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Cynosure

Great Disruption Mask of Life Outlaws Toa Makuta

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#1 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Sep 04 2014 - 07:27 PM

The autumn of our lives asks us to recede, determining whether we shall last the winter…

 

 

Episode 00: My World Has Changed

 

My name is Adrinor and I was born in the universe of the Great Spirit, Mata Nui. In this world, for 14,000 years, the League of Six Kingdoms controlled many realms with a forceful grip. Their reign was simple and their demands as well: align yourself with the League or become their enemy. By declaring these enemies to be in conflict with Mata Nui as well—having received the divine right to rule the universe—the Barraki were able to dispatch their rivals without remorse and gained a fearful respect as the mighty warlords they were. In time, the world was not enough, and the Barraki sought the one seat of power seemingly out of our reach – Mata Nui's. This betrayal was revealed to the mysterious Brotherhood of Makuta, and one of their kind flanked by his noble legions managed to successfully put down the attempt to usurp Mata Nui's throne. In a single day of battle, the League's warriors were defeated and displaced, bringing a swift end to the rule of the Barraki.

 

It was their abrupt departure that gave rise to the burden of choice throughout the universe, allowing islands to elect leaders that put the interests of their kind before the orders of a half dozen warlords. An organization known as the Dark Hunters began operating out of Odina during this time, nearly monopolizing the business of hiring out biomechs to perform unscrupulous tasks. Elsewhere, relations began to sour between the districts of Metru Nui, and what had begun as minor disputes among the Matoran led to all-out civil war that divided a once prosperous city. Without their labor, a Great Disruption began throughout the universe and it became abundantly apparent that Mata Nui fell weaker with each passing day. Suns lost their shimmer, seas fell quiet, and the wind carried an icy touch. These were the darkest and most desperate times the universe had ever seen. Everything we knew was shutting down slowly, but surely, and we were hopeless to stop it.

 

I have seen a great deal during my lifetime, but the story I am about to tell is from an era of terrible memories. This is ultimately a story of responsibility and the battle between light and darkness that surrounds us all. Looking back, it would be arrogant to say I lived through those days. On the contrary, I barely survived them.

 

 

Episode 01: Soldier On

 

A powerful light shone down through my window, illuminating my face and stirring me awake. I squinted against the intensity of the sun, feeling the warmth of a familiar star as I slowly sat up in my bed. I was three stories above the ground level, peering out at the island of Stelt with mixed feelings. The island's caste system made the elite Steltians (their self-proclaimed title) the undisputed rulers of the land with Matoran ranking just below them. The Ohnbiek, meanwhile, were relegated to being laborers and the Pontiir were slaves to slaughter one another in the arenas. My employer, a Steltian named Voporak, had agreed to allow my crew to rent out several rooms above one of his coliseums. Few buildings lasted very long on Stelt, but anything that supported a good fight was sure to hold. After the first few years, I grew accustomed to sleeping through the sound of biomechs being murdered beneath my room.

 

While Steltians went about their morning in the dirt roads below, I pulled my weapon out from behind my bedpost and set it at my side, carefully examining the silver and obsidian wonder. It was a gunblade, a specially crafted weapon made many centuries earlier. It once belonged to a friend I had the misfortune to dig a hole in the dirt for, not long after the League collapsed. Unlike the revolver gunblades sometimes manufactured in Nynrah, my weapon possessed a thinner blade and a long, bayonet-shaped attachment on one side. This was where my bullets fired from, activated by a sequence of gears that connected to the trigger. The grip piece of the weapon was slightly curved, allowing me better control whether I needed to shoot or swing. Above that was a guard piece that arced back from the protosteel blade, doubling as a stabilizer when I took long-range shots. The gunblade was a fine weapon, finer than any I could have asked for.

 

I placed the weapon on my back and stared down at my armor for a moment, shades of crimson and ivory composing my sleek parts. A male Meldin, my form was similar to that of a Toa, minus the elemental powers. In spite of that fact, after years of using the gunblade and many decades as an outlaw, I had trained and achieved a physical strength that rivaled some of Mata Nui's champions. I was living a dream, pursuing a life of freedom alongside a crew of likeminded biomechs. I described my gunblade so particularly because it was the catalyst of my freedom, the instrument that took me across the Matoran Universe, exploring new lands and carrying out jobs for the right price. My team was like a privatized sector of Dark Hunters and, as you might imagine, we were on the Shadowed One's radar.

 

Voporak's clan offered my crew a degree of protection from wandering Dark Hunters on Stelt, though I remained conflicted about how their island operated. Whenever I broached the subject with Voporak, however, he politely reminded me that it was not my place to argue the matter. He was a clan leader, not me. I was not even from Stelt - my native land of Meldio just south of the Southern Continent. Steltian society was the concern of the Steltians and, if they were content to wage war until the end of the world, that was their business.

 

I opened my bedroom door and shut it behind me, whistling as I headed down the corridor to speak with Voporak about new work. I heard a weak grunt echo above me and instinctively drew my weapon, pointing it toward the ceiling. One of Voporak's guards, a Steltian named Sidorak, was forcibly connected to the ceiling by what appeared to be magnetic force. He suddenly dropped, crashing on his face and passing out.

 

"I traveled a long way to speak with you," a voice called from around the corner. "Your friend seemed to think his arm blade would stop me."

 

I smirked at the thought as I lowered my weapon, flipping Sidorak onto his back with a push of my foot. "This Steltian is an insincere, power-hungry moron. Had you done this to one of my actual friends, my patience would be much thinner right now."

 

My visitor stepped into view, a lone Toa of magnetism. His gunmetal and black armor was scratched and scraped, suggesting he'd seen as much of battle as I had. He wielded a launcher of unknown origin in his left hand and a magnetic weapon in his right. I paid close attention to his lime green eyes, staring me down from behind his jet black Kadin.

 

"You have a name, hero?" I asked.

 

The Toa held his stern expression. "You're Adrinor, right?"

 

"No one's told me otherwise," I said, relaxing a little bit.

 

If the Toa wanted a fight, we would have been fighting already. Toa did not dance around their intentions often, it was not in their nature.

 

"My name is Jovan. My team heard about you a couple months back," he told me. "You were on an assignment in the Northern Continent, escorting a Toa with some dangerous enemies. I was told the mission went successfully."

 

"I got paid, if that says anything," I replied, letting one of my fingers wrap around the trigger of my weapon. "I don't like the suspicion that I'm being followed, so you might want to make your point soon."

 

"Then I'll dissolve any suspicions and tell you outright that my fellow Toa and I have been on your trail," Jovan said awkwardly before clearing his throat. "After seeing your team in action, I think you're exactly what we need. I'd like to hire your crew as security detail for my own."

 

"And where would we be going if I accepted?"

 

"Before I say," Jovan started uncertainly, "I'd like you to accompany me out to the balcony momentarily. I need you to see something."

 

Sidorak groaned and rapidly blinked his eyes, glancing up at me. "What happened?"

 

"Business transaction," I muttered. "I'd tell you not to run off in case things turn against me on the balcony, but I have a feeling you'd just accidentally shoot me anyway."

 

I followed Jovan out onto the nearest balcony of the coliseum, watching him put his weapons away. I stepped out further then, catching sight of four more Toa near the building's entrance. They had incapacitated an Ohnbiek guard by the name of Krekka, his burly form collapsed into the dirt. Nearby Steltians went about their typical morning activities, walking by or chatting up merchants with wares for sale. The sight of Toa on Stelt was a rarity, but no one was terribly interested in starting anything with them.

 

"Mata Nui is dying, Adrinor," Jovan said sadly, looking into my eyes. "Stelt is still fortunate enough to have a sun shining in the sky, but there are other lands not quite so lucky. This place is a brigand's haven, not a home for a Toa, and yet I do not wish anything ill on the biomechs that call this place home. My team and I want to save the universe and we're in desperate need of someone who can protect us."

 

I nodded slowly. "Then I'll ask again; where are you headed?"

 

"Metru Nui," Jovan replied, suddenly lowering his voice. "The Onu-Metru Archives are legendary for containing rare and one-of-a-kind items among their exhibits. I recently encountered a rumor that the Archives may contain information about a Kanohi that could save the Great Spirit from death. Furthermore, they may also hold a Kanohi that can ascertain its location, called an Elda."

 

"Sounds valuable," I mused. "I don't know a lot of biomechs who would willingly step into a warzone, even if the belligerents are mere Matoran. That said, I think you and I can set up a business arrangement. I presume this security detail job will begin on Metru Nui and conclude once your mythic Kanohi is retrieved?"

 

"That's correct," Jovan replied. "Now, how much were you hoping to receive in terms of payment?"

 

I grinned. "Well, let's see. My team's initial hiring fee is the first number that comes to mind. Then you'll be paying for our munitions, labor costs, and there's a daily charge as well. I also need to factor in a "saving the universe fee," which, is almost too great to put a price on. Alas, the price will be tacked on to your final bill."

 

Jovan gave me a surprised look. "You must be joking."

 

"Mostly, yes." I chuckled. "Why don't you tell me how much you've got and we'll go from there."

 

The Toa of magnetism reluctantly handed over a small pouch and I let it rest in the palm of my hand. It was definitely heavy for such a tiny size. I pulled the strings apart on the bag's opening and peered inside, finding a couple dozen gold coins. I shifted the bag's contents around, allowing me to see how each coin had a Kanohi Hau on one side and the number 500 on the other. I looked back up at Jovan with a smile and he politely smiled back.

 

"My team has saved some wealthy individuals in the past and, while we try not to accept payment for our services, some biomechs won't take 'no' for an answer."

 

"May the Great Spirit bless them," I replied sarcastically, shaking Jovan's hand.

 

"So we've got a job from a Toa, huh?"

 

Jovan and I whirled back to see my crewmate Hadliek staring at us from the doorway. Holding his large caliber pistol up toward the sky, he lightly clicked the activator switch back and forth. Roughly my height, Hadliek wore matte black and cerulean armor, his eyes a shade of soft teal. He was a Todrano, from the eastern chain of the Southern Islands. His weapon, on the other hand, was manufactured in Xia. A heavy pistol, the barrel could hold 10 rounds, while an activation switch on the side could give them an incendiary kick.

 

"Yeah, we've got a job," I said. "Jovan, I'd like to introduce you to my friend, Hadliek. Hadliek, this is Toa Jovan. We'll be protecting his team on a mission to Onu-Metru."

 

"Nice to meet you, Hadliek," Jovan said cordially.

 

"Same to you, hero; I haven't been to war in a while," Hadliek replied in his most casual tone, holstering his weapon at the hip. He possessed a natural cool that made being debonair look simple. "What kind of money is he walking around with to make you agree to that, Adrinor?"

 

"Enough," I said slyly.

 

"You know we could just take the money and save ourselves the trip," Hadliek suggested with a sinister grin.

 

I watched Jovan begin to reach for his launcher before I gently put a hand to his shoulder. "That's not how we operate."

 

"Forgive me," Jovan replied, "but you are hired guns. I've watched you steal."

 

"Well…yeah," I said inelegantly, "but that was on assignment. We don't usually…I mean, not unless we have to." I sighed for a moment, trying to focus my thoughts. "Jovan, we have a code in this crew. Don't bite the hand that feeds you."

 

"And yet you request payment to ultimately save the life of the Great Spirit. Ironic, wouldn't you say?" Jovan asked.

 

I smirked. "If Mata Nui cares to notice, I still need to eat and reload my weapon from time to time. I don't exactly see him dropping any favors on me."

 

"The ways of the Great Spirit are mysterious indeed," Jovan said assuredly.

 

"Won't argue with that," Hadliek told him.

 

"Let's continue this conversation down in the ground floor lounge," I proposed. "I'd like to meet the Toa I'll be protecting."

 

"Yes, assemble your crew and I'll see you down there." Jovan lifted himself off the floor—presumably pulling himself by his magnetic parts—and smoothly descended to the ground below.

 

Hadliek and I departed from the balcony and a quick scan of the corridor left me proud. The other three members of my team had been waiting silently, weapons loaded in case our guest was restless for battle. Elendra stood to my right, both of her revolvers ready to fire. She was an edgy sort of biomech, her ice white and violet armor never hinting at the volatile individual underneath. A Trelban from Trelbin, Elendra's frost-colored head was shaped like a Mask of Possibilities, mirroring the rest of her Toa-sized kind.

 

On my left was Kyrhus, a platinum and black Gekalan. Kyrhus had very reptilian features (common in the Gekalan species) - a snout, scales, sharp claws, and a tail that ended in a blade. His dark forest green eyes were like staring into an alien world, but for all his formidable qualities, Kyrhus was the most kind-hearted of us. He held a sniper rifle at his side, an energy bullet-based weapon that had impeccable range with the right user. Kyrhus was certainly one of them.

 

"Good morning," Kyrhus greeted in his usual, refined tone. "I see we have company."

 

"Toa, of all things," Elendra said with a chuckle. "They must be desperate to have come to Stelt. I didn't quite catch your entire conversation."

 

"They want to save the universe," I told her matter-of-factly. "I imagine they would've gone to the edge of the Southern Islands if they needed another crew like ours."

 

Elendra raised an eyebrow. "The universe? Okay, I'm interested now."

 

"As am I. They're waiting downstairs," Hadliek said.

 

Our fifth member dropped down from the rafters, ducking into a roll when she hit the ground. She leapt to her feet and placed her sonic assault rifle on her back, innocently smirking at us.

 

"Good morning, Celvey," I said, holding back a laugh. "Were you waiting for an invitation up there?"

 

"Just waiting for the sake of it," Celvey replied sweetly.

 

Celvey was an interesting individual, to say the least. East of Xia is a pair of islands. The north island is Nohtal, inhabited by biomechs imbued with natural darkness. These Nohtalians live in harmony with one another for the most part. South of Nohtal is an island inhabited by biomechs imbued with natural light. The island is almost constantly at war, ironically enough. This island is called Ilisi and, by extension, Celvey was an Ilisian. Her figure possessed more natural femininity than Elendra's, the contours of Celvey's form being more rounded, yet still defined. She was a lithe entity, armored in light silver and auburn, but able to hold her own in combat. Celvey favored a "civilized" alternative to a gunfight, but in our line of work, that was not always an option.

 

The five of us marched downstairs, passing Voporak's empty office along the way. He left the coliseum from time to time to deal with personal matters among his clan, often times simple territorial disputes. A favorite—and quite clandestine—agent of Barraki Mantax during the era of the League, I could not begin to imagine what sorts of secrets he harbored from that age of the world. We met one another mere days before the League fell and I was never one to pry about the days of old.

 

I stepped inside the lounge and quickly noticed Jovan sitting with the four Toa I had seen on the ground, his team taking up half a large booth near one of the windows. I led my crew through the lounge and we took our seats across the table from the Toa, settling in for a chat.

 

"Good morning, everyone," I greeted the Toa. I looked to Jovan and asked, "So, should we all go around the table and introduce ourselves, or…how would you like to do this?"

 

"I'll start," the Toa of magnetism replied. "My name is Toa Jovan and I am the leader of this team."

 

Jovan looked to his right and nodded at a Toa of plant life. "My name is Haltryox," he said in a kind voice, "and I am the deputy leader of the team."

 

Next down the line was an Olmak-wearing Toa of earth who introduced himself in a gruff tone as, "Argeph. I'm not a leader, more of an enforcer."

 

"Would you mind sharing the difference with us?" Hadliek asked pleasantly. "We don't get to learn about the lifestyle of Toa very often."

 

"Jovan here sets the rules as leader, be it for our group or criminals we've apprehended. If someone thinks about overstepping those rules, I'm more than willing to remind them of their place."

 

"Don't worry, he's got a soft heartlight under all that talk," the next Toa down the line giggled. A Toa of water, she continued with, "My name is Valtriak, by the way."

 

"And last, but not least, I am Ticonahk," a Toa of plasma at the end of the table said with a grin.

 

"Nice meeting you all, my name is Adrinor and, since it's already been established that you've seen me at work, I'll let my crew get their introductions out of the way."

 

"My name is Hadliek and my hobbies include shooting things, shooting other things, and getting paid when a job is finished."

 

"What a well-rounded Todrano," Valtriak said facetiously.

 

Hadliek shot her a slightly impressed smirk. "Oh, and long walks under the moonlight."

 

Elendra gave him an annoyed look and began, "My name is Elendra and if you're pinned down under fire, I'm probably nowhere in sight."

 

"My name is Kyrhus and…I really couldn't think of anything off the top of my head the way Hadliek and Elendra did."

 

"You have a very polished voice, Kyrhus, if you don't mind my saying," Haltryox noted. "Forgive me, but your appearance suggested a more…feral creature."

 

Kyrhus smiled. "No offense taken, the Gekalan are often mistaken as such."

 

"And my name is Celvey. I am the newest member of the crew and," she paused, glancing down the table at me, "may I tell them?"

 

I frowned and shook my head. "Not here."

 

Her voice lowered to a whisper as she added, "Another time, I suppose."

 

Jovan clapped his hands together. "Well, a pleasure to meet all of you. Now that we're up to speed in the personality department, I think we're going to get along on this mission just famously."

 

I grinned. "Don't let that magnet-head of yours get too attached to us. We're still some of the finest killers you'll meet in this town."

 

Jovan's expression suddenly turned more serious. "I can overlook that for the time being, given that you're willing to assist us in the greatest endeavor in the history of the universe. Saving the life of the Great Spirit, well…it's not the kind of work I'd expect a team of hired guns to usually sign up for. My team is ready to journey north this afternoon if yours is."

 

"Slow down, Metru Nui wasn't built in a day," I replied. "And don't sell yourself short either, Jovan. You'll be doing the hero stuff. We'll just be watching your backs for gunfire."

 

"At any rate, the Great Spirit cannot wait forever for his saviors," Jovan told my crew. "I'd like to be on my way to Metru Nui before sundown."

 

"Metru Nui?" Kyrhus repeated, clearly taken aback. "That city is a warzone."

 

"Need I remind you how this town turns into a warzone from time to time?" Elendra asked him. "Not to mention Steltians seem bred for war in a way Matoran will never be."

 

"Well the conflicts here never last hundreds of years," Kyrhus muttered.

 

"Even so, these are only Matoran," Elendra said, trying to reassure him. "They have powerless masks and can't aim a weapon to save their lives."

 

Jovan went to stand up, but I quickly pulled the heavy pistol from Hadliek's hip and held it near my head, pointing the barrel square at the Toa of magnetism. "I think you'd do well to sit back down, Jovan."

 

Argeph went to grab the pistol, but I triggered the incendiary activator and said, "Any closer and I'll light him up."

 

"Stand down, Argeph." Jovan resumed sitting and gave me an angry look. "What do you want, Adrinor?"

 

"The truth," I replied, slowly lowering Hadliek's gun and flipping off the activator. "You think I would readily believe anyone, even Toa, would blindly run headlong into Metru Nui on the basis of a rumor? The risk is too great for anyone to enter that city over a bit of gossip. So you're going to tell me exactly what you know, or I'm going to count to ten and drop the number of Toa on Stelt by one."

 

Haltryox glanced at Jovan. "I don't think we need-"

 

"No, he's right. Adrinor deserves the truth." Jovan turned his attention to me and whispered, "My team was approached by an agent that spoke on behalf of Mata Nui."

 

"Did this agent have a name or were you able to determine his species at least?" I asked, still holding the gun ready.

 

"Yes, he was a Dectraz by the name of Trylac."

 

I felt my heartlight skip a beat as Jovan finished speaking. Looking down the table at Elendra, I could only imagine I was wearing the same expression of disbelief. When the League fell 900 years prior, when Makuta Teridax oversaw the defeat of the Barraki in a single day, I had not yet become a leader. That title belonged to another, to the Nohtalian who once wielded my gunblade. And it was his crew that contained a Dectraz named Trylac who was shot out of the sky, presumably murdered.

 

"Are you all right, Adrinor?" Jovan wondered, clearly aware he said something disturbing.

 

I lowered my head and returned the gun to Hadliek, my thoughts still racing. "I watched a Dectraz named Trylac fly off one day…right before he was shot and plummeted to his death. Only his broken rifle was recovered from the crash site and we thought his body was destroyed."

 

"Isn't it possible that Trylac merely left the scene, perhaps limping away in his damaged condition?" Haltryox asked.

 

I glared at him, my fury rising again. "He would've looked for me! He would've come back, okay?"

 

"If you truly think Trylac died, we were planning to meet up with him on the Southern Continent in a matter of days. You can talk with him there and resolve your misunderstanding," Jovan replied. "It's funny, Trylac actually pointed me in your direction to begin with. He seemed to think you were very capable of protecting my team."

 

"We should return to the coast soon," Valtriak said. "Our watercraft is decent, but it will be a long journey to Metru Nui."

 

"Elendra," I said, turning to her, "I think it's time we put your side project to the test."

 

She smiled at me before looking at Jovan's team. "I've been hard at work on an experimental aircraft kept beneath this coliseum. Looks like it'll finally see the light of day."

 

I felt a sense of hope welling up in my mind. Trylac had been watching my crew for quite some time, it seemed. But why he kept up the secrecy, how he evaded our detection - it was all beyond my ability to comprehend. I knew then that I had to see him on the Southern Continent; I needed answers.

 

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Edited by GSR, Oct 08 2014 - 02:16 AM.
Adding tags per author's request.

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#2 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Sep 12 2014 - 07:12 PM

There are children standing here, arms outstretched into the sky, tears drying on their face; he has been here. –James Blunt

 

 

Episode 02: Beauty in Ashes

 

It was often said that the Great Spirit watched over every creature in the universe, and if we lived our lives in accordance with his virtues, no harm would come to us. It was an optimistic line of thinking, that we should be so special. A sort of favoritism existed, however, between those that clawed their way through the dark of the Southern Islands and the more fortunate that lived in the light of the northern realms. But there were none more blessed by Mata Nui than those who held the potential to become his chosen guardians, the ones who performed a labor of love to support their wondrous city. Born to be united, instructed to carry out a duty, and destined to change the world – the Matoran.

 

In the days of my youth, I heard tales of these chosen protectors from seafarers that stopped on Meldio from time to time. Roughly half my size, Matoran were described as passionate little workers. Carvers, teachers, scholars, archivists, crafters, pilots, and so much more, maintaining a pristine metropolis that had never known strife. I imagined it to be their own chunk of paradise where they could work in peace until the end of their days. Once the Matoran abandoned their work and their virtues, that paradise came to an abrupt halt. Only it was not just their home that suffered, it was the whole of the universe.

 

I laughed when I first learned of the civil war. Matoran were the chosen biomechs of the Great Spirit, yet they found creative ways to discover unhappiness with their lofty position. The first rumors arose a few months later, when talk of the Metru Nui suns losing their luster came to Stelt. I brushed the news off, and tried to reason that it could not always be blindingly bright up north. Then the abnormal behavior of the Rahi followed. The aggressive species grew quicker tempers, while the docile became sedentary and slept more often. More suns around the universe began to dim, seas came to a complete calm or rose to a violent torrent, and vegetation cropped up slowly if at all. The Matoran waged a selfish campaign against their brothers and sisters, unaware of the universe in peril to the south. That was not to say Metru Nui was without scars of its own.

 

I had not seen the city since before the war had begun and, in those days, it was a glorious sight to behold. When Elendra steered our aircraft through the deserted entry point that was the Metru Nui sea gate, I beheld a Metru Nui quite different from the one I knew. Thick smoke rose from multiple points around the island and distant sirens echoed through the air. Ga-Metru had set up a perimeter of warships in the Silver Sea all along the southern coast and their guns began to change direction, not paying us any notice, but following a squadron of Le-Metru jet fighters skimming the line of battleships. I sat amazed with my crew as we watched the jets commence a bomb run, raining down dozens of bombshells that sunk several warships almost instantly. The untouched portion of the fleet let loose their cannons on the jets and an array of seeker missiles proceeded to home in and destroy most of the air squadron.

 

Kyrhus tapped my shoulder and pointed out at the city. "Their destructive capabilities are astonishing. What I can't understand is how they have the population resources to keep up this degree of warfare for 400 years."

 

Jovan glanced our way with a curious look. "If given the option, would you make yourself a direct resource for a war if you could find another outlet of conducting your operation?"

 

Kyrhus raised an eyebrow at the question. "Another outlet? Like a proxy war?"

 

"Not exactly," Jovan replied. "You really don't know, do you?"

 

I returned my attention to the window, trying to discover the answer before Jovan might reveal it. More of the Ga-Metru warship cannons opened fire on another wave of jet fighters and—as we closed in on the city—I could see fireballs being flash frozen out of the sky on the edges of Ko-Metru. It was not until one of the fighter jets spiraled into a dive that I figured it out. The aircraft opened up completely, parts rapidly shifting around one another until the jet had taken on a bipedal shape. It landed on one of the warships atop a pair of sturdy "legs," activating the thrusters to move about while the "arms" opened fire on the watercraft's weapon systems. Another jet transformed the same way in midflight, executing a dive kick into a warship before reverting to its jet form and soaring off. Of a Matoran pilot, there was no sign.

 

"They're being controlled remotely," I said in awe.

 

"The battleships as well," Jovan added. "Matoran were not born to go to war, but they are terribly clever."

 

"It's certainly impressive," Kyrhus said, "but this isn't the war we were told of. In our travels, we heard Matoran were battling in the streets, capturing areas for their leaders and living in constant fear of death."

 

Toa Valtriak tapped a finger against the window. "If these war machines can cause such devastation along the coast, can you imagine what the ground forces are capable of? If you were hesitant to come here, think about what it means for us. We were like them once, Matoran given a duty to uphold. When we arrive in the city and see the stories come to life, the battles to gain a foothold over a city block, the rampant destruction of infrastructure and dwellings, to know it all came from the hands of Matoran, that's going to hurt to watch. And if you've been living as mercenaries too long now to care, consider this was your home at war."

 

A warship cannon managed to clip one of the jets, forcing it to spiral downward until it smashed into another, the pair of aircraft engulfed in flames before their smoldering remains dropped into the sea.

 

"It's tragic, really; the entire universe is paying for their disregard for one another. There can be no mistake that the Three Virtues govern all of our lives."

 

The cabin echoed a silent agreement with Valtriak's words and I walked behind the cockpit seat, watching Elendra monitor the control panel while she steered us into the warzone.

 

"Take us up along the coast to Onu-Metru," I started, pointing out the windshield and beyond the iron jungle of Le-Metru, "and keep a safe distance."

 

Elendra gave me a hard stare. "If one of those warship cannons so much as touches us, we're already dead."

 

I could tell what she was thinking and looked out the window, surveying the Ga-Matoran fleet. Elendra had personally outfitted our ship with what she called ultra-thruster technology a few months prior, a last resort exit plan for assignments more dangerous than usual. Ordinary airships ran on a rechargeable battery that required an electromagnetic energy harvester to remain active. With a constantly charged battery, the airship could direct power to the thrusters and convert ambient energy into usable electromagnetic power. Airships used the electromagnetic fields of the universe to "pull" themselves in a given direction at a given speed (by drawing more or less electrical charge from the air).

 

Elendra's title on Trelban was that of a Master Engineer, adept at constructing mechanical devices. She was never annoying or haughty about her knowledge, on the contrary, it was seldom that she would freely discuss it. With a little prying over the years though, I compiled a basic understanding of engineer work. Her ultra-thrusters bypassed the demand for electromagnetic power by using fuel cells, utilizing specially treated liquid protodermis that reacted to air exposure by turning into thruster power. The process was slightly more complicated, but Elendra was kind enough to inform us that while the fuel cell chemical reaction would produce greater speed, it was highly unstable to the point of "potentially tearing the ship apart."

 

"How confident are you that the ultra-thrusters could get us safely through the warships?" I asked.

 

"They'll never see it coming. My real concern is shutting them back down. We'll reach Onu-Metru without question, but stopping there could prove difficult. The better question is whether you prefer to swim through a fleet of battleships or land in downtown Metru Nui to fight your way through dozens of Matoran soldiers."

 

I nodded slowly and looked over my shoulder at my crewmates and the Toa. "Hold on tight to something, we're going in."

 

Elendra flipped the switch to prepare the fuel cell and we could all hear a sudden, rising hum that gently vibrated the ship.

 

Elendra slowly pushed the accelerator forward, her finger hovering over the ultra-thruster switch. "Fuel cell ready. You may feel a slight push."

 

She flipped the ultra-thruster switch forward and the entire control panel flickered out for a second. In an instant, the instruments were back online and what I expected to be a "slight push" managed to throw me backward. The ultra-thrusters sent us screaming past the southern coastline and over the city. I glimpsed a convoy of Ta-Metru tanks traveling along the blocks of Le-Metru, indiscriminately setting fire to cables and buildings. On the outskirts, jet fighters were bombing the tanks to pieces, assisted by massive, six-footed machines that emitted freezing beams, not unlike a Toa of ice. I saw all this in a matter of ten seconds, because by the eleventh, we were definitely over Ko-Metru.

 

Ta-Metru's machines had melted a trail through the district, allowing smaller Ga-Metru warships to sail in and assault the region. If I had been anywhere else, I would have laughed at the irony of calling this a civil war. As it was, Elendra was piloting us over a sea of chaos and I did not find the prospect of death looming so close all that humorous. Ten more seconds passed and the aircraft shook hard.

 

Elendra pulled the accelerator back and growled. "Are you kidding me?"

 

Our speed began to decline and I felt my unease growing. "What happened?"

 

Elendra furiously smacked the control panel, flipping a few switches backward. "A crack shot Ko-Matoran just froze the thrusters. Years of probably being a scholar and I think he found his calling in warfare."

 

Hadliek approached us and asked, "How are we still flying?"

 

Elendra pulled back on the control column and flipped another switch. "It's more like gliding," she said tensely, "but the ship's wings are designed to work with the wind to keep us leveled out. Even so, we're declining in altitude and that's going to change our life expectancy quite a bit in the next few minutes."

 

"Can we make it to Onu-Metru?" Jovan asked from his seat near the back.

 

"Providing we don't take another freeze ray hit, a shot from a cannon, a blast from a jet fighter, or any other enemy fire…I don't see why not. The alternative would be for someone to exit the aircraft and thaw the thrusters manually. Convenient that we have a Toa of plasma onboard, right?"

 

"I wouldn't call asking me to put one of my teammates in the way of harm a convenience, Trelban," Jovan fumed.

 

Elendra chuckled, trying to hide her anxiety. "Call it what you like, because if he doesn't get out there soon, you probably won't be calling anything ever again."

 

I lowered my voice and asked her, "Do you think we're going to make it?"

 

Elendra gripped the yoke tight and narrowed her sight out the windshield. "I don't think pointless questions are going to improve our odds, Adrinor. I respect you quite a bit, so don't take it personally when I say to get away from me and let me drive this ship."

 

I left Elendra to her work, very familiar with her attitude in stressful situations. Unless she was shooting something, Elendra was often prone to reacting in a standoffish manner. I turned and walked away from the cockpit to find my crew alongside Jovan's, weapons ready.

 

"I can keep a magnetic hold on Ticonahk while he repairs the thrusters, as long as your team can provide covering fire," Jovan explained.

 

I put a hand to his shoulder. "Let's go to work then."

 

I strode up to the ceiling's escape hatch, flipping the locking mechanism open before letting the door swing down. Without missing a beat, I pulled myself up onto the hull and a blast of icy wind met my face. I clutched onto one of the securing bars used by ship mechanics to keep from falling during repairs, pulling my gunblade out with my free hand. Jovan's team made their way topside as well and Toa Ticonahk began crawling toward the thrusters, grabbing the securing bars along the way as he moved. With Jovan following him, I had three Toa at my command in addition to my crew.

 

Trying to be heard over the wind, I yelled, "Separate and don't stop scanning the sky! If you see anything come close to us, take it out!"

 

I looked ahead of the ship and squinted my eyes against the cold, unrelenting Ko-Metru airstream. I could see the edges of Onu-Metru through the snow, and the canyons above their legendary Archives. We were on the edges of the sector—nearly a kio high—but the Onu-Matoran and Ko-Matoran were not allies in the war. Sirens blared in the streets below and tiny figures could be seen moving around, like little black and white dots exchanging fire. As quickly as I began to wonder what technology the archivists had at their disposal, I watched a dark, twisted pillar rise from the ground. Black metal climbed up around itself like a weed, and then it came to a sudden stop. In the next moment, the street cracked apart around the pillar in a circular shape, rocking both the Onu-Matoran and Ko-Matoran in the quake radius as jagged earth was explosively forced up.

 

"On our left!" Toa Haltryox shouted.

 

I rolled backwards, catching another securing bar as a stray Le-Metru jet fighter closed in. In the distance, a couple Knowledge Tower freezing rays were charging to fire on the ship and I could see Ticonahk had nearly finished thawing the first thruster. Using plasma heat without damaging the integrity of the component appeared to be a careful process, but I did not linger on his progress. Lining up a shot on the jet, I knew the next order I wanted to give.

 

"Hadliek and Celvey, target that ship! Kyrhus and Jovan's team, give me something long-range on those freeze rays!"

 

I took a deep breath, kept my arm as steady as possible, and exhaled as I squeezed the trigger of my weapon. Compensating for where I expected the jet would be, I managed to put a hole in the cockpit where electronics sat in place of a pilot. Hadliek emptied a clip of incendiary rounds on the jet, catching fire to it immediately. The jet began to dive, but Celvey finished with a well-placed burst to the tail engine, causing it to explode. Kyrhus and the Toa focused their efforts on the first freeze ray, but the second was nearly ready to unleash a beam of frosty death on us.

 

"The first thruster is almost thawed!" Jovan hollered.

 

I smirked, but my relief was short-lived. It did not take an engineering expert to reason that if one of the thrusters was suddenly clear again, it would kick on immediately. Without a second active thruster, focusing that kind of power to one side of the aircraft would make steering an entirely new challenge. The second freeze ray let loose a beam of ice and I did not have much of an opportunity to consider whether Elendra had bothered to disengage the thrusters after they failed. Suddenly rocketing forward was all the answer I needed.

 

"Jovan, catch him!" I screamed.

 

Ticonahk went hurtling backward and Jovan did everything in his power to regain control of his metallic parts again, magnetically pulling the Toa of plasma along as our single functional thruster sent us on a collision course with Onu-Metru. I watched Toa Haltryox attempt to put his weapon away and gain a better hold to the ship, but a minor slip was all it took before he was flying backward as well. Toa Argeph tried to scoop him up, but the Toa of plant control was swept too high.

 

I instinctively looked to Celvey who was already staring at me with an urgent look. Before I could say anything though, Jovan let go of the ship and magnetically held Haltryox along with his second hand. I could tell from how Jovan's feet were scraping along the hull that he was struggling to keep himself from flying away.

 

"I can't hold them much longer!" Jovan shouted. "We're moving too fast!"

 

We were bordering on a 45-degree incline with the Onu-Metru district and our landing was going to be anything but pleasant. It was not my first brush with dying, but I found that my mind liked to reflect on certain memories when I might be facing the end. The memory playing in my head was an ancient one from the time when I still lived at home on Meldio. I was near the beach with the first friend I ever made, a fellow Meldin. We had been talking of our responsibilities to one another and to the Great Spirit. I could not remember why, but he recited the Meldin Creed – the words that our leaders believed would inspire us to greatness.

 

"I am a Meldin, a servant, noble and proud. I will keep the universe from war or hardship, and I will promote the freedom of choice. No matter the cost, whatever the effort; I will lead us to a brighter future."

 

Meldio went to war eventually, releasing what had started as violent arguments into tactical advances on the enemy. That is what became of Metru Nui, controlled chaos. No order was given without reason, no weapon fired without a cause. Like all sentient beings, the Matoran and the Meldin were driven by a want for something. On Meldio, my brothers and sisters battled for political control, while the Matoran struggled over the matter of trade routes. Turaga Zilnyx (Metru Nui's elder who inaugurated the Barraki so many years prior) was rebuffed in his efforts to prevent a war, forced to become a prisoner of his silver tower in the heart of the city. The Meldin were spurred on by those in charge, to stomp out any ideas that conflicted with their rule. Both the Matoran and the Meldin lacked the experience of war, neither group had any indication of what picking up weapons against their own kind would invite to their shores. I knew enough of battle to work with the chaos, to move with purpose and ask of my comrades only what I knew they could handle, not what they thought they could handle. It was that mindset telling me Elendra would bring us down without a casualty.

 

The ship spun around moments before impact and we struck the Archives with the ultra-thrusters, blasting a hole through the roof. The airship flipped through the hallway a couple times before skidding to a halt in an empty corridor. I had shut my eyes tight just before the crash, focusing on the Meldin Creed. When I finally opened them, a sudden pain surged up through my left arm, still clutching on to the ship. I let go and gently slid down the side of the aircraft, landing on my feet with my gunblade ready.

 

"Is everyone all right? We need to move!"

 

There was no point in keeping my voice down like on a stealth mission. War or not, every Matoran for a kio out must have noticed our landing. Ignoring the pain in my arm and the growing discomfort in the rest of my muscles, I began searching for my crew.

 

"That was…rough," Toa Argeph grumbled. The Toa of earth pressed a hand to the ground and paused, motioning us to stay still. He took a few hard breaths and added, "We have a couple minutes before the first Matoran troops will arrive."

 

"We had better be on our way then," Kyrhus said, limping out from the wreckage.

 

He was followed by Hadliek and Celvey, arm in arm with Valtriak and Haltryox, all of them appearing injured and in mild pain. I looked to the deputy leader and frowned.

 

"Did you see where Jovan or Ticonahk went?"

 

Haltryox shook his head. "I felt Jovan release my armor when we hit, but I got knocked around too fast to keep track of where everything was."

 

"Hadliek!" Elendra called from the distance.

 

We made our way toward the sound of Elendra's voice, finding her and Jovan kneeling near Toa Ticonahk. Hadliek and I stood over them and I could see Ticonahk was leaking protodermis around his lower torso muscles.

 

"I tried to hold on to you; it was too risky to use my Kadin," Jovan whispered in anguish. He looked to Hadliek and asked, "Is there anything you can do?"

 

"We're about to find out," Hadliek replied, kneeling beside Jovan.

 

Hadliek snapped his fingers and his hand began to emit a bright blue aura. He touched a finger to the Toa of plasma's chest and we watched as the wound Ticonahk had sustained was slowly healing before our eyes. The muscle tissue resealed and Hadliek helped the Toa of plasma to his feet, giving him a pat on the shoulder.

 

"That's going to need more time to heal properly," Hadliek said, studying his handiwork, "but it should do until we leave the city."

 

"Thank you, Todrano," Ticonahk replied, forcing a smile.

 

"Don't thank me yet; we still have to escape Metru Nui."

 

I looked to Elendra and asked, "Any chance our ship is going to fly again?"

 

"It's far more durable than we are," she assured me, "but I'd imagine it'll be swarmed by Matoran when we return. After nearly getting launched out the windshield, I could use a little combat actually."

 

"Our first order of business should be to locate an Archives directory," Toa Haltryox proposed, waving us away from the crash site. "Onu-Metru is famous for having catalogued a great deal in a very specific format and that could work to our advantage."

 

"I'm sure the halls are just painted with 'legendary Kanohi information this way' signs," Hadliek replied.

 

Haltryox glared at him before heading down the nearest corridor and we followed along. The Archives were dim and quiet, the occasional drip of water echoing here or there. Lightstones led the way through the halls, casting ominous shadows on the mysterious Rahi kept in stasis pods. Ancient stone carvings in unknown languages were on display as well, paired with placards that explained what they meant and the archivist who deciphered the text. It was a museum that appeared to be dedicated to collecting and understanding everything about the universe and how we came to be. If not for the faint sound of alarm sirens ringing out in the streets above, the whisper of firefights, and the uncomfortable feeling that Matoran troops could be waiting around any corner, it would have been a nice visit.

 

"Have you entered a warzone before?" Toa Argeph asked.

 

I could not be sure if he was asking anyone in particular, but I shook my head. "I left Meldio at a time when it seemed war was on the horizon. I didn't have it in me to pick up a weapon and draw it against my own kind, so I fled the island one night without telling anyone."

 

"I have," Celvey spoke up.

 

The Toa immediately directed their attention to her, appearing much more interested to learn she had experience on the matter at hand.

 

"I was born on the island of Ilisi, a beautiful realm of rolling green hills and magnificent castles." Celvey paused and I could tell she was hesitating to continue.

 

I said to her in my quietest voice, "You don't have to tell them right now."

 

"The history of Ilisi is no great secret, Adrinor," Jovan replied. "It is common knowledge that Barraki Pridak ruled the region where Ilisi is located and met with the island's kings. He demanded they put an end to their war for resources and power and submit to his reign. Those who refused were executed in favor of his own high-ranking troops. Pridak was said to handle most of his kingdom that way."

 

"That's most of the story right there," Celvey said. "A new war began when the League fell and I left the life I knew behind. Soon after, I met Adrinor and decided I wanted to share his dream of living in freedom. We're outlaws, yes, but I'm convinced there will come a day when we put all of our fighting behind us and settle into peaceful lives."

 

"There's no shame in fighting for the right reasons," Jovan told her, holding up his magnetic bolt launcher. "Ideally, I would never need to fire this tool again, but that day hasn't come yet. Like you, I am a soldier in the service of a greater cause, so that all biomechs may live in freedom."

 

I smiled, admiring Jovan's humility. He walked a path of blind hope to wish for such freedom while Matoran tried to kill one another above our heads. I could picture the smoldering dust on the wind, the medics desperately trying to remove the wounded from the battlefield, and the few neutral parties that cowered in the dark, praying the end would come quickly. Metru Nui would forever remember the atrocities of war if they survived the event, but a sudden concern crept into the back of my mind. If Jovan actually managed to save Mata Nui, who would stop the war? What would prevent the Matoran from driving the Great Spirit back into illness? I figured Jovan was merely buying us time…a few more years, months even, to wrap up our affairs and say our goodbyes.

 

We made our way deeper into the Archives, almost unable to hear the war at all. In place of that nightmare, we began to hear creatures growling and clawing at the chambers around us. It made a lot of sense that the Matoran would not risk battling among such dangerous beasts, for fear of releasing them. I kept my distance from the doors, catching the glow of a large map on the wall at the end of the room.

 

"Mata Nui," Ticonahk uttered, awestruck. "The archives span beneath most of the city."

 

"Welcome to the automated Archives directory," a computerized voice greeted. "How may I be of assistance?"

 

I studied the map carefully, assuming a teal blinking dot near the Onu-Metru and Ko-Metru border to be our current location. Much of the archive mapping was blinking red throughout the other districts of the city and I tapped the Ga-Metru region to see what would happen.

 

"The Ga-Metru archive monitor system has been offline for approximately 238 years," the computerized voice explained. "Routes may be unreliable or outdated – traverse at your own risk."

 

"Where can I find information on the Mask of Life?" I asked.

 

"Searching records, one moment," the database replied. The map placed a target around Onu-Metru that slowly began to shrink and move toward the northern part of the district. "Last archived tablet on 'Mask of Life' placed into storage at this location. You will require a medium security clearance to access this information."

 

"I think incendiary rounds constitute as 'medium security clearance' access," Hadliek said, chuckling to himself.

 

We followed a winding path through the northern region of Onu-Metru, encountering weapons strewn about along the way. I imagined the early parts of the war had been fought underground, likely under attack from the neighboring Matoran of stone. It probably was not long until some nasty creature was accidentally released and no further attempts were made to breach Onu-Metru through the Archives. The chamber indicated on the map was hanging open—as were most of the surrounding chambers—and I stepped inside. Several stacks of tablets were sitting in one corner of the room and on the other side was a collection of equipment pieces.

 

Jovan stood next to me and tapped his chin a few times. "I'd better start reading those. Adrinor, you should see if those machine parts have any instructions. They probably have something to do with the mask."

 

I nodded and walked up to the parts, picking up a long, rounded piece and displaying it against the chamber ceiling's dim lightstones. I set it down and reached for another piece, picking up a Kanohi instead.

 

I turned to Jovan and said, "I think you wanted this."

 

I tossed him the mask and he caught it with both hands, studying the shape for a moment.

 

"Of course!" Jovan replied as though he just solved a puzzle. "I've heard of these, but this is my first time ever seeing one. It's the Mask of Detection I heard would be here."

 

"Can it detect where in this room your Mask of Life is so we can leave?" I questioned.

 

"I was never told the mask would be in the city," Jovan replied.

 

I frowned and returned my attention to the parts, unearthing a blueprint for a larger machine in the shape of a biomech. Much of the text had been etched away, but a circular device in the center appeared to be connected to all the pieces. I pushed another piece of machinery aside and found the circular part, not much larger than my heartlight, sitting in the dirt. I was uncertain, but I slowly brought the piece closer to my chest, stumbling backward when it magnetically clicked onto my armor.

 

Jovan turned my way and smirked. "Having fun?"

 

I detached the piece from my armor and placed it into the compartment on my back, awkwardly looking away from Jovan. I continued looking for more tablets about the machine, stumbling upon a disturbing piece of information.

 

"Amplification…" I struggled to make out. "Further testing…" There was one more line, but I shook my head, trying to separate the letters. I read it again and did not want to believe what I was looking at.

 

"Celvey," I called, "can you come look at this?"

 

The Ilisian knelt down beside me and looked at the tablet in my hand. "Most of the writing is gone."

 

"I know. Just read the last line."

 

Celvey narrowed her eyes on it and furrowed her brow. "That's…not a word, at least not one I've ever encountered. Drelinok?"

 

"We need to leave for Meldio, Celvey. I have to know what this means."

 

"Meldio?" Celvey asked in disbelief. "The one place you've refused to set foot on for millennia and you want to go there now? How important is that one word?"

 

"Drelinok…was a friend. This machine, I think it was supposed to make Meldin stronger, somehow. I need to know how and why it ended up here."

 

"I don't think it worked," Celvey replied. "We haven't encountered a single Meldin in our travels that was any stronger than you."

 

"Drelinok had a lot of plans for the universe when I knew him. He could have an entire army of super-soldiers on Meldio waiting to conquer the world for all we know. He was a visionary, but I always sensed something dangerous about him. We need to investigate this."

 

Celvey gently pulled the tablet from my hand and set it on the floor. "You say this Meldin was your friend, but your voice betrays you. This, Drelinok…he scares you, doesn't he?"

 

"Yes," I whispered. "I left Meldio because of him, because the alternative was to confront and kill him. I couldn't do it then, but if Meldio is anything like the island I left behind, I'm not afraid to do it this time."

 

"Valmai," Jovan remarked.

 

Celvey and I turned to look at him and he smiled. "The Mask of Life is on the Southern Continent, at Mt. Valmai."

 

"It'll have to wait," I told him. "I need to say farewell to someone back home first."

 

Jovan opened his mouth in shock. "Adrinor, this is the fate of the universe at stake and you want to deviate from the plan we put together? I knew it would be risky to trust a team of outlaws, but I thought you'd be smart enough to save yourself from the end of the world."

 

"I know it sounds crazy, but I have a strong feeling that something bad is going to happen soon. Toa have said they can sometimes feel Mata Nui calling out to guide them toward their destiny. That's what I'm feeling right now!"

 

Jovan finally looked concerned. "All right…we'll go to Meldio. You have one day, and then I'm going to Mt. Valmai with my team."

 

"Don't worry," I replied. "We'll be right there with you."

 

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#3 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Sep 17 2014 - 10:27 PM

The devil is not the nature that is around us, all around us. But the nature that is within us all. –Mutemath

 

 

Episode 03: Direction

 

Elendra got her wish when we returned to the aircraft, picking off curious Matoran troops, much to the dismay of Jovan and his team. I would have liked to take the non-lethal route for the sake of the Toa, but I knew we were outnumbered and it would take a lack of empathy to send the Matoran cowering. They did not know who we were or what we were capable of, and they were right to be scared of that. Once we had an opening, everyone boarded the aircraft and Elendra had us on our way out of the city, ultra-thrusters held active until we reached the sea gate.

 

Hadliek had only sealed Ticonahk's wound in Onu-Metru, and he got to work performing the slow, careful process of allowing the Toa's muscle tissue to properly regrow and heal. Jovan's team stayed at their injured ally's side, while Kyrhus spent most of the flight sleeping. With Elendra at the helm, that left me some time to chat with Celvey.

 

"I know we both come from places that have faced hardship," Celvey started, "but I've never really heard much about Meldio."

 

"It was nice," I said flatly.

 

She gave me a curious look. "And?"

 

I sighed and made no effort to hide my frustration. "When I first began this life, as an outlaw, I lied and said I left my homeland because I wanted to see more of the world. The truth is, Meldio was once all the world I ever wanted. It was a magical place, with forests and sunny coasts and warm breezes on the air."

 

"And then you met your friend?"

 

I laughed shortly. "I met Drelinok the day I was born, within my first minutes of life. We were great friends for a long time, until our ideals of how Meldio should be governed began to differ. But where I was content to idly complain about my grievances with the ruling powers, Drelinok made an effort to enter the political realm and rally Meldin to support his cause."

 

"What happened after that?"

 

"Drelinok was very driven, and I have to believe that he achieved what he set out to do. He wanted to become the leader of the island, the Director, as was the official title. Of the few Meldin we've encountered, I never bothered to ask about what happened to Drelinok. He was a remnant of the past I left behind and, until today, didn't seem very relevant to my life anymore."

 

"You said in Metru Nui that you were prepared to kill him if you had to," Celvey recalled.

 

"I am," I replied confidently. "Drelinok sent Meldio to war, and he was responsible for the deaths of his friends and my own, just so he could sit as Director and force his values onto others. He is charismatic, manipulative and dangerously influential. For what he's done to my home, I am prepared to kill him."

 

Celvey did not meet my eyes when she said, "Perhaps it won't have to come to that. At any rate, I'm going to join Hadliek for a while and make sure the Toa will make a full recovery."

 

She stood up and walked away, leaving me alone with my thoughts and memories. I headed in the opposite direction and sat next to Elendra in the cockpit, staring out at the sky.

 

Elendra gave me a suspicious look. "Did you come up here for a conversation or something?"

 

I smirked and fixed my sight on the distant horizon. "Don't worry, I just wanted some company to sit in silence with for a while."

 

"Then you came to the right place," Elendra replied contently.

 

<<<>>> 

 

"The controls aren't responding!"

 

My eyes snapped open and I realized I was upside down, strapped to the copilot seat. The aircraft spun around a few times and flipped back over, violently attempting to throw me forward as the seat straps locked me in place. Compared with the crash in Metru Nui, Onu-Metru may as well have been a blanket of clouds.

 

"Are we dead?" I heard Hadliek grumble. "I can't tell if we're dead."

 

The ship was half-buried in dirt, but as I struggled to release myself from the seat, I found it peculiar that a snowstorm was raging outside.

 

"Where are we?" I asked, my eyes darting around.

 

Elendra released herself from her seat, a sigh of relief escaping her mouth as she leaned forward. "This is Meldio, Adrinor. You're home."

 

"I lived on Meldio for 4,000 years," I said through ragged breaths. "It never snowed once."

 

"Mata Nui's dying," Elendra reminded me. "Nothing is as it should be, these days."

 

"My critical thinking doesn't kick in like yours after a crash, clearly."

 

Elendra chuckled, leaving the cockpit. "Is everyone all right back here?"

 

I stumbled to my feet and swaggered to the aircraft's door, throwing it open before collapsing into a pile of snow. I began to crawl up an embankment created by the ship's crash, grinding through icy flakes as I moved. When I reached the top, I scanned the area and, within seconds, recognized two things. The first was the legendary Directorate Facility, a large building comprised of three cylinders that merged into a central tower where the island's leadership deliberated. Our aircraft had smashed through the surrounding Meldio Capital Garden, demolishing a large statue in the process. The second object of note was that severed statue's head and torso. It had been constructed in Drelinok's image. Through the flurries, I squinted to read the inscription on the statue's pedestal, making out the line "In remembrance of our finest Director."

 

"He did it," I whispered. "He really did it."

 

I stood up and broke into a run, sprinting toward the pedestal. I was cold, and in pain, but nothing bothered me like my desire to know the truth. In moments, I was standing at the base of the sculpture, a bio in height, supporting five bios of statue that remained after being shattered at the waist.

 

"In remembrance of our finest Director, a paragon of Meldin resolution, Drelinok. This monument is dedicated to his efforts in ending our conflict with the Collective and going on to serve as Director until his untimely death, 10,000 years after Meldin society was born. Beneath this statue is the unfortunate tomb that was Drelinok's laboratory, suffering an explosion before he could complete his work on what he called 'the next step in biomech evolution.' May he find peace beyond this life."

 

I paused, trying to piece together the timeline of events. I had departed Meldio after 4,000 years of life, which meant Drelinok served as Director for roughly 6,000 years and had been deceased for 10,900. I turned and looked back at where the ship had crashed, realizing how caught up and single-minded I had been over determining our location. Crewmates could have been injured, but when I examined the crater we left in our wake, I began to wonder if I could access Drelinok's lab.

 

Unsure of the current state of the island, I drew my gunblade and headed back toward the crash site, struggling to ignore the chill in the air without the distraction of an elevated heartlight rate. Jovan's team had pulled through, making their way up to the surface, arm in arm. My own crew followed, climbing up individually.

 

"Well, we're here!" Toa Argeph shouted over the storm at me. "It cost us the ship, but at least you got to come home!"

 

"There's something in the crater!" I yelled back. "We need to investigate!"

 

"There's nothing down there but an abandoned chamber!" Jovan hollered. "I thought you came here to find someone!"

 

I hurried back toward my companions and replied, "I did! And I think he's down there!"

 

I continued running past my crew and the Toa, sliding down the embankment and into the ruined laboratory below. I held my gunblade ready, examining the heavily damaged chamber. The explosion mentioned on the pedestal appeared to have caused a cave-in, and it looked like no attempt had been made to reopen the chamber. The tools and benches were in terrible condition, with much of the far wall crumbling apart. Near the middle of the room was an ancient-looking stasis pod, covered in the dust of many undisturbed millennia. My crewmates and Jovan's team dropped into the chamber with me, examining the ruins for themselves.

 

"By the Great Spirit," Toa Haltryox said. "What happened here?"

 

"An explosion," I explained, approaching the tube. "The statue above is dedicated to a Meldin that I believe is inside this stasis chamber. He was presumed dead after the room collapsed during his research, but I'm willing to bet this device has sustained him."

 

I wiped away a layer of dust and debris from the tube, peering inside to glimpse the face of the first friend I ever made. Drelinok was unconscious, calmly floating in an unknown, nearly-transparent liquid. It would have been easy to line up my weapon and blast him into oblivion, but I came home in search of answers. I glanced at the release valve and slowly clutched my fingers around the icy cold metal.

 

"Are you sure about this?" Jovan called out to me.

 

I looked over my shoulder at him with a nervous grin. "Not really."

 

I turned the valve, listening as an alarm began to ring throughout the chamber. I braced myself for anything, watching the liquid drain from the tube and down through several hoses, letting Drelinok gently land on his feet. The tube door opened upward and Drelinok's eyes screamed awake. He fell forward onto his knees and I caught him by the arm. He looked up to examine me, his eyes a bright, glowing shade of lemon. I had always remembered them being a dull blue, but I chalked it up to a side-effect of the machine. His armor had become thicker somehow, the same mix of gunmetal and cerulean it had always been. The features that made him a Meldin were all still there, he was just distanced enough from them that he seemed strangely alien.

 

"Hello, Adrinor," he whispered, his voice as warm and captivating as I remembered.

 

"Drelinok," I said, my thoughts racing. "Are you okay?"

 

He blinked a few times as the alarm faded out. "No. The liquid in this tube kept my body in an artificial coma, and your actions stirred me. My mind has been so very alive, for over 10,000 years, while my body has grown stronger in sleep. I have felt so much in the universe, like Mata Nui himself. I have even felt you."

 

"You've felt me? Like a telepath?"

 

Drelinok's expression grew angry and he mentally lifted me into the air, holding me aloft as he telekinetically clutched my throat. I heard several weapons being loaded behind me, but my primary focus was still Drelinok.

 

"You are a Meldin," he began, invading my memories, "and yet you have abandoned your heritage…in a life among criminals. Is this what our leaders, the Meldin Directorate, would have wanted?"

 

"I left Meldio because my views no longer matched those of the Directorate," I struggled to say. "I sided with the Collective and you tried to bury them under your ideals of conquest and destroying the unworthy. You don't need to search my thoughts to know that much."

 

"And so you departed this land for your own self-interested motives," Drelinok replied, sifting through my mind. He released his mental grip on my throat, but I was still floating against my will. "You are no longer the Meldin I once called my brother, too far gone in pursuit of your…freedom. This universe is dying and you came here to use my technology?"

 

"I needed to know what you were doing. The last time we met, you were leading a campaign against your fellow Meldin, so pardon me if I thought you would be a threat to the universe. This machine, whatever it is, could protect my team in saving Mata Nui."

 

"It took centuries for this machine to amplify my power to its current level, not that you deserve the products of my genius," Drelinok spat. "Mata Nui's well-being was of no concern until your life was finally at risk. Though you may not realize it yet, resign yourself to the reality that this universe will soon be the tomb of every biomech who ignored the Great Spirit's cries. There was never enough communication between the master and the pawns, and so Mata Nui must perish as well. The Matoran of Metru Nui wound him further with each day at war and I am now the most powerful being in the universe."

 

"And what will you do with that kind of power?" Jovan asked, the hum of his sonic weapon growing higher.

 

"There will come a day when the sun will no longer shine, the snow will no longer fall, and the birds will no longer sing. Darkness will rule this universe after Mata Nui, just as darkness came before him. Only this time, I will purge the shadows and preside over this universe. And you will know my reign by the sound of peace that rings gallantly through the air."

 

"We haven't abandoned our faith in the world," Celvey said.

 

"Place your faith in me, Ilisian," Drelinok replied, "this world is lost in hate and destruction."

 

"The world cannot handle the loss of the Great Spirit!" Jovan argued.

 

Drelinok hurled me backward and released his control over my body. He extended a hand to the sky, instantly causing the blizzard and gray clouds to vanish. The sun shone down on the open chamber and Drelinok appeared to bathe in it, smiling as he felt its enveloping warmth.

 

He hovered toward the Toa of magnetism and said, "Take heart, brave Toa, we will overcome the world. Spread my message of peace to your brothers and sisters; I must see to the edges of this universe and know the borders of the kingdom I shall soon inherit."

 

I was furious as Drelinok ascended out of the broken chamber, watching him stare back with a face wracked by disappointment in me. I got to my feet and brushed the frost and debris from my armor, turning back to my crew.

 

"Where is he going?" Jovan asked me.

 

I looked up through the chamber's opening, squinting against the sudden appearance of sunlight. "I don't know. He was searching my thoughts, as if he were looking for a particular memory that wasn't there. Even my knowledge of the Mask of Life was passed right over, which means he doesn't consider the notion a threat."

 

"And what about us?" Elendra questioned. "Did he find us threatening?"

 

"If he possesses the kind of power he described, I think he would've killed us if that were the case," Hadliek replied. "You saw what he was able to do to Adrinor and the weather."

 

"Yeah, he could never lift someone off the ground like that before," I said, still a little unnerved.

 

"What was that he was saying about a directorate?" Celvey wondered.

 

"Kyrhus," I started, putting up my hand, "remote explosive device, please."

 

Kyrhus clicked a metallic shell attached at his hip and tossed it underhand to me. I caught it and spun backward in one fluid motion, heading for the stasis pod.

 

"This island was once governed by a group of my kind that took up the mantle of leadership and referred to themselves as the Meldin Directorate." I slapped the device against the side of the pod and took a couple steps back, examining all the parts. "When a great number of the citizens began to dispute their views, a Meldin Collective was born. The Directorate viewed it as an act of war and Meldio tore itself apart." I turned back to my crew and glanced directly at Kyrhus, the detonator in his hand. "Drelinok's experiment in this laboratory must have begun after the Collective lost, when Meldio presumably returned to harmony. Understanding that I left Meldio behind to avoid Drelinok's conflict, you can see why his philosophy about the universe is a bit different from my own."

