Edit: This was written before Escape from the Underworld and the final episodes to The Journey to One came out, and thus does not reflect certain plot developments found therein.
Nilkuu, Protector of Stone, let out a growl of frustration as his blast went wide of the mark yet again. It wasn't his fault-he just couldn't get the hang of Vizuna's flame bow, which was a far cry from his trusty sandstone blaster. He had been skeptical about Vizuna and Korgot's proposal that the Protectors train with each other's weapons, and the more he tried it the more convinced he became that it wasn't for him. True, he'd enjoyed Korgot's drill, Izotor's saw, and Narmoto's swords, but those were melee weapons-the ranged weapons of the other Protectors just didn't suit him.
"You're improving Nilkuu! A little more practice and you'll be a crack shot!" Vizuna clapped a hand on Nilkuu's shoulder, beaming behind his green-colored mask. He was somewhat surprised when Nilkuu shrugged it off and gave him a narrow look.
"You're patronizing me, Vizuna."
Shaking his head, Vizuna went on. "You think I could hit the broadside of a mountain when I first took up the bow? You're lucky I'm not my father-he used to hand me this mask so he could bang his head against a tree in frustration with me! For someone who's only been using it for a few weeks you're doing remarkably well."
"Maybe Nilkuu and Jungle just don't mix," Korgot joked as she came up beside the pair. Vizuna tried-vainly-to stifle a chuckle with his hand, while Nilkuu groaned. Ever since he'd been late to the Temple of Time and then the rendezvous prior to their first journey into the City of the Mask Makers, the other Protectors hadn't let him hear the end of it. He almost wished they'd go back to being mad about his repetition of "We have nothing to worry about!" during that hazardous expedition.
Narmoto came up to the trio and put his own hand on Nilkuu's shoulder. "I know it takes some getting used to, old friend, but this is preparation that could save our lives or those of our fellow Okotans someday. Though the Toa are formidable-particularly since Ekimu finished their new armor and weapons last night-we cannot relax our guard. Makuta's evil may call them away from the people, and the Mask Hoarder is certainly cunning enough to attack when he believes us to be vulnerable."
Had Narmoto donned the Mask of Time he could not have made a more timely prediction, for at that very moment they heard the sound of screams from the city square. As one the four-with Izotor and Kivoda trailing behind them-rushed towards the square, where a grim sight confronted them: several shambling Skull Warriors with a number of Skull Spiders. The villains had not been seen since the Toa, Protectors, and Ekimu had imprisoned Kulta the Skull Grinder beneath the forge, but now it seemed they had returned in force. However, the Toa were already addressing the threat, using their new weapons and powers against the hapless skeletons.
Suddenly Tahu called to his fellows, instructing them to target the Skull Spiders while the Protectors handled the Skull Warriors. Grateful to be trusted with such a task even though the Toa obviously had things well in hand, the Protectors scattered to confront the undead monsters. Nilkuu rushed towards the city bridge, fearing that the warriors might try to damage the structure or harm the Okotans who often made use of the crossing. He was in such a hurry that he didn't notice until he was almost to the city's sole entryway-unless one was a skilled climber or could fly-that he was still carrying Vizuna's flame bow.
Before he had much time to process the development, however, he heard more screams as several villagers came running by. Looking past them, he saw that they had come from the direction of the ancient Protector statues, the same sculptures the Toa had come across shortly after entering the city after defeating the Lord of the Skull Spiders. At their base he saw a formidable figure he recognized from the heroes' descriptions of that same expedition as the Skull Slicer. Almost as terrifying as the three blades and the whip-like weapon held in his four arms was the mask upon his face: the Golden Mask of Skull Spiders. Thought lost when the Protectors destroyed the Lord of Skull Spiders' lair, it appeared that Skull Slicer had found it and used it to rally the remaining Skull Warriors and Spiders for this attack.
To Nilkuu's horror, the monstrous figure was advancing on a pair of Okotans who had no avenue of escape, and despite them being from Vizuna's region both were familiar to the Protector of Stone. Bingzak, the same young boy who had led him to the Temple of Time and then gone back to the Stone Region with him, was hiding behind Harvali, the archaeologist he and the other Protectors had rescued from the depths of the city. Harvali was brandishing her trusty spear, and showed no fear despite the fact that Skull Slicer was easily twice her size and any one of his weapons could easily destroy hers. Undoubtedly motivated by the need to protect young Bingzak, she confronted Skull Slicer boldly.
