Practically everyone came out, or at least tried to. Soon, the decks were so crowded it was almost impossible for anyone to move; but the view that lay before them was well worth a little discomfort.
The air around them was cold but incredibly clear; the light of the breaking dawn was shining through it, pale and weak but wonderful nonetheless. Below them, the radiance washed upon the silver sea, revealing a multitude of vessels making their way across the waters; and in front of them, it illuminated an immense vertical cliff, so high that its summit could not be spotted. The barrier extended to the east and to the west as far as the eye could see, but at its base, where it sank into the waters, a great portal lay open. The sight was the confirmation everyone had long awaited: at last, they were at the end of their journey.
The four airships started to lose height as they aimed straight for the archway. As they drew closer to the sea, Takanuva was able to better discern the ships that were sailing north, headed for their same destination. There were dozens of them, maybe even hundreds. Some were large, powerful crafts, but there was also a myriad of boats that seemed way too small to brave the open sea and a number of vessels that looked barely seaworthy. In the distance, he could even see a few airships making for the sea gate.
So many. And this is just the beginning. An entire universe is about to pass through these gates.
The thought was sobering, to say the least. For one thousand years, Takanuva’s universe had been no larger than the island of Mata Nui. Then he had learned about the existence of Metru Nui and of the other lands of the universe and finally, over the past week, he had travelled over those lands himself. But only now it felt as if he was finally seeing just how large the population of the world was. And, unbidden, came an unpleasant thought.
We’ll never be able to fit so many on Mata Nui.
A murmur went through the assembled Matoran as another airship rose from the gate to intercept them. Their own craft vibrated slightly as the pilot brought it to a standstill right in front of the newcomer.
“State your identity!” boomed a voice from the other ship. Looking closely, Takanuva noticed that speakers had been positioned onto its deck.
“We’re the Order of Mata Nui expedition to Karda Nui,” replied the most senior Order agent in the expedition. “We are ordered to bring the Matoran of Light to Metru Nui.”
There was a moment of silence, then the voice spoke again:
“You are cleared through the gate. Proceed into the waterway.”
A cheer went up from the Av-Matoran as their craft began moving again. As they approached the tunnel, Takanuva noticed that there were other airships and ships patrolling the entrance and sallying out to intercept the incoming vessels. He glimpsed a warship pulling alongside a boat and wondered if all inspections went as fast as their own had; somehow, he thought not.
Most Av-Matoran were clearing the deck, still talking happily amongst themselves. The Toa of Light saw one white Matoran approach him:
“Have we really made it, Takanuva?” asked Solek.
“Yes,” he smiled in reply. “It should take us no more than an hour to get to Metru Nui.”
He could understand Solek’s relief. The journey had been longer than expected and hard on them all. For a start, they had been forced to fit the entire Av-Matoran population into just four airships, significantly shrinking everyone’s living space. But that mild discomfort had been nothing compared to the other hardships they had faced during the voyage: storms, to begin with, powerful typhoons that had sprung out of nowhere, savagely battered the flying crafts and threatened to fling them to their destruction.
And then there had been the attacks: as they had crossed the Southern Continent, Brotherhood forces had intercepted them three times. The attackers had always been Rahkshi, fast enough to overtake the convoy and far more agile. Those first assaults had not achieved much: for all their might, the sons of Makuta remained terribly vulnerable to light and that happened to be just the power wielded by most of the airships’ occupants. Takanuva himself had wiped out around half an enemy squadron each time and the combined power of the Av-Matoran and of the airships’ weapons had finished the job; no lives had been lost.
Their luck had even held when they had reached the sea gates connecting the Southern Continent to the north. Somehow, the Brotherhood had known which one they would take and had been lying in wait, not only with Rahkshi but also with a warship. That battle had been far more closely fought than the others, but once again they had fought their way through; the confrontation had also given Takanuva the chance to try out the new powers he had spent the journey developing and use them to take out the enemy weapons. The Brotherhood had not attacked them again.
