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End of a Universe, Birth of a Kingdom


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#1 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Apr 06 2017 - 05:11 PM

End of a Universe, Birth of a Kingdom

 

PROLOGUE

 

Gathered friends,

 

listen again to our legend of the BIONICLE.

 

In the time before time, the Great Beings brought our universe into being and created we, the ones who once called it home, to populate it. For years, we labored in darkness, the reason for our work mysterious, our purpose unknown. Then the Great Beings created the Great Spirit Mata Nui, who would guide us, protect us and watch over the universe they had made.

 

We were separate and without purpose, so the Great Spirit illuminated us with the Three Virtues: Unity, Duty, and Destiny.

 

Some of us embraced these gifts and devoted their lives to respecting them. Others chose different paths. We all knew, however, that we had to thank and honor the Great Spirit for the light that shone on our world, the winds that blew through our lands and all the gifts nature had given us. Never did we think someone would dare to rebel against him.

 

But we were wrong.

 

Mata Nui’s most powerful servants, the Makuta, became jealous of these honors and betrayed him, casting a spell over Mata Nui, who fell into a deep slumber. The Matoran of Metru Nui, Mata Nui’s beloved city, were exiled from their home, while the Makuta unleashed their shadows on the rest of the universe, plunging it into war and chaos.

 

A thousand years later came our deliverance. Six Toa heroes appeared on the shores of the island of Mata Nui. They fought many battles and, in the end, they managed, aided by me, to lead the Matoran back to Metru Nui. We rejoiced, for we believed the Makuta defeated and our suffering over.

 

But once again, our happiness was not to last.

 

The leaders of Metru Nui, the Turaga, discovered that the Great Spirit was not merely asleep; he was dying. In desperation, they sent the Toa to the island of Voya Nui, searching for the fabled Mask of Life, the only hope for Mata Nui and the universe. But the Toa were defeated and all our hopes came to rest upon six Matoran traveling to Voya Nui in search of their heroes.

 

Against all odds, these six succeeded. Transformed into Toa, they fought to save our universe and finally claimed the Mask of Life, only to lose it. Their pursuit of it brought them to an underwater city, where new foes awaited them. The Toa were drawn into yet another struggle, from which they once again seemed to emerge victorious, for they were able to retrieve the Mask of Life.

 

But their courage and determination were not enough. Sometimes, even a hero can be too late.   

 

The Toa had taken too long to accomplish their task.

 

And the Great Spirit Mata Nui was dead.

 

– Turaga Takanuva

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Apr 06 2017 - 06:08 PM.

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#2 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Apr 11 2017 - 05:56 PM

ONE

 

Turaga Dume stood at the window of his private chamber. From there, he could see the whole city of Metru Nui, bathed in the light of the lone sun. It was a wondrous sight, one that he had often beheld in the past, but today it held a special significance. For the first time in a millennium, the city was whole again. The scars left by the great earthquake that a thousand years ago had ravaged the city were at last healed, the foundries, the temples, the tall Knowledge Towers and all the other buildings that had collapsed beyond repair had been miraculously restored.

 

For a thousand years Dume had wandered amidst the ruins of the city he had once ruled, contemplating the destruction that had been wrought upon it and wondering whether Metru Nui would ever regain its former glory. Even after the Matoran had returned, filling Dume with joy, restoring the city had at times seemed an impossible task. But the day before, a miracle had happened. A mysterious energy had washed upon the city; within moments, the damage caused by the Great Cataclysm had been repaired, as if it had never existed. For a moment, the Turaga and the Matoran had dared hope.

 

Dume turned away from the window, despair and resignation once more weighing upon his heart. Their hopes had been shortlived. Nothing had changed. When night had fallen, Nuju had fixed his telescope upon the heavens. It hadn’t taken long for him to report that only a couple of stars remained visible in the sky. The Turaga all knew what it meant. The death of the Great Spirit was imminent.

 

He found himself wondering if things could have been different, if he could have done more to try and prevent the impending catastrophe. When he and Nuju had discovered that Mata Nui was dying, he had immediately ordered the Toa Nuva to travel to the island of Voya Nui in search of the Mask of Life, the only hope they had to save the life of the Great Spirit. He had, however, insisted that Takanuva remain behind, as the stars said he should. Even when it had become obvious that the Nuva had met defeat on the island, he had refused to send the Toa of Light after them, for that had to be, somehow, Mata Nui’s will. Besides, he had reasoned, a lone Toa couldn’t succeed where six had failed.

 

Was I wrong? Should I have made a last attempt? After all, we had nothing to lose. And yet, the stars were agreeing with me…

 

In his wisdom, Dume knew doubts were part of a being’s life. They were healthy, for they prevented him from sticking blindly to a single course of action. However, he was used to finding solutions to them. But this time, all his experience and knowledge could not give deliver him a single answer.

 

Some of the other Turaga, especially Nokama and Matau, were still setting their hopes on the team of Matoran Jaller had led south to search for the Nuva. Dume was skeptical. He doubted the six Matoran could even make it to Voya Nui, let alone save the Nuva or find the Mask of Life.

 

And yet, he once more began doubting himself. Should he have paid more heed to the other Turaga? Had he underestimated their own wisdom to the point where he had completely closed himself to their suggestions?

 

The benefit of hindsight.

 

Suddenly, he felt reality shift abruptly. Before his eyes, a shadow flowed across the city, shrouding it in blackness. There should have lightstones down below to light the city streets, but only a few were glowing and their light was pale, weak, the ember of a fire gone out. A cold wind began blowing across the city, seeping into Dume’s own rooms. But the Turaga didn’t even notice it, for it didn’t even come close to the cold he felt inside his soul, the same every being in this universe was now feeling.

 

He walked out onto the platform built upon the Coliseum’s spire, having to lean on his staff for support. The lone sun’s light had been extinguished. No stars were illuminating the sky. All confirmations of something Dume already knew.

 

The Great Spirit Mata Nui was dead.

 

Although he was far above the rest of the city, he could feel the cries of panic and fear uttered by the Matoran far below. He was tempted to join them, for in truth there was little else he could do.

 

Then, he didn’t know if from his years as Toa, from his experience as a Turaga or from a faint hope he still had in the future, he found the strength to act. When the seven Turaga had last met, they had discussed a last resort solution. It was probably doomed to failure, but at this point it was the only thing that was left to them.

 

There were two Ta-Matoran guards standing at the entrance of his chamber. Dume could tell that they were trying to mask their desperation, to remain steadfast until the end. He suddenly wished he had the time to listen to their grief and to comfort them, as the other Turaga would surely be doing right now. They had forged far closer bonds with the Matoran they led and Dume found himself regretting not having done the same.

 

But there is no time for regrets.

 

“Agni?” he said tentatively to one of the guards. In truth, he wasn’t even sure of the Matoran’s name.

 

“Y…yes, Turaga?”

 

“I want you to send messages to the other Turaga. Have them meet me here as quickly as possible.”

 

-----

 

The other Toa Mahri had caught up to the stunned Matoro. They had all felt the abrupt shift in the fabric of existence. Even if they had not, one look at Matoro would have told them what had happened.

 

The Barraki and their armies were still rushing headlong toward them. Mata Nui’s life or death meant nothing to them, if they even sensed it. All they cared about was escape from the Pit, even if there was nowhere left to which they could escape. In a minute, no more, the Toa would be engulfed by the oncoming force.

 

“We were too late,” said Matoro, in shocked tones. “He’s dead.”

 

“We will be too, pretty soon,” said Hewkii, looking over his shoulder. “The Barraki are desperate. Nothing’s going to stop them now.”

 

“Maybe… maybe we should destroy the mask,” said Kongu. “Make sure it doesn’t fall into their hands.”

 

“Even if it did… what would it matter now?” said Nuparu.

 

“No,” said Matoro quietly. “No, no, no.” He looked at Jaller. “It doesn’t end this way. Not without one last try.”

 

“Try? Try what?” said Kongu. “The Great Spirit’s dead.”

 

“I don’t know,” said Matoro. “All I do know is that I am holding a Mask of Life. That has to mean something. What if there’s some way to bring him back?”

 

At one time, Jaller would have dismissed Matoro’s words as insane. But it had not been so very long ago that he had been killed by a Rahkshi then revived through the power of a being called Takutanuva. Who could say what was impossible?

 

“We have to go, now,” said Matoro. “We have to try!”

 

Jaller looked at Matoro. Then he glanced at the massive armies of the Barraki closing in on them. In the next moment, he left no doubt that he had been destined to

be a leader of Toa.

 

“No,” he said to Matoro. “You have to go. You have to try. The rest of us will stay here and buy you time. Go!”

 

Toa of Ice looked at Toa of Fire. Traditionally, the avatars of these two elements had clashed, and it had been no different for these two. But Matoro knew what Jaller was saying; he and the other Mahri were prepared to give Mata Nui, and Matoro, a chance to live.

 

It was a moment that called for words… and a moment that called for silence. Matoro reached out and shook Jaller’s hand, both of them knowing it would be for the last time.

 

“Make sure to tell the new Chronicler what happened here,” said Hewkii. “I’d hate to think we went through all his and don’t even get a legend out of it.”

 

“And make sure they pick a good Chronicler,” said Hahli, forcing a smile. “Maybe a Ko-Matoran, just to be different.”

 

Too choked with emotion to speak, Matoro turned and started swimming after the island of Voya Nui. Behind him, five Toa Mahri turned to face a wave of evil, prepared to meet their fate.

 

-----

 

The Toa Mahri were fighting the good fight… and losing.

 

Spurred on by the maddened Barraki, their sea creature armies were attacking in never-ending waves, heedless of their own safety. The faster the Toa fought them off with weapons and elemental powers, the faster more appeared. The heroes had rapidly become surrounded. They hovered in the water in a circle, backs to each other, struggling to repel each attack as it came.

 

Toa Hewkii spotted a school of sharks break off from the rest and head off in pursuit of Matoro. Using his Mask of Gravity, he increased their mass until they slammed into and through the sea floor.

 

“They’re going all around us!” shouted Hahli. “We can’t stop them all!”

 

“The Barraki know they just need to tie us down here,” Jaller replied, fending off a mob of venom eels. “And if enough of their creatures reach Matoro…”

 

Hearing the strain in his voice, Hahli glanced over her shoulder at Jaller. The Toa of Fire was glowing white-hot.

 

“What are doing?” she cried.

 

“If there’s no other chance… no other way… I am going nova,” Jaller answered. “If Matoro is far enough away, and his pursuers still in range… well, it may buy him a few more seconds.”

 

“You’ll kill us all,” said Hewkii. “You know that, right?”

 

“And all of them,” added Kongu. “Plus everything else for Kios around.”

 

“If Matoro fails, we’re all dead anyway,” said Jaller. “But you four can go… try to get out of range; I will wait as long as I can. Don’t hesitate. Go!”

 

Hahli shook her head.

 

“We have fought together for over 1000 years, Jaller. We’re not going to stop now. And we’ll die together if we have to.”

 

-----

 

Exhausted and in pain, Matoro fought to keep moving. Up ahead, Voya Nui had shot through the hole in the sea floor. The Toa of Ice followed an instant later. The first shock was that there was light down here, provided by scattered lightstones like those used in Metru Nui. The second was that there was another far below, one whose shape matched that of Voya Nui perfectly. The gap was in the center of a land mass of enormous size, larger than anything Matoro had ever seen. The third was that this area was not flooded; water was streaming down through the sea floor and down into the second gap, but so vast was the space that even after 1000 years, it was still mostly dry.

 

The southern continent, Matoro thought, eyes fixed on the land below. The Matoran of Voya Nui said their island had once been part of a larger continent before it broke off. And that’s where it’s returning, but… what’s that down below?

 

The Toa’s attention had been drawn to the powerful light coming from the gap in the continent. He had never seen such pure white light before, except when Toa Takanuva was in action. Even though he could tell it was rapidly fading, it was still incredibly bright.

 

That’s where I have to go, he thought, suddenly sure of it. The light… the power… the energy… that has to be the core of this universe. And where else would the Mask of Life be used?

 

Voya Nui was mere moments from slamming back into place. Once it did so, there might be no way to access the core; at least, not quickly enough to do Mata Nui any good. Matoro’s only hope was to slip through the gap before the island sealed it off.

 

He never stopped to consider how he would make his way out once he was inside. All that mattered was saving Mata Nui. There was no room to care about anything beyond that.

 

Drawing on his very last bit of energy, Matoro raced to outdistance Voya Nui. The island had picked up speed as it got close to home. It was going to be close. If the Toa went fast, but not quite fast enough, he could easily wind up crushed between the island and the continent.

 

The muscle tissue that held his mechanical parts in place “screamed” in protest as he tried to push himself to the breaking point.* But, try as he might, he couldn’t get his body to go any faster.

 

I’m not going to make to it, Matoro realized.

 

In the split second during which this doubt raced through Matoro’s head, Voya Nui overtook him for good, slamming into the southern continent. The whole landmass shook violently as the island’s impact triggered a massive quake and unleashed a deafening boom which echoed throughout the dome.

 

But the Toa Mahri of Ice did not hear it. The blast reverberated within his ears, but his mind was frozen in shock, unable to process what had just happened. His body faltered as all strength left his limbs. His eyes were wide open, but all Matoro could see was the light of the core of the universe winking out, over and over again. Thus, he did not see the ground, rushing up to meet him.

 

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*Text taken from BIONICLE Legends #8: Downfall


Edited by Toa of Italy, Apr 20 2017 - 04:17 PM.

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#3 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Apr 20 2017 - 04:16 PM

TWO

 

Jaller had made his decision. Kongu had already fallen to a treacherous attack by Carapar, and Nuparu had been captured by the forces of Kalmah. Hewkii and Hahli were fighting like wild beasts, but had no chance against the overwhelming numbers of the Barraki forces. There had been no sign of Matoro or that he had succeeded in his mission.

 

This has to end now, he thought. I have to make sure that if we’re defeated, the Barraki can’t stop Matoro or get their hands on the Mask of Life.

 

Pridak’s efforts to reach Jaller had so far been blocked by the other Toa and by the sheer, overwhelming heat the Toa of Fire was giving off. Now it was time for Jaller to unleash his full power for the first time in one devastating nova burst.

 

Mata Nui forgive me, he said to himself. He closed his eyes, relaxed his mental control of his fiery energies, and* let all the heat and flame that had built up inside him rush out in a single, immense elemental blast.

 

During the last few battles, Jaller had found it very difficult to use his powers under the sea, often straining just to prevent the waters from quenching his fires. It made no difference now. A sphere of white-hot flame exploded out of his body, vaporizing all the seawater in its way and turning the watery realm of the Pit into an inferno of fire. Its darkest reaches were suddenly drenched in light, its coldest regions turned boiling hot.

 

The sea creatures that had got closest to the leader of the Toa Mahri were the first to perish: the fires rushed at them before they could even attempt to escape and in a split second incinerated their bodies completely. The other Rahi turned around, desperately trying to flee, but not even the fastest sea creature could outrace Jaller’s Nova Blast. The flames bore down upon them, consuming everything in their path. Only ashes were left to mark the passing of the Barraki and of the thousands of Rahi that had followed their commands.

 

Toa Hahli saw all this. Just a few moments before, she had been the one to declare that the Toa Mahri would die as they had lived, together. But now she refused to see that happen. And so, in the instants left to her, she summoned her own powers and channeled a monstrous current into Hewkii, Kongu and Nuparu. The three Toa were hurled away from the battle scene at a speed which would have outraced even the most proficient Kanohi Kakama wearer. The flames burned their way after them, but the Toa Mahri of Water knew they would never reach them.

 

As the flames bore down upon her, Hahli felt no regrets. As a Ga-Matoran, she had often thought that being Ga-Koro’s assistant flax maker was all the future she could look forward to. Instead, the shy flax maker had become a fighter, a Kolhii champion, a Chronicler and finally a Toa. She had gone on incredible adventures and seen things beyond her wildest dreams; and she had found the best friends she could ever have hoped for.

 

Now, with her last act as a Toa, she had saved them. It wasn’t a bad way to die, she thought. Then the flames reached her, and she was no more.

 

-----

 

Cold winds swept through Metru Nui. Only a few hours had passed since the Great Spirit’s death, but already the temperatures in the city were dropping. The great storm that had gripped the Silver Sea, blowing rain and snow into the city, hadn’t helped. Some areas of Ko-Metru were already on the verge of becoming inhabitable, while several spots on Ga-Metru’s coast had been flooded by the violent sea.

 

The Turaga had ordered the entire population to move towards Ta-Metru, hoping its fires would manage to preserve the temperature there for some more time. It was easier said than done. While the chute network had been mostly regenerated by the mysterious energy that had washed over the city the day before, the Le-Matoran had not yet managed to assume full control over it. And even working chutes were useless without power, which was what the city was losing as the storms and the cold compromised the flow of Protodermis through the canals and into the power plants under the Coliseum, which had already been damaged by the cracks that for some days had been appearing under the building’s foundations.

 

Other kinds of transportation were being sought out, but that too was difficult. Trained Rahi like Ussal crabs and Gukko birds were becoming less obedient as the catastrophe in progress around them re-awakened their more basic instincts of fear and terror. Besides, traveling through the streets was becoming less viable as water and snow started invading them. The sub-levels and maintenance tunnels of the Archives lying beneath the city were unaffected by weather conditions, but after Mata Nui’s death the Lightstones that illuminated them were dimming and going out, making it difficult to navigate within the underground maze.

 

As the Archives were plunged into darkness, however, a single being stealthily moved through them. The absence of light did not concern him: he had ways to perceive his surroundings that went beyond mere sight. Besides, the hallways he was currently traversing had been his home for centuries: he knew their layout by heart.

 

The Dark Hunter codenamed Dweller could still recall clearly the day he had arrived in Metru Nui, a thousand years before, sent by the Shadowed One, leader of the organization, to monitor the situation in the City of Legends in anticipation of a prospective Dark Hunter occupation. He had carried out his duty meticulously, reporting for a millennium every move of the Rahaga, Turaga Dume and Keetongu. More recently, he had watched the return of the Matoran, the discovery of Mata Nui’s imminent death and the departure of the Toa Nuva in search of the Mask of Life. His last orders had been to prepare to strike down Toa Takanuva, last remaining protector of the city, and thus open the way for the long-awaited Dark Hunter invasion.

 

But the death of the Great Spirit had changed everything. Dweller no longer knew what to do: the city of Metru Nui was doomed, but so was the rest of the universe. He had sent a message to the Shadowed One, asking for instructions, but he wasn’t sure the leader of the Dark Hunters would have any to give him, if the message even reached him.  

 

It had been then that his mental powers had revealed to him that Turaga Dume had summoned the other six Turaga. Upon learning this, Dweller had immediately headed for the Coliseum, for he had realized that assisting to the meeting might prove vital. In the last few days, the Turaga had begun to outline a contingency plan of sorts, to implement should Mata Nui finally perish; if they were assembling now, it could only mean that they were going to try and put that plan into practice.

 

He reached the end of the last hallway. There was an elevator there, but it was not working. Dweller headed for the service hatch; after a short climb, he emerged from the ground straight in front of one of the bridges leading to the Coliseum. It had started to rain heavily and it was very cold. There was a guard post next to the bridge, but the Matoran took no notice as he walked past them, for the knowledge of his presence had been eliminated from their minds.

 

Dweller slipped into the Coliseum through a side entrance, as he had done many times in the past. It took him some time to ascend up the stairways to the Coliseum’s tallest spire; although the elevators within the building had been repaired after the return of the Matoran, Dweller kept to his old route to avoid detection. He reached the throne room at the same time as Turaga Whenua. Cloaked by his powers, he followed the Turaga of Earth into the chamber, where the other Turaga were already waiting for him. He could have scanned their minds, but he decided that he could not take the risk that they might detect him, improbable as that might be; this was going to be his most important report, he couldn’t afford anything going wrong. Instead, he walked to a dark corner and settled down to listen.

 

-----

 

“I apologize for the delay,” said Whenua. “I have been overseeing the movements through the maintenance tunnels.”

 

“Are there still enough Lightstones to light the tunnels?” asked Vakama.

 

“Barely. Their glow is growing weaker and many have already gone out. But we should manage for some more time. Fortunately, there aren’t as many creatures in Metru Nui as there were a thousand years ago. Despite the darkness, the maintenance tunnels remain safe to travel in.”

 

“Enough,” said Turaga Dume. “Let us get to the point. You all know why we are here. The Great Spirit Mata Nui is dead.”

 

Resigned silence met these words. The Turaga had all witnessed disasters and tragedies before, but nothing could compare to this. Even as he spoke, Dume felt once again the temptation to lose himself in the grief that they were all carrying within. But his resolve prevailed and he continued:

 

“The city won’t last for long. We have to evacuate the Matoran before it is too late.”

 

“How much time do we have?” asked Onewa.

 

“Nuju and I have calculated that the universe has about three days left, maybe less.”

 

“No time to waste-lose, then. We must sail-set for Mata Nui, as we discussed,” said Matau.

 

“I remain doubtful,” replied Dume. “That island is directly above Metru Nui. If the city’s dome collapses, Mata Nui will too.”

 

“It doesn’t seem like we have another choice,” said Vakama. “We can’t stay here and we can’t find another way out of the universe in time. It’s Mata Nui or nothing.”

 

“Vakama’s right,” nodded Nokama. “At the very least, we’ll have got the Matoran out of Metru Nui, which is certain to be destroyed. If, then, Mata Nui collapses too, we’ll try to sail away from it and find another land.”

 

“Very well, then,” said Dume. “How will we organize? Nokama?”

 

“This storm is strong, but I have confidence in my Ga-Matoran. However, a single fleet would be more vulnerable. Mata Nui teaches… taught… us Unity, but in this case I think smaller, separate fleets would guarantee a greater probability of success.”

 

“Consider that the storms will only get worse as the end approaches,” said Dume.

 

“Nokama knows more about the sea than any of us,” said Whenua. “I think we should all trust her judgment on this.”

 

“Smaller fleets it is, then,” said Dume. “How many, exactly?”

 

“I was thinking about three,” said Nokama. “A first one should leave immediately. The other two should follow before the third day. Ga-Matoran will be evenly distributed on all three. I think the same should apply to the other Matoran tribes, as well as to us Turaga.”

 

“Agreed,” said Vakama. “That way the three groups will all be able to count on a broader range of talents. However, I think that the Matoran from Karzahni should all be with the first fleet. They don’t have the skills the other Matoran have, so it’s best to send them across before the journey becomes even more difficult.”

 

One by one, the other Turaga nodded. The previous day had not only seen the city miraculously repaired. Just after dawn, Ga-Matoran sailors had glimpsed a crowd of several hundred Matoran gathered on a narrow peninsula jutting out of the southern Great Barrier, between two Sea Gates. It had taken the best part of the day to ferry them across the Silver Sea to the city. Their appearance had shocked both Matoran and Turaga. They were twisted and deformed, as if they had rebuilt themselves like the Matoran of Metru Nui had, but with disastrous results. Nor was the damage limited to their bodies: their eyes were hollow and haunted, as if the spark of life had left their bodies; most appeared to have lost the ability to speak and many seemed only dimly aware of what was happening around them. The only information the Turaga had managed to get out of them was the name of the land from which they had come: Karzahni, the infernal realm described in the darkest and most frightening legends of the Matoran.

 

Had there been time, the Turaga would have tried to heal the minds of these traumatized Matoran and rebuild their bodies. As it was, these Matoran would have to join the evacuation and, given their conditions, Vakama’s suggestion made sense.

 

The Turaga discussed the composition of the fleets for a few more minutes, but the meeting soon seemed to draw to a close. Then Matau spoke up:

 

“Wait, Turaga-brothers,” said Matau. “You’ve quick-forgotten about Rahi-beasts. Whenua before-said there aren’t as many as in the city now, but we’ve all seen-watched that the Rahi are down-coming back to Metru Nui. What if there is danger-trouble on Mata Nui? What if we’re sending the Matoran into the hands of a new bad-enemy?”

 

The Turaga of Air had a point. Rahi had been spotted all over the Great Barrier in the last few days, crowding the beaches and the rocky ledges of the cliff looming over the Silver Sea to the north, east and west. The creatures capable of flight had begun to settle in Metru Nui as well and even some of the terrestrial animals seemed to have crossed the sea somehow. There was only one place the Rahi could be coming from: Mata Nui. For some reason, the creatures that one thousand years ago had colonized the island after being chased away from the city by the Visorak Horde were now coming back. The Turaga did not know the cause of this migration, but Matau’s concerns seemed reasonable enough.

 

“There is no alternative,” said however Onewa. “We’ll have to take the risk.”

 

“That doesn’t mean we should straight-walk into dark-danger unprepared.”

 

“True,” agreed Dume. “There will need to be guard regiments on all the fleets and we should take all the weapons at our disposal with us.”

 

“We recovered hundreds of Kanoka Disks from the ruins of the city,” said Vakama. “We even started to craft some new ones. We should take them with us.”

 

“I would prefer if our ships sailed through the storm without being too loaded,” said Nokama. “But I’ll see what I can do.”

 

A short pause followed. It was Dume who finally broke the silence:

 

“Is there anything else?”

 

Nokama hesitated, but then replied:

 

“Yes, I think there is one last issue we need to address. What about the rest of the universe? We might just have found a way to escape the imminent catastrophe. Shouldn’t we share it?”

 

It was Nuju who replied, uttering a short series of clicks and whistles and concluding with a sharp slashing motion. For a few moments, no one spoke a word. Then Onewa said:

 

“I must agree with Nuju.”

 

“So must I,” said Vakama.

