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Aderia

The Sculptors and the Smelters

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Images courtesy of BS01

The Matoran Civil War started out as precisely that - Matoran trying to be civil to each other. However, one should never underestimate the passive-aggressive capacity of a slighted Po-Matoran sculptor, nor the one-upping tenacity of a Ta-Matoran smelter. Unfortunately, they both underestimated one another in these regards, and the whole city paid the price.

 


 

Prologue: No Legends to Call Our Own 

 


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    There were legends, and there always had been. Tales of powerful and just Toa heroes who rose up to right the wrongs in the world, at the bidding of the Great Spirit himself. Toa heroes who wielded grand elemental powers, and the tales spoke of mystical Kanohi powers, used to beat back darkness threatening the Matoran. Everyone loved hearing these stories. Retellings of how mighty commander Toa led battalions against the fearsome League armies, centuries ago now, were always a crowd favorite. Stories of a small-town Matoran, chosen and transformed into a gallant Toa and overcoming the odds to save the day and his village he loves - those stories were becoming steadily more popular. The Matoran of Metru Nui loved the tales of the Toa because they were far-off and foreign tales, so far removed from anything remotely resembling the Matorans’ experience.
    
     These were stories, and they were safe, because that's all they'd ever be. Stories that were meant for a cozy evening in a pub after a long week, stories to give sop to a working Matoran’s dormant dreams of adventure and daring. Metru Nui, the Great City, was indeed great. No darkness dared threaten Mata Nui’s paragon city. The city itself was legendary, and so it needed no legends of its own. It would be bad for productivity. Even when the battles of the League of Six Kingdoms had raged throughout the world, the canny Matoran of Metru Nui had found a way to hold their own, and the threat of conquerors never even shadowed their sea gate. 
 
    But when a threat had arisen from within the city itself? 
 
    “I lost everything on those barges, Rofto,” the Ta-Matoran with the hood of his cloak pulled low over his mask confided to his companion. The two of them sat in a pub right outside Ta-Metru’s eastern firepits. The din of conversations around them, mostly other firepits workers, gave the establishment a homey atmosphere. There was a tournament of ‘cills going on in the corner. 
 
    “That was ages ago.” Rofto tilted his head, asking for an explanation. 
 
   During the time when the League of Six Kingdoms was expanding, although some would say conquering, the Ta-Matoran Crafter’s Coalition, alongside the Immolator Conglomerate, had worked tirelessly to broker a deal with one of the Barraki, supplying the far-away army with tools and parts for war vehicles and weapons maintenance and repair. It was a very lucrative deal. The Ta-Matoran had taken it upon themselves to see the production, assembly, processing, and shipment of the goods through from start to finish, shipping them out under the name of Ta-Metru. Outside trades were supposed to be under the name of Metru Nui first and foremost, because it usually took multiple Metru to create finished products. But the innovators from the Crafter’s Coalition had seen a chance to step up, and they had taken it, along with handsome war profits, which had in turn, revitalized the entire fire Metru. Ta-Metru was now, without doubt, the most well-off of the six districts of the Great City.  
       
     Apparently, some of the sculptors over in the stone district didn’t like that. It must have been centuries ago now, the Ta-Matoran crafters had lost two trading barges, sunk in the harbor, only hours before the barges were to take the top notch Ta-Metru trade goods to the Southern Continent. The Fire Brands, Ta-Metru’s own policing force, had quickly identified a group of Po-Matoran assemblers who had sabotaged the barges.
 
    “I know the Fire Brands would have my mask for saying this,” Rofto continued in a whisper, “But nobody really believes that the warehouse fires in Po-Metru were an accident.” Not a month after the sinking of the Ta-Metru barges, Po-Metru had lost an entire block of warehouses to some convenient, rampaging fires. 
 
    “It’s all water under the causeways,” the other Matoran waved a dismissive hand. “The point is, it’s practically been a millennia, and the cursed sculptors still are managing to block our trade regulation modifications in the Turaga’s Councils.” 
 
    After the entire barge-sinking, warehouse-bombing fiasco between the sculptors and the smelters, Turaga Arrakio, in a rare direct order, summoned the foremost Matoran of both districts, in an attempt to get to the bottom of this dispute. What had ensued, unfortunately, was a filibuster of sorts, a stalling of the centuries. The Po-Matoran Crafter’s Commission, which was always in direct and confusing competition with the Ta-Matoran’s Crafter’s Coalition, started proposing modified trade regulations, trying to pass laws against Ta-Metru specifically. And, of course, the Ta-Matoran would not stand for it. And so, as legal battles kept the Turaga ensnared, Ta-Metru and Po-Metru were left to feud unchecked. 
 
    Nobody really knew how long this had all been going on, but tensions in the city were high. The ever-increasing number of rampaging Rahi beasts in the city did not help. The sculptors, and everyone who took their side, which was most of Le-Metru by this point, were throwing accusations at the Onu-Matoran, who had allied with the Ta-Matoran against Le-Metru’s transportation monopoly. 
 
    “Is it true that there are some Ga-Matoran who want to form a deal with us?” Rofto asked, eyes wide. Their water sisters were notoriously diplomatic and neutral, and had condemned the inter-Metru squabbling from the start. 
 
    “I’ve heard that too." The hooded Matoran nodded, waving away the Matoran approaching to bus their table. “Students, from the School of Synthetic Sciences, looking for research funding.” 
 
    Rofto sat back, and gave an impressed, quiet whistle. “Wow. If we can get the Schools helping us with the laws and the protodermis processing, that could really seal the deal.” 
 
    The other Matoran’s eyes lit with his smile. “Exactly. But, Rofto. It’s getting more and more dangerous out there. Did you hear about Buon?” 
 
    “Buon? From the furnaces? Yeah, tragic,” Rofto said sadly. He didn’t know the late furnace maintenance worker personally, but the loss of a brother was always a travesty. 
 
    “Yeah,” and the Matoran leaned in, whispering, “The Fire Brands are saying it was a Rahkshi attack.” 
 
    “A Rahi attack?” Rofto asked, also leaning in, because surely he'd misheard. 
 
    “No. I thought the same thing when I first heard.” 
 
    “If the Onu-Matoran are letting Rahkshi exhibits loose, and the city thinks we’re directing them…” Rofto’s eyes widened in fearful realization. 
 
    “The other Metru would undoubtedly side with the Po-Matoran,” his companion said with an air of finality. “We’d be sunk.” 
 
    The longer the stone-and-fire conflict went on, the stricter the measures became that the opposition was trying to force on the Ta-Matoran, and now their allies, the Onu-Matoran. 
 
    “I heard there have even been deaths in Ga-Metru, and Le-Metru,” Rofto fretted. “It’s getting bad.” 
 
    “The Matoran are scared,” his companion agreed. “From every district.” 
 
    “We need unity,” Rofto said, after a moment. “I know I’m sick of all the inter-Metru restrictions cropping up after ever Turaga’s Council meeting. I haven’t been able to make it to a test track race in ages. Only the bigshots race in the Coliseum, and everyone knows those matches are as good as fixed, anyways."  
 
    “You don’t think Turaga Arrakio could make the changes the people want?” 
 
    “He’s practically senile,” Rofto sighed in frustration, to his companion’s amusement. “We need something to change the tides.” 
 
    His companion opened his mouth as if to say something, paused, and closed it again, seemingly having arrived at a better judgment.
 
    "What?" Rofto pressed.
 
    “The Po-Matoran found a Toa stone,” the cloaked Matoran whispered, barely audible. 
 
    Rofto gaped at him. “You’re kidding.” 
 
    “No, someone in my firepits heard about it last week. I mean, if you've ever seen the size of those warehouse, it's really not a surprise they've dug one up.” 
 
    “They can’t really know for sure,” Rofto shook his head, quickly dismissing the gossip.  
 
    “What’s for sure, nowadays?” his friend shot back. “What if I told you that I do know for sure?” 
 
    “I’d bet all my ancillaries and cogs I’ve got on me that you can’t prove it,” Rofto chuckled, hefting his widget pouch. 
 
    Finally, Rofto’s companion pulled back the hood of his cloak, and leaned in urgently once more. “I know, Rofto, because I stole it from them.” 
 
    “Nuok!” Rofto gasped, nearly falling out of his seat. The whole night, he thought his tablemate was just another weary firepits worker. 
 
    “Rofto,” Nuok said, adopting a reassuring tone. “You’ve come to my attention, my group’s attention, as a Matoran who has integrity. I’ve spoken with your foreman from your firepits sector, and spoken with some coworkers. I always see you here on storyteller nights. You're clearly a visionary. We’re very impressed with you, and your strength of character.” 
 
    “You-your group?” Rofto sputtered. Nuok, the overseer of the entire eastern sector of firepits, furnaces, and foundries in Ta-Metru was also one of the most influential voices on the Crafter’s Coalition, and he was rumored that he was the one who singlehandedly contrived and executed the Barraki deal back in the League days. They said he had a secret group of other high-up Ta-Matoran. Some of them, he’d heard, were even invited to the Turaga’s Councils. 
 
    “Not to get hung up on the details, but yes. I’m here representing some crafters and the like who have grown tired of waiting on diplomacy that will inevitably fail us. We’ve pooled our resources to help … move things along. We are aware of who you are, and what you could do for this city and for your people.” Nuok stood, offering his fist in salute. Rofto clanked the executive Matoran’s fist in return, in a slight daze. “We’ll be in touch.” 
 

 


 
 
 
Although this epic is part of a series, I'm hoping I can write it so it also works as a standalone.
 
The review topic has an appendix of world information relevant but not key to the story, as well as links to other stories in the same vein, and some authors' notes, and fun facts! 
 
 
 Related Reading:
  Reveal hidden contents
The Ternion - A prequel epic of sorts. A small town on the Northern Continent, in the midst of rebuilding after the conquests of the League of Six Kingdoms, welcomes a newcomer washed up in a stasis container from ages past. 
 
News articles from the city:
Dear Sanso - an advice column excerpt from your favorite musician 
From the Desk of Chief Editor Kopeke, a submission by Ehrye 
A Metru Nui Classified Ad by Archivist Mavrah 
A Ta-Matoran Obituary, written in loving memory by Aft 

 

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Chapter 1: Gale

 

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    Without warning, the howling winds changed direction. The boom of Tengi’s one-Matoran sailer swung with a vengeance across the unprotected deck, and she was lucky her Kakama wasn’t smashed, as she dove into the shallow cockpit of her vessel, which was barely more than a divot in the deck of the sailer. She scrambled to get the tiller and sheet under control, nearly strangling herself in the process. The sail was full to the bursting with the gale winds, and the sheet threatened to rip her arm out of its socket. 
 
    The torrential downpour made the deck of her sailer slick, but worse, made visibility nearly zero. It was by sheer dumb luck that an aggressive wave passed under her boat, and turned her course, that she was able to maneuver sharply around the towering stone column that erupted in the water right in front of her. With her feet hooked under the hiking strap that ran across the cockpit, Tengi leaned all the way over the edge of her sailer, keeping a sharp angle on the tiller that controlled the rudder, and yelling as the sheet rope attached to the sail pulled her other arm in the opposite direction. 
 
    Unfortunately, her quick sailing around the pillar drove her directly into the beginnings of a huge whirlpool. This was the homestretch. It was almost impossible to escape a whirlpool, because it was almost impossible to keep wind in the sail. And the winds weren’t letting up. Tengi trimmed her sail as her boat began to pick up speed, going around in circles. 
 
    She caught a brief glance through the rain of another Matoran on a similar sailer dodging around the same pillar she had, and having learned from Tengi’s mistake, swung out and around the whirlpool. 
 
    Tengi was distracted for a split second too long, trying to see who it was that sailed past her, and the wind caught her sail from the opposite angle, throwing the boom again, across the deck. She didn’t dodge in time, and with a scream, was knocked from her sailer into the churning waters. 
 
    Followed closely by her flailing sail-skiff, the Matoran struggled valiantly for  a few moments more, before disappearing into the gullet of the whirlpool. 
 
    And, all of the sudden, instead of being pulled downward, spinning violently, Tengi found herself free-falling. She only fell a short distance, before a magnetic field cushioned her fall, and gently deposited her on the floor. Still, she had to roll quickly out of the way, as her entire sailer was none too gently deposited right where she had been standing. 
 
    She stood in a large, well-lit chamber. The room was dominated by puddles and some repair crews, and a few other competitors. 
 
    “What took you out?” the Ga-Matoran closest to her called. It was Nireta, who had also been a classmate of Tengi’s, three terms ago.  
 
    “Whirlpool,” she replied. “Again.” 
 
    “Ah,” the Ga-Matoran nodded in understanding as she loosed the halyard of her own sailer, letting down the battered sail carefully. “Rookie mistake, Tengi. They always set up the whirlpools rotating counter to whichever way the winds are going.” 
 
    Another sailing competitor was suddenly dropped from above, much too close for either of their comfort. They both yelped, as the dejected Matoran’s boat also crashed to the floor. In pieces. 
 
    “Stini! What happened!” Both Tengi and Nireta rushed over to the younger Ga-Matoran. 
 
    “Smashed between two falling pillars,” she sniffled. She gaped at her ruined sailer skiff. “I just shelled out huge to repair the entire hull.” 
 
    “The course designers are getting careless, I’m telling you.” Nireta shook her head. “They only care about the Le-Matoran races now, that’s what brings in the most money.” To this, nobody said anything, especially when the she-Matoran noticed the Le-Matoran and Po-Matoran repair crews go quiet and try not to look like they were listening. Usually, the repair and transport crews would chat and congratulate competitors, as they helped prepare vehicles or vessels for transport from beneath the Coliseum’s arena, where they were, back to the Matoran’s residence. But not recently. 
 
    “Stini,” Nireta changed the subject. But not entirely. “A bunch of us are going over to Kailani’s tonight. You should join us.” Both Nireta and Tengi gave the young Ga-Matoran a pointed look. “Tengi, you’ll be there, right?” 
 
    “I’ll try to make it,” she said, as she began stepping away to meet a Le-Matoran who was waiting for her to inspect her boat with her. “I still have a lab write up to work on with my group, though.” 
 
   Nireta rolled her eyes, and called, “You should just drop out, like half the metru. Nobody has time for classes, anymore.” Again, this was a loaded statement, and there would definitely be more talk later, at Kailani’s tavern. The experienced sailor Matoran turned back to Stini and the mess of Stini's boat. She waved over a Po-Matoran mechanic. They would probably need an Onu-Matoran as well, for this mess. 
 
    Tengi assessed the Le-Matoran standing by her boat quickly, and warily, but smiled as she approached. He looked a bit unsure, just like she felt. She didn’t know this one. “Are you from repairs?” 
 
    “No, transport. I have some cargo haulers you can rent-use,” he returned her smile naturally, and offered her a fist in customary greeting. 
 
    She returned the gesture, tapping his fist with her own, inwardly sighing. These city Matoran and their customs. She’d never been anywhere, where this salute and greeting was so widely and ubiquitously adhered to. “To rent? What happened to the equipment haulers? Last race, I just gave the Po-Matoran some cogs and my address, and my boat showed up the next day.” 
 
    “Oh, you must have worked with Gadjati,” the Le-Matoran waved vaguely. “He had to take some work-job with a big client, a few months past.” 
 
    Tengi saw through the Le-Matoran’s wording. Gadjati had given his business exclusively to the sculptors. She shook her head. She’d thought better of the Po-Matoran and his cargo-hauling business. But, she realized that it would probably be impossible to get a Po-Metru delivery to her home in the education districts of Ga-Metru, nowadays. 
 
    “I can give you the same rate-prices as Gadjati did!” the Le-Matoran said quickly. “I heart-promise!” 
 
    “Well, I…” Tengi trailed off, shifting her weight to one leg, trying to look unsure. While she didn’t need better prices, she did want to see if she could keep this eager-to-please Le-Matoran talking. It was always good to know who the loose talkers were, and better to build rapport with them. 
 
    “I can give you a cut rate-price if you’d want to use my cargo haulers for the next … say, three boat races.” 
 
    “It’s not that, not the pricing,” Tengi glanced out the large gates of the chamber, where she could see numerous businesses’ cargo haulers and equipment transports waiting. She looked back to the business Matoran, a bit sheepishly, and admitted truthfully, “I don’t know how to drive a cargo-hauler.” Although, it might be worthwhile to learn, she thought.  Renting and driving a cargo hauler was usually a lot cheaper than getting a delivery. But, Tengi raced at the Coliseum infrequently enough, she was willing to just pay for delivery.  
 
    “Oh,” the Le-Matoran shuffled around, a bit embarrassed. “Well, I usually only deliver-drop for the Archivists or the warehouse businesses, but-“ 
 
    “Tengi! Don’t forget Kailani’s!” Nireta’s shout interrupted the Le-Matoran. “Don’t bother, I still have my Onu-Metru equipment transporter rented for another two days. I’ll take care of your boat.” In her first few races, both on the Coliseum’s treacherous Sea of Protodermis and on the Silver Sea itself, Tengi had been woefully unprepared to face the small swarm of businesses and laborers that eagerly awaited a cut of the competitor’s potential winnings, promising quality repair jobs, or the quickest deliveries, or the most reliable cargo hauler rentals at the best rates. Thankfully, many a Ga-Matoran with no patience for these games had taken Tengi under their collective wing. Although fiercely competitive when racing on the waves and in the stadium, the sailor’s community, comprised of mostly Ga-Matoran, was a very close-knit and protective group. Tengi was very glad to have found them, so early on. But now, as a more established competitor and more established resident in general, Tengi wanted to start doing more things on her own. 
 
    Tengi saw the Le-Matoran’s mask-expression fall. She did feel a bit badly for him. He was clearly new to the sports competition scene, and was eager to make connections and deals. Then again, she was probably newer than he. “Hey, let’s try for next time,” she said, and plucked up the courage to pat his shoulder. It seemed like a very Metru-Nui type thing to do. “What’s your name?” 
    
    “Larker,” he said, and pointed to where his cargo hauler was parked. “I’m with Phase Dragon Enterprises.” Indeed, the company’s logo was emblazoned on the sides and back of his vehicle. 
 
    “Larker, with the Phase Dragon hauler,” Tengi repeated, already turning back to her buffeted boat, to find a Po-Matoran already inspecting it. “Hey! I didn’t call you over! What are you doing? I don’t need repairs!” The Po-Matoran backed off apologetically. Newer competitors who took the advice or even labor services of unsolicited repairmen or repair crews often ended up paying far too much for mediocre repair jobs that one could easily learn to do themselves. Tengi had learned this the hard way. But, since coming to the Great City over a decade ago now, she wouldn’t be falling for their scams any longer. 
 

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    “Tengi, the skiff-sailor with the blue eyes,” Larker muttered to himself, as he turned back toward the entrance. It would be easy to remember her, at least, he hoped, because most Ga-Matoran had amber or yellow eyes. It was good business, to make an effort to remember potential clients. And Mata Nui knew, he needed good business. Reaching his cargo hauler, he hopped into the control pit, and sighed. It was time to go home. The only competitors left in the races, which were more like survival matches, would be only the most experienced ones - the ones with their own cargo haulers or immovable contracts. He wouldn’t gain any new clients here. He had no desire to stay to see the results of the high-stakes obstacle course race. Every Matoran knew that Macku was dominating the sailing racing, recently, ever since Marka stepped back. Word on the street was that the famed skiff-sailor had gotten a promotion within the Ga-Metru Cobalt Guard, which was the current iteration of the water district’s policing force. Also, he didn’t want to be around after the races, when they drained the arena. It was usually a mess. 
 
    “Time to go home, Subi. No luck getting job-work tonight.” The Le-Matoran tapped the sleeping dome-shape that slept in the control cockpit, which was little more than a platform with waist-high walls, a cheap windshield, and a creaky access-gate. But, at least the levers and controls worked well, despite looking like they didn’t. It was a beater, but it was the one he could afford. “Subi, leave-move.” He rapped the shell of the sleeping nipper, or juvenile Ussal Crab. Subi was one of the few survivors of the most recent Ussalry raid by a mysterious and ravenous rahi in his district. His old Ussal had been devoured in the attack, along with most of the others, and the Ussalry masters didn’t have enough supplies left of earnings saved to take care of the survivors of the attack, which were the smallest and youngest of the Ussal. Still, there hadn’t been enough earned to resurrect their business. It would take a few decades, but with the right socialization and diet, Larker hoped someday Subi would be able to do delivery runs with him. Of course, Larker himself had recently lost his free-lancing solo-running delivery business.  It seemed that every other Matoran he talked to these days were having similar hardships making a living. More and more workers were turning to the larger companies in the city, in every district. It was the large companies that could hold their own against the new regulations and power through the lines being quickly drawn to divide the city. 
 
    The Le-Matoran gave up trying to wake up the baby Ussal, who looked more like a Kanohi-sized pebble, and hoisted the lazy thing into the low-walled bed of the cargo hauler. “You’re never any use-help.” 
 
    Larker powered up his cargo-hauler, triple checking over his shoulder as he threw the vehicle into reverse. Some Ta-Metru Gukko-brain had double parked right next to him, and there was a great deal of honking and name calling as the Le-Matoran executed a sullen 17-point turn. At long last, his hauler was pointed toward the right direction, and he merged without his turn signal onto the elevated ramp that would take him up to the impressive, colossal roundabout that encircled the Coliseum. The city boasted an extensive elevated highway system, with its nimbus around the Coliseum.  Before Larker had gotten into transportation, he had been a mechanic and constructor for Viaducts Nui, and had worked on many of those roadways. But then again, almost half of the city’s Matoran had worked on the initial highway build. 
 
    The Le-Matoran took the upper exit that would take him to Le-Metru’s Moto-Hub district. He had a corner in a small lot where he kept his cargo haulers. All two of them. One was his own, small hauler that he proudly owned. It had served him many decades faithfully, during his time as a trusted and well-connected delivery Matoran. The other was the one he was driving. It was a bulkier hauler he had on lease from Phase Dragon Enterprises, who had taken him on as a ‘partner’, and they'd given him some low-level deliveries and pick ups from their endless list. The company was run by a high-up Le-Matoran named Kesian. Kesian had even been part of some of the Turaga's Councils, and apparently he had been the Matoran to negotiate for Le-Metru to be able to keep proprietorship of Tele-Metru Inc, the city's largest communications company.
 
    Larker had never met the Matoran who technically employed him mask-to-mask, but he also didn't want to.  Phase Dragon contractors only met with the boss if they failed. So, Larker never intended to meet him. Kesian employed enough administrative staff over his expansive transport and assembly network that he didn’t need to bother with day-to-day matters, such as expendable errand-runners like Larker. But with Ta-Matoran businesses backing out of and avoiding outside contracts, followed predictably by the sheep-like Onu-Matoran, work for free-lancing delivery Matoran like Larker had become rather scarce. It was completely unorthodox for some of his most regular and stable delivery jobs to cut him off. At first, it was the smaller vendors that stopped having him deliver their shipments - an artisan shop here, a laboratory there. And, the cancellations were from every metru, so he just blamed the growing tension between the Ta-Matoran and the Po-Matoran. It was okay, because he only had three deliveries a month, at best from those small businesses. His own moderately successful network could take a few losses. 
 
    But then, when the Archivists for some reason threw their lot in with the Ta-Matoran, and decided that the Le-Matoran weren’t trustworthy, Larker had lost over half of his source of income. And it had happened almost overnight. None of the other Le-Matoran he talked to, who were in a similar dilemma, knew what had happened. And so, here he was, working late nights trying to scrape up a haggler’s deal to support a dying sports entertainment vein of business in the city. A quarter of whatever profit he made, transporting whatever in a Phase Dragon vehicle, though, went back to the company. And although the company said they’d reimburse for maintenance and upkeep of their vehicles, it took nearly two weeks of documents and processing to pocket that reimbursement. It was horrendous. But there was nothing anybody could do, because the state of the entire city was like that. 
 
    The Ga-Matoran, at least, were still civil to the Matoran who had sided with the Sculptors, and would take business without discrimination. But, Larker suspected even that was changing.
 
     It was no secret that the Ga-Matoran were inevitably join the smelters It would be foolish of them not to - both Metru relied heavily on one another for production, processing, and advancement of protodermis supply. Now, if a Matoran wanted a good income, breaking into the Protodermis industry was where it was at. 
 
    Larker swerved and let out some expletives that a young Ussal crab probably should not have been exposed to, as an electric green Nui Chaser sped past him, blaring its horns. It was a new, expensive, and obnoxious class of personal vehicle that had just been released earlier that year. 
 
    “Ever-sorry, little shell-buddy,” Larker pulled to the shoulder of the road to check on the howling Ussal nipper. “You’re safe-fine. From your cry-wailing, you’d think Mata Nui himself couldn't help you. What a drama-king. You’re staying home tomorrow.” 
 
    At long last, the Le-Matoran turned into the commercial vehicle lot that he called his own - at least, a corner of it. He also had his old Ussal cart parked in his cluster of parking spots. He meant to move it to to the next Ussalry over, after the local one was destroyed, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Larker heaved Subi out of the bed of the Phase Dragon cargo hauler, and pointed. “See, one day, that Ussal cart will be yours. When you’re big and healthy-strong.” The nipper gave an understanding twitch of his eye-stalks. “Exactly.” Larker nodded in agreement. 
 
    He set his pet down, and began walking toward the Moto Hub entrance. Technically, the lot was an extension of the Moto Hub, serving as roof-level, outdoor parking for extra or rejected vehicles. Extra space was rented out to locals, like Larker. Having worked part time at the Hub, on and off for decades, though, he was privy to a tenuous but generous employee’s discount, and he milked it for all it was worth. He also was able to cut through the levels of the Hub down to the pedestrian walkways of the city, that would take him to his apartment nearby. 
 
    He pushed open the door that led to the spectator’s ring around the test track. “Come on, a bit of hurry-rush would be nice,” he urged the nipper, who trailed behind him. “You’re too big to lift-carry. I've spoiled you wreck-rotten.” The crab grumbled and scuttled through the doorway. Larker did feel bad for the nipper, though. While the next Ussalry over did have space to hold his Ussal cart, it didn’t have room for any more Ussals, young or old. Subi needed to interact with other Ussals, and learn from them. Perhaps he’d look into other Ussalry centers, in other subdivisions of Le-Metru. 
   
    “Well, at least we’ll be able to get a head start on our sleep tonight,” Larker half-laughed. Test track drivers sped around the perilous, undulating track, even at this late hour, since most of them had the day off tomorrow. A few of the drivers were residents in Larker’s same apartment cluster, and he didn’t bother to hide his relief, knowing they’d be back late, and he’d be long asleep. 
 
    Larker started down the stairs they had made their way to, planning which businesses to visit the next day, and ask with as much dignity as he could, if they had any work for him. “What now?” Subi’s squeals from the top of the stairs halted him in his tracks. “Oh.” The nipper was still too small to go down stairs on his own. The few times he’d tried, he’d ended up flailing on his back, having fallen halfway down the staircase. 
 
    Spoiled and as lacking common Ussal sense as he may be, even Subi knew enough to avoid being left out at night, at all cost. Even the heart of a well-lit, well-populated metru wasn’t safe with the hunting Rahi on the loose. In fact, as the scent of the hunting Rahi spiked in the air, perhaps the well-populated areas were even more dangerous.
 

 
 
 
Edited by Aderia

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Chapter 2: Flotsam
 

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  The game of caps and pins was about bluffing and being able to count better than everyone else at the table. It was a rather popular game in pubs and breakrooms throughout the city. One could win some nice pocket-change, and there were a few Matoran who could afford to work reduced time, they’d gotten so good at the betting and counting game. 
 
    “Pass three,” the Ga-Matoran next to Tengi said. Tengi obligingly handed over the first three bits that fell into her hand as she shook her game cup, which was filled with a mix of ancillary widgets and worthless valve caps. She passed over two caps and a washer warily. “Call it,” the same Matoran, Amaya, said. 
 
    The other two players at the table cleared some space, as Tengi and Amaya carefully spilled the contents of their stone game cups onto the table, and counted their pieces. One pile for the ‘cills, and one pile of the valve caps. 
 
    “Widgets?” Amaya asked. 
 
    “Thirty-four,” Tengi replied, sweeping the valve caps back into her cup. Each player had to have a minimum of ten caps in their cup, and Tengi liked to play with the minimum, because she was honestly not very good at this game. More worthless caps in the overall game made it harder to figure out how many widgets everyone else had in their cups. 
 
    “Me too,” Amaya crowed. “Tengi, you’re out!” At the end of your turn, after getting or giving a trade of one to five pieces from a player of your choosing, if you suspected that player and you had the same value of widgets in your cup, you could call for a count. If you were right, the other player was eliminated, and you got their ‘cills and caps, and could choose to add however many caps and ‘cills to your own cup you wanted, usually based on how you thought you could best match the remaining players’ widget values. 
    
    Tengi leaned back in her chair, watching the rest of the game intently. Luckily, they weren’t playing for keeps. Amaya was a statistics teacher for the School of Applied and Synthetic Sciences, if you wanted to get better at caps and pins, you watched Amaya play. 
 
    After losing yet another skiff-sailer race, Tengi was running low on widgets. It was probably the last race she could afford, which she didn’t like. She considered renting out her skiff. 
 
    Citizens of Metru Nui were guaranteed basic living necessities - housing and access to the Matoran Feeding Point. If one wanted a nicer living space, or anything resembling a hobby or interest outside of work, whether it be recreational, academic, athletic, whatever, that’s where one spent their widgets. But Tengi wasn’t a citizen of Metru Nui. She would probably have to pick up a real job soon, instead of taking classes full time, which were also not free. 
 
    Amaya made short work of the other two Matoran, and called, “Anyone up for another go?” The most recent losers, and all around the tavern, a couple heads shook ‘no’, but most of the Matoran ignored the challenge. 
 
    “Tengi? How many widgets did you put in?” The Matoran began helping Amaya divvy back the ‘cills they’d played with. 
 
    “Started with thirty, most of them pins. But it doesn’t matter which, I guess.” Tengi would prefer to get mostly pins back, as they were currently worth a nice round five widgets. Snags and bearings weren’t worth much recently, and tines were only worth half a widget. Before the game started, they’d agreed - everyone puts in between ten and twenty-five caps, and between twenty-five and sixty widgets worth of ‘cills. Tengi usually put in low, both in widgets and in valve caps. For an inexperienced player, it was best to minimize any variables as best as one could, in better hopes of controlling them. 
 
    “Glad we’re not playing for keeps,” one of the other Matoran laughed. 
 
    “No one ever plays for keeps against me,” Amaya said, shaking her head in subtle mock exasperation. Then she smiled, and added, “They know they’d get cleaned out.” 
 
    “Do you really give extra credit if your students can beat you?” Tengi had been dying to ask, ever since she had taken Amaya’s class, years ago now. 
 
    “Take another one of my classes, you can find out,” the teacher said, sweeping her own widgets back into her pouch. 
 
    “Next semester is booked for me,” she said. “Well, I’m just taking a communications class, but I want to start working a bit. Get out of the school bubble, you know?” 
 
    “Anywhere you go, there’s a bubble,” Amaya told her. “What communications class are you taking?” 
 
    “Something about conflict resolution, I think,” Tengi replied. “I’m on the fence about more classes anyways. There seem to be a lot of changes going on in the city.” 
 
    “Communication and Conflict? With Nokama?” 
 
    “Yeah, that’s the one.” Tengi nodded. "Why?” 
 
    “She’s so wrapped up in the peace demonstrations and truce politics,” Amaya said, shaking her head ever so slightly, as she began to pack up her things from the table. "I’d be surprised if she teaches at all, next semester. Especially with the way things are going, you know?” The teacher swept an arm in a wide gesture.  The Ga-Matoran generally were doing a good job of staying neutral. It was a delicate thing, not wanting to anger one side, or ingratiate themselves to another. But the growing frequency of unity rallies and demonstrations, often headed by some of the more opinionated Ga-Matoran, were drawing negativity from both sides. 
 
    “Hm. I’m sure I’ll find something to take, either way,” Tengi waved a goodbye. “You’re headed home early.” 
 
    “Exams to grade,” Amaya sighed. "But I'd still make time for another round. Or even a quick game of 'cills."
 
     Her companions declined, most getting ready to take their respective leave as well. It was a school night for students and the weekend for workers, although many Ga-Matoran were both. 
 
    "Well," Amaya laughed a bit as she took her leave. "Your losses. Well, it would have been, anyway." 
 
    Tengi was left alone at her table, which suited her just fine. She had worked it out with her lab group to finish their write-up here, at the tavern. 
 
    Kailani’s tavern, called The Silver Seafarer’s, was unusually busy, even for a weekend night.  Usually other sporting events would be going on, especially the test track circuits, which ran throughout Le-Metru’s largest moto-hubs. But a new restriction against Le-Metru and Onu-Metru had been published earlier that week, after Matoran from both districts were exposed in a case of corporate espionage. It was the story of the month, in the news tablets Tengi now shuffled through at her table. 
 
    There were always more Rahi attacks to read about, and some speculation columnists had some interesting theories. These were mostly in Po-Metru, the outskirts of Le-Metru, and some in Ta-Metru. There were always Matoran being attacked by Rahi in Onu-Metru, so nobody batted an eye at those reports. But, an advertisement in the Onu-Metru section of the news tablets caught her eye. 
 
    “Archivist seeking SAFE capture of rare Rahi for study,” it read. Intrigued, she kept reading. 
 
    “Are you going Rahi hunting?” One of Tengi’s classmates sat down at the table with her. They were waiting on one more group member to brainstorm for their mid-semester write up for Elementary Protodermic Theory. 
 
    “Thinking about it,” Tengi replied, flipping over the tablet to see if the back had anything interesting. 
 
    Her classmate looked at her incredulously, and asked, “Where did you say you were, before you came to the city?” 
 
    “The Northern Continent,” Tengi said, copying down the important information from the ad in charcoal on her spare stone half-tablet that she carried around, like most students, for diligent note taking. She hailed from the Tren Krom Peninsula, specifically, although she didn’t think it was wise to talk about it so openly. She’d held a handful of rahi-related jobs there, including Mahi wrangling, Ussal training, runaway Rahi tracking, and had been on a few Fikou nest raids. And, for a Matoran of the treacherous Peninsula, those were considered the easy jobs. “I’ve worked with Rahi a bit before. I’ll go talk to the Archivst, tomorrow, and see what he thinks.” 
 
    Tengi had come to the Great City just over a decade ago, now. Yes, she had always wanted to study at the Ga-Metru schools. It wasn’t an uncommon ambition for Northern Continent denizens, who lived close enough to Metru Nui to make that dream realistic. But secretly, she had also been tracking something that was probably a bit more dangerous than a Rahi. The trail - a trail of murdered Steltians, led north, to the city, and then went cold. And, just as luck would have it, the year she spent in the enormous city trying to pick the trail back up, the sea gates were shut down after an outbreak of muggings and skirmishes along the Le-Metru and Ta-Metru border.  So, she was stuck in the city indefinitely, and trying to make the best of it, although that wasn’t necessarily difficult. There was plenty going on that would keep a curious, tenacious Ce-Matoran occupied. 
 
    That was also something she hadn’t told anyone. They all seemed content to think she was a Ga-Matoran. In fact, before she left the Peninsula, she’d traded in her gold-colored armor accents for pale blue, not wanting to stand out so blatantly. 
 
    “Where in all the firepits is Paitia”? Tengi’s classmate demanded, slapping her own research notes down on the table. “She’s not usually late.” 
 
    “I told her when and where we were meeting to start the write up, and she agreed.” Tengi shrugged, getting out her own class materials. “We can fill her in when she shows up.” 
 
    The two students reluctantly bent over their notes, exchanging data quietly amidst nearby games of ‘cills and traded sailing stories. 
 
    None of the Matoran in the Seafarer’s tavern were any wiser, as Paitia, the missing Matoran in question, was dragged along the bottom of the nearby canal, securely wrapped in the many barbed tentacles of an amphibian hunter. Of course, nobody knew she was missing yet. And by the time they did realize it, the Rahi was sure that there wouldn’t be much left of the Matoran to find. 
 