They had glimpsed the first boats of migrants while flying over the northern coast of the Southern Continent; clearly, word on the evacuation was beginning to travel. Takanuva supposed that ships had been sailing from the Northern Continent as well, but a storm had surprised them as they were flying alongside the eastern coast of that continent and harried them until just a couple of hours earlier, so they had seen nothing.
There must have been ships. But how did they weather the storm?
As he gazed down upon the vessels traveling up the waterway, he thought he knew. Now that they were flying close to the water, he could see them more in detail than before. Many ships and boats looked worn and damaged and in some cases it was a wonder they were still floating. He also noticed something that hadn’t caught his eye before: the people. Though some vessels were traveling almost empty, the majority were so laden with people that they looked ready to sink under their weight.
Did they all pile up on the first ships available? How desperate must they have been to do that? And they made the whole journey in those conditions. Maybe we had it easy, after all.
He didn’t like to imagine what had happened to vessels so full when the storm had come up. The Matoran of Metru Nui had suffered their own losses at sea when the first flotilla had sailed from the City of Legends; this was the same, maybe even worse.
Did our ships look for any survivors after the storm? And why are the people below still sailing on these barely seaworthy cogs? Couldn’t we transfer them onto our own vessels?
And then he came upon the answer.
We probably don’t have enough ships: for one thing or the other.
He would have to ask after reaching Mata Nui, in any case. Too many unpleasant questions were starting to accumulate in his mind.
Most of the Av-Matoran around him didn’t seem to share his concerns: apparently oblivious about the boats sailing below, they were chatting about their voyage being at an end and wondering what awaited them on Mata Nui. Takanuva, however, noticed Tanma leaning on the railing a short distance away, looking down. The green Av-Matoran had a somewhat grim personality, but he was a sensible and resolute leader; it wasn’t surprising that while Kirop had been a Shadow Matoran Tanma had taken his place. Was he now having Takanuva’s same thoughts?
“There it is!”
The cry shook Takanuva out of his musings. They were indeed approaching the tunnel exit. When the convoy spilled out of the sea gate, however, the lively chatter amongst the Av-Matoran took on an undercurrent of disappointment: unlike the dome they had just come from, the one containing Metru Nui was today shrouded with a thick fog, hiding the city from sight.
“Will we pass closer to Metru Nui?” asked Solek. “I’ve heard so many tales… I would have liked to see it for myself.”
“I don’t think so,” replied Takanuva. “I’m sorry. But Mata Nui has more than its share of wonders. Wait until you see it.”
Though in truth, he recalled, if what I’ve heard about the Bohrok is true there won’t be much left.
The crossing of the Metru Nui dome was uneventful; intercepted by another airship, they were directed towards the great tunnel dug in the eastern Great Barrier. When they reached it, emerging from the fog, Takanuva’s eyes widened in surprise. When he had come this way months before, escorting the Matoran to Metru Nui, there had been nothing but a sandy beach here. Now a busy port had sprung up, seemingly out of nowhere; it wasn’t very large, but Takanuva saw a squad of Pahrak working to build new wharves. Beings of all species were disembarking: many seemed to have brought nothing apart from themselves, but some vessels were offloading cargo as well, which was being loaded onto carts pulled by Ussal crabs; the people, on the other hand, were being directed to a warehouse that looked just completed, with other structures around it still under construction. Most of the operations were being handled by Ga-Matoran and Onu-Matoran, but the Toa of Light saw beings from several other species, many of them armed.
Dark Hunters. Some of them, anyway.
Then, as the airships began the ascent, Takanuva saw that several Bohrok swarms were working upon the tunnel floor, seemingly digging a large trench that ran parallel to the walls. And suddenly he glimpsed a Toa of Water directing the works. The decision was taken in the blink of an eye.
“I’ll join you on Mata Nui,” he told the closest Order agent; then he vaulted over the railing and jumped.
The fall was short: the airships here were moving slowly and hovering very close to the ground. Takanuva picked himself up and hurried towards the blue Toa he had seen.
