Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 04 2017 - 02:13 PM.
The Herald of Darkness
Posted Aug 26 2014 - 06:39 PM
Posted Sep 08 2014 - 04:49 PM
Chapter 8 - An Old Friend
“Hey,” Talim smiled. “How you doing, kiddo?”
Takua stared at her, stunned and motionless. It couldn't be her. It had to be his mind playing tricks on him. It had to be the Madness. Slowly, he reached out toward her, shaking as he did so.
“Is it really you?”
Talim took his hand, placing it on her cheek, and Takua was shocked. If she was just an illusion, it was one he was willing to dive headfirst into. He could feel the warmth emanating from beneath her mask, the smooth skin of her hand as it held his own. The light of the lightstone twinkled in her eyes, and her dark green Huna was as real as the rock on which he sat.
“Does it really matter?” she replied.
Tears fell from Takua's eyes as he grabbed her and pulled her close. “I missed you so much...” he said between breaths as he buried his mask into her shoulder. He gripped her as tight as he could, afraid that if he let go she would disappear forever. “I'm so sorry Talim... I'm so sorry...” he trailed off.
She returned his embrace, holding him gently as she rubbed his back. “Don't be sorry. You did everything you could.”
“I tried to find a way to bring you back,” Takua sobbed. “I asked everyone I could, but, but...” he had to force the words out of his throat. “But I don't know if I can...”
“Hey,” Talim cupped his mask in her hands and looked him in the eye. “Don't worry about me.” She wiped a tear from his cheek, leaving a tiny smudge on Takua's scarred Kanohi. “You've got a quest to finish, right? You just do what you have to. Just keep on going, and I'll always be with you, no matter what.”
Takua managed to smile, but he shook his head. “I just, I... I don't know,” he stammered as he looked around them, cautious of the shadows that had terrified him just moments ago. Everything seemed back to normal now, but how could he know if it would stay this way? All the horror he had faced, all the insanity... he couldn't bear to think about it. “It's just hard sometimes,” he shrugged.
“I know,” she replied. “But you can do it.”
Takua shook his head. There was just so much out there. So much fear, so much chaos, so much darkness. “I don't know if I can though...”
“You can,” she rubbed his arm comfortingly. “You just have to believe it.”
They shared a moment of silence together, and Takua couldn't help but wonder what might have been. What if things had gone differently? What if the Atouri had never came to him? Would they both still be in Le-Koro, living their normal lives? Maybe he'd still be living under his tree and dreaming of adventure, instead of out on an adventure and dreaming of home.
Talim spoke up again. “Now, are you going to go out there and do what you have to do, or sit here like a crybaby?”
Takua smiled as he wiped the last of the water from his cheeks. “Shut up.”
She laughed softly, brushing the dust off her armor as she stood up. Sticking out her hand, she offered it to Takua. “The first step's the hardest.”
He looked up at her, not ready for the moment to be over. “I don't want to leave. Not yet.”
“Do what you have to do, and I'll be waiting when its over,” she replied.
And as much as he hated it, he knew it was time. His reply was brief, but it managed to hold all his emotions in one word:
She looked down at him and smiled.
Takua nodded, taking her hand, and she pulled him to his feet.
And he was back. Back in the dark abandoned tunnel, surrounded by nothing but blackness. He was alone, but he was himself, and he was sane. Cautiously, he felt his mask, and he breathed a sigh of relief. There was no rust. He wasn't infected.
What happened? He asked himself.
He felt a long scar on his Pakari, stretching from his left brow to his right cheekbone, and he knew that at least some of it was real. The glass from Illum's canister had cut him, and he had definitely succumbed to the Madness. But his infection, and Talim...? Why wasn't he infected now? Where did reality end and his visions begin?
Looking around, he realized he had no idea which way he had come from. The tunnel looked exactly the same in both directions, and he couldn't see more than a few dozen feet past the lightstone. He forced himself to think. His tunnel must have connected to Illum's palace somehow, but how far back and in which direction was a mystery to him. From the roughly hewn walls Takua guessed that he was past the outskirts of the city, if not deep into Onu-Wahi. Was he beneath the city now, in some lower level only frequented by miners and explorers? Who knew what kind of Rahi might roam these tunnels? How far had his maddened mind taken him?
Takua furrowed his brow and sighed. There was only one thing to do.
Cautiously, he found a foothold in the wall and pulled himself up. Climbing just a few feet off the floor, he was able to reach the lightstone embedded into the ceiling, and he grabbed its largest crystal. He pulled on it, trying to free it from the crack it was wedged in. After a few good tugs the stone came loose, and he smiled to himself as he hopped to the ground.
Well, he thought, here goes nothing.
Holding the lightstone high above his head, he picked a direction and started to walk. It was easy going, but he was still cautious. The shadows still unnerved him, and he kept his free hand on the hilt of his sword at all times.
He thought about it as he walked. He hated the thought of using a sword given to him by Illum. It seemed wrong, almost dirty, to use such an item to protect himself. Takua had trusted Illum, and the Onu-Matoran had betrayed him. It hurt, and Takua wanted nothing to do with the 'Turaga' of Onu-Koro. He looked down at the weapon, calmly hanging at his waist.
But it was a really nice sword...
He kept walking, making his way though the dark tunnel. He wasn't sure how much time passed, but eventually he stopped to rest. Slumping his back against the rock wall, he let the lightstone rest beside him. He listened to the silence of the cave for a few moments before he closed his eyes. It was only then that he heard it:
Hum dee hum, doo da dee,
By his will, we live free.
Takua turned his head towards the tiny sound. It came from the direction he was headed, quietly bouncing off the tunnel's walls. What was it? Someone... singing?
The skies, the earth, water and trees
Everywhere, he watches thee.
Takua got to his feet and held the lightstone high above his head. There, at the very edge of his vision, he could see light shining through a bend in the tunnel. Gripping his sword as he did so, he approached it. The song grew louder and louder as he did, until he could make out the voice of what seemed to be a very old Matoran. It was scratchy and guttural, but somehow managed to have a springy youthfulness to it. The song was bubbly and happy, and the more Takua listened the more he realized he had heard it before.
As he rounded the bend his eyes were flooded with light, and he had to squint to be able to see. The tunnel's end was in sight now, but the blinding light obscured his view of anything that might lay beyond it. Shielding his eyes, Takua walked forward, out of the tunnel. It took a moment or two for his his eyes to adjust, but once he could see, his jaw dropped in amazement.
He stood in a huge cavern, studded with hundreds of thousands of lightstones. They flickered silently as they rested, illuminating far-off columns, stalactites, and other rock formations. Water dripped from the ceiling, forming puddles and small streams that weaved their way though the lightstone clusters. Some crystals were small, but others were almost a dozen feet tall, and as big around as a tree. They covered every surface, reaching outwards, as if determined to snuff out all shadow in the cave. It was beautiful.
Hum da dum, dee dee da
His Hau protects you, la la la....
Only now, as his astonishment had started to fade, did Takua turn his attention back to the singing. There, just a few dozen feet in front of him stood a Matoran: old, alone, and quietly humming to himself. He wore dark yellow armor, and clutched a knotted walking staff in his right hand.
Cautiously, Takua approached him. The Matoran was standing in the middle of a puddle, and he didn't seem very aware of his surroundings. “Hello?” he called out.
The Matoran whirled around to face him, revealing a Hau, lined and scarred with age. At first he seemed surprised, but once the Matoran saw Takua he smiled. “Windsprinter!” he called out, beckoning for Takua to come closer.
What...? Takua recognized old one's mask. He'd heard his scratchy voice before, a long time ago. “What did you call me?” he asked.
“Windsprinter, baldwalker, it matters not. It is you!”
And then Takua remembered. It was the crazy, tree-speaking Matoran he had met in Le-Koro. The one who had annoyed him on his walk home after visiting Talim. The one who had first told him to 'follow the stars.'
“What....” Takua stared at the Matoran in disbelief. “...what are you doing here!?”
“Ah, you see...” the Matoran hobbled over to him, splashing through the muddy water as he did. He pointed above them, towards the lightstone-studded ceiling. “Star watch-gazing! Beautiful, no?”
Takua looked up at the lightstones, flickering high above them, and then turned his attention back to the Matoran. “You do know these aren't actual stars, right?”
“Ha!” he cackled. “Hee hee hee! It matters not. They are all light.”
Takua looked at the insane Matoran, wondering how in the name of Mata Nui he had ended up in this situation. “They're lightstones. They're really different from stars. I promise.”
“It matters not!”
“Really? Do you even know where you are right now?” Takua asked.
“I am here.”
Takua rolled his eyes, but before he could respond the old Matoran had swooped around him and grabbed him by the shoulders.
“But do you know where you are?”
“Stop that! It's creepy!” Takua shook himself free of the old one's grasp.
The old one looked at him quizzically, as if waiting for an answer to his question.
“And no,” Takua replied. “I have no idea where I am.”
The Matoran rolled his eyes and turned away.
Takua sighed. “I was in Onu-Koro with all my friends, and then I went to talk to Illum. One thing led to another and I was infected with the Madness, which, by the way, might be something you would know about,” he pointed at the Matoran, but the old one didn't seemed phased.
Takua shook his head. “Anyway, my friend Talim helped me out of it, and I think she was just in my head, but I don't know. I should be infected right now, but I'm not, and that doesn't make any sense either. So then I hear singing. Singing. Underground, in an abandoned tunnel, which is also crazy. But I follow it anyway, and end up in this, this...” he searched for the right word. “...This fantastical cavern of light, which definitely seems like something I would make up in my head. And now you show up!” Takua threw his arms in the air out of frustration. “Of all the people in the world to run into, I find the one person who's less sane than me!”
The Matoran was looking up at the ceiling now, once again staring at the lightstones and humming to himself.
“Are you even listening to me!?” Takua asked.
“Life-dawn leaf-runner worries too much,” the Matoran said. “Where you are or how you got there, it matters not. Follow the stars, and they will guide you.”
Takua shook his head. It was like talking to a wall. “Even if I knew what that meant, you can't see the stars here. What am I supposed to do?”
The Matoran looked at him as if Takua was the insane one, and rapped him on the head with his staff.
“Ow!” Takua yelped. “What was that for!?”
“Slow-thinker does not listen! Stars, stones; they are all light.”
Takua rubbed his head, at a loss for words. Then, after a moment of thought: “Why am I trying to get advice from you anyway? You're a crazy person.”
The Matoran suddenly turned very serious, and the bubbly tone in his voice disappeared. Takua almost swore that the cavern physically darkened as he pointed in the direction that Takua had come from. Slowly and with purpose, the Matoran spoke.
“Because you are desperate, and the darkness is coming for you.”
Takua turned around to look at the tunnel, and he could hear the sound of armor clanking and people yelling. Illum had found him.
He whirled around to look back at the old Matoran, but he had disappeared entirely, and Takua was once again alone in the Underworld. Only now, the threat was imminent. This wasn't something in his head. This was very real, and if he didn't move now he'd be caught.
Cursing the old Matoran for wasting his time, he ran in the opposite direction, searching once again for a way out. Winding his way through the lightstone clusters, the Matoran's song found him for a moment or two before fading away into the darkness.
Take his hand and live anew,
Always, he is watching you.
Dum de dum, dee dee do
Always, he believes in you.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 04 2017 - 02:32 PM.
Posted Oct 20 2014 - 08:33 PM
Chapter 9 - A Turn for the Worse
Takua ran though the lightstone clusters, splashing his way through the puddles and streams that crisscrossed the cave. He weaved back and forth, hoping that it would make his muddy footprints harder to follow, but the farther he ran, the closer the guards sounded. Their armor clanked as they shouted to one another, ordering to their comrades to spread out, search over there, or let them know if they found anything.
“Footprints!” someone shouted. “This way!”
Takua cursed as he slid around a large lightstone cluster, pausing to catch his breath. He had to find somewhere to hide. At the rate they were going, he'd be caught if he kept on running. But then again, how could he escape? The cavern floor was so muddy his footprints would lead them right to him.
Takua swerved around a giant crystal and stopped dead in his tracks. An Onu-Matoran guard stood in front of him, and their eyes met. The Matoran’s purple Pakari was just a few hues away from Takua’s, and he seemed to be about the same age. The two stared at each other for a moment, both surprised by the other’s appearance.
“H-Hey!” the guard yelled out, fumbling to draw his sword. “He’s over here!”
Takua tore off in the opposite direction, but the guard was right on his heels. He sprinted as fast as he could, and managed to put a few precious yards between them, but the sound of feet splashing through water soon met his ears, and he knew that more guards were closing in. Hurdling over a fallen cluster, he glanced back to see one, two, then three guards struggling to climb over the crystal, and he smiled to himself. Their heavy armor slowed them down. At least he had that going for him.
Hearing his name, Takua looked to his right, not slowing his mad sprint. There! Just a few dozen feet away stood a Ko-Matoran holding a bladed staff dripping with blood. Takua lit up at his presence. “Kokani!? Is that you?”
“Get down!” Kokani yelled.
But Takua couldn’t quite hear him, and he slowed down to a jog. “What?”
Takua screamed in pain as something buried itself into his collar. With a splash, he fell into a shallow puddle as searing hot agony radiated from his neck to his upper arm. He looked to his right to find the shaft of an arrow sticking out of him, its head buried deep into the flesh just above his chest armor. Clutching the wound, he cried out as he tried to look around, searching for the arrow’s source.
There, in the direction he had been headed, stood a tall figure, barely illuminated by the lightstones. It was too tall to be a Matoran, and as the figure stepped into the light, and Takua’s eyes widened.
But then a guard was on him, pulling him back by the ankles, and Takua had to fight back. He kicked at the Onu-Matoran as he reached for his dagger, his thrashing throwing mud and water all around. The guard cursed as Takua’s foot made contact with his fingers, but he wasn’t deterred. Reaching out to grab Takua again, he was stopped only by Takua’s blade, wildly slashing through the air. It bought Takua a few moments, but then the other two guards appeared out of the darkness. One grabbed Takua from behind, locking his right arm while the other grabbed the shaft of the arrow and twisted.
Takua screamed as pain flew through his head, and he cried out for help. “Kokani!”
But the Ko-Matoran was already there, grabbing the guard that held him and throwing him into a nearby lightstone cluster. There was a flash of blue and Takua caught a glimpse of Aya, vaulting over him as she tackled the guard who pulled at his ankles, nimbly rolling to her feet as she prepared to fight. Thinking fast, he whirled around ready to fend off the third guard, the one who wore the purple Pakari, and once again the two locked eyes.
But in a second it was over. There was a spray of blood as a barbed arrow slammed into the side of the Matoran’s head, cracking his mask in half. With eyes wide open, he crumpled to the cavern floor, dead.
Shocked, Takua whirled around to see the Kryll, still standing in the same spot, calmly nocking another arrow to its bow. Panic set in, and Takua willed himself to get to his feet.
He stumbled behind the nearest cluster before the Kryll could fire again, and there he took a moment to rest. Blood oozed from between his fingers as he clutched his wound, and he clenched his teeth as he gripped the shaft of the arrow, ready to pull it out.
“Don’t! Not yet.”
Takua whirled around to see Sorin sliding around the other side of the cluster, his sword stained red.
“You’ll lose too much blood if you pull it out now. Wait until we make it to the others; they have all our supplies. We can patch you up there.”
Takua closed his eyes and grimaced as the pain exuded through him. “How did you find me?” he swallowed.
“I used to work in these tunnels, remember? I know them like the back of my hand.” Sorin peered around the cluster, checking if the coast was clear. “That, and sound echoes a long way in this rock. We heard you screaming.” He took a moment to look Takua up and down. “What happened?”
Takua sighed, not knowing where to start. “I’ll tell you later. Where’s Jaka? And Nika and Raipu?”
“Tunnel Eighteen. The Control Room.”
“No time to talk, let’s go!”
Sorin grabbed Takua around the shoulders, supporting him as they ran through the clusters. Glancing behind him, Takua managed to catch a glimpse of Aya and Kokani, still fighting off the guards. But one question burned in his head: where was the Kryll?
His question was answered as an arrow whizzed by just a few feet to their left. Turning his head, Sorin caught sight of the archer darting behind a lightstone. Picking up the pace, he urged Takua to go faster.
“Where did that Kryll come from?” Takua asked. “Is it fighting us or the guards?”
Sorin pulled Takua behind a boulder as another arrow thudded into the mud beside them. “Probably both. And it doesn’t make any sense. We’re right below the city; the Kryll shouldn’t be able to get into these tunnels, but there are no patrols down here. It’s like this place has been abandoned, but the power for the Control Room is still on.”
“What is this Control Room?”
Another arrow slammed into the mud behind them, and Sorin tensed as he gripped his sword. He turned back to Takua. “What do you think? It’s a control room for the mine. An operator there can regulate ventilation shafts, lockdown doors, basically anything mechanical in the entire tunnel. If there’s a threat to the miners, whether it’s a gas pocket, lava flow, or Rahi attack, they can go there and lock the room down.” Another arrow flew overhead and smashed into a cluster in front of them. “Basically, it’s exactly what we need right now!”
Takua stumbled as Sorin pulled him by the arm, making sure he kept the pace. Reaching the edge of the cavern, the two ducked into a smaller tunnel. It was straight and narrow, obviously cut by Matoran hands, and a few dozen feet ahead Takua could see an iron doorway, opening up to a brightly lit room.
Sorin yanked him forward, and Takua winced as he tried to ignore the pain shooting through his shoulder. They were close now, but as he glanced behind them, he realized it wasn’t close enough. The Kryll stood at the entrance to the tunnel, readying its bow once again. It was a straight shot, and this time there was nothing for them to hide behind.
“Come on!” Sorin yelled.
Takua gripped his wound, trying desperately to overlook it and keep moving. The Kryll had readied its arrow now and was lining up the shot. Just a few more feet, Takua told himself. Just a few more feet!
The Kryll pulled back the string, and Takua yelled at his body to move faster. The room was so close now. Just a bit more…
Takua looked back at the sound and caught a glimpse of Aya pulling her blade out of the archer's neck. Blood splattered the walls, and Takua breathed a ragged sigh of relief as he passed through the doorway, collapsing onto the ground in the process.
“Mata Nui, what happened to you?”
Takua looked up to see Jaka, holding a roll of bandages in one hand and a dagger in the other. Breathing heavily, Takua propped himself up against a wall and groaned. “I’ll tell you later,” he nodded towards the arrow, still sticking out of him. “Can you get this thing out of me?”
“Yeah, yeah! Sorry!” He waived for Raipu and Nika, and the two brought over more bandages and cleaning supplies.
Takua looked around the room he now found himself in, as it was certainly something to behold. Every surface was cast from iron, and hundreds of levers, buttons, and screens lined the walls. Sorin was in the far corner now, plugging away at some of them as small colored lights flashed in different sequences. Takua wondered how long it must have taken him to learn all their functions.
But by now Nika had prepared a salve from the supplies in her pack, and she quietly nodded to Jaka and Takua. “Ready when you are.”
“Okay,” Jaka turned to Takua and carefully gripped the shaft of the arrow. “You ready for this?”
Takua took a deep breath and nodded. “If I have to be.”
“Okay, ready… now!” Jaka pulled on the arrow and Takua screamed as pain flashed through him.
“Stop! Stop! Mata Nui, stop!” he yelled.
Jaka did as he asked, but flashed a stern look. “It’s got to come out, Takua!”
“I know,” Takua managed to say. He was dizzy from the pain, and felt like he was going to pass out. “Just… just give me a minute…”
“We only have so many minutes!”
“Look out!” Aya yelled as she barreled into the room, almost plowing over Raipu as she slid to a halt. She looked back out the tunnel anxiously, then turned to Sorin. “Hey, you might wanna start that lockdown thingy. Things are getting a little hairy out there!”
“I’m working on it!” Sorin shouted as he pressed away at the controls.
Aya turned her attention to Takua, whose mask seemed to be losing color. “Mata Nui Takua, you look like Mahi dung. What happened?”
Takua gritted his teeth. “I’ll tell you later…” he moaned.
Sorin pulled down a large lever in the corner, and a loud beeping echoed through the tunnels. Gears whirred to life, clanking as they turned one another, and slowly the room began to seal itself. Iron doors crept down from the ceiling, closing the entrances one inch at a time.
“Stay away from the doors,” Sorin noted. “Once the lockdown is started it can’t be stopped. If your arm is in the doorway when it closes… well, you’ll have one less arm.” Then, with a furrowed brow, he turned to Aya. “Where’s Kokani?”
“He’ll be here.”
“He better be. He has three minutes until those doors close.”
Takua stared at the doorway they had come through, suddenly very nervous. Slowly, the thick iron door descended toward the floor like a caterpillar making its way down a leaf, and the thought of being crushed by the unrelenting gears sneaked into his head. He shook himself, forcing his attention back to the matter at hand.
“Okay,” he told Jaka. “Ready.”
Jaka pulled on the arrow without warning, and white hot pain clouded Takua’s vision. “Stop! Stop stop stop stop!”
“We gotta get this over with Takua!” Jaka yelled at him.
“I thought you were going to tell me before you started pulling!”
“You said you were ready!”
They were cut off as Kokani ran into the room, ducking under the closing door as two arrows stuck into the floor behind him. He looked around frantically. “How long until the lockdown finishes?” he asked Sorin.
Sorin chanced a quick glance to his controls. “A little under two minutes.”
Kokani cursed. “Kryll are swarming out there. It has to go faster.”
“I can’t change how fast it goes.”
“It’s okay,” Aya interjected as she pointed at the door, now about halfway closed. “Just a little bit more and it'll be too small for Kryll to fit under, right?”
It was silent for a few seconds before Kokani responded. Slowly, he nodded. “Right.”
But then, a metal cylinder rolled under the closing door, beeping as a little red light flashed on its top. Takua watched it roll for a fraction of a second, but by the time he realized what it was, it was already too late. The cylinder exploded, sending shrapnel flying as the grey-green gas inside of it escaped, unleashing the Madness upon them.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 04 2017 - 05:47 PM.
Posted Nov 03 2014 - 04:54 PM
Chapter 10 - Revelations
Takua braced himself as the explosive went off. All sound was punched out of him as his ears rang, but he didn’t feel the blast. Slowly, he uncovered his eyes and looked up to see Jaka leaning over him, protecting the two of them with his new shield. Jaka nodded to him with a look of reassurance. Takua still couldn’t hear, but he could read his friends lips:
“I’ve got you.”
But that wasn’t going to be enough. The gas was filling the room, billowing out in a cloud of grey-green poison. Takua looked around to see Kokani trying to hold one of the lockdown doors open, but the door was slowly overpowering him, and they didn’t have much time.
“No one breathe!”
Takua heard Aya yell as his hearing started to return, and he made a point to exhale, pushing all the air out of his lungs. Sorin ran across the room, picking up Raipu and shoving him under the . Jaka helped Takua up, and as the two ran for the door Takua’s ears managed to pick up a small noise, just barely discernible: a soft whimper, like something that a dying Rahi would make. Ducking out of the room, he glanced behind him to see Nika lying on the ground, clutching her leg. Aya bent over her, trying to get her to move as fast as she could.
Oh no… Takua thought back to Po-Wahi. Raipu’s wounds, maybe even his infection, it was happening all over again, only now with Nika. Takua watched as Sorin and Aya dragged Nika out of the room and under the closing door. It was almost shut now, but the three cleared it successfully. Only Kokani was still inside.
“Hold it open!” the Ko-Matoran yelled, and Aya and Sorin grabbed the door, trying to give him as much time as possible. The gears grinded and whirred, slowed by the force of their arms, but they didn’t stop. The door crept downward, only a foot and a half away from the ground.
Kokani dropped to the floor, crawling on his stomach as fast he could. He was halfway out now, and Jaka leapt into action, pulling him clear of the door just a few seconds before it crunched into the ground. Kokani propped himself up on his knees, coughing into his palm. His lungs heaved for a few moments, but eventually he willed himself back to his feet, eyes narrowing as he noticed the blood on his hand.
Aya stared at him, then to his hand. “Did you breathe it in?”
Aya stepped in front of him, forcing him to look at her. “If you breathed that stuff in, we need to know, Kokani.”
The two stared at each other for a moment before Kokani answered. “Not any more than the last time.”
“Good,” Aya replied. Then, her head swiveling, “Where do we go, Sorin?
“We can’t go yet!” Raipu interjected, kneeling over Nika. “She’s wounded! We have to help her!”
Takua got his first real look at the Po-Matoran, and it wasn't pretty. Metal shrapnel was stuck into her right leg, starting at her calf and traveling up to the side of her thigh. Like tiny daggers, the metal shards had cracked her armor, puncturing the flesh underneath. Blood seeped down her leg, and she stared at her wounds with wide eyes, still in shock.
“There are ways around that Control Room,” Sorin said. “Those Kryll will be here soon enough if we don’t move.”
Aya cursed. “Nika, can you walk?”
Nika didn’t respond. She stared at her leg, quivering.
“Nika!” The injured Po-Matoran looked up, jolted back to reality as Aya knelt down beside her. “I know it hurts, but we’re not out of this yet. We need to know if you can move on your own.”
"I don't know..." Nika stammered. "I don't know..."
"Well you have to try, okay?"
It was only now that Takua saw it: Nika wasn’t the only one injured by the explosion. The armor on Aya’s arm had been blown off, and there was a large swath of flesh on her forearm and side that were stripped raw, seared away by heat. He looked at the Ga-Matoran, impressed and amazed: Aya didn’t let the pain stop her. She knew her priorities, and she put the safety of the group before herself. Even injured, she didn’t flinch when it came to getting him and the others to safety. Takua took a deep breath, trying to ignore his own wound. If they were going to get out of this, he would have to do the same.
Slowly, Aya helped Nika her to her feet. She limped and clutched her leg as she took her first step, but she was able to walk, albeit with a horrible limp. It would be slow, but it was better than nothing.
“Okay,” Sorin finally said as he started to move. “There’s another Control Room in the next tunnel over, and if I remember right, it should have access to an elevator that can take us to the surface. It’ll be a bit of a walk, but it’s our best shot.”
“Alright, let’s go!”
They took off, moving as fast as they could. Jaka helped Takua, keeping his arm around him in case he might fall, and Raipu did the same with Nika. Sorin led the way with Aya right behind him, still managing to ignore her wounds. Kokani stood watch in the back, listening quietly for any signs of movement.
Takua looked around, trying to get a bearing of where exactly they were. The cavern slowly opened up before them, but it was unlike any he had visited before. Metal pumps, drills, and other machines lined the walls, connected with pipes that ran into the ceiling far above. Air ducts hung from the rock, burrowing into the walls as they lead to other areas of the mine. Only a few lightstones lit the place, and the machines cast long, dark shadows against the rock.
Takua looked to his right and was taken aback. Just a few dozen feet away the wall of the cavern disappeared abruptly, giving way to an empty blackness. It took him a moment before he realized what he was looking at, but then it hit him: a chasm. A huge, underground chasm that went on for unknown distances, deep into the earth. He stared at the blackness for a moment or two, as if he were staring down a wild Rahi. His spine prickled, and his nerves set him on edge. He looked at the machines, casting their shadows silently, as if they were watching, watching and waiting. It felt like he was entering Onu-Koro all over again, seeing the darkness behind Illum’s celebration for the first time. Something was wrong here, but he couldn’t place quite what it was.
Unease filled his body as he looked at one of the larger machines in front of him. It was different from the others. Its metal was newer and shinier, and a huge container of some sort reached almost to the top of the cavern. Tubes connected it to the pipes and ducts that ran along the walls and ceiling, and it seemed fragile in its construction, as if someone had hastily constructed it under a tight deadline.
Sorin stopped in front of it, gazing up at the metal monstrosity. “I don’t remember this.”
Sorin gestured to the huge machine. “This... container. It shouldn’t be here. It doesn’t belong.”
“Who cares?” Aya asked quickly. “Nika’s bleeding out, we have to go!”
“You don’t understand,” Sorin said, growing increasingly flustered. “Onu-Matoran don’t change things very often. Look up there," he pointed toward the ceiling. "It’s connected to the ventilation shafts. Those pipes on the ceiling lead directly to Onu-Koro; if something happened to the air supply we might suffocate or be poisoned if we go any further. That might by why there are no patrols down here ─ ”
“Look,” Takua spoke up as he saw it. There, carefully concealed in shadow at the base of the machine, was huge pile of canisters. Empty canisters, the kind the Kryll used to spread the Madness.
And all the pieces fell into place. There was a reason why these tunnels were abandoned, even though the power was still on. There was a reason Illum hadn’t ordered his guards to patrol down here, and why the Kryll had tried so hard to stop them from advancing.
Sorin’s eyes widened as he took the words right out of Takua’s mouth. “The Kryll built this machine. They’re going to fill the ventilation shafts with gas, and infect the entire city.”
And without warning, everything went black. Takua felt the Atouri, beating in his mind.
Barely able see his hand in front of his face, Takua’s heart began to race. He knew this darkness. He’d seen it before, and he knew the pain that came with it. A voice sounded in the shadow. A dark voice, one that Takua recognized.
“You’ve got to hand it to the Kryll, they really know how to execute a good plan.”
“Get behind me!” Kokani yelled, instantly drawing his blade.
Takua closed his eyes and covered his ears. It was Le-Koro all over again. This can’t be happening…
“To be honest, I didn’t think Krosis could pull it off.”
Sorin and Aya joined Kokani, drawing their weapons as they formed a circle, keeping Takua and the others inside. It was impossible to tell where the voice was coming from. It echoed all around the cavern, reverberating against the machines and into the chasm.
“I figured he would capture Po-Koro, but forcing all the people into Onu-Koro? Two birds with one stone, I suppose.”
Takua reached for his sword and winced in the process. He could barely move his shoulder without pain surging through him. He clutched the arrow, wishing he could tear it out. They stood there, blind, waiting for the voice to stop. But it went on, taunting them.
“And now he has delivered you to me.”
“Show yourself!” Kokani yelled into the black.
The shadow laughed. “You would like that wouldn’t you, old friend? Step into the light? Show myself for what I truly am?”
Kokani fidgeted, suddenly at a loss for words. He clutched his weapon with white knuckles, ready for anything.
“How does it feel, being at the mercy of shadow, instead of ruling it?”
Aya looked at the Ko-Matoran, confused by the echoing words. “What’s he talking about, Kokani?”
There was silence for a few moments as the darkness swirled around them. But then, rather anticlimactically, it disappeared and Saku revealed himself. He stood alone at the entrance to a tunnel ahead of them, one that Takua assumed to be their way out. Gripping his blade in his right hand, he looked at the ramshackle group of Matoran, seemingly a bit puzzled.
“Wait…” Saku said as the corners of his mouth turned up. His palm open, he motioned to Takua and the others. “...You mean they don’t know?”
Kokani glared at the Toa of Shadow as his muscles twitched, but he said nothing in reply. Slowly, Saku began to smile, growing increasingly amused at the situation until he threw his head back and laughed. His voice echoed into the chasm, bouncing against the walls as the Matoran stood there, not sure how to react.
“You never told them?” Saku said between gasps as he rested his hand against the tunnel entrance. He motioned to everyone that stood behind Kokani. “After all this time, none of them know?”
“It’s not their concern,” Kokani replied quietly.
“Not their concern!?” Saku laughed again. “It’s been a long time, but I thought something would’ve come up! Kokani the Killer? The White Hand of Death? What was that little rhyme they used to say about us? ‘Kokani and Saku, agents of darkness, they’ll slaughter and pillage and then burn your carcass!’” Saku spread his arms wide and approached them. “Kokani and I were assassins once, working under Makuta. Didn’t you all know?”
Takua looked up at Kokani, confused and worried. Kokani was always quiet about the details of his life, but that couldn’t be right. He’d done so much good, why would he have anything to do with Makuta? Saku had to be lying. It didn’t fit, it didn’t make sense.
But the more Takua thought about it, the more he knew it did. Kokani’s refusal to tell them anything about his past, the fire in his eyes whenever he fought, the beast that seemed to come out whenever Takua got on his bad side; it all pointed to something darker, something sinister. Slowly, Takua opened his mouth.
“Kokani, is that true?”
Kokani didn’t turn to face him. He stared only at Saku as he slowly replied, clutching his blade as he spoke. “It was a long time ago.”
Takua looked up at the Ko-Matoran, his trust in him slowly cracking. So many questions raced in his head, but he still didn’t know what to say. “…Why?”
Kokani didn’t answer, and Saku continued to taunt him. “I don’t think you’ve changed at all, have you? You’ve been trying to hide what you really are, but you can’t escape it forever. I can still see the fire in your eyes, I can see the bloodlust. The monster inside you wants to get out, doesn’t he, Kokani?”
“Go,” Kokani said to everyone, ignoring the Toa of Shadow. “I can hold him off for a bit. You have to make it out of here.”
Takua looked at the others, but none of them had anything to say. No one felt safe anymore, and Takua would be lying if he said he still trusted Kokani. But it wasn’t exactly Kokani’s past that he cared about. Whatever the Ko-Matoran had done, however long ago, for whatever reason, he didn’t care about that. It was the fact that they had been together so long, and after everything they had been through, it took Saku of all people for them to finally learn the truth. Kokani, if given the option, would have never told them.
He wasn’t angry or sad, but rather simply disappointed. He thought he’d known Kokani better. His next words were quiet, almost cold. “You’ll probably die if you fight him.” It was the only thing Takua could say.
Only now did Kokani turn to look at him, and Takua saw him trying to hold back his emotions. Kokani’s eyes were sad and cloudy with desperation, and Takua could tell he knew how much he had let everyone down. Slowly, he nodded his head with acceptance. “Please, Takua. Just go.”
Takua slumped his shoulders and sighed. His answer was calm, simple, and short:
Wordless, Kokani sprinted forward, his feet pounding against the rock as he rapidly approached the Toa of Shadow. The distance between them closed, and the sadness in Kokani's eyes turned to concentration, and then to anger, and then to rage. The fire erupted and the monster came out, ready for battle and blood. Saku replied with his bladed staff as Kokani struck, and the two steel edges rang, singing together for what would be the last time.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 04 2017 - 06:15 PM.
Posted Nov 17 2014 - 12:48 PM
Chapter 11 - Boiling Blood
Takua stared as the two beings clashed their blades together, Kokani thrashing out with anger, and Saku taunting him, grinning as if the whole thing were a game. Once, twice, three times the steel rang out, until Saku unleashed a storm of shadow, dimming the lightstones as he separated himself from the Ko-Matoran. He hurled crackling bolts of shadow from afar, but Kokani dodged each one, spinning and rolling as he narrowly avoided injury. Saku’s grin soon disappeared, and he attacked even faster, throwing even more bolts towards his enemy.
Kokani evaded them seemingly without effort, and his agility amazed Takua. Not pausing to breathe, the Ko-Matoran launched himself back at the Toa with a new flurry of strikes, weaving in and out and around Saku as shadow bolts flew past him, until finally he caught Saku off guard, landing a kick in the Toa’s chest. Saku staggered back a few feet, a bit stunned. Pausing to catch his breath, the Toa of Shadow smirked.
“Still got some fight in you, old friend.”
Kokani ran at him again, and Takua watched as the two locked blades. He had never seen anyone move as fast as Kokani did now, nor fight with such ferocity. What kind of Matoran could hold his own against a Toa? Who was this being that had watched over him for so long, without anyone knowing the truth?
The whirlwind of blades and shadow raged on. Steel met steel over and over again as both warriors blocked, parried, and dodged each other’s bouts. Kokani rushed around, never stopping his relentless attack, but try as he might, he couldn’t seem to gain an edge on the Toa.
An arrow flew over Takua’s head, diverting his attention. It slammed into the metal behind him, puncturing the hull of the Kryll’s giant machine. The grey-green poison sprayed into the air, forced out by high pressure inside the chamber. Takua stared at it for a moment then whirled around, catching a glimpse of a tall, angular being darting behind a drilling contraption. The Kryll had found them.
Jaka’s voice reached his ears, and he looked around to see chaos breaking out. Nika sat with her back against the Kryll's contraption, clutching her leg as Raipu tried to pull shrapnel out of her. Sorin engaged one Kryll as it appeared between the machines, his steel ringing out as it met his opponent's. Jaka stood in front of Aya with his shield, protecting her as she knelt down to bandage her sword arm. Takua turned his attention to the metal equipment, and he saw more Kryll weaving their way towards them, gaining ground with every second.
“Takua, get down!” Jaka yelled.
Immediately he dropped to the floor as another arrow slammed into the container, puncturing it again. More gas sprayed out, and Takua grimaced as he crawled his way to Jaka, going as fast as he could. His shoulder pained him, and he noticed that his arms wouldn’t move as fast as he wanted them to. His coordination was off, and he suddenly felt weak. Looking down at his wound, he knew he had to get patched up soon. Blood slowly dripped form his collar, trickling down his chest and staining his armor. He cursed, knowing the loss was starting to affect him.
“Okay, done!” Aya nodded as she tied off her bandage and pulled out her bow.
Ting! An arrow bounced off Jaka’s shield just a second after Takua managed to get behind him, and the Le-Matoran fell over from the impact. “There!” he yelled, pointing between two machines. A Kryll stood between them, readying its bow for another attack.
Aya fired her own arrow, and a second later the Kryll fell, clutching its arm where the projectile had imbedded itself. There was a moment of calm as the creature writhed, and Aya took advatage of it, running off towards the exit tunnel. “Come on! Now’s our chance!”
Takua followed her and Jaka as fast as he could, but the moment he stood up he felt dizzy. The floor in front of him seemed to slant, and he looked back to his wound. No… he thought to himself. Not now…
Forcing himself to clear his head, he pounded after his friends. They were almost to the exit now, but suddenly two bolts of shadow slammed into the ground in front of them. Rock and dirt erupted from the shockwave, and they were forced to step back. Looking over to where Saku and Kokani fought, Takua briefly made eye contact with the Toa of Shadow, who smirked.
He’s not going to let us leave. Takua thought. The Toa didn’t miss a thing. Even distracted with Kokani, Saku was aware of everything going on, and he wouldn’t let his prey escape so easily.
A roar caught Takua's attention, and he whipped around, flinching as a huge Kryll brute came running at him, battle axe raised high. He fumbled for his weapon, but Aya stepped in just in time, blocking its blade just a moment before it could come crashing down. The Ga-Matoran retaliated, engaging it as another, more intense spell of lightheadedness crashed over Takua.
He fell to his knees, the cave spinning in circles. He caught a glimpse of Jaka hovering over him, yelling something, but the words didn’t make sense in his head. Hot pain radiated form his wound, and he clutched the arrow as he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to force his way back to consciousness.
“Takua, you can’t do this now! You have to get up!”
Jaka’s words reached him and he opened his eyes, seeing his friend waving his arms at another Kryll, trying to divert its attention away from Takua. Twice his size, the monster barreled after Jaka, sword crashing into his shield as he tried to fight it off.
Takua forced himself back to his feet, making his way to where Raipu still tried to bandage Nika. They were slumped up against the Kryll’s poisonous machine, just a few feet away from where the gas sprayed out. Raipu looked up as he approached. His eyes were wide, full of fear.
“The gas is spreading,” he said nervously as he wrapped another bandage around Nika’s leg. She cried out as he tightened it, and Raipu winced at the sound. “We have to get her out of here.”
Takua nodded, but then he stared at Nika, whose mask was deathly pale. Her wounds bled through her bandages, and tears sat in the corners of her eyes. The sight made Takua sick, and he fell over, suddenly nauseous. His mask hit the cavern floor hard and his vision blurred for a second.
“Takua!?” Raipu yelled. Then, more quietly, “Mata Nui, not you too…” He patted Takua on the mask, trying to bring him back to consciousness. His hands were dripping with Nika’s blood, and Takua heard him whisper to himself as his voice started to break. “I can’t do this… I can’t do this…”
Takua screamed at his body. Focus! Come on!
Willing himself back once again, he looked around, trying to clear his head. Saku and Kokani still fought, now dangerously close to the edge of the chasm. Their weapons clashed over and over, but Takua could tell Kokani was tiring. His reactions were slower, his blows not as powerful. But he continued to fight.
Kokani raised his bladed staff and swung three times in quick succession, but Saku blocked every one. He let out a burst of shadow, blinding but not dangerous, and Kokani flinched only for a second. But a second was too long.
The blunt end of Saku’s staff smashed into Kokani and he fell to the ground. Saku spread his arms out, yelling at the Ko-Matoran. “Did you think you could win!?” he sneered.
Stumbling, Kokani struggled to get back up. He held his head as he groped for his fallen staff, but Saku kicked him in the stomach and he was back on the ground, groaning in pain.
“Did you think it would end well for you!?” Saku yelled. “Did you think you could just leave, and there wouldn’t be any consequences!?” His armored boot slammed into Kokani’s stomach again. “You betrayed me!”
The Toa of Shadow kicked Kokani again and again. The Ko-Matoran tried to get to his feet, but Saku was relentless. Kokani moaned like a wounded Rahi with every hit, until Saku finally rested his foot on the ground, giving him a moment of mercy. Kokani managed to push himself up to his hands and knees, his chest armor cracked and his breathing heavy.
Then, with speed only Kokani could manage, he whirled to his feet and attacked with his fists, punching Saku in the mask. The Toa stumbled backward, clutching his jaw as he made eye contact with Kokani. There was a flash of steel as Saku retaliated, and Kokani didn’t have time to dodge. He blocked with his forearm, and the blade cut into his armor, sinking an inch into the flesh underneath. Kokani grimaced as blood dripped down to his elbow, but he made no sound.
Saku ripped his blade back, throwing Kokani off balance and allowing himself to rush in. He punched Kokani in the stomach, and the Ko-Matoran took the full force of the assault, gagging as he fell down to one knee. Another blow to the shoulder and Kokani was down, taking another beating.
Takua watched, wincing as each one of Saku’s blows made impact. No doubt he could end it at any time, but it seemed he didn’t want to; he wanted to watch Kokani suffer. Over and over Saku lashed out, stomping Kokani into the ground, and Takua had to look away.
But then there was Aya, sliding across the cavern floor as she took a blow to the chest, wincing in pain as her burned skin rubbed against the rock. The brute she fought advanced toward her, clicking its mandibles as it gripped its huge axe. Sorin came into view on the other side of the cavern, slowly backing away from two warriors. A deep gash on his forehead spilt blood over his mask, and he limped from an arrow stuck into his calf. Over there was Jaka, just a few dozen feet away, desperately trying to fend off a Kryll twice his size. He stood his ground as he blocked an attack, but his shield rang out, wrenching his arm. It fell to the ground, and Jaka looked up at his attacker, defenseless. Even Raipu was doing his part. He hated seeing Nika in pain, and she cried out with every piece of shrapnel he pulled out of her, but still he persevered.
And Takua knelt alone, watching as all of his friends fought for their survival. He watched, trying to stay conscious so that he… so that he could do what?
He looked down at the arrow, sticking out of his collar. He wasn’t fighting. He wasn’t helping. He might as well be unconscious.
Looking back, if he had been paying attention, he could have dodged the arrow. Kokani had even warned him, but he was too slow. He could have had it bandaged up by now, but when Jaka had tried to pull it out, it had been too painful. It was too much for him. He was too weak.
He looked back to see Kokani attempt to grab Saku, only to fall again as the Toa dodged and kicked him in the back of the knee. How many times had Kokani saved his life? He didn’t know. What about Aya? Jaka? How far would he have gotten if it weren’t for these Matoran? These strong Matoran protected him, and for what? They didn’t have to be here. He was the one with the Atouri. Matau and Nuju had trusted him to carry it, not them. They were only here because of him.
They were dying because of him.
He clutched the Atouri, staring at his reflection in one of its black faces, and he hated himself. He was weak. He was so weak. He looked up to see Jaka, woefully overpowered, with a dagger the size of a butter knife to defend himself. He stared at Aya on the ground, rolling frantically as the Kryll above her bashed its axe into the floor. He looked to the edge of the chasm, where Saku toyed with Kokani, slowly, meticulously, beating him to death.
And suddenly, Takua wasn’t in the cavern anymore. He was in Po-Koro, where Matoran much braver than him had fought, so that he could flee to safety. He was in Ko-Wahi, where others had banded together to fight the Rahi Nui, so that he could escape. He was in Le-Koro, where he had lost Talim, and Matau had given his life, so that he could run away. The realization hit him like a brick wall: all he had ever done was run.
His hatred boiled inside of him. He hated Saku, he hated the Kryll, he hated the Atouri and he hated himself. The hatred surged through his veins as he inhaled diluted wisps of the Kryll’s gas, twisting and turning into fury. It gave him strength, it gave him purpose.
He’d lost his home, Matau, and Talim because he was too weak; because he was a coward. The thought coursed through him like an infection, spreading until he couldn’t take it anymore. All he had ever done was flee from his problems, while others bailed him out. All of it, this whole time, his whole adventure and his whole life: all he had ever done was run.
Primal, animalistic rage surged through him, and he grabbed the arrow and pulled, slowly tearing it from his collar. Tendons ripped and blood spurted out of him, but he didn’t care. Pain cascaded through his body, and he relished it. It cleared his head, sharpened his vision, and he pulled harder, smiling as an insane sense of bloodlust came over him. He’d never felt more alive.
With one final burst he ripped it out, spraying the floor with his own blood. He felt his heart pumping as he arose, eyes bloodshot, ready for battle. Throwing the broken arrow onto the ground, he drew his sword and took his first step.
Raipu looked up as Takua moved. His eyes darted from the Le-Matoran to the broken arrow, and then back. “…What are you doing?” he asked.
Takua grinned as he rolled his shoulders, letting the red liquid drip freely from his wound. It was warm, delightful, even. He felt no pain, and paused only a moment to answer Raipu’s question before tearing off into the chaos, heading straight for the Toa of Shadow.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 04 2017 - 06:38 PM.
Posted Jan 15 2015 - 11:50 AM
Chapter 12 - Shadow's Fall
All sound left Takua’s head as he sprinted straight toward Saku. He ignored the chaos around him, keeping his eyes fixed on the Toa as he ran, enraged and yet strangely excited. He yearned for battle. He needed to feel the edge of his sword slicing through flesh, he needed to feel his enemy’s blood splattering against his mask. Dripping from his open wound, his own blood trickled down his arm before flying off the bend in his elbow, leaving a rough, splattered trail behind him. But none of that really mattered. There was only Saku and him, and the rapidly closing distance between them.
Lowering his weight as he approached, Takua clutched the leather hilt of his weapon, briefly dragging its sharpened tip along the cavern floor as he prepared to strike. Saku was close now, and with all the strength he could muster, Takua raised his arms let the blade fly. The steel sang as it sliced through the air.
But at the last second Saku whirled around, gently placing his own blade in front of Takua’s. The sound of jarring metal echoed throughout the cave, and the two beings stared at one another. Gritting his teeth, Takua pushed against Saku, trying to overpower him. The Toa stared back quietly, a smile starting to form on his mask.
Kokani looked up from where he lay on the ground, finally free of Saku’s wrath. He stared as Takua pushed against the Toa, cursing inside his head. Takua didn’t have the strength to put up a fight. Saku would be finished with him in minutes. He started to open his mouth, meaning to tell the Le-Matoran to run, run while he still could, but then he stopped himself.
He saw the look in Takua’s eyes, the anger and excitement on his face. This wasn’t the Takua he knew. Something had changed.
“After all this time, now you choose to fight?” Saku teased.
Takua thrust his neck forward, bashing his brow into Saku’s mask without warning. Stunned, the Toa stumbled backward, his cocky smile falling away as he looked back to Takua. The Matoran's aggression was startling, but he readied his staff all the same.
“Very well, Takua. Shall we?”
Takua ran at him, not caring what he had to say. He thrust his sword forward and Saku parried, but Takua didn’t let that stop him. Again he attacked, blood pumping through his veins as his rage boiled inside of him, granting him strength, speed, power, and anything else he could possibly need. He attacked again and again, his blade crashing against Saku’s as the Toa defended against his onslaught.
Takua didn’t mind, however. He was starting to enjoy himself. With every clash of steel he grinned just a little bit more, maddened by his bloodlust. And besides, he could see the calm demeanor fading from Saku’s face. He could see the frustration building up inside the Toa as he found himself matched by a Matoran as weak as him. He lashed out as fast as he could, not allowing Saku any time to counterattack. Spinning around, he put all his weight into his swing, and his sword slammed against Saku’s. The Toa took a step back.
It was such a small, insignificant step. But it meant everything to Takua.
He yelled with renewed vigor as he attacked again, relishing his tiny victory as he let loose a flurry of stabs. The Toa defended himself, but soon found himself being pushed back, ever so slowly.
Takua swung his blade to the side and Saku rolled backward, giving himself a bit of space and a few precious seconds to retaliate. With a twitch of his feet he lunged back at the Matoran, slashing from overhead. Takua blocked it, grinning, but he didn’t see Saku’s other hand, which was quickly channeling a bolt of shadow.
Saku shoved the crackling orb into Takua’s stomach, and the Le-Matoran bent over, somehow still managing to hold Saku’s blade in place. The Toa of Shadow grinned, knowing he’d struck a critical hit, but as the seconds passed, Takua did not fall. He stood, unmoving, breathing ever so slightly, until finally Saku recoiled and jumped backward, unnerved by Takua’s reaction.
Inch by inch, Takua raised his head, still grinning with red and inflamed eyes. He let his arms fall loosely to his sides, and as he straightened back to his full height, he began to laugh.
Saku gaped. This little Le-Matoran, who had never posed any significant threat, now laughed at what should have been a crippling blow. What was going on? Not even Kokani could have had the strength to stand after taking a bolt at such close range, let alone laugh afterward. It challenged everything Saku knew about Takua, about Matoran. And deep down, as Takua’s laughter echoed throughout the cavern, it scared him.
Leaping forward, Takua reestablished his assault, seemingly even faster than before. He swung his blade like a hurricane, coming from nearly all directions at once, and it was all Saku could do just to keep up.
Clang! Clang! Clang!
Steel rang in Saku’s ears as he stepped backward, trying to gain some room to move. But Takua kept up. He continuously pushed him backward, and as the Toa took a moment to take in his surroundings, he realized he was being driven toward the crevasse.
“No!” he cried out, throwing bolt after bolt of shadow. He would not be beaten by the likes of this Matoran. He was the Toa of Shadow! No one could stand up to him!
But with speed no Matoran should have, Takua dodged all of Saku’s attacks. The bolts crackled as they flew past his ears, missing him by inches, and Takua knew he had Saku on the ropes. It was as if he could read all of the Toa’s moves, as if he knew exactly what he was going to do next.
Again and again he struck, forcing Saku back, step by step, to the edge of the chasm. The unyielding blackness loomed behind the Toa, and Takua could see the frustration on Saku’s mask slowly turning to fear.
He was close now. Just a few more feet. Takua’s smile widened as he attacked with everything he had, his rage fueling his bloodlust, and his bloodlust fueling his excitement. After all this time, he was so close. Everything Saku had taken away from him, Le-Koro, Matau, Talim… he was about to take it all back.
His blade sliced through the air, and in a last attempt to escape, Saku let out a huge pulse of shadow, draining all light from the cavern. Everything went black.
But it didn’t matter. Takua could still see.
Raising his sword high above his head, he sent it crashing down upon Saku, who barely had time to react. With both arms he raised his staff above his head, and Takua’s sword smashed into it. Jarred, Saku fell to his knees as he lost control of the darkness. Light returned, and Takua raised his weapon once more.
