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Out of Bounds

Spherus Magna Vhisola Ehrye

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#1 Offline Pahrak #0579

Pahrak #0579
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Posted Oct 12 2017 - 11:46 AM

Part I

 

“Help!  Somebody help me!”

 

“Please, save my children!”

 

“Get us out of here!”

 

Vhisola tried not to focus too much on any one of the numerous shouts she heard, instead thinking only of the person she was currently dragging to safety.  She moved as quickly as she could without bumping into the other Matoran and Agori rushing around her, and once she was far enough away, she gently set the injured down and ran back the way she had come.

 

As she ducked underneath the massive, crumbling building that hung in the air over the last few too injured to run, she spared a single glance at Nokama.  The Turaga stood with those who had already been rescued, her Noble Matatu on her face and both hands outstretched.  Vhisola could see the strain she was under: her teeth were gritted, her eyes were just barely open, and her entire body shuddered with such force it was a wonder her armor hadn’t rattled apart.  Turning back to the task at hand, Vhisola hurriedly pulled another person to safety.

 

“That’s it!” shouted an Agori.  “They’re all clear!”

 

Hearing this, Nokama finally released her hold and let the building slam into the ground.  The Turaga immediately followed suite.

 

“Turaga Nokama!” Vhisola shouted, bolting to her side.  She carefully rolled Nokama onto her back and began to check her vitals.  “Turaga, can you hear me?  Turaga?!”

 

Nokama gasped for air, wheezing loudly.  She tried to speak, but she couldn’t form any words, and her eyes rolled about, unable to focus on anything.

 

“Turaga, please hang on!”  Turning, Vhisola surveyed the group to see if she could find a paramedic she could pull aside.  “Someone, please help!”

 

“N-No,” Nokama breathed.  Vhisola looked back to her instantly.  “No…I’m…fine…”

 

“With respect Turaga, you don’t sound fine!”

 

“Just…let them…help…the wounded…”

 

You’re wounded!”

 

“I’m just…tired…please…I just need…rest…”

 

Before Vhisola could argue further, she felt a hand on her shoulder.  She looked up to see Macku, who calmly said, “Vhisola.”

 

Vhisola realized she was shaking.  “…She…”

 

“There isn’t anything they can do to ease mental strain.  Let’s just get her someplace quiet so she can recover, okay?”

 

Realizing she was right, Vhisola nodded and took a deep breath.  Slowly and very gently, she and Macku helped Nokama into a sitting position, then onto her feet, and then they carried her up the current of villagers rushing down the street.

 

They returned the Turaga to her hut, and within minutes Turaga Onewa appeared—apparently someone else at the scene had told him of Nokama’s condition, and he wanted to do what he could to help her.  The two Matoran waited on the step outside as he tended to Nokama, Vhisola hunched over and Macku resting a hand on her back.

 

It felt like years before the door finally opened.  They both looked up to see Turaga Onewa emerging with a serious, rather uncomforting look on his face.  Vhisola leapt to her feet immediately, asking, “How is she?”

 

Onewa made an effort to smile.  “That Nokama’s really something else.  A Noble Matatu isn’t designed to hold something that heavy, let alone for so long, but she found a way.”  The Turaga looked Vhisola in the eye.  “She will be okay.  I’m sure of it.  But she overexerted herself something terrible, so I don’t think she’ll be able to do much of anything for a while.”

 

Vhisola’s gaze fell.  Bowing, Macku said, “Thank you for everything, Turaga.”

 

“No need to thank me.  Make sure she gets her rest—I’ll let the others know, and I’m sure we’ll all be by to keep her company when we can.  Until then, I leave her in your capable hands.”

 

As the Turaga departed, the two Matoran entered the hut to see Nokama lying in the bed across the room.  She turned her head, and though it was barely audible, she mumbled, “Please, come closer.”

 

They crossed the room, Vhisola doing so in about two steps, and sat down next to the Turaga’s bed.  She tried to push herself up, but the Matoran stopped her.

 

“I want to thank you both for helping me,” Nokama said.  Her voice was weak, each word spoken very slowly and deliberately.  It was a voice neither had ever heard her use.  “The people hurt in the earthquake…are they…?”

 

“They all got the medical attention they needed,” Vhisola said.

 

“None of them were seriously wounded,” Macku went on.  “A few are going to need a stay in the hospital, but they should be fine again in no time.”

 

“Good,” Nokama said.  She closed her eyes, and the Matoran waited patiently until she opened them again.  “I don’t think I’ll be able to fulfill my duties for some time.  Macku…if you wouldn’t mind, I think you would be the best choice to fill in for me.”

 

Macku took the Turaga’s hand.  “I’d be honored.  I can’t guarantee I’ll be especially good at it, but I promise to try my best.”

 

“You’ll do fine,” Nokama said, chuckling softly.  “Please go to city hall and let them know.  Onewa will surely beat you there, so hopefully you won’t have to explain much.”

 

Macku nodded and took her leave.  Vhisola remained at Nokama’s side, unsure if she should say something or just let her rest.  At first, Nokama just stared at the ceiling, her darkened eyes not looking particularly focused but far clearer than Vhisola had seen them earlier.  That helped Vhisola to accept that she really was getting better.

 

What happened next wasn’t something she expected.  Nokama put both hands over her mask, and then she started to sob.  Vhisola’s eyes widened at the sight.

 

“Oh, Vhisola,” Nokama moaned.  “It’s so frustrating.  I thought I could handle this…but look at me.  I’ve become so weak…I really thought…I was stronger than this…but now, I can’t even…I can’t…”

 

Vhisola grabbed Nokama’s arm, trying and failing to stay calm.  “No, Turaga, no!  You’re very strong!  Turaga Onewa was just saying how impressed he was at what you did—and those people!  If it weren’t for you, they could’ve died!  You saved them!  You’re not…”

 

She also became too upset to speak.  Nokama moved one hand, reaching out so that Vhisola would take it.  It took her a few minutes to compose herself, but when she did, she turned and looked up at Vhisola, who could only gaze at her helplessly.

 

“I’m sorry,” Nokama said.

 

“Don’t apologize!” Vhisola said, leaning forward.  “Please, you have nothing to be sorry about!”

 

“I just can’t help but think…if I were a little stronger, I could have moved that building more easily.  I could have tended to everyone myself, and they wouldn’t have had to keep worrying, wondering how long it would be until I gave out.  If only I was stronger…”  She shook her head.  “It seems I overestimated my own limitations.  And it’s just such a terrible, terrible feeling.  Especially when I think about how I’ll be stuck here, unable to be of any good to anyone for so long…I don’t know how I’ll be able to stand it.”

 

Vhisola gave a small tug on Nokama’s hand, saying, “I’m here for you!  If there’s anything at all I can do for you, I’ll do it!  Turaga, I…”

 

She trailed off, hanging her head as she searched for the words.  Nokama stared at her for a moment, and then smiled; she pulled her hand out of Vhisola’s grasp and reached out, setting it on the side of Vhisola’s mask.

 

“Thank you, Vhisola.  It makes me glad to know that even now, I can still count on you.”

 

Vhisola was stunned for a moment, but soon she smiled back.  “You can always count on me, Turaga.  No matter what.”

 

***

 

“Vhisola!”

 

She turned to see Macku charging at her.  Halting where she was, she waited for her friend to catch up and greeted, “Sorry I haven’t been to visit you this past week.  How’ve you been?”

 

Macku shrugged.  “A bit busy, but I won’t complain too much.  How’s the Turaga?”

 

“She’s…resting easy, at least.”

 

“That’s good to hear!  So, out on an errand?  Which way are you headed?”

 

Vhisola gestured, and the two of them headed in that direction.

 

“I always knew Turaga Nokama worked hard, but I never realized just how much she was responsible for,” Macku said.

 

Vhisola smiled.  “Having second thoughts?”

 

“No, of course not.  I was just hoping to get some time off next week, but…”

 

Vhisola’s pace slowed.  “Oh, that’s right…Kongu’s memorial.”

 

Macku nodded, kicking a pebble in her path.  “I mean, I never really got to know him that well.  But I’d like to be there for Hewkii, and Hahli too.  It seems like loss just keeps piling up on them: first Matoro, then Jaller and Nuparu during Velika’s War, and now this accident…”

 

“I’m sure the other Turaga want to make time for that as well,” Vhisola said.  “You’ll be able to go.”

 

“You’re probably right.  Will I see you there?”

 

“Maybe.  Turaga Nokama wants to go, so if she’s feeling up to it I’ll definitely be there to help her.  It’s kind of hard to say right now.”

 

“Ah.  Well, I should get going.  Tell the Turaga I hope she feels better soon!”

 

She waved and ran off.  Vhisola stopped for a moment to gather her bearings, and then walked a few more blocks and entered a shop.  The shelves were lined with Kanohi, many designs she recognized and many more she didn’t, and from a counter across the room, a Ta-Matoran wearing a Ruru in a Noble shape watched over it all.  He seemed to snap awake as Vhisola entered.

 

“Oh, if it isn’t Vhisola!” the shopkeeper said.  “I wasn’t expecting to see you out and about, having heard of what state Nokama’s in.”

 

“Good morning, Nuhrii,” Vhisola replied, glancing over a shelf without another word.

 

Walking over to her, Nuhrii asked, “How is the Turaga doing?”

 

“She’s healing.”

 

“Wonderful.  So, what brings you in today?  Anything specific you’re looking for?”

 

Vhisola stared off for a moment, before slowly turning to face Nuhrii.  In a low voice, she asked, “Are these the strongest Noble Kanohi you have?”

 

Nuhrii raised an eyebrow.  “…I’m sorry?”

 

“I’m looking for extraordinarily powerful Noble Kanohi.  Ideally, something akin to a Great Mask that can still be activated by a Turaga.  Do you have anything like that?”

 

Taking a minute to absorb this, Nuhrii muttered, “Great power…accessible from a Noble level…ah, for Nokama?  Of course.”  Vhisola thought she saw him smile for a moment.  “Unfortunately, such a thing is impossible.  I have tried, but even the highest quality Level 7 Kanoka can’t increase a Noble Kanohi’s power beyond a certain threshold.  And of course, anything Level 8 results in a mask that no Turaga can activate.  Our creators were very rigid beings through and through.”

 

Vhisola looked away, cursing under her breath.  Nuhrii watched her for a moment, putting a hand to his chin, and hummed.

 

“…Actually…” the mask maker said.  “If you’re really set on this, there could be a possibility.”

 

Vhisola glanced over her shoulder at him.  “Are you just telling me what I want to hear?”

 

“Not at all.  Like I said, it’s just a possibility…and verifying it would be a rather dangerous process.  What I’m thinking of is definitely not something for the faint of heart.”

 

Vhisola turned and narrowed her eyes at him.  She wasn’t sure what the Matoran was getting at, but he sounded like he was making a sale.

 

“However…if I am right, it’s probably the only way to achieve the result you’re looking for.”

 

Deciding it was worth asking, she said, “Alright, fine.  Elaborate on this mysterious possibility.”

 

Nuhrii smiled, looking pleased with himself.  “Actually, someone else is also interested, so it would be easier to explain to both of you at the same time.  I’m meeting up with him tonight—why don’t you join us?”

 

Vhisola ground her teeth.  “…Very well.”

 

***

 

As she made her way past one table after another, Vhisola kept her eyes peeled for any sign of Nuhrii.  The restaurant was near the outskirts of New Atero, so there were all kinds of beings hanging around, including a good number who had a suspicious look to them.  Vhisola was positive the four-armed warrior in the corner, conspicuously surrounded by bodyguards, was a Dark Hunter who thought he was being subtle.  The general shadiness of the establishment did not inspire much confidence in Nuhrii’s information.

 

But if he is right, then this could really help Turaga Nokama, she reminded herself.  All I have to do is hear him out.

 

A waving hand caught her eye.  Sure enough, Nuhrii sat at a table with another Matoran, a Ko-Matoran with a Noble Mahiki who she also recognized.  Making her way over, she sat down, looked them both over, and said, “It’s been a while, Ehrye.”

 

“Yeah, it has,” Ehrye said.  “Sorry to hear about Nokama.  Does that have to do with why you’re here?”

 

Before Vhisola could answer, Nuhrii said, “Yes, Vhisola came in looking for a Noble Mask with power more like that of a Great.  That’s related to the discovery I told you about.”

 

Ehrye nodded.  “I see.  You’re right, that would be huge!  Okay, I’m definitely on-board.”

 

“Hold on, you haven’t even heard the details yet.”

 

“Yes, please explain,” Vhisola said.  “Have you really found something that can make that sort of mask or not?”

 

Nuhrii tapped his fingers to stall for time.  “…It’s more accurate to say I’ve heard of something like that.”

 

Vhisola sat back and crossed her arms.

 

“Just hold on.  Recently, I spoke with some Agori who were travelling up near the Northern Frost.  While they were there, they stumbled across a sealed tunnel entrance, and after forcing it open they found that the interior had been coated in metal, with signs on the walls and a few pieces of old tablets all written in Matoran.  They went further in, but they tripped off some sort of security system.  About half a dozen of them died.”

 

Vhisola looked to Ehrye, who seemed a little less eager now.

 

“After skimming the bits of tablet they found, they were able to work out that it was some kind of laboratory.  My guess is that it’s another hidden lab of the Great Beings.”

 

“Based on what?” Vhisola asked.

 

“The level of technology described in the notes, not to mention the presence of Matoran lettering in a facility sealed under Spherus Magna.  But, that isn’t really the point.”

 

“Okay.  What’s the point?”

 

Nuhrii produced a flat chunk of rock.  “They were gracious enough to let me keep one of the tablets they found.  It’s only a piece, mind you, and some of it’s too worn to read…but take a look.”