 
 
  “We think someone is trying to shut down the schools,” Hasira stood at her table to take the floor. “I have some Ta-Matoran firepits workers in my Intro to Protodermis Solids class, I made sure to get in their lab group. We went to the northern smelting sector, two weeks ago to do some research for a write-up, and I was able to plant a bug in one of the break rooms.” The Ga-Matoran student, and part time student-teacher held up her small playback machine, and pressed the button. 
 
    The dozen-odd blue-armored Matoran crowded around the three tables in a side room of Kailani’s tavern, Tengi included, with her lab write-up complete, despite Paitia’s no-show. The Matoran all leaned in to listen to the thin, recorded voice issuing from the device. “…should do something about those cursed diplomats. They’re the ones coming up with all these leniencies for the sculptors. Those rock-bashers aren’t clever enough to be blocking all our policies on their own.” 
 
    A second voice, very hard to hear, suggested jokingly, “It’s probably the Jet-Setters helping them out.” Both voices on the recording shared a good laugh. Le-Metru’s policing force, if one could honestly call it that, was full of bored test drivers and ambitious Ussal jockeys who often created more disarray than they tried to fix. 
 
    “Well, what I heard is that the Incinerators cut a deal with some of them, and policies are going to start working in our favor pretty soon.” 
 
    Hasira cut off the recording, looking to Marka, who was running this covert meeting. The sole representative of Ga-Metru’s Cobalt Guard thanked Hasira, and stood. “It’s not much to go off of, but it’s more than we could have hoped for. Good work, Hasira. Yes, we have some of our best diplomacy professors and power structure theorists working on the Coliseum front. They’ve been working with some of the Scholars Nui of Ko-Metru, actually. So, the Ta-Matoran on the recording are either talking about one of theirs having made a deal with some of ours, or some of Ko-Metru’s.” 
 
    “They don’t want a three-sided standoff,” someone in the corner interjected, a prominent Synthetics student. If Ga-Metru and Ko-Metru formed their own allegiance against the other two...
 
    Some murmuring broke out, but Marka quickly got their attention back. “Yes, thank you, Ginsa. We can’t take anyone’s side, and we can’t make our own. Now, I know what all the other Metrus like to say about us, that we’re cowards who play both sides, no backbone, and so on.” There was some more discontented murmuring that ran through her audience. Apparently, not all of them were aware how fed up the others in the city were with the obstinate Ga-Matoran. “Obviously, that doesn’t make it true!” she insisted. “I know it’s tedious, and I know it’s not easy, but the work we’re doing is important. The Cobalts can’t investigate other Metrus without instigating hostilities and arousing suspicion. But we need this information to stay ahead fo the politics games that go on in the Coliseum councils. We’re doing what the Ko-Matoran truce trustees couldn’t. They tried to solve this with high-minded philosophy and idealistic morals. They had a good run, but their theoreticals didn’t offer any practical follow-throughs or consequences. We can negotiate a truce with hard facts and evidence against both sides.
 
    "My contacts in the Assembler’s villages indicate that a mass boycott of Ta-Metru goods, by both Po-Metru and Le-Metru is in the works. The Coliseum can't make anyone buy Ta-Metru goods. We have to be ready for whatever blowback might come from that.” Marka began making her way from table to table, getting updates from the Matoran about their various contacts, connections, and informants, furiously taking notes in an old sailor’s shorthand. "Hasira, keep working on your Ta-Metru connections. See if you can find some artisans, too. The firepits workers a bit too opinionated."
 
   “Nireta, how about that Moto-Hub contact? Hm. Well, I wouldn't be happy about those assembly supply restrictions either. Okay, good work."
 
    “Tengi, your Po-Matoran transporter?” 
 
    “Gadjati stopped doing business outside the sculptors and their allies, apparently.” Tengi crossed her arms on the table in front of her in frustration. Then, she remembered, “But there might be a Le-Matoran transporter who would have similar information.” 
 
    Marka nodded, “Good, follow up on that and see how that pans out, then.” She went around addressing the gathered Matoran, mostly students, with a few traders and waterworkers in the mix. 
 
    At the table beside Tengi, the Synthetics student, Ginsa, shook her head. “The longer this stalling goes on, the more the entire city suffers. Regulations and restrictions just frustrate the workers and add to the tension. I’d say its only a matter of months before one side or another loses it. Did you hear about Kesian, armoring up his new class of transporters?” 
 
    “That’s just talk,” another Matoran at her table dismissed the assertion. “The nutjob probably started the rumor himself.” 
 
    “I think it’s foolish to write off Le-Metru’s most prominent player so quickly,” Ginsa snapped. "I think Kesian and his whole company are bad news." 
 
    “Everything is conspiracy and woe for you, Ginsa,” Nireta chuckled. "I’ll see what headway I can make with my Moto-Hub informant, then maybe we can worry about conspiracy.”
 
    “Besides, what we really need to know is who’s running the insurgents in Po-Metru,” Ginsa pointed out. "They’re supposed to be the ones who started this whole thing.” Many Matoran from surrounding tables expressed disagreement with this. 
 
    “Yeah, they’re not known for their subtlety. They shouldn’t be so hard to find. So why are they?” another fretted, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Ginsa’s accusation, but not wanting others to continue taking sides over it. 
 
    Quiet conversations died off as Marka had made her way back to the front of the small room. “I know it might not seem like we’re getting much done,” she looked from mask to mask deliberately. “But I promise, it’s important. Information is powerful, and gathering and appraising it is no small feat. I know, ideally we’d never have to use it to leverage against either side, but we can’t afford to live in a world of ideals anymore. Let’s meet here again, same day of next month. Great Spirit be with us all.” 
 

 
 
The classified ad that Tengi was reading.
Edited by Aderia

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Chapter 3: Dastardly
 

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   “Please,” Tengi implored the somewhat flustered Archvist. “I’ve been working with Rahi for centuries. At least give me a shot.” She had gotten up early that next morning, and spent three agonizing hours trying to get to the Archives. Even for a weekend, the crowds were insane. The various policing forces seemed to be out in droves, as well. 
 
    “I believe you, I believe you,” the Matoran said, holding out his hands as if to calm her. “It’s just, well, Mahi and and Ussal are one thing, but we’re talking about something that eats those for a light snack.” 
 
    “Rahi are Rahi. I can track and trap,” Tengi said. “I’ll just need some higher tier equipment. I’ve even listed out what I think I’ll need.” She offered him her notes tablet, with a small list written on it.   
 
    He waved it away, saying, “Even if I wanted to fund your paraphernalia, you can’t use the same hunting or tracking techniques on a hunting Rahi that you would on a domestic Rahi.” 
 
    “I’ve worked with all kinds of Rahi,” she insisted. She was kicking herself for leading off with the fact that most of her Rahi jobs had been Mahi-wrangling. “Well, has someone else already taken the job, then? I could help them.” She highly doubted the job had been claimed already. There wasn’t exactly a line out the door of the cluttered office. In fact, it was a pretty desolate wing of the Archives. 
 
    “No, but… well, no,” Mavrah sighed. “But I can’t fund your equipment upgrade with no promise of a return. I’m not made of widgets.”
 
    Very technically, he was. Protodermis was protodermis, in the end. But Tengi knew that would be very unhelpful to point out.  “Could you show me the sketch again?" Tengi asked instead, craning her neck to see over the piles of clutter on the desk. 
 
    There was a charcoal sketch of what the Archivist and a few of his coworkers thought they were after. This was the Rahi that they believed to be terrorizing the Ussal pens all over the city. There was a small task force of combined Conservators, Jet-Setters, and Cobalts that were supposedly chasing this thing, but, like most cooperatives, was probably falling apart due to the inter-Metru tensions that just kept getting worse. 
 
    “It almost looks like…” the blue-armored Matoran turned the sketch this way and that. 
 
    “A lizard-rat. A Kuma-Kava. That’s what they were calling it,” the Archivist supplied. 
 
    “Any reports of it attacking Matoran?” she asked. 
 
    “Only if they get in the way of prey.” 
 
    “I can’t believe something that large can avoid capture for so long,” she said incredulously. 
 
    “Like I said, we don’t know much about this thing, only that it likes Ussal and has left at least one Conservator unable to walk.” 
 
    “I have some ideas that will help me keep my legs, I hope,” Tengi said. She stepped back, examining her feet as she weighed her options. “Okay. I can get my own equipment. Just give me a week.” It was a bit risky, but Tengi had enough saved up that she could afford a small gamble here. Especially since she wasn’t good at actual gambling, and she knew she wouldn’t be winning any sailer-skiff races soon. Might as well try her hand in another ring. 
 
    “I was honestly expecting a team of Matoran or something to answer the ad,” the Archivist fretted. He couldn’t have a dead or maimed Ga-Matoran on his conscience. But she seemed so determined, and she did know what she was talking about. 
 
    “Well, maybe the Rahi is expecting a team to come after it as well.” As much as she hated to step on someone’s toes, this was taking far too long. "Don’t worry. I know when I’m in over my mask. I’ll let you know if it doesn’t work out. If you don’t hear from me after a week, here’s how to contact me.” She scrawled the information on the corner of the Rahi sketch with charcoal. 
 
    Before Mavrah could protest further, Tengi had picked her way through his messy office, and disappeared. He hadn’t even agreed. But, of course, if she did bring in the Rahi, he wouldn’t refuse it. Still, he wouldn’t be getting his hopes up anytime soon. 
 
 

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    The heated argument of the three Matoran in the Council chamber seemed to fade away as Turaga Arrakio regarded his valor sculpture fondly. It was barely more than an indistinct figure cast in a heroic pose that suggested victory, obscured by the low-quality, early stasis technology that encased it. It was a life-sized statue that was cast from a rare metallic protodermis from the eastern island chain, and it didn’t react well with air, or so they’d told him, hence the stasis container. He liked it because it reminded him of his days as a Toa. Those were days spent mostly on the Southern Continent, leading many teams and never wanting for adventure. Just because one could lead a team of Toa well did not mean one could lead a city well. And, oh, how Arrakio wished someone had told him that beforehand. 
    
    “For the last time, it’s not the Archivists!” the Onu-Matoran in the room yelled. “I swear it by Karzahni, Artakha, and Mata Nui himself!” 
 
    “You’re not going to convince the city of that, Davanu,” the Ta-Matoran replied, in a similar tone of voice. The two were nearly mask to mask, both seething. “I’ve lost three of my firepits workers in the last two weeks to these attacks.” 
 
    “The Cobalt Guard lost a patrol member, two days ago,” the last Matoran, a Ga-Matoran, cut in before Davanu could fire back an accusation. “What about the Fire Brands, Nuok?” 
 
    “I don’t do much business with them, you know that.” The Ta-Matoran crossed his arms. “They’re idiots.” 
 
    “You’d say that about Mata Nui himself, if he showed up in the armor, and looked at you wrong,” Davanu scoffed. 
 
    “Ginsa, what else are the Cobalts saying? You have Matoran on the inside?” Nuok gestured rudely at the Onu-Matoran, and turned fully to the Ga-Matoran student. 
 
    Ginsa  smirked at Davanu’s indignant sputtering, and reported, “Just one." No need to mention in front of the Turaga that it was her. "They’re not interested in assigning blame, they just want the schools to remain open and the students to stay safe,” 
 
    “Quaint. Staying safe never won over any cities,” Nuok said. “If you and your Magisterials want that funding for your synthesis studies, we’re going to need to push a bit harder to get more of the Ga-Matoran on our side.” 
 
    “Don’t you talk down to me,” Ginsa snapped. "I know you and your Incinerator group want that breakthrough in energized protodermis as badly as we do. I’m not in your pocket, and we both know it.”
 
    “Davanu,” Nuok turned sharply to the morose Archivist. “What about the Conservators?” Onu-Metru’s policing force had always been difficult to get information on. 
 
    “They’re demanding inventory reports on all rahi exhibits, and recounts of those exhibits, to make doubly sure that none of our exhibits are the ones loose in the city. That’s all I know.” 
 
    Listen to them squabble, Turaga Arrakio lamented inwardly. Worse than Gukko chicks with a bula berry shortage. He shook his head, and the tall, vague figure of his valor sculpture seemed to gaze back at him sympathetically. Or, was it mocking? If your Toa-self could see you now. Relegated to arbiter of petty, dysfunctional business Matoran. 
 
    The Turaga of Ice turned away from the imposing statue, and slammed his staff on the edge of the dais where he stood. “That’s enough, Nuok. Davanu.” The two bickering Matoran quieted, and Ginsa took a seat smugly off to the side. 
 
    Arrakio rather liked the effect the valor sculpture gave off, as he stood in front of it, ready to command. It practically whispered victory into his audio receptor. Of course, victory in a the Council chamber was very different than victory on a battlefield. Not that this was an official Council meeting - that would be scandalous, meeting with such recalcitrant insurgents. “Nuok, you promised me that Metru Nui would be able to rival the Xian market by now- surpass it, even. And where are we?”
 
    “It takes time to change the entire economic playing field of a city-island, Turaga,” Nuok replied in a measured tone. “The Po-Matoran and the Le-Matoran won’t cooperate.” The Ta-Matoran’s words were a thinly veiled accusation. The Turaga was not passing reductionist regulations against Po-Metru and Le-Metru, as Nuok and his allies urged him to. 
 
    “We agreed to make Metru Nui a world power, not just Ta-Metru,” Arrakio countered. Yes, the Great City had a shining reputation, but nobody considered them a force with which to be reckoned. They were just a nice place for Matoran to work, and made nice things, and taught nice classes. And, as the recent League wars had proven to the world, 'nice' wouldn't cut it anymore. “I have to listen to all my citizens, and honor their requests when I can. It is my duty, and my privilege.” It really had never felt like a privilege, but Arrakio would never admit that to anyone besides himself. 
 
    “All the muddling about in regulations and politics has set us back indefinitely.” Nuok didn’t bother to keep a respectful tone this time. Beside him, Davanu and Ginsa kept silent, and very still. 
 
    “You and your incendiaries are making a mess of the city," the Turaga ordered.  "Stop encouraging your Matoran to take matters into their own hands. The Metru policing forces have enough on their hands. I need them to work together to get to the bottom of these Rahi attacks.” He glanced pointedly at Davanu, who glared back. “Stopping their own brothers and sisters from sabotaging each other is an enormous and tragic waste of resources.” 
 
    “You’re one to talk about waste of resources,” Nuok said acidly. “We all know you don’t really have the power to enforce your edicts, that the separate policing forces don’t really answer to you. You’ve been trying to play both sides for too long, and have ended up irrelevant. Now, what we need is to have another Council for the chief business Matoran of each district, probably with the policing heads as well. I expect-” Nuok’s demand was cut off with a cry, and he dropped to the ground. 
 
    “You need to learn when to stop,” the Turaga said calmly, pointing his staff at the Ta-Matoran insurgent. “And you need to learn that you don’t have all the pieces, and you certainly don’t have all the power.” 
 
    Nuok made some incoherent, muffled sounds. 
 
    “Are we clear, Nuok?” The Turaga deactivated his noble Kanohi Garai, and Nuok’s armor returned to its normal weight. 
 
    “Yes, Turaga,” Nuok growled, getting to his feet with a mutinous look in his eyes. 
 
    “Perfect. Then, you are dismissed.” 
 
    The three Matoran wasted no time making their exit, the Turaga watching their retreat with an unreadable expression. 
 
    Once the heavy door to the Council chambers had slammed shut, the three Matoran began making their way down the grand corridor, not looking forward to the long descent. There was something about being in audience with the Turaga that set even the most even-tempered Matoran on edge. And none of Nuok or his conspirators were even-tempered to begin with. They weren't always at one another's throats, usually they managed more subtle hostility between one another. But just...something about the pressure of being in the Turaga's own audience chamber. 
 
    “You pushed him way too hard,” Ginsa grumbled. “He might have let us take the elevator down, otherwise.” 
    
    “Really? That’s why you’re upset?” Davanu laughed. 
 
    “Shut up, mole.” She glowered at him. 
 
    Nuok was shaking his head. “We need Ga-Metru to cooperate.” 
 
    “They’re onto you, Nuok. There’s a small group, students mostly, running some basic espionage for Marka. They’ve got some bugs in your break rooms.” 
 
    “Marka? The Cobalt?” 
 
    Ginsa shrugged. “She’s newer, but she’s risen quickly. She’s getting things done, Nuok. She wants to make peace, not just keep it. She’s collecting information to feed to their diplomats. For now. If she finds anything solid, though, I’m sure she wouldn’t hesitate to get the rest of the Guard involved.” 
 
    “Well, I won’t give her anything solid to find,” he said. Then, he guessed, “You’re part of her little spy group?” 
 
    “I feed them information from my contact in the Archives,” she told him, elbowing Davanu, who looked at her, alarmed. “Nothing true, don’t worry.” 
 
    “Don’t draw any attention to the Archives at all!” Davanu protested. “If anyone gets wind of our project…” he trailed off worriedly. 
 
    “Be careful, Ginsa,” Nuok agreed. “I don’t want even a reason for someone to turn their mask there.” 
 
    “I know what I’m doing, calm down. No need to make a Kikanalo stampede out of a Kinloka scampering,” she snapped. “More bad news, they still don’t know who’s running the operation in Po-Metru, either.” 
 
    Nuok let out a half-sigh, half-growl of frustration. “I’ve been after them for years.” He went on muttering darkly to himself for a few moments. “It’s fine. I have a play to force their hand. But, again, we need Ga-Metru.” He fixed Ginsa with an intense stare, and she paused on her stair nervously. 
 
    “Don’t look at me. I’m just a student. I can’t mobilize the masses,” she said, looking down. 
 
    Ideally, he’d want to cut off the sculptors and their allies from the Matoran feeding point, which would cripple them. The Ga-Matoran would never go for it, cutting off nearly half the city from a basic necessity. They clung to their jaded, moralistic neutrality as though their lives depended on it. That was going to have to change. “Leave the mobilizing to me. I just need to know one thing: How are you and your Magisterials with diversions?” 
 
    “Diversions?” The Synthetics student tilted her head curiously. “What type?”
 
    “The type that brings the Cobalts running.” The three Matoran began descending the impressive spiral staircase. 
 
    “We can probably manage that,” she said, and smiled, ideas blooming rapidly. “Energized protodermis experiments go bad all the time.” 
 
    “Good. The night after tomorrow. I want all the guards away from the Great Temple,” Nuok said. 
 
    Ginsa and Davanu gasped, pausing on their respective steps. 
 
    “Nuok…” Ginsa stared at him. “Not the Great Temple.” 
 
    “It’s won’t be anything crazy,” he promised. “If you do your job, no Ga-Matoran will be hurt.” 
 
    “Don’t you have any fear of the Great Spirit?” Davanu demanded. 
 
    “Apparently not,” Nuok chuckled. “Davanu, if we get the Ga-Matoran to work with us, it will be a lot easier to pass anti-Le-Metru regulations. We can finally take down Kesian.” 
 
    This gave the Onu-Matoran pause. It was because of Kesian that Davanu was stuck in this menial Archives job, which he hated. Yes, it was an envied position for some, but not for one who had no other options after failure. And, to make matters worse, the failure that was his was not his fault. He, like many, was the victim of sabotage. But he, unlike others, knew who was to blame. “Maybe this could work,” was all Davanu said, with a one-shouldered shrug, and continued down the stairs. 
 
    “So, about this diversion,” Ginsa began. 
 
    “I already have a plan in motion,” Nuok said confidently. “Don’t worry. Just get the Cobalts away from the Temple and enjoy the show.” 
 

 

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Chapter 4: Nothing is Sacred
 

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    “See ya, Rofto,” his fellow firepits worker, Kalama waved as he packed up his things for the day. “Hey, are you going to the ground drone races tonight? Over on the Fifth Kio?” 
 
    “Probably not.” Rofto shook his head. “I’ve gotta work on my application.” 
 
    “Application?” 
 
    “I’ve been thinking about taking some Protodermis Processing classes,” he said. But, then again, he already had a good portion of the form complete. Why had he been putting it off, anyway?  “But I might stop by if I get far enough.” 
 
    “It’ll be relaxed. Nobody’s betting this week,” Kalama assured him. 
 
    “I’ll try to make it,” Rofto said noncommittally, swinging his own rucksack onto his shoulder. He didn’t usually bring a bag to work, but this one had shown up right inside his doorway that morning. It hadn’t been there when he went to sleep, but it was there when he woke up. It was heavier than it looked. Inside, he found three tightly wrapped parcels, and an oblong crystal that fit comfortably in his grasp. 
 
    There was also a small note with two lines. It read: Take the stone to the Great Temple tonight. You’ll know what to do from there. 
 
    If he could get his application finished, perhaps he could take it to the Ga-Metru school offices on his way to the Great Temple. 
 
    Rofto joined the multitude of Ta-Matoran workers headed home for the day, or headed to pubs or hurrying off on errands before this or that shop closed. The five blocks it took him to reach his residence passed beneath his feet quickly and unnoticed, as distance has a tendency to do when the mind is elsewhere. 
 
    Surely, this anonymous rucksack, with its mysterious contents was from Nuok. It hadn’t quite hit Rofto that night talking with Nuok in the pub that they had been considering entrusting the Toa stone to Rofto himself. Physically holding the stone, it became entirely clear that it it wasn’t at all clear what they wanted him to do, besides bring the stone to the temple. Would someone meet him there? He certainly hoped so. Perhaps he was to deliver the stone to someone. It was an easier idea to accept, than to become a Toa hero himself. Still, hope gnawed at him, hard to ignore, but oh, how he wanted to. He wouldn’t even know where to begin, thinking about so much change. 
 
    Mata Nui, the benevolent and wise Great Spirit was the one who chose worthy Matoran to become Toa in times of need, everyone knew that. Not Nuok the overseer. But, then again, Mata Nui’s will was often accomplished through others. 
 
    Maybe the well-wrapped packages in the rucksack would help him understand more. But, then again, maybe they were special Toa gear, and there was no guarantee that Rofto was meant to be the Toa. Best not to touch them. Yes, there had to be someone there at the temple to meet him and explain all this to him, or to give these items to. Being an errand Matoran for someone else’s destiny was a much less scary thought than oneself being transformed into a powerful warrior for Destiny. 
 
    The Matoran’s head swam with questions and wonderings. 
 
    It was only by supreme force of will that he was able to shake himself out of his musings and focus on the set of stone application tablets before him. He had to talk himself through the last few questions out loud, and even then, he barely managed to stay on task. He wasn’t worried about whether or not he’d gain admission to the School of Synthetic Sciences. With the sea gates to the city closed, the schools were sorely hurting for an influx of students. Many of their students who hailed from foreign islands had left when the commerce disputes started affecting tuition and living costs, and now no new students could come to the city. The applications were simply a formality. 
 
    Rofto reviewed his now completed form once more, and sighed. He still had a good two hours before it was fully night, before he could go to the Great Temple. It never ceased to amaze him, how little time it actually took to accomplish those little, chore-like tasks that he always wanted to put off. The actual putting off of the tasks was more agonizing that completing them, he was now convinced. For now. With an inward chuckle to himself, he tossed the tablets into the rucksack, and grabbed his pouch of ‘cills and cogs from his nightstand. He had time to hit the Fifth Kio, maybe catch a few drone races. The prosperous vendor’s boulevard was probably the most popular evening hangout in this half of Ta-Metru. It sat between two firepits sectors, as well as three foundries, and a multitude of artisan streets and local businesses. It helped that it was one of the few vendor lanes not criss-crossed with noisy overhead highways, giving it a pleasant open-air ambience. 
 
    There was nothing wrong with hitting the downtown district and seeing a few friends. Besides, this might be the last time he would see them as a Matoran. He tried to push away the thought, as he ambled out of his home, but the whispered offer of heroism, although it still made him shy away, was too alluring to completely shut out. 
 

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    The twin suns were almost through setting for the night when Tengi rushed to to the counter of the Ussal Drag ’N Drop station, breathless. “Made it back in time, here.” She offered the Ussal cart key and locking chain to the unimpressed Ga-Matoran clerk behind the counter. “How much?” 
 
    The Ga-Matoran checked the small timer built into the lock-chain, and told her, “Eleven and a half widgets.” 
 
    “What? I only had it out for an hour!” Tengi caught her breath, and craned her neck to try and get a look at the timer herself. 
 
    “Rate went up since last week,” the clerk told her. The fact that Tengi had cut it so close to their closing time, also, probably didn’t help. Now the Ussal stable hands would have to wash down and pen up a last minute Ussal before they could go home, and the clerk would have to record the transaction and figure out which original station the Ussal had come from. 
 
    Tengi sighed, and fished out a helical, two tines, and a snag. “Eleven-point-five,” she sighed, pushing the widgets across the counter. 
 
    “Thank you, have a good evening,” the clerk Matoran said, sweeping up the widgets and waving her away. 
 
    The incognito Ce-Matoran was already out the door. She hurried around the corner toward the Ussal pens at the back of the building, sparing one “thank you” pat for the Ussal she’d just returned. She ran up to the fence of the Ussal pen, leaning over, and asked one of the Ussal hands leading another crab past, “Hi, um, excuse me?
 
    The stablehand looked at her curiously, and Tengi continued before the stablehand could greet her. “Do you have any recent nipper molts? I’m looking for an molted husk or a shell or something.” 
 
    “Uhh, I can go check, I’m sure we have some husks that haven’t been sent off to the firepits yet,” the slightly confused Ussalry worker said. The stable-hand's calm demeanor was at odds with the clerk's rushed irritation. 
 
    Tengi paced back and forth for what felt like ages, until the stablehand returned, lugging a carapace about the size of a Matoran’s torso behind her. “Will this do?” 
 
    “Yes, yes! Perfect. Do I owe you anything?” Tengi asked, reaching for her widget pouch. 
 
    “Nothing,” the stablehand said, waving a hand. “Students, especially biology students, come around, and ask for far more, far stranger, too, sometimes.” 
    
    Tengi laughed, although she was afraid it sounded a bit too anxious, and called thanked the stablehand. With a heave, she hauled the empty shell up, having to awkwardly grip it with both hands up behind her shoulders, like the city’s most awkward cloak. She wished very much she had thought to ask for an empty shell while she still had the rental cart out. But it would have to do. She rushed off into the dusk, toward the old protodermis processing plant district, long out of use. 
 
 

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    The Toa of Tais was a daring and honest Toa of Fire. Tais, the southernmost island in the southeastern island chain, was said to be a land of giant fungus forests, ravenous, powerful Rahi, and not much light. That was, until the Toa of Tais arrived. The Toa brought light. The Toa bravely fought back the ferocious and frighteningly intelligent Rahi that threatened his people, and chose the bravest and the best of the villagers to join him in his adventures, granting them the awesome power of a Toa-Hero. The Toa of Tais and his team liberated their home and their people from darkness, and traveled across the islands of their region to help others in the same way, passing into legend. 
 
    These were Rofto’s favorite Toa tales - strange tales from the backwards southern islands. It was rumored that the inhabitants there had to physically eat things to get energy. As in, eat things with their mouths. Rofto shuddered involuntarily, whenever that little detail came up in a story. There was talk of cunning warrior species that even a Toa would have difficulty taking out, species with non-elemental abilities beyond a Metru Nui Matoran’s wildest dreams. And Rofto was quite the dreamer, as far as Metru Nui Matoran went. 
 
    Perhaps I’ll voyage to Tais and see these things for myself, Rofto thought. Someday, when I'm a - He caught himself, stopping his train of thought, almost embarrassed when he realized what he'd been about to think. A hero?  “Someday when I’ve saved up enough vacation time,” he said aloud.
 
    His mind wandered much faster than his feet did, as he crossed into an outlying residential district of Ga-Metru. There were no inter-Metru crossing stations, or even booths that he could see. Those mostly connected business districts or were along roadways. Having a station between adjoining residential districts would be silly. 
 
    Daring and honest, he thought vaguely, reminiscing about his far-off hero. That’s what I’d want to be. But he didn’t feel daring or honest, as he tried to inconspicuously make his way to the Great Temple, shrouded in a large cloak that concealed his mask and the heavy rucksack he carried. He clutched the carefully wrapped Toa-stone in his hand, close to his heartlight. It was quite comforting. 
 
    It was fully night time now, both moons waning above. 
 
    Rofto was relieved that he only passed one small group of Ga-Matoran, as he picked through the outskirts of a residential district. They hurried past, headed toward the schools without sparing him a glance. But, why feel relieved? He wasn’t doing anything bad. Right? It was just, well, how would he explain himself? 
 
    ‘My boss gave me this Toa stone and I’m supposed to take it to the Great Temple, and maybe become a Toa-hero’?  he thought, and shook his head at the absurd idea. However Toa were created, it certainly had to be different than this - more grand, more ceremony, more Mata Nui, more Destiny, perhaps. But, who was he, really, and what did he know? 
 
    Still, there had to be some guards at the Temple gates. What on earth would he say to them? He wasn’t even sure if there were open visiting hours to the central sanctuary, and if there were, they certainly wouldn’t extend to this late hour. 
 
    'Mata Nui told me to meet him there', he laughed to himself. That will work
 
    He passed one more group of Ga-Matoran, headed in the same direction as the first, without time to spare him a glance, and talking among themselves quietly. Too quietly? No, that was just because it was a quiet neighborhood.  Right?
 
    Rofto pushed the worries out of his mind as the modest residences around him gave way to a wide boulevard, lined with moss-covered carvings of great Kanohi masks, most of which he couldn’t identify. The wide, cobblestone street became a bridge spanning gentle inlets of the Silver Sea, the Great Temple gates looming ahead. Rofto kept far to the side of one street, passing in and out of the shadows of the sculptures at intervals, nerves standing on end. The closer he got to the Temple, the more illegal it all felt. 
 
    He paused in the shadow of the last carving before the impressive gate, taking a second double-take. Surely, there had to be at least one guard Matoran, or even a drone, around, especially with the gate itself wide open. He sorely wished he knew more about the Great Temple. Perhaps this was normal. If Matoran wanted more Mata Nui in their lives, no matter the hour of day, then it would be heretical to have closed gates. 
 
    Still, Rofto stood frozen, watching for any sign of movement. 
 
    Finally, it was the weight of his rucksack that drove him cautiously forward. He edged his way through the gate, after long minutes of nothing happening, and made his way to the Temple doors. They were large and grand, and he nearly fainted trying to push one open enough to get in. 
 
    He slipped inside, out of breath, and leaned back against the heavy door to close it, which resulted in quite a noisy clang, to his dismay. The sound reverberated through the Temple’s ornate antechamber, also empty of any other Matoran. Minutes after the sound had faded from the air, Rofto finally let out his breath that he hadn’t realized he was holding. A few more deep breaths, and he felt ready to proceed. 
 
    Yes, he was slightly terrified, and this all felt rather surreptitious, but what else was he going to do? 
 
    He rolled his tired shoulders, and decided to drop the heavy pack just inside the doors. It was a large temple, and it might take him a while to find whatever it was he was looking for. You’ll know what to do from there, the note promised him. 
 
    “Well, I’m here,” Rofto whispered to the stone in his grasp. He readjusted his cloak to hang much more naturally, after removing the large lump of his rucksack with a relieved sigh. “What now?” 
 
    There was only one way to go, and that was across the antechamber, and through a candle-lit corridor, through which he could see a fraction of the main hall. If the sunslight had been streaming through the masterfully crafted windows of the temple, it would have been a breathtaking sight, with intricate carvings and murmuring hieroglyphs. But in the dark, to a frightened Ta-Matoran, with the constant sound of trickling water in the background, it was breathtaking in a bad way. 
 
    “Daring and honest,” Rofto told himself, with another deep breath to steady himself. “Daring, honest.” 
 
    And he continued bravely on. 
 
 

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    It must have been nearing midnight, and Tengi was about to give up for the night. The carapace she’d lugged halfway across Ga-Metru lay in the middle of a long-abandoned four-way intersection of pedestrian streets. On each street corner, a small tower, not much taller than Tengi herself, hummed gently, and a singular, calming blue light pulsed at the top of each tower, in unison. These towers were what she’d needed to rent an Ussal cart for. They were stasis-field towers, used by field Archivists and some Ga-Metru students. She’d shelled out more than she would have liked to rent the equipment from the biology department. 
 
    Her plan was a simple one, although it might take several nights of staking-out. The Ussal shell was in the center as bait. Tomorrow, she would try and find more shells to use. The Kuma-Kava she was hunting, ideally, would go to it, and Tengi would trigger the towers remotely, from her safe hiding place on the corner rooftop, overlooking the whole intersection. While the thing was trapped in the stasis field, she would carefully move the towers closer and closer to one another, and trigger the stunning gas cartridges in each tower to knock it out, and be done. The towers were fully charged, and could keep a stasis dome running full-force for up to eighteen hours. That was more than enough time to arrange for transport for the Rahi back to Mavrah. 
 
    That was one advantage to this wondrous city - the technology. Back home on the Tren Krom Peninsula, she never would have dreamed of portable stasis devices. She probably would have had to painstakingly set up a rockslide, rock by rock. And, of course, rockslides were just as likely to kill your quarry as they were to miss it entirely. What was she going to do when she went back, without all this hi-tech? But, she didn’t have to worry about that, since it looked like nobody was leaving the city anytime soon. 
 
    She yawned, shooing away a small rodent-rahi with her foot. According to her slap-dash research, this protodermis processing block had been bought out by Metru Formulaics, and its resources and employees had been moved closer to the large processing and refinery company’s base of operations, closer to the heart of the Metru. Small rahi birds and rodents seemed to be the only residents. Soon, this old block would be demolished, and the parts from the buildings and underground street mechanics torn up and processed into either widgets if they could get the Turaga’s approval, or simply sent to Ta-Metru. 
 
    Tengi considered taking a quick lap around her flat rooftop. She should be on alert, anyways. But, if something as large as her quarry was approaching, she could be in a coma and still hear it. She sighed, regretting not bringing any homework to work on, or lightstones to read by. 
    
    “Hey! Scram!” she yelled, her cry echoing down the streets, still lit with lightstone posts. It was by their light, she caught the shadow of another small rodent scampering right up to her carapace, down in the street. “That’s not for you!” she hopped onto the ladder that led down to the street, tucking her remote into her small satchel. 
 
    She bore down on the Ussal shell, flipping it over in search of the rodent. Angrily, she hissed, “I said-"
 
    Except the rodent wasn’t a rodent. It was the Kuma-Kava. Not even half the size of her foot, but complete with powerful, clawed little hind legs of a rodent, and the  spring-loaded club arms of a Tarakava. And teeth. Little sharp teeth that glinted even in the lightstone lights and blue lights of the stasis towers.  “What?” was all she could say, staring at it, baffled. Was this all a grand joke Mavrah had contrived? Was it-
 
    The little monster screeched at her, and before her startled eyes began to grow. And grow. And grow. 
 
    With a cry, she fell back, jolted out of her stupor as the monster surpassed her quickly in size, and kept on growing. 
 
    Her remote!
 
    But she couldn’t trigger the stasis field while she was in there with it! 
 
    The monster’s screech had turned into a sidewalk-shaking roar. It was not happy that Tengi had tricked it out of a meal. 
 
    Stumbling to her feet, Tengi ran for her life. 
 
 

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    Not all that far away, Rofto completed his third, slow journey around the perimeter of the Great Temple’s main chamber. A large, intricately carved fountain of very pure looking protodermis served as the room’s center, ringed with a pristine, metallic dais that was covered in carvings, some were words, some were pictures, some were pictures that looked like they could be words, and vice versa. 
 
    Still, nobody besides the Ta-Matoran was there, and he still had no idea what to do. 
 
    There was one more side chamber that he hadn’t explored yet. His loop took him to the side chamber’s entrance. Peeking in, it looked rather unremarkable. It was not ornate, like the antechamber, or the main hall. It was a high-ceilinged stone room with impressive pillars spaced in such a way that drew the eye to a simple, segmented dome that rose out of the floor in the center of the chamber. 
 