“Gali!” he called out.
“Takanuva!” cried Gali, turning towards him. “You’re back!”
“Yes. It’s good to see you, sister.”
“The same, brother. How was your journey?”
“We found the Av-Matoran. I managed to cure those who had been corrupted by the Shadow Leeches.”
“You did?” said Gali. “You’ve grown powerful, Takanuva.”
“Well, I didn’t have much of a choice, did I?”
There was a short pause. Then Gali asked him about the journey and Takanuva spent the next few minutes narrating it to her. Then he said:
“And there is one more thing I must tell you. On the way I had plenty of time to speak with Kirop, the Av-Matoran leader, and some of the others. They knew me, Gali. One of them, Solek, even told me we had once been friends. I was one of their kind, a Matoran of Light. For some reason I remember none of it… and from what Vakama has told me, before we all lost our memories, in Metru Nui, everyone considered me a Ta-Matoran, so I probably did not remember my true nature even back then. According to Solek, I just disappeared one day… me and several others.”
He paused, but continued before Gali could reply.
“And that’s not all. You see, they knew you too. You, Tahu and the others. Kirop told me he met you, tens of thousands of years ago. You had come to Karda Nui to protect the Matoran of Light and fought against many enemies. Then the Matoran of Light left Karda Nui for their homeland and never saw you again.”
He stopped again as he saw Gali’s expression: he had never seen her more astonished. For a few moments, she didn’t seem to know what to say.
“Then we did have lives before awakening on Mata Nui,” she breathed finally. “I suppose we’ll have to speak with this Kirop ourselves. We lost our memories… and so did you… do you think the two things are connected?”
“I’m not sure… I thought the same, but from what I’ve heard, I vanished from the Av-Matoran homeland long after you disappeared. I wonder if… Toa Helryx might know something about it. The Order agents I was with… some of them seemed to hint the Order had a hand in all this.”
“Well, maybe you will be able to speak with her. We Toa Nuva aren’t so popular with the Order right now.”
And then it was Gali’s turn to explain what had happened on Mata Nui over the past week.
“The tension has never been higher on the island,” she concluded. “After we rescued Toa Varian, the Shadowed One forbade every Toa and Matoran from entering his territory. We’re still cooperating over some things, fortunately… like building this canal. Once it’s over, we’ll be able to transport ships directly to Mata Nui, and there’s a species of water breathers that will be able to migrate. But the situation is getting more and more complicated. Now that the refugees have started to arrive, people have begun to complain, squabbling over who can settle where… it’s a mess.”
Takanuva didn’t reply. His fears seemed to have been realized.
“It is good you’re back, brother,” said Gali finally. “And I do hope you will stay with us from now on. Trust me, we’re going to need you here more than ever.”
More than 70000 years before, Zakaz had been a thriving land, lush and fertile, covered by luxuriant forests and green grasslands. Wide roads would cut through the vegetation, connecting the villages and cities that dotted the landscape.
Modern Zakaz, on the other hand, is dotted solely by ruins, thought Dweller as the Dark Hunters’ armored vehicles thrudged along one of those roads… though in truth it was so worn and irregular to deserve that name; had armies not kept using it over the millennia, Dweller had no doubt it would have long since vanished. Nevertheless, it remained the best way to pass through the low mountain chain that lay to the south-east of Nektann’s territory and had allowed them to make good time during the night. Now they were moving down a rocky, barren valley and were almost at their next destination.
They had passed through a number of villages along the way, pitiful settlements composed of structures that were falling to pieces, if not already in ruins. Some had displayed signs of habitation, but Skakdi living so close to a major Zakaz road were well practiced at fleeing at the first sign of a threat; no one had remained to greet or bother the Dark Hunters.
They had also gone past several holdfasts, which looked slightly more solid, though they were built of ruins and, under ordinary circumstances, would have been reduced to ruin themselves within a few months at best. They had been built and occupied by minor warlords who made a living out of subjugating a few nearby villages, raiding their neighbours and exacting a toll from those traveling along the road. Most had not bothered the Dark Hunters, knowing well not to pick a fight with an enemy exceeding their own meagre forces; the corpses of the two who had not been so sensible were now strewn over the road, their followers killed or scattered.