 

"And what, pray tell, is your philosophy?" Jovan asked.

 

"I am of the mind that the Great Spirit doesn't bother himself with who we are or what we need. But as long as he's alive, there are biomechs out there relying on him, guilty and innocent lives that don't deserve to be wiped out like this. Maybe I'm more of a reactive type, but I promise you, Jovan, I won't let Mata Nui die. I won't doom the universe to its grave."

 

"Then let's return to the ship and be on our way," Jovan replied. "This excursion to the wayside has only served to waste our time. Not only that, but I fear you have unleashed a great evil onto our universe."

 

I lowered my head. "Much as it may pain me to admit, Drelinok is not evil. He has always wanted biomechs to live together, happily, without war. It took a great loss of life to achieve here on Meldio, but he seems to be remembered as the island's finest Director because he did not compromise in his beliefs. His conviction makes him dangerous, but there is no malevolence in him, only the passion to build a better world."

 

"It sounds like he reshaped your society to be utopian by removing those he deemed 'unworthy' as you put it. If he has departed to replicate that work onto the rest of the world, a lot of biomechs are going to die in the process."

 

"And we can deal with that in due time," I said. "For now, let's keep focused on the mission at hand."

 

"Elendra, can we fly again?" I questioned.

 

"I performed a diagnostic check after you left," Elendra said. "We can make it to the edges of the Southern Continent, but anything more would be a fatal strain to the aircraft in its current condition. If we leave it there, we can sail back from Stelt eventually with the components necessary for a thorough repair."

 

"I understand, and I apologize. I know you put a lot of hard work into this ship, and having it crash in a snowstorm was far from ideal. Let's get back onboard and get these Toa to Mt. Valmai." I looked to the Gekalan in our crew and added, "Kyrhus, you're the last one out. I don't want anyone getting caught in the fireworks."

 

I took a running start before climbing the side of the wall and pulling myself the rest of the way up. There was a lot on my mind, and being perceptive as she was, Celvey took me by the shoulder and turned me around.

 

"It's going to be okay, Adrinor."

 

"I just released a super-charged Meldin that used to be dangerous enough with words at his disposal. He could destroy us all if he wanted, but if he was being honest that his mind has been awake for so long, he's had time to plan. Drelinok is after more than just the seat of Director this time, and I have a feeling we'll be seeing him again."

 

"And if we do, we'll face him together," Celvey told me. "We can't change what we've done, but we can always face our fears head on. You said you were willing to kill him, then we'll gain the allies necessary to do it. Does that make you feel any better?"

 

"Hardly," I admitted. "But when I think about it, I'm curious what harm Drelinok could bring to a universe that is essentially policed by the Brotherhood of Makuta."

 

Celvey frowned. "We'll find out soon enough, I'm sure."

 

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#4 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Mar 24 2015 - 12:52 AM

It's so easy to blow up your problems; it's so easy to play up your breakdown. –The Cars

 

 

Episode 04: A Point of Contention

 

When Toa Jovan told me about the twilit lands less fortunate than Stelt, one of the victims to which he referred was the Southern Continent. Elendra had taken our aircraft to the southeastern edge of the landmass and narrowly managed a safe landing. The crash on Meldio had compromised the hull integrity to a greater degree than expected, and Elendra refused to take the ship any further than she had to. We spent the night there and everyone had a chance to catch some sleep before continuing on for Mt. Valmai. I can attest to how well the rest of the team slept, because I found myself wide awake through most of the night.

 

Celvey had temporarily put my mind at ease after our encounter with Drelinok, but the more I thought about it, the more concerned I became. It seemed there were no lasting effects of his war against the Collective though, and Meldio would have been perfectly fine if not for the snowstorm. Even the Directorate building, the pristine tower from which all judicial decisions were finalized, was without a security fence or guards on patrol. When we were friends, Drelinok often dreamed about a perfect world where Meldin could live in harmony forever. I wondered if that was his lasting legacy, and if his war had led to the utopia he always hoped for. A great loss of life was the price our species paid, but Drelinok did not seem mentally unchanged by his time in the stasis chamber. He had developed something of a god complex—that much was certain—but if his goal for peace still meant destroying anyone who stood in his way, another war was right around the corner.

 

It was late in the morning when I exited the ship. The sky was smeared in a dusky shade of deep blue, mixed with fiery reds and oranges. I clutched my arms against my chest when an ocean breeze came up to meet me, unprepared for the chilliness in the air. In all the quiet years I spent on the Southern Continent, the humid climate had been a routine of clear days and warm nights. Toa Valtriak was standing alone on the beach, staring out toward the direction of Meldio with her feet in the surf. I marched up to the Toa of water and slowly immersed my feet in the cold ocean, standing at Valtriak's side.

 

"What are we looking at?" I asked.

 

"I am listening for the Great Spirit," she replied. "Through the bitter cold, I can sense something is there. He lives, but for how long, I do not know."

 

"You figured that out by standing in the water?"

 

Valtriak shook her head. "You seem to suggest this took an explanation, but it is just a feeling I am in tune with. It's difficult to describe to someone with no elemental affiliation."

 

I smirked at her. "There are some of us better off without access to things like that. I have a question for you though. Have you ever fired an energy bullet?"

 

"No," Valtriak said, taken aback by my inquiry. She pointed to her glaive that was resting in the sand. "That is a tool, capable of fostering and guiding, or breaking. What you have is a weapon, designed with lethality in mind. Toa keep a code that does not permit that level of engagement."

 

"Then they are deliberately putting themselves at a disadvantage," I replied sharply, walking over and scooping up the glaive.

 

I pointed the blade of the Toa tool at Valtriak and stood ready for combat. "You're going after a legendary Kanohi and even Drelinok might stand in your way. You must be prepared to do anything in your power to put down a threat. You have an element at your disposal, you have watched me in battle, and I know next to nothing about your fighting techniques. There should be no reason you cannot beat me."

 

Toa were a noble breed, but even they had a breaking point. Armed with nothing but her element, Valtriak stared me down with so much indignation, and I thought a tidal wave might swallow me right then. She took a fighting stance and I ran at her, leaping with the glaive ready to strike. The Toa dove out of harm's way, clumsily falling into the sand. I had learned to chain my attacks long ago, moving from a slash to a thrust in a second. I could not be sure if she was going to let me impale her on her own blade, but she gave me an answer quickly enough. I was within half a bio of her breastplate when I suddenly felt the absence of sand beneath my feet and Valtriak's influence dragged me beneath the water.

 

I struggled through the swirling torrent, encased in a sphere of ocean water. Through the raging liquid, I could see Valtriak holding out her arm, maintaining steady control. It was not enough that she had me; she was forcing the water into my mouth. If nothing else, I had to admire her enthusiasm, curious if she was fueled by the fact that she watched me shoot and kill biomechs. At last, the sphere was thrown onto the beach, collapsing on impact. I sat there on my back for a moment, barely holding on to the Toa tool. I coughed up spurts of the water and attempted to regain my sense of balance.

 

"Had enough?" she asked.

 

I got to my feet, letting the glaive drop to the wet sand. I was hunched forward, my hands balled into fists.

 

"What else have you got?" I spat.

 

Valtriak glared before running headlong at me, a sphere of water spinning in each hand. The truth of the matter was that, while I had swallowed some ocean water, I was far from beaten. My stance suggested otherwise, and it led to Valtriak underestimating her opponent. Before she could attack, I pulled the gunblade from my back and, with the precision of a Sanok, grazed the very top of her translucent blue Akaku. The water vanished from her hands and Valtriak stumbled forward in a state of shock.

 

"Easy there!" I said, catching her around the waist.

 

Valtriak stared at me, completely stunned while she gasped over and over. "You…almost killed me. I almost…"-

 

"Died, yes," I finished for her. "I wasn't going to kill you, I was just trying to prove a point."

 

Both of our teams poured out of the ship, obviously alarmed. All the Toa hurried over to me, carefully lifting Valtriak out of my grasp and holding her steady.

 

"We heard your weapon go off," Haltryox said. "What was going on out here?"

 

"Training exercise," I explained. "She'll be fine."

 

"Valtriak?" Ticonahk whispered curiously.

 

I stared at the Toa of water, waiting for her to expose my straightforward attempt at teaching a lesson.

 

"I'm not hurt, just a bit shaken," she assured her teammates. Valtriak released herself and took her glaive from the sand before storming up to me. "Was that supposed to make me more cautious or were you simply trying to remind me that you're able to take a life?"

 

"If you won't kill an enemy, you need to be prepared for the possibility that they may feel differently about you. Let them live if you must, but give them a reason to not want to get back up. Even the dullest creature will remember a certain magnitude of pain inflicted upon it."

 

"You're talking about torture," she said.

 

"I'm talking about persuasion through force," I argued. "I don't get to act superior to my adversaries and wave the banner of a hero in their faces. I have to work with what I've got, and sometimes that means drastic measures. Sometimes, it means reminding someone that death may be the least of their worries."

 

Valtriak looked at me in disgust and I sighed. "I'm only telling you this because I admire what you're trying to achieve. There's a supercharged, vainglorious murderer that I just unleashed upon the universe, and he will destroy you if you let him."

 

"We could have already saved Mata Nui if not for your insistence on going home."

 

"I know," I said, outwardly annoyed.

 

"And now, not only have we been delayed, but your old friend might just kill us before we can reach the Mask of Life?"

 

"That's enough."

 

"I don't know what Trylac was thinking to entrust you with our lives."

 

The gunblade fell from my grip and I struck Valtriak's cheek with my open hand. It had just barely been enough to make her stop talking, and she stared at me in total surprise, her mouth just barely hanging open.

 

"You crossed the line," Haltryox growled, marching toward me.

 

Valtriak summoned a wall of water between her fellow Toa and myself. "I crossed the line first. Not that it gives him the right to slap me."

 

"I am not a hero," I told her, taking a glance at her stunned comrades for a moment. "I told you on Meldio that I won't let the universe fall because it seems wrong that so many should perish for the actions of so few. If we could survive in a world without Mata Nui, however, I would let him die without a second thought."

 

"Then you are a cruel and ungrateful monster," the Toa of water said, evaporating the wall of liquid.

 

I bent down and grabbed my gunblade. "From an economic standpoint, the Matoran war in the north has adversely affected the markets on several high-traffic islands. There is a rumor that, decades ago, someone requested all personnel working for the Shadowed One to be dispatched to Metru Nui and forcibly end the fighting. Sometimes the story goes that they were a Vortixx, other times a Steltian. In all versions, this individual was an entrepreneur with something to lose without goods sailing out of Metru Nui. I imagine such an operation would have been successful, but the entrepreneur did not possess the riches to make the Dark Hunters bend to their will."

 

"What does that have to do with anything?" Valtriak asked, still upset with me.

 

"The Dark Hunters, like my own crew, are swayed by payment. In my line of work, if the price is right, a deal can be arranged. Now let me answer your question. The last Toa of water I killed was named Kriisan."

 

Valtriak made a sound, an audible revulsion of my words. I continued anyway.

 

"There exists a species of exotic Rahi in her homeland called Xylen. These creatures grow a small patch of the rare material called iridiex on the top of their skull. A Xylen is a majestic and powerful beast, galloping through fields and charging at potential threats. They are often killed if someone wishes to safely extract the iridiex. It sells for such a hefty price in certain areas, but Kriisan and her team felt the Rahi should be protected regardless of this fact. In the competitive market of hired guns, the unionized Dark Hunters are known for doing the job perfectly in exchange for a considerable amount. To stay employed, I am usually willing to charge less for similar tasks. The mission that introduced me to Kriisan was to stop the Toa team from upholding an island-wide ban on hunting the Xylen."

 

"So you just sailed there and shot the Toa, is that right?" Valtriak presumed.

 

"Not so," I replied. "I met with them, I invited them out to eat, and we had a chat about the dispute at hand. Within a couple hours, I could see they would not be reasoned with. I bid them farewell, tracked them in the night, and then they were shot."

 

Valtriak frowned. "I think we've wasted plenty of time talking. Mt. Valmai awaits, and I recognize that we may still require your services."

 

She extended a hand to me and I reached out to accept the offer. I was legitimately surprised that a Toa would sneak an uppercut into my jaw at her earliest opening. There had been a small part of my mind that was nagging me to keep my guard up, and I ignored it for reasons unknown. Valtriak had unwittingly turned my own lesson back on me, and I underestimated my opponent. The Toa started heading back toward the ship and I decided to stay put on my back. I could hear footsteps approaching and quickly found Celvey staring down from above my head.

 

"You're not here to help me up, are you?"

 

"You slapped her," Celvey replied, disapprovingly. "I would have decked you in the mouth for that myself."

 

"I was provoked."

 

"Aren't you the one always telling us how the last owner of your gunblade believed that emotions were a loss of freedom and sensible thought?"

 

"And he had his moments too," I replied.

 

"I'm still not helping you up," Celvey said adamantly.

 

I rolled over and picked myself up from the sand, returning the gunblade to my back. Elendra was stepping inside the ship when Jovan called out to me.

 

"How do you expect us to cross half the continent? Surely not on foot. Mt. Valmai is easily more than a mio from here!"

 

Before I could respond, Elendra had apparently reached the controls. Several compartments unsealed from the sides of the ship, ejecting 5 hover speeders onto the beach.

 

"Looks like you've got your answer," I told him, walking up to one of the speeders.

 

"What am I looking at, Adrinor?"

 

"These are hover speeders. Elendra recently built them as prototypes based on technology the Trelbans had been working on."

 

"And this is going to be their first test run," Elendra added, returning from the controls. "I've gotten them up and running before, but they've never crossed vast distances. I'm curious to see how well they handle the strain."

 

"How fast are they?" Haltryox asked.

 

"I designed their top speed to max out around eighty kio per hour, but the operator can override the governor if necessary," Elendra said proudly. "The Le-Metru Moto Hub would have a field day with one of these. Go ahead and power them on, and the Toa can ride as passengers."

 

Elendra lifted her leg over the seat of her speeder and leaned forward onto the controls. She activated it and the machine quietly lifted off the ground, hovering in wait for its next instruction. I hopped on one of the speeders and Jovan took a seat behind me.

 

"Think you'll have a hard time holding on?" I wondered.

 

"I'll keep my power on low in case I need to regain my balance or something," Jovan replied. "I'll be fine."

 

I glanced around to take stock of our teams, but Elendra abruptly revved her machine and took off along the coast.

 

I activated mine and looked over my shoulder when Jovan said, "Huh, so that's how they work. I can sense magnetic pulses among the electronics. Very creative."

 

"She's a genius wrapped in a psychopath, that one," I said with a laugh.

 

<<<>>> 

 

We drove all day up the Southern Continent, keeping a distance from any towns or settlements. Distractions were the reason Drelinok was actively roaming the universe and I would not have another burden like that weighing on me until Toa Jovan and his team completed their objective of retrieving the Mask of Life. If they could pull off an accomplishment like that, I had to believe nothing was beyond me too.

 

The edge of the Tren Krom River was in sight when I spotted a clearing to make camp and began slowing down. The other speeders came to a halt and I deactivated mine, hopping off the seat.

 

"We can stop here," I told the group, curious if I would be able to see their facial features if not for their glowing eyes.

 

I stared up at the great dome that housed the Southern Continent, into hazy blues and faded tangerine. It was so late, but the sky would grow no darker than a twilight scene.

 

"Do you smell that?" Ticonahk asked everyone. "It's like…something burning, but…not quite."

 

Kyrhus took a whiff of the air and nodded. "It's familiar. I can't say why, but I've smelled it before. Rather unkind to the senses, to say the least."

 

"It can wait, I'm sure we're all tired," Celvey said. "Long day of driving will do that to you."

 

"Don't let your guard down so easily, Princess," Elendra quipped. "You don't know what's out there."

 

"And you do?" Celvey questioned.

 

"I don't," Elendra replied, "and that's what makes me careful. Not a fear of the unknown, but a respect for what it could hide."

 

"I think I found the source of our foul stench on the wind," Toa Argeph said.

 

He was standing over a Burnak—the stone variety—that had been slashed open and brutally killed. Kyrhus approached and took a sniff for himself.

 

"Not very pleasant either, but this is a different smell. Something powerful managed to stalk and kill this Rahi, definitely utilizing some excessive force. Also, I can tell the Burnak was still alive for a while after suffering this injury."

 

"Could've done without knowing that," Argeph replied.

 

"Well whatever did it is long gone now," I said, trying to reassure even myself as I sat down next to the speeder I had driven all day. "Don't wake me for anything smaller than a Muaka."

 

The rest of the group started propping themselves up against the speeders, knowing there was no chance of a truly comfortable sleep out in the wilderness. It was hard to know if Toa Jovan's team was accustomed to such things, and I did not care enough to ask. I let my head rest on the speeder, knowing sleep would come soon. It was my first moment of relief since Drelinok had woken up.

 

I closed my eyes and let my thoughts run back and forth for a while, just wondering what I might do if I had to confront Drelinok in combat. It was hard to tell how much time passed as we rested there in the dark, and I paused to take in the moment. The chill that haunted the air by the coast was long gone, replaced by the humidity I knew the Southern Continent to be famous for. I could hear the chirping of insects, the occasional call of a bird, and the constant rapid flow of the Tren Krom River.

 

And then there came a different sound. A loud cracking noise jarred me wide awake, and I squinted my eyes in thought. It had to be a tree coming down. The cracking sound came again, louder and longer this time. It made no sense to me. Another crack echoed out, followed by a screech. I thought hard about where I had heard that animalistic cry before, thinking back through my adventures to the best of my abilities. When an answer came, I was not sure I wanted to deal with the truth of the matter. Everything added up. The cracking noise, the smell, and even the dead Burnak…they were all tied to the same thing.

 

I scrambled around the speeders on all fours, pushing and shaking awake my companions. I reached Kyrhus last and I could see his emerald eyes were already open and active.

 

"I see we both just stumbled onto a similar conclusion," Kyrhus said, his snout faintly twitching. "It was the smell that gave them away. I can't believe we didn't realize it sooner."

 

"Can you see them?" I asked.

 

Kyrhus scanned the Tren Krom River and nodded quickly. "I can…and they're drawing closer. We could try and go around them, but it's quite a risk. Their territory could span a great distance along the river."

 

Hadliek crawled next to us and lifted up his heavy pistol. "Then we'll fight our way through them. Full disclosure, I have no idea who or what we're talking about, but I'm going to assume fighting our way through is a viable option."

 

Argeph kept his thick voice to an angry whisper when he asked, "What is going on here?"

 

Kyrhus narrowed his sight on the Tren Krom. "There is a pack of Frostelus traveling down the river by way of icebergs. It would appear they are leaving their frozen dwellings to investigate an intruder to their territory."

 

"Three guesses who that intruder might be," Hadliek said.

 

Kyrhus motioned the rest of the group over to us and they did as requested. Elendra had a revolver ready and the Toa were waiting with their tools in hand. Celvey was still unarmed, but I could read her concerned expression.

 

"Kyrhus determined we've got Frostelus coming down the river," I started. "They are nasty, vicious, and a few well-placed claws could put you down for good. You will do whatever it takes to survive, and if you aren't holding yourself to a Toa's standard tonight, executions are encouraged."

 

"You would exterminate a pack of Rahi that is acting only on instinct?" Haltryox asked, obviously shocked.

 

"That tone," I muttered. "I've had just about enough of the judgmental chatter among your team. It boggles my mind how any of your kind are still alive if you provide the utmost courtesy to anything that threatens your life. Now to answer the question, yes, I would certainly exterminate them, Toa Haltryox. I'm not letting a pack of smelly, angry creatures be my end, and if you're that concerned about the Frostelus, maybe stop off on Destral and ask the Brotherhood to make a few more."

 

"Okay, enough talk," Hadliek told us. "Let's shoot something."

 

"For once, we're on the same wavelength," Elendra replied.

 

Hadliek flipped the activator on his pistol and launched an incendiary round into the distant dark. I could tell it struck one of the Rahi, because an enraged screech followed. The Todrano vaulted the speeder, took off running toward the river, and we followed his lead. I loaded the chamber on my gunblade and could see the Frostelus were swarming on the riverbank. They growled and hissed at our presence, retaliating with an array of ice blue disks from their shoulders. Hadliek's pistol was still in activator mode and I watched 9 more fiery bullets assault the Frostelus. Elendra outran us and attempted to start popping headshots on the Rahi. We had encountered the creatures once before, curious if the pack we saw last time was particularly well-armored. Watching every bullet from Elendra's pistols ricochet managed to tell us that all Frostelus had thick hides of armor.

 

"You might want a little fire kick to those rounds, Elendra!" Hadliek shouted while he finished reloading. He gave a chuckle at her expense and continued firing away at the Frostelus.

 

From behind us, Celvey's sonic assault rifle couldn't put a dent in them and it looked like Kyrhus was carefully sniping for openings in the Frostelus' armor. His rounds were staggering the creatures, but they were hardly deterred. More glowing sapphire spinners were headed our way and we took cover. I turned around and realized the Toa were watching us work, awestruck with our skill in combat. I was furious.

 

"You've seen us fight before, haven't you?" I yelled. "Get in this fight, now!"

 

"What are our orders?" Jovan asked.

 

"Seriously?" I hollered, taking a second to fire a round at one of the Frostelus. "Tear the armor from their bodies magnetically! Drown them in the river! Give them a plasma heatwave they won't soon forget! Anything is better than standing there!"

 

The Toa reacted immediately and what I saw was glorious. Toa often kept themselves in check, but being at the mercy of my command kept things interesting. Valtriak summoned several waterspouts from the river and launched the icebergs before smashing them back down on the Frostelus. Jovan took my advice and started magnetically pulling at Frostelus armor, exposing their vulnerable insides. The beasts were only a few bio away at that point and the Toa had managed to keep each target alive. My crew kept firing with everything they had, and then the other Toa stepped in. Argeph pushed an earthquake right through our path, ripping its way through the river out to the other side.

 

Haltryox followed up by growing vines out of the grasses and flinging about a dozen of the Rahi aside. Then it was Ticonahk's turn, and the plasma burst that he brought to life was astonishing. A white hot laser beam came forth from his hands, powerful enough that it could have torn through the Frostelus if focused correctly, but short enough that it left them alive.

 

The largest Frostelus in the pack stomped its foot a couple times, pointing its two right hands at me. One was a hook-like appendage, the other was made up of blade-like claws. It tilted its head up, bellowing a few times. And then, as if survival instinct had trumped territorial dispute, the Frostelus stepped away. It snarled at us, angry, but knowing it had lost the battle. The others did the same, stepping away and opening a path for us to cross.

 

"They've conceded," Jovan whispered.

 

"And we will honor that decision by leaving," I ordered. "Everyone back to the speeders. We continue on for another fifty kio and we'll make camp there."

 

The group headed for our transports and I eyed the large Frostelus angrily. It would not take another step back, and I had no reason to bring it any further harm. For understanding nothing of one another, it seemed we had reached an agreement. The injured Frostelus were mostly returning to their icebergs, but something eerie caught my attention as I watched them. One of the beasts that Hadliek had dropped with his incendiary rounds attempted to stand back up, but it seemed wrong. It moved as though it had never controlled its own body before, and then it looked right at me. It looked at me with a directness that no beaten Rahi would dare, and I could tell that it wanted me to look back. I met its gaze, and I watched the eyes glow bright yellow for a split second before the creature fell dead for good.

 

"Drelinok…?" I wondered to myself, a cold feeling rushing down my spine.

 

Elendra's speeder rocketed by me, followed by Hadliek's and Celvey's. Jovan scooped me up by my back and threw me onto the moving vehicle as a passenger. His control over magnetism made it quite the smooth transition, but I was in not in the frame of mind to compliment him after his team failed to react initially.

 

"You all right, Adrinor?" he asked, driving the speeder along.

 

I took another look back at the Frostelus camp and the yellow eyed Rahi was still dead. I returned my attention to Jovan and told him, "Nothing a little sleep won't fix. Let's get out of here."

 

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#5 Offline Cederak

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Posted Mar 31 2015 - 12:00 PM

You did not desert me, my brothers in arms. –Dire Straits

 

 

Episode 05: Reunion in Radiance

 

We slept in peace after our encounter with the Frostelus, distant enough from their dwellings that we knew the danger was far behind us. After a good night's rest, we all began to stir around midmorning. There was little to talk about, our journey was nearly over. I suppose that is a funny way of putting it, as Jovan and his team would have the task of claiming the Mask of Life. I was far more interested in finding out if Trylac was truly alive. It was a few more hours of driving until we reached the base of Mt. Valmai, finally dismounting our speeders.

 

Toa Jovan put his hands on his hips as he surveyed the area with a smile. "The volcano is a bit much, but there's something nice about this region. Very agreeable."

 

Elendra rolled her eyes. "Yeah, it's breathtaking. Now, I thought you said we'd be meeting up with your contact here."

 

A towering figure stepped out from behind several large boulders, wielding the largest axe I had ever seen in my life. His bright green eyes narrowed on me and he pointed the weapon in our direction.

 

"That's not Trylac," I breathed, firing the gunblade at him.

 

The entity blocked my attack with the broad side of his axe, glaring back. "A Meldin. It has been a very long time since I have seen one of your kind. I was not aware your species had a warrior class. Are you so eager for combat?"

 

"This is the team that Trylac had us seek out, Axonn," Valtriak said. "They are all very adept fighters."

 

"This one, Toa of water, I wish to test. He carries much within himself…things he would like to hide away from the world." He returned his attention to me, his silver mask emitting a faint gray glow. "You cannot hide from me."

 

"Sounds like I'm not the only one looking for a fight," I replied, wrapping a finger around the gunblade's trigger.

 

Axonn smirked. "Come forth."

 

I ran at him, swinging the gunblade and firing a round for his mask. His axe deflected it and he brought the blade down with so much force, the ground shifted beneath me. I stumbled back, haphazardly firing a few more rounds. They bounced off his armor like harmless pellets and Axonn raised his weapon high for another strike. He sunk the blade into the ground again, but I leapt at the exact second it landed. He watched me vault the axe and just as I was about to slice his chestplate wide open, Axonn landed a solid punch with my abdomen.

 

He knocked the wind out of me and I went reeling, my gunblade flipping and landing near my position. I could hear Axonn's booming steps coming closer and I scrambled for my weapon, holding it ready for the next round.

 

"You are courageous and determined," he said. "That's the positive side. Remember, Meldin, I have seen what lurks beneath your surface. Now we both know the negative side."

 

"I wouldn't let his abilities unnerve you too much," someone else said, entering the scene. He was clad in azure and gold armor, just as sturdy looking as Axonn and wielding a double-sided blade. "Have you ever seen a mask like his?"

 

I studied Axonn's Kanohi and vaguely recalled seeing one on Xia once. "It's a…Rode. No wonder you said you could see beneath my surface."

 

"The truth always comes out, in the end," Axonn told me. He motioned to the new figure and added, "This is my ally, Brutaka."

 

Jovan stepped forward and smiled at them. "We entered the city of Metru Nui, fought our way through the warzone, and located the information you wanted us to seek. We even found a Kanohi Elda."

 

"One of you should wear it," Brutaka replied. "The mask will guide you."

 

Ticonahk approached Jovan and said, "Let me take it. I'll see the way for us."

 

Jovan handed over the Elda and Ticonahk quickly replaced his Pehkui with it. We watched him stand completely frozen, mumbling incoherently as he witnessed things we could only imagine.

 

"Ticonahk?" Jovan asked worriedly. "Are you all right? What is it? What can you see?"

 

Ticonahk put his head down and took a few long breaths. "The Mask of Life is below, beyond traps and trials. The tablet in the Archives was right."

 

"Which raises one last point," I said, looking accusingly at Axonn and Brutaka. "Why send us on a suicide mission? The Archives told us the Mask of Life was here, and Jovan's team knew to meet you here. I don't often subscribe to the possibility of coincidences. You knew."

 

Everyone turned to Axonn and Brutaka, but our answer came gliding down on insectoid wings and stood at their side. He had not changed a bit in almost a millennium, still armored in deep blue and brilliant emerald. He had four garnet eyes—bug eyes—and mandibles surrounding his mouth. He was a Dectraz, and his name was Trylac.

 

"Of course we knew," he told us. "To know the will of Mata Nui is so great a burden, and some wishes cannot be overturned. The journey to Metru Nui was foretold of the Great Spirit's saviors long ago. We did not know it would be Jovan, nor did we know he would have outlaws at his side, but certain events must transpire. This is the way of the world."

 

I put the gunblade on my back and walked up to Trylac, wanting to be overjoyed that my friend still lived. The harsh reality was a bit different.

 

"A lot has changed," I said, offering a hand.

 

"Not really," Trylac replied, shaking in return. "I no longer have a reason to deceive you, Adrinor. I have been watching you a long time…and I watched Rovaius even longer."

 

"Don't you say his name," I growled. "I don't know what you're caught up in, but you left us to die. You left me to die. I'm glad that you're alive, but I'd like some answers."

 

"Agreed," Elendra added, standing next to me.

 

"Your friend Trylac has upheld the will of Mata Nui for a very long time," Axonn said. "He has done more for this universe than you might think."

 

"That doesn't explain why he abandoned us," I argued.

 

"A Makuta shot me through the abdomen right out of the sky," Trylac said, tapping on a black scar in his armor. "Aside from the burning pain of my wounds, there was no tracking you in the rainstorm, Adrinor. I thought the Makuta killed all of you because we had incurred his wrath. When I finally located you again, I wanted to keep my distance. I've been…busy, these last several hundred years. The journey with Rovaius was insightful and eye-opening, but it was his relationship with Barraki Pridak that kept me near. I have no reason to stay with you, but you don't need me anyway. I can see you've grown into a fine leader."

 

"You did call me an outlaw a few minutes ago," I reminded him.

 

"There are worse words for what you've done, and it would be highly hypocritical of me to use them," Trylac said, chuckling. "We should move. Toa Jovan and his team are coming with me to the forest - the Green Belt as some call it."

 

"This is excellent," Jovan said happily. "My own team combined with Adrinor's could no doubt"-

 

"It doesn't work like that," Trylac cut him off.

 

The Toa of magnetism frowned. "I don't…I don't understand. We came all this way together."

 

"They may accompany us into the woods," Trylac started, "but your voyage down the staircase is yours alone. This is the will of Mata Nui, that his champions may see him through to safety. Adrinor and the others may not follow you, for there are things you will encounter that only those pure of soul might survive. Anything less would mean your death, and the Great Beings intended it so. You truly are the chosen ones, Toa, and your moment is coming soon. Before the day is won, and the Ignika found, the universe will ask much of you. You must all be prepared."

 

I looked at Jovan's team, feeling sorry for their worried and anxious expressions. I had no idea what they might encounter beneath the volcano and, the way Trylac spoke, I really had no interest in finding out.

 

"What happens when we reach the mask?" Argeph asked. "Where do we take it?"

 

"To the heart of all things," Brutaka told him solemnly. "The Ignika knows the way."

 

"It knows?" Haltryox wondered.

 

"We have said enough," Trylac decided. "We're going."

 

"Back on the speeders, everyone," I ordered.

 

"Follow my lead through the sky," Trylac said. "Axonn and Brutaka will follow close behind on foot."

 

"Yes, I could use a good run today," Axonn said, smiling.

 

Trylac's wings moved rapidly and he soared off. I activated my transport and hurried after him, finding myself smiling. It almost felt like the old days, having him on my side again. And then I remembered the gunblade was on my back, and I knew that it would never be exactly the same. After all the years of hiding, it took a cataclysm for Trylac to reveal himself. I thought for a long time that if I ever saw Trylac again, I would be upset and furious, but instead I was overcome by nostalgia. I was very inexperienced the last time I saw him, and it was fair of him to think I had died at a Makuta's hand. There was no room for emotional responses that day, and Trylac had to make a logical decision. Ultimately, I had to admit it was the right call.

 

"Hello, Adrinor."

 

It was Drelinok's voice, surrounding my thoughts. He was in my mind.

 

"What do you want?" I asked quietly.

 

I noticed in my peripheral vision that Jovan was looking ahead at me, probably thinking I was talking to him. I tried to be inconspicuous as I listened for Drelinok to speak again.

 

"I see you have arrived at your destination. The Toa in your group wish to fulfill their destiny and rescue the Great Spirit. I often wondered what power destiny might have in the face of a divine being that argues the matter."

 

"Where are you?" I hissed.

 

"Far from you," Drelinok laughed. "I think I'll send some company to liven up the party. You'll like them, actually. You think you're so smart, and they're a bright bunch. Literally. Just you wait and see."

 

Bright lights began to dot the landscape, clouding my vision as I tried to focus on the forest in the distance. I searched for Trylac and noticed he was wielding a compound bow as he flew along, taking aim at the brilliant glowing orbs.

 

"Adrinor?" Jovan called over the wind.

 

"Be ready for anything!" I shouted back. "It's Drelinok!"

 

Jovan unlimbered his weapon and aimed it along our right side, completely unsure of what to aim at. Suddenly, the lights exploded and a horde of Toa-like soldiers surrounded us. They were featureless, only bright and lemon colored. Then they started firing bolts of light from their hands, blasting the ground with their power. I could dodge them, maybe even outrun them, but we had to reach wherever Trylac was taking us. Jovan had to succeed.

 

One of Trylac's arrows landed in a Light Warrior's head, shattering the entity like glass. The Toa started firing on the entities as well, blasting them apart with single shots. The other soldiers of light were morphing back into orbs and flying ahead of us before rematerializing as bipedal creatures and blasting the speeders. We were all taking fire from them, but Elendra's machines seemed to be holding up for the most part.

 

"I think we're going to make it!" Jovan yelled.

 

In the instant I took my attention from driving to listen to the Toa of magnetism, a Light Warrior snuck out from behind a tree and slammed his fist into the front of the speeder. Jovan and I went flying, tumbling off the transport and rolling through dirt and dust and shrubs. Trying to stay focused, I watched the Light Warriors begin to slaughter several of the local fauna - arachnid Rahi called Dagger Spiders. The warriors tossed the broken bodies into a pile and more orbs of light began to appear, entering the damaged mechanical forms.

 

The metal fused together, wrapping pieces around on another as the monstrosity grew larger. At last, the amalgamation was a giant Dagger Spider, staring down at me with a pair of yellow orbs where the eyes should have been.

 

"To battle, Adrinor," Drelinok whispered in my thoughts.

 

Jovan moved to separate the parts, but they were hardly budging. Drelinok's light was more powerful than a Toa's element, it seemed.

 

"I can't tear it down," Jovan told me.

 

"Then we'll rip it apart my way," I replied, running toward the colossal spider.

 

The Light Spider plunged its sharp leg into the dirt, attempting to impale me. I swung my gunblade and severed the leg, causing the creature to screech. A stream of the creature's toxin sputtered out of the wound, burning an acidic hole through a patch of grass. I wondered if the Light Warriors could feel pain, or only simulate what the Dagger Spiders would have done in life. Whatever this thing was, it was no longer a Rahi.

 

"Incoming!" Axonn boomed, hurling his axe into the creature's face.

 

The spider staggered backward, flailing back and forth in an attempt to remove the weapon. At last, the head exploded and Axonn's blade went soaring back at him. The spider head reformed and hissed at us, hardly given an opening before Brutaka moved in and began slicing the legs apart. I assisted him, cutting through the metal with the gunblade and thrusting it into the thorax section. I dove out of the way and the spider fell as I expected. Instead of going to retrieve my weapon, I searched for my team. The other speeders were far ahead, and I could see they were contending with other Light Warriors flanking them. Trylac was still overhead and the spider was finished when Axonn came to my side and gave me a smirk.

 

"I think you want this," he said, handing over the gunblade. "If you'd like, I can tell them you got it started for me."

 

Axonn lumbered forward and slammed his blade through the middle of the spider, slicing it right in half. The essence of light surrounding the machine faded away and I gave Axonn an impressed nod.

 

"Bring me the speeder, Jovan," I said.

 

The Toa of magnetism activated his element and lifted the transport back to us. We hopped on and I hit the override to Elendra's governor in the speeder, hurtling forward into the woods. Axonn and Brutaka would arrive soon enough, but I felt responsible for protecting Jovan's team all the way to their mysterious staircase. Jovan kept firing at the orbs following us, and I tried my best to ignore the war in my mind.

 

"There's no stopping me, this is only a formality."

 

"Get out of my head."

 

"There's no trying, and you know I'm right. Do you remember what I promised on the day I started the war, Adrinor? I said that there are consequence for standing in the way of the future."

 

"It doesn't matter!"

 

"I'll see you soon, Adrinor. And dead or alive, you're mine!"

 

"Leave me alone!"

 

Saying something out loud snapped me back to reality, and I reactivated the speed regulator. I had nearly caught up with the rest of the group and I could see Trylac was descending into a nearby clearing. The orbs of light were diminishing back into the nothing from which they came, and I had to wonder how extensive Drelinok's new abilities truly were. We dismounted the speeders, awaiting further instructions from Axonn or Brutaka.

 

"All right, someone needs to tell me what just happened," Brutaka demanded.

 

"It's a long story," I admitted awkwardly.

 

"I'll get the briefing from him on it," Trylac told his large friend.

 

Jovan and his team put their tools away and their leader folded his arms, giving me a smile.

 

"That was really something," he said.

 

"I've had better days," I replied, taking his compliment as casually as I could.

 

"Looks like this is where we take our separate paths. I have to know one thing though, Adrinor. Was it all about the money, or are you at all satisfied that you may have played a role in saving the world?"

 

"I think you know," I told him. "Good luck down there…to your whole team. We're all counting on you."

 

"No pressure, right?" Ticonahk asked sarcastically.

 

Hadliek scanned the area and glanced at Axonn. "Hey, where is this staircase everyone is talking about, anyway?"

 

"You think we'd leave it in plain sight?" Axonn questioned, activating his Kanohi. His expression became frustrated and he sighed. "You do think we'd leave it in plain sight."

 

"These ones are harmless," Brutaka said. "Not to offend any of you, your skills in battle are…adequate. I simply mean that you pose no harm on a universal scale."

 

I furrowed my brow and gave a defeated nod. "Fair enough."

 

"Show them, Axonn," Brutaka suggested.

 

Axonn pushed by us and spun his axe around in his hands a few times. He then gripped it hard and aimed for a patch of dirt near the edge of the clearing, firing a beam of raw energy that tore through the earth and revealed the uppermost edges of an ancient-looking staircase. The soil was steaming from Axonn's power and he lowered the weapon, turning back to us.

 

"You will provide no greater service to the world than what you are about to embark on, brave Toa. There are Matoran not far from here, fearful that these are the end of days. Give them hope…give them a future."

 

"Well said, Axonn," Trylac replied. "Come, Adrinor. There is nothing more we can do for them."

 

"Farewell," Jovan told us. His fellow Toa echoed the sentiment, giving us a few brief waves.

 

"Farewell is for dying," I said, walking away. "I'll see you around!"

 

Trylac followed me away from the scene, keeping pace as we returned to the speeders.

 

"So you've been watching me, huh?" I began. "I must be pretty special to your boss."

 

"Rovaius was special to my boss, authorizing me to confront even those in our organization if suspicions were raised. After you spent time around him and the Barraki, you and Elendra became just as special. You are privy to a piece of history that the Brotherhood tried to erase, but it's more than just that. I believed we would need you one day, and I was right."

 

"Your organization isn't big on being in the spotlight, are they?"

 

"As far as anyone else is concerned, Adrinor, we don't exist," Trylac said coldly.

 

"Understood," I replied, pulling out the mechanical part I found in the Archives. "Do you know what this is? We located it in Onu-Metru and I haven't been able to comprehend its function. It was among Drelinok's tablets about a power amplification machine."

 

"Who is Drelinok?" Trylac asked.

 

"He's, uh…the one responsible for the lights."

 

Trylac took the part and started to examine it closely. "Keep talking."

 

"Drelinok is a Meldin who locked himself away in a power amplification chamber. The experiment failed and sealed him in stasis for a very long time. I went home to Meldio the other day and we accidentally set him free. He says he's the most powerful being in the universe now, maybe even stronger than the Great Spirit. He entered my mind and spoke to me before the soldiers of light appeared, and I think he's capable of much more. He went to war with Meldio long ago, when he was a common Meldin, and he won after slaughtering all who opposed him. He wants a perfect world, and he'll do anything to achieve it."

 

"This would not be a part for a power amplification machine," Trylac determined quietly, handing it back to me. "But keep it close, because I'm not sure what it would be used for."

 

"And what about Drelinok? Are you concerned?"

 

"Notably," Trylac replied. "I'll inform Axonn and Brutaka, and we'll make plans to assess what damage this Meldin could cause."

 

"Anything I should do in the meantime?"

 

Trylac shook his head. "I'll be in touch if we need you. Otherwise, return to Stelt, rest in your own bed, and return to your life. It's not the most admirable line of work, but I am proud of you Adrinor. Rovaius would be proud too."

 

"Thank you," I said, smiling. "I hope to see you again soon."

 

"Nothing personal, but I'm glad Elendra was never as sentimental as you. She and I understand that sometimes less is more when it comes to words. On your way now, Adrinor."

 

"I suppose that's as close to 'nice to see you too' as you'll tread," I said, hopping onto one of the speeders. "I'll take what I can get."

 

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#6 Offline Cederak

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Posted Apr 14 2015 - 12:58 AM

Everybody wants to rule the world. –Tears for Fears

 

 

Episode 06: Ancient Menagerie

 

Trylac's description of the Kanohi Ignika's labyrinthine cavern still keeps me awake at times. I wonder what hardships Toa Jovan and his team were forced to endure, and why even after commending my abilities, he warned that anything less than a pure soul would be obliterated. I lived a peaceful life on the Southern Continent for ages between my departure from Meldio and the beginning of my time as an outlaw. That memory coupled with the thought that something so powerfully sinister lurked far below my bed through the years was an unsettling notion.

 

We followed Trylac's advice and drove back toward Stelt, clearing the rest of the continent after a long day of riding. The journey back to the land of Voporak and his kind took us on a course due north, intending to rest near the beach before concluding our trip the following day. I remember wanting to sleep as I rolled my head back and forth on the speeder frame that my body was propped against. The night was immeasurably dark and my crew was sleeping more soundly than I could. I was honestly concerned for Toa Jovan and his team. They were good, kind individuals. In the life I had forged, such characteristics were a health hazard, and it made me worry that something on the way to the Mask of Life might play upon their weakness in that department.

 

For a change, it was not about saving myself. I really hoped they would survive for their own sakes, even if the universe was beyond rescuing. I could picture Jovan's yellowish green eyes in my mind, filled with inspiration. I thought I was able to picture them more realistically than anything, until I noticed something else. The demand for sleep would have soon overwhelmed my desire to muse on Toa Jovan's fate, but the yellowish green light was real, because my eyes were wide open.

 

"Wake up!" I shouted to the team.

 

I listened over the sound of the waves for my crew starting to stir in the dark, watching intently as the lights out on the water swirled violently. Like tendrils ripping through from another world, ominous trails of emerald intertwined with a sickly lemon that began to build brighter and wider. The gaseous field emitted silence, calming the water and seeming to draw the life from everything it touched.

 

"Any guesses on what we're looking at?" Kyrhus asked.

 

A bolt of energy rippled out of the distortion, crackling in the air before vanishing. A few more followed, shattering the quiet with their power.

 

"I've never seen anything like it," Elendra replied. "Ready the speeders. This could be bad."

 

I moved to start up my transport when the green cloud burst into a shockwave, flying at us and passing through our bodies with a mighty explosion. The clouds faded into a thin mist, and the tendrils were being replaced by more solid structures. Towers dotted with crimson lights were painted into existence, and energy pylons jutted high above the ground. The well-fortified walls of a stronghold began to surround the architecture, blocking our view of the sanctums and courtyards with a smoky veil. Along the edges of the bastion were sparse patches of dirt and grass, all stable above the sea.

 

"It's a landmass," Celvey said, captivated by the sight.

 

"Hey, Adrinor, any chance your 'savior of the universe' friend has something to do with this?" Hadliek wondered.

 

"Drelinok? Calling him my friend may be a new high in your sarcastic repertoire, but his involvement is a possibility. We still don't know the extent of his powers, although I can't say there are many in the universe capable of moving an entire citadel like this."

 

Elendra activated her speeder and told us, "Whatever is going on, our life expectancy would probably be improved upon by leaving this place. As much as I love a solid firefight, bullets are no match for hurtling towers across dimensions."

 

I scanned the stronghold again, watching a ball of light burn into existence in the sky. A few more sprouted from the dark, steadily growing larger. In seconds, there were dozens of lights surrounding the towers, humming angrily amid the shadows.

 

"That looks like Drelinok's handiwork," Hadliek said, notably disturbed. "He's repeating what he did back near Mt. Valmai."

 

"Why waste the effort though?" Elendra pondered. "Was Drelinok expecting to catch us off guard in our sleep with this?"

 

A bright spiral of ruby energies soared through the air, impacting one of the lights and causing it to destabilize. The ruby trail of power faded away with the ball of light, but I could see more beams of energy rippling through the night. They were assaulting the lights, which led me to a new conclusion.

 

"Drelinok isn't the one using this citadel," I muttered.

 

I felt my crew's eyes on me when I added, "They're under attack."

 

"We barely fought off the Light Warriors in the Green Belt," Elendra replied. "Do you really want to enter this confrontation with them?"

 

"Drelinok is a strategist," I explained. "He sent his Light Warriors after us as a test. Whatever is going on in that stronghold, Drelinok has a reason for finding it important. I'd rather help whoever they are than let Drelinok gain a foothold anywhere in the universe."

 

Elendra responded by revving her speeder and taking it out onto the waves, hovering above the water and taking a banked turn along the edges of the landmass. The rest of us kicked our own speeders on and followed her lead, ready for a fight. The lights of the citadel were bright enough to keep us from crashing against the walls, but we needed a way inside. I sped up to Elendra and wanted to gauge her for advice.

 

"Can we clear the outer perimeter with a good boost?"

 

Elendra thought about the question before finally nodding. "Definitely not what I had in mind, but if you give it everything it's got, you'll clear the wall."

 

"All right. I'm going in."

 

I disengaged the speed governor and flipped off a couple more switches that acted as regulators for the speeder system. There was a chance that the speeder could very well explode before I pulled off my intended maneuver and I decided to play the odds. I continued skirting the perimeter as my speed shot up, curious how large the stronghold truly was. I looked up and a winged figure blasted one of the solidified Light Warriors with a burst of blackish green energy. Behind the figure, a hoard of Rahkshi followed. I tilted the speeder back to let the tail dip into the water and burst upward, soaring over the wall and landing hard in one of the courtyards, smashing my way through a bust of a Kanohi Avsa.

 

"This is bad," I spat, tensing up as the speeder rolled a few times and I was thrown from the controls.

 

I pulled my gunblade and took aim at the Light Warriors right before a tall, thin entity scooped me to my feet. He was armored in glossy white and bright red, wielding a sharp and deadly scepter as he eyed me curiously.

 

"Your kind should not be here!" he yelled at me, pointing his scepter at one of the Light Warriors and unloading a blast of chain lightning. "This is not your home to defend!"

 

One of the creatures drew near and my gunblade ripped through it, causing the entity of pure energy to be extinguished.

 

"I need to talk with the one in charge!" I replied. "We're all in danger."

 

"Do you have any idea where you are, Meldin?" he asked.

 

I took a couple shots at the Light Warriors, keeping them at bay while Rahkshi and other figures like the one addressing me managed to reduce their sparkling ranks.

 

"Yes," I nodded, well aware that I did not want to insult the sort of being I was talking to. "I had never seen this place before, I only knew the stories and the legends. Please forgive our intrusion to your mighty fortress of Destral, Makuta."

 

"You may call me Krika," he replied, starting to hover off the ground. "And if we can drive away these things, I will take you to the one in charge."

 

Makuta Krika soared away just as Elendra cleared the wall, letting the speeder get away from her as she ducked into a roll. The Trelban sprung outward in a fluid movement, drawing her revolvers and putting her back to mine.

 

"Seeing the Rahkshi scale the towers gave me all the answers I needed," Elendra said. "The matriarchs on Xia used to marvel over this place and now I see why. The tales that Destral could phase out of local space-time and reenter at another location really were true."

 

"We've got more Light Warriors headed our way. There's a Makuta overhead in combat with them, but I think a shadow bomb might even the odds a bit. Can you pop one for me?"

 

"Start moving. When you return to your original position, I'll do it."

 

Elendra and I kept our backs together and began turning, firing on the nearest Light Warriors. It was only seconds before I was standing where I started, hurling a shadow bomb up into the battle between dozens of Light Warriors and a single Makuta. Elendra turned back and fired her revolver over my shoulder, hitting the grenade. Darkness spewed forth from the explosive device, erupting in a frenzy of static and black violet power.

 

The blast radius consumed the Light Warriors, engulfing them in blackness. All the elements of the universe were inaccessible to me, but it was only shadow that commanded a fearful respect. The Toa could manipulate their elements to help and heal and grow, but there were no Toa of darkness. Shadow took and destroyed and left only ruin and emptiness. In this case, it happened to leave a lone Makuta behind. She was clad in armor of gold and gunmetal, with a diamond Mask of Summoning. She descended onto my position, giving me a nod that suggested she was slightly impressed.

 

"Do you have any explanation for this invasion fleet?" she questioned.

 

"We know the individual responsible," I replied. "Why warp your fortress to this location though? It looked like the Light Warriors were expecting you."

 

"How do you know their name?"

 

"We don't. It just seemed fitting. Makuta Krika told me that he would take us to the one in charge if we could stop the Light Warrior attack."

 

"I can arrange that," she said firmly. "Rally your team and meet me in the next courtyard. If another should approach you, tell them to speak with Makuta Cevezia."

 

Cevezia phased out of sight and I glanced at Elendra. "You saw that right?"

 

"Yeah," she said, still thinking. "It looked like she teleported."

 

"How many powers have you figured out Makuta possess now?"

 

"Roughly 35."

 

"And how many powers have you figured out that I possess?"

 

I paused, narrowing my eyes. "I don't have time for this. Unless you plan to directly assault the Brotherhood of Makuta, this has gone on long enough."

 

"I suppose it has. Very well, Adrinor. I have what I want…no reason you should not be entitled to the same."

 

"What?"

 

Elendra turned to me. "I didn't say anything."

 

I blinked rapidly a few times. "Yeah, must have been hearing things."

 

Elendra stared hard at me, finally putting her weapons away. "Don't lie to me, Adrinor. It's unbecoming."

 

I watched her walk away, leaving for the next courtyard. I placed the gunblade on my back and reluctantly followed her, staring up into the sky as the last Light Warriors blinked out of existence. I broke into a run and caught up to Elendra, stopping when I got a look at Cevezia. The courtyard she was standing in, flanked by Hadliek and Celvey, was absolutely demolished. Krika descended and Kyrhus let go of the Makuta's forearm, dropping next to me.

 

"Well, we won," he said.

 

"That would be the most likely answer to what happened," I replied, wholly unconvinced.

 

"Answers," Krika said, directing his attention to me. "We could use a few more of those."

 

"Right. You were going to take us to the one in charge?"

 

"Actually," another Makuta interjected, "that task would belong to me."

 

Everyone present turned to look at the newcomer, the most renowned member of the Brotherhood in the universe, as his cape fluttered in the night air. He was the one who led an army against the League of Six Kingdoms. He was the one who arrested the Barraki for their plot of treason against the Great Spirit. And had it not been for the arrival of the mysterious Botar that night, he would have been their executioner, in spite of countless Toa arguing a more humane alternative. His armor was a mixture of sterling silver and obsidian black as the void. Behind his unique Kanohi, the Mask of Shadows, were the most cunning ruby eyes I had ever seen. This was not the determination I could see in Drelinok, or the yearning for freedom in Rovaius, no. This Makuta's eyes seemed to say that they knew so much, and intended to share very little.

 

"Teridax," Krika stated. "What news do you bring from the fortress?"

 

"The beings of light were unable to penetrate the inner structure. Seeing now that they have gone, we have time to fortify and retaliate."

 

"Respectfully, Makuta, there is no retaliating against them."

 

Teridax sharply turned his gaze on me, appearing disgusted that I had spoken at all.

 

"This Meldin seems to know more about the situation than we do," Cevezia said. "I am certain that Miserix wishes to be brought up to speed on the matter."

 

"And he shall," Teridax replied, looking at my crew. "Join hands, now."

 

We did as instructed, and Teridax placed his hand on my shoulder. In an instant, the world spun and faded into a blend of colors, before reshaping itself into a throne room. We stood in the center, and in the exquisite throne itself, sat the leader of the Brotherhood. He was reclined, one leg lifted up over the other, his clawed hand turning lazily as he studied us.

 

Even sitting, I could tell he was a head taller than Teridax (who was easily beyond a head taller than me). His heavy armor was scarlet, with traces of white metal here and there. It was almost impossible to tell he was wearing a Mask of Mutation—or any Kanohi at all for that matter—due to how reptilian his face was. It resembled some of the features of Kyrhus' species, the Gekalan, with a snout, scales, and a pair of lime green eyes that had slits down the middle. Miserix had the addition of a pair of fangs that protruded down from his mouth. He pushed off of his armrests and stood tall before us, a long scaly tail whipping to the side.

 

"Miserix, my master," Teridax said, kneeling on one leg and lowering his head. "These lesser creatures have knowledge to report about the light invaders. I brought them to you, so that we may learn what we can of this strange new enemy."

 

"Sentience levels the playing field, Teridax," Miserix replied coolly as he strode up to us. "You once called the Barraki such things, and had I adopted your arrogance, Pridak would view us as the lesser beings today. I see a Meldin, a Todrano, a Trelban, a Gekalan, and an Ilisian. Within each of them is the capacity to outthink our ranks, because such ingenuity was necessary to the survival of their species. Strength, powers, and a seat of control cannot allow us to fall into complacency, on the contrary, it means we stand to lose so much more."

 

"I understand," Teridax replied.

 

"Do you? I wonder. Look at me, my lieutenant," Miserix told him, touching the edge of his tail to the top of the Mask of Shadows.

 

Teridax, still on one knee, glanced up.

 

"Unto those the Great Spirit grants much, much is demanded. We are not gifted, but tasked, with a responsibility. This fortress, our mighty physical bonds – these are not the things that make us great. Our majesty draws from the mantle of leadership in this universe that we are required to uphold. And it would behoove you to never forget that, my brother. Now rise."

 

Teridax stood, brushing off his cape. "Wise words, my master."

 

Miserix turned toward me and smiled. "Welcome, visitors. The island of Destral, this citadel home to the Brotherhood of Makuta, will always permit those who defend it, so long as I am in charge. My name is Makuta Miserix."

 

"Adrinor," I replied, offering a handshake.

 

The Makuta's hand swallowed my own, shaking politely. "Let's take a walk. I'm sure you would like to be on your way soon."

 

"And I'm sure you'd like an explanation for what just happened out there."

 

"All too true," Miserix said, taking the lead, motioning Teridax to follow us.

 

"I am curious, Makuta Miserix, why your island fortress warped here and the Light Warriors appeared immediately."

 

"I see you have discovered the legends are true – this island possesses the ability to move freely about the Matoran Universe as we require. Although, the light creatures arrived on our former position. Tell me, Adrinor. Who sent them?"

 

"His name is Drelinok," I replied, craning my head up to look into the Makuta's lizard-like eyes. "He is a Meldin who utilized an ancient power amplification project and has gained an array of dangerous powers. The Light Warriors can be summoned by him in hordes, and they appear to act autonomously once brought to life. Aside from following what their maker wants, I have not watched them attempt to communicate. They only know how to attack."

 

"Why now?" Miserix wondered. "How long has Drelinok had these abilities?"

 

I shifted my gaze downward. "He was locked in stasis with them for millennia. I released him the other day."

 

The leader of the Makuta scowled at me. "You were working together?"

 

"No, it's not like that!" I shouted, trying not to panic.

 

"Mind your tone, Meldin," Teridax warned me.

 

"Let him speak, Teridax," Miserix shot back, still walking along.

 

I hung my head before continuing, staring at the ornate carpet that ran down the lengthy hallway. "I found a blueprint for his machine and believed he might be a threat. I released him to learn what was going on, and quickly realized he was far more powerful than I imagined. He declared war on a portion of Meldio's population long ago, and I was among those he hunted. I fled my home for the Southern Continent, and Drelinok became Director of the island."

 

"Your leader?"

 

"Yes," I said quietly. "And an old friend."

 

"An old friend, eh?" Miserix breathed. "Still…a friend?"

 

"We haven't been on those terms in a very long time." I invoked my most sarcastic tone when I said, "Given the fact that our first conversation in centuries was quickly interrupted by his decision to pick me up by the throat, I don't expect the circumstances to change soon."

 

Miserix chuckled, slapping a couple vigorous pats to my back and coaxing a smile out of me. "No, I suppose not!"

 

I looked up at him, my smile fading. "I'd like to talk with you seriously for a moment. Makuta, tasked as universal protectors, demand a certain level of reverence. I do not wish to embarrass a noble leader in his own fortress, and such an indiscretion would only serve to humiliate me as well. That said, I wish to speak freely with you."

 

Miserix grinned. I was certain that he had witnessed enough ingratiation to know when it was being presented to him, but I had nothing but sincerity to offer. Much like my view of Voporak, I admired the command that Miserix wielded, because I could tell that it was not a power that had enslaved him. Teridax simply folded his arms, obviously amused by the discourse unfolding before him.

 

"While I am flattered, Meldin, you are no agent of the Brotherhood. What prompted this display of courtesy?"

 

"The best leaders know how to serve," I replied. "Power often consumes those it is bestowed upon, and brings out their darkest parts. You were above that call, somehow, and I would say that is worth my courtesy."

 

"Then please," Miserix offered, "speak freely."

 

I took a deep breath and sighed, staring into Miserix's electric lime eyes. "With all due respect, I would take great caution in engaging Drelinok."

 

Miserix's lieutenant growled in revulsion at the notion, leaning forward and visibly annoyed.

 

"At ease," the scarlet Makuta said calmly, motioning Teridax to stand down. "No offense taken. Isn't that right?"

 

Teridax scoffed. "You must find more humor in what a fool this Meldin is than I do. Clearly, I'm fixating on how outrageous it is to think one entity could destroy us."

 

Miserix glared at him. "Whenever you fret over your pride being at stake, it keeps you from seeing why it is prudent to take steps to educate yourself."

 

"I have a right to my pride," Teridax argued, "for I am a being of great power."

 

"Knowledge is power," Miserix replied condescendingly.

 

Teridax glanced away without another word, leading his superior back to a conversation with me.

 

"Describe this enemy of ours, Adrinor," Miserix requested. "Tell me what you know about him, and let me understand the qualities that justify your concerns."

 

I nodded. "Okay then."

 

"This should be good," Teridax muttered.

 

"Out!" Miserix snapped at his lieutenant. "Now! You will wait for our guests at the dock."

 

Teridax wasted no time in storming to the far door, whispering angry curses all the way.

 

Miserix released a furious groan before pinching his eyebrows toward one another. "I apologize for him. Please, proceed."

 

"Very well," I said. "Drelinok is the single most unwavering biomech I have ever known. He is persuasive, opportunistic, and not above destroying someone or something that stands between him and an objective. He also possesses a loyalty to anyone who acts in his service, and I have seen him reward even the most sycophantic gestures. He is not a lumbering beast of a warlord or anything quite so crude; everything about Drelinok is refined and particular. He chooses his words carefully, but he knows he has a way with them. His actions are deliberate yet smooth, because he made them familiar. And he recognizes his inability to be a good sport, meaning Drelinok often chooses not to engage in events where he predicts an abysmal defeat."

