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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

22730108_1575672629163703_76181430784189

 

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

 

22780182_1575670805830552_51714991330568


Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:13 AM.

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#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 twin suns. 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 twin suns' 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.

 

*Text taken from BIONICLE Legends #8: Downfall

 

22780182_1575670805830552_51714991330568


Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:14 AM.

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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.”

 

*Text taken from BIONICLE Legends #8: Downfall

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:15 AM.

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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, Mar 18 2018 - 05:16 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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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:17 AM.

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#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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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:18 AM.

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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, Mar 18 2018 - 05:19 AM.

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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. And no one knows how it’ll end.”

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:22 AM.

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#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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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:22 AM.

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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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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:23 AM.

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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.

 

22780182_1575670805830552_51714991330568


Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:25 AM.

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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.

 

22780182_1575670805830552_51714991330568


Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:26 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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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:29 AM.

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#14 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Sep 30 2017 - 07:25 PM

THIRTEEN

 

“I’ve had enough,” declared Mutran. “That’s it. I’m leaving.”

 

Sitting in the chair next to him, Antroz remained silent for a few moments, as if trying to decide whether to dignify that remark with a response. Finally, he said:

 

“Go, then. I’m sure Icarax won’t mind that you disobeyed his direct orders.”

 

“Icarax can go to blazes for all I care. This is a complete waste of time!”

 

“Careful, brother. This is our new leader you’re talking about. Besides, in hindsight, his commands proved far more sensible than we would have expected.”

 

Mutran scowled. They had been moments from leaving when Icarax had suddenly decided that he wanted Antroz and Mutran to remain and oversee the operations on Destral. He had strictly forbidden them to leave the island until Metru Nui’s subjugation was complete. With the island city already as vulnerable as a Ruki fish before a Takea shark, Mutran had judged Icarax’s orders insane.

Admittedly, that had not proved to be the case. When an army of powerful beings and robots had materialized out of nowhere in the tunnels of the Great Barrier, Icarax had had to call upon the Brotherhood’s forces on Destral for help. Antroz had orchestrated the whole deployment and engineered the bombardment that had driven the enemy from the beaches and into the tunnels. It had kept Mutran busy as well, but now there was nothing left for them to do: Metru Nui had been largely reduced to rubble, the garrisons of Destral had joined the other Makuta and their foes were concealed in the tunnels, beyond the reach of the island’s artillery.

 

Mutran glared at his fellow Makuta. Ever since their enemies’ retreat, they had been sitting in Destral’s artillery control room, doing absolutely nothing. Antroz didn’t seem to mind, but then again, the room was his brainchild. To increase efficiency and decrease the number of sentient servants involved in their military operations, Antroz had overseen the progressive automatization of the Brotherhood’s arsenal, with particular attention to Destral’s weapons. From this chamber, dug deep within the rock and lined with consoles, a single Makuta could control the island’s entire artillery system.

 

It was an activity that Mutran had absolutely no interest in; his brilliant intellect was far more suited to working in a laboratory, conceiving, engineering and bringing into being fabulous forms of life. In fact…

 

“OK, that’s it. I’m going. I might as well get to the labs and see what we can transport with us to the island above.”

 

Antroz made no move to stop him. Mutran strode to the chamber’s door. He was reaching out when it happened.

 

Without warning, the door exploded in his face, sending him sprawling on the floor. Dazed, he watched as a tall being wearing a Kanohi Sanok stepped into the room. Behind him, he heard Antroz fling his chair aside, but his attention was focused on the newcomer’s hand. It was clutching a familiar-looking crystal vial. Time seemed to slow down as the hand opened to release the vial… allowing it to drop… and shatter onto the floor. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, before his eyes, his armor began to dissolve.

 

-----

 

The Electro-Rocket sailed over Helryx’s head and struck a Maxilos robot; exploding upon impact, it tore the mechanoid apart. More missiles shot towards them. Helryx swung her spiked mace and unleashed a flurry of water bolts, which struck the incoming projectiles and detonated them in midair.

 

“They’re coming closer!” shouted someone.

 

Helryx saw them too. The platoon of Exo-Toa was rounding the corner. An Order agent raised his plasma cannon and fired. The weapon took down two Exo-Toa, while bolts of energy fired by the other fighters downed three more. The other automated armor suits responded with a barrage of rockets. Three more Maxilos units went down. There were only a few of the robots left and the living agents had not been many to begin with: the group that Helryx and the gray-armored agent had linked up to was just one of the many parties that the Order had been split into, isolated from each other by the rock walls of the caves, each striving to repel the Brotherhood forces from its own tunnel.

 

The Exo-Toa charged. A rain of energy bolts met them, but the sturdy suits of armor withstood most of the attacks. Then, suddenly, the lead Exo-Toa was cut neatly in two pieces. Before the other armor suits could react, two more suffered the same fate. Helryx caught a glimpse of her subordinate before he vanished again, using his superspeed and his incredibly long and sharp sword to slice through the Exo-Toa, cutting metal as easily as he cut air.

 

An Exo-Toa raised its hand to fire a missile at them. A moment later, that same hand was severed; a barrage of energy bolts flew from the Order forces as they backed up their fellow agent. Helryx caught another glimpse of him as he appeared in front of an Exo-Toa, blade already descending… the armor suit fired its rocket. It caught him square in the chest and exploded, not even giving him the time to scream. Fury swelled within Helryx and a moment later that same Exo-Toa was torn apart by a water explosion. Other armor suits were downed as well, but the rest withstood the attacks and clustered together. Then they charged again.

 

-----

 

Mutran’s left hand was gone. The effect was traveling up his arm. Unless he did something, his armor would soon be a memory and the only thing left of him would be a gas cloud hovering in the air, nearly powerless and completely vulnerable.

 

The Makuta thought with the speed of chain lightning. The vial had obviously contained a virus or a chemical substance which could destroy protosteel; eliminate that and, hopefully, the dissolution would cease.

 

The tall being had no chance to react. Before his eyes, Mutran’s right arm stretched out in the blink of an eye to one of the consoles. Before he could stop him, the Makuta flicked a switch. A hiss instantly began resonating within the room and a moment later clouds of gas began gushing out of hidden vents, as the safety measures that had been built into every chamber on Destral to counteract the possible release of dangerous substances from the laboratories took effect. The destruction of the Makuta armor suits abruptly ceased.

 

Tobduk was surprised for only a moment. Then, with a roar of anger, he charged into the room. Antroz tried to strike him with a lightning bolt, but Tobduk dodged. Before the Makuta could react, he raised his staff and fired a beam of white-hot energy from its tip, striking Antroz squarely in the stomach.

 

Mutran rose painfully to his feet. The dissolution of his armor had stopped, but the damage had been done: one of his arms was nearly gone, forcing him to concentrate hard to keep his essence from dissipating. Antroz wasn’t in better shape. He accessed his quick healing power: while it would not grow back a new arm, it could seal the gap in his armor.

 

Antroz had not had the time to see to his own wounds and that was leaving him at a disadvantage. Tobduk pursued him furiously, firing beam after beam, never giving him any respite. Mutran was about to go to his aid when something caught his attention. There was a device lying in front of the far wall’s consoles that hadn’t been there before; an object that, Mutran realized, was very similar to the explosive devices the Dark Hunters sometimes used.

 

A bomb. But where did it come from? Teleported? Or maybe…

 

He scanned the area with his mind and suddenly felt cold. There was another being there, one who was completely invisible. Mutran could perceive him, but his mind was completely impervious to any attempt to read it or attack it, making it impossible to pinpoint his location with precision.

 

There was no choice. With Antroz occupied, dealing with this second foe would fall to him. He charged, using his density control power to pass through the bodies of the two combatants. Then he unleashed a pulse of magnetism at the bomb and at the being that had to be standing next to it.

 

The sound of metal striking rock gave him the enemy’s location. Mutran was summoning a shadow bolt when a blast of energy struck him, sending him sprawling. He turned to see Tobduk bearing down on him. A moment later, Tobduk himself was sent flying by Antroz’s power scream. Mutran concentrated and heard the sound of footsteps racing towards the doorway.

 

He picked himself up and pursued. He couldn’t take any chances; both foes had to be defeated. He was crossing the doorway when he felt a sharp pain in his thigh. He stumbled, as the sound of a sword being drawn back from the cut it had left in his armor reached his ears. He tried to reach out and grasp the being, but his opponent eluded him easily. He didn’t give him time to recover either; a series of invisible slashes rained upon Mutran, forcing him to retreat into the stairway. Somehow, the blade was cutting through his protosteel shell without difficulty and each cut left a gap for his energies to leak out.

 

They were fighting in the narrow passage leading down to the control chamber now. The close quarters should have made it harder for his opponent to conceal himself, but when Mutran threw himself forward, trying to grasp him, he found only thin air. A moment later, a kick made him collapse upon the stairs. The sword whistled down and cleanly severed his neck. Mutran made a supreme effort to stop his essence for seeping out of his now headless armor. He could no longer muster enough concentration to access his powers. His invisible foe cut him again and again. Then the blade stabbed him in the chest.

 

And Mutran acted. In desperation, he rolled aside, tearing the sword from the being’s grasp. The invisible weapon remained lodged in his armor, but for a moment, the enemy was weaponless. He exploited the respite, concentrating harder than ever before. He felt the sword shift as the enemy grasped it… and he acted. Electricity surged through his frame, traveling up the metal blade and into his opponent’s body. He could hear his feet scraping against the stairs as he writhed, but his hand was now stuck, unable to let go of the sword. Mutran increased his power, never hesitating, never daring to shift his focus from the attack. Only when he felt the being’s mind vanish did he cut off the flow of power. A moment later, a metal-armored body struck the stairs. Mutran had lost his eyes along with his head, but even in energy form he was capable of seeing. But there was nothing to be seen here. The being remained invisible, even in death.

 

-----

 

“Fire!”

 

A volley of projectiles and energy blasts shot from all over the cavern walls, directed at the tunnel entrance. The first line of Exo-Toa collapsed in ruin as their metal frames were torn apart by the Order’s weapons. The second line fell back and responded with their own missiles, but to little effect: the Order forces were scattered across the cave, positioned on ledges or concealed amongst the rocks, making them almost impossible to target.

 

A second volley rained upon the tunnel entrance, but the Exo-Toa had retreated just beyond range. Then they began marching forward again, but something had changed: the suits at the head of the column were bulkier than ordinary Exo-Toa, as if covered by more layers of armor.

 

Helryx grimaced. The Order had gathered considerable intelligence on the enhanced Exo-Toa: they were heavy and slow and had very little agility, but their armor was far sturdier and they were heavily armed. The Brotherhood used them in situations like these to clear the path for the main part of their army.

 

The truth of that was becoming apparent. The Order had started firing again, but the enhanced Exo-Toa just kept going, withstanding even the explosions of Cordak rockets. One was finally taken down as they entered the cavern, but four more managed to cross the archway. Cannons built in their frames opened fire, pouring energy bolts upon the Order agents. Three struck Helryx’s gray-armored subordinate: the Toa of Water watched as he tumbled down from the ledge where he was standing. Meanwhile, the ordinary Exo-Toa exploited the cover fire to march into the chamber.

 

Helryx didn’t hesitate. Rising to her feet, she called upon her elemental power: four enormous hands of water emerged from her body and clasped the four enhanced armor suits before lifting them up to smash against the cavern roof. A moment later, they came crashing back down, but didn’t stay down. Unfazed by the terrible impact, they rose again, sensors targeting their attacker.

 

A barrage of energy bolts sped towards Helryx, only to smash against her protosteel shield. The Toa of Water’s response was instantaneous: jets of water scattered the armor suits and Helryx immediately went after the first. A swing of her mace left the protosteel spikes wedged deep within the Exo-Toa’s armor, sturdy though it was; before the suit could respond, Helryx had sent water gushing through the tool and into every empty space it could find. A mental push was all she then needed: the pressure abruptly increased, blowing the automated suit apart.

 

Another enhanced suit had been destroyed by the other Order fighters. That left two: Helryx showered them with bullets of solid water and pummeled them with water explosions, but they withstood it all. Finally, she gave up on trying to destroy them: targeting the cave wall just behind them, Helryx unleashed a water beam powerful enough to crack stone. A moment later, the two enhanced suits of armor disappeared under a pile of rocks.

 

She turned towards the cave entrance: the ordinary Exo-Toa had been repelled, for the moment. But they would come back, this was already their third assault since her group of Order agents had retreated to this cavern. Again and again, the Toa of Water had swept them all away in a flood, but she hadn’t been able to destroy them. Nor had gaining back a few Bio of tunnel done them any good; as long as Destral’s cannons were aimed at the shore of the Silver Sea, the Order of Mata Nui could not attack the Brotherhood beachhead there, allowing the enemy to constantly send new troops into the caves.

 

If the cannons are disabled, we might have a chance. Tobduk and Jerbraz are our only hope. They must succeed!

 

-----

 

Mutran staggered back into the control room. He had to maintain his focus at all times to force his essence to remain contained within his damaged armor, but his victory was nevertheless giving him a certain sense of satisfaction.

 

It evaporated the instant he beheld the situation within the chamber. The weapons’ control system was still intact, but Mutran didn’t spare a thought for that: fragments of protosteel were scattered across the room, the only remains of Antroz’s armor, while his gaseous form was nowhere in sight.

 

The being who had defeated Mutran’s fellow Makuta was still in the room, however. Antroz had apparently managed to cut his staff in two and he was still clutching the pieces. He also seemed very, very angry.

 

Mutran didn’t know if Antroz was dead or had fled. He didn’t care. The only thing he was concerned with was that he would be next.

Tobduk noticed him. In a split second, he was upon him.

 

His staff is broken. His best weapon is gone, thought Mutran. Then Tobduk punched him in the chest. In shock, Mutran realized that the blow had actually dented his protosteel chest plate. Impossible! Protosteel is too tough. And he wasn’t this strong before.

 

Another blow struck him. Mutran collapsed. Tobduk drew a protosteel dagger and stabbed him repeatedly. Mutran caught his expression. He was even more furious than before.

 

Could he… somehow… feed on anger? he thought suddenly. Is that why he’s so strong?

 

And then a plan hatched in his mind. It was virtually hopeless, but there was no other way he could defeat this opponent. Somehow managing to shift his focus from the damage Tobduk was doing, Mutran struck him with his anger power.

 

Tobduk screamed and brought his fist down again. It was working. While most psionic powers wouldn’t have penetrated his mental shields, Mutran’s anger power was doing just that. It was also making Tobduk even stronger.

 

Fury had now overwhelmed his opponent completely. His dagger was on the ground, forgotten, while his fists were leaving cracks in the remains of Mutran’s shell.

 

Come on… come on…

 

Tobduk hit him. Mutran’s armor bent under the blow, then finally shattered. The Makuta’s energies floated upwards. Tobduk watched them in rage.

 

Then his expression changed. Where a moment before there had been anger, now fear began to appear.

 

That’s right, thought Mutran. He could use his mental powers even in this form. And now those powers were allowing him to access Tobduk’s entire mind.

 

Those shields you had were interesting, he told the assassin mentally. We could have attacked you, tortured you, and still they would have held. But they could not guard you against your own power. When I overloaded you with anger, they wavered, just for a moment. It was all I needed. Pure genius, isn’t it?

 

Now Tobduk was trembling. He fell to the ground as his strength deserted him.

 

And what have we here? Order of Mata Nui? Interesting. I suppose I’ll have to sort through all your recollections to find out what it is all about.

 

Tobduk started screaming.

 

Painful, isn’t it? Don’t worry, it could be worse. Perhaps… it should be worse!

 

Tobduk opened his eyes, pure desperation within them. There was a thought making its way through his mind. Before Mutran could seize upon it, a new being appeared within the room, out of nowhere. He was tall, armored in gold, but his most striking feature was a monstrous tooth-filled maw on an equally hideous head. The shields around his mind were impenetrable.

 

The being looked at Mutran, then at Tobduk. Their eyes met. The being bent down on the bomb that still lay forgotten close to the consoles.

 

Mutran commanded his energies to float away. The tall being teleported away. The bomb exploded.

 

-----

 

The Exo-Toa were coming again. Helryx summoned her energies. They would attack within moments…

 

The young teleporter from Botar’s species suddenly appeared beside her. He had been vital in carrying messages between the groups of fighters stuck in the different tunnels. But this time his expression was more somber than ever before.

 

“What is it?”

 

“Tobduk summoned me. He was defeated. Jerbraz, too, I think. I detonated the bomb for them.”

 

“Then… Destral’s control room has been destroyed?”

 

“Yes.”

 

For a moment, conflicting emotions reigned within Helryx. Tobduk and Jerbraz had been two of her best operatives. Helryx had hated risking them both on such a dangerous mission, but simply teleporting the bomb to the control room would have been impossible: although the Order had been aware of it, they had not known its precise location beforehand. Now the two of them were dead… but they had succeeded.

 

“Everyone stand back!” she shouted.

 

As the remaining Order forces hastened to follow her command, Helryx called upon every drop of underground water in the cave walls. With a mighty roar, the waters burst out of the walls. Helryx seized upon them, controlled them, shaped them into a mighty flood which smashed into the incoming Exo-Toa suits. The automatons were powerless before the force of the waters: the flood enveloped them, ripped them from the tunnel floor and carried them back down the tunnel, always driven by Helryx’s will.

 

“Go to the other tunnels,” Helryx told the teleporter. “Tell our agents to push the Brotherhood troops back and join us onto the beach. The rest of you, follow me!”

 

The Order agents and the last Maxilos robots obeyed, sweeping down behind the flood and destroying the few Exo-Toa that had managed to hold onto the rock. A few minutes later, they burst onto the beach, not far from the largest aperture in the Great Barrier. It was dark, but not as dark as before. Helryx raised her head.

 

Dawn.

 

Her subordinates were already unleashing their powers against the startled Brotherhood forces clustered on the beach. Helryx called upon the sea, conjuring huge waves which smashed onto the enemy beachhead. The Rahkshi mostly managed to escape into the air, but many Exo-Toa and Visorak weren’t so lucky.

 

A rain of missiles suddenly fell onto the beach. Helryx spotted two Brotherhood airships hovering above. At her behest, a pillar of solid water rose from the Silver Sea. A moment later, its tip speared the closest airship, sending it hurtling to the ground.

 

“Toa Helryx,” shouted the teleporter, suddenly reappearing beside her. “I’ve delivered your message. The…”

 

But the tall agent never finished his sentence. Six beams of shadow energy struck him simultaneously. In the blink of an eye, he collapsed onto the ground, dead.

 

Helryx looked up. Ten Makuta were diving down towards the beach. It took her a moment to realize they were all the same being.

 

It’s Makuta Bitil. He’s using his mask power.

 

She made a decision. If the rest of her forces focused on Bitil’s duplicates, they would be unable to defend themselves from the Rahkshi and the Visorak. She would have to deal with the Makuta herself.

 

Tendrils of solid water emerged from the sea and grasped each of the Makuta. Some were caught by surprise, while others managed to use their powers to destroy the liquid tentacles. But Helryx had already found the original Makuta. Focusing solely on him, she unleashed the most powerful water jet she could muster. If she could knock Bitil’s mask off or at least disrupt his concentration, his duplicates would vanish.

 

The Makuta had other ideas. An instant before her attack struck, he turned intangible, allowing the water to pass through him harmlessly. Before Helryx could attack again, beams of laser vision flashed towards her. Helryx spun away from four and three she took on her shield; but two Makuta found their target. The Toa of Water yelled in pain and collapsed onto the beach. But the waves came to her call. Before the Makuta could strike again, they enveloped her and dragged her into the sea.

 

Bitil and his duplicates didn’t give up. Flexing their wings, they followed her out onto the ocean, only to suddenly find that Helryx was nowhere to be seen. For a moment they hovered above the waters, uncertain.

 

Then, suddenly, the water came, but from above rather than below. Torrential rain began to fall from nowhere, so strong that the Makuta had to fight to stay aloft. For a moment, their attention was riveted on the sky as they searched for some sign of their enemy. And then Helryx made her move: concealed by the downpour, propelled by a liquid yet solid pillar, she rose from the sea, shooting like an arrow straight at the original Bitil. The Makuta saw the blow coming, but it was too late to dodge. Helryx’s mace struck him, breaking his concentration, banishing his duplicates back into the past from where he had summoned them and sending him spiraling down towards the ocean.

 

When the Makuta reemerged, it was to find Helryx staring at him: for the leader of the Order was not treading water, but standing upon it as if on solid land. Bitil tried to rise, but the sea would not let him go: it clung to him like a living thing, embracing him, binding him. And then suddenly it dragged him underwater: a downward current gripped him, even as the water pressure was suddenly increased to beyond even the tolerance of protosteel. Cracks began appearing in his armor. He tried to use his powers, but the attack was too strong, he couldn’t concentrate enough.

 

The scream came out of nowhere. Powerful enough to act like a physical blow, it knocked Helryx down and disrupted her concentration. As she plunged into the water, she looked up to see three Rahkshi, one of them completely purple, dive down towards her. Helryx met them with water beams so powerful that they smashed through their armor, breaking them apart. But it was already too late.

 

With a shout of triumph, Bitil rose out of the sea. Before she could stop him, four duplicates appeared around her. An explosion of water drove them back, but this time the Makuta had anticipated her strategies. When Helryx attempted to seize control of the sea’s water, one of them used his weather control power to generate a miniature storm, hindering her power. Then magnetism seized her, hurling her in the air; chain lightning stunned her, while sleep power, though not completely effective, prevented her from concentrating.

 

And now the Makuta were fully on the offensive. Their powers struck her again and again. She managed to create a wave which would carry her away from them, but they pursued, never letting go.

 

Helryx washed onto the beach. She tried to pick herself up, but one of her opponents increased gravity around her, making it impossible for her to move. And then Bitil fired his Nynrah Ghost Blaster and took control of her body.

 

Against her will, Helryx was forced to lift up her battered body and look into her captor’s eyes. He had banished his duplicates and was smiling confidently; he had her in his power, after all: she could not even move unless he willed it.

 

And that was Bitil’s mistake. Without control over her mechanical parts, an ordinary Toa would not have been able to use her elemental powers; but Helryx was no ordinary Toa and she had honed her abilities for tens of thousands of years. Even in this situation, she could call the waters to her aid.

 

It wasn’t easy. Her body was fighting against her and the pain and exhaustion was making it hard for her to concentrate, but she persisted. She grasped the liquid protodermis of the Silver Sea with her mind, willed them to take the shape she wanted. Although the struggle was taking place inside her mind, Helryx felt on the verge of collapsing. But then, finally, her powers responded to her call.

 

When a tentacle of water wrapped around Bitil, the Makuta was too surprised to react. By the time the tendril yanked him into the sea, the waters had already started spinning. Then the whirlpool grew, even as Helryx commanded it to rotate faster. Bitil was at the vortex’s heart: he couldn’t fight, couldn’t even call for help, the waters were too strong. The whirlpool rotated faster and faster, until finally it was too much: the force of the waters penetrated Bitil’s armor, seized upon his gaseous essence and sucked it out of his shell.

 

But Helryx was not yet satisfied. Bitil was at her mercy, but there was no mercy in Helryx’s heart; she would bring the battle to an end, in the only possible way.

 

Seizing hold of Bitil’s essence, the waters ripped it apart. The Makuta uttered one final telepathic scream, but Helryx didn’t hear it, nor would it have changed anything if she had. Then Bitil was gone, obliterated, destroyed, and Helryx was falling onto the sandy ground, her energies completely exhausted. She glimpsed Order agents run out of the main tunnel, heard their voices shouting her name. And then she heard nothing at all.

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:30 AM.

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#15 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Oct 16 2017 - 05:15 PM

FOURTEEN

 

Three Toa stood in a small hall lying at the intersection between a number of Archive tunnels. Signs of battle were all over the floor and walls of the chamber, but they were barely visible, for the only source of light was a barely visible glow emanating from the body of the golden-armored Toa; none of them dared risk more light. The Toa of Light’s eyes were on the floor, as if he were struggling to come to terms with what had just happened; the Toa of Sonics, on the other hand, stood upright, alert for any noise or sign of danger. As for the Toa of Water, her expression was unreadable.

 

It was Takanuva who finally broke the silence.

 

“I must thank you,” he told the Toa of Water. “Had you not intervened, we would both be dead. We owe you our lives.”

 

The Toa of Water was silent, waiting for him to continue.

 

“You are Krahka, aren’t you? The shapeshifter who once lived below the Archives? The Turaga spoke of you.”

 

For a moment, Krahka stared back at him without answering. Then she said:

“We’re wasting time. We have to get out of here.”

 

“Where do you think we should go?”

 

“How should I know? As far away from here as possible. This city is doomed.”

 

“I cannot do that,” replied Takanuva after a moment of hesitation. “I am the protector of Metru Nui. I can’t abandon it to the Makuta.”

 

“They have taken it already,” insisted Krahka. “There is nothing we can do.”

 

“As long as there are Matoran out there, it is our duty to protect them.”

 

He stared in the eyes that had once belonged to Toa Metru Nokama.

 

“I would ask you to help us.”

 

Krahka hesitated.

 

“Why did you help us in the first place?” interjected Krakua. “You could have escaped.”

 

“The Makuta… and those Toa he corrupted… I could feel their evil. Left alone, they would have slaughtered or enslaved every other living thing. I had to stop them.”

 

“Just like we have to,” said Takanuva. “There are other Makuta out there; we can run from them, but we won’t be able to run forever. We must fight them, it’s the only way. You know this. The Krahka I heard tales of would not have given up.”

 

Krahka fidgeted. Parts of her body started to shapeshift, turning her into a misshapen, twisted version of a Toa. Only her voice and her eyes remained those of Nokama.

 

“I don’t know what to do. I lived in darkness for such a long time… I was finally free, finally back home… and now the universe is dying, my home is being destroyed before my eyes and the Makuta will conquer the only refuge that still exists. What am I supposed to do?”

 

“You help us stop them,” said Takanuva. “I don’t know how, but I promise you this: if you help us, there will be a place for you on Mata Nui. We will welcome you among us and we’ll never forget what you did for us. I swear it.”

 

Krahka raised her head and when Takanuva met her gaze, the eyes he saw into were his own.

 

“I will help you.”

 

The Toa of Light bowed his head in gratitude.

 

“There is no time to waste. We need to…”

 

“No,” whispered Krakua softly. “We can’t.”

 

“What?”

 

“I’m sorry, brother,” said the Toa of Sonics, a staggering pain in his eyes, “I felt them right after the end of the battle. They were at the very limit of my range, but I could hear their thoughts… and their voices, too…”

 

“No…” gasped Takanuva.

 

“The Shadow Takanuva… they’ve won. While we were fighting Makuta Tridax, they reached the Matoran. I… I don’t think there’s anyone left to save.”

 

Takanuva felt as if his world were falling apart. All the words that mere moments ago he had said to Krahka suddenly seemed meaningless. The Matoran… his friends… his people… were they all gone? Dead or corrupted by the shadows? The Turaga too? What was he supposed to do now?

 

“Brother,” said Krakua, clasping his arm, “it’s not over yet. Remember what we heard Tridax say?”

 

“The Coliseum…” muttered Takanuva, trying to focus. “They said Turaga Dume is there… still fighting…”

 

“We need to get there. It’s our only hope.”

 

Takanuva nodded, though his heart wasn’t into it.

 

We’ll be too late there too. And even if we get there in time, what can we possibly do against so many?

 

He sighed.

 

But it’s like I told Krahka. We don’t have a choice. As long as there is a chance, however slim, we must take it.

 

“The Shadow… the Toa of Shadow… they’ll be between us and the Coliseum.”

 

“I can hide us,” said Krahka, taking the shape of a tan and blue Rahkshi. Takanuva recalled that such a Rahkshi wielded the power of illusion.

 

“Let’s go then. As fast as we can.”

 

-----

 

Slowly. Though I am slow, I may be faster than all the others.

 

He took another step.

 

I am not here, yet I am in all places. I can travel great distances by moving very slowly.

 

It had become a mantra. Repeating Vakama’s teachings over and over in his head helped Kapura keep his fear at bay.

 

Fear stops all. Courage defeats fear. I must have courage or I will be frozen.

 

He could not see anything. The tunnel was pitch black and Kapura had lost his lightstone. He was brushing his hand against the wall as he went. It was the only thing keeping him from getting lost in the darkness.

 

I am not lost. I am in all places. I can be where I am not.

 

It was no use, though. He had no knowledge of the maintenance tunnels’ layout and the darkness was making it impossible to see, let alone find his way.  

 

Yet there were creatures for whom the darkness was no obstacle. Kapura could feel them. They were pursuing him. He could hear their footsteps and the sound of their voices. He had not been able to elude them: the shadows were their realm, not his. He could only hope that they did not know about the object he was carrying.

 

The Coliseum. I must bring it to the Coliseum. Vakama said so.

 

They were coming closer. Laughter behind him… but he could hear noise ahead as well.

 

Vakama’s dead.

 

The realization came upon him suddenly. When the Shadow Takanuva had broken through the roof of the cave, he had fled, but he had turned back one last time. He had seen Turaga Vakama struck down; but only now did he understand what that meant. In shock, he stumbled. His hand slipped away from the wall.

 

Lost, he was lost! There was only shadow around him and he could them, voices, noises, footsteps, all around him. They were coming. He was surrounded. He broke into a run, desperate to escape. Instead, he crashed into a wall. He heard a bolt of shadow sail over his head. Someone was rushing at him. Kapura struck out blindly and by pure chance his fist hit something. The Shadow Matoran cursed, he heard him stumble. The Ta-Matoran fled, blindly rushing through the pitch black passages. He could hear his pursuers, knew that they were getting closer, that they were running faster than him…

 

I must not run! Fear is making me run. Fear stops all!

 

He forced himself to slow down, called once more upon the secret art of traveling great distances by moving very slowly. There were several voices shouting as they closed in on him. Kapura took one step, then another. A shadow bolt grazed his leg.

 

I cannot outrun them. They’re faster than I could possibly be. Only if I move slowly can I be quicker.

 

 “There he is!” yelled someone.

 

Slowly… slowly…

 

He went round a corner… and his hand suddenly found a hole in the wall. It was no natural gap, either: the aperture was square-shaped and several pipes came out of it. Without hesitation, Kapura slipped in.

 

He found himself in a narrow shaft that had clearly been dug to house the pipes traveling down from the surface and into the maintenance tunnels. There was barely enough room for him, but it didn’t matter; this was his way out. Clasping the pipes, the Ta-Matoran started climbing.

