speaking. “What does matter, however, is that you get your explanation. Unless you wish to rest up a little first? You look as though you have been through a war, my friends.”

Akuna glanced at the others. Joha was correct; they did look like they had been through a war. There were cracks running through their armor, some of it broken off or smashed completely, and all of them had an injury of some kind, some more obvious than others. For example, Addis’ limp was far more pronounced than Barilo’s bleeding shoulder, and Akuna herself didn’t feel exactly perfect, either, so the idea of sleeping for a long time, possibly on a soft, cozy bed, sounded quite appealing to her right now.

But Addis shook his head vigorously and said, “No, Turaga, we can rest later. If we’re going to be fighting the Tuikas, then we need to know as much as we can before we laze around.”

“You do not care about your physical well-being?” asked Death, and much to Akuna’s surprise, he sounded genuinely concerned about them. She could not think of any reason why a Dark Hunter would seem worried about any Toa, especially Toa he had personally helped hunt down in the first place.

“We care, but I think information on our common foe is more necessary at the moment,” Addis replied, almost defiantly. “That’s all.”

Death seemed to not understand him completely, but did not pursue the subject any further.

So Joha said to the Toa Shika, “I’d say, then, that the time for explanations is now.”

Akuna smiled. Tired though she was, she had almost as many questions as Addis, if not more, and was glad to hear that answers were coming at last.

“But it will not be me who explains,” Joha continued. “Oggak shall explain to you. She was the one who first told us what the Tuikas really were and I think she will be able to explain it much better than I ever could. Oggak, dear? Will you please tell them what you told us a while ago?”

Oggak? Akuna thought quizzically as she and the others turned to look at the Toa of Shadow, who now looked very uncomfortable that everyone was paying so much attention to her. How could she know anything about the Tuikas?

Oggak was shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She obviously did not like being the center of attention, but she managed to look at them all anyway with her red eyes that reminded Akuna so much of Teivel. Akuna also noticed that the Toa of Shadow really didn’t look like she wanted to be there at the moment, though Oggak did not complain or do anything to suggest she disliked the attention besides looking a bit nervous.

The Toa of Shadow took a deep, long breath and said, “Well, I suppose it all began with the Order of Mata Nui, a secret organization that is dedicated to carrying out the will of the Great Spirit himself in secret. Until a couple of weeks ago no one knew about them – now, I guess everyone does.”

“The Shodios mentioned the Order,” said Barilo, who was now leaning up against one of the walls. “We didn’t know who they were, though. Didn’t bother to elaborate.”

“The Shodios hate the Order,” Oggak replied. “You probably already know that, though, so I suppose I’ll just continue on:

“Anyway, it, er, actually begun with the Brotherhood of Makuta about 50,000 years ago. For whatever reason, they decided that they would need to create more powerful Rahi than they had ever created before. So, using the skills and talents of all of the Brotherhood’s best scientists they created the Tuikas – naming the individual members Skik, Kidah, Arija, Koya, Zoil, and Draza, respectively – which were supposed to be the most powerful Rahi they had ever – and would ever – create. They succeeded and began studying their new creations in order to find out how to duplicate the process and make a whole army of powerful, Tuikas-level Rahi. However . . .”

“However what?” asked Nastan, who despite himself seemed actually interested in her story.

“The Tuikas escaped,” she continued, with a slightly more confident-sounding voice than before. She seemed to be on a roll now. “They broke out of their cages on Destral, which was situated at the northern continent at the time. They rampaged on the northern continent for a long while and the Brotherhood just couldn’t capture them, no matter what they did. So the Brotherhood merely gave up, believing the Tuikas’ natural lifespan would run out eventually and they would just die, since the Tuikas were designed with a short lifespan in case something like this would happen.

“So the Order of Mata Nui took action instead. Some of our best agents were sent to the continent, where they managed to subdue the Tuikas and faked the monsters’ deaths so the Brotherhood wouldn’t go looking for them. To make sure that the Tuikas would not escape again, the Order hid them underneath Shika Nui in stasis tubes, which put them in stasis, obviously.”

A memory suddenly stirred in Akuna at these words. She remembered a large cavern and six stasis tubes . . . and she also remembered Nonzra wiping dirt off the surface of one of them to reveal the name Tuikas, a Matoran word meaning ‘fear.’ She hadn’t thought about them at all until now. She then came to a sudden realization.

Mata Nui . . . she thought, horrified. Did we . . .?

It seemed as though the others were making the same connection, for she could see expressions of comprehension dawning on her friends’ faces, except for Barilo, who had not been with them when they had first discovered the Tuikas under Shika Nui. Nastan actually said, “Wait, we saw some Tuikas under Shika Nui, so does that mean-?”

“Yes,” Jokao answered shortly. “The Tuikas who we found and the ones Oggak mentioned are indeed one and the same. In fact, it was all because of us that they awoke, wasn’t it, Oggak?”

“From what I can tell, yes,” said Oggak quietly, nodding. “The Tuikas had remained in stasis until you visited them and they managed to reach the surface shortly after you went to Wyoko. They totally wiped out the Dark Hunters and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Matoran. They’ve been a threat ever since.”

“We unleashed that?” asked Barilo, who sounded horrified. “But we didn’t mean to-“

“I know,” said Oggak gently, though without a smile on her face. “I doubt any of you meant to do it. No one would ever want to knowingly unleash the Tuikas, especially upon an island of innocent Matoran and . . .”

“And not-so-innocent Dark Hunters,” Death finished for her.

“Er, yes,” said the Toa of Shadow, nodding again. “I guess so.”

“So let me get this straight,” said Nastan, who sounded slightly confused. “The Brotherhood of Makuta made the Tuikas, which escaped onto the northern continent but were stopped by these Order of Mata Nui guys. And then the Order of Mata Nui locked ‘em up here for . . . some vague reason that I don’t know. It sounds incredibly far-fetched, in my opinion.”

“Yet it is true,” Jokao said to Nastan with a hint of impatience in his voice. “Oggak wouldn’t lie. Besides, it’s the only explanation that makes any sense. We all know that the Brotherhood just loves making bigger and more dangerous Rahi as a hobby; it makes sense that they would try to make super Rahi or whatever just to see if they could.”

“Well, that still doesn’t explain where she came from, though!” said Nastan, pointing accusingly at Oggak. “We know that all Kra-Matoran were locked up in Wyoko. I mean, if there were still some out there we would know, wouldn’t we? So how is she here?”

“Because she wasn’t locked away, of course,” said Akuna, now clearly remembering what the Shodios had told them about a Kra-Matoran named Oggak back in Wyoko. “That’s why. The Shodios told us that, remember? They said something about a traitor named Oggak, I think.”

“You’re correct, Akuna,” said Oggak. “Because of my services to Mata Nui’s will – which is a nicer way of saying that I had betrayed my people –“ she sounded bitter here, as though the words she spoke left a bad taste in her mouth, but continued on normally, “I was given freedom and allowed to live outside Wyoko. But on one condition: That I live on Daxia, the Order’s island headquarters, day in and day out, never to visit any other lands or see anyone besides those who worked for the Order. They did that because there would be a lot of unnecessary questions asked if someone saw a Matoran of Shadow walking around when there aren’t any others, especially since that was a time when the Order was trying to make sure that nobody remembered the Kra-Matoran anymore. So for all intents and purposes, I didn’t exist for about 100,000 years. Depressing, I know, but I managed to live with it.”

“Okay, but then why are not you still on Daxia or whatever it was called?” asked Nastan, tapping his foot impatiently. “Why’d they let you come back here?”

“Because, Nastan, the Order of Mata Nui is now at war with the Brotherhood of Makuta,” she replied, but paused suddenly when Kigin made to leave. “Where are you going?” she asked, looking inquiringly at him.

“Leaving,” the Hunter answered, already at one of the exits. “I’ve heard all of this already. Besides, I don’t like being in the room with Toa I don’t like for a prolonged period of time anyway, especially these Toa. I’ll be in my room if anyone needs me. Good bye.”

He then left, and Oggak looked somewhat uncertain for a moment, as though she had forgotten where she was. Akuna thought it was rude that Kigin simply left like that while Oggak was still speaking, but then she remembered that Kigin was a Dark Hunter. If Hunters were not above stealing and killing, then it should have came as no surprise to her that Kigin, a Dark Hunter, would rudely leave like that.

“Um, where was I?” asked Oggak, slightly nervously, shaking her head as if to clear it of unnecessary thoughts. “Ah, now I remember. Er, um, the Order of Mata Nui is at war with the Brotherhood of Makuta now, so almost everybody knows about our existence. As for why I’m here . . . the Order’s forces, while strong, are not nearly as numerous as that of the Brotherhood and so they need as much allies as they can get. The Dark Hunters have already made an alliance with the Order, after the Shadowed One agreed to our offer. The Order then sent me, along with about a dozen other agents and a few Hunters, to this island to inform the Dark Hunters here about the alliance. I came along because Helryx, the leader of the Order, thought that you Toa Shika would be more likely to listen to a fellow Toa such as myself than some strange beings of an Order you had never even heard of until now, or the Dark Hunters, who we correctly guessed you hated and wouldn’t trust or listen to.”

“Got that right,” Nastan muttered angrily. “We don’t like you, either.”

“Watch it,” Jokao snapped, waving his mace threateningly at the Toa of The Green. “Or I’ll weld your mouth shut for you.”

Ignoring these two, Addis asked Oggak, with more than a hint of surprise in his voice, “So the Order knew about us? When not even the Dark Hunters were aware of our existence until we took out Tyu and Kigin?”

“The Order knows a lot more than you’d think,” Oggak replied. “Anyway, the Order thought you would be valuable allies against the Brotherhood. Originally, they didn’t want to send me, since they thought it would be too risky. But I was getting restless – living on a secret island for 100,000 years without ever even being allowed to leave even so much as once a year does that to you – and when I heard that some agents would be sent to Shika Nui, my home, I asked Helryx if I could go and, after some persuading, she agreed. She thought that, since the Order’s public now, my existence couldn’t stay secret forever and that it was only a matter of time before someone learned of me. So she sent me with everyone else.”

“We were shocked to see Oggak when she first arrived,” Joha told the Shika. “We were as skeptical as you were about her being a Toa of Shadow-“

Not skeptical, just annoyed, Akuna thought angrily, but she kept her mouth shut and let Joha continue.

“-but she has proven her courage, strength, and heroism these past few weeks as we fought the Tuikas, protecting the Matoran alongside Jokao and the Dark Hunters,” Joha continued. “We are all very grateful for her, especially since she knows so much about the Tuikas. Why, it’s almost frightening, how much she knows, really. She can describe any of them without hesitation and is quite capable of strategizing against them. Almost like she was right there when they were created, really.”

For a moment, Akuna thought Oggak had glanced at Joha with horror in her eyes before quickly resuming her reserved, mostly emotionless face. Akuna thought that was odd, but then, Oggak was a Toa of Shadow and, if she was anything at all like the Shodios, then perhaps being a little odd was one of her better qualities.

“So why hasn’t she left, then?” asked Nastan loudly, who now seemed to be ignoring Oggak. “Why didn’t she just leave Shika Nui when she realized we weren’t here?”

“She couldn’t,” Jokao said, looking at Oggak with surprisingly gentle eyes. “When she and those Order agents arrived, the Tuikas eliminated them and she barely escaped alive. The ship she had come in was destroyed, too, along with every other ship on the island, so she was stranded. She’s been with us ever since. Not that I am complaining, of course,” he added hastily.

“Well, okay, then,” said Nastan restlessly. Searching for a new question, he suddenly asked, pointing at the Toa of Fire, “That explains her, but what about you? How the Karzahni did you end up a Toa, when last we saw you were a Matoran barely taller than four feet?”

Jokao shrugged and said, “That’s the odd thing about it, actually. You see, when Joha and I retreated to my home village, Ironos, we were shown the recent discovery of a small old wooden chest that the Matoran in Ironos had found in the mines. The chest contained six Toa stones, with a note from Turaga Ujat explaining what they were. They had apparently been left there by him, but we have no idea why he had buried them in a chest like that, nor what he had planned to do with them, since the note had been very vague about their actual use. But when I picked up one of the stones, I was actually transformed into a Toa, surprisingly enough, and soon after, I met Oggak. I’m still not as good as her, elemental powers and mask power wise, but I’ve been learning fast, otherwise I would have been killed by the Tuikas a long time ago.”

“That’s another thing that is bothering me,” Nastan snapped. Even Akuna, who mostly agreed with Nastan’s suspicion of Oggak, thought he was stretching the point a little too much now. “Why do we even trust her? She’s a Toa of Shadow! They’re evil! They’re cruel! They’re-“

But they never got to figure out exactly what Nastan thought Toa of Shadow were (though Akuna could guess), for Jokao bellowed in rage and punched Nastan so hard in the face so fast that it was almost a blur. Nastan stumbled backwards as Jokao advanced, breathing deeply and looking quite enraged, waving his mace in the air rather faster than necessary.

“Jokao! Nastan! Stop your fighting!” Joha shouted firmly, actually standing up and slamming his staff on the ground hard. “Now!”

Neither of them listened, however, and now were circling each other, looking almost like two Muaka cats getting ready to tear each other apart.

“Nastan, I am your leader and I command you to stop,” Addis ordered, limping forward and grabbing the Toa of The Green firmly on the shoulder. Nastan tried to shrug him off, but Addis held on tightly. “Fighting Jokao won’t get you anywhere.”

“Get off me, Addis!” Nastan snapped angrily, trying to make Addis let go but failing again. “He’s being stupid! They’re all being stupid, trusting a Toa of Shadow like that! After all we’ve been through-”

“She’s a good person,” Jokao responded shortly. Akuna noticed with a slight tingle of fear that fire energy was crackling in Jokao’s hands. Experienced though he may be, Akuna knew that in a fight, Jokao’s fire would beat Nastan’s plants every day. “It’s just bigotry, it is. You’re being intolerant and insulting. You haven’t even gotten to talk to her much yet you’re already assuming she’s worse than Karzahni himself!”

You didn’t see what the Shodios did to us, or tried to do to us,” Nastan snarled, now ignoring Addis completely and focusing his whole attention on Jokao. “They tried to kill us at nearly every opportunity, without mercy or remorse. And they succeeded, too; they got Nonzra. They killed him without reason, just because he resembled some guy named Ukio or something like that, one of those Toa Avha they mentioned, when he never did anything to them at all!”

“And you hate Oggak just because she happens to be a Toa of Shadow, like them?” Jokao said. “You’re being very hypocritical. It’s wrong for them to hate us but right for us to hate them? Really logical, Nastan.”

Nastan was apparently at a loss for words and instead merely grunted angrily. He seemed to calm down somewhat, but Addis was still gripping his shoulder as a precaution. Akuna walked over to Nastan and said quietly to him, “There’s no reason to fight him, Nastan. If what they said is true, then the Tuikas are our true enemies. We don’t really need to fight among each other, not now.”

“Akuna is right,” said Joha with a nod. Before either Jokao or Nastan could say anything further, he continued, sitting back down on his throne now that everything was under control, “I believe we have told you everything there is to tell. You may rest in one of the many rooms within this fortress. Addis, we shall get you a new mask very soon. I’ll have one of our Matoran send one right up from our spare mask pile.”

“Thank you, Turaga,” said Addis, letting go of Nastan’s shoulder for a second to bow. “Come on, guys. We need our sleep if we’re going to be fighting the Tuikas soon, eh?”

“I agree,” said Barilo, who seemed to be quite relieved that the argument was over. “My back is sore; in fact, my entire body is sore and I can barely stay awake.”

“Good to hear that you agree, Addis, Barilo,” said Joha with a smile. “Igici, will you please escort them to the big room on the 12th floor?”

It took Akuna minute to figure out who “Igici” was until Death said, “Yes, sir.”

I suppose Death isn’t his real name, she thought. Must’ve just been a code name he used or something. Think I remember hearing about how some Dark Hunters use code names. I guess ‘Death’ was Igici’s code name.

“Igici will take you all to the biggest room on the 12th floor, as you already know,” Joha told the Toa Shika. “There should be about five or six beds for you all to sleep in. They may not be the most comfortable beds ever, but I hope you enjoy them anyway.”

“Thank you, Turaga,” said Addis again, with yet another bow. “We haven’t slept in real beds for a while now, so this should hopefully be nice.”

“Follow me, then,” said Death, who was walking toward the door, gesturing them to follow him. “I think the Matoran are already going to sleep, so the hallways shouldn’t be too crowded. Let’s go.”
 

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#47 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 04 2014 - 09:41 AM

Chapter 4: Discussions & Suspicions

 

It took them several minutes to reach the 12th floor, mostly because all of the Toa Shika were very tired and hurting, though they managed to make it anyway. By the time they made it all of the Toa were exhausted, even more than they had been before. Akuna felt just about ready to collapse as Death led them to the room at the very end of the stone hallway, near the stone staircase that led up to the top floor. He opened the door for them and stood back to let them enter.

Akuna’s first impression upon entering the room was that it was, indeed, large. The ceiling was very high above them, while the walls stood many feet apart. Evidently this place had been used as some kind of storage facility, for she noticed a bunch of spare tools, masks, armor, and other assorted things scattered about the floor, though they all looked broken or damaged in some way as to be totally useless.

And then her eyes landed upon five beds that sat in a corner, all alone, and she heaved a sigh of relief. True, the beds looked rather old and moldy and probably were not as comfortable as she thought they might be, but she was too tired to care.

I just want to rest, she thought as she and the other Toa Shika began walking over to the beds. Like, right now.

“We use this room for storing our broken or damaged tools, masks, armor, and anything else,” Death explained, still standing in the door way as he gestured at all of the garbage. “The Dark Hunters used it as a storage place, too, though they had put treasure and other things inside, since it was a fairly heavily guarded room before the Tuikas came.”

Nastan, who was already pulling one of the beds towards the middle of the room, asked with more than a hint of annoyance, “Is there any reason you’re telling us this or is it because you’re trying to bore us to death?”

He smirked, apparently amused by his own joke.

“I merely thought you would be curious about the place, so I decided to inform you of its previous and current uses,” said the Dark Hunter with a shrug. “That’s all.”

Addis, looking around with a little bit of a greedy expression on his face, asked, “Where is this treasure you spoke of, Death? You said the Hunters had stored some up here before. What happened to it?”

Akuna smiled to herself as she pulled her bed next to Nastan’s. Though now a Toa, Addis had been a thief as a Matoran and so still seemed to carry a vestige of the greed that came with the job, even now. But Akuna, too, was curious about what happened to the treasure, for surely they would not toss it all out, would they? If this room was heavily guarded, she thought as she glanced around the room, then throwing it all out like that seemed foolish unless it was absolutely necessary.

“Most of it was being transported off Shika Nui when the Tuikas attacked,” Death explained. “The Tuikas flew out to sea and sunk the ships, including the treasure. So right now it is all probably sitting at the bottom of the ocean where no one can get it . . . at the moment, anyway.” He paused, and then added, “I should be leaving now. You all need your rest and you cannot get it if I stand here and give you a history lesson. So good bye and good night, my friends. Hope to see you at the front lines soon.”

With that, Death left the room, closing the door behind him as he left. Akuna fell down onto her bed – which wasn’t very soft, but better than sleeping on the ground, at least – and was just about ready to sleep when she heard Nastan snort.

My friends . . . what a joke. A Dark Hunter, thinking of us as friends?” said Nastan disgustedly. “I’m not buying it. Nor do I believe Kigin or Oggak is trustworthy, either.”

“Well, what can we do about it?” asked Barilo with a yawn. Akuna looked up and saw he was lying on his bed, too, with some old blankets stretched out over his body. He seemed relaxed. “I mean, I don’t like them much, either, but as far as I can see, they have been helping protect the Matoran from these ‘Tuikas’ or whatever they’re called for the past few weeks and both Jokao and Joha seem to trust them. So I don’t know . . .”

“I agree with Nastan,” said Chimoy in a quiet voice. He was not lying on his bed; he was sitting up, looking at them all. “It was a Toa of Shadow that killed Nonzra . . . and now we have one, right in our midst. I don’t like it; it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

“Not to mention the Dark Hunters aren’t too friendly, either,” said Addis, who was sitting on his bed and rubbing his leg. “Ow . . . Dang leg won’t stop hurting . . .”

“Well, I think we should just let the Tuikas have the Dark Hunters and Oggak!” said Nastan, punching his old pillow with a lot more force than was necessary. “We can’t trust any of them.“

“That sounds a bit extreme, Nastan, even for Dark Hunters or Toa of Shadow,” said Barilo with a frown. “I mean according to the others, the six Tuikas slaughtered the vast majority of Dark Hunters and Matoran quickly, easily, and mercilessly. It would be just too cruel to hand them over to the Tuikas like that, in my opinion. However, I agree we can’t trust them, even if Jokao and Joha are convinced they’re trustworthy. How do we know they really are good? That’s what I want to know.”

“It isn’t a matter of whether they are ‘good,’ I think,” said Akuna, propped on her elbows. “What matters is if we can trust them. I don’t think we can, really.”

“It seems rather amazing that after we’ve been enslaved by Dark Hunters for 25,000 years, chased, attacked, and nearly killed by Toa of Shadow, that Joha and Jokao expect us to trust them!” Nastan said indignantly, shaking his head. “I mean, I respect Joha and all, but I think he’s going a little senile in his old age. After all, he’s spent the last 25,000 years warring against the Dark Hunters by himself, never giving up once. So I find it very hard to believe that he really, truly trusts them.”

“No one said he did,” said Chimoy with a hint of coldness in his voice. “Perhaps he really doesn’t trust them and only tolerates them because of the fact that they protect the Matoran. If so, then we shouldn’t trust them, either, I think.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” said Addis, who was now lying on his back with his covers over him. “If he doesn’t truly trust them, then I doubt we can, either.”

“Maybe the same goes for Oggak, too,” said Nastan, visibly seething in anger, lying down on his mattress. “I mean, I know she’s a Toa, but as we all learned in Wyoko, not all Toa are good, and the Shodios are the prime example. Maybe she’s just tricking them into believing she’s good; that would make sense, since the Shodios and Kra-Matoran were masters of deception and falsehood too.”

“Probably,” said Akuna as she snuggled up next to him. “But we can’t prove it. And it seems to me, at least, that we should try to work with them anyway. I know I don’t want to do it, and no one else does, but if you realize our current situation, fighting them rather than the Tuikas would be very stupid.”

“I guess . . .” Nastan grumbled as he put one arm around Akuna and pulled her close. Their beds were right next to each other, so making physical contact was easy. “Maybe you’re right, Akuna, as you usually are.”

Akuna smiled at him and said, “You’re right sometimes, too, you know.”

“Er, perhaps we should go to sleep now,” said Addis uncomfortably. Akuna wondered if he was feeling nervous at the way she was outwardly showing her affection for Nastan like this, though she found she didn’t care much. “I’m just too tired to talk any longer. Let’s get some rest, and maybe, if there’s time later, we can continue our discussion. Good night.”

“Good night,” the others said in unison.

Akuna fell asleep quickly, her head on Nastan’s chest and her arms around his body. She felt a little happier now, lying in Nastan’s arms like this, and felt slightly safer, too. She felt like she would be able to sleep well tonight at least, even though every bone in her body was aching badly.
 

-

 

Barilo was sleeping, but his mind seemed incapable of shutting down for the night. He kept replaying Nastan’s words over and over in his mind, “not all Toa are good,” again and again until he pretty much had them down pat. For some reason they kept grabbing at his conscience, even though he had no reason to feel guilty anymore, not after making peace with Nastan back in Wyoko.

A while ago, Barilo, in a fit of rage, had tried to kill Nastan but failed and as a result had been kicked off of the team for a while. Though the others eventually forgave him and allowed him to rejoin, Nastan hadn’t, and it was only until after Barilo saved his life in Wyoko that the Toa of The Green forgot all feelings of enmity and had rebuilt their friendship. So there was no real reason for Barilo to feel guilty about something he had done so long ago, not anymore, especially since Nastan wasn’t upset about it anymore.

That was why the words hit him the most, he thought as he rolled over in his bed. He had not been a ‘good’ Toa before. In fact, he had been very greedy and arrogant and cared little for the wellbeing of others. He was more Toa-like now – and for that he was thankful – but there was still a little voice in the back of his mind that kept reminding him about his mistake, no matter how hard he tried to stifle it.

You had nearly killed your friend, the voice said. Barilo imagined the voice belonging to some shadowy figure, standing high above him, pointing at him accusingly as though he, Barilo, were on trial. Sure he has forgiven you, but tell me, do you feel forgiven? Doubt it. Your conscience will gnaw at you for the rest of your life until you are finally driven to the point of suicide. Guilt can do that to a being, you know, especially a self-proclaimed ‘hero’ like yourself.

“No . . .” Barilo muttered, swatting at thin air as though an invisible bug was annoying him. “It’s not . . .”

Suddenly, he was flying through a white, empty space, so fast that he almost felt sick. He had no idea where he was, what he was doing, but he seemed to have a very specific destination in mind. He concluded he must be in a dream, which would explain why he also seemed incapable of speaking, try though he might.

He flew for a while, before his feet abruptly hit the floor. Now he felt disoriented. He had been sure he had been flying forwards, yet if he hit the ground that must have meant he had been flying backwards, even though that made no sense. He concluded yet again that, since he was in a dream, it didn’t have to make sense, though he still felt confused and disoriented just the same.

Where should I go? Barilo thought, looking around the vast empty space of white. He could see absolutely nothing for miles around in every direction. North, south, west, or east? Or some other direction entirely?

Suddenly, he felt another presence in his mind . . . a darker one, one that definitely did not belong to him. It was very familiar, yet at the same time, it made no sense for it to be there. He was dead, which was a fact; Barilo had seen the Dark Hunters killing him before he and the others left for Wyoko. There was no way he could still be alive, and moreover, inside the Toa of Gravity’s own mind. But the presence was unmistakable; it belonged to him, all right, and he seemed to be hiding somewhere in the darkest depths of Barilo’s mind. Barilo didn’t know why he hadn’t sensed him before, though he supposed his enemy must have been cloaking his presence from detection somehow.

“Makuta Hajax! Show yourself!” Barilo shouted, stamping his foot and glancing in every direction. “Show yourself, or I’ll-“

All of a sudden, a cloaked figure, floating cross legged in midair, appeared fifteen feet in front of Barilo. That cloak didn’t fool Barilo, though; he immediately knew it was Makuta Hajax, ex-Makuta of Shika Nui. How he was still alive, Barilo didn’t know, but he knew that this being that floated in front of him was not some mysterious entity of unknown origin. He was dangerous; a threat to not just Barilo, but to his friends and very possibly the universe itself, too.

“Or you’ll what?” asked the figure with a hint of sarcasm. “Kill me? Expel me from the confines of your mind? I think not. You do not have the power nor will to kill me, and trying to force me out will simply make it easier for me to take over.”

“So you are Hajax!” Barilo said, pointing at the cloaked figure. “Or are you just a figment of my imagination?”

The cloaked figure merely shrugged and his coat disappeared, revealing a hulking, blue and yellow armored figure with a long tail wrapped around his waist, looking almost bored at the Toa of Gravity. Barilo recognized that form as the one the Makuta had taken during the battle between the Dark Hunters and Hajax’s own forces, and it wasn’t any better than his previous form, either, Barilo thought.

“I am not of your imagination, Barilo,” said Hajax. “I am just as real as this place.” He looked around the dream world, and added, “Bad example. Perhaps it would penetrate that thick skull of yours if I tell you that I am as real as yourself. I am alive and well, Barilo, and ready to take a new body for myself.”

Barilo whipped out his gravity axe and got into a battle stance, eyes locked on Hajax, sensing a fight coming.

“I don’t believe you,” said Barilo, his axe never wavering. “We all saw you get slaughtered by the Dark Hunters. I doubt even your essence could have survived that, Makuta, since it looked pretty brutal from what I saw.”

“You are quite right about that, my annoying little Toa friend,” said Hajax, with a grin of triumph and superiority on his face. He leaned forward a little and whispered, almost too quietly for Barilo to hear, “I am dead.”

Barilo frowned. How could someone be both alive and dead? He figured Hajax must be playing mind games with him, but he wasn’t going to fall for it. He was smarter now; Hajax couldn’t fool him like he had in the past.

“Your trickery and mind games are pathetic, Hajax,” Barilo snapped, pointing at the Makuta with his axe. “You can’t be both alive and dead. You’re either alive, or you’re dead. No exceptions.”

Hajax chuckled. “Perhaps I should have been clearer, my friend. What I meant is that my original self is dead – and I am now born anew in the deepest, darkest corridors of your mind. Isn’t that amazing? Even I sometimes surprise myself with my own genius.”

“You were . . . born anew . . . in my mind?” said Barilo slowly, confused now. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Obviously, it means that I planted a part of my soul inside your mind, which bloomed when I ‘died,’” said Hajax, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. “You see, when I lived, I discovered ‘soul splitting,’ a technique that allows me to split my soul into as many parts as I see fit and to put any part wherever I want, whenever I want. I could put parts of my soul in physical objects, such as a stone . . . or inside the mind of another being. As you can see, I chose the latter and you will be my new host now. Isn’t that exciting?”

“Wait, you put yourself in my mind?” Barilo asked, temporarily forgetting to hold his axe up. He put his free hand on his head in wonder. “But how-“

“When we shared a mental connection, I knew that I had a high chance of possibly dying,” Hajax continued, as though Barilo hadn’t spoken at all. “I did not want to die, since I had cheated death once before. So I split my soul and put part of it deep in your mind, buried under your most forgotten memories. That way, you would not discover it before I needed you to otherwise your friend Addis could have easily extracted it with his now-destroyed Suletu.”

“Well, why haven’t you tried to attack me before?” asked Barilo, who had regained his battle stance. “I mean, there was that one time you visited me in Wyoko-“

“I was weak back then,” Hajax replied. “You see, I still needed time to grow, otherwise I have no doubt in my mind that you would have killed me fairly easily. But now that my original self is gone, I need to act. That is one of the unfortunate side effects of soul splitting: if the original soul dies, then the other pieces will, too, unless they activate beforehand and take over their hosts, which will give them enough energy to survive for as long as their host lives.”

“So let me get this straight,” said Barilo. He was telling himself to move, to strike Hajax now, while the Makuta was still distracted, but for some reason he couldn’t. Maybe it was part of the dream, or perhaps Hajax was doing it to him, he didn’t know for certain. “You split your soul, put part of it in my mind, and when your original self died you woke up and have been growing steadily more powerful ever since. Correct?”

“One hundred percent, my friend,” said Hajax, who was no longer floating; he was standing on his feet, his sword suddenly at his side. “But you will not live much longer to enjoy it, Barilo, because in order to claim your body I will have to kill your soul.”

One moment, Barilo had been standing upright; the next moment, he was sent flying and smashed into a stone wall that had appeared out of nowhere. He slid down it, dazed and hurting, and glanced up in time to see Hajax, moving faster than anything he had ever seen before, bearing down upon him, sword raised high above his head, perhaps unrealistically so, though because this was a dream he didn’t think about it much.

The Toa of Gravity hesitated for a split second before rolling out of the way of the sword, which split the wall behind him in half, causing the two halves to fall in opposite directions and smash into pieces, filling the air with dust that Barilo could barely see through.

But he could hear Hajax running towards him and knew that the dust must not be affecting the Makuta’s range of vision the way it affected his. So he raised his axe just in time to block a stunning blow from Hajax, which actually sent him falling through the floor. He landed with a thud in another white room and saw Hajax hurtling towards him. Barilo once again rolled out of the way and Hajax, moving too fast to stop, crashed headfirst into the ground so hard that he did not get back up. Nor did he move much, either.

Barilo, having rolled a significant distance away from Hajax for his own safety, got painfully back to his feet and looked around. He watched Hajax’s unmoving body tentatively. Had he died? Or was he simply stunned? Barilo didn’t know, but he doubted it was the first; Hajax was a Makuta and had survived much worse in the past than simply hitting his head on the ground too hard.

Yet he wasn’t moving at all. As far as Barilo could see, Hajax did not even move a finger, though he didn’t dare let his guard down. He knew just how tricky Makuta could be, and wasn’t about to relax just because Hajax wasn’t moving. It was almost too easy, in his opinion . . . far, far too easy.

Hajax faded out of existence so rapidly that Barilo barely had time to register what happened. An armored hand, with thick, long nails closed around the Toa of Gravity’s throat without warning and squeezed, causing him to flail his arms and legs madly, trying to hurt his attacker but failing miserably, for Hajax was holding Barilo well away from his body to avoid getting hit.

“Too easy,” Hajax said with a laugh. “You Toa are always like that, always letting your guard down just when you think you’ve won. How stereotypical you are, Barilo.”

Barilo would have corrected him, but since there was a hand tightly squeezing his throat he could not get out much other than some incomprehensible grunts of pain.

“Now, time to finish you, Barilo,” said Hajax. Barilo felt extremely weak at that moment, as though his very life was being sucked right out of his body. “Don’t panic, don’t protest. It’ll be all over in a few minutes, and when the deed is done, I shall be the new owner of your body, Barilo. Count on it."
 

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#48 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 05 2014 - 09:39 AM

Chapter 5: Possession


If what Hajax said was indeed true, then Barilo knew there was nothing he could do. Despite this, he was still flailing his arms and legs like a madman, struggling to free himself. He heard Hajax tut disapprovingly behind him.

“There’s no reason to prolong your death, Barilo,” the Makuta said without a hint of compassion in his voice. “Really, you’re just making things worse for yourself.”

Barilo’s mind ran through many different ideas and plans of escape, each one just as unlikely to work as the last. He had to agree with Hajax; it looked like he wasn’t strong enough to beat him after all. Despite everything he had been through, the Toa of Gravity was still not strong enough to defeat Hajax. And with that thought, he gave up all hopes of freeing himself and stopped flailing. There was no reason to continue; the Makuta had won.

With one final surge of power, Hajax tossed the weakened Barilo aside. Though not dead, the Toa of Gravity no longer posed a significant threat to him anymore. Hajax considered finishing him off, but decided against it. As appealing as it sounded, that was another side effect of the soul splitting process: The original soul had to stay alive, at least for a while, during the replacement period, otherwise Hajax would just end up killing himself in the process, since Barilo’s soul was still too tightly connected to the rest of the body to make killing the Toa immediately a wise decision.

So instead, he turned to face Barilo and said, “Be gone, pathetic Toa! Get out of my sight – now!”

Instantly the floor opened up beneath Barilo and sucked him inside. Within minutes Barilo’s limp form was gone, and Hajax smiled. He had done it; he now had a new body. He would be able to continue his legacy, to rebuild his forces and strike at his former brothers and sisters, who had all betrayed him many years ago.

Of course, he realized that he could not merely announce his presence to a room full of Toa immediately, weakened though they all may be. That would be suicide; he would first have to work alongside them for a while, and learn the truth about the Tuikas, something that the Toa of Shadow named Oggakia had apparently decided to keep a secret from the rest of them.

The Tuikas being creations of the Brotherhood was a laughably simple story, he thought, amused. Ever since the Great Cataclysm Toa and Matoran had begun making up lies and stories to make him and his race look bad. True, he did not think much of his former brothers and sisters anymore, but the story of the Tuikas’ creation was so stupid he wondered why the Toa Shika and the others hadn’t seen right through it immediately, as he had.

Then again, these are Toa and Toa are very gullible beings, he thought with a smirk. Besides, no one has offered an alternative explanation, so they don’t see any reason not to believe her. I knew lesser beings were stupid, but these people just fell to a brand new low of stupidity.

As he knew very well, the Tuikas were not creations of the Brotherhood; nothing like them had ever been created by the Makuta, last he checked. Of course, there could have been changes since the last time he had visited Destral, but he knew for certain that the Tuikas, at least, were not Brotherhood creations.

As a matter of fact, he did not know anything about the Tuikas, for the library of forbidden knowledge on Destral made no mention of them in any of its records, except for one very obscure, off-hand piece of text he remembered reading a while ago. The words suddenly appeared in his mind as clearly as though on a tele-screen like the kind found in the city of Metru Nui:

Among some of the strangest tales of this universe are those of the Tuikas. Of course, they are also the most mysterious and little - if anything - is known about them, save that they are supposed to be hidden underneath some faraway land. Their purpose is unknown, but it is clear that they are important to the universe in some way, shape, or form.

Now onto the legends of the southern lands . . .


That had been where the text had ended.

No wonder I didn’t remember it until now, Hajax thought, annoyed. It’s so vague to be almost unimportant. However, I know the Tuikas exist for real now; if they didn’t, then the Toa, Matoran, and Dark Hunters wouldn’t have had to relocate into the fortress. But what is the truth about them? Oggak must know, otherwise she wouldn’t have lied. And if she knows, then I will have to get that information out of her myself, though I do not know why she lied in the first place.

It was decided. Though at some point he would have to reveal himself to the Toa, take over Shika Nui, and wipe out the Tuikas and others who would stand in his way, he had to be patient. He did not want to act until he knew exactly what the Tuikas were, what they were doing (or thought they were doing), what they were capable of doing, what their purpose was, who put them there, and why. He would have to be subtle about it, but he was sure that, with his amazing skills of persuasion and cunning he would be guaranteed to get the information out of her soon.

Sometimes I love being myself more than I already do, Hajax thought with a smile. But I shouldn’t be celebrating too soon; it would make me overconfident and cocky, both of which are the pitfalls of cunning and persuasion, among other things.

So, slowly lapsing into unconsciousness, he decided that, however long it may take, he would learn the truth about the Tuikas, whether Oggak wanted to share it with him or not.
 

-


Jokao slammed the door to his room shut, seething, as he sat down on his makeshift bed. He looked around for something to smash, to relieve his anger, but there was nothing in this little room save for his bed (which he needed to sleep on), a small chest (which held his weapon and a few other objects he needed), and a lightstone embedded into the ceiling, which was the only source of light in here. So he merely punched his other hand with his fist and cursed under his breath.

Why would anyone think Oggak’s evil? he thought angrily, as he made a fire ball appear and disappear in his hand, merely to release his frustration and annoyance in a non-violent way. She’s never done anything bad to any of us. Those Shodios may have been evil, but just because they’re evil doesn’t make her evil, does it? She even betrayed them when she was a Matoran because she was disgusted by their evil ways! If that isn’t good, then what is?

He quite understood what the others had gone through; he thought that perhaps he would have had the same attitude as they had he experienced what they did. But it was still frustrating, since they hadn’t even asked him if she had done anything good. They could even ask any of the Matoran if they didn’t believe him, who would probably tell them about how she’s fought the Tuikas, saved many Matorans’ lives during many journeys across the island, and on more than one occasion saved Jokao’s own life. He could not see how any of that could be seen as ‘evil.’ Personally, he thought they were being paranoid.

Lying down on his bed, he thought, Maybe after they’ve got to know her better they’ll like her a bit more. They’ll learn she’s not evil, nor cruel, nor sadistic, nor any other negative words that you could use to describe someone. She’s good, and that’s that.

He heard a soft knock on the door just then and said, without sitting up, “Come in.”

The door opened and looking up he saw Oggak enter, looking a little concerned at him. Jokao wondered what she was here for, though he wasn’t very surprised by this visit. Since he and Oggak had been the only two Toa on Shika Nui for the past few weeks, they had grown close and were good friends. It was not unusual for either of them to come meet each other like this, and in fact Jokao often enjoyed these visits from her.

“Jokao, it’s your shift,” Oggak told him as she closed the door behind her. “Mine just ended a few minutes ago.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Jokao, sitting back up and looking at her. “I forgot. Sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Oggak, shaking her head. “I understand that what the Toa Shika said about me has been affecting you. You probably forgot it was your shift in your anger.”

“How’d you know that?” asked Jokao, amazed, as he leaned forward.

“You didn’t make much of an effort to hide punching Nastan earlier,” she replied as she sat down next to him. She was smiling slightly at him. “Nor did you try to conceal your defense of me, either.”

“Er, I guess I did overreact a bit,” said Jokao sheepishly, scratching the back of his head. “But I just don’t like what they were saying about you. All of it is untrue.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, shaking her head again. “I know that if my best friend had been killed by Toa of Shadow I probably wouldn’t trust them, either, but seeing as I am a Toa of Shadow, I suppose that’s kind of a moot point.”

“So none of what they say bothers you?” he inquired, getting up and walking over to his chest, intending to retrieve his weapon before taking on the night shift. “Nothing?”

“I won’t lie and say it doesn’t,” she admitted, watching as he held up his fire mace and closed his chest. “Because a lot of their words aren’t kind. However, I’m not going to worry about it. What they’ve been through has probably given them a bad mental picture of a Toa of Shadow – one that more resembles, say, Teivel than me – and it will likely be a long time before they will even think about trusting me. I won’t bother them about it and I don’t think you should, either.”

Jokao shook his head in amazement. “See, this is the reason they’re so wrong. If you were as bad as those Shodios, you wouldn’t be saying something as wise as that, in my opinion.”

“Thank you, Jokao,” said Oggak as she stood up and followed him to the door. “But I don’t want you punching Nastan or any of the others again, even if they do say bad things about me, okay?”

“Okay,” said Jokao with a nod, though he privately wondered if he would be able to resist, depending on how bad they talked about her. “See you later, then.”

“All right,” said Oggak, hugging him tightly before letting go. “Hope you survive.”

Jokao smiled grimly. Guard duty, especially at night, was always a tense and often dangerous job. One never knew if the monstrous Tuikas would be the last things you ever saw, if you even saw them coming from the shadows in the first place. Jokao knew many Matoran guards had been killed in past attacks without ever seeing more than a claw or a blast of energy before dying. Both he and Oggak knew the high stakes involved with the job, but it was necessary, otherwise Koro Nui would have fallen long ago and Shika Nui would have been totally leveled.

So the two Toa left the room and separated in the hallway, Oggak heading towards her room, Jokao towards the towers.

The halls were empty tonight. All of the Matoran were asleep in one room or another. Few Matoran had a room to call their own. They had to share, which often made living conditions dirty and crowded. However, there was no way to expand the fortress or relocate the villagers to the outside, both of which would simply allow the Tuikas the chance to kill more innocents, something they had been desperately trying to prevent these past few weeks.

Still, the Matoran were used to this by now. All of them knew where they had to sleep, for they had been sorted to make sure that no one room had significantly more Matoran than the others, and whenever he and Oggak brought new villagers back home with them after a rescue mission there was always more sorting and relocating. It used to take a long time back in the old days, when the Matoran were still new to it, and had been quite chaotic, too. But now it didn’t take nearly as long and was much more organized.

Jokao, personally, was looking forward to the day when the Tuikas would be vanquished, since that would mean the Matoran would be allowed to go and reclaim Shika Nui. It would, at last, be the property of the Matoran again, since it had been in the ownership of the Dark Hunters for the past 25,000 years or so. True freedom was so close, he thought, yet at the same time so far away.

But enough thinking about things that might come, he decided. He had to focus on the here and now, not the then and before, or the soon and coming. He knew all too easy what would happen if you did not pay attention when battling the Tuikas. You get killed, as he had seen happen to many unlucky Matoran over the past few weeks. He was determined that would not be his final fate.
 

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#49 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 06 2014 - 09:44 AM

Chapter 6: Assignments & Missions


Akuna woke up the next morning feeling much better than she had last night. Though she was still slightly hurting, her back ached less and her legs did not feel like lead anymore.

She also felt a little bit more cheerful, too. She didn’t know why, but perhaps it was because she had slept so well she was happier. It might also have had something to do with the fact she had slept on a real bed for the first time in a while.

Of course, she was still a little sleepy, and almost thought about sleeping in when Nastan softly nudged her and said, in a quiet voice, “Wake up, Akuna. Aren’t you hungry? They’ve given us breakfast.”

Despite the fact she was warm and comfortable where she was, she realized that she was extremely hungry now. She had forgotten that she hadn’t eaten a proper meal in a few days (or weeks, depending on who you asked) and opened her eyes slowly to see Nastan staring down at her.

“Good morning, Nastan,” she yawned, stretching her arms and legs a little as she did so. She raised her head a little and asked, “Where is breakfast?”

“Over there,” said Nastan, pointing in the direction of the door.

She glanced in the direction he was pointing and saw a small table had been put on the right side of the door, where Addis, Barilo, and Chimoy were currently sitting, eating and drinking without talking much. Lying down, curled underneath the blankets with Nastan, she could not tell what kind of food it might be, but she was so hungry that she thought she could’ve eaten whatever it was, even if it was just stale bread and dirty water.

Nastan got up and helped her out of bed. Akuna, with Nastan at her side, walked hungrily over to the table and sat down on one of two unoccupied chairs, the second one which Nastan took. She noticed that the food was indeed stale bread and dried up berries mostly, while the water in the jug looked surprisingly good, though it was not necessarily crystal clear. Still, she was quite hungry and began to absorb the energy from the food with one hand, while at the same time drinking her water a little too fast, causing her to choke a little.

Addis noticed this and said, “Hey, don’t drink too fast, Akuna. Don’t want to accidentally drown yourself, eh?”

Akuna, swallowing the rest of her water, looked sheepishly at Addis and said, “Sorry, I was just-“

She stopped midsentence when she realized that Addis looked different. At first, she could not place what was so different about him exactly, but then noticed that he was wearing a different mask. He no longer wore a hastily rebuilt Suletu; he now wore a gleaming red mask of a shape she could not place at the moment, which was slightly dented in some places, as though it had been handled roughly.

Evidently noticing the expression on her face, Addis pointed at his mask and said, “Like it? It’s a Tryna, Mask of Reanimation. It’s the only Great Mask that they could find in the Dark Hunters’ old loot, though they think there may be more hidden somewhere. Joha says one of his original teammates, Serixo, used to wear a Tryna and thinks it’s the same one, but he doesn’t know for sure, though he’s letting me keep it anyway. They brought it here this morning with the breakfast.”

“Cool,” said Nastan, who had finished taking a huge swig of water from his cup. “So what does it do?”

“I think it reanimates dead things,” said Addis with a shrug. “Not bring them back to life, per se; I just will them to live. Haven’t tried it out yet, but maybe I’ll get my chance soon, if the Tuikas are as bad as everyone says they are.”

“I hope you never do,” said Chimoy quietly, drawing the attention of the others towards himself. “Because you know what that would mean, if you ever got to use it . . .”

Akuna was at first puzzled by this statement, but then its implications sunk in quickly and abruptly. Horrified, she glanced at Addis, who seemed to have reached the same conclusion that she had, judging by his shocked face. Nastan looked confused, but Barilo, bizarrely enough, did not seem to have noticed what either Addis or Chimoy had said and was merely eating and drinking as though nothing had happened.

“That’s not what I meant, Chimoy,” said Addis, sounding slightly shaken. “You know I would never wish for that to happen. You’re right. I don’t ever want to use my Tryna. I shouldn’t have said that. Sorry.”

“What is there to apologize for?” asked Barilo unconcernedly. He was drinking rather strangely; it was almost as though he were not used to it, the way he was holding the cup, with water dribbling down his chin a little. “I see nothing wrong with wishing to test out a new mask. Personally,” he added, leaning back in his chair with a yawn as he put his cup back on the table, “watching reanimating bodies dancing would liven up this rather boring place.”

For a moment, there was nothing but stunned silence as they all looked at Barilo, who was still leaning back in his chair as though enjoying the way they were looking at him.

Then Addis said indignantly, “What the Karzahni are you talking about, Barilo?”

“Er, nothing, nothing,” said Barilo suddenly, changing his expression from one of smugness to that of fear, so quickly that Akuna almost missed it. “I was just . . . joking. Yes. That was all. Just having a laugh, though I suppose the joke wasn’t the most appropriate for this situation, was it?”

“You bet it wasn’t,” said Chimoy. “Why would anyone want to seriously see dancing corpses? It’s morbid and disgusting.”

Akuna was taken aback by the way Chimoy was acting. He was usually very quiet and reserved and rarely spoke up except when necessary. To see him speaking as loudly as he was now, and with as much emotion in his voice, was rather unsettling to her.

Maybe Nonzra’s death hit him harder than he would like to admit, she thought. He was always closest to him, after all.

“I agree, Chimoy,” said Barilo, who now looked unconcerned again. “But must we worry about the past and the dead? There is no reason to when we have our own present to worry about. The dead can worry about themselves; we can only worry about ourselves. So relax, and take life easy for a change, my friend.”

Chimoy looked like he did not know what to say, so he merely shook his head, muttering darkly under his breath, and continued eating. Barilo merely smiled in a strangely satisfied way and continued his breakfast, too.

“So,” said Addis, who was clearly relieved to see that the encounter was over, looking from one Toa to the other. “I don’t know what we’re going to be doing today. I think Jokao or one of the others will probably come up here and tell us what to do. Or we could just go down and talk to them ourselves. I don’t know. Depends on how everything works around here, I guess.”

“So long as it isn’t one of the Dark Hunters or Oggak, I’ll listen,” said Nastan.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Barilo. “I wouldn’t mind it if Oggak came up here. I would like to . . . get to know her better, if you know what I mean.”

“No,” said Akuna, feeling rather uncomfortable as she watched Barilo crush a dead berry in his hand and toss it away. “I’m not sure if I want to know.”

“Of course, I did not mean anything inappropriate by what I said,” Barilo continued. “If we are going to be working alongside her, we might as well become . . . allies, should we not?”

“Barilo, you must be insane,” Nastan said, staring at him in disbelief. “She’s a Toa of Shadow! I would rather die than become friends with her.”

“I never said become friends with her,” Barilo snapped, looking angrily at Nastan. “I just think that we should not act extremely hostile towards her. We are all Toa here, aren’t we? So maybe we should give her a chance, if you will.”

“I’m not following you, Barilo,” said Nastan, shaking his head. “You’re saying we should give a Toa of Shadow a ‘chance’? Don’t you remember what the Shodios tried to do to us? What they did to Nonzra?”

“I do indeed,” Barilo said, more calmly now. “But if you don’t want to know her, then I will. I am just more open-minded than you are, I guess.”

“Open-minded or foolish?” countered Nastan. “I can’t tell the difference at the moment, to be honest.”

Before Barilo could respond, there was a quick knock at the door and Addis, sitting closest to it, said, “Come in.”

The door opened almost before he had finished speaking and a small Ce-Matoran entered, looking a little nervous. She wore pale gold and blue armor, with some other pieces of armor in different colors slapped on in various places, which made her look as though she had splattered many colors of paint all over herself without much thought to aesthetics.

“Hello,” said the Ce-Matoran with a quick bow at the five Toa, who were now all looking at her. “M-my name is Reesha, the Chronicler of Koro Nui. I have been sent to deliver orders to the Toa Shika.”

“Well, hello, Reesha,” said Addis as he turned in his chair to face her. “What, er, did you just say?”

Reesha took a deep breath and said, “Orders. Turaga Joha has sent me here to give you your assignments. Joha says that now that you are here you will have to help defend Koro Nui like everyone else.”

“Well, obviously,” said Barilo, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “There’s a surprise.”

Reesha seemed taken aback by Barilo’s attitude, but Nastan told her, “Don’t mind him. He’s been acting weird lately.”

“Uh, okay,” said Reesha, though she was still staring at Barilo warily. “Right. Well, Turaga Joha has told me to tell you that some of you will stay here to protect Koro Nui and that the rest of you will be sent on an expedition around the island to search for any survivors of the Tuikas’ attacks.”

“Which of us will do what job?” asked Addis curiously.

“Um,” said Reesha, pulling two tablets out of her bag and looking at them. “Toa Addis, Toa Nastan, Toa Akuna, and Toa Chimoy will assist in protecting Koro Nui, while Toa Barilo will be going on an expedition with Toa Jokao and Toa Oggakia later today.”

“Is that all?” asked Addis.

“Yes,” she said, bowing. “Er, I’ll be leaving now, since that’s all I . . . all I have to say. Good bye.”

Reesha then turned around and left, though she was still looking at them over her shoulder as she went. Akuna wondered why Reesha was staring at them like that, before remembering that the Matoran of Koro Nui had only ever known two Toa, Jokao and Oggak, and so were not used to seeing five other Toa living in their village with them like this.

“Why is Barilo getting to go on an expedition?” Nastan said, snapping Akuna out of her thoughts. “Not that I want to go with that piece of shadow spit, but I don’t really want to be locked up here all day, either.”

“I don’t know,” said Addis with a shrug. “Maybe Joha thinks he can help somehow.”

“Well, I see no reason to complain,” said Barilo with an odd grin on his face. “If this means I can speak to Oggak privately, then I will merrily go along.”

“Right,” said Akuna, casting the Toa of Gravity a wary look similar to the one Reesha had worn earlier. “Well, guard duty sounds a little bit safer, in my opinion, and after all the danger we’ve been through, I’m not sure if I want to openly expose myself to the enemy like that.”

“Probably necessary, though,” said Addis as he finished his breakfast. “There may still be some Matoran out there who need help. If so, they need to be saved, and who better to do it than Toa heroes, who are supposed to protect and keep them safe in the first place?”

“Besides,” said Barilo, rubbing his hands together rather eagerly. “I can easily crush the Tuikas – literally.”

“What-?” Nastan said, before the door flung open again and Jokao entered without, looking a little tired as he approached them.

“Good morning,” said Jokao, rather drowsily, to the five Toa Shika, who all stood up immediately and greeted him in return. He then shook his head and continued in a much more brisk voice, “The only reason we let you sleep in late like this is because you guys obviously needed the rest. But now that you’ve finished your breakfast, time to do your jobs. I assume Reesha has already filled you in?”

“Yes, she has,” said Addis, nodding. “So Barilo goes with you and Oggak, while I and the others stay behind to protect the village from any Tuikas attacks?”

“Right,” Jokao confirmed. “You’re supposed to start your shift now. And Barilo, we’re leaving soon, so get your weapons and armor ready.”

“You’re . . . right,” said Barilo through gritted teeth. It was almost like he didn’t like to admit that Jokao was right, despite the fact that Barilo had never shown such reluctance before. He pulled out his axe and eyeing it with disgust added, “I’ve never been much of a fan of axes anyway. Er, I mean,” he said hurriedly, upon spotting the questioning look on Akuna’s face, “my axe is getting old, you know. It may be time for a new weapon. Perhaps a sword would do, like our dear old friend Nonzra had.”

“Perhaps,” said Jokao, nodding, though Akuna noticed he had a slightly confused look on his face. “A new weapon might help better you than your old damaged one. Come on, then,” he added, turning around in the doorway, “we’re late. Also, I’ll be showing you guys where you’re supposed to be and what you are supposed to do if you spot any of the Tuikas coming.”
 

-


The Toa Shika were separated and put in the four towers that extended from the fortress’ main body. Akuna was placed in North Tower, Nastan in South Tower, Addis in West Tower, and Chimoy in East Tower, while Barilo and Jokao left to go meet Oggak on the ground level, in the courtyard.

Before leaving, Jokao had told all of the Toa what they were supposed to do in case of a Tuikas attack. If they saw any Tuikas coming or any sign of them, they would have to raise the alarm immediately and without hesitation. According to Jokao, those precious few seconds when the Tuikas were still out of range of the fortress could mean all the difference in everyone living or dying, since all of the Matoran knew what the alarm meant by now and knew exactly where to hide in case of an attack. Other things they had to do were attack the Tuikas with whatever they got and to make sure that no one got hurt badly, though that last one, Jokao had told them, was nearly impossible to pull off and told them not to worry too much if someone did get badly hurt, because that was to be expected if you fought the Tuikas. He had said nothing about what to do if someone was killed, which worried Akuna a little. Perhaps he figured that they would react the same way as someone getting badly injured, but she wasn’t so sure since she had never dealt with allies dying in battle like Jokao might have. Well, except for Nonzra, obviously. She still didn’t know how she would react to it, however, which was what worried her most. She didn’t want to be distracted by someone’s death and get herself killed because she wasn’t paying attention to her opponent’s moves.

So Akuna now sat in the highest room in the North Tower, with two other Matoran guardsmen who carried swords and shields that were slightly too big for them. Huge Cordak blasters were mounted on the windows, aiming towards the sky, which was where the Tuikas always came from, according to one of the Matoran guardsman she was stationed with.

The tower itself looked as though it had seen a few battles during the past few weeks. Large chunks of the walls, ceiling, and even the floor had been hastily repaired with various bits of metal and stone that were surprisingly firm, though Akuna was still worried that the floor could fall in underneath them if it was hit hard in the right spot.

There wasn’t much in here, either. Aside from some stools, the aforementioned Cordak blasters, and some light stones for when it got dark, there really wasn’t any kind of furniture or decorations. Akuna assumed that was because, if they had a lot of furniture up here and the Tuikas attacked, that would mean a lot more unnecessary cleanup work for them. And there wasn’t a whole lot of room for anything else anyway.

