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Broken Unity


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#1 Online Parugi

Parugi
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Posted Mar 10 2012 - 06:56 PM

Aftermath: Book I

Broken Unity

By Parugi

Prologue

The soft pitter-patter of rain, rhythmically striking the metal hull of the boat, creating a light drumbeat that partially echoed in the cold night. The splitting of the waves as the front of the boat carved a slow path through the icy, black waters. The snapping of his own fingers as he observed the familiar sea, a small fire flickering on and off as he did so. These sounds were all that the Toa of Fire heard as he sat upon the deck of his group’s ship, leaning over the middle bar of the railing, his glowing red eyes set on the horizon. His small fires, hissing as rain fell upon them, constantly attempting to quench the flames, illuminated the area around him. Two sword hilts glistened in the sheathes on his belt; from beneath the hood of his rain-soaked crimson and black robe, which he had pulled tightly against his armored body, a scarred, black and red Kanohi Kualsi glinted momentarily in the light.Clasped on his shoulder was a silver piece of metal, bearing on it an intricate coat of arms — a demonic, yet regal looking mask, set behind a dagger and a branch; the symbol of the Dark Hunters, one of the largest, longest lasting groups of criminals and murders in the known universe. It was not a symbol that the Toa wore that often, nor did he wear it lightly; while he was indeed a member of the organization, he had always felt certain… restraint within the organization; as such, his loyalty to the cause was questionable at best. Despite his personal feelings towards them, however, this mission required that he bear some sort of identification for his new employers. The Toa simply could not avoid wearing that hated clasp this time around — though, admittedly, it wouldn’t be required for long…He let his eyes wander to his left, scanning another area of the vast sea; amidst his peripherals, barely visible due to the rain that was running down his mask in an impressive stream, he could see the door to the inner cabins, where his brother and sister hunters rested. There they waited, as he did, for their arrival at Exa-Nui; and from there, introductions with their employers.The Toa of Fire turned his gaze back to the front of the deck. He, like the others, had received little information on the two beings who had requested their services. From what he had been told, the contractors had been a group of five Makuta; two of these — a pair of twins, Makuta Jaeda, the Mistress of Crimson, and Xaeda, the Lord of Ebony — acted as their leaders. Together, they acted as guardians and watchers of the island of Exa-Nui, sworn to keep the darkness of the island — confined to a vast land known simply as Kra-Wahi, the Darkness of Exa-Nui – in check, making sure that the shadows did not provide a threat to the rest of the island.That, however, was all he knew, discounting his own, personal knowledge of the island. For the Dark Hunter, just like those that currently traveled with him, had originated on the island, acting as defenders of the land along with their other six brothers and sisters. Jealousy, however, was a powerful corrupter, and the six of them had found themselves envying the superior skills of their brethren during the Great War. It did not take long for the Toa of Fire to convince the others to leave with him, to seek out new lands…Yet, he did not remember these Makuta being on the island when they had left. Kra-Wahi had existed, there was no doubt of that; he recalled that terrible place far too vividly. He remembered the ever-present darkness in the area, a shadowy mist that made it virtually impossible for most normal beings to see in. It was a place infested with monsters that Matoran could only dream of, never imagining that they were right at their door step. A gate had separated it from the rest of the island, keeping the shadows behind it at bay; how that had worked for so long, and why it seemed as if it wasn’t working now was another question entirely…So… what could Makuta need our help in keeping back there, if they possess dominion over the darkness already? he wondered. No doubt they were plotting something; his experience in the Dark Hunters had taught him that even the most docile of beings could and most certainly did have plots hidden beneath their wings, just waiting for the right moment to strike. The Toa shook his head; he was making assumptions. Soon enough, they would find out what they were needed for…It seemed like an eternity before the Dark Hunter received the first dreadful sign that they were drawing near. Deep, black clouds suddenly blotted out what light of the moon had managed to get through the rain clouds. The darkness only intensified the sounds of rain and wind around him, yet it seemed to dull his feeling of touch; a small fire coming to light in his hand quickly fixed that, giving him a slightly larger field of vision. Steam rose from the flames where raindrops continued to land; their hissing, coupled with the shadows around the Dark Hunter, gave the surrounding darkness an unnatural feel to it, one that he hadn’t felt since he had been here last.Home sweet home… he thought bitterly, gripping the railing tightly as he rose to his feet.It didn’t take long for the island to rapidly come into sight; the Toa increased the size of the fire he was holding, slowly expanding his view. The rocky cliffs that outlined most of Kra-Wahi were beginning to come into view, slowly growing larger and taller. Angry waves lashed out at the rock faces, as if they were clawing for something hidden within. Once or twice, a shape would appear in the darkness above, before quickly fleeing to escape the light. A larger shape, possibly a Rahi, appeared in the water below as they neared; the darkness and the sloshing of the sea made it impossible to tell just what it was, which only added to the chills that were rapidly rolling along the Toa’s back.The boat had turned right at this point, beginning to cut a new, westward path, closely following along the cliff face. The Toa of Fire held on tightly, keeping his grip as the boat rocked back and forth with the waves, his other hand held level with his head, the sole light source in the area. For a while, the scenery stayed static. Soon enough, however, the cliff suddenly vanished, and the Toa found himself staring at a metallic dock. The structure jutted out into the open water — at least five Bio in length, he estimated. Small, white lights lined its sides, perfectly spaced out though still providing little visibility on their own. A wide roof had been built above the entire thing, causing the water and rain to cascade down its slanted sides. The sight would have almost been beautiful, were it not for the strange being waiting at the dock.Whether it was a robot or not was difficult to tell, the distance between the boat and dock notwithstanding. The person was tall, slightly bigger than a Toa and bearing a Kanohi; yet he was also extremely thin. The Dark Hunter was surprised that he could support the weight of his own body, let alone the deep blue armor that he wore. He couldn’t help but notice that the being’s arms — or at least, the shoulders — were quite… strange. They were lower than most other peoples’ shoulders were, about level with the middle of his chest. In each of his hands he held a lantern, and behind him, a black cape concealed his back. His expressionless, light blue eyes cut through the shadows with ease, locking with those of the Dark Hunter as the boat docked.“Welcome,” the being said quietly, his voice heavily metallic, yet airy at the same time. The Toa of Fire opened the gate on the other side of the deck, slowly walking down the steps until he arrived on the platform. Behind him, he could hear the metallic clicks and creaking as the rest of his party gathered their supplies and began to head outside.He didn’t bother waiting for them, instead opting to get things moving along. He nodded at the being. “Greetings,” he said, flashing his clasp to the creature. “My name is Dusk. I come on behalf of the Shadowed One.”“I know who you are,” the being said simply. The way he said it almost made Dusk flinch, though he kept his cool; he was already getting bad vibes off of this… thing. “I am Kadris, servant of the Mistress and the Lord. I have been told what to look for in regards to the Dark Hunters that she has requested.” He stared at Dusk. Everything he said was stated in a completely mechanical fashion; the Dark Hunter was strongly beginning to believe that he was a robot, though the organics that were quickly becoming visible as his eyes grew more adjusted to the dark indicated otherwise. “Fire, ice, earth, air, stone, water. These are the elements that she requires. You are the Toa of Fire. The others have been sent with you. Is this correct?”Dusk was silent for a moment. “I’m the only one you could actually call a Toa at this point, but yes, they’re in the cabin...”“I did not call the others Toa,” Kadris pointed out, his emotionless gaze turning to the cabin door as it opened. Dusk averted his gaze to the side as heavy footfalls sounded behind him. Metallic clinks and clangs sounded as metal bumped against metal, the result of the Dark Hunters’ possessions bumping against each other inside of their satchels. Kadris watched the approaching hunters with the same expression that he had been staring at Dusk with; it was only now that the Toa of Fire realized that he hadn’t blinked once during their conversation. “Subjects identified. Huntress; ice. Pharaoh; stone. Grim; air. Fraction; earth. Dusk; fire. Unable to locate Shifter. Where is Shifter?”“He’ll follow after us once we leave,” Dusk said quietly, as the others, too busy talking, fidgeting and arguing amongst themselves, ignored Kadris. “He doesn’t like to be seen unless he absolutely has to… He’s secretive like that.”Kadris studied Dusk’s face for a fleeting moment, and then nodded. “Very well. Presence verified; Shifter, water, is here. Please follow me.” Mechanically, he turned and began walking to the shore, where a set of stairs awaited them, paving the way to an underground cavern. Dusk crossed his arms and followed after him; the others did not. He stopped and turned to look at them upon realizing this.“Who’s that freak?” Fraction, former Toa of Earth, asked, his gruff voice filled to the brim with disdain. His body matched the level of his voice; like a Toa, he stood at seven feet, though his back was considerably and permanently hunched due to the weight of the four large, mechanical wings that had been implanted into his back. A silver, Pehkui-shaped Mask of Molecular Disruption, the Kanohi Doron, hid his dark face, revealing only his orange eyes. “The Shadowed One said we’d be workin’ for Makuta — chance of a lifetime, he said. I ain’t followin’ orders from some robotic butler.”“He works for the Makuta, my brother,” Dusk said irritably. “We are under contract to them; that doesn’t mean they have to personally welcome us back home — even the Master has a servant for that. Would you come into this weather for a pathetic lot of killers?”Pharaoh laughed at that; as prideful as she was, she had to admit that the Toa of Fire had made a rather good point. The other two ignored her, simply glaring each other down. Their stare down was broken as Kadris returned up the steps. “Please follow me,” he repeated. Dusk shot another look at his winged brother before obliging, walking towards the stairs. Slowly, the rest of the group followed, with Fraction at the back. A series of sounds sounded from behind them as they descended, like a mass of scurrying mechanical rats, though it quickly died down. Were they to look back, they would see that the boat was gone, no remnants of it left for prying eyes to see.The group emerged from the bottom of the staircase and into a surprisingly well-lit hallway. The metal walls dimly reflected the lights of the torches; not enough to hurt one’s eyes after traveling amongst the shadows, but certainly enough that Dusk allowed the flame in his hands to die down. Kadris, too, went to turn off his lamps; as he did, the Toa of Fire looked over at him, jaw dropping slightly in surprise as he realized why the being’s shoulders had looked so unreal. Kadris did not possess one pair of arms, but three; the pair above the torch-wielding ones reached out from behind his cape to extinguish the lamps, moving the fabric enough to give Dusk a view of the third pair folded beneath. He couldn’t help but stare as the middle arms lowered, still clutching the lamps, allowing the top pair of long, thin arms to be used for whatever Kadris needed them for.The robotic being looked at him, his expression turning to one of confusion as he noticed Dusk’s gaze. “Is there something wrong with me, sir?”“What? No…” Dusk said uncomfortably, realizing what he was doing. “It’s just… Never mind.”“Are you lying to me?” Kadris asked. “You seem frightened. Or perhaps disgusted. You feel as if I am unnatural. Is this assumption correct?”“No, it’s not,” Dusk lied. “Look, can we just get moving? I want to rest.”“You contradict yourself with this request for both movement and rest,” Kadris said, turning forward again. “But very well. I will lead you to my masters. Follow me.” He took off again, walking at a steady pace. Dusk threw a look at Fraction and the others; the former Toa of Earth merely shrugged, though he was unable to hide his smirk before they moved on.The rest of the trip was uneventful. They walked for some time through that hallway, aware of the mechanical movements behind them that signaled Shift’s presence, though they never looked back: Doing so would just cause the Dark Hunter to disperse, to hide amongst the flittering shadows from the torch light. They focused on the walk. As Dusk grew bored, he closed his eyes, letting his senses guide him. He could hear and feel his surroundings more clearly by shutting off his view of the world, the windows that allowed light to reach his eyes.He could distinctly make out the footsteps of each of the beings behind him — the heavy, weight-bearing steps of Fraction. The light steps of Pharaoh, a direct contrast to her large, heavily armored being. The sluggish footfalls of Huntress, perfectly modeling her drastically eroded mental state. The light, metallic taps on the ground as Grim moved his three, spider-like legs across the ground. There was the unsettling sliding sound that was caused by Shift as he moved behind them, phantom like with each movement, as if he were stalking prey. And finally, there were Kadris’s steps, perfectly spaced out, set just long enough for the next movement to occur and not a moment longer. He opened his eyes as the sounds of wind grew louder, the end of the hallway nearing at last.Seconds later, they arrived at the next staircase. Climbing it, they emerged into a large courtyard-like area — not unlike the training arenas back on Odina, Dusk noted. Large walls, easily fifty feet high and at least as long as that, stood on three sides, including the one that they had emerged from; to their left, a massive fortress stood. Directly across from the fortress, in the center of the wall, was a pair of large doors. Four obelisks stood at each corner of the courtyard, each of them thirty feet tall and covered with strange runes; at their tips were large fires that illuminated the courtyard, hardly reacting to the rain falling upon them. Strange beings stood guard upon the courtyard walls, vigilantly watching the great expanse of land that lay beyond. They were visible by the light of the torches, each one armed with crossbows and swords. All were identical to Kadris in build, each possessing six arms and a mask, though Dusk could not make out their armor colors.