 

Nokama stared at them, as if shocked by their answer. It fell to Dume to put into words what they were all thinking:

 

“Nokama… how can we do so? The storms are getting worse. We have no way to contact the rest of the universe, and we can’t ask one of the Matoran to risk his or her life to get a message out of Metru Nui.”

 

The other Turaga all nodded. For a moment, Nokama looked ready to argue, but then she lowered her head in resigned acceptance.

 

“Fine, then. The decision is made. I believe we should now announce our plans to the Matoran. May the Great Beings watch over us all.”

 

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*Text taken from BIONICLE Legends #8: Downfall


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#4 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Apr 25 2017 - 03:22 PM

THREE

 

The island had no name. It needed none. Many years had passed since a traveler had last set foot upon its shores; centuries, perhaps millennia, had gone by since someone had last called the island home.

 

All in all, the history of the isle was little different from that of the many lands that were known in the rest of the universe simply as the Southern Islands. Throughout the millennia, the Southern Islands had always lain at the margins of history and of the known world. Their lack of natural resources made them economically worthless and excluded them from all major trade routes. The frequent volcanic eruptions, the barren land and the strange, dangerous creatures that populated the islands had over time won them a reputation for being sinister, inhospitable locations, inhabited by barbaric and savage races. Today, the Southern Islands were widely regarded as places where only mad, foolhardy explorers would dare venture, often never to return, and where the most shunned and hated outcasts would seek refuge, far from all civilization.

 

But when the Rahi that dwelled on the unnamed island first beheld the visitor, even their primitive minds recognized that he was neither of those things. The being seemed to appear out of nowhere, at the very heart of the forest that covered a wide valley surrounded by the island’s jagged peaks. Darkness reigned supreme here: the leaves and branches of the gnarled, twisted trees allowed almost no sunlight to shine through, shrouding the land in a perpetual gloom. The creatures that lurked in the forest had long before learned to use that gloom to their advantage: predators would exploit the cover of darkness to creep up undetected on any unwary prey, which in turn would try and use the shadows to conceal itself and cover its escape.

 

However, the visitor had now brought with him a new darkness; the moment he materialized, a blackness more complete than anything the creatures had ever experienced descended upon the forest, a shadow where no prey could find safety and which made even the most ferocious predator tremble. Yet it was the visitor himself who struck true fear into every Rahi that beheld him. He was clad in powerful, black armor and, as he surveyed his surroundings, dark energy coursed through his form, as if ready to be unleashed to wreak destruction upon anything in the being’s path. A pair of red eyes blazed out of his mask, burning with evil, hatred and rage. And the mask itself had a shape that was described with dread in countless tales, for it was the Kanohi Kraahkan, the legendary Mask of Shadows, the symbol of the almighty Brotherhood of Makuta.

 

Icarax, Makuta of Karzahni, had long dreamt of the day he would lift the Mask of Shadows to his face; on that day, the power of Makuta Teridax, leader of the Brotherhood, would finally break; the great Plan Teridax had conceived to seize power over the universe would unravel, his fellow Makuta would abandon him and Icarax would at last step forward, to claim Teridax’s mask and with it leadership over the Brotherhood.

 

But things had not gone according to plan. Icarax had claimed the Mask of Shadows for his own after recovering it from Metru Nui’s Silver Sea; but it had been Teridax who had told him where to look for it, Teridax who had ordered him to retrieve it.

 

Nor had it ended there. With the Kanohi Kraahkan in his possession and Teridax far away, Icarax had toyed with the idea of taking control of the Brotherhood and had decided to begin by conquering the region he had been assigned to watch over, the realm of Karzahni. But no sooner had he started than another telepathic message from Teridax had come through, telling him to find and seize an artefact called the Staff of Artakha. For some reason, Icarax had found himself obeying: following Teridax’s instructions, he had teleported to the island of Xia and stolen the staff.

 

He had subsequently resumed his journey to Karzahni, but, in that land, he had been confronted by a team of Toa seeking the staff. He had easily defeated five of them, but a Nova Blast from the sixth had forced him to retreat and before he could attack anew, Teridax had contacted him again. Once again, he had felt compelled to follow his leader’s orders: he had travelled to the Southern Islands, found the shattered walls of a prison Teridax had called “the Pit” and made his way through its ruins to reach the sea lying outside the domes of the known universe; there, he had handed the staff over to Teridax himself. Icarax had naturally made us of his teleportation power, but nevertheless it had not been an easy journey.

 

Now he was on his way back, teleporting from island to island. His anger was growing with every jump. The Staff of Artakha was in no way connected to Teridax’s Plan. The leader of the Brotherhood simply meant to use it for some petty scheme of his, the sort that he routinely concocted to amuse himself and confuse his opponents. Icarax was a warrior, he had no patience for such convoluted intrigues. Since Teridax knew this well, it could only mean one thing: he had done all this to mock him, to humiliate him.

 

Just as he’s doing now. He has ordered me to return to Metru Nui and drain the light out of a miserable Po-Matoran who has served him in the past. It is a meaningless task, unworthy of a Makuta and yet he has me do it. He will pay for this. One day…

 

The universe shifted. What little light still penetrated through the roof of the wood vanished, extinguished. Even Icarax, who had long ago forsaken the ways of the Great Spirit along with his fellow Makuta, knew what was happening. Mata Nui had, at last, perished.

Icarax had never placed much faith in Teridax’s great Plan. It had always seemed to him far a too twisted and complicated plot, with not enough certainties and too many gambles. And the greatest gamble of all hinged around Mata Nui’s death. In order for the Plan to succeed, the Great Spirit had to be revived. Yet this was not something the Brotherhood could accomplish; it was up to the Toa, their sworn enemies, to use the Kanohi Ignika to give life back to the Great Spirit.

 

The sorts of the universe, and those of our grand Plan, in the hands of the Toa? How could Teridax ever think those feeble, pathetic ‘heroes’ would be up to such a challenge? They will fail and soon enough Teridax’s Plan will be in tatters.

 

Patience was not one of Icarax’s best qualities, but right now the Makuta felt he had no choice but to wait, to find out whether he was right or Teridax was. He settled down in the gloom of the forest and started sharpening his twin-bladed sword. Hours passed. Nothing happened. Mata Nui remained dead. And then, finally, Makuta Icarax rose once more to his feet. He stood still for a moment, then started laughing, a long, cruel laugh that echoed through the valley, filling every creature with terror. The universe was doomed, yet Icarax laughed, for there was no doubt about it: Teridax’s Plan had failed. Therefore, the Brotherhood would need a new leader. That only meant one thing: his time had finally come.

 

-----

                                                                                              

Jaller opened his eyes. For a few seconds, he wondered where he was. He was underwater, lying on a smooth but irregular rocky surface. It was dark, but not just due to the depth: it was as if a cloud of sand had risen from the seafloor to envelop the entire area.

 

No, not sand. Ash.

 

With that realization, memory came flooding back: the destruction of the Cord, the pursuit of Voya Nui, the parting with Matoro, the battle… the Nova Blast. And Jaller felt the void that was inside him, as if something had been ripped out, never to return, and he knew then that the Great Spirit Mata Nui was still dead.

 

But what happened to Matoro, then? Did he fail? Or is there still time? The battle… how long ago was the battle? And the Nova Blast…

 

He inspected his surroundings. The ash cloud wasn’t the only evidence of the explosion of fire he had unleashed. To begin with, the waters were warmer than they had ever been since the arrival in the Pit of the Toa Mahri. The rocks he was standing on were also strangely deformed, as if an immense heat had partially melted them. A thick layer of ash covered everything, but the Toa Mahri of Fire soon began to recognize some shapes, like the charred fin of a Takea shark or the shell of a Pit War Tortoise.

 

I killed them, he thought. I’m a Toa, sworn never to kill; and yet I killed them. And not only them. My friends, my teammates, are among them. And what for? Mata Nui is still dead. And I don’t know what has happened to Matoro.

 

Suddenly, a low hum filled the water. Jaller knew from his experience in the Pit, brief though it had been, that this was probably a danger of some kind. For a moment, he was tempted to simply wait for it to get to him and kill him; but the spirit of the Matoran who had Captain of Ta-Koro Guard for a thousand years eventually prevailed.

 

First, he tried to summon his fire power. When nothing happened, he realized the Nova Blast had completely exhausted it. Instead, he called upon the still-working power of his Kanohi Arthron; at the very least, he would find out what was approaching.

 

The mask quickly picked up the sound bouncing from a slow-moving object. Its shape was strange. It seemed a vehicle of some sort, but the Kanohi wasn’t accurate enough to make out more details. Then the object pierced the curtain of ash surrounding him and Jaller saw it with his own eyes.

 

It was indeed a small craft, seemingly designed for underwater travel. It was armed with a Cordak blaster resembling the one Jaller carried and riding it was a green Toa, with a red Matoran strapped to his back. The sight triggered a memory in the Toa of Fire’s head. When the two descended from the vehicle, he spoke:

 

“You’re… you’re Toa Lesovikk, aren’t you? And you are the Ta-Matoran called Sarda.”

 

The beings in front of him reacted with evident surprise.

 

“Yes,” said the Toa, “I’m Lesovikk. You obviously know us. Who are you?”

 

“My name is Jaller. We have never met, but I know of you from the tale of a Ga-Matoran called Idris. She appeared in the city of Mahri Nui shortly before my team and I led its Matoran away. She had been mutated by these waters and she told us that she had helped a Toa called Lesovikk and a Matoran called Sarda defeat the tyrant Karzahni. The description matches you.”

 

“Idris made it to Mahri Nui?” interjected Sarda. “Is she all right?”

 

“Yes, she made it. I… I don’t know if she’s all right. My team and I led her, along with the other Matoran, to the island of Voya Nui, above these waters. You must have seen what happened next. My team and I shattered the Stone Cord linking the two islands. Voya Nui was supposed to return to where it had come from, with the Matoran sheltering in underground caves. I don’t know if it worked. And even if it did, is anyone safe now that the Great Spirit Mata Nui is dead?”

 

Sarda’s eyes widened in fear, while Lesovikk’s posture suddenly became more rigid. After a few seconds, the Toa of Air spoke, words struggling to emerge from his mouth:

 

“Then it’s true. We both felt something happen a while back, but we weren’t certain. How can it be possible?”

 

“It is,” said Jaller. “Our mission… our mission was to save the Great Spirit by using the Kanohi Ignika, the Mask of Life. When he died, one of my teammates took the mask and followed Voya Nui, hoping to find a way to revive him. The rest of us stayed behind to prevent the Barraki and their armies from following.”

 

“You unleashed a Nova Blast, didn’t you?” said Lesovikk.

 

Jaller closed his eyes in pain.

 

“Yes, I did. I thought… that perhaps that way I would be able to allow him to complete his mission. My team refused to leave my side. They’re dead now, slain by my own hand. And Matoro… he must have failed, or else Mata Nui would be alive again.”

 

Lesovikk stayed silent. He had just met this Toa, but he could already feel a connection to him. A long time before, he had suffered the same loss Jaller had, seeing his team killed because he hadn’t been quick enough to act. It was as if he had slain them himself. Grief still haunted him. But Lesovikk had never experienced what Jaller was now feeling, the knowledge of having failed an entire universe. He would have liked to comfort him, but no words came to his mouth.

 

Suddenly, Jaller heard voices in the distance. Three of them.

 

“No…,” he gasped, “no, it can’t be.”

 

He activated his Mask of Sonar. Three Toa-shaped figures were heading in his direction.

 

“They’re alive. They’re alive.”

 

Caution was thrown to the wind. Before Lesovikk could stop him, Jaller started yelling:

 

“Hewkii! Kongu!”

 

“Jaller!” was the reply.

 

“I’m over here!” said the Toa of Fire.

 

Now Lesovikk and Sarda could see them too. A Toa of Earth, a Toa of Air and a Toa of Stone were making their way towards them. Jaller swam to meet them as though his life depended on it.

 

“I can’t… I can’t believe it. You’re alive.”

 

“Yes,” said Hewkii. “We are.”

 

Something in his tone wasn’t quite right. For a moment, Jaller thought it was because of the Great Spirit. Then he understood.

 

“Where… where is Hahli?”

 

No one spoke for a moment.

 

“She’s… she’s dead, Jaller,” answered finally Nuparu. “She saved us, pushing us away from your flames. But she couldn’t save herself. As her current hit us, we saw the fire engulf her.”

 

“No,” said Jaller. “No.”

 

As he looked up at his friends’ faces, he could see that they were mirroring his. Jaller sank to the ground, weeping in newfound grief.

 

-----

 

Axonn raised his axe and smashed its flat side against the pile of stones in front of him. The strength of the blow was staggering: the rocks struck by the weapon were instantly pulverized, while the ones buried beneath them were hurled outwards by a force akin to that of a Cordak rocket explosion. Axonn nodded with grim satisfaction, as the mouth of the cave was finally revealed.

 

He turned to the Matoran who were following him.

 

“Stay here, I will scout around. Once I’m sure that it’s safe, I will come back for you.”

 

Dalu and Defilak both looked ready to argue, but then the Le-Matoran nodded and gestured for the Matoran to withdraw back into the caverns where they had taken shelter during Voya Nui’s descent. Those had been the most terrible moments: deep beneath the ground, with only a few Lightstones and torches to provide illumination, the Matoran had felt the whole island quake more violently than ever before. Several portions of the chambers had caved in and the floor had kept tilting and trembling. Voya Nui had seemed on the verge of tearing itself apart and every Matoran had been well aware that, had such a thing happened, it would have meant the death of every single one of them. Then the final, dreadful impact had shaken the caves: roofs and walls had collapsed, cracks and chasms had opened beneath their feet, Lightstones had been shattered, torches extinguished and not one of them had managed to keep their balance.

 

But when the earth had stopped shaking, the Matoran had come to their senses again. Garan, Balta and Kazi had taken charge of the effort to survey the damage, recover the survivors of the cave-ins and treat the wounded. Dalu, Defilak and Velika had led a team of Matoran after Axonn to clear the way to the surface. Even aided by the power of the Order of Mata Nui warrior, it had taken them hours to create a passage through the rubble. But the Matoran had worked without protesting, not only because their lives depended on it, but also to take their mind off what had just happened. In spite of the terror that had accompanied the descent, they had all felt the death of the Great Spirit; now that knowledge was starting to sink in.

 

Axonn walked out of the cave and quickly got his bearings. The network of underground chambers beneath Voya Nui had multiple exits; the one from which they had emerged was located about halfway between the Matoran village and the base of Mount Valmai. After some consideration, he decided to head east, towards the settlement: from the high cliffs encircling the village, he would have a clear view of the surrounding land.

 

It was hard going. The incredible forces that had been unleashed during the island’s descent had dramatically altered the landscape. The paths that Axonn had threaded for a thousand years were gone, eroded by the waters or obstructed by landslides. He was forced to thread his way carefully across the broken land, often coming upon chasms and precipices that hadn’t been there before. The water was far from gone, too. In several spots, the dry soil of Voya Nui had turned into deep, treacherous mud, and here and there Axonn encountered streams and rivers of seawater rapidly flowing downhill.

 

It took him hours to reach a vantage point from where he could survey the landscape. Only then did he finally grasp of the magnitude of what had occurred. The hills and mountains that he remembered were still there, but the water and the quakes had changed their height and shape. The Green Belt, the area of Voya Nui that in all these centuries had remained lush and fertile in spite of the constant drought, was all but gone, with only small patches remaining here and there. He gazed down to where the Matoran Cliff Village had been located, but there was no sign of it now; everything the Matoran had ever built had been washed away by the waters. He could not spot any obvious danger: in fact, he hadn’t so far spotted a single living creature. When Voya Nui had rocketed upwards, a thousand years before, scores of Matoran and Rahi had perished, but there had been many survivors as well. Now, though, it looked as if nearly all life had been swept away.

 

Then Axonn turned north. For centuries, it had been possible from his current vantage point to see the waters of Voya Nui Bay. But the bay was gone now; land had replaced it, a land that Axonn was familiar with, but that he had sometimes thought he would never see again. His doubts had proven unfounded, though, and now, for the first time in a thousand years, Axonn gazed upon the Southern Continent.

 

The line of Voya Nui’s coast was still visible, of course: a deep cleft in the land ran along its length, bordered on both sides by huge cracks and broken blocks of earth and stone the size of mountains. The island’s impact had obviously triggered a powerful quake on the mainland as well and had probably caused considerable damage. And yet Axonn couldn’t help thinking that, compared to the blasted land of Voya Nui, the land of the Southern Continent looked healthy. He could grass, trees, rivers. The mountains of Voya Nui had been barren and drought-stricken for a thousand years, but the highlands that had replaced the bay were lush and green and seemed to brim with life. This was a place where, after a millennium of hardships, the Matoran could have rebuilt their lives. But now Mata Nui’s death had robbed them of the possibility.

 

As the thought crossed his mind, Axonn shivered. All of a sudden, he had noticed that the temperature had significantly decreased. It was also dark, darker than when he had set out. Somehow, Axonn knew that neither phenomenon was natural. They were but the foreboding of the destruction that would soon be upon them, a cataclysm that would dwarf the one that, a thousand years before, had ripped Voya Nui from the continent.

 

Was it truly the end of everything? Was there no escape? Despite all his wisdom, knowledge and experience, Axonn could not be sure. He couldn’t envisage an existence without the Great Spirit, yet it wasn’t in his nature to give up. He would have to contact the Order of Mata Nui and ask for instructions. Hopefully, his leaders would be able to tell him what to do next.

 

He was about to turn his back on the landscape to begin the trek back to the caves when he glimpsed something white down below, lying in the strip of broken land that had replaced the coastline. He frowned. It was unmistakably snow. But how could there be snow down there? It had never snowed on the mountains of Voya Nui and no snow patch would have ever survived Voya Nui’s descent anyway. And there didn’t seem to be any snow on the Southern Continent highlands, either. So where had this come from?

 

Axonn knew he should return to the Matoran without losing any more time. And yet, somehow, he also knew that this was important. It took him some time to descend the cliff and even more to navigate across the cracks and clefts that now lay between Voya Nui and the rest of the continent. It was dusk when he finally reached the snow patch, though in truth it had been dark for quite some time.

 

The snow was piled up in a heap, which was far larger than Axonn had originally thought. At first, he could find no reason for its presence. Then he saw the puddles that the melting snow had begun to form. In one of them lay the unconscious form of Toa Matoro, and in his hands an object that Axonn immediately recognized: the Kanohi Ignika, the Great Mask of Life.

 

For a moment, Axonn contemplated the artefact. He had guarded it for millennia and in all that time he had never laid his eyes upon it. But he had seen carvings of it and, besides, he could feel the power that emanated from it. The only thing that puzzled him was its color; he had always heard the Ignika described as a golden mask, but the Kanohi he was now looking at was gray, the color of a Great Mask that was not being worn. Could it be an effect caused by the death of the Great Spirit?

 

Whatever the reason, he knew better than to inspect the mask more closely. He was not worthy of touching it and he knew that the power of the Mask of Life was not to be trifled with. Instead, his attention switched to the Toa of Ice. A fraction of his power was enough to revive him. Matoro opened his eyes, blinked, and then saw the Order of Mata Nui member.

 

“Axonn! What is going on? Where am I? Where are the others? And Mata Nui…” and there his voice trailed off.

 

Axonn contemplated Matoro without speaking. A part of him felt pity for the Toa of Ice. But it was quickly replaced by anger and disappointment. For Matoro’s presence here could only mean one thing: he had failed. The last time he had seen the Toa Mahri, Axonn had instructed them to destroy the Stone Cord keeping Voya Nui floating in the sea above. The destruction of that slender anchor had sent the island hurtling back to the Southern Continent. The Toa Mahri had been supposed to follow it, for the island would take them to the core of the universe, where the Mask of Life was to be used to save the Great Spirit. What Axonn had not told the Toa was that to accomplish this, one of them would have to wear the mask and thus pay the ultimate price; for the power of the Ignika would consume its wearer and use his essence to give new life to the Great Spirit and to the entire universe. For some time, Axonn had suspected that the one called to make such a sacrifice would be Matoro.

 

But the Toa of Ice had failed. Had he been afraid to do what had been asked of him? Or had it been all the result of misfortune? It did not matter. His failure had taken away from him, from the Matoran and from everyone else in the universe the chance to live their lives; it had destroyed their home and brought certain doom upon them. Axonn couldn’t help thinking that, in a way, Matoro was as

guilty as those who had struck down Mata Nui in the first place.

 

The Toa of Ice was just starting to realize this.

 

“I… I followed Voya Nui, like you said. Even when Mata Nui died, I didn’t give up. But… but the island was too fast. I couldn’t overtake it. I couldn’t go through the hole in the continent. And… and now… what… what now? What can be done?”

 

There was a long pause. Matoro knew what it meant before Axonn even spoke.

 

“Nothing,” said the warrior flatly. “The only place where Mata Nui could be saved was the core of the universe. Now it cannot be reached anymore. And even if it could, Mata Nui has been dead for too long now. It’s over. You’ve failed.”

 

Matoro stared at Axonn, his eyes wide open, as the last word left his lips. He opened his mouth, trying to say something, but no sound came out. He tried again, but to no avail. Speech had fled from him and when he turned away from Axonn, staring blankly into space, trying to block a reality that he could no longer face up to, the warrior realized that his sanity would soon follow. He couldn’t bring himself to care; in fact, he felt no emotion at all. What would the point have been? There was nothing more to be said or done. Nothing would make any difference.

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, May 31 2017 - 05:42 AM.

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#5 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted May 31 2017 - 05:41 AM

FOUR

 

Helryx, first of the Toa, leader of the Order of Mata Nui, sat in her chamber on the island of Daxia. She was alone. Botar, the messenger and courier of the organization, had just left. The message he had brought to her had been of fundamental importance. Now Helryx needed to decide how to act upon it.

 

The ancient Toa of Water was no stranger to difficult decisions. During her time as leader of the Order, she had made choices that had shaped the course of history and changed countless lives. Her earliest deeds, which were now remembered only in legend, paled compared to the orders she had issued from this very chamber. Here, perhaps even more than in places like Metru Nui or Destral, the destiny of the universe had been decided.

 

The choices she had to make today, though, would probably be the most crucial of her career. The life of every single inhabitant of the universe might well hinge upon them and she could not afford a single mistake, for they were facing the imminent destruction of all creation, a challenge greater than any the Order of Mata Nui had been ever confronted with.

 

We are not ready.

 

It was a hard admission for Helryx to make, but it was the truth nonetheless. They had known for years that this might be the ultimate outcome of the actions of the Brotherhood of Makuta; furthermore, in the last few weeks the signs of the Great Spirit’s life coming to an end had been unmistakable. But, somehow, Mata Nui’s death had never truly been planned for. The Great Spirit’s survival had been implicitly included in all their strategies. The Order’s sole reason of being was, after all, carrying out Mata Nui’s will, a cause to which Helryx and her agents had devoted their lives, their very souls. The idea that the Great Spirit that they served might cease to be had been virtually inconceivable to them.

 

Until now. The unthinkable had happened. Mata Nui was dead. Throughout the millennia, all the actions, even the most atrocious, that the Order had undertaken had in some way followed Mata Nui’s wishes and designs. Now, though, for the first time, the responsibility was solely and completely on Helryx’s shoulders; there was no longer a Great Spirit to appeal to, nor a higher will to invoke in order to justify her actions.

 

But the Toa of Water refused to waver. The determination and the awareness of her role and duty that had sustained her over the millennia had come to her aid when Mata Nui had died, banishing the despair that threatened to seep into her heart. And so Helryx would once more do what she always done: whatever was necessary.

 

She thought back to the report she had just received. The Order’s spy in the Dark Hunters had taken a great risk by calling upon Botar to deliver it. But its importance, she had to admit, had warranted such a measure.

 

Less than an hour before, a trained Rahi had reached the island of Odina, secret headquarters of the Dark Hunters. It had been carrying a message, sent from the organization’s spy in Metru Nui. The contents of the message matched those of the report of the Order’s own agent in the island city: the Matoran of Metru Nui were preparing to migrate back to the place where they had fled to after the Great Cataclysm, one thousand years before. The Turaga, apparently, believed that it would allow them to escape the universe’s destruction.

 

Helryx did not know whether they were right. She had never thought that there might be a way to escape the destruction that would come with the Great Spirit’s death, just as she had not been able to conceive that Mata Nui might truly die. But it made no difference. There was a way out, a hope, no matter how slim, to survive the destruction of the universe. She could not afford to ignore it.

 

The Shadowed One, leader of the Dark Hunters, had not wasted time wondering whether the Turaga were right either: a fleet of ships and airships was even now being prepared and would soon set sail for the City of Legends. Messages had been sent to the Dark Hunters spread across the universe, with orders to converge upon Metru Nui. Helryx was sure that it was just the beginning: from the Dark Hunters, the word would soon spread, and eventually reach the ears of the Brotherhood of Makuta. Once that happened, the full force of both organizations would fall upon Metru Nui.

 

There was no alternative. Metru Nui’s protector, Toa Takanuva, could not be expected to withstand such an onslaught alone; the Order of Mata Nui would have to step in to protect the city and secure the way to the island above it. The problem was that they were not yet ready for an open confrontation: Helryx had anticipated a time when her organization would have to step into the light to wage a final war agains the Brotherhood, but she had not expected it to come so soon.

 

But we will to rise to the task, somehow. Neither the Dark Hunters nor, especially, the Brotherhood of Makuta can be allowed to gain control of the one possible way to safety, and I will not leave the Matoran of Metru Nui at their mercy, either.