 

He slid the tablet over to Vhisola.  With a sigh, she picked it up and looked.

 

-RIMENT 3X4S-

PSYCHIC AMPLIFIER HARNES-

-IGNED TO INCREASE AN INDIVIUAL’S MENTAL FOCUS, WITH THE GOAL OF ENABLING MATORAN AND OTHER BEINGS TO USE KANOHI POW-

 

Vhisola handed the tablet to Ehrye.  “Something that would let Matoran use Kanohi?”

 

She thought about it a bit more, and then it dawned on her.

 

“Something that would enable someone who normally couldn’t use Kanohi at all to use Kanohi…that sort of increase in ability might also allow someone who normally can only use Noble Kanohi to use Great Kanohi…”

 

“Precisely,” Nuhrii said.

 

“Incredible,” Ehrye said, grinning.  “This is really incredible!”

 

“That…could actually work,” Vhisola said.

 

“Imagine,” Nuhrii said.  “If I could unlock this device’s power and make Kanohi with it, I’d have business from all across the planet!  I’d forever be remembered as the world’s greatest mask maker—as someone who was able to break the limitations the Great Beings imposed on us!”

 

“And you’re offering us a chance to be a part of that, right?” Ehrye asked.

 

“Of course!” Nuhrii said, putting the tablet away.  “Of course, you’ll both be rewarded if you accept.  As for the job itself, if it isn’t obvious: I’m looking for people willing to go retrieve this device for me.  You two seemed the most interested, so I wanted to ask you first.  However, remember that the lab is very secure, so just going there at all would be risky.  If you want to decline, I understand.”

 

“Retrieve it for you?” Vhisola repeated.  “You won’t be coming?”

 

Nuhrii smiled and averted his gaze.  “Well…I’m not really the adventuring type.”

 

“You’ll be taking credit for inventing this technology, I’d guess?” Ehrye said.  “Say that I helped you develop it.  That should get me some notoriety.”

 

Nuhrii nodded, saying, “That’s fine with me.”  Turning to Vhisola, he went on, “You wanted extraordinarily powerful masks, right?  I’d be happy to make one for free for you.”

 

Vhisola scoffed.  “Only one?”

 

The Ta-Matoran smirked.  “Before we haggle, I need to know if you’re actually willing to accept.”

 

It wasn’t the danger that made Vhisola worry.  If this technology would be helpful to Nokama—and it certainly sounded like it would—then she was prepared to tear through anything that tried to get in her way.  But to get from New Atero to the Northern Frost, the journey would take two days at least.  Even assuming they made great time, fulfilled their objective quickly, and had an uneventful trip back, Vhisola could still expect to be gone for nearly a week.  Given the state Nokama was currently in, she was hesitant to leave her side at all, let alone for so long.

 

“It does sound promising,” she said, “but I’d have be away from Nokama…”

 

“Are you the only one watching over her?” Ehrye asked.

 

“Hm?  Well, no…”

 

“Then can’t you just get someone else to take over your shifts?  She probably wouldn’t even notice.”

 

Vhisola opened her mouth to speak, but then stopped.  A hollow, gnawing feeling sprouted within her, and she started to shrink inward.

 

…Right.  Just because Turaga Nokama is special to me, that doesn’t mean that I’m special to her.

 

Trying to recover, she quietly cleared her throat.  “Make Turaga Nokama all the masks she wants.  Do that, and I’ll go to the lab.”

 

Nuhrii recoiled.  “All the…?  Are you joking?”

 

“A dangerous job to recover something that could change your life—and the entire planet?  That’s worth a big price tag.”

 

“…Perhaps,” Nuhrii grumbled, “but I am still trying to run a business.”

 

“You’ll have no shortage of business once you do this,” Ehrye said.  “Giving freebies to one customer out of thousands shouldn’t be too bad.”

 

The mask maker was still hesitant.  Squirming in his seat, he said, “I will…replace all the Noble Masks she currently has for free.  And then give her a 30% discount for life.  Surely that should suffice, yes?”

 

Vhisola glanced aside for a few seconds.  “Any six masks she wants for free, and then the discount after that.”

 

Nuhrii scowled.  Giving him a curious look, Ehrye asked, “What’s the difference?”

 

“What, are you on her side?” Nuhrii said.  “Some masks require disks that are very difficult to obtain, and very difficult to work with.  The Noble Masks Nokama currently has are ones that are very simple to make and could be replaced in a day.”

 

Ehrye nodded, looking up thoughtfully.  “I mean, once word gets around, it should be a lot easier for you to get whatever disks you need, shouldn’t it?  You’ll have money to burn, and disk makers will probably be begging you to use their disks.  So long as you’re up to the challenge…”

 

Nuhrii rapped his knuckles against the table.  “…Alright, any six.  But the discount will only be 20%.”

 

Vhisola stared at him, unflinching.

 

“Come now, how many masks do you think she’ll want?  20% is very generous.”

 

Without a word, Vhisola got out of her chair and began to walk away.

 

“Wait!” Nuhrii yelled, shooting to his feet.  Vhisola stopped and glanced over her shoulder.  “…Fine.  Any six, and 30%.  Do we have a deal?”

 

Vhisola appeared to give it thorough consideration for a moment, and then turned and sat back down with a single, sagely nod.  “Very well, Nuhrii.  I accept your conditions.”

 

Nuhrii sighed and shook his head.  Ehrye chuckled.

 

“Both of you be at my shop at dawn tomorrow,” Nuhrii said.  “Have your bags packed and be ready to depart—I will first send you to meet with a contact of mine, who will guide you to where the lab is located.”

 

For Vhisola, that was a red flag.  Even Ehrye seemed to notice, asking, “Wait, contact?  I thought you said you asked us first?”

 

“It’s a bit complicated—you’ll understand when you meet him,” Nuhrii explained.  “The short version is that, while you two are the brains of this mission, you’re also going to need some muscle to accomplish it.  Spherus Magna is still a very dangerous place, so I’ve arranged protection for you.  I thought doing that first would help make the offer more appealing.”

 

“Oh,” Ehrye said, all his misgivings seemingly soothed, “well when you put it like that…”

 

“How thoughtful,” Vhisola muttered.  Unlike her companion, she still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was odd.  However, this was all for Nokama’s sake, so odd or not she would do everything she could to make the trip successful.

 

I’ll ask Nixie to cover for me, and I’ll write a note telling the Turaga that something’s come up.  If she asks, I guess.

 

That same pain was back.

 

…It doesn’t matter whether I’m special to her or not.  She’s special to me, so I’m going to do this for her.  I don’t want her to have to feel weak ever again.

 

 

(Review)


Edited by Ul-Pahrak, Oct 12 2017 - 11:48 AM.

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#2 Offline Pahrak #0579

Pahrak #0579
  • Premier Member
  • Premier Outstanding BZP Citizens
  • Bionicle Writer of the Month

  • 19-August 04
  • 2,594 posts
  •   Outstanding BZPower Citizen

Posted Oct 16 2017 - 11:47 PM

Part II

 

“So, really: what do you think he meant?”

 

Vhisola sighed loudly as she climbed over the large tree root in the path.  As she glanced back at Ehrye, clambering not far behind, her focus shifted towards the river and she began to wonder how good Ko-Matoran were at swimming.

 

“I mean, ‘you’ll know him when you see him’,” Ehrye repeated for what seemed the hundredth time.  He dropped to the ground, faltering a bit but staying upright.  “It’s pretty vague.  If Nuhrii hired someone specific, he should’ve told us exactly who he was, right?  So what do you think—“

 

“I don’t know,” Vhisola interrupted, moving faster up the river bank.  “As I’ve been saying all day, I have no idea what he meant, and I don’t particularly care.”

 

Ehrye huffed, but soon broke into a run to catch up to her.  “It doesn’t bother you?  You’re okay with going into this blind?”

 

Vhisola didn’t answer.  Much as she hated to admit it, Ehrye had something of a point, but there wasn’t anything they could do about it right now.  She’d wait and see just what Nuhrii had meant…and if it proved to be an issue, she’d handle it then.

 

“Alright, fine,” Ehrye said, putting his hands behind his head.  “I’m just trying to pass the time with some friendly conversation.”

 

“Are you sure you’re a Ko-Matoran?” Vhisola asked.

 

After staring at her a moment, Ehrye glanced aside and mumbled, “You sure you aren’t?”

 

Vhisola stopped to look at him, freezing him in his tracks.  Then she resumed walking.

 

“Come on,” Ehrye said, “if we’re going to be working together we should try to get along.”

 

He really isn’t going to shut up, is he? Vhisola thought.  Fine, what can I say…

 

The two of them paused at a bend in the river.  Vhisola looked up at the sky as she tried to organize her thoughts, only vaguely aware of the path ahead.

 

“Why did you take this job, again?” she asked as they moved on.

 

Ehrye brightened up.  “For the fame, of course!  I’ll be remembered as the Great Scholar who helped Mask Maker Nuhrii revolutionize Kanohi, whose research pioneered a brand new era!”

 

“Uh-huh.  And what are you going to do if someone asks to see your ‘research’?”

 

He thought for a moment.  “Hm…I’ll say Nuhrii and I have a contract, and as part of it I can’t reveal any of my research.”

 

Vhisola shook her head.  “You’re putting a lot of effort into this.  Is fame worth it if it’s a lie?”

 

With a shrug and a chuckle, Ehrye replied, “Well, I’d definitely like the chance to find out.”

 

“You really are desperate for attention.”

 

“Aren’t you the same?  You’re only here because you want to impress Nokama.”

 

Vhisola crouched at the edge of the river, pulling out her canteen.  “I’m here because I want to help Nokama.  Whether that impresses her or not…that isn’t the point.”

 

“But you’d sure be happy if it did, right?”

 

Vhisola dipped her canteen in the river, mumbling, “…Like I said, it isn’t the point.”

 

Ehrye sighed and sat down on another large root.  “Right.  But I bet you know what I mean more than you let on.  I’ve wanted recognition long as I can remember…well, since before I can remember, according to the Turaga’s stories.  It’s getting harder and harder to make a name for yourself, though, so I don’t want to pass up a chance like this.  Is that so wrong?  It’s not like this is going to hurt anyone—the Great Beings have a billion other things they get credit for, and it’s not like they’re as popular as they used to be anyway.  What’s the harm in profiting from one thing they forgot they made?”

 

The Ga-Matoran stood, twisting the cap back onto her canteen, and then turned to face Ehrye.  “…Are we really sure this was the Great Beings?”

 

“You heard what Nuhrii said: why else would a lab with advanced tech and Matoran lettering be under Spherus Magna?”

 

“Nuhrii also pointed out they were extremely rigid.  Why would they want to break a restriction they implemented?”

 

Ehrye didn’t have an answer.  Vhisola shrugged and returned her canteen to her pack.  The next thing she knew, something collided with her back, and she was sent flying into a tree.  Ehrye leapt to his feet and fumbled for the Kanoka launcher he was carrying.  The Tarakava waited in the river, eying him warily as its powerful arms twitched in anticipation.

 

Vhisola hit the ground.  Shaking her head, she finally noticed the tracks in the mud beneath them, and wished she’d been paying more attention.  If I’d seen these earlier, we could have just gone around.  Darn Ehrye and his chattering…

 

She stood to find Ehrye shakily pointing the launcher at the Rahi.  Drawing a disk, she asked, “What have you got loaded there?”

 

“A Weaken disk, high-level.”

 

“I’m guessing Ko-Type?”

 

“Definitely.  And you?”

 

“No, mine’s made of bamboo.”

 

Ehrye looked at her in disbelief—meanwhile she couldn’t believe he was taking his eyes off their assailant.  “B…bamboo?  We left Mata-Nui a long time ago, Vhisola!”

 

“When you spend a thousand years getting really good with one kind of disk, it doesn’t make sense to suddenly switch to a different one!  Now pay attention so you don’t get killed!”

 

Ehrye quickly turned back.

 

“Knowing Tarakava, it’ll probably charge us soon.  I’ll feint left and throw right, but it’ll probably still dodge, and that’s when you need to fire.  Got it?”

 

“Uh…sure.”

 

Vhisola watched the Tarakava quietly.  It watched her back.  Just as she was thinking the delay was growing unusually long, she heard something behind her, and allowed herself one quick glance.

 

“Ehrye, get down!”

 

The Ko-Matoran ducked, and Vhisola spun and hurled her disk at the Kavinika that was pouncing at them.  The wolf-like Rahi was knocked from the air, stunned; Vhisola caught her disk as it came back and ducked immediately, realizing she had stumbled back into the Tarakava’s range.

 

“Just shoot it now!” she shouted as a fist went over her head.

 

Ehrye took aim, but stopped and turned to his side.  Another Kavinika was charging up the riverbank at him.  Panicking, he spun and shot that instead, and the Tarakava saw the opening and threw another punch.  Vhisola dove and just barely knocked them both clear, and then dragged Ehrye to his feet and pushed him forward.

 

“Fine, we’ll run!”

 

They headed for the trees, skidding to a halt when they saw two more Kavinika lying in wait.  The one Vhisola had stunned was starting to get back up.  She looked for a path and heard Ehrye fire his launcher—the Tarakava had knocked loose a large chunk of rock, and the Ko-Matoran successfully intercepted the projectile.  Unfortunately, the Kavinika took this opportunity to strike.  Vhisola knocked one out easily, then broke into a sprint to avoid a second.  Ehrye, meanwhile, had to wave his launcher to fend off the third, screaming as he tried to get another disk.  Thinking fast, Vhisola vaulted over a massive root and then swung underneath it, the Kavinika running a few meters past her before realizing she had turned around.  In a second, the wolf was down.

