Ekimu's emotions were mixed as he stood in his forge, looking at an incomplete set of masks lying on a table. Three of the six Uniter masks he had forged sat before him: the masks of Fire, Ice, and Earth. Shortly after his return from the Black Volcano they had been brought to him by their respective Elemental Creatures; the other three would be delivered shortly. Portions of the masks that had previously been silver had changed to a sickly yellow-green. A quick comparison with fragments of the Beast Masks had confirmed Ekimu's suspicions: the colors were nearly identical.
Reasoning that the taint had something to do with the Elemental Beasts' powers, Ekimu hoped that he would be able to cleanse the masks, but if he was not then it would be best to keep them here. However his old friend Agil-who had reappeared following the banishment of Makuta-had brought an additional mask to him. Though parts of it had changed in color from green to red, Ekimu recognized the artifact from legend: Umarak's Hunter Mask. What had caused its change he couldn't say, though Umarak's transformation or demise seemed the likeliest answers.
The question of the masks and the thoughts of Umarak's monstrous final form made Ekimu think of one adventure in which he had played no part. It had come after the Protectors had found opportunity to tally the Okotans for the first time since the Skull Spider invasion. Though many had been freed after the demise of the Lord of Skull Spiders, a sizeable number remained missing. With no means of tracing them, there was only one source of information available to the heroes of Okoto: Skull Basher, the only Skull Raider who had not been trapped underground.
Still bereft of his Bull Skull Mask, heavily restrained, and surrounded by all six Toa and Protectors, the Skull Basher had been informed by Ekimu of the fall of his people. The Wise Master had then offered Kulta's lieutenant leniency in exchange for information on the missing Okotans. Whether the horned monster truly desired a new chance at life, or had decided Makuta deserved none of his loyalty after leaving him imprisoned, he had agreed. As such, Ekimu had granted him back his mask so that the Toa would not have to carry their "guide."
Ekimu had elected to stay behind and help watch over the City of the Mask Makers with a guard made up of recruits from the various regions. The Toa were instead accompanied by all six Protectors; Harvali, the spear-carrying archaeologist; Melea, the Stone Tribe woman whose family the Toa had previously aided; and the unlikely addition of four children with a vested interest in the captives. These were Bingzak, the Jungle child taken in by Nilkuu; Ako and Oda, Melea's nephews whose father was among the missing; and Narmoto's son Balta, who hoped to find his lost mother. The four youths had pleaded so earnestly to join the expedition that their elders had agreed, on condition of their promise of strict obedience.
The party soon reached their destination, deep in the Region of Ice: a fearful ruin known as the Place of Shadow. Here, as Harvali informed the Toa, ancient Okotans had dared to tamper with combinations of multiple Elemental Powers and in so doing opened a rift to the Shadow Realm. That ancient portal had long ago closed, but not before bringing a plague of shadows to Okoto that had forever altered their way of life and led to the passing of the sacred code only broken since by Makuta. Where once Okotans had been as tall as the Toa themselves, those who had survived the plague had been reduced in stature, and ever afterwards their descendants had remained so. Many of the ancients who had perished by the disease had later been those reanimated by Makuta to serve his twisted ends.
Unfortunately, upon entering the Place of Shadow the group found not only traces of the passing of the captured Okotans, but were attacked by two foes the Toa had never expected to see again: one of the Skull Scorpios they had evicted from the Ancient City, and an elite Skull Warrior who had briefly claimed Kopaka's Golden Mask of Ice. The beasts struck quickly and retreated with their Skull Basher, leaving the heroes with little choice but to follow them. And so they made their way into the darkness, where they encountered three monstrous foes...
Kopaka's shield shuddered as twin axe and sword blades slammed into it, testing even the powerful energy barrier. He had thought Skull Basher a hideous creature when they had first encountered the Skull Raider in the Ancient City, but the being now attacking him was even more horrifying. It had the Skull Basher's massive frame, Bull Skull Mask, and long horns, and wielded both of the warrior's axes; however, it had an additional set of arms that wielded blades like those of Skull Slicer. The remainder of the beast was a mixture of elements from Basher, Slicer, and the Skull Warriors, with green, orange, and blue bones and claws.
