The island’s topography presented few options for safe haven, after Ern’s findings had been taken into account. The creatures, whatever they were, attacked both on the shore and when anyone ventured into the forest. Staying on the shore was thus a foolish idea, as was pushing past the cabin’s clearing. Both the site of the attack and the cabin were on the southern side of the island. So with barely a word, the decision had been made to travel north.
Krayn, as per his usual behavior, pushed to the front of the group, blazing a trail for the others to follow. Faen and Mrak were near the center of the group for two very different reasons; Faen was the only Turaga, and thus, more frail than the others. If it came to a fight, she would not be able to hold her own effectively. Mrak, on the other hand, was merely a coward. He was in the middle because otherwise, he would try to run. Ern and Drin took the left and right flanks respectively, acting as the vanguard by unspoken consent.
The route took them deeper into the forest than Drin and Mrak had traveled, but after the first hour of walking, it proved to be a wildly different experience. The forest near the clearing had been dense and oppressive, the silence almost suffocating. No birds sang, no creatures scurried, it had simply been empty. Devoid of life, as if the earth itself was barren for miles around save for the choking foliage. This section of the forest was more open, allowing a reasonable view of the environment for several yards in all directions. Though it was no more vibrant, the air was somehow lighter, a stark contrast to the mood. The further they traveled, the more rocky the ground became as the terrain sloped upwards towards the mountains that made up the island’s northern region.
The silence carried on for time indeterminate; without a clear view of the sun, no clear estimation of the time could be made. But all of those assembled recognized the moment when the sun began to descend, taking with it the comforting light of day.
“We need to find a place to make camp.” Drin said finally, dusk beginning to settle in around them. “Faen can’t go much further, no matter how much she will protest that statement, and I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t feel like wandering around in the dark.”
“There’s nowhere that would serve as a defensible position.” Ern commented, glancing around the forest. “Too open, and yet, too enclosed at the same time. We could be seen from a long way off, but an assailant could creep up almost unnoticed until they were a few yards out.”“And how would they do that, huh?” The Ta-Toa rolled his eyes, exasperation clear in his tone. “The Ce-Toa over there could sense them from a long way off, unless she falls asleep on the job. Or maybe she’s not as good as she says she is…”“Krayn, kindly think before you open your mouth.” Drin shot back, glaring daggers at her companion. “Or do I need to remind you which of us has formal training, and which of us is a jumped-up, glorified bodyguard?”“I’m an escort,” He replied heatedly, whirling around, hand flying to his sword’s hilt. “And I’ll gladly take you up on that offer. Maybe a few rounds’ll dull that sharp tongue of yours.”
“Both of you, shut up.” Faen snapped, her words followed momentarily by a glower at both of the Toa. “I swear, the two of you argue like children. Always trying to one up the other. Knock it off.”
“However tactlessly she put it, Drin does have a point.” Ern interjected, breaking his silence now that the argument had been derailed. “Her element failed to detect the creature before. There is no indication that she would be able to do so now. Regrettable though it is, we need a fire. Otherwise, we’re sitting blind.”
“The elderly and the coward can take a break.” Krayn said mutinously, stalking off into the underbrush. “Ms. Perfect too. I’ll bring back some firewood.”
Several pairs of eyes watched him leave, some with worry, others with suspicion, and at least one pair with annoyance. Faen took a seat on a felled log, sighing in relief as she took the weight off of her feet. They’d been walking for hours, and as much as she didn’t want to admit it, Drin was right; she wouldn’t have been able to go much further. The Ce-Toa herself leaned against a tree, keen eyes watching the lengthening shadows, as if she expected one to suddenly break from its creator and attack. It was an unnerving sight; since the group had gathered on the docks before their trip right up until the creature’s attack, she had been the picture of stoicism. Nothing fazed her, nothing made her blink. The same went for Ern, who was facing the opposite direction, searching the trees with alert eyes. Both were warriors, and their bearing proved it. But hardened as they were, they were worried.
Mrak sat near the center of the group, holding on to his weapon possessively, desperately. His eyes were wide, though glazed with exhaustion, as they darted wildly about. Of those present, he was the least composed. Fate had chosen a strange group to dump on this island. They had been in two groups when they first met; Mrak in handcuffs, led aboard the ship by Drin. Faen had been traveling to Metru Nui on business, but the seas were notorious for their raiders. So she had hired Krayn, a cocky young bodyguard, to ensure that she arrived safely. Of them all, only Ern had arrived alone, and he spoke the least about his business. But one did not spend several days on a boat with someone and not learn a little about them; he was a private investigator, also called to Metru Nui on business, though he refused to elaborate on exactly what kind.