 

Knocking Ehrye’s attacker off of him, she said, “There might be more—we need to hurry!”

 

Ehrye hastily loaded his launcher and ran with her.  “If we go towards the river, the Tarakava gets us, and if we go away we have to deal with Kavinika!  Since when do different species of Rahi work together like that?”

 

“Now isn’t the time to wonder—duck!”

 

Another chunk of rock flew overhead.  Shoving Ehrye until his launcher lined up with the Tarakava, she commanded him to fire, and then turned and took stock of how many Kavinika were after them now.  As the reptile started to collapse, she dragged Ehrye and threw at the wolves, knocking a few back but not stopping them for long.

 

“We just need…there!”

 

She pointed at a tree that leaned towards the river.  They ran under it and Ehrye shot its trunk, and soon it toppled over and blocked the path.  It took a minute, but the Kavinika were able to get over it.  When they did, however, the Matoran were nowhere to be seen.  The pack looked around for a moment, sniffing the mud, but ultimately gave up and retreated back towards where the Tarakava was lying.

 

Some ways upriver, Vhisola and Ehrye resurfaced, tossing away their empty air bladders as they climbed onto dry land.  Ehrye nearly dropped his Kanoka launcher as he put it away, and then sat down and sighed heavily.

 

“Yikes,” the Ko-Matoran said.  “I guess that’s why we need protection, huh?”

 

Vhisola didn’t answer.  Examining her pack, she verified that her waterproofing had worked and that the supplies remained dry.

 

“That was pretty incredible.  Bamboo disks were great for knocking off infected masks, but I don’t think I’ve seen them do much actual damage before.”

 

Shouldering her pack, Vhisola said, “Like I said: I spent a thousand years getting really good.  Now come on.”

 

They tread more carefully as they continued their journey.  It was evening when they reached their destination: a modest collection of huts nestled at the base of a small waterfall, about halfway between New Atero and the Northern Frost.  The local Matoran and Agori barely took note of their arrival; Vhisola thought this would make it easy to quietly locate their contact and perhaps observe him a bit to get a better idea of if they could trust him, but that was ruined quite quickly when Ehrye started chatting up the first person who came close enough.

 

“Hey!” he called.  “This is Naho Village, right?”

 

The Jungle Agori paused mid-step and turned to face them.  “Huh?  Oh, um, yeah.”

 

“Great!  Glad we didn’t take a wrong turn.  Hey, we were told to meet someone here, but we weren’t really told anything specific—just ‘you’ll know him when you see him’.  No clue what that’s supposed to mean.  Have you seen anyone around here who might stand out, I guess?”

 

Vhisola exhaled slowly as the Agori thought.  “Oh.  Well, the only one who stands out would be that guy, though I’m not sure why you’d need to meet with him.”

 

“You know someone?  Where can we find him?”

 

“I think he’s been hanging out across the river.  You can’t miss him.”

 

“That’s great!  Oh, what’s his name, though?”

 

“I, uh…I don’t think he has a name.”

 

Vhisola gave the Agori a curious look.  Ehrye brushed off the remark, saying, “Okay, well thanks!  Let’s go, Vhisola!”

 

Reluctantly, she followed him, and they made their way back out of town and carefully waded through the river.  There were only a few sparse trees on the other side, so it wasn’t long before they spotted a campsite, although at first it appeared to be deserted.

 

“Guess we’ll wait here for him,” Ehrye said as he sat down near the remains of a fire.

 

Vhisola surveyed the area.  There wasn’t really much else to see, just the fire pit, a hammock, and a few weapons.  A spear was planted in the ground, a medium-sized axe was set against a nearby tree, and hanging from the branch above that was a length of chain with a weight on either end.  She turned back to Ehrye, who either didn’t notice these or wasn’t concerned.  Before she could say anything, she heard footsteps.

 

A warrior wearing black and dark blue armor entered the camp site and stopped to stare at the two Matoran.  He carried a dead gravel hawk over one shoulder, and in his other hand he held something that looked like an elongated Thornax launcher, outfitted with a scope and trailing a vine from which five more Thornax hung.  Vhisola wasn’t sure how she could tell—he didn’t have blades on his shoulders, and his helmet lacked a point—but she was positive that she was looking at a Skrall.

 

Ehrye jumped to his feet stammering.  The Skrall sneered at them, and asked, “Are you the ones Nuhrii sent?”

 

Vhisola’s muscles tensed until she could almost feel them snap.  “Nuhrii hired a Skrall to go with us?”

 

“That’s right,” the Skrall said, gently lobbing the hawk carcass next to the fire pit.  “I’m supposed to protect you while we go north and break into the Great Beings’ lab.  Are we leaving now, or at dawn?”

 

Turning to Vhisola, Ehrye whispered, “U-Um, Vhisola, is this…unusual?  It feels a little unusual.”

 

“I have to admit,” Vhisola said, carefully watching their ‘escort’, “a Skrall was the last thing I expected to find.”

 

The Skrall set his weapon down next to the others and then approached the fire pit, sitting with his back to the Matoran.  “I’m sure.”

 

Ehrye shuffled a few steps to the side.  “W-Well, uh, nice to meet you!  I’m Ehrye, and this is Vhisola.  And you…well, I guess, do you have a name?”

 

The Skrall shook his head as he set about making a fire.  Vhisola said, “Forgive me for being blunt, but how do we know we can trust you?  All I know about Skrall is that they terrorized Bara Magna before the Reformation, and then a few pockets kept cropping up during Makuta’s invasion, Dark Hunter raids, Velika’s War…”

 

A crackling sound signaled the start of a small flame.  Gently prodding the kindling, the Skrall said, “I served under Tuma, but I’ve been keeping my head low since the Reformation, for what it’s worth.”

 

“Still can’t help but wonder if you might try to kill us in our sleep.”

 

“Vhisola,” Ehrye said, “we have no reason to think that, really…”

 

The Skrall smirked.  “Matoran, Skrall don’t try to kill anything.  If we want something dead, it dies.  And if I wanted you dead, you already would be.”

 

“I don’t know if I’d say that.”

 

He looked over his shoulder at her.  Her face was stone-cold.

 

“This mission is very important to me.  I won’t allow any interference.”

 

A long moment passed, and then the Skrall threw back his head and laughed.  “Well!  That’s the first time a Matoran’s threatened me!  I like you—at least, I’m glad Nuhrii sent someone with a spine.”

 

The fire was growing now, so the Skrall went to grab the axe and spear.  Upon returning, he used the former to cut open the gravel hawk, and Ehrye turned away and covered his mouth.

 

“I need to know how important this mission is to you,” Vhisola said, unfazed.  “What were you offered, and more importantly, do you already have it?”

 

Poking at his dinner, the Skrall said, “I get paid upon successful delivery, don’t you worry.”

 

“What is the payment?”

 

He continued to cut the hawk.

 

“It’s a dangerous task, and you have to put up with Matoran from start to finish—not something I hear Skrall enjoy.  What’s worth all of that?”

 

The Skrall speared a strip of meat and held it over the fire.  After a delay, he quietly said, “Papers.”

 

The word hung in the air over the camp site.  Ehrye leaned towards Vhisola, muttering, “Why does he want paper so badly?  Aren’t there easier ways to get it?”

 

Vhisola closed her eyes and pressed her palm against her mask with such force she nearly dislodged it.  “I believe he’s saying he wants to be recognized as a citizen of New Atero.”

 

“Oh!”  Ehrye thought for a moment, and then asked, “Wait, really?”

 

“Is that so hard to believe?” the Skrall asked.

 

“Er, that’s not really how I meant it, it’s just…well, I’ve never heard of any Skrall wanting to join larger society.  Aren’t you all pretty content wandering around like you do?”

 

The Skrall pulled back the meat and pinched it, testing to see how it was cooking.  “…Just thought a change of pace could be nice.”

 

Ehrye nodded slowly.  “…Well, okay then.  I guess Nuhrii said he’d help you through the process when we get back to New Atero?  Sounds like a good deal to me.”

 

Vhisola watched the Skrall as he returned to the fire.  She could tell right away there was more to his goal, but also knew it wasn’t likely she would get it out of him—not now, at least.

 

But, that means that he does have reasons.  So if nothing else, successfully completing this mission is something he very much wants…meaning he probably won’t be a threat.

 

“Alright, Skrall,” Vhisola said at last.  “I’ll accept your help…for now.  And to answer your question, we’ll leave at dawn.”

 

The Skrall took a bite of the hawk meat.  “Works for me.”

 

“Great!” Ehrye said.  He sat down once again.  “Vhisola figures it’ll take us about another day to get to the lab, so we might as well rest now.”

 

“We’ll be lucky if we make it tomorrow,” the Skrall said.  “There’s all sorts of creatures between here and there, and odds are one of them is going to slow us down.”

 

“Ah, so we should go around to avoid them?”

 

Chewing another bite, the Skrall shook his head and jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, reminding Ehrye of the weapons sitting in that direction.  After swallowing, he asked, “Why do you think Nuhrii hired me in the first place?”

 

Vhisola finally sat down as well, thinking, That’s a very good question.

 

 

(Review)

 


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#3 Offline Pahrak #0579

Pahrak #0579
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Posted Oct 19 2017 - 12:04 PM

Part III

 

In the 200 years since the Reformation, Vhisola had seen, learned, and experienced many things she had never expected.  First and foremost, coming to realize that the entire universe she knew was inside an enormous robot was something of a shock.  Adjusting to Spherus Magna had been full of difficulties as well.  And of course, there was the fact that a Great Being had inserted himself into a Matoran body with the ultimate goal of ruling them all.  But despite all that, she could not help but take a step back and notice how curious her current feelings were.

 

Vhisola was actually feeling sympathy towards a Skrall.

 

Having apparently learned that talking to Vhisola was fruitless, Ehrye had instead taken to pestering their “guide”, and had been doing so near-constantly since dawn.  The Skrall seemed a bit irritated, but he nevertheless gave (short) answers to all of Ehrye’s questions, which unfortunately only led to Ehrye asking more—perhaps he hadn’t made the connection yet, Vhisola wondered.  Still, she felt annoyed just being next to it.  She could only imagine what was going through the Skrall’s mind being a part of it.

 

“So what’s the biggest thing you’ve ever defeated?” Ehrye asked.

 

The Skrall thought for a moment, looking towards the peaks of the mountains they walked between.  “Probably that golden spider thing.  I think it came out of your robot—enormous monster that shot wheels of energy from its back, and everything they touched disappeared into a portal or something.”

 

“That sounds like one of the Visorak…Kahgarak, I think is what it’s called?”

 

The Skrall shrugged.  “All I know is it tasted terrible.”

 

“Oh…how do you…I mean, everything from our universe had a lot of mechanical components, and I’m sure you don’t eat those.  How easy is it to remove them, I guess?”

 

“Most of you are pretty repulsed by that stuff.”

 

“Well, you could say it’s a morbid curiosity…”

 

“Hm.  It isn’t like the creatures running around here don’t have mechanisms in them—the Great Beings tinkered with everything they could get their hands on.  Yours have got more metal than meat, for sure, but in either case, it’s just a few simple cuts.”

 

Ehrye nodded, trying to suppress a grimace.  Before he could ask anything else, Vhisola moved forward, asking, “Are we near the end of the pass?”

 

“We’re right on top of it.  After this it’s nothing but grass and sand until the Northern Frost.”

 

“Could we still make it by the end of the day?”

 

“It’ll be close.  But our destination is right near the border, so it’s possible.”

 

The trio rounded a bend and the path began to gradually slope downward.  Sure enough, open ground could be seen not far away.  They could also see a massive Catapult Scorpion clinging to an adjacent mountain, and it saw them as well.  Ehrye’s eyes instantly grew.

 

“Run!” Vhisola shouted as she drew her disk.

 

The Ko-Matoran complied, and the Catapult Scorpion pulled back its long tail and shifted its footing.  The Skrall began to unlimber his Thornax Rifle and asked, “One of yours?  What does it do?”

 

The scorpion’s stinger began to glow red.  An orb of molten magma formed just above the stinger’s tip, and in the time it took them to blink, the ball hardened into solid rock.  Vhisola threw her disk just before the scorpion snapped its tail forward to hurl the projectile at them.  She managed to strike the tail at just the right moment, diverting the shot and causing it impact on the path behind them rather than on them.

 

That’s what it does.”

 

She caught her disk and took off.  The Skrall followed, but was still aiming his rifle, never looking away from the scorpion as it skittered down the mountain to chase after them.  The Rahi prepared another rock, so the Skrall fired: the Thornax shot out with far greater speed and range than it would from a normal launcher, striking the scorpion in the face and disorienting it.  The ball of rock rolled down its tail and off its back.

 

“How intent is it going to be on following us?” the Skrall asked as he reloaded.  “If it’s not going to give up, we should stay and fight it here, where we have some cover to utilize.”

 

Vhisola actually agreed.  Catapult Scorpions were incredibly violent creatures who loved to destroy whatever they saw, so there was little chance of them escaping while it was still conscious.  She was just about to call out to Ehrye, who was out on the sand now, when she realized he had turned back towards them.  The reason why, she discovered, was that the sand was moving, and some other massive form was rising up from beneath it.

 

The Skrall laughed.  “That’s one of mine.  This should be interesting.”

 

Glaring down at the travelers, the Skopio snapped its fangs together and raised one of its legs.  Before it could stomp, however, a rock smashed into its face, causing it to turn its attention to the approaching Catapult Scorpion.  Aiming its tail, the Skopio fired a blast from its stinger that made the other giant scorpion stumble about in shock.  Vhisola grabbed the panicked Ehrye and tried to calm him as she waited to see what would happen.  The enraged Catapult Scorpion rushed forward and threw itself at the Skopio, pincers snapping wildly, but the larger scorpion shook it off and knocked it back with a headbutt.