 

It was no easy ascent. Kapura had to squeeze between the metal pipes, conscious that one mistake might cause him to plummet to his doom. He also knew that a single sound on his part might lead the Shadow Matoran to him. After some time, his muscles began to ache as well. But he kept going, climbing slowly and carefully, relying upon his training to conserve his strength.

 

After a while, the darkness no longer seemed as strong as it had been before. Kapura raised his head and realized he had almost reached the top. The pipes were bending sideways to disappear into holes in the shaft walls, but beyond that he could see a grate. Crawling between the pipes, he placed his palms upon it and pushed. Thankfully, the grate gave way almost immediately. Kapura clasped the sides of the hole and heaved himself out.

 

For a few moments he just lay there, stretched onto the ground in a narrow alley between two large buildings. He knew he had to keep moving, but he couldn’t go on without a few minutes’ rest. He savored the fresh air and the feeling of relief that had suddenly come over him. Here it was cold and dark, but not as pitch black as it had been below: Kapura could see, after a fashion, and the sense of claustrophobia that the tunnel had given him was gone.

 

It was the smell that roused him. Kapura recognized it immediately: being a Ta-Matoran, he had perceived it many times. It wouldn’t have been alarming had Kapura been in Ta-Koro or Ta-Metru; but here in Ga-Metru, it could only mean one thing.

 

He got to his feet and walked out of the alley. He found himself on a wider road that ran alongside a canal. But when he turned to follow it, the sight before his eyes, though not unexpected, was enough to freeze him in his tracks.

 

The cluster of structures that surrounded Kapura had been built on high ground. Before him, the ground sloped downwards and the buildings were replaced by woodland, giving him an unobstructed view of the south. The district of water stretched out before his eyes and though the darkness prevented him from spotting details, one thing was clear.

 

Ga-Metru was burning.

 

All over the district, Kapura could glimpse the glow of the flames. Streets, temples, schools and homes were ablaze, with thick plumes of smoke rising into the sky. Fires raged in the lush forests of Ga-Metru, consuming the trunks of the trees; soon, there would be nothing left but ash.

 

Kapura was no stranger to fire; some might even say that, as a Ta-Matoran, he cherished it. But fire had no place in the district of water. Here, the flames could only be a force of destruction. The blazes might eventually subside, but they would leave behind the gutted husks of buildings and trees; Ga-Metru, the district of Metru Nui that had once been favored by the Great Spirit himself, would remain scarred, its beauty tarnished forever.

 

Kapura forced his eyes away from the terrible spectacle. His gaze swept south over land and sea and found the outline of the Coliseum, looming tall over the city just beyond Ga-Metru’s southern border. He could not tell whether there were fires blazing there as well; but the building still stood. Kapura fixed his eyes upon it and started walking.

 

He would never be sure just how long it had taken him to make that journey. As he walked through the streets of Ga-Metru, the signs of destruction were all around him. Temples had been blown apart, leaving only ruins to mark the spots where the most wondrous buildings of the district had once stood. Beautiful fountains had been blasted to pieces, while others were still intact, but had gone dry. Schools had collapsed, burying the classes and the laboratories forever, smothering the centers of learning that had once been Ga-Metru’s pride and that Turaga Nokama had ardently wished to restore to their former glory; now that dream would never come true.

 

Houses, chute stations, reservoirs… none had been spared. Sometimes Kapura came across yawning craters; on other occasions, he was forced to climb over piles of rubble that filled the streets and choked the canals. The waterways of Ga-Metru were still intact, mostly, but some had become raging torrents, while others had dried to a trickle; with the dams, locks and spillways damaged, the peace and tranquility of the canals had been replaced by chaos.

 

It didn’t matter that many buildings had survived, that the destruction was in no way equal to that wrought upon Metru Nui by the Great Cataclysm one thousand years before; nor did the knowledge that the city would have been abandoned anyway help. The Matoran had put all their efforts, all their hearts, into restoring the great city, making it once more their home; yet when the Brotherhood of Makuta, their greatest foes, had come, Metru Nui had been helpless before their power. On Mata Nui, the wars against the creatures of Makuta had seen many setbacks, but the villages had always survived and endured; now, however the enemy had struck at the very heart of their civilization. There was no other way to call it: this was defeat.

 

A short time later, he came across the first corpse: a Ga-Matoran who had been buried beneath a collapsed chute pylon. Her feet were the only part of her body sticking out of the rubble, sparing Kapura the sight of her crushed form. He paused for a moment, wondering whether there was anything he could do; but then he resumed walking.

 

He did not stop again; when he found the next two bodies, a glance was all he needed to determine that these had been slain by bolts of shadow. As the count of the dead grew, Kapura stopped wondering what had happened to them, why they had been so far from the harbor, whether they had died in terror or without even realizing it: he focused solely on walking, slowly but constantly, his eyes stuck on the Coliseum.

 

Only once again did the sight of a fallen Matoran make him halt. The Po-Matoran was lying next to a crater, his body mauled by shrapnel; but he was still alive. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, but his eyes were still open and Kapura stared right into them, saw the unimaginable pain and desperation that the other villager was suffering, made even more terrible by the knowledge that there was nothing Kapura could do to help him. When he wrenched himself away from the Po-Matoran’s gaze and walked away, something in his soul perished.

 

As he approached the heart of the city, the going became harder. There were Shadow Takanuva flying overhead and bands of Shadow Matoran were prowling around the streets. Worse, keeping to the back streets was becoming impossible: the road to the Coliseum passed over large expanses of water, which were crossed by chutes, as well as by wide bridges and causeways. The bombardment had damaged many of these paths and there was nowhere to hide on the ones that were still intact.

 

It was then that Kapura resorted to the tunnels again: rather than crossing on the exposed bridges, he found Archive passageways that ran below the seabed. There were Shadow Matoran there, too, and several times Kapura was on the verge of being discovered. But each time the Ta-Matoran forced down the panic that would have betrayed him; rather than trying to outrace his foes, he moved slowly to avoid detection.

 

And so it was that Kapura eventually found himself at the last bridge, the one that led directly to the Coliseum gates. There was no tunnel here to aid him; he would have to cross out in the open. Yet luck seemed to be on his side, for as he watched, the light of the new day washed upon the bridge, revealing it to be still empty and unguarded. Encouraged by the sight, the Ta-Matoran took a step forward.

 

“Kapura.”

 

The voice froze Kapura in his tracks. He knew that voice. He knew its owner. He pivoted around and there he was, standing in the middle of the road, his firestaff in hand, his old, wise eyes shining out of his Noble Kanohi Huna, as they had always done.

 

“Turaga Vakama! You’re alive!”

 

Vakama nodded.

 

“But I… I saw that Toa strike you. I thought you were dead.”

 

“They thought so too. But I survived. I knew you would heed my words and head to the Coliseum. Once they were gone, I came after you. You have done well, Kapura. I’m prouder of you than I have ever been.”

 

He stretched out his arm towards him.

 

“Give me the Mask of Time. I will take it from here.”

 

Kapura started reaching into his pack. Then he remembered that he and Vakama had not been alone it that cave.

 

“What about the others, Turaga? The other elders, the Matoran…”

 

“We can help them, Kapura, all of them. But I need the Mask of Time for that to happen.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Does it matter? Trust me, Kapura. My visions have never been wrong.”

 

Kapura reached into his pack again. Again, he stopped. At first, he wasn’t sure why. There was something that did not add up in Vakama’s tale.

 

“Turaga, how did you get here as fast as me? You once told me that though I was slow, I might be faster than all the others.”

 

An irritated expression appeared on Vakama’s face.

 

“There’s no time for this foolishness, Kapura. I’ll answer your questions later. Give me the mask, now. It is not a thing for someone like you to hold.”

 

Kapura drew his hand back from his pack. His body was frozen. Fear was freezing it, a fear that he couldn’t yet put into words…

 

“Turaga…”

 

The bolt of shadow struck him square in the chest. Kapura collapsed onto the ground. A moment later Vakama was upon him. The Turaga struck him again and again, with more force than Kapura would have thought possible.

 

“Little fool! A thousand years wasted looking after you, bearing with your utter stupidity, and this is how you thank me?”

 

The voice, the face, they were the same, but this wasn’t the wise Turaga that Kapura had known and worshipped for so long; Vakama was attacking him like a maddened, frenzied beast, seeking to tear its prey apart.

 

“I sacrificed my power for the likes of you! I was a Toa, I had it all and I gave it all up to lead a band of puny Ta-Matoran. You’re not worth a speck of what I gave you! And if I can’t get it back from you, I’ll have at least the satisfaction of killing you with my own hands.”

 

The Turaga drew back his firestaff, then placed its flaming tip against Kapura’s chest. The Ta-Matoran screamed in pain.

 

“Enough!” ordered someone. Through the haze of pain, Kapura glimpsed the shape of a Shadow Takanuva. “Just get the mask from him and get it over with.”

 

For a moment, it seemed as though Vakama would not obey, but then he drew back the firestaff. Kapura remained on the ground, panting, pain and shock clouding his thoughts; he couldn’t move, couldn’t find words…

 

Vakama’s hand closed around his throat and the Turaga started squeezing. Vakama’s mask was just above his own; in his eyes, Kapura could see traces of madness.

 

“It won’t be long, Kapura,” whispered Vakama in a conspiratorial tone. “But don’t worry, death won’t be the end of you. You see, I am going to get my power back. That fool back there thinks I’ll give the Vahi to him, but I know the secret of the Mask of Time. Once it’s in pieces, the doors of time will open for me. I will step back into the past and I will once more have the power that was taken from me.”

 

Kapura couldn’t breathe, the last air was leaving his lungs. He could no longer feel his body. And darkness was creeping in from the edges of his vision, and silence…

 

A sharp sound split the air, followed by a cry of pain. Then there were footsteps and suddenly someone ripped Vakama from him. Kapura blinked. Takanuva was standing above him and his armor wasn’t black, but shone white and gold. Vakama was struggling in his grip and firing bolts of shadow into his body, but Takanuva didn’t seem to feel them. His eyes were fixed into those of the Turaga and his expression was one of utter anguish.

 

“What do you hope to accomplish, Takua?” Kapura faintly heard Vakama growl. “You are a mere Matoran in Toa armor, irresponsible and deluded, as you’ve always been.  You do not have the strength to wield true power. But I do. I’ll show you what it takes to defeat the Brotherhood. Release me!”

 

Takanuva kept staring at Vakama, as though unable to understand what had happened. Then, without speaking, he raised his hand and fired a bolt of light. Vakama’s body went limp as the Turaga lost consciousness.

 

“Are you hurt, Kapura?” he then said, helping the Ta-Matoran to his feet.

 

“Takanuva. It’s you, the real you, isn’t it? The Turaga…”

 

“I know,” answered Takanuva, bowing his head. Was he weeping? “I know.”

 

Two figures approached them. One was a gray-armored Toa that Kapura had never seen before. The other was a monstrous, slimy Rahi with bony spikes protruding from its body, but suddenly it changed shape, turning into a Toa of Water.

 

“My… twin?” asked the Toa of Light.

 

“Dead,” replied the Toa of Water.

 

Takanuva’s pose stiffened, but he didn’t say anything. Instead, he raised his head to gaze upon the Coliseum, towering above them.

 

“And now it begins.”

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:28 AM.

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#16 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Oct 25 2017 - 05:40 PM

FIFTEEN

 

The Coliseum wasn’t intact. As they drew closer, Takanuva saw that Destral’s projectiles had blasted numerous holes in its walls and severed many of the bridges and chutes that radiated from it. But the great building was still standing.

 

Is there anyone left inside, though?

 

They had already glimpsed several of his dark duplicates fly overhead and dive into the great aperture at the summit of the Coliseum. But were they heading into a fight or was the battle already over?

 

“I think there’s still someone fighting, brother,” said Krakua. “We’re still not close enough for my mask to work, but I can already hear the sounds of battle.”

 

“Where?” asked Takanuva tensely.

 

“They’re coming from above, so the arena, I’m guessing… but I could be wrong.”

 

“We have to hurry.”

 

He picked up his pace. Krakua and Krahka, once more in the shape of an illusion Rahkshi, imitated him, but Kapura couldn’t match their step. When Takanuva slowed down to wait for him, though, he found that the Ta-Matoran had already caught up.

 

He stared at his old friend for a moment longer before starting again towards the Coliseum. Kapura was wearing his usual, somewhat blank expression, but Takanuva could tell that he was forcing down the same pain and shock that he himself was feeling. In spite of what he had already seen, he would never have believed possible that Turaga Vakama, of all people, could succumb to the power of the shadow leeches. When he had struck him with his light powers and then left him on the ground, unconscious, the grief had been overwhelming.

 

Yet before being corrupted, the Turaga of Fire had apparently given Kapura one last order. The Ta-Matoran had refused to reveal its nature, saying simply that he was supposed to get to the Coliseum. In the end, despite Krahka’s objections, Takanuva had allowed him to accompany them.

 

The Toa of Light squinted, trying to see what lay ahead. A thick mist had risen around them as they crossed the bridge, shrouding the other end of the walkway. As they closed in, though, the great gates of the Coliseum emerged from the haze.

 

When the Matoran had returned to Metru Nui, the gates’ defensive structures had been one of the few leftovers from the Visorak invasion that the Turaga had ordered not to dismantle. Instead, they had been preserved and reinforced, so as to protect the Coliseum, which could act as a shelter for the whole population, from any new enemy that might descend upon Metru Nui. But it hadn’t been enough. As Takanuva gazed upon the gates, he saw that the central portal had been blasted open, while portions of the ramparts had collapsed. The scorch marks left by shadow bolts were everywhere and most of the catapults and Rhotuka launchers lay in ruin. Takanuva turned away, preferring not to know whether there were Matoran corpses upon the breached gates as well.

 

It was then that he realized that, although the defenses had ultimately not been sufficient, they had taken their toll on the attackers: a number of Shadow Takanuva were sitting or lying stretched on the battlefield, severely wounded; and, just in front of the gates, two of his dark twins lay dead.

 

I’m staring at my own corpse, thought the Toa of Light.

 

Cloaked by Krahka’s illusion, the four of them made their way through the gates and into the Coliseum. There were more signs of fighting having taken place in the corridor that led to the sports field and Takanuva could now hear a deep rumble coming from up ahead, mixed with the occasional shout.

 

Could it be…?

 

A moment later, his suspicions were confirmed. Peering from the last archway into the arena, Takanuva saw two of his duplicates standing a short distance away. But they could not advance any further: the field pavement was shifting and shaking, with metallic waves and walls rising from the floor to create impassable barriers and sharp-pointed columns shooting up at random to skewer anyone foolish enough to try the crossing.

 

There were several other Toa of Shadow in the arena, either hovering in the air or standing amidst the empty seats. Bolts of dark energy were shooting from every direction and Takanuva realized that they were all targeting Turaga Dume’s box, which had been positioned high above the arena floor. But the occupants of the observation platform were returning fire: artificial Rhotuka launchers had been positioned upon it and Rhotuka spinners kept flying out towards the attackers.

 

Krakua threw a sound screen around them, an extra precaution to prevent anyone from overhearing their words. Then he said:

“I’ve read some of their minds. Turaga Dume and the Matoran are barricaded in the spire behind the observation platform. They’ve blocked all the entrances, elevator shafts and stairs, so the Shadow Takanuva can’t get in for now. But they’re expecting reinforcements.”

 

“If the entrances are blocked, how do we reach them?”

 

Krakua turned to Krahka.

 

“Teleportation. If you shapeshift into a Makuta or a teleportation Rahkshi, you can transport us directly to the observation platform.”

 

Krahka nodded and changed into a blue-green Rahkshi. A moment later, the group found itself in a dark chamber. Takanuva conjured

a sphere of light, allowing them to see their surroundings.

 

“We’re in the central spire,” said the Toa of Light. “If we’re on the right level, the observation platform should be down that corridor.”

 

The noises of battle were even stronger here. Takanuva could even hear the voices of the Matoran. How many were left?

 

Then his attention fell on another doorway. It was filled by rubble, perhaps to prevent the Shadow Takanuva from getting in. But there was something strange about it… as if the shadows cast by the rubble were moving…

 

And then blackness filled the doorway; in the blink of an eye, the debris vanished, not shifted or destroyed, merely swallowed by the darkness. And then a single Shadow Takanuva emerged from the shadows. A surprised expression appeared on his face as he beheld the four of them.

 

Takanuva was already summoning his power. He hurled a laser beam straight at his opponent, leaving him no time to dodge. But the Shadow Takanuva stayed absolutely still: an instant before the laser struck, twin beams of shadow energy shot out of his eyes, canceling out the Toa of Light’s attack.

 

By that time, Krakua and Krahka had also noticed the Toa of Shadow. The Toa of Sonics unleashed a sound blast, while the shapeshifter turned into a huge Rock Lion and pounced upon their opponent.

 

She never reached him. A hand of shadow seized her and slammed her onto the floor, even as a shadow wall blocked Krakua’s attack. Takanuva tried to intervene, only to suddenly lose his sense of balance. As he stumbled and fell, he managed to catch a glimpse of their opponent’s expression: while wary, the corrupted Toa didn’t appear concerned in the slightest.

 

What is going on here? We’re three against his one.

 

Then the Toa of Shadow went on the offensive. A blast of shadow stunned Takanuva, leaving their opponent free to concentrate on Krahka. Krakua pointed his vibration sword at him, but got no further than that, for tendrils of shadow erupted from the Shadow Takanuva’s back and wrapped around the arms, legs and neck of the Toa of Sonics, tying him like unbreakable ropes. Krahka was left alone in the fight: she had taken the shape of Toa Metru Vakama, but was now forced to keep it, for the Toa of Shadow’s rapid attacks were leaving her no room to shapeshift. She unleashed a hail of fireballs, but the Shadow Takanuva replied with an even stronger hail of shadow bolts, overwhelming her. At the last moment, Krahka changed into a Shadow Takanuva herself, absorbing the attacks. Without even breaking his stride, their opponent fired a laser beam from his Kanohi Avohkii, sending Krahka sprawling. Takanuva charged, but his duplicate pirouetted and struck him with a sweeping kick, knocking the Toa of Light’s staff out of his hands.

 

Who are we dealing with here?

 

He made his decision in a split second. Instead of attacking, he used light to dispel Krakua’s shadow bonds. The Toa of Sonics reacted immediately and unleashed a concentrated sound wave at the Shadow Takanuva. This time, the attack got through, blowing the Toa of Shadow back. Krahka took the opportunity to rise and shapeshifted into an enormous Rahi dragon, so big that she filled a good portion of the chamber.

 

But the Shadow Takanuva was already back on his feet. His gaze met Takanuva’s, and at that moment the Toa of Light knew that the eyes he was looking into were his own, and yet they weren’t, for this Toa wasn’t like him, nor like any of the other duplicates he had met so far. He was something else, something beyond them all. Then the chamber turned completely black, filled by absolute darkness, so thick that even his light couldn’t dispel it. And the shadows were alive, moving, and Takanuva suddenly felt them coil around him, constricting him, binding him so tight he couldn’t move a muscle. And then they started squeezing…

 

-----

 

Two Cordak rockets rushed through the air, converging on his position. An instant before they struck, Icarax flexed his wings and launched himself into the air. Summoning the immense energies that he wielded, he unleashed a torrent of lightning back at the forces of the Order of Mata Nui. The blast completely disintegrated three robots and the other enemy fighters were blown back by the force of the blast. Icarax gave them no chance to regroup: a cyclone ripped through their ranks, scattering them like leaves.

 

This battle is glorious.

 

To be sure, this confrontation had been unexpected. When he had led the Makuta across the Silver Sea, it hadn’t even crossed his mind that an enemy as powerful as this might be waiting for them in the tunnels of the Great Barrier. When their artillery had opened fire, blasting the Makuta into the sea, something akin to fear had, for a moment, filled his heart.

 

But they had prevailed. And they had done so under his leadership. Other Makuta had distinguished themselves in battle and Antroz had played a part in organizing the deployment of their forces and the bombardment that had driven the foe from the beach, but the orders had all been his.

 

I was right all along. This was the way. No enemy can withstand the full might of the Brotherhood.

 

The Order had put up a good fight, but it hadn’t been enough. Icarax was still angry at the security breach that had allowed the enemy agents to destroy Destral’s control room, but even that had eventually turned to the Brotherhood’s advantage: thanks to Mutran, they now knew who they were up against; as for the spirited counterattack mounted by the Order, it had ultimately proven short-lived. After a furious battle, the Brotherhood had pushed them back into the caves and, since then, their advance had been inexorable.

 

Icarax himself was leading the army that was ascending through the widest tunnel. At his heels were Rahkshi, Exo-Toa, Makuta and Manas crabs. Though the Order fighters had managed to inflict some losses, time and time again they had been forced to retreat before the might of Icarax’s host.

 

Now they had come to the narrowest portion of the tunnel. A vertical rockface blocked much of the tunnel, with only a small ramp leading to the top. The Order had taken position there and for the past hour had been exploiting the high ground to attack the Brotherhood from above and stop them from gaining access to the ramp. Flying Rahkshi, taking advantage of the high ceiling, had managed to bypass the obstacle and were even now engaging the enemy forces, but so far they had been unsuccessful.

 

Now it was time to change that. Icarax’s wings carried him over the rim of the rockface; then he simply let himself drop. As he fell, he called upon the energy that he had gained by absorbing two enemy fighters with his shadow hand and accessed his shapeshifting power.

 

When his feet touched the ground, the transformation was complete. His new shape towered over his enemies: his left arm ended in long, razor-edged blades, while his right hand had become a claw sharp enough to penetrate steel and strong enough to squeeze the life out of any being unlucky enough to fall into his grip. The most striking feature of his form, however, was the head, which now sported an enormous, toothy maw that would strike terror into friend and foe alike.

 

Some of Icarax’s brothers disliked the beast-like appearance shape the Brotherhood’s servants called the Makuta Nui, but Icarax himself enjoyed the fear it projected and he also knew how to fully exploit it in battle. The leader of the Brotherhood charged. Shadow flowed to his right claw and then exploded out in a giant blast which stunned the Order agents. Teeth and claws mauled anyone still standing in his way. Lightning, sound and cyclones sped from his body in every direction, overwhelming the nearby fighters. The Rahkshi backed him up, cutting down those who managed to recover.

 

When Cordak rockets, Rhotuka spinners and energy bolts started shooting towards him, Icarax simply turned intangible and allowed them to pass through; then he unleashed a plasma wave which melted half a platoon of Maxilos robots and crushed the rest with increased gravity. It seemed as if nothing could stand in his way.

 

At that moment something flew out of the Order lines and went straight for his head. Icarax stumbled: a cloud of dust was filling his eyes, he couldn’t see anything. Something sharp cut into his armor and the Makuta staggered, but quickly recovered. Growling in anger, he unleashed a cyclone to blow away the annoying dust.

 

That produced results. The dust cloud was swept away, but it didn’t scatter; instead, it coalesced into an ebon-armored figure carrying a razor-edged shield. Icarax was taken aback, but then smiled cruelly: summoning his power once more, he hurled a blast of shadow at his opponent. The female had no chance to dodge, but when Icarax’s attack struck home, the spot where the energy blast had landed simply exploded into black crystalline shards and then reformed, unharmed.

 

Before the Makuta could try another strategy, his opponent jumped at him. Her shield cut once again into his armor, but when he struck back, she simply shattered into black crystals and enveloped him. A moment later, a portion of the cloud coalesced to form the shield again and scored another hit. Then the female reformed in front of him, but once again she moved so fast he couldn’t react. Her hand became a long tentacle made up of black particles which wrapped around his legs and then pulled. Icarax lost his footing and fell, the impact with the ground shaking the entire tunnel.

 

He looked up to see his opponent jumping towards his chest. His mouth opened to bite her in half, but the moment his jaws closed upon her she shattered once more and then reformed to slash another opening into his armor. Although the cuts were very thin, his essence was beginning to slip through them. The razor-edged shield appeared again, but this time Icarax activated his invulnerability power and the weapon slid harmlessly off his armor. Before his opponent could react, he had conjured another cyclone and trapped her within it. Icarax rose again, watching in satisfaction as the female tried and failed to escape the vortex. He increased the speed of the winds: once she was sufficiently weakened, he would pounce in and finish her.

 

A short distance away, Brutaka noticed Johmak’s predicament. He quickly got rid of the Rahkshi he was fighting by opening a dimensional portal under their feet and then unleashed an enormous wave of energy. Icarax was blown into the tunnel wall, causing his cyclone to shut down. Johmak’s body reappeared, slumped on the ground. Brutaka ran to her, but the female Order agent was already getting up.

 

“I’m all right,” she said. “I suggest we finish him.”

 

“Bold words,” growled Icarax. “Very bold.”

 

“We’ll see,” answered Brutaka.

 

Then, as one, the two Order members attacked. A bolt of energy from Brutaka’s sword struck Icarax’s leg, making it collapse under his weight. Johmak slashed through the other, bringing Icarax to his knees. The Brotherhood leader hurled a shadow bolt at Brutaka, but he managed to deflect it. Johmak dissolved into a crystal cloud and flew once again into the Makuta’s eyes. Icarax glimpsed Brutaka raising his sword, ready to cut him in two.

 

“No!” he roared. A power scream struck both Order agents, hurling them back. Icarax rose and charged, punching and slashing at Brutaka. When Johmak attempted to interfere, she found herself blocked by a wall solid shadow. But the golden-armored warrior wasn’t without resources of his own: a dimensional vortex yawned open behind the Icarax. Brutaka swung a powerhouse fist at the Makuta, who stumbled back in spite of his weight and size. Johmak flew into him, pushing him further towards the portal.

 

At the last possible moment, Icarax threw himself to the side, avoiding the incoming vortex. Brutaka was upon him before he could rise again. He pinned the Makuta to the ground and all of Icarax’s strength would not help him break free.

 

“Die,” growled Brutaka.

 

The explosion was phenomenal. The cave itself shook, threatening to collapse. When the dust settled, a smoldering crater stood where Icarax had been a moment before. But at the bottom, something moved.

 

Brutaka tightened the grip on his sword. Icarax had been reduced to a Toa-sized figure and his armor was battered and scorched. But he was still standing and his eyes burned with hatred and fury. In his hand he held a pair of rotating blades.

 

There was no warning. Icarax’s fragmentation power radiated out: one third of the rockface shattered, sending a thousand shard of stone sliding down towards the Brotherhood troops below. Startled, Brutaka was carried down by the landslide. Johmak launched herself into the air, but Icarax hurled himself at her. Before she could react, he used heat vision on a wide beam, bathing her in searing heat. When she tried to disperse her body, she found that she couldn’t: the black crystals that composed her form were melting and fusing together and she could no longer separate them. The last thing she saw was the Makuta’s triumphant expression; then shadow struck her vulnerable body and blasted her into unconsciousness.

 

An energy bolt flew up and knocked Icarax out of the air. He dropped down onto the pile of rocks. Brutaka was immediately upon him, but when he swung his sword Icarax met it with his own weapon. Then he counterattacked, his slashes so fast that the Order agent could barely keep up. The uneven footing didn’t seem to bother him: his lightning-fast thrusts and swings drove Brutaka down the rock pile. Finally, the warrior managed to push back the Makuta. A moment later, a shockwave ripped out of his blade, heading straight for Icarax. An instant before it struck, the Makuta vanished.

 

Brutaka was confused. None of the Makuta had attempted to use teleportation to evade the Order. It had seemed like Icarax himself had given the order at the beginning of the fight, probably because he had wanted to defeat their enemy in a frontal battle. Why violate his own rules now?

 

A piercing pain split his back. He screamed as the sharp blade sank deep into his spine.

 

“I never run from a fight,” whispered Icarax. Then shadow ran through his blade and flowed into Brutaka’s wound, attacking his body from the inside, ripping apart tissue and metal alike. The last thing the warrior heard were his own screams.

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:31 AM.

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#17 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Nov 01 2017 - 05:30 PM

SIXTEEN

 

Kapura made his way down the corridor, headed for the Coliseum’s observation platform. He moved as slowly as possible, for there was no time to waste. Takanuva and the others clearly needed help to defeat the Toa of Shadow. If he could reach the other Matoran, he could lead them to the Toa of Light’s aid.

 

Light suddenly entered the passage as a door ahead of him opened. Two Onu-Matoran, three Po-Matoran and a Ko-Matoran stepped through, all armed with Kanoka Disk launchers. A startled expression appeared on the face of the Onu-Matoran leader as he spotted Kapura.

 

“Who are you?”

 

“Kapura.”

 

To his surprise, the other Matoran was leveling his launcher at him. It took him a moment to figure out the reason.

 

“I’m on your side. I’m not a Shadow Matoran.”

 

“I wish I could believe that,” said the Onu-Matoran tersely. “But the stairs are blocked. How did you get here? And what are those noises back there?”

 

“I came with Takanuva… our Takanuva. He’s…”

 

“The real Takanuva? He’s alive?” interjected a Po-Matoran.

 

“He’s fighting a Shadow Takanuva. He needs help.”

 

The expression of the six Matoran changed. They remained wary, but Kapura saw a glimmer of hope appear on their faces.

 

“One of you, keep an eye on him,” ordered the Onu-Matoran. “The rest of us will…”

 

Without warning, the Coliseum shook. A blast of noise rattled the corridor and the Matoran had to struggle to keep their footing. The daylight suddenly seemed to

grow dim and more sounds began to echo down the passageway, but they weren’t coming from behind Kapura; they were coming from ahead.

 

“What’s happening?” cried out a Po-Matoran. “Are they…?”

 

“Makuta take them!” cursed the Onu-Matoran. “Two of you stay here. If anything comes down the corridor, shoot it. The rest of you, with me. We have to see what’s going on.”

 

Without further ado, four of the Matoran turned back the way they had come. They were half way to the observation platform when the Onu-Matoran realized Kapura had followed them. He almost stopped, but then decided against it.

 

They were now crossing a small hall. There were more Matoran there, most of them armed and all hurrying in the same direction. Then they reached the observation platform and Kapura saw.

 

A curtain of shadow had covered the Coliseum, blotting out the daylight. Yet bright flashes were coming from outside and a moment later Kapura realized why: bolts of lightning were raining down upon the arena. Matoran were scrambling around the controls of the arena floor, but it was clear that nothing was working anymore.

Then a portion of the platform exploded. The Matoran who were manning the artificial Rhotuka launchers were blasted back. Kapura saw Turaga Dume himself stumble back, an arm lifted over his face to shield himself.

 

There were now three Shadow Takanuva hovering level with the platform, staring cruelly at the assembled Matoran. But everyone’s eyes were drawn to the figure in front of them. She was armored in black with shades of green, four-armed and borne aloft by insectoid wings. It was from her that the darkness emanated, they could all feel it. A pair of red eyes blazed out of a hideous mask.