 

"A fine commander knows when to listen to the wisdom of his lieutenants," Miserix replied. "He can hear the truth, even when it is buried beneath courtesy and deference. Tell me something, Adrinor, and be no less than honest with it. Do you believe Drelinok foresaw a victory against my forces this night?"

 

"That wasn't the point," I said, making my own realization of the matter as I spoke. "Drelinok was a field commander, not the type to delegate or issue orders from his chambers. If the campaign was critical, he was there alongside his soldiers. I think he was testing you…all of you. If I were a military strategist, I would take stock of every potential threat to my autonomy and assess their firepower. That's what Drelinok was doing. He sent an armada and wanted to see what you would do. Only when his options are exhausted, when a retaliation has left him more desperate or determined than what mere curiosity your existence has stirred in him, then he will come."

 

"You are worried," Miserix declared. "Did you ever face this Meldin on the battlefield?"

 

I shook my head. "I left Meldio before it came to that. What discourages me is what the warring army on Meldio once told me about Drelinok. They called themselves the Collective, and they often said that Drelinok's presence in the combat zone was always met with failure. Much like the Barraki, he carried enough influence to demand his soldiers fight to their very last, and they did. His directions were swift and his movements were impossibly thought out for dancing with death. They said it was like watching something more than a biomech go to battle with them. They said it was like divinity on the wind."

 

"What the mind will conjure when blinded by fear," Miserix said, a grim smile plastered on his face. "I appreciate your candor tonight, Adrinor. Living in a universe of constant change, it can be difficult to know who can be trusted. I am rewarding your behavior with a symbol of trust."

 

Miserix reached into a compartment on his armor and produced a small triangular item. He extended it to me and I accepted, turning over the device in my hand.

 

"That is a Tablet of Transit," Miserix explained. "Makuta Teridax once suggested to me that these would serve as a means to identifying friend from foe in our expansive world. Only a Makuta can present these as a token of our good will and protection. You will notice the insignia bears the picture of Teridax's mask, the one of a kind Kanohi Kraahkan. It was his idea to introduce these little devices, and I left the artwork in his hands. Make no mistake, however, that I am the final authority on the Brotherhood's allies and enemies."

 

"I'll keep it close, and I'll keep that in mind," I replied, putting the item away. "Thank you very much, Makuta Miserix. This is more than I could have asked for."

 

"On your way now, warriors. Your transports should be waiting for you at the dock by now, and I am certain that Teridax will bid you farewell for us."

 

The leader of the Brotherhood left us without another word and I had no intention of lingering on Destral. Despite my curiosity about what mysterious, monstrous Rahi might be locked below, I was not looking to challenge Miserix's kindness by snooping around his home. We found the gateway that led to the dock and headed out, finding Makuta Teridax waiting with an impatient expression on his face.

 

"Is he done with you now?" Teridax asked.

 

"Yeah, he's done. We're leaving."

 

We followed Teridax toward the edge of the dock, and I stood at his side as we walked along. I looked up at his Mask of Shadows, waiting for him to say anything.

 

"From what I understand, Drelinok's power has left you greatly perturbed. It may put you at ease to know that we have dispatched Krika and Cevezia to investigate his whereabouts and track any energy signatures of the Light Warriors we encountered. His transgression on this island will be treated as an act of war and, as such, Meldio will be under examination as well."

 

"Do you remember me?" I asked.

 

Teridax put his arm in my way and we both stopped walking. He gave me a once-over with his deep, ruby eyes, and I could almost feel the calculations behind them.

 

His eyes widened for a second. "The Northern Continent, outside Valantru. We spoke briefly on the morning after my victory over the Barraki; it was a momentous time for us all. Were you not traveling with a Nohtalian that day?"

 

"That's right," I said, smiling wistfully. "He's…gone now."

 

Teridax was visibly taken aback by my words and I looked at him in confusion.

 

"Have you never lost someone you care about?" I wondered.

 

"It takes someone worth caring about in the first place," Teridax replied nonchalantly. "Regardless, your friend served the Great Spirit to fight alongside my legions. I am sure he met his destiny proudly, as we should all aspire to do."

 

"It's a comforting thought," I said. "If you could indulge my curiosity for a moment, though, I must ask you something. What do you imagine became of the Barraki on that fateful night?"

 

The Makuta gave me a twisted grin before answering. "They failed to see how unfit they were to take the throne of Mata Nui and were struck down for it. The truth weighs on my thoughts from time to time, but in the end, I usually imagine them dead."

 

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#7 Offline Cederak

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Posted Apr 29 2015 - 09:26 PM

It's like a bad day that never ends; I feel the chaos around me. –Phoenix

 

 

Episode 07: Reclamation (Celvey's Perspective)

 

I still remember the Great Disruption. There are times when it cannot be sent from my thoughts, and I see the face of the individual I cared about most. In my memories, he is sitting, propped against my nightstand and aiming his gunblade at nothing in particular. I am laying on my bed, my arm draped over the edge as I stare at him silently. I wonder about the motives behind his bright green eyes, and how responsible he must feel for the state of the world. I want to ask what he is thinking, or how it makes him feel, and I never do. I study him for weaknesses, curious if he even feels a change in himself when he takes a life anymore. The memory continues, and he frowns at me. I smile in return, and he forces himself to mimic the response. After all we went through together, the heaviest question that lingers is not how we damaged the universe, but how we may have irreparably damaged ourselves. His name is Adrinor, and he is coming undone.

 

"You know that story I told you, about the day Rovaius died?"

 

"Can we not talk about that right now? Just sit. Twirl your weapon and be calm for a while."

 

"It reminded me of my own life. Rovaius dealt with his rival Trivolox for centuries, reliving the pain of losing his friends to someone he trusted, and that hurt never seemed to dwindle between their encounters. Drelinok is that entity for me, the physical reminder that I did not rise to the occasion once, and someone else paid the price."

 

"You're not doing yourself any favors to dwell on that analogy."

 

"He accomplished a lot in his time," Adrinor said defensively.

 

I climbed down from the bed and set Adrinor's gunblade off to the side. He looked into my eyes, uncertainly, watching me reach forward and place my hands on his shoulders before sighing out my frustration.

 

"Rovaius is gone," I started. "I never knew him, but there's nothing he did that has made any noticeable impact on the universe we live in today. For all his accomplishments you fixate over and his superiority to Trivolox, the reality of the matter is that they are both dead. I almost think that's how you'd like this to end. If you let Drelinok consume you, I have no doubt that you will find a way to stop him, but I'm not convinced you will survive the event."

 

"Are you saying we should give up?"

 

"Yes!" I shouted, shaking his armor. "Trylac told us to go home and let the specialists deal with the situation. You are an outlaw, Adrinor, not a warlord. Just listening to what you told Miserix, I can tell that you respect Drelinok's expertise on the battlefield. There's a difference between leading a few crack shots and commanding an army."

 

"And you would know, right?" Adrinor replied sarcastically.

 

"I would know!" I exclaimed, practically squeezing his armor in fury. "While you spent centuries tending to Mahi as a ranch hand, I watched a king's health decline as he fought to preserve our home against the invading provinces! I sat there, nights and days on end, consoling his queen, telling her that he would be okay. I had to lie to her! I thought her king might perish from the stress of commanding his troops and defending the kingdom he fought so hard to build. So before you go off making snide little remarks about what I know, step back and think about what kind of life would drive someone into the arms of a self-loathing, walking inferiority complex like yourself."

 

"That was a bit more reality than I needed," Adrinor muttered, beginning to stand up. "If that's really what you think of me, I'm not keeping you here."

 

I held him back down and glared into his eyes. "You want reality? I care about you more than you might ever appreciate. I would go to extremes to protect your life, Adrinor, probably because there's something just as wrong with me…as there is with you."

 

Someone rapped at the bedroom door and I released Adrinor from my grip, standing up abruptly. Simply looking at the figure in the doorway nearly caused me to recoil and utter a startled cry. He was tall, wrapped in a tattered brown cloak that concealed his face. His mouth and eyes gave off an otherworldly topaz glow, but his expression seemed to be stuck as it was. This was disturbing because his eyes were angry, but his mouth was a crooked opening of silent laughter.

 

"Can we help you?" I questioned cautiously.

 

"The Meldin," he replied, as though they were his first words in decades. His tone was ragged, but foreboding, and his mouth did not move when he spoke. "The local clan leader directed me to speak with you about some business. I think you might be interested to hear my offer."

 

"Voporak sent you to us?" Adrinor asked, getting to his feet. "And who do I have the pleasure of setting up a business transaction with?"

 

The light in his eyes seemed to expand. "Forgive me, these formalities tend to slip my mind from time to time. My name is Byzorahk."

 

Byzorahk shifted his cloak and extended his arm for a handshake. His hand was a long, thin mess of charred metal and sharp claws. Adrinor accepted and gave him a smirk.

 

"You can call me Adrinor – I'm sure Voporak already gave you the name. What would you like to discuss?"

 

"Can we continue the conversation somewhere private, perhaps? No disrespect to the Ilisian, but I wish to speak with you personally on this matter."

 

Adrinor looked at me, obviously suspicious. "It's late enough as it is. Get some rest, Celvey. We can talk about Byzorahk's proposition in the morning. He came all this way and I'll be the one to listen to his offer."

 

I glanced at the gunblade for a second. "Are you going to take your"-

 

"We're just talking," Adrinor cut me off, giving me a smile. "Bring it to me tomorrow."

 

Adrinor hurried Byzorahk out of my room and closed the door behind him as they departed. I dimmed my lightstone lamp down to the weakest illumination, summoning a ball of light in my hand. I pointed the luminous sphere down on Adrinor's gunblade, wishing I had a Mask of Psychometry and the ability to use it. Irritated and exhausted, I let the light go out and fell back onto my bed. I had earned a little sleep.

 

<<<>>> 

 

"Wake up."

 

I opened my eyes slowly, squinting through hazy vision. It was early in the morning and the sun was barely out yet. From what I could tell, there was a warrior at the foot of my bed, hovering gracefully. She was tall and mighty, with a set of silver wings like a bird. They moved gently, glowing bright violet around the edges. Her armor was glossy chrome lined in gold, and she wore a Kanohi I had never seen before. I blinked my eyes a few times and rubbed them, taking another look at my unexpected guest. She was stunning.

 

"What do you want?" I asked nervously.

 

"There was a Jaecolt here, perhaps several hours ago," she replied, looking toward the door. "I need to know where he has gone."

 

"A what?" I wondered. "I've never heard of a…what did you call it?"

 

"A Jaecolt," she repeated sternly. "They are thin, frail-looking creatures. Their species is distinctive by the glow of their mouth, and that it does not move when they speak."

 

"Byzorahk," I muttered, remembering the night before.

 

"You have seen one?" she questioned, glaring down at me. "Where is he now?"

 

I lowered my gaze. "I don't know. And I don't know what business it is of yours for me to divulge such things."

 

"He is a Dark Hunter I have been tracking. They call him Reaper."

 

I looked up at the warrior, piecing the events together. Byzorahk's interest in Adrinor had my defenses up from the moment we met, and I leapt from my bed and ran down the hallway to investigate further. Sidorak was on duty, leaning casually against one of the coliseum's support beams. He watched me hurry through the corridor with a bored expression, not so much as a "good morning." I arrived at Adrinor's bedroom and threw the door open. It was untouched, as though he had not slept at all the night before.

 

I returned to Voporak's infamously incompetent guard, shouting before he was in eye view. "Hey, Sidorak! I need you to answer something!"

 

Sidorak stepped forward and sighed, a short burst of steam released from the tubes on his head. "I live to serve you."

 

"I don't have time for your attitude," I replied harshly. "Have you seen Adrinor this morning? Has Voporak been in his office?"

 

"Do you think I would be taking my shift here so casually if Voporak were around?" Sidorak asked. "We haven't seen any of you since your departure with the Toa team nearly a week ago and Voporak has been away from Stelt the entire time. A clan leader ought to be present among his kind more often, to direct orders and boost morale. His frequent absences leave many of us curious what keeps him so preoccupied out there."

 

I scowled at him as I started to walk away. "And you're setting a fine example by lounging around on the job."

 

"Always a pleasure, Celvey," Sidorak said, leaning back against the beam and closing his eyes. "Always a pleasure."

 

I took another peak around Adrinor's bedroom, moving the furniture around in the hope that something was left behind. I turned toward the door and found the warrior waiting for me. She was still hovering, holding Adrinor's gunblade out to me, grip first.

 

"Reaper was in this room," she said, absolutely certain.

 

"What makes you say that?" I asked irritably, storming about as I tipped Adrinor's nightstand over.

 

"Jaecolt radiate a strain of dark light, if that makes sense. The luminance is there, but it's twisted and…weird. There are many unsettling species that dwell amid the black lands in the Southern Islands, and Reaper is extremely dangerous. Imbued with your own light, Ilisian, I am certain you are blind to such things. Take your weapon."

 

My sonic assault rifle was still in my room, but I accepted Adrinor's gunblade and placed it on my back. Wielding a sword was not my finest skill, but the weapon's balanced weight simplified the task of shooting. I learned the protosteel in the blade reacted to elemental power on the few occasions I had used it before. Adrinor gained no benefit from this, but the gunblade heavily amplified any light energy I channeled into a shot.

 

The warrior stopped hovering, flexing her shoulder blades and causing her wings to contract into a compartment on her back. She closed the door and stared at the back of it for a moment.

 

"There's nothing here," I told her.

 

"Don't be so sure," she replied, putting her hand to the door.

 

Her hand lit up with a burst of lightning and she wiped it across the door, sending a crackle of power into the metal. She took a few steps backward and put her hands on her hips, nodding slowly. Little sparks trailed around the words "Nohtal, catch me if you can."

 

"It's fresh," she whispered. "Five hours old at the most."

 

There were two things I was certain of by that point. First, Sidorak had no reason to deceive me, which meant Voporak had been away from Stelt for over a week. Second, Byzorahk lied when he said he was directed to us by Voporak. The warrior called him a Jaecolt, and a Dark Hunter. I did not know where Jaecolt came from, but I knew the headquarters of the Hunters. The mysterious Shadowed One did not take kindly to competition, from what I understood, but we had all lost too much and fought for too long to become someone else's weapon. Still, requesting an abduction was child's play for the Hunters. Their leader would present the ultimatum to join or die, and that stubborn Meldin would surely perish full of pride unless I managed to save him first.

 

"If Reaper is a Dark Hunter, then he's setting a trap for you on Nohtal. No self-respecting member of the Shadowed One's organization would willingly allow someone to track them back to their headquarters."

 

The warrior looked over her shoulder at me. "Doesn't matter. I'm going after him."

 

"Then we need to leave right now - you and me. If we're going up against the Dark Hunters, I can't allow my crewmates to be implicated for our actions."

 

"You will help me locate this Jaecolt?" she asked.

 

I stifled a bitter laugh, having something a bit more severe in mind. "Sure."

 

She reengaged her wings and offered me her hand. "I'm going to jump out the window. I need you to trust me that we'll be okay."

 

"I would hope the wings are for more than just show," I replied, giving her a smirk. When her serious expression did not change, I asked, "They are functional, right?"

 

"Yes! Now come on!"

 

She took my wrist and threw herself out the window, bringing her wings back for a second to clear the frame. I watched her ascend up the side of the coliseum where a sleek aircraft was sitting on the flat center of the rooftop. She set me down and unlocked the door, pulling it open.

 

"You thought it was wise to park your ship on top of a Steltian coliseum?"

 

"Seemed better than leaving it in the road," she quipped. "Get in."

 

I took her instruction and dropped into the craft, somewhat cramped. There was barely enough space for a pilot and two additional passengers. She nudged me out of the way and sealed the top door before rushing to the controls and hitting a few buttons. It reminded me of watching Elendra fly. I strapped myself in to one of the chairs and watched the warrior continue to work, taking us off the roof and getting the airship into the sky. We turned toward Nohtal and the craft took off, soaring high above Stelt. She left the cockpit controls and took a seat across from me, exhaling deeply as she slouched into her chair. After watching her take charge and demand answers, it was odd that she suddenly appeared so exhausted and worn down.

 

"It always helps to know who you're working with, and…my name is Celvey. You figured out that I'm an Ilisian, but I couldn't tell what you are. You're tall, like a Steltian, but there are a lot of tall things in the world."

 

She rested her head against her fist, saying nothing.

 

"I like your armor," I continued, hoping she might open up to me. "You're a very beautiful sort of creature, almost mythical or royalty of some kind."

 

"Do you need someone to talk to?" she asked, laughing softly.

 

"I was just trying to have a conversation with you," I replied, somewhat offended.

 

"My name is Vylaos," she said matter-of-factly. "Have you ever seen a mask like mine?"

 

I studied her Kanohi, a golden thing of wonder. It was a mask of sharp curves and eyeholes that presented an intense demeanor. Her eyes were hot pink, a rare trait in any species.

 

"It's a Mask of Fusion," she said, staring out the window behind me. "I am an amalgamation of three Toa."

 

I smiled. "That's amazing. Why didn't you enter the Kaita state?"

 

"Achieving Toa Kaita requires intense focus and can be draining in every aspect you can think of. Physically, spiritually, emotionally – the Kaita state takes everything from you, because that is the lifeblood of such a wondrous being. Outside of this fusion, I am the same mind, but a single Toa of lightning. We have summoned our Kaita before and she called herself Vylaos. I like to keep the name when utilizing the mask. It's sort of fun."

 

"How did you get tangled up in a fight with a Dark Hunter?" I wondered. "Toa seldom meddle in the sort of affairs their organization is involved with."

 

"It was our Turaga," Vylaos explained, frowning beneath her mask. "We come from a city on the Northern Continent. Reaper was assigned to kill our Turaga because we handle a lot of trade with other islands. I think someone was unhappy with the fact that we maintain a contract with the city of Metru Nui. Reaper was selected for the task and completed his mission. Something clearly brought him to Stelt though, perhaps a secondary target."

 

"Reaper took a friend of mine," I admitted. "I need to find him…and then I'm going to kill that Dark Hunter for what he did."

 

"You know," Vylaos started, "I can't condone such things."

 

"I'm not asking you to," I replied. "There's not much you can do to stop me."

 

Vylaos gave me a hard stare for a moment. "Your resolve is strong, to live among the warmongers and thugs of Stelt. I should have guessed you would not respect me. There's something I want to ask you though - something I've never had the opportunity to learn. What is it like to take a life? I would do everything in my power to avoid such action, but I have this morbid curiosity about it."

 

I can still recall the reflection of myself in the window behind Vylaos, this reserved smirk coming over my face. "Despite my best efforts to preserve the lives of others, there are some who do not share my interest in everyone's continuity. On those occasions where I have killed, it's always been them or me. This is different, however. Reaper stole someone away from me, and for that, I will see him destroyed."

 

"I would like to think that you will change your mind, and perhaps with a little more sleep, my hopes will be fulfilled. I apologize for waking you prematurely, and I think it would serve us well if you were to rest a while longer."

 

I leaned my head back against the seat, shifting Adrinor's gunblade to allow me some comfort while wearing it. "Fine by me."

 

<<<>>> 

 

I want to break away into a bit of retrospection as I finish this story. It should go without saying that we did engage the Dark Hunter Reaper in combat. Vylaos would be better at explaining what happened during that battle, because I learned after the fact that Reaper subdued me with a powerful hallucination. Sadly, I have not encountered the Toa fusion since that day, and she is not here to set the record straight. That in mind, let me touch on the subject of showing and telling. My description of the events thus far have shown everything I saw, but I want to tell something now. The battle with Reaper is vastly less important than the trauma he put my mind through. My first memory after a nap aboard Vylaos' airship is on Nohtal, in the endless dusk, kneeling over Adrinor's corpse.

 

It felt so real to me, and I thought I had lost Adrinor forever. On Ilisi, in the central province, I held the title of Princess – an heir to the throne of King Auredel and Queen Meruvia. I had overseen many battles on the island, and lost friends to the armies of the neighboring realms. The light is a source of purity, and the dark a source of corruption. The Nohtalians to the south of Ilisi often resist the call of their inner shadows with passive lifestyles and practiced calm. Light is strong, perhaps even more powerful than shadow. It demands to be used, and Ilisi wielded it for war. Through the weapons of light, I had known death, and I had known grieving. Sitting over Adrinor, seeing him dead, brought all of that back to the surface.

 

This was not the worst of it, however. What made Reaper's hallucination so genuine, is that it would not fade away after taking Adrinor from me. My mind almost seemed to live another 10,000 years, lonely and alone. In the reality Reaper had borrowed from my own thoughts, the Great Spirit was dead, and Drelinok had taken his place. Much of the universe had been turned pitch black, and his Light Warriors had captured me. They dragged me into the Coliseum and I could see Drelinok waiting for me. At his side, Reaper waited, intending to execute me for his master. After all of this, I wondered if the cloud surrounding my vision was the embrace of death finally coming for me. It was hard to tell why everything was falling away, but I owe Vylaos for destroying the illusion. The instant that Reaper's vision let up, I knew the Jaecolt species held a truly spectacular and terrifying power.

 

I was still kneeling in the grass, but Adrinor was no longer mortally wounded. He was unconscious, but at peace. I looked away from him and turned to Vylaos, mesmerized by her bladed weapon of raw electricity. She was wearing a different mask – something platinum. During my lapse of memory, the Toa sisters had achieved the Kaita state. I would have smiled, if not for abruptly hearing a sickening, desperate scream. Vylaos, as a Toa, would not allow Reaper to die. But watching her launch a steady stream of lightning through Reaper's eyes, I think Vylaos and I knew the same thing. Parted from your senses, the only thing scarier than dying is being left alive.

 

Reaper collapsed into the dirt, probably overwhelmed by pain. And then Vylaos began to glow, and it felt like my vision was trying to compensate for seeing triple. The fusion blinked in and out of existence several times in a few seconds, phasing shadows together, and finally ripping away into three distinct figures. It produced a low, static-like sound when they were finally separated, all standing in front of me. Valixia, the Toa of electricity, flanked by a Toa of water and a Toa of psionics, stormed up to Reaper.

 

"I can't see," Reaper whispered.

 

"Your maker granted you sight, and you used it to bring pain," Valixia replied, disappointed. "Now we have burned the light from your eyes and you will wander the universe, aimless and helpless. If you should find your master, I have a message for him. The Meldin you sought is not interested in joining your organization. And as for you, I have a message for you as well."

 

Valixia bent down and slightly pulled Reaper up by the top of his damaged chest armor. "You picked the wrong Turaga, monster."

 

She released the Jaecolt and offered a hand to her sisters, both accepting the offer as they returned to the form of Toa Vylaos. The Kanohi fusion fluttered her mighty wings, giving me a smile. Despite having every opportunity to outright kill the Dark Hunter who had murdered the elder who may have been a mentor and a voice of guidance, she permitted Reaper to live. I admired her resolve, the strength to hold on to hope in a dying world.

 

"Will you be all right, Celvey?" she asked, lending me a hand up.

 

"I will, thanks," I said, getting to my feet.

 

"My duty here is finished, and your friend is saved. I can return you to the island of Stelt if you wish."

 

I glanced at Adrinor and frowned. "Yeah, we could use a ride back."

 

Adrinor suddenly began to levitate, ascending until he was hovering just higher than my head. Vylaos was on guard, summoning a new blade of lightning. Adrinor began to emit a bright glow like a warm sunrise, and I watched a form materialize behind him. The entity held Adrinor's limp body in his arms, with a powerful yellow aura of his own. Vylaos stared up at him like he was a champion of the darkness, but we had met once already. After listening to Adrinor talk about this Meldin at length, I was far from enthralled.

 

"What have you let befall my brother?" he questioned, giving Adrinor a curious look.

 

"Drelinok," I fumed.

 

He smirked before laughing softly. "Ah, you remember me. I've been told I am difficult to forget. The same could be said of Adrinor here. The Meldin in my arms that you so foolishly pledged yourself to – there is no denying how powerless he is in the face of my strength. Yet you persist, banking on a miracle to rescue the Great Spirit from death."

 

"Who are you?" Vylaos asked, keeping her weapon charged.

 

"I am your only chance at a future," Drelinok told her, his eyes never leaving Adrinor. "The Great Disruption is tearing away at Mata Nui's life force, and he will not last much longer. I embraced the gift of the light, to fill the void of power that will be left when Mata Nui is gone. I will succeed the Great Spirit, brave and noble Toa."

 

He finally looked her right in the eyes. "You may call me Drelinok."

 

"There's more to him than he lets on," I warned the Toa fusion. "He's dangerous, and we could never trust him to be a worthy Great Spirit."

 

Drelinok dropped Adrinor to the ground and floated down, glaring at me. "A worthy Great Spirit, Ilisian? I stand before you, promising a future if you will only support me. What does Mata Nui present? Has he made himself physical, to appeal to the universe for his inaction? Will he answer the prayers of the hundreds of biomechs who plead and beg for an end to this ceaseless night? What did Adrinor tell you about me? Did he call me a warlord? A killer? A monster, perhaps? Take a ship to Meldio, and convince the universe that the utopia I built it into is not a better world than one where my Directorate and the misguided Collective must be forced to suffer one another for eternity. I have listened to their thoughts. I have spoken to the individuals who will be my subjects one day. I know what the world clamors for, and I intend to give it to them."

 

"What will you do?" Vylaos asked.

 

"You will see the result of my labors in due time, Toa of electricity. And to the sisters sharing your mind, let them know that I will bring you no harm. If you follow the light, we will walk into the future as allies."

 

"And what about Adrinor?" I spoke up.

 

Drelinok turned back to me, landing in the grass and picking Adrinor up before placing him into my arms.

 

"Adrinor had the opportunity to join me and he rejected it. For the time being, I have no reason to destroy him, and I am more than convinced the universe will finish the task for me anyway. My gift to the hopeful is a new universe, where none will be unheard, and serenity will reign. But to you and your little band of outlaws, who choose Adrinor before me…there is no golden gate waiting for you. Your gift is this Meldin, and as far as I am concerned, his fate literally rests in your hands. Do with him as you please."

 

"Okay, wait a second," Vylaos said, trying to figure everything out. "You're replacing the Great Spirit? And you think everyone, including the Brotherhood of Makuta who swore to protect Mata Nui, will just let that happen?"

 

"The Brotherhood have certainly done a fine job saving Mata Nui's life thus far, haven't they?" Drelinok replied facetiously. "They will follow the highest power and present themselves as servants when the time comes. Even now, magnificent warrior, you may feel apprehension at the thought of my regime. Alas, change is hard, and the only constant we will ever know. Acclimate, or like the Ilisian at your side, you will be left behind."

 

Vylaos narrowed her gaze on Drelinok. "Take the Meldin to my ship, Celvey. I have heard enough…and remain unconvinced. Mata Nui is the voice that lives within the guiding principles I have known my entire life. I can sense his presence when unity, duty, and destiny direct my hand. And so until it is your voice I hear in those moments, you will never be my Great Spirit."

 

I held Adrinor steady in my arms as I walked back to Vylaos' airship, far less conflicted than a Toa might be. My dearest friend was safe again, in my arms, and I would bring him back to the closest thing we called a home. When it came time to explain our absence to Elendra, Kyrhus, and Hadliek, I told them of my daring rescue. I described Toa Vylaos and the Dark Hunter, but I never spoke a word about seeing Drelinok there. Adrinor needed hope, the same dying light that Vylaos possessed. I thought that hearing Drelinok held him in his arms and called him powerless would only hurt, and there was already enough hurt in the universe. Whether he would admit it or not, Adrinor needed help. We both did.

 

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#8 Offline Cederak

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Posted May 12 2015 - 02:22 PM

I hope in darkness we can see, and you're not blinded by the light from me. –La Roux

 

 

Episode 08: The Alchemist

 

It had been a couple days since Celvey had saved my life, and the nature of her expedition left a lot of questions for the rest of the group. The Dark Hunter named Reaper had placed me into a state of unconsciousness before we left Stelt, and I did not wake until Celvey returned me to Voporak's coliseum. Elendra, Kyrhus, and Hadliek seemed a bit upset that Celvey found it a poor decision to bring them to my rescue, but I knew she had the best intentions. Understanding that they were better off as nameless and faceless to the Dark Hunters as possible, the rest of the crew agreed with Celvey's judgment.

 

"I have an assignment for you on Suizek," Voporak said.

 

We were all standing in his office, and a feeling of relief seemed to come over the room. For most, assignments meant danger and death. After specializing in these fields for a while, the anticipation to continue in them was a rush that I cannot explain. The common response is to recoil or shy away from putting your life at risk. It goes without saying that life as an outlaw will shake up your mental state a bit.

 

"The island is mostly jagged rocks and wild animals," Elendra replied. "There's nothing of value to be found."

 

"Not so," Voporak countered. "Rovaius once traveled to Suizek for Barraki Pridak. It has been many years since, but before he passed away, Rovaius told me about a doctor who lived on the island. As I recall, the mission took place before you met Adrinor."

 

"I remember that now," Elendra said. "We stole a power generator from him. It was so powerful that to manufacture something capable of the same electrical output, the engineers on Trelbin would have had to build a reactor the size of a tank. Somehow, the doctor's invention was an orb so small that it could rest in the palm of your hand."

 

"Rovaius compared it to magic, albeit, very reluctantly. I don't subscribe to the possibility of sorcery in this world, I believe in hard answers and facts. I opened a dialogue with this inventor some time ago by sending a few Steltians to his castle on Suizek. I learned that his name is Triphaz. More to the point, I recently received word that he is concerned his life is in danger. Triphaz is not convinced that the perimeter security of his castle will protect him, and has requested I send a team to bring him to Stelt until Suizek is safe for him again."

 

"Did he mention what is threatening his life?" I asked.

 

"He did not," Voporak replied, notably troubled as he spoke. "Triphaz is a brilliant mind, and I will not risk losing such ingenuity to a random hunter or killer out there. Also, Adrinor, you have some kinship with him. Triphaz is a Meldin."

 

"A…a Meldin?" I questioned, caught completely off guard by the statement.

 

A Meldin had been living alone on Suizek since before the League fell. At least 1,000 years. Meldin loved their home land so dearly, but it would have been hypocritical of me to find his actions odd. To the northwest of Meldio is the Southern Continent, and to the south is Suizek. Triphaz and I both left our homes and did not journey far before deciding to stop. I began to wonder what could have driven Triphaz away when Voporak's voice brought me back to attention.

 

"Also, an old friend came to my door this morning who may be able to assist you."

 

"That would be me," a familiar, raspy voice said from the doorway.

 

We all turned and saw it was Trylac, holding his compound bow ready.

 

"Glad you could make it," I told him, suddenly unable to do anything but smile.

 

Voporak cleared his throat and we looked back at the clan leader. "As you requested yesterday, I have dispatched a crew of Steltians and Ohnbiek to retrieve your wrecked ship on the Southern Continent. Be on your way now. Find the doctor, before it's too late."

 

<<<>>> 

 

Voporak loaned us a few of his Steltians and his fastest watercraft, the Corybant. With the task of driving left in more capable (directly ordered) hands, my crew was free to lounge around for the day. Elendra and Trylac were catching up, while Hadliek, Celvey, and Kyrhus chatted nearby. I was feeling anything but conversation, letting my encounter with the Dark Hunter consume my thoughts for a while. There was something about that experience I needed to share with Celvey still, and I was unsure of how to approach the subject. Even alone with my thoughts, having the better part of the day to think it over had not been enough. We reached our destination late in the afternoon, disembarking onto the sandy shore of the island. I wondered what I would tell Celvey. I wondered about Drelinok. I wondered if every passing day was bringing our universe to its bitter end. I wondered.

 

Suizek was a barren thing – a craggy mess of rock and dust that looked as though the Great Spirit had hurtled it like a skipping stone down from Metru Nui. It also appeared the nasty, churning waves of the early universe had carved its shape along the way. I could see Triphaz's castle high above the cliffs, the only landmark in sight. Whatever beasts called Suizek home were seemingly nocturnal, and we still had a tiny bit of the day left to us. A storm was quickly heading in from the west, and I was in no mood to linger.

 

"How long do you think it will take us to reach that castle?" Kyrhus asked.

 

"If we could all fly like Trylac? Maybe half an hour.

 

"And since we can't?" Hadliek said.

 

"Twice that much."

 

After sitting aboard a watercraft all day, you can forget certain particular details. I think each of us had other things on our mind, or maybe we were just strongly inclined to make the journey to Suizek a swift and painless mission. Whatever the case, when I took one step too close to the outer perimeter of the castle and an array of red lasers lit up around the rocks, I immediately thought back to Voporak's discussion that morning. The security Triphaz was worried would not be enough to stand up against his stalkers was activating itself on us, and it was all we could do to react and start shooting anything that moved.

 

A dozen disks flew up out of the rocks, spinning wildly. I pulled the gunblade from my back and picked off a few, just as the rest of the team followed. Celvey took it a step further by grabbing my weapon and slamming it forward onto the stone, sending a powerful ripple of light energy all the way up to the castle. Along the way, several more traps embedded in the uneven terrain shot up and detonated. She placed the gunblade onto my back and gave me a smirk.

 

"There's our path."

 

I smiled and shook my head. "What's the rush?"

 

When we arrived at the foot of the castle, Hadliek took the lead. I could tell he was curious about a device next to the front door and he pressed a button on it. I was not expecting a jingle-like tune to play before an intercom sparked to life.

 

"Hello?"

 

"Yeah, hi," Hadliek said. "We're here to pick up Doctor Triphaz."

 

"You're the team from Stelt?"

 

"We sure are."

 

The front door clicked.

 

"Come upstairs. I'm glad you made it."

 

Hadliek opened the door and looked at us before giving a facetious, "No, please, after you."

 

There was little to see within the castle. The doors to the other rooms were sealed, and the main entryway was ugly and decaying. The handrails were crumbling, the carpets were stained and dirtied with age, and the lightstones gave off a sick, greenish glow. We followed the stairs up to the very top of the castle and I pushed open the doorway to a pristine laboratory. I squinted at how bright white the room was, and the intense lights in the ceiling were not helping. I blinked rapidly and focused on an individual on the other side of the room. He was my height, and of a similar build. His armor was bright green and deep orange, and he smiled when he saw me.

 

"They sent a Meldin," the entity said, stepping away from his desk. "I don't believe it."

 

"Name's Adrinor," I said, shaking his hand. "Nice to meet you."

 

"All the same from this side," he replied. "I'm sure you already heard my name is Triphaz."

 

"We did. We also heard you're looking over your shoulder these days. Something or someone on your tail?"

 

"As a fellow Meldin, you might think this sounds crazy. About a week ago, I had what I suppose you can call a nightmare. Or a dream. Maybe even a vision. Whatever the case, Director Drelinok came for me and promised I would die. The Meldin who absolutely died in a science accident told me he would kill me. I felt so scared, and then I woke up."

 

"I don't know how to tell you this," I started, wondering if I should say anything at all. Before I could make up my mind, I was talking again. "Drelinok never died. And as of about a week ago, he's awake."

 

Triphaz stared at me, confused. "No, no that…that can't be right. He died. I was there on the surface the day it happened."

 

"And I was there the other day when he stepped out of this tube-like chamber and said he would be the next Great Spirit."

 

"It's the Amplifier," Triphaz corrected me, fumbling his fingers around each other nervously. "We called it the Amplifier."

 

"How do you know Drelinok?" Trylac inquired.

 

"I served as a member of his Directorate and head of the island's science division for centuries after the war on Meldio. We worked together on the Amplifier, as well as a prototype suit that could be worn and absorb ambient energy to function. The prototype would suffer power failure after an hour or so, and none of the onboard systems would reactivate for a few months. This was not conducive for a standing army, so we looked at other possibilities. The Amplifier was our answer to playing around with Iridiex, finding a power source that could last for thousands of years. The result would be a permanently augmented Meldin with untold powers, but the Amplifier needed decades to achieve this."

 

Trylac narrowed his eyes. "The prototype you spoke of…where is it now?"

 

"I had the blueprints and the prototype sent to the Archives in Onu-Metru." Triphaz studied Elendra for a moment and paused, glancing back and forth between her and Trylac. "You stole from me. Not just you, either. There were accomplices. You're the reason I was paranoid enough to move my Amplifier work elsewhere. And after the mayhem you caused in my former laboratory here, most of my science team returned to Meldio. I'll have you know, it's been a very lonely millennium."

 

"My apologies," Elendra replied, emotionless.

 

"We should get going," I suggested. "We have a watercraft waiting on the coast about an hour's walk from here. If there's any important data or projects you'd like us to help collect, we'd be more than happy to bring them along."

 

"As I said, most of the important work has been moved to Onu-Metru," Triphaz explained. "I spend most of my days now just tinkering with little experiments, and answers that I keep in my mind. I have memorized the critical steps to causing a permutation within protodermis, actually. Solid…to liquid…back to solid…onto…something that wouldn't sustain itself very long."

 

"What was it?"

 

"I'm still not sure. I could recreate it, but there was no way to study the chemical composure without losing my tools to it. Imagine a silvery substance that acted like a gel and a gas at the same time. It felt alive, if that's even possible. Then it vaporized its way through my research table and left a hole in the floor. Very curious substance. After introducing it to some other chemicals and raw materials, I discovered that it can transform the elements. Fire became water, ice turned to stone, and the earthen soil converted into colorful flowers. I was too frightened by its capabilities to touch my own hands to it, but I theorized that it could produce elemental powers when none existed before, and possibly rearrange any that were already in place."

 

"Oh, how fascinating," a sarcastic voice echoed through the chamber.

 

A high-pitched whir shook the tables and a burst of golden light exploded around the other side of the room. When the luminance cleared and the sound died away, Drelinok was hovering there, smiling at us.

 

"We're too late," Celvey muttered.

 

"Drelinok!" Triphaz exclaimed.

 

"Very nice laboratory you have here, Doctor," Drelinok said, admiring the room. "It reminds me of the circular room I had constructed for the Directorate when I came into power. Do you recall why I requested a circle?"

 

Triphaz hesitated before responding. "You had the answer inscribed above the doorway. It said, 'This circle of trust will ensure that no evil will ever corner thoughts or ideas in this room.'"

 

"Another broken child of my naivety," Drelinok mused.

 

He whirled around and pushed his hands toward the wall, releasing a shockwave that shattered the stones apart and tore the chamber wide open. Hovering above was a small fleet of Light Warriors, waiting for their master's command. Drelinok ascended to join them and turned back to us, folding his arms before addressing Triphaz.

 

"You know, Doctor, you're not the only one who can bend the laws of nature. These gleaming physical manifestations are the essence of ambient energy. I can create scores of them at will, and they fight for me. They are independent and resourceful, but unyieldingly obedient. They are more than I could have asked for in a legion of pro-Directorate Meldin."

 

"No, if you received that from Meldin, they would be slaves!" Triphaz shouted.

 

Drelinok winced. "I've had just about enough of this discussion."

 

"I won't let you kill him, Drelinok!" I yelled up, firing a round from my gunblade as I took a few bold steps forward.

 

The energy bullet bounced off his chestplate and ricocheted into a Light Warrior's skull, destroying it instantly. Drelinok laughed in return, clearly unmoved by my stand against him.

 

"You say that like you have the ability to stop me. You do not. And even if you did, as I float above you with my Light Warriors, one question comes to mind. You and what army, Adrinor?"

 

I lowered my weapon, well aware that he was right. There was no stopping him. I looked back at Triphaz, watching the alchemist cower in his ruined chamber.

 

"I'm so sorry," I whispered to him.

 

Drelinok summoned a blade of light in his hand and descended toward the chamber. I glanced around at my crewmates, at Trylac, watching their expressions reflect the defeat I felt in myself. The sound of thunder rippled across the sky, and I felt a raindrop land on my face. Drelinok landed, looking over his shoulder and snapping his fingers. His shimmering, seemingly angelic hoards faded away and the scene became noticeably darker. The shadowy gray storm drew closer and it started to rain when Drelinok pointed his blade at me.

 

"Now you understand the value of the soldier, Adrinor," Drelinok said. "You wanted to be an idealist once, a conscientious objector, and I can see you've figured out that such thinking cannot last. If you do not fight for what you want, someone else will fight for what they want. It's only a matter of time until those two 'wants' come into conflict with each other. Who wins, Adrinor? Is it the one who vows to abstain from the sword, or the one who has brandished it for his freedom all along?"

 

"You should leave," I replied.

 

"You have lived both lives now," Drelinok continued, ignoring me. "You ran from the field of battle once, and now you oppose me – tip of the spear. While those who put themselves above violence will be made extinct by those who see it as a necessary force, we must hold on to what we believe in. Because it will not be right or wrong, but faith in an ideal that will shape our future."

 

"Don't do this, Drelinok," I pleaded with him. "He just wanted to be at peace."

 

"I'm about to give him peace. Get out of my way."

 

I barely picked up my gunblade when Drelinok mentally threw me aside.

 

"Oh, enough!" he growled.

 

I did not bother trying to recover and leap to my feet. Instead, I watched Drelinok turn his attention to Triphaz. The Meldin alchemist was backed into the wall, his palms touching cold stone as he waited for death. Drelinok took a few steps toward Triphaz, still holding his blade of light outward.

 

"I would strongly recommend you hold still," Drelinok said to him, smiling. "You don't want me to miss. On second thought, I'll make sure of that."

 

Drelinok let his weapon hover in the air and walked up to Triphaz, giving his shoulder a tap.

 

"I've immobilized you below the neck. If this blade should penetrate your heartlight, you won't feel a thing. Just the slow trickling away of your senses as your vision turns to black. It would be painless."

 

"Drelinok, please stop," I begged.

 

Drelinok's blade approached Triphaz's chest and was inches from impaling him.

 

"Drelinok, listen to me."

 

The blade ascended at the last possible moment, driving itself right into Triphaz's forehead.

 

"Drelinok!" I screamed.

 

The agony of hearing a Meldin have every little piece of his mind slowly ripped apart as the blade sunk deeper into his head was sickening. I stared in terror as Drelinok tortured the alchemist, unable to lift a finger. Triphaz screamed and screamed, and his suffering would not end.

 

"But I missed!" Drelinok shouted over Triphaz's screams. "And in that case, you will certainly feel it! You will feel everything!"

 

The edge of the sword was already coming out of the back of Triphaz's head when Drelinok let it burst away into golden particles. His Meldin victim fell dead to the floor in a slump, and Drelinok sighed before looking at me.

 

"Do you know the greatest trouble with life?" he asked me. "Living."

 

"You deserve to die," I spat.

 

"Then so do you," he replied nonchalantly. "This entire arrangement of"-

 

Drelinok did not have a chance to finish that sentence. A superheated laser beam found his head and caused his entire form to explode into bits of shiny, bright yellow dust. The source of that laser beam was Makuta Krika, moments too late to save Triphaz's life, but perhaps just in time to save the lives of my crew. He was flanked by Makuta Cevezia, and the pair landed on the floor, taking stock of the situation.

 

"That was the same energy signature that lived within the creatures that attacked Destral," Cevezia said. "Drelinok."

 

I picked myself up and put the gunblade on my back, feeling as though time was suddenly moving much too quick. "Did you just destroy him?"

 

"Apparently," Krika replied, looking around.

 

"Much as we appreciate your intervention, this is highly coincidental," Trylac noted to the Makuta. "Any particular reason a couple Brotherhood agents are visiting this otherwise desolate island?"

 

"I find myself wondering the same thing about all of you," Krika shot back. "I'm not at liberty to discuss the nature of my business, and I hope you can appreciate why it is in the best interest of the Brotherhood to keep particular information to ourselves."

 

"Of course," Trylac said in an irritated tone. "We were just leaving anyway."

 

"Leaving?" I repeated, somewhat surprised. "Triphaz deserves a proper burial and"-

 

"We are leaving," Trylac maintained. "Brotherhood protocol at the scene of a murder dictates that the area be cleared until the dispatched Makuta have made an assessment and collected all pertinent evidence."

 

Krika gave Trylac a suspicious look. "Yes…that is protocol. I don't know many outside the Brotherhood so well-versed in our policies. Have we met before?"

 

"No," Trylac replied flatly, walking away. "And I don't suspect we will again."

 

"Do we need to detain them for questioning, Krika?" Cevezia asked.

 

Krika shook his head. "Drelinok killed this Meldin. I felt it. We'll investigate the premises, but we don't need anything from these travelers. After their efforts on Destral, I think we can overlook the possibility that any unsavory activity was at hand. Isn't that right, Adrinor?"

 

Miserix must have told him my name. I nodded slowly, still trying to process the fact that a Makuta had just killed Drelinok right in front of me. It felt oddly anticlimactic, which I attributed to the action I was so accustomed to. We followed Trylac away from the battered castle and down through the path carved into the rocks. The conversations among the group sounded like empty noise as I went along, still caught up in Drelinok's actions. With his death, there was a real chance Toa Jovan could save the universe. Hadliek put an arm around me when the coastline and the Corybant came into view.

 

"You all right in there?"

 

"I think so," I replied. "They killed Drelinok. After everything, and they just…he's dead. I'm not sure what I expected this moment to feel like, but it's good. I feel okay. Where do we go from here?"

 

"To Ilisi, I hope," Trylac said.

 

I tilted my head, curious where Trylac was going with his statement.

 

"Triphaz said the Amplifier was powered by Iridiex. My…agency…may have use for what Drelinok was working on. Not to birth world-ending monsters like Drelinok, but for research purposes. Consider this an effort to safeguard the future by better understanding the past. I know that there is Iridiex in Ilisi's central province, and I know that your Ilisian friend could persuade the local monarchy to give you a small amount. We may have failed Voporak's mission, but we learned plenty before Triphaz's demise. There's still some good that can come of this."

 

I gave Trylac a smirk. "After everything you did for me over the years, watching as my protector in the shadows, I think I can do this favor for you."

 

"So I'm headed home, is that right?" Celvey asked.

 

"Yeah," I replied with a heavy voice. "Let's see if your king is willing to part with some Iridiex."

 

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#9 Offline Cederak

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Posted May 24 2015 - 10:53 PM

And I can tell just what you want; you don't want to be alone. –Two Door Cinema Club

 

 

Episode 09: The Marriage of Celvey the Ilisian (Kyrhus' Perspective)

 

It was partly cloudy on the day of Celvey's wedding. I was standing outside the citadel where she had lived for centuries, in a garden of vibrant foliage and elegant statues dedicated to native heroes from ancient times. Many Ilisians were in attendance to witness the ceremony that would make Celvey a queen, while the biomech who would be her king, Zanteox, merely had a few dozen supporters. Soft, sweet music began to play and I watched Celvey walk to the altar, arm in arm with Auredel. He was the central province's king - an Ilisian who had wed long ago and regarded Celvey as the eventual inheritor of his kingdom.

 

I stood alongside Elendra and Hadliek, adjacent to three Trevahkans, the same species of the biomech Celvey was to marry. We smiled at Celvey and she mirrored the gesture, while Zanteox gave a polite nod to his comrades and they in turn did the same. Between us was Celvey, King Auredel, Queen Meruvia, Zanteox, and one other. This last individual was the Minister of Light, an Ilisian ordained with the authority to wed a king to a queen.

 

"Please be seated," The minister requested.

 

The audience took their seats, while those of us at the altar remained standing as the minster began to read from a tablet.

 

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of the Great Spirit to join together this Trevahkan and this Ilisian in blessed matrimony; a most honorable estate, instituted of Mata Nui, and into which these two biomechs present come now to be joined. Therefore if anyone can show just cause why they may not be joined together, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace."

 

I heard the familiar discharge of a gunblade round in the nearby woods, causing everyone to look curiously in the direction of the disturbance. Adrinor suddenly burst into view, forcing his way through a patch of bushes, a living Trevahkan impaled on his blade. Adrinor kicked the unfortunate entity from his weapon and into the dirt before looking up the hill.

 

Adrinor's gaze never left Zanteox as he flipped the gunblade around and pointed the barrel at the mortally wounded biomech at his feet. He pulled the trigger twice, a pair of rounds fired into his enemy's chestplate, and finished with one to the head before storming up the path to the wedding. Many of the Ilisians gasped and shrieked in horror at what had just occurred, while Zanteox's allies drew their weapons and took aim at my friend.

 

"At ease, everyone," Zanteox spoke up, drawing the saber at his side. "I'll vanquish this lowly brute."

 

Adrinor stared down the Trevahkan with an expression of absolute hatred, prepared to engage him in combat. It was quite an eventful day, to say the least, but this is a story that makes the most sense with all of the details crammed in. So I'll restart from the beginning.

 

<<<Two Days Earlier>>>

 

The seas had been disagreeable on our departure from Suizek, and the drizzling rain that followed us from Triphaz's castle had become a downpour once we boarded the Corybant. Voporak's Steltian guards were disappointed to discover Triphaz had been murdered, but even their clan leader would excuse our inability to defeat someone as powerful as Drelinok. We left Makuta Krika and Makuta Cevezia with the task of cleaning up the laboratory and, while I was not a Meldin, I hoped they would treat Triphaz's corpse with some respect during the removal. Drelinok's method of execution had been dreadful enough.

 

I sat near the bow with Adrinor and Celvey, watching cobalt blue waves splash the edges of our vessel. Adrinor's arm was draped over the railing and I could tell his focus was on the island of Meldio we had passed some time earlier. I glanced at Celvey and we silently exchanged our knowledge that something was weighing on Adrinor's mind.

 

"Adrinor," Celvey called.

 

He said nothing, as if he were in a trance.

 

"Hey, Adrinor," Celvey repeated.

 

"I…did my best," Adrinor muttered.

 

"Adrinor!" Celvey shouted.

 

The Meldin shot up and frantically looked around for a second. "What? What happened?"

 

"You zoned out completely," Celvey told him. "Are you feeling okay?"

 

Adrinor did not meet her gaze when he spoke. "It doesn't feel much like a dream anymore. That's what Rovaius called it. A dream. Do you think he lied to me? Maybe he was lying to himself. Maybe there never was a dream; it was only a fantasy."

 

He took a moment to shake his head and sigh, finally standing up and walking away. We watched him head below deck, left to question his mental condition.

 

"He's getting worse," I said.

 

"I know," Celvey replied sadly. "Waking Drelinok did a number on him, and even when I saved him from that Dark Hunter, he just seemed…wrong. It's still Adrinor, but I can't save him from whatever is going on in his head. I can't make this all right."

 

"He's reaching the tipping point. His sense of regret is going to outweigh his sense of responsibility to this team soon, and I think we need to ask ourselves if we want to be there when that happens."

 

Celvey was visibly shocked when she asked, "Are you saying we should abandon him?"

 

"I'm saying that we chose this life to be happy, and even Adrinor no longer finds happiness in it. We're holding out hope that a band of Toa will rescue the Great Spirit and the odds aren't in their favor. There are very few biomechs who could return home with a seat at a throne waiting for them, and there's a heavy question I'm leading up to. Would you rather be on Ilisi, serving as a reluctant monarch, or are you prepared to watch Adrinor destroy himself?"

 

"It sounds like you've wanted to tell me this for a while."

 

"You're the only one in our crew that has anything worth returning home for – a life that could be spent guiding her subjects to a bright future. I'm all for comradery and loyalty, although there is a rational side to this. I know we agreed to protect one another, but please, Celvey, don't throw your life away to uphold the tenets of being an outlaw."

 

"I appreciate your honesty," Celvey replied, her voice shaking. "Can you give me a moment alone?"

 

I nodded and stood up to leave. "Of course."

 

<<<>>> 

 

"So let me get this straight," Voporak hissed, trying to keep his cool.

 

We returned to Stelt early the following morning and met with a less-than-pleased Voporak about the matter of Triphaz's death. After Trylac gave a full explanation and his personal apologies, Voporak knew there was no room to argue. It took the strength of a Makuta to kill Drelinok, and even the mightiest Steltian was no match for a Makuta. Without a new assignment to keep us busy, we were free to pursue Trylac's request on Ilisi, and it seemed we would go our separate ways on Stelt. The Dectraz departed Voporak's chamber with the rest of us and started down the hallway, pulling Adrinor aside. He motioned the rest of us to follow.

 

"Do you still have that device you found in Onu-Metru?" Trylac asked him.

 

Adrinor reached into a compartment on his back and produced a small mechanism. He moved it toward his heartlight and it magnetically snapped into place. "You mean this?"

 

Trylac pulled it off and placed the device back in Adrinor's hand. "I'm going to reconvene with my superiors and divulge what Triphaz told us about his work on the Amplifier. With any luck, I can have a contact enter Metru Nui and scan the blueprints you found. Losing Drelinok and Triphaz means their knowledge of the Amplifier is gone. If the blueprints in the Onu-Metru Archives are missing enough critical sections, then any chance of recreating the Amplifier may be gone as well."

 

"That's a good thing, isn't it?"

 

"We don't move forward by setting ourselves back. We have to learn, always. Keep that device safe. I'm still not sure what it could be, but finding it among the Amplifier designs is suspicious. I only wish we'd asked Triphaz what it was built for. Nevertheless, I want to remind you that my allies know the best course of action when it comes to potentially dangerous technology. I'll be in touch when I know more."

 

"Stay safe, Trylac," Adrinor replied, shaking his hand.

 

Trylac left us, and Hadliek clicked the barrel of his heavy pistol a few times. "What's our next move, Adrinor? Are we still taking that field trip to Ilisi?"

 

"I don't see why not," Adrinor said with a smirk. "It's not like any of us have plans tonight."

 

<<<>>> 

 

Elendra did not have the time to fully repair her airship and there was no way we were going to carve a warpath through Ilisi to reach Celvey's old home in the central province. Mission failure usually kept Voporak in a livid mood for the rest of the day and it was not something that we were particularly skilled in talking him down from, aside from Celvey. She approached his desk while we looked on from the hallway and pleaded for him to loan us a shuttle to Ilisi. She sadly whispered through a story about missing home and needing a few Steltians to drop us off, at which point Voporak's smile returned and he half-heartedly agreed. Adrinor was still troubled and tired, but at least we had safe passage. Ilisians were a terribly honor-bound species, with a ban on both air combat and the use of deadly force on an aircraft.

 

We received our Steltian airship (colloquially referred to as Corsairs given their typical crew) and a few of Voporak's guards to escort us on our way within the hour. I spent the journey sitting quietly by myself, eyes closed. Sleep was seldom a requirement, but shutting my eyes to think and focus was always welcome. I listened to the others chat, little casual conversations about the past week and wondering what to expect when we arrived. Much of the afternoon had drifted away when one of the Steltians told us our destination was in sight. At this news, I decided to take a peek out the flight deck window.

 

Truth be told, none of us were terribly fond of our homes. Homesickness did not mesh well with our chosen lifestyle, and it was a rarity to ever visit the islands we had come from. Ilisi was an entirely new sight for me, and even in the shadows of the Great Disruption, it was a magical place. From the airship, Ilisi seemed to possess an aura that warded off the encroaching darkness, like a beacon in the night of the universe. I often listened far more than I spoke, and I remembered the stories Celvey told us about home. The ancient architecture of the Central Province was primarily towers of brick and stone, standing tall amid the lush, green land. Around the border was a wide, misshapen circle of forest that one could easily get lost in. From what I could see, the lands beyond the forest were touches of green intermingled with light browns and yellows. Trees were bare, and castles were larger and appeared more well-fortified that the structures within the Central Province.

 

It had been a few hundred years since I heard her tell it, but I once asked Celvey about her history. King Auredel, ruler of the Central Province, successfully led his armies into the Dark Forest and pushed back their enemies at every front. The House of Thunder retreated in the north. The House of Infinity was overwhelmed in the west. The House of Ember was decimated in the south. The House of Aether took heavy casualties in the east. And after centuries of war, King Auredel and the House of Crystal defended their home and left an eternal reminder that they would not be conquered. (For all this fighting, however, I found it odd that Auredel's kingdom was no more than ten kio in diameter.)

 

With the conflict behind them, King Auredel and his beloved Queen Meruvia had been aged by the years and the stress of battle. They had raised Celvey like their offspring and named her the Princess of the House of Crystal. To accept meant Celvey would be married off to a biomech of noble lineage. Unwilling to agree, Celvey fled to the Dark Forest overnight and lost her way for a time. She emerged in the territory of the House of Infinity, arrested by their army and taken to their king. Using the gift she was born with, Celvey escaped and departed Ilisi by way of airship. She sold the craft to a Steltian who reported the peculiar transaction to his clan leader. That clan leader was Voporak, and he wished to meet the individual hoping to make the sale. In the middle of their chat, we returned from a mission of our own and Adrinor took to her immediately. She was a good fit for the crew, and despite her apprehension to take a life, Celvey grew on us after a while.

 

"It's crazy to think that this entire island was at war once," Hadliek said. "It looks so quiet out there – so calm. Did everyone participate in battle?"

 

Celvey was transfixed on the island when she replied, "Only the lower classes of Ilisians went to war, and they fought for their kings. Mata Nui chose who would rule the provinces, and those kings selected to fill their courts with great minds and elite sentinels. Such an honor deems an Ilisian a member of the upper class, well-practiced in etiquette and often in swordsmanship. If they ever saw the field of battle, it was of their own volition."

 

"They clearly revere their kings in the highest esteem," Elendra noted.

 

"Well, no one is trying to shoot us down," Adrinor told her. "We would not receive the same luxury with such a vessel over a matriarch's tower on Xia. Even if the guards are apprehensive, and they have every right to be with a Steltian airship looming, Ilisians appear to obey the monarchy without question."

 

Celvey pointed near the base of the tallest tower in the province – a citadel surrounded by a small village. The pilot nodded and began his descent toward a wide landing pad that jutted out from the castle. At the same time, I could not help but notice that Adrinor's attention was focused beyond the citadel walls, into the forest. Past the rim of the shadowy wood, I noticed a massive structure sitting hidden among the greenery. It was long rather than tall, almost certainly metallic, and shaded in dark violet and jet black.

 

The pilot took us down to the landing pad and opened the side hatch, keeping the Corsair hovering just above the structure.

 

"Are you sure you have a way back to Stelt?" the co-pilot asked Adrinor.

 

"I always have a way," he replied coolly, giving him a smile.

 

We disembarked the Corsair and the pilot wasted no time getting it high into the air. I trailed it across the clouds for a moment, finally refocusing my attention on the squad of soldiers marching our way. The skies were off-limits to them, but there was no ban on sending a militarized unit to confront someone bold enough to land outside a royal citadel. The soldiers were armored in bright gold and white, and their helmets were adorned with a row of spines that ran backwards down the middle.

 

And then came another warrior unlike any of the others. He stood half a head taller than the rest, in an armor composed of obsidian with yellow digital lines that ran down his arms, legs, wrapped in an intricate pattern around his torso, and up his neck. The yellow lines gave off a glow even in the sunlight, and I could tell they were an artificial modification. His head was sleek black with rounded features, and his face was confident. His bright red eyes studied us when his hand reached for the saber at his side. He pulled the weapon from its scabbard and held it in our direction.

 

"It would be in your best interest to drop the sword," Adrinor told him sternly. "I've seen scarier things than you this week."

 

"Such insolence," the warrior muttered in surprise.

 

He pulled back the saber before sending a burst of crimson energies down it, hurling it at Adrinor with amazing precision and an impressive speed. Adrinor drew his gunblade in time to prevent being impaled through the chestplate, but the saber never arrived at its target. It stopped abruptly, suspended in midair. Even Adrinor stood bracing himself for an impact that would not come to pass, and he slowly returned his gunblade to his back. My Meldin friend looked over his shoulder and confirmed what the rest of us already knew. We were looking at Celvey, watching as she held out her hand and mentally pushed the saber back into the warrior's hand. She walked by Adrinor and stood across from the warrior, putting her hands on her hips.

