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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 


    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 


Those pesky firespitters
(disclaimer: none of this banner art is original, I just smooshed it together in gimp. Torchic, Matau, turtleduck)
The Sculptors and the SmeltersThe Ternion | Review Topic  | Library

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Chapter 1: Gale


    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 large 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. 

    “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 large, 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. larger It was a larger 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 a large 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.


Those pesky firespitters
(disclaimer: none of this banner art is original, I just smooshed it together in gimp. Torchic, Matau, turtleduck)
The Sculptors and the SmeltersThe Ternion | Review Topic  | Library

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Chapter 2: Flotsam

  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 and a work night.
    "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

Those pesky firespitters
(disclaimer: none of this banner art is original, I just smooshed it together in gimp. Torchic, Matau, turtleduck)
The Sculptors and the SmeltersThe Ternion | Review Topic  | Library

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Chapter 3: Dastardly

   “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. 

    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.” 


Those pesky firespitters
(disclaimer: none of this banner art is original, I just smooshed it together in gimp. Torchic, Matau, turtleduck)
The Sculptors and the SmeltersThe Ternion | Review Topic  | Library

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Chapter 4: Nothing is Sacred

    “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.” 
    “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. 

    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. 

    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. 

    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. 

    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. 


Those pesky firespitters
(disclaimer: none of this banner art is original, I just smooshed it together in gimp. Torchic, Matau, turtleduck)
The Sculptors and the SmeltersThe Ternion | Review Topic  | Library

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