    If Rofto could read the ancient language above the doorway, he would have been able to identify the Toa Suva. Still, he was intrigued. 
 
    He took a step into the side chamber.
 
    And then an explosion ripped through the Great Temple. 
 
    Dazed, and partially buried in rubble, Rofto dragged himself back into the main chamber. It was by luck alone, he was sure, that he had been in the shelter of the doorway when the explosion hit, and hadn’t been completely crushed. But he was pretty dazed, and badly shaken and bruised, so he wasn’t completely sure of anything. But he was scared. 
 
    Not everything had been torn apart, but many things were scorched, a few things were on fire, and a lot of things had either fallen over or been shattered. Smoke filled the air, and the fountain spurted its last. 
 
    Rofto was so confused. 
 
    What had happened? 
 
    He made his way uneasily to the main doors, where the damage was by far the worst. There were only two walls left standing of the antechamber. The remains of his rucksack lay smoldering by what was left of the great doors. Fuzzily, a realization began to form in his mind. 
 
    But that formulation was cut short by shouts and quickly approaching bright lights. 
    
    And so, Rofto ran for his life. 
 

 

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Chapter 5: The Midnighter

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    You, Tengi thought to herself, nearly in a blind panic. She whirled and wheeled down yet another street, she’d lost count how many, and barreled ahead as fast as her legs would carry her. Her pursuer had not lost interest in her, evident from the much too close screeching and scraping of large claws against street - claws that would surely, easily tear though a Matoran. And why, Tengi had wondered at one point, about two streets back, was this monstrous, size-shifting Kuma-Kava so doggedly after her? Because she’d carried her Ussal carapace halfway across Ga-Metru on her back. She smelled like dinner. 
 
    Are a complete, the Ce-Matoran’s thoughts flew all over the place. An alleyway? No, it could shrink down and still follow her. Sharp turns were the only thing keeping distance between her and it. She was coming up on a T-intersection, and fast. Left would take her closer to the inhabited residential area of the Metru. Not that way. Still, she veered slightly left. 
 
    MORON!! She finished her thought, and veered as sharply right at the intersection as she could, nearly losing her footing. She found herself running with a low wall on her left, which meant she was running parallel to a canal. Could this thing swim? She would tire faster in the water, though. Tengi risked a glance backwards, gasping for breath, and seeing it had gained a bio or three on her. 
 
    Come on! Think!! She could only think enough to berate herself. As she passed a promising looking side street, she realized she was headed toward Ta-Metru. She didn’t know much about the layout of the fire district. The only thing she could think of, frazzled as she was, was to try and make it to the weapon crafters subdivision of Ta-Metru. Of course, she had no idea where that was. 
 
    Tengi scrabbled around another corner, and had to slow to pull air noisily and rapidly back into her lungs. She was beginning to see spots. 
 
    Still, the snarling approach of the monster, easily four times her size, prodded her back to a gallop. It was slow, but it was the best she had. 
 
    Her breath was coming in ragged wheezes now, and her steps much less sure. The sporadically lit, abandoned street around her blurred in and out of focus. She couldn’t tell if it was her own breath that was so loud to her, or the Kuma-Kava, breathing down her neck. 
 
    No. She saw it turn the corner of her street, beady, glowing eyes locked on her. 
 
    She stumbled, clutching at the side of the washed-out building, still somehow pulling herself forward. She couldn’t remember ever being this exhausted before. The monster let out a squeal that she could have sworn was a laugh, and advanced on her as she began to collapse, taking. 
 
    Half crawling, half falling, Tengi saw one last hope. If she could just make it to the doorway of the building, perhaps there was something inside to give her an edge. Her head swam, and her field of vision began shrinking, giving way to blackness. 
 
    The solid protodermis of the building, where her head had been only an instant before shattered under the bullet-fast punch of the Kuma-Kava’s armored boxing limbs. Tengi was pretty sure she screamed, but couldn’t say for sure. But it gave her a surge of adrenaline, and she was able to lurch out of reach for the next blow, miraculously. But she didn’t have enough energy left to steady herself, and she fell to the sidewalk once more. She rolled, raising her arms to protect her mask, as the shadow of her end fell over her. 
 
    There was one last, terrible screech. 
 
    Tengi squeezed her eyes shut, hoping Artakha was everything everyone always promised. 
 
    It took her a few breathless moments to realize that the growling and scraping of metal she was hearing weren’t the sounds of the Rahi feasting on her dead body, but were actually sounds of battle. The Matoran half-rolled over on her side, blearily trying to make sense of what she was seeing. 
 
    A tall, black-armored fighter was dodging the Kuma-Kava’s bullet-blows gracefully, almost effortlessly, careful to stay between the Rahi and the Matoran. It tucked and rolled, sprang here and there off of buildings, swung around lightstone-posts, and even got in a few counter-blows with a heavy looking combat baton it wielded. It was leading the Rahi farther and farther down the street, away from the fallen Matoran. It made the Kuma-Kava seem sluggish in comparison, and the Rahi did not like how the tables had turned. With a frustrated, guttural roar, it paused, hunching over, and began to grow once more. 
 
    The fighter hung off of a second-story window, leaning out into the street. It also stopped to watch, but only for a moment. Flipping off the building to land lithely in the street on all fours, the fighter straightened up, and with one sharp movement, whipped out its baton again, and the end of it crackled to life with white-blue lightning. Without waiting for the Kuma-Kava to finish its growth-spurt, the fighter charged it with a shout. The rahi, caught off guard, reared with a screech. The fighter feinted high, as if to directly counter the rearing, colossal beast, and ducked in low at the last moment, as the rahi’s basher-blow cracked in the air. The fighter’s baton found its mark, jamming up beneath the rahi’s chin, finding the unprotected organic tissue. The Rahi gurgled and dropped with a crash, spasming slightly, as excess electricity from the stunning baton roiled off its limp form and then dissipated. 
    
    “Get up,” was the next thing Tengi heard, to her surprise. “Come on, you can do it. Get up. It didn’t get you, did it?” 
 
    The Matoran shook her head, which was still spinning, and groaned. The black-armored fighter was crouching beside her, tail-tip twitching anxiously, and peering into Tengi's Kakama with concerned, bright green eyes. “You…you’re,” Tengi tried to ask. But she realized that the fighter had disappeared. The Matoran concentrated on breathing deeply, counting the spinning stars above, and tried to pull herself together. She managed to struggle to a crouching position, more like a squat, when the agile fighter appeared again at her side, and pushed a cup of liquid protodermis into the Matoran’s hands. 
 
    “Drink,” the fighter said, not gently, but not commanding.  
 
    “Is this…” It was Tengi’s own cup, the one that she used to play caps and pins. 
 
    “Borrowed it from you. I hope you don’t mind canal water.” 
 
    The Matoran shook her head, downing the cup in an flash. It was amazing how fast the cool liquid protodermis cleared her head. “Who are you?” She turned to her rescuer hesitantly, and a bit fearful. 
 
    The fighter snapped her attention back to the Matoran. She had been looking at something in the shadows of an adjacent street. “I’m…” She frowned a bit, thinking. “I’m someone who is trying to help the city, just like you.” 
 
    “Thank you,” Tengi said, opening her satchel to put her cup back. 
 
    “Do you need more?” the fighter offered, with a slight nod in the direction of the nearby canal. 
 
    Tengi shook her head, “I can manage. But really, thanks. I would have been rahi-bones if not for you.”
 
    “Rahi-bones?” the fighter repeated, and snorted, amused. “I like that one.” Then, with a slight shake of her head, she pressed on, “You have to get out of the streets. Something’s happened, at the Great Temple. Something bad. I don’t know what, yet. But it’s not safe to be out. Not alone. Even with that thing down and out.” She indicated the unconscious Kuma-Kava, which had been slowly shrinking back down to its normal size. 
 
    “I need that rahi,” Tengi said, getting to her feet and making her way unsteadily toward the beast. 
 
    “Need?” The fighter followed her, padding along on four limbs easily, to look at the downed Rahi. Although it had stopped shrinking, it was still bigger than both of them, combined. 
 
    “I took a job trapping it for an Archivist,” Tengi explained. 
 
    “The Archives,” the stranger stopped, and raised herself to a crouch once more, gazing at the Kuma-Kava. “Stasis?” 
 
    “I’m not sure,” the Matoran answered with a shrug. “Probably.” 
    
    The fighter didn’t say anything for a long moment, and then sighed. “I can’t help you with stasis. I still think you should go home. It’s dangerous tonight.” She cast her gaze in the direction of the Great Temple. The Matoran didn’t answer right away, and the fighter rose to her full height, turning toward the Temple. “Don’t die, after I just saved you,” was all she said, and began walking briskly away. 
 
    Tengi watched, startled as, about halfway down the street, the fighter vanished into thin air. 
 

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    Erylist cursed as she began to flicker between translucent and fully visible in the moonlit street that would bring her right to the Great Temple entrance. She was far from mastering her relatively newfound nocturnal stealth skill.  And, with strange Rahi on the loose, and the Matoran terrified of the other side hiring foreign mercenaries, practicing the stealth ability had become a priority by necessity.  Being seen would spell trouble in capital letters.  Breaking into a run, she dashed into an alleyway, and clambered easily up the side of the building, crossing the last few blocks on rooftop. She had an unobstructed view of the broad causeway that led to the Great Temple. And what she saw, she didn’t like. 
 
    Her little detour saving that Ga-Matoran had cost her. It was worth it, but she hated inconvenience. The causeway was now packed with murmuring Ga-Matoran. Her keen night vision also showed her the entrance of the smoking Temple crowded with armed Ga-Matoran, and lit with portable lightstone-posts. The Midnighter heaved a sigh, and crouched low, peering over the low wall of the rooftop at the scene. She could try and wait out the crowds. But more and more Matoran were arriving by the minute. She could make her way through the residential district and out to the next small peninsula over, and swim to the temple. That was not appealing, for a number of reasons. Or, she could try and sneak her way to the Temple. The underside of the causeway, indistinct as it was, seemed promising. She’d gotten pretty good at traveling beneath the highways, via the various support beams, cables, and girders. It was strenuous, but she was only getting stronger. Big-city living really was something else. She’d seen a lot of cities in her day, but Metru Nui dwarfed even the largest of those. 
 
    And perhaps that’s why she’d made next to no progress on any of her mission objectives, thus far. The city was entirely too vast. The abbreviated version of the city’s history she’d studied during her training was laughably unhelpful. But moping wasn’t going to get her anywhere. There was more then enough work, tagging and tracking all these mutated Rahi in the city, trying to piece together and patterns of movement and trace sources of origin. And occasionally, there were encounters with Matoran. Metru Nui Matoran were rather wary of outsiders to begin with, and so she hadn’t been able to make any solid connections yet, frustratingly. Most encounters ended with the citizen running for help or screaming like a rock raptor, or both.  But the little Ga-Matoran she’d saved earlier didn’t seem to fear her. There was something off about that one, but Erylist couldn’t quite place it. Still, she’d snuck a small tracker into the Matoran’s satchel, just in case. 
 
    Erylist noted the direction most of the incoming Matoran seemed to be arriving from, and prowled to the opposite side of her rooftop, intending to give the crowds as wide a berth as possible. She vaulted back down into the cluttered alleyway, landing lightly, and completely invisible and silenced in the shadows. She could stomp around all she wanted and be surrounded by a ring of fully charged lightstones, and nobody would be able to see or hear her, unless she spoke, or willed herself visible and audible. It was only when in the moonslight that it became more difficult - her shadow fell, and she became both translucent and fully audible. Once any fraction of either one of the moons dipped below the horizon, or either one of the suns peeked above, any and all of her stealth powers vanished. And then she'd just have to sneak around the good, old fashioned way. She was getting a lot of practice with that, too. She glanced at the moons in the sky. She still had a good three hours to work. More than enough time. 
 
    The Midnighter came to a dark crossroads of alleyways, again pausing to count roughly how many Matoran were passing by. Even without nocturnal Rahi and Rahkshi loose, it was rare for any Matoran to be out this late, let alone in droves. Erylist was nearly boiling over with impatient curiosity. 
 
    Wait. 
 
    She turned to her left, keen audio receptors picking up faint noises from the dark alley that shouldn’t be there. The faint whiff of something burned also floated in the air. The sea breeze wouldn’t carry the burning Temple smell all the way to the mainland. In fact, it was blowing in the opposite direction. Erylist crouched low and crept toward the sound, belly nearly brushing the ground, triple checking she was safely and fully shadow-cloaked. 
 
    She cautiously rounded a cluster of sealed barrels, and dropped her shadow-cloak ability with a sharp intake of breath. “Mata Nui,” she breathed. 
 
    Tucked behind the barrels and pressed against the alley wall, was a trembling, terribly scuffed up Ta-Matoran in a tattered cloak. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he was whimpering under his breath. 
 
    “Hey,” she whispered as gently as she could, and reached out toward him carefully. 
 
    His eyes snapped open, and he yelped involuntarily, trying to make himself even smaller. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he kept repeating, frantically looking around and never quite focusing on her. She was sure she had made herself visible, but checked again anyways. 
 
    She laid a hand on his arm, mindful to keep her touch feather-light. “What are you sorry for, little brother?” 
 
    “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know. I just wanted to help. I didn’t mean to. I did what he told me. Just wanted to help,” he broke off in a sob. 
 
    Erylist gaped at the poor Matoran, completely at a loss. 
 
    “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. Wanted to help. I’m sorry, sorry, sorry,” he kept repeating. 
 
    “What are you sorry for?” Erylist asked quietly, withdrawing her hand and quickly checking both ends of the alleyway to make sure they were still secure. But the Matoran just broke into incoherent sobs. She had a feeling she knew. In the distance, she could hear the din of the ever-growing crowd, As day approached, news would only spread, and more and more of the city would show up, she was sure. She couldn’t stay when that happened. She also couldn’t leave this poor, wretched Matoran huddled in an alleyway. 
 
    She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, not relishing the plan of action she had settled on. But, with a ticking clock, and remaining unseen a priority, she didn’t see any other options. She unlimbered her stunning baton, and set it to the lowest intensity possible. It hummed quietly, and she said, “I’m sorry too, friend,” and zapped him. 
 
    At least he looked less troubled in his sleep. Now, the fun part was figuring out how in Karzahni she was going to lug an unconscious Matoran, who was likely a fugitive, literally to the far opposite end of the city, before daybreak. Suddenly, three hours until dawn seemed woefully inadequate. 
        
    She carefully checked the Matoran over for other injuries, and hauled him up over her shoulder, staggering slightly. Matoran were not large, but she was not the strongest being around. Still, this would have to do, for now. Erylist made her way carefully out of the alleyway, eyes and ears on prime alert. 
 
    All things considered, she decided, tonight hadn’t been a terrible night. True, she technically had knocked out one of them, but still, two Matoran saved overall was a personal best. 
 

 
 
 
Author's Note: There does happen to be a single, mostly (except the last of the three segments) self sufficient chapter here that shows a bit of who Erylist is, because I'm slightly self-conscious that she seems like a convenient plot device if one hasn't read 'The Ternion', and I felt that nagging urge to try and justify myself. 

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Chapter 6: Patsy

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    The multi-colored crowd had taken on a consciousness of its own. It was unsettled, shifting and murmuring uneasily. One practically needed a Mask of Intangibility to wade through the tension. One wrong glance at the wrong Matoran could set off a brawl. All around, Matoran pressed in, trying to get a glimpse at the wreckage of the once-glorious Great Temple. Ginsa, standing with a group of colleagues, could only see smoke rising somewhere just off the coast. She had come straight from her synthetics lab, curious as to why none of the students she was tutoring for the semester showed up. In fact, almost the entire school building was empty. She’d joined a small trickle of Ga-Matoran, and they’d soon enough found themselves drawn to this chaos. 
 
    The Cobalt Guard, in conjunction with the Fire Brands and the Conservators had barricaded the boulevard, but that didn’t stop the city from crowding into the adjacent streets. More pockets of the law enforcement divisions had placed themselves within the crowd, de-escalating a brawl or skirmish occasionally before it could fan out into a full-blown riot. 
 
     Snippets of only the most obnoxious could be heard through the unsettled din of the crowds, shifting anxiously. 
 
    “It’s a sign from the Great Spirit!” someone shouted. 
 
    “No, you dolt! It’s a sign from the sculptors!” another replied. “They’re taking us all to Karzahni with them!” 
 
    “Watch your mouth, icicle-farmer!” 
 
    “Big talk, coming from a failed test driver!” 
 
    And not far away, “Can you believe it?” 
 
    “Where’s the Turaga? Why isn’t he doing anything?” 
 
    “He died in the explosion, that’s what I heard!”
 
    “He lives in the Coliseum, Ruki-brain!” 
 
    There was a surge in Ginsa’s section of the mass of Matoran, as a cluster of Le-Matoran lunged at two Fire Brands who had been jostled too close for their liking. Many nearby stumbled and fell, and more than a few blows were exchanged, before Po-Matoran and Ga-Matoran pulled the two groups apart. 
 
    It was getting hard to breathe. Ginsa elbowed those around her, trying to get some space. She found herself surrounded by unfamiliar masks, the full glare of the twin suns magnifying the sense of unfamiliarity and hostility everywhere. This was not Metru Nui. Not the Metru Nui she knew.  
 
    “I heard a Cobalt got crushed trying to salvage some artifacts,” a Ko-Matoran a few feet away said to his brother beside him. 
 
    “I saw. The medics said she’ll be lucky if she only loses her legs,” the other said grimly. 
 
    Other voices began to chime in. 
 
    “This feuding is getting out of hand. Why is nobody doing anything?” 
 
    “Obviously someone did try to do something! That’s what this was! This is why we can’t trust anyone!”     
 
    “Next thing you know, the Archivists will be tunneling up into our homes and the Po-Matoran will be throwing hostages to the canyon creatures for sport.” 
 
    There was a rough couple minutes of jostling and accusations and short-tempered outbursts as a large troop of Po-Matoran from the Po-Metru Garrison marched in. They remained stoic and did an admirable job ignoring those around them. A show of force? 
 
    “Watch it!” Ginsa pushed back at an Onu-Matoran beside her. 
 
    “It wasn’t me!” He raised his arms defensively. 
 
     It wasn't me, either, she thought.
 
    Why did she feel like it was? All of it?
 
    Ginsa realized with sudden clarity that she had to get out of here. 
 
    This was her fault. 
 
    Nuok promised nobody would get hurt. 
 
    But he was trash, barely fit for his own incinerators. Why would his promises be any better? 
 
    If only she had known. 
 
    She should have known. She cursed herself. 
 
    She could have pushed harder, asked him what he was really planning. She never would have agreed to this. This was a scene straight out out of Karzahni. 
 
    The synthetics student whipped her head this way and that, trying to find some way out. Armor, limbs, masks, bright reflections off of all of them, blinding. 
 
    The air. They were using up all the air around her.
 
    There were entirely too many Matoran around. 
 
    Matoran that would no doubt turn and tear her to shreds if they knew, if they suspected, that she’d been the cause of this tragic havoc. Or, at least, she’d made way for it to happen, let it happen. It was the same, surely.
 
    Surely? 
 
    There! That unmistakable flash of crimson. It was Nuok. It had to be. 
 
    He was here to expose her. Set her up as the fall-Matoran. She knew it. 
 
    “I have to get out of here,” she said. She never knew if it was said aloud or not. 
 
    Ginsa tried as hard as she could to find enough air, but there really just wasn’t enough to go around. This was probably why the Turaga never hosted events in the Coliseum anymore. So many Matoran. 
 
    She flinched, as the shouting around her became louder. The shoves and bumps were becoming unbearable. 
 
    Somewhere. 
 
    There had to be space somewhere. 
 
    “Hey.” 
 
    Ginsa yelped involuntarily as another student came up beside her, gently putting an arm around her. 
 
    “You don’t look well,” the student said. “Come on, let’s get somewhere less crowded.” 
 
    “Crowded,” Ginsa repeated, still casting about desperately for a way out. 
 
    “I don’t like it either,” the student said. “I never dreamed it would get this crowed so fast. Excuse me, sorry. Sorry, I need to get through.” The student, soft-spoken as she was, miraculously was able to make her way toward the outskirts of the crowd, a slightly hyperventilating Ginsa safely in tow. 
 
    Before Ginsa knew it, they were sitting on one of the low canal walls, and the student was handing a cup of water to her. “Here.” 
 
    Ginsa accepted it numbly. The student patted her back kindly, slowly, urging her to sip, not gulp, and just to count up and down for a little while. “Maybe count by twenty-sevens, or something complicated,” she suggested. 
 
    Somewhere in the mid 1,200’s, Ginsa finally was able to focus on the cup in her hands, and take a tentative sip. And another. It was difficult. She hadn’t even noticed how much she had been trembling. 
 
    “Wha-What’s your name?” Ginsa asked her helper, too exhausted to be ashamed or embarrassed, or even wonder what had happened to her. Slowly, everything began to come back into focus. She hadn’t realized it had ever slipped out of focus. 
 
    “I'm...you don’t remember me?” the Ga-Matoran asked, trying not to let the little bit of hurt show on her mask. “I’m Hahli. You were an assistant teacher in two of my classes last year.” 
 
    Ginsa shook her head, still a bit dazed. “I can’t remember every student.”
 
    “I understand.” Hahli nodded, and refilled Ginsa’s water. 
 
    Everything this little Hahli was doing for her, for no reason, began to sink in, just a bit. It was strange. Did she expect something in return? Better grades the next time Ginsa taught one of her classes? A position on a research team? Trying to pin an ulterior motive was exhausting, Ginsa found, and she just couldn’t find the energy to wrack her brains to dig more. But if the student was being nice, it was probably best to at least try and say something nice in return. The strict and unspoken give and take of niceties was so tiring. "If I saw your handwriting, I’d recognize it,” Ginsa tried. It had always been one of her favorite parts of being an assistant teacher, grading the students’ assignments. 
 
    “It’s insane, isn’t it?” the student nodded at the crowd instead, not knowing exactly what else to say.
 
    “The crowds?” They were now safely two blocks away.
 
    “How frightened everyone is.” 
 
    Ginsa bobbed her head, reigning in her frazzled thoughts. Something the Matoran beside her said reminded her vaguely of something else.
 
    “Wait! Are you okay? Where are you going?” Hahli stood with Ginsa, as the latter stumbled to her feet. “I can help you.” 
 
    “The library,” Ginsa said, with no intention of going there. “I need to go to the library.” 
 
    The student nodded. “It’s quiet there. Will you be okay?” She stood back, as Ginsa shook her off, clearly wanting to help, still. 
 
    But a flustered ‘thank you’ and dismissive wave were the only response Hahli got. She watched until Ginsa turned and took the road toward the block of buildings that served as the School’s library. 
 
    It was the same road that would take Ginsa to Ta-Metru. 
 

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    Larker frowned at his directive tablet. “That can’t be sure-right,” he said, and showed Subi the instructions. “See? It’s an outdated storage district. Is this a prank-joke? Am I supposed to test-prove myself?” The Ussal nipper blinked at him and then decided turning in circles would be more worthwhile than listening to him. 
 
    As an employee for Phase Dragon Enterprises, he’d signed on to run some errands for them, which he didn’t mind. It couldn’t be that much different from when he’d had his own delivery business. Except he had to give up a quarter of the profit and wear a stupid Phase Dragon Enterprises badge when he was on the job. 
 
    The Le-Matoran hopped out of the flatbed of his leased Phase Dragon cargo hauler and walked around the rear of the small truck. He held down the small lever that lowered the loading ramp from underneath the bed of the truck. The delivery the company had given him was a single, moderate sized crate of unspecified equipment to an address in an old storage sub-district. It hadn’t been used by businesses since the Moto-Hubs had been built. There were mostly outdated vehicle parts and spent energy cells stored there, as far as he was aware. Sometimes Matoran from the closest residential district had drone races there, but otherwise, it was pretty abandoned. For good reason to, it was so far away - all the way on the tail of Le-Metru. 
    
    The tail was the city’s biggest peninsula, or at least, all the Le-Matoran believed so. The only real business there were shipping businesses, who ran actual ships, as in, in the water. And, since the seagates had closed, not much business came through that way. Sometimes, when there was a new class of airship haulers being produced, they used the huge lots and crashpads there to test air vehicles. But again, with all the trouble in the city, time and energy that would have been spent on new inventions had been channeled into … other things. 
 
    “You’re no use-help,” Larker grunted, having bodily shoved the equipment crate up the ramp himself. “We’ve gotta get you into the Ga-Metru schools for some Ussal lesson-classes.” The nipper, dizzy from his circle-spinning, had flopped himself on the cockpit floor of the cargo hauler, panting slightly, and chittering to himself. He couldn’t even be bothered to watch as Larker strapped down the crate, double-checked the foremost treads on the hauler, and hopped into the control cockpit with him. “You’re getting to old-big for this,” the Matoran told his pet. Subi was probably due for a molt soon. It was a messy, smelly process, and Larker was not looking forward to it. 
 
    The Matoran deftly threw his hauler into gear. One hand controlled the throttle, and the other controlled the steering mechanism. It was the simplest vehicle control interface currently in model. He merged into one of the lane designated for business travel on the highway, and whistled at the traffic headed in the other direction, in all three lanes - personal, business, and expedited. Most highways had multiple business lanes, as that was probably more than eighty percent of the city’s traffic. Today, there was an insane amount of traffic headed north. Thankfully, that was the opposite direction of where he had to go. As he drove, there were more and more vehicles piling onto the opposite lane. Twice, he saw vehicles ahead of him exit, only to see them merging into the north-running route, a few kio down the road. Was there some sort of event he’d not heard about? Perplexed, he drove on. He should have asked the Matoran in the Moto Hub when he stopped by to get his assignment. But, he remembered, it had been unusually empty, barebones staffing, if he’d had to guess. 
 
    Little traffic going his direction afforded him speedy travel, but he balked at the idea of the return trip. Perhaps it would have cleared, by that time. Larker double checked the address on the directive tablet, and pulled off the main highway down an exit ramp that led straight to a large, mostly empty parking lot. He made short work unloading the crate, but had some trouble trying to load it onto the small, flatbed dolly he’d taken with him from the Moto-Hub. One day, hopefully within the next few molts, Subi would be able to start helping him with things like this. 
 
    “Come on, little shell-buddy. You can’t stay here alone,” Larker said. “I know it’s bright-day, but still.” 
 
    Subi pretended not to hear him. 
 
    “You’re a wreck-wretch,” Larker grumbled, and began pushing the crate toward the pedestrian street, waving as the one other cargo-hauler in the lot began trundling toward the highway. It looked like it was carrying away crates of debris to be melted down. “Hey, wait!” Larker called, running toward the driver, who he vaguely recognized. “Do you know what’s happening? All the rush-traffic, headed north?” 
 
    The driver shifted his hauler into idling mode, and hopped out. “I was wondering the like-same. I heard it’s all headed toward Ga-Metru.” 
 
    “Ga-Metru? Is it a skiff race?” Larker asked. 
 
    “No, we probably would have heard about it, you know, for move-hauling?” the other driver shook his head. The cargo haulers of the city, or at least of Le-Metru, tried to keep one another in the loop about good job opportunities. “If it’s something we should know-hear, I’m sure the Turaga will telecast it.” 
 
    Larker found himself nodding in agreement. 
 
    “When did you start work-hauling for the Enterprise, anyways?” the other driver asked. 
 
    “When the Archives cancelled all their business with us,” Larker told him. This was one of those interactions where they both recognized each other, but clearly neither could remember the other’s name. But clearly this other driver remembered more about Larker than Larker remembered about him. And now he felt bad. Larker hated these types of interactions, no matter how pleasant otherwise. “How are you holding out?”
 
    “Not too poor-bad. I’ve picked up lots of work with our stone-brothers,” the other said. “I can do some asking around for you, if you’re interested.” 
 
    “I’ll safe-keep that in mind, thanks,” Larker said, nodding. “Happy-safe driving!”
 
    “Happy-safe driving,” the other driver returned the farewell. It was a commonly used irony between Le-Matoran drivers, who understood each other well enough on the road, but were often considered reckless and a threat to public tranquility outside their own Metru. And, what the rest of the city would consider ‘safe’ driving is not what a Le-Matoran would consider ‘happy’. Thus, ‘happy’ came first, and ‘safe’ came second. 
 
    “Oh, now you’re up.” Larker shook his head as Subi skittered across the parking lot toward him. “No, I didn’t leave-forget you. Come on, let’s get this delivery over-done and go see what all that clamor-fuss in the north is about.”  
 
    It took Larker a good half an hour to find the address, everything looked the same. Subi was content to follow along without a complaint. They heard one more debris-clearing hauler in the distance, but that was about it. Larker hesitantly tried a padlocked door, before realizing he’d gone one street too far, and had to back track. 
 
    Reaching the right address, and mildly irritated, he knocked on the metallic door to the large storage building. There was one window in the door, tinted, and high-up rows of windows ringing the one-story building, and three large bay doors. After a moment, he knocked again, louder. His directive tablet didn’t have any lock code to get into the building, nor instructions to simply drop the crate and pick up his payment elsewhere. Sighing, he tried pushing the door open, then realized it was a pull door, and it was open. 
 
    He knocked one more time, then pulled open the door, wheeling the crate through first, and followed. He’d just leave it inside the door, and go ask the sub-district administrator from the Enterprise what he was supposed to do. It was a mostly empty building, with a wide open floor broken up only by the support pillars, and some crates, pallets, and barrels piled here and there, mostly along the walls. 
 
    “Hello?” he called. “I have one box-crate from Phase Dragon Enterprises?” The sub-division administrator said that this was a delivery run they did twice a year. “Hello?” 
 
    Larker was almost knocked over as Subi scampered past him, gibbering excitedly.
 
    “Hey! This isn’t an adventure-trip! Get back here!” Larker stomped after the nipper. It was probably his fault for not getting the young crab enough exercise. But, if Subi were big enough to help with errands, it wouldn’t be a problem. “Subi! That’s not yours! Get away from those barrels! Come back, if you know what’s healthy-good for you!” The nipper was running in circles around a pillar surrounded by crates and barrels. “I don’t want to happy-play, okay? I just want to-“ 
 
    Larker yelped, and almost fainted when a dark shape dropped from the ceiling right in front of him, and slammed him into the ground. 
 
    “Who are you? How did you find this place?” his assailant demanded. Whoever, whatever she was, she was a good deal larger than he, and much stronger. Subi was squealing, somewhere nearby. 
 
    The shocked Le-Matoran sputtered inarticulately, trying to get a good look at whatever was pinning him down. 
 
    “How did you find this place?” she growled, shaking him. 
 
    “De-delivery,” he gasped, and waved his directive tablet weakly. 
 
    His assailant snatched it, glanced at it, and discarded it. “Who are you?” she repeated. 
 
    “Larker! Just Larker. Just a happy-safe delivery driver, trying to survive,” he cried. “I’d really like to survive.” 
 
    He felt the pressure holding him down, over his heartlight, disappear. Carefully, he sat up, and saw his assailant crouching, watching him closely, as if trying to assess every individual muscle-fibre twitch. The two stared at each other warily. 
 
    “Your Ussal isn’t very brave,” she finally said. “He also said you’re an impatient brakas with him, but he likes you anyways, and says not to hurt you.” 
 
    Still flabbergasted, Larker said nothing. 
 
    She watched him through slit-pupiled, green eyes, undoubtedly ready to spring into action, tip of her tail twitching in anticipation. 
 
    “Why would you close-listen to a silly nipper?” Larker asked, although, as he said it, realized it was not the most important question he could have asked. 
 
    But she seemed to find it amusing, at least. “He may be silly, but Ussal don’t usually follow bad characters. Not willingly.” 
 
    Immediate danger passed, the nipper in question had resumed his romp around that same pillar. “I don’t know what got into him,” Larker muttered, mostly to himself. This stranger didn’t seem to care about the delivery, and Larker doubted he would be getting paid. He certainly didn’t want to ask. 
 
    The stranger sighed, looking pensive. “Larker, I’m going to have to ask you for help.” 
 
    The Matoran didn’t quite feel he had the option of saying ‘no’. 
 
    “Larker, my name is Erylist, and I’m trying to help your city. But I can’t do it alone. Things are escalating quickly, many lives are on the line.” She offered him a hand up. 
 
    “Are you a Toa-hero?” he asked. 
 
    She let out a short laugh. “No. But I’ve worked with Toa before.” 
 
    “I didn’t think so. A Toa-hero probably wouldn’t lead off with the smash-slamming into the ground,” the Matoran said, and finally took her hand. 
 
    Erylist found this amusing, and hauled him to his feet. She apologized quickly, and then asked carefully, “Have you heard anything recently about the Great Temple?” 
 
    “The Temple? No, why?” Even as he asked, he started to get a bad feeling in his gut. The endless traffic headed north - headed toward Ga-Metru. 
 
    “You haven’t heard?” She looked surprised. “Well, something happened there, last night. I think I know someone who witnessed it all firsthand. I need your help, because he won’t talk to me.”
 
    “I don’t blame him, if that’s how you meet-greet people,” Larker grumbled, dusting himself off.  Erylist laughed at this, and Larker felt his terror slipping away slowly. He was also intrigued. What was going on with the Great Temple? What did this powerful stranger know about it? 
 
    “I’ll keep that in mind for next time,” she chuckled. “Shall we?” She turned toward where Subi was still running loops and began walking. 
 
    “You can’t just say-tell?” Larker asked warily, but followed, despite himself. 
 
    Erylist grimaced to herself, because what she needed to show Larker, what she needed his help with, would certainly not encourage him to put much confidence in her.  'I’ve been keeping a battered Matoran captive in my basement’, would send poor Larker screaming for the law enforcement, probably. She also doubted that Larker would follow her willingly through the trapdoor in the ground. Were she him, she certainly wouldn’t. 
 
    She shooed the nipper away, because he had indeed been circling her trapdoor. It led to a single room that she’d been using as her sleeping chamber, until very recently. “It’s easier to show you,” was all she said, throwing the hatch open and descending a steep but short staircase. 
 
    Larker was quite apprehensive, she was pleased to see. It would do no good to be allied with an overly-trusting air-head, as she’d found many stereotypes about Le-Matoran to be based in truth. His Ussal nipper, however, was eager to follow her down the stairs, and clacked his claws and whined impatiently when he couldn’t.
 
    “It’s safe,” she promised, not blaming him for simply looking at her skeptically. “Lightstones and all. Just poke your head in and see, if you want.” 
 
    And so, Larker did just that. 
 
    Erylist gestured to a dirty-armored Ta-Matoran huddled on a thin sleeping pallet, eyes squeezed shut. “He won’t talk to me,” she said again. “Perhaps you can try?” 
 
    Larker cautiously descended the stairs, and Subi stretched his out pinchers after him, very sad to be left behind. But Larker’s eyes were fixed on the Ta-Matoran. “What’s wrong with him? Is he head-hurt?” 
 
    “I don’t know. Shock? He woke up a few hours ago, and has been like this ever since.” 
 
    Larker landed in a small, plain chamber with only the bed pallet and an up-side down crate that served as a small stand, where the lightstone lay. There were a few more small crates under the stairs. He sat down next to the other Matoran, nudging him gently. “Fire-brother, are you okay?” 
 
    The Matoran shook his head, and pulled his knees to his chest, hugging them fiercely. 
 
    “I should leave you two,” Erylist said. Perhaps if she weren’t present, the Ta-Matoran would talk to Larker. She wasn’t used to being feared on sight, and she couldn’t say she much cared for it.
 
    “Nuh-uh. I don’t want you up there where you can shut-lock me down here,” Larker said. 
 
    Erylist rather liked his answer. “I’ll wait on the stairs, then.” This answer seemed to please both Larker and his anxious Ussal. 
 
    Larker tried again, and said softly, “My name is Larker, from Le-Metru. I work doing drop-deliveries around our city-home. What’s your name, brother?” 
 