 

But the inhabitants of the City of Legends were only the tip of the iceberg. There were thousands upon thousands of people living in the rest of the universe, and if things stood as they were, they were doomed to die with it. One day had already passed since Mata Nui’s death and less than two remained; there was simply not enough time to attempt a mass evacuation of the universe.

 

But we can’t just give up. Time is what we need: more time. Somehow, the life of the universe must be prolonged.

 

It was not something that she or the Order of Mata Nui had the power to accomplish. Yet there was one being who might have the answer. All she had to do was find a way to contact him.

 

She rose to her feet and strode to a small vault embedded in the chamber’s wall. She digited the combination and reached inside. When she pulled her hand out, she was clutching a small, squirming creature, with the serpentine shape of a Rahkshi’s Kraata and the ridges of a Bohrok’s Krana.

 

Helryx contemplated it warily. The specimen in her hand had been engineered by the Order of Mata Nui at the very beginning of its existence. When attached to a person’s face or mask, it would act upon the wearer’s mind, freeing it from the bonds of time and space and allowing it to see other places, as well as into the past and the future. The wearer could exert a certain degree of control over the visions, but doing so required extensive training; even then, prolonged use could drive a person to madness. In addition, the power of the creatures would cancel the barriers that shielded the consciousness of all Order agents, meaning that, should the creatures cause their wearer’s mind to touch that of another being, that individual would have access to all the secrets of the organization. As a result, only a few select Order agents had ever been granted permission to use the creatures.

 

Yet using them had been indispensable, for it was through these visions that the Order had in the past been made aware of the will of the Great Spirit; Helryx herself had even managed a few times to touch the mind of Mata Nui himself and thus communicate with him directly. Now she hoped to repeat the accomplishment: the Great Spirit was dead, but there was another being whom she wanted to contact. She had spoken with him many times, but always it had been he who had chosen to open a telepathic link. Now, though, she could not afford to wait. In one smooth movement, she placed the creature on her mask.

 

The first moments were the most confusing. Helryx found herself immersed in a whirling, indistinct haze of color, as her mind left her chamber in the fortress of Daxia. Sounds and images from other places and other times flashed through her consciousness, even as she experienced memories that did not belong to her.

 

She focused, struggling to govern the telepathic torrent that was rushing through her. She concentrated on the being she wished to speak to, willing the creature to take her to him. Then, suddenly, she found herself lying on a smooth slab of rock. She blinked and tried to move, only to find herself restrained by thick, metal straps.

 

Where am I? Why am I here? And who… who am I?

 

But no, thought Helryx. These questions belonged to the past and she had long since received answers. Or had she? From what she could glimpse of her surroundings, she was in a chamber that should not exist anymore, except in her most ancient recollections. And there had been a voice as well, the very first voice she had heard, the voice that had told her her name.

 

Helryx.

 

Yes, the voice was the same. But at the time, it had been young and full of wonder and pride. Now, it sounded old beyond belief. And suddenly Helryx’s confusion faded and full awareness returned to her.

 

Artakha. You know what is happening.

 

I do.            

 

There isn’t enough time to save the universe. We need more. You are the only one I can turn to. Is it possible to stave off the final destruction, at least for a while longer?

 

Artakha hesitated. Helryx felt strange emotions seep through their mental link. Uncertainty, sadness, compassion… maybe even fear.

 

Yes. There is a way.

 

Relief flooded Helryx.

 

But it will not be easy. I do not know how long I might be able to give you. A few weeks, or perhaps something more. But the price will be the death of a being who does not care for the lives of the people of this universe, and who will not be willing to sacrifice himself in order to save them.

 

Helryx wondered who this being was, but she knew better than to ask. And she also knew that a single life could not compare to that of the rest of the universe.

 

I accept the price.

 

Very well. But before we part, you must know something else.

 

The uncertainty here was more pronounced. Helryx wondered why all of a sudden Artakha was willing to provide information.

 

The Mask of Life…

 

What about it?

 

Know simply that if things stay as they are, the mask will soon extinguish all life in this universe. There will be no one left to save.

 

Helryx’s eyes widened in surprise. She knew much about the Kanohi Ignika, but had never heard of such a thing. But any information from Artakha was undoubtedly true.

 

What can be done?

 

I do not know for certain. What I am going to do will probably slow down its countdown to destruction, but it will not stop it entirely. I would suggest taking it with you. If indeed the island of Mata Nui is not fully part of this universe, then the mask will be unable to complete its function.

 

Very well.

 

Helryx felt Artakha’s mind change yet again. There was a moment of utter turmoil, but then it disappeared. And a single emotion remained, seeping through the telepathic link: blissful, complete serenity.

 

I remember when I first saw you, Toa Helryx. You were there, not yet awakened, but already breathing, already alive. Greater creators than me had brought you into being, but I had been privileged to aid them and for that I felt proud.

 

Artakha…

 

Creation is my essence, but the time of creation is over. Now I have one last service to perform. It will not be the act of a creator, but through it creation will be preserved. I bid you goodbye, Helryx. And as we part for the last time, know that I am proud of you still.

 

-----

 

Tahu Nuva stepped out onto a balcony and glanced impatiently at the sky. The rain was still falling steadily and showed no signs of abating. A misty haze filled the air, obscuring the nearby skyscrapers and leaving only their dark, gloomy outline visible. No lights were lit that he could see. He looked down to the street far below. It was completely empty.

 

As he walked back into the chamber to join his teammates, he wondered whether anything was going to change. Would Artakha and his Matoran keep the Toa Nuva waiting forever?

 

He and his team had arrived on the island of Artakha the day before, teleported there by the power of its ruler. At first, they had found themselves on a desolate beach, but, guided by a Matoran, they had soon reached a large city, whose size and technology seemed to surpass even Metru Nui. Matoran crafters had been hard at work, though it had almost seemed as if the only thing they had been doing was tearing down the buildings of the city in order to rebuild them, each time more beautiful and incredible than before. On a green hill a short distance away, a gleaming fortress had been standing.

 

But then everything had changed. The Toa Nuva had felt the universe abruptly shift and they had realized instantly that the Great Spirit Mata Nui had died. At that exact moment, rain had started falling. The tears of Artakha, the Matoran had said. High walls had materialized around the fortress, completely hiding it from view. The Matoran had told them their ruler wished to ponder alone and had escorted them to a skyscraper and into this room.

 

Since then, they had seen no more of the island’s inhabitants. The corridors of the building seemed deserted, as did the streets below. Kopaka and Lewa had already leaving the building to seek out Artakha and his Matoran by themselves, but ultimately the team had heeded the advice of Gali and Onua and had waited. Tahu, however, was starting to grow restless. He knew that their presence here meant Artakha needed to tell them, or give them, something phenomenally important. But the Toa also had a duty toward the Matoran of Metru Nui. They should have been at their side in such a moment, the Toa of Fire felt.

 

“Look!” said Gali abruptly, rising to her feet.

 

Tahu turned around. Something was happening. The mist outside was slowly but unmistakably blowing away. The rain, too, had become lighter.

 

A Matoran stepped into the room.

 

“Let us go,” he said. “Our ruler wishes to address you.”

 

The Toa Nuva rose. Lewa and Pohatu seemed glad to finally step out of their inactivity. Kopaka was impenetrable as always. The grief on Gali’s face never left her. Onua simply walked in silence.

 

The Matoran led the heroes to an immense plaza that hadn’t been there a moment before. Thousands of Matoran were already there. It looked as if Artakha had summoned his entire population.

 

For a moment, the silence was broken only by the sound of the falling raindrops. Then a voice, which seemed to come from everywhere at once, spoke:

 

“My Matoran, my people. It is with pride in my eyes and sadness in my heart that I have summoned you here. Centuries ago, I chose you among the best crafters of your peoples. I brought you here, a place where you could live in peace and where your work would be glorious and satisfying. You have labored for so much time under my rule. You always did all I asked of you. I thank you for that.”

 

There was a pause. Gali Nuva wondered if Artakha was searching for the right words. It seemed a strange thing to do for a being so wise. What he was going to tell his Matoran had to be momentous indeed.

 

“But now all has changed. The Great Spirit has perished, and I can no longer shield you from what is to come. It is time for us to part ways.”

 

Exclamations of surprise and fear were uttered by the crowd. The Toa Nuva were taken aback by this sudden change. A moment ago, these Matoran had looked confident and wise, even in the face of Mata Nui’s death. Now the announcement of their ruler seemed to have turned them into frightened, helpless beings.

 

“Do not fear. Your skills and your knowledge will always be with you, and they will aid you in what is ahead. And you will be given protectors who have already braved much and who will not let you down.”

 

There was a short pause.

 

“Toa Nuva,” said the voice then.

 

“Yes,” answered Tahu.

 

“I was meant to send you on your next, and final, mission. Instead, I must charge you with the protection of the two things I have most dear. I entrust my people to you. Lead them to Metru Nui, where you will learn what is to be done next. And I give you this as well.”

 

Space in front of the Toa started to shift and blur. A moment later, a Kanohi mask had materialized there. Its shape was more elaborate than any they had ever seen, with symbols and patterns whose meaning they couldn’t begin to understand. They immediately knew that it was an object of great importance.

 

The moment it appeared, the crowd gasped. Artakha spoke once more:

 

“The Mask of Creation will no longer serve me. But its destruction cannot be allowed. One day, perhaps, a new, great creator shall rise among you and will claim this mask. Until then, it must be kept safe. To accomplish the task I give you, I gift to you my greatest creation.”

 

A flash of light blinded the Toa. When it dissipated, it left behind shining masks and armor on the ground.

 

“Wear these suits of armor and they will serve you well. No matter where your journey will take you, be it over land or sea, high in the sky or deep below the ground, they will adapt to your surroundings. Use them well. Now go! My people will guide you to Metru Nui.”

 

“And what about you, Artakha?” cried Pohatu Nuva.

 

“My time among you is over. I am tasked with one last duty. Farewell.”

 

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#6 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Jun 25 2017 - 07:48 AM

FIVE

 

Howling winds blew across the surface of the silver sea, furiously agitating the waters. Torrential rain poured out of the thick, black clouds looming above. Blinding flashes of lightning lit up the sky, accompanied by deafening thunderclaps.  Below, the waters churned and heaved; enormous waves rose out of the sea like mountains, tall enough to swamp even the largest vessels.

 

The hurricane had come out of nowhere. There had been no hints of its coming, nothing. The gales had swept onto the western coast of the Southern Continent in the first hours of the morning; in the towns and villages that dotted the shoreline, most of the residents had still been indoors, where they had retreated after the hysteria and chaos of the previous day to take shelter from the icy cold that had descended upon the land. By the time they emerged from their homes, the rains had turned the streets to mud and caused every river to burst out of its banks. Gale-force winds and tornadoes were uprooting trees and buildings, while huge waves were crashing onto the shoreline, obliterating beaches, pulverizing boats and wharves and sending colossal amounts of water flooding inland.

 

Never before had a storm of such magnitude struck the continent. Some people fled, others chose to take shelter in the sturdiest structures, but the hearts of all were seized by despair, for they all knew that there was no escape, no safe haven to be found. The storm was but the vanguard of the catastrophe that would soon descend upon every land in the universe, claiming the lives of all those who called it home.

 

Darkness reigned supreme. What dim daylight remained had been eclipsed by the black storm clouds; thunderbolts leapt from them, the only light among the shadows. Yet in one place even the lightning could not break through the darkness. A short distance from the coast of the continent, a jagged, rocky island rose out of the sea. A dark shadow loomed over it, a shadow that had not been brought by the storm and that was not caused by a mere absence of light. In fact, for the past week or so the island had been clearly visible from the shore. But the darkness was there nevertheless: it emanated from the black, forbidding walls that ran along the coastline, surrounding the immense fortress that covered almost the entire island; it coursed through its inhabitants’ limbs and shrouded their minds; and over the millennia, the countless acts of evil that had taken place here had sent the darkness seeping into the rock itself, impregnating the island’s very foundation, corrupting and twisting its nature until it had no longer been possible to perceive the values of loyalty and justice that it had once symbolized; now, the island was unmistakably a place of shadow, betrayal, corruption and evil, instilling horror and fear in the heart of all who laid eyes upon it.

 

Destral, largest and most important base of the Brotherhood of Makuta, had materialized off the Southern Continent’s west coast barely a week before. The inhabitants had watched in dread as the island passed through the enormous dimensional gate generated by the unique teleportation device installed in the fortress, but the Makuta had shown little interest for them: Destral had teleported here to be situated as close as possible to the recently-discovered portal giving access to Karda Nui, the core of the universe. A Makuta invasion force had passed through the portal, intending to seize control of the universe core and thus bring the Plan one step closer to completion. Now, though, the death of the Great Spirit seemed to have thrown the Brotherhood’s great scheme into disarray.

 

From Destral’s tallest tower, Makuta Tridax gazed upon the stormy sea, watching concerned as enormous waves broke against the island’s rocky shoreline and the high walls surrounding the fortress. Ordinarily, it would have been ridiculous for a Makuta to worry about such things. Destral Fortress was built out of stone and metal: even a hurricane this size should pose no threat to it; besides, how could a storm trouble a being with the power to control the weather?

 

But this storm was beyond the control of any Makuta. When the powerful gales had started blowing and the rainwater had begun flooding the avenues linking the fortress’s many buildings, Tridax had attempted to use his power to mitigate the weather, but to no avail. The truth had then become inescapable: the forces driving the hurricane dwarfed the power of the Brotherhood of Makuta; once they unleashed their full might, Destral would fall, to be claimed by the sea along with every other land in the known universe.

 

He paced nervously across the chamber. He didn’t know what to do. All his attempts to telepathically contact Makuta Teridax and ask for instructions had gone unanswered. Although he would not admit it to himself, his worry was starting to turn into panic as he racked his brain in search of a solution, of a way to avoid being destroyed along with everything else.

 

Suddenly, he perceived a teleport taking place. He turned towards the center of the chamber. There was a flash of energy, which then dissipated to reveal the form of Makuta Icarax.

 

Tridax’s eyes widened in shock. Icarax was wearing the Kanohi Kraahkan, the Mask of Shadows which belonged to Teridax and was the symbol of his leadership. Furthermore, he was smiling confidently. Usually, when Icarax smiled, someone had reason to be very, very worried. Forcing himself to mask his sudden apprehension behind a neutral expression, he strode forward to greet his fellow Makuta.

 

“Tridax,” said Icarax. “You have felt what has happened?”

 

“Yes,” said Tridax. “I’ve attempted to contact Teridax, but he hasn’t answered.”

 

“Of course he hasn’t,” said Icarax scornfully. “His great Plan has failed, hasn’t it? Mata Nui is dead, isn’t he? The universe will be destroyed, won’t it?”

 

Tridax didn’t answer. He was starting to guess where this was going. Icarax had always aspired to lead the Brotherhood; now, it seemed Mata Nui’s death had given him the chance to do so. But it seemed madness to focus on a matter of leadership when the Makuta stood on the brink of total destruction.

 

“I think, Tridax, that the time has come to elect a new leader for the Brotherhood,” said Icarax, in a surprisingly measured, reasonable-sounding tone. “One who will avoid making great but ultimately unsuccessful plans. No, the new leader will have to lead a total and absolute conquest if we still wish for supremacy.”

 

Not giving Tridax a chance to reply, he continued:

 

“A Convocation will have to be invoked.”

 

Tridax’s eyes widened. Thousands of years before, Teridax had demanded a Convocation, where he had exposed his plan, claimed leadership of the Brotherhood and deposed the previous leader, Makuta Miserix. To do so now could only mean Icarax was planning to do the same.

 

But there was nothing to be done to stop it. Icarax suddenly stood still. A telepathic message radiated from his mind, directed to all the Makuta within the universe.

 

My brothers. The latest events require that we assemble once more. I call for a Convocation. In the name of the Brotherhood!  

 

-----

 

Makuta Antroz descended through the thick mists rising from the swamp of Karda Nui. He was followed by Vamprah, Chirox and Mutran. The fog would have impaired the sight of most beings, but it made little difference to them: in fact, with the bright light that normally shone within the core of the universe gradually going out, Antroz had found that his vision was actually improving. He and his fellow Makuta therefore plunged into the mist without hesitation, wings beating silently as they headed towards the rendezvous point.

 

Icarax’s telepathic message had reached them less than an hour before. Antroz had immediately decided to call a meeting with the Makuta assigned to the swamp in order to decide upon a course of action. After a brief telepathic conversation, they had all agreed to meet at the Codrex, the large spherical structure located in the swamp.

 

No Shadow Matoran were with them. This meeting was for the Makuta alone. A few hours following Mata Nui’s death, some Shadow Matoran had started asking how they were going to avoid destruction. After two of them had become the subject of Mutran’s latest experiment, they had wisely refrained from continuing. As far as the Makuta cared, all the Shadow Matoran could die. The corrupted villagers were starting to realize this themselves. Not that there was anything they could do about it.

 

The Codrex’s profile came into sight. The Makuta floated to the ground, coming to a halt on an islet in front of the energy field protecting the structure. The others didn’t seem to be there yet.

 

The temperature suddenly dropped. Two hideous, insectoid creatures emerged from the muddy water around them, while a third flew down from above. For an instant, Antroz didn’t recognize them and blinked in disgust. Then he realized who they were.

 

Mutran started laughing.

 

“So that’s why we never perceived your appearance when you communicated with us. Took a swim in the swamp, didn’t we?”

 

Bitil hissed and spat out an insult. Gorast’s approach was more direct. In the blink of an eye, she hurled herself at Mutran and delivered a crushing blow with two of her four arms. Mutran went sprawling into the mud. An instant later, Gorast was pinning him to the ground.

 

“Enough,” ordered Antroz. “This is no time for useless squabbling.”

 

Gorast glared at him. Antroz met her stare. After a few seconds, the female Makuta stepped back, releasing Mutran.

Antroz kept staring at Gorast for a few more moments. Though he did not show it, he had been slightly taken aback by her reaction. Gorast had always been one of the most vicious and violent Makuta, but there was something different about her demeanor, a wildness of sorts, that was new to him. He wasn’t sure what to make of it. Krika, Bitil and Gorast had all obviously suffered a mutation of sorts, which, judging from Mutran’s remark, had somehow been caused by exposure to the swamp waters. How exactly had it affected them?

 

The answer would have to wait, though. With the universe accelerating towards its final destruction, every second was precious. Turning towards the other Makuta, he spoke again:

 

“You all know why we’re here. Do we wish to obey Icarax’s summons?”

 

“That traitor!” raged Gorast. “For this act alone he should be put to death. I say we do nothing, or at the most go to Destral and destroy him ourselves!”

 

“He has a point, though,” said Chirox. “The Plan called for Mata Nui to be revived. That hasn’t happened. We have to assemble and come up with a solution.”

 

“A solution, Chirox?” said Mutran. “This isn’t one of your many failed experiments. Mata Nui is dead. The universe is doomed.”

 

“Perhaps,” said Antroz. “But Chirox is right. To have any hope of saving ourselves, we must decide on a common course of action.”

 

“You sound like one of those pathetic Turaga,” growled Gorast. “Always preaching about unity. Icarax wants to lead the Brotherhood. That’s what this summons is all about. Even now, that’s all that moron can think of.”

 

“That doesn’t matter,” said Antroz. “The only important thing now is to find a way to escape this catastrophe. We’ll settle the issue of leadership afterwards.”

 

“You’re right,” said Bitil.

 

Mutran and Chirox also gave affirmative responses. Vamprah nodded.

 

Antroz turned to Krika. That Makuta hadn’t spoken a word yet. He had always had a strange attitude toward the Plan; Antroz had never been able to determine if he disagreed with it, was skeptical about its success or something else entirely. Now he looked resigned and tired. When he perceived Antroz’s gaze, he gave a small nod, as if he weren’t really interested.

 

That left Gorast.

 

“Very well,” scowled the female Makuta. “I will come. But I will not bow down to Icarax. He has no vision, no intelligence. He will only lead us to destruction.”

 

“Then it is decided,” said Antroz. “We should go immediately. Delay won’t be to our advantage.”

 

-----

 

Artakha sat motionlessly in the great forge that lay at the heart of his fortress. Outside the fortress, a dim light still shone upon the land, but here it was dark, for Artakha wished it to be so. The fires that had once burned so bright had been extinguished; the impossibly precise tools and the incredibly sophisticated instruments that Artakha had made use of during the millennia were scattered across the chamber, inert, never to be used again. For thousands of years, the legendary creator had labored in this forge, unseen and unaided, to bring his marvelous creations into being: he had crafted machines equipped with the most advanced technology conceivable, weapons of immense power and artefacts of wondrous beauty. He had shaped every material in existence. There had been virtually no limit to what he had been capable of achieving.

 

But now it was over. Never again would this forge be used for creation. The last object that Artakha had crafted lay on a nearby table, ready to be used. Artakha felt a twinge of regret as he gazed upon it: although he had introduced considerable improvements, his last creation was not of his own design. But he could not let his pride get in the way: the artefact would accomplish what it was needed for, that was all that mattered.

 

He rose from his seat. It was time to go. He had done everything he could for his beloved Matoran: when they reached the ports, they would find a large, sophisticated fleet waiting for them, with supplies already loaded upon every ship. He gazed for the last time upon the island that he had governed and molded in his image for a hundred thousand years, then severed the connection that had allowed his will to shape the land and bring the myriad of architectures, cities and sceneries conceived by his mind into being. A pang of sadness went through his heart as he did so, but he found strength in the thought that those landscapes survived in the recollections of his Matoran and that one day those memories might inspire them to bring them once more into existence.

 

Artakha collected his thoughts: his mind would need to be perfectly disciplined to face the ordeal that was ahead. He picked up the spear that he had crafted earlier and then triggered the teleportation device embedded in his armor. Space warped around him and a moment later Artakha was gone.

 

When he materialized, it was to find himself surrounded by darkness and humidity. The air was stale and heavy with the stench of decay. There was a noise echoing through the cave, the sound of something… something huge… taking deep breaths behind him.

Artakha turned around to face the chamber’s lone occupant. The sight that met his eyes was that of a crimson, gelatinous skull, somehow merged with the rock at the far end of the cave. A host of tentacles extended out from it, writhing and slithering along the cavern’s floor and walls. He could see two dead, yellow eyes staring at him, though they never seemed to move. It was a sickening, horrifying vision, capable of driving nearly any being to madness; but Artakha’s resolve never wavered.

 

A deep, revolting sound resonated through the chamber as the entity spoke for the first time in tens of thousands of years.

 

“Artakha. It has been such a long time. I thought that, by now, even you had forgotten me, as the Great Beings would have undoubtedly seen fit. And yet now I see you here. Why?”

 

“You know why I am here, Tren Krom,” answered Artakha. “Mata Nui is dead.”

 

“Yes,” said Tren Krom. “He is. Isn’t it ironic? The Great Beings imprisoned me here, replacing me with Mata Nui and condemning me to a living death. And yet, he died first, while I shall be free. As the universe dies, my bonds, which should have been eternal, grow weaker. Soon, I will walk the land once more.”

 

“There will not be any land to walk upon, Tren Krom. The death of Mata Nui will destroy the entire universe and all its inhabitants. Including you.”

 

“It won’t. I am eternal. Nothing, not even the destruction of the universe itself, can kill me.”

 

“It will. You delude yourself.”

 

“You still haven’t answered my question, Artakha. Why are you here?”

 

“I have come to ask you to take up once more the role you once had. If the inhabitants of the universe are to survive, then its destruction must be delayed. Only you can do that.”

 

Tren Krom didn’t reply immediately. He studied the being that stood in front of him and sent his tentacles snaking towards him, though not close enough to touch him.

 

“I could. But you’re a fool if you think I will even consider it. The inhabitants of this universe have done nothing for me. Why should I do something for them, after all that I have suffered? Why should I do what would probably bring about my own death?”

 

“You have the power to save many lives. That is the only reason.”

 

“I refuse,” said Tren Krom. “Now leave, or your long life will finally come to an end.”

 

Artakha closed his eyes and sighed softly. He had hoped against hope that he would somehow be able to convince Tren Krom to sacrifice himself willingly. In truth, though, he had known all along that it would be impossible. It didn’t matter. He had to do what had to be done.

 

He raised the spear that he carried in his hand, the one he had created by replicating the design of the powerful Spear of Fusion. Power radiated from the artefact and struck the entity in front of him. It found the bonds that the Great Beings had imposed on him so long ago and began to undermine them. Once, it would have been impossible. But Tren Krom had spoken the truth. His chains had begun weakening after Mata Nui’s death and would have in time been completely broken. Artakha was just accelerating the process.

Tren Krom’s substance started de-fusing itself from the surrounding rock. Shock went through the ancient being as the ability to move his great body was returned to him for the first time in 100,000 years.

 

“What are you doing, Artakha?” growled Tren Krom. “What are you up to?”

 

Artakha didn’t answer. He felt Tren Krom’s bonds grow weaker and then disappear completely. He reached out with his teleportation powers. A moment later, they both dematerialized, leaving the cave empty.

 

After being doomed for so many millennia to see only the walls and mouth of the same cave, Tren Krom’s eyes struggled to make sense of the new environment. But then the images penetrated into his mind and he knew where he was.

 

“What is the point, Artakha?” he whispered, gesturing with one of his many tentacles toward the metallic walls of the enormous chamber where they had materialized before coming to rest in front of one of the six giant lightstones rising from the floor to form a circle, at the center of which Tren Krom and Artakha were now standing. “It’s true. The lightstones of the Codrex can be used to channel energy into the universe, prolonging its existence. But, as I told you before, I won’t do it. You have just granted me my long-wished freedom and I have no intention of wasting it in the service of a world that rejected me.”