Her fellow guardsmen were two Matoran. One was Dusa, a Ta-Matoran who acted a little bit like Nastan, though slightly more serious. The other was an Et-Matoran named Ferha, who was more like Chimoy, in Akuna’s mind: quiet, rarely speaking except when necessary, but a reliable person all around.

“What is it like when the Tuikas attack?” asked Akuna as she examined her staff, which was a little bent near the top. She wondered if it would affect her fighting style much. She hoped not.

“Death and chaos reign,” Ferha replied, manning one of the Cordak blasters. She was not looking at Akuna; instead, she had her eyes focused entirely upon the sky. Akuna understood that Ferha was one of the best gunners in Koro Nui and therefore never took her eyes away from the sky for even a moment if she was at work, just in case the Tuikas were hiding somewhere in the clouds overhead. “Things get smashed and people die or get hurt badly. It’s not pretty.”

“She’s summed it up pretty well, in my opinion,” said Dusa, running one finger along his sword’s edge. “There is really nothing more to add except that if you survive, you usually feel extremely guilty about being a survivor. You have lots of questions; like, why did I survive? Why did everyone else die? Stuff like that. You usually forget about them, though, when the next attack comes ‘round and you need to have your wits about you to just survive. Have you ever felt that way, Toa Akuna?” He asked that without looking at her. He seemed unused to the Toa of Lightning, which was probably the case, since he hadn’t known any other Toa besides Oggak and Jokao before the Toa Shika.

She considered his question. She had never really felt that way before, since no one she knew or had been close to her had ever died while she survived. But then her thoughts drifted towards Nonzra. He had died and she had survived. She had never thought about why she or the others had lived while Nonzra had died back there. Nor would she have time to worry about it. She had plenty of other things to think about at the moment; no need to worry about why she was the survivor, since she didn’t know why and doubted she ever would, though she did miss Nonzra quite a bit.

“I’ve never really felt that way before,” she said slowly. “I mean, Nonzra’s died and I survived, but I’ve never really questioned myself about it, even now.”

“Well, good,” said Dusa, who was now done with his sword and was also looking out the window with Ferha. “That means you can focus on something else, like the Tuikas, for example.”

“Uh, right,” Akuna said, though she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. “Well, how long have you been a guard, then?”

“Ever since we first took this place as our home,” Dusa replied. “Fortunately I’ve survived every attack, but that doesn’t mean I’ll always survive. Some day – maybe even today – I’ll be too slow or make a wrong move and bam,” he punctuated this by slamming his fist into his other hand, “I’m dead.”

Akuna was amazed by Dusa. Despite being a Matoran, he was already displaying the attitude of a Toa, or how a Toa should act, anyway.

Guess these Matoran have had to learn to be strong to survive, she thought, now glancing out the window with the other two. They’ve already accepted death as part of their life. Dusa, at least, doesn’t seem horrified or even slightly frightened at the prospect of death. Then again, these Matoran have been through the cruel enslavement of the Dark Hunters and the wrath of the Tuikas. Perhaps they learned to be strong a long time before I even noticed.

Her staff leaning on her shoulder, she decided not to think about it at the moment. If what Dusa said was true, then she would need to keep all of her attention focused completely on the sky, where the Tuikas were likely to strike from. She didn’t want to die like a fool, unaware of her surroundings, allowing a much cleverer enemy to strike her down when she least expected it. That would be stupid, especially considering all she’d recently been through.
 

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#50 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 07 2014 - 09:38 AM

Chapter 7: A Familiar Place


Hajax stumbled over some rocks and cursed. He was still adjusting to his new body, which reminded him there were some things that even a Makuta had a difficult time relearning. His arms ached, his legs were tired already, and he needed to stop for breath, though Jokao and Oggak, who were already well-ahead of him, did not seem to have noticed and were continuing without slowing down to even let him catch up with them.

I had forgotten what it’s like to need to do things like rest, Hajax thought as he continued walking, rubbing his aching thighs. Or how to drink, or sleep, or, indeed, do anything the average biomechanical beings needs to do every day. A necessary evil, I suppose, for the chance to have a body again, however frail and weak it may be.

They were currently at the western end of the island, which was rocky, with thin gray clouds floating above them. Hajax knew this region well; he had used it to hide many ex-Brotherhood minions in the old days before launching a full-fledged attack on the Dark Hunters. It wasn’t exactly this spot, of course, but it had been near here in a hidden cavern where he had kept his soldiers. Whether the Tuikas had destroyed it yet, he did not know, but hoped they didn’t. Perhaps some of his old minions had taken refuge around here, though he doubted that they were waiting for him, since he was still technically supposed to be dead.

Up ahead, Jokao and Oggak had stopped to survey the hillside, while Hajax struggled to climb the steep incline. If he had been inside his normal body, he thought angrily, this would have been no problem whatsoever. But since he was so unused to having a normal physical body, just walking was sometimes torture. Still, he had to ignore it for now. So long as nobody noticed that Barilo was acting strange, his true identity was perfectly safe.

“Do you see any Matoran, Oggak?” asked Jokao as Hajax approached, now quite out of breath. “’Cause I don’t.”

“No, I don’t, either,” she said, shaking her head. “But we should keep looking. They may be hiding somewhere.”

“What . . . makes you think . . . there are any Matoran still alive besides the few in Koro Nui?” asked Hajax in between gasps for air, unable to keep the fatigue out of his voice. “I doubt the Tuikas . . . would leave any of them alive . . .”

Jokao nodded grimly. “A lot of the time we’re unsuccessful, especially in recent days. We keep searching and never find more than about a dozen or so at a time, and sometimes not even that much. The bigger problem is transporting all of them to Koro Nui without the Tuikas killing them first. But there’s still that hope that some are still alive, and that hope is what keeps us going even in the darkest hours of the night.”

While Jokao looked away, Hajax rolled his eyes. More Toa naivety. . . . He could not wait until the time came to stop pretending to be Barilo, which he thought he was doing a rather poor job at, though no one said anything to him about it. Once that time came, he would rid the world of Toa. They were pointless; but perhaps not totally pointless, he thought as he eyed Oggak, who was pointing down the slope towards some unknown destination.

“Maybe we should look in that cavern,” she was saying to Jokao. “It looks safe, so maybe the Matoran decided to hide in it.”

“Worth a try,” said Jokao with a shrug. “Barilo?”

“Yes?” said Hajax, quickly adjusting his face to look curious, rather than annoyed. “What is it?”

“Oggak thinks there’s a place the Matoran could have hidden in,” said Jokao, pointing in the same direction as the Toa of Shadow. “Down there, near the sea. Looks a little dangerous, though, but if there are any Matoran in there they are probably safe.”

Hajax got onto the same level as the other two and looked at where they were pointing. He stifled a gasp; it was the cave he had used before, except it looked slightly more flooded now and someone – perhaps some Matoran, perhaps some of his old minions, or maybe someone else – had evidently tried to build a blockade at the exit with a waist high pile of rocks, which were in danger of being knocked over by the violent waves that beat against them.

“Ah, yes, that place . . .” said Hajax without thinking. “I remember it well . . .”

“What was that?” asked Jokao curiously.

“Er, I mean,” said Hajax hastily. “I remember it well from my days as a . . . as a Matoran! Yes, that’s where I remember it from. Ah, yes, my friends and I used to hide our treasure in there all the time. Those were the good old days . . .” He grinned unnaturally at the Toa of Fire, who tilted his head in confusion, then shrugged and began climbing down the slope with Oggak, who was already a few feet below them.

Too close, Hajax thought as he began climbing down with them. Almost gave myself away. Got to be more careful from now on, I should, though I can’t go making up memories forever, since someone is bound to contradict me at some point.

The cold wind blew against Hajax’s face, causing him to shiver. Cold was something else he was not used to. Another sacrifice, though he still didn’t like it. He would never understand how the Toa and others managed to live with these kinds of physical limitations and pain. He supposed they just ignored it most of the time, but he wondered how they could ignore it for so long like this without complaining even slightly.

Perhaps they’re stronger than they looked, Hajax thought. He slipped a little and nearly fell, but managed to hold on. He cursed. I guess that raises them in my eyes . . . a little, maybe. Not much, if at all.

After some minutes of climbing and unsteady walking, the ground began to level out and they were now walking towards the shore. Hajax glanced nondescriptly at the sand ahead; no footprints or tracks, though considering the fact that the tide was in, any tracks or footprints that might have been there had probably been washed away now. That was good; he didn’t want Jokao and Oggak to think there may be some unfriendly strangers inside there and make them want to turn back.

“We’re going to have to wade,” said Oggak, pointing at the water, which looked even colder than the wind, Hajax thought. “There’s no other way in.”

Jokao groaned, and Hajax privately wanted to do the same. “You sure, Oggak? We can’t just find another way in?”

“As far as I can see, the only way in is through the cavern mouth,” she replied. “There’s no other way.”

“Okay,” said Jokao reluctantly. “Let’s go, then.”

Oggak took the first step into the water, but did not seem to shiver at all. Perhaps the water wasn’t as cold as Hajax thought, but then, when Jokao stepped into it, he cursed under his breath and shook fast, which confirmed the Makuta’s worst fears.

“Stupid cold water,” Jokao muttered as he waded over to Oggak. “Why does it have to be cold?”

Oggak laughed playfully. “You’re not afraid to take on all six of the Tuikas with a broken knife, but you’re afraid of getting cold and wet?”

“Whatever,” Jokao said, disgruntled. He shivered and turned to look at Hajax, who had yet to join them. “What’re you waiting for? You weren’t put on this mission just to stand around and look stupid, you know!”

Hajax’s anger burned deep inside him. So he looked stupid, did he? He wanted to lash out at the Toa of Fire, attack him, tell him off for daring to insult a Makuta. But he managed to hold it all back. It would simply get him into trouble, and trouble was the last thing he wanted, at least at the moment.

“Er, coming,” said Hajax awkwardly as he waded in after them and violently shivered. Jokao was right; the water was cold, but he didn’t complain about it as he drew closer to the two. He did not want to display weakness in front of them.

Once Hajax had joined them, Oggak lead them towards the cavern, which looked a lot smaller than Hajax remembered it being. Oggak kicked aside the makeshift wall as they walked, which fell apart quite easily. Hajax was disappointed at that. If his minions really had built that wall, then they had done a lousy job of it. Must be Matoran, then, he decided.

The tunnel itself was dark, though Hajax did not care. He loved the dark and could see quite easily, even with Barilo’s weak eyes, but they were still knee-deep in the cold water, which made it much less enjoyable than he would have liked. But the thought of the sandbank up ahead, where they could get onto dry land, kept him wading with Jokao and Oggak all the way.

“I’ve never been in here before,” Jokao remarked. A sudden flash of light startled Hajax, causing the Makuta to fall backwards into the water with a splash. He looked around and saw, with a jolt of anger, that Jokao had conjured flames in his hand so that he could see his surroundings easier.

“Barilo, are you okay?” asked Oggak, stopping and looking down at him with a slightly worried expression on her face. “Did something startle you?”

“If Jokao would have warned me about what he was going to do before he did it, I wouldn’t have fallen in,” said Hajax, glaring at the Toa of Fire as he rose to his feet, now visibly shivering as he wrapped his arms around himself to keep in the little warmth his body still had left.

“Sorry,” said Jokao. “Has being in Wyoko for all of these weeks made you forgotten what real light looks like?”

“No,” said Hajax angrily, pushing his way past Jokao to continue. “I know full well what real light looks like. Yours is just too bright. Douse it with this water or something.”

“It isn’t that bright,” Jokao muttered.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Oggak as she caught up with Hajax. “We’ve got to keep going. If there’s only this cold water in here, the Matoran might be freezing to death.”

What a tragic loss that would be, Hajax thought, though he kept these thoughts to himself.

They walked for a long time, occasionally stopping to examine part of a sword or a piece of armor sticking out of the water. Although Jokao and Oggak were puzzled by the smashed armor pieces and broken weapons they found, Hajax was not, though he pretended to be. He recognized them as belonging to his minions, though they seemed to be fairly old, which gave him hope that perhaps some were still alive deep within this cavern.

“Hello?” Jokao called down the tunnel. “Anyone down there?”

His call echoed off the walls, but there was no answer. Jokao looked discouraged, but Hajax was not. He had specifically trained his minions to never answer the calls of anyone but himself. Since none of them had leapt out of the darkness at them, he figured their training had paid off.

After walking for a few more minutes, Jokao stopped and said, “You know what? It doesn’t seem like there are any Matoran here, or even any Dark Hunters that might have survived the slaughter. Perhaps we should head home.”

“There’s still some ways to go, though,” said Hajax, who had not stopped. “Just up ahead, there should be a sandbank we can get on. I’m sick of this water already.”

“Okay,” said Jokao as he continued walking, though he sounded like he still wanted to go back.

Their shadows danced along the walls from the light of Jokao’s flames and in less than a minute they reached the sandbank Hajax had spoken of. They quickly walked onto it. Hajax then immediately glanced around, but saw no sign of his minions. He was crestfallen; this would make taking over Shika Nui that much more difficult a task than it already was.

“What’s that?” asked Jokao, pointing into the darkness. “Looks like armor . . .”

“It’s an Exo-Toa,” said Oggak as they approached it, “though badly damaged. Don’t think it works anymore.”

She was right. Slumped against the stone wall was the metallic suit of armor known as an Exo-Toa. It was, just like she had said, damaged; its chest had apparently been ripped open and one leg was totally smashed. Its lifeless red eyes flared in the light of Jokao’s flames, but it was definitely not in any working condition anymore. Hajax didn’t particularly care; he never liked Exo-Toa in the first place, so he didn’t see this as much of a loss, though he did wonder who or what had done that to the armor in the first place.

“Where’d this Exo-Toa come from?” asked Jokao with frown. He turned to Hajax and asked, “Barilo, did you and the others put this Exo-Toa here? You said you used to use this place to hide your treasure, after all.”

“I did?” asked Hajax, confused, before hastily correcting himself, “Oh, yes, I did tell you that didn’t I? But we didn’t get to use it for long; the Dark Hunters discovered it and scared us away. I believe they used it to store destroyed Brotherhood weapons, armor, and sometimes minions, though I don’t think they ever found our treasure.”

“I see,” said Jokao, nodding. “That explains the bits and pieces of armor we’ve been seeing here.”

There was sudden movement up ahead, catching their attention immediately. Oggak pulled out a long sword and stood up straight, her eyes squinting into the darkness, while Jokao whipped out his flail and swung it a few times. Hajax unlimbered his new spear. Before leaving the village, Hajax had replaced his old axe with this new spear, which apparently had been highly prized by the Dark Hunters before the Tuikas arrived. The spear was supposed to be a “mind harvester,” meaning it could take the thoughts of its user and transform them into pure energy, though at the cost of sometimes making the user a little dazed or confused for a few minutes after use.

“Who’s in there?” asked Jokao. “Oggak, what do you see?”

Oggak, being a Toa of Shadow, could see in the darkness better than Jokao, and answered, “I can’t tell, Jokao. Even with my night vision it’s- Ah!”

A bolt of darkness struck the ground in front of Oggak, who stumbled back in shock. Then a blast of heat vision nearly hit Jokao’s head (A shame it missed, Hajax thought), and Hajax dodged a Rhotuka spinner that melted the area he had been standing on earlier, now angry at nearly having his feet melted off.

Three beings – two tall, humanoid ones, and a small, spider-like one – leapt out of the darkness, hissing and growling at the three warriors. Hajax recognized them immediately; the first one was a Rahkshi of Darkness in black-red armor, the second a heat-vision Rahkshi (recognizable by its distinctive yellow armor), and the third a green Visorak Keelerak. All three of them looked crazed; the Keelerak was snapping its pincers hungrily, while the two Rahkshi took aim with their staffs.

Well, I’ve found some of my old minions, Hajax thought as he took a step back in surprise. But they don’t quite seem to recognize me, unfortunately.

Darkness, heat vision, and an acid Rhotuka spinner went flying towards them, but they managed to jump out of the way of the combined attack just in time. All three projectiles hit the spot where the party had been standing, which created an explosion that rocked the floor

Jokao’s flames had gone out now, plunging the cavern into total darkness. This was no problem for Hajax and Oggak, who could see very well in the shadows, but Jokao was not used to it – which would probably lead to his death, Hajax knew, unless the Toa of Fire was very good at improvising. This thought did not make him sad at all.

The heat-vision Rahkshi tried blasting the Makuta, but he easily deflected it with his spear, which he swung into the Rahkshi’s face. The Rahkshi stumbled, stunned by the blow, which gave Hajax the opportunity to send a mental note to the armored slug via telepathy. He did not want to fight and possibly kill his own minions when they could be of use to him in the future.

It is me who you and your allies are fighting, pathetic Rahkshi! he shouted in the Rahkshi’s mind. I am your master, Makuta Hajax, though in a different body than you might remember. If you dare fight me further, I shall personally see to your immediate demise. Understood?

The Rahkshi, incapable of verbal communication though it might be, could quite clearly understand its master. It bowed humbly, but he scolded it via telepathy at once.

Don’t bow now! Hajax snapped, looking around to make sure that Jokao and Oggak were too busy fighting to notice that him and the Rahkshi were not fighting. Hear this order; I want you and the other two to leave now. Abandon this fight and I promise that you shall live to see another dark day on Shika Nui. In due time I will call you to rejoin me, but for now, I want you to find refuge elsewhere. Understood?

The Rahkshi stood up immediately, and, without giving even the slightest hint that it had heard its master’s orders, tore off into the darkness past him. Based on the sounds of more metallic feet clanking against stone and dirt, the other Rahkshi and the Keelerak were leaving, too. He felt relieved; he now had three of his old minions back under his control, though it would probably be a long time before he would call them again, he knew. He hoped they would lay low for a while, just so they wouldn’t end up getting themselves killed before he needed them.

“Hey, where’re they going?” Jokao shouted in confusion, from somewhere within the darkness. “Why’re they just running away like that?”

“I don’t know,” Oggak answered, who was standing a few feet away from where Hajax stood and looked just as confused as Jokao sounded. “I really don’t know.”

“Obviously,” said Hajax, walking over to her as Jokao joined them. “They realized that they would not survive an encounter with the three of us – most especially, me – so they took the wise option and ran for it. What we really should be worrying about,” he added, on a spur of the moment, “is that they don’t attack Koro Nui. Wouldn’t it be just simply tragic if dozens of Matoran died just because of our carelessness?”

“I doubt two Rahkshi and a Visorak could give the others that much trouble,” said Jokao, shaking his head. A ball of flames ignited in the Toa of Fire’s hand, illuminating his puzzled, tired-looking face. “But the Tuikas . . . it’s them I’m most worried about. I always get this worried whenever we leave the fortress, even though there are more defenders now.”

“I know what you mean,” said Oggak. “The Tuikas are easily more than capable of demolishing Koro Nui if they want to. But this job is important: No Matoran should be left behind, especially if we can do something about it. It’s something we got to do, no matter how many times we may fail.” She looked around, and added, “Perhaps this would be the best time to go back. I doubt there are any more friendly beings in here. If those Rahkshi and that Visorak were hanging around, I doubt that any Matoran would risk trying to live in this place.”

“Guess you have a point,” said Jokao with a shrug. “Although I must say that I am amazed that those two Rahkshi and the Visorak managed to survive so long, considering the fact that many more better trained Dark Hunters went down extremely fast.”

“Maybe the Tuikas didn’t think they were worth destroying,” Hajax suggested. “Anyway, I do agree with Oggak: It would be best if we head back to Koro Nui. We’ve been gone long enough; the others might, ah, ‘miss’ us. Or at least me, anyway.” He looked at Oggak as he said that. He had no doubt in his mind that none of the Toa Shika would shed even a tear for Oggak if she died on this mission.

“Well, I’m sure the Matoran at least will be wondering where we are,” said Jokao reasonably. “We have been gone pretty long, though. We ought to return.”

So, with one last look down the tunnel, the party of three turned away and began walking towards the exit, Hajax secretly making plans to have his minions strike Koro Nui later on, once he felt safe enough to reveal himself to the others. He wondered for a moment how strong the Tuikas really were, but decided that the Toa were probably overestimating them. Though he did not plan to underestimate them – a flaw that he, unlike Makuta Teridax, did not possess – he did not think the Tuikas could stand even five minutes in a fight against a Makuta such as himself. Of that, he was certain.
 

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#51 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 08 2014 - 09:38 AM

Chapter 8: Only One Way to Go


There was only one word that Nastan could have used to describe guard duty at the moment: Boring. Boring, boring, boring, and even more boring. All he did was sit around with two Ko-Matoran (who did not seem to be very interested in talking to him) and watch the sky all day, which he realized, for the first time in his life, was probably the most boring thing in the entire universe. All that he ever saw in the sky was clouds, the sun, and maybe some birds – that was it. No Tuikas or anything else like that.

Why did they have to put us all in separate towers? Nastan thought, glancing out one of the windows, which was aimed at North Tower, where Akuna was stationed. Why couldn’t they put me and Akuna in the same tower? It would be a lot more fun and less boring if we were together. Besides, we’ve never had much time alone together ever since we got back from Wyoko. Maybe Oggak just doesn’t want us to plot behind her back while she’s away, which would make sense, since she is a Toa of Shadow after all. They love to plot against others but hate it when others plot against them.

Nastan knew how his prejudice came across to Jokao, Joha, and anyone else who was convinced of Oggak’s innocence, but he didn’t care. He had seen what Toa of Shadow were capable of doing – and he had literally experienced some of it himself, back when he had briefly been a Toa of Shadow. That had been a dark time, and according to his friends he had been extremely menacing and cruel. After that, he was unconvinced that anyone who associated with the shadows could be even slightly good. He stuck firmly to that opinion and was not going to allow anyone to change it, not even Joha, whom he admired greatly.

I’m glad the others agree, but I just wish that Joha and Jokao would see the light, at least, Nastan thought, toying absentmindedly with his bow and arrows. I mean, they have a Toa of Shadow and Dark Hunters working with them! I mean, what the heck is up with that?

He especially didn’t know what Joha was thinking. Joha had been the worst enemy of the Dark Hunters of Shika Nui for over 25,000 years. Nastan expected he would be vehemently against allying with any Hunters, even if it was for the greater good. Yet Joha was compromising the Toa’s code (at least in Nastan’s opinion) by even just letting them walk around armed! What if they tried to kill him, or one of the Toa Shika? Or even tried to harm the Matoran? It was ridiculous and he could see no logical reason for allying with scum like that.

I’ll never understand Turaga, he thought angrily. But I understand how Toa of Shadow think perfectly well, and I know that they aren’t even remotely good.

He glanced out the window again. Still no Tuikas . . . . Now he was beginning to wonder if the Tuikas really existed or if everyone was just being paranoid. Then again, he remembered seeing the beasts locked up in the stasis tubes underneath Shika Nui, so he supposed that they really existed. But were they as bad as everyone said they were or was it just another Dark Hunter or Toa of Shadow trick?

He scowled. He had no answer to that question and decided the only thing to do was to wait. Perhaps he would ask his fellow guardsmen here for stories regarding the Tuikas, the Dark Hunters . . . and Oggak, too. He wanted to know what everyone thought of her; whether she was trustworthy, honest, and a good Toa, or if she was exactly what he thought she was: scum.

“Hey, Kerja?” said Nastan casually, addressing one of the guards, who turned around silently to look at him.

“Yes, Toa Nastan?” Kerja replied. “Did you want to ask me something?”

“I was just wondering what you think about Oggak,” he continued, in the same casual tone as before. He was starting off small; later he might ask Kerja or another Matoran about the Hunters, but for now, learning more about Oggak interested him a bit more than learning what the Hunters were doing. “I mean, is she nice, or good, or honest, or trustworthy, or anything else? I don’t know her very well yet, but she seems to be . . . trustworthy, I suppose.” He did not want to describe her negatively, at least not yet, so Kerja would not get suspicious.

“She’s good,” said Kerja. “She’s been protecting us from the Tuikas for weeks now. She’s kind of quiet, but she’s trustworthy, and I am sure she is honest, too. I wouldn’t trade her for any other Toa in the world.”

Nastan sighed inwardly. It looked like Oggak was considered a hero by some of the Matoran or at least by Kerja. How was he supposed to get the dirt on Oggak now? There had to be something bad about her . . . something that made her unlikable, something to justify his prejudice. Maybe if he pushed her a little she would tell him something bad about Oggak.

“Okay,” said Nastan, slightly annoyed now. “But has she ever been unkind or dishonest or something to anyone, besides the Tuikas? Ever said something strange?”

Kerja frowned. “Why would you ask that? She gets stressed out like everyone, you know. Protecting an entire village of Matoran, with the possibility of dying horribly every day, is enough to make anyone a little annoyed and angry at times. But to answer your question, I don’t think she’s ever been unkind or dishonest towards anyone. She’s told us all she knows about the Tuikas, and I believe every word of it.”

“Er, okay,” said Nastan. He was now starting to reach the conclusion that Kerja was incapable of saying anything bad about Oggak, even if it happened to be true. He decided to ask another, less loyal Matoran later on. Maybe one of them would tell him something about the Toa of Shadow that would make her look bad. “Well, I-“

“But now that you mentioned it,” Kerja continued, as if uninterrupted. She glanced out the window again, then turned to face Nastan and said, “Sometimes, when she seems to think no one is looking, she looks kind of guilty and sad. But I’ve always dismissed it as me imagining things, since she always goes back to looking normal a second later.”

Nastan leaned forward a little at that. Now this was interesting. Oggak looking guilty and sad when she thought no one was looking? Now why would she do that? Was she hiding something from everyone else and was beginning to feel guilty about it? What could it be?

Probably something sinister, Nastan decided, feeling a thrill of excitement course through him. I knew it. She’s done something or is about to do something that she will regret. I gotta stop her . . . wait, what if she’s really in charge of the Tuikas? What if she is their master and is using them as a distraction for her own sinister needs? That would explain why they keep attacking again and again . . . they aren’t aiming to eliminate us, just distract us, from her real goals.

He disregarded the fact that she apparently looked guilty and sad. She had nothing to be guilty or sad about and he doubted she was beginning to regret whatever she wanted to do. He was now convinced that the Tuikas were working alongside Oggak, but what were they aiming to achieve? World domination? Gaining all the riches and spoils of Shika Nui?

He didn’t know what Oggak was after now. But he knew one thing; once she, Jokao, and Barilo came back, he would have to confront her. If he could get her to reveal her true motives – preferably in front of dozens of Matoran and Turaga Joha – then he would be the savior of Shika Nui. That way, they could figure out how to stop the Tuikas for good, and it would be all because of him.

I hope they get here soon, Nastan thought as he strode over to the wind and peered out it, now looking at the ground several feet below. Because soon I’ll be a hero. And Oggak will be where she rightfully belongs; in prison, where all shadow spit ought to be.
 

-


Hajax, Jokao, and Oggak were walking quietly and with caution down the cold, ankle-deep waterway. Hajax was quite happy with himself; he had just secured three of his old minions, and if he could keep going on these missions like this, he was certain he would be able to rebuild at least a part of his old forces. Once that was over with, Koro Nui would fall to his power, he would naturally learn the truth about the Tuikas, and, after smashing the Tuikas into fine powder, he would begin conquest of the universe, to set right what once went wrong, and so on.

His only regret was that he had not yet gotten a chance to interrogate Oggak. Of course, there was still the rest of the journey home, but he doubted he would gain any alone time with her so long as Jokao was still with them.

When we get home, maybe I’ll just interrogate her in her room, he thought. That might work, depending on whether I feel up to it or not, though I will have to if I am to succeed.

That was yet another problem beings with physical bodies had; exhaustion. Though he did his best to hide it, he felt exhausted and wanted to actually go and rest a little. He knew it was idiotic, but he could not tell his body to not be worn out. Maybe, just maybe, when he got home he would take a quick nap and then interrogate her. Just a quick nap; maybe a few minutes long, that’s all. Long enough to regain most of his strength, at least.

Finally, after walking for several more minutes, they reached the exit. As they left, Hajax noticed for a split second that some of the rocks had been smashed into pieces, before being hit very hard in the chest back into the cavern with Oggak. He splashed into the cold water face first with Oggak and struggled to his feet, looking up in time to see six strange beings that he didn’t recognize flying towards them, while Jokao stumbled back in, clutching his arm, which seemed to have been damaged.

“Tuikas!” shouted Jokao, raising one hand towards the ceiling. “They’re . . . they’re here! Get back!”

“Tuikas? Here?” asked Oggak, though Hajax thought he caught a hint of expectancy in her voice mingled in with the fear, but he didn’t know what that was all about. “Now?”

“Watch out!” Jokao shouted, firing off half a dozen fire balls at the ceiling. “I’m sealing off the entrance before they can get in!”

“What?” Hajax shouted in shock, ducking underneath a bolt of lightning that had been shot by one of the Tuikas. “But that’s crazy!”

“It’s the only thing we can do!” Jokao replied, still firing blast after blast at the ceiling. “Three Toa aren’t strong enough to take on six Tuikas alone!”

The Tuikas were closing in fast. Hajax doubted that Jokao would be able to bring the entrance down before the Tuikas could get in . . . on his own, anyway. Should he help Jokao? After all, he wanted to live at least a little while longer, which he doubted the Tuikas would allow him to do if they got any closer.

But it seemed like Oggak had gotten the idea first; she had jumped to her feet and began firing shadow blasts at the ceiling while simultaneously flinging bolts of shadow at the incoming Tuikas, who had also increased the ferocity of their attacks. Hajax rose to his feet, intending to help Oggak and Jokao. While he cared nothing for the two Toa, he himself was not going to die, not today.

So he focused Barilo’s gravity powers on the same spot Jokao and Oggak were attacking, increasing the gravity of the archway tenfold until it finally collapsed, cascading tons of rocks and dirt down upon them. A cloud of dust billowed over them, blinding Hajax and sending him falling into the now-muddy water with a loud splash. The entrance was now effectively blocked, though Hajax now wondered if all of the mud and dust was really worth the effort.

“Is everybody okay?” Oggak called from somewhere within the dust cloud. “Hello?”

“I’m . . . fine,” Hajax coughed, managing to get into a sitting position and rubbing the dust out of his eyes. “Wasn’t hurt too badly, I think. Just very dirty is all.”

“My arm . . .” Jokao groaned. He sounded like he was lying in pain somewhere nearby. “My legs . . .”

Hajax so dearly wanted to blow the dust away with a cyclone so that he could see, but doing that make Jokao and Oggak ask questions, as he was pretty sure that Barilo did not have the ability to summon cyclones in a cavern. So he merely groped around in the darkness, looking for Jokao and Oggak as best as he could, but the sticky mud and thick dust cloud made it nearly impossible to move or see well. It made him feel weak, which was something he hated feeling, but he had to deal with this weakness for now.

“Where are you?” Oggak shouted. “Jokao, where are you?”

“At the . . . at the entrance,” Jokao called, and Hajax, following the Toa of Fire’s voice, realized that he was indeed by the now-blocked off entrance. “Follow the fire . . .”

A bright ball of flames appeared within the sand cloud, which drew both Hajax and Oggak towards its source. Once they were within view of Jokao, Hajax saw him lying half-buried underneath a wall of debris blocking the entryway, with one arm up in the air holding a sphere of fire within its grasp. Jokao looked hurt; his right arm was bleeding and had a bad burn on it, while his legs were completely buried underneath a ton of rock and dirt. His mask appeared to be in one piece, however, though it looked rather muddy to Hajax.

“Jokao!” said Oggak, crawling over to him and cradling the upper half of his body in her mud-encrusted arms. Jokao’s flames illuminated her red eyes, which were wide with fear and anxiety. “Please speak to me. Can you still feel your legs?”

“Right now I wish I couldn’t,” Jokao groaned, keeping his ball of flames well away from Oggak.

“Good, that means you may still be able to walk,” she said, slightly calmer now. “But we’ll still have to get you out of there, or else you might not be able to feel them at all anymore.”

“No,” Jokao muttered quietly. Hajax gleefully noticed that his flames were starting to die out. “Leave me here. You and Barilo try to find another way out.”

“That sounds like a good idea to me,” Hajax agreed, looking up at the mountainous pile of rock and dirt that stood before them. In his present condition, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to play Onu-Matoran miner at the moment. “Really, he’s got a-“

“No,” Oggak said fiercely, slowly lowing Jokao back into the dirty water. “We’re going to save him. We might not even have to dig all that much; you’re a Toa of Gravity, right? So why don’t you just lift the rocks off him and I drag him out?”

“Er, good idea, Oggak,” said Hajax reluctantly. He would have to do it; to go against her would look suspicious, and looking suspicious was what he was trying to avoid at the moment. “Stand back, then.”

Oggak slid backwards on the mud a few feet away, though she was still looking at Jokao with worried eyes. Jokao, meanwhile, put out his flames by dousing his hand in the water and then put his hand on his head, as though to protect it from what was to come.

Hajax rose unsteadily to his feet, the mud clinging to his armor. He was annoyed, uncomfortable, and tired, so with one flick of his finger, half a ton of rock and dirt went up into the air, well above Jokao. Oggak slid forward on the mud and rose to her feet as she reached Jokao. She bent over and grabbed him around the chest and began heaving him out, with some assistance from the Toa of Fire, who was pushing himself along with his one good arm rather feebly.

Once he was free, Hajax dumped the debris back to the ground, creating yet another, slightly smaller cloud of dust that blinded them for a few minutes until it settled. The Makuta turned and saw Jokao and Oggak were holding onto each other very tightly and closely, muttering to each other in tones that were too low for him to hear.

He glanced at Jokao’s legs and what he saw nearly made him, Makuta Hajax, wince. Jokao’s legs looked to be broken; his left leg was twisted at a weird angle, while his right leg looked as though it had been detached from its socket. His red armor was barely visible underneath the thick layer of mud, dust, and dirt that now lay upon it. Hajax wondered if Jokao would ever walk again, but then decided that that would be for the better. It would be one less obstacle for him to deal with in the future, after all.

“Jokao, are you okay?” asked Oggak as she glanced at his legs and winced. “Can you walk at all?”

“I don’t think . . . I don’t think I can,” said Jokao, flinching as he tried to move his left leg. “May need someone to hold me if we’re all going to get out of here.”

“Okay, okay,” said Oggak soothingly, patting him on the back, while holding him even closer to her body. She looked up at Hajax, then at the debris, and back at him again before asking, “Barilo, can you-?”

“I could,” said the Makuta shortly, glancing at the debris that covered the entrance. “But I’m afraid that our old friends may still be waiting out there for us. It may be wiser to continue on until we find another exit.”

Is there another way out?” asked Oggak. “You said you’ve been here with the other Shika when you were Matoran. Surely you thoroughly explored the place before using it to hide treasure?”

Hajax shrugged. “No, we didn’t. Like I said before, we didn’t get to use it very long before the Hunters scared us out. I really have no idea what’s down there, to be honest.” He smiled in a rather fake way at Oggak, who did not look any more reassured than before.

But he had told her the truth; despite hiding his minions in here, he hadn’t thoroughly explored the place yet. He had sent some of his men down the tunnel in the past, but they never came back. The farthest he had ever gone was this fork where the tunnel branched off, but that was it. Beyond that, he didn’t know what else was down there. Maybe another exit. . . . Or perhaps just a dead end. Regardless, they had no other choice but to go forward now. He didn’t like the idea much – who knew what could be waiting for them down there? – but he couldn’t see any other options.

“Maybe there’s another way out of here,” said Oggak, glancing over her shoulder down the tunnel. “And if there isn’t-“

“Then we take our chances with the Tuikas,” Jokao finished for her. He coughed loudly, and said, “I’d rather die fighting the Tuikas than die in some muddy old cave like an animal.”

“Well, if we are going, why not just go?” asked Hajax, who was getting a little sick of standing around in the dust and mud. It felt extremely uncomfortable. “Oggak, you can help Jokao walk. I’ll lead.”

“But how?” asked Oggak, puzzled. “You can’t see in the dark.”

“Oh, er, you’re right,” said Hajax hastily. “Maybe I’ll carry Jokao, while you lead.”

“I don’t know,” Oggak said, again in the same worried tone as before. “What if-“

“Just shut up and let’s go,” Jokao snapped suddenly. “I’m tired of sitting around and doing nothing.”

“But would it be wise to move you in your present condition?” asked Oggak, in a surprisingly harsh voice, as she pushed him away from herself so that she could look him straight in the eye. For a moment, Hajax thought he saw the short temper of the Shodios in her eyes as she looked at Jokao. “I’m no doctor, but even I can tell that you are in no condition to move much, if at all.”

“But we can’t just sit here all day and wait until help arrives,” Jokao argued, his voice surprisingly strong despite having just been buried under a ton of rocks. “Sure, they know where we are, but we’ve been gone a long time in the past, too, so they may think we’re just doing the same thing as before and won’t bother to come get us!” He had coughed various times throughout his speech, making it slightly hard to understand at times, but Hajax was sure that Oggak had gotten the gist of it.

“Well, do you feel good enough to move?” asked Oggak impatiently. “If you do-“

“I do,” said Jokao firmly, grasping her shoulder reassuringly with his good hand. “I really do.”

“Then let’s go,” she finished. “Come on, Barilo. Help Jokao, will you?”

Hajax complied, and soon the party of three was walking slowly down the tunnel again, Hajax privately wondering if he would ever manage to live long enough to learn the truth about the Tuikas now.
 

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#52 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 09 2014 - 08:38 AM

Chapter 9: Battle & Pain


Akuna was leaning on the window sill of North Tower, feeling rather bored. She had just finished a lengthy discussion regarding life in Koro Nui with Ferha and Dusa and, with nothing else to discuss, they were simply staring out the windows now, watching for any signs of an enemy Akuna was sure would never come. She had seen neither hide nor hair of the Tuikas all day, and the sun was starting to set, too. She was now starting to wish she was curled up back in bed with Nastan, sleeping comfortably. But she knew that she wouldn’t be getting much sleep tonight, not if she was supposed to be keeping an eye out for the Tuikas, anyway.

She was also worried about Jokao and Barilo. They had been gone for hours now and there hadn’t been a single sign of them. She had shared these worries with Dusa, who had told her that sometimes Oggak and Jokao were gone for days at a time on these expeditions, so it wasn’t unusual for them to be gone long like this, though it did make everyone feel tense just the same and usually the two tried to avoid being out for longer than was necessary.

It wasn’t that she was afraid they wouldn’t survive in the wilderness out on their own. Barilo, along with the others, had had to sleep in the wild in Wyoko for several days without the comfort of a real bed, and she was confident that both Jokao and Oggak had some experience in wilderness survival, too. It was just that the Tuikas might be out there, hunting them down and killing them. Barilo and the others didn’t have the safety of the village to protect themselves; they could only hope that the Tuikas wouldn’t know where they were, which didn’t make Akuna feel any better about it at all.

Dusa yawned widely. “You know, I think my shift is over. It’s about time that Niham takes over. Is your shift over yet, Ferha?”

“Not yet,” she replied, looking just as sleepy as Dusa. “Just a couple more hours and I’ll be free to rest until my next shift.”

“Are you going to change shifts with anyone, Akuna?” asked Dusa, as he mounted his sword and shield on the wall.

“I don’t think so,” said the Toa of Lighting with a shrug. “If I was, nobody told me. Maybe I’m supposed to do an all-nighter tonight.”

The Ta-Matoran nodded. “Makes sense. A Toa would be have an easier time dealing with the Tuikas than a couple of Matoran, right? Well, good night.”

“Good night,” said Akuna. “See you in the morning.”

But before Dusa’s armored hand even touched the doorknob, Ferha, who had been watching the skies the entire time, suddenly screamed, “Tuikas!”

“What?” Akuna said in surprise. She leaned out of the window and scanned the skies but didn’t see anything. “But I don’t see any-“

“Down below!” snapped Ferha, aiming her cannon towards the ground. “They’re trying to breach the gates!”

Akuna glanced down and saw a group of six monsters already in the courtyard – the Tuikas. It looked as though they were already in combat with the guards below, for she could see blasts of energy and hear metal clanging against metal even from her height.

“Fire!” shouted Dusa as he rushed to the window and looked out of it with Akuna. “Hit ‘em with everything you got, Ferha!”

“But I can’t,” said Ferha, who sounded frustrated, though she was carefully aiming the blaster at the Tuikas just the same. “What if I hit the others? These Cordak missiles pack a punch, you know.”

“She has a point,” said Akuna, before Dusa could say anything. “The guards are too close to the Tuikas to risk firing. Not to mention that you may just harm the rest of the fortress as well if you misfire.”

“Then what do we do?” asked Dusa angrily. He was clearly upset at the fact that he was losing control of the situation so quickly. “Sit back and let our friends die?”

“No,” said Akuna, shaking her head and grabbing her staff of lightning. “You and me will go down there and fight the Tuikas ourselves. Ferha, you stay here and try to shoot any Tuikas that attempt to escape, all right?”

“Yes, Toa Akuna,” said Ferha, still aiming her cannon downwards. “I’ll do my best.”

“Get your weapons,” Akuna told Dusa, though the Ta-Matoran did not need to be told that, for he already had both his sword and shield and looked ready to fight. “Okay. Let’s go.”

“Wait, I see a Toa’s down there already!” Ferha shouted suddenly, pointing towards the gates. “He’s right in the thick of the battle!”

“What?” Akuna said, though she was not necessarily surprised. After all, if they noticed the Tuikas, then surely the rest of the guards did, too, though she didn’t know who exactly might be out there. “Who is it?”

“Hard to tell from up here,” Ferha replied, squinting at the battle below. “Has blue-ish green armor, from the looks of it, though I can’t say for sure . . .”

“Nastan,” said Akuna, a small smile creeping onto her lips. She thought it might be him. “He’s always the first one to enter a fight and the last one standing.”

“Well, I just hope he doesn’t go and get himself killed,” said Dusa as he and Akuna dashed towards the door.

As Akuna wrenched it open, she replied, “Nastan’s a good fighter. I’m sure he’ll survive.”
 

-


Nastan ducked to avoid a vicious slash from the scorpion-like tail of the Tuikas he recognized as Kidah. He shot an arrow at her, but all it did was bounce off her spiky pale brown armor and annoy her even more.

Earlier, Nastan and his Matoran guardsmen had noticed, from the South Tower, that the Tuikas were trying to break into the fortress. Telling Kerja and the other Ko-Matoran to stay where they were and shoot any of the Tuikas that attempted to escape, Nastan had rushed down the tower and into the courtyard, where he had joined the guardians of the gate in their battle against the Tuikas.

So far, the battle hadn’t gone very well. Five Matoran were dead already and a good deal of damage had been dealt to the walls, though fortunately none of the Tuikas had yet managed to break into the fortress itself, so distracted with the fight they were.

But he now knew why the Tuikas were so feared: They were unrealistically fast, with enough strength to send someone flying halfway across the courtyard if they made a direct hit (something he had seen happen to an unfortunate Matoran near the start of the conflict). They also looked like something from the nightmares of the most evil, insane, and cruel of Dark Hunters, as though they were unnatural abominations that had crawled out from the deepest, darkest, and filthiest parts of the universe.

He had no time to think about this any further; Kidah hissed and fired twin beams of lasers from her eyes. He ducked, and the beams blasted a fair-sized crater in the ground behind him. He reared back and punched her with all of his strength, but the blow accomplished nothing. It did however seem to make her even more enraged, if possible. Kidah pounced, but he managed to get out of the way in time and she merely sprawled in the dirt before leaping back to her feet, growling in anger.

“Come on, ugly,” said Nastan, panting hard. He knew how stupid it was to taunt an enraged foe, but angry people were also stupid people, and Kidah was definitely an angry person right now. “You’ve wiped out 300 Dark Hunters, but can’t catch up with one speedy Toa? Are you just getting slow or-“

Nastan didn’t even feel Kidah’s stinger piercing his shoulder until he felt her horrible-smelling breath on his face and saw her hollow black eyes boring into his. Once he realized what was going on, he screamed loudly, but could not get her stinger out of his shoulder. He felt something hot and uncomfortable coursing through his arm, numbing it, making him feel sick and dizzy . . .

Kidah punched him hard in the stomach, with enough force to send him sprawling in the dirt, the Tuikas’ stinger now free of his shoulder. She growled again and advanced on him, holding her stinger high above her head, ready to strike again.

But Nastan didn’t think she would need to kill him off like that. The unforgiving pain he was feeling in his right arm was causing him to scream and sob in pain as he lay there on the ground. This pain was nothing like he had ever felt in his entire life; it felt as though his arm was shriveling up on the inside from the flames that were now burning brightly within his bones, if that made any sense.

Right before Kidah struck, however, a ball of plasma went flying through the air between her and Nastan, just close enough for the Tuikas to back away from the extreme heat but not close enough to actually hit her in the face. Nastan, fighting down the urge to scream, looked up in time to see Addis exiting the bottom of West Tower, with a few armed Matoran behind him. Plasma cannon still smoking from his last shot, the Toa of Plasma scanned the battlefield before him with a mixture of determination and fear.

The courtyard was in utter chaos. Several Matoran were trying to drive Skik and Zoil back, but weren’t doing too well from what he could see, while Draza was in combat with Death and a badly damaged-looking Po-Matoran who Addis didn’t recognize. He glanced towards the gate and saw Arija, another Tuikas, battling Chimoy and Kigin, who were amazingly working together fairly well. Meanwhile Koya, nearer the North Tower, was taking on several Matoran at once and was obviously winning, though the villagers were putting up a worthy fight. Energy and elemental blasts went flying back and forth between sides, illuminating the darkened courtyard and the Matoran corpses that littered the bare, grass-less earth beneath their feet.

Addis, horrified though he was at the chaos all around him, decided to help Nastan, since he was the most helpless and closest at the moment. He also doubted that Kidah would want to leave him alone after his near hit. And sure enough, the Tuikas leapt at him, hissing loudly while clawing at the air as she landed in front of him. He took a step back in surprise and nearly tripped on the Matoran behind him as the tip of Kidah’s stinger buried itself in the stone where he had been standing before.

He tried to aim his cannon, but his leg suddenly started hurting again and he cursed. His limp still hadn’t healed, even with a full night’s sleep. Thus, he was a little slow to dodge a swipe from Kidah, which sent him falling to the ground. He gasped as he slammed into the rough dirt, and he realized, from the sharp jolt of pain coming from his lower area, that he had fallen on a sharp piece of metal, which had pierced his armor, causing blood to come oozing out.

Ignoring the blood bleeding from his side, he looked up and saw the two Matoran guardsmen that had been stationed with him were trying to hit Kidah with their swords and spears. But the Tuikas, with amazing speed and agility, was dodging all of their blows easily. With one swift swipe had killed Asah, a Ba-Matoran, and then with a devastating kick had sent the other Matoran, Gorkor, flying into the stone wall and actually smashed through it upon impact. Addis then glanced at Nastan, who was apparently trying to rise to his feet, though whatever Kidah had injected into him seemed to be taking its effect, since he seemed barely capable of even the slightest movements without grunting loudly in pain.

Gotta do something fast, Addis thought as Kidah advanced on him, her stinger tail slowly rising above him. Can’t lift my cannon . . . too heavy . . . can’t move . . . too weak . . . But what about my mask?

Addis had been thinking about his new Kanohi Tryna quite a bit ever since he had gotten it. It was supposed to have the ability to reanimate dead things, but he had never used it before, and didn’t really want to know what it would look like to have an army of the dead at your command. He knew the Tryna wasn’t a particularly good mask, morality-wise, but if he didn’t do something quick he would just be one more name to add onto the likely-vast list of Kidah’s victims.

Mata Nui protect me, Addis thought, concentrating hard on his Tryna, forcing it to work.

He looked desperately around for some sign that his mask was working, but did not see any of the corpses being reanimated. They were just as dead-looking as before, if not more so, somehow, as more villagers fell to join their comrades in the afterlife. His heart fell. Why wasn’t his mask working? Was it defective after all?

He looked up in time to see Kidah’s stinger coming right at him, but it never did make contact with him. Instead, something burst out of the ground underneath him, sending the Toa of Plasma flying out of the way of Kidah’s attack. He landed hard on the ground, pushing in the piece of metal lodged in his side even deeper upon impact, but he managed to look up just in time to see the corpse of the Dark Hunter Tyu standing where he had been lying a few seconds earlier, with the tip of Kidah’s stinger tail lodged firmly within his decayed skull.

Despite the darkness, Addis could see Tyu’s undead form clearly, though it was just barely recognizable as Tyu. One of his arms was missing; the other still-attached arm had had much of its armor and organic tissue burnt off to reveal the bare bone underneath. Tyu’s legs looked okay, but his chest had apparently been ripped open, yet had no organs or anything inside it. All that was left was an empty black hole, and, as Addis watched the newly risen Hunter pry the stinger out of its head, a disgusting-looking insect crawled through one of its hollow eyes.

“What the Karzahni?” Nastan exclaimed as his eyes widened in exactly the same way as Kidah’s at the undead form of Tyu. “What’s going on here?”

“It’s my mask!” Addis shouted over the sounds of battle. “My Tryna reanimated his corpse!”

“Cr-crazy!” said Nastan, who was now lying completely still on the ground as though he could not move. “I never imagined the Tryna’s power to look like that!”

“Doesn’t matter,” Addis replied, rising to his feet as he watched the undead Tyu smash its thin bony fist straight into Kidah’s face, sending the Tuikas tumbling backward. “What we’ve got to do is- Ow!”

The pain in his side from the shard of metal lodged in his side intensified all of a sudden. He looked down and saw that it was a long, thin piece of iron sticking out just underneath his armpit. Without thinking, he immediately removed the shard from his side, a decision he soon regretted, for it caused him great pain as blood poured out of his wound. With a shout he fell to the ground in a pool of blood, the wound so bad he couldn’t get up.

“Dang it,” he muttered, trying to stem the flow of hot blood by covering it with one of his hands. He then looked back up at Nastan, who looked horrified and frightened. Addis, however, continued speaking normally, ignoring the intense bleeding with some effort. “As I was saying, we’ve got to do something.”

“How?” Nastan asked as a bolt of energy flew over his head, which surprised him and made him yelp, though the bolt did not hurt him. “I’m almost completely paralyzed. And you’re in no condition to fight yourself, Addis.”

Without answering, the Toa of Plasma looked back towards the fight and saw that, despite all of her fierce blows, Kidah had yet to down the reanimated Tyu, which just kept coming back again and again. Though he was grateful for the fact that his mask had saved his life, it was more than a little unnerving to acknowledge that he had brought that thing back to a semblance of life. He wondered if perhaps there were any other, less brutal Great Masks lying around that he didn’t know about, when he suddenly fell onto his stomach, causing him to scream in pain as even more blood flowed without end.

“Addis!” shouted Nastan, who sounded extremely frightened. “Addis! Don’t die!”

But Addis wasn’t sure if he was dying, or simply falling unconscious. The blood loss was starting to take its toll; it was becoming harder and harder to retain consciousness every minute. It seemed as though every second was simply a battle to remain awake until, unable to take any more loss of blood, he fell unconscious, his body as stiff as a rock and just as living.
 

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#53 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 10 2014 - 08:42 AM

Chapter 10: Tunnels


Hajax, Jokao, and Oggak walked slowly and carefully down the dark, ever-deepening tunnel, Jokao still having to lean on Hajax in order to walk. Thus far, they had not met anyone or anything. All they had found were more scraps of armor, broken or damaged weapons, some more dead Brotherhood minions, and an Exo-Toa or two. None of them had voiced any concerns or worries about where they were going, though Hajax was privately starting to wonder what would happen if they ran into a dead end. He cared very little for the two Toa, but he did not want to die in here like vermin. He was better than that, but as far as he could tell this tunnel simply went on forever and ever, without an end in sight.

Is that the punishment I have received for all of my crimes in my previous life? Hajax mused, as Jokao, breathing heavily, walked with him. To simply wander underneath Shika Nui with these two fools for the rest of my life? Or am I simply being too dramatic? Most likely the latter.

Hajax glanced at the tunnels and frowned. There was something about them that seemed familiar. They didn’t look natural; it was almost like someone had dug them out with giant spades. Where had he seen these before?

That was when it hit him. He remembered many years ago when Makuta Mutran had told him about the blade burrowers and had even shown him some of the tunnels. If he remembered correctly, the blade burrowers could cut through rock and dirt as though it were water, making almost unnaturally smooth tunnels that went in seemingly random directions. He also remembered that Shika Nui was home to a particularly large nest of blade burrowers. All Hajax hoped was that they didn’t end up in combat with them; he wasn’t afraid of a bunch of dumb Rahi, but in here, where they ruled, he felt his odds weren’t all that great, not especially because of having to lug Jokao around with him, too.

“What’s that?” said Oggak suddenly, stopping and point up ahead.

Hajax stopped, and Jokao did, too. The Makuta peered down the tunnel and for a moment saw nothing but two gaping dark holes, which he soon realized were actually two smaller tunnels branching off the main one they were currently traveling in.

“What do you guys see?” asked Jokao breathlessly, glancing up in the direction they were looking. “Some kind of danger?”

“A fork,” Oggak replied. “Two tunnels. We can only go down one.”

Hajax so dearly wished he knew which tunnel lead out and which one lead deeper in, but as he had no way to know he could not properly plan ahead, which frustrated him greatly.

“I think we should go right,” said Oggak, walking a little ahead of them to peer into the twin tunnels, “though I really don’t know for sure, since I’ve never been down this deep under Shika Nui before.”

“Why don’t I just use my Iden?” asked Jokao, gesturing at his mask with his good arm. “I could just go down both tunnels to see which way leads out.”

“I don’t think you should, Jokao,” said Oggak warningly, looking at him with concerned eyes. “You’re already weak enough as is. I don’t know if you have the strength to use your mask without overexerting yourself too much.”

“Don’t worry about me,” said Jokao with a smile. “It won’t take long for me to scout ahead. I’m perfectly fine.”

“If you were ‘perfectly fine,’ you wouldn’t need to be using me as a walking stick,” Hajax muttered quietly, unheard by the others.

“Well, okay,” said Oggak reluctantly. She then gestured towards the tunnels. “Just be quick, though. I know you can’t be hurt in spirit form, but I don’t want you to leave and then have us get attacked. Your body might get damaged, or even destroyed.”

“Whatever,” Jokao said, tapping his foot on the ground impatiently. “I can do it. In fact, I’ll do it now.” He winced from the pain in his legs, but looked determined just the same. “Hold on, Barilo. My body may suddenly go limp . . .”

Jokao’s body suddenly slumped in his arms and Hajax, caught off-guard, nearly dropped it before redoubling his grip on the Toa of Fire’s now-uninhabited body. He lowered it slowly to the ground, grateful that he wouldn’t have to support the heavy Toa at least for a few minutes.

“I just hope he’s all right,” Oggak muttered, looking at Jokao’s body with the same worried eyes as before.

“Doesn’t matter to me,” said Hajax with a shrug, without thinking. “One Toa more or less doesn’t make a difference.”

He was suddenly slapped hard across the mask and looked up to see Oggak standing over him, one hand raised, looking far more angry than he had ever seen her in his life, though he had only known her for a few hours or so. But even he recognized that she wore an expression unlike herself; an expression of rage, almost hatred, contorted her normally calm and collected features.

“What was that for?” asked Hajax angrily, rubbing the side of his face as he rose to his feet and stared her hard in the eyes. He was not afraid of her, though he did not particularly want to get into a fight with her at the moment.

“For . . . for treating Jokao like he’s an expendable nobody!” Oggak snapped, her red eyes almost burning. “’One Toa more or less doesn’t make a difference’ . . . I thought he was your friend? Why would you even say something like that?”

Hajax was about to open his mouth to retaliate when Jokao’s body suddenly began stirring. Abandoning her anger at him, Oggak bent down even as Jokao’s eyes flickered open. The Toa of Fire looked up at them both and, based on his excited expression he had evidently found something good . . . something very, very good.

“Left tunnel,” Jokao said as Oggak wrapped an arm around his body to help him sit up. “It ended in a very bright place; but I didn’t get to see much, since I ran out of energy and had to return to my body right then. Still, I am convinced that I saw Shika Nui’s surface, so it must be the way out!”

“Really?” said Oggak eagerly. “Are you sure?”

“Positive,” Jokao replied. He hugged Oggak tightly before suddenly letting go with a slightly sheepish expression on his face. “Er, right. Well, like I said, I’m positive that the left tunnel is the one we should go down. Most definitely the left.”

“Great,” said Oggak, who looked just as embarrassed as Jokao did. “Hey, Barilo, want to help him up?”

“All right,” said Hajax, pretending to sound just as happy as they were. “This is . . . great.” He forced a smile as he bent down to help Jokao up. “What could be better than the light? But we mustn’t celebrate too soon; we don’t want to go walking down the tunnel too wrapped up in our own success, do we?”

“I didn’t see any monsters or anything like that down there if that’s what you mean,” said Jokao with a shrug. He winced as he put his full weight on his legs. “It looked pretty safe to me.”