“What, exactly, is this place?” Grim, former Toa of Air, asked. His voice was quiet, airy and sly. He was a silver-tongued individual, ever calm, always able to weasel his way out of a sticky situation or whenever he did not want to deal with a problem. His determination, however, was infallible; never once had he given up a hunt. Despite every other disgusting attribute about him, from his half-Toa, half-spider appearance to his treacherous personality, Dusk had to respect his fellow Hunter’s charisma.“This is my home,” the Makutas’ servant answered. “It is Mistress Jaeda and Master Xaeda’s fortress. It is from here that they watch over Kra-Wahi. It is from here that the future will change. I know this for a fact; Jaeda’s words ring true even in the darkest of hours.” He stopped at the mouth of the tunnel, turning to look at the Dark Hunters. “For the current time, and for many days to come, this, too, will be your home. You will live here. You will operate from this fortress, acting on the orders of the Mistress and the Mistress alone; in return for your assistance in the Mistress’s plans, you will be treated to luxuries that are not present for your brother and sister Hunters on Odina. Do you understand this?”Pharaoh’s interest peaked at this. “That wasn’t mentioned before… Luxuries fit for a queen, I presume?”Kadris nodded shortly. “Warm beds. The comfort of a fire. Specialized equipment. All that you could wish to eat—even foods befitting the more… enigmatic appetites of those amongst us.” His gaze darted to Huntress as he spoke; Dusk knew exactly what he was talking about.Huntress, former Toa of Ice, was a massive being. Long ago, prior to their joining the Dark Hunters, she had been a truly beautiful person; travelers on Exa-Nui had been enamored by her, and statues had been made by the Matoran in her honor. Like the others, however, she soon fell out of the popular light when jealousy and bitterness towards the other six Toa Exas’ superior skills and abilities took over, driving her, like Pharaoh and their brothers, to seek out a new life. Upon joining the Dark Hunters, she, like most of the others, had been mutated, modified — and in her case, transformed into a monster with a chilling soft spot for Kraata… inside of her stomach. No doubt that would disturb the Makuta here, though there was little they could do to stop it. Dusk knew that; for the Shadowed One had tried, at least until he learned of the effects the Kraata had on her…“Do you understand?” The Dark Hunters nodded unanimously. “Then let us go; my masters await your arrival.”They continued forward. Kadris led them through the large courtyard, completely ignoring the rain that was quickly becoming an unrelenting nuisance to Dusk. They were paid no heed by the guards littered throughout the place; it seemed to Dusk that they were totally single-minded when it came to their duties, especially if Kadris was any indication. He wondered what their story was. Never before had he seen these kinds of beings, on or off of Exa-Nui, yet here were a relatively large number of them, diligently serving the Makuta of the island.Briefly, he toyed with the idea that, perhaps, they were results of experiments by the shadow-casters, though quickly disregarded the thought. The Makuta might have been skilled Rahi makers, but creators of an entire, sapient species? That was the territory of Mata Nui — and it was territory that even the Shadowed One dared not to tread on.It was not long before they had cleared the massive outer area. Their multi-armed guide stepped forward, raising a hand; the doors to the palace opened, granting them entrance. He stepped aside, indicating for them to enter; once they had all filed in, Kadris willed the doors to shut again. Dusk was given a very brief moment to observe the entrance hall, noting the neatly polished surfaces all around, the majestic carpets that spanned from the first door to the one far in front of them, before he was hastened along once more. They were about to meet their hosts; of this, the Toa of Fire was sure. Never before had he felt such power emanating from a single room.“Ladies and gentlemen,” Kadris said as he moved to the last pair of double doors, placing his hands upon them. “I once again welcome you back to Exa-Nui… and am pleased to introduce you to the masters of Kra-Wahi, the Mistress Makuta Jaeda, and her honorable brother, Makuta Xaeda.”He pushed, giving the Dark Hunters their first view of their two contractors, as well as the room in which they waited. The doors had opened into yet another large room, this one designed with black and white, metallic plates covering the walls, creating intricate patterns in certain places. The rug continued on from the hallway, rolled right to the foot of a raised platform. Upon this was placed two thrones, one made of ebony and one of ivory — and upon those sat two impressive figures. Dusk stared in awe at them as the group moved forward, coming to a halt a few yards in front of the Makuta.Even seated upon their thrones, raised just enough so as to force him to look up at them, the Toa could tell that one was significantly larger than the other. His armor was pitch black in color, save for where it covered parts of his torso, arms and legs; there, silver protosteel reflected the white lights in the room, only adding to his menacing appearance. His legs and trunk were heavily armored, though his arms were comparatively thinner, as well as unnaturally long; this and his razor-clawed fingers, lying out upon the armrests of his ironically ivory throne, gave him a deeply monstrous appearance, greatly enhanced by the large tusks and minotaur-horns jutting out from his Kanohi. Red eyes glowed behind his mask; a pure, black cape cascaded down his back, the end, hanging over the edge of his seat, flowing gently in the soft wind within the room. Attached to his mask was a crown-like decoration, designed with several more blade-like horns, jutting forward. His perfectly polished armor rounded him off, giving the Makuta the appearance of a very dark, yet regal being.Sitting on his right, his companion was far less menacing; whereas he was around eleven feet, she stood at a mere seven feet, the same size as a typical Toa. Her armor was pure white in color, neatly polished like that of the black-armored being. Unlike his, she possessed no extravagant spikes or decorations on her armor or mask; while she bore a similar, though smaller crown and a cape on her back, clasped at the throat with a brilliant, red jewel; it was not meant to intimidate others or to emphasize her ‘royal’ status. If anything, these objects merely emphasized her simplistic appearance, and in turn, made her more beautiful, at least in Dusk’s eyes. She sat with a straight, though unimposing stature, one leg crossed over the other while she leaned back, her golden eyes casting a welcoming light upon Kadris and the party of Dark Hunters.The Toa of Fire watched the two beings with intense interest, standing at attention on the floor in front of them; even through his stormy, troubled mind, he felt a sort of enchantment as he looked upon the female being. Any fool, he thought, who did not see the beauty that he saw was either extremely foolish or was very sluggish of mind. He looked at his brothers; Grim and Fraction were staring up at the Makuta, as well, and Dusk could tell that they, too, were enamored with the female Makuta, just as he was.“My masters, we have arrived,” Kadris stated, bowing to the two Makuta. “All Dark Hunters are confirmed present.” Stepping to the side, he introduced each as their codename, stating their representative elements along with them. When he was finished, he turned back to the Makuta, awaiting further instruction.The mistress nodded. “Thank you, Kadris; you may go.” The six-armed being nodded, turning around and exiting the room. She looked at the Dark Hunters now. “Hello, my friends,” the female said to them; her voice was soft and cool, a beautiful sound emanating from a beautiful being. “We are honored to welcome you into our home. Allow me to introduce myself; I am Makuta Jaeda. This is my brother, Makuta Xaeda. Though I’m sure you know this by now…”“My lady; my lord,” Dusk said as he stepped forward from the group, bowing to his two employers. As he did so he became painfully aware of his soaked cloak, which, like those of his companions, continued to drip water onto the floor. No one else seemed to pay attention to this. “The Shadowed One sends his regards, and his sincerest hope that all is well here.”Jaeda smiled, ignoring a scoff from her brother. “His regards are acknowledged, though I am afraid that all is not well around here.” She leaned forward in her seat slightly, smiling. “If that were the case, then we wouldn’t have called you here, would we have?” Dusk nodded, straightening up again.“What’s the problem, then?” Pharaoh asked, doing her best to hide her disgust at her brothers. To have someone else, even a source of income, placed above her was unbearable; to be unable to publicly voice her disapproval even more so. “Five Makuta and an army of… well, just an army of anything... I doubt there’s a beast in this section of the island that you couldn’t deal with by yourselves. Certainly you can do more than a group of former Toa can?”Makuta Jaeda chuckled. “So you wish to jump right into business; I like that. Very well. Our… predicament… isn’t related to our ability to control the shadows, Pharaoh, so much as it relates to your origins and the island as a whole,” she said carefully. “Recently, the structure of Exa-Nui has come under threat by a rogue Toa of Magnetism. His name is Tarius – and he’s powerful; stronger than any other Toa that we’ve dealt with in the past. Our allies haven’t helped at all in our attempts to stop him, and his own have only made the task more difficult. We believe that he hails from an island north of here; a land of ice, one that has recently seen its fair share of trouble thanks primarily to Skakdi pirates and a criminal organization called the Ring, though this background information affects very little due to the fact that we don’t know for certain how much of it is true.”Dusk nodded again. “You want us to help stop him.”Xaeda spoke up now. “That is not all,” he said, his gruff and deep voice reverberating against the walls. “Tarius seeks to take possession of a number of powerful artifacts on the island.” He held out his hand, using his illusion abilities to create images of six orb-like objects. Mist swirled inside of each of them, the clouds in each a different color. “The Orbs of Exaina. Powerful objects that anchor these very lands together. Exaina created them thousands of years ago as a way to join the various islets of Exa-Nui into one land; Tarius would put them in danger for his own profit and amusement.”Jaeda nodded solemnly. “Should Tarius get his hands on the orbs, he will come into possession of... potentially destructive forces, shall we say. The objects themselves are not inherently dangerous, powerful as they are; how they are used, however, is a different story. Should he ever decide to hand these orbs over to darker forces in the universe, things could get very messy, very quickly. Surely no one wants that to happen?” She leaned back in her seat, her elbows resting on the armrests of her throne, her chin resting on the backs of her hands. “Our job for you is simple, really. Find these orbs before Tarius does; bring them back here. From there we can create new, better protected hiding places for them, so as to ensure that they never again come under the threat of rogues and thieves.”“It will be done,” Dusk said, nodding. Grim, however, wasn’t so willing to agree; something had caught his attention, and in his mind, it needed to be touched on.“What of the Toa Exa?” he asked; Huntress growled at the mention of them. “As you know — and as we know — there is… bad blood between the Dark Hunters and the Toa of this island. We will not be able to operate without their interference; even if we could, we would never be able to efficiently operate alongside them. We’re past that point.”“You raise an interesting point, Grim,” Jaeda said, moving her hands; one she placed on her chin, while the other fell to the armrest. Xaeda cast a glance at her. “We cannot contact or recruit the Toa to our cause; their duty lies first and foremost in the protection of the Matoran, and that is something that we must respect. They are, however, aware of Tarius’s activities; he has posed a constant threat as a raider on the island for the past several years, always willing to attack and steal from the Matoran without a second’s hesitation. Because of this, they will no doubt prove useful in delaying and distracting him from his primary objective. As for the problem of your movements on the island… do not worry about that for now. The Toa are not aware that you have come; you will be able to pose as drifters while you work. So long as you don’t do anything rash, they shouldn’t trouble you.”The former Toa of Air wasn’t convinced, though he nodded nonetheless. Jaeda leaned forward and stared at each of the Dark Hunters in turn, before smiling. She relaxed, pressing back against her throne.“Excellent,” she said. Kadris entered the room again, waiting at the door. “Kadris will show you to your rooms. Consider the facilities of this palace yours to use, with a few exceptions. You will get a grand tour tomorrow; after that, we must begin our mission. That said, good night, my friends; may you find comfort from your past demons within these walls.”Dusk nodded a short ‘thank you’ to Jaeda before following the others back into the entrance hall, the door swinging closed behind them. Kadris motioned for them to follow yet again — the final time for the night — before heading to a side door on the right side of the room. Dusk walked slowly behind the rest of the group, thinking about the conversation. In the shadows next to him, a dark silhouette of a Toa materialized, small pieces of metal climbing up from the ground to create the shape. Deep blue eyes glowed where its face would be.“What do you think of them?” a highly auto-tuned and hydraulic voice asked quietly. Dusk stopped, staring straight ahead; if he looked at him, Shifter would leave — such an opportunity to speak with the Dark Hunter was rare, even for a sibling.“They seem genuine,” he answered quietly. Shifter was silent. “I don’t quite understand what is so hard about capturing a single Toa, but I’m sure they have their reasons for not being able to. Perhaps they’re busy.”“Maybe. Though their response regarding the Toa Exa was weak,” the mechanical Dark Hunter said. “I’m willing to trust them for now, Dága, because I trust your judgment. But there is a component to the situation that they have not told us. As such, don’t be surprised if things turn out badly in the end for someone; Mata Nui knows that we of all people deserve the karma…” The Toa of Fire closed his eyes as the sound of shifting metal sounded, signaling his brother’s retreat from the area. Taking a breath, he followed after the others; after that journey, he just wanted to rest…The soft pitter-patter of the rain as it thudded against the doors of the entrance hall. The clatter and clanging of his feet against the floor with each step he took. The sounds of his many possessions as they jostled and bounced around in his satchel, the noises reverberating against the metal walls of the entrance hall. These noises were all that Dága heard as he headed to his room, unknowingly toward the first day of what would become his biggest challenge yet.