 

“This might be our chance,” Vhisola murmured.  “Let’s move.”

 

The Skrall grumbled something, but they all took a few cautious steps forward.  It wasn’t long before the Skopio turned and stomped back towards them.

 

“Shoot—Ehrye, try your disks!”

 

Suddenly the Skopio shrieked and spun around.  The Catapult Scorpion, having just launched a shot at its foe’s exposed back, ran forward once again.  The Skopio just kicked it back.  To its credit, the Rahi got right back up.  Vhisola felt an idea starting to form as Ehrye shot a Kanoka at the Skopio’s flank.  The disk impacted, the surface beneath it clearly buckling, but the Skopio seemed to only barely notice.  If anything, it turned around simply because it wanted to make sure its prey was still there, or at least that was how it seemed.

 

“Back into the mountains!” the Skrall shouted.  “We’re sitting ducks out here!”

 

A blast hit the mountain above them, bringing down a rain of stone.  The Matoran rushed after the Skrall while the Catapult Scorpion returned to fruitlessly raging against the Skopio.  The larger creature lost sight of them temporarily, but after bashing the Catapult Scorpion into the mountainside, it took a few thundering steps and fired another shot at them—this one hitting close enough to knock them off their feet.

 

“Why didn’t it work?” Ehrye groaned.  “That Kanoka was level 7!  It should have sapped the strength right out of it!”

 

Vhisola sprang to her feet and eyed the creature.  “It definitely did something.”

 

The Catapult Scorpion tackled the Skopio, hitting the same area that Ehrye had shot.  Surprisingly, the Skopio reacted in pain, and spun around to grab its enemy in its jaws.  As it swung its head back and forth, Vhisola could now see a large crack in its side.

 

She turned to the Skrall.  “That thing—what sort of shell does it have?”

 

“I don’t know,” the Skrall said, “some kind of metal?  It isn’t natural, I know that.”

 

“So the Kanoka only affected the armor, it didn’t get through to the creature itself…”

 

Ehrye sighed.  “Then I’m not much help, am I?”

 

“Not much to be done anyway,” the Skrall said.  “From what I’ve seen, there’s no way that rock hurler’s gonna win.  The Skopio’s just gonna stomp its brains out and then come do the same to us.”

 

Vhisola looked over her shoulder.  “Do all Skrall give up so easily?”

 

The Skrall just narrowed his eyes.

 

“If we’re going to escape, we need those two to keep each other busy.  Meaning we need to find a way to make this a fair fight.  Ehrye, how many more disks do you have?”

 

Before Ehrye could reply, the Skopio roared.  The trio dashed away from another blast, and over the explosion, Ehrye shouted, “Four of them!”

 

Vhisola glanced over the Skopio again.  It charged another blast, and as it fired, she felt her idea was finally complete.  Diving for cover, she said, “Okay.  We’re going to cripple the Skopio so that the Catapult Scorpion can hold its own.”

 

The Skrall looked at her blankly.  “What?”

 

“Then we’ll slip away and find another exit, and get as far away from these mountains as we can!”

 

“How are we supposed to hurt that thing?” Ehrye asked.  Another rock bounced off of the Skopio’s head, and it turned to slam the Catapult Scorpion into the dirt.

 

“Can you shoot the tail from here?” Vhisola asked.

 

“No way!  Maybe with a Le-Type disk, but—“

 

“Then you’ll have to get higher.”

 

“What?!”

 

Vhisola turned to the Skrall.  “For this to work, we’re going to have to keep those monsters distracted while Ehrye climbs.  Also, for our best chance, he’s going to need your rifle.”

 

Through gritted teeth, the Skrall said, “I don’t part with my weapons easily, Matoran.”

 

The Catapult Scorpion hurled a rock into the Skopio’s face.  It flinched, but only for a moment, before stomping on one of its victim’s arms.

 

Vhisola stared him dead in the eye, her expression firm as iron.  “It’s that, or we die.  This plan will work.  It’s our only way.”

 

Despite himself, the Skrall began to smile.  “…You’re an odd one, for sure.”

 

Reluctantly, the warrior handed his rifle off the Ehrye, who took it very carefully.  After Vhisola quickly explained what he had to do, the Ko-Matoran ran off to look for higher ground, while she and the Skrall charged straight at the two scorpions.

 

Vhisola’s disk hit the Skopio between the eyes, doing nothing but getting its attention.  It did provide an opening for the Catapult Scorpion to plunge its red-hot stinger into its maw, however, which left it too distracted to notice the Skrall running for its leg.  Unlimbering his axe, he let loose a shout and swung with both hands, managing to cut through the treads on the Skopio’s leg.  That was something it did take notice of.  The Skopio moved to attack the Skrall, ignoring Vhisola’s throws and shouts; not looking intimidated, the Skrall grabbed the chain he carried and threw one end at the Skopio’s rear legs.  The weighted end stuck to the monster’s armor, and the Skrall jumped and used the chain to pull himself through the air, swinging up and onto the Skopio’s back.

 

The chain’s ends can magnetize to any metal surface, Vhisola remembered, thinking back to when the Skrall had explained it to Ehrye.  He can scale that thing easily.

 

Forgotten by the Skopio, the Catapult Scorpion was getting on its feet now.  Unfortunately, it took one look at Vhisola and swiped its claw at her, almost knocking her flat.  Vhisola threw her disk at its face and ran to a crack in the rock wall.  The Scorpion hurled a rock in an attempt to stop her, but she managed to make it in safely, and the Rahi stood at the entrance and hissed for a while.

 

As this was going on, the Skopio circled about trying to shake the Skrall off its back.  The warrior held firm with one hand and grabbed his spear with the other.  The head glowed faintly as he thrust it, piercing all the way through the armor and stabbing the animal beneath, eliciting a loud cry of pain.  Suddenly everything shifted—the Skopio was moving to slam its back against the rock.  Quickly, the Skrall withdrew his spear and threw his chain, managing to swing off of his mount just in time to avoid being squashed.  He had no time to celebrate, as the Catapult Scorpion was coming after him now, but that was easy to repel with a few hits from his axe.

 

Ehrye held on tightly to avoid losing his grip.  The force of the Skopio hitting the wall was almost enough to send him tumbling to his death, but he managed, somehow.  He had made his way up to a ledge that sat just above where the Skopio’s head would reach, facing slightly away from the battle and with some shrubbery to hide behind—it was as good a spot as he was going to find.

 

“Okay, Ehrye, okay,” he breathed, setting out his weapons.  “You can do this.  It sounded easy when Vhisola explained it!  Okay…”

 

Picking up the Kanoka launcher, he poked through the bushes and took aim.  The Skopio was standing tall again, and tried to stamp the Skrall to death.  He rolled away, but the Catapult Scorpion swung a pincer as he was getting up, knocking his axe out of his hand.  Looking angrier than usual, the Skrall hurled his spear into the Skopio’s leg and then magnetized his chain to it, swinging up and out of harm’s way.  The two scorpions began trading blows again as the Skrall retrieved his spear and swung back down to the ground.

 

“Now!” Ehrye said.

 

He fired the Kanoka, and it hit the Skopio’s stinger and released its power.  The blaster attached to its tail started to fold in on itself slightly, but it was barely noticeable from where he stood.  The Skopio seemed to realize it had been hit, but another strike from a red-hot stinger brought its focus back to the Catapult Scorpion.  The Skrall tried to reclaim his axe, but the Catapult Scorpion swung and knocked him into the wall, and then faced the Skopio once again.  The Skopio flattened it in an instant.

 

“HEY!”

 

The Skopio looked up to see the source of the shout: Vhisola, who was standing on a low outcropping and waving her arms.  Clicking in annoyance, the Skopio pointed its tail and started to charge energy.

 

“Okay, okay, um,” Ehrye said, fumbling for the Thornax rifle.  “Come on, hurry!”

 

He quickly got into position, but couldn’t help being nervous.  He wasn’t familiar with this type of weapon, and he was having trouble aiming it.  Still, he didn’t have time to waste: he did the best he could, and when it looked like the Skopio was just about to fire, he shot.

 

The deadly fruit impacted the already weakened blaster, making the barrel crumple like paper.  It was too late for the Skopio to stop charging energy, however, and with its usual exit point blocked, it backed up into the weapon, tearing through its now-fragile hull and producing a small explosion of light and shrapnel.  Judging by the sound the Skopio made, it was extremely painful.

 

Ehrye was shocked to see he had actually succeeded.  It wasn’t until he saw Vhisola make a mad dash that he realized he needed to get moving too.  He grabbed his weapons and went downhill as fast as he dared, soon reaching the floor of the pass and seeing the Skrall getting to his feet.

 

“We’ve got to go,” he said, grabbing his rifle back.  “Where’s my axe?”

 

The Catapult Scorpion stung the Skopio’s face once more, and this time it stumbled back quite a bit.  Hearing footsteps, it turned to see the Skrall and Ehrye trying to circle it and ran at them.  The Skrall had his spear ready, but it was Vhisola, jumping onto the Rahi with the axe in her hands, who managed to stun the creature.  She, the other Matoran, and the Skrall all disappeared into the mountains as fast as they could, while the Skopio shakily got back on its feet and stepped towards the Catapult Scorpion.  The Rahi stood its ground.

 

They could hear the sounds of battle as they navigated down a different path, but it was hard to tell who was winning.  Eventually, they reached the edge of the mountains again, but a bit farther east than they had been previously.  After checking to make sure the coast was clear, the three of them broke into a run.

 

“Give me that,” the Skrall said, plucking his axe out of Vhisola’s hand.  “Can’t you two run any faster?”

 

“Come on,” Ehrye panted.  “We weren’t really built for this sort of thing.”

 

The Skrall grunted.  After a few seconds passed, he said, “Nice shot.  I didn’t think you’d actually be able to land a hit your first time using the rifle.”

 

Ehrye grinned.  “Thanks.  Neither did I.”

 

“As for you,” he said, looking to Vhisola.  “…I admit it, it was a good plan.”

 

“That’s what I was telling you,” Vhisola replied.

 

The Skrall laughed.  “Nuhrii did make some good picks.  I’m almost beginning to think I should give you Matoran more credit.  Almost.”

 

Once they got tired of running, the group stopped to catch their breath for a short time before pressing forward at a more regular pace.  They didn’t encounter any more wildlife along the way.  At one point they came upon a dead tree, and when they stepped onto the patch of dirt just beyond it, the Skrall stopped walking.

 

“We should camp here for the night.”

 

Vhisola only slowed.  “We can still make it a bit farther before sunset.”

 

“I wouldn’t.  We might not quite reach the Northern Frost, but if we go much farther it’s definitely going to get a lot colder.”  He paused and glanced at Ehrye.  “Maybe he wouldn’t mind, but I’m sleeping where I won’t freeze.”

 

“We weren’t going to make it today anyway, with the time we lost,” Ehrye said.  “Besides, I’m worn out.”

 

Vhisola finally stopped.  Taking a deep breath, she sighed, and said, “Well, alright.  We’re close enough that it shouldn’t take us half a day to reach it tomorrow, right?”

 

“You’ve got a good sense of direction,” the Skrall said.

 

They had a fire going by nightfall.  Each took out the food they were carrying and consumed it quickly, and then there was nothing else to be done, and the three of them just sat in silence.

 

As usual, Ehrye saw to that.  “Well, it didn’t look good at the time, but that was actually pretty exciting!  I’m definitely glad we had you along, Skrall.”

 

The Skrall nodded.  He poked the fire a bit, and then said, “I was told we’re going to a lab, but that was it.  What is it that’s so important to you Matoran you’d be willing to risk your lives?”

 

“Nuhrii says there’s a device there that can let Matoran use Kanohi powers.”

 

“Kano…those masks you wear?  They don’t all do things?”

 

Ehrye quickly explained how Kanohi worked and the restrictions on how they could be used.  Once that was done, he went on, “Nuhrii wants to study the technology for getting around those rules and forge masks that incorporate it.  Then, he and I will be a part of history for pioneering a new age in Kanohi!”

 

The Skrall scratched his head.  Turning to Vhisola, he asked, “You don’t want to be ‘a part of history’?”

 

Vhisola shook her head.  “I just want the technology.  I don’t really care what they do with it after.”

 

“And what do you want it for?  You want to be able to use those mask powers to accomplish something?”

 

Ehrye butted in: “She’s trying to impress one of our Turaga.”

 

“I’m trying to help her,” Vhisola corrected, glaring at him.

 

“Nuhrii said he’d make her some free masks, and give her a lifetime discount on more.  That’s why she’s so fixated on this.”

 

The Skrall furrowed his brow.  “…I don’t get it.  You’re doing all this for her?  What’s she going to use it for?”

 

Vhisola thought for a moment.  “Helping around New Atero, I’d guess.”

 

“That’s it?  She’s got no grand goal in mind?”

 

“Helping people is a perfectly fine goal.”

 

“Okay, sure, but…did she even ask for this?”

 

“She doesn’t know about the technology, or why I left.”

 

“You’re not making much sense.  Why are you going so far to do something for this person when you don’t know if they even want it that much?”

 

“Vhisola’s obsessed with Turaga Nokama,” Ehrye said.  “Always has been.”

 

The Ga-Matoran’s expression warped slightly, making Ehrye slide back just a bit.

 

“C-Come on, you are.  It’s not necessarily bad.”

 

The Skrall continued to look puzzled for a time, but suddenly, the confusion cleared from his face and he said, “Oh.  You love her, is that it?”

 

Vhisola faced him.  “What?”

 

“Yeah, that makes sense,” the Skrall said as he crossed his arms.  “You’re doing something ridiculous to get someone you love to notice you.”