“Of course, if the Tuikas are out there, we may be totally boxed in,” Hajax continued in that same false happy tone. He had no particular reason at the moment for wanting to worry the two of them; he simply wanted to see them become fearful and thus easier to manipulate. “That is, if they don’t decide to kill us first.”

“It’s a chance we’ve got to take,” Oggak said determinedly. “I want to return to Koro Nui as soon as possible. What if the Tuikas attack the fortress in our absence?”

“I doubt it, Oggak,” said Jokao as the party began walking down the left tunnel. “Don’t you remember what everyone keeps telling us whenever we come back? About the fact that the Tuikas never attack while we’re gone? And remember how the Tuikas always come after us when we’re on a rescue expedition?”

Oggak shrugged, looking slightly uncomfortable. “Yes, but just because they’ve done that in the past doesn’t mean they won’t do it now, Jokao.”

Jokao nodded, though he did not look as though he believed her and did not pursue the subject further.

Hajax, however, was listening carefully. He found it odd that the Tuikas never attacked the fortress while Oggak was gone and always went after her and Jokao when they were out. He thought that might be a clue as to what the Tuikas were really up to, but so far he had no conclusion other than the Tuikas might be after Oggak, perhaps. Why they would be after her, he didn’t know for sure, but he intended to find out.
 

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#54 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 11 2014 - 08:42 AM

Chapter 11: New Ambitions


When Akuna and Dusa finally managed to reach the courtyard, Akuna was momentarily stunned and horrified by all the chaos around her. She had been in the midst of huge battles before, but this was so much different than those of the past. Dark though it was, she could see corpses littering the ground; saw the shapes of many different beings fighting in the shadows, few of whom she could identify, and blasts of power being shot to and fro all over the courtyard. She heard a loud scream from her right, but did not know who it belonged to. All she knew was that she had to both beat the Tuikas and find Nastan, the latter whom she could not see in the night.

“What’s that?” asked Dusa in surprise, pointing towards the West Tower as a ball of lava and ice exploded in midair, momentarily lighting a dreadful sight that Akuna would never forget.

Addis was lying on the ground in a deep pool of blood and was not moving an inch. She saw Nastan lying on the ground near the fallen Toa of Plasma, though he seemed to have been paralyzed somehow and looked to still be alive, fortunately. She also saw an unidentifiable corpse lying near Addis, but she had no idea where it had came from or who it was. However, she suspected that Addis’ Tryna may have had something to do with it.

Regardless of where the corpse had come from or how it had got here, she knew she had to act. Kidah was now stalking away from Addis and Nastan, apparently going to join Skik and Zoil, who were already giving the few Matoran still fighting them much trouble. Akuna decided to get Kidah while she was distracted.

“Dusa, you go help the others fight Koya over there,” said Akuna, pointing towards the North Tower. “I’ll take on Kidah, okay?”

“Don’t need to tell me what to do,” Dusa muttered, but he obeyed just the same, running towards the North Tower with his sword raised high above his head.

After watching him go, Akuna leapt forwards and, upon landing on a bare piece of ground, shot off three bolts of electricity at Kidah. None of them hit, however, because Kidah whirled around and deflected them off her tail, sending the bolts ricocheting away into the darkness and striking the stone walls that protected the village.

The Tuikas then dashed towards Akuna with shocking speed, though the Toa managed to jump out of the way in time to dodge the attack and landed, unfortunately, on a Matoran’s corpse, which she quickly slid off in disgust and fear. Kidah, unable to stop herself, crashed straight into the door of North Tower, breaking it off its hinges and sending her tumbling into the darkness of the unlit hallway. She did not emerge from within.

Akuna, panting hard, crawled over to Nastan amidst the fighting to make sure he was okay. Though she knew she should probably be fighting with the others, Nastan’s safety was a higher priority for her at the moment. She wanted to make sure he wasn’t too badly hurt.

“Akuna?” said Nastan in surprise when she came into his view. “Is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me,” she replied, ducking under another blast of energy that went soaring straight into the wall behind her. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just a bit stunned,” said Nastan. “Whatever Kidah’s got in her stinger’s enough to stun even a Toa. But enough about me; why aren’t you helping the others fight?” His tone suddenly became snappish and impatient and Akuna felt slightly hurt. Didn’t he care that she had stopped just to learn whether he was still breathing or not?

But she didn’t bring it up, and merely answered, “You’re right. I should be fighting with them.”

“Then go do it,” said Nastan, his tone impatient still. “Stop wasting your time worrying about me and start wasting it fighting the Tuikas!”

Akuna nodded, slightly irritably, and jumping back to her feet, ran back into the thick of the battle, ignoring her own hurt feelings from Nastan’s anger. She decided not to take it personally; considering Nastan’s current situation, she thought she would be pretty irritable and angry, too. That didn’t mean she liked the way he snapped at her, though. Anyway, thinking about this would distract her, and if she let her guard down for even a second, she had no doubt in her mind that she would be killed.
 

-


The tunnel, Hajax noticed, seemed to be a lot longer than Jokao had described it. Though the Toa of Fire had only went up and down it in a few seconds, it seemed to be taking them hours to walk and they still hadn’t seen any sign of the bright light that Jokao had mentioned. Not that Hajax was complaining, of course; he preferred the dark over the light any day, but he knew that he would never succeed in his dreams of universal conquest if he kept walking down an endless tunnel forever.

So to pass the time, he thought about his own dreams and ambitions and future. His goals had changed much since he had first met the Toa Shika many weeks ago. Originally, he only wanted to depose of Makuta Teridax and put the Brotherhood of Makuta back in its rightful place as makers of Rahi beasts for the good of the Matoran. True, his methods may have been a little questionable, but he always believed that the ends justified the means, regardless of what other, lesser beings such as Toa may have thought.

But now? Well, he was now playing around with the idea of becoming king of the universe himself. After all, the Brotherhood still held absolute power, and if he replaced Teridax, he would be in control of whole armies comprised of Rahkshi, Visorak, Exo-Toa, and whatever else his brothers and sisters may have added to their forces during his absence.

The universe itself would likely be in need of a strong, decisive leader after the Brotherhood of Makuta/Dark Hunter war was finished, especially since Mata Nui was still asleep and could only be awoken by the Toa Mata. And as far as he could see, those beings were no closer to completing their destiny that he was to completing his own.

And who else in the universe, he decided, would be better to lead than himself? He was strong, charismatic, clever, good at making others do what he wanted; all the qualities of a true king, in his opinion.

My brother Teridax relies too much upon complicated plans and schemes, Hajax thought as he dragged Jokao along, without bothering to make it even slightly comfortable for the Toa of Fire. He thinks he factors in every little faction, group of people, or simply powerful beings that may pose a threat to him. He thinks he has learned everything there is to know about them; how to stop them if they pose a problem to the Plan, what to do if they try to interfere, and so on.

But one thing he doesn’t know about is me. And that may someday be the death of him. I certainly hope it will be.


He half-glanced at Oggak, who was in the lead and seemed to be the most determined to reach the surface, based on the fact she had voiced her concerns about how undefended Koro Nui was in their absence and was walking faster than either of them. He had tried to read her mind earlier, to see if he could figure out the truth of the Tuikas that way, but was prevented from doing so by some kind of mental barrier that protected her mind from intrusion. Where she had learned to do that, he had no idea, though he wondered if this ‘Order of Mata Nui’ she had mentioned (an organization he had never heard of until recently) had trained her to protect her mind from any unwanted detection. If so, then he would also have to force her to tell him every little thing she knew about this Order or break her mental barrier. Clearly, if this Order trained its members to protect their minds from Makuta, it would obviously be a threat to his future empire.

Besides that, Hajax also wondered about the tunnel itself. With his ability to see in the dark, he had seen many strange symbols and words inscribed on the walls, though since it would be suspicious if he stopped he had not been able to stop long enough to study them. From what he could tell, though, they seemed to be depicting giant, green-scaled dragons being tamed by beings that looked like Matoran. What that meant, he had no idea, though he assumed it must have been carved by some villagers a long time ago depicting an epic battle between good and evil or some crud like that. He didn’t know and honestly didn’t care. Though Makuta were keepers of history as well as scientists, he had never personally been interested in that sort of thing.

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted when Jokao shouted, “Hey, look! I see light up ahead!”

Hajax glanced up and saw that he was right. Though it was very far away, there was indeed a small, yet bright light not too far up ahead, which looked to be the exit, just as Jokao had described. Hajax was excited and disappointed; excited that he would now finally be able to continue his plans, and disappointed because he had been starting to really enjoy the darkness.

“You’re right, Jokao,” said Oggak, who had began walking faster now, her eyes focused directly on the light. “I see light. That means we’re nearly free.”

“Oh, I really want to get home now,” said Jokao, who urging Hajax to walk faster, though the Makuta ignored him and kept at the same pace as always. “I just want to rest on my bed for a few weeks at most.” He groaned, obviously from the pain in his legs.

“All I hope is that we make it out in one piece,” said Hajax, scowling. He did not appreciate the way Jokao was spurring him on, trying to make him go faster. It annoyed him greatly. “I mean, have you seen the paintings on the walls? Those dragons looked . . . dangerous, to say the least.”

Oggak glanced at the walls as she walked. “I see them. But I see no reason to worry about them. We haven’t found any evidence of those beasts here.”

“Oggak’s right,” Jokao added. “We’ve got our own problems to deal with right now anyway.”

“I was just giving an example,” Hajax snapped. “I don’t believe they are an actual threat. I was just saying we should be more careful and watch our own moves a little bit more diligently, my friends.”

“You’re right, to an extent,” Oggak admitted, without looking at him. “Rushing recklessly into danger is almost always what gets people killed in the end. But like I said before I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. We’re nearly free – and once we are, we can return to Koro Nui immediately.”

“Agreed,” said Jokao as they approached the light, which was getting larger and larger as they drew nearer and nearer. “We’ve got nothing to worry about. Well, except for the Tuikas, but we’ve survived long enough against them and know how to deal with ‘em if we have to fight, don’t we?”

“Right,” said the Toa of Shadow with a nod. “We do.”

Finally, after several more minutes of walking in silence, the exit was nearly upon them. Hajax was no great lover of the light, but a feeling anticipation was filling his being as they drew near. He was getting a little tired of the dirt and rocks, the scent of dampness, with nothing to liven up the place. He was getting restless and so actually began walking a little faster now, though he reminded himself it was because he wanted to do it, not because Jokao was spurring him on and not because he wanted to be in the light again.

And with one more burst of speed, the trio reached the exit and were bathed a bright, almost blinding light that hurt Hajax’s eyes. He shut his orbs to protect them as Jokao shouted, “We’ve made it! We’ve-!”

A wave of heat, hotter than anything any of them had ever experienced before, suddenly swept over them, hitting them to the ground with enough force to knock the breath out of their lungs. Hajax tried to get back to his feet, but suddenly the whole world seemed to be tilting back and forth and he just could not stand up, no matter what he did. He was confused, disoriented, and did not know how to balance himself properly, even when he was just lying down.

Something heavy suddenly smashed into his body, sending him rolling into Jokao and Oggak, who seemed to be just as confused as he was. He tried to untangle himself from their limbs, but was unable to and, after receiving yet another blow to the head, went down completely, his mind drifting into unconsciousness, his body limp.
 

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#55 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 12 2014 - 08:49 AM

Chapter 12: The Loss of Life


“Die, you dang beasts!” Kigin shouted, swinging his mace at Arija. “Die, die, die!”

The mace made contact with the tan-armored Tuikas, sending her tumbling into Chimoy, who immediately sent her flying over the wall with a well-aimed hit from his hammer. Kigin didn’t even think of celebrating, though, for the next moment Arija came leaping over the wall again, screeching angrily as she landed on all fours and fired two blasts of solid sound at them.

Kigin had been expecting this, having fought the Tuikas for so long, and jumped out of the way. Chimoy managed to dodge it, too, but just barely. He had obviously not been expecting the attack, Kigin thought, which made the Dark Hunter smirk. Though he knew how valuable the Toa were as allies, he still didn’t like them all that much and wouldn’t mourn their deaths if they happened to get killed in combat.

However, now was not the time to think about such things, for the next moment Arija tackled him to the ground. He managed to rip her off himself, however, and threw the Tuikas away. Rolling back to his feet, he unleashed a sonic scream at her. While his ability to accurately copy any sounds he heard may not seem as powerful as some powers, such as fire or shadow, at times like this it came in very useful, in his opinion.

Suddenly, Chimoy darted at Arija with his giant hammer, evidently seeking to get her first. But since he had moved too soon, both he and Arija were hit by Kigin’s sonic attacks and were both sent flying. Chimoy landed hard on the ground a few feet away, while Arija collided with the wall. She looked too stunned and dazed to move.

“You fool!” Kigin snapped at Chimoy, who was starting to get back to his feet with a hand on his head, looking a little dazed as well. “Didn’t you see my attack? I have no idea how you Toa have managed to survive for as long as you have with brains like yours!”

“Sorry,” Chimoy replied angrily, shaking his head in frustration. “I didn’t notice it. You should have warned me.”

“It doesn’t matter, Toa,” Kigin said, glancing at Arija, who was already back on her feet and snarling. “We’ve got to deal with this Tuikas here. Got it?”

Chimoy didn’t reply, but merely glared at Kigin before transforming his hammer into a sleek sword and slashing at Arija, who blocked the attack with her claw. Kigin, taking advantage of the distraction, swung his mace and struck Arija hard, causing the Tuikas to collapse underneath his weapon with a cry. She did not get up, though she didn’t look dead yet.

“Is she dead?” asked Chimoy, panting as he took a step backwards in surprise.

“No,” Kigin replied, raising his mace again, the ball in his other hand. “But she soon will be.”

He swung his mace at her again, this time with more force than before. He struck her hard enough to make her stop moving. Now on a roll, he kept striking her in savage triumph. He smashed his weapon onto her corpse again and again, channeling all of his fear and anger onto this one beast. He cared not that she was already dead; he would pulverize Arija’s corpse into a million little microscopic pieces and scattered them throughout the known universe like grains of sand in a desert if he had to.

“Kigin, what are you doing?” asked Chimoy in a raised, slightly scared-sounding voice. “She’s dead. Mindlessly smashing her corpse into oblivion isn’t-“

“Shut up, Toa,” Kigin snapped, halting his attacks to glare at the Toa. “You have no idea what it was like to watch the entire Dark Hunter army of Shika Nui fall to these . . . these monsters! To see them all die before my eyes . . . it is indescribable. To kill even one of these beasts is a great victory, reminding me of the days when we Hunters ruled this island with an iron fist. So either get out of the way or I’ll-“

A sudden rush of wind cut him off and, looking over his shoulder, Kigin saw in surprise the five other Tuikas now flying towards him and Chimoy at full speed. He guessed that they had seen him slay their fellow Tuikas and were now going to try to avenge her death. He readied his mace and swung it over his head like a warrior, when the Tuikas did the most unexpected thing that he hadn’t thought they would ever do; they merely kept on flying and flew right over him and Chimoy and over the walls, without even sparing a glance towards the two as they soared.

“Where are they going?” asked Chimoy, watching the Tuikas fly past them, bent slightly as though he had ducked. “Why are they retreating like this?”

“No idea. But I’m not letting them get away!” Kigin replied as he swung his mace at the retreating Tuikas in an attempt to hit them as they fled, but he did not hit even one of his targets. And within seconds the Tuikas had gone over the walls out of sight, much to Kigin’s frustration and annoyance.

“Well, I’m glad they’re gone,” said Chimoy with a shrug. “I don’t think I could have fought much longer, personally.”

“I could have,” said Kigin, though in reality he felt very tired as he stowed his mace away, seeing no reason to keep it out any longer. “But I doubt they could have, which is most likely why they fled tonight. They did not wish to face my wrath after watching their ally go down easily.”

“Right,” said Chimoy, who sounded unconvinced. “We should go check on the others, I think. Maybe they know why the Tuikas have retreated, since I’m pretty sure they were winning, weren’t they?”

Kigin turned around and scanned the battlefield. It was dark out, but his species had fairly good night vision, though he had never used it much before. His species, the Amakans, had two different eye visions: one for day, and one for night. They automatically switched between times without any conscious effort on the Amakan’s part, though he knew some who had learned how to control it, but he had never seen much use for being able to control it, really. As far as he knew, it was mostly for bragging rights, since it was a difficult thing to learn to do, something he had never been particularly interested in doing.

As he looked around, he saw that there were quite a few corpses dotting the courtyard, though there looked to be less than usual, or so he thought. Great chunks of the walls had been blasted out and the North Tower’s door and part of the wall had been blown clean off. All in all, he thought it looked slightly better than previous attacks, though he knew it would still take a long time to clean up, and clean ups were never fun or enjoyable, in his opinion.

But there did seem to be one unusual sight he spotted: Several beings – mostly the Toa, though he noticed Igici among them as well – were crowded around something he could not see. From what he could tell, they wore expressions of sadness and shock, though he did not know why that could be.

Chimoy, though he did not possess night vision, seemed to have noticed them, too, for he asked, “What’s everyone else doing over there?”

“Are questions all you ever ask, Toa?” asked Kigin harshly. “Or are you just stupid?”

Chimoy glared at him. “Just because we’re supposed to be allies doesn’t mean I have to like you, Kigin. And if I had my way, we wouldn’t be . . .” his voice trailed off, but then he shook his head and said, “Never mind. That’s what Nastan would do, not me. Anyway, let’s go see what they’re doing. That’s really the only way to find out for sure.”

“I know, Toa,” Kigin snapped as they began walking towards the group of beings. He noticed how grim and solemn the mood around everyone seemed to be. He thought something bad must have happened. “I . . .”

His own voice trailed off as they approached the group and as they did so, Igici, glancing over his shoulder, apparently noticed them and separated himself from the group to go meet them. Kigin noticed his eyes looked grim and sad, but he didn’t know why. True, they had lost a lot of Matoran in the fight based on his observations, but it was significantly less than last time and the Tuikas had retreated much easier than they usually did, too. So he saw nothing to be particularly sad about.

Then again, he thought, stopping with Chimoy as Igici approach, his eyes still looking sorrowful. This is Igici I am talking about. He’s one of those Dark Hunters who was blackmailed into joining the organization based on his position of power and what would happen to him if he said no. Those kind are always the weakest kind of Dark Hunters; the kind who go along with our plans and missions until they try to pull off some valiant rebellion that almost always gets crushed and always results in their deaths.

“What’s the problem, Death?” asked Chimoy tentatively, looking over Igici’s shoulder as he said that. Kigin noticed that the Toa of Iron was keeping his distance from Igici; that made sense, since none of the Toa Shika cared for or trusted the Dark Hunters much. “Did someone get hurt?”

“Worse, Chimoy,” said Igici, sharply thrusting his thumb over his shoulder at the group behind him. “Your leader, Toa Addis, is . . . He is dead.”

“What?” Chimoy said in shock and disbelief. “What do you mean he’s dead? Addis isn’t dead. He can’t be dead. You must be mistaken-“

“We’re not,” said Igici, shaking his head. “He was killed. Lost more blood than he could take and. . . . Well, you should see for yourself, I think.”

“Let me through,” said Chimoy, his voice heavy with disbelief. “Let me see for myself.”

Kigin stepped aside as Chimoy ran past them to join the small crowd of beings looking at what he now knew to be Addis’ corpse. Igici turned to join Chimoy, then asked Kigin, without looking back at him, “Are you even going to bother look?”

“No,” said Kigin, shaking his head. “I see no reason to weep over a Toa’s death, much less a Toa I hate.”

“Heartless,” Igici muttered, shaking his head as he walked away to rejoin the group. “Much like the Dark Hunter you are, my friend.”

That insult did not bother Kigin. He had never liked Addis, so he saw no reason to be sad over the Toa’s death. Death was something you dealt with daily if you happened to live in Koro Nui. If you happened to fight the Tuikas like Addis and the others did, you would be staring death in the eyes every day. If they didn’t get over that fact soon, he would then know for sure that the Toa were indeed as weak as he thought they were.

He was also disgusted at the way Igici was sympathizing with them. True, Igici had never liked being a Dark Hunter, but this was just downright disgraceful, in Kigin’s opinion. Where was the Dark Hunter pride he should be displaying? Was Kigin the only one who now identified as a Dark Hunter anymore?

Just because we are the only few alive does not mean the organization itself has fallen, Kigin thought, shaking his head dismissively. As far as I know, the Dark Hunters are still going strong, even if they have lost Shika Nui. Someday, maybe soon, when the Tuikas are dead, I shall be waiting on the shores of this island to greet any reinforcements that will obviously arrive. And when that day comes, I shall be given honor above all other Dark Hunters and maybe even be put in charge of my own island base, which would be very nice.

But, as he glanced around the dark, corpse-strewn courtyard, with the scent of death and decay filling his nostrils, he realized that that probably wouldn’t be for a very long time. In the meantime, he would have to work with these Toa and Matoran in order to survive. That, at least, was something he understood, though he didn’t quite like it.
 

-


Jokao’s head was hurting. His legs were hurting; in fact, his entire body was hurting all over, like he had been hit with a particularly large sludge hammer that had been swung by a giant. Though he was used to this sort of pain (if you fought the Tuikas, you would have to learn to live with it), it still felt uncomfortable and painful and he wished it would stop. His head felt like it would explode any minute and his legs felt like they would fall off from the sheer pain he was experiencing.

For a moment, he also forgot where he was or what he was doing here, and didn’t particularly care until a flood of images and memories filled his mind. He now remembered what had happened; he, Oggak, and Barilo had been just about to exit the tunnel, when some kind of heat wave had hit them, and then something really heavy smashed into him. That would explain why he had a burning sensation in his muscles, too, though it did not explain why he felt like he was lying on rock rather than grass, since he was sure he and the others were now on Shika Nui’s surface, not beneath it anymore.

His first thought was that they had been attacked by the Tuikas, though he dismissed that idea almost instantly. After all, none of the Tuikas had heat wave powers, though he had to admit many of them could have been equally strong enough to knock him silly with just one blow like whatever had hit him before. Still, something about the way he had been hit told him it was no Tuikas that did it. He didn’t know why, but thought it might have had something to do with how he was hit, perhaps. There seemed to be a difference between the way that the Tuikas hit things and how whatever had hit him hit things, but again he didn’t really know, since he was too busy worrying about the pain in his body to try to analyze that sort of thing. Not to mention he didn’t know a whole lot about how any of that worked, anyway. He was no Toa of Kinetics.

His next thought (besides wishing he wasn’t hurting so bad) was to find Oggak and see if she was still alive. Everything was black; he knew it had to do with the fact that his eyes were shut closed and nearly impossible to open, so weak he was. So he felt around instead and felt somebody’s hand to his right and gripped it. He heard a moan that sounded like Oggak, and felt relief wash over his mind. At least Oggak was safe, he thought.

He wondered where Barilo was and began feeling around for him, too, but could not find the Toa of Gravity, no matter how hard he felt. So he merely sat back up, which was difficult because of the pain though he managed it anyway, and tried to open his eyes now, for he had the distinct feeling that someone nearby was watching them.

With a great effort he wrenched his eyes open and was immediately blinded by bright light, which resembled the kind given off by the sun. He lifted up his free hand to block it, since his eyes had begun to water in pain. He heard what sounded like a faint sniffing noise and lowered his hand to see a pair of giant, yellowish eyes staring at him straight in the face.

“Ah!” Jokao shouted loudly, instinctively recoiling. “Back away, you . . . you thing!”

He reached for his fire mace, but for some reason it was not on him. So instead he conjured a ball of flames in his hand, but evidently the mere appearance of the fire was enough, for the strange pair of eyes quickly backed away. But as it walked back, Jokao realized it was more than simply a pair of large eyes. It had green armor and a head, with a long snout that had smoke rising faintly from its nostrils, and two large, plated wings that were folded on its back like a beetle. He gasped in fear as he realized what it was: A dragon. A monstrous dragon that, while around the same size as himself, looked far more lethal and powerful than he ever would hope to be. He had no doubt that it could kill him in one hit from one of its monstrous claws, or from its long, spiked tail that swept the ground behind it.

Beside him, Oggak’s eyes flickered open and she looked around for a moment, asking, “Jokao where are-?” before her eyes rested on the large dragon before them. She instantly tensed at the sight of the beast and Jokao saw, out of the corner of his eye, her hand reach for her sword, but she didn’t seem to have it on her, for she cursed softly under her breath as her hand dug around her pack with no success.

“Oggak, don’t move,” said Jokao, never taking his eyes off the dragon, which was still looking at them rather intently. “We don’t want to unintentionally provoke it now . . .”

“It looks as though it’s already provoked,” Oggak commented, though she remained very still just the same. “Its legs look like its weak point. Maybe if we move fast-“

“There won’t be any fast moves around here, my visitors,” said a voice off to Jokao’s right.

Jokao and Oggak glanced in the direction of the voice and at first, only saw Barilo, who was lying unconscious near them, still alive from what they could tell. Then Jokao noticed a Matoran wearing rust-colored armor standing on a raised stone platform before them, his hollow orange eyes staring back at them with as much intent as the dragon, several large, yellow light stones in the ceiling above him; the source of the sun-like light Jokao had seen earlier. Jokao had never seen this Matoran before and wondered where he had come from.

“Ramoth, step back and give our guests some breathing room,” said the Matoran. At first, Jokao had no idea who ‘Ramoth’ was until the dragon took a few steps back, obeying the command, its huge eyes still focused on the three Toa. He then realized that this Matoran, whoever he was, was the master of this dragon. It wasn’t a very comforting thought. “Good Ramoth. Here, have a stone rat.”

The Matoran lobbed a particularly large-looking dead stone rat into the air, which the dragon, named Ramoth, caught in its mouth and began to chew up greedily. It was a disgusting sight, so Jokao tried to keep his eyes focused on the Matoran, who looked satisfied now as he climbed down from his stone platform.

“Ramoth means no harm,” the Matoran said as he stopped about twenty or so feet away from the Toa, gesturing towards the dragon, which was still eating its meal. “He is merely . . . curious, as we haven’t had so many visitors in such a long, long time. Though I must say, if he gets angry, his wrath is something to behold. But even when enraged he always awaits my commands before doing anything.” The Matoran’s eyes narrowed and he asked, in a much harsher voice, “Now who are you and give me one reason as to why I shouldn’t have Ramoth eat you for desert.”

“We’re Toa,” said Oggak hurriedly. She had moved a little closer to Jokao now, her eyes never leaving Ramoth, who had finished his stone rat and was looking at the three Toa again, this time with a glint of hunger in its wide orbs. “My name is Toa Oggakia, Toa of Shadow. This is Toa Jokao, Toa of Fire, and the one lying unconscious over there is Toa Barilo, Toa of Gravity. We mean no harm and only came down this way because we could find no other way out.”

The Matoran frowned, as if thinking hard. Then he said, “Ah, yes. I remember your kind well, Toa of Shadow. They enslaved those who were weaker than them, including myself. Why, it was a most glorious day on Shika Nui when they got what was coming to them. I personally oversaw their imprisonment, you know.”

Jokao had the distinct feeling that this Matoran was a rather prideful type, since his tone was that of a braggart. But he kept quiet; if he voiced any of this aloud, he did not doubt that the Matoran would order Ramoth to eat him immediately.

“But,” the Matoran said, his eyes narrowing. He had taken a few steps forward and was now holding a dull rusted blade that looked even older than its owner. “How could you have escaped from Wyoko? The Toa Avha, the great heroes of old who so righteously fought for the freedom of this universe’s inhabitants, fought against the evil Shodios and Kra-Matoran, locking the Door forevermore. Nobody could get in . . . and nobody could get out, either.”

“I was never imprisoned,” said Oggak quickly. Her eyes were still on Ramoth, which was sitting very quietly now, almost unnaturally so in Jokao’s opinion. “I had betrayed my people during the war and for that I was granted freedom by the Order of Mata Nui. But I have been hidden on another island, isolated from the rest of the world for all of these years so that no one would ever know the Kra-Matoran ever existed. I am on your side, Matoran, and on the side of anyone who fights for Mata Nui’s will. Please believe me.”

The Matoran snorted, sheathing his dagger as he did so. He evidently didn’t think they were much of a threat, thought Jokao, or perhaps planned to have Ramoth eat them. He hoped it was merely the former.

“On my side? I am on my own side, shadow spit,” the Matoran told her harshly. “I am the only surviving member of the Tamers. No one has ever thought to find me . . . I fled down here, years ago, with Ramoth once we proved, ah, unpopular.”

“Watch your mouth, Matoran!” Jokao snapped. “She’s not shadow spit. Take that back, you nasty little-“

“Jokao, please,” said Oggak, tightening her grip on his hand more firmly than before. “Don’t insult him. He could order Ramoth to kill us anytime, you know.”

“The shadow spit is wise, my friend,” the Matoran said with an evil smile. “It would be wise not to get smart around me, wouldn’t it? Don’t want Ramoth to bite your head off, do you?”

Jokao wanted to yell at the Matoran some more, but after looking at Ramoth – who looked very hungry still – he decided against it and merely glared at the villager with as much hatred as he could muster.

“Good Toa,” the Matoran cooed, as though they were mindless beasts like Ramoth. “Maybe you can become new pets. True, the Tamers always used Rahi, but Rahi get boring after a while. Rahi have to be trained, but Toa come pre-trained. Don’t they, Ramoth?”

The dragon merely nodded, though Jokao suspected it had been trained to do that and likely didn’t really understand what its master had just said.

“We’re not pets,” said another, harsh voice from behind them. Jokao looked around and saw Barilo, still lying on his stomach, glaring contemptuously at the Matoran. “We are Toa. It is you who should be our pet, villager.”

The Matoran’s features contorted with rage almost instantly. “Ramoth! Show him who is in control around here!”

Ramoth dashed forwards, one claw raised, but Barilo, moving faster than Jokao had ever seen a Toa move before, was already on his feet before the Matoran had even finished his order and, with one casual flick of his finger, sent Ramoth flying into the wall on the other side of the chamber. Ramoth crashed into the rock wall hard and slid down slowly, apparently unconscious from the impact, leaving an imprint of his body on the spot where he had collided with.

“Now who was it that you were saying was in control around here?” asked Barilo, his tone flat, though he conveyed his point quite well in Jokao’s opinion.

The Matoran looked from Barilo to Ramoth for a moment before taking a cautious step backward, his eyes now on Barilo. “Who do you think you are, Toa?” He paused, looking Barilo up and down, and then shook his head and said, “You are no Toa. A spirit inhabiting this Toa’s body and dominating his original soul but a foreign spirit just the same. That’s what you are.”

Jokao thought he saw Barilo flinch before the Toa of Gravity snapped, “You’re an insane liar. I am me – that is to say, I am Barilo, and always have, always will be. Even if I was being possessed, how could you tell?”

“Easy,” said the Matoran, snapping his fingers for some reason that Jokao could not guess, other than to perhaps surprise them or something. “Yours is a spirit that is far too violent to be a Toa. But then again, the Shodios were about as violent and evil as Toa get, so I could be wrong. Or not.”

The Matoran went flying off his feet and into the stone platform that he had been standing on earlier. He kept repeatedly slamming into it, with more force every time, seemingly all by himself. It took Jokao a moment to realize that Barilo was using his gravity powers to smash the Matoran into the platform. And, friendly villager or not, he realized that what Barilo was doing was wrong.

“Barilo! Stop!” Jokao shouted, rising to his feet with Oggak. He winced, for his legs were still wounded badly, but he ignored it, leaning on Oggak for support now. “You’re going to kill him if you keep that up!”

Barilo did not seem to hear him at first; but then the Matoran suddenly fell to the ground, breathing heavily as he lay there. Oggak took a step forward towards him, her eyes filled with concern, but the Matoran shouted, waving his now-unsheathed dagger at her, “Get away from me, shadow spit!”

Upon these words, a wave of heat, stronger than the last, slammed into the assembled Toa, knocking them off their feet and scattering them around the stone chamber like leaves in an updraft. Jokao hit the stone wall on the other side of the room hard and fell to the ground with as much force, his head spinning and legs aching worse than before as he glanced up to see Ramoth back on his feet, looking at them all with fiery rage in his eyes.

“A little trick I taught him,” the Matoran was saying, and he walked into Jokao’s line of sight, with a malevolent grin on his face. “Snap my fingers and he’ll be up as soon as I say so, even if he has been knocked silly. He’s very well-trained like that, isn’t he?”

“I don’t care,” said Jokao, struggling to get back to his feet. But then his world started spinning; he was feeling disoriented again, and, without the ability to balance, merely fell on his face and cursed. He was starting to think that Ramoth had some sort of confusion ability, since he doubted the Matoran had anything to do with it. “I . . . just . . . want to . . . to . . .”

“To do what?” said the Matoran with a laugh. “Kill me? Toa don’t kill; that was something established very early on. But we Matoran don’t have to follow your silly old code; we can kill whomever we please, whenever we like, in whatever way we want. So say good bye, my friends. Ramoth hasn’t had this much fresh meat to eat in a while; I dare say I’m spoiling my favorite little pet. He will be full for a week, I bet.”
 

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#56 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 13 2014 - 06:25 AM

Chapter 13: Tamers


Hajax lay on the ground of the brightly lit cavern, his body aching all over as he watched Ramoth bare down upon Jokao. He did not care much for the Toa of Fire’s life, but he was currently burning in anger at the Matoran villager, whoever he was. This Matoran had dared to order his dumb beast to attack him, Makuta Hajax, and had succeeded in landing a blow. He would have to pay dearly, the villager and his stupid pet.

That is if I can even get up in the first place, Hajax thought as his body ached all over. I nearly forgot what it felt like to have to deal with a weak, frail thing like this physical body. Something I will have to deal with at some point, but for now I must force myself to get up, however difficult that may be.

But, as it turned out, he didn’t even need to move, for half a dozen bolts of shadow struck Ramoth’s behind, stinging it and causing the dragon to roar in pain. It whirled around to face Oggak, its attacker, who was back on her feet despite having been hit as hard as he and Jokao had, her red eyes flashing in anger as shadow energy trailed from her hands. Hajax noted that the Toa of Shadow was apparently stronger than she looked, which would make any future interrogations harder to accomplish, he decided.

“Don’t you dare touch him,” she said quietly, though Hajax caught the threatening tone very well and so did Ramoth, apparently, who was looking at her in rage. “Or I’ll make you pay.”

“Ha! You can’t kill Ramoth,” said the Matoran, who Hajax noted, with some satisfaction, had moved himself well away from them. “You don’t have your sword, for one, which I took from your bag when we first captured you. And two, Ramoth’s hide is thick enough to take whatever you throw at him. Trying to kill him would be like trying to stop a stampeding herd of Tahtorak; it just isn’t happening and you’ll end up dead sooner or later. So give up, and maybe I’ll have Ramoth kill you before he eats you whole.”

Oggak laughed, a harsh, cold laugh that reminded Hajax, now accessing Barilo’s memories, of whenever a Shodios laughed, particularly Teivel. Not so different from them, then, is she? Hajax thought as he got onto his hands and knees and shook his head to clear his vision, which was still a little fuzzy from the hit he had taken.

“Your dragon may be stronger than me, true, but if you know what’s good for you, you will call him down. Now,” she added, and Hajax noticed shadow swirling around her hands. He thought he knew what was going to happen, but wondered if Oggak was really going to do it or if she was just bluffing.

The Matoran snorted. “Are you threatening me, Toa?”

“No,” she replied simply. “I am warning you.”

“Warning me? Ha!” the Matoran laughed. “I think you forgot-“

Suddenly, bonds of shadow appeared around the Matoran’s body and constricted, even as the villager yelped in pain. Hajax recognized those; the chains were of the same kind used by the Shodios and Kra-Matoran back in Wyoko. He had no idea that Oggak was capable of it, though he supposed upon reflection it made sense. Try as she might to disassociate herself from her own people, she was still just like them, in powers and personality. Hajax then realized that he wasn’t much different from Teridax or any of the other Makuta that had followed him, but did his best to push that thought out of his mind. He was different; smarter, for one, and much better at manipulating people, too, among other things. No similarities at all, he told himself, besides being of the same species, which was something that he couldn’t help.

Ramoth took a couple of steps forward, snarling at Oggak, but then without warning a cage of raging flames sprung into life around it, the bars of which were so hot that it actually yelped when its thick armor came into contact with them. Hajax glanced to the left and saw Jokao, though still lying on the ground, had one hand raised and aimed directly at Ramoth. Hajax then looked back at Ramoth, which had apparently burned itself again, for it had screeched loudly in pain.

“You don’t mess with Toa and get away with it that easily,” Oggak told the Matoran coldly. She pulled her hand back and the Matoran’s shadow chains began floating towards her with the captured prisoner in its grasps. The Matoran tried to break free, but it was clear that the energy sapping ability of the shadow chains was at work, since he was having no success at all in his endeavor.

“Y-yeah,” Jokao gasped, wincing. Hajax remembered that Jokao’s legs were broken, which was probably the reason for his wincing. That and the fact that it was likely taking a lot of energy out of him to keep the cage in existence for as long as it was. Hajax thought that the Toa of Fire must be stronger than he appeared.

I will have to keep an eye on him, too, the Makuta decided as he rose to his own feet, now feeling rather sick. He found himself thinking almost fondly of his bed back at Koro Nui, where he could rest his battered body and refresh himself, but he pushed those thoughts away. He had to concentrate on the here and now, which his body apparently wasn’t very interested in at the moment.

“Now tell me,” said Oggak, calmly and quietly, once the Matoran was within arm length of her. She had her attention focused solely on the villager now, and her eyes, which had been burning in anger earlier, were now calmer, though somehow that looked worse to Hajax than the anger. “Does your name happen to be . . . Kavi?”

“Yes, it is,” the Matoran replied indignantly. “I am certain the name is much better than your own, shadow spit.”

The chains constricted again and the Matoran yelped in pain as Oggak continued quietly, “I knew it.”

“What did you know, Oggak?” asked Hajax, in what he hoped was a curious-sounding voice. “Do you know Kavi? Have you met him before?”

“I’ve heard of him,” said Oggak not paying attention to Kavi anymore, who was now looking rather weak and was no longer struggling to escape his bonds. “On Daxia, the Order kept Shika Nui under surveillance after the Kra-Matoran were exiled into Wyoko. As a result, we probably know quite a bit more about Shika Nui’s history than even its own inhabitants do.”

“The Order is still active?” asked Kavi interestedly. “I thought-“

“No one cares what you think, Matoran,” Hajax snapped, mostly out of habit. “Or-“

“Barilo, stop insulting him,” said Oggak firmly. “You’re just enraging him for no reason.”

“Ah, yes, I forgot,” said Hajax with a fake shrug. “Of course, I can’t possibly insult him, now can I? But you, of course, can sap him of his energy with those shadow chains . . . the very same, I may add, that the Shodios and Kra-Matoran used on me and my friends back in Wyoko. Totally makes sense.”

He smirked at Oggak, who did not reply. He had effectively pointed out her hypocrisy so well that she could not respond. He loved it when he did that.

“Um, guys?” said Jokao, whose voice sounded strained. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep Ramoth at bay. This cage won’t last forever, you know.”

“Right,” said Oggak, nodding. “Now where was I? Oh, yes, that’s right. Well, you see, Shika Nui was then inhabited by many Matoran, who came from places all across the universe after the Kra-Matoran were imprisoned. Because the universe was still in a state of turmoil, Shika Nui needed protection, much more than the six new Toa who had come in being when the Toa Avha had turned into Turaga shortly after completing their destiny. So the island’s new inhabitants began to tame some of the native dragon-like Rahi that lived in its lower depths, which are called Frykes. Matoran who tamed these creatures were known as Tamers and eventually, after a few years, an organized group of Matoran emerged, which was comprised primarily of the most famous Tamers at the time, as well as a few trainees who were to follow in the footsteps of their elder Tamers.

“The Tamers did quite a bit in Shika Nui’s early days, ranging from protecting the Matoran of Shika Nui from dangerous Rahi to helping make certain parts of the island more habitable for the new settlers. In essence, the Tamers and their Frykes acted like Toa, except much less noble, with no such code against killing, for example. They also worked alongside the Toa of Shika Nui that were active at the time and were often associated with the heroes. Some Tamers were even hired by the leaders of other islands to do work for them they were so successful and well-known. And for a while everything was goi-”

“We were looked upon as heroes!” Kavi interrupted, speaking up suddenly. “We were loved by all and given special honor during Naming Day ceremonies! We did all the work, but we were disbanded and replaced by the Toa Shika, who had grown strong and experienced enough to defend the island on their own without our help. And there no need for us after the island was completely settled, either! Did we gain recognition for our work? No! The Toa replaced us. The Toa . . . they . . . I . . .”

The bitterness in his voice surprised Hajax a little, though at the same time, he could almost feel himself sympathizing with the villager, or as much as a Makuta could sympathize with another being, anyway. He remembered how jealous the other Makuta had been when they had learned that the Matoran gave all of their thanks and praise to Mata Nui, rather than to the Brotherhood, which had worked tirelessly every day to ensure the safety of the villagers. He had always suspected that jealousy had played a large part in Teridax’s creation of the Plan. So in a way, he understood Kavi’s apparent anger, bitterness, and feelings of betrayal that he felt towards other Matoran.

“What does he. . . . What does he mean, Oggak?” asked Jokao weakly. He did not seem like he could stay conscious much longer, based on his tone.

“He means that the Tamers were indeed replaced, though he has distorted some of the facts,” Oggak said, after throwing a surprisingly irritated look at Kavi. “You see, though the Tamers were indeed respected, they were also feared. Their Frykes, like Ramoth, were strong and had very bad tempers. Even the slightest, most insignificant annoying thing would be enough to offend them, which would almost always result in the death of whoever was stupid enough to offend the Fryke in the first place. This culminated when, about ten years after the Tamers were formed, several Frykes which were supposed to be under Tamer control went berserk and went on a destructive rampage all over Shika Nui before the local Toa team managed to stop them. Combining this attack with the growing fear of the Frykes was enough to force the Turaga at that time, Turaga Omira, to disband the Tamers for good.”

“I remember that day all too well,” Kavi muttered, more to himself than anything. “It wasn’t our fault that some moron angered our Frykes enough to go on a rampage. They simply weren’t as well behaved as Ramoth. Isn’t that right, Ramoth?”

The dragon, still in its cage of flames, merely growled softly in reply, its yellow eyes never leaving Oggak, who continued her explanation.

“Since the Tamers were disbanded, the Toa Shika of that time period were given the status of Shika Nui’s main defenders and peacekeepers,” she continued. “Former Tamers, while still allowed to live on Shika Nui, were feared and sometimes hated by their neighbors, causing some of them to leave the island to find work elsewhere. A few left just to avoid all the hate they attracted on the island. Even then, however, news spread of the accident, which caused the inhabitants of other islands to reject them, for fear of having their cities and towns decimated like what had happened here.”

“My people had to retreat to the southern islands,” Kavi added bitterly. “I was the only one to stay here, the only one who chose to hide beneath the earth, never to see the light of day ever again . . . never to be seen as a hero to the Matoran . . . always feared and hated . . . always-“

“Shut up,” Hajax snapped, looking around for his spear. “What’d you do with our weapons, Matoran?”

“Why should I tell you?” asked Kavi angrily. “You, who have intruded upon my home, who have captured me and my harmless pet-“

Hajax snorted. “’Harmless’ is not the word I would use to describe your dumb dragon, Kavi. ‘Lethal,’ though, fits much better, in my opinion.”

“So,” said Oggak, ignoring Hajax. “You went under here, Kavi? You didn’t want to go with your friends because-?”

“I do not need to explain my intentions to any of you, especially to shadow spit like yourself!” Kavi shouted, struggling against his shadow bonds again. “Your people, I might add, slaughtered thousands of innocent beings, including some of my friends, and-“

“Kavi, I don’t care if you think I’m just as bad as the Shodios or not,” said Oggak firmly. “All I want to know, however, is why you have never returned to the surface. That interests me more than anything, since not even the Order knew you were down here. We thought all of the Tamers retreated to the southern islands like you said.”

“I didn’t return because my people hated me, shadow spit,” Kavi snapped. “Returning would only remind them of the old times, and they would likely force me off Shika Nui. But I just can’t leave . . . this is my home and . . . and I can’t go anywhere else . . .”

He suddenly, without warning, started sobbing very hard, much to Hajax’s surprise. This Matoran had showed defiance in the face of three beings who could easily eliminate his worthless life, and yet was now showing such an undesirable weakness as crying? Hajax didn’t understand him, but then, he had never understood Matoran very well. That was Antroz’s sort of thing, not what he specialized in.

“Ever since the accident . . . I could never be forgiven,” Kavi sobbed. “I cannot take anymore rejection and hate . . .”

“It’s okay,” said Oggak kindly and gently. “Nobody remembers what you or the Tamers did all those years ago. You can come back to the surface with us, you and Ramoth. We need help against the Tuikas, Kavi, and I think you can redeem yourself if you come with us. Your help would be greatly appreciated.”

“Never,” said Kavi through gritted teeth, though tears still rolled down his face. “I would never ally with shadow spit such as you. I’m too good for that. Just go away, back to the surface, and never bother me again, got it?”

All of a sudden, the chains of shadow that had been binding his limbs together disappeared. Kavi fell on to the ground with an expression of shock on his face as he looked up at Oggak. Hajax was alarmed by the Toa of Shadow’s unexpected decision. Why did she free him? True, he was not much of a threat without Ramoth, but still, Hajax recognized he was a clever little brat who ought to be chained up for their own safety.

“Jokao, let Ramoth go,” said Oggak to the Toa of Fire, who along with Hajax immediately began protesting.

“Oggak, that’s crazy!” Jokao said in a shocked voice. He was still lying on the ground and was looking weaker and weaker every minute, though he managed to keep the cage of flames alive and well just the same. “Ramoth’ll kill us all the minute I let him go.”

“Jokao is right, Oggak,” said Hajax coolly, stepping in between Ramoth and Oggak and looking at the two. He had no doubt that he could eliminate Ramoth’s mind with a simple mental blast in case he needed to, but since doing that would raise a lot of questions he wished to avoid, he was worried. “Ramoth is a menace that ought to be put down immediately. If you want me to, I could kill-“

“No!” Kavi shouted suddenly, running to get in between Hajax and Ramoth. “Don’t kill him! He’s my only friend. Please don’t kill him, whatever you do. Kill me instead, if you have to. He’s the only living thing that doesn’t hate me anymore.”

“We’re not going to be killing anyone or anything,” Oggak replied. She looked back at Jokao and said, this time more firmly, “Release Ramoth from his cage. You can rest a bit if you want afterwards.” She glanced at Kavi and said to him, “I want you to order Ramoth not to attack any of us. This way, none of us have to get hurt or die. If you do not comply, we may just be forced to kill him, even though I would rather we don’t.”

Based on the expression on his face, Kavi seemed to be fighting with himself. Hajax knew what he was going through; if Ramoth was released, then he could order the Fryke to kill them all. Yet if he obeyed a Toa of Shadow – which he hated – and she did as she promised, then that would mean there would be no senseless killing or fighting that could injured himself or Ramoth. Hajax also suspected that Kavi was starting to doubt Ramoth’s own strength; what if he were to get killed in battle?

Pathetic worries and fears that I have since discarded, Hajax thought derisively. Though I suppose, for him, it is hard to decide. Personally I would not give into the threats of some puny Toa. I am a Makuta and to do that would be incredibly embarrassing and disgraceful.

Finally, Kavi said reluctantly, without looking up at Oggak, “Okay. I promise not to order Ramoth to kill you all, or to even attack you. I’ll . . . I’ll do as you say, if you uphold your part of the deal.”

“Good,” said Oggak, nodding. She glanced at Jokao and told him, “Let Ramoth out. Kavi’s agreed to the deal.” Jokao looked doubtful, so she added softly, “Don’t do it for him – do it for me.”

“Okay,” said Jokao, lowering his hand abruptly to the ground. “I’ll do it for you, Oggak.”

The cage of flames immediately ceased to exist and Ramoth, now free, reared back to strike Hajax, who was nearest, before Kavi ordered, “No, Ramoth! Don’t attack them. Keep your ground and stay where you are, got it?”

Ramoth halted and stood back. Though its body was obeying, Hajax noticed how it was eyeing Oggak and himself very carefully, as though awaiting further orders. Hajax wanted so very dearly to knock it out now, or perhaps kill it, but since that would be counterproductive he decided against it.

Oggak walked around Ramoth to Jokao, who was now lying very motionless on the ground behind it. She bent down and helped him to his feet, speaking in words too soft for Hajax to hear. He assumed she was asking him how he was doing, how he felt, simple, trivial and uninteresting things like that that he could care less about. So he glared at Kavi, who stared defiantly back.

“What else do you Toa want?” the Matoran demanded, never flinching even slightly at Hajax’s stare. “I have already chosen to spare your lives. Go and leave now; I can’t be bothered to tolerate your presence any longer.”

“I simply wish to know where our weapons are,” Hajax told him, the barest hint of a threat in his voice. “After all, it would be most unwise of us to leave unarmed, in case we were to be attacked by the Tuikas once we reach the surface.”

Kavi looked at him suspiciously. “What’re Tuikas?”

“Monsters that look like the things that come out of your worst nightmares,” Hajax replied. Truth be told, however he had never seen the Tuikas up close himself so he didn’t really know if they were that bad-looking or if it was just an exaggeration. “Killing machines that make your pet look harmless. In short, it’s as if every evil, vile, and disgusting thing in the entire universe has taken on the form of six beasts that all want to rip and tear for no reason other than for the pure and utter joy of it. Now where are our weapons?”

“Over there,” said Kavi, pointing towards the wall where a mace, a spear, and a sword were propped. “I took them away from you so you wouldn’t try and use them on me or Ramoth if you awoke.”

“Thank you,” said Hajax, sweeping over to the weapons and picking up his spear, which he examined to make sure it hadn’t been tampered with. “You are a most gracious person.” He had said that last sentence very sarcastically.

“And you, in turn, are ‘gracious,’ if that is the word you wish to use,” Kavi shot back.

Once Oggak and Jokao (now leaning on Oggak for support) had collected their own weapons, the Toa of Shadow turned to look at Kavi and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us back to the surface? Ramoth in particular would help greatly in our fight against the Tuikas.”

“No,” said Kavi, in a forced, would-be calm voice. It was clear that he was beginning to regret the deal immediately, but at least he was making some effort to be polite towards her. “The surface world holds nothing but contempt for me. Besides, why should I fight and die for people who I hate, and for people who no longer remember me? It would be pointless. I have lived under here for 100,000 years and will live another 100,000 before I ever even think of accepting your proposal, shadow spit.”

“Good,” Hajax muttered. “I don’t know if I would be able to live in the same building as you for more than five minutes anyway.”

Jokao asked, “So you aren’t going to come back to the surface ever?”

“Perhaps . . . maybe at some point I may visit,” said Kavi, turning away to walk over to his stone platform, which he sat on and then looked up at them. “I have lived under here for 100,000 years. I sometimes get bored, but if those Tuikas are still active, and if they are as bad as you say they are, I won’t be coming to visit you anytime soon. Not especially if you have shadow spit like her infecting the surface,” he added nastily, looking at Oggak with hate.

“Well, it was nice to meet you, Kavi,” said Oggak quickly, before Jokao could retaliate. She looked around and added, “Could you please point us a way out of here? The way we came in was blocked and we’re not sure we should try to dig our way out in case the Tuikas are waiting on the other side.”

Kavi reluctantly pointed behind them. “There’s a secret passageway that leads to the surface behind that segment of the wall. There are a lot of those passageways hidden underneath Shika Nui. I don’t know what they were made for, but Ramoth and I use them a lot for exploration. Some may even lead to other lands; I don’t know, I’ve never bothered to do much exploring. All I know is that you can reach the surface if you keep following that tunnel straight, and that you should never return here, ever. If I want to see you again, I’ll come after you myself. Got it?”

“Fine,” said Oggak, nodding. “Thank you. Let’s go, guys,” she added, turning around with Jokao towards the wall, which slid away to reveal a dark tunnel that extended far beyond Hajax’s range of vision. “We’ve got friends awaiting us on the surface. Let’s don’t make them wait any longer.”
 

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#57 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 14 2014 - 08:38 AM

Chapter 14: Speculation & Conspiracies


Grief, perhaps, was the only word that could have described the feelings that Akuna, Chimoy, and Nastan were feeling, standing over Addis’ newly buried grave, which they had just filled themselves.

The cause of Addis’ death was of no surprise to them. Anyone who lost that much blood so fast would have been a medical miracle if they had survived. It was more the fact that it happened, that he was dead, that he had actually been killed was what filled them with grief and sorrow.

It was late at night that they were holding this double funeral for Addis and Nonzra, the latter whose corpse they had removed from the tunnel earlier. It had taken them about half an hour or so to dig out two graves, which they had then deposited the corpses in. They were also alone, having asked the others to give them some privacy. Even Turaga Joha, who had known Addis and Nonzra before, was not present, for he had respected their request and was currently, as far as Akuna knew, overseeing the burial of the Matoran that had died in the last attack. Akuna was secretly glad that only she, Nastan, and Chimoy were here; she didn’t feel like the others would understand the feelings they were sharing as they looked at the gravestones of their two friends.

Will a third soon join them, though? Akuna thought, watching Chimoy writing on the rocks that they used for headstones. Barilo, Jokao, and Oggak have been gone an awful long time . . . what if something happened to one of them?

Though she had been reassured by the other inhabitants of Koro Nui that it wasn’t unusual for Jokao and Oggak to be gone for this long, she still was worried. The Tuikas were out there and were quite capable of murder, as they proved when they had killed Addis and all those poor Matoran. If dozens of Matoran, four Toa, and three Dark Hunters had had a difficult time with the Tuikas, then she thought it would be a miracle if Barilo, Jokao, and Oggak returned in one piece.

She glanced at Nastan, who looked extremely serious now. She knew what he was thinking. He was probably blaming himself for Addis’ death, since he had been paralyzed by Kidah’s stinger and had been helpless to save Addis or at least do something to ease the Toa of Plasma’s pain. He had actually seen Addis die right before his eyes. She wondered how much that had hurt him. Though all three of them were feeling sadness and grief, she knew that Nastan, having personally witnessed Nonzra’s death along with the others, was most likely feeling emotions of such sorrow that she was surprised he had not simply fallen on Addis’ grave crying his eyes out like she would have expected him to.

Guess he’s a little bit stronger than that, Akuna thought, gripping his hand reassuringly. He looked at her and she smiled slightly, to show him that she was with him and that she understood his feelings.

But oddly enough, he did not smile back or do anything to show that he had understood what she was trying to get across. Instead, he looked back at the tombstones with the same serious expression he had been wearing for a while now. Akuna, crestfallen, looked down and saw that Chimoy had finished writing the memorials to Addis and Nonzra. They read, respectively:

Here lies Toa Nonzra, Toa of Sonics, who had been a good friend and ally in battle, giving his life to save the Matoran of Shika Nui – and the universe – from the threat of the Shodios. He shall be remembered forever.

Here lies Toa Addis, Toa of Plasma, who had displayed leadership and loyalty to his teammates at all times and gave his life to protect the Matoran of Shika Nui – and his friends – from the wrath of the monstrous Tuikas. He shall be remembered forever.

They weren’t much, but somehow Akuna didn’t think much more needed to be said than what was written on those tombstones. She could actually feel tears welling up in her eyes as she read the memorials again and was unsure if she would be able to make it through the eulogy, which they had decided would be presented by Chimoy.

The Toa of Iron looked at Nastan and Akuna, then at the graves, and back again. He seemed to be wrestling with himself for a moment before he finally said, “Nonzra and Addis were great Toa and even greater friends. They both displayed bravery, loyalty, and courage in the face of the greatest threats they had ever faced. They were heroes of a higher caliber than we could hope to reach and will always be remembered by their friends who survived.”

Once he had finished, Nastan had one arm around Akuna, tears pouring silently down her face. She had already accepted Addis and Nonzra’s deaths before, but now, seeing their graves here, it was more final. Death was, of course, always final, but now she absolutely knew for certain that they were both dead and were never coming back. She had never fooled herself with thoughts that they might still be living, but occasionally she had thought it was all just a bad nightmare and that she would wake up to find that they were both alive and well with her and the others, that their deaths had never happened and that they would all be happy.

What a foolish way to think, she thought, shaking her head. But I guess that’s just how I think, I guess. I don’t know.

Chimoy looked up at the moon, which hung high in the sky overhead, shining through the breach in the tree branches overhead, and cursed under his breath. Akuna assumed it was in frustration and sadness that he had cursed, before Nastan suddenly muttered, “I know how you feel, Chimoy, and I blame her and them.”

“What?” said Akuna curiously, wiping the tears out of her eyes as she looked at Nastan. “Who do you blame?”