 

Artakha met Tren Krom’s piercing stare.

 

“You will do what is needed, Tren Krom. It is inevitable. I just hoped that you would do it willingly. But since you will not, it falls to me to force this task upon you.”

 

Tren Krom hissed and summoned his mental powers, preparing to invade the mind of the being standing in front of him and consume it. But then Artakha’s Spear of Fusion activated once more. This time, its power did not wash upon Tren Krom alone: it affected its wielder as well. A nimbus of energy surrounded the two entities, linking them together in an unbreakable bond. Their bodies, however, were left untouched: it was their minds that the spear acted on. Their thoughts, memories and emotions flowed out to be combined, merged into a single consciousness.

 

Tren Krom roared, throwing all his power into the effort to repel the assault. Artakha’s own will opposed him, aided by the power of the spear. The tentacled entity waded into the creator’s mind, trying to tear it apart, but the attack contributed to the process instead of stopping it. The consciousnesses of Artakha and Tren Krom became more and more intertwined; they now resembled a single mind, perpetually at war with itself. The struggle consumed Artakha’s spirit, blotting out memories accumulated over tens of thousands of years, shattering his intellect and casting his legendary, boundless creativity into oblivion. But one thought remained, a single idea that resisted every assault and that expanded out to dominate the combined consciousness. Against Tren Krom’s will, his tentacles wrapped around the giant lightstones and began sending energy into them. The fused mind felt its lifeforce being sapped away. The thoughts that had once belonged to Tren Krom redoubled their efforts to regain control, but what remained of Artakha resisted, drawing strength from the knowledge that the life of every being in the universe depended upon it.

 

There could be no winner; the struggle would only end with the destruction of the world itself. But that destruction was no longer as close as it had been only moments before: as the minds of two entities older than the stars battled in the depths of the Codrex, new energy flowed into the universe, giving it new life, at least for some more time; and for the first time since the death of the Great Spirit, every inhabitant of the universe felt hope.

 

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#7 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Jul 14 2017 - 08:18 PM

SIX


Macku saw the huge shadow rise up ahead. It was large, too large to avoid. She clenched the ship’s wheel with both hands, desperately trying to turn the vessel around in order to ride the wave in the least damaging way possible. Around her, the Ga-Matoran crewwomen scrambled across the rain-drenched deck; it was no use trying to give them orders, her voice would never carry over the howl of the wind and the claps of thunder.

The mountain of water drew closer and closer. The ship was turning, but too slowly. Lightning flashed overhead and for a moment the whole deck was bathed in white light. Then the darkness returned and at that moment the wave struck.

Everything seemed to happen at breathtaking speed: the deck violently slanted sideways as the ship was lifted towards the wave’s crest, only to clear it an instant later and slide back down to be seized once more by the raging sea. Macku frantically tried to steer them through, but it was no use: she was powerless before the forces that had the ship in their grasp. Not only was the storm stronger than any she had ever faced, it also seemed to exist outside the laws of nature as she knew them. Macku was an experienced sailor, she had braved many a squall during her journeys along the coast of Mata Nui and she had learned that, even during the most violent of tempests, the winds and waves would follow certain patterns. But there was no pattern here she could see. The forces of nature had gone mad and had unleashed upon them a storm that was as chaotic as it was powerful. The fleet, the first fleet to sail from Metru Nui, the fleet that was meant to carry hundreds of Matoran to safety and that Turaga Nokama had entrusted to her, had been scattered.

Macku could still see most of the vessels, for they were all carrying lightstones whose glow had been restored by the power of Toa Takanuva. But they were at the storm’s mercy, unable to stick together, each one forced to fend for itself. Macku dreaded to think what had become of the ones she could no longer see. Most crafts, she knew, stood little chance of making it through a storm this strong: they were, after all, mere boats, little more than canoes. Both Macku and Nokama had known that taking them out into a storm was a great risk, but there had been no choice: on Metru Nui, the Ga-Matoran had had little time to devote to shipbuilding; only recently had they begun assembling vessels resembling the large sail ships that, according to Nokama, had once sailed across the Silver Sea between Metru Nui and the lands to the south. The ship that Macku was commanding was one of them, but the fleet was mostly composed of the same crafts that had carried the Matoran to Metru Nui a few months before.

Someone ran past Macku, shouting something about the hull being breached. Before long Ga-Matoran were crowding the deck, using both pumps and buckets to bail water. Macku made no attempt to instruct them or give them additional orders, steering the ship was taking up all her concentration and strength. She had long since lost sight both of Metru Nui’s shoreline and of the Great Barrier. What she could not help but see were the lightstones of the other boats going out. The flashes of lightning illuminating the sky also played their part, mercilessly showing her the terrible sight of boats breaking up or capsizing, leaving their crews to be swept away by the violent sea. In a storm like this, no rescue was possible. Had all her mental energies not been focused on keeping her own crew alive, Macku knew that her grief might well have drowned her.

The wind abruptly changed direction. The resulting disturbance in the water hit the fleet, scattering it like grains of sand. A new wave rose to tower over Macku’s ship. Instinctively, the Ga-Matoran knew that they wouldn’t be able to ride over this one. She tried to shout something, to give some order, but the words stuck in her throat. There was nothing she could do. She had failed in the task Turaga Nokama had given her and every single one of them would die because of it. The wave drew ever closer… and then it happened.

The universe shifted as new energy flowed into it. For a moment, Macku thought the impossible had happened and that the Great Spirit had come back to life. Then she realized the void that had opened inside her at his death was still there. But something had occurred and it was giving them a chance.

Suddenly, the wind was no longer as strong as before. In fact, it was dying down altogether. The heavy rainfall ceased, with only a gentle drizzle remaining. Before Macku’s amazed eyes, the towering waves sank back into the sea surface and a pale, weak daylight started shining through the clouds.

Activity on the deck had ground to a halt as the Ga-Matoran crewmembers stared out across the Silver Sea, mesmerized by the miracle that had just occurred. Macku finally had to break the spell, issuing new orders. The crew obeyed without question. Macku heard footsteps coming from behind her and turned to see Turaga Onewa emerging from the ship’s hold. The storm had clearly taken its toll on him, for he was not steady on his feet and had to use his Stone Hammer to support himself. But the sight of the calm, peaceful sea, where moments before the most terrible of storms had raged, seemed to restore his strength.

“Turaga Onewa,” said Macku, “are you all right?”

Onewa smiled.

“I’ve been better. Though I must say that I fared better than others. The hold isn’t exactly in an enviable state right now.”

“What has just happened, Turaga?”

“I know as much as you do, Macku. It isn’t the Great Spirit come back to life, I am fairly certain of it. But as to what else might have caused this, I have no idea.”

“The breach in the hull should have been sealed by now. I was thinking that we should try and rendezvous with some of the other boats.”

“Of course. I leave everything in your hands, Macku.”

After a few more minutes, Macku felt confident enough to take the wheel again and steer the ship towards one of the boats that were floating nearby. The small craft seemed to have weathered the storm surprisingly well. Macku left the wheel to another Ga-Matoran and walked to the deck’s railing to gaze down upon the small vessel’s occupants.

“Kai!” she yelled. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” answered the boat’s captain. “We made it, somehow. We took in some water, but nothing more. And the others?”

Macku gazed into the distance. Although the darkness had lifted slightly, the light was nowhere near what it had been before Mata Nui’s death. She could glimpse a number of boats, but they were far fewer than the vessels that had set out from Metru Nui.

There should be more. There must be more! They’re just out of sight, right? The storm scattered the fleet, that’s all…

She knew that Kai and the crews of both vessels were looking at her, waiting for her answer. Macku knew she couldn’t let them down.

“We cannot look for everyone. We’ll make for the Great Barrier. The others will do the same. Once we’re all assembled, we’ll decide what to do next.”

She did not look at Kai as she spoke. She didn’t look at anyone. She was well aware of what she had left unspoken and she knew that Turaga Onewa and the other Matoran would be too. She was also certain that, when she had declared that they would rendezvous with the rest of the fleet at the Great Barrier, the same dread had filled all their hearts, for that meeting would herald the end of all doubt and all hopes. They would know for certain then: they would see who else had survived; and they would learn the names of those who hadn’t, the ones who had found their final resting place in the watery depths of the Silver Sea.

-----


It had all come to nothing. Every proposal had been rejected, every discussion had ended without a decision. The Toa Mahri had spent the last day holed up in the sea cave that Lesovikk and Sarda had elected as their temporary home, trying to decide what to do next, to formulate some kind of plan. But no conclusion had been reached. Eventually the conversation had veered onto that which had gone before and had led up to the present, onto the struggles the Toa had gone through, the decisions they had taken, the actions they had performed and the mistakes they had made. When the first quarrels had broken out, Lesovikk had abandoned the discussion, choosing to let the Toa Mahri come to terms with what had happened by themselves, while Sarda had seemed simply astonished to see Toa behave this way. But the most astonished ones had been the Toa Mahri themselves. Compared to other teams, theirs had always got along well enough: their friendship, which dated back to well before their transformation, had naturally played a role, as had the determination of some of them, Jaller especially, not to repeat the errors of previous teams of Toa.

It had been inevitable, though: the last events had pushed them all over the edge. Tensions that had been accumulating since the beginning of their mission and that the team had never found the time to confront and defuse had been vented at each other. Each of the Toa had said things he didn't mean and voiced thoughts that he had been carrying with him for days; each had hurt the others with his words and had been hurt in turn.

They had apologized to each other after that, of course they had. But they couldn’t escape the fact that something had snapped, that the death of Hahli and their failure to save the Great Spirit and the universe would hang over them forever. That was also the reason that they reached no conclusions: after all, with the Great Spirit dead and the universe on the verge of destruction, what could the Toa, stuck in the depths of the Pit and robbed of the ability to breathe air, possibly do?

Then they had all felt the new shift in the universe and everything had changed.

“Could he be living again?” asked Sarda breathlessly.

Nuparu desperately wanted to believe it. But he couldn’t. Something was not right. As he looked into his teammates’ eyes, he saw that same truth confirmed there.
Eventually, it was Jaller who put it into words.

“No, I don’t think so. But… it feels like new energy has somehow pervaded the universe.”

“A new Great Spirit?” asked Hewkii skeptically.

“No… but another chance, perhaps. Additional time before the end.”

“So what are we going to do about it?” asked Kongu.

“Perhaps…” said Nuparu, “we should go back to Metru Nui.”

They had, naturally, considered this idea before and rejected it. Of course, back then they had been thinking that the universe had a few days left at the most. Still, there were other issues to be considered.

“How are we supposed to reach it?” asked Hewkii. “We left the canisters we used to travel here on Voya Nui, which is now gone, as is the hole it fell through. There is no way back.”

“Perhaps there is,” interjected Lesovikk suddenly. “I reached the Pit by traveling across the Southern Islands until I found the walls of the destroyed prison which lies at the bottom of the sea. I managed to travel up through it until I reached this place. However, it is full of Zyglak and I don’t know if I could find my way through it again. Besides, we are all water-breathers now. Even if we made it, we wouldn’t be able to stay on dry land.”

The Toa Mahri looked at each other. The knowledge that the mutation they had undergone denied them the chance to return to their home and to their old friends had been weighing down upon them for some time. Now Lesovikk had spoken it out loud and it was time to confront it: could they let their inability to breathe air stand in their way forever?

Nuparu glanced at Jaller. Usually, this was the time when the leader of a team was called upon to take a decision. But the Toa of Fire didn’t react. Of all of them, he seemed to be the one who had been most affected by all that had happened. While Kongu, Hewkii and Nuparu had spent the last day talking and arguing, Jaller had hardly spoken at all; he had looked distracted, lost in his own thoughts. And even when he had joined the discussion, there had been an undercurrent of insecurity in his voice that Nuparu had never heard before; he had appeared indecisive, unable to make choices or commit himself to them.

It wasn’t hard to guess what was on Jaller’s mind. After all, the Toa Mahri had failed in their mission under his leadership; and it had been Jaller who had unleashed the Nova Blast that had consumed Hahli. His burden was probably even heavier than theirs. And yet, Nuparu found it hard to accept that Jaller, whose courage and sense of duty had once been renowned all over Mata Nui and who had led them through so much, might actually have broken under the strain.

A voice broke the silence, but it was Kongu’s, not Jaller’s.

“I think we should try anyway.”

Hewkii nodded in agreement. Nuparu imitated him.

“Then let’s go,” said Lesovikk. “I’ll guide you there.”

-----


A short time later found the group descending through the black waters of the Pit. They moved slowly, keeping an eye out for threats. Although the Barraki and their armies were no more, this place could still reserve some unpleasant surprises.

Lesovikk, riding his Sea Sled with Sarda, gestured towards the sea floor: a crack was running across it, barely wide enough for the vehicle to pass through. The Toa Mahri checked their Cordak Blasters and then swam into the gap.

They immediately knew that there was something wrong. Lesovikk had told them that the prison was in ruins: most of the cells had been shattered and the ceiling had collapsed in multiple spots. Matoro, who had been imprisoned here for a short time during the hunt for the Mask of Life, had given the same description.
But the chamber the Toa were standing in now looked intact, apart from the crack in its roof. A number of corridors departed from it, each one lined with prison cells whose entrances were covered by gleaming metal bars, looking good as new. The walls of the structure seemed quite solid as well: there certainly didn’t seem to be any sign of damage. The prison was eerily dark, though, and there were no captives to be seen.

“What’s going on?” said Hewkii. “You said…”

“I know what I said,” replied Lesovikk. “I don’t understand it either.”

“Do we keep going?” asked Sarda.

Hewkii shrugged.

“We’ve come this far. Though we should proceed with caution.”

It took Lesovikk a moment to find the right path. Finally, he led them into one of the corridors. They were forced to move slowly, for the Toa of Air was having trouble maneuvering his sled through such a tight passage. Eventually, they came to another chamber. At the center, a narrow stairway led down to a lower level.

Lesovikk dismounted and cursed.

“The sled won’t fit. I don’t understand it. There was a larger hole here, before. What has happened?”

Kongu shrugged. Sled or no sled, they needed to go down. He walked past Lesovikk and stepped onto the stairs.

A bolt of black energy flew up the stairs and threw him back. It was followed by a Cordak rocket which the Toa of Air barely managed to avoid.

Now a being was coming up the stairs. It was Jaller who recognized him first.

“Makuta!”

The robotic figure didn’t answer and instead kept ascending towards them. Jaller took a step back, conscious that his elemental energies had been depleted by the Nova Blast and had not yet returned. The other Toa, though, had no such problems and summoned their powers, ready for battle.

“Stop!”

The voice came from behind them. The Toa Mahri turned to behold another familiar figure. “Hydraxon,” said Nuparu warily.

None of the Toa lowered their weapons. During the search for the Mask of Life, they had fought Hydraxon repeatedly. The jailer of the Pit had apparently mistaken them for escaped prisoners and had also been intent on destroying the Kanohi Ignika, believing it to be a danger. However, upon their last encounter Matoro had managed to convince him to let them go on their way. Now the Toa weren’t sure whether to consider him friend or foe.

“Toa,” answered Hydraxon, undaunted by the sight of their weapons still pointed at him. “Do not be alarmed. That isn’t the Maxilos robot that housed Makuta. It is another one. I found it a few hours ago and posted it to guard the prison.”

Nuparu turned to see the Maxilos unit had stopped, standing still. It was obviously waiting for orders. Once, he knew, such a sight would have piqued his inventor’s curiosity; today, though, it was leaving him strangely indifferent.

“Resume your guard duty,” ordered Hydraxon, before turning back to the Toa.

“What are you doing here? And who are these two?” he asked, pointing at Lesovikk and Sarda.

“They’re friends,” said Nuparu. “We are here because we need to get back to the universe below, and then to Metru Nui.”

“The prison no longer communicates with the rest of the universe. It has been completely repaired, although I don’t know how. The gaps in the walls have been sealed as well: I had to use my Cordak blaster to keep one open to transport prisoners through it. Besides, why do you wish to go to Metru Nui?”

“We need to be with our people, and to learn what we must do next. Although we have all become water-breathers, we still want to try to get back to the city.”

Hydraxon frowned. The day before, he had allowed the Toa to take the Mask of Life with them. He had felt that it should be destroyed, but he had chosen to ignore his fears. Now, however, he seemed to have been proven right. The Great Spirit was dead. The Toa had failed. In a way, they had committed a crime as terrible as those who had been imprisoned in the Pit had done. Now they were once more before him. He wondered what he should do.

In front of Hydraxon’s accusing glare, the Toa Mahri cringed. They could guess what was going on behind his eyes and knew he was right. But then Lesovikk spoke:

“I can guess what you’re thinking, Hydraxon. The Toa Mahri have told me of their encounters with you. You’re asking yourself if you shouldn’t have let them go, yesterday, and if you should try to stop them now. Let me tell you that, like them, I have faced failure. Thousands of years ago, I caused the death of my team. For millennia, I wandered the universe; I didn’t believe myself worthy of the title of Toa and didn’t behave as one.”

He gazed at Sarda, remembering their battle, only a few days before, against the tyrant Karzahni, and the revelation that had come to him during that struggle.

“But recent events have taught me that all is not lost. I can still be a hero. So can these Toa. For no matter what they have done, or not done, they are still Toa. Help them if you can. If not, don’t stand in their, in our, way. If you do this, then you will have truly helped the universe.”

Hydraxon looked at Lesovikk. In his eyes, he saw many things, but he didn’t see deception.

“Very well. I will help you.”

Then he turned to the Mahri.

“Is there any other way to reach Metru Nui that you know of?”

The Toa Mahri all shook their heads. Then Nuparu said:

“Well, actually there is one. It’s on an island north of here, but this sea is huge. We may never find it.”

“Follow me,” said Hydraxon.

A few moments later, they were outside the prison again, swimming toward the former site of Mahri Nui. Eventually, they reached the destroyed Mahri Rock. Hydraxon led them to the part which had survived Voya Nui’s descent. A giant, multi-legged Rahi, whose body had been implanted with artificial armor plating and weapons, was waiting for them there, along with another Maxilos robot.

“Isn’t that…” said Kongu when he saw it.

“Yes,” said Nuparu, equally surprised.

“You know this creature?” asked Hydraxon.

“Yes. We used it as a means of transport before.”

“And you can do so again. I found this Rahi shortly after our last meeting. I captured it to salvage the weapons it’s outfitted with. But I changed my mind when I discovered its power: somehow, it can regenerate almost any damaged object. And there is plenty of damaged equipment in the caves nearby: the Barraki and the other runners stole it from the prison. I collected some of it and placed it inside the creature. It is still there and it can be useful to you: for a start, it includes several devices that can allow water breathers to breathe air.”

At Hydraxon’s words, Sarda and the Toa suddenly felt a flash of hope. Then Nuparu asked:

“You said we can use it as a transport as well.”

“Yes,” nodded Hydraxon. “It is a living creature, with a mind of its own, but there is a device within it that will allow you to control it. I also found a navigation function: it should make sure that you keep heading north, if north is where you want to go. If this island you spoke of truly exists, this should make it easier for you to find it.”

Nuparu wasted no time swimming into the armor-plating of the Rahi in order to understand how the controls Hydraxon had spoken of worked. The other Toa and Sarda followed. Finally, only Jaller remained outside.

“And what about you?” the Toa of Fire asked the jailer. “The Great Spirit is dead, there’s no point in remaining here. Come with us.”

“There is a point,” replied Hydraxon. “Regardless of the Great Spirit being alive or dead, the runners here can’t be allowed to go free. They must be captured and I have to do it.”

“You probably will never have another chance to get away from this place.”

“I don’t need one. This is my duty. I won’t shirk from it.”

Jaller remained silent for a moment, then said:

“I really can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done.”

“There is no need. It is many years since I last met a true Toa, but I have not forgotten what they can do. Your friend, the Toa of Air, is right. By allowing you to go back to your people, I am doing something for them. That is the only reason I need. Now go.”

Silently, Jaller swam into the Rahi. Nuparu had already figured out the piloting mechanism. The creature began to move, heading north toward the island of Mata Nui. Hydraxon didn’t watch them go. He swam away, preparing once more to fulfill his eternal quest.

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Aug 03 2017 - 05:38 PM.

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#8 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Aug 03 2017 - 05:36 PM

SEVEN


Axonn sat in a meditative posture. He had long ago found out that meditating allowed him to control the rage that had dominated him at the beginning of his life. It had also been an effective way to pass the time during the millennia spent guarding the Kanohi Ignika, at least in his opinion. Brutaka had disagreed, of course, preferring more active pastimes and often mocking his comrade's habit. Axonn had not minded: their friendship had been like that, with his serious nature often clashing with Brutaka's wish for amusement, which not even 100 000 years had managed to quell. They had complemented each other: their differences had strengthened their bond, just as they had made them more powerful and effective in battle. At least, that was what Axonn used to think.

The Order of Mata Nui warrior forced his mind away from those treacherous memories. Those times were over. Brutaka was gone, imprisoned in the Pit without any hope of release or redemption. Axonn's own life had changed radically and he was now more uncertain than ever before as to what the future held in store for him; but he was fairly sure that he wasn't going to find the answer to that question by dwelling on a past that was never coming back.

The sound of steps advancing towards him wrenched Axonn away from his ponderings. He opened his eyes. The snow created by Toa Matoro had mostly melted or been washed away by the rain; the land around him was cracked and broken, just as he had found it the previous day; and a tall, monstrous being was standing in front of him.

“Botar,” he said.

“You summoned me.”

“Yes. I need to know what must be done now.”

“Toa Helryx will tell you that herself,” answered Botar. “She has sent me to bring you to Daxia.”

Axonn blinked. He and Brutaka had been posted on Voya Nui for tens of thousands of years and only on exceedingly rare occasions had they been summoned away. After all, when the two of them had been assigned to guard the Kanohi Ignika, they had agreed to relinquish their freedom, to be bound to the land that concealed the mask.

Nevertheless, Axonn remained an Order of Mata Nui agent and his duty to the organization was clear.

“I will come. But first I must know what I am to do about this."

He gestured down to the ground. The Kanohi Ignika was lying where Axonn had first found it; since then, the warrior had never left it, keeping watch over it even when a rainstorm had struck Voya Nui earlier that day.

“The Mask of Life,” said Botar. “Toa Helryx told me it might be here. We will bring it with us.”

Axonn stared at him, startled.

“I haven’t touched it, nor allowed anyone else to do so. I know well of its power. Besides, I swore to guard it from anyone apart from those who were destined to make use of it.”

“That oath means nothing now. And the Mask must be taken with us. If you will not touch it, then I will.”

Botar bent down and picked up the Ignika. For a moment, Axonn felt a strong urge to stop him. The moment passed, but he remained wary: how would the Ignika affect Botar? Surprisingly, nothing seemed to be happening.

“Before we go,” he finally said, “I’ll have to tell the Matoran here.”

“Do so, but quickly.”

The two made their way toward the caves. Garan and Axonn had decided that there was no point in trying to rebuild the village with the universe so close to destruction, meaning the Matoran were still sheltering inside the underground chambers, albeit closer to the surface. Torches had been lit to provide heat and light, replacing the extinguished lightstones.

Upon reaching the tunnel leading underground, Axonn gestured to the Matoran standing guard at the entrance. They obligingly followed him down, though they couldn't help casting the occasional nervous glance at Botar, who was bringing up the rear.

When the two Order agents entered one of the largest caverns, every villager stopped whatever they were doing and turned to look at them. Not everyone was here, but there was no time to wait for all the Voya Nui Matoran to gather.

“I have to leave you,” announced Axonn. “I have been called elsewhere and can no longer remain here.”

Silence greeted these words at first; then several Matoran started speaking at the same time. Garan eventually managed to make himself heard.

“And what about us, Axonn? Mata Nui is dead. We all know the universe won’t exist for much longer. What should we do?”

Axonn didn’t know what to say. For a being of his age and experience, it was unsettling, to say the least. But then Botar spoke:

“You are to prepare yourselves to leave this land. Gather everything that you can’t leave behind, then go to the coasts and sail north, to the city of Metru Nui. We might send someone to assist you, but that isn’t certain. Do as you’re told and do not object, for this is your only chance of survival.”

Matoran started whispering in worry. After all, Botar’s appearance and voice didn’t exactly appear trustworthy. But Garan had met this being before and knew that he was no enemy. So he simply answered:

“We will.”

Then, before Axonn and Botar could leave, he approached them.

“What about Toa Matoro, Axonn? He hasn’t improved.”

When the Matoran had learned about Matoro’s hand in the death of Mata Nui, many of them had simply asked that he be left there to die. But the former Matoran Resistance, as well as Defilak and several Mahri Nui Matoran, had stated that they owed his team their lives and that this warranted helping him. So Axonn had directed them to an equipment cache where long before he had hidden a device that air breathers could use to breathe water. Velika had modified it to work in the opposite way as well and had then fitted it over Matoro's mask.

The Matoran had then escorted the Toa of Ice back to the caves; Matoro had gone with them without objection, but he had never spoken to them or, indeed, signaled in any way that he knew who they were or where he was. Axonn now found him sitting at the back of the cave, alone; he seemed to be whispering something, but he couldn't make out what, nor in truth did he care.

“Do what you think is best,” he replied. "But if he is too far gone, then death might be a mercy for him.”

Garan didn’t completely agree, but he understood Axonn’s feelings. How couldn’t he? Deep down, he felt the same way.

Before he could answer, however, Botar intervened:

“The destined bearer of the Mask of Life will come with us. Helryx may want information from him, and the punishment for his failure must also be decided.”

