The epic version, Cenotaphs has been posted. You can go check it out if you're interested.
This is an idea I have been toying around with for a while, and it may even be expanded to become an epic at some point. Anyway, enjoy.
My name is Adrinor and I was born in the universe of the Great Spirit, Mata Nui. This place has been my home for thousands of years now, living and working among my fellow biomechs. I can assure you, there's nothing special about me. I wasn't gifted with elemental power, enhanced with immeasurable strength, or granted mental functions beyond what most others possess. For all intents and purposes, I am ordinary.
In the early days of my life, the universe functioned without order. It was common knowledge that Mata Nui presided over every land, silently, invisibly watching us. Those who might dare to break his laws had to be captured and sentenced by their brethren. Some took it upon themselves to uphold the law, and while Toa were the Great Spirit's chosen guardians, there were others who believed Toa were ineffective. There were those who would kill for Mata Nui, to rid our universe of undesirables. This system remained relatively effective for some time, until our maker implemented a change.
Mata Nui eventually decided to allow a half dozen biomechs to maintain order in his universe. Kalmah, Carapar, Takadox, Ehlek, Mantax, and Pridak were chosen for the task, but interpreted it for themselves. The peaceful era of their rule was short-lived, and they quickly began to conquer Mata Nui's many realms and divide the lands separately. Our protectors had become warlords, Barraki, that valued nothing but conquest and power. In time, the Barraki came together and formed the League of Six Kingdoms - an event so long ago, I can hardly remember it.
So instead, I'd like to tell you something still fresh in my mind. It began on a sunny morning, nearly fourteen thousand years after the League's inception. This is the story of my pursuit of a dream and the price some of us pay for our freedom.
The skies above the Southern Continent were alive with fiery streaks of orange and glints of cherry red when I awoke in my cabin. As I stared up at the ceiling, I mentally prepared myself for the day ahead. I was a dreamer, and to be honest, I always have been. Resigning myself to an existence of expected monotony was not my ideal life, but it was modest work. Sitting upright in my bed, I tossed off the covers and unlocked the door to the cabin. Taking a glance at myself in the mirror on the far wall, I smiled at the reflection. As a male Meldin, I had a Toa-like frame, though my body armor (colored crimson and ivory) was thinner. I also lacked elemental powers. Grabbing a few tools from my worktable, I walked out the door and immediately found myself at work. Before me was a vast expanse of fields and the faint stench of unclean Rahi - Mahi to be specific.
The Torema Mahi Ranch supplied materials for making tools to crafters as far as Xia, and the occasional visit from far-flung lands like Nynrah. There were many grievances with the fact that the League of Six Kingdoms presently ran much of the world, but their armies needed weapons, and we had the supplies. I didn't concern myself with how they were used, but I always hoped to fashion a weapon of my own from Mahi horn. The horns never made weaponry of the same caliber as protosteel or anything, but most of our clientele had no intention of shredding through super-reinforced armor.
A familiar Rahi came bounding up to me, barking like crazy. One of Torema's Hapaka, Boomer, had taken a liking to me. The creature received its nickname from its ability to command the Mahi herds with a more booming sound than the other Hapaka on the ranch. I bent down to pet Boomer a few times on the head before continuing on my journey to the Mahi pens, closely trailed by the eager Rahi.
A slight breeze whistled its way into the ranch, headed south from the village of Kinatra, a tiny town that could get quieter than a Knowledge Tower. Living in the southwest part of the Southern Continent, however, meant life was often tranquil. It was a guaranteed peace, which only served to disappoint me. Most biomechs knew Barraki Takadox's forces controlled this region, but Kinatra and the ranch were of little importance to them. Unlike some of his fellow warlords, Takadox would not settle for second-rate material in a sword.
Marching down the hillside to the Mahi pens, I unlocked and opened each gate, releasing the Rahi corralled inside. Boomer barked as the Mahi filed out, as if ordering them to move faster. The idea of rushing these creatures toward another day of tedium almost seemed vindictive, but I wasn't about to stand in the way of Boomer's enthusiasm. Staring straight up, the bright yellow and orange shades of sunrise were giving way to the ordinary cool blue of the atmosphere. Deciding I ought to pay Torema a morning visit, I headed off for his office. Boomer started to follow, but a quick snap of my fingers was the indicator he translated as "stay."
