Edited by ZOMBI3S, Mar 31 2015 - 11:22 AM.
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 and placed it on her cheek. 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 on.
“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 his 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 as she brushed the dust off her armor and 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 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, Sep 14 2014 - 08:51 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 more 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 then the sound of feet splashing through water 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, throwing mud and water into the air as he did. 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. 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 of lightstones 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. 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 these tunnels. 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?”
“The control center for Tunnel Eighteen.”
“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 did the kryll go?
His question was answered as an arrow whizzed by just a few feet to their left. Turning his head, Sorin caught sight of the kryll 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 gripped his sword tensely. 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 of them 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 had a clear shot, and 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 feet 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 kryll’s neck. Blood splattered the walls, and Takua breathed a ragged sigh of relief as he passed through the doorway, collapsing onto the ground as he did.
“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 at 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.”
“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 looked at him sternly. “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 slid into the room, almost knocking over Raipu in the process. She looked back out the tunnel anxiously, then turned to Sorin. “Hey, you might wanna start the lockdown process. 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 doorways 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.” He then 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 to 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.
“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. “Thirty more seconds and the opening will 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, Mar 31 2015 - 11:35 AM.
Posted Nov 03 2014 - 04:54 PM
Chapter 10 - Revelations
Takua braced himself as the explosive went off. All sound left 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 come back, 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 slowly closing exit. 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. It was 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!” he yelled, and Aya and Sorin grabbed the door, trying to give Kokani as much time as possible. The gears whirred and grinded, slowed by the force of their arms, but they didn’t stop. The door crept downwards, 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 hands and knees, coughing. He covered his mouth, his lungs heaving for a few moments before he stood back up again. There was blood on his hand.
Aya stared at him. “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. “Where do we go, Sorin?
“We can’t go yet!” Raipu interjected, kneeling over Nika. “She’s wounded! We have to help her first!”
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 slowly 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 eventually 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 they had to keep moving.
“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 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. “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 behind him, 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 would have never told them.
He wasn’t angry or sad, but rather simply disappointed. He thought he’d known Kokani better. “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. “Okay.”
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, Jan 22 2015 - 11:36 AM.
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, but Kokani dodged each one, spinning and rolling gracefully as he narrowly avoided injury. Saku’s grin soon disappeared as he attacked even faster, sending even more bolts flying towards his enemy.
Kokani’s evaded them without effort, and his agility amazed Takua. Not pausing to breathe, he launched himself back at the Toa with a new flurry of strikes. He weaved in and out and around Saku as shadow bolts flew past him, until finally he caught Saku off guard and landed a kick in the Toa’s chest. Saku staggered back a few feet, a bit stunned.
“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 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, pushed 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, and the two clashed weapons as they moved about. 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, coming closer with every second.
“Takua, get down!” Jaka yelled.
He immediately 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; 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 silence as the creature writhed, and Aya seized 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 take a few steps backward. 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 caused Takua to turn around, and he flinched as a huge kryll came running at him, battle axe raised high. He fumbled for his weapon, but Aya stepped in just in time, blocking the kryll as its blade came 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 to see his friend waving his arms at another kryll, trying to divert its attention away from Takua. Twice his size, the monster barreled after Jaka, its 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 still 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.
He 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 said. “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 dying rahi with every hit, until Saku finally rested his foot on the ground, giving him a moment of mercy. He pushed 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 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 from Kokani, throwing him off balance and allowing himself to rush in. He kneed Kokani in the stomach, and the Ko-Matoran took the full force of the assault, gagging as he fell back to his knees. 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 kryll 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 kryll. 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 Saku 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, fighting a kryll twice his size with a dagger the size of a butter knife. 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 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, Feb 26 2016 - 01:06 AM.
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, and 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 in 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 at Takua as he 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. Stunned, the Toa stumbled backward, and his cocky smile fell away. He looked back to Takua, startled by his aggression, but readied his staff all the same.
“Very well, Takua. Shall we?”
Takua ran at the Toa, 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. It gave 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 successfully 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 at him 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 up 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 he 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 now 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 in front of Mata Nui himself, preparing to answer for all his crimes, for all his sins.
“Takua…” Saku said quietly. “Please…”
Takua paid no attention to Saku’s 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, and noticed that his mouth was still moving. He repeated one word, over and over:
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Jan 16 2015 - 11:53 AM.
