Posted Nov 01 2015 - 11:08 PM
Chapter 1Night was slowly falling on the city of Aonui. The suns – always seeming a little dimmer each day – were casting deep orange light in the sky, soon to fade into blues, purples, and finally star-studded black. Activity was winding down within its walls, the civilians returning to their homes for the night. Atop the walls, however, guards remained on patrol; members of many species keeping watch over the land outside the city.
Toa of Lightning Voriki was a regular sight on the wall, serving as the commander of the wall, and tonight was no exception. His companion was a less-common sight, causing the guards to turn in interest as they walked by. Voriki was animated as usual, gesturing, eyes bright behind his Hau, but his enthusiasm did not seem to be extending to the Toa of Psionics who walked beside him.
Her armor colors were cobalt blue and a dark, stained bronze, and her mask was the sleek, trimmed features of the Mask of Biomechanics. Her green eyes held no warmth, however, contrasting to the bright amber eyes of her deputy, who stood a head taller than her.
“…everything’s clean and prepared, after that salvo of Brotherhood minions chasing the Pareo refugees tried to follow them in a couple days after we got the last of them inside the city. All of the recruits that we’ve picked up from the refugees are almost finished with their training, and will be integrated into the duty roster as they graduate.”
“Yet you have not ascertained that there are no traitors amongst the recruits?” the Psionics Toa asked, thin lips pursed in disapproval. “How can you be certain, then, that you will not be betrayed as Pareo was?”
Voriki stopped in his tracks and turned to glare at his leader. The on-duty guards within earshot turned unobtrusively from their posts to better hear what their commander and the leader of Aonui’s Toa were about to argue about. There had been rumors amongst the ranks of how the city’s leadership had been clashing, but until now there had been nothing to confirm them. There would be grist for the gossip mill tonight.
“The Brotherhood went after Pareo because two of its Toa were Iron and Magnetism Toa; we’ve been over this, Rhonwen –”
“And how did the Brotherhood find them, hmm? Every member of those tribes has been in hiding for millennia since they found out they were being hunted, and they are very good at covering their tracks.”
“I know where you’re going with that, Rhonwen,” Voriki warned, “and Cailean had nothing to do with the attack. By all accounts, his ascension and actions during the fight are the main reason that most of the village escaped.”
The female Toa opened her mouth to continue arguing, but paused mid-action. Green eyes glowed brightly, and the Toa of Lightning unconsciously took a step back, fearing that she would turn her powers on him. By contrast, the audience of guards took a step forward, their hands by their weapons.
The glow faded without incident, though, and Rhonwen’s features returned the normal, save for her frown. “I have business elsewhere tonight, it seems. We will pick this up later, Voriki. Do not doubt it.”
With that, she turned and walked towards the closest staircase, the guards parting to make room for her.
As her deputy watched her leave, a frown creased his features. The guards all noticed, but only one chose to question it. “Has Toa Rhonwen always been this way?” a Ga-Matoran officer asked as the crowd slowly dispersed and returned to their duties.
The Toa of Lightning blinked in surprise as the question registered, then shook his head. “No … well, she was always prickly. But her paranoia wasn’t nearly as bad before the War started … before Toa started dropping like flies. Before anyone could be a spy for the Brotherhood or the Hunters.”
“She thinks Toa Cailean is a spy, then?”
“That’s what she’d say. Personally, I think its prejudice; her thinking he’s not as valuable as the rest of his team would have been, if they’d lived through the evacuation.” Voriki shook his head. “Apparently she’s forgotten that she was just as much of a novice as he was, once upon a time.”
“What about the villagers, then?”
“Most of them want to join the guard, or the Militia. I said, let ‘em – if there’s a spy amongst them, and they sold out the village, it’ll be easier to weed ‘em out. Be welcoming, be accommodating – but keep an eye on them.”
The Toa started walking again, and gestured for the Ga-Matoran to walk with him. She obeyed, and for a few minutes they walked in silence before she spoke again. “I suppose Toa Rhonwen didn’t like that?”
“Oh, she hated the whole idea, Rasha. Had one Karzahni of a fight with her about it, too. Not sure if that story made it into the gossip mill yet, but Fallon had to pull rank on her and force her to back down.” The commander exhaled loudly, and the cool air made his breath fog up. “Of course, all of her paranoia about the village could’ve been easily dealt with if she just read their minds, like they offered.”
“Why didn’t she?”
“Some nonsense about not wanting to intrude. Whatever her reasons were, though, if she’s that paranoid about it letting the opportunity pass was stupid. Either do it and put your fears at ease, or don’t do it and keep your mouth shut about your paranoia afterwards.”
