CHAPTER 1 – Survivor’s Guilt.
“Go on, say it,” I narrowed my eyes at the Makuta sitting on the couch across from mine, “Get it out of your system.” The form she’d chosen for this meeting somewhat resembled a Rahkshi, but was infinitely more intricate and complex, with a latticework of blood-hued, vein-like patterning engraved into the surface of her crimson armour. Her eyes, like mine, were a striking violet.
“Please, I’m just doing my job,” she urged, “There’s no need for aggression.”
“Being aggressive is my job.” Or, at least, the closest thing I had to one, since moping around the house all day and occasionally stopping to play with my cat probably didn’t count.
“Believe it or not, Xara, I do care about your wellbeing. The last counsellor the committee gave you… before she quit… made extensive notes about your uncooperativeness and hostility-”
“That’s normal for me!” I protested.
“-which is exactly why I’m concerned. The committee decided to send someone to talk to you, before tomorrow, and I volunteered.”
“What are they afraid of? That I’ll suddenly flip out and go on a killing spree?”
“Well, you are a Rahkshi…”
“I’m going to pretend very hard that you didn’t just say that.”
“You’re not stupid, Xara,” my mother sighed, “You know how you must look to the rest of us. An unhinged, traumatised Rahkshi living in isolation just a few kio away from a heavily populated settlement. Vanishing off for days or weeks at a time with no explanation. Competing in every fighting tournament you can find. There are some who worry that you’re a ticking time bomb, and after what happened to Alisa, and the others, all we want is to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of the other survivors, as well as those around them.”
“What do you want from me?” I scowled, slumping further back in my chair. “A solemn pinkie promise? A signed treatise? How about I surrender my weapons to you until after tomorrow’s over?”
That last option would admittedly be a bit of a tall order, given that every wall of the spacious treehouse that I’d made my home was lined with all manner of pointy, stabby things I’d collected over the past few months.
“I just want to be sure you’re okay, that’s all.”
“Seriously, I’m fi-” everything went white. The chair was gone from beneath me. My mother was lost from my sight. I was freefalling in a glaring column of light, plummeting downwards in an endless blinding spiral.
And then, abruptly, I wasn’t.
I was standing on a small, circular platform, surrounded by darkness. The platform was partially lit by a small blinking red light in its centre, but the blackness beyond it was solid, spongy, pushing back against me when I tried to push through it. I was trapped.
What the karz is going on?
* * *
“Fifteen men on dead man’s chest,” I sang as I/we/me worked, heaving the last of the bodies into the freshly dug hole.
“Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum,” my other self chimed, snatching up a shovel and tossing it over to me.
“I could use a drink right now,” I muttered, scowling at the mess of bloody splotches and vitrified sand around us. It seemed like the better things got for me – we, really; we spent so much time apart these days it sometimes felt like we really were leading completely separate lives – the worse our former friends and allies seemed to react towards us.
For example, today’s disaster had been intended to be nothing more than simple trade deal, we’d even gone to the extra effort of both attending, to help things run more smoothly, but everything had still gone to karz very quickly. Some over-ambitious fool had gotten it into his head that killing us both would allow them to take over our business, and by the time the ensuing fight was over, I was the only one left standing.
“Drink and the devil had done for the rest,” my reflection resumed the shanty as she began filling in the hole we’d made. I dug in silence. As I was recently coming to discover, managing the biggest pirate empire in the Matoran Universe wasn’t nearly as glamorous as I’d thought it would be. The adventure and excitement was gone, replaced by tedious negotiations and inane discussions, punctuated by the occasional gruelling battle.
“You remember when this used to be fun?” I said at length.
“Before Bionifight,” my mirror image agreed, “those karzing gems were more trouble than they’re worth.”
“Put that shovel down,” I stabbed mine into the dirt, extending a hand to my other self, “it’s been a while since we caught up.” My reflection took the offered hand, and we activated our masks together, our mirrored forms merging back together into a single, whole me…
…who was promptly swallowed up by a sudden flare of blazing brightness. Everything around me was white, rushing up as we plummeted down. It was hard to focus on what was in front of me, preoccupied as I was with the months of fresh memories flooding my mind.
And then, just as quickly, I wasn’t falling.
