I was struck by inspiration yesterday and spent most of my free time scribbling out this story. I think it's the quick ones that I enjoy the most.
Shame I didn't have this idea when the Memoirs of the Dead contest was still going on. Ah well -- it's not like the winning stories are going to be canonized anyway.
Enjoy and review, please and thank you.
EDIT: I've heeded the advice given in this thread and composed a revised version of this story. Feel free to check it out!
AN EVEN EXCHANGE
I am the Makuta of Stelt.
I keep this record not for vanity’s sake. I keep it as a record of all transactions I have made, what goods for what services, to whom, amidst all the other details of such exchanges. It helps me remember the few debts I owe to others… and the many that are owed me.
Deals are, all things considered, what keeps this universe running. Everything in life, from the physics of protodermis to the movements of nations, is expressed in a series of even exchanges, and our society knows this, as is reflected in our many sayings and bits of knowledge. ‘Time is money.’ ‘What goes around comes around.’ ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.’
Throughout all barter and trade, there is no escaping this equilibrium. Oh, it is easy enough for any merchant to overcharge you, but that is not unfair. The swindled customer pays with their money for both the useless purchase and their lapse of judgment. The bigger the lapse, the more time, money, or effort is expended -- and the more upset feels the fool when all is said and done.
I am a master of deals and exchanges. One would hope so, for I reign over the center of all trade in our world: Stelt. Our connections extend to the smog-filled metropolis of Xia and the bustling city of Metru Nui, and to stranger places still -- mysterious islands lost to history, the secluded workshops of the Nynrah Ghosts, and even, I suspect, the mystical foundries of Artakha. Here, where the law is strong but flexible, you truly can buy anything... though you may not pay for it with widgets.
Such thoughts were on my mind as I reclined in my dark chamber, counting out a series of widgets paid to me by the arena for the renewal of their slave-holding license. Strong, robust slaves were a valuable commodity, and entirely wasted on the arena, who threw dozens after dozens of perfectly good ones into glorified deaths for the amusement of the crowds. Still, it was their money, not mine, and I had not outlawed careless wasting of potential servitors, so I allowed them to continue.
What concerned me about the arena was not their practices, but rather, the intrigue unfolding behind their most famous champion. Gladiator was a massive creature, his armor stuffed to bursting with muscle and might, with a multitude of long and sharp talons ready to grasp and shred his opponents in a most spectacular manner. He was a peak physical specimen, a crowd favorite… and an illegal fugitive and spy.
Oh, I knew all about Gladiator’s escape. It had been a quite sensational story -- he lost control during a match and went on a destructive rampage, incurring both great expenses and great publicity, none of it good, for the arena. For them, it was a catastrophe; for me, an opportunity. After his handlers abjectly failed to contain him, Gladiator roared through the market district, destroying several weapons shipments I’d had my eyes on. The loss of the shipments would be compensated by the arena’s hefty fee -- and their surrender of the slave in question. As I mentioned, I hate wasted potential.
However, it seems someone else had their eyes on the same prize, and weren’t as committed to doing things by the book. While I was going over the legal documents with the arena owner, Gladiator vanished from his cell, and was not seen again for a good fourteen millennia. My officers -- those of them who were still alive after his escape -- investigated the crime, but came up empty-handed. I let the matter slide. There were greater profits to be made at the time.
Then, a few years ago, Gladiator was returned to the arena by three Dark Hunters. They claimed to have confiscated him from a mysterious third party, which had been responsible for his abduction, and demanded the reward money. I knew it immediately as a ploy. Gladiator had been inducted by the Dark Hunters, and he was here to carry out some nefarious task. The arena had made another lapse in judgment, and I would see to it that they paid a price -- but first, I would settle the debts owed me by Gladiator.
I found Gladiator in the arena, training against an Exo-Toa, one of several dozen I had sold to the arena last month. Trying to ignore the painful sounds of costly machinery being disemboweled, I crossed to the arena owner, who was watching the proceedings with a more cautious eye.
“M-my lord Makuta!” he stammered, sinking into a bow. “W-what brings you here?”
“Cease your trembling,” I replied, tossing him a parcel of widgets. “I am not here to take Gladiator from you. I simply want to talk.”
Gladiator saw me coming, but he couldn’t dodge a magnetic pulse that locked up his limbs and sent him toppling to the ground. As he lay sprawled on the sandy rock, I set my boot on his head and produced a stone tablet.
“I didn’t break any of your precious laws,” he snarled, “but I can break something else of yours if you like.”
“As a general rule, threats work best when you are not at the other party’s mercy,” I replied.