"Come crawling back out of your hole, Oris? I suppose it wasn't humiliating enough to lose to the Toa the first time, so you had to come back for another thrashing! Makuta must be getting quite desperate if he's having you lead the assault, but I suppose with Kulta and Tera imprisoned you're the best he has to work with! Let's see if you can handle someone when you have no shadows to surprise them from!"
Despite the tension of the situation, Nilkuu couldn't help but admire her spirit. However, her taunts seemed to have little effect on the cruel Skull Slicer, who simply continued to advance towards the unfortunate pair. Instinctively he began moving closer, before remembering that Vizuna's flame bow had greater range than his sandstone blaster. Remembering his ineptitude with the weapon on the target range, however, he hesitated, but his movement drew the notice of Bingzak. Sensing the youngster's movement, Harvali followed his gaze with one eye...and her gaze met Nilkuu's.
Where he found the ability, Nilkuu would never be able to say. But when he lifted Vizuna's bow, the Protector who had previously been as inept a shot as any Skull Warrior fired with the accuracy of Umarak the Hunter himself. His bolt thudded into Oris' back, and the Skull Slicer went rigid with pain. Caught off guard, he failed to react as Harvali lunged forward and swung her spear at his head. The weapon, though crude, served its purpose: the Golden Mask of Skull Spiders went flying from Oris' face, and after a few seconds the now powerless warrior dropped to the ground.
The rush of the moment gone, Harvali fell to her knees, overcome by it all, with Bingzak cheering her once he recognized that the threat had passed. Nilkuu holstered Vizuna's bow on his back and rushed towards the pair, and after assuring himself that they were unharmed turned his attention to Skull Slicer. Working quickly, he pulled all four of the motionless villain's arms behind his back and used Oris' own chain weapon to manacle them. He then moved to retrieve the Golden Mask of Skull Spiders, just in time for the other Protectors-minus Narmoto-to arrive.
Wordlessly Vizuna reclaimed his bow from Nilkuu and returned the Stone Protector's sandstone blaster, giving him an admiring nod at the sight of the scorch mark on Skull Slicer's back. He and Korgot then lifted the inert warrior while Kivoda took the Golden Mask from Nilkuu and Izotor recovered the Slicer's blades. Kivoda then gave Nilkuu an update, informing him that the rest of the Skull Warriors and Spiders had been defeated or driven off, with many falling once Harvali knocked the mask off of Skull Slicer. "I'll take it to Master Ekimu-he will insure it's destruction or safekeeping."
"And we shall see that Skull Slicer joins his fellows in the vaults," Izotor noted as he hefted the three swords, each easily as tall as him.
Seeing that Nilkuu was about to follow, Vizuna gestured for him to stay. "We can handle this, Nilkuu-right now I suggest you tend to Bingzak and Harvali."
With that, the four Protectors headed off with their captive, leaving Nilkuu to attend to Harvali and Bingzak. As Nilkuu turned to regard them, he found that Harvali had overcome the stress of their ordeal enough to return to her feet, though she placed a steadying hand on Bingzak's shoulder. Looking at Nilkuu, she managed to smile gratefully. "Thank you for your timely arrival, Protector
Nilkuu. I don't know what we would have done had you not come when you had."
"From what I saw, you would have handled yourself quite well, Harvali. I'm surprised to see you and Bingzak together-I didn't know you were acquainted. Were you a resident of his village?"
"Oh no, Protector-my village was closer to the Temple of Time. I met Harvali after I came here to the city with the Stone Tribe-I've been helping her catalogue and restore important sites! We were working on the ancient Protector statues when that horrible monster attacked us-would you like to see them?"
Grinning at his young friend's enthusiasm, Nilkuu nodded, and he and Harvali followed at a sedate pace as the youngster rushed towards the statues. As they walked, Nilkuu spoke to Harvali again. "It is good of you to include Bingzak-since we've been rebuilding the city I haven't been able to spend as much time with him as I would like."