 

The darkness seemed to grow even deeper as the figure’s feet touched the platform. The closest Matoran stared at her, frozen in terror.

 

Turaga Dume stepped forward. He was gripping his staff tightly and he seemed to be having trouble staying on his feet. Yet when he spoke, his voice was loud and clear:

 

“Makuta Gorast.”

 

“Dume,” hissed Gorast, “Turaga of Metru Nui, if there were still a Metru Nui.”

 

“The destruction of this city is just the latest of your crimes. This universe is ending because of you. The Great Spirit perished due to your actions. And still you persist in your mindless evil!”

 

“It is in our nature,” answered Gorast, “just as it is in yours to be a pestering, stubborn fool. Your battle is lost. Do you surrender?”

 

“And what lies ahead for us if we do? A life as twisted, corrupted beings, like these Toa who follow you? No. As long as there are free Matoran, they will fight you. You’ll have no surrender from us.”

 

“You’ve sealed your fate, then. But you won’t perish just yet. I’ll drain every last sliver of light out of these Matoran and I will make you watch it all. And then I’ll give you to them. You will die at the hands of your own beloved people.”

 

-----

 

Krahka couldn’t see, couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. All the strength and power contained within her dragon shape was of no use against the grasp of the shadows that enveloped her. The darkness was binding her more tightly than anything ever before, yet there were no bonds she could snap or slip through; how could she fight back?

 

Accessing her power, she took the shape of a Dermis Turtle and took refuge within her unbreakable shell. Yet the shadows still bound her and Krahka could feel them seeking a gap in the shell, a way to get to her vulnerable body and squeeze the life out of her. Krahka had spent a thousand years surrounded by utter blackness and many times she had thought she would die in darkness; now that fear was about to be proven true.

 

Don’t give up.

 

Krahka was startled. The voice had spoken within her mind, yet it was not her own.

 

You must help Takanuva, add your power to his. It’s our only hope!

 

The voice was Krakua’s, she recognized it now. He was speaking at her through his Mask of Telepathy. Should she follow his advice? The pressure of the shadows was growing stronger; there was no way Toa armor could withstand it. Yet there was no choice; struggling to focus, Krahka took on once more the shape of Takanuva. Then she summoned all the elemental power she could muster and unleashed it, desperately trying to hold the shadows back.

 

Suddenly, the pressure disappeared. Light gushed from her body, dispelling the blackness. She could see another source of light close by and knew that Takanuva was using his power as well and their combined efforts were succeeding where a single Toa of Light would have failed.

 

The Shadow Takanuva was surprised, but only for a split second. Then bolts of shadow sailed from his hands, striking the chamber’s ceiling. Rubble rained upon them; Krahka shapeshifted into a small insect and flew out of the way before it struck, but Takanuva was hit and collapsed onto the ground. Krahka shapeshifted again, taking on the form of Roodaka, the former viceroy of the Visorak Horde. But before she could aim her Rhotuka launcher, the Shadow Takanuva turned his eyes upon her and she suddenly found herself blind.

 

Her hearing was intact, though, and that was what allowed her to hear Krakua make his move. A booming noise echoed throughout the chamber. Her eyesight suddenly returned, in time to see a barrier of shadow rise to deflect the attack. Krakua didn’t give up: shadow and deafening sound battled each other at the center of the chamber, as the Toa of Sonics threw in everything he had; yet Krahka could see that he was losing the struggle.

 

Go! yelled the telepathic voice again, clear in spite of the noise.

 

Krahka didn’t understand.

 

The Matoran are in danger, you must go to them. We’ll hold him here.

 

She knew he was lying. Without her, he and Takanuva were no match for this opponent. Yet if he was right…

 

Go!

 

Krahka went. Turning into a fireflyer, she flew out of the chamber and towards the observation platform. She could feel it too, now. Something was waiting up ahead, a creature of shadow, perhaps even more powerful than those they had already faced. Had this been the danger Krakua had spoken about?

 

She saw her a moment later. The Makuta, for she couldn’t be anything else, was standing on the observation platform, facing Turaga Dume and a crowd of terrified Matoran. Every instinct of Krahka’s was screaming, warning her to keep as far away as possible. This one, Krahka could feel, was even more dangerous than Tridax had been: death lurked in her burning red eyes.

 

What am I doing here? Why should I even put my life on the line for these Matoran? What are they to me?

 

She could easily get away. Staying here was suicide: at this point, she was better off taking her chances at escaping Metru Nui and the dying universe on her own. Yet something stopped her. Back in the Archive tunnels, she had promised Krakua and Takanuva that she would help them. Somehow, that mattered. True, she had already saved their lives, but they had saved hers as well. Could she just forget that? And Takanuva had made her a promise of his own: should they somehow get through this, the Matoran, the Toa and the Turaga would welcome her amongst them. A thousand years before, she had had a taste of the life within a Toa team when she had allied with the Toa Hordika against the Visorak. When she had been trapped in the darkness, alone but for a Tahtorak lizard, the memories of that short time had been the ones she had most cherished. Now, free at last, was she truly ready to spend the rest of her life alone, always on the run?

 

No. I’m not.

 

The Makuta was distracted, no doubt by the sounds Krakua had unleashed. Krahka dived at her. At the last moment, she turned into a Lohrak and a swipe of her tail sent Gorast tumbling off the observation platform. Krahka gave her no chance to halt her fall. Her shape changed into that of the Kardas Dragon that she had encountered on Voya Nui and a blast of energy from her maw slammed into Gorast, driving her into the arena floor. The three Shadow Takanuva had by now recovered from the surprise of her appearance, but a second energy blast dispersed them.

 

Daylight shone upon the Coliseum as the darkness that Gorast had projected dispersed, revealing a deep crater in the arena floor where the female Makuta had struck the ground. Krahka glimpsed movement, but that was all the warning she had. A lightning bolt flew from the crater and struck her. Krahka lost control of her flight and plummeted towards the ground. At the last moment, she turned into a gelatinous Rahi to cushion the fall.

 

Gorast was immediately upon her, but before she could strike Krahka turned into a protodite, too small to be seen by the naked eye. The transformation caught her opponent by surprise and her hesitation was all that Krahka needed. She suddenly enlarged herself, becoming a Tarakava, and delivered a powerful punch that sent Gorast sprawling.

 

But the female Makuta didn’t stay down. Even as Krahka took Takanuva’s shape, she fired a shadow bolt which blew back the shapeshifter. Krahka recovered just in time to see a hand of shadow shoot out of Gorast’s chest to grab her. Summoning the power of light, she created a blinding blaze which dissipated her opponent’s attack.

 

“Oh, very good,” laughed Gorast. “That power of yours is quite something. But I have done battle with the creations of Tren Krom himself, creatures that could destroy the likes of you with a single blow. Do you really think you can defeat me, shapeshifter?”

 

Krahka eyed her warily. She remembered all too well the duel she had undertaken against the evil Roodaka in this very same place, a thousand years before. Back then, all her power hadn’t been sufficient to grant her victory. And she could tell that Gorast was speaking the truth: she was more powerful and at least as experienced as her old enemy.

 

Gorast’s eyes glowed brightly. A moment later, Krahka cried out in pain as heat vision singed her chest. Gorast charged, firing bolts of shadow from her four hands. But Krahka changed shape again, becoming a black and green Rahkshi, and vanished into the ground.

 

“Oh no, you don’t,” growled Gorast, firing a molecular disruption bolt. It struck the arena floor where Krahka had been a moment before, creating a deep crater. The Rahi had still been descending in intangible form and found herself exposed once more.

 

Gorast flew straight at her. While many powers wouldn’t work on a density control Rahkshi, her Kanohi Felnas, Mask of Disruption, would. Krahka had no way of knowing that, but the confidence on Gorast’s face gave her reason enough to change form. Shapeshifting into a Phase Dragon, she was about to race away when Gorast hit her with laser vision and blew her out of the crater. The Makuta followed, only to find herself facing a huge Catapult Scorpion, which launched a sphere of hardened magma at her. Gorast moved incredibly fast, shattering the projectile with her shadow power less than a second before it struck.

 

But the respite allowed Krahka to go on the offensive. Changing into a purple Rahkshi, she struck Gorast with a power scream. By the time the Makuta recovered, it was to see the huge Kardas Dragon tower over her. A wave of energy shot from her mouth and Gorast barely managed to dodge. A sonic blast unsettled Krahka, but the shapeshifter managed to unleash another energy blast. This time, Gorast didn’t have time to dodge, but in the blink of an eye she activated her density control power, becoming intangible. Then, before Krahka could react, she restored her ordinary density and fired a bolt of chain lightning. It struck home and Gorast followed up with another.

 

But Krahka was ready. Shapeshifting into a Tunneler, she absorbed Gorast’s attack and used it to become a creature of electricity. She swiped her tail at Gorast, but the Makuta dodged again and again. After a few moments, Krahka decided to change tactic and turned into Makuta Tridax.

 

“You dare face me as a Makuta?” spat Gorast.

 

Krahka didn’t answer and fired a bolt of disintegration power, which Gorast deflected with her own shadow. The female Makuta then fired a beam of laser vision, cutting through Krahka’s armor. The shapeshifter answered with a cyclone which lifted Gorast off her feet.

 

But the Makuta was an experienced warrior. Even as the winds hurled her around, she managed to target Krahka with chain lightning. Her attack struck home and the cyclone disappeared. The Rahi attempted to create a stasis field around Gorast, but the Makuta brought it down immediately. Krahka tried to use magnetism to push her away, but Gorast stayed rooted to her spot and then actually started advancing. Shadow, electricity, sound… she shrugged it all off.

 

Then, suddenly, it was her turn to attack: a magnetic pulse sent Krahka flying into the opposite wall of the Coliseum. Another application of the same power then pulled her towards Gorast. The green Makuta raised her arms and delivered a devastating blow, which knocked Krahka to the ground. Coils of shadow bound her from head to toe.

 

“You are no more than an insect before me, creature,” whispered Gorast. “But I can appreciate skill where I see it. Why sacrifice your life to protect a bunch of puny Matoran? Join me and you will have no reason to regret.”

 

Krahka glared at her.

 

“Go to blazes, monster!”

 

The female Makuta shrugged.

 

“In that case, we’ll go back to the original plan.”

 

And without further ado, she plunged her stinger into Krahka’s body. Her powers activated, sucking away the light within her prey for Gorast to devour.

 

Krahka felt it. The shapeshifter had never before considered the fact that her spirit might contain a portion of light and a portion of darkness. Had someone tried to explain it to her, she would have struggled to understand and most likely wouldn’t have cared anyway. But now she could tell that something was draining away from her, something she needed, that she couldn’t bear to lose.

 

That was all her mind needed to lash out desperately with all the power Tridax’s shape gave her. An explosion of shadow hurled Gorast backwards. Lightning and cyclones battered her. Then Krahka increased gravity, pinning her opponent to the arena floor. Gorast writhed, trying to lift herself up, but Krahka’s power was too strong. The shapeshifter drew Tridax’s acid spear and stabbed straight at Gorast’s chest.

 

She never hit her. A moment before the weapon struck, the Makuta teleported away. She reappeared outside the area affected by Krahka’s gravity power. The shapeshifter unleashed a burst of plasma, followed by heat vision and a power scream. Gorast conjured a wall of shadow and parried everything. Then she launched herself at Krahka. The shapeshifter began to change form, but it was too late. Gorast crashed into her, the Kanohi Felnas she wore glowing brightly.

 

“This battle is over,” she whispered, releasing Krahka.

 

The Rahi started trembling. Wings began growing from her back and then morphed into tentacles as her shapeshifting powers ran wild. A face became a snout, then a Kanohi mask, then a beak, then all those things together. Legs and arms rapidly changed in number. Tails grew and then disappeared.

Soon, Krahka no longer had a recognizable shape. She was an indistinct mass of squirming matter, barely able to remain upright. Words, roars, howls and other sounds combined to create a horrible scream of pain. But it was music to Gorast’s ears.

 

“And so it ends, shapeshifter,” laughed the Makuta. “You took many shapes during this battle, but you never had a form of your own, did you? How fitting. Now, at the hour of your death, you have no shape at all; and if anyone remembers you, all they will recall will be a stolen face, a voice that belonged to someone else. Know this and perish!”

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:31 AM.

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#18 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Nov 09 2017 - 08:13 PM

SEVENTEEN

 

Takanuva and Krakua had tried everything. They had unleashed their elemental powers and called upon their mask powers; they had both engaged their foe in hand-to-hand combat and tried to strike him from afar; they had worked together flawlessly, doing all they could to exploit the advantage of numbers.

 

It had been useless. The Toa of Light’s dark duplicate had deflected their every attack and pierced all their defenses; he had countered their every move, outsmarted and outpowered them every time; their unity had proven no match for his incredible mastery over the power of shadow.

 

Now Takanuva was on his knees, wounded and exhausted. Krakua had already fallen; the Toa of Light didn’t know whether he was alive or dead. Their opponent stood before them, brimming with power.

 

The Toa of Shadow raised his staff. Takanuva called upon his power and unleashed a bright flare of light, hoping to blind his foe, but the dark Toa instantly snuffed it out. Tendrils of shadow leaped from his staff and tightened around Takanuva. Bonded as closely as he was to the light, it was all Takanuva could do not to scream as the dark energy enveloped his body.

 

“Don’t struggle, brother,” said the Shadow Takanuva. “You can’t win, and I have no wish to harm you any further.”

 

“You’ve… got a funny way of showing it.”

 

The dark Takanuva chuckled.

 

“Ah, of course, defiant to the last. How incredibly foolish.”

 

“If you were in my place, would you do any different?”

 

The Toa of Shadow smiled.

 

“Maybe not. But then again, it’s been a long time since I was in your place. As you can see, many things have changed.”

 

Despite himself, Takanuva was intrigued. During the battle, his duplicate had never uttered a word. Why was he suddenly in the mood for conversation? And could Takanuva somehow take advantage of that?

 

“Don’t even think about it,” said the Shadow Takanuva, as if reading his mind. “My power is far beyond yours, you should have realized that by now. Try anything and you’ll join your friend.”

 

He paused, then resumed.

 

“I can’t help but be intrigued, Takanuva. When I first awoke on Destral, I was amazed; throughout my life, I’ve seen many strange things, but to be in the company of beings who are alternate versions of myself… well, it is nothing short of incredible. I’m curious, and that’s why I’m bothering to talk to you; plus, I feel that you should know the fate that awaits you.”

 

“Which… is?”

 

“Why, to become like me… like us. I won’t kill you. Unfortunately, there are no shadow leeches here, but I’ll soon get hold of one. Once your light is drained, you will be truly one of us.”

 

The Toa of Light couldn’t help the look of dread that appeared on his face. The Shadow Takanuva laughed.

 

“Scared, brother? Don’t be. It will hurt, but only for a moment. And then you’ll see the world as it truly is; you’ll realize all those lessons that the Turaga tried to pound into you are rubbish. Only one life matters: your own. You will be free from all those notions of unity, duty and destiny; you will be able to live the life you want, freed from the chains of conscience and remorse. If you want something, you will take it without regrets; if you simply wish to go wild, to give vent to those impulses that you’ve always been told to fear and repress, you will do so without the regard for the lives of others slowing you down.”

 

Takanuva was feeling sick. It wasn’t just the words of the other Toa; what truly horrified him was that the being saying those words was Takanuva himself.

 

How can this be me? How can I be saying this? Could this truly be the way I feel? But it isn’t!

 

“You see it, brother, I know you do. I’m not a monster, I’m not an alien. I’m you. This is you speaking.”

 

“No!” yelled Takanuva. He was weak, tired and at his foe’s mercy; yet suddenly there was no stopping the words. “No, that is not who I am! Friendship, conscience, duty… they’re not chains. They… they’re a part of me. And… and they must have been a part of you, too. How can you have forgotten? You were a Toa of Light once, a hero. How can you go against all that you were?”

 

The smile on the Shadow Takanuva’s face vanished. He stepped closer, until the two of them were mask to mask.

 

“A hero?” hissed the Toa of Shadow. “You speak that word as if it were something to be proud of. How long have you been a Toa? A couple of months? What do you know about being a hero?”

 

Without warning, he backhanded Takanuva, knocking him to the ground.

 

“For tens of thousands of years I wore that mantle. I devoted myself utterly and completely to my so-called duty. To be a better protector for the Matoran, I refined my abilities, gained a mastery over my power greater than that of any ordinary Toa. And what was my reward? A celebration now and then? The respect of foolish Matoran, who adore anyone who just happens to make their lives a little less miserable?”

 

His voice was getting louder and his eyes were burning with anger.

 

“Their demands kept piling up. They always wanted more. And because of my duty, I was compelled to satisfy them. I had become powerful; I could have exploited that power to rule, to bring about my own tenets and lead my life the way I truly wished. But I never did. You ask me why I stopped being a hero? I wonder why I didn’t do so sooner. I remember those days, and yet no matter how much I try I can’t figure out why I didn’t realize the truth earlier, why it finally took a shadow leech to make me see.”

 

He smiled cruelly.

 

“Tridax took me by surprise. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have had the time to regret his mistake. But he was lucky and so was I. When I awoke in Destral’s vault, I could see things clearly for the first time. All the wrongs that had been done to me had been laid bare; and, at last, I was conscious of my true power. I know my real destiny now. The Makuta think they can control me, but I am more powerful than they are. When the time comes, I will rise up and our brothers will join me. Together, we will destroy the Makuta and anyone else standing in our way. We will seize the island of Mata Nui and make it into our own realm: our power and authority will be absolute. In time, we could even extend our empire to our own original universes. And throughout it all, you, Takanuva, will be at my side.”

 

“Never!”

 

The Shadow Takanuva shrugged.

 

“Once a shadow leech comes for you, you might feel differently about that. But just in case you don’t…”

 

And suddenly the darkness was once again surrounding him, swallowing him, squeezing the life out of him.

 

“I will deliver all that I have promised, brother,” echoed the voice of Takanuva’s twin. “But I am more powerful than the rest of you, so the ultimate authority will be mine and mine alone. Hopefully you’ll be smart enough to accept that. This is a taste of what is in store for you if you don’t.”

 

Takanuva couldn’t breathe; the darkness was torturing him, snuffing him out. The pain was excruciating, blotting out every though but one: the desperate need to… somehow… get away.

 

And suddenly he was standing on the other side of the chamber, outside the black mass that had been enveloping him an instant before. His duplicate whirled to face him, but Takanuva was already gone, dashing down the corridor leading to the observation platform.

 

There was no real rational thought guiding his actions. It was fear that drove him on, the fear that, like a true Toa, he had until then managed to control. But now his courage had been swept away: faced with the shadows that had claimed his duplicate, plagued by the dread of sharing the same fate and confronted by a power infinitely beyond his own, he had broken. Running away was all he

could think of now.

 

And, for some reason, his powers were responding to that. He had in the past toyed with the idea of using his power to achieve greater speed, but he had never managed to put the notion into effect. Now, though, he was moving as fast as Toa Pohatu using his Kanohi Kakama, or perhaps even faster. In the blink of an eye, he left the corridor behind; he rushed through the hall that followed, saw the Matoran gathered there, approached Turaga Dume’s box… a bolt of shadow struck him, sending him skidding across the floor. He crashed against the observation platform’s outer parapet and lay there, dazed. He was aware of the Matoran scrambling around him, but all his attention was fixed on the corridor he had cleared moments before.

 

The Shadow Takanuva stepped through the doorway; majestically, relentlessly, he advanced towards him. Shadow flowed from his body, building up in his wake into a swirling, billowing mass of darkness. As he crossed the hall, that darkness spread out, swallowing the Matoran, covering everything; by the time his twin came to stand before him, the Toa of Light could see nothing behind him but blackness.

 

“You surprised me,” said the Toa of Shadow as Takanuva painfully pushed himself up. “Superspeed was not an ability I thought you’d be able to access; terror is an amazing thing.”

 

He held up a hand.

 

“A pity, though, that your newfound power does not allow you to fly.”

 

And he fired a bolt of shadow. The Toa of Light saw it strike him, felt his body being blasted outwards; and then he was falling through the air, with nothing to grab onto, no way to save himself. And then he struck the ground. His legs snapped upon impact; as he collapsed onto the arena floor, Takanuva screamed.

 

Amidst the pain, he heard the sound of someone landing close to him and knew that the Shadow Takanuva had followed him down. But there was another figure, green, insectoid and four-armed, looming above him now. Instantly, he knew her for a Makuta.

 

“Stay back,” he heard Gorast say. “The Toa of Light is mine.”

 

“He is my opponent,” replied the Shadow Takanuva.

 

“Not anymore. His light is mine to drain. Do not defy me, Toa.”

 

There was a moment of hesitation. And then the Shadow Takanuva said:

 

“So be it.”

 

“No!” groaned Takanuva.

 

Without even a conscious thought on his part, the Kanohi Avohkii gave off the brightest flash it could muster. The sudden light blinded his opponents and Takanuva rolled, crawled, anything to get away from them. But he didn’t get far: Gorast pinned him to the arena floor with her magnetic powers. Powerless, Takanuva watched her stride forward, stinger already raised high.

 

-----

 

The shadows surrounding Kapura suddenly started retreating. Within moments, they had vanished completely. The Ta-Matoran picked himself up, breathing heavily. When the blackness had enveloped him, cutting him off from every light and every sound, he had truly thought it to be the end.

 

Other Matoran were getting up as well, as incredulous to be still alive as he was. Kapura turned towards the rim of the observation platform and saw the Shadow Takanuva that had caused all this step into the air and start descending towards the floor of the arena.

 

He was about to step towards the platform’s parapet when he heard a few Matoran behind him cry out in surprise. He turned to see Toa Krakua advancing towards him. The Toa of Sonics seemed barely able to stand and he was having to prop himself up with his sword as he dragged himself across the hall. Kapura stepped forward, allowing Krakua to lean on him. Together, Toa and Matoran made their way into Turaga Dume's box.

 

“I have… to see,” groaned Krakua.

 

They reached the parapet and looked down. It was on the dreaded figure of Makuta Gorast that Kapura’s eyes fixed: she was standing on the arena floor with the Shadow Takanuva, watching as Takanuva desperately tried to drag himself away. But he didn’t stand a chance: it took just a simple gesture on Gorast’s part for his body to freeze. Then the Makuta advanced on him.

 

“The Mask of Time!” Krakua suddenly shouted, whirling towards Kapura. “Give it to me, now!”

 

-----

 

Gorast took a step forward. There was nothing Takanuva could do to stop her. She lifted her foot again… but she never put it down.

Takanuva blinked. The Makuta was slowing down, her motion was becoming barely perceptible. And she wasn’t alone: all over the arena, everything was coming to a halt. The Shadow Takanuva was standing completely still and his other twins, scattered across the arena, were also motionless.

 

It was then that he glimpsed the time waves: they were flowing all around him, distorting time, slowing it down. And yet, somehow, he wasn’t being affected. Or was he?

 

Yes, he realized. It’s not their time slowing down. It’s mine. My time is speeding up.

 

He tried to prop himself up, but he couldn’t. Though Gorast’s time was now slower than his, her magnetic powers were still working and for all his efforts, he couldn’t break free. Takanuva wanted to scream in frustration: something was giving him one last chance and he wouldn’t be able to take advantage of it. He spun his head around, frantically searching for something, anything, that might help him.

 

And then he saw it. Lying on the ground, a short distance away, was a colorless, indistinct mass, something that didn’t seem to have a shape of its own; the moment that realization went through it, he knew it for what it was.

 

“Krahka…”

 

And suddenly his fear was gone, replaced by sheer determination. He would not give up. He owed it to her: she had saved him, put her life on the line when he had asked it of her and died fighting, not for her people, but for his. Now, somehow, he would find a way to do her justice.

 

There was no way he could fight. His legs were still broken and only his willpower was keeping the excruciating pain at bay. He looked up, towards Turaga Dume’s box. The time waves were coming from there, from the Mask of Time upon Krakua’s face. The moment he saw him, he realized that he could expect no more help from him: he was as frozen as the others and, besides, Takanuva knew he wouldn’t be able to maintain the Vahi’s power for long.

 

Suddenly, for a moment, he thought he saw movement. There was a red figure standing next to Krakua and, though he was slow compared to Takanuva, somehow that made him faster.

 

Kapura, old friend: it was you, wasn’t it? The Vahi was the secret you were carrying. Traveling great distances by moving very slowly… I never really took you seriously before.

 

But Takanuva knew that even Kapura’s strange abilities would not be able to help him here and, besides, he couldn’t expect a Ta-Matoran to face a Makuta on his behalf. He had to do this alone.

 

Or am I alone?

 

He stared at the frozen Shadow Takanuva. The words he had uttered just minutes before had shown the Toa of Light how deep into darkness his duplicate had fallen. And yet, those words had also confirmed that, before being attacked by a shadow leech, the alternate Takanuva had himself been a Toa of Light, a hero. Was that Toa now truly lost forever?

 

The Kanohi Avohkii on Takanuva’s face glowed brightly as the Toa of Light called upon its power. Like when he had used it on Krakua, he willed in to delve into his duplicate, to find out whether any sliver of light remained within his soul.

 

At first, he saw nothing. He concentrated, trying to go deeper. He remembered well the battle that had raged within Krakua; even in the soul of one who so firmly rejected the shadows, darkness and light had been locked in perpetual conflict, their indecipherable movements shaping the emotions and the very essence of the Toa of Sonics. Yet he could find nothing similar here: not even a glimmer of light was fighting the darkness that so utterly pervaded his twin; and there was a barrier around his consciousness, an impenetrable wall preventing all light from entering. There was no way he could break through it.

 

Yet he had to find one. He could see the distortions created by the Vahi weakening. He had been given more time, but now that time was almost up.

 

Was there truly nothing that remained of the person his duplicate had once been? The words his twin had spoken suddenly came back to him:

 

I remember those days, and yet no matter how much I try I can’t figure out why I didn’t realize the truth earlier, why it finally took a shadow leech to make me see.

 

Takanuva was sure that his duplicate must have had a good reason not to turn to the darkness sooner. This could only mean that, somehow, his recollections of the past had lost their potency. Could the key lie there?

 

The memories were at the very bottom of the Shadow Takanuva’s consciousness. The Kanohi Avohkii wouldn’t let him see their content, but he could feel that each one had some emotion attached to it, that each experience had in some way altered the balance of light and darkness within his duplicate’s soul.

 

Of course. Light and darkness aren’t absolutes; none of us is forever bound to one or the other. Our experiences, our choices, they are what determines our path, they make us who we are.

 

He could see it clearly. Light and darkness were built upon the memories; and there was no way that only darkness could lie upon a foundation of millennia of honor, wisdom, kindness and heroism. The creatures of the Makuta had sucked out the light and thrown up a barrier to stop it from returning; but that wall, no matter how strong, did not have solid foundations.

 

The power of the Toa of Light flowed into the memories. Some were unknown to him, the recollections of a long, incredible life that Takanuva had not yet lived and perhaps never would; but others were familiar, for they were identical to his own.

 

There was darkness within them: his twin hadn’t lied, the shadows in his soul had truly come from within; and that meant, Takanuva acknowledged that now, that those same shadows lived inside his own soul.

 

But there was light as well, so much light. And when Takanuva unleashed his power, that light grew stronger; it broke through the layers of corruption that the shadow leeches had surrounded it with and attacked the unnatural wall that the creatures had built around the alternate Takanuva’s consciousness, undermining it, severing its weak foundations. Eventually, it just couldn’t hold.

 

The power of the Kanohi Vahi faded away. In the observation platform above the arena, Krakua collapsed, exhausted. Takanuva’s time slowed down again and Gorast started advancing towards him once more.

 

But it didn’t matter. For the armor of the Toa standing behind her was no longer jet-black, but shining white and gold. And when Gorast, perceiving the danger, whirled around to face him, brilliant, blinding light exploded out of him.

 

-----

 

Vakama made his way across the bridge leading to the Coliseum. He knew he wasn’t moving fast enough and once again cursed his weak Turaga form. Had he still been a Toa, lean and powerful, he would have been over the bridge by now.

 

His eyes fixed upon the tall structure looming above him. It was there that, a thousand years before, he had lost everything; all the power that command over the Visorak Horde had granted him, all given up because of Matau’s idiotic words. All that had happened later, including the final, pointless, stupid sacrifice of his Toa power, had derived from that moment.

 

Now, in the same place, I’m going to get my power back.

 

He was well aware of what might happen if the Kanohi Vahi were to be shattered. It didn’t matter. There was no other way for him to regain what he had lost and, as long as he reached his objective, the universe could go up in flames for all he cared.

 

Finally, he reached the end of the bridge and gazed upon the battlefield that lay in front of the Coliseum’s gates. There were a couple of wounded Shadow Takanuva there, but they wouldn’t see him, concealed as he was by the power of his Kanohi Huna. He stepped towards the gates.

 

And then he saw the light. It was incredibly pure and bright and it was radiating out of every opening of the Coliseum and yes, even from the solid walls, somehow. Fear suddenly clutched his heart.

 

The two Toa of Shadow scrambled back, crying out in pain as the radiance grew stronger and washed upon their bodies. But then, abruptly, their screams ceased, and before Vakama’s startled eyes their armor changed color, becoming white and gold, just like Takanuva’s.

 

The two Toa gazed upon their bodies, astonished. But their surprise lasted only a moment; then, simultaneously, they added their own power to the brightness.

 

There was no way to escape it. The world went white as the brilliance enveloped Vakama. He writhed in sheer agony, as he felt rays of light penetrate his body and drill into his mind. And then, all of a sudden, he found that he could remember it all. He saw himself back on top of the Coliseum’s spire, watching Matau fall to his doom, and knew that even if he could have gone back, he would have saved him all over again, just as he would have given up all his Toa power to reawaken the Matoran.

 

He was no longer a Turaga of Shadow. The shadow leech had brought back the same evil that he had allowed, one thousand years before, to dominate him, but now the corruption had been washed away; he was what he would always be, the Turaga of Fire.

 

He was still surrounded by a white, blazing illumination, yet for some reason his vision was as clear as ever. Eyes open in wonder, he watched as the light spread outwards, growing ever brighter.

 

-----

 

Antroz stood on the stairs that had once led down to the control room of Destral’s weapons, inspecting the damage. In truth, there wasn’t much to see, for the bomb of the Order of Mata Nui had been incredibly powerful: the chamber’s ceiling had collapsed, burying everything under tons of rock; nothing remained of the consoles.

 

He turned around and started heading back upwards. The Exo-Toa that he was inhabiting moved swiftly enough, but it remained a poor substitute for his original armor. True, it would keep his essence from dissipating, but his freedom of movement was considerably limited, as was his power and combat ability.