“Get out,” Gladiator growled. “The Dark Hunters returned me, fair and square. I’m back in the arena, no funny business about it. You have no right to be here.”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” I grinned, and gestured to the tablet. “Under Stelt law, when investigating the escape of a slave, a government official has every right to take the slave in question into custody, no matter how much time has passed since the escape. And who am I but the highest of all government officials?”
Gladiator paused, realizing he was ensnared. “Go ahead and grill me. Ask me how I got out of here. I won’t give you any answers, no matter what you do to me.”
“That’s fortunate,” I smiled, lowering my voice, “because the question I want answered doesn’t pertain to your escape at all.”
Not too long ago, my Rahi spies had reported some very interesting news: after a thousand years of absence, the Matoran of Metru Nui had returned to the island city, and were beginning to resume work. They had brought with them six Turaga, seven Toa… and one very important mask.
“Go to Karzahni, Makuta. I’m not telling you anything.”
“Time is money, slave, and you are wasting both of mine. But I will give you one more chance to reconsider. The answer to this question is worth a lot to me. Far more than widgets… more, even, than solving the ‘mystery’ of your escape all those years ago.”
Gladiator’s tone switched from growling reticence to wary curiosity. “If I answer this question… you’ll call off the investigation?”
“Yes,” I said, withdrawing my boot from his head, “and I’ll do you one better. If you should happen to... ‘go missing’... with your Dark Hunter friends in a few months, I will remember the service you did me this day. You can sail away from here without even a warrant out for your lawful return.”
The deal was struck. “I’m listening,” said Gladiator.
I leaned in close, keeping my magnetic hold as strong as ever -- stronger, even, enough to cause Gladiator some pain. “Where… is… Voporak?”
Voporak was my masterpiece, my proudest achievement as a Makuta. Oh, I had made my fair share of Rahi and other experiments, such as the creature later called Minion. But none of them were quite so important, powerful, and majestic as Voporak. He was a being entirely attuned to the flow of time in our universe, which afforded him a variety of terrifying powers… and made him integral to my plans.
The study of Kanohi had been a profitable venture for Matoran scholars since time immemorial. It was their work that allowed the development of advanced mask powers, such as my own. And their work concluded that our universe would eventually see the rise of a third Legendary Kanohi: the Mask of Time.
I needed that mask. I had always known that; now I needed it more than ever. Teridax’s plan was nearing fruition. Soon, he would travel beneath Metru Nui and usurp command of the universe. He had promised the Brotherhood an exchange: we would help him attain ultimate power, and he would reward us with positions of power in a new age.
Only I saw the truth of this arrangement. Once ultimate power was his, Teridax would need the Brotherhood no longer, and we would pay the price: our lives in exchange for blind trust of our power-hungry leader. Unless, of course, one of us possessed power to rival his. Teridax would control the universe, but I would control time. Attack me, and he would risk the disruption of the time flow, throwing his reign into utter, illogical chaos. I would have earned my survival -- no, more than survival -- my position as Teridax’s equal in the rule of two Makuta.
And so I sought out Voporak. I had verified Gladiator’s directions with a Kanohi Rode and knew them to be accurate, as far as he knew. And thus, accompanied by a retinue of a dozen Exo-Toa, several handpicked Rahkshi, and one very skilled energy hound, I traveled outside the known universe, to the island of Mata Nui.
The island was a paradise that should never have existed. I could not help but marvel at the beauty of the landscape. It was quiet, too; the Matoran had left this place some months ago, taking most of the Rahi with them.
Most, but not all. As we proceeded through the dry plains of Po-Wahi, the sounds of battle erupted at the edge of the Exo-Toa’s formation. When I joined them, they were locked in combat with creatures I had thought to be a myth: vatuka, unnatural beings made of living stone. They were truly fascinating, but they were also wasting my Exo-Toa’s reserves of energy. My most skilled Panrahk made short work of them, and then we were on our way again.
My energy hound led the way. Shortly after bringing it into being, I had introduced it to the scent of Voporak. Obviously, I could not produce his exact aroma, but I did as well as I could, gathering his old possessions as a clan leader, as well as the laboratory equipment I had used to modify him. It seemed this had been sufficient, as the hound faithfully led us to my creation.
The trail plunged into the heart of the Bohrok nest, into a deep, dark cavern lit by the eldritch glow of a protodermis cage. Inside writhed the two queens of the swarms, the Bahrag, hissing and snarling at the enigmatic cube that hovered before their prison. A few bio from the cube stood Voporak himself, tracing wisps of golden energy in the air.