"It's no trouble, and he's quite the eager student," Harvali smiled. "After a year spent living alone, it's nice to have the companionship of someone with such a zest for life...despite the tragedy he has seen. Has there still been no word of his parents or the other residents of his village? I would have though with the Lord of Skull Spiders defeated they would have reappeared."
Shaking his head grimly, Nilkuu turned his gaze to the young Jungle villager. "So thought I and the other Protectors as well, and even Master Ekimu. But it seems that Makuta or the Lord of Skull Spiders had some more diabolical plan than simply enslaving them-many from all six regions have disappeared, and no trace of them has been found. We have sent search parties out for them but had no luck; hopefully once the city has been secured the Toa will have better luck."
"Hopefully they are still alive to be found," Harvali noted sadly, following Nilkuu's gaze to Bingzak. "Oh, but Bingzak hasn't told you-we've been adding the Protector generations to the statue rosters. Due to the city's abandonment so long ago, the last names recorded were those who served at the end of the time of the Mask Makers: Mamuk, Uganu, Agarak, Owaki, Kerato, and Etoku."
Nilkuu raised an eyebrow at the list. "I know some of those names-Kerato was my ancestor of course, but Ekimu used some of them when he thought that the other Protectors and I were our ancestors. However, I recall him calling Izotor Udapo, Korgot Epolim, and Kivoda Owa, instead of the three names you just used."
"That's because those three were part of the second-to-last group of Protectors!" This exclamation came from Bingzak, whom the pair had finally caught up to at the base of the statues. "Udapo was Uganu's father, Epolim was Etoku's father, and Owa was Owaki's mother! The three of them served for several years alongside Mamuk, Agarak, and Kerato before retiring and passing on the roles to their children-perhaps that's why Ekimu mistook their descendants for them."
Nodding approvingly, Harvali praised her young pupil. "Very good deduction, Bingzak! You have learned well the art of making connections between the ancient records and modern situations. It is amazing what one can piece together from knowledge of the past and present."
"Is that how you knew the Skull Slicer's name-Oris, was it?"
Grimly, Harvali nodded. "I am almost certain that it is the case, particularly given that Ekimu has made it known that the Skull Grinder is also known as Kulta. The pair were part of a group of warriors at the time the city was abandoned who disappeared, and it is believed by many that they struck a devilish bargain with Makuta or some other dark power in exchange for so-called 'immortality'-if existence as a living skeleton can be called immortal. The others were Tera, a hulking dual axe-wielder, and Likus, a skilled archer who I believe was the chief Skull Warrior; the Toa encountered him after Lewa went off on his own, and he briefly stole Kopaka's mask*.
"Sadly, history tells us so little of what actually transpired immediately after the Mask Makers battled, including what became of the island's other warriors. What little is known is pieced together from legends passed down around campfires, and who knows how much of that is true? I dearly wish we could be certain of any of it: of Ackar, Kiina, and their comrades pursuing the Piraka pirates into distant seas and never returning. Or the tale of the mysterious Brutaka and Axonn, facing the evil Skrall overlord Tuma and his commanding general Stronius in a clash so great that their battlefield broke off of Okoto and sank into the sea, taking the Skrall hordes with it."
Nilkuu saw that Bingzak was saddened by Harvali's frustration-undoubtedly it reminded him of the mystery of his still-missing parents. Seeking to turn the conversation to more pleasant topics, he regarded the sculptures, and noticed with pleasure that the names of his progenitors from Kerato on down had been added. However, he noticed two things that perturbed him-the first name on the list of Stone Protectors was unfamiliar to him, while the end of the list bore not his name but that of his immediate predecessor. He quickly inquired of the archaeologist and her pupil, bringing eager smiles to both their faces at the prospect of sharing knowledge.
As the Protector of Stone listened attentively, the two revealed that the first names inscribed on each list of Protectors were those of the original holders of each respective title. The group had been formed at the instigation of its sole female member, Protector of Jungle Jagiri, in response to the threat of the Element Lords, seven Okotans who had harnessed the power of the six Elemental Regions and the powers of darkness that had given rise to such threats as Umarak the Hunter. Together with her comrades Flammik, Buzkayo, Bumonda, Droton, and Rokreng, she had sought out the Mask Makers Artakha and Karzahni, members of a seventh Okotan tribe that had dwindled until only a few remained. After much pleading, the two brothers were convinced to join in their quest, and created seven masks intended to absorb and contain the Element Lords powers.