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 had released had torn apart the carven 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 had doomed them all. “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 the karzhanni 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 wave 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 a few dozen feet 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. 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 them 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 blackness.
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, Mar 31 2015 - 11:49 AM.
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, and he wasn’t coming 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, Jan 27 2016 - 08:57 AM.
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 as much of it as 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 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 the kryll 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 one 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 and 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! We don’t even know what it is!” 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, Mar 30 2015 - 03:07 PM.
Posted Jul 12 2015 - 04:51 PM
Chapter 3 - Legendary Circumstance
The four travelers stared, gaping up 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. 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. “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, breaking the silence. “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 fire, 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 light 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?”
“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, the shadow casted 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?” She 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.
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 wants. 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.”
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 canteen, which he often used 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, don’t be 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, trying to ignore its taste. 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 at 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 delicious.”
“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 like he had hope.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Oct 19 2015 - 10:40 AM.
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. And 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, her 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 around 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, “...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 a 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 the 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. The kryll reached out, carefully but confidently, and placed its clawed hand on its 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 the rumble in the tarakava's throat 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 said, 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.
A 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. 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.
“I'm coming!” 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 water. 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, and 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. 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. 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.
He felt claws snap around his ankle, and he was pulled under, dragged into the depths by the tarakava. Dragged, flailing, helpless, unable to breath, into the element of the beast.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Feb 03 2016 - 12:43 AM.
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 clouded the water around him in red. Wrenching his arm forward, he sank the blade into the rahi 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 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. 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 the rahi 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 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 weapons 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 the kryll’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 push back, but he knew that if he kept it up the kryll would 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 barreling towards him, but it was too late to dodge.
With a crunch the kryll 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 kryll 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 krill held him down. He wriggled his body this way and that, trying to free himself of kryll’s 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 could make out 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 mist. 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 kryll'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 kryll 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. With a clenched jaw, he dropped his dagger in front of him. 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 kryll 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 time, 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, Feb 26 2016 - 12:29 AM.
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.
The kryll 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 Krosis 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 kryll, 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 warriors 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. He gazed 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 him, 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.”
Takua 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, Aug 02 2016 - 10:07 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 except 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 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 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 out loud 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? 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 it back.” Her eyes twinkled as they always did when she knew she was going to 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 kryll’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, imbedding 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. In a second he readied his sword, slashing upwards. The kryll 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 warriors, who now stood at the edge of the clearing, bleeding from its thigh, but not quite out of the fight. 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 over to the far edge of the clearing, where Aya stood, holding a drawn 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. 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 kryll’s 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 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 up, “Your word.”
Kokani nodded. “We lay down our weapons at the same time.” He nodded 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 many 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 other warrior, trying to ensure their control of the clearing, but it was clear he wasn’t a threat. The wounded kryll wobbled on its bleeding leg, hardly able to stand, but it glared at him with hatred, muttering curses underneath its breath. 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 at the warrior as it struggled to step forward, before falling to its knees. He growled, throwing its weapon to the ground. “Have you no honor!?” it screamed, heaving as it clutched its leg.
Aya’s voice was cold and emotionless. “Kokani might. I never claimed to.” She touched the tip of her arrow to the side of Krosis’s head, freezing the kryll 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 warrior, 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 grabble 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, it felt comfortable. It almost felt like home.
With a nod, Aya turned around 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 to the warrior, still kneeling on the ground, a small pool of blood forming around him. He gazed at him, the warrior nodding, repeating himself, as if swearing an oath
“We’ll find you.”
Takua turned around and followed his friends, into the night.
Edited by ZOMBI3S, Aug 30 2016 - 07:37 AM.
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. 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 stole my spirit.”
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 is 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 went on. “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 warlords beady eyes closed, and the kryll’s 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 steam 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. 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, Sep 02 2016 - 08:05 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 water city, 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 for a second 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 only a trail of fluttering foliage behind her.
“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 kryll 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. Slowly, 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 slowly 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: it was Noruk, Krosis’ 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 passed 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 one 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 landing 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 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 and focus on anything else, 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, Jan 15 2017 - 09:25 PM.
Posted Jan 15 2017 - 10:36 PM
Chapter 11 - Preparations
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 looked back at her, 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 and looked at them for a moment, 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 imbedded 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 Jaka, 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 got 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 for a moment before answering. “I meant to ask you at some point,” Takua 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 thought for a second, 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.”
Nokama didn’t move for a moment, 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 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,” Nokama 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.
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