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Edited by X. Luxord, Aug 21 2012 - 05:03 PM.

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#2 Online Parugi

Parugi
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Posted Mar 24 2012 - 11:54 PM

Chapter I

The Village of Fire

The storm had passed. A soft fog clouded the streets of Ta-Exa, partially obscuring the buildings and road. The sun was beginning to rise, the pale light of dawn cutting through the fog, casting an eerie glow on the area. Few souls were about at this point; a pair of Matoran walked along the road, cloaks wrapped tightly around their bodies as the cold of the morning slowly wore away, and a merchant Toa was busy setting up his stall, preparing for the consumers that would inevitably stop by later in the day. A Toa of Fire, his armor primarily dark red and supplemented by gold, walked silently outward from the large, domed building at the center of the village, toward the outer walls of the village. He held a lantern in his hand, holding it out in front of himself to light the way through the mist; strapped on his back, two sheathes crossed each other in an X-shape, firmly holding a pair of swords in place.This was Torith, current Toa Exa of Fire. On a normal day, as he ascended the stone steps onto the great, rounded walls of Ta-Exa, his posture would be one of near-perfection; straight-backed, he walked with broad, kingly steps, emphasizing his honor as a proud defender of Exa-Nui. His neatly polished Kanohi Kora reflected the light from the lantern; his orange eyes, shining beacons of honor and loyalty, cast their own lights in the semi-darkness of the morning. A renowned swordsman on the island, he had become something of a legend for his quick adaptive abilities following his Toa transformation during the war against Exa-Nui’s last major threat, a conqueror known as Xarax.Today, however, was not a normal day; the entire past week hadn’t been normal in any sense of the word, at least to those who knew the island as well as he did. The jungles of Le-Wahi to the northwest had become restless as of late; Rahi attacks had greatly increased in frequency and severity, a constant threat that had resulted in Turaga Mazen, elder of the lands of fire and air, to order all entrances in and out of the Le- and Ta-Exa to be constantly manned and protected by the respective guard groups on the island. Kra-Wahi to the southwest had also seen a recent rise in activity, as more and more of the creatures that resided within the shadowy region had begun to slink by the gates, waiting for any opportunity to get through. Reportedly, similar problems had arisen in the other four Wahi, forcing the other Toa Exa to increase patrols, and environmental problems – such as freak storms, like the one that had occurred last night, and a number of increasingly strengthening earthquakes – had become a common occurrence.He wasn’t sure what the cause of these troubles was. He was, however, aware of what he had sworn to do, and he wasn’t about to go off and try to locate the source of these problems; the Matoran needed protection, and with the rapidly dropping number of visitors to the island recently, the weight of that duty was increasing upon his shoulders. Further, he had heard rumors about a group of marauders that had recently arrived on the island, supposedly led by a rogue Toa. If they decided to come to Ta-Exa… he frowned at the thought.By now he had arrived at the top of the stairs, yawning as he moved to look over the edge, gazing upon the vast, grassy expanse. His thoughts might have been filled up by thoughts and feelings of worry in relation to these issues, but there was no such conflict in the beautiful landscapes of the fire land. It was perhaps a misleading name for the Wahi; unlike most islands that possessed areas dedicated to Matoran and Toa of fire, Exa-Nui’s Ta-Wahi was not an entirely volcanic land; while there were certainly areas to the south of Ta-Exa where a small number of volcanoes lay, the villagers of the fire city had dedicated their lives more to agriculture than lava-farming. The outer edges of the city – including where Torith had passed through to get to this position on the walls – had been transformed into farmland, with far more farms located in various areas outside of the city, growing a number of useful plants.As a Matoran, Torith had once owned such a farm, though he had been forced to sell it when he had been called on to serve his land in the fight against Xarax. Occasionally, when activity was low and the Matoran were more concerned with their own devices than the problems on defense and politics, the Toa of Fire would find a quiet place to sit and think about the old days, when he, too, had had ample time to simply enjoy himself. It was getting to a point where he was finding himself increasingly busy; rarely now could he relax and let things unfold however they would, without worry of danger rearing its head and bearing its glistening fangs at his village. He sighed. After all these years, he had come to accept the life of a Toa; that didn’t stop him from occasionally wishing for something simpler, however…He continued staring out upon the fields for several moments, watching as the sunlight slowly increased in intensity, as the fog gradually dispersed. The village’s position on a large, flattened hill gave him a great view of the area; he could see a herd of small, cow-like Rahi grazed in the vast fields below, focusing on the ground as they ate their morning meal; an early-rising farmer, the owner of the Rahi, watched from a fence some distance away from them, basking in the warm light of the sun. After several moments, he straightened up, stretching his arms and yawning again, before turning and continuing along the wall to the next gate, having deemed this one secure for the day. To his left, several stories below, the city was beginning to grow more active as the villagers awoke, beginning their daily routines. If nothing else, he was happy for them; his busy schedule was worth it if it meant that he could provide a safe and quiet life for the Matoran who lived within the village of fire.As he approached the next gate, he noticed another small group of beings in the streets below, some of them casually leaning against the wall of a shop as they talked amongst themselves. These were not Matoran, and they certainly were not natives of the island; that was something else that Torith enjoyed about Exa-Nui as a whole, in spite of the recent dangers. The place was a popular destination for travelers and mobile merchants. No village was a stranger to them – you could find just as many visitors from Stelt in Ko- or Ga-Exa as you could in Ta-Exa. All of the ones that Torith had spoken to and gotten to know in the past had interesting stories, which only served to add to the friendly and diverse atmosphere of the land; it had been from one such story, told by a traveling Cythupax from the island of Kai-Nam, that the largest mountain on the island had received its “official” name, Mount Ruaki. As well, it was in keeping with the legendary Toa Exaina’s original intentions when she had used her powers to create the island, which were reflected in its name – Exa-Nui, the Great Respite.He stopped as he climbed the stone arch that rose above the southern gate. From here, he could see the lands south of Ta-Exa. The vast majority of it was more field, with several large roads that crawled away from the city and into the distance; one such path led to the southernmost part of the island, where three volcanoes lay, smoke billowing from their summits. The fiery mountains were each spaced out at an even distance from one another, creating a sort of triangle with their positions in relation to each other; collectively, this landmark was known to the islanders as the Triad of Darnik, in honor of the deceased Turaga Xaina of Fire. A safe distance away from the northernmost volcano, a lava processing plant – much smaller from where Torith stood than it actually was – had been built; for those who did not find the life of a farmer enjoyable, this was where work could be found. Beyond the Triad, the land was fairly bland; rivers of lava had created a small section of barren rock that covered part of the southern coast, and what wasn’t covered by rock was mere sand and nothing more. Beyond that was the sea, which spanned for countless miles before connecting to another island.Torith’s thoughts drifted to this as he continued his spot checks. He wasn’t much of a traveler, preferring the humbleness of home to the grand adventures that inevitably came along with traversing the universe. As such he had only ever been off of Exa-Nui a few times; he could count the number of trips he had made on one hand. Another part of this was his dislike towards boats. Being a terrible swimmer, he always felt uneasy whenever he was surrounded by any body of water that was larger than a small lake, fearing the thought of sinking and drowning. While the others playfully made fun of him for this on occasion, it had only served to make his friendship with Parugi, Toa Exa of Stone, all the stronger. When the need arose for business elsewhere to be dealt with, the two of them tended to stay behind and protect the island while the other Toa Exa traveled abroad. Probably not the best show of leadership on the Toa of Fire’s part, but his attempts to learn how to swim had been pitiful, at best.By the time he had finished checking on the remaining gates, activity in Ta-Exa had increased exponentially, and the sun had climbed into a position much higher in the sky. Sunlight glinted off of windows and the metallic armor of beings, reflecting brightly in Torith’s direction as he descended the northern stairs. A few residual clouds lingered in the sky, remnants of last night’s storm; the Toa of Fire found this curious, though didn’t think too heavily of it – the distraction of a couple of Matoran who waved at him, calling his name as he passed, was helpful in this regard. He saluted, smiling as he walked by them, heading in the direction of the large, domed building at the center of the city – the Citadel, which acted as Torith’s and, when he was in Ta-Exa, Turaga Mazen’s homes during times of peace. When disaster struck the village, it served the secondary purpose of providing a safe place for the civilians to take refuge in while Torith and the Ta-Exan Guard headed out to take care of the threat.They hadn’t had to do that in a long time, Torith realized as he walked through the busy streets, gripping the extinguished lantern in his right hand. He hoped it would stay that way.Before long, the Toa of Fire had arrived at the center of the village, briefly glancing up at the building he was approaching. The Citadel stood at an impressive 100 feet, easily towering over the rest of Ta-Exa; its diameter he wasn’t sure of, though it was big enough to cover a very large area. While constructed primarily out of stone, it was still a very sturdy fortress, and one that had never fallen to threats in the past. It was a symbol of protection and honor to most beings that saw it; to others, it was a futile assertion of power just waiting to be demolished.As Torith entered the large building through the library entrance at the north-western corner, he kept a keen eye on several Skakdi across the street. While he didn’t have anything against the species itself, Skakdi had a tendency to cause trouble whenever they came to Exa-Nui. He had met a few that genuinely yearned for peace and quiet, though they were few and far between; as such, he wasn’t about to be too careful with so many hanging around the Citadel. His last encounter with Skakdi, he recalled, had been a hostile one, as they had decided to rob a merchant’s stall. Torith had managed to subdue them, though they had made a lasting impression on him by permanently damaging the elbow on his sword arm. Sighing, he opened the door, stepping into the library; if they were planning on causing trouble, then he would find out soon enough, anyway…He quickly made his way to his room. The Citadel was basically empty at this point, save for the guards and the cleaners. More Matoran and travelers would begin to show up as the day progressed, primarily to marvel at the work of the scholars across the entrance hall or to read about whatever subject in the library. That was one side-effect of Turaga Mazen being in Le-Wahi: Traffic in the building was much slower than usual, as more people would be heading to the village of air to speak with the Turaga. Whether or not that was a blessing or a disappointment was debatable. Finally arriving at his room, he gripped the doorknob, twisting it and opening the door. A soft creaking sounded as hinges twisted, granting him access to the room.Torith’s study was large; it was more like a flat or an apartment than anything else, consisting of a large living room-type area, from which three doors led to his bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen; another door on the outer wall led to a large balcony, which overlooked the city. The main room contained quite a bit of furniture – bookcases, tables, a desk, several seats placed around a fire pit, and a few pictures, as well as several mannequins that held the various sets of armor he had worn throughout the years. Maps were pinned to the walls in several spots; each detailed the layouts of the various Wahi of the island, save for Kra-Wahi, and there was one for each floor of the Citadel itself. His bookcases were filled with a large number of texts, many of which he had yet to read; even more were strewn about the room, some open on tables and desks, others unevenly stacked in various parts of the room. On the far wall, a large, framed picture hung.The subjects of the photo were twelve Toa, two each for the elements of fire, air, water, earth and ice, and two other brown armored Toa – a female Toa of Sand, and a male Toa of Stone. These Toa constituted the make-up of the original Toa Exa. Having been called to action by the arrival of Xarax, they had been transformed and trained by the current Turaga of the island, three of whom had been killed before their successors had been ready to take on the challenge of defeating the warlord. With the help of an Artanian named Nostala, they had eventually toppled the Hivénian, though half of their team had disappeared in the chaos of the battle. Torith looked sadly at the picture; he still did not know what had become of any of them. Dága, Hetnuh, Sivik… it was as if they had been present one moment, and then the next they just… disappeared. Vanished without a trace. He had sensed a sort of rivalry between a few of them, though he was never sure how much of an impact that had held on their relationships with one another.Shaking his head, he walked over to the nearest desk, placing the lantern down before heading back to the hall. He cast a quick look around the room before closing the door, making sure it was locked before leaving. Depositing the key in a pouch on his belt, he moved back to the stairs, descending them as silently as possible. Glancing at the large clock on the wall, he took note of the time. It was a little earlier than midday at this point, meaning that he needed to take to the streets and start keeping an eye on things.Exiting the building, Torith hurried over to the nearest wall, scaling it quickly and taking to the rooftops. His mask glinted in the sunlight as he took off, eyes keenly watching the growing masses of beings below. Just another, semi-normal day in Ta-Exa…From the shade of an alleyway, a robed being watched Toa Torith as he climbed up the side of a building, his gaze passing over the crowds without interest; he was focused solely on the Toa of Fire. The person was of equal height to Torith, though his features were indistinguishable. Unnatural shadows, the product of the hood he wore over his head, covered the majority of his mask; the bright lights of his bright green eyes were the only lights in the darkness, slightly illuminating the area around the eye holes on his mask, though not by much. His hands were partially covered by the ends of his sleeves; upon them he wore a pair of pure white gloves, the ends of which emanated a soft green glow.As Torith disappeared over the edge of the building, out of his sight, the hooded being turned to the wall to his left. Ignoring strange looks from a pair of passing Matoran, he pressed his hands together into a prayer-like pose. Then, turning them so that his palms faced the ground, he slid them sideways through the air, before moving his hands in front of him and, pressing them against something, pushing forward. A perfectly straight indent appeared in the wall, dust shooting out from the edges as the impact pulverized the stone. The mark was approximately three feet long and several inches thick; the wounds in the brick were half a foot deep, easily able to support the invisible platforms. Three more times he did this, before raising a foot and stepping onto what looked like thin air, back pressed against the wall of the building. Climbing his makeshift steps until he was close enough, he leaped toward the other wall, grabbing the edge and pulling himself up with ease. A soft whisper of air sounded as the platforms dissipated, leaving the damage they had caused.The hooded being searched the rooftops, making sure that no one had seen him. Once he was sure the area was clear, he shifted his gaze in the Toa of Fire’s direction. Torith had gone west; as such, that was where he would go, at least until he gathered what information he needed. Then he would head back. Straightening up, he created another platform to connect the two buildings, quickly and silently following after the Toa of Fire. He dearly hoped this would be an easy job. 