He looked into Saku’s orange eyes for only a moment before bringing down his blade, and with it he brought all his rage, all his bloodlust, all his hatred, and all his sadness. The metal crashed into Saku’s bladed staff, cracking through the handle and shattering the blade.
Time seemed to slow as thousands of pieces of broken steel rained down upon the Toa, glimmering in the dim light as he gazed up at the being standing over him. Saku stared in fear, his eyes trembling behind the Mask of Shadows. Who was this being in front of him? Who was this Matoran that wielded the strength to defeat a Toa? The Atouri hung motionless around his neck, and Takua stared back at him with hollow, hate-filled eyes. It was as if Saku was kneeling before Mata Nui himself, preparing to answer for all his crimes, for all his sins.
“Takua…” Saku said quietly. “Please…”
Takua paid no attention to his plea. Thrusting his free arm forward, he grasped the Toa directly over his heartlight, and the Toa screamed. Energy poured out of him as Takua’s face lit up with a look of sheer joy. Random bolts of shadow erupted from the Matoran, blasting into the cavern’s walls and ceiling, puncturing the metal hulls of the various drilling machines. The attack increased in intensity, until Saku’s scream slowly died out, and all that was left was the look of death upon his face. More and more energy Takua stole from him, until finally, roughly and unceremoniously, he released his grip.
His mask now void of all color, Saku teetered on the edge of the chasm until gravity took its toll, pulling him into the black crevasse. Takua watched him fall, limp and unmoving, except for... except for a few movements of his mouth. Takua's gaze followed the Toa's body as it slipped from view, and he realized he was speaking. Quietly, unconsciously, Saku repeated one word — no, not a word. A name. One name, over and over:
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 05 2017 - 01:03 PM.
Posted Feb 18 2015 - 11:41 AM
Chapter 13 - Silence
It was done.
Takua stared as Saku’s body fell into the unending darkness, slowly fading away. No longer would the Toa of Shadow haunt him. No longer would his dreams be tainted with hatred and suffering. He continued to stare at the crevasse long after Saku had disappeared, and he found the silent gloom calming. Slowly, his rage and passion faded, the ability to think returned to him.
He had thought about this moment in the past, and he’d always pictured it as a happy one. At the very least, he should have felt relieved, knowing that such a powerful enemy was vanquished. But he didn’t. Instead, it seemed like part of him had been lost, stolen away, even. Whether that part had been good or bad, he didn’t know, but when it came down to it, he felt nothing. He felt nothing at all.
He watched the blood trickle down his arm, now pooling between his fingers as he gripped the hilt of his sword. The pain in his shoulder gradually returned, along with a new, burning agony in his stomach. Together, his wounds reminded him that he was still alive. He was very much alive. He looked at his other hand, the same hand that had clutched Saku’s heartlight just a few moments ago. His fingers moved just as they always had, and it seemed that nothing had changed.
But it had. The realization welled up inside him. Mata Nui, it had. He stared at his hand, in shock at what it — no, what he — had done. His breathing quickened as he remembered how good it had felt, how wonderful it had seemed to steal a spirit, to banish a soul to the void. Just as Saku had done to Talim, he had done to Saku.
Mata Nui, what have I done?
His eyes widened in fear as he stared at his hand and started to shake. How did he do that? How did he have that power? All the rage, all the bloodlust, where had it come from!? The strength and speed it had given him… his thoughts paused as he remembered taking a shadow bolt to the stomach, and then laughing about it. Had that really happened? Was he going insane?
Mata Nui, what am I!?
He felt a hand on his shoulder and he whirled around, terrified. Jaka looked at him as calmly as he could, but Takua could tell there was distress behind his eyes. Takua stared back at him, shaking form head to toe, not sure of anything anymore.
“We have to go,” Jaka swallowed.
Takua didn’t move. “…H-how did I do that, Jaka?”
“I don’t know.”
Takua looked back to his hands. “…What am I...?”
Jaka swallowed again. “We have to go.”
Looking around, Takua saw the true extent of what he had done. The shadow bolts he'd released had torn apart the cavern and the machines, leaving crumbling rock and shredded metal. The Kryll’s contraption was broken beyond repair, and the infectious gas sprayed out of it, quickly forming a cloud of grey-green Madness. Even the Kryll knew that there was no going back. They had stopped attacking the others and were shouting to each other, trying to figure out what to do.
Takua stared in shock. He'd doomed them. “I’m so sorry…”
A huge crack sounded above them, and the two Le-Matoran looked up at the cavern’s ceiling. A fissure ran along it, slowly spreading. It seemed the structure of the rock had been damaged, and there was no telling how much time they had until it collapsed.
“Look,” Jaka said. “Weird stuff happens. I get it. But this place is falling apart because of whatever you just did.”
But Takua wasn’t paying attention. He stared at his hands with wide eyes, shuddering, not comprehending the urgency of the situation.
“Look at me!” Jaka yelled, forcing Takua’s attention back. He placed a hand on his shoulder and stared in his eyes for a moment before continuing. “What just happened was scary, I’ll admit it. But you’re still my friend.” The ceiling above them cracked again, this time even louder. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
Quietly, Takua nodded. Sheathing his sword, he applied pressure to his wound as Jaka put an arm around him, supporting him in case his strength should fail. Turning toward the tunnel opening that would lead them to the next lockdown room, they ran.
With the Kryll shouting at each other, trying desperately to repair their machine, there was nothing to stop them from escaping but the cavern itself. The cloud of Madness quickly spread, coating the cavity in a poisonous haze. Dust fell from the ceiling, obscuring their vision and threatening a larger collapse. Aya ran over to Kokani, and the two supported each other. Sorin, already close to the exit, limped his way into the tunnel, leading the way towards safety.
“Come on, this way!” he yelled as the ceiling cracked above him. He covered his head as dust rained down.
“Go!” Kokani yelled as he and Aya caught up to him, coughing as the poison in the air thickened. “Start the lockdown!”
Takua opened his mouth to object, but before he could clear his throat Sorin was already on the way, moving as fast as he could with his injured leg. Starting the lockdown before everyone was through the doors scared Takua. What if they didn’t make it in time? They’d be trapped outside, susceptible to the spreading gas.
But as he thought about it, he came to realize it was the only way. If the poison reached the Control Room before it was sealed, it wouldn’t matter which side of the doors they were on.
They turned into the narrow tunnel, barely able to see Kokani and Aya, even though they were just a few feet ahead. Dust hung in the air, mixing with the poison, and Takua’s lungs started to heave as he inhaled the fumes. It was getting worse.
But suddenly, Jaka stopped, pulling Takua to a halt. He looked behind them, scanning what little he could see of the cavern before turning to Takua. “Where’s Raipu? And Nika?”
Clutching his shoulder, Takua turned around. He strained his eyes to see through the toxic fog, but only the dark outlines of the drilling machines stood out. He cursed as he held his breath. They didn’t have time to wait.
Then, with the sound of rolling thunder, a huge chunk of rock fell from the ceiling, crashing to a halt where Takua knew the Kryll’s machine to be. The shockwave almost knocked the two Matoran over, and with it came a stronger plume of gas. The grey-green fumes swirled around them, and they doubled over, wheezing as their bodies tried to reject the poison.
“Raipu!” Takua yelled out between gasps. “Where are you!?”
Then, a glimmer of hope: “I’m coming!” The voice sounded far away, but it was strong. At least the Matoran wasn’t hurt.
Looking back to Jaka, Takua nodded. Picking themselves up, Jaka placed his arm around Takua’s shoulder once more, and they headed for the control room. They ran as fast as they could, but Takua’s injuries were starting to catch up with him. His strength from his fight was gone, and it took all his willpower to ignore the pain radiating through his body. He started to feel faint, no doubt from his loss of blood, but Jaka’s support helped. His steps slowed and his lungs burned, but he knew there was only a little more to go.
Slowly, the rumbling of falling rocks grew quieter, and the gas thinned out. Little by little, they made their way to safety, knowing that Raipu and Nika were only a little ways behind them. Everything Onu-Wahi and Illum had put them through, it was slowly coming to an end. Soon, they would be free of this place. All of its lies, its pain, its darkness, all of it would soon be over.
Just a little bit more… Takua bit his lip as he willed himself forward. Just a bit more…
The sound of whirring gears reached their ears, and they knew they had to be close. There! Just ahead, the cavern gave way to a heavy metal door, slowly creaking its way down from the ceiling. It seemed Sorin had just started the process, as it was still mostly open, and Takua breathed a sigh of relief; Raipu and Nika still had time.
Ducking under the descending metal, they ran a few dozen feet more, until finally turning a corner and collapsing onto the floor of the control room. Coughing, wheezing, and in pain, they took the moment to rest, knowing that they had done it. They had beaten the collapse and the spread of the gas, and soon the doors would close. They would be safe.
Takua looked up as Aya put her arms around him, gently pulling him towards the wall. She propped him up and pulled out a cloth, folding it into a long rectangle before tying it tightly around his open wound. It hurt, but he knew it was necessary. He watched as the bandage quietly soaked up his blood, and then looked up at her.
Aya’s stern face surprised him. Her eyes were dull, and she said nothing as she turned around to check on Jaka. It was only then that Takua truly realized the extent of his actions. Jaka would always trust him, but as for everyone else… well, however they felt still remained to be said.
“Where’s Raipu?” Kokani asked. He knelt in the corner, breathing heavily as he clutched his cracked armor. The battle had taken its toll on him, clearly.
“He should be right behind us,” Jaka said in reply
As if on cue, the Po-Matoran appeared in the doorway, looking distraught. Quickly he scanned the room, and what little light he had in his eyes vanished. “No, no…” he shook his head. “Where’s Nika? She’s not here?”
Takua looked up at the sound of his panicked voice, and his heart sank. Nika wasn't with him?
“Wasn’t she with you?” Jaka asked.
“She was!” Raipu’s breathing grew more and more jagged, and he almost couldn’t get out the words. “The ceiling collapsed, and we got separated. I called out to her, and I thought I heard her ahead of me…” He clutched the sides of his head in distress, looking around frantically. “She’s not here!?”
Kokani shook his head, and Raipu cursed. Without warning he turned around, heading back the way he had come.
“Raipu!” Jaka yelled after him, but the Po-Matoran didn’t answer.
He ran back through the tunnel, stopping at the lockdown door, horrified to see it was already two-thirds of the way closed. He got to the ground, yelling Nika’s name, searching the foggy air beyond the door for her.
“Nika!” he screamed. “Are you there!?”
There were a few moments of silence, but then, like a ghost, the shape of a Matoran appeared out of the expanding gas. It hobbled along, dragging one injured leg behind it, trying desperately to keep moving. Nika’s pained voice reached his ears, quiet and sad.
“Raipu…” she said, weakly raising a finger to point at the slowly closing door. “The door…”
“I’ll hold it open!” Raipu sprung to his feet, grabbing onto the metal and pulling upward, trying to stop it from closing. “You can do it, Nika! Just a little bit more!”
The gears whirred, grinding as they pushed against Raipu’s strength. He could hold it, but not for long. Inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter, the door closed, no matter how hard he tried.
And Nika, still a dozen feet away, saw it. Only a few feet tall, the opening would soon be too small for her to fit through. “Raipu…” she coughed as the gas slowly caught up to her. “I can’t…”
“You can! You have to!” He turned his head around, screaming so that everyone else could her him. “Stop the lockdown! Nika won’t make it!”
His voice reverberated down the tunnel and into the control room, bouncing off the metal and reaching everyone’s ears. Takua looked around, horrified at the thought, but even more scared when he saw that no one was moving. Sorin stood in the corner of the room, crossing his arms as he bit on the tip of his thumb. The colored lights mounted on the walls flashed around him, illuminating his quiet, expressionless eyes.
“What are you doing!?” Takua blurted out. “You heard him, you have to stop it!”
“I can’t,” Sorin said quietly.
“What do you mean you can’t!?”
“I told you the last time. It’s how the system is designed. Once you start it, it won’t stop, no matter what.”
Takua remembered. He just didn’t want to believe it. This couldn’t be happening. He looked around frantically for someone to speak up, but nothing came. This couldn’t be happening!
“Well we have to do something!” Jaka yelled.
But still, no one moved. Kokani squatted in his corner, still trying to fight through the pain of his injuries. Aya stood quietly against the opposite wall, fidgeting ever so slightly, unsure what to do. Seconds passed, and no one spoke. The only sound came from the gears, clanking and whirring all around them.
“What can we do, Jaka?” Aya asked.
Raipu’s voice sounded again, echoing from down the tunnel. “Please! I can’t hold it! Stop the lockdown! Please!”
Takua turned to Sorin. “Well maybe you can’t stop it, but you can open it back up once it’s finished, right?”
Sorin was quiet for a moment, but slowly, he nodded.
“Then we have to do that!”
“Please, she’ll be trapped out there!” Raipu’s voice echoed.
But again, no one said a word. Takua looked at Jaka, then Aya, then Kokani for an answer, but no one had anything. And suddenly, all at the same time, the gears stopped whirring. There was the sound of metal hitting metal, and gas being pressurized. Sorin winced at the sound, and Takua knew that it was done. The doors had sealed them in, and Nika was on the other side.
The sound of Raipu’s fists banging against the door reached them. “Open the door!”
“You have to open it back up! There’s too much gas out there, it won’t just infect her; it’ll kill her!” Jaka yelled, breaking the silence.
Finally Kokani spoke up. “Yes, and it’s spreading fast. Anyone who goes out there will be killed too.”
“She’s literally on the other side of the door! It would just take a second!”
Sorin's face was emotionless. “You know how long it takes those doors to open. By the time we get them sealed again, it would be too late.”
“We can’t just leave her!”
“Let me do it,” Takua said.
“You’re not going anywhere," Sorin was quick to retort.
“Look, I never got the chance to tell you, but the reason I ran from Illum’s palace in the first place was because I was infected,”
It was still for moment as all eyes turned to Takua. Aya furrowed her brow and narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean?”
“I went into his study to ask him some questions, and he had a canister full of that gas. He kept on staring at it, telling me that it was the perfect amount to infect a Matoran. It could change someone in minutes. He smashed it in my face, and I inhaled almost all of it.”
“And why should we believe you?” Sorin snapped. “You’re just a truthful Matoran with shadow powers, right? Thanks for letting us know about that.”
“Hey, you back off!” Jaka retorted. “None of this is his fault!”
“We don’t have time to argue!” Takua cut them off. “Look, believe what you want about me, but you found me in those tunnels because I was screaming.” He paused, waiting for a response, but none came. “I went Mad. I saw the darkness take over my mind, I heard the voice of Makuta. But I’m not infected.”
“Everyone who goes Mad becomes infected.”
“I know it doesn’t make any sense. And I don’t know why, or how, but all of you saw what I did to Saku. What I did, why I’m not infected…” he trailed off, thinking of the right words. “…Maybe it’s connected. Maybe something happened, and that’s why I’m immune. Maybe I’m different somehow.”
He looked around the room, but no one seemed to be able to respond. They stared at the ground and winced as Raipu’s screams echoed once more. “Please! You have to open the door!”
“If anyone is going out there, it should be me,” Takua finished.
Only the far-off sound of Raipu’s pounding fists reached them, and still they stood in silence. The lights flashed all around, casting long shadows onto the iron walls.
And slowly, Aya spoke up. She slumped her shoulders and looked at Takua with sad, desperate eyes. “Even if you’re right, even if you’re special, or immune, or whatever... what about us? You open that door, the gas comes in, and maybe you can escape it, but we can’t.” She stopped, as if struggling to pull the words out of her throat. Her voice was uneven and emotional, but she continued all the same. “And I hate to say this, I really do, but everyone is thinking it, and whether we like it or not, it’s the truth.” She let her arms fall to her sides as she shook her head, ever so slightly. “It’s either her, or all of us.”
Takua stared in disbelief, but her gaze was unyielding. He stammered, trying to come up with a response. "No..." he murmured. "No... you have to let me go!" He looked over to Kokani, and then to Sorin, but neither of them made eye contact. "I can't accept that..."
Aya bent her knees, allowing her back to slide down the wall until she sat on the floor. Her mask, scratched and chipped from all her battles, looked defeated. "We have to."
Speechless, Takua looked around the room again, stopping at Jaka. Surely Jaka had something to say? Surely someone could think of something? They couldn't just leave her out there! "I can't..." he looked back to Aya. "Please... please don't make me accept that..."
But Aya didn't answer. She crossed her arms and lowered her head into the crook of her elbow. She had no more words.
And slowly it began to sink in. Takua's eyes continued to flick around the room, searching for something, anything that would help. But gradually, little by little, he came to know reality. There was nothing they could do. Nothing. He stared off into the distance as the horrible truth filled him up. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. But it was, horribly, unequivocally true. All they could do was wait.
This can't be happening...
And the minutes ticked by. Eventually, the sound of Raipu banging against the door faded, and everyone was left alone to think. They thought about what they had done, and what it truly meant. They had made the choice, and there was no going back. Guilt hung in the room, eating away at their hearts, tearing them up inside. They could say that on some level they didn’t really have a choice, but inside they knew they did. And that’s what hurt the most to Takua: they hadn’t even tried.
This can't be real...
Sorin and Kokani were probably right, if they had opened the door, all of them would’ve shared the same fate, but… Takua racked his brain, sinking his mask into his hands. But, what if? Wasn’t there a chance? Wasn’t that chance worth fighting for? He should’ve done more. He should’ve ran out there and helped Raipu hold the door. He should’ve forced Sorin to tell him how to open it. He should’ve never fought Saku and put them in this position. He should’ve… he should’ve….
Takua gritted his teeth. He should’ve stayed in Le-Koro.
Why did this have to happen!?
He'd come this far, and after everything that had come to pass, he still felt that nothing had changed. He was still weak. He still wasn't good enough. And still, he hated himself.
Takua wasn’t sure how much time passed. It could have been minutes, or hours, but it felt like days. He could only picture Nika, trapped on the other side of the door as the Madness took over her mind. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad for her. Maybe she would be spared the visions of shadows coming alive, and demons hiding all around her. Maybe she wouldn’t hear the voice of Makuta, but rather slip calmly, peacefully, into the black.
But he knew this wasn’t the case. Deep down, he knew. Nika would see the darkness erupt around her, she would see true chaos, and she would be terrified. Only for her, there would be no release. There would be no coming back to the light. The darkness would consume her, and in the end, her only escape would be death.
Maybe it was better that way.
Finally, Takua couldn’t take it anymore. He pushed himself to his feet, breaking the dead silence, moving for the tunnel entrance. Every step seemed to echo. Every breath seemed to howl like the wind. Clutching his wounds, he turned into the tunnel, making his way to where he knew Raipu would be. It was dark here, and it seemed right that way. This tunnel belonged in the darkness. Takua moved forward, inching his way along, until finally he could make out the shape of the Po-Matoran, just a few feet in front of him. He sat with his back against the wall, resting his head against the door. With one hand he pulled his knees close to his chest, and with the other he rubbed the metal barrier, as if trying to comfort it.
And then Takua heard his voice. It was a quiet whisper, insecure and lonely. With his eyes closed and tears streaming down his cheeks, Raipu whispered to the door. Maybe he thought that Nika would be able to hear him through the thick metal. Or maybe it was just all the Po-Matoran could do right now. Either way, Takua knew the truth: Nika couldn’t hear him. She was gone. She had probably been gone for a while now.
Takua watched Raipu as he sat alone, whispering to the metal door. He thought about saying something, but he knew that nothing would help. He knew that when everything was said and done, he had caused this. It all was his fault.
His nerve failed him, and unable to bear it anymore, he turned around without saying a word. Raipu’s voice reached his ears for only second before he was out of range, once again surrounded by silence.
“It’s going to be okay, Nika… it’s going to be okay…”
Takua looked at his bloody hands.
Mata Nui, what have I become?
~End of Part IV~
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 05 2017 - 01:30 PM.
Posted Mar 06 2015 - 05:07 PM
Chapter 1 - Moving Forward
The water gurgled as it rushed over Krosis’ feet, washing away the dirt and grime from his armor. He stood just beyond the moss-covered grey boulders that marked the river’s edge, thinking quietly as the fog swirled around him. It hung in the air, floating between the trees, holding with it the kind of silence that only a dawn in the wilderness can bring.
The outskirts of Ga-Wahi were peaceful, tranquil even, but the scenery had little effect on Krosis’ mind. He stared at the flowing water as he tried to calm himself, but deep down there was anger. It glowed like the embers of a doused fire, smothered, but ready to flare to life the moment they were uncovered. The source of his anger was a piece of parchment, now clutched and crumpled between his claws. A courier had delivered it to him the previous night, and now he awaited its dispatcher.
The brush behind him rustled as a figure appeared, stepping onto the riverbank. Noruk’s bronze armor glinted in the dull, early-morning light, his mandibles twitching. He stared at Krosis for a second, unsure how to start, but the moment he opened his mouth the King of the Kryll cut him off.
“I assume you came here to explain the contents of your report?” Krosis’ voice was deep and calm, but Noruk could sense the anger hiding beneath it.
He nodded. “I felt it was something that should be discussed in person.”
Krosis turned around slowly, his eyes narrow and his face stern. “My finest engineers, a patrol of guards, the machine we were going to use to infect Onu-Koro, along with hundreds of shipments of gas,” Krosis paused, letting the words sink in. “All lost in a collapse caused by the very Matoran I wanted you to capture. Correct?”
Noruk stared straight ahead. “Yes.”
“Those Kryll spent months designing and building that contraption. It would have given us control of our second city. That would have been one third of the island.”
At first Noruk did not respond, but Krosis’ silence left him scrambling to come up with something. “We should have sent more guards…”
And Krosis’ anger erupted. “I sent you!” he screamed as he threw Noruk’s report into the water. “My own kin! My strongest warrior! What guards do we have to spare, Noruk!? From which front should I have pulled soldiers to help you accomplish your mission!?”
Noruk was silent as Krosis fumed. The golden-armored Kryll stared at him with balled fists, breathing heavily as he slowly regained his composure. Eventually, he leaned back and sat on a boulder, staring at the water again. Its cool temperature soothed him, and he looked back to Noruk.
“Do you know how many warriors we lost in the battle for Po-Koro?”
Noruk shook his head.
“More than a thousand. And about half of them were killed by Pohatu alone. Since then, I’ve received word that our forward camp in Ko-Wahi was destroyed by an avalanche, no doubt the work of Kopaka. Only a handful out of hundreds survived. And now we’ve lost what little foothold we had in Onu-Wahi as well.” Krosis shook his head. “Our forces are being torn apart by six beings. Six beings that fell from the sky.”
Noruk was quiet. He had something else to tell Krosis, something he hadn’t mentioned in his report. But he didn’t know how to approach it. "Illum is still in power."
Krosis scoffed. "Not for long. Even if our agreement stays hidden, there is still unrest in his city. He does not have the resources to support his and Po-Koro's people. He will cling to his power, but give him a month and his reign will topple." He shook his head. “Where were you when all of this happened? How is it that you escaped?”
“I was in a deeper tunnel, dealing with a Toa.”
This caught Krosis’ attention. He looked up, suddenly very curious. “And?”
“The Earth-Toa was onto our operation. I led him off our trail, and managed to trap him behind a lava flow. It bought us time, but when I returned to the others, everything was already over. Only two of the guards survived.”
“Was the Toa of Shadow not there?” Krosis asked. “I was under the impression that he would handle any threat caused by the other Toa.”
And Noruk fidgeted. There was no avoiding it now. “I made a point not to mention the Toa of Shadow in my report.”
“And why is that?”
“The two that survived the collapse, they saw everything. It doesn't make any sense, but they both swear by their words…” he trailed off.
Krosis narrowed his eyes. “…go on.”
“They say that the Le-Matoran, the one who holds the Atouri…” he paused, readying himself again for Krosis’ wrath. “They say that the Matoran killed Saku. With shadow powers.”
Krosis stared blankly for a second, as if trying to comprehend the words. But then, much to Noruk’s surprise, there was no outburst of anger. Krosis looked back to the water in silence, and slowly began to chuckle. He shook his head, half-smiling as he looked back to his companion.
“Well, it seems we have work to do.”
Raipu was gone.
Takua sat with his knees against his chest as everyone else argued. No one had seen the Po-Matoran leave. No one had heard him go. But that wasn’t really surprising. Raipu had grown very quiet over the last few days.
It was understandable. He’d lost everything. First Le-Koro, then Po-Koro, and then finally Nika, the one Matoran he cared about most. Takua sighed. Raipu might have considered him a friend in the beginning of their journey, but that probably wasn’t the case anymore. The events in the Motara desert had soiled their relationship, and it was only downhill from there. No one had let him fight for Po-Koro, and then they had made the choice to leave Nika. They had sealed her fate.
Actually, now that he thought about it, Takua remembered Raipu leaving. It was late last night and he was half asleep at the time, but he could clearly picture the Po-Matoran staring at them, his bag all packed up and ready to go, his mask emotionless. He had only whispered one thing before he turned and left:
I don’t know who you are anymore.
Takua had thought it was a dream at the time, but now he knew it was real. Raipu was gone, never to come back. And to be honest, Takua didn’t blame him.
He stared at the blue sky, not listening to anything the others said. They were trying to figure out what to do. Should they go after the Po-Matoran? Where would he have gone? Would he come back? Takua crossed his arms. Whatever. He couldn’t find it in himself to care anymore.
Raipu hadn’t wanted to leave the lockdown door. He had stayed there, whispering to it for hours, clinging to it as if it was the only thing keeping him alive. But eventually, through consoling, convincing, and even a little force, they had left the control room, taking some elevator that Sorin managed to get working. They had hoped it would take them to the surface, but instead they were met with another tunnel, albeit much closer to the ground level.
As soon as he got his bearings, Sorin had lead them in the direction of Ga-Wahi. The tunnel was some sort of abandoned trade route, and eventually, after what might have been a day or two, it led them to the surface. It felt wonderful to see the sky again, and the wet foliage of western Ga-Wahi welcomed them with open arms. There, at the entrance to the tunnel, they had made camp, letting their bodies relax and their wounds heal.
The plan had been to rest up for the next day, which would be spent replenishing their supplies, finding out exactly where they were, and starting their journey toward Ga-Koro once more. But apparently Raipu had other plans.
Takua couldn’t shake his melancholy. He sat on the damp ground, staring at the trees as the sun traveled across the sky. Eventually the others stopped their debate and went about with the rest of their duties. Jaka went to a nearby stream to catch some fish, Aya went off to scout the area, Kokani gathered firewood, Sorin packed his bags, and Takua was tasked with…
“Wait, what?” Takua looked up at Sorin as the Po-Matoran said something to him. They were the only two left in the clearing.
“Just…” Sorin paused. “Were you just paying any attention at all?”
“…Just stay here and guard the campsite.”
Sorin stood awkwardly with his pack strapped to his shoulders, looking around at the small camp. He scratched the back of his head. “Look, I’m sorry about the stuff I said back in the Control Room. I think you’re a good Matoran when it comes down to it, and I really wish you the best of luck.”
Takua looked at him quizzically. “Thanks, I guess.”
Sorin puffed air out of his lungs. “Well… see you.”
He went off, and Takua still sat there with his back against a tree, unmoving, unable to sooth his mind. He thought about Nika’s body, broken and alone, sitting in the middle of an unnamed tunnel a hundred feet beneath the ground. It wasn’t right.
And he thought about Saku. The one being who might have been able to tell him how to save Talim was banished to the void, at his own hands. He took the Atouri off his neck and stared at it, trying to comprehend how it was possible. Did the Atouri’s darkness rub off on him? Was he still infected? Nothing made sense anymore. It was all so… so… stupid.
They were in Ga-Wahi now, so Ga-Koro couldn’t be that far away. He could give the Atouri to Turaga Nokama and be on his way. They could do whatever they wanted with it. The Seventh Toa could be summoned, they could do their Toa magic, save the world… all that stuff. But he was done. If he’d learned anything, it was that the farther he traveled the more he lost, and he was sick of it. He didn’t even know who he was anymore, and that just sucked.
Suddenly there was a bowl in his face, filled with rice and fish. Jaka looked down at him, offering it with his right hand. “Eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
Jaka pushed the bowl closer until it was literally touching Takua’s mask. “You haven’t eaten all day. Eat it, you turd.”
Reluctantly, Takua took the bowl, just now realizing that the sun was setting. Kokani had made a small fire, and their bedrolls were spread out evenly around it, completing the small but comfortable camp. Aya and Kokani were already eating, and as Jaka sat down beside him Takua looked around for the fifth member of their party.
“Where’s Sorin?” he asked.
Everyone stopped eating. They looked at each other with raised eyebrows.
Slowly, Aya turned toward him. “…Sorin’s gone, Takua. He didn’t say goodbye to you?”
“He went back to Onu-Koro. His people are there, and he means to be with them while Illum is in control of the city.”
“And if Raipu went anywhere, it’s probably where the rest of the Po-Matoran are, right?” Jaka explained. “Sorin’s going to keep an eye out for him, so we can continue on. Did you miss all of that earlier?”
Takua looked down at his food. “I guess I did.”
So that was it then. It was just the four of them. He slumped his shoulders as he picked at his rice. He hadn’t known Sorin very long, but the Po-Matoran had done a lot to help them. And Takua had been so caught up in himself, he hadn’t even realized it when he was trying to say goodbye.
Stupid. He thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“...Are you okay, Takua?” Jaka asked.
“No I’m not okay!” Takua snapped, standing up suddenly and throwing his dinner to the ground, startling everyone. “I killed Nika! I killed Saku with shadow powers! I stole his spirit! What kind of Matoran can do that!? What kind of person am I!?”
Whirling around, he slammed his fist into the tree behind him, breathing heavily for a moment before he plopped his forehead against its trunk. His unexpected surge of frustration waned, and he sank slowly to the ground, pain radiating from his fist. Angry and embarrassed at himself, he fell to his knees.
No one moved. Takua cradled his hand, flexing his bleeding knuckles. No doubt everyone thought he was crazy now. Why would he punch a tree? That was so dumb. His hand hurt a lot.
“I’m sorry I threw the dinner you made, Jaka,” he apologized
“It’s okay, we have more.”
His back turned to everyone else, Takua listened to the crackling fire, expecting someone to say something. Eventually, it came from Aya.
“All of us killed Nika. We all made that decision, and we all abided by it. All of us are to blame.”
Takua shook his head. “It would have never happened if I hadn’t caused the collapse.”
“And if you hadn’t, all of us would be captured or killed by now.”
Takua sucked on his busted hand, trying to stop it from bleeding. He hadn’t thought about that.
“And you saved Onu-Koro in the process!” Jaka chimed in. “A whole city, saved from infection because of you."
Maybe they’re right. Takua thought as he stared at the tree in front of him. But then again, he also knew why he had done it. His anger hadn’t come from a need to protect Onu-Koro or his friends. His rage, and thus his power, had come from hating himself. And what did that have to say about him?
“Nothing is black and white, Takua.” Kokani’s voice was quiet, but his words carried weight. “Sometimes we do good things for the wrong reasons, and sometimes we do horrible things for what we believe is right. None of us can change the past. All we can do is learn from it, and try to better ourselves for the future.”
Kokani’s words stuck inside Takua’s head, and he remembered what Saku had told them about the Ko-Matoran. The two had been close once, working as assassins. Kokani had done horrible things under the name of Makuta, no doubt. But whatever those deeds were, Kokani didn’t let them define who he was.
“Wow,” Aya broke the silence. “That’s some deep stuff, Turaga Kokani. Any more wisdom you can bestow on us lowly Matoran?”
Kokani rolled his eyes and leaned back on his sleeping mat.
“But seriously,” Aya chuckled. She picked a twig from the ground and tossed it at Takua. With a light tap it hit him on the shoulder, and he turned to look at her. “I’ve never met a Matoran with shadow powers before, and that might be a little weird, but I know you, Takua. And whatever you are, however you came to be, you’re still you. And that’s all I care about.”
Takua looked at her as the orange firelight flickered across her mask. He didn’t know what to say.
“And you!” Aya picked up another twig and threw it at Kokani, hitting him in the mask. “Whatever you did with Makuta or Saku or whoever, I don’t care. I feel like you owe us an explanation, but if you don’t want to, whatever! That’s fine with me. You taught me everything I know. You’ve gotten us this far and saved our skin too many times to count. So you’re all good in my book.”
Kokani didn’t say a word, but he nodded slightly, and Takua could tell it was a weight off the Ko-Matoran’s shoulders.
“It’s just us four now, and I won’t have you acting weird all the time,” Aya continued. She looked at the fire for a second, letting the heat bath her mask. Then, quietly, she went on. “You guys are all I have.”
It was calm again, and Takua eventually turned around to look back at the fire. Night had taken over, and the moon shone dimly through the leaves above them. Crickets and cicadas chirped, giving sound to the night, and the dim gurgling of a stream reached his ears as well. All was well in the wilderness, and the more Takua sat there, the more he came to realize how good it felt to be back on the surface of Mata Nui.
Clearly, he need some closure. He had too many questions that needed answered, too many that issues needed to be worked out, but for now, all he could do was keep going. The past was the past, and while it hurt in many different ways, all he could do was try and learn from it.
Suddenly, there was a bowl in Takua’s face, filled once again with a steaming pile of fish and rice. Jaka stood above him, pressing it against his mask. “Eat,” he said calmly.
Takua accepted. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was. “Thanks, Jaka.”
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 05 2017 - 01:55 PM.
Posted Mar 30 2015 - 03:04 PM
Chapter 2 - The Wild
Takua knelt at the entrance to the tunnel, holding a large oblong stone against the ground in front of him. Bending over it, he worked with his dagger, slowly scraping into its hard surface. It was hard work, and his arm was beginning to tire, but he was almost done.
It was mid-morning, and the others were still back at camp, packing their bags and making sure everything was in order, but Takua was way ahead of them. His bag sat against a tree just a few feet away, already cleaned and inventoried and set for the journey ahead. He’d been sitting here for hours now, carving into the stone, making sure he would have enough time to finish it before they left. He’d learned long ago that Kokani wasn’t one to keep a flexible schedule.
And so he worked, scraping away at the stone, bit by bit, granule by granule. Sweat began to cover his brow as the humidity of Ga-Wahi ramped up, but that didn’t stop him. He paused only a second to shake out his tiring arm, and he heard someone come up behind him.
“You ready to go?” Jaka asked. “Kokani says we’re leaving in ten minutes.”
“Almost,” Takua replied, biting his lip.
“What are you doing anyway? You’ve been playing with that rock for hours.”
“It’s just a project.”
“Can I see it?”
Takua briefly moved out of the way and Jaka peered over his shoulder. It only took him a moment to understand.
“Oh… well… I’ll let you finish.”
Jaka pushed his way through the brush, leaving Takua alone again. He worked just a bit more, carving into the stone, using all his strength to make sure the markings were deep enough. Finally, he took a step back, admiring his work.
It definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was the best he could do. He bent over, digging a shallow hole in the dirt. The ground was soft, and it stuck to his fingers as he hollowed out a space just large enough for the rock to sit in.
That’s probably deep enough, he thought. Actually, would it be? Yeah. Probably. Maybe just a little more.
He sunk his hands into the earth, ignoring the sound of his name coming from the campsite. The others must be ready. Finally deciding that the hole was fine, he went back over to his rock. Gripping the oval-shaped boulder by its end, he lifted, straining as gravity fought against him. He rocked it back and forth, slowly moving its base until it slumped into the hole. Then, digging his feet into the ground behind him, he pushed until it stood upward, pointing toward the sky. Taking a second to make sure it was stable, he let it go, and the rock stood on its own.
“Takua, you ready or not? Come on!” Aya’s voice reached him.
“Just a minute!”
He packed dirt around its base, securing the stone in its position. Once finished, he gave it a solid push, and the stone didn’t budge. Satisfied, he stepped back, looking at the finished product.
“It looks good.”
Jaka’s voice came from beside him, and Takua saw his friend holding a handful of freshly picked water lilies. He walked up to the stone, placed the flowers at its base, and stood there for a moment in silence. Then, without a word, he turned around and left, pausing only a second to pat Takua on the shoulder.
And again, Takua was alone. He stared at the stone, standing upright in the ground. He knew it was time to go.
I’m so sorry.
Grabbing the strap of his pack, he turned to follow Jaka, leaving the stone to guard the entrance to the tunnel. It stood as a lone sentry, forever standing, forever watching, forever serving as a memorial to a life cut short. The light shone through the trees, illuminating the simple words Takua had etched into it:
In memory of Nika.
A good Matoran,
A good friend.
The four continued on their journey, slowly making their way across the land. Their time in Onu-Wahi had sheltered them from events happening on the surface, but it quickly became clear that the battle for Po-Koro had spurred an all-out war. Every once and a while they would come across the remnants of a military camp, or the ruins of a razed village. Trails left by armies crisscrossed the land, leaving trampled brush and muddy terrain in their wake. It all served as a constant reminder of the turmoil that plagued the island of Mata Nui. Nowhere was truly safe.
And so they stuck to the deep wild, avoiding any village or camp they might come across. Where there were Matoran, there would be Kryll, and stopping in to replenish their supplies simply wasn’t worth the risk. They survived off of the land, hunting for food, drinking from streams, and sleeping under the cover of leaves and mosses. The war raged on, and they isolated themselves, avoiding all of it that was possible.
But much of Ga-Wahi was left untouched, and those portions were very beautiful. Willows, banyans, and eucalyptus trees lived in harmony, and along the edges of rivers mangroves were found, twisting their roots around each other. Flowering shrubs and mosses covered the ground, and the soil was rich, moist and soft. Brightly colored birds perched in the trees above them, Hoi turtles sunbathed on the rocks, and all around them was the sound of life, flourishing.
And of course, being Ga-Wahi, there was always water.
Countless streams, rivers, and marshes dotted the land, and it rained often. Almost every day the clouds opened up to pour down their life-giving nectar, whether it was a thunderstorm or a drizzle. Ponds and puddles gathered between the roots of large trees, providing an ever-present source of drinking water for the traveling Matoran. It was clear, cool, soothing, and healing.
And Takua loved it. The water, the foliage, even the humidity reminded him of home. He spent many hours of the day walking in silence, lost in his own thoughts, staring at the branches of the banyan trees as they reached down, yearning to establish new roots in the soil. How long had these trees sat here, slowly growing toward the sky? Hundreds of years? Thousands? He hadn’t realized it, but he’d deeply missed the cover that the forest provided.
The days passed, and slowly, wounds from Onu-Wahi began to heal. The pain in his shoulder eventually faded, and one rainy afternoon as they had stopped for lunch, Takua unwrapped his injury and found nothing but a scar. He looked at the discolored flesh just above his chest armor, about two inches in length and one in width.
Another one for the collection, he thought.
“Nice scar,” Aya said from where she sat a few feet away. “Want to compare?” she shifted her armor, revealing the now-healed flesh on her side. The scar tissue was discolored and striated; truly an awful sight.
“Ew!” Takua recoiled at the sight of it. “Alright, you win! Put that away!”
Aya lifted her arm so she could look at it. “I think it looks cool.”
Takua smiled and shook his head. “You’re weird.”
Aya was about to retort when Kokani’s hand went up. Instantly everyone went quiet, listening for whatever it was that had caught the Ko-Matoran’s attention. Takua closed his eyes, focusing his energy on his ears.
Thump, thump, thump…
Footsteps. Heavy footsteps. Lots of them.
“Get out of sight!” Kokani hissed.
In a second everyone had gathered their belongings, leaving no trace of their existence. They scattered into the trees, hiding behind them, waiting for whatever was coming to pass. The heavy footsteps approached, getting louder and louder, bringing with them the sound of clanking armor and weapons.
Takua carefully poked his head out from behind his tree. There, just a few dozen feet away, a squad of fifty or so Kryll jogged past. They moved quickly, considering they were clad in full armor and carrying multiple blades each. Takua noticed gas canisters tied around their waists, and he knew that wherever they were headed, suffering would follow. He cursed, wishing there was some way to stop them. Their big feet thudded against the muddy ground as they passed, splashing through puddles and trampling over low foliage.
He looked back to see Kokani, Aya, and Jaka quietly hiding behind their own trees and bushes. They weren’t hidden very well, but the Kryll never bothered to look. Clearly, the soldiers had somewhere to be.
Within a few minutes the last of them passed, and the four Matoran were left alone, without incident. The trampling feet faded away, replaced by the pitter-patter of raindrops and the quiet babbling of nearby streams. And once again, bloodshed, war, and the outside world were all very far away.
Aya was the first to speak. “You don’t think they’re heading to Ga-Koro, do you?”
Takua stared in the direction the Kryll had went, suddenly worried. What if they were? What if they attacked the city, and by the time they reached it, it would be too late? He clutched the Atouri, unconsciously rubbing its black face with his thumb. Then what would they do? What could they do?
Eventually Kokani answered. “Wherever they’re going, there’s bound to be more of them. A run-in with a squad like that would be the end for us, no doubt. We have to be careful.”
Takua nodded, knowing that he shouldn’t worry about ‘what if.’ All they could do was be careful, and keep going. Wordless, he picked up his emerald green pack, and they continued on.
The rain let up that evening, just in time for dinner. They made camp beneath the limbs of a huge banyan tree near a slow moving river. Takua started a fire, and Aya prepared a stew from whatever herbs and roots they were able to find. Without any proper seasoning it tasted a bit bland, but everyone cleaned their bowls anyway, and nothing went to waste. As the light faded from the sky, they sat atop their sleeping mats, watching the fire crackle, listening to the sounds of nature. The orange flames illuminated their circle, casting their glow against the tree and its roots, protecting them from the rapidly approaching night. There was no moon in the sky.
They sat around the fire with minimal conversation, taking time to relax before turning in for the night. As much as Takua enjoyed walking through the trees, he always looked forward to this last part of their day. There was something so simple, something so right about sitting around a fire, content to listen to the world, not needing any conversation to go along with it. With his back against the trunk of the tree, he crossed his arms and closed his eyes, savoring the serenity of it all.
And that’s when he felt it.
He opened his eyes with a jolt, suddenly feeling that someone was watching him. Then, the sound of a twig snapping, the crunching of leaves beneath feet.
Kokani had head it too. He was already up, drawing his bladed staff, scanning the dark foliage around them. “Only one that I can hear,” he whispered to the rest of them. “But it’s big.”
The footsteps continued, getting closer with every second. Jaka grabbed his canteen, ready to douse the fire, but Aya grabbed his hand. “Don’t bother. It already knows we’re here.”
Takua whirled around, fumbling underneath his pack for his sword. Whatever was coming was coming fast. Aya stood up, pointing her nocked arrow out towards the gloom. Kokani gripped his staff, searching for any sign of movement.
Then, it appeared. Slowly, cautiously, a dark figure pushed branches out of its way, standing taller than any Matoran. It moved quietly, with grace, in a way that no Kryll or Rahi could. It was strangely quiet, considering its size, and Takua strained his eyes as he watched, his nerves on edge. Whatever it was, it was coming straight for them.
“Come any closer and I’ll stick a hole in your skull!” Aya bellowed.
The figure raised its arms in an offering of peace, and suddenly, Takua wasn’t worried. Instantly, an air of peace fell upon him, as if there was some kind of magic at work. He felt at home, and as the figure opened its mouth to speak, Takua almost recognized its voice. It was deep and beautiful, hinting at a sharp mind, brimming with knowledge, wisdom. It reminded him of all the stories he was told when he was younger, all the tales of the elder times.
“Stay your blades, friends.”
Takua clutched the Atouri. There was power in this being. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he knew it nonetheless. He squinted into the darkness as the figure slowly approached, trying to make it out, but he couldn’t help but feel that this being was different, different from all others he had encountered before. Whoever this was, they felt like a… like a friend.
“Aya, put down your bow,” he said.
“What? No!” She tightened her grip, almost sweating.
“You don’t understand,” Takua placed his sword on the ground, watching the figure with curiosity and reverence, somehow knowing deep inside that everything would be alright. “Its… it’s a…”
The figure stepped into the light, revealing royal blue armor: beautiful, yet ancient. Regal, yet approachable.
“...It’s a Toa,” Takua finished.
And Aya shut her mouth. Gently, she lowered her bow, staring up at the figure with the look of pure astonishment.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 06 2017 - 11:26 AM.
Posted Jul 12 2015 - 04:51 PM
Chapter 3 - Legendary Circumstance
The four travelers stared, gaping at the being that had stepped into the light. Takua watched silently as the light flickered against the Toa’s blue Kaukau. Her mask was calm, lined with tiny scrapes and scratches, the kind that come from days of traveling, but it didn’t take away from her beauty. She stood tall, her arms hanging relaxed at her sides, staring back with gentle eyes. And slowly, she smiled.
“Hello. Mind if I share your fire?” she asked, quite simply.
Takua found himself unable to speak. Toa Gali was standing in front of him. Toa Gali, one of the beings he’d heard about countless times in his youth. The wisest of the Toa, the Master of the Oceans, the ancient and powerful Toa of Water. It was almost too much to handle. Instantly a thousand questions jumped into his head. Where did she come from? How did she find them? What did she want? Was she really — ?
“…Is that a no, then?”
Takua snapped himself back to reality and spoke up, as it seemed as no one else was going to. “Yes! I mean, no! Join us… please?” He cringed as the words came out of his mouth. Righting himself, he remembered his manners and bowed his head in reverence. “…We’d be honored.”
She smiled again, rolling her shoulders. “There’s no need for formalities, please. I’m just a traveler, like you.”
Takua looked at the others, but everyone seemed to be at a loss for words. Grabbing ahold of his nerves, he walked back over to his sleeping pad and sat down, motioning the others to do the same. Quietly, and a bit awkwardly, they took their spots. Gali sat down across from Takua, leaning against a boulder. She sighed, resting her head against it, and closed her eyes. “It’s been a long day, hasn’t it?”
There was silence for a moment, until finally Jaka opened his mouth. A slight chuckle came out as he looked at the Toa. “An interesting day, that’s for sure.”
Gali raised her eyebrows in agreement. “That it has.”
“Well,” Takua started up again, feeling the need to fill the quiet with some kind, any kind of talk. “Welcome to our camp. It’s not much, but… oh! I almost forgot!” Raising his arm, he pointed around the fire, introducing his companions. “This is my friend Jaka, both he and I are from Le-Koro. Aya, with the bow, is from Ga-Koro. And this is Kokani, from Ko-Wahi. My name is — “
“I know who you are, little one.”
Takua stopped abruptly, taken aback. “You… you do?”
Gali looked at him, her yellow eyes glimmering. “Kokani, the White Warrior who helped save the people Po-Koro? Not to mention Le-Matoran like yourselves are hardly ever seen this far north. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s always your necklace. I know enough about the Atouri to recognize it when I see it.”
Takua inadvertently looked down, touching the stone.
Gali continued. “Turaga Nokama told me of a prophesy, one that said the other five Toa and I were to combine our powers with that of the Atouri on the shore of Naho Bay, and thus summon a being with the power to destroy the stone, and thus Makuta. She also said that a band of Matoran were traveling across the land, risking their lives so that this prophesy might come true.” She paused, letting her words sink in. She lifted her head and looked across the fire. “You’re Takua, aren’t you?”
Takua met her gaze, but quickly broke eye contact. He fiddled with the hilt of his sword, trying to comprehend what was happening in this moment. "You… you know my name?”
The Toa let out an airy laugh. “The entire island awaits your arrival at Ga-Koro. You are the harbinger of the Seventh Toa. And you thought I wouldn’t know your name?”
“I just… well…” Takua stared at the Atouri and trailed off, not sure what to say. “I’m just a delivery boy.”
“You’re more important than you think, Takua.”
The sounds of the night crept into the camp. Crickets and cicadas chirped, the nearby stream babbled, and their small fire crackled, but Takua didn’t pay attention to any of it. He could feel the blood rushing to his face. Toa Gali knew his name. Gali, the ancient, legendary, powerful, wise, awesome, beautiful, powerful… legendary... wise… he couldn’t even think. Puffing the air out of his lungs, he stared up at the night sky, drinking in this moment.
Toa Gali knows my name!
“Um…” Aya scratched the back of her head, her voice cracking just a little. “Sorry I almost shot you.”
Gali laughed. “A tall figure comes straight toward you in the middle of the night? I wouldn’t have expected anything less.”
Aya smirked. “Yeah, you were pretty scary at first.”
“Is it really true?” Jaka suddenly blurted out.
Gali turned her head to look at the Le-Matoran, a bit surprised by his sudden input.
“Sorry…” Jaka said, obviously still in awe of the Toa’s presence. “But you’re the Toa of Water… and… well we’ve all heard stories about you. You can really control it?”
“Would you like to see?”
Jaka nodded, his eyes excited, like a child watching fireworks for the first time. Gali raised her hand, and a sphere of water appeared over the fire, coalescing from the humid air. It floated above the flames, shimmering ever so slightly as Gali’s power suspended it. With a wave of her hand, it moved, quietly circling the flickering light, floating in front of the Matoran’s faces as they watched in awe. Another twitch of her fingers, and the sphere morphed into a snake, twisting and curling around itself, reflecting the flames in all directions around their campsite.
Takua found himself enamored with the floating mass of water. It was a surreal experience, seeing this being control the forces of nature. But it wasn’t scary, or even intimidating. The way Gali moved the water, the way the corners of her mouth turned up as she moved her hands; it was comforting. You could feel her passion for the water, how much she cared for it. It was… it was…
“It’s beautiful,” Jaka said.
Gali closed her hand into a fist, and as suddenly as the water appeared, it dissolved back into the air, as if it had never existed in the first place.
“So it’s true?” Aya leaned forward suddenly, her curiosity spiking. “All the stories, all the tales from the Old Times? Like when you saved Ga-Koro from a hundred Tarakava? They’re all true? You remember them?”
Gali leaned her head back against the boulder. “It’s like a scattered dream, or a far off memory, but yes they are true, and yes, I remember. A hundred Tarakava might be a bit of an exaggeration though.”
“Well I bet you could defeat a thousand Tarakava.”
Gali laughed. “You’re too kind.”
Takua stared down at the Atouri, and a question formed in his head. He was almost too afraid to ask, fearing it might be too personal, but… when else might he have this opportunity?
“What’s it like?”
Gali looked over to him. “What’s what like?”
“You know... being a Toa. Everyone knows who you are. Everyone looks up to you, and everyone expects you to save them from Makuta. Isn’t that… hard?” he looked back down to the Atouri, pausing once again to fiddle with the hilt of his sword. “Doesn’t that scare you?”
Gali looked at the ground, lost in thought for a moment, a shadow cast over her mask. “This island has changed so much,” she shook her head. “I remember it being so simple. Makuta was everywhere, infecting the Matoran and Rahi, and we could cure them, we could restore them to the light. But now… it’s so much different. Makuta is hiding. His creatures, these Kryll, they aren’t evil. They don’t wear masks; we can’t just rid Makuta’s influence on them in an instant. They have thoughts, hopes, dreams, friends, and families; the same as all of us. And everyone I used to know, all my friends from Ga-Koro, they’re gone. They’ve been gone for years now. Only the Turaga still remember us, and even they are starting to pass.”
But Gali continued without hesitating “What I mean to say is, yes, it is hard. And yes, it scares me. But I know my duty. I know that I can’t let that fear stop me.” She looked up at Takua, and her eyes met his gaze. But as serious as Takua could tell she was, she still smiled, and Takua couldn’t help but feel that everything was going to be all right. “And even if I do fail, I can always count on you, right Takua?”
Takua blushed behind his mask, but returned the smile. “Yeah. Totally.”