 

“Her noticing me isn’t…”  She sighed.  “I’m not really sure what you’re trying to say, or why that suddenly ‘makes sense’ to you.  Agori are always talking about love, and I’ve tried to wrap my head around it, but I still don’t understand what any of you actually mean by that.”

 

The Skrall tilted his head.  “…Huh?”

 

“Yeah, I’m not sure either,” Ehrye said.  “It’s still a big difference in our cultures—apparently the Great Beings never programmed us to feel this particular emotion, and it’s caused a lot of confusion.”

 

The Skrall’s mouth hung slightly open.  “…You don’t feel love?”

 

The Matoran shook their heads.

 

“…That makes even less sense.”

 

Vhisola rolled her eyes.  “Alright, fill us in.  What is love?”

 

The Skrall scratched his head, glancing around at nothing in particular.  “I mean, it’s…you know, you just feel like you…love…someone, and it’s…”  He stopped suddenly.  Thrusting his spear into the ground, he said, “What am I doing?!  Look, if you don’t feel it I don’t know how to explain it!”

 

“That’s what everyone says.”

 

The Skrall grumbled to himself, and Ehrye turned to Vhisola.  “That aside…why are so you focused on Nokama all the time?”

 

“I respect her.  I admire her.  She’s a commanding presence, and an incredibly wise leader who’s shown immense compassion to everyone around her, and always finds solutions that no one else can.  And, I…”

 

Ehrye waited as she thought.

 

“…It’s hard to explain.  I’ve just always felt a certain…affinity towards her, I guess.  Ever since we woke up on Mata-Nui.”

 

Ehrye put a hand to his face.  “Hm…well, maybe it started on Metru-Nui?  Those feelings could still be there even if you can’t remember why.”

 

Vhisola blinked.  She wasn’t sure how to feel about that possibility.

 

“Well, whatever the case it must be nice.”

 

She looked at him sideways.  “…Nice?”

 

Ehrye shrugged, looking at the campfire.  “Like I said before, it isn’t too different from what I want.  Except I want the attention of lots of people—so it must be nice to only have to worry about getting that one person’s attention.”

 

Something in Vhisola snapped.  Nokama’s recent trouble, this strange job, Ehrye’s incessant chatter, their suspicious bodyguard, nearly getting killed at least twice in as many days—all of her stress boiled over at once, and she slowly clenched her fists.

 

“…Yeah.  Nice.  Sure, when you do get that one person’s attention, it’s very nice.  But, you know?  All it takes is for that one person to take it away from you.  And then—“

 

She snapped her fingers right next to Ehrye’s ear.

 

“—There it all goes!  And you’re empty.  Not just let down, or discouraged, totally and completely empty because the one and only thing you care about was just ripped out from under you.”

 

She faced the fire now, hunching over and finding herself rambling on without even thinking.

 

“You spend all your time thinking about that one person, what she thinks, what she wants, how you can prove yourself to her, how you can make her like you, even if you want to try to think about something else just for a little.  All you want to do is find new ways to please her, but even if you’ve got an idea you might not be able to try it because that one person can’t spend all her time with you.  She just can’t.  And you know that—of course she can’t, she’s busy, she has many things she needs and wants to attend to, and other people she cares about.  You know it’s unreasonable to think she could spend all their time with you.  Does that stop the way you feel?  No.  No, of course it doesn’t.  You still feel like you failed, that you don’t actually matter to her, and you know you’re overreacting but that doesn’t make it stop.”

 

She ran her hand over her mask.

 

“It’s a little voice nagging in the back of your mind: ‘she doesn’t actually care about you,’ ‘why would she want to spend time with you?’, ‘you’re not special to her the way she is to you’.  And you’ve pushed everyone else away, because you only care about that one person, so you have no one else to talk to and you have to listen to that nagging voice.  And it never…it never stops…”

 

She found herself chuckling.  Looking up at the Skrall (whose eyes were wide), she asked, “Is that what this love thing is like?  If so, I hate it.”

 

She hung her head.

 

“…Sort of.”

 

She looked back at the Skrall.

 

“Sort of, but…there’s more going on there.  It definitely sounds like you love her, but it sounds like you’ve got something else that’s screwing with it.  Don’t know what.  But love by itself doesn’t feel that way.  You spend lots of time thinking about them, and you want to make them happy, sure, but in a positive way.  Maybe if you can work out whatever else is there…well, I don’t know, maybe you’re closer to understanding love than you think.”

 

Vhisola stared at the Skrall until Ehrye said something.  Turning back, she realized she hadn’t heard him.

 

“I’m sorry,” Ehrye said, looking sheepish.  “I didn’t mean to…I didn’t know all of that, I didn’t…”

 

Vhisola looked back down.  Awkward silence hung over the trio, until eventually Vhisola took a few steps away and got out her sleeping bag.

 

“Do you have someone you love?” Ehrye asked the Skrall.

 

The Skrall rested his chin on his fist.  “Not anymore.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I’ve been on my own for a long time.  No one to love out here.”

 

Ehrye fidgeted.  “Is that why you want to become a citizen?”

 

The Skrall rolled his head to the side.  “Not for love, no, but…”  He sighed.  “Anyone’d get lonely after wandering for two centuries.  It’s not that hard to believe, is it?”

 

“No, no I can understand that.”

 

The Skrall was still for a moment before nodding jerkily.  A few seconds later, he too stood to leave.

 

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Ehrye said.

 

The Skrall stopped.

 

“If you’re going to be a citizen, you probably will need a name.”

 

“Oh.  Eh, they’ll probably just put down ‘Skrall’ or something, I don’t really care.”

 

“That’d just feel lazy.”

 

“It’s not like I expect them to care.  The reason I have to do a job just to get in is proof of how little they want Skrall in New Atero.”  He stretched, and then looked up at the stars.  “…Guess I can’t really blame them, though.  The Skrall have always been narrow-thinkers, working in such a strict hierarchy, thinking everything has to be about pure strength, feeling like everyone else isn’t as good as us just because they’re not as good at fighting.  I don’t have room to ask other people to be open-minded.”

 

He turned to leave again, but after taking a few steps Ehrye called, “Jagazya!”

 

The Skrall looked over his shoulder.  “…What?”

 

“What about that for a name?  Jagazya.  It means ‘scorpion fighter’…I think.  I might not have conjugated it right, I never was good at that…”

 

The Skrall’s expression was completely blank as he stared at Ehrye.

 

“…Well, it was just a suggestion.  Um, good night, I guess.”

 

Ehrye walked over to his sleeping bag, a bit farther away from the fire than where Vhisola and the Skrall lay.  The Skrall sat down and looked back up at the stars.

 

“…Jagazya, huh,” he mumbled.  “I wonder what the others would’ve thought of that.”

 

 

(Review)

 


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#4 Offline Pahrak #0579

Pahrak #0579
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Posted Oct 23 2017 - 11:52 PM

Part IV

 

“Please, you’re disturbing my class.”

 

Vhisola peeked out from behind the tablet she held.  At the front of the room stood Nokama, hands on her hips as she stared down another Ga-Matoran who had two Bordakh standing behind her.

 

“Just tell us which one is Kailani and we’ll be on our way,” the other Matoran said, her voice gradually rising in volume.

 

“I already told you: there’s no way Kailani was responsible for the damage.  She was here in class that day, there was no way she could have gotten to the other side of the Metru and back so quickly.”

 

“Witnesses described someone matching her description, so we’re taking her in so that we can determine if she’s guilty or not.  Now.  Which one?”

 

Nokama shook her head.  “I’m not letting you wrongfully detain one of my students.  That’s the end of it.”

 

The other Matoran sighed heavily, turning around and gesturing in Nokama’s direction.  One of the Bordakh reached forward with its staff.  Vhisola ducked back behind her tablet, but could hear Nokama make a small yelp, followed by nothing but silence.

 

“We have come to detain a suspected criminal,” the official said.  “Which of your students is the one named Kailani?”

 

Vhisola peeked out again.  Nokama stared forward with utterly blank eyes, and slowly began to turn towards the class.  But then she stopped.

 

“…It was not Kailani,” Nokama said.  Her tone was quiet and even.

 

The official gaped.  “What?”

 

“Kailani is not the criminal.  You would be wasting the time of Turaga Dume and the Vahki by bringing her in.  I will not assist you in this misguided effort.”

 

Vhisola leaned out further.  Is she…resisting the Staff of Loyalty?  No, talking about Turaga Dume like that, she’s definitely affected…

 

As she thought more about what Nokama was saying, she was able to figure it out.

 

She really believes that it isn’t Kailani, and that bringing her in would be a hindrance to the investigation rather than a help.  So, in her state of wanting to preserve order, she won’t do anything that hinders a criminal investigation.  She…found a way to work around the effect of a stun staff…

 

The official just stared at Nokama for a long time.  The two Bordakh exchanged glances, a few high-pitched sounds passing between them.  Eventually, the official threw her hands up and left, and the Vahki went with her.  Nokama stood where she was for a bit longer before facing the class.

 

“Class is dismissed.”

 

And with that, she walked out of the room as well.

 

Everyone was a bit confused, but slowly they all began to leave one by one.  Vhisola hung around for a while longer, trying to read over the text in front of her, but focusing was impossible and she too eventually left the room.  She was still in awe of what Nokama had just done.  Her notes, well, they just weren’t as interesting.

 

She went home and tried to get some work done, but her mind just kept drifting back to the classroom.  A few hours later, that was what made her realize she had forgotten one of her tablets in her desk; she rushed back to the school, thinking she could just barely make it in before the doors locked, but came to an abrupt halt in the entryway.  Nokama was just on her way out.

 

“Hm?” the teacher said, looking up.  She smiled.  “Ah, hello Vhisola.”

 

Vhisola blinked.  “You…you know my name?”

 

“Of course.  You’re in my fifth period translation class—I believe you sit near the back?”

 

“Y-Yes, that’s right.”  She actually recognized someone like me?

 

Nokama’s expression faded a bit.  “Ah…sorry about the incident today.  I’ll be adjusting the curriculum to account for the missed day, so don’t worry about trying to read ahead on your own.”

 

“Oh, that’s, uh…”  Vhisola tripped over her words, eventually arriving at, “What made you decide to leave earlier?”

 

Nokama looked aside and thought.  “Well, in my addled mind, I worked out that in that condition I couldn’t effectively teach, and that not doing my job properly was akin to disorder and I should remove myself before I corrupted my fellow Matoran.  Stun staffs are curious things.”

 

“But…you beat it, didn’t you?”

 

Nokama grinned just a little.  “It doesn’t always work.  But I’ve learned to think my way around it every now and again, with a little creativity.”  Looking more serious, she added, “Not that I get stunned often, of course.”

 

“N-No, of course not!  But, still…that’s really incredible.  I’ve never heard of anyone doing something like that before.”

 

“Hahah!  Well thank you, Vhisola.  Perhaps next semester I’ll set up a class on the subject.  ‘Stun Staffs and How to Outthink Them’.”  She chuckled, and then sighed.  “No, there’s no chance that would get funding.  Anyway, what brings you here so late?”

 

Vhisola stood up straighter.  “Oh!  My tablet!  I forget to take it when I left earlier!”

 

“In my room?  I’ll have to come with you—I just locked it up.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I don’t want to keep you, I can just wait until tomorrow!”

 

“Nonsense, I’m happy to help.  Let’s go.”

 

The two of them made their way to the classroom, and when they arrived Nokama undid the door and flicked on the lights.  Vhisola nervously stepped around her and wove through the desks until she reached hers.

 

“How are you doing with this lesson, by the way?” Nokama asked.  “I’ve noticed you tend to have some trouble with this particular dialect.”

 

Vhisola fumbled with her tablet.  “I-I, um…well, I’m trying my best, of course!  But, uh, it is, um, sort of…not…working out, especially well…”  Hugging her tablet close, she looked at the floor in embarrassment.

 

“Ah, I’m sorry to hear that,” Nokama said.  “Would you like some help?  I have a tutoring session later this week that’s still open.”

 

Vhisola jumped.  “Huh?!  Really?!”

 

“What do you mean ‘really’?” Nokama said with a smile.  “You haven’t seen any of the signs about the tutoring schedules?”

 

“I have, I just…I mean, it’s my fault I’m so terrible at it—I don’t want to waste even more of your time having you go over the same stuff you already told me.  You’ve…you must have better things to do than spend so much time on me.”

 

Nokama frowned.  Walking forward, she said, “Vhisola, I don’t think it would be a waste at all.  The reason I offer these tutoring sessions is because I know that not all students learn the same way, and if you’re having trouble that just means I need to find a different way to teach you—and I can do that better one on one.  My job isn’t done until I’ve taught the lesson effectively to every student.  I’d never turn one of you away just because you were struggling.”

 

Vhisola stared at Nokama, unable to form a single word.

 

“I’ll leave the session open,” Nokama said, walking back to her desk.  She carved a time into a small tablet.  “If you don’t want to come, that’s fine, but I hope you’ll consider it?  I am here to help.”

 

She returned to Vhisola and held out the tablet.  The student reached out with a shaking hand to take it, and said, “I…um…is it really…okay?  For me to bother you like that?”

 

Nokama smiled at her.  “Vhisola, it’d be no bother at all.”

 

Vhisola’s eyes lit up, and a smile formed on her face as well.

 

The next thing she knew, she was waking up.  As she rubbed the sleep from her eyes, the memories of what she had been dreaming about ebbed away rapidly, but she could’ve sworn it was something important.  Sitting up, Vhisola glanced at Ehrye and the Skrall: they were still asleep.  Turning to the horizon, she remembered that it was still a long walk to the Northern Frost.