I kicked a small rock along the dirt path leading up to Torema's main office, trying to keep the stone ahead of myself. I could see a few customers through the window by the front desk, and Torema was smiling happily at them. Torema was a Po-Matoran, armored in yellow with a sun-faded, gray Kanohi Pakari. I decided to enter through the storage room in the back, unlocking the door and stepping inside. The split second after, I heard the front door slam shut. Catching me by surprise, I quietly pulled the storage room door closed and crept forward. The storage room had a musty odor to it, but I stayed as silent as possible, anxious to hear the conversation in the next room.
"What can I do for you?" I heard Torema ask.
There was a short pause, and then I heard the distinct sound of weapons being cocked. There were maybe four or five, I couldn't be certain. Those sounds were followed by a few footsteps approaching the desk.
"There's an awful lot of Mahi out in those fields," a rough voice breathed. It was a male voice, and one that, despite its coarseness, sounded rather sophisticated. "Two horns to every head, if I'm not mistaken." I could imagine him smiling menacingly as he spoke. "It doesn't take a scholar to see that you're making a decent amount of money off of those Rahi."
"I can assure you," Torema began, his tone more shaky and nervous now, "the treatment of all Rahi at my ranch is entirely ethical and"-
The biomechs burst out laughing, somehow hysterical over Torema's remark. They then began exchanging small jokes with one another that mocked my employer. I couldn't make out any of their remarks over the constant laughter, but I caught Torema awkwardly laughing with them for a moment. Their laughter died down, but it was easy to tell they savored the humor in Torema's comment.
The rough voiced biomech hurled an object over the counter at Torema. Whatever it was, it barely made a sound when it landed on the floor. "The world has too few funny characters, sir. You start filling that bag with money, and I'll make sure you live to make someone else laugh."
I froze immediately. There was a roving gang of thieves on the other side of the wall, holding my boss at gunpoint. My eyes darted to the corner, where Torema's laser rifle sat. I had never seen him use the weapon, and the cobwebs and dust surrounding the object suggested no one else had either. Regaining control of my body, I tiptoed to the rifle and silently made my way out the back door. I lifted a small bag of laser shell ammunition off the barrel and tied it around my left hip's armor. Pulling back on the loading mechanism, I could hear the barrel charging a shot of laser energy.
I ran out past the front door to the office, heading for a far hill that overlooked the building. I then trained the rifle scope on the front door and held my position. There was no telling how fast these criminals were, or how fine of a shot they could be. The biomech I heard certainly sounded like he was accustomed to demanding money from innocent businesses. If he truly had an expertise in robberies, there was little doubt in my mind that his marksmanship was lacking. Otherwise, he'd probably be dead already.
It was hard to tell how long I stood like a statue on the hill, waiting for the door to open. Minutes passed like hours, working at my nerves. I tried my best to hold the rifle steady, maintaining my sight on the door. After a long eternity, the door was flung open. My arm locked up and I watched four biomechs step outside. I thought I could catch them by surprise, but one of the criminals caught sight of me and instantly drew his weapon in my direction. Through my scope, I could see it was a lightning rifle he was holding out at me. He hadn't bothered to line up his eye with the iron sight, which meant he didn't intend to make a direct hit, or he was very confident of a direct hit. His onyx and topaz armor gleamed brilliantly in the morning light, and my scope could see the violet of his eyes.
There was roughly thirty bio of distance between us, and two more thieves trained their weapons on me. The one carrying a burlap sack (which I assumed was full of money), started toward the hill where I stood. Clad in thick armor of ruby and obsidian, his lime green eyes made an attempt to study me briefly. At the same time, I had a chance to study him. He was from Nohtal, apparent from the faint trail of shadow surrounding his left arm and wrapping around his gunblade. Nohtalians were difficult to discern from heavily-armored Toa physically, but only Nohtalians had access to shadow energies. He made no attempt to draw the weapon on me, grinning as he approached.
"I'll shoot if I have to!" I shouted with a notable lack of confidence.
"So will we!" one of the criminals yelled back. His armor was a mixture of midnight blue and emerald, but I could tell it was entirely part of his form. He was slightly taller than myself, with a pair of garnet eyes on each side of his head. I had heard of his species, known as Dectraz. His clawed hands were sharp, and his mouth was surrounded by four mandibles. Examining his insectoid form was like staring down a giant bug - a rather disturbing sight, even without his gun being pointed at me.
The Nohtalian carrying the burlap sack motioned for his allies to lower their weapons before turning his attention back to me. "That's quite a laser rifle you have there," he said, still coming closer. "Doesn't look like it gets out much though." His charming demeanor suddenly turned into a dark glare. "So if you're going to shoot me, you better shut your mouth and just do it."
Both the Nohtalian and I knew I wouldn't pull the trigger. I had never harmed another biomech in my life. Before I could realize what was happening, the Nohtalian tugged the rifle from my grip and set it in the grass. His smile returned and he extended a hand. "You made a wise decision to stay your hand. What's your name?"