Axonn was surprised but he didn’t speak. Matoro, he decided, simply wasn’t worth discussing. Garan also stayed silent. Botar had spoken with authority.

The teleporter grasped one of Axonn's hands. The axe-wielder scooped up Matoro with the other. He had just the time to look at Garan and wonder if he would ever see him again. Then the three of them disappeared.
 

-----


Onewa stood on the sandy shoreline of the Silver Sea, watching as Matoran from all six tribes removed the last items of cargo from the ships. Most of them were carried over to the carts that would then be pulled by Ussal crabs through the tunnels leading up to Mata Nui, though a significant portion would have to be carried by the Matoran themselves; Onewa and Matau had spent hours overseeing the unloading of the cargo and deciding how best to sort it.

The task had not been particularly stimulating, but Onewa preferred it by far to simply standing on the shore, counting the survivors of the storm, hoping desperately for another vessel to appear and grieving for the lives that the sea had claimed. After all, there was nothing else they could do: as soon as they had reached the Great Barrier they had used their lightstones to set up a beacon of sorts on a high outcropping; a few Matoran with keen eyesight had been posted there to watch for ships, while others waited below, ready to put the boats to sea should a craft require assistance. Over the past few hours the number of vessels beached on the shore had increased, but several were still missing.

He heard a shout and raised his head to see a group of Onu-Matoran herding the Ussal crabs towards the waiting carts. The Rahi had been stowed in the hold of one of the large ships and had suffered terribly during the storm, so upon landing the Matoran of Earth had released them and allowed them to roam around to regain their strength; now, though, it was time to gather them again. The tame, mild-tempered crabs offered no resistance and allowed themselves to be lashed to the carts without much protest.

A purple Ussal crawled towards Onewa. This one was ridden by an Onu-Matoran, who dismounted in front of the Turaga.

“I’ve made sure that all our crabs have been gathered, noble Onewa. We are ready.”

“Thank you, Onepu,” replied Onewa. “I’ll give you word as soon as we can leave.”

He saw Matau hurry towards him.

“The lookouts can’t glimpse-see any more boat-ships,” said the Turaga of Air, his voice unusually grave.

Onewa sighed.

“Then it’s time.”

They had come ashore close to the dark mouth of a very wide tunnel, which opened upon a large, sandy beach. The Matoran gathered in front of the tunnel; it was a large crowd, occupying a good portion of the beach, yet Onewa knew that it was smaller than the one that had boarded the boats back in Metru Nui.

The roll call began: Onewa, Matau and the four Matoran the other Turaga had put in charge of their respective tribes read out the names from the passenger manifesto that had been prepared upon their departure. The fourth Po-Matoran on Onewa’s list was missing; so was the ninth. As the number of the missing grew, so did the emptiness in the heart of the Turaga of Stone. He had known these Matoran, all of them; as village elder of Po-Koro, he had guided them, counseled them and watched over them for a thousand years. He could remember their faces, their voices. And now they were gone. During the Great War against Makuta’s Rahi, several Po-Matoran had been lost, but never had so many perished at the same time; and although he knew that there was nothing he could have done to save them, Onewa still felt as though he had failed in his duty to protect them.

The Turaga of Stone finished reading the names. Soon the others, their voices as somber as his, finished as well. Onewa raised his head to look upon the crowd: several Matoran were bowing their heads in grief, while others were holding theirs up and trying to mask their pain. Onewa’s gaze was drawn to the Matoran who had come from the land of Karzahni: they were standing the furthest from the entrance, scattered along the crowd’s perimeter, looking frightened or confused, as if they didn’t quite realize what was happening around them. They had been of some assistance in unloading the cargo, but they always had to be explicitly instructed, for they would take no initiative and would speak neither to the Matoran from Metru Nui nor amongst themselves. Onewa didn’t know how many Matoran from Karzahni had been lost: there hadn’t been the time to collect all their names, especially given the fact that most didn’t seem to remember their name at all.

They will be forgotten, he thought sadly, just as they were forgotten in the realm of Karzahni in the first place.

But there wasn’t time to dwell on such things. Instead, Onewa raised his voice to address all the crowd:

“No words can fully express the pain that we all feel now. The ones who were lost in the storm were our friends and comrades and there is no shame in the grief we all feel. But I must ask you to set that grief aside for now: there will be time to remember and to mourn later. We have a duty to attend to now, both for our own sake and for that of those who are still in Metru Nui. We must reach Mata Nui, prepare the island for the return of the Matoran. We leave right now. The voyage will not be easy: it will be dark and we will probably meet Rahi along the way, which might attack us. Consequently, the members of the village Guards will be at the front and bring up the rear. Be on your watch, all of you, and stay together. Remember, our strength comes from unity.”

It didn’t take long before the tunnel floor started to slope upwards. The villagers walked slowly: a crowd that large could not be expected to move fast and the Matoran from Karzahni were especially slow, forcing everyone to move at their pace. Onewa knew from experience that in such a situation temper could flare out of control; consequently, he and Matau often left Onepu and the Ussalry to lead the way, while the two of them mingled with the villagers, trying to keep everyone moving and trying to prevent quarrels from breaking out and difficulties from arising.

The tunnels were dark and cold, but the way to take was clear enough: this tunnel was the one that, a thousand years before, the Toa Metru had used to take the airships carrying hundreds of sleeping Matoran up to Mata Nui. A thousand years later, those same Matoran had come down this way, headed for the island-city that was their true home, never imagining that they would soon be forced to once more make the journey in the opposite direction.

Its size was convenient before, thought Onewa. This time, though, it might just mean that we’ll encounter more Rahi along the way. We’re lucky they didn’t attack us down on the beach.

Events soon proved him right. The Ussalry scouts dispatched by Onepu began returning to deliver warnings about Rahi being ahead. The Onu-Matoran chased off the first ones, but soon an open confrontation became inevitable. It happened about an hour after they started the climb: a herd of Kane-Ra bulls came rushing down the tunnel, too many for the Ussalry to divert. The Onu-Matoran did warn the Turaga of the danger, though, so that by the time they found themselves facing the snarling beasts, Onewa and Matau were ready: the Turaga of Stone used his Kanohi Komau to take control of the pack leader’s mind, while Matau used his own mask to create multiple illusions of himself to confuse the others. Then the Le-Matoran detonated several explosive Madu Cabolo fruit, putting the bulls to flight.

There were other battles, sometimes with several creatures, sometimes with lone ones. Once, a herd of Kavinika managed to get past the scouts without them noticing and attacked the Matoran, slaying two Ta-Matoran before being driven back by a volley of bamboo disks. Another time, a Vatuka suddenly emerged from the stone floor of the tunnel and collapsed part of its roof before disappearing again. Most Matoran were rescued, but two Le-Matoran and a Po-Matoran were lost.

Although stricken by the deaths, Onewa knew they had to go on: turning back was not an option and stopping in the tunnels just risked inviting further Rahi attacks. So the Matoran kept moving and as they did the Turaga of Stone tried to analyze the situation rationally. He had used his Mask of Mind Control on several Rahi now and in every case the main emotion he had detected in the creatures’ minds had been fear rather than anger. He could not help but flash back to the time he and the other Toa Metru had descended down these same tunnels, encountering countless Rahi, all fleeing from the Visorak spiders that had conquered Metru Nui.

They must be fleeing from something in this case, too. But what could it be? It can’t be Visorak, that’s for sure. A natural catastrophe? Perhaps, but it doesn’t justify the terror I’ve felt.

Matau had reached more or less the same conclusions. After a short discussion, the two Turaga convened upon continuing at least until they were level with the underground region of Onu-Wahi; they would then send on scouts to determine whether there was indeed a new threat on Mata Nui.

In the end, the answer came sooner than that. When they were about three quarters of the way to the island above, one of the Onu-Matoran scouts, Damek, suddenly appeared, spurring his Ussal forward as if his life depended on it. Matau and Onewa quickly hurried to meet him. It took only a cursory examination to reveal that something had badly frightened him.

“Turaga, you… you have to come and see. It’s… impossible.”

“I’ll go,” said Onewa. “You stay here. Prepare the Matoran in case an attack comes.”

“Very well, Turaga-brother,” answered Matau.

Onewa boarded the Ussal and Damek quickly urged it on. One minute later, they reached a second, equally anxious scout.

“Turaga! Damek! Thank Mata… thank the Great Beings you’re here. They’re around this corner. Come and see!”

But Onewa didn’t need to see. Because he was already hearing vibrations, sounds which he had already perceived before and had hoped never to hear again. He instantly made a mental inventory of what kind of weapons they were carrying. Bamboo disks, Madu fruit, spears, staffs… they would all be useless. Even Kanoka disks would not be enough. They did have a few Boxors, but they were disassembled. Besides, if he was right, it would take far more than a few of Nuparu’s machines to make the difference.

He turned the corner. In front of him, dozens, no, hundreds of insectoid creatures were marching out of another tunnel. Fear clutched his heart as he spoke their name:

“Bohrok!”
 

-----


The first thing Axonn knew was that something was wrong. He had undergone several teleports before and this time something different had happened. He opened his eyes. Despite the time that had passed, he immediately recognized one of the many halls of Daxia Fortress. His own teleport seemed to have succeeded. So if there was nothing wrong with him… he spun his head round to look at his two companions. Matoro, still held in his left hand, was completely still, but that was obviously a consequence of his mental state. But when Axonn turned to look at Botar, he saw the tall being on the ground, his body shaken by incontrollable spasms. It took him only a moment to realize what was happening.

“The mask!” he bellowed. “Let it go!”

Botar didn’t hear him, perhaps already unconscious. Though it went against his better judgment, Axonn approached him and kicked the Ignika away from his grasp, sending it skidding across the floor. Then he grabbed Botar’s arm and sent the healing energies he wielded into his body, seeking the cause of his malaise. He immediately found it. Somehow, during the teleport, the molecules making up his body had come to life and started duplicating themselves. If he had held the mask one more instant, it would have killed him. Even now, he was in danger. Axonn summoned his power and let it wash over Botar, destroying the growths pervading his body. It wouldn’t restore the other agent to immediate health, but at least it would save his life.

Other Order of Mata Nui agents had been drawn to the hall by the commotion. A moment later, Helryx herself appeared.

"What is happening, Axonn?"

“The Mask of Life," said Axonn softly, trying not be overheard by all the agents now standing in the hall. "Its power turned against Botar during the teleport."

Helryx’s eyes went to the mask, still lying on the hall’s floor. She raised her hand. A tendril of solid water came out and wrapped itself around the Ignika before carrying it back to the Toa of Water. Helryx kept it hovering in the air, never touching it herself.

“I'll take care of it. Is that Toa Matoro?” she then asked.

“The body is his, yes, but there is no longer a sane mind inside it. His failure has driven him mad."
Helryx nodded and gestured to two Order agents, who approached them and took Botar and Matoro away. A third one, Trinuma, came forward to collect the Mask of Life and fit it inside a small box. Axonn's gaze followed him as he took it away.

"What will happen to the mask?"

"Most likely it'll remain in our care from now on. But don't worry, Axonn; it is no longer your responsibility. There are other tasks I have in store for you."

"And they are?" asked Axonn after a moment.

"You'll soon be told. All the agents that have so far managed to make it back here will be assembling within two hours. I will explain everything then."

Axonn nodded and was about to take his leave when Helryx spoke again. To his surprise, the Toa of Water was smiling.

“There is someone you might wish to see before the meeting. He should be at the training facilities and he’s waiting for you.”

Axonn decided against asking who it was and instead nodded again. He quickly reached the training area, where several Order of Mata Nui agents were testing their powers and weapons and engaging each other in mock combat. Axonn knew a few of them, but most were unfamiliar.

He didn't recognize him at first. Perhaps it was the fact that spikes had sprouted from his armor and a fin from his back; or perhaps it was the air-breathing apparatus that had been fitted over his head; or maybe the reason was that he had never really expected to see him again. But when he turned and Axonn beheld his mask and his sword, the sword that he himself had gifted to him so long ago, then there was no mistaking his identity.

“B-Brutaka,” Axonn gasped. “How can you be here?”

“They gave me a second chance," smiled Brutaka, a smile that Axonn hadn’t seen for a long time. "I'm back, Axonn; and this time I'm here to stay."

Axonn knew he should say something, but no words came to him. It was Brutaka who took the initiative.

"What I did..." he said, bowing his head, "there is no way I can justify it. I can only plead for your forgiveness."

Axonn did not hesitate. He remembered vividly all that Brutaka had done, how he had betrayed all that they had stood for, how he had allied with the Piraka to steal the mask he had sworn to guard with his life and how without hesitation he had forsaken their friendship and attacked him mercilessly; and he also knew that none of that mattered. His friend, the Brutaka he had once known and believed gone forever, was back; he had returned to the light, and to him. How could he possibly waste this chance?

“You have it,” he said.

Brutaka raised his head to meet Axonn's gaze. There was no mistaking the emotion in his eyes.

"Thank you, old friend."

A moment of silence followed. Then Axonn asked:

“Do you know what is going to happen now?”

Brutaka's expression turned grim.

“Yes. Helryx has decided that the Order can no longer hide in secrecy. We must step into the light and help the inhabitants of the universe to escape.”

He paused for a moment.

“And it won’t be easy, my friend. Helryx hasn’t yet decided what we shall do with factions like the Dark Hunters. But one thing is clear: the Brotherhood won’t be allowed to escape. They won’t like it. War is coming, Axonn. No one knows how it’ll end.”
 

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#9 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Aug 19 2017 - 04:27 AM

EIGHT

 

The Convocation Chamber on Destral was seldom used. It wasn’t, after all, a laboratory or a training ground. If the Makuta staying on Destral wished to assemble for some reason, they were most likely to use a smaller hall. And the leader of the Brotherhood didn’t wield his power from here, but from the Throne Room, located elsewhere within the main compound of Destral Fortress. Only when the entire Brotherhood gathered at their main headquarters would the doors of the Convocation Chamber be opened.
 
Yet few locations commanded as much respect in the hearts of the Makuta. Almost 80 000 years had passed since the fateful Convocation that had installed Makuta Teridax as leader of the Brotherhood, but no Makuta would ever forget those moments. On that day, the Brotherhood of Makuta had committed itself to Teridax’s Plan and turned forever against the Great Spirit. On that day, the Makuta had forsaken the light and embraced the shadows.
 
That hadn’t, of course, been the last Convocation; Teridax had called for several others in the following millennia, mainly to review the Plan’s progress. The last one had taken place one thousand years before, with the fortress of Destral still in ruins after the Great Cataclysm. On that occasion, the Makuta had confirmed their support of Teridax’s leadership; Icarax, who at the time had tried to use the setbacks suffered by the Brotherhood in Metru Nui as an excuse to stage a rebellion, had sat near the far end of the table, battered and humiliated after his defeat at Teridax’s hands.
 
The situation now couldn’t be more different. Icarax was standing at the head of the table, next to the empty seat reserved for the leader of the Brotherhood. Instead of his usual Mask of Scavenging, he was the Kanohi Kraahkan, one of the symbols of Teridax’s power. As Antroz stepped into the Convocation Chamber, he met Icarax’s gaze for a moment. It was confident, too confident for Antroz’s liking. He couldn’t help it: as he passed under the empty eyelids of the Kanohi that were nailed to the wall, the masks of the Makuta who had sided with Makuta Miserix when Teridax overthrown him, he stole a glance upwards, wondering if, before the day was out, his own mask would be among them.
 
He cursed himself a moment later. Ever since the death of the Great Spirit, he had been tormented by a nagging sense of uncertainty. His assertive demeanor had been tempered by a newfound caution that might be justified, given the circumstances, but which might also be seen by the other Makuta as a sign of weakness. With Icarax poised to challenge Teridax’s authority, and by extension that of his lieutenants, he could not afford any additional doubts.
 
The last Makuta entered the chamber and sat at their assigned places. Every head turned towards Icarax, wondering whether he would attempt to occupy Teridax’s seat. The Makuta of Karzahni made no move to do so, however: he remained standing, waiting until all the attention in the chamber was focused on him. Only then did he start speaking.
 
“Welcome, my fellow Makuta. I thank you all for heeding my summons. The reason for this Convocation is obvious to us all: the Great Spirit is dead. As a result, our universe is doomed to certain destruction. Some unknown force might have temporarily staved it off, but this ultimately doesn’t change anything. We must act quickly to save ourselves.”
 
He paused for a moment and then went on.
 
“You might think that it was inappropriate, even traitorous of me to do so. I answer with a question of my own: who is responsible for the catastrophe looming upon us? Whose actions have led us to this? I know, and so do you. It was Teridax who brought this onto us, he and his Plan.”
 
“Shut up, Icarax!”
 
This exclamation came from Gorast, who had risen from her seat, her face twisting in fury.
 
“Don’t try to enchant us with this pretty speech. We all know that the only thing you want is to lead the Brotherhood, to usurp Teridax’s place. You, of all people, could never replace him. You are just a worthless piece of slime with no intelligence or vision.”
 
There was a moment of silence. Then Icarax answered, his voice strangely soft:
 
“And did Teridax have those qualities? Truly? Then how come we’re sitting here now? His Plan has failed, Gorast. It died with the Great Spirit. Teridax himself must realize this better than anyone. Why else do you think he’s not here among us? Why else should he fear to face us?”
 
Antroz grimaced. Icarax had a point. It was true that Teridax’s armor had been shattered a few months before, leaving his essence exposed and considerably diminishing his power and his ability to travel. Still, had the leader of the Brotherhood wished to appear at the Convocation, Antroz had no doubt he would have found a way to do so. Could Icarax be right? Could Teridax have chosen to flee, knowing his scheme had failed? And if he had, where did that leave those who had always followed him loyally, like Gorast or Antroz himself?
 
He was sure the other Makuta were wondering about the same thing. He could feel the balance of power within the room shifting. Teridax’s absence was emboldening those who had always been the most reluctant supporters of his Plan, while his loyalists were uncertain, unable to understand how solid their position was.
 
Icarax was playing upon this perfectly. His tone of voice, his demeanor, they were all carefully calculated, containing none of the unspoken challenges and threats that normally characterized his words, even in his calmer moments. He was trying to appear as a rational, capable and even subtle leader, in an attempt to ingratiate himself not only with Teridax’s would-be opponents, but also with those Makuta who had appreciated and admired the Makuta of Metru Nui, but who would nevertheless be looking for an alternative now.
 
He glanced down the table. Was this tactic working? Just how much support did Icarax already enjoy?
 
 “If our leader chooses not to come before us at this critical moment, why shouldn’t we choose a new one?” Icarax was saying. “And why shouldn’t I be the one best suited for the role? Didn’t I always call for the Brotherhood to use its strength to seize the power that is ours by right? Didn’t I predict that endless discussions and convoluted plans would lead us to this?”
 
His voice was rising now.
 
“We no longer have time to talk. Action is what we need! If you name me leader, I will lead the Brotherhood to safety and then to new greatness! Our power will crush anyone in our way! Those who wish to live will have to submit to us! Our dream of universal domination will finally be fulfilled! This I vow!”
 
Antroz knew the time to speak was now. Several Makuta, in fact, where looking at him, expecting him to say something. As Teridax’s main lieutenant, he could challenge Icarax’s claim to the Brotherhood leadership and stake out his own. But could he go against Icarax head to head? In the wake of Teridax’s failure, would he have enough support? And could the Brotherhood afford such division in the face of the struggle for survival that lay ahead?
 
As all these questions rushed through his mind, Antroz realized that he had no answer for them. And so, in doubt, he didn’t speak. To the astonishment of many a Makuta, Icarax’s claim went unchallenged. Yet one more, crucial question still needed to be asked. It was Chirox who eventually voiced it:
 
“How do you propose we achieve all this?”
 
Icarax didn’t answer. Instead, he turned his head until he faced the Makuta of Stelt, silently inviting him to speak. And at that moment it was clear to them all that Icarax was playing his trump card: that he had already secured the support of the Makuta of Stelt, head of Brotherhood intelligence, and with it the knowledge that they all needed desperately, the information that would allow them to escape the destruction of the universe.
 
“A rumor was spreading through Stelt shortly before I left,” the Makuta of Stelt declared to the assembled Brotherhood. “Apparently, the Matoran of Metru Nui have decided to return to the island where they sheltered for the last thousand years. They believe they will be safe there, as that island is not fully part of our universe.”
 
“Yes,” interrupted Icarax, “and that’s where I will lead you. If you name me leader now, I will immediately order that Destral be teleported to Metru Nui. Before the Toa or anyone else has time to react, we’ll have conquered that city and its Matoran. Then no one will stand in our way as we make our way to the island above. Anyone wishing to save themselves will have to submit to us. Do you stand with me?”
 
Nothing else needed to be said. The Makuta of Stelt stood up and walked to Icarax’s side. Bitil, Chirox, Tridax and several others followed. Antroz considered for a moment, but he knew he had no choice: Icarax had won this round and his plan, though crude, was obviously the best possible course of action. There was nothing to be gained by opposing him at this point. As Vamprah and Mutran rose to take Icarax’s side, he stood up and joined them.
 
Finally, only two Makuta were left: Krika and Gorast. Despite their common position, their attitudes couldn’t be more different. Krika was silent and looking away, as if trying to ignore what was happening around him; Gorast was trembling in anger and indignation.
 
“Traitors!” she screamed. “You swore allegiance to Teridax! How dare you forsake that now! You would join an inept like Icarax, whose scheme is nothing compared to the Plan. We have a leader who surpasses him in everything. He’ll know what to do!”
 
“Teridax is no longer our leader,” replied Icarax. “He’s either dead or he has abandoned us. You have a choice, Gorast: you can either remain here, in the vain hope that he will return, and share the fate of this doomed universe; or you can join us and achieve the glory we have sought for so long.”
 
Gorast’s answer was a wordless scream of fury. She rose to her feet, flinging her chair aside; her wings spread out, ready to hurl her at Icarax and at the Makuta standing behind him.
 
But Antroz was already moving. Before Gorast could spring, he hurled himself at her, his hand lashing out to clasp her shoulder. The female Makuta tried to brush him aside, but Antroz kept a firm grip on her.
 
“Don’t be a fool!” he hissed. “There’s nothing to be gained by this!”
 
Gorast glared at him with hate-filled eyes.
 
Icarax is too strong now, he told her telepathically. If you challenge him, you’ll only bring about your own destruction. But by joining him, you’ll be able to keep him in check. And we might use your help when the time to get rid of him comes.
 
He could feel the gaze of the other Makuta upon them. He abruptly released Gorast and strode back to join them. A moment later, Gorast, slowly and grudgingly, followed. Icarax opened his mouth to speak, then decided against it. Instead, he turned his attention to the only Brotherhood member who had not yet submitted to his authority.
 
“And you, Krika? Are you with us or against us?”
 
For a long moment, Krika didn’t answer. Then his eyes fixed on Icarax. Antroz was unsettled despite himself. Sadness, resignation, and even disgust and pity, seemed to emanate from the white-armored Makuta. Finally, he spoke softly:
 
“Why?”
 
“Why what?” replied a puzzled Icarax.
 
“Why must all this happen? You talk about destruction and enslavement. You talk about leading the Brotherhood to greatness. Why?”
 
“Because that’s what we want. What we…”
 
“Haven’t we caused enough damage already? Why should we strive for more? Our actions will only bring more suffering for everyone, including ourselves.”
 
“And what would you have us do?” snapped Icarax. “Stay here and die? I won’t allow that to happen. Decide and be done with it!"
 
Krika looked away.
 
“I have destroyed one universe. I will not destroy another.”
 
“Then you are a traitor to the Brotherhood,” declared Icarax. “And there’s only one possible fate for traitors.”
 
He stepped toward Krika and pointed his hand at him. A bolt of lightning sailed from it, only to pass harmlessly through the other Makuta’s intangible body.
 
Krika gazed at them for the final time.
 
“Look at us,” he said sadly. “Look at what we’ve become…”
 
Then he floated into the room’s floor and vanished.
 
“Search the fortress!” bellowed Icarax. “Don’t let him escape!”
 
“It’s useless, Icarax,” said Antroz. “He’s probably gone already.”
 
The new leader of the Brotherhood let out an angry hiss. Then he turned back to them.
 
“Fine. It’s useless to waste anymore time. We have to leave for Metru Nui as soon as possible.”
 

-----

 
Evening had fallen over the city of Metru Nui. After a day of labor, this would have ordinarily been a time of peace and rest. Most Matoran would have retreated to their living quarters, using lightstones to illuminate their homes; through the windows, the glow would have washed out onto the surrounding streets, lighting up the whole city.
 
Today, though, entire districts lay in darkness. Cold winds blew through the empty streets and into the open, abandoned houses. Tools and artefacts still filled the desks and shelves of dwellings and workplaces: although the residents had taken their most valuable possessions with them when they had left, they had been forced to leave many items behind.
 
One district, though, stood out among the rest. In Ga-Metru, the streets and buildings crawled with activity. Preparations for the second fleet were well underway and most Matoran in the city had by now moved to the district of water, ready to board the boats that would take them across the Silver Sea. Ga-Metru’s docks had become the busiest part of the city. And while the rest of the city was dark and gloomy, the docks shone with light: lightstones still burned in the streets and warehouses surrounding the port and more were being loaded onto the boats to light the way. But there was also another source of light, a soft glow which seemed to pervade everything and that was not just aiding the sight of the Matoran; somehow, this light was seeping into their hearts as well, filling them with wonder and hope.
 
As the power of Toa Takanuva shone upon the villagers to aid them in their toils, the Toa of Light himself sat in front of a temple. Every now and then the Matoran would bring him a cart full of extinguished lightstones in order for him to restore their glow. Ever since the preparation of the fleets had begun, the task had occupied most of Takanuva’s time; it was somewhat dull, but the Turaga had insisted that it was essential and he was the only one who could do it.
 