Instead, I was standing on a metallic platform of some kind, with only a wall of darkness and a small red light for company. This all felt painfully, horrifyingly familiar, and given today’s date, it couldn’t be a coincidence…
* * *
Mid-morning sunlight filtered in through a crack in the curtains, partially illuminating the interior of the Glatorian’s treetop bungalow. Falcon still snored softly in his bed, exhaustion and despair having taken their toll on him.
The day before, Vyne had died. Vyne, who had been his closest friend, his constant companion, for decades now. She’d lived well beyond the average for her species, and been sick for a few weeks now, so her peaceful death in her sleep hadn’t come as much of a surprise.
But that didn’t make the pain of her loss hurt any less.
Falcon had retired a year ago, content to live out the rest of his days in the tranquillity of Bota Magna’s forests, but as he tossed and turned in the bed, his mind was filled with turbulent, turmoiled thoughts. He’d thought retirement had been what he wanted, but without Vyne to keep him company in his isolation, he wasn’t sure what he wanted.
When the light swallowed him up and deposited him roughly on the hard floor of the platform, he first thought he was caught up in some kind of dream. But this was too vivid, too strange. This was real. He wanted to lash out, to fight his way free of the darkness that entrapped him, but his knife and bow were back in the bungalow, and Vyne was dead and buried.
He had nothing.
* * *
The selfishness of others was a source of unceasing disappointment.
Today, despite his intentions to the contrary, Dreisen had found himself called in to the Bionifight Commemorative Museum, which was an even bigger joke than it sounded. The committee operating it insisted that it was a respectful establishment intended for educational awareness purposes, but unlike the unwashed masses the museum was pandering to, Dreisen wasn’t a moron.
The museum was just a giant money making ploy, exactly like the Bionifight Tournament itself had been. Entry prices were high, half of the exhibits required special tickets or passes to get into, and the merchandise was horrendously expensive. It made him sick, watching the lives and stories of both the survivors, and the fallen, being used for profit.
Today, however, his disdain for the establishment fell to the wayside, replaced by a growing sense of concern as he followed a nervous Kestora curator into the basement below the museum.
“We’re here,” the diminutive being came to a stop before a set of sturdy, reinforced metal doors. There was a keypad on the wall, and it took the Kestora’s shaking hands several attempts before he was able to correctly enter the dozen-digit passcode. The doors slid open, to reveal a colossal stockpile of poorly-organised artefacts. Most of it was, honestly, just junk and scrap parts leftover from the wreckage. There were plenty of control panels, computer screens, and medical units as well, since there was no point sticking twenty identical objects out on display upstairs.
However, in the middle of the mess was a noticeable empty space. The gaps in the dust made it clear that something had been there quite recently, but there were no footprints or drag marks to indicate it having been removed.
That was exactly why Dreisen had been called here. After all, when one of the Bionifight facility’s old teleporter units just vanished, who else could you contact except for the Bionifight facility’s former chief engineer?
“When was the last time anyone had eyes on this unit?” He demanded, rounding on the snivelling curator.
“Last night. We always check the inventory when we leave at night, and arrive in the morning.”
“So it was here when you left last night, but gone when you got here this morning?” He reiterated, “And who else has the access codes for this vault? Night staff? Security guards?”
“Well yes, but the system logs every entry, and no one’s been in here.”
“Clearly someone has been,” Dreisen growled, “Equipment like that doesn’t just disappear on its own. It-” a hazy nimbus of light flared into life around him, and with a sudden pang of panic, he recognised it for what it was.
Whoever had taken the teleporter was using it to take him, too.
* * *
The lab was in shambles. Without his contingent of reprogrammed Baterra to defend the place, there was no way to keep out the more unsavoury elements of the Bara Magnan populace. It looked like another band of Vorox or scavengers had torn through the place in the night, utterly ruining any potential of progress the lone Great Being’s experiments might’ve had.
For once, however, he didn’t care.
Today was the day, finally, after months of waiting. Calmly, meticulously, he opened up the secret compartment in the floor and began to withdraw the objects he’d stashed there in preparation for this day – the components for his old hardlight rifle, the wrist-blade he’d acquired during Landfall, and a few of the more recent donations he’d received from his patron.
Once he was ready, he sat himself down in his favourite chair, and waited.