My hands were shaking both from anxiety and anger. "Why should I tell a piraka anything?"
The Nohtalian leaned forward and whispered, "Because my friends can take your head off in an instant if I tell them to. And your weapon is on the ground. Now, I'll ask you again. What's your name?"
"Adrinor," I muttered, loathingly accepting his handshake.
The Nohtalian shook his head. "You're an awfully stubborn type, Adrinor. If you hope to keep an honest job, and eventually be promoted, I'd recommend you be a little more flexible. Words of wisdom, from one hard-working biomech to another." He looked over his shoulder. "Let's get going. You're keeping my friend Adrinor from getting his job done."
"We're friends now, huh?" I said sarcastically.
The Nohtalian smiled. "Unless you point that rifle in my face again, yeah. You have a good day, Adrinor. Remember what I told you."
The Nohtalian and his fellow criminals strolled by me, walking over the hill toward some Kikanalo tied to the entrance gate. Wondering where they might have stolen the Rahi mounts from, I could see Torema peeking out from his office window. I had failed him, and allowed those thieves to make off with his money. At the same time, though, I didn't have it in me to fire on them. Torema's Mahi Ranch was an honest job, but the dreamer in me envied the thieves. They were free to wander and take as they pleased. A part of me had always wanted that life.
As I stared down at the dusty rifle, I had a choice to make. I could head down the hill, speak with Torema, and get back to work. Or I could run away. The piraka led lives of adventure at the risk of losing their lives. They operated on a side of the law I had never dared to consider following, until this moment. I had always been a dreamer, and I knew that part of me would regret it forever if I didn't take this chance. I grabbed the rifle and ran toward the biomechs holding Torema's money. The same one that spotted me earlier managed to catch me again, lining up his lightning rifle straight away.
"What'd I say about pointing that gun at me?" the Nohtalian hollered, dropping the burlap sack.
My eyes went wide with fear as I realized the rifle was pointed directly at the criminals. I dropped it at once and stopped dead in my tracks. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Don't shoot!"
Each of the thieves flinched when I dropped the rifle, as if waiting for it to accidentally go off. The Nohtalian narrowed his eyes on me and growled, "You came back for the money, right?"
I stood still, unable to speak at first. My mind could hardly form into words the reason I had come after them.
"Adrinor," The Nohtalian addressed me sternly. "I asked you a question."
"Just let me shoot him," the piraka who first spotted me suggested. A cold smile came over his face after the Nohtalian whispered something back.
"I want to come with you." I couldn't believe I said it.
The Nohtalian smirked, but his friend disdainfully lowered his rifle. "Is that right?"
"Yes," I nodded. "I want to come with you."
"We aren't accepting new hires right now," the Nohtalian chuckled. "But maybe I can make an exception." He glanced at the others, each grinning in return. He then looked me in the eyes, beckoning me forward. "Bring that rifle with you, but keep the barrel pointed at the sky."
I did as instructed, holding the rifle against my chest armor and tilting the barrel up. Carefully marching toward the group, I handed over the weapon to the Nohtalian. He looked it over, brushing some of the dust away before discharging the loaded laser shell. He then returned it to me and stared into my eyes.
"So, why did you leave your last job?" the Nohtalian asked.
I paused. "...What?"
"Your last job," the Nohtalian repeated. "You were a Mahi herder, right?" The other piraka were holding back their laughter at this point.
"Freedom," the Nohtalian whispered.
"You heard me," he nodded slowly. "Freedom. I can see it in your eyes, how badly you want to be released from this place. I've met a lot of biomechs over the years, but the intensity of your desire to be free from a normal life is a rarity. I pride myself on the ability to read others well, so I know what I'm talking about. You're looking for freedom."
"Yeah, you're right," I admitted. "I want to see the world, and I want to call the shots."
"Well I don't know about calling the shots," the Nohtalian replied, "but there are some beautiful places out there. Still, you're available to relocate." He looked at his Dectraz friend. "That's good for a job application, right?"
"You're asking me?" he said in surprise. "I haven't applied for a job in over 10,000 years."
"Okay, fair enough," the Nohtalian shrugged his shoulders, looking back at me. "What experience do you have as a...what did you call me? Oh...that's right. A piraka. What experience do you have as a piraka?" He placed an open hand next to his mouth and whispered with a grin, "If you've never killed anyone or stolen anything, just say 'none.'"
"None," I replied awkwardly.
The Nohtalian shook his head and sighed. "Then why should I hire you?"