 

"The last time we met, you tried to impress me with that move," Celvey said with a chuckle. "The energies wouldn't focus properly and your aim left something to be desired. You've actually gotten quite good, Zanteox."

 

"I've had a while to practice," Zanteox replied, placing his saber in its scabbard and glancing at the soldiers flanking him. "You stand before your king's chosen heir. Recognize your princess and pay her the proper respect."

 

The sentinels retreated to the edges of the platform and took a knee, bowing their heads in our direction. The gesture was meant for Celvey, but it made me smile all the same. In all the days of my life, no one had ever treated me like royalty. Another squad of soldiers rounded the hallway and took notice of us, led by an Ilisian with a broadsword.

 

"Furthermore, if an enemy to my kingdom dares invade at such proximity to my throne, then I will meet them with a wrath the likes of which"-

 

The broadsword-wielding Ilisian stopped short and placed his weapon out to his side as a silent motion to halt the soldiers. His armor was a bright bronze, fashioned at the pauldrons as though they were trailing flames behind them. Atop his head was a golden crown with a shimmering diamond in the center. I knew the stories – this was King Auredel. He glanced around at the scene, initially curious as to why his sentinels were bowing, baffled as to why Zanteox was not attacking, and finally spotting Celvey on the other side of the platform.

 

"My darling, you've come home," Auredel breathed, overcome with emotion. His weapon fell and he looked beyond elated at the sight of my Ilisian ally.

 

Celvey hurried toward her king, embracing him tightly. "I have missed you more as the years have passed, and Meruvia as well."

 

"She's upstairs," Auredel replied, "and I can't wait to tell her you're back. Have you reconsidered accepting your position of power here?"

 

"I don't think we'll be doing any of that," Adrinor said irritably. He stepped in between Auredel and Celvey, standing up to the king. "I didn't bring her here to get married."

 

Auredel glared and Celvey did as well.

 

"Don't slight me by saying it that way. You may be a leader, but you don't decide everything in my life." Celvey lowered her head when she added to Auredel, "That being said, he's correct. I did not return wishing to be married."

 

The king growled when he told Adrinor, "How you are a leader, I haven't the slightest idea, but from what I have seen thus far, I am less than impressed. I would gladly give you an airship if it meant removing you from my kingdom. Speaking to a princess with such command is unheard of and shameful in Ilisi."

 

"If I may," Zanteox interjected, tapping Celvey's shoulder. "King Auredel and Queen Meruvia grow weary as the centuries drag on. You were named Princess of the House of Crystal and upon your wedding day, they will be relieved of the burden to reign. Put some consideration into your decision, because I see a serendipitous moment at hand. My fellow Trevahkans arrived a few days ago and have ensured the borders remain secure, while also speaking to the king and queen about you."

 

Their arrival was the best explanation I could think of as to why a mysterious airship shaped object was parked in the forest outside the province.

 

"And what did you discuss?"

 

"I wish to marry you," Zanteox replied hopefully. "Together, you and I could rule the province as fair and powerful monarchs. The peace that Auredel fought so hard to secure would be certain with the union of your Ilisian army and my Trevahkan company. We are the law in my homeland, Magistrates by title. You can trust me that I would treat you with all the admiration you deserve, until the stars die out."

 

Celvey smiled at Zanteox's words while Hadliek, Elendra, and I approached her.

 

"Those stars may be dying out sooner rather than later with the whole Great Disruption issue at hand," Adrinor mumbled, less than amused with Zanteox.

 

"Pardon my asking, but what brought you back to Ilisi?" Auredel wondered.

 

"The rare metal Iridiex," Celvey said flatly. "I know there are trace amounts of it on the island, and I recall that some of your most dangerous artillery required it as an energy source. I need a handful of it for…a friend."

 

"The Iridiex is gone," Auredel explained. "When you left, the House of Infinity attempted to invade and claimed that you stole one of their airships. In retaliation, they attempted to reignite the war once again. We pushed them back with the heavy artillery you speak of, but it took the last of our Iridiex to do so."

 

"Perhaps there is still a way to salvage your wasted journey," Zanteox proposed. "Sentinels, I bid you to rise and escort our guests to have their armor polished and provided a good meal. Celvey, you and I will continue to the south balcony and your friends can reconvene with us there."

 

"Thank you, Zanteox," Celvey replied kindly, accepting his hand as they stepped away.

 

Auredel's sentinels guided us downstairs to a large, empty ballroom. A number of citadel servants began to pour in, some with tools to clean and shine our armor, and a few more with food for us. I devoured my serving, trying not to be perceived as savage and animalistic as my reptilian form implied to most. All the while, I enjoyed the humming sound of the tools being used to tidy up my armor and relax the muscle tissue around my metallic parts.

 

"So, quick question," I started. "Have we ever encountered a Trevahkan?"

 

"No," Hadliek replied immediately, awkwardly stirring his food around in its bowl. "North of my home is an island where one-eyed, bright topaz-armored Rahi ride about on colossal, sentient lizards called Tahtorak. Todrano don't make a habit of visiting. What's worse, is the island north of that is Trevahka. The Trevahkans are the only civilization there, with well-protected cities that line the coasts. It's impressive because the rest of Trevahka is a jungle-like ruin of violent beasts, and a legend that these creatures are spawned from a strange cavern in the center of the island."

 

"Spawned?" Adrinor tried to clarify.

 

"Hadliek shook his head. "I don't know what other word to use. The stories go that a massive pool of silvery liquid rests far below the cavern's surface, and that it creates and twists life into things that should not exist."

 

"And just when it was getting too easy to go to sleep," Adrinor replied, laughing a bit.

 

The room was quiet for a few minutes, only the sound of eating and armor being polished was heard. And then Elendra gently nudged Adrinor.

 

"Do you think Celvey is actually going to marry that Trevahkan?"

 

"The Ilisians stand to benefit from it, but I can tell Celvey's spirit wouldn't be invested. She's one of us, not a queen. And as for Magistrate Zanteox…I don't like him."

 

"He does seem like a bit much," Elendra replied. "Too 'high society' for my taste. You can tell that he's always had the advantage against anything in his life. That's a risky way to live, if you ask me. Our armor is being cleaned up to look nice, and untouched. But truly untouched armor means the bearer has yet to experience a battle that tests them. You have to experience a little loss to acknowledge the price of what it means to lose."

 

"You're preaching to the choir on that one," Adrinor told her, sighing into his food.

 

<<<>>> 

 

After being tended to, we were taken to the citadel's south balcony. Celvey and Zanteox were chatting at a small table and she was laughing at something he told her. He picked up a pebble on the floor and I noticed something else in his hand when he squeezed his fist down around it. When he opened his hand, he presented a cool blue flower to Celvey. She carefully took it from him and turned it over a few times, confused as to how Zanteox performed such a feat.

 

"Oh, you made it," Zanteox told us, smiling. "Your armor looks brand new, gleaming as though you came into being today."

 

"You're too kind," Adrinor replied sarcastically.

 

"Did you have a nice afternoon?" I asked Celvey.

 

"I did. And…I have an announcement for you. I…accepted Zanteox's marriage proposal. We'll be wed tomorrow and I'd like for you to attend!"

 

"That's fantastic!" Hadliek replied happily. "We would be honored, Celvey. I can't imagine how a long-distance marriage is going to work for you, but we'll figure something out."

 

We all stared at Hadliek, and even Celvey was intrigued by his comment.

 

"…about that," Zanteox uttered.

 

Hadliek frowned. "Oh. You're…staying?"

 

"It would be a tad unseemly to be married and suddenly run off," Adrinor said, narrowing his eyes on Hadliek for a second. "Even so, I really don't approve of any of this."

 

"Wow, Adrinor," Elendra told him. "Maybe draw it back a bit on the power trip?"

 

"Seriously?" Adrinor exclaimed. "Am I the only one here who thinks this is happening insanely fast? We came here for a precious metal that is gone and now Celvey wants to be married tomorrow? I can't handle any of you right now."

 

Adrinor stormed off and we looked at Celvey, mirroring her disheartened expression.

 

"Is there any chance the rest of you can be happy for me?"

 

"It's going to be hard to part ways, but it's not our call to make," I said.

 

"Agreed," Elendra added nonchalantly.

 

"Kyrhus, can you go find Adrinor for me? Zanteox needs to head downstairs to start preparing for our marriage eve festivities, and I'd like the rest of you to meet me up in my former chambers. The sentinels know the way."

 

"Yeah, I'll bring him up."

 

It did not take much searching to locate Adrinor. He was standing a few rooms over, leaning over the railing and staring at the floor below. His arms were folded and he was resting his chin atop them. I marveled at the beautiful design of the grand descending staircase, quickly remembering we were standing in a royal citadel.

 

"Hey, Adrinor," I said quietly, standing next to him.

 

"This is ridiculous," he replied coldly.

 

"She's trying to be happy," I shot back. "You're the one always telling us to pursue the thing that gives us freedom and makes us want to live life. Do you ever think that maybe some of those endings don't include you? I'm not trying to be mean, but I know that there are daydreams we all have of doing things other than shooting and running around. This can't last and it won't. So please, Adrinor. While you still have a chance to leave on a good note, at least listen to what Celvey has to say."

 

Adrinor pushed away from the railing and forced himself to stand up straight, finally looking me in the eye. "Okay, Kyrhus. Take me to her."

 

<<<>>> 

 

"So you've known him a while?"

 

Celvey nodded. "We were close friends when we were young. Zanteox's airship crashed here on an expedition through the northern realms of the universe. He was clipped by something off the coast of Xia and had to land somewhere. I had no idea what our chance meeting would lead to one day."

 

"I guess I'm just worried you're jumping into something you might regret," Adrinor replied. "You're better than Zanteox in every way, and even though you seem so comfortable with all this monarchy and fancy living, I'm concerned."

 

"You shouldn't be. Gifts are rare among Ilisians, and I have never encountered another with telekinetic powers like mine. Auredel sees this as a sign from the Great Spirit that I am destined to be a queen, because he was granted the throne by divine right and possesses the gift of telepathy. He searched Zanteox's mind when we met and thought he would be a suitable companion for me."

 

"Why does he need you anyway, why not simply rule as a king?"

 

"It's not that simple," Celvey replied. "The monarchy of Ilisi dates back very far, to the inception of the universe. In our union, the Ilisians and the Trevahkans will be joined. His warriors will stand at his side, pressuring the kings of our neighboring provinces to never strike at the House of Crystal again. I cannot say what benefit Ilisians can bring to Trevahka, but I know it will be positive. Barraki Pridak kept Ilisi and the other islands of his domain in check with such power, and I know it will take a similar display to protect my home. I want this for my people, Adrinor."

 

"Do you want it for yourself?"

 

Celvey opened her mouth to reply and hesitated.

 

"There's an answer," Adrinor continued, frustrated. "I'm done trying to dissuade you from this wedding plan. I'm going to take up Auredel on that airship ride out of here."

 

"Adrinor, stop," Celvey admonished.

 

"I wasn't planning to share this with you, but since we appear to be going our separate ways, it may interest you to know that I planned to be taken away to the Dark Hunters the night we were visited by the Jaecolt."

 

Celvey's eyes went wide and she was more than upset.

 

"My death would have meant safety for the rest of you," Adrinor said, becoming very condescending. "I never expected you to actually rescue me, and I can see it didn't matter much anyway. Best of luck to you and your king."

 

Celvey mentally threw the door open and crushed it against the wall. "Get out of here right now, Adrinor. I've heard enough."

 

Adrinor left without another word and I followed him out, trying to make sense of everything. I had no idea he intended for the Dark Hunters to murder him and expected they would leave us alone upon his death. I tried to keep pace with him as he hurried down the stairs and whispered to me along the way.

 

"Celvey needs to think I have gone, Kyrhus. You must not tell her that I'm investigating this Magistrate Zanteox and his Trevahkan friends. I noticed the violet airship in the forest – it's too strange that they would be waiting for us like this. You can call it coincidence or whatever you like, but I don't trust him. I am going to get inside that airship and figure out just what is going on here."

 

"Be safe, Adrinor," I whispered back. "I hope you find what you're looking for."

 

<<<>>> 

 

I had a hard time falling asleep that night, which was ironic because my bed was unbelievably soft and comfortable. Zanteox and most of his Magistrates opted to sleep in the citadel. This meant there was no chance of their return to the air cruiser and a run-in with Adrinor while he snooped around. Even so, I still wondered if Adrinor was okay. Some of the Magistrates were surely left behind to stand patrol for the night. Furthermore, without witnessing the Trevahkans in combat, we had no method of assessing their threat level. It was entirely possible that Adrinor was walking straight into a den of Doom Vipers, metaphorically speaking. He had spoken with King Auredel about departing on a small airship, and left immediately. I could not let on to any of the group that Adrinor had a plan, and I knew they had a hard time reading me if I did not want them to.

 

Although, what really weighed heavy on my mind that night was Zanteox's conversation with us during the banquet. Whether we had Celvey with us or not, I knew assisting Trylac could be beneficial to everyone's future. Our table was at the front of the room, reserved for the upcoming king and queen, and a few of their chosen friends. Naturally, our crew (short of one Meldin) was there, and Zanteox had a few of his most decorated warriors at the table.

 

"I understand you're in search of Iridiex, is that right?" Zanteox asked, casually placing an arm around Celvey.

 

"That's right," Hadliek replied. "You wouldn't know where we could find another mass of the stuff, would you?"

 

Zanteox smirked, snapping his fingers to one of the servants for another drink. "It's funny that you would be the one to ask, Todrano. I once heard a tale about a nightmarish forest in your land that made me terribly interested in Iridiex. A collection of the metal is rumored to exist near the center of the forest, but the plant life is rich with these gelatinous masses of parasitic organisms."

 

"I never knew there was talk of Iridiex in there, but I know the place. The slime monsters are no larger than your head, but even a droplet of that stuff can be life-threatening."

 

<<<>>> 

 

The next day was a long affair of watching a village prepare for the most important local event in thousands of years. I thought the entire central province was there, waiting ecstatically to watch their princess be wed. I already covered the introduction to Celvey's wedding earlier, and I apologize for getting ahead of myself. In any event, I'll pick up from when Adrinor arrived at the ceremony after killing a Trevahkan with his gunblade.

 

The Minister of Light stepped forward and furiously inquired, "What do you have to say for yourself, that you should so viciously interrupt this ceremony?"

 

"This Trevahkan has married before, Minister. Each of his queens has met a mysterious death in his play to conquer islands by right of kingship."

 

Of all the truths I thought Adrinor would return with, that was pretty surprising.

 

Zanteox began marching toward Adrinor with his saber ready to strike, asking, "Have you come with any proof to support the deception of which you speak?"

 

"No," Adrinor replied shortly, stopping in his tracks. "But there are Ilisians gifted with powers beyond what can be seen or written. That gift has manifested in Celvey as telekinesis, but I should remind you that King Auredel possesses the gift of telepathy, and your cunning mind is about to betray you. It's time everyone knew your hospitality is a façade."

 

It was then that Zanteox halted as well, slowly returning his blade to its scabbard. He turned back to face the three Trevahkans standing across from me, smirking as he did.

 

"I told you I sensed something clever about this Meldin," Zanteox said, pressing a device on his gauntlet. "I think it's time we take our leave."

 

Auredel's eyes were suddenly glowing bright and I presumed it was a side effect of reading Zanteox's mind. "You were plotting to murder my heir, my darling Celvey! I will never allow you to be the king of my land you creepy little scoundrel! What makes you think I would let any of your treacherous kind walk away from this unscathed?"

 

"Fortunately for me," Zanteox replied with a chuckle, "I'm not leaving the matter up to you."

 

In an instant, Zanteox and his allies faded out of view and disappeared. Moments later, their massive sky cruiser was airborne and fleeing the scene. I suddenly realized that Zanteox activated a beacon to his ship when he touched his gauntlet, and we could only watch them make their escape. King Auredel shook his head and looked to Adrinor.

 

"I usually keep my 'I told you so' speeches to myself, but this seems like a really glaring example of when to pitch one," Adrinor told the king.

 

Auredel begrudgingly lightened his expression, almost laughing at Adrinor's remark. "I owe you my greatest thanks. In the shortsighted dream to see my inheritor find happiness in marriage with a mighty ruler, I had not anticipated Zanteox to harbor such sinister intent. You have saved that which is most precious to me and my queen."

 

"With all due respect, I didn't do it for you," Adrinor told him. "A good leader would not let such a fate befall someone in his service."

 

"Her…leader?" Meruvia said curiously.

 

Adrinor put the gunblade away and extended his hand in invitation to Celvey. "If she'll have me."

 

Celvey laughed softly. "It would be rather cruel to deny the offer after you went out of your way to save my life."

 

Auredel appeared shocked and his eyes pleaded with Celvey for a moment. "Is this truly the life you want?"

 

Celvey nodded. "He'll keep me safe, and I'll do the same for him. I promise."

 

Meruvia put a hand to Auredel's shoulder and said, "She knows what she wants. Let her reside in the company she chooses."

 

Auredel released a long, heavy sigh before finally smiling. "Adrinor, I am allowing this for one reason."

 

"Because you trust me?" Adrinor asked uneasily.

 

Auredel was notably patronizing when he replied, "Because Celvey can make her own decisions." The king turned to her and added, "You have my blessing, my princess."

 

Celvey slowly walked up to Adrinor, grinning all the way. And just as she barely touched the edges of his hand, the ground began to shake beneath us. Adrinor caught her in his arms and it felt that even the air was being shaken about. The sun above burst into unbelievable intensity for a moment, as if there were no clouds between it and the garden. At last, the shaking concluded and there was a noticeable calm. For a change, everything felt right.

 

Celvey looked up at Adrinor and I heard her whisper, "It's happened. Jovan saved the Great Spirit."

 

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#10 Offline Cederak

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Posted Aug 08 2015 - 09:25 PM

Alone we traveled armed, with nothing but a shadow. We fled, far away. –Of Monsters and Men

 

 

Episode 10: Majestic Eclipse

 

The day started with a sense of promise that whole centuries preceding it could not equal. I smiled from my bedroom window, gazing far into the distance. Drelinok was dead, the universe was safe thanks to Toa Jovan, and the end of my journey seemed so close. After learning from Kyrhus that Zanteox knew about Iridiex on Todrano, I had to set course for Hadliek's homeland and secure a lucrative future for us all. Trylac and his agency's scientific research mattered little to me without Drelinok in the picture, and I had every intention of finding a high bidder for the precious metal. Once that was accomplished, I would be free to live the rest of my days in immense and comfortable wealth.

 

King Auredel had presented us a royal airship to depart Ilisi, faster and more agile than most aircraft. Even Elendra marveled at the technology, an elegant metal blade bolting through clouds and air. As if on cue, she silently stepped up to my side and looked out the window with me.

 

"I really can't convince you to come along, huh?"

 

She shook her head. "I'd prefer to work on the damaged aircraft that Voporak was kind enough to have his clan return here. Metru Nui was a solid test-run for the modifications I'll need to implement, and it should be ready for the sky when you return from Todrano."

 

"What happens if I get in trouble?" I teased. "Your quick trigger finger will be far away from me."

 

"Then you'd better be careful," she warned. "Besides, you already know my favorite secret to staying alive."

 

I smirked, immediately remembering her joke. "Not dying."

 

She handed me a small, blinking device that was roughly the size of my eye. I tapped it a couple times and looked back at her.

 

"That is a long-distance beacon I've linked with my ship. If you need me, you can activate it by holding the light down for a short time. An alarm will display on the ship's control panel and start to actively triangulate your position."

 

I attached it just beneath the armor on my wrist and snapped it into place around a tiny opening. "Thanks, Elendra. If all goes according to plan, I won't even need this."

 

Elendra was walking out the door when she said, "If theory were the same as practice, we could all stop training tomorrow."

 

<<<>>> 

 

Kyrhus took the helm on our flight to Todrano mostly just to monitor our course. The Ilisians were dynamos in aircraft development and the ship practically drove itself. Even with the Great Spirit rescued, the atmosphere began to darken when we reached the first dome leading into the Southern Islands. It contained the land of Trevahka, home to the Magistrates. Through the next gateway was a wild place, conquered by local fauna where the mighty Tahtorak roamed free. South of that was the dome housing Todrano, steadily becoming less bright along the way. As I recalled, the next dome would take us down to Trylac's homeland of Dectraz, a place he once said was shrouded in perpetual night. The resentment that inhabitants of the Southern Islands held against the "light-walkers" in the north began to make sense, because I could tell dwelling in these conditions for too long could become miserable and gloomy. Todrano was coming into view when I peered out the window with Hadliek and Celvey, looking for discernable landforms. Most of the northern section of the island was a volcanic mass that towered over the lowlands like a fiery castle, spewing out long, winding streams of lava and thick clouds of ash. Down through the east and into the south sat a colossal dome, encapsulating a large chunk of the island's forest. Hadliek tapped the window glass a few times toward it.

 

"That's new."

 

I scanned the west and the lengthy expanse of green fields that grew into the southern coast. Along the way, I counted seven small towns dotting the verdant landscape, curious where Hadliek had lived his early life. Despite the gray skies in the north and the weakened lighting high above, Todrano seemed okay. I wondered what made Hadliek leave behind his quiet home. Before I would address that subject, however, I did the courteous thing and slowly refocused onto the dome.

 

"Why would they build something like that?" I asked. "Where would the resources have even come from?"

 

"I don't know," Hadliek admitted. "There are no riches to be unearthed on Todrano and my species lives a simple lifestyle. Most of us know one another personally and we often brought the towns together on important projects."

 

"And you left it all behind?" Celvey questioned. "That sounds so…nice."

 

"I guess I just got bored after a while," Hadliek replied. "I packed a bag and said goodbye to my close friends, and then I sailed north. This was back when the League of Six Kingdoms was still active, so my travels eventually brought me into contact with their armies. It was the legions of Barraki Pridak, specifically, who saw my ability to heal as a strong advantage in battle. I think I've told you this part already, but I met with Pridak after a while and he assigned me as a remote training officer, taking particularly gifted soldiers to distant lands to hone their skills in the private silence of nature. I was on leave when the League fell and I met Elendra and Adrinor."

 

"Seems like you left on a positive note," Celvey said. "Ready to go back?"

 

"Yeah," Hadliek told her calmly. "Yeah, I am. Kyrhus, plot a course for the town nearest to the forest, please," Hadliek requested.

 

Kyrhus gave us a wave from the controls and I felt him gently tilting our direction.

 

"Is that where your home was?" Celvey asked.

 

Hadliek lowered his head and gave her the smallest smile. "It was. I have a lot of good memories down there. We call the place Alinov."

 

"Alinov," Celvey repeated happily. "Maybe someone you know can tell us why they constructed the dome."

 

"We'll find out pretty soon," Kyrhus interrupted. "The ship takes commands pretty easily and we should be on the ground momentarily."

 

I walked up to the cockpit and hovered over Kyrhus, studying the control panel. The airship had been given a landing point and the computer was already calculating the distance to arrival and the proper speed to maintain. Elendra was right to harbor an interest in studying the airship further, and Kyrhus did not touch the controls again until we were resting in an empty field between Alinov and the forest. The Gekalan flipped the switch to open the cabin door and we headed outside.

 

Hadliek took a deep breath and put his hands on his hips as he surveyed the town. "Good to be back."

 

The air was warm and humid, with a hot breeze rolling past us. I looked up into the sunlight and barely squinted, surprised by the lack of intensity. It was bright, but more similar to staring directly at an interior light than a sunny sky.

 

"Very tropical," Kyrhus noted, wagging his tail. "Shall we head into the forest or into town first?"

 

"I'd rather visit Alinov. The Iridiex is somewhere in the forest, according to Zanteox. We shouldn't go in blind, don't you agree, Adrinor?"

 

"No arguments here. Let's get some intel."

 

The path into town was lined with potted plants, exotic multicolored flora that bloomed full of life and ripe berries. Businesses and living quarters were basically well-put-together huts, open enough to let in the wind and sturdy enough to weather a hurricane if necessary. It was not enough that the Southern Islands were legendary for their shadows and volcanic activity, but stormy conditions were also a regular occurrence. A couple Todrano waved to us from their hut's balcony, smiling at the sight of one of their own in our group. We waved back and Hadliek abruptly made a beeline for the building.

 

"Old friends of yours?" Kyrhus asked him.

 

"Probably," Hadliek replied. "The faces seem vaguely familiar, but the names are long gone from my memory."

 

We entered the hut and the pair of Todrano hurried down the stairs to greet us.

 

"The traveler has come home!" one of them said with a chuckle. He was a tall, strong looking figure wrapped in armor of dark gray and rust.

 

"What brought you back here?" the other asked. She was a tad shorter, and her armor was mostly shades of green.

 

"Nice to have a warm welcome back," Hadliek told them. "We heard a rumor that there was a rare metal hidden in the forest here. It's called Iridiex."

 

The taller Todrano glanced uneasily at his companion before looking back at us. "Please, have a seat, all of you. I don't think you understand the risk you're putting yourselves at."

 

The lower level of the hut was essentially a common area, and we sat down around a small table with Hadliek.

 

"My line of work these days, well…it's not what you'd call traditional," Hadliek explained. "We know the risks. I'm more curious about why a dome has encased most of the forest."

 

"It's very seldom that we provide the answer to outsiders, but you are one of us. I remember you living here long ago. What is your name?"

 

"Hadliek."

 

The tall Todrano beamed. "I do remember you. Very fondly. My name is Cinlok and my friend here is Ediru. Can you promise me that your friends will keep the dome's origins a secret? We are upholding a long-standing agreement."

 

Hadliek turned to me and I gave him a nod, staring beyond him at the tall Todrano. "You have my word that the story does not leave this room."

 

"Very good," Cinlok replied. "Did you know there is a war raging in Metru Nui?"

 

"To this very day, yes."

 

"During the earliest days of the conflict, we were visited by a Matoran. He came to us with a crew of species from various lands with the promise that he could prevent the volcanoes in the northern sector of the island from ever violently erupting again. To prove himself, he performed the mysterious work required to achieve this and promised to return in a decade and stated that no eruptions would befall us."

 

"The volcanoes were explosive when I lived here," Hadliek replied. "At best, a year would pass before the northeast was engulfed in molten land and ash."

 

"Long ago, yes," Cinlok admitted. "The Matoran made good on his deal and returned after a quiet decade with a request. He would sail down with a small fleet of vessels filled with building equipment to construct a dome in the forest where he could discreetly seal away all of his riches."

 

"But how?" Celvey wondered. "I mean, not referring to the architectural possibility of building the dome, but rather how a Matoran came to possess so much money."

 

Ediru smiled. "Living down here, on the edge of the darkness, we often assumed the dwellers in the north were wealthy beyond compare. And none would be granted such gold than the Great Spirit's chosen favorites – the Matoran. We thought little of it, until one of the townsfolk here in Alinov decided to ask for a little more information from a Steltian in the Matoran's employ."

 

"What did you learn?"

 

"This particular Matoran was a monster. They called him a Barraki, using the chaos of the war to steal and murder. He was not interested in the objectives he gave his field commanders, to capture land or enemy forces, but in the money they could take. The crew heard tales that the Matoran was a serial killer before the war, wearing the masks of his victims for a time after their death."

 

"And you let him build a dome on your land?"

 

"We had no idea when we agreed," Cinlok replied. "He prevented the volcanoes from erupting and gained our trust. When the truth came out about his violence, the dome was finished, and the sailing vessels had long since departed. That Matoran built his dome here to keep the prying eyes of the northern world from ever finding his riches, and he chose the forest to keep the Todrano from it as well. Hadliek should know as well as any local resident that the forest is not to be wandered about."

 

"Did the Matoran ever return to collect what he left here?"

 

Cinlok shook his head. "He said he would come back when the war was over. It would appear that day has not come yet, but we have lost kindred and visitors to that forest over the last few centuries who sought the Matoran's riches for themselves. I have seen what lurks between the trees and have tread no further than the beasts that mean me harm. And to the teams who thought they were more intelligent, more powerful, and more adept, none have returned."

 

"If we enter and retrieve the Iridiex, are we free to keep it?"

 

Cinlok sighed. "The way I see it, I'm not in the position to say what should and should not be taken from the dome. That Matoran built a vault and dared anyone bold enough to try and obtain his ill-gotten riches. I will simply tell you what I have told those in the past who wished to step inside the dome. Don't."

 

<<<>>> 

 

Completely ignoring Cinlok's level-headed warning and the best words of wisdom he had to give, it was not long before I found myself staring into the shrouded dark of the Todrano forest.

 

"What will we find in there, Hadliek?"

 

Hadliek pulled the heavy pistol from his hip and clicked the incendiary activator back and forth. He muttered, "Still functional," and pointed his weapon at a gap in the plants. "The forest is quiet and the trees tower high above, blocking out most of the sunlight. There are temperamental, territorial Rahi that make a home in this place, all of which are immune to the effects of a high population of deadly organisms. They are not animals as you know them, but they are alive and hungry. We call them mire masses, electric blue and slimy looking. If you get one on you, there's not much that can save your life, so stay alert."

 

Even with my first steps into the forest, I could sense something was wrong about the place. I wondered if my own mind, thoughts programmed into me when I was born, were trying to keep me away. Whatever the sapient life of the Southern Islands was designed to withstand, Meldin were not granted such power. I kept moving, keeping a tight grip on my gunblade and unable to shake the feeling there was something watching me.

 

"There's something watching us."

 

I shook off my thoughts like a haze and looked at Kyrhus. He slowly motioned for us to crouch and I watched him get into a prone position with his weapon ready. In its basic form, Kyrhus had what I would call a long-range handgun. He was aiming it up into the trees when he carefully reached for the scope magnetized to a piece on his back and screwed it onto the end of his weapon.

 

"What are you looking at?" I asked.

 

Kyrhus pulled the attachable stock from his back and clicked it into place, nuzzling the end of the rifle against his shoulder. He realigned his sights and became completely still.

 

"I don't know what I'm looking at," he whispered. "It's carrying some kind of crossbow. Not crudely fashioned either, no…this thing looks powerful."

 

Celvey tried to get a glimpse of what Kyrhus could see. "Are you going to shoot it or fire a warning shot?"

 

Kyrhus pulled the bolt back on his weapon and very gently pushed it forward. "It's got the crossbow trained on your head, actually, so you should really hope I don't miss."

 

Hadliek narrowed his eyes. "How many legs does it have?"

 

"Four."

 

"I thought so. Kill it."

 

Kyrhus inhaled sharply and his clawed finger gave the sniper rifle's trigger a bit of pressure. Nothing happened until he began to exhale, at which point a round left the weapon and pierced the silence of the forest. Kyrhus immediately reloaded and detached the stock, placing it on his back and shoving a claw into the nearest tree. He started climbing and glanced back down at us.

 

"I'll meet you at the dome. This is the best air support you're going to get."

 

Kyrhus leapt for a branch and bounced right off it to the next tree, hurrying ahead.

 

"Follow him!" I ordered. "Keep him in your sight. And Hadliek, I'd like to know what you think it was that Kyrhus shot."

 

"An arboreal walker," Hadliek replied, frantically searching the trees as we ran. "We think they have some level of sentience, but our earliest attempt at building a village in the forest was met by total aggression from the walkers. They destroyed our colony and murdered any Todrano who could not flee in time. Since then, we have kept our distance from this place."

 

Hadliek was panting by the time he finished and I gave him a pat to the back. "You can give me the long version later. We need to focus on keeping up with Kyrhus."

 

I ran through an area of massive plants twice my height, growing so strong that I started hacking through them with the gunblade. I was keeping a steady pace when I tore through a blooming flower the size of a Matoran and froze. Celvey ran into my back and I slammed my blade into the dirt, trying to keep myself from falling forward. Directly ahead was a clearing overrun with mire masses. Just as Hadliek had described, the bright blue objects had a gradual sort of breathing as they inflated and deflated back and forth every few seconds, securely attached to the rich soil.

 

"Mire masses," Hadliek said, cringing.

 

"I can see why you stopped," Celvey said, trying to laugh. She picked herself up and scanned the field of gelatinous life forms with me. "We could go around them. Still, I think I can see the edges of the dome on the other side."

 

"That's where Kyrhus will be," Hadliek told her. "It looks like he handled the walkers for us."

 

An eerie screech rang out through the trees and I stared up, quickly noticing that we were losing sunlight. I also noticed that a walker was glaring down at us, three furious red eyes locked on intruders. In its grasp, the walker held a mire mass, hurling it at us like someone trying to skip a stone. I sidestepped the creature and it rolled into the field, attaching to another of its kind. When it did, the field started hissing, as if the mire masses had transformed into a choir of livid serpents. More of the walkers were coming into view, waiting in the trees with their crossbows to see what we would do.

 

"We just killed one of their kind," Celvey muttered. "They're scared."

 

Hadliek flipped the incendiary activator on his weapon. "Then let's give them something to be scared of and start burning this place down."

 

Celvey shook her head. "If they destroyed your colony, then the walkers have no fear of Todrano. We can't get them to stay away like that. They need to experience something they've never seen before."

 

The Ilisian held out her hand to the field of mire masses and everyone present watched her mentally bind the slimy creatures together, smashing them into a singular frame before casting the entire thing aside and creating a path for us. She turned back to the walkers and held her hand out at them, silently daring them to attack. Several of them exchanged quiet sounds with one another before cautiously departing. Celvey looked at the sonic assault rifle in her left hand and put it on her back.

 

"That was nice. I was worried they wouldn't let themselves live."

 

"I remember the first biomech I ever saw do something like that," Hadliek replied. "He was a Toa, and the power was tied to his mask. Even though I knew he couldn't lift a thing without it, I knew it would conflict with my own well-being to try and steal his mask to prove a point."

 

Kyrhus dove down from one of the trees and landed a few bios in front of the dome, placing a claw to it. I watched his hand pass through before he suddenly withdrew it, appearing confused.

 

"What is it?" I called ahead, dashing toward him.

 

"The dome just let me put a hand inside," Kyrhus replied. "I'm not even sure where the support beams are on this thing, but I think we can walk right in."

 

I slowly pressed my palm into the dome and easily passed through the entrance. The dome was not even shielded, just coated in an opaque veil of bright gray. If there was a more advanced technology at work, I could not detect it. Inside the dome, the skies were tinted an artificially dark blue and the forest was mostly destroyed. I could see a temple in the center, a thin pyramid that towered over us and touched the dome's peak. The four of us had walked through the veil when the dome began to grow darker still, almost entirely erasing any trace of the daylight above.

 

"Greetings, travelers."

 

An array of lights blasted together in front of us and fused into a hologram. I watched as a luminous Matoran approached, toting a laser cannon at his side. He smiled at us, but there was more to his expression. It seemed to suggest he thought very little of us.

 

"Do you seek the Ancient Prism?"

 

I studied the pyramid in the distance, watching it begin to glow. "That's what you call the pyramid?"

 

"Yes, I was programmed to do so. I am an artificial intelligence program, a partial copy of the mind that financed the dome's construction. His status as a warlord dictates that you will refer to me as a Barraki."

 

"Very well then, Barraki," I replied bitterly. "What is standing between me and the Ancient Prism?"

 

"Much…or little," the Matoran responded, pacing around us. "The answer is dependent upon your skill in battle. I have dimmed the lights, but you are welcome to depart at your leisure. The combatants you face here will not pursue you beyond the walls of the dome. I will unleash the Prism defenders when you declare your readiness, or they will deploy automatically if intruders are detected in a certain proximity to the Prism."

 

"Is that what happened to the local Rahi?" Hadliek asked the holographic Matoran. "Did they come too close to the treasures hidden within the dome?"

 

The Matoran gave Hadliek a sinister grin. "They were wary when the dome was built, but they did not draw near until the project was finished. I unleashed the defenders and the Rahi did not dare to enter again. I have watched others attempt to discover the intricate mystery to this place, but none have passed. A warlord would not leave his riches without a strong security system."

 

"A warlord of Metru Nui, though. A Barraki in the eyes of mere Onu-Matoran and Ga-Matoran. I have known enemies from many lands, and I prepare myself to encounter most of them."

 

I carefully popped open one of the protosteel capsules on my hip. I only carried three at a time on any given mission, but I displayed the contents of one to the hologram. It was a translucent bullet, a personal favorite of mine that swirled with deep violet and black energies. I inserted the round into my gunblade and started walking toward the Prism. The Matoran followed me and I caught his inquiring eyes.

 

"I have no elemental powers of my own," I said. "So sometimes, I have to improvise. I doubt you would fortify this place against Toa, because they would not seek wealth when they could spend their time being heroes. Although, perhaps you considered it. Maybe the dome is prepared to face any element a Toa could throw at it. If that's the case, I have a surprise for you."

 

"You'll trip the defenders soon if you keep walking toward the Prism," the Matoran warned me, his tone begging to release them. "I have anticipated many scenarios."

 

I stopped abruptly and swung the gunblade a few times in my right hand. "They make these bullets on the island of Xia. I have seen this particular strain level a city block. Let's see if you anticipated that."

 

I took the gunblade with both hands, lunged forward, slammed the weapon against the ground and immediately pulled the trigger. In that moment, I felt like Rovaius. For a split second, I was a Nohtalian warrior, full of shadow power, shattering any obstacle that challenged my power. The darkness surged through the dirt and the defenders erupted in battered metal heaps.

 

"I've got your backup right here!"

 

Hadliek raced forward and must have loaded a similar round into his heavy pistol, because the shot he fired at the base of the Prism burst into a spherical bomb. The flaming dark rippled up the Prism and reacted with an electrical system running through the pyramid. I watched the top section of the Prism collapse and the dome began to violently flicker into an amalgamation of strange colors.

 

"What have you done?" the Matoran screamed just before he vanished.

 

The dome was sectioned into hexagonal frames starting near the middle and working all the way up, emptied of their foggy lights. I could see the daylight again, shining down past the support beams. I wondered how long it would take the Rahi to feel bold enough to approach the scene, and with that thought, I hurried for the entrance to the Prism. A better word would be the opening, because Hadliek's shot had ripped the Prism entrance apart.

 

"I think that went well," I told Hadliek.

 

"I'd agree with that. How often do you get to shut someone up without touching them?"

 

"Not often enough."

 

I peered inside the Prism, first staring up at the charred mechanics of the dome system, and finally down a long spiral stairway lined in lightstones. "Let's go collect our reward."

 

I held my gunblade ready for any additional traps that could be waiting for us, but none came. The Barraki Matoran had risked his entire collection of riches on a ground-level defense system that we disabled in a matter of seconds. Even with advisors from other lands, there was no preparing for a team of outlaws at your door. We were unconventional, crafty, and very determined. And as Hadliek had shown the hologram in its "dying" moments, if we wanted a door opened, we would make it happen. I arrived at the bottom of the staircase and felt myself smiling, examining the hoard of treasure I had stumbled upon. There was only a dirt floor at the bottom of the Prism, but the shimmering gold and silver coins and items were highly impressive.

 

"Wow," Celvey whispered. "He should have invested a few more of those coins in better security."

 

"His greed certainly made our job easier," Kyrhus replied.

 

"Yes it did," I agreed, marching up to the largest pile of coins.

 

The dirt began to rise around the mass of treasure and the chamber rattled. Directed by an unseen force, dozens of golden widgets ascended in a mad spiral, glowing brighter and brighter. The widgets exploded in a blinding flash and the room settled into quiet. I had shielded my eyes from the blast of overwhelming light, slowly lowering my hand in dread. Hovering above the treasure was the nightmare himself. Drelinok.

 

"An outlaw in search of untold riches," he said. "You have truly become a parody of yourself, Adrinor."

 

I was not about to reveal I had come for the Iridiex, slowly wrapping a finger around my weapon's trigger and trying to feign calmness. "What I do is a lifestyle, actually. That'd be satire, don't you think?"

 

He laughed. "You're going to lead with semantics? You're not the least bit curious how I regenerated and concealed my new energy signature from the Brotherhood? It's an interesting story, but I can see you're in more of a boring and serious mood at the moment. Also, your sudden release of massive levels of dark energy caught my attention from countless kio away."

 

I shot him with my gunblade and the round bounced off his armor without leaving a dent. "Nice to know that I'm not hallucinating, but here's the deal. I want to feel shocked for you, I really do. I can see it would make your day. The problem is that I already had this lurking suspicion that my day was going a little too well. You can't surprise me with your survival twice in the matter of a couple weeks. Now, get out of my way or destroy me."

 

Drelinok raised an eyebrow, almost chuckling. "It's possible I was expecting a bit much to think this would overwhelm you. I know that Toa Jovan and his friends took their precious Kanohi into the depths of the universe and saved Mata Nui's life, but there can be no salvation until Metru Nui is at peace. For now, the future is a vision of darkness that only I have the ability to extinguish with the light. I want what is best for us, yet you regard me as a disease. Take heed, Adrinor, for you will find monsters in the shadowy path you walk."

 

"And you will surely fight them, my champion of the sun," I said sarcastically.

 

Drelinok hinted at a smile. "The Amplifier evolved me in a sense. I had not been able to fully appreciate that fact until Krika attempted to kill me."

 

I watched as his form melted into billions of golden particles and swarmed around me. I swatted them away with my gunblade a few times before they halted and remained suspended in the air. The particles converged and reformed into Drelinok, standing right in front of me.

 

"We have the potential to move beyond the limitations of muscle and metal, Adrinor. The result of the Amplifier could be the destiny of our species, no longer reliant on sustenance, sleep, or a Great Spirit and his universe to protect us. In the few legends of the Great Beings, their abilities were regarded as magical. Consider that they simply became something more and embraced it. We have been provided a similar opportunity."

 

"No, you have been provided an opportunity. You're as selfish and egocentric as they come, Drelinok, and I may be one of the few who can actually tell when you're lying. The Amplifier was never meant to be your gift to the future of all Meldin, it was just your ticket to reaching a distance far beyond that of your enemies. Your entombment was our blessing."

 

Drelinok opened his mouth in disgust, taking offense at how directly my words had bruised his weakest point. "In the dawn of this new age, I promise you an imminent strife, with or without my intervention. If you'll excuse me, however, I have a legion of Makuta to meet with. I can only hope they will preserve my ego a tad more than this encounter. Perhaps their discovery will prompt a gasp at the very least."

 

Drelinok began to shatter into golden particles that glittered in the low light before disappearing entirely. After watching Triphaz die on Suizek, there was a brief span of hours where I really thought Makuta Krika possessed the power to annihilate Drelinok. By the time we were back on Stelt, however, I was in total disbelief. Feeling the universe restored by the Mask of Life managed to suppress my cynicism, though I could see that had been my mistake. Now my theories were confirmed. As far as I was concerned, Drelinok was unstoppable. In spite of that, it felt good to deny him the reaction he wanted. It felt less so that I could tell my hands were shaking when Drelinok had gone, trying to hide my anxiety from even myself.

 

"Well that blew all of my expectations about today out of the water," Hadliek said. "We are giving the Iridiex to Trylac still, aren't we?"

 

"I wasn't planning on it," I replied tensely. "Trylac didn't need the Iridiex without Drelinok in the picture, and seeing as how Drelinok survived being atomized by a Makuta, I doubt handing the metal over to Trylac's agency now will do us much good. I'm selling it off and splitting the profit with all of you."

 

I marched ahead toward the mound of treasure, stepping over the coins Drelinok's arrival had strewn about the floor. Sticking out of the pile was a platinum silver double tetrahedron, just properly sized to fit in the palm of my hand. I easily scooped it up and held it aloft, examining the metal I had come to collect. Despite its size, the application of minute amounts of Iridiex made the item in my hand worth enough to commission the assembly of the Metru Nui Coliseum twice over.

 

Kyrhus dragged his hand through a pile of coins, letting them drop through the spaces between his claws. "Do you really think anyone on Stelt would pay for precious metal?"

 

I placed the Iridiex into the compartment on my back and casually swung my gunblade through the air a couple times, still trying to shake off the nerves of seeing Drelinok. "Now that I think about it, Zanteox and the Magistrates seemed rather wealthy. They could afford a massive airship, artificial teleportation technology, and his status apparently makes him noble enough to marry a princess."

 

"He knew the Iridiex was here, but I think Zanteox realized the dome would take more than a law enforcement team," Hadliek replied. "He would not risk the casualties to get his hands on the metal, and he would lose several more Magistrates if he tried to haul these coins back through the forest. You're probably right, Adrinor. He would pay handsomely for this."

 

"Nobility or not, Zanteox is dangerous," Celvey argued. "Don't forget that he wanted to kill me the other day."

 

I glared in her direction, putting my gunblade away. "He's not like Drelinok, Celvey. I can hurt Zanteox, and I will. We'll get our payment, steal the Iridiex back, and then I'm going to put the blade of my sword through him. As much as I'm concerned about securing payment over the Iridiex, this is my opportunity to correct something. Zanteox needs to pay."

 

"You sure this is about corrections?" Kyrhus asked. "Sounds a lot like revenge to me."

 

"What importance are my intentions when the objective stays the same?" I countered. "Elendra can tinker with her ship a little longer and we will still have the Iridiex if Trylac comes asking. The journey out of the forest may prove easier, but keep your guard up. We have a difficult road ahead to Trevahka and this could very well be the last mission we ever need to finish."

 

"That's the plan, huh?" Hadliek wondered. "We get our money and then we're free to live our lives doing anything we want?"

 

"Yeah," I breathed. "One last mission, and then we'll go home."

 

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#11 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Sep 11 2015 - 01:01 AM

Am I a part of the cure, or am I part of the disease? –Coldplay

 

 

Episode 11: Corruption (Part 1)

 

I sat with Kyrhus on our flight to Trevahka, silent as I stared at the double tetrahedron of Iridiex. I turned it around in my hands, over and over, watching the sunlight dance inside its facets. It was odd that a Matoran would manage to get his hands on something so precious and valuable, but the most likely theory in my mind was that he stole it. The Onu-Metru Archives was a monument, not to the study of Rahi, but to history. The Onu-Matoran valued the understanding of everything in the world and while Iridiex may have a price to some, I believe they saw it as another item to keep on display. Even protected, I knew what war could accomplish. There was no barrier, no distance, no force short of death that would keep a commander from his objectives.

 

We had given Trevahka a wide berth on the way to Todrano and flew low over the sea. Coming back, our aircraft was high above a cloud layer that sizzled with electrical bursts and sent lightning dancing through the veil.

 

"I can't see a thing through the storm system."

 

Kyrhus cleared his throat. "That's not the most unusual thing about this place. Did you notice anything on our approach to Trevahka?"

 

I gave him a curious stare. "I was trying to pierce the cloud cover."

 

Kyrhus flipped a switch and tilted the controls up, sending us higher. He disengaged the autopilot and took the ship into a slow rotation while maintaining our altitude. I could see an endless expanse of dismal gray below us, and the sun not far above. Then another sun. Then another. It came into view too quickly to be the same object in the sky and I stuck my face closer to the windshield.

 

"Three suns?"

 

"Weird, isn't it?" Kyrhus asked. "They seem to be firing all of that electrical energy into the storm, like artificial batteries."

 

I craned my neck up and saw no sign of a larger, more natural sun in the sky. I knew the tales about the Southern Islands existing bereft of the light I knew in the north, but even Todrano had a sun. Perhaps the Great Beings had overlooked Trevahka for reasons of their own and Zanteox's brethren chose to correct the situation themselves. It made me wonder what genius it would require to construct an artificial sun and ensure it would remain suspended eternally in the sky.

 

Kyrhus slowly tapped a blinking light on the controls. "I believe we're being requested to open a communication line. Let's see who wants to chat with us."

 

Kyrhus held down a button next to the light until it stopped blinking and turned green.

 

"This is the Magistrate Air Command Division. Your vessel is approaching Trevahkan airspace and you are ordered to state the nature of your business or reroute your trajectory."

 

"We are travelers from the northern lands, hoping to speak with Magistrate Zanteox. If you are able to contact him about our presence, it's worth noting that we are with an Ilisian named Celvey."

 

A moment of radio silence followed before we got a reply, and I gave Kyrhus what was surely an astonished stare.

 

"Zanteox was going to kill her!" I whispered. "Do they need to know she's with us?"

 

"Do you think they would approve of our arrival without her?" Kyrhus hissed quietly. "Besides, mentioning the Iridiex would have meant they could shoot us out of the sky and collect the metal in our battered remains!"

 

"Your entry into Magistrate controlled airspace has been approved," the Command Division controller replied. "You will take your vessel directly to the Magistrate Hall of Order in the city of Xylen, situated at the northern end of the island. Your destination is the tallest structure in the city – simply land your vessel in the designated aircraft parking area adjacent to the Hall of Order. We will engage a path for you momentarily."

 

"You mind repeating that?" Kyrhus asked. "Engage a path?"

 

"Affirmative. A large glowing ring will appear ahead of your ship in just a second. Pass through the ring and our systems will handle the rest. Do not attempt to manually pilot your ship until you arrived on the ground."

 

The green light faded out and I watched a series of metal beams soar out of the storm before connecting together in a massive ring. The ring had an electric blue glow around it, rippling with a mysterious energy. Kyrhus took us into the ring and we accelerated immediately. Another ring appeared instantly and we passed through it, picking up speed as several more rings met us and tilted us down onto the path that Magistrate Air Command had approved. We whizzed down through the clouds, entering a light sprinkle that looked beautiful in the dusky orange air over the island.

 

Trevahka was a sprawling halo of technologically advanced cityscapes. Pristine white highways wrapped and looped about the frosty-colored architecture of every metropolis on the island. The personal transports did not touch the paths, but hovered just above in a magnetic relationship like the trains on Zakaz I knew well. Ribbons of bright teal glowed among the buildings and the highways, electrified all across Trevahka. As we drew closer to the city of Xylen, however, I could see inside of a snow white dome with a circular opening in the middle. The dome consumed the entire central section of the island, and through the opening, I could see a lush jungle that appeared completely wild and untamed set next to the society the Trevahkans had built. I was reminded of my conversation on Ilisi with Hadliek about the subject.

 

"…The rest of Trevahka is a jungle-like ruin of violent beasts, and a legend that these creatures are spawned from a strange cavern in the center of the island."

 

"Spawned?"

 

"I don't know what other word to use. The stories go that a massive pool of silvery liquid rests far below the cavern's surface, and that it creates and twists life into things that should not exist."

 

Whatever the substance was that Hadliek had heard about, the Trevahkans had managed to keep its creations sealed within the confines of their dome. Perhaps the most terrible crimes on the island were punished with being dropped into the jungle, forced to navigate the impenetrable thickness of leaf and tree, eventually picked off by a mutant transformation so potentially dangerous and nightmarish, the Magistrates feared the risk enough to seal them off.

 

I smiled at the thought of the Magistrates, purely out of irony that I was staring at their headquarters. The Hall of Order towered over all of Xylen's skyscrapers, its glossy walls reflecting an image of the city back on itself. It was shaped like a colossal bullet, adorned near the top with an enormous, bright letter "M" that only added to the inflated sense of self I knew Zanteox possessed. The last ring launched us gently toward an aircraft docking station outside the tower and Kyrhus wasted no time in carefully landing our ship. A team of Magistrates were headed toward us, surrounding the aircraft with energy rifles drawn and loaded.

 

"Open the door," I told Kyrhus. "I'll take point."

 

"No," Celvey corrected me, putting her hand to my shoulder. "I'll do it."

 

I glanced up at her and smiled. "You'll do it."

 

Celvey walked out into the rain and boldly marched up to the nearest Magistrate. Many of the enforcers had their weapons trained specifically on her, but Celvey seemed absolutely composed in that moment. I thought it might be rage under the surface, the thought of vengeance, that held her so calm. In an instant, she had the power to unleash a massive amount of focused psionic energy, but she chose not to. We were standing in the shadow of the tower's enormity, strangers in a strange land whose officers would allow their leader to murder his brides for political power.

 

"Good day," the guard said sternly.

 

"Yes, it is," Celvey replied with a smile. "My friends and I were hoping to speak with Magistrate Zanteox. Is he available?"

 

"Zanteox is a very busy individual. Why should I grant you an audience with him?"

 

"Show him, Adrinor."

 

I slowly put my hands up, trying to keep the guard at ease. "I'm going to reach for an item in the compartment in my back. Please don't treat this as an act of aggression."

 

"All right," he agreed, readjusting his grip on the rifle. "Out with it then, come on."

 

I pulled the double tetrahedron of Iridiex out and displayed it to the guard, watching him marvel at the sight. It sparkled in the rain with an aura it did not possess when I retrieved it on Todrano.

 

"Mata Nui," he whispered.

 

"I wish to trade this to Zanteox in exchange for a respectable payment."

 

The guard appeared ready to speak, but decided against it at the last second. He motioned to his fellow Magistrates and they lowered their weapons before retreating to the gate station nearby. The guard pressed a hand to his audio receptor, activating a communication device.

 

"This is Docking Station Alpha. Notify Zanteox of a code zero," he said. "I repeat: this is a code zero."

 

I could hear someone responding, but they were too soft for me to hear.

 

"Understood. There are four of them. I'll have them enter the Hall and someone can escort them the rest of the way."

 

The guard released the communication device and it was my turn to be suspicious. "Code zero? What was that all about?"

 

"Law enforcement needs a way to communicate so that civilian criminals cannot impede our actions. I'm sure you can appreciate why I cannot divulge any more to you. If you would, continue on to the nearest Hall entrance and a Magistrate will be there to meet you."

 

I glared at him as I replied, "Thanks." I looked back to my crew and motioned them to follow me inside. "Let's move."

 

We continued toward the Hall of Order and, as soon as we were out of the guard's hearing range, Hadliek moved uncomfortably close to me as we walked.

 

"Code zero? I can't be the only one that feels like something is wrong here," he said in a hushed tone.

 

"You're not," I muttered. "He didn't even bother to confiscate our weapons, and we're entering an establishment of the law. Stay alert."

 

The entrance to the facility was a revolving door and we went through individually. On the other side, I found myself standing in a grand entryway with an immense, metallic monolith in the center that consumed most of the room. Three spiral flights of stairs headed in separate directions up through the building, while a large pair of elevator doors could be seen just above the first floor.

 

"Welcome to the Hall of Order," a Trevahkan female greeted us.

 

She stood barely taller than myself, clad in armor of gunmetal and with strips of neon violet light that ran in a symmetric pattern up the sides of her legs, branching off onto her breastplate and back plate, before reconnecting and running down each arm. Her eyes were a powerful crimson that whispered of her strength, intense and intimidating. At her side was a gunblade unlike any I had seen before. It was made of two separated blades, nearly meeting each other in a triangular shape, if not for the rifle barrel between them.

 

"I take it you'll be our escort to Zanteox?"

 

She nodded politely. "Very astute. My name is Magistrate Liucik."

 

I studied her face for a second before realizing something unnerving. "You were standing with my friends on the day of the wedding."

 

"As were we."

 

Startled and caught off guard, our lines of sight shot up onto the staircases where the other two Magistrates that Zanteox had chosen to stand out for his ceremony were positioned. They were both wielding a long weapon I had never seen before, but I watched them take a shot at my crew. I heard a high pitched sound blast through my audio receptors and then there was only darkness.

 

<<<>>> 

 

I awoke in confusion and winced as the inside of my head throbbed angrily. I blinked a few times and realized I had been sleeping on a cold, dirty floor in a confinement cell. There were no bars on the window and I peered out into the city of Xylen. I was at least 20 floors up, still inside the Hall of Order. I extended a hand toward the window and my fingers were greeted by a faint crackle of bright red energy that faded when I withdrew.

 

"An energy field that only becomes visible with proper interaction," someone said behind me. "I invented that accidentally."

 

I turned around and felt my mouth open slightly as I stared at Zanteox. He was standing in the hallway and it appeared there was no barrier between my cell and him.

 

"There's an energy field between us," I said.

 

"There is, indeed," Zanteox replied.

 

He displayed a small rock to me and placed his hands together, separating them to reveal a flower. Zanteox proceeded to press the flower against the energy field and I watched as the pressure caused it to disintegrate into ashes.

 

"Maybe Celvey fell for that, but I'm not impressed with your magic tricks," I said, glaring.

 

Zanteox sighed. "There is no magic in this universe, Adrinor, only science beyond your feeble mind. You would have taken a handful of Iridiex to the highest bidder and thought nothing of it, but such rare material has far more practical uses than bargaining for a fortune."

 

"What did you have in mind?" I inquired.

 

"Let me ask you a question first," Zanteox replied. "It's the least you can do after interrupting my wedding. The Ilisians would have been a strategic ally to have in our rapidly changing world, Adrinor, and I will have to drag Celvey back to her homeland to have the ceremony completed this time. I had all but given up on the idea, until a few hours ago when your Iridiex fell into my lap."

 

"Don't you touch her," I growled.

 

Zanteox groaned. "I suppose I should get to my question now. Do you know where Rahi come from?"

 

It felt like a trick question. "Destral. The Makuta make them."

 

"Yes, yes, they are made there. But have you ever wondered how they are made?"

 

The idea had honestly never crossed my mind. "I always thought the Brotherhood possessed some innate power to bring them into existence. Makuta are so immensely powerful that it just made sense."

 

"A decent theory, but incorrect. Allow me to show you something."

 

Zanteox revealed a second rock, and in his other hand, he displayed the tiniest vial of a bright green substance. He dropped the stone to the ground and let the open vial fall onto it, allowing the green liquid to consume the rock in a small, but thick layer of shadowy gases.

 

"This is not magic, Adrinor. This is the answer to all of our problems."

 

I watched the cloud of gas dissipate and stared in bewilderment at the flower sitting on the floor. "That's…amazing. Where did you learn how to do that?"

 

"I didn't do a thing," Zanteox assured me, "it was the virus."

 

"Virus?" I repeated, mystified. "I don't understand."

 

"A virus is a substance or chemical that can manipulate the parameters and laws of our universe, sometimes permanently, often temporarily. If fused properly, they can even create the beasts that roam the world. This esoteric knowledge was imparted to me in secret, many centuries ago, by an ancient clan that dwells much further south. It was their belief that it would serve me well in my efforts to protect the universe."

 

"Protect it from what?"

 

"Itself," Zanteox replied, as if he had been hoping I would ask. "For some time now, the Magistrates have operated in secret beneath Xylen, hard at work with plans to save our world. Disease, famine, war, and even death can be prevented through our scientific achievements. We privately referred to ourselves as the Panacea, but it quickly became clear that our best attempt at curing the ailments of the world would require wiping some of them out entirely. Your Iridiex will fuel the engine of our vessel, and we shall soar through the realms of the Great Spirit, delivering judgment unto its inhabitants."

 

"So why didn't you just kill me then? Why tell me anything about this plan to destroy all that is wrong in your eyes?"

 

"Pride, mostly," Zanteox said, chuckling. "You came between me and my plans, and I want you to watch from confinement as Celvey stands at my side. We will burn the darkness from this universe and all those unworthy of Mata Nui's salvation. Zakaz, Stelt, Xia, and so many more will fall to my power. Then I will come for Meldio, and I will not leave until every last one of your kind is annihilated."

 

"That's going to be rather difficult for me to witness sitting in a prison cell here on Trevahka."

 

Zanteox pressed his thumb beneath his chin and rested his head against it. "Iridiex is so powerful, the smallest portion can unleash energies beyond that of a Makuta. For some time now, the Magistrates have been hard at work designing a ship that will take us across the universe. We have estimated a level of destruction we intend to rain down on our enemies, and there was only one place it could be built away from prying eyes. Here, inside the walls of this tower. And when I return to the controls, we will depart to begin our campaign in the farthest northern reaches of the universe."

 

"Metru Nui?" I asked. "The city is still at war and you want to take your airship there? They'd blast you out of the sky!"