“Arrogant little Karz-head is going to get himself killed.” Drin said, breaking the uneasy silence as she stared after where the Ta-Toa had gone. “No one should go out there alone, let alone someone as inexperienced as him.”“He’s not as inexperienced as you seem to think.” Faen said tiredly, entering into the conversation against her better judgment. “My choice in escort was not a hasty one; his previous clients all described him as competent, if a little cocky.”“He’s not a little cocky. He’s cocky enough for an entire Toa Team of newbies.”“In case you hadn’t noticed, he wasn’t this… Haughty, on the ship.” Ern pointed out, the Fe-Toa never looking away from whatever point in the distance held his attention. “It’s a defense mechanism. The rookie is scared, so he walls up behind gates of arrogance. It’s how he’s trying to deal with the situation.”“Well, he’s not dealing with it very well, now is he?”
“Are any of us?” Drin’s head snapped to the side, looking at the speaker. Mrak looked up from the ground, though he didn’t meet any of his captors’ gaze. “We’re all stuck on an island, with no way of getting home, and no real supplies. And if that wasn’t enough, there are murderous creatures on this island that have no mind, can chase around a trained Metru-Nui guard, and take out several crewmen without a sound. We’re trapped, we’re being hunted, and in all honesty, we’re probably as good as dead.”
The Ce-Toa opened her mouth to respond, but whatever it was she was about to say was cut off by a crack coming from the woods to her side. Instinctually, she drew her wakizashi, the blade’s point aimed at where she had heard the sound. A moment before the voice rang out, she relaxed.“Thank you ever so much for not skewering me.” Krayn said caustically, stepping into view with firewood under his arm. “Found plenty of wood a ways that way. We’ve got kindling all around us, so there’s no lack of that, and I can start the fire. We should be set for a while yet.”
Without saying anything more, he dropped to one knee and began to stack the pieces of wood in a roughly rectangular design. In the center, he placed several twigs and a small pile of dried pine needles, needles that were ignited with a snap of his fingers. Within a few minutes, a small blaze was burning, its containment ensured by a small metal wall around it. Several seats had been crafted out of nearby tree trunks, or from one’s own element, and most of the group was seated in a circle around the fire.
There was no food to be had, and by unspoken consent, it was agreed that it was too perilous to search for it. The silence was all encompassing, broken only by the crackling of the fire. After several long minutes, Ern produced a small notebook and writing utensil, glancing at the gathered group.“So. Let’s go through what we know.” The Fe-Toa’s fingers seemed to move without the input of their owner, taking notes even though his full attention was on the conversation at hand. “This island is located somewhere between the Southern Continent, and Metru Nui. Though we were progressing in a northwest direction, we may have been blown off course in any number of directions. Thus, we cannot be entirely sure where within this vast expanse of ocean we are.”
“This island, thus far, is largely uninhabited. No large settlements, no fishing boats, no sign of intelligent presence save one thing; the cabin in the southern woods. Shortly after its discovery was the first attack from the creature, or creatures, that we witnessed in person. Drin, would you perhaps detail what you saw in the cabin? I know the guard trains you to be perceptive; leave no detail out.”The female Toa was silent for several moments, staring into the fire as she though back to the event. Quietly, calmly, she began to speak.
“The clearing itself was surrounded by unusually dense foliage, foliage that required significant effort to penetrate. The clearing was unkempt, the foliage left to its own devices. The cabin was covered in vines, and what might have been a garden is now a mess of weeds and wild plants. The cabin’s materials are old; old enough to have cracked and bleached under the sun and rain.”
“The interior is dusty. I doubt such a layer of dust could have accumulated within a short time, so it had been abandoned in excess of several months. The foliage outside would suggest years. A desk holds old books, written in languages I could not read. A statue of one of the Makuta stands in a corner, and all of the journals bear the Brotherhood’s symbol. At least, what used to be their symbol.”
“Now, this is where things seem strange. The creature’s known attacks were on the southern side only, as if there was something there it wanted to protect. Territory, perhaps, but if that was the case, it would have ceased its assault the moment Drin was driven from its territory.”“You talk like it’s a common Muaka, Ern.” Drin said coldly, eyes narrowing. “Whatever this thing is, it isn’t naturally. And it sure as Karzahni isn’t defending territory. This thing had no mind, and it was vicious. There’s something up.”“I take it Makuta cultists would be too simple an explanation.” Ern said drily, clasping his hands together, and staring at his notes. “The captain’s campsite was disturbed, but minimal blood was spilled on the sand. In addition, no bodies were found at the scene. Which means that they weren’t killed there.”“Or that whatever killed them is smart enough to clean up after itself.” Faen observed quietly, staring at the fire as she delivered the grim, until then unspoken portion of the statement. “In which case, we have far, far larger problems then what we’re going to eat for dinner.”