 

***

 

Finding their way to the lab entrance proved simple enough.  The only potential worry came when they spotted a rock steed hanging around the cave opening, gnawing on a piece of armor.

 

“You think that’s from one of the Agori who found this place?” Ehrye mumbled.

 

The Skrall said nothing as he loaded his Thornax rifle.  Fortunately, one hit to the side was enough to make the creature turn tail and run, so the three of them headed inside.  The tunnel rapidly sloped downward, its walls changing from rock to metal, and then leveled out suddenly, at which point they spotted a sign written in Matoran.

 

NO TRESPASSING

LEAVE NOW OR BE REPELLED BY FORCE

 

“A warm welcome,” Vhisola said.

 

The Skrall shrugged.  “I never learned your alphabet anyway.  Keep your eyes out for traps, eh?”

 

Vhisola squinted at the sign, thinking, Trying to keep out trespassers…on a planet where none of the natives can read Matoran.  What good is this sign, then?

 

She walked forward nonetheless, but found herself bumping into Ehrye.  Before him, the Skrall had held out his spear to halt their advance, and he was scanning the hall ahead of them with caution.  A thin beam of red appeared for only a second.  Shortly thereafter, another beam flashed into existence and vanished just as quickly, but in a different location than the first.  He plucked one of the Thornax growing on his rifle’s vine; he lobbed it at the next beam, and as soon as the two met, a piece of wall slid aside to reveal a Zamor launcher than shot the fruit down.

 

“What kind of weapon is that?” the Skrall asked.

 

“Zamor can be filled with all sorts of substances,” Vhisola explained.  “Once they hit their target, the shell phases so it can pass through them, releasing the contents as it does.”

 

She eyed the slain Thornax: it didn’t look much different, but that didn’t really tell her how the unknown formula might affect living beings.

 

“Do you think there’s a way around it?” Ehrye asked.

 

“Not likely,” the Skrall said.  “It’s security, after all.  Might be a way to disable it.”

 

At around the same time, they all spotted a panel on the wall: it had a simple screen and a keyboard displaying Matoran letters and numbers.  The Skrall half-turned towards it, but then thought better of the idea.

 

“If we enter the wrong thing, it’ll probably get much worse,” he reasoned.  “Probably better to figure out the pattern of these sights.”

 

As he continued to observe them, Vhisola’s gaze lingered on the panel.  It was a simple design, but there was a certain elegance to it, in a way that she thought seemed vaguely familiar.  It reminded her of similar panels she had seen while restoring Metru-Nui and building New Atero.

 

“Alright,” the Skrall said.  “Watch closely, and when I tell you, repeat my movements.”

 

Then he darted down the hall, stopping and ducking several times before reaching a bend.  A minute or so later he called to Ehrye, who made it through with a few close calls, and Vhisola went last with no problems.  She realized another sign was on the wall there.

 

TRESPASSERS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED

RETURN TO THE SURFACE NOW

 

“Why are they written in Matoran?” she wondered aloud as they continued.

 

“Because it’s the Great Beings, right?” Ehrye said.

 

“But you write signs like this for the reader’s benefit.  If this was made by the Great Beings, it would have to have been made before the Shattering—no one on Spherus Magna knew Matoran, so they wouldn’t have been able to read these signs.  If they wanted to keep people out, they would have written it in Agori, or whatever was being used at the time.”  That gave her another thought.  “And…Matoran has changed over time too.  Turaga Nokama showed us some ancient scripts on Metru-Nui, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of them.  But you and I can read these signs with no effort at all.”

 

Ehrye scratched his head.  “Huh…that is kind of weird.  But, these are Great Beings we’re dealing with—maybe there’s some super tech that causes the signs to display in whatever language the reader knows?”

 

Vhisola pointed to the Skrall, who said, “No, they definitely look like your writing to me.”

 

Ehrye crossed his arms.  “Hm.  Then this is really weird.”

 

“Your idea was a bit unusual too, to be fair,” the Skrall said with a chuckle.

 

Ehrye laughed back.  “Well, Great Beings, anything’s fair game.”

 

Vhisola caught a look at another panel in the wall.  If it isn’t the Great Beings, then who…?

 

She stopped suddenly as electricity coursed through her body.

 

Stumbling back, Vhisola fell over, and Ehrye moved to the side in surprise.  The tile he stepped on brightened, and he too was dealt a powerful shock.  The Skrall remained still.

 

“Traps…but only on certain tiles.  Not as easy to figure out.”

 

Ehrye and Vhisola managed to get back onto tiles they knew were safe, meanwhile the Skrall slowly unraveled his chain.  He lightly set the end onto the next tile.  Nothing happened, so he took a step.  He tested the next tile—sparks started to jump up the chain, so he quickly pulled it up, receiving only a mild sting.  Testing an adjacent tile, he found it was safe, and in this manner he slowly crossed the floor with the two Matoran staying close behind.

 

“You know, I’m really glad we have you around,” Ehrye said.  “We probably would have ended up like those half-dozen Agori who didn’t make it out by now if we came here on our own.”

 

“…Give yourself some credit,” the Skrall quietly replied.  “I’m sure you two could’ve figured something out.  Anyone could’ve seen those beams, and these shocks aren’t enough to be lethal.”

 

“Ah, don’t be so modest!”

 

The Skrall smiled, but Vhisola said, “They aren’t lethal.  Then…how did those Agori die?”

 

Ehrye turned towards her.  “Hm?  Oh, uh…maybe something further down did them in?  And we still don’t know what was in those Zamor, it could be some kind of toxin.”

 

“…I think maybe you were right about the rock steed.  The Agori left before the security had a chance to get worse, and the rock steed was waiting.”

 

“But, Nuhrii said—“

 

“That they encountered security, and that some of them died.  He didn’t explicitly say the security was what killed them.”

 

Ehrye thought about this for a moment, but ultimately paid it little mind.  Vhisola figured that was fair, since the cause of death shouldn’t have been such an issue, but it only deepened her feelings of suspicion.

 

The Skrall tested an entire row of tiles with no reaction.  “I think we might be clear…yep, there’s another sign.”

 

They looked to where he pointed, seeing a sign identical to the last one with one additional line:

 

FINAL WARNING

 

The trio pressed on nonetheless.  Ehrye resumed talking to the Skrall, while Vhisola remained distracted by the discrepancy between this place and what she had expected.  The further they went, the odder it felt, and try as she might she just couldn’t figure out the answer she knew was staring her right in the face.

 

Maybe the Great Beings really are just entirely unpredictable.

 

The hall became a stairwell that reached down and down and down.  Eventually, it let out at a very short hallway, and there were two things that could be seen at its end.  The first was a large door, with a large handle at its center and another panel at its side.  The second was a massive form made of black and white metal, a piercing orange light shining from within its broad torso; it had three long multi-jointed legs, and mounted where its left arm should’ve been was something that resembled a gun barrel.  The only arm it had was oversized and heavily armored, ending in four flexible fingers, and its head was vaguely insectoid, with eyes that burned with the same intense orange light from its chest, which it aimed squarely at the travelers.

 

“INPUT COMMAND FOR DISARMAMENT,” it barked in a loud, metallic voice.  “40 SECONDS REMAIN TO DISARM OR WITHDRAW.”

 

“How polite,” the Skrall said as he readied his spear and axe.  “It’s giving us a head start.”

 

“INPUT COMMAND FOR DISARMAMENT.  30 SECONDS REMAIN TO DISARM OR WITHDRAW.”

 

Vhisola readied her disk, and Ehrye reluctantly grabbed his launcher.

 

“INPUT COMMAND FOR DISARMAMENT.  20 SECONDS—“

 

The remaining words were drowned out as the Skrall bellowed, charging forward with his weapons outstretched.

 

“HOSTILE ACTIVITY DETECTED.  OVERRIDE DISARMAMENT PROMPT.”

 

The gun barrel suddenly sparked to life, and a bolt of electricity was shot at the Skrall.  He managed to dodge, but now the machine was coming towards him, and when he thrust his spear it effortlessly circled around and swung its massive fist.  The blow made the Skrall stagger, but he recovered quickly and blocked the next punch.  Pushing the robot back, he retaliated with his axe, but didn’t do much damage.  The robot simply grabbed him and slammed him against the wall.

 

“Let him go!” Ehrye shouted, shooting his Kanoka.

 

The robot’s legs shifted around, allowing it to strafe in an odd fashion, and avoided the projectile entirely; its gun crackled and more bolts were hurled at the Matoran, who managed to narrowly avoid contact.  The Skrall drove his elbow into the machine’s face, hurting only himself.  Vhisola threw her disk, but the robot unceremoniously dropped the Skrall to grab it out of midair.  In seconds it was only splinters.

 

“Darn,” Ehrye said as he fumbled for another disk.  “I should’ve gone with Ga-Type!”

 

The robot advanced on the Matoran, its three legs carrying it forward faster than they liked.  They both rolled to avoid more electric blasts, but it moved with Vhisola and caught her, its iron grip hoisting her into the air so its weapon could aim itself directly at her head.  Suddenly the machine faltered.  It looked down to see the Skrall’s glowing spear embedded in one of its legs, and then turned and threw Vhisola at him—to her surprise, he moved to cushion the impact, and once she was on the floor he got back up and drew his chain.

 

“Think you’re tough, you piece of scrap?” he roared.  “I’ve fought deadlier things than you!  Come on!”

 

He hurled the end of his chain.  The robot strafed and moved forward, but stopped short to avoid another of Ehrye’s disks.  As the chain was reeled back in, however, it veered towards its initial target and stuck fast to its armor, allowing it to be reeled straight into the Skrall’s axe.  Still, the extra momentum did little to aid the impact of the blow.  The Skrall was knocked back into the wall in seconds.  Spinning around, the automaton focused on Ehrye, who had his last disk ready and was debating whether he should try to fire.

 

“Hey,” Vhisola whispered to the Skrall.  “What’s the deal with that spear?”

 

Untangling himself, the Skrall replied, “It’s…urgh…something to do with breaking apart the molecules.  I didn’t get all the technical stuff, I just know it pierces stuff that can’t normally be pierced.”

 

“Well it’s our best shot.”

 

The Skrall smirked.  “You got another plan?”

 

Mirroring his expression, Vhisola said, “This one probably won’t be as impressive.”

 

The robot shot its weapon.  Ehrye’s hesitation proved fruitful, allowing him to dodge the attack, but it also gave the machine an opportunity to move forward without worrying about being attacked.  In this time, the Skrall threw his chain again and used it to yank his spear back out of their enemy—it stopped to notice this, but then continued on towards Ehrye.

 

“S-Stay back!” the Ko-Matoran said, brandishing his launcher.  “I’m warning you!”

 

The robot swiped at him.  He rolled through its legs, but then it moved to stand on only one of them, and wrapped the other two around Ehrye’s body.  Letting out a shout, Ehrye tried to struggle his way free, but his captor was too strong.  It prepared to blast him when the Skrall cried out again.  The chain wrapped around the guard’s weapon and pulled it askew, sparing Ehrye, and then the Skrall leapt over the Matoran to deal a high blow with his axe.  Ehrye was shoved free somewhere in the struggle, and the Skrall and robot both moved to entangle each other.

 

“Ehrye!” Vhisola shouted.  “The legs!”

 

Acting fast, Ehrye complied and shot his disk at the leg the robot was putting all its weight on.  The weakening power made the limb crumple, and the Skrall used this to his advantage:  with his chain securely wrapped around the monster, he pulled it up over his head and slammed it into the ground, and then used all his strength in an attempt to keep it pinned.

 

“What are you doing?!” Ehrye shouted.

 

A blast from the robot’s weapon struck the Skrall in the arm, making it go limp.  His hold weakened, he was soon thrown off, and the robot rolled back onto its two good legs—

 

SHINK!

 

—only for Vhisola to drive the Skrall’s spear straight through the machine’s glowing orange core.

 

“POWER CORE…DAMAGED…SYSTEMS CRITICAL…SHUT DOWN…SHUT DOwn…”

 

The machine seemed almost to melt as it slowly collapsed into a heap.  Withdrawing the spear, Vhisola walked over to the Skrall and helped him to his feet, asking, “How is it?”

 

Rubbing his injured arm, the Skrall said, “I don’t feel anything, actually.  I think all it did was stun me.”

 

Ehrye sighed with relief.  “That’s all?  Yikes, I thought it was going to do much worse…”

 

Vhisola smiled up at the Skrall for a moment, and then turned to the fallen machine.  “Indeed.  If its goal was to stun us, then there’s no way it killed six Agori—I could believe overdoing it with one or two, but that many…”

 

The Skrall shrugged with one shoulder and took his spear back.  “Maybe its programming changes depending on…something.”

 

“And why is it a robot anyway?  The Great Beings could have created a living being if they wanted to, and probably one a lot more powerful than this.”

 

Ehrye blinked.  “Are you complaining?”

 

“No, I just…”  She trailed off, and shook her head.  “…Maybe you’re right.  I should just accept our luck and not go asking for more trouble.”

 

As one, they all faced the door at the end of the hall.  Behind that door, they knew, must be what they had come here seeking, and they let that thought sink in for a moment.  Vhisola approached it first, and examined the frame and hinges carefully.

 

“Like the Skrall said earlier, we shouldn’t risk trying to crack the password,” she said.  “This is sealed pretty tightly, but…Ehrye, gather up those Kanoka and bring them here.  Skrall, are your legs still good?”

 

It took a few repeated uses of the Kanoka and much kicking, but eventually the door fell inward with a loud crash and access was granted to the room beyond.  The first thing that was apparent was how large it was: the chamber looked nearly a thousand times larger than the cramped hall they had come from, and not because it was empty.  On the contrary, numerous metal stands and glass cases dotted the floor, but all in neat and orderly rows, like it was some kind of museum.  Another door could be seen on the far wall, but that wasn’t of particular interest to them right now.