 

For the moment, though, there is nothing that can be done about it. It’ll have to do.

 

As he climbed, his thoughts turned back to the control room. It had been his idea, a few centuries ago, to automatize Destral’s artillery and link it all to the chamber’s consoles: by decreasing the number of sentient servants involved in the Brotherhood's military operations, efficiency would have increased and the risk of enemy infiltration reduced. The one weak point of the strategy had been the control room itself, of course, but its location had been a closely guarded secret and the security measures installed to protect it should have rendered it impregnable; and yet, somehow, the two Order agents had managed to avoid or disable every guard, trap and surveillance system. Now Antroz was facing the real possibility of being called to answer for what had happened.

 

That was his real worry. He wasn’t concerned about the state of Destral’s artillery: all the cannons remained intact and, even though the control systems had been destroyed, with a few minor modifications they could be made to work again. But the security breach, along with the loss of his armor, would nevertheless deal a severe blow to his prestige within the Brotherhood, while Icarax, fresh from his triumph over the Order forces, would be more powerful than ever; it was the perfect occasion for the new Brotherhood leader to rid himself of a potentially troublesome rival.

 

For now, there’s no choice but to be as obsequious as possible. But I’ll have to start thinking about overthrowing him. He may have won this battle, but he almost led us to disaster. That order not to teleport to the island above so as to defeat the enemy on the field… sheer madness. He can’t be…

 

A sudden mental communication broke through his thoughts. It was coming from one of few Rahkshi still stationed on Destral. Before Antroz could decipher its content, a series of telepathic alarms followed, each one stronger than the last. The Makuta stopped climbing. All over Destral, Rahkshi were sending out frantic signals of fear and pain; he actually had to struggle to form a mental link with them. But he finally saw through their eyes, the sight froze him to the spot.

 

The city of Metru Nui was blazing with light. It wasn’t the daylight, which since the Great Spirit’s death had become pale and weak, nor did it come from lightstones or torches. No, this was light in its purest form, impossibly white and bright and growing stronger by the second. It had completely enveloped the city and was lighting up the whole dome. Antroz saw it wash upon Destral, dispelling the shadows of the Brotherhood. All over the fortress, Kraata and Rahkshi were perishing.

 

There was only one being who could be responsible for what was happening: the Toa of Light. But no Toa could possibly have enough power to do this on his own…

 

And then at last the truth became clear. Fear clutched Antroz’s heart; he could tell that this was no ordinary manifestation of elemental power: the Toa, the same Toa that the Brotherhood in its foolishness had brought to Metru Nui, were putting everything they had into this attack. And he knew that nothing and no one would be able to withstand it.

 

There was only one chance. He remembered Tridax telling him, shortly before leaving for Metru Nui, about the mutated Kraata parasites that he had implanted into his corrupted Toa to ensure their obedience. Frantically, he reached out, seeking out the creatures’ mental signature. He could feel them, but the light was interfering with his powers and the telepathic link was vanishing. There was no time to waste. Antroz sent out his order, commanding the parasites to immediately slay their hosts. With the alternate Takanuva dead, the light would fade away.

 

But nothing happened. The radiance kept growing stronger. The island was now shaking violently as the light washed over it and infiltrated it, shining through every door, window, corridor and even penetrating solid rock, seeking to scour every space clean of the darkness that pervaded it. But evil and corruption had festered on Destral for tens of thousands of years; the shadows of the Makuta had seeped into the rock itself and perverted the island’s very foundation; to purify it was beyond even the power of dozens of Toa of Light. And so, in the end, there was only one way for the Brotherhood’s evil to be vanquished.

 

The light had already enveloped the fortress. Now it started to press down upon it like a solid object. Towers crumbled, walls and buildings were flattened and turned to dust. Beams of light seared through the rock and where they passed, cracks began to appear. And finally, it was too much; the great base of the Brotherhood, which had traveled from ocean to ocean at the bidding of its dark masters, had finally reached its resting place: weighed down by the power of light, it shattered, and its pieces tumbled into the waters, and Destral, island of the Makuta, was claimed by the sea and never rose again.

 

-----

 

And still the light spread on, inexorably. Nothing could stand in its way. Metru Nui was ablaze, the radiance reaching down even into the Archives’ deepest tunnels, washing away the evil of the Makuta and the corruption of the shadow leeches.

And now it had reached the borders of the Metru Nui dome and seeped into the maze of passages and tunnels carved within its walls. The Brotherhood’s army, that moments before had been standing on the brink of victory, melted away, the Rahkshi consumed, the Visorak, Exo-Toa and Rahi stopped in their tracks, freed from the control of the Makuta. To the exhausted agents of the Order of Mata Nui, the light brought peace and relief: weapons fell from their hands as they saw their enemy vanquished before their eyes and reveled in the miracle that had occurred.

 

The Makuta were trapped. The light had them in its grasp and all their power was useless against it. Many tried to teleport to the island above, but it was not to be, for their minds had been paralyzed and no aggressive thought or intent was possible. And so they were forced to retreat, to flee back to the dying universe. As they teleported away, the brilliance finally reached its apex and Metru Nui was illuminated by the light of a thousand suns.

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:32 AM.

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#19 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Nov 17 2017 - 09:36 PM

EIGHTEEN

 

Takanuva opened his eyes. For a few seconds that was all he could do, as he struggled to understand what he was seeing. The memory of the light that he and his twins had unleashed was still so real, so vivid. One by one, the other Toa of Light had added their power to his own, allowing him to send the brilliance beyond the Coliseum to wash over the whole city and the sea that surrounded it. As the radiance expanded, his mind had done the same, racing outwards with the light, shaping it, controlling it, feeling the minds it touched and shattering the walls of darkness that the shadow leeches had built around them. He had seen every place the light had reached and every person it had shone upon: he had been everywhere.

 

Now, though, Takanuva could once more feel his own body and, as he watched, the light began to recede, revealing once more the floor and the walls of the Coliseum arena. Without thinking, the Toa of Light stood up to inspect his surroundings.

 

Only then did he realize that he could stand: his legs, broken by the fall from the observation platform, were whole and working again; the pain had all but vanished. And there was something wrapped around his ankle…

 

He looked down. There was a hand clutching his leg and power, Toa power, was flowing from it into his body, healing the many wounds he had suffered, banishing pain and exhaustion; and the hand belonged to a white and gold Toa whose appearance mirrored his own and who was lying upon the arena floor, almost motionless.

 

The other Takanuva felt his stare and turned to look at him; a weak smile appeared on his face.

 

“Least I could do, brother.”

 

That was when Takanuva noticed that color was draining away from his twin’s body, which minutes before had been shining so brightly, and each flash of his heartlight was weaker than the last.

 

“No!” he gasped. A quick look around the arena revealed his other duplicates, all slumped onto the ground. “No, why? Why is this happening?”

 

“The Makuta were never going to allow us to get away,” the other Takanuva told him weakly. “There was a creature, implanted within each of our bodies, which was meant to slay us should we ever try to rebel. It… it would seem that it succeeded.”

 

Takanuva stared at him, speechless. The certainty in his duplicate’s voice, in his own voice, was unmistakable: there truly was nothing that could be done for him.

 

Is this really how it ends? Did I save them, only to condemn them to death?

 

“Don’t,” said his twin. “Don’t feel guilty. The moment I shared my power with you, I knew what the consequences might be. I think… I think the others did too. But we all did it regardless. And I am proud that with my last act I was able to save so many; just as I’m grateful that you gave me that chance. Thanks to you, I will die as a Toa of Light… not as a creature of shadow.”

 

In the background, Takanuva heard the sound of the observation platform descending, but he kept his eyes fixed on his dying twin, unable to tear them away.

 

“There is… one last gift I can give you, brother. Come… closer.”

 

Takanuva leaned over his twin and as he did, he felt the other’s mind touch his. A mental link was forming between them, like the one that Takanuva had once shared with Toa Gali; but, somehow, this connection was even stronger. It felt as if their two minds, so similar to each other, were actually merging; for a moment, Takanuva experienced his twin’s memories and emotions as if they were his own.

 

It was over as quickly as it had begun. But though the link had been broken, something had been left behind. If Takanuva concentrated, he could still see flashes of what his duplicate’s life had been. And that was not all: there were notions in his mind that had not been there before, ways to use the power of light that he would never have thought of, let alone been able to put into practice; and yet that knowledge was now a part of him.

 

“I… do not give this gift… lightly,” whispered the other Takanuva. “Those abilities… they will make you far more powerful than you are now. It should have taken you… thousands of years… to learn them, as it took me. But the Makuta are not yet defeated… and when they come back, you’ll have to be ready. And after all that you’ve done… I know… that you will use this knowledge wisely.”

 

He shuddered, then seemed to find one last ounce of strength.

 

“Give my regards… to your friend, the Toa of Sonics. I am glad to have known you both. And once again… I thank you for what you have done for me… and for the rest of us. I am proud… that in this world… you are the person I became. Goodbye… my brother.”

 

He lifted his fist towards Takanuva. Wordlessly, the Toa of Light clanked it with his own. Then his duplicate fell limp onto the ground and his heartlight stopped flashing and he was no more.

 

-----

 

The water: that was the first thing she felt. There was water close by, a great body of liquid protodermis. Then came the sounds: she could hear people moving and talking, with voices that were familiar to her.

 

She was quickly regaining full consciousness, but she didn’t immediately open her eyes. Instead, she focused on the sounds: yes, the people talking were definitely Order agents. Judging from their calm, unhurried voices, there didn’t seem to be any immediate danger. She could hear the occasional moan of pain, but the noise of battle was completely absent.

 

She concentrated on her body now. She was lying down, stretched on some kind of makeshift bed. There was no pain, but she felt rather sore and she could barely feel her limbs. She wasn’t sure her muscles would respond if she tried to move, but at least the waters were close by: at any time, she could call them to her aid.

 

Helryx opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was that she was lying out in the open: high above, she could see a pale grey sky, lit by that weak, diffuse daylight that had come to illuminate the lands of the universe after the Great Spirit’s death.

 

She glanced sideways. A few Order agents were standing a short distance away, but the majority were lying down upon improvised pallets, just like her. They all sported injuries of some sort, though none seemed life-threatening: Helryx guessed that the seriously wounded had been placed elsewhere. To her surprise, she noticed Matoran from all tribes moving among the beds, occasionally speaking to one of the injured.

 

She glanced at her own body. Sections of her armor were scorched and mangled, while others had been removed to reveal the organic tissue underneath. If Helryx was any judge, her body had already been administered a dose of healing power from one of the agents equipped with such an ability.

 

At that moment, one of the Order agents nearby noticed her.

 

“Toa Helryx. You’re awake!”

 

Helryx nodded as her subordinate waved to someone outside her field of vision. A few moments later, Trinuma came striding up towards her. While he looked very tired, he had received no wounds she could spot.

 

She fixed her eyes upon him. While she still wasn’t sure about her body’s condition, the initial sluggishness of her thoughts had vanished and her mind was as sharp as ever.

 

“Report.”

 

“The Brotherhood’s army has been destroyed. For the moment, the tunnels to the island above are under our control.”

 

“The Makuta?”

 

“We think they mostly managed to escape. The island of Destral is gone, too.”

 

“What exactly happened?”

 

“The Brotherhood’s defeat was not of our doing. When the messenger came to us with your order to counterattack, we obeyed, but even though you took down Makuta Bitil, our offensive lasted only a short time. We were pushed back into the caves. From there on, we were only able to slow down the Brotherhood’s advance, never stop it. I’d say we were on the verge of defeat when the light came.”

 

Helryx glanced at him, puzzled. The word had struck a chord within her, as if it had triggered a half-remembered memory.

 

“It was… brighter than anything I’ve ever seen, yet it did not hurt my eyes. It shone through the solid rock and when it touched us, it gave us an incredible sense of hope. But our enemies were far more affected. The Rahkshi died on the spot, while the Exo-Toa were frozen still. The Visorak and the infected Rahi survived, but when the light subsided they scattered and fled.”

 

Yes, what Trinuma was saying definitely sounded familiar. She had been unconscious during all this, but could she have nevertheless perceived the light? Was this why she seemed to remember it?

 

“Do you know where this light came from?”

 

“From Metru Nui, we think.”

 

Helryx’s eyes narrowed.

 

“The Toa of Light?”

 

“That was my guess as well, though how he could have unleashed so much power, I have no idea. All this happened about three hours ago. Krakua has not yet reported in. I’ve sent a couple of agents to the city, but we’ve yet to hear from them.”

 

“And what about our own losses?”

 

Trinuma grimaced. That was all Helryx needed to know that the news were going to be bad indeed.

 

“The Maxilos robots took the brunt of the Brotherhood attacks. We think we lost… about two thirds of our force. As for our operatives, many are still unaccounted for and we haven’t yet recovered all the bodies. There are also some severely wounded agents that might or might not pull through. But from our initial estimates, at least half of those who fought here have perished.”

 

Helryx’s face betrayed no emotion as she absorbed the news. She wasn’t particularly surprised: when she had committed the Order to the confrontation, she had been aware that the organization was likely to suffer terrible casualties. Still, if Trinuma was right, it meant that, in the first open battle of their history, they had lost thousands of robots and more than one hundred agents out of the few hundred that made up the Order. It was a disastrous loss.

 

True, many of their operatives were still on Daxia, along with most of their weapons and their entire fleet. Nevertheless, should another battle come, and Helryx was sure that there would be no shortage of those, they would be hard pressed just to survive.

 

“Have you heard from Daxia?” she asked. “Are the rest of our people gathered there, now?”

 

“I don’t know. Makuta Bitil killed our messenger from Botar’s species and Botar himself is probably still incapacitated on Daxia. As for Brutaka, he is grievously wounded. We still don’t know if he’s going to live. We couldn’t risk taking his mask off, either, and besides, as you know, the Olmak is damaged; I doubt someone without Brutaka’s experience could make use of it successfully.”

 

Helryx nodded grimly, stifling the urge to curse out loud. The situation was looking bleaker every minute.

 

“What about these Matoran?” she asked, inclining her head towards a group of villagers who were now standing nearby, looking at them curiously. “Who are they?”

 

“They are from Metru Nui. Apparently, they were already in the tunnels when we arrived, though they were too far up for us to notice. After the battle, they came down and offered their help. There… didn’t seem any point in secrecy. I revealed our identity to their two Turaga. They asked to speak to you once you’d recovered.”

 

“You did well,” Helryx assured him. “One last thing. What is my own condition?”

 

“They’ve told me you’ll make a full recovery. You suffered serious wounds: you’ll need several more doses of healing power and your body will have to be partially rebuilt. But there should be no permanent damage.”

 

The Toa of Water couldn’t quite help the relief she felt at the last statement. Throughout the millennia, she had prided herself on always keeping her body in peak condition, ready for the day when she would have to fight once more. It would have been difficult to cope with a crippling injury.

 

“Very well. Keep overseeing the situation and inform me if anything changes. Now send me the two Turaga.”

 

Trinuma nodded and left. A few moments later, two elders, a Turaga of Stone and a Turaga of Air, walked up to Helryx’s bedside.

 

“Turaga Onewa, Turaga Matau,” said Helryx. “I’m pleased to meet you.”

 

“As are we, Toa Helryx,” said Onewa. “It seems we owe you a great debt. Had it not been for your Order, the Makuta would be on Mata Nui by now. We can only express to you all our gratitude for stopping them.”

 

“I see some of your Matoran are assisting our wounded. Have the rest reached Mata Nui?”

 

Onewa and Matau exchanged a puzzled glance. Then Onewa turned back to her:

 

“No. After the battle, we were forced to lead them all back down. This is what we wished to talk to you about. Mata Nui has been invaded by robotic creatures called Bohrok. We…”

 

“The Bohrok are still active?” interrupted Helryx.

 

Onewa’s eyes narrowed.

 

“Then you do know of them. Your subordinate, Trinuma, implied the same. Did you know that they would be on Mata Nui?”

 

Helryx could see where this was going. There was no way around it, she would have to tell the two Turaga the truth.

 

“I wasn’t sure how they would react to the death of the Great Spirit, but yes, I knew of them. They’ve been active for some time now. They are doing what they were meant to do. I know this will surprise you, but the Bohrok were never evil creatures. By cleansing the island of Mata Nui, they were following the will of the Great Spirit.”

 

Neither of the Turaga managed to disguise their shock. Matau seemed especially troubled.

 

“The many-swarms wreck-burned my village and Krana-masked my villagers. They would have destroyed everything we had labor-built. And now you say-claim…?”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Helryx cut him off. “There will be time to discuss the history of the Bohrok later. Now, they must be stopped. The island of Mata Nui is our only hope for survival. As long as the Bohrok are active, they’re a threat to all those seeking to escape the universe’s destruction.”

 

Onewa and Matau exchanged another uncertain glance.

 

“On that we agree,” said then the Turaga of Stone. “I assume you’re aware that to achieve this you will need to strike at the two Bahrag queens that command the swarms.”

 

“Eventually, my agents will see to it, but not right away. We’re all still recovering from the battle. And I want to get in touch with your fellow Turaga in Metru Nui.”

 

Onewa was now eyeing her warily.

 

“That is our wish as well. I hope you will inform us once your agents report back from the city.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Then… I think there’s nothing more to be said until they return. If you will excuse us, we must confer with our villagers. May the Great Beings watch over you, Toa Helryx.”

 

-----

 

It was dusk when they finally came for him. The hours had gone by, yet the worry and fear tormenting Axonn had never ebbed. Aware that there was nothing he could do, he had tried to keep busy, collecting the bodies, tending to the wounded, setting up a camp, sorting through the technology left behind by the Brotherhood… anything to keep his mind off what was happening in the small cave at the base of the Great Barrier. Yet he never seemed to stray far from it and time and time again he would find himself glancing at it, checking whether someone had emerged.

 

During the battle, Axonn had done his part. When the Makuta had been blasted down from the sky, he had been one of the first onto the beach and one of the masters of shadow had fallen to his axe. After Destral’s bombardment, he had retreated into the main tunnel. The Brotherhood had launched assault after assault, but the Order had put up a fierce fight. And on the frontline the two of them had stood: Axonn and Brutaka, fighting side by side as in the old days, perfectly synchronized, invincible. When the counteroffensive had begun, their combined might had opened the way back down to the beach. They had waded deep into the enemy lines and it had been Axonn who had plucked Helryx from the beach after her victory over Makuta Bitil.

 

It had been then that he had lost sight of Brutaka. Forced to retreat into a small side tunnel, isolated from most of the Order troops, he had led the resistance of a small contingent for the rest of the battle. He had been wounded, but not seriously. After the light had vanquished their foes, he had led his remaining forces back to the beach. And then the news had reached him: Brutaka had received a terrible wound facing Makuta Icarax; he was near death and there was a strong chance he might not survive.

 

Within the Order, there were no full-time healers, but every agent had received substantial medical training and some members were specialized on the subject. Brutaka had been entrusted to them and recovered in the infirmary that they had set up for the critically wounded in a small cave. For hours, the healers had labored to save his life.

 

Now the daylight was starting to wane. There was little more to do for the day. Most Order members were crowded around the central fire: after hours of wait, Toa Krakua had finally arrived and was even now recounting the events that had transpired in Metru Nui. But Axonn himself sat next to the cave mouth, axe propped against the rock wall, waiting and hoping against hope.

 

Then, at last, one of the healers emerged and found him there.

 

“He’s alive,” he said, but without smiling. “We managed to save him.”

 

“Is he awake?” asked Axonn breathlessly.

 

“Yes, but don’t keep him for too long.”

 

Axonn was about to barge into the cave when the healer spoke again:

 

“Axonn… his wound…”

 

But then he shook his head.

 

“He will tell you himself.”

 

Axonn stepped into the cave, lit by several bright torches. Most of the patients had been moved out by now, but Brutaka was still there, flanked by two more healers. He was lying on a bed, breathing deeply through his apparatus, his eyes wide and unfocused; though his face was partially concealed by his helmet, Axonn could tell he was in shock. The sight unsettled him: Brutaka had always been strong and far too confident; what could possibly have affected him so?

 

For some reason, his friend had not noticed his entrance. It was only when Axonn called his name that Brutaka fixed his eyes upon him.

 

“Axonn!” he gasped. “Is that… is that you?”

 

“Of course. How are you?”

 

Brutaka didn’t answer, choosing instead to stare at the cave ceiling.

 

“Brutaka…”

 

“It’s over!” cried out Brutaka suddenly. “All over. I’m done, Axonn. Is this punishment for what I did? I thought I’d made up for it, that I’d redeemed myself.”

 

“You did,” answered Axonn, trying to make sense of what Brutaka was saying. “Your mask was vital. Without it, we would never have got here. The Makuta would have won. The universe owes you, my friend."

 

“Then why is this what I get?” shouted Brutaka. “Is this my reward? To lose my power… my strength… to become useless… a dead weight? Is this it, Axonn?”

 

“Brutaka…”

 

“I’m crippled, Axonn,” Brutaka told him desperately. “There’s nothing the healers can do. My spine is too damaged, there’s no healing power than can fix it. My legs are gone, Axonn. For the rest of my life, I will never… walk… again.”

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:34 AM.

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#20 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Dec 01 2017 - 06:55 PM

NINETEEN

 

It was in the early hours of the morning that Gar stepped through the cave mouth for the last time. For a minute or so, he just stood there, contemplating the daylight shining upon his surroundings. He still hadn’t got used to it: back in Mahri Nui, there had virtually no light to illuminate the black waters of the Pit. Gar, as an Onu-Matoran, had been more at ease than some in the darkness, but the sense of oppression and danger conveyed by the shadows had been unmistakable. It had thus been with wonder and rapture that he had first beheld the blazing sunlight shining upon Voya Nui, blinding though it had been; and even this pale, weaker daylight couldn’t help but amaze him.

 

He sighed. It was still difficult to accept just how much his life had changed. He certainly had not expecting anything like this when he had supported his friend Defilak’s expedition to explore the waters surrounding Mahri Nui. But after that, nothing had been the same again: the discovery of the Barraki, the arrival of the Kanohi Ignika and the coming of the Toa Mahri had shattered his old life and driven him from the only home he had ever known. At the time, they had all been hoping to find a new home on the surface and when the Matoran of Voya Nui had welcomed them and embraced them as long-lost friends, that dream had seemed to come true. But the death of the Great Spirit had snuffed out that hope: Gar and the other Matoran were now homeless again and this time there was no telling what the future had in store for them.

 

“Are you all right, Gar?”

 

The voice shook the Onu-Matoran out of his ponderings. He turned to see Idris standing just behind him.

 

“Yes, of course,” he said quickly, giving her a slightly forced smile. Over the last few days, he had spent a great deal of time in her company. They had barely known each other in Mahri Nui, but they had forged a strong bond when they had both taken part in Defilak’s expedition. Shortly after that, Idris had disappeared into the black waters of the Pit, only to reappear some time later, mutated into a water-breather; now, only a water-filled, helmet-like device allowed her to survive on dry land. The condition set her apart from the other Matoran, but Gar had not let it bother him: he felt comfortable in Idris’s company and her presence somehow made the challenges ahead appear less daunting.

 

“Come on, then. Garan wants us all at the border as soon as possible.”

 

Together, the two Matoran made their way along the rocky paths that led down to the old coastline, where Garan had set up a camp. The previous day had seen some of the Matoran hauling down from the caves the items that would be taken on their journey, while others had gone foraging for food and water; truth be told, they had found precious little of either, for Voya Nui had never been a particularly rich land and its return to the Southern Continent had swept away about anything useful.

 

We will have to do with what we have. Hopefully, we’ll manage to replenish our supplies on the road.

 

They were in sight of the camp now. Beyond it, Gar could see the border between Voya Nui and the Southern Continent, marked by broken slabs of rock and deep clefts in the land. It looked almost impassable, but a team of Matoran led by Balta and Piruk had been hard at work setting up rope and wood bridges to span the largest cracks. Hopefully, they would hold long enough for the Matoran to cross.

 

The rest of the Matoran were already here, making the last preparations. Gar also glimpsed several robotic Nektann moving through the camp: from what he had been told, the robots had been built by the evil Piraka, but after their defeat Velika and Axonn had reprogrammed those that were left to serve the Matoran. The Nektann would be coming with them on their journey: Garan and Defilak were under no illusions as to the dangers they might face, meaning that any additional protection was welcome.

 

Idris and Gar glimpsed Defilak standing nearby and walked up to him.

 

“We’ve checked the caves,” Gar told his friend. “There didn’t seem to be anything useful left.”

 

“Well-good. We should be about ready. No reason to long-wait any further.”

 

As the Matoran assembled at the edge of the camp, Garan stepped on a small boulder to speak. Though they had apparently known each other before the sinking of Mahri Nui, Gar held no recollection of Garan, but he could see why it had been he who had led the resistance against the Piraka. His intelligence and leadership were obvious and because of that it had fallen to him to persuade the other Matoran to embark upon this journey and oversee the preparations. The other members of the resistance had helped him, of course: their deeds had earned them profound respect from the other villagers and thus it had inevitably fallen to them to lead the efforts. But the Matoran from Mahri Nui had contributed too, Defilak most of all; Gar’s friend had always been resourceful, but in the past few days he had proven himself to be a true leader, completely worthy of the trust that the other Matoran, especially those from Mahri Nui, had placed in him.

 

“There isn’t much to say that I have not already said, so I will be brief,” had started speaking Garan. “Today we leave our home, never to return. It has not been an easy life here, but this is not a decision we take lightly. If we’re leaving, it’s because we have no choice. The destruction of the universe may soon be upon us and we must journey north if we are to survive.”

 

He paused for a moment.

 

“But we can do it, I know we can. We may meet challenges and dangers, but we will face them together. We’ve survived through cataclysms, famine and drought; even the Piraka did not break us. As long as we’re united, we can make it through this as well. And though today we’re leaving our home behind, one day we shall find a new home and there we will rebuild, I swear it.”

 

There was a moment of silence after Garan stopped speaking; then, almost simultaneously, the Matoran started clapping and Gar and Idris joined them. The Onu-Matoran was wise enough not to believe in false hopes and he knew that Garan’s speech would do nothing to diminish the challenges ahead, but it didn’t matter. The Matoran were not merely cheering; they were giving each other courage and hope and they were forging a bond, promising always to be there for one another. Of all their preparations, this was perhaps the most important.

 

The applause went on for a long time. Then the Matoran lifted their packs and turned to the north. When Garan and Defilak gave the signal they started walking, heading towards the first bridge, ready to cross the border and leave Voya Nui behind, ready at last to begin their journey.

 

-----

 

The ocean stretched out in every direction, all the way to the horizon. There was no land that Sentrakh could spot, only a vast expanse of water.

 

The seas of the universe Sentrakh came from couldn’t be more different, enclosed as they were by towering barriers and with land seldom out of sight. Here, the ocean seemed truly endless, with no shores where to make land in case of bad weather and no reference points to get one’s bearings. At night, strange, unfamiliar stars lit the sky, impossible to use for navigation, while during the day the sea was illuminated by a sun that was hotter and brighter than any celestial body of the universe below. The winds were strange, unpredictable and the storms terrible to behold. Even the water itself was different, colored blue rather than silver.

 

In such a situation, an ordinary sailor would have been unsettled, even frightened. But unease and fear were emotions that had no place in Sentrakh’s mind; no emotion did. The sole importance of the ocean’s peculiarities lay in how they might affect his steering, threaten his boat or else somehow prevent him from reaching his destination. He had no other concerns. All that mattered, all that had ever mattered, was his duty: fulfilling the orders of his master was and would always be the only reason for Sentrakh’s existence.

 

It had been at his master’s command that Sentrakh had traveled to the ocean that lay above the universe as he knew it. His assigned task had been to locate and either capture or kill the six Skakdi that had taken to calling themselves Piraka. About a month before, these six had dared to defect from the Dark Hunters and strike out on their own. Under the rules of the organization, such an action was punishable by death and the Dark Hunters never wasted any time in meting out their justice. An amphibious operative, Amphibax, had thus been immediately dispatched to shadow the Piraka and report their location.

 

Amphibax had followed the Piraka all the way to the ruined city of Metru Nui, watched them as they entered the lair of the Makuta of Metru Nui to loot it for weapons and finally followed them to the island that lay above Metru Nui, a land surrounded by a huge sea that the Dark Hunters had heard rumors of, but without ever managing to confirm its existence. There, something had gone wrong: one of the six traitors, Hakann, had detected Amphibax’s presence, but, rather than attacking him, he had revealed their plan to travel to the island of Voya Nui in search of the legendary Mask of Life. When they had left, Amphibax had followed, though not before sending a report back to the Dark Hunters. Upon reading it, the Shadowed One, leader of the organization, had decided that if the Kanohi Ignika truly existed, then the Dark Hunters had to seize it for themselves. Given his power and his absolute loyalty, Sentrakh had been the obvious choice for the mission.

 

The journey from Odina to Metru Nui had been easy and transporting his boat overland to the island above had not been difficult, either. But crossing the great ocean had proven a substantially more challenging task: the weather had been relatively benign, but Sentrakh’s compass, perfect for navigating the seas of underground universe, had proven far more erratic on the ocean above. And so, in the end, he had not reached his destination in time: three days before, Amphibax had unexpectedly rendezvoused with him to report that Voya Nui had sunk into the sea and disappeared and that there was no trace of the Piraka or the Mask of Life.

 

Incapable of emotionally-induced disbelief and confident that no Dark Hunter would dare lie to him, Sentrakh had believed Amphibax’s word and thus found himself in the situation of not knowing what to do. His targets were all out of his reach and he didn’t know what to make of the shift in existence that Amphibax had perceived, since he himself had felt nothing. Ultimately, he had decided that the only possible course of action was to return to Odina and he and Amphibax had thus begun the long journey back.

 

It was around midday when Amphibax suddenly surfaced.

 

“Something’s coming,” he said in his low, hissing voice. “Some kind of underwater transport. Very fast, and it’s coming up. They must have noticed us.”

 

There was no visible reaction on Sentrakh’s part as he listened: Amphibax’s news were certainly unexpected, but surprise and curiosity were not emotions he could feel. He had no interest in the nature of the transport or in the identity of its occupants. If they tried to attack him or stop him in any way, then he would destroy them; otherwise, he would simply ignore them and allow them to proceed on their way.

 

Or should he? True, returning to Odina was not a mission that necessarily required killing, but then again, it was Sentrakh’s duty to complete the journey as quickly as possible. If this submarine transport could move faster than his boat, it might be worth acquiring.

 

As Amphibax dived again to check on the incoming craft, Sentrakh began summoning his powers. It no longer mattered if the transport’s occupants had hostile intent. They had something he needed; and it was more than enough reason for them to die.