The expedition had stopped nowhere. Dweller’s mission was to bring news of the migration to Zakaz, but he could not stop at the doorstep of every petty lord; the less powerful factions here were all in some way linked, either as allies or as vassals, to the major warlords and it was to them that Dweller would leave the task of informing the rest of the population.
Only the major factions would thus have to be convinced to side with the Alliance. They were now inside the territory of one of these. Until about a decade earlier, some of the fiercest fighting had raged in this region: the warlords who had survived had banded together in a loose federation, which now controlled these mountains, as well as the plain that lay between them and the great lake at the center of the island; by Zakaz standards, the plain was quite fertile, giving great power to any force in control of it.
The vehicles reached the end of the valley. The land dipped a bit here, giving them a view over the entire plain. The land was parched and brown, but a few spots of green could still be glimpsed. Beyond lay the shore of Zakaz’s enormous freshwater lake; it alone seemed untouched by the war, its waters sparkling in the pale daylight. And closer to them… a battlefield.
Dweller cursed and hopped off the vehicle, followed by their Skakdi guide. A vast section of the plain, only a short distance from their location, was blackened and scorched. Smoke was rising from it and corpses and weapons were lying everywhere. The battle had just ended, if Dweller was any judge, and the winners were still here: a great camp had sprung up just beyond the battleground and loud shouts of victory could be heard from inside.
“We had no warning of this,” he said. “No stragglers, nothing.”
“They let no one get away,” replied the black Skakdi grimly.
Dweller extended his mind towards the camp. The first sensation he perceived was pain, the pain of dozens of wounded Skakdi who had been abandoned to die upon the battlefield. They belonged to both sides, though the winners didn’t seem to care, not even about their own; plenty of victorious fighters were wandering around the field, stripping the dead and the living alike of weapons, armor and anything valuable they might be carrying. It was on these scavengers that Dweller focused, trying to pry out of their minds the identity of the combatants. The federation of warlords had fought here, he soon discovered, and they had lost. As for the victor…
Dweller suddenly felt cold. Even on Odina they had heard tales of this one. This was one meeting, one negotiation, that he would definitely have preferred to avoid, and in any case it was way, way too soon. They had just come from Nektann and this Skakdi was one of his sworn foes: neither was likely to agree to make peace; and he didn’t want to think what might happen to those who carried such an offer…
“We should turn around and get away as fast as we can, if we value our lives,” growled the black Skakdi. He had also guessed who they were dealing with… and the worry in his mind was perilously close to fear.
“No,” replied Dweller reluctantly. “This was going to happen sooner or later. And it’s too late anyway.”
He turned… and fixed his eye straight upon the Skakdi patrol on the slopes above, where they had been sneaking to take them by surprise.
“We are messengers from the Dark Hunters! We wish to speak to your leader!”
The commander of the patrol froze in surprise, but only for a moment. Then he started laughing:
“Easily done! Just leave those vehicles and head for the camp. You’ll have a warm welcome, have no fear.”
“The vehicles are ours, Skakdi.”
“Not anymore,” roared the other, as Dweller had known he would. “Charge!”
The black Skakdi cursed even as the vehicles’ weapons swiveled to point at the charging fighters, but Dweller waved them all down. He waited until the patrol leader was level with him, then struck, his mental powers freezing him in his tracks. The rest of the patrol slowed down as they took stock.
“We wish to speak to your leader,” Dweller repeated.
“Oh, we’ll bring you to our leader, have no doubt! And when we do, you’ll wish we had killed you here and now! Keep going! Seize th…”
A second mental assault brought him to his knees.
“I would advise you to consider our request,” said Dweller.
A moment later, the vehicles were on the move, escorted by the patrol. The rest of the Skakdi army made no move to interfere until they reached the edge of the camp.