Nastan looked at Akuna with a completely serious expression on his face and said to her, “The Dark Hunters. Oggak. They’re responsible for this. Nonzra would still be alive if Oggak’s people hadn’t tried to take over the universe 100,000 years ago . . . and Addis wouldn’t have died if the Dark Hunters had been . . . well, they were just there when he died and gave no indication that they cared whatsoever.”

“Not entirely true,” said Chimoy, whose eyes were still on the moon in the sky. “Death actually showed some concern over Addis’ death and wanted to help with the burial. But Kigin didn’t care at all, so I agree that the Hunters weren’t very helpful.”

“I don’t know about Oggak, though,” said Akuna slowly. It was clear that Nastan was on a roll and she didn’t really want to get him angry at her. Still, she had to say something, since rushing to conclusions like this didn’t seem quite right to her. “Teivel did kill Nonzra, but she really had nothing to do with it, once you think about-“

“Shut up, Akuna,” said Nastan, who had taken his arm off her and was standing a few feet away. “You don’t know what you’re saying. Those Toa of Shadow. . . . They’re all the same. She’s one of them and, though she didn’t directly kill Nonzra herself, she helped make sure that everything went that way, whether she knew it or not.”

Akuna was shocked by the way he had snapped at her and said, a little angrily, “You don’t need to snap at me, Nastan. I know her history and Wyoko’s history, but I am just saying it seems a little bit like a stretch to say that Oggak was directly responsible for Nonzra’s death. That’s all.”

Nastan laughed harshly. “Right, because Oggak’s betrayal of the Kra-Matoran, which lead to their exile to Wyoko, and which lead to our entering Wyoko, didn’t cause Teivel to kill Nonzra? It was because of their hatred of us that he killed Nonzra. An irrational hate that blinded the Shodios to the truth: that they’re evil, lying, miserable villains who deserve Wyoko.”

“Are you being much different, Nastan?” asked Akuna bluntly. “You’re jumping to conclusions on Oggak just to hate her, like the way the Shodios and their people hated us just, well, just because? I admit we’re not nearly as evil as the Shodios, but-“

“The Shodios hate us because of what our ancestors did to them,” Nastan replied sharply. “And we hate them because they hunted us down, gave us an unfair trial, and killed Nonzra to boot. What they did to us is far more personal than being locked away in some physical representation of Karzahni. That is why I deserve to hate Oggak; that is why we deserve to hate her.”

“And are you accusing us of being as bad as the Shodios, Akuna?” asked Chimoy pointedly, who was no longer looking at the moon and was now staring at her with cold eyes. “We’ve never been nearly as evil as the Shodios and never will. We’re the heroes; they’re the villains. Hate, perhaps, isn’t always justifiable, but based on the things Nastan listed – and several more that I can think of – hating and distrusting Oggak may not be entirely irrational.”

“That isn’t what I meant,” said Akuna, kicking a nearby stone in frustration. She didn’t like being ‘teamed up’ on by these two like this. “I was just saying- well, look! You two are sounding almost exactly like the Shodios. You may not be willing to do the things they did, but the way you say we deserve to hate her is just . . . I don’t know if I can support that kind of thinking, even if it is true. It just doesn’t sound right to me. It just doesn’t sound like something a Toa would say. Not that I actually trust or even like Oggak, but I’m just saying that this kind of thinking, well, frightens me, especially coming from you, Nastan. I thought you were better than that.”

“I’m better than her people, if that’s what you’re saying,” Nastan replied. He reared back and punched a nearby tree hard, as though to release his anger. Or maybe he did it for no reason at all. Akuna couldn’t tell. “You know how I feel, Akuna. You know what we’ve gone through . . . what I have personally experienced. I was one of them for a while, Akuna, remember that? I know how they think and what makes them tick, and it’s not good, or fun. It’s evil; pure and utter evil. And if Oggak is a Toa of Shadow – which she is, something she doesn’t even bother to try to deny even – then I can’t see how she could possibly keep herself pure from the evil influence of shadow. It’s impossible, isn’t it?”

“From what I can tell, yes, it is,” said Chimoy, nodding in agreement. “The Makuta went evil when they embraced the shadow, and so did the Shodios and their people, the Kra-Matoran. I share Nastan’s skepticism. If shadow is evil, as we know it is, then how could Oggak possibly be even slightly good? It just doesn’t make any sense, don’t you see?”

“I- I guess so,” said Akuna with an uncertain shrug. “I really haven’t seen any truly good wielders of shadow. Maybe you are right, though I don’t really like the way you put it.”

“Glad to see you agree,” said Nastan, with a triumphant look on his face. “When Oggak, Jokao, and Barilo get back, we’ll confront her.”

“Confront her?” asked Chimoy, who sounded just as surprised as Akuna felt. “About what? We’ve got no proof she’s ever done anything wrong or evil before. All we can accuse her of is being untrustworthy and, considering she’s been fighting alongside the others for several weeks against the Tuikas and has saved many lives while risking her own at the same time, I doubt that accusation would hold much, if any, water.”

“True, we really don’t have much to accuse her of doing,” Nastan admitted, but after glancing at the graves of Nonzra and Addis, he looked up at Chimoy with an odd grin on his face. Akuna thought the smile he now wore on his face looked frighteningly like the one he had worn as a Toa of Shadow – and whenever he wore that, he had always been about to do something dangerous and evil. “But I’ve been thinking. We don’t really know why the Tuikas have been attacking us, do we? I mean, why haven’t they just left Shika Nui for an island with bigger prey? There’s like what, a few hundred Matoran and a handful of Toa, plus a couple of Dark Hunters and a Turaga here? With the power that the Tuikas have, surely they could be off conquering other lands or something like that?”

“But the Tuikas are Rahi, Nastan,” said Akuna hurriedly. She did not like the expression on his face and wanted to try to divert Nastan’s attention from his own plan quickly before it became something monstrous. “You can’t usually apply logic and reasoning to Rahi, Nastan. They may just be too stupid to understand or know that there are other islands out there to find bigger prey. Besides, I seriously doubt that a bunch of powerful Rahi are much interested in conquest in the first place. They aren’t Barraki, you know.”

“I know,” said Nastan conspiratorially, his smile widening as he went on. The expression really didn’t match the rest of his face, in Akuna’s opinion. “But here’s my theory; what if they are working for Oggak, instead of against her? What if, while we are busy fighting the Tuikas, Oggak is doing something behind our backs that none of us know about?”

“What could she possibly be trying to accomplish behind our backs, Nastan?” asked Akuna in disbelief. Distrust Oggak though she may, Akuna didn’t think the Toa of Shadow was up to anything secretive at the moment.

“Maybe she wants to free her people and bring about a new age of the Kra-Matoran Empire,” Nastan suggested, looking from Akuna to Chimoy with a crazed expression in his eyes. “I know, she says she betrayed them, but she could have changed her mind since then. Maybe she wants to free them now and lead the empire herself. I’m sure she thinks ‘Supreme Empress of the Universe Oggakia’ sounds good.”

“You don’t really have any proof of that, though,” said Chimoy, shaking his head. “It’s all just speculation, Nastan. For all we know, there could be no connection whatsoever between Oggak and the Tuikas, which I doubt there is. As much as I distrust her, I don’t think she’s planning anything malicious, even if I do think she’s no good.”

“And Nastan,” Akuna added quickly, before Nastan could retaliate, “you’re starting to sound an awful lot like you did when you were a Toa of Shadow. Your smile and eyes look almost like they were when you were evil. I mean, what’s next? When you were a Toa of Shadow, you actually tried to harm and kill us. I don’t want you to get into a fight with Oggak on the basis of some wild mass guessing that might be false.”

Nastan rounded on Akuna and, grabbing her shoulders roughly, shouted, shaking her, “What if I’m right, though? Am I going to have to just sit back and watch her get away with it?”

“Nastan!” said Akuna, shocked, struggling to break his grasp but failing. “You’re hurting me . . .” He really was. He was gripping her too hard and shaking her too fast.

Chimoy threw his arms around Nastan’s waist and managed to pull him off her with a supreme effort. He pulled Nastan away, who was now looking almost savage, wrestling to break free of Chimoy’s iron grip on him but failing, while Akuna walked as far back as possible from Nastan’s outstretched arms. The fear she was feeling towards Nastan now vividly reminded her of how she had felt when he had been a Toa of Shadow, which was exactly how she felt right now.

“Let go!” Nastan shouted, flailing his arms and legs but failing to free himself from Chimoy’s hold on him. “Let me go, or I’ll-“

“Or you’ll what? Kill me?” asked Chimoy sharply, holding Nastan with surprising ease. “Nastan, listen to yourself! You nearly hurt Akuna and are starting to sound like how you did when you were a Toa of Shadow! Snap out of it! If you want to prove you’re better than the Shodios or Dark Hunters or Tuikas, then act like it!”

At first, Chimoy’s words did not seem to have pierced Nastan’s head. Indeed, Akuna thought he was going to eventually rip his way out of Chimoy’s grasp considering how violently he was thrashing his arms and legs about.

But then suddenly – very suddenly – Nastan stopped, almost as if he hadn’t been doing anything at all. He was now looking at Chimoy with an expression of fear upon his face. Akuna had seen him look that way before, back in Wyoko, when she had managed to snap him out of insanity shortly after his phase as a Toa of Shadow. She had thought she would never see the helpless, scared expression on his face ever again, the one that seemed to always contrast with how she thought of him. Still, it was much better, she decided, than the crazed, violent expression he had worn earlier. At least he didn’t look frightening to her now, she thought.

“I . . . I’m sorry,” he said, his head hanging on his chest, not looking at either of them. His voice was quiet now. “I was just . . . I wasn’t thinking right. I didn’t mean to harm either of you two, especially you, Akuna. It was my shadow side, I think. Ever since Wanderer cured me, my shadow side has been stronger than before my transformation. I’ve been trying to fight it, but it is sometimes too strong for me to take on alone, and it isn’t always obvious, either. It’s subtle and tricks me into false thinking and makes me want to hurt people, even people I love and care for.”

“But I don’t think that quite excuses what you almost did,” said Chimoy, who had relaxed his grip on the Toa of The Green, but still held both hands on him just in case. “While neither of us hate you, Nastan, next time I think you should try harder to resist the shadow within.”

Nastan glared at Chimoy and growled, “Do you think I don’t try? I- well, okay, I sometimes don’t because I forget about it. But when I do know it’s there, I try to stop it and I sometimes succeed. It isn’t easy. It’s like my dark side suddenly became more powerful after I was cured; like I wasn’t made completely good after all.”

Akuna took a tentative step forward (she still had no idea if Nastan would go berserk and try to harm her again, so she thought it best to keep her distance) and said to him, in as gentle a voice she could muster, “No one is completely good, Nastan. We all deal with our evil sides every once in a while, some more than others. I still love you, even if you did try to hurt me, though I admit I was a little shaken up by it. I’m also, however, willing to help you. No one can do it alone, and we need unity in this time, as cliché as that may sound.”

“Precisely,” Chimoy added, letting go of Nastan, who was now on his knees and staring at the ground in shame. “Unity is of utmost importance right now, though I admit, I don’t particularly like our new allies. Still, it would be better to keep these thoughts to ourselves, at least for now. Driving us apart will simply make it easier for the Tuikas to smash us into a million little pieces.”

“I guess so,” Nastan muttered, getting back to his feet with help from Akuna. “I . . . I don’t really think Oggak’s got anything to do with the Tuikas anymore, not for real. But I still don’t like her,” he added, looking around at them defiantly.

“Whatever,” Akuna said with a smile, feeling less fearful around Nastan now that he was back to normal. “I think we ought to head back to the fortress now. The others might be worried about our prolonged absence.”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” said Nastan in agreement. “I was getting a little tired, though I doubt I’ll get much rest.”

“You’re telling me,” said Chimoy jokingly as they began to walk back to Koro Nui. “Joha gave me a word before we left to bury Nonzra and Addis. He told me that I should use my powers over metal to reinforce the walls, towers, and anything else that got heavily damaged in the last attack. I’m going to be up all night and for much of tomorrow morning, I suspect.”

“Well, somebody has to do it, right?” said Akuna. “You’re the best person for the job, probably.”

“Yeah, my powers are useful for the rebuilding, I guess, but I’m not much of an architect,” said Chimoy with a shrug. “It may not hold up well against the next attack.”

“Maybe when Barilo returns he can help you with that,” Nastan suggested. “Like, use his gravity to move debris, you know? Be useful for once.”

They all shared a chuckle at that. Though she was enjoying this greatly, Akuna knew this lighthearted behavior would only last a little while. She had no doubt in her mind that soon they would all be mourning Addis, more so than before, as well Nonzra. It seemed likely to her, too, that when Barilo got back and learned of Addis’ death the mourning would get even worse.

But for now, she was determined to enjoy this moment of happiness with her two friends, however brief it may be.
 

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#58 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 15 2014 - 09:07 AM

Chapter 15: More than Meets the Eye


After following Kavi’s instructions, it did not take long for Hajax, Oggak, and Jokao to reach the surface. They simply went straight ahead, as he had told them, and made no detours. After what they’d just been through, none of them were in the mood for unexpected surprises, though Hajax kept his spear out just in case. He did not want to let his guard down again.

Upon reaching the surface, they soon found that it was around midnight, based on how dark it was. So they decided to camp out for the night, near the cavern mouth. Should the Tuikas find them again – which seemed likely, for the Tuikas apparently did not sleep, according to Oggak – they would retreat into the tunnel and find another, safer way out.

Oggak and Hajax took turns keeping watch, while Jokao slept. He was still in far too critical to stay up for long periods of time, so it was up to the two of them to make sure no one tried to kill them while they slept. Oggak expressed worries that Hajax – who she, like everyone else, still thought was Barilo – would not be able to see any incoming foes in the darkness and therefore was in danger of being killed much easier than her. Hajax had reassured her that after his experiences in Wyoko he was quite capable of discerning what was hiding in the darkness, regardless of how deep the shadows were, which seemed to satisfy her. The truth was, of course, that he was a Makuta and so therefore could see in the darkness far better than any Toa of Shadow could, though again since no one knew this he saw no reason to blow his cover and tell her the truth.

Of course, unlike her, I have a reason for keeping my secrets, Hajax thought as he sat on the edge of the campsite, glancing over his shoulder briefly at Jokao and Oggak, who were both sleeping quietly, and then looked back into the dark countryside. Just what is her reason for hiding the truth about the Tuikas? Whatever it is, I will find a way to get it. A Makuta always gets what he wants, and I am no different.

They continued their journey at dawn, avoiding any wide open spaces, for it would have been too easy for the Tuikas to spot them if they didn’t have cover of some kind. So they mostly passed through ruined villages and kept low to the ground the entire time, moving slowly because of Jokao, whose legs had yet to heal, occasionally stopping to let him rest for a few minutes before continuing on. After about an hour and a half or so, Koro Nui’s huge outline appeared on the horizon, easily recognizable for being the only building still standing for miles around.

“There it is!” said Oggak, pointing above the dead, rotted trees of the proto forest towards the fortress. “We’re nearly there.”

“Good,” said Jokao. He took a deep breath and continued walking with some assistance from Oggak. He hadn’t gotten any better overnight; his legs were still badly damaged and his arm was hanging limply from his side, though he seemed to be mostly ignoring the pain. “When we get home, I just want to sleep all day long and maybe tomorrow, too. Might take a little longer than that, considering how bad these wounds are, though.”

He gestured at his legs, which were dragging limply along the ground. “That’s if they heal at all.”

“They will,” said Oggak reassuringly as she helped Jokao down a steep hill they were going down. It and the proto forest were the only obstacles between them and Koro Nui now, though it seemed to be taking a long time to get through them in Hajax’s opinion. “At least I hope they will.”

“What I hope for is that we reach Koro Nui as fast as possible,” said Hajax, tripping over a small rock. He staggered forward a few steps and, regaining his balance, cursed. He looked at the bottom of the hill. There were several sharp rocks down there that looked as though they could be fatal, though if they continued their current pace they would be able to walk right around them. It would be so easy to push one of them and make it look like an accident, Hajax thought as he continued walking carefully, but he would have to help with the cleaning up and he wasn’t so sure he wanted to waste time doing that. “I’m tired, hungry, and sick of this cold weather.”

“It’s the middle of winter,” Oggak said as she and Jokao carefully walked around the many rocks littering the ground. “Of course it’s going to be cold.”

“Doesn’t bother me,” said Jokao. “I guess I am a Toa of Fire, though, so I suppose it’s to be expected. Besides, Koro Nui isn’t much better. There are dozens of small, covered up holes that only have the thinnest layers of rock or metal covering them. It gets pretty chilly, especially at night.”

“Also,” Hajax added, ignoring Oggak’s and Jokao’s comments, “I dislike being out in the open like this. The Tuikas could be anywhere and aren’t too picky about where they decide to fight. I say we move as fast as possible, without stopping.”

“If we walk too fast, we’ll fall and die, or at least get seriously injured,” Oggak answered. She gestured to Jokao with her head and added, “Jokao can’t go too fast with these injuries anyway. They would just get even worse. Though I agree, I don’t like being out in the open like this, either. There aren’t a whole lot of places to hide in or run to.”

“Then let’s keep going,” said Jokao impatiently. He groaned in pain as Oggak picked up the speed. “Carefully now, though. Don’t want to lose the feeling in my legs, even if it would bring relief.”

So, after a few more minutes of careful maneuvering, they finally reached the bottom of the incline and walked around the sharp rocks. Hajax glanced curiously at the boulders as they passed. He thought it was a strange place to put giant, sharp rocks like that, though he thought it was an excellent spot to execute someone. Perhaps, when he was ruler of the universe someday, he would put it to use and slay his enemies on those rocks. It was worth thinking about, anyway, he decided.
 

-


The sun rose slowly in the west, its light reflecting off of the newly added layers of iron that now coated the walls around Koro Nui, courtesy of Chimoy. The courtyard had been cleared of all corpses and debris, the door on the North Tower fixed (again, thanks to Chimoy), and any broken weapons or pieces of armor found were taken to be repaired or added to other things later on.

But, as Chimoy surveyed the courtyard, standing on one of the newly refurbished walls, he did not feel joy or pride at his own handiwork; merely relief and exhaustion. He had been up all night, as he had predicted, both with the metal working and the cleanup projects. Despite the fact that the courtyard was no longer filled with the corpses of Matoran, it still stank of death and the imprints of all of those bodies – along with those of Arija, Addis, and Tyu’s reanimated corpse – seemed to be stuck in his eyes, no matter how hard he tried to get them out.

He sighed and then grabbed his head with one hand. His skull was throbbing and felt like it was about to burst open any minute; his arms and legs ached and felt as though they were about to fall off, and he was not sure how much longer he would be able to keep his eyes open. He felt as though every single part of his body had been smashed with a sledge hammer several times in rapid succession, wielded by a giant of Tahtorak proportions with twice the physical strength of said Rahi.

His thoughts then drifted to the Dark Hunters. He had been surprised to see Death and Kigin helping with the repair and cleanup. Though the other Toa Shika had pitched in to help (which he had expected them to do), he hadn’t been expecting to see the two surviving Dark Hunters aiding with their own powers and great strength. Not that he was complaining, of course, since they had been a huge help in clearing the bodies and debris away, though he still wondered about it just the same, despite the pain that washed over his body like the waves in the sea.

He, like the others, had always seen the Dark Hunters as cruel, ruthless, and greedy beings, caring little for those outside of their group and possibly even less for each other. Thus to see them working alongside Toa and Matoran like that felt a little disconcerting to him.

Maybe they think that if they don’t help that we will leave them at the mercy of the Tuikas, Chimoy thought as he turned to walk down a staircase. If so, I agree with them. I know that I wouldn’t like to have to survive all on my own in the wilderness with the Tuikas out there hunting me down like dogs.

He wanted to sleep now, though he had to check up on a few last things and then he would get to sleep all day. As long as the Tuikas, of course, did not decide to attack later on.

At that moment, however, there was a sudden loud ringing noise that startled him, though he realized what it was instantly: It was the Tuikas alarm, the one designed to warn the rest of the village in case of Tuikas attack or if one or more was spotted nearby, to help the defenders get into position and to aid the villagers in finding good hiding places before the inevitable battle that was soon to follow.

So the sound of the alarm must mean that the Tuikas had been spotted, he thought as he whirled around, long, thin sword in hand and at the ready. He hoped that it was a false alarm, though; he still hadn’t completely healed from the injuries he had sustained from the last attack and he wasn’t sure how long the new walls would last if the Tuikas were to come barging in immediately like this. He had made the barriers as best as he could, sure, but they were still new and he wasn’t particularly confident about his abilities at the moment.

But as he scanned the skies overhead with alert eyes, he saw no sign of any Tuikas in the sky, which was lit by the morning sun now. This puzzled him. The alarm, he knew, was supposed to never be set off for anything but for a definite confirmed sighting of the Tuikas, and nothing else. This was done so that no one would frighten the villagers for no reason other than a mistaken sighting and, while there was no true punishment for setting off a false alarm, whoever did that was usually looked down upon by the other villagers and would lose a lot of respect, generally. At least, that was what the Matoran guards he had worked with in the East Tower had told him, though he could understand if that was true.

He was about to dismiss it as a false alarm when he abruptly saw three beings stagger out of the nearby woods. It took him a moment to realize the identity of the three: It was Oggak, Jokao, and Barilo, all of which were looking tired and, in Jokao’s case, very badly wounded.

Chimoy sighed in relief as he put his sword away. It was only those three; he had thought that a guard in one of the towers must have seen them and mistook them for the Tuikas. He was glad to see them all alive in one piece. He had been worried that the Tuikas might’ve got them.

Looks like they might’ve fought with ‘em, though, Chimoy thought as he waved at the approaching Toa. He was basing this on the fact that all three looked damaged and wounded, particularly Jokao, who looked as though he had been buried alive with all of the mud and dirt on his armor.

Ignoring the pain in his legs, Chimoy sprinted down the metal steps into the courtyard, where Akuna, Nastan, and the Dark Hunters were already gathered, Kigin and Death pulling the thick, heavy gates open as Oggak, Barilo, and Jokao approached.

“Barilo!” said Akuna in surprise, watching the Toa of Gravity, who looked rather disgruntled, helping Oggak bring Jokao in, who looked even worse up close. “I was so worried-“

“Save your sympathies for later,” Barilo snapped in an uncharacteristically harsh voice. “I don’t need them.”

“What happened to Jokao?” asked Death, looking concerned as he and Kigin shut the gates closed again. “His legs look like a giant sat on them.”

“We’ll explain once we get Jokao back to his room,” Oggak said to them all, heaving the Toa of Fire, who looked rather weak and sickly. “He’s in serious condition, though he’s been hanging on fairly well for a while.”

Nastan moved to help support Jokao, and once he had laid hands on the Toa of Fire, Barilo immediately let go, saying, “Glad to see you’re actually being useful for once, Nastan. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go-“

“Go? Go where?” asked Kigin, who was standing in Barilo’s way as Oggak and Nastan began dragging Jokao through the courtyard, followed by the others. His eyes darted from Barilo’s dented, scratched armor, stained with mud and dirt in many places, and commented, “Then again, if I were in your situation, I do not think I would wish to remain looking like that any longer. However,” Kigin added, moving to the side as Barilo tried to side step him, “it would be quite rude of you to go and take a bath while Jokao is in such critical condition, wouldn’t it? Your friends might think less of you, though I assure you that you cannot lower yourself in my eyes any more than you already have, Toa.”

Barilo looked as though he wanted to snap, but instead said, in a forced calm voice, “Ah, yes, I see. In all of the excitement, I had forgotten that it would be rude of me to go off to, ah, take a bath, as you said. I shall go join them and see to my friend’s injuries, as any good friend would do.”

“Then go,” Kigin snapped, pointing at the retreating backs of the others. “Or else I’ll make you go. Got it?”

Barilo looked defiantly at Kigin for a moment before replying coldly, “Of course I get it. I’m no dumb brute like your large friend Byki had been.”

Kigin glared at Barilo, but said no more as the Toa of Gravity turned and began walking in the same direction as the others. The Dark Hunter soon followed, keeping a careful eye on Barilo as they entered the village.
 

-


Jokao was taken straight to his room once they had reached the fortress, where the village doctor, a Po-Matoran named Telka, was instructed by Turaga Joha to keep a watch over him and make sure he got better. Meanwhile, Oggak and Barilo informed the others of their adventures, explaining how Jokao got hurt, why it had taken them so long to return, and so on. Everyone was much surprised to hear about Kavi and Ramoth, though Joha seemed to recall hearing something about the Tamers sometime ago. And almost everyone was happy to see that Oggak, Jokao, and Barilo had managed to make it back alive at least.

Upon hearing of Addis’ death, Oggak had seemed surprised and almost sad, while Barilo, much to Akuna’s astonishment, acted unaffected by it and merely shrugged the news off as though it wasn’t important to him. This was surprising because Barilo had been the closest to Addis before his death, so the fact that he was acting as indifferent as he was made her feel confused. She, Nastan, and Chimoy had been greatly saddened by Addis’ death, and were still sad about it, yet Barilo did not seem to be bothered in the slightest. She decided that Barilo, tired out from his expedition with Jokao and Oggak, hadn’t processed the news in his mind yet, though she was still worried about him just the same.

She didn’t know how Jokao reacted to the news, since he had been told about it privately in his own room, where he would have to be for a while, according to Telka, since he would need some time before his injuries were fully healed. She thought he must be sad, since he had been a friend of Addis, too, but beyond that she could not know what he felt upon hearing the news.

When the news of Jokao’s terrible injuries became more widespread, the villagers seemed to take it even worse than Addis’ death. That was perhaps because Addis had not been as loved or as well-known as Jokao had, though it still annoyed Akuna. While she did care for Jokao and wished him to get better, she knew that he would heal up, eventually, while Addis had died and would never come back. She also thought that the Matoran ought to remember Addis’ own accomplishments, but she decided not to bring it up. She couldn’t get the Matoran to change their minds or opinions and it would be pointless to even try.

Since they had nothing else to do that day, the remaining Toa Shika all gathered in their room on the 12th floor to rest and talk. Or they tried to talk, but since Barilo was sleeping deeply, there was not much to talk about it other than what they already knew about the expedition. They avoided talking about Addis for obvious reasons.

“Are you sure we can’t just wake him up?” asked Nastan, glancing at the sleeping Toa, who had pulled his blankets over his head, his body rising and falling gently underneath the covers. “I mean, we’ve been through a lot more than him, haven’t we? Shouldn’t he stay up at least a little while longer and give us more details on the expedition or something?”

“Well, if what they say is true, he’s earned his rest,” said Akuna as she rubbed her legs, which were still sore from all of the fighting and running she had done last night. “We shouldn’t bother him. He needs rest just as much as we do.”

“I suppose so,” said Nastan with a shrug. “I just want to know more about the details, specifically about what Oggak did.”

“Haven’t you given up your obsession with her yet?” asked Chimoy with a yawn. He was getting ready to sleep, too, though he seemed to want stay awake a little while longer and partake in the discussion. “Don’t you remember what we talked about last night? At Nonzra’s and Addis’ graves?”

“I’m not obsessed with her,” Nastan protested. “And I remember exactly what we talked about, brother. It’s just that I am still suspicious of her. Aren’t you?”

“We’re all suspicious of her to an extent, Nastan,” said Akuna with a shrug, examining her newly-fixed staff of lightning. During last night’s battle, her weapon had been snapped in two, though Chimoy had fixed it after the funeral. “Just not as suspicious as you are. Anyway, why not go ask her yourself if you’re so curious? I’m sure she’d be willing to talk about it.”

“Well, if she did do something wrong or whatever, she’s not likely going to tell me about it, is she?” asked Nastan, annoyed as he sat cross-legged on his mattress. “Barilo’s likely to be a lot more honest about her mistakes than she is. That’s why I want to talk to him.”

“Well, there’s not much we can do about that, then,” said Chimoy, pulling his own blankets over himself and closing his eyes. “Barilo’s sleeping, so you can’t talk to him, and you don’t want to talk to Oggak herself because you think she might lie. The best you can do for now, Nastan, is wait until Barilo wakes up. Now be quiet. I need to rest.”

Chimoy then turned to face the wall and immediately began snoring, indicating that he had fallen asleep already. Nastan looked at Chimoy for a moment with a disgruntled look on his face and then shook his head and looked at Akuna, who had put aside her staff and was now lying on her back in bed. She herself was getting sleepy now and wanted to rest for a while.

“What do you think I should do, then, Akuna?” asked Nastan. “I mean, I want to know the truth, but if Barilo won’t wake up and tell me . . .”

Akuna yawned and said, “Maybe you should just forget about it for a while, Nastan. There’s really nothing you can do about it until tomorrow. Anyway, I wouldn’t worry about it, if it were me, at least not as badly as you.”

“I am not obsessing about it!” said Nastan again. “I’m just-“

“Please be quiet now, Nastan,” said Akuna irritably. “I’ve had enough of your ranting for the day, all right? Just sleep and we can talk about it tomorrow.”

“No,” said Nastan, arms now folded in defiance. “I am not going to drop it. Nor do I want to sleep.”

“Well, I do!” said Akuna, slightly louder than she had intended. She got out of bed and began pulling her cot away from Nastan’s. “You can stay up all night worrying about it if you want to, but I want to sleep, okay? I’ve been through a whole lot and don’t have the energy to worry about what Oggak may or may not have done on that expedition.”

“Wait, no!” said Nastan, reaching out towards her but failing. “I didn’t mean-“

“Good night, Nastan,” Akuna replied abruptly, stopping once she had found a reasonable distance from Nastan. She hopped onto her bed, turned onto her side, and pulled the blankets over her head. “I am going to sleep and don’t want to be bothered anymore tonight. Got it?”

“Fine, then,” said Nastan, with more than a hint of anger in his voice. “I’ll just . . . I’ll just go to sleep, too, then! And then, I won’t have to bother you!”

“Fine!”

“Fine!”

“Fi-“

“Quiet!” came another, more hoarse voice, catching both Nastan and Akuna off-guard. “Some of us are trying to sleep here, you know!”

Akuna looked around until she saw Barilo, his eyes wild and angry, glaring at them from his own bed with such ferocity that she was almost frightened by it.

“If either you says anything else, you’ll both sleeping on the ceiling tonight!” Barilo snapped, pointing upwards as though they had not understood him. “Understand?”

“Er, yes,” said Nastan, with such timidity in his voice that Akuna had never heard before. “We’ll, um, not be loud-“

“Good,” Barilo said shortly, before turning around in his bed. He pulled the blankets over his head again. “And remember the ceiling!”

For a moment, there was an awkward silence between Nastan and Akuna, before the Toa of Lightning said, “Well, um, I guess we ought to go to sleep then, shouldn’t we?”

She was thinking about the ceiling. She knew Barilo, being a Toa of Gravity, could probably carry out his threat if he wanted to, and the ceiling really didn’t look too appealing a place to sleep to her at the moment.

“Right,” said Nastan, who seemed to be thinking along the same lines as her. “Well, good night, Akuna. Hope you sleep well.”

“And, uh, you, too, Nastan,” said Akuna, somewhat awkwardly. “Good night.”

Nastan lay down on his bed and closed his eyes as Akuna did the same thing, though she wasn’t necessarily asleep just yet. She had been a little unsettled by Barilo’s tone, but she understood it. Based on what Oggak and Barilo had told them that last expedition must’ve taken a lot out of the Toa of Gravity. Still, Barilo’s voice had sounded different when he snapped at her and Nastan and it wasn’t just the tone, either, though she could not place what was so different about it right now.

She decided not to worry about it too much. She herself was tired and wanted to get some sleep before tomorrow morning. She figured there would be a lot of work to do, even with the courtyard and walls cleaned and fixed up and she needed all the energy she could get.

So she soon drifted off to sleep, her mind still troubling over Barilo’s voice, whatever she had decided otherwise.
 

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#59 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 16 2014 - 08:41 AM

Chapter 16: A Visitor


The seas around Shika Nui were harsh and stormy around this time of year, and tonight was no exception. Waves of hundreds upon hundreds of tons of water went high into the air and fell back into the sea with a large splash that sent even more water flying. Ice cold rain poured out of the sky and into the depths of the ocean below and onto the wrecks of Dark Hunter ships that littered the ocean’s surface. Even the sea birds that were native to the area had to struggle to make it through the hard, gelid, and unrelenting wind that swept over the entire place like the plague.

Few sane beings would ever attempt to reach Shika Nui without a boat of some kind, especially in this weather. Even fewer sane beings would ever even conceive of trying to reach it any other way. And even less than that would be able to come up with the idea of traveling via swimming underneath the waves, exposing themselves to the many dangers of the underwater world, such as unpredictable currents, deadly Rahi, even deadlier plant life, and many other things that would render such a task impossible for a normal, sane being.

But the Dark Hunter known as Raider never thought of himself being particularly sane, nor was he what you would call a ‘normal’ being, considering his body was capable of surviving in the great ocean depths. He had a mission to accomplish – given to him by the Shadowed One himself – and he would complete it regardless of the weather. After all, he was one of the very best – and oldest – members of the Dark Hunters and, having completed many more missions than almost all of the other Hunters, was in no position to turn tail and run. He hadn’t even reached the shore yet, and besides, he knew the price for failure among the Dark Hunters was death. He had personally seen many other weaker Hunters fail their missions and had watched, with satisfaction, as they were slain in many different ways. He himself had actually carried out most of the executions, since acting as executioner was his on and off job in the Dark Hunters.

Of course, he thought as he swam underneath the surface of the silver sea, his mission today was different. Ever since Icetraz, the leader of the Dark Hunters of Shika Nui, had failed to send in weekly reports about the Dark Hunters’ progress regarding the ancient wall of protodermis, there had been rumors that Icetraz was rallying the Hunters under his command to rebel and take over the organization. Worried by these rumors and what they could mean for his leadership, the Shadowed One had sent Raider to infiltrate Shika Nui’s shores, figure out what happened, and, if necessary, kill Icetraz and any loyalists to his cause. After that, he would send a message to the Shadowed One to inform him of his success, and he would have yet another completed mission under his belt. He felt this one would be worth boasting about, personally.

Despite his immense strength and physical resistance, his arms and legs were getting tired from all of the swimming he had done in the past several days. So he decided to take a quick peek at the surface and try to find a place to rest for a couple of minutes or so, while also staying out of the way of any ships that might be patrolling the waters. He didn’t want to be captured by any defectors who worked for Icetraz. Not that he wouldn’t be able to defeat them in combat, but stealth – not brute strength – was what this mission required, at least for the first half, and he wasn’t going to mess that up.

He shot up to the surface, casually punching out a nearby Takea shark that had been swimming idly by as he swam, and finally his reddish black colored head broke the surface of the silvery water. He took a deep breath of air and looked all around for a sign of any ship, his narrow green eyes scanning the waters with ease, even in this storm.

To his surprise, he saw no sea vessels traveling the oceans this morning. All he saw were a large cloud of mist, many rising waves, some seagulls, quite a few ship wrecks, and in the distance, the outline of the mountains of Shika Nui. He was nearly there; it would take him another hour or two to reach the shore, certainly, but the fact that he could now see his destination filled him with a little excitement and relief.

He swam with his head down through the waves and rain until he reached the mast of a sunken Dark Hunter ship, which was still connected to the deck and was just barely floating on the ocean’s surface. He climbed onto its slipper, splintery surface and sat on it, stretching his arms and legs out with a sigh. Though he was a natural born swimmer – his people were seafaring nomads and knew how to swim excellently and for an extended period of time without ever stopping, just like himself - even he could get tired sometimes. Right now he needed to rest his limbs a little before setting out again.

So he took the time to scan his surroundings. It looked like a ghost shipyard; everywhere he looked there were the remains of some destroyed ship and occasionally he saw a glimmer of metal or gold from one of the wrecks in the distance. Every single ship he saw was wrecked and sunk; some were smashed so badly that only timbers of wood, floating lonely on the water, were the only things to suggest that there had ever been anything as large as the war vessels of the Dark Hunters.

He frowned. That was another rumor going around. According to the rumor, all ships coming and going to Shika Nui were being sunk by some mysterious force and as a result no one had made any success journeys to the island in weeks, as far as Raider knew. He hadn’t believed the rumor at first – Dark Hunter ships were among the finest on the seas and it would take several tons of brute force to even crack the hull of one – but now he totally believed them. He saw no functioning ship for miles around, though that may have had to do with the fact that the mist hid most of the wreckage. Still, he doubted that he would find even a simple rowboat among all of these wrecks.

Exactly what was sinking these ships, he had no idea. It had to be powerful, whatever it was. Maybe Icetraz really was rebelling against the Shadowed One’s rule and had sunk all ships that had attempted to escape to warn the Shadowed One of the rebellion.

That is something I certainly wouldn’t put past my icy little friend, Raider thought, admiring the way that the waves went many feet into the air and fell back down with a force so strong that it would kill a normal being. Icetraz has always been ambitious, and personally I have always thought it a mistake to put him in charge of a whole island such as Shika Nui. It was bound to increase his ego tenfold; it was only a matter of time before he thought himself strong enough to take on the Shadowed One. And for that, he will have to die, just as the Shadowed One ordered me to.

Raider saw a slight movement out of the corner of his eye. Thinking it might be one of Icetraz’s ships on patrol he whipped out his sniper rifle, but saw to his relief that a small seagull – barely bigger than his head – had taken refuge on a nearby piece of driftwood. Though it was not threatening him in the slightest, he wanted to practice his aim anyway. It had been several days since he had been able to shoot anything and adding his old age to that he was beginning to think his skills were slipping a little. He would have to refine them for the kills to come, he thought.

He took aim with his sniper rifle. This rifle was different from other kinds of guns; it was quiet to the point of soundlessness, even without Raider adding his own power of deafening sounds to it. Thus, if he were hidden well, he could literally shoot whoever he wanted and no one would notice until the bullet hit. He smiled as he remembered a particularly memorable time when he had been hunting a couple of Toa and had shot one of them in the leg. The attack had been so quick and silent that it had taken them a couple of minutes to figure out that one of them had been shot, and by the time they had came to that realization, several more bullets had pierced their skulls and killed them.

True, the seagull in question was smaller than any Toa he had ever met and he was sitting on an increasingly sinking piece of debris, in the middle of a stormy sea with low visibility, with huge tidal waves on all sides that could easily crush him. But that just added to the challenge, he thought, already aiming at the seagull’s skull. And challenges, he thought as he pulled the trigger, watching the bullet go flying in the direction of the seagull’s head, were always fun.
 

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#60 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 17 2014 - 08:38 AM

Chapter 17: Expedition


The rest of the week went by rather peacefully in Nastan’s opinion. There had been no sightings of the Tuikas and as a result no attacks. The tense mood that seemed to grip the entire village lessened ever so slightly, but according to Reesha, the Chronicler, the village’s inhabitants had learned to never let their guard down, even if there was no immediate threat. This was because the first time they had done so, the Tuikas had nearly crushed the fortress before being beat back by the Toa and Dark Hunters. So it was more of a ‘take advantage of the peace while it was there’ kind of peace, rather than true peace.

But just because the Tuikas weren’t attacking didn’t mean everything was fine and dandy, for there were still many other problems facing them.

The main problem was where to find edible food and drinkable water, both of which were becoming increasingly scarce with each passing day. Though they had been able to survive on the Dark Hunters’ own supplies that had been left behind when the Tuikas had killed them all, it was becoming increasingly difficult to feed over 200 Matoran, six Toa, one Turaga, and two Dark Hunters on what they had left, yet it was still too dangerous to travel far from the village with the ever-present threat of the Tuikas hanging over their heads.

They had apparently learned that the hard way when an impatient Matoran named Saias, believing that the Tuikas were nowhere near the village at the moment, had left to go and find some food from the ruins of Ironos, the nearest town. He had insisted upon going alone because he thought it would be quicker, which unfortunately proved to be a fatal mistake, for when he approached the forest, the Tuikas burst out and killed him in such a way as to discourage any other thoughts of finding food outside the village for good.

There was also the weather, which had turned from mild to unbearable in one day. A storm from the sea had brought in torrential rains, cold, scathing wind, and what seemed to be days that went on forever. True, nobody really got hurt and most of the Matoran never complained about being inside all day, but Nastan, Akuna, Chimoy, and Barilo – all of whom were unused to being cramped inside one building for such a long time – were starting to get restless and impatient. Nastan himself kept looking out the windows whenever he passed, just to see if he could spot a hint of sunlight in the dark clouds and thick rain. But all he ever got was a lot of rain in his face, since there was nothing to keep the water out, save for a few makeshift sheets made out of leaves and other plants, intended to absorb or keep the rain out of the village, and those were only kept in a couple of windows. He found himself thinking almost wistfully of Wyoko; at least there he had been free and able to go wherever he pleased (so long as no Kra-Matoran or Shodios were nearby, of course) and had had a lot of room to roam around in.

Nastan and the others were also taking the deaths of Addis and Nonzra harder than before. Many times they would stay up until late in the night, talking about their memories of Addis and Nonzra; specific quirks or personality traits they remembered; things like that. Though none of them had ever actually cried for their two lost friends during any of these discussions, Nastan often felt strong emotions rising inside him, which sometimes made it hard to sleep or pay much attention to what someone was saying to him until they went down.

Surprisingly, the only one who didn’t join in the reminiscing was Barilo, who had become increasingly withdrawn and snappish as the days progressed. Almost any time anyone said something other than ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good night’ to him he would snap at them and occasionally make threatening gestures, as he had done when Akuna had offered him some water a few days ago.

Nastan still remembered how he had reacted when Barilo had raised one fist, as though about to hit Akuna. He had grabbed Barilo’s wrist, while at the same time giving the Toa of Gravity a look that told him to back off, and tried his best to gently lower Barilo’s fist, but all it seemed to do was make him even more irritable, for he then said, “Get off me, filth! Or I’ll knock that idiotic expression clean off your face!”

That had been enough to get Nastan angry; so much, in fact, that he had wanted to punch Barilo out, which he very nearly did. Fortunately, Chimoy managed to break up their argument, telling them – in a rather irritated way, Nastan remembered – that if they got into a fight they would be sleeping in the courtyard that night. That had been enough to stop them, though Nastan was now keeping an eye on Barilo from now on, just in case he tried to actually harm Akuna or someone else again.

Though Nastan was never the most observant person in the village, he had begun noticing how Chimoy, rather than Barilo, was taking charge of the team. Chimoy frequently left to go speak with Joha on important matters and managed to gain some of the air of leadership that Nastan had always associated with Addis. This was rather odd, considering Barilo had been deputy leader when Addis had been alive, but Nastan didn’t have too many complaints, mostly because he hadn’t seen Chimoy leading in battle.

That, in Nastan’s opinion, would settle whether he really was a good leader or not. Not that it would affect his opinion of the Toa of Iron himself; he still considered Chimoy a good friend, but just because he was a good friend did not automatically make him a good leader, at least in Nastan’s eyes. Regardless, he found he liked Chimoy leading better than Barilo, since the Toa of Gravity was acting very unlikeable recently and would probably get on Nastan’s nerves even more than he already was if he was leader of the team.

And then there was Akuna. Somehow, despite the sour weather, she had become even more interesting in Nastan’s eyes. The two of them spent a lot more time alone together now, usually whenever they weren’t doing guard duty or in some other way helping the village. Nastan liked these moments because they made the world seem less threatening and gave him the confidence that he needed to do what he needed to do. Akuna encouraged him and he encouraged her, so it worked out pretty evenly in his opinion.

Of course, he reflected bitterly, despite the fact that he and Akuna were closer now this somehow seemed to be making them get more easily angry at each other, too. But the fact was that they were in a tense situation, with the danger of dying always present and ready in their minds. Add in the small, barely edible meals they had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, with some of the gloomy weather that was hanging over the village like a Visorak spider web, and it was almost no surprise that they were often short with each other nowadays.

Breaking up was out of the question, however; they were still in love, despite those times were they acted downright unlikeable to each other. He often had to remind himself that it was because of the dire circumstances which they were in that was affecting their moods, not because of any ill wishes that they might be feeling towards each other. His brief argument with Akuna on the first night of the week was still present in his mind, however much he tried to forget about it.

Nastan hadn’t seen a lot of the Dark Hunters around the fortress, but he wasn’t complaining. He didn’t like them, and they, in turn, didn’t like him. Occasionally he would walk past Kigin or Death (who kept insisting that everyone call him by his real name, ‘Igici,’ now, rather than his codename, though Nastan still thought of him as Death) in the hallways, but he would always try his best to ignore them. He knew how easy it was for him to get into trouble with other people if he let his tongue act before his mind did, though he still sometimes shot an insult at Kigin under his breath, and the Hunter would give him one back in return, often far more witty and creative than whatever Nastan had came up with (this irritated him greatly).

He also didn’t see a lot of Oggak, either. Whenever she wasn’t on guard duty she usually spent her time in Jokao’s room. She seemed really concerned about him, despite the fact he was getting better. At first, Nastan had been completely clueless as to why she never seemed to do anything other than eat, visit Jokao for extended periods of time, and sleep; but he was now starting to suspect that Jokao and Oggak might be closer than ‘just’ friends, which made him feel disgusted.

Why would Jokao ever wish to be with a Toa of Shadow? he would sometimes think as he took over guard duty from Oggak, who would always seem to head directly to Jokao’s room once her shift was over. I mean, okay, maybe she’s not totally evil and insane like the Shodios, but seriously, can’t he see that she and him just can’t be together? True, I’m no Toa of Fire, but ever since we went to Wyoko I see the world in terms of us and the Kra-Matoran. And in my view, there’s absolutely no compatibility whatsoever. Don’t really understand what he sees in her, anyway; she’s not nearly as beautiful as Akuna.

He had only seen Joha a few times during the week, and every time the Turaga looked the same; tired, breathing deeply, and looking weaker, as though his life was being sucked out of his body. This was worrying Nastan, since Joha’s health seemed to be getting worse as the days progressed. Nastan wondered if this had to do with the fact that Joha, being the leader of the village, had a lot more responsibilities than everyone else. There was also the possibility that his old age was finally catching up with him; he was quite old, though not as old as some people Nastan had heard of. Perhaps the Turaga of Stone had sustained some injury during the past few weeks that no one knew of? Nastan hoped not.

Because the only times he had seen Joha were during brief meetings, most of which involved helping to evenly divide their supplies among the villagers, he had not gotten a chance to ask the Turaga why he was allowing the Dark Hunters to stay here. Though Nastan knew that it was too late to simply kick the Hunters out, he wondered why Joha – who had been vehemently fighting the Dark Hunters for thousands of years – was not treating them as scum, as he rightfully should (in Nastan’s opinion, anyway). He thought that Joha most of all would be against them, yet he did not seem to treat them much differently than anyone else, as far as Nastan knew.

Maybe he thinks we need the Dark Hunters’ help, Nastan thought after one meeting. I suppose the Hunters do help in the defense of Koro Nui. Still, I’m just shocked he accepted them into the village in the first place. It just doesn’t make sense. Maybe I can ask him about it later, or something.

But there never was any opportunity to ask Joha about it during the week, since everyone was so busy keeping an eye out for the Tuikas, divvying up the supplies while making sure that no Matoran, Toa, or Dark Hunter got more than his or her fair share, and many other things besides. So Nastan decided that he would ask about it whenever he got the chance and put it in the back of his mind for later, if he happened to remember it.

It was only at the next meeting, at the end of the week, when all of the guardians of Koro Nui were assembled in the throne room, that Nastan was finally given the chance to explore the rest of the island a little bit.

Joha, who still looked sick and tired, explained to them that he thought another rescue expedition to find any survivors who had not yet made it to Koro Nui would do them some good. He said that because the Tuikas had not attacked for a week, he thought it might be safe to do a quick search for any surviving Matoran nearby.

“I don’t know, Turaga,” said Oggak, who looked in the direction of Jokao’s room as she leaned against the stone wall of the chamber. Jokao was the only one absent because he was still recovering from his injuries. “Without Jokao, it would be rather difficult for me to make the journey alone, especially if I run into the Tuikas.”

Joha coughed loudly and then said, looking at Oggak, “You will not be going on the expedition alone, Oggak. You will be accompanied by Igici this time. That is,” he added, “if you wish to go at all. I would understand if you want to-“

“I would like to stay, yes,” said Oggak quickly, nodding. Her eyes kept flickering down the hallway which lead to Jokao’s room and back again. “I mean, not that I don’t care about finding any survivors, but-“

“Fine,” said Joha abruptly, nodding. He turned to Nastan and said to him, “You will go with Igici instead.”

Nastan, startled, looked at Death suspiciously, and then said to Joha, “Turaga, I can’t work with a Dark Hunter. What if he-“

“I would never backstab you or leave you for dead if the Tuikas attacked, if that is what you were about to suggest,” Death replied curtly. “I am an honorable warrior. You can trust me.”

“Trust you?” Nastan snorted in disbelief. “You want a Toa to trust a Dark Hunter? Please, I would rather hug a doom viper than trust you.”

“Enough arguing!” shouted Joha, slamming his staff onto the ground hard and loudly, the sound echoing off the walls. “There is no discussion about this! You two shall go later today and should get back as soon as possible with any survivors you might find. All right?”

“Er, yes, Turaga,” Nastan said. Joha had never snapped at him before, but it was certainly enough to make him forget all about his objections and simply obey. “We’ll do that.”

“We will indeed, Turaga,” said Death, nodding solemnly. “We will do as you command.”

“Good,” said Joha, who looked and sounded rather relieved now. “Now go get your weapons and armor ready. It’s not going to be easy out there, and I don’t want both of you dead because you went in unprepared. Take whatever you need and get going as soon as possible.”
 

-


Raider sat in the treetops of the proto forest, casually wiping dirt off his silent rifle. He would occasionally glance towards the direction of the fortress, which looked much different than when he had last seen it about 10,000 years ago or so. Its walls were no longer made of stone but of iron, though it was spread about in various places and gave him the impression that whoever had done it either wasn’t a very good artist or had only tried to repair the places that had been damaged in an attack of some kind. Regardless, it did confirm one thing: Those bizarre monsters that had nearly killed him earlier this week were choosing this place as their target, though why, he did not know.

Raider had reached the shores of Shika Nui about a week ago and, almost the minute had he set foot on its beaches he had been attacked by a couple of the strangest creatures he had ever seen in his life. One had been bat-like in appearance, but wore blue and red armor and had a beak-like mouth, while the other had been Toa-sized with a scorpion-like tail and spiky pale brown armor.

At first, he had thought they were some kind of mad Rahi of a species he had never seen before. But they quickly proved to be much more than just mad Rahi; they seemed to react to his movements in ways only a sapient being, such as a Toa or Dark Hunter, could. Just the two of them alone had been enough to drive him off into the forest, and if he hadn’t managed to lose them like he did, he doubted he would have survived long enough to find a place to sleep.

So in order to stay safe, he was staying hidden in the proto forest, having made a kind of nest in the treetops. From here, he kept a careful watch on the Dark Hunters’ fortress, during which he had made a startling discovery: Toa and Matoran were now apparently coexisting peacefully with the Dark Hunters, of which he had only seen a few.

It wasn’t unusual to see Matoran slaves around the fortress; when he had been here, he had seen many delivering food, water, and doing the daily, necessary chores needed to keep the place from falling apart. But to see them, as he had, walking and even talking with some Dark Hunters, as though they were friends or comrades, made him feel as though he had just stumbled into an alternate reality of some kind where Matoran and Toa were friends with Dark Hunters, a thought that disturbed him greatly.

What is going on in there? he thought, straining to see over the walls, but failing to see much of anything besides a Matoran or two standing on the barriers, apparently working as guards. Why would Dark Hunters work side-by-side with Toa and Matoran? Have they gone insane? Or have the Matoran, somehow, managed to free themselves of the Dark Hunters and take over the fortress? I have to know. The Shadowed One would be very interested in learning about this, as would I.

Oddly, he had not seen any other Dark Hunters around besides Kigin and Death. He concluded that that had something to with those monsters he had run into earlier; if two had given him, the Legendary Dark Hunter, trouble, then surely, if there were more here, there would be few other Dark Hunters still alive on the island.

Perhaps that is why there has been no word from the Dark Hunters here for many weeks, Raider thought, polishing his gun slightly slower now, frowning. Maybe those beasts have been sinking our ships and killing off anyone who tries to escape or come to the island. If so, then they are a force to be reckoned with, though I have no doubt in my mind that a force of hundreds of well-armed and well-trained Dark Hunters could easily take them out, depending on how many of those things there really are.

He paused to watch the gates open and a Toa of The Green he did not recognize walked out, along with Death. They both seemed to be in conversation and were pointing in the direction of the west village, which was the closest to the fortress, Raider knew. He wondered why Death was working alongside a Toa, but then decided that it probably made sense. Death had never had proper Dark Hunter pride – If there was such a thing as proper Dark Hunter pride in the first place, he thought sardonically – and never seemed to think about the things other Dark Hunters usually did, such as loot, fame, power, and so on. Perhaps Death was thinking he could get out of the organization if he allied with Toa, which just made Raider smile.

What kind of fool thinks he can ever leave the Dark Hunters once he joins? Raider thought, shaking his head as he began to slowly climb down the tree. The Toa and Death had begun walking in the direction of the village of Ironos and he didn’t want to let them out of his sight for even a minute. He wanted to know where they were going and why, as it was obviously important if they were willing to risk their lives with those monsters on the loose, he concluded.
 

-


Nastan walked carefully and quietly through the proto forest, Death at his side. Both of them had their weapons out and were keeping a careful watch on the path ahead. Though the Tuikas were not known for attacking the proto forest, they were known to attack Jokao and Oggak whenever they were on rescue expeditions, regardless of where the two Toa were at the time. They were going slow now mostly out of caution and a little bit of fear, though Nastan would never admit to being afraid, not especially to a Dark Hunter.

Their expedition today was not going to take them far. They would be heading to the ruins of the village of Ironos, which had been the biggest settlement on Shika Nui before the Tuikas destroyed it and was near Koro Nui. Joha had told them that he suspected that some Matoran may have taken refuge there, since according to some of the North Tower and West Tower guardsmen, there were signs of someone or perhaps a group of people living there now. Though the possibility of it just being some Rahi – or even a Tuikas trap – was suggested, Joha still did not want to end up with even more dead Matoran, not if it could be prevented, at least.

Nastan was stunned by the current state of the proto forest. Back before heading into Wyoko, the proto forest, while not as big as it had been before the Dark Hunters had first came to the island had been alive and well with many different types of Rahi beasts and insects inhabiting its trees. It had been Nastan’s favorite place on the whole island, not only for the fact that he was Toa of The Green and thus was closer to nature than the others. It had to do with the fact that he felt at home here and that it had been the most peaceful and beautiful place on the island, even when the Dark Hunters had ruled.

Yet now it was virtually dead. Everything looked gray and lifeless; he no longer heard the screeches of the brakas monkeys from somewhere deep in the forest, nor did he see any insects crawling on the ground or underneath fallen branches. All he saw were lifeless trees and, though many still held leaves they looked to be dead and seemed as though they would fall off at the slightest touch. The crunching of leaves underneath their feet felt wrong to Nastan. Somehow, it felt as though he were stamping over dead bodies, even though he knew there was a big difference between corpses and dead leaves.

He supposed that these thoughts that he was having were natural. He was a Toa of The Green, after all, and had a closer connection to plant life and nature in general than the others. He also felt slightly chilled and tense, as though he were stepping through a graveyard, though he assumed it had something to do with the cold wind that penetrated the forest’s trees.

“What happened here?” Nastan asked Death in a whisper, ducking underneath a branch that was just barely hanging onto the tree it was attached to. He stopped to look at it with a frown. “Everything looked as though it just . . . died, or something.”

“Various battles with the Tuikas here have caused the trees to wither and die,” Death replied quietly, his bright, golden eyes still fixed on the path ahead. “That and my fellow Dark Hunters weren’t too kind to these trees, either. These are merely the aftereffects of all of the proto mining we’ve been doing here. I knew it would happen eventually, since it happened back on my home island, Niji, many years ago.”

“So you and the Tuikas are to fault, then,” said Nastan angrily. He pointed at a dead tree and snapped, “It’s because of you that these trees and plants are dying. I always knew that cutting down the trees and mining out the protodermis deposits buried underneath was wrong.”

“Did you?” asked Death, raising one eye brow as he briefly averted his gaze from the trail. “Funny, when you were a Matoran, I never heard you complaining much about what we did.”

“Well, I was busy,” Nastan argued, leaping over a fallen tree expertly, “too busy to think about the environment, even though I still cared about it. That’s all.” He looked around and added, “I used to live here, you know.”

“Odd,” Death commented, focusing his attention on the path again. He cut a tree branch out of his way as he walked (much to Nastan’s chagrin). “When the Dark Hunters took over Shika Nui, I was under the impression that all Matoran living here had been moved out into the surrounding villages or made slaves to work in the mines. How could you possibly have lived in here?”