The resulting conflict had been brief but intense, with each Protector challenging their respective Element Lord while the Mask Makers faced the Element Lord of Shadow, who had sought to claim the Temple of Time itself. In the ensuing battle, Karzahni had been thrown into the temple pool and absorbed some of its energy, thus gaining the ability to place others within visions of the possible future that he himself also witnessed. He and Artakha managed to drain the Element Lord's power into the seventh mask, which transformed into the Hunter Mask, while the Protectors' masks absorbed the powers of their Element Lords and infused them into their very forms as well, allowing them to wield Elemental Power. This ability would spread to their descendants, thus leaving them as the only Okotans besides the Mask Makers and warriors like Toa who could use Masks of Power.
Sadly, Karzahni's abilities eventually drove him mad, and he proceeded to create many dark masks, such as the Golden Mask of Skull Spiders and those worn by the Skull Warriors. Unfortunately, his possession of the Hunter Mask drew the attention of the savage Umarak, who murdered him and claimed the mask for himself. Though saddened by the loss of his brother, Artakha and the Protectors worked together to establish a new, unified civilization where there had previously existed only divided tribes. Eventually he passed his Mask of Creation on to his youngest son, Ekimu, but not before crafting the Mask of Control for his eldest son Makuta. From that time forward, each Protector had inscribed their own name into the roster decorating the statues of their forebears, until the time of Makuta's betrayal.
"With Master Ekimu's permission, Bingzak and I have carved the names of the Protectors from that time until now into the rosters. However, we thought it best that the current Protectors record their own names for posterity, so that the old tradition may continue. In fact, I was about to call for you and the other Protectors to do so when the attack occurred. Perhaps you would like to be the first?"
Smiling, Nilkuu nodded, and Harvali picked up a carving tool and handed it to him. As she placed it in his grasp, their hands touched for a brief moment, which ended as Harvali nervously pulled away. However, she joined Bingzak in watching eagerly as Nilkuu inscribed his name into place at the end of the list of Protectors of Stone. With that done, he returned the tool to Harvali, and felt compelled to ask her a question. "So, what is your next project, Harvali?"
"Well, with the Skull Spiders scattered and leaderless, I thought I would see about traveling to the villages they have emptied in the Region of Jungle and seeing if any valuable artifacts can be recovered. The problem is greatest in my home region, as the dense terrain and dangerous creatures were greater deterrents to my people than the natural hazards of the other areas were to the other Okotans. Bingzak and a few others have volunteered to assist me, but for now most of the islanders are occupied with rebuilding the City of the Mask Makers. I had planned on asking Protector Vizuna to escort us, but...perhaps you would do us the honor of your company?"
Recalling his previous forays into the Jungle Region, Nilkuu hesitated for a moment. However, the hopeful looks in his friends' eyes-particularly Harvali's-convinced him to give it another chance. "Well, we shall have to clear it with Master Ekimu, but...I suppose with two jungle-savvy companions by my side, the adventure will be more enjoyable than my previous ones."
Ekimu approved of the expedition wholeheartedly, feeling that the other Protectors could handle things in the city while the Toa searched for the Elemental Creatures. Thus, Nilkuu and his Jungle Tribe friends soon set out with with a handful of fellow archaeologists and villagers eager to recover possessions that they or their kinsmen had been forced to abandon in fleeing the threat of the Skull Spiders. With Harvali and Bingzak leading the way and Nilkuu keeping watch for any potential hazards, the group set off boldly into the jungle.
The journey was quite fruitful, as the defeat of the Lord of Skull Spiders had left the wilds of Okoto largely free of hostile forces. Additionally-though none of the expedition members knew it-Makuta had formed an alliance with Umarak, despite previously interfering with the Hunter's efforts to capture the Elemental Creatures due to having his own plans and mistrusting his uncle Karzahni's murderer. The pragmatic Mask Hoarder had abandoned this tactic in the wake of Kulta's fall, and now that Umarak was aiding his agenda he no longer employed his power or minions to impede Umarak's hunt**. An unforeseen benefit, however, was that they were also no longer posing a threat to the Okotans.