Gali stood up, her shadow cast long behind her. “Well, thank you all for the company, but I really should be off.”
“You’re leaving already?” Aya asked. “You just got here.”
She nodded. “Darkness never sleeps, my friends. And besides, Onua awaits me at Onu-Koro.”
“Onu-Koro?” Aya perked up. “We just escaped from there. Is something going to happen?”
Gali’s eyes twinkled in the firelight. “Revolution.”
The air seemed to buzz as she spoke the word, and Takua knew that change was coming. Illum’s reign was coming to an end. The people of Onu-Koro were restless, and all they needed was a spark. All they needed was a Toa.
“I plan on seeing you all in Ga-Koro, alive and well. Good luck, and may Mata Nui watch over your travels.”
Takua stood up as she turned to leave, feeling as though he should say something else. He opened his mouth and spoke her name. “Toa Gali…”
She turned around one last time. “Yes, Takua?”
But Takua didn’t even know what to say. He was so confused. So many thoughts were running through his head. He didn’t want the Toa to leave, but he didn’t want to keep her on account of his own needs. He stood there for a moment, fidgeting as he tried to come up with something to say. Then, finally:
“It was nice to meet you.”
Gali smiled. “And you, little one.”
And just like that she left, and the four travelers were alone again. Alone in the quiet, wonderful woods of Ga-Wahi. Takua continued standing for a minute or so, staring into the darkness, trying to make sense of the legendary being he had just met. Eventually he sat back down, making eye contact with his friends.
Jaka summed up all his thoughts in one word. “Woah.”
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 07 2017 - 06:25 PM.
Posted Aug 18 2015 - 10:16 PM
Chapter 4 - A Night to Remember
They stared at each other, feeling very small in such a grand, mysterious world, filled with so many legends. Even as the birds and insects of Ga-Wahi chirped all around them, the night seemed silent. Takua sat cross-legged, lost in himself, still wondering if that had actually happened. A Toa. It was true. They were back, and he had met one.
Aya sat across the fire from him, staring into its flames, a grin softly forming on her face. It grew and grew, until she couldn’t seem to hold her excitement in any longer. Fidgeting, she grabbed her knees like a giddy child, rocking back and forth.
Jaka looked at her. “Are you okay?”
Aya threw her head back and yelled into the sky. She stood up in a second, spreading her arms out and laughing. “Guys… we just met a Toa!”
Takua couldn’t help but crack a smile. Gali… Toa of Water… he could picture her in his mind now, strong and beautiful, radiating wisdom, serenity, and power.
“Well,” Aya said pacing back and forth, unable to control her energy. “I guess Saku was a Toa, but he doesn’t really count, you know? With him being bad and all. We met one of the first! One of the legends! They’re really back!”
Takua found himself nodding with every word she spoke. “Toa Gali knows my name…”
“Oh!” Aya whirled around, bending over to rustle through her pack. “I had something for this… somewhere… Aha!” she pulled out a glass bottle, full of a reddish-brown liquid. It glistened in the firelight, unopened and unsoiled.
“What’s that?” Jaka asked, curious.
“Lavaflow! Or at least, that’s what the Ta-Matoran call it. I’ve been saving it for an occasion like this. For… you know….” She trailed off, trying to uncork the thing. With a loud pop it opened, and she raised it over the fire, smiling. “For when we had something to celebrate!”
“What are we celebrating?”
“Meeting a Toa, of course!” She took the first swig, wincing as it went down her throat. “Or whatever else we feel like! To life! To drinking Lavaflow!”
“Why do they call it Lavaflow?” Jaka asked, intrigued by the strange substance.
“Find out for yourself,” her eyes glimmered. Then, beckoning to all of them, “Come on, give me your lids!”
Takua unscrewed the lid to his water gourd, which was just the right size to use as a small cup. He, Jaka, and Kokani all passed their lids to Aya, who filled them with Lavaflow and gave them back. She raised the bottle above the fire, inviting them to do the same.
Takua looked at his share of the brown liquid. Curious, he smelled it, and the fumes hit him like a smack in the face. What it smelled like, he wasn’t sure, but it reminded him of piracy, debauchery, and the fiery tempers that Ta-Koro was famous for. But as exciting as that sounded, he grimaced at the thought of drinking the stuff. “I don’t know about this guys...”
Aya furrowed her brow at stared at Takua, obviously judging him. “You’re ruining the celebration, Takua.”
“It literally smells like poison.”
And suddenly, Aya froze. Raising her hand, she looked to her left, silencing the entire camp. In a second, everyone’s senses were on high alert, scanning the dark trees for whatever might have caught her attention. Quietly, she spoke. “Do you guys hear that?”
Takua strained his ears, wondering what else might have possibly found them. Stillness permeated the camp, but even as he closed his eyes, Takua didn’t hear anything abnormal.
“I don’t hear anything,” Kokani said.
Aya snapped her head back to Takua. “It’s the sound of Takua being a baby.”
“Mata Nui!” Takua threw his hands in the air as Jaka laughed. “I thought you were serious!”
“I’m serious about drinking Lavaflow.”
“Fine, whatever. I’ll try it.”
“Good," Aya thrust the bottle over the fire once again. “To meeting a Toa!” she toasted.
“To meeting a Toa,” they replied.
And all at once they drank. The liquid hit Takua’s throat and it burned all the way down. Swallowing as fast as he could, Takua doubled over and coughed, noticing Jaka doing the same in the corner of his vision. Aya winced a bit, and Kokani showed no emotion at all.
“That tastes awful!” Jaka said once he regained his breath.
Aya shrugged. “Well no one drinks it for the taste, Jaka.”
Takua, with his throat still warm, looked down at his empty cup. “You know… that was… I kind of like that.”
Aya nodded. “Right!? Like the rush you get during a good fight.”
Jaka, just now standing back up. “How do you drink that stuff without choking!?”
Aya looked over to Kokani, then shrugged her shoulders. “Uh, by not being a little baby.”
Jaka rolled his eyes, but wasn’t deterred. In fact, he seemed more determined, as he raised his cup. “Alright, let me try again.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Aya poured another round, letting the Lavaflow slosh about. The fire sizzled as drops of it hit the embers. Once again she lifted her arm to perform a toast. “To… to… what are we drinking to now?”
It was quiet for a moment as they thought. Eventually, Jaka spoke up. “To... almost making it to Ga-Koro?”
Aya shrugged, raising the bottle once more. “To almost making it to Ga-Koro!” she chimed.
Their drinks clinked together, and again they poured the fiery liquid down their throats. Knowing what to expect this time, Takua and Jaka managed to stomach the brew with only a wince and a few deep breaths, but even that reaction seemed exaggerated compared to Aya and Kokani.
The Ga-Matoran sat back on her sleeping mat. “You know,” she said, wiping the liquid from her lips. “That’s weird to think about; we’ve almost made it. Just a few more days on the road, maybe a week to go?”
Takua stared at the fire as he thought about it. It was weird. How long had they been traveling? How many months had they lived in the wilderness? How many miles had they walked? They’d come through forests, deserts, over mountains and under the earth. They had fought Rahi and Kryll, witnessed battles great and small, all of it to get here, to sit around this fire and drink together. And it would all be over in just a few days.
“What are we going to do, guys?” Aya asked.
Takua didn’t know what to say. Would they go their separate ways? Would he and Jaka go back to Le-Koro? Would he ever see Aya and Kokani again? What about Sorin? Raipu? It was bizarre to think about. Scary, even.
“We’ll do whatever we feel like,” Jaka said simply.
Takua sipped from his lid, pondering those words as he tried to ignore the taste of Lavaflow. Jaka always made things seem so simple. He always had some easy answer to a hard question, whether or not Takua agreed with it.
Aya huffed noncommittally. “And what might that be for you, Jaka?”
The Le-Matoran grew suddenly silent and started fiddling with a stick on the ground. Aya and Takua stared at him, waiting for his answer, and eventually he looked back up at them. “…Well I’m not telling you,” he said.
“Jaka, you can’t just say that and then not share with everyone,” Takua said, suddenly curious as to what his friend had to say.
“Nope,” Jaka pointed to Aya. “She’s going to make fun of me.”
“What?” Aya blurted out. Carefully, she placed her bottle on the ground and leaned over, purposefully invading Jaka’s personal space. She placed a hand on his shoulder and looked into his eyes. “Jaka, after everything we’ve been through? What kind of Matoran do you think I am?”
“The kind who likes to make fun of me.”
Aya paused, thinking about his response. Then she nodded. “Yeah, probably.” She picked the bottle back up and poured him another drink, not waiting to hear his own opinion on the matter. “But you still have to tell us.”
Jaka sighed. “Fine. I want to go back to Le-Koro and start a garden.”
Aya snorted into her drink, stopping herself from laughing. “That’s adorable.”
“See?” Jaka looked to Takua. “I told you!”
Takua smiled as he looked at the fire, starting to feel the effects of the Lavaflow. “Why? What kind of garden?”
“I don’t know. I just think it sounds nice. I like the idea of growing things. It’s the opposite of… you know… war… and… killing things.” He paused, thinking a bit more. “I always figured I’d have pineapple, but I’d like to grow flowers too. Help make the world a little more beautiful, you know?”
Aya snorted into her drink again.
“Well what are you going to do, Aya?” Jaka retorted.
Aya held the bottle casually in front of her, watching the Lavaflow slosh around inside it. “Probably buy the best drink I can afford, find a beach or a cliff somewhere, and sit. Watch the sun set on the water. Listen to the waves roll in until I fall asleep.”
Takua nodded, feeling warm behind his mask. Both of their ideas sounded nice. Together they reminded him of summer nights, back in Le-Koro. They sounded like something he… like something he and Talim would do.
“What about you, Takua?” Aya asked as she leaned over to pour him another cup.
Takua watched the liquid fall as he thought. He knew what he had to do. She was waiting for him, somewhere. But how could he find her? The one lead Illum had given him was gone. Where could he start?
“I honestly have no idea.”
“Well then come up with something.”
Takua looked at her. “If I could come up with something, I would’ve told you.”
“Well then come up with three things.”
“Ugh,” Takua groaned, racking his brain, knowing that Aya wouldn’t accept no for an answer. He said the first three things that popped into his head. “I’ll take a good long bath, eat a home-cooked meal, and I’ll join you on that beach.”
“Nice. I like that,” Aya nodded. Then, she turned her head over to Kokani, who sat quietly, sipping on his own drink. “Kokani…?”
The Ko-Matoran looked up, as if Aya’s question had drawn him out of his own little world.
“Well? What are you going to do when we make it?”
Kokani hesitated only a second. “Eat fruitcake,” he said simply.
Jaka and Aya found themselves trying to hold back their laughter. Takua found a smile splitting across his face. “…Fruitcake?”
Aya looked at their stoic, serious, companion. “After all this time, after all we’ve been through, the only thing you — of all people — wants to do, is eat fruitcake?”
“I’ve never tried it,” Kokani crossed his arms, not even remotely bothered by their reaction. “And I’ve always thought it looked good.”
“Well,” Aya got up from her mat, once again standing over the fire to top off everyone’s drinks. “Gardens, drinks, baths, and fruitcakes. I’d say we have a good list going!” Once again, she raised the bottle over the fire. “To us!”
Takua smiled as he got up. He reached out, and his lid clinked against the others as they toasted. “To us.”
And so the night went on. Slowly, the Lavaflow made its way to Takua’s head, and the conversation carried him away. They talked well into the night, reminiscing about their adventures, dreaming of what the future would bring, and simply taking the time to enjoy each other’s company. The moon rose high and the stars shone bright, and eventually Aya poured the last of the Lavaflow. But even then, the night went on.
Their conversations turned into stories, and then into song, and at some point Aya got up to dance as Takua and Jaka stomped out a beat. Even Kokani hummed ever so slightly as the Ga-Matoran twirled around the fire, throwing her arms about as she sang some lullaby from her home.
Takua didn’t realize it at the time, but he forgot about the darkness outside of their fire. He forgot about Makuta, about the Kryll, about the war, and about everything he still had to overcome. The song and dance eased its way into his head, and he truly lost himself in the moment, grinning ear to ear as he stomped his feet to Aya’s routine.
Happiness, laughter, and bliss returned to him, and with them, the realization that they had been absent for so long. It was, like so many other topics that night, strange to think about. Maybe it was just the Lavaflow, maybe it was just residual excitement from meeting a Toa, but Takua felt something inside him change that night. He felt, for the first time in a while, that everything was going to be okay. He felt, among many other things, like he had hope.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 07 2017 - 06:39 PM.
Posted Oct 16 2015 - 02:28 PM
Chapter 5 - The Beast Within
Takua stirred in the middle of the night, awakened by a cool breeze. Long grass brushed gently against his mask, tickling him. He groaned and batted it away, content to roll over and pull his blanket over his shoulders. A trickle of smoke arose from the fire pit, but the flames had long gone out, leaving behind only the soft glow of dying embers. Streams of moonlight nudged their way through the canopy of trees, kindly sparing a few feet of vision, but no more.
Knowing he still had hours before dawn, Takua savored the gentle embrace of his blanket, willing his mind back to sleep as he closed his eyes. The insects of the night still chirped and hummed, and leaves rustled in the breeze as it picked up for a moment. But before long it had settled down again, and everything went quiet. That was when he heard them talking.
“…You don’t want to tell them, I get it. They’re both so young; they probably wouldn’t understand.” It was Aya’s hushed voice, coming from a bit outside the camp. “But how long have we known each other? Don’t I deserve to know?”
There was silence before Kokani’s resigned voice reached Takua’s ears. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me, Kokani.” There was emotion in her voice. She sounded almost… desperate, which was a strange thing to hear.
“Please, I have to know.”
“Why? It’s the past.”
“Because I thought I knew you! And I want to think that I still do, but I can’t know for sure until you tell me,” Aya said. And then the seconds ticked by quietly, as if Aya was waiting for Kokani to respond, but nothing came. “Please, Kokani.”
Takua knew he should plug his ears, but he couldn’t force himself to do it. He hugged his blanket, staring at the leaves as he guiltily but unapologetically eavesdropped. The idea of Aya so invested, it was unlike her. He knew he shouldn’t listen, but he had to. After all, if this was about what he thought it was, he wanted answers too. It wasn’t his place to ask, but he still had to know.
After a long period of silence, Kokani finally responded. His words were quiet and stern.
“Once, I had nothing. The world took away everything that I loved and turned its back on me. I was powerless. And when you’re powerless, the only thing you care about is getting your power back.”
The forest was quiet, as if waiting for him to go on. But he didn’t. Kokani left it at that, and so Aya pushed some more.
“And Saku gave you that power?”
“Power, strength, a reason to keep on living.” He paused only for a second. “Friendship. He gave me everything.”
“But why would you do that?” Aya asked. “How many did you kill? Didn’t you… didn’t you care?”
“Do you care about all the Kryll you’ve killed? The Rahi?”
Again it was quiet, and Takua turned over to look at the camp. Jaka was still asleep next to him, breathing softly. The fire had stopped smoking now, and he could barely see the orange of it’s embers. He closed his eyes again as Kokani went on.
“It’s not a person on the other end of your blade. It’s just a body. Another body on the ground. Whether you’re getting paid for it or doing it just to survive, it’s all the same. You know that.”
Aya did, but it still took her a while to reply. Even though he couldn’t see her, Takua knew she was deep in thought. “Where did you get your orders? What was the point? Who did you go after?”
“Traders, politicians, and minor chieftains mostly. We didn’t have a set goal, but looking back, it was probably to separate the Koro, and keep the Matoran from uniting. Saku always knew who to go after. I never asked.”
“Well what happened? Why’d you stop?”
Kokani sighed. “Saku traveled to a small village outside of Ga-Koro to take out its chief. I camped in the nearby hills, waiting to hear from him. When he came back he was limping, said some girl’s pet Hapaka had bit into his leg and tore up his armor. He killed it. Got the chief too, but it was messy. Half the village was on fire, and there were a lot of witnesses. He needed me to finish the job.”
“I went to the village, ready to do what he needed. But then I saw this Matoran, kneeling outside the ruins of her hut, crying over the body of her pet Hapaka.” There was silence for a few seconds as Kokani paused. When he continued, his voice was even softer. “I saw all the power we’d taken away from her, and I knew I’d become exactly what ruined me in the beginning.”
Takua shifted, and looked in the direction of the conversation. If he tilted his head just right, he could see his friends through the underbrush, silhouetted against the blue moonlight. Aya didn’t have anything to say, but she stood there, eyes boring into Kokani, leading him to go on.
“So I told him the job was done. We went on, but I couldn’t shake that image from my head. By the time we reached our next target in Po-Koro, I knew I couldn’t go through with it. So I stood up to him. Fought him in the streets, managed to drive him off. People saw it. It was the talk of the city for months. But from then on I was on my own, and I eventually ended up in Nuju’s sanctum, trying to fix everything I’d broken.”
Aya took a deep breath, staring at the ground before looking back at the Ko-Matoran. She shrugged, loosening the tension that had built up in her shoulders. “See? That's all I wanted. Was that so hard?”
She shook her head. “I'm going to bed, Kokani. It's late.”
Takua lay still as Aya turned and started to walk towards him, but Kokani spoke up again, quietly repeating her name. It was short and simple, but Takua could tell there was weight behind it.
Her silhouette stopped moving, and she barely turned her head in reply. “Yes, Kokani?”
“That little girl with the pet Hapaka… that was you.”
Aya's chest lifted as she sighed again. The breeze blew suddenly, rustling the leaves as Takua clutched his blanket and waited for her response. She didn't seem shocked or surprised, but rather accepting, as if she had known this for a long time, and now that she'd heard Kokani's story, it all finally made sense.
“I haven't cried once since that day. Promised myself I never would again.”
The breeze rustled once more, and the two stood in silence. Eventually, Kokani walked up to her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. It took Aya a moment or two to respond, but eventually she turned to look at him. Their eyes met, and Aya nodded.
“Thank you for telling me.”
Takua rolled over and closed his eyes as their footsteps approached. He heard them rustle with their sleeping pads, and before long they were asleep, leaving Takua alone to think about what he had just witnessed. He listened to their breathing as he stared at the moon, lost in the quiet night.
The more he learned about Kokani, Aya, Jaka, and even himself, the more everything seemed strange. It was strange that such a group of different Matoran had found each other. It was strange that they all got along. It was strange that, after all this time, they still didn't know that much about each other. But what was really strange, was the fact that they were all broken, and still they had managed to make it this far.
Takua closed his eyes. It was strange, but it was comforting.
“Where's Jaka?” Takua asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
Aya squatted over a small, smokey fire, squinting as the light hit the bags under her eyes; she had clearly not gotten enough sleep. She grunted as she shifted her frying pan over the flames, trying to heat up a small batch of leftover rice. Kokani sat next to her, calmly sharpening one of his daggers against a boulder. It was a cloudy, misty, mid-morning, and Takua seemed be the last one awake. Jaka's bedroll was already wrapped up and attached neatly to his pack, but the Le-Matoran was nowhere to be found.
“What?” Aya asked, blinking
“Have you seen Jaka?” he repeated.
Aya turned her attention back to her breakfast, and pointed toward the nearby river. “He said something about washing up.”
Takua yawned, cracking his back as he stretched. Slowly, he got up and walked in the direction Aya had pointed, thinking that a splash of cold water would help clear his drowsy head and parched throat.
Pushing his way through the brush, the sound of moving water reached his ears. The river up ahead wasn't too wide, but it was deep, fast, and large boulders stirred it, churning the current into dangerous rapids . It wasn't anything like the gentle streams of Le-Koro. The water here seemed wild, untamed, almost as if it had a mind of its own.
Takua rubbed his arms, parting the cool mist as he walked. He stepped over boulders and mangrove roots, looking for his friend and the riverbank simultaneously. Pushing his way through a thicket, he soon found himself standing on the river's rocky shore.
“Jaka?” he called out.
Startled by the noise, Takua turned and looked to a small bush beside him. Then, a hand burst out toward him, grabbing his wrist and yanking him to the ground. With an awkward yelp Takua hit the earth, suddenly covered by the foliage.
“Jaka?” Takua whispered, startled and confused.
Jaka lay next to him, his chest pressed into the damp earth. He held a finger to his lips, then pointed out across the river. Takua looked to where Jaka instructed him, and his eyes lay upon a figure, barely visible through the swirling fog. Squinting, he watched as it stood on the opposite riverbank, staring out across the water. It was, without a doubt, a Kryll, but it was unlike any Kryll he had ever seen. It was much smaller than the warriors he was used to, smaller than himself even. Its claws and mandibles seemed underdeveloped, and big yellow eyes rested on its face, reflecting the water in front of it. In fact, it went against everything Takua knew to be inherently Kryll: it wasn't scary, strong, or out to get him. It gave off an aura of curiosity, wonder, and innocence.
“Is that...” Takua whispered as he looked back to Jaka. “...Is that a child?"
Jaka shrugged. The thought of a Kryll as anything other than a warring monster had never once crossed Takua's mind. But here this being was, standing peacefully at the riverbank.
But then something else happened. The water started to bubble and churn, just in front of where the Kryll stood. Slowly, a depression formed in the rushing liquid, and from it, another creature arose. A giant, reptilian head, followed by a a lean, tall, and powerful body. The huge creature parted the rapids, growing taller and taller as the seconds dragged on. Takua and Jaka watched in shocked silence as the gigantic beast revealed more of itself, and soon they recognized the most dangerous Rahi in all of Mata Nui's waters: the Tarakava.
It rose to its full height from the middle of the riverbed, towering over the little Kryll. But it didn't attack. It waited calmly as the water rushed around it, the Kryll, in turn, staring into its eyes.
It was a surreal experience. Such a powerful and terrifying creature, calmly looking at this little Kryll, as if it had some sort of power over it. Any Matoran would've been ripped to shreds minutes ago, but this strange Kryll stared at it calmly, as if there was nothing to worry about. It stared as if this terrifying Rahi was nothing but a pet. No — it stared as if this Rahi was an equal. A friend.
And a strange sensation came over Takua. He felt he was looking at something no Matoran would ever experience. It was as if there was a bond between these creatures, as if they were tied to each other, tied to the water surrounding them, tied to the land. It seemed almost beautiful, something to be cherished, something purely natural at its core.
The giant Tarakava leaned its head forward, a low rumble forming in its throat, and the Kryll reached out, carefully but confidently placing its clawed hand on the Rahi's snout. Even from across the river, Takua could hear the beast's heavy breathing, but as the Kryll's palm rested against it, the breathing lightened, and its raspy growl soothed into a soft purr.
Both creatures closed their eyes, and Takua felt the air come alive with electricity. He was witnessing something as old as the earth itself, something innocent, natural, something... magical.
“Can you feel that?” Takua asked Jaka, strangely excited.
“Takua!? Jaka!? Where are you two?”
The two Matoran whipped their heads around as Aya's voice pierced through the quiet, and the strange moment collapsed. The Rahi's eyes snapped open as it swiveled its head around, extinguishing its purr with a deafening roar. Takua and Jaka popped up, breaking their cover as the Rahi locked onto their position. The startled Kryll looked at them for only a second, and bolted off into the trees.
“Go! Go!” Jaka yelled as he pushed Takua away from the river, knowing they only had a few seconds to make a break for it.
The Tarakava dove into the water, disappearing for a few seconds as Takua and Jaka hurdled over a boulder, trying to distance themselves as far as they could from the water. Takua's feet hit the ground, and he moved them as fast as they would go, but he was only about a dozen feet away from the bank when the Rahi re-emerged with the force of a geyser.
The plume of water erupted behind them, and the Tarakava roared as it rose to its full height at the edge of the riverbank. Takua managed to wipe the water from his eyes just as the beast struck out, barely missing them as they ducked. Another assault came, and this time its huge claws made contact with the mangrove to their right. The wood cracked and fell over, blocking their path.
Aya was close now, but the two Matoran didn't have time to respond. Relentless, the Rahi attacked again, slamming its giant head into the riverbank, trying to crush the two Le-Matoran. They rolled out of the way at the last second, and without thinking Takua whipped his dagger from his belt, sinking its steel into the beast's snout. It bellowed in pain as it jerked back, carrying the dagger and Takua with it. He found himself thrown into the air, and he sailed for a brief few seconds before he plunged into the middle of the river.
The water was cold, and as he forced his head back into the air he found the current carrying him straight into a boulder. He smashed into it, knocking the wind out of his chest and stunning him. His vision went white from shock as he tried to inhale, feeling like daggers were piercing his chest. The world spun around him for a moment, and only the sound of his name managed to bring him back to some sense of reality.
He heard Jaka yell as he tried to hang onto the rock. The water rushed around him, pushing him downstream as the Rahi roared. His wet fingers clawed at the slimy stone, and he felt himself slipping into the current. Finally able to breath again, Takua whirled around as another roar pierced his ears, suddenly aware of the Tarakava looming over him. It raised its long arms, ready to smash him into the rock, but then —
The beast bellowed as it whirled around, an arrow sticking out of its back. Aya, standing on the shore, readied her bow again, but stopped halfway to dodge its giant claws as they smashed into the ground at her feet. And then, out of the brush, Kokani appeared, seizing the opportunity to slash at its forearm with his blade.
Takua's ears popped as the beast howled and fell sideways into the river, blood seeping from a deep gash in its right arm. With a splash it sank below the rapids, and everything was quiet for a moment.
Takua looked up see Jaka slowly moving toward him, trying to jump from from rock to rock in order to reach him. He managed to get close, but not close enough. A channel of surging water separated them, and there was no way for Jaka to reach him without diving into the dangerous current.
“You gotta swim!” he called out, extending his hand out over the water.
Takua let go of his boulder, pushing himself towards his friend. The current fought his progress, but he pushed harder, tying to ignore the pain still radiating form his lungs. He kicked his feet as hard as he could, reaching out towards Jaka.
“Come on, you can do it! Just a little bit more!”
The water pushed against him, but Takua pushed back, fighting with everything he had. Slowly, inch by inch, he made progress. He stretched his arm out, brushing his fingertips against Jaka's, and with one final kick his friend managed to wrap his fingers around his wrist. Straining, he pulled him to the large boulder, and Takua climbed out of the water, breathing heavily.
He looked around. Aya stood on the shore, arrow nocked and ready, scanning the water. Kokani stood on a boulder of his own just upstream, clutching his bladed staff, knuckles white. But where was the Tarakava? The water was too rough, too murky for them to see anything.
“Look,” Jaka pointed to water beside their boulder.
There was a trail of red, flowing with the current. Blood. Takua followed it to a point just a dozen feet upstream, where it seemed to be originating. Then, a stagnant area appeared, as if something below the surface was disrupting the water's normal flow.
Takua grabbed Jaka but it was too late. The Rahi burst out of the water, knocking them into the cold river. Bubbles flew from Takua's mouth as he cried out, pain radiating from his chest. He kicked for the surface and broke it quickly, looking around frantically for Jaka. The current carried him fast, already Kokani and Aya were growing smaller on the shore.
“Jaka!?” he yelled as the water pushed him towards another boulder, and he managed to grab onto it. But still, his friend didn't surface. “Jaka!?”
There! A small splash a ways downstream, and Jaka's mask appeared. Coughing, the Matoran grabbed onto the nearest rock and looked around, finally making eye contact with Takua. He breathed a sigh of releif. The Rahi could've crushed them both.
“Are you okay!?” Takua called out.
Takua nodded and was about to respond, but then Jaka was gone. His head disappeared, pulled beneath the rapids. “Jaka!?” he cried out suddenly, staring at the spot where his friend had just been.
He waited for him to reappear, but the seconds ticked by, all too quietly, and anxiety crept upon him. Something should have happened by now. Bubbles, a splash, anything. Why wasn't he surfacing? Takua looked further downstream, thinking maybe the current had taken him somewhere else, but still, there was no sign. The seconds turned into minutes. He should've popped up somewhere by now!
And then Takua felt something brush against his foot. Snapping his attention to what lie beneath the surface, he saw a reddish tinge start to pool in the water around him.
Claws snapped around his ankle, and he was pulled under, forced into the depths by the Tarakava. Dragged, flailing, helpless, unable to breath, into the element of the beast.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 07 2017 - 07:06 PM.
Posted Feb 03 2016 - 12:05 AM
Chapter 6 - On the Rocks
Takua gasped for air as he surfaced, filling his lungs up as fast as he could before being pulled under once again. Rocks, boulders and tree roots flew by as the beast dragged him and Jaka through the water. The Tarakava swam downriver seemingly as fast as it could, and try as he might, he could not wriggle free. Every once in a while he caught a glimpse of his friend through the murky water, still trying to free his ankle from the Rahi's claws. But it was no use. His lungs were bursting. Every time the Tarakava swam close to the surface he desperately tried to inhale. Most of the time he ended up with a mouth half-full of water.
He shifted so he could reach his dagger, his fingers fumbling through the current as he tried to unclip it from his belt. After a few tries, he clutched its leather handle and whipped it out, stabbing the great beast in the wrist. Blood seeped out of the wound, only to be swept away by the rapids. He heard a muffled roar and the beast shuddered, but still it held fast.
Again and again he stabbed, trying to weaken the Rahi’s grip, blood increasingly clouding the water around him in red. Wrenching his arm forward, he sank the blade into the beast and twisted, hoping, praying for some kind of reaction. Bubbles escaped his mouth as he gritted his teeth, his lungs throbbing for air, his knuckles white around the dagger’s hilt.
He cried out, releasing a stream of bubbles as a tree root crashed into his side. Instantly he shut his mouth, trying to hold onto what little air he had left, but already he could feel his head spinning, his vision blurring. The impact had wrenched his arm, pulling his dagger from the Rahi, and it took all his willpower just to hold onto his blade. With one last effort, he whirled around again, ready to attack the beast’s wrist once more.
But it was gone.
Takua didn’t know how to react for a second. He sat there, floating in the murky water, utterly confused. One second it had a death grip around his ankle, and the next… gone. Disappeared into the depths. He kicked his feet, pushing himself upwards.
Gasping as he broke the surface, he looked around. The Rahi had left him in a calmer section of the river, shallow on one side, maybe a foot or so, but then sharply dropping off to the depths in which Takua found himself now. There, kneeling in the shallow portion, he saw Jaka. Breathing heavily, he swam for his friend.
Jaka looked back at him as Takua pulled himself into the shallows. He tried to stand, but quickly fell to his hands and knees, exhausted.
“You okay?” Jaka asked.
Takua nodded, unable to find the strength to talk. He panted, slowly getting used to having air in his lungs again. He watched the shallow water wash over his lands, his head slowly clearing.
"What happened to the Rahi?"
Takua shook his head. He clutched his dagger, feeling the wet, bloodstained leather of its handle. Had he injured it enough to scare it off? It seemed hard to believe. He looked over to Jaka as his words finally came back to him. "I don't know. It had me, but then it was just... gone."
“Same,” Jaka shook his head. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Takua didn’t respond, saving his breath. Saving his strength. But Jaka was right, it didn’t make any sense at all. Why would it pluck them from the riverbank, drag them downstream, and then suddenly let them go and disappear? Wasn’t it going to eat them or something? Takua thought about it. Did Tarakava eat Matoran? He didn’t even know.
“Unless…” Jaka said, pausing to think for a moment. “…It was bringing us here.”
The thought sent chills down Takua’s spine, and suddenly he felt uneasy. Inadvertently, he clutched the Atouri, still dangling around his neck.
"Come on," Jaka stood up and lent him a hand. "Let's get out of here before it comes back. If we follow the river back upstream we should...." he trailed off, staring at something on the riverbank.
Takua didn’t like Jaka’s silence. He looked up and followed his gaze, toward a hollow spot in the foliage. He squinted, noticing a faint movement behind the leaves…
“Get down!” Jaka lunged in front of Takua, readying his shield, its decorative red Hau glinting in the pale mist. A barbed arrow flew from the riverbank, smashing into the metal, staggering him backwards.
Takua cursed, his senses once again on high alert. Two Kryll appeared through the foliage, one with a bow, and one with a curved sword. Takua leapt to his feet, shoving his dagger back into his belt as he traded it out for his sword. Its polished steel glimmered as it touched the air, not having seen battle since Onu-Koro.
The second Kryll ran at Takua, howling, its sword raised high above its head. Takua raised his own weapon, and their blades sang out as the warrior struck. Once, twice, three times their swords clashed, the Kryll pushing Takua back towards the deep end of the river. Takua slid on his heels, stumbling for a second in the shallow water, bringing his weapon up again just in time to lock blades with the Kryll.
Takua's arm vibrated as he pushed, staring up into his combatant's beady eyes. The warrior was at least two heads taller than him, and its mandibles clicked with excitement. The muscles beneath its armor flexed, pushing Takua down. He strained to fight back, but he knew that if he kept it up the Kryll would soon overpower him. Thinking quickly, he kicked at its knees, buckling them, pushing the Kryll off-balance. Takua hopped backward, ready to strike again, but the sound of rapid, heavy footsteps caught his attention. He turned towards the sound just soon enough to see another warrior — a hulking brute — barreling towards him, but it was far too late to dodge.
With a crunch the brute tackled him, knocking his sword out of his hands and forcing him down. Takua cried out as his mask hit the rocks, submerged beneath a few inches of water. With the Kryll still on top of him, he lifted his head and groped for his sword, lying just a foot out of his reach.
Takua's vision went blurry as the brute grabbed his head and knocked it against the rocks beneath him. Stunned, he fumbled for his weapon, his fingers brushing against its hilt as the Kryll held him down. He wriggled his body this way and that, trying to free himself of its weight. He was so close...
A pair of legs came into his field of view. They paused in front of him for a second, before gently nudging his sword out of reach. Takua looked up, and as his vision sharpened he inhaled with suprise. He the being that stood above him:
Takua paused for a moment and cursed. The King of the Kryll looked down at him, his golden armor and red war paint glinting slightly as the sun poked its way through the clouds. He drew his curved sword, resting its sharpened tip on Takua's throat. Takua swallowed hard, letting his outstretched arm fall to the ground.
"Well," the warlord's voice was deep and calm, yet powerful and threatening. "Look what the Rahi dragged in."
Takua looked over to Jaka, who still stood with his shield at the ready, dagger pointed at a Kryll in front of him. Two other warrior's now had him in their sights, arrows nocked and ready to fire on the Le-Matoran, with another sword bearer waiting patiently for Krosis' sign to attack. Jaka fidgeted, unsure what to do. His gaze flitted back and forth, until finally resting on Krosis and Takua.
“Don’t try it, little one,” Krosis called out to him. "You know how this will end if you do."
Jaka looked around him, not ready to give up. But then he saw the odds, and he saw Krosis’ blade at Takua's throat. It took a moment, but eventually he lowered his shield, and with a clenched jaw, he dropped his dagger into the water. The Kryll ran up to him, forcing him to his knees and tying to hands behind his back. Jaka glared at them, but remained silent and cooperated.
Krosis turned his attention back to Takua, who stared back at him with hatred. He gritted his teeth as the brute above him wrenched his arms, tying thick, prickly cord around his wrists. Takua tried for a second to fight it, but the Kryll shoved him down, scraping his mask against the rocks again. Takua didn’t struggle after that.
“So after all this mess, I’ve finally found you.” Krosis said simply, still resting his sword inches from Takua’s neck. He looked at Takua without emotion, as if he didn’t even care what happened to him. Krosis leaned over slightly, focusing hard onto Takua’s mask. “I’ve waited a long time for this, Takua.”
Takua stared into his eyes for only a second before Krosis’ armored boot smashed into his temple, and his vision went black.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 07 2017 - 08:29 PM.
Posted Feb 26 2016 - 12:52 AM
Chapter 7 - Connections
Takua awoke, soaking wet and gasping for air, to the sight of a Kryll in front of him. Thinking fast, he reached for his sword, but he couldn’t move. His arms were tied around a wooden pole, sticking out of the ground behind him. He sat on muddy earth, struggling against his bonds, desperately trying to free himself, but it was no use. He started to panic.
“Calm down,” the Kryll’s deep voice sounded. “There’s no use trying to escape.”
Takua looked back to it, only now recognizing Krosis. The warlord squatted on the ground, at eye level with Takua, holding a half-full bucket of water. With a flick of his arm he doused Takua with the rest of it, and the freezing water shocked him into a calmer state of mind. He gasped as the water dripped from his mask, shaking from the cold.
Splitting his attention from Krosis, he allowed himself a second to take in his surroundings. The wooden pole had been hastily stuck into the ground at the foot of a rather large banyan tree. Roots from the tree twisted here and there around him, dropping down from the branches above. The tree seemed to be at the edge of some sort of war camp, as he could see a clearing behind Krosis, filled with small, thatched huts that clustered around its edge.
He felt another pair of hands near his, and he swiveled his head around to catch a glimpse of Jaka, tied to the opposite side of the pole. His friend was slumped over, unmoving, and he immediately turned back to meet Krosis’ steely gaze. Takua opened his mouth to speak, but the Kryll cut him off.
“Your friend is fine. He’ll wake up eventually, probably with a headache.” Krosis let the bucket rest on the muddy ground. “It’s you I need, not him.”
Takua stared, his heartbeat just now slowing after his abrupt awakening. “What do you want?” His question was short and stern.
Krosis squinted, as if sizing Takua up. He clicked his claws together, pausing for a moment before speaking. His mandibles twitched as the words came out. “What are you, Takua?”
Takua continued his emotionless stare, not quite sure of what the Kryll meant. He didn’t reply.
Krosis looked at him for a moment, then reached out to tap a finger on the Atouri, still hanging around Takua’s neck. The black stone thudded against his chest as he spoke. “When I was first tasked with capturing you and seizing the Atouri, I didn’t think much of it. I brought along a squad of my finest warriors, some Rahi for good measure, and I knew Saku would meet us there. It would be a quick job. Le-Koro was more or less defenseless. I figured I would be back here in the north, preparing for war in a few weeks at the most.”
Takua watched as Krosis stood up and began to walk around the banyan roots. He eyed the Kryll cautiously, reading his movements, trying to figure out where he was going with this monologue.
“But then something unexpected happened. The first of many.” Krosis drummed his claws on a root. “Kokani appeared, and you eluded me, fleeing into Ko-Wahi. I sent two of my best, two of my inner circle to track you, but once they did, you managed to escape me again, leaving one of my finest, dead, lying in a bloody snowbank.” Krosis turned back to face him, suppressed anger simmering in his eyes. “Do you remember that, Takua?”
He did. The silver-armored Kryll called Nilum. That was his first real fight, his first time seeing Kokani’s brutality. It all seemed so long ago now.
Krosis continued. “So I decided I would wait for you. I know of The Prophesy, I knew you would eventually head toward Ga-Koro, so I posted troops in all the villages on Ko-Wahi’s northern border, and waited. I would have more warriors, to ensure that Kokani and your companions could not overpower them. Soon enough, you showed up, but you managed to elude me again, leaving even more of my kin dead. And then, somehow you managed to be in Po-Koro while my troops sieged the city, and yet again you escaped, this time to Onu-Koro.
“I needed a different approach. I’d set a trap for you. I’d have Illum welcome you, and hold you in his city until I could secure your capture. Seeing as Kokani managed to defeat my warriors no matter how many I threw at him, Saku would be there to take care of him. And even if all of that failed, I would pump gas into the entire city, infecting everyone and succumbing them to will of Makuta, and thus my own. It seemed almost foolproof.”
“Get on with it,” Takua growled.
Krosis’ mandibles clicked as he stared at Takua. “You see, at first I thought it was dumb luck that you’d made it this far. But Onu-Koro is where things got interesting, isn’t it?”
Takua cursed in his head, choosing to remain silent. The last thing he wanted to do was talk about Onu-Koro.
The Kryll squatted down again, narrowing his eyes to examine every nook and cranny of Takua’s mask. His gaze bored into the Matoran’s. “How is it that you of all people managed to best the Toa of Shadow?”
“I don’t know.”
“A Matoran with shadow powers? The ability to steal a spirit? What else are you hiding behind that little black mask of yours?”
Takua returned his gaze, unmoving. “I don’t know,” he repeated.
“A being with such power must have some connection to Makuta.”
Takua glared, trying not to let Krosis' words insult him. “I can’t control it, if that’s what you’re asking. It just happened.”
“Like an instinct?”
Takua didn’t like the Kryll’s questions. His interest, the way he probed for more information, it unnerved him. “What do you want from me?”
Krosis looked away, focusing his gaze on the clearing for a moment. “You see, I understand why Makuta wants the Atouri. But his demands always came with a certain… stipulation: that you be kept alive and brought to him.” He turned his attention back to Takua. “Why is that?”
Takua scoffed. “You’re the one having chats with him over a bottle of Lavaflow. You tell me.”
The Kryll’s eyes narrowed, his patience clearly waning. But still, he remained calm, gazing into Takua’s eyes, as if searching for something within the Le-Matoran. But Takua remained stoic, determined not to give Krosis anything, whatever it was he was looking for.
But then, after a moment or two, the Kryll began to smirk. His mandibles twitched, making Takua uncomfortable. “You’ve heard his voice, haven’t you? You can feel his presence.”
Takua stared right back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The voice of Makuta,” Krosis said plainly. “I can tell. I can see it. He speaks in your thoughts; he calls you to him. When he is close, you can feel his darkness: a pain in your chest, burning all over your skin. Sight and sound leave you, but you can feel him reverberating, pulsating around you.” He paused, leaning in close to stare at the Atouri. “When you are near the stone, you can hear his heartbeat. A subtle thump, beating within your mind.”
Takua felt his skin prickle as Krosis spoke, the words resonating with him, but he tried his best not to show it. He remembered the construction site, back in Le-Koro, when he had blacked out and fallen to the ground. He remembered the pain, the burning all over his skin. Was that what Krosis spoke of? Was that him, feeling Makuta’s presence? Besides, he heard the heartbeat all the time. Suddenly very interested in what the Kryll had to say, he leaned forward and opened his mouth. “How do you know that?”
Krosis let out a half smile. “You’ve been touched by him. As have I. Chosen for a greater purpose.”
“None but he knows. But you can find him, waiting, resting, in the shining white tower across the sea.”
“The Eastern Continent?”
Krosis nodded. “The Land of Charred Earth. The darkness calls you there, and you will yield to it.”
Takua stared at Krosis, processing his words. And as he did, the more insulted he felt. Who was this Kryll to tell him what his destiny was? Anger bubbled inside of him, and he felt his skin warm. He clenched his jaw, making his words short and precise. “You don’t know anything about me.”
Krosis sighed, reaching out to brush a finger against the Atouri. The stone rested against Takua’s chest, almost quivering at the Kryll’s touch. Then, with a snap, Krosis yanked the stone away, breaking the clasp that held the necklace together. Takua winced.
“I could say the same about you, Takua.” The warlord stood up, turned around, and quietly began to walk towards the camp, holding the Atouri by its broken chain. “I could say the exact same thing about you.”
Takua watched him go, focusing on the stone, the realization of what was happening slowly welling up in his mind. He had to get it back. He had to escape, somehow. Krosis disappeared between the thatched huts and the foliage, and he instantly began to wriggle his arms, trying to loosen the rope. But it only slid against his wrists, rubbing them raw as he moved. He had to think of something.
He looked around, hoping to find any kind of sharp object that he could use to cut his bonds. Krosis had taken his dagger and sword, Mata Nui knew where they were now. Probably locked in a chest somewhere. There was nothing around him except mud, leaves, and banyan roots. He wriggled his wrists again, but stopped as they started to sting. He couldn’t let Krosis get away with the Atouri!
He felt movement behind him, and swiveled his head around. He could see Jaka in his peripheral vision, moving his head. His friend groaned.
“Jaka!” Takua hissed, trying to stay as quiet as he could. “Jaka! Wake up!”
“Huh..? What…?” Jaka mumbled. He slumped his head back, resting it against the pole. “Ugh… my head…”
“Jaka!” Takua hissed again. “Krosis captured us. He has the Atouri. We have to get it back! I need your help.”
“Aw… man…” Jaka mumbled, slowly waking up. “Krosis has the Atouri…?”
“Krosis has the Atouri!”
“That’s not good…”
“I know!” Takua replied, wishing he had a cold bucket of water to dump on his friend. “Do you have anything sharp? Do you see anything on your side we can use to cut this rope?”
“They took my dagger...” Jaka said, his voice clearer now. “And my shield! They took my shield.”
“Do you have anything sharp? Anything at all?” Takua repeated. “We need to find something before they come — ”
Takua shut up as he saw movement in the corner of his eye. He swiveled around and saw a Kryll standing a dozen feet away, at the edge of the camp. But it wasn’t the type of Kryll he was expecting. This one was small, thin, with big yellow eyes that stared at him with a burning curiosity. Takua stared back, motionless, realizing that it was the same one he and Jaka had seen before the Tarakava attack. The child…
“I don’t have anything, Takua!”
Takua shushed him. “It’s the Kryll,” he whispered, knowing Jaka couldn’t see it from his side of the pole. “The one from the river. The child.”
He and the Kryll stared at each other, Takua somehow feeling that he didn’t want to scare it off. He realized that if this being was here, the camp Krosis had taken them to couldn’t be a war camp. It must be… a village. The more he looked at the huts behind the Kryll, the more it made sense. They were primitive, quiet, without any defenses. The Kryll that lived here must not know combat, and they wouldn’t be the hardened soldiers he was used to. Perhaps this little one didn’t even know about the war. Perhaps, just maybe, he could befriend it?
“Hey…” Takua called out softly, trying to seem as friendly as possible. “Can you help us?”
The Kryll let out a quiet squeak, turned on its heel, and ran back to the village.
Takua cursed. So much for that.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 07 2017 - 08:43 PM.
Posted Jun 24 2016 - 02:24 PM
Chapter 8 - Matoran and Monsters
It was almost dusk. Takua watched as a Kryll sat a few feet from them, its back up against a large cluster of banyan root. It fiddled with Takua’s dagger, notching lines into the wood at its side. Takua stared at it, mulling in his own thoughts. They had been here all day. He hadn’t seen anymore of Krosis, or the Kryll child, or anyone else for that matter, except for this guard. It watched the two Matoran, making sure they didn’t try anything. Every time they attempted to work on a way to cut, untie, or even reposition their bonds, the Kryll would stand up, growl, and dish out a heaping serving of pain. Takua’s entire left side was bruised from where the Kryll’s armored boot had kicked him. Jaka, on his side of the pole, had his own fair share.
The more the hours ticked by, the more Takua thought, and the more he started to worry. What was Krosis planning? Was he even still here? Had he already taken the Atouri somewhere else, where he’d never be able to find it again? Takua had held the stone for so long, it had almost become a part of him. And now that it was gone he felt anxious and hollow. He had to get it back, not only to stop it from getting into Makuta’s hands, but because… because he kind of missed it.
He cursed himself for being so stupid. Why had he felt the need to watch that Tarakava in the first place? And on that note, where were Aya and Kokani? Were they out there somewhere, searching the riverbank for him? Why had Krosis just left them here? Wasn’t he going to take him across the sea or something? Why did Jaka have to be a part of this? What did Krosis mean, he was ‘touched by Makuta?’ There were so many questions, and no answers, and he felt so stupid about all of it. He gritted his teeth, kicking a clump of dirt in frustration.
You’re overthinking things. He told himself. Calm down and focus.
His first priority should be escape. But he couldn’t work with Jaka, lest their guard catch them. He had to find something to cut the rope. Something sharp. But what…?
A tap on his wrist. Takua twisted around, just enough to see Jaka on the fringe of his vision. His friend’s eyes flicked from him to the branches above. He nodded, drawing Takua’s attention upward.
Takua followed his gaze, a bit confused. The sky was barely visible through the leaves above them, as the only light came from the rapidly setting sun. But still, he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. All that was above them were the thick, twisting branches of the banyan tree. Everything was still… everything except for… what was that?
Takua stared at a large branch as a dark shape moved silently along it. Was it some sort of Rahi? It was big enough to be a Matoran. He strained his eyes so he could make out its details in the dim light. He caught the glimmer of a blade, the shine of a polished bow. It moved a bit more, and Takua caught a glimpse of a mask.
Aya! He almost cried out in excitement. The Ga-Matoran briefly made eye contact with him, and smiled cheekily she held a dagger between her teeth. She shimmied along the branch for a few more feet, then stopped to point at the Kryll guard.
Takua looked at her curiously, unsure of what she was doing.
Aya nodded at him, again pointing to the guard.
Takua turned his attention to the Kryll. Seeing it preoccupied with Takua’s blade, he looked back to Aya. “What?” he mouthed, careful not to make any noise.
Aya sighed, repositioning herself so she could take the dagger out of her mouth. She mouthed a few words back at him.
Takua stared at her. “…Mask him?” he mouthed back.
She spelled out the same words again.
Attractive…? Takua stared at her, shrugging his shoulders. This wasn’t making any sense.
Aya rolled her eyes, cupping her hands around her mouth. She mouthed three syllables, pointing at the Kryll with the last one.
“Oh!” Takua said aloud as the words finally clicked, drawing the Kryll’s attention. Distract him. “You know what the worst thing about Kryll is, Jaka?” he called out, being as obnoxious as possible.
“Is it the fact that they’re really ugly?” Jaka was clearly in on it.
The Kryll growled and stood up as he spoke, oblivious to Aya in the tree above him. It walked toward the two, clicking its mandibles.
Takua went on. “Well besides that of course.”
The Kryll stood above them now, readying its armored boot.
Takua squeezed his eyes shut, preparing himself for a beating as Jaka responded. “The fact that they smell like Mahi dung?”
But the beating didn’t come. There was a rustle of leaves as Aya dropped down from the tree, grabbing the Kryll around the shoulders as she fell. The two hit the muddy earth, and the Kryll let out a surprised gasp as Aya clamped her hand over its mouth. In one single movement, she readied her dagger and sank it into the Kryll’s chest.
Muffled as the sound was through Aya’s hand, it still echoed throughout the trees. Takua and Jaka winced. Cursing, Aya wrapped her leg around it, forcing it face down into the mud. It struggled, trying raise its head, trying to claw at Aya, but she had it pinned down. With a soft thud she forced her knee into the small of its back, pushing it farther down as she grabbed its jaw and the back of its angular head. She gritted her teeth as the Kryll fought against her, but with one final, sudden movement, she twisted its head, forcing its neck in ways it shouldn’t bend.
Crack! The Kryll went limp.
Takua watched in a sort of disgusted awe as Aya caught her breath, blood splattered on her hands. With a sickening schluck, she pulled her dagger out of the Kryll’s body.
“Someone had to have heard that,” Takua turned his head around to see Kokani behind him, already cutting his bonds. “Let’s get going.”
“How did you find us?” Jaka asked, the rope snapping as Kokani’s blade cut through it. He quickly stood up, rubbing his wrists.
“We followed the blood,” Kokani replied. “Good job injuring the Tarakava. It gave us a trail.”
Takua paused for a moment. Did Kokani just give him a complement? But then he shook himself; now was not the time. “Krosis has the Atouri,” he blurted out.
“We know, we saw him with it,” Aya said. Wasting no time, she plucked Takua’s dagger from the ground and handed it to him, then emptied a burlap sack that Kokani had been carrying. Out fell Takua’s sword, Jaka’s shield, and everything else the Kryll had taken from them. “We knocked out a Kryll carrying these earlier this evening. Get ready. We’re going to get the Atouri back.” Her eyes twinkled as they always did when she knew there was going to be a fight.