“It was very briefly, before I joined up with the others,” Nastan answered shortly, glaring at Death as the Dark Hunter kicked a fallen tree limb out of his path rather roughly. He has no respect for the forest at all, he thought. “Because I got into trouble with some Hunters, I hid in here for a couple of weeks or so and then I accidentally stumbled onto our old hideout and, since I had nowhere else to go, Addis and the others let me . . . let me stay and join them.”

He fell very quiet as they progressed deeper into the woods. He was remembering Addis. He remembered very well the day he first joined the crew, how hungry and thirsty and tired he had been when he had stumbled upon their little group of thieves. He had learned firsthand that living in the wild wasn’t all it cracked up to be, even though he had been a Gre-Matoran, and so had eagerly joined when they had offered him membership and a place to rest his head. It had been a very kind thing of Addis to let him join, he thought; even as a Matoran, Addis had been a good person. It made Nastan realize just how much he missed Addis, but he tried to push those thoughts away, since he had other more important things to deal with at the moment.

Death, who apparently noticed his sudden silence, asked quietly, “Do you miss Addis?”

Nastan whirled around, seething in anger as he looked at Death. “Why do you care? You’re just a Dark Hunter; I don’t have to tell you what my feelings and thoughts are if I don’t want to.”

“I agree, you don’t have to,” said Death with a shrug. “I was merely asking because I was concerned about you. And I don’t like the way you called me ‘just a Dark Hunter.’ I didn’t join the Hunters because I wanted to and I certainly did not approve of their behavior here on Shika Nui, either.”

“Whatever,” Nastan said in disgust, shaking his head. “I don’t feel like arguing with scum, even if Joha thinks you are good. We’ve got to keep our eyes open for the Tuikas.”

“I agree,” said Death, nodding. “That is the most logical thing to do.”

They continued on for a few more minutes in silence, both keeping their eyes and audio receptors open for even the barest hint of Tuikas. Nastan tried his best to keep his mind clear of thoughts of Addis, the Dark Hunters, or anything that wasn’t particularly relevant to the situation at hand. He did not want to end up dead like Addis, but there he was thinking about Addis again. Besides, it hadn’t been Addis’ fault he had died, either; he had bled to death and hadn’t known a whole lot about the Tuikas before charging into battle in the first place, anyway. He thought it was being unfair of him to think that Addis hadn’t been prepared; he had been all right, but he had died because . . .

Well, he didn’t know why Addis had died and didn’t want to think too much about the most obvious conclusion, that the Tuikas were simply stronger and faster than Addis or any of the others, which might have been the reason that their leader had died. He decided that it just happened because people died in wars. Nonzra had died in a war, too, and now he was beginning to feel sad about Nonzra. Nonzra had been a good friend and had done one last act of heroism before dying, but that didn’t make Nastan miss him any less. On the contrary, somehow that made him miss the Toa of Sonics even more than before, though he didn’t know why that was.

He actually found himself envying Death, who did not seem to be bothered by thoughts about lost loved ones. The Dark Hunter had his attention focused entirely on the path ahead, towards a break in the trees, which would lead them to Ironos. Death had no one to worry about, or remember, or angst about. Of course, he was also a Dark Hunter; if there was anyone close to him in his past that had died he probably did not care, at least not anymore, since Dark Hunters were all heartless, cruel, evil beings who only worked with others if it would help further their own agendas. So he decided that Death had nothing to be envied for, not like Nastan himself.

I have three great friends, am heroic, and have saved the universe itself once, Nastan thought proudly as he walked around a fallen log. What does he have on his list of personal achievements? Probably murder, theft, cruelty, and palling around with others just like him. Not much, in my opinion. Not much at all.

Soon, they arrived at the end of pathway and, standing on a hill top, Nastan finally saw, for the first time, what a once thriving village such as Ironos looked like after the Tuikas were done with it.

It was barely recognizable as a village anymore, in his opinion. Destroyed huts stretched out for miles in every direction below him; one nearby hut had been totally obliterated, leaving nothing but a small crater where it had once been. Large chunks of rock had been ripped or blown out of the streets, leaving craters of irregular sizes dotting the avenues. The river that had ran through here in the past, though still filled with water, looked dirty and undrinkable and he did not see even a stone rat using it for drinking water now.

Worst of all perhaps was the stench. It smelled of death and burnt wood and stones, filling his nostrils and causing him to cough as the smoke was blown into his face by a strong gust of wind. It was horrible, even worse than the scent of death that hung over Koro Nui. He didn’t know if he would be able to breathe properly down there, not if it smelled like that.

“Come on,” Death said, already making his way down the hill along a rough pathway. “I think I see where the Matoran may be. Look over there.”

He pointed towards the end of the ruined village. Nastan looked in the direction he was indicating and saw a small fire had been lit in the shadow of one of the larger huts. The fire didn’t look as though it was burning the hut down, however; it seemed to be under control, as though somebody had made it.

“How many do you think are there?” asked Nastan as he followed Death down the pathway, occasionally tripping over a rock or piece of debris lodged in the dirt.

“Not more than four or five, I’d say, based on the size of the fire from here,” Death answered as they drew closer to Ironos. “Could be wrong, but the fire doesn’t look big enough for a particularly large group. Besides, that’s how many Oggak and Jokao generally find whenever they go on expeditions like this anyway.”

The scent grew so bad that once they had finally reached the smashed village gates Nastan had to stop for a few minutes to get some fresh air into his lungs. He also saw that the streets were littered with corpses in various states of decay; he felt as though he was going to be very sick, very soon.

“The Matoran who live here must have stronger stomachs than me,” said Nastan weakly, putting his hand over his mouth to avoid breathing in anymore of the foul air. “Otherwise I doubt they would have moved here.”

Death shrugged. “You get used to the smell of death and decay after a while. Doesn’t bother me a whole lot, personally. Now come on, we’ve got Matoran to save. Complaining won’t get us anywhere nearer that goal than we already are.”

“I know that,” Nastan snapped, walking after the Dark Hunter. “I was just saying that I don’t want them to get sick all over me once we do find them.”

“Right,” said Death. His eyes were focused on the fire ahead, which seemed to be hundreds of miles away to Nastan, though he knew it wasn’t that far away. “Just keep moving and we’ll be out of here in no time at all.”
 

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#61 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 18 2014 - 08:08 AM

Chapter 18: Truths & Falsehoods


Makuta Hajax sat right behind a mounted Cordak blaster, in the highest room of the East Tower. Today he was supposed to be on guard duty alone, manning a lone Cordak blaster to shoot any Tuikas that he might see out of the skies. Personally, he thought the weapon was primitive and savage, much unlike his refined soul. But he did not complain; he now had some time to plot ways in which to get the truth of the Tuikas out of Oggak.

That was one thing he had failed to accomplish during the week. He had been on guard duty frequently, or otherwise doing some task for the good of Koro Nui (such as using his gravity powers to help move debris out of the courtyard, for example). He had had virtually no time to speak with Oggak. It was made even more difficult by the fact that she kept inside Jokao’s room almost the entire time now, like she lived there or something. Only she and Joha were allowed to visit Jokao at the moment, meaning he couldn’t follow her in there, either, although now that he thought about it, it would be quite impossible for him to interrogate Oggak with Jokao and that Po-Matoran doctor Telka in there with them.

That was another thing that was bothering him. He was experiencing a feeling of helplessness at the moment, which annoyed him greatly. He was a Makuta, for Mata Nui’s sake, and he shouldn’t be feeling helpless even in the slightest. Only lesser beings ever felt as though they were in no position to do anything; Makuta didn’t. After all, if Makuta felt they were helpless and incapable of affecting anything, Teridax wouldn’t have dared gone ahead with his precious little Plan unless he was completely idiotic. Which is always a possibility, Hajax thought with a scowl, scanning the gray clouds that floated overhead, threatening to rain at any moment.

He had not heard much about the Plan or what the rest of his fellow Makuta were up to nowadays, save for what little information he had gleaned from the Dark Hunters when he had been in possession of one of their robotic servants. Even then, no one outside of the Brotherhood really knew about the Plan, much less its finer details or what it would ultimately accomplish if it were to succeed.

He hoped that the Plan was not going well. Surely the Great Cataclysm would have affected things? And the war against the Dark Hunters, too? He knew Teridax hadn’t factored that into his Plan, so perhaps it was going badly and maybe, he thought hopefully, the other Makuta were getting restless. He thought that perhaps Icarax at least might try to lead a rebellion, but again he had no way of knowing because of Shika Nui’s current isolated state.

What I wouldn’t give to get off this island, which has been almost like a prison to me, Hajax thought, shivering a little as the cold air blew in his face. One day, I would like to visit Destral and give my brothers a surprise welcome . . . after I have gotten an army big enough to crush that island into little more than fine powder, of course.

He heard the door creak open behind him and, turning around, saw to his surprise that Oggak had entered the room. She looked worried and sad, which was how she usually looked these days. Hajax knew it had to do with the fact Jokao was still badly wounded, which had made her worry about the Toa of Fire, but he could honestly care less about her personal life right now.

“Oggak!” said Hajax in false surprise, spreading his arms widely with what he hoped was a smile on his face. “What brings you here today? Your shift isn’t until later, so why are you here now?”

“What?” Oggak said, looking as though she had not been paying attention to him, much to Hajax’s annoyance. “Oh. Hi, Barilo.”

Hajax now wondered if she had simply wandered into here unintentionally, since she seemed so unfocused and distracted but he didn’t mention it. He did not want to scare her away; if she had come into her for a reason, he might be able to get the truth of the Tuikas out of her somehow, since this was the first time he had been alone with her in a week. He would have to act sympathetic to whatever worries might be plaguing her, however much he hated the idea.

“Oggak, you look sad,” said Hajax in a fake sympathetic voice. He gestured to an empty chair nearby and said, “Why not sit down? Is there something you wish to talk about?”

“Er, I guess,” she said, walking over to the chair and sitting down on it. She looked up at Hajax and pursed her lips, as though she were trying to figure out what to say. “I. . . . Well, I’m worried for Jokao, Barilo.”

Hajax, who had been expecting her to say this, merely nodded and said solemnly, “I know. We all are. But I have heard he’s getting better.”

“He is,” said Oggak, who was nervously twisting her hands. She looked like she wanted to confess something to him. “But I just . . . I feel guilty.”

Hajax, surprised, asked, “What do you mean? You had nothing to do with Jokao’s injury! It wasn’t your fault!” Secretly, though, Hajax enjoyed seeing her look and act so worried. Seeing others unhappy or depressed always made him feel good, almost happy at times.

“Directly it wasn’t,” she said, averting her gaze from his face and looking out the window. Hajax glanced over his shoulder but saw no sign of the Tuikas, though Oggak looked worried just the same. “But . . . oh, Barilo, I’m . . . I’m guilty of everything.”

“What?” Hajax asked, slightly caught off guard by this sudden confession. “What do you mean, ‘guilty of everything’?”

“I can’t . . .” she got up and began pacing back and forth, now looking rather guilty instead of worried. “It is all of my fault. Everything is. The attacks . . . all of the deaths . . . all of this pain, it’s all because of me that this is happening.”

“But why are you telling me this?” asked Hajax, trying his best to keep the eagerness out of his voice. He thought he knew what she meant; somehow, she was connected to the Tuikas. He didn’t know how, but he intended to find out. “Why not tell Joha or Jokao or someone else?”

“Because you were there when Jokao got hurt,” she said, still pacing back and forth without looking at him. “You and I helped get him back to the surface. I know you said some awful things about him back there, but I just feel that you would understand what I am feeling better than anyone else. But then, how could anyone understand what I am feeling right now?”

“Okay, what do you have to tell me, then, Oggak?” asked Hajax, standing up while watching her pace. “Why is it your fault? What did you do that caused all of this?”

She stopped and looked up at Hajax, her red eyes looking large, but she merely mumbled, looking away from him again, “It . . . my destiny . . . I can’t . . .”

“Tell me,” said Hajax, with more urgency voice in his voice than before as he grabbed one of her hands. He looked into her eyes and said, “But I will understand if you can’t . . .”

Oggak pulled her hand out of his, but oddly instead wrapped her arms around him, much to his surprise, and rested her head on his shoulder. Then she broke down completely, crying into his shoulder loudly. He wanted so badly to push her away from him; it was disgusting the way she was crying like that. Undignified, that’s what it was. It made him happy to know that female Makuta were much stronger than that. He could not remember Gorast, for example, ever breaking down and crying like this, though he supposed that Gorast being who she was, she probably didn’t even know what the word ‘crying’ even meant.

But, in order to keep up his disguise (which he hoped he wouldn’t have to do much longer), he said softly, patting her on the back, “There, there. It’s all right. What happened? Is there anything I can do about it?”

“N-no,” she shouted, and then cried, if possible, even louder and harder than before. “There’s nothing . . . n-nothing . . . anyone c-can do about it . . .”

“Then why bother tell me at all?” Hajax muttered angrily. “Er, I mean . . . you can still tell me. We’re . . . friends . . .” he uttered that word in a gentle voice, but deep down inside his mind was reeling in anger from the very mention of the word. “Friends don’t keep secrets from each other, do they? They tell each other the truth at all times and do not lie to or deceive each other.”

He hated himself for even daring to speak such horribly bland Toa clichés, but he hoped it would make her calm down and tell him exactly what he needed to know.

Unfortunately, she cried even harder and gasped, “Nailed it . . . I’ve been lying and deceiving everyone, even Jokao, all this time. Almost everything I have said is a lie; every single bit of it. I have lied about my past, my connection with the Tuikas, and many, many other things that you don’t even know about. And if I tell you or anyone else the t-truth . . . Everyone will hate me. B-but if I say nothing at all. . . .” Her voice trailed off there and she cried again.

“Oggak,” said Hajax, this time a little bit more firmly than before. He pushed her away from him and tried to look into her eyes. He’d never get anything out of her if she kept this up. “You’ve gotta stop acting like this. Pull yourself together and speak clearly and calmly to me, okay?”

“O-okay,” she gasped. She wasn’t looking at him, as though she were afraid that her eyes would give away what she was trying to tell him. “I’ll t-try.”

She took a long, deep breath and said, still not looking into his eyes, “The Tuikas were not created by the Brotherhood and the Order had absolutely nothing at all to do with capturing and placing them under Shika Nui. I don’t know everything that I do know about them because of Order studies; it was because I and the Tuikas are so intricately connected that they always know where I am and I always know where they are, regardless of where we might be, th-though I am capable of hiding my energy signature to confuse them.”

Hajax’s heart was beating faster and faster. He had never thought that Oggak was connected to the Tuikas in the way she described; all it did was make him hunger for more and more knowledge that he could only gain from her.

“Yes? What else is there?” asked Hajax, a feeling of excitement mounting in him. “Tell me, Oggak; what is it?”

Tears pouring out of her eyes, she wiped them away as best as she could and said, “The Tuikas aren’t just mi-mindless beasts, either; they’re just as intelligent as you and me, but far more aggressive and intent on . . . intent on completing their mission, which involves me. They want to capture me, Barilo, and initiate the Dividing. It is the only thing that matters to them; nothing else does. No one else matters to them; they’re willing to kill whoever gets in their way, even in-innocent Matoran villagers.”

“What is the Dividing?” asked Hajax, unable to keep the excitement out of his voice any longer. “Tell me! I need to know!”

“Let me start from . . . from the beginning,” she said. She briefly closed her eyes, as though thinking, and then opened them and said, “One hundred thousand years ago, back in the beginning of the universe itself, the Great Beings h-had put in many different fail safes in case Mata Nui were to fail h-his mission. The Tuikas were one of them, yet are probably the most dangerous and cruel, since unlike the others they had minds and powers of their own and are quite capable of being merciless towards those who happen to get in their way.”

“Where do you come into this, then, Oggak?” asked Hajax quickly. He was just about to learn the jackpot of knowledge; knowledge, he was certain, would give him power over these Tuikas, whatever it was. “Why do you blame yourself for all of the bad things that have happened?”

“Because, in order for the Tuikas to initiate the Dividing, they needed a unique being, whose energies could . . . could be converted into a single energy blast that would totally annihilate the very heart of our world,” she continued. She was now looking into his eyes; perhaps she thought it would be easier to tell him that way, Hajax thought. “That was why the Great Beings made me, before the idea of a Kra-Matoran tribe was ever even conceived of by Mata Nui. Because I was the only Matoran of Shadow in the universe at the time, my dark energies were supposed to be used to destroy Karda Nui, the heart of the universe, and, as a result, Mata Nui himself would die and th-the Great Beings would be allowed to start anew elsewhere. I was kept in stasis until then, where I was kept safe until the time came for my destiny.”

“Then how did you get here?” Hajax asked, almost too quickly. “Who freed you from your stasis? Why? What did they hope to gain or achieve from it?”

“Mata Nui himself awoke me,” Oggak whispered. She was no longer crying, but the tone of her voice was still clearly sad. “He wanted to create the Kra-Matoran and discovered me in a place very far away from here. I don’t know if he knew of my real purpose, but he took me and used me as the basis for the creation of the entire Kra-Matoran tribe and placed me among them to serve as Chronicler. I have always carried the knowledge of the Tuikas in my mind, but I never did anything about it, since I have . . . I have always thought that fighting destiny was pointless, and besides, the Tuikas weren’t awake then, so what would be the point of telling anyone all of this? What would be the point of causing senseless panic and fear when the Tuikas were not harming anyone or even posing a threat when it could be avoided, I asked myself?”

Hajax waited, watching her, his heart beating fast. Was she going to reveal anything else to him? Or had she told him all she knew? If so, he would have to act now, for a plan was already forming in his brain, though he decided to wait just a little while longer, just in case.

“I now realize what a fool I’ve been,” she said, tears beginning to leak out of the corner of her eyes again. “It was because I haven’t told the others the truth, the reason I exist, and the reason the Tuikas exist, the reason that everyone who has died at their hands has had to die. It is my fault, every single death or injury that any Toa, Matoran, or Dark Hunter has ever sustained from the Tuikas. Nastan’s right; I am just as bad as the Shodios, because I chose not to act, rather than them, who chose to act and as a result, faced the dire consequences of their actions. I feared the consequences; what if everyone hated me? Or distrusted me? I couldn’t deal with rejection, so I instead made up a silly lie about the Brotherhood creating the Tuikas, placing the blame on someone else. Everything is my fault.”

“So you were afraid of the consequences of telling the truth?” Hajax asked, his tone as quiet as hers now.“You thought everyone would hate and fear you?”

“That’s it exactly,” she said, nodding. “I have even played with the idea of leaving Shika Nui forever, since the Tuikas would go after me no matter where I went. That way, at least, they would leave my friends alone, since the Tuikas don’t kill others unless they get in the way. But I just couldn’t, because if they caught me – which I have no doubt they would do if I was on my own – they would simply drag me back here and initiate the Dividing, as they were meant to do, even if I did travel to the very farthest corners of the universe.”

“I see . . .” Hajax breathed, feeling his heart beating faster than ever before. “So that is the secret you have been keeping from me all this time . . .”

“What?”

“Er, nothing,” said Hajax quickly. “Just sort of-“

He was interrupted when she roughly broke out of his grip, an expression of shock visible upon her features as she took a step away from him.

“I shouldn’t have told you this,” said Oggak, her eyes wide as she reached for the doorknob behind her. “You probably . . . I mean, forget you ever heard any of this. Okay? I . . . I was just lying, like-“

“Don’t even pretend it was false,” Hajax snapped as he seized her again, this time with a firmer grip so she would not escape. “You have told me the truth otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten so emotional about it. Don’t deny it. It simply makes you look stupid.”

“Let go of me!” she said, struggling to free herself. “You shouldn’t have . . . I should never have told you. I want to go away, and we should never bring this up aga-“

“But why not?” asked the Makuta. Because he was using the fullest extent of his physical strength now, it was incredibly easy to detain Oggak. “The others deserve to know, don’t they?”

“I . . . I don’t know!” cried Oggak, the panic in her voice obvious. “Just let me go, or I will hurt you!”

“I would think twice about that, Oggak,” Hajax said in a quiet, threatening voice. He know how painfully tight his grip on her was and said, “You don’t want me as your enemy, because when people are my enemies, I can make them and their friends suffer. Badly, I might add.”

Oggak looked surprised at his abrupt change in tone and said, “What do you mean? Barilo, that’s an evil thing to say – and you’re not evil. Why would you even joke about-“

“But that’s the thing,” said Hajax. He whirled around and tossed her toward the other side of the room with all of his strength. She smashed into the wall hard and looked dazed, though still conscious. “You see, the Barilo you thought you knew has been gone for a long time. His weak spirit was crushed by my own superior soul, giving me complete control over his former body, which has been in my possession for quite some time now.”

To his surprise, Oggak actually rose back to her feet, her sword now at the ready. She looked fearful, yet brave and defiant, too. She appeared ready for battle, even after having been thrown into the wall by Hajax. He decided that she must have gained her impressive resilience from training with the so-called Order of Mata Nui, as he doubted any other Toa would naturally have been able to rise from such a devastating blow so quickly.

“I’m not surprised,” she replied, shadow energy crackling around the tip of her sword, which was raised over her head in her usual battle stance.

“You are not?” asked Hajax, activating his magnetism power to make his spear, which he had propped against another wall, fly into his hands. He whirled the weapon in his hands and green energy began swirling around the tips. “You certainly looked it to me. Whatever made you think that I wasn’t Barilo?”

“Well,” said Oggak, who was now beginning to circle him. Hajax, noticing this, began to go the other way, his eyes fixated on her weapon. “The way you’d acted on our expedition . . . at first, I thought it was just your way of dealing with Nonzra’s death, along with the Tuikas attacking and all, making life even more difficult for you than before. But this week, you’ve been acting strange, in a way that’s made me feel uncomfortable. You’ve acted cruelly towards the Matoran, your friends, the Dark Hunters, and just about anyone who got in your way. It’s worried me, which is part of the reason I came up here. I wanted to see if you were okay . . . and there was the fact that I wanted to tell you what I just told you because I . . . I still felt guilty,” she finished in a quieter voice.

“You’re even cleverer than I thought,” Hajax remarked, his eyes on her sword hand. He thought if he could just hit it with a blast of shadow, he would have the upper hand in this battle. “I thought you were just as dumb and naive as the other Toa, but you would make a fine queen if you ruled the universe alongside me. We don’t need to fight; between you and me, the universe doesn’t stand a chance.”

“I would never ally with . . . with whoever you are,” she snapped, brandishing her sword threateningly at him as they stopped. Her back was to the door and he wondered, briefly, if she would try to escape. He doubted it, but he still kept a mental note to stop her if she made any sudden moves. “I don’t want to be your queen, or anybody’s queen. I don’t even want to be queen of the universe; I just want to be me. And I want to be with those I love. And if you try to harm me or my friends, then I will fight you.”

Hajax laughed, twirling his spear around dangerously through the air as he did so. “You honestly think that you could fight me, a Makuta, and somehow win? Only the Great Spirit himself could ever hope to defeat me in combat. Even then, he would have to use all of his wisdom and cunning to block my first move.”

Oggak staggered a bit at those words, obviously shocked. “A Makuta? You can’t be-“

“Oh, yes, that’s exactly who I am,” the Makuta responded, quickly striking the floor between them with his spear, burning a hole straight through it as the power of pure thought coursed through his weapon. “I am Makuta Hajax, ex-Makuta of Shika Nui, and soon to be king of the universe.”

“But you’re-“

“Dead, I know,” said Hajax with a grin. “That’s what Barilo said. I wonder if you will go down as easily as he did.”

“Not a chance!” Oggak shouted, and, moving faster than any Toa Hajax had ever seen in his life, she shot off half a dozen bolts of shadow at him.

All of the projectiles hit him hard enough to send the Makuta staggering backwards into the Cordak blaster mounted on the window behind him. He quickly grabbed the blaster, so as to not fall off, and looked up in time to see Oggak already in front of him, one fist raised.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m going to let you succeed with your plan of universal domination, Makuta,” Oggak growled, in a voice most unlike her own. It reminded Hajax (accessing Barilo’s memories, of course) of how Teivel sounded whenever he planned to do something very painful to someone. He realized that he didn’t like it. “That would be rather ‘un-Toa-like’ of me, wouldn’t it?”

With that, she swiftly smashed her fist into the side of his head with enough force to send him falling onto the stone floor hard, his spear slipping from between his fingers as his head collided with the ground.
 

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#62 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 19 2014 - 08:37 AM

Chapter 19: Of Insanity and Betrayal


Raider followed Death and the Toa from a reasonable distance in the ruins of Ironos. He had to keep them in view while keeping himself hidden, so that they would not accidentally see him and try to stop him. He remembered what he had been warned about the Hunters here possibly being on the lookout for any loyalists to the Shadowed One. He knew he wasn’t likely to be caught, but it was still important to remain hidden anyway.

He didn’t necessarily need to be quiet; his power to create a field of silence around himself made being stealthy quite an easy task for him. All he had to do was stay out of sight, which was going to be somewhat of a challenge, since he was a rather large being, but he had been in far worse situations before and had always managed to come out alive.

However, neither Death nor the Toa of The Green showed any signs of noticing him or even realizing that they were being followed. He attributed that to both his silencing powers and his very good stealth skills, which were legendary among the Dark Hunters. Even the Shadowed One, he knew, recognized his talents in the field of stealth, though that was no surprise, since he had been one of the organization’s first members when Ancient and the Shadowed One had founded the Dark Hunters many years ago. So he did not feel the need to be extremely cautious at the moment, so sure of his own abilities he was.

He was vaguely curious about the fire that was burning in the hut up ahead and wondered exactly what was so interesting about it. True, it had been raining rather hard recently, so he was surprised that whoever had built the fire had managed to light it at all. But other than that, he did not see what was so important or interesting about it. He thought he remembered overhearing them mention that some Matoran may be living there, but he honestly could not see why they would go all the way out to this desolate ruin just to rescue a couple of homeless Matoran.

But then, he was also starting to see a connection between the apparent alliance of the Dark Hunters and these Toa and those strange monsters that had attacked him when he had first arrived on Shika Nui. Perhaps there were many more of those monsters. Maybe they had been powerful enough to kill most of the Dark Hunters and make the rest of Shika Nui uninhabitable. It would explain why he hadn’t see any other Dark Hunters on Shika Nui, outside of Death and Kigin, and why Ironos was apparently destroyed, when last he had seen it had been a thriving slave village.

Death and the Toa passed the ruins of a large building that Raider easily recognized as the headquarters of whoever the local slave master here had been even in its destroyed state. He saw the two stop and briefly discuss something. The Toa looked disgusted about something and made some comment that made Death sigh and give some sort of explanation to the Toa. But being too far away, Raider could not hear much of what they were saying.

After a few more minutes of discussion – during which he thought the Toa must have said something extremely rude, for Death’s voice raised angrily for a moment before going back to its normal volume – the two unlikely companions continued on, and so did Raider, who paused before the master’s house a moment to examine what had made the Toa so upset.

He spotted it immediately: Carved into the stone of the building was a picture depicting a large throne made out of the bodies of Matoran rising high above several hundred other villagers, who were bowing at it, and with a Dark Hunter based vaguely on the Shadowed One sitting upon it in triumph. The Shadowed One-lookalike’s expression of satisfaction and triumph was visible even through the blackened stone.

Raider knew this symbol well. It was commonly found on Matoran islands under the control of the Dark Hunters. It symbolized the slavery of the local villagers and the iron fist with which the Shadowed One ruled them with. Raider understood why the Toa might not have liked it, for if the Toa was native to this island, he most likely had seen it as a Matoran wherever he went and had probably acquired a deep dislike of it and the things it stood for.

He shook his head and looked up just in time to see Death and the Toa walking around a large pile of debris. He moved fast to catch up with them, hiding behind the remnants of huts, in the huge craters that dotted the street, anywhere that would hide him from their view. If they glanced over their shoulder even once and saw him, this whole mission would be compromised and he would have to resort to violence. He knew he would be forced to do it eventually, but fighting – save for gunfights – was not something he particularly enjoyed doing. He liked to get others to fight for him, though that didn’t mean he wasn’t a good fighter himself. He just didn’t like melee combat much, especially if he was up against more than one opponent at a time.

As he followed the two, Raider’s thoughts drifted to Icetraz for a moment. He had not seen Icetraz at all during his surveillance on the fortress, nor had he seen any sign that the leader of the Shika Nui Dark Hunters was even still living there. Perhaps those monsters had killed him, which would make sense, since Icetraz had never been much of a thinker, in Raider’s opinion.

And if he is indeed dead, as I suspect he is, then that will simply make this mission that much easier, Raider thought.

After several more minutes of navigating through the ruins while keeping out of sight of the travelers, Death and the Toa were about twenty or so feet from their destination when two Cordak missiles – coming seemingly from out of nowhere – struck the ground before them and blew up. Death and the Toa were launched into the air and collided hard with the ground, their weapons sent flying out of their hands and landing several feet away as they fell.

Raider was taken by surprise, but still smart enough to quickly hide behind a ruin. He peered through a slim crack in the wall and saw Death and the Toa still lying on the ground, both stunned by the shockwaves of the explosion.

Death, however, seemed to be recovering faster than the Toa and reached for his fallen sword, which was lying near him. He never got it, though, for another Cordak missile went flying out of the shadows of a hut and blasted the sword into smithereens, causing Death to yelp in pain and pull his now-burnt hand back to cradle it, as if somehow hoping to make the burning feel less painful.

“Who’s there?” asked the Toa, who looked a little winded but seemed ready to fight. He was glancing wildly around the place; he evidently did not know which direction the Cordak missiles had been fired from. “Show yourself!”

Raider, who was also interested in the identity of their attacker, looked in the direction of the ruined hut and saw nothing but shadows for a moment before a large, hulking figure, wearing a makeshift cloak, stepped out of the ruin, one badly damaged but apparently still functioning Cordak blaster raised. Though the rest of his body was covered by the cloak, Raider noticed that he had not bothered to pull the hood over his head, revealing the Kikanalo-like face of Icetraz, leader of the Dark Hunters of Shika Nui.

But his face looked different now, Raider thought as he looked closely from his own hiding place. There was a large, ugly scar running the length of the side of Icetraz’s face which had almost certainly not been there before, and his wide blue eyes were bulging. Raider took note that Icetraz’s horn had been snapped clean off; the Dark Hunter had evidently seen many battles during the past few weeks, he concluded.

“Icetraz?” asked Death, shaking his head as he got on his hands and knees. “Is that you? I thought you were dead!”

“Shut up,” Icetraz snapped. He gestured to the fire that was still burning nearby. “I made that fire, in the hopes that someone would find it. I hoped some loyal Dark Hunters would see it and come to find out who had made it. But apparently, all I managed to attract were the insignificant, dirty little insects you are.”

He swiftly fired off a shot at the Toa’s bow, which the Toa of The Green had been reaching for. The bow blew up, sending dirt and mud into the Toa’s face as he stumbled backwards, recoiling from the blast.

“Toa, Death?” asked Icetraz in apparent disbelief. “You are allying yourself with Toa now? I knew how much you wanted out of this organization, Death, but I would never have thought you would have sunk this low. Toa are our enemies, save for those who choose to join our organization and abandon their petty codes of conduct. Yet here you are, taking an afternoon stroll with a Toa without even the simplest of plots to kill him while he wasn’t looking? Pathetic. Almost as pathetic as this Toa here is, really. I will have to report you to the Shadowed One once the situation has been taken care of, providing I simply don’t kill you in the first place.”

“Hey! I take insult to that!” the Toa protested, wiping the mud off his mask and looking up at Icetraz angrily.

“And for your information, Icetraz, the Dark Hunters are all dead,” Death added, already attempting to rise to his feet, his cold eyes focused on Icetraz as he spoke. “All save for me and Kigin. The Tuikas eliminated the rest; I have no one to betray and only allied with the Toa for my own protection, as well to redeem myself.”

Icetraz snorted. Raider thought that Death and the Toa were taking Icetraz’s unexpected reappearance very well, considering they both evidently thought him dead for quite a while.

“’No one to betray’? Just because everyone else is dead, Death, doesn’t give you the right to betray the organization itself,” Icetraz snapped. “You and Kigin – if what you say is correct about him – are traitors to the Dark Hunters, and for that I must do my duty as a loyal Hunter and kill you. That is the law of the Dark Hunters; anyone who tries to quit must first taste the flavor of death. No exceptions, especially for you. Now die!”

Icetraz raised both arms, both of which had Cordak blasters attached to them, and shot off several missiles. The Toa and Death leapt out of the way of the projectiles, and Death shot off a few lava balls at Icetraz in reply, who merely knocked them out of the air with his heavily armed arms.

“Fools!” shouted Icetraz over the sound of exploding Cordaks. “All who oppose the Dark Hunters must die!”

Raider watched with interest at the fight before him. It seemed to be mostly between Icetraz and Death, however; they kept trading lava and ice bolts, as well as Cordak missiles while the Toa merely did everything that he could to keep out of the line of fire. He found the battle mildly amusing, but wondered if he should move to a safer position soon.

What if one of their blasts accidentally hits me? he thought. Either I should get out of the way or join the fight. I choose the former.

So, turning around, he began climbing over the debris to find a safer spot higher up the hill, all the while listening to the sounds of battle that seemed to be growing ever louder behind him. True, he had been ordered to kill Icetraz, but he didn’t want to be right where everyone could see him, at least. Besides, he figured the Toa and Death could soften Icetraz up for him; then he could go in for the kill with his expert marksmen skills himself.
 

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#63 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 20 2014 - 08:05 AM

Chapter 20: He Escapes


The first thing Makuta Hajax realized was that his head was hurting like crazy. It felt like someone had hit it with a heavy sledge hammer many times in rapid succession. It didn’t help that he was apparently lying on cold, hard stone floor, with not even so much as a pillow to lay his head upon to ease the pain.

The next thing he realized was that he was bound with some kind of metal chains. They felt tight and sturdy, but he had no doubt in his mind that he could snap them if he really tried. However, he felt too weak at the moment to do anything other than toss and turn in his sleep in a vain attempt to find a softer bit of floor to rest upon.

He could also hear voices talking lowly nearby and caught a rotten yet distinct scent in his nostrils. The smell was like the kind he knew in the dungeons of the Dark Hunters’ fortress, which at first didn’t make sense to him. After all, no one knew he was Barilo and-

It was then that it all came rushing back to him in one swift stroke. Oggak confessing the secrets of the Tuikas to him . . . their brief fight . . . which ended with Oggak knocking him out cold with a well-placed punch. He remembered all of those things, and much more, but none of it explained why he was chained up in the dungeons for.

Have I been captured? he thought, rolling around a little in his chains, which were very uncomfortable. Maybe Oggak bound me and put me here to prevent me from attacking the others. That would explain it.

So now that all of those little mysteries are solved, I might as well break free.


Without opening his eyes, he swiftly shattered the chains that bound his body. But the minute he did so, he heard a gasp from somewhere nearby and new chains appeared and constricted his body. They felt stronger and thicker than the previous chains; he wondered how long it would take him to snap these.

“Stop struggling,” he heard someone’s voice say. It was hard to tell who it belonged to, though he thought it sounded older and slightly hoarse. “Don’t make us have to hurt you, Barilo.”

“I am telling you, Turaga, he is not Barilo.” That voice, he realized, most definitely belonged to Oggak, and based on who it was addressing, he thought the first voice must have belonged to Joha. “He’s Makuta Hajax. He told me himself.”

“That’s really difficult for me to believe, Oggak,” said another voice, which sounded distinctly like Akuna’s. “Have you any proof?”

“Well, no, I don’t,” he heard her admit. “But trust me on this: He’s not who he says he is. He tried to hurt me.”

Hajax rolled over onto his side and opened his eyes to get a better look at his environment and find out who was talking to whom.

He was indeed inside the dark dungeons of Koro Nui, for he could see several rusted, thick bars that separated his cell from the rest of the room in front of him and the stench was just as bad as he remembered it being, if not worse.

He also noticed several others beings standing on the other side of the bars. One of them was holding a torch, giving enough light for them to see him and for him to see them, though being a Makuta, he merely found the light annoying and didn’t need it to see in the dark, unlike the others.

Turaga Joha stood in front of the jail cell, with Oggak standing right behind him. Next to her was Akuna, who looked puzzled and a little frightened. And near Akuna was Chimoy, who wore a similar expression to Akuna’s, except more curious than frightened. Kigin also stood there, but he, unlike Chimoy, did appear curious at all, but rather looked like he was thinking of the best way to kill Hajax should he prove to be a threat.

Hajax also noticed that a red-armored Toa holding a torch was standing among them, whom he identified as Jokao. At first, he wondered how the Toa of Fire was managing to stand, considering how badly his legs had been damaged, but then noticed that he had a stick he was leaning on. One of Oggak’s hands was resting firmly on his shoulder, too, perhaps to help balance him. Jokao looked pale to Hajax, though slightly better than he had a week before, but he didn’t seem to have regained all of his former strength yet.

“Look, he’s awake,” said Jokao, pointing at Hajax with his walking stick before placing it back on the ground to avoid falling over. “Barilo or Hajax or whoever he is, he’s awake.”

Joha was standing closest to the bars and looked tired, yet interested. He peered in closer at the bound Hajax, who looked back at him with a politely confused expression on his face. Though Hajax felt angry and indignant for being in this position, he was not going to fall for whatever interrogation techniques they had in mind; so long as only Oggak knew he was Hajax and had no proof, he would be safe.

“Hello, Barilo,” said Joha gently, tapping his staff against the bars. “Do you know why you are here?”

Faking surprise, Hajax looked around and said to him, in his most innocent-sounding voice, “No, Turaga. I don’t. I am honestly surprised that I am being treated like this, almost like I was an enemy prisoner, really.”

“You are here because Oggak claims you both attacked her in the East Tower and revealed yourself as Makuta Hajax, the ex-Makuta of Shika Nui,” Joha said, without stopping. “She has no proof of these claims, but as they’re extremely serious accusations, we wanted to ask: Are you really Hajax?”

Hajax hesitated and looked at Oggak, who was staring right back at him suspiciously. He thought about holding the charade up a little while longer – after all, it would be so delightfully fun to see Oggak trying her best to prove his real identity while failing badly and making a fool of herself in front of everyone in the process – but then he decided there was no real reason to. He had the information that he had been looking for and he knew that he would be able to break these chains eventually. So for now, he would simply manipulate and play with them until he decided he had enough.

Getting into a sitting position, he looked up at Joha with an expression of amusement and said very curtly to him, “Of course I am. Oggak is telling the truth; I, Makuta Hajax, have returned from the dead and have taken Barilo’s body as my own.”

Their reactions were exactly as he expected them to be: Akuna and Chimoy both looked stunned, shocked to learn that one of their best friends was being possessed by their worst enemy; Oggak looked less shocked than the others and more apprehensive; Jokao and Joha seemed surprised as well; while Kigin merely snorted and said, “I don’t believe you.”

“Oh? Why not?” asked Hajax with a wicked smile, focusing his attention on the Dark Hunter now. “Are you afraid of ghosts and don’t want to believe they exist?”

“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” Kigin snapped, brandishing his flail as he did so. “I am simply skeptical as to how you could have survived being slaughtered by us Dark Hunters, if you are indeed the real Hajax.”

“Unbelief will get you killed someday, my friend,” said Hajax, who was now looking at Kigin with amusement. He did not see the Dark Hunter as much of a threat, though he was not necessarily underestimating him, either. He was no fool like Teridax. “Besides, why should I reveal how I survived to beings who will be corpses in a matter of hours? The very mention of my name has brought fear into your hearts. Besides, I do not think lesser beings such as you would ever be able to understand my deep and ingenious plans.”

“But how?” asked Akuna, ignoring Kigin as she approached the bars, clasping them tightly in her hands. “How could you be here? When did you take over Barilo’s body? And why . . . why are you telling us who you are now?”

“Looks like at least one of you has enough courage to actually ask,” said Hajax acidly. “But to answer your questions, I crushed Barilo’s pitiful soul long ago and now have complete control over his every action. Adjusting to having a physical body has been a real pain, but I have mastered it now. And to answer your last question, the reason I am revealing myself to you all is because I am in no need of hiding my identity anymore. Oggak here has given me the information I need, which, by the way, is quite shocking.”

“What’s he talking about?” asked Jokao, turning to look at Oggak, who was now looking up at the ceiling, apparently afraid to look at anyone else, which made Hajax feel satisfied. “What information did you give him, Oggak? Why aren’t you looking at me?”

“That’s if he really is Hajax,” Kigin said, his eyes locked on the Makuta in disbelief, though he seemed to be slightly more cautious now. “He may just be pulling our legs. Either that, or he’s gone completely insane.”

Hajax laughed. “You did think that my snapping those chains without the slightest bit of effort was because of Barilo’s strength, not my own? Then I shall give you undeniable proof that I am indeed Makuta Hajax, my unbelieving friend.”

With the barest of nods, he sent a tremendous bolt of mental energy into Kigin’s mind. Though he did not directly affect the Dark Hunter’s body, Kigin screamed in pain, staggering backwards into the wall as he clutched his head. Hajax knew that Kigin was feeling horrible pain, perhaps beyond anything he had ever felt before, and the Makuta enjoyed it. He hated the Dark Hunters just as much as he hated the Toa, so seeing one in such pain and helplessness brought him much happiness.

“What’d you do to him?” Joha demanded, knocking his staff against the bars of Hajax’s cell threateningly.

“I merely gave him a taste of what one receives when one does not properly fear and respect a Makuta,” Hajax replied calmly. “He is not dead – obviously, otherwise he wouldn’t be screaming anymore – but I bet he wishes he was.” He leaned forward a little, his eyes on Kigin. “Don’t you, you dumb Dark Hunter?”

“In . . . your . . . dreams,” Kigin managed to spit out, and then he was screaming again, this time even louder than before.

“Ah well,” said Hajax, shrugging. “You will eventually, I’m sure.”

“But what’d you do with Barilo?” asked Akuna, who sounded hopelessly confused now as she looked from Kigin to Hajax, her eyes widening in fear. “You said you-“

“Crushed his spirit, yes,” Hajax replied, nodding. “He no longer exists in any form you know of. He is now nonexistent . . . which is probably for the best, since I put him through the worst kind of pain and agony imaginable before finally killing him. He died begging for his life, you know.”

That was, of course, a lie. Though he was now the dominant spirit, Hajax knew Barilo’s soul was still somewhere within his body, weakened, yes, but still alive. In fact, he needed Barilo alive, at least for a little while longer. Kill him now, and Hajax too would die, since Barilo’s soul was still so intricately connected to his body that it would be suicide to attempt destroying his soul now.

But he was not going to tell her that. He was simply enjoying seeing the horrified looks on their faces, the agonizing screams that Kigin was giving off, and the general dankness of the cell, as uncomfortable as it was. Of course, at some point he would have to break free, but for now he would simply enjoy torturing them.

And then, without warning, Chimoy dashed forward and grabbed the bars, shouted, “You monster! You horrible, evil monster! I’m going to rip you limb from limb, you b-!”

“Chimoy, that is enough,” Joha said firmly, grabbing the Toa of Iron’s arm. “There’s no need-“

“Shut up!” Chimoy snapped, in a voice very much unlike his own. “Let me in there! I want to . . . “

“Do what? Kill me?” asked Hajax maliciously. “Because I killed your friend?”

“That’s what I . . . shut up!” Chimoy said. He had let go of the bars now, but he looked very much enraged. “I . . . I don’t know what I want to do, but I want to do it anyway!”

“Chimoy! What’s wrong?” asked Joha, who seemed honestly surprised at the Toa’s behavior. “This isn’t how you usually are.”

Before Chimoy could snap at Joha again, Hajax said to the Turaga of Stone, “He’s simply dealing with the painful emotions that are building up in him as a result of losing his dearest friends. First he lost Nonzra . . . then Addis . . . and now Barilo. He is grievous and angry because of their deaths and doesn’t know what to do or who to blame. So he wants to kill me to take out his frustrations that he cannot take out on the Shodios or Tuikas. You would know that, Turaga, if you had been paying any attention to these Toa at all this past week.”

“He’s dead on,” said Chimoy, who now looked sullen and brooding, taking a step back from the bars. “As much as I hate to admit it, he’s right. Losing my friends like this . . . it’s just been too much for me, especially since they have happened so soon after each other. That’s why I’m going to finish him off with my bare hands!”

Chimoy raised the palms of his hands and the bars of the cell immediately rusted and fell apart, leaving nothing to separate Hajax from the others. Chimoy then raised his sword and charged at Hajax so fast that the others couldn’t do more than shout in protest, which he ignored as he charged the Makuta.

That was when Hajax acted. He snapped the chains restraining him and then teleported behind Chimoy. He grabbed the Toa of Iron, who was too surprised by Hajax’s sudden move to do anything, and smashed Chimoy into the stone wall that he had been sitting in front of previously. He smashed Chimoy into it again and again until the Toa stopped moving, his sword falling to the ground as his arms hung limply at his sides, though he wasn’t dead based on the thought patterns that Hajax could still detect inside his head.

Tossing Chimoy aside, Hajax said dismissively, “Pathetic. I expected much more of him, but I suppose I was being too optimistic, wasn’t I?”

He looked up in time to see the others had drawn their weapons. Even Kigin was back on his feet, though he looked rather dazed and still seemed to be hurting, based on the grimace he wore. They all looked ready to fight, but Hajax really had no interest in a battle today. He had to carry out his plan and they were merely annoying insects who were in the way and desperately asking to be squashed.

“You’re not getting past us without a fight!” said Jokao, who did not seem to have brought his weapon, but seemed to still want to fight anyway. “We’re ready to fight to the death!”

“Such noble stupidity, as some call it,” said Hajax, shaking his head in disgust. “When will you Toa learn that the smartest thing to do whenever faced with fighting a Makuta is to simply run and hope he doesn’t run after you? Of course, I doubt I would let you leave alive, but it’s the thought that counts, you know.”

With a snap of his fingers Oggak was suddenly teleported to his side, causing her to gasp in surprise. He then wrested her sword out of her hand and swiftly placed it at her neck, one arm around her body. She stopped moving and became very still, for he had placed the sword in such an angle as to make it almost certain that she would literally lose her head should she move in the wrong way.

“One more move and she gets it,” Hajax hissed, for Jokao had taken a few steps forward with a look of worry in his eyes. “And I mean it.”

“What are you going to do with her?” asked Jokao, his voice a mixture of anger and worry.

“She has her uses,” Hajax remarked calmly. “I think the Tuikas will be quite pleased to have her as an early Naming Day gift, wouldn’t you say?”

“The Tuikas? What do they want with her?” asked Jokao in surprise.

“Told you he was insane,” said Kigin irritably. He rubbed the back of his head, which still seemed to be hurting from Hajax’s attack. “The Tuikas don’t want anything but food, which is apparently what we look like to them. He’s just trying to throw us off-guard.”

“Not a lie, Kigin,” Hajax said, shooting a look at the Dark Hunter, who flinched, as though thinking he would be attacked again. “Oggak here has been keeping many secrets from you for some time. She has evidently decided that your minds couldn’t comprehend what the real purpose of the Tuikas is nor what vital a role she plays in it.”

“No, I didn’t,” said Oggak to the ceiling, for the blade was held up so high to her neck that she had to look up, else she would simply end up beheading herself. “That’s not it at all.”

“Oh, yes,” said Hajax, with a look of mock realization on his face. “Thank you for reminding me, Oggak. You kept the Tuikas’ true purpose a secret from them because you didn’t want Jokao to hate you, right? You told me you loved him so much that you didn’t want to lose his love simply because the Tuikas are after her. Toa are so stupid that way.”

“What?” Jokao said, who sounded disbelieving, though Hajax thought he caught a hint of worry in the Toa of Fire’s voice. “The Tuikas are after Oggak? Why? What’d she ever do to them?”

“It’s what she hasn’t done that is making them all upset,” Hajax replied in a matter of fact voice. “They need her to complete their destiny, and she in turn must complete her destiny by allowing them to complete theirs. You see, if the Tuikas get her, they will cause an event known as the Dividing to occur, which will destroy the universe as we know it. It’s because of her fear of letting that happen that she has kept this a secret from you all. It is because she is unwilling to face her destiny that the Tuikas have been killing and hurting innocents. Simply put, fear – and perhaps her idiotic love for you – is why she does not simply go and let the Tuikas take her, as destiny says they should.”

“You mean that’s why the Tuikas have been attacking?” asked Kigin, who sounded outraged. “That is why all of my fellow Dark Hunters were killed? Because Oggak did not want to die? That is why the Dark Hunters are no longer the supreme rulers of Shika Nui anymore?”

“If I am sacrificed, then everyone dies,” said Oggak resolutely. “At least while I live there’s a chance of stopping the Tuikas.”

“So you thought the deaths of all of those innocent Matoran were insignificant?” asked Akuna sharply, pointing her staff at the Toa of Shadow. “You didn’t tell us the truth because you thought Jokao wouldn’t love you anymore? Addis had to die because you didn’t tell us what the Tuikas really wanted? I think Nastan was right about you; you really are no good.”

“No! Please!” Oggak said, the panic rising in her voice, though she was still remaining stationary and did not look down at anybody, lest she should literally lose her head. “I didn’t mean for all of those people to die! I didn’t want the Matoran or Dark Hunters or Addis or anyone to die like this! Please, you have to understand-“

“I think they understand quite well, Oggak,” said Hajax simply. “Now we must go. We have a date with the Tuikas and it would quite rude of us to be late, wouldn’t you say?”

And with that, Hajax and Oggak disappeared into thin air, the Makuta smiling in triumph as he watched the bewildered, frightened, and angry faces of the others disappear from view. Right now, he knew that, regardless of whatever hardships he may have faced, however long it may have took to figure out the truth, it was all worth it, just to see the betrayed expressions on their faces. Very much worth it indeed, in his opinion, though he knew he still had a long way to go before completing his final goal, but he hoped that it wouldn’t take too long, at least. He had enough of waiting; he didn’t want to wait any longer than he should have.
 

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#64 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 21 2014 - 08:37 AM

Chapter 21: Target Locked


Nastan leapt out of the way of a bolt of ice, which shattered the stone wall that he had been standing in front of into pieces. He was tired, hungry, thirsty, and in pain, but he couldn’t stop now. One false move and he would become the most realistic Toa ice sculpture ever. Considering he doubted that Akuna would be very happy to see him frozen, he didn’t think it would be a very good thing.

It didn’t help that he was mostly helpless against Icetraz. Control over plant life was fine in certain situations, but since he had no time to do anything but jump and dodge it seemed rather useless at the moment. He almost wished he had Death’s ability to generate lava balls out of thin air; at least that way he could be somewhat useful.

“Traitor!” shouted Icetraz. Nastan was amazed at the way he could fire Cordak missiles with one hand and shoot ice bolts with the other like that, though that only made him even more dangerous in his opinion. “Filthy Toa! Traitorous, filthy Toa!”

Nastan wanted to correct him on that, since Nastan had never been a Dark Hunter in his entire life and had never betrayed them in any definition of the word. However, Icetraz looked too crazy to listen to logic and reason and seemed to be merely spouting out words and phrases at random, regardless of whether they made sense or not.

Death leapt over a missile and flung about three lava balls at Icetraz, which blew up at his feet, sending Icetraz flying through the air with a shout as he hit the ground hard, temporarily stunned by the impact of the explosion and resulting crash.

Nastan took advantage of this moment and made extremely thick tree roots burst out of the ground and wrap themselves tightly around Icetraz’s body. Icetraz struggled against his bonds, but failed to break them; he was effectively captured.

“Let me go!” Icetraz shouted, his eyes bulging in rage. “Let me go, or I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you to death!”

Death quickly ran over and wrenched the two Cordak blasters out of Icetraz’s hands and tossed them to the side. He then took a few quick steps away from Icetraz, out of the ex-leader’s reach, just in case.

“You’re in no position to threaten us, Icetraz,” Death told him coldly. “Got that?”

“But I am the leader of the Dark Hunters of Shika Nui!” Icetraz bellowed, and Nastan saw with horror that the roots were beginning to crack at the strain that Icetraz was putting on them. Fortunately, though, they looked like they would hold for at least a little while longer. “I deserve respect, even from those who have renounced the organization! You should free me, and after that, let me kill you!”

“Yeah, that’s the problem,” said Nastan, rubbing his legs as he sat down on a piece of rubble, sighing in relief. He was glad that the battle was over, if temporarily, but was ready to continue if necessary. “We would let you go if you wouldn’t kill us, I think. We could become the best of friends, you know.” Nastan said that in a very sarcastic voice; he couldn’t imagine him ever becoming best friends with Icetraz, or any other Dark Hunter, for that matter.

Missing the sarcasm, Icetraz snapped, “I would never be friends with Toa! Never!”

“What’s up with him?” Nastan asked Death, bored. “Has he always been this crazy or what?”

“I’m not sure,” said Death with a shrug. “He was far saner before, but I think that fight he had with that Makuta Hajax really messed him up or something.”

“Why are you whispering like cowards?” Icetraz bellowed again and one of the roots actually snapped off his chest he was struggling so hard. “Speak to me like men!”

“Yes, he’s very crazy,” said Death offhandedly, looking at the Dark Hunter as though he were some kind of unimportant interruption. “What should we do with him? Leave him here or take him with us?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t suggest we kill him,” Nastan said. “Gone soft since the Tuikas started attacking, have you?”

Death shot him an irritable look and said, “I’m not as bad as other Hunters, you know. So stop implying that I am. I do think you may have a point, however. Unless he changes his mind soon, we may be forced to-“

“I . . . must . . . be . . . free!” Icetraz shouted suddenly.

Flexing his thick, powerful muscles, the strong tree roots that had been holding him down snapped loudly as he jumped to his feet, his hands raised and ready to fire two bolts of ice, eyes glinting insanely as cold energy began crackling around the palms of his hands.

“Too late, fools! Today you both die!” Icetraz screamed.

There was no way to dodge; Icetraz was too close and had moved too fast. Neither Nastan nor Death had been prepared for something like this. All Icetraz had to do was get off two shots, and they would both be as good as dead.

But then something very odd happened at that moment. Icetraz was still ranting, but his breathing became heavier and slower and he was beginning to take deeper breaths. The light in his eyes was rapidly fading and the ice energy dissipated in his hands even as some kind of reddish liquid came rapidly trickling out of the side of his mouth like water in a fountain.

For a moment, Nastan, watching in shock, wondered what the reddish liquid was. Then he realized it was blood, but too late. Icetraz, breathing harder than ever, gasped loudly for air and fell forwards onto the ground, blood flowing freely from now-exposed his skull all over his back. He stopped moving and seemed to stop breathing, too. As far as Nastan could tell, Icetraz was dead, but what had killed him, Nastan didn’t know, though he was far too shocked to think much about it.

Death looked confused at first, too, but in a minute his eyes widened with horror and, grabbing Nastan roughly, he shouted, “Get down! He’s here!”

He forced Nastan down behind a stone wall even as the ex-Dark Hunter cried out in pain. Nastan hit the ground hard, both surprised and angry at this sudden move. He also felt extremely uncomfortable with Death on his back like this, but fortunately the ex-Hunter got off him, groaning in pain, allowing Nastan to sit up, glare at Death, and indignantly asked, “What was that for?”

“Keep your head down!” Death snapped, pushing his hand down on Nastan’s head hard. “Don’t give him a target!”

“Get your hands off me!” Nastan hissed, though he kept low just the same, for Death looked very serious. “And don’t give who a-?“

He heard a sharp crack and, glancing at the wall, saw a bullet made out of some kind of silvery metal was embedded into the stone. He was surprised that such a little thing could have pierced the thick rock, but then another bullet of the same material struck a few feet above it, followed closely by a third.

“Who’s shooting at us?” Nastan asked, starting to feel tense and frightened. “Kigin?”

“Not Kigin, you fool,” Death hissed, his hand gripping his shoulder as another bullet caught in the wall behind them. “Raider.”

“Who?”

“The Legendary Dark Hunter,” Death said, wincing in pain a moment before continuing. “He’s the only one I know that has a rifle which shoots totally silently. No one has ever been able to hear the bullets quick enough to dodge, because by the time they realize he’s aiming for them they are usually dead – if they ever even learn that he was there in the first place, that is. I was lucky. I knew he was there, so I only got a minor wound.”

He lifted his hand off his shoulder, revealing an ugly wound which was bleeding all over his armor. Nastan recoiled slightly at the disgusting sight even as Death covered it up again.

“I think he got Icetraz,” Death continued. Nastan was surprised at how well Death was ignoring the pain in his shoulder like that, as the wound had looked pretty bad to him. “I don’t know why, but perhaps the Shadowed One sent him here to kill Icetraz.”

“But who is Raider, exactly?” asked Nastan, both in frustration and confusion. “You only told me he’s the ‘Legendary’ Dark Hunter and has a silent gun. What’s so ‘Legendary’ about him?”