    The Ta-Matoran cracked one eye open, then opened both. He turned his head to look Larker straight in the Huna, and whispered, “I’m Rofto, and I killed the Great Spirit.” 
 

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    Nuok barely noticed the sounds of an approaching ruckus from his office, situated above the working floor of eastern Ta-Metru’s foremost foundry. His control panel lay spread out below large, tinted windows that gave him a view of the entire floor, and were strong enough to stop a charging Kikanalo, or so his workers assured him. Even if Nuok could have been bothered to look up from reviewing the systems report, he probably wouldn’t have cared that there was a small swarm of Ta-Matoran making its way along one of the B-level perimeter catwalks, quickly approaching the landing that doubled as his office’s observation deck. He only looked up when his office door slammed open, almost knocking over the row of small stasis tubes in the corner. His workers knew better than to barge in on him. And so, he was not entirely surprised when he found himself Matatu-to-Pakari with an enraged Ginsa, with his aides and foremen floundering and sputtering excuses and apologies to him in her wake. He waved them off with a severe 'I’ll deal with you later' glare, and they were all too happy to flee.  He stood to welcome the Ga-Matoran. She still wore her heavy-duty lab coat. 
    
    “Ginsa. To what do I owe the pleasure? Did class let out early?” he asked, and his patronizing undertone did not go unnoticed. “Please, come in. I-“ He ducked as she whipped a sealed vial at his head. It shattered against the far wall, bubbling and hissing and emitting a foul stench. 
    
    “Nuok!” she cried, voice shrill. “What did you do?!?” The pitch of her voice rose with every syllable. She readied another test tube, this one glowing ominously, and advanced menacingly toward him. 
 
    “By all means, make yourself at home,” Nuok smiled easily, although he was thrown off by all this rage. Perhaps he'd underestimated Ginsa. He could use rage, though, to his advantage. He made his way toward her, his welcoming body language at odds with her hostile one. “Sit down, let’s talk this out,” he said, gesturing to his vacant office chair. “With words,” he added, as he drew level with her, and she raised her vial as though to smash it on his head. “I’m just getting the door. Can I presume what you are here to talk about is something that you don’t want the whole foundry to hear?” 
 
    Ginsa found herself standing by Nuok’s chair, but refused to sit. She wasn’t entirely sure how she’d made her way all the way across his office. The overseer closed his office door, and adopted a relaxed posture, one arm resting idly on the display rack of half a dozen small stasis tubes, barely the size of his arm. 
 
    “You never told me you were going to blow up the Great Temple!” she shouted at him, clenching the glowing vial in her fist and brandishing it at him again. Nuok winced inwardly. Even though there was no way anyone on the floor could make out what they were saying, he was a bit paranoid about bugs, since Ginsa’s report last week about unofficial Cobalt spying. “We set a small chemical fire in a lab building, call the Cobalts to report it, and wake up the next morning to that! I never would have agreed, if I had even the slightest idea!”
 
    I know, Nuok thought, but didn’t say as much. He wanted her to keep talking. He began fidgeting with the cap of one of the stasis tubes, trying to look sorry. He even said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to tell you more, because the more you know, the more danger you’d be in.” 
 
    She scoffed at him, an ugly sound. “And you said nobody would get hurt!” 
 
    “Well, did anyone get hurt?” he pressed. He was curious, he hadn’t been to the scene of the wreck yet, although many of his workers had shown up late after going to see for themselves, along with half the city, the smoking remains of the Great Temple. 
 
    “I-I don’t know,” Ginsa said, trembling. She was frightened. But Nuok didn’t want her to stop and think about why she might be frightened. 
 
    “What are they saying, Ginsa?” he asked.
 
     “They said they didn’t find any bodies, and nobody checked into any infirmary stations in the area last night.” As she spoke, she found her legs weakening, and she all but collapsed into Nuok’s chair. “Nuok, what did you do?” she asked again, weakly. 
 
    Nuok smiled, and tightened the cap of the stasis tube he’d been fiddling with. “We’re one step closer to getting your lab funding, Ginsa. You and your Magisterials have done well. Suffice to say, it was only a matter of finding a daydreamer, giving him a lightstone, and sending him to the Toa Suva with a pack of Po-Matoran carving tools and explosives.” 
 
    Ginsa simply shook her head at him, aghast. “I’m an accomplice.” 
 
    Nuok ignored her, and asked instead, “What else are the Cobalts saying?” 
 
    “I couldn’t get close,” she answered, sounding tired, eyes fixed on her lap. “They’ve closed the causeway, only the policing forces are there. I even saw some Ko-Matoran headed there. None of the schools are in session today. I heard the Turaga is going to see it himself.” 
 
    “Good. Ginsa, we need them to blame the carvers. They can’t find out we were behind this. If word got out that a Ga-Matoran helped bomb her own district…” he trailed off, letting the implication sink in. 
 
    She glared up at him. “Go to Karzahni.” 
 
    “Eventually,” he chuckled.
 
    Ginsa dropped her gaze back to her lap, shaking her head slowly and occasionally murmuring something to herself. 
 
   The Ta-Matoran opened the door to his office, but made no comment that Ginsa should leave. It wasn’t a terrible thing to have her where he could literally keep an eye on her, as the shock of what they’d just pulled off settled. He went about organizing his desk, wheeling the desk chair with the Ga-Matoran out of his way as needed. Although he appeared business-minded, going through files and record tablets and inventory sheets, his mind raced elsewhere.  
 
    He’d had a small troop of his Incinerators waiting to pull the remains of his daydreamer from the wreckage, if need be. It would do no good if the city found the body of a Ta-Matoran in the wreckage. Only the remains of the carver’s tools. But his Incinerators had yet to report back to him, and Ginsa said that the Cobalts hadn’t found any body. His Incinerators had instructions that, if Rofto had survived, to make sure he didn’t talk. If they didn’t send someone to report to him by the end of the work day, he’d signal for a meeting that night. They were few in number, just over a dozen and a half, but with the high stakes game he was running, he couldn’t afford to bring in anyone extra. In selecting his inner circle, he’d carefully chosen Matoran in positions of influence, to sweep most of working Ta-Metru to his side in a matter of days, if need be. He wanted more information on the insurgent group of students which Ginsa had rounded up. 
 
    Davanu and his Moles were working on obtaining more tunneling permissions, but time for permissions and permits was a luxury that, as of last night, they could no longer afford. He’d need to pay the Archivist a visit. 
 
    He also needed to push to get one of his Matoran into the Turaga’s next council meeting. The list of things he needed to do kept growing and growing.
 
    “Ginsa, if you don’t mind, I have a lot of work to do today,” he said finally. She stood and pushed past him. “And, Ginsa,” he said, and she paused in the doorway, glaring at him. “I’m not one of your professors, I don’t have open office hours. I’d appreciate if you kept that in mind, in the future.” 
 
    She slammed the door behind her, and Nuok could only smile. He fetched one of the stasis tubes from the display rack, slightly loosened the seal, set it on his desk. At his control panel, he punched in a quick request to have a Matoran come take care of the reeking mess that Ginsa's shattered vial, and sat down to work. There was no turning back now. 
 

 
    
Edited by Aderia
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Posted (edited)
Chapter 7: Bleeding City
 

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    “Why can’t you just let me be a disappointment?” Aulto grumbled. This was an old argument, and he started it half-heartedly. He could guess what his mentor would say next. 
 
    “Just copy the scrolls,” renowned scholar Ihu said, surprising his assistant-turned-apprentice. Some days Ihu would spend the time to philosophize Aulto out of his determined trench of self-pity, but not today. “I know you’re just trying to get out of scribing.”
 
     Their usual argument went something along the lines of, “Everyone expects me to fail, maybe it’s just easier to let me.” To which Ihu would raise an amused eye-ridge and reply, “Well, now. If you succeed in meeting their expectations, you can’t be a failure, now can you?” And Aulto would usually shoot back some bitter line about the rotten expectations of Metru Matoran and their society, which gave Ihu the in he needed to wax poetic to his heart-light’s content about ethics and why their work in the knowledge towers deriving values from the Great Spirit himself and working tirelessly to find ways to effect change in their city’s establishments and societal structures to build in those values. It was a 50-50 toss up from there. Aulto would either engage in discussion, playing a sharp Karzahni’s advocate when he needed for the sake of the discussion, or tune out entirely and finally get down to whatever assignment he was avoiding. 
 
        The wheelchair-bound apprentice harrumph-ed, and motored himself over to his own desk, disappearing behind the stacks of blank tablets and fading scrolls from the Centuries of Lore. Of course, Aulto had just about spent more time complaining about copying outdated information and theories from the decaying scrolls onto stone tablets than it may have taken him to just do the work. He was determined not to be brilliant, and it was an act that only Metru Nui’s foremost scholar had the wisdom and fortitude to see through. 
 
    “The important question, Aulto,” Ihu knew he would ask one day, when Aulto was ready, “is whether or not you expect yourself to be a disappointment.” Ihu shook his head and made his way to his own workspace. He himself had a mount of scrolls to translate, as well as some rare tomes to start documenting. 
 
     Not even a quarter hour into their work, Aulto sent a reference aide out with a file request, and the unfortunate aide was slammed in the mask on his way out the door as said door burst open, letting in a storm that was Turaga Arrakio. 
 
    “Aides, assistants! Out!” the Turaga barked, harsh syllables echoing from the crystalline walls and high-vaulted ceiling of the pinnacle chamber of the knowledge tower - Ihu’s preferred study. 
 
    Ihu gave a slight incline of his head when his various assistants looked toward him for permission, and said guardedly, “Turaga. What brings you to my study at this unexpected hour?”  
 
    “Grave dealings, I’m afraid,” Arrakio murmured. The last of the extraneous Ko-Matoran shut the study doors behind them. “Hello, Aulto. I’m glad to see you getting along well after your accident,” the Turaga added cursorily as the apprentice scholar steered his wheeled chair out from his workspace. If being chosen as Ihu’s apprentice hadn’t drawn the ire of the other aides and aspiring scholars who made up half of the Metru, being privy to closed-door meetings with the Turaga and the Scholar Nui surely had. Not enough to be Ihu’s favorite. Had to polish the Turaga's armor, too. 
 
    “Thank you, Turaga,” Aulto nodded deferentially. “Shall I call for the others?” The Turaga’s presence in the Silent Metru usually only meant one thing. 
 
    “No, no need to call together the whole Optimacy. This won’t take long. I trust you will disseminate information as needed.” 
 
    “I really can’t keep bending over backwards at your every whim to run your information network,” Ihu said curtly. As one of the Turaga’s oldest friends in the city, Ihu was one of the few Matoran who could speak candidly with impunity with the city’s sovereign. “I do have a rather secure career as a scholar that I happen to love, and I don’t want it jeopardized for espionage.” He grimaced ever so slightly, as if that last word tasted sour as it left his mouth. Because, who were they fooling? That's exactly what it was. Some of it, corporate espionage. 
 
    “There’s been a bombing at the Great Temple,” Arrakio said, ignoring Ihu. “All evidence points to the Rioteers.” 
 
    Ihu scowled. He had made a conscious effort and spent many hours rationalizing to himself, to make sure his position as the Great City’s undisputed foremost and most respected scholar didn’t make him conceited. As one who spent so much time up on the top, most esoteric floors of the Knowledge Towers, Ihu knew the moment he used that vantage point to start looking down on others, he was lost. Work was not more important that brothers or sisters in need, nor the city itself, which was why he agreed to work with the Optimacy network in the first place. But as the conflict in the city multiplied and grew more and more convoluted, simple, one-size-fits-all solutions evaporated. The time and patience it took to craft optimal solutions for everyone was simply not available - by the time any semblance of an answer was reached, the problem had hopelessly outgrown it. Turaga’s brusque manner and ever-increasing demands had only grown over the decades, growing in abrasiveness with the tension in the city, and it did have a way of needling through Ihu's armor. Yes, they were old friends, but they weren’t close friends. Not anymore. “All our information indicates that malcontent activity from Po-Matoran is focused on disrupting and rerouting supply chains away from Ta-Metru and Onu-Metru. Why, for all the pure protodermis in Artakha, would they go after the Ga-Matoran?” 
 
    “That’s what we need to find out,” the Turaga said. He turned sharply to Aulto. “We still have no idea who’s behind all this chaos in Po-Metru?” 
 
    Aulto’s branch of Optimacy work was focused on their stone-brothers. He’d gone in, a few decades ago, back when he was just an aide, with the cover story of studying the aesthetics employed by the sculptors. No one would have guessed that his research would end with both legs paralyzed when the assembly village where he was hosted was suddenly turned into Po-Metru’s newest canyon, courtesy of an enraged Troller worm. Aulto was lucky to be alive. Many said he should have died - even said it to his face. 'Worthless ‘facto.’ ‘Should have been widgets.' 'Waste of protodermis.’
 
     Pity. That’s the only reason Aulto had been chosen for the coveted role of apprentice to the city’s most prestigious scholar. That’s what they said. 
 
    “We still haven’t found their headquarters,” Aulto reported, tired frustration surfacing in his admittance. “That is, if they even have one. And my contact in the Garrison has gone silent. I have a friend who’s a Voweler I’ll have to reach out to. I’ll get a report to you by midweek, Turaga.” The Assemblers, Engineers, Inventors, and Originator’s Unison of Po-Metru, also called the A.E.I.O.U, or just the Vowelers were the next most likely group to know anything about supply lines and hold any useful information. Whether or not they’d be willing to talk was an entirely different matter. The instigators in Po-Metru were proving surprisingly and almost bafflingly difficult to identify, much less pin down. 
  
  “You do good work, Aulto,” the Turaga said. He meant it kindly, and as a word of thanks, Aulto was sure, but it sounded quite patronizing. 
 
    I never asked for your favor, Aulto thought at the Turaga’s back. 
 
    "Ihu,” Arrakio said, having turned back to the eminent scholar. "I want redoubled scrutiny into any illicit Le-Metru activity. We know they’ve made nice with Po-Metru. I want a cross-reference on incidents and disturbances from the past two years. It’s not inconceivable that their radicals could collaborate. ” 
 
   Were he more daring, Aulto would have scoffed aloud at this suggestion. If the Turaga had ever met a Po-Matoran or a Le-Matoran, he would know they were too similar and too different in all the wrong ways. While working together as part of a business deal to take down a common competitor wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, deliberate collusion to not just organize but also implement an entire inter-Metru embargo and calculated economic upheaval that would settle in their favor was an entirely different game. And yet, the all the whispers and pieces that were slowly, slowly falling together seemed to be pointing in that direction. 
 
    “Improbable,” Ihu said measuredly. “But stranger things have happened.”
 
    “Regardless, something is going on,” Arrakio said. “Rumors of a Toa are circulating again, both in Po-Metru, and now in Le-Metru. That can’t be a coincidence.” 
 
    “What?” Aulto started. “And Le-Metru now?” 
    
    “It was part of Jaa’s report two weeks ago,” Ihu said quietly. 
 
    Two weeks ago, Aulto had been at the Physician’s School in Ga-Metru. They were still trying to get his legs working again. There were many a biomechanics student hoping Aulto would be their big breakthrough. And for his part, Aulto didn’t mind being their lab Kinloka. If there were a chance, however small, that they could fix him, he’d take it. Anything for his fellow Ko-Matoran to see him as one of them, not just an unfortunate allocation of resources on wheels. Because they were his fellow Ko-Matoran. He was one of them, despite what some of them said, and surely many more of them believed. 
 
    “Ihu, if you would accompany me to the records room,” Arrakio turned for the door. “I have a public address to make this afternoon.” Pouring over old addresses, especially from times of prosperity, in hopes of reminding this floundering city what it had been and what it could be, seemed as good a place to start as any.  
 
    Aulto lazily flipped a hand in acknowledgment to the Turaga’s equally dismissive wave goodbye, and shrugged at Ihu’s non-committal, broad gesture that said, “I have no idea when I’ll be back.” Fine by me, Aulto thought. He’d look up that report from Jaa he’d missed. He'd never admit it to his mentor, but he really did love his work with the Optimacy. He thought he liked scholar work, which is how he ended up in a Knowledge Tower to begin with - and why not? It's where everyone wanted to be. But scholar's work paled in comparison to his assignments for the Optimacy. He should also follow up with the two other Optimacy agents who reported to him. They wouldn’t be happy that there had been yet another meeting with just the Turaga and Ihu. And Aulto.
 
    For the nineteenth time that day, Aulto wondered what being a normal Ko-Matoran would be like. Then, maybe he’d be free to overthink the things that mattered, such as his work. Perhaps he’d actually find the dry Centuries of Lore fascinating. No. He stopped himself. He was a normal Ko-Matoran. He wasn’t supposed to be widgets in someone’s pouch, or part of some cargo hauler somewhere, despite what some other said. He wasn’t supposed to be decommissioned at the end of the millennia, like he’d heard two of the aides saying earlier that week. He just knew that he was supposed to be, and that was the truth of it. 
 
    But what did it matter, if it was true or not, if nobody believed it? 
 
    ‘Facto. It was was a pejorative for a small number of Matoran in the city who, up until about fifty years ago, were completely anonymous. But, in an attempt to blackmail the Turaga into moving some policies along faster and blocking other edicts here and there, an Onu-Matoran had stolen the names of the thirty-seven Matoran out of the Coliseum’s supposedly secure files, and published them. These thrity-seven Matoran weren’t created by the Great Spirit at the grand dawn of the world. These thirty-seven Matoran had been commissioned over the years by the city and by the Turaga to replace those they’d lost over the years. The city’s first Turaga, the one before Arrakio, had commissioned roughly a dozen. Aulto, after looking through the files for himself and cross-referencing dates and locations, knew he was the first factory-made Matoran that Turaga Arrakio had ‘created’, so to speak. That’s where the term ‘facto came from. Factory. Manufactured. Fake. There wasn’t a special term for the thrity-seven of them, because they weren’t supposed to be special. 
 
    But when the Ta-Matoran and Po-Matoran escalated their feud to affect the whole city, protodermis in all forms was becoming more and more scarce. Spare widgets were more and more difficult to come by. Matoran who had worked their way up to their own residences suddenly had to start moving back to the city-issued, low-quality, crowded tenements. And then the sea-gates closed and imports stopped. Matoran lost the little luxuries they’d come to find comforting. Then those in the out-of-city shipping industry lost their livelihoods, and the inter-Metru trade couldn’t handle the influx of Matoran needing work. Then the list of thirty-seven was published. The last thing the city needed was more Matoran to support. It’s not like the Turaga could just wave his hand and replace the dear brothers and sisters that had died over the centuries. It was almost like the only thing mattered was output, production, numbers. And yet, there were thirty-seven concrete pieces of evidence saying that yes, that’s exactly what had happened. 
 
    Shortly after that, Aulto had lost his legs. The subtle pity he had been met with after the list was first published became much less subtle, then. But it was when Ihu had named him apprentice scholar that the resentment had sprung up. And it hadn’t stopped growing. Aulto wasn’t sure if it ever would. Why should someone who had begun life as a support beam, or perhaps the hull of some trading vessel, be the one chosen by the Scholar Nui to excel? Well, he was sure others said, it’s not like he can really do anything else. I mean, just look at him. Poor thing. None of the other thirty-seven seemed to be quite in his predicament. 
 
    “Aulto,” Ihu had said one day, coming over and carefully rolling up the neglected scroll in front of his apprentice. It was nearly suns-down, and it was only scholar, apprentice, and two cleaning drones humming along the floor. “I shortlisted you to be my apprentice long before that list was ever made public. And I chose you because of how you handled the adversity.” Ihu chuckled here, and ventured, “Ko-Metru wants your job, Po-Metru took your legs, but here you are.” 
 
    Aulto had glanced at him. Ihu usually let him alone when he’d thought himself into a near-catatonic state. The scholar continued, “Even if you don’t get another widget’s worth of work done this year, I’m not going to change my mind. While I can’t say I know what you’re going through, or even that I understand you, I know what it’s like when nobody thinks you can succeed, including yourself. But I was given the Great Spirit’s second chance when I was in that place, and it’s a dishonor to him if I don’t do the same for you.
 
    “But please,” Ihu added, tying the scroll and giving him two quick pats on the shoulder. “Don’t actually go a whole year without getting any work done.” And the scholar had retired for the night, leaving one lightstone uncovered for him. 
 
    Aulto still hated himself for not being able to think of anything to say to his mentor in that moment. 
 
    But he had resolved to at least work harder, for Ihu’s sake. 
 
    And it was that resolve and that work that pushed him away from his still untouched scribing work and out of their Knowledge Tower, heading out of the Cold Metru entirely. 
 
 

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    “Well, um. I’m pretty certain-sure you didn’t kill the Great Spirit,” Larker told the frazzled Ta-Matoran beside him. “That’s impossible.” 
 
    Rofto shook his head adamantly. “It’s not. Because I did. I did it. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know. I’m sorry. Tell them I’m sorry. I killed him.” 
 
    Larker was at a loss for words. He looked to his new friend, if he could call her that, perched on the stairs. 
 
    ‘How?’ Erylist mouthed.
 
    “Rofto,” Larker asked. “How did you…kill the Great Spirit?” 
 
    The Ta-Matoran whimpered, and hugged his knees tighter to his chest, hiding his face against them. 
 
    “You won’t get in bad-trouble, you can tell me. We just want to hurry-help the city, and you.” 
 
    “There was a Toa stone,” he mumbled into his knees. “I had to take it to the Great Temple. He said.”
 
    “Who said, Rofto?” the Le-Matoran prompted. 
 
    “The overseer. He gave me the bag,” 
 
    “Overseer? Which-what overseer?”
 
    “The overseer,” Rofto waved an arm vaguely, still not looking up. “He never said the Toa stone was for me. But never said it wasn’t. I tried to look for someone else there, to give it to. I did. But there was no one. just wanted to do the right thing! I just wanted to make a difference outside the firepits! I would have given it up, if it were meant for someone else!” He looked up at Larker, pleading. 
 
    “Never-worry, we believe you.” When Rofto fearfully looked at the Midnighter on the stairs, he amended, “I believe you. I can’t speak for her.”
 
    Erylist watched them silently. 
 
    “A Toa of Shadow,” Rofto whispered. 
 
    “Uh, no. I don’t think-believe she is,” Larker said, although he wasn’t entirely sure. He still didn’t know what had happened at the Great Temple. “Rofto, what happened after you took your hero-stone to the Temple?” 
 
    “Mata Nui knew! He got angry. He knew the moment I believed the power was for me. I was selfish and I was never meant to be a Toa hero, I should never have listened on storytelling nights,” he ended in a sob. Larker tried to calm him, which took several minutes. 
 
    “What do you mean, fire-brother, that Mata Nui got angry-mad?” 
 
    “He knew I wasn’t supposed to be in his sacred temple, but I was there anyways. Bad things happened, because he was trying to stop me being there. I was just trying to help the city.”  He trailed off, giving valiant effort toward fending off another attack of sobs. 
 
    “Bad things?” Larker repeated, confused, and really wishing he’d followed the crowds to Ga-Metru that morning. 
 
    “From the little I’ve heard, there was a bombing at the Great Temple last night. I found him not far away, shortly after. He kept saying ‘I didn’t know’, and ‘I’m sorry’, and that he didn’t mean to," Eryilst said, not moving for fear of making Rofto’s condition worse. She also had to block the stairs, because impatient Subi had almost fallen down them twice, now. 
 
    “The overseer,” Larker murmured. He patted the Ta-Matoran gently on the back until he’d calmed down again. “Rofto, can you say-tell us who the overseer is? He’s your overseer?” 
 
    Rofto glanced from Larker to Erylist and back a few times. “I can’t. He’ll find out.” 
 
    “I’m not scarier than the overseer? A Toa of Shadow?” Erylist asked the Ta-Matoran, addressing him directly for the first time in the questioning. She was slightly offended by Rofto’s presumption, but wasn’t against using his mistake to her advantage, if it could be had. 
 
    “He’d fire me,” Rofto said softly, eyes wide. 
 
    “That’s ridiculous,” Erylist snapped. “Your entire city could be at stake, and you’re worried about your job?”
 
    “No, he’d fire me,” he whispered, eyes wide in fear. 
 
    Erylist glared at him. “I’m sure you could find other-“ 
 
    “His work-job is in the firepits, he said,” Larker realized, understanding what Rofto meant. “Have you been to a firepit?”  The Midnighter shook her head ‘no’. “Big  jet-geysers of fire for melting all sort-types of protodermis to reuse. And melting Matoran, if something goes oops-bad.  Careful-time a push-trip right, in goes a poor worker, the whoosh! It’s just another sad-accident. Fired.”
 
    Suddenly, Rofto sat upright and turned his entire torso toward Larker. “The Fire Brands. I have to go to them. Tell them everything. They can protect me. I have to get to the Fire Brands.” 
 
    Larker shrugged when Erylist looked at him questioningly. He didn’t know much about Ta-Metru’s enforcement division. “You need to rest and heal, before you go anywhere,” she told him, and Roto hunched back down under her slit-pupiled glare. “Now, where did you- hey!” The Midnighter flinched and whirled suddenly, somehow all in one motion, as a shrill screech from Subi tore her attention from the Matoran. “Get back here!” Faster than the eye could follow, she had bounded up the few stairs and back up through the floor-hatch, after the quickly-escaping nipper. 
 
    In a slight panic, Larker followed. He didn’t trust the Ta-Matoran to stay put, so he dragged Rofto after him. By the time they made it out of the small underground chamber, they saw Erylist’s tail disappearing out the door and into the deserted street. 
 
    Although Larker was muttering some exclusively Le-Matoran profanities to himself, Rofto was replying incorrectly but conversationally to them. But, to the Le-Matoran’s unabashed relief, he could see both nipper and Midnighter crouched on the corner of the block outside. Erylist stood tall, craning her neck toward the center of the city. “What is that?” 
 
    Larker hushed Rofto as he caught up to her. He could barely hear the broadcast from where they were, on the outskirts of the city. “It’s the city anthem-song. There are a few broadcast station-screens all over each Metru. It means the Turaga has word-news for us.”
 

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    “Faithful Matoran. It grieves me to my core, the reason I must address you today. In the past, we have together weathered storms, and always, always, come out stronger in the end. The strong-hearted Matoran of this city - you, have found ways to stay unified even as the entire world seemed to crumble away under conquests before our very eyes. In this time of fear, I must remind you that we are still the same city. We have it in us somewhere to stand together once more.” 
 
    The Turaga’s broadcast had immediately silenced the jam-packed plaza outside the remains of the Great Temple. Tengi was wedged on the outskirts of a group of her fellow Ga-students, and was uncomfortably aware of the disgruntled assortment of Le-Matoran she was jostling against. She tired her very hardest to not make eye contact with anyone at all. Most seemed to be stretching and turning toward the schools, where the nearest telescreen and the broadcast speakers were playing. Some on the edge of the crowd were making their way in that direction. But if any in the middle began to move, it set of an irritated chain reaction of Matoran who just couldn’t move, and trying to negotiate your way out resulted in being hushed in varying degrees of aggression. 
 
    “…not to alarm you, but those who don’t know simply must. There is no use pretending we are a utopia. This city is full of real Matoran with real issues. The destruction of our sacred Great Temple has made that abundantly clear. I never dreamed that under any circumstances that I would have to clarify that violence and destruction of both public and personal property are not acceptable ways to seek a resolution. I urge any Matoran with information pertaining to today’s tragedy to report it to your respective law enforcement divisions. I assure you that a collaboration will be put together to mount a full investigation into this and other incidents. We will not tolerate further incidents.” 
 
    “All he does is tolerate all this rust-rot,” one of the nearby Le-Matoran scoffed. He’d made no attempt to keep his voice down. 
 
    There was an assortment of agreements and grumblings, but all were shushed by a Ga-Matoran who was furiously scribbling notes at the head of Tengi’s group. 
 
    “You don’t want to get on her bad side,” a student beside Tengi whispered, nodding toward the imperious note-taker. Tengi was ninety percent sure she was looking at the notorious Philosophy and Societies professor, Nokama. Most students were aware of the teacher’s rather assertive stance on all this inter-Metru conflict, even if they’d never taken a class with her. 
 
    “Pah,” another Le-Matoran from the same group snorted. “Get a load of this book-drone. Can’t even give the Turaga the time of day. Gotta stuff-cram in more notes to brainwash all the-" 
 
   “Shut it, Matau!” yet another Le-Matoran snapped, even as a flurry of protests from both sides erupted, drowning out the Turaga. 
 
    Tengi had never seen a Ga-Matoran throw a punch before, but she was sure she would have seen the exception that moment, if a small group of Archivists hadn’t forced the bristling Le-Matoran and Ga-Matoran apart. 
 
    It wasn’t entirely clear how a stray Po-Matoran got caught up between the moving sections in the crowd, but he wasn’t happy about it, and he managed to drop two Archivists before the entire section fell into uproar. Tengi had been pushed over, had her wrist stepped on not once, but twice, and tripped over too many times to count before other Matoran, mostly law enforcement wielding batons and threatening to ignite road flares to keep the more bellicose brawlers at bay, had separated and settled the scuffle. 
 
    Tengi stumbled to her feet. “I didn’t do anything,” she insisted to an Onu-Matoran with a law enforcement magnet-badge gleaming on his armor, and he moved on, looking surly. Thankfully the crowd had thinned enough to make room for the small brawl, and she had space to make her way back out toward the safer edges of the crowd. Many of her fellow students had done the same, although they’d been much faster than she. “What did he say?” she asked a classmate beside her. 
 
    The student shook her head sadly. “The whole temple district is off limits for investigation, effective tonight, and closed down indefinitely. That means the whole School of Philosophy and Society.”
 
     Tengi sighed, wincing as she flexed her trampled wrist. She’d have to find a new place to live, without school.
 
    The city’s anthem was fading in, beneath the Turaga’s words. He was already wrapping up his speech. 
 
     "It’s up to us to keep ours a city worth fighting for, and we can’t do so if we remain divided as we are. We are Metru Nui, the Great City. We have long stood at the helm of the world, leaders in innovation, thought, and progress.  We cannot afford to forget who we are. The world cannot afford it. 
 
    "We must guard the virtues closest to the heart of the Great Spirit close to our own. Unity. Duty. Destiny.” 
 
    The public address ended, for the first time in Matorans’ memories, without a resonant, ardent echo of the three virtues from the crowd. Instead, they trickled away gingerly, unsure what new bad news they would wake up to the next day, but somehow sure it would be there. 
 


 
Author's Note
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Apologies for the drastic delay in updates. I happened to run out of pre-written chapters just in time for the world pandemic, and have had to work overtime since, so no time to write, sadly. And now summer classes, albeit online, have started, so I can’t promise regular updates from here on out. But to any who stick with me, I’m appreciative :) (I promise I had most of this chapter drafted before the world went into lockdown and schools closed. I actually went back and took out some similarities that ran a bit too parallel to real life, like widespread lockdowns. It still feels like a bit much, writing about a city falling apart, when that’s also been a fair bit of what we’re seeing on the news as well. But hey, if writing isn’t therapeutic, then what is, right?) 

 

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 Chapter 8: Tines and Helix

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    Things were not great at the Fire Brand central. Tines had already been waiting in line nearly half an hour, and it was a two-Matoran line, including him. There was a flurry of movement unceasing that could be seen intermittently through the doors that led to the back offices, which were more like combination locker rooms, break room, messy work stations, and lined with a few holding cells. However, most of the back-room flurry was apparently coming from only two over-worked Ta-Matoran clerks. The Great Temple attack, already a week ago, had set the simmering city off to a boil, and this was just one of the manifestations thereof. The Turaga’s broadcast had only stirred the pot.  Many of the policing forces were withdrawing from their respective Coliseum central stations and to their own Metrus, consolidating their resources there. 
 
    “I’m sorry! We can’t process any new applications at the moment,” the clerk called over his shoulder, rushing back into the back room with a stack of tablets balanced unsteadily in the crook of his arm. “Be with you in a moment!” 
 
    The Ta-Matoran who had been in line right in front of Tines turned and walked dejectedly out of the station, still clutching his resume tablets. If their districts didn’t currently hate one another more than ever, Tines might have offered a word of consolation. 
 
    The waiting Le-Matoran popped a handful of bula berries into his mouth while he waited in the now empty front office reception area. He had to admit, physically eating food was much more fun when others were around to be disgusted by it. 
 
    He tried to not look overly interested at all the ruckus going on back there - slamming of cabinets, the sound of tablets being shoved around, some furniture moving. 
 
    “So sorry, it’s been crazy, with everyone being reassigned to new stations,” the Ta-Matoran clerk said, dragging a case of spent lightstones out with him. “And the pipes in all the policing centrals are being re-done, so everything is a mess.” 
 
    Indeed, the Po-Metru workman’s truck was blocking most of the parking, to Tines’ irritation. He’d had to park his small hover-hauler around the corner in a pedestrian-only street. If he didn’t get a write up for parking illegally, he would probably get a  write up for hauling a cargo crate that was far larger than regulation size for his class of vehicle. So, double write ups were on the line - and from all six enforcement divisions at that, since this area was technically zoned as part of the Coliseum district. Everything was fair game.  
 
    “I’m just here to pick up a case-box of records for Tele-Metru Inc.,” he said, turning so the clerk could see his magnetic badge of the company’s logo that he wore above and to the right of his heartlight. It was, of course, a fake. 
 
    “Files!” The Ta-Matoran threw his arms up in exasperation. “We just moved the all equipment upgrade crates in front of the filing shelves.” 
 
    Tines almost shrugged. That wasn’t his fault. But he said nothing, and tried to look apologetic. 
 
    The clerk sighed. “I’ll get a process document started, at least. If worse comes to worst, we can get the files sent over later this week.” He took out a handheld smelting tool, a faster way of taking notes than with a chisel, and a stone note tablet - a rare commodity for a Ta-Matoran. “Name?”
 
    “Tines,” Tines said, using most of his willpower to keep a grin off of his Noble Kakama. 
 
    “Tines. Like the widget?” The clerk stared at him skeptically, and impatient. 
 
    “The like-same.” And Tines did grin. Obviously that wasn’t his real name. The poor clerk probably thought he was being scammed, somehow. 
 
    But Tines wasn’t there to scam them. He was there to rob them. 
 
    With an eye-roll, the Ta-Matoran left the section blank. “Tele-Metru Inc, the Le-Metru subdivision?” he asked. 
 
    The patrol of Fire Brands should be returning any minute now. Tines couldn’t help himself, and glanced at the door.
 
    “Le-Metru division?” the clerk prompted again, patience wearing thinner with each syllable. 
 
    “Yes, yes. Green armor-wear and badge,” Tines gestured to his apparel. “It’s not like I’m from the Archives.” 
 
    The clerk scowled. Good. The more flustered Tines could get him, the better. The Le-Matoran adjusted the magnetic pulse bracers that he wore on his forearms. They looked just like armor, if nobody actually looked. “File-records for the past seventy-five days,” Tines requested. 
 
    “We keep records by the week, will that work?” 
 
    Nodding, Tines asked, “There’s really no chance-way to get the files today?” 
 
    They both peered into the chaotic back room as something large fell over with a resounding crash.  With a wince, the clerk said, “No, sorry.” Then, he shouted back into the back room, “What in Karzahni’s twisted name is going on back there?” 
 
    An indistinct, apologetic reply came muffled through the doorways, but it was drowned out by the return of the patrol squadron. 
 
    Perfect. 
 
    “Vohon,” the Deputy Fire Brand nodded to the clerk in greeting, as the whole patrol proceeded to ignore the Le-Matoran. “Is the armory packed up and ready to go?” 
 
    “We’re close, Deputy,” the clerk said, fumbling with the gate that would let the impatient patrol members through the counter, where they waited tensely. 
 
    “I see,” the Deputy Matoran said. “Is there something you need, driver?” he snapped at Tines, who had impertinently failed to cede counter space to them. 
 
    “No,” Tines hunched away, as though intimidated. 
 
    “That’s what I thought.”
 