Before the monster-whom Kopaka had unconsciously named Skull Crusher-could strike again, he was bulled aside by Onua, who swung his hammer at the towering enemy. However, that mighty weapon was blocked by the strength of all of Skull Crusher's arms, which even Onua could not overcome, and deflected. The weapon flew out of Onua's hands and hit the ground nearby, splitting back into Onua's Turbo Shovelers. Fortunately, Onua was spared a similar fate when Skull Crusher roared in pain, having been struck from behind by Lewa's Battle Axes.
A short distance away, the other three Toa were occupied with a similarly nightmarish figure resembling the Skull Grinder. However, this beast appeared to wear the Mask of Creation and have pieces of Ekimu's armor added to his own, with bony legs resembling those of the Skull Scorpios emerging from his back. In place of Kulta's Mask Stealer Staff he carried a monstrous double-bladed axe in his right hand, while the other hand held a weapon with an axe-blade on one end and a sword blade on the other. Ekimu had warned the Toa that such a being was what Skull Grinder might have become had he not been defeated, and even given the monster a name: Kulta-Kal.
With a roar, Kulta-Kal swung his larger weapon at Gali, who handily blocked it with her trident. He then attempted to swing his other blade at her only to have it blocked by Tahu's Fire Blades. Pohatu then struck from behind, driving his small blade in Kulta-Kal's side and producing a roar. However, the beast was not so easily felled, and swung around to engage Pohatu with such fury that Gali and Tahu had to run after him to prevent him from slaying their brother.
Compared with these foes, one might have thought the Protectors had it easy-were it not for the fact that they were facing a Skull Scorpio. Sending Harvali and Melea to find a hiding place with the children, they faced off with the beast. Nilkuu fired his Sandstone Blaster again and again, though even his skill brought little harm to the foe; Skull Scorpios were well known as desert menaces who would pursue prey even through sandstorms. Fortunately he was far from alone, with Narmoto and Izotor pouring their firepower into the foe as well.
The three were scattered as the Scorpio struck with its tail, and then quickly whirled and leaped upon Vizuna, who had been trying to get in closer for a point blank shot with his Flame Bow. His weapon was knocked from his hand and sent skidding across the stone floor, coming to a halt at the feet of Korgot. Fear for the Protector of Jungle and rage at the Skull Scorpio for daring to harm him filled her. However, Korgot had lent her launcher and throwing knives to Melea and her nephews, leaving her without a ranged weapon. Thinking quickly, she snatched up the Flame Bow and then hurled her Star Drill, yelling as she did so.
Already alerted to the incoming projectile by his Sensor Tail, Vizuna rolled himself into perfect position to catch it. Activating the weapon, he drove it into the Skull Scorpio's mask, causing the creature to rear up to evade the attack. It proved a foolish move, as the action got the Scorpio far enough away from Vizuna that Korgot didn't have to worry about hitting him. She thus opened up with the Flame Bow, sending bolts of green energy slamming into the monster. The creature might still have managed to overcome the attack and come after her, but a massive blast of water came flying in to strike it as well, and it collapsed into a pile of bones.
Getting to his feet with a sigh of relief, Vizuna handed Korgot her Star Drill as she handed back his Flame Bow; their hands touched on both weapons, and the pair smiled at each other before each relinquished the other's weapon. "Seems that cross weapons training was a good idea after all-nice shooting Korgot. And you too, Kivoda, though I'm surprised you took so long."
"It was a little hard to get into a good position with my Turbines," Kivoda replied.
Nilkuu raised an eyebrow as he stepped over the Scorpio's remains. "Didn't you decide not to bring those along the next time we went climbing?"
"We knew we were heading into a cave network," Kivoda retorted. "There was a chance-and still is-that we could run into underground water in these ruins, and if that happens these things could come in very useful."
Before any further comments could be made, a pair of loud noises reached the ears of the Protectors, who turned just in time to see the fall of Skull Crusher and the false Kulta-Kal. Kopaka and Lewa had entangled Skull Crusher’s weapons on either side, leaving him wide open for Onua to hit him with Turbo Shoveler assisted double punch. Kulta-Kal, on the other hand, had fallen victim to an elemental assault, with Pohatu and Tahu combining their powers to cover him in lava, which Gali then cooled into stone by hitting it with a stream of Water.