A screech filled the air, and everyone turned their heads to see another Kryll standing at the entrance to the clearing, staring at the body of the guard Aya had killed. It trembled, dropping a tray of food as it looked over to them. It was tall, thin, and had smaller claws than Takua was used to. There was a moment of silence as they stared at each other, each catching the other off guard. Then, with a whimper, the Kryll turned around and ran the way it came, leaving its tray upside down in the mud.
“Hey!” Aya yelled as she ran after it, pulling out her bow and plucking an arrow from her quiver. She disappeared between the foliage.
Without a word Kokani followed her, unsheathing his bladed staff, leaving Takua and Jaka no choice but to follow. Clutching his dagger with white knuckles, Takua pushed his way through the brush, weaving his way through the banyan roots, until he passed through a narrow opening between the huts. The dense plants gave way to a clearing, a few dozen feet wide, surrounded on all sides by the small, thatched dwellings. A few torches on poles burned at the edge of the forest, casting just enough orange light to see. The sun had disappeared beneath the trees.
Aya stood in the center of the huts, having tackled the escaping Kryll, pointing a readied arrow at its head. Kokani stood next to her, facing outward. All was still, all was silent, save for the quiet whimpering of the Kryll beneath Aya’s boot.
Takua joined his friends at the center of the clearing, and it was only then that he saw them. In the doorways of the huts, eyes glimmered in the dim light. Dozens of Kryll stared at them, hiding in the shadow of their homes, shying away from their blades. Old, hunched-over Kryll, tall, slim Kryll like the one at Aya’s feet, small Kryll, with large eyes. Children, elderly, families. Takua looked around him, surrounded by the creatures. But he wasn’t afraid. Instead, they were. They cowered at their weapons, too afraid to move, to even speak. He had been right; this was no war camp.
A deep voice boomed to their right, shattering the silence of the moment. A flap of cloth at the entrance to one of the larger huts was pushed away, and Krosis appeared, the Atouri now hanging around his neck. “You dare!” he repeated, rage burning in his eyes, the orange firelight making his war paint look like smeared blood.
There was howling, and three Kryll rushed out of the hut behind him, barreling straight for Aya, Takua, and Jaka. Chaos enveloped the clearing as Takua readied his sword, preparing himself as one warrior sprinted for him. Krosis drew his own weapon, calmly walking toward Kokani, who stared back, bracing himself for the warlord's wrath.
But Takua had to look away, as the warrior was upon him. The Kryll attacked, clashing its battle axe against Takua’s sword. He tried to deflect it, but the weapon was too heavy, the Kryll was too strong, and he ended up ducking awkwardly, barely avoiding the blade. Roaring, the Kryll swung again, and Takua jumped backward, swerving his way toward the huts at the edge of the clearing. He dodged another blow, the Kryll’s long axe keeping him at a distance. He gritted his teeth in frustration. He needed to get in closer.
Stepping back again, his heel hit one of the huts, a family of Kryll gasping as the warrior swung again, embedding its weapon into the wall of the shelter as Takua rolled out of the way. Scrambling to his feet, he noticed the Kryll struggling to free its weapon, and in a second he readied his sword, slashing upwards. The warrior cried out as Takua cut into its armor, carving a deep gash diagonally across its back. It fell to the ground, moaning.
Takua whirled around, readying to fend off another attack from any one of the dozens of Kryll around him, but none came. They stayed in their huts, shudderinng, clutching each other, some fidgeting, as if wanting to help the fallen warrior, but too afraid of Takua to move. His senses still on high alert, he looked back to his companions, then froze.
“Drop your weapons,” Krosis’ voice boomed, calm yet stern, as always.
Takua swore in his head. Somehow in the chaos, Krosis had gotten ahold of Jaka. He held the Le-Matoran, wrenching one arm behind his back, the tip of his blade just barely brushing against his throat. Kokani had managed to stave off one of the smaller warriors, who now stood at the edge of the clearing, bleeding from the right thigh, but not quite out of the fight. It wore black, polished armor that reflected in the torchlight. The other warrior and Aya were nowhere to be found. No one moved. Takua looked to Kokani, then back to Krosis, not sure what to do.
“Drop your weapons!” Krosis roared, losing his composure for a second. He wrenched Jaka’s arm harder, who winced as the cold steel pressed against him.
Aya’s voice rang out, and Takua looked to the far edge of the clearing. Aya stood there with her bow, an arrow nocked and readied, pointed at the head of a Kryll in front of her. A small Kryll. A small Kryll with big, yellow, terrified eyes. Takua recognized it: the child from the river.
There was silence. The torches burned, tension filling up the clearing. Takua clutched his weapon, as if holding it would help ease his pounding heart. He looked from Aya, to Kokani, to Jaka and Krosis. He saw the Krosis' eyes widen, bloodshot, but he didn’t move. He didn’t speak. No one spoke. But then, he saw something he hadn’t ever seen from the King of the Kryll; he saw fear.
“Seems we’re at a stalemate,” Kokani’s words were quiet, but they stood out in the clearing. He eyed the warrior in black at the edge of the huts, watching it like a hawk, waiting for any sudden movements.
Krosis looked from Aya to Kokani, his face stern, but his clicking mandibles giving away his anxiety. With a growl he moved his blade closer to Jaka’s throat. Takua let out a quiet noise, as if he was about to object, but too afraid to say any words. Aya responded by pulling her bow string harder, touching the barbed arrow to the back of her hostage’s head.
“Come on now,” she glared at Krosis. “This one has so much life in him still. Wouldn’t want to throw that away, would we?”
Krosis blinked for a second, breathing deeply as he stared back at the Ga-Matoran. “You wouldn’t dare.”
Aya gritted her teeth. “Try me.”
Takua’s heart pounded in his chest, beating like a drum. He flicked his gaze from Krosis to Aya, afraid that one of them would crack under the pressure. His muscles twitched, ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice. But he knew, even with the fastest reflexes in the world, it would be too late. Either Jaka and the Kryll both survived, or neither of them did.
“Look at yourself,” Krosis forced his voice to remain calm. “A child? Who’s the villain here, Matoran? Who’s the monster?”
“There’s no such thing as villains, only heroes on the other side.” Aya countered.
Kokani shot her a glance, silencing her temper. He held his bladed staff with one hand while slowly raising his other, open-palmed. “Don’t be rash,” he said cautiously, addressing Krosis. “A camp like this in the middle of nowhere? It’s no target in the war. And still you have armed guards? You must care a lot about these Kryll. No one else has to get hurt tonight.”
Krosis looked at his remaining comrade, exchanging a quick glance. He looked back to Aya, and then Kokani, letting the seconds tick by before speaking. “Your word.”
Kokani nodded. “We lay down our weapons at the same time.” He looked to Jaka, then the child. “No one gets hurt. I give you my word.”
“You will leave this place. And never return.” Krosis demanded.
Takua forced himself to breathe. Kokani nodded to him, then Aya, and finally back at Krosis. Jaka swallowed again, fear still dominating his mask. But then Kokani held his staff in front of him, slowly lowering it to the ground. Aya gradually released the tension in her bow. And inch by inch, Krosis moved his blade away from Jaka’s neck.
Takua watched, his heart still pounding, as he too lowered his sword. It seemed as if his arm was moving on its own, as all his attention was focused on Krosis. The seconds dragged on, but with each that passed, his heart beat a little bit softer, his muscles eased their tension a little bit more, and Krosis’ blade moved farther and farther from ending Jaka’s life.
And then, Jaka was free. Krosis let go of his arm, slowly backing away as Kokani and Takua’s swords touched the earth. Aya, her bow string now slack, nudged the Kryll away, and it scurried off into a nearby hut. Takua, and the entire clearing, breathed a gigantic sigh of relief.
And that’s when it happened.
Lightning fast, Aya lifted her bow again, pulled back its string, and fired an arrow straight at Krosis’ heart. The Kryll, always on alert, whirled around in a desperate attempt to dodge, but he couldn’t move fast enough.
There was a bloodcurdling cry as Krosis fell to the ground, followed by the hushed gasps of the villagers. With Aya’s arrow protruding out of his back, Krosis writhed in pain, his thick, corded muscles twitching as blood seeped out from under his armor. He struggled to right himself, but in a second Aya was standing above him, another arrow pointed at his head.
Stunned, but not quite caught off guard by Aya’s actions, Takua grabbed his sword and leapt into action, ignoring the blasphemies of the villagers behind him. He pointed it at the black-armored warrior, trying to ensure their control of the clearing, but it was clear he wasn’t a threat anymore. The wounded Kryll wobbled on his bleeding leg, hardly able to stand, but he glared at Takua with hatred, even as he struggled to control his own breathing. Takua glared back, not saying a word.
Krosis groaned as he stared up at Aya, his eyes dark. But slowly, he shook his head, his mouth twisting into an uncomfortable smile, the kind that only a defeated warrior realizing his mistakes can manage. “I should have known…”
Takua raised his sword as the bleeding warrior tried to step forward, before losing strength and sinking tothe ground. The Kryll breathed heavy, steadying himself as he placed its hands in his own widening pool of blood. Letting his blade clatter to the earth, the Kryll's forest-green eyes stared up at Takua, and, menacingly, let out a smile. His mandibles twitched, and scratchy, almost whisper-like words reached Takua's ears.
"How honorable of you," the Kryll taunted, panting, raising a hand to gesture toward Aya, blood dripping from his fingertips, forcing Takua to take a step back, unnerved. "You won't get away with this, you know," the Kryll smiled, almost as if he was enjoying the entire situation. "Destiny comes for us all, in the end."
Aya’s wasn't moved by the threat, and her response was cold and emotionless. “Yeah, and it comes even faster if you're bleeding out.” She touched the tip of her arrow to the side of Krosis’s head, freezing the warlord in place, and briefly turned her attention to Jaka. “Get some rope and bandages,” she ordered. “This one’s coming with us.”
Jaka ran off through the huts without question, and Takua continued to watch the bleeding Kryll, occasionally scanning the perimeter of the clearing, readying himself in case one of the villagers decided to act. But nothing came. They stayed in their huts, afraid of their weapons, their armor, afraid of the blood they had already shed. It was a strange feeling; no one had ever been afraid of him before. Hushed whispers reached him as Kokani approached Aya.
“Aya, what are you doing?”
Aya’s quiet voice was sprinkled with excitement. “We could end this war, Kokani.”
“That’s not what we came here to do.”
Aya scoffed. “We’re what, a day away from Ga-Koro? This is our chance. We take him and the Turaga might be able to negotiate peace. Kill him and it’ll only give their fight more cause.”
“They’re stronger than us. They’re faster than us. If more troops show up, they’ll slaughter us before we even see Ga-Koro’s walls.”
“And they won’t if we leave him here?” Aya retorted. “They’ll come for us anyway. As long as we have him we have some sort of leverage.”
There was silence for a moment, and Takua knew that at least on some level Aya was right. The Kryll always managed to find them eventually. He didn’t know how he felt about any of this, all he knew was that Jaka was alive, and he was thankful for that.
After a moment Kokani cursed. He didn’t say Aya was right, but he didn’t argue anymore.
Jaka reappeared with their packs in hand, and tossed bandages and rope to Aya. The whole while Takua stared at the clearing’s edge, trying to grapple with his thoughts. Some part of him knew that this was wrong. As Aya wrapped the rope around a stubborn but complacent Krosis, some part of him was reminded of Raipu in the Motara desert. As much as he hated Krosis, some part of him felt guilty. The Kryll’s words seemed to ring in his head.
Who’s the villain here, Matoran? Who’s the monster?
He sighed, grasping his sword as he rubbed his knuckles. He hated his feelings.
A tap on his shoulder signaled that it was time to go. He turned around to see Aya, holding the Atouri in her hand. It dangled from its broken chain, glimmering in the orange firelight, silently reflecting Takua’s mask back at him.
“Thought you might want this.” Aya said quietly.
Takua stared at it for a few seconds, before shaking his head and taking it from her. He felt the stone’s cold, smooth edges in his hands as he tied the chain in a makeshift knot. He slipped it over his head, and the stone thudded softly against his chest. The weight felt familiar, and comfortable. It almost felt like home.
With a nod, Aya turned and followed Jaka and Kokani out of the clearing, the Ko-Matoran pushing a bandaged but walking Krosis forward with the tip of his blade. They passed through the huts unchallenged. The villagers stared at them, a mixture of fear and anger flickering in their eyes, but still none of them moved. They passed through the final row of huts, and Takua spared only a moment to look back before passing into the thick forest.
All he saw were their eyes. Dozens of eyes, staring at him. Not the eyes of simple Kryll, but the eyes of people. The eyes of all kinds of people, staring at him the way he had stared out at a burning Le-Koro, so long ago. And there, he saw the child, the one who had been so curious and full of life before, watching him with confusion, fear, and hatred.
“We’ll find you!”
Takua’s attention snapped back to the bleeding Kryll, still kneeling on the ground, his pool of blood constantly widening, staining the earth red. The two locked eyes, and the Kryll nodded, repeating the words, as if swearing an oath. The firelight reflected off his black armor and jagged teeth, which grinned at Takua, promising, threatening, that the two would see each other again.
“We’ll find you.”
Takua turned around and followed his friends, into the night.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 07 2017 - 10:05 PM.
Posted Aug 31 2016 - 10:32 PM
Chapter 9 - The Sounds of Night
His footsteps echoed as Takua walked through the cavernous hall. Marble pillars lined the walls, supporting a domed ceiling high above him, although he couldn’t see it, as shadow shrouded everything. The darkness swirled around him, pushing him forward, leading him toward the end of the hall, toward the temple’s tallest tower.
But Takua knew it wasn’t simply the shadow that propelled him forward. He looked over his shoulder, sweat forming on his mask as he raised his lightstone as high as he could. A monster was here with him. Somewhere out of sight, but always stalking him, always yearning for his flesh, yearning for blood.
Takua whirled around at the sound of a deep growl, of claws scraping across the stone floor. He held his breath, his fear petrifying him, bile churning in his throat. It took all his will to move his legs, and with a heave he sprinted in the opposite direction. He had to make it to the tower. Something inside him told him where to go. Something told him if he could make it there, he would find what he was looking for.
There was a crash, and Takua stopped dead in his tracks. The beast had flanked him, cutting off his escape. He shuddered, too afraid to move, raising his lightstone again. The yellow light revealed a twisted figure, lurching its way toward him.
Powerful, clawed legs squatted, supporting a body that seemed half-beast, half-ghost. Shadow leaked off it, forming a swirling shroud that his lightstone couldn’t fully penetrate. Long arms hung at its sides, its claws dragging on the floor. Wide, hunched shoulders supported a thick neck, and its face — oh Mata Nui, its horrible face: a mass of twisted fangs, dripping with blood and drool. Orange eyes bored into his soul. Takua clamped his hand over his mouth, afraid he would scream. He knew its face. Twisted and distorted as it was, he recognized it: the Mask of Shadows.
And the awful creature opened its maw, its growl turning into a deep, putrid voice.
“You didn’t think you could escape me, did you?”
Takua tried to back away, but the beast lurched forward, pressing its horrid head against Takua’s mask.
“You did this to me, Takua. You banished me to the dark.”
Takua shook his head as he stuttered, trying to quell the monster. “I didn’t mean to… I don’t know how… I didn’t…”
“Oh, it’s much too late for that,” it growled.
And then, a twitch of its neck. Its head shot forward, fangs sinking into Takua’s flesh. He screamed.
“Hey, wake up.”
Takua twitched as Aya poked him in the shoulder, pulling him from his nightmare. His eyes flicked open, staring at her for a bit before comprehending what she was actually saying.
“It’s your turn for watch,” Aya said, just barely louder than a whisper.
Takua took another moment to focus himself, still recovering from his dream. It was the middle of the night, and their secluded camp was just the way he remembered it from hours before. Jaka and Kokani were asleep before him, and Aya’s empty mat lay behind her. All of it was nestled within of a clump of mangrove trees, their roots twisting all around them. A small stream gurgled off to the side, slipping its way through the quiet night.
“Right,” Takua mumbled, tired but relieved to be awake. He leaned over and rummaged through his pack, strapping on his belt. His sword and dagger came to rest at his hips, and he patted them, making sure they were secure. Yawning, he stretched his muscles, trying to wake himself up. He cracked his neck and sighed, looking at Aya as she sat down on her mat.
“You’ll be fine,” Aya said, answering his gaze. “Everything’s quiet. Just keep your ears open and don’t fall asleep.”
“I know. How is he?”
“Good, I guess. Sleeping like a baby. Shouldn’t cause you any trouble.”
Takua looked at her. “Really? A baby?”
She nodded. “Yeah. A big, angry, ugly, dangerous baby.”
She laid down and closed her eyes. “Wake Kokani for the next shift. If you have any trouble, just holler.”
“Yeah, I know.” Takua stepped over a sleeping Jaka as he made his way through the mangrove roots. “Sleep well.”
Aya grunted in return.
Takua stepped through the soft earth, making his way out of the camp and through a dozen feet of roots, trying to be as quiet as possible. After passing over the small stream, he sat down, nestling himself in a notch between the roots, his back against a tree trunk facing away from the camp. It was a good spot. The mangroves shielded his sides, and the trees were thinner in front of him, granting greater visibility than would normally be possible in the forest. And then, about ten feet in front of him stood another tree, tall and sturdy at its base.
Krosis was tied to it.
The Kryll, despite his torso and arms wrapped in thick rope, was sound asleep. His bandaged chest quietly rose and fell, his head slumped, eyes shut. Takua settled himself in his spot, staring at him, inadvertently clutching his dagger. Just the sight of him made him feel uneasy. He rested his head against the tree trunk and closed his eyes for a second, breathing in, and slowly letting the air out of his lungs.
Having tried to calm himself, he stared out at the trees, listening for any sound that might mean danger. There was the stream, slowly splashing against the mangrove roots, nighttime insects chirping, Krosis’ shallow breathing. Nothing else. The night was quiet. Not even the wind rustled the branches above him.
Moonlight glinted against his armor as he stared at the Kryll some more. It was bizarre, having Krosis right in front of him. All this time he had been running from this Kryll, this mighty warlord who had brought chaos upon the island of Mata Nui. And yet here he was, tied up, asleep, subject to the will of his captors. Subject to Takua’s will.
Takua had never expected to be in this situation. He looked the Kryll up and down, inspecting every nook and cranny of this being who had caused him so much pain. He saw the scratches in his golden armor, and the dirt and mud that clung to its edges. He saw the smudges of his red war paint, the imperfections in its design where water or sweat had washed it away. He saw how his blood had dried on the bandages, and he saw the remnants of older wounds. Scrapes and scars, each one its own story, its own mistake, and its own flaw.
He looked at all of this, a strange feeling coming over him. It wasn’t as if Takua had always thought Krosis to be invincible, but rather he had pictured him as on another level. This being had united his people, waged war on the Matoran, fought against Toa and lived. It only made sense that he was something… something more than ordinary. But now he looked at this Kryll, this vulnerable Kryll, inspecting all of his wounds and flaws.
They had done this. Four Matoran had done this to such a mighty warrior.
Krosis, so dangerous and terrifying, suddenly… wasn’t.
He thought about all the things Krosis had done to him. He remembered Le-Koro, being pinned down by his blade, forced to watch as Saku took Talim from him. He had been so helpless. He didn’t know how to fight. He was so young, so naive.
But a lot had changed since then.
Kokani had taught him to use a sword. He could hold his own in a fight now. He was faster, stronger, wiser. He had learned how to survive in the wild, how to assess a situation, and he knew reasonably well when to run and when to fight. He drummed his fingers on the hilt of his sword, and a thought surfaced in his head.
He could do it, if he wanted to.
It would be so easy. A flick of his wrist and it would be over. The Kryll would be without a leader. Maybe they would fight harder, but maybe they would disband and disappear. Either way, Takua would get... he paused for a moment. It seemed so dark to actually say it, but deep down, it did sound a little good. A part of him smiled at the thought.
Takua’s eyes squinted as he examined the Kryll for a few moments more. Casually, he drew his dagger and looked at it, twirling it around in his hands, glancing back and forth between it and Krosis. He toyed with the idea in his head, not really considering it, but imagining how it might go. He thought about the consequences, weighing his own feelings against them. It wasn’t anything serious, he just needed something to pass the time. Something to keep him awake. He wouldn’t ever actually do it. Would he?
It would be so easy…
He let his eyes rest on the blade of his dagger, his gaze lingering on its serrated edge. He looked back at Krosis, still asleep, still unaware of his surroundings, still so vulnerable. Takua stared at his face, slightly moving up and down as the Kryll breathed.
He could, if he wanted to.
And then Krosis opened his eyes.
It happened in an instant, as if he wasn’t even sleeping, but rather waiting. Every thought left Takua’s head as he clutched his dagger with white knuckles, his whole body tensing. His heart suddenly pounded, blood pumping through his veins, and instantly he was ready to fight, or flee.
Krosis stared at him, his eyes flicking from Takua to the dagger, and then back again. There was silence for a few moments before the Kryll spoke, his voice a low rumble in the night.
“Not planning on murdering me in my sleep, are you Takua?”
Takua returned his gaze, determined not to show how much the Kryll had startled him. He was still in control here. He had nothing to worry about. He narrowed his eyes.
“What if I was?”
Krosis smiled. “I suppose I wouldn’t be able to stop you.”
Takua breathed in through his nose and exhaled, not giving Krosis the courtesy of a response. But the Kryll went on.
“You want to. I can see if in your eyes.” He clicked his mandibles, almost excitedly. “Go ahead. I am powerless before you. Slit my throat and watch as I bleed.”
Takua stared, not breaking eye contact, but still refusing to answer.
“You could blame it on me. Perhaps you got too close on accident, and I managed to grab your dagger. Before you knew what was happening, I’d offed myself, preferring death to the fate of a prisoner.” Krosis clicked his mandibles again. “A worthy tale for a warrior such as myself. And no one could blame you; you weren’t ever trained to be a guard.”
Takua sheathed his dagger, starting to get annoyed. “I’m not going to kill you.”
“And why not?”
Takua didn’t respond at first. He wasn’t really sure. Maybe it was his conscience, some set of morals that told him it was the wrong thing to do. But more than likely it was the fact that, for whatever reason, Krosis seemed to want him to. The Kryll seemed to welcome death. So naturally Takua wouldn’t, if only out of spite. But he wouldn’t ever tell Krosis that.
“Because,” Takua came up with the only thing he could think of, even if he wasn’t entirely sure he believed it. “Because this way we might be able to save some lives.”
Krosis snorted, stopping himself from laughing. “So that’s your goal? To save lives? That’s why you’re dragging me to Ga-Koro?”
Takua wasn’t amused. “There are worse goals to have.”
“Worse than saving the lives of thieves and murderers?”
Takua’s stare was cold. He knew what Krosis was trying to do. He knew he shouldn’t let himself be sucked in by the Kryll’s taunts, but he kind of wanted to. A part of him needed to prove Krosis wrong, no matter what he said.
“The lives of innocent people,” he countered. “Good people, who don’t deserve to die just because a psychopath like you says so.”
“Ah, a psychopath,” Krosis nodded. “You’re right. That’s all I am, a psychopath leading an army of bloodthirsty monsters. Slaughtering innocents, spreading anarchy, laughing in the chaos of war.”
Krosis’ sarcasm didn’t phase Takua. He folded his arms. “That sounds about right to me.”
“So says Takua of Le-Koro, truly an unmatched judge of character.” Krosis mocked, somehow holding his dignity, even tied around a tree. “For he has seen all things that all Matoran have ever done, and none of it is evil. All enemies of Matoran must be monsters, so naturally the razing of villages, burning of homes, slaughtering of innocents, all of it is just. All of it is righteous. All of it is in the name of Mata Nui.”
“You think you’re better?” Takua snapped. “Tell that to Le-Koro. You started this war. You didn’t have to come here.”
“You’re so right,” Krosis continued his charade. “Because you were here first, weren’t you? No one could possibly have claim over this land besides you. How does the legend go? Oh yes, Mata Nui descended from the skies like a burning star, carrying the ones called Matoran.” Krosis stopped for a moment, almost laughing at his quote. But then his face grew stern and he leaned forward. “Well, we saw it happen!”
Takua rolled his eyes. “Spare me.”
The Kryll didn't. “We lived in peace before you, but you brought chaos. My ancestors watched as you came here, bringing your Rahi, your Great Spirits, your Toa who defile the very laws of nature. We watched as you struggled against Makuta. We watched as you fought the Bohrok and the Rahkshi, tearing this island apart, tearing our home apart. We watched, quietly from the shadows, for we were few then, and we were afraid.” Krosis paused, allowing himself to catch a breath. His gaze bored into Takua’s, passion and hatred burning in his eyes. “But we are many now. And we fear no one.”
No one spoke for a moment or two, and the two beings stared at each other as the sounds of the night crept in, filling the silence between their words. Overhead, some kind of winged creature fluttered, taking off into the starry sky.
Takua clenched his jaw. “Are you done? Because I can make a gag if you need me to.”
Krosis leaned his head back against the trunk of the tree, his fiery passion slowly giving way to his cooler, composed self. He let out a half smile and clicked his jaw. “Good night, little Matoran.” The warlord's beady eyes closed, and his voice lowered back to the rumble that had first greeted Takua. “Sleep well, while you still can.”
And Takua sat there, inadvertently playing with the leather on his dagger, again alone with his thoughts, watching the quiet night trek on. His heart pumping leftover adrenaline through his veins, he closed his eyes and slowed his breathing, trying to calm his frustration. He looked out at the trees, denying what he had heard. This was his home, the home of all Matoran, and the Kryll had no right to cause such pain and suffering.
He hated Krosis. He hated him so much.
The stream babbled behind him, and he listened to it, unable to sooth his emotions. Takua didn’t like to admit it, but the Kryll had got under his skin. Krosis’ every word had a way of echoing in his thoughts, and he couldn’t seem to shake himself back to normal. Images of Kryll running through the streets of Le-Koro flashed in his head, and he tried to block them out, but it wasn’t any use. He remembered how helpless he had felt in the midst of chaos, how much he had wished it was all a dream.
And then he remembered the Kryll villagers, how they had looked at him as they took Krosis captive. He remembered the child, and he remembered how much of himself he had seen in it.
He kicked the ground in frustration. He wanted to say that the Kryll were monsters, that he was good and they were evil. But none of that was true. They weren’t all that different, and as much as he hated to admit it, Krosis had a point. If anything he had said was true, well… he wasn’t so sure.
Suddenly he wasn’t sure about anything.
Takua looked up at the night sky, the Red Star glinting in the east. Soon they would be in Ga-Koro, and able to relax for a bit. He remembered Aya’s plan to watch the waves roll in with a good drink. Just sit there, and sip on something until sleep came. He sighed.
That sounded pretty good right now.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Jul 01 2018 - 11:03 AM.
Posted Dec 18 2016 - 05:21 PM
Chapter 10 - Arrival
Takua pushed a low-hanging branch out of his face, making his way through the thick underbrush. He followed a trail of bent foliage, blazed by Kokani, who walked a dozen or so feet ahead of the group. The going was slow. Thick, long grasses reached up to his thigh, and dense trees obscured his view of most anything other than the back of Krosis’ head, led by Jaka in front of him. Aya walked behind Takua, bringing up the rear.
It was about midday. The sun shone through the holes in the forest canopy, peppering everything in small, bright points of light. Kokani had said earlier that morning that they should reach Ga-Koro sometime today, and Takua wasn’t sure how he felt about that. A part of him was excited, eager to see the white-washed towers of the City of Water, but at the same time he almost doubted it would happen. They’d been on the road for so long, he’d practically accepted the fact that they’d never reach the place. Ga-Koro seemed more of an idea than an actual city, a mythical place that rested on the horizon, always just out of reach.
He shrugged as he pushed away a wide, green leaf. He’d believe it when he saw it, he supposed.
As Takua walked, he stared at Krosis in front of him. He’d expected some sort of resistance from the Kryll, but the captive warlord remained quiet and followed them without incident. In fact, Takua wasn’t sure if he’d made any noise all day. But his presence alone was enough to keep everyone quiet. Normally Aya or Jaka would strike up a conversation every once and while, but with the Kryll in tow, no one said a word. Everyone focused on their feet and followed whoever was in front of them. It was… well, Takua couldn’t really say that they were always on alert, but it was a bit uneasy.
The four Matoran continued on, trudging their way through the forest, slowly making their way east. Takua walked, resting his hands on the hilts of his sword and dagger, and he noticed that they were heading downhill, ever so slightly. It wouldn’t mean much to him normally, but he realized they had been heading down all day. That was a good sign, right? They must be getting close to the coast.
Aya’s footsteps behind him suddenly stopped, and after a second he turned around to see what the matter was. The Ga-Matoran stood there, a muddled look on her face. She swiveled her head, taking in her surroundings for a moment.
“…Aya?” Takua asked.
She stood there only a moment more, and then her face lit up. She pushed past Takua, moving as fast as she could through the brush. In a second she was gone, leaving a trail of fluttering foliage in her wake.
“Aya!” Curious, he pushed after her. He made his way toward Krosis and Jaka, but as he passed the Kryll, whether by accident or on purpose, the warlord stumbled, bumping into Takua for only a second.
Takua instantly took a few steps back, his blood suddenly pumping with adrenaline. He looked back at the Kryll, who met his gaze but said nothing. It always seemed to surprise Takua how easily Krosis could jar him.
“Watch where you’re going,” Takua said shortly as he turned to follow Aya once more.
Pushing his way through more thick underbrush, he eventually passed Kokani, who nodded shortly in the direction Aya had headed. The brush was even denser ahead, but after a few dozen feet of pushing Takua found himself free of the forest, standing in the midday sun. Aya stood just ahead of him, overlooking a huge valley that descended into the body of Naho bay. And there, at its shore, stood Ga-Koro. Takua gasped.
Whitewashed buildings, temples, and towers spread halfway around the bay, gleaming as they reflected the sun’s rays. Decorative domes and spires rose out of the cluster of white, prominently displaying the wealth that came from years of trade, made possible by the water itself. Further out into the bay Takua could see fisherman’s huts floating on gigantic lily pads, reminding him of the ancient village he’d heard about in so many stories. And there, at the end of the city closest to the ocean, stood a long, stone bridge, leading out into open water. At its end stood a circular platform and four towering pillars; Ga-Kini, the city’s oldest and grandest temple.
Most of the buildings on shore were surrounded by a plain, white wall, but some parts of the metropolis sprawled outside of its protection. The majority of the buildings were clustered around a few main gates, but smaller, simpler homes were scattered around the valley as well. These were all thatched, placed here and there between terraced rice fields, soaked in shallow water from recent rains. The fields were cut into the earth, leading all the way up where Takua stood now. A sheer cliff stood at the other side of the valley, and a grand waterfall flowed through a gigantic carving of Toa Gali’s Kaukau before spilling into the bay with a far off roar.
It was, truly, a sight to behold.
Takua savored the moment, closing his eyes as the ocean breeze brushed against his mask. He could smell the salt in the water, the white sand sprinkled at its edges, the palm leaves waving lazily in the wind. He could feel the soft earth beneath his feet, the standing water of the rice fields, the sunlight gently warming his armor.
He squatted down, staring out at the view for a minute or two as he heard the rest of his party break through the foliage. Aya’s fist playfully bumped against his shoulder, and he looked up at her.
“And you didn’t think we were ever going to make it, did you?”
Takua smiled and turned his attention back to the view. “Well… we did.”
It was a quiet, beautiful moment. One that couldn’t last forever.
“Let’s move,” Kokani spoke up. “We’re not safe until we’re inside those walls.”
Takua sighed and picked himself up, following the Ko-Matoran as he made his way down the first terrace and into the rice fields. Behind him, he heard Jaka’s voice.
“Come on,” his friend demanded as he pulled on Krosis’ leash.
But the Kryll didn’t move. He stood at the edge of the forest, and Takua turned around, feeling the warlord’s eyes boring into the back of his skull. The Kryll stared at him, a smirk slowly forming on his face.
“I think this is as far as I go.”
Takua’s blood churned as he instinctively felt tension rising in the air. Jaka pulled at the Kryll, but Krosis stood his ground. Takua’s heart began to pound, and he knew something wasn’t right. He glanced over to Aya and Kokani, and it was obvious they could feel it too. Takua reached for his hips, his left hand feeling the hilt of his sword, his right feeling the hilt of his dagger —
The realization hit Takua like a sack of rocks. His dagger was gone.
“Jaka, run!” he blurted out.
And everything happened at once. Barbed arrows flew out of the thick forest as a half dozen Kryll burst from the underbrush. Krosis ripped apart his bindings, triumphantly holding Takua’s dagger as Jaka dropped to the ground. The arrows whizzed over his head, and Takua sprinted for his friend the moment they had passed. In a second he pulled Jaka up, practically throwing him towards the fields, finding himself face to face with Krosis once again.
Takua didn’t even bother to draw his sword. He turned his heel, digging into the earth, and ran.
An arrow whizzed past his head as he jumped down the first terrace and into the rice stalks, his feet splashing into a few inches of standing water. The stalks rose up to his waist, and they whipped against his legs as he barreled forward as fast as he could. He could hear the heavy splashing of the Kryll, just seconds behind him. He hadn’t gotten a solid count on them, but there had to be at least eight, not including Krosis. He cursed himself for being so stupid. With his own dagger? He should have known.
He jumped down another terrace, following his friends as fast as he could. They were only a few feet ahead of him, but it seemed like so much more. He glanced over his shoulder to see the squad of Kryll right behind him. He counted Krosis, six warriors, three archers, and one Kryll in bronze armor that he recognized from Po-Wahi: Noruk, Krosis’ violent and aggressive right hand.
His legs started to burn and his breathing grew heavy, but still he sprinted. Down another terrace he splashed, flying by a thatched hut on his left. He caught a glimpse of a startled farmer, running into his home and slamming the door as he noticed the war party. Sounds of the Kryll yelling reached his ears, but he couldn’t make any sense of it over the rush of the wind. Takua doubled over, urging his legs to keep moving.
He cried out as an arrow glanced his left arm, cutting a shallow red line across his muscle. The pain slowed his feet for a few steps, but he willed them forward, ignoring the scrape as best he could.
Another terrace down, and into another field of rice. The water in this one was deeper, up to his calves, and his progress slowed. Cursing everything around him, he trudged through the water as fast as he could, unable to find a good rhythm to move his legs. The walls of Ga-Koro were closer now, just a few more fields to go! He pushed forward with all his might. It was all so close, but at the same time so far away.
“No more running, worm!”
Takua heard Noruk’s growl a second before something blunt hit him in square in the back, and he was down. He fell face first into the murky water, submerging for an instant, but he pushed himself back up as fast as he could. He scrambled to stand, to shake his head and clear his vision, but it was too late. Noruk was on him.
The bronze-armored Kryll seemed to be the fastest of the group, as the others were still a ways back, but that didn’t mean he was the smallest. Noruk towered over Takua, grabbing him by the ankles and pulling him backward, dragging him through the water. Takua screamed, half submerged, trying to alert his friends while fumbling for his sword. He kicked at Noruk, slamming his boot into the Kryll’s forearm, forcing him to let go for a second.
It was all Takua needed. He popped back up and sprinted again, putting a precious few feet between him and the Kryll. Another arrow flew by his head, and Takua winced. This one had come from in front of him.
Up ahead, Aya had turned around, readying her bow to fire at Noruk again. “Eat Mahi dung, you ugly — ”
“Aya, go!” Takua cut her off, just moments before her second arrow flew past his shoulder. He heard a loud splash as Noruk dodged, falling into the water as he did. Looking forward, he saw both Jaka and Kokani had drawn their weapons, ready to come back and fight for him. “All of you, go!” he insisted.
His ears caught more splashes as the rest of the Kryll caught up to Noruk, just as he in turn caught up with Aya. Takua grabbed her hand as he passed, pulling her from the fight, forcing her to run. Naturally, Aya yanked her arm away, but she continued with his pace. She knew as well as he did that they couldn’t win this fight.
They flew down two more terraces and past another hut, and they were almost there. Ga-Koro’s walls loomed ahead, only one more field and a narrow stretch of scrub grass separating them from the cluster of buildings huddled outside the nearest gate. A wide, dirt rode cut through the fields to their right, and Takua could see Matoran milling about, unaware of the chaos rapidly encroaching. It was too far away to tell for now, but there had to be guards among them, right? Without an army behind them, the Kryll’s small party wouldn’t dare get too close to the city, would they?
Takua and Aya splashed down one more terrace, and into the last field. His breathing labored, Takua pushed himself to stay in pace with Aya. He could hear Noruk behind them, yelling, screaming at his warriors, desperate not to let their prey escape. The water and rice stalks at their feet slowly thinned as they pushed their way out of the field, and Takua ducked at the sound of an arrow flying through the air.
It flew harmlessly over Takua and Aya, but buried itself in Jaka’s back.
“Jaka!” Takua screamed as his friend fell to the ground. In a few seconds, he caught up and slid to a halt, rapidly looking him over, trying to help but not sure what to do.
Jaka writhed on the ground, struggling to get back up, but his muscles spasmed and he was down again. The arrow had sunk deep into the tissue below his shoulder blade, just to the left of his spine. Blood seeped out of the wound, staining the grass around them.
“Go!” Jaka urged Takua between his gasps of pain. “Take the Atouri and go!”
Aya and Kokani stood beside them, Aya already shooting arrows at the rapidly encroaching Kryll, and Kokani unsheathed his blade, holding it ready. Takua tried to grab Jaka and help him up, but the Le-Matoran pushed him away.
“I said go!” Jaka yelled at him.
“I’m not leaving you!” he yelled back, pushing his friend back to the ground. Without letting him say anything else, Takua grabbed him from underneath the arms, dragging him as he stumbled backwards across the grass. Now facing their attackers, he could see them coming, all too fast. Aya had already managed to wound one with her bow, but something told him he wouldn’t be able to make it at this pace.
He heaved, his legs straining, pulling Jaka as fast as he could. He watched as Aya and Kokani stood their ground without a word, trying to buy them time. The first of the Kryll reached them, swinging a scimitar at Kokani, who dodged it and engaged. Aya fired her bow at a brute behind it, slicing through its shoulder armor but not stopping its charge. Takua pulled even as Jaka objected, smearing his blood across the grass, trying desperately to make it far enough so that the city would notice them. It couldn’t end like this, not when they were so close.
Aya threw her bow to the ground, abandoning it for her sword as a Kryll reached her. Kokani now fought two at once, expertly dodging and parrying, but how long could they keep it up? Noruk had almost caught up to them, and Krosis was right behind him.
Takua heaved, feeling Jaka’s blood drip onto his boots. He pulled and he pulled, trying to save his friend, trying so hard to reach the city. His legs and back burning, he heaved and he heaved, each time dragging Jaka a few more feet across the earth. He heaved once more, but this time he lost traction. Jaka slipped from his grasp as he lost his balance and fell, his mask hitting a small patch of snow with a thud.
Takua scrambled to get back up again, but froze for a second as he looked back at the ground.
He lifted his head and saw two armored boots standing just a few feet in front of him, and Takua’s skin prickled. A chill ran through the air and he noticed that the sky had greyed, and it was starting to flurry. There was a tinge of frost covering the grass where the being stood, and Takua slowly followed the armored boots upward, taking in the warrior that stood before him.
It was a tall, slim figure, clad in shining white and grey armor. He held a sword in one hand, its blade the color of melted and re-frozen ice, and a round shield in the other, reminding Takua of sparkling, virgin snow. A trim but powerful torso led Takua’s gaze to the being’s mask: a pure white Akaku, one that had stood the test of time and carved an age’s worth of legends and stories. Eyes as blue as the underside of a glacier pierced into his own, and Takua shivered as he felt the winds of Ko-Wahi rattle through him.
The fighting behind Takua stopped as the Kryll, Aya, and Kokani noticed the Toa standing in their midst. The air grew quiet and still as everyone stood in a mix of awe and shock. Kopaka’s gaze lingered upon each of the Kryll, until pausing on Nourk, and then finally Krosis. It was as if the rice fields of Ga-Wahi had changed entirely, and they now stood in a quiet glen, muffled by falling snow. A light breeze blew as the Toa of Ice gripped his sword in one hand and opened his mouth to speak. His voice was deep and quiet, but it emitted power like nothing Takua had ever heard before.
“I’d suggest you leave, while you still can.”
Takua saw the rage in Krosis’ eyes, the impeccable hatred he had for this legendary being. He stared at the Toa for a moment or two, his knuckles white around Takua’s dagger, his mandibles twitching ever so slightly. He glared, staring at the Toa of Ice without fear, but at the same time knowing that he was beaten.
He signaled for his troops, and in a second they had fled, disappearing into the fields, leaving the Matoran alone. The violence and chaos of just a minute ago was gone, as if it had never happened.
It took Takua a bit to process what he had witnessed, but eventually he looked back up to the Toa, meeting his deep blue eyes once more. Takua fumbled for his words, pulling them out of his throat as he tried to grasp the being that stood before him. Toa Kopaka, the living embodiment of ice. He was cold, harsh, and commanded respect without saying a word. Takua was certain he could freeze anyone solid with only a glance.
“You saved us…” Takua said quietly, with as much respect and gratitude he could muster. “…Thank you, Toa Kopaka.”
Their eyes met for a moment more, but then the Toa lifted his chin to survey the land. With a quick glance he must have determined it to be safe, as he turned around without saying a word. Calmly, he walked back toward the city gates, leaving a tinge of frost wherever his feet touched the ground. Takua watched him go, unsure what to think. He stared as the Toa walked away, in a bit of a trance, not noticing anything else.
By the time he was able to blink he was surround by Ga-Matoran. Suddenly there were guards, healers, priests, politicians, traders, and a plethora of other people he had never met poking and prodding him, asking him questions, reaching out to brush their fingers against the Atouri. But he ignored them all. He looked over to his friends, relieved that they were safe. A team of healers was attending to Jaka, inspecting his wound, cleaning it, and preparing it as best they could until they could get him into the city. Takua made eye contact with Aya, then Kokani, and then Jaka as the crowd of people thickened around them, and they all nodded to each other.
It was a silent nod, one that didn’t need any words to accompany it. After all the time they had spent travelling, it seemed fitting that there were simply some things that couldn’t be expressed with words. Some things just needed a nod, maybe a slight smile, and the knowledge that they had made it.
Because after all the hills, mountains, deserts, tunnels, rivers, and forests, after all the hikes, battles, chases, fights, and fireside conversations, after all this time, after everything they had been through, they’d made it.
They’d finally made it.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 08 2017 - 11:55 AM.
Posted Jan 15 2017 - 10:36 PM
Chapter 11 - Preparation
The heavy wooden doors creaked as the two servant girls pushed their weight against them, leading Takua into a luxurious bath. The entire room was white marble, with a circular pool carved into the middle of the floor. It was filled with hot water, and Takua could see the steam rising from its still surface. A large mirror was placed to his right, and the wall ahead of him was made entirely of glass tile, offering a distorted view of the city sprawling below him. Takua stood in the middle of the room for a minute, taking it all in.
“Towels!” One of the servant girls chimed happily as she pulled a stack of plush white cloth from a cabinet in the corner. She was the taller of the two, with bright green eyes.
“Would you care for an explanation of the soaps, oils, and polishes we have available?” the other girl asked. Her armor was a darker shade of blue than the first, and had deep blue eyes to match. She gestured dramatically to a small shelf next to the pool, packed with variety of colored bottles. “Honored guests may feel free to use any resources the Turaga’s palace has available. If none are to your liking, please let us know and we will do our best to make accommodations.”
“Um,” Takua looked at the shelf, having absolutely no idea what one would do with so many concoctions. “…No thanks. I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”
“Sir?” The first girl chimed in, still holding the stack of towels. “Where would you like your towels?”
Takua scratched the back of his head. “…The floor?”
She hesitated for a moment, as if that wasn’t an answer she was used to hearing, but smiled politely and placed them in a neat pile next to the bath.
“Is there anything else that we may be able to provide?” the blue-eyed girl asked, her head slightly tilted down, but looking up at Takua with her hands behind her back. “It is our duty to make sure that you are as comfortable as possible.”
The taller one stood next to her, and blinked slowly as she gave him the exact same look. “If there is anything at all, you need only to say the word.”
“I think I’m okay, thank you though.”
“Are you sure?” The darker one gazed at him gently, almost… longingly. “We shall be right outside the door if you change your mind.”
Takua squinted and stared at them for a second, suddenly not sure if they were just doing their job or insinuating… something else. “…I’ll make sure to let you know if I do.”
The two bowed their heads and slowly pulled the doors shut behind them. With a solid thump, Takua was left alone.
He took a deep breath. Finally.
The last few hours had been, at least to Takua, insanity. Word had spread quickly, and the crowd of people greeting them at the gate had only grown larger. Jaka was carted off to the Turaga’s palace immediately, but Takua, Aya, and Kokani had to deal with pushing through the crowd until one of Turaga Nokama’s advisors found them, and ordered everyone to disperse. They were led through dozens of crowded city streets, and up a small hill until finally reaching the palace, a huge domed structure on the innermost part of the bay.
But, upon their arrival they were met with yet another slew of advisors, politicians, and servants clamoring to meet them. Everywhere they went, Ga-Matoran glanced in their direction, exchanging hushed, but excited words. It was as if they were royalty from a far-off land, or exotic creatures they had heard rumors about, but weren’t sure of the truth. At first all the attention was exciting, but it grew old quickly, and Takua had almost started to wish he was back in the wilds.
The Turaga’s advisor had given them each a guest suite to stay in, along with a plethora of servants who happily waited on them hand and foot. But after hours of meeting faces he would never remember, shaking hands he would never touch again, and being introduced to people he didn’t care about, Takua only wanted to be alone. So naturally, the first thing he had requested was a hot bath.
Takua took a deep breath, savoring the peace and quiet for a moment before catching his reflection in the mirror. Walking over to it, he wiped off a thin layer of fog and stared at himself.
It wasn’t that he was really surprised by how he looked, but rather he simply imagined himself as a different person than the one he saw. He seemed a bit taller, a bit more muscular than he remembered, and the Takua that grew up in Le-Koro was almost nowhere to be found. Gone were all traces of city life, replaced by the scratches, dings, and scars that came from the wilderness. His armor still fit him well, but the island of Mata Nui had taken its toll. Every crevice of his body had a layer of dirt, blood, or sweat caked onto it, and his armor didn’t shine and glimmer like it used to. Everything about him was hardened, battle-tested, and worn.
In a way, he kind of liked it.
And then there were the scars. Faded, but still visible were the three long claw marks on his side, a memory of the Muaka way back in Ko-Wahi. There was the deep line in his shoulder, where the Kryll had shot him in the Underworld, and the thin line across his mask from Illum’s attack. It cut from his forehead to his cheekbone, and while it reminded him of the awful things that had happened in the Onu-Koro, he still managed to smile at himself.
Like a real warrior…
He rested his hands on his belt, feeling the hilt of his sword, and then the empty scabbard where his dagger should’ve been. He looked down at it, suddenly feeling incomplete, mentally kicking himself. The one thing he had from Le-Koro, the one thing that had been with him all the way across the island, stolen just before making it to safety. He grumbled, cursing himself and Krosis equally.
With a sigh, he let his belongings slip to the floor, one by one. He eased his way into the bath, letting the hot water embrace him. It soothed his joints and muscles, softening and washing away the encrusted dirt, and he laid his head back against the edge of the tub, closing his eyes. He did his best not to think about anything, choosing instead to enjoy the warmth of the water, the calming effect of the steam as it brushed against his mask. He sat there soaking in silence, and for a while, he let himself truly relax.
It must have been a rather long while, as he soon found himself dozing off.
He started to dream, about peaceful things. He dreamed of the forest, of the ocean, and the waves as they crashed into the shore of Ga-Wahi. He dreamed of the sunlight beaming down upon him, of the soft white sand beneath his feet. He dreamed of the Ga-Matoran, their blue armor shining as they went about their business in the city. Even the two servant girls entered his head, their voices conversing with someone else he recognized.
“Is he in there?” It was Aya’s voice.
“Master Takua is bathing. He is not to be disturbed, please.”
“Master Takua? What the f — "
The sound of heavy doors being pushed open startled Takua awake, and he looked up at Aya as she barged her way into the bath.
“Mata Nui, Aya, don’t you knock?” he hid himself under the murky water, staring at her with a mix of shock and confusion.
“No,” Aya said, completely ignoring or simply unaware of the awkwardness of the situation. “Jaka needs you. Get your stuff, come on.”
A bit taken aback, Takua found himself suddenly worried. “Jaka? Is he okay?”
“Should be… I don’t know,” she shrugged, placed her hands on her hips and looked at him impatiently. “Look, he needs you, alright? That’s all I know.”
“Alright,” Takua said, still hiding under the water. He stared back at Aya for a moment, who didn’t move. There was a second of silence before Takua realized she wasn’t taking the hint. “…Can I have some privacy while I get out?”
“What? Oh! Uh… okay,” Aya turned around to wait outside as Takua started to get out of the bath. She passed the two servant girls, who stood by the doors, staring. Aya paused to glance at them, before shaking her head in disgust.
It only took a minute for Takua to dry off and get ready. Throwing his towel back to the floor, he strapped his belt on and met Aya in the hallway, ignoring the servants as they rushed in to tidy up the bath once more.
Aya motioned for him to follow as she briskly walked down the corridor.
Takua had to ask. “He’s okay though, right? The healers patched him up?”
“They’re working on it.”
“Still? It’s been hours!”
“I guess it’s more complicated than it looked. I don’t know, I haven’t seen him. But Kokani said he’s been asking for you.”
Takua furrowed his brow as Aya led him through a large dining hall, before turning into a slew of meeting rooms and ornate hallways. She wound her way through the palace, until finally stopping in a narrow passage with a small wooden door at the end. Aya nodded towards it, motioning for Takua to go inside.
Takua placed his hand on the doorknob, already hearing the muffled sounds of people talking. With a creek he pushed it open, revealing a small, dreary room with a bed in the middle. Three figures stood around to it, who all turned around to look as Takua entered. Takua noticed Kokani in the corner, quietly watching the whole ordeal.
It was only then that Takua saw Jaka, lying on his stomach on the bed, the white sheets below him stained with blotches of red. His chin rested at the edge of the mattress, his mask white with pain and exhaustion. But at the sight of Takua, he still managed a smile.
“Jaka!” Takua ran to the foot of the bed, kneeling down so that he was at eye level with his friend. “What’s going on? Are you okay?” He briefly looked his friend over, shocked to see the barbed arrowhead still embedded in his back. “I thought you’d be all done by now!”
“Yeah…” Jaka winced as one of the healers put pressure on his shoulder blade. “It’s been an adventure. Thanks for coming.”
“Yeah! Of course!” Takua managed a reassuring smile, trying to conceal how worried he was. “What, um… what do you need?”
“Your friend got hit in a tricky spot, Takua.”
Takua looked up at the healers huddled around Jaka, acknowledging their presence. Two of them were Ga-Matoran, a bit older than himself, but the third was hunched over and elderly. She wore a lined, light blue Rau, and Takua noticed a staff shaped like a trident resting against the edge of the bed beside her. It was her that spoke in a deep, scratchy, yet calm and friendly voice.
“The arrow didn’t hit anything major, but if he moves at all when we take it out it could cut through a few important muscles, which we would rather avoid doing.”
Takua stared at her for a second, now realizing who he was talking to. “T-Turaga Nokama!” he said, stuttering. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you. It’s an honor to finally meet — “
Nokama smiled, but cut him off as politely as she could. “It’s nice to meet you as well, Takua. But for now, help your friend. We can exchange formalities later.”