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Edited by Parugi, Jun 25 2013 - 10:00 PM.

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Posted Apr 07 2012 - 08:24 PM

Chapter II

The Lure

In the last five hundred years, the last place Dusk had expected to come back to was Ta-Wahi—and by extension, Ta-Exa. Yet here he was, at the head of a caravan being pulled by a pair of Ercuus—Shadow Horses, as they were called because of their dark and imposing appearance—on the road to the village of fire. The bright sun casting a warm glow on the Toa of Fire’s cloak did nothing to improve his mood as he stared out upon the road in front of him, trying his best to ignore the familiar sights around him—they were emotional distractions, nothing more, and they would do little for him aside from pull his attention away from the job that he and Shendus—another of the Makutas’ servants, and quite similar in appearance to Kadris—had been assigned to do.As the horses pulled the caravan over a small hill, Dusk reviewed their task in his mind. An informant in the village had sent word that a strange being had been sighted several nights before; apparently, the person was similar to a Toa in appearance, though their entire face had been shrouded in shadow. What had set off suspicions were the person’s actions in the city: Since their first appearance, they had done nothing but trail after Toa Torith, apparently seeking to observe the Toa of Fire in an attempt to learn something from him. What they were trying to find out was anyone’s guess (and not a concern for Dusk,) though Jaeda had made it clear that she wanted the tracker taken care of. That was where Dusk and Shendus came in. Their mission was relatively simple, at least on paper: Find the stalker, trace him to a secluded area, and then capture him for interrogation.It was simple enough, though Dusk knew from experience that it was going to be quite a bit harder when actually put into practice. For one, they didn’t know anything about the being to begin with; the best description that they had been given was “a Toa-sized being with a cloak.” Given how popular of a hub Ta-Exa was for travelers on top of suspicious characters in general, that description could literally apply to half the populace at any given time. Further, Dusk had to admit that Torith wasn’t one to let something like this slip beneath his notice. If this person was able to evade Torith’s eye, for a period of time that, for all anyone knew, could range from several days to several months, then something was amiss. They would have to be extremely careful in how they went about chasing him; that was undeniable.Then again, Dusk thought, looking over his shoulder. I may very well be underestimating Shendus’s abilities…The being in question was currently seated in the back portion of the caravan, legs crossed and each pair of arms folded across his chest in thought. Shendus, unlike Kadris, was a warrior, something Dusk had gathered from the quickest glimpse, and the conversation he had had with the being on their journey, however short it had been, had only reinforced that idea. In build, Shendus was a perfect duplicate of Kadris, bearing that exact same figure and skeletal structure, as well as the same walk and voice. Whereas Kadris spoke in a mechanical monotone, however, Shendus’s voice was full of energy, personality and inflection, suggesting that they were not exact replicas of each other, as Dusk had believed beforehand. As well, Shendus’s armor was not blue, but deep red, much like the Dark Hunter’s. Hooked onto his backpack was a miniature crossbow; at his waist, a quiver full of bolts hung, as well as a pair of nastily sharp, curved swords. Kadris and Shendus both wore the same Kanohi, though Dusk had been told that their powers were not the same.“You holding up back there?” he called. Shendus merely nodded. Dusk turned back to the road, squinting as the western gates of Ta-Exa came into view. “All right, then…”Dusk pulled back on the reins as they neared the gates, the two Ercuus coming to a quick halt outside of the metal doors, their hoofs clopping and plopping against the ground as they slowed. A pair of Ta-Matoran guards, both wearing armor, cast nervous glances at the unfamiliar Rahi as they moved to speak with Dusk.“Good morning,” he said brightly to them, doing his best to disguise his voice. While he doubted that he would be recognized given the modifications that had been made to his body over the years, he wasn’t about to risk it—not with his payment on the line. “That was quite a storm last night, eh?”“Indeed, and good morning to you, as well,” one of the guards said. “What brings you to Ta-Exa today, sir?”Dusk pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. “Transporting goods, my friend,” he explained. “My friend and I were asked to deliver a shipment of Bula berries for Yaelin, from Le-Exa; she said the roads were too dangerous these days for her to do so herself.” Behind him, Shendus nodded at the guards, patting one of the crates that they had brought with them to sell the disguise. “If you need identification papers, we’re happy to oblige.”The guard shook his head and held out a hand as Dusk reached for the forged papers. “That won’t be necessary. If you’ll wait here a moment we’ll get the gates opened for you,” he said. Dusk nodded his thanks as they headed off, leaving the caravan and its occupants to their selves for the moment.Shendus sighed. “Foolish Matoran,” he said quietly. “They’re too trusting for their own good. Too caught up in their old world to realize that times are changing, that they can’t trust the words of everyone they meet anymore.”Dusk nodded. “Indeed. They remind me of my brothers and sisters and me when we first became Toa. Even with the war beginning to erupt, even with the constant threat of Xarax and his minions at our doorstep, we were willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt when it came to who we felt we could or couldn’t trust.” He stared at the reins in his palms as he spoke, his eyes cloudy as the memories flooded back to him. “Needless to say, things didn’t turn out as we had hoped—and that Artanian didn’t help matters at all…”Shendus stared at Dusk, a curious look in his eyes, though didn’t get a chance to say anything else as the gates began to open with a call from the Ta-Matoran guards. Dusk looked up as the metal doors creaked on their hinges, swinging slowly back to grant his caravan entrance into the city of fire. Gripping the reins tightly, he urged the Ercuus forward, nodding his thanks at the Matoran again as they passed. Once they were a safe distance away, his expression darkened. Behind him, the doors creaked loudly as they swung closed again.“Rendezvous is approximately six blocks away from here,” Shendus said quietly as Dusk urged the horses forward, the Dark Hunter being careful to avoid eye contact with anyone. “Due south from our current position. If we have Torith’s schedule correct, then we should arrive there shortly after he does—which, in turn, should put us in the same vicinity as our target.” Dusk nodded, and they began to head in that direction.Dusk couldn’t help but notice the stares that several villagers gave the caravan as it moved through the steadily-crowding streets of Ta-Exa. It was beginning to get aggravating, though he managed to keep his cool by reminding himself about Jaeda and the mission. Shendus and the Ercuus did not seem to notice or care as much as he did as they forced their way through the streets, headed towards their destination; this only further irritated the Dark Hunter, who knew that if they didn’t hurry, then they weren’t going to make it in time.“You would think that they’d never seen a Toa before,” he muttered more to himself than to his partner, though the Makuta servant nodded nonetheless.“It’s the horses,” Shendus said thoughtfully. “Few beings realize that they’re fairly common on Exa-Nui, just not outside of Kra-Wahi and certainly not on most other islands. As such they’re something of an abnormality here, where the common and regular mindset is that things are still as they always have been.”“You have a point,” Dusk said, slightly surprised at this little tangent. He certainly had to agree, however: The horses were, if nothing else, imposing figures despite their gentle nature. Standing a good twelve feet tall and around eight feet in length, they were pitch black in color, with bright yellow eyes that glowed within their eye sockets like lanterns in a tunnel. Their hooves left temporary imprints of shadow wherever they stepped, which quickly dissipated in the daylight. Manes and tails of shadow swished back and forth as they moved, emphasizing their affinity for darkness. As a mechanism to escape danger, the Ercuus were capable of activating a power that gave them a temporary boost in speed, similar to a Kakama, which allowed them to put just enough distance between themselves and whatever had frightened them that they would not need to worry about being caught by it. They were certainly fascinating creatures. Nevertheless, Dusk himself had been put off by their appearance the first time he had seen them; now however he knew that most beings needed time to get familiarized with the horses before they became comfortable in their presence.As they moved through the streets, Dusk chose to occupy his mind by looking at the buildings around him. For the most part, it seemed, the village of fire had gone unchanged. The architecture was still roughly the same as it had always been. Most buildings were square in shape, with a few of them possessing circular roofs. Signs were posted, showing just what each structure was for. Some of the shops were familiar to Dusk, like that of the blacksmith called Enlen. Others were new to him; indeed, the majority of the ones on this street hadn’t been around the last time he had been here. In hindsight, this didn’t surprise him, considering how long he had been gone, though it still bothered him to know that so much had happened in between his current visit to the island and his last…Before long, they arrived at their destination. To Dusk’s relief, this section of the market was virtually abandoned, at least for the moment; only a couple of shops were open, and even fewer villagers were present on the street. Those that were quickly moved from one place to the next, evidently pressed for time to get what they needed. A short distance down from where they had turned the corner, a small garage-slash-stable sat; there a Matoran waited, looking around. As he noticed the approaching caravan, he waved, opening the door and gesturing for them to enter. This they did, the door closing behind them as the back of the caravan entered the building.“You’re late,” he hissed as Shendus and Dusk dismounted. He began to tie the horses’ reins to a post, shaking his head and glancing around nervously.“The market’s full of people; we can’t help that,” Shendus said. “Where’s the ladder to the roof?”“Whatever. I don’t even know if you’re going to catch him now—Torith hasn’t passed by yet from what I’ve seen, so either he’s not coming around here today or you’ve missed him. Regardless…” The Matoran pointed to the platform above them, which was accessible by two ladders. One led from the floor of the stable to the platform itself, and from there, another ladder led to a square hatch, which granted access to the roof—or the other way around, assuming one was already on the rooftops of the village. Wasting no more time in talking, Shendus moved over to the ladder, quickly scaling it. After gathering his own things, Dusk followed.“We’ll be back when we get back,” he said absentmindedly as he climbed up, quickly moving over to the second ladder as Shendus went through the door. Climbing it, he swiftly reached the top, gripping the top of the ladder and pulling himself up. As he hoisted his lower body through the doorway, he scanned the area.Shendus stood a few feet away from him, at the edge of the building, two hands placed on a column of stone at the edge. All around, a sea of rooftops rose and dropped randomly, emphasizing the different styles of the various shops and houses. There was no sign of Torith or the stalker yet, though judging from what the Matoran had said, that wouldn’t be the case for long. Still ducking down, Dusk moved over to the edge of the building, hidden between the various columns on the roof.“You see ‘em?” Dusk asked. Shendus shook his head. “Any idea when they’ll get here?”“No,” Shendus answered simply, not bothering to take cover as he spoke. He glanced at a clock tower several blocks away. “Considering the fact that we’re ten minutes late, we may very well have missed our mark, regardless of what the stable keeper said.”Dusk frowned, taking a seat. “You have a point…” He tapped his chin for a moment. Then he stood up again, walking to the edge of the building. Shendus looked at him curiously as the Toa of Fire raised his hand, fire erupting and crackling in his palm as he took careful aim at a nearby building; as he did so, his armor began to turn transparent. “I guess we’ll just have to draw them back here...”“What are you-?” Shendus’s question was answered by a large fireball that shot forth from Dusk’s palm, striking a boarded-up building several yards down the street. The Makutas’ servant watched in surprise for a moment before looking back at the Dark Hunter, who had once again sat down. “Why?”Dusk shrugged. “Only way to be sure that we’ll find this guy,” he said simply, ignoring the screams from the beings on the street below. “Besides—truth be told, that building brings back bad memories. It deserves to burn.”“What was it?” Shendus asked as he took a seat next to the Toa of Fire, curiosity evident in his eyes.The Dark Hunter drew his hood further over his head, the sunlight glinting off of his gauntlet as he turned to look at the rapidly spreading flames. “My home.”“Hey! Break it up!” The two Steltians ignored him, continuing to squabble over the vendor’s Kanoka launcher. Torith narrowed his eyes as he skidded to a stop on the roof above them, coming to a halt right at the edge of the building. He whistled loudly, trying in vain to get their attention. “Stop!”The Matoran standing at the stand screamed as one of the bruisers grabbed the other, slamming him to the side. The cart exploded in a shower of wood and metal, tools scattering in the wind as the Steltian slammed into the wall behind it. The impact shook the building Torith was standing on, dislodging one of the bricks and knocking him off balance. Quickly shifting his weight, he flipped over, landing feet-first on the street. Without a moment’s hesitation, he ran forward, charging toward the two beings as they continued to brawl. Glass shattered as one of them—blue and white in color—was slammed into the wall of a building by a punch from the other red and green Steltian.Torith ignored this slight annoyance, drawing his two hook swords. Before either of the two beings could react, he jumped forward, using a concentrated burst of fire from his feet additions to launch himself further. As the two reared back to attack each other, the Toa arrived in the spot between them. Planting a foot on the wall of the now-damaged building, he slammed the flat side of each blade into the helmets of both bruisers, temporarily shocking them as he dropped to the ground. Landing again on his feet, he swung a foot forward, slamming it into the ankle of the blue bruiser before spinning around and knocking the other off of his feet.The Toa of Fire was on them before either could stand back up. Planting a foot on the chest of the Steltian who had started the brawl—which, going off of what he had seen, had been the blue one—he pointed the tip of one of his swords at the Steltian’s throat, while aiming the other at the red bruiser’s chest.“I’ll say it one more time: Stop. Now,” he ordered. The red warrior nodded, still dazed, though the other tried to push himself back up. Torith only pressed harder, forcing him back down.“But… I need to buy the disk launch-” the blue Steltian was silenced by a glare from the Toa of Fire.“Explain it to the Guard when they arrive,” he said, bending down to place a pair of handcuffs around the bruiser’s wrists. “I have no tolerance for those who blatantly cause damage and disregard my orders. Understand?” Torith nodded curtly at the warriors when they didn’t respond, handcuffing the second one as he did so. Just then, the sound of someone running caught his ears; turning his head, he saw a Matoran heading in his direction. “Perfect timing. Rest assured, my Steltian friends, you’ll be taken care of shortly.”Above, the hooded being watched the exchange, raising an eyebrow at the heated expression on the Toa’s face. In front of himself, he had created a wall of invisible energy. To those on the other side, it would appear as if he were not in the area at all, though they would be sorely mistaken. The ends of his sleeves fell over his wrists as he let his hands fall to his sides, keeping a trained eye on the Toa of Fire, taking notes…He looked up and to the side as he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. A fairly large plume of smoke had begun to rise several blocks down; even from a distance, he could make out the flames that were engulfing the unfortunate building. The being looked back at Torith, pushing all thoughts of the fire from his mind. No doubt the Toa would take care of it, though for now, it wasn’t a concern, even if it hadn’t been staged as this little brawl had. What was a concern was how swiftly the Toa had taken care of the troublemakers. Going off of what he had heard about Torith’s fighting style, he had assumed that the Toa of Fire wouldn’t have resorted to such a simple and effective strategy to defeat them; as such they had been totally unprepared for his technique.Still, there was a bit of consolation in this. The fight had proved that Torith was at least an able fighter; bruisers didn’t go down easily, yet he had easily put both into a position where they had been forced to give up. Further, he was an observer; he had taken advantage of an opening when he saw it and used it as a means for victory. That would certainly prove useful in finding the hiding places, if it indicated anything about his intelligence…Now that he thought about it, this fire wasn’t such an inconvenience after all. How quickly would Torith be able to react to it—and when he did, how swift would he be in locating its source, or in extinguishing it? Those were questions with potentially useful answers…