He had not heard our approach; my Rahkshi’s power had blanketed our patrol in utter silence. Now, at my command, it lowered its staff, and I spoke.
He turned, lazily, and regarded my group with an inscrutable expression. He gave off the relaxed confidence that true power affords, but he knew he was looking on the being that had given him that power -- I could take it away just as well.
“The Vahi was used here,” he said slowly. “Sloppily. Without skill. But still, its power reverberates.” I could hear his longing, see it in the way he caressed the air that had felt the touch of time.
“The mask lies in Metru Nui, guarded by a handful of Matoran and one naive Toa team,” I said. “Why have you not stormed the city and claimed your prize?”
Voporak curled his claws into a fist and snarled. “The Shadowed One forbids it. You and your kind covet the mask for yourselves, and he is cautious.”
“Cowardly, I would say. Has one scuffle with Teridax struck such fear into his heart?”
Voporak whirled, rhotuka blazing in his claws. The Rahkshi moved to guard me, though I knew they would afford no protection against his power. “The Shadowed One fears no Makuta! Least of all you. Give me one reason I should not age you and your machines to dust right now.”
“We share a common enemy,” I shrugged. “You and I both know that Teridax craves the Vahi, but only I know when his careful gaze will be lifted. Help me, and I can help you.”
A conflicted snarl on his face, Voporak lowered his rhotuka, though it still remained at the ready. “I remember what happened the last time I made a deal,” he said bitterly.
“Yes -- I gifted you with incredible power. But it is not everything.” I left the matter hanging in the air. The Kanohi Vahi was within his grasp, and Voporak knew it.
“What do you ask for in return?”
“I should think it would be obvious: I want the Vahi,” I said. “I will tell you when to act, and in return, you will bring the mask to my residence on Stelt. Once you have handed it over, I will supply you with whatever transport and supplies you request, and you can leave my island in peace.”
“You are delusional,” Voporak hissed. “To surrender the mask to a Makuta would dishonor me in the eyes of the Shadowed One.”
With a glimmer of thought, I gave strength to the shadows of the room, and darkness crawled across the Bahrag’s cage. “Little one,” I growled, casually turning a section of the wall to dust, “I made you what you are today. I can do far worse than dishonor you.”
It really made no difference to me whether he turned over the Vahi of his own will or not, and Voporak knew it. He saw the energy hound, drawing in his scent and memorizing his unique energy signature, and knew there was no place to hide. Bring the Vahi to me, and he would live to see another day. Bring it to the Shadowed One, and he would bring the wrath of Stelt to the Dark Hunters’ hidden isle. One way or another, I would have my payment.
“...Very well,” Voporak sighed, hanging his head. “On my honor, I will bring you the Vahi. But do not think for a moment I will forget this, Makuta.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” I smiled. Of course, shortly after Voporak handed me the Vahi, Teridax would assume control and do me the favor of wiping out the Dark Hunters -- Voporak included. Until then, Voporak would follow my instructions. “Soon, the Great Spirit will die, and live again. Teridax will make his way to a place beneath the known universe, where he must remain to carry out his plan. Wait some weeks after the resurrection, and then will be the time to strike.”
Voporak nodded in understanding. With nothing more to say, I turned my thoughts to my retinue and willed us back to Stelt. As I departed the nest, I could see hatred gleaming in Voporak’s golden eyes. No doubt he was already formulating some plan for how to strike back at me… a plan that he would never have the time to carry out.
The deal was done, and the pieces had begun to fall into place. I returned to my estate on Stelt and began my preparations to wield the Mask of Time. Kanohi scholars had correctly predicted the mask’s creation; now I studied their notes and conclusions on its function. The successful use of a Legendary Mask would require great willpower and a fundamental understanding of the power it controlled. In short, I had a lot of studying to do.
My studying was not without its interruptions. A few weeks later, Gladiator disappeared mysteriously into the night, causing the arena owner some distress. Lacking the patience to create an alibi, I had him executed for his general incompetence. I hear the new arena owner has poured most of her funds into doubling the guard; whether this is to keep the slaves in or to keep me out, I know not, but I really couldn’t care less. I only have so much time before I will have all of time at my command.
I had not seen the last of my interruptions. Not a few months later, a trader had the audacity to demand a personal audience with me. He claimed that his most prized boat had been stolen by a group of criminals, including Roodaka herself. The trader demanded that I send my officers to recapture the boat before it got too far south, but I couldn’t be bothered with the bizarre affairs of common merchants. Time is money, after all. It made no difference to me if one boat and a few miscreants wandered off to sea.