Just as the Protectors were preparing to congratulate the heroes, the forms of the fallen titans shimmered and transformed into pure shadow. These two masses oozed away from the Toa, leaving behind the lifeless forms of Skull Basher and another Skull Scorpio. With frightening speed the living darkness made its way deeper into the ruins, traveling in the same direction in which Harvali, Melea, and the children had gone. Without a word the heroes charged after them, though Pohatu and Lewa were prevented from flying by the close confines of the ruins.
The corridor down which they ran soon opened up into a large chamber, and despite their urgency the Toa slowed to survey the awe-inspiring sight. Seven other doorways led off from the chamber, each with an Okotan rune above the door and a carved Okotan figure standing beside it. Pohatu recognized one of the figures, which had also appeared in sculptures at the Shrine of Stone where he had obtained his golden mask. These, then, were the ancient Mask Makers who had long ago attempted to create masks that utilized more than one Elemental Power...and in so doing, brought about the plague of shadows. Curiously, though each rune seemed to be indicative of a different one of Okoto's elements, there were seven, not six, and the figure above the seventh door-the only one currently open-wore Ekimu's Mask of Creation.
However, the Toa and Protectors had no time to ponder these mysteries, for they had spotted their quarry. The two shadows had now become six, and had formed a ring around a trio of Okotans at the center of the chamber. Harvali, Balta, and Bingzak were standing back to back, with Harvali's gaze darting rapidly around to keep track of the shadows. Just when it seemed the shadows might take action, however, they were struck by blasts of Fire and Sand as Narmoto and Nilkuu charged in, astonishing their comrades with their ferocity.
Driven back by the Elemental onslaught, each shadow retreated towards a different door, leaving only the curious seventh one unblocked. Then, as the heroes watched, the six other doorways opened, and each shadow began to change shape. In mere seconds they stood tall, strong, and armored, with their forms taking on color and definition. Much to the astonishment of the Toa, they recognized these new beings as themselves, but clad in unfamiliar armor and masks decorated with the same runes as the door before which each stood. The Shadow Tahu carried a pair of lethal-looking crystalline swords; Shadow Kopaka held a sword with two crystal blades and a launcher similar to Izotor's; Shadow Lewa wielded tonfa with metal or crystal blades at either end; Shadow Gali stood with a crystal spear; Shadow Pohatu's weapon was a flail with a crystalline blade; and Shadow Onua possessed a hammer that had a drill for one head and a launcher for the other.
"Follow us if you dare, Toa! Come and see the power that could be yours if you would side with Makuta and not his prideful fool of a brother!" With this eerie challenge, spoken in unison, complete, each Shadow Toa retreated into their respective doorway. The Toa and Protectors waited a moment, wishing to be sure they were not going to return, before going to where Harvali and her two charges waited.
Narmoto had knelt and hugged Balta to him, while Nilkuu had put a comforting hand on Bingzak's shoulder before turning to Harvali. "Are you all alright?"
The obvious urgency and concern in his voice surprised the Toa, who failed to notice the tinge of red that came to Harvali's face behind her mask; Korgot was more astute and gave Vizuna a nudge that soon had him smiling as she was. The archaeologist finally managed to thank the Protector of Stone for his gallant action; her failure to thank Narmoto as well went unheeded. She then explained that Balta and Bingzak had stopped back with her to help her investigate the carvings in the chamber while Melea and her nephews went on ahead to search for the missing prisoners. They had taken the corridor marked by the statue of Heremus, a direct ancestor of Ekimu and Makuta's from whom Ekimu had inherited the Mask of Creation; this door, with it's anvil and hammer rune, signified the Element of Light. Harvali's trio had been examining the statue of Velika of Stone when the shadows had come upon them.
"Now it seems those fiends have fled into the the Elemental Chambers, places where the ancient Mask Makers gathered Elemental Crystals from each Region in order to harness their power." Looking to each doorway, the Toa saw that Harvali spoke the truth, for through each portal was visible an environment resembling each Elemental Region. Rock and lava, ice and snow, dense jungle, a vast lake, desert sand, and a dim cavern greeted their eyes.