“Raider was one of the very first – and one of the very oldest – members to join the Dark Hunters,” Death explained hurriedly as more bullets pelted the barrier. “Some say he joined right after the Shadowed One and Ancient formed the organization, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he is one of the best and is a living legend among the Dark Hunters. He once raided and captured an entire island all by himself, Nastan.”

“What?” Nastan said in shock. “He took over an entire island by himself?”

“Precisely,” said Death, glancing over the wall for a split second before getting down low again. “He is one of the most successful members of the Dark Hunters and is held in high esteem by the Shadowed One. Unlike others, though, he works by stealth; he even has the ability to eliminate all sound he makes, so even if you happen to have the best hearing in the universe, he could still follow you for years and years and you would never know he was there unless you saw him or had been told he was following you.”

A part of the wall which they hid behind suddenly went flying and collided hard with the back of Nastan’s head. Cursing softly and rubbing the spot that had been hit, Nastan looked down and saw a bullet wedged right in the center of the fragment that had hit him.

He soon got a much closer look at it than he would have liked, for the next moment, Death pushed him straight down while yelling, “Down! Don’t give him a target!”

“Okay!” said Nastan, now lying uncomfortably flat on the ground, which he figured was the safest place to be at the moment. “I know!”

“Whenever Raider’s got an eye on someone, that person never comes out alive,” said Death harshly to Nastan. “I have heard stories of a powerful Turaga who, after hearing rumors that Raider had been sent after him, went hiding in the most obscure part of the universe, deep underneath the earth with several bodyguards keep a watch on all exits and entries. Yet somehow, Raider not only killed the Turaga but took out all of the bodyguards, too. He is that good; he has successfully completed each and every mission he has been given with near perfection, or so I have been told.”

“Well, what’s he doing on Shika Nui, then?” asked Nastan, annoyed at the way Death was snapping at him like that. “Didn’t you say he was after Icetraz?”

“It seems so, but I just can’t imagine how he got here in the first place or how long he has been here,” said Death, crouching lower behind the stone wall as another bullet went flying overhead. “Why didn’t the Tuikas get him? How did he survive the Tuikas? Then again, this is Raider I am talking about; if he wants to get somewhere, he gets there. Always, regardless of whoever or whatever is in his way, even if it takes a while.”
 

-


Raider calmly reloaded his rifle with another soundless bullet and took aim. He had already taken out Icetraz; he went down fairly quickly, since he had left the back of his head wide open for Raider to easily snipe.

But Death and the Toa seemed to have realized he was there, or at least Death had, for they were hiding behind the ruins of one of the huts now. The Toa’s head had been briefly exposed for a couple of seconds earlier, but had disappeared just as quickly. Now all he had to do was wait for them to come out and play. And he had all day to do it, too.

Still, he was beginning to feel restless. True, he had done what he was supposed to do – kill Icetraz – but he wanted to make a clean job of it and get rid of them at the same time. He was patient, of course – he had waited an entire week for this moment – but he also wished they would simply come out and let him shoot them. Then he could return to Odina to inform the Shadowed One of what happened on Shika Nui and return with reinforcements to retake the island.

Assuming there are any left for me to take, Raider thought as he fired a shot, remembering how the Dark Hunters were still at war with the Brotherhood with little troops to spare for anything that did not relate to the war effort. I may very well have to take this island all by myself. Oh well . . . I did it once. I could so easily do it again.

It may have seemed wasteful to simply fire at the ruins over and over again without really doing much more than making the place look worse than it already did, but there was a method to Raider’s madness. He figured that eventually – whether it will be Death or that Toa – one of them would become so frightened that he would attempt to make a run for it. Of course, the Legendary Dark Hunter seriously doubted that whoever it was wouldn’t get more than five paces before he found one of Raider’s silent bullets buried within his skull.

He was about to fire another shot – he had thought he had seen Death’s head exposed – when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye, something flying in the clouds above that should not be there. Several somethings, in fact, were among the clouds.

He focused his attention a bit more closely on the things in the sky and saw five monstrous-looking Rahi, apparently flying of their power, soaring through the skies towards the fortress in the opposite direction. He recognized two of them as the beasts that had attacked him when he had reached Shika Nui a week ago, but the other three were unfamiliar to him, though he figured the unknown three must be the friends of the other two.

It did not take him long to recall his theory about how those monsters might be the real cause of Shika Nui’s downfall. He debated whether he should try to shoot them down or not. He thought he might be able to kill them, but he didn’t want to end up fighting all five of them at once in case he didn’t.

If I aim at them, then I may let myself open to attacks from Death and the Toa, Raider thought, his mind quickly processing this information. But if I don’t, I may let the true threats escape. And if that happens, I have no doubt in my mind that the Shadowed One would not be pleased. Assuming, of course, that these beasts are the ones responsible for the elimination all of the Dark Hunters here, as I believe they are.

He bent down a little closer to the earth – he didn’t want to give Death or the Toa an easy target – and took aim at the approaching beasts. They still seemed unaware of his presence, so he took aim at the one in the lead, a red and blue armored bat-like monster. He decided to shoot it in the neck, which appeared to be its weak point. He was slightly worried that he might miss, however, since they were moving pretty fast and he was already having enough trouble aiming as it is.

I’ll just have to shoot fast, then, he decided and, making sure his aim was as perfect as can be, swiftly pulled the trigger.

A silvery bullet went flying out of the rifle’s barrel, straight into the sky. Raider waited, watching the monsters fly. He had aimed a little bit ahead of his target, so that the monster would fly into the bullet for him. He knew it would hit; he had one of the best aims in the Dark Hunters and could hit almost anything, regardless of where it was or how high up in the sky it might be.

Sure enough, he saw the read and blue being suddenly falter, blood dripping from a wound in its chest. Odd, he thought as he watched it slow down in midair, he had been aiming for the throat and seemed to have struck its chest instead. Must’ve been moving faster than my bullet, he concluded.

He watched as the other four monsters stopped and flew back to check up on their companion. Raider smiled; this would make them so much easier to hit, gathered together as they were.

So, taking aim yet again, he remembered just how beautiful the sport of hunting really was – and how nice the heads of these monsters would look mounted on the wall in his room back on Odina.
 

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#65 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 22 2014 - 09:41 AM

Chapter 22: Renewed Determination


“Oggak!” shouted Jokao, hobbling over to the spot where Hajax and Oggak had been seconds before, frantically looking around for any sign of them. “Oggak! Please answer me! Oggak! Come back!”

Jokao knew that they were gone, knew that he was in no position to save her, and knew she probably had no choice in whether she came back or not, but he didn’t care. Calling for her felt better than just standing around and looking shocked, in his opinion, even if he didn’t actually accomplish anything other than shout loudly.

He heard a groan of pain and, looking down, noticed Chimoy was still lying there. He looked battered and bruised, but still alive, fortunately. The Toa of Iron rolled onto his back and, raising his head a little, looked around the area in confusion.

“Where’d he go?” asked Chimoy, his Mask of Flight looking a little cracked in some places from the repeated bashings it had taken. “And where’s . . . where’s Oggak?”

“Hajax kidnapped her,” Akuna answered, walking over to him and helping him to his feet. She still looked angry, but she managed to keep it out of her voice as she addressed Chimoy. “Are you okay?”

“Not really,” said Chimoy, leaning against the bars of the cell next to them, one hand holding his head. “My head hurts like crazy and I think my mask is broken, too.”

“We’ve got no time to sit here and complain about broken Kanohi,” said Jokao impatiently. He turned around and began heading to the stairs, intending to go after Hajax, wherever he may be. “Oggak’s been kidnapped by Hajax. We should go after them immediately. I don’t know what he plans to do with her, but we’ve got to stop him, no matter the cost.”

“But didn’t you hear what he just said?” asked Akuna, sounding exasperated. “Hajax said the Tuikas need her to destroy the universe. She kept that a secret from all of us, including you, Jokao, for a very long time. She did not bother to tell any of us why our friends were getting hurt or dying. If she had just been honest with us in the first place, I think it would have been much easier to fight the Tuikas, personally.”

“As much as I hate to agree with a Toa, I think she has a point,” said Kigin, who still looked a little dazed from Hajax’s mental attack on him, but otherwise seemed completely normal. Or his temper was, at least. “Oggak lied to us for no reason other than to save her own hide, apparently. If we do go after Hajax, I say we kill Oggak, too.”

“What? Why?” asked Jokao in surprise and horror. He was unable to comprehend what they were saying; didn’t they even care that she had just been kidnapped by Hajax without being allowed to say good bye, even? “What’d she ever do?”

“It’s what she hasn’t done that will get us all killed,” said Chimoy before Kigin could answer. He took a deep breath, one hand still on his head, and continued, “The Tuikas need her to destroy the universe. I doubt even Hajax will stand a chance against the five of them. So if the Tuikas manage to beat him and take Oggak-“

“We’re all dead,” Kigin finished for him. “Every single one of us will be dead. So I say, if we do go after him, we kill Oggak, too, so the Tuikas won’t ever get a chance to kill m- er, all of us.”

“But how do we know Hajax was even telling the truth?” Jokao demanded. “He’s a Makuta; aren’t Makuta liars and deceivers?”

Kigin laughed, which was a laugh devoid of any mirth. “Didn’t you see and hear Oggak’s reaction when we started accusing her, right before Hajax disappeared? She didn’t say anything to contradict him and actually tried to justify – that’s if she ever could – her actions, so I doubt it’s just another Makuta lie, personally.”

“I don’t know about killing her,” said Akuna, her tone obviously bitter. “But I think Nastan had a point about her. She deliberately lied to us about what the Tuikas wanted, and probably even about their origin, too. I mean, if she truly trusted us, or even liked us, she would have told us what the Tuikas really were and what they really wanted. It was because of her that all of those innocent Matoran and, er, not-so-innocent Dark Hunters died. And I just can’t help but think that if we just knew this before, we probably could have stopped the Tuikas a long time ago.”

Jokao wanted to retaliate, but somehow he just couldn’t think of a good defense. He hated to admit it, but there was some truth to her words; if Oggak had selfish reasons for keeping it a secret, maybe she wasn’t so trustworthy after all. Had their friendship – no, their entire relationship – been built on nothing but lies? What else was she keeping secret? Did she even consider him a real friend? Or was it all just a fraud?

He did not want to hate her, though. He still loved her and wanted to keep on loving her. He didn’t want to say a bad thing about her – at least not right now, in the situation that she was currently in – and wanted to save her, regardless of whether the others agreed or not. He would ask her himself about her motives once he saved her from Hajax.

“But would it have been any easier to stop the Tuikas, even if she had told us the truth in the first place?” Jokao asked, a little harsher than he had intended, though the pain in his legs was growing almost intolerable, so this was how he chose to express his pain without screaming horribly. “It wouldn’t have made them any weaker or easier to defeat or anything, would it?”

“I suppose not,” said Akuna with a shrug. “But still . . . If she truly trusted us, why didn’t she just go ahead and tell us? Didn’t she consider us friends?”

“She did, but-“

“But nothing,” Kigin interrupted, swinging his arm sharply away from his chest. “She’s too dangerous to keep alive. We go and stop Hajax and her, before it’s too late.”

“Hey, she’s not working with him of her own free will, you know,” said Jokao and for a moment the temperature rose in the room before returning back to normalcy. He took a deep breath and said, in a slightly calmer voice, “It’s not like they were secretly collaborating or anything. She’s always wanted to have real friends; that’s what she told me a while ago. Maybe she wasn’t too good at it, if she was still keeping secrets like that, but I believe her motives were pure. Whatever you may say, she’s still my friend and I am going to rescue her whether you guys think I should or not.”

“Have whatever opinion you want of her, but it doesn’t change the facts,” said Chimoy, shaking his head, which he immediately ceased doing, for it seemed to hurt him. “She may or may not have wanted friends for real – I don’t know – but don’t you think she could have been a lot more honest, though? Why did she have to lie to gain friends like that?”

“Because she obviously knew that none of us would accept her or want to be friends with her if we knew the truth,” Kigin snapped. He grabbed his head and muttered, “Ow. My head still hurts . . .”

“What Kigin said,” said Chimoy, nodding. “I mean, not the part about his head hurting (though I admit mine does, too) but the part about us not accepting her if she told us the truth. I can’t see any of us wanting someone like her on Shika Nui with the knowledge that the Tuikas are continually going after her and are willing to do whatever it takes to get her. She probably thought we would kick her off or tell her to go away instead of staying around here any longer, which means she would never get any true friends.”

“That, and the fact she’s a Toa of Shadow – who are the biggest liars and deceivers ever – may have had something to do with it,” Akuna added in agreement. “It may have been part of her instincts to make up some sort of elaborate lie to deceive us with, though that doesn’t mean we should let her off the-“

“I don’t care what you say,” said Jokao, turning to the stairs again. They were wasting time. Who knew what Hajax could be doing to Oggak now? “I’m tired of arguing. The more we talk the more time we waste. I’m going to save her, regardless of where she is, even if I have to go by myself.”

He turned to Turaga Joha, who had been rather quiet during this discussion and said, “Sir, what do you think? Should we go or shouldn’t we? Just so you know, I’m still going regardless of whatever you say, but out of respect for your leadership I am asking for your opinion.”

Joha wiped the sweat off his mask, looking a little indecisive. “Difficult to say, Jokao. As you have already said, you will go no matter what I or anyone else will say. But you are in no condition to be running around after Makuta and Tuikas, even if I agree that saving Oggak would be the right thing to do. I’m no doctor, but even I can tell your legs have still not healed up completely yet.”

“I don’t care if I rip my legs up trying to save her,” said Jokao, growing increasingly impatient the longer he was kept at bay. “I don’t even care if I die because I . . .” He hesitated, and then plunged recklessly ahead. “Because I love her. That’s why, even if . . . even if no one else does.”

There was silence at these words. And Jokao, his impatience nearing the breaking point, tried to hobble forward after deciding that no one would want to come with him. He had known it the minute they had voiced their doubts about Oggak; with those kinds of attitudes, he understood why they would not want to help him rescue her.

But then he felt someone’s hand grab his shoulder. He figured someone was trying to stop him from going, even though he had already told them he would not be stopped no matter what they said or did. After all, if he didn’t save Oggak, then who would?

So turning around, intending to tell that person off for trying to stop him, he was slightly surprised to see that the hand belonged to Chimoy, who looked different, somehow. He seemed to be on the verge of saying something he didn’t want to, but was going to anyway.

“Jokao,” said Chimoy, after taking a deep breath. He looked reluctant, though determined. “Akuna and I shall accompany you on your rescue mission. Despite what we’ve said, we both realize what will happen if we let Hajax get away; the Tuikas might succeed in their destiny or plan or whatever it was and everyone and everything we care about will be destroyed. If we – the only ones with the power to stop them – just sat here and did nothing and let the Tuikas destroy the universe, we wouldn’t be true heroes. We would not really be Toa; just people who look like Toa.”

“Chimoy’s right,” said Akuna, joining them with an expression of determination on her face that resembled the one Nastan sometimes wore. “Maybe this will be our last stand, the final time we can do anything to save the universe. Well, I don’t want any of us to die – especially Nastan – so I’m going with you, like Chimoy said. It’s what a true Toa would do. How’s about we save the universe one more time, eh?”

Despite himself, Jokao smiled. He felt relieved to know he wasn’t going alone; as brave as he was, he wasn’t sure he could take on both the Tuikas and Hajax all on his own with two badly damaged legs. He thought he would likely collapse from the sheer pain he was experiencing or something, so he felt grateful that they wanted to come along and help, even knowing that they would be taking on not only Hajax, but the remaining Tuikas as well.

“I’ll come along, too,” said Kigin suddenly. He took a deep breath, evidently trying to relieve his head of the pain, and said, “I have a bone to pick with Hajax and the Tuikas. They’re both enemies of the Dark Hunters, which automatically makes them my enemies. I’m not going to let them get away that easily, even if they do manage to kill the universe itself. If they do succeed, I will make sure that they are the first to die.”

“But you won’t kill Oggak, will you?” asked Jokao quickly.

“No, I won’t,” said Kigin with a slight sigh. “If we manage to stop Hajax and the Tuikas, I won’t even touch her.”

“Good,” said Jokao, relieved.

“It is wonderful to see you going to rescue a dear friend,” said Joha, who still looked a little worried. “But Jokao, it still might not be good for your legs. I am merely concerned that you may not be in top fighting form once you actually find and confront Hajax.”

“Define ‘fighting condition,’ Turaga,” Kigin muttered, rubbing the back of his head with his hand. “My head still feels like someone came through with a heavy hammer and aimed especially for my brain.”

Ignoring Kigin, Jokao said to Joha, in an exasperated voice, “I have already told you. My legs have healed up fine and I’m going regardless of what you may say. No disrespect meant, Turaga; just saying.”

“Fine,” said Joha, in a half-amused, half-resigned-sounding voice. He stood out of Jokao’s path and gestured to the stairs. “I shall inform the Matoran of this recent turn of events. Take whatever you may need; food, water, weapons, you name it. Also, try to find Igici and Nastan; they’re still out there, and if they encounter Hajax or the Tuikas or even worse, both, they may not last long at all on their own.”

Jokao nodded and smiled slightly. “Thank you, Turaga. Now let’s go, guys. We’ve got a friend to save.”
 

-


Hajax and Oggak materialized out of thin air in the town square of the ruins of Kra-Koro, the original settlement of the Kra-Matoran tribe, which was located in the mountains of Shika Nui. It was all but empty now, with absolutely no sign of life within its stone walls, as though time itself had stopped here, holding its breath for whatever would happen next.

But Oggak had no time to worry about the perpetual darkness that shrouded the village, nor the cold wind that cut through her body like a knife. She was trying to figure out a way to escape Hajax even as the Makuta scanned the area for any sign of the Tuikas.

“Where are they?” asked Hajax, looking this way and that for the monsters. “I was certain they would be here.” He glared at Oggak and growled, “Tell me where they are, Oggak, or I’ll make you tell me. Believe me, I can make you talk if I wish, since I am a master torturer and know a variety of ways to make people tell me what I want them to tell me.”

Oggak looked defiantly at Hajax and said, “I’m not telling you. My mind is shielded from all mental intrusion – designed to stop intruders from learning the secrets of the Order, especially Makuta such as yourself – and I won’t talk, no matter how much you may torture me.”

Hajax smiled in a rather chilling way. “What would be keeping quiet accomplish for you, my friend?” He brought her closer and breathed, “You have no one to return to. The others know all about your dirty little secret now, Oggak, and I doubt any of them are happy about it. After all, just when Jokao was insisting that you were good, honest, trustworthy . . . you went ahead and broke his trust like a thin twig. I can simply see him now, on his knees, cursing your soul to the very depths of Karzahni itself. So naturally, Oggak, I have no reason to torture you to get the information; you have no reason to keep secrets anymore, so you may as well tell me where the Tuikas are and be done with it.”

“Jokao would never curse me,” said Oggak, though even she caught the hint of doubt in her voice that she was feeling deep down inside. “He loves me . . . and I love him. You can go to Karzahni yourself, Hajax, and take the Tuikas with you, too. I’m sure they would love it there.”

Hajax shook his head sadly. “How idiotic. I knew you Toa were all unbelievably naïve and loyal to the point of idiocy, but you bring it to an all-time low, Oggak. Really, is it so much for me to ask where the Tuikas are? I need to negotiate with them, after all, if I am to claim the universe for myself soon.”

“I said no,” she snapped, struggling fiercely to break free, though he managed to hold her well. “You can go find them yourself.”

“Is there a point to this stupid defiance?” asked Hajax, who sounded irritated. “Is it because you think Jokao still loves you? Or that anyone back in Koro Nui even likes you anymore? I can’t see something like this staying a secret for long. Most likely Kigin or one of the Toa Shika has already told the Matoran of what has happened. Wouldn’t surprise me if all they want now is to see you dead.”

“The Matoran love and trust me,” said Oggak. “They won’t hate me, no matter what I have done or said. I am their protector, and I will protect them from monsters like you!”

She then struck him with a blast of shadow energy, causing Hajax to cry out in pain and let her go. She stumbled backwards a bit, then whirled around and began bombarding him with shadow blast upon shadow blast, repeatedly hitting the same spot over and over again. Dust was in the air now, obscuring her vision, but she didn’t need to see well to know that she had nailed Hajax.

I’m not going to let him live, Oggak thought, furiously shooting as cold sweat dripped down her forehead. Even if he’s in Barilo’s body, he’s too much of a threat to leave alive.

So she kept repeatedly firing until finally, exhausted, she let her arms drop to her side, breathing hard as she looked deep into the thick dust cloud that floated in the air before her. Much to her relief, she could not see Hajax anymore, though that may have had to do with the fact that the dust was so thick rather than the fact that she had destroyed him. Still, she felt hopeful, for she could not see his silhouette anymore.

That was when a bolt of lightning struck her directly in the back, causing her to shriek in pain as she hit the dirt streets of Kra-Koro. She tried to get back to her feet, but was pinned to the ground when a powerful foot smashed into her back. She could barely move as the foot’s weight pressed hard on her back.

“You thought that you had gotten the best of me? Pathetic,” said Hajax from somewhere above her. “Your foolish attempts at escape were destined to fail from the very beginning. You should never have even tried. All it amounted to was being a big, unnecessary waste of time, and nothing else.”

He lifted his foot off her back and then roughly raised Oggak back to her feet. Turning her around to face him, he redoubled his grip on her again and brought her face close to his. She saw anger in his eyes, yet also noticed he seemed to be impressed, which somehow looked even more disturbing and threatening than his anger did.

“Now tell me,” he hissed. “Tell me where the Tuikas are, and I won’t have to hurt you.”

“Find them yourself,” she snapped with what little energy she had left. She was too weak to try to break free of his grip, but she wasn’t going to submit to him yet.

Hajax actually smiled and the impressed look in his eyes became even more prominent as he studied her. “You still have some spunk left in you . . . You will make a fine queen for me once I am king of the universe. Not to mention you are quite beautiful as well . . . All the trappings of a true queen, I’d say. It’s just that pesky hatred of me you possess that I will have to deal with someday.”

“I already told you I don’t want to be your queen,” Oggak said fiercely. “You’re insane.”

“That’s what they all say,” said Hajax with a shrug. “But since you are obviously won’t be talking any time soon, I may act on my next best guess as to where the Tuikas might be right now. However, since I know you will simply squirm and try to get away from me, I will have to knock you out lest you should somehow escape my grasp.”

He raised one armored fist and smashed it into the side of her head with enough force to send her whole world into darkness. But she was still conscious enough to feel Hajax hoist her on his shoulder and then teleport away with Oggak, to a location unknown to her.
 

-


Nastan decided that today was the worst day of his life, even worse than his brief period as a Toa of Shadow. And that had been quite bad.

He was trapped in the ruins of a village – a village he had even lived in at one point – with a crazed sniper trying to kill him. He was also trapped with a Dark Hunter, a wounded one at that, and they had no way to escape alive, lest they expose themselves to the flurry of bullets that were burying themselves in the fragile stone wall they were using for protection, which looked as though it would fall apart any minute now from all of the hits it was taking.

And to make matters worse, Death had just pointed out the Tuikas to him, which were flying nearby. Though they did not seem to have noticed the two of them, Nastan was worried just the same. If they attacked Koro Nui, as he suspected was their current plan, then Akuna or one of the others might die. He thought about Nonzra and Addis and decided that he didn’t want to have to go through something like that again, especially if it was Akuna who died this time.

But he was in no position to rush back to the fortress and warn them of the Tuikas or help in any way at all. He was frustrated by this helplessness; he felt like a dumb Rahi being played with by a sadistic hunter who was only prolonging their inevitable deaths because it amused him to do so.

That’s probably how he sees us, Nastan thought, rolling over onto his back to look up at the five approaching Tuikas. He wondered if he could hit them from here, possibly distract them from Koro Nui, but then remembered that Icetraz had destroyed his bow earlier. That’s probably all he sees anyone as . . . and that’s what he wants his victims to feel like; poor, dumb, helpless animals that are only live because he wants to savor the hunt, and nothing else.

“If the Tuikas spot us, we’ll have to run for it,” said Death, whose voice was surprisingly calm despite the tense situation they were in. “Even if it means Raider gets us. We can’t defend ourselves properly from this place. Too open and we are both weaponless. We should try to find an intact hut to defend from for at least a little while.”

“What would be the point, though?” asked Nastan, who felt defeated and frustrated. “With both the Tuikas and Raider gunning for us, with absolutely no reinforcements to call for backup, I can’t see us lasting long in the open, if at all.”

“Funny, I thought you Toa were supposed to be brave heroes who never gave up until you breathed your last breath,” Death commented in his calm voice, though Nastan caught the sarcasm in it, which annoyed him. “Yet you’re giving up already?”

“Hey, I’m brave,” said Nastan, raising his head a little higher with an annoyed expression on his face. “I’m just being realistic. We may both be good fighters, but since neither the Tuikas nor Raider play fair, and since the Tuikas have too much power than they should have, we both will probably go down pretty quickly.”

“Raider plays fair,” said Death, shaking his head, evidently trying to ignore the pain in his shoulder. “He just likes to play fairly by his own rules.”

“Right,” said Nastan. He looked up and noticed something odd in the sky. Pointing upwards, he said, “What’s wrong with the Tuikas? Looks like one of them got injured.”

As Nastan watched, he saw the Tuikas named Skik falter slightly in the sky. Even from here, the Toa of The Green could see what appeared to be blood oozing from somewhere around Skik’s chest. He figured Skik must have got hurt or something, since the other Tuikas had apparently stopped to check up on him. He hoped Skik had gotten a fatal injury, though he figured he was being too optimistic.

“Raider must’ve got ‘im,” said Death, watching the Tuikas, too. “He’s being incredibly stupid, attacking the Tuikas like that. He’s going to get himself killed if he keeps this up.”

“Well, that’s good, I guess,” said Nastan, lowering his head again. “Maybe if he’s preoccupied with the Tuikas, we’ll be able to escape while they’re fighting.”

“That won’t work,” said Death, shaking his head again. “Raider’s got a good eye. The minute he spots us trying to escape – even if the Tuikas do begin to attack him – we’ll be dead. Better not risk it ‘til we’re sure he is too distracted by them to worry about us.”

Nastan sighed exasperatedly. “But that may take forever! I’m getting sick of lying here in the dirt, hiding behind walls like a coward. I want to get back home now and get back to Akuna. This place stinks of death and burnt wood neither of which smells all that good and both of which are extremely nauseating. I’m leaving.”

He began to sit up, but then Death pushed him back down with surprising strength and demanded, “Are you crazy? Once Raider sees you, he’ll calculate where to hit you, which bullet to use, when to hit you, and more, all in less than three seconds. I’ve been on a mission with him once or twice myself; and believe me, whenever anybody tried to escape – no matter how quiet they may think they were being, even if they thought they were escaping completely unnoticed by either of us – they die. No exceptions save for whenever he’s supposed to bring somebody in as a prisoner. All he does then is cripple them for life usually, or at least make sure that their wounds are bad enough so they will have a difficult time healing quickly, if at all.”

“You sound frightened of him.”

“I am,” said Death, staring at him hard. “It is the wisest way to regard him.”

“Well, I suppose I am a little frightened of him now,” said Nastan slowly, his hands on the ground, staring at the dirt, pretending to be lost in thought, “but not enough to keep me from wanting to escape this ruin and get back home.”

He then leapt to his feet, taking Death by surprise, and without waiting, without even listening to the Dark Hunter’s protests he darted to the right, his eyes on the partly intact hut ahead. He would duck in there for a few minutes and then continue on to the next hut and repeat the process until he reached the forest. It would be easy to do, since Raider seemed to be too busy with the Tuikas to bother with a Toa such as himself. After all, Raider hadn’t shot him yet, had he?

I doubt he’s really as good as Death says he is, Nastan thought dismissively as he leapt over a crater. Probably just rumors spread to scare beings who are not as brave as I. Well, I don’t-

He felt a hot, burning sensation in his right leg as a bullet tore through his armor and organic tissue underneath. He yelled out in pain and missed the landing; he hit the ground face first, groaning loudly as he lay there. He looked down at his leg and saw blood splattered all over it, with an ugly bullet wound in his shin, just above his ankle. He could also see, glistening in the dull sunlight overhead, a silvery bullet lodged firmly in the wound. He did not think he would be able to get it out it without special tools of some kind, which he didn’t have with him at the moment, unfortunately, though he figured he could still crawl if he tried.

He’s better than I thought, then, Nastan thought, trying to crawl to the nearest standing wall for cover, which seemed to be miles away, even though it was more like ten or twenty feet at most. Much better, unfortunately for me.

His thoughts were interrupted by a terrible and familiar screech in the sky overhead. He glanced up and saw with dread that the five Tuikas – no longer inspecting Skik anymore – were rocketing towards the village with deadly speed. He guessed they were looking for Raider, but the thought brought no relief to his troubled mind.

He then realized that up to this point, he had been so naively certain, even after the deaths of Nonzra and Addis that he would never fall in battle. That was part of the reason he was a brave Toa; besides the fact that that was what Toa were supposed to be, he mainly thought that he would always come out on top of any challenge he faced and save the day, no matter the odds, despite coming very closer to death many times since his transformation into a Toa hero.

But now? Lying here, with a bullet wedged deeply in his leg, lying defenseless on the ground with no weapon of any kind? How did he feel now? What did he think his chances of surviving were?

Well, he thought he would be lucky if his corpse managed to come out even vaguely recognizable to the others once the Tuikas were done with it.
 

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#66 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 23 2014 - 08:44 AM

Chapter 23: Deals & Conflicts

 

Jokao and the others set out for Koro Nui almost immediately after Chimoy received a new mask, since even the slightest cracks can permanently damage a Kanohi, as Jokao knew. Because Chimoy’s Mask of Flight had been cracked when Hajax had rammed his head into the wall earlier, thus making it unusable, he had been given one of the few extra Great Masks they had available. This turned out to be a Kanohi Calix, the Mask of Fate, which Chimoy said felt uncomfortable to wear because he was not very used to it and seemed to constantly be adjusting it on his face, as though it did not particularly fit well on his head for whatever reason.

They also lingered just long enough to listen to Joha explain to the Matoran of Koro Nui what had happened to Oggak and Barilo and why all of Koro Nui’s last defenders had to leave immediately and where they were planning on going.

The Matoran had a mixed reaction, mostly curious, though some complained that if the Tuikas attacked, Koro Nui would be ground to powder within minutes. However, when Joha informed them that the Tuikas only attacked the village because Oggak had been here, they quieted up immediately and instead wished the party luck on their rescue mission.

Many were worried for Oggak, which was to be expected, since she had been respected and liked by all of the villagers because of how well she had protected them during the past few weeks. A few of the braver ones even volunteered to come along, but they were denied this, since it was considered too dangerous for any Matoran to go, even if they were going to be with the Toa and Kigin.

Jokao was surprised, though grateful, that none of the Matoran seemed to think any less of Oggak after hearing the truth, based on their reactions. Knowing that the Matoran still cared for Oggak, himself, and the others would make it both easier and harder to go confront the Tuikas and Hajax. Easier in that he knew that the people he cared about were counting on him to save the day; harder in that if he and the others failed, then not only would the universe itself possible end, but they would have let the Matoran down, too, which was something he didn’t think he would be able to accept.

So, after saying good bye to the assembled villagers and Joha, Jokao lead the team into the proto forest, on the same path that Igici and Nastan had used to reach Ironos. The basic plan was to find Nastan and Igici, tell them what happened, and then find Hajax, Oggak, and the Tuikas. Jokao didn’t want to think too much about the last part of the plan, which would almost certainly be the hardest, since no one present had any idea where the Tuikas might be, nor where Hajax had teleported off to.

“I just hope Nastan hasn’t run into Hajax,” said Akuna as they walked as quickly through the forest as fast as they could, her voice slightly breathless. “Because if he has-“

“It’s not something we should think about,” said Chimoy, who performed an amazing leap over a fallen tree, landed expertly on the ground, and continued walking as normal. “Too grim to even think about . . . though I must say,” he added, with a slight smile on his face, “this Calix is a bit more fun than I originally thought it was going to be.”

“We don’t have time for fun,” said Jokao seriously, limping slightly. The main reason they were not running was because Jokao’s legs still hadn’t healed up and any attempts to run made it necessary for him to stop and rest, which they couldn’t afford to do. At best they were walking quickly so Jokao could keep up. Even then, his legs still hurt anyway. “At least, we can’t sit here and test out our powers all day. We’ve got to save Oggak before Hajax tries to give her over to the Tuikas or something. We’ve just got to.”
 

-

Raider watched grimly as the flying monsters surged towards him, screeching and screaming all the way down. He had hit the lead one earlier, but the others – evidently smarter than they looked – managed to dodge all of his bullets, even when they weren’t looking. He was impressed; they seemed to not just be normal Rahi beasts, like he had originally believed, which would just make the hunt all the more challenging, he thought. It was made even more interesting by the fact that few had ever dodged his bullets before, which almost caused him to respect them.

He glanced at the Toa below, lying in a fetal position with both hands over his head, as though to protect himself from the oncoming beasts. Raider had shot him in the ankle earlier and had only been aiming to wound, not kill, him. This was because Raider decided that he would need people to question once he finished, so he would let at least a few of them live for now, anyway. He could have easily killed the Toa had he wished.

All of that went through his head in less than two seconds; now was the time to act. The monsters grew closer with each passing second; they moved faster than any Rahi he had ever seen in his lifetime. He aimed his rifle; he would try to take out one or two of them and then retreat into the forest, where he would hide and strike them from the shadows as they searched for him. It was a rather risky plan, but he had made far riskier plans in the past and had succeeded spectacularly. This was going to be Matoran’s play, he told himself.

Just as he took aim with his rifle, the beasts growing ever closer, they stopped suddenly – almost unnaturally – in midair, much to both his and their surprise. They struggled hard against their invisible bonds, screeching, though apparently unable to move their limbs or do anything else. They were trapped, but how, Raider didn’t know.

Raider himself, too shocked to shoot, lifted his head up to get a better look at the monsters. Their expressions had changed from shock to anger very quickly; they were now bellowing threats in what sounded like Matoran, much to Raider’s surprise, since he had assumed they were dumb Rahi incapable of any kind of real speech. Were they simply talented mimics or was there more than meets the eye to these beasts?

“Let us go!” the lead one bellowed, still bleeding from the bullet Raider had shot at him earlier. “Put us down, or we shall kill you!”

Raider, getting over his own disbelief quickly, snapped at the leader, “I am not the one responsible for your plight, beast. However, since you are in the way of my mission, I must kill you anyway.” He lowered his eye into the crosshairs once more and said, “Time I put you out of your misery, you foul, idiotic beast, both you and your-“

Before he could pull the trigger, before he could even aim, his rifle went flying out of his hands and snapped itself in two in midair. Raider did not have time to figure out why this happened, for the next moment he was sent flying high over the monsters, tumbling heard over heels in midair and feeling sick, unable to see anything he was moving so fast.

He then abruptly fell, crashing hard and breaking noisily through the roof of a hut, landing on and smashing a small stone table. Groaning in pain, covered from head to foot in dust, barely conscious though still ready to fight, he looked up in time to see the fliers unfreeze and begin flying around the area, howling in anger as they searched for whoever or whatever had froze them in the first place. Raider was secretly glad that they had seemingly forgotten about him. Though he was by no means a coward, he did not wish to have to fight five armed and dangerous beasts with no weapons of his own at the moment.

“Who dared attack us, the Tuikas?” the lead one screeched overhead, firing a blast of energy in a random direction as if to relieve his anger. “I, Skik, demand that you reveal yourself or face our collective wrath!”

“Ah, Skik, I wouldn’t be so hasty to get to know me,” said a cold, deep voice that sent chills down Raider’s spine. The Legendary Dark Hunter stiffened immediately, listening hard. “Nor would I use such a violent tone towards someone who had just saved your life from that ugly, ugly Dark Hunter.”

He knew I was there, Raider thought suddenly, tense. Somehow he got me. I don’t know how he knew I was there, since no one knows I am here but the Tuikas, Death, and that Toa, but I intend to figure out. I hate mysteries.

Still groaning slightly, he casually wiped dirt and small pieces of debris off his armor as turned over onto his stomach, looking out of a small hole in the wall that was big enough for his eyes. Because of the position the ruin was in, it afforded him an excellent view of the village itself, allowing him to see just who that voice had belonged to.

At first, he saw nothing but ruins, dirt, craters, burnt corpses and buildings in every direction; in other words, the usual. Then he spotted something; standing right in the middle of the village was a Toa of Gravity, with another black-armored female Toa slung over his shoulder. He had no idea who the female Toa was or why she was slung unconscious over the Toa of Gravity’s shoulder like that. However, he began to wonder if this Toa of Gravity might have been the one who froze the Tuikas and snapped Raider’s gun in two like that, though he did not know for certain and decided to keep his head down in case this Toa proved hostile. At least, in case the Toa proved more hostile than he already had, anyway.

He saw the leader of the Tuikas, Skik, fly into view with the other four, growling and hissing as he drew closer to the Toa of Gravity, who did not even flinch as the monsters flew overhead. Raider tilted his head; this Toa of Gravity looked very different from other Toa he had seen in his life. This Toa held himself with the dignity of a king, which was odd, since Raider had never thought of Toa as the most proud beings. Naïve and stupid, maybe, but not particularly proud just the same.

The expression on his face was different, too. He looked cold and emotionless, without even a hint of fear as he looked upon the approaching Tuikas. The expression looked unnatural on the Toa and made Raider feel uneasy. Though Raider had faced many powerful and ruthless foes in his time as a Dark Hunter, he personally felt glad that he was lying unnoticed in the ruins of a hut, out of the view of a Toa who somehow looked evil in his opinion.

At first, Raider thought the Tuikas would simply kill the foolish Toa on the spot without a second thought. But to his surprise, they kept their distance. In fact, their eyes were not so much focused on the Toa of Gravity as they were on the unconscious female slung over his shoulder.

Then he heard Skik say, in a breathless, yet quiet voice that nonetheless carried on the wind, “Is that the . . . the Sacrifice?”

“It is indeed, Skik,” said the Toa of Gravity, gesturing carelessly to the female Toa, “very much so. I have brought her here for you to take, to complete your destiny. To finish the Dividing and-”

“Barilo! What are you doing?”

Startled by the loud voice, Raider looked around until he noticed the Toa of The Green lying on the ground not too far away from the Toa of Gravity (whom he assumed was Barilo) and the Tuikas, who were still flying nearby but not making any moves. The sudden arrival of Barilo had driven the Toa of The Green straight from Raider’s mind, but he was pleased to see that the Toa could not walk because of the injury he had sustained from Raider’s silver bullet earlier.

“Barilo, why do you have Oggak?” the Toa of The Green asked, crawling towards Barilo on his stomach. Thanks to Raider’s excellent eyesight, he could see that the Toa looked frightened, though apparently determined to reach Barilo anyway. “What do you mean by ‘the Sacrifice’? Why can the Tuikas talk like us? Why do you have Oggak with you like that? What the Karzahni is going on here?”

The Tuikas with the scorpion-like tail made a sudden move, as though to attack the injured Toa. Raider almost closed his eyes, as he knew that whatever the Tuikas was going to do to the fallen hero was not going to be pretty.

However, Barilo said, “Touch the Toa and I will eliminate your precious little Sacrifice. She is no use to you if she is dead, am I right?”

“Fine,” said the Tuikas with the scorpion tail, in a voice that sounded a bit like the screech of a bat, though Raider caught the annoyance and resentment just the same. “I will not touch him. Not yet, anyway.”

The Toa of The Green – who had raised his hands to protect himself from the attack he had been expecting to come – slowly lowered his arms and looked up at Barilo, still confused. “But I still don’t-“

“Don’t you understand, Nastan?” asked Barilo with an evil grin on his face, turning to face the Toa of The Green, his unconscious captive still in his grasp. “Don’t you understand why I have Oggak with me? Don’t you understand why I am bargaining her life with the Tuikas?”

“Yes,” said the Toa of The Green, named Nastan, who seemed to be ignoring the pain in his shin. “Yes, that’s-“

“That is because I am not Barilo, Nastan,” said Barilo, who look even eviler than before. “I crushed that poor fool’s spirit long ago and have been in control of his physical body for quite some time. The Barilo you know, in other words, no longer exists; I, Makuta Hajax, now control his body!”

Nastan’s eyes widened in shock and he said, in a quiet, trembling voice that Raider could still hear, “H-Hajax? B-But how? He’s dead!”

From his perch, Raider felt just as surprised as Nastan. He had heard of Makuta Hajax, of course, but he had assumed the Makuta was dead, just as Nastan said. Hadn’t Hajax been executed for crimes against the Great Spirit Mata Nui thousands of years ago? How could he still be alive? Raider had even heard rumors that Makuta Icarax and Makuta Gorast, the Brotherhood’s two best fighters, had killed Hajax when he had tried to flee. Logically there was no way he could have survived, yet if this Toa was telling the truth then Hajax was alive and well, somehow.

Either that or he’s utterly insane, Raider thought. I’d say the latter, personally.

“I need not disclose to you how I successfully managed to take control of this fool’s body,” Hajax snapped, and with a flick of his hand Nastan was raised into the air, most likely through telekinesis. The Toa struggled to free himself but failed. “That is for me and me alone to know. What you do need to know, however, is that with the Tuikas on my side, the entire universe shall fall before my might. You are just unnecessary baggage, Nastan, as all Toa ultimately are.”

“What are you going to do to me?” asked Nastan, the fear in his voice obvious even from Raider’s high perch. “Torture me? Lock me up in some small jail cell somewhere?”

“Don’t be silly,” said Hajax with a cold laugh. “I will kill you.”

With a snap of his fingers, Hajax sent Nastan flying several feet away, crashing into a small group of ruined huts with so much force that the Toa of The Green did not rise again, nor did Raider even see him stir. This did not bother him much; he held no pity or sympathy for any Toa. Right now, he was more concerned about how he was going to get out of here alive with both the Tuikas and Hajax around. He did have his silencing ability, but they knew where he was, and might just try to go after him if he made a run for it.

Maybe they have forgotten about me, Raider thought hopefully, watching as Hajax turned to face the Tuikas, all five of whom were now on the ground a few feet away from the Makuta, growling and snarling at him but otherwise not making any hostile moves. Perhaps they will be so focused on each other that I will be able to slip away and get off this island without ever being noticed. The Shadowed One absolutely needs to know about this.

“So,” said Hajax below, causing Raider to freeze and listen. He had developed a habit of knowing when someone was going to say something important over the years and was now applying it, despite knowing that it would be unwise to hang around here much longer than he should. “Now that that is out of the way, let us get back to business.”

Raider saw Skik step forward and snarl in a disbelieving tone, “Business? You have no right to bargain with us, Toa, or Makuta, or whatever you are. You will hand over the Sacrifice, or else we will kill you and take it ourselves.”

“But it depends, who is faster?” asked the Makuta. Raider saw that Hajax was holding a sword, which he hadn’t noticed there before. “Can you kill me before I kill her, which would make her useless for anything else other than stinking up the place? If I am correct, Oggak must be alive in order for you to initiate the Dividing. If she is dead, you have no point to live and you shall have let the Great Beings themselves down.”

“Skik, why do we even bother listen to this fool?” asked the Tuikas to his right, a bulky, white and teal monster, who batted his club against his free hand in anger. “He should have been dead long ago.”

“I should have, yes,” said Hajax, nodding. “But I think your leader knows that he is nowhere near fast enough to stop this blade from colliding with poor Oggak’s neck and divorcing her head from her body for good. If I am correct, while he believes he is the faster, he doesn’t want to take any unnecessary chances. Am I right, Skik?”

The Tuikas growled louder and more threateningly, but said nothing in reply. Hajax, it seemed, had gotten the best of him.

“Very good, then,” said Hajax, with what appeared to be a triumphant smile on his face. “Now here is the deal: I will give you Oggak on only one condition. If you do not choose to obey it, I will be forced to kill you and Oggak without mercy. But if you do, rest assured you will have your precious little Sacrifice eventually.”

“What is it?” Skik snapped. “We are listening.”

“You will obey me and help me on my conquest of the universe, in exchange for Oggak,” Hajax said shortly, which raised a storm of protest from all of the Tuikas before he added quickly, raising the blade, “or else she dies. You decide.”

That quieted the Tuikas up quickly, so instead they simply looked furious. Raider watched, daring not to breathe too loudly lest he miss even a word of the conversation that was going on below. He understood the importance of this situation; if the Tuikas said yes, then Hajax would most likely wage war against the Dark Hunters. If he did that, then the Dark Hunters may very well fall, what with the fact that the Brotherhood was also waging a vigorous campaign against Raider’s group as well.

But if I can get back to Odina and inform the Shadowed One of what has happened before they get off the island, we might stand a chance, Raider thought.

Making up his mind, Raider got up to leave. He knew nothing of this ‘Sacrifice’ business and honestly could care less about what it might mean. As far as he was concerned, whether a bunch of angry monsters got their hands on some obscure Toa was completely unimportant to the Dark Hunters.

What was important, however, was getting to Odina as quickly as possible. He wasn’t going to hang around and hear the Tuikas’ answer to Hajax’s demands; whether they said yes or no, something big would happen either way. With the Tuikas on his side, Hajax would have a good beginning conquering force, if the Tuikas were indeed the cause of the deaths of all those Dark Hunters who had been stationed here, as Raider believed. And if they said no . . . Well, Makuta were notorious for their charisma, and if left alone, Hajax might be able to raise his own army to conquer the universe in a few years. Either way would be bad for the Hunters unless they knew about it in advance.

Which is why I have to return to Odina, Raider thought, raising himself off the ground. Now more than ever, in fact.

But he had barely risen even a few inches when, all of a sudden, without warning, a fire bolt came seemingly out of nowhere and struck the ground between Hajax and the Tuikas, sending sparks and flames that made both parties stagger backwards in surprise.

“You trick the Tuikas?” Skik yelled over the sounds of the angry screeching coming from the others, “when we were about to make a deal? You’re a double-crosser, you-“

“It wasn’t me,” Hajax snapped, looking around for the source of the attack. “It was someone else!”

But who? Raider thought, crouching low in the ruined hut as he watched the forest, which was where he had seen the fire bolt come from. Who could have shot fire like that?

As he watched, hidden from view, he saw four beings emerge from the shadows of the trees, all wearing expressions of grim determination on their faces. He did not recognize the three Toa, though he supposed that the fire bolt must’ve came from the red-armored Toa of Fire who was apparently heavily wounded already, for he was leaning on the Toa of Iron for support as though he could not stand by himself.

The fourth being, however, he instantly recognized as Kigin, who looked rather angry as he whirled his mace above his head. Raider knew him because he had been the one to recruit Kigin many, many years ago when he had been on a mission in Kigin’s homeland, but wondered why he was allying himself with Toa. Raider remembered Kigin being very anti-Toa, both before and after he had joined the Dark Hunters because of a bad experience with them that he didn’t like to talk about much. Perhaps the threat of the Tuikas forced him to join forces with the Toa, Raider thought, though he doubted Kigin enjoyed it at all.

He briefly wondered what the Toa and Kigin were doing here when he heard Skik shout, “Toa! You have come to stop us from achieving our destiny?”

“That’s right,” he heard the Toa of Fire respond fiercely, watching as the four readied themselves for combat. “We’re going to rescue Oggak. That means we’re going to have to fight you, which we are all too willing to do after what we have been through these past few weeks. Of course, Hajax, you could just give her back to us and-“

“Never!” snarled Skik as he and the other Tuikas faced their foes, all of them looking ready for combat. “The Sacrifice is ours and ours alone! By the ordinances of the Great Beings, we shall have it and complete the Dividing!”

“Not unless we stop you first, Skik,” Kigin shouted, whirling his mace even faster above his head as he spoke. “I’m sick and tired of you. And whenever I get sick and tired of people, I kill them. I am sure you can figure out for yourselves what that means for all of you.”

“And we’re going to take down Hajax, too,” the Toa of Lightning added as she spun her staff expertly.

“Then let us fight!” Skik roared as the Tuikas shot off in the sky towards the four fighters, who charged down the hill towards the oncoming fliers. “Come, my fellow Tuikas! For the Great Beings! The Dividing! And our destiny!”
 

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Edited by TNTOS, Mar 23 2014 - 08:46 AM.

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#67 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 24 2014 - 08:42 AM

Chapter 24: Underneath


For a while now, Hajax had been in control of Barilo’s body, while Barilo himself had been locked away in the deepest corners of Hajax’s mind. It was here that the Toa of Gravity, once proud and strong, was having his will and energy being sapped away as Hajax’s spirit slowly began to replace his own. It was an agonizing kind of pain that he had never experienced before. It didn’t help that he was stuck in what appeared to be a stone cell, with no windows or even a door, which symbolized his current predicament quite well in his opinion.

But it wasn’t the pain that was bothering him the most. He had long ago learned to live with this pain, for it was unavoidable in his current state, even if he didn’t like it. What was annoying him was the feeling of extreme helplessness that had been plaguing him ever since Hajax had possessed him. Right now, Barilo had absolutely no control whatsoever over his body. He couldn’t even so much as move his smallest finger a couple of inches.

As a result, he had no way to control whatever Hajax decided to do with his body. He was aware, however, that Hajax had been pretending to be him to be for a while, then revealed his true identity to the others, and had now kidnapped Oggak to hand over to the Tuikas. Barilo knew Oggak’s true purpose as well and just what would happen if she was given over to the Tuikas; how the universe itself would end, taking everyone and everything in it to the grave.

He wanted to do something. He wanted to fight Hajax, the Tuikas, and anyone else who was a threat to Shika Nui. He wanted to save the universe, but he couldn’t. It seemed as though every step, every word Hajax spoke merely reminded Barilo that he was not in control of his body, that he was no longer able to choose what he wanted to do, that he was weak and helpless in the face of a Makuta. He hated that feeling, but there didn’t seem to be any way to rid his mind of it.

He was also aware that Hajax had brought Oggak straight to the Tuikas and had been on the verge of giving her over before Barilo’s friends showed up to fight the Tuikas. He wasn’t so sure what happened after that; he had the distinct impression that Hajax had fled from the battle, though he didn’t know for sure.

I just hope my friends manage to catch and stop him, Barilo thought, forcing himself not to scream as he felt the very foundation of his soul being ripped apart and replaced with that of Hajax. Even if I can’t do anything to stop him, it would fill me with relief if they, at least, were doing something.

He suddenly gasped in pain, though it was different than the kind he had been feeling for the past week. It took him a few moments to realize that Hajax’s body – his body – must be under attack. Whoever was attacking must’ve been doing a number on Hajax, for the pain was almost like the kind he had been feeling for a while now. He wondered if it was one of his friends attacking Hajax. He hoped it was.

Somehow, however uncomfortable it was, just feeling the pain reassured him unlike anything else had before. It proved to him that he was still connected to his body, however weak and vague the connections might be. If so, he may just have a chance of retaking it after all, or at least interfering with Hajax’s plans. He just needed to focus all his mental energy on Hajax’s mind and try to assault him there. If he could knock out Hajax from within, he might just be able to take his body back again, or at least give the others time to finish the Makuta off.

Of course, Barilo knew what would happen if Hajax was killed; he himself would die, too. But he didn’t care. So long as Hajax died, he would be happy, even if it meant his own death as well.

As these thoughts went through, his mind Barilo realized that he did not feel so helpless after all which was another reassuring thought to add to his very small collection of such thoughts.
 

-


Akuna swung her staff of lightning at Kidah, but it was a miss; Kidah dodged and countered with a vicious punch that sent Akuna sprawling in the dirt. Kidah then tried to stomp her head flat, but Akuna rolled out of the way just in time, and was back to her feet just as quickly. Aiming her staff at the Tuikas, Akuna shot twin lightning bolts from it, both of which struck Kidah, sending her stumbling backwards into a nearby crater.

Taking advantage of Kidah’s temporary disappearance, Akuna glanced around the area at the rest of the combatants, panting slightly. She saw Kigin was fighting Draza, both of whom seemed evenly matched. Death had joined the fight earlier, having apparently been hiding from something she didn’t know about, and was helping Chimoy fight Skik and Koya, though those two Tuikas seemed to be winning, as they were getting more hits on Chimoy and Death than her friends were getting on them. Fortunately Chimoy and Death were still fighting, but she was worried about them just the same.

She did not see Zoil or Hajax anywhere, both of whom seemed to have disappeared. As for Jokao, he had gone, too. At first she thought it had been because of the fact that he was in no condition to fight, but now she was wondering if he had gone after Hajax, if that Makuta had indeed fled the battle already. It would certainly explain his absence.

She could not see Nastan anywhere, either, which worried her greatly. She had thought that when the fight had started, he would have joined the battle immediately. Yet he was nowhere to be seen; was he already dead? Or was he hurt and hiding somewhere to stay out of the fight? She hoped he was safe, wherever he might be.

She was so lost in her thoughts that she forgot that Kidah was still alive, which she was reminded by when the female Tuikas flew straight out of the crater and punched Akuna hard in the face with enough force to send the Toa of Lightning flying. Akuna landed hard on a slab of stone and yelped as pain shot up her back. However, she managed to roll away just as Kidah flew straight down where her head had been a minute earlier, smashing the slab into a thousand pieces that flew in every direction.

Akuna swiped at Kidah’s feet with her staff, knocking them out from under the Tuikas and sending her falling to the ground hard. Akuna was back on her feet instantly and attempted to spear Kidah on the sharp end of her staff, but Kidah merely grabbed it right before it made contact with her chest and forced Akuna back, sending her stumbling backwards slightly and off-guard.

That was all the time Kidah needed to strike, for she was back on her feet in an instant and shot two laser beams from her eyes, striking Akuna in the chest, burning a hole in the Toa’s armor and causing Akuna to cry out in pain as she fell.

“Now you must die!” Kidah shouted, flying high up into the air before soaring down, her tail aimed directly at Akuna’s chest. She was moving so fast now that she was almost a blur. “For the Dividing!”

Akuna looked up and knew she had only about three seconds before Kidah crashed into her, most likely killing both of them in the process. That meant she had absolutely no time to think or plan; just to act.

So, raising her hands above herself, she emitted an electrical force field that covered her entire body in an instant. She had never done something like this before; she had always shot lightning bolts or would send small electrical shocks through someone’s body if they were making physical contact with her. She didn’t know if it would actually protect her, though, as Kidah might just crash straight through regardless. Still, she had no other options and this was the first thing that came to mind.

Kidah, unable to stop her assault, collided with the electrical barrier with enough force to nearly pierce it, but luckily for Akuna, it held strong and fast. Akuna sighed deeply; she was safe.

Kidah, however, looked to be in pain, for she was screaming and struggling to escape the barrier but was failing miserably. Akuna sensed her own power going into the Tuikas; she imagined that the pain Kidah must be feeling right now was totally unbearable. Yet as she watched, Kidah seemed totally trapped, unable to escape the electrical barrier that was protecting Akuna from all harm.

Finally, however, Akuna, who was becoming increasingly horrified by this, sent an extra strong jolt through the force field with enough power behind it to eject Kidah, sending the Tuikas flying high into the air and falling with a crash into a nearby hut. She did not get up, nor did she even move. From where Akuna lay, Kidah looked quite dead.

And for the first time in her life, it struck her. She had just killed another being, one seemingly on the same level of intelligence as herself. She had never killed anyone before and so had never realized that it was such an easy thing to do, at least in her opinion. She had acted without thinking and this was the result. She hadn’t meant to do it, but it had happened. Evidently the electrical barrier had been too much for Kidah’s body, Akuna concluded grimly as she sat up, shaking her head and collecting her staff, which lay a few feet to her right.

As she rose to her feet, ignoring the throbbing in her body and head, she glanced at Kidah’s body, which was half buried underneath a large pile of rubble now. Seeing that cold, lifeless body lying there like that didn’t fill her with joy, as she had thought it might. Instead, she felt just as cold and lifeless as the corpse. She knew that the Tuikas would have had to die in the first place, but she had always imagined it as being a satisfactory event, the killing of a Tuikas. Right now, though, she didn’t feel particularly satisfied or happy at all; just frightened and confused.

But I’ve got no time to waste thinking about this kind of thing, at least right now Akuna thought, shaking her head. The others need my help right now. Maybe later, if I have the time, I’ll think about it.
 

-


Ignoring the sounds of battle from behind him, Zoil stealthily ventured forth from the destroyed gates of Ironos and into the wild countryside, his eyes carefully scanning the hills, rocks, and trees that lay before him. He was going after Hajax, whom had fled the battle the minute it had started. He had been given hasty orders from Skik to find the Sacrifice and kill the Makuta who was keeping it away from them. Zoil fully intended to follow and fulfill those orders.