    But Tines turned back with a breathing apparatus now fitted to the bottom half of his mask, and a smokescreen canister in hand. “Nothing I need, but something I want.” He slammed the canister on the counter, activating it, and hurled it at the squad of exclaiming Ta-Matoran, diving into their midst right after it. 
 
    “Vohon! Get the Conservators!” the Deputy shouted. The Onu-Matoran guard around the corner would come to their aid. Whether the Deputy’s next commands were cut off by the hacking cough brought on by the smoke screen particulates, or Tines’ solid kick to his chest, it was hard to say. Another sweep of the Le-Matoran’s leg felled the disoriented Deputy, and before the Ta-Matoran knew it, his pouch of key cards had been yanked off his belt, and he heard the sounds of his fellow Fire Brands getting the wind knocked out of them around him. The panicking clerk was knocked off his feet as a Fire Brand flew across the room and slammed into him, the unlucky recipient of an amplified blow from Tines' magnetic pulse bracers. They scrambled to their feet and toward the exit. The Deputy couldn’t see anything, but he heard the sound of benches tumbling, and then, the door being ripped open. “The door!” he managed to yell, stumbling in the direction of the escaping Le-Matoran. 
 
    One of his officers had made it out of the fuming building before him, and was making his way toward the Le-Matoran’s parked hover-hauler, unmistakable with its oversized cargo crate. The Deputy took up position next to his officer as the clean outside air cleared out his lungs. 
 
    The last two patrol Matoran stumbled into position around the hover-hauler, all four of them leveling their handheld Crast canons at the vehicle. 
 
    “You’re surrounded!” the Deputy shouted. “Get out of your vehicle!” The hauler was humming quietly. “We know you’re in there!” The Deputy signaled for his Matoran to start closing in. “It was a nice try. Not quite fast enough, though. We expected more from a Le-Matoran. Now, we don’t want to hurt you.” 
 
    The two clerks staggered out of the building, finally, coughing something fierce. One was supported by the Po-Matoran workman, all three of them doubled over trying to clear their lungs. A spike of alarm shot through the Deputy. Their detainee was still in there! But the smokescreen gas didn’t seem to be lethal. An irritant and obscurant, most likely. And most of the smoke was drifting out of the building, not farther into it. The clerk from the back room, who was in better shape, took off down the street to get reinforcements. 
 
    “Turn off your vehicle and step out onto the sidewalk!” the Deputy shouted, keeping his canon trained on the driver side door of the hauler. About six more steps would bring them to the vehicle. If he gave the command for all of them to fire, even at this range, there wouldn’t be much of the vehicle left intact. He didn’t want it to come to that. 
 
    One step closer. 
 
    “Last chance, Le-Matoran!” the Deputy shouted. “Three. Two. O-“
 
    With a crash, the back of the cargo container flew down the block, releasing the Le-Matoran on his Nui Chaser. 
 
    “Leave-move!” Tines shouted, as the clerk and the workman dove out of his way. “High-flyer with a vendetta, coming through!” He sped down the Coliseum boulevard, whooping joyfully. 
 
    “Speeders! Go, go, go, go!” the Deputy yelled. He and his officers were hurriedly stowing their Crast canons and running for their own speeders. They’d have little hope catching a Nui Chaser. But they had to try. 
 
    The Po-Matoran and the remaining Ta-Matoran clerk slowly got to their feet, even as the patrol squadron sped past them, shouting for reinforcements. 
 
    With a low whistle, the Po-Matoran asked, “What was that all about?” 
 
    The clerk shook his head, trembling a bit. “I’m completely fired.” 
 
    As the smokescreen gas drifted out of the building, the Po-Matoran helped Vohon back into the building, supporting him through several hacking coughs. The few Matoran in the windows of nearby buildings watching would have been amazed to see a Po-Matoran helping a Ta-Matoran, but the escaping Nui Chaser and shouting Fire Brands speeding after him had been far more amazing.
 
     “It was an honest mistake,” the workman patted his back. “You had no way of knowing he was dangerous.” 
 
    Vohon let out one final cough that shook his whole frame, and finally felt like he had all the remaining gas and particulate matter out of his system. It was unpleasant, but thankfully had passed quickly. He righted an overturned bench, and said, “Thank you. Sorry about your work getting ruined. Pakiru should be back soon, and we can get back to moving things out of your way. Once we get the detainee transfer settled, we can-” 
 
    The clerk dropped to the ground, unconscious before he could get another word out. The Po-Matoran stood over him with a large workman’s wrench from his belt. “I’ll be handling that transfer, thanks.” 
 
    The Po-Matoran worked quickly, locking the station door, covering the lightstones, and dragging the clerk behind the counter. Tines had done an excellent job clearing the station. Helix’s job was to get their real prize - the detainee. There were probably only a few minutes before the other clerk got back. 
 
    Pushing his way carelessly through the mess of the back room, Helix made his way to the holding cell, where his quarry was huddled under the bench, still coughing a bit. 
 
    “Come on, we have to go,” the Po-Matoran said, slamming on the barred door to the small room. 
 
    The frightened Ta-Matoran in the cell shook his head. “I’m safe here.”
 
    “You’re clearly not!” Helix said, volume of his voice rising with urgency. Helix slipped his handheld laser-welding tool out of a loop on his belt and made short work of the lock on the door. 
 
    “Rofto,” Helix said, and the Ta-Matoran started, clearly not expecting this workman to know his name. “Nuok knows you’re here. Some of his informants are Fire Brands. Come on!” Helix pulled open the cell door. 
 
    At the mention of Nuok’s name, Rofto leapt up, knocking over the bench with a clatter. “Nuok is going to fire me,” Rofto said matter-of-factly, as though resigned to the grim prospect. 
 
    “Not if I can help it,” Helix said. “No! Out the side. I’m parked out the side.” He pulled Rofto around and over the wreck of a storage room. A quick check to make sure they were in the clear, and Helix boosted the Ta-Matoran fugitive into the back of his truck and said, “Make yourself at home, Rofto.” And latched the door on him, cutting off a hopeful request for a lightstone to see by. The Po-Matoran hoped Rofto would have the sense to stay quiet. 
 
    Helix slipped into the driver’s compartment and started up his truck. Nobody, including the two Onu-Matoran Conservators he nodded to as his truck trundled past, would blame him for packing up his job site early, after it became an active crime scene. By the time the Onu-officers discovered the unconscious clerk, Helix had long since merged onto the overhead highway. He’d take an odd exit here, stop and pick up some fuel cells there. Switch vehicles once, but probably not twice. Not this time. The last time they’d pulled off a jailbreak, Snags had been compromised during a vehicle switch, and the whole crew had had to lay low for more than half a year. 
 
    They crossed the border into Po-Metru without incident, and Helix felt himself relax. Home free. And not a peep from Rofto. Helix navigated the highways of his home Metru easily, without having to think. He made his way deep into the storage district, pulling off two exits early on purpose, and taking the local roads. There were a lot less restrictions in Po-Metru, at least this sub-district. Pedestrians, Ussal carts, and motor vehicles, shared the wide streets easily. He drove around, delivering one or two small crates out of his front compartment, until the start of the next work period, and the streets emptied of pedestrians. He was pleased that their timing for their whole endeavor had worked out as close to exactly right as possible. 
 
    Finally, Helix parked alongside the side of a warehouse block, backing into a loading dock carefully. Hopping out, he scanned himself into the building. 
 
    “Scraps!” he cursed, as Tines jumped on him from right inside the doorway, laughing and offering a congratulatory fist bump. “How did you get here so fast??” 
 
    “Nui Chaser,” the Le-Matoran said, along with an expression that said, “Duh.” 
 
    “Are you sure you lost them?” 
 
    “Are you sure you lost them,” Tines echoed in a mocking pitch. “I should be asking you that.” 
 
    Together, they made quick work, opening the loading dock and hooking the truck up and attaching the ramp, bickering the whole time. 
 
    “Your version of ‘losing’ your tail is causing a six-vehicle pileup on the freeway,” Helix snapped.  
 
    “Ridiculosity!” Tines exclaimed. “It was perfectiful. We didn’t even need Bevs." He made a point of not using the typical Le-Matoran slang, instead throwing in his own occasional expressions. It was somehow worse, and something that managed to annoy both the general populace and his fellow Le-Matoran - a fact of which he was immensely proud, although he tried not to let it show. But he didn’t try too hard. 
 
    Practically bouncing  up the ramp, Tines flung open the door to the back of the truck. A squinting Rofto made his way a bit uneasily out of the truck and into the building. 
 
    “Welcome to The Wherehouse, Rofto,” Tines said, leading the Ta-Matoran quickly into the building. “You can call me Tines. That there is Helix.” 
 
    “So, smelter,” Helix said, closing up the truck and pulling the lever to retract the loading dock ramp. “How do you feel about betraying your people?"
    
 

 
 
 
 
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Chapter 9: Xi

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    Nuok sat at the simple driver’s panel of an Archive’s transport cart. A second Ta-Matoran sat beside him, uncomfortable. The carts were meant to transport a single Matoran and large stasis tubes, not two Matoran and only a handful of small, empty stasis tubes. But the second Ta-Matoran, Pakiru, much like the transport cart jockey before him, had been bullied into this situation by Nuok, protests ignored. When the overseer of half your Metru goes out of his way to speak with you, you'd be a fool to say no. And, if Nuok wanted something, which was the only reason Nuok ever contacted him. But if Nuok wanted something, odds were, Pakiru could and would get something useful in return.
 
    “So I heard you’ve stopped recruiting,” Nuok was saying. 
 
    “Just until we can get our new central station up and running,” Pakiru replied. 
 
    “And that will be soon?” 
 
    Pakiru shrugged. “Depends on demand. Why?” He laughed. “You’re not thinking of joining the Fire Brands, are you?” 
 
    Nuok echoed the equally humorless laugh. “No, we both know my talents lie elsewhere.” The two sat in silence, the cart trundling automatically down a wire laid into the floor. The only thing the driver really controlled was the speed, of which there were only three settings, and which direction to take, should a fork in the road come up. They passed through the last exhibit hall in silence. It was empty, except for some spare crates and stasis tube casings waiting to be used. “Crazy about the Great Temple, huh?” Nuok remarked, almost nonchalantly, as they approached the end of the exhibit hall, and he steered their cart down a maintenance tunnel. 
 
    “Oh, not you too,” Pakiru scoffed, becoming exasperated almost immediately. “That’s all anyone is talking about. And they’re worse than a brakas in blizzard, talking themselves in circles.” 
 
    “It’s sad, isn’t it?” Nuok agreed, amused. 
 
    “Pointing fingers, no proof,” the Fire Brand muttered. 
 
    “Well, nobody said there’s no proof.” Nuok trailed off, waiting for Pakiru to snap up his implication, which was almost instantaneous. 
 
    “There’s no way you have proof,” he said. They took a sharp turn to the right, and Nuok slowed the cart. 
 
    “No, but I know someone who does. A Ga-Matoran.” 
 
    “A Cobalt?” Pakiru asked. They came to a stop just inside a low-ceilinged cavern. A cart-maintenance stop. Indeed, a Ga-Matoran waited for them, standing with impatient posture in the circle of light cast by the chamber’s singular lightstone. Her own cart sat at the opposite end of the chamber at the mouth of another tunnel that led to, surprise, more tunnels. But they were near the end of the regularly maintained tunnels. 
 
    “Ask her yourself.” Nuok hopped off their cart, grabbing two of the small stasis tubes from the bed of their cart and tucking them under his arm. And to the Ga-Matoran, he said, “Do you have the copy?” 
 
    “I have two,” Ginsa said, holding up two parchments, each with a charcoal rubbing of an official Cobalt report tablet. She handed a copy to Nuok. “It says they identified Po-Metru carving tools at the site of the explosion. From a western Assembler’s village, with the Crafter’s Commission insignia and everything.” 
 
    Despite himself, Pakiru craned his neck a bit to see the copy. 
 
    “Get me that meeting with the Deputy, Pakiru, and this copy is yours.” 
 
    “What’s to stop me from just putting in a Fire Brand’s request to the Cobalts themselves for a copy?” 
 
    “When,” Ginsa asked rhetorically, “in the history of the Cobalt force have they ever released records to outsiders?” 
 
    The Fire Brand crossed his arms, her point taken. “So, what? You cart me all the way down here just to try and bribe your way into a meeting with the Deputy?” 
 
    “That depends on whether or not the bribe is likely to work,” Nuok returned impassively. 
 
    After a moment of thought, Pakiru said tersely, “I’ll see what I can do.” 
 
    Nuok offered him a copy of the report silently. As the Fire Brand snatched it, Nuok asked, “I also heard the Fire Brands had another run-in with their Nui Chasing nemesis, last week.” 
 
    Ginsa snickered off to the side. This wasn’t the first time the Nui Chaser had made a fool of one of the policing forces. He’d led the Conservators on a wild Gukko chase of the decade last year, covering three whole Metrus. 
 
    “Yes,” Pakiru grumbled. “I was even on the chase, this time.” 
 
    “What did he get, this time?” Nuok pressed. 
 
    “Just the Deputy’s key cards. Which is ridiculous, we can just reconfigured all the locks.” 
 
    “The cards? That’s it?” Nuok shook his head. “Well, did you at least get a good look at his mask?” 
 
    “Of course we did,” Pakiru snapped. “But what good does it do? No Matoran worth their protodermis wears their real Kanohi on a sting.” 
 
    Visibly frustrated, Nuok began pacing the length of the chamber. Ginsa leaned on the wall, watching him, and Pakiru stood silently, not knowing what else to do with himself. Finally, the overseer said, “I want that meeting with the Deputy.” And Pakiru knew he was dismissed. He did his best, hopping back into the cart, trying to appear like he knew how to drive it, since Nuok was making no move to accompany him. He and Ginsa were talking in hushed voices beneath the lightstone. It was Ginsa who finally jerked her head at the uncertain Fire Brand, and Nuok growled something. Ginsa obligingly handed him the last copy of the Cobalt report, and hopped into the transport cart with Pakiru. “Let’s get out of here, firespitter.” She reached across him, punching the controls that would reverse the cart back the way they’d come. 
 
    Nuok watched after them until the rhythmic clanking of the cart treads faded deep into the tunnels. He trusted that Pakiru would find a way to get the report condemning the Po-Matoran out to the right Matoran. If luck existed, the tides would begin to shift agains the sculptors within the week. 
 
    Turning, Nuok hopped into the remaining transport, the one aimed farther down into the tunnels. He flipped open the cover panel of the control panel, plugging in a small device that would steer the cart to preset coordinates. Archivists and tunnels workers used these devices frequently, but for an outsider to have one was a rarity. It was a perk of having Davanu, the inventor of said devices, on one’s side. It was also Davanu who had helped set up the specific section of tunnel that Nuok was navigating to. They were the only two Matoran who knew it existed. Ginsa, perhaps, had her suspicions, but she would be easy to deal with, if it came to that. 
 
    As the cart wheeled him toward his destination, Nuok poured over the mental list. He’d been personally been through the attendance records and security footage of every fire pit and reclamation yard, every foundry and forge in his jurisdiction. There was no sign of Rofto. After the Ta-Matoran’s mysterious disappearance from the former Fire Brand Central, Nuok had sent every single one of his Incinerators out after him. The only shred of information they had to go on was that Rofto had disappeared from the same station within the same hour that the Nui Chaser had struck. But, every source he talked to, including Pakiru today, who was as close to an eyewitness as he could get, only said the Nui Chaser had taken the key cards and fled. The one clerk who was supposed to have been manning the station was conveniently in a coma with a nice dent in the back of his head, also courtesy of the Nui Chaser, they alleged. There couldn't be much more than twenty Nui Chaser bikes speeding around the city, definitely less than fifty. The number of Matoran registered to drive them couldn’t be that much greater. He’d need to start looking into how to get access to those records. This wasn’t the first time this particular Le-Matoran had gotten in Nuok’s way.
 
    Even as he wheeled through the tunnels, his Matoran who weren’t sowing Metru-wide distrust of the sculptors and their allies were combing through every security feed and record they could find since the jailbreak, looking for any sign of Rofto. It had been nearly two weeks with no breakthrough, not even a hint of one. Since Rofto had voluntarily turned himself in, claiming to have killed the Great Spirit, they’d agreed to hold him in one of their cells. It was never a bad thing to keep a cross-wired foundry worker somewhere safe, for their sake and for others'. It wasn't entirely uncommon for Ta-Matoran to push past the limits of their Great Spirit-given heat resistance and suffer some heat damage, working too long in the forges. But Rofto had also been also free to walk out, they said, since he’d walked in a free Matoran to begin with. One of the two other Fire Brands Nuok had spoken with had said Rofto probably was just spooked when the Nui Chaser made his move, and ran. But with all Nuok and his Matoran knew about Rofto, they should have found him by now, having combed thoroughly any and every place he would have been likely to flee. No luck. 
 
    Nuok arrived at his destination, an otherwise completely unremarkable and unmarked stretch of tunnel, hedged in by a cleverly designed web of twisting, double-crossing, dead-ended false tunnels. Also a courtesy of Davanu and some of his colleagues. In the end, it led back in a loop to the maintenance chamber, but if one didn’t know that beforehand, it would have been near-impossible to tell without a compass or nav-system. 
 
    Nuok stepped out of the cart, carrying his two stasis tubes, about the size of his arm, but about half as thin. They were identical to the ones he kept in his office. He held a keycard of his own up to a blank patch of rock wall, and the hexagonal outline of an embedded stasis tube flared to life. Nuok pushed in, and the end of the tube retracted back into the wall, and when he released, it sprang forward, extending most of the way out, and giving Nuok access to its captive. One of several Kraata specimens that were supposed to have perished in a transport accident, nearly seventy years ago. This particular Kraata was a Kraata Xi in its fifth stage. Working quickly, before the stasis stun gas could even begin to wear off, Nuok transferred the dormant creature from the hidden stasis tube into his own, portable one. He moved on to the next hidden compartment, greeted by dull orange-gold gleam of a young Kraata Za. Fear. This one, and he’d have to ask Davanu for confirmation, was barely in its second stage of life. Weak. But not for long. 
 
    Stowing the stasis tubes safely in his transport cart, Nuok closed up the secret compartments and punched in the coordinates that would take him back to the surface. 
 

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    Repairs were going poorly, unhelped by the perpetual, city-wide drizzle, which had been steady for about three days now. If one were to judge by Larker’s mood, though, they’d think it had been drizzling for a century.
 
    “Is this a prank-joke?” He fixed the Ga-Matoran before him with a disbelieving stare, then looked to his slightly-better-than-shambles cargo hauler, then back at the she-Matoran. She’d happened upon him in the middle of repairs to his vehicle.
 
    Subi, not one to be left out, swiveled his eyestalks in two directions at once, back and forth between the two Matoran.
 
    “Stop that!” Larker told him, even as the Ga-Matoran laughed a bit shakily at the nipper’s antics. “You’ll go cross eyed and and get stay-stuck like that." 
 
    “No, I’m serious,” the Ga-Matoran said. “You are Larker, right? I asked at the front desk, and they said you were up here.” 
 
    Scraps and stink-rot, Larker cursed to himself. His racing mind would give a Nui Chaser a good run for its widgets. For one thing, this was yet another one of those interactions where he couldn’t for the life of him remember a name, but they remembered his. It was also a once in millennia occurrence that a client came to you offering a job, at least for a Matoran of Larker’s relatively unknown reputation. And even more rare within the weeks since the temple bombing, seeing a Ga-Matoran outside her home district. 
 
    “You’re him?” the Matoran asked again, eye-ridges of her blue Kakama doubtful, furrowing in worried anticipation of having approached the wrong Matoran. 
 
    “Yes, the like-same,” Larker sighed. Some hackers, everyone was saying they were from the Convervators, or at least had ties to both the Conservators and the Archivists, had publicly released the Cobalt report on the temple bombing, earlier that same week. Someone had even gotten a hold of a copy of the original report and distributed even more copies around the city. The evidence pretty clearly showed that some Po-Matoran malcontents had orchestrated the whole thing. Vehicular travel in and out of the entire water district was almost completely stopped, and nobody knew what their water-sisters were debating behind closed borders, but everyone felt sure that they would leave their neutral zone once they broke their silence, and break it nice and loud. And with the neutral blue off the table, the only work for Larker came through the Enterprise - that is to say, no work at all. The drivers and mechanics who had been with the company the longest always got first pick of all the jobs that came in, which was virtually all the jobs available. Larker and some of his fellow lower-downs had even talked about walking out of their contracts. But, of course, Phase Dragon Enterprises was so ubiquitous, and so essential for what businesses were left, that the lower-downs would only be hurting themselves. 
 
    “I’d like to give Kesian a nice piece-part of my mind,” one of them had grumbled during one of their mutinous talks, safely under cover of a roaring test-track match. “Fine-great system he’s running here.” 
 
    “Yeah,” another scoffed, “Well, good luck get-finding him. That Stone Rat wouldn’t bother with the Ussal-drudgers like us.” 
 
    “Nobody’s seen him in weeks, since before the bombing.”
 
    “He’s up in his private Moto Hub penthouse,” someone else said with surety. “Has a weapons contract with the hammer-swingers he’s working on.” 
 
    “That’s scraps,” someone else snapped. “He’s in head-charge of the Enterprise, he has to be doing something.” 
 
    “Being in head-charge means you get other people to do all the work for you, brakas-brain.” 
 
    “Well it shouldn’t.”
 
    “Ha! With all your high-fancy ‘should’s’ and ‘shouldn’ts’, you belong up in those thought towers with the icicle farmers.”
 
    And they’d fallen apart into customary Le-Matoran bickering. 
 
    Larker was snapped back to present, mechanically catching the small pouch of widgets that the Ga-Matoran had tossed to him. 
 
    “It’s all I can manage,” she said. He recognized the tone in her voice. She was too tired to be apologetic, but she otherwise would have been. 
 
    Essentially jobless, and with the way his repair jobs were going on his hauler, down to a single vehicle to work with, Larker really didn’t feel like he had anything else to lose. What’s losing a little face in admitting a small slip up, when your entire city-home was going to Karzahni in an Ussal cart, anyways? “Ever-sorry, I quick-forgot your name.” 
 
    “Tengi,” she said, too kindly. It was like his admission of forgetting her name had made him seem better to her, somehow? More honest, could that be it? Strange times, these. He tucked the widgets away deftly, moving on. 
 
    “That’s right. The skiff-sailor.”
 
    “The like-same,” she replied. Either she was mocking him with his own dialect or she was trying to make a joke. He decided her hint of a smile meant she was joking. 
 
    Taking a job could risk the ire of other drivers in his network. But the fact that the client had come to him personally had to count for something. The reception-clerks at the Moto Hub’s reception could vouch for him, if it came to that. Larker took a deep breath, shook his head once, and said, “Let’s begin-start over. Ah! You’re Tengi the skiff-sailor! I definitely true-honest remembered your name all on my own,” he said enthusiastically in jest, then asked in earnest, “What can I aid-help you with today?” 
 
    “Pleasure is mine, driver,” Tengi said a complementary light, make-believe tone. She continued in her normal voice, “See, with the schools shut down, I have to move. No dorms.” 
 
    “Move?” 
 
    She nodded. “There’s no word when they’ll open back up, so I have to go to the tenements. I can move my own things with an Ussal cart, that’s no problem. But, my skiff-sailer…” she trailed off, giving a meaningful glance at his two cargo haulers. 
 
    “Oh,” the Le-Matoran deflated rapidly.
 
    The tenements. There were a few neighborhoods of tenements in each Metru. They were the basic no-frills apartments that each citizen of Metru Nui had a basic right to inhabit. Originally, all housing in the city had been tenement style, but the neighborhoods had been demolished to make way for bigger, better this or that, leaving only a few for the least well-off. The tenements were crowded, noisy, conveniently located near Ussalries, but that also meant it always smelled of Rahi. And the inhabitants were more often than not the type that couldn’t afford frills in their lifestyle, whether that be to gambling, industrial debt, laziness, bad luck, the list went on. Although, if rumors were true, Ga-Metru’s tenements were the least shabby of the lot - excepting Ko-Metru, which apparently didn’t have any. And if other Matoran in the city cared enough to disbelieve that, they would have. 
 
    Larker had a basic knowledge of Ga-Metru’s layout. The schoolyard docks were in one corner of the district, and the nearest tenement docks were in a conveniently opposite corner. Via the main thoroughfare, one could make the drive in well under a half hour. But somehow, Larker didn’t think the main thoroughfare would be wise. It ran straight through the heart of the water district, where the new Cobalt headquarters was stationed. The only vehicle he had that was in working condition was his Phase Dragon hauler, and with the Enterprise unabashedly and almost exclusively doing business with Po-Metru lately, there was no way, even if Mata Nui himself were driving, that an Enterprise vehicle would be allowed through the heart of Ga-Metru. “The tenements,” he repeated half-heartedly. 
 
    “I know I don’t have enough. None of the other sailors have their transports rented anymore. The Archives recalled all theirs, two weeks ago.” She shook her head dejectedly. “But, speaking of the Archives, what if I could get you a job hauling for an Archivist?” 
 
    “Ha! I’d tell you to keep chase-hunting that fairy-Tahtorak,” Larker laughed without humor. “Wait, you’re not joke-teasing?” 
 
    “I’ll tell you once we have my sailer docked at the tenements, how about that?” she smiled again, and squatted, patting Subi’s carapace and wiping away the slowly-collecting drizzle droplets. 
 
    Despite himself, and realizing in the same moment that perhaps he’d underestimated this one, Larker’s curiosity was piqued. “We’ll have to get to the school shipyard through Po-Metru.” 
 
    “Po-Metru!” she exclaimed. That was the opposite end of the city, as close to literally as one could get. 
 
    “I sure as Karzahni don’t want to drive-haul straight through Ga-Metru,” Larker said, beginning to throw his toolkit together. “Subi, up-go. Into the Dragon hauler. Go.” He pointed and gestured, and the nipper just clacked his claws idly, then glanced back at Tengi, wondering why he was no longer being pet. “Spoiled.” Larker grumbled. “Let’s go, sailor-sister.”
 
    “Wait, now?” 
 
    Larker was already hopping into the driver’s compartment of the green, emblazoned cargo hauler, tossing his toolbox in the cargo bed. “Yep, now. And I want to hear-know about the Archives job you mentioned.” 
 
    “It’ll be suns-down before we even reach Po-Metru,” she said uncertainly, but stepping toward the hauler nevertheless. Subi walked with her. It was a bit hard to tell, with the rain and clouds, where exactly the suns were in their arc across the sky, but it was at least mid-afternoon, if not late-afternoon. 
 
    “If I know one thing about Archives work-jobs, they don’t stay on the table forever,” Larker told her, starting up the hauler. With a happy chirp, Subi skipped up to the driver’s compartment, scrabbling to get up. Either the Enterprise would hear about it, the Archives would arrange their own transport, or some other freelancer would snatch the job up. If Larker could snatch two jobs in one grab, he certainly would. “Don’t worry,” he said, hopping out quickly and boosting Subi up into the cab. “I’m a happy-safe driver, rain or shine, light or dark.” 
 
    Still reluctant, Tengi hopped in. It was rather crowded with the nipper and two Matoran. But it would have to do. “I’m sure you’re a fine driver,” Tengi said, almost distractedly. It wasn’t the Le-Matoran’s night time mobility capacity she was worried about. It was the night time hunters’. But, if the stories about the speed-starved Le-drivers were true, they’d be safe enough, able to outspeed or easily lose any pursuit. So she told herself. And if she could get help with her Kuma-Kava job, all the better. It might be difficult to get the stasis field towers again, now that the schools were closed. But one problem at a time. 
 
    “So, the Archives job?” Larker asked, as he pulled onto the nearest highway entry ramp. 
 
    “You really have no shame, you know that?” Tengi told him, mildly exasperated. 
 
    The Le-Matoran smiled and shrugged, and floored the acceleration as they merged onto the near-empty highway, headed toward the home of the sculptors. 
 
 

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    Tahimatoru let fly his grappling hook, cursing as the Rahkshi twisted, and the blow from the anchor glanced laughably off its armor. Its hiss amplified menacingly across the empty warehouse rooftops. 
 
    “Come on!” Tahimatoru growled, reeling in his hook. He began whirling the grappling hook in a controlled circle at his side, stepping quickly in counter to the Rahkshi’s movement. The rain had slicked down every surface, and Tahi had slipped up more than once in tonight's chase, not quite used to throwing his bulk around and adjusting to reduced traction. “What’s your trick? What’s your trick?” Tahi demanded, speaking quickly and under his breath, as he kept his weight bouncing on the balls of his feet, focusing on how his quarry was adjusting its stance. They’d both stopped circling on the warehouse roof. It was near impossible to tell in the drizzle and in the dark, but Tahi was almost certain this wasn’t the same Rahkshi he’d set out to hunt down. But any Rahkshi neutralized and it’s Kraata killed and brought back for ID and cross-referencing in the Archives database was one step closer to victory. 
 
    Tahimatoru turned sideways, presenting his profile as a smaller target to the Rahkshi. The Rahkshi was wisely - if Rahkshi could be wise- keeping its body between Tahi and its staff. Getting that thing away from its weapon, the focus of its powers, was key. 
 
    Tahi dipped and rose, surging forward with a quarter turn, using the momentum to change the angle of his whirling hook, and he let it fly at the Rahkshi with a cry. 
 
    “Troller worms take you!” Tahi growled as the Rahkshi easily deflected his blow and leveled its staff at him. Because he had to use his whole upper body to control the arc of the grappling hook, the angle and momentum of his attack was as easy to read as the Le-Metru tabloids. Before he could reel back in his hook, a bright blast from the Rahkshi’s staff struck along the chain of his grappler, and it burst into shards. Fragmentation. Lovely. Thrown precariously off balance by the sudden lack of swinging momentum to balance, Tahi could only throw himself ungracefully behind a stack of synthetic protodermis tubing. The foremost pipes burst apart, struck again by the Rahkshi’s powers, and chunks of protodermis rained down on the streets around them. Thankfully, the Matoran had listened to him this time, and were staying inside. He'd done an okay job of leading the Rahkshi out of the Assembler's village so far, but it had not been easy, and Tahi was beginning to feel the urgent tug of exhaustion already.
 
    Tahi regained his feet in time, barely, to see his quarry vaulting off the rooftop into the shadowy, empty streets below. He landed hard and unlimbered his last remaining weapon as he charged after the Rahkshi. It was an extra large workman’s wrench, the kind that required a small team of Matoran to use for maintenance of the support beams and towers for the highways. He’d used it to take down a herd of mutated Mahi in the Canyon Wilds two months ago. There was no reason why he couldn’t use it to smash a Rahkshi’s faceplate. But Rahkshi were much more difficult to get close to and still remain in one piece, which was the goal. 
 
    “For all the rust in Karzahni!” he growled. The Rahkshi was swinging up onto the ramp that led to the overhead highway, which also marked the border between Po-Metru and Ga-Metru. It was faster than Tahi, and moving up an incline would only give it more of a lead on him, and they both knew it. 
 
    But Tahi also knew where it was headed. There was a Ga-harbor right across the border. And Rahkshi, although clever, were also predictable, always acting in alignment with what would create the most destruction and sow the most panic. Sinking an entire harbor fit the bill, for sure. Time for a shortcut. 
 
    Are you sure? 
 
    No time for that. 
 
    He veered left, pouring all the concentration he could spare into speed. There was only one entrance to the harbor, unless the Rahkshi wanted to swim there, which made no sense. 
 
    Crossing under the highway would require navigating more blocks of warehouses than Tahi was confident he could handle and still keep up his speed. No, he would go over the highway, ahead of the Rahkshi. 
 
    Ignoring the ache in his chest from his complaining lungs, he made one last turn down a wide boulevard that would lead to another Assembler’s village, and made a beeline for the highway maintenance tower. He made short work scaling the tower, although his muscles weren’t used to this type of climbing. He’d pay later, he was sure. As he drew level with the highway, he could barely make out the masts of the ships beyond. Leap, tuck, roll. The highway was empty, as he knew it would be. He ran a short ways along the highway toward where he knew the entrance to the shipyard ran beneath. 
 
    He couldn’t keep running much longer. He craned his neck as he ran along the far barrier of the highway, peering into the dark shipyard. No sign of movement. 
 
    Well, if it was clever enough to lay a trap for him, he’d have to spring it in order to draw it out. He pushed the possibility that he'd been wrong and the Rahkshi hadn't headed into the shipyard at all, aside. 
 
    Tahi broke his steps down and vaulted over the edge of the highway, bracing for impact. 
 
    He landed, staggering slightly. He’d never jumped from such a height before, but he was very pleased he was no worse for the wear. He’d been prepared for shattered armor or bones, or just being shattered by the Rahkshi, anything really. 
 
    But not being hit head-on by fully loaded Phase Dragon hauler. 

 
Edited by Aderia
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    Chapter 10: The Greater-Than Sum
 

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    “Are you okay?” Larker shook Tengi’s shoulder, none too gently. 
 
    “Good, I’m good,” Tengi gasped, uncurling herself from around the trembling dome that was Subi. She staggered to her feet and clutched Larker’s shoulder for support. “I’m good.” She repeated, assuring herself. “You’re good?” 
 
    “Fine-good,” he replied, on high alert, but surveying the absolute wreck of his hauler and Tengi’s sailer in dismay. 
 
    “What was that?” Tengi turned in nervous circles, backing toward Larker unconsciously. They’d all seen reports of brute attacks in the outskirts, and seen the memorial shrines outside the Coliseum for the victims. 
 
    “I don’t know, but it was huge-big, like a-“ Larker cut himself off with a yelp. “What-where did you come from?” He sputtered to a stop, dashing around to the other side of the wreckage. 
 
    Tengi followed. 
 
    “Well that was the worst. Ever,” snapped a Po-Matoran whom Tengi had never seen before. 
 
    The Le-Matoran he was talking to, not Larker, shot back, “Don’t look at me! I’m not the decisionary here! You’re the one that said we’d go after the Rahkshi tonight! I wanted to wait until nice weather!” 
 
    “Mata Nui!” Tengi yelped, finally able to see what the two strangers were trying to pull from beneath the wreckage of her sailer. Larker was wedging himself beneath what used to be the hull of the sailer, trying to lift it in vain. A third Matoran was trapped beneath. Stumbling over, she added her strength to the driver’s, and together they were all able to free the trapped Matoran. 
 
    “Thanks,” the Po-Matoran helped her to her feet deftly, then Larker. 
 
    “Will he be okay?” Tengi stared at the Matoran who had been crushed in the accident. He was leaning heavily - no, she realized, was being fully supported by the second Le-Matoran, legs useless. She sat down, following the sinking feeling in her gut. 
 
    “Mata Nui, Mata Nui, Mata Nui,” Larker was whispering to himself. “Fired. No hope.” 
 
    “I’ll be fine,” the injured Matoran said, sounding irate. “No thanks to you.” He aimed the last acerbic syllable at the Po-Matoran. 
 
    But the Po-Matoran slung the injured Matoran’s other arm over his own shoulder so he was being supported on both sides. 
 
    “You’re not…in pain?” Tengi looked confusedly between all three. A Po-Matoran, a Le-Matoran, and the injured one was a Ko-Matoran, she realized. “Your legs…”
 
    “No. I said I’ll be fine,” the Ko-Matoran grumbled. 
 
    At the same time, his Le-Matoran companion chuckled, and said, “Don’t mind Bevs. He’s been through a lot worse.  What I’m more worried about is your driver friend there.” 
 
    Larker was kneeling beside the totaled cab of the hauler, muttering with a concerning frantic edge about not being able to pay back the Enterprise.
 
    “Larker?” Tengi asked tentatively. 
 
    He snapped his gaze to her, and said in a defeated tone, “I’m sorry about your skiff-sailer. And it looks like you’re going to have to quick-find someone else to give that Archives job to. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drive again, I’m sure Kesian will have my permits black-voided.” He dropped his gaze back to the wreckage, patting Subi, who had come to sit beside him. 
 