 

-----

 

“Almost there,” called Sarda from the cockpit. “We’ll be surfacing in moments.”

 

“Are we sure about this?” asked Lesovikk.

 

“We’ll just check them out,” said Nuparu. “Try to talk to them, see who they are and if they have information we can use. That’s all.”

 

When their sonar had picked up the boat traveling on the surface, on virtually their same course, the occupants of the living transport had been split over what to do. Nuparu had been for making contact, while Lesovikk had argued against it, warning that if the craft’s owners proved hostile, they might be sucked into a fight they neither wanted nor needed. Ultimately, the Toa of Earth’s advice had prevailed.

 

“Let’s get these air-breathing devices on,” said Hewkii.

 

“We shouldn’t all go out,” said Lesovikk. “Some of us must stay here, ready to man the transport’s weapons or act as backup, just in case.”

 

“You have a point,” said Nuparu. “Three of us should be enough. I’ll go.”

 

“I’ll come with you,” said Kongu.

 

“Me too,” added Hewkii.

 

Outside, the water was getting clearer and lighter. Then the giant Rahi broke the surface and sunlight shone through its eyes and into the inner compartment. The water surrounding the Toa began draining out.

 

“Be careful,” said Jaller softly as his three teammates assembled around the exit hatch. “I don’t want anymore…”

 

There was no need to complete the sentence. Sarda pressed a button on the control console and the hatch lifted open. The eyes of the Toa fell upon the boat floating just outside, equipped with a single mast and sail and with what looked like an engine mounted on the stern. A large, yellow-armored figure was standing on the deck, staring straight at them. Before they could utter a single word, the being waved a hand and the compartment was suddenly plunged into total darkness.

 

“What the…?” shouted Hewkii.

 

Jaller got to his feet and summoned his power, but even his flames would not pierce the shadows.  He summoned the power of his Mask of Sonar, but the living transport lurched violently, breaking his concentration. Loud shouts filled the air, accompanied by the sound of several violent impacts.

 

Then Jaller felt a powerful gust of wind and the darkness was suddenly dispelled, revealing Hewkii’s unconscious form sprawled on the compartment’s floor. Lesovikk was standing over him, sword pointed at the hatch. It had been his attack, Jaller realized, that had broken the power of the yellow being, blowing him away before he could board the transport; but there had been no way to avoid hitting Kongu and Nuparu as well.

 

They must have all been swept outside. I must…

 

And then his Kanohi Arthron detected movement, even as a shout echoed through the compartment. As one, Jaller and Lesovikk whirled towards the cockpit: a second, shorter but leaner being was standing there, bringing down a spiked whip onto Sarda. At the last moment, the Ta-Matoran dived out of the way and the weapon hit the console, sending a couple of sparks flying out.

 

Lesovikk charged, but he had underestimated the new foe’s speed. Amphibax dodged the first blow, then cracked his whip again and knocked Lesovikk back. Before the Toa of Air could react, his opponent swung his long claws at him and scored a gash in his armor. Lesovikk cried out in pain.

 

Jaller was about to go to his aid when he suddenly beheld the yellow being, standing once more in the hatchway. The Toa of Fire swung around, lifting his Cordak Blaster… and then everything went black and he tumbled to the ground, unconscious.

 

Sentrakh stepped into the transport. He had not had enough time to do any permanent damage to Jaller’s mind, but his mind wipe power had effectively taken the Toa of Fire out of the fight. Close to the cockpit, Lesovikk was still putting up a fight, but he was losing the duel with Amphibax and was in no condition to threaten Sentrakh as well. The Ta-Matoran was no danger. That left the Toa of Earth and the other Toa of Air: he had temporarily neutralized them by trapping them in an illusion, but he needed to finish them off for good. He turned back towards the hatch…

 

And then something struck him from behind with colossal force. Before Sentrakh could realize what was happening, he was propelled out of the hatch and into the open. He triggered his molecular transmutation abilities and landed upon a floating platform of wood, but Kongu was waiting for him. A Cordak rocket blasted the platform to shreds and a cyclone swept Sentrakh up into the air.

 

Inside the transport, Nuparu, still concealed by his Kanohi Volitak, placed himself between Amphibax and Lesovikk. He parried the Dark Hunter’s whip on his shield, then used his Aqua Blaster Blade again to blow his opponent back. Confronted by a nearly invisible and inaudible foe, Amphibax retreated towards the hatch. And then, at Nuparu’s side, Lesovikk rose again. For a moment, it seemed that he could barely stand, but then his Kanohi Faxon started glowing, as Lesovikk called upon its power to mimic the healing ability of their living transport. In the blink of an eye, most of the wounds he had suffered disappeared; a moment later, the Toa of Air crouched upon Hewkii and restored the Toa of Stone to consciousness.

 

Confronted with three Toa, Amphibax didn’t think twice and dived out of the transport and into the water, but Lesovikk wasn’t going to let him escape. He rushed towards his Sea Sled, which was lodged in a corner of the compartment, and mounted it. Before either Hewkii or Nuparu could say anything, the sled rose into the air and Lesovikk used a daring maneuver to pilot it out of the hatch; a moment later, he disappeared beneath the surface.

 

“I could use some help!”

 

The shout came from Kongu, who was floating in the water alongside Sentrakh’s boat. The Dark Hunter had managed to board it again and was now using Rhotuka spinners and illusions to keep the Toa of Air off balance.

 

“Mine,” Hewkii said simply, before triggering the power of the Mask of Gravity and pinning Sentrakh to his craft’s deck. Then the Toa of Stone flexed his legs, jumped over the divide and wrapped one of his chains around the yellow Dark Hunter. Before Sentrakh could react in any way, an electric current surged through his frame, too powerful even for him to withstand. It took several seconds, but finally the Dark Hunter collapsed, unconscious. Only then did Hewkii turn his chains off.

 

There was suddenly a splash just off the stern. Amphibax’s body came shooting out of the water and landed onto the deck a moment later. Lesovikk and his sled followed.

 

“Are they both out?” asked the Toa of Air.

 

“For now,” replied Hewkii. “Let’s get them into the transport. Then we’ll decide what to do with them.”

 

They stepped into the compartment to find Sarda reviving Jaller.

 

“Are you all right?” asked the Ta-Matoran as the Toa entered.

 

“Yes,” answered Lesovikk.

 

“Who are they?”

 

“No idea,” responded Kongu. “But they sure seemed bent on attacking us.”

 

“So, what do we do with them?” said Nuparu.

 

“We could just leave them here,” proposed Lesovikk. “They do have a boat and…”

 

The hatch slammed shut. Before the Toa could figure out the reason, water began rushing into the compartment, rapidly filling it up.

 

“What’s happening?” shouted Hewkii.

 

“The creature,” cried out Sarda. “It’s diving!”

 

The light in the compartment dimmed as the great Rahi left the surface behind, dropping down towards the seafloor. Nuparu rushed into the cockpit, trying to figure out what was happening.

 

“Could we have been outside for too long?” wondered Sarda as the creature’s violent movements forced them all to sit down. “The Rahi doesn’t breathe air, after all.”

 

“Nonsense,” said Lesovikk. “We verified two days ago. This creature can stay outside the water for a far longer time. No, there’s something else going on.”

 

“Are those two all right?” Jaller asked suddenly.

 

Kongu immediately crouched down upon Sentrakh and Amphibax.  

 

“I think so,” he said a moment later. “The short one is breathing, he must be an amphibian. The yellow one… I don’t know, he isn’t breathing, yet he’s clearly alive.”

 

The compartment shook as the creature landed on the seafloor. It immediately flexed its legs and started crawling, but where to, none of the Toa could say.

 

“It’ll have to do for now,” decided Lesovikk. “Nuparu, what’s going on?”

 

“I haven’t figured it out yet. Give me a moment!” replied the Toa of Earth.

 

In the end, it took almost half an hour before Nuparu emerged from the cockpit; clutched in his hands were several damaged components.

 

“No,” whispered Lesovikk as the truth hit him.

 

“The console was smashed to bits,” said Nuparu grimly. “One of these two must have done it.”

 

“The short one,” said Lesovikk. “While he was fighting me, he struck it several times.”

 

“Wait a minute,” said Hewkii. “I thought repairing things was what this Rahi was all about.”

 

“That’s just it. It’ll take me some time, but I might be able to repair the console. But that’s not the problem here. The creature repairs things and heals people, but first and foremost it heals itself. I don’t know how Axonn or whoever it was that built it managed to get around this, but whatever they did, it’s not working anymore. It’s expelling the control circuits, one by one, and its healing power won’t allow me to reinsert them.”

 

“Are you saying that we can’t pilot it anymore?”

 

“That’s right. And I just hope it doesn’t start rejecting the armor and the walls of this compartment, or we’ll be in real trouble.”

 

“We need to get out of here,” said Hewkii.

 

“And what then?” asked Jaller. “We’ll be lost at sea, with no way to know which direction to take. The navigation system is damaged as well, isn’t it?”

 

Nuparu nodded.

 

“Then we have no choice,” sighed Jaller heavily. “We’ll have to stay here and hope you can find a way to repair the controls.”

 

Nuparu nodded, looking down at the ground.

 

“I’ll get onto it right away.”

 

The Toa of Fire did not raise his head to look his teammates in the eye. There was no need, for they were all feeling the same way. The sense of failure had returned, more overwhelming than ever. Now the creature would carry them away to who knew where; even if Nuparu managed to fix the controls, by that time they might be Mio away from their destination.

 

Hahli’s face appeared in his thoughts then. When they had first seen the living transport, their teammate had been the one who had most disliked using it, hating how the creature had been altered merely to suit their whims.

 

She was right, of course she was. It was a mistake and one we cannot help but repeat, even though we’re paying the price right now.

 

Tears filled Jaller’s eyes as he recalled how his friend had died.

 

Another mistake. She died because of me and for what? It was useless, all useless. Since I became a Toa, I’ve made nothing but mistakes. I lost the Mask of Life, killed Hahli and doomed the universe; I wasn’t even capable of leading my team back to Mata Nui. Maybe this is my destiny. Maybe, as a Toa, this is all I can ever hope to be: a failure.

 

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#21 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Dec 23 2017 - 07:01 AM

TWENTY

 

Takanuva stood facing the Great Temple in Ga-Metru. As he gazed at the great structure, he could not help but remember when, a few weeks before, he had stood upon this very spot, attending the temple’s inauguration ceremony. That had been a moment of great pride and accomplishment, the coronation of weeks of hard work to restore the most beautiful and sacred building of Metru Nui to its former glory. On that day, the death of Mata Nui had seemed remote and unlikely, while the complete reconstruction of the city had felt closer than ever.

 

But now the Great Spirit was dead and his temple, into which so much effort had gone, had been reduced to a ruin, even worse than how they had found it after returning to the city. He suspected the Makuta had done it deliberately, targeting the building as one, final affront to the memory of Mata Nui. One of the great spires rising at the corners of the temple had collapsed and a series of explosions had punched yawning gaps in the walls and demolished most of the roof. Debris had filled the temple’s interior and buried the Toa Suva; only a few chambers had not been damaged.

 

Takanuva could have done without seeing the temple in this state and the same was probably true for the rest of the onlookers. Yet this was something that could only be done here.

 

Powerful gusts of wind had been blowing over the city since morning and midday had brought with it rain as well. Yet, in spite of the weather, a crowd had turned out to attend the ceremony. Fortunately, the bridge linking the temple to the mainland had survived the bombardment intact, allowing the Matoran to cross over; and though it was impossible for everyone to be present, it seemed that all those who could had made an effort to be there.

 

The Turaga were at the front, all looking tired and rather worse for wear. Nokama was slumped in a chair, still too frail to stand. Miraculously, her Ga-Matoran had not killed her upon becoming Shadow Matoran and had instead abandoned her in the Archives, where she had been found after the battle, barely alive.

 

Nuju was standing next to Nokama. The Turaga of Ice had been separated from the other elders after the first bombardment and had managed to remain hidden for the duration of the battle along with a few Ko-Matoran. Vakama and Whenua had not been so fortunate: both had had their light drained by the shadow leeches and had turned into Turaga of Shadow. Now they were recovering from the ordeal, but it wouldn’t be easy, neither for them nor for the hundreds of Matoran who had suffered the same fate. Takanuva’s energies had healed them, but even the power of light wouldn’t make such a trauma disappear overnight.

 

Nevertheless, most of the Matoran had so far held themselves together and carry out their tasks, of which there was no shortage. The immediate priority after the end of the battle had been to find and see to the wounded; once that had been taken care of, Turaga Dume had assigned most of the Matoran to scavenge the wrecks of the destroyed vessels and the ruins of the docks to recover anything that might still be usable.

 

Help had arrived early in the morning, when Krakua had returned to Metru Nui through a dimensional portal. The Toa of Sonics, who had left the city the previous day to report back to his leader, had been followed by many of the Matoran who had sailed to the Great Barrier on the first fleet; they, in turn, had brought with them several Ussal crabs, which had made it extremely easier to transport cargo and people across the city. And thanks to the crabs, another sorrowful but necessary task had been accomplished: recovering the bodies of the dead.

 

Every tribe had lost someone; after all, when the bombardment had started, Matoran from all six tribes had been gathered together at the harbor. The losses were staggering: in none of the battles on Mata Nui against the forces of Makuta had so many villagers perished; the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population had survived did not lessen the tragedy that had occurred.

 

The dead would be buried in Metru Nui, there was no other way; the memorial ceremonies would be held before the Matoran left the city for good. But there was one memorial that Takanuva had asked to be held as soon as possible; and the Turaga had readily approved his request.

 

There was no other place for it but the Great Temple: even ruined, the building remained a sacred place. This was especially true for Toa: the temple, after all, housed the Toa Suva and the Great Kanohi masks. But the graves were equally important: located in the lowest level, beneath the Toa Suva, the graves held the remains of those heroes who had given their lives in the defense of Metru Nui. Here were the burials of the Toa who had perished in the war against the Dark Hunters, thousands of years before, and others as well. And where else should the saviors of Metru Nui be laid to rest?

 

Their bodies were lined in front of the temple entrance. The Matoran had taken it upon themselves to clean the corpses and polish their armor and masks. And now Takanuva’s twins were ready for burial: their white and gold armor, though pale in death, was there for everyone to see, as testament to the fact that they had not died as black-hearted agents of shadow and evil, but as heroes in the service of the light; and upon their faces the Kanohi Avohkii glowed still, for even the death of their wearers had not stifled their power.

 

Among the armored, rigid bodies of the Toa of Light, Krahka's formless, indistinct remains stood out. Takanuva had not known her for long and did not know whether she would have wanted a ceremony such as this to mark her passing, but she had fought alongside him, put her life on the line to save his people and paid the ultimate price for it: this was nothing more than what she deserved. The Matoran would never have the chance to welcome her amongst them, as he had promised, but they would at least pay tribute to her heroism; she would not be forgotten.

 

There was suddenly a commotion among the crowd. Before Takanuva’s eyes, a dimensional portal yawned open. The Toa of Light stepped forward, along with Krakua and Turaga Dume. As promised, the Order of Mata Nui had come. A single Order member emerged from the gate, flanked by Onewa and Matau; it could not be otherwise, for many agents of the organization were wounded and the rest had to remain at their posts, even now. It didn’t matter: the one who had come represented them all.

 

Takanuva studied the Toa of Water standing in front of him. Krakua had told him that she had been the first of all the Toa, created in the time before time by the Great Beings themselves; he could easily believe that, for she looked old, ancient even. Less evident was the great power that, according to Krakua, she wielded; in fact, she looked disturbingly frail and it was clear that she had recently suffered serious injuries, which were unmistakably causing her great pain.

 

“Welcome to Metru Nui, Toa Helryx,” said Dume.

 

“Thank you, Turaga Dume. It is an honor to meet you at last.”

 

Then she turned to Takanuva, and the Toa of Light was suddenly unsettled, for despite her physical appearance Helryx’s gaze was sharp, unwavering and strangely penetrating; her voice was strange too, very soft and yet firm, commanding even.

 

“Every member of the Order of Mata Nui owes you their gratitude, Takanuva. Without you, and the others that we mourn today, we would all have perished and the Brotherhood of Makuta would now rule the island of Mata Nui. Thank you.”

 

Takanuva didn’t answer immediately. Helryx’s words had been courteous enough, but he could tell that her intention was not just to thank him: she was studying him, trying to determine his way of thinking, his strengths and weaknesses… perhaps even how much of a threat he might pose.

 

“It is I who should thank you, Toa Helryx,” he finally replied. “Both for opposing the Makuta and for sending Krakua to my aid; I would never have survived if it hadn’t been for him.”

 

Helryx gave a small nod of acknowledgement; then she turned back to Dume.

 

“We need to talk, as soon as possible.”

 

“I agree,” replied the Turaga. “But first we must hold the memorial ceremony.”

 

Yes, thought Takanuva, walking back to where the bodies lay. It was still hard to cope with the thought that by liberating his twins, he had also sealed their fate. And as he looked at them, he also couldn’t help regretting the fact that he had never got to speak to most of them, that he had never known the person that he had become in all those other realities.

 

But what I do know is that at the very end they came to our aid, to my aid, even though they knew the price that they would pay. They were all me, and yet, in their place, would I have done the same?

 

He pondered that for a moment.

 

Who can say? But one thing is certain: I will have to prove myself worthy of their sacrifice and of being one of them. And I will, from this day forward, for the rest of my life.

 

-----

 

The ceremony was over. The Matoran crowd had filed away and even the temple’s Ga-Matoran custodians had left after carrying the bodies of Takanuva’s duplicates to their final resting place. Leaning on his staff, Dume walked up to Helryx, who was standing close to the temple’s entrance, motionless.

 

“Toa Helryx,” he said, “if you wish to talk, I have had a place prepared for us. It is in one of the Great Temple’s surviving chamber; no one will disturb us there.”

 

“Lead on, then, Turaga.”

 

When the two of them entered the temple, the other Turaga joined them, along with Takanuva, who took it upon himself to carry Nokama. Helryx made no comment about their presence. A part of Dume would have preferred to talk to the Order’s leader alone, but he would probably need all the support he could get. And when Vakama had asked that Takanuva be included in the discussion, he had been unable to refuse him; the Toa of Light had saved the whole city, after all.

 

As they navigated around the rubble that littered the temple, Dume pondered. He had been very surprised when, after the battle, Krakua had revealed the existence of the Order of Mata Nui to him; he simply couldn’t understand how such a powerful and influential organization could have existed for so long without him, the leader of Metru Nui, ever catching wind of it. Though he was certainly glad that such a force existed to counter the power of the Brotherhood of Makuta, he couldn’t help feeling wary as well. According to Krakua, the Order’s members were sworn to the service of Mata Nui and were solely and utterly dedicated to bringing about his will, accomplishing those tasks that Toa, for one reason or another, could not do.

 

The Toa of Sonics had not gone into detail, but Dume had formed his own conjectures. The extent to which the Order had gone to conceal itself was hugely telling: just what kind of actions had they carried out in Mata Nui’s name? What secrets might they be hiding? What were their true capabilities? And with the Great Spirit dead, where did their allegiances now lie? Helryx was their leader, apparently, but he knew next to nothing about her. True, she was a Toa, but he suspected that she might prove different from any other Toa he’d ever met, in more ways than one.

 

The explosion was completely unexpected. They had almost reached their destination when a powerful blast of noise shook the whole structure.

 

“What’s going on?” shouted Onewa.

 

Dume’s eyes were fixed upon the damaged roof. Was it going to collapse and bury them all? Takanuva had deposited Nokama and drawn out his Staff of Light. When no immediate threat materialized, he started advancing, motioning for the Turaga to remain still. With a start, Dume realized that the noise had come from the room that they had been about to enter. Then, for some reason, he found himself staring at Helryx: the Toa of Water did not appear at all concerned.

 

Takanuva reached the room’s entrance and froze, surprise appearing on his features. Dume broke into a stride and hurried up to the Toa of Light’s side. When he looked into the room, his eyes widened: a being he had never seen before was stretched onto the floor, unconscious, while standing over him…

 

“Krakua!” exclaimed Takanuva. “What’s going on? Who is this?”

 

“His name is Dweller,” said Helryx, appearing behind him. “A Dark Hunter, who has been posted to Metru Nui for the last thousand years. He reported your every movement to the Shadowed One, Turaga, and has more recently taken to spying on Takanuva and the other Turaga as well. I had little doubt he would attempt to overhear our conversation, so I instructed Krakua to take care of him. As he must have discovered, his mental powers have little effect on shielded minds such as ours.”

 

The other Turaga had reached them as well by then and heard every word Helryx had spoken.

 

“You long-knew about this and didn’t speak-tell us?” exclaimed Matau.

 

No, of course she didn’t, thought Dume. This wasn’t just a way to get rid of an enemy: it was a demonstration, staged for our benefit. She wanted to show us just how much the Order knows and what’s it capable of.

 

He glanced at the other Turaga. Most of them seemed to have reached the same conclusion. It was Vakama who finally said:

 

“Regardless of who knew what, the threat has been dealt with. We should proceed with our discussion. Toa Krakua, could you please ensure that this Dark Hunter is safely confined?”

 

The Toa of Sonics glanced at Helryx, who nodded. As Krakua dragged his prisoner out of the room, Dume caught sight of Takanuva’s expression: the feeling of betrayal was unmistakable.

 

“Very well,” he then said, taking a seat on a stool. “Let us get this meeting to order. Toa Helryx, I believe I speak for everyone when I say that the sudden appearance of your organization was a surprise to us all; a welcome one, to be sure, for without you the Makuta would have doubtlessly prevailed. Still, I would ask that you tell us more about this Order of Mata Nui, so that we may all understand who we’re dealing with.”

 

“I’m afraid there are some more pressing issues we must address, Turaga Dume,” replied Helryx. “Namely, the situation on the island of Mata Nui.”

 

Dume frowned, not liking how the Toa of Water was trying to steer the discussion, but nevertheless gestured for her to continue.

 

“I’m sure you all see that the migration to Mata Nui has to begin as soon as possible. However, as Turaga Onewa and Matau have probably told you, the Bohrok swarms are once again active. If they are left undisturbed, there soon won’t be any island to migrate to. They must be stopped.”

 

“Are your agents going to take care of this?” asked Whenua.

 

“Yes, in a short time I will be sending agents to strike at the Bahrag queens. Once they are defeated, the Bohrok will no longer be a threat.”

 

Nuju started whistling and chirping.

 

“I think he’s saying that the Bahrag won’t be easy to defeat,” said Vakama.

 

“The Toa Mata once managed to do so,” said Helryx. “And most of my agents are more powerful than ordinary Toa.”

 

Nuju kept chirping and shaking his head.

 

“They will be ready,” said Whenua. “I agree with Nuju. They will have learned from their defeat and taken steps to ensure it won’t happen again. The Toa Nuva, who defeated the Bahrag the first time, aren’t here right now, but they told us about that battle. The Bahrag were strong enemies. They might be creatures with a single, fixed objective, but they could think ahead and adapt, as they did when they created the six Bohrok-Kal, which, as you probably know, nearly succeeded in freeing them.”

 

“I will tell my agents,” conceded Helryx. “But I’m sure you acknowledge that this is the only possible course of action. The Bahrag must be stopped as quickly as possible. If that is done, another problem will solve itself. The two Turaga have told me that Rahi fleeing the Bohrok have found themselves trapped between them and the dying universe. They are confused and afraid and their presence is throwing the tunnels in turmoil. If the Bohrok are defeated, they will turn back and the tunnels will be free.”

 

“Very well,” said Dume. “I think we all agree on this.”

 

The Turaga all nodded, though more than one addressed Helryx with an uncertain glance. “Decisions also have to be taken about the rest of the universe,” continued the Toa of Water. “Rumors are spreading about your plan to leave. Others will soon try to follow. There will be Toa, Matoran and Turaga among them, but there will also be other races, many of them far from peaceful. Every faction within the universe will also be making plans to migrate, the Dark Hunters chief among them. As for the Brotherhood, they might have lost Destral, but the Makuta managed to escape and most of their army survives. They will be back.”

 

“To take those decisions, we need first of all to know one thing,” stated Dume. “How long do we have before the destruction of the universe? We know its life was prolonged, but we don’t know how or why. Maybe you do, though.”

 

There was a pause, as if Helryx were deciding whether to dignify that with an answer. Finally, she said:

 

“It was the doing of Artakha.”

 

“Artakha?” said Whenua. “But that… that is only a legend.”

 

“No,” said Dume. “The being called Artakha and his domain really exist.”

 

“Yes,” confirmed Helryx. “I don’t know how he did it, but now the universe has a few more weeks, though I can’t say how many. That gives us time to act.”

 

“The Makuta must be stopped at all costs from reaching the island above,” said Dume with decision. “As for the others, we will obviously welcome any Matoran, Toa or Turaga seeking refuge, as well as anyone who is willing to peacefully coexist. But as you said, there are some species that aren’t peaceful at all and a few hate Matoran altogether. As for the Dark Hunters, four thousand years ago I stopped them when they tried to establish a base on Metru Nui; I certainly won’t allow them to set foot on Mata Nui now.”

 

“I’m afraid you will have to,” said Helryx.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Helryx took a deep breath, as if to prepare them for what she was going to say next.

 

“Believe me, Turaga, I do not say this lightly, but if we’re going to repel the next Brotherhood attack, we’ll need the Dark Hunters on our side. They are one of the most powerful factions in the universe and have been at war with the Brotherhood for one thousand years. We can use that. What we can’t risk is pushing them into the Brotherhood’s camp; the Shadowed One hates the Makuta, but if we try to seal him in the dying universe he might just be desperate enough to put those differences aside.”

 

“We will have the Toa on our side.”

 

“Fifty Toa? As much as I respect the power of my younger brothers, that’s not nearly enough.”

 

“What do you mean, fifty?”

 

Helryx fixed her eyes on Dume; and suddenly, unexpectedly, a deep sorrow appeared in her gaze, a pain that had nothing to do with her wounds.

 

“For the last thousand years, you’ve lived in Metru Nui or Mata Nui, completely isolated from the rest of the world. Perhaps that’s been a blessing. You have not witnessed what the rest of the universe has suffered since the Great Spirit was cast into sleep. You did not watch as islands and continents were plunged into war, you did not see what the Brotherhood and the other factions did to the lands that fell into their grasp; and you didn’t have to endure the fate of the Toa, who fought to prevent all that and who were the first to fall.  I say fifty because that’s about the number of Toa who still live. The rest are gone, hundreds of Toa consumed by the chaos that now reigns supreme in our world.”

 

Dume had to lean upon his staff to support himself, even as his mind started to play before him the days that had followed the end of the war between the Toa and the Dark Hunters, when hundreds of heroes had marched in triumph through the streets of Metru Nui. It had been a spectacular sight, displaying the power and glory of the Toa for everyone to see. How could it be true? How could all that power have been snuffed out? How could the Toa, the paladins of Mata Nui, have been driven to the verge of extinction?

 

He glanced at the other Turaga. None of them, not even Nuju, had been able to remain indifferent upon hearing Helryx’s news.

 

“Helryx…” he finally managed to say, “I… in light of this, I understand your point of view. But… but the Dark Hunters bring violence and fear wherever they go. They might help us repel the Brotherhood, but what will happen afterwards? Sooner or later, they will try to destroy us or conquer us. It is their way.”

 

“Maybe. But right now we need to focus on carrying out the evacuation and holding off the Brotherhood. Once that is accomplished the Order can deal with the Dark Hunters, if necessary.”

 

Dume couldn’t quite mask his skepticism. According to Onewa, the battle against the Brotherhood had left the Order in bad shape: would they be able to recover so easily? He knew maybe more than anyone what the Dark Hunters were capable of; unless they…

 

“And what kind of society will that leave you with?”

 

It was Nokama who had spoken. Her voice was very weak, but her eyes were open, alert and determined.

 

“Mata Nui will soon be the only home for Matoran and Dark Hunters alike. If we do as you propose, we’ll be at each other’s throats the moment the evacuation ends and the island will be torn apart for good. There will be nowhere else to go if that happens. That is why we cannot let it happen.”

 

“You are talking about the future,” retorted Helryx, her impatience starting to show. “But we need to deal with the present first. I don’t like this anymore than you do, but we don’t get to choose our allies in this war. We need to get the Dark Hunters on our side if…”

 

“Then so be it,” said Nokama. “But we will not welcome them only to get rid of them when they’re no longer useful. It will be difficult, but we need to make this effort: we must try to coexist peacefully with them. They have been our greatest enemies, but now we must let the past be the past. We have to set our differences aside and cooperate to build a society that works for both of us. It is the only way.”

 

The words of the Turaga of Water were met by silence. Dume was utterly astonished.

 

“Nokama…” he said. “Peace is not something the Dark Hunters can understand. You know this: you were on Metru Nui during the war, you fought against them as a Toa. How can you think that what you’re proposing will work?”

 

Nokama stared at him defiantly. But it was Takanuva who suddenly spoke:

 

“Turaga… if I have learned anything in these last few days, it is that no one, save perhaps the Makuta themselves, is beyond redemption. I think we should make this attempt. Besides, Toa Helryx is right. The Brotherhood must be defeated. Turaga, I’ve seen Metru Nui at their mercy, watched my friends turned into monsters; and the Toa we just buried… the Makuta corrupted them and thus forced me to fight against them, to fight against myself. Never again.”

 

Dume was suddenly reminded of something that had happened only the previous day. He had been in Ga-Metru and Takanuva had been there as well. Suddenly two bodies had washed onto the coast, but not belonging to Matoran. No, these had clearly been servants of the Makuta, who had perished when Destral had been destroyed. He clearly remembered the horror that had appeared on Takanuva’s face, only to be replaced a moment later by a firm, resolute expression that Dume had never seen before: the same expression Takanuva was wearing now.

 

“I think Takanuva and Nokama may be right,” intervened Vakama. “We must try.”

 

The other Turaga were nodding, though not all of them seemed fully convinced. Dume stared at them for a moment, then finally bowed his head.

 

“Very well. We will try it. But understand this, I will not compromise on the safety of the Matoran, no matter the consequences.”

 

“Of course,” said Helryx. “We should now move on to organizing the evacuation itself. It is a process that must be firmly governed, or there will be utter chaos. We will have to make contact with the rest of the universe, inform the inhabitants of the possibility to evacuate and make sure that in doing so they conform to our directives. The Order will take care of the areas inhabited by the Matoran: they will be the easiest to convince.”

 

Nuju chirped and whistled. Vakama nodded and said:

 

“With all due respect, are you sure about that? If you reveal yourselves just like that, will Toa and Turaga agree to your instructions?”