 

Zanteox laughed. "It's funny. Celvey told me about Drelinok's Amplifier the night before our ill-fated wedding, and it brought to mind what viruses are capable of. They possess the ability to enhance the power of biomechs, to make them stronger and more aggressive. If made to obey, they could even be a formidable army. And so I thought, if viruses could enhance power, they could make the very act of warfare all the more dangerous for its combatants. My ship contains a viral bomb that we will drop onto the city of Metru Nui, causing the Matoran to grow powerful enough to finish their war. The city will cease to exist, and the test run of what I have planned for so many other undeserving biomechs will be complete. And you and your crew, Adrinor, will be my audience. Let's see what Drelinok can do against an artificial horde of monsters."

 

I folded my arms, wholly unconvinced. "He compared his power to Mata Nui. There may be sinister plots lurking in minds like yours, but Drelinok has the power to make his twisted dreams a reality. Before I was an outlaw, his command of my homeland was terrifying. And now, as he is, you and I would be fools not to fear what he is capable of."

 

"Drelinok used his wits to build the Amplifier, Adrinor. He was smart enough to advance himself into the entity he is today. In that respect, he and I share a common interest. In time, all life in our universe will experience an evolution, but it takes someone truly gifted to accelerate the process. There is so little crime on Trevahka that the justification of this monstrosity of a tower has proven difficult at times. My Magistrates have done a fantastic job at sweeping up any wayward citizens, which has led to more than one curious investigation about why the Hall of Order was designed with such large specifications in mind. And so to keep the island preoccupied, we have resorted to, on occasion, quietly releasing the beasts within the central dome. The Magistrates locked the jungle away when we built the dome, and deducing that some creatures simply have the ability to 'get out,' we track them back down after carefully placing them in a Trevahkan city, keeping the populace convinced we are working hard for them at all times. If I were to try and explain the scope of the Panacea, however, they would find my actions inconvenient in contrast with their comfortable lives. Sometimes we have to go to extremes to make the right call…to make the best call."

 

"You're in a funny position to talk about the right calls," I said, giving him a wry smirk. "Threatening to cast the universe into upheaval is an interesting way to maintain order, first of all. Also, I'm not typically kept armed when held as a prisoner."

 

"Your imprisonment here is a formality. Should you escape, there are enough Magistrates aboard to put you down in an instant, Meldin. A swordsman, though you may be, you are hardly a threat in the face of our training."

 

"Care to test that by letting me out?"

 

"I have more important matters to attend to," Zanteox replied, starting to walk away. "We'll continue this conversation soon enough, though."

 

"Wait a second, get back here!"

 

Zanteox laughed. "We'll be taking off soon. You should spend some of that time figuring out how you'll fight gravity when our directional shift sends you hurtling against the cell's laser barrier. I'll be on the bridge if you need me."

 

"That's a…" I paused and stared at the floor, lowering my tone, "good point."

 

I was alone in my confinement, with no bars or tools to assist me. True, I still had my gunblade, and my ammunition. Even a couple bullets that would unleash abilities a Meldin would not ordinarily have access to. Did Zanteox want me to escape? Was there some sense of egotistical pride that gave him the confidence to think there was nothing I could possibly do to stop him?

 

"It's unwise to get in your own way when dealing with your enemies, Zanteox," I muttered, loading a round into the gunblade.

 

The building started to shake and I headed to the window. Whole sections of the Hall of Order were falling away, crashing down onto the streets below. One particular piece smashed our Ilisian transport to bits and I cringed, curious how we might get back to Stelt without it. As eerie as it was for me to witness a tower shed away its exterior to allow the flagship to depart, I thought about how it must have looked to the rest of Xylen. The city had placed their trust in the Magistrates, not the Panacea that Zanteox had created in darkness.

 

We were beginning to tilt and the laser barrier would soon be beneath me. Of all the elements in the universe, plasma was the one I understood the least. It reminded me of fire, mostly, like an electrical burst of flames that scattered and reacted in a very unusual way. One thing I knew for sure was that a concentrated plasma shot in my special bullet would tear a laser apart, and that was all I needed. I held my gunblade out and hovered my finger over the trigger, waiting until I could no longer hold my ground. I wanted to be close. In seconds, my feet started to slide and I took my shot, watching the bullet catch the laser field's attention before it's plasma influence expanded and consumed the entire contraption, neutralizing the barrier an instant before I passed by it.

 

The flagship had made its transition entirely and I landed hard against the door. I laid there a moment, catching my breath, wondering if the rest of my crew had escaped or if they had even been placed in confinement like I had. I knew finding Zanteox was the most important factor at the time though, and I shoved my gunblade between the doors, twisting the blade and prying them open. I dropped down into a hallway, upright this time. It was lined with several large cylinders along the way to the door, but I was still quite a distance from the bridge. I smiled, impressed that the Panacea had built the inner portions of the Hall of Order, not only as an airship, but in a direction that surely made construction all the more difficult.

 

"I've located one of them, he's escaped from his cell. I'll deal with it."

 

I whirled at the sound of another voice, catching Magistrate Liucik down the hall, talking into a communication device on her audio receptor. She lowered her hand and detached her elaborate gunblade from her hip, holding it at her side.

 

"Did no one ever think to just build this ship underground?" I asked her, clutching my own gunblade a little tighter. "It would have left a similar degree of damage in its wake and you could have avoided building at such an odd angle."

 

"Do you have any idea what lurks beneath Trevahka?" Liucik questioned, marching toward me. "The dome in the center of the island hides a deep cavern, containing a silvery liquid that can destroy anything it touches. And what is not destroyed…is turned."

 

"Turned to what?"

 

"Terrible things. Zanteox said he spoke to it once, in private. He braved the monsters and entered the poison's den, claiming it talked to him. No other member of the Panacea has ever witnessed the liquid behave in such a way, but he said it told him something important. The liquid came before us, from a distant place consumed by war. It told Zanteox that we are one component in a timeless cycle, doomed to repeat what others have done. Whether or not that story is true, we have to put an end to the cycle. We know about Drelinok and his intentions, and it's clear that the Panacea will side with him in the end. Something must be done, and it's the ones like you that are standing in the way of progress."

 

"I'm sorry you feel that way, but you're probably right," I admitted. "I don't have an interest in bettering the world or making everything equal and fair all the time. I have the interest of my crew in mind…my friends. I look out for them, and they for me. As a leader, my responsibility to them will always come first, because without them, I am the leader of nothing."

 

"In the face of our noble work, you are nothing."

 

Liucik moved to slash and I blocked her, returning with three swift blows of my own. She was able to keep up, clearly stronger than I was. A bright purple energy flared up around her blade and Liucik focused everything toward forcing me to buckle. I had one last special round left on me and I had been planning to save it for Zanteox. I withdrew and leapt to safety behind one of the hall's cylinders. Liucik took a few shots during my retreat, but none landed. I threw the bullet into my gunblade and quickly glanced out.

 

"Come out from behind there, Meldin," she demanded, a sound clicking on her rifle. "I'll tear it to pieces with a blast of my own power, or you can do the honorable thing and take the bullet with your name on it that I have ready for you."

 

I let out a long, smooth exhale, and swept fast to take my one shot at her. The sound I had heard on Liucik's weapon had been a burst fire feature being activated, and I felt a series of rounds hit me along the outside of my torso and along my left arm. It was nothing damaging enough that could not wait until Hadliek would be able to properly heal me, but the impact definitely stung. As for the Magistrate across from me, she was experiencing the effects of liquid nitrogen just below her heartlight.

 

Liucik cursed. "What did you…?"

 

She clutched at her wound in vain, watching as it spread over her breastplate and onto her heartlight. I stood ready, glad that I did when she ran at me and charged a wicked bolt of purple energy through her gunblade. I had a perfect stance to counter, although it was pointless. Liucik's own power surged back on her heartlight, trying to regulate through her body, and shattered the hardened ice away. Unfortunately for her, everything in the center of her chest had been frozen all the way through by the bullet, and Liucik was dead in the air. She dropped like a pile of bricks and the energies faded from her blade.

 

I tried to make a kill quick when I had to, especially if the target had not put me in a particularly bad mood in the first place. Still, a shattered heartlight, while immediate, was a cruel end. I swung my gunblade around my hand a couple times and shook my head at her, listening to the communication device crackle out a message. I plucked it from her audio receptor and put it up to my own.

 

"Copy that?"

 

"I say again: all prisoners have escaped. A Todrano, a Gekalan, a Meldin, and an Ilisian. Be advised, the Ilisian has been reported to possess a form of psychokinetic abilities. Disregard Zanteox's order to keep her alive – if you see her, take her down with everything you've got."

 

"Understood," I replied before tossing the device aside.

 

I had no idea how far the bridge was from my location, but I wanted to keep the element of surprise as long as I could. Even if the Panacea knew we had escaped, they did not know where each of us would strike from. I was willing to take any advantage I could get. As it turned out, I think most of the Magistrates were in the lower levels of the Hall of Order during takeoff, because I only had to sneak by a few of their number on my way to the bridge. The journey was all of half an hour, but in the end, I was standing at the end of a long walkway to the bridge entrance doors.

 

I set my weapon against my side and unfastened the transponder beneath my wrist armor. I clicked the device together and caused a small red light to start blinking inside of it.

 

"Okay, Elendra, you'd better come through for me."

 

I felt prepared for any conflict ahead and clutched my gunblade with both hands. I took a deep breath and threw myself into a slash with the doors, forcing them apart. The bridge was a crescent room with a long window cut into a diamond pattern. A pair of empty terminals were on each end, but I was more concerned with the viewing platform in the center. Specifically, the biomech with his back to me who was standing on it.

 

"Hello, Adrinor," Zanteox said calmly. "That gunblade certainly works wonders, doesn't it?"

 

"Get down here!" I demanded.

 

Zanteox took a deep breath and stood up perfectly straight. "I have a gift for you."

 

"I'm not playing games," I replied, shooting him square in the back.

 

Zanteox gasped and lurched forward, coughing for a moment. "Good…shot."

 

"The next one's going in your head," I told him.

 

The Trevahkan spat up a slimy substance before whirling around to face me, forcing a smile. He clutched the wound in his back with one hand and held out the other in a fist.

 

"Is that my gift you have there?" I asked, narrowing my eyes. I lined up a shot with Zanteox's head and watched him carefully. "After all your talk of a better tomorrow, it looks like I won't be seeing you in that future you dreamed of."

 

Zanteox chuckled, squeezing his fist as tight as he could. "You have no future."

 

"Wrong answer."

 

I fired a round for his face, amazed that Zanteox dropped himself onto his back with enough speed to avoid the bullet. I was about to take another shot, but I hesitated. Instead, I simply watched as Zanteox screamed out in pain, miserably writhing on the viewing platform as he sputtered up more of the slimy material. I expected he might die at any moment or that he would pass out from the level of agony he was experiencing. The last thing I expected was for a pair of spindly legs to jut out of his upper back.

 

"That's a nasty virus," I muttered.

 

Zanteox had been mutated into a creature that was still partially Trevahkan, but very much an insectoid nightmare. His eyes were larger and glowing bright emerald, while his jaw had grown a set of mandibles. His skin was covered in an exoskeleton, each foot had split into a pair of claws, and his fingers had fused from five to three.

 

"What, you couldn't kill me by yourself?"

 

"I'd call it insurance," Zanteox hissed, getting to his feet. "My gift to you is a worthy adversary in your very last duel."

 

I scoffed. "And here I was, assuming your transformation into a bug monster was leading up to a rousing debate."

 

"I think you're out of time for jokes," Zanteox said, glaring.

 

"Yeah…and I think I liked you better when you were just trying to marry Celvey."

 

Review


Edited by Cederak, Sep 11 2015 - 01:02 AM.

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#12 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Sep 11 2015 - 12:32 PM

While everyone's lost, the battle is won. With all these things that I've done. –The Killers

 

 

Episode 12: Corruption (Part 2)

 

Zanteox lunged from the viewing platform and I defended with my gunblade, unexpectedly backhanded by his enlarged claws. He batted me out the door, clean across the engineering deck's sky bridge. I bounced a couple times on my back, digging my weapon into the floor to catch myself. I leapt to my feet and Zanteox crossed half the sky bridge in a single bound.

 

"The ship's course is plotted, Adrinor. If you want to redirect it, all you have to do is get through me. I will tear your head off before I let that happen!"

 

It was Toa that prided themselves on being above their enemies, a distinction that required they never kill and never bring further harm to an opponent who was unable to fight. I was more than capable of doing both, and as my vision began to distort an overlap of Drelinok with Zanteox, my will to fight was renewed. I studied the gunblade a moment, admiring the condition I had kept it in.

 

"It's sharp enough to end him."

 

The voice had come from nowhere, and everywhere. When I looked back across the bridge, it was Drelinok standing there. He waited for me, silently, watching.

 

"There's a chance you could kill him." The words were in my head, but the false Drelinok's mouth moved perfectly with them. "Still, I think I'll help you out. You saw what I can do to Rahi on the Southern Continent, and while you may be a little brighter than the beasts of the world, I can give you a push in the right direction."

 

I was losing control of my mind and it was the only way I could win. There was something wrong in my head, a sense, a feeling that did not belong. Drelinok had me, playing upon my desire to kill the Magistrate across the bridge. I thought about fighting it, although there was little chance that Zanteox would give me the opportunity to overcome Drelinok and best him in combat. As I gave in, the presence of Drelinok with me was more inviting and warm than I had expected.

 

"Let's destroy him."

 

I dashed ahead, letting my blade run the edge of the crossing as I charged a bullet for my first strike. I could see Zanteox as a bug monster again and his clawed hand rose to meet me. I fired a round through his palm and doubled my swing back, cutting through an opening in his forearm that nearly severed it from his elbow.

 

Zanteox emitted a horrific, pained roar just before I threw my gunblade into his chest. It pierced the exoskeleton, but not the tissue beneath. In one fluid movement, I kicked my way up to his shoulder, using my weapon as leverage to hurtle over him. I tugged the gunblade out as I launched over his head, slicing the pair of spindly legs protruding from his back and charging another round.

 

I whirled back, shouting, "Hey, Zanteox!"

 

"Come here!" Zanteox hissed through raspy breaths, turning to face me.

 

Just as he did, I took a couple shots at his face with enough ballistic impact that his head swung sideways. One round ripped through his right mandible and the other shredded his insectoid eyeball. I watched him fall to one knee, clutching his face while his other arm sat limp at his side. The virus was leaking out from every point I had struck, oozing into a dark green puddle at Zanteox's feet.

 

"He has suffered enough. Remember that this was about saving a city."

 

Voices again. This time it was Toa Jovan. While I did not always agree with his kind, there was no point in wasting any more effort on Zanteox. He pitifully gargled up the virus, making sounds that made me think he might be choking to death on the slime that made him such a potent adversary.

 

"Hold still!" Zanteox yelled, spitting up so much green ooze in the process.

 

Just as Zanteox was standing up, the exoskeleton began to fall away. His remaining eye reverted back to normal and the Trevahkan shrunk to a regular size. Limping out of the spent transformation, Zanteox stood up straight and took a long breath.

 

"What place it is of yours, to stand in the way of a Magistrate? Have I not provided order to the world? And you would wrack us in anarchy and ruin the legacies we have built. Give me that weapon, you little ingrate. I have protected and served while you wrought chaos, and I will tolerate you no longer."

 

I froze. I had never met someone quite so brazen, utterly defeated, to demand I turn over my gunblade. He was talking to a trained killer, and one with a terribly damaged psyche at the moment. In the long list of executions I had performed, recalling what I did to Zanteox is one of those events that, while I hold myself somewhat responsible, he absolutely brought it on himself.

 

"I said…give me…your…weapon."

 

"Gladly," I fumed, storming up to him.

 

Zanteox's eye widened, instantly realizing his mistake.

 

"Adrinor!" He tried to warn me.

 

I took him by his ruined forearm, kicking him back and slicing it off with the gunblade at the same time. Zanteox screamed and I flipped him onto his back. Still howling in agony, I put a hand to his mouth and clutched it shut, trying to silence him.

 

"Take a look," I said, wrapping his severed hand around the grip of my gunblade. "You wanted it, you got it."

 

"You nasty little piraka," Zanteox struggled to say.

 

"You wanted to rip my head off a few minutes ago, so that's more than a little hypocritical. I give you my weapon, as you asked, and you want to call me names? Fine. Let me ask you something. Do you want to wear my gunblade like I do?"

 

"Adrinor, no. No, no, don't do this," Zanteox pleaded.

 

"I wear it," I continued, plunging the gunblade through his spine and into the bridge floor, "on my back."

 

Ignoring the rest of his screaming, I returned to the control deck and gazed out the window. We were approaching Zakaz.

 

"Drelinok was right," I muttered. "The world is lost."

 

I gave the computer the proper commands to tilt the aircraft downward and prepare our descent for the island of the Skakdi. Scanning for an intercom system, I finally found the switch I was looking for and lowered my head next to the speaker.

 

"This is your captain speaking. We have rerouted our final destination for beautiful Zakaz. Make the necessary travel plans to ensure a safe survival and thanks for flying with us. We'll be on the ground shortly."

 

"Attention!" the computer shouted. "Reactor core energy source, designated Iridiex, has been removed. Reserve power will fail in a few hours if sufficient energy is not restored to the reactor core."

 

"Nicely done, everyone," I muttered with a satisfied nod.

 

I ran back to Zanteox, throwing his severed forearm aside. I removed the gunblade from him and dragged him into the control deck room. A low moan filtered out of his broken mouth the entire way and I set him down on the observation platform.

 

"You would have destroyed one of the few things left in the world that I care about. She deserves to live, but not you and me," I said quietly. "I don't want her to know this, but my mind is very fragile right now. A lot of…voices, bringing me a lot of opinions. Have you ever met a divine power, Zanteox?"

 

The Trevahkan was fading in and out of consciousness when I smacked him back to his senses. "Hey, are you listening to me?"

 

He would not respond and I took a knee at his side. "I have met a divine power. Not like the Great Spirit that some claim to feel and sense the presence of, I mean something active. He lifted me up and berated me for what have become. And…he was right. There is no place in the universe for monsters. The good and the light of the world will sustain the fortunate, somehow. As cruel as you may be to have killed your queens to gain power, I am not a faithful guardian here to finish you for your wickedness. The abyss swallows the abysmal, and we shall plunge into the night together."

 

I looked out the window into the bright daytime sun above Zakaz.

 

"Okay, metaphorical night," I specified.

 

"Don't…kill…me," Zanteox whispered.

 

I smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "We are about to embark on a great journey together, Zanteox. I will not kill you. The fall on the other hand…that might kill you."

 

"What?" Zanteox spat out in terror.

 

I swung the gunblade up along the glass window, creating a long crack in it. I then fired a single shot that shattered the pane to bits.

 

"Let's go!" I told Zanteox, grabbing him as I jumped out the window.

 

I released the Trevahkan after a few seconds, becoming more aerodynamic as I brought my arms to my sides and soared down toward Zakaz like a bullet. This was easily the most unstable I had become in my entire life, beginning to wonder what would happen when I hit the ground. Everything was telling me I would die, which honestly was not what I wanted. Even dealing with the overwhelming regret of Rovaius' death and Drelinok's return, I never wanted to die. What I will say is that I felt miserable enough to no longer want to deal with my problems, and leaping out of an airship seemed like the simplest method to accomplish that. I could feel Drelinok's influence leaving my mind, fully in control again.

 

"It's over," I told myself. "It's finally over. I can only hope that Drelinok will return light to the universe someday."

 

"But I still need you."

 

"Me?" I asked, my eyes still shut, listening to an unfamiliar voice in my head.

 

"Yes. Just a while longer."

 

"I can't. It's too late."

 

"And what if I gave you another chance? Would you carry on for me?"

 

"But…life is so hard. No matter how old I get, nothing is easier."

 

"And have you not gotten better?"

 

"I have adapted."

 

"And you will adapt again. Please, Adrinor, let me save you."

 

"If I live, what can I do about Drelinok?"

 

"Though powerful, he is still but Meldin and metal. There is nothing that lives that cannot die."

 

My eyes could see nothing beyond swirling gulfs of shimmering white and deep black. It was hard to tell what I was hearing or where it was or why it would call out to me. Still, something told me to trust the voice. Drelinok was mortal, and that meant he could be stopped. I had to try.

 

"Then save me…if you can."

 

I opened my eyes, staring up as the Panacea's ship closed in on me. I was in free fall—and could only move so quickly—but the aircraft was running on thrusters. I could save myself. I waited a moment before spreading out my limbs, sinking the gunblade into the hull. It was a shaky connection and I hurried up the bow, estimating the vessel would impact in a matter of seconds. I ran as fast as I could, and the instant I felt the metal beneath me begin to shake, I made a long jump.

 

The sound of the impact was thunderous, shattering through the coast and plowing into the beachside architecture. Buildings collapsed, dozens of Skakdi were injured or dead, and I was soaring over an airship's hull. The craft had mostly come to a halt when it crashed, but I was still hurtling backwards at an alarming speed. I cleared the ship and the choppy waves skipped me like a stone a few times before I fell into the water.

 

I started to sink and felt around for my gunblade. I brushed the edge of the hilt and dove a bit to retrieve it. Staring up at the surface of the sea, light shimmering over the waves, I was disheartened. There was no understanding how I had gotten caught up in rescuing the universe. I had just thrown someone out a window to their death and something out there saw me as a prime candidate to put an end to the most powerful light entity that had ever lived. I wondered if that was what it would take. Darkness. Not elemental, but the ability to embrace the shadows in my own changing nature and put down the enemies to my cause.

 

My lowest moment had passed, prepared enough to confront the mounting danger to the world. Even if I could not stop Drelinok, there was no point in running from him any longer. There was still the matter of resolving my regret over Rovaius, but it would have to wait. After the mysterious voice entered my mind, all of the others seemed to fade away. There was only a single thought that lingered, one that seemed to stem from the unknown speaker. A battle between the light and the dark was coming, and I could not yet imagine what forces would challenge Drelinok for control of the world.

 

I swam to the shore, examining what I had done. The Panacea's aircraft had torn the beach apart, sirens blaring out as medical specialists tended to the wounded and carried away the deceased. Among the debris field were a number of escape capsules, and my crew. They stood waiting for me and I glanced into the skyline above them, following the trail of several more capsules across the sky.

 

"The Panacea lives on," I told them.

 

"They're hardly a threat without their research," Kyrhus replied.

 

"Research that is now under our jurisdiction," a Skakdi law trooper clarified. "The survivors of this incident are being taken into custody for questioning, yourselves included."

 

"We're going to respectfully decline that offer," I said, glancing past him at the Magistrates that had been placed in energy shackles by some of the law troopers. "The Trevahkan Magistrates aboard this ship were privately calling themselves the Panacea, planning to drop a viral bomb over Metru Nui. They arrested us when we got too close to that truth and I terminated their leader before this ship smashed into the beach."

 

The Skakdi gave me a curious look. "Terminated?"

 

I nodded slowly. "Yeah. As in, dead. Take a watercraft about a kio or two out in the water and I'm sure you'll find him."

 

"So let me get this straight," The Skakdi went on. "You had nothing to do with this?"

 

"Not my ship, not my shady new world order," I explained. "Good luck with your investigation. We're leaving."

 

I motioned to the group to leave the scene just as a Steltian airship landed nearby. The door swept open and Elendra exited the craft, a hint of shock spilled across her face as she studied the area.

 

"You missed quite a mission," I told her, chuckling.

 

"I can see that," she replied, still somewhat distracted by the sights and sounds. "My own airship wasn't quite ready, but Voporak's guards came along with me. Am I taking you back to Stelt now?"

 

I shook my head. "Let them head back, I could use a little fresh air. You'll want to hear about this one."

 

Elendra motioned in toward the pilot before walking up to us, nervously pulling one of her revolvers. "Are we safe out here? You're going to have to bring me up to speed."

 

I took the lead in heading away from the beach and tried to summarize the events as quickly as possible. "Zanteox and the Magistrates we met on Ilisi were planning to release a chemical agent in Metru Nui to give the Matoran augmented strength and abilities to properly end the war. I took down their flagship and killed Zanteox in the process."

 

"So you really killed Zanteox, is that right?" Hadliek asked. "How'd you manage that one?"

 

"He made a mistake and I took my opening," I said without missing a beat. "The particulars are messier than I'd like to discuss."

 

"Are you going to be okay?" Celvey asked.

 

I forced a smile for her. "I'm always okay."

 

"That's the Meldin I trained, all right," Elendra said proudly.

 

It was the first moment following my near-death experience that I had a chance to reflect on everything. I think the rest of my crew felt similarly about their escape from the ship, because no one was really talking about anything for a few minutes. Elendra knew the gist of the situation and apparently had nothing else to address.

 

"Help! Someone stop him!"

 

We all turned in the direction of a frantic Skakdi down the road, watching the edges of a figure disappear around the corner.

 

"It could be a Magistrate," I said. "Let's catch him."

 

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#13 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Jan 07 2016 - 01:40 PM

Maybe we'll get to spread our wings tomorrow, if luck will let us. –Keane

 

 

Episode 13: Resonance

 

I motioned to Celvey and Kyrhus to circle around and cut off our target, leading Hadliek and Elendra straight toward him. I rounded the corner just as he slipped out of view again, darting down an alley. I drew my gunblade and could feel my trigger finger shaking. The gravity of my duel with Zanteox was settling in and Drelinok's influence was long gone. I knew who saved me, but I had no interest in believing it. To draw his attention, to be spared the clutches of death, you knew you had a purpose. A destiny in his design. What really left me anxious was that I knew what he wanted me to do, with seemingly no methods of doing so. To confront Drelinok would be as if a common frog challenged me: no more difficult than asking myself what method of execution I might choose.

 

I entered the alley and could see Kyrhus and Celvey on the other side. They were panting for breath, but they made it. Hadliek and Elendra drew their weapons to mirror me and I started marching up to the target. He was no Magistrate, just a Skakdi. Unarmed and out of options, he took a fighter's stance as I approached.

 

"If you're planning to engage me in combat, you should know that I'm not feeling the whole 'honorable opponent' thing at the moment," I warned him. "I will shoot you dead before your fist is in range of touching me."

 

The Skakdi slowly lowered his hands and growled, "You're making a mistake here."

 

"Stay where you are!" another Skakdi commanded.

 

I looked back to see law enforcement officials had arrived. They hurried past me and took the target into custody, tackling him to the ground. One of the officials placed the target's hands behind his back and bound them in a pair of energy shackles. His partner turned to me and sighed angrily.

 

"This is the third time we've had this lawbreaker escape. I can't thank you enough for helping us detain him."

 

"You've lost him three times now?" Elendra asked in surprise, everyone closing in on the scene. "Do you enjoy a good chase or are you just really bad at doing your jobs?"

 

"We were unprepared to respond to someone with such stealth proficiency. Ordinary lawbreakers are much more…sloppy, and our training rarely encompasses anything more demanding than that. Zakaz is, more or less, a fairly peaceful place."

 

The irony of his comment faded on the sound of emergency sirens, still blaring all along the beach ripped to shreds by the Panacea's ship.

 

"Good luck getting yourselves back to that peaceful place," I said, beginning to walk away. "Let's move, team. We're done here."

 

"Don't be so sure."

 

Both of the officers drew their side arms on my crew, leaving the captive bound at their feet. We immediately drew our own weapons and took aim at the officers.

 

"Just as I suspected," one of the officers declared. "Well-armed foreigners heading away from a major catastrophe on our island. I don't know what you did or how you're involved, but I know you had something to do with that ship crashing here. Now, lower your weapons."

 

"I already tried to explain to one of your co-workers on the beach that you have the wrong idea. We were taken prisoner by a rogue faction posing as law enforcers in their own land. They meant to do a lot more damage than this, but we took the ship down and those responsible are probably dead in the wreckage."

 

"That doesn't explain why you're carrying around enough firepower to bring a Tahtorak to its knees."

 

"You're in law enforcement, I'm sure you've heard of the Dark Hunters. There are teams like mine that operate independently throughout the universe performing similar tasks."

 

"Mercenaries, eh?"

 

The officer's partner holstered his side arm. "Perhaps an arrangement can be made between us then. You seem to think we're doing poorly at our jobs and you appear to be guns for hire. While we cannot afford to pay you in the traditional sense, what would access to law enforcement-grade ammunition do to enlist your services?"

 

"Weapons down," I ordered everyone, clicking the gunblade onto my back. "Are you asking me to quietly execute your Skakdi prisoner in exchange for ammo?"

 

The other officer put his weapon away as well. "He is set to stand trial for his crimes across the island at sunset today. If you agree to escort him for us, we will let you walk out of our station with whatever ammunition you can carry."

 

"No catch?"

 

The Skakdi cringed. "Technically."

 

"Because nothing's really free these days, is it?" Hadliek asked sarcastically.

 

"No, I'm afraid not," he replied. "After he was caught smuggling refugees onto the island, this prisoner murdered a Dark Hunter and they have issued a reward for his body, dead or alive. There are a number of Skakdi looking to make some money by obstructing the Zakaz justice system from performing its job. I would be foolish to think there are not Hunters out there waiting to assassinate him as well."

 

"So we take our ammo, hop on the Zakaz train line, escort your prisoner for his trial, and we're off the hook?"

 

"That's the deal."

 

I glanced around at the crew, receiving nods and smiles of silent agreement.

 

"Let's head back to the station; you've got yourself a deal."

 

The officers scooped up their prisoner, we followed after them, and Celvey snuck the gentlest nudge at my shoulder. I slowly looked at her and she retrieved something from the compartment on her back. She handed it to me and we all marveled at it for a moment, knowing the officers had gone ahead without us.

 

"So that's it, huh?" Elendra muttered. "That's Iridiex? I'd never seen such a large sample up close before. It's…mesmerizing."

 

"The Panacea was using it to fuel the reactor core to their flagship," Celvey replied. "I stole it back before we took off in the escape pods."

 

I carefully accepted it from her and placed it in my own back compartment. "It's best if no one knows we're carrying this around. After what we experienced on Trevahka, I'm not even interested in using it as a bargaining chip right now."

 

<<<>>> 

 

After exhausting most of our ammunition trying to fight our way out of the Panacea's ship, we were relieved to stock up basically free of charge. Even our train tickets came without a price tag, simply given a slip from Oandek law enforcement to present at the train counter. Kyrhus kept a claw on our prisoner's shoulder, the Skakdi who refused to speak to us the entire way to the train station.

 

Zakaz had possessed airships for years, although they were most commonly kept at the ports for time-sensitive freight destined for distant islands. Skakdi preferred the magnet rails when it came to domestic travel. We passed through the double doors to Oandek Station and I admired their taste in décor as I walked toward the ticket counter. The columns of the grand chamber were white marble, matching the walls, and the benches littered with travelers. Gold ribbons spiraled up the great pillars, with sleek metallic gold frames that lined the elevator entryways, the service desks, as well as the arrival and departure screens.

 

"Quite a day we're having, huh?" I said, greeting the counter attendant with an awkward expression. I wanted him to think I felt just as uncomfortable with the Panacea wreckage as his fellow civilians did.

 

"Indeed," the Skakdi replied solemnly. "New reports are being released across the island's digital network, and the death toll is climbing. Law enforcement is calling it an act of terrorism, alongside rumors that the Brotherhood of Makuta will dispatch an agent to investigate. We haven't seen such a tragedy in a very long time."

 

"Since the magnet rail incident," I replied.

 

"That's…that's right. How did word of that spread to your homeland? You're a Meldin, aren't you?"

 

"I travel a lot in my line of work. You'd be surprised what stories I've heard."

 

"How are you employed?"

 

"By local law enforcement, at the moment," I said, trying to skirt around the answer. I slid the train slip across the desk to him and explained, "They told me to give you that."

 

He gave it a cursory glance before setting it behind the counter. "Not a problem, I'll have you on your way at once. Six tickets then?"

 

"You've got it."

 

He input a couple commands to his terminal and six tickets exited a small device on the counter. The Skakdi handed them to me, these thin, transparent squares, and I passed them out. Zakaz magnet trains entered service during the reign of the League of Six Kingdoms and the island fell under the jurisdiction of Barraki Ehlek. He named each one personally, bestowing such regal titles upon them so as to intentionally incur a sense of envy among his fellow warlords. This proved successful, as it was well-known that the Barraki loathed Ehlek's viewpoint that "his" trains should be so luxurious and beyond compare. I held the last ticket for myself and smiled derisively at the name written in brilliant opal upon the ticket.

 

"Have a safe and pleasant trip aboard the Arcadian Moonglade!" the attendant told us.

 

I led us to the elevators, transparent cylindrical tubes of glass with a thick onyx floor. We split into two groups, and I stared out at Oandek with Elendra and Hadliek.

 

"They'll be cleaning up the Panacea wreckage for a while."

 

"Of course they will, the flagship was colossal," Elendra replied, running a finger along the glass that mirrored the debris field path.

 

I admired the skyscrapers in the downtown district, studying the magnet rail tracks that connected to the towers high above the ground level. The train platform at the top allowed passengers a full view of the island, as far as their eyes could see. I could gaze at the tiny Skakdi in the streets, the neighboring city of Tyderian, and even the gargantuan Lake Keliwa in the center of the island.

 

The elevator reached the top and the doors unsealed, allowing us to walk out onto the platform. There were more white benches, a number of lamps for night travel, and several posters on the station wall about mandatory safety protocol on the trains.

 

The loudspeakers produced a brief tune before announcing, "The magnet train will be arriving shortly. Please stay behind the white line while the train is in motion."

 

The white line was drawn at the platform's edge, meeting an array of tubes that connected to the main rail line. The magnetic rail was engulfed in a bright, blue flame of energy – a visible force that kept the trains from crashing to their doom far below. Several silver tubes were soaring for the station, all connected and held together as they hovered on the magnet rail.

 

The loudspeakers chimed again before relaying a new message. "Warning! The Arcadian Moonglade is about to reach Oandek Station. Please allow passengers to disembark and wait for further instruction from the conductor before boarding."

 

The train arrived and the Skakdi passengers disembarked like clockwork, moving swiftly and uniformly toward the elevators. The last Skakdi off the train was wearing a badge – clearly the conductor. He cleared his throat and put a small device near his mouth.

 

"Good afternoon! We will now begin boarding the Arcadian Moonglade. Please have your tickets ready when you board and a staff member will have it punched. Thank you."

 

We walked up to the nearest train car and a Skakdi was waiting inside, clicking a star-shaped hole into my ticket when I displayed it. I took a seat at a long booth that wrapped around a table, with enough room for the six of us. I set my gunblade against the window behind me and took up a spot in the middle of the booth, seated next to Elendra and our prisoner.

 

"What do you think, Adrinor?" she asked me. "Is working for the law better than paying for some ammo?"

 

"Considering the sort of ammunition we had access to today, definitely worth it. We'd have to go all the way to Xia for anything like this, and I'm sure that's where Zakaz imported it from." I turned to my left and stared at the Skakdi prisoner. Still cuffed by the energy shackles, he had his head tilted up, aimlessly studying the ceiling. "You ready to talk yet?"

 

"You don't have to do this, Meldin," he said. "You could let me go right now."

 

"I could," I admitted, leveling with him. "I have the ammunition I was promised, and as long as I don't show my face in Oandek for a while, I could probably get away with dropping you off. But I'd like to hear what it is that you're trying to flee from. What ended you up in so much trouble with the law and, more importantly, what made you think it would be a good idea to kill a Dark Hunter?"

 

"Take off the energy shackles and I'll tell you. Not like you have anything to worry about, right? Five of you against one of me, and I heard what you told the Oandek officers about being privatized Dark Hunters. I know I'd be dead already if you wanted it that way."

 

I glanced at Celvey and gave her a nod. "Let him go."

 

She put her hand behind the Skakdi's back and telekinetically shattered the shackle bonds before tossing them on the table.

 

"How'd you do that?" he whispered in disbelief.

 

"It's not your turn to ask questions," I reminded him. "Let's start with a name and we'll go from there."

 

"The name's Braudec."

 

"Good day and welcome aboard the Arcadian Moonglade." It was the conductor speaking on the intercom. "We'll be traveling across Zakaz today with a final destination in the city of Kivacc. Should be clear weather all day and we're actually running just ahead of schedule, so sit back and enjoy the ride. We'd like to thank you for choosing Zakaz Magnet Rails for your transportation services today. Once again, welcome aboard."

 

The magnetic system below the railcars emitted a low hum and we started to move. It was only seconds before the magnet train was accelerating to its top speed and we were bound for Kivacc.

 

"My name's Adrinor," I replied, breaking the silence and offering the Skakdi a handshake.

 

Braudec accepted and folded his arms on the table, leaning his head into them. "What did you want me to tell you anyway?"

 

"Tell me your story. I want to know why I'm taking you to be sentenced for your crimes today."

 

Braudec blew out a rush of frustrated air. "I worked here in Zakaz. Shipping was the life I knew from the earliest days of my existence and it paid handsomely in exchange for the long, tiresome hours."

 

"Did you get caught stealing?"

 

"No, nothing like that. I took great pride as a laborer on the docks, with no interest in snatching up someone's cargo to try and pawn it off in town. I did so well that I was eventually hired as a crewmember aboard freight ships. In time, one of the ship captains resigned and I held his position for centuries, steering cargo vessels for the League of Six Kingdoms. As a show of good faith to his best captains, Barraki Ehlek commissioned several brand new ships for us, and one was given to me."

 

"I think if any Barraki appreciated the importance of sea routes controlling so much in the universe, it was surely Ehlek."

 

"He said something similar when the ships were being built here on Zakaz. I met him briefly once, trying my best to understand him through this machine he wore over his mouth that allowed him to breathe the air," Braudec chuckled. "When I was permitted to take personal time, I made a lot of journeys out on the waves. Every few years or so, I would sail out to Metru Nui and visit the city. It was the Great Barrier that I really appreciated. It was a quiet place to gather my thoughts and stare out at everything. So when I heard that Metru Nui was engulfed in civil war, when I pictured the Matoran cowering in fear against the war machines their brothers and sisters had built, I felt compelled to do something."

 

"So you started a covert refugee operation," I said.

 

Braudec nodded slowly. "In an effort to ensure that no warmongering Matoran would make their way to our shores until the conflict ended, travel to Zakaz was deemed illegal for all Matoran. The law further mandated that Matoran living here were required to relocate within one year. Zakaz, being a port island, was an ideal location to drop off Matoran and allow them to board ships headed for distant realms of their choosing. I know the geography well enough from a lifetime spent here, and the operation was successful for quite a while."

 

"It sounds like you had enough time to establish a routine," Elendra told him. "I'm going to guess that your repetition on the matter made you sloppy."

 

Braudec smiled at her. "Have you ever heard the saying that if something isn't broken, you shouldn't fix it? Well, things worked out so well for so long, I didn't realize that anything was broken to begin with."

 

"What happened?" Celvey wondered.

 

"I was sailing back one night with a single passenger to transport. I had taken nearly a dozen at a time before, so this seemed like an easy task. Well, I was spotted and the authorities were notified, because Oandek law enforcement was waiting for me when I reached the dock. They informed me that I was suspected of smuggling Metru Nui refugees into Zakaz and ordered me to remain silent while they conducted a search. The enforcers spread out and scoured the ship, and it wasn't long before they brought the struggling Matoran to me."

 

"And they arrested you two?"

 

Braudec's head dropped and he stared at the floor. "I was arrested on the spot. It was a bitter feeling, really, getting caught with a single Matoran after all the successful runs that came before. Given my day job at the time, I knew that many large ports in the universe kept regularly posted schedules of upcoming arrivals and departures at the processing station. My passenger was a Ga-Matoran who wanted to live on the Southern Continent, and I knew a cargo carrier was departing from Oandek for Beryl Harbor the next night."

 

I rested a hand on his shoulder and asked, "What did they do with her?"

 

The Skakdi reluctantly turned his head toward me, his bright orange eyes just barely making contact with mine. "You're going to make me say it, aren't you?"

 

"They killed her," Elendra blurted out.

 

Braudec's head shot up and we all turned and stared at the Trelban in our company.

 

"Oh, come on!" Elendra yelled at us in irritation. "I'm the only one here who figured it out?"

 

Hadliek burst out laughing. "Hardly! We're just not insensitive enough to throw that kind of reality around the way you do. Did nothing about that story give you the idea that he takes responsibility for what happened to that Ga-Matoran?"

 

"Well it was his choice to harbor refugees," Elendra replied.

 

"Elendra!" Celvey shouted, angrily widening her eyes as a social cue.

 

Braudec lowered his head again and I sighed before patting his shoulder a few times.

 

"I love this moment so much right now," Hadliek said to Kyrhus, holding back laughter.

 

"Okay, Hadliek, shut up," Elendra growled. "And…Skakdi…whose name escapes me…I apologize. I have a very direct nature."

 

"Braudec," the Skakdi muttered. "My name is Braudec."

 

"Right," Elendra said. "It's not as though"-

 

"They shot her right in front of me," Braudec interrupted, staring straight at Elendra. "She was a teacher, kind and understanding. I got her mixed up in something she didn't ask for and it ended with a bullet through her mask. It wasn't the Skakdi that did it though, you see, they hired a Dark Hunter to investigate the situation. The refugee transport law only applied to Skakdi at the time, and the Dark Hunter took liberties with that knowledge. He knew I was to be formally sentenced, but the Ga-Matoran was a loose end."

 

"They aren't a group that is terribly keen about unsettled details," Elendra stated.

 

"They're ruthless," Braudec said. "When that Matoran of water fell dead on the deck, something clicked in my head. I knew I broke the law, but I also knew that we had just witnessed a murder, and no one was going to lift a finger about it. I was a cooperative offender that night and the enforcers hadn't bothered to search me. If they had, they might have found the compact laser bolt weapon I kept beneath my ankle armor."

 

"Oh wow, I did not expect the story to take this sort of turn," Hadliek spoke up.

 

"I didn't either," Braudec replied. "I lost control and killed four Skakdi and a Dark Hunter right there. It was the beginning of my campaign against the law to ensure Matoran could live happy, safe lives somewhere far from Metru Nui. The objective was no longer skirting under the radar – I was actively engaging it. I fought my own kind to preserve a better future for others."

 

I studied his misery for a moment, finding a strange reflection of my own problem. Whatever had spoken above Zakaz, it shouldered the burden of dealing with Drelinok onto me. The odds were still hopeless and I still had no idea how to confront him. There was little I could think to do that would change my fate and I think Braudec felt the same way.

 

"The island of Zakaz wishes to see you tried and likely imprisoned for your actions," I said. "The Dark Hunters don't care if you're still breathing when they take you to their Shadowed One. Both of these parties are irrelevant, because I have you, and I will decide what will become of you. Dark Hunters don't scare me and I am prone to overlook the law when it does not suit my interests."

 

"Then you have an opportunity in front of you, Meldin," Braudec replied. "Don't take me back to them; don't resign me to this fate where I have to slowly die for doing the right thing."

 

"Is that your entire argument?"

 

"It is," he nodded. "I have told you my story and explained my intentions. It's all I can ask, really, to be heard. I think having someone listen to what you say is important. It means you didn't waste your time. Would you agree with that?"

 

I paused, letting a smile slip by my stern façade. "Someone important to me once echoed that sentiment, Skakdi. You would have treasured his company today."

 

"A fellow Meldin?"

 

I shook my head. "A Nohtalian. He made the weapon I wear and it was once his own."

 

I took the gunblade down from the window and set it on the table. Braudec looked it over, carefully running a finger down the blade.

 

"Excellent craftsmanship," he noted. "The smiths of Xia would be in awe of this. Protosteel integrated with element bonding technology. This truly was a Nohtalian's sword. I can see the sensor points where the user can trigger the circuitry built into this weapon. And, of course, the circuits will never fail because protosteel keeps a permanent electromagnetic charge. Is a Meldin even capable of activating the technology in this weapon?"

 

"It's nothing like what the previous user could do, but I've noticed that spending a bit of my power can launch energy through the blade. I'd be overwhelmed if a sword fight was coming my way shortly thereafter, so I usually save charged bolts for killing blows. If you don't mind me asking, how did you become so familiar with protosteel?"

 

Braudec gave me a soft chuckle. "A good smuggler knows a good weapon when he sees one. Wits and tactics may capture the battle, but technology wins the war."

 

"I think your war days are long behind you."

 

Everyone immediately looked to the right, watching a number of Skakdi enter the railcar.

 

"Don't do anything you might regret."

 

We looked left and at least a dozen more Skakdi were waiting to pile in from the left car.

 

Celvey stared right at me and mouthed the word "Iridiex" to me. I slowly reached for the precious metal in my back compartment, taking it in my hand and holding it in my lap.

 

"Don't try anything, Meldin," one of the Skakdi warned me, training his energy rifle on my head. "What did you just reach for?"

 

I left the Iridiex in my lap and showed him my hands. "It was a reflex. I was reaching for my weapon, but as you can see, it's sitting on the table. I get a little absentminded when weapons start getting pointed in my face."

 

"What is that?" another Skakdi asked, striding up to the table. He grabbed the gunblade and gave it a couple careless swings. "It's so light."

 

"It's called a gunblade," I replied, dropping my hands below the table and setting the Iridiex in Braudec's hand. I pushed it toward Celvey, hoping he would catch the hint. "It was made a long time ago in Xia and the blade itself was carved from protosteel."

 

"Looks expensive," he remarked, holding it out toward the other Skakdi in the room. "Hey, check this out! I have a gunblade now!"

 

"Good for you," one of the others hissed. "Now let's finish what we came here for and get our reward."

 

"You're working for the Dark Hunters?" Celvey questioned, shrinking into her seat. "Oh no."

 

"Oh yes," the Skakdi laughed. "They've agreed to pay us for eliminating your friend. Now, if you choose to impede that effort, we can make this very messy for everyone. If you want to get off this train with your lives, leave the Skakdi in his seat and walk away. Right now."

 

"There isn't any way I could persuade you with something else?" Celvey asked. I could tell she was playing up how afraid she was. "I don't want to die!"

 

"Then you'd better walk away. Or, you could match the offer the Dark Hunters have on the table. If you're willing to part with a hefty sum, I could see my way to telling my friends to step back from the situation."

 

"What about this?" Celvey wondered, holding out the Iridiex. She looked at me and I had an idea of what she was going to do.

 

"No! We can't give them the Iridiex! It's too valuable and it needs to be returned to its rightful owner!"

 

The Skakdi dropped my gunblade before he stammered out, "Where did you get that?" He reached out to touch the shimmering metal, but Celvey recoiled before he could.

 

"Can you promise me that you'll leave us alone if I give this to you?" Celvey asked, basically trying to plead with them.

 

"Well, nothing's set in stone yet. Except that gem you have there. Let me have it."

 

"And you'll let us live? Are you sure?"

 

The Skakdi was out of patience. "Yes, just give it to me!"

 

"Fine."

 

Celvey clutched the Iridiex tight and multiple white hot beams of light shot out of her open hand in an instant. Before anyone knew what was going on, the entire death squad was terminated. She released a long exhale and fell forward onto the table, dropping the Iridiex. I hesitated as I picked it up and placed it back in my compartment, still unsure of what Celvey had done.

 

"Did they know you could do that?" Braudec asked her.

 

"We didn't know she could do that," Kyrhus said. "That was…pretty weird. You all right, Celvey?"

 

The Ilisian sat back, regaining her composure. "I tried something similar aboard the Panacea flagship when I took the Iridiex from their reactor core. It responds to elements by amplifying them, allowing itself to become a conduit for the user's power. It was like I gave it a command, and it drew from me to make it happen."

 

"Not impossible," Braudec explained. "Toa of lightning have been recorded experiencing a similar feeling when coming in contact with protosteel. It looks like large amounts of Iridiex are capable of the same effect across different elements."

 

Kyrhus grabbed my gunblade off the floor and set it back on the table, leaving me to place it back against the window. I leaned over the table instead, peering out into the open entryways between the railcars. The Skakdi all had black scorch marks around their heartlights and I could see Celvey had burnt a hole all the way through each of them. It happened so fast, I wondered if they even realized they were dead when it happened.

 

"If there's anyone else on this train out for your head, we just sent them a message," Celvey told the Skakdi. "You're going to be okay, understand?"

 

Braudec nodded apprehensively. "As long as you don't do anything like that again."

 

"She's going to have to pull one more trick, I'd imagine," Elendra spoke up. "At the end of the line, what do you want to bet that Kivacc law enforcement will be waiting on the train platform for us?"

 

I stared out the window for a few moments. Sunset was coming. "We've got a few stops before Kivacc, so I think we should start building a contingency plan for those potential law enforcers. Everyone should start pitching some ideas around at the table while I go explain to the conductor what happened down here. Celvey, you're with me."

 

"Why do I have to go? Elendra doesn't have to explain when she kills anyone."

 

"I'm not taking you to explain why you killed them; I'm taking you to explain why we're so sorry and just wanted to be left alone. There's no one who plays the innocent act better than you do, and I'm hoping they'll respond understandingly and agree not to kick us off the train."

 

<<<>>> 

 

"We are approaching our final destination, the city of Kivacc," the conductor broadcasted. "All passengers must disembark or purchase a new ticket to continue riding. We do apologize for the inconvenient engagement in 'Railcar Seven' earlier today, and want to assure our patrons that such mishaps are a rarity. Once again, thank you for riding the Arcadian Moonglade and for choosing Zakaz Magnet Rails for your transportation services today. We wish you a fantastic evening."

 

Braudec looked out the window when I turned around to grab my gunblade. The final wisps of daylight were shining out on Zakaz, painting Lake Keliwa in a breathtaking shade of citrine. And just as Elendra had predicted, I could see the officers standing between us and the elevators.

 

"Kivacc law enforcement is waiting for us right outside that door. Celvey will take you to the end of the platform like we discussed, but if this works…if we get you to the port…you can't come back. You know that, right?"

 

"I know that," Braudec accepted in a sad voice. "Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. I owe you my life."

 

"It's the right thing to do," Celvey told him, patting his shoulder. "Come on now. Time to go."

 

I stepped off the train and started walking toward the Kivacc officers. Kyrhus had Braudec, while Elendra, Celvey, and Hadliek followed me. Everything was quiet and smooth until Celvey gave Kyrhus a good push and grabbed Braudec by the forearm, leaping from the platform with him. The officers rushed to the edge, trying to get a glimpse of their fall, to watch the end of what they assumed was a very pointless escape attempt. The rest of us followed slowly, impressed how organic Celvey made their deaths appear. They were sprawled on the ground and her telekinetic power had crushed a small crater into the street. I knew she had slowed their fall, but the ruined street gave an impression that Celvey and Braudec had to have died on impact. The officers looked at me in shock and I gave them an unassuming shrug. Then Hadliek sealed the act when he loaded up his heavy pistol.

 

"The Dark Hunters ordered him captured dead or alive. I'm going with dead."

 

Hadliek took one shot at Celvey and Braudec, utilizing a blank bomb. Unlike blank bullets, this was an unusual projectile that, upon touching a solid target, would explode in a holographic veil of all-consuming flames. Celvey managed to act quickly, apparently fleeing as soon as the round touched the pavement. When the fake explosion cleared, the officers were left to assume the pair had been vaporized.

 

The lead officer stomped his foot and cursed. "You lumbering killer, we needed him alive! Unbelievable! The Oandek crew should have never trusted you!"

 

"It's no trial, but justice was served today," Hadliek replied. "That was one of our own down there that I just took out. I put an end to all your running around about this lone Skakdi. Now if you'll excuse me, we're going."

 

"Just like that?" the officer shouted. "Have you no emotion for your own fallen comrade?"

 

"We're mercenaries! We don't do emotion!"

 

The four of us packed into a single elevator tube and held in our laughter until we began to descend. We had not taken the chance to pull such an elaborate feat in quite some time, and watching Hadliek act his way through the 'tough mercenary' role had been hilarious for all of us. We knew Celvey would get Braudec to the port and onboard an airship, but as our laughter died down, Kyrhus still had one more very relevant question to air.

 

"Hey…how are we going to get back to Stelt?"

 

"I'm glad you brought that up," Elendra replied. "On my way to Zakaz, I was thinking about when Trylac said he was going to dispatch an agent. After we left Mt. Valmai, he sent someone to investigate the blueprints and any additional prototype pieces for the Amplifier in Onu-Metru. Since you already decided not to give him the Iridiex, I think we should do some of that investigating for ourselves."

 

I remembered the task I was given as I fell through the sky over Zakaz and wondered if this was my destiny leading up to something. Maybe a return to Metru Nui would uncover the final piece in the puzzle to defeating Drelinok.

 

"We'll need to get back to Stelt first. Is your ship ready to enter the warzone?"

 

"I don't make the same mistake twice, Adrinor," Elendra said, self-satisfied. "You're all going to be impressed when you see what I've done."

 

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#14 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Feb 29 2016 - 05:04 PM

If it keeps on raining, levee's going to break. –Led Zeppelin

 

 

Episode 14: Catharsis (Elendra's Perspective)

 

It was a nice feeling to be at the controls of my ship again. After departing Zakaz and putting the Panacea behind us, we briefly returned to Stelt before making our way to Metru Nui. I had a better idea of how the aircraft would handle evasive maneuvers, and the twin suns were no longer flooding the city with perpetual twilight. Toa Jovan and his team had ended the Great Disruption, but the armed forces surrounding Metru Nui were another story. Le-Metru had a massive flagship outfitted with ice beam cannons that were assaulting downtown Ta-Metru. On the coast, the Ga-Metru naval fleet had fused most of the battleships into a bipedal colossus that appeared to be submerging much of Po-Metru with water from the Silver Sea. Meanwhile, Onu-Metru had infested a large portion of Ko-Metru with quake vines – black, twisted metal that caused anything it touched to become unstable and shatter to pieces. Several of the ancient Knowledge Towers had been reduced to chunks of glossy white crystal because of this.

 

I smiled, well aware of my desensitization. The Matoran had wrought so much wanton death and destruction in the pursuit of what they saw to be correct. The enemy stood between them and having their way, and for this, they were fools. My enemies stood between me and survival. It had always been so, whether my companions saw it the same way or not. And for the Matoran to ruin their homes for anything less, it was ridiculous. Their war machines had torn Metru Nui asunder, and though I chose to keep it from Adrinor, I agreed with Drelinok. Great Disruption or not. We would fight, and fight, and fight, forever. The universe was doomed one way or another, and the Metru Nui Civil War was just another stepping stone along that path. I dropped the airship a bit, tilting the nose down as we skimmed the waves. We had no idea that, in a matter of hours, the war would be over.

 

My finger fell on the switch for an intercom system I had recently installed. "I'm about to activate the ultra-thrusters. Strap in and get ready."

 

As much as I would have liked to test the ultra-thrusters out, Adrinor signaled me with his distress beacon from the Panacea flagship when my final repairs were under way. After leaving Zakaz and coming back to Voporak's coliseum, we were riding our enthusiasm and wanted to get going. In theory, I knew the ultra-thrusters should be fine, that I would lose some of my steering controls in exchange for an insane amount of speed. Our destination was in northern Onu-Metru, a considerable distance from the Ko-Matoran ice cannons that stopped me previously. We would make it.

 

"Here we go."

 

The fuel cell was pushed into the ultra-thruster system and I heard a rising hum coming from the back of the ship. I felt relieved. I had opted for a slower fuel injection, letting the ultra-thrusters kick on when enough of the cell had been emptied into the thruster tank. The activation would still be immediate, but the ship's computer was being given time to analyze what was happening. The onboard display did not flicker and nothing was shaking. Then the ultra-thrusters came online, surprisingly exceeding my performance expectations. We launched like a bullet.

 

I tensed up a bit and tried to gently move the controls. They refused to budge. Not far ahead, there was an opening blasted into the Archives that was large enough to take us through. The problem was that if we held our exact course, I would have to make the ship momentarily intangible to get through a small tower. I knew that if I threw everything into an exaggerated turn, we would turn, but there was no way I could use that to get us where we wanted. The ship would be darting wildly above Onu-Metru, catching too much attention before I could safely shut down the ultra-thrusters. I had a matter of seconds to decide what I wanted to do, and I silently hoped that no one would unfasten themselves without my approval. In treating our last trip to Metru Nui as a learning experience, I rerouted the ultra-thruster controls so that I could adjust how much power to give either side. If I turned off the left thruster and pulled a hard right, we would start spinning while maintaining our altitude. From there, I would just have to time the exact second to turn the left thruster back on.

 

"I mean, if it doesn't work, we're dead and no one can complain to me," I told myself.

 

The ship was jetting across the Silver Sea and straight into Onu-Metru when I set my hands in position. My left was ready to drop the power to the left thruster down to nothing and my right was ready to flip the steering as far right as we could go. We were maybe half a kio from the tower when I put that plan in motion, which worked out perfectly. There is definitely a better word than perfectly, but from a conceptual perspective, everything turned out great. The ship performed precisely as expected. The only problem was that we were caught in an altitude locked spin that was sending us toward Ko-Metru. Also, having an ultra-thruster still turned on, the speed of our rotations was making me more than a little dizzy. Before I could get a visual lock on the Archives opening I was aiming for, we clipped another tower from behind and our trajectory shifted substantially.

 

"Hang on!" I yelled into the cabin. There was no way I could hit the intercom button and keep an eye on our target.

 

Focusing harder than I had needed to in a very long time, I let out a deep exhale and executed the proper timing between bringing the steering back to normal, turning the left thruster back on, and aiming us right at the Archives opening. It would have been nice to get a co-pilot for the show, but there was no audience to marvel at what I had achieved in the skies that day. I deactivated the thrusters entirely when we were in a safe range to land above the opening, carefully taking us down and hovering toward the dark to keep our aircraft out of sight.

 

I lazily flung my arm out into the cabin's view and gave a thumbs up before I shut the ship down. I unfastened my safety belt then, collapsing sideways onto my armrest and pinching my eyebrows together. Adrinor was the first to come up and I was hardly surprised.

 

"We were a little shaken up back there, but you did a fine job."

 

"Yeah, yeah, it was an award-winning finish," I replied, brushing off Adrinor's praise. "Let's find the blueprint and get out of this city."

 

Everyone exited the ship and we started studying the room for anything that could point us in the right direction. I stopped doing so when I noticed Kyrhus was sniffing the floor.

 

"Did you pick up a scent?"

 

He shook his head and bent down. "Quite the contrary. The air is empty and sterile down here. The Archivists kept their facility so clean and without any visitors in so long, the dust and air coming through the ceiling opening is all I can detect."

 

"That could work to our benefit," Adrinor proposed. "If we head down the right path, would you be able to detect our old scents from a couple weeks back?"

 

"It might be faint, but Toa Jovan's team would have left scents as well. It would be more challenging for me to smell a trace of ourselves when we are all present, but Toa have a particular scent. You can be certain that I'll pick up the trail."

 

We spent the next few hours letting Kyrhus navigate the low lit halls of the Archives for us, silently following him. No one wanted to break his concentration and idle conversation would only echo through the halls. We were superior gunfighters to Matoran, but adding an unnecessary risk was too great a gamble. The centuries together had given us plenty of time to chat anyway.

 

"Right this way," Kyrhus said, pointing into the room where we found the tablet baring Drelinok's name. "All your favorite trinkets, toys, and plans for granting yourself untold power."

 

I walked inside and sat on a crate in the corner, pulling out my right revolver. I dropped the bullets into my left hand and started loading them back in as fast as possible. Celvey and Kyrhus started helping Adrinor search for the blueprint and Hadliek was standing watch in the doorway. Rather than get too many hands in the way, I opted to practice my reloading prowess.

 

"This is the tablet I found a few weeks ago," Adrinor muttered, pushing aside a few pieces of equipment. "None of these parts seem to be related to the Amplifier, but I need a full version of the blueprint."

 

Kyrhus began separating the stacks of tablets and scanning them over. "Most of the information in this room is related to the Mask of Life that Toa Jovan's team sought. It's possible that this chamber was in the process of being organized when the war began. The Onu-Matoran would not have accidentally set Drelinok's items in here for any other reason."