The time is nearly at hand. Mata Nui’s resurrection was only a month ago -- or was it two? Down here with only the tablets for company, time seems slow and fast simultaneously. No matter. Soon, I will be the master of how long any task takes.
Of course, this studying would be more easily done without all these condemned interruptions. There is a tremendous racket echoing from the street; if I didn’t know better, I’d say the Kanohi Dragon had been loosed in the market district. I suppose I had better go and investigate...
In full reptilian glory, Makuta Miserix strode down the street, his claws crushing flagstones and his tail smashing buildings. At his glance, traders panicked and fled, running into and over each other in their confusion. It was really rather amusing to watch, but he had no time for fun and games. Somewhere on this island was its resident Makuta, one of the “brothers” who had betrayed him so many years ago. A trader he’d interrogated had pointed him in the direction of the palace; now Miserix fully intended to knock in the doors and see if anyone was home.
A concentrated burst of his fragmentation power collapsed the front half of the building, sending Rahkshi scurrying madly. Hungry tendrils of crimson energy leapt from Miserix’s body, grabbing and absorbing them, even as he unleashed a power scream that shattered windows and buildings all across the island.
“MAKUTA OF STELT! SHOW YOURSELF!”
After a few moments, a scarlet-armored Makuta emerged from the rubble of his palace, brandishing a tablet. Miserix remembered him, if not his name; he was a weasel, a conniving little wretch who fancied himself a master deal-broker. Miserix, however, was not here to bargain.
At the sight of the massive dragon, the Makuta froze. “...Miserix!” he gasped, and dropped the tablet, beginning to back away. “I… I thought you dead. We all did. How…?”
“Never mind that,” Miserix growled. “Where is Teridax?”
“You want information? I can supply it,” the Makuta nodded. “What do you offer in return?” he asked reflexively, and instantly regretted it.
Miserix adjusted his size, looming over the Makuta, and raised his razor-sharp talons. “In return? In return, I will not tear you limb from limb, as I am tempted to.”
The Makuta of Stelt’s mind raced. He knew a promise against dismemberment still left Miserix with a lot of options -- there were a thousand ways Miserix could kill him where he stood. “I don’t owe Teridax any loyalty, but I do have a lot of information,” he said swiftly. “You won’t get far without it. Better to -- ”
“I only need one answer from you, rat,” Miserix snarled. “Where -- is -- Teridax??”
The Makuta of Stelt’s heart sank, or it would have if he’d had one. He needed a plan of escape, and quickly, but he didn’t have one. An attack from a fellow Makuta had never been anticipated. Miserix was an unknown variable that had swooped in at the last possible moment -- how was he supposed to have planned for that? The moments slowed to a crawl, even as thoughts danced at lightning speed through the Makuta’s head. None of them gave him a plan. Thinking on his feet was not his specialty.
“The Core Processor,” he said, “beneath the Metru Nui Coliseum. He is there, but I -- ”
“You have supplied your end of the bargain,” Miserix nodded. “And as I am a Makuta of my word, I shall uphold mine.”
A crimson tendril of energy leapt from Miserix’s chest. In less than an instant, before he could activate his dodge power, the Makuta was seized by an unnatural force and drawn with a shriek into Miserix’s form. As he felt his essence sinking into Miserix’s, he remembered bitterly his designs for the Mask of Time -- potential now lost forever.
Ultimately, as his body dissipated into the essence of Miserix, the Makuta of Stelt realized the sad truth of it: he just hadn’t had enough time.
Miserix felt the Makuta’s spirit break, and crushed it instantly. With a last disparaging glance at the wreckage of the palace, he turned his thoughts to Metru Nui. In the next moment, Miserix was gone from Stelt, leaving behind a ruined palace, a broken street, and a crowd of terrified traders.
The Silver Sea flashed below and the Coliseum ahead as Miserix soared on crimson wings towards Metru Nui. The Order had begun work on the fortifications, preparing for the final battle with the Brotherhood. Miserix did not care to see it carried out. All he cared was that Teridax die, by his hand.
As he rushed over the growing walls, movement caught his eye down below. A small boat had docked in a forlorn corner of Onu-Metru, and a large figure was now emerging, garbed in gold and black armor. Briefly, the figure glanced up, and fixed its golden eyes on Miserix… then it turned its gaze on the wall, focused intently on some prize within the city.
Miserix thought nothing of it. With a sudden burst of speed, he hurtled downwards to the base of the Coliseum, fragmenting the street and blasting it to bits. Before the Order agents could stop him, he had swooped into the tunnels below and left them far behind.
Edited by Yaldabaoth, Jul 03 2014 - 08:46 PM.