Nilkuu learned much of the Jungle Region as time went by, and soon became confident in leading the way alongside Harvali. The more they traveled, the closer the pair became, and the more they bonded with their mutual friend Bingzak. Though their interactions, Nilkuu came to love the Jungle Region as much as he did his old home in the Region of Stone, and did his best to share the wonders of that realm with Harvali and Bingzak. Enjoying his tales immensely, they promised that sometime soon they would mount another expedition to the Stone Region, so that Nilkuu might be their guide in a new place.
Eventually the expedition returned to the City of the Mask Makers with many artifacts in tow, only to find the city looking ready for a war. Upon meeting with the other Protectors, Nilkuu learned that the Toa and Ekimu had left the city recently to deal with the threat posed by Umarak, who had apparently seized the Mask of Control from a previously unknown labyrinth. Fearing what might become of the Okotans in their absence, the other Protectors had turned all efforts towards fortifying the city, and soon assigned the expedition members to help. Thus, with heavy heart, Nilkuu bid farewell to Harvali and Bingzak before leaving with counsel with the other Protectors.
"You've seem preoccupied ever since you got back to the city, Nilkuu," Vizuna noted that night as the pair overlooked the city from Ekimu's forge. "Was spending so much time in my jungle really that bad? Or are you more concerned about the absence of Ekimu and the Toa than you've been letting on?"
Shaking his head, Nilkuu smiled wryly. "I actually quite enjoyed the expedition, Vizuna-you are fortunate to have such a beautiful region under your care. As for the absence of our heroes and the Wise Master, it does concern me...but that's not what's occupying my mind this night. It concerns a personal matter...one I'm not sure what to do about."
"It must be serious indeed-I've never known you to be uncertain about anything."
"In matters of combat or danger, I am usually quick to act. But matters such as this are more delicate, for they concern the heart-and such things have never been simple. I find myself drawing closer to someone, closer than I have ever felt to anyone before. You must know...it is Harvali."
Uncertain of the source of Nilkuu's nervousness, Vizuna smiled approvingly. "That is wonderful news, Nilkuu-it is good that you have found someone to care for in this time of trouble. I am glad that at least something good has come out of Harvali's long exile in the depths of this city. Do you know whether she returns your feelings?"
"Such would be my hope, but I fear the situation to be...complicated."
"Complicated by what, if I may be so bold? If you care for her, and she for you, I fail to see what could be complicated about it. Surely you are not bothered by the ancient taboo against intermarriage between tribes! That nonsense about it being an invitation to disaster because no mask is meant to possess more than one element isn't being taken seriously by anyone anymore. Why, I've heard that a maiden from Kivoda's village is so taken with one of your sportsmen that she's trying to convince him to take up swimming!"
Nilkuu digested that for a moment, but then looked his friend square in the eye. "Vizuna...I do not wish to cause ill feelings. I recall well how sorrowful you were when you spoke of Harvali's apparent death. I also recall how happy you were when we found her alive beneath the city. If there was something between the two of you, I do not wish to come between you."
Vizuna's reaction was the last thing Nilkuu expected: he laughed out loud. Shaking his head, he clapped the Protector of Stone on the back. "I apologize profusely for giving you any misconceptions, my friend! It is true that I mourned Harvali's loss and was overjoyed to find her alive. But that was because she was my friend and a Jungle Okotan I felt I had failed to protect...not because I loved her in that way.
"You should follow your heart, my friend, regardless of fears-and know that even had I once felt something for Harvali, I would have respected her choice had she chosen you. Now you must go to her and learn for sure if she shares your feelings. I think you will be a good match-true, Narmoto may have found love in his own tribe, but that does not mean the rest of us must."
Before Nilkuu could reply, a loud voice sounded up from below. "Vizuna, are you coming? You promised that you would bring dinner on this watch, and I'm eager to try some more of your Jungle dishes!"
Looking down, Nilkuu spotted the speaker: an impatient-looking Korgot. With a wry smile he looked at Vizuna, who winked before turning to leave. The Protector of Stone watched his comrades walk towards the outer wall together for a few minutes, noting that Harvali's rescue might not have been the only good thing to come out of the Protectors' expedition beneath the City of the Mask Makers. Then, thinking of the woman who had gained his heart, Nilkuu set off to find her.
