SSC9: In the Darkness Bind Them3,000 years ago.......“Takai, look out!”.......I could hear the fear in Lhikan’s voice, so I didn’t question his command like I usually would. Instead, I leaped towards his voice, hoping that this random direction would provide an escape from whatever danger he saw........An enormous block of stone crashed to the ground where I had been standing just moments before, punching a huge crater into the earth. Executing a neat tuck and roll, I landed and got to my feet in one fluid motion. I looked up to see a gaping hole in the side of one building, torn open by the monster we were fighting........Well, technically the word monster wasn’t correct. The accurate term was Kanohi Dragon, an immense Rahi possessing vast strength. Its body was decorated with glittering scales shaped like Kanohi, which was where it got its name. Highly susceptible to cold temperatures, with low enough temperatures potentially rendering it comatose. Possessed the ability to fly, as well as the capacity to breathe fire........I shook my head free of the facts and information, angry with myself for letting my focus shift. Once an archivist, always an archivist. Get your head in the game!.......Drawing my sword, I watched as Nidhiki, my fellow Toa Mangai, attempted to extinguish the flames swiftly consuming a tall apartment by creating a vacuum around the blaze. An ingenious move, as fire cannot last for any length of time without a steady source of oxygen. Though, I wondered if a Toa of Fire, say, Lhikan, would be able to sustain a flame in a vacuum by providing a source of the energy necessary for combustion instead of the-.......“Takai! A little help?.......My musings were interrupted by Naho’s shout. I looked over to see my sister desperately trying to avoid getting crushed beneath the Kanohi Dragon’s claws while blasting it in the face with high-pressure jets of water. The huge creature was obviously irritated, but it hadn’t managed to touch her yet, though it had demolished several smaller buildings in the attempt........Calling upon my elemental power, I summoned a pillar of earth from the bowels of the island. The pillar burst out of the street and struck the Dragon in the belly, knocking it off-balance. The creature bellowed in indignation as Naho used this opportunity to blind it with water........In an instant, the stream of water froze. Omari and Laar, two of the four Toa of Ice with us, had used their powers to attack the gargantuan Rahi in the most effective of ways. The creature was now blind, and should my hypothesis hold true, the cold would quickly cause it to weaken. Nevertheless, preparing for the worst, I reached deep into the earth, feeling the power and stability in the roots of the island. The earth calmed me, like always; I felt like nothing could harm me as long as I could count on the strength of the land........The Kanohi Dragon roared, a blast of sound louder than any before, and the mask of ice shattered in an eruption of fire and smoke. With a sweep of its tail, it demolished an entire block of buildings, shaking the very ground as countless tons of stone and metal crumbled into piles of ruined debris. Then, seemingly in a fit of rage, it unleashed a torrent of white-hot flames, setting a small park ablaze and melting a web of chutes into a puddle of slag........I gasped as the wave of heat hit me like a fist, squeezing the breath from my lungs. Instinctively, I pulled a shield from the earth, scant protection from the worst of the attack. There was nothing else I could do except pray that my brothers and sisters had found cover as well........As I lay against the cool earth, my heart hammering against my chest, I wondered how we could defeat this Rahi. We had already fought the Dragon for thirteen days, and had done little to impede its rampage across Metru Nui. The combined efforts of the Toa Mangai were practically useless, even with the power of four Toa of Ice. I desperately wanted to believe we could win, but I could feel the cold jaws of despair gnawing at my heart. What if, despite all our strength, Metru Nui was reduced to a wasteland of burnt skies and lifeless desert?.......Abruptly, the oppressive heat dropped away, signaling the end of the furious attack. I let my shield crumble, and leaped up, sword in hand, hoping against hope that this time, this time we would find a way to subdue the Dragon........The Rahi was busy trying to crush Laar, who was using her Kualsi to warp from building to building and fire darts of ice at the creature’s face. But even as I prepared to rejoin the battle, my eyes were drawn to a scene just a little ways away........Omari was lying in Nidhiki’s arms, her once-white form now blackened and burned. She was alive, but barely. Being a Toa of Ice, heat affected her more than Nidhiki or I, and she must not have been able to find cover from the Dragon’s flames. I ran towards them, leaping over piles of stone and molten metal, feeling as though my chest was slowly freezing with the chill of fear. But as I approached my brother and sister, Nidhiki’s head snapped up, his green eyes stopping me in my tracks with a poisonous glare........“You coward.”His voice was quiet, but burned with anger and despair, his words tearing at me with claws of steel. “You could have protected her, but all you care about is saving yourself.”.......The Toa of Air stood up, cradling Omari as though she were made of glass. With a last venomous glance at me, he turned and ran away from the battle, carrying our sister away. For a long moment, I stood still, oblivious the conflict around me, trying desperately and failing to hold back the tears that streaked my mask as Nidhiki’s last words echoed through my mind........You coward.