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Edited by Parugi, Apr 21 2012 - 05:53 PM.

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#4 Online Parugi

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Posted Apr 21 2012 - 05:55 PM

Chapter III

The Mime

As the Matoran neared, Torith could tell that something was wrong. His eyes were wide eyed with worry and fear, his steps too urgent to be a simple messenger. Sheathing his swords again, he hurried forward to meet the Matoran, who quickly came to a halt as they neared one another.“T-Tor… ith…!” the Matoran panted, doubled over as he attempted to catch his breath again. “F-fire! At the… old… house!” He pointed weakly behind him, directing the Toa’s attention to the skyline of the city. Torith shifted his gaze, eyes widening slightly upon seeing the large plume of smoke.“You’ve done well, my friend,” he said quietly, patting the Matoran’s shoulder. Casting a look at the subdued Steltians, he motioned for a pair of Toa-like bystanders to keep an eye on the brutes, before turning and running in the direction of the fire. As he neared the line of buildings that bisected the street, he focused a blast of fire from his boots, launching himself onto the roof again before continuing forward, thoughts running through his head as he moved. How had the Old House caught fire? The building wasn’t being used; there were no circuits in it, or anything, for that matter, that could have caused it to burn. The most likely culprit was a vandal. Torith’s eyes narrowed at the thought. Evidently he’d have to do a bit of searching around the area…To his surprise, the fire hadn’t yet spread to any other beings, despite the close proximity it had to the rest of the houses and shops on the street—almost like it was being contained.I’m glad to see that this arsonist is at least considerate of the area, he thought, his inner voice dripping with sarcasm with each word. The area seemed to have cleared out. Dropping down to the street, he moved as quickly as possible down the road until he was in front of the house. For several moments, he let the heat wash over him, trying to figure something out. Then he began to use his control over fire to block the heat from reaching him. At this point, he was sure that the flames were being contained: The heat that it was generating was being forced upward, most of it away from the buildings and street around it; he didn’t even have to use very much of his elemental energy to subdue what remained for him to feel.That certainly made the job easier. Holding his hands out, he focused on the fire, drawing it away form the wood and stone and towards his palms. Slowly, the flames died down as they were absorbed into his being. He felt foreign and uncomfortable warmth rise within his stomach and chest, indicators of the large amount of energy he had just taken in. Forcing the sickening rush of power out of his mind, he continued draining the fire until it was completely gone, leaving nothing but the burnt remains of the Old House in its stead.As the wave of nausea caught up with him, he stumbled back, one hand dropping to his side, the other flying up to grip his head. It wasn’t often that he had to make use of his ability to absorb fire elemental energy, due to the lack of any real fire hazards in the village, and as such he hadn’t mastered the technique. With Toa who had trained themselves in the ability, it apparently provided a nice energy boost; for him, it just made the Toa of Fire feel sick. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else that he could have done, lest the fire had spread to the surrounding area. Even so, something felt different about this. It was almost as if the fires had been… tainted… somehow…That raises an interesting question, though, he thought tiredly, looking around. His vision was slightly blurred, though he could still make out his surroundings. There was no one suspicious in sight, at least from what he could see. Who was containing the fire—and do they have any relation to the one who started it?He barely had time to consider the thought as his head began to spin. A second later, he collapsed on the ground, nausea overcoming all of his senses.“That was simple,” Dusk said, relaxing his hands—which were held out in front of him—as he watched Torith collapse. He scanned the area again, and then looked back at Shendus. “Any sign of him now?”“Hm…” The six-armed being didn’t respond. His eyes glowed as he slowly looked at the surrounding rooftops, searching. A slight frown appeared on his face as he looked at a chimney across the street, before shifting his gaze again. A slight twitch of Shendus’s hand caught Dusk’s attention, before the warrior looked at the Dark Hunter. He didn’t say anything, merely nodded—barely noticeable even up close, though still a nod. Dusk caught his eye, and then, turning, moved to the other end of the building, behind one of the columns.As soon as he was hidden, he activated his transparency ability. Walking around the other side of the column, he looked at where Shendus had directed his attention to. Then he activated his Kualsi. In the blink of an eye, he had disappeared into interdimensional space, leaving no trace of his presence behind. As quickly as he had disappeared, he rematerialized in the air above the opposite building, several yards away from where Torith lay on the ground. Then he began to fall, sword drawn and aimed down.A loud crack sounded as his sword struck the stone of the roof, impaling it and creating a fairly large spider-web of smaller lines that branched out from the hole. Quickly pulling the blade out, he looked around, not entirely sure of what to look for, though absolutely certain of his target’s presence on the roof.A sudden movement caught his attention, a distortion in the air so subtle that most beings would never have noticed it. Dusk was not a normal being, however. Drawing a dagger, he quickly hurled it at where the distortion was moving. The sound of glass shattering prompted a smile to grow across the Dark Hunter’s face as he finally laid eyes on the stalker. What seemed to be solidified air appeared to fall down in chunks, breaking like glass as it hit the stone of the roof; with each fallen piece, a new part of the target was revealed, though that wasn’t saying much considering the cloak he wore. He was about Toa height, though whether or not he actually was a Toa was a mystery to Dusk—the shadows that covered his face made it impossible to tell if he was wearing a mask or not. He did not seem to carry weapons, though he wore white gloves on his hands—gloves that, judging from the marks on them, Dusk assumed were not simply a part of the being’s apparel. Green eyes stared at Dusk from the shadows, analytic curiosity filling their depths. He simply glared back at them, red eyes locking with green.“Thought you could fool me, did you?” the Dark Hunter sneered, raising his sword. The stalker didn’t answer, instead only raising his hands in front of himself. “You should consider this an honor; not many beings get to live after trying a trick like that on me. Fortunately for you I have orders to follow, so why don’t you make this easy on yourself and surrender?”The other being continued to stare at Dusk, his hands raised, his entire body motionless. The Dark Hunter, sword still primed, began to walk toward him. When the being didn’t react, he reached out, preparing to grab the stalker’s wrist.A sudden shout of pain escaped him as a plate of glass slammed into his back, knocking him forward. The Dark Hunter slammed into the being before him, only to find himself landing against the roof as the stalker, too, burst into fragments of glass. Realizing the trick that had been played on him, he rolled back onto his feet, turning around to face his target, and launched a burst of fire from his palm. The stalker clapped his hands together before moving his hand in a horizontal line in the air, blocking the fire with a plate of glass that quickly fell to the ground and shattered. Dust and shards of crystal quickly gathered over the battleground as Dusk switched to a more aggressive attack pattern, only for each sword swing, punch and kick to be blocked with another plate of glass.“I never thought—” Dusk’s sword shattered yet another piece of glass. “—I would find—” A plate slammed into his side, forcing him back. “—a more annoying opponent—” He threw a punch at the stalker. “—than Devastator!” As his opponent moved to create another block of glass, Dusk withdrew his hand, having correctly predicted the stalker’s response, before throwing a fast kick at his shin. The stalker, taken by surprise, moved to block it with his hand, though only succeeded in creating half of the sheet—partially blocking the attack, though also throwing him off balance. Dusk smiled, opening his palm and launching a burst of flame at the being.His smiled flickered as his opponent allowed gravity to take hold, falling sideways and landing palm-first on the ground, before cart wheeling away. As he spun, his hood dropped, revealing his face. Dusk wasn’t surprised at what he now saw—the being’s acrobatic fighting style had certainly offered clues as to what he was. At first glance, the stalker appeared to be another Toa. Upon closer inspection, however, one could see that his armor—barely visible underneath his cloak, though still visible nonetheless—was more streamline, more aerodynamic than any Toa’s, on top of being completely white in color and decorated with several symbols. In contrast, Toa armor tended to be bulkier and always had another color to accent its primary color.In his lifetime, he had only ever seen one other species with that kind of armor before, back during the Great War. His smile returned as he addressed the being, though this time it was not one of interest or an act of kindness. The only emotion it expressed was bloodlust. “So you’re an Artanian,” he said coldly. “Like that brat who stole the show against Xarax.” He spun his swords in his hands, anger flashing in his eyes. “Well, guess what, you glory-hogging, one-upping, obnoxious little mime!? I’m not about to let another Artanian affect what goes on around here—not in this life!”The Mime said nothing in response, as usual, as Dusk charged forward. If the Dark Hunter had taken a moment to look, he would have noticed that the Artanian was standing on top of several inches of air. As things were, he had not. Taking a step back, the Mime placed his foot on the glass panel, pushing forward with a fraction of the strength his Artanian body allowed—which, all in all, was still a lot. The glass shot forward, slamming into the Dark Hunter’s shins and causing him to flip over, landing with a dull thud and several small crunches against the glass-covered ground.Sparing no time to admire his handiwork, he pulled his hood back over his head. The Mime fled, leaving a battered, dazed, and angered Dark Hunter behind him. Within moments, he was gone, disappearing into the city.From across the street, a cloaked Shendus watched the duel between the Dark Hunter and the stalker take place. At the moment, most of his hands were occupied: Two held a pair of binoculars to his eyes, giving him the required magnification to effectively watch the fight. Another pressed a device to his ear, amplifying the sounds of combat for him to hear. Finally, a fourth hand held a communicator of some sort, which emanated a slight buzzing, crackling sound as he waited to use it.Finally, he raised it to his mouth, pressing a button as the stalker fled and Dusk was knocked over. “Target has managed to escape,” he said quietly. “Agent Dusk has been incapacitated. His anger towards the Artanians as a species gave the target the advantage. Awaiting further orders.”“Grab the Hunter and return to base,” a male voice answered from the other side. “Tell him you’ve lost the target’s trail. Further instructions will be handed out once you return.”“Yes, sir,” Shendus answered, moving to an arch that rose above the road.“What is the status of TE-01?”The six-armed being stopped, turning his attention in the direction of the Toa. Below, a small group of Matoran—some of them random civilians, most of them members of the guard—tended to the unconscious Torith. Using the sound-amplification device, he listened in on their conversation, though switched it off after several seconds when he had figured out the general topic of discussion. Replacing the binoculars and the device in his bag, he continued on.“He’ll live,” Shendus reported. “Effects were only temporary, as intended; he should be fine in a few minutes.”“Good,” the voice said. “We still need him operational… Regardless, well done—and try to get back here soon.”“Yes, sir,” Shendus murmured again as he placed the communication device in his bag, at the same time deactivating his own transparency power as he stepped off of the arch and into the cover of the rooftops. He began to walk between the fireplaces and columns in his path, carefully picking his way toward Dusk. After walking a short distance, the first telltale signs of the fight—powdered and large shards of glass—began to appear, littering the rooftops of Ta-Exa. The evidence gradually increased in sheer amount; before long, he was stepping through thick piles of the stuff, leaving visible footprints in the glass blanket.Several feet in front of him, Dusk lay, sprawled out in the powdery residue. His swords had fallen to the ground when he tripped, just out of his reach. His eyes glowed with hatred as he stared into the sky, fires of vengeance glowing within their depths. Shendus moved to his side, stooping down.“You look out of it,” he said simply, observing the various dents and bruises that had appeared on the Toa of Fire’s muscles and armor. “Unfortunately, the Artanian got away.”“Why didn’t you help?” Dusk growled, clenching his hands around large fistfuls of powdered glass. “I had him distracted; you could have knocked him unconscious. He wouldn’t have escaped.”“I was unable to get over here without being seen,” Shendus answered casually, standing up again. He moved a short distance away, pretending to observe the Mime’s foot prints. “It seems that the street wasn’t as empty as we had thought; a group of Matoran is with Torith as we speak. We’ll have to wait until they leave before we can head back, otherwise they might blow our cover.”“We aren’t going after him?” Dusk said in annoyance, reaching out and grabbing his swords. He used them as a brace with which to pull himself to his feet. “He couldn’t have gotten that far away!”“No,” Shendus admitted. “But he knows we’re after him now. I doubt he’ll appear again for a few days; in that sense, we’ve accomplished our mission. You’ll still receive a reward from the Mistress for doing the job.” He turned to look at Dusk. “Besides, she’d prefer it if we headed back now—of that you can be sure.”The Dark Hunter narrowed his eyes. Without saying a word, he sheathed his blades, limping over to the edge of the building. He cast a quick glance at the Matoran and Toa below, and then another at the building he had burned, before activating his Kualsi. In a flash, he had disappeared again, reappearing on the roof of the stable. Silently, he descended into it. Shendus merely watched him with a mixture of boredom and interest. After a moment, he traced his path back to the stable’s roof, following the Toa of Fire back into the darkness within.