 

“They will,” Helryx said, “one way or another.”

 

Once again, the Turaga exchanged nervous glances.

 

“Not every other species will be as easy to deal with as the Matoran. Still, the offer to escape the destruction is a powerful incentive. I am confident we can convince the Vortixx to come over to us, which is essential if we are to manufacture the weapons for this war. We should also attempt to contact the Skakdi: they are a violent, barbarous race, but because of that they’ll make excellent fighters. I will send ambassadors to the island of Zakaz: if we can convince the most powerful warlords, the rest might fall in line.”

 

“I… suppose it’s necessary,” said Dume. “Very well.”

 

“Over the millennia, the Order has established links with nearly every species or faction in existence. Though none were ever made our aware of our true nature, many will be our allies. We’ll contact every land we can. Only some of the Southern Islands will be left out.”

 

“Shouldn’t we make an attempt to reach out to them as well?” asked Vakama.

 

“Even the Order knows little about them. We do know that they’re mostly uninhabited and there is little civilization there to speak of. A good portion of the population is made up of Zyglak and we certainly don’t want anything to do with them.”

 

Only Takanuva failed to recognize the name. The Turaga had all heard of ‘the Great Beings’ mistakes’, though only Dume had ever seen one firsthand.

 

“History does tell us that they will most likely exterminate any envoy sent to them,” said Whenua. “The Zyglak nurse a hate for any other species of the universe, especially the Matoran.”

 

“Exactly,” said Helryx.

 

“Doesn’t matter,” said Nokama. “If we’re to put our differences aside with the Dark Hunters, then we must at least try to do the same with everyone else… even the Zyglak.”

 

Helryx glared at her.

 

“All right,” she then scowled, “we’ll send an expedition, see what we can accomplish.”

 

“And the same,” interjected Nokama again, “goes for any faction or species, even if your Order has no link to them, even if you do not think they’ll make valid allies, Helryx. With the exception of the Makuta, we don’t have the right to choose who gets to live and who doesn’t.”

 

Helryx’s irritation seemed to be increasing. She opened her mouth to make a sharp retort. 

 

But at that moment, a very tall being armored in blue and gold materialized in the room. Dume’s eyes widened in alarm, his gaze immediately drawn to his huge, toothy maw. He stumbled back, even as Takanuva reached for his staff.

 

But Helryx had already risen to confront the newcomer. When she saw what Takanuva was doing, she impatiently gestured for him to stand down.

 

“Botar. You have recovered, I see. What is it?”

 

“There has been an important development, Toa Helryx. You must come immediately.”

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:35 AM.

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#22 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Feb 01 2018 - 12:41 PM

TWENTY-ONE

 

­The iceberg was enormous, a white, frozen mass towering over the ship as it drew closer. The vessel’s helmsman made one last, desperate attempt to avoid impact, but the iceberg was on a direct collision course and moving impossibly fast, whereas the ship, for all the power of its engines, was too large to turn away in time.

 

With a loud crunch, the iceberg struck. The vessel shuddered violently, every deck shaking and tilting, even as the hull groaned and buckled under the immense strain. For a few moments, it seemed as if the impact alone might be enough tear the ship asunder. The next few seconds seemed to last an eternity. Then, slowly, the vessel started to stabilize, the tremors ceased, the passengers regained their balance. Beyond the main deck’s railing, the iceberg came to a halt as well, looming tall over the vessel, its icy surface still brushing against the mangled hull.

 

Before the eyes of the ship’s occupants, the beings that dwelled within the ice began to emerge, swarming out of barely visible apertures in the frozen surface. The boldest ones simply jumped across the gap between the ice and the deck, while others deployed grappling hooks, ropes and planks to bridge the divide.

 

As the first boarders reached the deck, the weapons that had been mounted all over the ship opened fire. There was no one to direct them, the automated devices picked their own targets, driving energy beams into them with uncanny precision. But the attackers’ armor was strong and with their Rhotuka spinners they began to return fire. Left to their own devices, they would soon establish a bridgehead and once that happened everything would be over for the ship’s passengers.

 

Without hesitation, Onua Nuva waded into the attackers’ midst. Calling upon the power of the Kanohi Pakari Nuva, he struck the first foe with a devastating blow from his new spiked mace, which sent it flying straight off the deck and into the waters below. The second opponent managed to dodge his blow, though, and struck back with the hook-like appendage on its lower arm, causing the Toa of Earth to lose his balance. The sharp claws on its upper arm sliced through the air, aiming for his mask.

 

But the spiked mace was not Onua’s only weapon: his Adaptive Armor had extruded another one, designed specifically to combat this foe. Before the being’s blow could strike home, the projectile weapon mounted on Onua’s shoulder discharged and instantly paralyzed his opponent’s armor. With its shell immobilized, the Frostelus, a creature housed in a larger armor suit, suddenly found itself completely incapacitated. Onua rose to his feet and struck his frozen foe with a backhanded slap, knocking him into the sea.

 

The ship’s mounted weapons had disposed of the other boarders, but there were still Frostelus standing on the iceberg. Spotting Onua, they targeted him with a barrage of Rhotuka spinners, too many for him to dodge. But no sooner had they reached the ship than a mirror of ice appeared in front of the Toa of Earth, easily reflecting away the wheels of energy. As Kopaka Nuva landed on the deck beside him, Onua summoned his elemental power and commanded a pillar of earth to rise from the seafloor, before sending it crashing into the iceberg.

 

With the immediate threat dealt with, Onua turned his attention to the rest of the fleet. The Frostelus were trying to steer their icebergs into the ships, but the Matoran crews were now forewarned and were maneuvering the vessels to avoid them, while Frostelus attempts to storm the ships from the water were being frustrated by the built-in weapon systems. But even though the safety of Matoran was for now assured, one problem remained: the Frostelus iceberg fleet lay between them and Metru Nui and there was no way to get past it.

 

None of the Toa Nuva had been expecting this when they had set sail from Artakha on the vessels that the island’s ruler had conjured to bring his Matoran people to Metru Nui. Initially, the navigation had been uneventful, with the ships’ powerful engines propelling them along at unheard-of speed. It had taken them barely an hour to pass through the concealed waterway that connected Artakha to the outside world; the fleet had then spilled into the main waterway that, according to the maps they had on board, connected the dome of the Northern Continent to the eastern island chain.

 

No sooner had they cleared the gate to the continent’s dome, though, than they had found themselves engulfed by a violent typhoon, powerful enough to swamp the entire fleet. But Artakha had built his ships sturdy: despite being dispersed by the storm, not a single one had sunk. Still, the weather had delayed them considerably, much to the frustration of the Toa. They were sure that something was happening in Metru Nui: they had all lost the ability to summon other Kanohi Nuva from their Suva and for several hours Tahu and Onua had even felt their elemental powers desert them, just like when the Bohrok-Kal had stolen their Nuva Symbols. The fact that they had eventually returned had made no difference in their desire to reach the City of Legends as quickly as possible.

 

In hindsight, they should have realized that something was wrong when they had reached the westernmost sea gate leading to Metru Nui. The Toa Nuva had been there once before, when, shortly after their return to Metru Nui, they had travelled down the southern waterways all the way to the gates, to check out their status after a thousand years. At the time, the enormous portcullises covering the immense apertures in the dome wall had still been lowered and intact, all but the one on the easternmost gate, which had partially torn open, creating a large-enough gap for small vessels to pass through. Following Turaga Dume’s instructions, the Toa had left the gates closed to give the Matoran the time to settle down into their old city before re-establishing contact with the rest of the universe.

 

When the fleet had reached the westernmost gate earlier that day, however, they had found it wide open. There was no way to tell if it had been opened spontaneously or if something had broken through to reach the winch room dug into the waterway’s rock wall.

 

They should have known then that they might encounter some enemy along the way. But in their impatience to reach Metru Nui, they had decided to continue. As they sailed northward, fragments of ice had begun to appear in the water, but no one, not even Onua, who had read about the Frostelus in the Onu-Metru Archives, had made the connection. When the Frostelus icebergs had materialized up ahead, the Toa Nuva had been caught completely by surprise.

 

The enemy fleet was an astonishing sight: the icebergs dwarfed the ships and there were so many of them, spread out all across the waterway. The Toa Nuva were hopelessly outnumbered and none of the Matoran from Artakha were fighters.

 

It had been then that Artakha’s gifts had shown their worth: the Adaptive Armor had given morphed into a shape that incorporated water breathing devices, fins and propellers, as well as the ability to fly for short distances, perfect for a naval battle and for moving from one ship to the other. And the ships themselves had revealed an array of built-in automated weapons that could easily hold Frostelus boarding parties at bay. The only problem was that these weapons were only defensive: they could not be used to force their way through the icebergs.

 

Kopaka gestured to Onua and the two of them jumped into the sea, their swimming apparatus propelling them towards the flagship. They emerged to find the other Toa already assembled on the deck.

 

“We should turn back,” Gali was saying. “There are other sea gates further east. We could use one of those.”

 

“No,” replied Tahu. “The Frostelus are heading for Metru Nui. If we turn back, they’ll get there faster than us and only Takanuva will be there to meet them.”

 

“Some of us could quick-slip ahead,” proposed Lewa. “We’d use the morph-armor to fast-fly to Metru Nui and loud-warn them.”

 

“We’d have to split up,” said Pohatu. “I’m not sure that’s such a great idea right now.”

 

“Agreed,” said Tahu. “We have to break through.”

 

“How?” asked Gali.

 

“I have a plan. Consider this…”

 

It took them a few minutes to discuss it. Then Tahu, Onua, Pohatu and Kopaka made their way to the ship that was closest to the waterway’s right wall, stopping on each vessel along the way to explain what they were about to do to the Matoran; steering the ships would be up to them, though fortunately the vessels’ advanced technology would make the task considerably simpler. Creating a path would be up to the Toa.

 

It was Onua who confirmed that everyone was in position: most of the tunnel’s lightstones had gone dark, which made him the Toa with the keenest eyesight. Tahu raised the spear that his armor had supplied him with and unleashed a bright burst of flame. It was a signal: every ship simultaneously began making its way towards the waterway’s right wall. Meanwhile Lewa took flight, while Gali jumped into the water. Cyclones, gale force winds, freak currents and whirlpools immediately began slamming into the Frostelus fleet, wreaking havoc. Tahu, Onua and Pohatu waited until all the ships were in position and then they acted: the Toa of Earth and the Toa of Stone used their powers upon the tunnel ceiling, bringing a rain of boulders and rock fragments down upon the Frostelus icebergs directly ahead of them. Before they struck, Tahu unleashed his own powers, turning rock into magma, which upon contact with the ice melted it instantly.

 

As the icebergs melted, forcing their Frostelus occupants to jump into the sea, the ships began advancing. Rhotuka spinners rained upon them, but Tahu was using his Mask of Shielding to protect himself and his two teammates; meanwhile, Kopaka was running along the deck’s railing, creating ice mirrors to reflect the spinners and protect the ships. Inevitably, in spite of his skill, some got through; many had no effect, but some possessed the power to damage the ships. There was nothing the Toa could do about it; the vessels would have to pull through.

 

The efforts of the Toa had by now carved a lane for the fleet and the ships were steering into it, one after the other. Lewa and Gali were still attacking the Frostelus, spoiling their aim and making it extremely difficult for them to maneuver their icebergs. Up in front, the three Toa kept showering the icebergs with magma to clear the way.

 

They were about halfway through when, from above, Lewa cried out a warning. The Toa of Earth spotted it immediately: an enormous block of ice was moving straight towards them. Gali had to be busy somewhere else, for it was showing no sign of slowing down.

 

“Tahu!” exclaimed Pohatu.

 

The Toa of Fire whirled around and unleashed his flames, but the iceberg was too big to be melted in time. Before the Toa could do anything, it slammed into the lead ship, driving it into the waterway’s wall. Pohatu acted just in time: a hand of stone emerged from the wall and caught the vessel before it smashed into the rock. The ship was brought to a standstill, with the iceberg still looming over it.

 

Rhotuka spinners poured onto the deck as the Frostelus flung themselves across. The automated weapons alone could not hold them. Meanwhile, the entire fleet had come to a halt and was exposed to Frostelus fire. With a start, Onua realized that no more ice mirrors were appearing to deflect the energy wheels: had Kopaka been hit?

 

“We need to get going again! If we get stuck here, we’re done for!”

 

“Try and move the iceberg away!” ordered Tahu. “Pohatu and I will take care of the Frostelus.”

 

Onua nodded and projected his mind towards the seafloor, calling up fingers of earth to grip the iceberg and shift it away. Meanwhile, Tahu and Pohatu attacked the Frostelus boarders with their powers and weapons, trying to push them back.

With a shudder, the iceberg began to budge. It was so large that moving it required Onua’s full concentration. Perhaps that was why he glimpsed his attacker only at the last moment. By then, it was too late: a sharp object pierced his flank, causing Onua to grimace in pain. He stumbled back, trying to put some distance between him and his opponent. Only then did he realize that it was no Frostelus attacking him: the being standing before him was tall and hideous-looking, wielding a sharp-tipped mace in each hand. Onua summoned the power of the Mask of Strength, but at that moment he met his opponent’s stare: everything instantly went black.

 

He was jolted awake by a burning sensation. Tahu was standing over him and by the looks of it had used a fire spark to release him from his trance. The ship was moving again and Onua’s attacker was slumped on the deck, his armor scorched by flame.

 

“Pohatu?”

 

“Wounded,” said Tahu grimly. “Can you stand? We need to take care of the last icebergs.”

 

There were only a few more blocks of ice in their way. After a few minutes, the lead ship cleared the Frostelus fleet. Onua glimpsed several icebergs maneuvering to try to block their way, but a strong current seized them, pushing them away from the fleet. More ships were emerging from the icebergs; the Frostelus spinners had dealt significant damage, but the sturdy vessels had withstood it. There was no time to waste: powering up the engines, the fleet accelerated away. Rhotuka spinners flew after them and Onua saw the icebergs accelerating as well, but Artakha’s ships outraced them with ease.

Gali emerged onto the deck. A moment later, Lewa flew down to join them, carrying Kopaka’s unconscious form.

 

“How is he?” asked Tahu.

 

“Shock-stunned. One of the spin-wheels hit him and down-knocked him. I don’t know what it did to him.”

 

“Entrust him to the Matoran. Pohatu is wounded too, but he should be all right.”

 

Lewa nodded and carried the Toa of Ice into the ship’s hold.

 

“Should we help?” asked Gali.

 

“The Matoran of Artakha have great knowledge,” said Onua. “They’ll figure out what happened to him.”

 

“If they need our help, we’ll give it,” said Tahu. “For now, though, I want you all to save your strength. We may have left the Frostelus behind, but they’ll undoubtedly be pursuing us.”

 

“And what about him?” asked Onua, pointing at the unconscious being.

 

“I don’t know. Restrain him. When he regains consciousness we’ll interrogate him, try to find out who he is and what he and the Frostelus want. In the meantime, let’s just focus on reaching our destination.”

 

“How long to the island-city?” asked Lewa, re-emerging onto the deck.

 

“About an hour.”

 

-----

 

The being stood on the lake’s shore, staring out at the vast expanse of water stretching out all the way to the horizon. He couldn’t see the opposite shore, which was to be expected: the lake was immense, crossing it took hours even on a fast ship, while travelers seeking to circumnavigate it would need days to complete the journey. Yet the being didn’t need sight to know that villages, towns and small cities lined the distant northern shore; Matoran inhabited most of them, but plenty of other species were represented as well. For all, the lake and the dozens of streams and rivers draining into it represented both a source of water, fish and other supplies and a shipping and trading route, with the smaller vessels simply shuttling across the lake and the largest heading east, where a wide river carried the lake’s waters to the sea.

 

Settlements lined the eastern and western shores as well, but to the south they grew smaller and less numerous, even the land became rocky, dry and forbidding. Vegetation was scarce, as was Rahi life; streams that ran through these territories on their way to the lake did exist, but while their northern counterparts were often clear and pure, only rivers of lava, acid and water either barely drinkable or downright toxic flowed from the Tren Krom Peninsula.

 

The being turned around and set his eyes upon the fortress. Its walls were high and thick and the ramparts bristled with weapons, effectively allowing it to dominate the lake. A great number of ships, most of them warships, was even now sailing into its great port, while airships big and small descended onto the many purpose-built pads. Rahkshi were swarming in the sky and the symbol of the Brotherhood of Makuta was everywhere, carved in stone and sewn on banners and flags. This was, after all, one of their major bases, second only to Destral itself. Located at the beginning of the only major southward road, it protected the Tren Krom Peninsula, a staunch Brotherhood stronghold, and had often served as staging post to launch attacks on the Northern Continent, which for the past thousand years had been bitterly contested between Makuta, Toa, Dark Hunters and a myriad of smaller factions.

 

Now an army was assembling at the fortress, one of the largest ever to gather under its walls. The orders had travelled throughout the universe the day before, summoning all Brotherhood forces to their bases in preparation for war. It was in response to that command that the being had arrived at the fortress, but unlike the soldiers of the Makuta he had done so of his own free will; for the being was not, in any way, a servant of the Brotherhood.

 

He knew the reasons for the summons, everyone did; the news had been spreading since the Great Spirit’s death and in some places it was by now common knowledge that a way existed to escape the destruction of the universe, a way that passed through the city of Metru Nui. It therefore didn’t take a genius to figure out the ultimate objective of the massive offensive that the Brotherhood seemed about to unleash.

 

However, another rumor had recently begun to circulate, one that the being, with his contacts and experience, had soon picked up and which had confirmed his own suspicions. The Brotherhood attack on Metru Nui was not imminent, but had already occurred, only for the Makuta to be catastrophically defeated. Many details were still unknown, but from the latest news it seemed that Destral itself had been destroyed, along with its entire garrison; the Makuta themselves appeared to have barely escaped with their lives and were now said to be holed up in the very fortress the being was now staring at, licking their wounds.

 

For the last few hours, the being had mingled with the sentient soldiers of the Brotherhood camped out beneath the walls, listening to gossip and trying to gain a clear picture of the situation. He was confident that no one had recognized him; some of these people might have heard of him, but most Brotherhood servants who had met him face to face had not lived to tell the tale.

 

Now, as he stared at the fortress, he knew that this was his last chance to turn back. He could still leave, make his way to Metru Nui and join the Matoran or whoever else was there to make his way out of the universe. It would undoubtedly be the easiest path… yet it wouldn’t be the right one. There was nothing for him down that road, he had followed it enough times to realize that. The path he was about to embark on would instead be something new, something he had never tried before. It would be far more difficult and treacherous, but he had never shirked from a challenge. The odds were against him, but he had the power, experience and ability to see it through; and while failure would mean the end of everything, success would open a whole new range of possibilities.

 

The decision is taken, then. There is no more time to waste.

 

He made his way into the fortress. It was heavily guarded, of course, but eluding the surveillance was child’s play to him. His objective were the quarters of the Makuta, whose location he had wrung out of one of their attendants a few hours earlier. Specifically, there was one Makuta that he wished to see.

 

It took him only a short time to reach his destination. With so many Makuta currently lodged at the fortress, the quarters specifically designated for visiting Brotherhood members weren’t enough to house them all. Each master of shadows had consequently claimed the chamber that suited him best, with some choosing the highest, most remote towers and others the deepest basements. The Makuta that the being wished to see had picked a medium-sized room close to the fortress’s entrance, which was easy for messengers to reach and which incidentally also allowed him to telepathically monitor every individual going in and out. The chamber itself was shrouded in darkness, of course, a manifestation of the Makuta’s power, yet the being could see the armored shape of the Brotherhood member without trouble. He was seated behind a large stone desk and seemed to be going through a pile of reports.

 

“Looking for someone?”

 

The Makuta of Stelt immediately raised his head.

 

“Perhaps for members of the mysterious Order of Mata Nui?” continued the being, stepping out of his concealment.

 

“You!”

 

The being smiled in amusement, as he watched the Makuta’s surprise turn to shock and his anger be replaced by something very close to fear.

 

“I might be able to help with that, you know.”

 

“What are you doing here?” growled the Makuta. Darkness was whirling around him as he summoned his powers. The being heard the sound of footsteps approaching outside and hisses that could only belong to Rahkshi.

 

“Relax, and call off your guards. If I wanted you dead, you would be. I’ve come to talk, not to fight.”

 

“Talk?”

 

“That’s right. So, how does the leader of Brotherhood intelligence react when he discovers that the Order of Mata Nui has been spying on his organization for millennia without him ever realizing it?”

 

“What do you know about that?”

 

“Well, for a start, what one of your agents told me when I intercepted him just outside the gate. You really should choose pawns with more courage… and more resistance to pain.”

 

The Makuta’s hands began to crackle with electricity.

 

“Oh, please. Remember the last time you tried that? How you barely got away with your life? If you want to repeat the experience, I’ll be happy to oblige. But as I told you, I could help with your little security breach… and with a whole range of other things.”

 

“Why should you, of all people, want to help us? You’ve always been our enemy.”

 

“Not true. I might have damaged you on occasion, but I’ve never really borne you any ill will. Besides, things change. And the death of the Great Spirit is the biggest change in history. It’s… forced me to choose a side, shall we say? And I have. I choose your side, Makuta. I have come to join you.”

 

-----

 

Tahu and Pohatu stood at the prow of the lead ship, watching as it cleaved the silver waters. Gali, Lewa and Onua were on the other vessels, surveying the damage caused by the Frostelus and keeping an eye out for trouble. As for Kopaka, he still hadn’t emerged from the hold. According to the Matoran, the Frostelus had hit him with some kind of psionic power which had knocked him out and might have done some damage to his mind as well. Although they could wake him, they had suggested leaving him asleep to allow his mental functions to completely recover and the Toa Nuva had agreed. The strange being they had captured was also still unconscious.

 

“What do you think is waiting for us in Metru Nui?” asked the Toa of Stone.

 

“I don’t know. There must be a reason why our masks and elemental powers stopped working.”

 

“Only your power and Onua’s disappeared, and they came back. I’d say that’s cause for optimism.”

 

“I hope so.”

 

“Besides, Artakha said we would learn in Metru Nui what to do next. That means…”

 

“Toa Tahu! Toa Pohatu!”

 

The words came from an approaching Ga-Matoran.

 

“We thought you’d want to know: we’re about to reach the gate.”

 

“Thanks,” smiled Pohatu. “Should we call the others here?”

 

Tahu nodded and fired a flaming flare into the air. A few moments later, five Toa Nuva were assembled on the prow.  They could see the gate now, a great archway marking the end of the waterway. There was little to see beyond it, however; Metru Nui’s dome was dark, far darker than it should have been at this time of the day.

 

The first ships sailed out of the gate, but before they could go far Onua suddenly bellowed:

 

“Stop!”

 

The Matoran heard him and the engines instantly shut down. But it was already too late.

 

The other Toa could see them too, now. Airships were hovering a short distance from the gate. When their occupants spotted the fleet, they immediately moved to surround it. The Matoran on one of the other ships tried to turn their vessel around, but one of the hovering crafts fired a warning shot that brought them to an immediate halt.

 

The largest airship began to descend and was soon level with the deck. The Toa where now close enough to clearly see the array of weapons mounted on the craft and pointed squarely at their vessel. Tahu called upon his Hau Nuva, projecting the largest shield it could create.

 

Half a dozen figures were standing on the airship’s exterior deck, all armed. But the eyes of the Toa were all drawn to the tallest one, a dark figure clad in black and silver armor and carrying a long staff. None of the Toa had ever seen him before in the flesh, yet they immediately realized who he must be.

 

“What a surprise!” exclaimed the Shadowed One, leader of the Dark Hunters. His voice easily carried across the distance and the Toa could see the cruel, amused smile on his lips.

 

“We were waiting for our Frostelus allies to arrive. Instead, a fleet of Matoran appears before our eyes, along with five Toa Nuva. I seem to recall that we have unfinished business between us.”

 

He wasn’t wrong. Not long before, the Toa Nuva had stormed his island, only to be captured. In exchange for releasing them, the Shadowed One had demanded that they bring him the Vortixx Roodaka, but the Toa had not kept that promise and, before leaving, Pohatu had rigged the Dark Hunters’ fortress to collapse. It seemed that they were now going to pay a dear price for that last parting shot.

 

“Kill them all,” ordered the Shadowed One. “And don’t worry,” he told the Toa, “we’ll take care of your Matoran. After all, we will need slaves once we establish our new rule on the island above.”

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 05:35 AM.

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#23 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Feb 21 2018 - 07:20 PM

TWENTY-TWO

 

There was no time to think, no time to consider the consequences. If Gali Nuva and her teammates had had the chance, they might have wondered whether Tahu’s shield was strong enough to withstand the first volley of enemy fire and made up a plan to counterattack before the Dark Hunters could pierce the protective barrier, in the hope of sowing chaos amidst the Shadowed One’s airships and allowing the fleet to escape their encirclement. They would have estimated the odds and quickly realized they were stacked against them, but they would have probably tried it anyway, for the Toa Nuva had never been ones to give up.

 

However, there was no time to do any such thing. All Gali could think of as she stared down the mouth of cannon aimed at her were the waters surrounding the ships, the ones she was calling to her aid and preparing to hurl against…

 

The Dark Hunters fired their weapons. The Toa Nuva of Water saw them, braced for the impact, heard the sound of the detonation… and then blinked, realizing that she was still alive.

 

There had been no warning. Even Gali herself, despite being attuned to the waters, had perceived nothing. But the evidence was there for all of them to see: a split second before the Dark Hunters opened fire, a wall of water had risen around the ship, surrounding it completely; the projectiles and energy blasts had struck the liquid, but instead of piercing it they had been stopped in their path, without the wall so much as wavering.

 

Now the waters were moving again. Gali could feel the force that had them in its grasp, a power that seemed similar to her own, yet was somehow stronger and more accurate. In awe, she watched as a figure emerged beside the ship, a giant, roughly Toa-shaped and made completely of water. It rose into the air, until it was tall enough to loom over the vessel and seize even the highest airship.

 

Light suddenly illuminated the ship’s deck. Gali spun around and beheld a tall being standing upon the prow, armored in gold and with a face that was dominated by an enormous, toothy maw. A Toa was standing next to him and it was from him that the light came, radiating out to dispel the surrounding darkness.

 

“Takanuva…” she gasped.

 

Turaga Dume was there as well, she saw, and she realized that the tall being was Botar, the teleporter whom they had first met on Voya Nui and who had later transported them to Daxia, the base of the Order of Mata Nui.

 

And finally her gaze fell on the Toa of Water standing beyond them, facing the Shadowed One. She was carrying a spiked mace and a shield and, Gali was sure, it was from her that the power controlling the giant radiated.

 

“What is happening, Takanuva?” asked the cool voice of Kopaka. The other Toa Nuva turned to see the Toa of Ice silently step up beside them, looking none the worse from the effects of the Frostelus spinner.

 

“I will explain everything, brothers,” answered the Toa of Light. “But, for the moment, I think you should stand back and let Toa Helryx and Turaga Dume handle the situation. Force will not avail us right now.”

 

Tahu started to reply, but Gali placed a hand on his shoulder, motioning for him to wait. Takanuva had spoken with confidence and he was right: they would never manage to fight their way out of this and Dume was, after all, the leader of Metru Nui; if he was prepared to negotiate, then the Toa were duty-bound to let him try.

 

The Shadowed One had been taken aback by the sudden, majestic manifestation of Helryx’s power, but as she stared at him from across the divide, he managed to compose himself and held her stare without wavering.

 

“State your identity, Toa.”

 

Helryx didn’t reply, didn’t even move, but without warning, the hand of the giant she had created swung towards the airship; several of the Dark Hunters at the Shadowed One’s side scrambled back, only for the liquid hand to stop dead again.

 

“I will do the talking, Shadowed One. To begin with, I suggest you that you release this Matoran fleet at once. A confrontation right now would be very unwise on your part.”

 

“Is that so?” replied the Shadowed One, sounding not at all shaken by the incident. “I disagree. Your power is impressive, I must admit, but the moment you attack us, I or one of my men will strike you down.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous, you haven’t come here to kill Toa or kidnap Matoran. The only reason you’re here is to reach the island above. Unfortunately for you, we got here first. I am Helryx, leader of the Order of Mata Nui. My subordinates are currently guarding the tunnels that lead out the universe and onto the island of Mata Nui. If you want to pass, you’ll have to go through us.”

 

“And why shouldn’t I do just that? Besides, I’ve never heard of this Order you speak of. It seems more a convenient lie than anything.”

 

“It’s not, and you know it. You passed through the main sea gate more than an hour ago, but instead of making straight for the tunnels you came here. If I were to guess, I’d say that you’ve already detected my agents’ presence and were waiting for your Frostelus allies to put yourself in a stronger position.”

 

“I’m still waiting for a reason not to exterminate you all right now.”

 

“I told you, it would not be wise to risk a confrontation with us. You do not believe me? Then perhaps this will convince you.”

 

She nodded at Botar and the monstrous Order agent instantly teleported away. After a few seconds, he reappeared on the deck of the Shadowed One’s airship, carrying another, unconscious being in his arms; before any of the Dark Hunters could react, he had dumped the body onto the deck and teleported back to Helryx’s side.

 

“We know much and more about your organization, Shadowed One,” said the leader of the Order. “For instance, the presence in Metru Nui of your agent, Dweller. I believe he will be able to give you an update on the state of things. Maybe then you’ll reconsider.”

 

The leader of the Dark Hunters tried to hide it, but Gali recognized the doubt that appeared on his face: Helryx’s words and actions had unsettled him, causing him to wonder whether he truly might be at a disadvantage. Would this persuade him to negotiate or would it make him lash out? She could feel the tension growing on the deck; she started summoning her powers and she could tell that her teammates were doing the same. She wasn’t sure about Takanuva, but the Toa of Light’s eyes were fixed on the Shadowed One, while Turaga Dume’s grip on his staff had tightened; only Helryx and Botar seemed unfazed.

 

“The Dark Hunters won’t allow anyone to stand between them and the island above,” said the Shadowed One finally. “We know what awaits those who remain in the universe and we have no wish to suffer such a fate. But I am a reasonable being. You obviously want to come to some sort of arrangement, or we wouldn’t be talking right now. Am I correct?”

 

“You are,” said Dume, speaking for the first time. “We propose a truce of two days: during that time, we will conduct negotiations. In the meantime, your airships must come no closer to Metru Nui or the tunnels to the island of Mata Nui. We have also heard that there are ships sailing for the city even now, carrying your allies and the rest of your forces; you will not allow them to pass through the sea gates until the negotiations are concluded.”