It looks as though I will be gaining the honor of being the one who initiates the Dividing now, Zoil thought as he walked quickly down the worn path, idly kicking a stone out of the way as he went. What a fool, that Hajax. He thinks he can run, he thinks he can hide. But so long as he has the Sacrifice with him, I will find him no matter where he goes.

Zoil stopped. He was mentally feeling around for the Sacrifice; his senses told him it was nearby, but he had yet to figure out where, exactly. Hiding just beyond one of the hills, perhaps? Maybe behind a tree? Or a boulder even? Zoil didn’t know for certain, though he figured that wherever Hajax might be, he wouldn’t be sitting in plain sight. That would be stupid, and as far as he could tell, Hajax was not stupid. At least not totally stupid, anyway.

Zoil searched for some minutes, casually bashing aside boulders and trees with his large club to look behind them, occasionally glancing back at Ironos to check on the progress of the battle. He felt no urgent need to return to the fight, though he just wanted to make sure that his brothers and sisters were winning. From where he stood, he could not see who was winning, but he was confident that his allies were going to come out on top, regardless of how hard their enemies fought against them.

Besides, it doesn’t matter if they all die or if they all survive, Zoil thought, shaking his head. So long as even one Tuikas lives, then the quest for the Sacrifice must continue. Otherwise, we will have failed the Great Beings themselves. I cannot think of anything worse than that that we could do.

He glanced to his left. He saw a steep pathway leading down into what looked like a mine nearby. His senses were telling him that the Sacrifice was somewhere down there. He looked into the deep darkness of the mineshaft; he could not see much, which is why, he assumed, Hajax must have hid down there. After all, if Zoil could see anything, it would give the Makuta the advantage of surprise.

But Zoil was smarter and cleverer than any Makuta, or indeed any other being in the universe. He was not going to be taken by surprise today. And if he was, he would simply smash his way out of it, which was the best Plan B in his opinion. It had worked well in the past, though admittedly he had never been taken by surprise in battle once during his life, so he did not know for sure how well that actually worked. He decided it would be better to have a plan, though he doubted that it would be completely necessary.

So he entered the tunnel, his mind calculating a plan even then . . . if he would need it at all, that is.
 

-


Jokao slowly, painstakingly walked, his legs screaming in protest with every step he took. He glanced over his shoulder at Ironos; he could not tell who was winning and who losing from where he was. They all looked the same to him. Every blast of energy, every being he saw flying through the air from some devastating blow looked exactly the same to him now. He hoped his friends were winning, but seeing as it was only four on five, he wasn’t so sure about their chances.

Still, at least they were making sure that the rest of the Tuikas didn’t come after him. He had seen Hajax flee the village at the beginning of the battle, followed moments later by the Tuikas he recognized as Zoil. He had decided to go after both of them, since Oggak was still in the clutches of Hajax. True, he likely would not last long against either of them in battle, but the other option was sitting around doing nothing, which would be completely contradictory to why he wanted to go after Hajax in the first place. So he was willing to take a chance, even if it resulted in his death.

How he had managed to make it out of Ironos unscathed was unknown even to him, but it didn’t matter. He had just spotted Zoil heading down into an abandoned mineshaft. Unless Zoil had a hidden hobby of touring abandoned mines, he figured that meant that Zoil knew where Hajax and Oggak were. If so, then he, Jokao, would simply have to follow him, though he kept his distance; if Zoil realized he was there, then Jokao knew he would be dead in an instant. He just had to keep a reasonable distance from Zoil so that he could keep the Tuikas in view while at the same time making sure Zoil didn’t notice him following.

His legs, however, were making what should have been a somewhat simple task into a nightmare. They felt like they were on fire, like they would fall off any minute. Though they had healed up somewhat well during the week he had spent in bed (helped by certain types of medicine Telka had given him), they still hadn’t healed up completely and needed a lot more rest. Going like this, he was sure, would result in him losing control of his legs completely. They might even come off if he wasn’t careful.

But I can’t just rest, Jokao thought, watching as Zoil’s colossal back disappeared into the darkness of the mine. That would be lazy. Resting when the person I love the most is in danger is just . . . I can’t even begin to describe how wrong that is, even if I do need it. Especially since the universe itself depends on who gets Oggak. If the Tuikas get her, we’re all dead. But if I get her . . . we may just stand a chance.
 

-


Hajax’s back ached as he carried Oggak through the pitch blackness of the mine. He cursed this physical body once again; when he had been antidermis, he had never had to deal with these kinds of pains except in unusual circumstances. True, he had learned to deal with and ignore this, but he still didn’t like it and wished that he had now chosen a tougher body that could take the pain easier.

This will have to do for now, though, Hajax thought resignedly as he reached a fork in the tunnel. He glanced down both ways, but could not see much, even with his night vision. He didn’t know which way to go, so he randomly chose the right tunnel.

Hajax glanced over his shoulder as he walked around an empty mine cart. He did not see any of the Tuikas or Toa following; he seemed to have lost them, though he wasn’t going to stop until he found a satisfactory place to rest. It would be stupid to stop simply because he thought he had lost them; he wanted to be sure they weren’t following before even thinking of halting his progression into the mines.

He glanced at the mining equipment as he passed. He knew what these mines had been used for, of course. The Dark Hunters had dug them out when they had taken over Shika Nui 25,000 years ago, primarily for the rich source of raw protodermis located deep underneath the island’s surface. Here hundreds of Matoran slaves had worked night and day, without rest, digging up protodermis and sending it back up to the surface in mine carts, to be collected by the Dark Hunters and taken off the island to be sold or traded for goods in other lands.

Of course, there were other reasons for the existence of these mines. Hajax knew that the Dark Hunters, in their quest to find and open the ancient wall of protodermis – which was actually the gateway to Wyoko – had dug out many of these mines to try to find it and had only ceased when the wall was actually discovered in the middle of the island, where Koro Nui was now located. These other mines had stayed active, though, because they brought good business to the island’s economy and helped give the Dark Hunters more protodermis for their own weapons and armor, too.

Unfortunately, he could not remember how deep this particular mine ran. He knew that some went so deep that it would take days to go down them and even longer to get back up. Elevators had been installed in a few to make it easier for Dark Hunter inspections, but most of the time, you either walked or took a mine cart, neither of which were fun or easy and sometimes seemed to require more work than the actual mining, Hajax thought as he walked down the tunnel.

He walked for what seemed like hours until at last he emerged into a large, roundish room, which had several light stones embedded into the walls. At the far end of the room, he could see protodermis glistening off the stones, untouched for some time, apparently. He also spotted a few mining tools, which looked as though they had been dropped in a hurry. Two other tunnels branched off this one, he could see, but even then, he saw no sign of the Matoran miners who worked here, which struck him as odd. He would have thought that some Matoran would have tried to find a haven in these tunnels when the Tuikas attacked, yet so far, he had not come across even one. Nor had he seen any corpses, either, which ruled out the possibility that something – perhaps the Tuikas – had killed them already.

It doesn’t matter, Hajax thought to himself as he walked over to the very end of the room, intending to place Oggak there. He would then hide in the shadows and wait for whoever might be coming after him, using Oggak as bait. He figured that someone was probably after him and he didn’t intend to get caught by whoever that might be. Neither the Tuikas or the Toa will be able to resist once they rest their eyes on her.

Once he reached the end of the room, he placed Oggak in a sitting position carefully against the wall, right where she could be seen by anyone who entered the same way as Hajax had. Then he turned around and looked down the two passageways, trying to decide which one he should hide himself in.

The left one looks darker than the right, so I’ll hide in there, Hajax decided.

He made towards the left tunnel, which was slightly farther down than the right. He would be able to hide easily there, since it was so dark and there did not seem to be even one light stone to illuminate it. Not even the Tuikas would know he was in there, Hajax thought, so he would simply take up a position, choose which power would be the most effective to kill his enemy instantly, and then wait. True, he was almost sick of waiting by now, but just one more time and he wouldn’t have to wait any longer, he thought.

Something huge barreled through the door at that moment and smashed into him, sending him flying into the wall opposite. He crashed and slumped to the floor, stunned and dazed by this surprise attack. He was also angry. Who had dared to strike him? One of the Tuikas, perhaps, using a different entrance than he had? Or one of the Toa, even? Whoever it was, he decided, would die a horrible death and their corpse buried under in this mine once he was through with it.

He shook his head and glanced up in time to see a large, hulking green dragon creature staring at him with large, yellowish eyes. A moment later, a familiar-looking rusted Matoran entered, dull blade in hand, looking at Hajax in surprise. Hajax recognized the pair instantly.

Ah, yes, my old friends, Ramoth and Kavi, Hajax thought, with a mixture of sarcasm and annoyance. What the blazes are they doing here?

“You are that Toa of Gravity, Barilo, I think your name was, that Ramoth and I met a while ago,” said Kavi, pointing at Hajax with his dull knife as the Makuta got to his feet, thinking of the many ways he planned to kill Kavi and Ramoth now. The Matoran’s eyes narrowed and he said, “What are you doing here, Toa? These mines have become the home of Ramoth and I now. I thought we made it clear that we do not want visitors here, in our home? We said we would visit you, not-”

“Shut your mouth, insolent villager,” Hajax snapped, pulling out his spear and twirling it in the air. “I did not come for a visit. I came here to deal with my enemies, who are likely approaching even as we speak.”

Ramoth growled at Hajax’s threatening tone, but Kavi held up a hand to stop him. His orange eyes were focused on Hajax as he said, without flinching, “It looks as though I were right, Ramoth. This poor Toa’s soul is not his; it is that of an evil spirit. I care little for the Toa’s original spirit, or whatever happened to it, though I must ask you to state your name, possessor, or I will have to ask you to leave. Of course, you will have to leave anyway, since I dislike trespassers in my tunnels.”

Hajax laughed, barely amused, but laughed nonetheless. “I am Makuta Hajax, Kavi, soon-to-be king of the universe. I find it funny that you threaten me, as though you were some kind of king yourself.”

“But here, I am king,” Kavi snapped, gesturing at Ramoth, who had still yet to move, but was growling even louder than before. “You may be a Makuta, stranger, but Ramoth is still stronger. He can kill you with only one swipe of his powerful claws, Makuta, without even trying.” His eyes flickered towards the unconscious Oggak and he asked, in an uncaring tone, “What is she doing here, Makuta? Is she dead? And you want her corpse to infect my home? If so then give her a proper burial elsewhere. Then again, I am sure Ramoth would enjoy a tasty Toa of Shadow for dinner . . .”

“She is not dead,” said Hajax, whirling his spear even faster now as greenish energy crackled at both tips. “She is alive. Merely unconscious, if you will. She has her purpose, but why should I tell you my plans when I can simply kill you?”

He shot twin bolts of pure thought at Kavi, but Ramoth was faster; he jumped in the way of the bolts, protecting his master but burning his own hide. Much to Hajax’s surprise, however, Ramoth did not scream or cry out in pain. Instead, he merely opened his mouth and unleashed a wave of heat, hitting Hajax hard, though he took it in stride and managed to hit the ground, dodging the most devastating part of it as the heat melted the rock behind him.

Just as he hit the ground, he unleashed Barilo’s gravity powers, sending both Ramoth and Kavi flying into the air and to the ceiling, from which they fell and smashed into the rocky earth hard. Kavi looked knocked out, but Ramoth was still kicking and was back on his feet in an instant, growling even louder than before as it unleashed another attack; the ability to disorient his foes. Much to Hajax’s chagrin, it worked even while he was lying on the ground, making it hard for him to focus on the dragon or even keep his head up, which would mean he was likely to die soon unless he did something quick.

Ramoth may have a thick and protective hide, making most physical and even some non-physical attacks useless against him. But he does not have the mental training a Makuta such as myself has, nor does he have any kind of mental barrier like the kind Oggak possess. Hajax thought. One good mental hit and he should go down for good,

He could hear Ramoth rumbling towards him and with a great effort, struck the dragon’s mind as hard as he could. He hoped it would work and that Ramoth wouldn’t have some sort of hidden mental abilities to protect himself with that Hajax was unaware of.

It worked; his world stopped spinning abruptly and he heard Ramoth roar in pain. He glanced just in time to see the Fryke fall to the ground with the force of a small tremor; dead. Hajax smiled as he rose to his feet. The battle had gone far faster than he had thought originally it would, but he didn’t complain. He needed to save his energy for the inevitable battle with the Tuikas and Toa that he knew would follow soon.

He heard a weak groan and looked over Ramoth’s huge corpse to see Kavi now sitting up, shaking his head, apparently having recovered. Kavi abruptly stopped, however, and looked at Ramoth’s unmoving form in front of him. At first, his expression was unreadable. But then, he actually broke into tears, much to Hajax’s surprise and disgust.

“Ramoth!” shouted Kavi as he got unsteadily to his feet. Once he was balanced, he ran over to the dragon and threw himself on it, sobbing into its corpse. “No! Ramoth! Don’t be dead!”

Hajax snorted. “And here I was actually beginning to respect you, Kavi. But I suppose, since you wish to be with your pet so badly, you may as well join him in the afterlife.”

Hajax raised one hand, shadow energy swirling in his palm, a cold smile etched on his face as Kavi’s tearstained mask looked up at him, his expression a mixture of fear, sorrow, and surprise.

“You have tried to kill me,” said Hajax, without a hint of mercy in his voice. “You tried to kill me several times, in fact. And all of those times you failed. But let me tell you that every single one of them has stood out vividly in my memory recently. Today I shall exact my revenge upon you, just as I did upon your pet. Good bye, Kavi. It was nice knowing you.”
 

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#68 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 25 2014 - 08:17 AM

Chapter 25: How to Save a Life


Chimoy swung his thin sword through the air at Skik, who leapt back to dodge it and attempted to tackle him had Chimoy not conjured a shield out of midair and blocked the attack. He forced the Tuikas back, causing Skik to stumble, off-guard. With one fluid motion, Chimoy stabbed him in the gut and pulled the now blood-soaked sword out.

At first, he thought Skik was down, but the attack, instead of killing him, seemed only to enrage the Tuikas, who slashed viciously at the Toa with his claws. The attack connected, ripping a large hole in Chimoy’s chest armor and causing him to yell out in pain as he stumbled backwards, his back colliding hard with a rock he landed on.

Ignoring the pain, Chimoy rolled back onto his feet just as Skik, still bleeding badly and breathing hard, threw a handful of dirt into his face. Startled and temporarily blinded, Chimoy accidentally dropped his weapons. Skik charged headlong into him, sending him flying. The dirt from his eyes gone now, Chimoy realized he was about to crash into a stone wall, which he figured wouldn’t be a very good thing to happen to himself.

So he activated his Calix and managed to somehow twist his body enough to make it slide safely over the wall, rather than collide with it. He landed perfectly on his feet just as Skik sent a bolt of energy flying at him, which just barely scrapped the top of his Kanohi.

“Got to try harder than that, Skik!” called Chimoy as a new weapon – this time a large hammer – materialize out of thin air, swinging it through the air threateningly. “Much harder than that, I might add.”

Skik merely growled in anger and shot toward Chimoy, firing energy bolts at the Toa. Chimoy ducked, dodged, and leapt over the attacks with ease, though he did not move from where he stood. He was already formulating a plan in his mind. He just had to wait for Skik to get a little closer, which would not be much longer at the speed he was going. It would, however, require careful timing. Move too late and he would miss; too soon and he figured he would probably die.

Just got to wait, Chimoy thought, watching the Tuikas draw closer and closer, gripping his hammer tightly in his hand. Just a little closer now . . .

Skik was nearly in range now. So Chimoy lifted his hammer, intending to smash it into the Tuikas’ face and hopefully finish him off for good. Chimoy was strong; he had no doubt that if he put all of his strength behind this one blow it would be enough to at least knock Skik out, possibly kill him, depending on how thick the monster’s skull happened to be.

However, Chimoy’s plan went wrong almost from the beginning, for Skik shot a bolt of reddish energy at the Toa’s hammer, which struck it and caused its molecules to disperse in Chimoy’s hands. Totally caught-off guard by this move, Chimoy forgot to use his Calix and Skik, swooping in swiftly, slashed at the Toa of Iron’s abdomen as he passed, Chimoy crying out in pain as he fell to the ground again.

Tolerating the pain as best he could, he glanced up in time to see Koya standing above him, energy swirling in the palm of her hand. He rolled out of the way just as she fired it, creating a small crater where his head had been previously.

Gasping hard, Chimoy rose unsteadily to his feet, but fortunately he did not need to bother with Koya, for Death suddenly appeared, holding what looked like a sharp piece of rock in his hand. As he watched, Death grabbed Koya by the arm and then, pulling her closer, sunk the sharp stone deep into her chest, making her scream in pain as she wrenched her arm out of his grasp. Then she reared back – the stone still in her chest – and punched Death hard in the face, making him stumble backwards . . . right into Skik, who grabbed the Dark Hunter and flew up high into the sky with him, blood trailing all the way, though whether it was from Skik or Death, Chimoy could not tell.

“Death!” shouted Chimoy, but he had made a grave mistake in worrying about Death, for it left him wide open for an attack from Koya, who charged into him hard.

However, Chimoy recovered quickly from this and, activating his Calix again, took the blow in stride and managed to dodge most of the attack, causing her to go stumbling straight into the ground behind him. Chimoy took advantage of this and conjuring a sharp knife from thin air, drove it straight into Koya’s back, making her scream louder than ever before suddenly stopping. She no longer moved or breathed or did anything to indicate she was still alive. She was dead, killed by his hands.

Chimoy stood back up, panting hard and feeling shocked, mostly at himself. He had just killed someone, something he had never done before. He glanced down at the knife in his hand; it was bloody and so was the hand holding it. The blood felt warm, though it was rapidly cooling as he looked at it.

Somehow, he had never imagined that killing would be that easy. He had thought it would be harder, more difficult to do, yet he had done it, just like that, as though he had been intending to do it all along, without thinking twice. There was no pause, no time for Koya to give her final words or for her to do anything else. He found this disturbing, even though he cared nothing at all for the Tuikas. Killing was so easy, and yet once it was over, he found that, despite knowing what he had done was for the greater good, it left him feeling empty. He didn’t know why; it just felt that way. He didn’t like the feeling.

He was snapped out of his thoughts, however, when he remembered that Death was still being dragged through the air by Skik. He glanced up in time to see Skik, now several hundred feet up in the air, chuck Death towards the ground. Death looked remarkably like a rock tossed from a very high place now and was screaming and flailing his arms and legs as he fell.

Chimoy knew Death wouldn’t survive a collision with the streets of Ironos; there was no debating it. He found himself wishing to save Death, but with no Mask of Flight, he could not simply fly up and catch him. As far as he could see, Death was doomed.

But then he remembered Addis and Nonzra; how they had died, and the feelings of helplessness and frustration he had experienced afterwards. Though he had been unable to save Nonzra or Addis, he realized that he was in a situation to save Death from dying – as much as he hated to do it, considering Death was still a Dark Hunter – it would simply require him to think and move fast. He had a useful mask power; he might as well use it.

He ran fast, ignoring the blood bleeding from his abdomen and the rest of the pain he was experiencing, his eyes focused solely on Death, who was falling fast, unable to do anything to slow his fall. Chimoy just needed to go a little faster, and, if he did it right, he would be able to save Death. He just hoped he was fast enough, since the wound he had gained earlier was beginning to become almost unbearable, despite his best efforts to ignore it. He almost wanted to just sit down and rest, but he couldn’t do that. He had a feeling that, whatever his feelings towards the Dark Hunters might be, if Death died, he would never be able to forgive himself knowing that he had allowed something like that to happen.

Activating his Calix, he leapt up, as high as he could, and managed to catch Death, much to the surprise of the Dark Hunter. He then used the gained momentum to land perfectly on the ground. But the fall, Death’s weight, and the wound in his abdomen were too much for him; he dropped Death and fell to his knees, breathing hard. He was not sure how much longer he would be able to stay conscious, but he guessed it wouldn’t be that long.

“What did you do that for?” asked Death, who seemed honestly surprised that Chimoy had saved him. “I mean, I appreciate it, but I was under the impression that-“

“Shut up and take this sword!” Chimoy gasped, breathing hard. He materialized a long sword out of thin air and slammed it in Death’s hand. One of his legs felt broken. “And-“

He could not take the constant bleeding and pain any longer; with one last gasp of air he fell to the ground, his mind drifting into unconsciousness. He briefly wondered if he was dying, but then decided that there was no need to worry, no need to think; just sleep and do nothing else. Nothing else at all mattered to him now, not even the Tuikas.
 

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#69 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 26 2014 - 08:41 AM

Chapter 26: The Clash of Shadows


Hajax fired a blast of shadow at Kavi, his eyes gleaming in triumph as he watched the attack draw nearer to the Matoran, who was still too stunned by Ramoth’s death to even try to dodge. He had been looking forward to this, to see Kavi die, ever since he had first met the wretched villager. Now, once Kavi was out of the way, he would have to kill the rest of the Tuikas and Toa and Dark Hunters and begin his conquest of the universe without anyone to stop him. While Kavi was not much of a threat to his long term plans, his desire to kill the Matoran overrode his thinking for a moment.

But then, to his surprise, the shadow blast stopped in midair and then suddenly exploded, creating a cloud of darkness that startled Hajax, who took a step back, saying, “What the-?” at the same time Kavi said, “Who-?”

But then shadow bonds suddenly materialized around Hajax’s body, which lifted him up and slammed him into the dirt floor repeatedly until he was dazed, though not unconscious just yet. His energy was being sapped, which was a feature of the shadow chains, but he knew he could break them just as easily as though they were made out of sand if he wanted to. However, he was still too taken aback by the sudden attack to do anything but be angry at the moment.

“Who dared attack me?” demanded Hajax in anger. “Who?”

He looked around and saw Oggak, leaning against the stone wall, standing up, looking both determined and angry. So she had been the one to put the shadow chains around him . . . it made sense. But as he looked into her red eyes, he no longer saw the kind, gentle and quiet Toa of Shadow he had known for the past week. Now he saw a rage in her eyes similar to the kind he remembered Barilo had seen in the eyes of the Shodios. He wondered if she was about to kill him.

“Did we wake you up from your nap, Oggak?” asked Hajax in a sarcastic, yet threatening, voice. “Why not go back to sleep? You will not have to deal with nearly as much pain if you do.”

“Never,” Oggak snapped in a fiery tone. The shadow chains suddenly constricted. Hajax was beginning to have second thoughts about breaking them now. “I won’t let you get away with your evil plans. I’m a Toa; I may be of the shadows, but I am still under the same obligations that all Toa are, which includes defeating creeps like you and saving Matoran like Kavi from creeps like you.”

“Hey!” Kavi said indignantly. “I do not need saving from shadow spit!”

“Oh shut up,” Hajax snapped at him. Then, returning his attention to Oggak, he added, “Do you think that, if you kill me, you will ‘redeem’ yourself in the eyes of your friends? If so, I wouldn’t be that optimistic. Toa can be very unforgiving towards those who have deceived them, you know. Especially self-righteous fools like the Toa Shika.”

“I don’t care what the others think anymore,” said Oggak, her voice ragged and hoarse. “All I care about is stopping you. So long as Jokao still loves me, I could care less if everyone in the universe hated me and was after my blood.”

With a simple shrug, Hajax caused the shadow chains to disappear and got to his feet, wiping dirt off his armor as he locked eyes with the Toa of Shadow. He was impressed she still had it in her to fight, considering what she had just been through. However, if she was going to fight him, he decided, he may just have to kill her. He figured it was pointless to keep her alive anyway, since he didn’t really need the Tuikas to help him conquer the universe in the first place.

“So you fight for Jokao, is it?” asked Hajax, a slight grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “You fight for a Toa who you don’t know even still loves you anymore? Last you saw, he loved you . . . but one of the most amazing things about living beings is how quickly they can change their feelings towards one another without even thinking about it. There is no point in fighting any longer, Oggak. You have no friends, your power is completely insignificant to mine, and I could easily crush you underneath my heel as if you were an annoying little insect.”

“Even if what you say is true,” said Oggak. “I will still fight. I have stared into the face of evil again and again, over and over, until I’ve gotten sick of it. Over the centuries I faced the Shodios, the Tuikas, and dozens of other villains who have thought themselves superior to all. And none of them were even slightly good enough to make me wish to spare their rotten lives. Thus, I will not hesitate to kill you, Hajax, when we fight, even if the body you now posses isn’t really yours.”

Hajax chuckled, disbelieving of her threat. “You, a Toa, willing to break the Toa code just to stop me? Am I really that bad?”

Oggak shot a bolt of shadow at him, which had been so fast and so sudden that Hajax could not react in time to dodge it. It struck him in the chest, sending him falling backwards onto the ground, stunned by the blow.

“Hajax, I have never abided by the Toa code as strictly as others have,” said Oggak, her voice deathly quiet now. “I have lived with the Order of Mata Nui for over 100,000 years and they, despite fighting for Mata Nui like the Toa, do not abide by it, either. Ever since I have been fighting the Tuikas, I have always aimed to kill them, but have never succeeded. So you see, Hajax, don’t be surprised if I fail to remember the Toa code when I’m trying to kill you. It tends to slip from my mind like that.”

“As I have said before, you would be a fine queen if you were to join me, Oggak,” said Hajax, with a smile on his face as he rose back to his feet. Shadow energy was crackling around his hands like lightning then. “Your total unwillingness to compromise with your enemy . . . your disdain of the Toa code . . . You would honestly make a perfect queen, a position I think you would hold with pride. I am giving you one last chance, Oggak, to join me. Join me, and you shall have the entire universe at your command, to do with as you wish. But if you don’t-“

“I do not accept,” Oggak answered fiercely, as shadow seemed to leak from her body and into her hands. “I will never accept. I may not follow the Toa code like the others, but I can still recognize evil. You honestly expect me to think even for a moment that I would become your queen? Ridiculous wishful thinking, that is.”

“I knew you would say that,” said Hajax grimly. “I suppose that means you have to die, then. Oh, well; I can always find another queen if I need one, you know.”
 

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#70 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 27 2014 - 10:18 AM

Chapter 27: No More


Kigin swung his mace at Draza, who merely grabbed the weapon before it could hit him and yanked it out of Kigin’s grasp. Tossing the weapon aside, Draza charged at the Dark Hunter, swinging his hatchet madly through the air as he ran.

Kigin jumped out of the way, dodging the flying hatchet as it sliced through the stone wall he had been standing in front of. Kigin then sunk a solid fist into the side of Draza’s head, sending the Tuikas stumbling onto the ground.

Now was his chance. Kigin raised both fists, ready to crush Draza’s head, but suddenly, he couldn’t breathe. Lowering his fists, he gasped for air, but could not get any. Somehow, Draza had managed to take his air away, but he didn’t have the time to think about how that was possible.

So distracted was he by his sudden lack of air that he did not notice Draza was back on his feet before feeling a crushing blow crash in the midsection, sending him flying. He landed with a crunch onto the cracked pavement hard, but fortunately the air had returned to his lungs again, which was all he needed to fight.

He was back on his feet instantly, but as it turned out, that was unnecessary. A lightning bolt went flying over his shoulder and struck Draza in the chest, sending the Tuikas, screeching in pain, fall over onto the earth again.

Kigin glanced over his shoulder to see Akuna, staff held high, running towards him. But he did not feel gratitude towards her. Instead, he felt indignant, annoyed at the fact that he had been saved by a Toa. True, she had just saved his life, but he could have done it all by himself without her interference, he reasoned.

“You nearly hit me!” he snapped as Akuna stopped in front of him, looking as though she were about to ask him how he felt. “I didn’t need your help anyway. I was doing fine on my own.”

Akuna, looking irritated, said, “I was just trying to- Watch out!”

She grabbed Kigin and pushed him out of the way as a huge slab of rock went flying towards them. They hit the dirt as another large stone went flying; Draza was now apparently tossing pieces of the ruined village at them, and Kigin knew he would eventually hit his targets if they didn’t move.

“We’ve got to split up!” said Akuna, as another chunk missed them by inches. “He can’t hit us both if we aren’t next to each other!”

“I know!” said Kigin irritably, rolling away from her and onto his feet in an instant. “I know!”

Another chunk was flying towards him, but Kigin was ready. He unleashed a blast of sound from his mouth that shattered the stone into tiny pebbles. He then ran towards the Tuikas, dodging more large rocks as they were thrown, though with greater difficulty the closer he got.

He glanced to his right and saw Akuna running parallel him, heading towards Draza, who had now stopped throwing boulders and instead was firing blasts of energy at them from the palms of his hands. Kigin ducked underneath a blast and, once within range of Draza, tackled him, sending them both to the ground. He put both hands around Draza’s throat and began choking him, focusing all of his rage and anger on his enemy. He had killed one Tuikas before; he could easily do it again.

Kigin then realized that he could not breathe; Draza had taken his air away yet again. But the Dark Hunter didn’t care. He didn’t need air to finish Draza off. He wanted to get it over with, even if it killed himself in the process.

Just as Draza’s struggling became weaker, Kigin felt two arms wrap themselves around his waist and suddenly heaving him away from Draza, allowing the air to abruptly return to his lungs. He had briefly forgotten how it felt to breathe and realized that he had actually missed it quite a bit during those short seconds of airlessness he had experienced while trying to kill Draza.

But the desire to finish off the beast was still burning deep within him, so he struggled against his captor’s arms, shouting, “Let me go! I’m going to kill him! Let me go, or-“

“Kigin!” shouted a familiar voice from behind him; he recognized it as Akuna’s. He was surprised by this; she must be much stronger than he had originally believed if she could pull him off Draza so easily like that. “There’s . . . no . . . need . . . to . . . struggle! Draza’s dead; look. He’s not moving anymore.”

Kigin, struggling less now, glanced down at Draza and saw that the Tuikas was indeed lying motionless on the ground. It filled him with an intense satisfaction to see Draza dead. He felt even better knowing that it was he who had killed him, for the same feeling of power and strength that he had felt when he had slain Arija was arising within him now.

However, he knew how tricky Tuikas could be. Draza might just be playing. Kigin would not even so much as conceive of the idea of turning his back on the corpse until he was absolutely certain that Draza was really dead.

“Sure, he looks dead, but is he really?” asked Kigin, abruptly halting his struggling to carefully watch Draza’s body. “We should be sure, just in case.”

Akuna released him without warning and then walked around him to Draza, her staff at the ready. She was examining the creature’s body, poking it occasionally, and then, looking up at Kigin, she said, “He’s definitely dead. His heartlight is gray and he isn’t moving even slightly anymore.”

“Good,” said Kigin, satisfied. He looked around and asked, “Where did that dang beast toss my mace?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Akuna urgently, her eyes scanning the rest of the area. “Look – Death’s fighting Skik all by himself. I don’t see Chimoy anywhere; do you think-?”

“I think I would be quite happy if he was dead,” Kigin replied curtly.

She shot him an irritated look and snapped, “That wasn’t . . . whatever. We’ve gotta go help Death; he won’t stand a chance against Skik by himself, especially since he already seems to be slowing. Let’s go.”

After quickly finding and retrieving his weapon, Kigin and Akuna ran towards the direction of the last two fighters, the Dark Hunter experiencing feelings of anticipation and excitement inside of him as they approached what he knew was going to be the final battle that would determine the fate of Shika Nui.
 

-


Zoil carefully traversed the abandoned mineshaft, his audio receptors open for any sudden sounds. He could sense that the Sacrifice was in a fairly deep part of the mines; so deep, in fact, that the ceiling actually seemed to be getting lower to him, so he had to duck a little to avoid scraping his head on the rocks protruding above.

But as he rounded a corner, he could hear what sounded like the noises of battle going on in a chamber nearby; the same chamber, in fact, that the Sacrifice seemed to be located in. And if his senses weren’t deceiving him, he distinctly thought that the Sacrifice may actually be participating in the battle, too, though who or what it was fighting was a mystery to him.

Regardless of who or what it may be, it shall fall before the righteous might of the Tuikas, Zoil thought as he casually knocked a mine cart aside, sending it crashing into a nearby wall. As long as I live, I shall never allow the Sacrifice to escape, nor let anyone keep me from retrieving it and fulfilling my final destiny.

He paused for a moment. He thought he heard someone stumbling along behind him, but as soon as he stopped the sound had ceased. Frowning, Zoil turned around, peering into the darkness while ignoring the sounds of battle up ahead. He did not hear nor see anyone but himself. He wondered briefly for a moment if he had been imagining things, but then remembered that imagination was pointless to a Tuikas. He decided it must be some sort of underground animal scurrying along, which meant he had stopped for no reason at all.

Every precious minute wasted is another minute that could have been used retrieving the Sacrifice, he reminded himself, turning around and continuing his trek. And if that Makuta is true to his word, every minute wasted here means that he is every minute closer to killing the Sacrifice. And if that were to happen, I would fail the Great Beings forever. That I cannot allow.

He felt something hot and burning strike him, melting his back armor and causing him to scream in pain as he fell to his knees. Ignoring the pain, he turned around as about a dozen or so fire bolts went flying out of the shadows towards him. There was no time to dodge, but he didn’t need to. His club was useful for more than just smashing things to dust, after all. It could absorb elemental energy and fling it right back at its originator.

He absorbed each bolt as it came within about ten feet of him and then, his club glowing red like the fire it now contained, he hurled a huge ball of flames back into the darkness. They collided with a wooden mine cart, setting it ablaze and illuminating the rest of the tunnel. He briefly saw what appeared to be a Toa move into the shadows out of his sight as the cart burned.

Aha. A Toa – no doubt that Toa of Fire that has been a hindrance to our plans these past few weeks – is following me, Zoil thought. Perhaps he thinks he can rescue the Sacrifice from me. He’s trying to kill me so I won’t get my hands on the Sacrifice. Too bad he will be the one dying today.

Zoil raised his club and shot a beam of energy from it, aimed directly at the ceiling. It struck the top hard and immediately caused a cave-in. Rocks and dirt came cascading down on the mine tracks between him and the Toa, blocking the fiery, burning cart from his sight as dust blew in every direction. He raised one arm to protect his eyes from the dust until it had finally settled.

Lowering his arm, he now saw a huge wall of rock and dirt before him, totally blocking the exit. He knew that he would probably have to find another way out eventually – for, after all, the Dividing could only occur in the ruined village in the mountains – but at least for now the Toa of Fire could not get through, at least not easily. That meant he had one less annoyance to deal with, though he felt as though the Toa had been the least of his problems.

Turning around, he decided that he would show no mercy to the Makuta once he found him. Zoil would simply kill him as quickly as possible and take the Sacrifice back to the mountains, where she would be sacrificed, the Dividing initiated, and the destiny of the Tuikas completed.

It sounded almost too easy when put that way, Zoil thought as he resumed walking down the tunnel, the sounds of battle growing increasingly louder and louder with each step. But then, he was sure that he would be able to do it, for destiny was on his side today. That he was sure of.
 

-


Jokao stood on the other side of the newly-created rock wall, his spirits falling as he watched the flames burn the mine cart, his shadow flickering on the debris before him. There was no way he could safely remove all of this; he couldn’t melt it, and if he moved one wrong block he would be probably buried alive underneath tons of heavy stones.

He hated himself now. He had been getting bored of simply following Zoil around, even though the Tuikas seemed to know where he wanted to go, and had decided that if he took out Zoil now, he wouldn’t have to deal with him later.

So Jokao, in his stupidity, had tried to kill the Tuikas with about a dozen fire bolts. The first had hit, but somehow the others missed, or had been redirected, for the next instant a giant ball of flames had came flying towards Jokao. Fortunately it managed to hit the now-burning mine cart instead of himself, but it had been a very, very close miss.

Jokao had then thought Zoil would charge at him, but to his surprise, Zoil brought down the ceiling between them. Now Jokao had no way of following him, or even getting to Oggak. It looked as though he would have to head back to the surface, leaving Oggak at the mercy of Makuta Hajax and Zoil. Or find another way around, but who knew how long that would take? It could take hours to find another route, and by that time, Oggak might already be-

No, I won’t think that, Jokao thought stubbornly, glancing around the area for another route. She’s not going to be dead. Oggak’s faced far worse than a Makuta and a Tuikas before. She’ll survive. I know she will.

He sat down on the ground briefly, groaning in pain. His legs felt as though they had turned to lead and were protesting loudly with every step. Though he knew saving Oggak was his top priority at the moment, he decided that he could sit down for a few minutes before continuing on. His legs really needed the rest, after all. He wondered if they had an infection of some kind, but since he wasn’t a doctor, he didn’t know how to deal with that, if he indeed had one.

He almost found himself wishing he had stayed in Koro Nui, in his comfortable bed, allowing Telka to heal his legs. Jokao had really thought for a while there that his legs were getting better and that there was no need to stay in bed any longer, despite whatever Telka had told him. Yet now he knew he was wrong. He knew that he very well might lose them if he continued like this, but he had no choice now.

Everyone else is tied up with the rest of the Tuikas, Jokao thought as he rose back to his feet, leaning against the stone wall for support as the flaming cart burned on. I’m the only one who can save her now. No one else is in any situation to. Gotta ignore the pain a little longer, that’s all.

He glanced around again and saw a tunnel to his left. When he had been a Matoran, he had done some mining work before being made the leader of the slaves, which pretty much meant he was supposed to break up disputes in case they turned violent, to avoid any unnecessary deaths or injuries. However, despite having lived in Ironos, he had never been inside this particular mine before, so he didn’t know it very well. If he chose the wrong path, he might end up lost forever or at least for a very long time, meaning he might never find Oggak ever again.

But he had to take the chance. After all, he reminded himself with a small smile, he had taken a chance when he had gotten together with Oggak. True, trying to save a person’s life was a bit different than starting a relationship with that same person, but, he reasoned, Toa take risks all the time. This would simply be one more. Granted, it was even riskier than most, but it was a risk just the same. And like all risks, he would have to take it, no matter what.

So, leaning on the wall for support, he began trekking down the left tunnel, hoping against hope that he would beat Zoil to Oggak and that she would still be alive by the time he found her.
 

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#71 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 28 2014 - 07:53 AM

Chapter 28: Reunited at Last


Igici, also known as Death, swung his sword at Skik, but the Tuikas swiftly dodged it and then shot a beam of energy at him. Igici deflected it with his sword and jumped backwards to dodge a slash from Skik. Panting hard, Igici fired a lava ball at Skik, but one blast of disintegration from the leader of the Tuikas destroyed it completely.

I can’t keep this up much longer, Igici thought wearily, lifting his sword to block another vicious swipe from Skik. Unless I get some help soon, I’m a goner.

Skik tried to hit him again, but Igici managed to dodge it and clumsily thrust his sword at him. But it was pointless, for the next moment, Skik grabbed the sword and snapped it in half, causing Igici to stumble backwards in surprise, caught off-guard by this unexpected move. Skik struck again with another devastating blow, sending Igici flying a few feet. He crashed into the ground hard, his breath ragged, though still conscious.

Igici was actually surprised that Skik was lasting as long as he was. Skik had already suffered two wounds to the chest area and had blood splattered all over his armor. Yet he was still fighting as though he had just woken up from a good, long nap. Igici didn’t have the time to wonder about the Tuikas’ stamina, however, for Skik was flying towards him at top speed, screeching loudly as he drew ever closer.

“Today the Tuikas have won!” Skik shouted, blooding pouring out of his chest as he flew.

Igici had no strength left to raise his arm and try to shoot Skik out of the sky. So he merely lay there, waiting for the moment when Skik’s claws would sink into his chest and rip out his heart. He had been expecting to die someday, but he wished he could have lived a little longer to someday return to his people back on Niji. He supposed they wouldn’t want him back anyway, since he sold them to the Dark Hunters in the first place. Perhaps it would be better to die here after all like the traitor he was.

But then all of a sudden, a lightning came almost out of nowhere and struck Skik in the side, sending him spiraling off course and into the ruins several feet away from where Igici lay, crashing loudly in the debris.

Who did that? he wondered, looking in the direction that the bolt had came from.

He soon discovered the source of the attack: It was Akuna, with Kigin at her side, running towards him, their weapons raised high as they yelled. He felt his spirits rise; perhaps he really wouldn’t have to die. Maybe they stood a chance of survival after all, if Akuna and Kigin were still alive. He hadn’t been so sure about their status, so absorbed he was in his own fights. But at least they weren’t dead, and that was all that mattered now.

Of course, killing Skik matters as well, Igici thought as he forced himself to rise to his feet, panting hard and leaning on a large piece of debris. Wonder how he is. That crash looked pretty painful to me.

He glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Skik rise out of the pile of rocks he had been buried under, shake his head as though to clear his senses, and then, growling with rage, shoot towards him, moving faster than Igici had ever seen him move before. Skik was going too fast for the ex-Dark Hunter to dodge. In seconds the Tuikas would be upon him. Igici knew he wouldn’t survive a direct hit from Skik at such extreme speed.

But he was not about to die today. He had been through too much, both before and after joining the Dark Hunters, to die right now. He still had so many things to deal with; so many problems and conflicts he hadn’t resolved in his life. To just die, leaving them unresolved like that . . . well, he didn’t like it. It left a bad taste in his mouth, one he wished to replace with a better taste.

So, raising his broken sword to shoulder level, Igici shot a ball of lava at the oncoming Tuikas. Unable to dodge it, Skik flew straight into the lava ball and burst into flames. Screeching in pain, the leader of the Tuikas swerved out of Igici’s direction and crashed into a nearby crater, sending up a huge wall of flames that reached for the sky, like the claws of some fiery behemoth attempting to free itself from its burning prison. And as far as Igici could see, Skik was not going to be getting up for a long time, if ever, for he neither saw nor heard movement from within the fiery pit from which smoke billowed into the air.

“We did it!” shouted Kigin as he and Akuna approached from behind, startling Igici, who had briefly forgotten that they had been coming to him. “They’re all dead! Every single one of the Tuikas – they’re all dead! We killed them all!”

“Really?” asked Igici, glancing around curiously. He did not see any of the other Tuikas up, so he assumed Kigin was correct. “They’re all dead?”

“Yes,” said Kigin, his voice filled with savage triumph. He raised his arms towards the heavens and said, “Can you see any of them in the sky, flying above us, taunting us, trying to scare us with their big blades and sharp teeth? Not anymore! We are free now. It shows that, even when all others fall, the Dark Hunters will always rise up as the champions and conquerors of the universe!”

“Er, right,” said Igici, nodding, though he wasn’t so sure he agreed with Kigin. Mostly, he just felt relieved that the entire thing was now over. He wondered briefly if he would be able to return to Niji soon when he suddenly realized that Akuna was frantically searching the debris for something. “What are you looking for, Akuna?” he asked her.

She didn’t respond. Instead, she just began searching even harder than before, kicking over stones or blasting debris apart with her lightning powers. He had no idea what she was looking for, but then he heard a groan somewhere nearby and, glancing over his shoulder, saw Chimoy rising slowly and painfully out of the ruins, looking battered and half-dead. In fact, Igici was quite surprised to see Chimoy even still breathing. He had thought that the Toa of Iron might have died because of all the injuries he had sustained earlier in the fight.

Akuna, apparently also aware of Chimoy, ceased her digging and ran over to him. She quickly caught the Toa of Iron before he fell and asked, in a soft yet urgent voice, “Are you okay?”

“No,” Chimoy gasped, one of his hands over the now-dried up wound in his abdomen. “I’m n-not. But thanks for a-asking anyway.”

Igici quickly ran over to help, but as soon as he put his hands on Chimoy’s arm, Akuna quickly let go, said, “Thanks,” to Igici, and then ran off to find whatever it was she was looking for again.

Igici, taken by aback by her quick movements, almost let Chimoy fall to the ground before doubling his grip on the Toa of Iron. He then gently led Chimoy over to a fair-sized rock, which the Toa sat down on, his breathing hard and ragged, with his hands on his knees and his eyes closed, as though he were thinking.

“Thanks,” Chimoy muttered, without looking up at Igici.

“Don’t mention it,” said Igici, looking at Kigin, who still seemed to be basking in their victory.

“We are the best!” Kigin roared, swinging his mace rapidly through the air as he spoke. “The Tuikas believed they could destroy the Dark Hunters, but they fell to our might! While they lost all of their warriors, we lost only-“

“Nastan!” shouted a frantic, panicking voice.

“Yes, we lost- Huh?” said Kigin, looking curiously in the direction of the voice. “Who said that?”

Igici and Chimoy both looked in the same direction as Kigin and saw Akuna, digging frantically in a pile of rocks nearby, looking frightened and hysteric. Igici now realized what she had been so desperately been seeking; Nastan. Igici remembered seeing Hajax – or Barilo who claimed to be Hajax, anyway, he wasn’t really sure – toss Nastan somewhere in that direction before Akuna and the others arrived. He had completely forgotten about the Toa of The Green until this moment, and judging by the looks on Kigin’s and Chimoy’s faces, so had they.

“We’ve gotta help her,” said Chimoy, trying to rise to his feet. Igici tried to make him sit down, since he didn’t seem to be in any condition to walk, but the Toa merely shrugged him off and began walking towards Akuna. “She might’ve f-found Nastan.”

“You mean that Toa of The Green?” asked Kigin, frowning as he joined Igici and Chimoy in walking towards the frantically digging Akuna. “Oh, yeah, I’d forgotten about him. I thought he must’ve run away or something-“

“You don’t know Nastan very well, then,” Chimoy replied. Igici was amazed at the way he was able to walk and speak like that with such a bad wound that was surely causing him intense pain. “Nastan is always the first in a fight and is usually the last standing. If anything th-thing, I am quite surprised that you didn’t run away, Kigin.”

“Dark Hunters never run away unless they absolutely have to, Toa,” Kigin snapped. “We do not fall on our knees and worship whoever happens to appear more powerful than us. If that was true, the Brotherhood would have won their war with us long, long ago.”

“Besides, not all Dark Hunters are cowards, Chimoy,” Igici added.

“I don’t care enough to argue with you two about whether Dark Hunters are cowards or fighters,” said Chimoy dismissively, shaking his head. “We’ve gotta help Akuna. Nastan n-needs our help.”

But, as it turned out, once they had finally reached Akuna, she had already managed to clear most of the rubble away and was already pulling a large blue-ish green colored thing out of the hole she had made in the debris. Finally, after much tugging and heaving, she had managed to get Nastan out and pulled him a few feet away from the hole before stopping. For a split second, she looked happy, if somewhat worried as she looked at Nastan.

That only lasted a moment however. Next minute she was bawling her eyes out, crying so loudly that the other three jumped at the sudden and unexpected sound. Her hands were hiding her face, though they did nothing to stifle the earsplitting noise she was making, nor disguise the tears running down the side of her face and onto the ground.

Just one look at Nastan told Igici exactly why she had hidden her face in her hands and was crying so hard. Nastan was nearly unrecognizable. His armor was cracked and totally crushed in several places, many sharp rocks had embedded themselves in his skin, which appeared to be the cause of the immense amount of dried blood that covered his armor, and his mask was split straight down in the middle and slightly flattened, as though a heavy rock had been sitting on it for an extended period of time. His arms and legs were bruised and flattened in many places, making his limbs look as though they were part of the pavement itself.

Even with all of these injuries, one might have been able to believe that Nastan was still alive, albeit very badly injured. But one glance at the Toa of The Green’s heartlight said otherwise. It was fractured, almost completely broken, and a dead gray color. He was, without a doubt, dead, meaning all Akuna had managed to dig up was the corpse.

“Why . . .” Akuna sobbed, her tears streaming between her fingers. “Why did he have to die? Why? Why?”

Igici glanced at Chimoy, who at first looked shocked. But then the Toa of Iron began sobbing, though not nearly as hard as Akuna. There were groans of pain mixed in with the sobs, since the wound in Chimoy’s abdomen was still hurting.

Kigin, however, seemed completely unaffected by Nastan’s death and said, shaking his head, “You Toa are pathetic. Crying won’t bring him back. All it does is make you look like the weak fools you really are.”

“Weak, are we?” asked Chimoy over Akuna’s loud crying, evidently trying to hold back his tears now, though failing, for some were still leaking out of the corners of his eyes. “We’re weak because we are mourning the friend we loved and cared for? Because we’re showing compassion? I’m sorry, but I didn’t know that made me weak.”

“It does,” Kigin snapped. “And if you want to fight, I’m ready for it.”

“This is no time for fighting,” Igici said, quickly getting in between the two before they could trade blows. “Not when one of us is dead. Fight later, if you must . . . but for now, hold your tongues and your swords. Got it?”

“Got it,” Kigin mumbled, turning away to look back at the forest. “You always were a goody two shoes, Igici. That’s probably why I’ve never liked you.”

Chimoy merely nodded without saying anything, and then broke into renewed sobbing. Igici took a step back to let Chimoy join Akuna, which he did, falling to his knees like Akuna at Nastan’s corpse. The ex-Dark Hunter watched the two Toa crying, but could not say he actually felt the same kind of sadness they were experiencing. It wasn’t that he hated Nastan; he simply hadn’t known Nastan as long as they had, so could not weep with them.

All he could do was stand there and watch, not really sure what to do or say, if anything.
 

-


If Kavi had been given the ability to wish for anything in the world right now – literally, anything at all – he would have wished that Ramoth was alive and that he and his dear pet Fryke were back in their underground cavern, away from all of the violence that had erupted in this stone chamber. Unfortunately, since Kavi had no access to a genie’s lamp at the moment, he would have to deal with the reality of his situation, however much he detested it.

He was currently crouching low behind Ramoth’s huge corpse, watching as the Makuta known as Hajax battled the Toa of Shadow called Oggakia. They were trading blows so fast that Kavi had a hard time keeping track of who was shooting at whom and often he had to duck to avoid having his head blasted into a million pieces by a stray – and sometimes deliberately aimed – shadow bolt.

Kavi had no desire for either of them win. He hated both of them, Hajax for killing Ramoth and Oggak for simply being a Toa of Shadow. But if he had to choose, he would say Oggak, for he had to admit, she did not seem to be nearly as bad as the Shodios, so perhaps he would survive should she manage to finish Hajax.

Of course, the ideal ending for this battle would be for both of them to kill each other, Kavi thought, both hands over his head as he crouched as low as possible behind Ramoth’s corpse. Then I can return to my underground home, though I will be very lonely. Perhaps I can try to tame one of the many blade burrowers that live here; they shouldn’t be too difficult after Ramoth. Still, I don’t think any Rahi will ever be able to replace Ramoth for me.

Of course, in order to tame a blade burrower, he would have to survive this battle, and right now, he knew that if one stray bolt hit a weak spot in the mine, the entire place could come crashing down on them. He just hoped the battle would be over quickly, though considering the current progression of the fight that seemed unlikely, for both Hajax and Oggak were obviously good fighters.

He glanced over Ramoth’s corpse again and saw a bolt of shadow heading straight for Oggak. He was sure she had no time to dodge it, but to his surprise, she managed to duck as it struck the wall behind her. He then saw her send a bolt of shadow straight towards Hajax. Hajax teleported out of the way – rather unnecessary to Kavi, though he figured the Makuta was just showing off – and then countered with a bolt of his own once he reappeared a few feet away from where he had been standing.

This was how the battle was mostly going and why Kavi thought it would only end when one or both of them simply got too tired to continue any longer. They both kept shooting shadow at each other, both kept dodging – it was so boring and predictable. He was slightly confused at why Hajax was not using all of the other powers a Makuta was supposed to have. Though Kavi had never met a Makuta before, he remembered hearing legends and rumors about them and how they had a vast array of powers at their command, besides shadow and shape shifting, and how they could easily crush their opponents under their heels as if they were insects.

Maybe he’s afraid, Kavi thought as he crouched low again. Maybe he thinks that if he uses one of his other powers and misses, he might bring the entire place down and not only kill Oggak, but himself, too. That would explain a great deal why he seems to be going easy on her; doesn’t want to die so quickly, especially since he already has plans of world conquest.

He glanced at the tunnel that he and Ramoth had emerged from previously. It was very close by, yet he knew that there was a distinct possibility of getting hurt or dying if he was noticed by Hajax if he tried to enter it. But if he managed to make it, then he would be able to return home and lose anyone who might try to follow him. It would be incredibly risky, but then, living underground was always risky, so he decided that it was one risk he was going to take.

But he had barely taken even one step forward when a mixture of lava and ice flew over his head and smashed into the wall opposite him, creating a gap hole that burned, yet was icy around the edges as well, giving an eerie unreal look to it.

Startled, Kavi fell on his bottom, but quickly glanced over Ramoth’s corpse to find out just who had tried to blow his head off. It might have been Hajax, but something was telling him that it wasn’t even before he saw Hajax and Oggak, standing on opposite sides of the chamber, looking around in bewilderment before another projectile came flying out of the right tunnel and crash in the same spot as before, deepening and enlarging the original hole several times.

Kavi wondered who the shooter was when a huge, bulky monster in teal and white armor came lumbering out of the tunnel, its pale eyes scanning the area as it dragged along a large club. Its eyes finally landed on Oggak, who had taken a step back and actually looked a little frightened. Perhaps she knew this . . . thing? Whatever it was, Kavi didn’t like it, mostly because he didn’t know what it was. But based on the way it looked at her, he thought it might not be the friendliest of Rahi in the universe, if that was what it was.

“Come here, Sacrifice,” said the creature suddenly, in a soft voice, raising one hand and beckoning Oggak to join him. This startled Kavi, who had assumed the creature was a Rahi incapable of speaking Matoran. “We don’t need to fight any longer. The Great Beings created us so we could fulfill our destiny – and if neither you nor I ever complete it, we will be purposeless beings. The Dividing is a necessity in current times and if you refuse to join us again . . .”

“Never!” snarled Oggak, hurling three bolts of shadow at him. “That is not the way I want to be remembered!”

But the creature merely raised his club, which seemed to somehow absorb the energy, and threw it right back at her with the force of a hurricane. Oggak managed to get out of the way, but when the redirected shadow energy hit the wall she had been standing in front of, it caused a small tremor. Kavi was beginning to feel panicky. If the cavern caved-in now, none of them would survive, including him. He had survived under here for a while now, but that was because he had been wise and not stupid enough to cause a cave-in even accidentally.

Kavi looked for a way out again, but this time saw Hajax raising his sword, which glinted in the feeble glow that the surrounding light stones offered. He saw, on Hajax’s face, an expression of anger and concentration. Even Kavi could tell that one blow in the right place and the monster – who was apparently ignoring Hajax – would fall.

Suddenly, the creature whirled around and slammed his club into Hajax’s midsection, sending the Makuta flying. He crashed into the doorway at the other end and did not emerge, much to Kavi’s surprise. He thought Makuta were tougher than that, though he wasn’t complaining. That was one less obstacle to deal with.

Maybe he is dead, Kavi thought hopefully. And maybe ‘hope’ is something I abandoned a long time ago. Still, while they’re preoccupied, I’ve got to split.

Kavi, still crouching low, began walking towards the left doorway, intending to head as deep into the mines and natural underground tunnels of Shika Nui as he could without being noticed. Then he would wait a long time until he was absolutely certain that no one had came after him and that he was safe from all harm.

Without warning, he was sent flying and crashed into the wall opposite him hard. His back felt as though it was both frozen and on fire, causing him pain of the kind he had never experienced before. The pain was so bad, so intense that he wished it would be over with quickly so he could die peacefully.

The next moment, he got his wish. Another ball of fire and ice crashed into his back, killing him instantly.
 

-


“Stop!” shouted Oggak, horrified, watching as another of Zoil’s projectiles crashed into the Matoran’s back, which seemed to have killed him, for Kavi neither moved nor made any sounds to indicate that he was still alive. “Stop killing him!”

“He’s already dead,” said Zoil, raising his club high. “And so will you, very soon, once the Dividing is initiated.”

He swung his large weapon at Oggak, who ducked to avoid it. She then blasted him with a wave of shadow, knocking the Tuikas over. She tried to hit him again, but he rolled out of the way and fired a ball of lava ice at her. It hit her straight on, but she took the blast in stride and let it roll off her, though it melted her chest armor badly in the process and inflicted her with excruciating pain.

She fell on her back and Zoil was upon her. He brought his club down, but she rolled out of the way just in time as the weapon created a huge crater in the ground. She then swept his legs from under him and, rising to her feet, shot several blasts of shadow at the Tuikas.

But it was no good. Zoil merely absorbed them with his club and released them at her again, this time as a far more concentrated blast of energy than before. The attack collided, sending her flying into the stone wall. She hit it hard and slumped in a heap at the bottom of the barrier, breathing hard, feeling the pain paralyze her body as she lay there. She thought maybe her arm was broken, but one jolt of pain later told her otherwise.

Still, she could not move, for the combination of the blast and collision with the wall caused her pain that was so great she could not do much of anything at the moment. So she merely lay there and watched Zoil as he rose to his feet, looking enraged now.

“If you were not such an essential part of the Dividing, I would have killed you,” said Zoil, pointing threateningly at her. “Of course, if I did that, I would have to kill myself, too, for I would have no purpose in this life without my destiny.”