 

“It’s got to be one of these,” Vhisola said.  “Everyone start looking, and yell if you find it.”

 

Ehrye and the Skrall nodded, and they all fanned out to examine the displays.  Since there were so many to inspect, Vhisola was looking over each rather quickly—the notes had described a harness, and she figured that would be easy to identify at a glance.  Even at a glance, however, she couldn’t help but be interested in what she saw.  There were many different kinds of inventions in the lab, from deadly weaponry to extravagant machines to simple tools.  Simple, very mundane tools, in fact.  Simple, mundane tools that would be extremely useful for Matoran and Agori in their daily lives, which she wouldn’t expect the Great Beings to care quite so much about.  Just as her mind started to drift back into speculation, she stopped where she stood, her eyes fixed on one pedestal encased in glass.

 

Inside the case sat a piece of headgear with several dials down either side.

 

“I’ve found it!”

 

She rushed over to the case, hastily opening the lid.  More carefully, she removed the device and held it up to the light, grinning as she slowly rotated it.

 

Finally…now Turaga Nokama can use any mask she needs!  She won’t have to feel like she’s failed ever again!

 

As she turned to face her approaching companions, her eyes caught on another display: a suit of armor that was a bit larger than her but much too small for a Toa, with a familiar design that included an arm-mounted rocket launcher.  Her grin faded as she looked at the plaque.

 

EXO-MATORAN MK V

 

“The Exo-Matoran?  But that was designed by Nu…”

 

And suddenly it all made sense.  The modern Matoran script, the familiar access panels, non-lethal security systems, a robot with an insectoid head and a stun weapon, inventions designed to help Matoran, a harness that could break the rigid restrictions of the Great Beings’ design.  Her eyes shot wide as it finally dawned on her.

 

“This lab didn’t belong to the Great Beings,” she whispered as Ehrye and the Skrall reached her.  “It belonged to Nuparu.”

 

Ehrye caught sight of the Exo-Matoran.  Slowly, he pieced it together as well, and he stumbled back a few steps.  “N…no way…”

 

The Skrall looked from one to the other.  “…Who’s Nuparu?  What difference does it make?”

 

“Nuparu was a Toa,” Ehrye said.  “I mean, he was a hero even before he became a Toa.  He was probably the most skilled engineer in our entire universe, always coming up with new ideas to help Matoran work and defend themselves.”

 

“Now that I think about it, he did mention he wanted to improve the Exo-Matoran,” Vhisola said.  “That, and he said he had a few other things that could be really useful if he got them working.  That’s what he said right before Velika’s War started.”

 

Ehrye looked around the room again, his gaze far different from what it had been earlier.  “So after the Reformation, he built this lab all the way out here?  And then a century later, he sealed it up to fight in the war, and then…”

 

The Matoran both fell silent.  The Skrall waited a little longer, and then asked, “Okay, but again: what difference does this make?”

 

Vhisola shook her head.  “Don’t you get it?  We thought we were just taking scrap projects the Great Beings left behind.  But really…”

 

She looked at the harness.  It was a marvelous machine that would make Nokama’s life so much easier—that was why she had come all this way.  But if Nokama knew the truth about who had made it, that he wasn’t receiving credit for his work, what would she think?  Could she really lie to Nokama’s face about this?  Nokama needed this technology…but now that Vhisola knew she’d be cheating another Matoran by saying it was Nuhrii’s invention, she felt shame wash over her.

 

“We’re taking work that a decent person was never able to finish because he died fighting to keep everyone safe.”  She turned to Ehrye and added, “We’re talking about taking all the credit for it.”

 

Ehrye covered his mouth and looked at the floor.  A long moment passed, and ultimately, he croaked, “I…I can’t do that…I want renown, but I can’t…steal ideas from Nuparu, not after all he did.  That’s not…that’s not right…”

 

The Skrall closed his eyes and breathed deeply.  “Then what do you propose we do?”

 

Vhisola looked at the thing she held.  “…We’ll still take it back to New Atero.  This technology is definitely worthwhile.  But we’re not going to let Nuhrii take credit for it—we’re going to tell the leaders about this place, so that we can get someone out here to sort through it all, maybe finish Nuparu’s work in a way that he deserves.  I’m sure Nuhrii will understand once we explain.”

 

Ehrye nodded, and he went to help Vhisola secure the device.  They heard movement behind them, but when they turned to look, everything suddenly went dark.

 

 

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#5 Offline Pahrak #0579

Pahrak #0579
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Posted Oct 26 2017 - 12:13 PM

Part V

 

Her head throbbed.  She slowly faded into consciousness, immediately being faced with the dull pain that was still gripping her skull, and gently rubbed her temples as she came up into a sitting position.  Vhisola’s eyes shot open.  She looked around for the harness, but it was nowhere to be seen.

 

She shook Ehrye, who was still passed out on the floor next to her.  “Ehrye, wake up!  Where’s the harness, where’s the…”

 

She stopped.  Narrowing her eyes, she finished, “The Skrall.”

 

Ehrye stirred.  “Urgh, what…happened?”

 

“He stole it,” Vhisola said.

 

Sitting up quickly, Ehrye surveyed the room.  “He…he wouldn’t!  There’s no way he—“

 

“He did!  He knocked us out, took the harness, and left us here!  Darn it, why did I turn my back on him?”

 

Vhisola got to her feet.  Ehrye, however, sat where he was and mumbled to himself, “But…no, he…he wouldn’t!  We were getting along!  There’s no way Jagazya would…”

 

As the Ko-Matoran struggled to process what had happened, Vhisola looked through their supplies.  Everything was accounted for—the only thing he had stolen was the device, it seemed.  Not sure how to proceed, she staggered towards the door opposite the one they had come in through, and was glad to discover it didn’t have any sort of lock.  The room beyond wasn’t as large as the ‘museum’, though it was a rather spacious cavern that had rough stone walls rather than proper covering.  A desk and shelves lined with tablets and tools greeted her, as well as a few miscellaneous bits of metal and wiring that were strewn about the floor; she looked up at the wall to see a map of Spherus Magna, and squinted as she traced the distance from the Northern Frost to New Atero.

 

Maybe he thinks he’ll only get rewarded if Nuhrii’s allowed to take credit.

 

She froze up.

 

Or…did Nuhrii already know that this was Nuparu’s lab?  If he did, and he thought we might have second thoughts once realizing it, maybe…

 

Not wanting to go there, she simply shook her head.

 

No, it doesn’t matter why the Skrall did it—I’ll have no part of something this dishonest, so I’m going to stop him from hiding the truth.  Plus, Nokama probably wouldn’t even get her masks this way!  But…I don’t know how long we’ve been out, but there’s no way we can beat him back, that much I’m sure of.  We aren’t as prepared as we were when we set out.  We’re going to need to find a different way, which probably means a slower way.

 

Vhisola slammed her fist on the desk.  A pile of tablets shuddered at the impact, drawing her attention.  Leaning, she glanced over them and found what appeared to be an inventory; she grabbed the top tablet and stepped back into the museum.

 

…I wonder if any of this stuff works?

 

Ehrye was still sitting where he had fallen.  Sighing, Vhisola walked over to him and said, “I have an idea on how to get back to New Atero.  Get up and help me.”

 

Sluggishly, the Ko-Matoran rose to his feet.  He gave Vhisola a sad look and asked, “Why would he do this?”

 

“I don’t know.  We’ll ask him when we see him.”

 

She started going over the inventory in greater detail, but soon realized Ehrye was just standing there, staring glumly at the floor.  At first she felt angry, but then her feelings shifted.

 

“…I know you’re upset,” Vhisola said.  She wasn’t sure that was the best way to start, but she didn’t have time to agonize over it too much.

 

“He said he was lonely,” Ehrye said.  “I thought maybe he just wanted friends, and I thought we were starting to become friends.  I don’t understand.”

 

“Look, I don’t either.  But we can’t stay here, Ehrye.  He’s going to get that thing to Nuhrii before we can get back, and unless we do get back before Nuhrii figures it out, Nuhrii’s going to end up taking credit for Nuparu’s invention.  We agree that’s bad, right?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“So let’s get moving.  We might still be able to stop this, and we’ll probably be able to catch the Skrall afterwards and ask him what he was thinking.”

 

Ehrye didn’t move.

 

“…Or you could just sulk here until you starve, your choice.”

 

She walked down the line of displays, looking for something she had seen on the inventory.  At the end of the row she found it: a large, round vehicle capable of fitting two, with a series of levers in the cockpit, six sharp legs on either side, long arms that ended in sharp pincers, and two small force blasters tucked next to the seats.

 

USSAL TANK

 

Setting down the tablet, Vhisola hopped inside and examined the controls.  It took a minute, but she figured out how to start the contraption, and it shuddered as its legs lifted it just off the ground.  She flicked another switch and a dome of thick metal snapped over the top of the cockpit, still giving her more than enough room to sit up straight and move around.

 

Nuparu, you really did have a knack for these types of things.

 

When she put the shell down, she found Ehrye standing just outside.  He looked up at her, his face still drooped a bit, but with an undoubtedly resolute expression.

 

“I…is there anything else I should grab before we go?”

 

Vhisola made an effort to smile.  “Pick up the tablet and get looking.”

 

***

 

“…and then, you know what he did?  He waded back in just to smack it on the head.”

 

A laugh rippled through the crowd.  Hewkii paused for a moment, and then resumed, “He came back and said he felt much better, and I regretfully had to tell him that Hahli had already finished her job before we had even gotten there, so the whole thing was pointless anyway.  Kongu was thrilled about that.”

 

He glanced across the stage at a small pedestal, upon which sat several bouquets of flowers and a green Kanohi Zatth.  On the other side of that sat the Turaga, their aides, and Hahli, who all looked different combinations of nostalgic and grief-stricken.  Facing the crowd again, the Toa of Stone sighed, and a more solemn expression came to his face.

 

“Kongu was one of a kind.  He didn’t like to make a big deal of it, but he always took pride in what he did as a Toa, and he was dependable and honest right to the end.  I’m…really going to miss him.  I know we all will.  So, thanks for everything you did to get us here, Kongu.  You’ll always be a part of New Atero.”

 

Hewkii left the stage, and it wasn’t long before everyone else started to slowly break up as well.  Macku stopped the Toa to exchange a few words, and then went to Nokama’s side, offering a hand to help her up.  The Turaga glanced at her inquisitively.  She shook her head.

 

“I can’t believe she missed it,” Nokama said.  “I’m starting to worry about Vhisola, Macku.  No one’s seen her in days.”

 

“She can take care of herself,” Macku said.  “I know she wouldn’t have gone off at a time like this unless it was something important.”

 

They walked out onto the street and waited while Nokama decided where she wanted to go.  As this was happening, Macku spotted someone else approaching, and alerted Nokama to his presence as well.

 

“Turaga Nokama!” Nuhrii greeted.  “I heard about your situation—it’s very good to see you up and about!”

 

“Thank you, Nuhrii,” Nokama said.

 

“Quite the ceremony, wasn’t it?  It’s always tough when we lose someone from Mata Nui.”

 

“You seem to be in a decent mood, though,” Macku said flatly.  “I guess you’ll be selling plenty of Kanohi Zatth over the next few weeks?”

 

“You wound me, Macku.  Besides, Zatth are troublesome to make.  No, I’m sorry if I’m a bit too bright, it’s just that I’ve started to make progress on a new project that’s looking very lucrative.  I can’t say much just yet, but I hope you’ll look forward to some spectacular news.”

 

Nokama nodded absently.

 

“Turaga?  Are you alright?”

 

“Oh, forgive me—I suppose I’m still distracted.  Vhisola left the city without a word last week, and I haven’t heard from her since.  It’s just so very unlike her.”

 

Nuhrii frowned.  “Ah…well, Turaga…I’ve recently heard something I thought I should pass on to you…”

 

Macku stepped forward.  “Wait, did you hear something about Vhisola?”

 

“I’m afraid so,” Nuhrii said.  “You see, I was told—“

 

“What were you told?”

 

The mask maker jumped.  Turning, he spotted Vhisola and Ehrye coming around the corner, and a look of shock and outright horror came over his face.  Vhisola paused in mid-step when she saw this.

 

“You…”

 

Nuhrii turned and ran.  Vhisola gave chase, shouting, “Stop him!”

 

Nokama and Macku called out to her, but she didn’t respond.  Nuhrii sprinted down the street and jumped over a passing cart, feeling the air move as a disk passed just over his head, and ducked down an alleyway in an attempt to lose his pursuer.  He emerged onto another street and stopped to look around.  A hand clasped his shoulder, and he shuddered.

 

“Hey, easy there,” Hewkii said.  “What’s the trouble, Nuhrii?”

 

“Oh, Toa Hewkii!  Sorry, but I really must—“

 

He was cut off by Vhisola’s voice, shouting, “Hold him there!”

 

The Ta-Matoran managed to break free before Hewkii realized what she meant.  The Toa asked, “Vhisola?  What are you doing?”

 

“I’ll explain later,” she said as she wove around pedestrians.  “Just stop Nuhrii!”

 

Hewkii hesitated.  Just as Nuhrii was almost out of his field of vision, he activated his Kanohi Garai, increasing gravity on the Matoran just enough to make him fall—but not enough to hurt him.  He immediately regretted it when Vhisola pounced on him.

 

“I was going to give you the benefit of the doubt,” Vhisola said as she grappled with Nuhrii.  “But you wouldn’t be that scared to see me if it was all the Skrall’s decision, would you?  Nuhrii?!”