 

Adrinor marched over and began to examine the tablets for himself. "There has to be something in here. Triphaz said everything on the Amplifier would be in the Archives."

 

"And we have no way of knowing how much of it is in this room," I reminded him. "As expansive as they are, your blueprint could be anywhere beneath Metru Nui. The same goes for the prototype that Triphaz told us about."

 

"She could be right," Kyrhus agreed. "That magnetic piece you have could be one small part of the prototype that was disassembled."

 

"Right or wrong, we don't have the luxury of time," Celvey replied. "And besides, I believe we have a suitable answer."

 

Celvey scooped up one of the tablets and handed it to Adrinor. He started reading it and laughed.

 

"This is fantastic," he said. "A copy of the blueprint we need is being stored in the Valantru directory."

 

"Valantru," I repeated, thinking back.

 

The city of Valantru was on the northwestern coast of the Northern Continent and had been the location where the Barraki were taken into custody for attempting to overthrow the Great Spirit. It had been years, but we confirmed on Destral that Teridax remembered his victory that evening. Neither of us knew Botar or who he was acting on behalf of, but he vanished with the warlords before the Makuta could execute his definition of justice upon them. In the end, it brought about a similar result. The era of the League of Six Kingdoms was over.

 

"It's been a long time since we've visited," Adrinor told me.

 

I nodded. "Well it's not as though-"

 

A low, distant rumble shook the chamber, causing me to stop short. Everyone suddenly became very alert and Adrinor silently motioned us back into the hall. We crept through the dim light, weapons ready, when a thundering sound echoed through the Archives. Adrinor was leading us back toward the nearest atrium when I noticed Matoran troops curiously patrolling the area. They had not spotted us in the shadowy hallway, but I began to wonder. How had Matoran ended up so close to our position and neither our team nor theirs took notice of one another?

 

My answer came in the form of a Ta-Matoran appearing out of thin air and dropping to the floor, an energy rifle at his side. The Matoran picked himself up and angrily pointed his rifle at a nearby Po-Matoran.

 

"My curiosity outweighs my temper right now," he spat, "so maybe you can explain what kind of trick you just pulled before my trigger gets pulled!"

 

The Po-Matoran was visibly concerned. "It wasn't us. I was leading my troops one moment, and the next, I found myself here."

 

"Strange, I was way-finding with my own soldiers not long ago," A Le-Matoran spoke up. "Something reached out and…touched me, then I took a hard-fall into this chamber."

 

I could hear a sinister laugh and watched the Matoran begin to search for its origin. My own teammates did the same, but I felt something else in the sound. When I realized it, Kyrhus managed to vocalize the truth before I had a chance.

 

"The laughter is coming from inside our minds," he whispered. "Something is reaching out and broadcasting to all of us mentally."

 

"Welcome to the Onu-Metru Archives," the mental voice said, coughing up malice into every word. "I have invited you here, little warlords, so that we may put an end to the conflict in this city."

 

"I know that voice," Adrinor muttered. "But from where?"

 

"Metru Nui has been plagued for too long by your war of ideas on how trade routes ought to be managed throughout the city. Turaga Zilnyx thought he could battle your ideas, but I know otherwise. I know that an idea is not so easily destroyed. However, I can destroy the next best thing."

 

"Show yourself!" the Ta-Matoran hollered, randomly firing a few shots at the atrium ceiling.

 

"The exits to the Archives have been sealed until the problem can be resolved," the voice continued. "This city has watched you rise to power and become Barraki, but I tell you now, entities like Pridak and Kalmah achieved supremacy far beyond the little sectors of your separate districts. They held true power, and even they were ultimately parted from it. They were removed from power because they had become a problem and as I see it, you pose a similar problem on a far different scale."

 

"It's Teridax," Adrinor breathed.

 

"By order of the Brotherhood of Makuta, I am charging you with crimes against the city of Metru Nui and, by proxy, facilitating an involuntary attempted murder on the Great Spirit. You are hereby relieved of duty, and sentenced to death."

 

"Come on then!" an Onu-Matoran shouted from the atrium. "Let's see a mighty Makuta stand against dozens of Matoran!"

 

"We need to go," I urged Adrinor.

 

"Not yet," he said. "I want to see what he'll do."

 

"Attention," a computerized voice called out through the Archives intercom. "A manual override of all internal facility security has been initiated. Archivists and visitors are required to evacuate under these conditions. We appreciate your compliance and thank you for visiting the Onu-Metru Archives. Have a nice day."

 

Hadliek quietly chuckled. "If the Makuta just opened all the doors, I guess we'll only have to shoot our way through one of the exterior exits he said was sealed."

 

"We'll never make it," Celvey said, fear dripping from her voice. "The computer said all internal facility security."

 

"Yeah, why does that matter?" Hadliek asked. I could tell he was seconds from a sarcastic comment when he suddenly paused, finally as aware of the situation as I was. "Oh, this is going to be bad."

 

I heard the sound of countless locks and latches clicking open, and the creaking sound of so many links, bolts, and bars sliding back from the chambers they held shut. Teridax had a creative side that was more disturbing than I had anticipated, and I keenly watched the atrium with Adrinor for what I knew was coming next. Before I could witness that, the sound of something with several legs could be heard scuttling along the wall from behind my teammates.

 

"Mata Nui," I said in revulsion, hesitating for a second. The creature released a stream of bright green acid from its maw, hissing at us. I narrowly avoided the corrosive material and put a few rounds in its head, causing the insectoid creature to fall dead to the floor.

 

"Move," Adrinor commanded. "Get to the atrium, now."

 

I could hear screaming in the far room and I sprinted ahead. By the time I had bridged the gap between the atrium and myself, the room had fallen into chaos. The Matoran had opened fire on the released Rahi exhibits and were ill-equipped for the task. A massive Nui-Jaga had a Ko-Matoran skewered on its tail, pitilessly flinging the little biomech against the wall and smashing his armor to pieces in the process.

 

A couple Kavinika attempted to charge toward me, but a well-placed shot to their heads left the ravenous wolves skidding dead across the floor before coming to a halt at my feet. I leapt over the pair of Rahi and strode through the atrium, watching a Spiny Stone Ape drop down before my exit. I kept running toward the beast, unfazed as it tried to intimidate me with a show of its massive, sweeping claws. I emptied the clip on my right revolver and dropped down, sliding directly beneath the Rahi. All of my shots impacted the creature's face, but a Spiny Stone Ape has a thick hide. Still gliding along the floor, I emptied the left revolver into the Rahi's exposed underbelly, causing it to drop in agony once I was clear through the doorway.

 

I turned back just in time to watch Adrinor decapitate a Crystal Climber with a mighty swing of his gunblade, following up with a two-handed slash that severed a Tarakava just above its mobility track. There were no surviving Matoran in the atrium, but trained killers were not so easily destroyed. Ahead of me, several more Matoran had been lit ablaze by the fiery breath of a Protocairn, trying in vain to put themselves out as they fled. One of them, a Le-Matoran, caught the attention of a Frost Beetle and was promptly smashed in the beast's claw. The Protocairn turned its attention to the beetle and charged, taking the creature in its jaws before consuming it in flames.

 

Celvey grabbed me by the arm and ran forward, using her telekinesis to push the towering Protocairn aside. We kept moving, only to find more death in the next room. A Longfang was chewing its way through the end of a Ga-Matoran snack, while a Swamp Stalker began to creep into a neighboring chamber, clearly responsible for tearing a number of Matoran soldiers to pieces. Celvey mentally blasted the Longfang and we continued running until we reached a ledge that turned into a long incline. If she had chosen not to drag me along, Celvey could have saved herself from falling forward. She tried anyway, but since I did not expect a drop was coming, I ran into her and we toppled forward. Too startled to think of anything, Celvey and I could only watch as a hazy claw reached out and grabbed us.

 

We both landed hard on the ground, smacking against a wall of fog. The veil felt as solid as a brick when I collided with it, but I made an attempt to push my hand through to the other side anyway. Nothing happened. We were trapped.

 

"Nice going, Celvey," I growled. I could faintly hear Matoran screaming for their lives high above us, the sound of countless Rahi in pursuit. "You got us stuck in this…thing."

 

Celvey used her powers to twist my neck and smack my face against the cold veil. It was also incredibly solid, but I refused to let her know how much it hurt.

 

"I'm not in the mood for you, Elendra."

 

I leapt to my feet and immediately threw a single round into my right revolver, pointing the weapon at Celvey's head. The veil was only five bio wide, and it would have been an easy shot to make. Easy, of course, until Celvey started to telekinetically turn my hand to point my own weapon at me. I struggled against her the whole way, but she was surprisingly strong.

 

"I could do it," she said. "If I ever escape, I could tell them anything I wanted. Do you think they would believe I killed you because I wanted to?"

 

My breathing was becoming angry as I fought her powers. "Do you want me to die?"

 

"I want you to go away. Often. I can't take how cruel and bitter and rude and hateful you are. What did we do to you, Elendra? Why do you look at me the way you do? Your eyes wish me harm, and if you cannot see it, your spirit surely does."

 

I braced my free hand against my wrist, trying to aim my weapon away from my face. Celvey would not let up without an answer. "Your optimism feels unstoppable, and I have none."

 

She released my hand from her control and I shot Celvey without hesitation. She arced the bullet and it passed her cheek, close enough that she surely felt the wind brush her face. It passed through the mist and the gaseous substance quickly repaired itself. Celvey was frozen in anger and shock, staring silently across our prison.

 

"But even so, don't turn my weapon on me."

 

"If I released a mental blast that flooded from me in all directions, I could disrupt the molecular bonds of this veil and shatter it. The event would shatter you as well, and you would be no more. I know what you must think of me. I'm a vision of light, an Ilisian, born of the Great Beings to be majestic and beautiful. And I am."

 

It hurt to hear her admit that. She was right about herself, and I could handle that truth, but I did not enjoy knowing that she knew.

 

"Hadliek can heal with his touch, Kyrhus holds life to be precious, and Adrinor still believes that we can be something more. You come from a species of builders, tinkering with technology. Your mind is wrapped in logic and quick decisions, but there is no empathy required to construct a machine. Well aware of this, the Great Beings gave Trelbans compassion, to respect one another and live in accord."

 

"What's your point?"

 

"My point is that it isn't fair to blame us because they skipped you."

 

I gasped, furious. Her words stung like bullets could not. "Don't think you're better than me because you care more for others. Remember that I was arrested for trying to protect Trelban from occupation by the League of Six Kingdoms. Even with all your power, you ran from Ilisi."

 

"Well I'm ready to stand and fight now," Celvey said. "Reload your weapons and I'll prove it to you. Or you can put them down and surrender for once. I know, it's not in your nature, but I won't punish you for backing down. We've been together for centuries now, Elendra. I tried to be your friend and you didn't want me. That's okay. I can rely on you in combat, but this has to stop. I'm not your enemy."

 

"Then you should start acting like it."

 

"Are you serious?" Celvey exclaimed. "I do everything I can for all of you! Even that Skakdi we barely knew on Zakaz! I led him to the docks and smuggled him aboard an airship! Would you have done the same if we had left him in your care, or would you have just left him on the street?"

 

"That's not what I meant. It's just…a lot of what we encounter tends to try and kill us. You're not putting down as many of them as you could."

 

"The objective isn't to kill anything that tries to kill you. We're not as senseless and destructive as the Dark Hunters, but it seems as though you're only fit to behave like one. So what's it going to be? Are you willing to accept your teammates as we are, or would we be better off leaving you in a random sector of Stelt to be recruited by the Dark Hunters?"

 

I finished loading my first revolver and sighed. "If I stay, I can't just change for you. I recognize that I can be stubborn and difficult to deal with at times, but I have no intention of becoming a Dark Hunter. After what we just experienced up there, we're going to need each other a lot very soon. Makuta Teridax just murdered an unknown number of Matoran and it's quite possible that he is comfortable with letting that become public knowledge. Someone is going to notice that a bunch of Matoran all vanished simultaneously."

 

Celvey gave me a worried stare. "I think that's exactly what he wants."

 

The air was quiet. "Why do you say that?"

 

"The Makuta just used the exhibits down here to kill off dozens of soldiers. He wanted to make an example of them, because even if the rest of the city comes to despise the Brotherhood for it, the war is effectively over. He'll make his actions public knowledge because his wrath will keep the Matoran from ever starting another Great Disruption."

 

"Because Teridax made the decision I would have?"

 

"No, I wasn't going to say that. It's what Drelinok would have done. He already told us that he wants to purge the world of anything he considers unfit to live in it. If Drelinok overthrows the Brotherhood, he will do the same to every inhabited land in the universe."

 

"Then we need to reach Valantru and find that blueprint copy."

 

"First we'll need to escape." Celvey frowned. "And Elendra, I know you would have been more thoughtful before ending so many lives at once. You don't have to assume I think the absolute worst of you. I'm actually relieved that you're willing to be reasonable about this."

 

"I just had a couple more things to say," I started, extremely reluctant to discuss my feelings. "It took a lot for you to confront me like that. I appreciate it, and I respect you. I'm sorry that I can be hard to live with."

 

"It's okay," Celvey said, walking up to me. She holstered my revolver and embraced me tight, holding me in the noiseless veil. "It's okay, Elendra."

 

"I know," I replied awkwardly, not quite hugging her back, and feeling too uncomfortable not to try and reciprocate her gesture. "The second thing is…if something happens,"-

 

"Don't talk like that," she whispered.

 

"If something happens, you'll need to protect them," I said, ignoring her protest. "They're everything to me, so please, protect them. Most importantly, protect him."

 

"You know I will," Celvey replied, her words smiling at me.

 

"Well then. Now that we have that conversation behind us and you've got me so close, would you mind trying to release that telekinetic burst to get us out of here?"

 

She chuckled. "Sure."

 

Celvey took a deep breath and I suddenly became cold. The veil started to warp and shake around itself for a moment until it collapsed inward on us, smashing into a small cloud of gas. Celvey released me and we watched a very tiny, rodent-like creature made of mist, scurry off into the dark. At some point in our talking, the Archives had returned to their hushed state. The noises of Rahi lurking far in the dark could be faintly heard, but the worst had passed. Whoever Teridax had subjected to death was already gone and the beasts made by his brothers were on the move.

 

"They keep some weird stuff in here," I muttered.

 

"No weirder than you." Celvey grinned. "Come on, let's get back upstairs and find the others. Even him."

 

I shot her a serious look. "I should let you know that I'm using all the affection I have to say that I'll kill you if you ever mention that again."

 

Celvey smiled. "I expected too much to think a single dialogue would bring about a life-changing attitude adjustment for you. In any event, we should be going."

 

"Stay on guard returning to the ship. We narrowly escaped Teridax's massacre with our lives, and being so deep in these ancient passages, anything could be waiting around an unsuspecting corner."

 

"You've come to terms with yourself down here, I think that's enough of an achievement to think we can survive anything on our return."

 

"That's a tad myopic, Celvey," I remarked. "Miserix just dispatched his lieutenant to end a war and we have reason to believe Teridax won't mind telling everyone he did it. With regard to their sense of rationality, I can think like a Makuta to some extent. And if I just put a halt to the one conflict that brought the Great Spirit to the gates of death, I would be asking myself how to prevent it from ever happening again."

 

Celvey looked like she was holding back a laugh. "It was only sarcasm. I'll stay ready."

 

"That's good, because we may be relying on sarcasm for some light-hearted relief in the next few days. The war may be over, but Drelinok is still out there and we need to assess where the Brotherhood intends to go from here. I hate to be the voice of pessimism, but trust me when I say that, before it gets better, this whole thing is going to get a lot worse."

 

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#15 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Mar 09 2016 - 01:04 AM

And I sat in regret, of all the things I've done; for all that I've blessed, and all that I've wronged. –Audioslave

 

 

Episode 15: Irrevocable Overture

 

Everything felt wrong. After Jovan's team rescued the Great Spirit, there was an indescribable warmth in the air that seemed to reach out and promise that things would turn out alright. When Makuta Teridax ended the war in Metru Nui though, the thought of his victory was an empty one. There was no light, or hope, because he had used the Archives exhibits against the Matoran, and the Rahi mauled them to death. If it was any indication of the brutality Teridax utilized in a military strategy, it finally made sense how his armies overran the Barraki in a single day many years before.

 

Following our escape from Onu-Metru, we all agreed to take a day to recuperate in Stelt. We needed a brief opportunity to restock our ammunition, Elendra could make repairs after her airship clipped a tower, and resting was not out of the question. Even with the blueprint in hand, gathering the materials for another Amplifier could be a time-consuming task. We were no closer to our goal at the moment, Drelinok had kept his distance since controlling my mind in the battle with Zanteox, and I really just wanted a break. I had not taken a moment to relax since we left for Todrano, which had been four days earlier. So when I made it back to my room above Voporak's coliseum, I set my gunblade in the corner of the room and promptly fell asleep on my bed.

 

As much as I wanted to rest, I found myself continually jarred awake by the vivid memories of my final days on Meldio. An hour or so would pass and they would come again, sounding the bombs and blaster fire of Drelinok's war with the Collective. His command of battle was masterful, overwhelming and outthinking his opponents at every turn. Troops were mere pawns, used and expended as he saw necessary. Orchards burned, statues crumbled, and many began to believe that we were only wasting Drelinok's time. One way or another, he would destroy the Collective and bring his definition of order to the island. He thought so highly of the Directorate that nothing could possibly hold a candle to it. In my foolish youth, I sought an audience with him in his office.

 

"You openly declared that you would kill the Collectivists."

 

"They are traitors to the Directorate, Adrinor."

 

"That makes them worthy of death? You dreamed of becoming this island's Director for years because you said you loved Meldio, and this is how you choose to implement that idea?"

 

"I do love Meldio and I will not see it's governing body overrun by the views of a hive mind. The Directorate places importance in the individual, with a presiding board to oversee those decisions. You want me to open the floor to restructuring the island into a commune where a Meldin who has worked hard for his standing is expected to pick up the failures among us? If they win, I will cease to be Drelinok, and you will be Adrinor no longer. We will be numbers, drones, like the insectoid creatures born in Destral by the hands of Makuta. We're better than that. We were made to be better."

 

"Says who?"

 

"The Great Beings! The mark of free will and sentience on all Meldin is evidence that we have the right to determine our own lives. If you do not believe that, if you will not take up arms as my soldier, then you are an enemy of the state. You are a traitor to Meldio."

 

"If you say so. I will choose to determine my own life and walk out of this building without picking up a weapon for the Directorate. Whether they are right or wrong, never forget that you crossed the line first. You forced their hand, to have their voices heard at the very least."

 

"Why did you come here today?"

 

"I know that you're planning to conquer Zephaon from the Collective. The rumors have spread and your enemy is aware that you intend to capture the capital. This is your last chance, Drelinok."

 

"Are you threatening me?"

 

"I haven't the army to do so, no. I am promising you, there is no redemption after this. If you march your soldiers into the town you and I grew up in, if you rend through it as you have done thus far, you will always be something terrible. No matter where you go or what you do after that, the spirits of the dead in Zephaon will haunt you all the rest of your days."

 

"They'll thank me someday. I would have ejected most from my office by now, but our long-standing friendship has restrained me. You are free to walk out of here, but the war will continue. Even if I have to extinguish every life in Zephaon, as long as this island is Meldio, I will haunt you all the rest of your days."

 

"Do you expect us to meet again?"

 

"I should hope that we meet again when the frailty of age has wracked our bodies, because if we carry even a fraction of the vitality we have now, our reunion will tear a hole in the world."

 

<<<>>> 

 

I wanted him to see reason so badly, but Drelinok had made up his mind about the Collective from the start. My mind stirred me with that reminiscence throughout the day on Stelt, and we left for Valantru before sunrise the next morning. I could not reason with who Drelinok was, or what he was for that matter.

 

On the day I set sail from Meldio, I could see the central hub of Zephaon. Atop the skyscraper was a golden statue of Zephaon, a Meldin who was praised for his research in electromagnetism, which led to the invention of many devices that made day-to-day life on Meldio simpler. His statue was reaching an empty hand toward the sky, standing as a symbolic belief that Meldin ingenuity dreamed to touch the stars and manipulate the universe. An ion beam cannon shattered the top of the hub and the statue collapsed, putting an end to the age of discovery. The result of the battle was unimportant, because as I rowed further on, I knew that all who called themselves Meldin had lost that day.

 

In stark contrast to that, Valantru was looking sunny and productive on approach.

 

The city was home to a number of different species, which was not uncommon in any metropolis on the Northern Continent. Valantru had been given a fine opportunity to update its infrastructure after the Barraki made a daring stand against the Brotherhood of Makuta in the city. After a long day of war had practically razed the city, Makuta Miserix commissioned dozens of task forces to repairing what had been done. Most creatively, Valantru had the Grid – a citywide system of hard light ribbons that directed all flight traffic above the streets. The Grid was supported by a number of hubs with controllers at each station to ensure traffic was moving smoothly. And if you were traveling by air, the Grid was mandatory in Valantru.

 

A light started blinking at the controls of Elendra's ship and a small chime followed. We had just received a request to open a communication link. Elendra opened the link and slowed down a bit.

 

"Link is active," she said.

 

"Am I speaking with the pilot?"

 

"You are. My name is Elendra."

 

"Good afternoon. I am an air traffic controller hailing you from Grid Station 01-4. Please accelerate onto the nearest Grid line and I will place your vessel into the network. What is your final destination today?"

 

"I am traveling to the Valantru Spire."

 

"Understood. Your ship has been added to the local traffic cluster under your name and a final destination has been designated for the Valantru Spire. Traffic is getting a tad heavy in the heart of the city this morning, but your travel time should be under an hour. Please come forward and I'll handle the rest."

 

"Sounds good."

 

Elendra terminated the link and accelerated onto the ribbon of light, switching the system into an idle state. We were still online, but the magnetic system within the Grid would push us forward in a sort of auto-pilot function.

 

"Too bad it can't always be this easy, right?"

 

Elendra raised an eyebrow. "I prefer doing my own driving to sitting around like this. You're just lazy."

 

I sat up and got to my feet. "Lazy has nothing to do with it, I just don't trust myself to drive. My last opportunity was earlier this week and I brought Zanteox's flagship down by punching it through a port on Zakaz."

 

"To be fair, you could have put it down before it would have hit land." Elendra replied, laughing.

 

We headed back into the main cabin and took a seat with the rest of the crew, planning to relax until our arrival at the Valantru Spire. Even if Elendra did not like it much, the city controllers were very practiced in guiding ships through Valantru. Our confidence in them made it all the stranger that we suddenly came to a halt after a few minutes.

 

"What's going on?" Kyrhus asked.

 

Elendra peered out the window. "All of the traffic is stopping. Not all at once, but it looks like separate lines of hard light are being given the command to halt their ships."

 

"Nothing seems to be happening," Hadliek added.

 

"You're right," Celvey replied. "It's a nice, sunny day out."

 

The chime request for a link sounded again and Elendra hurried back to the controls. This time, however, she routed the sound through the speaker system.

 

"This one's not a link," she stated on the way back to us. "It's a broadcast."

 

"And they've got the telescreens coming up for it too," Hadliek told her, pointing out the window.

 

I could see the telescreens blacking out from the advertisements and city notifications they had been displaying. They were not as large as the ones in Metru Nui, but effective all the same. When there were none left with light, they came back on together. And for reasons I would soon understand, the entire city was looking at Makuta Krika's face.

 

"Good afternoon, citizens of Valantru. My name is Makuta Krika and I have been appointed to serve as your protector for an indeterminate amount of time."

 

"What's a Makuta doing here on the Northern Continent?" Celvey wondered aloud.

 

"I am pleased to announced that the Metru Nui Civil War has come to an end by the hand of the Brotherhood. This savior is named Teridax, and his revelation of this truth to the Matoran in the north was met with fury, following the execution of approximately 100 Matoran who were determined to be guilty of an egregious crime."

 

"I'm sure there were a dozen ways he could have taken a more humane approach to their punishment," Kyrhus argued. "A sudden death is an execution. Releasing the Rahi exhibits was a massacre."

 

"Hey, we're on your side," Hadliek replied. "It's not like Krika can hear you."

 

"As I speak, my brothers are addressing other lands with this information, and it is the opinion of Metru Nui's citizens that my organization has committed an atrocity. Let me be clear that any attack that would bring harm to the Great Spirit is a crime above all others. The Matoran were guilty of said crime. Metru Nui's leader, Turaga Zilnyx, has supported the Brotherhood throughout our intervention though we understand that our relations with the city may be strained for some time."

 

"That's an optimistic analysis," I said.

 

"I should hope that my time in Valantru will be an amicable period for us, but I must deliver a warning that will come with a great deal of severity. It is unlawful for any citizen or citizens to incite a civil war, and any declaration found to violate this order will be met with a swift and terrible vengeance. If you should seek my counsel to discuss this subject or any other matters, I will be available by appointment in Valantru Spire. Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your day."

 

The telescreens faded out and returned to their rotation of advertisements and announcements.

 

"Well…that was somber," Hadliek said, taking a seat. "All the more reason to visit the Spire, right?"

 

"And to do it carefully," I replied. "If the Makuta have started an occupation of the entire universe, then we need to tread with caution. Before we seek out the directory, I want to speak with him. I want to know exactly what's going on."

 

"Think anyone will care that we don't have an appointment?" Kyrhus asked.

 

"We'll need to be very convincing of the contrary if they do," Celvey suggested to him. "This is too important for anything less. It's too weird. Don't you agree? Something about this feels very amiss, and after nearly getting torn to pieces by the Teridax's war-ending tactic, I'd say Adrinor is right. We need some answers."

 

I flashed everyone the Tablet of Transit that Makuta Miserix gave me. "If Krika tries to give us a hard time, we have this to remind him that we come in peace. After he vaporized Drelinok's body, even knowing Drelinok survived the event, I could do without upsetting a Makuta."

 

Elendra pulled one of her revolvers and tapped it against the tablet a couple times. "It's not enough that they could conquer the world, the really disturbing part is that they know how easy it would be."

 

<<<>>> 

 

The Grid controllers directed us safely through downtown Valantru and Elendra stopped the ship in the Spire's outer parking lot. I stepped outside and suddenly felt overwhelmed by the world around me. Valantru Spire had open-air parking for Grid transit, but I could see beyond the parking lot railing and how much further the city descended. The street was another 75 bio below, with many more ribbons of the grid twisting through it. Downtown Valantru was a conglomerate of skyscrapers, the point where the highest density of traffic flowed through every day. But none stood so tall and stunning as the building before me. I craned my neck up at the Valantru Spire, an astonishing 600 bio above my head. Its design was that of an icicle structure tipped upside down, towering needle points of metal jutting high in support of the central construct.

 

"Krika is probably all the way at the top," Hadliek said, breaking my concentration. "That's where I'd be if I were suddenly in charge of the city."

 

Kyrhus snickered. "But of course. We'd better find the lobby and"-

 

"Hold on a sec," I interrupted. "Have we never visited this place before?"

 

"Not that I can remember," Elendra replied. "I've steered aircraft onto the Grid before, but our missions have only taken us into the streets or to other sectors of the city."

 

"Valantru Spire has stood for roughly a millennium and we've never walked through the front door," I said in confusion, shaking my head. "Let's correct that."

 

I took the lead, finding myself curious enough to stare up at the Grid traffic as it darted through the central hub of Valantru. My gaze fell when the parking lot turned to a footpath and the walkways became lined in lush greenery, growing trees and flowers that were not native to the Northern Continent. Amid the sounds of vehicles in transit and the wind blowing between the skyscrapers, I felt no reason to have my weapon drawn. It was busy, yet peaceful, and when we were finally standing beneath the overhang to the entrance, I did not want to go any farther.

 

"Adrinor," Celvey said. "What's wrong?"

 

I stood frozen as I watched the automatic doors slide open, pause for a moment, attempt to close, register my presence, and slide back again. This happened three times before I responded.

 

"I wish we didn't have to do this. I suddenly have an odd feeling, like I know we're walking in to something terrible. I want to stay here, but it's drawing me in. We have to go."

 

"We have to go?"

 

"No, Celvey. We have to go."

 

I looked over my shoulder and the four of them stared back, as if they were afraid of me. I faced forward and marched in to the lobby. A Ko-Matoran was stationed at the desk, smiling at us.

 

"Good morning, travelers. Welcome to Valantru Spire. How may I be of assistance to you?"

 

"You can opt out of sounding any alarms," I replied, pulling my gunblade and pointing it at him.

 

The rest of the crew drew their weapons and loaded them, prompting the Ko-Matoran to cower in toward the desk a bit.

 

"What are you here for?" he asked nervously.

 

"Makuta Krika," I said. "We haven't scheduled an appointment and I don't have time to make one. We're going to see him now."

 

"He's in charge of the city! If I let you harm him"-

 

"He's a Makuta!" I argued.

 

The Ko-Matoran was silent, letting my words sink in.

 

"If I even thought of hurting him, don't you think he'd anticipate it? Don't you think a Makuta would respond in turn by unleashing so much power, that none but his own kind could withstand the force? Krika is a member of a mighty and dangerous species, and he was not sent here so that Matoran could serve as his protectors. He is sworn to protect you."

 

"Even so, everything in this building is conducted by scheduling. Would it be right of me to let someone demand to speak with Makuta Krika every time a blaster is pointed in my face?"

 

I laughed, putting my gunblade away. "The way you trembled before me, I could tell that no one had ever pointed a blaster at your face before. As long as you work at this desk, I don't suspect it will happen again."

 

We took one of the elevators up from the lobby, required to walk down the hallway on Floor 131 to reach a cluster of elevators that granted access to the highest floors. Just as the doors were about to close on our way up to the top, Floor 250, a crimson hand stopped the doors. It was a Toa of fire, riding up alongside a Toa of stone who keyed in their desired floor. I gave them a polite nod of acknowledgement. They both regarded my crew with suspicious looks and I pretended not to notice. Hadliek entered our destination floor number into a screen on the wall and the doors slowly sealed together.

 

The Spire's top elevators had a glass plate for the wall parallel to the doorway and, while I often preferred to stare out at cities as I ascended above them, the pair of Toa behind me managed to keep my eyes fixed above the doors on a holographic display of our current floor. Try to understand that this was not out of fear, but rather to avoid a confrontation. There is an old saying in Meldio, "It is not wise to go looking for trouble where none yet exists." I could appreciate this statement, especially when a couple "heroes" were mumbling to each other behind my back.

 

"Is there something we can help you with?" Hadliek questioned the Toa.

 

"Our business is simply that," the Toa of stone replied bitterly. "I do not need mercenaries listening in on private affairs."

 

"Mercenaries?" Hadliek asked, feigning shock. "What makes you say that?"

 

"You're well-equipped enough to survive a shootout with a small army. Never mind that each of you is a different species, most likely a band of thieves from Stelt or Dark Hunters on assignment. Do you know the great danger you place yourselves in by operating outside the law?"

 

"You'll have to enlighten me," Hadliek said through a fake grin.

 

"That the law will not come to your aid when your luck runs out. Your species is renowned for their work in medical advancement and the protection of life, and this is what you choose instead? You dishonor your kind, Todrano."

 

I glanced back at Hadliek for a second and watched him casually turn his head toward the ceiling.

 

"Well, thanks for the opinion, buddy," Hadliek said petulantly. I could tell his patience was running thin.

 

"Hadliek, it's not worth the trouble," Kyrhus tried to reason with him.

 

"These two?" Elendra piped up. "I'd have to disagree with you on that one."

 

"And I'm backing Kyrhus on this one," Celvey told her. "This isn't the ideal place for mouthing off, firepower advantage or not."

 

I was still staring at the numbers, hoping we could reach our destination soon. We were 50 floors from the top when the Toa of fire finally spoke.

 

"I don't think you want to encourage a fight with us, Trelban," he told her in a voice that was painfully haughty, even for a Toa.

 

"We don't have time for this," I growled impatiently to no one in particular.

 

The elevator immediately became silent and I resumed watching the numbers above the door. At last, we arrived at the floor the Toa wished to reach and the doors opened up. The Toa of fire walked out first and as the Toa of stone stepped by me, he had one more comment for the group.

 

"Better listen to your Ilisian friend. Your tempers are going to get you in trouble."

 

"It wouldn't be the first time," I said politely. "Getting in fights on elevators, well…things are bound to escalate quickly."

 

The Toa caught my pun and glared at me. "You're not funny."

 

He followed his companion into the hallway, and that's when I heard two shots go off. One was an incendiary round from Hadliek's weapon that tore a molten hole in the Toa of stone's left leg. The second was an energy bullet from one of Elendra's revolvers that shredded through the muscle tissue in the Toa of fire's right leg. By the time they realized what happened, we were already on our way up to the top of the spire.

 

"In his defense, it was a bad joke," I told them.

 

"I wasn't standing up for your terrible sense of humor," Hadliek assured me, "I just needed a little non-lethal payback."

 

"Non-lethal?" I repeated, somewhat impressed. "That's a new term for you."

 

"It's grown on me lately," he replied. "Killing puts an abrupt end to something, and the target's suffering is over in an instant. But a painful injury like what Elendra and I just did? That's going to ruin someone's whole day."

 

"And you, Elendra?" I wondered.

 

"I just wanted to see if I could mirror Hadliek's shot," she said before giving me a smile. "Looks like I've still got it."

 

"You two are impossible," Celvey spoke up, sighing in frustration.

 

The elevator came to a halt at the spire's top floor. Number 250. It chimed as the doors opened, revealing a well-decorated hall. We stepped out, squinting as the sunlight poured through the windows, painting the luxurious bronze tile in brightness and reflecting brilliantly off the golden honeycomb design on the grand hall's pillars. Several Valantru soldiers (mostly Fe-Matoran) were huddled around the tables, discussing what I overheard to be a security policy proposal for Makuta Krika now that he was the city's sworn protector.

 

"Eyes up, soldiers!" one of them shouted.

 

Everyone snapped upright and drew their energy rifles, pointing them in our direction. We drew our own weapons in response, uncertain of what might happen next.

 

"Stand down," he ordered us. "I am Edimus, Squadron Commander of the troops assigned to the Valantru Spire. My soldiers are tasked with the protection of this building and its occupants. You will not have an audience with Makuta Krika while carrying so much firepower."

 

"You heard him," I told my crew. "Throw the safety on and keep your hands up."

 

We slowly approached the soldiers, watching them lower their arms. Edimus turned me around and detached my gunblade from its magnetic holder, setting it on the table.

 

"That's beautiful," he remarked, brushing a hand over the blade.

 

"Thank you, Commander. Are we permitted to speak with Makuta Krika now?"

 

Edimus scanned the rest of us for any blasters that he or his soldiers might have missed. He looked back to me with a nod. "Go on ahead. And remember, be respectful. You will be in the presence of a Makuta."

 

"We understand."

 

We continued past the soldiers and I pushed open the door to Krika's chambers, staring into a shadowy room. The window shades were drawn and an eerie beam of emerald light shone down on the center of the floor. I could see an object laying there, but I could not be sure what I was looking at.

 

"Makuta Krika?" I called out, stepping inside.

 

A powerful gust hurled my crew into the chamber and the doors immediately slammed shut. Without hallway light to brighten the entrance, Krika's chamber was much darker than I had expected.

 

"I always thought the Brotherhood operated out of Destral," I stated. Hearing the sound of my voice managed to calm my nerves, but I still could not see the Makuta. "When did you decide to open shop here in Valantru?"

 

"The Makuta have been tasked with scattering across the universe, to prevent any further civil wars," Krika whispered in a voice that echoed through the shadows. "Teridax managed to end the conflict in Metru Nui, and per our new assignments, Valantru is under my jurisdiction. The Matoran in the north were understandably upset with how we chose to proceed, but we could not risk the Great Spirit's life any longer."

 

"A wise decision," I replied, trying to ignore the reality of how dreadful Teridax's methods had been. "Listen, my name is Adrinor…my crew helped fend off the Light Warriors on Destral and I wanted to discuss locating a tablet held in the directory here."

 

"With new leadership often comes new instructions," Krika whispered. "I had the virtual directory deactivated and its contents destroyed."

 

I suddenly felt faint. "That directory may have held the one key to stopping Drelinok and you just wiped it out?"

 

"After the week I've had, it was one of my simpler tasks."

 

I studied the object in the emerald light and felt a cold chill envelop me when I realized it was the dead body of Makuta Cevezia. Krika's deep red eyes met my own when he spoke again.

 

"She's not a permanent part of the décor, but I've not thought how to dispose of her yet."

 

"Why?" I muttered. "Why do this to one of your own?"

 

"I have chosen my fate," Krika replied hopelessly.

 

I glimpsed his form glide through the darkness and arrive at the emerald light, just near enough to illuminate his facial features.

 

"What has been done cannot be undone," Krika continued. "My brothers and I have turned away from the purpose we were given – a grave betrayal to Mata Nui. Teridax has assumed control of the Brotherhood now, leaving me to wonder if Drelinok may actually be the hero he claims to be. The Meldin soldier of light, enemy of our newfound existence. Drelinok will destroy us all, perhaps, and the universe shall follow."

 

"It doesn't have to be that way," I argued. "What gave Teridax the authority to take command in the first place?"

 

"It was Miserix that ordered us to scatter across the universe to impose our laws, and when Mutran returned from a distant…place, Teridax was so certain. He already won Metru Nui for his actions, and now he has lost and gained everything at once. I can tell you this depressing tale, Adrinor, because there is nothing you can do to stop us. Much as I wish it were different, my kind have nothing to fear from you."

 

"Miserix won't stand for this," Celvey said.

 

"Miserix is dead, Ilisian," Krika told her with a sigh. "His few supporters that did not side with Teridax in our change of command, well, they have sealed their doom for being the most rational Makuta to have existed."

 

"And what does that make the rest of you?" I growled.

 

Krika laughed in a hollow, defeated tone. I heard the sound of him soaring through the darkness before he was mere inches from my face, his crimson eyes like flames.

 

"We are monsters," he breathed.

 

I glared into his eyes and replied, "Turning on your own kind like this is beyond anything I thought the Brotherhood capable of. I only wish I had the power to kill you myself."

 

I half expected Krika to strike, but it did not come. Instead, he hovered back into the emerald light and said, "I have opted for a slow suicide, Meldin. The best parts of my nature will eventually all fade away, and I will be a shell of the biomech I came into this world as. Destruction at your hand now would be a mercy, for a part of me dies a little each day."

 

The doors flung open and Krika vanished into the shadows. "Take your leave from my tower. There is nothing but the agony of loss in my company."

 

"It would appear so," I conceded.

 

"No, there's something else too," Celvey interrupted. We turned to her for an explanation and she quickly continued. "Makuta Krika is meditating in this darkness, touching the source of a power that invites death and devastation be wrought by its hand. You can't sense it, but it's all around us."

 

"The Ilisian speaks the truth. In light of our actions, shadows are all we have left," Krika spat.

 

Celvey stepped forward. "Then allow me to remind you what you're missing."

 

Celvey summoned a ball of light in her hand and threw her arm out in a sweeping motion, blasting the curtained windows to pieces in a telekinetic assault before a ring of light blasted its way across Krika's body. The chamber was illuminated and we could see Krika had transformed into something out of a nightmare since we had last seen him. His Kanohi Crast had been modified with a pair of fangs, his eyes slanted upward like an alien insect, and deep red spines jutted out along the lines of his armor.

 

"It's already over!" he screamed, hunching over and shielding his eyes. A pair of dreadful wings sprouted from his back and he walked backward toward the shattered windows. "We have already won."

 

The Makuta fell backward and we watched him glide away over Valantru, opting to flee rather than face another blast from Celvey.

 

"Nice one," Hadliek complimented her in an empty voice. We were all quite stunned.

 

I examined the broken chamber, eyeing the shards of glass and Makuta Cevezia's corpse on the floor. Even if we had avoided engaging a Makuta in combat, Krika had managed to infect me with his forlorn attitude, and I let his words replay in my mind. Drelinok may actually be the hero he claims to be. It hardly mattered, because without someone powerful enough to rival his abilities, Drelinok was unstoppable. Even if Drelinok was as mortal as the voice over Zakaz told me, I would need an army to battle him. The Brotherhood had been my last strategy, the one organization with the strength to tackle what Drelinok had become. The rest of my crew followed me back into the hallway and I turned to Hadliek.

 

"I'm placing you in charge," I said. "I…can't do this right now. The Brotherhood has fallen to darkness and even with Mata Nui's life saved, Drelinok is poised to conquer the universe. I have a lot of regret over what I wish I'd done, and not done, and I'm in no condition to lead you anywhere."

 

"What are you saying?" Celvey asked.

 

"I'm leaving."

 

"Adrinor." She said my name with the pain and hurt of someone just shot. "You said it yourself – things are falling apart! Isn't now the time when we need each other the most?"

 

"I can't save you from him, Celvey. Just let me go."

 

Hadliek and Elendra were comfortable letting me make my own decisions on the matter, but they gave me a look that blended judgment and concern. Kyrhus looked almost as sad as Celvey, but he stayed quiet. I started walking away, very unsure if I was doing the right thing. Some part of me wanted—needed—my crew to be there for me, but too much of me pushed the notion away. There was only one place in the universe I wanted to be, and having company was not the ideal arrangement.

 

"Adrinor!" Celvey shouted, running after me.

 

I could hear the sound of Hadliek coming to hold her back, trying to stop Celvey. After a moment, Kyrhus and Elendra reluctantly assisted him.

 

"It's okay!" he said, trying to calm her down as he wrestled against her. "Just take a deep breath, Celvey, he knows what he's doing!"

 

"What kind of friends are you?" Celvey asked in shock, struggling with everyone. "How could you let someone you care about just run away like this? Do you even know where he's going?"

 

Before I returned to the elevator, I heard one last thing from Elendra.

 

"Yeah," she said bitterly. "And it's a place where he'd like to be alone."

 

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#16 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted Apr 23 2016 - 09:10 PM

Only set apart from the world I live in now. Ghost of a renegade. –The Paper Kites

 

 

Episode 16: Lawless (Hadliek's Perspective)

 

We expended the last of the airship's fuel somewhere in the middle of the Northern Continent. After several minutes of "I told you so" being thrown at me for refusing to believe that there were no refueling stations anywhere outside Valantru, we exited the craft and started to walk. Behind us, I could see Valantru's highest skyscrapers poking up over the desert plateaus, blurred by a heat shimmer. I glanced up into the sky and squinted, starting to feel uncomfortably warm in the heat.

 

"You really screwed up this time," Kyrhus complained.

 

"Be part of the solution, not part of the problem," I snapped, starting in the direction of a large canyon.

 

"We were part of the solution!" Elendra yelled. "I told you several times that there was nothing out here and now we're going to bake in the desert heat because you refused to listen!"

 

I chuckled. "Take it easy with the blame there, you're talking to a trained killer."

 

"And you're messing with one in no mood for your sarcasm!" she screamed.

 

"Well I know it usually takes you a while to work your way out of a bad mood, so I'll get back to you in about five hundred years on that."

 

"Do you ever learn?" Celvey asked with frustrated sigh.

 

"I have my own way to things, Celvey. Sarcasm is part of the package. Maybe if I were polite and proper about life the way you are, someone might've asked me to marry them."

 

Elendra coughed up a laugh. "If you think sarcasm is the only thing standing between you and the prospect of your marriage, you should be a little more introspective."

 

"Elendra, why don't you…"-

 

I withheld my insult when the sight of several objects stormed out of the canyon and scattered.

 

"Steltians," Kyrhus said, utilizing his impressive binocular sight. "They're riding Dikapi."

 

"What are Steltians doing out this way?" Celvey asked.

 

"Illicit activities, if I had to guess," I replied. "They seldom do much more in their own homeland, so why show model behavior on vacation?"

 

"There's something on the other side of that canyon, then," Elendra said. "Maybe even a source of fuel to get us back in the sky."

 

I reached for my weapon and gave her a nod. "We're not doing ourselves any favors to sit around out here. Let's investigate."

 

The Steltians had doubled back when we reached the canyon's opening and we had our weapons ready for a fight if they wanted to give us one. I did everything in my power to suppress the signs of my exhaustion after walking in the blazing heat all afternoon. Living among thieves and killers, Steltians were keen to spot an enemy's weakness. Also, there were seven of them against the four of us. The lead rider leapt from his Dikapi while it was in mid-run, his rifle drawn. A pair of blades extended out from behind his elbows, running just beyond his hands.

 

"You're a long way from home," he growled in confidence.

 

"I could say the same to you. My companions and I mean to travel through this canyon, and we're associates of a clan leader. Are you familiar with Voporak?"

 

The Steltian retracted his arm blades. "Yes. And yet, he is terribly far from this place. If my gang were to kill yours right now, what evidence would Voporak possess in linking me to the crime?"

 

"Because there are more of us out here, and at the wave of my hand, I can order them to bring your mount to its knees."

 

"You expect me to believe random travelers in the wasteland are capable of such strange abilities? Prove it."

 

I was fuming when I told him, "Gladly."

 

I shot my arm up and, right on cue, Celvey stealthily engaged her telekinesis to make the Steltian's Dikapi buckle and fall over, squawking unhappily as it struggled against an unseen force.

 

The rider took a nervous step backward. "Release it from their control."

 

I lowered my arm and Celvey withdrew her power at once. "Let us pass."

 

The Steltian angrily turned to his gang, all of whom were scouting the distance for my additional, imaginary allies. He then returned his attention to me.

 

"There is a village on the other side of the canyon. My gang took great pains to demand they submit to our rule. I will permit you to stay the night there, but if we see you after sunrise tomorrow, I will shoot you down in the road."

 

"Your generosity rivals the craftsmanship of Artakha."

 

He glared. "And it runs thin, now move along."

 

I motioned to the group with a brief swing of my head. "You heard him. Time to go."

 

<<<>>> 

 

We passed through the canyon trail without any further trouble, and when the towering stones finally gave way to the broad and dusty plain beyond, it was clear just how far from the city we had come. I could see the sun setting in the distance, across a long expanse of rock and sand, littered with desert shrubs. Directly in front of us, however, was a tiny settlement greeting visitors with a wooden sign.

 

I read it aloud with an apathetic, "Welcome to Kivacc: A Piece of Peace in the Sand."

 

"That's an odd attitude to carry for coming from such a folksy background yourself," Kyrhus told me.

 

"It'd only be odd if I never left." I scanned the main street and stopped when I noticed a sign for an inn. "Now let's see what I have to do to get a drink around these parts."

 

Elendra and Kyrhus opted to wait outside on the porch while Celvey followed me inside the inn. I stepped inside and headed straight ahead, ignoring the chatty patrons in my peripheral vision. A few of the barstools were empty and I took a seat next to a Toa of air, glancing down the counter at the Ta-Matoran innkeeper.

 

"What can I get for you?" he asked.

 

"A Fiery Hikaki, if you would be so kind," I replied with a smile.

 

Celvey sat down to my left, folding her arms onto the counter and resting her head on them. She stared at me, angrily, like she was waiting for an apology. I knew I would have to address her concerns eventually.

 

"Adrinor needed some time alone," I said. "I've known him a little longer than you, and I could tell something was wrong. He'll work it out, but you may want to pretend to enjoy yourself for a while until we pick him up."

 

"And that's your strategy, right? Just lying to yourself and smiling when life is hard?"

 

The innkeeper slid my drink down the counter to me and I caught it, giving him a short wave. I took a sip, savoring the chilled sweetness before I swallowed. A Fiery Hikaki got its name from the sudden heat the drinker felt as it traveled down your throat. It was icy cold when swished around your mouth, and the warmth only made it sweeter.

 

I pushed the glass close to Celvey and smirked at her. "My strategy is an improvement to feeling sorry for myself. It's a bad habit to get into, and it doesn't look very nice on you, princess."

 

Celvey sat up and glared at me. "Don't call me that…and don't tell me what looks nice on me. I'm in no mood." She quickly took a drink of the Fiery Hikaki and practically slammed the glass back down. She winced and shuddered for a second, giving me a sour expression before pushing the drink back to me.

 

"You'll be all right," I assured her, taking another sip. "I think our first priority of business should be to confront those bandits who gave us such a hard time on the way into town. I can handle myself without a problem, but their occupation of this peaceful village is rather cruel, even by our standards. They need someone to take a stand."

 

I looked at the entity on my right, watching him swirl a bright orange drink around his glass. "How about you? What's kept you from exacting some justice on these criminals the way that Toa seem to be drawn to?"

 

The room went silent and I instinctively looked over my shoulder. The inn patrons were all staring at me, visibly concerned. The Toa of air tapped me on the shoulder and I turned to face him.

 

"What did you just call me, punk?"

 

I narrowed my eyes at his insult and growled, "A Toa. What're you going to do about it, hero?"

 

A smile formed on his Kanohi Faxon and he shook his head, getting up from his barstool. The Toa unlimbered the air sword on his back and turned to address the room.

 

"Does anyone see a Toa anywhere in the room? I certainly don't, and I am seldom mistaken, so perhaps someone could set the record straight."

 

"There's no Toa here, sir," a scared Po-Matoran uttered.

 

I scoffed and reached for my heavy pistol. "I don't care what you call yourself, I don't appreciate someone calling me out and"-

 

I did not get to finish that sentence. The Toa aimed his sword at me and summoned a concentrated air burst that shot me outside into the dirt road. Elendra casually leaned over the deck railing and smiled down at me.

 

"How was your drink, Hadliek?"

 

"Fantastic," I replied sarcastically.

 

Kyrhus pulled me up by my forearm and watched me dust myself off. "You're always so quick to make friends, aren't you?"

 

I activated the incendiary feature on my heavy pistol and stormed back inside the inn, pointing the humming weapon at the Toa of air's head.

 

"Give me a reason not to put a hole in your mask."

 

"Because I can tell you would rather not kill me if I don't force you to. You were talking about doing something to those Steltian bandits who have made themselves the law around these parts. Picking a fight with me won't get you any closer to accomplishing that, but as your ally, you would be surprised what I could offer your cause."

 

I deactivated the incendiary feature and lowered my weapon, taking a glance around the room at the Matoran sitting nearby. They were waiting for one of us to make a move.

 

"These Matoran are playing along with your game," I started. "Even if you would not call yourself a hero, a Toa, you know what's going on in this town. You know the Steltian occupation of this place isn't right. Why not do something about it? You've held your temper in the face of their oppression but loosed it on my words?"

 

"The bandits know to stay out of my way, but I don't have any stake in their actions. Much as it may surprise you to see someone clad in the armor of what you call a hero and act beneath the title, I have abandoned my creed. The word Toa means nothing to me, and seeing as how the Steltians have not threatened my life or livelihood, we live and let live. You're welcome to the same if you keep that weapon down, although, point it my way again and I'll kill you where you stand."

 

I slowly holstered my heavy pistol, not terribly interested to see if he would make good on his threat. He chose to let the Steltians run wild in Kivacc and was prepared to take my life. Whatever he saw himself as, there was no deception in his words. The green-masked figure staring me down was no longer a Toa.

 

"All right then." I cleared my throat and stepped forward, offering a handshake. "I'm sorry about that introduction. My name's Hadliek."

 

"I won't hold it against you," he replied, shaking. "Name's Lesovikk."

 

"You're really willing to help us out then?" Celvey asked him.

 

"I believe I could try," Lesovikk said. "The bandits usually ride back into town early in the morning. If you intend to kill them, you'll want to be waiting in the street for their return a little after dawn. The Matoran may find it a tad uncivilized, but you don't seem the type to shy away from a gunfight."

 

"I wouldn't shy away from ambushing them in their sleep either," I admitted.

 

Lesovikk shook his head. "They hail from Stelt. Their lives among thieves have made them smart enough to keep a couple of their number on watch in shifts through the night. Some of the Matoran have scouted after them and told me as much. It would be easier to shoot them from their mounts and take them down in the street."

 

"And you'll help us with that, right?" I questioned.

 

"If it looks like the tide of battle is leaning against you, I'll throw my sword into the action. But you caught me right as I was on my way out for the night, so I guess I'll see you in the morning."

 

Celvey frowned. "You don't stay here at the inn?"

 

"I'm too much of a drifter for anything that comfortable. Plus, I like to wake up in the night and take in the night skies above me. I wouldn't think any less of you for choosing the cozy option here though."

 

"No, of course not," I replied facetiously. "I mean, most folks wouldn't bring it up if they didn't feel that way, but you did bring it up and I get the feeling that you do feel that way."

 

"Is that so?" Lesovikk said, grinning. "Seems like you're feeling insecure if nothing else. At any rate, have a good night."

 

He surveyed the room and gave them a nod before heading out. Elendra and Kyrhus passed by him on their way up to me, both staring back with confused expressions.

 

"It's a long story, but that Toa of air is going to help us kill the Steltians tomorrow morning."

 

"This is one of the rare occasions I think I'd actually like to hear the long story," Elendra commented.

 

"Agreed," Kyrhus added, no less perplexed.

 

"I'm going to book us for a night here at the inn," I replied. "I'll tell you the details in a minute."

 

<<<>>> 

 

Celvey had been sensible enough to ask the innkeeper about taking some fuel back to our ship in exchange for driving out the bandits. The Matoran agreed and promised we would receive a few containers once we made good on our offer. Elendra was convinced the fuel grade used in Kivacc would burn through her ship's engines pretty quick, but would last long enough to fly us back into Valantru's outskirts for something better.

 

Kivacc was a dark, silent town at night. My bed was nearest to the window and I kept waking up, intermittently scanning the shadowy street for any sign of the bandits' early return. There was nothing. Although, unlike my previous stirring, something caught my attention. It was terribly faint and off in the distance, but there was a light source coming from the canyon. I had no chance at getting back to sleep, and if it was the bandits, lookouts or not, I wanted to pursue the mystery. They may have been Steltians, but I saw myself as the superior gunfighter. I inched a hand beneath the bed for my heavy pistol and crept toward the stairs, hearing the sound of a lone revolver's hammer being cocked.

 

"I'm going out for some air," I said, sighing. "Calm down."

 

I listened as the revolver was gently set on Elendra's nightstand and I made my way down to the main floor. From there, it was an uneventful walk to the front door, out into the street, and on my way back to the canyon. I held my weapon close, and with limited sight in the dark, it felt like my audio receptors could hear the slightest wind knock a grain of sand into its neighbor. As I walked further from town and the light became brighter, I could tell I would have to carefully traverse the cliff to make my way up. There was no sign of the Steltians, but I tried to keep my noise to a minimum. Halfway up the rocks, I could hear kindling. The light was a campfire and someone was very, very close.

 

I sprung up the final chunk of the cliffs, pointing my weapon at the biomech on the other side of the fire. It was only Lesovikk. He casually looked up from the stone he was using as a chair and smiled.

 

"You were expecting someone else, yeah?"

 

"…Yeah."

 

I lowered my weapon and he gestured toward another stone.

 

"Sit down, Hadliek." It was not an order, so much as an invitation. I obliged.

 

"If I had been the bandits, you would be dead by now. What has drawn you from your bed on this lonely mission? What is on your mind?"

 

"It's complicated," I said. "Did you know Mata Nui was nearly dead a couple weeks ago?"

 

"Dead? I knew something didn't feel right, there was a presence calling out to me. It was a voice, reaching out to all who were chosen to be protectors. I may not call myself such things any longer, but the universe has no patience or concern with my private decision. When you are called to serve by the master of all, there are some things you can never be rid of," Lesovikk replied. "Are you going to surprise me and say that you saved his life?"

 

"No, I wasn't chosen for the task. There was a group of Toa led by Jovan"-

 

"Who?" Lesovikk questioned in disbelief.

 

"Toa Jovan, he was this Toa of magnetism. Anyway, he and his team"-

 

"He has a team?"

 

"Stop interrupting!" I growled.

 

"Forgive me," Lesovikk said in earnest. "Toa Jovan was a mentor of mine. When I was far more lost than I am now, I met Jovan and he offered me more than I could have asked for. He made me stronger in many ways."

 

"He also journeyed with his team to save the life of the Great Spirit. They were successful."

 

"Fascinating," the Toa mused. "If anyone were fit to handle such a demand, it's Jovan. If you see him again, tell him about me. Tell him…that I'm doing well. He'd be happy to know that."

 

"You said you were lost?"

 

"I had recently murdered someone. You could call it a metaphorical sense of being lost."

 

"I've been trying not to ask for a while, but I have to know something," I said, tossing a stick into the fire. "When did you start killing?"

 

"It's been 20,900 years now. I was on a mission with my team and we were attacked."

 

"You killed the attackers?" I presumed. "I recognize Toa have their code of honor to follow, but I've put down my share of attackers without a second thought."

 

"Well I had a second thought and it cost me everything," Lesovikk replied bitterly. "They were Zyglak…and they murdered my team. They murdered her."

 

"Does 'her' have a name?"

 

"She did."

 

I stared hard into Lesovikk's bright orange eyes. "I'm sorry."

 

He sighed. "Not as sorry as I am. I had known biomechs to perish before my team, but this was different. It was so sudden…no one should have to die the way they did. My life was…is, empty without them. If I had known they would be lost so quickly, without another word, I feel like I would've done things differently. If I had any indication how terrible their death would be, I feel like I could've saved them and destroyed the Zyglak."

 

I lowered my gaze and reflected on his words, thinking about how it would feel to lose Adrinor, Elendra, Kyrhus, and Celvey. I tried to push it out of my mind, but Lesovikk's tale persisted and gave me reason to appreciate my friends while they were still around.

 

"To answer your question," Lesovikk continued, "I returned home, defeated and alone. I longed to see old friends, still Matoran, that I once enjoyed the company of. When I arrived, I discovered the Turaga had lost his mind and sent the Matoran away to the realm of Karzahni. I remember screaming, begging Mata Nui to return my friends and my teammates and release me from my torment. A moment passed and the Turaga turned away, chuckling. Wracked with so much hate and misery, I pulled the air from the Turaga's lungs and ran him through with my sword, killing him. I ran away and encountered Jovan a few weeks later. He saved me from myself the day we met."

 

"Given what you experienced before all that, your reaction isn't terribly surprising."

 

"That's not the point," Lesovikk replied. "Toa do not kill…ever. When they do, things have to be reevaluated. We don't live the same lives and we no longer acknowledge the title of Toa. I doubt the same stigma existed in your land."

 

"It doesn't," I assured him. "A Todrano is permitted to kill if the circumstances arise."

 

"It must be so simple for you," Lesovikk said sharply.

 

"If practiced enough, anything is simple," I countered. "I can only say I'm fortunate enough to have placed my friends in danger and watched them survive."

 

"What did you do?"

 

"I nearly betrayed them for wealth and power," I said. "Our crew is led by a Meldin who was targeted by the Dark Hunters for recruitment into their organization. They gave up attempting to convert him and went after me instead, hoping to play upon some trace of disloyalty. We were on an assignment and I knew that if my friends were taken into custody by the local authorities, they would be executed. Once that was done, all I had to do was murder our leader to secure a position among the Dark Hunters."

 

"They must have been terribly persuasive," Lesovikk commented.

 

I nodded. "I set up the Trelban and the Gekalan to be apprehended, but the Meldin discovered what I was up to…I've never asked how and I'd rather not know. My Ilisian ally and the Meldin managed to rescue the Trelban and Gekalan, ruining my opportunity completely."

 

Lesovikk raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised at this Meldin's tolerance for your actions. How are you not dead?"

 

I thought about the question, reflecting on the return trip to Stelt after the mission concluded. I had retreated to the balcony outside Voporak's coliseum, unable to sleep, unable to let myself live with what I had tried to do. That's when Adrinor arrived with my salvation, the sound of his gunblade loading behind me.

 

"I know what you did," Adrinor said calmly. It was late, and only the Ohnbiek guards were around, a couple fending off sleep down near the coliseum entrance. They wouldn't have said a word if Adrinor chose to shoot and throw me from the balcony.