"I'm a hard worker, a quick learner, and I'm a decent shot with a rifle." I was picking up on his game.
"Good answer," the Nohtalian said, clapping a hand against his weapon a few times. "Now, I've got one more question for you. What is more important in a job: money or work?"
"It's always nice to have money, but if your heartlight isn't in your work, it's not worth the money."
The Nohtalian smiled. "All right then. I'd like to offer you a position with my team, Adrinor. Before you accept, I should warn you that disloyalty will not be tolerated. You can call us piraka or anything you want, but we look out for one another. It's one of the few laws in our otherwise lawless lives."
"I understand and I accept." The notion of joining these criminals seemed absurd, but this was secretly the chance I had been hoping for. I was no murderer, true, but there was an entire world out there. I had to see it.
Without warning, the bitter piraka with the lightning rifle elevated his weapon and fired a single shot over my shoulder. As I observed the trail of dark energy on the rifle, I knew he was a Nohtalian as well. I whirled around and watched Torema drop an energy pistol to the ground.
"No!" I screamed instinctively, running to the Matoran's side. Judging from the clean shot to his heartlight, I knew he was dead before he hit the dirt. Seeing the Po-Matoran body in the grass reminded me of how dangerous these individuals were, and what I had just agreed to join.
"Why did you come out here?" I whispered, looking down at Torema's mask.
"No Matoran survives a shot like that," the Nohtalian told me.
The female in the group playfully shoved Torema's killer in the shoulder. "I think you just shot our new friend's job reference." I almost thought she might've been a Toa, but upon closer inspection, her frost white head was merely the shape of a Mask of Possibilities. The snowy texture made up parts of her armor as well, while other plates were a royal purple. There was only one species that had a head in her shape, and they hailed from Trelbin. Appropriately, they were named Trelbans.
"We'll have to take him at his word then," the second Nohtalian growled, putting his weapon on his back. He glanced at me. "Your name's Adrinor?"
"Yeah," I said with a glare, attaching my rifle to my back as well. "And that Matoran was Torema. He was a good biomech and a hard worker."
"No one said he wasn't," the Nohtalian replied with a smirk. "I was more interested in doing a hiring procedure of my own. I could've disarmed that little Matoran without hurting him a bit, but you needed to be tested. You're asking to live a selfish dream, Adrinor, and I don't think there's any shame in that. If you can't do it though, you better get a shovel and start digging that Po-Matoran's grave. What's it going to be?"
I glanced over my shoulder at Torema's corpse, trying to ignore my guilt. It was a silent moment and a chance to really think about the situation. Torema deserved a better end and a longer life, but asking to join this gang was my choice and left me responsible for his fate. It was a moment of impressionable foolishness - one I couldn't take back.
"I'm going," I breathed.
"Then it's settled," the first Nohtalian said. "I suppose we ought to introduce ourselves as well. My name is Rovaius."
"I'm Stalgrax," the Nohtalian who killed Torema added flatly.
I glanced at the Dectraz and he spoke a single word. "Trylac." He didn't appear irritated or anxious, so I assumed he just wasn't much of a talker.
"I'm Elendra," the female member said, climbing onto her Kikanalo. "And in case you have any curiosities about why a female is roaming around with these biomechs, bear in mind that I've earned my position here. But soon enough, so will you." She motioned me forward and narrowed her eyes. "Get on."
I started for the Kikanalo, watching the piraka do the same. I was with them now, but I wasn't one of them. Not yet anyway. I turned to face Rovaius and tilted my head. "Where are we going?"
"Doesn't matter much," Rovaius replied, disregarding the question. "What you learn on the way will be far more beneficial anyway."
With that ominous response, I rode off with the outlaws. I knew other employees at the ranch would be showing up soon to begin tending to daily tasks, and one of them would surely stumble upon my previous employer's corpse. I had paid Torema my silent apology, and I knew I couldn't stay any longer. I had adopted a new life, and as the Kikanalo dashed further from the Po-Matoran, from Kinatra, from my little cabin, and from the whole of the ranch, the gravity of my situation finally struck me. The world I was leaving behind suddenly felt more important than ever before, because I knew it was gone. I had ample opportunity to leap from the Kikanalo and hurry back to the ranch, explain Torema's death, and return to the job I had chosen so long ago. When I first left Meldio and came to the Southern Continent, I was excited about my new home, despite it falling short of what I really wanted. Only now was I really beginning to fulfill my life's dream. And yet, as energized as I felt, I was restraining a sickening feeling about how it all might conclude.
Edited by Cederak, Jan 26 2014 - 02:05 PM.