    The three other Matoran exchanged glances. Shifting the weight of the Ko-Matoran so the Po-Matoran was fully supporting him, the other Le-Matoran approached Larker and knelt down beside him. 
 
    “Larker, right?” he asked. No response. “Don’t worry about your permits, or the hauler, okay? It will all work out.” 
 
    The despondent Larker shook his head, sparing the other Le-Matoran a glance that had the smallest hint of hysteria buried in it. “How can you speak-say that? Look at this scrap.” 
 
    The other Le-Matoran sighed. “Larker, I’m Kesian, and I’m telling you that it’s going to be okay. I know exactamentally what happened, and it’s not your fault.” Kesian stood up, and addressed Tengi as well. “But you’d better call me Tines.” 
 
    “Kesian…” Larker, already kneeling, plopped down entirely onto the road. He was nearing his threshold for surprises. 
 
    “Tines, did you see the thing we hit?” Tengi asked. She was less familiar with whoever Kesian, or Tines, claimed to be than Larker. She was also infinitely more worried about whatever it was they’d hit and wrecked the hauler on. There was no sign of it. Although she’d never seen a Rahkshi in person, she fought down the rising fear that tonight would change that, what with new reports running every week about more sightings. It could be anywhere. “Which way did it go? It came out of nowhere!” 
 
    “It…uh. Well,” Kesian, Tines, whatever his name was, seemed at a loss for words. He finally settled on, “We shouldn’t stay out in the open.” 
 
    “I didn’t even spot-see it, until it was too late,” Larker put in, getting to his feet finally. “I didn’t even spot-see you three.” Larker was not a bad driver. In fact, he was a good driver. He would never miss three Matoran in the middle of the road, and he certainly wouldn’t have missed a hulking armored whatever-it-was that had wrecked his hauler on impact. And how had it gotten away so swiftly? Somethings just weren’t making sense. But Larker also wondered if he’d hit his head too hard in the crash. 
 
    The three Matoran, Kesian and his companions, glanced between one another as they watched the gears turn behind Larker’s mask. Kesian rejoined them, again taking half the paraplegic Ko-Matoran’s weight upon himself. Their unspoken debate turned to quick, tense whispers. Tengi watched them, uneasy. Larker turned again to the remains of his vehicle, but she noticed he used that as an excuse to work a bit closer to the three Matoran. But, they weren’t making a huge effort to keep from being overheard. 
 
    “So what now?” Kesian asked. “We just let them go?”
    
    “You aren’t seriously thinking about onboarding them, Tines,” the Po-Matoran said, incredulous. The Le-Matoran didn’t reply. “You are. Scraps.” 
 
    “But a Ga-Matoran?” the Ko-Matoran cut in. All three un-furitvely looked in her direction. 
 
    “We’re not lacking any means to control liabilities,” Kesian pointed out with a shrug. Tengi didn’t like the sound of that. 
 
    “I don’t think they saw,” the Po-Matoran said. 
 
    “Yeah but you wouldn’t bet our lives on it, would you?” the Ko-Matoran returned. 
 
    They were suddenly talking, Tengi realized as her apprehension spiked, like they were the group in power here, and that an ‘us-versus-them’ line had sprung up. “…Larker,” she whispered out of the side of her mouth, trying to get his attention. It might be time to get going. Again, she hissed, “Larker!” Instead, Subi scampered up to her side, sure it was he who had been summoned. At least the nipper seemed unconcerned. But whatever thing they’d hit, big enough to wreck the cargo hauler and surely a wreck a few Matoran just as easily, was still roving the night around them. And with three increasingly sketchy Matoran before them, Tengi really did not like where she had found herself. The three Matoran glanced at herself and Larker once more, all three scowling. Conveniently, the reports of Matoran-on-Matoran muggings popped into Tengi’s mind. The reports were scarce, but they were there. “Well,” she shrugged, knowing she was trying to hard to appear nonchalant even as she did so, “We have to contact someone to help us clear this wreck, and I’m sure you all need to be on your way.” A bit quieter, "Larker, can we please go?” 
 
    Larker returned, kneeling on the other side of Subi, ready to agree with her, and pick up the nipper and skedaddle out of there. But the Po-Matoran said sharply, “Not so fast.” 
 
    “Listen, we don’t want any bad-trouble,” Larker said. 
 
    “Nobody does, but look where the city’s gotten itself to,” the Ko-Matoran laughed. 
 
    “We’ll walk away and quick-forget any crash-wreck ever happened,” Larker offered. “How does that-“ 
 
    “Get down!” the Po-Matoran roared, launching himself at Tengi and Larker with startling agility. 
 
    He knocked the two Matoran to the ground instants before the fragmentation beam would have turned them into just another part of the vehicle wreck to clean up. Flying bits of pavement flew past them, leaving behind singed divot in the ground that could have easily been Larker. 
 
    The Rahkshi was back. 
 
    Kesian and the Ko-Matoran, who had also dropped belly-down on the pavement, were making their way behind the wreckage of the hauler, Kesian dragging the Ko-Matoran unceremoniously. 
 
    “Go!” the Po-Matoran pointed Tengi, Larker, and Subi to the Po-Metru border behind them, shadowed by the overhead highway, even as he rolled and ducked toward Kesian and the Ko-Matoran. 
 
    “But what about you?” Tengi called, getting to her feet but keeping crouched low, keeping the wreckage partially between her and the dark shape of the Rahkshi that was advancing in from the dark docks toward them now. They could tell where it was by the menacing glow of its staff, gathering energy. “What about him?” She was especially concerned about the Ko-Matoran who obviously would hinder any escape attempt significantly. Larker began to drag her away, while simultaneously trying to keep Subi, blubbering in panic, from bolting.
 
    “Just get to the nearest Assembler’s village!” The Po-Matoran cried. “Tell them Emyk sent you. They’ll let you in.” 
 
    All five Matoran hit the pavement again, but the massive blast from the Rahkshi sailed over their heads and struck the nearest girder of the overhead highway behind them. The shrieks of the Rahkshi rang horribly through the ringing in their ears left by the explosion, and huge chunks of ex-highway debris began raining down, accompanied by groaning and resounding cracking of splitting concrete, as the highway began to crumble. Larker and Tengi dove behind the hauler wreckage with the other three Matoran as debris began to fall and the two adjacent girders began to buckle. All the while, they could hear the Rahkshi gathering crackling energy. Subi was nowhere to be seen. 
 
    “The navigator’s hut!” Tengi pointed across the road to the nearest hope of shelter, because clearly the wreckage they were hunkering down behind wouldn’t last long.  She crouched, getting ready to make a sprint for it. 
    
    “No!” Kesian barked, staying her with an unexpectedly firm grip. “When we give the signal, you two still need to get to the Assembler’s village.” He pointed farther into the city, indicating roughly where to cross the border. 
 
    “But-“ 
 
    “That's not now Rahkshi work. This harbor is done for.” 
 
    “Which-what signal?” Larker asked as he cast about, searching for any sign of Subi. 
 
    “Just step back a bit,” the Ko-Matoran said, in way of answer. Another blast from the Rahkshi took out another section of highway. 
 
    Confused, but obliging, Tengi and Larker scrambled back a pace, nearing the edge of the wreckage. 
 
    Tengi watched in incomprehension as Kesian and Emyk crouched level with their Ko-Matoran friend, all facing one another, and gripped one another’s forearms, forming a triangle. Her incomprehension turned to amazement as, faster than she could have described, the pulsing of their heartlights intensified and the glow became a blinding flash that enveloped all three of them. 
 
    And where three had been, one now stood. 
 
    “That was your signal,” Tahimatoru, the Matoran Kaita told the two Matoran. “Go!” And he scooped up his wrench from the wreckage where it had fallen, leaping up and charging at the Rahkshi with a whooping battle cry. 
 

 
 
Note: Kesian is meant to be pronounced like ‘key-zhun”, rhymes with “cohesion”. 
Note II: also originally the last section of Ch. 10, but it was getting pretty long, at that point. So voilà. 
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Chapter 11: Lore and Legion 

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Highborn, sea-bred, spawn of night,
Swept from the north, the tyrant’s blight.
Doling no mercy that’s not been earned.
All wicked deeds in kind, returned.
 
    Erylist sat, perched on an unused work table, whistling. The tune, all too familiar, wound its way through the heavy air in Armonger’s forge, to the annoyance of Seja, who stood atop another table with arms and wings folded haughtily. She did not look comfortable, with her long neck bowed as low as possible, not because the ceiling was high, but from the assortments of this, that, and everything in between Armonger kept hanging from the ceiling. Whatever didn’t fit in the floor-to-ceiling shelves with crates and crates of other knick-knacks and experiments. The weaponsmith himself rummaged through the top row of shelves at the far end of the room, closest to the fires, and was apparently unperturbed by the heat. 
 
    “Will you stop with that song?” Seja growled, opening an eye to glare at Erylist. They all knew the words. It was a song about them, after all. 
 
    Erylist shrugged. “It’s catchy.” 
 
    “Don’t make her mad,” Armonger called around two crates he was carrying over, one in his top set of arms, and the second in his second set of arms. The dragon-like tinkerer teetered precariously on his last set of limbs, barely making it back to his work table safely. “She’ll fidget, and the molds will be ruined.” 
 
    Seja stood with her raptorial legs, from the mid-thigh down, completely encased in molds. Armonger’s plan was to cast boots for her that would make walking on solid ground painless and simple as flight. Although her talons were deadly enough in battle, they weren’t suited well for grounded work, of which they had been partaking more and more. 
 
When comes the shade of jaguar’s night
And vain is hope of last moons-light,
Soft through the dark slips raider’s end
With silent steps and wrongs to rend.  
 
    “Why don’t I get special gadgets?” Erylist hopped off the table and began to poke through the nearest crate. 
 
    “What do you call your entire set of armor you’re wearing?” Armonger replied. He pulled loose two sacks of powder and began measuring the contents carefully into portions. 
 
    “It’s not shiny, that’s what I call it,” she said. 
 
    “That’s the point,” he said. "Matte. No reflection when you’re stealthing around.” 
 
    “I can do other stuff, you know,” Erylist insisted. But, of course, her brother and sister weren’t the ones she needed to convince of that. 
 
    “I passed that on to Av’Kra, and Axonn,” Seja sighed. 
 
    “What? When did you see them?” Erylist demanded. You didn't meet with the commander of the Hand and his deputy for any idle reason. 
    
    “On my debriefing from that mission to Ibonar.” 
 
    “When did you go to Ibonar?” The Midnighter’s rising tone betrayed mounting indignation. “Do you know the last time they sent me on a mission?” 
 
    Seja and Armonger exchanged a loaded glance, which didn’t escape her notice. “It was a diplomatic assignment,” was all Seja said. “You hate those."
 
    “Careful with that!” Armonger snapped, as Erylist chucked a device she’d been fiddling with back into its crate, none too gently. 
 
    “I could learn diplomacy!” she protested. 
 
    Seja closed her eye again, and Armonger pointedly engrossed himself in measuring glowing metallic shavings. 
 
    “I can fight,” Erylist went on, petulant. “I took out a whole outpost of Nehrians! And I didn’t do too bad in that infiltration sting, remember? Kept it nice and low key the whole time, and-“
 
    “We know all this, Eryl,” Seja interrupted finally. It was best not to let her go on, and work herself into a temper. “Take it up with Av’Kra.”
 
    “I’ll take it up with Artakha himself if I have to,” Erylist promised to no one. As operatives of the Hand of Artakha, they didn’t technically work for the Creator Titan, but as creations of Artakha himself, Erylist, Armonger, and Seja were few of the Hand operatives outside command who were privy to audiences with the titan. 
 
    “You’re the best stealth agent we have,” Armonger offered, sweeping the metal shavings into a bowl, along with the powders. 
 
    “But that also means the more you’re deployed, more you and your skillset become known.” Seja had both eyes, blood-violet, open, fixing her sister with a scrutinizing gaze. 
 
    “Rather be a Toa than a Kanohi,” Erylist said, spitefully quoting the popular Matoran proverb. Kanohi had one power, but a Toa using a Kanohi had many. It was one of the many sayings they’d learned in the three-years long mission in the Southern Islands, uncovering and taking down the multi-island slaver network. That was the mission that had, yes, broken and remade them as a team, but had also catapulted them to the status of legend in the South, as well as among their peers. That was where they’d first heard the song about them. 
 
‘Gainst coast and corsair, the dragon’s fight
Bane-ships and brutes flee venom's bite. 
To Karzahni’s twisted gates they fly,
As victor’s roar thunders the sky. 
 
    “So, that’s where you’re storming off to?” Armonger glanced up as she ripped open the door to his forge. “To find Av’Kra?” The leader of the Hand of Artakha wasnt’ even on the island. He was taking care of negotiations at the Southern Continent Citadel at the request of the large organization of Toa warriors and scholars there. 
 
    Erylist didn’t answer, and it seemed futile to try and stop her. But that didn’t stop Armonger’s concerned gaze from following her out into the courtyard of the Hand’s fortress headquarters.
 
     “She’ll figure it out eventually, and hopefully tire herself out in the process,” Seja shrugged, also watching her go. 
 
    “You’re not worried she’s starting to really hate us?” the dragon asked. 
 
    “It’s misdirected frustration, that’s all,” Seja told him. 
 
    “You sound confident.” 
    
    The winged warrior’s only response was to tap the ridge of her Kanohi Suletu knowingly. 
 
 
'Ware falling blades of wingéd sprite,
With soul-sharp eyes and Inner Sight.
Rains justice cold as low she flies,
Knowledge vast, and counsel wise. 
 
    “I didn’t hate you, you know. I was just…young,” the Erylist of the present said, now dropping into their midst from somewhere above them, from where she’d been watching this time. Seja and Armonger should have looked startled, to see an older, wearier Erylist appear out of nowhere. “I never hated you."
 
    “We know,” they said together, both turning and boring into her with unblinking eyes. “So why did you fail us?” 
 
    And the sensation of falling and the sound of a windstorm drove Erylist to her knees. The forge’s fires went dark, and the whole foundry melted away. 
 
    The Midnighter crouched, holding her breath, and when her world stopped spinning, she found she had a bird’s eye view of the scene below. It was night, and she was hovering above an all too familiar harbor. It was Xia, and the deck of the gleaming Brotherhood vessel spread out below her. She saw Seja, Armonger and herself, her past self, sprawled unmoving, and at the mercy of white-armored warrior. Pridak. 
 
    “Why did you fail us?” their words echoed in the air around her. 
 
    Again, she fell. 
 
From hard-fought battles to triumph bright
They put the land once more to right
Boasting proud Great Spirit’s light,
The Children of Artakha’s might. 
 
    With a splash, she plunged deep into a frigid, black ocean. She fought, but the water she was fighting had no substance, only cold. She may as well have been fighting void. 
 
    This was the part of the nightmare that felt the most familiar. 
 
    In the midst of her thrashing, she struck something solid, startling a gasp out of her. 
 
    Opening her mouth was a mistake, and the icy nothing that was drowning her rushed in with unnatural ferocity. 
 
    But that something solid held on, grasping her arm and burning her. She knew it would be death to let go, though. She was falling in reverse, at the mercy of this burning grip. 
 
    When she finally broke the surface, she found a Toa of Fire hauling her onto a dock, stern but concerned expression somewhat foiled by his Kanohi Miru. 
 
    “Sister,” he said to her. 
 
    But her attention was consumed by the Onu-Matoran at the Toa’s side, who sat facing away from her. 
 
    'I need to see his mask.'
 
    She reached for the Matoran’s shoulder to spin him toward her. 
 
    She leapt back with a cry. The Matoran had Seja’s face, and it asked once more, “Why?”
 
    She slipped back off the dock, and was falling again. 
 
    But this time, Erylist could see where she was falling. 
 
    Metru Nui, the Great City. She fell through rain and thunder and hail, with lightning zagging angrily around her. She caught a glimpse of the Avohkah Tamer, her mentor, through the storm. The fierce winds ripped her cry for help from her throat, and the Avohkah Tamer raced away into the gale. 
 
    The unmistakable colossus that was The Coliseum spread out below her, calling the lightning to its pylons. Calling her. It was strong, and no matter how she twisted and turned in the air, she couldn’t control her fall. She was sure she was screaming, but what good had that ever done? 
 
    An immense pain of impact wracked her entire frame, and she saw an energy pylon erupt from her heartlight, having impaled her straight through. 
 
 
 
    With a groan, Erylist, the real Erylist, sat up and spat the city sludge back into the stream that ran over her, shaking off the lingering dream-terror as she looked around the dark tunnel, lined with pipes and bundles of wiring. She was still in one of Metru Nui’s many gutter-tunnels, but there was no sign of her quarry - a many-tentacled Takea-squid hybrid, amphibious, and as she’d just learned, capable of electrifying you straight to oblivion. This wasn’t the first Rahi chase that had ended in the Rahi’s favor, but it was the first one that had almost drowned her in the city’s slurry and runoff. 
 
    It was time to get to the surface. There was no telling how long she’d been unconscious. Sore and feeling weak in more than just one way, Erylist scraped what slurry she could from her armor, and staggered to her feet. The slurry was a mix of various oils and machine fluids, granulated solid and metallic protodermis, various bits of organic matter, mostly plants from the smell of it, and some chunks of synthetic protodermis that refused to break down. She wouldn’t be surprised if she’d been out for a few hours, based on how little she’d been sleeping in recent weeks. 
 
    Her dream sequences, when she did sleep, were mostly the same, and always ending at the Coliseum, one way or another. Usually it wasn’t a gruesome, impaled death. That was new, and perhaps she’d ask Helryx to have a contracted Toa of Psionics peer into her head to make sure everything was okay, once her mission in the city was done. 
 
    Of course, at the rate Erylist had been going, for nearly a year now, her mission in Metru Nui would go on for centuries. 
 
    Armonger and Seja, once fellow members of the Hand of Artakha, and now fellow members of Helyrx’s Order, were here in the city somewhere, trapped in stasis, as Erylist herself had once been, over a century ago. Erylist’s job was to get them back. Her job was to also find out what in Mata Nui’s name was going on in the city, since all exports and communications had halted years earlier. And that all looked simple and straightforward on the directives tablets, but when was anything in life actually that simple or straightforward. 
 
    Shaking more slurry out of crevices in her armor, Erylist grumbled to herself as she keyed in coordinates to her holo-nav device. “I didn’t spend a year in intensive training on Daxia to get left for dead in the gutters by mutant crustaceans.” She didn’t even know what metru she was in - or, under. The display from her device said she was still in Ga-Metru, but on other side from where she’d started. 
 
    A green pinprick appeared on the edge of her nav’s display. It was accompanied by a second pinprick of the same green light, which caught her interest. These were two of her tracking devices that were programmed into the device. She brought up information on the pinpoints with two quick commands punched into the device. “Matoran?” One tracker was her Le-Matoran contact, Larker, and the other was some Ga-Matoran she’d had a brief encounter with, and not seen in the months since. 
 
    With a shrug, she scrolled on the display until she found the nearest maintenance tunnel exit, and loped off after the pinpricks of light. 
 
    And the watcher in the shadows was satisfied. Sometimes, it was sure that the Midnighter knew it was there. But perhaps that was just paranoia. The watcher melted away.
 

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    “You’re sure this is the way?” Tengi asked. Again. She was ninety-seven percent he was just as lost as she. 
 
    “Right-sure,” Larker replied, obviously distracted. He whistled again, and shook a small box of dried Bula berries. “Subi!” 
 
    “Do you really think that’s a good idea? Anything could be out here with us,” Tengi fretted. 
 
    “The Rahkshi probably scared off anything else,” the Le-Matoran reasoned, and called his Ussal again. 
 
    The two made their way through what used to be an Assembler’s village. They had to walk carefully. The center of the main boulevard had collapsed in, and was now the district’s newest canyon. It wasn’t that impressive, right now, but time and earthquakes would fix that. But this was a long-abandoned village. 
 
    “Maybe we passed the village they said to go to?” Tengi suggested. “Hey.
 
    “Hm?
 
    “Who’s that Kesian Matoran, anyway?” She had a hunch that would be a sufficient distraction. 
 
    “Who’s Kesian?” Larker repeated, turning to look at her. “He’s only the boss-chief of half of Le-Metru.” 
 
    “Really?” Tengi was skeptical. One Matoran couldn’t hold that much power, surely. 
 
    “He runs the Phase Dragon company, is an advisor to the committees of most of the other big-shot companies in Le-Metru, meet-chats with the Turaga, they say.” 
 
    “But, you don’t know him?
 
    “Well, now I do,” Larker said, as though he didn’t quite believe it himself. 
 
    “If he’s your boss, how could you not have met him?” she pressed. 
 
    “It’s a big business.” He shrugged, as though that settled it. 
 
    “Sounds like a bad business,” she muttered. 
 
    “Job-work is job-work,” Larker said. “Rare-precious nowadays.” 
 
    “Well, it doesn’t much sound like he cares about his workers,” Tengi shot back. "He’s out playing Toa, whatever that was, while his workers are scrounging for spare widgets?” 
 
    Larker said nothing, but whistled for Subi again. He didn’t have the energy to address the Kikanalo in the room, the hokey-pokey Toa-hero game they’d just witnessed. 
 
    “If he can’t even be bothered to meet his workers, how can he even be in charge of any?”
 
    “Kesian’s been a high-flyer as long as anyone can remember,” he explained. “Some Matoran just have Mata Nui’s blessing like that.” 
 
    “That’s ridiculous. You talk about him - scraps, you even talk to him like he’s made of purified protodermis. Nobody’s that special.” 
 
    Larker didn’t meet her eye. “Subi!” he called, instead. 
 
    Tengi growled to herself. If it didn’t mean wandering off on her own through the dangerous night in a completely new part of the city, in a more or less hostile Metru, she’d leave. She tried to think of a subject change, quickly getting tired of being for the Le-Matoran who wouldn’t be indignant for himself. “Subi can follow your scent, right?” 
 
    “Let’s trust-hope so,” he said, also relieved she’d let off. 
 
    “How old is he?” she asked. “I haven’t worked with Ussal much, but-
 
    “Shh!!
 
    “Hey! I’m not the one who’s been whistling all night! Don’t-
 
    “Hush-quiet! Low-duck!” Larker pulled her off what was left of the main road, into the shadow of one of the assembler’s canopies that was still standing. 
 
    Now Tengi heard it too. Frozen, they listened for a moment. Voices, approaching.
 
    Even as she relaxed, the voices called, “Hey! How’d you end up all the way out here? Yeah, we saw you.” 
 
    “It’s them,” Tengi said, reluctantly relieved. She stepped out into the street once more, and Larker followed. 
 
    And Larker and Tengi came mask-to-mask once more with Kesian and his Po-Matoran companion, Emyk. And, there was one more waiting to greet them. 
 
    “Subi!” Larker cried, falling to kneel by his nipper. “How…?” 
 
    Kesian grinned and offered his own trusty pouch of Bula berries. “He’s quite the snackster, this one. Even better, he led us straight to you.” 
 
    “Where’s your friend,” Tengi asked, looking around. 
 
    “What? The Rahkshi?” the Po-Matoran asked, and tried to suppress a proud grin. 
 
    “I meant the Ko-Matoran.” She scowled. “But where is the Rahkshi?” 
 
    “It’s…dealt with,” Kesian told them. “Don’t worry. Emyk? The Ko-Matoran?
 
    “He had to go study,” Emyk, the Po-Matoran shrugged. “Come on, you guys are headed straight into crafter’s territory. I’m not sure a Ga-Matoran would be welcome there.” He jerked his head back the other direction, and headed that way. Larker and Subi followed, the former careful to avoid unnecessary interaction with Kesian. 
 
    After a moment’s deliberation, Tengi followed. Kesian fell into step beside her, offering her some berries. 
 
    “Thanks,” she said, taking a few to be polite. 
 
    “I’m Kesian,” the Le-Matoran, apparently of some standing, introduced himself. 
 
    “So I’ve been told,” Tengi replied cautiously. “I thought you said your name was Tines.” 
 
    “Sometimes. That dependicates on the job we’re doing. Same with Emyk. Sometimes he’s Helix. Like, when whatever we’re up to would be bad for whatever jobs we have.” 
 
    “Or whatever monopolies you control,” Tengi said, accusation coloring her words brightly. 
 
    “Hey! You tellin’ my secrets, Larker?” Kesian called ahead, although judging by Larker’s flinch and quickened pace, Kesian’s joking tone wasn’t received well. 
 
    “How many other employees of yours can you name?” Tengi challenged him. 
 
    “Me. Larker,” Kesian began counting off on his fingers. “Kumo.” 
 
    “That’s your second in command, that doesn’t count,” Emyk called from the head of their little group. He took a right-hand turn at the intersection of two boulevards. 
 
    “Well, fine. I’ve given you enough names, by now. You haven’t given me any.” 
 
    “It’s not a game,” Tengi said, regarding him cautiously. 
 
    “Could be, if you play hard enough,” Kesian shrugged, offering her more berries and eating a few himself. 
 
    “Tengi,” she told him, accepting a few more Bula. 
 
    “Student?” he guessed. It was a safe guess, most Ga-Matoran were, at least part time. 
 
    “I was. But the schools are shut down, I thought everyone knew that.” 
 
    “Mmm. Slipped my mind. So, now what?” he pressed.
 
    “What do you mean?” 
 
    “Well, work is hard to come by, I’m sure. And with no school, there are no dormitories,” he reasoned.
 
    “I have to move to the tenements,” Tengi admitted, still cautious. What was he after? Surely this wasn’t idle chit-chat. 
 
    “Do you?” His tone suggested that she didn't. 
 
    “What do you want, Kesian?” Tengi stopped, and folded her arms, glaring at this nosy Matoran who was much too full of himself for her liking. The long stretch of road slowly became dotted with Matoran homes. 
 
    “Want?” he repeated, stumbling back half a step with a hand over his heartlight, offended. “What do you mean?” 
 
    Emyk and Larker and Subi also stopped, Larker turning back and looking hesitant to interfere, and Emyk looking impatient. 
  
  The Matoran homes, shut tight against the night, began to give way to some vendor and artisan canopies, with a large sector of warehouses looming behind. 
 
    “Well, I can get you into a better neighborhood than any tenements,” Kesian said. 
 
    She raised an eye-ridge, which asked, “How?”
 
    “Widgets. You said it yourself, I run a monopoly. I’m sure I’ve got widgets to spare. Any mask kept out of the tenements is a mask saved, I say. Especially nowadays,” he added. 
 
    “I can fund myself, thanks.” Tengi brushed past him, making for Larker’s more-familiar presence, even if he was off balance and on edge. 
 
    “I’m not sure you can,” Kesian returned. "You’re a student out of school and a home, your skiff-sailer got wreckified, and since you’re obviously not from Metru Nui, you’ll have an even harder time than a citizen getting a job here.” 
 
    Tengi froze. “What did you say?” She turned ever so slightly so she could see him out of the corner of one eye. 
 
    “You’ll be out of a job for a while,” he repeated. “Especially with how the city’s going, recently. Now that you mention it, I suppose I could hire you for nautical deliveries.” 
 
    “No." She gave her head a frustrated shake. "You think I’m not from here.
 
    “I know you’re not.
 
    She turned fully to him, and the two sized each other up in silence. 
 
    Finally, Tengi dropped her gaze, and said through clenched teeth. “How did you know?” She was positive she'd never told anyone here about that, especially not this so-named 'big-shot' transportation tycoon. 
 
    Kesian just smiled and popped another handful of Bula berries into his mouth. “Nobody from here likes to snack.” 
 
    “What do you want?” Tengi asked for the last time, quietly. 
 
    “Access that your student ID would get me, like into the Archives. And, information, if you have it,” Kesian answered directly, also quieting his tone to match hers. “And, I can get you another skiff-sailer with a shipping license, which would let you into a mariner’s neighborhood.
 
    “What, so I can be your errand sailor?
 
    “No, we kind of owe you a new sailer,” Kesian said with a guilty shrug, and nodded to Emyk to resume their pace. 
 
    “I’d still owe you, though,” Tengi grumbled. 
 
    “Only if you want to think of it like that,” he replied. 
 
    “What was that, anyways?” Tengi asked. 
 
    Kesian glanced at her. So did Emyk, although she didn’t see. “What was what?” he asked, insincere and not even giving any effort to play dumb convincingly. 
 
    “You know exactly what I mean,” Tengi snapped. 
 
    At the same time, Larker, whom they were now walking beside, said, “You know, the three of you turning into a Toa-hero?” 
 
    Emyk and Kesian exchanged a conversation in a single, silent glance, and Kesian grinned. “It’s not exactly that, Larker. It's called The Kesian Cohesion, I invented it myself. And, well, would you look at that, we’re here. What a convenience-idence.” 
 
    “What? Here?” Larker glanced around the deserted street. They were in a silent warehouse block.
 
    “Here,” Emyk said, marching up a short flight of concrete stairs and holding his badge up to the electro-magnetic lock on the door. It opened with a click and a beep, and Emyk disappeared inside. 
 
    “I’m not going in there,” Tengi said, shaking her head. There were zero reasons to trust these Matoran, and about four dozen reasons to blatantly mistrust them. 
 
    “Can you find your way back to Ga-Metru on your own?” Kesian asked rhetorically, because they all knew she couldn’t. “Who knows, maybe there are more Rahkshi where that one came from…” 
 
    “Rust in Karzahni,” she snapped at him, and pushed him out of her way, following Emyk through the door. In the scary stories told at a camp-out or on the docks, this was always how Matoran ended up dead - following strangers into remote, darkened buildings.
 
  Larker, however followed without nearly as many qualms. Cautious, yes, but mostly curious. What did Le-Metru’s most prominent Matoran do in his spare time? What in the world did Kesian have in Po-Metru? 
 
    His curiosity, however, was met with disappointment, as the dark warehouse was lined with rows and rows of floor-to-ceiling shelves of product crates, and they seemed to be the only things moving. Their footsteps and Subi’s skittering claw-feet were the only sounds. Emyk led them along the wall, and they walked for what felt like hours. 
 
    “Hey,” Larker whispered to Tengi, just ahead of him. “So, where are you from, then?” 
 
    “From Karzahni’s scrap bucket,” she replied, not thrilled at all with the situation.
 
    “Keep moving,” Kesian urged impatiently. 
 
    Emyk turned down one of the rows of shelves, seemingly at random, and led them about halfway through. They were standing in an aisle of solid crates taller and wider than they were. 
 
    Kesian pushed his way to the front of their group, joining Emyk. Each pressed his key card badge to his respective edge of a product crate, as unremarkable and unmarked as all the rest. 
 
    For a moment, nothing happened. Then, the front of the crate slid upward automatically, with a hydraulic hiss, to reveal a staircase, lit by lightstones, leading down. 
 
    Emyk smiled, and led the way down. 
 
    “Guests first,” Kesian motioned for Tengi and Larker to follow. Tengi obliged, half-preparing to meet her maker. 
 
    It took a moment of Subi pacing skittishly, and Larker said sheepishly, “He’s not great-good at stairs.” 
 
    The two Le-Matoran worked together, carrying the whining nipper between them. 
    
    When they reached the bottom of the stairs, which weren’t at all as treacherous as they’d first appeared, Larker’s jaw dropped. It was a huge room supported by many pillars, jam-packed full of Po-Matoran and Le-Matoran, all sitting around smaller crates and barrels like tables. There were even a few Ko-Matoran present. There must have been a few hundred of them.
 
    But perhaps more astonishing was the familiar mask sitting alone at the nearest crate-table. Subi rushed to greet the Ta-Matoran, and Larker sat down heavily on the stool next to him. “Rofto?” 
 
    The Ta-Matoran smiled widely. “Larker! It’s been a little while. I see they hijacked you, too.” 
 
    Larker sputtered here and there, having trouble taking this all in. 
 
    Tengi, all too aware of all eyes in the room beginning to fix on the new arrivals, including herself, asked out of the corner of her mouth, “What in Mata Nui’s name is all this?”
 
    “This,” Kesian said, and stepped forward, raising both arms to greet the room, and raised his voice to address the crowd. “This is an army.” 
 
 

 
 
 
 
If you’re at all curious about Erylist, more about her past can be found in this epic and this short story. (the epic more so than the SS) /shamelessplug

Edit: Counting the short story, the previous epic, and the flash fictions, this saga officially broke the 100K word count!! :D I know that's nothing compared to some of the works here, but it's definitely a personal best. 
Edited by Aderia
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Chapter 12: Dust

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    “How many more of our own,” Kesian demanded to the crowd, “do we have to find collapsed in the street?” A rumble of agreement rolled through the gathered Matoran, punctuated with assenting slamming on the makeshift tables. 
 
    Kesian continued, striding back and forth across the modest platform at the head of the huge chamber. “Preventing access to the Feeding Point is beyond criminal, if you ask me. It’s treachery!” Po-Matoran and Le-Matoran alike spat forward their aggressive agreement, and the few Ko-Matoran in the crowd were murmuring among themselves and nodding along. “And those that turn a blind eye to this gross misconduct are just as much to blame!” With a subtle hand gesture behind his back as he turned, Kesian dispatched Emyk, who was standing to the side of the platform, to sit at the table where Tengi and Rofto sat. In case anyone got too riled up, at least they would have to go through their own captain to get to the Ga-Matoran or the Ta-Matoran. There would be no lynching of unwitting guests on his watch. The Ga-Matoran had been muttering in conspicuous mutiny to Larker beside her, anyways. It stopped when Emyk slipped into the seat beside her. 
 
    “Our own intel, just this week, reported the arming of Ta-Metru barges.” He spoke softer, the Matoran quieting to better hear. “Barges that, as we speak, are making their way to Ga-harbors. Harbors on your borders!” He pointed to a cluster of tables made up of quarry workers. “You don’t need a Knowledge Tower vantage point to figure out what their next move will be. Occupation of Ga-Metru was only the beginning. We’d be fools to think the influx of Ta-Matoran to the schooling district was only because they needed remedial classes.” A few in the crowd found this comment much funnier than it was meant to be. Kesian quieted them with a raised hand. 
 
    “I’ve been to your quarries, your warehouses, and your assembly villages.” He gestured to pockets of each type of worker as he named them. “We know how hard you labor. Nobody appreciates the unparalleled wilderness of your Metru more than a Le-Matoran, trust me. We’re lucky to see the sky through our cables and highways.” He chuckled, almost to himself, then went on. “I feel insulted for you, that your Garrison is expected to keep your quarries and sculpture fields Rahi-free, patrol the villages, residence districts, ports, you name it. And now, we throw an entire border to guard into the mix? And all this on the same budget as the rest of the policing forces? It’s been obvious for decades that we can’t expect bureaucracy, old Arrakio, to pass edicts that keep things fair for us. ‘Fair’ was never the game. We learned that too late.” He shook his head in disgust. 
 
    “Heart-brothers,” he now addressed his fellow Le-Matoran, slipping into their dialect effortlessly. “Just because we quick-talk and fast-drive, does that mean the world slip-passes us by?” 
 
    A chorus of “No!”s from the Le-Matoran present echoed around the room. 
 
    “We’re not ignorant of our stone-brothers’ hurts! We can’t strand-leave them for having the heart-courage to speak-act against the cross-wired smelters who dare-say that they know what’s best for the future-hope of our city-home.” 
    
    A Po-Matoran slipped into the room from one of the many connected corridors, catching eyes deliberately with Kesian. Something had him frantic. Without missing a beat, the Le-Matoran indicated he speak with Emyk with a jerk of his head. “I’ve spoken with warrior-captain Tahi, as well as four of the Moto-Hub directors, who are also here tonight.” He motioned the four Le-Matoran scattered around the room to stand briefly. As they did so, Kesian glanced at Emyk, who signaled him to wrap it up. “With lack-need of resources our stone-brothers are facing,” Kesian called their focus back to him one last time. “I have a hunch-feeling that the Hubs will be open for new trade-contracts tonight.” He let the heavy implication of fortified and speed-boosted vehicles, experimental weaponization tech, and supplementary Garrison fighters open the door to wheeling and dealing. The Moto-Hub directors here tonight, including his own lieutenant, Kumo, had specific, anti-Ta-Matoran agendas to fill. Emyk and his crew had planted, discussed, and persuaded similar agendas into their own people, the past few months, years in some cases. 
 