 

"Yeah," I replied, unwilling to face Adrinor. "It really sank in on the way back. I'm sorry, Adrinor. Just let me tell them I regret what I did first…I want them to hear it from me before…before you get this over with."

 

"They don't know." Adrinor swept my legs out from beneath me and held the edge of his gunblade against the back of my neck. He kicked me onto my back and the barrel of his weapon was on target with my throat. He stood there for a moment, his finger twitching over the trigger and I could hardly stand it.

 

"If you're going to do this, just do it," I pleaded.

 

"Fine," Adrinor replied, pulling the trigger.

 

I shut my eyes tight and waited for some intense pain to shoot through me before living out the final moments of my life. Instead, I felt nothing. I hesitantly reopened my eyes and found Adrinor kneeling at my side, the blade pressed against my neck.

 

"It was empty?" I whispered in shock.

 

"You saved my life, long ago," Adrinor told me. "You dragged me through the mud and the rain to safety, and I thank you for that. Now I'm going to save your life from the sharp edge of this sword and we can call it even."

 

I couldn't breathe. "Thank…thank you."

 

Adrinor put the weapon away and offered me a hand up. As I reached to accept, he recoiled for a moment and said, "If you ever put yourself before the safety of this crew again, don't think I wouldn't scour the universe for a tribe of Zyglak to leave you in the company of - unarmed."

 

I nodded and he pulled me up by the arm, putting an end to the matter right there.

 

"I saved his life, Lesovikk," I explained, "and he repaid that by sparing mine."

 

"This Meldin made an honorable decision then," Lesovikk replied. "Foolish perhaps, but honorable nonetheless."

 

"My loyalty to him has been unwavering since that day," I said.

 

"Then continue to pay loyalty to him. Return to the inn and rest, so that you will be prepared tomorrow morning. Remember that you're not just fighting for yourself, you're fighting for your friends."

 

"I'm going to keep that in mind," I replied, standing up. "You'll be all right out here?"

 

"Don't worry about me," Lesovikk said. "Get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning."

 

"If you say so."

 

With that, I started back for Kivacc.

 

<<<>>> 

 

"Wake up," Celvey whispered, shaking my arm. "The sun is on its way."

 

I sat up in bed, stretching out my arms and releasing a satisfying yawn. I picked up my weapon and smiled at Celvey. "Then let's give it something awesome to shine on."

 

The four of us walked downstairs together, silently passing the innkeeper. There were a few more Matoran in the room, waiting near the windows. They all wanted to see if we were the gunfighters we made ourselves out to be. I marched out into the dirt road and faced the canyon, both hands gripped around my heavy pistol. Elendra had a revolver in each hand, Kyrhus was staring down the barrel of his sniper rifle, and Celvey had her sonic assault rifle humming and ready. I scanned the buildings and the outskirts of the canyon, but there was no sign of Lesovikk.

 

"Looks like that Toa of air got cold feet on us," I said, frustrated. "Any sign of him, Kyrhus?"

 

"Nothing at all," he replied. "Didn't he say he would only assist if the odds were against us?"

 

"We're outnumbered to start with, I feel like that's reason enough to say the odds are against us," Celvey argued. "It might be easy to drop them from their mounts out here in the road, but we're easy targets if they really know how to shoot."

 

"So we make it an assault," Elendra said. "As soon as we pick them off the Dikapi, everyone unloads everything they've got."

 

"Here they come," Kyrhus told us, tightening up his grip on the rifle. "Get ready and I'll give the order."

 

We could hear the Dikapi rushing through the canyon, heading for Kivacc. And then they burst out from around the bend, charging straight down the road we were standing on. We still had the element of surprise, but Kyrhus held back his orders longer than I expected.

 

"Can we shoot?" I asked, trying not to panic.

 

"Not…yet," Kyrhus replied, holding steady. "Just a few…seconds…longer."

 

As soon as those seconds were gone, Kyrhus shouted, "Now!"

 

He was the first to fire, and one of the Dikapi fell immediately. The rest of us picked our shots and watched the rest of the Rahi drop to the ground, dead or too injured to carry on. The Steltians all jumped from the Dikapi, rushing forward and grabbing for their laser bolt rifles.

 

"Give them everything you've got!" Elendra ordered.

 

I hit the incendiary activator and fired the rest of my clip, emptying it and shoving in another, keeping up the attack. Celvey was launching a constant stream of sonic burst energy from her weapon, charging her bullets with enough force to shred through most any armor. Elendra fired all of her bullets and reloaded with amazing speed, firing her last round just as Kyrhus shot his last sniper bullet.

 

I had spent everything trying to bring the Steltians down, but our assault had caused the dirt to erupt in a cloud around the bandits. When the dust settled, I was sure my team was feeling the same sense of alarm running through my own mind. The Steltians were all surrounded by personal energy shields, glowing brilliant silver in a dome casing around each of them. The shields held strong against everything we had, and the Steltians inside were untouched. The visibility of the barriers faded away and they started walking toward us, pointing their rifles at our heads.

 

"So a full-on assault was a bad move," I muttered. "Can we evade to cover?"

 

"They'd pick one of us off before we had the chance," Elendra replied quietly.

 

Kyrhus was searching himself for any additional rounds to no avail when Elendra furiously shoved her revolvers back into their holsters. Celvey's sonic rifle was drained, but she made an attempt to break the shields with her telekinesis. The Steltians glowed inside their barriers, laughing at our failed attempt to blow them away.

 

"What are you trying to do there, Ilisian?" one of them mocked. "Think you can reach out and hurt me like a Toa of Psionics?"

 

Celvey hunched forward with a heavy breath and I could tell she had put a lot of energy into trying to deactivate their barriers.

 

"Enough talk," the leader said firmly, slowly pointing his rifle at me. "Their luck has finally run out."

 

He took the shot and I thought I had time to see the bullet coming for me. And then it never did. The bullet was spiraling in place, slowly losing speed before it fell harmlessly to the ground. I glanced at Celvey, but she shrugged her shoulders.

 

"Sorry I'm late."

 

Everyone turned and looked to the rooftop of the inn where the voice had come from. Lesovikk was standing there, arms folded, a smile plastered across his face.

 

"Mind your own business, Toa!" the Steltian leader warned. "I'll put you down just as quick if you get in my way. There's no law in these parts to keep you safe!"

 

"And none to save you either," Lesovikk reminded him. "Appearances can be deceiving, Steltian, and I'll only tell you one time, I no longer have reason to follow the code. You can leave now and head home, and I promise you that none of us will trail you and put a well-deserved bullet in your back. But if you pull that trigger, if you open fire with a single round, I will come down there and make you regret it."

 

"Even if I thought you might get through my energy shields, what makes you think I couldn't handle a Toa trying to give me a beating?"

 

"Like I said, I no longer follow the code. If you intend to bring me down off this roof, then you're already standing on your grave."

 

I returned my heavy pistol to my hip and watched the Steltians chuckle with one another for a moment before their leader pointed his rifle at Lesovikk.

 

"I'm calling your bluff, Toa!"

 

The Steltians turned their weapons on Lesovikk and unloaded a barrage of energy bullets on him. Without moving an inch, the Toa of air summoned a cyclone around himself that caught the entire assault before launching it back against the Steltians. Their shields withstood the attack, but the cyclone quickly followed and sent the gang high into the air. Lesovikk leapt from the rooftop and brought himself down gently, a notable contrast to the hard landing each of the Steltians had. Each of their energy shields malfunctioned with a loud crackle upon smacking into the ground and Lesovikk drew his air sword to finish up the battle.

 

Lesovikk looked over his shoulder at us with a grin. "You need a particular touch to take down an energy barrier."

 

"Sure we didn't just wear it down for you first?" I asked.

 

"Pretty sure!" he laughed.

 

Dazed and in pain, the Steltians awkwardly scooped up their weapons and got to their feet, all focused on the Toa of air standing directly in front of them. He took a few steps away and pulled his sword back, aiming his free hand at his opponents.

 

"It's your move," he told them.

 

The Steltian leader had Lesovikk at such close range that missing would be an impossibility. That is to say, had he been shooting at a target like myself. I am not sure if he realized just how powerful this particular Toa was. He hollered as his energy rifle fired a fully automatic stream of rounds that Lesovikk quickly redirected to shoot up the Steltian's gang. Every bullet came within inches of tearing through Lesovikk, and each one found itself in a Steltian instead. Finally, out of bullets, the leader cast his weapon aside and summoned his arm blades, angrily surveying the bodies of his fallen comrades. They were all dead, blasted full of holes by Lesovikk's maneuver.

 

The Toa of air shook his head. "Bad move."

 

Lesovikk rushed forward with a slash and the Steltian leader crossed his arm blades to defend. I could hear the sound of an intense wind fly through Lesovikk's sword just before I watched the blade slice through the Steltian's poorly-made metal and his arms as well. Lesovikk spun all the way around in his attack, crouching once he finished. He gave me a smirk, but I hardly looked. I was more awestruck to see the Steltian's forearms had been severed and a fatal gash had been struck through his chestplate and into his heartlight. The leader fell backwards and Lesovikk stood up straight, walking toward me.

 

"You…you got him."

 

Lesovikk stifled a laugh. "Yeah, I know."

 

I gave him a smile and offered a handshake. "I could have used some of that on my side a tad sooner."

 

He took my hand and balled it into a fist, bumping his own against it. "It was my own hesitation that nearly put you in harm's way like that. I thought about leaving you to handle the situation by yourself, but it was that nagging sense of hesitation to act. It made me think about my old team and the reluctance I once gave them. They deserved better of me…as did you. There's nothing I can do for them, so I came back to rescue a few biomechs with lives left to save."

 

"Well thanks for not ditching out on the party," I said, giving his shoulder a nudge. "One last thing though, Lesovikk. That Toa friend of yours…'her'…are you going to give me a name this time? You thought enough of me to save my life, it'd really just put a small mystery to rest for me."

 

Lesovikk's eyes stared away from me, and his tone was flat when he said, "Nikila. Toa of Electricity, the spark that lit my world."

 

"Sometimes we make our own sparks fly," I replied.

 

"And sometimes our arguments are a little less banal," Lesovikk said, grinning in a self-satisfied way that reminded me why I hated Toa just a little bit. "Farwell, strange, gun-toting travelers. May you never find yourselves on the business end of anything more lethal than your own weapon. Oh, and the innkeeper is waiting with your liquid reward."

 

"Not a moment too soon," Elendra said, glancing at me. "This is the last time I'll be taking orders from you for quite some time on how far an airship can go on so little fuel."

 

I glared, knowing full well that she was right. "Then let's get going back to Valantru and fill the tank. It's going to be a long journey after that."

 

"You think Adrinor is ready to see us?" Celvey asked.

 

"I don't really care if he is," I replied. "We need him, and I won't let our friend sit around feeling bad for himself any longer."

 

"What's got you so sentimental, Hadliek?" Kyrhus wondered, chuckling to himself.

 

"As if I'd tell you when you're laughing at me?" I shot back. "Bring the fuel barrels outside and we'll see if the inn can spare us an extra cart to carry them on. It may be early in the morning now, but before the night is over, this team will have to remind a Meldin about his place among us. He won't find it wandering alone on Nohtal."

 

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#17 Offline Cederak

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Posted Apr 26 2016 - 03:35 AM

All this bad blood here, won't you let it dry? It's been cold for years, won't you let it lie? –Bastille

 

 

Episode 17: Past Transgressions

 

On my first visit to Nohtal, I was quickly greeted by one of the island's many generous, and compassionate individuals. The landscape was rolling hills of emerald dotted by towns and the occasional grove or wooded area. Nohtalians—infused with shadow at birth—lived happily beneath a shimmering sun back in those days. Despite the efforts of Toa Jovan's team, however, that star in the sky remained dim. Nohtal remained in a perpetual state of dusk and cloaked in a veil of fog. Why Ilisi was bathed in sun with such immediacy when the Toa used the Mask of Life, well, I chalked it up to the presence of so many imbued with light on that island just north of Nohtal.

 

I sought a moment alone with my thoughts, and that is what brought me into the misty night, to the place where I first took up the gunblade as my own. I journeyed across Nohtal's eerily still coast, over the verdant knolls that appeared more gray than green without the warmth of the sky. From there, it was a short walk through the woods until I stopped in a clearing where five graves had been marked with stones. In the long-unearthed dirt below, five killers had been laid to rest at different points in time.

 

They once called themselves the Rovaius-Trivolox Gang, named after their leader and deputy leader respectively. After years of terrorizing the island as a successful band of thieves, Trivolox was burdened by a guilty conscience and intended to turn his life around. In an effort to tie up loose ends, Trivolox murdered two of his fellow criminals on the night of his planned departure, discovered and pursued by Rovaius and the other survivor, Stalgrax. It was Rovaius that introduced me to the life of an outlaw, with Stalgrax still at his side when we met. The day after the League of Six Kingdoms fell, all three perished in battle, and I felt it was my responsibility to take up Rovaius' gunblade and carry on in his stead.

 

I took the weapon from my back and hurled it at his tombstone, dropping to my hands and knees in a mixture of guilt and anger. Elendra and I had placed the five rocks into the ground there, and all I had accomplished was shattering a chunk of the work I had done 900 years prior.

 

"Leave me alone!" I shouted at the piece of rock. "If there's anything left of you in there, any piece of your spirit, please, listen to me!"

 

There was no response—as one might expect when talking to inanimate objects—but I was hardly in the mood for being sensible.

 

"You didn't warn me! You never told me it was going to be this hard! You lied to me and now the universe is going to die! It's going to die, because you went and made me join up with you. I could be living a simple life on the Southern Continent right now."

 

I thought for a moment about how different things would be if I had opted out of becoming an outlaw. It certainly would have been easier, but not necessarily better. There was even the possibility that Jovan would have failed to retrieve the Mask of Life if I had not assisted him.

 

"I guess they were my choices, in the end. I can't blame you for that," I said, following with a sigh. "I just want to be free of the burden of feeling like you died for me…like you died for nothing. I'm sorry, Rovaius, but I don't know what to do now. It feels as though the world is closing in around me, and there's no hope for any of us."

 

"There's hope for at least one of us," a voice replied from behind me.

 

I picked myself up off the ground and turned to face my guest. It was Drelinok, hovering silently nearby.

 

"What brings you to Nohtal, Drelinok?" I asked, trying to conceal the misery that was wracking my spirit.

 

"You," he replied matter-of-factly. "There's nothing else worthwhile in this land of midnight, once so beautiful and now reduced to another clot of dark in the world. I can see you have something of value there in the dirt, yes?"

 

I whirled back and marched up to the gunblade, bending down and taking it in my hand. I looked back at Drelinok and told him, "You'd be surprised how important this weapon is to me."

 

"I'm sure," he said, unimpressed, "but I was referring to the scrap metal you were trying to make amends with."

 

"For being a thief and a killer, he was twice the biomech you'll ever be," I replied, starting to walk away.

 

Drelinok mentally took control of my body and held me in place as he drew near.

 

"Now, Adrinor," he chuckled, "I wouldn't come all this way and not get what I want. We're going to have a chat."

 

"I don't have anything to say to you."

 

Drelinok released me and landed on the ground, extending a hand toward the tombstones.

 

"Alternatively, I could reanimate your friend with some much-needed life and have his corpse hunt you to the edge of the world."

 

I stayed put and my voice pleaded with Drelinok more than I had intended when I whispered, "Don't."

 

He smiled at me, satisfied with the power of his words. I still remembered what happened to the yellow-eyed Frostelus at the Tren Krom river, and I was not about to tempt Drelinok into proving he was capable of such a nightmarish act.

 

"Okay then, let's talk."

 

Drelinok began to pace the length of the tombstones when he asked me, "Why did you leave Meldio? And don't recite your politically-charged anger with what I did, I want a real answer. Even the Collectivists, the true Collectivists, stood and fought. You were a traitor and a deserter, and I'd like you to explain yourself."

 

"Explain myself?" I said in disgust. "I didn't join up with the Collective army, I merely agreed with what they were fighting for. I never picked up a rifle to assist their campaign in driving back the tide of your brainwashed hordes. But I saw what you were doing, and I could tell how unstoppable you were. So one day, I just sailed off and left. No betrayal, no desertion, I simply walked away."

 

"And that's it?" he questioned. His fiery eyes glowed like a pair of embers in the artificial night.

 

I shook my head in frustration. "The only crime I ever committed is that I disagreed with you. In most parts of the world, that's acceptable, but it honestly wouldn't surprise me if you tried to make it illegal once you became Director."

 

"Well…I didn't," Drelinok replied awkwardly. "I just wanted an answer."

 

"How dare you," I growled. "You drove me out of my homeland and you demand answers from me? When I left, I lived in fear that you would purge every seed of dissent from the universe. I went to sleep for years just waiting for your soldiers to break in and arrest me, or put me to death on the spot. Eventually, I knew the influence of the League of Six Kingdoms would restrict your dreams of conquest to the shore of Meldio, and you never came."

 

"That's not to say I never wondered what happened to you," Drelinok admitted.

 

"All things considered, I'm doing okay. I stopped thinking about you after a while. I stopped thinking about the war, about my home, and I even stopped entertaining the idea of returning. Whatever had become of Meldio under your direction was not the place I grew up in, and I knew there was nothing left for me there."

 

"I searched for you, for a very long time," Drelinok replied. "Meldio is such a wonderful and majestic place, and it was your first home. Those few Meldin with a strong sense of wanderlust were regarded as very strange for leaving behind such a glorious land, and I had to believe you stayed. From my inauguration as Director until the day of the accident, I decreed that it was the responsibility of every Meldin to identify those that had gone missing during the war. The names were brought to my desk and, after a few decades, we located the bodies, living or deceased, of every Meldin on the list."

 

"Except me," I muttered.

 

Drelinok nodded. "Except you. And then, after a very long time in the stasis chamber, a day came when I felt my mind was able to drift beyond my own body. I could, see things, like I had never seen before. I could feel other minds, other thoughts in distant places. From time to time, I would search for you, but it was centuries before my search concluded. And by then, you were already running around as a criminal."

 

"A criminal," I repeated. "Bold accusation for someone like you. I'm sure you used the Directorate to deflect any wrongdoing on your behalf. I'm sure there was no trial, and that you were not charged with a single war crime. And then I come home to find that your guilt was buried beneath a colossal statue. Maybe you did lead Meldio into a golden age of prosperity, but we both know there's a foundation of corpses beneath your administration."

 

"Adrinor, listen, I"-

 

"No, you listen!" I snapped. "You're not better than me, just more determined. I left home because I didn't want to kill you, okay? I didn't want to kill my first friend! And as I stand here looking at him, I wonder if that was a mistake. You owe Meldio a lot, Drelinok, and it'll take more than a machine full of superpowers to repay that debt."

 

"I'm sorry," Drelinok replied shortly.

 

I looked right into his bright lemon eyes, somewhat surprised.

 

"You…you are?"

 

"We can't change what we've done, nor can we bring back the lives we've taken. I can sense the sincerity of your words, and that you think I am some kind of monster. I had to live with my decisions in the war…every day, justifying to myself that somehow, it was worth it. It was terrible, yes, but my actions saved Meldio and made it a better place. Don't you believe me?"

 

I gave a soft laugh in response.

 

"I'll take that as a 'no.'"

 

"Just between us," I said, "I believe that you, believe you. It's been enough to sustain you this long, and I'm sure you can get by on it for a few more centuries."

 

"It's funny, actually," Drelinok replied. "I came here to make a mockery of you, and your life, and all that you have done, and you managed to turn the tables on me completely."

 

"We all have our demons to face. That's why I came here. I lack the conviction in my actions that you have always possessed. I have my doubts and I have to cope with them."

 

"If I had never been in the accident and were still Director today, and if you had to come home to Meldio as the individual you are now, would you run again?"

 

"Nope," I said shortly. "I would probably kill you. And no matter how beloved a Director you would have been, only the soldiers would pursue me. Your army would follow my tracks because that is what they are charged to do. But I can say this next part without a shred of doubt or disbelief. Not a single friend would look for me, to serve justice upon me for what I did."

 

Drelinok frowned in disappointment, but I continued. "You say you made Meldio a better place, and of our kindred I have met in my travels, they have said the same. I believe them. However, now that our home is so vastly improved, there is no place in it for you and I. There's no place for exalted killers in utopia. The Nohtalians buried here learned that the hard way."

 

I walked up to Rovaius' tombstone and tapped it a couple times with the edge of the gunblade. "This biomech died saving my life and the life of a Trelban. He gave the ultimate sacrifice because he cared about someone other than himself enough to do it. It wasn't his job or his duty or anything like that. He could see the odds were impossibly high and if any of us were to survive, we would have to delay our enemies somehow. This Nohtalian, named Rovaius, died so that I could flee to safety and fight another day. And no matter what I do, I can't repay that sacrifice. So I do the best I can, I live on in his name, and I hold tight to the gunblade."

 

"He is lost to this world, yet keeps a living legacy among us," Drelinok mused aloud. "I have often hoped for such a thing, but it was not a hope that came to fruition. I once thought that you could be that biomech for me, and preserve my ideals if you were to survive me. I put the notion aside when you voiced your differences in how Meldio should be run."

 

I put the gunblade on my back. "If you should perish against the Brotherhood in their new effort to conquer the universe, I will not be your vessel into the future. Nothing will save you from destruction."

 

Drelinok eyed me curiously. "That remains to be seen. I have learned things about our world that are far beyond my research for the Amplifier. There is esoteric knowledge out there, hidden away in black, mysterious minds. The Great Beings were geniuses unlike any biomech I have ever known, myself included. Their secrets are buried everywhere, you need only to know where to search for them. If utilized properly, even death can become nothing more than an inconvenience."

 

"I suppose it's too much to ask what you have in store for the universe. With knowledge like that at your fingertips, your horizon seems limitless."

 

Drelinok walked up to me and gently took my wrist in his hand. I eyed him suspiciously, uncertain of what he was after. He turned my palm over and brushed his fingers over the rough scrapes and marks dented into the metal around the muscle tissue.

 

"The Meldio War…my war, was necessary to inspire a change for our species. Part of my earlier apology stems from the fact that I pity you, especially for never living up to what you could have been. For that, I blame myself. I deprived you of achieving your very best when I drove you away and, while I do not hold myself responsible for anyone you have cut down in your new life, I am guilty for creating the biomech you are today."

 

"I'm stronger, if it counts for anything," I said. "I know who I am and where I stand. I'm no hero or anything romantic like that. I am an outlaw at my core now."

 

Drelinok carefully let my hand go and approached Rovaius' tombstone, placing his hands behind his back. "Twice the biomech I'll ever be, yeah?"

 

I nodded. "Yeah."

 

"Hmm," Drelinok replied flatly. "If you must know, I intend to besiege Metru Nui with my Light Warriors and kill Turaga Zilnyx before installing myself as the Director of the universe. If the Brotherhood should contest me for power of the city, they are welcome to try. Now that Mata Nui has allowed the world to fall into warfare and despair, we are in dire need of a better Great Spirit."

 

"I think you always fancied yourself as the king of the world," I told him.

 

"No, not a king," Drelinok corrected me. "The reign of a king is a castle in the sand. I must ascend to godhood. I held many positions in my former life. I was a student, a teacher, a soldier, a commander, a Directorate Lead, and finally a Director. And yet, through all of this, I was a servant, noble and proud. I see now that it was a misplaced pride…a false nobility. If one is tasked with leadership and chooses not to embrace their duty, it stands to reason that a successor be named. My experience and ideals make me a prime candidate to preside over the universe."

 

"Still as inspirational as ever," I muttered.

 

Drelinok raised an eyebrow. "Have you seen reason, Adrinor? Have I turned you, at last?"

 

"Not exactly. Although, you have convinced me to remember why I became an outlaw in the first place. I wish to live on my own terms a while longer, and I can only do that by preventing this universe from hurtling back to the darkness that Jovan's team saved it from. It is a darkness that you are so eager to plunge us into. And so, I'll have to destroy you."

 

"I think we both know that's an empty threat," Drelinok said confidently. "You have turned your back on so much, and now you wander aimlessly in search of adventure and payment. I wonder if you have outlived any useful purpose in this world."

 

"He's still quite a leader."

 

Drelinok looked over his shoulder, watching as my crew stepped into the clearing. Their weapons were drawn and ready to strike, waiting for the Meldin to react. He returned his attention to me and smiled.

 

"I could obliterate them if I wanted, but…I think I've overstayed my welcome."

 

"I'm sure preparing to conquer a universe is hectic enough," I replied.

 

"We are approaching the endgame, my friend," Drelinok said. "By the time everything is said and done, we will all have played a role in the end of the world. I cannot say if you will survive the event, but I will be there. Like a thousand suns bursting forth through the sea gates, I will embody the cynosure that shall lead the scared, the tired, and the victimized out of the universe of shadow that you silently permitted.

 

"I'll see you at the end of the world, then," I said, marching away to reunite with my crew.

 

"Ready to go?" Hadliek asked.

 

I smiled. He was straight to business and our expressions seemed to assure one another that we were all okay. "Where to?"

 

"Mt. Valmai. We encountered Trylac in Valantru and he sent us to retrieve you. He wants to meet with all of us just north of the volcano."

 

I turned back to Drelinok and asked, "Will you pursue us?"

 

Drelinok began to hover and tilted his head. "Like you said, preparations for conquering a universe can be hectic. I have more important matters to attend to, but I thank you all the same for a lovely conversation. I have a feeling that you'll come to me soon enough."

 

We watched him peacefully fly away into the dark atmosphere and I wondered how lonely it was to seek the world without anyone at his side.

 

"What did he say to you?" Celvey wondered. "The entire story, I mean."

 

"Back to the ship," I said, taking the lead. "I'll tell you on the way."

 

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#18 Offline Cederak

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Posted Apr 29 2016 - 12:13 AM

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? –Pink Floyd

 

 

Episode 18: Forerunner

 

Elendra brought us down just north of Mt. Valmai, on the fringe of a forest and a Matoran village. Drelinok opted not to tail us and the Brotherhood was far away from the inconspicuous mountain. With no sign of civilization outside of a small cluster of Matoran, I felt safe dashing off the ship and taking in the scenery. There was nothing to harm us in this desolation. The edge of the forest gave way to a Matoran village, little workers of many colors walking about on their daily tasks. I could hear a voice coming from the center of the village, like an aged tone speaking to an audience. It had to be a Turaga.

 

I motioned everyone to follow me. "I think we're safe here, so we can keep our weapons down for now. Let's see what's going on in the village square."

 

The village was entirely huts, domed with brush and leaves. They would protect the Matoran from the elements, while remaining light enough that they would not become stuffy in the warm climate. We snuck between a couple built closely together—dwellings, based on a brief glance in the open windows—stumbling upon a clearing where most of the village was sitting in a circle. Atop a flat, elevated stone, was a Turaga with his back turned to us.

 

"The serpent was as long as a dozen Toa, coiled and furious," the Turaga told the Matoran. "It reared its head back and hissed at my team, spraying us in bits of harmless slime. Our guide took several crossbow shots at the monster, but they all bounced off its powerful hide. Its scales were dark as the night, slinking and rushing across the floor as the serpent snapped its jaws shut around our guide in an instant."

 

"But you had to save the town from it!" a Matoran of stone spoke up. "What did you do, Turaga?"

 

"We were scared of the creature's power, but my team believed in one another. Most importantly, we believed in ourselves. A Toa of earth in my team reminded us about what happened the day before, when we attempted to merge our elements in a massive blast. They became something else entirely and we shut them down in fear of what we had made. He recommended we try it again and hold the beam steady this time. So we came together, focused our powers, and fired on the serpent."

 

"You killed it?" a Matoran of water asked?"

 

The Turaga pointed his staff at her. "A Toa cannot kill, Anzliat. We locked it in time, is what we did. Our powers combined into a glossy, shimmering case of impenetrable material. We could see the serpent within, unmoving, and harmless. My team returned to the town with it in tow and promised the Matoran their safety before we hauled the serpent onto our watercraft. From there, we sailed north to Metru Nui and turned it over to the Archivists for their own study. We had to be careful about releasing it from our elemental prison, but the Onu-Matoran sedated it at once. To my knowledge, the serpent is still in there, locked behind the security of the Archives."

 

Hadliek nudged my shoulder and muttered, "Think we should tell him it's not locked behind any security anymore?"

 

I said nothing, waiting for the Turaga to finish his story.

 

"In the end, we learned something very important. Pay attention to the steps you take, because you may need the answers they possess on the road you have not yet walked. Of course, defeating the serpent was an exercise in trusting our potential, and the abilities of those we traveled with. Remember the journey, my friends, but also who is taking the journey."

 

"That was deep," Celvey whispered. "Good lesson."

 

"I'm fairly convinced all the strength Toa lose as Turaga is instantly transformed into world-weary knowledge," Kyrhus replied. "I haven't come up with an explanation that doesn't rely on magic yet."

 

The Matoran stood up and began to disperse, and the Turaga slowly turned around to face us. He recognized me immediately.

 

"Hello, Adrinor," the Turaga welcomed me warmly. "You're looking well."

 

There was silence for a moment. I could tell my mouth was hanging slightly open, but I was beyond words. The village's Turaga was Jovan, appearing much shorter and older than when we met a few weeks prior. He gave us a tired smile from behind his Noble Kadin and clutched tight to his magnetic staff, finally chuckling.

 

"What's on your mind? I am sure you did not come all this way just to stand and stare at an old spirit."

 

"We didn't really expect to know this old spirit either," Hadliek said.

 

"Wait!" Celvey spoke up, exuberantly. "If you're a Turaga, then…you found your destiny, didn't you?"

 

Jovan nodded to her. "Far below this place, yes. After our return, we wished the best to one another and went our separate ways. Axonn tells me that they are Turaga now as well, save for Argeph. Nevertheless, it's done now. I have served proudly."

 

"You saved the world," I breathed. "We felt your rescue of the Great Spirit, and the Brotherhood put an end to the war in Metru Nui. I fail to understand how a team of Toa that almost died in a Matoran warzone were able to retrieve a legendary Kanohi. I must know how you completed your mission."

 

Jovan slowly winced. "The trials of the Ignika were treacherous, demanding that we exert every part of ourselves to prove our worth. Even now, I cannot be certain what horrors we faced were real or intricate illusions. Whatever stories you hear, no matter the bounty offered, I have something to tell you for your own safety. Do not go after that mask."

 

Hadliek raised a finger. "I don't want this to come off like I'm one-upping you, but we've seen some crazy things in the past few weeks."

 

I gave him a swift elbow to the side.

 

"I was just saying!" Hadliek exclaimed. "He sure knows how to paint an ominous picture."

 

Jovan rolled his eyes at Hadliek before glancing at me. "So the crisis has ended?"

 

"Yeah, the situation was dealt with," I said. The memories of battling our way out of the Archives were still pretty fresh, but I felt that Jovan did not need to know how many Matoran had to die to return peace to Metru Nui. "When the dust cleared, Makuta Teridax returned home to Destral as a war hero."

 

"I'm not sure if I believe there can be any heroes in war," Jovan replied quietly, shifting his staff to his other hand. "Haltryox was a hero…and he gave his life to achieve that much."

 

I studied Jovan's face and wondered if I looked the same way when Rovaius died. I knew his pain, and I inhaled sharply to keep from breaking down. I slowly knelt down on one knee, eye to eye with the Turaga of magnetism. "I'm sorry, Jovan. If there's anything we can do, anyone we can hunt down for you, we'll do it."

 

"You don't understand," Jovan replied, shaking his head and staring straight at me. "In order for the Ignika to revitalize the Great Spirit, it required a battery. Haltryox volunteered to act as the bearer and the Ignika spent every atom of his being in the process. I could tell he was afraid – frightened of the mask's power, but also of a future without Mata Nui. When he stepped forward and sacrificed himself for everyone and everything, he glowed. His intensity was such that we could not look directly at him, only listening to the weird hum of the Ignika as it restored balance to the universe. My last sight of Haltryox was a gleaming statue of bravery. When the light finally faded, the mask hovered alone. And that was it. Depressed and done, we traced our route back through the world that feeds the world and escorted the Ignika back to its pedestal. The power of life and death is a strange and mysterious thing that I never wish to tamper with again."

 

"And you'll never have to," I replied, offering a handshake. "It seems unfair that you should do such a great thing and so few know your name. Islands will continue on without the knowledge of their saviors, and they owe you their lives. As do we."

 

Jovan accepted my handshake and smiled. "I was not chosen for this life to chase recognition and fame. It was my duty all along, plain and simple. I have not heard about Drelinok in a while. Does he live?"

 

"He does. I know how you feel about death, but I have to terminate Drelinok, Jovan. This has to end once and for all."

 

"Agreed," Jovan said, sighing.

 

I raised my eyebrows in surprise and let him continue.

 

"I wish you the best of luck, Adrinor. With the Great Spirit safe and the war in Metru Nui concluded, I would say that Drelinok is now the greatest threat to us all. Much like my journey for the Mask of Life, the universe hangs in the balance of your success. Here at the end, I can see why it is sometimes necessary to take a life. I hope that you have enough empathy to feel some sense of pain when you do it. It's not a bad thing to feel, Adrinor. Remember that. Only monsters are devoid of emotion when they destroy."

 

I had not felt emotion in a kill for centuries, and Jovan's words struck a sour chord in my chest. Krika defined the dark creatures his kind had become as monsters – embracing the shadows to pursue a grave agenda. Their martial law had rewritten the world, as had Miserix's death. With Teridax assuming direct control of the Brotherhood and winning Metru Nui for himself by killing so many, Drelinok's supposed heroism came back into question. He challenged me with an army just so he could murder Triphaz on Suizek, but there was one last desperate play to be made. If Drelinok saw himself as the cynosure of the universe, the unstoppable guiding light, I would need a horde of darkness to fight his legions. I dismissed the Brotherhood as an ally in fighting Drelinok when the Makuta fell to shadow, but in adopting that element, the light became their enemy. In our few meetings, Makuta Teridax had shown himself capable of great egotism and superiority. If I proposed that we could form a temporary alliance to confront the one entity who threatened his power, then I had a chance. Letting the Brotherhood roam unchecked would be the price to pay, but Drelinok was the higher priority.

 

"I will do what I must," I said to the Turaga.

 

"I know," Jovan told me, patting my shoulder. "Near the foot of Mt. Valmai, Axonn and Trylac wish to speak with you."

 

I stood up and smiled at the Turaga. "I suppose I'm off to face my destiny, then. You had a great team, Jovan, and you were an excellent leader. If the odds run against me when I finally reach Drelinok, well…this may be farewell."

 

Jovan chuckled and tapped my heartlight a couple times with his staff. "Farewell is for dying, my friend. I will see you around."

 

We departed the village and started on the path to the volcano, trekking across the warm, rocky terrain. Near the base of the landmass, Trylac was sitting on a high tree branch, aiming randomly with his compound bow. He spotted us from a distance and fluttered down on his insectoid wings, giving me a smile.

 

"Why do the Matoran call this place Valmai?" I asked him. "What do they have to fear from the mask that saved them?"

 

"A standard greeting is something to the effect of 'hello,' Adrinor," Trylac replied, snickering at me.

 

I held my curious stare and Trylac finally gave in.

 

"My agency told them about this place and we said it was a scary volcano full of monsters beneath the surface and things that would devour them if they ever tried to step inside. But the creatures cannot survive long without intense heat, so they will never leave the volcano. Convinced, the Matoran settled here and called it Mt. Valmai. Now we've got most civilized islands calling it that. A little hearsay can go quite the distance sometimes."

 

"There's nothing in there, is there?" I questioned, confident of the answer.

 

"Of course not," Trylac said, laughing. "But there is a labyrinth to the Mask of Life beneath us, and my agency would rather not have random Matoran stumbling into it."

 

"I think your agency has bigger problems right now," I said, turning the conversation serious. "Miserix is dead."

 

Trylac sighed in frustration. "I'm aware. There's been a convocation among the Brotherhood and Teridax has overthrown their leader. We also have intel about how many lives he took to put an end to the Metru Nui fiasco. Meanwhile, Drelinok is still running around and preaching himself to be this conquering hero who will save us all. Yes, Adrinor, we have much bigger problems right now."

 

"It's scary how well-informed you are," Hadliek said. "Now maybe you can tell us something we don't know."

 

Trylac grinned, extending a hand toward me. "Do you still have that circular device?"

 

I handed it over and Trylac accepted it, delicately with both hands, breathing out relief. "Thank the Great Spirit, it's still intact."

 

"Trylac?" I wondered cautiously. "What have I been carrying around this whole time?"

 

"All of the Amplifier blueprints in Metru Nui were retrieved by an agent and delivered to our top scientists and engineers for study. They concluded that there was enough data to rebuild the Amplifier, but not enough to recreate this circular device. Did you happen to notice that one of the blueprints connected it to the rest of a biomech body?"

 

"Yeah, it's magnetic and snaps on to my heartlight."

 

"And only your heartlight. Well, the heartlights of Meldin to be precise. This thing is a prototype design for an exoskeletal armor suit. Very advanced, very powerful, and very dangerous. We suspect Drelinok had plans to outfit his army with them after he used the Amplifier on himself. There was too much damage to the prototype blueprint to decipher its full design and craft a new one, but that device collects energy and stores it up over its lifetime, presumably to an endless degree. It's probably been active since the day Drelinok finished it, drawing in ambient energy for thousands of years now."

 

I glanced around at my crew and everyone looked stunned.

 

"So if I activate that thing, could I use it to take on Drelinok in fair combat?"

 

"It's the best chance you have," Trylac replied. He spun the outer circle and it clicked four times before locking back into place. "If this thing is attached to a Meldin heartlight, and you spin the dial all the way around like that, the suit should materialize at once."

 

"Out of thin air?" Elendra asked. "How do you even make something like that?"

 

Trylac shrugged. "Part of the blueprints were damaged beyond examination. We don't know what Drelinok and Triphaz were tinkering with to even make this possible. It's as mysterious as a Toa conjuring their element from nothing. We know it can be done, we've seen it, but no one is sure how they do it. Even Toa say it's just a connection they feel."

 

I took the prototype from Trylac and studied it in my own hands. It looked so fragile, so unassuming to be brimming with such power.

 

"Drelinok doesn't know that I have it."

 

"And until you're within striking range of him, you should keep it that way," Trylac warned me. "If Drelinok realized this thing was in your possession, he would annihilate the continent you stood on to prevent its activation. That being said, we cannot risk you testing the prototype or becoming familiar with its use. The agency director believes that if the prototype is storing the power we think it is, Drelinok would detect that energy signature exploding to life and investigate immediately. When you see Drelinok again, you'll need to trigger it and start putting up a fight at once."

 

"He said I'd come to him," I recalled. "Drelinok is going to Metru Nui soon to depose Turaga Zilnyx at the Coliseum and declare himself the ruler of the universe. I know exactly where to find him."

 

"If we'd only known," Celvey muttered. "Adrinor could have destroyed Drelinok as soon as he was released from stasis."

 

"You're assuming the prototype will give me the upper hand," I reminded her.

 

"It will," Trylac cut in. "Drelinok was a field commander who specialized as a quick and sharp shot with a rifle. If you're fast enough and close the distance between the two of you, you can overpower him with the gunblade."

 

"You're betting everything on me then."

 

"And we're hardly enthusiastic about it."

 

We all looked up from the prototype and could see Axonn and Brutaka were approaching.

 

I looked to Brutaka before putting the device into my back compartment. "Not much faith in me, huh?"

 

"The agency is concerned, Adrinor," Axonn clarified. "Drelinok is a deadly opponent. We recognize your history with him, and you'll need to put that aside. Whoever Drelinok was as your friend, that's not what came out of stasis. He needs to be eliminated."

 

"What about the Brotherhood?" Kyrhus asked. "Is there any chance of stopping Teridax without Drelinok's light? Someone needs to put down Miserix's murderer!"

 

"We're looking in to it," Trylac tried to reassure him.

 

"I think we should ask Teridax for his help then," I suggested. "If we aren't going to kill him, he could be a strong temporary ally in the battle with Drelinok. His entire organization could, for that matter. And I still have a token of their appreciation."

 

I revealed the triangular Tablet of Transit given to me by Miserix.

 

"Any Makuta must respect that device as a symbol of trust," Axonn said. "If you walked into Destral with that, you could be granted an audience with their new leader."

 

"What would you tell him?" Brutaka questioned. "A Meldin is not fit to make demands from the Brotherhood of Makuta. They can move mountains if they desire, but will not do so on the whim of such lowly gunfighters."

 

"Hey!" Hadliek shouted, clearly offended.

 

"Take no offense, I'm only speaking to how a Makuta would look down at you," Brutaka replied.

 

Hadliek grumbled to himself when I snapped my fingers with a brilliant idea.

 

"It's clear that appealing to Teridax's sense of compassion is like seeking air at the bottom of the sea. But if I proposed that his brothers, their Rahkshi, Exo-Toa, and loyal Toa should unite to preserve his authority over the universe by destroying Drelinok, that could work. We could play into his ego and tell him that we support the Brotherhood with blind allegiance and wish to see Drelinok dead. Teridax may not care about others much, but if he sees Drelinok as a threat to his own supremacy, that could be our opening."

 

"Why employ the Brotherhood at all, though?" Elendra asked. "Can't Adrinor take on Drelinok alone?"

 

"I don't think it's going to be that simple," Celvey replied. "Drelinok summoned an army above Suizek before he killed Triphaz. If he takes Metru Nui, his Light Warriors could be used to occupy the city for him while he reigns from the Coliseum. If the city is currently demilitarizing now that the war has ended, they'll be too easily slain by Drelinok's soldiers. He'll have an army and if we want to minimize civilian casualties, we'll need one too."

 

"Just one problem," Hadliek said. "How do we even know where to find Destral right now? The whole island fortress teleports as the Brotherhood requires."

 

Brutaka smirked. "My Kanohi Olmak can open a gateway to Destral for you. It may take me a moment to locate it within our dimension, but creating a portal won't be difficult."

 

"Our dimension?" I asked, somewhat confused. "Are you saying that mask can open portals to other realities?"

 

"Keep your mind concerned with this reality," Brutaka replied, not entirely answering my question. "Once I send you through, you'll need to rely on your power of persuasion. Given the importance of the mission, one of us should travel with you."

 

"I can go," Trylac volunteered.

 

Elendra chuckled, looking up at Brutaka. "Any chance you can send a whole airship through one of those mask power portals?"

 

Brutaka narrowed his eyes on her, smiling. "I've sent a small island through before, I can send one ship."

 

"Well, this should be fun," Hadliek said, slapping Kyrhus on the shoulder. "If we live, we can say that we've traveled across dimensional fabric."

 

"And if we don't?" Kyrhus inquired.

 

"Then the prototype is lost between dimensions forever and Drelinok wins."

 

I smiled at Trylac. "I think I'm getting too accustomed to high-stakes gambling with my life these days."

 

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#19 Offline Cederak

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Posted May 29 2016 - 07:04 AM

Summer has come and passed, the innocent can never last. –Green Day

 

 

Episode 19: Destral after Dark

 

Our aircraft was hovering just off the ground when Brutaka used his mask power to tear open a portal in dimensional space. The swirling darkness within was a maelstrom of deep blues and rippling white, bleeding into blackness. I was in the copilot seat when Axonn gave us the signal to launch from outside. Elendra pulled back on the accelerator and we shot forward, hitting the portal like a wave crashing against the beach. The impact shook us a bit, but the airship was stable. I expected we would travel through a long tube between dimensions, but the trip was instantaneous. As soon as we crossed through, Mt. Valmai was far behind us, and Destral waited below.

 

The windshield was quickly drenched in rain and we could hear thunder in the distance. Night had fallen on the Brotherhood's base, although the fortress was equipped with enough external lighting that Elendra had no problem steering us down toward Destral.

 

"Where do you think we are?" I wondered.

 

"No idea," Elendra replied, dropping the acceleration. "I'm not even sure how Brutaka located this place. If the Makuta do not reveal the location to us, it may be a while before I can get us back to familiar territory. As far as I can tell through this storm, Destral is the only landmass in sight."

 

Elendra hit the communications panel and opened a channel. "To all Brotherhood of Makuta agents. This is the pilot of the airship above your island. My name is Elendra. We wish to land on Destral and speak with you. My ship is not outfitted with weaponry and we have a desperate message to relay to your leader. Please allow us to land."

 

She tilted the airship and began to circle the perimeter of the fortress, keeping our altitude steady. Without any warning, a Makuta teleported onto our ship and landed in the cabin. I glanced back at him, immediately noting he was shorter than most Makuta. I knew they could shapeshift, but this one was apparently more comfortable in a smaller body. He was roughly my own height, armored in violet and silver. I had never seen his mask before. Purely out of surprise, I nearly drew my gunblade before he put a hand out to me.

 

"I'll incinerate you before you pull that weapon on me, Meldin," he growled, marching toward the cockpit.

 

I slowly lowered my hands and showed them to the Makuta. He glared at me, looking over at Elendra and pointing a finger out the window. "Take your ship down in that direction. You will land the aircraft there."

 

"All right," she replied flatly, taking us down and bringing the airship to a slow halt on the landing pad.

 

The Makuta hurried back to the main door in the cabin and we followed him. He folded his arms together and studied us carefully.

 

"Welcome to the island of Destral. My name is Makuta Ihdal. You will leave your weapons aboard this ship if you wish to disembark. I understand you have reason to speak with our leader?"

 

"Yes," I said. "He has met us before, and we need his help, now more than ever. My life, and the lives of my crew, may be in great danger soon."

 

"I see," Ihdal replied. "And why should a Makuta come to your aid?"

 

"Because allies are no good to you dead," I said, revealing the Tablet of Transit.

 

Ihdal snatched the item from me and eyed it closely. "You should have told me about this at once. Leave your weapons, or keep them. Destral appreciates those who serve our interests."

 

The Makuta engaged the door and we all walked outside into the rainstorm, following Ihdal across the landing platform. Having been given an option, we decided to bring our weapons along. The wind howled over the rain and lightning flashed above, the towers and fortified defenses of the island standing undeterred in the night. From there, he led us inside, to a long hallway. Pointed sconces dotted the walls, containing roaring flames within. We were all admiring the architecture as we went along, but Trylac regarded the rooms differently. He did not seem so interested in how things looked, so much as how the fortress was laid out. He kept looking back and scanning different halls we had missed, like he was building a mental map of the place. I began to wonder if his agency had sent him along for that very reason, entirely untrusting of the Brotherhood after Teridax came into power. They had every right to be.

 

There was little to see on the ground floor chambers, but I could hear a lot of noise coming from the rooms below us. The creation of Rahi and any other experiments the Makuta were working on must have been done on the sublevels. It was hard to say how deep the island was, and by the time I began to think about it, we were standing in front of the doors that led to the master chamber of the island. The throne previously occupied by Miserix, now a spoil in Teridax's victory, waited for us on the other side. Ihdal cracked the doors open and turned back to us for a second.

 

"I'll notify him of your arrival. Do not enter until permitted."

 

A pair of silver Rahkshi opened the doors the rest of the way and Ihdal approached the throne, whispering to Teridax. The Makuta could see us from his lofty chair, well-aware of who his guests were.

 

"Come in, all of you," Teridax breathed.

 

We entered the chamber, lined with translucent green pillars on the sides. Rahkshi armor sat inside each one, curled inward and inactive. I could see Teridax was even taller than I remembered, eyes of sinister red staring at me behind the Mask of Shadows. It felt like he was gazing into my very spirit, listening to every dark thought I ever had. His thick armor, nothing but light-consuming black and gunmetal gray, meshed well with his garnet cape. This was a conqueror, a warlord, and a murderer. And most terrifying of all, I needed his help.

 

"Well now, if it isn't the disrespectful band of gunfighters." Teridax sounded even more callous and cold than I remembered. "Have you come back to taunt us with further lies that a single Meldin could overwhelm my brothers?"

 

"I have come back in fear for my life from him," I replied. "By the end of our conversation, I hope I can persuade you to understand why."

 

"You seem to make the rounds quite frequently, don't you?" Teridax mused. "Was it Drelinok who smashed a massive airship into the port in southern Zakaz? We are still investigating the details of the incident, actively searching the wreckage for anything worth salvaging, and I have this odd feeling in the back of my mind that you know what happened."

 

"Your instincts are as sharp as ever, Makuta. The airship belonged to an organization from Trevahka called the Panacea. They had been working publicly as the island's law enforcement agency, the Magistrates, and working on a plan to incite monstrous wars across the universe in secret. Their research was working toward granting untold powers to any exposed to the substances they had concocted. I have no idea how far they had gotten, but we were onboard the airship when this plan was revealed. I tried to steer the ship into the sea, but it overshot its course."

 

"The Panacea…interesting. Several Trevahkans were taken into custody on Zakaz following the crash, and it should not surprise you that we are trying to gain a better understanding of the experiments they were performing. Makuta Spiriah has been assigned to take charge of the island, certain that he will put this Panacea information to good use. While the threat against the life of a Brotherhood member is far too risky, I understand that Spiriah will be starting preliminary trials on a volunteer basis soon. Perhaps the Skakdi will be served well by the augmentation process – or serve Spiriah well, at the very least."

 

My eyes widened in horror at the prospect. Zanteox said he wanted to give the Matoran the power to end their war, and even with the Skakdi at peace, I could not begin to imagine what would happen if their kind were exposed to the virus. Spiriah was playing with fire just to try and make something burst into flames. It would not end well for any involved.

 

"They told me their lives are in danger," Ihdal told Teridax. "The Meldin said he needs your help."

 

"Is that right?" Teridax asked me.

 

"We traveled a long way to find you, Makuta. I would not have spent the time if I did not think this was of the utmost importance. I…we, need your help."

 

"What desperation has brought you back to my stronghold? As a noble steward of our universe, I have dispatched my brothers across the world to protect islands from ever harming themselves as Metru Nui did. And yet you demand more of me."

 

If Krika had not already told me the truth, Teridax would have been incredibly convincing in his act. I knew I had to play along and feed into his illusion if we were to gain his assistance.

 

"I'm not here to make demands," I corrected the Makuta. "I came here to remind you that I remain allegiant to your cause."

 

I glanced at Makuta Ihdal and he presented the Tablet of Transit to Teridax. The Makuta accepted it, smirking. "This trinket was given to you by, Miserix, was it not?"

 

"It was. We encountered another Makuta in our travels who explained the treason that prompted this exchange in leadership. Even now, however, in Miserix's absence, I wish only victory for your kind. I have come here to request your aid in destroying Drelinok. He is going to Metru Nui soon and intends to murder Turaga Zilnyx before declaring the island as his own."

 

"It is not Zilnyx's island to give, even in death," Teridax replied. "Metru Nui was awarded to me for my efforts in returning the Matoran to peace."

 

"And if he's left unchecked, it won't be the only place Drelinok conquers," I said, trying to sound as scared as I could. "If nothing is done in Metru Nui, he will come for all of us soon. If we stand idly by, he will breach this fortress and bring you down, just as you did to the Barraki so very long ago."

 

Teridax rose to his feet at once. "You dare to compare me"-

 

Everyone drew their weapons, except for Trylac who stood in our way, kneeling before Teridax.

 

"He misspoke, great Makuta," Trylac said. "Do not punish this foolishness."

 

"Weapons down, now!" Ihdal ordered.

 

We lowered them and stared up at Teridax, waiting for him to react. He hurled the Tablet of Transit back at me and I caught it with my free hand.

 

"You have incited my fury with your talk," Teridax said. "Not only are you all disrespectful little ingrates, but the thought of Drelinok openly taking what is rightfully mine, that is unacceptable. Still, I could allow Drelinok to carve a path of war through the universe until he reached my front door, and in that moment, I could destroy him. I could make this one Meldin regret his existence on my time, and my terms, with such ease. Tell me, Adrinor, why you deserve my Rahkshi, my Exo-Toa, my Toa, and my own hands to cut Drelinok down in Metru Nui."

 

"Because a lot of innocent biomechs will die if we don't. There may not be a Metru Nui left when he's done, and the Great Spirit nearly lost his life the last time there were no Matoran to labor and prosper in that city. The Tablet of Transit proves our loyalty to you, but destroying Drelinok proves your loyalty to Mata Nui, the greatest principle your organization was founded on."

 

A cloaked figure exploded into the center of the chamber, instantly flanked by several Light Warriors. His head was down when he hissed, "There is no place for Mata Nui in the future."

 

Teridax moved to strike, but the cloaked entity bent his arm backward and reached his hand out to the Makuta. Across the empty expanse between them, an invisible power rushed to hold Teridax still, taking form beneath his enemy's armor. Teridax seized up, his limbs contorted outward as a golden glow began to emit from his muscle tissues. Ihdal stood in horror as he watched his leader fall prey to this mysterious force, cautiously approaching Teridax. The figure put his arm down and glanced at Ihdal, wagging a finger at him.

 

"I would stay still if I were you," he advised. "I know Teridax has dispatched your brothers across the universe by now, and even with your factory beneath us, you will meet your match in battle. I just want to talk with your guests."

 

"The Brotherhood will not stand for this!" Ihdal shouted.

 

"Oh, I know," he chuckled. "I know exactly what you'll stand for, and I would prefer that you not stand at all."

 

A dozen Light Warriors materialized around Ihdal and immediately shed their bipedal forms, transforming into shapeless luminance that began to consume the Makuta. Ihdal struggled against them, unleashing an array of powers within a few seconds. Laser vision, chain lightning, fragmentation, plasma, anything that could destroy before the Light Warriors did the same to him. The last visible ability I watched him unleash was a contained cyclone, instantly cut short as the lights imploded and claimed his life. Nothing remained after that.

 

"I thought you were going to be busy in Metru Nui, Drelinok," I said.

 

"I will be, but a few other things needed tending to first. We're talking about bringing an end to the universe, after all. Our brethren, the Meldin, will take priority in the new world after the Great Spirit has gone. I'd like to tell them that in person. The Matoran had their chance and squandered it by nearly killing us all with their war. When I have selected the Meldin worthy of command in the future Directorate, the other species who concede to my authority will be welcome to join us."

 

"But there's no place in it for Mata Nui or myself, huh?"

 

"Why should there be?" he asked in shock. "Look behind me, at the Makuta ensnared by my power. He was born to serve Mata Nui, and I could crush him in an instant if I wanted. The Matoran think their Great Spirit to harbor such benevolence, but he regards his servants the same as his disparagers. We are met with silence. And you would come to this Makuta with the intention of destroying me?"

 

"Drelinok, listen to yourself!" I shouted. "I'm here because you want to destroy the world!"

 

"I did this for you," he continued, his voice pained and shaky. "I did this for every Meldin who ever lived. I am the closest thing to salvation you have ever known, and you would put your fate in the hands of this monster?"

 

He pointed at Teridax and sighed. "The kingdom of paradise will be beautiful beyond anything on Meldio, but as you correctly asserted, many biomechs will be barred at the gates."

 

He removed the hood of his cloak, but it was not Drelinok underneath. That is not to say the face staring back at me was entirely unfamiliar either. It was the Dark Hunter who was dispatched to kill me a few weeks earlier. A Jaecolt, codenamed Reaper.

 

"Vylaos should have killed you," Celvey spoke up, aiming her weapon at Reaper's head.

 

"Him, me, there's not much difference at this point," Drelinok replied, laughing through his puppet at Celvey. "When I found this creature, he had been blinded. And now look at him, brimming with my power. There's little of the Jaecolt left within, but he pledged himself to me in exchange for the restoration of his sight. I gave Adrinor the same offer aboard the Panacea flagship. He became part of my power for a few brief minutes, presenting enough of himself to me that I could shape and amplify what he is. True, I hadn't expected him to nearly take his own life afterwards, but by my grace, he lives today."

"So you came all this way just to brag?" Hadliek asked him.

 

"I teleported into the room. You make it sound like I swam here," Drelinok replied. "No, I came here to pay you for your services."

 

Drelinok removed the cloak from Reaper, revealing the emaciated form beneath. The Jaecolt was nothing but scorched metal, sickly colored muscle tissue, and jagged edges. The lengthy claws on each hand were pretty concerning too. His eyes began to glow less, but the weird light from within his unmoving mouth remained steady. Reaper got down on his knees, tossing me a tiny bag from his clawed hand. He had not thrown far enough and the bag spilled its contents out onto the floor. Multiple shiny, golden coins emptied themselves from the bag and slid to my feet.

 

"You know what I do for a living," I said. "Why pay me for something you're capable of?"

 

"Because I want to prove a very important point to you," Drelinok growled. "I wish to pay you for the execution of this Jaecolt."

 

"What?"

 

"You heard me," he chuckled. "He would have taken your life from you, and he is a simple pawn for the Dark Hunters. I want to pay you to kill him."

 

"What point will that prove?"

 

Reaper reached a clawed finger out and pointed it at me. "I want to remind you what you've become. I fought the Collective to establish a proper, lasting government for Meldio. You fight because there's a paycheck attached to it. No matter what you believe or how you justify it, this is always the end result. Death. You're just like this Jaecolt, Adrinor. You're a killer, motivated by profit. Now, may I hire you, or are you about to turn down some easy money?"

 

"Reaper trusted in you and you're prepared to sacrifice his life for this?" I questioned. "I thought you held your followers in a higher regard."

 

"Only my loyal Meldin," he replied. "The rest are expendable. Besides, do you think Reaper is the only creature who willingly surrendered himself to my control? The chance to attain true power is a gift sought by many, and such an attractive offer seldom appears to anyone. Once I take command, they realize too late that they have literally given their souls for this. So easily enticed, and so easily shattered. I would advise that you refrain from pitying the tragedy of these selfish entities, but what empathy exists for one so cavalier as yourself?"

 

I glared into Reaper's eyes, hoping Drelinok was looking right through them at me.

 

"I've heard enough," I said, pulling my gunblade from my back.

 

I looked at Kyrhus and reached a hand out to him. "You have any dark energy shells on you?"

 

"Yeah, a couple," Kyrhus replied, handing them over. "Be careful with those."

 

I gave him one back and started walking toward Reaper.

 

"If you plan to release this Jaecolt from my sway by overloading him with shadow, you'd better make that one shot count. I'm paying you for an execution, after all."

 

"It'll count," I said, giving him a smirk. "Let's get on with it."

 

I kicked Reaper in the chest and dropped him onto all fours, pressing my foot into his back. I loaded the dark energy shell into my gunblade and let it charge for a second. Then I pointed the barrel at the back of Reaper's head and took a long breath.

 

"Now we'll always know," Drelinok whispered. "I am better than you."

 

"If you say so."

 

I flipped the gunblade around and fired the dark energy shell behind me, blasting Teridax to shatter the light barrier that held his form. The kick from the shot swung the weapon back down in an instant, and I fired a standard round through Reaper's arm. He buckled and rolled onto his back, lifting his head just as Teridax's laser vision activated and vaporized the Jaecolt above the neck. Teridax fired a second time and eradicated the remains, releasing a furious roar.

 

"You will be nothing when I am finished!" Teridax screamed into the empty air. "Your life will expire! And all traces of your legacy will be stricken from history! You have made your last enemy, Drelinok!"

 

I stared at my crew, my back to the Makuta. He could not see I was giving them a wide-eyed stare that was questioning our potential ally's sanity at the moment. I had never seen him lose control before, but I had also never seen him imprisoned either.

 

"That was a pretty neat trick, Adrinor," Kyrhus said.

 

"He never could handle the kick from firing a specialty shell at an angle," Elendra told him. "He made his weakness a strength."

 

Hadliek put an arm around Celvey and added, "And we would have been glad to intervene, but…after he disintegrated a Makuta, I was comfortable just letting him get his way for a moment."

 

Celvey gently lifted Hadliek's arm up and smiled. "For once, I have to agree with him. Nicely done, Adrinor."