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Edited by Parugi, Apr 21 2012 - 05:56 PM.

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#5 Online Parugi

Parugi
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Posted May 19 2012 - 03:58 PM

Chapter IV

The Two Warriors

The land of Le-Wahi was one completely ruled by forest. In direct contrast to most air-based lands, jungle terrain was unfamiliar on Exa-Nui, at least in the portion dedicated to the element of air. Where vast marshes and swamps lay on islands like Artana, here the ground was not so concentrated with water. The soil was moist and covered with the decomposing leaves and plants that constantly died, but it was only enough for firs, pines and other forest-bound plants to grow. No tropical plants were present, save for the odd palm tree along the northern beach, and the heat and humidity within the forest, as a result, were actually bearable for those beings who did not spend the majority of their time in the land of winds.On top of that, the lack of a twisting, endless jungle canopy made Toa Levrok’s job far easier. As the Toa Exa of Air, Levrok’s duty was to watch over the large forest, search for threats, and either take care of them as he saw fit or report back to the Le-Exan Archery so that they could do so. It was a simple task, with the only real challenge being the cover that the trees provided for these threats; luckily, Levrok had had practice with his element over the years, and he had found that by sending a short gust of wind through areas of suspect and-or by feeling for air currents, he could figure out the positions of objects and beings that would otherwise have been undetectable. The scope that had been added onto his mask assisted in this, allowing him to observe more closely the areas below him. With those tools combined with the wings that he had been ‘gifted’ with, he truly was a guardian of the skies in the eyes of the villagers of Le-Exa.This task was precisely what he had been doing virtually from the moment he had awoken that morning, as he did most days. Half-moon spear gripped tightly in hand, the Toa of Air soared through the sky, his keens eyes scanning the canopy of the forest as he moved. The sun glistened on the dampened trees, providing a warm glow among the lush green of the forest. The smell of rain still hung in the air, a reminder of the weather the night before. That was something Levrok loved about storms. Despite how irritating it could be to work or fly in a soaked environment, the smells that lingered in the air afterward were always worth it. It was a clean scent, one that, in Levrok’s opinion, didn’t get a chance to grace the air nearly often enough.The Toa of Air continued flying, feeling the area within the forest while enjoying the feel of the wind as it rushed past him. It was a wonderful feeling, and the rain’s scent only made it better. Some of the other Toa, such as Torith and Parugi, disliked the kinds of storms that had passed over the island yesterday; Levrok had never understood why. Surely living in such a dry or hot environment would cause one to occasionally yearn for the cool, invigorating effect of rain? He, at least, couldn’t imagine living in a place like Ta- or Po-Wahi, simply for that reason.Truly, he was a being in touch with nature. As a Matoran, he had lived in harmony with the forest, taming and raising newborn Rahi and making sure that the land was treated with the utmost respect. As a Toa, his ability to share the joys of nature had multiplied. No longer did he have to sit back and watch as people and animals fought against each other; as a Toa, he could help them both to greater extents than he ever could have in the past, subduing threats to both the villages and the wildlife itself, providing for a safe and pleasant future for all. That was one of his biggest goals, and it was one that he had already begun to pursue.His eyes quickly shifted to a spot several yards in front of him as he detected an unfamiliar being through the air. Zooming in with his scope, he raised an eyebrow, observing the creature. They were definitely of a sentient species—of that Levrok was certain, considering they were riding upon a large boar-like Rahi, though neither was of a species that Levrok recognized. The rider’s body was feminine in appearance, and was composed entirely of metal, from what he could see. This he considered odd, as even a Toa or Skakdi’s organic parts were visible with their armor on. Deciding to investigate, he tucked his wings in and dived down, rapidly approaching the trees. Just before slamming into the branches, he let loose a carefully powered gust of wind, clearing a hole through which he flew.The being looked up as he unfolded his wings again, catching the wind and slowing his descent as he landed upon a large tree limb. He saluted the metallic being, who promptly ignored him. His suspicions about her armor were confirmed when he failed to locate any muscled spots through the gaps on her armor. Now that he had gotten closer, however, he realized that there was quite a bit more that he had missed. The armored being looked about the size of a Toa, though she did not wear a mask; instead, she wore a helmet. Heavily stylized in regards to the smaller details, it was relatively flat in the front, though rounded off at the top before fanning out to cover the back of her neck. Its face bore a distinct resemblance to a Kanohi Zatth; pale blue eyes glowed behind the eye holes of the helmet, though they did not illuminate the lady’s face like a regular being’s would. Similarly—and perhaps the thing that intrigued Levrok the most—was the fact that the Rahi, too, was entirely composed of metal, bearing similar colored eyes. Glowing lines, light blue in color, were etched into both the halberd that the rider held and the saddle strapped to the boar’s back.Levrok followed after them, moving carefully through the trees. “Hello, there,” he called. The being ignored him again. “That’s an impressive steed you’ve got there, though I can tell it’s not native to Exa-Nui. Where’re you from?”The armored being didn’t even glance at him. Her Rahi snorted as it carefully used its tusks to push away a fallen log in its path. “Who are you?” she asked, her voice confirming her gender. Her words bore a certain, metallic tone to it, amplified as the sounds reverberated against her armor, indicating that her body was hollow. A quick manipulation of the air in the boar’s body told Levrok that it, too, was merely a suit of armor, though he did not comment on this; he would find that out later.“Toa Levrok,” he said. “I’m a member of the Toa Exa, and I have spent the last few centuries defending this section of the island from danger.” The Toa waited a moment to see if she would answer; when she didn’t, he continued. “You’re not from around these parts… Are you visiting from one of the other villages?”“No.” The Rahi and its rider continued to lumber forward. Once more, they did not bother to look at him, only focusing on the path that they were following.Levrok raised an eyebrow. “Okay… Are you from another land?”“Yes.” These simple answers were starting to irritate the Toa of Air. He took a deep breath.“Can I at least get your name?” he asked. She cast a sideways glare at him. “The island hasn’t exactly been peaceful lately, ma’am; I’ve been ordered to keep a closer eye on things around here as a result. Since you’re heading toward Le-Exa, I at least need your name—otherwise I’m not supposed to let you through.” She was silent again. “Hey, I told you mine, now you tell me yours. It’s only fair,” the Toa pointed out.The being’s eyes narrowed in annoyance, though she finally relented. “Laorus,” she answered. “Though most simply refer to me as the Paladin. This is Doro.” She patted her Rahi’s head, the sound clanging and echoing through the forest; he snorted in response, though it was a friendly answer to her action, suggesting a close bond between the rider and her pet.Levrok nodded. All right; now we’re getting somewhere… “So, Laorus… Paladin… Do you have a preference?” She shook her head. “Laorus it is, then. You realize that you’re heading toward the beach, right?” She looked at him, this time out of surprise. He pointed in the direction she was heading. “The ocean is that way; you want to change course here to get to the village.” He directed her attention to a path that had been covered up. Summoning a small wind, he brushed away the leaves and branches hiding the road.Laorus looked at the path in front of her, then at the new one, and finally at Levrok. Nodding her thanks, she pulled on the boar’s reigns, prompting the beast to turn around and move onto the new path. Levrok smiled, keeping pace with them; carefully, he dropped to the forest floor, walking alongside the path as Laorus moved down it.“You really aren’t from around here,” he chuckled. “Mind telling me where you’re visiting from? I happen to have traveled to quite a few places in the past; I like to think of myself as a bit of an expert when it comes to other islands…”“Believe me; you aren’t,” Laorus said, wiping the smirk off of Levrok’s face. It slowly returned as he caught the friendly glint that was slowly beginning to replace the distrust in her eyes. “But I’ll humor you, anyway. I’m from Kayun; it’s an island west of here. Far west, past Zakaz and the Northern Continent, in the last island chain you come to before hitting the Western Wall. I doubt you’ve been to it.”“Kayun… nah, you’ve got me there,” the Toa of Air admitted. “I’ve never even heard of it. Sounds interesting, though; what’s it like?”“Not much to tell about it,” the Paladin said, gazing forward as she spoke. “It’s pretty bare, though my people don’t require much in the way of resources to survive. That’s why I’m here: to see the world. Experience actual life.”“I see,” Levrok said, looking around. As they walked he continued to feel the air within the forest, though he had yet to pick up anything unusual. “You’re not the first to come here for sightseeing purposes—Exa-Nui is and always will be a popular tourist spot. Beautiful lands, peaceful villages, friendly natives… It’s a wonderful place.”Laorus nodded. “So I’ve heard…” The two continued to talk as they walked, alternating between looking at each other and at the road. From the Paladin, Levrok learned more about Kayun. According to her, the island was much like Kai-Nam, to the north of Exa-Nui: The terrain was virtually the same wherever you went, though instead of being a region of ice, Kayun was a land of rock and desert, mixed in with some areas of volcanic land. Apparently, only twenty-five other beings, each of them of the same species as Laorus, lived on the island, along with the animal companions that they were bonded to. She did not stay on this topic for long, though she did mention that she had left a brother on the island.In turn, Levrok told the warrior of his own island—of the varied terrains within the seven sections of the island, as well as of Kra-Wahi. Laorus seemed far more interested in the shadow section of the island than anything else, though listened intently to everything he said; coming from such a barren wasteland, she had not had the luxury of seeing the kinds of plants that grew on Exa-Nui, or of seeing the great rivers and lakes on the island.The two went silent for several moments, having exhausted all of the topics they could think to speak of. “How far are we from the village?”“Not far,” the Toa of Air answered. “As a matter of fact, we should be getting there just… about… now.”The pair rounded a corner composed of thick brush, emerging into a large clearing. Laorus’s eyes widened in surprise at the size of the village; Levrok smirked inwardly at the sight, having seen the same reaction from dozens of other travelers. The village of air was one of the larger villages on the island, trailing behind Po-Exa and Onu-Exa only—and for good reason. The massive trees in the center of the forest, where the village was located, stretched upward as far as the eye could see, making them easily visible for most beings. The village itself had been built both around the trunks and inside of them, with several areas having been hollowed out. Bridges connected the various platforms between the trees, even to those that had been built further up. From there, things only spider-webbed outward, slowly tapering off; indeed, they had passed under several huts before entering into the market—Levrok simply didn’t like spoiling things for people.He looked from the masses within the market-clearing and back to Laorus, who had stopped dead in her tracks, evidently shocked by the sheer activity of the place.“People have a tendency to under-exaggerate Le-Exa,” he said simply. “Come on; I’ll show you around.”The Skakdi grunted as he was slammed against the wall of the large pit he was in, panting as the being that held him let go and allowed him to slide down to the floor. He breathed rapidly, his vision hazy. Above, roars and shouts sounded, egging the combatants on. Struggling to his feet, the Skakdi of Stone concentrated, launching a beam of Darkness Vision at the swordsman. His opponent stood still, merely sidestepping the blasts before moving forward with surprising speed. The Skakdi had little time to respond as his opponent’s rapier shot forward, point aimed at a spot between two of his ribs. Moving to block the blade, he succeeded only in getting his hand impaled before the rapier stabbed into his ribcage, the warm metal sinking into his lung.He let out a scream of pain as the other being withdrew the blade, stepping back and letting the Skakdi fall back to the ground, bleeding from his new wounds. His perpetual smirk grew wider as he looked at his killer. An Ondarian, he was much like a Toa in appearance, though stood a couple of feet taller. Like them, he wore a mask, though it was not one that the Skakdi was familiar with; given the terms of their battle, he had not seen it in use. What he did know, however, was that the mask, like his opponent’s armor, was silver in color, with soft blue undertones. A cape was draped over his left shoulder, clasped with the insignia of the mercenary group called the Guild of Tyis. Beneath the black cape, the sheath for the Ondarian’s rapier could be seen, currently empty as he wiped the bloody blade off with a cloth.This was the Gentleman, as he was known among the criminal underworld, and he, like the Skakdi, had come to Exa-Nui. For what reason, the dying being did not know, nor did he particularly care at the moment as his eyes and thoughts drifted in and out of focus.“Good… job,” he panted as a strange sort of numbness began to take hold. The Gentleman stared at him before nodding curtly, pocketing the cloth and replacing his blade into its sheath. “I can’t say… I thought you’d do it…. But you did… You kept your word…”“Indeed,” the Gentleman answered, ignoring the jeers from the crowd above. “I always keep my word: No abilities on my part, and a relatively painless death for you as a result.” He bowed. “Believe me, you’re contribution to my experience is most appreciated.”The Skakdi gave a short sort of laugh before he coughed. Eventually, the life in his eyes died; the spectators who had watched the match cheered at the sight, though a few grumbled at the lost bet. The Gentleman turned around, entering the champion’s tunnel as he awaited his next challenger. Behind him, a pair of Matoran removed the body from the arena, quickly pulling it out through the challenger’s entrance.This sport grows boring, the Gentleman thought as he sat down, taking a short sip of the hot peppermint tea that had been prepared for him. It shouldn’t be long now, however, before he finalizes our deal. This treasure hunt of his should prove interesting, at the very least… If nothing else, it’ll either dispel or confirm the stories I’ve heard about this land.He glanced at the arena as another being entered. This one was much larger than the Skakdi, easily twice as tall (his head, the Gentleman noticed, almost brushed the top of the domed ceiling of the arena) and several feet wider. His large claws dug deeply into the ground as he walked in, glaring at the Gentleman.The bounty hunter, in turn, sighed deeply, before replacing his tea on the table and standing up. Drawing his rapier once more, he moved into the arena. Toa… Please, hurry. I do not wish to waste my talents on these pathetic warriors any longer… He stared at the crocodilian being, pointing his blade at the creature’s chest.“En garde.