 

“I will do no such thing. My people and my allies come here seeking safety; I would be a poor leader indeed if I stopped them. I agree to a truce, but not under these ridiculous conditions.”

 

“We need some guarantee of your good will,” insisted Dume. “Something which you have notoriously lacked in our previous dealings.”

 

“Enough with your whining, Dume. That guarantee is my willingness to release this Matoran fleet. If you agree, my airships will immediately allow them to sail on to Metru Nui. If you keep advancing these absurd requests, these Matoran stay here.”

 

“Fine, your ships will be allowed to enter the Silver Sea, but not to cross it,” declared Helryx. “The talks will take place in Metru Nui; only your airship will be permitted to fly there.”

 

The Shadowed One fixed his eyes upon Helryx. His expression was unreadable.

 

“Very well,” he said in the end. “We have a deal.”

 

-----

 

The vessels from Artakha knifed through the silver waters surrounding Metru Nui. They were not heading for the island-city: Dume and Takanuva had given instructions to sail towards the north-eastern section of the Great Barrier, where the largest tunnel linking Metru Nui to Mata Nui was located.

 

The telescopic lenses of Kopaka’s Akaku Nuva were fixed on the sea gate that they were leaving behind.

 

“Are the Dark Hunters staying put?” asked Pohatu.

 

“For the moment,” replied the Toa of Ice.

 

“I don’t think they will betray us, at least not immediately,” said Gali. “They were as surprised as we are to find the agents of the Order here.”

 

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I deep-think it’s time for some answer-hearing,” declared Lewa. “Light-brother! What is going on? Is it true we’re back-going to Mata Nui?”

 

Takanuva nodded.

 

“The Turaga believe that the island might survive the destruction of the universe; the Order also agrees. It’s our best shot. That’s why we told you not to sail for Metru Nui. Some of the Matoran have already crossed the sea and we’ll be joining them. It’s a good thing you arrived with these ships: we can use them to ferry the rest of the Matoran across the Silver Sea.”

 

“Stop-wait!” said Lewa. “What about the Bohrok? We can’t lead-guide the Matoran to Mata Nui with the many-swarms on the loose; besides, they have already shatter-wrecked the island, there’s nothing left.”

 

Takanuva was looking at him in surprise.

 

“How do you know the Bohrok are back?”

 

There was a moment of awkward silence, as the six Toa Nuva tried to muster the courage to answer. Not all of them were able to meet Takanuva’s eye. Finally, it was Tahu who said:

 

“It was us who released them. The Order of Mata Nui instructed us to do so.”

 

Takanuva clenched his fists. The news had clearly upset him, yet he did not look surprised.

 

“Helryx never said… she told us that the swarms were doing the will of Mata Nui… I should have guessed. Except that now they are a threat again: the Order has promised to deal with them, though.”

 

“That’s solved, then,” said Pohatu, eager to change the subject. “And what about you? What’s been going on in Metru Nui?”

Takanuva’s expression turned somber.

 

“Much and more, brothers.”

 

It took the Toa of Light some time to tell the tale of the Brotherhood attack on the city and of the battle that had ultimately led to their defeat. Turaga Dume, who had been talking to the Matoran from Artakha, joined them halfway through. When Takanuva finished speaking, there was a moment of silence, as the Toa Nuva struggled to absorb what they had just heard, to accept that their city had once again been devastated and that so many people had been lost.

 

“You were… incredible, Takanuva,” declared Tahu in the end. “I only wish we’d been there with you.”

 

“Turaga,” Gali said to Dume. “The battle may be over, but there must be something we can do to help.”

 

“There is.”

 

The words had not come from Dume, but from Helryx. The leader of the Order had been teleported away after the negotiation with the Shadowed One, but now she walked once more on the ship’s deck and was striding towards them.

 

“You know about our problem with the Bohrok. Since you’re here, you can take care of it. Return to the nest where you found the Bahrag, defeat them once more.”

 

“It was you who had us unleash the swarms in the first place,” replied Kopaka coldly. “And, now that they’ve become a problem, you want us to fix it.”

 

“Yes,” said Helryx, “I’m afraid that’s how it must be.  But you won’t be alone: we must be absolutely certain of success, so two of my agents will join you. One, Axonn, you’ve already met. If you need any more reinforcements, you can always return to Metru Nui and ask for them.”

 

The Toa Nuva weren’t sure how to respond. Tahu glanced at Dume, who sighed:

 

“I do wish you had consulted with me about this, Toa Helryx. Fine, I agree. But Takanuva will not go: I need him in Metru Nui.”

 

“That’s your choice,” shrugged Helryx.

 

The Toa were less satisfied. As the leader of the Order walked away, they turned towards Dume, but the Turaga silenced them all with a gesture.

 

“I know what you’re all thinking, but there’s still the evacuation of the city to consider: I would prefer to carry it out before the Dark Hunters arrive and I want Takanuva to supervise it.”

 

He glanced sideways to check that Helryx was out of hearing.

 

“I don’t want everything to be in the Order’s hands. They… they’re are most certainly on our side, but they have different priorities. I want Takanuva with the Matoran, just in case.”

 

After some hesitation, Tahu bowed his head in assent.

 

“Very well, Turaga. We will do as you say.”

 

-----

 

Eight streaks of color flashed through the tunnels linking the outer coast of the Silver Sea to the island of Mata Nui. Most of the Rahi infesting the caves took no notice of them and those that did had no time to react, for the figures were gone in the blink of an eye, moving so fast that they actually ghosted through solid rock walls and even through the bodies of the Rahi themselves. A journey that would have ordinarily lasted hours took them merely minutes and before long the packs of Rahi were replaced by swarms of Bohrok.

 

It was Onua who first noticed that virtually all of them were Nuhvok; a moment later, his suspicions were confirmed when their voyage came to an abrupt halt.

 

Tahu conjured a bright flame to light their surroundings, revealing the sheer size of the tunnel they were currently standing in. This was the largest of the passages leading to Mata Nui and the Toa Nuva had already passed this way when they had escorted the Matoran back to Metru Nui and more recently when they had travelled back to Mata Nui to awaken the Bohrok swarms. Now, however, an enormous pile of rubble had completely sealed the tunnel exit; furthermore, a Nuhvok swarm was at work only a short distance away, clearly aiming to bring down another section of the tunnel.

 

“What now?” rumbled the four-armed giant that along with Axonn had joined them as soon as they had reached the Great Barrier.

 

“It’s too thick for us to pass through, even with the power of my mask,” stated Pohatu.

 

“We could find another exit,” suggested Gali.

 

“No,” said Tahu. “We decided to use this tunnel to avoid having to find our way through the tunnel network. Besides, the Matoran will soon be passing through here as well. We’ll clear the path for them. Onua, Pohatu, I’m going to need your help.”

 

At the Toa of Fire’s signal, Onua directed a focused seismic wave at the obstruction, while Pohatu used his power to shatter the rocks and Tahu himself melted them into lava. At first, in spite of their power, they seemed to make little progress; then Axonn stepped up beside them and joined the effort, blasting the rubble with his immense energies.

 

With a deafening noise, the rocks exploded outwards, clearing the way forward. Up ahead, sunlight could be seen shining down into the tunnel; the eight of them made straight for it.

 

They emerged from the tunnel in time to see the sun setting. The red rays of light danced across the horizon, while the sky, with its unique shade of blue, so different from the one above Metru Nui, grew darker; the Red Star dominated the heavens, even as the white, ordinary stars began to appear around it.

 

But the eyes of the Toa were not fixed upon the sky, but on the land. Gali and Lewa, who had been the last to set foot on Mata Nui, had just about known what to expect, but the other Toa couldn’t help but stare in shock.

 

They had emerged onto a ridge to the south-east of the Motara Desert. The place had once been covered with grass and the odd shrub, spreading out all the way to the nearby sea. Now there was no vegetation left at all; a barren wasteland had replaced it, scorched by fire and acid. The streams that had once run across this land had completely vanished; no Rahi life was left. In the distance, the sea was clearly visible, too clearly, in fact, for every hill, ridge or other geological feature that might have once stood in the way had been systematically demolished.

 

“What have we done?” breathed Pohatu. “How… how could this have ever been the will of Mata Nui?”

 

“I keep wondering the same,” said Gali sadly. “And I still cannot find an answer.”

 

“If we don’t hurry, it will soon be even worse,” said Kopaka. “Brother…”

 

“Yes, yes,” nodded Pohatu, calling once more upon the power of his Mask of Speed. The six Toa and the two Order agents were soon racing across Po-Wahi, heading for the entrance to the lair of the Bahrag. For the first time, the sharper vision granted by the Kakama Nuva to its users to compensate for their immense speed felt like a curse more than a gift, for it allowed Pohatu and the other Toa to see just how much damage the Bohrok had inflicted to their beautiful land. The towering walls of the great canyons that had once been Po-Wahi’s pride had collapsed, filling the chasms with rubble. The rock formations were all but gone, shattered or melted by the power of the swarms. The largest mountains and highlands still stood, but Pahrak swarms were besieging them, causing landslide after landslide while Nuhvok undermined their foundations. Even the desert had not escaped the destruction, its great dunes flattened and the sand itself blown away in places to reveal the rock beneath.

 

When they finally slowed down, Pohatu’s expression was uncharacteristically somber.

 

“Nothing could be worse than this,” he mumbled. “How can we bring the Matoran back here? There’s nothing left for them.”

 

“We have no other option,” Tahu reminded him. “And by dealing with the Bahrag, we can put an end to this.”

 

The entrance to the lair of the Bahrag had once been located at the top of a rocky slope, which however had now been reduced to a pile of boulders; nevertheless, the way was still open and the eight of them quickly slipped into the gaping hole. On the way down, they crossed paths with a number of Bohrok swarms, some of them, surprisingly, heading down rather than up; clearly, with most of the island already destroyed, the Bohrok were starting to withdraw back into their nests. However, when they finally levitated down into the great chamber where the Toa had last seen the Bahrag, it was to discover it completely empty.

 

“Where could they be?” asked Pohatu.

 

Onua looked at Lewa.

 

“Brother, after you were taken over by the Krana, you developed a closer connection to the Bohrok than the rest of us. Can you sense the Bahrag anywhere?”

 

“No, Toa-brother,” said Lewa, slightly troubled. “I’m much-trying, but I sense-hear nothing.”

 

“Then we’ll have to find them ourselves,” declared Tahu.

 

“We should start from the tunnels,” said Gali, pointing to six doorways carved in the chamber walls. “That was where we found them the first time. And now these passages seem to have been dug again.”

 

“Well, on the plus side we don’t have to seek-collect Krana again to open them,” said Lewa, already walking towards a doorway.

 

He had barely made it through when something moved in the darkness beyond. Before the Toa of Air could react, something large flung itself at him and struck him hard, sending him flying back into the chamber.

 

As Lewa clambered to his feet, the others drew their weapons, ready to confront the new foe. But Lewa’s attacker wasn’t alone: large, multi-colored creatures were now emerging from every doorway, clustering together and increasing in number until they resembled a Bohrok swarm. Only these were not ordinary Bohrok.

 

“Bohrok Kaita,” whispered Gali.

 

And then, at the heels of their servants, two enormous, monstrous beings walked out of the doorways, their huge fangs gleaming, their powerful bodies identical in all but color.

 

“You have returned,” said the blue Bahrag, Cahdok.

 

“You freed us. But now, you would stop us again,” added her red sister, Gahdok.

 

“This cannot be. This time, you will not stop what must be done.”

 

“This time, the island will return to how it was in the before-time.”

 

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#24 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Mar 09 2018 - 01:37 PM

TWENTY-THREE

 

Dume walked through the corridors of the Coliseum. He had remained in the building since Botar had brought him back, resting and steeling himself for the negotiations that would soon take place. Now word had come from Helryx that the Shadowed One’s airship was heading for Metru Nui. The Toa of Water would send him a message, telling him to fly straight to the arena of Coliseum; they would welcome the Shadowed One there.

 

Welcome him! To my city!

 

He still found that hard to stomach. For millennia, both as Toa and as Turaga, he had considered the Dark Hunters his sworn enemies. The memories of all the massacres, havoc and destruction that they had unleashed upon Metru Nui still haunted him. Now, within a few minutes, he would be sitting at the same table as the organization’s leader and he would be expected to negotiate peace with him, to figure out a way for Matoran and Dark Hunters to coexist and to forge an alliance.

 

An alliance? How can we possibly be allies of the ones who have been robbing and killing us for millennia? They will stab us in the back without a second thought. And how can we be expected to coexist with them? They have no mercy, conscience or respect for the Three Virtues. And am I supposed to forget the past and all that they have done?

 

He glanced at Vakama. His fellow Turaga of Fire was walking beside him. The other elders were coordinating the evacuation of the Matoran from the city, but they had all agreed that one of the Turaga who had lived on Mata Nui, and who therefore knew the island far better than either Helryx, Dume or the Shadowed One, should attend the negotiations.

 

He supported these talks. Somehow, he has chosen to forget already. Could he be right? Should I do the same? Perhaps I must. Throughout my life, I’ve always upheld peace over conflict, dialogue over violence. Now it is time for me to be coherent with those principles. Starting a war is easy, but ending it… that is the true challenge. Peace has a price… and, if necessary, I must be ready to pay it.

 

They found Helryx standing in the arena with a party of Order agents. It was the middle of the night and the air was bitterly cold; the floor of the arena, still wet from the rain of the afternoon, had largely frozen over.

 

“He’s coming, then?” Dume asked as they approached.

 

“Yes,” replied the Toa of Water, displaying no surprise at the sight of Vakama. “His airship has almost reached the coast of Le-Metru.”

 

“The middle of the night isn’t exactly the best time to begin talks. Are we sure he’s not planning anything? Perhaps trying to distract us while his forces make their move?”

 

“We have confirmed that the Shadowed One is on board that airship. If you were right, I doubt he would risk coming to Metru Nui himself.”

 

“Still, I would have thought that he would wait for his ships and his allies to reach the sea gates. He was certainly insistent about that and it would have placed him in a position of greater strength.”

 

“That was his plan, too. Unfortunately, plans have a tendency to go awry at the worst of times.”

 

He caught it: the glow of the lightstone one of the Order agents was holding illuminated the trace of a satisfied, even smug smile on Helryx’s face. It was a strange weakness on her part: for millennia, she had labored to maintain absolute secrecy over the existence and actions of the Order of Mata Nui and had been undeniably successful. But now that she had stepped into the light, it sometimes seemed that she couldn’t help herself, that the temptation to flaunt the power, the influence and the accomplishments of the organization she had built was just too strong. In a way, Dume was glad that it was so, for it was possible to exploit Helryx’s pride to obtain information that the Order wouldn’t have otherwise revealed.

 

“You know something we don’t, I gather.”

 

Helryx nodded.

 

“It must be said for the Shadowed One that he conducted his war against the Brotherhood with undeniable ability. Although he sometimes engaged in open warfare, he was well aware that in battle his forces stood little chance against those of the Makuta. So, instead, he focused on harassing them, sabotaging their forces and bases, assassinating critical people, disrupting their sources of raw materials and their trade routes. Most importantly, however, he built a wide network of alliances: for the last thousand years, the Dark Hunters have been offering their services at a relatively modest price to any warlord, ruler or faction with a grievance against the Makuta or their servants. Many of the wars that have broken out over the past millennium have been wars by proxy, with the Brotherhood on one side and the Dark Hunters on the other.”

 

She smiled.

 

“The Dark Hunters’ weakness, however, was their own methods. Most of those who struck a deal with them soon found that backing out wasn’t an option. The Hunters exacted tribute, forced them to continue providing support and replaced the rulers who wouldn’t agree with more obliging ones; furthermore, if the Shadowed One decided that a certain partnership was no longer convenient, his operatives would vanish without a trace, leaving their former allies alone before the wrath of the Makuta. It all created a lot of discontent. That was our way in. Even as the Shadowed One forged his alliances, we set up our own, far subtler and more secret. The agents who struck those deals, naturally, never revealed their true allegiance, but they nevertheless created a network of people and factions who would join our side when the right time came. That time is now. The Shadowed One would have preferred to wait for his allies, but he is suddenly discovering that not all of them are as loyal as he would have thought. Many are reneging their deals even now and declaring for us instead. My agents have seen to it.”

 

Dume didn’t reply immediately. He couldn’t help but be impressed by Helryx’s statements, but at the same time they felt somewhat too optimistic.

 

“So how much of a threat are the Hunters now?” asked Vakama, clearly thinking along the same lines.

 

Helryx’s smile vanished and she hesitated to answer, as if suddenly reluctant to speak.

 

“A considerable one, admittedly,” she finally said. “We never contacted some of their allies and others have chosen to remain loyal to them. The real problem, however, is that many of our agents died facing the Brotherhood and their contacts died with them. Still, we have managed to rattle the Shadowed One; he can no longer afford to wait, for once the news of what is happening breaks out, his remaining partners might abandon him and even his subordinates might rebel. He needs this deal as much as we do.”

 

The sound of an approaching airship suddenly filled the air. After a few moments, the flying vessel appeared above them, though it was barely visible, for it had no lights on. It coasted through the spires of the Coliseum and finally touched down at the center of the arena. Six Dark Hunters emerged first and spread out to survey the surroundings. Apparently satisfied that there was no trap waiting for them, one of them motioned towards the airship. Only then did the Shadowed One emerge.

 

Helryx had been right then, Dume thought as the Dark Hunter leader approached. The Shadowed One had decided to come himself, instead of sending an envoy. True, he had brought a bodyguard, a blue and white giant towering over everyone else, but it was still a sign of either trust or of complete confidence in his ability to escape an ambush.

 

It might also be that he trusts no one else to negotiate this deal, and that staying behind would have been seen as a sign of weakness.

 

The Shadowed One halted in front of them. Nothing in his stance hinted to his network of alliances melting away. His stare fell upon Helryx and Dume, making it clear that he considered himself their equal.

 

Strangely enough, it was on Vakama that his gaze lingered the longest. In fact, Dume could have sworn that an expression of fury had for a moment appeared on the Shadowed One’s face and that his eyes had turned crimson, as if ready to blast Vakama out of existence. The Turaga of Fire, for his part, met the other’s glare without blinking.

 

“Welcome to Metru Nui, Shadowed One.”

 

The words tasted bitter in his mouth. Although the greeting was customary enough, the significance behind those simple words couldn’t be denied. One of Metru Nui’s greatest foes was now being welcomed into the city; never, not in his wildest imaginings, had Dume thought he would one day say those words willingly.

 

Yet it was necessary. This was the first step towards peace. It was also the easiest one. The true test now begins.

 

-----

 

The Bohrok Kaita summoned its powers, unleashing a hail of molten rock. Axonn simply swung his axe, slicing the machine in two. Three more took its place and bombarded him with their powers, but Axonn shrugged everything off and unleashed a blast of energy which downed all three Kaita at once.

 

The situation, however, remained dire. Several Bohrok Kaita had formed a protective ring around the Bahrag, while the rest were hurling themselves at their enemies; already, they had managed to separate them. None of them had so far fallen, but the Bohrok were relentless, driven as they were by the single-minded will of their queens.

 

Helryx underestimated them and so did we. Now we pay the price of our arrogance.

 

At the time, Axonn had even welcomed the task his leader had given him. He had spent the previous day at Brutaka’s side, enduring the bitter depression that had gripped his friend. In some way, it reminded him of the time when he had turned against the Great Spirit, but this time there was no anger, no lust for power, just a complete and desperate resignation; he had put his mask power to the Order’s disposal, he had done everything Helryx had asked him to do, yet it seemed as if the spark of life had gone out of him. Experiencing his own share of grief at seeing his friend in such a state, Axonn had been glad for a chance to vent it off in battle.

 

Now, though, he was wondering whether he had bitten on more than he could chew. The Bohrok Kaita were strong, a large enough number was a match even for him. Three were now running towards him: they separated as soon as they got close enough, the central one unleashing a wave of acid while the other two tried to flank him. Axonn charged, shrugged off the acid and plowed into the Bohrok that had released it. He didn’t stop, swinging his axe again and again, trying not so much to destroy the Bohrok permanently as to clear a path through their ranks. After a few minutes, he reached Kopaka, Pohatu, Onua and Gali, who were fighting back-to-back against the attacking Kaita. His arrival bought them a respite, but already the Bohrok were regrouping to renew their assault.

 

“We can’t go on like this!” exclaimed Gali. “We’re getting nowhere. We need to go back, get some reinforcements.”

 

“A fine plan, sister,” replied Kopaka. “But the Bahrag are ready for that too.”

 

 “What are you talking about?” asked Pohatu.

 

“There are more Kaita waiting for us if we try to go back the way we came. They’ve blocked every exit.”

 

“You think they’re aware of the rest of the Order?” said Onua.

 

“All I can tell you is that they won’t let us escape without a fight.”

 

“Enough!” roared Axonn, unleashing a shockwave to keep the Bohrok back. “This is no time for a discussion. Share the powers of your Masks of Speed and Strength with me.”

 

“What for?”

 

“I have a plan.”

 

-----

 

“Impossible!”

 

The Shadowed One had not shouted, nor did he sound particularly angry, yet his tone left no room for reply. Dume gave the Dark Hunter leader, who was seated in front of him, flanked by his huge bodyguard and by the twisted being known as the Recorder, who was jotting down every word they were saying, a weary look; ever since the talks had begun, the Shadowed One had shown no willingness to compromise on anything. Did he truly mean to come to an agreement? Or would his stubbornness persist until the talks collapsed?

 

Unfortunately, he’s not alone in his stubbornness, either.

 

“Impossible? Don’t be ridiculous,” retorted an incensed Helryx. “You’ve warred against the Brotherhood for a thousand years. You should have realized by now that we can hope to win only if we combine our forces!”

 

Most of the negotiations so far had focused on carrying out the evacuation of the Matoran and Dark Hunters already within the dome of Metru Nui. It had taken a great effort on Dume’s part, but finally the Shadowed One had agreed to wait until the Bahrag were defeated and the migration of the Matoran was complete before sending his own forces into the tunnels leading to Mata Nui. Now the discussion was shifting to the evacuation of the rest of the universe and to the contribution that each faction would have to make to that great endeavor. It should have been a less sensitive subject, yet the Shadowed One was clearly determined to make no concessions whatsoever.

 

“That may be, Toa,” replied the Shadowed One. “But cooperating to defend the island of Mata Nui is one thing, what you’re asking me to do quite another. The universe is dying and you want me to send my Hunters back into it? And what for? To selflessly save the lives of others? I’ll spell it out for you: we don’t care. You want to play the heroes and try to save everyone? Do it yourselves and don’t expect the Dark Hunters to help you.”

 

“I thought I’d made it clear that we’re not abandoning the rest of this universe. If your mercenaries can’t bring themselves to endure the proximity of Matoran, fine, it’s not like they would trust the likes of you anyway; but we can send them to their own species as ambassadors, or to contact warlords on Zakaz and Stelt. If we don’t, then the Makuta will. I have no intention of letting the Brotherhood grow stronger while we wait on Mata Nui for their attack to come. We must leave them without allies and we must also attack them whenever the chance presents itself, weaken them before the final confrontation.”

 

“You’d be fighting over the ruins, weakening us as much as them. Folly! You think I cannot see your real intentions? You are plotting to rob me of my forces and leave me powerless on Mata Nui.”

 

It was time to intervene. With all his misgivings about the negotiations, Dume certainly hadn’t been expecting that it would fall to him to act as the voice of reason, but it seemed that Helryx, for all her talk about this alliance being necessary, simply did not have the diplomatic skills to bring it into being.

 

And this deal is necessary, as much as I hate to admit it. And if Helryx can’t negotiate it, it’s up to me.

 

“I will be frank, Shadowed One,” he began. “I would like nothing better than to see you powerless. I therefore understand your concern. But this is not what we’re proposing. We want to send expeditions out into the universe and we want the Dark Hunters to contribute, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be consulted. We will decide on every expedition, every military operation together. The Order and the Toa will participate as well, the numbers will balance each other out. Is this so unacceptable? Shadowed One, surely you can see that Helryx is telling the truth: the Brotherhood must be weakened and we cannot do it without you. Your Hunters have fought the Brotherhood before, they are specialized in sabotage and covert assault. We need that.”

 

Perhaps it was the surprise of hearing Dume, of all people, praising the Dark Hunters, but the Shadowed One’s stance suddenly seemed to soften. When he opened his mouth, his tone, too, no longer seemed quite so uncompromising:

 

“Very well. That is possible. On one condition, however. The expeditions will be agreed upon together, but once a Dark Hunter party is sent out there they answer to me and only to me. I will not relinquish my authority.”

 

Dume wasn’t immediately sure how to reply. The risk of such an arrangement was obvious: there was no telling what the Shadowed One might order his people to do. He might authorize them to harm Matoran or other innocents and he might also give them instructions that would further his own ends rather than those of the alliance.

 

But there’s no way he’ll accept anything else. No, this is the best deal we can hope for.

 

“Very well, so long as force is used solely against the Brotherhood, without damaging anyone or anything else.”

 

The words sounded hypocritical even as he said them. Anyone with the barest knowledge of the Dark Hunters and their ways would know that there was no chance they would ever uphold such a condition. Was he about to unleash the Hunters on the helpless populations of the universe?

 

The price of peace…

 

-----

 

“Now!” bellowed Axonn.

 

Pohatu Nuva was ready. Calling upon the power of the Kakama Nuva, he shared it with the Order agent. Axonn broke into a run, making straight for the Bahrag. The Bohrok Kaita tried to block his advance, but Axonn was simply too fast to be stopped. Colossal amounts of fire, acid and water rained upon him, but the warrior enveloped himself in a nimbus of energy and plowed through every obstacle. He ignored the damage he had received: all that mattered was the goal.

 

In the blink of an eye, he had reached the Kaita that surrounded the Bahrag. He demolished the first few before they even realized what was happening. The rest clustered around him, managing with their powers and sheer numbers to bring him to a halt.

 

But at that moment the whole cave was rocked by a mighty quake, centered precisely on Axonn’s location, and even as the Bohrok Kaita struggled to keep their balance, the warrior felt a surge of strength pervade him, adding to his already immense power. When he swung his axe and hit a Bohrok with the flat of his blade, the blow was so strong that almost a dozen Kaita were sent flying, clearing the path to the Bahrag.

 

Some of the Bohrok Kaita were rising to their feet again, but their movements didn’t escape Onua. From the tunnel that he had dug below the feet of the Bahrag, he sent out his elemental power to create mini-quakes, earth waves and chasms, preventing the Kaita from regrouping. Meanwhile, he kept sharing his mask power with Axonn.

 

The Order warrior was now standing before the Bahrag. Before they could attack him, he channeled his energies into his axe and swung it, slicing through the force field created by the queens’ power. White-hot flames greeted him, but Axonn batted them away. He raised his axe again and swung it at Gahdok, leaving a deep gash in her flank. The red Bahrag roared in pain, even as Cahdok responded with a hail of boulder, only for Axonn to deflect them with a tremendous shockwave that drove the blue queen into a wall. Then he turned his attention back to her twin, using his super-strong fists to strike her again and again.

 

There was no warning. The ceiling of the tunnel Onua had dug suddenly crumbled. The Toa of Earth found himself staring up a hole, at the top of which two Bohrok Kaita stood. He tried to summon his power, but it was too late: ice cascaded over him, freezing him solid.

 

The abrupt loss of his enhanced strength brought Axonn to a stop. The opening was all the Bahrag needed. A blast of water drove Axonn back and before he could resume his attack, six Bohrok Kaita lined up in front of him. The warrior brought his fist down upon the first; a moment later, he roared in pain as his hand struck an invisible barrier. Behind the head-plates of the Bohrok, identical Krana Ca gleamed as their power projected a shield to protect their Bohrok hosts from attack. And then the Kaita charged, releasing a wave of acid and water. Axonn tried to fend the attack off, only for a chasm to yawn open under his feet. He fell and a rain of molten boulders followed him in, filling the hole until he was lost from view. The last thing he heard were the victorious screeches of the Bahrag.

 

-----

 

It is the last obstacle, Dume told himself.

 

Plenty still remained to be decided, but they were now at the crucial point: how to settle the island of Mata Nui. When the Matoran had returned to Metru Nui, they had carried with them several maps to store in the Archives. Vakama had had a number of those maps brought to them and when the Shadowed One had seen a layout of the underground tunnels of Mata Nui, he had immediately laid claim to Po-Wahi, Onu-Wahi and Ko-Wahi.

 

“It’s too much,” Helryx replied immediately.

 

“How so? It seems to me that I’m leaving all the south to you. From what I see here, there’s plenty of greenery for your Matoran to thrive, while my Hunters will have to endure harsher climates. But we have no problem doing so; we’re used to a spartan way of life.”

 

And you also wish to control the tunnel network. Most of the tunnels leading to Mata Nui come out in Po-Wahi, thought Dume.

 

“I doubt that the vegetation has been spared by the Bohrok,” said Vakama. “The island as it is now could be very different from the one we see here. The tunnels, for instance, will have been mostly destroyed. Most likely, only the entrances to the Bohrok Nests will remain and most of those we never managed to map. You should take care not to base yourself too much on what you see here.” The Shadowed One didn’t answer, but Dume could see that Vakama’s words had struck their mark.

 

His fellow Turaga of Fire exploited the opening to speak again.

 

“Besides, how do you intend to govern this land?”

 

“The way I see fit.”

 

“No. The island cannot be split into smaller realms. There will have to be laws that Matoran, Dark Hunters and everyone else has to follow.”

 

The Shadowed One’s eyes narrowed.

 

“I thought I had made this clear. My Hunters obey me and only me; that will not change.”

 

“Vakama is right,” said Dume. “We cannot give your Hunters free rein among the Matoran. There have to be restrictions.”

 

“This isn’t simply an alliance,” added Vakama. “We are shaping our future, common society. And a common society needs a common law.”

 

The Shadowed One smiled mockingly.

 

“You really believe that? What a ridiculous notion. A common society? My Hunters are outcasts, thieves and murderers. They left society behind a long time ago and they live to violate laws. The only rules they follow are mine, because they know the price of disobedience. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’ll stay. We’re wasting time with these absurd proposals.”

 

“I agree,” said Helryx unexpectedly. “But your claims remain unreasonable. You want your piece of Mata Nui to rule? All right, you can have the part of Po-Wahi to the east of Tiro Canyon. Take it and let’s move on. Decisions about a common society can be taken later. For the moment, everyone rules inside their own territory.”

 

Dume forced himself to keep his expression neutral. Helryx openly taking the Shadowed One’s side was something he had not been expecting. What was she thinking? Didn’t she understand that they couldn’t afford to appear divided? Besides, couldn’t she see that simply partitioning the island was a recipe for disaster?