“No further, not with these,” said the patrol leader. Dweller nodded, knowing better than to object now that they were in the midst of the Skakdi army. Leaving some Hunters behind to watch the vehicles, he led the rest into the camp. Shouts were echoing from somewhere up ahead. Dweller sent his mind ahead to find out the reason… only to wish he hadn’t.
They reached the center of the camp. The shouting Skakdi were here, a whole crowd of them, clustering around a sand pit: inside, two of their race were fighting.
One Skakdi was blue-armored, the other green. The former was limping, clearly wounded. There was no anger, no fighting spirit in his mind, just exhaustion and fear… as was to be expected, for he was one of the warlords at the head of the army that had just been massacred.
The green one couldn’t be more different: a female, arms and legs bulging with muscle, a savage smile on her face… the smile of a predator about to pounce. She was maneuvering around her opponent, her mind aglow with anticipation… waiting for the moment she would attack and tear the life out of him. A true savage, there was no other way to define her; she reveled in that savagery… and she was the one they had come to see.
The blue Skakdi made a half-hearted attempt to knock her to the ground. The warlady dodged easily and backhanded him, sending him sprawling. Before he could get up, her eyes turned crimson. The other warlord started screaming, even as the other Skakdi doubled their jeering.
It’s true, then, thought Dweller. Pain vision. Appropriate, to say the least.
The female warlord switched off her power. Her opponent remained on the ground, panting heavily.
“Come on!” she growled. “Is that all you can do? You seemed much more confident on the battlefield. Of course, it didn’t do you much good,” she bellowed, “did it?”
The Skakdi all roared in approval and the warlady lifted her arms in triumph. Suddenly Dweller felt a spark of defiance in the mind of the blue warlord… the warlady had promised him his freedom if he would defeat her in single, unarmed combat, and for a moment he was daring to hope…
The green warlady roared in pain when the blue Skakdi unleashed his own vision power. She stumbled back, but the warlord’s victory was short-lived. In the blink of an eye, the warlady had him pinned to the ground and was tearing apart his armor with her bare hands, like a maddened beast. The metal didn’t offer resistance for long. What happened next shocked even the most hardened Dark Hunters. Then the green Skakdi got up and turned away from the savaged body of her opponent; it was then that she spotted her visitors.
“What have we here?” she asked grinning, the madness that had just gripped her still resonating in her voice. “A party of foreigners on Zakaz? Don’t they know what fate awaits anyone who isn’t one of my people?”
“They say they’re Dark Hunters,” grunted the patrol leader.
“Are you?” she asked Dweller.
“Yes,” he answered. “We’re on a mission on behalf of the Shadowed One. We…”
The words didn’t have time to emerge from his mouth that he picked up a disturbing image from the warlady’s mind. The corresponding action was too quick even for him: the female Skakdi grabbed him, heaved him up and hurled him at the ground. The image of her previous opponent’s body filled Dweller’s mind as she clutched his throat... and then her hold on him slightly relaxed.
“I don’t need to hear what you’re here for. I already know.”
Dweller couldn’t quite mask his surprise.
“Yes, little Dark Hunter, I know all about the alliance you would want us to undertake. Listen to me carefully. I don’t care whether it is the Shadowed One offering me this alliance, or the Toa, or this fabled Order of Mata Nui. You have offered it to Nektann first and there will never, ever be peace between me and Nektann. I will give you a simple alternative: either he goes, or I go. Your choice.”
She released him. Dweller breathed in deep, trying to think what to say…
“I don’t want to listen to anymore of your babbling. Get out of here while you still can.”
Dweller knew when a battle was lost. She would not yield, he could see it in her mind, and any attempt to convince her would end in death. He gestured to his Hunters and turned back the way they had come.
“But I will tell you one more thing, Dark Hunter,” said the warlady, stopping him in his tracks. “You’re not the first emissary I’ve spoken to. Envoys from the Makuta have already come to me. I have no love for the Brotherhood and they, unlike you, didn’t leave under their own power. I will not join the Makuta, I promise you that… but unless Nektann goes I won’t join you, either. Decide who you’d rather have on your side.”