Commander and officer walked in silence for some time, not speaking except to communicate with the other guards. They discussed movements outside the walls, communications Aonui had with other cities, evaluations on the influx of recruits, but it wasn’t until the pair were on a quiet part of the wall, where there was no one else in earshot, that Rasha spoke to Voriki again. “Sir … there’s rumors floating around, with the guard, the militia, and the citizens … they say that Fallon’s planning on stripping Toa Rhonwen of her rank, and making you the new team leader.”
“If she is planning to do that, she’s left me in the dark and is only talking to Sindri about it. I hope it’s not true … Rhonwen’s hardly a stable leader, but the way she is right now, she’d probably interpret being removed from command as a personal attack, and think we’re all Brotherhood agents. I’ve seen beings fall from grace on lesser delusions.”
“Would you take the position if offered, though? You’d probably be a better leader than her.”
“Don’t think that too loudly around her, Rasha. Fallon’s the boss; if she tells me to step up and lead the team, I’ll lead. Though I’ll have to pick a new commander if that happens … maybe I’ll give Cailean a shot at it. If he can lead a village out of the Brotherhood’s reach with only a few casualties, I think he can lead the Wall.”
The officer gasped in mock-offense. “And are we not capable of defending and leading ourselves?”
“Harsh of you! I thought you liked my command! You don’t like having a Toa up here?”
“You’re a fine commander, sir, and no one can really replace you. But we can lead the Guard ourselves, the same way Sindri leads the Militia.”
Voriki melodramatically clutched at his heartlight, eyes growing wide behind his Hau. “So it is true! The Guard only likes me for my powers!”
Their laughter echoed over the walls, and through the streets below.
The barracks of the Matoran Militia were spread all over Aonui, with one placed in every district of the city. Each was equipped with armories, communication centers, and training rooms, where new recruits were taught how to fight and had their physical capabilities built up. Since the recent influx of refugees from Pareo, all the training rooms had been filled with new recruits, undergoing their work to become protectors of their new home.
Sindri, the Militia’s commander, was pleased by the status of many of these recruits. Spending weeks on the run from the Brotherhood had given many of the civilians of Pareo a crash course in protecting themselves, and vast majority of the volunteers were taking to their training easily as a result.
Dealing with Aonui’s Toa, well, he wished it was as easy as overseeing his recruits. From where he stood on a balcony above the central barrack’s training room, he watched several of his senior officers running groups of six through their paces, and wished that working with them was as easy as dealing with Toa Rhonwen.
Heavy footsteps sounded behind him, and for a moment the Po-Matoran wondered if she had appeared in response to his thoughts. Looking over his shoulder dismissed that idea as nonsense. “Toa Cailean,” he said, nodding to him before returning his gaze to the floor.
The Toa of Air nodded back to Sindri as he took up a position on the commander’s left. For a young Toa, Cailean was surprisingly mature (though the commander was the first to admit that his experience with novice Toa began and ended with Undine’s ascendance, one hundred years ago). He supposed that having his team die around him, and having to lead the population of Matoran out of the reach of an army of Visorak more or less on his own would cause a rookie to grow into their powers and responsibilities in a hurry, though he’d heard through his subordinates that a few villagers claimed that he’d been using his mask power minutes after being transformed.
Sindri frowned at this thought. Yes, there were places where Toa and Turaga trained the Matoran they cared for in the art of using their masks – not how to actually use them, but reaching the state of mind that was required to find the reflex for using Kanohi, in hopes of making an abrupt transformation into a Toa easier if one of their students were chosen. Aleris was one of those places, and part of the training for the Guard or Militia had elements of meditation and inner focus that was similar to Kanohi training. But he hadn’t thought that Pareo, being such a small village, would’ve had such a regime. If there had been, why would have the villagers made a fuss over Cailean figuring it out so fast?
Sindri put the thought to the side as he noticed one of the recruits below flagging. The Ko-Matoran was supposed to be striking a boxing bag in the order his instructor had given (Sindri’s mind helpfully noted that the order was jab, cross, hook, hook), and while the white-armored student had preforming admirably, his punches weren’t as strong or as swift as they had been, and he’d fallen behind the others in the group.
“Taiki!” he called, and down below the Vo-Matoran stopped her rounds and looked up at the balcony; he pointed in response. “Help this one out.”
“Aeron,” Cailean said quietly, as the female Matoran moved across the floor.
“His name is Aeron.”
The commander blinked as he turned to look at the Toa of Air. “You know all their names?”
“Most of them. Many were my friends before the evacuation. I learned the rest while we were on the run.”
Sindri wondered if Rhonwen could claim the same about half of the Guard or Militia, let alone the civilians.
Like the Po-Matoran calling out was a cue to talk, the Toa of Air glanced down to meet the commander’s blue eyes with his red ones. “Are my people doing well, commander?”