“Right,” Takua shook his head, turning his attention back to Jaka. “I’m here for you.”
Jaka closed his eyes for a moment, focusing on his breathing. He looked at Takua. “Remember when you got shot in Onu-Wahi?”
“And I was a baby about you pulling it out?”
“Yeah…” Jaka said between breaths. “Well… I don’t know. Just like… hold my hand or something.”
Takua smiled a bit, but gripped Jaka’s right hand as he let it dangle off the edge of the bed. “I’ve got your back.”
Takua met the Turaga’s gaze and nodded, who signaled to the other healers. They took their spots, holding Jaka down against the mattress, immobilizing him as best they could. Nokama gently placed her hands on the arrowhead.
Jaka breathed in through his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. “This is going to hurt, isn’t it?” His grip around Takua’s fingers tightened.
“Nothing more than falling into a Le-Koro briar patch,” Takua reassured him. He nodded to Nokama one more time, and the healers braced themselves against Jaka’s body.
“I don’t believe you at all.”
Nokama pulled on the arrowhead, freeing it from Jaka’s muscle as he cried out, squeezing Takua’s hands like a vice. The healers held him down as his back spasmed, but in a second it was over, and Jaka lay on the bed, winded and pale.
Nokama placed the arrowhead in a small bucket, and raised her hands above the wound. The room grew suddenly quiet, with Jaka’s heavy panting the only sound that reached Takua’s ears. He watched in awe as an orb of clear water coalesced in Nokama’s hands, and she slowly guided it down, pressing it, massaging it into Jaka’s back.
Her voice was calm and quiet. “Heal, child. Heal…”
Jaka moaned, and Takua couldn’t tell if it was from pain or relief. His back stopped twitching, and he lay on the bed, his eyes still closed as the Turaga began to rock back and forth, pressing the water into his wound. She worked her fingers around it, gently but with purpose, cautiously but confidently pressing her healing hands against Jaka. Minutes ticked by as Nokama channeled her power, and slowly Jaka’s panting faded. Little by little, his grip on Takua eased, and his furrowed brow returned to rest. His eyes remained closed, but instead of squeezing them shut, his lids rested peacefully, as if he were asleep.
“Rest, child. The water will heal you.”
Jaka’s hand slipped out of Takua’s, his arm loosely hanging off the foot of the bed. Nokama removed her hands from him, and the healers eased their grip, now beginning to cover the wound with soft bandages. Nokama stepped back from the bed and grabbed her trident. Without saying a word, she began to hobble towards the door, as if exhausted. Takua looked from her to Jaka and then back, still not exactly sure what he had just witnessed.
“He’s going to be okay, right?” he asked.
The Turaga paused to look back at him, and smiled. “He’ll be just fine.”
Takua, Aya and Kokani followed the Turaga into her study, a cozy, yet decent sized room filled to the brim with books, scrolls, parchment, and various brass instruments that seemed like they could be used in anything from engineering to astrology. The walls were lined with curved bookshelves, all of them stuffed full of knowledge, and ladders on rails were placed here and there, allowing access to the taller shelves. In the middle of the room was a huge brass telescope, pointed at an angle towards a hole in the domed roof. The Turaga’s desk was situated directly underneath it.
Nokama shuffled over to her desk, supporting half her weight on her trident, before plopping into a tall velvet chair with a sigh. She motioned towards a cluster of chairs for the three Matoran to sit as well, before leaning against her desk and looking at each one of them in the eye.
“A long while ago I received a letter from Turaga Nuju, explaining that he’d assigned you to complete this task, and that I should expect your arrival sometime in the near future. My fellow Turaga is very wise, so I trusted that you would be up for the task,” she smiled, shaking her head a little. “But to be honest you had me worried for a bit there.”
The three looked at each other for a moment before Aya spoke up. “We… uh… we had a few setbacks along the way.”
“I apologize, I don’t mean to chastise you! It was no small task, indeed. If anyone could have done it, it would have been a band of extraordinary Matoran like yourselves.” Nokama paused for a second to collect her thoughts. “But I am very relieved to see your faces alive and well. And I am so proud of you. All of you.”
Takua clutched the Atouri against his chest, feeling a bit warm from the Turaga’s words. “It’s very good to be here,” was all he could manage to say.
Nokama smiled again, letting silence reign for a moment before assuming a more dutiful poise. “But, to business,” she said shortly as she scooted her chair up to her desk. “I have been watching the stars for a while now, and the coming of the Seventh is near. All the pieces are in place; the prophesy waits for nothing but our actions,” she cleared the clutter off her desk, exposing a map of the island of Mata Nui. “I have sent for the Toa. Kopaka is already here as I’m sure you know, but my advisors tell me that the others should be able to arrive by tomorrow. I see no reason to delay the summoning.”
“What do you need of us, Turaga?” Kokani asked.
“In short, stay here. Stay close, stay safe, and help me to make sure nothing happens to the Atouri.”
Takua listened on the edge of his seat, trying to take in everything he could. The Turaga turned to look at him, and he found himself tightly gripping the Atouri. His heart slowly began to pound as he felt the stone’s faces and edges, and he looked down at it. He had always felt a strange attachment to the stone, a sort of resentful need to keep it close, but now it seemed stronger than ever. He wished he could just cast it aside without thinking, but the more he looked from the stone to the Turaga the more he found himself, well, almost paralyzed.
He shook his head as he stood up, unclipped the stone from around his neck and handed it to Nokama. “I suppose you’ll need this then?” he said, a bit of discomfort in his voice.
Nokama looked at the Atouri, resting in Takua’s hand. She stared with cold eyes, as if the sight of it brought up old, uncomfortable, memories. She reached out as if she was going to take it, but instead pushed Takua’s fingers closed and slowly shook her head. “You have carried it this long. You are better equipped to keep it safe than I am.” Then, after a moment or two, “Be the one to meet the Toa at Ga-Kini. Be the one to summon the Seventh. See this through until the very end, Takua.” She closed her eyes for only a second. “It’s what Matau would have wanted.”
Takua felt Nokama’s fingers around his, and the Atouri, slightly warm inside his grip. Somehow he had known that this wasn’t the end, if only for a day more. He felt like he should be scared or nervous, considering what was coming, but he wasn’t. If he felt anything, it was relief, knowing that he could keep the Atouri for just a little while longer. His heart slowed as he pulled the stone back and clipped it around his neck again. He sat back in his chair, relieved, but at the same time wishing that he wasn’t.
“I’ll do what I can,” he said plainly.
Nokama nodded at him, and turned to the others again. “Krosis knows you’re here. From what I can tell Makuta still hides, rumor has it in his tower across the sea, but we can assume he knows all that Krosis does. Whatever happens once the Toa arrive, I guarantee it will not be easy. I doubt Makuta will sit idly by as we summon the being with the power to destroy his heart.”
“You think the Kryll will attack the city?” Aya asked.
“I’m certain of it. Their advances seemed unstoppable until the Toa arrived, and their foothold on the island has diminished to the north ever since.” She pointed to the map in front of her, accentuating her points. “Le-Koro and Ko-Koro are too remote for them to reach now, and while they still control Po-Koro I do not foresee any attempts to take the Underworld. Since Onu-Koro’s revolution the city is politically and economically unstable. Many passages to the city have collapsed, but those that remain are heavily guarded.”
It was Kokani’s turn to speak up. “Illum has been ousted then?”
Nokama searched for the right words. “Somewhat. Gali and Onua helped to spark it, and while many were unhappy with Illum’s rule, there are those that still support him. Rumors about his involvement in Whenua’s death are circulating, and he is under surveillance for now. He goes nowhere without a trusted agent of the other Koro watching him.”
“Surveillance?” Takua found himself sour at the mere mention of Illum, and downright angry with the fact that he had escaped punishment so far. “He betrayed us. He sold information to the Kryll. He tried to infect me!”
“I am aware of what he tried to do to you and many others, Takua.” Nokama said sternly but respectfully. “You have a right to be upset, but Illum’s fate is not your concern at this point.”
Takua sat back in his chair, trying to conceal his feelings out of respect for the Turaga. But Nokama didn’t seem to notice, or if she did she simply chose to ignore him. She went on.
“Whatever happens in Onu-Koro, it would be too difficult for the Kryll to take it now, and even if they did they only gain a city already in disorder. Ga-Koro and Ta-Koro are the last remaining major threats to them. If Krosis can take Ga-Koro and prevent the coming of the Seventh, he will have reestablished his chances of taking the island, Toa or not. This is their last chance at victory, and I don’t think Krosis would be foolish enough to let that slip through his fingers.
“I’ve already given the order to increase patrols of the valley and double the guards on the walls. Ships wait day and night at the entrance to the bay, so no matter where Krosis comes from we shall see him coming.” Nokama sat back in her chair, matter-of-factly. “All we can do now is wait, and pray we do not fall before the Toa arrive.”
No one spoke for a few seconds. Aya drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair, looking from Kokani to Takua. “Wait… huh. I guess we can do that.”
Takua looked at her. “I can finish my bath.”
Nokama let out a slight chuckle. “If you’re worried about being bored, don’t be. I’ve already arranged a bit of a… celebration. For your arrival, of course.”
Kokani raised his eyebrows. “A celebration?”
Nokama smiled. “Just because we’re at war doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves in our downtime, Kokani.” She stood up promptly, motioning towards the door. “Now, go wash up and relax for a bit. The banquet starts at dusk, and I expect all of you to attend, at least for a little while.”
Takua could sense the excitement coming from Aya, and the resigned melancholy from Kokani. They all stood up and bowed to the Turaga, making their way towards the door. Takua followed his friends, but as he placed his hand on the doorknob, Nokama spoke again.
“A moment alone, Takua, if you please.”
Takua exchanged a quick glance with Aya, then turned around and closed the door, leaving him alone with the Turaga. The room was quiet, and Nokama looked at him from behind her desk, her expression now serious and emotionless. She looked him up and down, and Takua could feel her scrutiny. The back of his neck prickled, and he narrowed his eyes, not quite feeling at ease.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Takua.” Nokama’s voice seemed to change. It wasn’t hostile, but the friendliness behind it seemed to have vanished. “I heard about what you did to the Toa of Shadow.”
Takua didn’t say anything. Somehow, he felt he didn’t have to. He met her gaze, respectfully, but unapologetically.
“I know you have many questions, probably about a great deal of things. But you won’t find answers here.”
Takua picked at the leather on his sword before answering. “I meant to ask you at some point,” he said honestly, but with a resigned acceptance. “But I think I’ve learned that what I’m looking for won’t be found in any of the Turaga’s libraries.”
The Turaga nodded. “Perhaps you’re right.” She placed her hands on the edge of her desk, holding herself as she leaned forward slightly. “What I need to know is, when the time comes and you find yourself caught between the Matoran and Makuta, can I trust you to make the right decision?”
Takua looked down, trying to be as honest as possible with the Turaga. He knew what he would like to say, that he would always reject the darkness, always follow the light, fight for the side of good. But he couldn’t say that with a clean conscience. In the end, he said all that he knew to be true.
“I certainly hope so.”
At first Nokama didn’t move, but eventually she pushed herself off the desk and stood at her full height, looking at him with the same resigned acceptance that Takua had felt just moments before.
“I certainly hope so too.”
She sat back down in her chair, turning her attention toward the large telescope above her. She started to fiddle with a few knobs, and Takua took this as his cue to leave. He pulled open the door and stepped outside, but paused as he heard Nokama speak once more.
“I’ll see you tonight at the banquet,” she turned around briefly to look at him through the doorway. The friendliness in her voice had returned. “And try to enjoy yourself, will you Takua? You seem like you need a good celebration.”
Takua looked at her, at first not sure how to respond, but eventually he leaned over and bowed. He turned around without saying a word, and closed the door behind him.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 08 2017 - 04:03 PM.
Posted Feb 09 2017 - 09:31 PM
Chapter 12 - Plans
Takua pulled himself onto the low marble wall, content to sit atop it and watch as the banquet went on in front of him. His feet dangling off the ledge, his legs involuntarily twitched to the beat of the music, enjoying the moment away from chatter and small talk. He took in the cheerful night, gazing up at the strings of yellow lightstones suspended a dozen or so feet above. He grabbed his drink from where it sat beside him and took a sip, letting the warm brew fill him. He had no idea what it was, but he tasted a bit of pineapple amongst other various spices. He liked it; it reminded him of home.
Turaga Nokama had put on a really great show, considering the circumstances of the war. The banquet took place on a large stone patio on the edge of the bay, surrounded by the marble wall Takua sat on now. One end was connected to the palace, where servers and staff rushed in and out, bringing food and drink to the guests, but the other was open, allowing access to the beach with just a few a steps. There was a stage opposite Takua, where a band played tropical music as Matoran danced merrily around, and tables with chairs were positioned along the patio’s edge for people to sit, eat, drink, and talk.
He watched them mill about. It was an interesting crowd, to say the least. Unlike Illum’s coronation, Nokama hadn’t limited her guest list to the rich and elite. There were Matoran of all walks of life, from politicians to soldiers to fisherman. Undoubtedly, this led to some very interesting conversations, which Takua always managed to get wrapped up in whenever he tried to make his way through the crowd. He’d been coerced into telling stories about their journey so many times he’d lost count, and while it was repetitive, he did enjoy watching people’s faces as he told them about the time they’d fought two Muaka, or crossed the Motara desert, or how they’d managed to capture Krosis himself, if only for a day or two.
He looked up from his cup and noticed a server moving toward him. She held a tray with a half dozen brews of various sizes, and offered it to him as she approached. She was about Takua’s age and pretty, with bright green eyes. “May I offer you some liquid confidence?” she asked light-heartedly.
He looked at her, recognizing her from somewhere. “Still working on this one, thank you though,” Takua raised his own cup and swirled it around, but her eyes caught his attention again. He stared at her for just long enough to feel like he had to say something, so he awkwardly opened his mouth. “I’m sorry, have we…?”
“Met before?” she finished his sentence and grinned, as if honored that he had noticed. “I’m Soli. I helped prepare your bath earlier, Takua.”
“…Oh!” he said, taking a huge gulp from his drink, if only so he could hide his face for a second. He wiped the extra liquid from his lips and went on, as best he could. “…Well, it’s nice to meet you, Soli.”
“Do you have a minute?” she asked.
“Uh…” Takua looked around, slightly gesturing to the lack of people around him. “Sure, I suppose.”
She placed her tray on a nearby table and leaned against the wall, fiddling with her hands. “I’ve been hearing rumors about you for a while. Based on everything I’ve heard, I must say I think you’re very brave.”
Takua looked away from her, letting out a half-smile as he turned his attention toward the banquet. “That’s what everybody keeps telling me. I don’t think so, though.”
“You should watch your words,” she bit her lip playfully. “Or soon there’ll be rumors about how humble you are, too.”
Takua let out a polite, but slightly uncomfortable chuckle. He clutched the Atouri, not really sure how to respond to that. “Well, thank you, I’m flattered.”
She tilted her head to the side, brushing her hand slowly around the rim of her tray. “Is that it?”
“That stone around your neck? That’s the Atouri?”
Takua became aware that he was squeezing it, a habit he must have developed sometime along their journey. “Oh. Yeah, this is it.”
“I’ve heard the stories,” she said, a curious tone in her voice. “Always thought the idea was interesting. So much power in one little object, you know?”
“I guess,” Takua looked down, affectionately twirling it in his palm. “I’ve had it for so long I don’t think about it too much, to be honest.”
Soli took a step forward to see it up close, but then hesitated and looked up at Takua. “…Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” he said politely, unclipping it from his neck and holding it out so she could see.
Soli leaned close to him. Slowly, she reached out and touched the black stone, feeling it as she traced its edges with her index finger. She slipped one hand underneath it, and Takua could feel the back of her palm brush against his. She glanced up at him, a sensual, almost romantic gaze.
He started to feel uneasy. The seconds ticked by as she held the Atouri, and he became aware of his heart. It beat softly at first, but the longer her hands touched the stone the stronger it started to thump. He could feel his blood rushing through his body, the sound of it flooding into his ears.
Anxiety crept into his mind. Why had he let her get so close? To be polite? It seemed so foolish now. She caressed it as if it belonged to her, but it was his. He felt… almost jealous, that she was the one giving it so much attention. No one should be that close to it but him. No one! His heartbeat pounded in his head, the sound filling his thoughts.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
Takua twitched, involuntarily shaking the Atouri from her hands. A bit startled, she took a step back, and Takua automatically grabbed the stone, holding it close. He breathed in quickly, catching his breath as his heart began to ease, and he realized how insane he had just felt. He looked at the stone, and then to Soli, who stared back with a hint of confusion.
“Sorry,” he said, placing a fake smile on his face. “Nervous tick, I guess.”
Soli beamed one back, and smoothly picked up her tray. “Well, after I make this round I’ll be done with my shift.” She paused, holding the tray in front of her, as if waiting for Takua to reply. But the Le-Matoran didn’t seem to be taking the hint, and so she went on. “Would you want to meet up somewhere? I could…” her eyes twinkled. “...Show you around, if you’d like.”
It took Takua a second, but then it clicked, and he felt his face warm. He looked down and smiled, this time sincerely, as he scratched the back of his head. “Thanks, but I actually have plans,” he lied.
“…Oh,” Soli said as she lifted the tray to her shoulder, expertly balancing the drinks atop it. The excitement and energy in her voice was instantly gone. “Well I guess I’ll see you around, Takua.”
Unable to stop himself from feeling guilty, he scrambled for something to say before she turned to leave. “But you know…!” he hopped down from the wall to grab her attention, nodding towards the long table across the patio where all of the banquet’s food sat. Jaka stood near the end of it, sampling a variety of jams. “…I know for a fact my friend Jaka is free. He’s getting over an injury, so I doubt he can dance or anything, but I… I don’t know. He’s a good guy. You might like him.”
Soli swiveled around. “Jaka? Haven’t heard much about him to be honest.”
“He took an arrow for me, from Krosis himself,” Takua said, exaggerating only a little. “And he’s a lot braver than I am, I promise.”
Soli turned back to Takua, a knowing, but appreciative look on her face. “You’re sweet, Takua.”
And again Takua was left with his tongue in a knot, unable to come up with a good response.
“I’ll see you, Le-Matoran,” Soli bowed politely.
She went off to go fulfill the rest of her duties, and Takua was left alone, staring as he held his half-empty drink. He watched as she eased her way into the throngs of Matoran, his eyes unmoving even after she had disappeared. He knew he shouldn’t, but he felt bad about rejecting her. For some reason, he still felt like he’d done the wrong thing. A mix of emotions seeped into his chest, but after taking a bit to process them, the one that stuck out the most was, well, loneliness.
He looked up to the sky and sighed. With one swift motion, he downed the rest of his drink.
“I wouldn’t consider flirting to be your greatest strength, Takua.”
Takua looked to his right, his face reddening as he saw Kokani sitting by himself, just one table over. “Mata Nui, did you see all of that!?”
Kokani nodded, smirking in that subtle, cheeky way that only he could pull off.
Takua groaned, dragging his feet as he walked over to the table. He plopped down next to the Ko-Matoran, lowering his head until his mask rested on the table. “I’m a mess.”
“The girl was right though. You are brave,” Kokani replied, and Takua couldn’t help but notice how he didn’t say that he wasn’t a mess. “And I don’t say that lightly.”
“You don’t say anything lightly.”
Kokani ignored his statement. “When you woke up in that mountain burrow and I explained what my plan for the Atouri was, you could’ve gone back. It would’ve been quicker, and a lot easier.”
“Stop trying to make me feel better,” Takua said as he got up from his seat. “I need another drink. You want anything?”
Kokani shook his head, but as Takua had started to walk away he spoke up again.
“Takua,” he said simply.
Takua looked back at him.
“Whatever happens once the Toa get here, I’ll stay with you.” Kokani’s words were quiet, but strong. He paused, nodding as Takua stood there, staring back. “Until the very end.”
“Aw, are you guys having a moment? You look like you’re having a moment.”
Takua swiveled around at the sound of Aya’s voice, and then the Ga-Matoran had shifted past him, smoothly and seamlessly depositing a full cup in his hand. She slid on the bench next to Kokani, bumping his shoulder as she placed one in front of him as well. Takua noticed that she hadn’t bothered with one for herself, instead choosing to drink straight out of the bottle she held confidently in her right hand.
“Family bonding!” she proclaimed loudly, slurring her words only a little. She threw an arm around Kokani’s shoulders, who chose not to reciprocate. “Isn’t this great guys?”
Takua sat back down at the table, across from her. “You feeling alright Aya?”
“Never better!” she took a swig from her bottle, wiping the liquid off her lips with her wrist. “Where’s Jaka?” she looked around, quickly spying him at the food table, still sampling everything in front of him. “Jaka! Come here!”
The Le-Matoran perked up at the sound of his name, and upon seeing the three, piled five more scoops of fried pineapple onto his plate before making his way over. He’d slept most of the day away, and had awoken just before the start of the banquet. Whatever Nokama had done to him must have worked incredibly well. While he still couldn’t bend over, run, or jump, Takua hadn’t expected him to be up and moving at all for a while. But here he was, carefully sauntering over, holding a plate stacked entirely too high with food.
“Hey guys,” he said as he placed his dinner onto the table, starting to maneuver himself into a sitting position. He moved carefully, wincing every time he had to move his back. With a quiet thud he relaxed beside Takua, checking to make sure his bandages were still in place.
“I have something for you,” Aya said quickly as she leaned down to grab something from underneath the table. Then, popping up quickly, she sat some sort of plant in front of Jaka, growing out of a small ceramic pot. It was deep green, with tall, thin, waxy leaves that sprouted from its center. “Happy making-it-to-Ga-Koro!”
Jaka didn’t know how to respond. He stared at the plant as he chewed a mouthful of food. “…wWat is it?” he asked.
“It’s a harakeke plant!” Aya said excitedly. “If you have six of these guys and a cowrie shell, you can make flax.”
Jaka stared at it, still confused. “I can what?”
Aya took another drink from her bottle. “I don’t know, that’s what the guy who sold it to me said. But I figured you could put it in your garden, whenever you decide to start that.”
Jaka didn’t say anything at first, but slowly he pulled the plant closer to him, feeling its leaves with one hand. He seemed to be in awe. “Aya…” he trailed off, but his face brightened with energy as he looked up. “…That’s so thoughtful!”
“Oh, come on, don’t get all mushy on me. It’s just a plant.”
“It’s wonderful!” Jaka beamed.
She rolled her eyes and turned her attention to Kokani. “Kokani, I tried my best to find you some fruitcake, but this… this…” she thought for the right words. “…This poor excuse for an establishment didn’t have any!” She banged her fist on the table, just for good measure.
Kokani let out a low chuckle. “Well, I appreciate the thought, Aya.”
“Yeah, well, apparently there’s a bakery down the street that sells some, but they’re not open until morning. I’ll buy you some then.” She patted his shoulder affectionately before again reaching under the table, this time to produce a small paper carton. She plopped it in front of Takua. “And this one’s for you.”
“You didn’t have to get me anything…” Takua said, somewhat wondering how and how long ago Aya had managed to place the gifts under the exact table they sat at now. He pulled the box closer to him, and opened it. A little puff of steam arose, revealing a half-dozen dumplings, sitting on a bed of fried rice. He smiled and looked back to Aya, feeling light in his chest.
“I had to steal the ingredients from the Turaga’s kitchen, but I made them all by myself, so I guess you can count this as your home-cooked meal,” Aya shrugged.
Takua inhaled, and the smell of meat and dough cooked to perfection hit him in the mask. “You didn’t have to do all this…!”
“Eh,” she folded her arms. “I figured if we’re going to celebrate, we might as well do it the way we imagined, right?”
“But what about you?” Jaka asked, cradling his plant like a baby. “We didn’t get you anything!”
Aya quickly shook her head. “I don’t want anything.”
Takua tilted his head and raised his eyebrows expectedly. “Aya, come on. There has to be something.”
“I have this,” she patted her bottle, holding it snug in the crook of her arm. “I have tonight. I have the beach. And I have…” Aya trailed off, staring into space. She went silent as she suddenly looked at nothing in particular, as if processing a thought that had popped into her head. She opened her mouth to finish her sentence, but no words came out. She blinked, looking at all of them, and then quickly got up from the table. “…I have to go.”
But she didn’t reply. She walked off without a word, pushing her way through groups of Matoran as she hurriedly made her way toward the beach, taking only her bottle with her.
Takua looked at the others. Jaka shrugged, and Kokani followed her with his eyes, a bit of concern showing through his mask. The three exchanged confused glances, and it only took Takua a second to decide to follow her. He picked up his dumplings and left the table, following Aya’s trail as he too weaved his way through the crowd. He only had to decline two offers to join in conversation before he reached the end of the patio.
He stood at the top of the steps, looking out at the beach as he searched for Aya. A few Matoran milled about on the sand, quietly chatting under the light of the crescent moon. The sound of breaking waves greeted his ears, offering a gentle contrast to the music and chatter behind him. The water was dark and calm underneath the starry sky.
And then he saw her. She sat alone at the water’s edge, off to the side away from everyone else. With one arm propping her body up and the other holding her bottle, she stared out across the bay, lost in thought. Takua hopped down the steps and made his way over, stopping just a few feet behind her to sample his first dumpling.
He ate it all in one bite.
“You know,” he broke the silence with his mouth still half full. “These are really good.”
Aya responded by dipping her head a little, letting out a small huff. “Glad I could deliver.”
Takua chewed his food. He stared out at the water, watching the moonlight shimmer against the black waves. “You okay?” he added.
“Are you nervous, Takua?”
He stopped chewing. “Nervous?”
“About tomorrow,” Aya took a sip from her bottle. “About the Prophesy.”
Takua took her question as an open invitation to talk. He walked a few steps forward and sat next to her, his legs sinking into the white sand. “I don’t know. Maybe a little.”
Aya nodded. “Same.”
Takua swallowed his dumpling. He looked down at the carton, picking out a clump of rice to pop into his mouth.
“It just seems weird,” Aya went on. “It’s all coming to an end so fast, you know?”
“And you don’t know what to do with yourself now?” Takua asked. He understood where she was coming from. He’d felt it too. They’d spent all this time together… and now what? It was all over? Just like that?
Aya dipped her head. “Kokani will go back to the Sanctum. Jaka’s going to back to Le-Koro.” She brought the bottle to her mouth, taking a moment to swirl the drink around in her cheeks. Swallowing, she let out a sigh and looked at the sand, drawing circles in it with her finger. “And here I am.”
“You’re not going with Kokani?” Takua asked. “Weren’t you working with the Sanctum when we met up with you?”
“I mean I was trying to. Pretty sure I was the only Ga-Matoran in those mountains. But come on, look at me,” she held out her drink and shook it, the brown liquid sloshing around. “I don’t belong there.”
Takua smiled to himself, agreeing as he took a bite of another dumpling. “I haven’t figured out what I’m doing yet either.”
“At least you have an idea.”
“Yeah, you’re going to try and find Talim,” she said matter-of-factly.
Her words caught him off guard, and he stared at the water. It had been so long since he’d heard anyone say her name. It brought back memories, both good and bad, and he completely lost his train of thought. He stared, his mind churning, but unable to make sense of the thoughts it created. Stuck for a moment, he looked back at Aya, only now realizing that he’d never once mentioned Talim to her.
“Jaka told me,” she answered his question before he could ask it. “Told me everything about you guys, and everything that happened.”
Takua still didn’t know how to respond. He shut his mouth, staring forward as a wave broke, pushing its way onto the beach. The water reached just to the tips of his boots, wetting their soles before receding back into the bay.
“She seemed nice, from the way he described her,” Aya followed up.
“Yeah…” He remembered the Spring Solstice. Sitting atop that cliff outside her house, watching the fireworks burst open above Le-Koro. All the colors, lighting up the night. The way she stared at them, every bright flash reflecting in her eyes. “…Yeah. She really was.”
“You love her?”
Takua closed his eyes and exhaled, quickly placing a hand on his mask. “Mata Nui, Aya…”
“I’m just messing with you!” she laughed, hitting him lightly on the shoulder with her fist. “You don’t have to answer that.”
Takua shook his head, letting out a huff of both amusement and exasperation. He rubbed his mask with his hands, composing himself again. “But yeah… I guess finding her was roughly my plan. I have no idea how to start though. I’ve heard different things from different people.”
“Well whatever happens, it sounds like you might get into some dark stuff.” She set her bottle onto the ground, letting the sand keep it upright as she leaned back and supported herself on her elbows. She looked over to Takua, the moonlight reflecting on her armor. “I could come with you, if you want. You might need some extra protosteel by your side.”
Takua stared at the stars as he thought about it. For as long as it had taken them to get here, the sound of starting another adventure, strangely, didn’t sound all that bad. It would certainly make things interesting, having Aya with him. “Is that what you’d want?” he asked.
“Takua…” Aya reached over to where she had stuck the bottle in the sand, picked it up and offered it to him. “All I really want is someone to drink with.”
Takua looked over at her, and then to her drink. The corners of his mouth turned up and he put down the dumpling he was holding, exchanging it for the half-empty bottle. The dark liquid inside it glinted in the moonlight, and as he brought it close to his mask he could smell the signature fumes of Lavaflow: forges, lawlessness, fire, and… cinnamon?
He pressed the bottle to his lips and swallowed, muscling his way past a gag as his throat started to burn. With a wince and a gasp he handed it back to Aya, already feeling warmer in his chest.
“You really like the strong stuff, don’t you?” he grimaced.
And Aya snorted, rolling her eyes as she took the bottle back. She sipped from it, letting the liquid fire flow freely, as if it were nothing more than a cool glass of water.
“Don’t be such a baby.”
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 08 2017 - 04:28 PM.
Posted Mar 04 2017 - 01:13 PM
Chapter 13 - Through the Gauntlet
Sunlight streamed through Takua’s bay window, shining onto his bed. The mid-morning sun brought with it the smell of the ocean, and a gentle breeze that rustled the room’s pristine white curtains. He mumbled to himself as he slept, turning over as the sunlight warmed his mask. His head sunk into his pillow as he tried to ignore the encroaching daylight, but somewhere in his mostly-unconscious mind, something clicked, and groggily, he opened his eyes.
He stared at his small, yet luxurious room, still coming out of a dream. It had been an eerie one, filled with scenes from The Tale of Atouri. He had seen Le-Koro’s old Storyteller at first, and then Makuta, disguised as a snake. In a rush of images, the dream had then brought him to a body of water, where he reached out to a drowning girl, foolishly having trusted the snake to lead her to safety. But try as he might, Takua hadn’t been able to save her.
What stuck out most to him though was the stone itself: it shone with a golden-orange color, blessed by Mata Nui. He remembered holding it in his hands and staring out at the world, admiring the beauty of everything, but then the thump of a heartbeat sounded, and the stone began to dim. Its shine fell away as black clouds consumed it, and the world around him turned gray.
Takua moved his arm, feeling the chain around his neck. His fingers followed it until they rested on the Atouri, and he held it tightly. It was still there; nothing had changed. It was only a dream.
With a grunt he pushed himself up, sitting on the side of his bed. He rubbed his eyes and looked out the open window, watching as seagulls flocked over the bay below. His eyes followed the coastline until they rested on Ga-Kini, a simple circular platform surrounded by rocky spires, standing out in the water like ancient soldiers, always at attention. It was an impressive structure, to say the least.
A puff of air escaped his lungs as he smelled the salty breeze. Today’s the day…
His feet hit the cool marble floor as he got out of bed, and he stretched, cracking his back. He moved across the room towards the door and tugged at it, making his way into the hallway of the palace’s guest wing. The white walls combined with the sunlight from a half-dozen windows almost blinded him, and he squinted as he saw a figure making its way toward him.
“Good morning,” Jaka smiled as he passed, holding a plate stacked full of toast, a small jar of raspberry jam in his other hand.
“Morning,” Takua blearily responded. He focused his eyes, looking at Jaka’s plentiful breakfast. “…Do you ever stop eating?” he asked.
“I just like jam, okay?”
“Okay,” Takua shrugged. “How’s your back?”
“Alright. It’s healing really well, but think I moved it too much last night.” Jaka made a squeamish face. “Still pretty sore.”
Takua nodded. “What are you up to today?”
“Just hanging out,” he said quickly. Jaka shifted his toast so he could open the door to his room across the hall, and Takua caught a glimpse of his bed as his friend shuffled through the opening. It was messy, and he couldn’t help but notice what seemed to be another figure laying on his mattress. He squinted, puzzled, and a pair of big green eyes very briefly met his gaze before hiding from view.
Takua cocked his head, recognizing them from the night before. “Wait… is that…?”
“Talk to you later, Takua!” Jaka grinned as he swiftly shut the door behind him.
And Takua stood alone, slowly connecting the dots. He shook his head, grinning to himself, and turned around to explore the palace. At the end of the hallway he found a small alcove, which was stocked with bread and cheese and any other type of finger food one could possibly want for a late breakfast. He picked up a string of grapes, casually popping them into his mouth as he wandered the palace’s corridors.
He stared at the walls and out the windows, admiring architecture and art, as well as views of the coastal city. He walked past priceless and antique pieces, signed with legendary names, including a grand stone sculpture of a Po-Matoran he recognized as Hafu. The artist’s name had been worn away at the base, but an informational sign stated that it was possible the famed artist had created it himself, perhaps even while traveling with the Chronicler’s Company.
Takua raised his eyebrows. Cool.
His meandering took him into the palace’s entrance hall, a wide, but long gathering space with stone pillars lining its edges. A deep blue carpet ran down its center, welcoming anyone who entered the palace’s doors with a certain degree of splendor. He stared up at the tall, domed ceiling, a strange feeling coming over him.
He felt… power in this place. As if there was something ancient here, something more than just works of art. He looked around, the sensation of wonder gradually encompassing him. The hall seemed to echo of legends and stories, heroes and battles, of mystery and marvel. He walked forward, pausing beside one of the pillars as his gaze traveled down the hall toward the entrance, and there, he stopped in his tracks.
Just a few feet away from the tall, ornate, white doors, three figures gathered. Two were Ga-Matoran children, a boy and a girl, who smiled and laughed as the third being entertained them. This lean figure squatted on the floor, at eye level with the children, wearing green armor that reminded Takua of the jungle. He balanced on the balls of his feet, giving off a light and airy feel, as if he could take off and fly around the hall at any moment. Everything about him seemed relaxed, witty, and cheerful, a stark contrast to the powerful war axe that rested upon his back.
The being shifted his weight, and Takua caught a glimpse of a full green Miru, one he had heard described in a thousand stories. He had to stop himself from gasping, afraid he would interrupt the sincerity that played out before him.
Takua couldn’t stop himself from smiling, and he leaned against the pillar as he popped a grape into his mouth. He chewed, savoring its watery taste, feeling grateful that he was able to witness a moment such as this.
The Toa grinned as the children asked him something, jumping up and down excitedly, their voices softly echoing. The girl held out a small, stuffed doll, and the boy, a rubber kohlii ball. The Toa accepted the gifts, and with a quick twist of his hand, channeled his power, the air around him bending to his will. The children squealed with delight as their toys began to float, circling around each other, twisting and turning as Lewa smoothly shifted his hands.
Takua watched in awe. The Toa was just like he’d imagined: swift, strong, and agile, yet kind and easy-going. He could imagine him swinging from vines in the jungle, effortlessly flying through the air, running atop branches and keeping pace with the fastest of flying Rahi. He could practically feel the vibe of ancient Le-Wahi: wild, untamed, beautiful, yet dangerous.
Suddenly, Takua felt very alive and aware. He felt his ties to elder Le-Koro, his ties the forest, to the trees, and to the air. He felt, somehow… connected to this Toa, and through him connected to his ancestors and heritage. He could almost hear the tribal drums of his ancient village, beating in deep bass notes within his head.
Boom, ba-boom. Boom, ba-boom.
He closed his eyes, embracing this sudden onset of spirit, welcoming the feeling of being a part of something. If only for a moment, he felt as if he truly belonged.
Boom, ba-boom. Boom, ba-boom.
Takua’s eyes snapped open, realizing that those drums weren’t in his head. He looked back to the Toa, who had stood up, on alert. The children’s toys dropped to the ground. Everything was still as the beating continued, distant, but definitely audible. And then, Lewa picked up the toys, handed them back to the children, and ushered them off in the direction of the inner palace. With a subtle glint of his axe, the Toa bounded to the doors, cracking them open, and slid through the opening. In a second, he was gone.
Takua stood there, recognizing the deep pounding as he stared at the entrance. The sunlight that streamed through suddenly wasn’t cheerful, it was ominous. He remembered the sands of the Motara desert, standing atop Po-Koro’s walls and staring off to the horizon. He remembered the two storms that had approached that day: one, a storm of wind and rain, and the other, of fire and steel.
Boom, ba-boom. Boom, ba-boom.
Kryll. The hoard was coming.
Takua turned heel and ran back to his room. His feet echoed in the hallway as he passed the famous artworks, paying them no attention now. He could hear commotion behind him as people began to trickle into the hall, the peaceful morning dying as the Kryll’s drums grew louder. Takua slid to a halt as he yanked open his bedroom door, grabbing his belt from the foot of his bed and strapping it to his waist. His sword came to rest at his hip, and he turned his head to look out his window.
And there they were.
Beyond the city’s walls, at the edge of the valley where the forest met the fields, the light of a thousand torches shined. Smoke billowed into the sky at a dozen points on the horizon: places where Ga-Koro’s watchtowers had once stood. The drums of war pounded, still concealed within the trees, but heralding the arrival of destruction, of death. The Kryll advanced slowly into the fields, marching like an army of ants, pulling catapults, siege towers, and battering rams into the daylight.
Takua clutched the Atouri around his neck, unmoving as he heard someone open the door behind him.
“Takua,” Kokani’s voice was calm and low.
He turned around to meet the Ko-Matoran’s gaze, a knowing look on his black Pakari.
Takua nodded. All thoughts left his head as he followed Kokani back to the entrance hall. People were running about now, alerting others, searching for loved ones, preparing for the incoming onslaught. Takua heard a deep bass note as the city sounded its warning shells, alerting everyone within the walls to what was coming. Chaos slowly enveloped the palace, but Takua remained as calm as he could, one hand on his sword and the other on the Atouri. They stopped in the middle of the hall’s blue carpet, unmoving as nobles, politicians and soldiers scrambled around them.
And out of the chaos, the small shambling form of Turaga Nokama approached, escorted by two fully armored guards. The crowd parted around her as she moved, using her trident as a walking stick. Her mask, aged and lined as it was, showed no fear. She stopped just before the two Matoran, tilting her head in a subtle bow. Her yellow eyes rested upon Takua.
“Are you ready?”
Takua didn’t respond at first. He held the Atouri, rubbing it with his thumb as he noticed Aya and Jaka sliding to a halt to join them. Aya had already drawn her bow, and Jaka carried his shield on his back. He spared a glance at Kokani, who hadn’t yet drawn his staff, but his right hand hung close to it, his fingers slightly twitching. He turned back to meet Nokama’s steely gaze.
“I don’t think it matters if I am or not, does it?”
Nokama let out a dry smirk. “I’m beginning to like you, Takua,” she said, motioning for them to follow as she led them to the doors. “Pohatu arrived in the night, and Lewa just before dawn. Gali and Onua were sighted in the fields this morning; perhaps the Kryll have held them up, but they’ll be here soon enough. There’s no word of Tahu yet, but Kopaka stands ready at our gates, defending them until he arrives. I wouldn’t worry about the Toa of Fire though, he has a way of being there when you need him most.”
She placed her hands on the great doors and pushed them open. Sunlight streamed into the hall, and Takua squinted as a view of the sprawling city opened before him. Ga-Kini stood at its far end, towering above Naho bay, but Takua’s attention was drawn to the dozen soldiers who stood before him, clad in full plate armor.
“My finest will protect you until the summoning is complete,” Nokama said, gesturing to the armored Matoran. “They’ll die for you, if need be.”
Takua didn’t say a word. He stared at the warriors, only the lower half of their masks visible beneath their steel helmets. They stood there, holding swords, shields, bows, and axes, still as the sun beat upon their silver and blue armor. If Takua hadn’t known what was coming, perhaps he would’ve felt safe. But he had seen what the Kryll could do. He knew what Krosis was capable of.
Boom, ba-boom. Boom, ba-boom.
He felt Nokama place a hand on his shoulder. “The Toa know to meet you at the Kini,” she said, nodding slowly, with purpose. “Walk within the light, Takua. Let Mata Nui guide you.”
Takua took a deep breath and turned to look out at the temple, seemingly so far away. His fingers started to shake, and he gave them purpose by drumming them against the hilt of his sword. His heart thumped and his face tingled, and Takua took a second to close his eyes.
“You guys don’t have to do this,” he said to his friends. “You’ve already done your duty by getting me here.”
Aya was quick to respond. “Mata Nui, Takua, we all know you can’t take care of yourself.”
Takua managed a slight smile, and he opened his eyes to look at all of them. “You really feel up to this?” He focused on Jaka, who was still had bandages wrapped around his torso.
No one replied at first. There was a moment, as they all looked to the horizon, the drums of the Kryll beating in their ears, when the world left them. Here they stood, so close to the end their journey, this last final stretch unraveling before them. The world became very simple in this last moment of calm before the storm, before the hoard came crashing into the city’s walls. And, for what it was, they did their best to savor it.
It was Jaka who finally spoke. The Le-Matoran rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck, looking over at Takua in a way that somehow managed to encompass his everything-will-be-alright mentality, and a solemn acceptance at the same time.
“Until the very end.”
And the Kryll’s war horn sounded. The deep, tribal bass note echoed from the fields, drowning out all other noise as it dragged on. All movement in the city seemed to freeze, and Takua braced himself, his muscles tightening as adrenaline began to pump through his body. The Atouri vibrated against his chest, until all of a sudden the note was cut off, leaving a precious instant of silence before chaos could truly reign.
“Go!” Nokama said, her voice firm and unyielding. “Fulfill the Prophesy! Summon the Seventh! Meet the Toa at the Kini!” The sun cast thin shadows over the lines in her mask, and then, quietly, she went on. “…While it still stands, at least.”
Takua grasped the Atouri one more time, and took off into the madness.
Everywhere people frantically ran around, clouding the city streets as they searched for loved ones and shelter, but Nokama’s soldiers surrounded Takua as he went, always managing to clear a path. They moved as fast as they could down Ga-Koro’s main boulevard, filled with vendors at storefronts and market stalls, all of them hurriedly closing up shop. The crowd grew thicker and thicker, its chatter growing into a constant rumble as people tried to figure out what to do, where to go. And then, abruptly, there was screaming.
Takua looked to the sky as people began to panic and push backward, just in time to see a giant flaming boulder smash into a building just ahead. Brick and mortar rained into the street, a plume of dust obscuring his vision of anything beyond. He doubled over, bracing himself as the shockwave hit him, hearing the sound of more projectiles crashing into the city farther off.
But he pushed forward. His guards sprang into action, clearing the congested streets, ordering citizens around, telling them where to run to. Takua moved into the dust, unable to see more than a few dozen feet ahead of him, passing the remains of the ruined building. He ignored the cries of pain, the wailing of people trapped under the rubble. He wished he could help, but he knew he had one job, and one job only:
Get to the Kini.
And so Takua cleared the dust plume, revealing a battered city on the other side. He rushed by Matoran huddling in corners, clutching those closest to them as they looked to the sky with fear. He moved past overturned carts and boarded up shops, past gatherings of soldiers near open armories, past overflowing temples and places of sanctuary. He weaved his way through alleyways and avenues, always keeping an eye on the sky, making detours when more boulders rained from above, destroying the path ahead. He skidded through disorder, avoiding the worst where he could and pushing through carefully where he couldn’t, always conscious of his friends and protectors by his side.
His feet pounded against the cobblestone streets, his ankles constantly straining as he dodged and weaved his way forward. The clear, quiet air of the morning was gone, replaced by dust and debris. It carried with it the smell of destruction, of smoke and burning buildings, fear, panic, and death. It hit him full force as he passed a collapsed inn, and he briefly slowed his mad rush, gazing at its remains.
He could see it now. There, at the edge of the rubble, sticking out between the crumbled stone and cracked timber, was an arm. It reached out, unmoving, its last moments spent trying to grasp onto something, trying to find safety. Takua focused on it, the sounds of the battle fading away from his mind as he stared. Beneath it, oozing its way through the cracks in the rubble, was blood.
Just keep going, he told himself. With a blink he averted his eyes, following Kokani into yet another crowded, chaotic street.
Here and there he would turn a corner, and the spires of Ga-Kini would come into view, poking above the buildings ahead. Always he searched for it, their tall, rocky shapes serving as a far-off beacon of hope — but Mata Nui, it was so far-off. No matter how hard they pushed, how fast they tried to move, chaos always seemed to find them. Forced to take detour after detour, avoiding rubble here, panicked crowds there, and marching soldiers and supplies on every other street, the going was painfully slow.
Takua had no idea how long he ran. The sun marched across the sky, minutes, hours passing by, but Takua paid it no mind. He only had thoughts for the madness around him. His shadow crept as he moved, growing longer his body started to tire, and soon enough he found his legs heavy, his lungs weary. Sweat dripped off his mask, but still he pushed onward. All he had to do was keep going.
A sudden rush of wind and a deafening crash. Takua whirled his head around to see the top floor of the building above him obliterated by a flaming boulder. He covered his head and ran as brick and dust came crashing down around him, the sound of timber cracking, of stone crumbling. Giant blocks of rock smashed into the street as he sprinted to get out of range, his eyes watering as the dust irritated them. In a few seconds it was over, the building entirely collapsed, blocking the way back. Slowly, the air started to clear.
Takua looked around him. Kokani stood by his side, along with three of the guards, but Aya and Jaka were nowhere to be seen. His searched the rubble with his eyes, praying not to see his friends trapped underneath.
He perked up at the sound of Aya’s voice, hope springing into him. Her voice sounded from the other side of the rubble, cut off from them, but she seemed to be alright.
“We’re okay!” Takua answered. “Where’s Jaka?”
“I’m good!” Jaka’s voice replied from roughly the same area, and Takua heaved a great sigh of relief.
“The clock tower!” Aya’s voice rang out again. “We’ll meet you there!”
Takua looked over his shoulder to see a tall, whitewashed tower rising above the city, just a few blocks away. Nodding to Kokani and the guards that still stood with him, their dash forward began anew.
It seemed all the Matoran in this district were already hiding in their homes, or had sought shelter elsewhere, as the narrow streets that led them to the tower were mostly abandoned. The structure itself was five stories tall and sat atop a small hill, offering a good view of the surrounding city. It stood out among the adjacent buildings, which were mostly taverns and private residences, and as Takua approached, he took note of the large round clock hanging near its top. It was already mid-afternoon.
The door hung ajar, telling him that Aya and Jaka had already arrived. He followed Kokani into the structure’s dark insides, pausing to catch his breath.
“Up here!” Jaka’s voice sounded.
Takua looked up to see his friend sticking his head over the lip of the third floor landing. They began to climb the tower’s narrow steps, spiraling around its inside, the clumping of their feet echoing up and down the mostly hollow structure. Soon enough they reached the third floor, a barren room with open doorways that led outside to a rough, wooden balcony.
Takua looked around. Jaka had moved onto the balcony, and Aya sat at the far end of the room, resting her legs. One guard looked out in the direction of the city’s wall, watching for the Kryll’s catapults no doubt, and a handful of others sat quietly in the corner, saving their strength. Takua noticed that there weren’t enough of them to make up a dozen, but he tried not to dwell on that thought. They could’ve just gotten separated, right? He had to think positive.
Making his way to the balcony, he looked out at the city, getting his bearings. From this far up, he could see everything around. Nokama’s palace loomed behind them, a testament to how far they had come, and Ga-Kini still stood ahead, waiting in the distance. They were about halfway through the city, halfway to their goal. All around him he could see the work of the Kryll’s siege machines: crushed, broken buildings here and there, pillars of smoke rising from a few burning fires. But overall, the city still stood. The damage seemed to be contained.
Takua looked out at the main wall, the far-off sounds of battle wafting through the air. The Kryll surrounded the city, their countless warriors yelling and chanting in the fields, their armored boots trampling Ga-Koro’s crops. Their catapults stood at the cusp of the valley, still launching flaming boulders toward the city, but Ga-Koro fired back with their own. A few of the attacking machines lay broken already.
And then there were the siege towers. A few had made it to the walls, and Kryll spilled out of them, their swords clashing against those of soldiers atop the parapet. But again Ga-Koro’s forces pushed back, containing the breaches, not letting the Kryll establish a foothold within the walls. He even watched as one of the towers began to lean backwards, a huge gust of wind suddenly pushing against it. The contraption’s timber beams cracked and buckled, and it began to fall away from the wall, collapsing atop dozens of Kryll packed outside in the fields. A collective roar reached Takua’s ears, the sound of soldiers cheering on the work of Toa Lewa, who must’ve fought somewhere alongside them.
Once he stopped to look, he saw traces of the other Toa’s work as well. Two armored battering rams lay broken just outside the main gate, huge spikes of ice skewering them into the ground. He watched as the Kryll catapulted another barrage of stone toward the city, and then, right before his eyes, a dozen of the boulders disintegrated into sand before falling harmlessly onto the city’s rooftops. Perhaps Pohatu couldn’t stop all of their attacks, but Mata Nui knew the Toa of Stone would try.
Takua watched it all, taking it in as best he could. It honestly surprised him, the way everything was going. The Kryll had done damage, yes, but they hadn’t been able to make any permanent progress. The chaos was contained, Ga-Koro still controlled the tide of battle.
He wanted to feel hopeful, but he couldn’t shake the fact that something felt out of place. Only three of the Toa had arrived, what chance did the Kryll have of victory once all six had gathered? Was this really all they had to offer? He squinted his eyes, peering out at the masses that gathered in the fields, knowing that somewhere out there, the King of the Kryll watched it all too.
What are you hiding, Krosis?
And then, as if answering his question, he felt the heartbeat of the Atouri.
Takua clutched the stone as pain erupted in his chest, and he felt the ground shake beneath him. His ears cracked and began to ring, his vision blurring, a burning sensation spreading all over his skin. He cried out and fell to his knees, the world spinning.
Someone, Kokani or Jaka probably, knelt down and called his name, asking if he was okay, but he couldn’t respond. The pain was too encompassing. The Atouri hit his chest, and he swiveled his head to look out at the water, dread peppering his soul.
He’d felt this pain before, a long time ago, back in Le-Koro.
He watched Naho bay through his blurry vision, the Atouri calling him to the churning waters. Fighting through his pain, he gripped the railing of the balcony, steadying himself as the tower shook. The waves grew larger, as if a storm was brewing, but no clouds gathered, no wind blew. Trying to make sense of it all, Krosis’ words managed to worm their way into his head.
When he is close, you can feel his darkness.
The sea grew rougher and rougher, until finally their surface parted, and something began to rise from beneath the water: a monster.
A pain in your chest, burning all over your skin.
Water cascaded off its gigantic head: like a Kane-Ra bull, but larger. Its body was lean and powerful, almost like a Muaka, and as it rose higher out of the water, Takua saw thick, powerful arms that reminded him of the mighty Tarakava. Insectoid wings unfolded as it reached its full height, though it seemed impossible that such a massive beast could fly. A powerful stinger tipped the end of its tail, still half submerged in the bay, and as the beast lifted his gaping maw towards the sky to roar, Takua felt what little hope he had disintegrate.