    Kesian indicated to his primary lieutenant, Kumo, to intercept any Matoran and handle his questions or requests aimed for himself or Emyk. “What’s the trouble, Pekka?” he asked the messenger who had come in, shifting distractedly at Emyk’s side. “Captain Tines, you have a …visitor waiting for you in interrogation chamber 4b.” Although many fighters coming into their recruitment knew their identities, everyone knew to address the higher-ups strictly by code names when conducing business of questionable legality. In turn, recruits were kept in a careful state of plausible deniability, and were assigned alternate identities should they want to move up the ranks. It wasn’t a perfect system, as a handful of costly slip ups throughout the years had shown them. But the time for secrecy was drawing to an end, and quickly. Kesian could feel it. 
 
    “A ‘visitor’?” He raised an eye-ridge at Pekka’s suspicious emphasis on the word. He turned to Emyk, with a glance at Larker and Tengi at the table just behind him. “Were were followed? Betrayed?” He was calculating the time it would take him to bolt to the command panel along the far wall and pull the lever that would set off the “scatter and lay low, we’re busted” sirens, and collapse the Wherehouse in on itself three minutes later. 
 
    “Not a Matoran,” Pekka shook his head, slightly bewildered, slightly afraid. “She also asked if you had a ‘Larker’?” If the driver heard his name mentioned, he gave no indication
 
    “I knew we shouldn’t have sent Bevs home,” Emyk grumbled. Aulto, or Bevs, was wonderfully perceptive in interrogations, not easily intimidated, and not to mention, quintessential, Tahimatoru’s presence be required. “I’ll hold the fort out here.” 
 
    Kesian nodded. “Keep your telecon on my frequency. Do what you can here. I’ll be in interrogation if you need me.” 
 
    “You always take the easy jobs,” Emyk said, double checking his telecon settings. “I didn’t expect tonight to turn into a meet-and-greet.” Kesian was much better at the public-relations part of their job, he would be daft not to admit. “Thanks, Pekka. Good work.” 
 
    “Captain Helix,” Pekka saluted casually in farewell. He turned to Kesian expectantly. 
 
    “Keep an eye on Larker,” Kesian told him, indicating to the Po-Matoran just who Larker was. “Grab someone else to help keep an eye on that table. I’ll send someone if I need back up. Be ready to bring Larker to join me in interrogation, too.” 
 
    “Yes, sir.” 
 
    “And remind Captain Helix that it’s almost daybreak. I want everyone out in an hour.” Kesian turned on his heel, deftly turning away a steady trickle of Le-Matoran who managed to get to him before he slipped out of the grand chamber. 
 
    Kesian got a double-dozen paces into the corridor, and decided to give the range on the upgraded telecons a try. A tiny antennae sprang out of its hiding spot from what appeared at first glance to be a common street-drone remote. But instead of pointing the device at a street-drone and setting it on a pre-programmed delivery route, the frequency link pinged to life, and Kesian spoke into the device. “Tines to Helix. Tines to Helix.” 
 
     Telecons, short for ’telecommunicated contact’ or ‘ conversation’, he could never remember which.  They were another piece of miniaturized tech that Aulto’s team of devtechs had modified, years ago now, from Tele Metru Inc. Only the captains and their primary lieutenants had them, but Kesian was working hard with his primary Moto-Hub, the one where Kumo was in charge, to get the devices transmitting range boosted to at least cover a Metru, and then get them out to more and more operatives and pockets of their fighters. “Repeat: Tines to Helix.” 
 
    “Helix, receiving.” His voice was wavering through with static. With a sigh, Kesian noted that the devices would need to be upgraded yet again, before they were ready to hit the streets. Tele-Metru Inc. itself could have easily enough produced a handheld telecon device. The trick was to make it difficult for the enemy to duplicate, which was where the art of the Ko-Matoran techs came in.
 
    “See to that water-sister of ours.” He’d forgotten to mention that before he’d left. “Affirmed?” He was pretty sure Emyk would know to arrange things, but ‘pretty sure’ had lost them brothers in the past. 
 
    “Affirmed. Dynamic risk assessment, initiated. Helix out.” The link blipped out, and Kesian also noted they’d have to get someone from Tele Metru Inc. to give their fighters some basic transmitter talking instruction, for ease and clarity of communication, if not uniformity and a sense that they actually knew what they were doing. And they did, for the most part. But with the threat of an outright invasion looming, well, that was enough to make even the wiliest of Le-Matoran insurrectionist captains -that is, Kesian- think twice. Having better communications than the enemy was a key advantage that they’d started with, and were in no uncertain terms willing to lose. 
 
    Kesian approached the chamber in question, slowing his pace and stowing the telecon safely away, The interrogation chambers, also doubling as prison cells when needed, had been designed like those of the Old City - classic metal bars, no amenities, not even a place to sit. He saluted the two guards, greeting each by name curtly. “Haro. Hafu.” 
 
    “Captain Tines,” they returned, almost in unison, and one opened the door for him. 
 
    “The prisoner hasn’t moved, sir,” one fo them informed him. The motion-timer lights flickered on inside. Apparently, he’d meant literally. 
 
    “Found her snooping around an armory chamber,” the other guard said. “Nothing was stolen.” 
 
    “Good work, brothers. This shouldn’t take long.” Kesian stepped through the door, and it clanged shut behind him.  He found himself caught in a wordless stare down against a pair of slit-pupiled green eyes. 
 

 
    Emyk was nothing if not a shrewd delegator. He made his way through the room easily, instructing his small handful of strategically placed lieutenants in the crowd, each to handle a separate aspect of organization, deployment, resource allocation, or recruitment. He was free to deal with the current, most pressing problem at hand - the Ga-Matoran they’d unfortunately acquired. And not just acquired, but acquired in such a way that she not only knew the identities of the three most instrumental leaders of the whole operation, but also knew that said leaders occasionally gallivanted around the city as some anomalous amalgamation, bringing in Rahkshi and getting into Mata Nui knew what other trouble. If Kesian hadn’t gone and compromised his own identity to console his driver, the probably wouldn’t be in this predicament. 
 
    Ga-Metru, in Emyk’s eyes, were essentially standing aside and letting Ta-Metru have free reign and even use their resources to bully the rest of the city out of their way and into obscurity, and eventually, poverty, perhaps worse. That made their water-sisters as guilty as the smelters, in his opinion. If only she’d been an Onu-Matoran instead. Making one of them disappear wouldn’t have been nearly as controversial, as they hadn’t even attempted to appear neutral. 
 
    The Po-Matoran captain stopped to speak with his first lieutenant. “You know the drill, Tusk. Make sure this place is cleared out by the end of the hour.” Tusk was a well-established carver who had been with them from the start, and had earned his code name last year when they’d organized more officially into some semblance of an army, assigning rank and bringing in only the most trusted and capable heads of what had been separate malcontent groups together to form a chain of command. 
 
    Tonight’s meeting consisted of a fraction of the sum of their forces. Granted, it was a significant fraction. But they were growing daily, with the aggressions from Ta-Metru and, more and more so, from Onu-Metru against both Le-Metru and Po-Metru. There was the bulk force of fighters, with separate branches in Po-Metru, Le-Metru, and Ko-Metru, respectively. The Matoran at the gathering tonight mostly fell into this category. Their organization, discipline, and training fell mostly to Emyk and his inner crew of lieutenants. Kesian oversaw the intelligence operations, but also had his own specialized strike force, which included the elusive captain Tahi. Aulto had been the one to bring the long-buried lore that spoke of a powerful Khaita Mangai to their attention, years ago, when he’d first been apprenticed to the Scholar Nui, Ihu, and gained access to the Mythic Halls in the tallest Knowledge Towers. Aulto, was also an essential part of Kesian’s intelligence division, but he primarily headed up the small but dedicated team of devtechs who had begun as a jilted core of Ko-Matoran, but had expanded to include many technologically and mechanically savvy Le-Matoran and Po-Matoran. If, but more likely, when the time came to arm their fighters en masse, Aulto promised they’d have the armories full.
 
    Kesian, Aulto, Emyk, none of the standing officers, for that matter, had been originators of the army, or could even point to a specific time or place it had begun. Pockets of Matoran from this subdistrict or that organization were snubbed one too many times by an edict from the Coliseum that favored their opponents, or had been shorted on one too many trade deals, excluded from a contract for the last time. The list went on. Throughout the years, enough of the groups had been in talks with one another that they suddenly began to collate into a network. Before anyone knew it, here they were. 
 
    They all lived with the very real knowledge that their tenure in command could be over in the blink of an eye. Their whole operation had been carefully built, planned for, strengthened, brought together, and organized over countless decades. And now, one disgruntled Ga-Matoran who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time could bring it all crashing down, wittingly or not. The liability did not sit well with Emyk at all. 
 
    He picked his way back to the table at the front of the grand chamber, where Tengi sat in perturbed silence. Larker had been more than eager to mingle, although reliable Pekka wasn’t letting him stray more than a few tables away. Rofto, who was becoming a fixture, their token Ta-Matoran, had joined in a quick game of caps and pins with a mixed table of Matoran. Subi, at least, stayed with her, uneasy underground and uneasy in a crowd. Emyk stopped at her table, and crossed his arms. With a jerk of his head, he said, “Let’s take a walk, sailor.” 
 
    “Assuming I have a choice,” she snapped, and jerked up from her seat to follow as bidden. She cast one last glance at Larker, perhaps a last-ditch call for back up, but he only caught her eye briefly, grinning the grin of a recently destitute but honest worker who had just found a few hundred kindred souls. 
 
    “Assume whatever makes you feel better,” he said, both nonchalant and patronizing. He led the way along the perimeter of the chamber, weighing the three most likely courses of action in his mind as he went along. The trailing Ga-Matoran warded off any approaching army fighter more effectively than any Kanohi Hau could have. 
 
    “They can’t all accept his lies so easily!” she piped up angrily, a bit too far off his heels for his comfort. Not only did she have to almost-shout for him to hear, but he would also be less able to intervene lest she raised the ire of any of the more impulsively violent recruits who might be within earshot.
 
    “You sure you want to spout off accusations about liars here?” He glanced back once, just to make sure she was still there. With Kesian gone, the borrowed charisma that lent a veneer of good humor and patience evaporated. "You’re already enough of a target.” Probably best to take the next corridor as soon as possible. He’d worry about linking up to an exact destination after that. 
 
    “I’ve herded enough Mahi in my day, and these Matoran here? I can hardly tell the difference,” she hissed, catching up to him. 
 
    Emyk cut her off. "You’re going to get yourself trussed up and thrown into a canal, if you don’t watch it.” It was a warning, not a threat, although she probably wouldn’t see the difference. “Come on.” He keyed open a door to an south-bound corridor, gesturing her through it impatiently. Once she was safely through, he waved away one of Kesian’s approaching lieutenants and made sure the door was securely latched. “So what was it you were saying about lies?” 
 
    “All that scrap about the feeding point?” She practically gaped at him, incredulous. “‘Occupation of Ga-Metru by Ta-Matoran’?” 
 
    “Yeah, more or less.” He shrugged. ‘Roving gangs of Ta-Matoran beating up and leaving for Rahkshi anyone not on their side’ would have been more like it. But if she was ignorant, or feigning it, he wasn’t going to waste his breath to enlighten her. He began leading the way down the corridor, brightly lit and clinically clean and clutter-free. Yes, it was a wing of the network run by Ko-Matoran.
 
    She followed apprehensively, realizing there weren’t a whole lot of options at that point. “I live in Ga-Metru. I think I’d notice Ta-Matoran occupation.” She emphasized her last word with air quotes. “I can count on one hand how many Ta-Matoran I’ve seen around my neighborhood in the past month."
 
    A not-so-good-humored smile crooked the corner of Emyk’s Kanohi. “Yeah, you’d think so.” 
 
    “What’s that supposed to mean?”
 
    “Matoran run low every day, Tengi,” he told her, as if she didn’t already know. Everyone had that one co-worker who put off making the more-or-less yearly pilgrimage to the feeding point, who let that telltale twinge behind their heartlight go on one day too long, and then, you either had to call a med squad because they’d collapsed in the street after a few hours of disoriented wandering and rambling, sometimes becoming violent in their confusion, or they simply slumped over in an energy-depleted coma at their work station. “Nobody runs low at the same time, from year to year, from Matoran to Matoran. Nobody expects Ga-Matoran going about their daily lives, even the ones in charge of the feeding point, to notice less and less Po-Matoran showing up there. Or Le-Matoran. Or Ko-Matoran for that matter.”
 
    “Sure, fine,” she conceded, then prompted, still skeptical, “Occupation, though?” 
 
    “Well, if you’ve been shacked up in the cozy dormitory sub-district, of course you wouldn’t have noticed."
 
    “Well, since the school closures, I was in the middle of moving out, actually, before you and your merry band plucked me off the street like some-“
 
    “Exactly,” he interrupted. “You were headed for the tenements. Why do you think Kesian was so keen to offer you a free pass into a ritzy mariner’s neighborhood?” 
 
    She said nothing, but Emyk could virtually hear the gears grinding in her head. 
 
    The students, and the whole rest of the city, it seemed were moving. All the pieces were shifting now - enough so that daily life was marked more by turbulence than it was monotony. The Fire Brands had recentralized deep within Ta-Metru, and the Conservators had moved completely underground. Underground, exactly where the comm-tech Aulto’s team had been so laboriously developing would be crippled.
 
   There was a limited time frame here. Pieces had begun to shift on the sociopolitical landscape. As pieces shifted, people would be concerned with either making sure they ended up where they wanted, or putting efforts into not being shifted. Once the dust settled, everyone would be scrutinizing their new surroundings with no hint of the old trails or tracks left to follow. Getting key operations into place before the dust settled was paramount, and both sides knew it. 
 
    “You’re crazier than a corroded brakas if you think I’d spy for you,” she said finally. 
 
    Emyk let out a short huff, half amusement, half scoff. “I personally didn’t have my hopes pinned on that. But Kesian dreams big. If you want to give him a Gukko chase, I bet he’d sign over half his company to you for a legitimate Archives pass, even if it’s a student-access one.” Their chip-cloning couldn’t keep up with the Archives’ sophisticated security algorithms, especially since their imposter codes had been built on temporary ID codes to begin with, the ones that were attached to seasonal or weekly tourist passes. Students had access to any public wing of the Archives, regardless of whether the public was allowed to tour there that season or not. They also had access to the datalogs, and with that, every blueprint imaginable, dating back to when Metru Nui was just a dream in the mind of the Great Spirit himself. 
 
    “Taking over half a company sounds like more trouble than its worth. Tenfold.” Tengi frowned. 
 
    They walked on in mutually disdainful silence, and Emyk judged by the growing tenseness in his unwilling companion’s gait, she had realized how good and lost she was. Maybe she wasn’t ready to throw in her lot with them and turn her back on her people like Rofto had. She also hadn’t recently been through a life-altering trauma of dodgy origin branded her a fugitive as Rofto had. So she’d need something else to get the Kikanalo stampeding, so to speak. Maybe Kesian was set on turning her spy for them, but Emyk thought himself a Matoran with much more practical goals. Any of the faith she had in the status quo that could be shaken up a bit was fine by him, no matter where it settled. 
 
    “Here,” he said, ungracefully breaking the steely silence. He stopped in front of a door, completely unremarkable from the other dozens of doors they’d passed. She didn’t follow as he moved to open it. 
 
    “You can’t do this,” she said, and he almost didn’t believe that he was hearing fear in her voice. “People will notice I’m gone.” 
 
    “It’s not a prison cell,” he told her, understanding suddenly what she’d assumed. He hadn’t totally ruled out locking her up indefinitely, though. He had become fairly confident, though, they wouldn’t have to kill her, though. But she wouldn’t find that revelation comforting. “It’s not. Promise.” He turned the handle and pushed the heavy door in, leading the way. 
 
    “Captain Helix!” A weary looking Kanohi Ruru peeked over an over-laden medical cart. The Ko-Matoran pushing the cart stepped out from behind it, giving his captain the smartest salute he could muster. “We weren’t expecting you.” 
 
    “Lieutenant Fang, well met,” Emyk returned the militant salute, and then stepped in to offer his fist to the Ko-Matoran - the salute of brothers. “Any progress?” 
 
    They stood in a room that had once been a generous storage space, but had now been converted, storage crates and all, into a medchamber with a perimeter of trundle-bunks, and a double column of cots running through the center. Two other busy Medtoran, Lieutenant Fang’s assistants, were working their way around the room with similar carts of equipment. There was also a devtech Matoran present, fiddling with batteries and power cables. None of the attempts the tech team had made to modify and channel city grid power to be Matoran-consumable had been met with any success. 
    
     There had to be no more than five or six bedspaces vacant. The cots and bunks were filled with comatose or nearly-comatose Matoran, all from Po-Metru, Le-Metru, and Ko-Metru. Each incapacitated Matoran had at least half a dozen neurocables hooked under his armor, running to carefully placed and alarmingly average-sized tanks of neurodermis and nutridermis. The pungent, pulpy smell of the latter was unmistakable. It was a poor substitute for those who had run too low, but it kept them alive, for the time being. Old monitors were bolted to walls, ceilings, support pillars, wherever there was room, to display vital signs, and the static they gave off filled the air with a hum that was just on the threshold of the hearing range. It was only unnerving once you left the room and it stopped and you realized you’d been hearing it the whole time, unaware. 
 
    “It’s horrifying," Tengi whispered. She had braved her way into the chamber, and stared around in dismal consternation. “What is this?”
 
    “If we’re lucky,” Emyk said, “this is a temporary solution to a temporary problem. If we’re not, it’s just the beginning.” 
 

 
Edited by Aderia
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Chapter 13: Paragon’s Puppets

 
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Many Years Ago, during the Conquests of the League of Six Kingdoms…
 
The Kingdoms’ delegation party was impressive, fearsomely so, but Nuok was of the opinion that all the pomp and formality was obsequious and unnecessary. And so, he looked on with disdain set just below his Kanohi. As soon as the delegation’s ships had made port in the finest Ga-Metru harbor, a flurry had been set off in the city. The Barraki had sent what looked like half a fleet to the shores of the Great City. It was an audacious move, all the while flying the three virtues peace banner. Turaga Arrakio had welcomed them graciously, of course, while discreetly dispatching runners to put all policing forces on high alert, and for about three-dozen more of the city’s top Matoran from this field or executive of that company and so on to gather and organize as an audience in the Coliseum. It was an impressive turn-about pulled off in less than an hour. The negotiations had been set to take place in the Turaga’s own council chambers. But then the infamous Pridak himself had stepped off the flagship, flanked by not one, but three of his fellow warlords, and then no less than thirty well-decorated commanders. Of course, as the pristine Matoran of the Great City quickly saw, ‘well-decorated’ meant anything from mangled or missing limbs or eyes to extra limbs or eyes picked up as trophies from a battlefield, and the occasional actual badge or banner.
 
Once the Barraki’s entourage had been ceremoniously led through the city to the Coliseum, and had been filed into the arena, now set up to be a makeshift amphitheater, and seated in astringent ranks opposite the frightened but brave-masked gathering of Matoran, they did look significantly less frightening, thank the Great Spirit. But they didn’t act it. More than one Matoran made the mistake of making eye contact, and inevitably flinched away. As the warlords and the Turaga and his Inner Council conferred in low voices, the Cobalts of Ga-Metru were establishing a wide perimeter around the occupied harbor, letting no Matoran in, and no waiting League soldiers so much as lean over a gunwale.
 
Nuok, who of course had been one of the first Matoran asked to attend this negotiation, had made sure to seat himself as close to the political action as possible in the amphitheater. It was slightly irksome, though. In the council chambers, he had his spot, which everyone knew was his. He did his best to ignore the stragglers, the last-thought, lower-tier invitees ushered themselves in to fill out Metru Nui’s representation. While he could understand the preeminent professors from the Ga-Schools, it really seemed that every department head and teacher-of-the-year had been snagged. He caught himself, but he almost gaped openly as a gaggle of speeder jockeys from the Moto-Hubs appeared through the Coliseum gate.
 
Frustration mounting, Nuok forced his focus back to the private exchange between leadership. Or, at least as private as was safe for this level of play. Perhaps, Nuok mused, it was for the better that this negotiation would end up more in the public eye than they originally anticipated. While the Matoran of Metru Nui had done and admirable job of turning their heartlights off to the reports of the widespread upheaval and butchery of the League Wars, most knew deep down that they would someday have a reckoning at their seagate. And today was that day.
 
The murmuring of the waiting audience died down as Turaga Arrakio and the Barraki Lord made their way to the speaking stage, followed by half of their respective inner circles, with the other half making their way to meld in with the audience. 
 
“What was that all about?” Nuok asked quietly to the Ko-Matoran who slipped into the seat next to him. The front rows, the other Matoran had thankfully realized, were reserved for the prestige Matoran of the city. Nuok was duly satisfied when reputed Scholar Nui, Ihu, took a seat next to him. It was something impossible to miss.
 
“Peace offering, of sorts,” the Scholar answered, gesturing vaguely to a small group of Matoran - Archivists, by the look of it, who had broken off from a larger group of Onu-Matoran. Others followed while one led away two League soldiers who were hauling along a cargo cart bearing what looked like two quite sizable stasis tubes. “Two endlings of otherwise extinct species for us, and the permissions to take three shipments of purified protodermis as our gift to them.”
 
“Remind me to invite the Barraki to my Naming Day ceremony,” Nuok half-chuckled.  “I didn’t realize these warmongers were so keen on gift giving.”
 
Ihu gave the refined, scholarly version of a shrug - that is, one precise thirty-two degree raising of a shoulder, and said, “They’re not. They just know how to play sides.”
 
“Rotting Rahi,” Nuok returned in the Ko-Matoran’s own inflectionless tone, not at all serious, although one would be hard-pressed to say for sure. “And here I’d hoped they only knew how to overrun battle fields.”
 
The Scholar Nui, the only one of his title, made a noncommittal reply, and nodded once at the stage, where the Turaga and the Barraki Lord had taken their places to address the audience.
 
“Gathered Matoran,” the Turaga began, sweeping wide his arms to the audience. “I must certainly begin with a sincere expression of gratitude toward you that you must extend to your brothers and sisters when you leave this place. It is not every day we in the Great City have the opportunity to host such prominent guests.” Nuok caught the otherwise imperceptible nano-pause, trying to find a word to describe exactly the type of guests that the Barraki entourage was. Turning to the warlord, a gallant white-armored figure embellished with a crimson cape. Arrakio looked quite short and quite bland beside him, almost amusingly so. “Faithful friends, comrades, I present to you Barraki Lord Pridak, Paragon of the Great Spirit. I’m sure you need no reminder, but Lord Pridak and his associates arrived on our shores under the Three Virtues banner, which I know you will honor.” There were a few uneasy murmurs from Matoran in the audience. The Turaga continued, holding one hand up, just a slight up-turn of the wrist, to dissuade further public dissent. “While it’s rather unprecedented to hold such public negotiations, I assure you that the council and I have agreed that these are equally unprecedented times, and are taking steps to keep your full confidence.”
 
A handful of Matoran glanced up, realizing what their Turaga meant by this. The negotiations were to be recorded and broadcasted on the telescreens throughout the city for any and all to see. It was a bold move, and indeed, completely unprecedented. Political telecasts, and in the middle of the skiff-sailer obstacle trials. The Ga-Matoran sport sailors wouldn’t be pleased. But with the conflicting trickle of League War reports, called ‘conquests’ by only the most audacious, fear was smoldering in the hearts of many, if not all the city’s Matoran. At least seeing and hearing the Barraki in the armor would irritate the ambivalent majority and their comfortable complacency and nonchalance. Hopefully.
 
The risk in broadcasting the Barraki, of course, was that the city would like them too much. Nuok wouldn’t have been surprised if Arrakio was having someone, even now, arrange to send for war-battered Toa from the frontlines of the active resistance theaters. Perhaps some oppressed Matoran from a conquered territory.
 
Nuok snapped out of his musings as the Barraki Lord stepped forward after the Turaga’s brief introduction that Nuok had missed. Obviously it hadn’t been all that great.
 
“Thank you, Turaga. And thank you, citizens of Metru Nui. Your city is even grander than I remember. You have every right to be proud of all that you’ve accomplished here. And all that you could accomplish.” Pridak, already an elegant figure, sent ripples down his ornate cape as he spoke with emphatic but deliberate and precise gestures. The whole effect of him was just the right amount of regal and subtly intimidating to captivate the attention of a city. Perhaps Arrakio had made a mistake, publicizing this whole event. It certainly seemed like a snap decision. The one bad thing about sitting in the front, Nuok realized, was that he had a much harder time reading the crowd’s reaction.
 
“I come before you today not to plead my case, not to make an attempt to paint myself heroic in your eyes. I come before you to look you, the city of Metru Nui, in the eyes as an equal. As chosen by the Great Spirit himself to be at the head of all things. Believe the whispers, if they please you. ‘Conqueror’, ‘warmonger’, ‘usurper’. To the wilds and barbarian badlands of the Volimas Isles, perhaps. But I know you see what I see. Once slugging away under their own haze of chaos, barely able to scrape by. And now? Shipwrights renowned in their region, as well as progressing quickly toward becoming completely self-sufficient with their own timber supply. And unite that with armament factories and outposts from my heartland, Xia? I invite you to take closer inspection of my ships floating in your harbor as a humble example of what true leadership can do.”
 
“Humble example, indeed,” Ihu muttered under his breath, barely articulating the words. Nuok suppressed a smirk of agreement. The scholar had more guts than Nuok would have ever given him credit for. At this close a range, it would be all to easy to draw the personal ire of the Barraki Lord with an ill-timed comment. They were sitting close enough to the warlord to see the rhythmic intensifying and dimming of his heartlight, which, Nuok had noticed, remained steady and consistent, despite the flourishing tones and calculated but emphatic gesturing. Calculated, Nuok decided, was exactly what this warlord was. Through and through.
 
“As unrivaled leaders of Matoran society throughout the world, I have confidence you can recognize the greater good that we’re both working toward. Let there be no illusion - I’ve come here to negotiate terms of an alliance as equals in this endeavor.”
 
Nuok looked to his Turaga, whose Garai was professionally stoic. What are you up to, old one? Did the Turaga have a long game he was playing at, entering this dance with the warlord? Had Arrakio invited them here? Had they muscled their way in, literally or not? The Ta-Matoran’s attention slid to the imposing warlord, and froze immediately, accidentally meeting Pridak’s razor-sharp gaze. And Nuok was left paralyzed, adrenaline racing through his system, long after the warlord moved on, which was immediately.
 
Imagine, he thought in awe, as he recovered gradually. Being able to inspire fear like that with nothing more than a glance… 
 
Although Nuok could never hope to match this fearsome warrior in prowess, perhaps he could learn from him.
 

 
“Tread cautiously, Nuok,” Turaga Arrakio warned the Ta-Matoran, an icy edge undergirding his tone.
 
With a sharp intake of breath, Nuok began again, forcing a more respectful tone. “All I’m asking, Turaga, is who let the Tahtorak into the titration lab in the first place?”
 
The other Matoran in the Turaga’s council chamber had stopped their scribbling and recording and low-toned, urgent conversations to listen. It had been nearly four months now, and the Barraki’s fleet had still not left. Pridak himself, of course was needed on this front or at that stronghold, and was in the city only occasionally, but he always left an abundance of capable officers and delegates. Often, fellow Barraki. The whole city was more on edge than usual, because this time, Barraki Takadox had been left to ‘babysit the Matoran’, as they’d heard some of the soldiers saying among themselves, among the docks. There had been temporary housing provided to the League’s legion at the expense of Ga-Metru. While the Ga-Matoran were more than happy to give the legionaries the wide berth they deserved, it came at the cost of essentially a whole shipyard’s production. The best shipyard, actually. While that was unfortunate, it made the irritated sailors and traders who operated out of that port, many prominent players in the business, prime targets to sway to one’s liking. And Nuok had been hard at work among his own people and personally to lay groundwork into any groups that could be potential allies within the city.
 
It was more and more clear by the day that the rusty Turaga had no idea what he was doing. Arrakio was interested in not getting trampled by the League, even if that meant being pushed around with no end in sight. For all the fancy talk of paragons and influence for the ‘greater good’, the Matoran saw Pridak and his cause for what it was. The Knowledge Crystal crunchers and the exasperating erudites in the schools could wax philosophical about Karzahni knew what, find a moral nitpick about every action and implication and possibly conceivable consequence. Then, there were other Matoran - honest, working Matoran, like Nuok, who were losing trade and profit and production no matter what.
 
Surprisingly enough, the heads of the Po-Metru Crafter’s Commission, and a majority of the quarry masters and warehouse foremen were in agreement with the big brains. There was no way Metru Nui would sell out to the conquerors and tyrants that were the blight of so many other lands. The guilt of long-held complacency had caught up to many, who now felt compelled to take an ethical stand against unfairness and injustice. Because it was in their harbor now.
 
Hypocrites. All of them.
 
To be fair, Nuok had to tell himself many times a week, he had been one of them. But at least he was ready to own up to it. And he wasn’t going to get hung up on himself and let his own pride keep him from taking actions to rectify his past mistakes.
 
And the biggest disappointment of them all? The Turaga, by far. During his time as a Toa, it had been his duty to fight beings exactly like the Barraki, what they stood for, and what they were spreading by force throughout islands and continents throughout the world. And now he was reduced to be a pawn of his own short-sighted policies, netted by neutrality, and didn’t have a strong enough support base to take the stands he needed to. Assuming he even wanted to.
 
“There are are forces at play, moving pieces you’re not aware of,” the Turaga told him tersely. “Would you have had the Barraki show up at our seagate with their whole flotilla, canons blazing?”
 
“Granted,” Nuok growled. “But letting them waltz right in and set up HQ in the Coliseum?”
 
“It’s a neutral space to work out coordinating policies,” one of the Turaga’s aides put in, but earned only witheringly reproving looks from both Nuok and the Turaga. “Well, it’s not like we were willing to go debate on their death boats,” he grumbled, and retreated back to his desk.
 
“Your people grow tired,” Nuok rounded back on the Turaga. “Make a deal, take a stand against them, I don’t think the majority know enough to care either way. But what they care about is their livelihoods, which is being smothered away by whatever this is!” He waved his arms broadly, indicating the stacks and stacks of tablets and charts and parchments, even a few high-tech data displays that drew stored information directly from Knowledge Crystal geodes. The council chamber, now temporarily a political-legal war room, was practically overflowing with backlog and very stressed Matoran who all felt they maybe possibly, best-case-scenario had part of a viable solution to a problem that they hadn’t had time to understand in the first place.
 
Nuok turned on his heel and made for the exit, and the quiet murmur of discussion picked back up. He didn’t expect to hear footsteps rushing after him. He didn’t give his follower the satisfaction of waiting for them. If they wanted to talk to him so badly, they wouldn’t mind working for it a bit.
 
“You talk big!” a voice called after him, catching up by the time the last syllable had fallen out of their mouth. It was that perpetually displeased Ga-Matoran scientist. He’d only seen her once or twice in the council chamber, but she was one that was always happy to tell a trouble-seeker where to find a unit of legion soldiers to heckle around the ports, or so his contacts in law enforcement told him. “You talk big,” she repeated, slowing to walk angrily alongside him. “But what do you have going for you to prove you’re not just another yakking Brakas looking for bula berries or a Muaka’s tail to yank?”
 
“What I have going for me?” Nuok asked, partially indignant, partially incredulous. He ran the most efficient foundry in his quadrant of Ta-Metru, soon to top the whole foundry district, if bi-annual projections held true for the next few years. He had a seat on the board for the Immolator Conglomerate, more than enough influence with a majority of the Fire Brands and the higher-ups in the Crafter’s Coalition. He’d called in all his favors and hardly slept a blink since the legion arrived putting this together. Especially since the Turaga was no closer to budging one way or another. “You don’t have to worry about that. Just know that it’s enough.” 
 
“You’re a worse bluff than a cornered cavefish. If you end up dead in a canal, I won’t sit vigil for you.” But the Ga-Matoran continued onto the electro-lift with him, and they dropped toward arena floor at a startling speed. “You’re just one Matoran. You have ideas, you probably think they’re good ones. But nobody there wants to work with you.”
 
“You’re not exactly a chipper nipper yourself.” He raised an eye ridge at her.
 
“You don’t give Arrakio enough credit. Or his council,” she told him curtly, through her weighty glower. “They’re professionals. They don’t need you barging in to play snappy Karzahni’s advocate because they’ve thought of it all already. Trust me. I listen.”
 
The electro-lift slowed to a surprisingly smooth stop, and the doors peeled back of their own accord, and the two Matoran continued through the short corridor into the mostly empty arena beyond.
 
“You’re one of them. You listen to what you want to, you hear what you want to,” he said disdainfully, noting her high-level student badge magnetized to her armor, reading her name. “Ginsa.”
 
“And you don’t?” She looked incredulous. “And you don’t know enough about me or them to make that judgement call.” They’d crossed the whole of the arena, and if Ginsa was surprised he headed toward her home district, she didn’t show it.
 
“Try listening to the people, for a change. The ones who don’t have the luxury to sit around in your overly competitive educational system to waltz around in the shiny land of ideas all day. We’re the ones who get hit worst. Always.”
 
“You’d be able to come up with half-good solutions if you weren’t so set on commiserating,” she retorted. “Worse than Makika toads in a drought.”
 
Nuok had bigger Tarakava to tackle at the moment. Abruptly, he decided he’d spent enough energy on this uppity scientist. “If that’s what you think of us, then.” He gave a dismissive salute, more mocking than an actual salute in farewell, and turned down the street that would take him to the occupied ports. “Off to commiserate.”
 
And Ginsa continued straight without another word toward her educational subdistrict.
 
He’d have to keep her in mind though, if there ever came a day he thought her people and his could be mutually beneficial to one another. But his task now was to convince Barraki Takadox to give him an audience with Barraki Pridak. It was he that Nuok needed to convince of the mutual benefits that could be reaped from working together.
 
If the Po-Metru artisans and crafters weren’t willing to collaborate, that was fine. Ta-Metru had ample talented workforce that could step in to fill the gap. And that way, Ta-Metru wouldn’t have to split the commissions. The forges Nuok had talked with were ready to back out of their production contracts with the Po-Matoran and transfer business to their fellow Ta-Matoran. They money they would save on transportation costs of materials back and forth would be more than enough to help start up some Ta-Matoran crafters guilds of their own. The lack of trade business from Ta-Metru might leave some Le-Matoran high and dry, but they were necessary collateral.
 
If the Ta-Matoran had to keep this city afloat through the entirety of the League Wars, however long that may be, so be it. And if Nuok could lead them through it, well. He wasn’t going to argue with himself on that one. Eventually, when everything was back to normal, they could open production deals back up with the Po-Matoran. 
 
Eventually, and probably. 
 

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Present Day
 
    Although Kesian would never admit it to anyone, himself included, he was probably one of the more stubborn Matoran in the city. He tried not to think about how that, in and of itself, kind of proved the point against him. And that aside, it was a trait that got him into trouble more often than not. Case in point, what felt like eons later, he was still stuck in the stalemate staredown in the interrogation room with this dark armored, green-eyed captive. Based on their sizes, Kesian would easily lose any fight. That’s why the room was divided by a vertical set of iron bars. Rudimentary, but better than nothing. If it weren’t for a slight twitch of the tail tip or adjustment of the slit-pupils, he would have sworn he was facing off with a stasis display.  But their stalemate was plunged into sudden pitch-black as the motion-timed lights deactivated.
 