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Edited by Parugi, May 19 2012 - 03:59 PM.

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#6 Online Parugi

Parugi
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Posted Aug 25 2012 - 03:30 PM

Chapter V

The White Market

It had not taken much persuading to get Laorus to agree to Levrok’s offer. Having come from such a secluded island, and having only visited similarly unknown lands in the past, the Siorun was not used to the levels of activity that she was seeing before her. Dozens of villagers and tourists crisscrossed through the entry square, moving up and down ladders, ascending and descending staircases, along roads, through trees, and simply using dozens of more methods to move about the village. The complexity of the village’s inner workings necessitated the postings of a number of bow-clad guards stationed within the trees, keeping an eye out for potentially dangerous individuals or activity around them. As she watched the busy scene, Laorus saw a pair of these guards swiftly drop down in front of a seemingly innocuous Ussal carriage, uncovering a number of illegal weapons hidden in the back and quickly subduing the owner when he drew a nasty-looking pistol from his cloak. It was an impressive sight, watching Matoran so easily tackle the problems that plagued their village; she had been led to believe that the entire race was much weaker than that.“Your island is full of surprises,” she said to Levrok, carefully leading Doro through the crowded streets. The large boar snorted at several Skakdi who passed too close to him, though did not dare attack without his master’s command. “Roads that drastically shift direction with the slightest wind, a village that seems to appear out of nowhere as you near it, Matoran who can actually fight . . . I’m impressed.”“Already?” Levrok asked, feigning surprise. “We’ve barely gotten started here!” He led her down a noticeably busier street, carefully planting his staff on the ground with each step he took. Small circles were left in the soft dirt as he lifted it, which were quickly covered again by either Laorus’s or Doro’s own feet. “Just wait until I show you the White Market, or the Kini-Iden--or, heck, if you’re feeling particularly romantic, maybe even the Ga-Karda—that’s always worth a visit.”Laorus’s eyes lit up. “That would be nice.”Chuckling, Levrok nodded at her. They continued walking, the volume of conversation growing around them the longer they moved. As they traveled down the path, Laorus observed the area. The Village of Air had definitely been built with the environment in mind—that much was obvious. While some areas had been cleared for buildings, the vast majority of stalls had been set up between and around trees, creating a natural balance between the plants and the artificial presence of the Matoran. From Levrok’s descriptions, Laorus gathered that the original settlers of the village had lived on the ground. After meeting and recruiting a number of Toa of Plant Life, they had been able to create resources with which to build homes and structures within the trees themselves, allowing them to live more safely away from Rahi while also avoiding the destruction of the forest. As travel to Exa-Nui grew, paths had become a necessity, forcing dozens of trees to be cut down, though they had managed to keep this to a bare minimum.It was this level of dedication to nature—shown by Levrok, Turaga Mazen, the villagers, and even the merchants and outside travelers—that Laorus found most admirable. Even on other islands, devoid of the technology present on Exa-Nui, most beings had only made half-hearted attempts at using their resources wisely. They had razed entire forests, driven numerous species to extinction, and simply lived ineffectively off of the land. How long had it taken for Exa-Nui’s village of wind to become so entwined with nature, and how much effort had it actually taken to accomplish this? The energy in the air made it feel almost like there was no effort involved . . .Posing this question to Levrok produced virtually no results. He simply shrugged, looked around at the surrounding market, and said, “Don’t know. We’ve always been this way.”Disgruntled, Laorus sighed, looking instead at the villagers. Of the few lands she had visited, Exa-Nui easily held the most diverse population. On Kayun, she had seen only Siorun; on Lokus Ali, a section of the Northern Continent, there had been Matoran, Ondarians, and the odd Toa; and on Xia, little more than Vortixx. Le-Exa, on the other hand, was home to far more all by itself—Skakdi, Toa, Matoran, Vortixx, Steltians, even some species that she did not recognize. Whether villager or traveler, a resident permanent or temporary, she was seeing far more here than anywhere else, allowing her to observe how the various species of the universe actually interacted with each other when given a peaceful meeting ground. Even to her, it was almost mind-boggling, watching Skakdi banter casually with Toa, or seeing Matoran exchange design ideas with Vortixx . . .Laorus couldn’t help but feel a pang of loneliness as she realized that she was the only Siorun on the island. True, she had essentially brought this on herself by leaving Kayun, but was it really her fault that, aside from her brother and the legendry “Knight,” Waorus, all of the other members of her species were more content with staying at home than they were curious as to what the outside world had to offer? While they had decided to simply sit around and await the coming of the end, Laorus had chosen to see the universe and revel in its many idiosyncrasies. As she contemplated this, she decided that if she had to put up with being virtually alone, then so be it—what she was seeing was worth it.And, she noted, glancing at Toa Levrok as they continued on toward the primary markets. There are more friends where this one came from . . .“Gather, friends, gather! Congregate before me so that together we may bask in the glory of the Holy One, as his followers, his children, his most devout believers! Come and heed my words today, citizens of Le-Exa!”Uneasy crowds had gathered in the center of the White Market by the time Laorus and Toa Levrok had arrived, each and every being looking to discover what the purpose behind this Skakdi’s presence was—much to the displeasure of the surrounding merchants, who looked on at their distracted customers with varyingly levels of annoyance and pleading for attention in their eyes. Nevertheless, they could not hold the distraction against the people themselves. While it was not unusual for people to use the square as a way to give sermons or announce new developments on any typical day, the amount of attention being given to this one was not natural. At best, perhaps twenty shoppers would stop to listen—but not this one.No one could quite understand how this Skakdi was able to hold the eyes and ears of so many so effortlessly toward him. He was not talking particularly loudly, nor was he using any sort of special decoration around him to attract them. His voice simply seemed to grab people, draw them away from their business and bring them toward him. Perhaps it was the work of the glowing, decorative scepter in his hand; perhaps it was the fact that he was a golden-skinned and anciently white-robed Skakdi, who appeared to glisten like a star from the relative dimness of the square. Whatever he was doing, it was working wonderfully, and unless he tried to use this strange, magnetic effect for some nefarious scheme, no one found any reason to panic. They simply listened.Still, Laorus could tell from Levrok’s expression that this was not something to ignore, a sentiment only further supported as he summoned his elemental powers, taking flight and disappearing into the trees overhead. Following his ascent, the Siorun saw that many others had gathered above to listen to the sermon, crowding the platforms and bridges in the trees, all looking toward the makeshift stage that the mysterious preacher had created for himself. Quickly climbing onto Doro, Laorus proceeded to slowly force her way to the front of the crowd, hardly seeming to catch the attention of those around her.From her position, she could see him clearly. The Skakdi strode slowly back and forth across his platform, staring deeply into the crowd with bright green, confident eyes. His scepter spun this way and that, very slowly, in his clawed hands, moving from one end of his hand to the other, where he would catch it and begin the cycle anew. Golden feet, slightly webbed and lined with sharp, razor-like talons seemed to shine from beneath his white, rune-coated robes, carefully finding the way for his pacing. The robes did nothing, however, to cover the large, evenly spaced spikes on his spine, which, like his face, shone with an unnatural light: They poked through the fabric, stretching out a foot or two each from his back, carefully flowing with the movements of the pure cloth. Several feet in front of him, a story or two above the ground, Levrok appeared atop a large branch, looking down on the proceedings, carefully watching for a sign to intervene. He, too, seemed to go unnoticed. Finally, the Skakdi began speaking, bright, unnaturally perfect teeth appearing as his lips moved.“Friends,” he said again, his voice booming throughout the area. An unearthly silence fell across the already-quiet crowd, deader than the coldest stone. “My brothers . . . My sisters . . . Thank you for delivering unto me your . . . undivided attention today. I come before you, the denizens of this . . .” He moved to the edge of the stage, his arms outstretched as he looked around. The Skakdi observed the trees to his left, the stalls to his right, the delicate balance of nature and civilization all around him, taking in a deep breath as he considered his wording. “This . . . simple existence—” Laorus would have frowned at this. “—this . . . raw, developing village of air and plant life, this place of beginnings. I come to you bearing a message, a message of sorrow, of untold sin, a message of hope.” He lowered his arms slowly. “I, Therapon, humble servant of the Holy One, have come to deliver you to salvation through acceptance.”Laorus had arrived near the front of the group, only separated from this ‘Therapon’ by rough fifteen individuals. Slowly, silently, she slid off of Doro’s back, holding tightly onto his reins as the beast snorted in obvious discomfort and . . . what? Fear? That seemed the appropriate word to describe it. Others, too, seemed to feel the same way—the Siorun could see it on their faces. Unease. Confusion. What was this preacher talking about?He seemed only too happy to continue.“My friends,” he said, quietly now, closing his acidic eyes. “There is a sad truth in this land. A truth almost too terrible for me to utter; and yet, by the will of the Holy One, I must. This land, this Great Respite, even now comes under siege by the forces of darkness, and I fear its end draws ever closer.” Bubbles of muttering broke through the crowd. Laorus did not participate, but, as Therapon had gone silent for the moment, overheard several bits and pieces of the conversations around her. Opinions seemed to vary, with some wondering about the truth in the Skakdi’s words, and others insisting he was insane. After several moments, Therapon raised his hands, calling all attention back towards himself.