* * *2,000 years ago.......“This is outrageous! How can we have been driven back so far and so fast?”.......Lhikan tried to calm Nidhiki down. “Brother, they attacked swiftly and in greater numbers than any of us could have expected. It’s unreasonable-“.......“What’s unreasonable is me being stuck here,” the Toa of Air snarled. “Stuck here while the rest of you do nothing!”.......“You go too far, Nidhiki! That’s-”.......“Stop telling me what to do! I want-“.......“Brothers!”.......Lhikan and Nidhiki quieted at Omari’s words. The Toa of Ice stood at the far end of the table, hands on her hips, shooting that trademark Omari glare that could stop a Kikanalo in its tracks. Her annoyed expression was aggravated by the scars that marked her face, giving her a perpetual frown that belied her usually cheerful personality........Usually. She’s not so cheerful now........“It’s enough that we’re besieged at all sides without finding fault with each other. Squabbling like Brakas will accomplish nothing.”.......Calling Nidhiki a Brakas would have started a fight had anyone else said it, but Omari could get away with things like that. Ever since… well, I tried not to think about it, but ever since that day fighting the Kanohi Dragon, the two had shared a special bond, a relationship that was completely the opposite of Nidhiki’s and mine. I still called him brother, but it was just a name. The icy silence that had formed between us hadn’t thawed in a thousand years, and I doubted it ever would........“Omari is right.” Turaga Dume’s voice brought me back to reality. “The blame for this situation lies on no one, least of all anyone here, and trying to find fault where none exists will not improve anything. We must continue to seek unity, even in these difficult times.”.......Unity. That was a bit of a joke. Sure, we might have been close a thousand years ago, but ever since Tuyet’s betrayal, the Toa Mangai had been distant with one another. Omari, Naho and Lhikan were our common links, but otherwise everyone kept to their own groups. Laar and the rest of the Ice Toa had their own thing, and Nidhiki antagonized just about everyone. It hurt to see my brothers and sisters drifting apart, but you could see the question burning in every eye: who would be the next to betray us?.......Tuyet had done a lot of damage, but the worst of it was keeping her team from ever trusting each other again. I wasn’t sure if I could ever forgive her for that........Lhikan cleared his throat. “You’re right, Omari; and Turaga, you speak wisdom as always. The fate of our city stands upon the edge of a knife, and we can’t afford to make the situation any worse.” He glanced pointedly at Nidhiki, who rolled his eyes........“In any case, we need to figure out our next strategy. Brute force is pointless, as we’ve already found: the Dark Hunters are too many and too strong. If we had known this a few days ago, we might have taken to the Archives and used guerilla tactics to wear them down, or made our base in Le-Metru and used the chutes against them. However, as the situation stands, here we are in the Coliseum, outnumbered and surrounded.”.......Nidhiki raised a hand. “Perhaps all we need is a simple shift in our thinking. They’ve used the city against us, knowing we want to cause as little destruction as possible. A well-placed Nova Blast-“.......Lhikan shook his head. “You know the Toa Code forbids us to kill, Nidhiki. And even if we were prepared to take the life of a Dark Hunter, large-scale attacks like Nova Blasts would endanger the Matoran. We must protect the citizens of Metru Nui at all costs.”.......The debate continued around the table, every suggestion quickly discarded as too dangerous or too unlikely to succeed. I stayed quiet, listening, which is what I usually did. That’s what the earth is good at: listening, and remembering........Gradually, the deliberation died down, replaced by an uneasy silence. I looked around the table, noting that every face was downcast, even Nidhiki’s, as we all contemplated the idea that maybe, this time, we couldn’t win. The Dark Hunters were too powerful, and had come upon us so quickly that we hadn’t had time to set up any worthwhile defense. It was up to us, the Toa Mangai, once again, only this time our opponent wasn’t a rampaging Rahi, but a sinister intelligence intent on conquering our island home........I sat up with a start as I realized one crucial fact: it didn’t have to be up to us. The world was a different place than it was five hundred years ago- it seemed every other island had its own Toa team. With the Dark Hunters focusing all their might on Metru Nui, it was a given that more Toa would be free to leave their islands and join our cause........“Guys, I think… I think I’ve got it.”.......My team looked at me with interest. I didn’t usually get excited, so this was something out of the ordinary. Only Nidhiki glanced at me with contempt........“What is it?” he asked sarcastically. “Hiding beneath the Coliseum until the Hunters get bored and sail away?”.......Lhikan looked sharply at Nidhiki, but I didn’t care. I could stand up for myself. So I did: I stood up and faced Nidhiki, both hands planted on the table........“This doesn’t have to be up to us,” I explained. “We’re not strong enough to win this alone -regardless of whether or not you’re fighting with us, brother. We need reinforcements, and the only way we’re going to get them is if we can sneak a message through the enemy lines and send out a call for aid.”.......Nidhiki laughed. “That’s suicide! No one could make it through the Hunter lines unchallenged. We’d win nothing but a martyr.”