    Cursing a mio a minute, Kesian desperately flailed one arm while fumbling with his prototype Cordak Cowrie Shells and detonator with the other. The lights flickered back to life begrudgingly just as two of the iron bars clanged to the floor, ends slagged and smoldering.
 
    And Kesian was alone in the room.
 
    “No!” He dove at the door and stumbled into the hallway, casting wildly about down both directions of the corridor. There was no sign of anyone else besides himself and the two startled guards.
 
    “Captain Tines?” one of the Po-Matoran guards asked, helping his companion to his feet.
 
    “Lock it down,” Kesian ordered.
 
    “Lock-“ the guard began to repeat for clarification.
 
    “The whole facility!” Kesian barked. “Security breach, code one-seven-tw“ He stopped short, sure he was seeing things.
 
    There, reclining in the doorway, looking infuriatingly smug, was the captive. Or, ex-captive, now. “Security breach, indeed,” she said, and smiled an impertinent smile. She didn’t look the least bit concerned that the two guards had leveled their Crast blasters at her and were waiting the slightest signal from Kesian.
 
    “How did you get in here?” the Le-Matoran demanded.
 
    “I followed you,” she replied, adopting a straight face and posture.
 
    “Impossible,” he retorted automatically, although he doubted it the moment the syllables left his mouth.
 
    She took a step toward him, and vanished into thin air before her foot hit the ground. All three Matoran glanced around cautiously, audio receptors straining for any hint, careful not to make any sudden moves this time.
 
    “At a certain point,” came her disembodied voice, floating farther down the corridor, “impossible becomes a matter of opinion.” She reappeared a few paces away, beckoning Kesian to follow. “Let’s talk, Captain. You and me. ‘Tiny’, was it?”
 
  Kesian motioned the guards to stand down, and requisitioned one of their Crast blasters for himself with a quick word that two shots in quick succession was the signal for initiating the lockdown, if things went badly. “Tines,” he snapped, catching up to the intruder. “Like the widget.”
 
    The intruder gave an unimpressed grunt. “Okay, then. Tiney.” She sounded content with her compromise, to his chagrin. “You’re going to get me to the Coliseum.”
 
    “Ha! Am I?” Kesian laughed. “No part of any of our interaction has made me want to help you. Literally zero. The opposite, actually.” It was the worst ask for help he’d ever heard, and he’d heard a lot in his time.
 
    “I’d owe you one. Surely you could think of something useful someone with my abilities could do for you. Your cause. Your city.” As if to emphasize, she once more blinked out of sight.
 
Kesian cautiously slowed his pace. He readied his blaster when she didn’t reappear after a worrying amount of steps. Her voice from above him hissed, “Up here.” And she dropped from the ceiling just behind him, where she’d been crawling effortlessly and silently.
 
    Emyk would have probably shot her on the spot a couple times over back at the interrogation room. But opportunities, curiosity, and beginnings of plans spiraled this way and that, fogging Kesian’s trigger-happiness and spontaneous contingency scheming. “I can’t imagine you’d need my help,” he said cautiously. The last thing he wanted to do was overplay his hand or volunteer information about his resources.
 
“Okay, well,” she said, falling into step beside him once more. “Then try this one. My next choice is to ask the Ta-Matoran for help.”
 
And that didn’t sit well with Kesian at all.
 
“Second-thought, let’s talk.” 
 

 
 
Edited by Aderia

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Chapter 14: Wrangler’s Deal

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    “Unplug. Now,” Emyk snapped. He rushed around the cluttered space that everyone thought to be Kesian’s Moto-Hub penthouse. Far from that, it was a garage full of safety hazards, things that the safety committees had said to destroy centuries ago, and half-started projects and prototypes that Kesian and Aulto came up with when they’d not had enough sleep. “Where are the EMP marbles?” Those were one of the more useful inventions, and could disrupt functionality of most techware and many devices within a one bio radius. When, say, released from a speeding Nui Chaser down a highway during rush hour, one could create a convenient gridlock affecting an entire Metru.
    
    “I don’t think we’ll need them!” Kesian shouted back, although his voice was muffled through his protective visor. The marbles were a scrapped project for the Jet Setters, Le-Metru’s police Matoran, to set speed traps for would-be traffic law violators. The pulses the beads emitted, while harmless enough in isolation, could scramble a Matoran pretty badly if caught among too many.
 
    Emyk snagged his magnetic pulse bracers, the same line of techware, from the same, overcrowded table where Kesian was feverishly soldering. “We have to go!”
 
    “Almost done!” the Le-Matoran snapped, ripping off his visor and hurling it somewhere where it landed with a clatter.
 
    “Great Spirit, would it kill you to organize a bit?” Emyk’s exasperation roiled off him like Doom Viper’s breath.
 
    Kesian muttered something about ‘controlled chaos’ as he leaned close over his work, picking at a jumble of wires with one hand while simultaneously working at the harness buckle across his chest, then shrugging out of the shoulder straps. The device strapped to his back dropped to the ground with an unceremonious clatter.
    
    “Tines,” Emyk’s deliberate use of his codename got the Le-Matoran’s attention. “The Liability is waiting for you!”
 
    “Wait, wait,” Tines set down his pliers, a bit more forcefully than necessary. “You said I was getting Bevs.” He threw a lever on the small switchboard to his right, shutting off the power to the workstation.
 
    “You said you were getting Bevs,” Emyk returned, now in Helix-mode. “Then I said, ‘Remember, you’re not allowed to drive in Ko-Metru anymore.’.”
 
    “Okay, well that one wasn’t my fault. They never announce when they change traffic rules,” Tines protested. “Besides, nobody likes listening to you with your bossy baditude.”
 
    Helix growled, choosing his battles, and said, “Just get to Ga-Metru, get the Liability, and get back here.”
 
    They’d taken to calling the unfortunate Ga-Matoran who was Tengi ‘the Liability. And as it turned out, she had been sitting on a deal from the Archives that was almost too good to be true. Some Archivist was personally offering mint widgets for the capture of some mutant Rahi that had been terrorizing Ussal pens across the city for the past few months.
 
    “I don’t want to drive in Ga-Metru, either,” Tines complained.
 
    “You’re delivering her new skiff-sailer. Routine delivery, nothing you can’t handle,” Helix reassured him testily. “The permits are in the driver’s compartment. The driver’s compartment,” he repeated, because the border stops between certain Metrus were becoming more strict. The last thing they needed was to have to break Tines out of a Cobalt station.
 
    “Yeah, yeah, I heard you. I thought Larker was doing that.” Tines finally dumped his project into its storage box. “Why isn’t Larker doing that?”
 
    “He and our new friend are touring the city,” the Po-Matoran replied, and almost added an impatient, Remember?’. But there was rarely any use trying to tell Tines anything useful when he was buried in a project.
 
    “Oh, right. To update the maps in that device of hers.” The glint in Tines’ eyes betrayed just how badly he wanted to get his hands on the mapping and tracking device that their new friend, who also happened to be an acquaintance of Larker’s, called a ‘holo-nav’. Maybe the Turaga would have tech of that caliber, but that was a big maybe. And it had only been a slightly bewildered Larker’s good word on her and Tines’ insistence that the risk of an alliance with her would pay out amply in benefits that Helix had reluctantly agreed to work with her - Erylist, she said - on at least one mission. But Helix hadn’t put up his Crast blaster since he’d been introduced last week, and had also taken to carrying around an an AG-grenade, just in case.
 
    “Drop the ship off, bring the Ga-Matoran back,” Helix said firmly, emphasizing each priority he listed with each arm in an exaggerated gesture to drive the points home. He hoped. “We’re hunting tonight.”
 
    Larker, driving around with his nipper and Erylist stowed away in the back of his hauler, had been asking around various Ussalries in the city all week asking about the Kuma-Kava.  Erylist, while simultaneously building up her device’s virtual city map, was inputting any leads on the Rahi to establish a perimeter.  The Liability had been unwilling to surrender her student Archives pass to them, offering them a counter-deal instead. “Help me bring in the Kuma-Kava to the Archivist. I’ll leverage that into a wrangler’s contract, and with any luck, I’ll get a contractor’s pass for the year, and it will be yours.” Contractor’s passes only granted access to the loading docks of the Archives, where exhibits and other various cargo were dropped off and shipped out, but it was easy enough to rig the Kuma-Kava’s stasis case with security scramblers before they delivered it. They’d work out the details of infiltration later, Helix was sure.
 
    “Hey, we should give Larker a sneak-name,” Tines suggested as they wove their way out of the workspace and toward the small fleet of parked vehicles.
 
    “Overkill,” Helix called back. “He doesn’t need one.” They weren’t even sure if Larker wanted to be working with them. For all they knew, he was just another delivery driver out of work and hanging on until the next payout. He was perpetually in a state of semi-awe around Tines, and Tines suspected he would drive to Karzahni for him, if asked.
 
    “Not yet,” Tines said, ever the optimist. He steered himself away from his Nui Chaser, where he had been headed out of habit, and made for the cargo hauler carrying the new skiff-sailer.
 
    Helix hopped into his trusty old tread-hauler, swinging himself up into the driver’s compartment easily. As the name implied, the two-Matoran sized hauler was still outfitted with treads, which were practically relics nowadays. Treaded vehicles were still used around quarries and on shipping docks, but not very often in transit. They had been banned on main highways as traffic hazards recently. But on Ko-Metru’s icy streets, they were worth their weight in protosteel.
 
    “We need to be ready to go by suns-down!” Helix yelled as he trundled out of the garage, although he was reasonably certain that wouldn’t happen.
 
    The drive to Ko-Metru, technically next door, was much slower than it should have been, which didn’t improve Helix’s mood. The perpetual drizzle that had been dousing the city hadn’t let up, and that meant traffic going toward the Silent Metru slowed to a crawl as saturated roads eventually turned to slush roads. He wasn’t at all surprised to see more than a few haulers pulled off to the side of the road.
 
    It took almost half an hour to get through the checkpoint. The Le-Matoran, the Jet Setter checkpoint,  didn’t seem to be checking any vehicles coming into Le-Metru, but the Ko-Matoran, ever-meticulous, seemed to be stopping every other vehicle.
 
    “Lift maintenance, headed for Third Scholar’s District,” Helix told the checkpoint Matoran, presenting his mechanic’s directive tablet. The Ko-Matoran waved him through. Ko-Metru and Po-Metru had no quarrel.
 
    As Helix made his way toward the Scholar’s District, he noticed more and more treaded vehicles. Some, he wouldn’t have been surprised, had probably even been rented from his own quarries, which weren’t operating anymore. If Tines had his way, the whole city’s infrastructure would be redone to accommodate maglev technology. But that was a dream for a far off future that would be difficult to see even from the top of a Knowledge Tower.
 
    Down an exit ramp, a wide turn onto the next street that earned the disapproval of a few pedestrians, and a straight shot for half a kio, and Helix was greeted by the familiar, seated figure of Aulto, or Bevs, waiting along the side of the road, right outside his usual Knowledge Tower. Ihu, the Scholar Nui waited with him.
 
    “Next stop, Ga-Metru!” Helix called, hoping he wasn’t piling on what Tines liked to call the ‘insincheer’ too heavily. He trundled to a stop and hopped out of the driver’s compartment. That was their usual cover - he was an old friend whose schedule just happened to line up perfectly so that he could transport Aulto to the biomedical school in Ga-Metru for treatment or therapy or examinations. The specifics varied from week to week.
 
    “Timely as ever, Teka,” the Scholar Nui greeted Helix as warmly as a Ko-Matoran could, by yet another false name. There was something about lying to the city’s preeminent philosopher and getting away with it that Helix was immorally proud of in himself. Of course, he was about thirty precent sure that Ihu knew something wasn’t quite right, but went along with it anyways because it seemed to do his apprentice good. So it was a pride Helix held loosely.
 
    “Was worried I wouldn’t make it, Scholar,” Helix said, shaking his head. “The checkpoint coming in was the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
 
    The two, an otherwise unlikely pair, worked together to get Aulto, who was in a sullen, silent mood today, situated in the driver’s compartment.
 
    “How is that jetpack coming along,” Ihu asked. Helix and the Scholar had a running joke together that one day, Helix would bring a jetpack for Aulto to speed around with. At least, Ihu thought it was a joke. But that was the very project Tines had only just been working on in the garage.
 
    “In the works, Scholar,” Helix returned in the same lighthearted manner. “He’ll never need to take the electro-lift up to your study again.”
 
    “Huzzah,” was all the wheelchair-bound Ko-Matoran grumbled.
 
    Ihu sighed, and gave a wistful smile in way of apology. “I’m afraid you’ve interrupted his thesis research on Kanohi Theory and Synthesis.”
 
    “Oh, he’ll cheer up as soon as we reach Ga-Metru. He always does. I think that witty lab assistant will be working with him today,” Helix elbowed his friend jovially, winking with a grin at Ihu. “She always improves his mood.”
 
    “I can hear you, you Brakas,” he snapped.
 
    “Can’t keep her waiting!” Helix scrambled to his control panel, nudging the wheeled chair out of his way. “He’ll be back before the dust settles from his last tablet carving!” And they peeled away like a panicked Dermis Turtle, leaving the Scholar Nui smiling to himself and shaking his head a bit as he returned to his tower.
 
    “So, Bevs,” Helix said, turning onto the ramp to the overhead highway. “Are you actually mad that I’m getting you out of icicle?”
 
    “Yes!” the Ko-Matoran replied, not entirely wanting to be Bevs at the moment. “Believe it or not, I actually like my work as a scholar, and I want to do a  good job!”
 
    “Everyone knows you do a good job,” Helix tried to soothe him. It didn’t come naturally. “It’s not good to be up high at that altitude for days at a time, with nothing but your own thoughts. Then you get like this.” He gestured broadly to Bevs’ crossed arms, hunched shoulders, and irate frown.
 
    “I don’t mind actually going to Ga-Metru,” Bevs said, “But-”
 
    “Good!” Helix interrupted. “That’s exactly where we’re going!” He only got a skeptical glare in response. “Well, eventually. We’ve got to stop at the garage to brief, then-”
 
    “I knew it!” Bevs crowed, but his tone sounded closer to dismay. “You know I think Tahi is a horrible idea!”
 
    “Oh, come on! It’s just a Rahi hunt!” There wasn’t a point bringing up that Bevs had been the one to discover the Khaita lore in the first place, in his cold towers.
    
    “So it is a Khaita mission. That’s why you need me,” Bevs said accusingly.
 
    “The whole thing was your idea in the first place,” Helix reminded him, patience beginning to wear thin. “We have a chance to get a wrangler’s permit into the Archives.”
 
    That seemed to give Bevs pause. “I still don’t like running missions with Tahimatoru. Last time-”
 
    “Last time was an anomaly,” Helix cut in. “None of us enjoyed being hit by a cargo-hauler, trust me.”
 
    “All three of us were compromised!” The pitch of Bevs’ tone rose in exasperation. “Three captains, all in one place, all compromised at once. We can’t keep putting ourselves at risk like that any time you or Tines want to play Toa hero!” This wasn’t a new argument from Bevs, but he had been more adamantly disagreeable in recent months.
 
    “It turned out okay. We wouldn’t have a shot at getting into the Archives if that hadn’t happened,” Helix pointed out.
 
    “We would have found a way,” the Ko-Matoran grumbled.
 
    “Anything new and exciting in Kanohi Theory?” Helix asked, deciding it was better to steer out of the old argument before it got out of hand. Bickering amongst themselves was the last thing they needed before a mission - no point in burdening Tahi with unnecessary internal conflict.
 
    “Eh,” Bevs grunted, but his mask expression said he was thinking about it. Eventually, he continued, “There are some interesting alternations coming out of the Volimas islands. It’s hard to say, though, without a reliable set of Kanohi users to test and record the results accurately.”
 
    “That does tend to be the problem with Kanohi users,” Helix chuckled a bit in agreement. “Always running around thinking the world is theirs to fix, just because your face-protodermis glows in the dark.”
 
    “You know that’s not how it works,” Bevs sighed, but cracked a semblance of a smile anyways.
 
    “How would I know how it works?” Helix shot back.
 
    “Fair point." Bevs shrugged.
 
    “You’re going to develop Kanohi that work for us little folk, right?” Helix prompted. “That’s your ‘thesis’.”
 
    “Yeah, and we’ll start using Tahtorak as test drivers!” Bevs seemed to find both prospects equally amusing. At least his mood seemed to be improving, despite his best efforts. 
 
    Their conversation lapsed into silence, both of them nodding at the extremely bored and cold looking Le-Matoran manning the checkpoint, who waved them through with hardly a glance.
 
    Helix chose not to comment on the Jet Setter’s infamous lack of discipline, and instead said, “Speaking of Kanohi-users, we’ve made a … new friend.”
 
    “Oh?”
 
    “Well,” Helix said carefully, “I don’t think she is one, but she may as well be, with what Tines says she can do.” He personally hadn’t been all that impressed upon introduction, but it seemed the sub-par impression had been mutual.
 
    “Okay, if this is another one of his pointy flying drones he programmed to dive-bomb Ta-Matoran-”
 
    “No, but that was great!” Helix laughed. “I’d forgotten about that!”
 
    “So…?” Bevs prompted.
 
    “Right, well, I think you just have to meet her,” Helix shrugged. “She’s going to be running the hunt with us tonight. Just, she’s not a Matoran, so you’re ready.”
 
    “Not a Matoran,” Bevs mused. “That could mean anything, coming from you.”
 
    “Well, with all the mutant Rahi we’ve had problems with lately, this is a change. Not sure if it’s a nice change, but she hasn’t tried to eat any of us yet.”
 
    Half a dozen hover-haulers speed past them much too close for comfort, and a slew of profanities came out in place of whatever else Helix had been about to say. “What’s the point of having a scrapping police force?” Helix yelled after them, taking both hands off the controls in an exasperated fling of his arms. “This whole Metru’s gone to slag.”
 
    Bevs was grinning now, always ready to be amused at another’s expense. “That’s one thing I don’t miss about driving, at least.” He let Helix seethe silently for a few moments more, then asked, “So what are we hunting this time? Not another Rahkshi…”
 
    “Not another Rahkshi,” Helix said. “Don’t worry.”
 
    “There are more, now,” Bevs put in. “Not the one with disintegration powers we fought.”
 
    Helix shot him a glance that asked for more details, but kept most of his focus on shifting two lanes to get to the exit ramp in time.
 
    “The intelligence that Turaga Arrakio has Ihu run,” he said.
 
    “Oh, right. The Optimacy.” Helix naturally had a somewhat patronizing tone of voice, so it was sometimes hard to tell if he was being mocking or not.
 
    “Nobody calls it that,” Bevs said defensively. Divulging too many of Ko-Metru’s secrets felt like treason. Nobody outside Ko-Metru was supposed to know it existed. Nobody really outside Bevs’ level of Knowledge Tower clearance. He prompted again, “What are we hunting?”
 
    “Well, that Ga-Matoran from the Rahkshi chase - she’s got a deal with an Archivist to bring in that Rahi that’s been terrorizing Ussal pens all over the city.”
 
    “I thought the Cobalts took it down last month.”
 
    “Ha!” Helix barked, with no trace of humor. “They thought they did too, but it was something totally different. You know how it is - take one monster off the streets, three more jump in to fill its place. No, the Cobalts got some seaweed-viper taking over a reservoir.”
 
    “Did the Archivists get their hands on it?” Bevs asked. “Bet they’d kill for it.”
 
    “No, they had to call in the Fire Brands to burn it out. Conveniently, the reservoir is down indefinitely, so all the canals it fed will dry up. Guess where they flow?”
 
    “Po-Metru,” the Ko-Matoran nodded. “I didn’t realize the Fire Brands were involved, though.”
 
    “I just assume they’re involved when scrap comes our way,” Helix shrugged, pulling into the rooftop parking corral, punching in the security code to retract the gate.
 
    “How progressive,” Bevs said drily.  “No, what we need is a coordinated effort out of the Coliseum, enforced across the city, to get these monsters under control.”
 
    “Well, you’d know better than me, what in Karzahni’s chaotic realm Arrakio is up to.” Helix parked right outside the reinforced duradermis garage doors and pushed his way around Bevs to manhandle the utility ramp into place to get the Ko-Matoran safety to the ground.
 
    “Sitting with that stupid stasis statue of his and hears proposals and drafts to fix the city, then does scrap about it,” Bevs grumbled, wheeling his chair so he could back down the ramp, which was not as easy as he made it seem, in the comparatively cramped driver’s compartment.
 
    “You got it?” Helix asked, ready to guide him down the ramp slowly.
 
    “I’m good,” Bevs waved him off, and the Po-Matoran stood post at the bottom of the ramp, just in case. “I’ve gotta get my kicks somehow.” And he rolled onto the incline without warning and without brakes, laughing a bit sadistically to himself as he crashed into Helix, back of the chair first.
 
    Helix stumbled to his feet with a few curses, catching up to Bevs who was scanning into side door of the garage. “We should have shipped you off to Karzahni when we had the chance.”
 
    “Bound to be better than here, at the rate we’re going.” Bevs consented to let Helix push the door open before him, as he had yet to master propelling himself and opening doors for himself at the same time. He and Tines had tried upgrade the one-speed motor on the chair early on, and Bevs had almost ended up even more paralyzed. ‘It’s okay, I should use the limbs that work as much as possible,’ he’d said, and had avoided using the motor at all after that, except on especially snowy days. He also would rather work in the reclamation yards than try out Tines’ jetpack. Cynical as he might be, Bevs certainly didn’t have a death wish. He also suspected that deep down, Helix was just as, if not more, cynical. Fortunately, Tines was brashly optimistic enough for all three of them, and then some. 
 
    The two made their way through the prototype vehicles and vehicle-sized projects, toward the just-as-cluttered workstation space - ringed with shelves and crates, and four large tables each rigged with separate power sources to make testing this and that project more convenient.
 
    “Ha! You’re late!” Tines cried, hopping off one of the tables, which was remarkably clear of projects. “I thought Arrakio would make a decision before I saw the day where you were late and I wasn’t!”
 
    “Get over yourself,” Helix shoved him, pushing aside horrendous piles of what had previously been on the table so Bevs could make it though.
 
    “Tell them, Tengi! I was early!” Tines beamed at the Ga-Matoran, who was bent over an old fashioned map on the table.
 
    “You were early by Le-Matoran standards,” she called, without looking up.
 
    “Where did you get wood slates?” Bevs demanded, craning his neck to get a good look at the map on the table, and beginning to move himself through the clutter, probably closer to debris.
 
    “You must be Bevs,” Tengi said, moving to clear a path. They hadn’t officially met.
 
    “Sometimes.” He shrugged. “We don’t even use these in the Knowledge Towers.” Because wooden slates were outdated, usually rotted too quickly, and they also had much higher quality parchment in the Knowledge Towers. But still. The map was made up of half a dozen wooden slates, pushed together like uncomplicated puzzle pieces, and depicted the city. Specifically, etched out was most of Ga-Metru, and sections of Po-Metru. There were separate slates with Le-Metru. “Charcoal?”
 
    “Easier to change,” she said. “And lighter than stone.” She marked a canal junction, and traced it north.
 
    “Why not just use one of those?” He jutted his chin toward an unpowered monitor.
 
    Tines had joined them, shaking his head at one of the Le-Metru slates. “We’re waiting for Larker and the holo-nav.” He eagerly waved a cloner chip. Hopefully the data in the holo-nav didn’t translate well for Metru tech.
 
    “So I’m not actually late,” Helix protested, powering up the workstation next to them. “We’re still waiting on the last team.”
 
    “Whatever purifies your protodermis.” Tines shrugged, grinning at Helix’s glower. The Po-Matoran hurled a cog at Tines’ head, which he dodged easily.
 
    “Brakas,” Helix grumbled. He set his Crast blaster on the table and began to disassemble it for routine maintenance.
 
    “It’s getting late,” Tines fretted, hopping back up onto the table and craning his neck to try and see out of the windows better. “Should we-”
 
    All four of them whirled when the mostly unused door that led down into the actual Moto Hub below was shoved open, toppling a stack of crates.
 
    “Sorry!” Larker’s voice yelled from somewhere behind the shelves.
 
    “You didn’t give him access to the parking corral?” Helix demanded, frowning again at Tines.
 
    Tines clambered down from the table, weaving his way toward the arriving Le-Matoran. “Hey! Subi-doobs!” He was intercepted halfway by a very excited nipper. “I don’t have anything for you!” He held out both hands, empty, to prove he was fresh out of bula. “You’re a spoiled nipper! Yes, you are. Who’s spoiled?”
 
    “Sorry,” Larker apologized again, also nudging Subi to get him moving again. “Finding parking was a nightmare.”
 
    “We were stopped by a joint patrol of Cobalts and Fire Brands.” Erylist said, closing the door behind her, and regarding the toppled crates disdainfully. “You live here?” she asked Tines, who shrugged, a bit sheepish, a bit defensive.
 
    “They’re out in force,” Larker shuddered, following as Tines led the way toward the workstations.
 
    “A suspicious Le-Matoran driving around to Ussal pens asking about monster Rahi all week probably didn’t help,” Erylist said, amused tone at odds with Larker’s somewhat frazzled air.
 
    “Let’s go!” Tines waved Helix back to the workstation. “Everyone’s here.”
 
    Larker and Erylist made their way over to stand next to Tengi, who was staring at Erylist suspiciously.
 
    “You,” is all she said.
 
    “Me,” the Midnighter cracked a half-smile. “This city is smaller than the records told me.” She nodded at Bevs, on Tengi’s other side, and introduced, “Erylist.”
 
    “You’re the ‘friend’ I heard about,” Bevs greeted in his own way.
 
    “Probably.” Erylist glanced once at his seating accommodation and then addressed Tengi, “You have something of mine, actually.” And without asking, plucked the Ga-Matoran’s satchel off the floor, rummaged through lightning-fast, and had dropped it back at her feet before a word of protest could follow the initial indignant exclamation. “Tracker, from our first meeting.” She held up the bula-sized metallic cube, with one short antennae. Pulling out her holo-nav, she inserted the tracker into a congruent slot in the device’s underside, keying in a few commands deftly, then removed it. “Tiney! Here,” she slid the coveted holo-nav across the table to the anxious Le-Matoran.
 
    “Tiny?” Helix smirked. Tines rolled his eyes, bringing the device over to Bevs to look at together. 
 
    “Do you always plan out these Rahi hunts like this?” Erylist leapt over the table without warning, landing silently and deftly among the debris, settling next to Helix. Larker turned to ask Tengi how her new skiff-sailer suited her.
 
    “Ha! This would be a first,” Helix admitted. He glanced at his disassembled Crast blaster ruefully. “But with a contractor’s pass into the heart of Onu-Metru on the line, and so many Fire Brands running around, why take chances we don’t need to?” Tines had assured him that this Erylist wasn’t a Shadow Toa, but Helix was pretty sure that nobody was actually sure.
 
    “Here’s a question for you - why are you so intent on getting into the Archives?” she asked.
 
    “Why are you so intent on getting to the Coliseum?” he shot back. For all they knew, she could have been hired to assassinate the Turaga.
 
    “All I’ve seen here is a city plagued by more and more uncontrollable Rahi, Rahkshi moving in on the chaos, and Matoran only intent on making enemies of one another because of trade contracts and production quotas.”
 
    “Welcome to Metru Nui,” Helix swept his arms wide in a sarcastic welcoming gesture. Erylist looked unimpressed. Helix continued, “Besides, why can’t you get yourself to the Coliseum, if that’s so important? It should be simple enough for someone with your… talents.” He wasn’t entirely sure what those were, and neither was Tines, who had done is best to explain what he’d witnessed. 
 
    The Midnighter glanced out the window, bouncing up to tiptoe briefly to do so, and sinking immediately into a crouch so they were on the same level. “Watch.” Was all she said, and simply vanished into thin air.
 
    “Karzahni’s corroded heartlight,” Bevs murmured. All the Matoran were now watching.
 
    Erylist reappeared simply on Helix’s other side. “The problem is, it doesn’t fool heat seekers or magnetic scanners - both types of security farther into the city.”
 
    “And you can only use your powers at night,” Larker put in.
 
    “Yes,” she admitted, and didn’t look at all happy he’d said that.
 
    “I knew it!” Larker said triumphantly. It had taken him a while to figure out.
 
    “So, stealth?” Bevs asked.
 
    “It depends,” the Midnighter said. It would do nobody any good to also admit that her abilities were still developing and being discovered after her training and the treatments on Daxia, both incomplete.
 
    “You’re like a Volitak, but worse,” the Ko-Matoran said matter-of-factly.
 
    “A what?” more than one of them asked.
 
    “Don’t encourage him,” Helix muttered. Bevs’ know-it-all antics got old very quickly.
 
    “Kanohi Mask of Stealth,” Bevs recited. “Grants invisibility and silence to the user.”
 
    Erylist frowned. “There’s a mask for everything, nowadays. Why have a mask for something you can just learn to be better at?”
 
    “Actually, there are some fascinating records arguing-” Bevs began.
 
    “Not now,” Helix interrupted, and at the same time, Tines keyed in the ‘project display’ command on the holo-nav, and a display of the city burst into space on the table before them.
 
    “Now, this is tech we could use in the Towers,” Bevs remarked, thoroughly impressed.
 
    The Midnighter hopped onto the table, walking through the display, careful not to block out the areas where they would be hunting. “Increase.” She said, motioning to  Tines, who fumbled with the keys for a moment, then the display promptly flickered out of existence. “Here, let me,” she said, a bit impatiently, and held out her hand. She set the device atop a project on an adjacent workstation table, turned on the display, which was now hanging vertically like a board in a Ga-Metru classroom, and much easier to see the big picture. She zoomed in so they were looking at most of outer Ga-Metru. “The green marks are sightings, the dotted paths are the patterns we think it moves in.” She pointed as she spoke. “Blue marks are Rahkshi sightings or incidents.”
 
    “But no path-patterns,” Larker said. “Nobody knows if they were the same-bad Rahkshi or not.” Fortunately, there only seemed to be two blue marks on the section of the display.
 
    “Is this the shipwrighting district?” Tengi asked, making her way around the table to see from a better angle.
 
    “Yes, the Ta-Metru border is two blocks east,” the Midnighter nodded.
 
    “We couldn’t get into Ta-Metru,” Larker said. “But this path-pattern here speak-says we might have to, tonight.” He pointed to a green dotted line that ran off the edge of the display.
 
    “What are the yellow marks?” Helix asked. He saw only one on the displayed portion of the map.
 
    “Other Rahi. One of them is Rofto, though,” Erylist said. “I need to get that tracker back from him. I’m running low.” She keyed a quick command, and small numbers displayed below the tracker dots, and peered at the yellow one. “Pretty sure that’s a winged Fusa.” She had a running list back in her Le-Metru base.
 
    “What about red?” Tines wanted to know. There were four red marks that he counted in Ga-Metru, and two more across the Ta-Metru border.
 
    “Those aren’t trackers,” she said carefully. “They’re sightings.”
 
    “Sightings?” Larker didn’t like the sound of that. “Of?”
 
    The Midnighter inhaled slowly. “I’m not sure.”
 
    “Not Rahkshi?” Helix asked.
 
    “No, not Rahkshi. I can catch Rahkshi.” Defeating them easily was another story, but if Erylist succeeded in retrieving the incapacitated agents in the city, that would be a different story. Having Matoran allies would also help.
 
    “We just have to think-worry about green marks,” Larker steered them back.
 
    Erylist clicked a button on the side of the device, and the display flickered off and then back on. “It doesn’t display in real-time. But see, the yellow marker’s moved off the display now. It moved off the map.”
 
    “We need to make one of these,” Bevs said, entranced. Tines nodded along, walking debris-interrupted laps around the table.
 
    “So, what’s the plan of attack?” Tengi asked, speaking up for the first time since the briefing began. “I’ve hunted this thing before, and we don’t need all of us to bring it in.”
 
    “Well,” Erylist countered, “We don’t know it’s limits. It’s a size-shifter,” she explained to the others.
 
    “Larker and Tengi will patrol the perimeter with telecons to warn us if there are any approaching patrols. If any Matoran are out and about, turn them away,” Helix said.
 
    “Together?” Tengi asked.
    
    “Yes. I know you can cover more ground together, but if you’re together, the odds of Larker being arrested are significantly lowered,” Helix told them both.
 
    “Good-great,” Larker said, not enthusiastic at all. He patted Subi’s carapace unconsciously.
 
    “Erylist,” Helix turned to the Midnighter.
 
    “Volikat,” Bevs put in quickly, shrugging when multiple annoyed glares were thrown his way. Tines, however, gave him a double thumbs-up, grinning.
 
    “You’ll go with Tahimatoru and cover as much ground inside the perimeter as you can,” Helix continued.
 
    “Tahima-what now?” Erylist asked with an aggressively inquisitive tilt of her head.
 
    “The last team member,” Bevs told her. “He’ll meet us in Ga-Metru.”
 
    “Well then, why can’t you three patrol with Larker?” the Midnighter wanted to know. “I doubt we’ll need five of us to bring this thing in.” She unhitched her stunner baton, swinging it testily in an arc.
 
    “Just trust us,” the Po-Matoran snapped, clearly frustrated by all the interruptions. “You and Tahi run through the area, and once you have it, call Larker to haul it away.”
 
    “And if they don’t find it?” Tengi asked. She didn’t seem impressed.
 
    Erylist keyed another command, and with another flicker of the display, dates replaced tracking identification numbers. Some of the green markers had more than one date. “This area,” she gestured to the more remote shipwright’s blocks, “is where we think it’s made its home. See how the sightings are in a radius around those blocks?”
 
    “I know how to track Rahi,” Tengi told her curtly.
 
    Erylist continued as if the Matoran had said nothing. “Based on how often it hits Ussal pens, there’s a high chance it will be out tonight. Unless it’s expanded or completely changed its hunting grounds, we should have it by suns-up. It’s not that large an area to cover. The trick will be avoiding attention.”
 
    “The shipwright’s district hasn’t been busy since the embargo,” Helix said. “Good for it, good for us. If we leave now, we might be able to nab it before it leaves to hunt.”
 
    “The Ussalries are through residential blocks,” Tengi pointed out. “What about-”
 
    “If anyone gives us trouble, you hired us to capture the Rahi,” Helix said. “It’s basically the truth anyways.”
 
    “As if,” the she-Matoran snorted.
 
    “We meet back here if anything goes too far wrong,” Tines called, tossing Larker a telecon, then  running for his Nui Chaser.
 
    Larker stared at the device, pointing it at the nearest crate and clicking a button. Bevs was patient enough to wheel over to him and show him the basics of how to change frequencies and get a message through. “Make sure you hold this down the whole time you’re speaking,” he said, demonstrating. “And don’t use any names if you’re speaking through this. We have no way of knowing if anyone else is listening on the frequency. Odds are low, but still.”
 
    “Got it,” Larker said, nodding too quickly and for too long.
 
    “Just let us know when you’ve started around the perimeter,” Helix instructed him. “You saw the demonstration?” He asked Tengi, who nodded. “Wait, Bevs! We’re taking the Proto Drake hover-hauler!” he called, and the Ko-Matoran ungracefully changed directions.
 
    The vehicle was from the Ga-Metru ProtoDucts Ultd. company, one of their maintenance haulers that had come in to the shop for repairs and decided it wanted to stay. It was small for a hauler class vehicle, but inconspicuous, and had decent speed and was equipped with above average maneuverability to perform canal maintenance. The best part, it was amphibious. While not a sea craft by any stretch of the imagination, more of a raft than anything. It was the right dimension to navigate up and down canals, and its hover-repulsors were strong enough enter and exit canals without incident. Tines liked it because the company’s logo was a stylistic Proto Drake, and he’d hired the same artist for his Phase Dragon logo.
 
    “Come on, Volikat!” Bevs called, already situated in the bed of the hauler, with Helix climbing into the operator’s compartment.
 
    “Watch each other’s backs out there,” Erylist said to them as she turned toward the Proto Drake hauler. “All of you.” She shot a pointed look to Subi, who waggled his pinchers as if to tell her to hurry up already. 
 

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