 

I smiled, looking up at the Makuta. "So you're actually going to call back the Makuta and lead an assault to Metru Nui?"

 

Teridax was still incredibly agitated when he replied, "My war fleet is outfitted with enough troops and firepower to remove this annoyance without the presence of my brothers. I'll do it myself."

 

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#20 Offline Cederak

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Posted May 30 2016 - 05:19 AM

Lights turned up, it's hard to hide. Sometimes I want to disappear. –Foster the People

 

 

Episode 20: My Shadow

 

Confident that we had acquired the Brotherhood's aid, we decided to return to Stelt to recuperate before flying further north to Metru Nui. Destral had been warped east of the Southern Continent when Brutaka sent us to it, so the trip back was nearly finished as the night came to an end. It was a brisk, hazy morning when we returned to Stelt. We could hardly see anything more detailed than the island's outline, but as the ship soared closer, I suddenly realized there was more than haze in the air.

 

"There's smoke rising in the distance."

 

"Another skirmish between the clans, most likely," Hadliek replied.

 

"We're sailing up from the south," Kyrhus reminded us. "The largest structure in the area is the coliseum."

 

It was a fact that had not registered with me until Kyrhus voiced it. I made a point to avoid attachment with most things, but losing the place I relied on to set down my weapon and get a good night of rest, I could feel my chest tightening at the possibility. We silently waited and watched, drawing nearer to the port. When we arrived at our destination, I leapt from the cabin door and sprinted across the beach. I could hear the rest of my team was close behind and our fears were confirmed. Voporak's coliseum—the closest thing I had to a home—was in smoldering ruins.

 

Drelinok had been awake for nearly a month and after everything I had experienced in that timeframe, seeing my home destroyed was enough to spark my fury. It did not help that Sidorak was standing there proudly, hands on his hips, surveying his work. Flanked by a group of Steltians and a handful of Ohnbiek, I still had the good sense to know putting a bullet in him would be a bad idea.

 

"Sidorak!" I called to him. "That was my home."

 

His brothers and servants turned at the sound of my voice, and Sidorak joined them in curiosity, drawing out his herding blade in the process.

 

"Ah, Adrinor," Sidorak replied, more condescending than I had ever heard him. "Your home was a casualty in erasing the legacy of a criminal in our midst."

 

"Voporak was a fair clan leader, and he sought the best interest of everyone who served him. Even when they might not have deserved it. And let me tell you, Sidorak, I saw multiple occasions where you were less than deserving. There's only one reason that someone like you would betray him, so why don't you tell me who offered you a greater seat of power."

 

"The Makuta of Stelt," he said, flashing me a grin. "Voporak has been found guilty and arrested for having former ties to the League of Six Kingdoms. I always knew his suspicious, private chats with Mantax would catch up with him, but I never imagined it would be so beneficial for me."

 

"Mata Nui perfected opportunism when he created you," I replied, shaking my head.

 

"We live in an unruly land where the cunning shall be victorious. It will always be an alien world to an outsider like you," Sidorak explained. He pointed his herding blade at me and shouted, "Take these outlaws into custody!"

 

I reached for my gunblade when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and it was Trylac, staring hard into my eyes.

 

"I've got this one."

 

I smiled. "The last time you said something like that, I watched you get shot out of the sky."

 

Trylac glanced at Sidorak's company and looked back at me. "They don't have a Makuta in their ranks, so I should be all right. I need you to head back to the ship and make your way to Metru Nui. You have to finish something that I can't resolve."

 

"Yeah…I will," I replied. "Are you sure about this though?"

 

"Absolutely," Trylac reassured me. "Now get going."

 

"You heard him," I said to the crew, following with a sigh. "Next stop is Metru Nui."

 

"Be careful," Elendra told Trylac, taking the lead back to the ship.

 

I was the last to go, taking one more moment to see a friend I had long thought was dead. Sidorak and his Steltians were getting ready to assault him, wary that a single biomech would stay behind to challenge all of them. Also, Trylac's insectoid features could be unsettling enough on their own.

 

"I'd like to see you again before another 900 years pass," I said, finally turning and hurrying away.

 

"I'll see what I can do."

 

<<<>>> 

 

Our passage through the Sea Gate to Metru Nui was eerily silent. I sat next to Elendra and smiled at the renewed glow of the twin suns and a Silver Sea no longer occupied by Ga-Metru's naval forces. She drove our aircraft up along the east coast of Le-Metru, turning in towards the city just before the Ta-Metru border. I was nervous, scared really. I pulled the prototype device from my back and held it in my hands, staring down at the object.

 

"That's an amazing little device that Drelinok created," Elendra commented, studying the prototype. "I never thought something so small would have the power to harm him in his current state. You can almost detect his energy signature from here, can't you?"

 

I nodded, turning the prototype over in my hands. "It feels good, actually. It's pure light, comforting and inviting. It's odd to think that I'm going to destroy something like that."

 

"You wouldn't stop if you didn't. You're like Rovaius in that respect. Nothing short of death stood in his way, and he accepted it to save you and I. I don't care much about rescuing the universe nor am I concerned about what malice Drelinok or Teridax will visit upon the future. The only fear I have left is burying you."

 

I slowly left my seat and wrapped my arms around her, embracing Elendra in a hug. I had never held her before and she tried to recoil at first. She did not hug me back, but she did not brush me away either. I smiled and closed my eyes, just listening to her breathe. It was the closest moment we had ever shared, and I believe Elendra chose to allow it because she knew there was a strong possibility that it would be one of our last. I carefully returned to the co-pilot's chair and continued to examine the prototype device.

 

Elendra cleared her throat and a brief chuckle escaped her mouth. I was hardly surprised when her next words were, "So…do you think the prototype will work?"

 

I smirked before replying, foolish to think Elendra would address my actions. "Drelinok invented it, so yes, I do. His Amplifier had been a success in every way short of causing his laboratory to suffer a cave-in. At some point, he must have abandoned the idea to outfit his army with armor and opted for a permanent chemical solution."

 

"I'm sure you had enough experience with chemical solutions after your run-in with the Panacea."

 

Elendra pushed a couple buttons on the control panel and flipped a switch back and forth a few times, trying to hold some of her focus on steering.

 

"There's an audio transmission being sent out on multiple frequencies and I've almost managed to catch it."

 

I peered out the window at a nearby Telescreen and immediately stashed the prototype into the compartment on my back. Drelinok was smiling back at me and Turaga Zilnyx was strung up in a web of golden lights on the Coliseum's announcement box.

 

"And…I've got it!" Elendra said.

 

The transmission crackled into the airship speaker and I watched Drelinok begin his broadcast. I only looked back over my seat for a second, but I could see the rest of my crew was staring at the Telescreen as well.

 

"Good afternoon, citizens of Metru Nui. My name is Drelinok. I walked the great journey of my life to be here in this moment, and I have something to share with you."

 

"This is it," Elendra said quietly. "I'll take the ship down to the Coliseum's entrance."

 

"You disappoint me," Drelinok continued. "As a Meldin, the years passed and the legends that Matoran were Mata Nui's favorite creations made me take pause. I thought you beyond flaw or fault, capable of making your own fate and bettering your world. But if we have learned nothing else these past 400 years, it is clear that if left to your own devices, you will destroy yourselves."

 

Drelinok turned away from the Telescreen and summoned a blade of light in his hand, identical to the one he used to murder Triphaz.

 

"Turaga Zilnyx, I stand before you, granted the power of a Great Spirit. I come to you in a physical form, to exact justice as Mata Nui refuses or is incapable of doing. Your citizens praise the all-seeing Mata Nui for their precious virtues and the hope of tomorrow, but these are ideas we must preserve by ourselves. I cannot pass judgment on Mata Nui in the physical realm, but you are not so fortunate."

 

"What will you do?" Zilnyx questioned, notably panicked.

 

Drelinok faced the Telescreen again. "For the crime of inactivity against a front of war that nearly tore Metru Nui apart and condemned the universe to annihilation, you are guilty for putting thousands of lives in jeopardy."

 

I froze. It was like listening to Makuta Teridax sentence the Matoran in the Archives all over again. There was no touch of emotion, just cold words leading up to a violent display of force.

 

"Each Matoran will be held accountable for their role in the Great Disruption, but as Turaga, you were trusted with leading this city." Drelinok whirled back to Zilnyx and pointed the blade at the feeble Turaga's neck. "The mark of a leader is the ability to command those beneath him and obtain positive results. So which is it? Were you unable to quell the fighting, or was the conflict of too little importance?"

 

"I am sorry for the Great Disruption!" Zilnyx shouted hopelessly. "Not to you, but to the Great Spirit! I let the situation escalate too far and I allowed a civil war to overtake this city. I served as its Turaga for thousands of years and I never imagined such a crisis would befall the metropolis I have come to cherish so very much."

 

Drelinok nodded. "Very touching. You have some remorse for the turn of events here. I respect that. In any event, your ineffectiveness put countless lives at risk. There are names you will never hear, faces you will never see, that were in danger because of you. Bearing in mind the aforementioned crimes, permitting you anything lighter than the maximum punishment would invite the possibility of a future civil war to overwhelm Metru Nui. Having apologized for the Great Disruption, I consider that to be an adequate confession of liability. Turaga Zilnyx, I find you guilty and sentence you to death. If you have any last words, please speak them now."

 

"A public execution," Elendra muttered. "Pridak was quite a fan of them, too. You have to really love the sound of your own voice to do something like that. There's no call of exacting justice or even a wanton urge to take a life. Using the Telescreen system to kill Turaga Zilnyx is just Drelinok feeding his own ego."

 

"It's more than that," I replied softly. "It's a statement. He wants them to see that he's in control now."

 

The blade pierced Zilnyx's heartlight and ran up toward his neck. The Turaga felt all the pain Drelinok wanted him to, and then he exploded into a burst of golden particles. Drelinok let the sword vanish, and not even a Kanohi was left to mark Zilnyx's passing.

 

"And as for this city," Drelinok started, "I will condemn you to the nightmare you made for yourselves. If you are so eager to go to war, then allow me to fulfill your wish."

 

Elendra landed the aircraft at the Coliseum's entrance when an array of bright lights materialized over the city. We stepped outside, weapons ready, and watched as Drelinok's Light Warriors descended and began their offensive on Metru Nui.

 

"Let's get inside!" I shouted, running for the gateway.

 

I rushed through the Coliseum, hastily accessing the arena. I could see Drelinok on the other side of the stadium, up above in the announcement box. As I ran, my focus was mostly on him, trying to ignore the hordes of Light Warriors in the stands that filled my peripheral vision. The Coliseum announcement box descended slowly onto the arena level and Drelinok kept his gaze fixed on me the entire time.

 

"Our armistice has come to an end, Adrinor," he said, his voice booming through the arena speakers. "I have afforded you enough of my patience and time, and will suffer you no longer. Light Warriors, at my command!"

 

The soldiers of light drew their brilliant weapons and took aim at my crew, ready to destroy us on Drelinok's order. We drew our weapons in retaliation, but I knew we were outmatched in every way. Before that order could be relayed, however, a massive explosion rocked the building from the outskirts of the district. Drelinok paused, presumably trying to sense the cause of the event.

 

"Makuta Teridax," Drelinok snarled. He reactivated the Telescreen function and began to laugh mockingly. "Hello, Makuta…and his little friends. Your victory over the Barraki may have required nothing but scores of Toa, Exo-Toa, and Rahkshi, but I am not so easily put down. As I speak, thousands of my Light Warriors are materializing across this city and should open your eyes to the doom you have walked into."

 

"Elendra, I want you to take point and get out of the Coliseum," I started. "After Teridax's stunt in the Archives, I doubt he'll concern himself with bystanders the way the rest of his army should. Try to protect the city and the Matoran as best you can."

 

"Good luck, Adrinor," Celvey whispered, her eyes unable to veil her concern.

 

"I'll see you again," I replied, giving her a nod.

 

"Come on, Celvey," Hadliek told her. "This is his fight…always has been."

 

Elendra led my crew out of the arena as Drelinok floated down to the battlefield.

 

He smirked. "And who will be your savior, Adrinor? Have you come this far just to die alone?"

 

I reached for my gunblade as he approached, clutching the grip behind my back. "I thought I'd die alone a long time ago. See, Drelinok, you were right to have called me a coward, because the fear of you drove me away from our home land. I was afraid to battle you all those years ago and could only flee when you declared war on the Collective."

 

"If you do not fear me now, then you are a fool. Teridax won't be coming to save you as long as my Light Warriors stand between him and this building. You chose to interfere with my plans for long enough and soon I will watch as fear grips you one last time."

 

"That's going to be a problem," I replied, slipping my hand off the gunblade hilt and into the compartment on my back. I grabbed the device and held it tight when I added, "I'm not afraid of you anymore."

 

As quickly as I could, I pulled the device out and shoved it onto my heartlight. I pressed down on the central piece and it locked into place immediately – an exoskeleton of armor exploding out before encasing me inside it. It was pitch black as the armor conformed to the shape of my body, like a bulky extension of myself. At once, a visual display came to life before my eyes, allowing me the range of sight I would have possessed without the armor. In the same instant it flickered on, though, I watched Drelinok rush at me.

 

Time seemed to slow down when he tackled into me. I felt the sensation of being thrown back, watching my weapon rapidly spin along with me, but my newfound reaction time allowed me to grab the gunblade and swing it at Drelinok. He released me and materialized a pure energy duplicate of the sword, our blades sizzling as they grazed one another. I used my momentum to backflip and landed on my feet, grinding the armor's boots along the hallway floor until my back slammed into a wall. I was immensely powerful, like Drelinok, and I could tell engaging him would be a messy conflict.

 

"I see you've discovered the fruits of my labor!" Drelinok called from the edge of the arena. "You are wearing the prototype of what was to become Directorate soldier armor."

 

"I suppose it's ironic that a Collective sympathizer is going to use it to stop you!" I replied, hearing my voice echo from the armor's vocal modulator.

 

"Let's take it for a test drive then, shall we?"

 

Drelinok's weapon morphed into a sniper rifle when I tried to remove myself from the battered wall. The visual display was able to keep up with the heightened reaction time, and I watched it pinpoint five shots headed at me. I engaged the thrusters in my boots and rocketed forward, making every attempt to evade the energy bursts.

 

I tilted left. One down. I swept downward. Two that time. Another on its way would whiz over me, but I had not left myself enough time to maneuver around the last shot. It shredded through the armor's left shoulder and nearly severed my arm. I did not understand how the suit fully worked, and when time abruptly returned to a normal pace for me, Drelinok sidestepped the projectile I had become and watched me violently tumble across the arena.

 

I smashed against the far wall, screaming in agony. Another shot was fired and I felt it tear through my lower torso. Instinctively, I tensed up and choked, falling onto my face. The visual display was rapidly blinking multiple warnings about damage sustained to the pilot, but all I could do was stare at them. My body refused to respond.

 

"I have detected that the pilot has sustained a critical spinal injury," the onboard computer stated through the helmet. "Repairs are underway, switching to neural interface."

 

"Stay down, Adrinor."

 

I could hear Drelinok slowly approaching and I wanted more than anything to get up and face him. At the same time, I could feel the suit reaching out to my thoughts, like a power that rushed up through my heartlight and into my mind. Without warning, I rolled onto my back and began to hover over the arena. Drelinok smirked, an expression I presumed to stem from being impressed with his own technical achievement.

 

"No thrusters," he said, "yet you fly. The telepathy link must be online. Can you do little more than keep yourself aloft, or is the pain of losing a couple parts keeping you from your full potential?"

 

"What does it matter to you?" I angrily asked through shallow breaths.

 

"The Directorate military will wear the perfected version of that armor one day and, while I may harbor some qualms about sacrificing Meldin who believe in my cause, I am more than willing to allow you to perish in the name of science. Go ahead, Adrinor, try to move me."

 

I could feel the armor building itself back together, clutching in on my damaged pieces and beginning to recreate metal and tissue. My wounds were healing, and I used my opportunity to reach out, not for Drelinok, but for my weapon. I had never felt anything like picking up the gunblade with my thoughts, and I was not entirely sure what to expect. It felt heavy and light at the same time, like a sturdy, solid thing, but capable of being shifted in any direction I wanted. I pulled it toward me, aiming for the back of Drelinok's head. The gunblade picked up an unprecedented amount of speed, but Drelinok effortlessly caught it with his own thoughts before mentally flinging it aside.

 

The use of my limbs had been restored and I reactivated the thrusters, willing the gunblade to come to my hand. I took it in my grip and launched myself at Drelinok. As advanced as the prototype armor was, there was no outmatching the former Director. Our blades clanged and he hurled me up. The recovery time was instantaneous and he lunged out to strike me. Our sword crackled white hot, clashing over and over. Centuries of combat training with the gunblade were meaningless in my fight with Drelinok. His power made him unbelievably fast, and while I could see swordsmanship was a new concept for a battle commander who often relied on rifles, the amplification process allowed him to keep up with me.

 

"I can see now, how you have survived these many long years as an outlaw," Drelinok said, surprised that I parried his attack.

 

"C'mon, I'd have to pick up a few tricks if I wanted to stay alive."

 

Drelinok moved to slash and I retreated, dropping the thrusters for my counterstrike in the form of a super charged shot. I expected an ordinary shell, but the prototype armor directed power down through the protosteel in my blade and rocketed the projectile like a bolt of lightning. The round popped a gleaming hole in Drelinok that quickly regenerated itself. He glared in return.

 

"Impressive."

 

Drelinok advanced, closing the gap for another swing. I landed a kick beneath our swords and took off while Drelinok regained his bearing, flying up in a spiral around the stadium seats.

 

As I ascended, the onboard computer told me, "Pilot repairs complete. Neural bridge will remain active until a direct command for shutdown is initiated."

 

Dozens of Light Warriors converged on me, but the gunblade was rippling with power, shredding them into sparkling nothing with the slightest effort on my part. I swung through them like a machete through plant growth, nothing surviving. All the while, Drelinok hurried after me, consuming his own soldiers and hurling them in my direction. Each time he threw a mass of their light, I bounced the shot away, forcing him to drain the stands of his army entirely. I flew into the center of the arena and loaded Kyrhus' last shadow bullet into my weapon. Drelinok was just about to grab me when I spun back and shot him through the left bicep, severing and destroying the rest of his arm in a nasty thicket of darkness. The shadows burned his arm away and Drelinok screamed like I had never heard before. Imbued with so much light, the power of dark wounded him terribly.

 

I tried to land several more attacks, but he could keep my blade at bay with his right arm, watching as his hand was shattered and restored instantly each time.

 

"Not so fun when it's your body being torn apart, is it?" I taunted. "Drink it in and remember what it feels like. This is what the Light Warriors you've set loose will do to the Matoran here. You deserve to know what you're sentencing them to."

 

Drelinok fell to one knee and continued to hold me back. "This isn't over."

 

He unleashed a mental blast that launched the gunblade from my hand and pushed the suit away by about ten bio. I could tell Drelinok intended to send me further, which meant the suit had a built-in endurance against his telekinetic powers. I summoned the gunblade back to my hand and Drelinok put his hand to his ruined shoulder, regenerating the arm that had been devoured by my shadow bullet.

 

"Nothing will stop me, Adrinor," Drelinok said, standing up straight. "You could rally an army to your side and they will never overwhelm me. There is no end to this battle. You know that, don't you?"

 

"There may not be an end for me, but there's no reason the rest of the world should suffer your tyranny. Catch me if you can."

 

I engaged the thrusters and flew straight up with one last idea left to try. I looked out at the city and stared in awe at the sight before me. Thousands of bright lights flickered through the streets beneath the midday suns, battling the armies of Makuta Teridax. If I failed, Drelinok would come for the Brotherhood next, and the world would be his forever.

 

"Take a good look," Drelinok said from the announcement box, amplified through the speakers and every Telescreen on the island. "This is the second war I have fought in the name of preserving the light of justice for the benefit of others. Meldio flourished in your absence, under the guidance of the Directorate, because I chose to act. That was the critical difference between us. The world is only truly lost when the best of us do nothing, and while you have been content to gallivant across the universe so selfishly, you have unearthed the very truth of our greatest threat: a lack of conviction!"

 

I gave the thrusters everything they had, accelerating my journey into the sky. As much as I wanted to ignore Drelinok, he knew how to make a fine point. The ability to act was beyond me in my youth, but Drelinok only saw parts of my life while he slumbered. He could not feel my emotions for me, or experience my pains and pleasures. They were mine alone, side effects of a life that was lived, not spent peering out from behind mental glass in a stasis tube. Because of this, Drelinok was wrong. There was no doubt, no uncertainty. I had to end him in Metru Nui. I had to kill him, and I had to believe I was capable both physically and mentally of doing such a thing.

 

When the intensity of the suns finally became overwhelming, I fell forward and prepared for my return trip to the city. With the thrusters and my mind focused on picking up as much speed as possible, I could hardly concentrate on Drelinok. I watched him draw near, weapon in hand and reshaped into the gunblade, but my objective was to shatter him. Within my final few dozen bio of impacting Drelinok, time began to slow down once more. I pulled back my gunblade and rerouted all available power into my right arm. The surge exploded through the protosteel in the blade and I had reached terminal velocity.

 

Drelinok moved to counter the attack, but he was helpless against me. The sheer force with which I struck him was enough that I passed through Drelinok somehow, extinguishing nearly all of my power in the process. I was not sure where the prototype drew its energy from, but I assumed it would take centuries to build up what I had released in a fraction of a second. I landed on one knee and caught myself with my free hand. I turned my head up just as Drelinok began to plummet.

 

He fell helplessly and managed to repeat what I had done, only without any noticeable effect on me. Drelinok passed through my body like a wraith and he came to rest several bio away, his form solidifying. He looked up at me, his eyes reverting to the dull blue I once knew, while the Light Warriors above the stadium faded into the energy Drelinok derived them from.

 

"What did you do to me?" Drelinok questioned, visibly shaken.

 

He struggled to his feet and pointed his gunblade at me – the final, enduring piece of his power and the instrument he somehow willed to remain intact. It must have taken an intense focus, a desire to fight me that was so extreme, Drelinok fought the forces of the universe to hold on to it. Tiny, golden particles began to float away from his body and I could tell something was wrong. When I passed through Drelinok, it had been a fatal blow, and he would not survive much longer.

 

"There are two courses for the future," Drelinok said, holding his weapon steady. "In one, I leave this arena with the prototype suit and build a better tomorrow for all. The Makuta have imposed martial law on the world, Adrinor, and you will not stand against them. Give me the prototype and I will grant Meldio the power to fight."

 

I disconnected the prototype core from my chest and the armor vanished. "Biomechs will survive the Brotherhood, Drelinok, regardless of their plans. The Makuta, like yourself, chose a fate at odds with the Great Spirit. Even if they are victorious, they too shall die one day."

 

I dropped the prototype core onto the ground, crushing its components beneath my heel. I took notice of Drelinok's expression (as though I had just done something insane) before turning to leave. In the top of the arena stands, I caught sight of a tall, monstrous figure – the very same entity I saw on the night the Barraki were defeated. He was unchanged in his armor of cobalt, crimson, and gold, baring sharp teeth and piercing orange eyes. He was looking directly at me when he simply nodded, folding his arms. Drelinok was powerless again and there was a chance this figure had arrived to save him from the wrath of Makuta Teridax, but I could not be sure. It hardly mattered, either way.

 

"No matter the cost," Drelinok said, his voice echoing through the arena, "whatever the effort; I will lead us to a brighter future."

 

I continued to depart when I replied, "Goodbye, Drelinok."

 

I could practically feel Drelinok's fury when he said, "Face your Director when addressing him…you cowardly outlaw!"

 

The sound of a charging gunblade rose in an instant and I swung back around, only just deflecting the shot with the broad side of my weapon. I rushed headlong at Drelinok, glaring as he braced himself for a sword duel. I swung once and he parried it, but Drelinok lacked the experience of a practiced swordsman, leaving himself open for my next attack after his exaggerated swing. I had no more than a second of opportunity and, in that instant, I felt pain for what I was about to do.

 

Drelinok was prepared to let Mata Nui die and end so many lives in the name of peace. At one time, he terrified me to the point that I could no longer stay on Meldio – I was frightened by his power and influence. But we stood on an empty field of battle, two Meldin armed with the same weapon.

 

I remembered my first day of life, squinting my eyes against the sun and crawling in search of aid, in search of someone to help me find my way. A hand reached down and took me by the arm, eclipsing the sun with a body of biomechanical parts, studying me with dull blue eyes. His own life had only begun minutes before, but without that knowledge, I trusted him to rescue me from the blinding light above.

 

"My name is Drelinok," he said calmly.

 

"Hello, Drelinok," I replied. Somehow, I spoke his language perfectly. "My name is…Adrinor."

 

"Adrinor," he repeated, smiling. "Are you okay?"

 

"I think so. Where am I?"

 

Drelinok helped me to my feet and put a hand to my shoulder. "This is the universe of the Great Spirit, Mata Nui. I think we're going to like it here."

 

In a single thrust, my gunblade pierced Drelinok's armor and I ran him through with it. Drelinok's eyes grew wide as he entered a state of shock and instinctively pulled away from my weapon, taking a few clunky steps backward.

 

"You have relieved me," Drelinok said evenly, "of my burden."

 

He slowly, forcibly pulled the weapon from his chest and presented the grip-end to me. Bewildered by how he remained standing, I reluctantly accepted the gunblade and stared at him with utter disconcertion.

 

"We just saved the universe," I said miserably.

 

"For your sake, Adrinor," Drelinok breathed, "I hope…you're right."

 

Drelinok suddenly collapsed, causing him and his gunblade to shatter on impact into brilliant, golden particles with the floor. I looked over my shoulder where the entity had been watching in the stands, but he had disappeared. I was alone in the Coliseum, having destroyed my first friend.

 

"Despite the circumstances, it was almost nice to see you again," I muttered, staring at the particles. "You were my hero once, and it was your rare ambition that inspired me to stop you."

 

I glanced up at the twin suns before taking another depressed look at Drelinok's glimmering, mysterious remains.

 

"Good night, old friend."

 

At once, the golden particles fused together and converged on me, creating an explosion of light. I had no opportunity to defend myself, and when my sight was no longer overwhelmed by an infinite white, I was on Meldio. That was strange enough alone, but not as peculiar as my company. It was Trylac, and we were standing in the chamber where Drelinok's Amplifier was built. The room was silent and no longer had a gaping hole in the top, with a series of dim lightstones placed into the ceiling.

 

"Hello, Adrinor," he said, perched on a rather large shelf on the other side of the room. I could see something silver and shiny in his hand, but could not identify what it was.

 

I took a long exhale and dropped my gunblade to the floor, the tragic weight of my actions settling in. Turaga Jovan's hope had come to pass – there was a heavy sadness in Drelinok's death that lowered my head in bitter frustration. "I did it, Trylac. I got him."

 

"Nicely done," Trylac replied calmly. "We would not send you up against such a powerful enemy without a contingency plan. If you're here, one of my fellow agents on Metru Nui sensed you were in danger. With that in mind, I'm surprised to learn Drelinok is destroyed."

 

"The remainder of his essence tried to consume me, and…"

 

I paused.

 

"Trylac, why did you bring me here?"

 

The Dectraz smiled at me. "Our plan was riding on a lot of factors working out perfectly. I had not anticipated having to fight my way out of Sidorak's rebellion, but as you can see, my superiors have few difficulties in the ways of teleportation if we absolutely require it. I had to be here before you."

 

"Okay, great, but why?"

 

"For this."

 

I registered too late that the object in Trylac's hand was a weapon, and it really worked in his favor that my gunblade was already on the floor. A beam of emerald light whizzed across the room and landed center mass. The shot struck me like a solid punch and knocked the wind out of me. I collapsed as an entanglement of bright green energies caged me to the ground. Trylac took flight and came to rest at my side, staring hard into my eyes.

 

"Thank you for your service to our universe, Adrinor. It's nothing personal."

 

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#21 Offline Cederak

Cederak
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Posted May 30 2016 - 11:13 PM

Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone. -Elton John

 

 

Episode 21: Halcyon

 

There are nights when I cannot sleep that I think about possibilities. I imagine other dimensions where alternate versions of myself have lived out the decisions I did not. I have envisioned an Adrinor who led the Collective to victory, imprisoned Drelinok, and overthrew the Directorate. I dreamed of an Adrinor who shot and killed Rovaius the day we met, and spent many more centuries working a quiet, peaceful life on a Mahi ranch. As of late, I have conjured up an Adrinor who built his own Amplifier and is staring down at Drelinok. This incarnation of myself believes he will become the next Great Spirit, while Drelinok and his outlaw friends can do nothing to stop me. I wonder if I could ever grow to embrace such egotistic thoughts, but there is surely an Adrinor who has. All of life is decisions, from the easy ones like deciding to polish your weapon today or tomorrow, to the hard ones like choosing to forcefully impale your first friend in the Metru Nui Coliseum.

 

The most critical point that can be made is how we have to own our decisions. I can never take back and retry the important moments in my life and live as the alternate Adrinor entities have lived. Their histories are as locked away to me as my life is to them. So there is no blaming anyone else for where I end up. It is all on my shoulders, and that reality can be hard to face in the instances when I feel let down or betrayed. After Trylac shot me with a blast of energies that imprisoned me on the spot, I was dealing with a mixture of both emotions. I blacked out shortly after he assaulted me, waking up an indeterminate time later in a room I had never seen. Unknown figures were poking and prodding me, moving my parts around. I felt sedated, cognizant enough to know what was happening, but unable to interact. Trylac was among them, pointing to me while staring at a tablet in his hands.

 

"Why are the vital sign indicators shooting up?" Trylac asked.

 

"He's awake!" someone replied. "The sedation injections appear to be keeping him down, but we need to get the lifeform into stasis soon. If his motor functions are restored, the task of sealing him into the tube will be much more difficult."

 

"Is it too early to inject another round of sedatives?"

 

"We could wait a little while longer, but we've had him under for nearly a month now. I have triple checked his nervous system scans every day and nothing has come up out of the ordinary. Everything is functioning as it should, but there's no telling how much more of this his body can take."

 

"What about his energy levels and signatures? Was Jerbraz able to get a determinate figure on that yet?" Trylac wondered.

 

"No, nothing yet. Jerbraz has been discussing the issue with his science team and they've surmised that something about radiation from the prototype suit or the battle with Drelinok is still lingering in the lifeform's system."

 

"There's still so much left misunderstood in that department," Trylac said, setting the tablet down and walking toward me. "Botar confirmed the prototype was destroyed beyond repair by a…stomp into the ground. Much as I wish Adrinor had not done so, I can understand where he got his logic from. As for Drelinok, we found him after Makuta Krika temporarily destroyed his physical form on Suizek by sweeping the universe for absurdly high light energies. We have been performing constant scans since his attack on Metru Nui and nothing has come up. If Adrinor's energy is truly shielded by something that happened that day, then we may be searching for answers for quite some time."

 

"I would trust Jerbraz to find an explanation. Helryx was right to assign him to this."

 

Trylac stifled a laugh before tugging at a tube connecting into my forearm muscle tissue. "Jerbraz personally requested leading the science division on this one. After his own…incident…with our power experiments, I think he wanted to be sure all the proper precautions were being taken on our Meldin friend here."

 

"You may not want to say that like you're talking behind his back," another voice said to Trylac. "He could be here."

 

"The accident rendered Jerbraz invisible," Trylac countered, "he still has a scent. Even the faint ones rarely get by my radar."

 

While Trylac and the scientists chatted, I was caught up in the fact that they mentioned I had been with them for a month. I wanted to know what happened to Metru Nui, and most importantly, what had become of my friends. I felt responsible for their safety because I had adopted the role of a leader, concerned where they might go after seeing their bedrooms burned to the ground. We had nothing left but one another, no longer able to even rely on Voporak and his connections. Sidorak had taken that from us in betraying his clan leader to the newly appointed Makuta of Stelt. If I had the ability to shudder as I pondered, I very well might have as the thoughts of Voporak being subjected to Brotherhood-grade torture filled my mind. They would break him eventually for his knowledge about Barraki Mantax and the ancient arrangements they once made, but there was no telling what future awaited Voporak beyond that.

 

Trylac and a couple of his fellow agents removed all of the devices I was hooked up to and slowly tilted me backwards. I was resting in an open stasis pod and I could see the tube door directly above me. It was transparent clear, reminding me of when I wiped off the dust that caked Drelinok's Amplifier when I woke him. Upon realizing the similarity, I felt cold and scared. Trylac and his agency had not abducted me for testing to ensure I was healthy and safe, they had other plans.

 

"The Iridiex core is stabilized, Trylac," one of the scientists declared.

 

As much as I wanted to delude myself into thinking otherwise, there was no longer a way for me to deny what was going on. They had successfully rebuilt the Amplifier, just for me.

 

"How long are we going to keep the lifeform in this containment pod?"

 

"The lifeform has a name," Trylac snapped. "We had someone check the records on Meldio to determine when Drelinok's experiment failed. It took approximately 11,000 years to supercharge him the way it did. Adrinor will be kept asleep for just as long. When the time comes to release him, we can only hope his energies will rival Drelinok and that he will be willing to fight for us."

 

"We're taking 11,000 years of his life away from him," another scientist argued. "I can't imagine he'll be too fond of us when he learns that. The liquid chemical we're going to keep him in will prevent his body from aging a day, but his friends are going to assume him dead."

 

Someone marched into the room and strode right up to the Amplifier tube. She was a Toa of water.

 

"Which is why," she started, "I have agreed to let his friends say their goodbyes."

 

The room was silent except for the low hum of the Amplifier's mechanics running in what I gathered was a standby state. Trylac finally addressed the newcomer with a warm greeting.

 

"It's good to see you, ma'am," he said. "We are ready for Adrinor to enter the Amplifier as planned."

 

"Excellent," she replied shortly. "We have located his team and they should be getting teleported in shortly."

 

"Are we suppressing the Ilisian with the psionic powers?" Trylac questioned.

 

"Absolutely," she told him. "While it is my opinion that any outbursts could be contained, I would prefer not to have my agents cleaning up a mess today. Similarly, the Trelbin will be monitored carefully after your psychological analysis of her. The Gekalan and the Todrano should not pose any issues for us."

 

As soon as she finished speaking, the sound of multiple bursts of explosive power detonated around the room. I was still tilted back and unable to see what was going on, but I could hear everything. My friends had arrived.

 

"Who is in charge of this?" Elendra demanded.

 

"That's none of your concern," the unknown female replied. "My name is Toa Helryx and I invited you here to say any personal words you wanted to share with Adrinor. We are placing him into stasis for an extended period and, while it is unusual to invite outsiders to this location, I am making an exception in light of Adrinor's recent actions. His defeat over Drelinok has saved our universe and you should all be proud to have served by his side."

 

"I can't believe you, Trylac," Elendra rebuked. "You lied to us about your true allegiance for centuries and now you're going to keep Adrinor here as an unconscious prisoner?"

 

"We need him," Trylac tried to explain.

 

Kyrhus slowly walked toward the Amplifier before staring down at me. My eyes were open, but his face was merely in my peripheral sight.

 

The Gekalan was awestruck when he said, "You rebuilt the Amplifier. Mata Nui! You're going to turn him into a living weapon like Drelinok, aren't you?"

 

"The individuals in this room know better than most that there are difficult times ahead of us," Helryx said. "Drelinok is destroyed, yes, but Makuta Teridax and his new age of the dark Brotherhood leave me uneasy. They have dispersed their kind across the universe and we need to be prepared for the possibility of a concerted attack one day. With Adrinor and this Amplifier, I am fortifying our defenses."

 

"And what are we supposed to do without him?" Celvey asked, walking up and standing across from Kyrhus. I could faintly see a silver and violet device resting over her heartlight. This must have been the suppression method that Helryx had alluded to.

 

"I would recommend you live your lives," Helryx stated firmly. "I am fully aware of the unscrupulous occupations you held before Drelinok's defeat, and I would advise seeking other methods of filling your time. As the Brotherhood of Makuta tighten their grip on our world, we are witnessing a moment of crisis. Nothing will be the same."

 

"Sounds utterly depressing," Hadliek spoke up.

 

I could not imagine how many events Trylac's agency had been orchestrating behind the scenes over the years. This Toa Helryx seemed so familiar with following procedures, that forcing my own friends to say goodbye was treated as commonplace as ever.

 

"I'll give you all a moment," Helryx said. "There will not be a second invitation in the future, so please, say anything to Adrinor that you need to. His hearing is functional. When you have gone, this Meldin will be treated as an asset of my agency."

 

"An asset?" Celvey exclaimed in outrage. "He's a biomech like all of us! You can't just treat him like a lifeless object for your own purposes!"

 

"And what would you do, Ilisian?" Helryx fired back. "Like it or not, Adrinor's body is loaded with an unknown form of radiation after his encounter with Drelinok during the Battle of Metru Nui. I tend to eliminate variables when I can, and Adrinor is, without a doubt, in an undetermined status. There are things inside of him that he may not be in control of, and he will be safer here than unleashed on the universe in his current condition. I put aside the recommendations of my agency and adopted a bit of empathy for you to see Adrinor before I have him sealed. In return, I only ask that his survival remains confidential."

 

"Who would believe me?" Elendra asked, giving Helryx a defeated chuckle. "Take me out of this place…you've basically killed Adrinor already. And as for you, Trylac, I will destroy you myself if you ever come looking."

 

"I'm sorry that's how you feel," Trylac replied bitterly.

 

A couple blurry figures headed for the door and I could hear Elendra being escorted away.

 

"This is wrong," Kyrhus added. "Adrinor, whatever's left of you in there, I'll miss you."

 

"C'mon, Kyrhus," Hadliek called. "We don't need their sympathy."

 

They exited the room and only Celvey remained. She was silently staring at me, probably unable to find the words she wanted. From where I was sitting, I had so much to say. If Toa Helryx ever let me go, it would be at least 11,000 years before that option would be on the table. Celvey had no idea.

 

She touched a hand to my heartlight and whispered, "I'll come back for you."

 

I screamed inside my head, trying desperately to make anything move. I had to tell her. I had to let her know what I wanted to say, but it was pointless. There was no overcoming the chemicals in my system and I could only watch as Celvey walked away from me. Trylac picked something up from a nearby desk and approached her before she left.

 

"I know it isn't much, but you're welcome to take this," he said quietly. "There's no use in letting it waste away in this chamber for millennia."

 

"You're right, it isn't much," Celvey spat. "I'll take care of it for him though. I know what this weapon meant to Adrinor."

 

A low alarm sounded off and I felt myself tilting forward. The scientists returned to my sides and I watched them insert a series of tubes along my body. A pair attached behind my neck, behind each of my arms, into my sides, and behind my legs. When they were finished, the tube door started to close, and I watched Trylac and Celvey stare back at me. As terrified as I was of the Amplifier, I wanted to smile at Celvey and tell her that everything would be okay. She wore my gunblade well, like the warrior I knew her to be. Teridax's universe would not consume her in my absence.

 

The tube sealed tight and the alarm sound became muffled.

 

"Activate the Iridiex core," Trylac commanded. "Flood the stasis pod."

 

The room started to shake, and whatever structural precautions Drelinok had overlooked, Toa Helryx had thought to utilize. I felt cold, and I knew the tubes connecting to my body were active. The semi-transparent liquid that Drelinok had been floating in was filling up the tube, while the chemicals being rapidly introduced to my body were slowly causing my consciousness to fade away. The liquid was above my eyes when Celvey attempted to rush at the stasis pod, throwing her hand against it. She reached for the gunblade, my weapon, on her back, but Trylac stopped her.

 

"Let me go!" she cried. "You can't do this to him!"

 

"You don't understand!" Trylac shouted, pulling her away.

 

He threw her to the floor and shot her with the same silver device he hit me with on Meldio.

 

"Send her to Ilisi," Trylac told one of the scientists. "We have an experiment to monitor here and I don't need her interrupting anything."

 

Those were the last words I would hear for a very long time. The chemicals overwhelmed me and I blacked out. I was alone with my thoughts, listening to nothing.

 

It was hard to say how long I rested in the stasis pod like that, bouncing my own ideas around and thinking about things I had no one else to talk to about. The first few decades were the worst, because my mind had no experience with living inside itself for prolonged periods. It gave me a lot of time to think about everything I ever did, or said, or thought. After that, I started working on turning my thoughts off. It took a few years of practice, but it was much easier than I expected. After the first half-century, I managed to shut down for a couple hundred years. From time to time, an intrusive thought would crawl forward and pester me, although I was quick to withdraw and return to my silent meditation. My mind was clear. I had heard others say that before, when training for combat or with certain weapons. Clear your mind. This was more than that. This was total detachment into a place where nothing was said and nothing would happen.

 

It is very possible that I spent many more years in phases of silence, ignoring any impulse to think. The stasis pod was keeping me alive, that much was certain, and there was no reason to do much else. I waited for my release, patiently and calmly. This could have gone on harmoniously until my 11,000 years were up, but in letting my thoughts slip away, I had forgotten something important. There were words spoken to me on Nohtal by Drelinok, describing his experience in the Amplifier. I had neglected the horror of what it must have felt like for Drelinok on the day of the accident. He entered the Amplifier with the expectation of receiving untold power and was promptly buried in a pile of rubble, commemorated and forgotten by his own kind. It made me curious how long it took him to shut off his thoughts, if he ever managed to at all. The reason this finally felt important after what I thought may have been millennia, is that a curious thing happened one day.

 

I could hear other thoughts.

 

There was so much silence and then an abrupt explosion of sound. At first, I thought I was finally going insane. When I focused, however, I began to listen carefully. I could envision a map of sorts that connected many different mental voices, and all the ones in my immediate surroundings were shielded by some unknown force. Outside of those, I searched further and tried to pinpoint words I could understand. Even Rahi had thoughts, little instincts that caused them to attack, or defend, or become curious. They were not sentences the way I knew them, rather, these thoughts tangled around one another like bright colors. I was having trouble keeping all these minds from whispering things to me, requiring more time to focus through the noise.

 

Eventually, I could scan the universe like a path. There were clusters of voices in some areas, definitely populated islands, and I knew it would take a lot of concentration to reach that far. In the same way that Drelinok searched for me, I started to return to my meditation. I wanted to find my friends out there. There were times when I would exhaust myself and I would "return" to my own mind, having to start my search over from my strange origin point.

 

My 11,000 years did come to an end one day, as Trylac said they would. Before that came to pass, I became the master of my own universe, painting out a vast landscape of peacefulness where I could sort out the thoughts I was listening to. I conjured them up physical forms and I made myself a house. I lived in a cozy little place much like my dwelling on the Southern Continent – in the years I spent following my departure from Meldio and before I took up the gunblade as an outlaw. It was a ranch of endless rolling green hills, where all the spirits smiled at me and welcomed me as I went along. I would "awaken" and listen to them, and "sleep" when I had enough.

 

In my own crazy way, I was home. I had everything I needed and there was nothing that could hurt me. Above the thoughts around me, I was an all-powerful entity connected to them all. I knew why Drelinok compared himself to the Great Spirit, at last. Through their good days and bad, my existence was far beyond anything they could understand. When I slept, there were dreams again. I was their golden savior, silently watching over them and hearing their every wonder. With careful precision, I could add my own thoughts to theirs at times. I could guide them, carving a world made as I wanted it, beloved by those I served and assisted. And together, we would see the light of a hopeful future.

 

It all made sense; I was their cynosure.

 

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#22 Offline Cederak

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Posted Jun 02 2016 - 05:35 AM

Guess I'll always have to be, living in a fantasy. –Supertramp

 

 

Episode 22: Affirmation (Epilogue)

 

<<<Drelinok/Teridax: Onward>>>

 

Approximately 16,800 years ago, on Meldio/One Year after Drelinok's Defeat, on Destral

 

Drelinok looked out from the balcony of the Directorate capitol building, smiling as the crowds cheered for him to speak. He had fought a long and grueling campaign to reach this moment, and he paused before beginning.

 

"The night has engulfed us for centuries and dawn greets us at last. Our war with the Collective is finally won, but we are not victorious, only shortsighted."

 

Teridax stood before his brethren in the Convocation Chamber, a malicious smile plastered across his face. Like the rest of the Brotherhood, the shutting out of his inner light caused him to develop a more sinister appearance in the process. The bright red eyes beneath his Mask of Shadows surveyed the audience of Makuta before him and Teridax began to speak.

 

"Welcome, brothers and sisters. I am pleased to announce that Gorast and Icarax have concluded their hunting trip. As you can see, the masks of Miserix's devotees now hang on these walls as a reminder to where supporting the condemned will get you."

 

"As Meldin, we have a responsibility to uphold the values of the universe, to stand unwavering before those that have lost their way. While we slayed our brothers and sisters over a battle of ideas, Pridak, Kalmah, Ehlek, Carapar, Mantax, and Takadox betrayed the universe, to take up the mantle of Barraki. Such terrible sins cannot be disregarded."

 

"With our knowledge and position of power in the universe, I take comfort in the information Mutran encountered. When Pridak attempted to exploit that same knowledge, I thought him insane. I see now I was correct. Mata Nui had set Pridak aside for the destiny of a pawn, and it was not a destiny he could escape by being chosen to preside over so much for the Great Spirit."

 

"Now the universe of the Great Spirit is in jeopardy and if these traitors are not put down, I see only a future of darkness ahead. Indeed, the time has come where Meldin can no longer turn their weapons on one another. Biomechs need our strength now more than ever, to look outside of ourselves and determine a brighter tomorrow for all, as the Creed dictates."

 

"We were chosen for no such task. Our first request in this universe was to create Rahi, and we obeyed. Our second request was to protect the Matoran, and we obeyed. It cannot be denied that we have a third task before us now, to lead the universe as Pridak could have never imagined and Mata Nui refuses to do."

 

"Mata Nui would stand idly by and watch as his realms are conquered, pillaged, and razed. He seeks a champion of the light, a symbol of hope, and a guardian of all that exists. We will be that guardian. I promise you that we can lead the universe out of the shadows made by these deceptive murderers. If we do not stand against them, they will bring about the doom of this world."

 

"Our reign will be one of activity, where guidelines are not in ambiguous virtues, but are given weight by our actions. Mata Nui has provided an age of information filled with meaningless thoughts, words, opinions, and theories about what the Great Spirit feels is best. The Plan will provide context to declare Mata Nui is disconnected from this world and that it must be run by those in the position to see precisely what its inhabitants need most."

 

"The hour has arrived where Meldin must unite the universe in a concerted effort to save our beloved home and the homes of so many we have never known. I will not allow our kind to be extinguished like a dying flame in the icy wind."

 

"Drelinok nearly took this universe for himself and while I do not know what became of him after his defeat in Metru Nui, the termination of his energy signature would suggest his death. Our greatest threat is now a mere memory."

 

"Monsters and liars have put Mata Nui's universe at risk and they are truly the most dangerous entities we could ever know. To allow them to share and bask in the light of the Great Spirit desecrates the life and freedom he has granted us to defend ourselves."

 

"Drelinok has destroyed his legacy on Meldio, his brethren viewing him as little more than a dark stain on their history after his sudden reappearance. I made a personal visit to the island to ensure we would never encounter another Meldin like him and it was clear they have no interest in such experimentation. Still, having a Makuta stationed there puts me at greater ease."

 

"The Meldin Directorate endures because it is required. We exist to oversee a universe in peril from itself."

 

"Now, let us take to the world and create our façade, to express what noble and proud servants of Mata Nui we are. When The Plan moves into its final phase, accepting the truth will be simple. In fact, they may even thank us for our service. Ironically, the last thing we want on our hands is a rebellion."

 

"And so I have begun construction on what will become the most significant technological advancement in our history – the Amplifier. Through it, every Meldin will acquire the power to enforce the will of Mata Nui."

 

"We were destined for this my brothers and sisters, to claim the throne of an unfit ruler. And destiny is not a force to be ignored."

 

"No matter the cost, whatever the effort; these are the words I swore to uphold when I became your Director. We shall take back the universe together, my brethren, and the Creed will guide our swords and our rifles to triumph."

 

Teridax released a faint laugh, satisfied with his words. "The universe waits for us now; the era of the Makuta has begun."

 

"There can be no room for fear or doubt in confronting the darkness. Truly, our failure would mean the end of everything."

 

<<<Trylac: Mission Complete>>>

 

"After 19,000 years, our indicators show that Project Amplifier has been a success. The outputs are unbelievable if Adrinor can access them at will, and he will make an excellent weapon of light against the Brotherhood. It took nearly twice as long as the process Drelinok experienced, but all of our telepaths have agreed that Adrinor's mental readings are now in good standings. I know how important keeping Adrinor from developing a god-complex was to you."

 

Toa Helryx reflected on Trylac's report, setting aside the official tablet on the matter. She would have it catalogued away with the stored collection of information on Daxia, in the event her team should ever require the data again.

 

"Having consulted with other agents, it has been determined your report is nothing short of stellar. I find no legitimate reason for your continued pursuit of his surviving allies and declare your mission complete. I've signed off to have you moved to a new assignment that has been in the preparation phase for quite some time. The matter is highly sensitive and a single misstep could prove fatal to all of our futures. That being said, your record with the Order is without reproach, especially given your handling of critical operations in the past."

 

"Thank you, ma'am." Trylac narrowed his eyes. "So…Adrinor's friends are being let go?"

 

Helryx sighed heavily and glanced back down at the tablets. "Our surveillance has determined they are not a threat to the agency and have not spoken a word of Adrinor's existence in this facility. They have continued living as outlaws, but with the Makuta ruling under martial law, it's only a matter of time until they come a little too close to a piece of Brotherhood property and have a bounty on their heads. It's a shame, Trylac. With the proper training, they could have been wonderful field operatives."

 

Trylac frowned, nodding. "Yes…a shame, indeed. Have we adopted a codename for the task I am being assigned to?"

 

Helryx smiled facetiously. "Operation Time Slip. I will say no more until you're officially briefed, but I think you'll like this one. Your attention to detail will serve you greatly."

 

"It always has before," Trylac replied. "I only wish I had been assigned to prevent the experimentation on Zakaz before things took a nasty turn."

 

"To be honest, the Zakaz incident was not a worst-case scenario. I admit our management of the Panacea's leftover viruses could have been more…particular, but the blame publicly rests on the shoulders of Makuta Spiriah. We provided the tools for him to conduct his research, and it was Spiriah who gave the Skakdi the power to burn buildings with their eyes and join hands to summon the elements. My curiosity with Magistrate Zanteox's work was outweighed by my apprehension to use it on the public, but Spiriah was not bound by the ethics of being born a Toa. As far as I am concerned, he got what he deserved."

 

"Understood. I'll head out for my operational briefing if that's all right."

 

"Yes, of course," Helryx said flatly. "You're dismissed."

 

<<<Adrinor: Fair Enough>>>

 

There is no description of what it feels like to have your mind running in dreams for so long that would paint an adequate picture. It cannot be appreciated unless it is felt, and I experienced it in full. When I was released from stasis, my initial thought is that I was dying. My eyes jumped open and my body fell forward, scooped up by Trylac. The alarm on the pod was still ringing out when I heard him speak. It was strange to hear words in real life again. I did not listen to what those words meant, but we were quickly teleported out of the room by an unseen force. My breathing was quick and heavy, and I glanced up at the nearest object. It was a colossal statue of a Meldin, sparkling in the sun. I had been returned to my first home.

 

"What's going on here? Has it…has it been 11,000 years?" I breathed out.

 

Trylac slowly forced me to stand up straight before turning my head in the direction of a placard at the statue's feet. "It has been 19,000 years. Read it."

 

I took a step forward and nearly collapsed under my own weight. It was nothing like the walking I had done in my mind. My body was ready to take the step, but my mind had expected something else. I carefully approached the statue and read the placard aloud to myself.

 

"Remember eternal, this statue was erected for the Meldin named Adrinor in the year 20,900 of our society. His bravery allowed him to destroy the evil light of Drelinok and shall remain an honorary Director of this island until the end of time. He upheld the words of our Meldin Creed and an unwavering responsibility to the universe. For this, every part of the world will forever be in his debt. Good night, hero of the dawn."

 

I looked closer at the sculpture and realized that, yes, Meldio had constructed a statue in my image. I whirled back to Trylac. "How did they…?"

 

"I told them after you were locked into stasis," Trylac explained, grinning. "We took the subject to the Makuta of Meldio and requested this statue be made in your honor. He agreed with the decision, seeing as you confronted Drelinok while fighting for the Brotherhood. The whole universe may never know your name, but your brothers and sisters will never forget it. This is your cenotaph, a monument to the greatest victory you ever achieved, built by a world that believes you have passed on."

 

"Thank you, Trylac," I said, still in shock. "19,000 years, huh?"

 

Trylac exhaled heavily and narrowed his eyes on me. "We wanted to ensure you would not be a threat to others or yourself, but it's done now. The intended effects of Drelinok's Amplifier now live within you – perfecting his evolutionary track for your species. Consider it a gift for taking so many years from you. In truth, the real gift here is that I am disobeying my own agency to set you free. Helryx and the others wanted to experiment further when you were released, but you were kept from your life long enough. I understood after a time that someone else was kept from your life as well. You are not mine to keep as an asset, Adrinor, but we will be in touch if anything disturbing should arise."

 

Trylac was teleported away and I had no indication of where the ability was coming from. I did not linger on it long, because a memorable voice caught my attention.

 

"You're looking well."

 

Celvey dropped from the statue's shoulder and landed gracefully next to me. She smiled, still wearing my gunblade after all those years. I laughed for a second and hugged her tight, feeling the first real, warm embrace I had known in a long time. There was nothing to say, because in my mind, I had said it all thousands of times before. Celvey did not know this, but the only thing I was able to do was hold her and smile.

 

"You'll have to let go eventually, Adrinor. I have a gunblade to return to you."

 

I released her and felt overcome with elation. "I've dreamed of this moment countless times. There were days when I thought it would never be real, but I really, truly made it. There was so much on my mind and so many minds that I could hear. Everything Drelinok said about the Amplifier's power was correct. I always hoped there would be a day when I could share all the things I conjured up in there, and, well…here we are."

 

"Here we are," Celvey repeated, smiling wistfully. "Everything is different, but you are so comfortably familiar."

 

I hesitated to ask a question, afraid of the answer I might receive. "Where are the others?"

 

Celvey seemed to look right through me when she replied, "They're gone."

 

It hurt to hear her say that. I wished I could have been there, to save them in their darkest hours. As much as I wanted to blame Trylac and Toa Helryx, they had granted me untold power and I was released into the world with it. They took great care to keep me safe and now I had become something more. At the price of being unable to prevent the deaths of my friends, I had been transformed into a higher lifeform. There were so many others I could protect with that kind of power, listening to billions of their thoughts while I dreamed.

 

"How did they…y'know…? I mean…what killed them?"

 

Celvey almost smiled. "Would you believe that Zanteox survived the fall into the harbor outside Zakaz when you crashed his ship? I don't know what happened in your encounter with him, but he was a mess when we returned to Trevahka to ensure his operations were finished. One of his arms and an eye were mechanical replacements, using his viruses to transform himself for combat. I watched Elendra put a bullet in his head a couple minutes after he impaled Hadliek on a mutated stinger tail. There was no one who could heal Hadliek's injuries, and he died staying behind to detonate the last Panacea base in the universe."

 

"Elendra finished the job for me," I said to myself. "I should have been more thorough. What happened to Elendra, exactly? Who had the firepower to end her life?"

 

"She became a vigilante operating out of Stelt called the Night Angel. She told me that it was a fun habit to target Sidorak's clan most often, but her bold nature got the best of her. I don't know how much truth there is to it, but the rumor is that the Makuta of Stelt utilized Voporak in taking her down. The Brotherhood did something to him…something abnormal. His will is no longer his own and he works for the Dark Hunters. Same as Kyrhus."

 

"You said everyone died."

 

"As we knew him, yes, Kyrhus is dead. He works for the Shadowed One now as an agent named Blitz. We've met a couple times and he's still working out a method to overpower telekinetic abilities."

 

I cursed and growled. "Blitz is a decent codename. I'll have to pay him a visit. What about you, Celvey? I take it you've been busy using my gunblade?"

 

Celvey presented me with my weapon and I studied its surface, admiring the polished and shimmering protosteel blade.

 

"It's been useful, but I keep it in pristine condition. For 19,000 years, it was my only memory of you. Besides the scars and stories of our time together, that weapon is the one reminder that everything we had was real. We all gave up trying to locate the facility where you were being held a few years after you were placed in stasis. To be honest, losing Hadliek caused us to go our separate ways. I went home and stood by Auredel when he passed. His council said the stress of the war years had been too much and prematurely aged his tired form. A similar thing happened to Meruvia too, but she outlived Auredel a while. Eventually, I watched her die as well, and decided to take up the position they had always wanted for me."

 

I smiled at her. "You became the Queen of the House of Crystal."

 

She nodded. "I served by myself for 1,000 years. After that, I extended an offer of peace to the neighboring provinces with a secret plan to overthrow our Makuta. The Brotherhood began to destroy their inner light before you fought Drelinok, and I think the Makuta of Ilisi despised our natural element because of that, happy to watch the Houses distrust one another. United, we managed to kill him. It was a short-lived victory when the rest of the Brotherhood invaded with their armies and wiped out most of the island. I used to be a rarity for my special powers, and now I am a member of an endangered species."

 

I sadly lowered my head. "I'll make this right somehow. The Amplifier gave me the power to correct the faults of this universe."

 

"If you start floating, you'll almost be Drelinok talking like that."

 

I held Celvey by her shoulders and quietly replied, "I promise you, that will never happen."

 

I felt ready for anything the future might have in store, and for the first time in a long time, I was hopeful. I almost didn't want to believe what happened next, because I thought the worst was over. I had confronted my past and survived my demons, but within minutes of being awake again, life was already finding ways to surprise me. I fell to my knees as my vision blurred and my body grew faint. I gasped for air and dropped the gunblade into the grass, feeling Celvey attempt to hold me up by my arm.

 

"What's wrong?" she asked in a tone laced with fear.

 

The sensation lasted no more than a few seconds, and I instantly regained control of my body. I looked up at Celvey and sighed.

 

"I think I'll be okay."

 

Celvey responded with a sigh of relief, unexpectedly followed by her eyes growing wide. She released my arm and took a few uneasy steps backward, as though I had transformed into a monster. I looked over my parts and rose to my feet, gunblade in hand.

 

"Celvey?" I said, walking toward her.

 

She recoiled, giving me a terrified expression. "Your eyes…they flickered bright yellow."

 

Her words froze me in place, and I was reminded of my lengthy discussion on Nohtal with Drelinok. It had been so long, though the exchange seemed etched into my memory. I stared up at the statue before us, almost able to hear the carved Adrinor repeat my ancient words back to me.

 

"I will not be your vessel into the future. Nothing will save you from destruction."

 

As clear as day, my mind evoked the memory of Drelinok's eyes when he replied, and the amplified intensity that lived within them. "That remains to be seen."

 

"I'm not sure what that means…and I won't have to face it alone. The mysteries of the unknown never stopped us before, after all."

 

"That was another time," Celvey replied in an empty tone. "Practically another world. It's refreshing to see you like this, so undeterred and unchanged, but our universe has moved on without you."

 

"Then there's something new waiting for us out there."

 

Celvey gave me a smile, and I could see the years had worn the slightest touch of age into her face. I never did find her while inside the stasis pod, unable to grant her a static avatar like all the other minds that populated my mental world. She had been awake for everything I missed, probably fighting her way through anything and anyone that thought to contain or limit her horizons. Whatever it was, those experiences had exhausted the youthful, energetic Celvey I met. Her eyes were more confident, misted by the burden of gray-tinged wisdom, but no less beautiful and blue to me.

 

"I can take you to it," she replied in a whisper, offering her hand. "If you'll have me."

 

And with that, she led Adrinor and I to the sea.
 


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