"We must pursue them, or they will cause more trouble," Gali remarked. "But the armor they wore...those weapons...can we stand against them?"
Izotor smiled reassuringly up at the Toa, then moved to Kopaka. "Makuta is a clever trickster-he has clad his creations in imitations of equipment that Master Ekimu has told me he intends to forge for you, noble Toa. I doubt you will have much more trouble with them than with the 'Kulta-Kal' we fought further back in the ruins. But to be certain, we shall gladly lend your our arms for your battle."
Though Izotor hadn't shared this suggestion with his comrades, they were all quick to agree with the sense of it. Kopaka quickly place his shield on his back while the Protector fixed his own to the Toa's spear, before handing his launcher to the Toa as well. Narmoto fixed his own launcher to Tahu's shoulder, just as he wore it; he then joined his Flame Swords into a claw-like weapon. This Tahu took in his left hand, while joining his own Golden Swords into a double-bladed weapon and throwing the Lava Surfboard through the Door of Fire onto the lava in preparation to ride it.
Vizuna handed Lewa his Flame Bow, while Nilkuu passed Pohatu the Sandstone Blaster after he had mounted the Stormerangs to his feet to create the Jetarangs. Onua joined the Turbo Shovelers back into the Earthquake Hammer and then took the Star Drill, though he was surprised when Korgot removed her shoulder armor and added it to his own. Kivoda offered Gali his launcher, but the pair realized it was rather small for her use; Gali solved this by splitting her trident and attaching the Shark Fins to either side of Kivoda's weapon. The Power Harpoon was then fixed to her back, and Kivoda then attached his Turbines to her shoulders; he stepped back to admire the sight before looking over at Nilkuu, who scowled.
"You don't have to look so smug about being right."
And so, with quick words of farewell, the Toa passed through the doors in search of their foes. The Protectors, after learning that Harvali had completed her studies of the chamber, opted to travel through the Door of Light to see if they could find Melea, Ako, Oda, and the Okotans they had all been searching for. They hadn't gone far when they heard a sound that filled them all with dread-the sound of a launcher being fired and Okotan voices yelling. Without a word they raced towards the sound, with Harvali and Nilkuu hanging back slightly to keep an eye on Bingzak and Balta.
Emerging from the corridor, the Protectors realized that Makuta and his minions had clearly altered the ruins to suit their own purposes. Certainly, the ancient Mask Makers would never have caused the Door of Light to lead to what was unmistakably a dungeon. Numerous barred cells were visible, and inside them the group could see Okotans in various ill conditions. However, the greatest horror was the sight of Melea, Ako, and Oda backing away from a monstrous figure that dwarfed even Kulta-Kal and Skull Crusher.
The creature's legs, which were oddly short considering its great size, ended in three-clawed feet and were decorated with spiked armor. It's torso was a hideous mismatch, with green ribs falling beneath fiery muscle and sickly green and black armor. The arms were bulky and covered in glowing growths or armor, and ended in long savage claws of black and red or white and green. From the thick shoulders emerged a head with a twisted golden mask set above a gaping jaw, with a pair of massive tusks or horns emerging from either side of it's head.
Melea was fighting gamely, using the launcher Korgot had lent her to pelt the beast with energy blasts; however, the massive figure shrugged off the blasts as though they were raindrops. To Narmoto's shock, it then set four of it's six claws aflame and swiped at Melea, forcing her back. It then stomped a foot, and Korgot felt the power of Earth at work as the floor beneath their feet cracked and buckled. Melea stumbled, and the creature advanced on her to the outrage of her nephews, who ran to her aid.
"Leave our aunt alone!" Ako followed up his shout with a slash of one of Korgot's throwing daggers, while Oda employed his own borrowed blade from the other side. The beast responded by blasting them back with streams of water so that they hit the walls; the shadows of the dungeon then seized hold of them. The boys continue to struggle, with Oda calling out as well. "Just wait 'til we get free, you monster!"
"Perhaps lending the Toa our weapons was not the wisest course," Narmoto muttered.