.......I stared the Toa of Air levelly in the eye. “We’ll all be martyrs pretty soon, if this keeps up.” I looked around the table, taking a moment to meet the eyes of each of my brothers and sisters. “No matter what plan we choose, we’re going to be in danger. The stakes are too high to pretend that we’re still the best Toa in the universe. There are islands out there with Toa ready and willing to answer our call, especially with the Hunters distracted here, and they could be our salvation. As far as I can tell, that’s our best option.”.......A long silence followed. Nidhiki sat back in his char and glared at me, his green eyes shooting fire. I looked away, hoping that someone would agree........At long last, Lhikan nodded, his jaw set. "I second Takai's plan. Alone against the power of the Hunters there can be no victory. But if even one messenger can slip through the lines, that could be all it takes to win the city back.".......Around the table, each Toa gave their assent, except Nidhiki, who remained seated, muttering to himself. He'd made it clear to everyone that he was annoyed at being Turaga Dume's bodyguard, and wished he could be out fighting. I had a feeling he didn't really want this battle to end before he got his licks in, and I could sympathize. To be stuck inside while the rest of us risked our lives... to be honest, I envied his position a little bit. The Dark Hunters were out for blood, and there were a hundred of them for every one of us........"Then it's settled." Lhikan's voice rang out, more confident than I'd heard him in days. "Swords are no more use here, so while the rest of us create a diversion, someone will try to slip through the chaos and get off the island. All that remains is... who?".......The table was silent. We all knew Lhikan would volunteer, but he was our leader, and losing him would be analogous to losing the war. So it fell to one of us, Toa in a team divided, to risk everything for their teammates........Nidhiki leaned back, a false smile playing about his lips. "Well, seeing as it was his idea, why not Takai?".......All eyes turned to me........"Well, I... I would, I mean...." My thoughts chased each other in circles as I struggled to find a reason why I couldn't -that is, a reason other than the fact that I was afraid........"I... the water... I couldn't... I'd need a ship...".......That was it........"The- the Hunters have control of the ports, and I'd need a ship, otherwise I'd never get anywhere.".......The tension broke as everyone nodded. I sank back in my chair, relieved but unhappy. What kind of Toa was I? I couldn't even muster up the courage to risk my life for the lives of my brothers, sisters, and thousands of Matoran........Nidhiki had been right. I was a coward........Next to Lhikan, Naho, Toa of Water, rose gracefully to her feet, her serene blue eyes as calm as the sea under a summer sky........"Takai's right," she said calmly. "This is clearly a job for a Toa of Water, which means it is my duty. No one else could make it across the sea without a ship.".......Naho looked at me, her eyes warm. "And even if we could find one, entrusting our lives to the seaworthiness of a Toa of Earth or Air would be foolish at best.".......Even Turaga Dume smiled at that. But though I was outwardly laughing, inside I felt sick. Had I just abandoned another of my sisters to a danger I was too terrified to face? Again, Nidhiki's words came back to me, reminding me of who I was, who, time after time, I had chosen to be........You coward.
* * *Today.......Sand crunched beneath my feet as I walked along the beach, leaving a trail of footprints that led back to my boat. The early morning was cold and dark, but I didn't particularly mind. Being a Toa of Earth, I could see easily enough, and the cold was more of an irritation than a discomfort. So I kept walking........I was here, on this desolated stretch of beach, under orders from Turaga Dume to close the southern sea gates. Toa Omari and the Chronicler Kodan had arrived scarce hours before me, as I knew from the boat I had docked next to. We had meant to arrive together, but an emergency in the Archives had kept me in Metru Nui till last night. So the two of them had gone on before me, and once I met up with them, we could seal the gates and return home........The sky was mostly dark, with only a faint glow on the eastern horizon marking the approaching dawn. Still, with my night vision, I could just make out the tower that controlled the gates, a metal lighthouse nestled against the Great Barrier. That's where I'd find Omari and the Chronicler........As I often did, I realized that I'd gotten lost in my own thoughts when I tripped over a metallic object that lay in my path. I stumbled forward before catching my balance, then shook my head at my own clumsiness, smiling sheepishly. It was a running joke among my team how I would concentrate on something so exclusively that I'd miss the most obvious things. Just like an archivist, they'd say, and I'd laugh too, because it was really amazing how little things changed over millennia, even trivial things like that........I turned around to see what I'd stumbled on. The piece of metal was half-buried in the sand, so I picked it up and brushed it off, wondering how anything Matoran-made could possibly find its way to this barren shore........My wonder quickly turned to horror as I realized what I was holding: a white Kakama, old scars and burns running along its left side........Omari's mask.I looked around wildly, hoping desperately that I would find my sister standing somewhere nearby, laughing with