When the time came for the white light of the teleportation vortex to swallow him, he was ready for it.
* * *
The Containment Centre was silent.
The last of the unfortunate captives the cult had accumulated over the course of its terrifying tenure had died out months ago, be it from malnourishment, disease, or upon Hive’s own operating table. He’d considered seeking out more, but the Herald of Fear – the last of the Heralds, and therefore the only being in existence who had any kind of authority over him – had assured him that a far greater purpose awaited him, in time.
So he’d allowed himself to enter a dormancy state, powering down his exo-suit and Nanoswarm, and focusing his processing power on combing through the plethora of data he’d gathered over the decades.
And thus, for over a year, there’d been no sound at all from within the stark interior of the Containment Centre, save for the soft, near-inaudible whirring of the cooling fans in the databank that Hive had plugged himself into to boost his processors. But now, those too, had fallen silent.
The databank powered down, and Hive’s exo-suit powered up. It straightened to its full height, unplugging itself from the external computers as it did. It strode out of the archive room and stomped quickly down the corridor. Once, these corridors would have been filled with the groans and screams of the dead, dying, and undead. The sounds of science, of progress. Now, the only sound to accompany him was his own heavy footfalls, along with the occasional creak of squeaky joints, and the hiss of hydraulic systems.
He entered his private chambers, and stepped into the repair bay. First, a fine spray of mist enveloped him, washing away most of the dust that had accumulated over his body in the time since his last repair cycle. Once that was done, a host of mechanical limbs lurched into life, analysing and probing at Hive’s external components, while a diagnostic AI ran a check on his software.
After that, the repair bay set about removing and replacing any problematic components from the exo-suit. Most of the damage was minor – rust, dents, and scratches – but today was a special day, and he’d decided it would be best to perform a full overhaul, for appearance’s sake, if nothing else.
When at last the restoration was complete, Hive stepped off the repair platform and set off across the room, where his weapon’s system awaited him in an airtight, sterilised case. First, he reattached his grenade launcher, before cycling through the ammunition canisters to ensure that they were intact, and that the viruses housed within were all still viable.
Satisfied that he was indeed ready, Hive adopted a ready stance, and waited for the white light to envelop him.
He didn’t have to wait very long.
* * *
She’d thought she would never get bored of this place.
How wrong she’d been.
The Trophy Hall of Tuoni’s home had become a private purgatory for Psycho Green. While the others of her sect had gone out to fight the Bionifighters and escaped prisoners, she’d decided to stay behind, try out the Herald’s throne, play around with the artefacts, and in general do a whole bunch of dumb things she’d never be allowed to do when the others were around.
And then they’d all gotten themselves killed. Ironic, considering they were supposed to be the ones who brought death, but it had happened nonetheless. They were gone, and she was still here, trapped in Tuoni’s accursed Palace of Death, surrounded by imagery devoted to a god of death who had – again, rather ironically – gotten themselves killed.
For months, it had felt like she was trapped in some kind of sick, twisted joke. She and the others had devoted their lives to Tuoni, to Kuolema, to death itself, and this was her reward? Trapped in a tomb of incongruity, with only memories and madness for company.
There was food, at least, most of it canned goods and non-perishables, out of necessity. And then she had shown up, promising that the time would soon come for Green to surpass the failings of her predecessors, to bring death to those who had slain her fellow cultists.
So, with no better prospects, she’d waited, biding her time, honing her skills, and praying to any one or thing that might still be listening. And at last, the promised day had finally arrived.
The entry portal wound up being a little off-target, likely due to the mist of death still obscuring the palace, opening a few feet away from Green instead of around her.
But it was there, freedom, hope, within her reach, and she didn’t hesitate in flinging herself through it.
* * *
As the various survivors tried in vain to find a way off the platforms they were trapped on, they would see a square of light flicker into existence before them, shining like a beacon in the otherwise impenetrable darkness.
Any stirrings of hope they might have felt were quickly quashed, however, as the chillingly familiar face of a darkened Ta-Toa came into view. A face that bore a Mask of Emulation Nuva. A face that belonged to one of the few contestants in the Bionifight tournament who had been undeniably, irredeemably, pure evil.
The Toa’s name was Dayeth, and she’d been looking forward to this moment for a very long time.