You can feel him reverberating, pulsating around you.
It was a horrible, hodge-podge of a monster. A foul dragonesque thing, seemingly cobbled together from the most dangerous parts of other beasts. It was something Takua feared as a child, something he’d thought to be only a legend until the start of his journey. And after what had happened in Ko-Wahi, something he’d hoped he’d seen the last of.
You can feel his heartbeat, a subtle thump, beating within your mind.
It was a thing of raw power, something that lived for one purpose, and one alone: to kill Toa.
The Rahi Nui stood before him, bellowing into the sky.
His pain subsided and he ripped the Atouri from his neck, grasping it with white knuckles. He heaved, catching his breath, trying to bring himself back to reality. He heard his companions talking around him, trying to understand what was happening, where this massive creature had come from. He felt Jaka put a hand on his shoulder, and he noticed that his friend was shaking.
“What’s going on?” he asked, concerned, scared, at Takua’s sudden meltdown. “Are you okay?”
Takua stared, his eyes full of fear and dread. The Rahi Nui terrified him, but what he knew from his pain was far worse. He looked his friend in the eye, trying to stop himself from trembling, but it wasn’t any use.
“It’s Makuta,” he said between gasps, squeezing the stone as tight as he could. “He’s here.”
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 12 2017 - 05:26 PM.
Posted Mar 28 2017 - 12:09 AM
Chapter 14 - Unity
Takua knelt on the wooden balcony, his body shaking as he squeezed the Atouri, holding it close to his chest. He stared as the Rahi Nui bellowed, its deep, powerful roar echoing throughout the city, burrowing into his bones. His body still tingling from his spurt of burning pain, images flew into his head, images from his past. Le-Koro burning, Matau falling off that platform, Talim crumpling to the ground. He could see her now, her eyes listless, her lips twitching, muttering his name.
He couldn’t be here. Takua watched as the massive Rahi trudged toward the city, wading through Naho bay as if it were a shallow stream, but in his mind he saw Makuta. He saw the shimmering form of the Infected Matoran, and his rusted, pitted Hau. His yellow eyes bored into him, taunting him, calmly relishing in the destruction of everything he loved. He couldn’t be here!
Takua shook, staring at the Rahi Nui as it advanced, rising taller as the water at its feet thinned. He heard someone calling his name, but he didn’t respond. His breathing grew quick and shallow, fear overtaking him, his horrible memories filling him up. He’d thought he’d moved past this. He’d thought he’d been stronger.
His heart pounded against the Atouri, his mind racing, panicking. Makuta can’t be here!
Hands on his shoulders. They pulled him to his feet, shaking him, trying to get his attention, but still he stared, paralyzed. The Rahi Nui’s footsteps pounded in his ears, shaking the earth, and he watched as it approached the shore, as it approached him. It towered over the buildings, silhouetted against the sun, casting its shadow upon the city.
He couldn’t do this. Not against Makuta. He didn’t have the strength; he was too weak.
Takua’s head turned to the side as Jaka’s hand crashed into his cheek, forcing him back to reality. The beast loomed at the city’s edge. The Kryll’s boulders crashed into the buildings behind them. Sounds of battle all around reached him, and Takua looked at Jaka, shocked. He’d hit him....
“Get a hold of yourself!” Jaka shook him. His friend grabbed him by the mask, forcing Takua to look into his eyes. Then, quieter, kinder, he went on. “You can do this, Takua.”
Takua slowed his breathing, lowering one hand to feel the pommel of his sword. Jaka was right. He had to do this. No matter what, he had to finish it. Slowly, he nodded, not breaking eye contact. “Yeah,” he swallowed. “Yeah. I have to.”
“Let’s go!” Aya yelled, drawing her bow, and sprinting down the stairs.
Takua followed her and the rest of his friends, down from the tower, back into the broken streets, back into the madness. The sunlight hit him as he pushed his way through the tower’s doors, the previously quiet streets filling with Matoran as they abandoned their homes, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the Rahi Nui as possible.
Here, Takua could see the true scale of the behemoth. At more than five stories tall, it lumbered its way into the city, just a few blocks away. Crushing smaller houses with a single step, it moved its way into Ga-Koro’s streets, squeezing its mass through the buildings, and making more room where it needed with a single swipe of its claws. Rubble and debris flew through the air as it carelessly shattered people’s homes, and it trudged forward, roaring as it made its way to the battle.
Takua’s eyes widened as a boulder sailed through the air, sent flying toward the monster by one of Ga-Koro’s catapults. It roared, lifting its massive claws, and, almost effortlessly, swatted it out of the sky.
“Get down!” Kokani yelled.
Takua hit the ground as the boulder came crashing in their direction, bouncing down the street like a great and deadly Kohlii ball. People screamed as it careened forward, smashing through homes, crushing any unlucky enough to get in its path. Takua winced as it hit the ground in front of him, its momentum carrying it up and over his head by just a few feet. Taking no time to rest, he popped back up, eyes on the Rahi Nui.
Arrows flew at it now, and Takua was pushed to the side of the street as a squad of Ga-Matoran soldiers rushed past him, firing everything they had at the monster. But it didn’t seem to care. It turned onto a wider avenue that ran from the shore to one of Ga-Koro’s smaller gates, ignoring the soldier’s feeble attacks. Half of their projectiles bounced off its iron-like hide, and the few that managed to stick into the beast only seemed to annoy it.
With a growl it smashed its arms into the ground, obliterating an unseen group of Matoran. Takua watched in horror as the beast raised one arm, revealing a struggling soldier trapped between its claws. Not stopping its thundering advance, it threw him to the side, sending the poor Matoran flailing through the air. There was a sickening crunch as he landed in the middle of the street. His mask, dislodged from his broken body, slid to Takua’s feet. It was a Pakari, just like his.
The world seemed to go silent as the Rahi Nui’s shadow fell over him, and he froze. Its pounding footsteps flooded his head as the beast lumbered onward, crossing between Takua’s party and the direction they needed to go. He looked at his friends, who had all managed to stay relatively close, but no one dared move. They stood, their backs pressed against the buildings, or hiding behind overturned market stalls, their eyes watching the avenue in front of them, praying the beast would pass them by.
Takua winced as its immense clawed foot smashed into the cobblestone beside him. He chanced a glance up, seeing the monster’s full mass towering above, blotting out the sun. It took another step, shaking Takua’s body and cracking the street beneath it, but then… it paused.
Takua could hear its heavy, ragged breathing. It snorted through its bull-like nostrils, gazing forward, focusing on the battle that still raged in front of it. It hadn’t noticed him… yet. Takua pressed his body into the building at his back, trying to make himself as small as possible, trying to melt into its patterned stonework. The Rahi Nui stood there, its horns silhouetted against the blue sky, unmoving, as if… as if contemplating something.
Takua’s heart pounded, and he held his breath.
The Rahi Nui roared, stumbling backward as a boulder smashed into its side, its claws cutting through the tower beside it as it struggled to stay upright. It swiveled its head in the direction of the attack, eyes full of rage. Bellowing, it righted itself and barreled down the avenue, rushing for Ga-Koro’s wall, leaving Takua and his friends untouched.
Takua closed his eyes and exhaled, silently thanking Mata Nui. He spared a moment to look over at his friends, who began to come out of their hiding places, their shoulders slumped, relieved.
“Man,” Aya placed her hands atop her head and took a deep breath. “I really don’t need that thing in my life.”
Takua nodded, a half-smile forming on his face.
But their relief couldn’t last. There was a crash from another boulder, slamming into the street behind them, and they covered their heads, moving forward once again. Takua followed Kokani as they entered the broken intersection the Rahi Nui had crossed through, and instantly they were assaulted with more turmoil. Rubble and smoke and trembling Matoran peppered the wide avenue, and Takua chanced a glance toward the battlefront. The monster raged a ways off now, smashing its way through Ga-Koro’s structures and defenses.
Takua whirled around, the clomping of armored boots reaching his ears. Scores of soldiers sprinted for him, following the Rahi Nui’s destruction, moving as fast as they could. Takua braced himself as they enveloped him, a few clipping his shoulder as they hastily squeezed their way through the rubble. Surrounded by their armored helmets, he looked around for his friends, caught in their mad rush.
“Jaka? Kokani?” He whirled around, only managing to spot a few of Nokama’s guards across the street. Another soldier pushed past him, and he stumbled forward, suddenly afraid of being trampled by his own allies. “Aya!?”
Someone grabbed his arm, pulling him sideways through the moving crowd. He bumped against shields and armor, before the hand shoved him to the side of the street. Takua stumbled atop a small pile of broken stones, finally free of the battalion’s stampede. Slightly elevated above street level, Takua looked down to see one of the soldiers meeting his gaze.
“Get to safety! You shouldn’t be here!”
The warrior was gone before Takua could respond. He watched them run, bravely, courageously, to what could very likely be their deaths. Trapped on his island of rubble, he managed to spot his friends, split on either side of the street by the moving soldiers. He looked in the direction they were headed, nervously waiting for them to pass.
The Rahi Nui pushed forward, its claws tearing through Ga-Koro’s barricades, debris flying through the air all around it. Ga-Koro’s archers continued to fire their arrows, doing their best to stop the beast, but still not managing much. It plowed onward, splintering catapults and battlements, bellowing as it approached the gate. Two of the Kryll’s siege towers had attached themselves to the parapet nearby, and the warriors spilled out of them, roaring as the monster approached, cheering it on.
Takua watched as the beast drew closer to the wall, praying for something that would stop it. He searched the scene for any sign of the Toa, for a sudden stream or ice, wind, or stone that could stop the beast, but nothing came. They were protecting the main gate, on the other side of the city. Even with Pohatu’s Mask of Speed, would they be able to make it in time, with all the rubble and detours to wind through? How could the Matoran alone hope to — ?
It had arrived. Ignoring the soldiers as they pelted it with arrows and boulders, the Rahi Nui stood over the gate, raising its powerful arms to the sky, drawing its body as tall as possible. Its colossal claws balled into one mass above its head, it brought down all the brute force it could muster, all while letting out a deafening, triumphant roar.
Takua gasped, clamping a hand over his mouth.
The beast smashed the gate, shattering stone and timber with a deafening boom that echoed throughout the city. A plume of dust erupted as the broken doors came crashing down, and the Rahi Nui stood there, hunched over, its bulk heaving slightly as bricks on either side of the wall crumbled to the ground.
The battle grew quiet for few seconds, as everyone seemed to be frozen. But then, the dust began to clear, and the gaping hole in Ga-Koro’s wall revealed itself. Takua watched as the behemoth rose to its full height once more, and a gradual rumble began to sound. It grew, louder and louder, until it transformed into a deafening roar, the roar of hundreds, thousands of Kryll, packed outside the city’s walls. And then, like a tidal wave of steel and fire, they spilled into Ga-Koro.
The Rahi Nui raised its jaws to the sky, proclaiming its might to the world as the hoard rushed past its feet, meeting Ga-Koro’s forces in the open streets. Steel rang against steel, and the beast lowered its head, turning around, facing back down the avenue from which it’d come. Its eyes glowed, its great head looking past the battle below it, past the stream of marching soldiers, past the rubble and ruin, past all of it, only to fall directly… directly on Takua.
Time stopped, and suddenly Takua couldn’t breathe. His chest felt like it had collapsed in on itself as the behemoth looked him directly in the eye, picking him out from all the disorder like a hawk eyeing its prey. Instinctively, he clutched the Atouri.
And the beast ran for him.
Takua whirled around, fleeing for his life. Not stopping to wait for the last of the soldiers to pass, he pushed through, yelling for his friends, heading roughly in the direction of the Kini, but taking whatever path was available. He crossed the avenue, passing a few of his guards. They stood motionless for a second, shock on their faces as they stared at the approaching beast, but in an instant they, too, turned and ran.
Takua’s breath was ragged as he pushed his body as fast as it would move, the Rahi Nui’s thundering footsteps approaching. He reeled around a corner and slid to a halt, the sight of Kryll terrorizing the street in front of him. They spotted him and yelled, but his guards leapt into action, engaging them as Takua stumbled backward.
Aya tugged at his arm, pulling him toward a nearby alleyway. He followed her, dipping into the shadows as he chanced a look over his shoulder. The beast was far off, but gaining fast. It crashed its way through the city, stopping only occasionally to swat at a boulder or some group of soldiers that pestered it. Its eyes met Takua’s for just a second before he turned around again, focusing on moving his legs as fast as he could.
The shadowy alley forced them into a single file line, and they hurried forward, always conscious of the beast’s pounding footsteps. Kokani and Aya exited back into the daylight, and Takua heard the Ga-Matoran curse as she readied her bow. She fired an arrow out of sight as he moved into the next street, his heart sinking as more Kryll came into view.
Once again, Takua’s remaining guards did their part, running at the invaders, keeping him safe, but they were outnumbered, and needed all the help they could get. Kokani ran at one of them, his blade flashing, and Aya fired another arrow, downing a warrior before it could charge. His blood pumping, Takua wrapped his fingers around his sword, ready to join in, but Jaka’s hand clamped over his own.
“No!” his friend said, pointing over the buildings in front of them. The spires of Ga-Kini rose above their roofs, closer now. “We don’t have the time!”
Takua turned his head to look at the temple, then to the Rahi Nui, and then back to Kokani and Aya. His friends held their own for now, but the beast drew closer, only five or six blocks away. It let out an ear-piercing roar.
Takua tugged at his sword, only to have Jaka stop him again. “But —”
“For Mata Nui’s sake, Takua!” Aya yelled at him as she dodged a swinging blade. “Just go!”
“You want to help them?” Jaka pulled Takua by the arm, running for the rocky spires. The beast’s footsteps thundered, drowning out his voice. “Draw it away!”
Takua hated it, but Jaka had a point. Chancing one last look, he caught a nod from Kokani, which somehow managed to reassure him. The two Le-Matoran ran down the street, sprinting as fast as they could, trying to escape the Rahi Nui’s stampede. Takua’s legs burned as the monster’s footsteps pounded nearer and nearer, shaking the earth behind them, each thundering step closer than the last.
He could hear it closing in as they rushed through another narrow alley, and he knew they’d never make it. The spires were still too far off, and as he exited onto a wide, dirt courtyard, he looked over his shoulder once more. His skin prickled as the Rahi Nui towered above the houses, just one street over.
Takua pulled his friend out of the alley and threw him to the side of the street as the beast plowed into the buildings behind them, obliterating the small space they had just ran through. Rubble and dust spilled into the courtyard as Takua stumbled backward, his eyes staring at the monster that rose before him. He turned and ran, pushing his legs as fast as they would carry him, an earsplitting bellow filling his head as the beast raised its claws. They came crashing down, sinking into the earth just to Takua’s left, the shockwave forcing him to the ground.
His mask hit the earth, and he slid for a few feet before stopping in the middle of dirt square. Its shadow fell over him, dust obscuring everything but its towering outline. He scrambled backward, desperately trying to escape, even though he knew it was no use. The monster’s colossal head moved toward him, its claws reaching out, each one as thick as his torso, and Takua’s mind froze. He stared at it, petrified, the Atouri calmly resting against his chest.
And then… crack.
Takua diverted his attention to the ground below, and saw a tiny fissure, slowly making its way to the Rahi Nui. It spread from directly beneath him, multiplying, branching out into a tree of little breaks in the dirt. The beast froze, perhaps trying to process the widening lines, staring as they spread underneath it, until they seemed to cover the entire square. For a few moments it stood there, unmoving, but then it turned back to Takua, and opened its mouth to roar.
But it was too late. The earth cracked open, and both the Rahi Nui and Takua fell as the courtyard collapsed upon its self. Takua let out a cry as rock and dirt and dust careened downward, falling into the sudden abyss. He flailed his arms, trying to grab into something, but nothing was stable. He fell into the earth, confused and terrified, until, quite suddenly, he landed with a gentle thud.
Takua opened his eyes, realizing that at some point he must’ve squeezed them shut. They revealed a giant of a being, tall, thick, and stocky, clad in dark grey and black armor. Corded, muscular arms held him like baby, and he looked up to see powerful, broad shoulders supporting them. The being’s thick neck was a bit hunched over, but his eyes were dark green, calm, and kind. They gazed at him through a black Pakari, as black as the depths of the earth itself. And slowly, the being smiled.
“I like your mask, Takua.” His voice was deep and slow. He shrugged his massive shoulders, smoothly lowering Takua to the ground. “I’m partial to it myself, as I’m sure you can tell.”
Takua stared, a bit in shock, as the being towered over him. “Toa… Onua…” was all he could manage.
A deafening roar sounded, drawing their attention to the other side of the gigantic sinkhole. The Rahi Nui writhed, a dark shape moving through the dust, down, but definitely not out.
The Toa of Earth’s voice was uncannily calm as he clenched his fists and moved into the dust toward the writhing monster, revealing the slender form of Gali standing behind him. The Toa of Water smiled at seeing Takua, and she held out her hand to the Le-Matoran.
“This way, little one.”
Terrified and awe-struck at the same time, Takua took it, and the Toa led him from rock to collapsed rock, helping him to climb out of Onua’s fissure. Soon enough they neared the street level, and Takua once again heard the sounds of battle. Steel clashed between the yells of Matoran and Kryll alike, and the deafening booms of boulders crashing into buildings hadn’t stopped. With an agile leap, Gali landed gracefully at the lip of the sinkhole, and pulled Takua up behind her. The dust had begun to clear, revealing pure anarchy all around.
“Now go!” Gali ushered Takua in the direction of the Kini, before turning around at the sound of the Rahi Nui’s roar. “Get to the Kini! We’ll meet you there!” she shouted over her shoulder.
Takua watched as the outline of the beast appeared above the dust on the other side of the courtyard, and in an instant Gali was gone, vanishing into the chaos. All around him Kryll fought Matoran, buildings crumbled, fires spread, and the battle raged in full force. Takua ran to the edge of the street, searching the scene for his friends, for Jaka, Kokani, Aya, for Nokama’s guards, for anyone, but he was alone. His head swiveled to the spires of Ga-Kini, looming high just a few blocks away now. He took a deep breath, summoning his strength.
This was his task, and his alone now.
He drew his sword, it steel glimmering in the waning daylight, and again, he ran.
He exited the broken courtyard, running into a street riddled with Matoran and Kryll, each fighting their own miniature battle. He weaved his way through them, ignoring the yelling, the screaming, the clanging of blades against armor, the sprays of blood as steel met flesh. A large Kryll ran at him, sword raised high, but Takua was faster. He dropped and slid on the ground, cutting at its ankles as he evaded its attack. He heard howling as he popped to his feet, but he didn’t stop to look back at his handiwork.
The Rahi Nui roared as he turned another corner, and he whirled around to see it barreling after him, trying its best to ignore the gigantic stream of water that crashed into it from the side, but Takua could tell it was straining. He ran as a gigantic boulder flew through the air, pummeling the beast from behind. It growled and stumbled forward, but did not fall.
He slid into a side street as a squad of Kryll came into view, but immediately had to duck as the Rahi Nui’s claws clipped the roof of the building above him. Tile and mortar rained from above, and he noticed spikes of ice slicing through the air, smashing into a thousand pieces as they collided with the beast’s hide. It bellowed, swatting at the Toa of Ice as he hopped from rooftop to rooftop above Takua, but not managing a hit on the icy white figure.
The beast fell into the street before Takua as the earth gave way beneath its feet, taking out an inn and a blacksmith’s shop with it. With a snarl the downed behemoth swiped its claws through the air, connecting with a sickening thud against a black figure, and Takua dove to the side as Onua careened past him, skidding on the cobblestone like a rock thrown atop still water.
Takua stared, knowing that such an assault would’ve killed any Matoran, but as soon as the Toa of Earth slid to a halt, he got to his feet and charged at the beast again, as if it were nothing more than a slight punch in the chest.
Takua looked up at the words, startled to see the Rahi Nui already on its feet, its claws hurtling through the air towards him. He closed his eyes, knowing there was no way he could dodge, but there was a sudden gust of wind, and something hit Takua from behind, sending him flying to the other side of the street. The beast’s claws whiffed into empty air, and it growled in frustration.
Before he knew what was happening, Takua was set down gently, slightly out of the beast’s range. Lewa unwrapped his arms and gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder, his Miru smiling before he turned around and flew away, racing back again to fight the monster.
Takua took the chance to keep moving. He dashed away, still hearing the inconsistent, thundering footsteps as the beast tried to chase him and fight the Toa at the same time. He ran for the spires, now towering above, their black faces contrasted against the early evening light. Slowly, he made progress, but was brought up short as he heard yelling just ahead.
Two soldiers exited a side street before him, chased by a squad of ten Kryll. Takua slid to a halt, watching as the Kryll cut one down, spraying his blood on the cobblestone. They shot an arrow at the other, who managed to dodge, but he was bleeding from a wound in his leg and it wasn’t long before they caught him as well. A few Kryll turned to Takua, who froze, trapped between them and the Rahi Nui, rampaging behind.
The earth shook as the beast’s feet lumbered forward, not stalled by the Toa’s attacks. Takua turned his head, readying his sword, not sure which threat to direct his attention to. His body began to shake, and then rumble, and Takua looked down at the street, quickly realizing that it wasn’t because of his nerves. The cobblestone beneath his feet vibrated, and he stared for a moment before realizing what was happening, and jumped backward.
The stones in the street erupted from the ground, blasting the Kryll mercilessly, over and over, the tiny squares of rock smashing into their armor until all fell to the ground. Takua whirled around to see Pohatu standing between him and the Rahi Nui, channeling his power, twisting the stone at the beast’s feet, forming shackles around its ankles. The monster fought, charging forward, its brute strength breaking Pohatu’s bonds faster than he could create them.
But the Toa dug his heels down, focusing his power with all his might. He pulled stone from the street, from the buildings, changing it, shifting it to his will. He wrapped it around the beast’s legs, hardening it, pulling it together with everything he had. The Rahi Nui raised its leg to keep up its charge, but suddenly… couldn’t.
Its ankles trapped by the stone, the massive creature clawed at the air. It hung there for a second, hovering as it tried to regain balance, but finally, stumbling forward, it fell.
Takua heard the deafening boom as it smashed into the ground, but he pushed forward, not wasting any time. Reaching the end of the street, he found it emptied into a large square, and suddenly, there were no more buildings. The wide, paved courtyard sat at the edge of Naho bay, the waves calmly lapping the beach that formed its far edge. And there, just beyond the shore, stood the great stone pillars of Ga-Kini, rising out of the water.
It was a simple, elegant, yet massive stone structure. The rocky pillars rose into the sky supporting a wide circular disk near their bases, just a dozen or so feet above the waves. A long, narrow, stone bridge connected the ancient temple to the shore, and its entrance sat there, open, waiting for Takua.
Takua felt the Atouri thump against his chest, and he turned around to look at the Rahi Nui. It roared behind him, clawing at the ground, trapped by its bonds as the other Toa pelted it with their energies of earth, air, water, and ice. It bellowed, struggling to right itself, but Pohatu held it down fast.
Takua watched, the moment dragging on as the beast writhed. Its horns and teeth flashed, growling, snarling, smashing its tail into the buildings behind it, raging as it tried to free itself from its tormentors. It snapped its jaws at Pohatu, who stood just out of range, but then its glowing eyes caught sight of Takua, standing far beyond the Toa.
It was still for a second. It ignored the Toa’s attacks as it locked eyes with the little Le-Matoran, as if it was waiting, saving its strength. Takua’s spine prickled, and somehow, he knew what was coming. He turned around and ran, heading straight for the Kini.
And the Rahi Nui released an earth-shattering roar, unleashing all the strength it had. Its claws slammed against the ground, pushing itself up, somehow managing to find the strength to break its bonds. The stone around its ankles shattered, and it swatted the Toa of Stone out of its way as its tail whipped against the Toa beside it, knocking them off their rooftop perches. Its feet pounded against the ground as it sprinted for Takua, gaining with every massive, deafening step.
Takua heaved, straining as the earth shook around him, the pounding of the beast growing closer with every second. And then, with a deafening thud, the beast’s legs slammed into the square behind him, propelling it clear over his head. Its shadow flew over Takua and he stumbled to a halt, staring with his mouth agape as the monster landed with a resounding crash in front of him. It swiveled around, glaring down, standing directly between Takua and the Kini. Its teeth shone bright white in the dying light.
He grasped the Atouri, and he heard its heartbeat, pounding in his mind.
He could feel his face tingling, his fingers twitching. The world around him seemed to halt as he stared up at the beast, suddenly hyper-aware of his surroundings. He saw the monster’s every detail, from its bloodstained claws to the muscles rippling beneath its armored hide. He smelled a subtle wisp of smoke as the ocean breeze brushed against his cheeks. He felt the broken stones beneath his feet, the vibrations of the battle. But through it all he felt the voice, the voice of Makuta, pounding within his mind as the Rahi Nui loomed above.
So here you are, Takua. At the cusp of your destiny…
He clutched the Atouri, squeezing it as tight as he could between his rattled fingers. The voice was a tiny whisper and a hammering reverberation at the same time. He could both hear it and feel it, and it froze him in place. Or did it freeze the world around him?
…But ask yourself, is this the destiny that you choose?
Nothing moved. Everything was still as the Rahi Nui leaned closer and closer to him, its heavy breathing blotting out all other noise. Takua’s mind ran, but his thoughts were scrambled. Nothing seemed to make sense.
You’ve held the Atouri for so long… you need it, don’t you?
Images flew before Takua’s eyes. The Spring Solstice, Matau giving him the stone, his visions, his dreams, Saku tormenting him, the attack on Le-Koro. Talim crumpled to the ground. His mind flew through his memories, racing, but to nowhere in particular. He couldn’t seem to stop it.
After all, what would you be without it?
He’d gotten lost in Ko-Wahi; Matoran had died trying to save him. He’d alienated Raipu in the desert, and taken away his humanity. He’d led his friends into the Underworld; it was his fault Nika was dead. He’d stolen Saku’s spirit. What kind of Matoran could do that? What was he!?
Just another soul, doomed to be forgotten.
The Atouri thudded against his chest, pounding him into the ground. It was all his fault. Le-Koro was attacked because of him. He’d killed Matau, he’d stolen Talim’s spirit. It was all his fault. It was all his fault!
He couldn’t move. Visions of the Madness erupted before his eyes, and he saw the Void opening before him. Invisible fiends, demons, and deities clawed at him, scratching at his mask, tearing at his flesh, pulling him down, down into the blackness below. His eyes stared, unmoving as the Rahi Nui towered above, pitying him like the pathetic, weak Matoran that he was. His doubt, his fear, taunted him. All he’d ever done was run.
Run away Takua, run just like you always have.
You’re nothing. You’re worthless, you’re weak.
Your friends are the only reason you’ve made it this far. You’ll kill them all if you keep going.
His mind ran and ran and ran, filling him with dread and fear and terror, with doubt and anxiety, with anguish and torment. He collapsed, breaking down. He was no match for the darkness. He could not stand before the Void. His mind cracking, he prayed for a way out. He gazed up at the Rahi Nui, the only god he knew, patterns flashing before his eyes. He fell to his knees, begging for forgiveness. He had to get out.
I have to get out!
Everything stopped. The black was calm. It wrapped around him, consuming his flesh, his unseeing eyes still as his body disintegrated. And then… a whisper.
“Hey, you can do it.”
Talim stood before him, smiling as she held out her hand.
“I know you can!”
And his strength returned. He clasped her palm and she pulled him up, up, out of the dark, back to a place where he could fight. Back to Ga-Koro, back to his friends, back to the setting sun, and back to the world that he knew.
Takua stood tall as he stared up at the Rahi Nui, his eyes narrowing. He took a deep breath and exhaled, gripping his sword. His voice was calm as he gazed up at the towering monster.
“Let’s finish this.”
He charged at the beast, and suddenly, there was fire. His feet pounded forward as an inferno erupted around him, white hot flames appearing out of thin air, whirling about, lashing out at the Rahi Nui. The beast roared, stepping back from the searing heat as the Toa of Fire revealed himself, his crimson armor reflecting the light of his blaze. His mighty fire sword flashed as Takua sprinted underneath the monster’s legs, making his way onto the stone bridge.
The Rahi Nui swiveled around to grab him, its claws skidding above the water, but Tahu’s flames flew once more, driving the beast back. Takua ran for the stone platform, closing in on it as elements flew through the air. All six Toa now pummeled the beast with their power, driving away from the Kini. It swatted at them, stumbling into Naho bay, water splashing around its ankles.
Takua entered the circle of spires, sliding to a halt as he reached the center of the temple. There was a great flash as Tahu unleashed another whirling firestorm, and the Rahi Nui fell backwards, collapsing into the waves. A plume of water erupted into the sky, raining down on Takua as he pulled the Atouri from his neck. The water subsided, and suddenly, they were ready.
The Toa stood in a circle at the center of the Kini, and all eyes fell on Takua. He stared at these six legendary beings, feeling their powerful aura course through him. He looked to each of them, ready to perform this final task, this final step in his journey. His eyes met Gali’s, and she nodded.
Takua stretched out his arm, holding the Atouri in front of him. All six Toa reached out to it, and channeled their power at the same time. Their elements flowed from their palms, connecting with the black stone, combining into a stream of bright white energy. The Atouri vibrated between Takua’s fingers, growing warm to the touch. It began to glow, brighter and brighter.
He squinted as the Atouri’s light grew, burning as if he stared into the sun itself. It blinded him, filling his vision. The stone was hot now — no, it was scalding — and his fingers screamed at him, but he didn’t dare let go. The Toa pushed their energy into the stone, digging their heels into the Kini as the white light pulsated, humming all around them, their combined power growing stronger and stronger. Takua held on, his mind and body shouting as he squeezed his eyes shut, his hand burning.
And then, with a deafening crack, it was over.
Takua covered his face as the light exploded, releasing a shockwave that moved even Onua. Takua fell backward, bringing the Atouri close to his chest, sliding to a halt at the edge of the platform. He looked to the Toa, meeting their gazes, questions instantly running through his head.
The Prophesy… was that it? Was it over? Had they summoned the Seventh Toa?
But he didn’t have time to ask the question. A shadow fell over the Kini, and Takua looked up to see the Rahi Nui once more, towering above them all. Before anyone had the chance to move, its arms came hurtling down, smashing into the platform, obliterating the ancient temple, and plunging Takua into the dark waters below.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 12 2017 - 06:06 PM.
Posted May 07 2017 - 03:37 PM
Chapter 15 - Illusions
Takua sank, dazed, unmoving as the water pulled him down, trying to process what had just happened. Huge blocks of stone collapsed all around, plummeting into the dark blue abyss, trails of bubbles floating upward in their wake. He descended, lower and lower as he looked to the orange-pink sky, distorted by the surface of the water. His fingers still held the Atouri, its color now returned to black; its surface cold, as he was used to.
A flash of silver caught his attention, and his mind clicked, bringing him back to reality. Takua moved his limbs, grabbing his sword as it fell beside him, and shoved it into its scabbard. He pushed for the surface, his lungs beginning to strain. Up and up he swam, muffled booms sounding all around as the Kini’s ruins collided into the sea floor, as the blurry shape of the Rahi Nui moved above.
He was just a few feet from the surface when someone grabbed him, and he was pulled rapidly away from the stifled roars of the beast. Lean, but strong arms wrapped around his torso, and he looked up to see Gali, towing him through the water with the speed of a Takea shark. He held onto her as tight as he could, the water rushing around him, trusting that wherever she took him he would be safe. His lungs started to throb, desperate for air, and just as he felt he couldn’t hold his breath any longer, the Toa of Water stopped and dragged him to the surface.
Takua gasped, coughing as his mask entered the ocean air. Gali released her grip, and he treaded water, only a fifty or so feet from the shore. The Rahi Nui stood in the bay, far away now, plunging its claws into the water as the other Toa fought against it.
“Find the Turaga,” Gali said calmly, but quickly. She pushed him toward the beach. “Stay with your friends, and stay safe. You’ve done your duty. We’ll deal with this beast.”
Takua coughed as a swell swept over his head, and he moved his arms, keeping himself afloat. He looked back at the Toa, concerned, and confused. “Did it work? Is the Seventh Toa…?”
“I don’t know.”
Her tone seemed worried, and he wanted to ask more questions, but then she was gone, disappeared beneath the waves. He floated there, alone, staring for a moment as the Rahi Nui swatted at the Toa in the harbor. With a huff and a splash, he turned around and headed for shore.
It didn’t take him long to reach the shallows. Ga-Koro’s outskirts lay ahead, quiet and isolated from the battle that still raged near the inner city. He pushed through the waves, paddling steadily forward, and soon enough a few figures came into his vision, waiting on the beach ahead. They stood there, lit with a soft glow as the sun met the horizon behind them. Drawing closer, he let out a sigh of relief.
Aya, Kokani, and Jaka. Tired and bruised perhaps, but all were alive. All were well, for the most part.
His feet brushed against the sea floor, and he stood up, wading through the waist-deep water. As soon as he was within ear shot, he called out to them.
“The Seventh Toa? Is he here?”
No one responded at first. Jaka ran out to help as Takua stumbled, only now realizing how tired he was. His friend threw an arm around his shoulder, half carrying him until they were finally on dry land. Takua collapsed into the sand just before Kokani, his body aching, completely and totally exhausted.
He took a minute to collect himself, breathing deeply as the saltwater dripped off his armor. Looking up to his friends, he repeated the question.
“Did it work?”
Aya and Kokani looked at each other, exchanging a glance Takua couldn’t quite figure out. The Ga-Matoran finally spoke, shrugging her shoulders. “I hope so.”
Takua rose to his knees, confused, and suddenly doubtful. Aya’s response wasn’t what he’d expected. Shouldn’t they be celebrating right now? That blinding light, that explosion of power… that had to be something, right?
“…You hope so? The Seventh Toa isn’t here?”
“It was a summoning, Takua.”
“Yeah,” Takua gestured to the space around him. “We summoned him, so where is he?”
Kokani knelt down to look him in the eye. “No one ever said it would be instantaneous.”
“Well, I know that! I just…” Takua trailed off, panting, still trying to catch his breath. Pausing for a few seconds, he realized that he didn’t even know what he’d expected. He’d thought that, whatever happened, it would be clear what to do now. That there would be, at the very least, some sort of direction. That he wouldn’t feel so… so… he struggled to understand his feelings. So confused. So empty-handed. So… lost.
“We have to find Turaga Nokama,” Aya said. “We’ll be safe with her. And we’ll wait until we know more. We’ll wait until the Toa of Light comes.”
“…Wait?” Takua summoned his strength, standing up. For some reason, the idea didn’t sit well with him. A thought entered his mind, and the uncertainness of it began to sink in He opened his mouth again, his voice beginning to quiver. “For how long? A few days? Weeks? …Months?”
Placing his hands on his head, his confusion slowly began to morph into frustration. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to over. It was supposed to be finished. He started to fidget, waiting for Aya’s response, but nothing came. He stared at her, anxiety building in his thoughts, tightening his chest, pulling at his heart and lungs. It built as Takua looked at each of his friends, searching for some kind, any kind, of answer, until finally he snapped.
“For how long, Aya!?”
The Ga-Matoran took a step back, startled. “Calm down, it’s not the end of the world.”
“Calm down — ?” he cut himself off, clenching his jaw as his face started to warm. “So you’re telling me that no one actually knows anything about what just happened?”
“It’s a Prophesy,” Kokani added. “Not an explanation of events that are guaranteed to occur.”
Takua looked at Kokani, slowly realizing just how stupid it all seemed. “So… what?” He breathed through his nose, trying to control himself, but his anger bubbling over. The Atouri dangled from its chain as he held it out for everyone to see. “I carried this thing all across the island just because… because Nuju had a hunch?”
Kokani squinted, his voice calm but his body tense. “He’s wiser than you are, Takua.”
“Oh, come on, what does that even mean?” Takua rolled his eyes, his passion taking over his voice. “What’s Nuju ever done besides look at the stars and speak in tongues? I’m the one that brought it here!” He pointed to his chest. “I watched over it! What if Toa of Light doesn’t even come? Am I supposed to wait forever? Illum said —”
“Illum is a traitor,” Kokani retorted. “And you shouldn’t believe anything he says.”
“Yeah? Well maybe he had the right idea!” Takua snapped. “At least Krosis understands the real world! The Turaga are so stuck in their old ways, they’ve forgotten about reality! We don’t live in a world of Prophesies anymore! We can’t rely on the will of Mata Nui, because… because look where that gets us!” He gestured to the burning city, spread out across the length of the bay before him.
Chaos still reigned, but it was far away now, closer to the main gates. Black smoke rose here and there, contrasting the bright colors of the sunset. The clashes of steel and stone still sounded, the yelling of Matoran and Kryll piercing through it all. At the edge of the bay, the Toa continued to fight the Rahi Nui, blasting it with elemental energies as it roared and swiped at them like flies.
The battle still raged, but it seemed to have waned a bit. It was hard to tell, but Ga-Koro’s forces appeared to have been able to push back the Kryll. Most of their catapults now lay broken at the edge of the valley, smashed apart by the city’s own siege engines. Takua watched as the tiring Rahi Nui fell into Naho bay, down again, but not defeated just yet. Perhaps, if given a few more hours, the city’s forces would be victorious.
But Takua didn’t see any of that. All he saw was the fire and blood, the pain and suffering, the loss of life. All he saw was the darkness. No one responded to his tirade, and so he stared at everything, hands still resting atop his head, breathing deeply as his anger slowly faded. It trickled out of his chest, slowly but steadily, until he was left with without anything at all.
He felt empty, and hollow. He’d done what was asked of him; he’d finally accomplished his task. He’d triumphed where the odds had seemed impossible, and yet, somehow, he still felt defeated. He still felt alone.
Jaka’s hand came to a rest on his shoulder. “You just have to have faith, Takua.”
But Takua shrugged him off. “Don’t talk to me about faith.”
Gazing forward, looking at nothing in particular, he realized that he should’ve thought about this more. He’d left Le-Koro for this? For the empty words of Turaga Nuju? The promise that he’d be doing something great, that he’d be helping the entire island of Mata Nui? His head sank and his eyes closed. Promises. Promises, with nothing to show for them. All of it was shadows, shadows and illusions. It wasn’t real.
Sighing, he turned around to apologize to his friends. None of this was their fault. They’d always shown their support, and they didn’t deserve this from him. He looked at them and opened his mouth to speak, but before the words could come out, he caught a glimpse of a figure, standing at the edge of the city.
And his mind cranked to a halt.
It was a Le-Matoran. A girl, about his age, one he recognized instantly. But no… it couldn’t be her. Why would she be here? Why now? It couldn’t be… could it?
Takua stared, unmoving, realizing that she had to be some trick of his mind. He rubbed his eyes and squinted, questioning reality, but there she was, clear as day. She looked him in the eye from the opening of a nearby alleyway, just beyond the beach. Her dark green Huna glinted in the sunlight, and she smiled, beckoning for him to come closer.
And, after a few seconds of hesitation, he followed. Without a word.
Jaka’s voice reached his ears, but he didn’t actually hear it. His feet sank into the white sand as he walked cautiously toward the alley, captivated by her gaze. But she turned around as he drew closer, moving farther into the buildings, and quickly disappeared around a corner.
“No, wait!” he stumbled, calling out as his legs picked up the pace, stepping from the beach to the abandoned street. He jogged after her, determined not to lose her trail.
“Where are you going?”
His friend’s voices echoed, but again, he didn’t respond. All his thoughts were for her. Takua slid into the alleyway, just in time to see her at its far end, glancing at him for a second before disappearing into the shadows. Desperate to see her, desperate for some kind of purpose, he gave chase.
She led him through Ga-Koro’s outskirts, weaving this way and that, always managing to lead him on for only a second before flitting out of sight. She never seemed to move faster than a casual stroll, but no matter how hard he ran, he couldn’t seem to catch up. Multiple times he’d thought he’d lost her, but then she would appear at the edge of his vision, giving him just enough direction to work off of.
His friends chased after him, asking where he was going, telling him they should be finding the Turaga, but he didn’t have anything to say in return. He had to find her, to see her up close, to make sure she was real. Nothing else mattered, not the Atouri, not the battle, not even the Toa or the Rahi Nui. There was only her.
The sun fell below the horizon, and darkness settled upon the narrow, empty streets. She led him on, seemingly to nowhere in particular, until Takua found himself in what seemed to be a small shipping district. Her trail led him out of a side street and into a narrow road, or a wide alley, and… she was nowhere to be found.
He looked around frantically, yearning for any hint of her. The buildings loomed above, tall and tightly packed together. The street dead-ended into a small dock at the edge of the bay, where a decent-sized schooner sat, its grey sails rustling slightly in the wind. The waning moon shone above, the only light in the dark city.
Up and down the street he searched, not ready to give up. She had to be here, somewhere. She had to be!
He whirled around as Jaka slid to a halt beside him, panting.
“Where are you going?” his friend demanded. “What is going on with you? We have to get back to the Turaga. Back to safety!”
“I saw her!” Takua exclaimed, excited but distressed at the same time. “She’s here, Jaka! Somewhere!”
“What? Who? What are you talking about?”
“Talim,” Takua said, the sound of her name ringing in his head as he said it. “She… she’s here. I know it.”
“Mata Nui, Takua…”
“I have to find her,” he trailed off, pushing past Jaka as he turned to continue his search. But his friend wouldn’t have it.
Jaka grabbed him by the arm, forcing Takua to look into his eyes. “No, you don’t! Listen to yourself! Talim…?” Jaka’s shoulders sank, a pained look coming across his mask. “…Really?”
But Takua stood his ground. “I have to do this.”
There was a pause in their words, and the sounds of the far-away battle drifted to their ears. Jaka responded. “Look, I miss her too. But I know what you’re doing. And this isn’t going to end how you want it to.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Because I know you, Takua!” he pleaded, still holding his arm. “You’re going to keep looking for her. You’re never going to give up. And it’ll be admirable at first, but the years will pass and she’ll still be gone.” He shook his head, meeting Takua’s unapologetic gaze with worried eyes. “And you’ll still be alone.”
Takua clenched his jaw, shaking his head. “I have to do this, Jaka,” he repeated, pointing to the ground, stressing his words. “Don’t try and stop me.”
“I just…” Jaka stammered, taking a moment to pull his thoughts together. “I don’t want you to look at your reflection one day and realize you’ve wasted your life searching for something you’ll never find.” Letting out a desperate breath, both his hands fell on Takua’s shoulders, squeezing them tight. His voice was quiet, but firm. “They’re just shadows, Takua. Please don’t follow them. Please don’t go down this path.”
Takua stared, his face stern, his eyes unyielding. Jaka’s fingers tightened around him, but he shook backwards, freeing himself. Without a word, he turned around. But only a few steps later, Jaka’s voice rang out, echoing among the quiet buildings.
“Talim is dead, Takua!”
Takua stopped in his tracks, the words piercing through his chest like daggers. His response came without turning around, his voice low, peppered with rage. “You don’t know that.”
“You have to face it; she’s gone,” Jaka’s voice broke. “You can’t bring her back.”
“Yes I can. And I will.”
“Who told you that!?” Jaka let his arms hang loose at his sides, begging his friend to listen. “Illum? Saku? Do you really think they have your best interests at heart?”
“She still breathes!” Takua whirled around, his anger erupting. “She says my name! Don’t tell me to give up on her, because I will never be able to do that.”
“Your name? Why do you think she says that?” Jaka responded. “She wants you to help her! To be by her side, to stay close and take care of her. You keep saying you have to find her, but you forget that she’s back in Le-Koro! Right where…” he trailed off, struggling to keep going. He looked at Takua, pain spreading across his face, clearly not wanting to say what he was about to say. But he continued nonetheless. “…Right where you left her.”
Takua balled his fists. “You’re wrong.”
“Before we left for Ko-Wahi, when you were still unconscious… I made sure she was safe.” Jaka nodded. “Remember her friend Alani? She was going to stay, and help rebuild. She said she’d look after her. Give her food, and water, while she slept. Make sure she had a roof over her head, you know?”
Takua stared, unable to calm himself, but at the same time unable to respond. The street was still, eerily so.
“Don’t do this,” Jaka went on. “You have to let her go. Please, Takua.” He stared, desperate, his eyes shining in the moonlight. “For her sake… just let her rest.”
Footsteps reached Takua’s ears, and a few seconds later Kokani and Aya arrived, stopping a few feet behind Jaka. They stared at him, worry and confusion on their faces. He could tell they pitied him, and he hated it. He breathed deeply, not saying anything, but refusing to accept Jaka’s words. The Atouri felt cool against his burning chest.
But then his friend’s expressions changed. They looked up, staring over Takua’s shoulder, eyes widening. Aya cocked her head to the side, and Kokani’s brow furrowed, as if they were seeing something they didn’t fully understand. Jaka looked too, his mouth hanging slightly open. Takua turned to follow their gaze, and…
There she was.
Takua stumbled forward, his body moving automatically. She stood on the deck of the ship, calmly waiting for him. The schooner’s sails fluttered around her as she leaned against its railing, the moonlight glinting against her armor. She was beautiful, just as he remembered.
“Takua, that’s not her…”
But he knew Jaka was wrong. It was her, as real as he’d ever seen her. She was here, somehow standing before him, just a few dozen feet away. He felt his anger wash away as she smiled, and memories of Le-Koro flooded his mind. Everything was calm as he moved forward, almost in a trance. The world had disappeared. Only she existed, and that was all he needed. He stepped onto the dock, his boots clumping against the wood.
“Takua that’s not her!”
Jaka’s voice managed to worm its way into his head, and he paused. He looked at her, his eyes clear, and he became aware of a few details. There was… something about her, perhaps the way she carried herself, that seemed… off. Her smile wasn’t quite as he remembered it, the way her fingers rested on the ship’s railing seemed… well, not like her. There was something, something… that wasn’t right.
Blood pumped through his veins, and instinctively, he reached for his sword.
Drawing his sword, he ran in the opposite direction, horrified to see more Kryll appearing out of the shadows, blocking off their escape. They spilled out of the buildings, twenty, maybe thirty of them, weapons at the ready. Takua sprinted for his friends, but two managed to block his path, preventing his escape from the dock.
He swung his sword at one, his steel crashing against its scimitar as it stumbled backward. He shifted his attention to the other, readying himself, but it was already too late. The blunt end of its sword smashed into side of his head, and stars flashed before his vision as he fell. He hit the dock with a painful crash, his sword clattering out of his hands. Before he could get back up the Kryll was on top of him, pinning him down.
Takua struggled, thrashing with all his strength, and just barely managed to free his right arm. Throwing it forward, his elbow smashed the Kryll’s mandibles, bloodying them, and he took the opportunity to push himself up.
The other warrior’s boot connected with his side before he’d made it to his knees, and his mask was back down against the dock. The Kryll’s claws grabbed the back of his head, pulling him back for a second before his face was slammed into the hard wood. His vision blurred, and the world spun.
Stunned and unable to move, Takua looked to the street, staring as the blurry shapes of his friends fought against impossible odds. His mind stumbled, trying to right itself as fast as it could, but already the Kryll had shoved his hands together, and he could feel thick rope being wrapped around his wrists.
“Takua!” Aya’s voice reached his ears. Blood sprayed the Ga-Matoran as she cut down one warrior, but there were a dozen more to replace it. “Takua, hold on! We’ll get you!”
He tried to push himself back up, but was shoved down again in an instant. Both Kryll on top of him were almost twice his size. “You have to run!” Takua yelled as his vision started to clear. “Just go! Please!”
The rope cut into his wrists, and the Kryll grabbed him by it, pulling him to his feet and wrenching his arms at the same time. Resisting, he kicked at his captors, wriggling against their grasp, but it was no use. They held him fast, dragging him toward the ship no matter how hard he fought.
He watched as Jaka blocked an attack with his shield, retaliating with his dagger, but the Kryll had managed to separate him from Kokani and Aya. Six of them closed in, and Jaka blocked and parried as best he could, but it wasn’t long before a club to the back sent him skidding into the cobblestone.
“No!” Takua cried as the Kryll dragged him onto the narrow ramp that led to the schooner. He swiveled his head, catching the Kryll’s forearm in his vision, and without hesitating he sank his teeth into it. The taste of blood filled his mouth as the Kryll howled, releasing its grip for an instant, and Takua took the opportunity to sprint for the shore.
They were taking Jaka. They were taking Jaka! The thought ran through his head as he saw the Kryll push his friend down, tying rope around his wrists just as they’d done to him. He raced for his sword, laying where it had fallen earlier. He couldn’t let this happen. He had to fight — !
Takua screamed as he fell once more, white hot pain suddenly surging through the back of his leg. He swiveled around as best he could, staring at a nasty gash in the back of his thigh, and he a noticed a barbed arrow sticking into the dock beside him. Blood trickled from the wound, not deep enough to permanently injure, but hamstringing him nonetheless. He writhed against the wood planks, his mask contorted with pain, but managed to glance back at the ship.
A lone Kryll archer stood near the tip of its bow, its dark grey armor glinting in the moonlight, just a shade lighter than its black war paint. It stared back at him, emotionless, and Takua noticed that it was thinner, leaner than most. Its mandibles were smaller than he was used to, and Takua realized that it was female.
His thoughts left him as the two warriors pulled him to his feet. He was dragged, kicking and screaming, back to the ship. Still he tried to fight, pulling as hard as possible against them, but he could barely walk, and was no match for their strength.
All he could do was stare as the Kryll surrounded Kokani and Aya, their backs to each other, tired, but refusing to surrender. The two Matoran moved in sync, twirling around as their blades flashed, already having downed three Kryll. But even they couldn’t fight the odds. One small misstep and a blade nicked Aya’s shoulder, a shallow cut, but an omen for what seemed to be the inevitable.
“Jaka! Takua!” Kokani’s voice pierced the night as Jaka was dragged onto the dock.
“You have to run!” Takua yelled at Kokani as he was pulled onto the ship, even though escape seemed impossible. They were surrounded. Even if they managed to break free of the Kryll’s circle, how far would they make it before the archer picked them off? There was no easy way out of the alley. He’d led them into the perfect trap.
He was thrown against the deck at the feet of another Kryll, and was joined a few moments later by Jaka. His friend looked at him, bruised and bound, breathing heavy as fear and shock spread across his mask. The Kryll that stood above them was tall, broad-shouldered, and wore jet-black armor. Takua noticed a wide line on his right thigh, a recent wound that was still only partially healed. He looked up at the Kryll, and his mind brought him back to the tiny village in Ga-Wahi, where they had captured Krosis just a few days ago. Takua’s heart sank, recognizing it.
The Kryll grinned at him, revealing jagged, stainend teeth. “I told you we’d find you, didn’t I?”
“Captain,” the warrior with bloodied mandibles spoke up. “Were there supposed to be two Le-Matoran?”
The ship’s captain answered without looking up. His voice was quieter than Takua expected. Deep, but scratchy. “It’s this one that we need,” he said, nudging Takua’s shoulder with his boot. “But we’ll take the other as well. If only to ensure some form of…” he paused, his dark eyes meeting Takua’s for a moment. “…Cooperation.”
The warrior grunted. “What of the other two? They’ve killed four already.”
Still heaving from his injury, Takua could hear the clashes of steel behind him. Aya and Kokani yelled, fighting with every last bit of strength, taking down as many as they could. He wrenched his shoulder, trying to stand up, but an armored boot pressed into his back, pushing him down.
The captain drummed his fingers against his belt, thinking for a few seconds before speaking up. “Pull everyone out. We have to leave before the Toa find us. Fighting them isn’t worth our time.”