It wouldn’t be long now, though. Originally, Takanuva had been meant to embark with the third fleet, which would have sailed under the most difficult conditions and might have therefore required his help. But now that the weather was once again favorable, the Turaga had decided to send him with the second fleet, in order for him to assure protection both to those Matoran and to those who had already left.
 
He raised his head to gaze out into the darkness that had descended upon the sea. How were the Matoran who had set out earlier doing? How had they weathered the storm that had raged across the Silver Sea for most of the previous morning? It had bad enough here in Ga-Metru: a portion of the docks had been obliterated by powerful waves that had carried everything away. Several Ga-Matoran and many boats had been lost; there were now barely enough vessels to take aboard the whole population.
 
“How are you doing?”
 
Takanuva turned to see Turaga Nokama walking towards him.
 
“I’m fine, Turaga.”
 
“Good,” smiled Nokama. “I think your work here is just about finished. The second fleet will be leaving in a few minutes.”
 
Takanuva nodded.
 
“Is something on your mind?”
 
“It’s just… it is difficult to leave so soon after having returned.”
 
Nokama nodded sadly.
 
“I understand, perhaps even more than you. I remember how this city was a thousand years ago and greatly wished for it to return to that ancient glory. But this isn’t the end. Mata Nui will become once again our home and we will rebuild our civilization there. Always remember this, Toa of Light.”
 
Takanuva would have liked nothing better than to heed her words. It was more difficult than it seemed, however. During the past day certain thoughts had kept creeping into his mind and had proven impossible to dislodge: above all, the feeling of uselessness. He had defeated Makuta, but that triumph was meaningless now. He hadn’t taken part in the mission to save the Great Spirit’s life and now Mata Nui was dead.
 
Perhaps, if I had been there, I could have made a difference. Mata Nui might still be alive now.
 
He shook his head and once again tried to drive these doubts away. They were pointless now. He was about to head towards his ship when it happened.
Around them, air started vibrating and crackling. The sound was so strong it threatened to deafen Takanuva. Matoran cried out in fear around him. He forced himself not to imitate them. He was a Toa; he could no longer succumb to terror.
 
“What is happening, Turaga?” he cried out.
 
But Nokama didn’t answer, her eyes trained on the sea in front of them. Takanuva turned to follow her gaze and gasped. The darkness that had cloaked the waters had been replaced by an even deeper blackness: less than two Kio from the coast, an enormous hole in the very fabric of space had yawned open.
 
At first, nothing moved inside; then something started emerging. It took Takanuva several moments to understand what he was seeing. An entire island was coming out of the portal. It landed on the Silver Sea, but produced only the faintest ripple in the water. But Takanuva didn’t care about such precision. He was too focused on the island itself. An enormous, forbidding fortress covered most of it. Black walls bristling with weaponry surrounded it and only one banner hung from them, clearly visible in spite of the distance. The Mask of Shadows, the symbol of the Brotherhood of Makuta. Terrified silence took hold of the crowd standing on the docks. Then the batteries of Destral started firing.
 

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#10 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Aug 29 2017 - 03:47 AM

NINE

 

Of those first moments, Takanuva would only remember the noise. He didn’t even have the time to fully understand what was happening when a deafening explosion rocked the docks. The shockwave struck him and Takanuva felt his body being blown back, even as the entire city shuddered under the impacts of Destral’s projectiles.

 

Now he was lying on the ground, half-conscious. He could only see blackness, sometimes punctuated by flashes of red. He felt water, soil and debris rain onto his body. His mind was completely blank, as if every thought had been erased from it.

 

Then he heard something else. People were screaming around him, not in fury but in terror. That was what roused him. He remembered those screams; he had heard them many times during the past millennium. He had uttered them himself. But he was a Toa now and he had become a Toa so that the Matoran would never have to scream that way again.

 

With difficulty, he sat up and then got to his feet. The explosion had almost hurled him into the canal that ran beside the temple. The temple itself had been struck, a gaping hole gouged in its seaward wall. Matoran were rushing past him. As for the docks…

The docks were being completely annihilated. A projectile struck a warehouse, another blew apart a section of the wharves. Upon impact, the shells unleashed lethal shockwaves, which pulverized everything in their path. The noise was deafening. Matoran cried out and fell as the force of the explosions smashed them against the ground.

 

But Takanuva himself held his ground. As projectile after projectile pounded into the boats that the Matoran had spent so much time and effort crafting and that should have brought them to safety, as he saw the villagers, his friends, fleeing desperately from the destruction, as he beheld the mangled remains of those who hadn’t made it, fury rose in his heart. Almost without conscious thoughts he raised both hands and suddenly light bolts were sailing from his fingers, streaking through the darkness. The next shell to be fired from the walls of the black fortress exploded in midair as Takanuva’s lasers sliced through it. The Toa of Light kept pouring out his elemental power, allowing no projectile to get through, blowing them all up before they had a chance to clear Destral’s ramparts.

 

Yet, for all his efforts, all he could achieve was a fragile stalemate. The walls of Destral bristled with weapons and he was alone. He could not even shield the entire port, let alone the whole Ga-Metru coastline. At his left and at his right, artillery fire was still pummeling wharves, warehouses, temples, chutes and streets. And Takanuva himself was tiring; how long could he hold this up?

 

He risked a glance backwards. Many lightstones had been dislodged or smashed to pieces, but enough remained for him to glimpse the shapes of the fleeing Matoran. Most of the villagers, to his relief, seemed to have cleared the coastline.

 

Maybe this is going to work, after all. If I can shield them long enough for them to reach the heights overlooking the port…

 

The moment the thought crossed his mind, the rain of projectiles sailing from Destral’s walls ceased. Takanuva blinked in surprise, but the respite proved short-lived. Within moments, Brotherhood fire resumed, but this time it did not target the port. Instead, rockets streaked upwards from inside the walls of the fortress. Within moments, there was a blast upon one of the cliffs overlooking the port. Another rocket flew to the south-east; only a few instants later, in the distance, an explosion blossomed upon the flank of the Coliseum.

 

Takanuva had to lean upon the wall of a collapsed building for support. There would be no escape. The Brotherhood of Makuta would strike the whole city with their weapons, leave nothing intact. How could he possibly stop them?

 

Wrapped up in his desperation, he almost missed it. The weapons upon Destral’s walls began firing again, but this time they sent small, spherical objects flying into the air, arching over the docks to drop down towards… the Matoran!

 

Takanuva broke into a desperate run. The fleeing villagers would have left the coast behind by now. The new projectiles would fall straight into their midst. He dashed after the Matoran, already knowing he would be too late. And then, with a simultaneous click, the spheres sailing overhead split open in midair. Tiny dark specks fell out of them into the streets just ahead.

 

He heard them before he saw them. The Matoran were shrieking, screaming in what sounded like terrible pain. The Toa of Light rushed into a clearing bordered by a canal. Almost two dozen Matoran were lying on the ground, writhing and crying out desperately. Several others were still on their feet, but their eyes were open wide and their bodies frozen in dread as they beheld their friends’ agony.

 

Takanuva bent over the closest villager, a Le-Matoran. To his horror, he saw that a small creature had attached itself to his body and, for all his effort, the Matoran couldn’t seem to break its grip. The Toa of Light was about to try and use his power when the screaming stopped abruptly. The creatures detached themselves from the Matoran and crawled away. An inexplicable feeling of dread and revulsion suddenly filled Takanuva; almost subconsciously, he backed away from the Matoran, but his eyes remained upon them, unable to tear themselves away.

 

In front of Takanuva, the Le-Matoran rose. Only now did the Toa of Light recognize him: it was his old friend, Tamaru. But, at the same time, it wasn’t. He’d changed: shades of black had appeared upon his green armor, his Kanohi mask was split by a cruel smile and his eyes… his eyes were clouded in shadow.

 

Tamaru wasn’t looking at him, maybe he hadn’t even noticed him. His eyes were fixed on the Matoran who hadn’t yet been attacked by the creatures. He raised his hand and a bolt of shadow sailed from it, striking one of them. He laughed in triumph at his newfound power. Other Matoran were rising to his side and were imitating him, their power cutting through the ranks of those who had been their fellow villagers.

 

Takanuva knew he had to stop them, even though it meant harming those he considered friends. But then a whistle split the air. He raised his head to see more spherical pods sail through the air above him. They clicked open and the creatures they carried inside dropped straight towards Takanuva. The Toa of Light didn’t hesitate. A barrage of laser bolts sailed into the air, disintegrating the abominations.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the Matoran who had not been attacked were fleeing, while those who now wielded the power of shadow pursued. He was about to follow when he froze. There was a figure hovering in the air. The being was difficult to make out in the darkness, for his armor was jet-black, and it also seemed as if the shadows clung to him, as if he was part of them. Yet he was there, unmistakably.

 

Perhaps realizing he had been spotted, the figure started flying down towards the clearing. Takanuva did not understand what gave the being the ability to fly, but he could now see that he was a Toa, just like him. He suddenly tensed. He couldn’t explain it, but, somehow, he knew that the color of the Toa’s armor was not that of a Toa of Earth.

 

The Toa landed in front of him. Takanuva took a step back and drew his Staff of Light. Then he took in the other Toa’s appearance; and he froze. Shock went through his mind, blanketing out all other thought or emotion. The black-armored Toa, the Toa of Shadow, was also armed with a staff, identical to his own. And the similarities did not stop there: the colors couldn’t have been more different, but the shape of their bodies and armor was the same, down to the smallest detail. And the mask… Takanuva had always believed that the Kanohi he wore was unique, but as he met the other Toa’s stare, he found himself gazing into the eyeholes of a mask that, despite its jet-black color, was unmistakably the Kanohi Avohkii, Mask of Light.

 

Could it be? No, it’s impossible. He… he is… but he can’t be, it doesn’t make sense…

 

He suddenly realized that the Toa of Shadow was as speechless as him; at least for a few seconds.

 

Then he opened his mouth to speak; Takanuva almost tried to block his ears, but at the same time he knew he had to hear him.

 

“I don’t believe it,” he said, in a voice that was every bit identical to Takanuva’s. “You’re me, aren’t you? From this dimension…”

 

Then he chuckled and the sound sickened Takanuva’s heart.

 

“Well, I didn’t imagine I would get to meet my counterpart so soon. But then again, this means I will have the pleasure of telling the others that it was I who killed you.”

 

-----

 

From a great window, Icarax, Tridax and several other Makuta watched as the shadow Takanuva marched out of the great gate of Destral’s main compound and into the fortress’s largest courtyard. There was undisguised pride in Tridax’s face as he watched his perhaps greatest creations access the flight power he had given them by exposing them to a Makuta virus and head off towards Metru Nui.

 

 

Icarax, on the other hand, wasn’t so impressed. As the last Toa took flight, he turned to Tridax:

 

“Your creations are remarkable, I must admit.”

 

Tridax’s smile widened.

 

“But they also seem incredibly foolish.”

 

Tridax looked at him in surprise.

 

“What… do you mean?”

 

“This is all ridiculous. The Toa of Light is, perhaps, our greatest enemy. And what have you done? You’ve collected copies of him from other universes and, instead of exterminating them, you set to convert them to shadow. You’ve even made them more powerful by giving them the ability to fly. Foolishness. A defeated enemy must be obliterated. Keeping him alive only means giving him another chance to oppose you.”

 

“But… but I assure you, the Shadow Leeches…”

 

“The Shadow Leeches do not guarantee absolute loyalty, do they?” sneered Icarax.

 

At first, Tridax seemed to be unable to answer. Then he found the words:

 

“I’ve… I’ve thought about that. Ever since Mutran and the others left for Karda Nui, I’ve been experimenting with the Shadow Leeches that we created. You’re right; while they drain the light out of a being, they do not ensure obedience. But I’ve solved that problem. You see, the Shadow Leeches are mutated Kraata, but there are other things we can mutate Kraata into. A short time ago we developed a mutated Kraata of Hunger, a parasite, essentially, and I’ve inserted one into the body of every corrupted Toa of Light. Ordinarily, they will only leech enough energy from the host to survive, but since they maintain a mental link to a Makuta we can, if necessary, order them to do much more. It takes a few seconds, but then the process becomes irreversible: the parasite will drain all the energy it can find and the host will die. There are still limits: the parasite cannot survive without a host, so we can’t yet use them as weapons. But we’ll get there: Kraata mutation is still an unexplored field and…”

 

“I’ve heard enough!” snapped Icarax. “I suppose you’ve told those Toa about this parasite of yours, so they will not betray us? Yes? Well, I still have to be convinced that it will be enough. I want a Makuta to oversee them personally and I have already decided that that Makuta will be you.”

 

Tridax’s face was filled by an expression of horror.

 

“W… what?”

 

Icarax smiled cruelly.

 

“Let me make myself absolutely clear. You will go to Metru Nui in person and take command of the shadow Takanuva there. You will remain there until the last traces of resistance have been stamped out. Only then will you join the rest of us on the island above.”

 

The new leader of the Brotherhood walked back into the hall, leaving Tridax speechless. Icarax knew his fellow Makuta wouldn’t be happy about staying behind in a universe doomed to destruction while the rest of the Brotherhood escaped; he didn’t care. His brothers had to understand that his authority was supreme and his wishes were to be obeyed, regardless of their nature.

 

As he surveyed the assembled Makuta, he suddenly had another stroke of inspiration.

 

“Sister,” he said to Gorast, who was lurking in the shadows of the room, as far away as possible from him, “perhaps you might want to join Tridax. I know your taste for battle and right now the fight is taking place in Metru Nui. And the Toa of Light is there. If you find him, his light will placate your thirst for a long time.”

 

Icarax placed an emphasis on the last sentence. Bitil had told him that Gorast now needed to feed on light periodically to survive. She had not done so for some time. Her hunger might persuade her if his charisma failed.

 

Gorast considered for a few moments. Then she said, her voice dripping with hatred:

 

“I will do so, if only to get away from you. But we’ll soon meet again.”

 

As the female Makuta stalked out of the hall, Icarax smiled inside. So far, it had been necessary to use a more conciliatory tone when dealing with Gorast, but that would soon change: in her absence, he would consolidate his power further. By the time she got back, he would have enough support to either force her to submit completely and unconditionally to him or else to eliminate her without causing strife within the Brotherhood.

 

He turned to the other Makuta.

 

“The time has come, my brothers. Let us leave this fortress for the last time, fly over the sea and reach the Great Barrier. From there, it’ll be only a short ascent to the island above.”

 

-----

 

Takanuva swung his staff. It struck his dark duplicate, who staggered backwards. Before Takanuva could summon another light bolt, however, his opponent regained his balance and blasted him with shadow. Takanuva went sprawling on the ground.

The other Takanuva advanced on him. He activated the Kanohi Avohkii. Its radiance split the darkness surrounding Metru Nui, blinding his opponent. A laser bolt sliced his staff into pieces. Takanuva used the respite to get back to his feet. The shadow Takanuva attacked again, shadow flying from his outstretched hands. Takanuva dodged a bolt, but another hit him on the arm. He cried in pain, but didn’t fall back. Instead, he bombarded the other with light bolts of his own. The struggle went on for almost a minute, but it was Takanuva who eventually faltered. Shadow got through his defenses and only by diving to his side did he manage to escape death.

 

He grimaced in pain and frustration. The darkness was making his powers even weaker, while strengthening those of his opponent. He had no time to brood about his misfortune, though, for the shadow Takanuva jumped toward him. He batted aside a light bolt Takanuva sent at him and then kicked at his face. Only by a miracle the Avohkii wasn’t knocked off. Takanuva tried to pull himself up, but another shadow bolt struck his leg, which collapsed under him.

 

However, he still wasn’t finished. He was armed, while the shadow Takanuva was not. He swung his staff again. The shadow Takanuva dodged, but he gained enough time to summon his power again. He released it in a powerful flash. While it did little damage, it temporarily hid him from his opponent’s sight. He got up and sped across the bridge spanning the canal; once on the other side, he ran into a narrow street. The buildings here crowded against the cliff’s side. Takanuva made his way through the alleys, trying to lose his opponent. He didn’t like fleeing, but he needed to find the Turaga, tell them about the corrupted Matoran and the shadow Takanuva, figure out what to do next.

 

Eventually, the Toa of Light found shelter beneath a small chute support tower. He waited, hands gripping his staff. The shadow Takanuva did not appear. Had he given up?

 

He was about to move when there was an explosion. He looked up to see the chute disintegrate as it was struck by a blast of shadow energy. Takanuva dove aside as the tower came crashing down on top of him. He glimpsed the shape of the shadow Takanuva flying down towards him. Shadow bolts rained from his hands, cutting off any escape route. The Toa of Light tried to use his power to shield himself, but a beam of dark energy pierced his defenses. He staggered and fell amidst the rubble.

 

The shadow Takanuva landed. There was a smile on his face, impossibly similar to Takanuva’s but filled with cruelty and contempt. A crackling orb of darkness formed in his hand and he held it up over Takanuva, ready to finish him. Then there was a deafening blast of noise. Takanuva screamed as the sound wracked his ears and smashed him hard against the ground.

 

It was over as abruptly as it had begun. Takanuva propped himself up, still dazed. Had there been another explosion? Had one of the rockets fired from the fortress struck nearby? Then he realized that there was still a Toa standing over him, but it wasn’t the shadow Takanuva. The newcomer’s armor was gray and black, yet Takanuva instinctively knew that this was no Toa of Shadow. The Toa stretched out his arm; after a moment of hesitation, Takanuva clasped his hand and was helped to his feet.

 

“Who are you?” croaked the Toa of Light.

 

“My name is Toa Krakua.”

 

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#11 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Aug 30 2017 - 09:24 AM

TEN

 

A great Kahu bird flew over the Silver Sea, wings beating quickly as it sought to put as much distance as possible between itself and the island of Metru Nui.

 

The bird’s thoughts were still somewhat jumbled. Earlier that day, the Le-Matoran of the Gukko Force had taken the birds they rode to the docks of Ga-Metru, in preparation for flying across the sea even as the other Matoran made their crossing upon the vessels of the second fleet. The bird hadn’t, of course, understood the words that its rider and the others had spoken, but it had sensed that they were about to embark upon a great journey.

 

But then, suddenly, the dark island had appeared upon the sea. The bird had immediately perceived that there was something wrong with the new land: it reeked of evil and malevolence, like the infected Nui-Rama that the Kahu had faced many times back on the island of Mata Nui; however, the feeling had been far stronger this time and only the training the bird had received from the Le-Matoran had prevented it from bolting instantly. But when the explosions had begun, a terror that no training could counter had filled the Kahu; as the Matoran and even its own rider had fled in terror, the bird had spread its wings and taken to the skies, desperate to escape the terrible noise.

 

Now, though, its flight had purpose: the Kahu remembered the jungles of Le-Wahi where it had once lived; the journey that had brought it to Metru Nui had not yet faded from its memories and neither had the route that had been taken. So, despite its fear, the Kahu had skirted around the dark island and was now approaching the Great Barrier; there was a hole in the towering cliff, a tunnel that the bird knew would take it back to the island of Mata Nui.

 

The Kahu was passing over a great crag protruding from the cliff when a smell filled the air. The bird recognized it instantly: it had perceived it only a short time before, when the dark island had come out of nowhere. Panic seized it: angling its wings, it swerved away from the Great Barrier, fearing that worse was coming.

 

As the Kahu fled, the smell of ozone upon the crag got stronger. Then a dimensional gate split space in two. A blue Toa walked out, followed by a tall, golden-armored titan and by a Toa-sized being clad in gray armor.

 

Helryx surveyed the rocky ground with a strategist’s eye. It was flat, yet not too exposed; furthermore, Destral lay directly in front of her, its outline clearly visible in spite of the darkness. The island-fortress of the Brotherhood was floating off the coast of Ga-Metru: large parts of that district were already on fire. Flames had broken out in other parts of Metru Nui as well: even from this distance, their red light was unmistakable, as was the noise of the explosions that were devastating the City of Legends.

 

“This will do,” she told Brutaka.

 

He nodded and the portal widened. A large, advanced-looking cannon emerged from the gate, moving upon a set of wheels. Nothing was pulling or pushing it; the cannon moved under its own power, controlled, like most Order of Mata Nui artillery, by a sophisticated artificial intelligence. Five more cannons followed before the portal closed. The gray-armored Order agent immediately began directing them to their positions.

 

It might not be enough, Helryx knew, but it was all they could do in the brief time available. The Brotherhood had moved far faster than Helryx had anticipated, leaving the Order with barely an hour to organize a response.

 

The course of action had naturally been clear from the beginning. If the Makuta managed to settle on the island of Mata Nui, there would be no hope of dislodging them. Any attempt to escape the universe would fail. They had to be stopped and only the Order had the power and means to do so. It was easier said than done, though. The Order had not yet been fully assembled when the alert had come through: many agents still had not returned to Daxia and Helryx doubted they would make it in time. And even transferring the forces they did have to Metru Nui was proving an arduous task in such a short time. Botar was still incapacitated, though the Order could count upon the power of a member of his species who had been recruited into their ranks some time before. Brutaka had put the power of his Mask of Dimensional Gates at their service, but the portals created by the Kanohi Olmak were of limited size: they certainly weren’t big enough for the ships of their fleet to come through and even using them to transport artillery had proven difficult.

 

They had managed to get almost every agent on Daxia through, as well as a number of Maxilos robots. The Maxilos formed the backbone of the Order’s army; they had been designed thousands of years before to serve as guardians of the Pit, but over time the Order had started using them for other tasks as well. Their design had been gradually improved: their latest version bore little resemblance to the mechanoids guarding the Pit prison, though the name had stuck. The real challenge had been manufacturing them: to maintain the secrecy that had always been their greatest strength, the Order had been forced to commission and purchase the components separately, from a variety of makers, before shipping the pieces to Daxia via extremely circuitous routes and finally assembling the robots at their headquarters. The length of the process was the main reason that, although the Order had been building Maxilos robots for tens of thousands of years, the size of their army was still considerably inferior to the Brotherhood’s.

 

However, had they managed to bring the Order’s entire Maxilos army through, they might have stood a real chance. But they hadn’t. Helryx suspected that Destral’s garrisons alone would be enough to outnumber and outpower them.

 

With such a small force at her command, the Toa of Water couldn’t hope to cover all the access routes to the island of Mata Nui; she had to hope that the Makuta would choose to use the tunnels to the east, which were the closest to Destral and, overall, the most easily accessible. And most of all, she had to bet that the Makuta would choose to ascend to the island above on their own, without an escort. If they could confront the masters of shadow before the garrisons of Destral could come to their aid, they would have the advantage of numbers and, hopefully, that of power as well: with one, swift stroke, they might be able to wipe out the Brotherhood once and for all.

 

The leader of the Order of Mata Nui was well aware that she was staking the sorts of the battle upon a desperate gamble: if their surprise attack failed, the Order would most likely meet defeat on these shores.

 

I have no choice. All my life I have been careful, seldom taking risks because the price to pay was too high. But today those risks have to be taken or we have already lost. Today, I simply cannot look at the odds.

 

“They’re coming,” said suddenly the gray-armored Order agent, whose mask had a telescopic lens built in.

 

Helryx squinted, trying to locate their foes amidst the night’s gloom. Then she saw a shadow blacker than all the others, moving through the air, headed straight for them. As it approached, Helryx began to perceive them: a few dozen beings were at the heart of the blackness, their wings beating as they flew over the Silver Sea. Was the darkness that surrounded them of their own making, or were the shadows of the night wrapping around the Makuta, as if to welcome their masters? What was unmistakable was the feeling of dread and evil that emanated from the figures, which by itself would have put many a being to flight. The leader of the Order of Mata Nui would not be so easily cowed, however.

 

“Get to your post,” she ordered Brutaka.

 

Without a word, the golden titan disappeared back into the portal. The gray-armored agent would remain with her. The crag was an excellent spot for Helryx to survey the battle and issue orders; the agent would communicate these commands to the rest of the Order forces by shooting colored flares into the air. Should Helryx need to give more specific instructions, the teleporter from Botar’s species could be summoned at any time.

 

The Makuta were closing in on the shore rapidly, hopefully unaware of the Order agents waiting within the tunnels. The cannons aimed at them. They would fire energy blasts right in the midst of the Makuta flock. The masters of shadow would be blown out of the air and would land in the shallows or on the coast. Then the Order agents would run out of the caves and finish them off.

 

Helryx took one last look at them, aware that the most important battle in her life was about to begin. The universe’s fate might be sealed, but this confrontation would decide that of its people.

 

Then there was no more time to waste. The robotic cannons were waiting for her command. Helryx spoke a single word:

 

“Fire!”

 

-----

 

The rocket struck a tower. A powerful shockwave ripped through the structure; after a few seconds, the building began to topple down onto the streets below.

 

“Move, move!” screamed someone.

 

Kapura jumped back just in time. The great structure struck the ground, sending dust and debris flying in every direction. He turned to look at the rest of his group. Had they all managed to get to safety?

 

There was no time to make sure. Once again, the terrible clicking sound resonated through the air. The Matoran scattered, seeking shelter. Craters and debris lay in their way: the rockets being fired from the dark island in the distance had already struck this area a number of times, reducing many a building to rubble. Ga-Metru was the district of water, but today it was filled by fire, smoke and dust.

 

Shadow leeches began to rain down from the sky. Within seconds, dozens of them were crawling on the ground. For a moment, Kapura stood transfixed, watching in horror and disgust as the creatures sought out new victims; but when the leech rain ended, he forced himself to move.