“Go ahead and do it,” Oggak snapped, her breath ragged. “You aren’t improving anybody else’s life right now.”

Zoil shook his head and said, “No more talking. You are coming with me, whether you want to or-“

A bolt of shadow went flying out of the back tunnel, striking Zoil in the head. The Tuikas screamed in pain as he staggered to the side, dropping his club in the process. It was followed by a shower of shadow, lightning, and many other things that Oggak could not identify at the moment, all of which hit Zoil dead-on. Zoil did not get a chance to fight back and was driven all the way back to the end of the tunnel. One particularly deadly-looking shadow bolt struck Zoil straight in the chest, sending him falling to the ground with a crash that sent a small tremor through the cavern. He didn’t get up.

Oggak, panting hard, looked over in the direction of where the attacks had came from and saw Hajax, injured by furious, emerging from the tunnel. His armor was cracked; the color was faded in many places, but he otherwise looked normal from Zoil’s assault on him earlier, much to her surprise.

“No one . . . ever . . . hits me and gets away with it,” Hajax said, in a voice that was barely more than a whisper. “For that, you will die, just like all others who dare fight me.”

Oggak looked over at Zoil and was not surprised to see him back on his feet, looking as though he had just been taking a nap, despite the fact his armor was cracked, smashed, or outright gone in many places from all of the hits he had taken. He looked as though he had just emerged from a war, though he did not seem to be showing any signs of pain at all. If anything, he looked amused.

“That was barely more than a light breeze, Makuta,” said Zoil, casually dusting dirt off of what was left of his armor. “We Tuikas were designed to withstand most anything. It will take a lot more than that to deal with me.”

“Funny, I remember one of yours being pummeled into oblivion by a Dark Hunter,” Hajax snapped, shadow energy now running up and down his sword. “It will take even less to defeat you, I suspect.”

Hajax suddenly darted forwards, leaping over Ramoth’s corpse with surprising speed and ability and landing in front of Zoil easily. He then thrust the sword, with blinding speed, into Zoil’s stomach area. The Tuikas choked for a minute as Hajax pulled back, blood coating the blade, a vicious smile on his face as he prepared for another attack.

But Zoil, evidently ignoring the pain, sent a fist as strong as stone flying straight into Hajax’s face, sending the Makuta staggering backwards in pain and shock. Zoil advanced, pummeling Hajax with wave upon wave of fists and kicks that the Makuta simply could not dodge or defend himself from.

Oggak decided that this was the perfect time to move. While those two were busy beating the stuffing out of each other, she rose painfully to her feet and began heading towards the very end of the tunnel, to the entrance Hajax had used to get in here. She needed to escape quickly and join back up with the others before either Hajax or Zoil noticed her leaving. She decided to bring down the ceiling of this cavern once she was out of it, thus killing Hajax and Zoil in one swift strike.

She was halfway towards the end of the tunnel before she was roughly pulled into the doorway of the tunnel Zoil had emerged from earlier. Her first thought was that she had been grabbed by another Tuikas, so she struggled to break free until she heard a very familiar voice whisper, “Oggak! It’s me, Jokao! Stop struggling. You’re safe.”

“J-Jokao?” she asked in a trembling voice. “Is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me,” he said in a reassuring tone. “I’m here, all right. It’s really me; I’m not a Makuta in disguise or anything else like that. Just good old me.”

She pulled back a little to get a better look at him. It was indeed Jokao; the same Mask of Spirit, fiery red and orange armor, and those same eyes she had fallen in love with. The only difference was that there was an obvious layer of dirt and mud covering his armor and he looked very weak, as though he had been running for a long time without resting and seemed to be leaning on her a little for support. She felt slightly worried about him, but mostly relief at the fact that he was here.

“Oh, Jokao . . .” Oggak said, hugging him tightly, ignoring the sounds of battle behind her. “I am so relieved to see you . . .”

“I’m happy to see you’re still safe, too,” said Jokao, who was, if possible, hugging her even more tightly than she was hugging him. “That alone makes my wandering randomly in these dark tunnels for who knows how long worth every grueling step. For a moment I was afraid that Zoil or Hajax had got you.”

She shrugged happily and said, “They’re currently trying to murder each other. They seemed to have forgotten about me, I think.”

She smiled at him and he smiled back. For a moment, Oggak forgot that she was covered in dirt, tired beyond any kind of weariness she had ever felt before, and in the middle of a dangerous situation that could decide the fate of the entire universe. Right now, she felt as though she and Jokao were alone, back in Koro Nui, enjoying each other’s company as they always did.

It was the most wondrous feeling in the universe, but it was one that couldn’t last, for the next moment, glancing over her shoulder, she saw Zoil go flying past the doorway and heard a loud crash that told her he had just collided with the wall. Fear immediately replaced the passion she had been feeling earlier. If Zoil had lost then it could mean one thing and one thing only: Hajax would likely be after her next. She remembered how he had tried to kill her earlier; she had no doubt that he would attempt to do it again very soon unless they got away in time.

“We’ve gotta get going,” Oggak urged Jokao, throwing frightened glances over her shoulder as she tried to push the Toa of Fire along, who seemed to be in a kind of trance and apparently wasn’t taking in a word she was saying. “It looks like Hajax just beat the tar out of Zoil; he probably knows I’m gone, but hopefully he doesn’t know where.”

“What?” Jokao said in a slightly dazed-sounding voice. “We’ve gotta get going? Now?”

“Yes, now,” she said exasperatedly. “Right now, or else-“

Without warning, the two Toa went flying out of the doorway and into the chamber of the battle. They collided with the wall on the opposite side of the room, then crashed into the ceiling and fell to the ground hard and fast. Both of them were completely out of breath and could barely move, while Jokao was busily cursing under his breath from all of the pain he had just experienced.

Oggak painfully raised her head a few inches to see Hajax, battered, bruised, and angry-looking, stalking towards them, Oggak’s sword in hand. He looked almost deranged now; his eyes were popping, a mixture of spittle and blood dripping from his mouth, blood spattered all over his armor, and there was a crazed glint in his eyes as he stood before the two Toa, himself breathing almost as hard as they were.

“I have grown weary of your escapades,” Hajax growled, in voice as quiet as a low gust of wind. “I have grown weary of your foolish attempts to defeat me. I have grown weary of patience, of waiting for the right moment to strike. Most of all, I have grown weary of having to hold back, for fear of killing those who would help further my plans.

“But now, I will not hold back for anyone. Today, I shall kill you and everyone else on this pathetic island who would even conceive of attempting to stop me, which unfortunately means all of Shika Nui’s inhabitants.”

He lifted the sword high as shadow energy began crackling around the tip like lightning.

“The minute the entire mine caves-in, I shall simply teleport myself to safety,” said Hajax, now aiming his blade directly at the ceiling. Oggak and Jokao followed the weapon, both breathing harder and faster than ever before as they looked at it. “The day shall come when people everywhere – perhaps even the Great Spirit himself – shall speak of my name in fear and respect. Of course, neither of you will live long enough to hear those voices whisper of my power. Perhaps, if you are lucky, you will stay conscious for a couple minutes more underneath all of the rubble that shall bury you alive, so you, too, will be able to speak of my name and the glory it shall signify in the future.”
 

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#72 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 29 2014 - 08:38 AM

Chapter 29: A Hero’s Sacrifice


The pain Barilo was now experiencing was growing steadily worse. Though his soul was still vital for his body’s survival, he could already feel Hajax’s spirit going through what appeared to be the final steps to becoming the primary soul of Barilo’s body. The Toa of Gravity had no idea how long that would take, or what would happen to him when that was all over with – would he die? Become a wandering spirit, perhaps, like the ghost known as Wanderer that he had met back in Wyoko? He didn’t know, though he could hazard a guess, since he seemed to be on the thin line between life and death and thought he could catch glimpses of the beyond, though he wasn’t sure if he really was seeing the afterlife or if he was simply going insane. The latter seemed more likely to him.

Despite this pain, he realized that Hajax was about to kill Jokao and Oggak. He had heard Hajax repeating the things he was weary of and how Hajax planned to kill the two Toa and he did not like the sound of it at all. Barilo wanted to save them both, even Oggak. Yet he was stuck in a situation where he held no power to stop Hajax. The best he could do was sit back and watch as the Makuta delivered the final blows. And if Jokao and Oggak died, the hope of the universe would die with them. Or so Barilo thought, anyway. He doubted the other Toa Shika – if they were even still alive – would be able to stop Hajax once he was finished with Jokao and Oggak.

But then, I am only beating them to the afterlife by a few minutes, Barilo thought bitterly. He tugged at the chains that bound his arms and legs, but it was no use. No matter what he did, he simply could not break them. My very consciousness is starting to become nonexistent . . . I doubt I will live long enough to see Hajax rule the universe. All I can do is sit back and watch as our world tumbles head over heels into oblivion.

He didn’t want to give up just yet, though. Something in him prevented him from doing so. He was a Toa, after all, and had been independent and strong-willed when he had been in control of his body. He had been able to stop the Shodios from conquering the universe, all of whom had almost been worse than Hajax. He was a hero, and heroes, he realized, did not give up very easily.

The other Shika didn’t give up when Nonzra died, Barilo thought, looking up at the stone ceiling in wonder. They didn’t give up when Addis died. Joha went on even when his entire team was slaughtered right before his eyes, when he was hopelessly outnumbered by hundreds of Dark Hunters and lived each day with the awareness that he could die a horrible death. Jokao, Oggak, and the others didn’t give up when the Tuikas struck. They fought on, even though the odds were strictly against them and lost dozens of people every day to those monsters. And if they didn’t give up in impossible situations like that, then maybe I shouldn’t, either. True heroes don’t give up when the going gets tough; they just get tougher and braver.

He glanced at the chains binding his arms and legs. They were not real, physical chains, but merely symbolic representations of his confined state. Likewise, the small, stone room he was jailed in was not real, either. And if they were not real, then perhaps, if he tried hard enough, he could free himself. Then he could figure out a way to stop Hajax.

But the question was, how? How was going to free himself when he was growing steadily weaker every minute? As far as he could tell, there was no way to break free of his mental prison. So long as he kept thinking like this, the chains, the stone room, would all continue to exist, no matter how hard he may tug and pull at his bindings.

That’s the answer, he thought suddenly, a small smile creeping onto his lips. It’s so simple – stop thinking depressing thoughts like I’ve been doing and begin thinking positive. Like, instead of thinking that I am going to be trapped forever, I should be thinking how I could escape . . . how I will escape.

This was easier said than done, however, for almost as soon as he thought this the chains seemed to increase in weight and the chamber grew smaller. He tried his best to think positive thoughts and positive thoughts only, but he kept returning to the dark, gloomy, and depressing state of mind that had been his for the past week. How could he ever even think of escaping? he wondered. Was he ever going to escape? What’s the point of doing anything, he asked himself, if it will all just end in my death? Why not just lie down and let things head to their depressing yet logical conclusion?

No, he thought defiantly, struggling to sit up, heaving the heavy metal chains off the ground with impossible strength. I will not fall prey to these thoughts. I will escape . . . I will be free!

With an almighty roar of strength, Barilo wrenched his arms upward, shattering the chains bounding his limbs. Immediately, the stone room disappeared like a mist, as though it had never existed in the first place, which technically it hadn’t since it had only existed in his mind.

Now he was floating above a huge, wide-open green field that seemed to go on forever in every direction, with a bright sun shining down on him in an endlessly blue sky that looked just as eternal as the field below. He was free and this field represented his newfound freedom. Though he was still weak – Hajax’s soul was trying to uproot his spirit and there was no way of stopping it – he felt like he could take on anything now. Even (or perhaps especially) Hajax, he thought.

That was all he needed to do; all he could do, was defeat Hajax, even if it meant his own death. He didn’t care. If he died, so be it, so long as Hajax went with him. Then he would be able to rest peacefully, knowing he had helped rid the world of someone as evil as the Makuta of Shika Nui, perhaps making the universe a safer place to live in the process.
 

-


This is is, Oggak thought, watching as the energy swirling around the tip of Hajax’s sword grew larger and larger with each passing moment. Once Hajax releases that blast, we’re all dead.

She looked at Jokao, who was looking at her now, too. She grabbed his hand, squeezed it tightly, and closed her eyes. True, she could have told him ‘I love you,’ but she figured that sometimes actions speak louder than words, especially in situations like this. Hajax began speaking again at the same time Jokao tightened his grip on her hand. It was a vile sound, the Makuta’s voice, but Oggak knew that soon even the vilest of voices wouldn’t matter to her anymore. Indeed, soon, nothing would matter to her anymore.

“Almost big enough,” she heard Hajax mutter. “Nearly there . . . In a few seconds, Toa, you both shall be dead and I shall escape. Your silence is irritating; have you finally run out of annoying Toa clichés to spout at me, as though they would make even the slightest bit of a difference? I suppose, then, it is wise for you to be so quiet, for why would anyone wish to ruin the last moments of their life with pathetic insults and clichés?”

She kept her eyes tightly closed and felt Jokao pull her a little bit closer to him, which she didn’t mind. She had lived for 100,000 years, but looking back, she could say that she hadn’t truly lived before. She had been kept on Daxia, like some criminal, for most of her life never allowed to go anywhere off-island even with other members protecting her. And though the Order agents hadn’t hated her, she had only considered a few of them to be true friends. Most just ignored her or were completely indifferent to her presence on the island. She had kept to herself mostly, without anyone to really talk to or share experiences with.

It was true that she knew much more about the inner-workings of the universe than most beings did because of her time with the Order, but she didn’t consider all of that very important compared to doing things and talking with the people she cared about. Ironically enough, it had only been when she had arrived on Shika Nui that she had really begun living, at least according to her definition, when she first met and befriended Jokao. True, they had had to fight the Tuikas day and night, with the awareness of death hanging over their heads all the time, but at least she had met someone she actually cared about and loved very much. That was worth all of the knowledge in the universe, in her opinion.

It was for that reason alone that she decided she had no regrets in life. She had at last met someone she loved and was going to die with him. Though she would have preferred it if they could have lived together for a little longer, in different, peaceful circumstances where the threat of the Tuikas no longer hung over their heads like a dark cloud every day, she decided that dying with Jokao was better than dying alone, at least.

Mostly out of curiosity, she glanced up at Hajax, just for one last look at her killer before she died. To her surprise, he did not look triumphant, insane, or angry anymore. In fact, he looked to be more in pain than anything. He actually staggered backwards, dropping Oggak’s sword as his hands flew to his head, causing the shadow energy to harmlessly disperse as the blade fell to the ground with a dull clang.

“Jokao, look,” she whispered, pointing one battered arm at Hajax, who had fallen on his hands and knees and was gasping for breath hard. “What’s happening to Hajax?”

“What?” said Jokao distractedly, looking around. “What do you mean? You mean we’re not dead yet?”

“He’s staggered and fallen over,” she said, pointing at Hajax again. “Now he’s acting . . . strange.”

Even Oggak had to admit that ‘strange’ was a vast understatement. Hajax was pounding the ground with his fists repeatedly and without stopping, making odd choking noises, and acting as though he was having some kind of fit. Blood was dribbling from his mouth even faster than before, falling off the chin of his Mask of Stealth and onto the ground as he reached for his own throat. Oggak began to feel frightened; what did he think he was doing? Was he trying to scare them or something?

If so, it’s definitely working, she thought as she and Jokao pushed themselves a little bit away from the bizarre Hajax, who was now beginning to moan loudly, his face at the ground.

Finally, Hajax looked back up at them, hatred and pain in his features, and bellowed, “Stop it!”

Oggak and Jokao both recoiled. What was wrong with him? Was he going completely insane now?

“You . . . I will not let you . . .” Hajax said, as if he were addressing some invisible figure known only to him. “I will crush you . . . forev- No!”

Hajax’s body hit the ground with such force that his mask nearly fell off. Then he rose abruptly to his hands and knees, looking up at Jokao and Oggak with a vastly different expression on his face now than the one had worn before. He looked urgent, with not a hint of the hatred he had worn earlier, though he looked to be in just as much pain, if not more so.

“Kill me . . .” he muttered hoarsely, in a voice very much unlike his own. “Kill me now, before he-“ the Makuta shook his head violently and said, in Hajax’s voice again, “I am in control of this body, Toa, not you! Now stop or I’ll-“

Again, he shook his head and actually punched himself hard in the face before looking back at Jokao and Oggak and saying, almost pleading, “It’s me, guys. I-I’m Barilo and he’s st-starting to takeover ag-again! Kill him – kill me – before he . . . before he . . .”

Barilo smashed his head into the ground with such ferocity that Oggak was certain he had cracked his skull. But when he looked up, with a battered, nearly smashed Volitak, his eyes were once again that of Hajax’s, who said, in a trembling, weak voice, “D-don’t listen to that fool. His soul is-“

“-Still there!” said Barilo again, changing with such abruptness that it actually caused Jokao to swear quite loudly in surprise. “Don’t worry about me . . . Just strike! Now! Hit me with everything you’ve got before he crushes me completely!”

“What the Karzahni is going on?” asked Jokao, who brought Oggak closer to himself, as if to protect her from Barilo.

Oggak was confused, too. She remembered Hajax saying that he had crushed Barilo’s spirit long ago, but evidently the Toa of Gravity was still alive, if just barely. She quickly concluded that Barilo’s spirit was battling Hajax’s spirit for supremacy over Barilo’s body, though it was still a frightening scene to behold even with that knowledge in mind.

“Don’t kill me,” said Hajax, whom Oggak recognized now because of his voice. “Kill me, and your precious friend Barilo goes, too.”

“It doesn’t matter!” Barilo shouted, pounding the ground hard with one of his fists for no discernable reason. “Kill me now! I’m willing to sacrifice myself if it means Hajax’s death! He’s too dangerous to keep alive! And if I have to go, too, then so be-”

“Down, weakling,” said Hajax sharply. He grabbed a nearby rock and smashed it into the side of his head, though he didn’t appear to feel it. “Or I shall make you go down!”

Meanwhile, Oggak’s – and presumably Jokao’s – confusion just kept mounting higher and higher as the scene progressed. Oggak, despite having studied and talked with many members of the Order over various issues and ideas over the centuries, had never heard of two beings sharing a body like Hajax and Barilo were. As far as she knew, nothing like that had ever happened before, so she was unsure if there might be a way to save Barilo while killing Hajax, though it seemed unlikely to her, otherwise Barilo would probably have told them about it by now.

“What do we do, Oggak?” Jokao asked her over the shouting and arguing between Barilo and Hajax. “Do we kill him, or-?”

“I don’t know,” said Oggak, trying her best to keep her head. It was deeply disturbing watching Barilo/Hajax beat himself up in an effort to get rid of the other and even more so, somehow, to hear both of their voices coming from the same body. She took a deep breath and said, “Nothing like this has ever happened before, I think. The Order has no documents about this, nor have any agents ever reported seeing something like this on any of their missions. So I can’t say what we should do, Jokao.”

“Don’t wait!” Barilo roared as he threw himself to the side hard, crashing into Ramoth’s corpse with enough force to cause his cracked Kanohi to fall off his face. “Please, just kill me! It’s growing increasingly difficult to keep him down and I can’t do it much longer!”

Jokao and Oggak rose unsteadily to their feet, still watching Barilo with frightened and confused eyes. While Oggak would have had no qualms with killing Hajax, she was not sure if she had it in her to kill Barilo, too. Killing Barilo’s body would probably get rid of Hajax for good, she thought, but Barilo himself would apparently die, too. She could not say she had it in her to kill a fellow Toa, even one she barely knew.

She glanced at Jokao, who looked as disturbed and unsure as she felt. “Do you think-“

“He says he wants us to . . .” said Jokao, with a shrug. There was no need to finish the sentence. “But I’m not sure if I should or if you should. I really would prefer it if we didn’t have to do it at all, but-”

“Kill me, and I will haunt your dreams for the rest of your long, miserable lives!” Hajax bellowed so loudly that Oggak started. “Now, Barilo, stop. You are clinging to the last bits of your life. It is only through your sheer, stubborn willpower that I have yet to crush your pathetic spirit like the weak insect it is!”

Hajax lashed out with his leg, which connected with nothing, and said, in Barilo’s voice, “Not yet, Makuta! The game’s over. It will be either Oggak or Jokao who will finish us, taking you with me!”

“But we can’t just kill you,” said Jokao to Barilo, his voice heavy with emotion. “That’s-“

“-the only way to take out Hajax for good,” Barilo finished for him. He closed his eyes hard, but opened them abruptly and said, in as calm a voice as he could muster, “This is the only way to stop him. I have realized this. I don’t care if I die in the process; so long as you take him out, I’m fine. Just hit me with everything you got now and no holding back!”

“We can’t,” said Jokao hopelessly, the tips of his fingers rubbing his forehead, obviously frustrated. “We’re your friends. We can’t just kill you like that.”

“He’s right,” said Oggak, nodding. She noticed her tone was different; heavier with emotion than before, though she ignored it. “There’s got to be a way to save you.”

“I’m afraid there isn’t,” the voice of Makuta Hajax echoed from Barilo’s mouth. “He will be crushed and my spirit shall reign supreme!”

“No, you won’t!” Barilo shouted and then he suddenly screamed in pain, so loudly that Oggak and Jokao actually had to cover their audio receptors to avoid damaging them. Barilo looked at the two Toa and said, “Do it! Kill me! I’m going to die anyway, so just get it over with already. I can’t . . . I can’t last much longer than I already am. I’m fading . . . please do it now. The universe itself depends upon you . . .”

“Fine!” snapped Oggak, tears in her eyes, and now unable to control her emotions. She raised her hands immediately and said, “Forgive me, Barilo!” before firing twin bolts of shadow at him that flew straight and true towards their target.

The shadow bolts passed through Barilo’s chest as if it was water, leaving a dark gaping hole where his heart should have been, shattering his heartlight instantly. He then screamed loudly, painfully, for several seconds in both the voices of Barilo and Hajax before falling to the ground in a pool of his own blood. He was no longer moving; he was undoubtedly dead. There was no way anyone could have survived that. She had put all of her power into those last two bolts of shadow, which would have been enough to kill anyone who wasn’t shadow-resistant.

“Barilo . . .” said Jokao softly, tears flowing out of his eyes and onto his feet, though he appeared not to notice.

“It’s the only thing I could have done,” said Oggak, wiping the tears out of her eyes. She didn’t understand her feelings; she hadn’t known Barilo very well, so why had it been difficult for her to kill him and why was she crying now, too? “There was no other way, otherwise, I think he would have . . . would have said so.”

She looked down at her hands. They felt filthy now; she had killed another being, just like that. Though she had never followed the Toa code like Jokao or any of the Toa Shika, she had never actually killed anyone before herself. As a Matoran, she had been the Chronicler of the Kra-Matoran Empire, so had been exempt from fighting in the army. On Daxia, both pre- and post-Toa transformation she had never killed anyone there, either. She had known beings that had killed, but had never thought to ask them how it had felt doing the killing and hadn’t done much thinking or research on the subject itself, either.

Oggak looked at Jokao, whose eyes were still focused on Barilo’s corpse. She wondered if he hated her now. After all, he had been friends with Barilo and was obviously sad about the Toa of Gravity’s death. She had been the one who killed Barilo, too. Would Jokao hate her now, or at least love her a lot less? She sincerely hoped not because if he did she didn’t know what she would do with herself. The only way to know for sure was to ask him, she decided, however difficult or awkward it may be.

“Do you hate me?” she asked quietly, “for killing Barilo, I mean. I didn’t want to do it, but since you weren’t acting, I-“

“I don’t hate you, Oggak,” Jokao interrupted, looking back at her, though she thought his eyes looked a little colder than before. “Barilo wanted to die because it was the only way to kill Hajax for good. I can’t say that I liked it, but my love for you has not wavered in the least, Oggak. You know that.”

“But why?” asked Oggak, unable to stem the flow of questions that had burst from her mind. “Why don’t you hate me? Hadn’t he been your friend? I killed him, after all. Doesn’t that mean-“

“It just means you did what you had to do,” said Jokao firmly. He groaned. Oggak remembered his wounded legs. She was surprised he was standing up for as long as he was without support of any kind. “I mean . . . look,” he added, his eyes back on Barilo, “I feel sad for him now. I suppose I can’t say I liked Barilo as much as the others, but I also can’t say that you killing him hasn’t rattled me a little. I just never thought you were capable of . . . you know, killing others like that.”

“Well, I really, really didn’t want to do it,” said Oggak, shaking her head. “I mean, it just sort of happened. I let my emotions get the best of me and acted without even letting him get a chance say good bye to us. But if I had hesitated for even a minute longer I think Hajax would have crushed his soul for good. And who knows what happens to souls when they are destroyed? I just couldn’t think of something as bad as that happening to . . . to Barilo and . . .”

Her voice trailed off as she looked at Kavi and Ramoth, both corpses lying near Barilo. She knew how weak her justifications sounded, how she almost seemed to be trying to make light of her killing another intelligent being like that. It disgusted her and made her wonder if she really was any different than the Shodios. She knew she was, but for some reason, at this moment, she really didn’t feel much different from them at all. It was a deeply disturbing feeling that made her feel extremely uncomfortable.

“I understand, I guess,” said Jokao, one hand on Oggak’s shoulder. She looked up at him; he was still not looking at her. “I mean, I guess Barilo’s a little better off now than he was before. He was a brave Toa and his sacrifice will help to make the universe a slightly safer place, I think. He wanted that to happen because he knew that was the only way to save not only us, but the universe as a whole as well. Let me reiterate, Oggak, that I still love you with all my heart. I hold no bitter feelings towards you at all.”

“Okay,” said Oggak, who really didn’t know what else to say. “I guess I agree, though I just don’t understand why I feel this way when I am . . . when I didn’t know Barilo all that well. I didn’t think I would be feeling so sad afterwards. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”

“It’s because, Oggak, - and I know this is going to sound cheesy, so bear with me – I think you have a big heart,” said Jokao with a small smile, now looking at her. “You care a lot for other people, even those you don’t know. I mean, you can be pretty vicious towards your enemies and all that . . .” He laughed there. “But you are overall a good person. That is why you feel so sad despite not knowing him. You care for others very much. That’s all.”

Oggak really didn’t want to think about or discuss this anymore. Every time she did she felt even worse than before. Somehow not even Jokao’s encouragement made her feel any better, though she admitted she appreciated it just the same.

“Look, I think we should bring Barilo’s body back to the surface now, to prepare it for burial,” she said, gesturing at the corpse. “And later, I think, Kavi and Ramoth.”

“What? Why them, too?” asked Jokao in surprise.

“Because they saved me from Hajax, in a way,” said Oggak. She had just realized this now, but it made sense to her. “Because they appeared at the moment that they did, they gave me the opportunity to fight back. They had done it inadvertently, perhaps, but they had helped me just the same. We should . . . I think Kavi would have wanted to be buried underground, maybe even here in this mine, I don’t know. We can do that later, right after we bury Barilo.”

“Okay,” said Jokao, though he didn’t sound entirely enthusiastic about the idea. “Well, I think you’ll have to do most of the carrying, Oggak. My legs still haven’t healed up, though I could help a little, I guess.”

“That’s fine,” said Oggak, nodding. “In your present state, I don’t expect you to help. Just stay by my side until we reach the surface, okay? It’s going to be a long climb, but I think we’ll make it, just like we always have.”



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#73 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 30 2014 - 08:35 AM

Chapter 30: In Memoriam


What would life have been like, I wonder, if Nastan were still alive today? Akuna wondered, sitting on top of the highest tower of Koro Nui, her legs swinging off the battlements in the cool wind that blew. If he had survived . . . if Hajax hadn’t killed him . . . Then maybe this would feel more like a victory rather than . . . rather than a defeat.

It had been about a week since Nastan’s death. She remembered how Jokao and Oggak had emerged from the mine near Ironos, heavily wounded but still alive, with Barilo’s corpse in tow (much to Akuna’s horror). They had explained all about the conflict between Hajax and Barilo over control of the latter’s body; how Barilo had repeatedly requested for the two to kill him; and finally, how Oggak had been forced to kill him. Akuna didn’t hate Oggak for this (at least, not anymore than she did, anyway). If their story was true, Oggak had had no choice but to kill him. Still, Barilo had been a good friend of hers and to see him dead just after discovering Nastan was dead had hit her pretty hard.

As for what happened when they had returned to Koro Nui with the news of Hajax’s and the Tuikas’ deaths, there hadn’t been a huge celebration held, like she had expected there to be. Though the Matoran were all glad and relieved to hear that they would no longer have to hide in the fortress, knowing that every day could be their last, they held a solemn double funeral for Nastan and Barilo, both of whom had been buried alongside Addis and Nonzra in the proto forest.

The funeral had been difficult for her to get through. Half the time she wanted to be back in her room in Koro Nui, to be alone in her misery. Somehow, she had found it much easier to battle a group of potential universe destroyers than to attend a funeral, even (or perhaps especially) a funeral for the one she had loved the most. Still, she had given the eulogy and had buried Nastan with some help from Chimoy and the Ta-Matoran Dusa. Then she helped Chimoy bury Barilo, which had been almost as equally hard to do as burying Nastan.

After that, Turaga Joha began making plans for re-colonizing the rest of the island, starting with Ironos. Some Matoran were already living there now; Akuna had personally led a group of about two or three dozen villagers to start the rebuilding. Right now, she knew that the Dark Hunter named Igici was at the settlement, overseeing the reconstruction of the village. She was grateful for that. She needed time alone to think and mourn Nastan and Barilo, even if it had a week after their deaths.

Her thoughts drifted to Kigin, who had left Shika Nui almost the day after the defeat of the Tuikas. He had built a small boat out of whatever bits and pieces of wood he could find and had set off immediately. He had stayed long enough, however, to tell them that he was leaving for Odina, the main base of the Dark Hunters, since he still considered himself a member of that organization. Akuna didn’t mind, since she had never liked him much in the first place, though she sometimes wondered where Kigin was now and whether he had yet to reach yet Odina or not. She would also wonder if Kigin would return leading an army of Dark Hunters, but she hoped not.

Perhaps he will be stationed on another island somewhere far away, Akuna thought, peacefully breathing in the cool winter air, the gelidness not bothering her at all. Maybe we’ve all earned his respect now and the Dark Hunters will leave Shika Nui alone for a while. Or maybe I’m being too optimistic. Whatever.

Chimoy had rested up for the first half of the week, but was now up and working, despite his injuries. Telka the doctor had tried to make him rest, but he had insisted that his power over metals was needed for the re-colonization of Shika Nui and so was now working, she knew, in Ironos. She half-wished he had stayed in Koro Nui; she missed him and felt terribly lonely in here, since they were the last surviving members of the Toa Shika and all.

Of course, they were not the only Toa left on Shika Nui. Jokao and Oggak were still hanging around, helping as much as they could with the re-colonization process. Jokao, however, could not do much, since he had been severely wounded in his battle with Hajax and was now resting in his room in Koro Nui. Telka had said that, so long as he didn’t overexert himself, he would recover, though probably wouldn’t be able to walk ever again considering the damage done to his legs unless they could get him new ones. That made Akuna feel slightly happy; he was still alive, at least, even if he would lose the ability to walk.

As for Oggak, Akuna only saw her now whenever she visited Ironos. Oggak was helping clear rubble and debris for the Matoran and had personally taken care of the corpses of the Tuikas. What she had done with them was unclear to Akuna, though she suspected that Oggak might have dumped them in the ocean, for she remembered seeing the Toa of Shadow return from the direction of the sea shortly after taking the bodies with her. Akuna also wondered if Oggak felt lonely without Jokao, since the Toa of Shadow was currently camping out in Ironos with the Matoran and Igici. She decided that Oggak must’ve thought helping the Matoran was more important than being with Jokao right now, which she supposed made sense. But she couldn’t know for sure.

She remembered, too, how Oggak had gone back to the mines after Nastan and Barilo’s funeral and returned a few hours later covered in dirt. When Akuna had asked her where she had gone, Oggak had said she had buried the Matoran named Kavi and his pet Fryke, Ramoth, in the mines out of respect. This struck Akuna as very strange, since according to Oggak and Jokao Kavi and Ramoth hadn’t been very friendly towards the two Toa when they had first encountered them about two weeks ago. Although she supposed that, since Kavi and Ramoth had apparently saved Oggak’s life when Hajax had kidnapped her, they did deserve a proper burial, however unkind they may have been towards Oggak before.

Thinking about Oggak inevitably made her think about Nastan and how rude his remarks towards the Toa of Shadow had been. She really did not want to think about whether she trusted Oggak or not, for it always made her think of what Nastan said to Oggak, which even if they were true were rather hurtful things to say. Oggak had made no mention of Nastan’s comments and remarks towards her during the past week and had mourned with them over Nastan’s death when she had learned that he was dead. Her sadness at Nastan’s passing had seemed genuine to Akuna, but she just didn’t know . . .

Her thoughts were interrupted, however, when she heard footsteps behind her. Turning around, Akuna was surprised to see Turaga Joha walking towards her with a small smile on his face. She remembered that Joha had taken the deaths of Barilo and Nastan hard as well, which made her wonder if that was what he wanted to talk with her about. She really didn’t want to, at least not right now. Their deaths were still too recent, too vivid in her memory for her to want to talk about at the moment, though she thought it would be rude to tell Joha to go away, so she didn’t.

“Hello, Akuna,” said Joha, stopping a few feet away from her. “I see you are thinking?”

She said, “Yes, Turaga. I was thinking about Nastan and Barilo and . . . and other things as well.”

“I see,” said Joha, nodding. “What other things were you thinking about, Akuna?”

Akuna, slightly taken aback, said, “Oh, just . . . other things.” But when she saw the way he was looking at her, she added, “Just the events of the past week.”

Joha stroke his chin and said, “Yes, a lot has been happening this week. We have all had to work even harder than ever before, but it will be worth it in the end. I have worked for the better part of my life trying to bring Shika Nui back to its former glory, and now that the Dark Hunters no longer control it with an iron fist, perhaps that dream will come true. I never thought I’d live to see the day when Shika Nui would become a sovereign land free of oppression again.”

“Free, perhaps, but still in shambles,” Akuna muttered, pulling her legs up onto the stone tower as she turned back to look into the sky. “It will take a long time to rebuild it completely.”

“It certainly will, but that does not discourage me,” said Joha brightly behind her. “I have waited 25,000 years for this. I am willing to wait another 25,000, if necessary.”

Akuna laughed, which was something she had not done in a while. It felt wonderful, even if it was only for a brief moment. “Well, hopefully it won’t take that long to fix everything.”

“Hopefully not,” said Joha in agreement. “With everyone working, I daresay the reconstruction of Shika Nui will go along as smoothly as possible, though it will still take a while before we’re completely back on our feet, I think.”

“Turaga, I . . .” said Akuna. She wanted to talk about Nastan now, for a reason she could not immediately identify. She wanted to talk about how life would never go back to normal for her since he had died and how miserable she really was. Yet she didn’t really want to ruin the moment with her troubles, so she shook her head and said, “I guess so.”

There was pause, and then Joha said, “You miss Nastan very much, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she admitted, turning around to face the Turaga, who hadn’t come any closer since he had arrived. “It’s just that . . . I don’t think my life will ever be the same without him. We’ve been friends for many, many years and were in a real relationship for what, only a week? I loved him more than anyone or anything else in the world, and he loved me back the same way. Just to see him gone like that – without even letting me say one last good bye – it’s just too much for me to take.”

“I understand your feelings well, Akuna,” said Joha. “When my team was killed all those years ago, I did not think that I could live with myself. I cared for all of them deeply, especially dear Siso. They did not even get heroic deaths; I remember Serixo being surrounded by three Dark Hunters at once, all of whom had been stronger and faster than he had. When they were done with him, there wasn’t much left to let you know that a Toa of Sonics had even been there in the first place.”

Akuna was surprised to hear the merest trace of bitterness in his voice. It sounded to her like he had still not gotten over their deaths, even after 25,000 years. But Akuna could understand this perfectly. She did not know if she would ever be able to forget her sad feelings about Nastan, Addis, Barilo, and Nonzra, especially Nastan. It just seemed an impossible thing to do, to forget about the sorrow you felt when a loved one – or multiple loved ones – died. At this moment, Akuna felt she related to Joha far more than ever before, since they had both suffered the losses of so many dear friends so very quickly. He understood how she felt and she understood how he felt.

There was another pause, punctuated only by a chilly wind that blew in from the north, causing Akuna to shiver a little, though Joha appeared completely unaffected. This was not surprising, since he had lived in the cold mountains for 25,000 years and was probably used to the gelid wind by now. She had to admit, however, that she felt a little unnerved to not see even the barest of a reaction from him, since she was used to seeing others shiver when they were very cold.

During the silence, Akuna suddenly remembered something that had been very important to Nastan, but wasn’t sure if she should bring it up. It was somewhat personal, and she really didn’t want to get Joha angry with her if she happened to say the wrong thing.

But regardless of her own personal thoughts about it, she tentatively asked the Turaga of Stone, “Joha . . . if you are still bitter about the deaths of your teammates, at the hands of the Dark Hunters, then why did you allow Kigin and Death- er, Igici, to help us against the Tuikas?”

Joha sighed heavily, his robes swaying in the wind, and said, without looking at her, “The main reason, at first, was because we needed defenders. Those two happened to be the only ones who had survived the Tuikas’ slaughter of the Dark Hunters, so we let them in. At first, that was all I saw them as; expendable fighters who, if they died, would not be considered a great loss to anyone, for who loves or cares for Dark Hunters? No one did, so I did not worry too much about their personal safety. Coupled with my own personal prejudice against the Dark Hunters in general made me distrust them and not wish to grow too close to either of them in case they attempted to stab my back, both literally and figuratively. Yet now, I think, my opinion has changed and I do not think of all Dark Hunters as the evil, power hungry murderers that I have always perceived them as.”

“But why would you change your opinion?” asked Akuna, in a slightly heated voice. She was vividly remembering the way Nastan was so open about his distrust for the Dark Hunters and Oggak and wondered how Joha, who had been battling the Hunters for far longer than Nastan, could have ever have changed his mind or how he could have even considered doing such a thing. “Kigin didn’t seem too kind or heroic to me.”

“True, Kigin wasn’t very kind to anyone,” Joha agreed. “But I think it would be wrong of me – and you – to assume that all Dark Hunters are the same as him. Igici, who you know better as Death, is actually a very kind, caring soul who fought just as much as Jokao and Oggak to protect the Matoran. Almost Toa-like in some ways, really. It is mainly because of him that I have changed my views regarding the Dark Hunters. Maybe not all Hunters are saints, but certainly not all of them are like Icetraz and those others who slew my team. I do not necessarily trust the organization as a whole, but I do not view them all as the same anymore and am more willing to give individual members a chance now.”

“Oh,” said Akuna, who, while not entirely convinced, somewhat understood Joha’s reasoning. “Well, okay. I just thought it was a bit odd that you of all people had come to accept the Hunters. That’s all.”

“Indeed, it would seem impossible for someone like myself to ever even care for a Dark Hunter, considering my own personal history with them, but I suppose all people can change,” Joha said, with a slight smile. “Would it be safe for me to assume your own views regarding Oggak haven’t changed much?”

“I . . . can’t say,” said Akuna, shrugging. She wrapped her arms around her body in the chilly wind and said, getting to her feet, “I mean I know she isn’t evil. She fought the Tuikas and Hajax, protected the Matoran here, and saved the lives of countless beings by preventing the Tuikas to get her. But I also still vividly remember my past experiences with the Shodios and Kra-Matoran, Turaga, and I think those memories will always taint my view of Oggak. I mean,” she continued, walking past Joha, who turned to look at her as she passed, “I don’t know if I can truly trust her. She kept the true purpose of the Tuikas a secret from us, just because she was afraid we would hate her or dislike her if she told us! Does that mean that she doesn’t trust us? I mean, only people who have a difficult time with trusting others hold secrets like that for so long, right?”

“Perhaps,” said Joha. “I think, at first, Oggak had a hard time trusting others. After all, she had betrayed her whole tribe all those years ago and had lived in isolation from the rest of the world in the main base of a secretive organization that for many years did not even allow her to get out of the base every once and a while, living in secret and never really learning how to fully trust someone. So it would seem obvious to me as to why she may have had a harder time trusting us in the first place than she normally would have. But now, I think, she trusts us, because we did not reject her or hate her when the secret was finally revealed. And we, in turn, trust her.”

Akuna whirled around and said, pointing sharply at the Turaga, “You mean you trust her. I don’t know if I can safely say whether I do trust her or not because I have so many conflicting feelings. On one hand, I know she isn’t evil and that she never intended to harm any of us by keeping that a secret, but on the other hand. . . .” She sighed heavily and said, in a lower voice, “My own prejudice keeps me from accepting her as a fellow Toa and ally. Ever since Nonzra’s death, I learned to hate those who associated with the shadow, even if they themselves weren’t evil. I don’t know if I will ever learn to trust or even like her.”

“Maybe not now,” Joha said, placing one hand on her arm. “But perhaps in the future, you will.”

“Maybe,” said Akuna. “I don’t know . . .”

“Do you remember what the Three Virtues are, Akuna?” asked Joha abruptly.

Akuna, not knowing what this had to do with their current discussion, said, “Of course I know what they are. The Three Virtues are Unity, Duty, and Destiny. It’s what we’ve based our lives around, after all, so I’m not likely to forget it anytime soon, right?”

“Correct,” Joha replied. “But note how it starts with unity. You know what unity means; it’s what keeps us together, makes us all a team who work as one to protect the Matoran and honor Mata Nui. So I think if you can keep this in mind – this one tiny word, unity – then perhaps in time you will learn to trust Oggak. Even someone as old as I am must remember it occasionally. Indeed, I would say unity is the main reason I trusted Igici and Kigin in the first place.”

Akuna looked into Joha’s eyes, and saw that he seemed to honesty believe what he had just said. Akuna believed in Unity, Duty, and Destiny as well, but she wondered if even the Three Virtues would be enough to help her learn to trust Oggak. It just seemed incredible to think that, after being hunted down, attacked, frightened, and nearly killed by the Shodios for a few days, she was expected to learn to trust a Toa of Shadow, even if this one wasn’t particularly evil like the Shodios had been. To be honest, she wasn’t sure if she was capable of doing it.

But maybe I should give it a chance, she thought. I mean, Unity is just as important as Duty and Destiny, right? Maybe I should try to stop seeing Oggak as another, wicked, faceless Toa of Shadow and instead try to see her as her own person. Even if I fail, I can at least say I tried. I suppose I would rather be friends than enemies with her, anyway.

Nodding, Akuna said to Joha, “Okay Turaga. I think . . . I think I will try to remember unity every time my thoughts become negative towards Oggak from now on. I’ll try to remember that she is a Toa, a hero, not a villain. I’ll try my best to remember that, even if I do fail.”

Joha smiled widely at her and said, “That’s good. Unity is always better than disunity, you know. Now come,” he added briskly, walking past her towards the door that led into the fortress itself, “it is chilly out and getting dark. You need rest, for I think we shall be very busy in the coming weeks. We’ll need all the energy we can get.”

“Sure, Turaga,” said Akuna. “I’m coming.”

Right before she left, however, she turned around to see the setting sun, which was casting an orange-ish red glow over the entire island of Shika Nui. It was the most beautiful sunset she had ever seen. She had never taken the time to appreciate just how amazing a sunset was and wished Nastan was here to enjoy it with her. She had the distinct impression that she would be feeling this way a lot over the next few weeks, months, maybe even years. She would always be remembering and mourning Nastan and the others, but she wasn’t going to sit around and do nothing, she told herself. She was going to go out there and help rebuild Shika Nui with everyone else, one stone at a time. It was what Nastan would have done, she knew, and it was what she would need to do herself, no matter how sad she became.



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#74 Offline TNTOS

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Posted Mar 31 2014 - 05:45 AM

Epilogue


The streets of Stelt were quiet and empty of beings tonight, save for some of the brutish species that the late Dark Hunter known as Krekka had belonged to. They were mainly acting as guards for a small, rather unimportant-looking building, not talking much, keeping their eyes open for any signs of potential intruders. Their axes glinted in the glow of their lanterns, which gave them just enough light to see most of the surrounding area.

A cloaked figure that was roughly the same size as they were appeared out of the shadows, as if he had been born from within the darkness. At first the two brutes raised their axes high and made threatening grunts, obviously thinking he was a threat of some kind. However, he held up a stone tablet, identifying himself, and the two, lowering their axes, stepped aside to allow him to enter the building. One of the brutes glanced curiously at the cloaked figure, but one glare from the being was enough to make even the brute turn away in fright.

The cloaked figure closed the door as he entered and scanned his surroundings. He was now in a small room, decorated simply, with a soft red carpet in the middle, a table that held a few light stones sitting upon its surface. The figure noticed two pillows at either ends of the round table, which were obviously meant for sitting on. The room smelled terrible, in his opinion, though he assumed his inviter liked the smell of dead stone rats, which he couldn’t quite understand. Then again, he had never understood her in the first place.

He seated himself at the table on one of the pillows and took off his cloak, which had been enough to keep him warm outside but was totally unnecessary in here, for the interior of this building was very warm. Raider glanced at the other end of the room, where he saw a closed stone door. He knew that the person he was supposed to see here was behind that door, but it didn’t stop him from feeling impatient and resentful towards her.

What could be so important that we have to meet here, in this Zyglak dump, when I could be heading back to Odina with news regarding the status of Shika Nui? Raider thought, annoyed. He felt around in his bag for the pieces of his rifle, which he had yet to repair since leaving Shika Nui a few days ago. I could be informing the Shadowed One of what happened and getting my gun repaired, too. I don’t even know how she knew where I was; my mission was top secret and only the Shadowed One, Ancient, Darkness, and Sentrakh knew about it.

The door on the other side of the room creaked open then and a bizarre-looking creature slithered out, her small, reddish eyes on him. Raider was used to her appearance; she had no legs, only a long snake tail that she used to slither along with, though she had the upper body of a humanoid being, with two arms and head as well as a torso, though her face looked like a serpent to him. Her armor was colored black which helped conceal her in the darkness, right before she struck her enemies down when they least expect it.

However, today the one known as Syala was not going to be fighting anyone. Raider did not know what she was going to tell him, though her messenger had claimed it was important. Once again, he wondered what could be so important that he had to be here, rather than at Odina. Of course, Syala usually had reasons for calling people, so he decided to at least hear what she was going to say, whatever it was.

Syala was, like himself, a Dark Hunter, and a rather crafty one at that. Raider did not particularly like her, however; she always seemed like the type that would betray the Hunters in a heartbeat if given the chance. Disloyalty to the Dar Hunters was something he heavily disliked, being a senior member of that organization, so he usually tried to keep an eye on her whenever they happened to be together on Odina or on a mission.

But she did have her uses. She was the kind that could easily think of a way to break into the most heavily guarded fortress in the universe without ever being noticed once. Her illusion powers helped her quite a bit with that. That was the main reason she had been recruited about 3,000 years ago or so, when she had directly approached a Dark Hunter and offered to join. Raider did not know her reasons for joining (the Shadowed One hadn’t bothered to tell him), but she had been accepted once her strategic mind was discovered and had thus far proven herself a cut above the others, though not, he knew, as good as himself.

“What is this about, Syala?” asked Raider harshly, adjusting his seat uncomfortably. It was true that this pillow was softer than the treetops of Shika Nui that he had been sleeping in for about a week and a half, but he preferred actual chairs to sit in just the same. “I am supposed to be at Odina, not here discussing the weather with filth like you.”

Syala coiled her snake-like tail on the pillow and looked at him with a smug expression on her face. “Indeed, you would be at Odina, informing the Shadowed One of the mysteries of Shika Nui, wouldn’t you? Well, I can tell you that the Shadowed One is no longer on Odina. He left, along with a small army of Dark Hunters, for Xia some time ago and has taken over the place.”

Raider looked at her in disbelief and anger. “But I thought he had postponed the decision to do that until I came back from Shika Nui with the report of what had happened there! He told me himself!”

“Making sure our enemies do not get their hands on Xian weapons and tools is far more important than whatever happened on Shika Nui, Raider,” Syala replied. “That is what the Shadowed One believes, and what he says, goes.”

“I am sure that he would have said differently had he heard my report first,” Raider snapped, slamming his fist on the table in frustration. “The situation on that island is entirely different than what we imagined. He must know immediately that the island is ripe for conquest once more.”

Syala, who had been idly twiddling a stone between her fingers looked up at Raider and said, “Oh, really?”

“Yes,” said Raider, impatiently tapping his fingers on the stone table between them. “We need to strike now. There are only a few Hunters still left on the island, Syala, and they have allied with Toa.”

Syala laughed. “Toa? The only Toa left on Shika Nui is that Toa Joha, and he’s hated by all Dark Hunters there. Explain what you mean.”

Raider hesitated at first. He had wanted the Shadowed One to be the first to hear what he had learned, not Syala or anyone else. He really did not want to tell her; what if she found a way to tell the Shadowed One before he did? He wanted to earn the credit for what he had learned, especially considering he had nearly been killed on this mission. His personal dislike of Syala didn’t help matters, either.

Still . . . he could just give her a brief outline of what happened and later on give the Shadowed One all of the details. At least that way he might still be able to take credit himself.

So Raider briefly outlined what he had learned to Syala, who listened intently to his story. Once he finished, the Huntress looked incredulous, much to his satisfaction.

“Tuikas? Makuta Hajax, alive?” she repeated, shaking her head. “Your old age must finally be catching up with you, Raider, because it is a known fact that Makuta Hajax is dead. Plus, these Tuikas sound rather . . . imaginative. How could six talking Rahi slay hundreds of Dark Hunters, even if they were stronger than most Rahi?”

“It is the truth, Syala, and you’d better believe it, because once the Shadowed One sends troops to recapture Shika Nui, you will be able to see with your own eyes what I have just told you,” Raider said shortly, folding his arms and glaring at her. “I have no idea what state Hajax or the Tuikas may be in at the moment; last I saw, they were battling the Toa and rogue Hunters who had allied with the heroes. I left early because I knew my presence was known to the Tuikas, and if they won the battle, they would surely have come after me next.”

This was a blatant lie. Raider had actually stayed and watched the whole fight from beginning to end from the safety of a ruined hut and had left after the Toa of Fire and that black-armored female Toa had emerged from the mines with Hajax’s body. He didn’t want to tell Syala this because he wanted to spite her. He would share the complete story with the Shadowed One once his meeting with Syala was over with.

“Well, if what you say is true, Raider, we must send a message to the Shadowed One immediately,” said Syala seriously. “We cannot let a bunch of overpowered Rahi and what might be a resurrected Makuta Hajax foil our plans, now can we?”

“No, we can’t,” Raider agreed. “Now that I have told you my story, tell me why I am here now instead of at Xia where I can be telling this to the Shadowed One in person, as I am certain that our leader would want to hear my report directly from the source.”

Syala grinned, rather smugly in Raider’s opinion, and said, “The Shadowed One has asked me to give you your new mission once you have informed me of the Shika Nui situation.”

“What?” Raider demanded with wide, shocked eyes. “What do you mean my new mission?”

“I mean that the Shadowed One’s spies have recently reported something strange happening on the island of Tanjo Nui, not too far from here, actually,” she answered sharply, placing the stone on the table and leaning back a little, as though relaxed. “According to the spies, the guardians of the Time Stone – which is Tanjo Nui’s most sacred treasure, you know – have gone missing, and so has, according to the rumors, the Time Stone itself. The Shadowed One – whom you know has held a great interest in the Time Stone ever since he learned about its existence – wishes to know more about the situation, but knows that we Hunters are not treated kindly on Tanjo Nui and also knows that if anyone else were to land there, they would be slain immediately. Thus, he asked me to tell you that he wishes for you to go to Tanjo Nui and figure out what happened to the Time Stone and its guardians and then report back to him once you are finished.”

“I will not,” Raider snapped angrily, slamming his fist on the table again, this time causing a small crack to appear where his fist had smashed it. “I wish to see the Shadowed One personally. I know how much he has desired the Time Stone, but the Shika Nui situation is far, far more important. Shika Nui was one of our greatest island bases; we can recapture it with the right amount of troops lead by a good leader.”

By a ‘good leader’ he meant himself, of course, though Syala didn’t appear to catch that.

“But you have already told me everything about the Shika Nui situation there is to know,” Syala replied, eyes glinting maliciously in the glow of the light stone. “Haven’t you? I will simply repeat what you told me to the Shadowed One and he will decide the best way to act on this information. And you, being under his leadership, will obey his commandments without question and go to Tanjo Nui immediately.”

“You scheming little snake,” Raider hissed. “The Shadowed One holds me in higher esteem than you. If I disobey his orders to inform him of the Shika Nui situation – and by the way, this mission was considered top secret, which shows how much he believed in its importance – then it will not matter whether I followed orders or not. As you said before, what the Shadowed One says goes.”

“But I suppose, in all of your arrogant boasting, you weren’t listening, were you?” asked Syala, who seemed to be enjoying tormenting him like this. “The Shadowed One told me to learn all that there is to know about the Shika Nui situation from you, then relay the information directly to him, and after that send you off to Tanjo Nui. Those were his exact orders and he expects you and me to follow them.”

“There is still much more to be told about the Shika Nui situation!” Raider protested. “I have only told you the bare bones of what happened there, Syala. The Shadowed One needs to know everything – and I mean everything – that happened there, and I am the only one who can tell him about it all.”

“What prevents you from telling me about it?” she asked. “As I said before, the Shadowed One gave me the job of finding out what happened there from you so I can relay it to him. That is what he said. That is what I intend to do. You can tell me everything you know, I’ll tell the Shadowed One, and then you can go to Tanjo Nui and figure out what happened to that pretty little stone of theirs.”

Raider was trembling in anger, but he realized she did have a point. As much as he would love to have the honor of being the one to recapture Shika Nui for the Dark Hunters, he realized that what the Shadowed One said was law, at least among the Hunters, and should be followed without question. And if what she says is true, he would have to tell her everything he knew, regardless of his personal feelings, and then head off to Tanjo Nui. He hated her with a fiery passion right now, but the Shadowed One had done similar things in the past by having other agents take information from those on missions to be relayed directly back to him, so perhaps he was doing this sort of thing now, meaning Raider’s anger and disbelief were unnecessary.

So, after taking a deep breath, Raider told Syala the whole truth about the Shika Nui situation for at least an hour; what happened there, what he suspected might be happening right now. He was exhausted, but he kept himself awake knowing that what he was telling her now was important for the Dark Hunters as a whole. Syala, meanwhile, took notes as he spoke, probably for future reference, he thought.

Once he finished, Syala looked back up from her notes, with no discernable expression on her face, and said, “Is that all?”

“Yes,” said Raider hoarsely. He was beginning to feel thirsty and thought about getting a long drink of water at one of the all-night Steltian bars once the meeting was over. “I have left nothing out. If you are indeed going to tell the Shadowed One what happened, then I have no reason to hide anything from you, for hiding anything from you would, in this situation, mean I am hiding something from the Shadowed One. I am quite aware what the price for greed in the Dark Hunters is, for I helped write that law.”

“Well, then,” said Syala as she rose from her seat. She pointed at the door behind him and said, “If that is all there is for you to tell me, then your presence here is no longer necessary. Go, and I shall send the Shadowed One a message tonight with everything you have told me.”

“Fine,” said Raider, standing up and wiping the dust off his armor. He pulled his dark cloak over himself and said to her, “I never enjoy conversations with you, Syala, so the faster I get out of here, the happier I’ll be.”

“And I you, Raider,” she replied, without sarcasm.

Raider, feeling slightly better, turned and began walking towards the door. What he really wanted to do was find an inn to spend the night before beginning his journey to Tanjo Nui. Though he was much more resilient and physically stronger than the average Dark Hunter, he had been through a lot in the last week or so and felt like taking a nice, long rest. After all, the Time Stone and its guardians were missing; chances are he would not be able to locate them all in one night, especially in his current exhausted state.

Right before leaving, he paused and looked over his shoulder. Syala was no longer there; she had vanished, most likely to send the Shadowed One his message. Raider wondered briefly if she might have been lying, since the Shadowed One hadn’t told him about this arrangement before he left Odina a week and a half ago. But then he decided she probably wasn’t, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a need for all of this secrecy in the first place.

So he finally left, passing the two guards, who merely grunted as acknowledgement that he was leaving. He clutched the cloak tightly around himself, feeling confident. The mission he had just been given was right up his alley. He figured it would probably involve a lot of stealth and eavesdropping, maybe even a little bit of thievery as well, all of which he was very good at. Things like this made him feel better about himself, even if he had gotten the mission from someone like Syala. He decided he would simply complete the mission as quickly and efficiently as possible just to spite her.

His eyes sagging, Raider headed for the nearest inn. He was going to need some rest before the mission. After what he’d been through, he figured he deserved it.
 

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