“All of those who joined the Militia are progressing well. Some of the first volunteers are almost ready to graduate from training and take to patrolling the city. Has Voriki been keeping you posted on the ones with the Guard?”
“Yes. I also heard the fight that he had with Rhonwen over admitting them.” A frown crossed the Air Toa’s Kakama. “What exactly has my presence done to agitate her, Sindri?”
“Hard to say. Voriki and Fallon say its’ because of the war on the Brotherhood and the Dark Hunters; she thinks there’s spies everywhere, even though she’s in the best position to sniff them out if they exist. I think stress is part of it, but she’s never been one to deal with new Toa gracefully. Might just be simple jealousy.”
Cailean snorted. “Simple. Nothing’s ever simple with a Toa of Psionics.”
“Ah, right, I forgot – Pareo had a Psionic Toa as well, right?”
“Anima. She was the one who ascended me.”
“Judging from your attitude, I imagine she wasn’t easy to work with, either?”
“She wasn’t as difficult as Rhonwen, at least.”
Sindri made an attempt to clap the young Toa on the shoulder, but his hand only made it halfway up Cailean’s back. “Welcome to Aonui, kid. A city with a Matoran police force, an elected leader, a Water Toa with her head in her books, and a paranoiac Psionics Toa.”
“How about Voriki?”
“Doesn’t count; he’s too normal.”
Above the noise of sandbags being struck and the breathing of the recruits, their laughter floated up to the ceiling.
Rhonwen’s thoughts swirled through her mind like a hurricane spinning towards shore as she walked down the streets that led away from the Wall and towards the center of Aonui. The few citizens she met greeted her with the proper reverence, and while she responded and returned their greetings, her mind was elsewhere.
Everything was falling apart.
Everything had been falling apart, ever since the war began. It was a slow, inexorable slide downwards, gaining speed as the years had gone on, and she was the only one who had noticed or seemed to care.
The beginning had been alright. She and Voriki had been the sole protectors of Aonui for decades, working with Sindri and Fallon’s predecessors to build the city up, turning it from a simple mining settlement into what it was now. Fallon’s arrival, and her establishing Spearhead Industries, had caused a feedback loop of prosperity, advancing their technology and their standing amongst the Nothern Continent. The standard of living had changed and improved, and it felt like a golden age had begun for the place she called home.
It hadn’t been perfect, but it had been … better.
Then everything began collapsing. The Great Cataclysm had destroyed much, and they were still working past the damage it had done to the universe. The War between the Brotherhood and the Dark Hunters had begun soon afterwards, and both sides would kill Toa and enslave Matoran if they got in their way. Old grudges, thought forgotten, had bubbled up between species, and allies became enemies.
She had watched, wishing for a way to make the universe see reason that didn’t involve telepathy. Wished for a way to turn the universe’s ire back towards the Brotherhood, the ones that had caused the Cataclysm, and make them pay.
But nothing had come, and she was forced to fight against monsters and hunt for spies within their walls, looking for any glimmer of hope that the universe would heal.
And now … now Pareo, one of Aonui’s closest neighbors, had burned, and forced its inhabitants to flee to the city. Now three Toa she had called friends were dead.
And now she had to deal with a rookie Toa, whom she did not fully trust.
Rhonwen groused as Fallon’s voice floated through her mind. [It confuses me, dear Rhonwen, how one that rejects telepathy is so reluctant to use technology instead.]
[Communicators can be hacked or broken, Administrator. Telepathy cannot.]
She could hear Fallon sigh. [A strange argument to hear from you, considering your mask power, but very well. Voriki has passed along his reports on what is going on outside; the lack of excitement since the refugees made it inside the city has made him request that he mix his new recruits into the squads currently operating on the Wall. Sindri has reported that his first group trainees are almost ready to graduate to active duty, and has made a similar request. I have green-lit both of their requests.]
[Why are you telling me of things I have no choice in, Administrator?]
[You wished to be kept informed, dear Rhonwen, of changes and updates to the city’s safety, did you not?] Fallon’s ‘voice’ softened. [What troubles you, my friend? Tell me so I might try and alleviate them.]
[I fear for the city’s safety, Fallon.]
[Pareo was one of the best-hidden settlements on the Northern Continent, and Toa Anima was one of the best illusion-casters I’ve ever met. I’ve seen it get passed over by Brotherhood patrols dozens of times due to her skill. Something about the attack doesn’t sit right.]
[You are certain that Pareo was betrayed and we have a traitor in our midst, then?]
[What is your evidence, Rhonwen?]
She’d known it was coming and it still threw her for a loop. The Psionic Toa struggled for a few precious seconds to find a way to explain her reasoning to those who weren’t enlightened, keenly aware that her floundering was being observed telepathically by the Administrator.