“Let not the shock of my words cast you into doubt,” he said, as if this would lead all before him to feel reassured. “I implore you instead to look into your hearts, and feel the truth of these impending times alight themselves within your souls. Look around.” Therapon beckoned to the market surrounding him, indicating nothing in particular and yet everything at once. “The darkness grows around you, fed and set upon by idols false and tainted. The Eyes, ever watching, are touched for the first time by fear, sought out by both those who claim to guard this land and those who work to further outside empires—forces separate yet united in ways arcane and unremarkable. Watchers in the dark infiltrate the systems of this land, their motives guided and yet unleashed. And the guardians of Exa-Nui, heroes chosen willingly and unwillingly, sit by and watch this happen, their days of glory long gone by, content to believe, like you, that this land remains uncorrupted, while demons of old and present linger over them.”Laorus looked up at Levrok, trying to catch a glimpse of his expression amidst the rapidly-growing fear of the crowd, the uneasy sway of their bodies. This task proved difficult, though she did manage to see that he was not the slightest bit amused by this. From what little of his face that she could see, Laorus could tell that Levrok’s calm demeanor was quickly breaking, replaced by the cold fury of a tempest.“Look into your hearts, my friends and allies, and see the impending doom of this land for what it is: Truth,” Therapon continued. “The cracks will spread along the foundations of this island, and the land shall part, becoming as it was in the olden days: Six nations divided, ripped asunder by the apathy and false confidence of their leaders and protectors. Together, six became seven, and seven became one. Now, however, seventh sin, seventh traitor will destroy, leaving many in place of one.” He raised his scepter to the heavens, the end beginning to glow a brilliant white light, illuminating the market. “This I know by the grace of the Holy One, the Divinity of the Forever God, and he declares through me that only under his absolute power will the Great Respite continue as One. So, my friends, Children of the Dead, I plead now before you: Join us in Holy—”“Enough.”Levrok’s voice broke the trance that Therapon held on the crowd, his light immediately breaking and puttering out as the Skakdi looked up in surprise at the Toa of Air. Unfurling his wings, Le-Exa’s Champion dropped from his perch. A powerful gust of wind blew through the air, catching him and carrying the Toa toward the stage in a dazzling display of light as the wind disturbed the canopy above. The air did not calm down as Levrok dropped easily onto the stage, instead continuing to swirl around him, a physical manifestation of his authority.The Toa of Air looked Therapon straight in the eye, causing the Skakdi to stare in apprehension and annoyance at the interruption. “You,” Levrok said flatly, his tone as dangerous as the toxic breath of a Doom Viper. “Go home.”The priest looked utterly confused at this order. “Excuse—?”“Go. Home,” Levrok repeated, his eyes widening slightly as he said the second word. Therapon opened his mouth to argue, though reconsidered. Without a word, he hurried past Levrok, dropping into the crowd. The Toa of Air watched him go, raising an eyebrow when the Skakdi stopped and turned around.Therapon studied the Toa for a moment, a light of recognition appearing in his eye. He raised a hand, pointing a scaly finger at Levrok. “Observe, people of Le-Exa,” he said loudly, his confidence boosted by his surrounding ‘friends.’ “The First Apathy of Kai-Nam. May the Lord Ruaki have mercy upon your souls.” He moved to leave again, though found he couldn’t as Laorus grabbed the collar of his robe. He tried to pull himself free from her grip; she merely clenched her fist even tighter around the cloth. “Get your hands off—““If you dislike the dark so much, then stay out of the jungle,” she cut across him, feeling hundreds of eyes boring into her from every direction. She ignored them. “Spouting gibberish about the end of the world only helps to spread shadows; it does nothing to dispel them.” She released him, shoving him away from her. The crowd parted to let him through, numerous beings jeering at the Skakdi as he fled out of the White Market, Laorus’s cold eyes following him the entire way.As soon as she was sure he was gone, the Siorun turned to look at Levrok, her spirits dropping as she saw his troubled expression. She saw the Toa sigh, his posture becoming less rigid as the aggravated winds slowed to a halt. After waiting for the crowd to thin out, she made her way toward the stage, guiding Doro through the thin throngs of people, tuning out their conversations about the priest’s insane ravings.“You okay?” she asked, coming to stand in front of the Toa of Air. She looked up at him, concerned as she observed the lines of worry that were traced across his face. He didn’t seem to hear her the first time, so she repeated her question.“It’s nothing,” he said after a moment, spinning his staff around in his hand, the point pressed against the ground. The metal began to burrow a small indent into the wooden stage, though he didn’t seem to notice. Levrok shook his head, looking at Laorus. “I’m sorry to leave you alone here, Laorus, but I need to go report this to Mazen.”“I can’t come with you?” Laorus asked, her shoulders drooping in disappointment.Levrok simply shook his head again. “I’m sorry, but I have to do this alone. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Summoning his element again, the Toa of Air took off again, disappearing through the trees. Laorus watched him go, tearing her eyes away from his flying figure though unable to push that unsettling—uncharacteristic—look of fear and uncertainty out of her mind.Rubbing her hand on Doro’s head, the Siorun walked virtually alone, moving in deep thought down a nearby street.The Gentleman lowered his rapier so that the tip was flush with the tip of the gigantic, crocodilian-being’s forehead. Multiple wounds crisscrossed the challenger’s body, some of them deep, some of them superficial, though all of which ran scarlet with the flow of fresh blood. The Ondarian looked down on his dying opponent, observing the pale green, scaly skin with his own deep blue eyes, the light of which glinted off of the metal of his blade, as well as the blood that covered it. His eyes met those of the beastly being on the ground, staring into the fiery red depths of a creature that had fallen so quickly to something so much smaller than itself, despite its previous assumptions.Assumptions that had proven to be its downfall—that had brought this fate upon it. With a curt nod, the Gentleman began to draw his arm back, preparing to pierce the thick-headed skull of this reptilian warrior, to put an end to an unnecessarily arrogant being. Those above watched with almost fearful anticipation as the Ondarian drew closer to displaying his deadly skills once again.The sound of clapping sounded from the tunnel behind him—from the Champion’s Tunnel. This alone would not have been enough to draw away the Gentleman’s attention. The addition of a voice, however—one that he recognized, and that he had been waiting for—easily did the trick.“Excellent work, my friend.” The voice was soft, quiet, airy, and ever so slightly musical. It floated lazily on the wind like a cloud, so simple, so harmless, and yet so full of specific intention in the way it moved. “It appears . . . that I arrived just in time . . . Truly marvelous . . .”“Mr. Tarius,” the Gentleman said in greeting, lowering his weapon and turning to face the Toa. He bowed, observing his employer for the first time. Tarius’s armor was typical of a Toa of Magnetism, being gunmetal gray and black in color, though in the dim light of the fight pit it may as well have been entirely the latter. A long, billowing cape covered much of Tarius’s thin frame, and a pair of pink eyes stared out at the Gentleman from behind his Mask of Detection. So, this is my new boss . . .“And you . . . are the Gentleman,” Tarius answered in turn as the bounty hunter in question straightened up, beginning to wipe the blade from his rapier. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you . . . I have heard much about your . . . abilities . . . on Kai-Nam . . .”“But of course,” the Gentleman said. He was stopped from continuing by a groan from the being behind him. Glancing back at the reptilian being, he looked Tarius squarely in the eye. “Let us continue this conversation elsewhere. I shall return to my chamber momentarily.” He gestured to the Champion’s Tunnel. Tarius looked back at it, nodding slightly and walking away.Pulling his blade from its sheath again, the Gentleman approached the dying challenger again, leveling the tip of his rapier with the center point of the being’s forehead. The crowd above erupted into cheers and cries as the metal point pierced the reptilian’s skull, swiftly snuffing out what remained of his broken life.Tarius had taken a seat at the small coffee table that had been set up for the Gentleman, seeming to be preoccupied with his own thoughts. As the Ondarian approached, the Toa of Magnetism looked up, smiling pleasantly at the bounty hunter. The expression seemed unnatural and dissonant on Tarius’s face, partially due to the fact that the Gentleman knew the Toa could see the fight pit attendants cleaning up the mess from his last fight over his shoulder. He chose to push these thoughts aside, distracting himself by taking a sip from the cup of sun tea that had been delivered to him. Tarius followed suit.“So,” the Gentleman said after a moment. “Down to business from here, I suppose.”“Indeed,” Tarius said. He set his cup down, leaning back in his seat. His pink eyes glowed brightly in the dark. “You know our mission all ready; this I know to be a fact . . . My question is . . . Will you join us?”“Oh, undoubtedly,” the Gentleman answered. From his expression, his answer was a pleasant surprise for Toa Tarius. The Ondarian raised an eyebrow, sipping his sea and setting the mug down. “This surprises you?”“Admittedly, yes,” Tarius said. “I expected some sort of argument over morals and honor and other such things, considering your views on life—the way you approach battle.” He studied the Gentleman. “I suppose I miscalculated. Like the others, you are driven merely by greed for the money I offer, nothing more.”The Gentleman smiled, chuckling slightly. Now it was Tarius’s turn to be confused, staring at the Ondarian with a strange, mixed expression. The Gentleman closed his eyes. How dare this Toa compare him to ‘others’? He was above them in every possible way—smarter, more skillful, faster, and stronger. They had nothing on him, not even in terms of motivation—and that was why he never lost a fight. He was driven for all the right reasons, unlike those that he fought. He was driven merely to survive, instead of to appear as the best, or to beat someone just to show them who was the best.No. He fought for ensure that he would live—the very foundation of life. And that gave him power.“You did not miscalculate,” he said at last, opening his eyes. Dark blue met pink, their glowing lights creating a cotton candy-like sphere of illumination around them. “I have only the most practical interest in money—nothing more. It is a necessity of survival in the world we have created. The fact of the matter is that you hired me out, Mr. Tarius, and that means that my duty is to serve you for however long you require. That is what this all comes down to: Duty. Just as Toa such as yourself find the protection of others to be their primary purpose, so, too, do I see the success of others as mine. You required someone of my talents, and so you sought me out. What reason would I have for refusing to assist you in your endeavors, when you have already made it clear to me that you are a being in need of my help?” He leaned back, letting this sink in. “My blade is yours. Point to where you need me, and I shall go there.”Tarius was silent for several moments. Then he smiled again. “Once again, you do not fail to disappoint,” he said. “Come, then, my friend . . . We have more allies to gather . . .” He looked around. “And . . . Freer arenas in which to fight . . .”

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Edited by X. Luxord, Aug 25 2012 - 03:51 PM.

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