"If I may, friend Narmoto, I believe we still command weapons that will serve: the Elements themselves," Kivoda replied. As before, the Protectors understood unconsciously what their comrade intended, and quickly moved to form a ring around the massive beast. Seeing them coming, the creature unleashed a wall of flames that Kivoda quickly extinguished, blasts of water that Narmoto vaporized, and boulders that Nilkuu shattered. Tentacles of Shadow lashed out at them as well, only to be shattered by blasts of Ice or entangled themselves by Vizuna's vines. Korgot then used her Earth power on the already unstable floor to trap the monster's feet.
Now in position, the Protectors moved on to the next phase of their plan: unleashing pure Elemental fury against their adversary. From six different directions they struck, with streams of Fire, Ice, Jungle power, and Water flying through the air to converge on the monster. Not to be left out, Nilkuu and Korgot channeled their powers through the floor, creating fissures and waves of rock that slammed into the enemy's legs. For a few brief seconds the creature held firm against the onslaught: then it was consumed by blinding light, which faded to reveal the blackened form of the Skull Warrior the heroes had encountered earlier.
The Skull Warrior's body crumbled to reveal a sickening form: a scorpion, much smaller that the Skull Scorpios and even Ketar, Creature of Stone, but with a sickly green and black shell and a single glowing red eye. Melea shuddered as she beheld the creature and recognized it for what it was. Many were the tales told of its more noble brethren, but the ones about it were spoken rarely and with dread. "Jaga, Creature of Shadow!"
With a hiss Jaga fled, moving so swiftly and being so quickly enveloped by the Shadow to which it belonged that the Protectors couldn't even think of seizing it. As such, they contented themselves with smashing open the many cell doors while Harvali, Balta, and Bingzak helped Melea and her nephews to their feet. However, the boys of Fire and Stone were soon distracted as a pair of familiar figures emerged from the crowd, with Balta being the first to voice his recognition. "MAMA!"
In seconds Balta and his parents were locked in an embrace, the often stern Protector of Fire gently embracing his wife. Ako and Oda had flung their arms around their father, while Melea began lecturing her brother with mock severity about going off and leaving her to handle his children. However, young Bingzak could not share in their joy, as he looked around to every face in the crowd but could see no sign of his lost parents. At last he looked to the nearest freed prisoner, a woman of the Ice Tribe. "My name is Bingzak...do you know what became of my parents?"
"Oh child," the woman said, her eyes filling with sorrow. "We were all forced here by the Skull Spiders, and were pressured to pledge our allegiance to Makuta. Those few who accepted were stung by Jaga and became Okotans of Shadow, and disappeared to join Makuta's hordes in the Shadow Realm. But many adamantly refused no matter how badly they were beaten or starved, even though they had been here for some time. These were eventually put to death...and your parents were among them."
Bingzak's eyes filled with tears, his long unspoken hopes now forever dashed. Before he could begin to weep, however, he felt a strong hand descend on each of his shoulders. To one side of him stood Nilkuu; to the other Harvali. Wordlessly they walked with him, leading the way as the Protectors and other Okotans made their way back towards the main chamber. As they emerged into it, however, they found that one last obstacle impeded their mission.
The Toa and Shadow Toa had emerged from the Elemental Chambers: four of the latter lay groaning on the floor while Tahu and Kopaka were still fighting desperately. Some victory had been enjoyed, it seemed, for the Shadow Lewa and Shadow Onua were not to be seen. However, the remaining four had unleashed a new tactic, melding their substances together so that there were now two of them. One was mostly the Shadow Tahu but carried a shield and weapon that resembled the chest armor and flail of Shadow Pohatu; fiery blades emerged from either elbow, and two more hung from its back like wings. The other was mostly Shadow Kopaka, but its sword and launcher had merged together, and it had strange armor on it's back that resembled Shadow Gali's and a curious sword held in a reverse grip in it's left hand.
"Protectors, to your Toa!" This came from Izotor, who stepped forward alongside Narmoto while Vizuna and the others rushed to their fallen compatriots. The two Protectors whose Toa still stood concentrated what strength remained to them and reached out to Kopaka and Tahu, linking their Protector Masks to the Golden Masks worn by the two champions. Though all four were weak from battle, the effect was more than merely a boost to the Toa. Their energies were almost immediately replenished, and then enhanced, with the power being such that they began to shine with it.