The words of the warlady were still in Dweller’s mind one day later. As the vehicles climbed a steep mountain road, he wondered what reception they were going to receive here. This meeting could well be the turning point.
After leaving the green warlady, they had visited several more warlords, though none as important as her or Nektann. The news that there were Brotherhood agents on Zakaz had led them to radically change their contact procedure. Now Dweller had taken to approaching the Skakdi fortresses and camps on his own, using his powers to avoid being detected and to probe the minds of the warlords or their followers to discover where their allegiances lay. Twice, that tactic had saved them, for the warlords they had been about to approach had already sworn themselves to the Brotherhood; but for the most part it seemed the Dark Hunters had managed to arrive first.
Unfortunately, they could not use the same method here, due to the unique characteristics of this warlord’s territory. The Skakdi they were going to meet was an exception of sorts among his kind: he didn’t control much territory and seldom engaged in conquest. However, he defended what he had superbly and for good reason: his territory comprised the richest mines on Zakaz. Scores of slaves labored in his tunnels from dawn to dusk, extracting the metals and ores that he used to buy the allegiance of minor warlords and to arm his forces with the toughest steel; he was thus a force to be reckoned with, an equal to Nektann, at the very least.
Dweller’s expedition was now climbing the mountain that lay at the centre of his realm. Deep within the rock, Dweller knew, dozens of Skakdi would be digging through precious veins of mineral, more dead than alive, already entombed. There was no way to enter the mines from outside, though: the only entrance lay within the walls of the fortress that rose from the mountain’s peak.
For a warlord who drew his wealth from the ground, this Skakdi resided eerily close to the sky. His castle was as unique as him: the average lifetime of a Zakaz building was a few weeks, but this stronghold had repulsed attacks for millennia. The entire mountain was the warlord’s territory, guarded from base to peak: it would have been almost impossible even for Dweller to climb up undetected. Instead, they had driven to the guard post at the start of the road, requesting admittance and obtaining it. Dweller had probed the guards’ minds and found no trace of a Brotherhood visit; that gave him reason for hope.
The vehicles reached the castle’s gates upon nightfall. There was a squadron of guards outside, ready to welcome them. The castle’s gates were opened and the vehicles allowed into the courtyard inside. Dweller reached out to the surrounding minds again, trying to gain a sense of the welcome that they would receive… and suddenly recoiled. The other Dark Hunters turned to watch him as he stumbled, shaken. At first, he wasn’t even sure just what he had felt. Cautiously, he extended tendrils of thought out again. He found them at once: minds, dozens of minds, but strange, twisted, different from any consciousness he had ever perceived.
What’s going on here?
The Skakdi guards were gesturing for them to descend. Dweller’s party complied, as the telepathic Dark Hunter strived to conceal his distress. It was difficult: the sensation was increasing as they moved further into the castle.
And then they came upon the first statues, lining the corridor they were following, illuminated by a series of torches. They were sculpted in incredible detail and all depicted Skakdi, some in fighting stances, others cowering in fear, still more shown running. Dweller felt his mind being overwhelmed by the unnatural thoughts.
Is this on purpose? he managed to wonder. Could someone be trying to disrupt my power?
And finally, they entered the main hall. It was not very large, but that hadn’t stopped the Skakdi from cramming in as many statues as they could. It was then that Dweller finally understood. The alien minds were mad, a complete, utter madness that had enveloped them once they had realized they were trapped, cut off from all external stimuli, unable to move or to do anything, but still constantly, eternally alive… for the statues were alive, all of them; alive, and with minds warped beyond recognition by their madness. He felt his legs give way beneath him: it was too much, too horrifying, even for him.
“You feel them, don’t you?”
The voice came from the throne at the far end of the hall. Dweller blinked, barely managing to see a white Skakdi rise to his feet.
“I see them, too. And I can also see you. I relish watching them, but you don’t seem to appreciate it.”