The warriors nodded, signaling for their troops to board. The sails rustled as they were pulled taut, and all around the ship was readied for departure. Takua stared as the Kryll boarded, glancing at one in particular who had taken his sword for its own. One by one their metal boots hit the deck, leaving only a handful on shore to keep Kokani and Aya at bay. Again, he struggled against his bonds, trying to wriggle his way back to the dock, but his guard growled through his bloody mouth, holding him tight.
His heart raced as Jaka was pulled away, dragged to the other side of the ship. His friend looked back to him, opening his mouth to say something, but his captor grabbed him by the mask, silencing his words. The last thing Takua saw were Jaka’s terrified eyes, trembling as he was shoved through a door and into the ship’s cabin, out of sight.
No…! Takua started to shake. This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t let it happen!
Yanked up again by his rope, Takua stumbled as his leg gave out, pain surging through him. He gritted his teeth at the Kryll, shifting his weight as it pulled him again, and he took his opportunity. Letting the momentum aid him, he charged forward, throwing his body into the Kryll, smashing his forehead into its collarbone. It let out a surprised grunt as it staggered and fell, with Takua crashing down atop its chest. Raising his bound wrists, he balled his knuckles into one mass, and brought them down with all his strength, slamming into the Kryll’s cheek. Its head jerked to the side, its bloodied jaw now limp and broken.
Takua stumbled to his feet, limping as fast as he could toward the dock. He threw his weight against the ship’s railing, using it to steady himself as he pushed for the ramp, but in a second another Kryll had grabbed him around the waist. He clutched the wood, hanging onto it with an iron grip as the warrior tried to pull him back, splitting Takua’s attention between it and his friends, who still fought on the shore below.
Kokani yelled as he head-butted the warrior in front of him, pushing it back. Free for a second, he sprinted onto the dock, lowering his shoulder as he slammed into another Kryll. It stumbled backward, falling into the water as Kokani whirled around, blocking an attack from behind. His steel rang out, the rage of a wild Rahi burning in his eyes.
“Just run!” Takua yelled at the Ko-Matoran, still kicking at the Kryll behind him. In the corner of his vision, he saw the captain nod to the lone archer, and somehow he knew what was about to happen. He writhed against his attacker, blood dripping from his leg, desperate to break free. “Run! Please!”
But Kokani wouldn’t listen. He grabbed his combatant by the shoulder and threw him toward Aya, who whirled around and caught the Kryll with the tip of her blade. Blood sprayed her armor as Kokani barreled forward, only two more warriors between him and the ship. The Ko-Matoran ran at the first, raising his staff to attack, and —
An arrow embedded itself in his chest.
Takua froze, letting out a stifled gasp as the ability to breathe left him. He blinked, stunned, unable to make sense of what he’d just witnessed. Everything left him as he stared, still clutching the ship’s railing, still holding onto it for dear life. It didn’t make any sense. It… it couldn’t…
Aya screamed his name as Kokani stumbled backward, his eyes wide with pain and shock. He held onto his blade, gripping it with white knuckles as he struggled to breathe, but he didn’t fall. Kokani pulled himself back to his full height, swinging his blade at the Kryll in front of him. It parried, but didn’t have time to retaliate before Kokani had grabbed it by the forearm, throwing it off the dock and into the water.
The archer had nocked another arrow, and Takua could only watch as she pulled the string of her bow once more. Her dark armor glinted in the moonlight as she held her breath, lining up another shot.
“No!” Takua’s voice returned to him, and he screamed at the top of his lungs. He kicked at his captor with renewed vigor, frantically trying to fight. “Kokani! No!”
Kokani fell to one knee as another arrow sank into his torso, just below his ribcage. He let out a stifled grunt, clutching his wound with one hand as he stared at the last Kryll on the dock. His breathing labored, he mustered his strength, legs straining as he pushed himself back to his feet, but it wasn’t nearly fast enough. The last Kryll raised its weapon, ready to finish him off.
Aya slid to his side just in time, blocking the Kryll’s club before it could come crashing down. Lightning fast, she kicked it in the chest, and it faltered as Kokani cried out, whipping his blade through the air as droplets of blood flew from his wounds. His steel cut through the warrior’s armor, and in a second the Kryll had fallen, collapsed against the dock.
Kokani stood above it, staring at the body as his lungs heaved, his fingers starting to shake. He looked down at himself, watching as blood oozed down his armor. The barbs stuck out of him, and he stared, as if trying to comprehend how they’d gotten there. Pain, gradually, spread across his face. With a slight shudder, his staff slipped out of his fingers, clattering to the dock as he wheezed. With an exhausted, defeated thump, Kokani fell to his knees.
“No… no, Mata Nui please, no…”
Aya’s mumbling barely reached Takua as she knelt down to the Ko-Matoran, pressing her hands against his chest, fumbling to do something, anything that could help, but at the same time not knowing what. She looked up, meeting Takua’s petrified gaze, and they stared at each other for only a second. But in that second he could see her mind change, her apprehensiveness replaced by a need to act, a need to keep fighting, no matter what.
She took her hands off Kokani, standing up as she sprinted to the tip of the dock, but it was already too late. The Kryll had pulled back their ramp, and the ship was floating away. Her eyes burning with fire, Aya pulled out her bow, readying an arrow as she scanned the ship’s deck, looking for her target.
But the Kryll archer was ready. Her black war paint winked as she let loose another barb. It sailed through the air, whistling for only a second before hitting its mark with a sickening thud. All in a matter of seconds. All before Aya could fire off a shot.
She stopped, letting out a slight murmur as she took a small step back. Aya’s arms fell to her sides, her bow slipping out of her hands. She clutched her stomach, looking down at the wooden shaft sticking out of her. Blood pooled through her fingers, and there was a moment of silence before she looked back up.
The fire inside her was gone now. Her eyes were wide, her face pale, and once more she met Takua’s gaze. She too, sank to her knees.
And Takua could only stand there, paralyzed as she ship took him farther from the shore. He could only stare as Aya and Kokani bled, slowly succumbing to their wounds. They were too far away now, and Aya’s voice was too quiet for him to hear, but he could read her lips as she stared out across the water, clutching her wound as her strength began to fade.
Takua’s hands slipped from the railing, and his voice resounded against the water as he screamed. He yelled their names, repeating them over and over as the Kryll pulled him away, the pain in his leg now nothing compared to what burned inside him. He howled at the stars, cursing everything and everyone as they dragged him below deck and into the gloom. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real!
He kicked and clawed at his captors, fighting tooth and nail as they hauled him into the ship’s cargo hold. Multiple times he broke free, only to stumble a few steps in the opposite direction before he was overpowered once again. It took three warriors to finally subdue him, and he was thrown into a shadowy corner, surrounded by freight and ballast. His arms were wrenched above his head, tied to a metal rung in the ship’s hull, and he was left alone in the dark. But even this didn’t stop his fury.
He writhed, raging, wailing, mourning, denying everything that he knew to be true. He fought, pulling his wrists until the rope rubbed them raw, screaming as his anger and sadness twisted into a dreadful, disturbed beast. Damaged and defeated, cornered and captured, bleeding and broken, he refused to accept his fate.
He cursed the skies and the earth, the air and the sea, the world around him and everything in it. With every fiber of his being he fought and he fought, even as his strength began to abandon him. On and on, he raged, growing wearier and more desperate by the minute, his curses becoming wails, his wails breaking into sobs, and his sobs devolving into prayers.
His voice waned and eventually broke. His arms tired, aching as his wrists bled. His lungs burned and his heart pounded, forcing him to stop as he grew light-headed. Soon, he had no choice but to sit there, his back against the wood of the hull, his body admitting defeat long before he was ready to. All of his power dulled, and he had nothing left to give.
And so he stared at the dark hold, his eyes lingering on a single lantern that hung from the ceiling, swaying slightly as the ship moved through the water. It rocked back and forth with a steady rhythm, casting its yellow glow as it hypnotized him, as it pacified him. Slowly, steadily, it chipped away at his rage.
Slowly, steadily, he faded.
He couldn’t move. He couldn’t think. He sat there, paralyzed, unable to do anything as the Atouri rested against his chest, gleaming in the darkness as the ship pushed against the waves. He could only stare off into space, lost, his mind in too much shock to function.
Takua sat there, alone, alone in every way as the minutes ticked by. How long it was, he didn’t know, but he also didn’t care. He stared at the lantern, entirely emotionless, his mask stained from blood and sweat and tears as shadows flickered all around. They moved back and forth, jumping just a little whenever the ship hit a rough patch of water. Not a thought crossed his mind; nothing reached him. Nothing at all.
And that’s when she reappeared.
He knew who it was before he even saw her face. She walked out of the shadows, approaching calmly, quietly. The lantern silhouetted her from behind, but her eyes seemed to glow in the darkness. He watched her, unmoving, unfeeling as she crossed the cargo hold in a few long, graceful steps. She stood above him now, silently meeting his gaze.
Talim knelt to his level, staring for a moment before placing a gentle hand on the Atouri. She traced its edges with her finger, looking into its depths with awe, respect, and yearning. He didn’t move as she reached around him, unclasping it from his neck, and taking it for her own. Her eyes bored into him as she stood up without a word.
She cocked her head to the side and smiled, but the expression wasn’t anything like he remembered. It was a smile that that laughed at him, like a conqueror gloating over victory, and as Takua looked into her eyes, he knew that it wasn’t her at all. The deep blue gaze that he yearned for was nowhere to be found, replaced by fiendish orbs that burned yellow, like the flames of a bonfire; ancient, dangerous, and full of madness.
He knew exactly where he’d seen these eyes before: on that platform in Le-Koro. During the whirling storm, on the day when he had lost everything. He knew, without a doubt, who it really was that stood before him:
Talim’s possessed form leaned over, brushing her cold fingers against his cheek. She opened her mouth, and in a voice not quite her own, spoke.
“You’re such a fool, Takua.”
Her gaze lingered for a moment more, but then there was a whirl of shadow, and she was gone. Disappeared in a sudden cloud. Vanished, without a trace.
And so Takua stared into the dark, numb to the entire world. Only one thought managed to cross his mind:
Makuta had the Atouri.
He sighed, the knowledge that he’d failed slowly filling him up. Matau, his friends, the Toa; they’d trusted him to keep it safe. They’d trusted him to watch over it, to keep it out of Makuta’s hands, to keep them all free from the impending darkness. And he’d failed them.
He could almost hear Le-Koro’s Storyteller, his raspy voice reciting the words from The Tale of Atouri, and he knew what was coming. He knew that, soon, Makuta would release his wrath upon the world, so much that not even Mata Nui would survive.
With his heart pounding in his chest, he thought of his home, his friends, his people. And he realized the truth that stared him in the face: not only had he failed them, but he’d doomed them.
He’d doomed them all.
~End of Part V~
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 12 2017 - 06:57 PM.
Posted Dec 03 2017 - 08:46 PM
Chapter 1 - Promises
The hunt was over.
Krosis let out a smile as he crumpled the report in his claws, throwing the balled-up paper into his fire. Feeling content, he leaned against the trunk of a mangrove, his attention switching to the dagger that lay in the dirt beside him. After a moment of contemplation, he picked it up.
Switching back and forth between different grips, he felt its weight, admiring its design. It was, he had to admit, a very well-crafted weapon. A sturdy thing, it held a sharp edge, and had near-perfect balance between the blade and the hilt. The protosteel, partially serrated and slightly curved, was inlaid with a thin strip of gold near the back edge — a purely decorative, but still beautiful detail. It seemed, by all accounts, the blade of a palace guard, a decorated noble, or a royal assassin.
One thing was for sure; it did not seem to be the blade of Takua, the simple Le-Matoran traveler.
Krosis rapped his claws on the steel, allowing himself this moment of satisfaction. Given everything that had happened in the past few weeks, it was a delightful change to have this small bit of news. But it wasn’t a surprise; he had expected this of course, but it was still one less item on his plate, one less factor to worry about. He set the dagger down, leaning over to turn a skewer which quietly cooked a few slabs of meat over the fire. Closing his eyes, the savory smell wafted towards him, and he nodded to himself.
Makuta had the Atouri. The little Le-Matoran would bother him no more.
But even before he’d read about the events in Ga-Koro, he’d known how it had ended. He’d felt it. Deep in his mind, the moment Makuta had taken the stone, he knew. It had been… a shockwave of realization, an epiphany of sorts. He couldn’t explain it, not really, but he knew what it meant; Makuta was growing stronger.
Soon, he thought. Soon… it will all be over.
But alas, he shouldn’t get ahead of himself. There were still so many obstacles to overcome.
He’d watched as the Rahi Nui broke Ga-Koro’s walls, as his warriors spilled into the city and victory seemed within reach. They had pushed forward like a river, unrelenting, but while his troops had numbers on their side, Ga-Koro knew the territory. The city’s soldiers knew when to run, when to fight, how to slip through the buildings unnoticed. And after hours of fighting, Krosis’ warriors had found themselves at a standstill.
Ga-Koro had cut down their momentum, and with it, their chances of success. He’d watched as his people faltered, and slowly began to succumb to the Matoran’s blades. He’d watched as a blinding light erupted from the Kini, inspiring the Matoran to push back, to fight harder. He’d even watched as the Toa battled the Rahi Nui, slowly, patiently, relentlessly working to bring it down.
The Kryll’s mood turned sour at the thought. It had been impressive, to say the least, witnessing such a battle. The ground had shook, the waters had parted, and the very air had seemed to vibrate, but after almost an entire day of conflict, the beings from the sky stood victorious, bathed in the light of a new dawn.
And now the Great Beast rested, motionless beneath the sea.
That had been the nail in the coffin. After seeing the Rahi Nui fall, his warriors’ will to fight shattered, and Krosis had been forced to call the retreat. He hated it; it was a mark on his honor, a wound to his pride, but it had been necessary at the time. It was, he presumed, better to suffer defeat and fight again, than to die a meaningless death. Even if he didn’t like to admit it.
The Matoran had always benefited from their cities, their walls, and their Toa, but at least before Krosis had been able to outnumber them on the battlefield. And while he could confidently say that each of his warriors was superior when it came to combat, after such heavy losses, he knew he was at the disadvantage. No matter how he looked at it, he doubted they would be able to hold the territory they’d gained, let alone push further. And without Saku behind them, without the might of the Rahi Nui… well….
He looked at the remains of the report, having all but disintegrated within the flames. It was good to have this one, small, bit of news.
“What is the meaning of this, Krosis?”
The King of the Kryll looked up to see Noruk making his way through the mangroves. It was dawn in northern Ga-Wahi, and Krosis had camped his remaining troops deep within the trees, in order to escape any retaliation from Ga-Koro. Noruk barged through the thick foliage before stepping into the small clearing, his gaze narrow, mandibles twitching.
Krosis’ reply was smooth and simple. “You seem troubled, Noruk.”
“Troubled?” Noruk hissed, trying but failing to keep his anger in check. “I heard about the Le-Matoran.”
Krosis met his gaze through the smoke of his fire, addressing his comrade the way a scholar would speak to a pupil. “…And?”
“Rashi!?” Noruk spat. “You put her in charge of his capture? Over me? She’s a traitor!”
Krosis’ attention quickly returned to the flames. “You were my preferred choice, and I gave you that opportunity. But if I remember correctly, that ended with Nilum dead in a snowbank, did it not?”
Noruk twitched, holding his tongue. His mandibles clicked as he squeezed his claws together, and he took a deep breath, trying to pull himself together, if only out of respect. He went on, his voice still hot, but low and controlled. “I do not trust her.”
“I know. But she has proven her worth countless times before,” Krosis replied. “And besides, Sithrak is with her. You know as well as I do he will keep her in line.”
“Sithrak?” Noruk scoffed. “You know what she is capable of. If she wanted to she could —”
“Free the Le-Matoran? Sabotage the operation?” Krosis cut him off, his patience waning. “Sure. But then what? Where would she go? Her followers have long since abandoned her, and if she could barely cooperate with Illum the rest of the Matoran certainly wouldn’t have her.” He paused, looking back to Noruk before summing up his point. “We are all she has left.”
Noruk stared as his brow furrowed. It was obvious he still didn’t agree with the decision, but he didn’t seem to have any rebuttal. Or if he did, he chose not to voice it.
Krosis sighed, standing up. His voice was slower now, gentler, if such a thing were possible. “You are a great warrior, Noruk, but you are loud and do not think. Rashi is quiet and calculated, and has a knack for infiltration.” He held out his hands, as if weighing his two officers on a scale. “If you can name anyone better suited for getting in and out of Ga-Koro undetected, you are free to do so.”
Noruk folded his arms, sighing as he realized that Krosis was right. He stared at his feet, absent-mindedly kicking the dirt before he looked back up. “Saku would have been better.”
Krosis let out a small laugh as he sat back down. “My mistake. I’ll be sure to consult the dead before I make any more decisions.”
Noruk’s face loosened, shoulders relaxing. His armor clinked as he sat down on a stump across from Krosis, sinking his head into his claws. “I mean no disrespect. But… given her history,” he stumbled for his words. “…Well, you know.”
Krosis nodded, silently accepting the apology. “Eat, my friend,” he said, taking one of the skewers off the fire and handing it to Noruk. “You must be hungry.”
Noruk nodded and took the spike, biting into the charred flesh. The clearing was quiet for a few seconds as he chewed, until he swallowed and spoke again. “You’ve heard the rumors though, haven’t you?”
Krosis’ inquisitive gaze led him to go on.
“Some of our scouts in Onu-Wahi, they claim he’s still there.”
“Saku,” Noruk chewed. “In the darkest tunnels, they say you can see glimpses of him. Always fleeting, and always twisted into some kind of monster… but you can recognize the orange glow of his eyes, staring back at you through the Mask of Shadows.” Noruk shrugged, indicating his indifference. “Hard to believe, but he was the Toa of Shadow, after all.”
Krosis shook his head, cracking a smile. “Well, next time they see him, have them ask when he plans on coming back to life. We need all the help we can get.”
Noruk nodded, taking a minute or so to chew his food. Quiet once again ruled their small fire, and the two Kryll were left to their own thoughts. But Krosis’ comment seemed to have opened a door, allowing the bleakness of reality to set in. It spread over the clearing, blanketing everything like a mist, and gradually, the world seemed just a little bit colder. Just a little bit darker. Noruk’s next words were tinged with a hint of … was it sadness? Regret, perhaps.
“You’re really leaving, then?”
Krosis nodded. It was clear the two Kryll felt the same about their next move.
Noruk shifted on his stump, leaning forward. “You don’t have to, you know. There are other options.”
“You know as well as I do that we can’t win this war. Not anymore, not by ourselves. We need him.”
“No, we need you,” Noruk rebutted, trying to comprehend Krosis’ train of thought. “Why must so many make the journey? If the Matoran or Toa decide to attack while the majority of our forces are away —”
“Then you’ll retreat to Po-Koro, and keep our people safe at all costs,” Krosis answered. “But that won’t happen. As soon as the Turaga realize they’ve lost the Atouri, Po-Koro will be the least of their worries. They’ll put all their resources towards getting it back, even if it means following us across the sea.”
Noruk took a bit to respond, grappling with his words. “I can’t…” he shook his head, his frustration building up again. “…I won’t let you abandon our homeland, Krosis.”
“You knew this would happen eventually. And we’re not abandoning it. We shall return, stronger than ever. Makuta has willed it.”
“Makuta is not our leader. You are.” Noruk retorted, his jaw clicking. “I would follow you to the ends of the earth, but this… this doesn’t seem like you.”
“To serve my people I must serve Makuta. There is no other choice, Noruk.”
“There is always another choice,” Noruk stood up, his ambition taking over. “If we leave now, after Ga-Koro, we leave in defeat, we leave disgraced. We promised our people glory and victory, but everything after Po-Koro has gone downhill. They’ve lost so much, and they’re frustrated. Some are starting to question if this is all worth it.”
“You know it is.”
“But they don’t. And we have to remind them,” Noruk pleaded. “Don’t leave. I’ll gather my finest, and we’ll send the Matoran a message. We’ll let them know that this isn’t over, and that we are not broken. We’ll avenge our fallen brothers. We’ll avenge Saku, we’ll avenge the Rahi Nui and —”
“No, Noruk.” Krosis cut him off, putting his foot down. “You’ll hold Po-Koro while we answer Makuta’s calling. And we’ll return when we are ready. That is final.”
And Noruk was left hanging, his passion cut short as his words stopped on empty air. There was no way he alone could convince his king, that much was certain. His arms fell to his sides, and gradually, he nodded. “Well... perhaps it’s time then,” he muttered, mostly to himself.
Noruk looked over his shoulder through the mangroves, nodding to someone who stood just out of sight, signaling movement from within the branches. A minute later, two Kryll made their way into the clearing, carrying a rectangular wooden box, just big enough to fit a Matoran inside.
Krosis stood up as the box was set gently beside him. He watched it, suspicious. “…What is this?”
“I hadn’t meant to tell you like this,” Noruk said sternly, yet respectfully. “But maybe after all this time you’ve forgotten why we fight as well.”
“Careful, Noruk…” Krosis rumbled, reminding him of his place.
But Noruk continued. “After the retreat, a portion of Ga-Koro’s soldiers marched west, searching the wilds for our trail. They didn’t find us,” he nodded to the other two Kryll, who quickly made their way back into the mangroves, out of sight. “But they did find a village.”
Krosis’ eyes widened, snapping back to the box.
“The guards were overwhelmed, and I sent a squad as soon as I heard the news, but it was too late. The huts were burnt to the ground, and I…” Noruk’s voice stopped. He grew quiet, finishing his sentence just barely louder than a mumble. “…I am told no one survived.”
Krosis stared at the box — no, the coffin. A small coffin. His hands twitched at his sides, and for a second he couldn’t move. He stood there, staring at the plain wooden box, suddenly not sure if he wanted to open it. Suddenly not sure if he could open it.
“I’ll…” Noruk’s voice broke the silence once more. “I’ll be with the troops. If you need me.”
And just like that, Krosis was alone. He stood there amidst the mangroves, staring at this simple wooden coffin, drumming his fingers against the side of his leg. Seconds ticked by, turning into minutes as he hesitated, unable to take the small step forward and see who it was that lay within. In his head, he felt the pressure building, like a boiling pot of water, steam rising, growing stronger and stronger, until —
He shoved the lid to the side, sending it into the dirt with a thud.
And Krosis, mighty warlord and King of the Kryll, fell to his knees.
For the body before him was one of his own. A young Kryll, a little Kryll, with soft claws and small mandibles, who had always looked at the world through big, yellow, curious eyes. Except now those eyes were shut, never to admire the world again.
To say that sorrow enveloped him would be an understatement. There was sorrow, yes, but so much more consumed him. So much blood, sweat, and tears, all wasted. So much failure, regret, and emptiness. Goals never met, memories never to be repeated. Broken promises and shattered dreams. Frustration, anger, rage.
So much rage.
Krosis reached into the coffin, gingerly bringing the Kryll’s head close to his chest. He closed his eyes, unmoving as he cradled this little Kryll for what he knew would be the last time. He made no noise; the entire clearing was silent, save for the soft crackling of the fire behind him.
And he knew Noruk had been right.
He knew what they had to do, in order to survive this next chapter of the war. They had to travel across the sea, far away from their homeland, away from what they fought for. But they wouldn’t go like this. Their legacy would be carved out of blood and fire. They would have victory, they would have vengeance, and they would bring about a new age, even if they had to topple gods to do so.
Krosis knew what had to be done.
He placed the Kryll back in the coffin, picking up the lid and sliding it back into place. There was no time for grief; there was no time for sorrow. He picked up Takua’s dagger, again twirling it between his fingers as he sat down. He had to prepare for what was to come; he had to prepare for his next hunt. Only this time, they wouldn’t be hunting a small group of Matoran travelers.
No, he thought to himself. This time, they were hunting Toa.
Takua looked up, blinded by light that poured through the hatch at the top of the stairs. He shielded his face, barely able to make out the silhouette of a Kryll. It approached slowly, until it stood a few feet before him, tall and lean. A wooden bowl of gruel slid across the floor, just within reach of his chains.
“Eat,” it repeated. The Kryll had a thick accent, one Takua hadn’t heard before.
He didn’t move. Takua stared up at the figure, letting his eyes adjust to the newfound brightness. It was the first sunlight he’d seen all day, or at least, since the last time he’d slept. It was hard to tell time in the ship’s hold, as he only had small cracks between the planks of the hull to go off of. It took a minute or so, but eventually he could make out the Kryll’s dark grey armor, covered with subtle, black war paint. Instantly he recognized it as the archer, the female Kryll from the ambush. The one who had shot Kokani and Aya.
With a scowl, he kicked the bowl, splattering its contents across the floor.
The Kryll sighed, patiently squatting down so that she was at eye level with Takua. “The cook says you have not eaten for three days. Krosis says to keep you alive. So you must eat.” She spoke slowly and simply, as if she couldn’t speak his language very well.
What she said was true; a few times a day, a small, brown Kryll would leave some scraps in a bowl for him, but Takua always refused them. The way he saw it, he’d rather starve than do anything the Kryll wanted him to. His chains clinked as he leaned back against the hull, letting his body language do the talking. He had nothing to say to this Kryll.
She cocked her head, eyeing Takua as she clicked her mandibles. A few more seconds dragged by before she spoke up. “I do not like you.”
Takua snorted, almost smiling at her comment.
“But Sithrak?” she nodded to the deck above their heads. “He hates you.”
Takua had heard other Kryll say that name before, and after eavesdropping on a few conversations he had determined it to be the captain of the ship. The broad-shouldered one with jet black armor. The one Kokani had wounded in that village back in Ga-Wahi. He seemed to run his warriors — sailors, whatever they were — with an iron fist. Everything on the schooner ran like clockwork, and a select few of the Kryll resented him for it, from what Takua could tell from their grumbles and whispers.
“If you do not eat, I go tell Sithrak,” the Kryll said, as if that should’ve had an effect on Takua. But still he didn’t move, and so she continued. “Your friend is comfortable now. But if I tell Sithrak, he will bring your friend here, and chop off one finger for every meal you do not eat.”
This caught Takua’s attention. He had been alone with the cargo for so long, he’d almost forgotten Jaka was somewhere on the ship, too. He hadn’t seen or heard anything about him since Ga-Koro, and that was… how long ago? He was beginning to lose track of the days.
“Show me,” Takua demanded, his voice cracking from the lack of use. “Prove to me he’s still alive.”
The Kryll smiled, picking up the bowl from where Takua had kicked it. With a few flicks of her wrist, she slopped the remaining gruel at Takua’s feet and pointed to it. “You eat, and I see what I can do.”
She turned around and headed back toward the light, taking the bowl with her as she made her way out of the hold. She was about halfway up the stairs when Takua called out to her, his voice loud and stern.
“It was you.”
The Kryll turned to look at him, and he noticed a faint red glimmer in her eyes. She tilted her head back, looking down at him without emotion.
“You killed my friends.” Takua said, his chest growing warm, even now. “They were already outnumbered, and you shot them. You shot them from the boat. From far out of reach.” He clenched his fingers through his chains, wishing he could wrap them around her neck. “Real brave of you.”
The Kryll blinked, remaining still. The hold was silent, except for the muffled waves, gently crashing outside.
“I’m going to kill you,” Takua threatened, his gaze cold, but his eyes hot. He nodded, silently swearing an oath to himself. “Mark my words. Someday, somehow; I’m going to kill you.”
Still silhouetted by the light from above, the Kryll took a few moments to react. But eventually, she cracked a smile, her shoulders moving up and down as she let out an airy laugh, briefly touching her cheek with her claws. Then, with the hand that held Takua’s bowl, she motioned toward the gruel she had slopped onto the floor in front of him.
“Eat,” she said, making her way up the stairs. In a few seconds she had reached the top, and smiled at Takua one last time as she closed the hatch behind her.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Dec 12 2017 - 07:24 PM.
Posted Feb 24 2018 - 02:37 PM
Chapter 2 - Introductions
Aya pulled herself along the dock, blood pooling from her wound. She’d lost too much. Her head spun and her vision blurred, but still she fought, dragging herself, digging her fingertips into the grain of the wood, moving forward inch by inch. She groaned like a dying animal, painfully making her way to the white shape lying ahead.
“Kokani…” her voice creaked.
Splinters dug into her armor as she pulled her shoulders over one more plank, and her hand found his mask. His eyes were dark.
“Kokani… wake up!” she patted his cheeks, trying to bring him back. Trying to keep him alive, even as she felt herself fading. “…Please… wake up…”
She shook him, grimacing as a haze settled over everything. It clouded her eyes, numbed her body. She clutched his mask, her fingers tingling. She had to stay awake…
“You… have to… wake…”
The sentence went unfinished. Her hand slipped off his mask, thudding onto the wood as her strength failed. Little by little, black encroached from the edges of her vision, until it snuffed out everything. The last thing she saw were the stars above.
Pain. Stinging, white-hot pain. Like lightning.
Aya opened her eyes and screamed, or at least, she tried to scream. But her lungs were empty, and she ended up gasping for air, like a fish out of water. Burning, electric pain!
She reached for her stomach, but she couldn’t move. Fingers pressed into her wrists, her ankles, holding her down. She couldn’t see, not really. Only blurs, only moving, colored shapes. People? Another surge of electricity, and she cried out, successfully this time.
“Hush, child. All will be well.”
The voice reached her ears, and her first reaction was to curse at it. Frantically, she looked for the source, and saw someone standing over her. A blur that pressed into her stomach, kneading her flesh. More pain. Aya yelled again, letting out only three or four obscenities.
“Let the water heal you.”
Her vision went in and out, sharpening and muddling repeatedly. Warmth, in her stomach. It spread across her body, wrapping over her pain like a blanket. It was almost numbing, but not quite. Like a stiff drink, watered down many times over.
She tried to form words. Tried to ask what was going on, where she was, or something of the like. But her eyes rolled back in her head. And again, she saw no more.
Voices. Hushed and hurried, but audible. Well, audible, as in Aya could tell they were speaking. But it took her a few minutes before she could actually understand was being said. Elderly, but still sharp words, having… an argument? A disagreement. Something like that. She rested, listening as her brain slowly made sense of it all.
“…Now? We’re in the middle of a war, Onewa.”
“They’ve been caught in a standstill ever since the revolution, and my people are stuck because of it. If we can resolve this while the Kryll are retreating, we can add Po and Onu-Koro’s soldiers to our ranks, regroup, reassess our strategy, and finish this before Krosis can get back on his feet.”
“And you think we’ll have time for that? The Rahi Nui trampled half my city, so I’m sure you’ll understand if I say I’m a little preoccupied.”
“I’ve done everything I can to tip the scales, but Onu-Koro’s elite have everything stopped. They’ll squabble forever unless the other Turaga step in.”
“That’s… probably true. But why Ta-Koro? It’s not exactly central.”
“Their walls are thick, and they have a river of lava protecting them. I’d say it’s the safest place to meet during wartime.” Onewa replied. “My sources say the majority of the Kryll’s ships are anchored in Leva Bay, so they’ll be too far north if they decide to attack.” The Turaga’s voice paused for only a moment or so. “We’ve always had to work together to defeat threats like this in the past. You’re the one who’s always peaching unity, Nokama.”
Aya stirred, recognizing the names of those speaking. She opened her eyes, but quickly shut them again, as the room was blinding.
“And the Toa have agreed to this?” Nokama asked.
A third voice sounded for the first time. This one seemed… younger, but mature, and no less significant. “Onua and Pohatu are escorting Illum’s caravan as we speak.”
Nokama sighed. “Alright. If you think it is best. I’ll just have to delegate some of my other duties, I suppose.”
There was another pause in the conversation, and once again Aya tried to see. Sluggishly, her eyes adjusted to the light, and she moved her head to the side, barely able to make out the three figures who talked on the other side of the room. Two Turaga, Onewa and Nokama. And the third was tall… Toa-sized. Blue armor. Gali? Had to be.
“We should take her with us,” Onewa nodded in Aya’s direction. He went on, his voice growing softer. “We’ll need her council… as soon as she can give it.”
“We can’t be move her, not yet. She’s still too weak.”
“We can only delay so long, Nokama.”
Comprehending they were talking about her, Aya opened her mouth. Her voice creaked like a door on rusty hinges as she tried to speak, but she had no strength, and only managed a few, strung-out words.
“Hey… I’m not… weak…”
Heads whirled around, staring with surprised eyes. Before she knew it hands were on her, voices were saying too many things at once, and someone was forcing a cup of something smelly close to her mouth.
She tried to speak again, but someone shushed her.
“Drink this, you need to rest.”
Thirsty, and unable to resist, she took a few gulps of the stuff, and laid her head back, exhausted by the whole ordeal. She blinked a few times, and Nokama came into view.
“Aya… I need you to listen to me,” she looked at her with pity, but also purpose. “Takua and the Atouri… what happened? Where are they?”
Aya could already feel her strength fading again. “…Kryll. On a ship. They sailed… out to sea…”
“Where? Do you know?”
She shook her head, feeling dizzy again. But she had her own questions that needed answered. “…Is… Kokani...?”
Nokama hesitated. She looked up at someone Aya couldn’t see, nodded, and disappeared from view. Aya tried to object, but she was so weak, and so tired. A second later, Gali appeared.
“You’ll be okay,” the Toa smiled, placing a hand on her forehead. “Just rest…”
Suddenly very sleepy, Aya closed her eyes, and did as she was told.
Takua sat up as he heard the Kryll scrambling around; he could always tell when something was going on. Their feet thumped on the deck above, hurried, with more purpose than normal. He heard someone speaking, muffled through the wood, but a few seconds later the hatch opened, and the golden-orange of twilight poured into the hull. Takua squinted as a handful of figures made their way down the steps — five Kryll; two generic, hulking brutes, and three others Takua recognized.
The first was the ship’s cook, a quiet, small, mottled-brown Kryll, the one who occasionally left food for Takua, not that he ever touched it. The second was the dark, war-paint covered female, the archer who had shot Kokani and Aya. She stood to the side in the shadows, her crimson stare piercing into him. And the third was a Kryll Takua hadn’t seen since he’d been captured, but had heard a lot about from the mutterings of the crew: Sithrak, the ship’s captain.
Looking at him now, Takua realized that he was, for lack of a better word, very strange for a Kryll. His first impressions of Sithrak being tall and broad-shouldered weren’t because he was built like Krosis or other Kryll warriors, but rather because the rest of him was seemingly so withered. He was thin, unnervingly so, to the point that it seemed his jet-black, polished armor had been modified so that it wouldn’t fall off his body. His forest green eyes matched the sash wrapped around his waist, securing a variety of trinkets that dangled down to mid-thigh — an odd mix of carved bones, dried leaves, and tiny wooden symbols. Takua thought he looked more like a shaman than a captain, but before he could study the Kryll any longer, Sithrak spoke.
“So… here you are.”
Takua almost grimaced at his voice. It was a mix between a whisper and a soft rumble, like an ocean breeze, but tainted with pollution. His eyes made their way to the scar on Sithrak’s right thigh, already regretting that Kokani hadn’t finished him off back in that village. Perhaps it would have saved him the hassle of... whatever was about to happen.
“I meant to come see you sooner, I really did! But you know how things are.” Sithrak approached, his movements short and abrupt, like a lizard. “Busy, busy, busy. Reports to write, routes to navigate, soldiers to keep in line…” he chuckled to himself. “…I sometimes wonder when Krosis will give me a vacation!”
Takua stared, half-wondering if the Kryll thought he was funny. He seemed… a little off. In an unnerving, unsettling way. Takua remained silent.
Sithrak squatted, staring at him, leaning in just a little too close. “You don’t talk much, do you, little Matoran?”
Takua leaned back against the hull, letting his eyes do the talking.
Sithrak blinked, and in a second everything about him changed. His green eyes went bloodshot and he lunged forward, claws wrapping around Takua’s throat, slamming the back of his head against the hull. His mandibles clicked, uncomfortably close to Takua’s ear as he pointed to his cook.
“Do you see this nice Kryll?” he hissed, barely louder than a whisper. “He slaves, day in and day out, to make delicious, healthy food for all of us. And he gives you your very own portion! Because he is nice. Because he is good.”
Takua struggled, trying to get Sithrak off of him, but the Kryll only tightened his grip, cutting off his air just enough to make his point clear.
“And he tells me… that you have not been eating! Are you stubborn? Do you think yourself a rebel?” He nodded toward the female, who still stood in the shadows. “Rashi says she even talked to you about this, but still… you… refuse!”
His claws dug into Takua’s throat, forcing him to gasp for air. He struggled against his chains, trying to free himself, trying to fight back, but there was nothing he could do.
Sithrak scowled, pushing his mandibles even closer to Takua’s ear. “I do not like it...” his knuckles went white as he squeezed tighter, enunciating every word that came out of his mouth. “When people… do not… do as… they’re told!”
It was Rashi who spoke. Her voice interrupted the scene, as if she were warning the captain. Sithrak looked to her briefly before letting go of Takua, taking a few steps back as the Le-Matoran gasped for air. Takua filled his lungs, his throat burning, taking a minute or so to regain his strength as the Kryll observed him. Eventually, his eyes flicked to Rashi, and then back to Sithrak, and he spoke.
“As I told her,” Takua glared. “I’ll eat when I see Jaka.”
“Oh!” Sithrak clapped his hands together, revealing jagged, sharp teeth as he smiled. “Of course!” He nodded to his two brutes, who began to make their way up the stairs. “I almost forgot about your friend. He’s doing quite well, you know! Sleeps with the crew. They tolerate him as long as he stays in his corner. A few have even taken a liking to him; he’s very good at fixing hammocks.”
Takua furrowed his brow. Was Sithrak serious? He’d gone from friendly — well, relatively speaking — to monstrous, and back again in a matter of minutes. Was Jaka really okay? Doing just fine? Takua doubted he could trust anything that came out of the captain’s mouth.
A minute later the brutes returned, clumping down the stairs again, a smaller figure in tow. They stepped into the light and Takua sat up, surprised to actually see Jaka standing behind their mass, just as he remembered him.
“Takua !” Jaka pushed his way around the brutes, running for his friend, only to be stopped by Sithrak’s arm, holding him just a few feet away. Words tumbled out of his mouth. “Are you okay? What have they done to you? Do you know what’s going on?”
“Ah ah ah!” Sithrak waved his finger, cutting him off. “I said you could see each other, not that you could talk.”
Jaka quickly — smartly — shut his mouth. He seemed full of worry, full of pity, which forced Takua to look down at himself. Now that he’d seen Jaka, who was still strong and healthy, he realized just how much his own body had withered away. He’d been starving himself for so long it’d become his norm, and he’d forgotten what it was like to feel anything else. But now that he’d broken his mental barrier, his stomach rumbled, and he realized just how hungry he was.
“Such a nice reunion,” Sithrak looked around the room, smiling happily as he took in his surroundings. Then, excitedly, he clapped his hands together. “Well! To business.”
His brutes lunged forward, grabbing Jaka by his wrists and forcing him to the ground. His mask hit the wood as Sithrak drew a dagger from his belt, perching himself just above Jaka’s right hand. The brutes spread his fingers, keeping his palm flat against the floor.
“Stop! What are you doing!?” Takua objected, pulling against his chains.
But Sithrak ignored him, instead bringing his dagger close to Jaka’s index finger. He turned to Rashi. “It was last night that we talked, right?” He looked up, pondering, counting the claws on his left hand. “So, that’s what… two meals little Takua has missed? Maybe three?”
Rashi took a cautious step forward. “Sithrak…”
Sithrak ignored her, shrugging to himself. “We’ll go with three.” He turned to Takua, smiling not in an evil, taunting way, but one that implied he was genuinely happy, that he loved what he was doing. “Three little fingers the Le-Matoran doesn’t get to keep!” he chimed.
Rashi’s voice rang out just as Sithrak had brought his dagger to Jaka’s trembling hand. The sharpened steel paused on his knuckle, sitting there for a solid five seconds before Sithrak rolled his eyes and sighed, looking up at her, clearly annoyed.
He held out his hands. “What!?”
“He is just a boy.”
“Ugh,” Sithrak looked at the ceiling before responding, casually using his dagger to stress his words. “He’s a worm. A parasite.”
“Give the boy a chance.”
Ignoring Jaka, who still shuddered beneath him, Sithrak looked at Rashi as if she were stupid. “And… why would I do that, exactly?”
“If you cut him now there is nothing left for the rest of the journey.” Rashi folded her arms and returned the captain’s gaze, suggesting some sort of mutual dislike. “Pace yourself,” she added, feeling she hadn’t properly made her point
Sithrak stared off into space, pondering with his lip curled, almost grumbling to himself. Finally, he nodded to his cook, who scurried off, a minute later bringing back a bowl of leftovers from his latest meal. Warily, the small Kryll squeezed past Sithrak and his brutes, placing the bowl just within Takua’s reach before retreating back to his spot.
Takua stared at the food, eyes flicking from it to Jaka to Sithrak, afraid to move for his friend’s sake. Jaka trembled beneath the weight of the brutes, and Sithrak stared at Takua, his eyes burning.
“Eat!” Sithrak screamed.
He didn’t waste any time. Picking up the bowl, Takua scooped the gruel into his mouth, not pausing to breath or to wipe his mask until its entirety was scraped clean. To the cook’s credit, while it looked like disgusting mystery-slop, it wasn’t actually half bad. But then again, Takua was also starving.
He let the bowl clatter to the floor, not breaking eye contact with Sithrak. The Kryll, trying to hide his dissatisfaction, stood up and motioned for his brutes to let Jaka go. The Le-Matoran’s breathing was heavy, and he grabbed his wrist and wiggled his fingers, thankful that they were all still there. With wide eyes, he nodded a silent thanks to Takua.
“See?” Sithrak shoved his dagger back into his belt, plastering another smile on his face. “Just do as you’re told, and everyone is happy!”
With a subtle glance in Sithrak’s direction, Rashi turned around, making her way back up the stairs. The cook hurried forward, grabbing Jaka’s arm and pulling him back, following the dark Kryll as she exited the hull. Sensing their work was done, the brutes turned as well, leaving Takua alone with the schooner’s captain.
“Now,” Sithrak squatted again, an arms-length away from Takua. “Do you promise to cooperate? I despise bloodshed, I really do. And I don’t want anything bad to happen to you or your friend. But if you don’t cooperate, I am, believe it or not, very good at making bad things happen.”
Takua glared, equally enraged and terrified of this Kryll. He wiped the remaining gruel from his mask, his breathing still heavy.
“…Do you promise? Tell me, Takua.”
Realizing the Kryll wouldn’t leave until he cooperated, Takua swallowed. Slowly, subtly, he nodded his head, knowing that any trouble he caused would be taken out on Jaka.
“No, no, I need you to say it,” Sithrak leaned forward, pushing Takua’s chin up with his claw. “Go ahead, say, ‘I promise I’ll be good.’”
Takua gritted his jaw, his face hot behind his mask. He wished he could crawl away this foul Kryll, away from his jagged teeth and putrid breath. But he could only stare forward, meeting Sithrak’s dark, twinkling eyes. They seemed so calm now, so still and peaceful, but he knew now the kind of monster that lived behind them.
“Won’t you, Takua? Won’t you please say it for me?”
Takua swallowed. “…I promise I’ll be good.”
“There!” Sithrak smiled, pinching the edge of Takua’s mask affectionately. The trinkets on his sash jingled as he spun around, excitedly making his way up the stairs. “Look how far we’ve come already!”
Catching his breath, Takua once again leaned back against the hull. He closed his eyes as Sithrak reached the top of the stairs, realizing that he was in over his head. At least with Krosis, Takua could follow his logic, could see where he was coming from. But Sithrak was… something else. Something else entirely.
The captain’s voice reached him once more before the hatch shut, plunging Takua again into the dark.
“What a wonderful journey this is going to be!”
Posted Jun 02 2018 - 09:22 AM
Chapter 3 - Water and Wind
When Aya woke again, everything had changed.
It was quiet now, and no one was around for her to eavesdrop on. She blinked, focusing her eyes, letting her head clear. The fog over her mind began to disperse, and she filled her lungs repeatedly, inhaling the cool air as she began to gather her bearings. Slowly but surely, the ability to think returned, and for the first time the realization hit her; she was, in fact, still alive.
Well, that was certainly good news.
She felt… almost rested. Not particularly energized, but not tired either. Her body ached all over, but her mind was alive, and if she ignored the splitting headache that wreaked havoc behind her forehead, she was able to function reasonably well.
Turning her scrutiny to her surroundings, a small but comfortable space came into view, nothing like the bright room from before. Wood paneling surrounded her on every side, save for a small, screened window above her head that let in just enough light to see. She was lying on a well-used cot, which fit snugly along one wall, taking up nearly half the floor space, as there was only room for one, maybe two people to sit beside her. A narrow door was latched shut on the opposite wall.
It seemed, on second thought, to not be a room at all, but rather the inside of a carriage. Was she being taken somewhere? Aya furrowed her brow. She didn’t like not knowing things. Wasting no time, she sat up, swiveled her legs over the side of the cot, and —
Aya clutched her stomach, doubling over as pain stabbed her abdomen. She exhaled, closing her eyes, forcing herself to breathe deeply. She sat there for a few minutes, not daring to move again, and eventually it began to subside into the dull ache that had greeted her upon awakening. Removing her hands and looking down, she noticed her entire torso had been wrapped in clean, fresh bandages.
She scowled, and promptly proceeded to rip them off.
And there it was. A thick line just below her ribcage from where the Kryll’s barb had met its mark; a partially-healed wound, stitched up with fine, black thread. It was scarred, uneven, and nasty, but Aya was used to such things, and so she didn’t think much of it. It was only a wound, after all. Only the latest in a long line of them.
Naturally, she poked it.
Her voice, soft as it was, pierced the silence, and after a moment of repose a number of sounds responded from just beyond the carriage’s door. Shuffling, clinking armor, the jingling of many keys on a ring. Aya raised her eyebrows, staring as the door in front of her rattled before being pulled open. Light poured in, and she sat there, suddenly face to face with a Ga-Matoran clad in heavy armor.
“Y-you’re awake…!” the Matoran stammered, as if that thought was surprising. He was young, younger than Aya, and for a second she wondered how young they were recruiting soldiers these days.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” she looked him up and down. “And you are…?”
“Just a guard, miss.”
“Sorry — Guardsman Obvious, then,” Aya corrected herself, before getting straight to the point. “Where am I? What’s going on?”
“Just… stay here,” the guard hesitated, before backing away slowly. “They’ll want to know you’re up. I’ll be right back!” he said, jogging off in the opposite direction before disappearing through a thicket of tall grass.
Aya frowned, already having decided she wasn’t going to stay put. She looked around. It was cloudy, perhaps mid-evening, and she seemed to be somewhere on the border between Ga and Ta-Wahi. Scrub grass and palms mixed together, peppering the sandy, volcanic soil. Large, black boulders jutted from ground here and there, probably the remnants of ancient lava flows, and the smell of salt in the air meant she had to be somewhere close to the coast. Swiveling her head, she could barely see the outline of the Mangai in the distance, looming ominously over the landscape.
Her carriage was only one of many, smack in the middle of an impressive caravan, which had stopped for the time being. A few guards milled about, their attention focused mainly on a cast of Ussal crabs a few yards away, resting after what seemed to have been a long day of travel.
Aya remembered the conversation she had heard while half-awake. It seemed she was being taken to Ta-Koro, for whatever reason.
Having had enough of speculation, she decided to follow Guardsman Obvious, determined to figure out who ‘they’ actually were. Another spurt of pain surged through her as she stood up, but her determination won, and she quickly found that as long as she moved slowly and carefully, she was able to manage everything her body threw at her.
Using the palms to keep her balance, she made her way through the clump of tall grass, revealing a gradual hill that led down to a black sand beach, fifty or so yards away. A few dozen Matoran gathered there on the sand, a fire warming their hands and cooking their meals. With renewed perseverance, Aya started down the slope.
By the time she reached the black sand she was exhausted, her wound having sent spurts of pain with every step. She breathed heavily, regaining her strength, leaning against a thick palm as she took in the scene before her. The Matoran here seemed important, as they were either armored guards or lavishly decorated noblemen, chieftains, advisors, or whatever it was that lavishly decorated Matoran did. The bonfire crackled, flames licking into the darkening sky, but the more Aya looked, the more she realized everyone here had their attention on something else; a pair of beings who stood just offshore, calf-deep in the waves, staring out to sea.
And it was quiet. Eerily so.
Aya squinted, the sea winds whipping against her, tying to make out the two beings. One was female, in blue armor, and the other was male, in green. They both stood tall, lean and powerful, the way… the way a hero would.
And then it hit her: Toa Gali. Toa Lewa.
Aya joined the dozens of others in watching them as Gali knelt down, placing her hands into the water. Lewa, in turn, looked up to the sky, and at the same time the two warriors closed their eyes. They stood there, waiting, or perhaps meditating, while the wind and waves whirled and crashed, the black sand pushed and pulled by both forces, over and over again.
They stood, unmoving as time ticked by, unyielding as the world turned. It appeared almost surreal to Aya, as if she were witnessing a dream, but her senses told her that this was reality. It seemed, now that she thought about it, the realest thing she had ever witnessed. Something ancient, powerful, as old as the earth itself. Something innocent, natural, and yet… magical.
Aya blinked, and the air came alive around her, tickling her fingertips and humming, as if charged with electricity. The spray from the waves danced against her mask, like the footsteps of fairies, and suddenly, strangely, she felt fire in her chest, energy in her soul. She felt tied to these Toa, to their elements, and to the people around her. She felt, in all essence of the word, alive.
She breathed in, tasting the salt, the soil, the sand, and the air filling her up, humming louder and louder, growing, spreading roots like a great, invisible tree. Everything grew more and more intense, and she filled her lungs to their fullest, forcing herself to cut off the air abruptly, and —
It was over.
The Toa opened their eyes, and she was Aya again; a simple, injured Ga-Matoran, on a wind-swept beach with dozens of others. She looked around, staring at her peers, wondering if she had been alone in… whatever had just felt. But if she hadn’t been, no one spoke a word of it. Lewa and Gali turned around, making their way back to the beach, and everyone went back to their duties. Sound and movement returned, chatter, the crackling of the fire, the crashing of waves, the whipping of the wind. Aya shook her head, trying to comprehend what she had just experienced, when a hand clapped onto her shoulder, startling her enough to wince.
“I knew you were a tough one,” Turaga Nokama smiled through her lined mask as she came into view. “Come,” she beckoned, “have a seat. Warm yourself. Rest, and eat. I think you’ll want to hear what is about to be said.”
Aya was offered a bowl of colorful berries, and blanket to keep her warm. Accepting graciously, she threw the fabric around her shoulders, and soon found herself sitting on a log next to the Turaga, staring toward the sea as Gali approached.
The Toa stood tall and greeted the two warmly. After an acknowledging nod to the Turaga, she looked Aya up and down, and let out a soft, relieved smile.
“It’s good to see you well again.”
“Yeah…” Aya bowed slightly, remembering her manners through a subtle state of awe. This was, after all, the second time she’d gotten a close up with the Toa of Water.
“…Well?” Nokama addressed the Toa. “What did you find?”
Gali knelt in the sand so that she was at eye-level with the two. “I felt him,” she responded. “He’s out there. Far away, farther than I have ever dared to go. But he is still alive.”
Nokama closed her eyes and sighed. But whether it was from relief or exasperation, Aya couldn’t tell. Either way, her voice was cold. “Every ship I could spare is searching, but I’ve heard nothing yet.”