Harvali was in her temporary quarters, a larger structure that had been converted into a makeshift museum while repair work on the city's buildings was temporarily postponed. She was in the process of cataloguing the artifacts recovered by the expedition, a lengthy but enjoyable process. Bingzak had been helping her, but the journey back to the city and the day's excitement had worn on the young Okotan, and Harvali had sent him off to his bed in a large shelter that had been set aside for children left without family to take care of them despite the Skull Spiders' defeat. As such, she was entirely surprised when a knock came at the door, and thinking that Bingzak had woken up in the night she went to open it only to find Nilkuu standing outside.
"Oh, Nil-I mean, Protector of Stone, what a surprise! I was just getting a little work done before retiring for the night. Is there something I can do for you?"
"First, Harvali, you may feel free to call me Nilkuu-there is no need for formality between us. Second, I have come to speak to you on a matter of importance-perhaps not to our fellow Okotans or the island, but to me. It has been some two months since we met, months that I have treasured the more for your company and friendship. But I would be lying if I said that I felt that was all there was to our bond.
"I...I love you, Harvali. Never have I known a woman of your courage, compassion, or thirst for knowledge at the expense of herself. I think that my life would be less without you being a part of it, and the idea of being apart from you pains my soul. I would be greatly honored...if you would would do me the honor...of becoming my wife."
For several seconds Harvali was silent, and Nilkuu worried that he been been too direct, or that she didn't return his affections. He needn't have worried, as she suddenly let out a shriek of excitement and threw her arms around him, pulling him into a crushing embrace. "Oh Nilkuu, you have no idea how long I have hoped to hear those words! You have been immeasurably kind to me-even before you caught me after I fainted when we met Ekimu!"
Smiling larger than he could ever remember doing before, Nilkuu returned her embrace. After a moment, the pair broke apart, and moved to a pair of chairs. Taking Harvali's hand in his own, Nilkuu felt it right to speak of the future. "Once the Toa and Ekimu return, we can begin preparing for the wedding-though he wouldn't say it, I'm sure Pohatu would be upset with me if we held it without him. I would also prefer that this threat posed by Umarak be resolved-I do not wish our happiness to be marred by such darkness.
"I have come to another decision, and I hope it meets with your approval. While I hope we shall be blessed with children of our own...I would like to take in Bingzak. Already he feels like a son to me, and though I do not seek to replace his mother and father, I feel he needs someone to care for him. Would you be willing?"
Smiling, Harvali nodded. "Quite frankly, I was minutes away from suggesting the same thing."
And so, some weeks after the Toa returned with the now taller and stronger Ekimu, the City of the Mask Makers enjoyed a great celebration as Nilkuu and Harvali were joined in marriage, and their new family was joined by young Bingzak. The Wise Master himself presided over the ceremony, with Vizuna and Korgot standing beside the happy couple while the other Protectors formed an honor guard with the Toa. Every Okotan who could be was in attendance, with members of every tribe cheering the union. The island's heroes joined in the merrymaking, and Pohatu was even seen shedding a tear or two that he blamed on the bright sun shining in a cloudless sky.
Though the years ahead brought trial and difficulty, with the threat of Makuta looming on the horizon, the family enjoyed great happiness as time went by. They were indeed blessed with children, each taking after one or the other of them. Their first child, a daughter, would become the Protector of Stone after Nilkuu retired. Bingzak would not be left out, however, as he was named Vizuna's successor and added to the Jungle bloodline through a process Ekimu had learned from his father Artakha. Vizuna's blood would live on through his and Korgot's children, including a son who would become the Protector of Earth and serve alongside Bingzak, Nilkuu's daughter, Narmoto's son, and the children of Kivoda and Izotor.
Thus did new legends awake; such is the way...of the Bionicle.
*Oris, Tera, and Likus were concept names for scrapped Glatorian to be featured in the cancelled Bionicle 5-I thought it made sense to apply them to Glatorian-scale characters in G2.
**A mock topic by Pohaturon recently pointed out the curious inconsistency between Umarak's hunting the Creatures for centuries and not catching them in all that time-the idea that Makuta was interfering with him due to having other plans to regain the Mask of Control or otherwise return to power was my take on it.
Edited by Wiriamu, Dec 11 2016 - 09:41 PM.