 

Hewkii rushed over and grabbed the two Matoran, pulling them apart and onto their feet.  “Woah, woah, settle down, both of you!  Tell me what’s going on.”

 

Vhisola whirled on him and said, “He tried to have me and Ehrye killed!”

 

Hewkii gaped.

 

“She…she’s not in her right mind, Hewkii,” Nuhrii said.  “You know that.  This is Vhisola—she’s always had a few screws loose.  You can’t believe her.”

 

“Maybe…” called an out-of-breath voice, “you’ll…believe me…”

 

Ehrye jogged up to the scene.  He stopped and doubled over, gasping for air, and Hewkii said, “Okay…Ehrye?  Is this true?”

 

“Well…I think?” Ehrye said.  “W-What I mean is…no, just let me start from the beginning.”

 

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about either!” Nuhrii said, trying to struggle free.  Hewkii kept hold of him.  “Just look at him, he’s been out in the sun too long!  I’m sure he doesn’t even know what he’s saying.”

 

Ehrye stood up and looked Hewkii in the eye.  “Hewkii, please let me explain.  Last week, Nuhrii contracted me and Vhisola to travel to the Northern Frost to retrieve something for him.  He’d learned of a hidden lab and a device stored inside it—he told us it belonged to the Great Beings, and we didn’t think twice.  Well, I didn’t, at least.  But when we got there, we found out that the lab actually belonged to Nuparu.”

 

“I’m not entirely sure I follow,” Hewkii said.  “What does this have to do with him trying to have you killed?”

 

Ehrye fidgeted a bit as he went on, “We…at first, when he mentioned this to us, he said that he wanted to take credit for inventing this technology, and…I said that I was fine with that so long as I was mentioned as helping him do it.”  Looking back up, he loudly said, “But I didn’t know it was Nuparu’s!  As soon as we figured it out, I knew I didn’t want to take credit for it—I’d never want to do that to Nuparu!”

 

“Okay, okay, but still…”

 

“Ehrye, calm down,” Vhisola butted in.  “Hewkii.  Nuhrii wanted credit for the invention, and we changed our minds about letting him do it.  He also hired a Skrall to go with us, and when things changed, the Skrall knocked us out and made off with the device.  When we got back just now, Nuhrii looked awfully unhappy to see us, which I suspect means he knew the lab was Nuparu’s in the first place and ordered the Skrall to kill us if we had second thoughts after realizing that.”

 

Hewkii thought for a moment.  “…You’re making some assumptions, aren’t you?”

 

Vhisola glared at Nuhrii, who wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding how uncomfortable he was.  It was around then that Macku and Nokama caught up.

 

“Vhisola!” Nokama said.  “What’s going on?  You disappear for days, and when you do show up again you chase down another Matoran?”

 

Despite the situation, Vhisola couldn’t help but feel herself shrink a little at Nokama’s scolding.  “Turaga, I assure you I can explain everything.  For right now…Hewkii.  If you search Nuhrii’s shop, you’ll find a device designed to fit over the head, with dials down the sides, and a piece of tablet identifying it as something that can enable Matoran to use Kanohi powers.”

 

Nuhrii turned to Hewkii.  “You can’t do that!  You need permission before you can just search my workplace like that!”

 

Hewkii looked over his shoulder at Nokama.  “Well, we do have one of New Atero’s leaders right here.”

 

All eyes turned to Nokama.  The Turaga gave a hard look to Vhisola; the Ga-Matoran felt like she would break under that gaze, but she swallowed hard and kept her composure.

 

“Turaga,” she said, her voice shakier than she would have liked.  “I wouldn’t make up something like this.  Please trust me.”

 

Nokama sighed.  Glancing to Macku, she said, “Technically, you still have my authority…but if you want my recommendation, I think we should do as Vhisola asks.”

 

Macku nodded to Hewkii.  Nuhrii started to shake, and said, “A…a-alright, I have the device, but the rest is nonsense!  There’s no way you can prove any of that!”

 

“Sure there is,” Ehrye said.  “You’ve got Kanohi Rode in stock, don’t you?”

 

Nuhrii fell silent.  When Hewkii tried to gently push him forward, however, he shouted and tried to rush at Ehrye, with the Toa just barely catching him in time.

 

“You wanted this too, didn’t you?!  This was your one chance to finally be someone important and not just another drone!  And you decided to just throw it all away?  For someone who’s already dead?!”

 

Ehrye scowled, though it looked a little unnatural on him.  “Nuparu was someone I knew.  Well, sort of.  He’s someone who used to be more on my level than the Great Beings ever were—someone who it was actually possible for me to hurt.  And that made me realize that it would’ve hurt him, if he were still alive…that I’d be hurting someone if I went through with stealing their work.  He might not be here anymore, but does that really make it any better?  I want notoriety, but…I don’t want to be someone who would trample on a good person’s memory.”

 

“You’re an idiot!” Nuhrii snapped.  “And that stupid Skrall—he said he killed you!  How much did you pay him to let you off the hook?  And then why’d you come back anyway?!”

 

“I knew it,” Vhisola said.  She glanced at Hewkii and added, “I think this should prove my case well enough?”

 

Stone-faced, Hewkii nodded and let go of Vhisola.  “Come on, Nuhrii.”

 

The raving mask maker was dragged off, while Vhisola thanked Ehrye, Macku, and Nokama for backing her up.  Nokama looked like she wanted to say something, but she waited until she sat down on the nearest bench.

 

“So this was what suddenly came up?” she asked Vhisola.

 

Vhisola hung her head.  “I’m sorry, Turaga.  When I found out about the device I had to leave right away, and…well, I figured you might not even notice I was gone.”

 

“She noticed alright,” Macku said.

 

Vhisola turned to her, but she didn’t add anything.  When she faced Nokama again, the Turaga was looking off in another direction, apparently preparing to say something.

 

“...I was quite worried,” she finally said.  “Worried for your safety, of course—you’ve never done anything like this before, and that was strange.  But I did mean it when I said I was happy to know I could still count on you.  And then, you just vanish.  I began to wonder if you really had given up on me.”

 

Vhisola’s eyes shot wide, and she said, “I…I would never!  Turaga Nokama, I…I’m so sorry, I didn’t think that would…no, I’d never give up on you!”

 

“Well what’s she supposed to think when you run off like that in her time of need?” Macku asked.  “Really, Vhisola, why did you want this thing so badly?  Feel like trying out some Kanohi?”

 

“No, I…”

 

She hesitated.  Stepping in, Ehrye said, “It was for the Turaga.”

 

“Ehrye…”

 

“She figured the device could also help a Turaga use Great Kanohi again, so she went after it.  Well, not before haggling over how many Great Masks Nuhrii would make Nokama for free and how cheap she could get them after that.  Plus she was really hesitant to leave you in the first place—I think the only reason she decided to do it was because I…I told her it wouldn’t be a big deal.”  He bowed in embarrassment.  “So, if anything, it’s my fault.  I’m sorry.”

 

Nokama stared at Vhisola, who couldn’t bring herself to meet her gaze.  A long, heavy silence surrounded them, until Nokama stood up, came towards Vhisola, and lifted her face.  The Turaga was smiling.

 

“And I owe you an apology as well,” she said softly.  “I should’ve known better than to doubt you.  You went to such extreme lengths for something you thought would help me…and here I am, complaining that you did.  I’m so sorry, Vhisola.”

 

Vhisola blinked rapidly.  “Uh…n-no, it’s alright, Turaga!  I should’ve explained myself before I left!  I just, well, I didn’t know, that you would really…I mean…and I didn’t know if it would even work, and I didn’t want to seem like…well…”

 

Nokama pulled Vhisola in and embraced her.  After being stunned briefly, Vhisola slowly raised her arms to embrace her back.

 

“Hey,” Ehrye said to Macku, “have you heard of any Skrall being seen around the city the past day or so?”

 

Macku raised an eyebrow.  “Skrall?”

 

“One of them went with us.  Nuhrii said it was for protection, but I guess it was really to keep an eye on us, but in the end he…kinda chose something in the middle…”  He shook his head.  “He delivered the device to Nuhrii, that much I’m sure of.  He must be nearby still.”

 

“I haven’t heard of anything, but I don’t usually handle the scouting reports.  I’m going back to city hall later—I’ll check over them and let you know what I find.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

Nokama released Vhisola and went to sit back down.  “So, I think I missed a bit of the explanation you gave Hewkii.  Would you care to tell me the whole story?”

 

Vhisola nodded excitedly.  Sitting down next to Nokama, she started to relate the tale.

 

***

 

A lone Skrall sat on a rocky outcropping a few miles east of New Atero, his weapons piled in the sand next to him.  He faced away from the city, arms crossed and gaze low, and tried to make sense of his own thoughts.  The sound of footsteps drew his attention.

 

Vhisola, Ehrye, and Nokama approached.  The Skrall winced and turned away.

 

“I was hoping you two would be smart and go somewhere else,” he said.  “…Kind of expected you wouldn’t, though.”

 

The Matoran and Turaga stopped a short distance away.  Vhisola said, “We know everything.  Nuhrii told you to kill us if we decided to be honest about Nuparu’s work…so why didn’t you?”

 

“My arm was stunned, remember?  I meant to kill you, I just messed up.”

 

“When a Skrall wants something dead, it dies, right?”

 

The Skrall growled.  “…Are you complaining?  I decided I didn’t want to kill you.  Just take it.”

 

“I need to know how to take it.”

 

He didn’t answer.

 

“Come here.  We have something to show you.”

 

Reluctantly, the Skrall jumped down from his seat and walked over to them.  “Alright, wh—“

 

Vhisola leapt up and punched him in the face.

 

“—at?!”

 

The Skrall staggered backward, stunned by the sudden blow.  Vhisola cracked her knuckles and said, “You still hit us pretty hard.  And you were planning to kill us at first.  So how about we call it even now?”

 

The Skrall stared at her.  Then, he threw back his head and laughed.  “That’s why I just couldn’t bring myself to kill you two.  Somehow I ended up liking you.  Alright, fine, we’re even.”  He turned to Ehrye, who still wouldn’t look him in the eye.  “…What about you?”

 

“M…me getting even was not telling you she was going to do that,” Ehrye said.  “Though, I’d still like an apology.”

 

The Skrall sighed.  Scratching his head, he said, “…Fine, I’m sorry.  Okay?  Don’t take it personal, I’ve tried to kill lots of people.  And…”  He paused for a few moments.  “I really…really just couldn’t stand wandering around anymore.  I wanted a way out, and Nuhrii was offering me one.  I didn’t put much more thought into it at first, not until I met you two, and you turned out to be decent company.  But, it wasn’t right.  You don’t have to forgive me.  I’d get it if you didn’t.”

 

Nokama came forward next.  “I’m a bit angry with you myself.  But…despite it all, you did keep these two safe, and for that you have my gratitude.  I wanted to tell you that face to face.”

 

“You came out here just to say that?” the Skrall asked.

 

Nokama shook her head and reached into the bag she carried.  “No, there’s more.”

 

“Turns out I was right,” Ehrye said, finally looking at the Skrall.  “They do need a name.”

 

Nokama withdrew a stack of papers and began going through them.  Vhisola handed her a pen, and the Skrall said, “A name?  Wait…you mean…?”

 

“I have the authority to name you a citizen of New Atero,” Nokama said.  “…Well, I’m on leave still, but Macku couldn’t be here right now.  So, we’ll need you to sign in a few places, as soon as you settle on whatever name you want.”

 

The Skrall waved his hands.  “Hang on!  After all that, you’re really okay with letting me become a citizen?  How can you trust me?”

 

“Not sure we do,” Vhisola said.  “But, we figure we’d rather have you with us than against us.  Another expedition to the lab is being planned, a much larger one, and they’ll need protection—but since it’s an official outing, they can’t exactly hire an outlaw.”

 

“I’ve got more work for you after that, if you’re interested,” Ehrye said.  “Thinking back, I realized that a lot of Rahi have gone through radical changes in behavior since migrating to Spherus Magna, and no one’s really observed any of that or how they’ve interacted with the native fauna.  I still want a name for myself…and I think buckling down and doing some good old fashioned research is the only way I’m really going to earn it.  But, I’m still not very good at defending myself.”

 

The Skrall looked from Ehrye, to Vhisola, to Nokama, to the papers.  “Is this…really okay?”

 

“Debatable, but friends pull favors for each other,” Ehrye said, smiling.  “We’re friends, aren’t we?”

 

The Skrall grinned slowly.  “Heh…you know, I still can’t write in Matoran.”

 

“That’s fine,” Nokama said, “I can translate it later for the official record.  Now then: a name?”

 

After thinking briefly, the Skrall turned to Ehrye and asked, “What was that thing you suggested before?  About fighting scorpions?”

 

Ehrye lit up.  “Jagazya!”

 

He nodded.  “Doesn’t sound terrible.  Okay, then…call me Jagazya.”

 

Nokama held the papers out, pointing at numerous places where signatures were needed.  As Jagazya filled them in, Ehrye hopped over to his side and started chattering about his plans to join the new expedition to help catalogue Nuparu’s work, and how excited he was to get started.  Vhisola took a step back to watch them.

 

A Skrall living in New Atero.  Not something anyone ever expected, but…maybe breaking this boundary can be the start of something.

 

She glanced at Nokama: she was still a bit shaky, but it was obvious she was getting her strength back.

 

Breaking boundaries, overcoming our limits…it’s worth trying, at least.  Sure, there are some limits we might never actually overcome, but…

 

Nokama looked up at her and smiled.  She smiled back.

 

But, even then…those who love us will show us that there’s still plenty we can accomplish, and that those boundaries aren’t so limiting after all.  There’s always more we can do.  Right, Turaga Nokama?

 

 

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