Kodan at silly Takai, getting all worked up over an abandoned mask. But they were nowhere to be seen. I looked up the lighthouse, cursing myself for my tendency to miss the most obvious things: the light was out. There was no one inside........The darkness, which had seemed so harmless a moment ago, now pressed in around me, menacing and evil. I looked to the horizon, wishing for the first time that the sun would hurry up and rise; that light would sweep away this mystery and reveal Omari and Kodan, safe and unharmed........There was only one thing to do. My only clue was this mask, and using my mask of Psychometry, there was a chance, however small, that I could figure out what had happened here........"Mata Nui," I whispered. "Please, guide my sight; show me what happened here.".......I activated my mask, and in an instant my surroundings dissolved in a whirlwind of colour, only to reassemble into a familiar scene: the same beach I had found the mask on, windswept and raining. I quickly recognized Omari and Kodan struggling against the wind, making their slow way across the wet sand towards the lighthouse........Suddenly, with a bestial roar, a massive figure descended upon the two, wicked talons glinting on his hands. He struck at Omari- and abruptly I was back on the beach, alone, gripping my sister's mask........"No!" I screamed. "No! No! No!".......I stumbled to my knees, clutching the mask to my chest. Weeping, tears running freely down my cheeks, I realized once again that I had left my sister when she needed me, and now... I couldn't bear to think of the word dead........"How touching.".......My head snapped up at the familiar voice, but I didn't recognize the being that stood before me. The brightening sky revealed an insect-like monster with four legs and poison green armour, and a face like a Vahki's- impassive and cruel.I slowly stood up, still holding Omari's mask........"Who are you?".......The monster laughed, an eerie chitter reminiscent of a Visorak. Its green eyes focused on mine, burning with familiar venom and hate........"You know who I am, Takai. Or are you too much of a coward to admit it?".......Nidhiki........The last time I had seen the Toa of Air, he had tried to betray Metru Nui to the Dark Hunters in exchange for being named its ruler once the war was over. His scheme had failed thanks to Lhikan, and he had left the island in disgrace........Now, it seemed as though his poisonous personality had finally taken over completely, revealing the monster he really was........"Roodaka did this to me," Nidhiki spat, as if reading my thoughts. "I hope you're happy, brother. Then again, you were probably happiest when Lhikan exiled me from Metru Nui. You always were a self-serving, cowardly-"......."What have you done with Omari?" I interrupted, for once not caring about Nidhiki's taunts. "Where is she, and where's the Chronicler?".......Nidhiki's face contorted into a malicious sneer. "The Dark Hunters are the best at what they do, and what they do is kill. I'm a Hunter now, Takai, or did you forget?".......Slowly, silently, I knelt down and lay Omari's Kakama gently on the sand. Then I stood straight and stared into the eyes of the being I had once called brother, and spoke, my voice as low and hard as the foundations of the world........"You will pay for her life, Nidhiki. Hers and Kodan's. I swear this on the name of the Great Spirit.".......Nidhiki chittered, his insectoid laughter full of bravado, but I had known him long enough to see that he was afraid. He knew that one of was would never leave this beach........"Don't pretend to be something you're not, Takai," he snickered. "We both know you never could stand up for anything, and you won't get in my way this time either. Run while you can, Toa, just like you always have.".......His words stabbed like a thousand knives, but I refused to acknowledge them. There were no words that could stop me now........Without diverting my gaze from Nidhiki's cold eyes, I reached for my sword. The wire-wrapped hilt fit my hand like an old friend, and the metal rang as I drew the blade from its sheath, as though my weapon were shouting forth its defiance of the murderer before me. I lifted my sword high, and the sun broke the horizon in the east, blazing red and gold and lighting up the silver blade in a blazing fire of colour. I drew a deep breath, knowing that it might be my last, but also knowing, this time, that I would not back down. Today, I would stand against evil as the Toa I was destined to be, and give my reply at long last to him who had said I was not worthy of the name........"You shall not pass."
* * *Citations"...your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife." Galadriel to the Fellowship in Lothlorien; The Fellowship of the Ring (book)"Against the power of Mordor there can be no victory." Saruman to Gandalf in Orthanc; Fellowship of the Ring (film)"Swords are no more use here!" Gandalf to Aragorn at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum; Fellowship of the Ring (film)"You shall not pass!" Gandalf to the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum; Fellowship of the Ring (film)
* * *Before ending this entry, I'd just like to say that I had a ton of fun writing this story. It was more difficult to write than anything else I've written, but I think the end product is more than worth it. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
EDIT: Using Kagha's advice, and with Velox's permission, I edited my story to fix the issue with the indents at the beginning of each paragraph.
Edited by Nukaya is Awesome, Mar 11 2012 - 06:59 PM.