 

I cannot give in to fear. Fear will freeze me. Only by moving can I reach safety; and courage is the soul of movement.

 

The leeches were dangerous, but they could be avoided by moving slowly and carefully. Kapura emerged from the archway where he had been sheltering and made his way back to the canal side. The dust from the tower’s collapse still hadn’t subsided. He glanced at the remaining buildings, trying to spot the other Matoran.

 

A bolt of shadow sailed through the air, narrowly missing him. Angry shouts and dark laughter filled the air. Kapura turned left, already knowing what he’d see: the Shadow Matoran had caught up; at least a dozen of them were running along the canal, headed straight for him.

 

Kapura glanced in the other direction: their escape route along the canal was blocked by the fallen tower. And he could hear screams, a sign that some shadow leeches had already found victims, who would soon swell the ranks of the corrupted Matoran.

 

“Over here!”

 

The shout had come from an Onu-Matoran. He was standing in a small clearing, at the center of which was the best escape route the Matoran could have hoped for: an elevator leading down to the Archives.

 

The doors of the elevator were open: had the Onu-Matoran somehow managed to get it working? The Matoran didn’t care. In the blink of an eye, they emerged from their hiding places and ran towards the elevator as fast they could. Kapura followed suit, though he moved more slowly: there was no point in crowding the entrance, especially since he doubted that the elevator could transport all of them in one go.

 

Another shadow bolt went past him. It struck a Ga-Matoran, who collapsed. Kapura turned back towards the Shadow Matoran. He could recognize some of them, a couple had even been his comrades in the Ta-Metru guard. For a moment, he hesitated; but some other Matoran had come to stand beside him, grimly drawing what weapons they had. There was no choice, Kapura realized: they would have to fight back.

 

The Shadow Matoran slowed down as they took stock. One of them raised his hand, preparing to unleash another shadow bolt. Kapura’s Bamboo Disk flew true, knocking his mask off. But his companions responded immediately, their powers downing two Matoran. The Shadow Matoran closed in, screaming out insults and taunts at their former friends, who clenched their weapons harder, preparing to meet their assault.

 

Then there was a blast of noise, followed by screams of pain and fear. Kapura twisted back and in horror beheld the spot where the elevator had been mere moments before. It was gone now, blasted apart somehow; and a black-armored figure was hovering high in the air, eyes fixed on the Matoran below.

 

The Shadow Matoran did not hesitate: taking advantage of their opponents’ distraction, they attacked furiously, mercilessly using their powers to cut down those who had once been their friends and comrades. And then the hated click was heard again and a moment later shadow leeches rained down upon the clearing. The cries of pain became louder, deafening; then they abruptly faded.

 

Before Kapura’s eyes, the Matoran rose again. Little had changed in their physical appearance; but their stance, their eyes, the tone of their voices, everything was different. Gone were the people who had fought at his side mere instants before; only shadow filled the beings that now stood before him.

 

Yet Kapura himself was not among them. When the shadow leeches had started to fall, he alone had not tried to desperately scramble out of the way; instead, he had dominated his body, forced himself to walk slowly, never stopping, but never succumbing to the urge to run, either. Rather than concentrating on fleeing, he had kept his mind focused on his destination, on where to flee to. His slow, almost imperceptible movements had allowed him to evade the Shadow Matoran and even avoid the attention of the shadow leeches. And, in the end, the decades of practice in the Charred Forest of Ta-Wahi had borne fruit: by moving very slowly, Kapura had been faster than all the others.

 

Now, concealed in the rubble of the destroyed tower, he stared at the clearing, watching as the Shadow Matoran congregated there. To his surprise, the violence and fury that had pervaded them a few moments before seemed to have ebbed. On the contrary, they now seemed strangely uncertain.

 

It took him a few moments to figure it out: until now, the Shadow Matoran had simply followed their dark instincts; it had been solely out of a desire to harm and corrupt, as well as to try out their newfound power, that they had pursued their fellow villagers. Now that there was no longer anyone to give chase to, they didn’t know what to do; they were taking stock, fully realizing what had happened to them and turning their thoughts for the first time to what lay ahead. Fear, Kapura realized, had not been taken from them.

 

“Shadow Matoran!” rang out a strangely familiar voice.

 

The corrupted villagers raised their heads: the dark figure who had destroyed the lift was lowering himself towards them. As his feet touched the ground, Kapura gasped silently. Standing in front of the assembled Shadow Matoran was Toa Takanuva; but, judging from the color of his armor and the cruel expression on his face, he had fallen victim to a shadow leech too.

 

It’s over, he thought.

 

“Shadow Matoran,” repeated Takanuva. “You are to make your way to the port of Ga-Metru. You will receive your orders there.”

 

For a moment, the Matoran seemed uncertain on how to react. Then a former Ta-Matoran, Keahi, spoke.

 

“Orders? From whom?”

 

“From the Brotherhood of Makuta, your new masters.”

 

The Shadow Matoran looked at each other. They obviously had no idea on how to respond.

 

“If you do not obey,” said Takanuva, “I have been told to punish you. And believe me, I will do so without hesitation.”

 

A Matoran nodded. Others followed suit.

 

“We shall go,” said Keahi.

 

“Then do so. I have other things to attend to.”

 

Then Takanuva pushed himself into the air and flew away.

 

How is he doing that? Could it be those creatures? If they attack a Toa, does he gain the ability to fly?

 

The Shadow Matoran were still hesitant, but, after a few minutes, they began making their way towards the port of Ga-Metru. Kapura watched them go. It was only when they disappeared in the distance that he began to consider his own situation. What was he to do now? His best option probably was to find another entrance to the Archives. But then? Should he look for other Matoran who were still free? Were there any left? And what about the Turaga? Turaga Vakama must have escaped, surely. But where was he? In the Archives? Or somewhere else?

 

In the end, the Ta-Matoran came to a decision. There was one place where he could find out something more about the current situation. It was dangerous, but he could do it: his practice had given him the necessary skill.

 

His choice made, he began to walk towards the port of Ga-Metru. His destination lay some distance away. Kapura had been supposed to embark on the third fleet and had thus not been at the port when Destral had materialized. He had watched the island’s appearance from further south, but unfortunately his location had been still inside the range of the fortress’s batteries. He had managed to glimpse the light unleashed by Takanuva to try and defend the port; then the bombardment had forced him and the other Matoran to flee.

 

It would take more than an hour for the Shadow Matoran to reach the port. Kapura decided that he had to get there faster. Still, there was little point in trying to overtake them: trying to hurry would be counterproductive and might even get him spotted. By moving slowly, on the other hand, he could travel great distances in a short time.

 

He reached the docks way ahead of the band of Shadow Matoran traveling along the same route. Many other corrupted villagers were already there, however. What astonished Kapura the most, though, was the presence of several Toa of Shadow; although they weren’t all perfect copies of each other, each bore a striking resemblance to Takanuva.

 

If they’re all like him, then perhaps the real one…

 

Then he heard the sound of an argument coming from a warehouse whose roof had been smashed by the bombardment. A crowd had gathered around its entrance. Kapura squinted, trying to see better. Two Shadow Matoran were standing right in front of the warehouse door. One was a red Matoran Kapura had never seen before, wearing an equally unknown mask. But the other, he knew. Everyone knew him, for the tales of his repeated betrayals had traveled far: Ahkmou.

 

“I don’t see why,” the former Po-Matoran was saying loudly, “I shouldn’t be the one to lead the Shadow Matoran. I have loyally served the Makuta of Metru Nui for centuries and…”

 

“Except,” the other Matoran interrupted, grinning, “that Makuta Teridax no longer leads the Brotherhood. His place has been taken by the Makuta Icarax, my master, who has named me, Vultraz, leader of the Metru Nui Shadow Matoran.”

 

“I am the most loyal…” started to say Ahkmou, but Vultraz advanced on him and backhanded him, hurling him to the ground. Ahkmou responded with a shadow bolt, but Vultraz dodged and, a moment later, he had drawn a sword and stabbed Ahkmou. Kapura watched in horror as the wounded Shadow Matoran tried to pull the blade out of his chest, failed and finally slumped to the ground, dead.

 

“Anyone else willing to object?” roared Vultraz.

 

No one answered, though there were several scowls and curses muttered under one’s breath.

 

“Good. I have just received word that many of the Matoran of Metru Nui have fled into the maintenance tunnels below the Archives. I want those who were once Onu-Matoran to lead the Shadow Takanuva there. The rest of you will follow as well, all except your best fighters, who I will personally lead to the Coliseum; some other Matoran are apparently putting up a fight there. I have to make a few preparations now. By the time I’m finished, I want all this to be done.”

 

His orders given, Vultraz stepped into the warehouse, closing the door behind him. Kapura watched as the Shadow Matoran began discussing among themselves, but he didn’t really listen. His eyes were fixed on the warehouse door where Vultraz had vanished.

 

He isn’t from Metru Nui. He must have come from the fortress. He spoke about the Makuta. He knows them, he knows why they’re here, what they’re after.

 

Kapura was not used to taking the initiative. For as long as he could remember, he had faithfully followed Turaga Vakama’s orders, trusting him to know what was best and seldom feeling the need to make bold decisions. But something was different now: perhaps it was what he had witnessed, the destruction that the weapons of the Makuta were wreaking upon his city, the terrible sight of his fellow Matoran being turned into creatures of darkness; or perhaps it was the realization that he was at the heart of the enemy forces, undetected, capable of escaping at any moment and in a perfect position to gather information. Whatever the reason, Kapura started circling the warehouse, always moving slowly to avoid detection. If he could find…

 

There! There was a small hole in one of the walls, large enough to crawl through. The Shadow Matoran were looking the other way. Kapura paced towards the aperture, careful not to draw attention to himself. Reaching the hole, he crawled inside. A moment later, he found himself inside the warehouse. The roof was mostly gone, allowing him to see the black, starless sky.

 

Kapura turned his attention to Vultraz. The Shadow Matoran was standing at the centre of the warehouse, inspecting a small, sleek vehicle. It reminded Kapura of the flying vehicles that he had heard had once been built by the Matoran of Air in Le-Metru.

 

Suddenly, Vultraz looked up. There was nowhere for Kapura to hide. The Shadow Matoran’s eyes narrowed. He drew his sword again and advanced upon Kapura.

 

“Seen something we shouldn’t have, Ta-Matoran?” he said, spinning the blade in his hand. “Perhaps, if you just surrender, I will simply use a shadow leech on you instead of killing you. Who knows, you might even be better off afterwards.”

 

Kapura did not answer. Vultraz sighed.

 

“On the other hand, perhaps you’re too thick to understand what I’m saying. Never mind.”

 

He moved his blade. As Kapura’s attention was drawn to it, he fired a shadow bolt. Kapura saw it coming, but he was too slow to dodge it. It knocked him to the ground. Another shadow bolt followed the first. Kapura rolled sideways, but once again he was too slow to avoid it.

 

“Not very fast, hmmm?” said Vultraz. “Don’t worry, I will be. You won’t feel a thing.”

 

He raised his blade for the kill.

 

Then he blinked. The Ta-Matoran was gone. The last thing he heard was the sound of a hard object striking the back of his head.

Kapura grimaced. The shadow bolts had not been very powerful, but they had hurt nonetheless.

 

What now?

 

He had planned to sneak up on Vultraz, threaten him with his blade and force him to reveal some information; only afterwards would he have knocked the Shadow Matoran unconscious.

 

What was I thinking?

 

He was already turning to leave, hoping no one outside had heard the commotion, when his eyes fell on the contents of the warehouse. For a moment he stood still, unable to believe his luck; then, for the first time since Destral had materialized, a smile appeared on his face.

 

He began rummaging through the Kanoka Disks. There weren’t many; most of the disks the Matoran had found or crafted had been loaded onto the first two fleets, leaving only a few for the passengers of the third fleet.

 

And I just happened to stumble upon the warehouse where we stored them. The Great Beings must be smiling upon me.

 

Finally, he found what he was looking for. He turned back to Vultraz. The Shadow Matoran was still unconscious. Kapura struck him with the disk he was carrying. In an instant, Vultraz’s body shrank, allowing Kapura to scoop up his miniaturized form.

 

The Ta-Matoran walked back to the hole he had used to enter the warehouse and began crawling back out, careful to move as slowly as possible; after all, he needed to get to the maintenance tunnels as fast as he could. If Vultraz was right, he would find the rest of his people there, hopefully even Turaga Vakama. The Turaga of Fire would undoubtedly be able to make use of Vultraz’s knowledge; he might even figure out how to fight back.

 

Yes, he will. Somehow, we’ll find a way. There is still hope. This is not over yet.

 

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Sep 21 2017 - 05:18 PM.

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#12 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Sep 15 2017 - 04:21 AM

ELEVEN

“Get back!”

Krakua’s shout came just in time. A Brotherhood rocket struck the ground just a few Bio from where Takanuva was standing. The closest trees instantly caught fire and then the flames began to spread; the rains had left the forest humid and wet, but it seemed to make no difference. Within moments, the blaze enveloped a whole section of the wood, forming an impenetrable wall of fire.

“That way!” shouted Takanuva, pointing toward a small cluster of buildings surrounded by the vegetation. Krakua nodded. The soft soil and the trees’ branches hindered them, but the two Toa ran as fast as they could to escape the flames. Takanuva heard another explosion and saw thick, black smoke rise in the distance as well. Was the Brotherhood trying to set this whole area ablaze? Did they know that he and Krakua were here? Or could they be after Matoran sheltering beneath the trees?

Unlike the other five districts of Metru Nui, Ga-Metru sported significant vegetated areas, with lush forests covering a significant portion of the Metru. To cross them, the inhabitants would ordinarily rely on chutes or on the wide roads and bridges that traversed the woodland; but when Takanuva and Krakua had finally managed to reach the forest growing on the cliff that overlooked the harbor, they had decided to move inland under the cover of the trees.

Now, though, the fire was leaving them no choice but to walk once more in the open. The two Toa vaulted on the raised paved road leading to the buildings. More incendiary rockets were falling around them: soon, the flames would surround them.

Krakua pointed upwards: dread filled Takanuva as he recognized the shapes of three of his dark twins. Had they already been spotted? The Toa of Light could not be sure. He broke into a run, heading towards the buildings. Krakua followed close behind and Takanuva suddenly realized that the Toa of Sonics had thrown an aura of silence around them, for he could not hear the sound of their footsteps. Still, such a measure could not buy them much time. They had to find shelter and soon.

They ran past the first buildings and found themselves in a small square. Takanuva quickly glanced at their surroundings. He found it immediately: an elevator door embedded in a wall, with the symbol of Onu-Metru carved above it.

An entrance to the Archives.

The door wouldn’t open: clearly the elevator had no power left. Takanuva was about to try and cut their way through when Krakua tapped on his shoulder and pointed at a service hatch on the ground. Takanuva lifted it open and the two Toa jumped inside.

They reached a low-ceilinged hall a few minutes later. Any lightstones that might have once shed light here had obviously gone out, so Takanuva enveloped his body in a low-level glow. A quick glance around confirmed that there was no one else in the chamber, not even Rahi; very few of the living exhibits of the great museum had been restored before the death of the Great Spirit and this didn’t seem to be a Rahi section anyway. Instead, ancient carvings lined the walls, sometimes accompanied by their translations.

“Are we safe here?” asked the Toa of Light.

“I think so,” answered Krakua. “If they had spotted us, they would be here by now.”

Takanuva sank to the ground, grateful for the opportunity to rest. Ever since Krakua had found him, they had been running non-stop. There had been no choice: with the whole port teeming with his dark duplicates, staying and fighting had not been an option.

“We need to figure out what to do now,” he said. “Did this… Order of Mata Nui… give you any instructions?”

“No, I told you. The Order is guarding the tunnels leading to the island above, trying to stop the Makuta from getting there. Our leader gave me no orders other than to find you and help you… stay alive, I guess.”

Takanuva frowned. He still wasn’t sure whether he believed Krakua’s story. A powerful, benevolent organization that had carried out the will of Mata Nui for millennia in complete secrecy, only to conveniently emerge now to help the Matoran evacuate to Mata Nui? If so, why had they sent only a single agent to protect those same Matoran? Was it truly because they were too busy fighting the Makuta, or was there another reason?

It all seemed so unlikely. True, Krakua had saved his life and he was a Toa. But after seeing his corrupted duplicates, could he still believe someone solely because he was a Toa?

“You can,” answered Krakua, turning to face him with a concerned expression. “You need to, brother. We have to trust each other if we are to defend Metru Nui.”

“I had forgotten you can sense my thoughts,” said Takanuva, managing a slight smile.

“The Order of Mata Nui really exists,” insisted Krakua. “And I have every faith in our leader. I’m here to help you, not to trick you or fight you.”

Takanuva looked at the Toa of Sonics. An idea suddenly came to him. Shortly after becoming a Toa, Turaga Vakama had given him some insight into what he might be able to accomplish with his mask and elemental powers. The Turaga of Fire had spent a long time comparing the Mask of Light to the Kraahkan, the Mask of Shadows that Makuta had worn. According to him, just as Makuta could use his mask to see the darkness that lay within every being, so Takanuva might be able to see the light in a person’s spirit, perceive their honesty, selflessness and compassion. At the time, the Toa of Light had not understood the point of such an ability and had thus never tried to use it.

But perhaps it’ll tell me if Krakua is being honest or not.

He activated his mask. At first, nothing happened. Takanuva wondered if he was doing something wrong, then realized that his power was being blocked, as if some barrier lay in the way.

“I’m sorry, brother,” said Krakua. “It won’t work. My mind, like every Order agent’s, is…”

But then he stopped; for Takanuva was perceiving something now. He wasn’t sure exactly how he was doing it; he wasn’t hearing a voice, like he had when he had once used a Mask of Telepathy. Rather, he was seeing somehow the light within Krakua.

He stared, amazed. He hadn’t been sure what to expect, but it hadn’t been this. There was light within Krakua, but it wasn’t a uniform, stable glow: the light he was seeing was in perpetual flux, articulating itself in a myriad of shades and shapes and constantly battling with the darkness; or perhaps dancing, a dance whose every motion held some meaning, some clue to Krakua’s nature. It was a vision that Takanuva did not have the skill to decipher, and he suspected that the mental shields of the Toa of Sonics were blurring the image somewhat, preventing him from sensing the thoughts associated with the emotions. He could not tell whether Krakua was lying right now, but one thing was certain: the light was stronger in him than the darkness; Krakua was not on the Brotherhood’s side.

He deactivated his mask. Krakua looked shaken, but finally he found his voice:

“So… are we good?”

“Yes.”

“Then… then what now?”

“I’m not sure. Tell me: do you know anything about those creatures that attacked the Matoran?”

“The shadow leeches? Not much more than you. They seem to drain the light out of their victims, turning them into creatures of shadow. We knew the Brotherhood was developing them, but we had no idea they had created so many.”

“But is there a cure?” insisted Takanuva.

“I don’t know.”

Takanuva felt desperation grip him. If this Order of Mata Nui, with all its power, did not know how to cure the Shadow Matoran, what hope did they have? Were the Matoran condemned forever? Would he have to fight them, like enemies?

“Brother… you can’t give in, not now.”

Takanuva sighed heavily.

“No… you’re right. Someone must have escaped. We have to find them.”

“Where might they be?”

“They could be in the Archives, too. I think there’s an entrance in the port area. They’re probably in the deepest tunnels. I’m not sure how to get there, but if we go down enough we might come across them.”

Krakua nodded.

“I’ll use my mask from now on. It has a limited range, but I might be able to pick up their thoughts.”

They had only gone a short way when Takanuva found it in himself to ask the other question that had been plaguing him.

"And... Krakua, what about those Toa of Shadow? They... they look like me, speak like me, wear my same mask. How is it possible? What are they?"

"I don't know," replied the Toa of Sonics. "As far as I know, the Order was not aware of their existence before today. The Brotherhood probably used shadow leeches on them to make them what they are."

"But how can they be me?"

Krakua hesitated.

"I've heard... rumors... in the Order, that there are other universes beside our own, places with lands just like ours, where each one of us has an identical counterpart. Yet each of these dimensions is different from our own in some fundamental way."

"I... I don't understand."

"Neither do I, not truly. Those Toa are you, that's obvious. They might be your counterparts from these other dimensions, but then again they might not. In any case, I do not know how the Brotherhood got them here, or their numbers, or anything else, to be honest. I'm sorry, brother."

Takanuva asked no more questions as the two of them began the descent. With no elevator working, they were forced to use service ladders and stairs, which weren’t always easy to find. Nevertheless, they soon reached the sublevels. Takanuva knew they had to go further down, though. The maintenance tunnels were the most likely hiding spot of the Matoran. They would need to find another hatch to take them there, though.

“This way?” asked Takanuva, gesturing down a tunnel.

“Wait…” replied Krakua.

“What is it?”

“I can hear sounds,” replied the other. “There are people further down this tunnel. They’re too far away for my mask, though.”

“Let’s go. They might be Matoran.” said Takanuva.

“Carefully, in case they’re not,” completed Krakua.

They increased their pace, keeping however an eye out for any sign of danger. Now Takanuva could hear them too, faint, distant sounds. Words, footsteps… but blasts of power as well, it seemed to him. He was growing worried. Then they came to an intersection with several tunnels. The Toa of Light turned to Krakua to ask which way he thought they should go. A terrified look met him. An instant later, the Toa of Sonics had grabbed him and dragged him inside one of the giant doors which lined the tunnel wall.

“What is going…?” started to ask Takanuva.

“Quiet!” whispered Krakua.

Now Takanuva could hear voices. The door was still slightly ajar. He peered through the opening.

Four beings had come out of another corridor. Three were Shadow Takanuva. But the fourth… he was an armored titan, towering over the three Toa. When he emerged from the tunnel the shadows, if anything, seemed to grow deeper. There was no mistaking his identity: a Makuta.

One of the Toa was speaking:

“The Shadow Matoran have found the Turaga and the remaining villagers. They’re not far from here. We’ve already blocked their escape routes and we’re also in the hall above them, digging down to reach them. They will soon fall to us.”

“Good,” said the Makuta. “The sooner this pitiful work is finished, the better. What about the Coliseum?”

“The building is being bombarded and some of us are there already. Turaga Dume and the Matoran are putting up a fight, but they, too, won’t last long.”

“Very well. Lead me to the hall. I want to see how many Shadow Takanuva it takes to deal with a bunch of pathetic villagers.”

For a moment, anger crossed the Toa’s face. Then it was once more replaced by a respectful expression.

The Makuta started walking and then stopped again.

“And the Toa of Light?”

“We still haven’t found him, but he won’t elude us for long.”

The Makuta gave him a scornful look.

“You may not have found him, but I have.”

Takanuva’s eyes widened. A moment later, a spear dripping with acid melted through the door, exposing him and Krakua to the eyes of the Shadow Takanuva and of the Makuta.

“The guardians of light hiding in shadow,” laughed the master of shadows.
“The Toa of Sonics is yours,” he then told the three Toa. “But I’ll deal with the Toa of Light myself.”


-----

Helryx stood upon the Great Barrier. Her gaze swept over the beach, where the forces that had been unleashed had blown aside sand and rock alike and where the corpses of the fallen now lay; it moved past the water’s edge, where the battle raged more ferociously than ever, flew over the waves and finally found the vessels, dark specks sailing away from the black mass that was Destral.

The leader of the Order of Mata Nui summoned her elemental power, the power that she had trained and honed for millennia and that now went far beyond that of an ordinary Toa of Water. She felt the waters of the Silver Sea, seized them and commanded them to do their bidding.

The distance was nothing to her: huge waves rose from the sea surface and started rushing toward the Brotherhood’s fleet. The ships tried to alter course to avoid them, but Helryx matched their efforts, sending the mountains of water hurtling at the vessels at incredible speed.

The first wave struck three boats. Its force was such that it disintegrated them on impact. A few other boats managed to ride over it, only to find themselves in the next one’s path.

But the Brotherhood soon began to respond. Rahkshi of Plasma and Heat Vision combined their powers to vaporize the waves, even as Disintegration ones blasted them into tiny droplets of water. Even Helryx could not keep up. There was no choice: she let down the attack, allowing the fleet to proceed forward with its cargo of Exo-Toa and Visorak, reinforcements for the Makuta, death for the Order of Mata Nui.

And yet it had begun so well: the Order’s artillery had shot all the Makuta out of the sky, sending them plummeting into the waters close to the shore. Before those powerful beings could recover from the initial attack, the Order agents had stormed out of the caves and had begun bombarding them with powers and weapons. Several Makuta had fallen, their armor shattered and their essence destroyed. Victory had seemed only moments away.

Then everything had gone wrong. Icarax had managed to rally his brothers, who had combined their efforts to form a united defense. The battle had resumed, but despite the advantage of numbers and power, the Order had not been able to prevail. And now there was no more time: the garrisons of Destral were upon them, telepathically summoned to aid their dark masters.

The first Rahkshi had already reached the shore and added their power to the battle. Bolts of energy sailed from their staffs, striking Order agents and Maxilos robots, who replied with a volley of projectiles and power blasts. More and more Rahkshi came, driving the forces of the Order away from the shoreline and back towards the tunnels.

But the Order wasn’t finished yet. Although the Rahkshi were fast and were all capable of flight, they had not yet managed to tip the balance of power in their favor. In addition, not all the Order forces were deployed on the beach and vulnerable to Rahkshi attacks; many fighters were perched amidst the ledges and clefts of the Great Barrier, allowing them to pick out the Rahkshi at will. As energy blasts, bolts of black fire and Cordak rockets took their toll on the sons of Makuta, the Brotherhood found itself unable to press its attack forward.