What? wondered Dweller.
“Mind vision. You did not know, did you? Your thoughts, everyone’s thoughts, are open to me.”
Dweller tried to focus. No, he had not known. He strained to gather his power, to probe the mind of the Skakdi warlord…
“It’s too late,” smiled the other. “If you had probed me the moment you entered, you might have escaped. But now you won’t.”
Dweller saw the other Hunters draw their weapons, but now Skakdi were pouring in from every entrance: they were impossibly outnumbered.
“What a pity. It seems my… artpieces distracted you. Not that it would have mattered. I made sure you only met Skakdi who were unaware of my deal with the Brotherhood of Makuta. Scared, are you? Yes, I can see it… the terrible realization, the crushing awareness that you were outsmarted… and what’s this, hope? Determination, still?”
Dweller struggled to find the right words. The warlord was right, he wasn’t going to give up just yet.
“Since you can see within my mind,” he said, “you know what I wish to offer you and you know I’m not lying. It is more convenient than anything the Makuta could promise you.”
The warlord laughed
"Is it? The Makuta have already given me much."
"They will take it away from you the moment they have the chance."
“They can’t. They pride themselves on being powerful telepaths, but they are no match for me. True, I cannot manipulate minds, only see within them… but I do that far better than them. There is no plot, no plan that they can conceal from me.”
“I have requirements that no one else has. I could bow down to ally myself with the likes of Netkann. Perhaps I could even accept another Skakdi ruler. But something your society will never give me is new, fresh elements for my collection.”
“You have felt their minds. You are repulsed by them, but I find them beautiful. I can’t bear to stop watching them. I make new ones whenever I can… people always say my slaves die within my mines, but they’re wrong: they are alive, all of them. But now I’m offered the opportunity to step past the shores of my lands, to find new, fresh minds, so different from those of the Skakdi. I’ll be able to take my pick, during the war and after it, from any species, any provenance I desire. The Brotherhood has promised me this, while you never would.”
Dweller felt sick. In the past, he had used his powers to drive enemies to madness… but this was worse, infinitely worse, unnatural, wrong…
“Yes,” said the Skakdi. “Not even a ruthless Dark Hunter like you would give them to me.”
Then he gestured to his soldiers.
“Get them. Alive if you can, dead if not. But spare this one. He will be an interesting addition.”
Dweller struck. A wave of mental energy radiated outwards, fueled by anger and desperation. As the Skakdi warriors reeled, a Firework Revolver was fired, confusing the enemy, hindering them. And then, together, the Dark Hunters counterattacked, opening a path to the door. They were almost out when the warlord appeared in front of them. The first Dark Hunter wasn’t able to stop. The Skakdi gripped her, then released her… but she didn’t move. Stone spread across her body, until she was completely petrified. But not dead… alive, forever, and soon as mad as the rest.
“Petrification is a strange power for a Skakdi of Ice, don’t you think?” asked the warlord conversationally. “Except that I’m no longer a Skakdi of Ice. The Brotherhood has given me a far greater power.”
He raised his arm and fired a blast of shadow, blasting Dweller across the hall.
“Hold him,” he ordered his followers. Then he turned to the others, smiling at their attempts to make one last stand. He saw through all their moves, they could neither evade him nor strike him. One by one, they fell to him and to his warriors. Explosions resonated through the fortress, as the weapons of the armored vehicles in the courtyard desperately tried to repel a horde of assailants. After several minutes, they too were quiet.
Finally, when it was over, the white warlord turned to Dweller. The guards were still holding him, they had needed to knock him unconscious to neutralize his power. The warlord hurried forward, anxious to gaze upon his prize… and saw nothing. The eyes of the guards had seen him, their ears heard him, their hands held him… but there had been nothing to see, hear or hold. As the white warlord’s vision pierced his fighters’ minds and his roar vented his fury, the illusion that had filled them vanished. Outside the fortress, Dweller summoned his power once more, shielded himself from all perception and vanished into the night.