[Not much,] she grudgingly admitted, [but they mainly revolve around Cailean. Voriki and I were trained by our predecessors, and the two of us trained Undine when she ascended. It still took us the better part of three months for us to command our powers as easily as we do now. I’m not buying the claims that Cailean was able to do so minutes after he transformed.]
[Anima might have created a memory crystal for him.]
[Where on the battlefield would she have had the time to make one? Or for Cailean to find time to use it?]
[A fair point. But if you are so certain he’s a traitor, why have you not read his mind to be sure?]
[You know why I swore to restrict my telepathy, Fallon. I will not go down the path that so many of my tribe have followed. And even if I did, I would still need physical evidence to prove my claim wasn’t something I invented to discredit him.]
[I see.] A moment of silence dragged on between them as the Administrator digested this. [I will take your concerns under advisement, but until there is proof to go on, I will not act against him or the people of Pareo. However, until you are certain of your trust in young Cailean, I will not assign you to patrol with him. Note that this will not be taken into account during an emergency.]
[That is all I can ask for, Fallon. Thank you.]
“Record this, Asha. This is Makuta Volterix, sending a report on the progress of Subject Beacon. Her re-education is proceeding on-schedule, and should be completed as predicted. Once the process is complete, she will be ready to be leased to other Brotherhood ventures on an as-needed basis.
“In addition, a copy of her progress report and test results on the Shadow Leech’s lasting effects is enclosed, along with memory crystal recordings of her training. Should any more Shadow Toa be created, they should be useful in preparing them for our service.”
Volterix paused significantly to indicate that he was finished. Asha, busy scribbling the last letters onto a tablet, eventually paused and looked up at him, green eyes dim behind her Volitak. “Will that be all, Master?” she asked, her voice lacking emotion as usual.
“For that message, yes. Have it and the mentioned documents posted as a general notice; Hecate’s Visotoran will make the arrangements from there.”
As the Hagah floated the tablets away from them with her telekinesis, the Makuta’s eyes sharpened behind his Tryna. “Brief me on the status of Pareo.”
“Toa Anima, Aris, and Amund are all dead, as instructed. Reports from Brotherhood agents indicate that Anima was able to transform at least one Matoran before the Visorak killed her,” she reported, being careful to keep her voice blank. “The village was destroyed, and all resources are being transported back to Destral, including the bodies of the Toa. The platoon sent to hunt the refugees were killed at the gates of Aonui, where the survivors have settled.”
Volterix was quiet for a moment. “Beacon is still with Rarin, correct?”
“At last report, Master. He should be almost done with this latest check on her systems.”
“Remind me to thank Hecate for loaning me her assistant, and place her at the top of the list of requisitions for Beacon’s usage. For the subject’s first unobserved assignment, I’ve been dispatching her to Aonui for the last three weeks – there’s rumors that one of the Toa is doing research on a subject that has interested the Brotherhood for some time.”
He didn’t explain further, just swept off at a brisk pace and signaled for Asha to follow him, causing her to scurry to keep up. Volterix valued her, if only for the time and effort he’d taken to make her into what she was now, but not everything on Destral had the same opinion, and she wasn’t keen on dying before she finished her self-imposed mission.
The lab Rarin had been given wasn’t as large as his master’s, but it was large enough to suit his purposes, and clean except for a purple kraata sitting placidly on a separate table. At the moment, the Steltian was finishing with his work, cleaning his lab as Subject Beacon sat up on the medical table, starting to climb down and stand on her own two feet. As they approached, both straightened up, folding a fist over their heartlights in a show of reverence to their Makuta overseer.
Asha forced back a hard swallow as she looked at the Toa of Shadow. Her old colors had been hidden away under a layer of matte-black and crimson paint, the symbol of the Brotherhood embossed in silver on her right shoulder-plate. Behind the patina of her mask’s corruption, Beacon’s eyes still burned red.
The Psionics Toa turned her head to avoid the stare, not wanting to listen to the screams of the Toa she was formerly in her head.
“Rarin,” she heard the Volterix say, “are Subject Beacon’s tests complete?”
“Yes, my lord,” the uplifted Steltian replied.
The Makuta smiled as he turned to the look at the Toa. “Beacon, you remember your mission, yes?”
“Of course, my Master.”
“Then go and accomplish it. Scout the buildings and look for what we need.”
A toothy smile broke the blackness of Beacon’s face as the shadows around her grew deeper. Shadow energy whirled around Volterix’s gauntleted hand, and a door seemed to open in the wall, swinging lazily in invitation. Beacon snatched up her weapons and departed through it, taking the kraata and placing it on her shoulders as she walked.
The door closed, and it vanished behind her.
Edited by Inferna Firesword, Nov 01 2015 - 11:38 PM.