Suddenly Helryx heard an explosion. She turned to see that a small outcropping where two Order agents had been standing had been blasted apart. There was no trace of her subordinates.

“Airships!” cried out the gray-armored agent standing at her side.

He was right. Cloaked by the darkness, airships had risen from Destral and flown over the sea; now they were hovering above the beach and targeting the Order with their artillery.

“Return fire!” ordered Helryx. The six automated cannons immediately shifted their aim. A moment later there was a loud noise and four fireballs appeared in the sky before starting the long drop towards the sea below. Other weapons that the Order had placed on other outcroppings were also firing projectiles and energy beams, their power and accuracy were compensating for their small number.

Two explosive projectiles struck the ledge where Helryx was standing. The Toa of Water and her subordinate stumbled back, but they had not been the target. The cannons had taken the full force of the blast; but they were intact: a forcefield surrounded each one, projected by the Kanoka Disks of Shielding embedded in their structure.

Below, the battle had turned into a stalemate. The Makuta were now standing on dry ground and bringing their great power down onto the Order, while the Rahkshi bombarded them from above or landed to face their enemies one-on-one. But Helryx’s forces still surrounded them, protected by the cover fire coming from the cliff rising up behind them.

I must join the fray myself. If we can just push them back into the sea before the Exo-Toa and the Visorak join them…

She accessed her power, creating a slide of solid water which would take her down to the battle. She was preparing to step on it when, suddenly, as one, the Makuta and the Rahkshi stopped fighting.

What is…?

The Brotherhood forces were retreating into the sea, using their powers only to cover their withdrawal. For a moment, Helryx was puzzled; then there was a loud boom in the distance and the terrible, horrifying realization came to her.

“Retreat! Tell them to retreat, now!” she screamed.

The gray-armored agent nodded and fired a red flare into the air: the retreat signal. Helryx’s agents were well trained: despite their confusion, not a single one hesitated to follow the command.

But, for some, it was already too late. As one, more than two dozen rockets fired from the batteries of Destral dropped out of the sky, streaking down towards the beach. The explosion was deafening, drowning out the screams. The shoreline was instantly turned into a plain of fire. Amidst the smoke, Helryx thought she could see her forces moving, fleeing back into the tunnels. But she could also glimpse corpses, charred and mangled remains of agents and robots alike, scattered amidst the craters.

Nor were the fighters positioned on the cliff face spared; rockets struck there too, triggering rockslides and forcing them to withdraw or die. The airships and the Rahkshi resumed their bombardment as well. The ledge where Helryx was standing was struck multiple times.

“Go!” she ordered her subordinate.

There was a narrow ledge extending out on one side of the outcropping, leading to a cleft in the rock which eventually linked with the Great Barrier tunnel network. The gray-armored agent fled along that route; Helryx herself retreated towards the ledge, but she kept her eyes fixed on the automated cannons. Protected by their Kanoka of Shielding, they were all returning fire, but they were now hopelessly outnumbered and outpowered. Still, they were providing some cover for the retreating Order forces.

Suddenly, the air in front of Helryx blurred. A moment later, ten Exo-Toa appeared there, teleported by a Makuta or a Rahkshi, their Electro-Rockets already pointed at the cannons. Before even the sensors on the automated weapons could pick them up, they fired.
Helryx was already on the move. A flood swept the automated suits of armor away, but it was too late. The power of the Disks of Shielding was useless against surprise attacks. The Electro-Rockets pierced the forcefields and blasted the cannons apart.

There was nothing more Helryx could do. The leader of the Order fled after her agent, her eyes on the tunnel ahead, never looking back.


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Edited by Toa of Italy, Sep 19 2017 - 02:56 AM.

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#13 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Sep 21 2017 - 05:12 PM

TWELVE

           

The passage was little more than a gap between the walls of two adjoining buildings. Filthy and gloomy, it was gloomy and permeated by the foul smell of the twisted, misshapen creatures that over the centuries had found refuge here, it was too narrow to serve any purpose. No one had ever felt the need to pass through it.

 

Suddenly there was a flash of light. Despite the surrounding darkness, it was so fast that it went virtually unnoticed. But when the shadows returned, the alley was no longer empty.

 

The newcomer was lean and very tall. A long staff lay in his hand, its tip shaped as the head of a doom viper. He wore a mask upon his face: the Kanohi Sanok, Mask of Accuracy. His gaze was cold and cruel, but, as he examined his surroundings, a gleam of rage and fury filled his eyes.

 

Seemingly satisfied that there were no enemies lying in wait, the being crept toward the alley’s exit. He stopped just before clearing the passage.

 

“Jerbraz,” he said in a low voice, “are you there?”

 

“Always,” came out of nowhere a whispered reply.

 

Tobduk emerged from the passage and started walking; ahead, the towers of Destral loomed tall before him.

 

-----

 

Turaga Vakama dragged himself into the underground chamber. It was all he could do not to collapse onto the stony floor. He was exhausted: they had been fleeing for hours, never daring to stop in one place for more than a few minutes. They would surely be pursued: the villagers that had been turned into beings of shadow by the creatures of the Makuta would undoubtedly come after them, as would the dark versions of Takanuva that several Matoran had reported seeing; and Vakama knew they were only the first of the horrors the Brotherhood could unleash against them.

 

Other Matoran filtered into the chamber, holding up a few lightstones to dispel the darkness. Then a party of Ga-Matoran emerged, carrying a makeshift litter upon which Nokama lay stretched: the Turaga of Water had been seriously injured when Destral had first opened fire upon the docks.

 

Whenua walked over to examine their fellow Turaga; he shook his head.

 

“Vakama, she can’t go much further.”

 

“We can’t stay here,” grimaced the Turaga of Fire. “We have to keep moving, at least until we’ve left Ga-Metru.”

 

“I know. But we’re all exhausted. We must rest, at least for a few minutes. Besides, this is the major intersection of Ga-Metru’s

maintenance tunnels. If others have escaped, they might eventually reach this place.”

 

As will our pursuers, thought Vakama. He didn’t say it out loud, though; Whenua was wise enough to figure it out himself.

 

Nevertheless, the Turaga of Earth was right. As Vakama surveyed the faces of the Matoran within the chamber, he realized that they were as exhausted as he was, perhaps more. Many were injured, but it was the despair on their faces that struck him, a despair that was starting to turn into resignation.

 

As if I didn’t feel the same way.

 

He couldn’t help it: in all his time as a Turaga, never had the situation looked as desperate as it did now, not even when the Great Spirit had died. Only once before had he felt such hopelessness, when, as a Toa Metru, he and his team had been captured by the Visorak Horde and seemingly doomed to certain death. Back then, salvation had arrived in the form of the six Rahaga, but Vakama could not see how such a miracle might repeat itself.

 

All the threats we faced, all the creatures of the Makuta that the Toa defeated, they were but a sliver of the Brotherhood’s power. Now we’re seeing their true might: how can we possibly stand against it?

 

So many had already fallen. When Destral had begun its bombardment, Vakama had seen many a Matoran struck down: some had been undoubtedly killed, while others might have lived, but had been left behind in the rush to escape. Still more were missing: the Matoran assembled in the chamber were but a small fraction of Metru Nui’s population. Nuju was among the missing: no one knew where the Turaga of Ice might have disappeared to. As for Dume, he had not yet left the Coliseum when the attack had begun. Was he still there or had he fled, or been captured?

 

And as for the rest…

 

He couldn’t bear thinking about it. Matoran that he and the other Turaga had led and protected for centuries had now become creatures of shadow and evil. On Mata Nui, Vakama had seen Matoran infected by Makuta’s darkness, but this was different: the corrupted villagers would not be cured simply by knocking off their mask; for all Vakama knew, their transformation might be permanent.

 

They might as well be dead. It would probably be a kinder fate.

 

He blinked. Then, almost subconsciously, he reached into his pack. When plans for the fleets had been laid out, each Turaga had been given the task to carry the Kanohi and other sacred artefacts that, on Mata Nui, would be stored in the Suva shrine of his or her village. Vakama’s pack had been lighter than the others, for most of the masks that had once been stored in the Ta-Koro Suva had been lost when the village of fire had been destroyed by Makuta’s Rahkshi, but it still contained Tahu’s Nuva Symbol, the source of his powers, and one more unique, immensely precious object.

 

Vakama drew out the Kanohi Vahi, the Mask of Time, his greatest and most terrible creation. A thousand years before, he had crafted this mask out of the six legendary Great Disks and in doing so had accomplished a feat beyond the imagination of any mask maker: he had bound the force of time itself to his creation, so that one could not exist without the other; should the Kanohi Vahi be shattered, the fabric of time, reality itself, would unravel.

 

He had once before threatened to do it, to keep the Vahi from falling into the hands of Makuta. At the time, he had been fully prepared to carry out that threat: the Vahi would have allowed the master of shadows to ascend to essential omnipotence and subjugate the Matoran forever, a fate that Vakama had deemed worse than the destruction of reality itself.

 

After Makuta had relinquished his claim on the mask, Vakama had never again considered destroying it; there had been times when the victory of the master of shadows had looked all but certain, but he had put his trust in the prophecies that foretold his final defeat at the hands of six Toa.

 

But there are no more prophecies now. The Great Spirit is dead, the Makuta stand on the brink of victory and no one has the power to stop them, especially if the Vahi falls into their hands. And I cannot… will not… doom the Matoran to a life of shadow.

 

He contemplated the orange mask he was holding. Should he do it now? Or should he wait, clinging until the last moment to hope, no matter how faint it was?

 

“Vakama.”

 

Whenua’s voice broke through his thoughts. Vakama blinked and fixed his eyes upon a Ta-Matoran standing at the center of the cavern, one who had not been there a moment before. He was setting down a second villager onto the rocky floor. When the Ta-Matoran rose, Vakama took note of his mask, a powerless red Ruru…

 

“Kapura! Thank the Great Beings you’re safe.”

 

“I’ve brought you the leader of the Matoran of Shadow, Turaga Vakama.”

 

“I’m sorry?”

 

“The leader of the Matoran of Shadow,” repeated Kapura. “His name is Vultraz. He is not from this city. He came with the Makuta. I captured him. I thought you would want to interrogate him.”

 

Whispers broke out around them as Vakama took in what Kapura was saying. The Brotherhood had brought a Shadow Matoran with them to command the villagers they had corrupted? And Kapura had captured him? How? And why? Vakama considered Kapura a loyal and trustworthy Ta-Matoran and he had always seen a great potential in him, yet he would not have expected him, of all people, to take such an initiative.

 

On the ground, Vultraz suddenly groaned.

 

“He’s regaining consciousness,” observed Kapura.

 

Vakama rose to his feet. He realized he was no longer feeling as tired as before; and there was a new determination in his step.

 

“Then let’s hear what he has to say.”

 

Vultraz opened his eyes and quickly examined his surroundings. Vakama faced him without blinking: lifting his firestaff, he pressed the bottom against the Shadow Matoran’s chest.

 

“Do you know who we are?”

 

“Turaga…” croaked Vultraz. “Old fools, who can drone on and on about the dead past and think that gives them the right to lecture others on all that nonsense about the Three Virtues and Mata Nui’s will.”

 

“Do you come from the Brotherhood fortress? Are the Makuta your masters?”

 

“Of course. I’d choose a Makuta over a Turaga any day. Old tales and lectures are for puny, dumb villagers. Me, I follow those who have true power.”

 

“Why are the Makuta here? What do they want?”

 

Vultraz chuckled.

 

“And why should I tell you? What will you do to me if I don’t? Say that I’m a bad Matoran and that the Great Spirit will be angry with me? Is that supposed to scare me?”

 

Vakama’s gaze darkened.

 

We don’t have time for this.

 

“Whenua,” he said.

 

The Turaga of Earth nodded, guessing immediately what Vakama was asking him. Reaching into his pack, he drew out a Noble Kanohi mask and handed it to the Turaga of Fire, who immediately swapped it with his own Kanohi Huna. He fixed his eyes on Vultraz. The Shadow Matoran grimaced, trying to fight back; but his eyes grew glassy and unfocused, as the power of the Komau, Mask of Mind Control, took hold over him.

 

“What do the Makuta want?” repeated Vakama.

 

 “They want to reach the island above,” answered Vultraz tonelessly. “Makuta Icarax is the Brotherhood’s new leader. He says we will be safe from the end of the universe there.”

 

“And Metru Nui? Why destroy it?”

 

“Makuta Icarax has decreed that to be the fate of anyone who opposes the Brotherhood.”

 

Vakama grimaced.

 

“What about those creatures that you used?”

 

“The shadow leeches are mutated Kraata. Makuta Mutran invented them. They drain the light out of their victims, leaving only shadow.”

 

“Can the effect be reversed?”

 

“No.”

 

Vakama trembled as despair filled him. It took every ounce of willpower he had to keep himself together and maintain control over Vultraz’s mind.

 

“What about those Toa of Shadow?”

 

“They come from other dimensions. Makuta Tridax kidnapped the Toa Takanuva of each and used shadow leeches on them.”

 

Vakama frowned and turned towards Whenua.

 

“There are… legends,” said the Turaga of Earth. “In the Archives, a few ancient records speak about…”

 

Suddenly the whole chamber shook. The quake broke Vakama’s focus, freeing Vultraz from the power of the Komau. The Shadow Matoran seized his chance. A bolt of shadow stunned Vakama, allowing Vultraz to get up and dash towards one of the chamber exits. He had nearly made it through when Kapura suddenly appeared in front of him. Before Vultraz could blast the Ta-Matoran with shadow or shoulder him aside, two more Matoran leaped at him and pinned him to the ground. A hand reached down towards his mask and pulled it off; Vultraz instantly ceased struggling as weakness and dizziness flooded him.

 

Vakama rose to his feet just as the Shadow Matoran’s body went limp. The chamber shook again and panicked murmurs and whimpers broke out among the Matoran.

 

“They’re coming,” said Whenua. “Digging their way down, I’d say.”

 

“We must scatter. We have no choice. Together, we’re too slow, too vulnerable.”

 

Whenua nodded and walked over to a group of Onu-Matoran.

 

“I want each of you to take a Matoran party into a different tunnel. You do not know these caves well, but you are still Onu-Matoran.

Your past and your experience will guide you. Try to get as far away from here as possible and out of Ga-Metru, if you can. I know you can all do this.”

 

The Onu-Matoran nodded. The parties were starting to form when shouts traveled down the tunnel from which they had emerged a few minutes before.

 

“They’re down here as well,” said Whenua.

 

“Go!” ordered Vakama. “Get out of here, now!”

 

The Matoran rushed towards the tunnels; what should have been an orderly retreat became a panicked scramble.

 

“What about Turaga Nokama?” cried out a Ga-Matoran whom Vakama recognized as Kotu, Nokama’s left hand.

 

Vakama was trying to think of an answer when yells and blasts of energy began echoing from every tunnel.

 

“Great Beings, they’re all around us. There’s no escape. The Matoran…” gasped Whenua.

 

Vakama had to lean on his firestaff to support himself. Was it over? Had the Makuta finally won? Who was left? None of the Matoran had escaped; those who weren’t dead would soon fall prey to the Brotherhood’s shadow leeches. And there was no cure; once taken by the shadows, they would belong to them forever.

 

No. I will not let them suffer such a fate.

 

He reached for the Mask of Time again, as determined as he had been one thousand years before: he would destroy it, smash it to pieces before the enemy could even lay their eyes upon it. His fingers brushed against the mask’s surface… and his mind exploded.

 

Time slowing… waves of time energy… light and darkness, locked in a furious struggle at the center of an arena… a golden mask and a black one, their shapes identical… and three spectators, watching: a black shadow with piercing red eyes, a Toa from a time yet to come, and a Ta-Matoran, dancing with the waves, slow and yet faster than them all…

 

“Kapura!” shouted Vakama.

 

“Yes, Turaga?”

 

Vakama blinked, trying to clear his head. The cave was shaking again and he could hear the sound of power blasts right above them. The lightstones were going out, as if darkness were seeping into the chamber to blot out the last traces of light. And Kapura was still there: he had waited, loyal until the end.

 

“Kapura,” repeated Vakama. “You have a skill that no one else possesses. Can you escape our enemies?”

 

Kapura hesitated, then nodded.

 

Vakama grabbed the Kanohi Vahi and pushed it into the Ta-Matoran’s hand.

 

“You must take this. It is the Mask of Time, the most powerful Kanohi in existence. You must keep it safe. The Coliseum… I’ve seen you in the arena. You must go there. It is the last hope… you must get the Mask of Time to the Coliseum. Do you understand?”

 

He met the Ta-Matoran’s stare… and the cavern roof shattered, showering the Turaga and the remaining Matoran with rock and protodermis spewing out of severed pipes.

 

“Go!” shouted Vakama. “Now!”

 

A tall figure was descending through the gap. Vakama turned to meet him, refusing to show fear.

 

“Turaga Vakama,” said the black Toa. His voice was mocking, but his eyes blazed with anger.

 

“Takanuva,” whispered Vakama. “What have they done to you?”

 

“They’ve set me free, you old fool. You always denied me my freedom. You called me irresponsible, remember? Denied me a new name. Even banished me, once.”

 

“I welcomed you back. I considered you a hero. And you were, as a Matoran and as a Toa. You went beyond all our expectations. You saved us all. Don’t throw all that away.”

 

“Throw what away? An eternity spent fighting for others, never thinking about my own benefit? I’ve had enough. We all have.”

 

And Vakama saw that two more Toa were standing behind the first. He could see their mask, the mask that had once gleamed golden and filled Vakama with hope; he could look into their eyes, the eyes where he had once glimpsed uncertainty, fear, confusion, but also enthusiasm, curiosity, courage and valor.

 

The Toa in front of him raised his hand, the palm crackling with shadow. Vakama looked into his eyes: he glimpsed only hatred. Then the shadow leapt toward him and he saw no more.

 

-----

 

Someone was laughing. Takanuva slowly stirred and opened his eyes by a fraction. A stab of pain went through his head. His body refused to move, too battered by the onslaught of shadow and lightning that had rained down upon it.

 

“I must admit, Toa,” chuckled Tridax as he stood over him, “that even after corrupting all those duplicates of yours from other universes, I thought that you would be something different, something special. After all, you defeated our leader… our former leader… I almost came to believe you might a real match for a Makuta. I was clearly wrong. You are just like those other, pathetic Toa who have fallen to the Brotherhood during all these centuries.”

 

Takanuva looked to his side. Krakua was unconscious like he remembered. He had put up a good fight, but two Shadow Takanuva had ganged up on him; ultimately, he hadn’t stood a chance.

 

He had to move, he knew. He couldn’t just lie there and wait for Tridax to kill him or worse. His power was still with him. He had to use it.

 

“Should I kill you, now, or use a shadow leech on you, like I did with so many of your twins. I think I’ll take the latter. I don’t have any leeches here, but there should be some…”

 

Takanuva somehow managed to stick out his hand. A laser bolt flew from his palm and struck Tridax’s armor, but it didn’t pierce its protosteel layers. But Tridax clearly felt it.

 

“You dare…?” he hissed, swinging his spear at him. Takanuva rolled aside and tried to slice it in two with another laser, but Tridax was too fast for him. He struck him with a bolt of shadow, then used heat vision on his chest armor. Takanuva yelled in pain and fired another laser. This time, the beam went straight through the Makuta’s shell; for a moment, Takanuva dared hope. Then Tridax growled and unleashed an underground cyclone, which swept up the Toa of Light and then sent him crashing down onto the floor again. A moment later, the Makuta was on top of him, bringing down his spear. Takanuva screamed as the acid burned his whole chest. He slumped to the ground, barely conscious.

 

“That’s it!” snapped Tridax. “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll kill you right here, right now.”

 

Shadow started crackling in his hand. There was nothing Takanuva could do to dodge it.

 

Then light, glorious light, filled the entire tunnel. Tridax roared in pain, as did the Shadow Takanuva. Or did they? Two did, the two that had attacked Krakua. But the third… the third didn’t, for it was from him that the light was rushing out. Takanuva’s heart leapt. That duplicate’s armor was no longer jet-black, but gold and white, just like his. Had he fought his corruption away?

 

Tridax blasted the Toa with chain lightning, cutting off his attack. The Makuta raised his spear… and the other Takanuva disappeared.

 

“What?” roared Tridax, spinning around. Takanuva’s duplicate was nowhere to be seen.

 

Then the earth started shaking. A moment later, a crevice split the floor under Tridax’s feet. The Makuta’s eyes widened; he jumped back just before the rock beneath him gave out completely. Then a figure rose out of the gap, standing on a pillar of earth. It was a Toa, but not one resembling Takanuva. It was a figure that the Toa of Light had never seen, but whom he knew, because Turaga Vakama had described it to him. A being that couldn’t be here, not in this form. It was Toa Metru Whenua.

 

What is going on here? he thought as Whenua commanded the ceiling above Tridax to cave in. A moment later Tridax floated out of the rubble unharmed, courtesy of his density control power. Twin laser bolts shot out of his eyes, directed at Whenua, who had no way of dodging. But he didn’t need to. Instead, a moment before the poison struck, he disappeared. In his place was a creature made completely of smoke.

 

And now Takanuva understood. This wasn’t a duplicate of his, or Whenua. This was a shapeshifter, one who had once called the tunnels of the Archives her home. He didn’t know how she had come to be here again, or whether she was a friend or a foe. He only knew her name: Krahka.

 

Tridax had been taken aback by the transformation, but he soon recovered. A cyclone sped towards Krahka, only for her to shapeshift into a giant Kahgarak spider, too large to be affected by the vortex of air. She fired a Rhotuka spinner, but Tridax dodged and replied with a shadow bolt, which this time struck home. Krahka screeched in pain and transformed again, becoming a huge, monstrous Rahi Takanuva had never seen. But the Toa of Light could see she was making a mistake, for she had just become an even bigger target. Tridax struck her with his slowness power, virtually immobilizing her; then he blasted her with shadow, again and again.

 

Takanuva looked to his side. Krakua was regaining consciousness. In a few moments, they would be able to return to the fight, but for now, everything was in Krahka’s hands.

 

The slowness power had worn off, but Tridax’s attacks had severely weakened his opponent. Krahka staggered and shapeshifted into a small, burrowing creature, but the trick would not work twice; liquid poison rushed out of Tridax’s hand as the Makuta sought to drown her. Krahka had no choice but to enlarge herself again. The moment she did, Tridax was upon her; his hand clenched around her throat, pinning her to the ground. Krahka shapeshifted into a lava eel, but the Makuta didn’t even seem to notice the normally unbearable heat. She changed shape again, then again, but she couldn’t shake his grip off. She regained Takanuva’s form and used light against the Makuta, even managing to blast another hole in his armor, but Tridax still didn’t let go. His free hand summoned one of his powers, preparing to destroy her forever.

 

“Now!” roared Takanuva.

 

He and Krakua sprang to their feet. The latter used sound to stun the two Shadow Takanuva, who had until then been content with watching the fight. Takanuva himself went for Tridax, firing multiple lasers. Taken by surprise, the Makuta couldn’t respond, and Takanuva never let down his attack. More and more holes appeared in his armor, allowing his energies to leak outside. The first wisps of greenish gas to leave the protosteel armor were promptly incinerated by Takanuva. Tridax screamed.

 

Now the Makuta was on the ground, desperately trying to keep his essence from dispersing itself. Takanuva cut off his attack, but Tridax no longer had the strength to react. However, his mouth managed to form two words, directed at the Shadow Takanuva:

 

“Kill him!”

 

Takanuva immediately prepared to withstand an attack from his dark twins, but the two Toa ignored him. Their eyes were fixed on Tridax and the respectful attitude on their faces was gone. Instead, one looked furious, while the other was smiling cruelly.

 

Tridax’s eyes widened, but it was too late for him to do anything. A couple of shadow bolts finished the job Takanuva had started. Tridax’s gaseous essence floated into the air.

 

But the two Shadow Takanuva weren’t finished yet. One took a deep breath, as if bracing himself for something. Then, to Takanuva’s amazement, his mask lit up, bathing the green cloud in front of him in light. There was a scream that Takanuva was sure he had only heard in his mind and a moment later the gas was gone.

 

Shuddering in pain, the Toa of Shadow shut down his mask. His eyes met Takanuva’s.

 

“Why?” asked the Toa of Light.

 

“Because we owed him no allegiance,” answered the other Takanuva. “He gave us the Shadow, he allowed us to find true power, freeing us from the rules Turaga and Matoran had placed upon us. But he did it so he could enslave us and we were little more than vermin to him. There was no reason for us not to kill him.”

 

“But… but…”

 

“We killed him because we could, because we were free to do so,” chimed in the second Toa of Shadow. “He would have denied us that freedom, so we took it back.”

 

He stretched out a hand towards Takanuva.

 

“Join us, brother. You want freedom as much as we do. What else were we searching for, in all those years spent wandering on Mata Nui?”

 

Horrified, Takanuva shook his head frantically. He knew he should be protesting, finding argument to counter those of his dark duplicate, but no words came to him.

 

Disappointment appeared on the face of the Takanuva who had spoken last; the other shrugged, unsurprised, and waved his hand. The tunnel was suddenly plunged into total darkness. By the time it lifted, the two Toa of Shadow were gone.

 

He called me brother. I am a Toa of Light, he is a Toa of Shadow, yet he believed me to be like him, he wanted me to join him.

 

He shuddered.

 

They killed because they could. And they are me. How is this possible? How could I have gone so far? Freedom, he said. Could he be right? Did I wish to be free, back then? Do I wish it now? Deep down, am I so different from them?

 

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