Both Toa grew broader and thicker in their chests, as though their bodies needed extra room to accommodate their heightened energies. Tahu's Golden Sword attached to his back, while his Lava Surfboard split in two and came into his hands held in a reverse grip, with Narmoto's own swords attaching to the handles to become additional blades. Kopaka's shield came away from his back and attached to new growths on his shoulders to become wings. His spear found a place on his back, with with his hands he now gripped Izotor's weapon as the Protector did in battle.
Izotor's shield allowed Kopaka to deflect the blasts from his foe's launcher, and he then opened fire with his own to blast the Shadow Kopaka's bladed launcher from his grasp. He then used the shield to parry Shadow Kopaka's remaining weapon before slicing through his adversary with a single blow; the monstrous Toa became a cloud of Shadow that dissipated like smoke. The Shadow Tahu fared little better, as it's shield was barely able to deflect the blasts from Narmoto's launcher where it still sat on Tahu's shoulder as he charged. One swing, and then another, of the Lava Surfboard blades rid the false Toa of both weapon and shield, and before it could reach for another weapon Tahu had slashed again, this time using Narmoto's blades.
With their foes defeated, Tahu and Kopaka returned to their normal forms, and turned around to see their fellow heroes getting to their feet. Gratefully the Protectors accepted their weapons back from the heroes, who thanked them for their kindness in the lone. However, while Tahu and Kopaka still felt renewed, Narmoto and Izotor were drained from the effort of strengthening them and the other Toa and Protectors weren't in much better shape. As such, the Masters of Fire and Ice led the way as the Okotan survivors made their way out of the Place of Shadow.
Emerging from the Place of Shadow, Tahu and Kopaka made one final exercise of their powers to bring down the ruin. This course had been suggested by the freed Okotans and agreed upon by the entire rescue party, including Harvali. Doing so, they knew, would not heal the pain it had caused nor bring back the fallen-but at least now the darkness within the place would be buried, and along with it the hated Creature of Shadow. And thus, with their task accomplished and their foes defeated, the party gladly followed Balta's counsel:
"Let's go home."
Ekimu smiled as he thought how the heroes had indeed come home, and celebrated the victory and its accompanying loss. They had soon had more cause for celebration, for Nilkuu and Harvali, who had grown closer ever since their adventures beneath the Ancient City, had decided to wed, and to adopt Bingzak as their son.The Mask Maker chuckled as he thought of the wedding, and how Nilkuu and Harvali had thrown their tokens of union, believed to identify the next pair of Okotans to be married. The emblems had been aimed towards Vizuna and Korgot, only to be caught by Izotor and Melea instead.
However, Ekimu grew grim again as he regarded the masks that lay before him. Umarak's, in particular, reminded him of the Protectors' description of the colossus from Makuta's dungeon. Only now, after seeing the Destroyer and the Shadow Horde in action, did Ekimu see that his brother had been giving them a taste of what had been to come: an amalgam of the horrors he intended to unleash upon them. And he knew that, though Makuta's power to touch the world of light had been weakened by his defeat at the hands of the Toa, the Master of Shadows still lurked within his prison.
"I imagine that you can hear me, brother-yes, I call you brother still, in memory of the bond we once shared. Your plans have failed, and your minions-whether revealed for what they were or cloaked in your shadow-have been defeated. Perhaps even now you scheme as to how you might find some other means of escaping the Shadow Realm. I do not believe that such exists-but if it does, and you find it, know that I will be waiting for you. If it must be so, the Toa of Light will walk Okoto again...and other heroes will always stand to defy you, even if I fall.
"For that is the way...of the Bionicle..."
Well guys, here it is: my entry to the The Legend Continues. I apologize if it's a bit wordy-I have more experience writing epics than short stories, and I have a tendency to expound a bit more than is probably necessary. I did go through it several times to get it trimmed down, so hopefully it won't be that tedious of a read. I did pack a lot into here: addressed a number of G2 canonicity issues with regards to both writing and unused models/set pieces/artwork, made some references to the much beloved (by me anyway) Revenge of the Skull Spiders, and threw in some G1 references with a little shipping on the side. Hope you enjoy and think it's worth your vote.