 

But for her, it’s only a temporary solution, he reminded himself. She still believes the Order can destroy the Dark Hunters after this is over. Impossible. Such a conflict would benefit no one and the Matoran would be the ones to suffer the most.

 

“It’s not nearly enough,” the Shadowed One was saying. “You’re offering me a desert, to house all my Hunters and all my allies. I won’t accept this.”

 

“Your allies can live elsewhere,” said Vakama. “The Frostelus can settle in Ko-Wahi, others in the grasslands to the north of Ta-Wahi.”

 

“You are trying to separate my forces in order to…”

 

“I was under the impression they were your allies, not your slaves,” Vakama cut him off. “And as for Helryx’s proposal, it will pave the way to chaos and war. Common rules must exist.”

 

Fury flashed in the Shadowed One’s eyes and Helryx didn’t bother to mask her irritation. But Dume anticipated both.

 

“Listen to my proposal, then: the Dark Hunters will take what Helryx has offered. Your other allies will settle elsewhere and we will negotiate the location of each settlement. Once this division is accomplished, each faction will rule its territory as it sees fit. However, there will be rules: any member of a faction is forbidden from harming, restricting the freedom or committing any sort of crime against someone belonging to another faction. Should this happen, each faction will punish its own, but no crime will go unpunished. Order will be kept by a single force, which will draft its members from all factions. Finally, the leaders of each faction will join this council, which will have the task of addressing any controversies and disputes between territories.”

 

He glanced at the others. Vakama was nodding, while Helryx’s face was expressionless, but it wasn’t her who had to agree.

As he stared at the Shadowed One, Dume could barely mask his trepidation. The proposal was imperfect and many details still needed to be ironed out, but that would be relatively easy to do. However, if the Shadowed One refused the proposal, they would be back to square one and the entire talks might flounder.

 

If he accepts, on the other hand… peace; perhaps only for a short time, but peace nevertheless!

 

The time it took for the Shadowed One to answer seemed to last an eternity. Then, finally, the leader of the Dark Hunters opened his mouth to speak:

 

“Fine. I accept.”

 

-----

 

Clean it all.

 

Lewa glanced down at Onua. The Toa of Earth was barely conscious and he was shivering violently.

 

It must be cleaned.

 

“Is he all right?” shouted Tahu.

 

“Ice-cold! But we were quick-fast enough.”

 

He was an obstacle. He was removed.

 

Tahu nodded with a grimace of a pain. He was cradling an injured arm, but the wound wasn’t serious.

 

“We need to…”

 

ANOTHER OBSTACLE HAS BEEN REMOVED! ALL OBSTACLES WILL BE REMOVED!

 

The four-armed Order agent collapsed to the ground. The Bohrok Kaita that had brought him down rushed forward and surrounded the three Toa. A hail of fireballs slammed into them, as Tahu tried to hold them back; Lewa could do no more than stare in shock and despair. The three of them had rushed forward to rescue Onua, but now another of them had fallen. The Bohrok Kaita were unstoppable; their numbers were endless and their voices…

 

All will be cleaned! You do not belong! You will be removed! You will not oppose your brothers again!

 

He tried to fight back, but resistance was useless. The voices, the ones he had been able to hear ever since a Krana had taken him over, the ones that he had believed defeated, were now back, stronger than ever, deafening. Tahu was yelling something, but he couldn’t hear him. He saw a Bohrok Kaita vault forward, saw its limb swing at him and knock his mask off. Weakness flooded his limbs along with knowledge, the knowledge of what was about to happen and the certainty that there was nothing he could do to stop it.  

 

Before Lewa’s eyes, the Bohrok’s head-plate opened. A Krana flew out, hit his face, affixed itself to it and…

 

Clean it all. It must be cleaned.

 

The swarms’ thoughts were now loud and clear. It was so simple, so obvious. There was still so much clutter that had to be eliminated. There were still beings trying to oppose what had to be done. They all had to be cleaned…

 

No… thought Lewa.

 

There was something wrong about it, terribly wrong. There was a reason he shouldn’t do what he was told, if only he could remember it. A reason… a duty…

 

But that was absurd. Every Krana had only one duty… to clean.

 

And suddenly everything was clear. The island of Mata Nui had to be safeguarded, it had to be preserved, because it was now the only refuge for the Matoran Lewa was sworn to protect. The first time he had been taken over by a Krana, Lewa had needed Onua’s help to see this, but that experience had made him stronger.

 

He was about to remove the Krana when something stopped him. There might be a reason for doing what they were doing, but it wouldn’t matter if the Toa lost. The power of the Bohrok was enormous and the will of the Bahrag unyielding. And the Bahrag were doing nothing other than following the law of Mata Nui. Except that now it was different. Because Mata Nui was dead.

 

Lewa started advancing through the ranks of the Bohrok. They let him pass, how could they not? To them, he was another member of the swarm. Eventually, he found himself in front of the two Bahrag.

 

He could feel the queens’ confusion. There was a unit which didn’t obey to their commands. But this was impossible, because the unit was equipped with a Krana. Orders were repeated over and over again, but he brushed them aside, knowing that what he was doing was right. He felt their questing thoughts, searching for the reason he wasn’t doing what they were telling him to. And he told them that reason.

 

“Mata Nui is dead,” he said. “The Great Spirit is no more. Your mission no longer has any meaning.”

 

The queens were uncertain. If he had told them this as a Toa, they would have branded him a liar. But he was part of the swarm.

 

“Mata Nui must no longer be cleaned. Tell the Krana to cease all operations.”

 

As the doubts of the Bahrag grew, a good part of the Bohrok Kaita stopped fighting. The other Toa didn’t stop to wonder at this and dashed towards their teammate. When they saw what was on his face, they stopped dead.

 

“Brother…” said Gali.

 

He turned to her.

 

“Toa-brothers, off-take your masks. Take them off and put a swarm-Krana on.”

 

“What…”

 

“Do it. Do it now.”

 

The other Toa were wary. It might be Lewa’s voice telling them this, but he was wearing a Krana. It would suit the Bahrag just fine to take them all over.

 

It was Gali who finally made a move: stepping forward, she took off her mask.

 

“Don’t,” started saying Pohatu.

 

“It’s all right,” said Onua. “This isn’t the Krana speaking. It is our brother Toa.”

 

“If you’re wrong…” said Tahu.

 

“I am not.”

 

Disabled Bohrok had left several Krana lying on the ground. Gali and Onua picked up one each and placed it on their faces. The other Toa hesitated, but the confidence in Onua’s voice had been unmistakable; one by one, they followed suit.

 

“Now you can see the truth from us all,” Lewa told the Bahrag.

 

“The cleaning has to proceed,” said Cahdok. “Every external influence is irrelevant.”

 

“We are not an external influence. We’re part of you now. You know that we speak the truth. You must change, adapt. There will be a place for you among us. There are so many things the Bohrok can do for us all.”

 

“We…”

 

“Stop the Bohrok swarms. Stop them. Stop them now.”

 

And that final order was what did it. The Bahrag had seen their previous mission was purposeless. They had needed new instructions and Lewa had given them.

 

It took less than a second for every Krana on Mata Nui to receive those same commands. Thousands of Bohrok instantly stopped dead.

 

Lewa took off his Krana. A gust of wind carried his Kanohi back to him and he put it back on. The other Toa did the same.

 

“What now?” asked Gahdok, sounding lost, scared, even.

 

“We will show you,” said Gali. “The island has suffered, but with your help, it can be restored. What was destroyed will be rebuilt; and Mata Nui will thrive again, a safe haven for the peoples of the universe, a new home for us all.”

 

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Edited by Toa of Italy, Mar 18 2018 - 03:57 AM.

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 


#25 Offline Toa of Italy

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Posted Mar 30 2018 - 02:23 AM

TWENTY-FOUR

 

The island of Mata Nui was not what Dume had expected. ­Even though he had been aware of the destruction wreaked upon it by the Bohrok swarms, in his mind he had visualized it as the other Turaga and the Matoran had described it to him, a land very different from Metru Nui, a wilderness where nature reigned supreme. The tales he had heard and the carvings and maps he had seen had all spoken of the extraordinary variety of climates and terrains that could be found on the island, of the great mountains, the wide deserts, the frozen snowfields, the pristine coastlines, the dark, labyrinthic caves, the burning slopes of the Mangai volcano and the huge, lush forests teeming with life.

 

The plateau he was now gazing upon couldn’t be more different: it was bleak and barren and there was no sign of life, apart from the Matoran themselves. The surrounding mountains were admittedly tall, but the peaks had been flattened, the rockfaces shattered and massive landslides had swept down the slopes; there was no vegetation left.

 

He glanced at the spires of the Kini-Nui, which surrounded the hole from which he had just emerged. The temple at least matched the descriptions Dume had heard: from its raised stone platform the Turaga could see a ravine which bisected the plateau and a stone bridge that had been built to span the chasm; both sides of the canyon teemed with Matoran and Bohrok hard at work.

 

Dume spoke a few words of thanks to the Onu-Matoran upon whose Ussal cart he had made the journey and then stepped out of the way as several more crabs crawled out of the hole at the center of the temple, each pulling a heavily-loaded cart. That was when he spotted Onewa making his way towards him.

 

“Greetings,” said the Turaga of Stone. “You’re finally here.”

 

“It was time.”

 

“How are things below?”

 

“For the moment, everyone seems to be upholding the treaty. The Order is monitoring the Dark Hunters and their allies, making sure they only migrate to their assigned regions. But it’s too early to judge. Even if there are no blatant violations, I don’t expect the borders we agreed upon to last for long: everyone will be trying to shift them to their own advantage. For the moment, we can lay claim to most of the island, but they will attempt to seize any territory we leave unoccupied.”

 

“I know. The others are already on their way to the sites of the old villages. The Toa are also keeping watch.”

 

Dume nodded. He didn’t share, and in fact viewed with skepticism, the attachment of his fellow Turaga to the old villages, but restoring them was admittedly a way to establish a Matoran presence all across their territory. There was, however, one village that would not be restored: the site of Po-Koro was now at the center of Dark Hunter territory. Onewa seemed to read his mind:

 

“My people aren’t very happy about this deal. Many were looking forward to rebuilding their homes.”

 

“It couldn’t be helped.”

 

“I understand, but not everyone will. Pohatu was furious.”

 

Dume frowned.

 

“Has he caused any problems?”

 

“For the moment, I’ve had him throw all his energies into the work here. See the bridge over the ravine? His work. With his help, we’ll have the town up in no time.”

 

“Keep an eye on him. This treaty is shaky enough without adding an angry Toa to the mix.”

 

Onewa nodded.

 

“What about the Bohrok?”

 

“Invaluable. The Pahrak have been very helpful; they’re not very good at sculpting stone, but they can certainly extract it and carry it. And the river at the bottom of the ravine is running again, thanks to the Gahlok and the Kohrak. We won’t have to worry about water.”

 

“Do you really think they can be trusted?”

 

Onewa shrugged.

 

“I don’t know. I had my doubts, but the Toa all seem to think so. Maybe they’re right. For the moment, the Bahrag have done everything we’ve asked of them. They’re even helping us with security; we’ve certainly had no trouble with Rahi and the Toa are using Lehvak swarms to monitor the borders. It won’t be so easy for the Dark Hunters to penetrate them.”

 

“I must speak to the Bahrag myself.”

 

“They’re in there,” said Onewa, gesturing to a large building standing on the other side of the ravine. Several Bohrok Va were milling around it and guarding the entrance were three larger creatures, which could only be the Bohrok Kaita that had caused the Toa so much trouble.

 

Dume’s attention turned to the other buildings that were springing up on the plateau. They were almost all incomplete, but Bohrok and Matoran were working hard to finish them. Most of the villagers were Po-Matoran, but there were some from all tribes. It was appropriate, for the town that was springing around the Kini-Nui would serve as the Matoran capital.

 

A sudden weariness overtook Dume. There had been precious little time to rest over the last two days. Negotiating the main points of the treaty had been just the start: a myriad of details had remained to be agreed upon, forcing him to stay in Metru Nui longer than he had anticipated and to leave the evacuation entirely in the hands of his fellow Turaga. That migration was now finished, apart from those Matoran who had remained below to crew the ships and run errands for the Order; and the treaty was complete at last, though whether it would hold was anyone’s guess.

 

“You should rest,” said Onewa, noticing his fatigue.

 

“You may be right,” nodded Dume. “Speaking with the Bahrag can wait, I suppose.”

 

“Just one question. The six Toa Nuva are all accounted for. But what of Takanuva? Where is he?”

 

“Gone, for now,” answered Dume. “Helryx gave him a task that neither he nor I could refuse.”

 

“What task?”

 

“The liberation of his people.”

 

-----

 

Kirop landed on a spit of mud and turned to look back the way he had come. Most of the swamp that lay at the bottom of Karda Nui was shrouded by a thick fog, but here, close to the western wall of the immense cavern, the mist was thinner, allowing him to distinguish the shapes of the dozens of Shadow Matoran currently making their way west. Behind them, he could still spot the outlines of the huge stalactites impaled in the floor of the swamp and rising high above the fog to stand out against the vast space that was Karda Nui. They had passed the last one about an hour before; now, they were almost at their destination.

 

“Is it here?” he sharply asked Vican.

 

“Just over there,” answered the other Shadow Matoran nervously, pointing at the cavern wall. Kirop followed the gesture, but all he saw was a long, vertical crack in the rock, far too narrow to pass through.

 

“That’s it,” said Vican animatedly. “It’ll open once we’re close enough. I don’t why, it just works that way.”

 

Kirop made no effort to hide his skepticism, but at the same time he knew he had no choice but to trust Vican’s words: unlike the rest of the Shadow Matoran, he had come to Karda Nui with the Makuta and was thus the only one who knew where the portal that led to the outside was located.

 

The Shadow Matoran scowled impatiently: they were moving too slowly and had lost far too much time already. Not for the first time, he contemplated taking Vican and those Shadow Matoran who were most loyal to him, leaving the rest behind.

 

They are only slowing us down and many of them still don’t respect my leadership. Morons! I led them for thousands of years, why should it be different now? I might have been an idealistic fool back then, but I still have more experience and knowledge than any of them. It shouldn’t be so hard to figure it out!

 

And yet many, far more than Kirop would have expected, had taken Gavla’s side when he had challenged her leadership. Gavla, of all people! What had she ever done for them? The only reason she had been chosen as Shadow Matoran leader was her loyalty to Vamprah and the other Makuta, a loyalty so ridiculously deep that it had blinded her to the truth. When the masters of shadow had left, Gavla had insisted that the Shadow Matoran follow orders and wait for their return. At her behest, they had launched attack after attack at the one surviving Av-Matoran village, all of which had come to naught. By the time the majority of the Shadow Matoran came to the conclusion that the Makuta had abandoned them, precious days had been wasted. Yet even then, Gavla had stubbornly refused to face reality; that was when Kirop had decided that she was ripe for overthrow.

 

There had been no time for subtlety. After gaining the allegiance of the most skilled Shadow Matoran fighters, such as Radiak, Kirop had claimed the leadership for himself. The resulting struggle had been brutal, if brief: Gavla and her loyalists had been slaughtered and eventually the Shadow Matoran villages had all fallen in line behind him. Kirop had then proclaimed that he would not wait for the destruction of the universe to fall upon them; the time had come to leave Karda Nui forever.

 

He still wasn’t sure what they were going to do after passing through the portal. For all his age and knowledge, Kirop hardly knew anything about the rest of the universe: in the millennia before the Fall, the Av-Matoran had lived in caves above the roof of Karda Nui and had had almost no contact with the outside world. To them, the other lands were nothing but names, distant places with no real meaning to their day-to-day life. As for Vican, he had never been away from his home until Mutran had appeared to turn him into a Shadow Matoran; Kirop could expect little help from him.

 

Even though he hated the idea, he had to admit that their best option might be to join the Makuta once more. Vican had said that he could lead them to the island of Destral, headquarters of the Brotherhood; maybe, hopefully, the Makuta knew how to escape the apocalypse. If not…

 

“Kirop!”

 

The Shadow Matoran leader whirled around at the sound of Vican’s voice. His eyes fell once more upon Karda Nui’s western wall and surprise froze him in his tracks.

 

The portal had opened. The crack in the rock had widened into a black circle, through which no light shone. And now four objects were emerging from the darkness. They were large, roughly oval-shaped and obviously artificial in nature. They were emitting a low hum and, somehow, they were flying under their own power, though Kirop had no idea how something so large could stay aloft.

 

“What are those things?” he hissed.

 

“Airships,” whispered Vican. “I’ve seen the Brotherhood used them.”

 

Kirop’s heart sank. True, he had been contemplating making contact with the Brotherhood again, but not like this. If the Makuta were truly back, there was no telling what they might do to him once they found out about Gavla.

 

It was then that he glimpsed the beings; there were several of them, standing on balconies of sorts which protruded from the airships. They were all different in appearance and size, but every single one wore armor and carried a weapon. They certainly didn’t look like Makuta. Could they be servants of the Brotherhood?

 

Then his eyes fell upon one of them. He was on the first airship and his armor was white and gold, the natural color of the Matoran of Light. Kirop had seen his like before: it had happened tens of thousands of years before, but the ancient memories of the first time he had set foot in Karda Nui and of the six heroes who had protected his people still lived in his mind.

 

A Toa…

 

It wasn’t the Brotherhood, then. The situation was even worse.

 

The other Shadow Matoran had spotted the airships and most of them had been spotted in turn. Shouts echoed across the sky as they tried to figure out what to do. Some stopped in midair, others kept going and changed direction to avoid the flying vessels and a group turned around to flee altogether.

 

Then the airships split up. One accelerated and started to gain height, until it loomed above those Matoran who were trying to flee. The other two maneuvered around the Matoran, clearly trying to box them in; the last one, the one with the Toa on board, came to a standstill, as if waiting for something.

 

Though no shots had so far been fired, the Matoran had mostly figured out that the airships had hostile intent. A few loosed shadow bolts at them, but the majority dived towards the swamp, hoping to use the mist and the twisted vegetation to conceal themselves. Several times, Kirop heard his name being shouted, but he knew better than to answer. He was no fool: there was no way he could take charge and lead the Shadow Matoran out of this. They were no match for this enemy and they could not hope to outrace the airships. The other villagers were doomed: now he had to think about saving his own hide.

 

It can work. Vican and I are the closest ones to the portal and they haven’t spotted us yet.

 

“Move!” he snapped. When he saw that Vican was frozen in place, trembling in fear as he stared at the airships, he backhanded him, almost knocking him to the ground.

 

“I said move! We make for the portal! Fly as fast as you can and we’ll be through before they even notice us.”

 

Vican nodded nervously. The two Shadow Matoran took flight, wings beating as fast as they could as they headed towards the crack in the wall. No one seemed to have spotted them. The portal drew ever closer…

 

But suddenly shouts of pain and alarm filled the air. Against his will, Kirop turned around to spot the source. That was when he spotted the radiance: impossibly bright and powerful, it was spreading from one of the airships to envelop everything. He barely had the time to see the other Shadow Matoran writhing in midair before it reached him, encompassing him, flooding his body with pain and filling his field of vision, until he could see nothing but light.

 

-----

 

“What do you think?” asked Photok.

 

“I don’t know,” said Tanma grimly, staring out to the west. The flash of light had come from there, they had all seen it.

 

“Spread out the word. We keep going, but everyone must stay alert. If there’s any sign of danger, and I give the word, we scatter, find a hiding place in the swamp and wait until it’s safe to come out. Understood?”

 

He stared hard at Photok until the other Av-Matoran nodded. Tanma knew well that running and hiding didn’t sit well with his friend, but it didn’t matter. They were venturing into an unknown and undoubtedly dangerous part of the swamp, far from the safety of their Stalactite Village and with Shadow Matoran up ahead: he couldn’t afford to take any risks.

 

The Matoran of Light resumed their flight. Tanma’s eyes were fixed on the mist rising up ahead. The Shadow Matoran had been headed in the same direction where the flash had come from. He doubted it was a coincidence. In theory, light should be harmful to the corrupted villagers, but what had generated it? It had looked as pure and white as the radiance that pervaded Karda Nui, which however had been steadily dimming for the past week.

 

The dimming light had been one of the reasons that had persuaded Tanma that the surviving Matoran of Light had to leave their village and try to make their way out of Karda Nui. It had taken him a long time to reach that conclusion. In the immediate aftermath of the Great Spirit’s death, there had been no time to think about its consequences: the last remaining Av-Matoran village had been under siege by the Makuta, requiring them to devote their full attention to the struggle. The departure of the masters of shadow had given them new hope, but the Shadow Matoran had remained behind and for days Tanma’s energies had all gone into repelling their furious assaults.

 

Something had then changed: the corrupted villagers had suddenly stopped attacking and started fighting amongst themselves, only to subsequently regroup and start readying themselves to leave their villages. And then, finally, Tanma had grasped the magnitude of the catastrophe that loomed upon them; he had figured out that the Shadow Matoran knew how to escape Karda Nui and had realized that, to have a chance of survival, the Matoran of Light would have to follow.

 

They were making their way around a stalactite when Tanma’s rocket pack began to sputter. Glancing around, he saw that others were in the same situation. It was to be expected: the rocket packs on their backs allowed them to fly, but only for short distances. This was by far the longest journey any of them had ever made and they had already been forced to stop twice to refuel. Fortunately, a plant common in the swamp could act as propellant. Tanma fired a bolt of light into the air to signal a halt.

 

As soon as their feet touched the marshy ground of the swamp, Photok and he had some Matoran form a perimeter to keep watch as the rest of the villagers collected the rocket fuel. A few minutes passed. Tanma turned around to see how the search was going.

 

He froze in mid-step. Two figures were standing there, staring straight at him. One was tall and wearing white and gold armor. The other was a Matoran, but twisted and monstrous, with talons in place of hands, clawed feet and wings sprouting from his back; a Shadow Matoran, in other words, and one that Tanma knew well: Kirop.

 

A shout went up amongst the Av-Matoran as they spotted Kirop. Power swords were drawn and frantic glances were thrown to the surrounding vegetation, trying to spot the other corrupted villagers that must surely be closing on them.

 

Tanma gripped his own blades and stared at his former leader, already summoning a light bolt.

 

“Tanma…” whispered Kirop.

 

“Get out of here. Now!”

 

“Tanma, you have to listen to me. I… I’m no longer a Shadow Matoran. It’s me again, the Kirop you used to know.”

 

“Lies,” hissed Tanma. The struggle against the Makuta had lasted only a week, but those dreadful memories would stay with him forever: the horror of the other Matoran being turned into monsters ready to slaughter their comrades without a moment’s thought; the relief when some of them had come back, which had turned into fear and grief when their redemption had turned out to be false, a trap that had seen the shadow leeches claim yet more victims; the final decision to consider his friends lost forever and to fight the creatures that had replaced them without mercy nor regret.

 

He was about to open fire with his light powers when he heard someone breathe in sharply. Glancing sideways, he spotted Solek staring wide-eyed at the tall being who stood at Kirop’s side.

 

“Tanma,” said the white Av-Matoran, “maybe you should listen to what Kirop has to say.”

 

“Don’t,” he growled.

 

“But Tanma,” insisted Solek, amazement in his voice, “that one next to Kirop… he’s a Toa!”

 

Tanma hesitated. He was all too conscious that every second that passed might allow the other Shadow Matoran to spring an ambush; but for as long as he could remember Solek had been speaking about the six Toa who had in ancient times protected the Matoran of Light. Tanma had always dismissed such tales, but if it was true…

 

The tall being whom Solek had called a Toa opened his mouth to speak:

 

“Your name is Tanma, right? Your friend is right, I am a Toa. My name is Takanuva, Toa of Light. I understand that you don’t trust us, but I must ask you to listen. The Shadow Matoran that you’ve been fighting were abominations created by the shadow leeches, which drained the light within your friends, leaving only darkness. But I have the power to undo those effects and I have used it to restore the light within them all. Kirop is telling the truth: he and the others are back the way you knew them. And I have come to take you all away, to a place where you will be safe from the universe’s destruction.”

Several people started speaking at once. Tanma could sense that the tide was turning. For his part, he wanted nothing more than to believe what Takanuva was saying. But could he afford to?

 

“Tanma,” said Kirop. “Everyone. I… I don’t know where to begin. The things I did as a Shadow Matoran were… beyond horrible. I… I must beg your forgiveness… even though I know that no apology will be sufficient.”

 

Tanma glanced at the nearby trees. There certainly seemed to be no ambush ready to spring from them. And he could sense emotion, real emotion, in Kirop’s voice. Could he be that good an actor?

 

“Kirop, I would like nothing better than to accept your apology and have you back as our leader.” He stared at Takanuva. “But I need proof.”

 

Takanuva hesitated, as if considering something. Then he said:

 

“I think I can give you that.”

 

He locked eyes with Tanma. There a moment of dizziness… and then the Av-Matoran realized that he was no longer gazing at Takanuva’s eyes, but through them. He was looking at Kirop and he was seeing him as Takanuva saw him. The Toa of Light allowed him only a glimpse before cutting off the telepathic link, but it was enough, for Tanma had seen the light that Kirop’s soul harbored, he had felt it shine out and dance in patterns and shapes that weren’t, couldn’t, be faked.

 

Tanma’s own eyes fell upon Kirop. He looked beyond the warped body the Makuta had inflicted upon him: he saw his old leader, the Matoran whom he had once trusted above all else… and whom he could now trust again, without any doubt or hesitation. Stepping forward, he embraced Kirop tightly; tears were falling from his eyes, but it mattered not.

 

“Welcome back…my friend.”

 

-----

 

Helryx and Botar teleported onto the edge of a cliff. The leader of the Order dismissed her agent with a nod; then, as he teleported away, she turned to the two Toa who had accompanied her.

 

The first thing Tahu and Kopaka noticed was the light. Ever since the death of the Great Spirit, the light that illuminated the universe had grown increasingly dim; and even at its brightest it had never rivalled the sun shining over the island of Mata Nui.

 

The sunlight falling over Daxia, however, was completely different: blindingly bright, it seemed completely unaffected by the approaching end of the universe. The temperature was also astounding: although they were standing on top of a mountain, the air was hot and humid; Kopaka immediately used his power to give himself some relief from the heat.

 

Although nothing in Helryx’s poise revealed it, the heat was bothering the Toa of Water as well. Daxia had always been hotter and brighter than most of the universe, but Helryx couldn’t remember the temperature ever being quite so high. She turned away from the sea and her eyes fell upon the rainforest that covered the slopes of the island’s mountains; much of it was still lush and green, but smoke was rising from several spots and large patches had already been incinerated by fire, while others seemed to have simply died off without reason. There was no mistaking it: Daxia was perishing with the rest of the universe, though here perhaps the destruction would take a different form.

 

The two Toa Nuva were now staring at the port. The cliff rose straight above it, allowing them to clearly see a single, great stone quay stretching from the mainland before branching off into a series of smaller wharves. What had drawn their attention, however, were the enormous ships that were currently moored there. Most of the vessels bristled with weapons and all were thick with activity, though most of the work was actually being carried out by robots. Vehicles were advancing along the quay, carrying supplies, armaments and other sorts of cargo that was being loaded onto the ships by large automated cranes. The two largest ships possessed incredibly long and wide flat decks, upon which a number of airships, somewhat smaller than the ones used in Metru Nui, were parked. There were also several vessels that appeared to have no deck at all and to be completely encased in metal. Above the quay, still more airships were hovering, along with a myriad of smaller objects, which Kopaka’s telescopic lenses soon revealed to be flying robots.

 

“Why are you showing us this?” asked the Toa of Ice. “You still haven’t told us why we’re here.”

 

Tahu, although impressed by the display of military power, couldn’t help but agree. Helryx and Dume had summoned them without warning and the Toa of Water had subsequently had Botar take them all to Daxia without so much as a word of explanation.

 

“The Order is evacuating Daxia,” replied Helryx. “In a short time, this fleet will set sail along with all our remaining agents and will head for Metru Nui. However, four airships will be going in the opposite direction and you will be on board.”

 

She paused and then resumed speaking.

 

“Although many within the universe now know that the escape route from this universe passes through Metru Nui, others are still unaware of this. Embassies must be sent to them, not only to inform them but also to explain the conditions that they must submit to in order to migrate. The treaty that we have signed with the Dark Hunters will be extended to them, but they must agree to it first.”

 

“And you want us to go on one of these embassies?” asked Tahu.

 

“Yes. Much remains to be negotiated with the Dark Hunters before the full migration to Mata Nui can take place, so it will be some time before most of these expeditions leave. However, a few of them have already been agreed on and sent on their way from here. Takanuva is part of one, as you know. You will be on another. Each of you will be sent, along with others, to one of the two chains of Southern Islands. They are the most isolated lands of the universe and it is unlikely that they are aware of what has transpired in Metru Nui. It will be your job to inform them.”

 

“Why us?” asked Tahu.

 

“Even the Order knows little about the Southern Islands. But you have recently visited them, to cap the volcanic eruptions taking place there.”

 

“For a short time and not all of them,” replied Kopaka. “And we used Toa Canisters to travel. We know nothing about what an airship journey might entail.”

 

“Every bit of experience may count. And you won’t be alone. A couple of Order agents will be coming and Dark Hunters too.”

 

“What?” exclaimed Tahu.

 

“They’ll be arriving shortly. And you will cooperate with them. Like it or not, they’re our allies now and it is time to see whether this alliance can exist in practice. Dume and the Shadowed One have both agreed to this. These two expeditions to the Southern Islands won’t be just embassies, they’ll also be an experiment, to see whether Toa, agents of the Order and Dark Hunters can work together. Tahu, you will be the leader of your expedition, while Kopaka’s will be commanded by a Dark Hunter. You will follow his orders, just as the Dark Hunters on Tahu’s expedition will follow his. I am sure neither of you will disappoint us.”

 

The two Toa glanced at each other. They had spent the past three days working with Matoran and Bohrok to heal the land from the wounds left by the swarms, enough to realize the sheer magnitude of the task: it would take years for Mata Nui to be restored and in the meantime the Matoran would have to work hard just to scrape a living from the barren, lifeless land. In such a situation, and with the Dark Hunters and other potential threats right on their villagers’ doorstep, neither of them felt comfortable about leaving Mata Nui.

 

But the Toa of Fire and the Toa of Ice weren’t ones to shirk from their duty; and it was clear that their duty now demanded that they make this journey. So, after a few moments of hesitation, both nodded in consent.

 

“The airships are waiting for you. You leave within the hour,” Helryx told them. “And… good luck, brothers.”

 

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My collection of epics: The Sanctum of Writing

 





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