“If he was closer, maybe I could pinpoint his location. But it’s too far. I only know he’s out there, somewhere.” Gali looked to Lewa, who now sat beneath a palm on the outskirts of the group, quietly sharpening his axe. She shook her head slightly, as if apologizing, and turned back to Aya. “Lewa and I… we’ve done all we can for him.”
Guilt rose up in Aya’s throat as she realized who they were talking about. She looked to her companions, knowing, but she asked the question anyway, just to be sure. “…Takua?”
“Let me go,” Aya insisted. “Put me on one of your ships. It’s my duty. I’ll find him and bring him back. I’ll bring the Atouri back.”
“No,” Nokama’s response was quick. “We need you here.”
“Why? Where even is here? Where are we going? What’s going on?”
“Of course, you must be confused,” Nokama cleared her throat. “Long story short, the Turaga and Toa are gathering at Ta-Koro. It’s the safest place to hold council in times like these.”
“A council? For what?”
“If we can’t find Takua soon, if Krosis continues to elude us with the Atouri…” She paused, nodding to Gali. “…We have to assume the worst. That Makuta has been reunited with his heart. That he has returned to full strength, and will be coming for us.”
Aya looked at the ground.
“There’s been no sign of the return of the Seventh, and we can’t afford to sit idly by any longer. Until now, the Koro have stood alone, each fighting their own battles, but that won’t work for what is coming. We need a plan of action.”
It was Gali’s turn to speak up. “And we have to decide what to do with Illum.”
Aya perked up at the sound of the Onu-Matoran’s name. “…Illum?”
Nokama nodded. “There are — as Onewa puts it — too many rumors about his involvement in Whenua’s death, and Onu-Koro and Po-Koro’s people are suffering because of it. They’re locked in endless debate, unable to act while the rest of the island is engulfed in war. We must hold trial, and secure Illum’s place among the Turaga, or appoint Onu-Koro’s new leader, if it comes to that.”
Aya held her tongue, starting to get frustrated. “With all due respect Turaga, what good will I be in any of that? I should be out there,” she pointed to the sea, pausing to swallow as guilt began to rise up her throat. “Helping find Takua. I failed him to protect him, I’m the reason the Kryll have the Atouri. I… I should be out there, making this right.”
Nokama paused, letting out a brief sigh as she leaned against her trident. “I don’t know what happened on those docks, Aya. I wasn’t there to see any of it.” She leaned forward, her yellow eyes boring into the Matoran’s. “But I know the kind of person you are, and I know that none of this could ever be your fault.”
Aya looked to the ground, tearing her gaze away from the Turaga before she let out anything else she would prefer to keep in. She didn’t respond to Nokama’s statement. She had no idea how to.
But the Turaga quickly leaned back, ending their brief exchange as her voice became less empathetic and more professional again. “We are doing everything we can for the boy, believe me. But if you want to help, help us find where the Kryll are taking him. Now, there are rumors of this… temple, or tower, across the sea. No credible source of mine has ever seen it, but it is whispered that Makuta resides there, and Krosis’ forces are flocking to it.” She shook her head. “I’ve sent ships to see if there is any truth to the matter, but I’ve heard nothing back yet. We need to know what we’re up against, and at this point we still have very little to work from.”
There was a pause in her words, and Gali picked up the Turaga’s thoughts. “If the rumors are true, if Illum did have a part in Whenua’s death, if he has had dealings with the Kryll, our best source of information about the enemy —”
“— Would be him,” Aya finished her sentence, resigning to the fact that they both knew more about the subject than she did. She didn’t like it, but it was obvious that she didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter. “Alright. Whatever you need, Turaga.”
“Mostly your testimony,” Nokama replied. “What you know of him, how he treated you during your visit, what you took away from his coronation. Your role in escorting the Atouri will give your voice a fair amount of credit with the council.”
Aya looked down, focusing on the berries in her lap. She picked one up and ate it, thinking about how much sweeter it could’ve been if received with happier news. She didn’t like the thought of councils and trials. It seemed all so dry, so gray, so… unproductive. She’d rather put a sword through Illum’s gut and be done with it. But then again, that was probably why she wasn’t the one in charge.
“Whatever you can do to help will be appreciated,” Gali added.
Aya nodded, agreeing. A slight lull in their conversation allowed her thoughts to rise from the back of her skull, and a question she was almost too afraid to ask bored into her. Chewing on another berry, staring out at the grey water with her back to the fire, she thought about how best to phrase it. Her mind stirring, she made eye contact with the Toa for only a second, but Gali read her like a book. The Toa’s voice was quiet, almost too quiet to hear over the waves.
“You were almost dead when we found you.”
Aya averted her gaze. It would’ve been sunset, if the sky wasn’t covered with clouds. She pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders as the wind whipped across the beach. She didn’t know how to ask it.
“You’ll be fine, as long as you give yourself time to heal,” Gali said. “The water, it can work wonders, but it can’t heal everything.”
Aya closed her eyes, suppressing her emotions. “Just… tell me.”
Aya couldn’t respond. She felt Gali place a hand atop her own, but the Toa said nothing else until she met her gaze. But instead of an apology, or a subtle shake of her head, Aya saw a warm smile on the Toa’s face.
“Kokani’s not dead. Not yet, at least.”
The words were like splash of water, and Aya stared at her, shocked to hear them. She blinked, her mouth slightly ajar. “I thought… I thought you were going to say…” she lost track of her sentence, and stared off into space before emptying her lungs with a curse. And then she smiled.
The Toa returned the gesture, but went on cautiously. “How much he’ll heal though, is yet to be seen. He has so many wounds, and a lot of scar tissue. Deep scar tissue. He’ll walk, if he’s lucky, but I doubt he’ll ever be able to swing a weapon again.”
Aya nodded, taking the information with a grain of salt. “But… he’s alive?”
“Come on,” Gali laughed. “I’ll take you to see him. Just be gentle, he’s still very weak.”
A great weight lifted from her shoulders, Aya silently thanked Mata Nui as the Toa helped her up. Nokama smiled to her as they departed the bonfire, and the two made their way back up the hill to the caravan. A few torches were lit here and there, fending off the night with an orange glow that reflected off the Ussal crab’s shells. But Gali ignored the little Rahi, only stopping in front of one particular carriage near the caravan’s end. She nodded to its door, which was unlocked.
“I’ll give you two a moment,” Gali bowed, before retreating back through the grass.
And Aya thanked her again. For everything she had done.
Her fingers just briefly hesitated before she pulled the doorknob, and she peeked into the carriage, cautious, yet hopeful. It was dark inside, about the same size as her own, with only a few square feet for a passenger to sit. A figure lay alone on a cot, bandages covering scarred, white armor. Her heart thumping, Aya pushed the door open a bit more, allowing the nearby torches to chase away the shadow. And the figure looked back at her, icy blue eyes reflecting in the night.
Overcome with emotion, she pushed her way inside and threw her arms around him, squeezing him as tight as she could, holding him as if he were bound to escape if she let go. Her mask, buried into the crook of his shoulder, couldn’t help but smile as she felt his arm move, lightly coming to rest in the middle of her back. Neither of them moved for a minute; neither felt the need to do so. They were simply grateful to feel each other’s presence, after being so sure that they would never be able to again.
When Aya finally let go, she leaned back, looking him in the eye as she sat next to his head. She cleared her throat, trying to stop her grin from growing any wider. And she said the only thing she could think of.
“I’m… I’m glad you’re not dead.”
Kokani looked up at her, managing a small smirk of his own. His voice was weak, hardly louder than a whisper, but Aya didn’t care. She was just glad he was here. Still alive, still speaking.
“You still owe me a fruitcake.”
Posted Oct 16 2018 - 07:51 PM
Chapter 4 - Change
The going was slow, too slow, for Aya’s liking.
She huffed, taking a swig from her canteen, as she stared at the line of carriages and Matoran, impatiently tapping her foot as they made their way forward. She sat atop the roof of Kokani’s carriage, preferring it over her own lonesome mobile quarters.
But this… she glowered, feeling every bump in the road as the wooden wheels lurched along. This was taking entirely too long. She reached forward, tapping the carriage’s driver on his shoulder, who whirled around with a glint of his navy armor, the Ussal’s reins still wrapped around his wrists. His raised eyebrow asked what exactly it was she needed this time.
“How much farther until we get to Ta-Koro?”
The driver rolled his eyes and turned back around. “Asking every hour isn’t going to make it come any quicker.”
Aya’s lip curled. He never told her any good news. “I don’t like you.”
The driver threw a rude hand gesture over his shoulder, keeping his eyes on the road as Aya returned the favor.
It was overcast and windy, traits that seemed all too common along the eastern shore of Mata Nui. The wide, dirt road never strayed more than a mile from the coastline, and so the ocean winds caught them around every turn. Aya sat huddled, her knees close to her chest, alone in her thoughts as she wrapped Nokama’s blanket around her, watching Ga-Wahi slowly morph into Ta-Wahi.
Such was her routine, day in and day out as the caravan meandered its way south, in the direction of the City of Fire. Perched like a bird on a roof, rubbing her arms as the wind pushed and pulled, she annoyed the driver as much as she possibly could to pass the time. When evening fell their march would cease, the Ussal crabs would rest, the Matoran would start fires and cook dinner, and Aya would tend to Kokani. She fed him, changed his dressings, stopped him from picking at his wounds, exerting too much before his body was ready, and — in other words — kept him from doing a variety of Kokani-ish things.
Her own wound had started to heal, and within a few days she was able to walk without her stomach stabbing her with every step. Kokani seemed to follow her lead, but he had a lot more ground to cover, and so it was only when Aya’s wound had scarred over and her pain had subsided to a dull ache that he was able to take his first steps. But with his injuries so severe, with so much scar tissue forming, it seemed he would have to re-learn how to walk entirely.
So every night Aya did her best to help, holding him steady as he struggled to get to his feet, to put one foot in front of the other. And every night Aya grew more and more concerned. She remembered what Gali had told her; that not everything could be healed, that Kokani would be lucky to even walk again. But that was all just talk, right? This was Kokani they were talking about, he’d been through countless battles and always came out on top. He always bounced back, no matter how deeply cut. Given enough time, he’d return to his old self, right?
But every success was chased with a dozen failures. Every step came with ten collapses into the dirt. She tried to stay positive, to be there when he needed it, to cheer his victories and shrug off his defeats, but the days wore on and it only grew harder.
Eventually, the weight of reality started to sink in.
What little progress Kokani had made quickly plateaued, and Aya found herself in a deepening spiral of boredom and frustration. All day Kokani would rest as the caravan moved, and she twiddled her thumbs, waiting for yet another evening of disappointment. Every night as the sun fell, she plastered a smile on her face as Kokani tried to move like he once could, only to have his severed nerves and stitched-together muscles get the better of him. She kept on hoping that maybe this time he would be able to lift his staff, maybe this time he could make it more than just a handful of shaky steps. But always, just like the day before, a spurt of pain would best him, and he hit the ground once more.
And every time Kokani fell, so did Aya’s hopes.
She felt terrible. She knew she couldn’t blame him, she knew she shouldn’t be angry, but as the cycle continued she found herself increasingly unable to keep up her charismatic charade of support. Despite her best efforts to hide it, after so many days of the same thing, her frustration became obvious.
Not that she was alone, however. Kokani grew quiet and kept to himself, spending most of his time inside the carriage, only coming out in the evening whenever Aya came knocking for their daily session. And at night he sat by himself, silent as she watched him from across their lonely fire, trying to figure out what else she could do. She couldn’t imagine what it must be like, having lost so much control over his own body. It was obvious; Kokani was suffering, just like her, and there seemed to be nothing that would help.
One particularly silent night, a cook came over to their fire, offering them both a bowl of stew. Aya accepted, but Kokani didn’t respond. He stared into the flames as a bowl was set beside him, and Aya tried to read his eyes. There was no shine in them, no fire that sometimes crept up like it used to. She slurped her dinner for a minute or two, watching as the firelight reflected off his scarred armor. He looked… Aya furrowed her brow. She hated to even think it, but it was true. He looked like the world had beaten him. He looked, after all his battles… defeated.
Suddenly, she couldn’t take it.
Aya stood and left without a word, leaving Kokani with a few other quiet Matoran to occupy the orange glow. Marching back to her carriage, she threw open its door and rummaged through her things, picking up her bow and strapping her sword and dagger to her waist. Downing the rest of her soup in one drag, she tossed the bowl over her shoulder and stared at her gloomy, abandoned, lumpy cot.
With a huff, she kicked it over. Just for good measure.
Slamming the door shut, she passed Kokani’s carriage on her way out of the caravan, stopping only briefly to rummage through his driver’s knapsack. Her fingers closed around a glass handle, and she smugly pulled a bottle free from the fabric. After eyeing it in the dim light, she decided it belonged to her now. It wasn’t exactly Lavaflow, but it was close enough, and should do the trick.
Her legs moving briskly, she stomped until she was a good hundred yards away from the farthest of the torches, all alone with the night. Picking out a clearing surrounded by scrub grass and boulders, she uncorked her confiscated bottle, took a great swig, and, eyeing a small bush in front of her, unsheathed her sword.
The bush didn’t stand a chance.
She hacked and slashed, cutting stem and leaf and branch alike, whipping her arm back and forth between hasty, sloppy sips. She whittled it down, picking it apart as leaves flew about. This way, that way, her sword sang into the darkness, her muscles curling as her frustration destroyed the poor plant. Branches fell as her steel flew, and within minutes she had reduced the leafy green hedge into nothing but a pile of potential compost.
Her arm fell to her side, still gripping her sword as she pressed the bottle to her lips, chugging it before turning back to the stump. She squinted, staring as it defied her by existing, her sour mood only growing more rancid. After a minute she threw her sword and bottle to the dirt, squatted down, and grabbed the stump with both hands.
Digging her heels into the dirt, she pulled, determined to rip the thing from the ground, all the while yelling into the air like some kind of barbarian. Her legs straining, she felt the roots give way to her strength, tearing through the soil section by section as she rocked her weight back and forth. A rip here, a shudder there, she repositioned her hands, grabbing onto the stump’s back end as she pushed with her legs, before, with one final heave, she tore it from the earth, falling over backwards in the process.
Breathing heavy, she sprang to her feet, taking another turn at the bottle before kicking the stump over, walking a few feet back, and nocking an arrow in her bow.
One, two, three arrows she sank into it, pulling more from her quiver as fast as she could, resolute in her need to pulverize it into oblivion. Six, seven, eight, she punctured the tangle of wood, breaking smaller roots as her barbs sliced through the air. Ten, eleven, twelve —
“You make an awful lot of noise for someone all alone in the dark.”
Startled, Aya whirled around, fingers twitching on her bowstring as she laid eyes on a figure sitting atop a large boulder. Instantly she recognized Gali, and Aya cursed, lowering her bow and loosening her grip. She sighed, putting the weapon on her back, preferring the bottle instead.
“That’s the second time I’ve almost shot you.”
The Toa smiled. “We seem to have a good thing going.”
Aya’s anger fizzled, shaken away by surprise and a need to act civil. She clapped her hands, looking around for a moment before forcing words out of her mouth. “So… uh… what can I do for you, Toa Gali?”
“You seem troubled, Aya.”
“…Troubled?” her shoulders dropped. “Pfft — what makes you think that?”
Gali’s gaze drifted from the pile of broken branches, to the arrow-laden stump, then then back to Aya.
“I just… uh…” Aya stalled, taking another swig before she remembered her manners and offered it to the Toa. “Do you want a drink?”
Gali politely declined.
“More for me,” she muttered as she turned to pull her arrows out of the stump.
The Toa watched her for a moment before speaking again. “Would you rather I left you alone?”
Aya paused, swallowing as the first effects of the drink tingled her face. Her response came as a subtle grunt, if only because she didn’t know what else to say.
“I don’t know what I want!” Aya snapped, immediately regretting being so rude. She pulled the last of her arrows from the stump, now angry with herself for doing it so fast, as now she had nothing to busy her hands with. She stood there, twiddling her thumbs as she tried not to look at the Toa.
“Well,” Gali said softly, turning around. “If you need anything, I’ll be around.”
The Toa met her anxious gaze.
“Kokani…” Aya stopped, hesitating a bit before forcing herself to go on. “Kokani’s never going to get back to the way he was, is he?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Yeah… I know it. He knows it.” Aya exhaled, almost wincing at hearing her own thoughts. “He’s fought all his life; he’s nothing if not a warrior. How am I supposed to tell him that everything he’s ever been is gone? He trained me, he practically made me who I am. How… how am I supposed to accept that?”
Gali sighed, her shoulders relaxing as she looked at Aya. Then, she beckoned the Ga-Matoran to come forward, who, after some indecision, grudgingly agreed and climbed up to sit next to her on the boulder. The air was quiet as the two beings stared out across the caravan.
“That’s always a hard thing, isn’t it? Acceptance?”
Aya frowned, answering her by drinking more.
“Can I tell you something, Aya?”
“I’ve always had… dreams,” Gali went on. “Or visions, as some might say. Whether they’re random imaginings I believe to be predictions, or the voice of Mata Nui himself, I’m not sure. But I’ve always had them.”
Aya looked at her. “You mean… like your visions of the Toa Kaita?” She’d heard the ancient story; everyone had. But until now she’d always figured that particular detail was an embellishment, something the old Chroniclers had added in to make it more interesting.
The Toa nodded.
“So, what, you can see the future?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Gali laughed. “But I do think it’s given me a greater sense of destiny that most don’t truly understand.”
There was a slight pause while Aya tried to figure out what that even meant. Her face warm, she stared out at the night, the caravan’s fires dwindling as Matoran began to retire. She squinted, pressing the bottle to her lips again before coming up with the only reply she could manage.
Gali smiled, sensing her skepticism, but she continued nonetheless. “You see, the night after the battle, after Ga-Koro, I had one of these dreams. About the end of all this.”
Aya perked up. “The end… of the war?”
“Well, yes,” Gali trailed off for only a moment, until finding her words again. “But it seemed like… like it was more than that. The end of an era, an age, or perhaps something greater that we don’t fully understand. And you know what? We weren’t there.”
“The Toa, I mean.” Gali paused, closing her eyes as the wind pushed up against them for a second. “I saw the Kryll, I saw the Matoran, I saw this island of Mata Nui. But not myself. Nor any of my brothers.”
Concern spreading across her mask, Aya turned to face the Toa of Water. “You’re not leaving us, are you? We still need you! Everything was going downhill pretty fast before you arrived.”
“No! No. Not that I plan on, at least,” Gali replied. “But I’ve been thinking about it. If it is real, if it is a vision of the future, what does it mean? I love my people, and I never wish to leave them, but if Mata Nui calls us back to him, who am I to refuse? Do I try and fight it? Do I let destiny take its course? Have we already fulfilled our destiny by summoning the Seventh, and thus we are no longer needed? And, if it is true destiny, will anything I do even be able to change it?”
“Wow,” Aya looked forward again, watching the caravan’s torches flicker before deciding to push away an incoming existential crisis with more drink. “Those are… pretty big questions, I guess.”
“What I’m trying to say is,” Gali explained, “whatever I think, whatever I believe, it doesn’t really matter in the end, does it? Because all I can do is keep pushing forward, keep fighting for what I believe is right. I can spend every night worrying about what may come to pass, or what could have been, but in the end that will only distract me from doing my best, from making the world a better place.”
“So…” Aya squinted, trying to make sense of it all. “I’m just supposed to accept that Kokani is going to be a cripple forever and be done with it?”
“I’m saying stop beating yourself up over things you can’t change. Instead, make the best with what you’re given. It’s really the only way you can face it all, learn from your mistakes, and in the end, heal.” Gali looked at Aya, trying to make sure that her message was getting through. “You’ll thank yourself later for it, believe me. And Kokani will too.”
Her voice fell away into the night, and Aya sat there, gazing out at the numerous shadowy carriages spread out before her. She felt… strange. Gali’s words left her… comforted, yet nervous. Sad, yet accepting. The night was so quiet, so calm, but she felt so much turmoil inside. She knew what she had to do, but she hated doing it. Turning her head, she glanced briefly back at her stump. It was so much easier to break things than it was to fix them.
With a groan, Aya put a stop to her thoughts. “Why’d it have to be you? If Tahu or Kopaka were here, I’m sure they’d tell me to bottle everything up until it blows up or I go insane. I’m much better at that.”
Gali laughed, standing up. “And if everyone listened to their advice, the world would have ended a hundred times over by now.” She held out her hand to help Aya up. “Now, come on. I have to finish checking the perimeter, and the foliage has suffered enough. Kokani needs you.”
But Aya shook her head. “I… I just need a minute.”
Gali looked down at her, slowly nodding, and understanding. “Well, I’ll leave you to it,” she said before hopping down from the boulder to continue her walk. She pushed her way through the tall grass, but only got a dozen feet before turning around again. “Oh, and Aya?”
“You’ll let me know if you need anything, alright? If Lewa finds you hacking apart a palm he might not be as understanding. I’m sure you know how much he likes trees.”
Aya managed a slight bow and a smile. “Will do, Toa Gali.”
And with that, Aya was alone again.
How long she sat there, she wasn’t exactly sure, but it was long enough to finish her bottle, long enough to have its effects fill her head, and long enough for her to decide what exactly she should do now. But eventually, with an idea having formed in her mind, she got up and began to scour the clearing.
At first, she searched for a piece of her shattered bush, hoping for some kind of poetic rebirth for the plant, but she quickly realized that after what she had put it through it would be of no use to anyone, and settled instead on a long, knotted, twisted piece of driftwood. With her head warm and her vision blurry, she sat down, pulling out her dagger as she very slowly, very carefully, began to whittle it down.
Cutting off snapped ends and shaving away rough patches, she worked as the night wore on and her hands grew sore, the moon slowly rising above her as the idea in her head began to take form. She was by no means an expert craftsman, but bit by bit, the rough driftwood in her hands began to look… well, slightly less rough. The pile of shavings at her feet grew, and after spending what she deemed to be enough time, she stood up and admired her work,
She sighed. Nothing’s going to be the same, is it Kokani?
And she returned to the caravan once more.
Weaving her way through the carriages, Ussal crabs, and whoever else was still milling about, she passed the fire where she had left Kokani earlier that evening. It was abandoned now, coals softly glowing, and so she turned her attention to his carriage, sitting just a few dozen yards away. Taking only a moment to psyche herself up, she gripped the driftwood in both hands, took a deep breath, and marched for it.
It could have been the drink, or her nerves, or simply some combination of the two, but everything that happened next was a blur. She remembered opening his door, seeing him lying there, silent but awake, and proudly, stupidly, presenting what she had made.
It was a cane, or a walking stick, or something in between the two that, hopefully, would help Kokani to become functional again, at least on some level. A sturdy but crude thing, she admitted she probably could have spent more time on it, in order to make it look pretty and all that, but in her defense — as she had made sure to mention — she had crafted it after an entire bottle of brew, and quite frankly it was a miracle she hadn’t injured herself in the process.
However their conversation went, Aya wasn’t quite sure, but she remembered blabbering a lot, and at some point she had said something slightly embarrassing, something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry you’re helpless now, but Gali said this stick might help,’ even though that wasn’t quite exactly how events had unfolded. But whatever she had said, it mustn’t have been too terrible, as she remembered Kokani accepting the gift and thanking her. He even managed one of his recently-absent signature smirks, before suggesting that perhaps it was time for her to go to bed.
And if she was being honest with herself, Aya completely agreed.
In the corner of the hull, surrounded by freight and ballast, chained to the wall behind him, Takua watched the shadows in silence. He sat, staring off into the abyss of his mind, his eyes unseeing, his mind unthinking. This was what he did now. This was the type of being he had become. The Kryll had taken everything from him, and this was the hollow shell of himself that was left.
He wished he could fight back, he wished he could rise up, take arms, and rebel, but he couldn’t. He had to obey, or Jaka would be the one who suffered. He had to eat, or Jaka would starve. Takua stared as the ship lurched, pushing its way over a wave, his insides queasy, sick, and rotten as Sithrak’s words slithered through his head. He had to be good.
At least before, he had had his rage. At least before, he had been able to survive off hatred, off his need to avenge Kokani and Aya. He had thought so many times about sticking a blade through Sithrak’s gut, or wrapping his hands around Rashi’s throat, but eventually the joy those images gave him had started to fade. Eventually it just felt like he was going through the motions, killing them over and over because he was bored, not because he really cared at all. But, even then, he had tried to find purpose, he had tried to channel his emotions, his strength of will to continue on. And yet, he knew that even if he could, even if he could free himself and fight back — in the end, none of it really mattered.
Because Makuta had the Atouri.
Takua blinked as the shadows around him flickered.
He had already doomed the world.
“Is this what you’ve become, then?”
Takua’s eyes snapped open, a chill running down his spine as he recognized the deep, beastly growl. He froze in place, wishing he were somewhere else — anywhere else — already knowing exactly what kind of being visited him. Its foul, putrid voice rumbled again.
“You promised you’d stop running. You promised you’d stop being powerless.”
Takua turned his eyes upward, staring to the hatch at the top of the stairs, trying his best to ignore the monster as he yearned for some way to escape. In the corner of his vision the beast lurched out of the shadows, its orange eyes glimmering in the dark.
“Yet here you are….”
“You’re not real,” Takua let out, speaking more to himself than to the intruder. “You’re not here.”
Thump! The hatch above shook at its hinges, as if something on the other side was trying to force it open. Takua kept his eyes fixed on it, doing everything he could to block out the ghost-like being that lurched toward him, its claws dragging ever closer.
“You can’t escape me, Takua. You can’t banish me away. After all, you already tried that, remember?”
The hatch rattled again, and Takua took a sharp breath. He pressed himself against the wall, wishing for it to burst open, wishing for the light to come pouring in. Something told him that there was safety, that there was salvation on the other side. There was — he blinked, unable to ignore the monster’s fangs widening, its drool dripping to the floor — there was the White Tower, waiting for him, just beyond that shaking door.
“You can’t hurt me,” Takua stared beyond as the beast loomed above him, shadow leaking off its twisted body. “I’m not… I’m not afraid of you.”
Thump thump thump! The hatch shook faster, some unseen force battering it from the other side, trying to force its way in, to set him free, to bring him closer to the Tower’s embrace.
“Ah… but we both know the truth, don’t we?”
“Get out…” Takua closed his eyes as the rattling grew louder, faster. “You’re dead; I killed you. You can’t hurt me anymore!”
But the beast reached out, its long, horrid claw scraping the edge of his cheek, petrifying him as its decaying breath lay siege to his senses. The Mask of Shadows grinned. “Don’t be a fool, Takua….”
Thump thump thump thump! The hatch threatened to fly apart, vibrating at its hinges.
“…I’ll always be a part of you.”
And the hatch burst open.
Light poured into the hull, and Takua opened his eyes, the world of his dreams instantly shattering. He blinked, startled, his heart pounding, his body still on edge from what his mind had put him through, and through his blurry vision he noticed a lone Kryll descending the stairs toward him.
Thankful for the intrusion, Takua watched the Kryll as it scrambled forward, reaching the floor level in a second. It wasn’t anyone he recognized; just a simple crew member, clad in grey armor, who paused only a second to make eye contact with Takua before whirling around and rummaging through a few crates that were tucked under the stairs.
Takua watched the Kryll in silence, curious at its actions. It seemed anxious, as if every second it spent down here was precious time wasted. It bent over, hastily shoving the crates around, frantically searching for something forgotten or misplaced. But then, after a minute, it stood back up, several scrolls of parchment clutched between its claws, and ran back up the stairs. As quickly as it had come, the Kryll disappeared at the top of the steps, the hatch slamming shut behind it.
And Takua was free to be alone once more. Free to sit, free to stare, free to think.
It seemed to be getting worse. The monstrous version of Saku plagued his dreams more and more frequently, and with nothing to keep him occupied down here, he couldn’t seem to stop thinking about it. Every encounter with the dead Toa felt realer than the last, every dream left him more anxious, more unnerved. He kept on telling himself that it wasn’t real, it just his mind playing tricks on him, just his guilt rising up as he slept. But secretly, he feared that one day it would be, one day he would try to wake up, only to find that the beast was his new reality, and he would be trapped in the darkness forever.
Takua shuddered, turning his thoughts to other matters.
And then there was the White Tower. He had no idea what to think about that.
In his dreams it offered peace, it offered safety and sanctuary, and the first few times he’d had the dream he’d believed that, but not anymore. He knew now that it couldn’t be true. After all, how many times had he heard it? From Illum? From Krosis? Even Nokama? That was the place that awaited him across the sea. On the Eastern Continent, in the Land of Charred Earth, as Krosis had once put it. That beautiful, towering temple still waited for him.
That was where the ship was taking him now. That had to be Sithrak’s destination.
You’ve been touched by him. Krosis’ words echoed in his head. Chosen for a greater purpose.
That was Makuta’s lair.
But then again, how could that be? Why, in his dreams, did it push away the darkness? Why did it seem like a beacon of light, a beacon of hope? Why did it feel like a place for… for… Takua tried to find the right word for it. A place for something more. Something greater. Something like… destiny.
Takua huffed, almost laughing as the thought surfaced. Shaking his head, he filled his lungs for a second, letting out a deep sigh as he rubbed his eyes. He stared off at nothing once again, loosening his shoulders as he brought himself back to reality.
It’s just a dream, Takua. He thought. It’s only a dream.
And suddenly: screaming.
Takua’s eyes snapped open at the sound coming from directly above him, from the captain’s quarters. It was Kryll, that much was certain. A scream of surprise and pain, followed by muffled thumping and yelling. Takua looked up at the ceiling, feeling a slight vibration through the wall as something heavy hit the floor. He strained his ears, barely able to make out Sithrak’s voice pushing its way through the wood.
“…This one thing! And you can’t even manage that!?” More movement, followed by more abrupt thumps as whatever had fallen to the floor moved around. “I have been lenient! I have been forgiving! And this is how you repay me!?”
Rashi’s voice carried over the sound of more thumps, more cries of pain, and Takua realized it had to be a crew member writhing on the ground, on the receiving end of the captain’s wrath.
“After all that I do for you! What is the one thing I ask for in return!? That you do as you are told!”
Rashi’s voice rang out again, and there were more sounds of feet stomping, people moving, shuffling around. Takua strained his ears some more, but the voices that continued were softer now, and he couldn’t make anything out. He sat there, waiting for something else to happen, and, after a minute or so, it did.
The hatch flew open, pouring light into the hull, and Rashi came flying down the stairs, skipping two steps at a time before reaching the far end of the hull and rummaging through a crate in the corner. Hastily pulling out a few distinct bottles and a hefty roll of bandages, she whirled back around, her arms full of medical supplies, and just briefly made eye contact with Takua. It only took him a second to read her nervously clicking mandibles, and her anxiety appealed to some small, sick part of him.
“…Problems with the captain?” he mocked, letting out a subtle, dry smirk.
But Rashi ignored him, not even sparing a cold glare in his direction. In a second, she was gone, taking the supplies with her, and the hatch was closed once more.
Posted Nov 17 2018 - 05:36 PM
Chapter 5 - Gathered Friends
“Do you believe in destiny, Takua?”
Something was happening. The ship had stopped, the crew were moving about above them, and Sithrak had brought his entire entourage to the hull so they could pay him a visit. Takua took a quick look around, watching the half dozen brutes who stood at attention before briefly making eye contact with Rashi, leaning against the back wall. His focus switching back to the captain, who knelt in front of him, Takua returned the Kryll’s narrow, penetrating gaze.
“Because I do,” Sithrak went on. “I always have. I’ve always known what fate held in store for me.”
Takua watched him for a moment more before deciding to respond. His retort was dry and aloof. “And… what might that be?”
The Kryll smiled, his mandibles twitching. “Blood and fire. I’ve seen it in my dreams. Felt it, in my soul. I will be the one to bring about the new age.”
Takua couldn’t help but notice the Kryll’s sash. It was scattered with his usual trinkets and baubles, but this time, at his right hip, there sat a rusted key ring, made of the same metal as his shackles. Trying to figure out what was going on, he clenched his jaw.
“Blood and fire sounds like a terrible way to start a new age.”
“No, little one…” Sithrak reached out, his claws gingerly resting on Takua’s cheek as the Matoran suppressed a shudder. “This world your kind have created, it will all come crashing down. In creation, there is destruction, and in destruction…” he placed his other hand over his heart and closed his eyes. “…There is rebirth.”
Takua held his breath, expecting an attack, expecting Sithrak to pivot and strike out, but the seconds ticked by and nothing came. The hull was quiet. Takua stared at the Kryll before him, watching him hold his chest as he calmly breathed in and out. And, after a moment or two, Takua realized something: whatever it was that Sithrak was working towards, however he hoped all of this would end — he truly, deeply, believed in it.
And in a way, that was admirable. Yet also… terrible.
The Kryll’s eyes opened once more, their deep green flashing with energy as he stood up, pulling the key ring from his belt as he outstretched his arms, addressing the brutes behind him. His polluted whisper morphed into a booming address.
“How long as it been, my brothers?” The keys jingled between his claws. “How many years have passed since our great king heard Makuta’s calling, and sailed beyond the edges of the earth to meet it?”
The brutes moved in unison. Twice they pounded their fists against their chests, followed by jarring chant. A short, deep, throaty yell:
“How long, since we devoted ourselves to His reunification? Since He, in turn, showed us the path to victory? The path to power? The path… to salvation!” Sithrak responded, his words resounding as he leaned over Takua, sliding one of the keys into his shackles, freeing the Matoran first from the wall, then opening the chains around his ankles.
The Kryll pounded again. “Hoo! Hoo!”
Watching, tensing, Takua prepared himself for the worst. Frantically he looked around, noticing Rashi in the corner, silent as always. She seemed to have no love for Sithrak’s theatrics, for the brute’s display of power. She stared at the ground, ignoring it all, only present, it seemed, because she had to be.
“How long, since we rose up? Since we took to arms against our oppressors, and the hunt for the Atouri began? How long…” His key slid into the metal at Takua’s wrists, and the last of his shackles fell away, clattering to the ground. Sithrak towered over the Matoran, his voice growing quieter as he addressed Takua specifically. Exhilaration, almost euphoria, tingled in his voice. “…Since we reunited Makuta with his heart?”
Free of his chains, but still cornered against the wall, Takua clenched his sore wrists, his senses on high alert. The Kryll pounded once more, chanting ever louder.
“And now!” Sithrak grabbed Takua by the forearm, forcing him to his feet, half dragging him as he whirled around and moved toward his brutes and the stairs. “The path to destiny is paved! We are the lucky few who shall witness history! We are the blessed who shall fulfill prophesy!” He pulled Takua to the foot of the stairs, his grip like iron, unyielding even as Takua struggled. “We are the ones chosen to escort this final offering. Chosen! To witness Makuta’s return!”
And the hull went quiet again. Sithrak stood halfway up the stairs, the light from outside shining down upon him. Takua struggled at his feet, trying to free himself from the Kryll’s grasp, but still to no avail. The schooner’s captain ignored his movements, looking down only to grant him a brief, wicked smile.
“Our people have suffered so much under your tyranny.”
Takua froze. He looked up at Sithrak, ready for anything.
“I think it is time they met their true enemy.”
The hull came alive once more. The brutes chanted, pounding their armor as Sithrak whirled around, pulling Takua up the stairs, through the hatch and onto the deck of the ship, into the bright light of day. Temporarily blinded, Takua was assaulted by sounds from all around; the creaking of ships, the moving and scraping of supplies, of crew members working, of faraway bells chiming. All of it meant they had docked at some harbor, but that wasn’t what caught Takua’s attention. Through it all, above it all, was the sound of a crowd, of talk and murmur, of hundreds of eager voices that had gathered somewhere nearby, seemingly — he could only assume — to greet Sithrak’s ship. To greet him.
And as his eyes adjusted, he saw everything.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Kryll had gathered just below their schooner, filling up every narrow dock, every gathering space, every flat rooftop that the tiny harbor could give. They had packed themselves so close together, Takua couldn’t imagine anyone being able to move, but as he looked beyond, to the small island that arose beyond the harbor, he realized that these Kryll had to be used to such conditions.
The entire island was three, near-vertical spires of rock, almost completely covered in grey wood, stone, and metal; the result of hundreds of buildings clustered together, each fighting for its own tiny plot of real estate. The structures honeycombed into one another, the island itself disappearing beneath as every building’s foundation was built into the one below it, to the point where it seemed if one timber snapped, if one wall collapsed, the entire island would crumble, taking everyone with it as it fell into the sea.
And at the very top of the rock spires stood a fortress. An ominous, utilitarian structure with high stone walls and sloping roofs, towering above the other buildings, above the calm blue sea that stretched to the horizon in every direction. It seemed the only thing on the island that was permanent and sturdy. That wasn’t at risk of collapsing.
Sithrak breathed in the ocean air, looking to the citadel with familiarity. But in a second, he pulled Takua forward, yanking him to the ship’s railing as he smiled at the chattering crowd below.
Sithrak’s voice boomed, echoing among the clustered buildings, and the chatter of the crowd ceased. All eyes turned to Sithrak, and the entire harbor, the entire island, was seemingly so… silent.
Not quiet, but silent. Unnaturally so.
Takua felt his spine prickle. This wasn’t the crowd politely letting Sithrak speak. This wasn’t a respectful hush, the kind he was used to whenever he’d heard the Turaga speak in public. No, if that were the case, there would be at least some murmur or shuffling in the background. But these Kryll didn’t dare whisper to each other, they didn’t dare move, make themselves more comfortable, or speak over Sithrak in any way. This was… a special kind of silence. A silence born out of fear.
“Behold!” Sithrak boomed again, grabbing the back of Takua’s mask and forcing him to stand so he was visible to everyone. “I give you the face of your enemy! The one the Matoran call ‘Herald of the Atouri!’ The one who has kept you from your destiny!”
Half leaning over the railing, Takua studied the people as they, in turn, studied him. Some were warriors, like the ones on the ship, but most were like those he had seen in that village in Ga-Wahi. Families, elderly, children, just people trying to get by. Carefully, he watched them, slowly learning more as he took in the details, as he noticed a few traits here and there. So many were thin, so many seemed like they were tired, hungry and desperate. Refugees from the war, perhaps? Takua took another look at the island, cobbled together so hastily, so haphazardly. So much about this place… was desperate.
Sithrak went on. “But now, the final pieces are falling into place! Makuta has called us to him, and the White Tower awaits our footsteps! For you, my friends, we shall make the journey across the sea, we shall make the journey to our people’s triumph! We shall make the journey to our salvation!”
And once more, the brutes pounded in unison, their fierce voices chanting.
The crowed cheered. Takua watched as they all came alive at once, as their energy exploded out on cue. But it still didn’t seem right. It seemed fake, as if everyone was putting on a play. As if they were only cheering because of what might happen if they didn’t. Sithrak spoke as if he was doing all of this for these people, but Takua knew him better. He didn’t care about them, he didn’t care about anyone.
All Sithrak cared about was his own purpose, his orders from Krosis, or Makuta, or whoever. All he cared about was this idea in his head, this salvation he spoke of. This belief that he was chosen for greatness. This self-conjured image of his own destiny.
Takua winced as Sithrak tightened his grip, still watching the cheering people below. And from the look of things, he would stop at nothing to achieve it.
Morning came much faster than Aya would have liked.
The early, white light of a cloudy sky hit Aya in the face as she found herself lying atop Kokani’s roof, slowly coming to terms with what an absolute mess she had been the night before. It was with a disgusted acceptance that she realized the caravan was already moving, already bumping along the winding road, and that she had missed the morning’s preparations, not to mention breakfast.
Aya pulled Nokama’s blanket around her as the shunted sun aggravated her already throbbing headache. Opening her eyes, she noticed the empty bottle still lay next to her, and with an appalled groan she reached out, pushing it off the carriage’s roof, listening as it shattered onto the rocks below.
“Have a bit of my drink last night, did we?”
“Ugh,” Aya squeezed her eyes shut as she recognized the voice of Kokani’s driver. She rolled away from him, pulling the blanket over her head. “Leave me alone,” she mumbled.
“You going to replace it? It’s Fireforge, my personal favorite.”
“Fireforge?” Aya grumbled, never having heard of such a brew. And, judging by the size of her headache, for good reason. “What kind of off-brand garbage…” she trailed off, deciding not to dig herself into a deeper hole. “Just drink Lavaflow like an adult.”
“You going to replace it or not?”
“Yeah, fine, whatever.” Aya rolled her eyes. “I’ll get you a new one when we get to Ta-Koro.”
“Well then,” the driver let out a slight chuckle. “Looks like you’re in luck!”
As if on cue, a deep bass note sounded through the air, echoing throughout the caravan, and Aya sat up, startled awake by the far-off noise. The distinctive sound of the Koro’s great shells blared from in front of them, and as Aya looked towards it, her blurry eyes adjusting to the light, she was greeted with an impressive view.
There, before her, the road descended from the scrubby highlands and into a grey valley, dominated by volcanic rocks and farmland, rising out of dark, fertile soil. Scattered throughout the landscape were houses, windmills, and blacksmiths, powered by waterwheels that spun quietly, pushed into motion by the occasional stream or narrow river. The water cascaded over and through the rocky landscape, making its way to the bottom of the wide basin, where it coalesced into a dammed lake, seemingly created to provide water for the fortified city that stood next to it.
Aya had to rub her eyes again to take it all in: Ta-Koro, the City of Fire. It truly lived up to its name.
Half imbedded into the base of the great Mangai, active lava flows poured into and around the city’s high, black walls, giving life and power to the Ta-Matoran’s spires, fortresses, and forges. Though dwarfed by the size of volcano above, the city itself towered over the surrounding countryside, looming ominously as countless smokestacks billowed black clouds into the sky. It screamed of industry, of progress, of creation and construction; a stark contrast to the calm and beautiful temples of Ga-Koro. The entire city was like a loud, constant, churning machine, intent on marching forward no matter what the earth, the sky, or even time itself around could throw at it.
It was, honestly, everything Aya had expected from the so-called ‘Firespitters.’
Another shell sounded, this time from the front of their caravan, answering Ta-Koro’s note with one of their own. Aya cracked her neck, stretching as she mentally prepared for whatever waited ahead, and it was only then that she noticed the tents and carriages clustered outside the city’s main gate: the remnants of other, earlier caravans. She squinted, trying to make out the markings on their banners, until finally recognizing the symbols of both Po and Onu-Koro.
Wordless, she reached forward, her hand closing around her bow, lifting it from where it sat next to the driver. She strapped it to her back, taking care to remember who had given it to her in the first place:
Illum. The new Turaga of Onu-Koro was already here.
Drums pounded from inside the walls as they descended into the valley, and Aya began to see why the Turaga had picked this place to meet. Ta-Koro was in no short supply of strength and security, and the Ta-Matoran seemed to flaunt it, practically daring any enemy to try and break their walls. She watched as the city’s great iron doors parted, making way for some forty-ish Ussal-mounted Matoran, riding out into the countryside to meet them.
Aya turned around as Kokani’s door opened below her, and she briefly met the Ko-Matoran’s gaze before he too looked forward, taking in the scene as he leaned against the moving doorframe. Aya stared at the incoming party, surrounded by armored guards, banners flapping in the wind, drums pounding through the open gates behind them.
She crossed her arms. “…Seems like a bit much, doesn’t it?”
Kokani’s face was as stoic as ever “Get ready. Nokama wants us both to be there when we meet.”
Aya straightened her belt on her hips, having figured as such. “You lead, I just follow.”
The driver whipped his reins, propelling the Ussal faster, pulling the carriage to the front of their caravan. Aya sipped from her canteen, wetting her throat and splashing her mask as the two parties approached each other. The road intersected with another just ahead, forming a broad circle of dirt within the low fields, accented by a few rough, black obelisks standing quietly at its edge. The drums pounded louder as they drew close, and Aya couldn’t help but feel her heart flutter, almost as if they were riding into battle.
Boom, ba-boom. Boom, ba-boom.
Aya closed her eyes for a second as they reached the clearing, squeezing the hilt of her sword as their Ussal lurched to a halt. She jumped from the carriage, her feet hitting the dirt with a soft thud, and, all around her, in a sudden flurry of sound and motion, others did the same.
Ta-Koro’s drums thundered now, and to her left and right, behind and in front, huge, armored Ussal slid into the clearing, carriages and transports in tow. In a matter of minutes, the crossroad was crowded with nobles, chieftains, guardsmen, politicians, advisors, and Turaga alike. Successfully supporting his weight on his new cane, Kokani hobbled up to stand at her right, and a second later, Nokama was on her left. Onewa appeared just a dozen feet away, and on the other side of the clearing, escorted by a handful of the Sanctum Guard, Turaga Nuju stepped into view.
Boom, ba-boom. Boom, ba-boom.
Her heart pounding to the thunderous beat, Aya looked around, feeling uneasy in the company of so many powerful people. But then, on the outskirts of the circle, even more! Tall, imposing figures; the far-off shapes of Gali, Lewa, Onua, and Pohatu. Even Kopaka stood beyond the line of armored guardsmen, watching the countryside, protecting the Turaga from any possible threat. Aya whirled her attention back to the circle, steadying her fingers on her sword again, just as a final carriage pushed its way through a group of Onu-Matoran, drawn by arguably the largest of all the crab-Rahi. Its shell and armor were polished jet black, and its beautiful, lavish transport slid to a halt in the middle of everything, only slightly, almost fashionably, late.
Its door opened, and a lone Onu-Matoran stepped into the light:
Aya watched him like a hawk. If what she’d heard was true, if Onu-Koro had really gone through a revolution, Illum certainly didn’t show it. His mask was polished, his armor shone, and the decorative sash he wore around his shoulders exhumed expert craftmanship, with purple and gold accenting his aura of regal, exquisite black. The only thing that had changed from their last encounter was a shining gold eyepatch, imbedded into his purple Rau. The Turaga of Onu-Koro made even his wounds look fashionable, it seemed.
The Onu-Matoran’s eyes drifted around the clearing, acknowledging everyone present before finally pausing to meet Aya’s glare. It took him only a second to notice Kokani beside her, and with a slight smile, he nodded.
It would have been a friendly gesture. It should have been a friendly gesture. But still, Aya felt her spine shiver.
Boom, ba-boom. Boom, ba-boom.
The drums pounded, sinking into the ground as all movement in the crossroad settled, and all these Matoran, all these leaders, all these Turaga stared at each other. The beat grew louder and louder, faster and faster, and as the wind whipped through the center of their circle, Aya felt her chest tighten, her mind growing more and more uneasy. She gripped the hilt of her blade as her eyes flicked from Kokani to Illum, from Nokama to Nuju, and for a tense, terrible minute no one spoke, until finally the drums came to their great and powerful conclusion.
Boom, ba-boom. Boom, ba-boom. Boom, ba-boom, boom boom!
And then, a single voice.
It was an elderly voice, cautious but wise, one that didn’t demand respect, but humbly requested it instead. It was the voice of Turaga Vakama, Aya found as the figure stepped forward, moving into the barren space at the center of the crossing.
The Turaga was extremely, achingly old, and wore a lined, weathered Huna on his face. His hunched-over shoulders were adorned with the customary sash of the Turaga, woven in the colors of Ta-Koro. His steps were slow and shuffling, and the amount he leaned against his firestaff along with the slow, stuttering of his movements made Aya to think that he was much older than even the other Turaga. Or, on second thought, perhaps in much poorer health. Either way, it seemed to her that the Turaga of Ta-Koro had seen better days.
But then, slow and ambling as he was, Turaga Vakama smiled, letting his kind, azure eyes shine as his mask lit up. And as it did so, Aya felt the tension inside her melt away.
“…How long has it been… since we’ve all seen each other?”
“Too long, my brother!” Nokama replied, moving to embrace him at the center of the clearing, her own gait looking almost youthful compared to Vakama’s. “You and I, Onewa, Nuju…” she nodded to the other Turaga present. “It feels right to see you all in one place again.” She leaned against her trident and paused, reminiscing of older, perhaps better days. But the wind soon carried the moment away, and she looked back to Vakama with wide, and suddenly quite solemn eyes. “…If only Matau and Whenua were here as well.”
“Mhmm,” Vakama, nodded slowly, looking to the ground as he rested his shaking hands upon his staff. His gaze met Nokama’s once more. “After all these years, sister… I’d say they’ve both earned their rest.”
And Nokama smiled the way one only can when watching a loved one leave. Her eyes shone just a little brighter in the mid-morning light. “Perhaps we all have, by now.”
Aya looked to her boots. She wasn’t one to pray much, but for whatever reason, she felt the need to bow her head, if only for a second. A subtle act of reverence for all those who had fallen.
And after a few short words, the Turaga began their business. Aya stood beside Kokani as Vakama continued, welcoming their party, making introductions, and announcing his plans for proceedings and accommodations and whatever else needed to be discussed before everyone got settled. Aya made brief mental notes as they talked, mostly so she knew what to expect, but also because it was a guilty pleasure of hers to judge people as she was introduced to them.
Only a handful really stood out, the first being the Captain of the Ta-Koro Guard: a slim Ta-Matraon named Mako, who had murky, yellow eyes and wore a maroon Matatu that matched his armor. He seemed nervous and fidgety at first glance, but after Vakama listed his many military accomplishments Aya decided he must have more within him than initially met the eye. He would oversee security, and Aya made special note of that, seeing as she always managed to find her way into trouble.
The party from Ko-Koro was exactly what she expected: quiet, stoic, and akin to Nuju and Kokani in almost every way. They had brought only their Turaga, a handful of advisors, and a regiment of the Sanctum Guard. Their small number was dwarfed by the members of the other Koro, but Aya had no doubt that their intolerance to political games would keep them at the same level as the largest of Mata Nui’s cities.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Le-Koro was still absent; apparently they had been in the process of appointing a new Turaga when the council was called, and no one had heard from them since — it seemed they were running a bit behind schedule, but as soon as some sort of Le-Matoran representative arrived, Vakama promised that proceedings would commence without delay.
She found the Po-Matoran unremarkable, half of them having arrived with Turaga Onewa, and the other half with the party from Onu-Koro, seeing as their people were still struggling to find a place for themselves in the Underworld. They seemed… a bit disorganized, and perhaps that was to be expected, given their current situation.
But it was the party from Onu-Koro that caught her attention. Not only because of her personal history with the so-called Turaga — she was able to restrain herself enough to ensure Illum’s physical safety, assuming others were watching, of course. Nor was it the luxurious, decorative way they presented themselves — while it came off as snobbish, she had seen that before and expected it now. No, the group from the City of Earth stood out to her because of one member in particular; one that wasn’t even an Onu-Matoran, yet stood in their midst anyway.
Aya furrowed her brow as she looked on, staring past their first line or so, curiously inspecting the small figure who had caught her attention. He hadn’t noticed her yet, and so she blinked a few times and craned her neck to get a better view, but yes; her first instincts had been correct. Moving on their own, her fingers squeezed the hilt of her sword once more, her nerves fluttering again at the confirmation.
She hadn’t expected to see him here. Here, of all places… it didn’t make any sense. Why would he come? Why would he want anything to do with this crowd? In fact, she hadn’t expected to see him anywhere, ever again, let alone here. But as she looked again, just to verify — yes, it was definitely him — she could feel her chest tighten a little. He was here, attending this council, and, for whatever reason… it worried her.
Aya gritted her jaw.
What was Raipu doing here?
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Nov 25 2018 - 03:29 PM.
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